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INTERNATIONAL SHORT STORIES

COMPILED BY
FRANCIS J. REYNOLDS

FRENCH

1910





FRENCH STORIES

A PIECE OF BREAD _By Francois Coppee_

THE ELIXIR OF LIFE _By Honore de Balzac_

THE AGE FOR LOVE _By Paul Bourget_

MATEO FALCONE _By Prosper Merimee_

THE MIRROR _By Catulle Mendes_

MY NEPHEW JOSEPH _By Ludovic Halevy_

A FOREST BETROTHAL _By Erckmann-Chatrian_

ZADIG THE BABYLONIAN _By Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire_

ABANDONED _By Guy de Maupassant_

THE GUILTY SECRET _By Paul de Kock_

JEAN MONETTE _By Eugene Francois Vidocq_

SOLANGE _By Alexandre Dumas_

THE BIRDS IN THE LETTER-BOX _By Rene Bazin_

JEAN GOURDON'S FOUR DAYS _By Emile Zola_

BARON DE TRENCK _By Clemence Robert_

THE PASSAGE OF THE RED SEA _By Henry Murger_

THE WOMAN AND THE CAT _By Marcel Prevost_

GIL BLAS AND DR. SANGRADO _By Alain Rene Le Sage_

A FIGHT WITH A CANNON _By Victor Hugo_

TONTON _By A. Cheneviere_

THE LAST LESSON _By Alphonse Daudet_

CROISILLES _By Alfred de Musset_

THE VASE OF CLAY _By Jean Aicard_



A PIECE OF BREAD

BY FRANCOIS COPPEE


The young Due de Hardimont happened to be at Aix in Savoy, whose waters he
hoped would benefit his famous mare, Perichole, who had become wind-broken
since the cold she had caught at the last Derby,--and was finishing his
breakfast while glancing over the morning paper, when he read the news of
the disastrous engagement at Reichshoffen.

He emptied his glass of chartreuse, laid his napkin upon the restaurant
table, ordered his valet to pack his trunks, and two hours later took the
express to Paris; arriving there, he hastened to the recruiting office and
enlisted in a regiment of the line.

In vain had he led the enervating life of a fashionable swell--that was
the word of the time--and had knocked about race-course stables from the
age of nineteen to twenty-five. In circumstances like these, he could not
forget that Enguerrand de Hardimont died of the plague at Tunis the same
day as Saint Louis, that Jean de Hardimont commanded the Free Companies
under Du Guesclin, and that Francois-Henri de Hardimont was killed at
Fontenoy with "Red" Maison. Upon learning that France had lost a battle on
French soil, the young duke felt the blood mount to his face, giving him a
horrible feeling of suffocation.

And so, early in November, 1870, Henri de Hardimont returned to Paris with
his regiment, forming part of Vinoy's corps, and his company being the
advance guard before the redoubt of Hautes Bruyères, a position fortified
in haste, and which protected the cannon of Fort Bicêtre.

It was a gloomy place; a road planted with clusters of broom, and broken
up into muddy ruts, traversing the leprous fields of the neighborhood; on
the border stood an abandoned tavern, a tavern with arbors, where the
soldiers had established their post. They had fallen back here a few days
before; the grape-shot had broken down some of the young trees, and all of
them bore upon their bark the white scars of bullet wounds. As for the
house, its appearance made one shudder; the roof had been torn by a shell,
and the walls seemed whitewashed with blood. The torn and shattered arbors
under their network of twigs, the rolling of an upset cask, the high swing
whose wet rope groaned in the damp wind, and the inscriptions over the
door, furrowed by bullets; "Cabinets de societé--Absinthe--Vermouth--Vin à
60 cent. le litre"--encircling a dead rabbit painted over two billiard
cues tied in a cross by a ribbon,--all this recalled with cruel irony the
popular entertainment of former days. And over all, a wretched winter sky,
across which rolled heavy leaden clouds, an odious sky, angry and hateful.

At the door of the tavern stood the young duke, motionless, with his gun
in his shoulder-belt, his cap over his eyes, his benumbed hands in the
pockets of his red trousers, and shivering in his sheepskin coat. He gave
himself up to his sombre thoughts, this defeated soldier, and looked with
sorrowful eyes toward a line of hills, lost in the fog, where could be
seen each moment, the flash and smoke of a Krupp gun, followed by a
report.

Suddenly he felt hungry.

Stooping, he drew from his knapsack, which stood near him leaning against
the wall, a piece of ammunition bread, and as he had lost his knife, he
bit off a morsel and slowly ate it.

