P’TIT-BLEU, poor P’tit-Bleu ! I can’t name her without a sigh ;
I can t think of her without a kind of heart-ache. Yet, all
things considered, I wonder whether hers was really a destiny to
sorrow over. True, she has disappeared ; and it is not pleasant
to conjecture what she may have to come to, what may have
befallen her, in the flesh, since her disappearance. But when I
remember those beautiful preceding years of self-abnegation, of
great love, and pain, and devotion, I find myself instinctively
believing that something good she must have permanently gained ;
some treasure that nothing, not the worst imaginable subsequent
disaster, can quite have taken from her. It is not pleasant to
conjecture what she may have done or suffered in the flesh ; but
in the spirit, one may hope, she cannot have gone altogether to the
bad, nor fared altogether ill.
In the spirit ! Dear me, there was a time when it would have
seemed derisory to speak of the spirit in the same breath with
P’tit-Bleu. In the early days of my acquaintance with her, for
example, I should have stared if anybody had spoken of her spirit.
If anybody had asked me to describe her, I should have said, ” She
is a captivating little animal, pretty and sprightly, but as soulless—
as soulless as a squirrel.” Oh, a warm-blooded little animal, good-
quick-witted, full of life and the joy of life ; a delightful
little animal to play with, to fondle ; but just a little animal, none
the less : a little mass of soft, rosy, jocund, sensual, soulless matter.
And in her full red lips, her roguish black eyes, her plump little
hands, her trim, tight little figure in her smile, her laugh— in
the toss of her head— in her saucy, slightly swaggering carriage
—I fancy you would have read my appreciation justified. No
doubt there must have been the spark of a soul smouldering some-
where in her (how, otherwise, account for what happened later
on ?), but it was far too tiny a spark to be perceptible to the
casual observer. Soul, however, I need hardly add, was the last
thing we of the University were accustomed to look for in our
feminine companions ; I must not for an instant seem to imply
that the lack of a soul in P tit-Bleu was a subject of mourning
with any of us. That a Latin Quarter girl should be soulless was
as much a part of the natural order of creation, as that she should
be beardless. They were all of them little animals, and P’tit-Bleu
diverged from the type principally in this, that where the others,
in most instances, were stupid, objectionable little animals, she was
a diverting one. She was made of sugar and spice and a hundred
nice ingredients, whilst they were made of the dullest, vulgarest
In my own case, P’tit-Bleu was the object, not indeed of love,
but of a violent infatuation, at first sight.
At Bullier’s, one evening, a chain of students, some twenty
linked hand in hand, were chasing her round and round the hall,
shouting after her, in rough staccato, something that sounded
like, “Ti-bah/ Ti-bah / Ti-bah !”—while she, a sprite-like
little form, in a black skirt and a scarlet bodice, fled before them
with leaps and bounds, and laughed defiantly.
I hadn’t the vaguest notion what ” Ti-bah ! Ti-bah ! Ti-bah !
” meant, but that laughing face, with the red lips and the roguish
eyes, seemed to me immensely fascinating. Among the faces of
the other young ladies present—faces of dough, faces of tallow,
faces all weariness, staleness, and banality, common, coarse, point-
less, insipid faces it shone like an epigram amongst platitudes, a
thing of fire amongst things of dust. I turned to some one near
me, and asked who she was. “
It’s P’tit-Bleu, the dancing-girl. She’s going to do a
P ‘tit-Bleu…. It’s the fashion, you know, in Paris, for the
girls who ” do quadrilles ” to adopt unlikely nicknames : aren’t
the reigning favourites at this moment Chapeau-Mou and Fifi-la-
Galette ? P’tit-Bleu had derived hers from that vehement little
wine of the barrier,” which, the song declares, ” vous met la
tête en feu.” It was the tune of the same song, that, in another
minute, I heard the band strike up, in the balcony over our heads.
P’tit-Bleu came to a standstill in the middle of the floor, where
she was joined by three minor dancing-girls, to make two couples.
The chain of students closed in a circle round her. And the rest
of us thronged behind them, pressing forward, and craning our
necks. Then, as the band played, everybody sang, in noisy
“P’tit-Bleu, P’tit-Bleu, P’tit-Bleu-eu,
Ça vous met la tete en feu !
Ça vous ra-ra-ra-ra-ra,
Ça vous ra-ra-ravigotte ! “
P’tit-Bleu stood with her hands on her hips, her arms a-kimbo,
her head thrown impudently back, her eyes sparkling mischievously,
her lips curling in a perpetual play of smiles, while her three
subalterns accomplished their tame preliminary measures ; and then
P’tit-Bleu pirouetted forward, and began her own indescribable
pas-seul —oh, indescribable for a hundred reasons. She wore
scarlet satin slippers, embroidered with black beads, and black silk
stockings with scarlet clocks, and simply cataracts and cataracts of
white diaphanous frills under her demure black skirt. And she
danced with constantly increasing fervour, kicked higher and
higher, ever more boldly and more bravely. Presently her hat
fell off, and she tossed it from her, calling to the member of the
crowd who had the luck to catch it, “Tiensmon chapeau !” And
then her waving black hair flowed down her back, and flew loose
about her face and shoulders. And the whole time, she laughed
—laughed —laughed. With her swift whirlings, her astonishing
undulations, and the flashing of the red and black and white, one’s
eyes were dazzled. ” Ça vous met la tête en feu ! ” My head
burned and reeled, as I watched her, and I thought, ” What a
delicious, bewitching little creature ! What wouldn’t I give to
know her ! ” My head burned, and my heart yearned covetously ;
but I was a new-comer in the Quarter, and ignorant of its easy
etiquette, and terribly young and timid, and I should never have
dared to speak to her without a proper introduction. She danced
with constantly increasing fervour, faster, faster, furiously fast : till,
suddenly—zip!—down she slid upon the flood, in the grand écart,
and sat there (if one may call that posture sitting), smiling calmly
up at us, whilst everybody thundered, ” Bravo ! Bravo! Bravo!”
