Текст книги

Жорж Санд
Mauprat

Mauprat
Жорж Санд

George Sand

Mauprat

GEORGE SAND

Napoleon in exile declared that were he again on the throne he should make a point of spending two hours a day in conversation with women, from whom there was much to be learnt. He had, no doubt, several types of women in mind, but it is more than probable that the banishment of Madame de Stael rose before him as one of the mistakes in his career. It was not that he showed lack of judgment merely by the persecution of a rare talent, but by failing to see that the rare talent was pointing out truths very valuable to his own safety. This is what happened in France when George Sand – the greatest woman writer the world has known, or is ever likely to know – was attacked by the orthodox critics of her time. They feared her warnings; they detested her sincerity – a sincerity displayed as much in her life as in her works (the hypocrite’s Paradise was precisely her idea of Hell); they resented bitterly an independence of spirit which in a man would have been in the highest degree distinguished, which remained, under every test, untamable. With a kind of bonhomie which one can only compare with Fielding’s, with a passion as great as Montaigne’s for acknowledging the truths of experience, with an absence of self-consciousness truly amazing in the artistic temperament of either sex, she wrote exactly as she thought, saw and felt. Humour was not her strong point. She had an exultant joy in living, but laughter, whether genial or sardonic, is not in her work. Irony she seldom, if ever, employed; satire she never attempted. It was on the maternal, the sympathetic side that her femininity, and therefore her creative genius, was most strongly developed. She was masculine only in the deliberate libertinism of certain episodes in her own life. This was a characteristic – one on no account to be overlooked or denied or disguised, but it was not her character. The character was womanly, tender, exquisitely patient and good-natured. She would take cross humanity in her arms, and carry it out into the sunshine of the fields; she would show it flowers and birds, sing songs to it, tell it stories, recall its original beauty. Even in her moods of depression and revolt, one recognises the fatigue of the strong. It is never for a moment the lassitude of the feeble, the weary spite of a sick and ill-used soul. As she was free from personal vanity, she was also free from hysteria. On marriage – the one subject which drove her to a certain though always disciplined violence – she clearly felt more for others than they felt for themselves; and in observing certain households and life partnerships, she may have been afflicted with a dismay which the unreflecting sufferers did not share. No writer who was carried away by egoistic anger or disappointment could have told these stories of unhappiness, infidelity, and luckless love with such dispassionate lucidity.

With the artist’s dislike of all that is positive and arbitrary, she was, nevertheless, subject rather to her intellect than her emotions. An insult to her intelligence was the one thing she found it hard to pardon, and she allowed no external interference to disturb her relations with her own reasoning faculty. She followed caprices, no doubt, but she was never under any apprehension with regard to their true nature, displaying in this respect a detachment which is usually considered exclusively virile. Elle et Lui, which, perhaps because it is short and associated with actual facts, is the most frequently discussed in general conversation on her work, remains probably the sanest account of a sentimental experiment which was ever written. How far it may have seemed accurate to De Musset is not to the point. Her version of her grievance is at least convincing. Without fear and without hope, she makes her statement, and it stands, therefore, unique of its kind among indictments. It has been said that her fault was an excess of emotionalism; that is to say, she attached too much importance to mere feeling and described it, in French of marvellous ease and beauty, with a good deal of something else which one can almost condemn as the high-flown. Not that the high-flown is of necessity unnatural, but it is misleading; it places the passing mood, the lyrical note, dependent on so many accidents, above the essential temperament and the dominant chord which depend on life only. Where she falls short of the very greatest masters is in this all but deliberate confusion of things which must change or can be changed with things which are unchangeable, incurable, and permanent. Shakespeare, it is true, makes all his villains talk poetry, but it is the poetry which a villain, were he a poet, would inevitably write. George Sand glorifies every mind with her own peculiar fire and tears. The fire is, fortunately, so much stronger than the tears that her passion never degenerates into the maudlin. All the same, she makes too universal a use of her own strongest gifts, and this is why she cannot be said to excel as a portrait painter. One merit, however, is certain: if her earliest writings were dangerous, it was because of her wonderful power of idealization, not because she filled her pages with the revolting and epicene sensuality of the new Italian, French, and English schools. Intellectual viciousness was not her failing, and she never made the modern mistake of confusing indecency with vigour. She loved nature, air, and light too well and too truly to go very far wrong in her imaginations. It may indeed be impossible for many of us to accept all her social and political views; they have no bearing, fortunately, on the quality of her literary art; they have to be considered under a different aspect. In politics, her judgment, as displayed in the letters to Mazzini, was profound. Her correspondence with Flaubert shows us a capacity for stanch, unblemished friendship unequalled, probably, in the biographies, whether published or unpublished, of the remarkable.

