MONTÉZUMA had the most wonderfully flexible face I ever saw. He could
literally do anything he liked with it. For instance, he would lengthen
his features, raise his eyebrows, and half shut his eyes, and there you
had before you the living image of Lieutenant Hardel, the thinnest and
most miserable looking officer of the regiment. Then, in an instant, he
would puff out his cheeks, half bury his head between his shoulders, and
opening his big eyes, roll them about in a terrible manner, and at that
moment you beheld an exact copy of Major Taillepain. When he began these
representations, which were performed for me, and me only, I could
scarcely contain myself for joy. At each change of countenance, I would
clap my hands and cry out, “Again, again, Montézuma! Again, please,


He, too, would get quite excited over his own performances, and after
having imitated the faces of all those he chose to mimic, he would begin
making grimaces of so terrible and strange a nature, that I would be
seized with horror. It seemed to me as if it could not be Montézuma
standing before me: that fantastic and hideous face that I beheld—now
furious, now jeering, and now surely the face of some strange
animal—could no longer be his; and, almost beside myself with fear, I
trembled all over. Then I used to have a sort of hysterical fit, crying
and laughing at once, and I would implore of Montézuma not to do it any
more. And he would then have his own natural face again in a moment, and
taking me up, kiss me heartily.

In time, these performances which frightened me so dreadfully, yet which
I could not help asking Montézuma constantly to repeat, had the effect
of putting the strangest ideas into my head about the similarity of the
human and animal physiognomy. I began to discover, from this time,
different and strange expressions in the faces of the animals that I
happened to meet with. In some I would read a threatening or spiteful
expression, in others an expression of mockery or fun, which they, of
course, never really wore.

I remember, in particular, one of the monkeys in the Jardin des Plantes,
who, as a monkey was singularly ugly, and as a greedy monkey, showed
singular eagerness to partake of some cakes which we had brought with
us. From quite a long way off he saw them, and came towards the bars of
his cage at a curious, loose, half-dislocated trot. When we had just
reached the cage, and he was within a few paces of us on the other side,
he made a sudden spring, and came with a bang against the bars. Oh! how
frightened I was! I thought he was jumping into my face! I shut my eyes
in terror, and when I opened them, there he was close to me, and I saw
him rolling his eyes and grinding his teeth, and grinning at me. I
thought I had never seen so spiteful a face! I dreamed of him that
night; and the impression left upon my mind by the sight of that horrid
monkey was so strong, that three years afterwards, I actually—before my
father, of whom I stood in some awe—was seized with nervous terror at
the sight of an ugly little neighbour, who stood at his window opposite,
making faces at me, and putting out his tongue.


MY mother, naturally extremely timid, scarcely ever dared to differ from
my father; but still she bravely took my part when he would attack me
too severely on the unfortunate subject of my cowardice. My father would
always be softened by her in the end. But as a last protest he would
shrug his shoulders and say:—“Very well, my dear; but pray dress him,
then, like a little girl, and set him to work to hem handkerchiefs.”


Hem handkerchiefs! In his eyes this was the most dire insult that could
be offered to a coward. But I, who had but little pride in me, I should
have been more than contented to be turned into a girl, and sit and hem
handkerchiefs. I should in that case never have to leave my mother, and
I should not have the disagreeable prospect of college looming in the

I had a great love of dolls; my mother and I used to make up the most
delightful rag dolls together. I used generally to hide them most
carefully away when I had finished playing with them. Sometimes, though,
I had the misfortune to leave one about: my father, then finding it,
would turn and twist it with the end of his cane; wearing on his face,
the while, an expression of the greatest contempt. Then—with a dexterity
which I should have admired if it had not been exercised at the expense
of my poor doll—he would toss it up into the air and send it flying,
with a twist of his cane, right out of the window.

My paternal love for my outraged child would then seem to give me some
courage—for I had to brave more than one danger to recover my dolly. If
the doll fell in the street I would fly downstairs, and opening the
hall-door a little way, put my head out to reconnoitre, and—after being
quite sure that there were no carriages in sight to drive over me and
crush me, nor curs to run after me and bite me, nor boys about to pelt
me with peas out of their popguns—I risked it, and recovering my
treasure from the street, would retreat, breathless and excited, at the
idea of dangers which I _might_ have met with.

If the doll happened to fall into the garden, I would first go and look
out of the kitchen window—for from there I could see the goings and
comings of a certain little bantam-cock belonging to us. This funny
little fowl, which was no bigger than my two fists, was of a most
quarrelsome disposition. Directly he saw me coming he would run up as
fast as he could, and then standing right in front of me, firmly planted
on his two horrid little feet, he would stare at me, turning his head
from side to side, first with the right eye and then with the left,
twitching his little comb about with rapid jerks. Why did he come? What
did he want with me? I had never done anything to him! Had he only then
discovered, like others, that I was a coward, and merely amused himself
(being a facetious sort of fowl) by making me afraid of him?

