Among the true Bohemians of the real Bohemia I used to know one, named Jacques D. He was a sculptor, and gave promise of great talent. But poverty did not give him time to fulfill this promise. He died of debility in March, 184-, at the Saint Louis Hospital, on bed No. 14 in the Sainte Victoria ward.
I made the acquaintance of Jacques at the hospital, when I was detained there myself by a long illness. Jacques had, as I have said, the makings of a great talent, and yet he was quite unassuming about it. During the two months I spent in his company, and during which he felt himself cradled in the arms of Death, I never once heard him complain or give himself up to those lamentations which render the unappreciated artist so ridiculous. He died without attitudinizing. His death brings to my mind, too, one of the most horrible scenes I ever saw in that caravanserai of human sufferings. His father, informed of the event, came to reclaim the body, and for a long time haggled over giving the thrity-six francs demanded by the hospital authorities. He also haggled over the funeral service, and so persistently that they ended by knocking off six francs. At the moment of putting the corpse into the coffin, the male nurse took off the hospital sheet, and asked one of the deceased's friends who was there for money for a shroud. The poor devil, who had not a sou, went to Jacques' father, who got into a fearful rage, and asked when they would finish bothering him.
The sister of charity, who was present at this horrible discussion, cast a glance at the corpse, and uttered these simple and feeling words:
"Oh! sir, you cannot have him buried like that, poor fellow, it is so cold. Give him at least a shirt, that he may not arrive quite naked before his God."
The father gave five francs to the friend to get a shirt, but recommended him to go to a wardrobe shop in the Rue Grance-aux-Belles, where they sold second-hand linen.
"It will be cheaper there," said he.
This cruelty on the part of Jacques' father was explained to me later on. He was furious because his son had chosen an artistic career, and his anger remained unappeased even in the presence of a coffin.
But I am not very far from Mademoiselle Francine and her muff. I will return to them. Mademoiselle Francine was the first and only mistress of Jacques, who did not die very old, for he was scarcely three and twenty when his father would have had him laid naked in the earth. The story of his love was told me by Jacques himself when he was No. 14 and I was No. 16 in the Sainte Victoire ward -- an ugly spot to die in.
Ah reader! Before I begin this story, which would be a touching one if I could tell it as it was told to me by my friend Jacques, let me take a pull or two at the old clay pipe he gave me on the day that the doctor forbade its use by him. Yet at night, when the male nurse was asleep, my friend Jacques would borrow his pipe with a little tobacco from me. It is so wearisome at night in those vast wards, when one suffers and cannot sleep.
"Only two or three whiffs," he would say, and I would let him have it; and Sister Sainte-Geneviere did not seem to notice the smoke when she made her round. Ah, good sister! How kind you were, and how beautiful you looked, too, when you came to sprinkle us with holy water. We could see you approaching, walking slowly along the gloomy aisles, draped in your white veil, which fell in such graceful folds, and which our friend Jacques admired so much. Ah kind sister! You were the Beatrice of that Inferno. So sweet were your consolations that we were always complaining in order to be consoled by you. If my friend Jacques had not died one snowy day he would have carved you a nice little Virgin Mary to put in your cell, good Sister Sainte-Genevieve.
A Reader: Well, and the muff? I do not see anything of the muff.
Another Reader: And Mademoiselle Francine, where about is she, then?
First Reader: This story is not very lively.
Second Reader: We shall see further on.
I really beg your pardon, gentlemen, it is my friend Jacques' pipe that has led me away into these digressions. But, besides, I am not pledged to make you laugh. Times are not always gay in Bohemia.
Jacques and Francine had met in a house in the Rue de la Tour-d'Auvergne, into which they had both moved at the same time at the April quarter.
The artist and the young girl were a week without entering on those neighborly relations which are almost always forced on one when dwelling on the same floor. However, without having exchanged a word, they were already acquainted with one another. Francine knew that her neighbor was a poor devil of an artist, and Jacques had learned that his was a little seamstress who had quitted her family to escape the ill-usage of a stepmother. She accomplished miracles of economy to make both ends meet, and, as she had never known pleasure, had no longing for it. This is how the pair came under the common law of partition walls. One evening in April, Jacques came home worn out with fatigue, fasting since morning, and profoundly sad with one of those vague sadnesses which have no precise cause, and which seize on you anywhere and at all times; a kind of apoplexy of the heart to which poor wretches living alone are especially subject. Jacques, who felt stifling in his narrow room, opened the window to breathe a little. The evening was a fine one, and the setting sun displayed its melancholy splendors above the hills of Montmartre. Jacques remained pensively at his window listening to the winged chorus of spring harmony which added to his sadness. Seeing a raven fly by uttering a croak, he thought of the days when ravens brought food to Elijah, the pious recluse, and reflected that these birds were no longer so charitable. Then, not being able to stand it any longer, he closed his window, drew the curtain, and, as he had not the wherewithal to buy oil for his lamp, lit a resin taper that he had brought back from a trip to the Grande-Chartreuse. Sadder than ever he filled his pipe.
