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The Cripple
by [?]

The following adventure happened to me about 1882. I had just taken the train and settled down in a corner, hoping that I should be left alone, when the door suddenly opened again and I heard a voice say: “Take care, monsieur, we are just at a crossing; the step is very high.”

Another voice answered: “That’s all right, Laurent, I have a firm hold on the handle.”

Then a head appeared, and two hands seized the leather straps hanging on either side of the door and slowly pulled up an enormous body, whose feet striking on the step, sounded like two canes. When the man had hoisted his torso into the compartment I noticed, at the loose edge of his trousers, the end of a wooden leg, which was soon followed by its mate. A head appeared behind this traveller and asked; “Are you all right, monsieur?”

“Yes, my boy.”

“Then here are your packages and crutches.”

And a servant, who looked like an old soldier, climbed in, carrying in his arms a stack of bundles wrapped in black and yellow papers and carefully tied; he placed one after the other in the net over his master’s head. Then he said: “There, monsieur, that is all. There are five of them–the candy, the doll the drum, the gun, and the pate de foies gras.”

“Very well, my boy.”

“Thank you, Laurent; good health!”

The man closed the door and walked away, and I looked at my neighbor. He was about thirty-five, although his hair was almost white; he wore the ribbon of the Legion of Honor; he had a heavy mustache and was quite stout, with the stoutness of a strong and active man who is kept motionless on account of some infirmity. He wiped his brow, sighed, and, looking me full in the face, he asked: “Does smoking annoy you, monsieur?”

“No, monsieur.”

Surely I knew that eye, that voice, that face. But when and where had I seen them? I had certainly met that man, spoken to him, shaken his hand. That was a long, long time ago. It was lost in the haze wherein the mind seems to feel around blindly for memories and pursues them like fleeing phantoms without being able to seize them. He, too, was observing me, staring me out of countenance, with the persistence of a man who remembers slightly but not completely. Our eyes, embarrassed by this persistent contact, turned away; then, after a few minutes, drawn together again by the obscure and tenacious will of working memory, they met once more, and I said: “Monsieur, instead of staring at each other for an hour or so, would it not be better to try to discover where we have known each other?”

My neighbor answered graciously: “You are quite right, monsieur.”

I named myself: “I am Henri Bonclair, a magistrate.”

He hesitated for a few minutes; then, with the vague look and voice which accompany great mental tension, he said: “Oh, I remember perfectly. I met you twelve years ago, before the war, at the Poincels!”

“Yes, monsieur. Ah! Ah! You are Lieutenant Revaliere?”

“Yes. I was Captain Revaliere even up to the time when I lost my feet– both of them together from one cannon ball.”

Now that we knew each other’s identity we looked at each other again. I remembered perfectly the handsome, slender youth who led the cotillons with such frenzied agility and gracefulness that he had been nicknamed “the fury.” Going back into the dim, distant past, I recalled a story which I had heard and forgotten, one of those stories to which one listens but forgets, and which leave but a faint impression upon the memory.

There was something about love in it. Little by little the shadows cleared up, and the face of a young girl appeared before my eyes. Then her name struck me with the force of an explosion: Mademoiselle de Mandel. I remembered everything now. It was indeed a love story, but quite commonplace. The young girl loved this young man, and when I had met them there was already talk of the approaching wedding. The youth seemed to be very much in love, very happy.