FOUR AND FOUR
It is hard nowadays to picture to one's self what a pleasure-trip of
students and grisettes to the country was like, forty-five years ago.
The suburbs of Paris are no longer the same; the physiognomy of what
may be called circumparisian life has changed completely in the
last half-century; where there was the cuckoo, there is the railway car;
where there was a tender-boat, there is now the steamboat; people speak
of Fecamp nowadays as they spoke of Saint-Cloud in those days.
The Paris of 1862 is a city which has France for its outskirts.
The four couples conscientiously went through with all the country
follies possible at that time. The vacation was beginning, and it
was a warm, bright, summer day. On the preceding day, Favourite,
the only one who knew how to write, had written the following
to Tholomyes in the name of the four: "It is a good hour to emerge
from happiness." That is why they rose at five o'clock in the morning.
Then they went to Saint-Cloud by the coach, looked at the dry cascade
and exclaimed, "This must be very beautiful when there is water!"
They breakfasted at the Tete-Noir, where Castaing had not yet been;
they treated themselves to a game of ring-throwing under the
quincunx of trees of the grand fountain; they ascended Diogenes'
lantern, they gambled for macaroons at the roulette establishment
of the Pont de Sevres, picked bouquets at Pateaux, bought reed-pipes
at Neuilly, ate apple tarts everywhere, and were perfectly happy.
The young girls rustled and chatted like warblers escaped from
their cage. It was a perfect delirium. From time to time they
bestowed little taps on the young men. Matutinal intoxication of life!
adorable years! the wings of the dragonfly quiver. Oh, whoever you
may be, do you not remember? Have you rambled through the brushwood,
holding aside the branches, on account of the charming head
which is coming on behind you? Have you slid, laughing, down a
slope all wet with rain, with a beloved woman holding your hand,
and crying, "Ah, my new boots! what a state they are in!"
Let us say at once that that merry obstacle, a shower, was lacking
in the case of this good-humored party, although Favourite had said
as they set out, with a magisterial and maternal tone, "The slugs
are crawling in the paths,--a sign of rain, children."
All four were madly pretty. A good old classic poet, then famous,
a good fellow who had an Eleonore, M. le Chevalier de Labouisse,
as he strolled that day beneath the chestnut-trees of Saint-Cloud,
saw them pass about ten o'clock in the morning, and exclaimed,
"There is one too many of them," as he thought of the Graces.
Favourite, Blachevelle's friend, the one aged three and twenty,
the old one, ran on in front under the great green boughs,
jumped the ditches, stalked distractedly over bushes, and presided
over this merry-making with the spirit of a young female faun.
Zephine and Dahlia, whom chance had made beautiful in such a way
that they set each off when they were together, and completed
each other, never left each other, more from an instinct of coquetry
than from friendship, and clinging to each other, they assumed
English poses; the first keepsakes had just made their appearance,
melancholy was dawning for women, as later on, Byronism dawned for men;
and the hair of the tender sex began to droop dolefully. Zephine and
Dahlia had their hair dressed in rolls. Listolier and Fameuil,
who were engaged in discussing their professors, explained to Fantine
the difference that existed between M. Delvincourt and M. Blondeau.
Blachevelle seemed to have been created expressly to carry Favourite's
single-bordered, imitation India shawl of Ternaux's manufacture,
on his arm on Sundays.
Tholomyes followed, dominating the group. He was very gay, but one felt
the force of government in him; there was dictation in his joviality;
his principal ornament was a pair of trousers of elephant-leg pattern
of nankeen, with straps of braided copper wire; he carried a stout
rattan worth two hundred francs in his hand, and, as he treated
himself to everything, a strange thing called a cigar in his mouth.
Nothing was sacred to him; he smoked.
"That Tholomyes is astounding!" said the others, with veneration.
"What trousers! What energy!"
As for Fantine, she was a joy to behold. Her splendid teeth had
evidently received an office from God,--laughter. She preferred
to carry her little hat of sewed straw, with its long white strings,
in her hand rather than on her head. Her thick blond hair,
which was inclined to wave, and which easily uncoiled, and which it
was necessary to fasten up incessantly, seemed made for the flight
of Galatea under the willows. Her rosy lips babbled enchantingly.
The corners of her mouth voluptuously turned up, as in the antique masks
of Erigone, had an air of encouraging the audacious; but her long,
shadowy lashes drooped discreetly over the jollity of the lower
part of the face as though to call a halt. There was something
indescribably harmonious and striking about her entire dress.
She wore a gown of mauve barege, little reddish brown buskins,
whose ribbons traced an X on her fine, white, open-worked stockings,
and that sort of muslin spencer, a Marseilles invention, whose name,
canezou, a corruption of the words quinze aout, pronounced after the
fashion of the Canebiere, signifies fine weather, heat, and midday.
The three others, less timid, as we have already said, wore low-necked
dresses without disguise, which in summer, beneath flower-adorned
hats, are very graceful and enticing; but by the side of these
audacious outfits, blond Fantine's canezou, with its transparencies,
its indiscretion, and its reticence, concealing and displaying
at one and the same time, seemed an alluring godsend of decency,
and the famous Court of Love, presided over by the Vicomtesse de Cette,
with the sea-green eyes, would, perhaps, have awarded the prize for
coquetry to this canezou, in the contest for the prize of modesty.
The most ingenious is, at times, the wisest. This does happen.
Brilliant of face, delicate of profile, with eyes of a deep blue,
heavy lids, feet arched and small, wrists and ankles admirably formed,
a white skin which, here and there allowed the azure branching
of the veins to be seen, joy, a cheek that was young and fresh,
the robust throat of the Juno of AEgina, a strong and supple nape
of the neck, shoulders modelled as though by Coustou, with a
voluptuous dimple in the middle, visible through the muslin; a gayety
cooled by dreaminess; sculptural and exquisite--such was Fantine;
and beneath these feminine adornments and these ribbons one could
divine a statue, and in that statue a soul.
Fantine was beautiful, without being too conscious of it.
Those rare dreamers, mysterious priests of the beautiful who silently
confront everything with perfection, would have caught a glimpse
in this little working-woman, through the transparency of her
Parisian grace, of the ancient sacred euphony. This daughter of
the shadows was thoroughbred. She was beautiful in the two ways--
style and rhythm. Style is the form of the ideal; rhythm is its movement.
We have said that Fantine was joy; she was also modesty.
To an observer who studied her attentively, that which breathed from
her athwart all the intoxication of her age, the season, and her
love affair, was an invincible expression of reserve and modesty.
She remained a little astonished. This chaste astonishment
is the shade of difference which separates Psyche from Venus.
Fantine had the long, white, fine fingers of the vestal virgin who
stirs the ashes of the sacred fire with a golden pin. Although she
would have refused nothing to Tholomyes, as we shall have more than
ample opportunity to see, her face in repose was supremely virginal;
a sort of serious and almost austere dignity suddenly overwhelmed
her at certain times, and there was nothing more singular and
disturbing than to see gayety become so suddenly extinct there,
and meditation succeed to cheerfulness without any transition state.
This sudden and sometimes severely accentuated gravity resembled the
disdain of a goddess. Her brow, her nose, her chin, presented that
equilibrium of outline which is quite distinct from equilibrium
of proportion, and from which harmony of countenance results;
in the very characteristic interval which separates the base of the nose
from the upper lip, she had that imperceptible and charming fold,
a mysterious sign of chastity, which makes Barberousse fall in love
with a Diana found in the treasures of Iconia.
Love is a fault; so be it. Fantine was innocence floating high