Page images
PDF
EPUB

bition and his attachment to the drama.

In Hector Malot's 'Paulette' we are again "in full Bohemia"; but this time it is with artists instead of actors. As in 'La Petite Soeur,' and sundry other of his stories, M. Malot puts forward two heroines in succession—first a mother, and then her daughter. In this case the prologue, which chiefly concerns the mother, is out of all proportion in point of length to what, if we were to be guided by the name, ve should assume to be the actual novel. But in reality the two women are kept in the background, or are only brought into action to illustrate M. Cintrat, who is the grand central figure. And Cintrat, the fantastic painter, the Bohemian par excellence, is made a noble and engaging character, though with some considerable strain on probabilities. For his faults or vices are those of training or temperament, while the natural tenderness of his heart almost rises to the sublimity of virtue. How far such a character is credible, may be a question for the curious in psychology. At all events there can be little doubt as to the originality of the author's treatment. Enthusiastic in his art and reckless in his distractions, Cintrat is naturally weak as water. He achieves a very creditable amount of work,— thanks to his marvellous facility of execution, and to the legitimate satisfaction he feels in the consciousness of his easy successes. But in his habits of life he is thoroughly Bohemian: he drinks hard; he dissipates his lightly won gains; he abandons himself to his besetting impulses towards idleness, — when the brilliant scapegrace is suddenly reclaimed; and it is love that has wrought the miracle. He becomes not only domestic, but pertinaciously indus

trious; and dogged industry had seemed altogether foreign to his nature. Then his rosy day-dreams of lasting happiness are dissipated, and Cintrat is going directly "to the bad," when another and a more touching attachment accomplishes even more of a miracle; and the maniac, who had taken again to his old habits of drinking, —who had cast self-respect and all his lucrative engagements behind him,—is arrested a second time on the slippery slopes that seemed certain to land him in the depths of Avernus. And more simple, and consequently more credible, is the painter's chosen companion or dine dainne, who is, of course, in his society when we first make their acquaintance.

M. Malot delights in descriptions of the country or the seaside, as he knows that he excels in them. His story of 'Paulette' begins in the little Vendean watering-place of Pornic, where the listless inhabitants are excited in the dead season by the advent of a couple of distinguished strangers; although, superficially at least, the arrivals are only distinguished by the marked eccentricity of their costumes. With their sans gene, they are not at all in the style of the chivalrous heroes who used invariably to appear by pairs in the opening pages of the late Mr G. P. R. James. For though the one, who seemed about thirty, was tall and powerfully built, with a florid complexion and a calm, handsome, bearded face, the shorter of the two decidedly lent himself to ridicule.

"The other appeared to be some ten years older,—though it was very difficult to tell his age, which might be anything from thirty-five to fortyeight. As doubtful too was his comElexion, neither red nor white nor rown; as doubtful were his hair and beard, neither black nor grey nor blond; as doubtful his faltering demeanour and listless attitudes. He did not walk straightforward, but swayed to the right, then to the left, going as if he was in terror of breaking eggs with the broad feet that were shod in sandals."

And his clothes were at least as odd as his personality; which seems to us the less surprising when we learn that the little gentleman is his own tailor and shoemaker. Unprepossessing as this M. Badiche appears at first sight, he strikes us on more intimate acquaintance as one of the quaintest and most engaging individuals we have ever met in Bohemian fiction. For Badiche is even more Bohemian than his friend, to whom he has sacrificed himself entirely with his interests and his future. He has a profound belief in the genius of Cintrat; nor is that belief misplaced. Cintrat has admittedly "la patte," —that is to say, a ready hand, as his comrades of the studios acknowledge. His conceptions are as rapid as his execution is bold; and although there are critics who abuse as others load him with commendation, he would be sure to "arrive" sooner or later, were it not for the indolence and the habit of drinking which M. Badiche fears may be likely to gain upon him, if he be not carefully watched. Both the friends describe themselves in the hotel book as painters; but the inhabitants of Pornic, who interest themselves in their habits, remark that it is only the younger man who ever touches a brush. Cintrat is indefatigable in transferring the landscapes to his canvas; while Badiche, with pipe in mouth, and heels in air, is invariably to be seen prone on the grass, looking on, admiring, criticising, and superintending, — the fact being that Badiche, for all we can learn of him, is merely an artist in theory. His own account of it is, that he is "collecting himself" and

communing with nature, in preparation for the grand masterpieces which are some day to be given to the world. Meanwhile he has constituted himself the shadow and the dry nurse of Cintrat, whose failings he sees almost as clearly as his talents. He labours to keep the other up to his business; he strives to withhold the wine-bottle from his lips; he directs the bargains and balances the accounts. Nor is the worthy fellow anything of a parasite; for he is in the enjoyment of a certain though very modest independence, on which he manages to support his frugal existence.

