Nobody's Boy - Hector Malot - E-Book

Nobody's Boy E-Book

Hector Malot

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I was a foundling. But until I was eight years of age I thought I had a mother like other children, for when I cried a woman held me tightly in her arms and rocked me gently until my tears stopped falling. I never got into bed without her coming to kiss me, and when the December winds blew the icy snow against the window panes, she would take my feet between her hands and warm them, while she sang to me. Even now I can remember the song she used to sing. If a storm came on while I was out minding our cow, she would run down the lane to meet me, and cover my head and shoulders with her cotton skirt so that I should not get wet. When I had a quarrel with one of the village boys she made me tell her all about it, and she would talk kindly to me when I was wrong and praise me when I was in the right. By these and many other things, by the way she spoke to me and looked at me, and the gentle way she scolded me, I believed that she was my mother. My village, or, to be more exact, the village where I was brought up, for I did not have a village of my own, no birthplace, any more than I had a father or mother-the village where I spent my childhood was called Chavanon; it is one of the poorest in France. Only sections of the land could be cultivated, for the great stretch of moors was covered with heather and broom. We lived in a little house down by the brook.

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Nobody's Boy


Nobody's Boy

Hector Malot



I was a foundling. But until I was eight years of age I thought I had a mother like other children, for when I cried a woman held me tightly in her arms and rocked me gently until my tears stopped falling. I never got into bed without her coming to kiss me, and when the December winds blew the icy snow against the window panes, she would take my feet between her hands and warm them, while she sang to me. Even now I can remember the song she used to sing. If a storm came on while I was out minding our cow, she would run down the lane to meet me, and cover my head and shoulders with her cotton skirt so that I should not get wet.

When I had a quarrel with one of the village boys she made me tell her all about it, and she would talk kindly to me when I was wrong and praise me when I was in the right. By these and many other things, by the way she spoke to me and looked at me, and the gentle way she scolded me, I believed that she was my mother.

My village, or, to be more exact, the village where I was brought up, for I did not have a village of my own, no birthplace, any more than I had a father or mother—the village where I spent my childhood was called Chavanon; it is one of the poorest in France. Only sections of the land could be cultivated, for the great stretch of moors was covered with heather and broom. We lived in a little house down by the brook.

Until I was eight years of age I had never seen a man in our house; yet my adopted mother was not a widow, but her husband, who was a stone-cutter, worked in Paris, and he had not been back to the village since I was of an age to notice what was going on around me. Occasionally he sent news by some companion who returned to the village, for there were many of the peasants who were employed as stone-cutters in the city.

"Mother Barberin," the man would say, "your husband is quite well, and he told me to tell you that he's still working, and to give you this money. Will you count it?"

That was all. Mother Barberin was satisfied, her husband was well and he had work.

Because Barberin was away from home it must not be thought that he was not on good terms with his wife. He stayed in Paris because his work kept him there. When he was old he would come back and live with his wife on the money that he had saved.

One November evening a man stopped at our gate. I was standing on the doorstep breaking sticks. He looked over the top bar of the gate and called to me to know if Mother Barberin lived there. I shouted yes and told him to come in. He pushed open the old gate and came slowly up to the house. I had never seen such a dirty man. He was covered with mud from head to foot. It was easy to see that he had come a distance on bad roads. Upon hearing our voices Mother Barberin ran out.

"I've brought some news from Paris," said the man.

Something in the man's tone alarmed Mother Barberin.

"Oh, dear," she cried, wringing her hands, "something has happened to Jerome!"

"Yes, there is, but don't get scared. He's been hurt, but he ain't dead, but maybe he'll be deformed. I used to share a room with him, and as I was coming back home he asked me to give you the message. I can't stop as I've got several miles to go, and it's getting late."

But Mother Barberin wanted to know more; she begged him to stay to supper. The roads were so bad! and they did say that wolves had been seen on the outskirts of the wood. He could go early in the morning. Wouldn't he stay?

Yes, he would. He sat down by the corner of the fire and while eating his supper told us how the accident had occurred. Barberin had been terribly hurt by a falling scaffold, and as he had had no business to be in that particular spot, the builder had refused to pay an indemnity.

"Poor Barberin," said the man as he dried the legs of his trousers, which were now quite stiff under the coating of mud, "he's got no luck, no luck! Some chaps would get a mint o' money out of an affair like this, but your man won't get nothing!"

"No luck!" he said again in such a sympathetic tone, which showed plainly that he for one would willingly have the life half crushed out of his body if he could get a pension. "As I tell him, he ought to sue that builder."

"A lawsuit," exclaimed Mother Barberin, "that costs a lot of money."

"Yes, but if you win!"

Mother Barberin wanted to start off to Paris, only it was such a terrible affair ... the journey was so long, and cost so much!

The next morning we went into the village and consulted the priest. He advised her not to go without first finding out if she could be of any use. He wrote to the hospital where they had taken Barberin, and a few days later received a reply saying that Barberin's wife was not to go, but that she could send a certain sum of money to her husband, because he was going to sue the builder upon whose works he had met with the accident.

