Read A TRANSLATION BY ALFRED ALLINSON XXIX of The Aspirations of Jean Servien, free online book, by Anatole France, on ReadCentral.com.

Hatred of the Empire which had left him to rot in a back-shop and a school class-room, love of the Republic that was to bring every blessing in its train had, since the proclamation of September 4, raised Jean Servien’s warlike enthusiasm to fever heat.  But he soon wearied of the long drills in the Luxembourg gardens and the hours of futile sentry-go behind the fortifications.  The sight of tipsy shopkeepers in a frenzy of foolish ardour, half drink, half patriotism, sickened him, and this playing at soldiers, tramping through the mud on an empty stomach, struck him as after all an odious, ugly business.

Luckily Garneret was his comrade in the ranks, and Servien felt the salutary effect of that well-stored, well-ordered mind, the servant of duty and stern reality.  Only this saved him from a passion, as futile in the past as it was hopeless in the future, which was assuming the dangerous character of a mental disease.

He had not seen Gabrielle again for a long time.  The theatres were shut; all he knew, from the newspapers, was that she was nursing the wounded in the theatre ambulance.  He had no wish now to meet her.

When he was not on duty, he used to lie in bed and read (it was a hard winter and wood was scarce), or else scour the boulevards and mix with the throng of idlers in search of news.  One evening, early in January, as he was passing the corner of the Rue Drouot, his attention was attracted by the clamour of voices, and he saw Monsieur Bargemont being roughly handled by an ill-looking gang of National Guards.

“I am a better Republican than any of you,” the big man was vociferating; “I have always protested against the infamies of the Empire.  But when you shout:  Vive Blanqui!... excuse me...  I have a right to shout:  Vive Jules Favre! excuse me, I have a perfect right ­” But his voice was drowned in a chorus of yells.  Men in képis shook their fists at him, shouting:  “Traitor! no surrender! down with Badinguet!” His broad face, distraught with terror, still bore traces of its erstwhile look of smug effrontery.  A girl in the crowd shrieked:  “Throw him in the river!” and a hundred voices took up the cry.  But just at that moment the crowd swayed back violently and Monsieur Bargemont darted into the forecourt of the Mairie.  A squad of police officers received him in their ranks and closed in round him.  He was saved!

Little by little the crowd melted away, and Jean heard a dozen different versions of the incident as it travelled with ever-increasing exaggeration from mouth to mouth.  The last comers learned the startling news that they had just arrested a German general officer, who had sneaked into Paris as a spy to betray the city to the enemy with the connivance of the Bonapartists.

The streets being once more passable, Jean saw Monsieur Bargemont come out of the Mairie.  He was very red and a sleeve of his overcoat was torn away.

Jean made up his mind to follow him.

Along the boulevards he kept him in view at a distance, and not much caring whether he lost track of him or no; but when the Functionary turned up a cross street, the young man closed in on his quarry.  He had no particular suspicion even now; a mere instinct urged him to dog the man’s heels.  Monsieur Bargemont wheeled to the right, into a fairly broad street, empty and badly lighted by petroleum flares that supplied the place of the gas lamps.  It was the one street Jean knew better than another.  He had been there so often and often!  The shape of the doors, the colour of the shop-fronts, the lettering on the sign-boards, everything about it was familiar; not a thing in it, down to the night-bell at the chemist’s and druggist’s, but called up memories, associations, to touch him.  The footsteps of the two men echoed in the silence.  Monsieur Bargemont looked round, advanced a few paces more and rang at a door.  Jean Servien had now come up with him and stood beside him under the archway.  It was the same door he had kissed one night of desperation, Gabrielle’s door.  It opened; Jean took a step forward and Monsieur Bargemont, going in first, left it open, thinking the National Guard there was a tenant going home to his lodging.  Jean slipped in and climbed two flights of the dark staircase.  Monsieur Bargemont ascended to the third floor and rang at a door on the landing, which was opened.  Jean could hear Gabrielle’s voice saying: 

“How late you are coming home, dear; I have sent Rosalie to bed; I was waiting up for you, you see.”

The man replied, still puffing and panting with his exertions: 

“Just fancy, they wanted to pitch me into the river, those scoundrels!  But never you mind, I’ve brought you something mighty rare and precious ­a pot of butter.”

“Like Little Red Ridinghood,” laughed Gabrielle’s voice.  “Come in and you shall tell me all about it....  Hark! do you hear?”

“What, the guns?  Oh! that never stops.”

“No, the noise of a fall on the stairs.”

“You’re dreaming!”

“Give me the candle, I’m going to look.”

Monsieur Bargemont went down two or three steps and saw Jean stretched motionless on the landing.

“A drunkard,” he said; “there’s so many of them!  They were drunkards, those chaps who wanted to drown me.”

He was holding his light to Jean’s ashy face, while Gabrielle, leaning over the rail, looked on: 

“It’s not a drunken man,” she said; “he is too white.  Perhaps it is a poor young fellow dying of hunger.  When you’re brought down to rations of bread and horseflesh ­”

Then she looked more carefully under frowning brows, and muttered: 

“It’s very queer, it’s really very queer!”

“Do you know him?” asked Bargemont.

“I am trying to remember ­”

But there was no need to try; already she had recalled it all ­how her hand had been kissed at the gate of the little house at Bellevue.

Running to her rooms, she returned with water and a bottle of ether, knelt beside the fainting man, and slipping her arm, which was encircled by the white band of a nursing sister, under his shoulders, raised Jean’s head.  He opened his eyes, saw her, heaved the deepest sigh of love ever expelled from a human breast and felt his lids fall softly to again.  He remembered nothing; only she was bending over him; and her breath had caressed his cheek.  Now she was bathing his temples, and he felt a delicious sense of returning life.  Monsieur Bargemont with the candle leant over Jean Servien, who, opening his eyes for the second time, saw the man’s coarse red cheek within an inch of the actress’s delicate ear.  He gave a great cry and a convulsive spasm shook his body.

“Perhaps it is an epileptic fit,” said Monsieur Bargemont, coughing; he was catching cold standing on the staircase.

She protested: 

“We cannot leave a sick man without doing something for him.  Go and wake Rosalie.”

He remounted the stairs, grumbling.  Meantime Jean had got to his feet and was standing with averted head.

She said to him in a low tone: 

“So you love me still?”

He looked at her with an indescribable sadness: 

“No, I don’t love you any longer” ­and he staggered down the stairs.

Monsieur Bargemont reappeared: 

“It’s very curious,” he said, “but I can’t make Rosalie hear.”

The actress shrugged her shoulders.

“Look here, go away, will you?  I have a horrid headache.  Go away, Bargemont.”