"Luckily, I still have enough tobacco to hide the pistol," murmured he, and he began to smoke.
My friend Jacques must have been very sad that evening to think about hiding the pistol. It was his supreme resource on great crises, and was usually pretty successful. The plan was as follows. Jacques smoked tobacco on which he used to sprinkle a few drops of laudanum, and he would smoke until the cloud of smoke from his pipe became thick enough to veil from him all the objects in his little room, and, above all, a pistol hanging on the wall. It was a matter of half a score pipes. By the time the pistol was wholly invisible it almost always happened that the smoke and the landanum combined would send Jacques off to sleep, and it also often happened that his sadness left him at the commencement of his dreams.
But on this particular evening he had used up all his tobacco; the pistol was completely hidden, and yet Jacques was still bitterly sad. That evening, on the contrary Mademoiselle Francine was extremely light-hearted when she came home, and like Jacques' sadness, her light-heartedness was without cause. It was one of those joys that come from heaven, and that God scatters amongst good hearts. So Mademoiselle Francine was in a good temper, and sang to herself as she came upstairs. But as she was going to open her door a puff of wind, coming through the open staircase window, suddenly blew out her candle.
"Oh, what a nuisance!" exclaimed the girl, "six flights of stairs to go down and up again."
But, noticing the light coming from under Jacques' door, the instinct of idleness grafted on a feeling of curiosity, advised her to go and ask the artist for a light. "It is a service daily rendered among neighbors," thought she, "and there is nothing compromising about it."
She tapped twice, therefore, at the door, and Jacques opened it, somewhat surprised at this late visit. But scarcely had she taken a step into the room than the smoke that filled it suddenly choked her, and, before she was able to speak a word, she sank fainting into a chair, dropping her candle and her room door key onto the ground. It was midnight, and everyone in the house was asleep. Jacques thought it better not to call for help. He was afraid, in the first place, of compromising his neighbor. He contented himself, therefore, with opening the window to let in a little fresh air, and, after having sprinkled a few drops of water on the girl's face, saw her open her eyes and by degrees come to herself. When, at the end of five minutes' time, she had wholly recovered consciousness, Francine explained the motive that had brought her into the artist's room, and made many excuses for what had happened.
"Now, then, I am recovered," said she. "I can go into my own room."
He had already opened the door, when she perceived that she was not only forgetting to light her candle, but that she had not the key of her room.
"Silly thing that I am," said she, putting her candle to the flame of the resin taper, "I came in here to get a light, and I was going away without one."
But at the same moment the draft caused by the door and window, both of which had remained open, suddenly blew out the taper, and the two young folk were left in darkness.
"One would think that it was done on purpose," said Francine. "Forgive me sir, for all the trouble I am giving you, and be good enough to strike a light so that I may find my key."
"Certainly mademoiselle," answered Jacques, feeling for the matches.
He had soon found them. But a singular idea flashed across his mind, and he put the matches in his pocket saying, "Dear me, mademoiselle, here is another trouble. I have not a single match here. I used the last when I came in."
"Oh!" said Francine, "after all I can very well find my way without a light, my room is not big enough for me to lose myself in it. But I must have my key. Will you be good enough, sir, to help me to look for it? It must have fallen to the ground."
"Let us look for it, mademoiselle," said Jacques.
And both of them began to seek the lost article in the dark, but as though guided by a common instinct, it happened during this search, that their hands, groping in the same spot, met ten times a minute. And, as they were both equally awkward, they did not find the key.
"The moon, which is hidden just now by the clouds, shines right into the room," said Jacques. "Let us wait a bit; by-and-by it will light up the room and may help us."
And, pending the appearance of the moon, they began to talk. A conversation in the dark, in a little room, on a spring night; a conversation which, at the outset trifling and unimportant, gradually enters on the chapter of personal confidences. You know what that leads to. Language by degrees grows confused, full of reticences; voices are lowered; words alternate with sighs. Hands meeting complete the thought which from the heart ascends to the lips, and --. Seek the conclusion in your recollection, young couples. Do you remember, young man. Do you remember, young lady, you who now walk hand-in-hand, and who, up to two days back, had never seen one another?