In an instant, though, she was on her feet again, and had darted
out of the circle to the side of the youth who had caught her hat.
He offered it to her with a bow, but his pulses were thumping
tempestuously, and no doubt she could read his envy in his eyes.
Anyhow, all at once, she put her arm through his, and said —oh,
thrills and wonders ! —” Allons, mon petit, I authorise you to
treat me to a bock.”
It seemed as if impossible heavens had opened to me ; yet there
she was, clinging to my arm, and drawing me towards the plat-
form under the musicians gallery, where there are tables for the
thirsty. Her little plump white hand lay on my coat-sleeve ; the
air was heady with the perfume of her garments ; her roguish
black eyes were smiling encouragement into mine ; and her red
lips were so near, so near, I had to fight down a wild impulse to
stoop and snatch a kiss. She drew me towards the tables, and, on
the way, she stopped before a mirror fixed on the wall and re-
arranged her hair ; while I stood close to her, still holding her hat,
and waited, feeling the most exquisite proud swelling of the heart,
as if I owned her. Her hair put right, she searched in her pocket
and produced a small round ivory box, from which—having
unscrewed its cover and handed it to me with a ” Tiens ça ” —she
extracted a powder-puff ; and therewith she proceeded gently,
daintily, to dust her face and throat, examining the effect critically in
the glass the while. In the end she said, ” Voila, that’s better,” and
turned her face to me for corroboration. “That’s better, isn’t it ? “
” It’s perfect. But—but you were perfect before, too,” asseverated
I. Oh, what a joy beyond measure thus to be singled out and
made her confidant and adviser in these intimate affairs…. At
our table, leaning back nonchalantly in her chair, as she quaffed
her bock and puffed her cigarette, she looked like a bright-eyed,
I gazed at her in a quite unutterable ecstasy of admiration. My
conscience told me that I ought to pay her a compliment upon her
dancing ; but I couldn’t shape one : my wits were paralysed by my
emotions. I could only gaze, and gaze, and revel in my unexpected
fortune. At last, however, the truth burst from me in a sort of in-
voluntary gasp. “
But you are adorable—adorable.”
She gave a quick smile of intelligence, of sympathy, and, with a
knowing toss of the head and a provoking glance, suggested, ” Je
te mets la tête en feu, quoi ! “
She, you perceive, was entirely at her ease, mistress of the situa-
tion. It is conceivable that she had met neophytes before—that I
was by no means to her the unprecedented experience she was to
me. At any rate, she understood my agitation and sought to re-
” Don’t be afraid ; I’ll not eat you,” she promised.
I, in the depths of my mind, had been meditating what I could
not but deem an excessively audacious proposal. Her last speech
gave me my cue, and I risked it.
” Perhaps you would like to eat something else ? If—if we
should go somewhere and sup ?”
“Monsieur thinks he will be safer to take precautions,” she
laughed. Well—I submit.”
So we removed ourselves to the vestiaire, where she
put on her
cloak, and exchanged her slippers for a pair of boots (you ca
guess, perhaps, who enjoyed the beatific privilege of buttoning
them for her) ; and then we left the Closerie des Lilas, falsely so
called, with its flaring gas, its stifling atmosphere, its boisterous
merrymakers, and walked arm in arm only this time it was my
arm that was within hers—down the Boul’Miche, past the Luxem-
bourg gardens, where sweet airs blew in our faces, to the Gambrinus
restaurant, in the Rue de Médicis. And there you should have seen
P’tit-Bleu devouring écrevisses. Whatsoever this young woman’s
hand found to do, she did it with her might. She attacked her
écrevisses with the same jubilant abandon with which she had
executed her bewildering single-step. She devoured them with an
energy, an enthusiasm, a thoroughness, that it was invigorating to
witness ; smacking her lips, and smiling, and, from time to time,
between the mouthfuls, breathing soft little interjections of con-
tent. When the last pink shell was emptied, she threw herself
back, and sighed, and explained, with delectable unconsciousness, “
I was hungry.” But at my venturing to protest, ” Not really,”
she broke into mirthful laughter, and added, ” At least, I had the
appearance.” Meanwhile, I must not fail to mention, she had done
abundant honour to her share of a bottle of chablis. Don’t be
horrified—haven’t the Germans, who ought to know, a proverb
that recommends it ? ” Wein auf Bier, das rath’ ich Dir.”
I have said that none of us mourned the absence of a soul in
P’tit-Bleu. Nevertheless, as I looked at her to-night, and realised
what a bright, joyous, good-humoured little thing she was, how
healthy, and natural, and even, in a way, innocent she was, I sud-
denly felt a curious depression. She was all this, and yet . . .
For just a moment, perhaps, I did vaguely mourn the lack of some-
thing. Oh, she was well enough for the present ; she was joyous,
and good-humoured, and innocent in a way ; she was young and
pretty, and the world smiled upon her. But—for the future ?
When it occurred to me to think of her future—of what it must
almost certainly be like, of what she must almost inevitably become
—I confess my jaw dropped and the salt of our banquet lost its
What’s the matter ? Why do you look at me like that ? “
So I had to pull myself up and be jolly again. It was not alto-
gether difficult. In the early twenties, troublesome reflections are
easily banished, I believe ; and I had a lively comrade.