Days and weeks passed, and from time to time letters came asking for more money. The last, more insistent than the previous ones, said that if there was no more money the cow must be sold to procure the sum.

Only those who have lived in the country with the peasants know what distress there is in these three words, "Sell the cow." As long as they have their cow in the shed they know that they will not suffer from hunger. We got butter from ours to put in the soup, and milk to moisten the potatoes. We lived so well from ours that until the time of which I write I had hardly ever tasted meat. But our cow not only gave us nourishment, she was our friend. Some people imagine that a cow is a stupid animal. It is not so, a cow is most intelligent. When we spoke to ours and stroked her and kissed her, she understood us, and with her big round eyes which looked so soft, she knew well enough how to make us know what she wanted and what she did not want. In fact, she loved us and we loved her, and that is all there is to say. However, we had to part with her, for it was only by the sale of the cow that Barberin's husband would be satisfied.

A cattle dealer came to our house, and after thoroughly examining Rousette,—all the time shaking his head and saying that she would not suit him at all, he could never sell her again, she had no milk, she made bad butter,—he ended by saying that he would take her, but only out of kindness because Mother Barberin was an honest good woman.

Poor Rousette, as though she knew what was happening, refused to come out of the barn and began to bellow.

"Go in at the back of her and chase her out," the man said to me, holding out a whip which he had carried hanging round his neck.

"No, that he won't," cried mother. Taking poor Rousette by the loins, she spoke to her softly: "There, my beauty, come ... come along then."

Rousette could not resist her, and then, when she got to the road, the man tied her up behind his cart and his horse trotted off and she had to follow.

We went back to the house, but for a long time we could hear her bellowing. No more milk, no butter! In the morning a piece of bread, at night some potatoes with salt.

Shrove Tuesday happened to be a few days after we had sold the cow. The year before Mother Barberin had made a feast for me with pancakes and apple fritters, and I had eaten so many that she had beamed and laughed with pleasure. But now we had no Rousette to give us milk or butter, so there would be no Shrove Tuesday, I said to myself sadly.

But Mother Barberin had a surprise for me. Although she was not in the habit of borrowing, she had asked for a cup of milk from one of the neighbors, a piece of butter from another, and when I got home about midday she was emptying the flour into a big earthenware bowl.

"Oh," I said, going up to her, "flour?"

"Why, yes," she said, smiling, "it's flour, my little Remi, beautiful flour. See what lovely flakes it makes."

Just because I was so anxious to know what the flour was for I did not dare ask. And besides I did not want her to know that I remembered that it was Shrove Tuesday for fear she might feel unhappy.

"What does one make with flour?" she asked, smiling at me.


"What else?"


"And what else?"

"Why, I don't know."

"Yes, you know, only as you are a good little boy, you don't dare say. You know that to-day is Pancake day, and because you think we haven't any butter and milk you don't dare speak. Isn't that so, eh?

"Oh, Mother."

"I didn't mean that Pancake day should be so bad after all for my little Remi. Look in that bin."

I lifted up the lid quickly and saw some milk, butter, eggs, and three apples.

"Give me the eggs," she said; "while I break them, you peel the apples."

While I cut the apples into slices, she broke the eggs into the flour and began to beat the mixture, adding a little milk from time to time. When the paste was well beaten she placed the big earthenware bowl on the warm cinders, for it was not until supper time that we were to have the pancakes and fritters. I must say frankly that it was a very long day, and more than once I lifted up the cloth that she had thrown over the bowl.

"You'll make the paste cold," she cried; "and it won't rise well."

But it was rising well, little bubbles were coming up on the top. And the eggs and milk were beginning to smell good.

"Go and chop some wood," Mother Barberin said; "we need a good clear fire."

At last the candle was lit.

"Put the wood on the fire!"

She did not have to say this twice; I had been waiting impatiently to hear these words. Soon a bright flame leaped up the chimney and the light from the fire lit up all the kitchen. Then Mother Barberin took down the frying pan from its hook and placed it on the fire.

"Give me the butter!"

With the end of her knife she slipped a piece as large as a nut into the pan, where it melted and spluttered. It was a long time since we had smelled that odor. How good that butter smelled! I was listening to it fizzing when I heard footsteps out in our yard.

Whoever could be coming to disturb us at this hour? A neighbor perhaps to ask for some firewood. I couldn't think, for just at that moment Mother Barberin put her big wooden spoon into the bowl and was pouring a spoonful of the paste into the pan, and it was not the moment to let one's thoughts wander. Somebody knocked on the door with a stick, then it was flung open.

"Who's there?" asked Mother Barberin, without turning round.

A man had come in. By the bright flame which lit him up I could see that he carried a big stick in his hand.

"So, you're having a feast here, don't disturb yourselves," he said roughly.

"Oh, Lord!" cried Mother Barberin, putting the frying pan quickly on the floor, "is it you, Jerome."

