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Title: Germinie Lacerteux
Author: Goncourt, Edmond de, 1822-1896, Goncourt, Jules de, 1830-1870
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                      CHEFS D'OEUVRE
                            DU
                    ROMAN CONTEMPORAIN

                         REALISTS



[Illustration: Chapter XXI

_Jupillon was a true Parisian: he loved to fish with a pole and line._

_And when summer came they stayed there all day, at the foot of the
garden, on the bank of the stream--Jupillon on a laundry board resting
on two stakes, pole in hand, and Germinie sitting, with the child in her
skirts, under the medlar tree that overhung the stream._]



                       BIBLIOTHÈQUE
                    DES CHEFS-D'OEUVRE
                         DU ROMAN
                       CONTEMPORAIN



                   _GERMINIE LACERTEUX_



               EDMOND AND JULES DE GONCOURT


              PRINTED FOR SUBSCRIBERS ONLY BY
             GEORGE BARRIE & SONS, PHILADELPHIA



                    GERMINIE LACERTEUX



PREFACE TO FIRST EDITION


We must ask pardon of the public for offering it this book, and give it
due warning of what it will find therein.

The public loves fictitious novels! this is a true novel.

It loves books which make a pretence of introducing their readers to
fashionable society: this book deals with the life of the street.

It loves little indecent books, memoirs of courtesans, alcove
confessions, erotic obscenity, the scandal tucked away in pictures in a
bookseller's shop window: that which is contained in the following pages
is rigidly clean and pure. Do not expect the photograph of Pleasure
_décolletée_: the following study is the clinic of Love.

Again, the public loves to read pleasant, soothing stories, adventures
that end happily, imaginative works that disturb neither its digestion
nor its peace of mind: this book furnishes entertainment of a
melancholy, violent sort calculated to disarrange the habits and injure
the health of the public.

Why then have we written it? For no other purpose than to annoy the
public and offend its tastes?

By no means.

Living as we do in the nineteenth century, in an age of universal
suffrage, of democracy, of liberalism, we asked ourselves the question
whether what are called "the lower classes" had no rights in the novel;
if that world beneath a world, the common people, must needs remain
subject to the literary interdict, and helpless against the contempt of
authors who have hitherto said no word to imply that the common people
possess a heart and soul. We asked ourselves whether, in these days of
equality in which we live, there are classes unworthy the notice of the
author and the reader, misfortunes too lowly, dramas too foul-mouthed,
catastrophes too commonplace in the terror they inspire. We were curious
to know if that conventional symbol of a forgotten literature, of a
vanished society, Tragedy, is definitely dead; if, in a country where
castes no longer exist and aristocracy has no legal status, the miseries
of the lowly and the poor would appeal to public interest, emotion,
compassion, as forcibly as the miseries of the great and the rich; if,
in a word, the tears that are shed in low life have the same power to
cause tears to flow as the tears shed in high life.

These thoughts led us to venture upon the humble tale, _Soeur
Philomène_, in 1861; they lead us to put forth _Germinie Lacerteux_
to-day.

Now, let the book be spoken slightingly of; it matters little. At this
day, when the sphere of the Novel is broadening and expanding, when it
is beginning to be the serious, impassioned, living form of literary
study and social investigation, when it is becoming, by virtue of
analysis and psychological research, the true History of contemporary
morals, when the novel has taken its place among the necessary elements
of knowledge, it may properly demand its liberty and freedom of speech.
And to encourage it in the search for Art and Truth, to authorize it to
disclose misery and suffering which it is not well for the fortunate
people of Paris to forget, and to show to people of fashion what the
Sisters of Charity have the courage to see for themselves, what the
queens of old compelled their children to touch with their eyes in the
hospitals: the visible, palpitating human suffering that teaches
charity; to confirm the novel in the practice of that religion which the
last century called by the vast and far-reaching name, _Humanity_:--it
needs no other warrant than the consciousness that that is its right.

_Paris, October, 1864._



SECOND PREFACE

PREPARED FOR A POSTHUMOUS EDITION OF GERMINIE LACERTEUX


_July 22, 1862._--The disease is gradually doing its work of destruction
in our poor Rose. It is as if the immaterial manifestations of life that
formerly emanated from her body were dying one by one. Her face is
entirely changed. Her expression is not the same, her gestures are not
the same; and she seems to me as if she were putting off every day more
and more of that something, humanly speaking indefinable, which makes
the personality of a living being. Disease, before making an end of its
victim, introduces into his body something strange, unfamiliar,
something that is _not he_, makes of him a new being, so to speak, in
whom we must seek to find the former being--he, whose joyous,
affectionate features have already ceased to exist.

_July 31._--Doctor Simon is to tell me very soon whether our dear old
Rose will live or die. I am waiting to hear his ring, which to me, is
equivalent to that of a jury at the assizes, announcing their return to
the court room with their verdict. "It is all over, there is no hope, it
is simply a question of time. The disease has progressed very rapidly.
One lung is entirely gone and the other substantially." And we must
return to the invalid, restore her serenity with a smile, give her
reason to hope for convalescence in every line of our faces. Then we
feel an unconquerable longing to rush from the room and from the poor
creature. We leave the house, we wander at random through the streets;
at last, overdone with fatigue, we sit down at a table in a café. We
mechanically take up a copy of _L'Illustration_ and our eyes fall at
once upon the solution of its last riddle: _Against death, there is no
appeal!_

_Monday, August 11._--The disease of the lungs is complicated with
peritonitis. She has terrible pains in the bowels, she cannot move
without assistance, she cannot lie on her back or her left side. In
God's name, is not death enough? must she also endure suffering, aye,
torture, as the final implacable breaking-up of the human organism? And
she suffers thus, poor wretch! in one of the servant's rooms, where the
sun, shining in through a window in the sloping roof, makes the air as
stifling as in a hothouse, and where there is so little room that the
doctor has to put his hat on the bed. We struggled to the last to keep
her, but finally we had to make up our minds to let her go away. She was
unwilling to go to Maison Dubois, where we proposed to take her; it
seems that twenty-five years ago, when she first came to us, she went
there to see the nurse in charge of Edmond, who died there, and so that
particular hospital represents to her the place where people die. I am
waiting for Simon who is to bring her a permit to go to Lariboisière.
She passed almost a good night. She is all ready, in high spirits, in
fact. We have covered everything up from her as well as we could. She
longs to be gone. She is in a great hurry. She feels that she is going
to get well there. At two o'clock Simon arrives: "Here it is, all
right." She refuses to have a litter: "I should think I was dead!" she
says. She is dressed. As soon as she leaves her bed, all the signs of
life to be seen upon her face disappear. It is as if the earth had risen
under her skin. She comes down into our apartments. Sitting in the
dining-room, with a trembling hand, the knuckles of which knock against
one another, she draws her stockings on over a pair of legs like
broomsticks, consumptive legs. Then, for a long moment, she looks about
at the familiar objects with dying eyes that seem desirous to take away
with them the memory of the places they are leaving--and the door of the
apartment closes upon her with a noise as of farewell. She reaches the
foot of the stairs, where she rests for an instant on a chair. The
concierge, in a bantering tone, assures her that she will be well in six
weeks. She bows and says "yes," an inaudible "yes." The cab drives up to
the door. She rests her hand on the concierge's wife. I hold her
against the pillow she has behind her back. With wide open, vacant eyes
she vaguely watches the houses pass, but she does not speak. At the door
of the hospital she tries to alight without assistance. "Can you walk so
far?" the concierge asks. She makes an affirmative gesture and walks on.
Really I cannot imagine where she procured the strength to walk as she
does. Here we are at last in the great hall, a high, cold, bare, clean
place with a litter standing, all ready for use, in the centre. I seat
her in a straw armchair by a door with a glazed wicket. A young man
opens the wicket, asks my name and age and writes busily for quarter of
an hour, covering ten or more sheets of paper with a religious figure at
the head. At last, everything is ready, and I embrace her. A boy takes
one arm, the housekeeper the other.--After that, I saw nothing more.

_Thursday, August 14._--We have been to Lariboisière. We found Rose
quiet, hopeful, talking of her approaching discharge--in three weeks at
most,--and so free from all thought of death that she told us of a
furious love scene that took place yesterday between a woman in the bed
next hers and a brother of the Christian schools, who was there again
to-day. Poor Rose is death, but death engrossed with life. Near her bed
was a young woman, whose husband, a mechanic, had come to see her. "You
see, as soon as I can walk, I shall walk about the garden so much that
they'll have to send me home!" she said. And the mother in her added:
"Does the child ask for me sometimes?"

"Sometimes, oh! yes," the man replied.

_Saturday, August 16._--This morning, at ten o'clock, someone rings the
bell. I hear a colloquy at the door between the housekeeper and the
concierge. The door opens, the concierge enters with a letter. I take
the letter; it bears the stamp of Lariboisière. Rose died this morning
at seven o'clock.

Poor girl! So it is all over! I knew that she was doomed; but she was so
animated, so cheerful, almost happy, when we saw her Thursday! And here
we are both walking up and down the salon, filled with the thought that
a fellow-creature's death inspires: We shall never see her again!--an
instinctive thought that recurs incessantly within you. What a void!
what a gap in our household! A habit, an attachment of twenty-five years
growth, a girl who knew our whole lives and opened our letters in our
absence, and to whom we told all our business. When I was a bit of a boy
I trundled my hoop with her, and she bought me apple-tarts with her own
money, when we went to walk. She would sit up for Edmond till morning,
to open the door for him, when he went to the Bal de l'Opéra without our
mother's knowledge. She was the woman, the excellent nurse, whose hands
mother placed in ours when she was dying. She had the keys to
everything, she managed everything, she did everything for our comfort.
For twenty-five years she tucked us up in bed every night, and every
night there were the same never-ending jokes about her ugliness and her
disgraceful physique. Sorrows and joys alike she shared with us. She was
one of those devoted creatures upon whose solicitude you rely to close
your eyes. Our bodies, when we were ill or indisposed, were accustomed
to her attentions. She was familiar with all our hobbies. She had known
all our mistresses. She was a piece of our life, part of the furniture
of our apartment, a stray memory of our youth, at once loving and
scolding and care-taking, like a watchdog whom we were accustomed to
having always beside us and about us, and who ought to last as long as
ourselves. And we shall never see her again! It is not she moving about
the rooms; she will never again come to our rooms to bid us
good-morning! It is a great wrench, a great change in our lives, which
seems to us, I cannot say why, like one of those solemn breaks in one's
existence, when, as Byron says, destiny changes horses.

_Sunday, August 17._--This morning we are to perform all the last sad
duties. We must return to the hospital, enter once more the reception
hall, where I seem to see again, in the armchair against the wicket, the
ghost of the emaciated creature I seated there less than a week ago.
"Will you identify the body?" the attendant hurls the question at me in
a harsh voice. We go to the further end of the hospital, to a high
yellow door, upon which is written in great black letters:
_Amphitheatre_. The attendant knocks. After some moments the door is
partly opened, and a head like a butcher's boy's appears, with a short
pipe in its mouth: a head which suggests the gladiator and the
grave-digger. I fancied that I was at the circus, and that he was the
slave who received the gladiators' bodies; and he does receive the slain
in that great circus, society. They made us wait a long while before
opening another door, and during those moments of suspense, all our
courage oozed away, as the blood of a wounded man who is forced to
remain standing oozes away, drop by drop. The mystery of what we were
about to see, the horror of a sight that rends your heart, the search
for the one body amid other bodies, the scrutiny and recognition of that
poor face, disfigured doubtless--the thought of all this made us as
timid as children. We were at the end of our strength, at the end of our
will-power, at the end of our nervous tension, and, when the door
opened, we said: "We will send some one," and fled. From there we went
to the mayor's office, riding in a cab that jolted us and shook our
heads about like empty things. And an indefinable horror seized upon us
of death in a hospital, which seems to be only an administrative
formality. One would say that in that abode of agony, everything is so
well administered, regulated, reduced to system, that death opens it as
if it were an administrative bureau.

While we were having the death registered,--_Mon Dieu!_ the paper, all
covered with writing and flourishes for a poor woman's death!--a man
rushed out of an adjoining room, in joyous exultation, and looked at the
almanac hanging on the wall to find the name of the saint of the day and
give it to his child. As he passed, the skirt of the happy father's coat
swept the sheet on which the death was registered from the desk to the
floor.

When we returned home, we must look through her papers, get her clothes
together, sort out the clutter of phials, bandages and innumerable
things that sickness collects--jostle death about, in short. It was a
ghastly thing to enter that attic, where the crumbs of bread from her
last meal were still lying in the folds of the bedclothes. I threw the
coverlid up over the bolster, like a sheet over the ghost of a dead man.

_Monday, August 18._--The chapel is beside the amphitheatre. In the
hospital God and the dead body are neighbors. At the mass said for the
poor woman beside her coffin, two or three others were placed near by to
reap the benefit of the service. There was an unpleasant promiscuousness
of salvation in that performance: it resembled the common grave in the
prayer. Behind me, in the chapel, Rose's niece was weeping--the little
girl she had at our house for a short time, who is now a young woman of
nineteen, a pupil at the convent of the Sisters of Saint-Laurent: a
poor, weazened, pale, stunted creature, rickety from starvation, with a
head too heavy for her body, back bent double, and the air of a
Mayeux--the last sad remnant of that consumption-ridden family, awaited
by Death and with his hand even now heavy upon her,--in her soft eyes
there is already a gleam of the life beyond.

Then from the chapel to the extreme end of the Montmartre
cemetery,--vast as a necropolis and occupying a whole quarter of the
city,--walking at slow steps through mud that never ends. Lastly the
intoning of the priests, and the coffin laboriously lowered by the
gravediggers' arms to the ends of the ropes, as a cask of wine is
lowered into a cellar.

_Wednesday, August 20._--Once more I must return to the hospital. For
since the visit I paid Rose on Thursday and her sudden death the next
day, there has existed for me a mystery which I force from my thoughts,
but which constantly returns; the mystery of that agony of which I know
nothing, of that sudden end. I long to know and I dread to learn. It
does not seem to me as if she were dead; I think of her simply as of a
person who has disappeared. My imagination returns to her last hours,
gropes for them in the darkness and reconstructs them, and they torture
me with their veiled horrors! I need to have my doubts resolved. At
last, this morning, I took my courage in both hands. Again I see the
hospital, again I see the red-faced, obese concierge, reeking with life
as one reeks with wine, and the corridors where the morning light falls
upon the pale faces of smiling convalescents.

In a distant corner, I rang at a door with little white curtains. It was
opened and I found myself in a parlor where a Virgin stood upon a sort
of altar between two windows. On the northern wall of the room, the
cold, bare room, there are--why, I cannot explain--two framed views of
Vesuvius, wretched water-colors which seem to shiver and to be entirely
expatriated there. Through an open door behind me, from a small room in
which the sun shines brightly, I hear the chattering of sisters and
children, childish joys, pretty little bursts of laughter, all sorts of
fresh, clear vocal notes: a sound as from a dovecote bathed in the sun.
Sisters in white with black caps pass and repass; one stops in front of
my chair. She is short, badly developed, with an ugly, sweet face, a
poor face by the grace of God. She is the mother of the Salle
Saint-Joseph. She tells me how Rose died, in hardly any pain, feeling
that she was improving, almost well, overflowing with encouragement and
hope. In the morning, after her bed was made, without any suspicion that
death was near, suddenly she was taken with a hemorrhage, which lasted
some few seconds. I came away, much comforted, delivered from the
thought that she had had the anticipatory taste of death, the horror of
its approach.

_Thursday, October 21._

                *       *       *       *       *

In the midst of our dinner, which was rendered melancholy enough by the
constant hovering of the conversation around the subject of death,
Maria, who came to dinner to-night, cried out, after two or three
nervous blows with her fingers upon her fluffy blonde locks:--"My
friends, while the poor girl was alive, I kept the professional secret
of my trade. But, now that she is under ground, you must know the
truth."

And thereupon we learned things concerning the unhappy creature that
took away our appetites, leaving in our mouths the bitter taste of fruit
cut with a steel knife. And a whole strange, hateful, repugnant,
deplorable existence was revealed to us. The notes she signed, the debts
she has left behind her at all the dealers, have the most unforeseen,
the most amazing, the most incredible basis. She kept men: the
milkwoman's son, for whom she furnished a chamber; another to whom she
carried our wine, chickens, food of all sorts. A secret life of
nocturnal orgies, of nights passed abroad, of fierce nymphomania, that
made her lovers say: "Either she or I will stay on the field!" A
passion, passions with her whole head and heart and all her senses at
once, and complicated by all the wretched creatures' diseases,
consumption which adds frenzy to pleasure, hysteria, the beginning of
insanity. She had two children by the milkwoman's son, one of whom lived
six months. Some years ago, when she told us that she was going on a
visit to her province, it was to lie in. And, with regard to these men,
her passion was so extravagant, so unhealthy, so insane, that she, who
was formerly honesty personified, actually stole from us, took twenty
franc pieces out of rolls of a hundred francs, so that the lovers she
paid might not leave her. Now, after these involuntarily dishonest acts,
these petty crimes extorted from her upright nature, she plunged into
such depths of self-reproach, remorse, melancholy, such black despair,
that in that hell in which she rolled on from sin to sin, desperate and
unsatisfied, she had taken to drinking to escape herself, to save
herself from the present, to drown herself and founder for a few moments
in the heavy slumber, the lethargic torpor in which she would lie
wallowing across her bed for a whole day, just as she fell when she
tried to make it. The miserable creature! how great an incentive, how
many motives and reasons she found for devouring her suffering, and
bleeding internally: in the first place the rejection at intervals of
religious ideas by the terrors of a hell of fire and brimstone; then
jealousy, that characteristic jealousy of everything and everybody that
poisoned her life; then, then--then the disgust which these men, after a
time, brutally expressed for her ugliness, and which drove her deeper
and deeper into sottishness,--caused her one day to have a miscarriage,
and she fell half dead on the floor. Such a frightful tearing away of
the veil we have worn over our eyes is like the examination of a
pocketful of horrible things in a dead body suddenly opened. From what
we have heard I suddenly seem to realize what she must have suffered for
ten years past: the dread of an anonymous letter to us or of a
denunciation from some dealer; and the constant trepidation on the
subject of the money that was demanded of her, and that she could not
pay; and the shame felt by that proud creature, perverted by the vile
Quartier Saint-Georges, because of her intimacy with low wretches whom
she despised; and the lamentable consciousness of the premature senility
caused by drunkenness; and the inhuman exactions and brutality of the
Alphonses of the gutter; and the temptations to suicide which caused me
to pull her away from a window one day, when I found her leaning far
out--and lastly all the tears that we believed to be without cause--all
these things mingled with a very deep and heartfelt affection for us,
and with a vehement, feverish devotion when either of us was ill. And
this woman possessed an energetic character, a force of will, a skill in
mystification, to which nothing can be compared. Yes, yes, all those
frightful secrets kept under lock and key, hidden, buried deep in her
own heart, so that neither our eyes, nor our ears, nor our powers of
observation ever detected aught amiss, even in her hysterical attacks,
when nothing escaped her but groans: a mystery preserved until her
death, and which she must have believed would be buried with her. And of
what did she die? She died, because, all through one rainy winter's
night, eight months ago, at Montmartre, she spied upon the milkwoman's
son, who had turned her away, in order to find out with what woman he
had filled her place; a whole night leaning against a ground-floor
window, as a result of which she was drenched to the bones with deadly
pleurisy!

Poor creature, we forgive her; indeed, a vast compassion for her fills
our hearts, as we reflect upon all that she has suffered. But we have
become suspicious, for our lives, of the whole female sex, and of women
above us as well as of women below us in station. We are terror-stricken
at the double lining of their hearts, at the marvelous faculty, the
science, the consummate genius of falsehood with which their whole being
is instinct.

               *       *       *       *       *

The above extracts are from our journal: JOURNAL DES
GONCOURTS--_Mémoires de la Vie Littéraire_; they are the documentary
foundation upon which, two years later, my brother and I composed
GERMINIE LACERTEUX, whom we made a study of and taught when she was in
the service of our venerable cousin, Mademoiselle de C----t, of whom we
were writing a veracious biography, after the style of a biography of
modern history.

                                                   EDMOND DE GONCOURT.

_Auteuil, April, 1886._



I


"Saved! so you are really out of danger, mademoiselle!" exclaimed the
maid with a cry of joy, as she closed the door upon the doctor, and,
rushing to the bed on which her mistress lay, she began, in a frenzy of
happiness and with a shower of kisses to embrace, together with the bed
covers, the old woman's poor, emaciated body, which seemed, in the huge
bed, as small as a child's.

The old woman took her head, silently, in both hands, pressed it against
her heart, heaved a sigh, and muttered: "Ah, well! so I must live on!"

This took place in a small room, through the window of which could be
seen a small patch of sky cut by three black iron pipes, various
neighboring roofs, and in the distance, between two houses that almost
touched, the leafless branch of a tree, whose trunk was invisible.

On the mantelpiece, in a mahogany box, was a square clock with a large
dial, huge figures and bulky hands. Beside it, under glass covers, were
two candlesticks formed by three silver swans twisting their necks
around a golden quiver. Near the fireplace an easy chair _à la
Voltaire_, covered with one of the pieces of tapestry of checker-board
pattern, which little girls and old women make, extended its empty arms.
Two little Italian landscapes, a flower piece in water-colors after
Bertin, with a date in red ink at the bottom, and a few miniatures hung
on the walls.

Upon the mahogany commode of an Empire pattern, a statue of Time in
black bronze, running with his scythe in rest, served as a watch stand
for a small watch with a monogram in diamonds upon blue enamel,
surrounded with pearls. The floor was covered with a bright carpet with
black and green stripes. The curtains at the bed and the window were of
old-fashioned chintz with red figures upon a chocolate ground.

At the head of the bed, a portrait inclined over the invalid and seemed
to gaze sternly at her. It represented a man with harsh features, whose
face emerged from the high collar of a green satin coat, and a muslin
cravat, with waving ends, tied loosely around the neck, in the style of
the early years of the Revolution. The old woman in the bed resembled
the portrait. She had the same bushy, commanding black eyebrows, the
same aquiline nose, the same clearly marked lines of will, resolution
and energy. The portrait seemed to cast a reflection upon her, as a
father's face is reflected in his child's. But in hers the harshness of
the features was softened by a gleam of rough kindliness, by an
indefinable flame of sturdy devotion and masculine charity.

The light in the room was the light of an evening in early spring, about
five o'clock, a light as clear as crystal and as white as silver, the
cold, chaste, soft light, which fades away in the flush of the sunset
passing into twilight. The sky was filled with that light of a new life,
adorably melancholy, like the still naked earth, and so replete with
pathos that it moves happy souls to tears.

"Well, well! my silly Germinie, weeping?" said the old woman, a moment
later, withdrawing her hands which were moist with her maid's kisses.

"Oh! my dear, kind mademoiselle, I would like to weep like this all the
time! it's so good! it brings my poor mother back before my eyes--and
everything!--if you only knew!"

"Go on, go on," said her mistress, closing her eyes to listen, "tell me
about it."

"Oh! my poor mother!" The maid paused a moment. Then, with the flood of
words that gushes forth with tears of joy, she continued, as if, in the
emotion and outpouring of her happiness, her whole childhood flowed back
into her heart! "Poor woman! I can see her now the last time she went
out to take me to mass, one 21st of January, I remember. In those days
they read from the king's Testament. Ah! she suffered enough on my
account, did mamma! She was forty-two years old, when I was born----papa
made her cry a good deal! There were three of us before and there wasn't
any too much bread in the house. And then he was proud as anything. If
we'd had only a handful of peas in the house he would never have gone to
the curé for help. Ah! we didn't eat bacon every day at our house. Never
mind; for all that mamma loved me a little more and she always found a
little fat or cheese in some corner to put on my bread. I wasn't five
when she died. That was a bad thing for us all. I had a tall brother,
who was white as a sheet, with a yellow beard--and good! you have no
idea. Everybody loved him. They gave him all sorts of names. Some called
him Boda--why, I don't know. Others called him Jesus Christ. Ah! he was
a worker, he was! It didn't make any difference to him that his health
was good for nothing; at daybreak he was always at his loom--for we were
weavers, you must know--and he never put his shuttle down till night.
And honest, too, if you knew! People came from all about to bring him
their yarn, and without weighing it, too. He was a great friend of the
schoolmaster, and he used to write the _mottoes_ for the carnival. My
father, he was a different sort: he'd work for a moment, or an hour, you
know, and then he'd go off into the fields--and when he came home he'd
beat us, and beat us hard. He was like a madman; they said it was
because he was consumptive. It was lucky my brother was there: he used
to prevent my second sister from pulling my hair and hurting me, because
she was jealous. He always took me by the hand to go and see them play
skittles. In fact, he supported the family all alone. For my first
communion he had the bells rung! Ah! he did a heap of work so that I
should be like the others, in a little white dress with flounces and a
little bag in my hand, such as they used to carry in those days. I
didn't have any cap: I remember making myself a pretty little wreath of
ribbons and the white pith you pull off when you strip reeds; there was
lots of it in the places where we used to put the hemp to soak. That was
one of my great days--that and the drawing lots for the pigs at
Christmas--and the days when I went to help them tie up the vines; that
was in June, you know. We had a little vineyard near Saint Hilaire.
There was one very hard year in those days--do you remember it,
mademoiselle?--the long frost of 1828 that ruined everything. It
extended as far as Dijon and farther, too--people had to make bread from
bran. My brother nearly killed himself with work. Father, who was always
out of doors tramping about the fields, sometimes brought home a few
mushrooms. It was pretty bad, all the same; we were hungry oftener than
anything else. When I was out in the fields myself, I'd look around to
see if anyone could see me, and then I'd crawl along softly on my knees,
and when I was under a cow, I'd take off one of my sabots and begin to
milk her. Bless me! I came near being caught at it! My oldest sister was
out at service with the Mayor of Lenclos, and she sent home her
wages--twenty-four francs--it was always as much as that. The second
worked at dressmaking in bourgeois families; but they didn't pay the
prices then that they do to-day; she worked from six in the morning till
dark for eight sous. Out of that she wanted to put some by for a dress
for the fête on Saint-Remi's day.--Ah! that's the way it is with us:
there are many who live on two potatoes a day for six months so as to
have a new dress for that day. Bad luck fell on us on all sides. My
father died. We had to sell a small field, and a bit of a vineyard that
yielded a cask of wine every year. The notaries don't work for nothing.
When my brother was sick there was nothing to give him to drink but
_lees_ that we'd been putting water to for a year. And there wasn't any
change of linen for him; all the sheets in the wardrobe, which had a
golden cross on top of it in mother's time, had gone--and the cross too.
More than that, before he was sick this time, my brother goes off to the
fête at Clefmont. He hears someone say that my sister had gone wrong
with the mayor she worked for; he falls on the men who said it, but he
wasn't very strong. They were, though, and they threw him down, and when
he was down, they kicked him with their wooden shoes, in the pit of the
stomach. He was brought home to us for dead. The doctor put him on his
feet again, though, and told us he was cured. But he could just drag
himself along. I could see that he was going when he kissed me. When he
was dead, poor dear boy, Cadet Ballard had to use all his strength to
take me away from the body. The whole village, mayor and all, went to
his funeral. As my sister couldn't keep her place with the mayor on
account of the things he said to her, and had gone to Paris to find a
place, my other sister went after her. I was left all alone. One of my
mother's cousins then took me with her to Damblin; but I was all upset
there; I cried all night long, and whenever I could run away I always
went back to our house. Just to see the old vine at our door, from the
end of the street, did me good! it put strength into my legs. The good
people who had bought the house would keep me till someone came for me!
they were always sure to find me there. At last they wrote to my sister
in Paris that, if she didn't send for me to come and live with her, I
wasn't likely to live long. It's a fact that I was just like wax. They
put me in charge of the driver of a small wagon that went from Langres
to Paris every month, and that's how I came to Paris. I was fourteen
years old, then. I remember that I went to bed all dressed all the way,
because they made me sleep in the common room. When I arrived I was
covered with lice."



II


The old woman said nothing: she was comparing her own life with her
servant's.

              *       *       *       *       *

Mademoiselle de Varandeuil was born in 1782. She first saw the light in
a mansion on Rue Royale and Mesdames de France were her sponsors in
baptism. Her father was a close friend of the Comte d'Artois, in whose
household he held an important post. He joined in all his
hunting-parties, and was one of the few familiar spirits, in whose
presence, at the mass preceding the hunt, he who was one day to be King
Charles X. used to hurry the officiating priest by saying in an
undertone: "Psit! psit! curé, swallow your _Good Lord_ quickly!"

Monsieur de Varandeuil had made one of those marriages which were
customary enough in his day: he had espoused a sort of actress, a
singer, who, although she had no great talent, had made a success at the
_Concert Spirituel_, beside Madame Todi, Madame Ponteuil and Madame
Saint-Huberty. The little girl born of this marriage in 1782 was sickly
and delicate, ugly of feature, with a nose even then large enough to be
absurd, her father's nose in a face as thin as a man's wrist. She had
nothing of what her parents' vanity would have liked her to have. After
making a fiasco on the piano at the age of five, at a concert given by
her mother in her salon, she was relegated to the society of the
servants. Except for a moment in the morning, she never went near her
mother, who always made her kiss her under the chin, so that she might
not disturb her rouge. When the Revolution arrived, Monsieur de
Varandeuil, thanks to the Comte d'Artois' patronage, was disburser of
pensions. Madame de Varandeuil was traveling in Italy, whither she had
ordered her physician to send her on the pretext of ill health, leaving
her daughter and an infant son in her husband's charge. The absorbing
anxiety of the times, the tempests threatening wealth and the families
that handled wealth--Monsieur de Varandeuil's brother was a
Farmer-General--left that very selfish and unloving father but little
leisure to attend to the wants of his children. Thereupon, he began to
be somewhat embarrassed pecuniarily. He left Rue Royale and took up his
abode at the Hôtel du Petit-Charolais, belonging to his mother, who
allowed him to install himself there. Events moved rapidly; one evening,
in the early days of the guillotine, as he was walking along Rue
Saint-Antoine, he heard a hawker in front of him, crying the journal:
_Aux Voleurs! Aux Voleurs!_ According to the usual custom of those
days, he gave a list of the articles contained in the number he had for
sale: Monsieur de Varandeuil heard his own name mingled with oaths and
obscenity. He bought the paper and read therein a revolutionary
denunciation of himself.

Some time after, his brother was arrested and detained at Hôtel Talaru
with the other Farmers-General. His mother, in a paroxysm of terror, had
foolishly sold the Hôtel du Petit-Charolais, where he was living, for
the value of the mirrors: she was paid in _assignats_, and died of
despair over the constant depreciation of the paper. Luckily Monsieur de
Varandeuil obtained from the purchasers, who could find no tenants,
leave to occupy the rooms formerly used by the stableboys. He took
refuge there, among the outbuildings of the mansion, stripped himself of
his name and posted at the door, as he was ordered to do, his family
name of Roulot, under which he buried the _De Varandeuil_ and the former
courtier of the Comte d'Artois. He lived there alone, buried, forgotten,
hiding his head, never going out, cowering in his hole, without
servants, waited upon by his daughter, to whom he left everything. The
Terror was to them a period of shuddering suspense, the breathless
excitement of impending death. Every evening, the little girl went and
listened at a grated window to the day's crop of condemnations, the
_List of Prize Winners in the Lottery of Saint Guillotine_. She answered
every knock at the door, thinking that they had come to take her father
to the Place de la Révolution, whither her uncle had already been taken.
The moment came when money, the money that was so scarce, no longer
procured bread. It was necessary to go and get it, almost by force, at
the doors of the bakeries; it was necessary to earn it by standing for
hours in the cold, biting night air, in the crushing pressure of crowds
of people; to stand in line from three o'clock in the morning. The
father did not care to venture into that mass of humanity. He was afraid
of being recognized, of compromising himself by one of those outbursts
to which his impetuous nature would have given vent, no matter where he
might be. Then, too, he recoiled from the fatigue and severity of the
task. The little boy was still too small; he would have been crushed; so
the duty of obtaining bread for three mouths each day fell to the
daughter. She obtained it. With her little thin body, fairly lost in her
father's knitted jacket, a cotton cap pulled down over her eyes, her
limbs all huddled together to retain a little warmth, she would wait,
shivering, her eyes aching with cold, amid the pushing and buffeting,
until the baker's wife on Rue des Francs-Bourgeois placed in her hands a
loaf which her little fingers, stiff with cold, could hardly hold. At
last, this poor little creature, who returned day after day, with her
pinched face and her emaciated, trembling body, moved the baker's wife
to pity. With the kindness of heart of a woman of the people, she would
send the coveted loaf to the little one by her boy as soon as she
appeared in the long line. But one day, just as she put out her hand to
take it, a woman, whose jealousy was aroused by this mark of favor and
preference, dealt the child a kick with her wooden shoe which kept her
in bed almost a month. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil bore the marks of the
blow all her life.

During that month, the whole family would have died of starvation, had
it not been for a supply of rice, which one of their acquaintances, the
Comtesse d'Auteuil, had had the forethought to lay aside, and which she
consented to share with the father and the two children.

Thus, Monsieur de Varandeuil escaped the Revolutionary Tribunal by
burying himself in obscurity. He escaped it also by reason of the fact
that the accounts of his administration of his office were still
unsettled, as he had had the good fortune to procure the postponement of
the settlement from month to month. Then, too, he kept suspicion at bay
by his personal animosity toward some great personages at court, and by
the hatred of the queen which many retainers of the king's brothers had
conceived. Whenever he had occasion to speak of that wretched woman, he
used violent, bitter, insulting words, uttered in such a passionate,
sincere tone that they almost made him appear as an enemy of the royal
family; so that those to whom he was simply Citizen Roulot looked upon
him as a good patriot, and those who knew his former name almost excused
him for having been what he had been: a noble, the friend of a prince
of the blood, and a place holder.

The Republic had reached the epoch of patriotic suppers, those repasts
of a whole street in the street; Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, in her
confused, terrified reminiscences of those days, could still see the
tables on Rue Pavée, with their legs in the streams of the blood of
September flowing from La Force! It was at one of these suppers that
Monsieur de Varandeuil conceived a scheme that completely assured his
immunity. He informed two of his neighbors at table, devoted patriots
both, one of whom was on intimate terms with Chaumette, that he was in
great embarrassment because his daughter had been privately baptized
only, so that she had no civil status, and said that he would be very
happy if Chaumette would have her entered on the registers of the
municipality and honor her with a name selected by him from the
Republican calendar of Greece or Rome. Chaumette at once arranged a
meeting with this father, _who had reached so high a level_, as they
said in those days. During the interview Mademoiselle de Varandeuil was
taken into a closet where she found two women who were instructed to
satisfy themselves as to her sex, and she showed them her breast. They
then escorted her to the great Salle des Declarations, and there, after
a metaphorical allocution, Chaumette baptized her _Sempronie_; a name
which habit was destined to fasten upon Mademoiselle de Varandeuil and
which she never abandoned.

Somewhat protected and reassured by that episode, the family passed
through the terrible days preceding the fall of Robespierre. At last
came the ninth Thermidor and deliverance. But poverty was none the less
a pressing fact in the Varandeuil household. They had not lived through
the bitter days of the Revolution, they were not to live through the
wretched days of the Directory without unhoped-for succor, money sent by
Providence by the hand of Folly. The father and the two children could
hardly have existed without the income from four shares in the
_Vaudeville_, an investment which Monsieur de Varandeuil was happily
inspired to make in 1791, and which proved to be the best of all
possible investments in those years of death, when people felt the need
of forgetting death every evening--in those days of supreme agony, when
everyone wished to laugh his last laugh at the latest song. Soon these
shares, added to the amount of some outstanding claims that were paid,
provided the family with something more than bread. They thereupon left
the eaves of the Hôtel du Petit-Charolais and took a small suite in the
Marais, on Rue du Chaume.

No change took place, however, in the habits of the household. The
daughter continued to wait upon her father and brother. Monsieur de
Varandeuil had gradually become accustomed to see in her only the woman
indicated by her costume and by the work that she did. The father's eyes
did not care to recognize a daughter in that servant's garb and in her
performance of menial occupations. She was no longer a person with his
blood in her veins or who had the honor to belong to him: she was a
servant; and his selfishness confirmed him so fully in that idea and in
his harsh treatment of her, he found that filial, affectionate,
respectful service,--which cost nothing at all, by the way,--so
convenient, that it cost him a bitter pang to give it up later, when a
little more money mended the family fortunes: battles had to be fought
to induce him to take a maid to fill his child's place and to relieve
the girl from the most humiliating domestic labor.

They were without information concerning Madame de Varandeuil, who had
refused to join her husband at Paris during the early years of the
Revolution; at last they learned that she had married again in Germany,
producing, as a certificate of her husband's death, the death
certificate of his guillotined brother, the baptismal name having been
changed. The girl grew up, therefore, abandoned, without affection, with
no mother except a woman dead to her family, whom her father taught her
to despise. Her childhood was passed in constant anxiety, in the
privations that wear life away, in the fatigue resulting from labor that
exhausted the strength of a sickly child, in an expectation of death
that became, at last, an impatient longing to die: there had been hours
when that girl of thirteen was tempted to do as many women did in those
days--to open the door and rush into the street, crying: _Vive le roi!_
in order to end it all. Her girlhood was a continuation of her childhood
with less tragic motives of weariness. She had to submit to the ill
humor, the exactions, the bitter moods, the tempestuous outbreaks of her
father, which had been hitherto somewhat curbed and restrained by the
great tempest of the time. She was still doomed to undergo the fatigues
and humiliations of a servant. She remained alone with her father, kept
down and humbled, shut out from his arms and his kisses, her heart heavy
with grief because she longed to love and had nothing to love. She was
beginning to suffer from the cold void that is formed about a woman by
an unattractive, unfascinating girlhood, by a girlhood devoid of beauty
and sympathetic charm. She could see that she aroused a sort of
compassion with her long nose, her yellow complexion, her angular
figure, her thin body. She felt that she was ugly, and that her ugliness
was made repulsive by her miserable costumes, her dismal, woolen dresses
which she made herself, her father paying for the material only after
much grumbling: she could not induce him to make her a small allowance
for her toilet until she was thirty-five.

How sad and bitter and lonely for her was her life with that morose,
sour old man, who was always scolding and complaining at home, affable
only in society, and who left her every evening to go to the great
houses that were reopened under the Directory and at the beginning of
the Empire! Only at very long intervals did he take her out, and when he
did, it was always to that everlasting _Vaudeville_, where he had boxes.
Even on those rare occasions, his daughter was terrified. She trembled
all the time that she was with him; she was afraid of his violent
disposition, of the tone of the old régime that his outbreaks of wrath
had retained, of the facility with which he would raise his cane at an
insolent remark from the _canaille_. On almost every occasion there were
scenes with the manager, wordy disputes with people in the pit, and
threats of personal violence to which she put an end by lowering the
curtain of the box. The same thing was kept up in the street, even in
the cab, with the driver, who would refuse to carry them at Monsieur de
Varandeuil's price and would keep them waiting one hour, two hours
without moving; sometimes would unharness his horse in his wrath and
leave him in the vehicle with his daughter who would vainly implore him
to submit and pay the price demanded.

Considering that these diversions should suffice for Sempronie, and
having, moreover, a jealous desire to have her all to himself and always
under his hand, Monsieur de Varandeuil allowed her to form no intimacies
with anybody. He did not take her into society; he did not take her to
the houses of their kinsfolk who returned after the emigration, except
on days of formal receptions or family gatherings. He kept her closely
confined to the house: not until she was forty did he consider that she
was old enough to be allowed to go out alone. Thus, the girl had no
friendship, no connection of any sort to lean upon; indeed, she no
longer had her younger brother with her, as he had gone to the United
States and enlisted in the American navy.

She was forbidden by her father to marry, he did not admit that she
would allow herself even to think of marrying and deserting him; all the
suitors who might have come forward he fought and rejected in advance,
in order not to leave his daughter the courage to speak to him on the
subject, if the occasion should ever arise.

Meanwhile our victories were stripping Italy of her treasures. The
masterpieces of Rome, Florence and Venice were hurrying to Paris.
Italian art was at a premium. Collectors no longer took pride in any
paintings but those of the Italian school. Monsieur de Varandeuil saw an
opening for a fortune in this change of taste. He, also, had fallen a
victim to the artistic dilettantism which was one of the refined
passions of the nobility before the Revolution. He had lived in the
society of artists and collectors; he admired pictures. It occurred to
him to collect a gallery of Italian works and then to sell them. Paris
was still overrun with the objects of art sold and scattered under the
Terror. Monsieur de Varandeuil began to walk back and forth through the
streets--they were the markets for large canvases in those days,--and at
every step he made a discovery; every day he purchased something. Soon
the small apartment was crowded with old, black paintings, so large for
the most part that the walls would not hold them with their frames, with
the result that there was no room for the furniture. These were
christened Raphael, Vinci, or Andrea del Sarto; there were none but
_chefs d'oeuvre_, and the father would keep his daughter standing in
front of them hours at a time, forcing his admiration upon her, wearying
her with his ecstatic flights. He would ascend from epithet to epithet,
would work himself into a state of intoxication, of delirium, and would
end by thinking that he was negotiating with an imaginary purchaser,
would dispute with him over the price of a masterpiece, and would cry
out: "A hundred thousand francs for my Rosso! yes, monsieur, a hundred
thousand francs!" His daughter, dismayed by the large amount of money
that those great, ugly things, in which there were so many nude men,
deducted from the housekeeping supply, ventured upon remonstrance and
tried to check such ruinous extravagance. Monsieur de Varandeuil lost
his temper, waxed wroth like a man who was ashamed to find one of his
blood so deficient in taste, and told her that that was her fortune and
that she would see later if he was an old fool. At last she induced him
to realize. The sale took place; it was a failure, one of the most
complete shipwrecks of illusions that the glazed hall of the Hôtel
Bullion has ever seen. Stung to the quick, furious with rage at this
blow, which not only involved pecuniary loss and a serious inroad upon
his little fortune, but was also a direct denial of his claims to
connoisseurship, a slap at his knowledge of art delivered upon the cheek
of his Raphaels, Monsieur de Varandeuil informed his daughter that they
were too poor to remain in Paris and that they must go into the
provinces to live. Having been cradled and reared in an epoch little
adapted to inspire a love of country life in women, Mademoiselle de
Varandeuil tried vainly to combat her father's resolution: she was
obliged to go with him wherever he chose to go, and, by leaving Paris,
to lose the society and friendship of two young kinswomen, to whom, in
their too infrequent interviews, she had partly given her confidence,
and whose hearts she had felt reaching out to her as to an older sister.

