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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 2
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    The widower, who from the Beauce country, sent his son to his native village in the Eure-et-Loir to be brought up by kinsfolk there. As for himself, he was a strong man, and soon learned to be resigned; he was of a saving habit by instinct in both business and family matters, and never put off the green serge apron from week's end to week's end save for a Sunday visit to the cemetery. He would hang a wreath on the arm of the black cross, and, if it was a hot day, take a chair on the way back along the boulevard outside the door of a wine-shop. There, as he sat slowly emptying his glass, his eye would rest on the mothers and their youngsters going by on the sidewalk.

    These young wives, as he watched them approach and pass on, were so many passing reminders of his Clotilde and made him feel sad without his quite understanding why, for he was not much given to thinking.

    Time slipped by, and little by little his dead wife grew to be a tender, vague memory in the bookbinder's mind. One night he tried in vain to recall Clotilde's features; after this experience, he told himself that perhaps he might be able to discover the mother's lineaments in the child's face, and he was seized with a great longing to see this relic of the lost one once more, to have the child home again.

    In the morning he wrote a letter to his old sister, Mademoiselle Servien, begging her to come and take up her abode with the little one in the _Rue Notre-Dame des Champs_. The sister, who had lived for many years in Paris at her brother's expense, for indolence was her ruling passion, agreed to resume her life in a city where, she used to say, folks are free and need not depend on their neighbours.

    One autumn evening she arrived at the _Gare de l'Ouest_ with Jean and her boxes and baskets, an upright, hard-featured, fierce-eyed figure, all ready to defend the child against all sorts of imaginary perils. The bookbinder kissed the lad and expressed his satisfaction in two words.

    Then he lifted him pickaback on his shoulders, and bidding him hold on tight to his father's hair, carried him off proudly to the house.

    Jean was seven. Soon existence settled down to a settled routine. At midday the old dame would don her shawl and set off with the child in the direction of Grenelle.

    The pair followed the broad thoroughfares that ran between shabby walls and red-fronted drinking-shops. Generally speaking, a sky of a dappled grey like the great cart-horses that plodded past, invested the quiet suburb with a gentle melancholy. Establishing herself on a bench, while the child played under a tree, she would knit her stocking and chat with an old soldier and tell him her troubles--what a hard life it was in other people's houses.

    One day, one of the last fine days of the season, Jean, squatted on the ground, was busy sticking up bits of plane-tree bark in the fine wet sand. That faculty of "pretending," by which children are able to make their lives one unending miracle, transformed a handful of soil and a few bits of wood into wondrous galleries and fairy castles to the lad's imagination; he clapped his hands and leapt for joy. Then suddenly he felt himself wrapped in something soft and scented. It was a lady's gown; he saw nothing except that she smiled as she put him gently out of her way and walked on. He ran to tell his aunt:

    "How good she smells, that lady!"

    Mademoiselle Servien only muttered that great ladies were no better than others, and that she thought more of herself with her merino skirt than all those set-up minxes in their flounces and finery, adding:

    "Better a good name than a gilt girdle."

    But this talk was beyond little Jean's comprehension. The perfumed silk that had swept his face left behind a vague sweetness, a memory as of a gentle, ghostly caress.
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