Honoré Danglemond, a Parisian industrialist, was, physically, a man of good height and solid build, no more. He had married a Russian, who was also a “beautiful woman” without exaggeration, but whose father was a real giant.
Mme Danglemond had an unhappy childbirth which compromised her health for a long time: little Boris, when he was born, exceeded the size allowed for entry into the world. He was placed as a nurse in a mountain region where the breed was particularly robust. Despite the distance, we could easily see him with the car.
It began to grow so well with its foster children, that my faith, out of tenderness well understood, the parents resigned themselves to leaving it to them until its fifth year.
Indeed, Boris had the grandfather Ivan. Compared to children of the same age as himself, mountain dwellers already exceptional however, – he showed himself endowed with a prodigious natural vigor. He was not extraordinary in grandeur; its strength was distributed in all its members, in its loins, its shoulders, in the whole of its frame.
It happened that the nurturers took pleasure in developing this astonishing strength even further through exercise.
Yes, but what an exercise!
That of wrestling with kids much bigger and older than Boris was.
And lady, this continual use of brutal means did not go without a development of a correlative character.
Not all kids liked the battle game, or amateurs weren’t always willing to grapple with one another – in this case Boris was bothering them.
Besides, the fight did not always give him the pleasure of being the winner. He found his master: either an older brother thrashed him for having thrashed his younger son, – or several scamps gathered against him, – in which case he was amassing a grudge.
He became tyrannical, aggressive, and above all susceptible in the popular sense of the word: he saw only insults and provocations on all sides. The excessive development of the physical took place to the detriment of morale constrained to an elementary and misguided conception of things of self-esteem.
When his parents brought him back to Paris, he had an admirable face, Slavic from above, Parisian from below: blond hair, large light eyes, marked cheekbones, – and playfulness, sensuality, and bravery. in the nose, mouth and chin.
But he was actually a little brute of five, with a dangerous approach, whether he was in a moody mood or in a jovial mood. The efforts of a grown-up did not easily get the better of the grip of his hands – and everything was a pretext for hand games – even to be kind, even to stroke, he shoved, he threw his fist.
His manners caused surprise and indignation the first time he was brought into the presence of the children of the family. In the living room, he leaps around them like an animal, like a big stupid dog; there were torn clothes, broken furniture; he took the smiles, the gestures and the words of urbanity for invitations to the struggle: his cousins were in turn bruised and overthrown.
How to portray the desolation of parents?
It seemed that Boris would be pretty much incorrigible, for the peremptory reason that he did not understand the exhortations to peace. It was in vain that we put ourselves childishly within reach to explain that here in Paris, because of the lack of space and the fragility of things and people, we never used our strength – he did not understand .
Misunderstanding is a wall, a closed door before which the best skills fail.
Boris obeyed only his fighting instinct and the slightest gesture, however gentle, aroused this instinct. When he was reasoned so that he would passively endure the contact of other children, it was as if he had been urged to change his nature.
What desolation for the future!
M. Danglemond, enriched by industry, had dreamed that his son would gain another rank in society: that he would be an artist.
And not at all: he would be a bittern, an unintelligent, a mental inferior!
For M, Danglemond, the first and highest sign of intelligence, the sign of superiority, was: the refusal of violence by words and deeds.
In fact, he said, the more stupid, uneducated, rude people people are, the more they quarrel, the more easily they bump into each other. Look at the examples from the street, – see the drivers of vehicles baptizing themselves with all the synonyms of the word rot, – then “to jump on the bacon, to hook, to ham, to put on a mash.” ”
On the contrary, the individual is loath to war, as human matter becomes more refined, as it becomes imbued with spirituality.
The more one rises in the scale of beings, the more one finds in them patience, indulgence, the faculty of forgiveness. The echelons are only lastingly marked by philosophical goodness alone: the man of genius even lowers himself by brutality.
Certainly one must defend oneself, one must protect oneself at the cost of indispensable weapons – but what dose of reason, what dose of nobility, what dose of all the virtues is not needed to despise provocation, to dispense revenge?