Monsieur de Varandeuil hired a small house at L'Isle-Adam. There he was
near familiar scenes, in the atmosphere of what was formerly a little
court, close at hand to two or three châteaux, whose owners he knew, and
which were beginning to throw open their doors once more. Then, too,
since the Revolution a little community of well-to-do bourgeois, rich
shopkeepers, had settled upon this territory which once belonged to the
Contis. The name of Monsieur de Varandeuil sounded very grand in the
ears of all those good people. They bowed very low to him, they
contended for the honor of entertaining him, they listened
respectfully, almost devoutly, to the stories he told of society as it
was. And thus, flattered, caressed, honored as a relic of Versailles, he
had the place of honor and the prestige of a lord among them. When he
dined with Madame Mutel, a former baker, who had forty thousand francs a
year, the hostess left the table, silk dress and all, to go and fry the
oyster plants herself: Monsieur de Varandeuil did not like them except
as she cooked them. But Monsieur de Varandeuil's decision to go into
retirement at L'Isle-Adam was mainly due, not to the pleasant
surroundings there, but to a project that he had formed. He had gone
thither to obtain leisure for a monumental work. That which he had been
unable to do for the honor and glory of Italian art by his collection,
he proposed to do by his pen. He had learned a little Italian with his
wife; he took it into his head to present Vasari's _Lives of the
Painters_ to the French public, to translate it with the assistance of
his daughter, who, when she was very small, had heard her mother's maid
speak Italian and had retained a few words. He plunged the girl into
Vasari, he locked up her time and her thoughts in grammars,
dictionaries, commentaries, all the works of all the scholiasts of
Italian art, kept her bending double over the ungrateful toil, the
_ennui_ and labor of translating Italian words, groping in the darkness
of her imperfect knowledge. The whole burden of the book fell upon her;
when he had laid out her task, he would leave her tête-à-tête with the
volumes bound in white vellum, to go and ramble about the neighborhood,
paying visits, gambling at some château or dining among the bourgeois of
his acquaintance, to whom he would complain pathetically of the
laborious effort that the vast undertaking of his translation entailed
upon him. He would return home, listen to the reading of the translation
made during the day, make comments and critical remarks, and upset a
sentence to give it a different meaning, which his daughter would
eliminate again when he had gone; then he would resume his walks and
jaunts, like a man who has well earned his leisure, walking very erect,
with his hat under his arm and dainty pumps on his feet, enjoying
himself, the sky and the trees and Rousseau's God, gentle to all nature
and loving to the plants. From time to time fits of impatience, common
to children and old men, would overtake him; he would demand a certain
number of pages for the next day, and would compel his daughter to sit
up half the night.

Two or three years passed in this labor, in which Sempronie's eyes were
ruined at last. She lived entombed in her father's Vasari, more entirely
alone than ever, holding aloof through innate, haughty repugnance from
the bourgeois ladies of L'Isle-Adam and their manners _à la Madame
Angot_, and too poorly clad to visit at the châteaux. For her, there was
no pleasure, no diversion, which was not made wretched and poisoned by
her father's eccentricities and fretful humor. He tore up the flowers
that she planted secretly in the garden. He would have nothing there but
vegetables and he cultivated them himself, putting forth grand
utilitarian theories, arguments which might have induced the Convention
to convert the Tuileries into a potato field. Her only enjoyment was
when her father, at very long intervals, allowed her to entertain one of
her two young friends for a week--a week which would have been seven
days of paradise to Sempronie, had not her father embittered its joys,
its diversions, its fêtes, with his always threatening outbreaks, his
ill-humor always armed and alert, and his constant fault-finding about
trifles--a bottle of eau de Cologne that Sempronie asked for to place in
her friend's room, a dish for her dinner, or a place to which she wished
to take her.

At L'Isle-Adam Monsieur de Varandeuil had hired a servant, who almost
immediately became his mistress. A child was born of this connection,
and the father, in his cynical indifference, was shameless enough to
have it brought up under his daughter's eyes. As the years rolled on the
woman acquired a firm foothold in the house. She ended by ruling the
household, father and daughter alike. The day came when Monsieur de
Varandeuil chose to have her sit at his table and be served by
Sempronie. That was too much. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil rebelled under
the insult, and drew herself up to the full height of her indignation.
Secretly, silently, in misery and isolation, harshly treated by the
people and the things about her, the girl had built up a resolute,
straightforward character; tears had tempered instead of softening it.
Beneath filial docility and humility, beneath passive obedience, beneath
apparent gentleness of disposition, she concealed a character of iron, a
man's strength of will, one of those hearts which nothing bends and
which never bend themselves. When her father demanded that she lower
herself to that extent, she reminded him that she was his daughter, she
reviewed her whole life, cast, in a flood of words, the shame and the
reproach of it in his face, and concluded by informing him that if that
woman did not leave the house that very evening, she would leave it, and
that she should have no difficulty in living, thank God! wherever she
might go, with the simple tastes he had forced upon her. The father,
thunderstruck and bewildered by this revolt, yielded and dismissed the
servant; but he retained a dastardly sort of rancor against his daughter
on account of the sacrifice she had extorted from him. His spleen
betrayed itself in sharp, aggressive words, ironical thanks and bitter
smiles. Sempronie's only revenge was to attend to his wants more
thoroughly, more gently, more patiently than ever. Her devotion was
destined to be subjected to one final test; the old man had a stroke of
apoplexy which left him with one whole side of his body stiff and dead,
lame in one leg, and asleep so far as his intelligence was concerned,
although keenly conscious of his misfortune and of his dependence upon
his daughter. Thereupon, all the evil that lay dormant in the depths of
his nature was aroused and let loose. His selfishness amounted to
ferocity. Under the torment of his suffering and his weakness, he became
a sort of malevolent madman. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil devoted her days
and her nights to the invalid, who seemed to hate her for her
attentions, to be humiliated by her care as if it implied generosity and
forgiveness, to suffer torments at seeing always by his side,
indefatigable and kindly, that image of duty. But what a life it was!
She had to contend against the miserable man's incurable _ennui_, to be
always ready to bear him company, to lead him about and support him all
day long. She must play cards with him when he was at home, and not let
him win or lose too much. She must combat his wishes, his gormandizing
tendencies, take dishes away from him, and, in connection with
everything that he wanted, endure complaints, reproaches, insults,
tears, mad despair, and the outbursts of childish anger in which
helpless old men indulge. And this lasted ten years! ten years, during
which Mademoiselle de Varandeuil had no other recreation, no other
consolation than to pour out all the tenderness and warmth of a maternal
affection upon one of her two young friends, recently married,--her
_chick_, as she called her. It was Mademoiselle de Varandeuil's delight
to go and pass a short time every fortnight in that happy household. She
would kiss the pretty child, already in its cradle and asleep for the
night when she arrived; she would dine at racing speed; at dessert she
would send for a carriage and would hasten away like a tardy schoolboy.
But in the last years of her father's life she could not even obtain
permission to dine out: the old man would no longer sanction such a long
absence and kept her almost constantly beside him, repeating again and
again that he was well aware that it was not amusing to take care of an
infirm old man like himself, but that she would soon be rid of him. He
died in 1818, and, before his death, could find no words but these for
her who had been his daughter nearly forty years: "I know that you never
loved me!"

Two years before her father's death, Sempronie's brother had returned
from America. He brought with him a colored woman who had nursed him
through the yellow fever, and two girls, already grown up, whom he had
had by the woman before marrying her. Although she was imbued with the
ideas of the old régime as to the blacks, and although she looked upon
that ignorant creature, with her negro jargon, her grin like a wild
beast's and her skin that left grease stains upon her clothing, as no
better than a monkey, Mademoiselle de Varandeuil combated her father's
horror and unwillingness to receive his daughter-in-law; and she it was
who induced him, in the last days of his life, to allow her brother to
present his wife to him. When her father was dead she reflected that
her brother's household was all that remained of the family.

Monsieur de Varandeuil, to whom the Comte d'Artois had caused the
arrears of salary of his office to be paid at the return of the
Bourbons, left about ten thousand francs a year to his children. The
brother had, before that inheritance, only a pension of fifteen hundred
francs from the United States. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil considered
that five or six thousand francs a year would hardly suffice for the
comfortable support of that family, in which there were two children,
and it at once occurred to her to add to it her share in the
inheritance. She suggested this contribution in the most natural and
simple way imaginable. Her brother accepted it, and she went with him to
live in a pretty little apartment at the upper end of Rue de Clichy, on
the fourth floor of one of the first houses built in that neighborhood,
then hardly known, where the fresh country air blew briskly through the
framework of the white buildings. She continued there her modest life,
her humble manner of dressing, her economical habits, content with the
least desirable room in the suite, and spending upon herself no more
than eighteen hundred to two thousand francs a year. But, soon, a
brooding jealousy, slowly gathering strength, took possession of the
mulattress. She took offence at the fraternal affection which seemed to
be taking her husband from her arms. She suffered because of the
communion of speech and thought and reminiscences between them; she
suffered because of the conversations in which she could take no part,
because of what she heard in their voices, but could not understand. The
consciousness of her inferiority kindled in her heart the fires of wrath
and hatred that burn fiercely in the tropics. She had recourse to her
children for her revenge; she urged them on, excited them, aroused their
evil passions against her sister-in-law. She encouraged them to laugh at
her, to make sport of her. She applauded the manifestations of the
mischievous intelligence characteristic of children, in whom observation
begins with naughtiness. Once she had let them loose upon their aunt,
she allowed them to laugh at all her absurdities, her figure, her nose,
her dresses, whose meanness, nevertheless, provided their own elegant
attire. Thus incited and upheld, the little ones soon arrived at
insolence. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil had the quick temper that
accompanies kindness of heart. With her the hand, as well as the heart,
had a part in the first impulse. And then she shared the prevalent
opinion of her time as to the proper way of bringing up children. She
endured two or three impertinent sallies without a word; but at the
fourth she seized the mocking child, took down her skirts, and
administered to her, notwithstanding her twelve years, the soundest
whipping she had ever received. The mulattress made a great outcry and
told her sister-in-law, that she had always detested her children and
that she wanted to kill them. The brother interposed between the two
women and succeeded in reconciling them after a fashion. But new scenes
took place, when the little ones, inflamed against the woman who made
their mother weep, assailed their aunt with the refined tortures of
misbehaved children, mingled with the fiendish cruelty of little
savages. After several patched-up truces it became necessary to part.
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil decided to leave her brother, for she saw how
unhappy he was amid this daily wrenching of his dearest affections. She
left him to his wife and his children. This separation was one of the
great sorrows of her life. She who was so strong against emotion and so
self-contained, and who seemed to take pride in suffering, as it were,
almost broke down when she had to leave the apartment, where she had
dreamed of enjoying a little happiness in her corner, looking on at the
happiness of others: her last tears mounted to her eyes.

She did not go too far away, so that she might be at hand to nurse her
brother if he were ill, and to see him and meet him sometimes. But there
was a great void in her heart and in her life. She had begun to visit
her kinsfolk since her father's death: she drew nearer to them; she
allowed the relatives whom the Restoration had placed in a lofty and
powerful position to come to her, and sought out those whom the new
order of things left in obscurity and poverty. But she returned to her
dear _chick_ first of all, and to another distant cousin, also married,
who had become the _chick's_ sister-in-law. Her relations with her
kinsfolk soon assumed remarkable regularity. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil
never went into society, to an evening party, or to the play. It
required Mademoiselle Rachel's brilliant success to persuade her to step
inside a theatre; she ventured there but twice. She never accepted an
invitation to a large dinner-party. But there were two or three houses
where, as at the _chick's_, she would invite herself to dine,
unexpectedly, when there were no guests. "My love," she would say
without ceremony, "are you and your husband doing nothing this evening?
Then I will stay and eat some of your ragoût." At eight o'clock
regularly she rose to go, and when the husband took his hat to escort
her home, she would knock it out of his hands with a: "Nonsense! an old
nanny-goat like me! Why, I frighten men in the street!" And then ten
days or a fortnight would pass, during which they would not see her. But
if anything went wrong, if there was a death or sickness in the house,
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil always heard of it at once, no one knew how;
she would come, in spite of everything--the weather or the hour--would
give a loud ring at the bell in her own way--they finally called it
_cousin's ring_--and a moment later, relieved of her umbrella, which
never left her, and of her pattens, her hat tossed upon a chair, she was
at the service of those who needed her. She listened, talked, restored
their courage with an indescribable martial accent, with language as
energetic as a soldier might use to console a wounded comrade, and
stimulating as a cordial. If it was a child that was out of sorts, she
would go straight to the bed, laugh at the little one, whose fear
vanished at once, order the father and mother about, run hither and
thither, assume the management of everything, apply the leeches, arrange
the cataplasms, and bring back hope, joy and health at the double quick.
In all branches of the family the old maid appeared thus providentially,
without warning, on days of sorrow, _ennui_ and suffering. She was never
seen except when her hands were needed to heal, her devoted friendship
to console. She was, so to speak, an impersonal creature, because of her
great heart; a woman who did not belong to herself: God seemed to have
made her only to give her to others. Her everlasting black dress which
she persisted in wearing, her worn, dyed shawl, her absurd hat, her
impoverished appearance, were, in her eyes, the means of being rich
enough to help others with her little fortune; she was extravagant in
almsgiving, and her pockets were always filled with gifts for the poor;
not of money, for she feared the wineshop, but of four-pound loaves
which she bought for them at the baker's. And then, too, by dint of
living in poverty, she was able to give herself what was to her the
greatest of all luxuries: the joy of her friends' children whom she
overwhelmed with New Year's and other gifts, with surprises and
pleasures of all sorts. For instance, suppose that one of them had been
left by his mother, who was absent from Paris, to pass a lovely summer
Sunday at his boarding school, and the little rascal, out of spite, had
misbehaved so that he was not allowed to go out. How surprised he would
be, as the clock struck nine, to see his old cousin appear in the
courtyard, just buttoning the last button of her dress, she had come in
such haste. And what a feeling of desolation at the sight! "Cousin," he
would say piteously, in one of those fits of passion in which at the
same moment you long to cry and to kill your _tyrant_, "I--I am kept in,
and----" "Kept in? Oh! yes, kept in! And do you suppose I've taken all
this trouble----Is your schoolmaster poking fun at me? Where is the
puppy, that I may have a word with him? You go and dress yourself
meanwhile. Off with you!" And the child, not daring to hope that a woman
so shabbily dressed would have the power to raise the embargo, would
suddenly feel a hand upon his arm, and the cousin would carry him off,
toss him into a cab, all bewildered and dumfounded with joy, and take
him to the Bois de Boulogne. She would let him ride a donkey all day
long, urging the beast on with a broken branch, and crying: "Get up!"
And then, after a good dinner at Borne's, she would take him back to
school, and, under the porte-cochère, as she kissed him she would slip a
big hundred-sou piece into his hand.

Strange old maid. The bitter experiences of her whole existence, the
struggle to live, the never-ending physical suffering, the
long-continued bodily and mental torture had, as it were, cut her loose
from life and placed her above it. Her education, the things she had
seen, the spectacle of what seemed the end of everything, the
Revolution, had so formed her character as to lead her to disdain human
suffering. And this old woman, who had nothing left of life save breath,
had risen to a serene philosophy, to a virile, haughty, almost satirical
stoicism. Sometimes she would begin to declaim against a sorrow that
seemed a little too keen; but, in the midst of her tirade, she would
suddenly hurl an angry, mocking word at herself, upon which her face
would at once become calm. She was cheerful with the cheerfulness of a
deep, bubbling spring, the cheerfulness of devoted hearts that have seen
everything, of the old soldier or the old hospital nurse. Kind-hearted
to admiration she was, and yet something was lacking in her kindness of
heart: forgiveness. Hitherto, she had never succeeded in moving or
bending her character. A slight, an unkind action, a trifle, if it
touched her heart, wounded her forever. She forgot nothing. Time, death
itself, did not disarm her memory.

Of religion, she had none. Born at a period when women did without it,
she had grown to womanhood at a time when there were no churches. Mass
did not exist when she was a young maid. There had been nothing to
accustom her to the thought of God or to make her feel the need of Him,
and she had retained a sort of shrinking hatred for priests, which must
have been connected with some family secret of which she never spoke.
Her faith, her strength, her piety, all consisted in the pride of her
conscience; she considered that if she retained her own esteem, she
could be sure of acting rightly and of never failing in her duty. She
was thus singularly constituted by the two epochs in which she had
lived, a compound of the two, dipped in the opposing currents of the old
régime and the Revolution. After Louis XVI. failed to take horse on the
Tenth of August, she lost her regard for kings; but she detested the
mob. She desired equality and she held parvenus in horror. She was a
republican and an aristocrat, combined scepticism with prejudice, the
horrors of '93, which she saw, with the vague and noble theories of
humanity which surrounded her cradle.

Her external qualities were altogether masculine. She had the sharp
voice, the freedom of speech, the unruly tongue of the old woman of the
eighteenth century, heightened by an accent suggestive of the common
people, a mannish, highly colored style of elocution peculiar to
herself, rising above modesty in the choice of words and fearless in
calling things baldly by their plain names.

Meanwhile, the years rolled on, sweeping away the Restoration and the
monarchy of Louis-Philippe. She saw all those whom she had loved go
from her one by one, all her family take the road to the cemetery. She
was left quite alone, and she marveled and was grieved that death should
forget her, who would have offered so little resistance, for she was
already leaning over the grave and was obliged to force her heart down
to the level of the little children brought to her by the sons and
daughters of the friends whom she had lost. Her brother was dead. Her
dear _chick_ was no more. The _chick's_ sister-in-law alone was left to
her. But hers was a life that hung trembling in the balance, ready to
fly away. Crushed by the death of a child for whom she had waited for
years, the poor woman was dying of consumption. Mademoiselle de
Varandeuil was in her bedroom every day, from noon until six o'clock,
for four years. She lived by her side all that time, in the close
atmosphere and the odor of constant fumigations. She did not allow
herself to be kept away for one hour by her own gout and rheumatism, but
gave her time and her life to the peaceful last hours of that dying
woman, whose eyes were fixed upon heaven, where her dead children
awaited her. And when, in the cemetery, Mademoiselle de Varandeuil had
turned aside the shroud to kiss the dead face for the last time, it
seemed to her as if there were no one near to her, as if she were all
alone upon the earth.

Thenceforth, yielding to the infirmities which she had no further reason
to shake off, she began to live the narrow, confined life of old people
who wear out their carpet in one spot only--never leaving her room,
reading but little because it tired her eyes, and passing most of her
time buried in her easy-chair, reviewing the past and living it over
again. She would sit in the same position for days, her eyes wide open
and dreaming, her thoughts far from herself, far from the room in which
she sat, journeying whither her memories led her, to distant faces,
dearly loved, pallid faces, to vanished regions--lost in a profound
lethargy which Germinie was careful not to disturb, saying to herself:
"Madame is in her meditations----"

One day in every week, however, she went abroad. Indeed it was with that
weekly excursion in view, in order to be nearer the spot to which she
wished to go on that one day, that she left her apartments on Rue
Taitbout and took up her abode on Rue de Laval. One day in every week,
deterred by nothing, not even by illness, she repaired to the Montmartre
Cemetery, where her father and her brother rested, and the women whose
loss she regretted, all those whose sufferings had come to an end before
hers. For the dead and for Death she displayed a veneration almost equal
to that of the ancients. To her, the grave was sacred, and a dear
friend. She loved to visit the land of hope and deliverance where her
dear ones were sleeping, there to await death and to be ready with her
body. On that day, she would start early in the morning, leaning on the
arm of her maid, who carried a folding-stool. As she drew near the
cemetery, she would enter the shop of a dealer in wreaths, who had known
her for many years, and who, in winter, loaned her a foot-warmer. There
she would rest a few moments; then, loading Germinie down with wreaths
of immortelles, she would pass through the cemetery gate, take the path
to the left of the cedar at the entrance, and make her pilgrimage slowly
from tomb to tomb. She would throw away the withered flowers, sweep up
the dead leaves, tie the wreaths together, and, sitting down upon her
folding-chair, would gaze and dream, and absent-mindedly remove a bit of
moss from the flat stone with the end of her umbrella. Then she would
rise, turn as if to say _au revoir_ to the tomb she was leaving, walk
away, stop once more, and talk in an undertone, as she had done before,
with that part of her that was sleeping under the stone; and having thus
paid a visit to all the dead who lived in her affections, she would
return home slowly and reverentially, enveloping herself in silence as
if she were afraid to speak.



III


In the course of her reverie, Mademoiselle de Varandeuil had closed her
eyes.

The maid's story ceased, and the remainder of the history of her life,
which was upon her lips that evening, was once more buried in her heart.

The conclusion of her story was as follows:

When little Germinie Lacerteux arrived in Paris, being then less than
fifteen years old, her sister, desirous to have her begin to earn her
living at once, and to help to put bread in her hand, obtained a place
for her in a small café on the boulevard, where she performed the double
duties of lady's maid to the mistress of the café and assistant to the
waiters in carrying on the main business of the establishment. The
child, just from her village and dropped suddenly in that place, was
completely bewildered and terrified by her surroundings and her duties.
She had the first instinctive feeling of wounded modesty and,
foreshadowing the woman she was destined to become, she shuddered at the
perpetual contact with the other sex, working, eating, passing her whole
time with men; and whenever she had an opportunity to go out, and went
to her sisters, there were tearful, despairing scenes, when, without
actually complaining of anything, she manifested a sort of dread to
return, saying that she did not want to stay there, that they were not
satisfied with her, that she preferred to return to them. They would
reply that it had already cost them enough to bring her to Paris, that
it was a silly whim on her part and that she was very well off where she
was, and they would send her back to the café in tears. She dared not
tell all that she suffered in the company of the waiters in the café,
insolent, boasting, cynical fellows, fed on the remains of debauches,
tainted with all the vices to which they ministered, and corrupt to the
core with putrefying odds and ends of obscenity. At every turn, she had
to submit to the dastardly jests, the cruel mystifications, the
malicious tricks of these scoundrels, who were only too happy to make a
little martyr of the poor unsophisticated child, ignorant of everything,
with the crushed and sickly air, timid and sullen, thin and pale, and
pitiably clad in her wretched, countrified gowns. Bewildered,
overwhelmed, so to speak, by this hourly torture, she became their
drudge. They made sport of her ignorance, they deceived her and abused
her credulity by absurd fables, they overburdened her with fatiguing
tasks, they assailed her with incessant, pitiless ridicule, which
well-nigh drove her benumbed intellect to imbecility. In addition, they
made her blush at the things they said to her, which made her feel
ashamed, although she did not understand them. They soiled the
artlessness of her fourteen years with filthy veiled allusions. And they
found amusement in putting the eyes of her childish curiosity to the
keyholes of the private supper-rooms.

The little one longed to confide in her sisters, but she dared not.
When, with nourishing food, her body took on a little flesh, her cheeks
a little color and she began to have something of the aspect of a woman,
they took great liberties with her and grew bolder. There were attempts
at familiarity, significant gestures, advances, which she eluded, and
from which she escaped unscathed, but which assailed her purity by
breathing upon her innocence. Roughly treated, scolded, reviled by the
master of the establishment, who was accustomed to abuse his
maidservants and who bore her a grudge because she was not old enough or
of the right sort for a mistress, she found no support, no touch of
humanity, except in his wife. She began to love that woman with a sort
of animal devotion, and to obey her with the docility of a dog. She did
all her errands without thought or reflection. She carried her letters
to her lovers and was very clever about delivering them. She became very
active and agile and ingenuously sly in passing in and out, evading the
awakened suspicions of the husband; and without any clear idea of what
she was doing or of what she was concealing, she felt a mischievous
delight, such as children and monkeys feel, in telling herself vaguely
that she was causing some little suffering to that man and that house,
which caused her so much. There was among her comrades an old waiter,
named Joseph, who defended her, warned her of the cruel plots concocted
against her, and, when she was present, put a stop to conversation that
was too free, with the authority of his white hairs and his paternal
interest in the girl. Meanwhile Germinie's horror of the house increased
every day. One week her sisters were compelled to take her back to the
café by force.

A few days later, there was a great review on the Champ de Mars, and the
waiters had leave of absence for the day. Only Germinie and old Joseph
remained in the house. Joseph was at work sorting soiled linen in a
small, dark room. He told Germinie to come and help him. She entered the
room; she cried out, fell to the floor, wept, implored, struggled,
called desperately for help. The empty house was deaf.

When she recovered consciousness, Germinie ran and shut herself up in
her chamber. She was not seen again that day. On the following day, when
Joseph walked toward her and attempted to speak to her, she recoiled
from him in dismay, with the gesture of a woman mad with fear. For a
long time, whenever a man approached her, her first involuntary impulse
was to draw back suddenly, trembling and nervous, like a terrified,
bewildered beast, looking about for means of flight. Joseph, who feared
that she would denounce him, allowed her to keep him at a distance, and
respected the horrible repugnance she exhibited for him.

She became _enceinte_. One Sunday she had been to pass the evening with
her sister, the concierge; she had an attack of vomiting, followed by
severe pain. A physician who occupied an apartment in the house, came to
the lodge for his key, and the sisters learned from him the secret of
their younger sister's condition. The brutal, intractable pride of the
common people in their honor, the implacable severity of rigid piety,
flew to arms in the two women and found vent in fierce indignation.
Their bewilderment changed to fury. Germinie recovered consciousness
under their blows, their insults, the wounds inflicted by their hands,
the harsh words that came from their mouths. Her brother-in-law was
there, who had never forgiven her the cost of her journey; he glanced at
her with a bantering expression, with the cunning, ferocious joy of an
Auvergnat, with a sneering laugh that dyed the girl's cheeks a deeper
red than her sisters' blows.

She received the blows, she did not repel the insults. She sought
neither to defend nor to excuse herself. She did not tell what had taken
place and how little her own desires had had to do with her misfortune.
She was dumb: she had a vague hope that they would kill her. When her
older sister asked her if there had been no violence, and reminded her
that there were police officers and courts, she closed her eyes at the
thought of publishing her shame. For one instant only, when her
mother's memory was cast in her face, she emitted a glance, a lightning
flash from her eyes, by which the two women felt their consciences
pierced; they remembered that they were the ones who had placed her and
kept her in that den, and had exposed her to the danger, nay, had almost
forced her into her misfortune.

That same evening, the younger of Germinie's sisters took her to the Rue
Saint-Martin, to the house of a repairer of cashmere shawls, with whom
she lodged, and who, being almost daft on the subject of religion, was
banner-bearer in a sisterhood of the Virgin. She made her lie beside her
on a mattress on the floor, and having her there under her hand all
night, she vented upon her all her long-standing, venomous jealousy, her
bitter resentment at the preference, the caresses given Germinie by her
father and mother. It was a long succession of petty tortures, brutal or
hypocritical exhibitions of spite, kicks that bruised her legs, and
progressive movements of the body by which she gradually forced her
companion out of bed--it was a cold winter's night--to the floor of the
fireless room. During the day, the seamstress took Germinie in hand,
catechized her, preached at her, and by detailing the tortures of the
other life, inspired in her mind a horrible fear of the hell whose
flames she caused her to feel.

She lived there four months, in close confinement, and was never allowed
to leave the house. At the end of four months she gave birth to a dead
child. When her health was restored, she entered the service of a
depilator on Rue Laffitte, and for the first few days she had the joyful
feeling of having been released from prison. Two or three times, in her
walks, she met old Joseph who ran after her and wanted to marry her; but
she escaped him and the old man never knew that he had been a father.

But soon Germinie began to pine away in her new place. The house where
she had taken service as a maid of all work was what servants call "a
barrack." A spendthrift and glutton, devoid of order as of money, as is
often the case with women engaged in the occupations that depend upon
chance, and in the problematical methods of gaining a livelihood in
vogue in Paris, the depilator, who was almost always involved in a
lawsuit of some sort, paid but little heed to her small servant's
nourishment. She often went away for the whole day without leaving her
any dinner. The little one would satisfy her appetite as well as she
could with some kind of uncooked food, salads, vinegary things that
deceive a young woman's appetite, even charcoal, which she would nibble
with the depraved taste and capricious stomach of her age and sex. This
diet, just after recovering from her confinement, her health being but
partially restored and greatly in need of stimulants, exhausted the
young woman's strength, reduced her flesh and undermined her
constitution. She had a terrifying aspect. Her complexion changed to
that dead white that looks green in the daylight. Her swollen eyes were
surrounded with a great, bluish shadow. Her discolored lips assumed the
hue of faded violets. Her breath failed her at the slightest ascent, and
the incessant vibrating sound that came from the arteries of her throat
was painful to those near her. With heavy feet and enfeebled body, she
dragged herself along, as if life were too heavy a burden for her. Her
faculties and her senses were so torpid that she swooned for no cause at
all, for so small a matter as the fatigue of combing her mistress's
hair.

She was silently drooping there when her sister found her another place,
with a former actor, a retired comedian, living upon the money that the
laughter of all Paris had brought him. The good man was old and had
never had any children. He took pity on the wretched girl, interested
himself in her welfare, took care of her and made much of her. He took
her into the country. He walked with her on the boulevards in the
sunlight, and enjoyed the warmth the more for leaning on her arm. It
delighted him to see her in good spirits. Often, to amuse her, he would
take down a moth-eaten costume from his wardrobe and try to remember a
fragment of some part that had gone from his memory. The mere sight of
this little maid and her white cap was like a ray of returning youth to
him. In his old age, Jocrisse leaned upon her with the good-fellowship,
the pleasures and the childish fancies of a grandfather's heart. But he
died after a few months, and Germinie had fallen back into the service
of kept mistresses, boarding-house keepers, and passageway tradesmen,
when the sudden death of a maidservant gave her an opportunity to enter
the service of Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, then living on Rue Taitbout,
in the house of which her sister was concierge.



IV


Those people who look for the death of the Catholic religion in our day,
do not realize by what an infinite number of sturdy roots it still
retains its hold upon the hearts of the people. They do not realize the
secret, delicate fascination it has for the woman of the people. They do
not realize what confession and the confessor are to the impoverished
souls of those poor women. In the priest who listens and whose voice
falls softly on her ear, the woman of toil and suffering sees not so
much the minister of God, the judge of her sins, the arbiter of her
welfare, as the confidant of her sorrows and the friend of her misery.
However coarse she may be, there is always a little of the true woman in
her, a feverish, trembling, sensitive, wounded something, a restlessness
and, as it were, the sighing of an invalid who craves caressing words,
even as a child's trifling ailments require the nurse's droning lullaby.
She, as well as the woman of the world, must have the consolation of
pouring out her heart, of confiding her troubles to a sympathetic ear.
For it is the nature of her sex to seek an outlet for the emotions and
an arm to lean upon. There are in her mind things that she must tell,
and concerning which she would like to be questioned, pitied and
comforted. She dreams of a compassionate interest, a tender sympathy for
hidden feelings of which she is ashamed. Her masters may be the kindest,
the most friendly, the most approachable of masters to the woman in
their employ: their kindness to her will still be of the same sort that
they bestow upon a domestic animal. They will be uneasy concerning her
appetite and her health; they will look carefully after the animal part
of her, and that will be all. It will not occur to them that she can
suffer elsewhere than in her body, and they will not dream that she can
have the heartache, the sadness and immaterial pain for which they seek
relief by confiding in those of their own station. In their eyes, the
woman who sweeps and does the cooking, has no ideas that can cause her
to be sad or thoughtful, and they never speak to her of her thoughts. To
whom, then, shall she carry them? To the priest who is waiting for them,
asks for them, welcomes them, to the churchman who is also a man of the
world, a superior creature, a well-educated gentleman, who knows
everything, speaks well, is always accessible, gentle, patient,
attentive, and seems to feel no scorn for the most humble soul, the most
shabbily dressed penitent. The priest alone listens to the woman in a
cap. He alone takes an interest in her secret sufferings, in the things
that disturb and agitate her and that bring to a maid, as well as to
her mistress, the sudden longing to weep, or excite a tempest within
her. There is none but he to encourage her outpourings, to draw from her
those things which the irony of her daily life holds back, to look to
the state of her moral health; none but he to raise her above her
material life, none but he to cheer her with moving words of charity and
hope,--such divine words as she has never heard from the mouths of the
men of her family and of her class.

After entering the service of Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, Germinie
became profoundly religious and cared for nothing but the church. She
abandoned herself little by little to the sweet delight of confession,
to the priest's smooth, tranquil bass voice that came to her from the
darkness, to the conversations which resembled the touch of soothing
words, and from which she went forth refreshed, light of heart, free
from care, and happy with a delightful sense of relief, as if a balm had
been applied to all the tender, suffering, fettered portions of her
being.

She did not, could not, open her heart elsewhere. Her mistress had a
certain masculine roughness of demeanor which repelled expansiveness.
She had an abrupt, exclamatory way of speaking that forced back all that
Germinie would have liked to confide to her. It was in her nature to be
brutal in her treatment of all lamentations that were not caused by pain
or disappointment. Her virile kindliness had no pity to spare for
diseases of the imagination, for the suffering that is created by the
thought, for the weariness of spirit that flows from a woman's nerves
and from the disordered condition of her mental organism. Germinie often
found her unfeeling; the old woman had simply been hardened by the times
in which she had lived and by the circumstances of her life. The shell
of her heart was as hard as her body. Never complaining herself, she did
not like to hear complaints about her. And by the right of all the tears
she had not shed, she detested childish tears in grown persons.

Soon the confessional became a sort of sacred, idolized rendezvous for
Germinie's thoughts. Every day it was her first idea, the theme of her
first prayer. Throughout the day, she was kneeling there as in a dream;
and while she was about her work it was constantly before her eyes, with
its oaken frame with fillets of gold, its pediment in the shape of a
winged angel's head, its green curtain with the motionless folds, and
the mysterious darkness on both sides. It seemed to her that now her
whole life centred there, and that every hour tended thither. She lived
through the week looking forward to that longed-for, prayed-for,
promised day. On Thursday, she began to be impatient; she felt, in the
redoubling of her blissful agony, the material drawing near, as it were,
of the blessed Saturday evening; and when Saturday came and
mademoiselle's dinner had been hastily served and her work done, she
would make her escape and run to Notre-Dame de Lorette, hurrying to the
penitential stool as to a lover's rendezvous. Her fingers dipped in holy
water and a genuflexion duly made, she would glide over the flags,
between the rows of chairs, as softly as a cat steals across a carpeted
floor. With bent head, almost crawling, she would go noiselessly forward
in the shadow of the side aisles, until she reached the mysterious,
veiled confessional, where she would pause and await her turn, absorbed
in the emotion of suspense.

The young priest who confessed her, encouraged her frequent confessions.
He was not sparing of time or attention or charity. He allowed her to
talk at great length and tell him, with many words, of all her petty
troubles. He was indulgent to the diffuseness of a suffering soul, and
permitted her to pour out freely her most trivial afflictions. He
listened while she set forth her anxieties, her longings, her troubles;
he did not repel or treat with scorn any portion of the confidences of a
servant who spoke to him of all the most delicate, secret concerns of
her existence, as one would speak to a mother and a physician.

This priest was young. He was kind-hearted. He had lived in the world. A
great sorrow had impelled him, crushed and broken, to assume the gown
wherein he wore mourning for his heart. There remained something of the
man in the depths of his being, and he listened, with melancholy
compassion, to the outpouring of this maidservant's suffering heart. He
understood that Germinie needed him, that he sustained and strengthened
her, that he saved her from herself and removed her from the temptations
to which her nature exposed her. He was conscious of a sad sympathy for
that heart overflowing with affection, for the ardent, yet tractable
girl, for the unhappy creature who knew nothing of her own nature, who
was promised to passion by every impulse of her heart, by her whole
body, and who betrayed in every detail of her person the vocation of her
temperament. Enlightened by his past experience, he was amazed and
terrified sometimes by the gleams that emanated from her, by the flame
that shot from her eyes at the outburst of love in a prayer, by the
evident tendency of her confessions, by her constantly recurring to that
scene of violence, that scene in which her perfectly sincere purpose to
resist seemed to the priest to have been betrayed by a convulsion of the
senses that was stronger than she.

This fever of religion lasted several years, during which Germinie lived
a concentrated, silent, happy life, entirely devoted to God's
service--at least she thought so. Her confessor, however, had come
gradually to the conclusion that all her adoration tended toward
himself. By her glances, by her blushes, by the words she no longer said
to him, and by others which she made bold to say to him for the first
time, he realized that his penitent's devotion was going astray and
becoming unduly fervent, deceiving itself as to its object. She watched
for him when the services were at an end, followed him into the
sacristy, hung on his skirts, ran into the church after his cassock. The
confessor tried to warn her, to divert her amorous fervor from himself.
He became more reserved and assumed a cold demeanor. In despair at this
change, at his apparent indifference, Germinie, feeling bitter and hurt,
confessed to him one day, in the confessional, the hatred that had taken
possession of her for two young girls, who were his favorite penitents.
Thereupon the priest dismissed her, without discussion, and sent her to
another confessor. Germinie went once or twice to confess to this other
confessor; then she ceased to go; soon she ceased even to think of
going, and of all her religion naught remained in her mind but a certain
far-off sweetness, like the faint odor of burned-out incense.

Affairs had reached that point when mademoiselle fell ill. Throughout
her illness, as Germinie did not want to leave her, she did not attend
mass. And on the first Sunday--when mademoiselle, being fully recovered,
did not require her care, she was greatly surprised to find that "her
devotee" remained at home and did not run away to church.

"Oho!" said she, "so you don't go and see your curés nowadays? What have
they done to you, eh?"

"Nothing," said Germinie.



V


"There, mademoiselle!--Look at me," said Germinie.

It was a few months later. She had asked her mistress's permission to go
that evening to the wedding ball of her grocer's sister, who had chosen
her for her maid-of-honor, and she had come to exhibit herself _en
grande toilette_, in her low-necked muslin dress.

Mademoiselle raised her eyes from the old volume, printed in large type,
which she was reading, removed her spectacles, placed them in the book
to mark her place, and exclaimed:

"What, my little bigot, you at a ball! Do you know, my girl, this seems
to me downright nonsense! You and the hornpipe! Faith, all you need now
is to want to get married! A deuce of a want, that! But if you marry, I
warn you that I won't keep you--mind that! I've no desire to wait on
your brats! Come a little nearer----Oho! why----bless my soul!
Mademoiselle Show-all! We're getting to be a bit of a flirt lately, I
find----"

"Why no, mademoiselle," Germinie tried to say.

"And then," continued Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, following out her
thought, "among you people, the men are such sweet creatures! They'll
spend all you have--to say nothing of the blows. But marriage--I am sure
that that nonsensical idea of getting married buzzes around in your head
when you see the others. That's what gives you that simper, I'll wager.
_Bon Dieu de Dieu!_ Now turn a bit, so that I can see you," said
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, with an abrupt change of tone to one that
was almost caressing; and placing her thin hands on the arms of her
easy-chair, crossing her legs and moving her foot back and forth, she
set about inspecting Germinie and her toilet.

"What the devil!" said she, after a few moments of silent scrutiny,
"what! is it really you?----Then I have never used my eyes to look at
you.----Good God, yes!----But----but----" She mumbled more vague
exclamations between her teeth.----"Where the deuce did you get that mug
like an amorous cat's?" she said at last, and continued to gaze at her.

Germinie was ugly. Her hair, of so dark a chestnut that it seemed black,
curled and twisted in unruly waves, in little stiff, rebellious locks,
which escaped and stood up all over her head, despite the pomade upon
her shiny _bandeaux_. Her smooth, narrow, swelling brow protruded above
the shadow of the deep sockets in which her eyes were buried and sunken
to such a depth as almost to denote disease; small, bright, sparkling
eyes they were, made to seem smaller and brighter by a constant girlish
twinkle that softened and lighted up their laughter. They were neither
brown eyes nor blue eyes, but were of an undefinable, changing gray, a
gray that was not a color, but a light! Emotion found expression therein
in the flame of fever, pleasure in the flashing rays of a sort of
intoxication, passion in phosphorescence. Her short, turned-up nose,
with large, dilated, palpitating nostrils, was one of those noses of
which the common people say that it rains inside: upon one side, at the
corner of the eye was a thick, swollen blue vein. The square head of the
Lorraine race was emphasized in her broad, high, prominent cheek-bones,
which were well-covered with the traces of small-pox. The most
noticeable defect in her face was the too great distance between the
nose and mouth. This lack of proportion gave an almost apish character
to the lower part of the head, where the expansive mouth, with white
teeth and full lips that looked as if they had been crushed, they were
so flat, smiled at you with a strange, vaguely irritating smile.

Her _décolleté_ dress disclosed her neck, the upper part of her breast,
her shoulders and her white back, presenting a striking contrast to her
swarthy face. It was a lymphatic sort of whiteness, the whiteness, at
once unhealthy and angelic, of flesh in which there is no life. She had
let her arms fall by her sides--round, smooth arms with a pretty dimple
at the elbow. Her wrists were delicate; her hands, which did not betray
the servant, were embellished with a lady's fingernails. And lazily,
with graceful sloth, she allowed her indolent figure to curve and
sway;--a figure that a garter might span, and that was made even more
slender to the eye by the projection of the hips and the curve of the
hoops that gave the balloon-like roundness to her skirt;--an impossible
waist, absurdly small but adorable, like everything in woman that
offends one's sense of proportion by its diminutiveness.

From this ugly woman emanated a piquant, mysterious charm. Light and
shadow, jostling and intercepting each other on her face on which
hollows and protuberances abounded, imparted to it that suggestion of
libertinism which the painter of love scenes gives to the rough sketch
of his mistress. Everything about her,--her mouth, her eyes, her very
plainness--was instinct with allurement and solicitation. Her person
exhaled an aphrodisiac charm, which challenged and laid fast hold of the
other sex. It unloosed desire, and caused an electric shock. Sensual
thoughts were naturally and involuntarily aroused by her, by her
gestures, her gait, her slightest movement--even by the air in which her
body had left one of its undulations. Beside her, one felt as if he were
near one of those disturbing, disquieting creatures, burning with the
love disease and communicating it to others, whose face appears to man
in his restless hours, torments his listless noonday thoughts, haunts
his nights and trespasses upon his dreams.

In the midst of Mademoiselle de Varandeuil's scrutiny, Germinie stooped
over her, and covered her hand with hurried kisses.

"There--there--enough of that," said Mademoiselle. "You would soon wear
out the skin--with your way of kissing. Come, run along, enjoy yourself,
and try not to stay out too late. Don't get all tired out."

Mademoiselle de Varandeuil was left alone. She placed her elbows on her
knees, stared at the fire and stirred the burning wood with the tongs.
Then, as she was accustomed to do when deeply preoccupied, she struck
herself two or three sharp little blows on the neck with the flat of her
hand, and thereby set her black cap all awry.



VI


When she mentioned the subject of marriage to Germinie, Mademoiselle de
Varandeuil touched upon the real cause of her trouble. She placed her
hand upon the seat of her _ennui_. Her maid's uneven temper, her
distaste for life, the languor, the emptiness, the discontent of her
existence, arose from that disease which medical science calls the
_melancholia of virgins_. The torment of her twenty-four years was the
ardent, excited, poignant longing for marriage, for that state which was
too holy and honorable for her, and which seemed impossible of
attainment in face of the confession her womanly probity would insist
upon making of her fall and her unworthiness. Family losses and
misfortunes forcibly diverted her mind from her own troubles.

