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Title: Frédérique; vol. 1
Author: Kock, Charles Paul de, 1794-1871
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Frédérique; vol. 1" ***

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[Illustration: frontispiece (Copyright 1905 by G. Barrie & Sons)]


A GENTLEMEN'S DINNER AT DEFFIEUX'S


"Now, then, messieurs, as one should never be ungrateful, as one should
bestow at least a single thought on those who have made one happy, I
drink to my mistresses, messieurs, to whom I bid a last farewell
to-day!"



NOVELS

BY

Paul de Kock

VOLUME V

FRÉDÉRIQUE

VOL. I

PRINTED BY ARRANGEMENT WITH

[Illustration: colophon]

GEORGE BARRIE'S SONS

THE JEFFERSON PRESS

BOSTON NEW YORK

_Copyrighted, 1903-1904, by G. B. & Sons._



FRÉDÉRIQUE

I--A GENTLEMEN'S DINNER AT DEFFIEUX'S

II--THE CHAPTER OF CONFIDENCES.--THREE SOUS

III--BLIND-MAN'S-BUFF.--AT THE WINDOWS.--IN A BALLOON

IV--THE LOST KEY

V--FILLETTES, GRISETTES, AND LORETTES

VI--MONSIEUR FOUVENARD'S BONNE FORTUNE.--THE GINGERBREAD WOMAN

VII--MADEMOISELLE MIGNONNE

VIII--AN EXPEDIENT

IX--THE WEDDING PARTY IN THE FRONT ROOMS

X--A PINCH OF SNUFF.--A FAMILY TABLEAU

XI--MADAME FRÉDÉRIQUE

XII--THE WEDDING PARTY IN THE REAR ROOM

XIII--THE BRIDE AND GROOM AND THEIR KINSFOLK

XIV--A YOUNG DANDY.--A DELIGHTFUL HUSBAND

XV--A VAGABOND

XVI--MADAME LANDERNOY

XVII--MADAME SORDEVILLE AND HER RECEPTION

XVIII--BARON VON BRUNZBRACK

XIX--THE LITTLE SUPPER PARTY

XX--BETWEEN THE PIPE AND THE CHAMPAGNE

XXI--CONFIDENCES

XXII--MONSIEUR DAUBERNY

XXIII--A MOMENT OF FORGETFULNESS

XXIV--COQUETRY AND BACCARAT.--A FIASCO

XXV--A YOUNG MOTHER

XXVI--THE SQUIRREL

XXVII--A CONSULTATION

XXVIII--A WORD OF ADVICE.--AN ASSIGNATION

XXIX--AN ENCOUNTER ON THE CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES

XXX--CONFIDENCE IS OF SLOW GROWTH

XXXI--DISAPPOINTED HOPES

XXXII--A REVELATION



I

A GENTLEMEN'S DINNER AT DEFFIEUX'S


"A lady said to me one day:

"'Monsieur Rochebrune, would it be possible for you to love two women at
once?'

"'I give you my word, madame,' I answered, frankly, 'that I could love
half a dozen, and perhaps more; for it has often happened that I have
loved more than two at the same time.'

"My reply called forth, on the part of the lady in question, a gesture
in which there was something very like indignation, and she said, in a
decidedly sarcastic tone:

"'For my part, monsieur, I assure you that I would not be content with a
sixth of the heart of a man whom I had distinguished by my favor; and if
I were foolish enough to feel the slightest inclination for him, I
should very soon be cured of it when I saw that his love was such a
commonplace sentiment.'

"Well, messieurs, you would never believe how much injury my frankness
did me, not only with that lady--I had no designs upon her, although she
was young and pretty; but in society, in the houses which she frequents,
and at which I myself visit, she repeated what I had said to her; and
many ladies, to whom I would gladly have paid court, received me so
coldly at the first compliment that I saw very plainly that they had an
unfavorable opinion of me--all because, instead of being a hypocrite and
dissembler, I said plainly what I thought. I tell you, messieurs, it's a
great mistake to say what you think, in society. I have repented more
than once of having given vent to those outpourings of the heart which
we should confide only to those who know us well enough to judge us
fairly; but, as society is always disposed to believe in evil rather
than in good, if we have a failing, it is magnified into a vice; if we
confess to a foible, we are supposed to have dangerous passions.
Therefore, it is much better to lie; and yet, it seems to me, that, if I
were a woman, I should prefer a lover who frankly confessed his
infidelities, to one who tried to deceive me."

"If I were a woman, I should prefer a man who loved nobody but me, and
would be faithful to me."

"Oh! parbleu! what an idea! It isn't certain, by any means, that all
women would prefer such a man. There are faithful lovers who are so
tiresome!"

"And inconstant ones who are so attractive!"

"I go even further, myself, and maintain that the very fact that a man
is faithful more than a little while makes him a terrible bore. He
drives his mistress mad with his sighs, his protestations of love; he
caresses her too much; he thinks of nothing but kissing her. There's
nothing that women get so tired of as of being kissed."

"Oho! do you think so, my little Balloquet? That simply proves that
you're a bad kisser, or that you're not popular. On the contrary, women
adore caressing men; I know what I'm talking about."

"Oh! what a conceited creature this Fouvenard is! Think of it,
messieurs! he would make us believe that the women adore him!"

"Well! why not?"

"Your nose is too much turned up; women like Roman noses. You can never
look sentimental with a nose like a trumpet."

"So you think that a man must have a languorous, melancholy air, in
order to make conquests, do you? Balloquet, you make me tired!"

"I'll give you points at that game whenever you choose, Fouvenard. We
will take these gentlemen for judges. Tell the waiter to bring up six
women,--of any condition and from any quarter, I don't care what
one,--and we'll see which of us two they will prefer. What do you say?"

Young Balloquet's proposal aroused general laughter, and a gentleman who
sat beside me observed to me:

"It might well be that the ladies wouldn't have anything to say to
either of them. What do you think?"

"I think that any ladies who would consent to grace our dessert, at the
behest of a waiter, would do it only on one condition; and men don't
make a conquest of such women, as they give themselves to everybody."

"Parbleu! messieurs, it is very amiable of us to listen to this
discussion between Fouvenard and Balloquet as to which of them a woman
would think the uglier; for my part, I prefer to demand an explanation
of what Rochebrune said just now. He talked a long while, and I've no
doubt he said some very nice things; but as I didn't quite understand
him, I request an explanation of the picture, or the key to the riddle,
if there is one."

"Yes, yes, the key; for I didn't understand him, either."

"Well, I did; I followed his reasoning: he says that a man can love a
dozen women at once."

"A dozen! why not thirty-six? What Turks you are, messieurs! Rochebrune
didn't say that."

"Yes, I did. Isn't it true?"

"Messieurs, I desire the floor."

"You may talk in a minute, Montricourt--after Rochebrune."

"A toast first of all, messieurs!"

"Oh! of course! When the host proposes a toast, we should be boors if we
refused to honor it.--Fill the cups, waiter!"

"This is very pretty, drinking champagne from cups; it recalls the
banquets of antiquity--those famous feasts that Lucullus gave in the
hall of Apollo, or of Mars."

"Yes! those old bucks knew how to dine; every one of his suppers cost
Lucullus about thirty-nine thousand francs in our money."

"Bah! don't talk to me about your Romans, my dear fellow; I shall never
take those people for models. They spent a lot of money for one repast,
but that doesn't prove that they knew how to eat. In the first place,
they lay on beds at the table! As if one could eat comfortably lying
down! It's like eating on the grass, which is as unpleasant as can be;
nobody likes eating on the grass but lovers, and they are thinking of
something besides eating. As for your cups, they're pretty to look at, I
agree, but they're less convenient for drinking than glasses, and the
champagne doesn't foam so much in a cup; and then, you don't have the
pleasure of making it foam all over again by striking your glass."

"Say what you will, Monsieur Rouffignard, the Romans knew how to live."

"Because they wore wreaths of roses at their meals, perhaps?"

"Well, it isn't so very unpleasant to have flowers on your head."

"Oh! don't talk to me, Monsieur Dumouton; let's all try wearing a wreath
of roses, and you'll see what we look like--genuine buffoons, paraders,
and nothing else!"

"Simply because our dress isn't suited to it, monsieur; our style of
dress is very disobliging, it isn't suited to anything; with the tunic
and cloak falling in graceful folds, the wreath on the head was not
absurd. And the slaves who served the ambrosia--in _tableau vivant_
costumes--weren't they attractive to the eye?"

"Oh, yes! slaves of both sexes! That was refined, and no mistake. I tell
you that your Romans were infernal debauchees; they put up with--aye,
cultivated all the vices! Why, monsieur, what do you say to the Senators
who had the effrontery to propose a decree that Cæsar, then fifty-seven
years of age, should possess all the women he desired?"

    "'Ah! le joli droit! ah! le joli droit du seigneur!'"

"I would like right well to know if he made use of that right."

"_Fichtre!_ he must have been a very great man!"

"Don't you know what used to be said of him: that he was the husband of
all the women?"

"Yes, and we know the rest."

"I say, you, over there! Haven't you nearly finished talking about your
Romans?"

"What about our host's toast?--Come, Dupréval, we're waiting; the guns
are loaded, the matches lighted."

"Silence at the end of the table! Dupréval is going to speak! Great God!
what chatterers those fellows are!"

"It's not we, messieurs, that you hear; it's the music. Hark, listen!
they're dancing; there are wedding parties all about us--two or three at
least."

"What is there surprising in that? Aren't there always wedding feasts
going on at Deffieux's?"

"For my part, if I kept a restaurant, and had such a class of patrons, I
would take for my sign: the _Maid of Orléans_."

"Oh! that would be very injudicious: many brides would refuse to have
their wedding feasts at your place."

"Hush! Dupréval is getting up; he's going to speak."

"As you know, messieurs, this is my last dinner party as a bachelor, for
I am to be married in a fortnight. Before settling down, before becoming
transformed into a sedate and virtuous mortal, I determined to get you
all together; I wanted to enjoy once more with you a few of those
moments of freedom and folly which have--a little too often,
perhaps--marked my bachelor days with a white stone. Now, then,
messieurs, as one should never be ungrateful, as one should bestow at
least a single thought on those who have made one happy, I drink to my
mistresses, messieurs, to whom I bid a last farewell to-day!"

"Here's to Dupréval's mistresses!"

"And to our own, messieurs!"

"To the ladies in general, and to the one I love in particular!"

"To their shapely legs and little feet!"

"To their blue eyes and fair hair!"

"I prefer brunettes!"

"To their graceful figures!"

"To the Hottentot Venus!"

"To the destruction of corns on the feet!"

"Oh! of course, Balloquet has to make one of his foolish remarks!"

"Messieurs, pardon me for interrupting you, but, in proposing a toast
to my mistresses, pray don't think that I mean to imply that I have
several. I am no such rake as Rochebrune is, in that respect; one at a
time is enough for me. I intended simply to address a parting thought to
those I have had during the whole of my bachelor life. That point being
settled, I now yield the floor to our friend, who, I believe, was about
to reply to the questions that had been put to him, when I proposed my
toast."

Thereupon the whole company turned their eyes toward me, for, I fancy,
you understand that I am Rochebrune. Perhaps it would not be a bad idea
for me to tell you at once what I was doing and in whose company I was
at that moment, at Deffieux's. Indeed, there are people who would have
begun with that, before introducing you to a dinner party at which the
guests are still unknown to you; but I like to turn aside from the
travelled roads--not from a desire to be original, but from taste.

What am I? Oh! not much of anything! For, after all, what does a man
amount to who has not great renown, great talent, an illustrious
reputation, or an immense fortune? A clown, a Liliputian, an atom lost
in the crowd. But you will tell me that the world is made up in larger
part of atoms than of giants, and that the main thing is not so much to
fill a large space as to fill worthily such space as one does fill.

Unluckily, I was not wise enough for that. Having come into possession
of a neat little fortune rather early in life,--about fifteen thousand
francs a year,--but having neither father nor mother to guide and advise
me, I was left my own master rather too soon, I fancy; for while the
reason matures quickly in adversity, the contrary is ordinarily true in
the bosom of opulence.

You see some mere boys, who are compelled to work in order to support
their families, exhibit the intelligence and courage of a full-grown
man. But place those same youths in the lap of Fortune, and they will do
all the foolish things that come into their heads. Why? Because, no
doubt, it is natural to love pleasure; and when we are prudent and
virtuous, it is very rarely due to our own volition, but rather to
circumstances, and, above all, to adversity. Which proves that adversity
has its good side. But, with your permission, we will return to myself.

My name is Charles Rochebrune. I am no longer young, having passed my
thirtieth birthday. How time flies! it is shocking! to be thirty years
old and no further advanced than I am! Indeed, instead of advancing, I
believe that I have fallen back. At twenty I had fifteen thousand francs
a year, and now I have but eight. If I go on like this, in a few years
more I shall have nothing at all. But have I not acquired some
experience, some talent, in return for my money? No experience, I fancy,
as I constantly fall into the same errors I used to be guilty of years
ago. And talent?--very little, I assure you! because I attempted to
acquire all the talents, and could never make up my mind to rely on a
single one. I had a vocation for the arts; the result was that I tried
them all, and know a little something of each one; which means that I
know nothing at all of any value. Painter, sculptor, musician, poet, in
turn, I have grazed the surface of them all, but gone to the root of
none. Ah! lamentable fickleness of taste, of character! No sooner had I
studied a certain thing a little while, than the fatal tendency to
change, which is my second nature, caused me to turn my ambition toward
some other object. I would say to myself: "I have made a mistake; it is
not painting that electrifies me, that sets my soul on fire, but
music."--And I would lay aside my brushes, to bang on a piano; and when
I had made it shriek for an hour, I would imagine that I was a composer
and could safely be employed to write an opera.

There is but one sentiment which has never varied, in my case, and that
is my love for the ladies; and yet they say that in my relations with
them I have retained my fondness for changing. But if one loves flowers,
must one pluck only a single one? I love bouquets _à la jardinière_.

And, after all, who can say that I would not have been constant if I had
found a woman who loved me dearly, and who continued to love me, no
matter what happened? This last phrase means many things, which the
ladies will readily understand. But I have one very great failing as to
them. I will not confide it to you yet; you will discover it soon
enough, as you become better acquainted with me.

I said a moment ago that my parents--that is to say, my father--left me
some property. My mother had had two husbands, and I was the son of her
second marriage. As she had nothing when she married my father, it is to
him that I am indebted for the fortune which I have employed so ill
hitherto.

But, after all, have I employed it so ill, if I have been happy? Ah! the
fact is that I am not at all certain that I have been really happy in
this life of dissipation, folly, incessant change, regrets, and hopes so
often disappointed. I determined to settle down, to do what is called
making an end of things, which means marrying; albeit marriage is not
always the end of our follies, and is often the beginning of our
troubles. I loved my fiancée; I was not madly in love with her, but I
liked her, and I thought that she was fond of me. An unforeseen
occurrence broke off my projected marriage, and since then I have
entirely renounced all such ideas, because a similar occurrence might
have a similar result. What was it? Ah! that is my secret; I am not as
yet intimate enough with you to tell you everything.

I seem to have been talking a long while about myself; you must be sadly
bored. I propose now to make you acquainted with most of the gentlemen
who were my table companions at Deffieux's; I say "most of them," for
there were fifteen of us, and I did not know them all.

Let us begin with the host, Dupréval, who was giving the dinner, as he
told us, to commemorate his final adieu to his bachelorhood.

Dupréval is a solicitor; an excellent fellow, neither handsome nor ugly,
but a financier, a man of figures and calculations; he is entering into
marriage as one enters into any large commercial speculation. He will
certainly keep his word and abandon the follies of a bachelor, or I
shall be very much astonished; he is a man who will make his way in the
world; he has a goal--wealth; and he marches constantly toward it, never
turning aside from the path.

I admire such men, unbending in their determination, and incapable of
being turned aside from the line of conduct they have marked out for
themselves; I admire them, but I shall never imitate them. Chance is
such a fascinating thing, and it is such good fun to trust to it!

Next to Dupréval sat a stout young man, of medium height, but heavily
built, high-colored, with the bloom and brilliancy of the peach ever on
his cheeks. Unluckily, that never-failing freshness of complexion was
his only beauty, if, indeed, such pronounced coloring is a beauty. His
face beamed with good humor and denoted a leader in merrymaking; his
mouth was a considerable gulf, and his eyes were infinitesimal; but, by
way of compensation for occupying so little space, they were constantly
in motion and very bright, their expression being decidedly bold when
they rested upon the fair sex. His head was covered with a forest of
flaxen hair. Such was Monsieur Balloquet, medical student; indeed, I
believe he was a full-fledged doctor; but he had little practice, or,
rather, none at all; he thought only of enjoying himself, like many
doctors of his age. However, I do not mean to speak ill of Balloquet;
for he was a very good fellow, and we were good friends.

Next to him was a young man of medium height, very thin, and with a very
yellow complexion. An enormous beard, moustache, and whiskers covered so
much of his face that one could see little more than his nose, which was
long and thin, and his eyes, which were sunken and overshadowed by
eyebrows that threatened to spread like his beard. This gentleman had an
air of excessive weariness; that was all that one could make out beneath
the chestnut shrubbery that had overgrown his face. His name was
Fouvenard. I believe that he was in trade; but his business, whatever it
was, seemed to have worn him out. But that fact did not prevent him from
talking all the time of his past conquests and his present love affairs.

At my left was a rotund old party, with an amiable expression, and a
full-blown, rubicund face. It was Monsieur Rouffignard, auctioneer, who
was no longer young, but held his own manfully with the young men. He
did not lag behind at table; indeed, I have an idea that he did not lag
behind anywhere.

