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Rene Bazin - The Ink Stain (1888)

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



This is the author's best-known work and was crowned by the French Academy. He is known as the "Apostle of Home Life." The descriptions of French country life and the glimpses into that scholarly sanctuary, the National Library of Paris, have made this book very popular in translation.

I WAS born in La Chatre, and attended La Chatre College for eighteen years. My parents died when I was so young that I barely remember them, and my uncle, M. Brutus Mouillard, a solicitor of Bourges, was appointed my guardian. He had planned to leave me his practise, and therefore when my school-days were over he sent me to Paris to take a course in law. Three years later I became a probationary barrister. In the intervals of my legal studies I took my arts degree, and now I am working for that of Doctor of Laws.

This afternoon, the loth of December, 1884, when I was at work in the National Library, Paris, writing my thesis for my doctor's degree, a serious accident happened to me, and some-thing tells me that this event is destined to bring about a crisis in my existence. I believe that I owe it to myself to write my memoirs, and that is the reason I have begun to jot down a record of the incidents relating to this misadventure.

Briefly, the affair occurred as follows : I was at the desk where I had written the name of the book I wanted, and, as I laid down the pen, it slipped off the desk and fell upon an Early Text that Monsieur Charnot, a member of the Institute, was reading, depositing thereupon a huge and hideous blot. M. Charnot was enraged, and the librarian hardly less so.

Barely was the blot dry before I, Fabien Jean Jacques Mouillard, barrister, 91 Rue de Rennes, took up my pen and began writing this book—my memoirs.

Feeling that my first duty was to apologize to the distinguished reader whom I had offended, I consulted Monsieur Flamaran, my professor, as to how I should go about it. He advised me to call on M. Charnot, who was his intimate friend, at his home in the Rue de l'Universite.

December 30th. I have seen M. Charnot. The servant ushered me unannounced into the library, where the learned man was spinning a spiral twist of paper under the lamplight to amuse his daughter, a beautiful girl of eighteen. I felt greatly embarrassed, and stumbled through a few infelicitous sentences which were coldly received by the eminent scholar. When I left the room, the young girl was standing motionless, looking at me with the expression of an angry Diana. I imagine that this was because, in trying to say something complimentary about a learned work of which M. Charnot was the author, I stupidly allowed him to know that I was aware that he had published it at his own expense, and that only twenty-seven copies of it had been sold.

December 31st. This New Year's Eve I returned to my lodgings in a very dejected state of mind. After meditating some time, I decided to go to see my dear friend Sylvestre Lampron, whom I found engraving by lamplight. He was copying a portrait he had once painted of a lovely Italian girl; and he told me that while he was painting the original, he and his sitter had fallen in love with each other; that she belonged to a very distinguished family, who would not hear of a daughter of their house marrying an artist; and that they had taken her away. Not long after that she became ill and died. This portrait he cherished, and although her parents had asked for it many times, he never would part with it.

March 3d. The year is advancing, and my essay is growing. I still see M. Charnot reading in the library nearly every day. I am seeking an opportunity of meeting him again, and his lovely daughter is the reason ! I may as well own it—I have fallen in love with the beautiful girl who looked at me so angrily. Jeanne is her name, and I have often tried to see her once more, but so far without success. One afternoon I walked to and fro in front of her house eight times, and yesterday I spent five hours at the spring opening of the Bon Marche, for I thought surely every young woman in Paris would be there. But no Jeanne was to be seen.

April 3rd. I have much to write about today. I went to the Place St. Sulpice, where the flower-sellers are stationed, and was looking at the floral display when I happened to turn round, and there, only ten feet distant, were my professor, M. Flamaran, M. Charnot, and Jeanne. They had been purchasing flowers and were about to go. I saw them turn to walk toward St. Sulpice, and followed at a distance, but soon lost sight of them in the crowd.

April 27th. The beautiful spring is here, and Lampron and I went on an excursion to "our forest," as we call the forest of St. Germain. We walked to the clear pond in the woods, and Lampron lay down to take a nap. While I was silently contemplating the beauty of the woodland silence, I heard distant voices, and presently saw approaching a man, and a young girl dressed in gray. I felt sure that the young girl was she, and as they drew nearer I saw that they were indeed M. Charnot and his lovely daughter. My eyes filled with tears. Not until that moment did I realize how much I loved her. Father and daughter passed on without seeing us. I wakened Lampron, and as he was curious to see my inamorata, he pro-posed that we catch up with them. After a brisk run, he signaled me from behind a large tree: "Here they are!"