After her crayfish were disposed of, P’tit-Bleu called for coffee
and lit a cigarette. And then, between whiffs and sips, she
prattled gaily of the subject which, of all subjects, she was probably
best qualified to treat, and which assuredly, for the time being,
possessed most interest for her listener—herself. She told me, as
it were, the story of her birth, parentage, life, and exploits. It
was the simplest story, the commonest story. Her mother (la
recherche de la paternité est interditi), her mother had died when
she was sixteen, and Jeanne (that was her baptismal name, Jeanne
Mérois) had gone to work in the shop of a dressmaker, where,
sewing hard from eight in the morning till seven at night, with
an hour s intermission at noon, she could earn, in good seasons, as
much as two-francs-fifty a day. Two and a half francs a day—
say twelve shillings a week— in good seasons ; and one must eat,
and lodge, and clothe one’s body, and pay one s laundress, in good
seasons and in bad. It scarcely satisfied her aspirations, and she
took to dancing. Now she danced three nights a week at Bullier’s,
and during the day gave lessons in her art to a score of pupils, by
which means she contrived to keep the wolf at a respectful dis-
tance from her door. ” Tiens, here’s my card,” she concluded,
and handed me an oblong bit of pasteboard, on which was printed,
” P’tit-Bleu, Professeur de Danse, 22, Rue Monsieur le Prince.”
” Et tu n’as pas d’amoureux ? ” questioned I.
She flashed a look upon me that was quite inexpressibly arch,
and responded instantly, with the charmingest little pout, ” But
yes since I’m supping with him.”
During the winter that followed, P’tit-Bleu and I supped
together rather frequently. She was a mere little animal, she had
no soul ; but she was the nicest little animal, and she had instincts.
She was more than good-natured, she was kind-hearted ; and,
according to her unconventional standards, she was conscientious.
It would have amused and touched you, for example, if you had
been taking her about, to notice her intense solicitude lest you
should conduct her entertainment upon a scale too lavish, her
deprecating frowns, her expostulations, her restraining hand laid on
your arm. And the ordinary run of Latin Quarter girls derive an
incommunicable rapture from seeing their cavaliers wantonly,
purposelessly prodigal. With her own funds, on the contrary,
P’tit-Bleu was free-handed to a fault : Mimi and Zizette knew
whom to go to, when they were hard-up. Neither did she confine
her benefactions to gifts of money, nor limit their operation to her
particular sex. More than one impecunious student owed it to her
skilful needle that his clothes were whole, and his linen maintained
in a habitable state. ” Fie, Chalks ! Your coat is torn, there are
three buttons off your waistcoat, and your cuffs are frayed to a
point that is disgraceful. I’ll come round to-morrow afternoon,
and mend them for you.” And when poor Berthe Dumours was
turned out of the hospital, in the dead of winter, half-cured, and
without a penny in her purse, who took her in, and nursed her,
and provided for her during her convalescence ?
Oh, she was a good little thing. ” P’tit-Bleu s all right.
There’s nothing the matter with P tit-Bleu,” was Chalk’s method
of phrasing it.
At the same time, she could be trying, she could be exasperating.
And she had a temper—a temper. What she made me suffer in
the way of jealousy, during that winter, it would be gruesome to
recount. She enjoyed an exceeding great popularity in the
Quarter ; she was much run after. It were futile to pretend that
she hadn t her caprices. And she held herself free as air. She
would call no man master. You might take what she would give,
and welcome ; but you must claim nothing as your due. You
mustn’t assume airs of proprietorship ; you mustn’t presume upon
the fact that she was supping with you to-night, to complain if
she should sup to-morrow with another. Her concession of a
privilege did not by any means imply that it was exclusive. She
The Yellow Book—Vol. VIII. E
would endure no exactions, no control or interference, no surveil-
lance, above all, no reproaches. Mercy, how angry she would
become if I ventured any, how hoighty-toighty and unap-
You imagine that I am your property ? Did you invent me ?
One would say you held a Government patent. All rights
reserved ! Thank you. You fancy perhaps that Paris is Con-
stantinople ? Ah, mais non ! ”
She had a temper and a flow of language. There were
points you couldn’t touch without precipitating hail and
Thus my winter was far from a tranquil one, and before it
was half over I had three grey hairs. Honey and wormwood,
happiness and heartburn, reconciliations and frantic little tiffs,
carried us blithely on to Mi-Carême, when things reached a
Mi-Carême fell midway in March that year : a velvety, sweet,
sunlit day, Spring stirring in her sleep. P’ tit-Bleu and I had
spent the day together, in the crowded, crowded streets. We had
visited the Boulevards, of course, to watch the triumph of the
Queen of Washerwomen ; we had pelted everybody with confetti ;
and we had been pelted so profusely in return, that there were
confetti in our boots, in our pockets, down our necks, and
numberless confetti clung in the black meshes of P’tit-Bleu’s hair,
like little pink, blue, and yellow stars. But all day long something
in P’ tit-Bleu’s manner, something in her voice, her smile, her
carriage, had obscurely troubled me ; something not easy to take
hold of, something elusive, unformulable, but disquieting. A
certain indefinite aloofness, perhaps; an accentuated independence;
as if she were preoccupied with secret thoughts, with intentions,
feelings, that she would not let me share.
And then, at night, we went to the Opera Ball.
P’tit-Bleu was dressed as an Odalisque : a tiny round Turkish
cap, set jauntily sidewise on her head, a short Turkish jacket, both
cap and jacket jingling and glittering with sequins ; a long veil
of gauze, wreathed like a scarf round her shoulders ; then baggy
Turkish trousers of blue silk, and scarlet Turkish slippers. Oh,
she was worth seeing ; I was proud to have her on my arm. Her
black crinkling hair, her dancing eyes, her eager face and red
smiling mouth—the Sultan himself might have envied me such a
houri. And many, in effect, were the envious glances that we
encountered, as we made our way into the great brilliantly lighted
ball-room, and moved hither and thither amongst the Harlequins
and Columbines, the Pierrots, the Toréadors, the Shepherdesses
and Vivandières, the countless fantastic masks, by whom the place
was peopled. P’tit-Bleu had a loup of black velvet, which some-
times she wore, and sometimes gave to me to carry for her. I
don’t know when she looked the more dangerous, when she had it
on, and her eyes glimmered mysteriously through its peep-holes,
or when she had it off.