Her brother-in-law, her sister the concierge's husband, had dreamed the
dream of all Auvergnats: he had undertaken to increase his earnings as
concierge by the profits of a dealer in bric-à-brac. He had begun
modestly with a stall in the street, at the doors of the marts where
executors' sales are held; and there you could see, set out upon blue
paper, plated candlesticks, ivory napkin rings, colored lithographs
with frames of gold lace on a black ground, and three or four odd
volumes of Buffon. His profit on the plated candlesticks intoxicated
him. He hired a dark shop on a passage way, opposite an umbrella
mender's, and began to trade upon the credulity that goes in and out of
the lower rooms in the Auction Exchange. He sold _assiettes à coq_,
pieces of Jean Jacques Rousseau's wooden shoe, and water-colors by
Ballue, signed Watteau. In that business he threw away what he had made,
and ran in debt to the amount of several thousand francs. His wife, in
order to straighten matters out a little and to try and get out of debt,
asked for and obtained a place as box-opener at the _Théâtre-Historique_.
She hired her sister the dressmaker to watch the door in the evening,
went to bed at one o'clock and was astir again at five. After a few
months she caught cold in the corridors of the theatre, and an attack of
pleurisy laid her low and carried her off in six weeks. The poor woman
left a little girl three years old, who was taken down with the measles;
the disease assumed its most malignant form in the foul stench of the
loft, where the child had breathed for more than a month air poisoned by
the breath of her dying mother. The father had gone into the country to
try and borrow money. He married again there. Nothing more was heard of
him.

When returning from her sister's burial Germinie ran to the house of an
old woman who made a living in those curious industries which prevent
poverty from absolutely starving to death in Paris. This old woman
carried on several trades. Sometimes she cut bristles into equal lengths
for brushes, sometimes she sorted out bits of gingerbread. When those
industries failed, she did cooking and washed the faces of pedlars'
children. In Lent she rose at four o'clock in the morning, went and took
possession of a chair at Notre-Dame, and sold it for ten or twelve sous
when the crowd arrived. In order to procure fuel to warm herself, in the
den where she lived on Rue Saint-Victor, she would go, at nightfall, to
the Luxembourg and peel the bark off the trees. Germinie, who knew her
from having given her the crusts from the kitchen every week, hired a
servant's room on the sixth floor of the house, and took up her abode
there with the little one. She did it on the impulse of the moment,
without reflection. She did not remember her sister's harsh treatment of
her when she was _enceinte_, so that she had no need to forgive it.

Thenceforth Germinie had but one thought, her niece. She determined to
rescue her from death and restore her to life by dint of careful
nursing. She would rush away from Mademoiselle at every moment, run up
the stairs to the sixth floor four at a time, kiss the child, give her
her draught, arrange her comfortably in bed, look at her, and rush down
again, all out of breath and red with pleasure. Care, caresses, the
breath from the heart with which we revive a tiny flame on the point of
dying out, consultations, doctor's visits, costly medicines, the
remedies of the wealthy,--Germinie spared nothing for the little one and
gave her everything. Her wages flowed through that channel. For almost a
year she gave her beef juice every morning: sleepyhead that she was, she
left her bed at five o'clock in the morning to prepare it, and awoke
without being called, as mothers do. The child was out of danger at
last, when Germinie received a visit one morning from her sister the
dressmaker, who had been married two or three years to a machinist, and
who came now to bid her adieu: her husband was going to accompany some
fellow-workmen who had been hired to go to Africa. She was going with
him and she proposed to Germinie that they should take the little one
with them as a playmate for their own child. They offered to take her
off her hands. Germinie, they said, would have to pay only for the
journey. It was a separation she would have to make up her mind to
sooner or later on account of her mistress. And then, said the sister,
she was the child's aunt too. And she heaped words upon words to induce
Germinie to give them the child, with whom she and her husband expected,
after their arrival in Africa, to move Germinie to pity, to get
possession of her wages, to play upon her heart and her purse.

It cost Germinie very dear to part with her niece. She had staked a
portion of her existence upon the child. She was attached to her by her
anxiety and her sacrifices. She had disputed possession of her with
disease and had won the day; the girl's life was her miracle. And yet
she realized that she could never take her to mademoiselle's apartments;
that mademoiselle, at her age, with the burden of her years, and an aged
person's need of tranquillity, could never endure the constant noise and
movement of a child. And then, the little girl's presence in the house
would cause idle gossip and set the whole street agog: people would say
she was her child. Germinie made a confidante of her mistress.
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil knew the whole story. She knew that she had
taken charge of her niece, although she had pretended not to know it;
she had chosen to see nothing in order to permit everything. She advised
Germinie to entrust her niece to her sister, pointing out to her all the
difficulties in the way of keeping her herself, and she gave her money
to pay for the journey of the whole family.

The parting was a heart-breaking thing to Germinie. She found herself
left alone and without occupation. Not having the child, she knew not
what to love; her heart was weary, and she had such a feeling of the
emptiness of life without the little one, that she turned once more to
religion and transferred her affections to the church.

Three months had passed when she received news of her sister's death.
The husband, who was one of the whining, lachrymose breed of mechanics,
gave her in his letter, mingled with labored, moving phrases, and
threads of pathos, a despairing picture of his position, with the burial
to pay for, attacks of fever that prevented him from working, two young
children, without counting the little girl, and a household with no wife
to heat the soup. Germinie wept over the letter; then her thoughts
turned to living in that house, beside that poor man, among the poor
children, in that horrible Africa; and a vague longing to sacrifice
herself began to awaken within her. Other letters followed, in which,
while thanking her for her assistance, her brother-in-law gave to his
poverty, to his desolate plight, to the misery that enveloped him, a
still more dramatic coloring--the coloring that the common people impart
to trifles, with its memories of the Boulevard du Crime and its
fragments of vile books. Once caught by the _blague_ of this misery,
Germinie could not cut loose from it. She fancied she could hear the
cries of the children calling her. She became completely absorbed,
buried in the project and resolution of going to them. She was haunted
by the idea and by the word Africa, which she turned over and over
incessantly in the depths of her mind, without a word. Mademoiselle de
Varandeuil, noticing her thoughtfulness and melancholy, asked her what
the matter was, but in vain: Germinie did not speak. She was pulled this
way and that, tormented between what seemed to her a duty and what
seemed to her ingratitude, between her mistress and her sisters' blood.
She thought that she could not leave mademoiselle. And again she said to
herself that God did not wish her to abandon her family. She would look
about the apartment and mutter: "And yet I must go!" Then she would fear
that mademoiselle might be sick when she was not there. Another maid! At
that thought she was seized with jealousy and fancied that she could
already see someone stealing her mistress. At other moments, when her
religious ideas impelled her to thoughts of self-sacrifice, she was all
ready to devote her existence to this brother-in-law. She determined to
go and live with this man, whom she detested, with whom she had always
been on the worst of terms, who had almost killed her sister with grief,
whom she knew to be a brutish, drunken sot; and all that she
anticipated, all that she dreaded, the certainty of all she would have
to suffer and her shrinking fear of it, served to exalt and inflame her
imagination, to urge her on to the sacrifice with the greater impatience
and ardor. Often the whole scheme fell to the ground in an instant: at a
word, at a gesture from mademoiselle, Germinie would become herself once
more, and would fail to recognize herself. She felt that she was bound
to her mistress absolutely and forever, and she had a thrill of horror
at having so much as thought of detaching her own life from hers. She
struggled thus for two years. Then she learned one fine day, by chance,
that her niece had died a few weeks after her sister: her brother-in-law
had concealed the child's death in order to maintain his hold upon her,
and to lure her to him in Africa, with her few sous. Germinie's
illusions being wholly dispelled by that revelation, she was cured on
the spot. She hardly remembered that she had ever thought of going
away.



VII


About this time a small creamery at the end of the street, with few
customers, changed hands, as a result of the sale of the real estate by
order of court. The shop was renovated and repainted. The front windows
were embellished with inscriptions in yellow letters. Pyramids of
chocolate from the Compagnie Coloniale, and coffee-cups filled with
flowers, alternating with small liqueur glasses, were displayed upon the
shelves. At the door glistened the sign--a copper milk jug divided in
the middle.

The woman who thus endeavored to re-establish the concern, the new
_crémière_, was a person of about fifty years of age, whose corpulence
passed all bounds, and who still retained some _débris_ of beauty, half
submerged in fat. It was said in the quarter that she had set herself up
in business with the money of an old gentleman, whose servant she had
been until his death, in her native province, near Langres; for it
happened that she was a countrywoman of Germinie, not from the same
village, but from a small place near by; and although she and
mademoiselle's maid had never met nor seen each other in the country,
they knew each other by name and were drawn together by the fact that
they had acquaintances in common and could compare memories of the same
places. The stout woman was a flattering, affected, fawning creature.
She said: "My love" to everybody, talked in a piping voice, and played
the child with the querulous languor of corpulent persons. She detested
vulgar remarks and would blush and take alarm at trifles. She adored
secrets, twisted everything into a confidential communication, invented
stories and always whispered in your ear. Her life was passed in
gossiping and groaning. She pitied others and she pitied herself; she
lamented her ill fortune and her stomach. When she had eaten too much
she would say dramatically: "I am dying!" and nothing ever was so
pathetic as her indigestion. She was constantly moved to tears: she wept
indiscriminately for a maltreated horse, for someone who had died, for
milk that had curdled. She wept over the various items in the
newspapers, she wept for the sake of weeping.

Germinie was very soon ensnared and moved to pity by this wheedling,
talkative _crémière_, who was always in a state of intense emotion,
calling upon others to open their hearts to her, and apparently so
affectionate. After three months hardly anything passed mademoiselle's
doors that did not come from Mère Jupillon. Germinie procured
everything, or almost everything there. She passed hours in the shop.
Once there it was hard work for her to leave; she remained there,
unable to rise from her chair. A sort of instinctive cowardice detained
her. At the door she would stop and talk on, in order to delay her
departure. She felt bound to the _crémière_ by the invisible charm of
familiar places to which you constantly return, and which end by
embracing you like things that would love you. And then, too, in her
eyes the shop meant Madame Jupillon's three dogs, three wretched curs;
she always had them on her knees, she scolded them and kissed them and
talked to them; and when she was warm with their warmth, she would feel
in the depths of her heart the contentment of a beast rubbing against
her little ones. Again, the shop to her meant all the gossip of the
quarter, the rendezvous of all the scandals,--how this one had failed to
pay her note and that one had received a carriage load of flowers; it
meant a place that was on the watch for everything, even to the lace
_peignoir_ going to town on the maid's arm.

In a word everything tended to attach her to the place. Her intimacy
with the _crémière_ was strengthened by all the mysterious bonds of
friendship between women of the people, by the continual chatter, the
daily exchange of the trivial affairs of life, the conversation for the
sake of conversing, the repetition of the same _bonjour_ and the same
_bonsoir_, the division of caresses among the same animals, the naps
side by side and chair against chair. The shop at last became her
regular place for idling away her time, a place where her thoughts, her
words, her body and her very limbs were marvelously at ease. There came
a time when her happiness consisted in sitting drowsily of an evening in
a straw arm-chair, beside Mère Jupillon--sound asleep with her
spectacles on her nose--and holding the dogs rolled in a ball in the
skirt of her dress; and while the lamp, almost dying, burned pale upon
the counter, she would sit idly there, letting her glance lose itself at
the back of the shop, and gradually grow dim, with her ideas, as her
eyes rested vaguely upon a triumphal arch of snail shells joined
together with old moss, beneath which stood a little copper Napoléon,
with his hands behind his back.



VIII


Madame Jupillon, who claimed to have been married and signed herself
_Widow Jupillon_, had a son. He was still a child. She had placed him at
Saint-Nicholas, the great religious establishment where, for thirty
francs a month, rudimentary instruction and a trade are furnished to the
children of the common people, and to many natural children. Germinie
fell into the way of accompanying Madame Jupillon when she went to see
_Bibi_ on Thursdays. This visit became a means of distraction to her,
something to look forward to. She would urge the mother to hurry, would
always arrive first at the omnibus office, and was content to sit with
her arms resting on a huge basket of provisions all the way.

It happened that Mère Jupillon had trouble with her leg--a carbuncle
that prevented her from walking for nearly eighteen months. Germinie
went alone to Saint-Nicholas, and as she was promptly and easily led to
devote herself to others, she took as deep an interest in that child as
if he were connected with her in some way. She did not miss a single
Thursday and always arrived with her hands full of the last week's
desserts, and with cakes and fruit and sweetmeats she had bought. She
would kiss the urchin, inquire for his health, and feel to see if he had
his knitted vest under his blouse; she would notice how flushed he was
from running, would wipe his face with her handkerchief and make him
show her the soles of his shoes so that she could see if there were any
holes in them. She would ask if his teachers were satisfied with him, if
he attended to his duties and if he had had many good marks. She would
talk to him of his mother and bid him love the good Lord, and until the
clock struck two she would walk with him in the courtyard: the child
would offer her his arm, as proud as you please to be with a woman much
better dressed than the majority of those who came there--with a woman
in silk. He was anxious to learn the flageolet. It cost only five francs
a month, but his mother would not give them. Germinie carried him the
hundred sous every month, on the sly. It was a humiliating thing to him
to wear the little uniform blouse when he went out to walk, and on the
two or three occasions during the year when he went to see his mother.
On his birthday, one year, Germinie unfolded a large parcel before him:
she had had a tunic made for him; it is doubtful if twenty of his
comrades in the whole school belonged to families in sufficiently easy
circumstances to wear such garments.

She spoiled him thus for several years, not allowing him to suffer with
a longing for anything, encouraging the caprices and the pride of
wealthy children in the poor child, softening for him the privations and
hardships of that trade school, where children were formed for a
laboring life, wore blouses and ate off plates of brown earthenware; a
school that by its toilsome apprenticeship hardened the children of the
people to lives of toil. Meanwhile the boy was growing fast. Germinie
did not notice it: in her eyes he was still the child he had always
been. From habit she always stooped to kiss him. One day she was
summoned before the abbé who was at the head of the school. He spoke to
her of expelling Jupillon. Obscene books had been found in his
possession. Germinie, trembling at the thought of the blows that awaited
the child at his mother's hands, prayed and begged and implored; she
succeeded at last in inducing the abbé to forgive the culprit. When she
went down into the courtyard again she attempted to scold him; but at
the first word of her moral lecture, Bibi suddenly cast in her face a
glance and smile in which there was no trace of the child that he was
the day before. She lowered her eyes, and she was the one to blush. A
fortnight passed before she went again to Saint-Nicholas.



IX


About the time that young Jupillon left the boarding-school, a maid in
the service of a kept woman who lived on the floor below mademoiselle
sometimes passed the evening with Germinie at Madame Jupillon's. A
native of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which supplies Paris with coupé
drivers and lorettes' waiting-maids, this girl was what is called in
vulgar parlance: "a great _bringue_;" she was an awkward, wild-eyed
creature, with the eyebrows of a water carrier. She soon fell into the
habit of going there every evening. She treated everybody to cakes and
liquors, amused herself by showing off little Jupillon, playing
pat-a-cake with him, sitting on his knee, telling him to his face that
he was a beauty, treating him like a child, playing the wanton with him
and joking him because he was not a man. The boy, happy and proud of
these attentions from the first woman who had ever taken notice of him,
manifested before long his preference for Adèle: so was the new-comer
called.

Germinie was passionately jealous. Jealousy was the foundation of her
nature; it was the dregs of her affection and gave it its bitter taste.
Those whom she loved she wished to have entirely to herself, to possess
them absolutely. She demanded that they should love no one but her. She
could not permit them to take from her and bestow upon others the
slightest fragment of their affection: as she had earned it, it no
longer belonged to them; they were no longer entitled to dispose of it.
She detested the people whom her mistress seemed to welcome more
cordially than others, and with whom she was on most intimate terms. By
her ill-humor and her sullen manner she had offended, had almost driven
from the house, two or three of mademoiselle's old friends, whose visits
wounded her; as if the old ladies came there for the purpose of
abstracting something from the rooms, of taking a little of her mistress
from her. People of whom she had once been fond became odious to her:
she did not consider that they were fond enough of her; she hated them
for all the love she wanted from them. Her heart was despotic and
exacting in everything. As it gave all, it demanded all in return. At
the least sign of coldness, at the slightest indication that she had a
rival, she would fly into a rage, tear her hair, pass her nights in
weeping, and execrate the whole world.

Seeing that other woman make herself at home in the shop and adopt a
tone of familiarity with the young man, all Germinie's jealous instincts
were aroused and changed to furious rage. Her hatred flew to arms and
rebelled, with her disgust, against the shameless, brazen-faced
creature, who could be seen on Sunday sitting at table on the outer
boulevards with soldiers, and who had blue marks on her face on Monday.
She did her utmost to induce Madame Jupillon to turn her away; but she
was one of the best customers of the creamery, and the _crémière_ mildly
refused to close her doors upon her. Germinie had recourse to the son
and told him that she was a miserable creature. But that only served to
attach the young man the closer to the vile woman, whose evil reputation
delighted him. Moreover, he had the cruel mischievous instinct of youth,
and he redoubled his attentions to her simply to see "the nose" that
Germinie made and to enjoy her despair. Soon Germinie discovered that
the woman's intentions were more serious than she had at first supposed:
she began to understand what she wanted of the child,--for the tall
youth of seventeen was still a child in her eyes. Thenceforward she hung
upon their steps; she was always beside them, never left them alone for
a moment, made one at all their parties, at the theatre or in the
country, joined them in all their walks, was always at hand and in the
way, seeking to hold Adèle back, and to restore her sense of decency by
a word in an undertone: "A mere boy! ain't you ashamed?" she would say
to her. And the other would laugh aloud, as if it were a good joke.

When they left the theatre, enlivened and heated by the feverish
excitement of the performance and the place; when they returned from an
excursion to the country, laden with a long day's sunshine, intoxicated
with the blue sky and the pure air, excited by the wine imbibed at
dinner, amid the sportive liberties in which the woman of the people,
drunk with enjoyment and with the delights of unlimited good cheer, and
with the senses keyed up to the highest pitch of joviality, makes bold
to indulge at night, Germinie tried to be always between the maid and
Jupillon. She never relaxed her efforts to break the lovers' hold upon
each other's arms, to unbind them, to uncouple them. Never wearying of
the task, she was forever separating them, luring them away from each
other. She placed her body between those bodies that were groping for
each other. She glided between the hands outstretched to touch each
other; she glided between the lips that were put forth in search of
other proffered lips. But of all this that she prevented she felt the
breath and the shock. She felt the pressure of the hands she held apart,
the caresses that she caught on the wing and that missed their mark and
went astray upon her. The hot breath of the kisses she intercepted blew
upon her cheek. Involuntarily, and with a feeling of horror, she became
a party to the embracing, she was infected with the desires aroused by
this constant friction and struggling, which diminished day by day the
young man's restraint and respect for her person.

It happened one day that she was less strong against herself than she
had previously been. On that occasion she did not elude his advances so
abruptly as usual. Jupillon felt that she stopped short. Germinie felt
it even more keenly than he; but she was at the end of her efforts,
exhausted with the torture she had undergone. The love which, coming
from another, she had turned aside from Jupillon, had slowly taken full
possession of her own heart. Now it was firmly rooted there, and,
bleeding with jealousy, she found that she was incapable of resistance,
weak and fainting, like a person fatally wounded, in presence of the joy
that had come to her.

She repelled the young man's audacious attempts, however, without a
word. She did not dream of belonging to him otherwise than as a friend,
or giving way farther than she had done. She lived upon the thought of
love, believing that she could live upon it always. And in the ecstatic
exaltation of her thoughts, she put aside all memory of her fall, and
repressed her desires. She remained shuddering and pure, lost and
suspended in abysses of affection, neither enjoying nor wishing for
aught from the lover but a caress, as if her heart were made only for
the joy of kissing.



X


This happy though unsatisfied love produced a strange physiological
phenomenon in Germinie's physical being. One would have said that the
passion that was alive within her renewed and transformed her lymphatic
temperament. She did not seem, as before, to extract her life, drop by
drop, from a penurious spring: it flowed through her arteries in a full,
generous stream; she felt the tingling sensation of rich blood over her
whole body. She seemed to be filled with the warm glow of health, and
the joy of living beat its wings in her breast like a bird in the
sunlight.

A marvelous animation had come to her. The miserable nervous energy that
once sustained her had given place to healthy activity, to bustling,
restless, overflowing gayety. She had no trace now of the weakness, the
dejection, the prostration, the supineness, the sluggishness that
formerly distinguished her. The heavy, drowsy feeling in the morning was
a thing of the past; she awoke feeling fresh and bright, and alive in an
instant to the cheer of the new day. She dressed in haste, playfully;
her agile fingers moved of themselves, and she was amazed to be so
bright and full of activity during the hours of faintness before
breakfast, when she had so often felt her heart upon her lips. And
throughout the day she had the same consciousness of physical
well-being, the same briskness of movement. She must be always on the
move, walking, running, doing something, expending her strength. At
times all that she had lived through seemed to have no existence; the
sensations of living that she had hitherto experienced seemed to her
like a far-off dream, or as if dimly seen in the background of a
sleeping memory. The past lay behind her, as if she had traversed it,
covered with a veil like one in a swoon, or with the unconsciousness of
a somnambulist. It was the first time that she had experienced the
feeling, the impression, at once bitter and sweet, violent and
celestial, of the game of life brilliant in its plenitude, its
regularity and its power.

She ran up and downstairs for a nothing. At a word from mademoiselle she
would trip down the whole five flights. When she was seated, her feet
danced on the floor. She brushed and scrubbed and beat and shook and
washed and set to rights, without rest or reprieve, always at work,
filling the apartment with her goings and comings, and the incessant
bustle that followed her about.--"Mon Dieu!" her mistress would say,
stunned by the uproar she made, just like a child,--"you're turning
things upside down, Germinie! that will do for that!"

One day, when she went into Germinie's kitchen, mademoiselle saw a
little earth in a cigar box on the leads.--"What's that?" she
asked.--"That's grass--that I planted--to look at," said Germinie.--"So
you're in love with grass now, eh? All you need now is to have
canaries!"



XI


In the course of a few months, Germinie's life, her whole life belonged
to the _crémière_. Mademoiselle's service was not exacting and took but
little time. A whiting or a cutlet--that was all the cooking there was
to be done. Mademoiselle might have kept her with her in the evening for
company: she preferred, however, to send her away, to drive her out of
doors, to force her to take a little air and diversion. She asked only
that she would return at ten o'clock to help her to bed; and yet when
Germinie was a little late, mademoiselle undressed herself and went to
bed alone very comfortably. Every hour that her mistress left her at
leisure, Germinie passed in the shop. She fell into the habit of going
down to the creamery in the morning, when the shutters were removed, and
generally carried them inside; she would take her _café au lait_ there
and remain until nine o'clock, when she would go back and give
mademoiselle her chocolate; and between breakfast and dinner she found
excuses for returning two or three times, delaying and chattering in the
back-shop on the slightest pretext. "What a magpie you are getting to
be!" mademoiselle would say, in a scolding voice, but with a smiling
face.

At half past five, when her mistress's little dinner was cleared away,
she would run down the stairs four at a time, install herself at Mère
Jupillon's, wait until ten o'clock, clamber up the five flights, and in
five minutes undress her mistress, who submitted unresistingly, albeit
she was somewhat astonished that Germinie should be in such haste to go
to bed; she remembered the time when she had a mania for moving her
sleepy body from one easy-chair to another, and was never willing to go
up to her room. While the candle was still smoking on mademoiselle's
night table, Germinie would be back at the creamery, this time to remain
until midnight, until one o'clock; often she did not go until a
policeman, noticing the light, tapped on the shutters and made them
close up.

In order to be always there and to have the right to be always there, to
make herself a part of the shop, to keep her eyes constantly upon the
man she loved, to hover about him, to keep him, to be always brushing
against him, she had become the servant of the establishment. She swept
the shop, she prepared the old woman's meals and the food for the dogs.
She waited upon the son; she made his bed, she brushed his clothes, she
waxed his boots, happy and proud to touch what he touched, thrilling
with pleasure when she placed her hand where he placed his body, and
ready to kiss the mud upon the leather of his boots, because it was
his!

She did the menial work, she kept the shop, she served the customers.
Madame Jupillon rested everything upon her shoulders; and while the
good-natured girl was working and perspiring, the bulky matron, assuming
the majestic, leisurely air of an annuitant, anchored upon a chair in
the middle of the sidewalk and inhaling the fresh air of the street,
fingered and rattled the precious coin in the capacious pocket beneath
her apron--the coin that rings so sweetly in the ears of the petty
tradesmen of Paris, that the retired shopkeeper is melancholy beyond
words at first, because he no longer has the chinking and the tinkling
under his hand.



XII


When the spring came, Germinie said to Jupillon almost every evening:
"Suppose we go as far as the beginning of the fields?"

Jupillon would put on his flannel shirt with red and black squares, and
his black velvet cap; and they would start for what the people of the
quarter call "the beginning of the fields."

They would go up the Chaussée Clignancourt, and, with the flood of
Parisians from the faubourg hurrying to drink a little fresh air, would
walk on toward the great patch of sky that rose straight from the
pavements, at the top of the ascent, between the two lines of houses,
unobstructed except by an occasional omnibus. The air was growing cooler
and the sun shone only upon the roofs of the houses and the chimneys. As
from a great door opening into the country, there came from the end of
the street and from the sky beyond, a breath of boundless space and
liberty.

At the Château-Rouge they found the first tree, the first foliage. Then,
at Rue du Château, the horizon opened before them in dazzling beauty.
The fields stretched away in the distance, glistening vaguely in the
powdery, golden haze of seven o'clock. All nature trembled in the
daylight dust that the day leaves in its wake, upon the verdure it blots
from sight and the houses it suffuses with pink.

Frequently they descended the footpath covered with the figures of the
game of hop-scotch marked out in charcoal, by long walls with an
occasional overhanging branch, by lines of detached houses with gardens
between. At their left rose tree-tops filled with light, clustering
foliage pierced by the beams of the setting sun, which cast lines of
fire across the bars of the iron gateways. After the gardens came
hedgerows, estates for sale, unfinished buildings erected upon the line
of projected streets and stretching out their jagged walls into empty
space, with heaps of broken bottles at their feet; large, low, plastered
houses, with windows filled with bird-cages and cloths, and with the Y
of the sink-pipes at every floor; and openings into enclosures that
resembled barnyards, studded with little mounds on which goats were
browsing.

They would stop here and there and smell the flowers, inhale the perfume
of a meagre lilac growing in a narrow lane. Germinie would pluck a leaf
in passing and nibble at it.

Flocks of joyous swallows flew wildly about in circles and in fantastic
figures over her head. The birds called. The sky answered the cages. She
heard everything about her singing, and glanced with a glad eye at
the women in chemisettes at the windows, the men in their shirt sleeves
in the little gardens, the mothers on the doorsteps with their little
ones between their legs.


[Illustration: Chapter XII

_But at the fortifications her pleasure returned. She would go with
Jupillon and sit upon the slope of the embankment. Beside her were
families innumerable, workmen lying flat upon their faces, small
annuitants gazing at the horizon through spy-glasses, philosophers of
want, bent double, with their hands upon their knees, the greasy coats
characteristic of old men, and black hats worn as red as their red
beards._]


At the foot of the slope the pavement came to an end. The street was
succeeded by a broad, white, chalky, dusty road, made of débris, old
pieces of plaster, crumbs of lime and bricks; a sunken road, with deep
ruts, polished on the edges, made by the iron tires of the huge great
wheels of carts laden with hewn stone. At that point began the things
that collect where Paris ends, the things that grow where grass does not
grow, one of those arid landscapes that large cities create around them,
the first zone of suburbs _intra muros_ where nature is exhausted, the
soil used up, the fields sown with oyster shells. Beyond was a
wilderness of half-enclosed yards displaying numbers of carts and trucks
with their shafts in the air against the sky, stone-cutters' sheds,
factories built of boards, unfinished workmen's houses, full of gaps and
open to the light, and bearing the mason's flag, wastes of gray and
white sand, kitchen gardens marked out with cords, and, on the lower
level, bogs to which the embankment of the road slopes down in oceans of
small stones.

Soon they would reach the last lantern hanging on a green post. People
were still coming and going about them. The road was alive and amused
the eyes. They met women carrying their husband's canes, lorettes in
silk dresses leaning on the arms of their blouse-clad brothers, old
women in bright-colored ginghams walking about with folded arms,
enjoying a moment's rest from labor. Workmen were drawing their children
in little wagons, urchins returning with their rods from fishing at
Saint-Ouen, and men and women dragging branches of flowering acacia at
the ends of sticks.

Sometimes a pregnant woman would pass, holding out her arms to a yet
small child, and casting the shadow of her pregnancy upon the wall.

And everyone moved tranquilly, blissfully, at a pace that told of the
wish to delay, with the awkward ease and the happy indolence of those
who walk for pleasure. No one was in a hurry, and against the unbroken
horizon line, crossed from time to time by the white smoke of a railroad
train, the groups of promenaders were like black spots, almost
motionless, in the distance.

Behind Montmartre, they came to those great moats, as it were, those
sloping squares, where narrow, gray, much-trodden paths cross and
recross. A few blades of shriveled, yellow grass grew thereabout,
softened by the rays of the setting sun, which they could see, all
ablaze, between the houses. And Germinie loved to watch the wool-combers
at work there, the quarry horses at pasture in the bare fields, the
madder-red trousers of the soldiers who were playing at bowls, the
children flying kites that made black spots in the clear air. Passing
all these, they turned to cross the bridge over the railroad by the
wretched settlement of ragpickers, the stonemasons' quarter at the foot
of Clignancourt hill. They would walk quickly by those houses built of
materials stolen from demolished buildings, and exuding the horrors they
conceal; the wretched structures, half cabin, half burrow, caused
Germinie a vague feeling of terror: it seemed to her as if all the
crimes of Night were lurking there.

But at the fortifications her pleasure returned. She would go with
Jupillon and sit upon the slope of the embankment. Beside her were
families innumerable, workmen lying flat upon their faces, small
annuitants gazing at the horizon through spy-glasses, philosophers of
want, bent double, with their hands upon their knees, the greasy coats
characteristic of old men, and black hats worn as red as their red
beards. The air was full of rich harmonies. Below her, in the moat, a
musical society was playing at each corner. Before her eyes was a
multi-colored crowd, white blouses, children in blue aprons running
around, a game of riding at the ring in progress, wine shops, cake
shops, fried fish stalls, and shooting galleries half hidden in clumps
of verdure, from which arose staves bearing the tricolor; and farther
away, in a bluish haze, a line of tree tops marked the location of a
road. To the right she could see Saint-Denis and the towering basilica;
at her left, above a line of houses that were becoming indistinct, the
sun was setting over Saint-Ouen in a disk of cherry-colored flame, and
projecting upon the gray horizon shafts of light like red pillars that
seemed to support it tremblingly. Often a child's balloon would pass
swiftly across the dazzling expanse of sky.

They would go down, pass through the gate, walk along by the Lorraine
sausage shops, the dealers in honeycomb, the board _cabarets_, the
verdureless, still unpainted arbors, where a noisy multitude of men and
women and children were eating fried potatoes, mussels and prawns, until
they reached the first field, the first living grass: on the edge of the
grass there was a handcart laden with gingerbread and peppermint
lozenges, and a woman selling hot cocoa on a table in the furrow. A
strange country, where everything was mingled--the smoke from the
frying-pan and the evening vapor, the noise of quoits on the head of a
cask and the silence shed from the sky, the city barrier and the idyllic
rural scene, the odor of manure and the fresh smell of green wheat, the
great human Fair and Nature! Germinie enjoyed it, however; and, urging
Jupillon to go farther, walking on the very edge of the road, she would
constantly step in among the grain to enjoy the fresh, cool sensation of
the stalks against her stockings. When they returned she always wanted
to go upon the slope once more. The sun had by that time disappeared and
the sky was gray below, pink in the centre and blue above. The horizon
grew dark; from green the trees became a dark brown and melted into the
sky; the zinc roofs of the wine shops looked as if the moon were
shining upon them, fires began to appear in the darkness, the crowd
became gray, and the white linen took on a bluish tinge. Little by
little everything would fade away, be blotted out, lose its form and
color in a dying remnant of colorless daylight, and through the
increasing darkness the voices of a class whose life begins at night,
and the voice of the wine beginning to sing, would arise, mingled with
the din of the rattles. Upon the slope the tops of the tall grass waved
to and fro in the gentle breeze. Germinie would make up her mind to go.
She would wend her way homeward, filled with the influence of the
falling night, abandoning herself to the uncertain vision of things
half-seen, passing the dark houses, and finding that everything along
her road had turned paler, as it were--wearied by the long walk over
rough roads, and content to be weary and slow and half-fainting, and
with a feeling of peace at her heart.

At the first lighted lanterns on Rue du Château, she would fall from her
dream to the pavement.



XIII


Madame Jupillon's face always wore a pleased expression when Germinie
appeared; when she kissed her she was very effusive, when she spoke to
her her voice was caressing, when she looked at her her glance was most
amiable. The huge creature's kind heart seemed, when with her, to
abandon itself to the emotion, the affection, the trustfulness of a sort
of maternal tenderness. She took Germinie into her confidence as to her
business, as to her woman's secrets, as to the most private affairs of
her life. She seemed to open her heart to her as to a person of her own
blood, whom she desired to make familiar with matters of interest to the
family. When she spoke of the future, she always referred to Germinie as
one from whom she was never to be separated, and who formed a part of
the household. Often she allowed certain discreet, mysterious smiles to
escape her, smiles which made it appear that she saw all that was going
on and was not angry. Sometimes, too, when her son was sitting by
Germinie's side, she would let her eyes, moist with a mother's tears,
rest upon them, and would embrace them with a glance that seemed to
unite her two children and call down a blessing on their heads.

Without speaking, without ever uttering a word that could be construed
as an engagement, without divulging her thoughts or binding herself in
any way, and all the time repeating that her son was still very young to
think of being married, she encouraged Germinie's hopes and illusions by
her whole bearing, her airs of secret indulgence and of complicity, so
far as her heart was concerned; by those meaning silences when she
seemed to open to her a mother-in-law's arms. And displaying all her
talents in the way of hypocrisy, drawing upon her hidden mines of
sentiment, her good-natured shrewdness, and the consummate, intricate
cunning that fat people possess, the corpulent matron succeeded in
vanquishing Germinie's last resistance by dint of this tacit assurance
and promise of marriage; and she finally allowed the young man's ardor
to extort from her what she believed that she was giving in advance to
the husband.



XIV


As Germinie was going down the servant's staircase one day, she heard
Adèle's voice calling her over the banister and telling her to bring her
two sous' worth of butter and ten of absinthe.

"Oh! you can sit down a minute, you know you can," said Adèle, when she
brought her the absinthe and the butter. "I never see you now, you'll
never come in. Come! you have plenty of time to be with your old woman.
For my part, I couldn't live with an Antichrist's face like hers! So
stay. This is the house without work to-day. There isn't a sou--madame's
abed. Whenever there's no money, she goes to bed, does madame; she stays
in bed all day, reading novels. Have some of this?"--And she offered her
her glass of absinthe.--"No? oh! no, you don't drink. You're very
foolish. It's a funny thing not to drink. Say, it would be very nice of
you to write me a little line for my dearie. Hard work, you know. I have
told you about it. See, here's madame's pen--and her paper--it smells
good. Are you ready? He's a good fellow, my dear, and no mistake! He's
in the butcher line as I told you. Ah! my word! I mustn't rub him the
wrong way! When he's had a glass of blood after killing his beasts, he's
like a madman--and if you're obstinate with him--Dame! why then he
thumps you! But what would you have? He does that to make him strong. If
you could see him thump himself on the breast--blows that would kill an
ox, and say: 'That's a wall, that is!' Ah! he's a gentleman, I tell you!
Are you thinking about the letter, eh? Make it one of the fetching kind.
Say nice things to him, you know--and a little sad--he adores that. At
the theatre he doesn't like anything that doesn't make him cry. Look
here! Imagine that you're writing to a lover of your own."

Germinie began to write.

"Say, Germinie! Have you heard? Madame's taken a strange idea into her
head. It's a funny thing about women like her, who can hold their heads
up with the greatest of 'em, who can have everything, hobnob with kings
if they choose! And there's nothing to be said--when one is like madame,
you know, when one has such a body as that! And then the way they load
themselves down with finery, with their tralala of dresses and lace
everywhere and everything else--how do you suppose anyone can resist
them? And if it isn't a gentleman, if it's someone like us--you can see
how much more all that will catch him; a woman in velvet goes to his
brain. Yes, my dear, just fancy, here's madame gone daft on that
_gamin_ of a Jupillon! That's all we needed to make us die of hunger
here!"

Germinie, with her pen in the air over the letter she had begun, looked
up at Adèle, devouring her with her eyes.

"That brings you to a standstill, doesn't it?" said Adèle, sipping her
absinthe, her face lighted up with joy at sight of Germinie's
discomposed features. "Oh! it is too absurd, really; but it's true, 'pon
my word it's true. She noticed the _gamin_ on the steps of the shop the
other day, coming home from the races. She's been there two or three
times on the pretence of buying something. She'll probably have some
perfumery sent from there--to-morrow, I think.--Bah! it's sickening,
isn't it? It's their affair. Well! what about my letter? Is it what I
told you that makes you so stupid? You played the prude--I didn't
know--Oh! yes, yes, now I remember; that's what it is--What was it you
said to me about the little one? I believe you didn't want anyone to
touch him! Idiot!"

At a gesture of denial from Germinie, she continued:

"Nonsense, nonsense! What do I care? The kind of a child that, if you
blew his nose, milk would come out! Thanks! that's not my style.
However, that's your business. Come, now for my letter, eh?"

Germinie leaned over the sheet of paper. But she was burning up with
fever; the quill cracked in her nervous fingers. "There," she said,
throwing it down after a few seconds, "I don't know what's the matter
with me to-day. I'll write it for you another time."

"As you like, little one--but I rely on you. Come to-morrow, then.--I'll
tell you some of madame's nonsense. We'll have a good laugh at her!"

And, when the door was closed, Adèle began to roar with laughter: it had
cost her only a little _blague_ to unearth Germinie's secret.



XV


So far as young Jupillon was concerned, love was simply the satisfaction
of a certain evil curiosity, which sought, in the knowledge and
possession of a woman, the privilege and the pleasure of despising her.
Just emerging from boyhood, the young man had brought to his first
_liaison_ no other ardor, no other flame than the cold instincts of
rascality awakened in boys by vile books, the confidences of their
comrades, boarding-school conversation, the first breath of impurity
which debauches desire. The sentiment with which the young man usually
regards the woman who yields to him, the caresses, the loving words, the
affectionate attentions with which he envelops her--nothing of all that
existed in Jupillon's case. Woman was to him simply an obscene image;
and a passion for a woman seemed to him desirable as being prohibited,
illicit, vulgar, cynical and amusing--an excellent opportunity for
trickery and sarcasm.

Sarcasm--the low, cowardly, despicable sarcasm of the dregs of the
people--was the beginning and the end of this youth. He was a perfect
type of those Parisians who bear upon their faces the mocking
scepticism of the great city of _blague_ in which they are born. The
smile, the shrewdness and the mischief of the Parisian physiognomy were
always mocking and impertinent in him. Jupillon's smile had the jovial
expression imparted by a wicked mouth, a mouth that was almost cruel at
the corners of the lips, which curled upward and were always twitching
nervously. His face was pale with the pallor that nitric acid strong
enough to eat copper gives to the complexion, and in his sharp, pert,
bold features were mingled bravado, energy, recklessness, intelligence,
impudence and all sorts of rascally expressions, softened, at certain
times, by a cat-like, wheedling air. His trade of glove-cutter--he had
taken up with that trade after two or three unsuccessful trials as an
apprentice in other crafts--the habit of working in the shop-windows, of
being on exhibition to the passers-by, had given to his whole person the
self-assurance and the dandified airs of a _poseur_. Sitting in the
work-shop on the street, with his white shirt, his little black cravat
_à la Colin_, and his skin-tight pantaloons, he had adopted an awkward
air of nonchalance, the pretentious carriage and _canaille_ affectations
of the workman who knows he is being stared at. And various little
refinements of doubtful taste, the parting of the hair in the middle and
brushing it down over the temples, the low shirt collars that left the
whole neck bare, the striving after the coquettish effects that
properly belong to the other sex, gave him an uncertain appearance,
which was made even more ambiguous by his beardless face, marred only by
a faint suggestion of a moustache, and his sexless features to which
passion and ill-temper imparted all the evil quality of a shrewish
woman's face. But in Germinie's eyes all these airs and this Jupillon
style were of the highest distinction.

Thus constituted, with nothing lovable about him and incapable of a
genuine attachment even through his passions, Jupillon was greatly
embarrassed and bored by this adoration which became intoxicated with
itself, and waxed greater day by day. Germinie wearied him to death. She
seemed to him absurd in her humiliation, and laughable in her devotion.
He was weary, disgusted, worn out with her. He had had enough of her
love, enough of her person. And he had no hesitation about cutting loose
from her, without charity or pity. He ran away from her. He failed to
keep the appointments she made. He pretended that he was kept away by
accident, by errands to be done, by a pressure of work. At night, she
waited for him and he did not come; she supposed that he was detained by
business: in fact he was at some low billiard hall, or at some ball at
the barrier.



XVI


There was a ball at the _Boule-Noire_ one Thursday. The dancing was in
full blast.

The ball-room had the ordinary appearance of modern places of amusement
for the people. It was brilliant with false richness and tawdry
splendor. There were paintings there, and tables at which wine was sold,
gilded chandeliers and glasses that held a quartern of brandy, velvet
hangings and wooden benches, the shabbiness and rusticity of an
ale-house with the decorations of a cardboard palace.

Garnet velvet lambrequins with a fringe of gold lace hung at the windows
and were economically copied in paint beneath the mirrors, which were
lighted by three-branched candelabra. On the walls, in large white
panels, pastoral scenes by Boucher, surrounded with painted frames,
alternated with Prud'hon's _Seasons_, which were much astonished to find
themselves in such a place; and above the windows and doors dropsical
Loves gamboled among five roses protruding from a pomade jar of the sort
used by suburban hair-dressers. Square pillars, embellished with meagre
arabesques, supported the ceiling in the centre of the hall, where
there was a small octagonal stand containing the orchestra. An oaken
rail, waist high, which served as a back to a cheap red bench, enclosed
the dancers. And against this rail, on the outside, were tables painted
green and two rows of benches, surrounding the dance with a café.

In the dancers' enclosure, beneath the fierce glare and the intense heat
of the gas, were women of all sorts, dressed in dark, worn, rumpled
woolens, women in black tulle caps, women in black _paletots_, women in
_caracos_ worn shiny at the seams, women in fur tippets bought of
open-air dealers and in shops in dark alleys. And in the whole
assemblage not one of the youthful faces was set off by a collar, not a
glimpse of a white skirt could be seen among the whirling dancers, not a
glimmer of white about these women, who were all dressed in gloomy
colors, the colors of want, to the ends of their unpolished shoes. This
absence of linen gave to the ball an aspect as of poverty in mourning;
it imparted to all the faces a touch of gloom and uncleanness, of
lifelessness and earthiness--a vaguely forbidding aspect, in which there
was a suggestion of the Hôtel-Dieu and the Mont-de-Piété!

An old woman in a wig with the hair parted at the side passed in front
of the tables, with a basket filled with pieces of Savoy cake and red
apples.

