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Chapter 23

1849.


THE JARDIN D'HIVER.

FEBRUARY, 1849.

In February, 1849, in the midst of the prevailing sorrow
and terror, fetes were given. People danced to help the
poor. While the cannon with which the rioters were
threatened on January 29, were, so to speak, still trained
ready for firing, a charity ball attracted all Paris to the
Jardin d'Hiver.

This is what the Jardin d'Hiver was like:

A poet had pictured it in a word: "They have put summer
under a glass case!" It was an immense iron cage
with two naves forming a cross, as large as four or five
cathedrals and covered with glass. Entrance to it was
through a gallery of wood decorated with carpets and
tapestry.

On entering, the eyes were at first dazzled by a flood of
light. In the light all sorts of magnificent flowers, and
strange trees with the foliage and altitudes of the tropics,
could be seen. Banana trees, palm trees, cedars, great leaves,
enormous thorns, and queer branches twisted and mingled
as in a virgin forest. The forest alone was virgin there,
however. The prettiest women and the most beautiful
girls of Paris whirled in this illumination ~a giorno~ like a
swarm of bees in a ray of sunshine.

Above this gaily dressed throng was an immense resplendent
chandelier of brass, or rather a great tree of gold
and flame turned upside down which seemed to have its
roots in the glass roof, and whose sparkling leaves hung
over the crowd. A vast ring of candelabra, torch-holders
and girandoles shone round the chandelier, like the
constellations round the sun. A resounding orchestra perched
high in a gallery made the glass panes rattle harmoniously.

But what made the Jardin d'Hiver unique was that
beyond this vestibule of light and music and noise, through
which one gazed as through a vague and dazzling veil, a
sort of immense and tenebrous arch, a grotto of shadow
and mystery, could be discerned. This grotto in which
were big trees, a copse threaded with paths and clearings,
and a fountain that showered its water-diamonds in sparkling
spray, was simply the end of the garden. Red dots
that resembled oranges of fire shone here and there amid
the foliage. It was all like a dream. The lanterns in the
copse, when one approached them, became great luminous
tulips mingled with real camellias and roses.

One seated one's self on a garden seat with one's feet in
the grass and moss, and one felt the warmth arising from a
heat-grating beneath this grass and this moss; one happened
upon an immense fireplace in which half the trunk
of a tree was burning, in proximity to a clump of bushes
shivering in the rain of a fountain. There were lamps
amid the flowers and carpets in the alleys. Among the
trees were satyrs, nude nymphs, hydras, all kinds of groups
and statues which, like the place itself, had something
impossible and living about them.

What were people doing at this ball? They danced a
little, made love a little, and above all talked politics.

There were about fifty Representatives present that evening.
The negro Representative Louisy Mathieu, in white
gloves, was accompanied by the negrophile Representative
Schoelcher in black gloves. People said: "O fraternity!
they have exchanged hands!"

Politicians leaning against the mantels announced the
approaching appearance of a sheet entitled the "Aristo," a
reactionary paper. The Brea affair,* which was being
tried at that very moment, was discussed. What particularly
struck these grave men in this sinister affair was that
among the witnesses was an ironmonger named "Lenclume"
and a locksmith named "Laclef."

* General Bréa was assassinated on June 25, 1848, while parleying
with the insurgents at the Barriêre de Fontainebleau.

Such are the trivial things men bring into the events of God.


Victor Hugo