At length the moon broke through the clouds, and her bright light flooded the room. Mademoiselle Francine awoke from her reverie uttering a faint cry.
"What is the matter?" asked Jacques, putting his arm around her waist.
"Nothing," murmured Francine. "I thought I heard someone knock."
And, without Jacques noticing it, she pushed the key that she had just noticed under some of the furniture.
She did not want to find it now.
First Reader: I certainly will not let my daughter read this story.
Second Reader: Up till now I have not caught a glimpse of a single hair of Mademoiselle Francine's muff; and, as to the young woman herself, I do not know any better what she is like, whether she is fair or dark.
Patience, readers, patience. I have promised you a muff, and I will give you one later on, as my friend Jacques did to his poor love Francine, who had become his mistress, as I have explained in the line left blank above.
She was fair was Francine, fair and lovely, which is not usual. She had remained ignorant of love until she was twenty, but a vague presentiment of her approaching end counselled her not to delay if she would become acquainted with it.
She met Jacques and loved him. Their connection lasted six months. They had taken one another in the spring; they were parted in the autumn. Francine was consumptive. She knew it and her lover Jacques knew it too; a fortnight after he had taken up with her he had learned it from one of his friends, who was a doctor.
"She will go with the autumn leaves," said the latter.
Francine heard this confidence, and perceived the grief it caused her lover.
"What matters the autumn leaves?" said she, putting the whole of her love into a smile. "What matters the autumn; it is summer, and the leaves are green; let us profit by that, love. When you see me ready to depart from this life, you shall take me in your arms and kiss me, and forbid me to go. I am obedient you know, and I will stay."
And for five months this charming creature passed through the miseries of Bohemian life, a smile and a song on her lips. As to Jacques, he let himself be deluded. His friend often said to him, "Francine is worse, she must be attended to." Then Jacques went all over Paris to obtain the wherewithal for the doctor's prescription, but Francine would not hear of it, and threw the medicine out of the window. At night, when she was seized with a fit of coughing, she would leave the room and go out on the landing, so that Jacques might not hear her.
One day, when they had both gone into the country, Jacques saw a tree the foliage of which was turning to yellow. He gazed sadly at Francine, who was walking slowly and somewhat dreamily.
Francine saw Jacques turn pale and guessed the reason of his pallor.
"You are foolish," said she, kissing him, "we are only in July, it is three months to October, loving one another day and night as we do, we shall double the time we have to spend together. And then, besides, if I feel worse when the leaves turn yellow, we will go and live in a pine forest, the leaves are always always green there.
In October Francine was obliged to keep her bed. Jacques' friend attended her. The little room in which they lived was situated at the top of the house and looked into a court, in which there was a tree, which day by day grew barer of foliage. Jacques had put a curtain to the window to hide this tree from the invalid, but Francine insisted on its being drawn back.
"Oh my darling!" said she to Jacques. "I will give you a hundred times more kisses than there are leaves." And she added, "Besides I am much better now. I shall soon be able to go out, but as it will be cold and I do not want to have red hands, you must buy me a muff."
During the whole of her illness this muff was her only dream.
The day before All Saints', seeing Jacques more grief stricken than ever, she wished to give him courage, and to prove to him that she was better she got up.
The doctor arrived at that moment and forced her to go to bed again.
"Jacques," whispered he in the artist's ear, "you must summon up your courage. All is over; Francine is dying."
Jacques burst into tears.
"You may give her whatever she asks for now," continued the doctor, "there is no hope."
Francine heard with her eyes what the doctor had said to her lover.
"Do not listen to him," she exclaimed, holding out her arm to Jacques, "do not listen to him; he is not speaking the truth. We will go out tomorrow - it is All Saints' Day. It will be cold - go buy me a muff, I beg of you. I am afraid of chilblains this winter."
Jacques was going out with his friend, but Francine detained the doctor.
"Go and get my muff," said she to Jacques. "Get a nice one, so that it may last a good while."
When she was alone she said to the doctor.
"Oh sir! I am going to die, and I know it. But before I pass
give me something to give me strength for a night, I beg of you.
well for one more night, and let me die afterwards, since God
wish me to live longer."
As the doctor was doing his best to console her, the wind carried into the room and cast upon the sick girl's bed a yellow leaf, torn from the tree in the little courtyard.
Francine opened the curtain, and saw the tree entirely bare.
"It is the last," said she, putting the leaf under her pillow.
"You will not die until tomorrow," said the doctor. You have a night before you."
"Ah, what happiness!" exclaimed the poor girl. "A winter's night -- it will be a long one."