Then, taking me by the arm she dragged me towards the man who had stopped in the doorway.

"Here's your father."



Mother Barberin kissed her husband; I was about to do the same when he put out his stick and stopped me.

"What's this?... you told me...."

"Well, yes, but it isn't true ... because...."

"Ah, it isn't true, eh?"

He stepped towards me with his stick raised; instinctively I shrunk back. What had I done? Nothing wrong, surely! I was only going to kiss him. I looked at him timidly, but he had turned from me and was speaking to Mother Barberin.

"So you're keeping Shrove Tuesday," he said. "I'm glad, for I'm famished. What have you got for supper?"

"I was making some pancakes and apple fritters."

"So I see, but you're not going to give pancakes to a man who has covered the miles that I have."

"I haven't anything else. You see we didn't expect you."

"What? nothing else! Nothing for supper!" He glanced round the kitchen.

"There's some butter."

He looked up at the ceiling, at the spot where the bacon used to hang, but for a long time there had been nothing on the hook; only a few ropes of onions and garlic hung from the beam now.

"Here's some onions," he said, knocking a rope down with his big stick; "with four or five onions and a piece of butter we'll have a good soup. Take out the pancakes and fry the onions in the pan!"

"Take the pancakes out of the frying pan!"

Without a word, Mother Barberin hurried to do what her husband asked. He sat down on a chair by the corner of the fireplace. I had not dared to leave the place where his stick had sent me. Leaning against the table, I looked at him.

He was a man about fifty with a hard face and rough ways. His head leaned a little bit towards his right shoulder, on account of the wound he had received, and this deformity gave him a still more forbidding aspect.

Mother Barberin had put the frying pan again on the fire.

"Is it with a little bit of butter like that you're going to try and make a soup?" he asked. Thereupon he seized the plate with the butter and threw it all into the pan. No more butter ... then ... no more pancakes.

At any other moment I should have been greatly upset at this catastrophe, but I was not thinking of the pancakes and fritters now. The thought that was uppermost in my mind was, that this man who seemed so cruel was my father! My father! Absently I said the word over and over again to myself. I had never thought much what a father would be. Vaguely, I had imagined him to be a sort of mother with a big voice, but in looking at this one who had fallen from heaven, I felt greatly worried and frightened. I had wanted to kiss him and he had pushed me away with his stick. Why? My mother had never pushed me away when I went to kiss her; on the contrary, she always took me in her arms and held me tight.

"Instead of standing there as though you're made of wood," he said, "put the plates on the table."

I nearly fell down in my haste to obey. The soup was made. Mother Barberin served it on the plates. Then, leaving the big chimney corner, he came and sat down and commenced to eat, stopping only from time to time to glance at me. I felt so uncomfortable that I could not eat. I looked at him also, but out of the corner of my eye, then I turned my head quickly when I caught his eye.

"Doesn't he eat more than that usually?" he asked suddenly.

"Oh, yes, he's got a good appetite."

"That's a pity. He doesn't seem to want his supper now, though."

Mother Barberin did not seem to want to talk. She went to and fro, waiting on her husband.

"Ain't you hungry?"


"Well then, go to bed and go to sleep at once. If you don't I'll be angry."

My mother gave me a look which told me to obey without answering. But there was no occasion for this warning. I had not thought of saying a word.

As in a great many poor homes, our kitchen was also the bedroom. Near the fireplace were all the things for the meals—the table, the pots and pans, and the sideboard; at the other end was the bedroom. In a corner stood Mother Barberin's big bed, in the opposite corner, in a little alcove, was my bed under a red figured curtain.

I hurriedly undressed and got into bed. But to go to sleep was another thing. I was terribly worried and very unhappy. How could this man be my father? And if he was, why did he treat me so badly?

With my nose flattened against the wall I tried to drive these thoughts away and go to sleep as he had ordered me, but it was impossible. Sleep would not come. I had never felt so wide awake.

After a time, I could not say how long, I heard some one coming over to my bed. The slow step was heavy and dragged, so I knew at once that it was not Mother Barberin. I felt a warm breath on my cheek.

"Are you asleep?" This was said in a harsh whisper.

I took care not to answer, for the terrible words, "I'll be angry" still rang in my ears.

"He's asleep," said Mother Barberin; "the moment he gets into bed he drops off. You can talk without being afraid that he'll hear."

I ought, of course, to have told him that I was not asleep, but I did not dare. I had been ordered to go to sleep, I was not yet asleep, so I was in the wrong.

"Well, what about your lawsuit?" asked Mother Barberin.

"Lost it. The judge said that I was to blame for being under the scaffold." Thereupon he banged his fist on the table and began to swear, without saying anything that meant anything.

"Case lost," he went on after a moment; "money lost, all gone, poverty staring us in the face. And as though that isn't enough, when I get back here, I find a child. Why didn't you do what I told you to do?"

"Because I couldn't."

"You could not take him to a Foundlings' Home?"

"A woman can't give up a little mite like that if she's fed it with her own milk and grown to love it."