The next beyond was a very good-looking young man named Montricourt. He
had rather a self-sufficient air, and, if you did not know him well, you
might have called him conceited; but on talking with him, you found him
much more agreeable than his pretentious costume would lead you to
suppose.

Next came a man of thirty-six to forty years of age, rather ugly than
handsome, with a round face, smooth hair, a shifty eye, and an equivocal
smile, who spoke very slowly, and always seemed to reflect upon what he
was going to say. His tone was honeyed, and his manners excessively
polite. He was a clerk at the Treasury, by name Monsieur Faisandé. When
someone, at the beginning of the dinner, said a few words that were a
trifle free in tone, I noticed that he frowned, as a lady might have
done who had strayed among us by mistake. After drinking five or six
different kinds of wine, he pursed his lips less; but at every loose
word that escaped us,--and such things are inevitable at a men's dinner
which has no diplomatic object,--Monsieur Faisandé exclaimed:

"Hum! hum! Oh! messieurs, that's a little too bad! you go too far!"

"I may be mistaken," I thought; "but I would stake my head that Monsieur
Faisandé is a hypocrite. That offended modesty is, to say the least, out
of place, and almost discourteous toward the rest of us; for it seems a
criticism of our conversation. In heaven's name, did the man think that
if he came to dinner with a party of men, most of them young, and all
high livers, he would hear no broad talk? There can be nothing so
insufferable at a party as one of those people who seem determined to
benumb your gayety by their sullen looks and their stiff manners. When
such a person does appear in a merry company, he should be courteously
turned out of doors."

What would you say of a doctor who should keep crying out during a
dinner:

"Don't eat so much; you'll make yourself ill; don't take any of this,
it's indigestible; don't drink any of that wine, it's too strong!"

No, indeed; at table the doctor disappears, or allows you to eat and
drink anything; nobody can be more accommodating, even with his
patients. And if doctors are so indulgent to the caprices of the
stomach, by what right does a pedant or a hypocrite undertake to put my
mind on a strict diet, and reprove the freedom of my conversation? There
is an old proverb that says: "We must laugh with the fools;" or, if you
please: "We must howl with the wolves."--Whence I conclude that it is,
to say the least, in bad taste to appear shocked by a loose word or a
vulgar jest, in such a company; and this Monsieur Faisandé's virtue
seemed to be all the more doubtful because of his behavior.

In my review of the guests I must not forget Monsieur Dumouton, although
I only knew him then from having been once or twice in his company. He
was an individual who did not seem to be universally popular. Not that
he had an unattractive physique; on the contrary, he was a tall, slender
man, rather well than ill looking; his face was amiable, his strongly
marked features did not lack character; his bright, black eyes and high
color seemed to indicate a native of the _Midi_, although there was no
trace of such origin in his speech. But poor Monsieur Dumouton was
always dressed in such strange fashion, that it was difficult, on
glancing at his costume, to avoid forming a melancholy opinion of his
resources.

Imagine a threadbare coat, once green, but beginning to turn yellow, and
made after the style of a dozen years before--that is to say, very
short in front; in truth, it was also short in the skirts, which were
very scant, and hardly hid the seat of his trousers, which were olive
green and only just reached to his ankles, and fitted as close about the
thigh and knee as a rope dancer's tights. His boots were always innocent
of blacking, but, by way of compensation, were often coated with mud.
Add to all this a plaid waistcoat, double-breasted, and buttoned to the
chin; a black cravat, twisted into a rope; no shirt, collar, or gloves;
and a beard that was usually of about three days' growth: such was
Monsieur Dumouton's ordinary costume.

You will assume, perhaps, that he had donned other clothes to dine with
us; if so, you would make a mistake: it seemed that he was not fond of
change. Perhaps he had his reasons for that. However, he had made some
slight ameliorations: he had a false collar, and a white muslin cravat,
the ends of which were tied in a large knot that stood out conspicuously
against the soiled background formed by the coat and waistcoat.

I cannot tell why it was that I imagined I had seen that cravat playing
the part of draw-curtain at a window; it was an unkind thought, I
confess, and I did my utmost to discard it; but, as you must know, evil
thoughts are more persistent than good ones; and whenever my eyes fell
on the ends of that enormous cravat, it seemed to me that I was sitting
by a window.

I must tell you now who this gentleman was who dressed so ill. You will
be greatly surprised to learn that he was an author--yes, a "truly
author," as the children say; a man who wrote his plays
himself,--especially as he had not the wherewithal to buy any,--and
plays which were often very pretty, and which had been acted, and were
being acted still, with success.

But, you will tell me, we have passed the time when men of letters,
dramatic authors, earned barely enough to keep them alive; to-day, the
stage sometimes leads to wealth even; but it does not follow by any
means that all the nurslings of the Muses are destined to acquire
wealth. One may be unfortunate, dissipated, reckless; and once in the
mire, it is hard to extricate one's self therefrom, unless one has a
firm, immovable determination, unbounded courage, and a still greater
capacity for work; and everybody has not these. I cannot say what had
been the trouble with Monsieur Dumouton, what reverses he had had; I did
not know just how he was placed at that time; but, judging from his
costume, it was impossible to escape the supposition that he had known
adversity. Moreover, a few words that Dupréval let fall concerning this
man of letters recurred to my memory. He always said, when Dumouton was
mentioned:

"Poor fellow! he has all he can do to keep body and soul together! He
has plenty of intelligence, too; but he's such a careless devil!"

Whence I concluded that Dumouton was a penniless author; I do not say,
a worthless author. However, I was delighted to be in his company; for
he was jovial, clever, and entirely free from conceit; so what did I
care for his threadbare coat? I saw around the table several handsomely
dressed men, who amounted to nothing under their fine clothes.

I have introduced you now to all of my companions who were not strangers
to me; as for the others--why, if they say anything that makes it worth
our while to listen to them, we shall not fail to hear it.



II

THE CHAPTER OF CONFIDENCES.--THREE SOUS


I have told you that all eyes were fixed on me, and that everybody was
waiting to hear what I might have to say in justification or explanation
of what I had advanced on the subject of men who love several women at
once. For my part, I admit that, far from thinking about what reply I
should make to those gentlemen, I was busily engaged in watching
Dumouton, who was stowing away the contents of all the dessert plates
within his reach, although he was not eating. When he could find nothing
else on the plates that were near him, he attacked one of those
pasteboard structures, usually covered with candies or small cakes,
which no one ever touches, because they are intended simply as
decorations for the table, and one of them often does duty for several
months. I saw one of the waiters glare at him furiously when he saw what
he was doing, and I said to myself:

"I wonder if that poor Dumouton is in the same position as Frédérick
Lemaître in _Le Joueur_, when he stuffs bread into his pocket, saying:
'For my family!'"

"Well, Rochebrune! are you going to speak to-day?" said Dupréval.

"What do you mean?"

"What you were going to tell us."

"Oh! I beg your pardon, messieurs! You see, the wine we have drunk has
confused my memory, and I should find it hard to recall what I said to
you just now. And, to tell you the truth, instead of making speeches
about the best way of loving, which never prove anything, because every
man loves in his own way, which is the best to his mind, it seems to me
that it would be much more amusing for each of us to tell about one of
his _bonnes fortunes_, old or new, according to his pleasure.--What do
you say, messieurs?"

My suggestion was welcomed by enthusiastic plaudits; only Monsieur
Faisandé made a wry face, and muttered:

"The deuce, messieurs, tell one of our _bonnes fortunes_! Why, that's a
very delicate subject. I didn't suppose that such things were talked
about, as a general rule. Discretion, messieurs, is the duty of an
honorable man, and, above all, of a lady's man."

"Oh! bless my soul, Monsieur Faisandé, if you don't mention any names,
there's no indiscretion; and, as we are entitled to go back to ancient
history, how in the devil are you going to recognize the characters?"

"This Monsieur Faisandé is very austere and very modest," murmured my
neighbor, the bulky Rouffignard. "He is very foolish to venture with
ne'er-do-wells of our temper."

"Especially," said Montricourt, "as the fellow's a great nuisance."

"Well, then, messieurs, Rochebrune's suggestion being adopted, who's to
begin?"

"Parbleu! yourself, Dupréval; the honor is yours."

"Very good. Then it will be my right-hand neighbor's turn, and so on
around the table."

Dupréval emptied his glass, to put himself into a more suitable
disposition for telling his story. Meanwhile, I watched Dumouton, who
had entirely stripped one ornament and persistently kept his hands out
of sight under the table. As some of the guests continued to converse,
Dupréval struck his glass with his knife and cried:

"Silence, messieurs!"

Everybody ceased talking, took a drink, and prepared to listen to the
host, who began thus:

"At that time, messieurs, I was a third-class clerk to a solicitor, and
my pockets were seldom well lined. My father gave me six francs a week
for pocket money; as you may imagine, my diversions were very few, and I
often spent my whole allowance on Sunday; then I was obliged either to
procure my amusement gratis during the week, or to abstain entirely; the
latter alternative, I believe, is disagreeable at any age.

"One fine day--or rather, one evening--I was at the play, and found
myself behind two very pretty grisettes--there were grisettes in those
days; unluckily, they are now vanishing from the face of the earth, like
poodles and melon raisers. For my part, I regret them exceedingly--not
the melon raisers or the poodles, but the grisettes; they are replaced
nowadays by lorettes, who can't hold a candle to them. Our friend
Dumouton, by the way, has done a very amusing little sketch on
grisettes, lorettes, and fillettes, which I will request him to repeat
to you in a moment, and----"

"Question!"

"The speaker is not keeping to his subject."

"That is true, messieurs. Excuse me.--Well, I was at the play, behind
two grisettes, and I had only three sous in my pocket; that was all I
had left after buying my ticket, and it was Monday. Such was my plight.
However, that didn't prevent me from making eyes at one of the damsels,
whose saucy face attracted me. For her part, she responded promptly to
my glances; the firing was well maintained on both sides, and seemed to
promise a very warm engagement. I opened a conversation, and she
answered. The young ladies were not prudes, by any means; they laughed
heartily at every joke that I indulged in, and I indulged in a good
many; I was in funds in that respect only.

"It was summer, and the theatre was very warm. Several times my
grisettes had wiped their faces, crying:

"'Dieu! how hot it is!'

"'How I would like a good, cool drink!'

"'That's so; something cool and refreshing would go to the spot, pure or
with water.'

"When they expressed themselves in such terms, I made a pretence of
looking about the house, humming unconcernedly. With my three sous, I
could have given each of them a stick of barley sugar, but that is
hardly refreshing. I remember that an orange girl persisted in walking
back and forth in front of us, and in holding her basket under my nose,
and that I trod on her foot so hard that the poor girl turned pale and
hurried away, shrieking.

"At last the play came to an end, and my grisettes went out; I went with
them, still talking, but taking care to fall behind when we passed a
café. They did not live together; and when I was alone with the one to
whom I was particularly attentive, I obtained a rendezvous for the next
day, at nightfall.

"When the next day came, I was no richer, for my office mates were, for
the most part, as hard up as I. However, I was faithful to my
appointment, all the same, still with my three sous in my pocket.

"My charmer was on time. I walked her about the streets at least two
hours. She remarked from time to time that she was tired; but, instead
of replying, I would passionately squeeze one of her hands, and the heat
of my love made her forget her fatigue. Unluckily, she lived with an old
relation--of which sex I don't know; I do know that that fact made it
impossible for me to go to her room, and I had to leave her at her door.

"The next evening, at dusk, we met again. I had the shrewdness to take
her outside the barrier; it was a superb night, and we strolled along
the new boulevards. I tried to coax her out into the country; she
refused, on the ground that she was tired. She expected me to suggest a
cab, no doubt, but I knew better.

"The next day, another rendezvous. My grisette wanted to go to the
Jardin des Plantes. When we came to Pont d'Austerlitz, I had to spend
two of my three sous, and for tolls, not for refreshment; that seemed
cruel, but there was no alternative. We strolled a long while around
the garden, which is an admirable place for lovers, because some of the
paths are always deserted; my conquest was affable and sentimental, but
I replied all awry to what she said and to the questions she asked. I
was haunted by a secret apprehension; I was thinking about going home,
about Pont d'Austerlitz, which she would certainly insist on crossing
again, as it was the shortest way to her house; and I said to myself: 'I
have only five centimes left. Shall I pay for her and let her go alone?
Shall I make her take another route? Or shall I run across at full speed
and defy the tollman?'--Neither plan seemed to promise well, and you can
imagine that my mind was in a turmoil; so that my young companion kept
saying to me:

"'What on earth are you thinking about, monsieur? You don't answer my
questions; you seem to be thinking about something besides me. You're
not very agreeable this evening.'

"I did my utmost to be talkative, attentive, and gallant; but, in a few
minutes, my preoccupation returned. At last my grisette, irritated by my
behavior, declared that she wanted to go home, that she was tired of
walking, that I had walked her about so much the last two or three days
that her heels were swollen as badly as when she used to have
chilblains. So she dragged me away toward the exit. That was the
decisive moment. I began to talk about going home another way that I
knew about, which was much pleasanter than the way we had come. But my
grisette took her turn at not listening, and when we were out of the
garden, and I tried to lead her to the left, she hung back.

"'Why, where are you going?' she cried.

"'I assure you that it's much pleasanter and shorter by the other
bridge.'

"'You're joking, I suppose! the idea of going back through narrow
streets instead of the boulevards! Monsieur is making fun of me!'

"I couldn't possibly prevail upon her; she dropped my arm and made
straight for the bridge.

"'Well!' I said to myself, with a sigh; 'there's nothing left for me to
do.'

"I followed her. When she reached the tollman, I tossed my last sou on
the table and said to my charmer:

"'Go on, I will follow you.'

"She crossed the bridge, supposing that some natural cause detained me a
moment. Meanwhile, I gazed at the river, considering whether I would
jump in and swim to the other bank. But I'm not a fine swimmer, and I
did not feel as brave as Leander, although the Seine is narrower than
the Hellespont. Instead of swimming, I ran along the quays to the next
bridge; when I got there, I was almost out of breath, but that did not
prevent me from running across the bridge, then back along the Seine to
the beginning of Boulevard Bourdon. But that is quite a long distance,
and, although I ran almost all the way, it took quite a long time. I
arrived at last, but I looked in vain for my inamorata; I could not find
her. Tired of waiting for me, or piqued by my failure to overtake her,
she had evidently gone home alone.

"The next day, I went to our usual place of meeting, but she did not
come. I waited there for her several days--to no purpose; and at last I
wrote to her, requesting a reply. She sent me a very laconic one: 'You
made a fool of me,' she wrote; 'and after walking my legs off for four
days, as if I was an omnibus horse, you left me in the middle of a
bridge. I've had enough of it, monsieur; you won't take me to walk any
more.'--And thus that intrigue came to an end; for I never saw my
grisette again; but I haven't forgotten the adventure. Let it serve you
as a lesson, messieurs, if you should ever happen to find yourselves
with only three sous in your pocket."



III

BLIND-MAN'S-BUFF.--AT THE WINDOWS.--IN A BALLOON


Dupréval's tale amused the company immensely. Monsieur Dumouton, who was
better able, perhaps, than any of the rest of us, to understand our
friend's plight, exclaimed:

"Oh! that's true! it's very dangerous to take any chances in a lady's
company, if you haven't any money in your pocket! It's a thing I always
avoid."

It was young Balloquet's turn. The bulky, fair-haired man opened his
mouth as if he were going to sing an operatic aria, and began:

"Dupréval has just told us of an adventure which was not a _bonne
fortune_, messieurs, for it didn't end happily for him; I propose to
tell you of one that can fairly be called a genuine A-Number-One _bonne
fortune_. It happened at a _fête champêtre_ given by a friend of mine at
his charming country place in the outskirts of Sceaux."

"Don't name the place," Monsieur Faisandé interrupted; "there's no need
of it, and it might betray the originals of your story."

"Mon Dieu! Monsieur Faisandé, you seem to be terribly afraid of
disclosures. Is it because you fear your excellent wife may be
involved?"

The Treasury clerk turned as red as a poppy.

"I don't know why you indulge in jests of that sort, Monsieur
Balloquet," he cried; "it's very bad taste, monsieur!"

"Then let me speak, monsieur, and don't keep putting your oar into our
conversation; your mock-modest air doesn't deceive anybody. People who
make such a show of decorum, and who are so strict in their language,
are often greater libertines and rakes than those whose language they
censure."

Monsieur Faisandé's cheeks changed from the hue of a poppy to that of a
turnip; but he made no reply, and looked down at his plate, which led us
to think that Balloquet had hit the mark. The latter resumed his story:

"As I was saying, I was at a magnificent open-air fête. There were some
charming women there, and among them one with whom I had been in love a
long while, but had been able to get no further than to whisper a
burning word in her ear now and then; for she had a husband, who, while
he was not jealous, was always at his wife's side. The dear man was very
much in love with his wife, and bored her to death with his caresses.
Sometimes he forgot himself so far as to kiss her before company, which
was execrable form; and by dint of sentimentality and caresses he had
succeeded in making himself insufferable to her. Yes, messieurs, this
goes to prove what I said just now to Fouvenard: women don't like to be
loved too much. _Excess in any direction is a mistake_. Moreover,
nothing makes a man look so foolish as a superabundance of love. Well,
while we were playing games and strolling about the gardens, Monsieur
Three-Stars--I'll call him Three-Stars, which will not compromise
anybody, I fancy--kissed his wife again before the whole company; and
she flew into a rage and made a scene with him, forbidding him to come
near her again during the evening. The fond husband was in despair, and
cudgelled his brains to think of some means of becoming reconciled to
his wife. After long consideration, he took me by the arm and said:

"'My dear Monsieur Balloquet, I believe I have found what I was looking
for.'

