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Jack 1877   By: (1840-1897)

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By Alphonse Daudet

Translated by Mary Neal Sherwood

From The Fortieth Thousand, French Edition.

Estes And Lauriat, 1877



"With a k , sir; with a k . The name is written and pronounced as in English. The child's godfather was English. A major general in the Indian army. Lord Pembroke. You know him, perhaps? A man of distinction and of the highest connections. But you understand M. l'Abbé! How deliciously he danced! He died a frightful death at Singapore some years since, in a tiger chase organized in his honor by a rajah, one of his friends. These rajahs, it seems, are absolute monarchs in their own country, and one especially is very celebrated. What is his name? Wait a moment. Ah! I have it. Rana Ramah."

"Pardon me, madame," interrupted the abbé, smiling, in spite of himself, at the rapid flow of words, and at the swift change of ideas. "After Jack, what name?"

With his elbow on his desk, and his head slightly bent, the priest examined from out the corners of eyes bright with ecclesiastical shrewdness, the young woman who sat before him, with her Jack standing at her side.

The lady was faultlessly dressed in the fashion of the day and the hour. It was December, 1858. The richness of her furs, the lustrous folds of her black costume, and the discreet originality of her hat, all told the story of a woman who owns her carriage, and who steps from her carpets to her coupé without the vulgar contact of the streets. Her head was small, which always lends height to a woman. Her pretty face had all the bloom of fresh fruit. Smiling and gay, additional vivacity was imparted by large, clear eyes and brilliant teeth, which were to be seen even when her face was in repose. The mobility of her countenance was extraordinary. Either this, or the lips half parted as if about to speak, or the narrow brow, something there was, at all events, that indicated an absence of reflective powers, a lack of culture, and possibly explained the blanks in the conversation of this pretty woman; blanks that reminded one of those little Japanese baskets fitting one into another, the last of which is always empty.

As to the child, picture to yourself an emaciated boy of seven or eight, who had evidently outgrown his strength. He was dressed as English boys are dressed, and as befitted his name spelled with a k . His legs were bare, and he wore a Scotch cap and a plaid. The costume was in accordance with his years, but not with his long neck and slim figure.

He seemed embarrassed by it himself, for, awkward and timid, he would occasionally glance at his half frozen legs with a despairing expression, as if he cursed within his soul Lord Pembroke and the whole Indian army.

Physically, he resembled his mother, with a look of higher breeding, and with the transformation of a pretty woman's face to that of an intelligent man. There were the same eyes, but deeper in color and in meaning; the same brow, but wider; the same mouth, but the lips were firmly closed.

Over the woman's face, ideas and impressions glided without leaving a furrow or a trace; in fact, so hastily, that her eyes always seemed to retain a certain astonishment at their flight. With the child, on the contrary, one felt that impressions remained, and his thoughtful air would have been almost painful, had it not been combined with a certain caressing indolence of attitude that indicated a petted child.

Now leaning against his mother, with one hand in her muff, he listened to her words with adoring attention, and occasionally looked at the priest and at all the surroundings with timid curiosity. He had promised not to cry, but a stifled sob shook him at times from head to foot. Then his mother looked at him, and seemed to say, "You know what you promised." Then the child choked back his tears and sobs; but it was easy to see that he was a prey to that first agony of exile and abandonment which the first boarding school inflicts on those children who have lived only in their homes... Continue reading book >>

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