"It's not your child."

"Well, I wanted to do what you told me, but just at that very moment he fell ill."


"Yes. Then I couldn't take him to that place. He might have died."

"But when he got better?"

"Well, he didn't get better all at once. After that sickness another came. He coughed so it would have made your heart bleed to hear him, poor little mite. Our little Nicolas died like that. It seemed to me that if I sent him to the Foundlings' Home he'd died also."

"But after?... after?"

"Well, time went on and I thought that as I'd put off going I'd put it off a bit longer."

"How old is he now?"


"Well then, he'll go now to the place where he should have gone sooner, and he won't like it so well now."

"Oh, Jerome, you can't ... you won't do that!"

"Won't I? and who's going to stop me? Do you think we can keep him always?"

There was a moment's silence. I was hardly able to breathe. The lump in my throat nearly choked me. After a time Mother Barberin went on:

"How Paris has changed you! You wouldn't have spoken like that to me before you went away."

"Perhaps not. But if Paris has changed me, it's also pretty near killed me. I can't work now. We've got no money. The cow's sold. When we haven't enough to feed ourselves, have we got to feed a child that don't belong to us?"

"He's mine."

"He's no more yours than mine. Besides, he ain't a country boy. He's no poor man's child. He's a delicate morsel, no arms, no legs."

"He's the prettiest boy in the village!"

"I don't say he ain't pretty. But sturdy, no! Do you think you can make a working man out of a chit with shoulders like his? He's a city child and there's no place for city children here."

"I tell you he's a fine boy and as intelligent and cute as a little cat, and he's got a good heart, and he'll work for us...."

"In the meantime we've got to work for him, and I'm no good for much now."

"If his parents claim him, what will you say?"

"His parents! Has he got any parents? They would have found him by now if he had. It was a crazy thing for me to think that his parents would come and claim him some day and pay us for his keep. I was a fool. 'Cause he was wrapped up in fine clothes trimmed with lace, that wasn't to say that his parents were going to hunt for him. Besides, they're dead."

"Perhaps they're not. And one day they may come...."

"If you women ain't obstinate!"

"But if they do come?"

"Well, we've sent him to the Home. But we've said enough. I'll take him to-morrow. I'm going 'round to see François now. I'll be back in an hour."

The door was opened and closed again. He had gone. Then I quickly sat up in bed and began to call to Mother Barberin.

"Say! Mamma!"

She ran over to my bed.

"Are you going to let me go to the Foundlings' Home?"

"No, my little Remi, no."

She kissed me and held me tight in her arms. I felt better after that and my tears dried on my cheeks.

"You didn't go to sleep, then?" she asked softly.

"It wasn't my fault."

"I'm not scolding you. You heard what he said, then?"

"Yes, you're not my mamma, but ... he isn't my father."

The last words I had said in a different tone because, although I was unhappy at learning that she was not my mother, I was glad, I was almost proud, to know that he was not my father. This contradiction of my feelings betrayed itself in my voice. Mother Barberin did not appear to notice.

"Perhaps I ought to have told you the truth, but you seemed so much my own boy that I couldn't tell you I was not your real mother. You heard what Jerome said, my boy. He found you one day in a street in Paris, the Avenue de Breuteuil. It was in February, early in the morning, he was going to work when he heard a baby cry, and he found you on a step. He looked about to call some one, and as he did so a man came out from behind a tree and ran away. You cried so loud that Jerome didn't like to put you back on the step again. While he was wondering what to do, some more men came along, and they all decided that they'd take you to the police station. You wouldn't stop crying. Poor mite, you must have been cold. But then, when they got you warm at the station house, you still cried, so they thought you were hungry, and they got you some milk. My! you were hungry! When you'd had enough they undressed you and held you before the fire. You were a beautiful pink boy, and all dressed in lovely clothes. The lieutenant wrote down a description of the clothes and where you were found, and said that he should have to send you to the Home unless one of the men liked to take charge of you. Such a beautiful, fine child it wouldn't be difficult to bring up, he said, and the parents would surely make a search for it and pay any one well for looking after it, so Jerome said he'd take it. Just at that time I had a baby the same age. So I was well able to feed both you two mites. There, dearie, that was how I came to be your mother."

"Oh, Mamma, Mamma!"

"Yes, dearie, there! and at the end of three months I lost my own little baby and then I got even more fond of you. It was such a pity Jerome couldn't forget, and seeing at the end of three years that your parents hadn't come after you, he tried to make me send you to the Home. You heard why I didn't do as he told me?"

"Oh, don't send me to the Home," I cried, clinging to her, "Mother Barberin, please, please, don't send me to the Home."

"No, dearie, no, you shan't go. I'll settle it. Jerome is not really unkind, you'll see. He's had a lot of trouble and he is kind of worried about the future. We'll all work, you shall work, too."

"Yes, yes, I'll do anything you want me to do, but don't send me to the Home."

"You shan't go, that is if you promise to go to sleep at once. When he returns he mustn't find you awake."