Many were the envious glances that we encountered, and pre-
sently I became aware that one individual was following us about :
a horrid, glossy creature, in a dress suit, with a top-hat that was
much too shiny, and a huge waxed moustache that he kept
twirling invidiously : an undersized, dark, Hebraic-featured man,
screamingly ” rasta’.” Whithersoever we turned, he hovered
annoyingly near to us, and ogled P’tit-Bleu under my very beard.
This was bad enough ; but—do sorrows ever come as single
spies ?—conceive my emotions, if you please, when, by-and-by,
suspicion hardened into certitude that P’tit-Bleu was not merely
getting a vainglorious gratification from his attentions, but that
she was positively playing up to them, encouraging him to persevere !
She chattered—to me, indeed, but at him—with a vivacity there
was no misconstruing ; laughed noisily, fluttered her fan,
flirted her veil, donned and doffed her loup, and, I daresay, when
my back was turned, exchanged actual eye-shots with the brute.
…In due time quadrilles were organised, and P’tit-Bleu led a
set. The glossy interloper was one of the admiring circle that
surrounded her. Ugh ! his complacent, insinuating smile, the
conquering air with which he twirled his moustachios ! And
P’tit-Bleu. . . . When, at the finish, she sprang up, after her
grand écart, what do you suppose she did ? . . . The brazen little
minx, instead of rejoining me, slipped her arm through his, and
went tripping off with him to the supper-room.
Oh, the night I passed, the night of anguish ! The visions
that tortured me, as I tramped my floor ! The delirious revenges
that I plotted, and gloated over in anticipation ! She had left me
—the mockery of it !—she had left me her loup, her little black
velvet loup, with its empty eye-holes, and its horribly reminiscent
smell. Everything P’tit-Bleu owned was scented with peau-
d’ Espagne. I wreaked my fury upon that loup, I promise you. I
smote it with my palm, I ground it under my heel, I tore it limb
from limb, I called it all manner of abusive names. Early in the
morning I was at P’tit-Bleu’s house; but the concierge grunted,
” Pas rentrée.” Oh, the coals thereof are coals of fire. I returned
to her house a dozen times that day, and at length, towards night-
fall, found her in. We had a stormy session, but of course, the
last word of it was hers : still, for all slips, she was one of Eve’s
family. Of course she justified herself, and put me in the wrong.
I went away, vowing I would never, never, never see her again.
” Va ! Ca m est bien égal,” she capped the climax by calling after
me. Oh, youth ! Oh, storm and stress ! And to think that
one lives to laugh at its memory.
For the rest of that season, P’ tit-Bleu and I remained at daggers
drawn. In June I left town for the summer ; and then one thing
and another happened, and kept me away till after Christmas.
When I got back, amongst the many pieces of news that I
found waiting for me, there was one that affected P’tit-Bleu.
” P’tit-Bleu,” I was told, ” is collée with an Englishman—
but a grey-beard, mon cher—a gaga—an Englishman old enough
to be her grandfather.”
A stolid, implicit cynicism, I must warn you, was the mode of
the Quarter. The student who did not wish to be contemned
for a sentimentalist, dared never hesitate to believe an evil report,
nor to put the worst possible construction upon all human actions.
Therefore, when I was apprised by common rumour that during
the dead season P’tit-Bleu (for considerations fiscal, bien entendu)
had gone to live ” collée ” with an Englishman old enough to be
her grandfather—though, as it turned out, the story was the
sheerest fabrication—it never entered my head to doubt it.
At the same time, I confess, I could not quite share the
humour of my compeers, who regarded the circumstance as a
stupendous joke. On the contrary, I was shocked and sickened.
I shouldn t have imagined her capable of that. She was a mere
little animal ; she had no soul ; she was bound, in the nature of
things, to go from bad to worse, as I had permitted myself, indeed,
to admonish her, in the last conversation we had had. ” Mark
my words, you will go from bad to worse.” But I had thought
her such a nice little animal ; in my secret heart, I had hoped that
her progress would be slow—even, faintly, that Providence might
let something happen to arrest it, to divert it. And now. . . . !
As a matter of fact, Providence had let something happen to
divert it ; and that something was this very relation of hers with
an old Englishman, in which the scandal-lovers of the Latin
Quarter were determined to see neither more nor less than a
mercenary ” collage.” The diversion in question, however, was
an extremely gradual process. As yet, it is pretty certain, P’tit-
Bleu herself had never so much as dreamed that any diversion was
But she knew that her relation with the Englishman was an
innocent relation ; and of its innocence, I am glad to be able to
record, she succeeded in convincing one, at least, of her friends,
tolerably early in the game. In the teeth of my opposition, and
at the expense of her own pride, she forced an explanation, which,
I am glad to say, convinced me.
I had just passed her and her Englishman in the street. They
were crossing the Boulevard St. Michel, and she was hanging on
his arm, looking up into his face, and laughing. She wore a
broad-brimmed black hat, with a red ribbon in it, and a knot of
red ribbon at her throat ; there was a lovely suggestion of the same
colour in her cheeks ; and never had her eyes gleamed with
I assure you, the sensation this spectacle afforded me amounted
to a physical pain—the disgust, the anger. If she could laugh
like that, how little could she feel her position ! The hardened
shamelessness of it !
Turning from her to her companion, I own I was surprised
and puzzled. He was a tall, spare old man, not a grey-beard, but
a white-beard, and he had thin snow-white hair. He was dressed
neatly indeed, but the very reverse of sumptuously. His black
overcoat was threadbare, his carefully polished boots were patched.
Yet, everybody averred, it was his affluence that had attracted
her ; she had taken up with him during the dead season, because
she had been ” à sec.” A detail that did nothing to relieve my
perplexity was the character of his face. Instead of the florid
concupiscent face, with coarse lips and fiery eye-balls, I had
instinctively expected, I saw a thin, pale face, with mild, melan-
choly eyes, a gentle face, a refined face, rather a weak face,
certainly the very last face the situation called for. He was a
beast of course, but he didn’t look like a beast. He looked like a
gentleman, a broken-down, forlorn old gentleman,
singularly astray from his proper orbit.