With regard to her impiety – for such it should be called – it did not arise from arrogance, nor was it based in any way upon the higher learning of her period. Simply she did not possess the religious instinct. She understood it sympathetically – in Spiridion, for instance, she describes an ascetic nature as it has never been done in any other work of fiction. Newman himself has not written passages of deeper or purer mysticism, of more sincere spirituality. Balzac, in Seraphita, attempted something of the kind, but the result was never more than a tour de force. He could invent, he could describe, but George Sand felt; and as she felt, she composed, living with and loving with an understanding love all her creations. But it has to be remembered always that she repudiated all religious restraint, that she believed in the human heart, that she acknowledged no higher law than its own impulses, that she saw love where others see only a cruel struggle for existence, that she found beauty where ordinary visions can detect little besides a selfishness worse than brutal and a squalor more pitiful than death. Everywhere she insists upon the purifying influence of affection, no matter how degraded in its circumstances or how illegal in its manifestation. No writer – not excepting the Brontes – has shown a deeper sympathy with uncommon temperaments, misunderstood aims, consciences with flickering lights, the discontented, the abnormal, or the unhappy. The great modern specialist for nervous diseases has not improved on her analysis of the neuropathic and hysterical. There is scarcely a novel of hers in which some character does not appear who is, in the usual phrase, out of the common run. Yet, with this perfect understanding of the exceptional case, she never permits any science of cause and effect to obscure the rules and principles which in the main control life for the majority. It was, no doubt, this balance which made her a popular writer, even while she never ceased to keep in touch with the most acute minds of France.

She possessed, in addition to creative genius of an order especially individual and charming, a capacity for the invention of ideas. There are in many of her chapters more ideas, more suggestions than one would find in a whole volume of Flaubert. It is not possible that these surprising, admirable, and usually sound thoughts were the result of long hours of reflection. They belonged to her nature and a quality of judgment which, even in her most extravagant romances, is never for a moment swayed from that sane impartiality described by the unobservant as common sense.

Her fairness to women was not the least astounding of her gifts. She is kind to the beautiful, the yielding, above all to the very young, and in none of her stories has she introduced any violently disagreeable female characters. Her villains are mostly men, and even these she invests with a picturesque fatality which drives them to errors, crimes, and scoundrelism with a certain plaintive, if relentless, grace. The inconstant lover is invariably pursued by the furies of remorse; the brutal has always some mitigating influence in his career; the libertine retains through many vicissitudes a seraphic love for some faithful Solveig.

