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   Chapter 7 A GENTLE COUNSELLOR

A Romance of Youth -- Complete By Francois Coppee Characters: 10377

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


One sombre, misty, winter morning, as Amedee lingered in his bed, his father entered, bringing him a letter that the wife of the concierge had just brought up. The letter was from Maurice, inviting his friend to dinner that evening at seven o'clock at Foyots, to meet some of his former companions at the Lycee Henri IV.

"Will you excuse me for not dining with you this evening, papa?" said Amedee, joyfully. "Maurice Roger entertains us at a restaurant."

The young man's gayety left him suddenly when he looked at his father, who had seated himself on the side of the bed. He had become almost frightful to look at; old before his time, livid of complexion, his eyes bloodshot, the rebellious lock of hair straggling over his right temple. Nothing was more heartbreaking than his senile smile when he placed his bony trembling hands upon his thighs. Amedee, who knew, alas, why his father had reached such a pass, felt his heart moved with pity and shame.

"Are you suffering to-day?" asked the young man. "Would you prefer that we should dine together as usual? I will send word to Maurice. Nothing is easier."

"No, my child, no!" replied M. Violette, in a hollow tone. "Go and amuse yourself with your friends. I know perfectly well that the life you lead with me is too monotonous. Go and amuse yourself, it will please me-only there is an idea that troubles me more than usual-and I want to confide it to you."

"What is it then, dear papa?"

"Amedee, last March your mother had been dead fifteen years. You hardly knew her. She was the sweetest and best of creatures, and all that I can wish you is, that you may meet such a woman, make her your companion for life, and be more fortunate than I, my poor Amedee, and keep her always. During these frightful years since your mother's death I have suffered, do you see? suffered horribly, and I have never, never been consoled. If I have lived-if I have had the strength to live, in spite of all, it was only for you and in remembrance of her. I think I have nearly finished my task. You are a young man, intelligent and honest, and you have now an employment which will give you your bread. However, I often ask myself-oh, very often-whether I have fulfilled my duty toward you. Ah! do not protest," added the unhappy man, whom Amedee had clasped in his arms. "No, my poor child, I have not loved you sufficiently; grief has filled too large a place in my heart; above all, during these last few years I have not been with you enough. I have sought solitude. You understand me, Amedee, I can not tell you more," he said, with a sob. "There are some parts of my life that you must ignore, and if it grieves you to know what I have become during that time, you must never think of it; forget it. I beg of you, my child, do not judge me severely. And one of these days, if I die-ah! we must expect it-the burden of my grief is too heavy for me to bear, it crushes me! Well, my child, if I die, promise me to be indulgent to my memory, and when you think of your father only say: 'He was very unhappy!'"

Amedee shed tears upon his father's shoulder, who softly stroked his son's beautiful hair with his trembling hands.

"My father, my good father!" sobbed Amedee, "I love and respect you with all my heart. I will dress myself quickly and we will go to the office together; we will return the same way and dine like a pair of good friends. I beg of you, do not ask me to leave you to-day!"

But M. Violette suddenly arose as if he had formed some resolution.

"No, Amedee," said he, firmly. "I have said what I had to say to you, and you will remember it. That is sufficient. Go and amuse yourself this evening with your friends. Sadness is dangerous at your age. As for myself, I shall go to dine with Pere Bastide, who has just received his pension, and has invited me more than twenty times to come and see his little house at Grand Montrouge. It is understood; I wish it. Now then, wipe your eyes and kiss me."

Having tenderly embraced his son, M. Violette left the room. Amedee could hear him in the vestibule take down his hat and cane, open and close the door, and go down the stairs with a heavy step. A quarter of an hour after, as the young man was crossing the Luxembourg to go to the office, he met Louise Gerard with her roll of music in her hand, going to give some lessons in the city. He walked a few steps beside her, and the worthy girl noticed his red eyes and disturbed countenance.

"What is the matter with you, Amedee?" she inquired, anxiously.

"Louise," he replied, "do you not think that my father has changed very much in the last few months?"

She stopped and looked at him with eyes shining with compassion.

"Very much changed, my poor Amedee. You would not believe me if I told you that I had not remarked it. But whatever may be the cause-how shall I say it?-that has affected your father's health, you should think of only one thing, my friend; that is, that he has been tender and devoted to you; that he became a widower very young and he did not remarry; that he has endured, in order to devote himself to his only child, long years of solitude and unhappy memories.

