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My Double Life


love. But she loved after the manner of poor people, when she had time.
One day, as her hus band was ill, she went into the ?eld to help gather
in potatoes; the over-damp soil was rotting them, and there was no time
to be lost. She left me in charge of her husband, who was lying on his
Breton bedstead su?ering from a bad attack of lumbago. The good woman
had placed me in my high chair, and had been careful to put in the
wooden peg whic h supported the narrow table for my toys. She threw a
faggot in the grat e, and said to me in Breton language (until the age of
four I only understood Breton), ”Be a good girl, Milk Blossom.” That was
my only name at the time. When she had gone, I tried to withdraw the
wooden peg whic h she had taken so much trouble to put in place. Finally
I succeeded in pushing aside the little rampart. I wanted to reach the
ground, but–poor little me!–I fell into the ?re, which was burning
joyfully.
The screams of my foster-father, who could not move, brought in some
neighbours. I was thrown, all smoking, into a large pail of fres h milk.
My aunts were informed of what had happened: they communicated t he news
to my mother, and for the next four days that quiet part of the country
was ploughed by stage-coaches which arrived in rapid succession. My
aunts came from all parts of the world, and my mother, in the greatest
alarm, hastened from Brussels, with Baron Larrey, one of her friends,
who was a young doctor, just beginning to acquire celebrity, and a house
surgeon whom B aron Larrey had brought with him. I have been told since
that nothing was so painful to witness and yet so charming as my
mother’s despair. The doctor approved of the ”mask of butter,” which was
changed every two hours.
Dear Baron Larrey! I often saw him afterwards, and now and again we
shall meet him in the pages of my Memoirs. He used to tell me in such
charming fashion how those kind folks loved Milk Blossom. And he could
never refrain from laughing at the thought of that butter. There was
butter everywhere, he used to say: on the bedsteads, on the cupboards,
on the chairs, on the tables, hanging up on nails in bladders. A ll the
neighbours used to bring butter to make masks for Milk Blossom.
Mother, adorably beautiful, look ed like a Madonna, with her golden hair
and her eyes fringed with such long lashes that they made a shadow on
her cheeks when she looked down.
She distribut ed money on all sides. She would have given her golden
hair, her slender white ?ngers, her tiny feet, her life itself, in
order to save her child. And she was as sincere in her despair and her
love as in her unconscious forget fulness. Baron Larrey ret urned to
Paris, leaving my mother, Aunt Rosine, and the surgeon with me.
Forty-two days later, mother took back in triumph to Paris the nurse,
4
the foster-father, and me, and installed us in a little house at
Neuilly, on the banks of the Seine. I had not even a scar, it appears.
My skin was rather too bright a pink, but that was all. My mother, happy
and trustful once more, began to travel again, leaving me in care of my
aunts.
Two years were spent in the little garden at Neuilly, which was full of
horrible dahlias growing close toget her and coloured like wooden balls.
My aunts never came there. My mother used to send money, bon-bons, and
toys. The foster-father died, and my nurse married a concierge, who used
to pull open the door at 65 Rue de Provence.
Not knowing where to ?nd my mother, and not being able to write, my
nurse–wit hout telling any of my friends–took me with her to her new
abode.
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