Jacques came back. He brought a muff with him.
"It is very pretty," said Francine. "I will wear it when I go out."
So passed the night with Jacques.
The next day -- All Saints' -- about the middle of the day, the death agony seized on her, and her whole body began to quiver.
"My hands are cold," she murmured. "Give me my muff."
And she buried her poor hands in the fur.
"It is the end," said the doctor to Jacques. "Kiss her for the last time."
Jacques pressed his lips to those of his love. At the last moment they wanted to take away her muff, but she clutched it with her hands.
"No, no," she said, "leave it me; it is winter, it is cold. Oh my poor Jacques! My poor Jacques! What will become of you? Oh heavens!"
And the next day Jacques was alone.
First Reader: I told you that this was not a very lively story.
What would you have, reader? We cannot always laugh.
It was the morning of All Saints. Francine was dead.
Two men were watching at the bedside. One of them standing up was the doctor. The other, kneeling beside the bed, was pressing his lips to the dead girl's hands, and seemed to rivet them there in a despairing kiss. It was Jacques, her lover. For more than six hours he had been plunged in a state of heart broken insensibility. An organ playing under the windows had just roused him from it.
This organ was playing a tune that Francine was in the habit of singing of a morning.
One of those mad hopes that are only born out of deep despair flashed across Jacques' mind. He went back a month in the past -- to the period when Francine was only sick unto death; he forgot the present, and imagined for a moment that the dead girl was but sleeping, and that she would wake up directly, her mouth full of her morning song.
But the sounds of the organ had not yet died away before Jacques had already come back to the reality. Francine's mouth was eternally closed to all songs, and the smile that her last thought had brought to her lips was fading away from them beneath death's fingers.
"Take courage, Jacques," said the doctor, who was the sculptor's friend.
Jacques rose, and said, looking fixedly at him, "it is over, is it not -- there is no longer any hope?"
Without replying to this wild inquiry, Jacques' friend went and drew the curtains of the bed, and then, returning to the sculptor, held out his hand.
"Francine is dead," said he. "We were bound to expect it, though heaven knows that we have done what we could to save her. She was a good girl, Jacques, who loved you very dearly -- dearer and better than you loved her yourself, for hers was love alone, while yours held an alloy. Francine is dead, but all is not over yet. We must now think about the steps necessary for her burial. We must set about that together, and we will ask one of the neighbors to keep watch here while we are away."
Jacques allowed himself to be led away by his friend. They passed the day between the registrar of deaths, the undertaker, and the cemetery. As Jacques had no money, the doctor pawned his watch, a ring, and some clothes, to cover the cost of the funeral, that was fixed for the next day.
They both got in late at night. The neighbor who had been watching tried to make Jacques eat a little.
"Yes," said he. "I will. I am very cold and I shall need a little strength for my work tonight."
The neighbor and the doctor did not understand him.
Jacques sat down at the table and ate a few mouthfuls so hurriedly that he was almost choked. Then he asked for drink. But on lifting his glass to his lips he let it fall. The glass, which broke on the floor, had awakened in the artist's mind a recollection which itself revived his momentary dulled pain. The day on which Francine had called on him for the first time she had felt ill, and he had given her to drink out of this glass. Later, when they were living together, they had regarded it as a love token.
During his rare moments of wealth the artist would buy for his love one or two bottles of the strengthening wine prescribed for her, and it was from this glass that Francine used to sip the liquid whence her love drew a charming gaiety.
Jacques remained for more than half an hour staring without uttering a word at the scattered fragments of this frail and cherished token. It seemed to him that his heart was also broken, and that he could feel the fragments tearing his breast. When he had recovered himself, he picked up the pieces of glass and placed them in a drawer. Then he asked the neighbor to fetch him two candles, and to send up a bucket of water by the porter.
"Do not go away," said he to the doctor, who had no intention of doing so. "I shall want you presently."
The water and the candles were brought and the two friends left alone.
"What do you want to do?" asked the doctor, watching Jacques, who after filling a wooden bowl with water was sprinkling powdered plaster of Paris into it.
"What do I mean to do?" asked the artist, "cannot you guess? I am going to model Francine's head, and as my courage would fail me if I were left alone, you must stay with me."
Jacques then went and drew the curtains of the bed and turned down the sheet that had been pulled up over the dead girl's face. His hand began to tremble and a stifled sob broke from his lips.
"Bring the candles," he cried to his friend, "and come and hold the bowl for me."