From time to time the dance, in its twisting and turning, disclosed a
soiled stocking, the typical Jewish features of a street pedlar of
sponges, red fingers protruding from black mitts, a swarthy moustached
face, an under-petticoat soiled with the mud of night before last, a
second-hand-skirt, stiff and crumpled, of flowered calico, the cast-off
finery of some kept mistress.

The men wore _paletots_, small, soft caps pulled down over their ears,
and woolen comforters untied and hanging down their backs. They invited
the women to dance by pulling them by the cap ribbons that fluttered
behind them. Some few, in hats and frockcoats and colored shirts, had an
insolent air of domesticity and a swagger befitting grooms in some great
family.

Everybody was jumping and bustling about. The women frisked and capered
and gamboled, excited and stimulated by the spur of bestial pleasure.
And in the evolutions of the contra-dance, one could hear brothel
addresses given: _Impasse du Dépotoir_.

Germinie entered the hall just at the conclusion of a quadrille to the
air of _La Casquette du père Bugeaud_, in which the cymbals, the
sleigh-bells and the drum had infected the dancers with the giddiness
and madness of their uproar. At a glance she embraced the whole room,
all the men leading their partners back to the places marked by their
caps: she had been misled; _he_ was not there, she could not see him.
However, she waited. She entered the dancers' enclosure and sat down on
the end of a bench, trying not to seem too much embarrassed. From their
linen caps she judged that the women seated in line beside her were
servants like herself: comrades of her own class alarmed her less than
the little brazen-faced hussies, with their hair in nets and their hands
in the pockets of their _paletots_, who strolled humming about the room.
But soon she aroused hostile attention, even on her bench. Her hat--only
about a dozen women at the ball wore hats--her flounced skirt, the white
hem of which could be seen under her dress, the gold brooch that secured
her shawl awakened malevolent curiosity all about her. Glances and
smiles were bestowed upon her that boded her no good. All the women
seemed to be asking one another where this new arrival had come from,
and to be saying to one another that she would take their lovers from
them. Young women who were walking about the hall in pairs, with their
arms about one another's waists as if for a waltz, made her lower her
eyes as they passed in front of her, and then went on with a
contemptuous shrug, turning their heads to look back at her.

She changed her place: she was met with the same smiles, the same
whispering, the same hostility. She went to the further end of the hall;
all the women looked after her; she felt as if she were enveloped in
malicious, envious glances, from the hem of her dress to the flowers on
her hat. Her face flushed. At times she feared that she should weep. She
longed to leave the place, but she lacked courage to walk the length of
the hall all alone.

She began mechanically to watch an old woman who was slowly making the
circuit of the hall with a noiseless step, like a bird of night flying
in a circle. A black hat, of the hue of charred paper, confined her
_bandeaux_ of grizzled hair. From her square, high masculine shoulders,
hung a sombre-hued Scotch tartan. When she reached the door, she cast a
last glance about the hall, that embraced everyone therein, with the eye
of a vulture seeking in vain for food.

Suddenly there was an outcry: a police officer was ejecting a diminutive
youth who tried to bite his hands and clung to the tables, against
which, as he was dragged along, he struck with a noise like breaking
furniture.

As Germinie turned her head she spied Jupillon: he was sitting between
two women at a green table in a window-recess, smoking. One of the two
was a tall blonde with a small quantity of frizzled flaxen hair, a flat,
stupid face and round eyes. A red flannel chemise lay in folds on her
back, and she had both hands in the pockets of a black apron which she
was flapping up and down on her dark red skirt. The other, a short, dark
creature, whose face was still red from having been scrubbed with soap,
was enveloped as to her head, with the coquetry of a fishwoman, in a
white knitted hood with a blue border.

Jupillon had recognized Germinie. When he saw her rise and approach him,
with her eyes fixed upon his face, he whispered something to the woman
in the hood, rested his elbows defiantly on the table and waited.

"Hallo! you here," he exclaimed when Germinie stood before him, erect,
motionless and mute. "This is a surprise!--Waiter! another bowl!"

And, emptying the bowl of sweetened wine into the two women's glasses,
he continued: "Come, don't make up faces--sit down there."

And, as Germinie did not budge: "Go on! These ladies are friends of
mine--ask them!"

"Mélie," said the woman in the hood to the other woman, in a voice like
a diseased crow's, "don't you see? She's monsieur's mother. Make room
for the lady if she'd like to drink with us."

Germinie cast a murderous glance at the woman.

"Well! what's the matter?" the woman continued; "that don't suit you,
madame, eh? Excuse me! you ought to have told me beforehand. How old do
you suppose she is, Mélie, eh? _Sapristi!_ You select young ones, my
boy, you don't put yourself out!"

Jupillon smiled internally, and simpered and sneered externally. His
whole manner displayed the cowardly delight that evil-minded persons
take in watching the suffering of those who suffer because of loving
them.

"I have something to say to you--to you!--not here--outside," said
Germinie.

"Much joy to you! Coming, Mélie?" said the woman in the hood, lighting
the stub of a cigar that Jupillon had left on the table beside a piece
of lemon.

"What do you want?" said Jupillon, impressed, in spite of himself, by
Germinie's tone.

"Come!"

And she walked on ahead of him. As she passed, the people crowded about
her, laughing. She heard voices, broken sentences, subdued hooting.



XVII


Jupillon promised Germinie not to go to the ball again. But he was just
beginning to make a name for himself at La Brididi, among the low haunts
near the barrier, the _Boule-Noire_, the _Reine-Blanche_ and the
_Ermitage_. He had become one of the dancers who make the guests leave
their seats, who keep a whole roomful of people hanging on the soles of
their boots as they toss them two inches above their heads, and whom the
fair dancers of the locality invite to dance with them and sometimes pay
for their refreshment to that end. The ball to him was not a ball
simply; it was a stage, an audience, popularity, applause, the
flattering murmur of his name among the groups of people, an ovation
accorded to saltatory glory in the glare of the reverberators.

On Sunday he did not go to the _Boule-Noire_; but on the following
Thursday he went there again; and Germinie, seeing plainly enough that
she could not prevent him from going, decided to follow him and to stay
there as long as he did. Sitting at a table in the background, in the
least brilliantly lighted corner of the ball-room, she would follow him
eagerly with her eyes throughout the whole contra-dance; and when it was
at an end, if he held back, she would go and seize him, take him almost
by force from the hands and caresses of the women who persisted in
trying to pull him back, to detain him by wicked wiles.

As they soon came to know her, the insulting remarks in her neighborhood
ceased to be vague and indistinct and muttered under the breath, as at
the first ball. The words were thrown in her face, the laughter spoke
aloud. She was obliged to pass her three hours amid a chorus of derision
that pointed its finger at her, called her by name and cast her age in
her face. At every turn she was forced to submit to the appellation of:
_old woman!_ which the young hussies spat at her over their shoulders as
they passed. But they did at least look at her; often, however, dancing
women invited by Jupillon to drink, and brought by him to the table at
which Germinie was, would sit with their elbows on the table and their
cheeks resting on their hands, drinking the bowl of mulled wine for
which she paid, apparently unaware that there was another woman there,
crowding into her place as if it were unoccupied, and making no reply
when she spoke to them. Germinie could have killed these creatures whom
Jupillon forced her to entertain and who despised her so utterly that
they did not even notice her presence.

The time arrived, when, having endured all she could endure and being
sickened by the humiliation she was forced to swallow, she conceived
the idea of dancing herself. She saw no other way to avoid leaving her
lover to others, to keep him by her all the evening, and perhaps to bind
him more closely to her by her success, if she had any chance of
succeeding. Throughout a whole month she worked, in secret, to learn to
dance. She rehearsed the figures and the steps. She forced her body into
unnatural attitudes, she wore herself out trying to master the
contortions and the manipulations of the skirt that she saw were
applauded. At the end of the month she made the venture; but everything
tended to disconcert her and added to her awkwardness; the hostility
that she could feel in the atmosphere, the smiles of astonishment and
pity that played about the lips of the spectators when she took her
place in the dancers' enclosure. She was so absurd and so laughed at,
that she had not the courage to make a second attempt. She buried
herself gloomily in her dark corner, only leaving it to hunt up Jupillon
and carry him off, with the mute violence of a wife dragging her husband
out of the wineshop and leading him home by the arm.

It was soon rumored in the street that Germinie went to these balls,
that she never missed one of them. The fruit woman, at whose shop Adèle
had already held forth, sent her son "to see;" he returned with a
confirmation of the rumor, and told of all the petty annoyances to which
Germinie was subjected, but which did not keep her from returning.
Thereafter there was no more doubt in the quarter as to the relations
between mademoiselle's servant and Jupillon--relations which some
charitable souls had hitherto persisted in denying. The scandal burst
out, and in a week the poor girl, berated by all the slanderous tongues
in the quarter, baptized and saluted by the vilest names in the language
of the streets, fell at a blow from the most emphatically expressed
esteem to the most brutally advertised contempt.

Thus far her pride--and it was very great--had procured for her the
respect and consideration which is bestowed, in the lorette quarters,
upon a servant who honestly serves a virtuous mistress. She had become
accustomed to respect and deference and attention. She stood apart from
her comrades. Her unassailable probity, her conduct, as to which not a
word could be said, her confidential relations with mademoiselle, which
caused her mistress's honorable character to be reflected upon her, led
the shopkeeper to treat her on a different footing from the other maids.
They addressed her, cap in hand; they always called her _Mademoiselle
Germinie_. They hurried to wait upon her; they offered her the only
chair in the shop when she had to wait. Even when she contended over
prices they were still polite with her and never called her _haggler_.
Jests that were somewhat too broad were cut short when she appeared. She
was invited to the great banquets, to family parties, and consulted upon
business matters.

Everything changed as soon as her relations with Jupillon and her
assiduous attendance at the _Boule-Noire_ were known. The quarter took
its revenge for having respected her. The brazen-faced maids in the
house accosted her as one of their own kind. One, whose lover was at
Mazas, called her: "My dear." The men accosted her familiarly, and with
all the intimacy of thee and thou in glance and gesture and tone and
touch. The very children on the sidewalk, who were formerly trained to
courtesy politely to her, ran away from her as from a person of whom
they had been told to be afraid. She felt that she was being maligned
behind her back, handed over to the devil. She could not take a step
without walking through scorn and receiving a blow from her shame upon
the cheek.

It was a horrible affliction to her. She suffered as if her honor were
being torn from her, shred by shred, and dragged in the gutter. But the
more she suffered, the closer she pressed her love to her heart and
clung to him. She bore him no ill-will, she uttered no word of reproach
to him. She attached herself to him by all the tears he caused her pride
to shed. And now, in the street through which she passed but a short
time ago, proudly and with head erect, she could be seen, bent double as
if crouching over her fault, hurrying furtively along, with oblique
glances, dreading to be recognized, quickening her pace in front of the
shops that swept their slanders out upon her heels.



XVIII


Jupillon was constantly complaining that he was tired of working for
others, that he could not set up for himself, that he could not find
fifteen or eighteen hundred francs in his mother's purse. He needed no
more than that, he said, to hire a couple of rooms on the ground floor
and set up as a glover in a small way. Indeed he was already dreaming of
what he might do and laying out his plans: he would open a shop in the
quarter, an excellent quarter for his business, as it was full of
purchasers, and of makers of wretched gloves at five francs. He would
soon add a line of perfumery and cravats to his gloves; and then, when
he had made a tidy sum, he would sell out and take a fine shop on Rue de
Richelieu.

Whenever he mentioned the subject Germinie asked him innumerable
questions. She wanted to know everything that was necessary to start in
business. She made him tell her the names of the tools and
appurtenances, give her an idea of their prices and where they could be
bought. She questioned him as to his trade and the details of his work
so inquisitively and persistently that Jupillon lost his patience at
last and said to her:

"What's all this to you? The work sickens me enough now; don't mention
it to me!"

One Sunday she walked toward Montmartre with him. Instead of taking Rue
Frochot she turned into Rue Pigalle.

"Why, this ain't the way, is it?" said Jupillon.

"I know what I'm about," said she, "come on."

She had taken his arm, and she walked on, turning her head slightly away
from him so that he could not see what was taking place on her face.
Half way along Rue Fontaine Saint-Georges, she halted abruptly in front
of two windows on the ground floor of a house, and said to him: "Look!"

She was trembling with joy.

Jupillon looked; he saw between the two windows, on a glistening copper
plate:


                    _Magasin de Ganterie._

                          JUPILLON.


He saw white curtains at the first window. Through the glass in the
other he saw pigeon-holes and boxes, and, near the window, the little
glover's cutting board, with the great shears, the jar for clippings,
and the knife to make holes in the skins in order to stretch them.

"The concierge has your key," she said.

They entered the first room, the shop.

She at once set about showing him everything. She opened the boxes and
laughed. Then she pushed open the door into the other room. "There, you
won't be stifled there as you are in the loft at your mother's. Do you
like it? Oh! it isn't handsome, but it's clean. I'd have liked to give
you mahogany. Do you like that little rug by the bed? And the paper--I
didn't think of that----" She put a receipt for the rent in his hand.
"See! this is for six months. Dame! you must go to work right off and
earn some money. The few sous I had laid by are all gone. Oh! let me sit
down. You look so pleased--it gives me a turn--it makes my head spin. I
haven't any legs."

And she sank into a chair. Jupillon stooped over her to kiss her.

"Ah! yes, they're not there any longer," she said, seeing that he was
looking for her earrings. "They've gone like my rings. D'ye see, all
gone----"

And she showed him her hands, bare of the paltry gems she had worked so
long to buy.

"They all went for the easy-chair, you see--but it's all horsehair."

As Jupillon stood in front of her with an embarrassed air, as if he were
trying to find words with which to thank her, she continued:

"Why, you're a funny fellow. What's the matter with you? Ah! it's on
that account, is it?" And she pointed to the bedroom. "You're a stupid!
I love you, don't I? Well then?"

Germinie said the words simply, as the heart says sublime things.



XIX


She became _enceinte_.

At first she doubted, she dared not believe it. But when she was certain
of the fact, she was filled with immeasurable joy, a joy that overflowed
her heart. Her happiness was so great and so overpowering that it
stifled at a single stroke the anguish, the fear, the inward trembling
that ordinarily disturb the maternity of unmarried women and poisons
their anticipations of childbirth, the divine hope that lives and moves
within them. The thought of the scandal caused by the discovery of her
_liaison_, of the outcry in the quarter, the idea of the abominable
thing that had always made her think of suicide: dishonor,--even the
fear of being detected by mademoiselle and dismissed by her--nothing of
all this could cast a shadow on her felicity. The child that she
expected allowed her to see nothing but it, as if she had it already in
her arms before her; and, hardly attempting to conceal her condition,
she bore her woman's shame almost proudly through the streets, exulting
and radiant in the thought that she was to be a mother.

She was unhappy only because she had spent all her savings, and was not
only without money but had been paid several months' wages in advance by
her mistress. She bitterly deplored having to receive her child in a
poor way. Often, as she passed through Rue Saint-Lazare, she would stop
in front of a linen-draper's, in whose windows were displayed stores of
rich baby-linen. She would devour with her eyes the pretty, dainty
flowered garments, the piqué bibs, the long short-waisted dresses
trimmed with English embroidery, the whole doll-like cherub's costume. A
terrible longing,--the longing of a pregnant woman,--to break the glass
and steal it all, would come upon her: the clerks standing behind the
display framework became accustomed to seeing her take up her station
there and would laughingly point her out to one another.

Again, at intervals, amid the happiness that overflowed her heart, amid
the ecstasy that exalted her being, another disturbing thought passed
through her mind. She would ask herself how the father would welcome his
child. Two or three times she had attempted to tell him of her condition
but had not dared. At last, one day, seeing that his face wore the
expression she had awaited so long as a preliminary to telling him
everything, an expression in which there was a touch of affection, she
confessed to him, blushing hotly and as if asking his forgiveness, what
it was that made her so happy.

"That's all imagination!" said Jupillon.

And when she had assured him that it was not imagination and that she
was positively five months advanced in pregnancy: "Just my luck!" the
young man rejoined. "Thanks!" And he swore. "Would you mind telling me
who's going to feed the sparrow?"

"Oh! never you fear! it sha'n't suffer, I'll look out for that. And then
it'll be so pretty! Don't be afraid, no one shall know anything about
it. I'll fix myself up. See! the last part of the time I'll walk like
this, with my head back--I won't wear any petticoats, and I'll pull
myself in--you'll see! Nobody shall notice anything, I tell you. Just
think of it! a little child of our own!"

"Well, as long as it's so, it's so, eh?" said the young man.

"Say," ventured Germinie, timidly, "suppose you should tell your
mother?"

"Ma? Oh! no, I rather think not. You must lie in first. After that we'll
take the brat to the house. It will give her a start, and perhaps she'll
consent without meaning to."



XX


Twelfth Night arrived. It was the day on which Mademoiselle de
Varandeuil gave a grand dinner-party regularly every year. She invited
all the children of her own family or her old friends' families, great
and small. The small suite would hardly hold them all. They were obliged
to put part of the furniture on the landing, and a table was set in each
of the two rooms which formed mademoiselle's whole suite. For the
children, that day was a great festival to which they looked forward for
a week. They came running up the stairway behind the pastry-cook's men.
At table they ate too much without being scolded. At night, they were
unwilling to go to bed, they climbed on the chairs and made a racket
that always gave Mademoiselle de Varandeuil a sick headache the next
day; but she bore them no grudge therefor: she had had the full
enjoyment of a genuine grandmother's fête, in listening to them, looking
at them, tying around their necks the white napkins that made them look
so rosy. And not for anything in the world would she have failed to give
this dinner-party, which filled her old maid's apartments with the
fair-haired little imps of Satan, and brought thither, in a single day,
an atmosphere of activity and youth and laughter that lasted a whole
year.

Germinie was preparing the dinner. She was whipping cream in an earthen
bowl on her knees, when suddenly she felt the first pains. She looked at
her face in the bit of a broken mirror that she had above her kitchen
dresser, and saw that she was pale. She went down to Adèle: "Give me
your mistress's rouge," she said. And she put some on her cheeks. Then
she went up again, and, refusing to listen to the voice of her
suffering, finished cooking the dinner. It had to be served, and she
served it. At dessert, she leaned against the furniture and grasped the
backs of chairs as she passed the plates, hiding her torture with the
ghastly set smile of people whose entrails are writhing.

"How's this, are you sick?" said her mistress, looking sharply at her.

"Yes, mademoiselle, a little--it may be the charcoal or the hot
kitchen."

"Go to bed--we don't need you any more, and you can clean up to-morrow."

She went down to Adèle once more.

"It's come," she said; "call a cab quick. It was Rue de la Huchette
where you said your midwife lives, wasn't it? opposite a copper
planer's? Haven't you a pen and paper?"

And she sat down to write a line to her mistress. She told her that she
was too ill to work, that she had gone to the hospital, but would not
tell her where, because she would fatigue herself coming to see her;
that she would come back within a week.

"There you are!" said Adèle, all out of breath, giving her the number of
the cab.

"I can stay there," said Germinie; "not a word to mademoiselle. That's
all. Swear you won't say a word to her!"

She was descending the stairs when she met Jupillon.

"Hallo!" said he, "where are you going? going out?"

"I am going to lie in----It took me during the day. There was a great
dinner-party here----Oh! but it was hard work! Why do you come here? I
told you never to come; I don't want you to!"

"Because----I'll tell you----because just now I absolutely must have
forty francs. 'Pon my word, I must."

"Forty francs! Why I have just that for the midwife!"

"That's hard luck----look out! What do you want to do?" And he offered
his arm to assist her. "_Cristi!_ I'm going to have hard work to get 'em
all the same."

He had opened the carriage door.

"Where do you want him to take you?"

"To La Bourbe," said Germinie. And she slipped the forty francs into his
hand.

"No, no," said Jupillon.

"Oh! nonsense----there or somewhere else! Besides, I have seven francs
left."

The cab started away.

Jupillon stood for a moment motionless on the sidewalk, looking at the
two napoleons in his hand. Then he ran after the cab, stopped it, and
said to Germinie through the window:

"At least, I can go with you?"

"No, I am in too much pain, I'd rather be alone," she replied, writhing
on the cushions of the cab.

After an endless half hour, the cab stopped on Rue de Port-Royal, in
front of a black door surmounted by a violet lantern, which announced to
such medical students as happened to pass through the street that there
was that night, and at that moment, the curious and interesting
spectacle of a difficult labor in progress at La Maternité.

The driver descended from his box and rang. The concierge, assisted by a
female attendant, took Germinie's arms and led her up-stairs to one of
the four beds in the _salle d'accouchement_. Once in bed, her pains
became somewhat less excruciating. She looked about her, saw the other
beds, all empty, and, at the end of the immense room, a huge
country-house fireplace in which a bright fire was blazing, and in front
of which, hanging upon iron bars, sheets and cloths and bandages were
drying.

Half an hour later, Germinie gave birth to a little girl. Her bed was
moved into another room. She had been there several hours, lost in the
blissful after-delivery weakness which follows the frightful agony of
childbirth, happy and amazed to find that she was still alive, swimming
in a sea of blessed relief and deeply penetrated with the joy of having
created. Suddenly a loud cry: "I am dying!" caused her to turn her eyes
in the direction from which it came: she saw one of her neighbors throw
her arms around the neck of one of the assistant nurses, fall back
almost instantly, move a moment under the clothes, then lie perfectly
still. Almost at the same instant, another shriek arose from a bed on
the other side, a horrible, piercing, terrified shriek, as of one who
sees death approaching: it was a woman calling the young assistant, with
desperate gestures; the assistant ran to her, leaned over her, and fell
in a dead faint upon the floor.

Thereupon silence reigned once more; but between the two dead bodies and
the half-dead assistant, whom the cold floor did not restore to
consciousness for more than an hour, Germinie and the other women who
were still alive in the room lay quiet, not daring even to ring the bell
that hung beside each bed to call for help.

Thereafter La Maternité was the scene of one of those terrible puerperal
epidemics which breathe death upon human fecundity, of one of those
cases of atmospheric poisoning which empty, in a twinkling and by whole
rows, the beds of women lately delivered, and which once caused the
closing of La Clinique. They believed that it was a visitation of the
plague, a plague that turns the face black in a few hours, carries all
before it and snatches up the youngest and the strongest, a plague that
issues from the cradle--the Black Plague of mothers! All about Germinie,
at all hours, especially at night, women were dying such deaths as the
milk-fever causes, deaths that seemed to violate all nature's laws,
agonizing deaths, accompanied by wild shrieks and troubled by
hallucinations and delirium, death agonies that compelled the
application of the strait-waistcoat, death agonies that caused the
victims to leap suddenly from their beds, carrying the clothes with
them, and causing the whole room to shudder at the thought that they
were dead bodies from the amphitheatre! Life departed as if it were torn
from the body. The very disease assumed a ghastly shape and monstrous
aspect. The bedclothes were lifted in the centre by the swelling caused
by peritonitis, producing a vague, horrifying effect in the lamplight.

For five days Germinie, lying swathed and bandaged in her bed, closing
her eyes and ears as best she could, had the strength to combat all
these horrors, and yielded to them only at long intervals. She was
determined to live, and she clung to her strength by thinking of her
child and of mademoiselle. But, on the sixth day, her energy was
exhausted, her courage forsook her. A cold wave flowed into her heart.
She said to herself that it was all over. The hand that death lays upon
one's shoulder, the presentiment of death, was already touching her. She
felt the first breath of the epidemic, the belief that she was its
destined victim, and the impression that she was already half-possessed
by it. Although unresigned, she succumbed. Her life, vanquished
beforehand, hardly made an effort to struggle. At that crisis a head
bent over her pillow, like a ray of light.

It was the head of the youngest of the pupil-assistants, a fair head,
with long golden locks and blue eyes so soft and sweet that the dying
saw heaven opening its gates therein. When they saw her, delirious women
said: "Look! the Blessed Virgin!"

"My child," she said to Germinie, "you must ask for your discharge at
once. You must go away from here. You must dress warmly. You must wrap
up well. As soon as you're at home and in bed, you must take a hot
draught of something or other. You must try to take a sweat. Then, it
won't do you any harm. But go away from here. It wouldn't be healthy for
you here to-night," she said, glancing around at the beds. "Don't say
that I told you to go: you would get me discharged if you should."



XXI


Germinie recovered in a few days. The joy and pride of having given
birth to a tiny creature in whom her flesh was mingled with the flesh of
the man she loved, the bliss of being a mother, saved her from the
natural results of a confinement in which she did not receive proper
care. She was restored to health and had an apparent pleasure in living
that her mistress had never before seen her manifest.

Every Sunday, no matter what the weather might be, she left the house
about eleven o'clock; mademoiselle believed that she went to see a
friend in the country, and was delighted that her maid derived so much
benefit from these days passed in the open air. Germinie would capture
Jupillon, who allowed himself to be taken in tow without too much
resistance, and they would start for Pommeuse where the child was, and
where a good breakfast ordered by the mother awaited them. Once in the
carriage on the Mulhouse railway, Germinie would not speak or reply when
spoken to. She would lean out of the window, and all her thoughts seemed
to be upon what lay before her. She gazed, as if her longing were
striving to outrun the steam. The train would hardly have stopped before
she had leaped out, tossed her ticket to the ticket-taker, and started
at a run on the Pommeuse road, leaving Jupillon behind. She drew nearer
and nearer, she could see the house, she was there: yes, there was the
child! She would pounce upon her, snatch her from the nurse's arms with
jealous hands--a mother's hands!--hug her, strain her to her heart, kiss
her, devour her with kisses and looks and smiles! She would gaze
admiringly at her for an instant and then, distraught with joy, mad with
love, would cover her with kisses to the tips of her little bare toes.
Breakfast would be served. She would sit at the table with the child on
her knees and eat nothing: she had kissed her so much that she had not
yet looked at her, and she would begin to seek out points of resemblance
to themselves in the little one. One feature was his, another
hers:--"She has your nose and my eyes. Her hair will be like yours in
time. It will curl! Look, those are your hands--she is all you." And for
hours she would continue the inexhaustible and charming prattle of a
woman who is determined to give a man his share of their daughter.
Jupillon submitted to it all with reasonably good grace, thanks to
divers three-sou cigars Germinie always produced from her pocket and
gave to him one by one. Then he had found a means of diversion; the
Morin flowed at the foot of the garden. Jupillon was a true Parisian: he
loved to fish with a pole and line.

And when summer came they stayed there all day, at the foot of the
garden, on the bank of the stream--Jupillon on a laundry board resting
on two stakes, pole in hand, and Germinie sitting, with the child in her
skirts, under the medlar tree that overhung the stream. On pleasant
days, the sun poured down upon the broad sparkling current, from which
beams of light arose as from a mirror. It was like a display of
fireworks from the sky and the stream, amid which Germinie would hold
the little girl upon her feet and let her trample upon her with her
little bare pink legs, in her short baby dress, her skin shimmering in
spots in the sunlight, her flesh mottled with sunbeams like the flesh of
angels Germinie had seen in pictures. She had a divinely sweet sensation
when the little one, with the active hands of children that cannot talk,
touched her chin and mouth and cheeks, persisted in putting her fingers
in her eyes, rested them playfully on the lids, and kept them moving
over her whole face, tickling and tormenting her with the dear little
digits that seem to grope in the dark for a mother's features: it was as
if her child's life and warmth were wandering over her face. From time
to time she would bestow half of her smile on Jupillon over the little
one's head, and would call to him: "Do look at her!"

Then the child would fall asleep with the open mouth that laughs in
sleep. Germinie would lean over her and listen to her breathing in
repose. And, soothed by the peaceful respiration, she would gradually
forget herself as she gazed dreamily at the poor abode of her happiness,
the rustic garden, the apple-trees with their leaves covered with little
yellow snails and the red-cheeked apples on the southern limbs, the
poles, at whose feet the beanstalks, twisted and parched, were beginning
to climb, the square of cabbages, the four sunflowers in the little
circle in the centre of the path; and, close beside her, on the edge of
the stream, the patches of grass covered with dog's mercury, the white
heads of the nettles against the wall, the washerwomen's boxes, the
bottles of lye and the bundle of straw scattered about by the antics of
a puppy just out of the water. She gazed and dreamed. She thought of the
past, having her future on her knees. With the grass and the trees and
the river that were before her eyes, she reconstructed, in memory, the
rustic garden of her rustic childhood. She saw again the two stones
reaching down to the water, from which her mother, when she was a little
child, used to wash her feet before putting her to bed in summertime.

"Look you, Père Remalard," said Jupillon from his board, on one of the
hottest days in August, to the peasant who was watching him,--"do you
know they won't bite at the red worm worth a sou?"

"You must try the gentle," rejoined the peasant sententiously.

"All right, I'll have my revenge with the gentle! Père Remalard, you
must get some calf's lights Thursday. You hang 'em up in that tree, and
Sunday we'll see."

On the Sunday Jupillon had miraculous success with his fishing, and
Germinie heard the first syllable issue from her daughter's mouth.



XXII


On Wednesday morning, when she came downstairs, Germinie found a letter
for herself. In that letter, written on the back of a laundry receipt,
the Remalard woman informed her that her child had fallen sick almost
immediately after her departure; that she had grown steadily worse; that
she had consulted the doctor; that he said some insect had stung the
child; that she had been to him a second time; that she did not know
what more to do; that she had had pilgrimages made for her. The letter
concluded thus: "If you could see how troubled I am for your little
one--if you could see how good she is when she isn't suffering!"

This letter produced upon Germinie the effect of a push from behind. She
went out and instinctively walked toward the railroad that would take
her to her little one. Her hair was uncombed and she was in her
slippers, but she did not think of that. She must see her child, she
must see her instantly. Then she would come back. She thought of
mademoiselle's breakfast for a moment, then forgot it. Suddenly,
half-way to the station, she saw a clock at a cab office and noticed
the hour: she remembered that there was no train at that time. She
retraced her steps, saying to herself that she would hurry the breakfast
and then make some excuse to be given her liberty for the rest of the
day. But when the breakfast was served she could find none: her mind was
so full of her child that she could not invent a falsehood; her
imagination was benumbed. And then, if she had spoken, if she had made
the request, she would have betrayed herself; she could feel the words
upon her lips: "I want to go and see my child!" At night she dared not
make her escape; mademoiselle had been a little indisposed the night
before; she was afraid that she might need her.

The next morning when she entered mademoiselle's room with a fable she
had invented during the night, all ready to ask for leave of absence,
mademoiselle said to her, looking up from a letter that had just been
sent up to her from the lodge: "Ah! my old friend De Belleuse wants you
for the whole day to-day, to help her with her preserves. Come, give me
my two eggs, post-haste, and off with you. Eh? what! doesn't that suit
you? What's the matter?"

"With me? why nothing at all!" Germinie found strength to say.

All that endless day she passed standing over hot stewpans and sealing
up jars, in the torture known only to those whom the chances of life
detain at a distance from the sick bed of those dear to them. She
suffered such heart-rending agony as those unhappy creatures suffer who
cannot go where their anxiety calls them, and who, in the extremity of
despair caused by separation and uncertainty, constantly imagine that
death will come in their absence.

As she received no letter Thursday evening and none Friday morning, she
took courage. If the little one were growing worse the nurse would have
written her. The little one was better: she imagined her saved, cured.
Children are forever coming near dying, and they get well so quickly!
And then hers was strong. She decided to wait, to be patient until
Sunday, which was only forty-eight hours away, deceiving the remainder
of her fears with the superstitions that say yes to hope, persuading
herself that her daughter had "escaped," because the first person she
met in the morning was a man, because she had seen a red horse in the
street, because she had guessed that a certain person would turn into a
certain street, because she had ascended a flight of stairs in so many
strides.

On Saturday, in the morning, when she entered Mère Jupillon's shop, she
found her weeping hot tears over a lump of butter that she was covering
with a moist cloth.

"Ah! it's you, is it?" said Mère Jupillon. "That poor charcoal woman!
See, I'm actually crying over her! She just went away from here. You
don't know--they can't get their faces clean in their trade with
anything but butter. And here's her love of a daughter--she's at
death's door, you know, the dear child. That's the way it is with us!
Ah! _mon Dieu_, yes!--Well, as I was saying, she said to her just now
like this: 'Mamma, I want you to wash my face in butter right away--for
the good God.'"

And Mère Jupillon began to sob.

Germinie had fled. All that day she was unable to keep still. Again and
again she went up to her chamber to prepare the few things she proposed
to take to her little one the next day, to dress her cleanly, to make a
little special toilet for her in honor of her recovery. As she went down
in the evening to put Mademoiselle to bed, Adèle handed her a letter
that she had found for her below.



XXIII


Mademoiselle had begun to undress, when Germinie entered her bedroom,
walked a few steps, dropped upon a chair, and almost immediately, after
two or three long-drawn, deep, heart-breaking sighs, mademoiselle saw
her throw herself backward, wringing her hands, and at last roll from
the chair to the floor. She tried to lift her up, but Germinie was
shaken by such violent convulsions that the old woman was obliged to let
the frantic body fall again upon the floor; for all the limbs, which
were for a moment contracted and rigid, lashed out to right and left, at
random, with the sharp report of the trigger of a rifle, and threw down
whatever they came in contact with. At mademoiselle's shrieks on the
landing, a maid ran to a doctor's office near by but did not find him;
four other women employed in the house assisted mademoiselle to lift
Germinie up and carry her to the bed in her mistress's room, on which
they laid her after cutting her corset lacings.

The terrible convulsions, the nervous contortions of the limbs, the
snapping of the tendons had ceased; but her neck and her breast, which
was uncovered where her dress was unbuttoned, moved up and down as if
waves were rising and falling under the skin, and the rustling of the
skirts showed that the movement extended to her feet. Her head thrown
back, her face flushed, her eyes full of melancholy tenderness, of the
patient agony we see in the eyes of the wounded, the great veins clearly
marked under her chin, Germinie, breathing hard and paying no heed to
questions, raised her hands to her neck and throat and clawed at them;
she seemed to be trying to tear out the sensation of something rising
and falling within her. In vain did they make her inhale ether and drink
orange-flower water; the waves of grief that flowed through her body did
not cease their action; and her face continued to wear the same
expression of gentle melancholy and sentimental anxiety, which seemed to
place the suffering of the heart above the suffering of the flesh in
every feature. For a long time everything seemed to wound her senses and
to produce a painful effect upon them--the bright light, the sound of
voices, the odor of the things about her. At last, after an hour or
more, a deluge of tears suddenly poured from her eyes and put an end to
the terrible crisis. After that there was nothing more than an
occasional convulsive shudder in the overburdened body, soon quieted by
weariness and by general prostration. It was possible to carry Germinie
to her own room.

The letter Adèle handed her contained the news of her daughter's death.



XXIV


As a result of this crisis, Germinie fell into a state of dumb, brutish
sorrow. For months she was insensible to everything; for months,
completely possessed and absorbed by the thought of the little creature
that was no more, she carried her child's death in her entrails as she
had carried her life. Every evening, when she went up to her chamber,
she took the poor darling's little cap and dress from the trunk at the
foot of her bed. She would gaze at them and touch them; she would lay
them out on the bed; she would sit for hours weeping over them, kissing
them, talking to them, saying the things that a mother's bitter sorrow
is wont to say to a little daughter's ghost.

While weeping for her daughter the unhappy creature wept for herself as
well. A voice whispered to her that she was saved had the child lived;
that to have that child to love was her Providence; that all that she
dreaded in herself would be expended upon that dear head and be
sanctified there--her affections, her unreasoning impulses, her ardor,
all the passions of her nature. It seemed to her that she had felt her
mother's heart soothing and purifying her woman's heart. In her
daughter she saw a sort of celestial vision that would redeem her and
make her whole, a little angel of deliverance as it were, issuing from
her errors to fight for her and rescue her from the evil influences
which pursued her and by which she sometimes thought that she was
possessed.

When she began to recover from the first prostration of despair, when,
as the consciousness of life and the perception of objects returned to
her, she looked about her with eyes that saw, she was aroused from her
grief by a more poignant cause of bitterness of spirit.

Madame Jupillon, who had become too stout and too heavy to do what it
was necessary for her to do at the creamery, notwithstanding all the
assistance rendered by Germinie, had sent to her province for a niece of
hers. She was the embodiment of the blooming youth of the country, a
woman in whom there was still something of the child, active and
vivacious, with black eyes full of sunlight, lips as round and red as
cherries, the summer heat of her province in her complexion, the warmth
of perfect health in her blood. Impulsive and ingenuous as she was, the
girl had, at first, drawn near to her cousin, simply and naturally,
obeying the law of attraction that draws the young toward the young. She
had met his friendly advances with the immodesty of innocence, artless
effrontery, the liberties taught by life in the country, the happy folly
of a nature abounding in high spirits, and with all sorts of ignorant
hardihood, unblushing ingenuousness and rustic coquetry, against which
her cousin's vanity was without means of defence. The child's presence
deprived Germinie of all hope of repose. Mere girl as she was, she
wounded her every minute in the day by her presence, her touch, her
caresses, everything in her amorous body that spoke of love. Her
preoccupation with Jupillon, the work that kept them constantly
together, the provincial wonderment that she constantly exhibited, the
half-confidences she allowed to come to her lips when the young man had
gone, her gayety, her jests, her healthy good-humor--everything helped
to exasperate Germinie and to arouse a sullen wrath within her;
everything wounded that jealous heart, so jealous that the very animals
caused it a bitter pang by seeming to love someone whom it loved.

She dared not speak to Mère Jupillon and denounce the little one to her,
for fear of betraying herself; but whenever she found herself alone with
Jupillon she vented her feelings in recriminations, complaints and
quarrels. She would remind him of an incident, a word, something he had
done or said, some answer he had made, a trifle forgotten by him but
still bleeding in her heart.

"Are you mad?" Jupillon would say to her; "a slip of a girl!"--"A slip
of a girl, eh? nonsense!--when she has such eyes that all the men stare
at her in the street! I went out with her the other day--I was
ashamed--I don't know how she did it, but we were followed by a
gentleman all the time."--"Well, what if you were? She's a pretty girl,
you know!"--"Pretty! pretty!" And at that word Germinie would hurl
herself, figuratively speaking, at the girl's face, and claw it to
pieces with frantic words.

Often she would end by saying to Jupillon: "Look here! you love
her!"--"Well! what then?" he would retort, highly entertained by these
disputes, by the opportunity to watch the antics of this fierce wrath
which he fanned with pretended sulkiness, and by the excitement of
trifling with the woman, whom he saw to be half insane under his
sarcasms and his indifference, stumbling wildly about and running her
head against stone walls in the first paroxysms of madness.

As a result of these scenes, repeated almost every day, a revolution
took place in that excitable, extreme character, which knew no middle
course, in that heart in which the most violent passions were constantly
clashing. Love, in which poison had long been at work, became decomposed
and changed to hate. Germinie began to detest her lover and to seek out
every possible pretext for hating him more. And her thoughts recurred to
her daughter, to the loss of her child, to the cause of her death, and
she persuaded herself that he had killed her. She looked upon him as an
assassin. She conceived a horror of him, she avoided him, fled from him
as from the evil genius of her life, with the terror that one has of a
person who is one's Bane!



XXV


One morning, after a night passed by her in turning over and over in her
mind all her despairing, hate-ridden thoughts, Germinie went to the
creamery for her four sous' worth of milk and found in the back-shop
three or four maids from the neighborhood engaged in "taking an
eye-opener." They were seated at a table, gossiping and sipping
liqueurs.

"Aha!" said Adèle, striking the table with her glass; "you here already,
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil?"

"What's this?" said Germinie, taking Adèle's glass; "I'd like some
myself."

"Are you so thirsty as all that this morning? Brandy and absinthe,
that's all!--my soldier boy's _tap_, you know,--he never drank anything
else. It's a little stiff, eh?"

"Ah! yes," said Germinie, contracting her lips and winking like a child
who is given a glass of liqueur with the dessert at a grand
dinner-party.

"It's good, all the same." Her spirits rose. "Madame Jupillon, let's
have the bottle--I'll pay."

And she tossed money on the table. After the third glass, she cried: "I
am _tight_!" And she roared with laughter.

Mademoiselle de Varandeuil had gone out that morning to collect her
half-yearly income. When she returned at eleven o'clock, she rang once,
twice! no one came. "Ah!" she said to herself, "she must have gone
down." She opened the door with her key, went to her bedroom and looked
in: the mattress and bedclothes lay in a heap on two chairs, and
Germinie was stretched out across the straw under-mattress, sleeping
heavily, like a log, in the utterly relaxed condition following a sudden
attack of lethargy.

At the noise made by mademoiselle, Germinie sprang to her feet and
passed her hand over her eyes.--"Yes?" she said, as if some one had
called her; her eyes were wandering.

"What's happened?" said Mademoiselle de Varandeuil in alarm; "did you
fall? Is anything the matter with you?"

"With me? no," Germinie replied; "I fell asleep. What time is it?
Nothing's the matter. Ah! what a fool!"

And she began to shake the mattress, turning her back to her mistress to
hide the flush of intoxication on her face.



XXVI


One Sunday morning Jupillon was dressing in the room Germinie had
furnished for him. His mother was sitting by, gazing at him with the
wondering pride expressed in the eyes of mothers among the common people
in presence of a son who dresses like a _monsieur_.

"You're dressed up like the young man on the first floor!" she said. "I
should think it was his coat. I don't mean to say fine things don't look
well on you, too----"

Jupillon, intent upon tying his cravat, made no reply.

"You'll play the deuce with the poor girls to-day!" continued Mère
Jupillon, giving to her voice an accent of insinuating sweetness: "Look
you, bibi, let me tell you this, you great bad boy: if a young woman
goes wrong, so much the worse for her! that's their look-out. You're a
man, aren't you? you've got the age and the figure and everything. I
can't always keep you in leading-strings. So, I said to myself, as well
one as another. That one will do. And I fixed her so that she wouldn't
see anything. Yes, Germinie would do, as you seemed to like her. That
prevented you from wasting your money on bad women--and then I didn't
see anything out of the way in the girl till now. But now it won't do at
all. They're telling stories in the quarter--a heap of horrible things
about us. A pack of vipers! We're above all that, I know. When one has
been an honest woman all her life, thank God! But you never know what
will happen--mademoiselle would only have to put the end of her nose
into her maid's affairs. Why there's the law--the bare idea gives me a
turn. What do you say to that, bibi, eh?"

"_Dame_, mamma,--whatever you please."

"Ah! I knew you loved your dear darling mamma!" exclaimed the monstrous
creature embracing him. "Well! invite her to dinner to-night. You can
get up two bottles of our Lunel--at two francs--the heady kind. And be
sure she comes. Make eyes at her, so that she'll think to-day's the
great day. Put on your fine gloves: they'll make you look more
dignified."

Germinie arrived at seven o'clock, happy and bright and hopeful, her
head filled with blissful dreams by the mysterious air with which
Jupillon delivered his mother's invitation. They dined and drank and
made merry. Mère Jupillon began to cast glances expressive of deep
emotion, drowned in tears, upon the couple sitting opposite her. When
the coffee was served, she said, as if for the purpose of being left
alone with Germinie: "Bibi, you know you have an errand to do this
evening."

