The Brothers of Mademoiselle
MY NAME is Ferdinand Pouliot, and I engage myself in the grocery business in that beautiful village of Montville. My age is five-and-twenty years. I am a bachelor. There are two reasons. The first is Alphonse.
The second is Hippolyte.
They are the brothers of Mademoiselle Hortense. They are but children. They obtain medals at school for good conduct. They are twins. They are execrable. It is with deep feeling, mesdames ei messieurs, that 1 predict for them an unhappy and disgraceful end upon the gallows.
Have you a son? Is he neat? Is he tidy? Are his manners above reproach? Is he ambitious to be Prime Minister? Is he good to his mother? Does he obtain medals at school for good conduct? So! Then I say to you Watch that boy!
Keep an eye upon him.
In every boy. you comprehend, there is a certain amount of iniquity. It seethes. It bubbles. It simmers. And it must come out. mesdames el messieurs, or assuredly that boy will burst.
Make no mistake about this. When a boy is so good that he obtains prizes for it, be on your guard. Natural iniquity is seething inside that boy like the wine of the dandelion in a warm cellar and some day the cork will pop.
1 am prejudiced, you say; I am bitter. No doubt. I shall tell you about Alphonse. Ánd about Hippolyte. Those little
brothers of Mademoiselle. Those angelic cherubs. Those Brats!
I WAS IN LOVE, you comprehend, with Mademoiselle I Hortense Berard. She was—she still is—a blonde Canadienne with violet eyes. I need say no more. I was in a state of imbecility about that ravishing creature. Diligently I paid court to her; so diligently that my rivals quit the field in despair —all but one.
Jerome Latulippe was this solitary rival. A shrewd fellow, Latulippe.
W henever he called upon Mademoiselle Hortense he
"Ah! And how are those two remarkable twins?”
He would insist that Alphonse and Hippolyte be brought into the parlor that he might pat them on the head and enquire about their progress in school and bestow candy upon them. A shrewd fellow, I say. For he had been quick to realize that Mademoiselle Hortense was devoted to her angelic brothers.
One could not blame her.
They resembled each other precisely. Seven years of age they were. Their eyes were blue and of an innocence most touching. Their cheeks were pink. Their hair was like gold. It was parted in the middle, never tousled, never unbrushed, never uncombed. They were modest. They were polite. They did not speak unless one addressed oneself to
them. Never, I assure you, were there two children so closely resembling a pair of cherubs who had tumbled accidentally out of a cloud into a sinful world.
"Ah. mademoiselle,” that rogue Latulippe would say, "they are infants most phenomenal.”
You comprehend the situation. The sly rascal played upon her weakness, her devotion to those twins. Ánd mademoiselle would say:
"Your regard for my small brothers is very touching.”
"I should have a little family of my own.” he would reply. He would sit there, that red-faced rogue with his sandy hair that bristled from his skull like the stubble of a havfield. and he would sigh fondly as he regarded those admirable twins.
“You must call me Uncle Jerome.”
And the twins would bow.
"Yes, Uncle Jerome.”
He was. you comprehend, a formidable rival. I saw that I must win the favor of these twins if I was to win the favor of Mademoiselle Hortense, and I watched for an opportunity to offer itself. It came about in this manner.
I called upon mademoiselle one evening to find her consoling those two beautiful small boys, who were weeping most loudly. This was unusual.
“How now?” I said. “What is it that has happened?"
“It is on account of my aunt in Quebec City.” explained mademoiselle, while the twins howled in a duet most dismal.
“Your aunt, then, is ill?”
"But no,” she replied. “My aunt has invited Alphonse and Hippolyte to make her a visit.”
“They do not wish to visit your aunt? Is it that that is the reason why they cry?”
“You are stupid,” answered mademoiselle. It is difficult at times to comprehend the temper of a woman. Ah, you have discovered that? Well, then—
"It is impossible to allow them to go to Quebec City alone ” she said. “It is a long journey on the train. We can learn of no one in Montville who is going to Quebec City this week.”
And then, mesdames et messieurs, I was struck by the idea magnificent. I would do mademoiselle a great service. I would cause the twins to become devoted to me. I would steal a march upon that rogue Latulippe. I would accompany the twins to Quebec City.
