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[Illustration: Frontispiece]


_Denise, beaming with love and happiness, embellishing by her charms and
her grace the modest costume she had selected, was led to the altar by
the man she loved._

_All the people of the village assembled to see the little milkmaid



Paul de Kock








_Copyrighted, 1903-1904, by G. B. & Sons._




"For you can't go on like this forever, lieutenant - you must agree to
that. The great Turenne didn't fight ten battles at once and didn't
carry on six intrigues on the same day."

"No, my dear Bertrand, but Cæsar dictated four letters at once in four
different languages, and Pico de la Mirandola boasted that he was
familiar with and could talk _de omni re scibili_ - - "

"I beg pardon, lieutenant, I don't know Latin."

"That means that he claimed to know all languages, to have gone to the
bottom of all the sciences, to be able to refute all creeds and
reconcile theologians of all breeds."

"As I don't think that you're so conceited as that, lieutenant, I won't
compare you with this Monsieur de la Mirandola, who claimed to know
everything. As for Cæsar, I've heard him spoken of as a very great man,
but I'm sure he didn't have as many mistresses as you."

"You're mistaken, Bertrand; the great men of antiquity had a great many
female slaves, concubines, and often cast off their wives and took new
ones. Love and Pleasure had temples in Greece; and those high and
mighty Romans, who are represented to us as so strait-laced, weren't
ashamed to indulge in the wildest debauchery, to crown themselves with
myrtle and roses, and sometimes to appear at their banquets in the
costumes of our first parents."

"For God's sake, lieutenant, let's drop the Romans, with whom I never
exchanged a shot, and go back to what we were talking about."

"I propose to prove to you, my dear Bertrand, that we are very far from
surpassing preceding generations in folly, and are in fact much more

"Is that why you have four mistresses?"

"I love women, I admit; I will say more - I am proud of it; it is a
natural inclination. I cannot see an attractive face, a fine pair of
eyes, without feeling a pleasant thrill, an agitation, an I don't know
what, in short, that proves my extreme susceptibility. Is it a crime,
pray, to be susceptible in an age when selfishness is carried to such
lengths; when self-interest is the mainspring of almost all human
actions; when we see authors prefer cash to renown, and men in office
forgetful of everything except retaining their offices, instead of
meditating on the good they might do; when we see artists begging for
the patronage of people they despise, and asking alms from stupidity
when it is in power; when we see men of letters carefully block a
confrère's path when they detect in him a talent that might outshine
theirs; when, in short, every door is closed to obscure merit, and
thrown wide open to impudence and conceit when accompanied by wealth? If
selfishness had not wormed its way into all classes of society, if love
of money had not replaced love of one's neighbor, would it be thus? And
you berate me for my susceptibility! You reproach me for being unable to
listen unmoved to the story of a noble deed, or of pathetic misfortune;
for giving money to people who deceive me; for allowing myself to be
gulled like an ass by the palaver of a child who tells me that he is
begging for his mother, or of a poor laboring man who swears that he has
no work and nothing to eat! Well, my dear Bertrand, I prefer my
susceptibility to their icy selfishness, and I find in my heart sources
of enjoyment which their indifferent hearts will never know."

This conversation took place in a stylish cabriolet, drawn by a prancing
horse, which was bowling along the lovely road from Raincy to
Montfermeil. A small groom of some twelve or fourteen years was perched
behind the carriage, in which Bertrand was seated beside a young man,
dressed in the latest fashion, who, as he conversed, touched
occasionally with his whip the spirited steed he was driving.

Bertrand had partly turned his face away toward the end of his master's
speech; and to cloak the emotion which was beginning to be too much for
him, he blew his nose and took a huge pinch of snuff. Somewhat composed
thereby, he said in a voice slightly tremulous with emotion:

"God forbid, lieutenant, that I should blame you for being
tender-hearted! I know your kind heart; I know how willing and ready to
help you are! And I could mention a thousand things you've done that
many men would have bragged about; whereas you are very careful to
conceal them."

"People who boast of the good they do are like the ones who offer you a
thing in such a way that you can't accept it: both give regretfully."

"We needn't look very far, lieutenant; haven't you heaped presents on
me? didn't you take me in, and give me board and lodging?"