Humanity meant far more to her than art: she began her literary career by describing facts as she knew them: critics drove her to examine their causes, and so she gradually changed from the chronicler with strong sympathies to the interpreter with a reasoned philosophy. She discovered that a great deal of the suffering in this world is due not so much to original sin, but to a kind of original stupidity, an unimaginative, stubborn stupidity. People were dishonest because they believed, wrongly, that dishonesty was somehow successful. They were cruel because they supposed that repulsive exhibitions of power inspired a prolonged fear. They were treacherous because they had never been taught the greater strength of candour. George Sand tried to point out the advantage of plain dealing, and the natural goodness of mankind when uncorrupted by a false education. She loved the wayward and the desolate: pretentiousness in any disguise was the one thing she suspected and could not tolerate. It may be questioned whether she ever deceived herself; but it must be said, that on the whole she flattered weakness – and excused, by enchanting eloquence, much which cannot always be justified merely on the ground that it is explicable. But to explain was something – all but everything at the time of her appearance in literature. Every novel she wrote made for charity – for a better acquaintance with our neighbour’s woes and our own egoism. Such an attitude of mind is only possible to an absolutely frank, even Arcadian, nature. She did what she wished to do: she said what she had to say, not because she wanted to provoke excitement or astonish the multitude, but because she had succeeded eminently in leading her own life according to her own lights. The terror of appearing inconsistent excited her scorn. Appearances never troubled that unashamed soul. This is the magic, the peculiar fascination of her books. We find ourselves in the presence of a freshness, a primeval vigour which produces actually the effect of seeing new scenes, of facing a fresh climate. Her love of the soil, of flowers, and the sky, for whatever was young and unspoilt, seems to animate every page – even in her passages of rhetorical sentiment we never suspect the burning pastille, the gauze tea-gown, or the depressed pink light. Rhetoric it may be, but it is the rhetoric of the sea and the wheat field. It can be spoken in the open air and read by the light of day.

George Sand never confined herself to any especial manner in her literary work. Her spontaneity of feeling and the actual fecundity, as it were, of her imaginative gift, could not be restrained, concentrated, and formally arranged as it was in the case of the two first masters of modern French novel-writing. Her work in this respect may be compared to a gold mine, while theirs is rather the goldsmith’s craft. It must not be supposed, however, that she was a writer without very strong views with regard to the construction of a plot and the development of character. Her literary essays and reviews show a knowledge of technique which could be accepted at any time as a text-book for the critics and the criticised. She knew exactly how artistic effects were obtained, how and why certain things were done, why realism, so-called, could never be anything but caricature, and why over-elaboration of small matters can never be otherwise than disproportionate. Nothing could be more just than her saying about Balzac that he was such a logician that he invented things more truthful than the truth itself. No one knew better than she that the truth, as it is commonly understood, does not exist; that it cannot be logical because of its mystery; and that it is the knowledge of its contradictions which shows the real expert in psychology.

Three of her stories – La Petite Fadette, La Mare au Diable, and Les Maitres Mosaistes – are as neat in their workmanship as a Dutch painting. Her brilliant powers of analysis, the intellectual atmosphere with which she surrounds the more complex characters in her longer romances, are entirely put aside, and we are given instead a series of pictures and dialogues in what has been called the purely objective style; so pure in its objectivity and detachment that it would be hard for any one to decide from internal evidence that they were in reality her own composition.

To those who seek for proportion and form there is, without doubt, much that is unsymmetrical in her designs. Interesting she always is, but to the trained eye scenes of minor importance are, strictly speaking, too long: descriptions in musical language sometimes distract the reader from the progress of the story. But this arose from her own joy in writing: much as she valued proportion, she liked expressing her mind better, not out of conceit or self-importance, but as the birds, whom she loved so well, sing.

Good nature is what we need above all in reading George Sand. It is there – infectious enough in her own pages, and with it the courage which can come only from a heart at peace with itself. This is why neither fashion nor new nor old criticism can affect the title of George Sand among the greatest influences of the last century and the present one. Much that she has said still seems untried and unexpected. Writers so opposite as Ibsen and Anatole France have expanded her themes. She is quoted unconsciously to-day by hundreds who are ignorant of their real source of inspiration. No woman ever wrote with such force before, and no woman since has even approached her supreme accomplishments.

    PEARL MARY-TERESA CRAIGIE.

