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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Christmas in the Latin Quarter
By George du Maurier (1834–1896)
 
From ‘Trilby’

CHRISTMAS was drawing near.  1
  There were days when the whole Quartier Latin would veil its iniquities under fogs almost worthy of the Thames Valley between London Bridge and Westminster, and out of the studio window the prospect was a dreary blank. No Morgue! no towers of Notre Dame! not even the chimney-pots over the way—not even the little mediæval toy turret at the corner of the Rue Vieille des Mauvais Ladres, Little Billee’s delight!  2
  The stove had to be crammed till its sides grew a dull deep red, before one’s fingers could hold a brush or squeeze a bladder; one had to box or fence at nine in the morning, that one might recover from the cold bath and get warm for the rest of the day!  3
  Taffy and the Laird grew pensive and dreamy, childlike and bland; and when they talked, it was generally about Christmas at home in merry England and the distant land of cakes, and how good it was to be there at such a time—hunting, shooting, curling, and endless carouse!  4
  It was Ho! for the jolly West Riding, and Hey! for the bonnets of Bonnie Dundee, till they grew quite homesick, and wanted to start by the very next train.  5
  They didn’t do anything so foolish. They wrote over to friends in London for the biggest turkey, the biggest plum-pudding, that could be got for love or money, with mince-pies, and holly and mistletoe, and sturdy, short, thick English sausages, half a Stilton cheese, and a sirloin of beef—two sirloins, in case one should not be enough.  6
  For they meant to have a Homeric feast in the studio on Christmas Day—Taffy, the Laird, and Little Billee—and invite all the delightful chums I have been trying to describe; and that is just why I tried to describe them—Durien, Vincent, Antony, Lorrimer, Carnegie, Petrolicoconose, l’Zouzou, and Dodor!  7
  The cooking and waiting should be done by Trilby, her friend Angèle Boisse, M. et Mme. Vinard, and such little Vinards as could be trusted with glass and crockery and mince-pies; and if that was not enough, they would also cook themselves and wait upon each other.  8
  When dinner should be over, supper was to follow, with scarcely any interval to speak of; and to partake of this, other guests should be bidden—Svengali and Gecko, and perhaps one or two more. No ladies!  9
  For as the unsusceptible Laird expressed it, in the language of a gillie he had once met at a servants’ dance in a Highland country-house, “Them wimmen spiles the ball!”  10
  Elaborate cards of invitation were sent out, in the designing and ornamentation of which the Laird and Taffy exhausted all their fancy (Little Billee had no time).  11
  Wines and spirits and English beers were procured at great cost from M. E. Delevigne’s, in the Rue St. Honoré, and liqueurs of every description—chartreuse, curaçoa, ratafia de cassis, and anisette; no expense was spared.  12
  Also truffled galantines of turkey, tongues, hams, rillettes de Tours, pâtés de foie gras, “fromage d’Italie” (which has nothing to do with cheese), saucissons d’Arles et de Lyon, with and without garlic, cold jellies, peppery and salt—everything that French charcutiers and their wives can make out of French pigs, or any other animal whatever, beast, bird, or fowl (even cats and rats), for the supper; and sweet jellies and cakes, and sweetmeats, and confections of all kinds, from the famous pastry-cook at the corner of the Rue Castiglione.  13
  Mouths went watering all day long in joyful anticipation. They water somewhat sadly now at the mere remembrance of these delicious things—the mere immediate sight or scent of which in these degenerate latter days would no longer avail to promote any such delectable secretion. Hélas! ahimè! ach weh! ay de mi! eheu! [Greek]—in point of fact, alas!  14
  That is the very exclamation I wanted.  15
  Christmas eve came round. The pieces of resistance and plum-pudding and mince-pies had not yet arrived from London—but there was plenty of time.  16
  Les trois Angliches dined at le Père Trin’s, as usual, and played billiards and dominoes at the Café du Luxembourg, and possessed their souls in patience till it was time to go and hear the midnight mass at the Madeleine, where Roucouly, the great baritone of the Opéra Comique, was retained to sing Adam’s famous Noël.  17
  The whole Quarter seemed alive with the réveillon. It was a clear frosty night, with a splendid moon just past the full, and most exhilarating was the walk along the quays on the Rive Gauche, over the Pont de la Concorde and across the Place thereof, and up the thronged Rue de la Madeleine to the massive Parthenaic place of worship that always has such a pagan, worldly look of smug and prosperous modernity.  18
  They struggled manfully, and found standing and kneeling room among that fervent crowd, and heard the impressive service with mixed feelings, as became true Britons of very advanced liberal and religious opinions; not with the unmixed contempt of the proper British Orthodox (who were there in full force, one may be sure).  19
  But their susceptible hearts soon melted at the beautiful music, and in mere sensuous attendrissement they were quickly in unison with all the rest.  20
  For as the clock struck twelve, out pealed the organ, and up rose the finest voice in France:
  “Minuit, Chrétiens! c’est l’heure solennelle
Où l’Homme-Dieu descendit parmi nous!”
  21
  And a wave of religious emotion rolled over Little Billee and submerged him; swept him off his little legs, swept him out of his little self, drowned him in a great seething surge of love—love of his kind, love of love, love of life, love of death, love of all that is and ever was and ever will be—a very large order indeed, even for Little Billee.  22
  And it seemed to him that he stretched out his arms for love to one figure especially beloved beyond all the rest—one figure erect on high, with arms outstretched to him, in more than common fellowship of need: not the sorrowful Figure crowned with thorns, for it was in the likeness of a woman; but never that of the Virgin Mother of our Lord.  23
  It was Trilby, Trilby, Trilby! a poor fallen sinner and waif, all but lost amid the scum of the most corrupt city on earth. Trilby, weak and mortal like himself, and in woeful want of pardon! and in her gray dove-like eyes he saw the shining of so great a love that he was abashed; for well he knew that all that love was his, and would be his forever, come what would or could.
  “Peuple, debout! Chante ta délivrance!
Noël! Noël! Voici le Rédempteur!”
  24
  So sang and rang and pealed and echoed the big deep metallic baritone bass—above the organ, above the incense, above everything else in the world—till the very universe seemed to shake with the rolling thunder of that great message of love and forgiveness!  25
  Thus at least felt Little Billee, whose way it was to magnify and exaggerate all things under the subtle stimulus of sound, and the singing human voice had especially strange power to penetrate into his inmost depths—even the voice of man!  26
  And what voice but the deepest and gravest and grandest there is, can give worthy utterance to such a message as that,—the epitome, the abstract, the very essence of all collective humanity’s wisdom at its best!  27
 
 
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