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HOME > Short Stories > 莫泊桑短篇小说集 > THE LEGION OF HONOR
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            HOW HE GOT THE LEGION OF HONOR From the time some people begin to talk they seem to have an overmastering desire or vocation1.
Ever since he was a child, M. Caillard had only had one idea in his head —to wear the ribbon of an order. When he was still quite a small boy he used to wear a zinc2 cross of the Legion of Honor pinned on his tunic3, just as other children wear a soldier's cap, and he took his mother's hand in the street with a proud air, sticking out his little chest with its red ribbon and metal star so that it might show to advantage.
His studies were not a success, and he failed in his examination for Bachelor of Arts; so, not knowing what to do, he married a pretty girl, as he had plenty of money of his own.
They lived in Paris, as many rich middle-class people do, mixing with their own particular set, and proud of knowing a deputy, who might perhaps be a minister some day, and counting two heads of departments among their friends.
But M. Caillard could not get rid of his one absorbing idea, and he felt constantly unhappy because he had not the right to wear a little bit of colored ribbon in his buttonhole.
When he met any men who were decorated on the boulevards, he looked at them askance, with intense jealousy4. Sometimes, when he had nothing to do in the afternoon, he would count them, and say to himself: “Just let me see how many I shall meet between the Madeleine and the Rue5 Drouot.”
Then he would walk slowly, looking at every coat with a practiced eye for the little bit of red ribbon, and when he had got to the end of his walk he always repeated the numbers aloud.
“Eight officers and seventeen knights6. As many as that! It is stupid to sow the cross broadcast in that fashion. I wonder how many I shall meet going back?”
And he returned slowly, unhappy when the crowd of passers-by interfered7 with his vision.
He knew the places where most were to be found. They swarmed8 in the Palais Royal. Fewer were seen in the Avenue de l'Opera than in the Rue de la Paix, while the right side of the boulevard was more frequented by them than the left.
They also seemed to prefer certain cafes and theatres. Whenever he saw a group of white-haired old gentlemen standing9 together in the middle of the pavement, interfering10 with the traffic, he used to say to himself:
“They are officers of the Legion of Honor,” and he felt inclined to take off his hat to them.
He had often remarked that the officers had a different bearing to the mere11 knights. They carried their head differently, and one felt that they enjoyed a higher official consideration and a more widely extended importance.
Sometimes, however, the worthy12 man would be seized with a furious hatred13 for every one who was decorated; he felt like a Socialist14 toward them.
Then, when he got home, excited at meeting so many crosses—just as a poor, hungry wretch15 might be on passing some dainty provision shop—he used to ask in a loud voice:
“When shall we get rid of this wretched government?”
And his wife would be surprised, and ask:
“What is the matter with you to-day?”
“I am indignant,” he replied, “at the injustice16 I see going on around us. Oh, the Communards were certainly right!”
After dinner he would go out again and look at the shops where the decorations were sold, and he examined all the emblems17 of various shapes and colors. He would have liked to possess them all, and to have walked gravely at the head of a procession, with his crush hat under his arm and his breast covered with decorations, radiant as a star, amid a buzz of admiring whispers and a hum of respect.
But, alas18! he had no right to wear any decoration whatever.
He used to say to himself: “It is really too difficult for any man to obtain the Legion of Honor unless he is some public functionary19. Suppose I try to be appointed an officer of the Academy!”
But he did not know how to set about it, and spoke20 on the subject to his wife, who was stupefied.
“Officer of the Academy! What have you done to deserve it?”
He got angry. “I know what I am talking about. I only want to know how to set about it. You are quite stupid at times.”
She smiled. “You are quite right. I don't understand anything about it.”
An idea struck him: “Suppose you were to speak to M. Rosselin, the deputy; he might be able to advise me. You understand I cannot broach21 the subject to him directly. It is rather difficult and delicate, but coming from you it might seem quite natural.”
Mme. Caillard did what he asked her, and M. Rosselin promised to speak to the minister about it; and then Caillard began to worry him, till the deputy told him he must make a formal application and put forward his claims.
“What were his charms?” he said. “He was not even a Bachelor of Arts.” However, he set to work and produced a pamphlet, with the title, “The People's Right to Instruction,” but he could not finish it for want of ideas.
He sought for easier subjects, and began several in succession. The first was, “The Instruction of Children by Means of the Eye.” He wanted gratuitous22 theatres to be established in every poor quarter of Paris for little children. Their parents were to take them there when they were quite young, and, by means of a magic lantern, all the notions of human knowledge were to be imparted to them. There were to be regular courses. The sight would educate the mind, while the pictures would remain imp............
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