Jeanne and M. Charnot were seated on a fallen trunk. Lampron immediately began to sketch the pair. In his enthusiasm he moved and attracted Jeanne's attention. She turned and saw that I was looking at her, and Lampron sketching her. We bowed, but she only blushed, and smiled a faintly troubled smile. M. Charnot continued reading, but it was evident that his daughter was not listening. Presently they disappeared down the path.

April 28th, 9 P.M. This afternoon I met Lampron with a portfolio under his arm. He was going to see Monsieur Plumet, the frame-maker, and I accompanied him. The door was opened by Madame Plumet, who knew me slightly, for I had given her legal assistance, for which I had made no charge.

M. Plumet said he was overrun with orders and could not frame the picture then; but when Lampron told him that it was the portrait of a young lady with whom his friend was in love, and that his whole future depended upon having the picture hung in the approaching exhibition at the Salon, M. Plumet reconsidered the matter. The portfolio was opened, and there was the little finished sketch of M. Charnot's back and Jeanne's pretty profile in the forest nook ! I remarked that I hoped the fair subject would see her portrait at the exhibition; whereupon Madame Plumet inquired her name and address, which I gave. Then she said she knew the wife of a porter who lived near the Charnot household, and that through her, on some manufactured errand, Jeanne might learn that her portrait was in the Salon.

May 1st. These four days just past seemed as if they would never end, but to-day Lampron took me to the salon to see the picture. It was perfect! As soon as we had seen it he left me there alone, and I stood somewhat in the shadow near by, watching for Jeanne. At last she came. She looked at the picture and seemed pleased; then, turning her head, she saw me! She blushed and was almost moved to tears. (0 rapture! Jeanne, you are touched; Jeanne, you under-stand!) At that moment someone called, and she hastened to meet her father. A young man was with him, who spoke to Jeanne, and I heard her answer, "It's nothing, George." Can it be that she loves another?

May 2d. This morning, after being examined for two hours, I received my degree. At the law school to-day I met an acquaintance who said to me:

"Do you know that Mademoiselle Charnot is to be married soon? She is to marry Dufilleul. Don't you know Dufilleul?" "No."

"Oh, yes, you do. He is always to be seen at the opera with little Tigra of the Bouffes."

"Poor girl! it is too dreadful to see an innocent child married to a rake and gambler!"

My acquaintance tried to assure me that it was not so bad as it might be, for Dufilleul was rich and of a distinguished family.

Alas! All is over between us! She has given me no encouragement—only a smile, a tear.

May 5th. A letter has just come from my uncle, M. Mouillard. He is very angry because I did not set out for Bourges the very evening of the day I took my degree, to begin professional life, where his practise awaits me. I know he will arrive here soon in order to take me home with him.

May 9th. This evening at seven o'clock, just as I was going out to dinner, I saw my uncle coming toward me. We dined together, and he learned my secret, and also how hope-less was my love for Jeanne, because she was engaged to another. He then told me that he did not wish me to bring home any Parisian wife.

May 10th. My uncle is very angry because I will not re-turn with him at once to Bourges. He told me that he was determined to find out whether Jeanne were really engaged or not, and that he had called on her father. M. Charnot re-membered having seen me once at the Library, and once at his own house, and was good enough to say that I was a youth of parts. When my uncle told him of my love for Jeanne, he replied that her hand had already been promised. My uncle finished his disconcerting remarks by urging me to start with him tonight for Bourges. I promptly refused to go, and reproached him for having told a secret that was not his to tell; I said also that it would be better for both of us for me to continue to live in Paris, away from him. He was furious, and reminded me that I could not live in Paris on an income of fourteen hundred francs a year. He then left without saying good-by and hurried down the stairs, striking the banisters with his cane and exclaiming, "Damnation!"

May 20th. My time is all my own and I enjoy my freedom. I was brought up with the idea that I was to become a lawyer, but I am convinced that nothing spoils the nobler virtues more quickly than practise at the bar.

I have confided everything to Lampron, who, although glad to have me remain in Paris, warned me that it was "easy to refuse a profession, harder to find another in its place."