One of the candles was placed at the head of the bed so as to shed its light on Francine's face, the other candle was placed at the foot. With a brush dipped in olive oil the artist coated the eye-brows, the eye-lashes and the hair, which he arranged as Francine usually wore it.
"By doing this she will not suffer when we remove the mold," murmured Jacques to himself.
These precautions taken and after arranging the dead girl's head in a favorable position, Jacques began to lay on the plaster in successive coats until the mold had attained the necessary thickness. In a quarter of an hour the operation was over and had been thoroughly successful.
By some strange peculiarity a change had taken place in Francince's face. The blood, which had not had time to become wholly congealed, warmed no doubt by the warmth of the plaster, had flowed to the upper part of the corpse and a rosy tinge gradually showed itself on the dead whiteness of the cheeks and forehead. The eyelids, which had lifted when the mold was removed, revealed the tranquil blue eyes in which a vague intelligence seemed to lurk; from out the lips, parted by the beginning of a smile, there seemed to issue that last word, forgotten during the last farewell, that is only heard by the heart.
Who can affirm that intelligence absolutely ends where insensibility begins? Who can say that the passions fade away and die exactly at the last beat of the heart which they have agitated? Cannot the soul sometimes remain a voluntary captive within the corpse already dressed for the coffin, and note for a moment from the recesses of its fleshly prison house, regrets and tears? Those who depart have so many reasons to mistrust those who remain behind.
At the moment when Jacques sought to preserve her features by the aid of art who knows but that a thought of after life had perhaps returned to awaken Francine in her first slumber of the sleep that knows no end. Perhaps she had remembered the he whom she had just left was an artist at the same time as a lover, that he was both because he could not be one without the other, that for him love was the soul of heart and that if he had loved her so, it was because she had been for him a mistress and a woman, a sentiment in form. And then, perhaps, Francince, wishing to leave Jacques the human form that had become for him an incarnate ideal, had been able though dead and cold already to once more clothe her face with all the radiance of love and with all the graces of youth, to resuscitate the art treasure.
And perhaps too, the poor girl had thought rightly, for there exist among true artists singular Pygmalions who, contrary to the original one, would like to turn their living Galateas to marble.
In presence of the serenity of this face on which the death pangs had no longer left any trace, no one would have believed in the prolonged sufferings that had served as a preface to death. Francine seemed to be continuing a dream of love, and seeing her thus one would have said that she had died of beauty.
The doctor, worn out with fatigue, was asleep in a corner.
As to Jacques, he was again plunged in doubt. His mind beset with hallucinations, persisted in believing that she whom he had loved so well was on the point of awakening, and as faint nervous contractions, due to the recent action of the plaster, broke at intervals the immobility of the corpse, this semblance of life served to maintain Jacques in his blissful illusion, which lasted until morning, when a police official called to verify the death and authorize internment.
Besides, if it needed all the folly of despair to doubt of her death on beholding this beautiful creature, it also needed all the infallibility of science to believe it.
While the neighbor was putting Francine into her shroud, Jacques was led away into the next room, where he found some of his friends who had come to follow the funeral. The Bohemians desisted as regards Jacques, whom, however, they loved in brotherly fashion, from all those consolations which only serve to irritate grief. Without uttering one of those remarks so hard to frame and so painful to listen to, they silently shook their friend by the hand in turn.
"Her death is a great misfortune for Jacques," said one of them.
"Yes," replied the painter Lazare, a strange spirit who had been able at the very outset to conquer all the rebellious impulses of youth by the inflexibility of one set purpose, and in whom the artist had ended by stifling the man, "yes, but it is a misfortune that he incurred voluntarily. Since he knew Francine, Jacques has greatly altered."
"She made him happy," said another.
"Happy," replied Lazare, "what do you call happy? How can you call a passion, which brings a man to the condition in which Jacques is at this moment, happiness? Show him a masterpiece and he would not even turn his eyes to look at it; on a Titian or a Raphael. My mistress is immortal and will never deceive me. She dwells in the Louvre, and her name is Joconde."
While Lazare was about to continue his theories on art and sentiment, it was announced that it was time to start for the church.
After a few prayers the funeral procession moved on to the cemetery. As it was All Souls' Day an immense crowd filled it. Many people turned to look at Jacques walking bareheaded in rear of the hearse.
"Poor fellow," said one, "it is his mother, no doubt."
"It is his father," said another.
"It is his sister," was elsewhere remarked.
A poet, who had come there to study the varying expressions of regret at this festival of recollections celebrated once a year amidst November fogs, alone guessed on seeing him pass that he was following the funeral of his mistress.