It was an evil day for the friends that brought them to that backof-the-world bathing-place on the Loire. Immediately opposite the little hotel where the two have settled down, a spider sits spinning her cobwebs for Cintrat. Mademoiselle Alice Roberjot, the handsome daughter of an insolvent druggist, has resolved to dare everything to have a distinguished husband. Her dream of becoming the wife of the rising painter seems at first sight to be a bootless ambition. Cintrat, with all his faults of head, has a certain rough common-sense—he has persuaded himself that he can only be happy as a chartered libertine. Badiche, of course, is suspicious of feminine influences, and believes besides that though Cintrat may be the most fascinating of friends, he is scarcely likely to prove a model husband. In the dashing coups by which Mademoiselle Alice carries her point, the characters of the two Bohemians are admirably and sympathetically illustrated. Nothing, as we know, is more delicate than volunteering advice when a man has been dazzled by female attractions. When Badiche proposes to open Cintrat's eyes, we should be inclined, in ordinary circumstances, to predict the dissolution of their friendship. There is nothing of the kind. The fact is, that the pair have the most absolute confidence in each other. The honest Badiche speaks as much for Alice as for Cintrat: he believes his friend is not a marrying man, and he knows too that he would be loath to make any woman miserable. The comradeship between them has been so thoroughly proved, that Cintrat is grateful instead of angry; and indeed, although he is flattered by Mademoiselle Roberjot's evident admiration, we suspect that she has left his heart untouched. But even the unsusceptible Badiche is obliged to admit that Cintrat can hardly leave Pornic without bidding farewell to the young lady; and in that final interview he rushes upon his doom. Thoroughly good-natured as he is, he cannot bear to make the girl unhappy; he knows nothing of the wiles of which an apparently candid little bourgeoise may be capable; and indeed it would have taken a shrewder spirit than his to penetrate the resources of the astute enchantress. So he marries and enters on his menage with a worthless and heartless woman who has speculated on his softness and inexperience.

In that second stage of his existence nothing surprises him so much as his own complete reformation. Madame Cintrat flatters him; rubs him down like a cat; and lays herself out to exploiter his talents remorselessly to her own advantage. She sends him to his easel, and keeps him there, in season and out of season; it is she who makes all the bargains for his pictures, as Badiche used to do before. The ambitious daughter of the Pornic druggist shows considerable knowledge of life, and raises money freely on her husband's prospects. She advertises him by

painting the fantastic facade of their new house, so as to attract the curiosity of the Parisian public; and it is a touch almost worthy of Balzac when M. Malot makes her select the situation immediately opposite to the gates of the cemetery of Montmartre. She knows that the trains of mourners who are. following the biers will be specially interested by any distraction in the circumstances. And Madame Cintrat comes to have her salon, where she actually receives. Her half-broken husband is a little restive at first, but she finds that she can lead him where she likes, so long as he fancies that she loves him. Even his Bohemian recklessness had been startled at the idea of running deeply in debt; for having hitherto had no credit, he had never been tempted to abuse any. But there is no answering his wife's practical arguments, based on her nattering convictions of his brilliant future. As he had always set comfort before show, he objects strenuously to having all the house sacrificed to the show-rooms ; but he is easily soothed into consenting to occupy a bedroom no bigger than one of the Pornic bathing-machines. And though he has lost none of his affection and regard for Badiche, he even consents to see his friend more seldom or by stealth, since Badiche and Madame unfortunately do not "hit it off." In fact, Badiche, whose intelligence has been sharpened by dislike and jealousy, has long perceived with anxiety and pain that his friend's domestic happiness is hollow. It is everything to Madame to have a liberal paymaster in her husband, so it is as much as ever her interest to cajole him. Besides, she has a real pride in his talent, as it reflects lustre on herself. As the wife of the painter Cintrat, she has something of a personality. But as she struggles upwards in society, she is more and more ashamed of him socially. Yet the poor Bohemian has had hard times of it: he has tried in vain to conform himself to his wife's ideas of suitable dress; but in a couple of days the most fashionably cut clothes look as if they had been picked up in the second - hand stalls of the Temple. As it strikes him that his wife cares less for him,—as he realises that though lavish on herself she is parsimonious for him and for their child,—consequently the submissive slave becomes recalcitrant. He protests that he will not paint by contract, against time, and at so much the yard, that he may pay the milliner's bills she runs up indefatigably. He will not prostitute his art and compromise his fame by laying himself out for flattering portraits of vulgar men and women. Naturally, when Cintrat ceases to be pliable, his wife begins to feel an active dislike for him, which she takes little pains to conceal. Irritation and her stupid vanity make her indiscreet: there is a scandal and a separation. In an exceedingly cleverly managed scene, the worthy Badiche labours unsuccessfully, for the sake of his friend, to save Madame Cintrat from shame and exposure. He knows too well what will be the consequences to that affectionate and impressionable nature of having its idol shattered and their home made desolate. Indeed there is so much that is dramatic in the novel, that we believe it might be successfully adapted to the stage. A dozen of years or so are supposed to have elapsed, and in scene the third and last we find the once famous painter has fallen far below the stand-point he had occupied at Pornic; though even then he had indulged much too freely in idleness and dissipation. Cintrat is prematurely aged,