So we had no chance of amending Boris by reasoning – only the action of life, the practice of life could soften him, subdue him, civilize him. The action of life results from permanent contact with numbers, from the need to come to an understanding with the collectivity, which all the same exceeds in force any individual force.
Parbleu! Boris was still kindergarten age, it was fitting to send him to the neighborhood school. We lived in Charonne where the childish population was not delicate. Boris could be let go among the kids used to roaming the streets, there was no fear of breakage, as with apartment children.
Well, boring stories happened, despite the logical forecast.
Complaints poured in to the headmistress: in the playground, the schoolchildren were being severely beaten by Boris. Torgnoles are allowed, – but there is a measure, a different code for the house, for the street, for the school.
At home, in the smallness of the bedrooms where the furniture often reflects the blows thrown at the kids, the parents are excusable for going too hard to dent. We don’t think about it, we use what we hold in our hands, – if it’s a pot spoon, it’s all good for the loupiot, – but lady, if it’s an iron … Finally, it concerns them parents, it is their business: if they damage their brats too much, they are free to mend them.
Screams from the street are tolerated as long as they do not give rise to intervention by the pharmacist, and as long as they are anonymous and after a copious scrum, we do not know exactly who to blame.
But at school, we make a severe distinction between the baths, the gaffers, the chestnuts. For example, we accept the bump and scratch, but we claim for the black eye and for the broken tooth. As we will support a torn apron sleeve, but we will moan for a panty leg less.
The headmistress was attacked morning and evening.
– Madame there is still your damn Boris who has completely blackened my poor child with blows, to the point that I don’t have a clean spot left on his skin, if I want to cap it for myself.
– Madam, Boris has flattened Uncle’s chest so much that he poisons my room with the plum stones, he claims he can’t swallow them anymore.
The headmistress ends up catching in turn, Mlle Victorine, the teacher of the grown-ups:
– Boris is your pupil, – it is up to you to reprimand him. You are responsible.
Miss Victorine, despite her age, in her thirties, did not offer the description of an old maid. Instead of being yellow, thin, surly, badly put together, – she had a colored face, rather plump, indulgent character and artistically dressed.
Tall, red-haired, of an indecisive type with Semitic lines, without being Jewish – she was not exactly pretty because of her rather thick features – however, if she did not hadn’t been careful, she would have caused a sensation in any environment.
His learned coquetry was of discretion and simplicity: fabrics not very dazzling and cuts which uncovered and accentuated the forms as little as possible.
You can guess: she obeyed the concern not to draw too much attention to her development as a grown woman, which was not legitimate in a girl.
She did not even show her fresh teeth by the too open laughter, that first and typical means of female exhibitionism.
It was said, with innuendo, – among colleagues, that she was protected by a political figure and that she would have rapid advancement.
Did she have, as one suggested, the normal existence of a well-constituted thirty-year-old? Did she agree with nature? This is quite likely, as she showed charity to the many irregular mothers who supplied the school, and she loved unhappy children.
Immediately, Boris, this indomitable privileged little one, required special educational attention from him.
She undertook to soften him with personal sentimental considerations:
– You’re really not nice to me, I didn’t do anything to you and you mess all my children. I like that they are not too dusty, not too cracked, or scratched, or dented, – and you, you make them eat the gravel of the yard which will soon be all pebbled, – you beat them against the chestnut tree which does not ‘will soon have more bark, – that annoys me a lot, because I like the chestnut tree too. Do you see me running Madam Headmistress and smashing her ass? Do you see me fighting with the other teachers, with Madame Gallon and Madame Portenard and tilting them upside down, legs in the air?
The reprimands were not without effect, like those of M. and Mme Danglemond. Boris did not understand precisely, he did not change precisely, – because he was not master of his strength; something new happened, however.
Mlle Victorine was “Mademoiselle” short; an authority, a prestige attached to this title; it made more imperious the magnetism which emanated from the serene and benevolent beauty.
It happened that certain words, certain inflections of voices, certain staring glances reached Boris’s sensitive fiber.
Mlle. Victorine saw light appear on her face, like fire bursting from the shocked stone in the right place.
Indeed, he began by perceiving the good feelings of Mademoiselle and by wanting to imitate them. But for that he does not depart from his brutality.