Jupillon went out. Madame Jupillon, as she sipped her coffee, turned to
Germinie the face of a mother seeking to learn her daughter's secret,
and, in her indulgence, forgiving her in advance of her confession. For
a moment the two women sat thus, silent, one waiting for the other to
speak, the other with the cry of her heart on her lips. Suddenly
Germinie rushed from her chair into the stout woman's arms.

"If you knew, Madame Jupillon!"

She talked and wept and embraced her all at once. "Oh! you won't be
angry with me! Well! yes, I love him--I've had a child by him. It's
true, I love him. Three years ago----"

At every word Madame Jupillon's face became sterner and more icy. She
coldly pushed Germinie away, and in her most doleful voice, with an
accent of lamentation and hopeless desolation, she began, like a person
who is suffocating: "Oh! my God--you!--tell me such things as
that!--me!--his mother!--to my face! My God, must it be? My son--a
child--an innocent child! You've had the face to ruin him for me! And
now you tell me that you did it! No, it ain't possible, my God! And I
had such confidence. There's nothing worth living for. There's no
trusting anybody in this world! All the same, mademoiselle, I wouldn't
ever 'a' believed it of you. _Dame!_ such things give me a turn. Ah!
this upsets me completely. I know myself, and I'm quite likely to be
sick after this----"

"Madame Jupillon! Madame Jupillon!" Germinie murmured in an imploring
tone, half dead with shame and grief on the chair on which she had
fallen. "I beg you to forgive me. It was stronger than I was. And then I
thought--I believed----"

"You believed! Oh! my God; you believed! What did you believe? That
you'd be my son's wife, eh? Ah! Lord God! is it possible, my poor
child?"

And adopting a more and more plaintive and lamentable tone as the words
she hurled at Germinie cut deeper and deeper, Mère Jupillon continued:
"But, my poor girl, you must have a reason, let's hear it. What did I
always tell you? That it would be all right if you'd been born ten years
earlier. Let's see, your date was 1820, you told me, and now it's '49.
You're getting on toward thirty, you see, my dear child. I say! it makes
me feel bad to say that to you--I'd so much rather not hurt you. But a
body only has to look at you, my poor young lady. What can I do? It's
your age--your hair--I can lay my finger in the place where you part
it."

"But," said Germinie, in whose heart black wrath was beginning to
rumble, "what about what your son owes me? My money? The money I took
out of the savings bank, the money I borrowed for him, the money I----"

"Money? he owes you money? Oh! yes, what you lent him to begin business
with. Well! what about it? Do you think we're thieves? Does anyone want
to cheat you out of your old money, although there wasn't any paper--I
know it because the other day--it just occurs to me--that honest man of
a child of mine wanted to write it down for fear he might die. But the
next minute we're pickpockets, as glib as you please! Oh! my God, it's
hardly worth while living in such times as these! Ah! I'm well paid for
getting attached to you! But I see through it now. You're a politician,
you are! You wanted to pay yourself with my son, for his whole life!
Excuse me! No, thank you! It costs less to give back your money! A café
waiter's leavings! my poor dear boy! God preserve him from it!"

Germinie had snatched her shawl and hat from the hook and was out of
doors.



XXVII


Mademoiselle was sitting in her large armchair at the corner of the
fireplace, where a few live embers were still sleeping under the ashes.
Her black cap was pulled down over her wrinkled forehead almost to her
eyes. Her black dress, cut in the shape of a child's frock, was draped
in scanty folds about her scanty body, showing the location of every
bone, and fell straight from her knees to the floor. She wore a small
black shawl crossed on her breast and tied behind her back, as they are
worn by little girls. Her half-open hands were resting on her hips, with
the palms turned outward--thin, old woman's hands, awkward and stiff,
and swollen with gout at the knuckles and finger joints. Sitting in the
huddled, crouching posture that compels old people to raise their heads
to look at you and speak to you, she seemed to be buried in all that
mass of black, whence nothing emerged but her face, to which
preponderance of bile had imparted the yellow hue of old ivory, and the
flashing glance of her brown eyes. One who saw her thus, her bright,
sparkling eyes, the meagre body, the garb of poverty and the noble air
with which she bore all the burdens of age, might well have fancied
that he was looking at a fairy on the stage of the Petits-Ménages.

Germinie was by her side. The old lady began:

"The list is still under the door, eh, Germinie?"

"Yes, mademoiselle."

"Do you know, my girl," Mademoiselle de Varandeuil resumed, after a
pause, "do you know that when one is born in one of the finest houses on
Rue Royale--when one has been in a fair way to own the Grand and
Petit-Charolais--when one has almost had the Château of
Clichy-la-Garenne for a country house--and when it took two servants to
carry the silver platter on which the joint was served at your
grandmother's--do you know that it takes no small amount of
philosophy"--and mademoiselle with difficulty raised a hand to her
shoulder--"to see yourself end like this, in this devilish nest of
rheumatism, where, in spite of all the list in the world, you can't keep
out of draughts.--That's it, stir up the fire a little."

She put out her feet toward Germinie, who was kneeling in front of the
fireplace, and laughingly placed them under her nose: "Do you know that
that takes no small amount of philosophy--to wear stockings out at heel!
Simpleton! I'm not scolding you; I know well enough that you can't do
everything. So you might as well have a woman come to do the mending.
That's not very much to do. Why don't you speak to that little girl that
came here last year? She had a face that I remember."

"Oh! she's black as a mole, mademoiselle."

"Bah! I knew it. In the first place you never think well of anybody.
That isn't true, you say? Why, wasn't she a niece of Mère Jupillon's? We
might take her for one or two days a week."

"That hussy shall never set foot here."

"Nonsense, more fables! You're a most astonishing creature, to adore
people and then not want to see them again. What has she done to you?"

"She's a lost creature, I tell you!"

"Bah! what does my linen care for that?"

"But, mademoiselle."

"All right! find me someone else then. I don't care about her
particularly. But find me someone."

"Oh! the women that come in like that don't do any work. I'll mend your
clothes. You don't need any one."

"You!--Oh! if we have to rely on your needle!" said mademoiselle
jocosely; "and then, will Mère Jupillon ever give you the time?"

"Madame Jupillon? Oh! for all the dust I shall ever leave in her house
again!"

"Hoity-toity! What's that? She too! so she's on your black books, is
she? Oho! hurry up and make another acquaintance, or else, _bon Dieu de
Dieu_! we shall have some bad days here!"



XXVIII


The winter of that year should certainly have assured Mademoiselle de
Varandeuil a share of paradise hereafter. She had to undergo the reflex
action of her maid's chagrin, her nervous irritability, the vengeance of
her embittered, contradictory moods, which the approaching spring would
ere long infect with that species of malignant madness which the
critical season, the travail of nature and the restless, disturbing
fructification of the summer cause in unhealthily sensitive
organizations.

Germinie was forever wiping eyes which no longer wept, but which had
once wept copiously. She was always ready with an everlasting:
"Nothing's the matter, mademoiselle!" uttered in the tone that covers a
secret. She adopted dumb, despairing, funereal attitudes, the airs by
which a woman's body diffuses melancholy and makes her very shadow a
bore. With her face, her glance, her mouth, the folds of her dress, her
presence, the noise she made at work in the adjoining room, even with
her silence, she enveloped mademoiselle in the despair that exhaled from
her person. At the slightest word she would bristle up. Mademoiselle
could not address an observation to her, ask her the most trivial
question, give her an order or express a wish: everything was taken by
her as a reproach. And thereupon she would act like a madwoman. She
would wipe her eyes and grumble: "Oh! I am very unfortunate! I can see
that mademoiselle doesn't care for me any more!" Her spite against
various people vented itself in sublimely ingenious complaints. "That
woman always comes when it rains!" she would say, upon discovering a bit
of mud that Madame de Belleuse had left on the carpet. During the week
following New Year's Day, the week when all of Mademoiselle de
Varandeuil's remaining relatives and friends, rich and poor alike,
climbed the five flights and waited on the landing at her door for their
turns to occupy the six chairs in her bedroom, Germinie redoubled her
ill-humor, her impertinent remarks, her sulky muttering. Inventing
grievances against her mistress, she punished her constantly by a
persistent silence, which it was impossible to break. Then there would
be periods of frenzied industry. Mademoiselle would hear through the
partitions on all sides furious manipulation of the broom and duster,
the sharp, vicious scrubbing and slamming of the servant whom one
imagines muttering to herself as she maltreats the furniture: "Oh! yes,
I'll do your work for you!"

Old people are patient with servants who have been long in their
service. Long habit, the weakening will-power, the horror of change,
the dread of new faces,--everything disposes them to weakness and
cowardly concessions. Notwithstanding her quick temper, her promptness
to lose her head, to fly into a rage, to breathe fire and flame,
mademoiselle said nothing. She acted as if she saw nothing. She
pretended to be reading when Germinie entered the room. She waited,
curled up in her easy-chair, until the maid's ill-humor had blown over
or burst. She bent her back before the storm; she said no word, had no
thought of bitterness against her. She simply pitied her for causing
herself so much suffering.

In truth Germinie was not Mademoiselle de Varandeuil's maid; she was
Devotion, waiting to close her eyes. The solitary old woman, overlooked
by death, alone at the end of her life, dragging her affections from
grave to grave, had found her last friend in her servant. She had rested
her heart upon her as upon an adopted daughter, and she was especially
unhappy because she was powerless to comfort her. Moreover, at
intervals, Germinie returned to her from the depths of her brooding
melancholy and her savage humor, and threw herself on her knees before
her kind heart. Suddenly, at a ray of sunlight, a beggar's song, or any
one of the nothings that float in the air and expand the heart, she
would burst into tears and demonstrations of affection; her heart would
overflow with burning emotions, she would seem to feel a pleasure in
embracing her mistress, as if the joy of living again had effaced
everything. At other times some trifling ailment of mademoiselle's would
bring about the change; a smile would come to the old servant's face and
gentleness to her hands. Sometimes, at such moments, mademoiselle would
say: "Come, my girl--something's the matter. Tell me what it is." And
Germinie would reply: "No, mademoiselle, it's the weather."--"The
weather!" mademoiselle would repeat with a doubtful air, "the weather!"



XXIX


One evening in March the Jupillons, mother and son, were talking
together by the stove in their back-shop.

Jupillon had been drafted. The money his mother had put aside to
purchase his release had been used up as a result of six months of poor
business and by credits given to certain _lorettes_ on the street, who
had left the key under their door-mat one fine morning. He had not
prospered, in a business way, himself, and his stock in trade had been
taken on execution. He had been that day to ask a former employer to
advance him the money to purchase a substitute. But the old perfumer had
not forgiven him for leaving him and setting up for himself, and he
refused point-blank.

Mère Jupillon, in despair, was complaining tearfully. She repeated the
number drawn by her son: "Twenty-two! twenty-two!" And she said: "And
yet I sewed a black spider into your _paletot_ with his web; a _velvety_
fellow he was! Oh, dear! I ought to have done as they told me and made
you wear the cap you were baptized in. Ah! the good God ain't fair!
There's the fruit woman's son drew a lucky number! That comes of being
honest! And those two sluts at number eighteen must go and hook it with
my money! I might have known they meant something by the way they shook
hands. They did me out of more than seven hundred francs, did you know
it? And the black creature opposite--and that infernal girl as had the
face to eat pots of strawberries at twenty francs! they might as well
have taken me too, the hussies! But you haven't gone yet all the same.
I'd rather sell the creamery--I'll go out to work again, do cooking or
housekeeping,--anything! Why, I'd draw money from a stone for you!"

Jupillon smoked and let his mother do the talking. When she had
finished, he said: "That'll do for talk, mamma!--all that's nothing but
words. You'll spoil your digestion and it ain't worth while. You needn't
sell anything--you needn't strain yourself at all--I'll buy my
substitute and it sha'n't cost you a sou;--do you want to bet on it?"

"Jesus!" ejaculated Madame Jupillon.

"I have an idea."

After a pause, Jupillon continued: "I didn't want to make trouble with
you on account of Germinie--you know, at the time the stories about us
were going round; you thought it was time for me to break with her--that
she would be in our way--and you kicked her out of the house, stiff.
That wasn't my idea--I didn't think she was so bad as all that for the
family butter. But, however, you thought best to do it. And perhaps,
after all, you did the best thing; instead of cooling her off, you
warmed her up for me--yes, warmed her up--I've met her once or
twice--and she's changed, I tell you. Gad! how she's drying up!"

"But you know very well she hasn't got a sou."

"I don't say she has, of her own. But what's that got to do with it?
She'll find it somewhere. She's good for twenty-three hundred shiners
yet!"

"But suppose you get mixed up in it?"

"Oh! she won't steal 'em----"

"The deuce she won't!"

"Well! if she does, it won't be from anyone but her mistress. Do you
suppose her mademoiselle would have her pinched for that? She'll turn
her off, and that'll be the end of it. We'll advise her to try the air
in another quarter--off she goes!--and we sha'n't see her again. But it
would be too stupid for her to steal. She'll arrange it somehow, she'll
hunt round and turn things over. I don't know how, not I! but that's her
affair, you understand. This is the time for her to show her talents. By
the way, perhaps you don't know, they say her old woman's sick. If the
dear lady should happen to step out and leave her all the stuff, as the
story goes in the quarter--why, it wouldn't be a bad thing to have
played see-saw with her, eh, mamma? We must put on gloves, you see,
mamma, when we're dealing with people who may have four or five thousand
a year come tumbling into their aprons."

"Oh! my God! what are you talking about? But after the way I treated
her--oh! no, she'll never come back here."

"Well! I tell you I'll bring her back--and to-night at the latest," said
Jupillon, rising, and rolling a cigarette between his fingers. "No
excuses, you know," he said to his mother, "they won't do any good--and
be cold to her. Act as if you received her only on my account, because
you are weak. No one knows what may happen, we must always keep an
anchor to windward."



XXX


Jupillon was walking back and forth on the sidewalk in front of
Germinie's house when she came out.

"Good-evening, Germinie," he said, behind her.

She turned as if she had been struck, and, without answering his
greeting, instinctively moved on a few steps as if to fly from him.

"Germinie!"

Jupillon said nothing more than that; he did not follow her, he did not
move. She came back to him like a trained beast when his rope is taken
off.

"What is it?" said she. "Do you want more money? or do you want to tell
me some of your mother's foolish remarks?"

"No, but I am going away," said Jupillon, with a serious face. "I am
drafted--and I am going away."

"You are going away?" said she. She seemed as if her mind was not awake.

"Look here, Germinie," Jupillon continued. "I have made you unhappy. I
haven't been very kind to you, I know. My cousin's been a little to
blame. What do you want?"

"You're going away?" rejoined Germinie, taking his arm. "Don't lie to
me--are you going away?"

"I tell you, yes--and it's true. I'm only waiting for marching orders.
You have to pay more than two thousand francs for a substitute this
year. They say there's going to be a war: however, there's a chance."

As he spoke he was leading Germinie down the street.

"Where are you taking me?" said she.

"To mother's, of course--so that you two can make up and put an end to
all this nonsense."

"After what she said to me? Never!"

And Germinie pushed Jupillon's arm away.

"Well, if that's the way it is, good-bye."

And Jupillon raised his cap.

"Shall I write to you from the regiment?"

Germinie was silent, hesitating, for a moment. Then she said, abruptly:
"Come on!" and, motioning to Jupillon to walk beside her, she turned
back up the street.

And so they walked along, side by side, without a word. They reached a
paved road that stretched out as far as the eye could see, between two
lines of lanterns, between two rows of gnarled trees that held aloft
handfuls of bare branches and cast their slender, motionless shadows on
high blank walls. There, in the keen air, chilled by the evaporation of
the snow, they walked on and on for a long time, burying themselves in
the vague, infinite, unfamiliar depths of a street that follows the
same wall, the same trees, the same lanterns, and leads on to the same
darkness beyond. The damp, heavy air that they breathed smelt of sugar
and tallow and carrion. From time to time a vivid flash passed before
their eyes: it was the lantern of a butcher's cart that shone upon
slaughtered cattle and huge pieces of bleeding meat thrown upon the back
of a white horse; the light upon the flesh, amid the darkness, resembled
a purple conflagration, a furnace of blood.

"Well! have you reflected?" said Jupillon. "This little Avenue Trudaine
isn't a very cheerful place, do you know?"

"Come on," Germinie replied.

And, without another word, she set out again at the same fierce, jerky
gait, agitated by all the tumult raging in her heart. Her thoughts were
expressed in her gestures. Her feet went astray, madness attacked her
hands. At times her shadow, seen from behind, reminded one of a woman
from La Salpêtrière. Two or three passers-by stopped for a moment and
looked after her; then, remembering that they were in Paris, passed on.

Suddenly she stopped, and with the gesture of one who has made a
desperate resolution, she said: "Ah! my God! another pin in the
cushion!--Let us go!"

And she took Jupillon's arm.

"Oh! I know very well," said Jupillon, when they were near the creamery,
"my mother wasn't fair to you. You see, the woman has been too virtuous
all her life. She don't know, she don't understand. And then, d'ye see,
I'll tell you the whole secret: she loves me so much she's jealous of
any woman who loves me. So go in, do!"

And he pushed her into the arms of Madame Jupillon, who kissed her,
mumbled a few words of regret, and made haste to weep in order to
relieve her own embarrassment and make the scene more affecting.

Throughout the evening Germinie sat with her eyes fixed on Jupillon,
almost terrifying him with her expression.

"Come, come," he said, as he walked home with her, "don't be so down in
the mouth as all this. We must have a little philosophy in this world.
Well! here I am a soldier--that's all! To be sure they don't all come
back. But then--look here! I propose that we enjoy ourselves for the
fortnight that's left, because it will be so much gained--and if I don't
come back--Well, at all events, I shall leave you a pleasant memory of
me."

Germinie made no reply.



XXXI


For a whole week Germinie did not set foot in the shop again.

The Jupillons, when she did not return, began to despair. At last, one
evening about half past ten, she pushed the door open, entered the shop
without a word of greeting, walked up to the little table where the
mother and son were sitting half asleep, and placed upon it, beneath her
hand which was closed like a claw, an old piece of cloth that gave forth
a ringing sound.

"There it is!" said she.

And, letting go the corners of the cloth, she emptied its contents on
the table: forth came greasy bank-notes, patched on the back, fastened
together with pins, old tarnished louis d'or, black hundred-sou pieces,
forty-sou pieces, ten-sou pieces, the money of the poor, the money of
toil, money from Christmas-boxes, money soiled by dirty hands, worn out
in leather purses, rubbed smooth in the cash drawer filled with
sous--money with a flavor of perspiration.

For a moment she gazed at the display as if to assure her own eyes; then
she said to Madame Jupillon in a sad voice, the voice of her sacrifice:

"There it is--There's the two thousand three hundred francs for him to
buy a substitute."

"Oh! my dear Germinie!" said the stout woman, almost suffocated by
emotion; and she threw herself upon Germinie's neck, who submitted to be
embraced. "Oh! you must take something with us--a cup of coffee--"

"No, thank you," said Germinie; "I am done up. _Dame!_ I've had to fly
around, you know, to get them. I'm going to bed now. Some other time."

And she went away.

She had had to "fly around," as she said, to scrape together such a sum,
to accomplish that impossibility: to raise two thousand three hundred
francs--two thousand three hundred francs, of which she had not the
first five! She had collected them, begged them, extorted them piece by
piece, almost sou by sou. She had picked them up, scraped them together
here and there, from this one and from that one, by loans of two
hundred, one hundred, fifty, twenty francs, or whatever sum anyone would
lend. She had borrowed from her concierge, her grocer, her fruit woman,
her poulterer, her laundress; she had borrowed from all the dealers in
the quarter, and from the dealers in the quarters where she had
previously lived with mademoiselle. She had made up the amount with
money drawn from every source, even from her poor miserable
water-carrier. She had gone a-begging everywhere, importuned humbly,
prayed, implored, invented fables, swallowed the shame of lying and
of seeing that she was not believed. The humiliation of confessing that
she had no money laid by, as was supposed, and as, through pride, she
had encouraged people to suppose, the sympathy of people she despised,
the refusals, the alms, she had undergone everything, endured what she
would not have endured to procure bread for herself, and not once only,
with a single person, but with thirty, forty, all those who had given
her something or from whom she had hoped for something.


[Illustration: Chapter XXXI

_At last, one evening about half past ten, she pushed the door open,
entered the shop without a word of greeting, walked up to the little
table where the mother and son were sitting half asleep, and placed upon
it, beneath her hand which was closed like a claw, an old piece of cloth
that gave forth a ringing sound._

_"There it is!" said she._]


At last she had succeeded in collecting the money; but it was her master
and had possession of her forever. Her life thenceforth belonged to the
obligations she had entered into with all these people, to the service
her dealers had rendered her, knowing very well what they were doing.
She belonged to her debt, to the sum she would have to pay every year.
She knew it; she knew that all her wages would go in that way; that with
the rates of interest, which she had left entirely at the discretion of
her creditors, and the written obligations demanded by them,
mademoiselle's three hundred francs would hardly suffice to pay the
interest on the twenty-three hundred she had borrowed. She knew that she
was in debt, that she should be in debt forever, that she was doomed
forever to privation and embarrassment, to the strictest economy in her
manner of living and her dress. She had hardly any more illusions as to
the Jupillons than as to her own future. She had a presentiment that
her money was lost so far as they were concerned. She had not even based
any hopes on the possibility that this sacrifice would touch the young
man. She had acted on the impulse of the moment. If she had been told to
die to prevent his going, she would have died. The idea of seeing him a
soldier, the idea of the battlefield, the cannon, the wounded, in
presence of which a woman shuts her eyes in terror, had led her to do
something more than die; to sell her life for that man, to consign
herself to everlasting poverty.



XXXII


Disorders of the nervous system frequently result in disarranging the
natural sequence of human joys and sorrows, in destroying their
proportion and equilibrium, and in carrying them to the greatest
possible excess. It seems that, under the influence of this disease of
sensitiveness, the sharpened, refined, spiritualized sensations exceed
their natural measure and limits, reach a point beyond themselves, and,
as it were, make the enjoyment and suffering of the individual infinite.
So the infrequent joys that Germinie still knew were insane joys, from
which she emerged drunk, and with the physical symptoms of
drunkenness.--"Why, my girl," mademoiselle sometimes could not forbear
saying, "anyone would think you were tipsy."--"Mademoiselle makes you
pay dear for a little amusement once in a while!" Germinie would reply.
And when she relapsed into her sorrowful, disappointed, restless
condition, her desolation was more intense, more frantic and delirious
than her gayety.

The moment had arrived when the terrible truth, which she had suspected
before, at last became clear to her. She saw that she had failed to lay
hold of Jupillon by the devotion her love had manifested, by stripping
herself of all she possessed, by all the pecuniary sacrifices which
involved her life in the toils and embarrassment of a debt it was
impossible for her to pay. She felt that he gave her his love
grudgingly, a love to which he imparted all the humiliation of an act of
charity. When she told him that she was again _enceinte_, the man whom
she was about to make a father once more said to her: "Well, women like
you are amusing creatures! always full or just empty!" She conceived the
ideas, the suspicions that come to genuine love when it is betrayed, the
presentiments of the heart that tell women they are no longer in
undisputed possession of their lovers, and that there is another because
there is likely to be another.

She complained no more, she wept no more, she indulged no more in
recrimination. She abandoned the struggle with this man, armed with
indifference, who, with the cold-blooded sarcasm of the vulgar cad, was
so expert in insulting her passion, her unreasoning impulses, her wild
outbursts of affection. And so, in agonizing resignation, she set
herself the task of waiting--for what? She did not know: perhaps until
he would have no more of her.

Heart-broken and silent, she kept watch upon Jupillon; she followed him
about and never lost sight of him; she tried to make him speak by
interjecting remarks in his fits of distraction. She hovered about him,
but she saw nothing wrong, she could lay hold of nothing, detect
nothing; and yet she was convinced that there was something and that
what she feared was true; she felt a woman's presence in the air.

One morning, as she went down the street rather earlier than usual, she
spied him a few yards before her on the sidewalk. He was dressed up, and
constantly looked himself over as he walked along. From time to time he
raised his trouser leg a little to see the polish on his boots. She
followed him. He went straight on without looking back. She was not far
behind him when he reached Place Bréda. There was a woman walking on the
square beside the cabstand. Germinie could see nothing of her but her
back. Jupillon went up to her and she turned: it was his cousin. They
began to walk side by side, up and down the square; then they started
through Rue Bréda toward Rue de Navarin. There the girl took Jupillon's
arm; she did not lean on it at first, but little by little, as they
proceeded, she leaned toward him, with the movement of a branch when it
is bent, and drew closer and closer. They walked slowly, so slowly that
at times Germinie was obliged to stop in order to keep at a safe
distance from them. They ascended Rue des Martyrs, passed through Rue de
la Tour d'Auvergne, and went down Rue Montholon. Jupillon was talking
earnestly; the cousin said nothing, but listened to Jupillon, and
walked on with the absent-minded air of a woman smelling of a bouquet,
now and then darting a little vague glance on one side or the other--the
glance of a frightened child.

When they reached Rue Lamartine, opposite the Passage des Deux-Soeurs,
they turned. Germinie had barely time to throw herself in at a hall
door. They passed without seeing her. The little one was very serious
and walked slowly. Jupillon was talking into her ear. They stopped for a
moment; Jupillon gesticulated earnestly; the girl stared fixedly at the
pavement. Germinie thought they were about to part; but they resumed
their walk together and made four or five turns, passing back and forth
by the end of the passage. At last they turned in; Germinie darted from
her hiding-place and rushed after them. From the gateway of the passage
she saw the skirt of a dress disappear through the door of a small
furnished lodging-house, beside a wine shop. She ran to the door, looked
into the hall and could see nothing. Thereupon all her blood rushed to
her head, with one thought, a single thought that her lips kept
repeating like an idiot: "Vitriol! vitriol! vitriol!" And as her
thoughts were instantly transformed into the act of which she thought,
and her delirium transported her abruptly to the crime she contemplated,
she said to herself that she would go up the stairs with the bottle well
hidden under her shawl; she would knock at the door very loud and
continuously. He would come at last and would open the door a crack.
She would say nothing to him, not her name even. She would go in without
heeding him. She was strong enough to kill him! and she would go to the
bed, to _her_! She would take her by the arm and say: "Yes it's me--this
is for your life!" And over her face, her throat, her skin, over
everything about her that was youthful and attractive and that invited
love, Germinie watched the vitriol sear and seam and burn and hiss,
transforming her into a horrible object that filled Germinie's heart to
overflowing with joy! The bottle was empty, and she laughed! And, in her
frightful dream, her body also dreaming, her feet began to move. She
walked unconsciously down the passage, into the street and to a grocer's
shop. Ten minutes she stood motionless at the counter, with eyes that
did not see, the vacant, wandering eyes of one who has murder in his
heart.

"Well, well, what do you want?" said the grocer's wife testily, almost
frightened by the bearing of this woman who did not stir.

"What do I want?" said Germinie. She was so filled, so possessed with
the thought of what she wanted that she believed she had asked for
vitriol. "What do I want?"--She passed her hand across her
forehead.--"Ah! I don't know now."

And she left the shop, stumbling as she went.



XXXIII


In the torment of the life she was leading, in which she suffered the
horrors of death and of unsatisfied passion, Germinie, seeking to deaden
her ghastly thoughts, had remembered the glass she had taken from
Adèle's hand one morning, which gave her a whole day of oblivion. From
that day she had taken to drink. She had begun with the little morning
draughts to which the maids of kept women are addicted. She had drunk
with this one and with that one. She had drunk with men who came to
breakfast at the creamery; she had drunk with Adèle, who drank like a
man and who took a base delight in seeing this virtuous woman's maid
descend as low as herself.

At first she had needed excitement, company, the clinking of glasses,
the encouragement of speech, the inspiration of the challenge, in order
to arouse the desire to drink; but she had soon reached the point where
she drank alone. Then it was that she began to carry home a half-filled
glass under her apron and hide it in a corner of the kitchen; that she
had taken to drinking those mixtures of white wine and brandy, of which
she would take draught upon draught until she had found that for which
she thirsted--sleep. For what she craved was not the fevered brain, the
happy confusion, the living folly, the delirious, waking dream of
drunkenness; what she needed, what she sought was the negative joy of
sleep, Lethean, dreamless sleep, a leaden sleep falling upon her like
the blow of the sledge upon the ox's head: and she found it in those
compounds which struck her down and stretched her out face downward on
the waxed cover of the kitchen table.

To sleep that overpowering sleep, to wallow, by day, in that midnight
darkness, had come to mean to her a truce, deliverance from an existence
that she had not the courage to continue or to end. An overwhelming
longing for oblivion was all she felt when she awoke. The hours of her
life that she passed in possession of her faculties, contemplating
herself, examining her conscience, looking on at her own shame, seemed
to her so execrable! She preferred to kill them. There was nothing in
the world but sleep to make her forget everything--the congested sleep
of intoxication, which lulls its victim with the arms of Death.

In that glass, from which she forced herself to drink, and which she
emptied in a sort of frenzy, her sufferings, her sorrows, all her
horrible present would be drowned and disappear. In a half hour, her
mind would have ceased to think, her life would have ceased to exist;
nothing of her surroundings would have any being for her, there would be
no more time even, so far as she was concerned. "I drink away my
troubles!" she said to a woman who told her that she would wreck her
health by drinking. And as, in the periods of reaction that followed her
debauches, there came to her a more painful feeling of her own shame, a
greater sense of desolation and a fiercer detestation of her mistakes
and her sins, she sought stronger decoctions of alcohol, more fiery
brandy, and even drank pure absinthe, in order to produce a more deathly
lethargy, and to make her more utterly oblivious to everything.

She ended by attaining in this way whole half days of unconsciousness,
from which she emerged only half awake, with benumbed intelligence,
blunted perceptions, hands that did things by force of habit, the
motions of a somnambulist, a body and a mind in which thought, will,
memory seemed still to retain the drowsiness and vagueness of the
confused waking hours of the morning.



XXXIV


Half an hour after the horrible meeting when--her mind having dabbled in
crime as if with her fingers--she had determined to disfigure her rival
with vitriol and had believed that she had done so, Germinie returned to
Rue de Laval with a bottle of brandy procured at the grocer's.

For two weeks she had been mistress of the apartment, free to indulge
her brutish appetite. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, who as a general rule
hardly stirred from her chair, had gone, strangely enough, to pass six
weeks with an old friend in the country; and she decided not to take
Germinie with her for fear of setting a bad example to the other
servants, and arousing their jealousy of a maid who was accustomed to
very light duties and was treated on a different footing from
themselves.

Germinie went into mademoiselle's bedroom and took no more time than was
necessary to throw her shawl and hat on the floor before she began to
drink, with the neck of the bottle between her teeth, pouring down the
liquid hurriedly until everything in the room was whirling around her,
and she remembered nothing of the day. Thereupon, staggering, feeling
that she was about to fall, she tried to throw herself on her mistress's
bed to sleep; but her dizziness threw her against the night table. From
that she fell to the floor and lay without moving; she simply snored.
But the blow was so violent that during the night she had a miscarriage,
followed by one of those hemorrhages in which the life often ebbs away.
She tried to rise and go out on the landing to call; she tried to stand
up: she could not. She felt that she was gliding on to death, entering
its portals and descending with gentle moderation. At last, summoning
all her strength for a final effort, she dragged herself as far as the
hall door; but it was impossible for her to lift her head to the
keyhole, impossible to cry out. And she would have died where she lay
had not Adèle, as she was passing in the morning, heard a groan, and, in
her alarm, fetched a locksmith to open the door, and afterward a midwife
to attend to the dying woman.

When mademoiselle returned a month later, she found Germinie up and
about, but so weak that she was constantly obliged to sit down, and so
pale that she seemed to have no blood left in her body. They told her
that she had had a hemorrhage of which she nearly died: mademoiselle
suspected nothing.



XXXV


Germinie welcomed mademoiselle's return with melting caresses, wet with
tears. Her affectionate manner was like a sick child's; she had the same
clinging gentleness, the imploring expression, the melancholy of timid,
frightened suffering. She sought excuses for touching her mistress with
her white blue-veined hands. She approached her with a sort of trembling
and fervent humility. Very often, as she sat facing her upon a stool,
and looked up at her with eyes like a dog's, she would rise and go and
kiss some part of her dress, then resume her seat, and in a moment begin
again.

There was heart-rending entreaty in these caresses, these kisses of
Germinie's. Death, whose footsteps she had heard approaching her as if
it were a living person; the hours of utter prostration, when, as she
lay in her bed, alone with herself, she had reviewed her whole past
life; the consciousness of the shame of all she had concealed from
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil; the fear of a judgment of God, rising from
the depths of her former religious ideas; all the reproaches, all the
apprehensions that whisper in the ear of a dying agony had aroused a
horrible dread in her conscience; and remorse,--the remorse that she had
never been able to put down,--was now alive and crying aloud in her
enfeebled, broken body, as yet but partially restored to life, as yet
scarcely firm in the persuasion that it was alive.

Germinie's was not one of those fortunate natures that do wrong and
leave the memory of it behind them, and never feel a twinge of regret.
She had not, like Adèle, one of those vulgar material organizations,
which never allow themselves to be affected by any but animal impulses.
She was not blessed with one of those consciences which escape suffering
by virtue of mere brutishness, or of that dense stupidity in which a
woman vegetates, sinning because she knows no better. In her case, an
unhealthy sensitiveness, a sort of cerebral excitement, a disposition on
the part of the brain to be always on the alert, to work itself into a
frenzy of bitterness, anxiety and discontent with itself, a moral sense
that stood erect, as it were, after every one of her backslidings, all
the characteristics of a sensitive mind, predestined to misfortune,
united to torture her, and to renew day after day, more openly and more
cruelly in her despair, the agony due to acts that would hardly have
caused such long-continued suffering in many women in her station.

Germinie yielded to the impulse of passion; but as soon as she had
yielded to it she despised herself. Even in the excitement of pleasure
she could not entirely forget and lose herself. The image of
mademoiselle always arose before her, with her stern, motherly face.
Germinie did not become immodest in the same degree that she abandoned
herself to her passions and sank lower and lower in vice. The degrading
depths to which she descended did not fortify her against her disgust
and horror of herself. Habit did not harden her. Her defiled conscience
rejected its defilement, struggled fiercely in its shame, rent itself in
its repentance and did not for one second permit itself the full
enjoyment of vice, was never completely stunned by its fall.

And so when mademoiselle, forgetting that she was a servant, leaned over
to her with the brusque familiarity of tone and gesture that went
straight to her heart, Germinie, confused and overcome with blushing
timidity, was speechless and seemed bereft of sense under the horrible
torture caused by the consciousness of her own unworthiness. She would
fly from the room, she would invent some pretext to escape from that
affection which she so shamefully betrayed, and which, when it touched
her, stirred her remorse to shuddering activity.



XXXVI


The miraculous part of this disorderly, abandoned life, this life of
shame and misery, was that it did not become known. Germinie allowed no
trace of anything to appear outside; she allowed nothing to rise to her
lips, nothing to be seen in her face, nothing to be noticed in her
manner, and the accursed background of her existence remained hidden
from her mistress.

It had, indeed, sometimes occurred to mademoiselle in a vague way that
her maid had some secret, something that she was concealing from her,
something that was obscure in her life. She had had moments of doubt, of
suspicion, an instinctive feeling of uneasiness, confused glimpses of
something wrong, a faint scent that eluded her and vanished in the
gloom. She had thought at times that she had stumbled upon sealed,
unresponsive recesses in the girl's heart, upon a mystery, upon some
unlighted passage of her life. Again, at times it had seemed to her that
her maid's eyes did not say what her mouth said. Involuntarily, she had
remembered a phrase that Germinie often repeated: "A sin hidden, a sin
half forgiven." But the thing that filled her thoughts above all else
was amazement that Germinie, despite the increase in her wages and the
little gifts that she gave her almost every day, never purchased
anything for her toilet, had no new dresses or linen. Where did her
money go? She had almost admitted having withdrawn her eighteen hundred
francs from the savings bank. Mademoiselle ruminated over it, then said
to herself that that was the whole of her maid's mystery; it was about
money, she was short of funds, doubtless on account of some obligations
she had entered into long ago for her family, and perhaps she had been
sending more money to "her _canaille_ of a brother-in-law." She was so
kind-hearted and had so little system! She had so little idea of the
value of a hundred-sou piece! That was all there was to it: mademoiselle
was sure of it; and as she knew the girl's obstinate nature and had no
hope of inducing her to change her mind, she said nothing to her. If
this explanation did not fully satisfy mademoiselle, she attributed what
there was strange and mysterious in her maid's behavior to her somewhat
secretive nature, which retained something of the characteristic
distrust of the peasant, who is jealous of her own petty affairs and
takes delight in burying a corner of her life away down in her heart, as
the villager hoards his sous in a woolen stocking. Or else she persuaded
herself that it was her ill health, her state of continual suffering
that was responsible for her whims and her habit of dissimulation. And
her mind, in its interested search for motives, stopped at that point,
with the indolence and a little of the selfishness of old people's
minds, who, having an instinctive dread of final results and of the real
characters of their acquaintances, prefer not to be too inquisitive or
to know too much. Who knows? Perhaps all this mystery was nothing but a
paltry matter, unworthy to disturb or to interest her, some petty
woman's quarrel. She went to sleep thereupon, reassured, and ceased to
cudgel her brains.

In truth, how could mademoiselle have guessed Germinie's degradation and
the horror of her secret! In her most poignant suffering, in her wildest
intoxication, the unhappy creature retained the incredible strength
necessary to suppress and keep back everything. From her passionate,
overcharged nature, which found relief so naturally in expansion, never
a word escaped or a syllable that cast a ray of light upon her secret.
Mortification, contempt, disappointment, self-sacrifice, the death of
her child, the treachery of her lover, the dying agony of her love, all
remained voiceless within her, as if she stifled their cries by pressing
her hands upon her heart. Her rare attacks of weakness, when she seemed
to be struggling with pains that strangled her, the fierce, feverish
caresses lavished upon Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, the sudden paroxysms,
as if she were trying to give birth to something, always ended without
words and found relief in tears.

Even illness, with its resulting weakness and enervation, forced nothing
from her. It could make no impression on that heroic resolution to keep
silent to the end. Hysterical attacks extorted shrieks from her and
nothing but shrieks. When she was a girl she dreamed aloud; she forced
her dreams to cease speaking, she closed the lips of her sleep. As
mademoiselle might have discovered from her breath that she had been
drinking, she ate shallots and garlic, and concealed the fumes of liquor
with their offensive odors. She even trained her intoxication, her
drunken torpor to awake at her mistress's footstep, and remain awake in
her presence.

Thus she led, as it were, two lives. She was like two women, and by dint
of energy, adroitness and feminine diplomacy, with a self-assurance that
never failed her even in the mental confusion caused by drink, she
succeeded in separating those two existences, in living them both
without mingling them, in never allowing the two women that lived in her
to be confounded with each other, in continuing to be, with Mademoiselle
de Varandeuil, the virtuous, respectable girl she had been, in emerging
from her orgies without carrying away the taste of them, in displaying,
when she left her lover, a sort of old-maidish modesty, shocked by the
scandalous courses of other maids. She never uttered a word or bore
herself in a way to arouse a suspicion of her clandestine life; nothing
about her conveyed a hint as to the way her nights were passed. When she
placed her foot upon the door-mat outside Mademoiselle de Varandeuil's
apartments, when she approached her, when she stood before her, she
adopted the tone and the attitude, even to a certain way of holding the
dress, which relieve a woman from so much as a suspicion of having aught
to do with men. She talked freely upon all subjects, as if she had
nothing to blush for. She spoke with bitterness of the misdoings and
shame of others, as if she were herself beyond reproach. She joked with
her mistress about love, in a jovial, unembarrassed, indifferent tone;
to hear her you would have thought she was talking of an old
acquaintance of whom she had lost sight. And in the eyes of all those
who saw her only as Mademoiselle de Varandeuil did and at her home,
there was a certain atmosphere of chastity about her thirty-five years,
the odor of stern, unimpeachable virtue, peculiar to middle-aged
maid-servants and plain women.

And yet all this falsehood in the matter of appearances was not
hypocrisy in Germinie. It did not arise from downright duplicity, from
corrupt striving for effect: it was her affection for mademoiselle that
made her what she was with her. She was determined at any price to save
her the grief of seeing her as she was, of going to the bottom of her
character. She deceived her solely in order to retain her
affection,--with a sort of respect; and a feeling of veneration, almost
of piety, stole into the ghastly comedy she was playing, like the
feeling a girl has who lies to her mother in order not to rend her
heart.



XXXVII


To lie! nothing was left for her but that. She felt that it was an
impossibility to draw back from her present position. She did not even
entertain the idea of an attempt to escape from it, it seemed such a
hopeless task, she was so cowardly, so crushed and degraded, and she
felt that she was still so firmly bound to that man by all sorts of
vile, degrading chains, even by the contempt that he no longer tried to
conceal from her!

Sometimes, as she reflected upon her plight, she was dismayed. The
simple ideas and terrors of the peasantry recurred to her mind. And the
superstitions of her youth whispered to her that the man had cast a
spell upon her, that he had perhaps given her enchanted bread to eat.
Otherwise would she have been what she was? Would she have felt, at the
mere sight of him, that thrill of emotion through her whole frame, that
almost brute-like sensation of the approach of a master? Would she have
felt her whole body, her mouth, her arms, her loving and caressing
gestures involuntarily go out to him? Would she have belonged to him so
absolutely? Long and bitterly she dwelt upon all that should have cured
her, rescued her: the man's disdain, his insults, the degrading
concessions he had forced from her; and she was compelled to admit that
there had been nothing too precious for her to sacrifice to him, and
that for him she had swallowed the things she loathed most bitterly. She
tried to imagine the degree of degradation to which her love would
refuse to descend, and she could conceive of none. He could do what he
chose with her, insult her, beat her, and she would remain under his
heel! She could not think of herself as not belonging to him. She could
not think of herself without him. To have that man to love was necessary
to her existence; she derived warmth from him, she lived by him, she
breathed him. There seemed to be no parallel case to hers among the
women of her condition whom she knew. No one of her comrades carried
into a _liaison_ the intensity, the bitterness, the torture, the
enjoyment of suffering that she found in hers. No one of them carried
into it that which was killing her and which she could not dispense
with.

To herself she appeared an extraordinary creature, of an exceptional
nature, with the temperament of animals whom ill-treatment binds the
closer to their masters. There were days when she did not know herself,
and when she wondered if she were still the same woman. As she went over
in her mind all the base deeds to which Jupillon had induced her to
stoop, she could not believe that it was really she who had submitted to
it. Had she, violent and impulsive as she knew herself to be, boiling
over with fiery passions, rebellious and hotheaded, exhibited such
docility and resignation? She had repressed her wrath, forced back the
murderous thoughts that had crowded to her brain so many times! She had
always obeyed, always possessed her soul in patience, always hung her
head! She had forced her nature, her instincts, her pride, her vanity,
and more than all else, her jealousy, the fierce passions of her heart,
to crawl at that man's feet! For the sake of keeping him she had stooped
to share him, to allow him to have mistresses, to receive him from the
hands of others, to seek a part of his cheek on which his cousin had not
kissed him! And now, after all these sacrifices, with which she had
wearied him, she retained her hold upon him by a still more distasteful
sacrifice: she drew him to her by gifts, she opened her purse to him to
induce him to keep appointments with her, she purchased his good-humor
by gratifying his whims and his caprices; she paid this brute, who
haggled over the price of his kisses and demanded _pourboires_ of love!
And she lived from day to day in constant dread of what the miserable
villain would demand of her on the morrow.