When he was at the bottom of the garden, occupied with his own affairs
in some corner, I would seize the opportunity, and gliding softly,
softly to where my dolly lay, I would carry it off in triumph before he
had time to follow me. Sometimes though, he would only pretend to be
pre-occupied, and in reality watch me out of the corner of his wicked
little eyes, and suddenly shoot out from his corner right up to the
door, when I, scarcely outside as yet, would make a rapid and
ignominious retreat inside the house again. Sometimes I have made as
many as ten ineffectual attempts to get out at the door, without
counting the various stratagems which I was obliged to have recourse to
when once outside before I could recover my lost property.

WHEN I did not play with my dolls, I made little chapels and altars in
all the corners of the house. I made myself a chasuble out of my
mother’s apron, and I sang away, as loudly as ever I could, all the
hymns I knew by heart, and many that I composed for the occasion. My
father said nothing to this, because he thought that, after all, a child
must amuse itself in some way; however, I generally chose the days when
he was out, and my _grands services_ took place always when he went out
fishing. On those days I felt I was free, gay, and happy. I sang my most
beautiful anthems, composed of any words that came into my head,
terminating in _us_ or _um_; and the house resounded with the noise of
my bell.

But the procession, consisting of myself alone, did not go beyond the
different rooms and the kitchen. I did not go into the loft, because who
ever heard of a grand imposing ceremony taking place in a loft? I would,
however, have gladly gone into the garden to ask a blessing upon our
rose trees, and the one apricot tree which grew there, but which never
had any apricots on it; only the notorious intolerance of that little
bantam-cock prevented the procession venturing out of doors.

When I met my mother, as I marched about the passages in pomp, she would
smile kindly at me, and kiss me as I passed. Then I would whisper in her
ear, “Mamma, I should like to be a priest.”

“And why not, my darling,” would be her reply, “if it is your vocation?”

ONE day when my father came home from fishing he went into the kitchen,
where my mother was making some cakes, and remained there talking
earnestly with her for some time. While this conversation was going on I
appeared upon the scene dressed up in my surplice, for I was just in the
middle of one of my grandest processions. As I was about to enter the
kitchen I was rooted to the spot by these words, which I heard
proceeding from my father’s lips.

“You say, my dear, that he talks of becoming a priest: the fact is he
knows neither what he is talking about nor what he wishes. You must not
suppose that because a child arranges little chapels in the corners of
rooms, pretends he is joining in a religious procession, and wears his
mother’s apron as a surplice, that he is therefore fitted to be a priest
when he grows up. You might just as well say that a boy must become a
soldier because he puts a feather in his cap and plays the drum all day;
and then,” he went on in a melancholy tone of voice, “Paul would
certainly be a worthy priest to offer to God’s service! Priest, do you
say?” Then exclaimed my father bitterly, “No; a priest, like a soldier,
must ever be ready to sacrifice his own life. A priest must think
nothing of danger or suffering, if he incurs either for the good of
others! A priest must be ready at any hour of the day or night to visit
and solace those dying from pestilence. However contagious an illness
may be, no priest may shrink from visiting those stricken down with it,
at the risk of his own life. Do you think Paul has a vocation for this?”

My mother hung her head and said nothing. Alas! what could she have
said? My father’s words were wise indeed. As for me, I stood motionless
in the shadow of the dark corridor, with my little bell in my hand. I
listened to all that was said, standing there too distressed to remember
that I ought not to listen to my father and mother’s conversation when
they were unconscious of my presence.

“You see, my dear,” my father continued in a more gentle voice, “a man
requires courage in whatever position he may be placed and in whatever
profession he may choose. But the duty of a priest is to give others
courage when they fail in it, and how can he do that if he is wanting in
it himself? He must set others the example. No, our boy is less fitted
to be a priest than anything else; for a priest _must_ be courageous,
and his courage must be of the highest order. But mind, I would not, for
anything in the world, prevent our unfortunate son from following his
vocation, if he really had one. I will not deny that I had hoped he
might become a soldier, because I was one myself; but alas! I have had
to give up that hope.” And he repeated slowly, in a sad tone of voice,
“Yes, I have given it up!”

The bell fell from my hand: at the noise it made, both my father and
mother turned round and discovered me. “Ah! you are there,” said my
father, looking sadly at me. “It is as well, perhaps, that you heard
what I said. At all events it _is_ said, and you have heard it. However,
I did not intend you should do so, my poor boy!” he exclaimed as he
kissed my forehead. “But you will understand some day why I have at
times seemed severe with you.”

“Kiss papa,” said my mother, “and try to remember what you have heard.
You are very young, you have time to profit by his words. You may yet do
better. I am pleased with his progress in his lessons,” she went on,
addressing my father in a conciliatory tone, “I have taught him all I
can, he knows, as much as I do.”