When they came to the grave the Bohemians ranged themselves about it bareheaded, Jacques stood close to the edge, his friend the doctor holding him by the arm.
The grave diggers were in a hurry and wanted to get things over quickly.
"There is to be no speechifying," said one of them. "Well, so much the better. Heave, mate, that's it."
The coffin taken out of the hearse was lowered into the grave. One man withdrew the ropes and then with one of his mates took a shovel and began to cast in the earth. The grave was soon filled up. A little wooden cross was planted over it.
In the midst of his sobs the doctor heard Jacques utter this cry of egoism --
"Oh my youth! It is you they are burying."
Jacques belonged to a club styled the Water Drinkers, which seemed to have been founded in imitation of the famous one of the Rue des Quare-Vent, which is treated of in that fine story "Un Grand Homme de Province." Only there was a great difference between the heroes of the latter circle and the Water Drinkers who, like all imitators, had exaggerated the system they sought to put into practice. This difference will be understood by the fact that in De Balzac's book the members of the club end by attaining the object they proposed to themselves, while after several years' existence the club of the Water Drinkers was naturally dissolved by the death of all its members, without the name of anyone of them remaining attached to a work attesting their existence.
During his union with Francince, Jacques' intercourse with the Water Drinkers had become more broken. The necessities of life had obliged the artist to violate certain conditions solemnly signed and sworn by the Water Drinkers the day the club was founded.
Perpetually perched on the stilts of an absurd pride, these young fellows had laid down as a sovereign principle in their association, that they must never abandon the lofty heights of art; that is to say, that despite their mortal poverty, not one of them would make any concession to necessity. Thus the poet Melchior would never have consented to abandon what he called his lyre, to write a commercial prospectus or an electoral address. That was all very well for the poet Rodolphe, a good-for-nothing who was ready to turn his hand to anything, and who never let a five franc piece flit past him without trying to capture it, no matter how. The painter Lazare, a proud wearer of rags, would never have soiled his brushes by painting the portrait of a tailor holding a parrot on his forefinger, as our friend the painter Marcel had once done in exchange for the famous dress coat nicknamed Methuselah, which the hands of each of his sweethearts had starred over with darns. All the while he had been living in communion of thought with the Water Drinkers, the sculptor Jacques had submitted to the tyranny of the club rules; but when he made the acquaintance of Francine, he would not make the poor girl, already ill, share of the regimen he had accepted during his solitude. Jacques' was above all an upright and loyal nature. He went to the president of the club, the exclusive Lazare, and informed him that for the future he would accept any work that would bring him in anything.
"My dear fellow, your declaration of love is your artistic renunciation. We will remain your friends if you like, but we shall no longer be your partners. Work as you please, for me you are no longer a sculptor, but a plasterer. It is true that you may drink wine, but we who continue to drink our water, and eat our dry bread, will remain artists."
Whatever Lazare might say about it, Jacques remained an artist. But to keep Francine with him he undertook, when he had a chance, any paying work. It is thus that he worked for a long time in the workshop of the ornament maker Romagnesi. Clever in execution and ingenious in invention, Jacques, without relinquishing high art, might have achieved a high reputation in those figure groups that have become one of the chief elements in this commerce. But Jacques was lazy, like all true artists, and a lover after the fashion of poets. Youth in him had awakened tardily but ardent, and, with a presentiment of his approaching end, he had sought to exhaust it in Francince's arms. Thus it happened that good chances of work knocked at his door without Jacques answering, because he would have had to disturb himself, and he found it more comfortable to dream by the light of his beloved's eyes.
When Francine was dead the sculptor went to see his old friends the Water Drinkers again. But Lazare's spirit predominated in this club, in which each of the members lived petrified in the egoism of art. Jacques did not find what he came there in search of. They scarcely understood his despair, which they strove to appease by argument, and seeing this small degree of sympathy, Jacques preferred to isolate his grief rather than see it laid bare by discussion. He broke off, therefore, completely with the Water Drinkers and went away to live alone.
Five or six days after Francine's funeral, Jacques went to a monumental mason of the Montparnasse cemetery and offered to conclude the following bargain with him. The mason was to furnish Francince's grave with a border, which Jacques reserved the right of designing, and in addition to supply the sculptor with a block of white marble. In return for this Jacques would place himself for three months at his disposition, either as a journeyman stone-cutter or sculptor. The monumental mason then had several important orders on hand. He visited Jacques' studio, and in presence of several works begun there, had proof that the chance which gave him the sculptor's services was a lucky one for him. A week later, Francine's grave had a border, in the midst of which the wooden cross had been replaced by a stone one with her name graven on it.