They were crossing the Boulevard St. Michel as I was leaving
the Café Vachette ; and at the corner of the Rue des Ecoles we
came front to front. P’tit-Bleu glanced up ; her eyes brightened,
she gave a little start, and was plainly for stopping to shake hands.
I cut her dead. . . .
I cut her dead, and held my course serenely down the Boulevard
—though I m not sure my heart wasn’t pounding. But I could lay
as unction to my soul the consciousness of having done the appro-
priate thing, of having marked my righteous indignation.
In a minute, however, I heard the pat-pat of rapid footsteps on
the pavement behind me, and my name being called. I hurried
on, careful not to turn my head. But, at Cluny, P’tit-Bleu arrived
abreast of me.
” I want to speak to you,” she gasped, out of breath from
I shrugged my shoulders.
” Will you tell me why you cut me like that just now ? “
” If you don’t know, I doubt if I could make you understand,”
I answered, with an air of imperial disdain.
” You bear me a grudge, hein ? For what I did last March ?
Well, then, you are right. There. I was abominable. But I
have been sorry, and I ask your pardon. Now will you let bygones
be bygones ? Will you forgive me ?
” Oh,” I said, ” don’t try to play the simpleton with me. You
are perfectly well aware that isn’t why I cut you.”
” But why, then ? ” cried she, admirably counterfeiting (as I
took for granted) a look and accent of bewilderment.
I walked on without speaking. She kept beside me.
” But why, then ? If it isn’t that, what is it ? “
” Oh, bah ! “
” I insist upon your telling me. Tell me.”
” Very good, then. I don t care to know a girl who lives
collée with a gaga,” I said, brutally.
P’tit-Bleu flushed suddenly, and faced me with blazing eyes.
” Comment ! You believe that ? ” she cried.
“Pooh!” said I.
” Oh, mais non, mais non, mais non, alors ! You don’t believe
that ? ”
” You pay me a poor compliment. Why should you expect
me to be ignorant of a thing the whole Quarter knows ? ”
” Oh, the whole Quarter ! What does that matter to me, your
Quarter? Those nasty little students ! C’est dela crasse, quoi !
They may believe—they may say—what they like. Oh, ça m’est
bien égal ! ” with a shake of the head and a skyward gesture. ” But
you—but my friends ! Am I that sort of girl ? Answer.”
“There’s only one sort of girl in the precincts of this University,”
declared her disenchanted interlocutor. “You’re all of one pattern.
The man’s an ass who expects any good from any of you. Don’t
pose as better than the others. You’re all a—un tas de saletés.
I’m sick and tired of the whole sordid, squalid lot of you. I
should be greatly obliged, now, if you would have the kindness
to leave me. Go back to your gaga. He ll be impatient wait-
That speech, I fancied, would rid me of her. But no.
” You are trying to make me angry, aren’t you ? But I refuse
to leave you till you have admitted that you are wrong,” she
persisted. ” It’s an outrageous slander. Monsieur Long (that is
his name, Monsieur Long), he lives in the same house with me,
on the same landing ; et voilà tout. Dame ! Can I prevent him ?
Am I the landlord ? And, for that, they say I’m collée with
him. I don’t care what they say. But you ! I swear to you it
is an infamous lie. Will you come home with me now, and
see ? ”
” Oh, that’s mere quibbling. You go with him everywhere
, you dine with him, you are never seen without him.”
” Dieu de Dieu ! ” wailed P’tit-Bleu. ” How shall I convince
you ? He is my neighbour. Is it forbidden to know ones neigh-
bours ? I swear to you, I give you my word of honour, it is
nothing else. How to make you believe me ? ”
” Well, my dear,” said I, ” if you wish me to believe you, break
with him. Chuck him up. Drop his acquaintance. Nobody in
his senses will believe you so long as you go trapesing about the
Quarter with him.”
” Oh, but no,” she cried, ” I can t drop his acquaintance.”
” Ah, there it is,” cried I.
” There are reasons. There are reasons why I
can’t, why I mustn’t. ”
I thought so.” ” Ah, voyons ! ” she broke out, losing patience. ” Will you
not believe my word of honour ? Will you force me to tell
you things that don’t concern you—that I have no right to tell ?
Well, then, listen. I cannot drop his acquaintance, because —this
is a secret—he would die of shame if he thought I had betrayed it
—you will never breathe it to a soul—because I have discovered
that he has a—a vice, a weakness. No—but listen. He is an
Englishman, a painter. Oh, a painter of great talent ; a painter
who has exposed at the Salon —quoi ! A painter who is known
in his country. On a meme parle de lui dans les journaux ;
voilà. But look. He has a vice. He has half ruined, half
killed himself with a drug. Yes—opium. Oh, but wait, wait.
I will tell you. He came to live in our house last July, in the
room opposite mine. When we met, on the landing, in the
staircase, he took off his hat, and we passed the bonjour. Oh, he
is a gentleman ; he has been well brought up. From that we
arrived at speaking together a little, and then at visiting. It was
the dead season, I had no affairs. I would sit in his room in the
afternoon, and we would chat. Oh, he is a fine talker. But,
though he had canvases, colours, all that is needed for painting,
he never painted. He would only talk, talk. I said, But you
ought to paint. He said always, Yes, I must begin something
to-morrow. Always to-morrow. And then I discovered what
it was. He took opium. He spent all his money for opium.
And when he had taken his opium he would not work, he
would only talk, talk, talk, and then sleep, sleep. You think
that is well—hein ? That a painter of talent should do no
work, but spend all his money for a drug, for a poison, and
then say To-morrow ? You think I could sit still and see
him commit these follies under my eyes and say nothing, do no-
thing ? Ruin his brain, his health, his career, and waste all his
money, for that drug ? Oh, mais non. I made him the sermon.