"You're an idiot, Bertrand; don't you act as my steward, factotum,
confidential man of business, - yes, and as my friend, which is better
than all the rest, and for which one cannot pay?"

At that, Bertrand turned his head altogether, and blew his nose again,
because a great tear had dropped from his eyes. He took two pinches of
snuff, and having warmly grasped the hand that his master offered him,
he said in a quavering voice:

"Yes, monsieur, you are the best of men; you have a thousand good
qualities! and no one had better say anything different in my hearing!
Morbleu! my sword isn't rusty yet."

"Oho! so now you're going to flatter me, are you? Remember, Bertrand,
that you began this conversation for the purpose of scolding me."

"Scolding you! no, indeed, lieutenant, but simply to point out to you
that it would be more reasonable to love one woman at once; with full
liberty to change as soon as you see another one that you like better."

"Look you, Bertrand, I'll draw a comparison for you, that you'll see the
justice of at once."

"You won't put any Greeks or Romans in it, will you, lieutenant?"

"Not one. - You like wine, don't you, Bertrand?"

"That's so, lieutenant; I admit that an old bottle - of a good
brand - there's nothing like that to liven you up!"

"Do you like beaune?"

"Very much, lieutenant."

"And bordeaux?"

"Ah, yes! it smells of violets; it has a delicious bouquet!"

"And volnay?"

"I've never been able to resist it."

"And chambertin?"

"I would go down on my knees to it, lieutenant."

"If you had a bottle of each of those wines in front of you, would you
give up three of them and drink just a single one?"

"I promise you, lieutenant, that I'd take care of all four of them, and
I wouldn't be any worse off for it either."

"Why then do you expect me, when I am surrounded by four pretty
creatures, each of whom has some peculiar charm, to give up three of
them and make love to only one?"

"Parbleu! that's true enough, lieutenant; you can't do it; you must
drink them - I mean you must love them all four; and I see now that I was

The discussions between Bertrand and Auguste Dalville almost always
ended so. Auguste was twenty-seven and had twenty thousand francs a
year; his father died while he was in the cradle, and his mother was
taken away from him six years before our story opens. That was the date
of the beginning of Auguste's life of dissipation; he had sought
distraction from his perfectly natural grief, and had finally become
unable to resist a sex in whose company he had at first sought diversion

Meanwhile, the ambition to wear a handsome uniform, and perhaps to earn
a pair of epaulets, had led Auguste to enter the army. The country was
at peace; but a young man with a good education does not remain a
private. Auguste, promoted to sub-lieutenant, delighted to listen to
Bertrand, who had served as corporal of _voltigeurs_, and had been at
Austerlitz, Eylau, and Friedland. Bertrand was only forty-four: he put
into the description of his battles the same fire and zeal that he had
displayed in the battles themselves, and Auguste never tired of
listening. The corporal's stories excited his ardor; he regretted that
he was not born a few years earlier, thinking that he might, like
Bertrand, have taken part in those triumphant campaigns which will
always be the glory of France.

About this time, Auguste was sent with his regiment to Pampeluna, to
which the French were laying siege. Bertrand found himself under the
command of the young officer, who had been made a lieutenant. But, the
war at an end, Auguste quitted the military profession, and returned to
Paris, to abandon himself afresh to his taste for pleasure. He proposed
to Bertrand to go with him; he readily obtained his discharge and
accompanied Dalville, to whom he was sincerely attached, and whom he
continued to call lieutenant, partly from habit and partly from choice.

Bertrand had a mother in Paris, very old and infirm. Auguste's first
care was to settle on the poor woman a pension which placed her beyond
fear of want, and enabled her to enjoy in her old age a multitude of
comforts which she had never known during her life of toil and

Thereafter Auguste was not simply a master in Bertrand's eyes; he
regarded him as his benefactor, and his affection and devotion knew no
bounds. After his mother's death, which occurred three years later,
Bertrand attached himself to Auguste's service altogether, and vowed
that he would devote his life to proving his gratitude. Bertrand had had
no education; he often made blunders in delivering the messages which
his master entrusted to him; but Auguste always forgave him, because he
was well aware of the ex-corporal's attachment and his good heart.
Bertrand, as we have seen, sometimes ventured to remonstrate with his
superior officer, because, being as yet unfamiliar with the manner of
life in high society, Auguste's follies terrified him, and he was in
constant dread that his intrigues would lead to serious complications;
but Auguste always succeeded in allaying Bertrand's fright, so that the
latter invariably ended the conversation by saying: "I was in the