Jacques had luckily to do with an honest fellow who understood that a couple of hundredweight of cast iron, and three square feet of Pyrenean marble were no payment for three months' work by Jacques, whose talent had brought him in several thousand francs. He offered to give the artist a share in the business, but Jacques would not consent. The lack of variety in the subjects for treatment was repugnant to his inventive disposition, besides he had what he wanted, a large block of marble, from the recesses of which he wished to evolve a masterpiece destined for Francine's grave.
At the beginning of spring Jacques' position improved. His friend the doctor put him in relation with a great foreign nobleman who had come to settle in Paris, and who was having a magnificent mansion built in one of the most fashionable districts. Several celebrated artists had been called in to contribute to the luxury of this little palace. A chimney piece was commissioned from Jacques. I can still see his design, it was charming; the whole poetry of winter was expressed in the marble that was to serve as a frame to the flames. Jacques' studio was too small, he asked for and obtained a room in the mansion, as yet uninhabited, to execute his task in. A fairly large sum was even advanced him on the price agreed on for his work. Jacques began by repaying his friend the doctor the money the latter had lent him at Francine's death, then he hurried to the cemetery to cover the earth, beneath which his mistress slept, with flowers.
But spring had been there before him, and on the girl's grave a thousand flowers were springing at hazard amongst the grass. The artist had not the courage to pull them up, for he thought that these flowers might perhaps hold something of his dead love. As the gardener asked him what was to be done with the roses and pansies he had brought with him, Jacques bade him plant them on a neighboring grave, newly dug, the poor grave of some poor creature, without any border and having no other memorial over it than a piece of wood stuck in the ground and surmounted by a crown of flowers in blackened paper, the scant offering of some pauper's grief. Jacques left the cemetery in quite a different frame of mind to what he had entered it. He looked with happy curiosity at the bright spring sunshine, the same that had so often gilded Francine's locks when she ran about the fields culling wildflowers with her white hands. Quite a swarm of pleasant thoughts hummed in his heart. Passing by a little tavern on the outer Boulevard he remembered that one day, being caught by a storm, he had taken shelter there with Francine, and that they had dined there. Jacques went in and had dinner served at the same table. His dessert was served on a plate with a pictorial pattern; he recognized it and remembered that Francine had spent half an hour in guessing the rebus painted on it, and recollected, too, a song sung by her when inspired by the violet hued wine which does not cost much and has more gaiety in it than grapes. But this flood of sweet remembrances recalled his love without reawakening his grief. Accessible to superstition, like all poetical and dreamy intellects, Jacques fancied that it was Francine, who, hearing his step beside her, had wafted him these pleasant remembrances from her grave, and he would not damp them with a tear. He quitted the tavern with firm step, erect head, bright eye, beating heart, and almost a smile on his lips, murmuring as he went along the refrain of Francine's song --
"Love hovers round my dwelling
My door must open be."
This refrain in Jacques' mouth was also a recollection, but then it was already a song, and perhaps without suspecting it he took that evening the first step along the road which leads from sorrow to melancholy, and thence onward to forgetfulness. Alas! Whatever one may wish and whatever one may do the eternal and just law of change wills it so.
Even as the flowers, sprung perhaps from Francine, had sprouted on her tomb the sap of youth stirred in the heart of Jacques, in which the remembrance of the old love awoke new aspirations for new ones. Besides Jacques belonged to the race of artists and poets who make passion an instrument of art and poetry, and whose mind only shows activity in proportion as it is set in motion by the motive powers of the heart. With Jacques invention was really the daughter of sentiment, and he put something of himself into the smallest things he did. He perceived that souvenirs no longer sufficed him, and that, like the millstone which wears itself away when corn runs short, his heart was wearing away for want of emotion. Work had no longer any charm for him, his power of invention, of yore feverish and spontaneous, now only awoke after much patient effort. Jacques was discontented, and almost envied the life of his old friends, the Water Drinkers.
He sought to divert himself, held out his hand to pleasure, and made fresh acquaintances. He associated with the poet Rodolphe, whom he had met at a cafe, and each felt a warm sympathy towards the other. Jacques explained his worries, and Rodolphe was not long in understanding their cause.
"My friend," said he, "I know what it is," and tapping him on the chest just over the heart he added, "Quick, you must rekindle the fire there, start a little love affair at once, and ideas will recur to you."
"Ah!" said Jacques. "I loved Francine too dearly."
"It will not hinder you from still always loving her. You will embrace her on another's lips."
"Oh!" said Jacques. "If I could only meet a girl who resembled her."