and has become a habitual drunkard; for his wife when she took to flight had dealt him a second and more deadly blow, in carrying away his child and concealing it. But the faithful Badiche still clings to him, directing the affairs of the miserable household as in the old days, and doing his best to make the two ends meet. Badiche, although no austere moralist, deplores the fall he understands and excuses. The light he had so fervently admired, and from whose lustre he had expected so much, is going out in dimness and evil odour, like an unsnuffed tallow candle. It is all over, and there can be nothing for it, sooner or later, but to sing the requiem of a self-ruined genius. He little suspects the revolution that Fortune is preparing for them. One evening the pair receive an angelic visitor, in the person of Cintrat's daughter, the long-lost Paulette. The young girl, after being abandoned by her unnatural mother, and having had more than her share of trouble and hardships, has walked all the way from Italy to Paris with a trifling sum of money she had saved or borrowed. At the moment of her arrival, the only member of the joint establishment that is at home to receive her is the dog Barbouillon, a very remarkable character, and even more of a vagrant than his masters. Badiche dwells proudly on the dog's eccentric idiosyncrasy, when Paulette subsequently demands—

"' He is your pupil, then 1' "' He's nobody's pupil, Barbouillon; he does exactly what he likes himself. Born of unknown parents, nobody knows where, he has adopted us because he has found with us the liberty that is indispensable to him before all things. Paris belongs to him and he belongs to nobody. One day you meet him in the Champs Elyse'es, and the day after at Charenton. There are certain restaurants that have his confidence, and which he is always ready to patronise with any one he takes a fancy to; and there are others where he would never risk himself on any consideration.'"

In consequence of the intimate friendship that springs up between him and Paulette, Barhouillon renounces his vagrant habits and becomes a thoroughly domesticated character. But the influence of the girl on her father is even more remarkable. She comes to him like a breath of the good old times, when his nature had expanded for a season in the happiness of a home. His child is absolutely dependent on him, and he has once more a motive for exertion. The very morning after her arrival, if he does not formally take the pledge, he announces to Badiche that he has done with strong drink. Nor is it the least touching proof of the old Bohemian's devotion, that Badiche, who loves to drink in moderation, becomes an abstainer that he may not tempt his friend. Who could have imagined, only a few weeks before, that the day would come when Cintrat would have alcohol surreptitiously administered in sauces to recruit the strength that has been shattered by excessive self-denial. But this is only the first miracle that Paulette has wrought. Scarcely less heroic are the efforts by which, in spite of discouragement and repeated failures, the painter slowly recovers his assurance of touch. And then he becomes even a greater celebrity than before, since the earnestness of his later style re fleets his sad experiences. As for Paulette, she has her father's warm heart, while her unprotected walk to Paris showed that she had much of her mother's resolution. But although she is undoubtedly a pleasing and determined little person, she is rather commonplace; and, as we remarked already, the

interest throughout is made to centre in Cintrat. Nor are his trials altogether at an end with the return of prosperity. We say nothing of the unwelcome reappearance of his wife, with claims upon his income which he is compelled to compromise. Cintrat is freehanded enough, and careless in pecuniary questions. But it is another affair when he finds that the daughter who has become all in all to him, has gone and given the innermost place in her heart to another. For once, excess of love renders him selfish, and selfishness finds sophistical arguments to make him reject eligible proposals in what he persuades himself to be his daughter's interest. Of course, on reconsideration he gives reluctant consent; but all the same, his pangs continue to be acute, now that he knows that another is dearer to his daughter than himself. From first to last there is much that is pathetic in the novel; but the chief charm, after all, is in the beauty of the friendship that so closely unites Cintrat and Badiche. With taste and talents, though they may be theoretical rather than practical, Badiche devotes himself to the man to whom he has consecrated his life, with a love that surpasses the love of women: while Cintrat, with all his foibles, is by no means unworthy of that sublime attachment; and in the flush of prosperity, as in the extremes of ill-fortune, never does he either neglect his follower or misunderstand him. By way of postscript to our article, we make very brief allusion to a collection of exceedingly short stories by M. Francois Coppee. Stories indeed they can hardly be called: they are rather the slightest possible sketches of incidents so entirely in outline, that it is for the imagination of the reader to fill in most of the details. Some

« PreviousContinue »