"Mademoiselle Hortense,” I said, “I am overwhelmed with joy. This is a remarkable coincidence. I am going to Quebec City on business this very Thursday. Permit me to have the honor of conducting your little brothers there.”
It is necessary to confess that I made this offer upon impulse. I had not planned to go to Quebec City upon business and I foresaw that my employer, M. Dulac. might raise objections. Nevertheless, the opportunity had presented itself and I hastened to seize it by the nose. And great was my reward.
“Ferdinand!” cried mademoiselle. ‘"You are an angel!" Whereupon, in her gratitude and delight, she flung her warm arms about my neck and bestowed upon me a rapturous kiss that sent shivers of joy to my heels. Ah. ah. messieurs! You comprehend. Ecstasy most incredible. 1 whistle. My heart bounces. Such joy. But the recollection saddens me. Tears spurt from my eyes when I recall that enchanting moment.
IT IS UNFORTUNATE that I did not tumble off the steps I and break a leg when I departed from the home of mademoiselle that evening. The situation might have altered itself. But I did not break a leg, and next morning found me explaining to my employer, M. Dulac, that it was necessary for me to go to Quebec City.
"Impossible,” he said. “I cannot permit you to have a holiday. It is a busy season.”
"M. Dulac.” I said, “this is unavoidable. I must attend the funeral of my cousin in Quebec City. "
“I did not know you had a cousin in Quebec City.”
“I have no cousin in Quebec City now. A bull became annoyed at him. The funeral is tomorrow.”
And I brushed away a tear that did not exist.
"Life is short.” sighed M. Dulac. "One is here yesterday and one is gone the day after tomorrow. You mav go. But I do wish that fatal bull had waited until the slack season before he became annoyed at your cousin.
M. Dulac is an excellent man and I did not feel happy because it was necessary to tell him a falsehood. In the first place, you comprehend. I had no cousin in Quebec City. And in the second place, no bull had become annoyed at my cousin. But my purpose was achieved. 1 would accompany the little brothers of mademoiselle.
AT ^ station ONE O'CLOCK platform, and that there afternoon I found I Madame arrived Berard. at the Mademoiselle Hortense and those two twins, Alphonse and Hippolyte. They lookJ most virtuous; they had been scrubbed within an inch of their lives and they wore new clothes, each with a five-dollar bill pinned inside the underwear. I refer, you comprehend, to the twins.
"This is so kind of you. Ferdinand,” said Madame Berard.
"It is nothing.” I said.
"I am filled with gratitude,” said mademoiselle.
"It delights me to be of service.”
Then they fell to bestowing good advice upon those children.
"You must not sjieak to strangers.”
"If you become lost you must cling to each other and seek a policeman."
"You must not lean out the window of the train.”
“You must not forget to use your pocket handkerchiefs.” They were truthfully instructed that Quebec was a large citv and untruthfully told that it was a wicked city. They
were erroneously informed that small boys were frequently kidnapped and that they must guard against this. By the time the train arrived I believe those children expected to find all Quebec City people wearing horns and tails, capering around pits of fire and brimstone outside the Parliament Buildings. SÍ) much advice was freely bestowed upon us that one would imagine those twins wert imbeciles in charge of a halfwit and that we were all bound for the asylum together.
The train arrived. There was great confusion. Madame Berard wept. Mademoiselle wept. The twins were kissed. The twins were given more goixi advice. My heart swelled with joy when mademoiselle squeezed my hand. I felt, you comprehend, as if I were already a member of the family.
But finally we were away, and Madame Berard and mademoiselle, still shrieking gix>d advice, were left behind. The houses of Montville glided slowly past. The twins lurched meekly upon a seat facing me. 'I hey resembled one another as j)eas in a pod. And their blue eyes were fixed upon me intently.
“Well,” I said in a manner most friendly, “we are off at
They continued to stare at me. Then they lcx)ked at each other. They fell to staring at me again. They said nothing. I had the impression that they considered my remark lacking in originality.
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“Off on the big train,” I said.
They continued to stare. It was most uncomfortable.
“Off to Quebec City,” I explained in a feeble voice.
One of the twins sighed.
“We know it,” he said in a tired voice.
It was then, you comprehend, that doubt crept into my soul. I had a presentiment of catastrophe.
“Which of you,” I enquired, “is Alphonse?”
The twin nearest the window yawned.