She kissed me and turned me over with my face to the wall. I wanted to go to sleep, but I had received too hard a blow to slip off quietly into slumberland. Dear good Mother Barberin was not my own mother! Then what was a real mother? Something better, something sweeter still? It wasn't possible! Then I thought that a real father might not have held up his stick to me.... He wanted to send me to the Home, would mother be able to prevent him?

In the village there were two children from the Home. They were called "workhouse children." They had a metal plaque hung round their necks with a number on it. They were badly dressed, and so dirty! All the other children made fun of them and threw stones at them. They chased them like boys chase a lost dog, for fun, and because a stray dog has no one to protect it. Oh, I did not want to be like those children. I did not want to have a number hung round my neck. I did not want them to call after me, "Hi, Workhouse Kid; Hi Foundling!" The very thought of it made me feel cold and my teeth chatter. I could not go to sleep. And Barberin was coming back soon!

But fortunately he did not return until very late, and sleep came before he arrived.



That night I dreamed that I had been taken to the Home. When I opened my eyes in the early morning I could scarcely believe that I was still there in my little bed. I felt the bed and pinched my arms to see if it were true. Ah, yes, I was still with Mother Barberin.

She said nothing to me all the morning, and I began to think that they had given up the idea of sending me away. Perhaps she had said that she was determined to keep me. But when mid day came Barberin told me to put on my cap and follow him. I looked at Mother Barberin to implore her to help me. Without her husband noticing she made me a sign to go with him. I obeyed. She tapped me on the shoulder as I passed her, to let me know that I had nothing to fear. Without a word I followed him.

It was some distance from our house to the village—a good hour's walk. Barberin never said a word to me the whole way. He walked along, limping. Now and again he turned 'round to see if I was following. Where was he taking me? I asked myself the question again and again. Despite the reassuring sign that Mother Barberin had made, I felt that something was going to happen to me and I wanted to run away. I tried to lag behind, thinking that I would jump down into a ditch where Barberin could not catch me.

At first he had seemed satisfied that I should tramp along just behind him, on his heels, but he evidently soon began to suspect what I intended to do, and he grabbed me by the wrist. I was forced to keep up with him. This was the way we entered the village. Every one who passed us turned round to stare, for I looked like a bad dog held on a leash.

As we were about to pass the tavern, a man who was standing in the doorway called to Barberin and asked him to go in. Barberin took me by the ear and pushed me in before him, and when we got inside he closed the door. I felt relieved. This was only the village tavern, and for a long time I had wanted to see what it was like inside. I had often wondered what was going on behind the red curtains, I was going to know now....

Barberin sat down at a table with the boss who had asked him to go in. I sat by the fireplace. In a corner near me there was a tall old man with a long white beard. He wore a strange costume. I had never seen anything like it before. Long ringlets fell to his shoulders and he wore a tall gray hat ornamented with green and red feathers. A sheepskin, the woolly side turned inside, was fastened round his body. There were no sleeves to the skin, but through two large holes, cut beneath the shoulders, his arms were thrust, covered with velvet sleeves which had once been blue in color. Woolen gaiters reached up to his knees, and to hold them in place a ribbon was interlaced several times round his legs. He sat with his elbow resting on his crossed knees. I had never seen a living person in such a quiet calm attitude. He looked to me like one of the saints in our Church. Lying beside him were three dogs—a white spaniel, a black spaniel, and a pretty little gray dog with a sharp, cute little look. The white spaniel wore a policeman's old helmet, which was fastened under its chin with a leather strap.

While I stared at the man in wonder, Barberin and the owner of the tavern talked in low voices. I knew that I was the subject of their talk. Barberin was telling him that he had brought me to the village to take me to the mayor's office, so that the mayor should ask the Charity Home to pay for my keep. That was all that dear Mother Barberin had been able to do, but I felt that if Barberin could get something for keeping me I had nothing to fear.

The old man, who without appearing, had evidently been listening, suddenly pointed to me, and turning to Barberin said with a marked foreign accent:

"Is that the child that's in your way?"

"That's him."

"And you think the Home is going to pay you for his keep?"

"Lord! as he ain't got no parents and I've been put to great expense for him, it is only right that the town should pay me something."

"I don't say it isn't, but do you think that just because a thing is right, it's done?"

"That, no!"

"Well, then I don't think you'll ever get what you're after."

"Then he goes to the Home, there's no law that forces me to keep him in my place if I don't want to."

"You agreed in the beginning to take him, so it's up to you to keep your promise."

"Well, I ain't going to keep him. And when I want to turn him out I'll do so."

"Perhaps there's a way to get rid of him now," said the old man after a moment's thought, "and make a little money into the bargain."

"If you'll show me how, I'll stand a drink."

"Order the drinks, the affair's settled."



The old man got up and took a seat opposite Barberin. A strange thing, as he rose, I saw his sheepskin move. It was lifted up, and I wondered if he had another dog under his arm.

What were they going to do with me? My heart beat against my side, I could not take my eyes off the old man.