There are many more things that I might tell you concerning the two men
who have been talking together. Perhaps I ought to draw their portraits
for you, and to tell you to just what type of face Auguste Dalville's
belonged. But what would be the use? Doubtless some one of his numerous
conquests will have something to say about him; so that I should run the
risk of unnecessary repetition by sketching him at first. We can simply
presume that he was comely, as he was fortunate enough to please the
ladies. "That is no reason," you will say; "when a man has twenty
thousand francs a year, that takes the place of physical charms, and
conceals ugliness." - Oh! what an idea, my dear readers! Surely no reader
of the gentler sex would make such a reply; for I have too good an
opinion of the ladies not to feel sure that it would take something more
than twenty thousand francs to captivate them.

But the cabriolet is speeding along; we will resume our reflections at
some other time.

"Bébelle goes very well. You are warm, lieutenant; don't you want me to
take the reins?"

"No, I like to drive."

"We shall be at Monsieur Destival's by eleven o'clock."

"That is quite early enough; and from that time until five o'clock, when
we dine - But I promised a long while ago. At all events, Madame Destival
is an excellent musician, and we will try to amuse ourselves while we
are waiting for dinner."

"Why did you bring me, lieutenant? I can't play or sing, and as I don't
belong in the salon, where am I to do sentry-duty?"

"Never fear; Monsieur Destival expressly requested me to bring you. He
has become infatuated with hunting, and he wants you to teach him to
handle a gun."

"Very well, lieutenant, I'll teach him all I know; that won't take

"Poor Virginie! What a rage she will be in to-night! I promised to take
her to Feydeau - - "

"She has often promised you things, and then broken her word."

"How do you know that, Bertrand?"

"Because I've heard, lieutenant, that Mademoiselle Virginie's a terrible

"That is true; yes, I have had proofs of it more than once."

"That's very bad, after all that you've done for her! But you're so
kindhearted, you always allow yourself to be imposed on! Ten thousand
carbines! if the hussy had killed herself every time she threatened _to
perish_ because she didn't have enough to pay her rent - - "

"Come, come, Monsieur Bertrand, be quiet! You have a wicked tongue. - Go
on, Bébelle; I believe you're asleep."

"And one evening, when you went out, and she told me her troubles! She
said that if she had had a weakness for you, it was because she was too
loving, but that she was determined to change her ways, not to see you
any more, and to make up with her aunt. For my part, I believed every
word of it; in fact, she had such a sincere way of saying it, that I
felt all ready to cry. But no sooner did she learn that you were at the
masked ball than she shouted: 'I'm going too, Bertrand! lend me some
clothes, I'm going to dress as a man!' - 'What, mademoiselle,' says I,
'when you're talking about being good and not seeing Monsieur Auguste
any more!' - At that she began to laugh like a madwoman and called me an
old turkey-cock! Faith, lieutenant, I don't understand a woman like

"I can well believe it, my poor Bertrand; even I myself don't understand
her, and I know her better than you do."

"I like that little light-haired woman better; you know, lieutenant, the
one you got acquainted with by carrying back the little poodle she'd
lost, that I found lying at our door at night."

"You mean Léonie?"

"No, I mean Madame de Saint-Edmond."

"Léonie and Saint-Edmond are the same person."

"I didn't know, lieutenant."

"But look you, Bertrand, it was your fault that I made her

"The poodle's rather, lieutenant."

"Léonie lived in the same house with me, and I didn't know her."

"Parbleu, lieutenant, as if a body knew all his neighbors in Paris!
except concierges and cooks, whose business it is."

"At all events, you found the dog, and I bade you ask the concierge if
anyone in the house had lost it."