"'Have you lost something?' said I.

"'You don't understand. I am trying to think of some way to compel my
wife to let me kiss her, and it is very difficult, because she is cross
with me now. But this is what I have thought of: I am going to suggest a
game of blind-man's-buff, and I will ask to be _it_, on condition that I
may kiss the person I catch, when I guess who it is. When I catch my
wife, be good enough to cough, so as to let me know; in that way I shall
not make a mistake, and she'll have to let me kiss her.'

"I warmly applauded Monsieur Three-Stars's plan; his idea of
blind-man's-buff seemed to me very amusing. He made his proposition, it
was accepted, and he was blindfolded. Now, while he groped his way
about, the rest of the party thought it would be a good joke to leave
him there and go to another part of the garden. I escorted Madame
Three-Stars. The garden was very extensive, with grottoes and labyrinths
and some extremely dark clumps of shrubbery. I will not tell you just
where I took the lady, but our walk was quite long; and when we returned
to our starting point, the poor husband was still groping about with the
handkerchief over his eyes. When he heard us coming, he hurried toward
us; I coughed,--to give him that satisfaction was the least I could
do,--he named his wife and kissed her. Then, delighted with his idea, he
replaced the handkerchief over his eyes, requesting to be _it_ again.
We acceded to his wish, and he was _it_ three times in succession. That,
messieurs, is what I call a _bonne fortune_."

"Your story is exactly after the style of Boccaccio!" laughed
Montricourt.--"If this goes on, messieurs, we shall be able to publish a
sequel to the _Decameron_."

"It's Fouvenard's turn."

The hairy gentleman passed his hand across his forehead, saying:

"I am searching my memory, messieurs. I have had so many adventures! I
am afraid of mixing them up. You see, it's like calling on a man for a
ballad who has written a great many; he doesn't know any, because he
knows too many. I beg you to be good enough to leave me till the last;
meanwhile, I will disentangle my memories and try to select something
choice, with a Regency flavor."

"All right! Fouvenard passes the bank on to Monsieur Reffort.--Go on,
Reffort."

Reffort was a personage who had not said four words during the dinner,
but had contented himself with laughing idiotically at what the others
said. He was the possessor of a more than insignificant face, and turned
as red as fire when he was addressed. He rolled his eyes over the
dessert, played with his knife, and murmured at last:

"Faith! messieurs, it embarrasses me to speak, because--I must admit
that--on my word of honor, it has never happened to me."

"What's that, Reffort? It has never happened to you! What in the devil
do you mean by that? Explain yourself."

"Can it be that Monsieur Reffort is as a man what Jeanne d'Arc was as a
woman?" cried Rouffignard. "In that case, I demand that he be cast in a
mould, that a statuette be made of him and sold for the benefit of the
Société de Tempérance."

Roars of laughter arose on all sides. Monsieur Reffort laughed with the
rest, albeit with a somewhat annoyed air, and rejoined:

"You go too far, messieurs; I didn't mean what you think, but simply
that I am not a man for love intrigues. I shouldn't know how to go about
it; and, faith! when my thoughts turn to love, there are priestesses of
Venus, and----"

"Very good, Monsieur Reffort; we don't ask for anything more; we'll call
that _bonnes fortunes_ for cash. Next."

"Messieurs," said the gentleman who came next, in a sentimental tone,
"the best day of my life was that on which I stole a garter at a wedding
party, at Prés-Saint-Gervais--I made a mistake as to the leg; but I saw
such a pretty one, and took it for the bride's. In fact, I didn't want
to go out from under the table. Unluckily, that charming limb belonged
to a lady of fifty; but she was kind enough to make me a present of her
garter."

"And you have worn it on your heart ever since?"

"No; but I have kept it under glass. That's my only _bonne fortune_!"

"I, messieurs," said a young man, who sat next to the last speaker, "was
shut up once for twelve hours in a closet full of bottles of liqueurs;
and when my mistress was able at last to release me, I was dead drunk; I
had tasted everything, to pass the time away. Finding me in that
condition, the lady was obliged to send for a messenger, who took me on
his back like a bale, and on the way downstairs let me roll down one
whole flight. Since then I have had a horror of _bonnes fortunes_."

"Your turn, Raymond."

"I once fell in love with a lady who roomed opposite me. As you can
imagine, I was always hanging out of my window. She was very pretty, but
she didn't reply to my glances; indeed, she often left her window when I
appeared at mine. But I wasn't discouraged by that. I followed her
everywhere: in the street, in omnibuses, to the theatre; I wrote her
twenty notes, but she didn't answer them, and my persistence seemed to
offend her rather than to touch her heart. As I could think of nothing
else to do, I determined one day to try to make her jealous. I
interviewed one of the damsels to whom Monsieur Reffort alluded, and,
for a consideration, she came to my rooms one afternoon. I placed her on
my balcony, so that she might be in full view; I urged her to behave
decently, and retired to await the result of my experiment.

"My neighbor appeared at her window. It was impossible for her not to
see my damsel. I was enchanted, and said to myself: 'She sees that I am
with another, and she will surely be annoyed.' Moreover, the young woman
I had hired was very pretty and might pass for a creditable conquest,
having, in accordance with my orders, clothed herself in a very stylish
gown. But imagine my sensations when she began to smoke an enormous
cigar, a genuine panetela! I tried to remonstrate; she answered that it
was good form. I had become resigned to the cigar, when she suddenly
called out to a young man who passed along the street: 'Monsieur Ernest,
don't expect me to pose for you as Venus to-morrow. I am posing here,
where I get double pay, and don't have to be all naked as I do at your
studio, where I'm always catching cold in the head and other places.'

"Judge of my despair! my neighbor must have heard, for she laughed till
she cried. You can imagine that I dismissed my _poseuse_ instantly. But
see what strange creatures women are! For the next few days, I was so
depressed and shamefaced that I dared not show myself at my window.
Well! then it was that my neighbor deigned at last to answer one of my
notes, and I became the happiest of men."

"We might call that the 'window intrigue.'--Now, Roland."

Monsieur Roland was a young blade with enormous whiskers, and all the
self-possession and _frou-frou_ of a commercial traveller. He threw out
his chest when he began to speak.

"I adored a lady who resisted my advances, messieurs. One day I
succeeded in inducing her to go up in a balloon with me. When we were
once in the air, I said to her: 'My dear love, if you continue to be
cruel, I'll cut a hole in the balloon, and it will be all over with both
of us.'--My charmer ceased to resist me, and I assure you, messieurs,
that it's very pleasant to make love among the clouds."

"I call for an encore for that."

"And I am wondering whether Roland always has a balloon at his disposal,
already inflated, to enable him to triumph over women who try to resist
him."

"What, messieurs! do you doubt the truth of my story?"

"On the contrary, it is delicious," said Montricourt; "I am simply
trying to think of one that would be worthy to serve as a pendant to
your balloon."

"For my part, messieurs," said a tall man with blue spectacles, "as I am
very near-sighted, my _bonnes fortunes_ have almost always ended
unfortunately. When I had been attentive to a young woman, if I went to
see her the next day, I was sure to throw myself at her mother's knees
and say sweet things to her, thinking that I was talking to the
daughter. However, one day, a lady, to whom I had been paying court with
marked ardor, consented to come to breakfast with me. Imagine my
delight! But she said to me: 'For heaven's sake, don't keep on your
spectacles, for I think you are frightfully ugly in them; I detest
spectacles.'--To satisfy her, after ordering the daintiest of breakfasts
and donning the most elegant costume you can imagine, I took off my
spectacles and awaited the visit that was to make me the happiest of
mortals. At last there was a knock at my door. I ran to open it, holding
my arms in front of me, for I could see almost nothing at all, being
short-sighted to the last degree; but I was certain that it was a woman
who came in, because I touched her dress. I didn't give her time to
speak to me--I was so madly in love! I took her in my arms; she tried to
cry out, and I stifled her shrieks with my kisses. Not until it was too
late did I hear her voice saying:

"'Mon Dieu! monsieur, whatever's the matter with you this morning? You
must have swallowed a fulminating powder!'

"Impressed by the accent of that voice, I ran for my spectacles and put
them on. Imagine my wrath! I had insulted my concierge! The excellent
woman had brought me a letter from my fair one saying that it was
impossible for her to come. Since then, I beg you to believe that I have
never made love without my spectacles."

This tale called forth hearty laughter. Then a stout party told us at
great length that his wife had been his only _bonne fortune_.

We all blessed that gentleman, who well deserved the Cross and our
esteem.



IV

THE LOST KEY


Monsieur Faisandé's turn having arrived, he reflected, assumed a solemn
expression, and held forth thus:

"Love, messieurs, is not such an entertaining, enjoyable, happy-go-lucky
affair as you all seem to think. Most of you seek to enter into an
intrigue solely to amuse yourselves; but the results, messieurs, all the
results that may ensue from cohabitation between a man and a woman, from
the carnal sin, from----"

"I was perfectly sure that Monsieur Faisandé would be more indecent than
the rest of us when he began upon this subject," said Balloquet; "he has
a way of preaching morality that would make a _vivandière_ blush."

"I should be very glad to know what you consider unseemly in my
language, Monsieur Balloquet?"

"Your language is excellently well chosen; it is technical; but you
produce the effect of a medical book on me; they are most estimable
works in themselves, but young women mustn't be allowed to read them.
Pray go on, Monsieur Faisandé; I am terribly sorry that I interrupted
you, you were beginning so well!"

The Treasury clerk pursed his lips and continued, emphasizing every
word:

"I have never had any _bonnes fortunes_, messieurs; and I don't propose
to begin now that I am married."

"What a hypocrite!" muttered my stout neighbor. "I don't know the
fellow's wife, but I pity her; for I am convinced that she has a mighty
poor fellow for a husband."

"What, Monsieur Faisandé! not even some trivial little bit of fooling to
tell us? Come, search your memory, did nothing ever happen to you in the
Cité? in Rue aux Fèves or Rue Saint-Éloy? There are plenty of frail
damsels on those streets, they say."

This time Monsieur Faisandé turned green; he did not know which way to
look, and stammered a few inaudible words. Dupréval, observing his
evident discomfort, and wishing to put an end to a scene which
threatened to lose its comic aspect, hastily asked Montricourt to take
the floor.

The dandy smoothed the nascent beard that adorned his chin, then said in
a low voice, assuming a serious air:

"What I am about to tell you, messieurs, may seem improbable to you.
Understand that I have had a pair of wings made--yes, messieurs, a pair
of wings as magnificent as an eagle's. I fasten them under my arms, and
then, as you can imagine, I go wherever I choose. When a woman attracts
me, I fly in at her window, even if she lives on the fifth floor; I
carry her off, and I win her in mid-air! It's a wonderful thing!"

"I beg your pardon," said Monsieur Roland, ironically; "while you are
making love in mid-air, you can't keep your wings at work; so you must
fall. Look at the birds; they always light to do their billing and
cooing."

"I anticipated that difficulty, my dear fellow; so, before I launch
myself in the air, I always make myself fast to your balloon, which
holds me up."

This witticism ranged all the laughers on Montricourt's side, and even
Monsieur Roland decided to admit defeat.

It was now the turn of Monsieur Rouffignard, the corpulent bon vivant
who sat next to me.

"My story won't be long," he said; "I rush my love affairs through on
time; I don't like to have things drag along. I was in love with a woman
who wasn't handsome, but had a fine figure; and I'm a great fellow for
shape; I tell you, I set store by shape! To speak without periphrasis, I
prefer what's underneath to what's outside. Well! I was making love to
a lady who had little to boast of in the way of features; but such a
superb bust! such well-rounded hips! I said to myself: 'If all that's
only as firm and hard as a plum pudding, it will be all right; for,
after all, one can't expect to find marble unless he goes to a
statue.'--I would have been glad to have a chance to appraise, by means
of a slight caress, more or less innocent, the real value of what I
admired, but my inamorata didn't understand that sort of play; as soon
as I made a motion to touch her, she'd shriek and wriggle and scratch.
'I shall never triumph over such untamed virtue as this,' I said to
myself. But one fine day--that is to say, one evening, she agreed to
meet me. She gave me leave to call between ten and eleven. I took good
care to be prompt. Madame lived alone. She opened the door herself, and
admitted me; but I was surprised to find that she had no light. I
presumed that it was simply excess of modesty, and that defeat in the
dark would be less trying to her; I had the more reason to think so,
because she offered only a slight resistance. I began to grow audacious,
but fancy my disappointment; instead of what I had hoped to find, I
found nothing but _cliquettes_--that is to say, bones, of different
degrees of sharpness. My audacity gave place to alarm; I recalled the
romance of the _Monk_, and the story of _La Nonne Sanglante_; I began to
be afraid that I was alone with a skeleton. But I had in my pocket one
of those devices which we smokers use to obtain a light. I lighted it,
without warning my fair; she shrieked when she saw the flame, and I did
the same when I found that I was tête-à-tête with a beanpole. All I had
admired was false. I alleged a sudden indisposition, and fled. Since
then, whenever that lady meets me, she glares at me as if she would
strike me dead. I am very sorry for her, but one shouldn't pretend to be
a millionaire when one doesn't own a single foot of ground."

It was my turn to relate my adventures. I have had amusing ones and sad
ones; but, presuming that the sentimental sort would be misplaced on
that occasion, I determined on this:

"The scene is laid in the country, messieurs, in a delightful region
about five leagues from Paris. I had gone there to pass a fortnight with
a friend of mine who has a house in that neighborhood; he had
consumption, and was living on milk exclusively; so I leave you to guess
whether the establishment was a lively one. However, one should be
willing sometimes to make sacrifices to friendship. And then, too, there
was a house near by, occupied by several tenants, among them a charming
young widow whom I had met in society in Paris. She was a blonde, with
tender blue eyes and a languishing smile, and an expert coquette, I
assure you! You will say that all women are; but there are gradations. I
renewed my acquaintance with her; in the country, as you have lots of
time to yourself, love does its work much more quickly than in town; and
then, the delicious shade, the verdure, the charming retired nooks where
you can hear nothing but the twittering of birds--are not all these made
to incline one's heart to sentiment, to invite to love? A welcome
invitation, which it is so pleasant to hear! In a word, I made such
progress with my lovely widow, that nothing remained but to obtain a
tête-à-tête. That, however, was not so easy as you may think. The house
where my blonde lived was occupied by a lot of inquisitive, gossiping,
evil-tongued people, whose greatest delight was to busy themselves about
what others were doing. That is the principal occupation of fools in the
country; they get up in the morning to spy on their neighbors, and do
not go to bed happy if they have not done or said some spiteful thing
during the day. My attentions to the pretty widow had been remarked; so
they instantly passed the word around to watch us, to dog our steps; she
and I could not move, without the whole province knowing it. All those
bourgeois and clowns of the pumpkin family were worthy to be police-men
in Paris; and I thought seriously of recommending them to monsieur le
préfet.

"The result was that we had to act with great secrecy. The house where
my widow lived had a large garden. All gardens have a small gate; and
each tenant was supplied with a key to the little gate of the garden in
question, which opened into a lovely meadow. Several times, when talking
with my inamorata in the evening, I had urged her to give me her key, so
that I could get into the garden. By waiting until midnight, I was
certain to avoid meeting any of her fellow boarders, for all of them
went to bed at ten o'clock, as a rule. My constant refrain was: 'Let me
have the key; or else let me in at midnight.'

"At last, one evening when we had met at a neighbor's, as we left the
house my blonde came to me, took my hand, and whispered in my ear:

"'Come to-night.'

"Imagine my joy, my ecstasy! I walked quickly away from her, lest she
should change her mind. Everybody went home, myself with the rest; I
longed so for the time when they should all be asleep! My friend's old
cuckoo clock struck twelve. I left my room at once, stepping lightly,
stole from the house, and hastened to the meadow. I sat down on the
grass, a few steps from the gate, and waited impatiently until it should
open to admit me to the summit of felicity.

"Half an hour passed, and the gate did not open. I said to myself:
'Someone near her has not gone to bed yet, I suppose, and she's afraid
to come down; I must be patient.'--Another half-hour passed and the gate
remained closed. I stood up, thinking that she might have left it
unlocked so that I could go in. I ran to the gate to find out, but it
was locked on the inside. I walked back and forth, I sat down and stood
up, keeping my eyes always fixed on that gate, which did not open. I
thought of everything that could possibly have delayed my lovely widow,
or kept her from coming. One o'clock struck, then the half, then
two.--'She has made a fool of me,' I said to myself; 'she won't come at
all! But what object could she possibly have in keeping me waiting all
night? Does my love deserve such a cruel disappointment? In fact, did
she not, of her own motion, tell me to come to-night? No, it isn't
possible that she purposely makes me pass such wretched hours here.'

"I could not make up my mind to go. Still hoping, I said to myself at
the faintest sound: 'She's coming; here she is!'--But the sound ceased,
and she did not appear. Thereupon I would walk away a few steps, but
again and again I returned.

"Day broke at last, and with it my last hope vanished! For people rise
very early in the country, and, when it was light, I knew very well that
the lady would not risk her reputation by coming out to me. So I
returned to my friend's house, with despair in my heart, swearing that I
would never again address, that I would never look at, that woman who
had made such a fool of me.