But after a few mouthfuls, he had enough of it; the bread was hard and had
a bitter taste. No fresh would be given until the next morning's
distribution, so the commissary officer had willed it. This was certainly
a very hard life sometimes. The remembrance of former breakfasts came to
him, such as he had called "hygienic," when, the day after too over-heating
a supper, he would seat himself by a window on the ground floor of
the Café-Anglais, and be served with a cutlet, or buttered eggs with
asparagus tips, and the butler, knowing his tastes, would bring him a fine
bottle of old Léoville, lying in its basket, and which he would pour out
with the greatest care. The deuce take it! That was a good time, all the
same, and he would never become accustomed to this life of wretchedness.

And, in a moment of impatience, the young man threw the rest of his bread
into the mud.

At the same moment a soldier of the line came from the tavern, stooped and
picked up the bread, drew back a few steps, wiped it with his sleeve and
began to devour it eagerly.

Henri de Hardimont was already ashamed of his action, and now with a
feeling of pity, watched the poor devil who gave proof of such a good
appetite. He was a tall, large young fellow, but badly made; with feverish
eyes and a hospital beard, and so thin that his shoulder-blades stood out
beneath his well-worn cape.

"You are very hungry?" he said, approaching the soldier.

"As you see," replied the other with his mouth full.

"Excuse me then. For if I had known that you would like the bread, I would
not have thrown it away."

"It does not harm it," replied the soldier, "I am not dainty."

"No matter," said the gentleman, "it was wrong to do so, and I reproach
myself. But I do not wish you to have a bad opinion of me, and as I have
some old cognac in my can, let us drink a drop together."

The man had finished eating. The duke and he drank a mouthful of brandy;
the acquaintance was made.

"What is your name?" asked the soldier of the line.

"Hardimont," replied the duke, omitting his title. "And yours?"

"Jean-Victor--I have just entered this company--I am just out of the
ambulance--I was wounded at Châtillon--oh! but it was good in the
ambulance, and in the infirmary they gave me horse bouillon. But I had
only a scratch, and the major signed my dismissal. So much the worse for
me! Now I am going to commence to be devoured by hunger again--for,
believe me, if you will, comrade, but, such as you see me, I have been
hungry all my life."

The words were startling, especially to a Sybarite who had just been
longing for the kitchen of the Café-Anglais, and the Duc de Hardimont
looked at his companion in almost terrified amazement. The soldier smiled
sadly, showing his hungry, wolf-like teeth, as white as his sickly face,
and, as if understanding that the other expected something further in the
way of explanation or confidence:

"Come," said he, suddenly ceasing his familiar way of speaking, doubtless
divining that his companion belonged to the rich and happy; "let us walk
along the road to warm our feet, and I will tell you things, which
probably you have never heard of--I am called Jean-Victor, that is all,
for I am a foundling, and my only happy remembrance is of my earliest
childhood, at the Asylum. The sheets were white on our little beds in the
dormitory; we played in a garden under large trees, and a kind Sister took
care of us, quite young and as pale as a wax-taper--she died afterwards of
lung trouble--I was her favorite, and would rather walk by her than play
with the other children, because she used to draw me to her side and lay
her warm thin hand on my forehead. But when I was twelve years old, after
my first communion, there was nothing but poverty. The managers put me as
apprentice with a chair mender in Faubourg Saint-Jacques. That is not a
trade, you know, it is impossible to earn one's living at it, and as proof
of it, the greater part of the time the master was only able to engage the
poor little blind boys from the Blind Asylum. It was there that I began to
suffer with hunger. The master and mistress, two old Limousins--afterwards
murdered, were terrible misers, and the bread, cut in tiny pieces for each
meal, was kept under lock and key the rest of the time. You should have
seen the mistress at supper time serving the soup, sighing at each
ladleful she dished out. The other apprentices, two blind boys, were less
unhappy; they were not given more than I, but they could not see the
reproachful look the wicked woman used to give me as she handed me my
plate. And then, unfortunately, I was always so terribly hungry. Was it my
fault, do you think? I served there for three years, in a continual fit of
hunger. Three years! And one can learn the work in one month. But the
managers could not know everything, and had no suspicion that the children
were abused. Ah! you were astonished just now when you saw me take the
bread out of the mud? I am used to that for I have picked up enough of it;
and crusts from the dust, and when they were too hard and dry, I would
soak them all night in my basin. I had windfalls sometimes, such as pieces
of bread nibbled at the ends, which the children would take out of their
baskets and throw on the sidewalks as they came from school. I used to try
to prowl around there when I went on errands. At last my time was ended at
this trade by which no man can support himself. Well, I did many other
things, for I was willing enough to work. I served the masons; I have been
shop-boy, floor-polisher, I don't know what all! But, pshaw; to-day, work
is lacking, another time I lose my place: Briefly, I never have had enough
to eat.



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