LIFE OF GEORGE SAND

George Sand, in whose life nothing was commonplace, was born in Paris, “in the midst of roses, to the sound of music,” at a dance which her mother had somewhat rashly attended, on the 5th of July, 1804. Her maiden name was Armentine Lucile Aurore Dupin, and her ancestry was of a romantic character. She was, in fact, of royal blood, being the great-grand-daughter of the Marshal Maurice du Saxe and a Mlle. Verriere; her grandfather was M. Dupin de Francueil, the charming friend of Rousseau and Mme. d’Epinay; her father, Maurice Dupin, was a gay and brilliant soldier, who married the pretty daughter of a bird-fancier, and died early. She was a child of the people on her mother’s side, an aristocrat on her father’s. In 1807 she was taken by her father, who was on Murat’s staff, into Spain, from which she returned to the house of her grandmother, at Nohant in Berry. This old lady adopted Aurore at the death of her father, in 1808. Of her childhood George Sand has given a most picturesque account in her “Histoire de ma Vie.” In 1817 the girl was sent to the Convent of the English Augustinians in Paris, where she passed through a state of religious mysticism. She returned to Nohant in 1820, and soon threw off her pietism in the outdoor exercises of a wholesome country life. Within a few months, Mme. Dupin de Francueil died at a great age, and Aurore was tempted to return to Paris. Her relatives, however, were anxious that she should not do this, and they introduced to her the natural son of a retired colonel, the Baron Dudevant, whom, in September, 1822, she married. She brought him to live with her at Nohant, and she bore him two sons, Maurice and Solange, and a daughter. She quickly perceived, as her own intellectual nature developed, that her boorish husband was unsuited to her, but their early years of married life were not absolutely intolerable. In 1831, however, she could endure him no longer, and an amicable separation was agreed upon. She left M. Dudevant at Nohant, resigning her fortune, and proceeded to Paris, where she was hard pressed to find a living. She endeavoured, without success, to paint the lids of cigar-boxes, and in final desperation, under the influence of Jules Sandeau – who became her lover, and who invented the pseudonym of George Sand for her – she turned her attention to literature. Her earliest work was to help Sandeau in the composition of his novel, “Rose et Blanche” Her first independent novel, “Indiana,” appeared at the close of 1831, and her second, “Valentine,” two months later. These books produced a great and immediate sensation, and she felt that she had found her vocation. In 1833 she produced “Lebia”; in 1834 the “Lettres d’un Voyageur” and “Jacques”; in 1835 “Andre” and “Leone Leoni.” After this her works become too numerous and were produced with too monotonous a regularity to be chronicled here. But it should be said that “Mauprat” was written in 1836 at Nohant, while she was pleading for a legal separation from her husband, which was given her by the tribunal of Bourges, with full authority over the education of her children. These early novels all reflect in measure the personal sorrows of the author, although George Sand never ceased to protest against too strict a biographical interpretation of their incidents. “Spiridion” (1839), composed under the influence of Lamennais, deals with questions of free thought in religion. But the novels of the first period of her literary activity, which came to a close in 1840, are mainly occupied with a lyrical individualism, and are inspired by the wrongs and disillusions of the author’s personal adventures.

The years 1833 and 1834 were marked by her too-celebrated relations with Alfred de Musset, with whom she lived in Paris and at Venice, and with whom she quarrelled at last in circumstances deplorably infelicitous. Neither of these great creatures had the reticence to exclude the world from a narrative of their misfortunes and adventures; of the two it was fairly certainly the woman who came the less injured out of the furnace. In “Elle et Lui” (1859) she gave long afterward her version of the unhappy and undignified story. Her stay in Venice appears to have impressed her genius more deeply than any other section of her numerous foreign sojournings.

