Oh, the savory odor of that cheese soup!

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Cheese Soup

(by Alphonse Daudet)

It was a little chamber in the fifth story, one of those attics where the rain beats straight upon the skylight; at the present hour, when night has come, such rooms seem to be lost, roof and all, in gloom and storm. And yet this chamber is pleasant, cozy, and upon entering it, one feels an indescribable sensation of comfort, which the gusts of wind without, and the torrents of rain dripping from the gutters only increase. You might almost believe yourself to be in a warm nest at the top of some tall tree. For the moment the nest is empty; its occupant is not there, but you feel sure he will soon return. Everything within seems to await his coming. Upon a smothered fire a little soup kettle is boiling tranquilly with a murmur of satisfaction. It keeps rather a late vigil, and although accustomed to that, judging by its sides browned through frequent contact with the flames, it becomes impatient now and then, and its cover rises, stirred by the steam; then a warm, appetizing whiff ascends, and permeates the whole chamber.

Oh! the delicious odor of cheese soup!

At times too the fire clears itself of cinders, which come tumbling down through the logs, while a tiny flame darts out its tongue from beneath, lighting the lower part of the room, as if making a tour of inspection to be assured that everything is in order. Ah, yes, order itself reigns there, and the master may return any moment he chooses. The Algerian curtains are drawn in front of the windows, and draped comfortably about the bed. There is the big arm chair spreading itself at full length in front of the fire; the table stands in one corner, the cloth spread, dishes set for one solitary diner, the lamp ready to be lighted, and beside the plate is a book, the companion of that lonely repast. And not only is the soup pot worn through frequent contact with the fire, but the flowers upon each dish are also faded, through repeated washings, and the book is worn at the edges. Age and long use have softened the appearance of all these well worn things. One feels too that this lodger is obliged to return very late each evening, and that it pleases him, when he enters, to find that little supper simmering away, perfuming and warming the chamber to which he returns.

Oh! the savory odor of cheese soup!

Observing the neatness of that bachelor apartment, I imagine that its tenant must be some employé, one of those beings whose devotion to the minutest details compels them to regulate all their living with the same punctuality with which they dispose of things official, and as methodically as they label each portfolio.

The extreme lateness of his return would seem to indicate that he is one of the night force in the postal or telegraph service. I fancy I see him, seated behind a grating, his half sleeves of lustrine drawn up to the elbow, his velvet calotte upon his head, while he sorts and stamps letters, winds the blue banderoles of despatches, the affairs of tomorrow.

But no--this is not his business. For, as it penetrates each recess of the chamber, the tiny flame of the hearth gleams upon large photographs hanging on the walls. Emerging from the shadow, framed in gold and magnificently draped, may be seen the Armenian governor, crowns, helmets, tiaras, and turbans, while beneath all these different headdresses there is always the ame head, erect and solemn, the head of the master of the place, the fortunate and lordly personage for whom that fragrant soup simmers away, bubbling gently upon the warm cinders.

Oh! the delicious odor of that cheese soup!

Ah, no! this is no employé of the post office. This is some emperor, a world master, one of those providential beings who on those evenings when the repertoire is given causes the roof of the Odéon to tremble, one who has merely to command, "Seize him, guards!" and the guards obey on the instant. At this present moment he is there in his palace, across the water. With buskined heels, his chlamys uupon his shoulder, he wanders beneath porticos, declaiming with portentous frown, wearing a wearied air through all his tragic tirades. And indeed it is dispiriting to play to empty benches. And the auditorium of the Odéon seems so vast, so cold, on the evening of a tragedy! Suddenly the emperor, half frozen beneath his purple, feels a warm thrill run through his body. His eye kindles, his nostrils dilate. for he is dreaming of the warm room to which he will return, the table set, the lamp ready to light, all his little belongings arranged in order, with that homely attention to trifles shown by the actor who in private life makes amends for stage extravagances and irregularities. He fancies himslef uncovering that soup pot and filling his flowered plate.

Oh, the savory odor of that cheese soup!

From that moment he is no longer the same man. The stiff folds of his chlamys, the marble stairs, the coldness of the porticos, these things vex him no longer. He becomes animated, hastens the play, precipitates the action. For what if his fire should go out! As the evening advances, the vision grows nearer, and puts new life into him. Miraculous! the Odéon itself seems to be thawing. The old habitués of the orchestra, aroused from their torpor, find this Marancourt truly magnificent, especially in the last scenes. And indeed, as the dénoûement approaches the decisive hour when the traitors are to be poniarded, and princesses to be married, the face of the emperor wears a beatific expression, an air of singular serenity. His stomach hollow with hunger after so many emotions and tirades, he fancies he is at home again, seated at his little table, and his glance wanders from Cinna to Maximus with a kindly and tender smile, as though already he saw those charming white threads which lengthen on the end of a spoon when cheese soup, after simmering properly, is just cooked and poured out piping hot.