XXXVIII


"He must have twenty francs," Germinie mechanically repeated the
sentence to herself several times, but her thoughts did not go beyond
the words she uttered. The walk and the climb up five flights of stairs
had made her dizzy. She fell in a sitting posture on the greasy couch in
the kitchen, hung her head, and laid her arms on the table. Her ears
were ringing. Her ideas went and came in a disorderly throng, stifling
one another in her brain, and of them all but one remained, more and
more distinct and persistent: "He must have twenty francs! twenty
francs! twenty francs!" And she looked as if she expected to find them
somewhere there, in the fireplace, in the waste-basket, under the stove.
Then she thought of the people who owed her, of a German maid who had
promised to repay her more than a year before. She rose and tied her
capstrings. She no longer said: "He must have twenty francs;" she said:
"I will get them."

She went down to Adèle: "You haven't twenty francs for a note that just
came, have you? Mademoiselle has gone out."

"Nothing here," said Adèle; "I gave madame my last twenty francs last
night to get her supper. The jade hasn't come back yet. Will you have
thirty sous?"

She ran to the grocer's. It was Sunday, and three o'clock in the
afternoon: the grocer had closed his shop.

There were a number of people at the fruitwoman's; she asked for four
sous' worth of herbs.

"I haven't any money," said she. She hoped that the woman would say: "Do
you want some?" Instead of that, she said: "What an idea! as if I was
afraid of you!" There were other maids there, so she went out without
saying anything more.

"Is there anything for us?" she said to the concierge. "Ah! by the way,
my Pipelet, you don't happen to have twenty francs about you, do you? it
will save my going way up-stairs again."

"Forty, if you want----"

She breathed freely. The concierge went to a desk at the back of the
lodge. "_Sapristi!_ my wife has taken the key. Why! how pale you are!"

"It isn't anything." And she rushed out into the courtyard toward the
door of the servant's staircase.

This is what she thought as she went up-stairs: "There are people who
find twenty-franc pieces. He needed them to-day, he told me.
Mademoiselle gave me my money not five days ago, and I can't ask her.
After all, what are twenty francs more or less to her? The grocer would
surely have lent them to me. I had another grocer on Rue Taitbout: he
didn't close till evening Sundays."

She was in front of her own door. She leaned over the rail of the other
staircase, looked to see if anyone was coming up, entered her room, went
straight to mademoiselle's bedchamber, opened the window and breathed
long and hard with her elbows on the window-sill. Sparrows hastened to
her from the neighboring chimneys, thinking that she was going to toss
bread to them. She closed the window and glanced at the top of the
commode--first at a vein of marble, then at a little sandal-wood box,
then at the key--a small steel key left in the lock. Suddenly there was
a ringing in her ears; she thought that the bell rang. She ran and
opened the door: there was no one there. She returned with the certainty
that she was alone, went to the kitchen for a cloth and began to rub a
mahogany armchair, turning her back to the commode; but she could still
see the box, she could see it lying open, she could see the coins at the
right where mademoiselle kept her gold, the papers in which she wrapped
it, a hundred francs in each;--her twenty francs were there! She closed
her eyes as if the light dazzled them. She felt a dizziness in her
conscience; but immediately her whole being rose in revolt against her,
and it seemed to her as if her heart in its indignation rose to her
throat. In an instant the honor of her whole life stood erect between
her hand and that key. Her upright, unselfish, devoted past, twenty
years of resistance to the evil counsels and the corruption of that foul
quarter, twenty years of scorn for theft, twenty years in which her
pocket had not held back a sou from her employers, twenty years of
indifference to gain, twenty years in which temptation had never come
near her, her long maintained and natural virtue, mademoiselle's
confidence in her--all these things came to her mind in a single
instant. Her youthful years clung to her and took possession of her.
From her family, from the memory of her parents, from the unsullied
reputation of her wretched name, from the dead from whom she was
descended, there arose a murmur as of guardian angels hovering about
her. For one second she was saved.

And then, insensibly, evil thoughts glided one by one into her brain.
She sought for subjects of bitterness, for excuses for ingratitude to
her mistress. She compared with her own wages the wages of which the
other maids in the house boasted vaingloriously. She concluded that
mademoiselle was very fortunate to have her in her service, and that she
should have increased her wages more since she had been with her.

"And then," she suddenly asked herself, "why does she leave the key in
her box?" And she began to reflect thereupon that the money in the box
was not used for living expenses, but had been laid aside by
mademoiselle to buy a velvet dress for a goddaughter.--"Sleeping
money," she said to herself. She marshaled her reasons with
precipitation, as if to make it impossible to discuss them. "And then,
it's only for once. She would lend them to me if I asked her. And I will
return them."

She put out her hand and turned the key. She stopped; it seemed to her
that the intense silence round about was listening to her and looking at
her. She raised her eyes: the mirror threw back her face at her. Before
that face, her own, she was afraid; she recoiled in terror and shame as
if before the face of her crime: it was a thief's head that she had upon
her shoulders!

She fled into the corridor. Suddenly she turned upon her heel, went
straight to the box, turned the key, put in her hand, fumbled under the
hair trinkets and souvenirs, felt in a roll of five louis and took out
one piece, closed the box and rushed into the kitchen. She had the
little coin in her hand and dared not look at it.



XXXIX


Then it was that Germinie's abasement and degradation began to be
visible in her personal appearance, to make her stupid and slovenly. A
sort of drowsiness came over her ideas. She was no longer keen and
prompt of apprehension. What she had read and what she had learned
seemed to escape her. Her memory, which formerly retained everything,
became confused and unreliable. The sharp wit of the Parisian
maid-servant gradually vanished from her conversation, her retorts, her
laughter. Her face, once so animated, was no longer lighted up by gleams
of intelligence. In her whole person you would have said that she had
become once more the stupid peasant girl that she was when she came from
her province, when she went to a stationer's for gingerbread. She seemed
not to understand. As mademoiselle expressed it, she made faces like an
idiot. She was obliged to explain to her, to repeat two or three times
things that Germinie had always grasped on the merest hint. She asked
herself, when she saw how slow and torpid she was, if somebody had not
exchanged her maid for another.--"Why, you're getting to be a perfect
imbecile!" she would sometimes say to her testily. She remembered the
time when Germinie was so useful about finding dates, writing an address
on a card, telling her what day they had put in the wood or broached the
cask of wine,--all of which were things that her old brain could not
remember. Now Germinie remembered nothing. In the evening, when she went
over her accounts with mademoiselle, she could not think what she had
bought in the morning; she would say: "Wait!" but she would simply pass
her hand vaguely across her brow; nothing would come to her mind.
Mademoiselle, to save her tired old eyes, had fallen into the habit of
having Germinie read the newspaper to her; but she got to stumbling so
and reading with so little intelligence, that mademoiselle was compelled
to decline her services with thanks.

As her faculties failed, she abandoned and neglected her body in a like
degree. She gave no thought to her dress, nor to cleanliness even. In
her indifference she retained nothing of a woman's natural solicitude
touching her personal appearance; she did not dress decently. She wore
dresses spotted with grease and torn under the arms, aprons in rags,
worn stockings in shoes that were out at heel. She allowed the cooking,
the smoke, the coal, the wax, to soil her hands and face and simply
wiped them as she would after dusting. Formerly she had had the one
coquettish and luxurious instinct of poor women, a love for clean linen.
No one in the house had fresher caps than she. Her simple little
collars were always of that snowy whiteness that lights up the skin so
prettily and makes the whole person clean. Now she wore frayed, dirty
caps which looked as if she had slept in them. She went without ruffles,
her collar made a band of filth against the skin of her neck, and you
felt that she was less clean beneath than above. An odor of poverty,
rank and musty, arose from her. Sometimes it was so strong that
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil could not refrain from saying to her: "Go and
change your clothes, my girl--you smell of the poor!"

In the street she no longer looked as if she belonged to any respectable
person. She had not the appearance of a virtuous woman's maid. She lost
the aspect of a servant who, by dint of displaying her self-esteem and
self-respect even in her garb, reflects in her person the honor and the
pride of her masters. From day to day she sank nearer to the level of
that abject, shameless creature whose dress drags in the gutter--a dirty
slattern.

As she neglected herself, so she neglected everything about her. She
kept nothing in order, she did no cleaning or washing. She allowed dirt
and disorder to make their way into the apartments, to invade
mademoiselle's own sanctum, with whose neatness mademoiselle was
formerly so well pleased and so proud. The dust collected there, the
spiders spun their webs behind the frames, the mirrors were as if
covered with a veil; the marble mantels, the mahogany furniture, lost
their lustre; moths flew up from the carpets which were never shaken,
worms ensconced themselves where the brush and broom no longer came to
disturb them; neglect spread a film of dust over all the sleeping,
neglected objects that were formerly awakened and enlivened every
morning by the maid's active hand. A dozen times mademoiselle had tried
to spur Germinie's self-esteem to action; but thereupon, for a whole
day, there was such a frantic scrubbing, accompanied by such gusts of
ill-humor, that mademoiselle would take an oath never to try again. One
day, however, she made bold to write Germinie's name with her finger in
the dust on her mirror; Germinie did not forgive her for a week. At last
mademoiselle became resigned. She hardly ventured to remark mildly, when
she saw that her maid was in good humor: "Confess, Germinie, that the
dust is very well treated with us!"

To the wondering observations of the friends who still came to see her
and whom Germinie was forced to admit, mademoiselle would reply, in a
compassionate, sympathetic tone: "Yes, it is filthy, I know! But what
can you expect? Germinie's sick, and I prefer that she shouldn't kill
herself." Sometimes, when Germinie had gone out, she would venture to
rub a cloth over a commode or touch a frame with the duster, with her
gouty hands. She would do it hurriedly, afraid of being scolded, of
having a scene, if the maid should return and detect her.

Germinie did almost no work; she barely served mademoiselle's meals. She
had reduced her mistress's breakfast and dinner to the simplest dishes,
those which she could cook most easily and quickly. She made her bed
without raising the mattress, _à l'Anglaise_. The servant that she had
been was not to be recognized in her, did not exist in her, except on
the days when mademoiselle gave a small dinner party, the number of
covers being always considerable on account of the party of children
invited. On those days Germinie emerged, as if by enchantment, from her
indolence and apathy, and, putting forth a sort of feverish strength,
she recovered all her former energy in face of her ovens and the
lengthened table. And mademoiselle was dumfounded to see her, all by
herself, declining assistance and capable of anything, prepare in a few
hours a dinner for half a score of persons, serve it and clear the table
afterwards, with the nimble hands and all the quick dexterity of her
youth.



XL


"No--not this time, no," said Germinie, rising from the foot of
Jupillon's bed where she was sitting. "There's no way. Why, you know
perfectly well that I haven't a sou--anything you can call a sou! You've
seen the stockings I wear, haven't you?"

She lifted her skirt and showed him her stockings, all full of holes and
tied together with strings. "I haven't a change of anything. Money? Why,
I didn't even have enough to give mademoiselle a few flowers on her
birthday. I bought her a bunch of violets for a sou! Oh! yes, money,
indeed! That last twenty francs--do you know where I got them? I took
them out of mademoiselle's box! I've put them back. But that's done
with. I don't want any more of that kind of thing. It will do for once.
Where do you expect me to get money now, just tell me that, will you?
You can't pawn your skin at the Mont-de-Piété--unless!----But as to
doing anything of that sort again, never in my life! Whatever else you
choose, but no stealing! I won't do it again. Oh! I know very well what
you will do. So much the worse!"

"Well! have you worked yourself up enough?" said Jupillon. "If you'd
told me that about the twenty francs, do you suppose I'd have taken it?
I didn't suppose you were as hard up as all that. I saw that you went on
as usual. I fancied it wouldn't put you out to lend me a twenty-franc
piece, and I'd have returned it in a week or two with the others. But
you don't say anything? Oh! well, I'm done, I won't ask you for any
more. But that's no reason we should quarrel, as I can see." And he
added, with an indefinable glance at Germinie: "Till Thursday, eh?"

"Till Thursday!" said Germinie, desperately. She longed to throw herself
into Jupillon's arms, to ask his pardon for her poverty, to say to him:
"You see, I can't do it!"

She repeated: "Till Thursday!" and took her leave.

When, on Thursday, she knocked at the door of Jupillon's apartment on
the ground floor, she thought she heard a man's hurried step at the
other end of the room. The door opened; before her stood Jupillon's
cousin with her hair in a net, wearing a red jacket and slippers, and
with the costume and bearing of a woman who is at home in a man's house.
Her belongings were tossed about here and there: Germinie saw them on
the chairs she had paid for.

"Whom does madame wish to see?" demanded the cousin, impudently.

"Monsieur Jupillon?"

"He has gone out."

"I'll wait for him," said Germinie, and she attempted to enter the other
room.

"You'll wait at the porter's lodge then;" and the cousin barred the way.

"When will he return?"

"When the hens have teeth," said the girl, seriously, and shut the door
in her face.

"Well! this is just what I expected of him," said Germinie to herself,
as she walked along the street. The pavement seemed to give way beneath
her trembling legs.



XLI


When she returned that evening from a christening dinner, which she had
been unable to avoid attending, mademoiselle heard talking in her room.
She thought that there was someone with Germinie, and, marveling
thereat, she opened the door. In the dim light shed by an untrimmed,
smoking candle she saw nothing at first; but, upon looking more closely,
she discovered her maid lying in a heap at the foot of the bed.

Germinie was talking in her sleep. She was talking with a strange accent
that caused emotion, almost fear. The vague solemnity of supernatural
things, a breath from regions beyond this life, arose in the room, with
those words of sleep, involuntary, fugitive words, palpitating,
half-spoken, as if a soul without a body were wandering about a dead
man's lips. The voice was slow and deep, and had a far-off sound, with
long pauses of heavy breathing, and words breathed forth like sighs,
with now and then a vibrating, painful note that went to the heart,--a
voice laden with mystery and with the nervous tremor of the darkness, in
which the sleeper seemed to be groping for souvenirs of the past and
passing her hand over faces. "Oh! she loved me dearly," mademoiselle
heard her say. "And if he had not died we should be very happy now,
shouldn't we? No! no! But it's done, worse luck, and I don't want to
tell of it."

The words were followed by a nervous contraction of her features as if
she sought to seize her secret on the edge of her lips and force it
back.

Mademoiselle, with something very like terror, leaned over the poor,
forlorn body, powerless to direct its own acts, to which the past
returned as a ghost returns to a deserted house. She listened to the
confessions that were all ready to rush forth but were instinctively
checked, to the unconscious mind that spoke without restraint, to the
voice that did not hear itself. A sensation of horror came over her: she
felt as if she were beside a dead body haunted by a dream.

After a pause of some duration, and what seemed to be a sort of conflict
between the things that were present in her mind, Germinie apparently
turned her attention to the circumstances of her present life. The words
that escaped her, disjointed, incoherent words, were, as far as
mademoiselle could understand them, addressed to some person by way of
reproach. And as she talked on, her language became as unrecognizable as
her voice, which had taken on the tone and accent of the dreamer. It
rose above the woman, above her ordinary style, above her daily
expressions. It was the language of the people, purified and
transfigured by passion. Germinie accentuated words according to their
orthography; she uttered them with all their eloquence. The sentences
came from her mouth with their proper rhythm, their heart-rending pathos
and their tears, as from the mouth of an admirable actress. There were
bursts of tenderness, interlarded with shrieks; then there were
outbreaks of rebellion, fierce bursts of passion, and the most
extraordinary, biting, implacable irony, always merging into a paroxysm
of nervous laughter that repeated the same result and prolonged it from
echo to echo. Mademoiselle was confounded, stupefied, and listened as at
the theatre. Never had she heard disdain hurled down from so lofty a
height, contempt so tear itself to tatters and gush forth in laughter, a
woman's words express such a fierce thirst for vengeance against a man.
She ransacked her memory: such play of feature, such intonations, such a
dramatic and heart-rending voice as that voice of a consumptive coughing
away her life, she could not remember since the days of Mademoiselle
Rachel.

At last Germinie awoke abruptly, her eyes filled with the tears of her
dream, and jumped down from the bed, seeing that her mistress had
returned. "Thanks," said mademoiselle, "don't disturb yourself! Wallow
about on my bed all you please!"

"Oh! mademoiselle," said Germinie, "I wasn't lying where you put your
head. I have made it nice and warm for your feet."

"Indeed! Suppose you tell me what you've been dreaming? There was a man
in it--you were having a dispute with him----"

"Dream?" said Germinie, "I don't remember."

She silently set about undressing her mistress, trying to recall her
dream. When she had put her in bed, she said, drawing near to her: "Ah!
mademoiselle, won't you give me a fortnight, for once, to go home? I
remember now."



XLII


Soon after this, mademoiselle was amazed to notice an entire change in
her maid's manner and habits. Germinie no longer had her sullen, savage
moods, her outbreaks of rebellion, her fits of muttering words
expressive of discontent. She suddenly threw off her indolence and
became once more an energetic worker. She no longer passed hours in
doing her marketing; she seemed to avoid the street. She ceased to go
out in the evening; indeed, she hardly stirred from mademoiselle's side,
hovering about her and watching her from the time she rose in the
morning until she went to bed at night, lavishing continuous, incessant,
almost irritating attentions upon her, never allowing her to rise or
even to put out her hand for anything, waiting upon her and keeping
watch of her as if she were a child. At times mademoiselle was so worn
out with her, so weary of this constant fussing about her person, that
she would open her mouth to say: "Come, come! aren't you almost ready to
clear out!" But Germinie would look up at her with a smile, a smile so
sad and sweet that it checked the impatient exclamation on the old
maid's lips. And so she stayed on with her, going about with a sort of
fascinated, divinely stolid air, in the impassibility of profound
adoration, buried in almost idiotic contemplation.

At that period all the poor girl's affection turned to mademoiselle. Her
voice, her gestures, her eyes, her silence, her thoughts, went out to
her mistress with the fervor of expiation, with the contrition of a
prayer, the rapt intensity of a cult. She loved her with all the loving
violence of her nature. She loved her with all the deceptive ardor of
her passion. She strove to give her all that she had not given her, all
that others had taken from her. Every day her love clung more closely,
more devoutly, to the old maid, who was conscious of being enveloped,
embraced, agreeably warmed by the heat from those two arms that were
thrown about her old age.



XLIII


But the past and its debts were still there, and whispered to her every
hour: "If mademoiselle knew!"

She lived in the constant panic of a guilty woman, trembling with dread
from morning till night. There was never a ring at the door that she did
not say to herself: "It has come at last!" Letters in a strange
handwriting filled her with anxiety. She would feel of the wax with her
fingers, bury the letters in her pocket, hesitate about delivering them,
and the moment when mademoiselle unfolded the terrible paper and scanned
its contents with the inexpressive eye of elderly people was as full of
suspense to her as if she were awaiting sentence of death. She felt that
her secret and her falsehood were in everybody's hand. The house had
seen her and might speak. The quarter knew her as she was. Of all about
her, there was no one but her mistress whose esteem she could still
steal.

As she went in and out, the concierge looked at her with a smile and a
glance, that said: "I know." She no longer dared to call him: "My
Pipelet." When she returned home he looked into her basket. "I am so
fond of that!" his wife would say, when it contained some tempting
morsel. At night she would take down what was left. She ate nothing
herself. She ended by supplying them with food.

The whole street frightened her no less than the hall and the porter's
lodge. There was a face in every shop that reflected her shame and
commented on her sins. At every step she had to purchase silence by
groveling humility. The dealers she had not been able to repay had her
in their clutches. If she said that anything was too dear, she was
reminded in a bantering way that they were her masters, and that she
must pay the price unless she chose to be denounced. A jest or an
allusion drove the color from her cheeks. She was bound to them,
compelled to trade with them and to allow them to empty her pockets as
if they were accomplices. The successor of Madame Jupillon, who had gone
into the grocery business at Bar-sur Aube,--the new _crémière_,--gave
her bad milk, and when she suggested that mademoiselle complained about
it, and that she was found fault with every morning, the woman replied:
"Much you care for your mademoiselle!" And at the fish-stall, if she
smelt of a fish, and said: "This has been frozen," the reply would be:
"Bah! tell me next, will you, that I let the moon shine on their gills,
so's to make 'em look fresh! So these are hard days for you, eh, my
duck?" Mademoiselle wanted her to go to the _Halle Centrale_ one day for
her dinner, and she mentioned the fact in the fish-woman's presence.
"Oho! yes, yes, to the _Halle_! I'd like to see you go to the _Halle_!"
And she bestowed a glance upon her in which Germinie saw a threat to
send her account to her mistress. The grocer sold her coffee that smelt
of snuff, rotten prunes, dried rice and old biscuit. If she ventured to
remonstrate, "Nonsense!" he would say; "an old customer like you
wouldn't want to make trouble for me. Don't I tell you I give you good
weight?" And he would coolly give her false weight of the goods that she
ordered, and that he forced her to order.



XLIV


It was a very great trial to Germinie--a trial that she sought,
however--to have to pass through a street where there was a school for
young girls, when she went out before dinner to buy an evening paper for
mademoiselle. She often happened to be at the door when the school was
dismissed; she tried to run away--and stood still.

At first there would be a sound like that made by a swarm of bees, a
buzzing and humming, one of those great outbursts of childish joy that
wake the echoes in the streets of Paris. From the dark and narrow
passageway leading to the schoolroom the children would rush forth as if
escaping from an open cage, and run about and frolic in the sunlight.
They would push and jostle one another, and toss their empty baskets in
the air. Then some would call to one another and form little groups;
tiny hands would go forth to meet other tiny hands; friends would take
one another by the arm or put their arms around one another's waists or
necks, and walk along nibbling at the same tart. Soon the whole band
would be in motion, walking slowly up the filthy street with loitering
step. The larger ones, ten years old at most, would stop and talk, like
little women, at the _portes cochères_. Others would stop to drink from
their luncheon bottles. The smaller ones would amuse themselves by
dipping the soles of their shoes in the gutter. And there were some who
made a headdress of a cabbage leaf picked up from the ground,--a green
cap sent by the good God, beneath which the fresh young face smiled
brightly.

Germinie would gaze at them all and walk along with them; she would go
in among them in order to feel the rustling of their aprons. She could
not take her eyes off the little arms under which the school satchels
leaped about, the little pea-green dresses, the little black leggings,
the little legs in the little woolen stockings. In her eyes there was a
sort of divine light about all those little flaxen heads, with the soft
hair of the child Jesus. A little stray lock upon a little neck, a bit
of baby flesh above a chemise or at the end of a sleeve--at times she
saw nothing but that; it was to her all the sunshine of the street--and
the sky!

Gradually the troop dwindled away. Each street took some children away
to neighboring streets. The school dispersed along the road. The gaiety
of all the tiny footsteps died away little by little. The little dresses
disappeared one by one. Germinie followed the last, she attached herself
to those who went the farthest.

On one occasion, as she was walking along thus, devouring with her eyes
the memory of her daughter, she was suddenly seized with a frenzied
longing to embrace something; she rushed at one of the little girls and
grasped her arm just as a kidnapper of children would do. "Mamma!
mamma!" the little one cried, and wept as she pulled her arm away.

Germinie fled.



XLV


To Germinie all days were alike, equally gloomy and desolate. She had
reached a point at last where she expected nothing from chance and asked
nothing from the unforeseen. Her life seemed to her to be forever
encaged in her despair; it would always be the same implacable thing,
the same straight, monotonous road to misfortune, the same dark path
with death at the end. In all the time to come there was no future for
her.

And yet, in the depths of despair in which she was crouching, thoughts
passed through her mind at times which made her raise her head and look
before her to a point beyond the present. At times the illusion of a
last hope smiled upon her. It seemed to her that she might even yet be
happy, and that if certain things should come to pass, she would be.
Thereupon she imagined that those things did happen. She arranged
incidents and catastrophes. She linked the impossible to the impossible.
She reconstructed the opportunities of her life. And her fevered hope,
setting about the task of creating events according to her desire on the
horizon of the future, soon became intoxicated with the insane vision of
her suppositions.

Then the delirious hope would gradually fade away. She would tell
herself that it was impossible, that nothing of what she dreamed of
could happen, and she would sink back in her chair and think. After a
moment or two she would rise and walk, slowly and uncertainly, to the
fireplace, toy with the coffee-pot on the mantelpiece, and at last
decide to take it: she would learn what the rest of her life was to be.
Her good fortune, her ill fortune, everything that was to happen to her
was there, in that fortune-telling device of the woman of the people, on
the plate on which she was about to pour the coffee-grounds. She drained
the water from the grounds, waited a few minutes, breathed upon them
with the religious breath with which her lips, as a child, touched the
paten at the village church. Then she leaned over them, with her head
thrust forward, terrifying in her immobility, with her eyes fixed
intently upon the black dust scattered in patches over the plate. She
sought what she had seen fortune-tellers find in the granulations and
the almost imperceptible traces left by the coffee as it trickled away.
She fatigued her eyes by gazing at the innumerable little spots, and
deciphered shapes and letters and signs therein. She put aside some
grains with her finger in order to see them more clearly and more
sharply defined. She turned the plate slowly in her hands, this way and
that, questioned its mystery on all sides, and hunted down, within its
circular rim, apparitions, images, rudiments of names, shadowy
initials, resemblances to different people, rough outlines of objects,
omens in embryo, symbols of trifles, which told her that she would be
_victorious_. She wanted to see these things and she compelled herself
to discover them. Under her tense gaze the porcelain became alive with
the visions of her insomnia; her disappointments, her hatreds, the faces
she detested, arose gradually from the magic plate and the designs drawn
thereon by chance. By her side the candle, which she forgot to snuff,
gave forth an intermittent, dying light: it sank lower and lower in the
silence, night came on apace, and Germinie, as if turned to stone in her
agony, always remained rooted there, alone and face to face with her
fear of the future, trying to decipher in the dregs of the coffee the
confused features of her destiny, until she thought she could detect a
cross, beside a woman who resembled Jupillon's cousin--a cross, that is
to say, _a speedy death_.



XLVI


The love which she lacked, and which it was her determination to deny
herself, became the torment of her life, incessant, abominable torture.
She had to defend herself against the fevers of her body and the
irritations from without, against the easily aroused emotions and the
indolent cowardice of her flesh, against all the solicitations of nature
by which she was assailed. She had to contend with the heat of the day,
with the suggestions of the darkness, with the moist warmth of stormy
weather, with the breath of her past and her memories, with the pictures
suddenly thrown upon the background of her mind, with the voices that
whispered caressingly in her ear, with the emotions that sent a thrill
of tenderness into her every limb.

Weeks, months, years, the frightful temptation endured, and she did not
yield or take another lover. Fearful of herself, she avoided man and
fled from his sight. She continued her domestic, unsocial habits, always
closeted with mademoiselle, or else above in her own room. On Sundays
she did not leave the house. She had ceased to consort with the other
maids in the house, and, in order to occupy her time and forget
herself, she plunged into vast undertakings in the way of sewing, or
buried herself in sleep. When musicians came into the courtyard she
closed the windows in order not to hear them: the sensuousness of music
moved her very soul.

In spite of everything, she could not calm or cool her passions. Her
evil thoughts rekindled themselves, lived and flourished upon
themselves. At every moment the fixed idea of desire arose from her
whole being, became throughout her body the fierce torment that knows no
end, that delirium of the senses, obsession,--the obsession that nothing
can dispel and that constantly returns, the shameless, implacable
obsession, swarming with images, the obsession that brings love close to
the woman's every sense, that touches with it her closed eyes, forces it
smoking into her brain and pours it, hot as fire, into her arteries!

At length, the nervous exhaustion caused by these constant assaults, the
irritation of this painful continence, began to disturb Germinie's
faculties. She fancied that she could see her temptations: a ghastly
hallucination brought the realization of her dreams near to her senses.
It happened that at certain moments the things she saw in her room, the
candlesticks, the legs of the chairs, everything about her assumed
impure appearances and shapes. Obscenity arose from everything before
her eyes and approached her. At such times she would look at her
kitchen clock, and would say, like a condemned man whose body no longer
belongs to himself: "In five minutes I am going down into the street."
And when the five minutes had passed she would stay where she was.



XLVII


The time came at last in this life of torture when Germinie abandoned
the conflict. Her conscience yielded, her will succumbed, she bowed her
head beneath her destiny. All that remained to her of resolution,
energy, courage, vanished before the feeling, the despairing conviction,
of her powerlessness to save herself from herself. She felt that she was
being borne along on a resistless current, that it was useless, almost
impious, to try to stop. That great power of the world that causes
suffering, the malevolent power that bears the name of a god on the
marble of the antique tragedies, and is called _No Chance_ on the
tattooed brow of the galley-slave--Fatality--was trampling upon her, and
Germinie lowered her head beneath its foot.

When, in her hours of discouragement, the bitter experiences of her past
recurred to her memory, when she followed, from her infancy, the links
in the chain of her deplorable existence, that long line of afflictions
that had followed her years and grown heavier with them; all the
incidents that had succeeded one another in her life, as if by
preconcerted arrangement on the part of misery, without her having ever
caught a glimpse of the hand of the Providence of which she had heard so
much--she said to herself that she was one of those miserable creatures
who are destined from their birth to an eternity of misery, one of those
for whom happiness was not made, and who know it only because they envy
it in others. She fed and nourished herself on that thought, and by dint
of yielding to the despair it tended to produce, by dint of brooding
over the unbroken chain of her misfortunes and the endless succession of
her disappointments, she reached the point where she looked upon the
most trifling annoyances of her life and her service as a part of the
persecution of her evil genius. A little money that she loaned and that
was not repaid, a counterfeit coin that was put off upon her in a shop,
an errand that she failed to perform satisfactorily, a purchase in which
she was cheated--all these things were in her opinion due neither to her
own fault nor to chance. It was the sequel of what had gone before. Life
was in a conspiracy against her and persecuted her everywhere, in
everything, great and small, from her daughter's death to bad groceries.
There were days when she broke everything she touched; she thereupon
imagined that she was accursed to her finger-tips. Accursed! almost
damned; she persuaded herself that she was so in very truth, when she
questioned her body, when she probed her feelings. Did she not feel, in
the fire in her blood, in the appetite of her organs, in her passionate
weakness, the spur of the Fatality of Love, the mystery and obsession of
a disease, stronger than her modesty and her reason, having already
delivered her over to the shameful excesses of passion, and
destined--she had a presentiment that it was so--to deliver her again in
the same way?

And so she had one sentence always in her mouth, a sentence that was the
refrain of her thought: "What can you expect? I am unlucky. I have had
no chance. From the beginning nothing ever succeeded with me!" She said
it in the tone of a woman who has abandoned hope. With the persuasion,
every day more firm, that she was born under an unlucky star, that she
was in the power of hatred and vengeance that were more powerful than
she, Germinie had come to be afraid of everything that happens in
ordinary life. She lived in that state of cowardly unrest wherein the
unexpected is dreaded as a possible calamity, wherein a ring at the bell
causes alarm, wherein one turns a letter over and over, weighing the
mystery it contains, not daring to open it, wherein the news you are
about to hear, the mouth that opens to speak to you, cause the
perspiration to start upon your temples. She was in that state of
suspicion, of shuddering fear, of trembling awe in face of destiny,
wherein misfortune sees naught but misfortune, and wherein one would
like to check the current of his life so that it should not go forward
whither all the endeavors and the attacks of others are forcing it.

At last, by virtue of the tears she shed, she arrived at that supreme
disdain, that climax of suffering, where the excess of pain seems a
satire, where chagrin, exceeding the utmost limits of human strength,
exceeds its sensibility as well, and the stricken heart, which no longer
feels the blows, says to the Heaven it defies: "Go on!"



XLVIII


"Where are you going in that rig?" said Germinie one Sunday morning to
Adèle, as she passed in grand array along the corridor on the sixth
floor, in front of her open door.

"Ah! there you are! I'm going to a swell wedding, my dear! There's a
crowd of us--big Marie, the _great bully_, you know--Elisa, from 41, the
two Badiniers, big and little--and men, too! In the first place, there's
my _dealer in sudden death_. Yes, and--Oh! didn't you know--my new
flame, the master-at-arms of the 24th--and a friend of his, a painter, a
real Father Joy. We're going to Vincennes. Everyone carries something.
We shall dine on the grass--the men will pay for the wine. And there'll
be plenty of it, I promise you!"

"I'll go, too," said Germinie.

"You? nonsense! you don't go to parties any more."

"But I tell you I'll go," said Germinie, in a sharp, decided tone. "Just
give me time to tell mademoiselle and put on a dress. If you'll wait
I'll go and get half a lobster."

Half an hour later the two women left the house; they skirted the city
wall and found the rest of the party sitting outside a café on Boulevard
de la Chopinette. After taking a glass of currant wine, they entered two
large cabs and rode away. When they arrived at the fortress at Vincennes
they alighted and the whole party walked along the bank of the moat. As
they were passing under the wall of the fort, the master-at-arms'
friend, the painter, shouted to an artilleryman, who was doing sentry
duty beside a cannon: "Say! old fellow, you'd rather drink one than
stand guard over it, eh?"[1]

"Isn't he funny?" said Adèle to Germinie, nudging her with her elbow.

Soon they were fairly in the forest of Vincennes.

Narrow paths crossed and recrossed in every direction on the hard,
uneven, footprint-covered ground. In the spaces between all these little
roads there was here and there a little grass, but down-trodden,
withered, yellow, dead grass, strewn about like bedding for cattle, its
straw-colored blades were everywhere mingled with briars, amid the dull
green of nettles. It was easily recognizable as one of the rural spots
to which the great faubourgs resort on Sundays to loll about in the
grass, and which resemble a lawn trampled by a crowd after a display of
fireworks. Gnarled, misshapen trees were scattered here and there; dwarf
elms with gray trunks covered with yellow, leprous-like spots and
stripped of branches to a point higher than a man's head; scraggy oaks,
eaten by caterpillars so that their leaves were like lacework. The
verdure was scant and sickly and entirely unshaded, the leaves above had
a very unhealthy look; the stunted, ragged, parched foliage made only
faint green lines against the sky. Clouds of dust from the high-roads
covered the bushes with a gray pall. Everything had the wretched,
impoverished aspect of trampled vegetation that has no chance to
breathe, the melancholy effect of the grass at the barriers! Nature
seemed to sprout from beneath the pavements. No birds sang in the trees,
no insects hummed about the dusty ground; the noise of the spring-carts
stunned the birds; the hand-organ put the rustling of the trees to
silence; the denizens of the street strolled about through the paths,
singing. Women's hats, fastened with four pins to a handkerchief, were
hanging from the trees; the red plume of an artilleryman burst upon one
at every moment through the scanty leaves; dealers in honey rose from
the thickets; on the trampled greensward children in blouses were
cutting twigs, workingmen's families idling their time away nibbling at
_pleasure_, and little urchins catching butterflies in their caps. It
was a forest after the pattern of the original Bois de Boulogne, hot and
dusty, a much-frequented and sadly-abused promenade, one of those spots,
avaricious of shade, to which the common people flock to disport
themselves at the gates of great capitals--burlesque forests, filled
with corks, where you find slices of melon and skeletons in the
underbrush.

The heat on this day was stifling; the sun was swimming in clouds,
shedding a veiled diffuse light that was almost blinding to the eyes and
that seemed to portend a storm. The air was heavy and dead; nothing
stirred; the leaves and their tiny, meagre shadows did not move; the
forest seemed weary and crushed, as it were, beneath the heavy sky. At
rare intervals a breath of air from the south passed lazily along,
sweeping the ground, one of those enervating, lifeless winds that blow
upon the senses and fan the breath of desire into a flame. With no
knowledge whence it came, Germinie felt over her whole body a sensation
like the tickling of the down on a ripe peach against the skin.

They went gayly along, with the somewhat excited activity that the
country air imparts to the common people. The men ran, the women tripped
after them and caught them. They played at rolling on the grass. There
was a manifest longing to dance and climb trees; the painter amused
himself by throwing stones at the loop-holes in the gateways of the
fortress, and he never missed his aim.

At last they all sat down in a sort of clearing under a clump of oaks,
whose shadows were lengthening in the setting sun. The men, lighting
matches on the seats of their trousers, began to smoke. The women
chattered and laughed and threw themselves backward in paroxysms of
inane hilarity and noisy outbursts of delight. Germinie alone did not
speak or laugh. She did not listen or look. Her eyes, beneath their
lowered lids, were fixed upon the toes of her boots. So engrossed in
thought was she that you would have said she was totally oblivious to
time and place. Lying at full length on the grass, her head slightly
raised by a hammock, she made no other movement than to lay her hands,
palm downwards, on the grass beside her; in a short time she would turn
them on their backs and let them lie in that position, seeking the
coolness of the earth to allay the fever of her flesh.

"There's a lazybones! going to sleep?" said Adèle.

Germinie opened wide her blazing eyes, without answering, and until
dinner maintained the same position, the same silence, the same air of
torpor, feeling about her for places where her burning hands had not
rested.

"Come, old girl!" said a woman's voice, "sing us something."

"Oh! no," Adèle replied, "I haven't got wind enough before eating."

Suddenly a great stone came hurtling through the air and struck the
ground near Germinie's head; at the same moment she heard the painter's
voice shouting: "Don't be afraid! that's your chair."

One and all laid their handkerchiefs on the ground by way of
tablecloth. Eatables were produced from greasy papers. Bottles were
uncorked and the wine went round; the glasses were rested against tufts
of grass, and they fell to upon bits of pork and sausages, with slices
of bread for plates. The painter cut boats out of paper to hold the
salt, and imitated the orders shouted out by waiters in a café. "_Boum!
Pavillon! Servez!_" he cried. The company gradually became animated. The
open air, the patches of blue sky, the food and drink started the gayety
of the table in full blast. Hands approached one another, mouths met,
coarse remarks were whispered from one to another, shirt sleeves crept
around waists, and now and then energetic embraces were attended by
greedy, resounding kisses.

Germinie drank, and said nothing. The painter, who had taken his place
by her side, felt decidedly chilly and embarrassed beside his
extraordinary neighbor, who amused herself "so entirely inside."
Suddenly he began to beat a tattoo with his knife against his glass,
drowning the uproar of the party, and rose to his knees.

"Mesdames!" said he, with the voice of a paroquet that has sung too
much, "here's the health of a man in hard luck: myself! Perhaps it will
bring me good luck! Deserted, yes, mesdames; yes, I've been deserted!
I'm a widower! you know the kind of widower, _razibus_! I was struck all
of a heap. Not that I cared much for her, but habit, that old villain,
habit! The fact is I'm as bored as a bed-bug in a watch spring. For two
weeks my life has been like a restaurant without a _pousse-café_! And
when I love love as if it had made me! No wife! That's what I call
weaning a grown man! that is to say, since I've known what it is, I take
off my hat to the curés: I feel very sorry for them, 'pon my word! No
wife! and there are so many of 'em! But I can't walk about with a sign:
_Vacant man to let. Inquire within._ In the first place it would have to
be stamped by M'sieu le Préfet, and then, people are such fools, it
would draw a crowd! All of which, mesdames, is intended to inform you,
that if, among the people you have the honor of knowing, there should
happen to be one who'd like to make an acquaintance--virtuous
acquaintance--a pretty little left-handed marriage--why she needn't look
any farther! I'm her man--Victor-Médéric Gautruche! a home body, a
genuine house-ivy for sentiment! She has only to apply at my former
hotel, _La Clef de Sûreté_. And gay as a hunchback who's just drowned
his wife! Gautruche, called Gogo-la-Gaiété, egad! A pretty fellow who
knows what's what, who doesn't beat about the bush, a good old body who
takes things easy and who won't give himself the colic with that fishes'
grog!" With that he took a bottle of water that stood beside him and
hurled it twenty yards away. "Long live the walls! They're the same to
papa that the sky is to the good God! Gogo-la-Gaiété paints them through
the week and beats them on Monday![2] And with all that not jealous, not
ugly, not a wife-beater, but a real love of a man, who never harmed one
of the fair sex in his life! If you want physique, _parbleu_! I'm your
man!"

He rose to his feet and, drawing up his wavering body, clad in an old
blue coat with gilt buttons, to its full height, removing his gray hat
so as to show his perspiring, polished, bald skull, and tossing his old
plucked _gamin's_ head, he continued: "You see what it is! It isn't a
very attractive piece of property; it doesn't help it to exhibit it. But
it yields well, it's a little dilapidated, but well put together. Dame!
Here I am with my little forty nine-years--no more hair than a billiard
ball, a witchgrass beard that would make good herb-tea, foundations not
too solid, feet as long as La Villette--and with all the rest thin
enough to take a bath in a musket-barrel. There's the bill of lading!
Pass the prospectus along! If any woman wants all that in a lump--any
respectable person--not too young--who won't amuse herself by painting
me too yellow--you understand, I don't ask for a Princess of
Batignolles--why, sure as you're born, I'm her man!"

Germinie seized Gautruche's glass, half emptied it at a draught and held
out the side from which she had drunk to him.

                *       *       *       *       *

At nightfall the party returned on foot. When they reached the
fortifications, Gautruche drew a large heart with the point of his knife
on the stone, and all the names with the date were carved inside.

In the evening Gautruche and Germinie were upon the outer boulevards,
near Barrière Rochechouart. Beside a low house with these words, in a
plaster panel: _Madame Merlin_. _Dresses cut and tried on, two francs_,
they stopped at a stone staircase of three steps leading into a dark
passage, at the end of which shone the red light of an Argand lamp. At
the entrance to the passage, these words were printed in black on a
wooden sign:

                _Hotel of the Little Blue Hand._



XLIX


Médérie Gautruche was one of the wenching, idling, vagabond workmen who
make their whole life a Monday. Filled with the love of wine, his lips
forever wet with the last drop, his insides as thoroughly lined with
tartar as an old wine cask, he was one of those whom the Burgundians
graphically call _boyaux rouges_.[3] Always a little tipsy, tipsy from
yesterday when he had drunk nothing to-day, he looked at life through
the sunbeam in his head. He smiled at his fate, he yielded to it with
the easy indifference of the drunkard, smiling vaguely from the steps of
the wineshop at things in general, at life and the road that stretched
away into the darkness. _Ennui_, care, want, had gained no hold upon
him; and if by chance a grave or gloomy thought did come into his mind,
he turned his head away, uttered an exclamation that sounded like
_psitt_! which was his way of saying _pshaw_! and, raising his right
arm, caricaturing the gesture of a Spanish dancer, he would toss his
melancholy over his shoulder to the devil. He had the superb
after-drinking philosophy, the jovial serenity, of the bottle. He knew
neither envy nor longing. His dreams served him as a cashbox. For three
sous he was sure of a small glass of happiness; for twelve, of a bottle
of ideal bliss. Being content with everything, he liked everything, and
found food for laughter and entertainment in everything. Nothing in the
world seemed sad to him--except a glass of water.