"But the next day, chance, or rather our own volition, brought us
together. I was on the point of heaping reproaches on her, but she gave
me no time; with a wrathful glance, she said to me in a voice that shook
with indignation:

"'Your conduct is shameful, monsieur: the idea of making sport of me so!
of making me pass a whole night in the most intense anxiety! For I had
the kindness to believe that something must have happened to you; but I
was mistaken. Why, in heaven's name, did you ask for a thing which you
did not want? It is perfectly shocking! I detest you, and I forbid you
ever to speak to me again!'

"You can imagine my amazement at this harangue. Instead of apologizing,
I overwhelmed her with complaints and reproaches for the sleepless night
I had passed at the garden gate. My manner was so genuine and so
sincere, that the young widow interrupted me.--'What!' she exclaimed;
'you passed the night in the fields? Pray, why didn't you come in,
monsieur?'

"'Come in? by what means, madame?'

"'Why, with the key to the little gate, which I myself gave you.'

"'You gave me the key?'

"'Yes, monsieur; last night, when I spoke to you, I put it in your
hand.'

"Everything was explained. I remembered perfectly that when she
whispered to me she had taken my hand; and that was when she gave me the
key--or, rather, when she thought that I received it; but, alas! she was
mistaken; the key fell noiselessly on the grass, and neither of us
noticed it. You see, messieurs, what trifles happiness depends upon. I
asked pardon and claimed another assignation; but with women a lost
opportunity is seldom recovered.--'Try to find the key,' she said. I
hastened to the place where she had spoken to me the night before. Alas!
in vain did I scratch the ground and examine every tuft of grass; I did
not find the key. A few days later, the pretty blonde went away, and I
never saw her again."



V

FILLETTES, GRISETTES, AND LORETTES


I had performed my task; Dumouton and Fouvenard alone remained to be
heard. The latter having requested the privilege of speaking last, the
man of letters in the yellowish-green coat bowed gracefully and began:

"To speak of one's _bonnes fortunes_, messieurs, is to speak of the
ladies; with me, it is to speak of fillettes, grisettes, or lorettes;
for as to bourgeois dames or great ladies, married or single, I have
always deemed them too virtuous to be the objects of my attachment. That
is my individual opinion; opinions are free. Allow me, therefore, to
indulge in a brief digression concerning fillettes, grisettes, and
lorettes. I know that my colleague, Alexandre Dumas, has discussed this
subject; but there are subjects that are inexhaustible--always
attractive and interesting: women and love enjoy that blessed privilege.


"It has been said that Paris is the paradise of women. Ah! messieurs, he
who said that can never have visited the tiny chambers, the closets, the
attics, sometimes even the garrets, where that charming sex often lacks
the first essentials of life; sometimes by its own fault, sometimes by
the fault of destiny, or, to speak more accurately, of those cruel
monsters of men, who play so important a part in the story of these
young women.

"The _fillettes_ of Paris are the daughters of honest bourgeois or
artisans, whose parents, too much engrossed by their labor or by the
care of their business, put them out as apprentices, or as shopgirls,
or, as happens in the majority of cases, leave them at home to look
after the housework and keep house.

"Imagine a girl of fourteen to sixteen years of age, taken from her
school, and, all of a sudden, because her father has become a widower,
or because her mother sits at a counter all day, burdened with the whole
charge of the household. She has no maid to assist her; for if she had,
she would be a _demoiselle_, not a _fillette_. The _demoiselles_ have
had a good education, they have had teachers who have tried to enlighten
their minds and their judgment and to train their hearts; indeed, they
are supposed to know a great many things; but they are entitled to do
nothing at all during the day, just because they are _demoiselles_.

"The fillettes, on the contrary, have to do everything, and generally
are taught nothing. But you should see how they manage the household
that has been thrown on their hands--mere children, who were playing
with their dolls yesterday. Ordinarily, they begin by sweeping, very
early; but if the lodging consists only of a single room and a cabinet,
the housework is never finished till the end of the day--when it is
finished at all. To be sure, the fillette doesn't work long at any one
thing; she is required to change her occupation every minute; indeed, it
rarely happens that she dresses herself entirely. The young woman whom
you meet on the street early in the morning, carelessly dressed, in
shoes down at heel, with unkempt hair, dirty hands, and a modest manner,
is a fillette.

"She has just begun to sweep, and suddenly she drops the broom, which
sometimes falls against a pane of glass and breaks it; but the young
housekeeper doesn't mind that. She starts to remove her curl papers; she
removes one, she removes two--but just as she has her hand on the third,
she remembers that she hasn't skimmed the stew; so she abandons her
hair, runs to get the skimmer, and brandishes that utensil, humming
Guido's song:

    "'Hélas! il a fui comme une ombre!'

And to give more expression to her song, more passion to her voice, she
often holds the skimmer lovingly to her heart. But as she sings, her
eyes happen to fall on her canary's cage; she hastens thither, for she
remembers that she hasn't given the bird anything to eat for two days.
But as she is on the point of opening the cage, it occurs to her that
she would do well to think about her own breakfast; so she turns her
back on the canary, to go and visit the pantry. What she finds there
does not suit her; so she goes down to the fruit stall to buy some fresh
eggs. But on the way, she changes her mind; she prefers preserves, so
she goes into the grocer's, where she meets a young woman who has been
her schoolmate. They chat, and sometimes the chance meeting carries them
a long way.

"'Come with me a minute,' says her friend; 'I live close by, and I'll
show you a dress my fiancé sent me from Lyon.'

"'Oh! so you've got a fiancé, have you? are you going to be married?'

"'Yes, in two months.'

"'That's funny.'

"'Why is it funny?'

"'Because they don't ever think about marrying me.'

"'You're too young.'

"'I'm only a year younger'n you. But my folks would rather keep me at
home to do the housework.'

"'Come, and I'll give you some candy I got when I was a godmother.'

"'Have you been a godmother? Oh! what a lucky girl you are! you have
everything!'

"It is very hard to resist the invitation of a friend who offers us
candy. The fillette forgets her housework, her stew, her canary, and
even her breakfast, as she chats with her old schoolmate, who has been a
godmother and is engaged.

"When at last she goes home, just as she is entering the house, she is
saluted, and sometimes accosted, by a young man of most respectable
aspect, whom she invariably meets when she goes out. I leave you to
judge at what hour the housework will be done and the soup skimmed.

"This young man is not a lover as yet, but he closely resembles a man in
love, and if ill fortune sometimes be-falls the fillette, who is at
fault? Is she the one to be blamed? should we not charge it rather to
the parents, who so shamefully neglect those who have neither strength,
nor sense, nor experience, to resist the seductions of the world?

"Paris is swarming with these fillettes, messieurs; some remain
virtuous, although they live among dangers; as they have no fortune,
they do not always find husbands, but pass from the fillette stage to
that of an old maid, without becoming better housekeepers by the change.

"As for the _grisettes_, that's another story. The grisette loves
pleasure; she wants it, she must have it. She has at least one lover;
when she has only one, she is a most exemplary grisette. However, they
do not pretend to be any better than they are; they make no parade of
false virtue; they are neither prudish nor shy; they cultivate students,
actors, artists, the theatre, balls,--out of doors or indoors,--promenades,
dance halls, restaurants; and they do not recoil at the thought of a
private dining-room.

"The grisette is a gourmand, and is almost always hungry; she is wild
over truffles, but is perfectly content to stuff herself with potatoes;
she adores meringues, but regales herself daily with biscuit and tarts;
she would climb a greased pole for a glass of champagne, but does not
refuse a mug of cider.

"You know as well as I, messieurs, that when you have treated a grisette
to a dainty dinner, you must not conclude that her appetite is
satisfied. On leaving the table, if you are in the country, the grisette
will suggest shooting for macaroons, and will consume several dozen;
then she will ask for a drink of milk, and a piece of rye bread to soak
in it; then she will want some cherries, then beer and gingerbread. In
Paris, you will have to supply her with barley sugar, syrups, punch, and
Italian cheese.

"Let us do the grisette of Paris justice; she is active, frisky,
alluring, provoking; she is not always pretty, but she has a certain--I
don't know what to call it--a sort of _chic_, which always finds
followers. She handles the simplest materials in such a way as to make
herself a pretty little costume; she often wears an apron, and a cap
almost always; she rarely puts anything else on her head, and she is
very wise; for her face, which is captivating in a cap, loses much of
its charm under a bonnet, unless it be a _bibi_, the front of which
never extends beyond the end of her nose.

"The grisette is a milliner, or laundress, or dressmaker, or
embroiderer, or burnisher, or stringer of pearls, or something else--but
she has a trade. To be sure, she seldom works at it. Suggest a trip into
the country, a donkey ride, a bachelor breakfast, a dinner at La
Chaumière, a ticket to the play, and the shop or workroom or desk may go
to the deuce.

"So long as we can afford her amusement, she will think of nothing else;
but when her lover hasn't a sou, she will return to her work as cheerily
as if she were going to dine at Passoir's, or to do a little cancan at
the Château-Rouge; for, messieurs, you may be sure of one thing--the
grisette is a philosopher, she takes things as they come, money for what
it is worth, and men for what they do for her. She loves passionately
for a fortnight; she believes then that it will last all her life, and
proposes to her lover that they go to live on a desert island, like
Crusoe, and eat raw vegetables and shell-fish. As she is very fond of
radishes and oysters, she thinks that she will be able to accustom
herself to that diet; but in a moment she forgets all about that scheme,
and cries:

"'Ah! how I would like some roast veal, and some lettuce salad garnished
with hard-boiled eggs! Take me to Asnières, Dodolphe, and we'll dine out
of doors; and I'll pluck some daisies and pull off the petals and find
out your real sentiments, for the daisies never lie. If it stops at
_passionately_, I'll kiss you on the left eye; if it tells me that you
don't love me at all, I'll stick pins into your legs. What better proofs
of love do you want?'

"But Dodolphe finds himself sometimes on his uppers.

"'You say you haven't got any money?' cries the grisette; 'bah! what a
nuisance it is that one always has to have money to live on and enjoy
one's self! Wait a minute; I've got a merino dress and a winter shawl;
it's summer now, so I don't need 'em. They'll be better off at _my
aunt's_ than they are in my room, for there are moths there; they'll be
better taken care of, and with what I can get on 'em we'll go and have
some sport.'

"The grisette carries out her plan: she puts her clothes in pawn,
without regret or melancholy. If she had money, she would give it to her
lover. As she often spends all that he has, it seems natural to her to
spend with him all that she has: she is neither stingy, saving, nor
selfish.

"A grisette's lodging is a curious place; but she hasn't always a
lodging to herself; very often she simply perches here and there. She
will stay a week with her lover, three weeks with a friend of her own
sex, and the rest of the time with her fruiterer or her concierge. When,
by any chance, she does possess a domicile and furniture of her own, the
grisette's bosom swells with pride, even when the furniture in question
consists of nothing more than a cot, a mirror, and one broken chair. She
takes delight in saying: 'I shall stay _at home_ this evening,' or: 'I
don't expect to leave _home_ to-morrow. I have an idea of doing _my
room_ over in color; it's all the style now, especially yellow; when
it's well rubbed, it makes more effect than furniture.'

"It is she who writes on her door, with a piece of Spanish chalk, when
she goes out: _I am at my nabor's, down one flite._

"But the grisette is not obliged to know the rules of orthography; and
if she spoke the purest French, her conversation would probably seem
less amusing; there are so many people who attract by their bad
qualities.

"Sometimes the grisette ventures to give an evening party. When she is
in the mood, she will invite as many as seven people. On such occasions,
the bed does duty as a divan, the blinds as benches, the cooking stove
as a table, and the lamp from the staircase is placed on the mantel to
take the place of a chandelier. Punch is brewed in a soup tureen, and
tea in a saucepan; they drink from egg cups, there is one spoon for
three persons, and the hostess's shawl serves as a table cloth and as a
napkin for all the company; all of which does not prevent the guests
from laughing and enjoying themselves; for the most genuine enjoyment is
not that which costs the most. This is not a new maxim, but it is very
consoling to those who are not favored by fortune."

As he said this, Dumouton glanced down at himself, with a profound sigh.
But encouraged, I doubt not, by a glimpse of the ends of his cravat, by
that profusion of linen, to which he was not accustomed, he speedily
resumed his smiling expression and continued his discourse.

"I come now, messieurs, to the last division of my trilogy, the
_lorettes_, who are grisettes of the front rank--the _tip-toppers_! By
that I mean that they are sought by the fashionable lions, the dandies,
the Jockey Club--in a word, by those gentry who have a liking for
spending money freely with women, and who have the means to do it.

"The lorettes live in the Chaussée d'Antin, the Nouvelle-Athènes, the
Champs-Élysées, the quarter of _sport_, of the _turf_, or, if you
prefer, of the horse traders. They are found, too, in quite large
numbers, in the new streets. When a fine house is completed--that is to
say, when the stairs are in place, so that the different floors are
accessible, the proprietor lets apartments to lorettes, _to dry the
walls_, as they say. They hire dainty suites, freshly decorated;
everyone knows that they won't pay their rent, but the rooms are let to
them because they draw people to the house; they attract other tenants;
not honest bourgeois--nay, nay!--but fashionable young men, rich old
bachelors, and sometimes men with stylish carriages.

"By the way, the lorette is exceedingly frank in this respect. One of
them was inspecting a beautiful suite on Rue Mazagran, when the
concierge, who probably did not know whom he was dealing with, was
simple enough to tell her the price, repeating several times that she
could not have it for less than fifteen hundred francs. Irritated by his
persistence, the lorette stared at him as if he were a monstrosity,
exclaiming:

"'Look you, monsieur, who do you think you're talking to? What
difference does it make to me what the rent is, when I never pay?'

"The lorette dresses stylishly and coquettishly; she leaves a trail of
perfume behind her. She has magnificent bouquets, and her gloves are the
object of much solicitude. At a distance, one might take her for a lady
of rank and fashion; but to hear her speak is fatal, and the illusion
vanishes at once, her language being infinitely less pure than the
polish on her boots.

"The lorette seeks to eclipse the grisette, whom she pretends to look
down upon, but to whom she is vastly inferior, none the less. She has no
lover, she has keepers. And yet she is not a kept woman, for such a one
sometimes remains a long while with the same _monsieur_, whereas the
lorette is constantly changing.

"The grisette likes young men; the lorette prefers men of mature years.

"The Hippodrome and the Cirque des Champs-Élysées are the resorts which
the lorettes particularly affect. In the afternoon, they go thither to
admire the bold horse-men jumping fences, or the women driving chariots
in the ring. The Hippodrome audience being, as a rule, frivolous,
dandified, and fashionable,--especially on weekdays,--these ladies are
almost certain to make their expenses.

"In the evening, they go to admire Baucher; they jump up and down in
ecstasy on their benches when Auriol makes some new hair-raising plunge.
The lorette is never tired of repeating to her _spouse_--for so she
calls her friend of the moment--that she knows nothing more beautiful
than a horse.

"The lorette gives evening parties, where there are always many men and
very few women. All games are played there, from lotto to lansquenet.
These ladies are passionately fond of gambling; but when they take their
places beside a green cloth, they tell you frankly that they propose to
win; it is for you to take your measures accordingly. One day, at a game
of lansquenet, the banker being a pretty lorette, someone discovered
that she was cheating, and she was charged with it; far from denying the
charge, she began to laugh, and retorted: 'Mon Dieu! what does it matter
whether I take your money this way or some other way?'

"The lorette knows nothing but money; don't continue to show yourself in
her presence when your purse is empty, for her love will surely have
followed your cash. She is not the woman to pawn her clothes in order to
have a jollification with you.

"The lorette has handsome furniture, but she doesn't pay for it, any
more than she pays her rent. If you take her to dine at a restaurant,
she will begin by playing the prude. She will declare that she isn't
hungry; she doesn't like this or that; one thing makes her sick, another
is abhorrent to her. But in the end she gets tipsy and has indigestion.

"The proper method, in my opinion at least, is to take a lorette for a
day, a grisette for a month, and a fillette for life, when you meet one
who has found time during the day to dress herself and arrange her hair,
to do her housework, eat her breakfast, watch her soup kettle, and tie
her shoestrings; for then you will have discovered a phoenix, or the
eighth wonder of the world.

"To sum up, the fillette craves sentiment, the grisette pleasure, the
lorette money.

"I venture to hope, messieurs, that you will accept this superficial
study of women instead of a _bonne fortune_; especially as it is a very
long while since fortune has been kind [_bonne_] to me; and, unluckily,
I have had no leisure to think of love making, so that I could tell you
nothing worthy of a hearing after all that I have had the pleasure of
listening to."



VI

MONSIEUR FOUVENARD'S _BONNE FORTUNE_.--THE GINGERBREAD WOMAN


Everybody had listened with pleasure to Monsieur Dumouton's study of
womankind. Only Monsieur Faisandé, without a word, left his seat and
disappeared while the author was talking. The disappearance of the
Treasury clerk did not grieve us overmuch, nor did it interfere with our
drinking and laughing and saying whatever came into our heads. But as
Balloquet seemed to possess some private information concerning that
modest personage, I determined to question him on the subject; for I
was anxious to know whether I was mistaken in my conjectures, and
whether I owed Monsieur Faisandé an apology for the evil thoughts of him
that had come to my mind.

Fouvenard was the only one of the party who had not yet narrated his
little adventure. Dupréval, our host, turned to that gentleman, whose
features, the nose alone excepted, were buried beneath the wilderness of
beard, moustache, whiskers, and eyebrows, which invaded his face and
threatened to transform it into a wig.