To be kind, he only knew how to offer what he had in his pockets – candies, toys, pictures, – but grabbing the comrade roughly, shaking him, thrusting the gift in his beak, in his paws. , in rags, so as to hurt him.
– Here, old man, it’s for you… you think it’s a catch… wait a bit, I’m going to give you a volley, until you see that it’s true, that I’m giving you all that I show you in my hand.
This imperfect result seemed decisive to Mlle. Victorine – no miracle is impossible as long as one can address the sensitivity of a child.
A miraculous inspiration made him promulgate this order of service: henceforth, at recess, Boris will remain in the part of the courtyard reserved for girls.
She explained to the interested parties of both sexes combined that it was not a question of punishment, but of a measure of public peace. Boris was too strong and too inclined to “do housework”, that is to say to beat his comrades like rugs, – it was not his fault, – but he made the boys’ already infernal games too wild: to the thief, – to the fire, to the derailment, – to the naval combat, to the match – “Carpentier”. The screams made everyone stop in front of the school …
– Particularly midwives – who believe that they are needed – observed Polyte, the most reasonable boy in the class, judiciously.
But Mademoiselle did not hear and continued her prayer: Boris would have to be calm when he took part in the girls’ games: the merchant, – the schoolmistress, the visits.
A not uncommon phenomenon of female psychology: it does not suit the girls that Boris abandons all brutality.
These young ladies play at not wanting to play with him.
– What are we kidding? he asks.
– Nothing, we don’t want to have fun with you.
And we pretend to taunt him, to challenge him, to flee. He is forced to continue and push.
He realizes that girls do not defend themselves in the same way as boys – they do not return punches, they have a smoother, faster and more sneaky response: they slap, claw .
Mademoiselle has said to him, – and repeats to him: hey over there! that one does not beat the girls, – he interprets, he notes: the blows with closed hands do not agree with those of the girls, – and then these blows there do not find enough surface, nor enough counterweight. And here is already a first roughing.
A child always has a favorite friend who attracts him more than others.
The comrade who ends up attracting Boris the most is Fifine – the aptly named one – a cute six-year-old, dark-haired, delicate in face and who deliciously reproduces, without her knowing it, the attitudes and facial expressions of Mademoiselle.
First of all, she was not one that Boris wanted to force to play; he was not paying attention to her, like too “brimborion” no doubt. She was the one who told him about her negligence:
– I’m very happy, I don’t play either and they leave me alone.
Boris didn’t hesitate to push her by the shoulder and shake her:
– You say that you don’t want to play either, but I am very fond of running after you and that you are trying to pull my hair.
But Boris is wrong; he mistakenly attributes to Fifine the kind of opposition of the other girls.
She resists without running away and without using her arms. She struggles by threatening contraction, by mimicry; his resistance is in his eyes, in his face:
– Leave me, big villain, – I don’t want those manners …
Boris, under these conditions, cannot shake Fifine much, he lets go of her to run towards other more aggressive adversaries – but he himself is astonished to give in like this, he says to himself all the same victorious:
– Here! that will teach you, another time, not to look at me, not to speak to me.
The other times, Fifine is planted in the courtyard, so as to be in the path, within Boris’s visual radius. And she stands out from other girls; she is the first in composition, she always has the cross tied with a garnet ribbon to her clean black apron, she has the serious air of Mademoiselle and her socks are never pulled down over her well-polished studded shoes.
Eyes above Boris’s head, she said impertinently:
– I look as if it was the chestnut tree.
Oddity. Boris takes her to task rather than the other girls who tease him:
– Mr. Boris is all alone, who does not know what to play.
Boris pushes Fifine roughly out of his way, but after hesitation and believing himself obliged to give a reason:
– You don’t need to be there, you don’t need to block my way.
Fifine always opposes the same defense: setbacks, contortions, tensions which express the refusal, the superior repulsion.
From one time to the next, Boris’ stampede is less brutal and less prolonged. Without understanding, he comes up against a force other than his own, than physical force.
He also gets less fierce after the other girls, – so the game of not wanting to play with Boris starts to lack charm, as long as he hardly hurts you by grabbing and stuffing you anymore.