The writings of George Sand’s second period, which extended from 1840 to 1848, are of a more general character, and are tinged with a generous but not very enlightened ardour for social emancipation. Of these novels, the earliest is “Le Compagnon du Tour de France” (1840), which is scarcely a masterpiece. In the pursuit of foreign modes of thought, and impelled by experiences of travel, George Sand rose to far greater heights in “Jeanne” (1842), in “Consuelo” (1842-’43), and in “La Comtesse de Rudolstade” (1844). All these books were composed in her retirement at Nohant, where she definitely settled in 1839, after having travelled for several months in Switzerland with Liszt and Mme. d’Agoult, and having lived in the island of Majorca for some time with the dying Chopin, an episode which is enshrined in her “Lucrezia Floriani” (1847).

The Revolution of 1848 appeared to George Sand a realization of her Utopian dreams, and plunged her thoughts into a painful disorder. She soon, however, became dissatisfied with the result of her republican theories, and she turned to two new sources of success, the country story and the stage. Her delicious romance of “Francois le Champi” (1850) attracted a new and enthusiastic audience to her, and her entire emancipation from “problems” was marked in the pages of “La Petite Fadette” and of “La Mare au Diable.” To the same period belong “Les Visions de la Nuit des les Campagnes,” “Les Maitres Sonneurs,” and “Cosina.” From 1850 to 1864 she gave a great deal of attention to the theatre, and of her numerous pieces several enjoyed a wide and considerable success, although it cannot be said that any of her plays have possessed the vitality of her best novels. The most solid of the former was her dramatization of her story, “Le Marquis de Villemer” (1864), which was one of the latest, and next to it “Le Mariage de Victorine” (1851), which was one of the earliest. Her successes on the stage, such as they are, appear mainly due to collaboration with others.

In her latest period, from 1860 to 1876, George Sand returned to her first lyrical manner, although with more reticence and a wider experience of life. Of the very abundant fruitage of these last years, not many rank with the masterpieces of her earlier periods, although such novels as “Tamaris” (1862), “La Confession d’une Jeune Fille” (1865), and “Cadio,” seemed to her admirers to show no decline of force or fire. Still finer, perhaps, were “Le Marquis de Villemer” (1861) and “Jean de la Roche” (1860). Her latest production, which appeared after her death, was the “Contes d’une Grand’mere,” a collection full of humanity and beauty. George Sand died at Nohant on the 8th of June, 1876. She had great qualities of soul, and in spite of the naive irregularities of her conduct in early middle life, she cannot be regarded otherwise than as an excellent woman. She was brave, courageous, heroically industrious, a loyal friend, a tender and wise mother. Her principle fault has been wittily defined by Mr. Henry James, who has remarked that in affairs of the heart George Sand never “behaved like a gentleman.”

    E. G.

PREFACE

When I wrote my novel Mauprat at Nohant – in 1846, if I remember rightly – I had just been suing for a separation. Hitherto I had written much against the abuses of marriage, and perhaps, though insufficiently explaining my views, had induced a belief that I failed to appreciate its essence; but it was at this time that marriage itself stood before me in all the moral beauty of its principle.

Misfortune is not without its uses to the thoughtful mind. The more clearly I had realized the pain and pity of having to break a sacred bond, the more profoundly I felt that where marriage is wanting, is in certain elements of happiness and justice of too lofty a nature to appeal to our actual society. Nay, more; society strives to take from the sanctity of the institution by treating it as a contract of material interests, attacking it on all sides at once, by the spirit of its manners, by its prejudices, by its hypocritical incredulity.

While writing a novel as an occupation and distraction for my mind, I conceived the idea of portraying an exclusive and undying love, before, during, and after marriage. Thus I drew the hero of my book proclaiming, at the age of eighty, his fidelity to the one woman he had ever loved.

The ideal of love is assuredly eternal fidelity. Moral and religious laws have aimed at consecrating this ideal. Material facts obscure it. Civil laws are so framed as to make it impossible or illusory. Here, however, is not the place to prove this. Nor has Mauprat been burdened with a proof of the theory; only, the sentiment by which I was specially penetrated at the time of writing it is embodied in the words of Mauprat towards the end of the book: “She was the only woman I loved in all my life; none other ever won a glance from me, or knew the pressure of my hand.”