"And he told me that there was a young lady on the third floor, who had
lain awake all night for grief at losing her dog, and that her maid,
after searching from garret to cellar, had gone out to have placards
printed offering thirty francs reward to whoever brought the little
beast back. I confess that I didn't have any idea that the little
poodle, which did nothing but bite and growl, was worth more than four
months' pay for a private soldier; but I went up to the third floor in a
hurry, to have the order for the placards countermanded by giving the
little beast back to its mistress. To celebrate his return, he began by
scratching a handsome blue satin armchair and putting his paws in
madame's cup of chocolate; but that didn't prevent her calling him her
little jewel, and expressing the greatest gratitude to me. Still,
lieutenant, I don't see anything in all that to force you to fall in
love with Madame Léonie Saint-Edmond."

"You haven't told everything, Bertrand: you forget that, when you came
down from the third floor, you drew a very alluring picture of that
lady; you told me that she had a pair of eyes - and a voice - and a
certain shape!"

"Bless me, lieutenant, I should say that all women have eyes and a shape
and a voice!"

"Yes, to be sure; but still I was curious to know this young neighbor of
ours, who showed such keen sensibility."

"And it would seem, lieutenant, that you dislodged the poodle, for since
then Madame Saint-Edmond is forever at your heels; and as for me, madame
questions me and tries to make me talk; she sends for me to come up when
she's at breakfast, and as she offers me a little glass of malaga and a
biscuit, she asks me where you passed the evening before."

"And Monsieur Bertrand, melted by the malaga, recounts my actions to my
neighbor, I presume?"

"Oh! for shame, lieutenant! What do you take me for? The idea of my
betraying my master's secrets! If there had been half a dozen bottles
of malaga in front of me, I wouldn't have said a word! To be sure, I
don't like malaga."

"Bless my soul, my dear Bertrand, I am not scolding you! You know well
enough that I make no secret of my follies, even to those who might have
ground for complaint. It's a mere matter of an amourette or two, a
little fooling."

"All the same, lieutenant, I am seriously embarrassed, on my word, being
forever questioned by this one and that one. One calls me her little
Bertrand, another her true friend - and these ladies are all very
attractive - - "

"Ah! monsieur le caporal has noticed that!"

"Parbleu, lieutenant, I have eyes just like other men, and if my heart
don't take fire as easily as yours, that don't mean that it's
invulnerable. And when I see one of those ladies put her handkerchief to
her eyes, when I hear your neighbor throw herself into an armchair and
say that she's going to faint; and when Mademoiselle Virginie cries that
she _will perish_, - why, I don't know where I am. I run from one to the
other, offer them salts and eau-de-vie, tear my hair, and sometimes I
even cry with them. Let me tell you that I'd rather assault a fortress
six times than be present at one of those scenes, on my honor!"

"Ha! ha! ha! Poor Bertrand!"

"Of course, you laugh; it don't make any difference to you how much you
are called traitor, perfidious villain, savage, monster, cruel wretch!"

"Those are terms of endearment; in a young woman's mouth those words
mean: 'You are charming, I love you, I adore you!'"

"Oho! so 'monster!' means 'you are charming,' does it? That makes a
difference, lieutenant; I couldn't be expected to guess that; now I
understand. But these tears that you are responsible for - do they also
mean that you are considered charming?"

"Oh! do you suppose, my old friend, that in love-affairs tears are
always sincere?"

"In a great flood, lieutenant, there may happen to be one honest one;
and it seems to me that a man ought to be sorry for the suffering he
causes a pretty girl."

"I promise to reform, Bertrand, to be more virtuous in the future! Is it
possible that you think that I, who adore that charming sex, I, whose
whole happiness depends on making myself attractive to the ladies - that
I set about causing them pain?"

"No, lieutenant; on the contrary, I am well aware that you would like to
give pleasure to all the young beauties you meet; but it is that very
pleasure that leads to regret and cares; and you yourself - for, as I was
saying just now, the great Turenne - - "

Auguste had ceased to listen to Bertrand; he had put his head out of the
window and was watching a young peasant who had just come out of the
forest and was walking along the same road that our travellers were
following, driving before her an ass laden with baskets, in which were a
number of the tin cans in which milk is carried to the people of Paris
by the village women.

As the ass did not move as fast as Bébelle, Auguste drew in his horse
and made him walk, in order to see the girl as long as possible.

"Shall I touch Bébelle up?" asked Bertrand, surprised to find that they
continued to go at a walk.

"No, no - she's going well enough."