I said, You know it is very bad, that which you are doing
there. I scolded him. I said, But I forbid you to do that —do
you understand ? I forbid it. I went with him everywhere, I
gave him all my time ; and when he would take his drug I would
annoy him, I would make a scene, I would shame him. Well,
in the end, I have acquired an influence over him. He has sub-
mitted himself to me. He is really trying to break the habit. I
keep all his money. I give him his doses. I regulate them, I
diminish them. The consequence is, I make him work. I give
him one very small dose in the morning to begin the day. Then
I will give him no more till he has done so much work. You
see ? Tu te figures que je suis sa maîtresse ? Je suis plutôt sa
nounou—va ! Je suis sa caissiere. And he is painting a great
picture—you will see. Eh bien, how can I give up his acquaint-
ance ? Can I let him relapse, as he would do to-morrow without
me, into his bad habit ?
” I was walking with long strides, P’tit-Bleu tripping at my
elbow ; and before her story was finished we had left the
Boulevard behind us, and reached the middle of the Pont St.
Michel. There, I don’t know why, we halted, and stood look-
ing off towards Notre-Dame. The grim grey front of the
Cathedral glowed softly amethystine in the afternoon sun, and
the sky was infinitely deep and blue above it. One could be
intensely conscious of the splendid penetrating beauty of this
picture, without, somehow, giving the less attention to what P’tit-
Bleu was saying. She talked swiftly, eagerly, with constantly
changing, persuasive intonations, with little brief pauses, hesita-
tions, with many gestures, with much play of eyes and face.
When she had done, I waited a moment. Then, grudgingly,
” Well,” I began, ” if what you tell me is true—”
If it is true ! ” P’tit-Bleu cried, with sudden
fierceness. ” Do
you dare to say you doubt it ? ”
And she gazed intently, fiercely, into my eyes, challenging me,
as it were, to give her the lie.
Before that gaze my eyes dropped, abashed.
” No—I don’t doubt it,” I faltered, ” I believe you. And—
and allow me to say that you are a a damned decent little girl.”
Poor P’tit-Bleu ! How shall I tell you the rest of her story
—the story of those long years of love and sacrifice and devo-
tion, and of continual discouragement, disappointment, with his
death at the end of them, and her disappearance ?
In the beginning she herself was very far from realising what
she had undertaken, what had befallen her. To exercise a little
friendly supervision over her neighbour s addiction to opium, to
husband his money for him, and spur him on to work—it seemed
a mere incident in her life, an affair by the way. But it be-
came her exclusive occupation, her whole life’s chief concern.
Little by little, one after the other, she put aside all her former
interests, thoughts, associations, dropped all her former engage-
ments, to give herself as completely to caring for, guarding,
guiding poor old Edward Long, as if she had been a mother, and
he her helpless child.
Throughout that first winter, indeed, she continued to dance
at Bullier’s, continued to instruct her corps of pupils, and con-
tinued even occasionally, though much less frequently than of
old time, to be seen at the Vachette, or to sup with a friend at
the Gambrinus. But from day to day Monsieur Edouard (he
had soon ceased to be Monsieur Long, and become Monsieur Edouard)
absorbed more and more of her time and attention ; and
when the spring came she suddenly burned her ships.
You must understand that she had one pertinacious adversary in
her efforts to wean him of his vice. Not an avowed adversary,
for he professed the most earnest wish that she might be success-
ful ; but an adversary who was eternally putting spokes in her
wheel, all the same. Yes, Monsieur Edouard himself. Never
content with the short rations to which she had condemned him,
he was perpetually on the watch for a chance to elude her vigil-
ance ; she was perpetually discovering that he had somehow con-
trived to lay in secret supplies. And every now and again, openly
defying her authority, he would go off for a grand debauch.
Then her task of reducing his daily portion to a minimum must
needs be begun anew. Well, when the spring came, and the
Salon opened, where his picture (her picture ?) had been received
and very fairly hung, they went together to the Vernissage.
And there he met a whole flock of English folk—artists and
critics, who had ” just run over for the show, you know ): —with
whom he was acquainted ; and they insisted on carrying him away
with them to lunch at the Ambassadeurs.
I, too, had assisted at the Vernissage ; and when I left it, I
found P’tit-Bleu seated alone under the trees in the Champs-
Elysées. She had on a brilliant spring toilette, with a hat and a
sunshade. . . . Oh, my dear ! It is not to be denied that P’ tit-
Bleu had the courage of her tastes. But her face was pale, and
her lips were drawn down, and her eyes looked strained and
” What’s the row ? ” I asked.
And she told me how she had been abandoned—” plantée la “
was her expression—and of course I invited her to lunch with me.
But she scarce relished the repast. ” Pourvu qu’il ne fasse pas de
bêtises ! ” was her refrain.
She returned rather early to the Rue Monsieur le Prince, to see
if he had come home ; but he hadn’t. Nor did he come home
that night, nor the next day, nor the next. At the week’s end,
though, he came : dirty, haggard, tremulous, with red eyes, and
nude—yes, nude—of everything save his shirt and trousers ! He
had borrowed a sovereign from one of his London friends, and
when that was gone, he had pledged or sold everything but his
shirt and trousers—hat, boots, coat, everything. It was an equally
haggard and red-eyed P’tit-Bleu who faced him on his reappear-
ance. And I’ve no doubt she gave him a specimen of her
eloquence. ” You figure to yourself that this sort of thing amuses
me, hein ? Here are six good days and nights that I haven’t been
able to sleep or rest.”