Monsieur Fouvenard passed his hand across his forehead and ran it
through his mane, as he said:

"I have been looking over my catalogue, but I haven't succeeded in
disentangling anything as yet. And so, messieurs, I propose to tell you
the story of my last love affair; it is still quite fresh. It is not my
last _bonne fortune_, but it is the most entertaining, I think, of the
later ones; you may judge for yourselves.

"Two or three months ago, having nothing to do one Sunday, and being
unable to endure the day in Paris, which, as you all know, messieurs, is
insufferable on Sunday, especially when it's fine; for then the streets
and boulevards are overrun by a crowd of people with outlandish faces,
walking arm in arm, four or five and sometimes six in a row, and making
it as tiresome to walk as it is difficult--in a word, I jumped aboard a
train in the first railway station I came to, without so much as
inquiring where it would take me. I believe I would have travelled a
long distance--to Belgium, perhaps--I was so disgusted with Paris that
Sunday! But the train I took did not go so far; my journey was very
brief, and I soon found myself in the pretty village of Sceaux. When I
say _village_, I am wrong, for Sceaux is a small town; but the instant
that I see trees and fields and green grass, I cannot believe that I am
near a town.

"I left my car, or my diligence,--I am not sure which I was in,--and
walked about at random. The Bal de Sceaux, once so brilliant and
crowded, has lost much of its popularity. Everything has its day,
messieurs! open-air balls as well as great empires, and beauty! The
Vendanges de Bourgogne had ceased to exist. That lively restaurant,
where so many banquets and ultra _chicard_ balls used to be given, and
where the women danced in _tableau vivant_ costume,--a place that owed
its vogue originally to its excellent sheep's trotters,--has closed its
doors; let us hope that it will reopen them. And even the Méridien!--the
Méridien! I will not insult you by asking you if you ever went there!
Who is the man, provided he is ever so little a lady's man, who has not
been to the Méridien, where the private rooms were so well arranged for
congenial parties? Well, messieurs, that charming little restaurant,
which, as you know, was close by here, has also closed its doors. In
fact, everything has been demolished, even the Cadran Bleu. That once
famous resort has vanished from Boulevard du Temple. Upon my word, it is
really heartrending! Where shall we go now to dine, when we have a
pretty woman to entertain? I am grieved to say it, messieurs, but
suitable places are becoming very rare in Paris; one must needs go
_extra muros_ to find silence, secrecy, and all the comforts which add
to the charm of a tête-à-tête; and one has not always the leisure to go
out of Paris.

"Excuse me for indulging in these reflections--I return to my subject. I
had been strolling about Sceaux for some time, and I noticed that those
peasant girls who were dressed coquettishly and arrayed in all their
finery, those, in short, who seemed disposed to dance and enjoy
themselves generally, were leaving the town and going in the direction
of Fontenay-aux-Roses.

"I at once made inquiries of a worthy woman who sold gingerbread, and
who seemed to view with an expression of alarm the general desertion of
the population. By the purchase of a huge gingerbread man for four sous,
for which I paid cash, and by praising her cookery, I gained the
huckster's good will.

"'Where are all these girls going in their Sunday clothes?' I inquired,
bravely attacking my gingerbread man's foot.

"'Mon Dieu! monsieur, as if there was any need of asking! _Pardine!_
they're going to Fontenay, on the pretext that there's a fête there
to-day; and there'll be a little fair, and a man to tumble and play
tricks, and make a fool of himself. As if it wasn't a hundred times
nicer here! As if our ball wasn't a hundred times finer! But they all
have the devil in 'em, and they lead each other on. There's no way to
stop 'em. So you're my first customer to-day; I ain't sold two sous'
worth all day long.'

"'Well, why don't you do as everybody else does? What is there to hinder
you from moving your stall and your gingerbread to Fontenay-aux-Roses?'

"'Oh! monsieur, we folks don't go changing about like that. People have
been used to seeing me here, on this same spot, for thirty years; and if
they should miss me, especially on a Sunday, they'd say: "Why, where in
the world's old Mère Giroux? She must be sick, or dead."--And it would
hurt my trade if folks thought that; because, you see, monsieur, I have
regular customers, although you might not think so. They're folks from
Paris, who always buy stuff of me for their young ones, when they come
to Sceaux. And it don't pay to put our customers out; we can't afford to
lose regular ones when we have any, just to make a few more sous one
day; and I have some, as I tell you.'

"I was about to leave Mère Giroux, who was so proud of having regular
customers, when I saw three girls coming along, arm in arm, hopping
rather than walking. Two of them had the costume and general aspect of
the peasant girls of the neighborhood; they were dressed very
coquettishly, in white gowns, silk aprons, little caps trimmed with lace
and bows of ribbon, and even gloves, messieurs; yes, it's not a rare
thing nowadays, in the outskirts of Paris, on a holiday, to see gloved
peasant girls. They don't use musk as yet, thank God! but with time and
railroads, I feel sure that the women of nature will soon perfume
themselves like cultivated women; and, to tell the truth, it will be an
agreeable change, for they don't smell very sweet as a rule. I ask
Nature's pardon, but it's the truth.

"My two peasants, then, had paid much attention to their costume; but,
for all that, under their fine clothes they were genuine rustics. One
could see that by their arms and feet, by their manners, by their loud
laughter, and by the red blotches with which their faces were covered.
Moreover, those same faces, while they were not ugly, were not specially
attractive, except for their extreme freshness. So that my eyes did not
rest long on those young women; but it was not so with the third member
of their party, although her dress was almost a counterpart of her
companions'.

"You see, it isn't the cap that makes a girl pretty, but the way she
puts it on and wears it; and so it is with the rest of her attire. The
young person who caught my eye was some eighteen years of age; she was
above middle height, slender, graceful, and willowy; for one can see
that, at a glance, in the slightest motion of the body. There was
nothing extraordinary about her features, but the face as a whole
attracted one instantly. She was a blonde, with blue eyes and red lips;
when she laughed, her mouth assumed a delicious expression, in which
innocence and mischief were blended; her teeth were well arranged, and,
while they could not be described as 'pearls set in rose leaves,' as it
is customary to describe a pretty woman's mouth, they were beyond
reproach; her hair, which was slightly tinged with gold, was arranged in
little curls, in the style called, I believe, _à la neige_. In that
respect, there was a notable difference between her and her two
companions, whose hair was glued to their temples in little
heartbreakers. What more can I say? There was an indefinable something
about that girl which indicated that she had not always lived in the
fields. There was a savor of Paris about her; for a woman who never
leaves her village does not acquire the manners, the bearing, the ease,
which contrast so sharply with the awkward accomplishments of the
country.

"My pretty blonde wore a striped lilac and white dress. She also wore a
silk apron; but hers was of a grayish purple which harmonized perfectly
with her gown. Her cap was very simple, but in the best taste, and
perched so daintily on the top of her head that it seemed hardly to
touch it. Her shoes were black, and the feet within them were small,
narrow, and gracefully arched; the leg was small, but not thin, and gave
promise of excellent outlines. You will agree, messieurs, that all this
was well adapted to attract my glances.

"The three girls were passing Mère Giroux, when she detained them.

"'Well, where are you girls going, I'd like to know,' she cried, 'that
you're all rigged up and sail by, all three of you, proud as ortolans,
without so much as bidding me good-day?'

"They stopped at that, and bade the dealer in gingerbread good-morning.

"'Bonjour, Mère Giroux!'

"'It's because we're in a hurry; we're going to Fontenay-aux-Roses.'

"'We're going to dance.'

"'We're going to see the shows, and the animals, and the monkeys.'

"'Mon Dieu! you can see all that here! It ain't worth while to go out of
your way to see monkeys!'

"'Nonsense! it's going to be a lovely fête at Fontenay. You can see for
yourself that everybody's going there.'

"'Everybody's just stupid enough; when one makes a spitball, the rest
would rather be hung than not do as much.'

"'Oh! Mère Giroux! how spiteful you are!'

"'I say, you Dargenettes, do your parents let you go running about the
country like this, without them?'

"'_Pardi!_ nobody'll kidnap us. Besides, Mignonne's with us.'

"'Bless my soul! Mignonne's a fine dragon, ain't she? Why, she's
younger'n you! and she rolls her eye the minute anyone looks at her, as
if it gave her cramp in the stomach.'

"Mignonne was evidently the pretty blonde in the centre, for she
answered at once with a saucy little smile, and a glance at me out of
the corner of her eye; for during this conversation I was still
standing near the gingerbread stall, and still munching my four-sous'
purchase.

"'If I am young, Mère Giroux, that doesn't prevent my keeping an eye on
these girls; for I've been in Paris, and I'm not to be caught.'

"'You, Mignonne! nonsense! You'll be caught sooner than the others, I'll
bet! You're too sugary; you'll melt!'

"'Anyway,' cried the other two, 'do you suppose we're afraid of men?
Why, there's nothing frightful about 'em!'

"'If they'd grow, I'd plant a field of them.'

"Whereupon they roared with laughter; but pretty Mignonne took no part
in it; she pulled her companions away, crying:

"'Au revoir, Mère Giroux! Au revoir!'

"'What! ain't you going to buy as much as a stick of barley sugar, to
suck on the way?'

"'By and by, when we come back; to cool us off.'

"When the girls had gone, the huckster complained more loudly than ever
about the nuisance of the fêtes in the neighboring villages. For my
part, I was determined to have another look at the blonde whom they
called Mignonne, but I desired, first of all, to obtain some information
concerning her. I began by buying a huge square of gingerbread, larded
with almonds, while loudly praising what I had already eaten. Mère
Giroux, flattered to the melting point, gazed at me with an expression
that seemed to say:

"'Ah! if all the young men who come to Sceaux only liked gingerbread as
much as this gentleman does!'

"'Mère Giroux,' I said, carefully bestowing my new purchase in my
pocket, 'you seem to know those young women who went by just now?'

"'_Pardi!_ I know everybody in the neighborhood, I do!'

"'Are they farmers' daughters?'

"'Yes, the two dark ones are, the Dargenettes. They're good enough
girls, for all their talk about men; if anybody should go too far with
'em, they'd do good work with their feet and hands and nails, I'll
warrant. They like to fool, but they're virtuous! And then, their father
wouldn't stand any fooling. Old Dargenette's a gardener, and he ain't
very pleasant every day. He fondled his wife with his rake when she
didn't walk straight; and I guess he'd do the same to his daughters, if
they should go astray. Country folk, monsieur, talk a little free
sometimes, but you mustn't judge 'em by that.'

"'And that other girl with them, whom you called Mignonne? She carries
herself as if she had lived in Paris.'

"'Yes, monsieur; so she has. Mignonne's the daughter of honest laboring
people of this town; but she lost her father and mother when she was
very young. Then she caught the fancy of a lady in Paris, and she took
her away and said she'd give her a good education. Mignonne Landernoy
had nobody left but an old aunt, who wa'n't none too rich. So she let
her niece go; the child was twelve years old then. She stayed in Paris
three years. I don't know just what she learned there--to read and write
and do embroidery, and sew on canvas--in short, a lot of useless things
that make a country girl fit for nothing. So, when she came back to her
aunt, she couldn't be made to work in the fields again. _Ouiche!_ she
said it made her back ache!'

"'But why did she come back? Why did she leave the lady who took her to
Paris?'

"'Because the lady died, and then, you see, her heirs didn't choose to
keep the little girl from Sceaux. They began by turning her out of
doors, and Mignonne was very happy to come back to her old aunt.'

"'Has she been to Paris again since?'

"'No; but I don't think it's for lack of wanting to. You can imagine
that she's kept something of the manners she learned from living with
city folks: a way of acting, and little tricks of speech--Oh! she's no
peasant now. Why, mamzelle sets the fashions here! When the other girls
want to make themselves a cap, or an apron, or a neckerchief, they say:
"I'll go and ask Mignonne if this will look well on me, and how to wear
it."--And it's Mignonne here, and Mignonne there! Why, you'd think she
was an oracle, nothing more or less! When Mignonne says: "You mustn't
wear that," or: "You mustn't walk on your toes like that," or: "You
mustn't dance on that leg," you needn't be afraid they'll do it. And
then, as Mamzelle Mignonne can read novels, she knows lots of stories
and adventures, you see. So, when she's talking, the peasant girls
prick up their ears, like my donkey does when he feels frisky. Why,
those Dargenettes are as proud as peacocks because Mignonne agreed to go
to Fontenay-aux-Roses with them!'

"'But what does the girl do here, as she doesn't work in the fields?'

"'_Dame!_ she makes over dresses, and makes caps for the other girls;
she's the town milliner, but her poor aunt has only just enough for the
two of 'em. And what I can't forgive the girl for is refusing Claude
Flaquart, a good match for her, who was willing to marry her, for all
she didn't have a sou. Claude Flaquart was mad over her. You see, she's
a pretty little thing--and then, her affected ways are sure to turn a
fool's head.'

"'You say she refused him?'

"'Yes, monsieur! Think of refusing a man who owns a field and a
vineyard, three cows, two calves, rabbits, and geese! What in God's name
does she want, anyway? a lord? a potentate?'

"'What reason did she give for refusing such a fine match?'

"'Reasons! a lot she cared for reasons! She didn't like him; that's all
the reason she gave! She said he was a lout, and that he was lame. As if
a man with cows and calves could walk crooked!'

"'Didn't her aunt scold her?'

"'Her aunt's too good-natured--too big a fool, I should say. Claude
Flaquart had his revenge: he married another girl, a head taller than
Mignonne, and he did well. That's what comes o' sending girls to Paris,
when they haven't got any money to set themselves up in business there.
Mignonne will make a fool of herself with some fine young buck from
Paris--I'd stake my head on it! and by and by she'll be sighing for
Claude Flaquart's cottage.'

"'I am delighted to have bought some of your gingerbread, Mère Giroux;
it's very fine. When I come to Sceaux again, you will certainly see me.'

"'You're very good, monsieur; so now you're one of my customers; that
adds to my stock. You'd ought to buy some of this with citron, monsieur;
you'd think you was eating oranges.'

"'I'll save that for the next time.'

"I knew enough. I bade her good-morning, and started for
Fontenay-aux-Roses, which is only a quarter of a league from Sceaux."



VII

MADEMOISELLE MIGNONNE


Monsieur Fouvenard paused to take breath, and drank a glass of
champagne; while we waited for him to continue his narrative, which, I
confess, interested me deeply. For some unknown reason, I trembled to
think of that pretty little Mignonne yielding to the seductions of the
narrator, who, in truth, did not seem to me particularly seductive. But
I am not a woman, and it is possible that that Capuchin beard possessed
a fascination which I cannot understand.

"I soon reached Fontenay," he continued; "I had only to follow the crowd
of people headed for the fête. Once there, I said to myself: 'I shall be
very unlucky if I don't find Mignonne.'

"I had been strolling about for some time in front of the improvised
stalls on a sort of square, when I discovered my three damsels, still
arm in arm, halting in front of all the curiosities, games, and open-air
shows, and giving full vent to the natural merriment of their age,
intensified by Mignonne's satirical comments.

"Most of the young men bowed to them and made some jocose remark,
generally vulgar and indecent, as the custom is among the country folk,
whose innocence has always seemed to me largely apocryphal. The two
Dargenettes replied in the same tone; but when Mignonne said anything,
the young men did not retort; they sneaked away shamefaced, and I heard
them more than once say to one another:

"'Oh! when Mamzelle Mignonne puts her oar in, I ain't smart enough to
answer her back; she's too sharp, she is! Anyone can see that she's
lived in Paris.'

"I approached the three friends and stopped at the stalls and shows at
which they stopped. Mignonne noticed me, and I fancied that she blushed.
One of the Dargenettes looked at me and said:

"'Look! there's that fellow that was eating Mère Giroux's gingerbread.
It looks funny for a Paris gentleman, with a beard, to eat gingerbread
like that.'

"I saw Mignonne nudge the speaker. Probably she told her to keep quiet,
for I heard nothing more.

"I tried to exchange a word or two with them, but they pretended not to
hear me, and made no reply. However, I saw that they whispered together,
and from time to time looked covertly to see if I was still there. At
last they came to a halt where the dancing was in progress. I was
waiting for that. Dancing is not exactly my favorite pastime; but when
it's a question of seducing somebody's daughter, then I become a
fearless dancer. As for young women, almost all of them love dancing;
indeed, there are some in whom the taste amounts to a passion; but if
they had to dance without men, you may be sure that their love for
dancing would soon vanish. Whence I conclude that the actual pleasure of
capering is a secondary matter. But dancing gives an opportunity to show
one's grace and lightness of foot, to play the flirt, to listen to soft
speeches, often to passionate avowals, accompanied by a pressure of the
hand, before the nose of a jealous spectator, who sees nothing, because
it's a part of the figure!--Is it surprising, then, that almost all
women have an inborn passion for the dance?

"I made haste to engage Mademoiselle Mignonne for a contra-dance; for
the polka has not yet descended upon village fêtes. She accepted my
invitation with a well-satisfied air. I at once took her hand, and,
leaving her friends, led her away to our places. I say again that
nothing better for lovers, _in esse_ or _in futuro_, has ever been
invented. I very soon entered into conversation with my partner. I was
careful not to go too fast, and not to begin, like an idiot, by telling
her that I adored her; she would have laughed in my face. But I did not
conceal my amazement at her manner, her bearing, her language; I told
her that it could not be that she was born in a village. Thereupon she
told me what I already knew; but I pretended that I heard it for the
first time. I did not squeeze her hand, but I manifested the deepest
interest in her, and engaged her for the next contra-dance. At first,
she made some objections; but I persisted, and she accepted. I saw
plainly enough that it flattered her to dance with a gentleman from the
city.