"Yes, lieutenant, you will be very wise to turn virtuous - virtuous for
you, I mean; if you don't, your income won't be enough to pay all your
expenses. You have appointed me your steward, so I can venture to talk
figures with you; and, although I'm not a great mathematician, I can see
plainly enough that when you're forever dipping into a cash-box, it is
soon empty. This year you don't seem to be lucky at that infernal game
you play so often - you know, lieutenant, the game in which you turn the
kings - - "

"Fresh complexion - a pretty figure - lovely eyes - it's extraordinary, I

"And then the cashmere shawls you send to one, and the milliner's bill
that you pay for another - - "

"And all these charms in a milkmaid!"

"What's that? a milkmaid? Do you mean to say that you pay their bills
too, lieutenant?"

"Who in the devil said anything about bills? Just look at that sweet
child on the road yonder."

"Well! she's a milkmaid - that's the whole story!"

"You don't see how pretty she is. And that sly smile, every time her
eyes turn in our direction."

"Perhaps she wants to sell us some cream cheese?"

"Blockhead! to see nothing but cheese! I tell you that sackcloth waist,
that double linen neckerchief, so high in the neck, conceal a multitude
of treasures."

"Treasures! treasures! Parbleu! one can guess very nearly what they
conceal, although appearances are often deceitful. But such treasures
aren't scarce; is it on account of the little milkmaid that we're going
now like a load of flour?"

"No, no, it's because I am beginning to get tired of the cabriolet. The
weather is so fine; I feel that it will do me good to walk. We're only a
little way from Monsieur Destival's now. Here, Bertrand, take the reins;
I'll do the rest of the distance on foot."

"What, lieutenant, you mean to - - "

Auguste had already stopped his horse; he jumped lightly to the ground
despite Bertrand's grumbling, and said:

"Go on with Tony."

"But what shall I tell Monsieur Destival?"

"That I am coming; I shall be there as soon as you."

"But - - "

"Bertrand, I insist."

Bertrand said no more; but he cast an angry glance at the little
milkmaid, and lashed Bébelle, who soon left Auguste far behind.



The damsel went her way, with a branch of walnut in her hand, driving
her ass before her, apparently oblivious of the fact that the young man
had alighted from his cabriolet. She did not look back, but contented
herself with calling out from time to time: "Go on there, White Jean;"
and White Jean went none the faster.

Auguste soon overtook the milkmaid. He walked behind her a few moments,
to examine her; she was well-built, so far as one could judge of her
shape beneath the thick wrapper in which she was muffled; her foot was
certainly small, although encased in heavy shoes, and her woolen
stockings covered a shapely leg, which he could examine at his leisure,
for a milkmaid wears very short skirts.

Auguste stepped forward; the girl looked up and seemed surprised to see
the young man of the cabriolet walking by her side. But she turned her
head away, with another "go on!" to her ass, in which there was no touch
of romance.

Our young exquisite gazed closely at the girl, who wore a cap perched on
top of her head, which concealed none of her features.

"She is very pretty," he said to himself; "fine eyes, a pretty mouth, a
complexion like the rose; but nothing extraordinary, after all. Her
freshness is the freshness of a village girl; she's a mere country
beauty, and I should have done as well to stay in the carriage. However,
as I have alighted, I may as well try to gain something by it."

And the young man continued to stare at the milkmaid, with a smile on
his face; but she, apparently annoyed by the fine gentleman's scrutiny,
said to him sharply:

"Shall you soon be through looking at me?"

"Isn't it within the law to admire you?"

"No, I don't like to have anyone eye me like that."

"If you weren't so pretty, people would look at you less."

"If this is the way you talk to your ladies in Paris, you must have lots
of faces in your head! When you look at a body so close, you'll know her
again; but here among us, we don't call it decent; and you'd better not
come here to play monkey tricks like this!"

"I made a mistake in leaving the cabriolet," thought Auguste. However,
he continued to walk beside the girl, and said to her after a moment:

"Are you a milkmaid?"

"Pardi! anyone can see that. Have you just guessed it?"

"Will you sell me some milk?"

"I haven't got any."

"Do you carry it to Paris?"

"I don't go so far as that."

"Where do you come from?"

"You're very inquisitive."

Online LibraryPaul de KockThe Milkmaid of Montfermeil (Novels of Paul de Kock Volume XX) → online text (page 1 of 31)