Explaining the case to me, she said, ” Ah, what I suffered ! I
could never have believed that I cared so much for him. But—
what would you ?—one attaches oneself, you know. Ah, what I
suffered ! The anxiety, the terrors ! I expected to hear of
him run over in the streets. Well, now, I must make an end of this
business. I m going to take him away. So long as he remains in
Paris, where there are chemists who will sell him that filthiness
(cette crasse) it is hopeless. No sooner do I get my house of
cards nicely built up, than—piff !— something happens to knock it
over. I am going to take him down into the country, far from
any town, far from the railway, where I can guard him better. I
know a place, a farm-house, near Villiers-St. -Jacques, where we
can get board. He has a little income, which reaches him every
three months from England. Oh, very little, but if I am
careful of it, it will pay our way. And then—I will make him
” Oh, no,” I protested. ” You’re not going to leave the
Quarter.” And I’m ashamed to acknowledge, I laboured hard to
dissuade her. ” Think of how we’ll miss you. Think of how
you’ll bore yourself. And anyhow, he’s not worth it. And
besides, you won’t succeed. A man who has an appetite for opium
will get it, coûte que coûte. He’d walk twenty miles in bare feet
to get it.” This was the argument that I repeated in a dozen
different paraphrases. You see, I hadn’t realised yet that it didn’t
matter an atom whether she succeeded, or whether he was worth
it. He was a mere instrument in the hands of Providence. Let
her succeed or let her fail in keeping him from opium : the
important thing . . . how shall I put it ? This little Undine
had risen out of the black waters of the Latin Quarter and
attached herself to a mortal. What is it that love gains for
” Que veux-tu ? ” cried P’ tit-Bleu. “I am fond of him.
I can’t bear to see him ruining himself. I must do what
And the Quarter said, ” Ho-ho ! You chaps who didn’t believe
it was a collage ! He-he ! What do you say now f She’s
chucked up everything, to go and live in the country with
In August or September I ran down to the farm-house near
Villiers-St.-Jacques, and passed a week with them. I found a
mightily changed Monsieur Edouard, and a curiously changed
P’tit-Bleu, as well. He was fat and rosy, he who had been so thin
and white. And she—she was grave. Yes, P’tit-Bleu was grave :
sober, staid, serious. And her impish, mocking black eyes shone
with a strange, serious, calm light.
Monsieur Edouard (with whom my relations had long before
this become confidential) drew me apart, and told me he was
having an exceedingly bad time of it.
” She’s really too absurd, you know. She’s a martinet, a tyrant.
Opium is to me what tobacco is to you, and does me no more
harm. I need it for my work. Oh, in moderation ; of course
one can be excessive. Yet she refuses to let me have a tenth of my
proper quantity. And besides, how utterly senseless it is, keeping
me down here in the country. I m dying of ennui. There’s not
a person I can have any sort of intellectual sympathy with, for
miles in every direction. An artist needs the stimulus of contact
with his fellows. It’s indispensable. If she’d only let me run up
to Paris for a day or two at a time, once a month say. Couldn’t
you persuade her to let me go back with you ? She’s the most
awful screw, you know. It s the French lower middle class
parsimony. I m never allowed to have twopence in my pocket.
Yet whose money is it ? Where does it come from ? I really
can’t think why I submit, why I don’t break away from her, and
follow my own wishes. But the poor little thing is fond of me ;
she’s attached herself to me. I don’t know what would become of
her if I cast her off. Oh, don’t fancy that I don t appreciate
her. Her intentions are excellent. But she lacks wisdom, and
she enjoys the exercise of power. I wish you’d speak with
P’tit-Bleu also drew me apart.
” Please don’t call me P’tit-Bleu any more. Call me Jeanne.
I have put all that behind me—all that P’tit-Bleu signifies. I
hate to think of it, to be reminded of it. I should like to
When I had promised not to call her P’tit-Bleu any more, she
went on, replying to my questions, to tell me of their life.
” Of course, everybody thinks I am his mistress. You can’t
convince them I’ m not. But that’s got to be endured. For the
rest, all is going well. You see how he is improved. I give him
fifteen drops of laudanum, morning, noon, and night. Fifteen
drops—it is nothing. I could take it myself, and never know it.
And he used to drink off an ounce—an ounce, mon cher—at a
time, and then want more at the end of an hour. Yes ! Oh,
he complains, he complains of everything, he frets, he is not
contented. But he has not walked twenty miles in bare feet,
as you said he would. And he is working. You will see his
” And you— how do you pass your time ? What do you do ? “
I pose for him a good deal. And then I have much sewing
to do. I take in sewing for Madame Deschamps, the deputy’s
wife, to help to make the ends meet. And then I read. Madame
Deschamps lends me books.”
” And I suppose you’re bored to death ? “
” Oh, no, I am not bored. I am happy. I never was really
happy—dans le temps.”
They were living in a very plain way indeed. You know what
French farmhouses are apt to be. His whole income was under
a hundred pounds a year ; and out of that (and the trifle she earned
by needlework) his canvases, colours, brushes, frames, had to be
paid for, as well as his opium, and their food, clothing, everything.
But P’tit-Bleu—Jeanne—with that ” lower-middle-class parsi
mony ” of hers, managed somehow. Jeanne ! In putting off the
name, she had put off also, in great measure, the attributes of
P’tit-Bleu ; she had become Jeanne in nature. She was grave,
she was quiet. She wore the severest black frocks—she made them
herself. And I never once noticed the odour of peau-d’Espagne,
from the beginning to the end of my visit. But—shall I own it ?
Jeanne was certainly the more estimable of the two women, but
shall I own that I found her far less exciting as a comrade than
P’tit-Bleu had been ? She was good, but she wasn’t very lively or
P’tit-Bleu, the heroine of Bullier’s, that lover of noisy pleasure,
of daring toilettes, of risky perfumes, of écrevisses and chablis, of
all the rush and dissipation of the Boul’Miche and the Luxem-
bourg, quietly settling down into Jeanne of the home-made frocks,
in a rough French farmhouse, to a diet of veal and lentils, lentils
and veal, seven times a week, and no other pastime in life than
the devoted, untiring nursing of an ungrateful old English opium-
eater here was variation under domestication with a vengeance.