"When we joined her companions, who had also been dancing, they were
drenched with perspiration and their cheeks were purple; but their
partners had left them without offering them any refreshment. I made
haste to call a waiter who was selling beer or wine, the only
refreshments to be found at open-air fêtes.--Oh, yes! there are also
vendors of cocoa.--The beer being brought, the two Dargenettes did not
wait to be asked twice, and Mignonne saw that it would be useless to
stand on ceremony.

"Thus I found myself one of their party. But I behaved with a restraint
and reserve which would have edified Monsieur Faisandé. During the
second contra-dance, Mademoiselle Mignonne talked even more freely; and
I saw that, while she had brought back from Paris the pretty manners and
the more refined language which gave her such a great advantage over the
village girls, she had retained the candor and artlessness which we do
not find in city maidens, even in those who have been reared most
strictly. Mignonne was a strange mixture of innocence and knowledge, of
frankness and coquetry, of simplicity and passion. Her stay in Paris,
the people she had seen there, the reading with which she had tired her
memory, had given her a feeling of distaste for the country, although
her mind and her heart still retained all the primitive freshness of a
virgin nature.--Agree, messieurs, that that child was a charming
conquest to contemplate."

"Faith! there was no great merit in the conquest!" cried Balloquet. "The
girl wouldn't have a peasant, so she was sure to fall into the first
snare laid for her by a man from the city; and then, your beard must
have helped you considerably in triumphing over Mademoiselle Mignonne."

"Why so?"

"Because it partly hides your face."

Fouvenard shrugged his shoulders, threw a bread ball at Balloquet, and
resumed his narrative.

"After the second contra-dance, Mignonne said that she wanted to walk
about. I asked leave to accompany them, and I had been so polite that
they could not refuse me. Indeed, I think that they were not anxious to
do so; the Dargenettes, because they liked to be treated; and Mignonne,
because she was flattered to have a young Parisian for her escort.

"She declined to take my arm; but I walked beside her, as she was no
longer between her friends. I paid for their admission to all the shows
under canvas, of the sort that are always found at an out-of-doors fête.
Mignonne tried to refuse at first, but the two peasants hurried into the
strolling theatre, and the pretty blonde had to follow them in order not
to be left alone with me.

"Toward the end of the evening, we were like old acquaintances. I had
treated them to everything obtainable, and I had even danced with
Mignonne's friends.

"We left the fête together. It was dark, and they accepted my arm. I had
Mignonne on one side, and one of the peasants on the other; the second
had her sister's arm, so that we walked four abreast. Country people
delight in that, and it reminded me unpleasantly of Sunday strollers in
Paris. I would have preferred to walk alone with Mignonne, but it was
impossible.

"It seemed to me a very short walk, notwithstanding the fact that the
Dargenettes sang all the way, and sang horribly false, murdering every
air they tried. But Mignonne did not sing, and I began to press
affectionately the arm that lay in mine.

"Chance willed that we reached the peasants' house before Mignonne's.
They said good-night, and kissed one another laughingly. I heard them
whispering, and could make out that I was the subject. The Dargenettes
said: 'You have made a conquest of the bearded man! Look out he don't
kidnap you!' and other witticisms of the same sort."



VIII

AN EXPEDIENT


"At last I was alone with that pretty girl. I need not tell you,
messieurs, that I became loving, eloquent, urgent. Mademoiselle Mignonne
laughed at everything I said; but it pleased her. As a general rule,
when that sort of thing doesn't please a woman, she doesn't listen to
the man who tries it on. As soon as we are listened to, we can be sure
of triumphing. I requested an assignation. She refused; but I declared
that I would come to Sceaux every day; to which she replied that she
could not prevent my meeting her.

"To make a long story short, messieurs, I met Mignonne the next day, and
the next, and every day that week. I spent a good deal in railroad
fares; but one must be willing to sow if he would reap.

"After ten or twelve days, I had completely turned the girl's head, and
I persuaded her to go with me to Paris, where I promised her a brilliant
existence, pleasure by the wholesale, and, above all, a never-ending
love. Mademoiselle Mignonne set great store by that, I assure you. She
was a romantic maiden. But it costs us men nothing to promise, you
know! I am not sure, indeed, that I didn't mention marriage; but I think
not.

"It all resulted in a little fifth-floor room, under the eaves, in a
house on Rue de Ménilmontant. I furnished it with whatever was
necessary, nothing more, and covered the walls with paper at twelve sous
the roll. I must confess that my love was not exacting; she desired
neither a palace, nor a cashmere shawl, nor a carriage; my
presence--that was all that was necessary to satisfy her.

"That state of affairs lasted for several months. At the end of that
time, I would have been very glad to be rid of my conquest; I had had
enough of her. If she had been sensible, I would have said to her,
frankly:

"'My dear girl, I did love you, but I don't love you any more. It was
sure to come, sooner or later; liaisons like ours never last very long;
it's all the same, whether we make an end of it now, or six months
hence. Make another acquaintance, or return to Sceaux, as you please;
for my part, I have the honor to bid you good-day.'

"But, as I said, I had to do with a young woman who had never thoroughly
understood Paris and the Parisians, but who had seen them through a
miraculous prism. Moreover, she proved to have a strength of character
which astonished me. She had honestly believed that I would never leave
her. You will say, perhaps, that it was in my power to cease going to
see her; but, unluckily, at the beginning of our liaison, I had been
idiotic enough to take her to my lodgings, and to show her the shop in
which I am a partner; so if I had let a day or two pass without seeing
her, what would have happened? Why, she would have come after me, either
at my lodgings or at my shop; and that would have led to a very annoying
scene, especially as my partner is almost as ridiculous as Monsieur
Faisandé, and believes me to be a perfect Cato.

"So there was nothing for me to do but break with my girl in such a way
as effectually to take away the desire to hunt me up in my own quarters.
A confidential disclosure which she made to me intensified my longing to
put an end to the connection: she informed me that she bore a pledge of
our love. Fancy me with a woman and child on my hands!--Damnation,
messieurs! put yourselves in my place."

Monsieur Fouvenard paused to look at us all. But no one answered; and he
continued, evidently surprised by the profound silence and the almost
stern expression of his hearers:

"So I looked about for an opportunity to break with her; what I needed
was a tempestuous, violent scene, for a German quarrel would not have
sufficed to part us.--I had then and still have a friend, a fellow who
is very enterprising with the fair sex, and almost as fascinating as
myself. That is saying a good deal, perhaps, but it's true. You must
have heard of him: his name is Rambertin, and he is a commercial
traveller who has left Ariadnes in all the places he ever visited. I had
met him several times, in the early days of my liaison with Mignonne,
when I took my love to Mabille or the Château-Rouge. He had found the
young lady of Sceaux much to his taste. One day, meeting me when I was
alone and rather depressed, he asked me what I had done with my
_blondinette_.

"'Parbleu!' said I; 'I would to God I had nothing more to do with her!
If you could rid me of her, you would do me a very great favor.'

"'Are you speaking seriously?' cried Rambertin.

"'Most seriously.'

"'Then it's a bargain.'

"'But you don't know that Mignonne adores me; what you must do is to
arrange matters so that I can break with her.'

"Rambertin began to laugh and rub his hands.

"'It seems to me,' he said, 'that I've a longer head than you; for when
it's a matter of breaking off a liaison, I can always think of ten ways
to do it. Of course, you go to see your fair whenever you choose; and
you probably have a key to her room, so that you can go in when she's in
bed?'

"'That is true.'

"'Give me your key. To-morrow I will have one like it, and the thing
will go of itself.'

"The next day, Rambertin had a key like the one I had loaned him, which
he returned to me, saying:

"'I know where the lady lives. It's a house where there's a concierge
with five cats; but I am about your size, I'll cover my face with my
cloak, and this very night I'll sleep in Mignonne's room. I fancy that
she sleeps without a light. I will act so cautiously that she will not
suspect that another man is occupying your place. You must come there
early to-morrow morning; you have your key, so you can come in and
surprise me reposing beside your charmer. I should say that you would
have the right to lose your head then, call her a faithless hussy, and
drop her.'

"I considered it a magnificent plan, and it was put in execution.
Rambertin is audacious beyond description. Everything succeeded as we
hoped. I went to Mignonne's room very early the next morning. She was
still asleep beside my substitute, suspecting nothing. And Rambertin too
pretended to be asleep. But I was no sooner in the room than I made a
great outcry. I called Mignonne faithless, perjured--Oh! messieurs, if
you could have seen the girl's amazement and horror! I assure you, it
was an intensely dramatic picture. She declared that she was not guilty,
that she was the victim of a detestable piece of treachery. She tried to
throw herself at my feet, to force me to listen to her. But as I was not
at all anxious that she should justify herself, I left the room,
shouting that all was over between us.

"I confess that I was afraid that Mignonne would try to see me again,
that she would waylay me somewhere, to try again to convince me of her
innocence; but several days passed, and I heard nothing of her. At last,
I met Rambertin.

"'Well,' I said, 'the _blondinette_ seems to have been consoled very
quickly; you couldn't have had much difficulty in making her listen to
reason.'

"'You're devilishly mistaken,' he replied; 'on the contrary, your
Mignonne is a young woman who refuses to be tamed. At first, being
persuaded that you believed her guilty, she was determined to go after
you, to dog your steps and compel you to listen to her. Faith! my dear
fellow, when I saw how it was, I just simply confessed our little scheme
to bring about a rupture between you two. The effect of that confession
was most extraordinary. At first, the girl refused to believe me, but I
proved to her that I was telling the truth: I had a little note from
you, telling me at what café I could find you, to return the key of
Mignonne's room. I showed her that note, and she could have no further
doubt. She said just this: "The infamous villain!" Not another word
about going after you. "Now," says I to myself, "she's at odds with him
for good and all; I must try to obtain my pardon." And I tried to make
her understand that I had loved her for a long while, and that only the
intensity of my passion could have induced me to second you in that
affair. But Mademoiselle Mignonne, without deigning to reply to my
entreaties, pointed to the door and said:

"'"Leave this room, monsieur, and never let me see your face again, or I
will go to the magistrate and tell him of your shameful conduct."

"'I tried in vain to make her understand that the night we had passed
together gave me some rights over her; the fair Mignonne was immovable.
I tried to steal a kiss; she shrieked so loud that the neighbors came to
their windows. And so, faith! I went away; but let her do what she will,
I'll bide my time, I'll seize the first favorable opportunity, and we
won't stop where we are!'

"Such, messieurs, was Rambertin's story, and that is how I broke off my
liaison with the damsel of Sceaux. Don't you think the method I resorted
to was very ingenious? I'll wager that you'll bear it in mind, in order
to make use of it on occasion!"

Monsieur Fouvenard looked at us, one after another, as if he expected
compliments and congratulations; but, on the contrary, nobody spoke, and
almost every face had assumed a serious expression. Indeed, there were
some faces on which he seemed to detect something more than mere
seriousness; for, I am happy to say, his narrative found no sympathy
among us.

As for myself, I had always felt a sort of repulsion for that young man,
a repulsion of the sort that one cannot describe, but that one often
feels for a certain person. At that moment, I was gratified to think
that I had always disliked a man capable of such dastardly, vile
behavior as he boasted of in connection with that poor girl from Sceaux.
The portrait he had drawn of Mignonne interested and touched me; and it
seemed to me that I should like to know her, and to avenge her for the
infamous way in which she had been victimized.

Dupréval, who had observed the unpleasant impression produced by the
bearded man's tale, and who, presumably, was not proud of having that
individual for his guest, was the first to speak.

"It has taken you a long while, Fouvenard," he said, in an almost harsh
tone, "to compose the anecdote you have just told us; but, frankly, you
would have done as well to keep silent instead of regaling us with that
tale of seduction, the dénouement of which may be worthy of the Regency,
but is not at all suited to our code of morals; for nowadays, when a man
desires to leave a mistress, it is no longer necessary to degrade her,
to throw her into his friend's arms. Those are old-fashioned methods,
which you have read about in some old memoirs of Cardinal Dubois's time;
but, I say again, you were not happy in your choice of events."

"What's that! old-fashioned methods!" cried Fouvenard, running his hands
through his hair--a favorite gesture of his, especially when he desired
to be impressive, to produce an effect; and it did, in fact, make him a
few lines taller by making his hair stand up for the moment. "I have
invented nothing, messieurs. I have told the story exactly as it
happened. Anyone who doubts it has only to call on Mademoiselle
Mignonne, No. 80, Rue de Ménilmontant,--that is, if she still lives
there,--and it is probable that she will give him a mass of details
concerning her perfidious Ernest, which I have forgotten. Ernest is my
Christian name, messieurs, and that is what she always called me. It is
possible that my story shocks you; but, at all events, it's all one to
me. I snap my fingers at your displeasure! You make me laugh, with your
long, solemn faces! I take reproofs from no one; the man who chooses to
administer one has only to speak--I am ready to answer him."

"Oh! messieurs! pray beware!" cried Balloquet, with a laugh. "I warn you
that Fouvenard is extremely quarrelsome in his cups. Three or four more
glasses of champagne, and he's just the boy to defy us all!"

"I beg you not to make fun of me, Balloquet."

"Ah! the boar is bristling up."

"Monsieur," said I, irritated by Fouvenard's tone and manner, "if you
pride yourself on your adventure with this village girl of Sceaux, I
fancy that we, on our side, are at liberty to condemn it. It is quite
possible that that makes no difference to you. For my own part, I
declare that I have deceived many women, but I would never have resorted
to such methods as yours to break with them."

"Parbleu! monsieur, perhaps you don't need to take much trouble to
induce your mistresses to leave you."

"Frankly, I should prefer that to your expedients; the man who is
deceived is often more interesting than the deceiver."

"And you have often been in that interesting position?"

Dupréval put an end to our dispute by rising.

"Messieurs," he said, "I beg you once more to receive my farewell
greeting as a bachelor."

We all rose to shake hands with our host. I observed then that Dumouton
took the longest road, for he made the circuit of the table. But he had
long had his eye on some superb pears which had not been touched; and,
as he passed them, he seized two, which he succeeded, not without
difficulty, in stuffing into his pockets, thereby producing the effect
of two miniature balloons on his hips; and as they raised the skirts of
his coat, they disclosed the fact that the seat of his trousers was of a
different color from the front.

We said good-night, took our hats, and prepared to leave the restaurant.
But the music was still in progress, playing a captivating waltz, which
was like an invitation to ask a lady to dance.



IX

THE WEDDING PARTY IN THE FRONT ROOMS


Balloquet and I were the last to leave the room in which we had dined;
and, as we took our hats, we glanced at each other, beating time to the
music, and I verily believe we were on the point of waltzing together,
when the strains of a polka, nearer at hand, chimed in discordantly with
the other music.

"Oho! there are several balls here, are there?" Balloquet asked a
waiter, who was looking at us and smiling.

"Yes, messieurs; there are two wedding parties: one right below us, on
the first floor, and another on the same floor, but in the salons at the
rear."

"Ah! so there's a wedding going on in the rear, too?"

"To be sure, monsieur."

"What time is it now?"

"Half-past eleven, monsieur."

"The wedding parties should be at their height. Are there many guests?"

"A great many, monsieur. They are hardly able to dance, they're so
crowded."

"Which is the more brilliant party?"

"They're both pretty fine, monsieur. But the one in front rather beats
the other. It's a sweller affair."

"I understand. The one in the rear is more free and easy. They're
probably dancing the cancan there. Sapristi! and it's only midnight! The
idea of going to bed, when other people are going to pass the night
enjoying themselves! when you can hear a lusty orchestra playing tunes
that make your legs itch! Do you like the idea, Rochebrune? Don't you
feel tempted, as I do, to go to one of these balls downstairs, where
they're tripping the light fantastic?"

"I do, indeed! I would go with all my heart. This music makes me dance
all over."

"Do you want to bet that I won't go to one of these balls?"

"Do you mean it? You would have the face to do it, when you don't know
anyone?"

"Why not? I'll show you what a simple thing it would be. There are two
balls. I go to one. If by chance some ill-bred wight sees fit to ask me
who I am, whom I know, why, I have my answer all pat: 'I was invited to
the other party, on the same floor; I made a mistake, that's all.'"

"Upon my word, that would be an excuse. You make me want to do the same
thing."

"Bravo! It's decided: we will both go to the ball. And then, you see, we
know so many people! it would be deuced strange if we didn't see some
familiar face in a large party. Then we will just say in an undertone:
'You brought me here;' and our acquaintance will ask nothing better than
to be our sponsor. Besides, we will dance, and dancing men are always
scarce at balls; sooner or later, it will be the fashion to hire them.
They'll be only too glad to have us. Come, which one do you choose; it's
all one to me."

"And to me, too."

"Well, I'm a good fellow: the ball in front is more stylish; I'll let
you have that one, and I'll take the one behind. Especially, as I feel
in the mood for dancing a cancan, if it's a bit _chicardini_. Does that
suit you?"

"Perfectly."

"We're in patent-leathers and have new gloves. It couldn't be
better.--Waiter, just whisk your napkin over our boots. That's right;
now we're as refulgent as suns; patent-leather boots are a blessed
invention.--Forward! I may be mistaken, but I have an idea that I shall
make a good thing out of this ball; and you?"

"I haven't so much assurance as you. But, deuce take it! after all,
we're not people without hearth or home. And, as you say, we might
easily make a mistake in the party. Come on!"

"That's the talk: forward, to the cannon's mouth!"

We went down one flight; Balloquet humming and hopping; I, slightly
flustered, but none the less determined to enjoy myself. We reached the
landing between the two balls; we heard both orchestras.