    GEORGE SAND.
    June 5, 1857.
    TO GUSTAVE PAPET

Though fashion may proscribe the patriarchal fashion of dedications, I would ask you, brother and friend, to accept this of a tale which is not new to you. I have drawn my materials in part from the cottages of our Noire valley. May we live and die there, repeating every evening our beloved invocation:

    SANCTA SIMPLICITAS! GEORGE SAND.

On the borders of La Marche and Berry, in the district known as Varenne, which is naught but a vast moor studded with forests of oak and chestnut, and in the most thickly wooded and wildest part of the country, may be found, crouching within a ravine, a little ruined chateau. The dilapidated turrets would not catch your eye until you were about a hundred yards from the principal portcullis. The venerable trees around and the scattered rocks above, bury it in everlasting obscurity; and you would experience the greatest difficulty, even in broad daylight, in crossing the deserted path leading to it, without stumbling against the gnarled trunks and rubbish that bar every step. The name given to this dark ravine and gloomy castle is Roche-Mauprat.

It was not so long ago that the last of the Mauprats, the heir to this property, had the roofing taken away and all the woodwork sold. Then, as if to give a kick to the memory of his ancestors, he ordered the entrance gate to be thrown down, the north tower to be gutted, and a breach to be made in the surrounding wall. This done, he departed with his workmen, shaking the dust from off his feet, and abandoning his domain to foxes, and cormorants, and vipers. Since then, whenever the wood-cutters and charcoal-burners from the huts in the neighbourhood pass along the top of the Roche-Mauprat ravine, if it is in daytime they whistle with a defiant air or hurl a hearty curse at the ruins; but when day falls and the goat-sucker begins to screech from the top of the loopholes, wood-cutter and charcoal-burner pass by silently, with quickened step, and cross themselves from time to time to ward off the evil spirits that hold sway among the ruins.

For myself, I own that I have never skirted the ravine at night without feeling a certain uneasiness; and I would not like to swear that on some stormy nights I have not given my horse a touch of the spur, in order to escape the more quickly from the disagreeable impression this neighbourhood made on me.

The reason is that in childhood I classed the name of Mauprat with those of Cartouche and Bluebeard; and in the course of horrible dreams I often used to mix up the ancient legends of the Ogre and the Bogey with the quite recent events which in our province had given such a sinister lustre to this Mauprat family.

Frequently, out shooting, when my companions and I have left our posts to go and warm ourselves at the charcoal fires which the workmen keep up all night, I have heard this name dying away on their lips at our approach. But when they had recognised us and thoroughly satisfied themselves that the ghosts of none of these robbers were hiding in our midst, they would tell us in a whisper such stories as might make one’s hair stand on end, stories which I shall take good care not to pass on to you, grieved as I am that they should ever have darkened and pained my own memory.

Not that the story I am about to tell is altogether pleasant and cheerful. On the contrary, I must ask your pardon for unfolding so sombre a tale. Yet, in the impression which it has made on myself there is something so consoling and, if I may venture the phrase, so healthful to the soul, that you will excuse me, I hope, for the sake of the result. Besides this is a story which has just been told to me. And now you ask me for one. The opportunity is too good to be missed for one of my laziness or lack of invention.

It was only last week that I met Bernard Mauprat, the last of the line, the man who, having long before severed himself from his infamous connections, determined to demolish his manor as a sign of the horror aroused in him by the recollections of childhood. This Bernard is one of the most respected men in the province. He lives in a pretty house near Chateauroux, in a flat country. Finding myself in the neighbourhood, with a friend of mine who knows him, I expressed a wish to be introduced; and my friend, promising me a hearty welcome, took me to his house then and there.