June 7th. The die is cast! I will not be a lawyer, and I wrote my uncle a calm, polite letter to that effect.

I realize that it is impossible for me to live on fourteen hundred francs a year, and so, until something better offers itself, I have accepted the position of managing clerk to my old master, Counselor Boule. I correct the drafts of the inferior clerks, instruct the clients how to proceed, go to the courts nearly every day, and hang about chief clerks' and judges' chambers.

One day Madame Plumet called at our office on business. She was surprised to find me there. She told me that she had opened a dressmaking establishment, and that Mademoiselle Charnot had her gowns made there. Then I told her that Mademoiselle Charnot was about to be married to Baron Dufilleul. At this news Madame Plumet became very indignant. She said that he was a dreadful man, and that she knew all sorts of scandalous things about him. She would not talk about her own business after that, for she said that what she had heard had made her so unhappy she had forgotten it.

June 10th. I am on my way to Italy, sent there at a client's expense to prove some copies of deeds. I am allowed two weeks for the trip.

Milan, June 18th. The heat is wilting, and, surrounded by clerks, I am working in the Municipal Palace, in the midst of countless numbers of documents.

A letter has just come from Lampron. He writes me that my rival, Baron Dufilleul, has had his miniature painted for Mademoiselle Tigra of the Bouffes. He left it at Plumes to be framed, and when he called for it and was holding it in his hand, admiring it, Jeanne walked in. As soon as she saw Dufilleul, she exclaimed:

"Well, sir, and so I've caught you! What are you hiding there? Hand me that portrait. Was it not intended for me?"

Dufilleul explained in a halting way that it was intended for a wedding-present to a friend. Jeanne did not believe this and so she asked Plumet what he knew about it. At this juncture Madame Plumet interrupted:

"Excuse me, Mademoiselle, but I cannot have you deceived in this house. This portrait is for an actress—for Mademoiselle Tigra of the Opera Bouffes."

Mademoiselle Jeanne then turned the miniature over, and read on the back: "From Monsieur le Baron D. to Mademoiselle T.—Boulevard Haussmann. To be delivered on Tuesday."

Dufilleul declared it was not his handwriting, that it was some vile conspiracy against him, and so on. But Jeanne was not pacified, and suddenly left the room. On the stairway she heard a high-pitched voice calling: "Well, George, how much longer are you going to keep me waiting?"

Mademoiselle Charnot bent over, and saw, at the bottom of the staircase, a woman looking up. Their eyes met. Jeanne at once looked in another direction. Then she called to Madame Plumet, "Come, Madame, we must go and choose a hat," and closed the dressmaker's door behind her.

Madame Plumet herself had recounted this scene to him, and it was she who had arranged this meeting of Jeanne and her lover. Lampron thinks that the betrothal is definitely at an end. He says that just as he was closing the letter a note came from Madame Plumet informing him that M. Charnot and his daughter had left Paris, though she did not know where they had gone. Lampron says also that his mother is very ill.

Milan, June 26th. My law business here is over to-day, and now comes another letter from Lampron. His mother is dead. She made him promise to give the portrait of the young Italian girl he loved to her family, and he asks me in this letter to visit them at their residence, the Villa Dannegianti, about nine miles from Milan, near the village of Desio, and to tell them that, "in accordance with the dying wish of Lampron's mother, the portrait of Rafaella is to be given in perpetuity to the Villa Dannegianti."

I received this letter about ten o'clock in the morning, and at once took a carriage for Desio, where I stopped at the inn. I heard in the next room someone talking about a collection of valuable Roman coins which was kept locked up in the villa of an Italian nobleman near by; and as I peeped in at the open door I saw M. Charnot and Jeanne! They were very much surprised to see me, and we stood and stared at one another to make sure we were not dreaming, Then M. Charnot, who did not seem very much pleased at seeing me, told the blushing Jeanne to put on her hat, for it was time to go. Turning to me, he made a few remarks concerning the inn, and was about to depart, when I inquired whether he could tell me the way to the Villa Dannegianti, M, Charnot laughed, and said that he had not been able to gain admission there, although he had two letters of introduction and honorable initials after his name; he added that he was certain I would riot meet with success, But I begged him to stay, telling him that, as I bore news of great importance to the family, I was not only sure of being admitted myself, but thought I could obtain permission for him to see the valuable collection of medals in the villa. The old man was delighted at the prospect; and so M. Charnot, his daughter, and I left the inn together.