"You won't let this child eat any more of your bread unless somebody pays for it, that's it, isn't it?"

"That's it ... because...."

"Never mind the reason. That don't concern me. Now if you don't want him, just give him to me. I'll take charge of him."

"You? take charge of him!"

"You want to get rid of him, don't you?"

"Give you a child like him, a beautiful boy, for he is beautiful, the prettiest boy in the village, look at him."

"I've looked at him."

"Remi, come here."

I went over to the table, my knees trembling.

"There, don't be afraid, little one," said the old man.

"Just look at him," said Barberin again.

"I don't say that he is a homely child, if he was I wouldn't want him. I don't want a monster."

"Ah, now if he was a monster with two ears, or even a dwarf...."

"You'd keep him, you could make your fortune out of a monster. But this little boy is not a dwarf, nor a monster, so you can't exhibit him: he's made the same as others, and he's no good for anything."

"He's good for work."

"He's not strong."

"Not strong, him! Land's sakes! He's as strong as any man, look at his legs, they're that solid! Have you ever seen straighter legs than his?"

Barberin pulled up my pants.

"Too thin," said the old man.

"And his arms?" continued Barberin.

"Like his legs ... might be better. They can't hold out against fatigue and poverty."

"What, them legs and arms? Feel 'em. Just see for yourself."

The old man passed his skinny hand over my legs and felt them, shaking his head the while and making a grimace.

I had already seen a similar scene enacted when the cattle dealer came to buy our cow. He also had felt and pinched the cow. He also had shaken his head and said that it was not a good cow, it would be impossible to sell it again, and yet after all he had bought it and taken it away with him. Was the old man going to buy me and take me away with him? Oh, Mother Barberin! Mother Barberin!

If I had dared I would have said that only the night before Barberin had reproached me for seeming delicate and having thin arms and legs, but I felt that I should gain nothing by it but an angry word, so I kept silent.

For a long time they wrangled over my good and bad points.

"Well, such as he is," said the old man at last, "I'll take him, but mind you, I don't buy him outright. I'll hire him. I'll give you twenty francs a year for him."

"Twenty francs!"

"That's a good sum, and I'll pay in advance."

"But if I keep him the town will pay me more than ten francs a month."

"I know what you'd get from the town, and besides you've got to feed him."

"He will work."

"If you thought that he could work you wouldn't be so anxious to get rid of him. It is not for the money that's paid for their keep that you people take in lost children, it's for the work that you can get out of them. You make servants of them, they pay you and they themselves get no wages. If this child could have done much for you, you would have kept him."

"Anyway, I should always have ten francs a month."

"And if the Home, instead of letting you have him, gave him to some one else, you wouldn't get anything at all. Now with me you won't have to run for your money, all you have to do is to hold out your hand."

He pulled a leather purse from his pocket, counting out four silver pieces of money; he threw them down on the table, making them ring as they fell.

"But think," cried Barberin; "this child's parents will show up one day or the other."

"What does that matter?"

"Well, those who've brought him up will get something. If I hadn't thought of that I wouldn't have taken him in the first place."

Oh! the wicked man! How I did dislike Barberin!

"Now, look here, it's because you think his parents won't show up now that you're turning him out," said the old man. "Well, if by any chance they do appear, they'll go straight to you, not to me, for nobody knows me."

"But if it's you who finds them?"

"Well, in that case we'll go shares and I'll put thirty down for him now."

"Make it forty."

"No, for what he'll do for me that isn't possible."

"What do you want him to do for you? For good legs, he's got good legs; for good arms, he's got good arms. I hold to what I said before. What are you going to do with him?"

Then the old man looked at Barberin mockingly, then emptied his glass slowly:

"He's just to keep me company. I'm getting old and at night I get a bit lonesome. When one is tired it's nice to have a child around."

"Well, for that I'm sure his legs are strong enough."

"Oh, not too much so, for he must also dance and jump and walk, and then walk and jump again. He'll take his place in Signor Vitalis' traveling company."

"Where's this company?"

"I am Signor Vitalis, and I'll show you the company right here."

With this he opened the sheepskin and took out a strange animal which he held on his left arm, pressed against his chest. This was the animal that had several times raised the sheepskin, but it was not a little dog as I had thought. I found no name to give to this strange creature, which I saw for the first time. I looked at it in astonishment. It was dressed in a red coat trimmed with gold braid, but its arms and legs were bare, for they really were arms and legs, and not paws, but they were covered with a black, hairy skin, they were not white or pink. The head which was as large as a clenched fist was wide and short, the turned-up nose had spreading nostrils, and the lips were yellow. But what struck me more than anything, were the two eyes, close to each other, which glittered like glass.

"Oh, the ugly monkey!" cried Barberin.

A monkey! I opened my eyes still wider. So this was a monkey, for although I had never seen a monkey, I had heard of them. So this little tiny creature that looked like a black baby was a monkey!

"This is the star of my company," said Signor Vitalis. "This is Mr. Pretty-Heart. Now, Pretty-Heart,"—turning to the animal—"make your bow to the society."