With this drunkard's expansiveness, with the gayety of his excellent
health and his temperament, Gautruche combined the characteristic gayety
of his profession, the good humor and the warm-heartedness of that free,
unfatiguing life, in the open air, between heaven and earth, which seeks
distraction in singing, and flings the workmen's _blague_ at passers-by,
from its lofty perch upon a ladder. He was a house-painter and did
lettering. He was the one man in Paris who would attack a sign without a
measure, with no other guide than a cord, without outlining the letters
in white; he was the only one who could place each of the letters in
position inside of the frame of a placard, and, without losing an
instant in aligning them, dash off capitals off-hand. He was also
renowned for fantastic letters, capricious letters, letters shaded in
bronze or gold to imitate those cut in stone. Thus he made fifteen to
twenty francs on some days. But as he drank it all up, he was not
wealthy, and he always had unpaid scores on the slate at the wine-shops.

He was a man brought up in the street. The street had been his mother,
his nurse and his school. The street had given him his self-assurance,
his ready tongue and his wit. All that the keen mind of a man of the
people can pick up upon the pavements of Paris he had picked up. All
that falls from the upper to the lower strata of a great city, the
strainings and drippings, the crumbs of ideas and information, the
things that float in the sensitive atmosphere and the brimming gutters,
the contact with the covers of books, bits of _feuilletons_ swallowed
between two glasses, odds and ends of plays heard on the boulevard, had
endowed him with that accidental intelligence which, though without
education, learns everything. He possessed an inexhaustible,
imperturbable store of talk. His words gushed forth abundantly in
original remarks, laughable images, the metaphors that flow from the
comic genius of crowds. He had the natural picturesqueness of the
unadulterated farce. He was brimming over with amusing stories and
buffoonery, rich in the possession of the richest of all repertories of
house-painter's nonsense. Being a member of divers of the low haunts
called _lists_, he knew all the new tunes and ballads, and he was never
tired of singing. He was amusing, in short, from head to foot. And if
you merely looked at him you laughed at him, as at a comic actor.

A man of his cheerful, hearty temperament suited Germinie.

Germinie was not a mere beast of burden with nothing but her work in her
head. She was not the servant, who stands like a post, with the
frightened face and doltish air of utter stupidity, when masters and
mistresses are talking in her presence. She, too, had cast off her
shell, fashioned herself and opened her mind to the education of Paris.
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, having no occupation, and being interested
after the manner of old maids in what was going on in the quarter, had
long been in the habit of making Germinie tell her what news she had
gleaned, what she knew of the tenants, all the gossip of the house and
the street; and this habit of narration, of talking with her mistress
like a sort of companion, of describing people and drawing silhouettes
of them, had eventually developed in her a facility of animated
description, of happy, unconscious characterization, a piquancy and
sometimes an acrimony in her remarks that were most remarkable in the
mouth of a servant. She had progressed so far that she often surprised
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil by her quickness of comprehension, her
promptness at grasping things only half said, her good fortune and
facility in selecting such words as good talkers use. She knew how to
jest. She understood a play upon words. She expressed herself without
_cuirs_,[4] and when there was a discussion concerning orthography at
the creamery, her opinion was listened to with as much deference as that
of the clerk in the registry of deaths at the mayoralty who came there
to breakfast. She had also that background of indiscriminate reading
which women of her class have when they read at all. With the two or
three kept women in whose service she had been, she had passed her
nights devouring novels; since then she had continued to read the
_feuilletons_ cut by her acquaintances from the bottom of newspapers,
and she had gathered from them a vague idea of many things and of some
of the kings of France. She had retained enough of such subjects to make
her desire to talk of them with others. Through a woman in the house who
worked for an author on the street, she often had tickets to the play;
when she came away she could remember the whole play and the names of
the actors she had seen on the programme. She loved to buy ballads and
one sou novels, and read them.

The air, the keen breath of Quartier Bréda, full of the _verve_ of the
artist and the studio, of art and vice, had sharpened these tastes of
Germinie's mind and had created in her new needs and demands. Long
before her disorderly life began, she had cut loose from the virtuous
companionship of decent women of her rank and station, from the worthy
creatures who were so uninteresting and stupid. She had quitted the
circle of orderly, dull uprightness, of sleep-inducing conversations
around the tea-table under the auspices of the old servants of
mademoiselle's elderly acquaintances. She had shunned the wearisome
society of maids whom their absorption in their employment and the
fascination of the savings bank rendered unendurably stupid. She had
reached the point where, before accepting the companionship of people,
she must satisfy herself that they possessed a degree of intelligence
corresponding to her own and were capable of understanding her. And now,
when she emerged from her fits of brutishness, when she found her old
self and was born again, in diversion and pleasure, she must for her
enjoyment have kindred spirits of her own. She wanted men about her who
would make her laugh, noisy gayety, the spirituous wit that intoxicated
her with the wine that was poured into her glass. And thus it was that
she sank to the level of the rascally Bohemia of the common people,
uproarious, maddening, intoxicating, like all Bohemias: thus it was that
she fell to the lot of a Gautruche.



L


As Germinie was returning to the house one morning at daybreak, she
heard, from the shadows of the _porte-cochère_ as it closed behind her,
a voice cry: "Who's that?" She ran to the servants' staircase, but found
that she was pursued, and as she turned a corner on the landing the
concierge seized her. As soon as he recognized her, he said: "Oh! is it
you? excuse me; don't be frightened! What a giddy creature you are! It
surprises you to see me up so early, eh? It's on account of the thieving
that's going on these days in the cook's bedroom on the second.
Good-night to you! it's lucky for you I don't tell all I know."

A few days later Germinie learned through Adèle that the husband of the
cook who had been robbed said that there was no need to look very far;
that the thief was in the house, and that he knew what he knew. Adèle
added that it was making a good deal of talk in the street and that
there were plenty of people who would believe it and repeat it. Germinie
became very indignant and told her mistress all about it. Mademoiselle
was even more indignant than she, and, feeling personally outraged by
the insult, wrote instantly to the cook's mistress that she must put a
stop at once to the slanderous statements concerning a girl who had been
in her service twenty years, and for whom she would answer as for
herself. The cook was reprimanded. Her husband in his wrath talked
louder than ever. He made a great outcry and for several days filled the
house with his project of going to the commissioner of police and
calling upon him to question Germinie as to where she procured the money
to start the _crémière's_ son in business, as to where she procured the
money to purchase a substitute for him, and how she paid the expenses of
the men she kept. For a whole week the terrible threat hung over
Germinie's head. At last the thief was discovered and the threat fell to
the ground. But it had had its effect on the poor girl. It had done all
the injury it could do in that confused brain, where, under the sudden,
overpowering rush of the blood, her reason was wavering and became
overcast at the slightest shock. It had overturned that brain which was
so prompt to go astray in fear or vexation, which lost so quickly the
faculty of good judgment, of discernment, clear-sightedness and
appreciation of its surroundings, which exaggerated its troubles, which
plunged into foolish alarms, previsions of evil, despairing
presentiments, which looked upon its terrors as realities, and was
constantly lost in the pessimism of that species of delirium, at the end
of which it could find nothing but this ejaculation and this phrase:
"Bah! I will kill myself!"

Throughout the week the fever in her brain caused her to experience all
the effects of the things she thought might happen. By day and night she
saw her shame laid bare and made public; she saw her secret, her
cowardice, her wrong-doing, all that she carried about with her
concealed and sewn in her heart--she saw it all uncovered, noised
abroad, disclosed--disclosed to mademoiselle! Her debts on Jupillon's
account, augmented by her debts for drink and for food for Gautruche, by
all that she purchased now on credit, her debt to the concierge and the
shopkeepers would soon become known and ruin her! A cold shiver ran down
her back at the thought: she could feel mademoiselle turning her away!
Throughout the week she constantly imagined herself standing before the
commissioner of police. Seven long days she brooded over that word and
that idea: the Law! the Law as it appears to the imagination of the
lower classes; something terrible, indefinable, inevitable, which is
everywhere, and lurks in everyone's shadow; an omnipotent source of
calamity which appears vaguely in the judge's black gown, between the
police sergeant and the executioner, with the hands of the gendarme and
the arms of the guillotine! She, who was subject to all the instinctive
terrors of the common people, and who often repeated that she would much
rather die than appear before the court--she imagined herself seated in
the dock, between two gendarmes, in a court-room, surrounded by all the
unfamiliar paraphernalia of the Law, her ignorance of which made them
objects of terror to her. Throughout the week her ears heard footsteps
on the stairs coming to arrest her!

The shock was too violent for nerves as weak as hers. The mental
upheaval of that week of agony possessed her with an idea that hitherto
had only hovered about her--the idea of suicide. She began to listen,
with her head in her hands, to the voice that spoke to her of
deliverance. She opened her ears to the sweet music of death that we
hear in the background of life like the fall of mighty waters in the
distance, dying away in space. The temptations that speak to the
discouraged heart of the things that put an end to life so quickly and
so easily, of the means of quelling suffering with the hand, pursued and
solicited her. Her glance rested wistfully upon all the things about her
that could cure the disease called life. She accustomed her fingers and
her lips to them. She touched them, handled them, drew them near to her.
She sought to test her courage upon them and to obtain a foretaste of
death. She would remain for hours at her kitchen window with her eyes
fixed on the pavements in the courtyard down at the foot of the five
flights--pavements that she knew and could have distinguished from
others! As the daylight faded she would lean farther out bending almost
double over the ill-secured window-bar, hoping always that it would
give way and drag her down with it--praying that she might die without
having to make the desperate, voluntary leap into space to which she no
longer felt equal.

"Why, you'll fall out!" said mademoiselle one day, grasping her skirt
impulsively in her alarm. "What are you looking at down there in the
courtyard?"

"Oh! nothing--the pavements."

"In Heaven's name, are you crazy? How you frightened me!"

"Oh! people don't fall that way," said Germinie in a strange tone. "I
tell you, mademoiselle, in order to fall one must have a mighty longing
to do it!"



LI


Germinie had not been able to induce Gautruche, who was haunted by a
former mistress, to give her the key to his room. When he had not
returned she was obliged to await his coming outside, in the cold, dark
street.

At first she would walk back and forth in front of the house. She would
take twenty steps in one direction and twenty in the other. Then, as if
to prolong her period of waiting, she would take a longer turn, and,
going farther and farther every time, would end by extending her walk to
both ends of the boulevard. Frequently she walked thus for hours,
shamefaced and mud-stained, in the fog and darkness, amid the iniquitous
and horrible surroundings of an avenue near the barriers, where darkness
reigned. She followed the line of red-wine shops, the naked arbors, the
_cabaret_ trellises supported by dead trees such as we see in bear-pits,
low, flat hovels with curtainless windows cut at random in the walls,
cap factories where shirts are sold, and wicked-looking hotels where a
night's lodging may be had. She passed by closed, hermetically-sealed
shops, black with bankruptcy, by fragments of condemned walls, by dark
passageways with iron gratings, by walled-up windows, by doors that
seemed to give admission to those abodes of murder, the plan of which is
handed to the jury at the assizes. As she went on, there were gloomy
little gardens, crooked buildings, architecture in its most degraded
form, tall, mouldy _portes-cochères_, hedge-rows, within which could be
vaguely seen the uncanny whiteness of stones in the darkness, corners of
unfinished buildings from which arose the stench of nitrification, walls
disfigured by disgusting placards and fragments of torn advertisements
by which they were spotted with loathsome publications as by leprosy.
From time to time, at a sharp turn in the street, she would come upon
lanes that seemed to plunge into dark holes a few steps from their
beginning, and from which a blast of damp air came forth as from a
cellar; dark no-thoroughfares stood out against the sky with the
rigidity of a great wall; streets stretched vaguely away in the
distance, with the feeble gleam of a lantern twinkling here and there at
long intervals upon the ghostly plaster fronts of the houses.

Germinie would walk on and on. She would cover all the territory where
low debauchery fills its crop on Mondays and finds its loves, between a
hospital, a slaughter-house, and a cemetery; Lariboisière, the Abattoir
and Montmartre.

The people who passed that way--the workman returning from Paris
whistling; the workingwoman, her day's work ended, hurrying on with her
hands under her armpits to keep herself warm; the street-walker in her
black cap--would stare at her as they passed. Strange men acted as if
they recognized her; the light made her ashamed. She would turn and run
toward the other end of the boulevard and follow the dark, deserted
footway along the city wall; but she was soon driven away by horrible
shadows of men and by brutally familiar hands.

She tried to go away; she insulted herself inwardly; she called herself
a cowardly wretch; she swore to herself that each turn should be the
last, that she would go as far as a certain tree, and that was all; if
he had not returned, she would go away and put an end to the whole
thing. But she did not go; she walked on and on; she waited, more
consumed than ever, the longer he delayed, with the mad desire to see
him.

At last, as the hours flew by and the boulevard became empty, Germinie,
exhausted, overdone with weariness, would approach the houses. She would
loiter from shop to shop, she would go mechanically where gas was still
burning, and stand stupidly in the bright glare from the shop windows.
She welcomed the dazzling light in her eyes, she tried to allay her
impatience by benumbing it. The objects to be seen through the
perspiring windows of the wine-shops--the cooking utensils, the bowls of
punch flanked by two empty bottles with sprigs of laurel protruding from
their necks, the show-cases in which the liquors combined their varied
colors in a single beam, a cup filled with plated spoons--these things
would hold her attention for a long while. She would read the old
announcements of lottery drawings placarded on the walls of a saloon,
the advertisements of _gloria_--coffee with brandy--the inscriptions in
yellow letters: _New wine, pure blood, 70 centimes._ For a whole quarter
of an hour she would stand staring into a back room containing a man in
a blouse sitting on a stool by a table, a stove-pipe, a slate, and two
black tea-boards against the wall. Her fixed, vacant stare would rest,
through the reddish mist, upon the dark forms of shoemakers leaning over
their benches. It fell and lingered heedlessly upon a counter that was
being washed, upon hands that were counting the receipts of the day,
upon a tunnel or jug that was being scoured with sandstone. She had
ceased to think. She would simply stand there, nailed to the spot and
growing weaker and weaker, feeling her courage vanish from the mere
weariness of standing on her feet, seeing things only through a sort of
film as in a swoon, hearing the noise made by the muddy cabs rolling
over the wet pavements only as a buzzing in her ears, ready to fall and
compelled again and again to lean against the wall for support.

In her then condition of prostration and illness, with that
semi-hallucination of vertigo that made her so timid of crossing the
Seine and impelled her to cling to the bridge railings, it happened
that, on certain evenings, when it rained, these fits of weakness that
she had upon the outer boulevard assumed the terrors of a nightmare.
When the light from the lanterns, trembling in misty vapor, cast its
varying, flickering reflection on the damp ground; when the pavements,
the sidewalks, the earth, seemed to melt away and disappear under the
rain, and there was no appearance of solidity anywhere in the aqueous
darkness, the wretched creature, almost mad with fatigue, would fancy
that she could see a flood rising in the gutter. A mirage of terror
would show her suddenly the water all about her, and creeping constantly
nearer to her. She would close her eyes, not daring to move, fearing to
feel her feet slip from under her; she would begin to weep, and would
weep on until someone passed by and offered to escort her to the _Hotel
of the Little Blue Hand_.



LII


She would then ascend the stairs; that was her last place of refuge. She
would fly from the rain and snow and cold, from fear, despair, and
fatigue. She would go up and sit on the top step against Gautruche's
closed doors; she would draw her shawl and skirts closely about her in
order to leave room for those who went and came up that long steep
ladder, and would draw back as far as possible into the corner in order
that her shame might fill but little space on the narrow landing.

From the open doors the odor of unventilated closets, of families heaped
together in a single room, the exhalations of unhealthy trades, the
dense, greasy fumes of cooking done in chafing-dishes on the floor, the
stench of rags and the faint damp smell of clothes drying in the house,
came forth and filled the hall. The broken-paned window behind Germinie
wafted to her nostrils the fetid stench of a leaden pipe in which the
whole house emptied its refuse and its filth. Her stomach rose in revolt
every moment at a puff of infection; she was obliged to take from her
pocket a phial of melissa water that she always carried, and swallow a
mouthful of it to avoid being ill.

But the staircase had its passers, too: honest workmen's wives went up
with a bushel of charcoal, or a pint of wine for supper. Their feet
would rub against her as they passed, and as they went farther up,
Germinie would feel their scornful glances resting upon her and falling
upon her with more crushing force at every floor. The children--little
girls in _fanchons_ who flitted up the dark stairway and brightened it
as if with flowers, little girls in whom she saw, as she so often saw in
dreams, her own little one, living and grown to girlhood--she saw them
stop and look at her with wide open eyes that seemed to recoil from her;
then the little creatures would turn and run breathlessly up-stairs,
and, when they were well out of reach, would lean over the rail until
they almost fell, and hurl impure jests at her, the insults of the
children of the common people. Insulting words, poured out upon her by
those rosebud mouths, wounded Germinie more deeply than all else. She
would half rise for an instant; then, overwhelmed by shame, resigning
herself to her fate, she would fall back into her corner, and, pulling
her shawl over her head in order to bury herself therein out of sight,
she would sit like a dead woman, crushed, inert, insensible, cowering
over her own shadow, like a bundle tossed on the floor which everyone
might tread upon--having no control of her faculties, dead to everything
except the footsteps that she was listening for--and that did not come.

At last, after long hours, hours that she could not count, she would
fancy that she heard a stumbling walk in the street; then a vinous voice
would mount the stairs, stammering "_Canaille!_ _canaille_ of a
saloon-keeper!--you sold me the kind of wine that goes to my head!"

It was he.

And almost every day the same scene was enacted.

"Ah! there y'are, my Germinie," he would say as his eyes fell upon her.
"It's like this--I'll tell you all about it. I'm a little bit under
water." And, as he put the key in the lock: "I'll tell you all about it.
It isn't my fault."

He would enter the room, kick aside a turtle-dove with mangy wings that
limped forward to greet him, and close the door. "It wasn't me, d'ye
see. It was Paillon, you know Paillon? that little round fellow, fat as
a mad dog. Well, it was him, 'pon my honor. He insisted on paying for a
sixteen-sous bottle for me. He offered to treat me, and I _proffered_
him thanks. Thereupon we naturally _consoled_[5] our coffee; when you're
consoled, you console! and as one thing led to another, we fell upon
each other! There was a very devil of a carnage! The proof of it is that
that gallows-bird of a saloon-keeper threw us out-o'-doors like lobster
shells!"

Germinie, during the explanation, would have lighted the candle, stuck
in a yellow copper candlestick. By its flickering light the dirty paper
on the walls could be seen, covered with caricatures from _Charivari_,
torn from the paper and pasted on the wall.

"Well, you're a love!" Gautruche would exclaim, as he saw her place a
cold fowl and two bottles of wine on the table. "For I must tell you all
I've had in my stomach to-day--a plate of wretched soup--that's all. Ah!
it must have taken a stout master-at-arms to put that fellow's eyes
out!"

And he would begin to eat. Germinie would sit with her elbows on the
table, watching him and drinking, and her glance would grow dark.

                 *       *       *       *       *

"Pshaw! all the négresses are dead,"[6] Gautruche would say at last, as
he drained the bottles one by one. "Put the children to bed!"

                 *       *       *       *       *

Thereupon terrible, fierce, abhorrent outbursts of passion would ensue
between those two strange creatures, savage ardor followed by savage
satiety, frantic storms of lust, caresses that were impregnated with the
fierce brutality of wine, kisses that seemed to seek the blood beneath
the skin, like the tongue of a wild beast, and at the end, utter
exhaustion that swallowed them up and left their bodies like corpses.

Germinie plunged into these debauches with--what shall I say?--delirium,
madness, desperation, a sort of supreme frenzy. Her ungovernable
passions turned against themselves, and, going beyond their natural
appetites, forced themselves to suffer. Satiety exhausted them without
extinguishing them; and, overpassing the widest limits of excess, they
excited themselves to self-torture. In the poor creature's paroxysms of
excitement, her brain, her nerves, the imagination of her maddened body,
no longer sought pleasure in pleasure, but something sharper, keener,
and more violent: pain in pleasure. And the words "to die" constantly
escaped from her compressed lips, as if she were invoking death in an
undertone and seeking to embrace it in the agonies of love.

Sometimes, in the night, she would suddenly sit up on the edge of the
bed, rest her bare feet on the cold floor, and remain there, wild-eyed,
listening to the things that breathe in a sleeping-chamber. And little
by little the obscurity of the place and hour seemed to envelop her. She
seemed to herself to fall and writhe helplessly in the blind
unconsciousness of the night. Her will became as naught. All sorts of
black things, that seemed to have wings and voices, beat against her
temples. The ghastly temptations that afford madness a vague glimpse of
crime caused a red light, the flash of murder, to pass before her eyes,
close at hand; and hands placed against her back pushed her toward the
table where the knives lay. She would close her eyes and move one foot;
then fear would lay hold of her and she would cling to the bedclothes;
and at last she would turn around, fall back upon the bed, and go to
sleep beside the man she had been tempted to murder; why? she had no
idea; for nothing--for the sake of killing!

And so, until daybreak, in that wretched furnished lodging, the fierce
struggle of those fatal passions would continue, while the poor maimed,
limping dove, the infirm bird of Venus, nesting in one of Gautruche's
old shoes, would utter now and then, awakened by the noise, a frightened
coo.


[Illustration: Chapter LII


_Sometimes, in the night, she would suddenly sit up on the edge of the
bed, rest her bare feet on the cold floor, and remain there, wild-eyed,
listening to the things that breathe in a sleeping-chamber. The ghastly
temptations that afford madness a vague glimpse of crime caused a red
light, the flash of murder, to pass before her eyes, close at hand; and
hands placed against her back pushed her toward the table where the
knives lay._]



LIII


In those days Gautruche became a little disgusted with drinking. He felt
the first pangs of the disease of the liver that had long been lurking
in his heated, alcoholized blood, under his brick-red cheek bones. The
horrible pains that gnawed at his side, and twisted the cords of his
stomach for a whole week, caused him to reflect. There came to his mind,
together with divers resolutions inspired by prudence, certain almost
sentimental ideas of the future. He said to himself that he must put a
little more water into his life, if he wanted to live to old age. While
he lay writhing in bed and tying himself into knots, with his knees up
to his chin to lessen the pain, he looked about at his den, the four
walls within which he passed his nights, to which he brought his drunken
body home in the evening, and from which he fled into the daylight in
the morning; and he thought about making a real home for himself. He
dreamed of a room, where he could keep a wife, a wife who would make him
a good stew, look after him if he were ill, straighten out his affairs,
keep his linen in order, prevent him from beginning a new score at the
wine-shop; a wife, in short, who would combine all the useful qualities
of a housekeeper, and who, in addition, would not be a stupid fool, but
would understand him and laugh with him. Such a wife was all found:
Germinie was the very one. She probably had a little hoard, a few sous
laid by during the time she had been in her old mistress's service; and
with what he earned they could "grub along" in comfort. He had no doubt
of her consent; he was sure beforehand that she would accept his
proposition. More than that, her scruples, if she had any, would not
hold out against the prospect of marriage which he proposed to exhibit
to her at the end of their _liaison_.

One Monday she had come to his room as usual.

"Say, Germinie," he began, "what would you say to this, eh? A good
room--not like this box--a real room, with a closet--at Montmartre, and
two windows, no less! Rue de l'Empereur--with a view an Englishman would
give five thousand francs to carry away with him. Something first-class,
bright, and cheerful, you know, a place where you could stay all day
without hating yourself. Because, I tell you I'm beginning to have
enough of moving about here and there just to change fleas. And that
isn't all, either: I'm tired of being cooped up in furnished lodgings,
I'm tired of being all alone. Friends don't make society. They fall on
you like flies in your glass when you're to pay, and then, there you
are! In the first place, I don't propose to drink any more, honor
bright! no more for me, you'll see! You understand I don't intend to use
myself up in this life, not if I know myself. Not by any means!
Attention! We mustn't let drink get the better of us. It seemed to me
those days as if I'd been swallowing corkscrews. And I've no desire to
knock at the monument just yet. Well, to go from the thread to the
needle, this is what I thought: I'll make the proposition to Germinie.
I'll treat myself to a little furniture. You've got what you have in
your room. You know I'm not much of a shirker, I haven't a lazy bone in
my body where work's concerned. And then we might look to not always be
working for others: we might take a lodging-house for country thieves.
If you had a little something put aside, that would help. We would join
forces in genteel fashion, and have ourselves straightened out some day
before the mayor. That's not such a bad scheme, is it, old girl, eh? And
you'll leave your old lady this time, won't you, for your dear old
Gautruche?"

Germinie, who had listened to him with her head thrust forward and her
chin resting on the palm of her hand, threw herself back with a burst of
strident laughter.

"Ha! ha! ha! You thought--and you have the face to tell me so!--you
thought I'd leave her! Mademoiselle? Did you really think so? You're a
fool, you know! Why, you might have thousands and hundred thousands, you
might be stuffed with gold, do you hear? all stuffed with it. You're
joking, aren't you? Mademoiselle? Why, don't you know? haven't I ever
told you? I would like to see her die and these hands not be there to
close her eyes! I'd like to see it! Come now, really, did you think so?"

"Damnation! I imagined, from the way you acted with me, I thought you
cared more for me than that--that you loved me, in fact!" exclaimed the
painter, disconcerted by the terrible, stinging irony of Germinie's
words.

"Ah! you thought that, too--that I loved you!" And, as if she were
suddenly uprooting from the depths of her heart the remorse and
suffering of her passions, she continued: "Well, yes! I do love you--I
love you as you love me! just as much! and that's all! I love you as one
loves something that is close at hand--that one makes use of because it
is there! I am used to you as one gets used to an old dress and wears it
again and again. That's how I love you! How do you suppose I should care
for you? I'd like you to tell me what difference it can make to me
whether it's you or another? For, after all, what have you been to me
more than any other man would be? In the first place, you took me. Well?
Is that enough to make me love you? What have you done, then, to attach
me to you, will you be kind enough to tell me? Have you ever sacrificed
a glass of wine to me? Have you even so much as taken pity on me when I
was tramping about in the mud and snow at the risk of my life? Oh! yes!
And what did people say to me and spit out in my face so that my blood
boiled from one end of my body to the other! You never troubled your
head about all the insults I've swallowed waiting for you! Look you!
I've been wanting to tell you all this for a long time--it's been
choking me. Tell me," she continued, with a ghastly smile, "do you
flatter yourself you've driven me wild with your physical beauty, with
your hair, which you've lost, with that head of yours? Hardly! I took
you--I'd have taken anyone, it didn't matter who! It was one of the
times when I had to have someone! At those times I don't know anything
or see anything. I'm not myself at all. I took you because it was a hot
day!"

She paused an instant.

"Go on," said Gautruche, "iron me on all the seams. Don't mind me as
long as your hand's in."

"So?" continued Germinie, "how enchanted you imagined I was going to be
to take up with you! You said to yourself: 'The good-natured fool!
she'll be glad of the chance! And all I shall have to do will be to
promise to marry her. She'll throw up her place. She'll leave her
mistress in the lurch.' The idea! Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle, who has no
one but me! Ah! you don't know anything about such things. You wouldn't
understand if I should tell you. Mademoiselle, who is everything to me!
Why, since my mother died, I've had nobody but her, never been treated
kindly by anybody but her! Who beside her ever said to me when I was
unhappy: 'Are you unhappy?' And, when I was sick: 'Don't you feel well?'
No one! There's been no one but her to take care of me, to care what
became of me. God! and you talk of loving on account of what there is
between us! Ah! mademoiselle has loved me! Yes, loved me! And I'm dying
of it, do you know? of having become such a miserable creature as I am,
a----" She said the word. "And of deceiving her, of stealing her
affection, of allowing her still to love me as her daughter! Ah! if she
should ever learn anything--but, no fear of that, it won't be long.
There's one woman who would make a pretty leap out of a fifth-story
window, as true as God is my master! But fancy--you are not my heart,
you are not my life, you are only my pleasure. But I did have a man. Ah!
I don't know whether I loved him! but you could have torn me to pieces
for him without a word from me. In short, he was the man that made me
what I am. Well, d'ye see, when my passion for him was at its hottest,
when I breathed only as he wished me to, when I was mad over him and
would have let him walk on my stomach if he'd wanted to--even then, if
mademoiselle had been sick, if she had motioned to me with her little
finger, I'd have gone back to her. Yes, I would have left him for her! I
tell you I would have left him!"

"In that case--if that's the way things stand, my dear--if you're so
fond of your old lady as that, I have only one piece of advice to give
you: you'd better not leave your good lady, d'ye see!"

"That's my dismissal, is it?" said Germinie, rising.

"Faith! it's very like it."

"Well! adieu. That suits me!"

She went straight to the door, and left the room without a word.



LIV


After this rupture Germinie fell where she was sure to fall, below
shame, below nature itself. Lower and lower the unhappy, passionate
creature fell, until she wallowed in the gutter. She took up the lovers
whose passions are exhausted in one night, those whom she passed or met
on the street, those whom chance throws in the way of a wandering woman.
She had no need to give herself time for the growth of desire: her
caprice was fierce and sudden, kindled instantly. Pouncing greedily upon
the first comer, she hardly looked at him and could not have recognized
him. Beauty, youth, the physical qualities of a lover, in which the
passion of the most degraded woman seeks to realize a base ideal, as it
were--none of those things tempted her now or touched her. In all men
her eyes saw nothing but man: the individual mattered naught to her. The
last indication of decency and of human feeling in debauchery,--preference,
selection,--and even that which represents all that prostitutes retain
of conscience and personality,--disgust, even disgust,--she had lost!

And she wandered about the streets at night, with the furtive, stealthy
gait of wild beasts prowling in the shadow in quest of food. As if
unsexed, she made the advances, she solicited brutes, she took advantage
of drunkenness, and men yielded to her. She walked along, peering on
every side, approaching every shadowy corner where impurity might lurk
under cover of the darkness and solitude, where hands were waiting to
swoop down upon a shawl. Belated pedestrians saw her by the light of the
street lanterns, an ill-omened, shuddering phantom, gliding along,
almost crawling, bent double, slinking by in the shadow, with that
appearance of illness and insanity and of utter aberration which sets
the thoughtful man's heart and the physician's mind at work on the brink
of deep abysses of melancholy.



LV


One evening when she was prowling about Rue du Rocher, as she passed a
wine-shop at the corner of Rue de Labarde, she noticed the back of a man
who was drinking at the bar: it was Jupillon.

She stopped short, turned toward the street with her back against the
door of the wine-shop, and waited. The light in the shop was behind her,
her shoulders against the bars, and there she stood motionless, her
skirt gathered up in one hand in front, and her other hand falling
listlessly at her side. She resembled a statue of darkness seated on a
milestone. In her attitude there was an air of stern determination and
the necessary patience to wait there forever. The passers-by, the
carriages, the street--she saw them all indistinctly and as if they were
far away. The tow-horse, waiting to assist in drawing the omnibuses up
the hill,--a white horse, he was,--stood in front of her, worn out and
motionless, sleeping on his feet, with his head and forefeet in the
bright light from the door: she did not see him. There was a dense fog.
It was one of those vile, detestable Parisian nights when it seems as if
the water that falls had become mud before falling. The gutter rose and
flowed about her feet. She remained thus half an hour without moving,
with her back to the light and her face in the shadow, a threatening,
desperate, forbidding creature, like a statue of Fatality erected by
Darkness at a wine-shop door!

At last Jupillon came out. She stood before him with folded arms.

"My money?" she said. Her face was that of a woman who has ceased to
possess a conscience, for whom there is no God, no police, no assizes,
no scaffold--nothing!

Jupillon felt that his customary _blague_ was arrested in his throat.

"Your money?" he repeated; "your money ain't lost. But I must have time.
Just now, you see, work ain't very plenty. That shop business of mine
came to grief a long while ago, you know. But in three months' time, I
promise. Are you pretty well?"

"_Canaille!_ Ah! I've got you now! Ah! you'd sneak away, would you? But
it was you, my curse! it was you who made me what I am, brigand! robber!
sneak! It was you."

Germinie hurled these words in his face, pushing against him, forcing
him back, pressing her body against his. She seemed to be rubbing
against the blows that she invited and provoked, and as she leaned
toward him thus, she cried: "Come, strike me! What, then, must I say to
you to make you strike me?"

She had ceased to think. She did not know what she wanted; she simply
felt that she needed to be struck. There had come upon her an
instinctive, irrational desire to be maltreated, bruised, made to suffer
in her flesh, to experience a violent shock, a sharp pain that would put
a stop to what was going on in her brain. She could think of nothing but
blows to bring matters to a crisis. After the blows, she saw, with the
lucidity of an hallucination, all sorts of things come to pass,--the
guard arriving, the gendarmes from the post, the commissioner! the
commissioner to whom she could tell everything, her story, her
misfortunes, how the man before her had abused her and what he had cost
her! Her heart collapsed in anticipation at the thought of emptying
itself, with shrieks and tears, of everything with which it was
bursting.

"Come, strike me!" she repeated, still advancing upon Jupillon, who
tried to slink away, and, as he retreated, tossed caressing words to her
as you do to a dog that does not recognize you and seems inclined to
bite. A crowd was beginning to collect about them.

"Come, old harridan, don't bother monsieur!" exclaimed a police officer,
grasping Germinie by the arm and swinging her around roughly. Under that
brutal insult from the hand of the law, Germinie's knees wavered: she
thought she should faint. Then she was afraid, and fled in the middle of
the street.



LVI


Passion is subject to the most insensate reactions, the most
inexplicable revivals. The accursed love that Germinie believed to have
been killed by all the wounds and blows Jupillon had inflicted upon it
came to life once more. She was dismayed to find it in her heart when
she returned home. The mere sight of the man, his proximity for those
few moments, the sound of his voice, the act of breathing the air that
he breathed, were enough to turn her heart back to him and relegate her
to the past.

Notwithstanding all that had happened, she had never been able to tear
Jupillon's image altogether from her heart: its roots were still
imbedded there. He was her first love. She belonged to him against her
own will by all the weaknesses of memory, by all the cowardice of habit.
Between them there were all the bonds of torture that hold a woman fast
forever,--sacrifice, suffering, degradation. He owned her, body and
soul, because he had outraged her conscience, trampled upon her
illusions, made her life a martyrdom. She belonged to him, belonged to
him forever, as to the author of all her sorrows.

And that shock, that scene which should have caused her to think with
horror of ever meeting him again, rekindled in her the frenzied desire
to meet him again. Her passion seized her again in its full force. The
thought of Jupillon filled her mind so completely that it purified her.
She abruptly called a halt in the vagabondage of her passions: she
determined to belong thenceforth to no one, as that was the only method
by which she could still belong to him.

She began to spy upon him, to make a study of his usual hours for going
out, the streets he passed through, the places that he visited. She
followed him to Batignolles, to his new quarters, walked behind him,
content to put her foot where he had put his, to be guided by his steps,
to see him now and then, to notice a gesture that he made, to snatch one
of his glances. That was all: she dared not speak to him; she kept at
some distance behind, like a lost dog, happy not to be driven away with
kicks.

For weeks and weeks she made herself thus the man's shadow, a humble,
timid shadow that shrank back and moved away a few steps when it thought
it was in danger of being seen; then drew nearer again with faltering
steps, and, at an impatient movement from the man, stopped once more, as
if asking pardon.

Sometimes she waited at the door of a house which he entered, caught him
up again when he came out and escorted him home, always at a distance,
without speaking to him, with the air of a beggar begging for crumbs
and thankful for what she was allowed to pick up. Then she would listen
at the shutters of the ground-floor apartment in which he lived, to
ascertain if he was alone, if there was anybody there.

When he had a woman on his arm, although she suffered keenly, she was
the more persistent in following him. She went where they went to the
end. She entered the public gardens and ballrooms behind them. She
walked within sound of their laughter and their words, tore her heart to
tatters looking at them and listening to them, and stood at their backs
with every jealous instinct of her nature bleeding.



LVII


It was November. For three or four days Germinie had not fallen in with
Jupillon. She went to hover about his lodgings, watching for him. When
she reached the street on which he lived, she saw a broad beam of light
struggling out through the closed shutters. She approached and heard
bursts of laughter, the clinking of glasses, women's voices, then a song
and one voice, that of the woman whom she hated with all the hatred
of her heart, whom she would have liked to see lying dead before
her, and whose death she had so often sought to discover in the
coffee-grounds,--the cousin!

She glued her ear to the shutter, breathing in what they said, absorbed
in the torture of listening to them, pasturing her famished heart upon
suffering. It was a cold, rainy winter's night. She did not feel the
cold or rain. All her senses were engaged in listening. The voice she
detested seemed at times to grow faint and die away beneath kisses, and
the notes it sang died in her throat as if stifled by lips placed upon
the song. The hours passed. Germinie was still at her post. She did not
think of going away. She waited, with no knowledge of what she was
waiting for. It seemed to her that she must remain there always, until
the end. The rain fell faster. The water from a broken gutter overhead
beat down upon her shoulders. Great drops glided down her neck. An icy
shiver ran up and down her back. The water dripped from her dress to the
ground. She did not notice it. She was conscious of no pain in any of
her limbs except the pain that flowed from her heart.

Well on toward morning there was a movement in the house, and footsteps
approached the door. Germinie ran and hid in a recess in the wall some
steps away, and from there saw a woman come out, escorted by a young
man. As she watched them walk away, she felt something soft and warm on
her hands that frightened her at first; it was a dog licking her, a
great dog that she had held in her lap many an evening, when he was a
puppy, in the _crémière's_ back shop.

"Come here, Molosse!" Jupillon shouted impatiently twice or thrice in
the darkness.

The dog barked, ran back, returned and gamboled about her, and at last
entered the house. The door closed. The voices and singing lured
Germinie back to her former position against the shutter, and there she
remained, drenched by the rain, allowing herself to be drenched, as she
listened and listened, till morning, till daybreak, till the hour when
the masons on their way to work, with their dinner loaf under their
arms, began to laugh at her as they passed.



LVIII


Two or three days after that night in the rain, Germinie's features were
distorted with pain, her skin was like marble and her eyes blazing. She
said nothing, made no complaints, but went about her work as usual.

"Here! girl, look at me a moment," said mademoiselle, and she led her
abruptly to the window. "What does all this mean? this look of a dead
woman risen from the grave? Come, tell me honestly, are you sick? My
God! how hot your hands are!"

She grasped her wrist, and in a moment threw it down.

"What a silly slut! you're in a burning fever! And you keep it to
yourself!"

"Why no, mademoiselle," Germinie stammered. "I think it's nothing but a
bad cold. I went to sleep the other evening with my kitchen window
open."

"Oh! you're a good one!" retorted mademoiselle; "you might be dying and
you'd never as much as say: 'Ouf!' Wait."

She put on her spectacles, and hastily moving her arm-chair to a small
table by the fireplace, she wrote a few lines in her bold hand.

"Here," said she, folding the note, "you will do me the favor to give
this to your friend Adèle and have her send the concierge with it. And
now to bed you go!"

But Germinie refused to go to bed. It was not worth while. She would not
tire herself. She would sit down all day. Besides, the worst of her
sickness was over; she was getting better already. And then it always
killed her to stay in bed.

The doctor, summoned by mademoiselle's note, came in the evening. He
examined Germinie, and ordered the application of croton oil. The
trouble in the chest was of such a nature that he could say nothing
about it until he had observed the effect of his remedies.

He returned a few days later, sent Germinie to bed and sounded her chest
for a long while.

"It's a most extraordinary thing," he said to mademoiselle, when he went
downstairs; "she has had pleurisy upon her and hasn't kept her bed for a
moment! Is she made of iron, in Heaven's name? Oh! the energy of some
women! How old is she?"

"Forty-one."

"Forty-one! Oh! it's not possible. Are you sure? She looks fully fifty."

"Ah! as to that, she looks as old as you please. What can you expect?
Never in good health,--always sick, disappointment, sorrow,--and a
disposition that can't help tormenting itself."

"Forty-one years old! it's amazing!" the physician repeated.

After a moment's reflection, he continued:

"So far as you know, is there any hereditary lung trouble in her family?
Has she had any relatives who have died young?"

"She lost a sister by pleurisy; but she was older. She was forty-eight,
I think."

The doctor had become very grave. "However, the lung is getting freer,"
he said, in an encouraging tone. "But it is absolutely necessary that
she should have rest. And send her to me once a week. Let her come and
see me. And let her take a pleasant day for it,--a bright, sunny day."



LIX


Mademoiselle talked and prayed and implored and scolded to no purpose:
she could not induce Germinie to lay aside her work for a few days.
Germinie would not even listen to the suggestion that she should have an
assistant to do the heavier work. She declared that it was useless,
impossible; that she could never endure the thought of another woman
approaching her, waiting upon her, attending to her wants; that it would
give her a fever simply to think of such a thing as she lay in bed; that
she was not dead yet; and she begged that she might be allowed to go on
as usual, so long as she could put one foot before the other. She said
it in such an affectionate tone, her eyes were so beseeching, her feeble
voice was so humble and so passionate in making the request, that
mademoiselle had not the courage to force her to accept an assistant.
She simply called her a "blockhead," who believed, like all
country-people, that a few days in bed means death.

Keeping on her feet, with an apparent improvement due to the physician's
energetic treatment, Germinie continued to make mademoiselle's bed,
accepting her assistance to turn the mattresses. She also continued to
prepare her food, and that was an especially distasteful task to her.

When she was preparing mademoiselle's breakfast and dinner, she felt as
if she should die in her kitchen, one of the wretched little kitchens
common in great cities, which are the cause of so much pulmonary trouble
in women. The embers that she kindled, and from which a thread of
suffocating smoke slowly arose, began to stir her stomach to revolt;
soon the charcoal that she bought from the charcoal dealer next door,
strong Paris charcoal, full of half-charred wood, enveloped her in its
stifling odor. The dirty, smoking funnel, the low chimney-piece poured
back into her lungs the corroding heat of the waist-high oven. She
suffocated, she felt the fiery heat of all her blood surge upward to her
face and cause red blotches to appear on her forehead. Her head whirled.
In the half-asphyxiated condition of laundresses who pass back and forth
through the vapor of their charcoal stoves, she would rush to the window
and draw a few breaths of the icy outside air.

She had other motives for suffering on her feet, for keeping constantly
about her work despite her increasing weakness, than the repugnance of
country-people to take to their beds, or her fierce, jealous
determination that no one but herself should attend to mademoiselle's
needs: she had a constant terror of denunciation, which might accompany
the installation of a new servant. It was absolutely necessary that she
should be there, to keep watch on mademoiselle and prevent anyone from
coming near her. It was necessary, too, that she should show herself,
that the quarter should see her, and that she should not appear to her
creditors with the aspect of a dead woman. She must make a pretence of
being strong, she must assume a cheerful, lively demeanor, she must
impart confidence to the whole street with the doctor's studied words,
with a hopeful air, and with the promise not to die. She must appear at
her best in order to reassure her debtors and to prevent apprehensions
on the subject of money from ascending the stairs and applying to
mademoiselle.