“I am Alphonse.”
“And I,” piped the other, “am
“Alphonse and Hippolyte, eh?”
“That is what we said,” remarked Alphonse.
I perceived that it might be difficult to entertain these twins.
“I like M. Latulippe,” said Alphonse.
“I like him also,” said Hippolyte.
“But we do not like you,” observed Alphonse.
“If you are good boys,” I said, “I shall buy you some candy.”
“We don’t have to be good,” said Hippolyte. “We are not at home now.”
And he promptly stood up on the seat, leaped into the air and came down rapidly. “Look, Alphonse,” he cried. “I bounce!” “I,” said Alphonse, “will bounce higher.” And, leaping up and down, they began to bounce, crying aloud:
“We won’t be good! We won’t be good! We won’t be good !”
The cork, mesdames et messieurs, had popped.
JUMPING wildly upon the springs, those diabolical children contrived to knock the hat from the head of a stout woman who was sitting quietly in the seat immediately ahead. She turned, glaring at me:
“Sir!” said this woman. "Will you oblige me by commanding your children to cease?” I was a trifle hysterical perhaps, nevertheless the woman did look most comical with her hat down over one eye. I regret to say that I could not control a spasm of mirth. The twins also found her appearance most enjoyable.
“Madame,” said Alphonse—or perhaps it was Hippolyte—“you have a funny face.” And Hippolyte—or perhaps it was Alphonse began to chant:
“Oh, madame has a funny face, madame has a funny face . . . ”
Whereupon Alphonse—or perhaps it was Hippolyte—joined in, and they leaped up and down singing that abominable duet: “Oh, madame has a funny face, madame has a funny face ...”
The woman became crimson. She stuttered with wrath.
“It is an insult,” she choked. “You laugh! Ha!”
“Madame,” I said. “Permit me to explain—”
At this moment another face popped into view above the back of the seat. It was the round face of a small boy. A red-headed boy. A boy with long hair. A cross-eyed boy.
"My mamma,” he announced, “does not have a funny face.”
Hippolyte—or it may have been Alphonse —promptly pulled his hair. The cross-eyed boy squalled and smote Hippolyte—or Alphonse—upon the nose with his fist. Within two seconds the most frightful confusion prevailed. The twins plunged over the seat upon their victim. Hair-pulling, punching, scratching, gouging, kicking, bellowing screeching — ah, mesdames et messieurs. it was deplorable. It was indescribable. One cannot describe a dog-fight.
Never was there such an uproar. It was impossible to distinguish one boy from another. The woman with the funny face belabored them with an umbrella. A train officer with a basket of fruit and candy entered the coach, set aside his basket and vainly endeavored to separate the battling brats. Passengers stood up on the seats and
cheered. I was distracted. But at length the red-haired boy struggled free, fought his way into the aisle and departed rapidly, howling at the top of his lungs. He was closely pursued by one of the twins.
“Alphonse!” I shouted. “Come back, Hippolyte.”
But that small brother of mademoiselle paid no attention. Hard upon the trail of his enemy, he vanished into the next coach. I fled after him. My fellow passengers applauded me to the echo.
Great confusion prevailed in the next coach. It was as if a bombshell had exploded. The red-headed boy, screeching with terror, had plunged midway down the aisle, had scrambled up on top of a seat and had tried to take refuge in the baggage rack above. My twin had seized him by the foot and grimly set his teeth in the wretched lad’s ankle. Mon dieu! You may well imagine my embarrassment when it was necessary for me to pry that twin away and let it be known to the indignant passengers that he was in my care. I shook him. I confess it. I shook that bo> most thoroughly. 1 boxed his ears. There are moments when one’s natural emotions overcome one’s judgment and this was one of those moments.
“Wicked boy!” I exclaimed. “I shall report this business to your mother.”
I clung to his collar and endeavored to make peace with the red-headed boy, who was now huddled in the baggage rack, blubbering.
“Come down, my poor child. I beg of you. I shall protect you.”
"No!” said the red-headed boy. And he refused to come down. W'hen I finally departed from the coach he was still clinging to the baggage rack. The conductor and several passengers were poking at him with sticks and umbrella handles, but the opinion was freely expressed that it would be necessary to build a fire beneath him before he would be dislodged from his place of refuge.