"Good luck!" said Balloquet; and he entered the door at the right, while
I turned to the left.

I entered the room where they were dancing. A quadrille was just
beginning.

"A fourth couple here! we want a vis-à-vis!" called a gentleman close
beside me.--Then he looked at me and said: "Won't you be our
vis-à-vis?"

"Gladly," I replied; and glancing about, I saw a lady sitting alone on a
bench. I hastened to invite her to dance. She accepted. We took our
places opposite the gentleman who had no vis-à-vis; the music began and
we did the same; and, lo! I was dancing already before I had had time to
look about me and become acquainted with the company into which I had so
audaciously thrust myself.

But a man who is dancing never has a suspicious look; nobody observes
him or pays any attention to him. It seemed to me that I had taken the
best possible means to become acquainted with my surroundings.

After the first figure, I began by examining my partner, whom I had
chosen at random, so to speak.

Chance had served me well. My partner was a very pretty brunette; her
great blue eyes were at once tender and intelligent, and I deemed them
to be capable of saying many things when they chose to take the trouble.
A slightly aquiline nose, an attractive mouth, beautiful teeth, which
she showed often because she laughed readily, black hair falling in long
curls over her neck, a mode of dressing the hair which I have always
liked--all these details formed a very seductive whole, and that is what
I found in my partner, who was light of foot, slender, with a shapely
figure, and graceful in every movement.

Then I looked about. By the manners of the women, the costumes of the
men, and the prevalent style of dancing, I saw that I had fallen upon a
fashionable assemblage. There was not the slightest suggestion of the
cancan; but, by way of compensation, there was a distinct odor of
patchouli. I was not sure whether they were enjoying themselves much;
but, at all events, they accepted boredom with infinite grace.

I saw many ugly women; in a large party, it rarely happens that they
are not in the majority. That being so, is it surprising that a pretty
woman makes so many conquests? If nature created more of them, beauty
would receive less adulation; but as it appears only at rare intervals,
it attracts more notice.

However, I saw some good-looking women; others who were rather
attractive; others (and that too is common experience) who had no other
attraction than their youth. But I looked in vain for anyone equal to my
partner.

I concluded to open a conversation with her; if, through her, I could
obtain some information concerning the bride and groom, find out
something as to my hosts, it would be of advantage to me in my
embarrassing position.

"I am very fortunate, madame, to have arrived just in time to find you
unengaged. That must be a very rare occurrence, and chance favored me."

"But you see, monsieur, I am in less demand than you seem to think; you
had only to come forward. Have you just come, monsieur? I don't remember
seeing you before."

"Yes, madame, yes; I have not been here long."

"What do you think of the bride? Very pretty, is she not?"

I cast my eyes about me with an embarrassed air; I saw nobody who looked
like a bride. My partner, who noticed my hesitation no doubt, continued:

"Can it be that you haven't seen her yet?"

"Faith! I have not, madame; I have just come, and I have had no time yet
to look for her."

"Look! there she is over yonder, by the orchestra."

I saw a young woman in the conventional costume, with white bouquet and
orange blossoms.

"Do you see her?"

"Yes, madame. But why is she not dancing?"

"Because that great lout of an Archibald trod on her foot just now, and
nearly crushed it. What an awkward creature he is! Anna is obliged to
rest through at least two quadrilles."

I had learned that the bride's name was Anna. That was something.

"Poor Adolphe was in despair. He wanted to fight Monsieur Archibald."

Adolphe--that must be the groom's name.

"I can well understand that," I hastened to reply. "If I had been in
Adolphe's place, I would have been furious, too; for, you know, on the
wedding day----"

"He's so fond of his cousin! But, after all, he could hardly pick a
quarrel with the bride's brother."

The deuce! I was on the point of putting my foot in it.
Cousin--brother--I didn't know where I was. So Adolphe was not the
groom. I was treading on very slippery ground, and had to look carefully
to my steps.

My partner, who was fond of talking, soon began again.

"As for Monsieur Dablémar, I fancy that he cares very little about it.
You know the kind of man he is?"

That question embarrassed me sadly. I wondered who Monsieur Dablémar
could be, and I answered, by way of subterfuge:

"Oh! to be sure; Monsieur--Dablémar probably does care very little about
it. That is just what I was thinking, especially, knowing him--as I know
him."

"Are you very intimate with him, monsieur?"

"Very intimate--why, not precisely, madame--but enough so--to have
a--decided opinion about him."

"Do you think that he will make her happy, monsieur?"

"Whom, madame?"

My pretty partner stared at me in amazement as she exclaimed:

"What do you say? whom? Why, his wife, our dear Anna!"

So Monsieur Dablémar was the bridegroom; there was no longer any doubt.

"Oh! I beg your pardon, madame," I hastily replied. "I meant to say that
she will be happy, madame, very happy. At least, that is my honest
opinion."

"I love to think that you are not mistaken. I knew Anna at boarding
school; I know that she has an excellent disposition; and a husband must
needs be very uncongenial to induce her ever to complain of her lot. But
still, to speak frankly, the other one was prettier."

Once more I was beyond my depth. Who was this other one of whom she was
speaking? I turned and looked in another direction; but my partner stuck
to the point.

"And yet," she continued, "they say that he did not love her, that he
neglected her sadly. You must have known her, monsieur, being a friend
of Monsieur Dablémar?"

"Known whom, madame?"

This time my partner looked at me in a very singular way; I was
convinced that she believed that she had fallen in with a lunatic. She
simply said, with a smile:

"You are absent-minded, aren't you, monsieur?"

"It should not be possible with you, madame."

This compliment changed the current of my pretty brunette's thoughts,
and fully restored her amiability.--Oh! flattery! It is like
calumny--some trace of it always remains.

"Your gallantry, monsieur, cannot prevent my thinking that you are
absent-minded. Still, you may have reasons for not choosing to answer
the questions I asked you."

"Well, madame, it is true, I have reasons--very strong ones, indeed."

"I understand."

Sapristi! she was very lucky to understand; for my part, I confess that
that conversation made me much more uncomfortable than I had
anticipated; for I was most anxious not to appear a lunatic in the eyes
of that partner of mine, who seemed prettier to me every minute. There
are people who gain by being looked at, at close range; they are not
numerous, but my partner was one of them. And I was terribly afraid that
my incoherent replies would give her a very contemptuous opinion of me.

"There goes Monsieur Archibald," she continued, after a moment, "trying
to crush somebody else's foot; the way he capers about is perfectly
horrible; I will never dance near him."

I did not know where she saw Monsieur Archibald, so I smiled without
raising my eyes.

"Of course, you know the lady he is dancing with at this moment?"

"No, madame, no; I don't know her."

"But you haven't looked in their direction."

"I beg your pardon."

"Ha! ha! ha!"

My partner indulged in a burst of merriment which worried me. When she
had ceased to laugh, she said:

"Mon Dieu! monsieur, pray excuse me; it is very foolish of me to laugh
so."

"Why, madame? laughing is most becoming to you."

"But such a strange idea passed through my head, that I couldn't
possibly keep a serious face."

"If you would tell me your idea--I should be very happy to be taken for
your confidant."

"Oh! I should never dare; for it was you yourself, monsieur, who made me
want to laugh."

"So much the better, madame; I am delighted."

"Look you: for some reason or other, you seem to me to be very much
preoccupied by something."

"Since I have had the pleasure of dancing with you, madame, there would
be nothing surprising in that."

"Oh! monsieur, you are very gallant, I see; but allow me to remark that
your preoccupation has no sort of connection with me!"

"Do you think so, madame?"

"What do you suppose just came into my head?"

"I can't imagine; but if you would deign to tell me----"

"You will think me very childish.--Ha! ha! ha!"

"Well, madame?"

"Well, monsieur, I imagined that you had forgotten your handkerchief!"

I could not help laughing with her. Oho! so I had the aspect of a person
who had forgotten his handkerchief. In truth, a man who is without that
useful article is apt to have an anxious, unhappy look; yes, my partner
had thought of something perfectly consistent with the contortions I
must have been guilty of while she was talking to me. But, to prove to
her that she was mistaken, I drew my handkerchief and blew my nose,
although I had no desire to do so.

My partner made a charming little grimace, and said:

"I trust, monsieur, that you will not bear me a grudge for that jest?"

"Far from it, madame; indeed, it proves to me that you are a skilful
reader of countenances."

"Ah! monsieur, that is very unkind of you!"

"No, madame, for you guessed that I was much preoccupied, and you were
not mistaken; but the cause is much more serious than you supposed."

"Really? And will you tell me what it is?--that is to say, if I am not
impertinent to ask you."

"Oh! I should be very glad to confide it to you; but I dare not."

"Why not, pray?"

"Because I am afraid that you would blame me; and I should be so sorry
to incur your displeasure."

"Make haste; the quadrille is almost over!"

"It is--it isn't an easy thing to tell.--Do you waltz, madame?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"May I have the first waltz?"

"I am engaged."

"Oh! what luck! If you knew, madame, what a position I am in!"

"Would you have told me your secret while we were waltzing?"

"Certainly."

"You will think that women are very inquisitive, but I accept. I was
engaged by a young man whom I don't know; I'll tell him that I made a
mistake and that he may have another one."

"Ah! you are extremely kind, madame!"

The quadrille came to an end, and I escorted my partner to the bench
from which I had taken her. The thing for me to do now was to show a
bold front in the midst of that assemblage. In vain did I look about in
all directions, I did not see a familiar face. The company appeared to
be quite select. It was not one of those wedding parties where the
guests shriek and make a great noise in order to persuade themselves
that they are merry; the men strolled quietly through the rooms, or
chatted with the ladies, without any of the shouts of laughter and
violent gesticulations which sometimes give to a large party the
appearance of a tempestuous sea. The deuce! I found that my presence had
been remarked. I met the eye of a stout young man, who had already
passed me twice and scrutinized me closely. I felt ill at ease; the
self-assurance born of the hearty dinner and the wine I had drunk had
already abandoned me; my conversation with my partner, having aroused a
most ardent desire to form a more intimate acquaintance with that lady,
had instantly dissipated the exhilaration that had led me to commit that
signal folly. I was beginning to reflect now, and it must have given me
an extremely foolish aspect.--Suddenly I saw that a gentleman had
stopped beside me and had taken his snuffbox from his pocket. He had one
of those faces which resemble the turkey rather than the eagle; a face
which might perhaps have been venerable, but for an enormous nose which
covered a great part of it. If I could enter into conversation with him,
it seemed to me that I should cut a less awkward figure.



X

A PINCH OF SNUFF.--A FAMILY TABLEAU


I stepped toward him, and, although I never take snuff, I put out my
hand in the direction of his snuffbox, saying:

"With your permission?"

The gentleman was just closing the box, but he hastened to reopen it,
and said to me with an expression to which he tried to impart much
significance:

"Just try that, and tell me what you think of it."

I saw that he attached great importance to the quality of his snuff.
Indeed, when one has a nose of such dimensions, it is natural enough to
give much thought to the question of snuff. I took an enormous pinch,
and resigned myself to the necessity of inhaling it with all my force.
The snuff caught in my nose and throat and eyes all at once. I choked
and sneezed, but I tried to dissemble my inexperience and to appear well
pleased.

My friend shook his head knowingly, as he asked:

"Well! what do you think of it?"

"Excellent! delicious! I have never taken any so good."

"Parbleu! I believe you. Do you recognize it?"

"No, frankly, I do not. But, perhaps, by trying to--wait a moment."

I did what I could to prolong the conversation, for I was determined not
to part with my interlocutor until the orchestra played the first
measure of the waltz. Unluckily, I was not well posted on the subject of
snuff.

"It's of no use for you to think," continued the man with the snuffbox.
"It's a mixture that I make myself. There's _robillard_ in it, and
Belgian, and caporal."

"Ah! I thought there was some caporal. I recognized that."

"There's very little of it. When I have mixed them in just the right
proportions, I add two or three drops, no more, of _eau de mélisse_."

"Ah! that's what it is; I said to myself: 'It seems to me that I
recognize that taste.'"

"The taste is barely perceptible; but it lessens the strength of the
_robillard_, which makes people sick sometimes."

"_Fichtre!_ _robillard_ is quite capable of it, especially on an empty
stomach. I have known people, who--but, after all, it depends on whether
you're used to it."

At that moment, I cut such an idiotic figure in my own eyes that I was
tempted to laugh in my own face. Luckily, I had to do with a party who
seemed to be of about the same calibre.

"Monsieur," he said, as he closed his snuffbox, "this is the result of
protracted study; and yet, I never studied chemistry!"

"You astound me! I would have sworn that you were a chemist, simply on
the strength of your snuff."

"That is what many people have said; but I ought to tell you that I have
taken snuff ever since I was thirteen years of age."

"You are quite capable of it!"

"It was prescribed for a disease of the eyes--which, by the way, it
didn't cure. I tried to make Anna take it for an ear trouble she had at
seven years of age; but I couldn't do it. You can't imagine, monsieur,
all of that child's devices to avoid taking snuff. In the first place,
she used to hide my snuffbox, and more than once she threw it out of the
window; then she filled it with very--unpleasant things; I prefer not to
say what they were, but she spoiled my snuff, and she tried to disgust
me with it. Ah! what a mischievous little witch! Who would believe it
now, eh?"

I made no reply, for his mention of Anna reminded me that my partner had
called the bride by that name. Was I conversing with some near relation
of the newly married pair? The thought disturbed me, and I tried to lead
the conversation back to the snuff. Once more I held out my hand,
saying:

"I wonder if I might venture to ask for another pinch--it's so very
good! And now that I know what it's made of, I shall relish it better."

My gentleman solemnly took his snuffbox from his pocket, and was about
to open it, when a girl of fourteen or fifteen years, and very ugly, ran
up to him, crying:

"Uncle Guillardin, you mustn't forget that you're going to dance with me
first; I want to dance, I do, and I've missed three already."

"Yes, yes, don't worry, Joliette; I'll dance with you, as I promised."

"The next one?"

"Yes, the next one."

"Cousin Archibald invited me twice, too, and then he didn't come to get
me; that was awfully mean of him. I told him I'd complain to you, and he
said: 'Go and polk, and let me alone.' That was all the nastier of him,
because he knows I can't polk."

Monsieur Guillardin--I knew now my snuff taker's name--opened his box
and offered it to me; and paying no further heed to the little girl,
who remained by his side, he said:

"One day, monsieur, when I had persisted longer than usual in trying to
make Anna inhale a few grains, it occurred to her to blow into the box
with all her might just as I handed it to her. You can imagine the
result: the snuff filled my eyes--she had taken the precaution to close
her own; I suffered horribly, and for two whole days I couldn't see. But
after that, I ceased trying to give her snuff--Take a pinch."

I sacrificed myself a second time. I have no idea how I succeeded in
inhaling it, but I know that my eyes smarted and that I felt strongly
inclined to weep.

Mademoiselle Joliette, the inaptly named little girl, who had remained
with us, roared with laughter.

"I should think monsieur was trying to be like you, uncle, when Cousin
Anna blew into the snuffbox," she said.

"What! are you still here, Joliette? Go back to my daughter, for you are
maid of honor, you know, and your station is beside the bride."

But Mademoiselle Joliette began to smile in a singular fashion, which
raised her eyebrows--they were naturally too high--and gave to her face
the effect of a mask. Her eyes were fixed upon me; she apparently had
something to say, and dared not say it; my presence seemed to embarrass
her. For my part, being by that time perfectly sure that the individual
with the huge nose was the bride's father, I deeply regretted having
addressed him, and I looked every minute in the direction of the
orchestra, hoping to see the musicians take their instruments.

Monsieur Guillardin seized the opportunity to fill his own nostrils with
snuff; that operation took some time, for each of them must have held
half an ounce; but suddenly Mademoiselle Joliette threw up her head and
began:

"Well, I don't care, uncle; I'm going to tell you why I am staying here.
It's because Cousin Archibald, who was staring at monsieur, said to me
just now: 'Joliette, go and ask father who that man is that he just gave
a pinch of snuff to, and that he's talking to now. I don't know the man,
and I don't think he's been here long. I want to find out who he is,
because there are sharp fellows who sneak into wedding parties sometimes
when they are not invited, so as to stuff themselves with cakes and
ices. But I don't propose to have any such tricks played on us.'--That's
what my cousin told me to ask you."

Imagine my plight; imagine the figure I cut while that detestable little
Joliette was saying all this. I am certain that I changed color several
times. However, I took the boldest course; I forced myself to laugh, and
to act as if I considered the question extremely amusing. When he saw me
laugh, the venerable gentleman with the huge nose deemed it fitting to
do the same, murmuring:

"Ha! ha! That's a pretty good one! I recognize my son Archibald there.
Oh! he's a hothead. Ha! ha! ha! why, if anyone should presume to join
our party without an invitation, he'd annihilate him; he'd begin by
jumping at his throat, like a bulldog. Ha! ha! it's very amusing! My
dear love, just go and tell him that monsieur is--that monsieur's name
is--that I am talking with----"

Monsieur Guillardin looked at me as he uttered these incomplete
sentences. He was just beginning to realize that he too did not know me,
and he awaited my reply with his nostrils open wider than his eyes.

I cannot describe my sensations; I felt huge drops of perspiration on my
forehead, my mouth was parched. It was not stout Archibald's wrath that
alarmed me; but to be treated as a suspicious character, as an intruder
who had come there to get ices and punch! Ah! that thought drove me mad,
and I realized all the impropriety of my conduct. I would have been glad
to vanish through a trapdoor, like stage demons, and take the risk of
breaking a bone or two in my descent.

