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    Chapter 12

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    Chapter 12
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    This new life pleased him; it slipped by with a soothing monotony, and he found it healthful and to his taste. One evening, as he was coming downstairs at his old tutor's, a stout man offered him, with a sweep of the arm, the bill of fare advertising a neighbouring cook-shop; he carried a huge bundle of them under his left arm. Then stopping abruptly:

    "_Per Bacco!_" cried the fellow; "it is my old pupil. Tall and straight as a young poplar, here stands Monsieur Jean Servien!"

    It was no other than the Marquis Tudesco. His red waistcoat was gone; instead he wore a sort of sleeved vest of coarse ticking, but his shining face, with the little round eyes and hooked nose, still wore the same look of merry, mischievous alertness that was so like an old parrot's.

    Jean was surprised to see him, and not ill-pleased after all. He greeted him affectionately and asked what he was doing now.

    "Behold!" replied the Marquis, "my business is to distribute in the streets these advertisements of a local poisoner, and thereby to earn a place at the assassin's table to spread the fame of which I labour. Camoens held out his hand for charity in the streets of Lisbon. Tudesco stretches forth his in the byways of the modern Babylon, but it is to give and not to receive--lunches at 1 fr. 25, dinners at 1 fr. 75," and he offered one of his bills to a passer-by, who strode on, hands in pockets, without taking it.

    Thereupon the Marquis Tudesco heaved a sigh and exclaimed:

    "And yet I have translated the _Gerusalemme Liberata_, the masterpiece of the immortal Torquato Tasso! But the brutal-minded booksellers scorn the fruit of my vigils, and in the empyrean the Muse veils her face so as not to witness the humiliation inflicted on her nursling."

    "And what has become of you all the time since we last saw you?" asked the young man frankly.

    "God only knows, and 'pon my word! I think He has forgotten."

    Such was the Marquis Tudesco's oracular answer.

    He tied up his bundle of papers in a cloth, and taking his pupil by the arm, urged him in the direction of the _Rue Saint-Jacques_.

    "See, my young friend," he said, "the dome of the Panthéon is half hidden by the fog. The School of Salerno teaches that the damp air of evening is inimical to the human stomach. There is near by a decent establishment where we can converse as two philosophers should, and I feel sure your unavowed desire is to conduct your old instructor thither, the master who initiated you in the Latin rudiments."

    They entered a drinking-shop perfumed with so strong a reek of kirsch and absinthe as took Servien's breath away. The room was long and narrow, while against the walls varnished barrels with copper taps were ranged in a long-drawn perspective that was lost in the thick haze of tobacco-smoke hanging in the air under the gas-jets. At little tables of painted deal a number of men were drinking; dressed in black and wearing tall silk hats, broken-brimmed and shiny from exposure to the rain, they sat and smoked in silence. Before the door of the stove several pairs of thin legs were extended to catch the heat, and a thread of steam curled up from the toes of the owners' boots. A heavy torpor seemed to weigh upon all this assemblage of pallid, impassive faces.

    While Monsieur Tudesco was distributing hand-shakes to sundry old acquaintances, Jean caught scraps of the conversation of those about him that filled him with a despairing melancholy--school ushers railing at the cookery of cheap eating-houses, tipplers maundering contentedly to one another, enchanted at the profundity of their own wisdom, schemers planning to make a fortune, politicians arguing, amateurs of the fair sex telling highly-spiced anecdotes of love and women--and amongst it all this sentence:

    "The harmony of the spheres fills the spaces of infinity, and if we hear it not, it is because, as Plato says, our ears are stopped with earth."

    Monsieur Tudesco consumed brandy-cherries in a very elegant way. Then the waiter served two dantzigs in little glass cups. Jean admired the translucent liquor dotted with golden sparkles, and Monsieur Tudesco demanded two more. Then, raising his cup on high:

    "I drink to the health of Monsieur Servien, your venerable father," he cried. "He enjoys a green and flourishing old age, at least I hope so; he is a man superior to his mechanic and mercantile condition by the benevolence of his behaviour to needy men of letters. And your respected aunt? She still knits stockings with the same zeal as of yore? At least I hope so. A lady of an austere virtue. I conjecture you are wishing to order another dantzig, my young friend."

    Jean looked about him. The dram-shop was transfigured; the casks looked enormous with their taps splendidly glittering, and seemed to stretch into infinity in a quivering, golden mist. But one object was more monstrously magnified than all the rest, and that was the Marquis Tudesco; the old man positively towered as huge as the giant of a fairy-tale, and Jean looked for him to do wonders.

    Tudesco was smiling.

