The Cook’s Lesson

Today I have learned a great lesson; our cook was my teacher. She is twenty-five years old and she’s French. I discovered that she does not know that Louis-Philippe is no longer king of France and we now have a republic. And yet it has been five years since he left the throne. She said the fact that he is no longer king simply does not interest her in the least—those were her words.

And I think of myself as an intelligent man! But compared to her I’m an imbecile.


After You Left

You wanted me to tell you everything I did after we left each other.

Well, I was very sad; it had been so lovely. When I saw your back disappear into the train compartment, I went up on the bridge to watch your train pass under me. That was all I saw; you were inside it! I looked after it as long as I could, and I listened to it. In the other direction, toward Rouen, the sky was red and striped with broad bands of purple. The sky would be long dark by the time I reached Rouen and you reached Paris. I lit another cigar. For a while I paced back and forth. Then, because I felt so numb and tired, I went into a café across the street and drank a glass of kirsch.

My train came into the station, heading in the opposite direction from yours. In the compartment, I met a man I knew from my schooldays. We talked for a long time, almost all the way back to Rouen.

When I arrived, Louis was there to meet me, as we had planned, but my mother hadn’t sent the carriage to take us home. We waited for a while, and then, by moonlight, we walked across the bridge and through the port. In that part of town there are two places where we could hire a hackney cab.

At the second place, the people live in an old church. It was dark. We knocked and woke the woman, who came to the door in her nightcap. Imagine the scene, in the middle of the night, with the interior of that old church behind her—her jaws gaping in a yawn; a candle burning; the lace shawl she wore hanging down below her hips. The horse had to be harnessed, of course. The breeching band had broken, and we waited while they mended it with a piece of rope.

On the way home, I told Louis about my old school friend, who is his old school friend too. I told him how you and I had spent our time together. Out the window, the moon was shining on the river. I remembered another journey home late at night by moonlight. I described it to Louis: There was deep snow on the ground. I was in a sleigh, wearing my red wool hat and wrapped in my fur cloak. I had lost my boots that day, on my way to see an exhibition of savages from Africa. All the windows were open, and I was smoking my pipe. The river was dark. The trees were dark. The moon shone on the fields of snow: they looked as smooth as satin. The snow-covered houses looked like little white bears curled up asleep. I imagined that I was in the Russian steppe. I thought I could hear reindeer snorting in the mist, I thought I could see a pack of wolves leaping up at the back of the sleigh. The eyes of the wolves were shining like coals on both sides of the road.

When at last we reached home, it was one in the morning. I wanted to organize my work table before I went to bed. Out my study window, the moon was still shining—on the water, on the tow path, and, close to the house, on the tulip tree by my window. When I was done, Louis went off to his room and I went off to mine.