MY CULPRIT said nothing as I escorted him back into the other coach. I kept a firm grip on his collar. He was in a dreadful and disreputable condition of untidiness. His fine clothes were tom, one stocking dragged about his shoe-top, he had suffered a black eye and his face was scratched. I was filled with dismay. Already I could hear the astonished remarks of his aunt in Quebec City.
“Miserable man !” raged the mother of the red-headed boy when I returned. “Where is my child? I shall report this to the railway. I shall bring a lawsuit. Your abominable children—”
“Madame!” I said. “I am sorry, but they are not my children.”
“Do not be sorry,” advised an old gentleman sitting near by. “On the contrary, you should be filled with gratitude. Already I have been converted to a belief in infant damnation.”
“But where is my boy?” shrieked the woman.
And then, with a shock resembling a kick in the stomach, I realized that the other twin had disappeared.
“Where is Hippolyte?” I roared.
“I am Hippolyte,” muttered the twin whom I still held by the scruff of the neck.
The door of the coach swung open with great violence. The train officer who sold fruit and candy plunged >n. His eyes were wild.
“Wrhere is that boy?” he demanded. “Wffiere is my basket?”
Mesdames et messieurs, I confess that at that moment I was overcome by a feeling of discouragement. My senses reeled. I felt a desire to be alone. But on one side was the mother of the red-headed boy, creating a great clamor. On the other side was the man of fruit and candy, demanding his basket. I cast Hippolyte into the nearest seat. “Let us search for Alphonse and the basket,” I said. And I stumbled into the next coach like a man bereft of his reason.
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Horror assailed me when I discovered that Alphonse was nowhere to be found. He had not been seen. 1 patiently endured the bitter complaints of the merchant of fruit and candy as lie (.railed me from coach to coach. He threatened me with arrest. His valuable basket iad been stolen.
‘‘Am I concerned about your basket?” I demanded. “You have lost a basket. What of that? 1 have lost a boy. He is not upon this train. He has tumbled off. Even now his mangled corpse may be lying on the tracks many miles behind. His mother will f)e annoyed with me.”
We searched the train to the very end. We did not lind that miserable Alphonse. Panic seized me.
''Mon dien!” 1 gasped. “A tragedy has occurred."
Sweat burst out upon my brow. 1 became feverish. I ran back through the coaches. 1 shouted, ‘‘Alphonse! Alphonse!” 1 demanded of the passengers if they had seen a small Ixiy with a large basket. I was frantic. Never would I lxable to face Mademoiselle Hortense again il 1 had jx-rmitted her small brother to fall off the train. 1 tore my hair in distress, found the conductor and implored him to search everywhere for that boy who had vanished as it by magic. I ran back toward the coach in which I had left Hippol yte.
The merchant of fruit and candy was close at my heels.
"If that boy has fallen off the train with my basket.” he said, "I shall have him arrested. It is a serious matter.”
‘‘May the devil take your basket!” 1 howled, as we stumbled into the vestibule. “Alphonse! Where are you. Alphonse?”
And then, almost at my feet, I caught sight of that unspeakable whelp, sitting calmly upon the steps of that train which was travelling at thirty miles an hour. The basket was by his side and he was feasting uix>n chocolate bars and apples while he regarded the scenery. Mesdames et messieurs, my heart jumped into my throat and threatened to strangle me. One step from the bottom he sat and one lurch of the train would have sent him to a dreadful doom.
“Ha!” yelped the train officer. “My
Alphonse looked up, his cheeks bulging, his face smeared with chocolate.
“Go away !” he squealed.
“Alphonse, my (ine lad,” I said gently, as I edged toward the top of the steps, ready to collar him and rescue him from his perilous position. “I have been looking for you. The gentleman desires his basket.”
"Go away!” said Alphonse again. He moved impatiently and my blood turned to water. ! - *
“Do not move, Alphonse!” I gulped. “I shall not harm you. Come up here, like a good fellow, and I shall buy you some candy.”
"Go away!" said Alphonse. “I have a basket of candy.”
Cautiously, I stretched forth my arm in the hope of seizing him, but Alphonse snatched an apple from the basket and hurled it at me, so I withdrew in haste. It was a delicate predicament. It was a deadlock.
“Fool that I am to undertake such a mission.” I groaned. “Those twins should have been sent to Quebec City in the baggage car.”