After walking a mile we arrived at the villa, and I presented my card and Lampron's. The gates were opened arid we passed in. M. Charnot and Jeanne waited outside the house until I could gain permission for them to view the collection, and I entered and was shown to the room in which the Countess was seated. She was overpowered with emotion when she heard that she was to have the long-wished-for portrait of her daughter. I then obtained permission for M. Charnot and Jeanne to see the medals. A moment later they entered the museum with me. Jeanne and I talked together while her father looked at the medals. When we had finished it was after eight o'clock and the last train had left Desk; so I suggested that rather than stay all night at an uncomfortable inn, it would be better for them to drive back to Milan with me in my carriage. To this M. Charnot assented. It was a beautiful moonlight night and the learned man, tired with all he had seen, soon went to sleep in the corner of the carriage. For a time I was afraid to speak to Jeanne, for our isolation made me ill at ease. She, too, seemed far away in dreamland. But after a while we began to talk, and the conversation drifted to the portrait of Jeanne that Lampron had sketched, which I said was a similar relic to the portrait of Rafaella I had just told her about, except that I dared to think that I might be less unfortunate than my friend—that my dream might return to me if the original of this portrait were willing!

Jeanne fixed her eyes on me. Then she asked whether I did not think the breeze refreshing. At that moment her father awoke and made an appropriate reply.

Ten minutes later the carriage drove up to his hotel. He thanked me for a most delightful drive home, hoped we should meet again, and told me that he and his daughter were going to Florence the next day. Mademoiselle Charnot bowed slightly in farewell.

Milan, June 27th, before daybreak. I have spent the night thinking of yesterday's trip. Shall I follow them to Florence? On second thought, I have decided not to go to Florence, but to return to Paris.

Paris, July 2d. A clerk at the office asked me to go fishing with him on Sunday, and on our arrival at the place I found my old professor, M. Flamaran, much to my surprise.

While we were fishing together, he questioned me about my love for Jeanne. He said he had known her all her life, and that he was very anxious when he learned that she was to marry "that scoundrel Dufilleul."

After the day's fishing was over we went to a restaurant for supper, and then my kind friend, M. Flamaran, volunteered to go to Jeanne's father and ask her hand for me.

"Now," said he, "let us talk, and tell me everything." He has a warm, good heart, and I am sure that if anyone can do this for me successfully it is he.

August 2d. After waiting ten days, I received a note yesterday from M. Charnot asking me to call on him that evening. I went in a great state of trepidation.

"Monsieur," said he, "I receive you as a friend. What-ever may be the result of our interview, you may be assured of my esteem, therefore have no fear of answering me frankly."

After questioning me about my parents and my early life, he said :

"Young man, I promised you an answer; this is it. My daughter has at this moment several proposals of marriage. She has weighed and compared them all, and communicated to me yesterday the result of her reflections. To a richer and more brilliant match she prefers an honest man who loves her for herself, and you, Monsieur, are that honest man. But there are two conditions: one is that you promise never to leave Paris, and the other is that you make peace with your uncle."

I promised the former, and said that I would do all in my power to effect the latter.

M. Charnot was very pale. He held out his hand to me and said: "I think, Monsieur Fabien, that we are quite in accord, and that the hour has come-"

Instead of finishing the sentence, he opened the door and said: " Jeanne, Monsieur Fabien accepts the two conditions, my dear."

And I saw Jeanne come smiling toward me !

My rapture was complete. We sat together all the evening; M. Charnot pushed back his chair and tried to read the newspaper; Jeanne and I formed plans for pacifying my uncle, and Jeanne settled the matter by making her father promise to take her to Bourges, where an old friend of theirs lived, saying that while there M. Charnot could return my uncle's call upon him, and somehow patch up the breach, if possible.

August 3d. I am to go to Bourges in advance to choose rooms for M. Charnot and Jeanne; I shall try to see my uncle first, and tell him that M. Charnot and his daughter are traveling in the neighborhood, and that if they happen to be near Bourges they will probably return his visit.

