Claude Monet The Magpie

A winter of twelve years old Alexandre Dumas

During the 1814-1815 winter, Alexandre Dumas was 12 years old. Unbeknownst to his mother, he began hunting with a gun, around his village of Villers-Cotterêts.
Mr. Montagnon, a friend of the village, had given him a real shotgun rifle. It was a cane-rifle, the barrel of which was held in the hand, and the butt was put in one’s pocket. As soon as a bird appeared, the rifle was mounted, and its owner became a hunter. As soon as the hunter saw someone, the rifle was dismounted and one became a walker again.
In this best of all possible worlds, everything was for the best, in the private great alleys of the forest castle, which in winter were teeming with all kinds of birds and in whose alleys he was not allowed to hunt!

But one day in February, 1815, as the sun is shining on a thick carpet of snow, the little Alexandre Dumas is following a thrush fluttering from tree to tree, and he doesn’t perceive that he is himself followed.
He makes his cane a rifle and shoots the bird. He immediately hears these terrible words:
‘Ah! little scoundrel, I finally catch you!’
He turns, startled, and recognizes a gamekeeper named Creton, his hand extended towards the collar of his jacket. Alexandre makes a leap and is found ten steps from the gamekeeper.
‘You have not taken me yet!’ he shouts.
The gamekeeper Creton knew little Alexandre well; he had only to make a report. But his pride makes him run after the boy!
Alexandre Dumas runs, and jumps over a wide ditch: his legs were already long ...
Creton the gamekeeper wants to do the same; but he is already 50 years old. He falls into the ditch and sprains his ankle.

Alexandre Dumas returns to M. Montagnon's and tells him everything. The child is very afraid to go to prison. Matignon tells him that probably his rifle will be confiscated and that he will have to pay a fine of about 50 francs.
‘A fine of fifty francs!’ Alexandre is ready to cry. ‘They will ask my mother fifty francs? Oh my God! Oh my God!’
Alexandre comes back home, pathetic. His father was dead, and he lived alone with his mother over the tobacconist whose mother had obtained the concession and who made them live both poorly.
The teenager kisses his mother more affectionately than usual, and goes up to his room, his consciousness isn’t clear. From his window, he watches the village square to see if a policeman arrives to his house. Worse, Mr. Deviolaine, the severe cousin who had already scolded Alexandre several times for hunting on the private grounds of the castle, arrives.

Dumas quickly descends the stairs and escapes through the back door while Deviolaine enters through the front door. The boy runs to take refuge at Montagnon's, whence he can watch his house. Montagnon lived opposite the street!
The child sees his mother opening the window and looking in the street for her son Alexandre. M. Deviolaine, furious, goes away.
When night comes, Alexandre runs to another neighbor, Madame Darcourt, a kind woman, who loved him so much that she was at the disposal of his slightest whim.
Madame Darcourt goes to Madame Dumas to talk to her. Alexandre follows her from afar.
A quarter of an hour later, Madame Darcourt goes out with Madame Dumas, and calls the boy who approaches.

‘There you are, you, bad child?’ his mother said.
‘Come on, do not scold him,’ interrupted Madame Darcourt. ‘He is enough tormented.’
‘And, thank God, he must be,’ Madame Dumas says.
Alexandre utters a sad, deep sigh that shakes the stone jamb against which he is leaning.
‘Do you know that Mr. Deviolaine wants you to go to jail?’ Madame Dumas says to her son.
‘Oh, he's not allowed to make me go, mom!’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I know it.’
‘Yes, but he has the right to make you pay a fine.’
‘Ah, that's true,’ young Dumas says with a second sigh even more heartbreaking than the first one.
‘And this fine, who will pay it?’
‘Ah! poor mother, I know it will be you. But be quiet: when I earn money, I'll give you back your fifty francs, word of honor!’
His mother bursts out laughing.
‘Ah! you laugh, mother. Ah! There’s no fine and no prison!’
‘No, but on one condition, Alexandre.’
‘Which is?
‘You will have to go and tell Creton the gamekeeper that you are sorry for what has happened, and that you ask him for forgiveness.’
‘What?’ Madame Dumas exclaims. ‘Why?’
‘Because I cannot go and tell him that I'm sorry he sprained his ankle, mother, since I'm happy about it. It would be lying, and you forbid me to lie!’
‘But the report, the fifty francs!’ his mother says sadly with an intonation that deeply squeezes Alexander's heart.
The child was about to give in and ask for forgiveness when, unfortunately for his good intention, Madame Darcourt says to him:
‘I didn’t give you anything this year for your presents, did I?’
‘No, neither did Leonor.’
‘Neither did Leonor?’ She repeats. ‘Well, if you are condemned to pay the fifty francs, each of us will give you twenty-five.’
‘Thank you, Madame Darcourt. In this case, I run to Mr. Creton’s to tell him that it’s well done; that he has only what he deserves; that another time he won’t run after me; that …’
But Alexandre’s mother catches him by the arm:
‘Go home and go to bed!’
‘Never mind,’ little Dumas says. ‘Thank you, Madame Darcourt and thank Leonor, please. Good evening, all of you, I'm going to bed. I'm tired of running: it's amazing how it makes you feel sleepy.’
Alexandre Dumas ran to his room, delighted to be off so easily.

A few days later, on the 1st of March, at noon, in Gulf of Juan, Bonaparte landed and was marching on Paris. And the little affair of Alexandre Dumas the little poacher was forgotten.
©Gabrielle Dubois 2018

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