Read A TRANSLATION BY ALFRED ALLINSON XVIII of The Aspirations of Jean Servien, free online book, by Anatole France, on

After sitting all day over little problems in arithmetic, he set off in the evening in working clothes for the Avenue de l’Observatoire.  There, between two tallow candles, in front of a hoarding covered with ballads in illustrated covers, a fellow was singing in a cracked voice to the accompaniment of a guitar.  A number of workmen and work-girls stood round listening to the music.  Jean slipped into the circle, urged by the instinct that draws a stroller with nothing to do to the neighbourhood of light and noise and that love of a crowd which is characteristic of your Parisian.  More isolated in the press, more alone than ever, he stood dreaming of the splendour and passion of some noble tragedy of Euripides or Shakespeare.  It was some time before he noticed something soft touching and pressing against him from behind.  He turned round and saw a work-girl in a little black hat with blue ribbons.  She was young and pretty enough, but his mind was fixed on the awe-inspiring and superhuman graces of an Electra or a Lady Macbeth.  She went on nuzzling against his back till he looked round again.

“Monsieur,” she said then; “will you just let me slip in front of you?  I am so little; I shan’t stop your seeing.”

She had a nice voice.  The poise of her head, lifted and thrown back on a plump neck, showed a pair of bright eyes and good teeth between pouting lips.  She glided, merry and alert, into the place Jean made for her without a word.

The man with the guitar sang a ballad about caged birds and blossoms in flower-pots.

Mine,” observed the work-girl to Jean, “are carnations, and I have birds too ­canaries they are.”

At the moment he was thinking of some fair-faced chatelaine roaming under the battlements of a donjon.

The work-girl went on: 

“I have a pair, ­you understand, to keep each other company.  Two is a nice number, don’t you think so?”

He marched off with his visions under the old trees of the Avenue.  After a turn or two up and down, he espied the little work-girl hanging on the arm of a handsome young fellow, fashionably dressed, wearing a heavy gold watch-chain.  Her admirer was catching her by the waist in the dusk of the trees, and she was laughing.

Then Jean Servien felt sorry he had scorned her advances.