The monkey put his hand to his lips and threw a kiss to each of us.

"Now," continued Signor Vitalis, holding out his hand to the white spaniel, "the next. Signor Capi will have the honor of introducing his friends to the esteemed company here present."

The spaniel, who up till this moment had not made a movement, jumped up quickly, and standing on his hind paws, crossed his fore paws on his chest and bowed to his master so low that his police helmet touched the ground. This polite duty accomplished, he turned to his companions, and with one paw still pressed on his chest, he made a sign with the other for them to draw nearer. The two dogs, whose eyes had been fixed on the white spaniel, got up at once and giving' each one of us his paw, shook hands as one does in polite society, and then taking a few steps back bowed to us in turn.

"The one I call 'Capi,'" said Signor Vitalis, "which is an abbreviation ofCapitanoin Italian, is the chief. He is the most intelligent and he conveys my orders to the others. That black haired young dandy is Signor Zerbino, which signifies 'the sport.' Notice him and I am sure you will admit that the name is very appropriate. And that young person with, the modest air is Miss Dulcie. She is English, and her name is chosen on account of her sweet disposition. With these remarkableartistesI travel through the country, earning my living, sometimes good, sometimes bad, ... it is a matter of luck! Capi!..."

The spaniel crossed his paws.

"Capi, come here, and be on your best behavior. These people are well brought up, and they must be spoken to with great politeness. Be good enough to tell this little boy who is looking at you with such big, round eyes what time it is."

Capi uncrossed his paws, went up to his master, drew aside the sheepskin, and after feeling in his vest pocket pulled out a large silver watch. He looked at the watch for a moment, then gave two distinct barks, then after these two decisive sharp barks, he uttered three little barks, not so loud nor so clear.

The hour was quarter of three.

"Very good," said Vitalis; "thank you, Signor Capi. And now ask Miss Dulcie to oblige us by dancing with the skipping rope."

Capi again felt in his master's vest pocket and pulled out a cord. He made a brief sign to Zerbino, who immediately took his position opposite to him. Then Capi threw him one end of the cord and they both began to turn it very gravely. Then Dulcie jumped lightly into the rope and with her beautiful soft eyes fixed on her master, began to skip.

"You see how intelligent they are," said Vitalis; "their intelligence would be even more appreciated if I drew comparisons. For instance, if I had a fool to act with them. That is why I want your boy. He is to be the fool so that the dogs' intelligence will stand out in a more marked manner."

"Oh, he's to be the fool...." interrupted Barberin.

"It takes a clever man to play the fool," said Vitalis, "the boy will be able to act the part with a few lessons. We'll test him at once. If he has any intelligence he will understand that with me he will be able to see the country and other countries besides; but if he stays here all he can do is to drive a herd of cattle in the same fields from morning to night. If he hasn't any intelligence he'll cry and stamp his feet, and then I won't take him with me and he'll be sent to the Foundlings' Home, where he'll have to work hard and have little to eat."

I had enough intelligence to know this, ... the dogs were very funny, and it would be fun to be with them always, but Mother, Mother Barberin!... I could not leave her!... Then if I refused perhaps I should not stay with Mother Barberin.... I might be sent to the Home. I was very unhappy, and as my eyes filled with tears, Signor Vitalis tapped me gently on the cheek.

"Ah, the little chap understands because he does not make a great noise. He is arguing the matter in his little head, and to-morrow...."

"Oh, sir," I cried, "let me stay with Mother Barberin, please let me stay."

I could not say more, for Capi's loud barking interrupted me. At the same moment the dog sprang towards the table upon which Pretty-Heart was seated. The monkey, profiting by the moment when every one was occupied with me, had quickly seized his master's glass, which was full of wine, and was about to empty it. But Capi, who was a good watch dog, had seen the monkey's trick and like the faithful servant that he was, he had foiled him.

"Mr. Pretty-Heart," said Vitalis severely, "you are a glutton and a thief; go over there into the corner and turn your face to the wall, and you, Zerbino, keep guard: if he moves give him a good slap. As to you, Mr. Capi, you are a good dog, give me your paw. I'd like to shake hands with you."

The monkey, uttering little stifled cries, obeyed and went into the corner, and the dog, proud and happy, held out his paw to his master.

"Now," continued Vitalis, "back to business. I'll give you thirty francs for him then."


"No, forty."

A discussion commenced, but Vitalis soon stopped it by saying:

"This doesn't interest the child, let him go outside and play."

At the same time he made a sign to Barberin.

"Yes, go out into the yard at the back, but don't move or you'll have me to reckon with."

I could not but obey. I went into the yard, but I had no heart to play. I sat down on a big stone and waited. They were deciding what was to become of me. What would it be? They talked for a long time. I sat waiting, and it was an hour later when Barberin came out into the yard. He was alone. Had he come to fetch me to hand me over to Vitalis?

"Come," he said, "back home."

Home! Then I was not to leave Mother Barberin?