She acted up to her part in this horrible, but necessary, comedy. She
was absolutely heroic in the way she made her whole body lie,--in
drawing up her enfeebled form to its full height as she passed the
shops, whose proprietors' eyes were upon her; in quickening her trailing
footsteps; in rubbing her cheeks with a rough towel before going out in
order to bring back the color of blood to them; in covering the pallor
of her disease and her death-mask with rouge.

Despite the terrible cough that racked her sleepless nights, despite her
stomach's loathing for food, she passed the whole winter conquering and
overcoming her own weakness and struggling with the ups and downs of her
disease.

At every visit that he made, the doctor told mademoiselle that he was
unable to find that any of her maid's vital organs were seriously
diseased. The lungs were a little ulcerated near the top; but people
recovered from that. "But her body seems worn out, thoroughly worn out,"
he said again and again, in a sad tone, with an almost embarrassed
manner that impressed mademoiselle. And he always had something to say,
at the end of his visit, about a change of air--about the country.



LX


When August arrived, the doctor had nothing but that to advise or
prescribe--the country. Notwithstanding the repugnance of elderly people
to move, to change their abode and the habits and regular hours of their
life; despite her domestic nature and the sort of pang that she felt at
being torn from her hearthstone, mademoiselle decided to take Germinie
into the country. She wrote to the _chick's_ daughter, who lived, with a
brood of children, on a small estate in a village of Brie, and who had
been, for many years, begging her to pay her a long visit. She requested
her hospitality for a month or six weeks for herself and her sick maid.

They set out. Germinie was delighted. On their arrival she felt
decidedly better. For some days her disease seemed to be diverted by the
change. But the weather that summer was very uncertain, with much rain,
sudden changes, and high winds. Germinie had a chill, and mademoiselle
soon heard again, overhead, just above the room in which she slept, the
frightful cough that had been so painful and hard to bear at Paris.
There were hurried paroxysms of coughing that seemed almost to strangle
her; spasms that would break off for a moment, then begin again; and the
pauses caused the ear and the heart to experience a nervous, anxious
anticipation of what was certain to come next, and always did
come,--racking and tearing, dying away again, but still vibrating in the
ear, even when it had ceased: never silent, never willing to have done.

And yet Germinie rose from those horrible nights with an energy and
activity that amazed mademoiselle and at times reassured her. She was
out of bed as early as anybody in the house. One morning, at five
o'clock, she went with the man-servant in a _char-à-banc_ to a mill-pond
three leagues away, for fish; at another time she dragged herself to the
saint's day ball, with the maids from the house, and did not return
until they did, at daybreak. She worked all the time; assisted the
servants. She was always sitting on the edge of a chair, in a corner of
the kitchen, doing something with her fingers. Mademoiselle was obliged
to force her to go out, to drive her into the garden to sit. Then
Germinie would sit on the green bench, with her umbrella over her head,
and the sun in her skirts and on her feet. Hardly moving, she would
forget herself utterly as she inhaled the light and air and warmth,
passionately and with a sort of feverish joy. Her distended lips would
part to admit the fresh, clear air. Her eyes burned, but did not move;
and in the light shadow of the silk umbrella her gaunt, wasted, haggard
face stared vacantly into space like an amorous death's head.

Weary as she was at night, no persuasion could induce her to retire
before her mistress. She insisted upon being at hand to undress her.
Seated by her side, she would rise from time to time to wait upon her as
best she could, assist her to take off a petticoat, then sit down again,
collect her strength for a moment, rise again, and insist upon doing
something for her. Mademoiselle had to force her to sit down and order
her to keep quiet. And all the time that the evening toilet lasted she
had always upon her lips the same tiresome chatter about the servants of
the house.

"Why, mademoiselle, you haven't an idea of the eyes they make at each
other when they think no one sees them--the cook and the man--I mean.
They keep quiet when I am by; but the other day I surprised them in the
bakery. They were kissing, fancy! Luckily madame here don't suspect it."

"Ah! there you are again with your tale-bearing! Why, good God!"
mademoiselle would exclaim, "what difference does it make to you whether
they _coo_ or don't _coo_? They're kind to you, aren't they? That's all
that's necessary."

"Oh! very kind, mademoiselle; as far as that's concerned I haven't a
word to say. Marie got up in the night last night to give me some
water--and as for him, when there's any dessert left, it's always for
me. Oh! he's very polite to me--in fact, Marie don't like it very well
that he thinks so much about me. You understand, mademoiselle----"

"Come, come! go to bed with all your nonsense!" said her mistress
sharply, sad, and annoyed as well, to find such a keen interest in
others' love-affairs in one so ill.



LXI


When they returned from the country, the doctor, after examining
Germinie, said to Mademoiselle: "It has been very rapid, very rapid. The
left lung is entirely gone. The right has begun to be affected at the
top, and I fear that there is more or less difficulty all through it.
She's a dead woman. She may live six weeks, two months at most."

"Great Heaven!" said Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, "everyone I have ever
loved will go before me! Tell me, must I wait until everybody has gone?"

"Have you thought of placing her in some institution?" said the doctor,
after a moment's silence. "You can't keep her here. It's too great a
burden, too great a grief for you to have her with you," he added, at a
gesture from mademoiselle.

"No, monsieur, no, I haven't thought of it. Oh! yes, I am likely to send
her away. Why you must have seen, monsieur: that girl isn't a maid, she
isn't a servant in my eyes; she's like the family I never had! What
would you have me say to her: 'Be off with you now!' Ah! I never
suffered so much before on account of not being rich and having a
wretched four-sou apartment like this. I, mention such a thing to her!
why, it's impossible! And where could she go? To the Maison Dubois? Oh!
yes, to the Dubois! She went there once to see the maid I had before,
who died there. You might as well kill her! The hospital, then? No, not
there; I don't choose to have her die in that place!"

"Good God, mademoiselle, she'll be a hundred times better off there than
here. I would get her admitted at Lariboisière, during the term of
service of a doctor who is a friend of mine. I would recommend her to an
intern, who is under great obligations to me. She would have a very
excellent Sister to nurse her in the hall to which I would have her
sent. If necessary, she could have a private room. But I am sure she
would prefer to be in a common room. It's the essential thing to do, you
see, mademoiselle. She can't stay in that chamber up there. You know
what these horrible servants' quarters are. Indeed, it's my opinion that
the health authorities ought to compel the landlords to show common
humanity in that direction; it's an outrage! The cold weather is coming;
there's no fireplace; with the window and the roof it will be like an
ice-house. You see she still keeps about. She has a marvelous stock of
courage, prodigious nervous vitality. But, in spite of everything, the
bed will claim her in a few days,--she won't get up again. Come, listen
to reason, mademoiselle. Let me speak to her, will you?"

"No, not yet. I must get used to the idea. And then, when I see her
around me I imagine she isn't going to die so quickly as all that.
There's time enough. Later, we'll see about it,--yes, later."

"Excuse me, mademoiselle, if I venture to say to you that you are quite
capable of making yourself sick nursing her."

"I? Oh! as for me!" And Mademoiselle de Varandeuil made a gesture
indicating that her life was of no consequence.



LXII


Amid Mademoiselle de Varandeuil's desperate anxiety concerning her
maid's health, she became conscious of a strange feeling, a sort of fear
in the presence of the new, unfamiliar, mysterious creature that
sickness had made of Germinie. Mademoiselle had a sense of discomfort
beside that hollow, ghostly face, which was almost unrecognizable in its
implacable rigidity, and which seemed to return to itself, to recover
consciousness, only furtively, by fits and starts, in the effort to
produce a pallid smile. The old woman had seen many people die; her
memories of many painful years recalled the expressions of many dear,
doomed faces, of many faces that were sad and desolate and
grief-stricken in death; but no face of all those she remembered had
ever assumed, as the end drew near, that distressing expression of a
face retiring within itself and closing the doors.

Enveloped in her suffering, Germinie maintained her savage, rigid,
self-contained, impenetrable demeanor. She was as immovable as bronze.
Mademoiselle, as she looked at her, asked herself what it could be that
she brooded over thus without moving; whether it was her life rising in
revolt, the dread of death, or a secret remorse for something in her
past. Nothing external seemed to affect the sick woman. She was no
longer conscious of things about her. Her body became indifferent to
everything, did not ask to be relieved, seemed not to desire to be
cured. She complained of nothing, found no pleasure or diversion in
anything. Even her longing for affection had left her. She no longer
made any motion to bestow or invite a caress, and every day something
human left her body, which seemed to be turning to stone. Often she
would bury herself in profound silence that made one expect a
heart-rending shriek or word; but after glancing about the room, she
would say nothing and begin again to stare fixedly, vacantly, at the
same spot in space.

When mademoiselle returned from the friend's house with whom she dined,
she would find Germinie in the dark, sunk in an easy-chair with her legs
stretched out upon a chair, her head hanging forward on her breast, and
so profoundly absorbed that sometimes she did not hear the door open. As
she walked forward into the room it seemed to Mademoiselle de Varandeuil
as if she were breaking in upon a ghastly _tête-à-tête_ between Disease
and the Shadow of Death, wherein Germinie was already seeking, in the
terror of the Invisible, the blindness of the grave and the darkness of
death.



LXIII


Throughout the month of October, Germinie obstinately refused to take to
her bed. Each day, however, she was weaker and more helpless than the
day before. She was hardly able to ascend the flight of stairs that led
to her sixth floor, dragging herself along by the railing. One day she
fell on the stairs: the other servants picked her up and carried her to
her chamber. But that did not stop her; the next day she went downstairs
again, with the fitful gleam of strength that invalids commonly have in
the morning. She prepared mademoiselle's breakfast, made a pretence of
working, and kept moving about the apartment, clinging to the chairs and
dragging herself along. Mademoiselle took pity on her; she forced her to
lie down on her own bed. Germinie lay there half an hour, an hour, wide
awake, not speaking, but with her eyes open, fixed, and staring into
vacancy like the eyes of a person in severe pain.

One morning she did not come down. Mademoiselle climbed to the sixth
floor, turned into a narrow corridor in which the air was heavy with the
odors from servants' water-closets and at last reached Germinie's door,
No. 21. Germinie apologized for having compelled her to come up. It was
impossible for her to put her feet out of the bed. She had terrible
pains in her bowels and they were badly swollen. She begged mademoiselle
to sit down a moment and, to make room for her, removed the candlestick
that stood on the chair at the head of her bed.

Mademoiselle sat down and remained a few moments, looking about the
wretched room,--one of those where the doctor has to lay his hat on the
bed, and where there is barely room to die! It was a small attic room,
without a chimney, with a scuttle window in the sloping roof, which
admitted the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Old trunks, clothes
bags, a foot-bath, and the little iron bedstead on which Germinie's
niece had slept, were heaped up in a corner under the sloping roof. The
bed, one chair, a little disabled washstand with a broken pitcher,
comprised the whole of the furniture. Above the bed, in an imitation
violet-wood frame, hung a daguerreotype of a man.

The doctor came during the day. "Aha! peritonitis," he said, when
mademoiselle described Germinie's condition.

He went up to see the sick woman. "I am afraid," he said, when he came
down, "that there's an abscess in the intestine communicating with an
abscess in the bladder. It's a serious case, very serious. You must tell
her not to move about much in her bed, to turn over with great care.
She might die suddenly in horrible agony. I suggested to her to go to
Lariboisière,--she agreed at once. She seemed to have no repugnance at
all. But I don't know how she will bear the journey. However, she has
such an unlimited stock of energy; I have never seen anything like it.
To-morrow morning you shall have the order of admission."

When mademoiselle went up to Germinie's room again, she found her
smiling in her bed, gay as a lark at the idea of going away.

"It's a matter of six weeks at most, mademoiselle," said she.



LXIV


At two o'clock the next day the doctor brought the order for her
admission to Lariboisière. The invalid was ready to start. Mademoiselle
suggested that they should send to the hospital for a litter. "Oh! no,"
said Germinie, hastily, "I should think I was dead." She was thinking of
her debts; she must show herself to her creditors on the street, alive,
and on her feet to the last!

She got out of bed. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil assisted her to put on
her petticoat and her dress. As soon as she left her bed, all signs of
life disappeared from her face, the flush from her complexion: it seemed
as if earth suddenly took the place of blood under her skin. She went
down the steep servants' stairway, clinging to the baluster, and reached
her mistress's apartments. She sat down in an arm-chair near the window
in the dining-room. She insisted upon putting on her stockings without
assistance, and as she pulled them on with her poor trembling hands, the
fingers striking against one another, she afforded a glimpse of her
legs, which were so thin as to make one shudder. The housekeeper,
meanwhile, was putting together in a bundle a little linen, a glass, a
cup, and a pewter plate, which she wished to carry with her. When that
was done, Germinie looked about her for a moment; she cast one last
glance around the room, a glance that seemed to long to take everything
away with her. Then, as her eyes rested on the door through which the
housekeeper had just gone out, she said to mademoiselle: "At all events
I leave a good woman with you."

She rose. The door closed noisily behind her, as if to say adieu, and,
supported by Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, who almost carried her, she
went down the five flights of the main stairway. At every landing she
paused to take breath. In the vestibule she found the concierge, who had
brought her a chair. She fell into it. The vulgar fellow laughingly
promised her that she would be well in six weeks. She moved her head
slightly as she said _yes_, a muffled _yes_.

She was in the cab, beside her mistress. It was an uncomfortable cab and
jolted over the pavements. She sat forward on the seat to avoid the
concussion of the jolting, and clung to the door with her hand. She
watched the houses pass, but did not speak. When they reached the
hospital gate, she refused to be carried. "Can you walk as far as that?"
said the concierge, pointing to the reception-room some sixty feet
distant. She made an affirmative sign and walked: it was a dead woman
walking, because she was determined to walk!

At last she reached the great hall, cold and stiff and clean and bare
and horrible, with a circle of wooden benches around the waiting litter.
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil led her to a straw chair near a glazed door.
A clerk opened the door, asked Mademoiselle de Varandeuil Germinie's
name and age, and wrote for a quarter of an hour, covering ten or more
sheets of paper with a religious emblem at the top. That done,
Mademoiselle de Varandeuil kissed her and turned to go; she saw an
attendant take her under the arms, then she saw no more, but turned and
fled, and, throwing herself upon the cushions of the cab, she burst into
sobs and gave vent to all the tears with which her heart had been
suffocated for an hour past. The driver on his box was amazed to hear
such violent weeping.



LXV


On the visiting day, Thursday, mademoiselle started at half-past twelve
to go and see Germinie. It was her purpose to be at her bedside at the
moment the doors were thrown open, at one o'clock precisely. As she rode
through the streets she had passed through four days before, she
remembered the ghastly ride of Monday. It seemed to her as if she were
incommoding a sick person in the cab, of which she was the only
occupant, and she sat close in the corner in order to make room for the
memory of Germinie. In what condition should she find her? Should she
find her at all? Suppose her bed should be empty?

The cab passed through a narrow street filled with orange carts, and
with women sitting on the sidewalk offering biscuit for sale in baskets.
There was something unspeakably wretched and dismal in this open-air
display of fruit and cakes,--the delicacies of the dying, the _viaticum_
of invalids, craved by feverish mouths, longed for by the
death-agony,--which workingmen's hands, black with toil, purchase as
they pass, to carry to the hospital and offer death a tempting morsel.
Children carried them with sober faces, almost reverentially, and
without touching them, as if they understood.

The cab stopped before the gate of the courtyard. It was five minutes to
one. There was a long line of women crowding about the gate, women with
their working clothes on, sorrowful, depressed and silent. Mademoiselle
de Varandeuil took her place in the line, went forward with the others
and was admitted: they searched her. She inquired for Salle
Sainte-Joséphine, and was directed to the second wing on the second
floor. She found the hall and the bed, No. 14, which was, as she had
been told, one of the last at the right. Indeed, she was guided thither,
as it were, from the farther end of the hall, by Germinie's smile--the
smile of a sick person in a hospital at an unexpected visit, which says,
so gently, as soon as you enter the room: "Here I am."

She leaned over the bed. Germinie tried to push her away with a gesture
of humility and the shamefacedness of a servant.

Mademoiselle de Varandeuil kissed her.

"Ah!" said Germinie, "the time dragged terribly yesterday. I imagined it
was Thursday and I longed so for you."

"My poor girl! How are you?"

"Oh! I'm getting on finely now--the swelling in my bowels has all gone.
I have only three weeks to stay here, mademoiselle, you'll see.
They talk about a month or six weeks, but I know better. And I'm very
comfortable here, I don't mind it at all. I sleep all night now. My! but
I was thirsty, when you brought me here Monday! They wouldn't give me
wine and water."


[Illustration: Chapter LXV

_One and all, after a moment's conversation, leaned over Germinie to
kiss her, and with every kiss Mademoiselle de Varandeuil could hear an
indistinct murmur as of words exchanged; a whispered question from those
who kissed, a hasty reply from her who was kissed._]


"What have you there to drink?"

"Oh! what I had at home--lime-water. Would you mind pouring me out some,
mademoiselle? their pewter things are so heavy!"

She raised herself with one arm by the aid of the little stick that hung
over the middle of the bed, and putting out the other thin, trembling
arm, left bare by the sleeve falling back from it, she took the glass
mademoiselle held out to her, and drank.

"There," said she when she had done, and she placed both her arms
outside the bed, on the coverlid.

"What a pity that I have to put you out in this way, my poor
demoiselle!" she continued. "Things must be in a horribly dirty state at
home!"

"Don't worry about that."

There was a moment's silence. A faint smile came to Germinie's lips. "I
am sailing under false colors," she said, lowering her voice; "I have
confessed so as to get well."

Then she moved her head on the pillow in order to bring her mouth nearer
to Mademoiselle de Varandeuil's ear:

"There are tales to tell here. I have a funny neighbor yonder." She
indicated with a glance and a movement of her shoulder the patient to
whom her back was turned. "There's a man who comes here to see her. He
talked to her an hour yesterday. I heard them say they'd had a child.
She has left her husband. He was like a madman, the man was, when he was
talking to her."

As she spoke, Germinie's face lighted up as if she were still full of
the scene of the day before, still stirred up and feverish with
jealousy, so near death as she was, because she had heard love spoken of
beside her!

Suddenly her expression changed. A woman came toward her bed. She seemed
embarrassed when she saw Mademoiselle de Varandeuil. After a few
moments, she kissed Germinie, and hurriedly withdrew as another woman
came up. The new-comer did the same, kissed Germinie and at once took
her leave. After the women a man came; then another woman. One and all,
after a moment's conversation, leaned over Germinie to kiss her, and
with every kiss Mademoiselle de Varandeuil could hear an indistinct
murmur as of words exchanged; a whispered question from those who
kissed, a hasty reply from her who was kissed.

"Well!" she said to Germinie, "I hope you are well taken care of!"

"Oh! yes," Germinie answered in a peculiar tone, "they take excellent
care of me!"

She had lost the animation that she displayed at the beginning of the
visit. The little blood that had mounted to her cheeks remained there in
one spot only. Her face seemed closed; it was cold and deaf, like a
wall. Her drawn-in lips were sealed, as it were. Her features were
concealed beneath the veil of infinite dumb agony. There was nothing
caressing or eloquent in her staring eyes, absorbed as they were and
filled with one fixed thought. You would have said that all exterior
signs of her ideas were drawn within her by an irresistible power of
concentration, by a last supreme effort of her will, and that her whole
being was clinging in desperation to a sorrow that drew everything to
itself.

The visitors she had just received were the grocer, the fish-woman, the
butter woman and the laundress--all her debts, incarnate! The kisses
were the kisses of her creditors, who came to keep on the scent of their
claims and to extort money from her death-agony!



LXVI


Mademoiselle had just risen on Saturday morning. She was making a little
package of four jars of Bar preserves, which she intended to carry to
Germinie the next day, when she heard low voices, a colloquy between the
housekeeper and the concierge in the reception room. Almost immediately
the door opened and the concierge came in.

"Sad news, mademoiselle," he said.

And he handed her a letter he had in his hand; it bore the stamp of the
Lariboisière hospital: Germinie was dead; she died at seven o'clock that
morning.

Mademoiselle took the letter; she saw only the letters that said: "Dead!
dead!" And they repeated the word: "Dead! dead!" to no purpose, for she
could not believe it. As is always the case with a person of whose death
one learns abruptly, Germinie appeared to her instinct with life, and
her body, which was no more, seemed to stand before her with the
awe-inspiring presence of a ghost. Dead! She should never see her more!
So there was no longer a Germinie on earth! Dead! She was dead! And the
person she should hear henceforth moving about in the kitchen would not
be she; somebody else would open the door for her, somebody else would
potter about her room in the morning! "Germinie!" she cried at last, in
the tone with which she was accustomed to call her; then, collecting her
thoughts: "Machine! creature! What's your name?" she cried, savagely, to
the bewildered housekeeper. "My dress--I must go there."

She was so taken by surprise by this sudden fatal termination of the
disease, that she could not accustom her mind to the thought. She could
hardly realize that sudden, secret, vague death, of which her only
knowledge was derived from a scrap of paper. Was Germinie really dead?
Mademoiselle asked herself the question with the doubt of persons who
have lost a dear one far away, and, not having seen her die, do not
admit that she is dead. Was she not still alive the last time she saw
her? How could it have happened? How could she so suddenly have become a
thing good for nothing except to be put under ground? Mademoiselle dared
not think about it, and yet she kept on thinking. The mystery of the
death-agony, of which she knew nothing, attracted and terrified her. The
anxious interest of her affection turned to her maid's last hours, and
she tried gropingly to take away the veil and repel the feeling of
horror. Then she was seized with an irresistible longing to know
everything, to witness, with the help of what might be told her, what
she had not seen. She felt that she must know if Germinie had spoken
before she died,--if she had expressed any desire, spoken of any last
wishes, uttered one of those sentences which are the final outcry of
life.

When she reached Lariboisière, she passed the concierge,--a stout man
reeking with life as one reeks with wine,--passed through the corridors
where pallid convalescents were gliding hither and thither, and rang at
a door, veiled with white curtains, at the extreme end of the hospital.
The door was opened: she found herself in a parlor, lighted by two
windows, where a plaster cast of the Virgin stood upon an altar, between
two views of Vesuvius, which seemed to shiver against the bare wall.
Behind her, through an open door, came the voices of Sisters and little
girls chattering together, a clamor of youthful voices and fresh
laughter, the natural gayety of a cheery room where the sun frolics with
children at play.

Mademoiselle asked to speak with the _mother_ of Salle Sainte-Joséphine.
A short, half-deformed Sister, with a kind, homely face, a face alight
with the grace of God, came in answer to her request. Germinie had died
in her arms. "She hardly suffered at all," the Sister told mademoiselle;
"she was sure that she was better; she felt relieved; she was full of
hope. About seven this morning, just as her bed was being made, she
suddenly began vomiting blood, and passed away without knowing that she
was dying." The Sister added that she had said nothing, asked for
nothing, expressed no wish.

Mademoiselle rose, delivered from the horrible thoughts she had had.
Germinie had been spared all the tortures of the death-agony that she
had dreamed of. Mademoiselle was grateful for that death by the hand of
God which gathers in the soul at a single stroke.

As she was going away an attendant came to her and said: "Will you be
kind enough to identify the body?"

_The body!_ The words gave mademoiselle a terrible shock. Without
awaiting her reply, the attendant led the way to a high yellow door,
over which was written: _Amphitheatre_. He knocked; a man in shirt
sleeves, with a pipe in his mouth, opened the door and bade them wait a
moment.

Mademoiselle waited. Her thoughts terrified her. Her imagination was on
the other side of that awful door. She tried to anticipate what she was
about to see. And her mind was so filled with confused images, with
fanciful alarms, that she shuddered at the thought of entering the room,
of recognizing that disfigured face among a number of others, if,
indeed, she could recognize it! And yet she could not tear herself away;
she said to herself that she should never see her again!

The man with the pipe opened the door: mademoiselle saw nothing but a
coffin, the lid of which extended only to the neck, leaving Germinie's
face uncovered, with the eyes open, and the hair erect upon her head.



LXVII


Prostrated by the excitement and by this last spectacle, Mademoiselle de
Varandeuil took to her bed on returning home, after she had given the
concierge the money for the purchase of a burial lot, and for the
burial. And when she was in bed the things she had seen arose before
her. The horrible dead body was still beside her, the ghastly face
framed by the coffin. That never-to-be-forgotten face was engraved upon
her mind; beneath her closed eyelids she saw it and was afraid of it.
Germinie was there, with the distorted features of one who has been
murdered, with sunken orbits and eyes that seemed to have withdrawn into
their holes! She was there with her mouth still distorted by the
vomiting that accompanied her last breath! She was there with her hair,
her terrible hair, brushed back and standing erect upon her head!

Her hair!--that haunted mademoiselle more persistently than all the
rest. The old maid thought, involuntarily, of things that had come to
her ears when she was a child, of superstitions of the common people
stored away in the background of her memory; she asked herself if she
had not been told that dead people whose hair is like that carry a crime
with them to the grave. And at times it was such hair as that that she
saw upon that head, the hair of crime, standing on end with terror and
stiffened with horror before the justice of Heaven, like the hair of the
condemned man before the scaffold in La Grève!

On Sunday mademoiselle was too ill to leave her bed. On Monday she tried
to rise and dress, in order to attend the funeral; but she was attacked
with faintness, and was obliged to return to her bed.



LXVIII


"Well! is it all over?" said mademoiselle from her bed, as the concierge
entered her room about eleven o'clock, on his return from the cemetery,
with the black coat and the sanctimonious manner suited to the occasion.

"_Mon Dieu_, yes, mademoiselle. Thank God! the poor girl is out of
pain."

"Stay! I have no head to-day. Put the receipts and the rest of the money
on my table. We will settle our accounts some other day."

The concierge stood before her without moving or evincing any purpose to
go, shifting from one hand to the other a blue velvet cap made from the
dress of one of his daughters. After a moment's reflection, he decided
to speak.

"This burying is an expensive business, mademoiselle. In the first
place, there's----"

"Who asked you to give the figures?" Mademoiselle de Varandeuil
interrupted, with the haughty air of superb charity.

The concierge continued: "And as I was saying, a lot in the cemetery,
which you told me to get, ain't given away. It's no use for you to have
a kind heart, mademoiselle, you ain't any too rich,--everyone knows
that,--and I says to myself: 'Mademoiselle's going to have no small
amount to pay out, and I know mademoiselle, she'll pay.' So it'll do no
harm to economize on that, eh? It'll be just so much saved. The other'll
be just as safe under ground. And then, what will give her the most
pleasure up yonder? Why, to know that she isn't making things hard for
anybody, the excellent girl."

"Pay? What?" said mademoiselle, out of patience with the concierge's
circumlocution.

"Oh! that's of no account," he replied; "she was very fond of you, all
the same. And then, when she was very sick, it wasn't the time. Oh! _Mon
Dieu_, you needn't put yourself out--there's no hurry about it--it's
money she owed a long while. See, this is it."

He took a stamped paper from the inside pocket of his coat.

"I didn't want her to make a note,--she insisted."

Mademoiselle de Varandeuil seized the stamped paper and saw at the foot:


     _"I acknowledge the receipt of the above amount._

                                 "GERMINIE LACERTEUX."


It was a promise to pay three hundred francs in monthly installments,
which were to be endorsed on the back.

"There's nothing there, you see," said the concierge, turning the paper
over.

Mademoiselle de Varandeuil took off her spectacles. "I will pay," she
said.

The concierge bowed. She glanced at him; he did not move.

"That is all, I hope?" she said, sharply.

The concierge had his eyes fixed on a leaf in the carpet. "That's
all--unless----"

Mademoiselle de Varandeuil had the same feeling of terror as at the
moment she passed through the door on whose other side she was to see
her maid's dead body.

"But how does she owe all this?" she cried. "I paid her good wages, I
almost clothed her. Where did her money go, eh?"

"Ah! there you are, mademoiselle. I should rather not have told
you,--but as well to-day as to-morrow. And then, too, it's better that
you should be warned; when you know beforehand you can arrange matters.
There's an account with the poultry woman. The poor girl owed a little
everywhere; she didn't keep things in very good shape these last few
years. The laundress left her book the last time she came. It amounts to
quite a little,--I don't know just how much. It seems there's a note at
the grocer's--an old note--it goes back years. He'll bring you his
book."

"How much at the grocer's?"

"Something like two hundred and fifty."

All these disclosures, falling upon Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, one
after another, extorted exclamations of stupefied surprise from her.
Resting her elbow on her pillow, she said nothing as the veil was torn
away, bit by bit, from this life, as its shameful features were brought
to light one by one.

"Yes, about two hundred and fifty. There's a good deal of wine, he tells
me."

"I have always had wine in the cellar."

"The _crémière_," continued the concierge, without heeding her remark,
"that's no great matter,--some seventy-five francs. It's for absinthe
and brandy."

"She drank!" cried Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, everything made clear to
her by those words.

The concierge did not seem to hear.

"You see, mademoiselle, knowing the Jupillons was the death of her,--the
young man especially. It wasn't for herself that she did what she did.
And the disappointment, you see. She took to drink. She hoped to marry
him, I ought to say. She fitted up a room for him. When they get to
buying furniture the money goes fast. She ruined herself,--think of it!
It was no use for me to tell her not to throw herself away by drinking
as she did. You don't suppose I was going to tell you, when she came in
at six o'clock in the morning! It was the same with her child. Oh!" the
concierge added, in reply to mademoiselle's gesture, "it was a lucky
thing the little one died. Never mind, you can say she led a gay
life--and a hard one. That's why I say the common ditch. If I was
you--she's cost you enough, mademoiselle, all the time she's been living
on you. And you can leave her where she is--with everybody else."

"Ah! that's how it is! that's what she was! She stole for men! she ran
in debt! Ah! she did well to die, the hussy! And I must pay! A
child!--think of that: the slut! Yes, indeed, she can rot where she
will! You have done well, Monsieur Henri. Steal! She stole from me! In
the ditch, parbleu! that's quite good enough for her! To think that I
let her keep all my keys--I never kept any account. My God! That's what
comes of confidence. Well! here we are--I'll pay--not on her account,
but on my own. And I gave her my best pair of sheets to be buried in!
Ah! if I'd known I'd have given you the kitchen dish-clout,
_mademoiselle how I am duped_!"

And mademoiselle continued in this strain for some moments until the
words choked one another in her throat and strangled her.



LXIX


As a result of this scene, Mademoiselle de Varandeuil kept her bed a
week, ill and raging, filled with indignation that shook her whole body,
overflowed through her mouth, and tore from her now and again some
coarse insult which she would hurl with a shriek of rage at her maid's
vile memory. Night and day she was possessed by the same fever of
malediction, and even in her dreams her attenuated limbs were convulsed
with wrath.

Was it possible! Germinie! her Germinie! She could think of nothing
else. Debts!--a child!--all sorts of shame! The degraded creature! She
abhorred her, she detested her. If she had lived she would have
denounced her to the police. She would have liked to believe in hell so
that she might be consigned to the torments that await the dead. Her
maid was such a creature as that! A girl who had been in her service
twenty years! whom she had loaded down with benefits! Drunkenness! she
had sunk so low as that! The horror that succeeds a bad dream came to
mademoiselle, and all the waves of loathing that flowed from her heart
said: "Out upon the dead woman whose life the grave vomited forth and
whose filth it cast out!"

How she had deceived her! How the wretch had pretended to love her! And
to make her appear more ungrateful and more despicable Mademoiselle de
Varandeuil recalled her manifestations of affection, her attentions, her
jealousies, which seemed a part of her adoration. She saw her bending
over her when she was ill. She thought of her caresses. It was all a
lie! Her devotion was a lie! The delight with which she kissed her, the
love upon her lips, were lies! Mademoiselle told herself over and over
again, she persuaded herself that it was so; and yet, little by little,
from these reminiscences, from these evocations of the past whose
bitterness she sought to make more bitter, from the far-off sweetness of
days gone by, there arose within her a first sensation of pity.

She drove away the thoughts that tended to allay her wrath; but
reflection brought them back. Thereupon there came to her mind some
things to which she had paid no heed during Germinie's lifetime, trifles
of which the grave makes us take thought and upon which death sheds
light. She had a vague remembrance of certain strange performances on
the part of her maid, of feverish effusions and frantic embraces, of her
throwing herself on her knees as if she were about to make a confession,
of movements of the lips as if a secret were trembling on their verge.
She saw, with the eyes we have for those who are no more, Germinie's
wistful glances, her gestures and attitudes, the despairing expression
of her face. And now she realized that there were deep wounds beneath,
heart-rending pain, the torment of her anguish and her repentance, the
tears of blood of her remorse, all sorts of suffering forced out of
sight throughout her life, and in her whole being a Passion of shame
that dared not ask forgiveness except with silence!

Then she would scold herself for the thought and call herself an old
fool. Her instinct of rigid uprightness, the stern conscience and harsh
judgment of a stainless life, the things which cause a virtuous woman to
condemn a harlot and should have caused a saint like Mademoiselle de
Varandeuil to be without pity for her servant--everything within her
rebelled against a pardon. The voice of justice, stifling her kindness
of heart, cried: "Never! never!" And she would expel Germinie's infamous
phantom with a pitiless gesture.

There were times, indeed, when, in order to make her condemnation and
execration of her memory more irrevocable, she would heap charges upon
her and slander her. She would add to the dead woman's horrible list of
sins. She would reproach Germinie for more than was justly chargeable to
her. She would attribute crimes to her dark thoughts, murderous desires
to her impatient dreams. She would strive to think, she would force
herself to think, that she had desired her mistress's death and had been
awaiting it.

But at that very moment, amid the blackest of her thoughts and
suppositions, a vision arose and stood in a bright light before her. A
figure approached, that seemed to come to meet her glance, a figure
against which she could not defend herself, and which passed through the
hands with which she sought to force it back. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil
saw her dead maid once more. She saw once more the face of which she had
caught a glimpse in the amphitheatre, the crucified face, the tortured
face to which the blood and agony of a heart had mounted together. She
saw it once more with the faculty which the second sight of memory
separates from its surroundings. And that face, as it became clearer to
her, caused her less terror. It appeared to her, divesting itself, as it
were, of its fear-inspiring, horrifying qualities. Suffering alone
remained, but it was the suffering of expiation, almost of prayer, the
suffering of a dead face that would like to weep. And as its expression
grew ever milder, mademoiselle came at last to see in it a glance of
supplication, of supplication that, at last, compelled her pity.
Insensibly there glided into her reflections indulgent thoughts,
suggestions of apology that surprised herself. She asked herself if the
poor girl was as guilty as others, if she had deliberately chosen the
path of evil, if life, circumstances, the misfortune of her body and her
destiny, had not made her the creature she had been, a creature of love
and sorrow. Suddenly she stopped: she was on the point of forgiving her!

One morning she leaped out of bed.

"Here! you--you other!" she cried to her housekeeper, "the devil take
your name! I can't remember it. Give me my clothes, quick! I have to go
out."

"The idea, mademoiselle--just look at the roofs, they're all white."

"Well, it snows, that's all."

Ten minutes later, Mademoiselle de Varandeuil said to the driver of the
cab she had sent for:

"Montmartre Cemetery!"



LXX


In the distance an enclosure wall extended, perfectly straight, as far
as the eye could see. The thread of snow that marked the outline of its
coping gave it a dirty, rusty color. In a corner at the left three
leafless trees reared their bare black branches against the sky. They
rustled sadly, with the sound of pieces of dead wood stirred by the
south wind. Above these trees, behind the wall and close against it,
arose the two arms from which hung one of the last oil-lamps in Paris. A
few snow-covered roofs were scattered here and there; beyond, the hill
of Montmartre rose sharply, its white shroud broken by oases of brown
earth and sandy patches. Low gray walls followed the slope, surmounted
by gaunt, stunted trees whose branches had a bluish tint in the mist, as
far as two black windmills. The sky was of a leaden hue, with occasional
cold, bluish streaks as if ink had been applied with a brush! over
Montmartre there was a light streak, of a yellow color, like the Seine
water after heavy rains. Above that wintry beam the wings of an
invisible windmill turned and turned,--slow-moving wings, unvarying in
their movement, which seemed to be turning for eternity.

In front of the wall, against which was planted a thicket of dead
cypresses, turned red by the frost, was a vast tract of land upon which
were two rows of crowded, jostling overturned crosses, like two great
funeral processions. The crosses touched and pushed one another and trod
on one another's heels. They bent and fell and collapsed in the ranks.
In the middle there was a sort of congestion which had caused them to
bulge out on both sides; you could see them lying--covered by the snow
and raising it into mounds with the thick wood of which they were
made--upon the paths, somewhat trampled in the centre, that skirted the
two long files. The broken ranks undulated with the fluctuation of a
multitude, the disorder and wavering course of a long march. The black
crosses with their arms outstretched assumed the appearance of ghosts
and persons in distress. The two disorderly columns made one think of a
human panic, a desperate, frightened army. It was as if one were looking
on at a terrible rout.

All the crosses were laden with wreaths, wreaths of immortelles, wreaths
of white paper with silver thread, black wreaths with gold thread; but
you could see them beneath the snow, worn out, withered, ghastly things,
souvenirs, as it were, which the other dead would not accept and which
had been picked up in order to make a little toilet for the crosses with
gleanings from the graves.

All the crosses had a name written in white; but there were other names
that were not even written on a piece of wood,--a broken branch of a
tree, stuck in the ground, with an envelope tied around it--such
tombstones as that were to be seen there!

On the left, where they were digging a trench for a third row of
crosses, the workman's shovel threw black dirt into the air, which fell
upon the white earth around. Profound silence, the deaf silence of the
snow, enveloped everything, and but two sounds could be heard; the dull
sound made by the clods of earth and the heavy sound of regular
footsteps; an old priest who was waiting there, his head enveloped in a
black cowl, dressed in a black gown and stole, and with a dirty, yellow
surplice, was trying to keep himself warm by stamping his great galoches
on the pavement of the high road, in front of the crosses.

Such was the common ditch in those days. That tract of land, those
crosses and that priest said this: "Here sleeps the Death of the common
people; this is the poor man's end!"

                 *       *       *       *       *

O Paris! thou art the heart of the world, thou art the great city of
humanity, the great city of charity and brotherly love! Thou hast kindly
intentions, old-fashioned habits of compassion, theatres that give alms.
The poor man is thy citizen as well as the rich man. Thy churches speak
of Jesus Christ; thy laws speak of equality; thy newspapers speak of
progress; all thy governments speak of the common people; and this is
where thou castest those who die in thy service, those who kill
themselves ministering to thy luxury, those who perish in the noisome
odors of thy factories, those who have sweated their lives away working
for thee, giving thee thy prosperity, thy pleasures, thy splendors,
those who have furnished thy animation and thy noise, those who have
lengthened with the links of their lives the chain of thy duration as a
capital, those who have been the crowd in thy streets and the common
people of thy grandeur. Each of thy cemeteries has a like shameful
corner, hidden in the angle of a wall, where thou makest haste to bury
them, and where thou castest dirt upon them in such stingy clods, that
one can see the ends of their coffins protruding! One would say that thy
charity stops with their last breath, that thy only free gift is the bed
whereon they suffer, and that, when the hospital can do no more for
them, thou, who art so vast and so superb, hast no place for them! Thou
dost heap them up, crowd them together and mingle them in death, as thou
didst mingle them in the death-agony beneath the sheets of thy hospitals
a hundred years since! As late as yesterday thou hadst only that priest
on sentry duty, to throw a drop of paltry holy water on every comer: not
the briefest prayer! Even that symbol of decency was lacking: God could
not be disturbed for so small a matter! And what the priest blesses is
always the same thing: a trench in which the pine boxes strike against
one another, where the dead enjoy no privacy! Corruption there is common
to all; no one has his own, but each one has that of all the rest: the
worms are owned promiscuously! In the devouring soil a Montfaucon
hastens to make way for the Catacombs. For the dead here have no more
time than room to rot in: the earth is taken from them before it has
finished with them! before their bones have assumed the color and the
ancient appearance, so to speak, of stone, before the passing years have
effaced the last trace of humanity and the memory of a body! The
excavation is renewed when the earth is still themselves, when they are
the damp soil in which the mattock is buried. The earth is loaned to
them, you say? But it does not even confine the odor of death! In
summer, the wind that passes over this scarcely-covered human
charnel-house wafts the unholy miasma to the city of the living. In the
scorching days of August the keepers deny admission to the place: there
are flies that bear upon them the poison of the carrion, pestilential
flies whose sting is deadly!

                  *       *       *       *       *

Mademoiselle arrived at this spot after passing the wall that separates
the lots sold in perpetuity from those sold temporarily only. Following
the directions given her by a keeper, she walked along between the
further line of crosses and the newly-opened trench. And there she made
her way over buried wreaths, over the snowy pall, to a hole where the
trench began. It was covered over with old rotten planks and a sheet of
oxidized zinc on which a workman had thrown his blue blouse. The earth
sloped away behind them to the bottom of the trench, where could be seen
the sinister outlines of three wooden coffins: there were one large one
and two smaller ones just behind. The crosses of the past week, of the
day before, of two days before, extended in a line down the slope; they
glided along, plunged suddenly downward, and seemed to be taking long
strides as if they were in danger of being carried over a precipice.

Mademoiselle began to ascend the path by these crosses, spelling out the
dates and searching for the names with her wretched eyes. She reached
the crosses of the 8th of November: that was the day before her maid's
death, and Germinie should be close by. There were five crosses of the
9th of November, five crosses huddled close together: Germinie was not
in the crush. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil went a little farther on, to
the crosses of the 10th, then to those of the 11th, then to those of the
12th. She returned to the 8th, and looked carefully around in all
directions: there was nothing, absolutely nothing,--Germinie had been
buried without a cross! Not even a bit of wood had been placed in the
ground by which to identify her grave!

At last the old lady dropped on her knees in the snow, between two
crosses, one of which bore the date of the 9th and the other of the 10th
of November. All that remained of Germinie should be almost in that
spot. That ill-defined space was her ill-defined grave. To pray over her
body it was necessary to pray at random between two dates,--as if the
poor girl's destiny had decreed that there should be no more room on
earth for her body than for her heart!



NOTES


[1] _Canon_ is the French word for cannon; it is also used in
vulgar parlance to mean a glass of wine drunk at the bar.

[2] _Battre les murailles_--to beat the walls--has a slang
meaning: to be so drunk that you can't see, or can't lie down without
holding on.

[3] Literally, _red bowels_--common slang for hard drinkers.

[4] _Cuir_ is an expression used to denote the error in
speaking, which consists--in French--in pronouncing a _t_ for an _s_,
and vice versa at the end of words which are joined in pronunciation to
the next word: _e.g., il étai-z-à la campagne_ for _il était à la
campagne_.

[5] In the slang vocabulary, to _console_ one's coffee means to
add brandy to it.

[6] A _négresse_ is a bottle of red wine, and, as applied to
that article, _morte_ (dead) means empty.



List of Illustrations

GERMINIE LACERTEUX

                                                          PAGE

GERMINIE AND JUPILLON VISIT THEIR CHILD              _Fronts._

JUPILLON AND GERMINIE AT THE FORTIFICATIONS                116

GERMINIE BRINGS MONEY FOR A SUBSTITUTE                     204

GERMINIE TEMPTED TO MURDER                                 308

GERMINIE AT LARIBOISIÈRE                                   356





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