And he left Rodolphe deep in thought.
Six weeks later Jacques had recovered all his energy, rekindled by the tender glances of a young girl whose name was Marie, and whose somewhat sickly beauty recalled that of poor Francine. Nothing, indeed, could be prettier than this pretty Marie, who was within six weeks of being eighteen years of age, as she never failed to mention. Her love affair with Jacques had its birth by moonlight in the garden of an open air ball, to the strains of a shrill violin, a grunting double bass, and a clarinet that trilled like a blackbird. Jacques met her one evening when gravely walking around the space reserved for the dancers. Seeing him pass stiffly in his eternal black coat buttoned to the throat, the pretty and noisy frequenters of the place, who knew him by sight, used to say amongst themselves,
"What is that undertaker doing here? Is there anyone who wants to be buried?"
And Jacques walked on always alone, his heart bleeding within him from the thorns of a remembrance which the orchestra rendered keener by playing a lively quadrille which sounded to his ears as mournful as a De Profundis. It was in the midst of this reverie that he noticed Marie, who was watching him from a corner, and laughing like a wild thing at his gloomy bearing. Jacques raised his eyes and saw this burst of laughter in a pink bonnet within three paces of him. He went up to her and made a few remarks, to which she replied. He offered her his arm for a stroll around the garden which she accepted. He told her that he thought her as beautiful as an angel, and she made him repeat it twice over. He stole some green apples hanging from the trees of the garden for her, and she devoured them eagerly to the accompaniment of that ringing laugh which seemed the burden of her constant mirth. Jacques thought of the Bible, and thought that we should never despair as regards any woman, and still less as regards those who love apples. He took another turn round the garden with the pink bonnet, and it is thus that arriving at the ball alone he did not return from it so.
However, Jacques had not forgotten Francine; bearing in mind Rodolphe's words he kissed her daily on Marie's lips, and wrought in secret at the figure he wished to place on the dead girl's grave.
One day when he received some money Jacques bought a dress for Marie -- a black dress. The girl was pleased, only she thought that black was not very lively for summer wear. But Jacques told her that he was very fond of black, and that she would please him by wearing this dress every day. Marie obeyed.
One Saturday Jacques said to her:
"Come early tomorrow, we will go into the country."
"How nice!" said Marie. "I am preparing a surprise for you. You shall see. It will be sunshiny tomorrow."
Marie spent the night at home finishing a new dress that she had bought out of her savings -- a pretty pink dress. And on Sunday she arrived clad in her smart purchase at Jacques' studio.
The artist received her coldly, almost brutally.
"I thought I should please you by making this bright toilette," said Marie, who could not understand his coolness.
"We cannot go into the country today," replied he. "You had better be off. I have some work today."
Marie went home with a full heart. On the way she met a young man who was acquainted with Jacques' story, and who had also paid court to herself.
"Ah! Mademoiselle Marie, so you are no longer in mourning?" said he.
"Mourning?" asked Marie. "For whom?"
"What, did you not know? It is pretty generally known, though, the black dress that Jacques gave you--."
"Well, what of it?" asked Marie.
"It was mourning. Jacques made you wear mourning for Francine."
From that day Jacques saw no more of Marie.
This rupture was unlucky for him. Evil days returned; he had no more work, and fell into such a fearful state of wretchedness that, no longer knowing what would become of him, he begged his friend the doctor to obtain him admission to a hospital. The doctor saw at first glance that this admission would not be difficult to obtain. Jacques, who did not suspect his condition, was on the way to rejoin Francine.
As he could still move about, Jacques begged the superintendent of the hospital to let him have a little unused room, and he had a stand, some tools, and some modelling clay brought there. During the first fortnight he worked at the figure he intended for Francine's grave. It was an angel with outspread wings. This figure, which was Francine's portrait, was never quite finished, for Jacques could soon no longer mount the stairs, and in short time could not leave his bed.
One day the order book fell into his hands, and seeing the things prescribed for himself, he understood that he was lost. He wrote to his family, and sent for Sister Sainte-Genevieve, who looked after him with charitable care.
"Sister," said Jacques, "there is upstairs in the room that was lent me, a little plaster cast. This statuette, which represents an angel, was intended for a tomb, but I had not time to execute it in marble. Yes, I had a fine block -- white marble with pink veins. Well, sister, I give you my little statuette for your chapel."
Jacques died a few days later. As the funeral took place on the very day of the opening of the annual exhibition of pictures, the Water Drinkers were not present. "Art before all," said Lazare.
Jacques' family was not a rich one, and he did not have a grave of his own.
He is buried somewhere.