I wanted to ask questions, but I was afraid, because he seemed in a very bad temper. We walked all the way home in silence. But just before we arrived home Barberin, who was walking ahead, stopped.

"You know," he said, taking me roughly by the ear, "if you say one single word of what you have heard to-day, you shall smart for it. Understand?"



"Well," asked Mother Barberin, when we entered, "what did the mayor say?"

"We didn't see him."

"How! You didn't see him?"

"No, I met some friends at the Notre-Dame café and when we came out it was too late. So we'll go back to-morrow."

So Barberin had given up the idea of driving a bargain with the man with the dogs.

On the way home I wondered if this was not some trick of his, returning to the house, but his last words drove all my doubts away. As we had to go back to the village the next day to see the mayor, it was certain that Barberin had not accepted Vitalis' terms.

But in spite of his threats I would have spoken of my fears to Mother Barberin if I could have found myself alone for one moment with her, but all the evening Barberin did not leave the house, and I went to bed without getting the opportunity. I went to sleep thinking that I would tell her the next day. But the next day when I got up, I did not see her. As I was running all round the house looking for her, Barberin saw me and asked me what I wanted.


"She has gone to the village and won't be back till this afternoon."

She had not told me the night before that she was going to the village, and without knowing why, I began to feel anxious. Why didn't she wait for us, if we were going in the afternoon? Would she be back before we started? Without knowing quite why, I began to feel very frightened, and Barberin looked at me in a way that did not tend to reassure me. To escape from his look I ran into the garden.

Our garden meant a great deal to us. In it we grew almost all that we ate—potatoes, cabbages, carrots, turnips. There was no ground wasted, yet Mother Barberin had given me a little patch all to myself, in which I had planted ferns and herbs that I had pulled up in the lanes while I was minding the cow. I had planted everything pell mell, one beside the other, in my bit of garden: it was not beautiful, but I loved it. It was mine. I arranged it as I wished, just as I felt at the time, and when I spoke of it, which happened twenty times a day, it was "My garden."

Already the jonquils were in bud and the lilac was beginning to shoot, and the wall flowers would soon be out. How would they bloom? I wondered, and that was why I came to see them every day. But there was another part of my garden that I studied with great anxiety. I had planted a vegetable that some one had given to me and which was almost unknown in our village; it was Jerusalem artichokes. I was told they would be delicious, better than potatoes, for they had the taste of French artichokes, potatoes, and turnips combined. Having been told this, I intended them to be a surprise for Mother Barberin. I had not breathed a word about this present I had for her. I planted them in my own bit of garden. When they began to shoot I would let her think that they were flowers, then one fine day when they were ripe, while she was out, I would pull them up and cook them myself. How? I was not quite sure, but I did not worry over such a small detail; then when she returned to supper I would serve her a dish of Jerusalem artichokes! It would be something fresh to replace those everlasting potatoes, and Mother Barberin would not suffer too much from the sale of poor Rousette. And the inventor of this new dish of vegetables was I, Remi, I was the one! So I was of some use in the house.

With such a plan in my head I had to bestow careful attention on my Jerusalem artichokes. Every day I looked at the spot where I had planted them, it seemed to me that they would never grow. I was kneeling on both knees on the ground, supported on my hands, with my nose almost touching the earth where the artichokes were sown, when I heard Barberin calling me impatiently. I hurried back to the house. Imagine my surprise when I saw, standing before the fireplace, Vitalis and his dogs.

I knew at once what Barberin wanted of me. Vitalis had come to fetch me and it was so that Mother Barberin should not stop me from going that Barberin had sent her to the village. Knowing full well that I could expect nothing from Barberin, I ran up to Vitalis.

"Oh, don't take me away. Please, sir, don't take me away." I began to sob.

"Now, little chap," he said, kindly enough, "you won't be unhappy with me. I don't whip children, and you'll have the dogs for company. Why should you be sorry to go with me?"

"Mother Barberin!..."

"Anyhow, you're not going to stay here," said Barberin roughly, taking me by the ear. "Go with this gentleman or go to the workhouse. Choose!"

"No, no. Mamma! Mamma!"

"So, you're going to make me mad, eh!" cried Barberin. "I'll beat you good and hard and chase you out of the house."

"The child is sorry to leave his mamma, don't beat him for that. He's got feelings, that's a good sign."

"If you pity him he'll cry all the more."

"Well, now to business."

Saying that, Vitalis laid eight five franc pieces on the table, which Barberin with a sweep of his hand cleared up and thrust into his pocket.

"Where's his bundle?" asked Vitalis.

"Here it is," said Barberin, handing him a blue cotton handkerchief tied up at the four corners. "There are two shirts and a pair of cotton pants."

"That was not what was agreed; you said you'd give some clothes. These are only rags."

"He ain't got no more."

"If I ask the boy I know he'll say that's not true. But I haven't the time to argue the matter. We must be off. Come on, my little fellow. What's your name?"


"Well, then, Remi, take your bundle and walk along beside Capi."