    "You do not drink, my young friend," he resumed. "I conjecture you are in love. Ah! love! love is at once the sweetest and the bitterest thing on earth. I too have felt my heart beat for a woman. But it is long years ago since I outlived that passion. I am now an old man crushed under adverse fortune; but in happier days there was at Rome a _diva_ of a beauty so magnificent and a genius so enthralling that cardinals fought to the death at the door of her box; well, sir, that sublime creature I have pressed to my bosom, and I have been informed since that with her last sigh she breathed my name. I am like an old ruined temple, degraded by the passage of time and the violence of men's hands, yet sanctified for ever by the goddess."

    This tale, whether it recalled in exaggerated terms some commonplace intrigue of his young days in Italy, or more likely was a pure fiction based on romantic episodes he had read in novels, was accepted by Jean as authentic and vastly impressive. The effect was startling, amazing. In an instant he beheld, with all the miraculous clearness of a vision, there, standing between the tables, the queen of tragedy he adored; he saw the locks braided in antique fashion, the long gold pendants drooping from either ear, the bare arms and the white face with scarlet lips. And he cried aloud:

    "I too love an actress."

    He was drinking, never heeding what the liquor was; but lo! it was a philtre he swallowed that revivified his passion. Then a torrent of words rose flooding to his lips. The plays he had seen, _Cinna, Bajazet_, the stern beauty of Émilie, the sweet ferocity of Roxana, the sight of the actress cloaked in velvet, her face shining so pale and clear in the darkness, his longings, his hopes, his undying love, he recounted everything with cries and tears.

    Monsieur Tudesco heard him out, lapping up a glass of Chartreuse drop by drop the while, and taking snuff from a screw of paper. At times he would nod his head in approval and go on listening with the air of a man watching and waiting his opportunity. When he judged that at last, after tedious repetitions and numberless fresh starts, the other's confidences were exhausted, he assumed a look of gravity, and laying his fine hand with a gesture as of priestly benediction on the young man's shoulder:

    "Ah! my young friend," he said, "if I thought that what you feel were true love... but I do not," and he shook his head and let his hand drop.

    Jean protested. To suffer so, and not to be really in love?

    Monsieur Tudesco repeated:

    "If I thought that this were true love... but I do not, so far."

    Jean answered with great vehemence; he talked of death and plunging a dagger in his heart.

    Monsieur Tudesco reiterated for the third time:

    "I do not believe it is true love."

    Then Jean fell into a fury and began to rumple and tear at his waistcoat as if he would bare his heart for inspection. Monsieur Tudesco took his hands and addressed him soothingly:

    "Well, well, my young friend, since it _is_ true love you feel, I will help you. I am a great tactician, and if King Carlo Alberto had read a certain memorial I sent him on military matters he would have won the battle of Novara. He did not read my memorial, and the battle was lost, but it was a glorious defeat. How happy the sons of Italy who died for their mother in that thrice holy battle! The hymns of poets and the tears of women made enviable their obsequies. I say it: what a noble, what a heroic thing is youth! What flames divine escape from young bosoms to rise to the Creator! I admire above everything young folk who throw themselves into ventures of war and sentiment with the impetuosity natural to their age."

    Tasso, Novara, and the _diva_ so beloved of cardinals mingled confusedly in Jean Servien's heated brain, and in a burst of sublime if fuddled enthusiasm he wrung the old villain's hand. Everything had grown indistinct; he seemed to be swimming in an element of molten metal.

    Monsieur Tudesco, who at the moment was imbibing a glass of kümmel, pointed to his waistcoat of ticking.

    "The misfortune is," he observed, "that I am garbed like a philosopher. How show myself in such a costume among elegant females? 'Tis a sad pity! for it would be an easy matter for me to pay my respects to an actress at an important theatre. I have translated the _Gerusalemme Liberata_, that masterpiece of Torquato Tasso's. I could propose to the great actress whom you love and who is worthy of your love, at least I hope so, a French adaptation of the _Myrrha_ of the celebrated Alfieri. What eloquence, what fire in that tragedy! The part of Myrrha is sublime and terrible; she will be eager to play it. Meantime, you translate _Myrrha_ into French verse; then I introduce you with your manuscript into the sanctuary of Melpomene, when you bring with you a double gift--fame and love! What a dream, oh! fortunate young man!... But alas! 'tis but a dream, for how should I enter a lady's boudoir in this rude and sordid guise?"

    But the tavern was closing and they had to leave. Jean felt so giddy in the open air he could not tell how he had come to lose Monsieur Tudesco, after emptying the contents of his purse into the latter's hand.

    He wandered about all night in the rain, stumbling through the puddles which splashed up the mud in his face. His brains buzzed with the maddest schemes, that took shape, jostled one another, and tumbled to pieces in his head. Sometimes he would stop to wipe the sweat from his forehead, then start off again on his wild way. Fatigue calmed his nerves, and a clear purpose emerged. He went straight to the house where the actress lived, and from the street gazed up at her dark, shuttered windows; then, stepping up to the _porte-cochère_, he kissed the great doors.
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