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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897)

The Tartlets

From “Monday Tales”

ON that morning, which happened to be a Sunday morning, the pastry-cook Sureau, from the Rue Turenne, called his little baker’s boy, and said to him, “Here are the little tarts for M. Bonnicar. Take them to him and come back at once. It seems that the national troops have entered Paris.”

The little fellow, who knew nothing about politics, put the hot tarts into his tart-dish, wrapped the dish in a white napkin, and, placing the whole jauntily on his head, started off at a run for the Île Saint Louis, where M. Bonnicar lived. It was a magnificent morning, one of those sun-filled days of May that heap the fruiterer’s stands with bunches of lilacs and clusters of cherries. In spite of the distant boom of guns and the trumpet-calls at the street-corners, the old Marais quarter kept its peaceful aspect. There was a feeling of Sunday in the air, children playing at games in the open yards, big girls amusing themselves with battledore and shuttlecock before the houses, and this little white shadow that trotted along the empty street surrounded by a pleasant odor of warm tarts—all these things gave the morning an innocent and Sunday-like atmosphere. The whole life of the quarter seemed to have poured itself into the Rue Rivoli. Cannons were being dragged about there, barricades built, crowds were gathering, and busy national troops. But the little baker’s boy did not lose his head. These children are accustomed to walk amid the crowds and the uproar of the streets. For it is on festal days—New Year’s or Shrovetide—that they have to be about most. Nor do revolutions astonish them.

It was truly delightful to see the little white cap bobbing in and out among the military caps and bayonets, avoiding collisions, delicately balancing the load, moving now very rapidly, now with an enforced slowness in which one could see a great desire to run. What did the battle matter to him? The great thing was to arrive at M. Bonnicar’s on the stroke of twelve, and to pocket the little gratuity awaiting him on the table of the reception-room.

Suddenly there was a great pushing in the crowd, and the cadet corps of the Republic filed past, singing. Boys they were, of twelve or fourteen, dressed up in helmets, red belts, great boots, and as proud of this soldierly outfit as of the paper caps and lanterns with which they ran about the boulevards during the carnival. This time the little chap had great difficulty keeping his equilibrium through all the hustling; but he and his tart-dish had performed so many feats on pavement or ice, that the little tarts suffered from nothing worse than fright. Unhappily, this procession, these red belts, his admiration and curiosity, made the little boy want very much to accompany the delightful crowd. He passed the town hall and the bridges of the Île Saint Louis without noticing either, and found himself carried away in the whirl of that mad run to I don’t know where.

For at least twenty-five years it had been customary in the Bonnicar family to eat tartlets on Sunday. Precisely at noon, when the whole family, big and little, was assembled in the parlor, there would come a quick and merry ting-ting at the bell to inform everybody that the pastry-cook had arrived.

Then, with a noisy moving of chairs, a rustling of Sunday gowns, a settling of laughing children at the spread table, all these good folks would take their places round the little tarts, symmetrically arranged on a silver dish.

On this Sunday no ring of the bell was heard. Scandalized, M. Bonnicar looked at his clock, an old clock surmounted by a stuffed heron, a clock which had never in its life been too late or too early. The children yawned behind the window-panes, watching the corner which the baker’s boy usually came round. All conversation languished; and hunger, which increased with the twelve slow strokes of the clock, made the dining-room appear very large and sad in spite of the shining old silver on the damask cloth and the napkins folded into the shape of little stiff white horns.

Several times the old cook had come in and whispered into her master’s ear, “The roast’s burning! The sweet peas are overdone!” But M. Bonnicar had taken it into his head not to sit down to dinner without his little tarts. Furious at Sureau, he determined to go to see for himself what this unheard-of delay meant. As he walked out, swinging his cane and very angry, the neighbors warned him:

“Take care, M. Bonnicar. They say that the national troops have entered Paris.”

He would listen to nothing, not even to the firing which boomed from Neuilly along the river, not even to the cannonade at the town hall, which broke every window-pane in the quarter.

“Oh, that wretched Sureau—that Sureau!”

In his excitement he talked to himself, and saw himself already down there in the shop, striking the slabs with his cane, making the glasses and the plates of cakes tremble. The barricade at the bridge of Louis Philippe took all anger out of him. Communal troops, with fierce expressions on their faces, were resting in the sun on the uptorn pavement.

“Where are you going, citizen?”

The citizen explained his errand; but the story of the little tarts seemed so suspicious, and furthermore M. Bonnicar, with his handsome Sunday coat and his gold-rimmed eye-glasses, had all the appearance of a reactionary.

“That’s a spy,” said the communists; “he must be sent to the chief.”

And then four very willing men, who were not at all sorry to leave the barricade, drove the poor exasperated man before them at the butt ends of their guns. I don’t know how they managed it, but half an hour later they were caught up by the national troops, and were added to a long column of prisoners starting off for Versailles. M. Bonnicar protested more and more, raised his cane, and told his story for the hundredth time. Unhappily, this invention about some little tarts seemed so absurd and incredible in this tremendous upheaval that the officers only laughed at it.

The prisoners marched in close and compact ranks, five by five. To prevent the ranks from spreading, they were ordered to take each other’s arms; and this long troop of human beings made a patter on the road like a rain-storm.

The unhappy Bonnicar thought he was dreaming. Sweating, gasping, exhausted from fear and fatigue, he dragged himself along at the end of the column between two old fishwives who smelt of petroleum and brandy; and to hear him murmur “pastry-cook, tartlets,” words perpetually repeated in his cursings, one would have thought he had gone mad.

The truth is that the poor man had lost his head. Whether going uphill or down, or when the ranks loosened, he seemed to see below, in the whirl of dust that filled the empty spaces, the white jacket and cap of Sureau’s little messenger. He seemed to see them a hundred times. That little white flash passed before his eyes as if to torture him, and then disappeared in the crowd of uniforms, blouses, and rags.

Finally, at sunset, they arrived at Versailles; and when the crowd saw this old man with his eye-glasses, haggard and worn, his clothes all torn and dirty, everybody agreed that he must be a criminal. They said:

“That’s one of the leaders of the commune.”

The soldiers had great difficulty in getting him safe and sound into the courtyard of the palace. There the wretched prisoners could break ranks, stretch out, and take breath. Some fell asleep, some swore, some coughed, some wept. Bonnicar neither slept nor wept. Sitting on the edge of a stoop, holding his head in his hands, almost dead with hunger, with shame, with fear, he reviewed in his mind’s eye that unhappy day, saw his departure from home, his anxious family, his empty chair at the table waiting for him still. And then the humiliation, the insults, the blows he had endured—all on account of an unpunctual pastry-cook!

“M. Bonnicar, here are your tartlets,” said a voice near him at that moment; and the good man, raising his head, was astonished enough to see the little fellow from Sureau’s, who had been swept away by the cadet corps, and who now uncovered and presented to him the tart-dish hidden under a white napkin. And thus, in spite of riot and imprisonment, M. Bonnicar this Sunday, as every Sunday, ate his little tarts.