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 It was nine o’clock. The little town of Vauchamp, dark and silent, had just retired1 to bed amid a chilly2 November rain. In the Rue3 des Recollets, one of the narrowest and most deserted4 streets of the district of Saint-Jean, a single window was still alight on the third floor of an old house, from whose damaged gutters6 torrents7 of water were falling into the street. Mme Burle was sitting up before a meager8 fire of vine stocks, while her little grandson Charles pored over his lessons by the pale light of a lamp.  
The apartment, rented at one hundred and sixty francs per annum, consisted of four large rooms which it was absolutely impossible to keep warm during the winter. Mme Burle slept in the largest chamber9, her son Captain and Quartermaster Burle occupying a somewhat smaller one overlooking the street, while little Charles had his iron cot at the farther end of a spacious10 drawing room with mildewed11 hangings, which was never used. The few pieces of furniture belonging to the captain and his mother, furniture of the massive style of the First Empire, dented12 and worn by continuous transit13 from one garrison14 town to another, almost disappeared from view beneath the lofty ceilings whence darkness fell. The flooring of red-colored tiles was cold and hard to the feet; before the chairs there were merely a few threadbare little rugs of poverty-stricken aspect, and athwart this desert all the winds of heaven blew through the disjointed doors and windows.
Near the fireplace sat Mme Burle, leaning back in her old yellow velvet15 armchair and watching the last vine branch smoke, with that stolid16, blank stare of the aged5 who live within themselves. She would sit thus for whole days together, with her tall figure, her long stern face and her thin lips that never smiled. The widow of a colonel who had died just as he was on the point of becoming a general, the mother of a captain whom she had followed even in his campaigns, she had acquired a military stiffness of bearing and formed for herself a code of honor, duty and patriotism17 which kept her rigid18, desiccated, as it were, by the stern application of discipline. She seldom, if ever, complained. When her son had become a widower19 after five years of married life she had undertaken the education of little Charles as a matter of course, performing her duties with the severity of a sergeant20 drilling recruits. She watched over the child, never tolerating the slightest waywardness or irregularity, but compelling him to sit up till midnight when his exercises were not finished, and sitting up herself until he had completed them. Under such implacable despotism Charles, whose constitution was delicate, grew up pale and thin, with beautiful eyes, inordinately21 large and clear, shining in his white, pinched face.
During the long hours of silence Mme Burle dwelt continuously upon one and the same idea: she had been disappointed in her son. This thought sufficed to occupy her mind, and under its influence she would live her whole life over again, from the birth of her son, whom she had pictured rising amid glory to the highest rank, till she came down to mean and narrow garrison life, the dull, monotonous22 existence of nowadays, that stranding23 in the post of a quartermaster, from which Burle would never rise and in which he seemed to sink more and more heavily. And yet his first efforts had filled her with pride, and she had hoped to see her dreams realized. Burle had only just left Saint-Cyr when he distinguished24 himself at the battle of Solferino, where he had captured a whole battery of the enemy’s artillery25 with merely a handful of men. For this feat26 he had won the cross; the papers had recorded his heroism27, and he had become known as one of the bravest soldiers in the army. But gradually the hero had grown stout28, embedded29 in flesh, timorous30, lazy and satisfied. In 1870, still a captain, he had been made a prisoner in the first encounter, and he returned from Germany quite furious, swearing that he would never be caught fighting again, for it was too absurd. Being prevented from leaving the army, as he was incapable31 of embracing any other profession, he applied32 for and obtained the position of captain quartermaster, “a kennel,” as he called it, “in which he would be left to kick the bucket in peace.” That day Mme Burle experienced a great internal disruption. She felt that it was all over, and she ever afterward33 preserved a rigid attitude with tightened34 lips.
A blast of wind shook the Rue des Recollets and drove the rain angrily against the windowpanes. The old lady lifted her eyes from the smoking vine roots now dying out, to make sure that Charles was not falling asleep over his Latin exercise. This lad, twelve years of age, had become the old lady’s supreme35 hope, the one human being in whom she centered her obstinate36 yearning37 for glory. At first she had hated him with all the loathing38 she had felt for his mother, a weak and pretty young lacemaker whom the captain had been foolish enough to marry when he found out that she would not listen to his passionate39 addresses on any other condition. Later on, when the mother had died and the father had begun to wallow in vice40, Mme Burle dreamed again in presence of that little ailing41 child whom she found it so hard to rear. She wanted to see him robust42, so that he might grow into the hero that Burle had declined to be, and for all her cold ruggedness43 she watched him anxiously, feeling his limbs and instilling44 courage into his soul. By degrees, blinded by her passionate desires, she imagined that she had at last found the man of the family. The boy, whose temperament45 was of a gentle, dreamy character, had a physical horror of soldiering, but as he lived in mortal dread46 of his grandmother and was extremely shy and submissive, he would echo all she said and resignedly express his intention of entering the army when he grew up.
Mme Burle observed that the exercise was not progressing. In fact, little Charles, overcome by the deafening47 noise of the storm, was dozing48, albeit49 his pen was between his fingers and his eyes were staring at the paper. The old lady at once struck the edge of the table with her bony hand; whereupon the lad started, opened his dictionary and hurriedly began to turn over the leaves. Then, still preserving silence, his grandmother drew the vine roots together on the hearth50 and unsuccessfully attempted to rekindle51 the fire.
At the time when she had still believed in her son she had sacrificed her small income, which he had squandered52 in pursuits she dared not investigate. Even now he drained the household; all its resources went to the streets, and it was through him that she lived in penury53, with empty rooms and cold kitchen. She never spoke54 to him of all those things, for with her sense of discipline he remained the master. Only at times she shuddered55 at the sudden fear that Burle might someday commit some foolish misdeed which would prevent Charles from entering the army.
She was rising up to fetch a fresh piece of wood in the kitchen when a fearful hurricane fell upon the house, making the doors rattle56, tearing off a shutter57 and whirling the water in the broken gutters like a spout
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