I already knew in outline the remarkable history of this old man; but I had always felt a keen desire to fill in the details, and above all to receive them from himself. For me, the strange destiny of the man was a philosophical problem to be solved. I therefore noticed his features, his manners, and his home with peculiar interest.

Bernard Mauprat must be fully eighty-four, though his robust health, his upright figure, his firm step, and the absence of any infirmity might indicate some fifteen or twenty years less. His face would have appeared to me extremely handsome, had not a certain harshness of expression brought before my eyes, in spite of myself, the shades of his fathers. I very much fear that, externally at all events, he must resemble them. This he alone could have told us; for neither my friend nor myself had known any other Mauprat. Naturally, however, we were very careful not to inquire.

It struck us that his servants waited on him with a promptitude and punctuality quite marvellous in Berrichon domestics. Nevertheless, at the least semblance of delay he raised his voice, knitted his eyebrows (which still showed very black under his white hair), and muttered a few expressions of impatience which lent wings even to the slowest. At first I was somewhat shocked at this habit; it appeared to savour rather too strongly of the Mauprats. But the kindly and almost paternal manner in which he spoke to them a moment later, and their zeal, which seemed so distinct from fear, soon reconciled me to him. Towards us, moreover, he showed an exquisite politeness, and expressed himself in the choicest terms. Unfortunately, at the end of dinner, a door which had been left open and through which a cold air found its way to his venerable skull, drew from him such a frightful oath that my friend and I exchanged a look of surprise. He noticed it.

“I beg your pardon, gentlemen,” he said. “I am afraid you find me an odd mixture. Ah, you see but a short distance. I am an old branch, happily torn from a vile trunk and transplanted into good soil, but still knotted and rough like the wild holly of the original stock. I have, believe me, had no little trouble in reaching the state of comparative gentleness and calm in which you behold me. Alas! if I dared, I should reproach Providence with a great injustice – that of having allotted me a life as short as other men’s. When one has to struggle for forty or fifty years to transform one’s self from a wolf into a man, one ought to live a hundred years longer to enjoy one’s victory. Yet what good would that do me?” he added in a tone of sadness. “The kind fairy who transformed me is here no more to take pleasure in her work. Bah! it is quite time to have done with it all.”

Then he turned towards me, and, looking at me with big dark eyes, still strangely animated, said:

“Come, my dear young man; I know what brings you to see me; you are curious to hear my history. Draw nearer the fire, then. Mauprat though I am, I will not make you do duty for a log. In listening you are giving me the greatest pleasure you could give. Your friend will tell you, however, that I do not willingly talk of myself. I am generally afraid of having to deal with blockheads, but you I have already heard of; I know your character and your profession; you are an observer and narrator – in other words, pardon me, inquisitive and a chatterbox.”

He began to laugh, and I made an effort to laugh too, though with a rising suspicion that he was making game of us. Nor could I help thinking of the nasty tricks that his grandfather took a delight in playing on the imprudent busybodies who called upon him. But he put his arm through mine in a friendly way, and making me sit down in front of a good fire, near a table covered with cups —

“Don’t be annoyed,” he said. “At my age I cannot get rid of hereditary sarcasm; but there is nothing spiteful in mine. To speak seriously, I am delighted to see you and to confide in you the story of my life. A man as unfortunate as I have been deserves to find a faithful biographer to clear his memory from all stain. Listen, then, and take some coffee.”

I offered him a cup in silence. He refused it with a wave of the arm and a smile which seemed to say, “That is rather for your effeminate generation.”

Then he began his narrative in these words:

I

You live not very far from Roche-Mauprat, and must have often passed by the ruins. Thus there is no need for me to describe them. All I can tell you is that the place has never been so attractive as it is now. On the day that I had the roof taken off, the sun for the first time brightened the damp walls within which my childhood was passed; and the lizards to which I have left them are much better housed there than I once was. They can at least behold the light of day and warm their cold limbs in the rays of the sun at noon.
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