" 'Why, madame,' said he, 'I am neither a surgeon nor a midwife.'
"She collapsed, but three or four years later she returned to the charge, still persisting in her inquiry, 'What did La Palferine mean to do?'
" 'Well, madame,' returned he, 'when the child is seven years old, an age at which a boy ought to pass out of women's hands'--an indication of entire agreement on the mother's part--'if the child is really mine'--another gesture of assent--'if there is a striking likeness, if he bids fair to be a gentleman, if I can recognize in him my turn of mind, and more particularly the Rusticoli air; then, oh--ah!'--a new movement from the matron--'on my word and honor, I will make him a cornet of--sugar-plums!'
"All this, if you will permit me to make use of the phraseology employed by M. Sainte-Beuve for his biographies of obscurities--all this, I repeat, is the playful and sprightly yet already somewhat decadent side of a strong race. It smacks rather of the Parc-aux-Cerfs than of the Hotel de Rambouillet. It is a race of the strong rather than of the sweet; I incline to lay a little debauchery to its charge, and more than I should wish in brilliant and generous natures; it is gallantry after the fashion of the Marechal de Richelieu, high spirits and frolic carried rather too far; perhaps we may see in it the /outrances/ of another age, the Eighteenth Century pushed to extremes; it harks back to the Musketeers; it is an exploit stolen from Champcenetz; nay, such light-hearted inconstancy takes us back to the festooned and ornate period of the old court of the Valois. In an age as moral as the present, we are bound to regard audacity of this kind sternly; still, at the same time that 'cornet of sugar-plums' may serve to warn young girls of the perils of lingering where fancies, more charming than chastened, come thickly from the first; on the rosy flowery unguarded slopes, where trespasses ripen into errors full of equivocal effervescence, into too palpitating issues. The anecdote puts La Palferine's genius before you in all its vivacity and completeness. He realizes Pascal's /entre-deux/, he comprehends the whole scale between tenderness and pitilessness, and, like Epaminondas, he is equally great in extremes. And not merely so, his epigram stamps the epoch; the /accoucheur/ is a modern innovation. All the refinements of modern civilization are summed up in the phrase. It is monumental."
"Look here, my dear Nathan, what farrago of nonsense is this?" asked the Marquise in bewilderment.
"Madame la Marquise," returned Nathan, "you do not know the value of these 'precious' phrases; I am talking Sainte-Beuve, the new kind of French.--I resume. Walking one day arm in arm with a friend along the boulevard, he was accosted by a ferocious creditor, who inquired:
" 'Are you thinking of me, sir?'
" 'Not the least in the world,' answered the Count.