We are thinking of resuming the real games specific to girls:
– How about playing the schoolteacher?
This proposal comes one day when Boris, faced with Fifine’s disdain, does not lay a hand on her, and only utters in a tone both threatening and uncertain, this immeasurable word:
– You know, you don’t scare me.
Miss Victorine, who has followed Boris’ development, records these words all the more admirable, all the more significant, as Boris, since his arrival at school, for a few months, has started to grow visibly and that ‘he looks like a real colossus next to the slender Fifine.
And Mademoiselle immediately hastens to give Madame Danglemond this dear assurance:
– I assure you, Madame, that your son will not be a bittern. He becomes sensitive to the other force : the non-material, the imponderable, the superior to all, and which takes different names according to the form in which it dominates in different individuals: intelligence, moral authority, nobility, kindness, beauty. Boris acquires the other force by the very fact that he undergoes its ascendancy: it is through intelligence that one is sensitive to intelligence, through personal gentleness that one is sensitive to the gentleness of intelligence. others, by self-control that we respect courageous patience.
And, after a while, here is a moving experience.
In the director’s office, which overlooks the courtyard, M. Danglemond himself, so worried about his son, attends a recess incognito.
The “schoolmistress” game.
This personality, in the children, is different from the real teacher – it derives above all from the mother and the women next to the girl who plays the part.
Of course, it’s Fifine the mistress. Her game is one of continual exhortation, and the game of the students squatting on the ground is, alas, to enrage her.
Of course Boris is the student we take care of the most.
Oh! he takes part in collective demonstrations which despair the mistress.
For example when “Madame” shouts: silence! he mingles his voice formidably with the unanimous song which breaks out in derision of this command.
But it must be observed in the particular pranks that make up the most important part of the game.
Yes, the real fun is there; among the children, it is who will show himself the most infernal, who will invent the worst tricks, who will use the best of his malignity and his bodily strength against Madame: all kinds of refusal of obedience, all kinds of attempts to escape which force Madame to lay hands on the delinquents, who, consequently, engage in all kinds of “rebiffs” and rebellions.
Now, if Boris is the pupil whose face expresses the most invention, he is the poorest performer.
He sticks out his tongue, he makes faces at Madame, he recites his lesson crookedly, adding incongruous words to it: “The Wolf and The Lamb, – hair on the back,” – he goes over there, when he is ordered: come here, – but he really takes too much care to spare the mistress when she goes after him, while lamenting: what an unbearable child! it will make me die of grief! ah! how tired I am! when are we going to make schools without children?
His physical rebellion is so derisory that the girls push him, excite him.
– Go there stronger than that! therefore stuff a tamper with Madame!
Finally they laugh at him:
– Ah! there there, he is stupid now Boris, he laughs, he does not dare …
What a moving observation!
– Huh! Sir, – underlines the director: “he doesn’t dare! Not only will he not be a boor, but he will be an artist, as you wish. He will have better than a normal, than a commendable sensitivity, he will have respect for the sensitivity of others, the concern not to abuse.
“Your colossus will have a special reserve for superior men, he will have the elegance of the strong: timidity.
“Do you know what is holding him back, what announces the future artist? He already perceives the deep feelings that others do not.
“The fact is that Fifine belongs to a very poor family overwhelmed with many children and that she lives among other poor families. She expresses, while playing, the misery, the eternal torments of the housewives of her race, she especially expresses the dedication, the feminine heroism.
“There is, in his face, in his intonation, a strange vibration of painful truth.
“See with what measure she realizes her irritation as a schoolmistress. See to what extent Boris resists her, fascinated, his eyes full of her, laughing with unconscious emotion.
“How these two elite actors react to each other.
“The game requires the teacher to touch the unbearable with a semblance of a slap. Boris’ cheek is not touched and yet it blushes!
“See: his strong arms only serve him to park his threatened head; brute force remains contained within them without going out.
“But see the other force !
The little girls’ clan stops making fun of the all too peaceful Boris. What, then, do they all admire of the elusive invisible, which nevertheless seems to radiate from him and reign over the world like the light of the sun?