“In a cage,” said the man in uniform bitterly.
Just then, to my indescribable joy, the speed of the train decreased. Houses and streets came into view. W e were entering a town.
“Now. my fine fellow.” I said grimly.
NOW, WHEN THE TRAIN came to a stop Alphonse realized that justice had overtaken him, but he endeavored to escape capture by leaping to the platform and running into the depot, where I cornered him. My indignation, you comprehend, was great. ¡I beg of you. answer me truthfully; what wiould you have done? j Precisely. 1 did it.
I assure you that the rear of Alphonse was tingling when I dragged him forth, bawling at the top of his lungs, and hoisted him aboard the train. It was with a deep sigh of satisfaction that I returned to our seat in the first-class coach.
But there —
You have guessed it.
“Remain here!” I roared at the howling boy in a terrible voice as I thrust him into the seat. "Remain here while I go in search of that miserable wretch, Hippolyte.”
1 rushed from the coach even as the conductor cried aloud his warning that the train would commence immediately.
“One moment, sir, I beg of you," I cried. “It is impossible for me to proceed without 1 lip|x>lyte.”
And I hastened down the platform in search of that other twin. I searched here, I searched there. I implored the assistance of all within hearing. I ran to the end of the platform. 1 ran hack. The Ixffl of the engine was ringing and the conductor was shouting to me:
''Voilà!" he cried. “Your little son!” And he indicated a small figure at the distant end of the platform, engaged in argument with the engineer.
With a shout of triumph I hastened forward, ixjunced upon that little brother of mademoiselle, snatched him up despite his howl of rage and fled back toward the coach. I scrambled aboard with my captive under my arm and set him down in the vestibule just as the train began to move. My exertions had been tremendous and my breath came in gasps.
“I wish to drive with the engineer.” said the twin.
“Until we reach the City of Quebec,” I cried warmly, “you and your brother will behave yourselves.”
And then I suspected that anxiety and excitement had unbalanced my brain.
For, as the coach glided slowly past the depot, I spied the other twin. He came running out on to the platform, bawling like a forsaken calf. My eyes popped out of my head. I could not credit my senses.
“It is Hippolyte!” exclaimed the boy at my side. “He has missed the train.”
Mesdames et mesfâuh, there are moments when one must think so rapidly that sane reasoning is impossible. I understood that I had captured Alphonse twice, but I also understood that Hippolyte must not be left behind.
I struck the platform with great force. I stumbled, staggered and shot forward into a flower bed from which I picked myself up in a state of wrath, untidiness, humiliation and despair. And the first object upon which my eye rested was that imp, Hippolyte, who was weeping desolately.
“I desire to go to Quebec City with Alphonse.” he sobbed.
Now it is true that I had already spanked one boy, but my thirst for vengeance was unappeased and, although it is well known in Montville that I am a person of mild temperament. I am a demon when aroused. At this moment I was aroused.
“I shall give you reason for weeping,” I said, and attempted to collar him.
Hippolyte was too quick for me. With a bleat of terror, he wheeled about and fled.
I LIMPED in pursuit, having sustained an injury to my hip when I arrived in the flower bed, and in the doorway of the depot I discovered Hippolyte, cl.nging to the trousers of the station agent. Hippolyte was still howling.
"Have no fear, my brave little fellow,” that official was saying kindly. “Have no fear. I shall not permit the brute to harm
He was a large man, this station agent; a large man with a fat. stupid face.
“Are you not ashamed of yourself, sir?” he enquired with indignation. “What is it that this means? If you are so fond of fighting perhaps I may be able to accommodate you. It is disgraceful. It is deplorable. It is the privilege of a father to chastise his son. but nevertheless
‘‘Permit me to explain,” I said. “I am not the father of this boy. Allow me—”
“What is this?” he demanded with a frown. “You are not the father of this boy? Then, sir, what is it that you mean by assaulting him so dreadfully? Not five minutes ago, he fled from you into the depot. You captured him and gave him a beating. Now he comes to me for refuge. He tells me you desire to beat him again. Regard his condition ! He possesses a black eye. His face is scratched. His garments are tom. What sort of fiend are you, sir? You are drunk. You wallow in flower beds. You miss your train. And you have not even the excuse that this poor, battered, sobbing child is your own.”
