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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Barty Josselin at School
By George du Maurier (1834–1896)
 
From ‘The Martian’

INDEED, even from his early boyhood, he was the most extraordinarily gifted creature I have ever known, or even heard of; a kind of spontaneous humorous Crichton to whom all things came easily—and life itself as an uncommonly good joke. During that summer term of 1847 I did not see very much of him. He was in the class below mine, and took up with Laferté and little Bussy-Rabutin, who were first-rate boys, and laughed at everything he said, and worshiped him. So did everybody else, sooner or later; indeed, it soon became evident that he was a most exceptional little person.  1
  In the first place, his beauty was absolutely angelic, as will be readily believed by all who have known him since. The mere sight of him as a boy made people pity his father and mother for being dead!  2
  Then he had a charming gift of singing little French and English ditties, comic or touching, with his delightful fresh young pipe, and accompanying himself quite nicely on either piano or guitar without really knowing a note of music. Then he could draw caricatures that we boys thought inimitable, much funnier than Cham’s or Bertall’s or Gavarni’s, and collected and treasured up. I have dozens of them now—they make me laugh still, and bring back memories of which the charm is indescribable; and their pathos to me!  3
  And then how funny he was himself, without effort, and with a fun that never failed! He was a born buffoon of the graceful kind,—more whelp or kitten than monkey—ever playing the fool, in and out of season, but somehow always apropos; and French boys love a boy for that more than anything else; or did in those days.
*        *        *        *        *
  4
  His constitution, inherited from a long line of frugal seafaring Norman ancestors (not to mention another long line of well-fed, well-bred Yorkshire squires), was magnificent. His spirits never failed. He could see the satellites of Jupiter with the naked eye; this was often tested by M. Dumollard, maître de mathématiques (et de cosmographie), who had a telescope, which, with a little good-will on the gazer’s part, made Jupiter look as big as the moon, and its moons like stars of the first magnitude.  5
  His sense of hearing was also exceptionally keen. He could hear a watch tick in the next room, and perceive very high sounds to which ordinary human ears are deaf (this was found out later); and when we played blindman’s buff on a rainy day, he could, blindfolded, tell every boy he caught hold of—not by feeling him all over like the rest of us, but by the mere smell of his hair, or his hands, or his blouse! No wonder he was so much more alive than the rest of us! According to the amiable, modest, polite, delicately humorous, and ever tolerant and considerate Professor Max Nordau, this perfection of the olfactory sense proclaims poor Barty a degenerate! I only wish there were a few more like him, and that I were a little more like him myself!  6
  By the way, how proud young Germany must feel of its enlightened Max, and how fond of him, to be sure! Mes compliments!  7
  But the most astounding thing of all (it seems incredible, but all the world knows it by this time, and it will be accounted for later on) is that at certain times and seasons Barty knew by an infallible instinct where the north was, to a point. Most of my readers will remember his extraordinary evidence as a witness in the “Rangoon” trial, and how this power was tested in open court, and how important were the issues involved, and how he refused to give any explanation of a gift so extraordinary.  8
  It was often tried at school by blindfolding him, and turning him round and round till he was giddy, and asking him to point out where the North Pole was, or the North Star, and seven or eight times out of ten the answer was unerringly right. When he failed, he knew beforehand that for the time being he had lost the power, but could never say why. Little Doctor Larcher could never get over his surprise at this strange phenomenon, nor explain it; and often brought some scientific friend from Paris to test it, who was equally nonplussed.  9
  When cross-examined, Barty would merely say:—  10
  “Quelquefois je sais—quelquefois je ne sais pas—mais quand je sais, je sais, et il n’y pas à s’y tromper!”  11
  Indeed, on one occasion that I remember well a very strange thing happened; he not only pointed out the north with absolute accuracy, as he stood carefully blindfolded in the gymnastic ground, after having been turned and twisted again and again—but still blindfolded, he vaulted the wire fence and ran round to the refectory door, which served as the home at rounders, all of us following; and there he danced a surprising dance of his own invention, that he called ‘La Paladine,’ the most humorously graceful and grotesque exhibition I ever saw; and then, taking a ball out of his pocket, he shouted, “À l’amandier!” and threw the ball. Straight and swift it flew, and hit the almond tree, which was quite twenty yards off; and after this he ran round the yard from base to base, as at “la balle au camp,” till he reached the camp again.  12
  “If ever he goes blind,” said the wondering M. Mérovée, “he’ll never need a dog to lead him about.”  13
  “He must have some special friend above!” said Madame Germain (Mérovée’s sister, who was looking on).  14
  Prophetic words! I have never forgotten them, nor the tear that glistened in each of her kind eyes as she spoke. She was a deeply religious and very emotional person, and loved Barty almost as if he were a child of her own.  15
  Such women have strange intuitions.  16
  Barty was often asked to repeat this astonishing performance before skeptical people—parents of boys, visitors, etc.—who had been told of it, and who believed he could not have been properly blindfolded; but he could never be induced to do so.  17
  There was no mistake about the blindfolding—I helped in it myself; and he afterwards told me the whole thing was “aussi simple que bonjour” if once he felt the north—for then, with his back to the refectory door, he knew exactly the position and distance of every tree from where he was.  18
  “It’s all nonsense about my going blind and being able to do without a dog,” he added; “I should be just as helpless as any other blind man, unless I was in a place I knew as well as my own pocket—like this play-ground! Besides, I shan’t go blind; nothing will ever happen to my eyes—they’re the strongest and best in the whole school!”  19
  He said this exultingly, dilating his nostrils and chest; and looked proudly up and around, like Ajax defying the lightning.  20
  “But what do you feel when you feel the north, Barty—a kind of tingling?” I asked.  21
  “Oh—I feel where it is—as if I’d got a mariner’s compass trembling inside my stomach—and as if I wasn’t afraid of anybody or anything in the world—as if I could go and have my head chopped off and not care a fig.”  22
  “Ah, well—I can’t make it out—I give it up,” I exclaimed.  23
  “So do I,” exclaims Barty.  24
  “But tell me, Barty,” I whispered—“have you—have you really got a—a—special friend above?”  25
  “Ask no questions and you’ll get no lies,” said Barty, and winked at me one eye after the other—and went about his business, and I about mine.  26
 
 
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