Bourges, August 4th. I called at my uncle's house to-day. Formerly he welcomed me, but now I am averse to meeting him, and the housekeeper is afraid to let me in. My uncle was not at home, nevertheless I went in and sat down to talk to the housekeeper, who told me that my uncle is greatly changed. She said that he had been very moody ever since his re-turn from Paris. I told her of my engagement and said that I had come hoping to effect a reconciliation with him. At this she only shook her head, but promised to conceal me in the house over night, and to let me know when my uncle was in a sufficiently amiable frame of mind to be approached.

I passed the night on the sofa-bed in the library on the first floor.

At seven o'clock in the evening I saw my uncle coming into the house. He went into the dining-room, which was under the library. Just as he had finished dinner a gentleman called, and I could hear them talking together excitedly and even angrily for three hours. At eleven o'clock I heard my uncle's heavy tread as he went up-stairs to his room.

Bourges, August 5th. I arose at seven o'clock, hoping to see my uncle, but learned that he had gone out at six, which was very unusual. The housekeeper says he has been weeping, and she thinks it is on account of the visitor of last night, with whom he was negotiating for the sale of his practise. She told me also that when he bade her good night he had said: "I am a broken-hearted man ! I might have got over it, but that monster of ingratitude would not have it so. If I had him here I don't know what I should do to him." This gave me no little compunction and anxiety.

M. Charnot and Jeanne are to be here at ten o'clock, and I must go to meet them without having seen my uncle.

The train arrived, and M. Charnot, Jeanne, and I stood before the garden gate, to which I have the key. Just as I turned it in the lock, I beheld my uncle on the other side of the fence. It is needless to say that I felt exceedingly nervous. He had reached his front door when he perceived two strangers coming toward him (I had hidden behind the shrubbery). He recognized M. Charnot, was surprised to see Mademoiselle Jeanne. After a few civilities had been exchanged, M. Charnot told my uncle that Jeanne was to marry his nephew, to which my uncle replied:

"Monsieur, I have no longer a nephew."

"He is here."

"And I never asked for your daughter."

"No, but you have received your nephew beneath your roof, and consequently—"

"Never!"

"Monsieur Fabien has been in your house since yesterday; he told you we were coming."

"No, I have not seen him; I never should have received him! I tell you I no longer have a nephew! I am a broken-hearted man, a—a—a—"

He staggered, fell, and lay motionless on his back.

I rushed to the rescue, and Jeanne dipped her handkerchief in water to bathe his brow. M. Charnot and I carried him up to his room, and he lay there unconscious for ten minutes. Just as the doctor opened the door, my uncle opened his eyes, and his glance rested on Jeanne. "Come," said the doctor, "give your future niece a kiss." Jeanne bent down and my uncle kissed her, saying, " Good girl—dear girl !"

He began to weep, and we were ordered to leave him alone.

In a few moments, much to our surprise, down came my uncle and invited us all to dine with him that night, though he did not seem quite reconciled to me; so Jeanne and I each wrote him a kind and affectionate letter, begging him to forgive us, and to consent to our marriage.

At dinner that night my uncle tried his best to be agreeable, but suddenly at dessert he said: "I have a painful confession to make to you." Then he told us that he had sold his practise the night before, and he feared now that I wanted it. But I assured him that I would not have taken the practise even if he had not sold it. Then M. Charnot said that Jeanne would always have sufficient money for us both, but that he preferred his son-in-law to have some occupation, so he suggested that I should become a librarian.

My uncle looked sad at this, for, as he said, he would often feel very desolate, living all alone. " Oh, no," said M. Charnot, "come to Paris, and live with us."

Paris, September 18th. We are married! We have just come back from the church, and in two hours we shall leave for Italy on our wedding-trip; so I am writing these few last words in my diary.

Uncle Mouillard has arrived in Paris; he is to live near us, and he and M. Charnot have become devoted friends.

Jeanne, my own dear Jeanne, is leaning on me and reading over my shoulder, which distracts the flow of my recollections.

"If you don't mind, Jeanne, I will cherish no ambition beyond your love; and if you agree, Jeanne, we shall see little of society, and much of our friends; we shall not open our windows wide enough for love, who is winged, to fly out. I shall leave you to guide me, as a child, along the joyous path in which I follow your footsteps."

I am looking up at Jeanne.

She has not said "No."



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