“Sir!” I cried, dismayed by his lamentable interpretation of the affair. “I beg of you to permit me to explain that the child whom I spanked in the depot was not this boy but the other boy a boy resembling him, 1 admit, but nevertheless”
“You contradict me?” he bellowed. "1 saw "he affair with my own eyes. You spanked him upon the depot seat. Later 1 saw you pursuing him down the platform while the poor child fled from you in terror. Now you have missed your train and you are still endeavoring to beat this unhappy infant. Cruel, inhuman, drunken brute that you are—”
“Hold !” I cried. “No man speaks thus to Ferdinand Pouliot. I shall tweak your nose, sir! I desire that you telegraph at once to the next station and instruct the agent to remove the other boy from the train.”
But the fat dolt did not listen to my instructions. He had turned to an alarming shade of purple.
“You will tweak my nose?” he demanded. "You will tweak the nose of Gustave l’Hommedieu Trepannier? Ho! If there is tweaking to be done, permit me to make an example of my talents as a tweaker of noses.”
And, mesdames et messieurs, the imbecile tweaked my nose. >*/• !
It is, of course, an insult that cannot be overlooked. In a moment I had retaliated by stamping vigorously upon his toe.
He roared with fury and kicked me upon the shin.
Then I became indignant. I hurled myself upon him.
It is impossible for me to describe that frightful battle in detail. I recall the shrill cheers of Hippolyte, I recall the gasps and grunts of my opponent, I recall multitudes of stars . . .
But one might as well expect a description of his emotions from one who has fallen into a threshing machine. I. returned to my senses, you comprehend, to find myself in jail.
I BEG THAT YOU will forgive me if I skip I lightly over the subsequent events, for they are painful to recall and my heart is filled with bitterness. It is sufficient to explain that I had been cast into this village prison on the following charges:
Brutally beating an infant, of whom I was not the father.
Attempting to commit bodily harm upon the person of the station agent.
Disorderly conduct. J*
Committing damage to the property of the railway. (It appears that we broke a depot window.)
Picking flowers upon the property of the railway.
Suspicion of insanity.
Suspicion of kidnapping.
Spitting upon the railway platform. (That was when that brutal agent knocked out two bí.my teeth.)
And when I raged, when I threatened, when I stormed, when I begged, when I pleaded, when I implored of the chief of police that he send a telegram to Quebec City in order that Alphonse might be found, when I begged him to send a telegram to Madame Berard in Montville that she might indicate the truthful nature of my story what then?
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A telegram from Quebec City:
“No boy answering your description on afternoon train.”
A telegram from Madame Berard :
"Will arrive by next train.”
How characteristic of the female sex! Not a word that would be of assistance to me in my hour of need.
“You are doubtless a dangerous lunatic," observed the chief of police. “It is probable that you kidnapped that boy. Twenty years in the penitentiary would be a fitting punishment for such a diabolical character.”
My sufferings had been too great for flesh and blood to bear. I confess without shame that I burst into tears.
MADAME BERARD and Mademoiselle arrived by the next train. It is not necessary that I go into details. It is sufficient to say that Alphonse was discovered at the next station, that the charges against mé were withdrawn, and that I was set free with my character and reputation damaged beyond repair. As for Mademoiselle Hortense —let us not speak of her, I beg of you. Her
scom was overwhelming. My pen is inadequate. I shall say no more than that.
When this month is at an end I shall leave the employment of M. Dulac, at his request, but it is a matter of no regret to me. It is difficult to endure the laughter of Montville. It is particularly difficult to endure the quiet smiles of that dolt, Jerome Latulippe. He is engaged to marry Mademoiselle Hortense.
“Who would have thought,” he remarks, “that one man should have contrived to make such a deplorable muddle of the simple business of escorting those two angels to Quebec City?”
I have written this that the true facts of the affair may be revealed. But it is doubtful if Montville will believe me. The reputation of the twins is unblemished. Nevertheless I am not at all surprised that there has been an epidemic of fires in Quebec City within the past week, and that a steamboat has mysteriously foundered in the harbor. So far. the Citadel has not been blown up, but it is probable that the idea has not yet occurred to them. Ah, mesdames et messieurs, you comprehend that I no longer possess illusions as to the angelic characteristics of those little brothers of mademoiselle !