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by [?]

The Meissonier lad’s collection of rabbits’ ears increased until he had nearly colors enough to run the chromatic scale. Then he collected pigeons’ wings in like manner, and if you have ever haunted French market-places you know how natural a thing this would be for a child. The boy’s mother took quite an interest in his amusements, and helped him to spread the wings out and arrange the tails fan-shape on the walls. They had long strings of buttons and boxes of spools in partnership; and when they would go up the Seine on little excursions on Sunday afternoons, they would bring back rich spoils in the way of swan feathers, butterflies, “snake-feeders” and tiny shells. Then once they found a bird’s nest, and as the mother bird had deserted it, they carried it home. That was a red-letter day, for the garret collection had increased to such an extent that a partition was made across the corner of a room by hanging up a strip of cloth. And all the things in that corner belonged to Ernest–his mother said so. Ernest’s mother seems to have had a fine, joyous, childlike nature, so she fully entered into the life of her boy. He wanted no other companion. In fact, this mother was little better herself than a child in years–she was only sixteen when she bore him. They lived at Lyons then, but three years later moved to Paris. Her temperament was poetic, religious, and her spirit had in it a touch of superstition–which is the case with all really excellent women.

But this sweet playtime was not for long–the mother died in Eighteen Hundred Twenty-five, aged twenty-four years.

I suppose there is no greater calamity that can befall a child than to lose his mother. Still, Nature is very kind, and for Ernest Meissonier there always remained firm, clear-cut memories of a slight, fair-haired woman, with large, open, gray eyes, who held him in her arms, sang to him, and rocked him to sleep each night as the darkness gathered. He lived over and over again those few sunshiny excursions up the river; and he knew all the reeds and flowers and birds she liked best, and the places where they had landed from the boat and lunched together were forever to him sacred spots.

But the death of his mother put a stop for a time to his collecting. The sturdy housekeeper who came to take the mother’s place, speedily cleared “the truck” out of the corner, and forbade the bringing of any more feathers and rabbits’ feet into her house–well, I guess so! The birds’ nests, long grasses, reeds, shells and pigeons’ wings were tossed straightway into the fireplace, and went soaring up the chimney in smoke.

The destruction of the collection didn’t kill the propensity to collect, however, any more than you can change a man’s opinions by burning his library. It only dampened the desire for a time. It broke out again after a few years and continued for considerably more than half a century. There was a house at Poissy “full to the roof-tiles” of books, marbles, bronzes and innumerable curios, gathered from every corner of the earth; and a palace at Paris filled in like manner, for which Ernest Meissonier had expended more than a million francs.

In the palace at Paris, when the owner was near his threescore years and ten, he took from a locker a morocco case, and opening it, showed his friend, Dumas, a long curl of yellow hair; and then he brought out a curious old white-silk dress, and said to the silent Dumas, “This curl was cut from my mother’s head after her death, and this dress was her wedding-gown.”

A few days after this Meissonier wrote these words in his journal: “It is the Twentieth of February–the morning of my seventieth birthday. What a long time to look back upon! This morning, at the hour when my mother gave me birth, I wished my first thoughts to be of her. Dear Mother, how often have the tears risen to my eyes at the remembrance of you! It was your absence–the longing I had for you–that made you so dear to me. The love of my heart goes out to you! Do you hear me, Mother, calling and crying for you? How sweet it must be to have a mother, I say to myself.”