You must think of that, Amedee, and that only."

"I never shall forget it, Louise, never fear; my heart is full of gratitude. This morning, even, he was so affectionate and kind to me-but his health is ruined; he is now a weak old man. Soon-I not only fear it, but I am certain of it-soon he will be incapable of work. I can see his poor hands tremble now. He will not even have a right to a pension. If he could not continue to work in the office he could hardly obtain a meagre relief, and that by favor only. And for long years I can only hope for an insufficient salary. Oh! to think that the catastrophe draws near, that one of these days he may fall ill and become infirm, perhaps, and that we shall be almost needy and I shall be unable to surround him with care in his old age. That is what makes me tremble!"

They walked along side by side upon the moist, soft ground of the large garden, under the leafless trees, where hung a slight penetrating mist which made them shiver under their wraps.

"Amedee," said she, looking at the young man with a serious gentleness, "I have known you from a child, and I am the elder. I am twenty-two; that makes me almost an old maid, Amedee, and gives me the right to scold you a little. You lack confidence in life, my friend, and it is wrong at your age. Do you think I do not see that my father has aged very much, that his eyesight fails, that we are much more cramped in circumstances in the house than formerly? Are we any the more sad? Mamma makes fewer little dishes and I teach in Paris, that is all. We live nearly the same as before, and our dear Maria-she is the pet of us all, the joy and pride of the house-well, our Maria, all the same, has from time to time a new frock or a pretty hat. I have no experience, but it seems to me that in order to feel really unhappy I must have nobody to love-that is the only privation worth the trouble of noticing. Do you know that I have just had one of the greatest pleasures of my life? I noticed that papa did not smoke as much as usual, in order to be economical, poor man! Fortunately I found a new pupil at Batignolles, and as soon as I had the first month's pay in my pocket I bought a large package of tobacco and put it beside his work. One must never complain so long as one is fortunate enough to keep those one loves. I know the secret grief that troubles you regarding your father; but think what he has suffered, that he loves you, that you are his only consolation. And when you have gloomy thoughts, come and see your old friends, Amedee. They will try to warm your heart at the fireside of their friendship, and to give you some of their courage, the courage of poor people which is composed of a little indifference and a little resignation."

They had reached the Florentine Terrace, where stand the marble statues of queens and ladies, and on the other side of the balustrade, ornamented with large vases, they could see through the mist the reservoir with its two swans, the solitary gravel walks, the empty grass-plots of a pale green, surrounded by the skeletons of lilac-trees, and the facade of the old palace, whose clock-hands pointed to ten.

"Let us hasten," said Louise, after a glance at the dial. "Escort me as far at the Odeon omnibus. I am a little late."

As he walked by her side he looked at her. Alas! Poor Louise was not pretty, in spite of her large eyes, so loving but not coquettish. She wore a close, ugly hat, a mantle drawn tightly about her shoulders, colored gloves, and heavy walking-shoes. Yes, she was a perfect picture of a "two francs an hour" music-teacher. What a good, brave girl! With what an overflowing heart she had spoken of her family! It was to earn tobacco for her father and a new frock for her pretty sister that she left thus, so early in the misty morning, and rode in public conveyances, or tramped through the streets of Paris in the mud. The sight of her, more than what she said, gave the weak and melancholy Amedee courage and desire for manly resolutions.

"My dear Louise," said he, with emotion, "I am very fortunate to have such a friend as you, and for so many years! Do you remember when we used to have our hunts after the bearskin cap when we were children?"

They had just left the garden and found themselves behind the Odeon. Two tired-out omnibus horses, of a yellowish-white, and showing their ribs, were rubbing their noses against each other like a caress; then the horse on the left raised his head and placed it in a friendly way upon the other's mane. Louise pointed to the two animals and said to Amedee, smilingly:

"Their fate is hard, is it not? No matter! they are good friends, and that is enough to help them endure it."

Then, shaking hands with Amedee, she climbed lightly up into the carriage.

All that day at the office Amedee was uneasy about his father, and about four o'clock, a little before the time for his departure, he went to M. Violette's office. There they told him that his father had just left, saying that he would dine at Grand Montrouge with an old friend; and Amedee, a trifle reassured, decided to rejoin his friend Maurice at the Foyot restaurant.

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