The Yellow Book—Vol. VIII. F
And on Sunday . . . P’ tit-Bleu went twice to church !
About ten days after my return to Paris, there came a rat-ta-ta-
tat at my door, and P’tit-Bleu walked in—pale, with wide eyes.
” I don’t know how he has contrived it, but he must have got some
money somewhere, and walked to the railway, and come to town.
Anyhow, here are three days that he has disappeared. What to
do ? What to do ? >: She was in a deplorable state of mind, poor
thing, and I scarcely knew how to help her. I proposed that we
should take counsel with a Commissary of Police. But when that
functionary discovered that she was neither the wife nor daughter
of the missing man, he smiled, and remarked, ” It is not our
business to recover ladies protectors for them.” P’tit-Bleu walked
the streets in quest of him, all day long and very nearly all night
long too, for close upon a fortnight. In the end, she met him
on the quays—dazed, half-imbecile, and again nude of everything
save his shirt and trousers. So, again, having nicely built up her
house of cards— piff !—something had happened to topple it over.
” Let him go to the devil his own way,” said I. ” Really, he’s
unworthy of your pains.”
” No, I can’t leave him. You see, I’m fond of him,” said she.
He, however, positively refused to return to the country.
” The fact is,” he explained, ” I ought to go to London. Yes, it
will be well for me to pass the winter in London. I should like
to have a show there, a one-man show, you know. I dare say I
could sell a good many pictures, and get orders for portraits.” So
they went to London. In the spring I received a letter from
P’tit-Bleu—a letter full of orthographic faults, if you like—but a
letter that I treasure. Here’s a translation of it :
“MY DEAR FRIEND,
” I have hesitated much before taking my pen in hand
write to you. But I have no one else to turn to. We have had a
dreadful winter. Owing to my ignorance of the language one speaks
in this dirty town, I have not been able to exercise over Monsieur
Edouard that supervision of which he has need. In
before. Every penny, every last sou, which he could command, has
been spent for that detestable filth. Many times we have passed
whole days without eating, no, not the end of a crust. He has
no desire to eat when he has had his dose. We are living in a slum of
the most disgusting, in the quarter of London they call Soho. Every-
thing we have, save the bare necessary of covering, has been put with
the lender-on-pledges. Yesterday I found a piece of one shilling in
the street. That, however, I have been forced to dispense for opium,
because, when he has had such large quantities, he would die or go
mad if suddenly deprived.
” I have addressed myself to his family, but without effect. They
refuse to recognise me. Everybody here, of course, figures to himself
that I am his mistress. He has two brothers, on: of the army, one an
advocate. I have besieged them in vain. They say, We have done
for him all that is possible. We can do no more. He has exhausted
our patience. Now that he has gone a step farther, and, in his age,
disgraced himself by living with a mistress, as well as besotting himself
with opium, we wash our hands of him for good. And yet, I cannot
leave him, because I know, without me, he would kill himself within
the month, by his excesses. To his sisters, both of whom are married
and ladies of the world, I have appealed with equal results. They
refuse to regard me otherwise than as his mistress.
” But I cannot bear to see that great man, with that mind, that
talent, doing himself to death. And when he is not under the
influence of his drug, who is so great I Who has the wit, the wisdom,
the heart, the charm, of Monsieur Edouard ? Who can paint like him ?
The Yellow Book Vol. VIII. F
” My dear, as a last resource, I take up my pen to ask you for
assistance. If you could see him your heart would be moved. He is
so thin, so thin, and his face has become blue, yes, blue, like the
face of a dead man. Help me to save him from himself. If you can send
me a note of five hundred francs, I can pay off our indebtedness here,
and bring him back to France, where, in a sane country, far from a
town, again I can reduce him to a few drops of laudanum a day, and
again see him in health and at work. That which it costs me to make
this request of you, I have not the words to tell you. But, at the end
of my forces, having no other means, no other support, I confide
myself to your well-tried amity.
” I give you a good kiss.
If the reading of this letter brought a lump into my throat and
something like tears into my eyes—if I hastened to a banker’ s,
and sent P’tit-Bleu the money she asked for, by telegraph if I
reproached her bitterly and sincerely for not having applied to me
long before,—I hope you will believe that it wasn t for the sake of
They established themselves at St.-Etienne, a hamlet on the
coast of Normandy, to be further from Paris. Dieppe was their
nearest town. They lived at St.-Etienne for nearly three years.
But, periodically, when she had got her house of cards nicely built
up— piff !—he would walk into Dieppe.
He walked into Dieppe one day in the autumn of 1885, and it
took her a week to find him. He was always ill, after one of his
grand debauches. This time he was worse than he had ever been
before. I can imagine the care with which she nursed him, her
anxious watching by his bedside, her prayers, her hope, the blank-
ness when he died.
She came back to Paris, and called three times at my lodgings.
But I was in England, and didn’t receive the notes she left till
nearly six months afterwards. I have never
seen her since, never heard from her.
What has become of her ? It is not pleasant to conjecture. Of
course, after his death, she ought to have died too. But the Angel
of this Life,
“Whose care is lest men see too much at
couldn’t permit any such satisfying termination. So she has simply
disappeared, and, in the flesh, may have come to … one would
rather not conjecture. All the same, I can’t believe that in the
spirit she will have made utter shipwreck. I can’t believe that
nothing permanent was won by those long years of love and pain.
Her house of cards was toppled over, as often as she built it up ;
but perhaps she was all the while building another house,
a house not made with hands, a house, a temple, indestructible.
Poor P’tit Bleu !
Harland, Henry. “P’tit Bleu.” The Yellow Book, vol. 8, January 1896, pp. 65-93. Yellow Nineties 2.0, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/YBV8_harland_bleu/