The General's family lived on the first floor, and the Porter's family lived in the cellar. There was a vast distance between them - the whole first floor, as well as all the grades of society; but both families lived under the same roof, and their windows looked out in the same street and the same garden.
In this garden there was a blooming acacia - whenever it did bloom - and sometimes the smartly dressed nurse would sit under it with the still more smartly dressed child, the General's "Little Emilie."
The Porter's little son, with his dark hair and large brown eyes, used to dance barefoot before them; and the little girl would laugh and stretch her tiny hands out to him. And if the General saw this from his window he would nod down at them and say, "Charmant!" The General's wife, who was so young that she might almost have been her husband's daughter by an earlier marriage, never herself looked out into the yard; but she had given orders that the Porter's boy could play near her own child, but never touch it. And the nurse strictly carried out the lady's orders.
The sun shone in upon those who dwelt on the first floor and those who lived in the cellar. The acacia put out its blossoms, they fell away, and new ones came the next year. The tree bloomed, and the Porter's little son bloomed; he looked like a fresh tulip.
The General's little daughter grew to be a delicate child, as dainty as the rosy petal of the acacia blossom. Now she seldom sat under the tree, for she took the fresh air in a carriage, She went with her mother on drives, and always nodded to the Porter's son, George; yes, and even kissed her fingers toward him, till her mother told her she was now too grown-up for that.
One morning he had to bring the General some papers and mail that had been left in the Porter's room. He had mounted the staircase and was passing the door of the broom closet when he heard a peep from inside it. He thought perhaps it was a stray chicken chirping, but it was the General's little daughter, dressed in muslin and lace.
"Don't tell Papa and Mamma, for they would be angry!"
"What's the matter, little lady?" asked George.
"It's all burning everywhere!" she said. "It's in full blaze!"
George flung open the door to the little nursery, where the window curtain was nearly all burned; the curtain rod had caught fire and was flaming! Quickly he sprang forward, pulled it down, and called for help: without him the whole house would have caught fire.
The General and his wife questioned Little Emilie.
"I just took only one single match," she said, "and that lighted up and then the whole curtain lighted up! I spit to put out the fire; I spit all I could, but I didn't have enough spit, so I came out and hid, 'cause I knew Papa and Mamma would be angry!"
"Spit!" said the General. "What sort of word is that? "When did you ever hear your papa or your mamma talk of spitting? You must have learned that word downstairs!"
But little George received a penny. It didn't go to the candy store, but into his savings bank, and there were soon so many pennies there that he could buy himself a paintbox and color his drawings.
He had many of these drawings, for they seemed to come out of his very pencil and finger tips. He presented the first colored pictures to Little Emilie.
"Charmant!" said the General.
The General's wife admitted that it was quite clear what the little one meant in his pictures.
"There's genius in him!"
Those were the words the Porter's wife brought back down into the cellar.
The General and his lady were of the nobility; they had two coats of arms on their carriage, one for each of them. The lady had a crest worked on every piece of clothing, inside and outside, in her nightcap, and even on her night cover. This, her own coat of arms, was an expensive one, bought by her father for bright dollars, for he hadn't been born with it, and neither had she.
She had come into the world seven years before the crest, a fact that was remembered by most people, though forgotten by the family. The General's coat of arms was old and large; one's back might well creak with dignity of this one alone, to say nothing of the two of them. And there was indeed a creaking in the lady's back when she drove stiff and stately to the court balls.