At that moment the orchestra gave the signal for the waltz.--O blessed
music! never didst thou seem to me so sweet, so melodious, so alluring!
I bowed to the bride's father, saying:

"I beg your pardon, but I am engaged for this dance."

And I fled toward the pretty brunette, who was my last hope, my anchor
of safety. Probably my face betrayed a part of the torment and anguish
that I had just experienced, for the lady rose quickly and put her arm
about me. We began to waltz, and she at once opened the conversation.

"What in heaven's name is the matter, monsieur? you seem much less
cheerful than you were--and that secret that you were to confide to
me----"

"Oh! I am going to tell you everything, madame; I shall be too happy if
you deign to be indulgent to me, and to understand that this is only an
escapade, reprehensible no doubt, but undeserving of---- Mon Dieu! I
don't know what I am saying."

"Speak, I beg you; explain yourself."

"Of course--I believe I am treading on your foot now."

"That's of no consequence."

"First of all, madame, I must tell you that my name is Charles
Rochebrune, that I was born in Paris, of respectable parents; I can
easily prove what I assert."

"Great heaven! do you take me for an examining magistrate? Why do you
tell me all this?"

"So that you may know that I am not a mere vagrant. I had some fortune
once, and I still have about eight thousand francs a year."

"Does this mean that you desire to marry me, monsieur? It is my duty to
warn you that I am married."

"No, madame, no; I don't say all this as a prelude to asking your hand;
but so that you may know that I am not a nobody, a vagabond."

"Oh! I assure you, monsieur, that you haven't the look of one."

"True; but looks are so deceitful that sometimes---- Mon Dieu! now I am
out of step."

"Never mind; pray finish."

"Very well! understand, then, madame, that I dined at this restaurant
to-day with a number of other persons, all men. The dinner was given by
Dupréval, a solicitor, who is about to marry. We celebrated his farewell
to bachelorhood and drank to his approaching marriage; which is
equivalent to telling you, madame, that the champagne was not spared.
The dinner was prolonged to a late hour; we heard the music of this ball
and of the one in the rear--for there's another wedding party there."

"I know it, monsieur. Well?"

"We were just going away, another young man and myself, who were the
last to leave our dining-room, when the music, the delicious waltz they
were playing, gave birth to the most insane idea."

"Ah! I believe I can guess."

"A little enlivened by the champagne, seduced by the melodious music--in
short, madame, Balloquet said to me--Balloquet is my friend's name:
'Let's join the festivities, although we are not invited. Do you go to
one, and I'll go to the other. If anybody notices our intrusion, if we
are questioned, we'll say that we have made a mistake in the party.'--I
allowed myself to be led away by Balloquet's reasoning; he went into the
other ballroom, and I--I came here."

Instead of being indignant, as I feared, my partner burst into a hearty
laugh, which the music hardly sufficed to drown. I allowed her to laugh
freely for several seconds, then I continued:

"So you forgive me, madame?"

"Oh! absolutely, monsieur. What you have done doesn't seem to be very
criminal. It's a little audacious, perhaps, but so amusing!"

"But, madame, it is most essential now that somebody should act as my
sponsor; for the bride's brother, Monsieur Archibald, has noticed me;
and just now, while I was conversing, unwittingly, with an immense nose,
which proves to belong to the bride's father----"

"Monsieur Guillardin?"

"Even so. Well, as I was saying, a young person, instructed by this
corpulent Monsieur Archibald, came and asked Monsieur Guillardin who I
was. It seems that Monsieur Archibald is not always affable, and that he
would probably take this pleasantry of mine badly. As for myself,
madame, I realize that I have done wrong, that I have been guilty of a
reckless piece of folly; but if this Monsieur Archibald tells me so in
unseemly language, I swear that I am not of a temper to put up with it."

My pretty brunette had ceased to laugh.

"In truth," she murmured, "Anna's brother is the sort of fellow who
doesn't understand practical jokes. He's a fool, and, being a fool, he
is exceedingly sensitive; he loses his temper and quarrels over an idle
word. He is very strong, it seems, and that gives him much
self-assurance."

"It matters little to me how strong he is! I am no boxer, myself, and I
don't fight as street porters do."

"Mon Dieu! what is to be done?"

"If you would condescend, madame, to be kind enough to say that I am an
acquaintance of yours, that you invited me to come here--in a word, if
you would present me?"

"I would ask nothing better if I were alone here; but my husband is with
me, and he knows everything and sees everything; he's worse than the
_Solitaire_. He would ask me instantly where I met you."

"See, madame, how they are staring at me already! Look, as we pass
Monsieur Archibald, he points me out to several gentlemen standing near,
and I have no doubt that he is saying to them: 'Do you know that man?'
and they all say _no_."

"Oh! mon Dieu! you make me shudder, monsieur!"

"Look out for me when the waltz comes to an end--and I fancy that will
be soon."

"But I don't want them to turn you out. You waltz so well--really, it
would be a great pity."

"You are too kind, madame; however, if I am not taken under somebody's
protection, it looks as if the affair would turn out badly for me."

"Mon Dieu! if only Frédérique were here! she would get you out of the
scrape on the instant, I know."

"What! a lady named _Frédéric_?"

"Yes, monsieur--Frédéri--que."

"Ah! I understand, the feminine of Frédéric. And this lady?"

"She expected to come to Anna's wedding; she promised me she would; but
she hasn't come."

"They are quickening the pace; a few turns more, and I shall be
ignominiously expelled! What I shall regret most of all, madame, is
you--who have been so indulgent to me, and whom it is impossible to see
for an instant without ardently desiring to see you again."

"Oh! monsieur----"

"However, if Monsieur Archibald is discourteous, if he doesn't choose to
accept a proper apology, I promise you that I will show him that he
hasn't a dastard to deal with."

"Oh! don't talk like that! you make me tremble. If I should see my
husband, I----"

My pretty partner did not finish her sentence; the music stopped, the
waltz was at an end. But, almost instantly, my partner uttered a joyful
exclamation and dragged me toward the outer door of the ballroom, saying
in an undertone:

"Come, come; you are saved; here is Frédérique!"



XI

MADAME FRÉDÉRIQUE


I have no need to say whether I allowed myself to be guided by my pretty
brunette. We forced our way through the crowd, at the expense of a
number of feet which came in our way; my partner held my hand, and I
pressed the protecting hand with which she held it, so that it could not
escape me.

We reached the door of the ballroom just as a lady, newly arrived, was
coming in. My conductress rushed to meet her, dragged her into a small
room set apart for those who wished to converse, and, still without
releasing my hand, led her into a window recess, apart from everybody,
and said to her, laying her hand on her arm:

"Frédérique, you have arrived in the nick of time to confer a great
favor on monsieur, and on myself, who--who take an interest in
monsieur."

"What must I do? Tell me, my dear Armantine. I am all ready."

"Listen: you know monsieur, you invited him to come to the wedding,
where he was to ask for you; but as you had not arrived when he came, he
didn't know to whom to apply. Now that you are here, you must introduce
him. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly! it's the simplest thing in the world! Take my hand,
monsieur, if you please; for, as I am to present you, you must be my
escort, for a few moments at least."

"With great pleasure, madame!"

"How lucky it is that I came without an escort, and that my husband has
catarrh! It's a true saying that good fortunes never come singly."

"You will condescend, then, madame, to----"

"Why, it's all arranged; I am delighted to do anything to oblige
Armantine. By the way, your name, monsieur, if you please; for, if I am
to present you, I must call you by name."

"Charles Rochebrune."

"Very good! An advocate, I suppose? All the young men are advocates."

"I am not in practice; but I studied for the bar."

"That is quite enough. Now, let us go into the ballroom."

My new acquaintance passed her arm through mine and leaned on it as if
we had known each other for years. I felt altogether reassured; I walked
with my head erect, my face had recovered its serenity, and I was no
longer afraid to look about me.

My partner left us as we entered the ballroom, and the lady on my arm
asked me in an undertone:

"Do you know my name?"

"I know only that one by which she called you just now."

"I am Madame Dauberny, eight years married; I am twenty-seven years old,
and my husband forty-four; he is wealthy and has no business. He doesn't
care for society, balls, etc., but I go about without him. I was born
at Bordeaux, and my parents were of the same province. I think that you
are well enough posted now, in case anyone should talk to you about me."

"Yes, madame; thanks a thousand times!"

What I especially admired was the ease and fluency with which my
companion said all this to me as we walked through the crowd; I am
certain that no one who saw her talking to me would have suspected that
she had never seen me until that evening. But Monsieur Guillardin and
the bride came forward to meet my protectress, and I saw the stout
Archibald too, walking behind his sister, and continuing to scrutinize
me closely while he saluted Madame Dauberny.

"How late you are!" cried the bride, taking my companion's hand.

"We were in despair!" said the venerable proboscis; "it is half-past
twelve, and we were just saying that Madame Dauberny would not come,
although she had promised to."

"And here I am, you see. I never break my promises. Ah! that makes
Monsieur Archibald laugh; however, it is quite true, monsieur."

"I was laughing with pleasure at seeing you, madame."

"You are too polite, monsieur. But I am the more culpable for being so
late, because I have caused sad embarrassment to an unfortunate young
man to whom I had said that I would be here at eleven, and that he need
only ask for me and I would present him. I refer to monsieur, who has
been looking for me here nearly an hour, so he tells me; and, failing to
find me, he didn't know to whom to appeal. Allow me to introduce
Monsieur Charles Rochebrune, a distinguished advocate--and a mighty
dancer. I thought that you would readily welcome a friend of my
childhood."

At that, I made a profound bow to the bride and her father, and to the
hulking Archibald, who condescended to smile upon me, while Monsieur
Guillardin exclaimed:

"All friends of yours are welcome, fair lady! I trust that you do not
doubt it. But I have already had the pleasure of making the acquaintance
of monsieur, who appreciates my snuff. But I confess that I didn't know
with whom I was talking, and I was just about to ask him, when he left
me, to go and waltz. If he had told us that he came at your invitation,
that would have been enough to ensure him a hearty welcome."

"You are too kind, Monsieur Guillardin, but Monsieur Rochebrune is quite
as well pleased to have me here;--are you not, monsieur?"

"Yes, madame," I replied, with an expression that made Madame Dauberny
smile; and it seemed to me that that smile caused Monsieur Archibald to
make a wry face.

"But where is Monsieur Dablémar? I don't see him anywhere."

Madame Dauberny had hardly asked the question, when a short man, dressed
in good taste, but very slight and with an affected manner, came running
toward us, crying:

"Ah! here she is at last, the one person we longed so to see, and of
whose coming we had despaired! I must dance with you; I engage you for
the next dance--that is to say, if you will deign to grant me that
favor."

"We will see--later. I never dance as soon as I arrive; pray give me
time to look about."

"My poor Anna has had to rest a little while; her brother trod on her
foot; and he did well, too, for it is a good thing for her to rest: she
was dancing too much, she----"

This gentleman, in whom I had no difficulty in discovering the
bridegroom, stopped suddenly when he caught sight of me, evidently for
the first time. My introductress, who had dropped my arm for a moment,
took my hand and said to him:

"Monsieur Charles Rochebrune, a good friend of mine, whom I take the
liberty to present to you."

Monsieur Dablémar bowed to me, as courtesy required. Thus I had been
well and duly introduced to the bride and groom and the bride's kindred;
I was one of the wedding party, and I could walk about fearlessly
through the salons.

Having no longer anything to fear on my own account, my first
pleasurable occupation was to scrutinize at my leisure the woman who had
so gallantly come forward to be my buckler, and who, although she did
not know me, although she had never seen me, had been willing to take my
arm and to present me to a numerous assemblage as a person whom she knew
intimately. I realized that she had done it at the request of a friend,
to whom, as well as to me, she undoubtedly thought that she was doing an
important service; but, none the less, there was a flavor of audacity in
the performance that pleased and charmed me. Was it devoted friendship?
was it recklessness of disposition? was it eccentricity, originality? I
had no idea as yet, but I was deeply indebted to the lady, for she had
extricated me from a bad scrape.

In the first few moments after my introduction, I was too excited, too
preoccupied, to think of examining the person who introduced me; all
that I could say was that, at first glance, she seemed to have a very
becoming air of originality. Now that my embarrassment had vanished, and
Madame Dauberny was talking with the bride, I could venture to examine
her.

The person whom my pretty partner had called Frédérique was rather above
middle height, rather slender than stout, but exceedingly well formed,
with a something brusque and cavalierish in her gait and her carriage
which was wonderfully becoming to her; her foot, while not remarkably
small, was well formed; she carried her head erect, and slightly thrown
back, and often rested one hand on her hip, like a man.

Madame Dauberny was not precisely a pretty woman; indeed, one might have
passed her without noticing her; but the more you looked at her, feature
by feature, her charm inevitably grew upon you; for there was a great
deal of expression in her very mobile countenance. She was a brunette in
the fullest acceptation of the term; her hair was of such an intense
black that it was almost blue; this is not a witticism; extremely black
and glossy hair sometimes has a bluish tinge; but such hair is rarely
seen.

Her eyes were very dark blue, well shaped, and with abundant lashes; she
fixed them uncompromisingly upon the person with whom she was talking,
and they seemed to defy you to make them look down or humble themselves
before anyone on earth. They denoted a woman of strong character, an
energetic woman. Shall I say, a passionate woman? I think that I should
err: strong natures are able to hold their passions in check, instead of
allowing themselves to be dominated by them, like---- But I must finish
my portrait. Gracefully arched, heavy eyebrows--but not too
heavy--surmounted those expressive eyes; the nose was a little large,
but straight, and the nostrils, slightly dilated, opened but little more
when she smiled. She had a large mouth, and her lips were rather thin;
but the teeth were very white and regular. That mouth was well adapted
to raillery and persiflage; and it was most eloquent in expressing
contempt and anger.

Madame Dauberny was naturally pale, and even by candle light her skin
was not white. She had an oval chin and a high forehead. So much for her
features; but all these details give a very insufficient idea of the
general effect of that unusual face. It was necessary to see her in
order to understand her; in the short time that I spent in examining
her, her face changed entirely three or four times.

There was one thing that pleased me greatly, and that was her accent, in
which there was a faint suggestion of the _Midi_, which, to my mind, is
fascinating in a woman. She had a well-modulated voice, like almost all
those who are born on the banks of the Garonne; it was not soft, but the
accent deprived it of anything like harshness. And then, it reminded me
of a fascinating Bordelaise, whom I had loved dearly, and known such a
short time! On the whole, I was decidedly flattered to be considered
Madame Dauberny's friend. But that did not cause me to forget my
agreeable partner, to whom also I was deeply indebted. I was anxious to
learn something concerning the pretty brunette. I tried to make up my
mind to ask her friend Frédérique about her.

At that moment, she came toward me and whispered as she took my arm:

"Will you be my escort once more?"

"Ah, madame! I am too happy that you deign to accept me as such."

"Let us make a few turns about the room, and I will finish my task of
giving you such information as you need concerning the company; then you
will be free to return to Armantine."

"Armantine? Oh, yes! that is the lady who spoke to you in my behalf?"

"To be sure. You know her, do you not?"

"Not at all. I never saw her before; but I had danced a quadrille and
waltzed with her."

"Well! this is a little strong! And what was the source of her deep
interest in you?"

"The fact that I had told her of a mad prank I had just committed; of
which I will tell you as well, with your permission."

"I not only permit it, but I insist upon it; for, after all, it is well
that I should know something about the friend of my childhood."

I told Madame Dauberny the story that I had previously told her friend.
She listened attentively, without moving an eyebrow. Her impassiveness
frightened me. But when I had finished, she shook her head and smiled
slightly, murmuring:

"It was a little _risqué_! So your friend is at the other ball?"

"Yes, madame."

"And your friend's name is----?"

"Balloquet."

"What does he do?"

"He is a doctor."

"There's no great crime in all this, provided that you really are, as
you say, an honorable man."

"Ah, madame!--this suspicion----"

"Is fully justified, it seems to me; for, after all, monsieur, you may
be a very bad character, one of those young men who cannot be received
in good society. You may have said to yourself: 'I'll go and have a
little sport at the expense of all those people!'--What would there be
surprising in that? Oh! what a face you are making! Be careful, or
people will think that I am making a scene; and when a woman makes a
scene with a man, it means that she has some claim upon him. You must
see that your long face is compromising to me."

I was horribly vexed; certainly she had a right to suspect me; but the
mocking tone she had assumed, her manner, which denoted anything but
conviction, and the expression of her face, augmented my chagrin, and I
did not know what to say. How could I prove to her that I had not lied?

At that moment, a man of some forty years, stylishly dressed, and not
ill-looking, but with a vague and shifty look in his eyes, stopped in
front of us and paid a compliment or two to the incredulous Frédérique.
I glanced at the new-comer, whose face was not unfamiliar; he caught my
eye and bowed to me very affably. I cannot describe the thrill of
pleasure which that bow afforded me, although I did not know who had
bestowed it upon me.

"Ah! do you know Monsieur Rochebrune?" Madame Dauberny inquired.

"Yes, madame, I have met monsieur several times in company, notably at
Général Traunitz's and at Madame de Saint-Albert's receptions."

"True," said I, searching my memory; "I remember very well having had
the pleasure of meeting monsieur at those receptions."

"To tell the truth," rejoined Madame Dauberny, "I should have been
surprised if Monsieur Sordeville had not known you, knowing all Paris as
he does, and all that everyone is doing, all that takes place!"

"Oh, madame! you accredit me with much more knowledge than I possess,"
replied Monsieur Sordeville, smiling with what he intended for an
affable expression, which accorded ill with the natural character of his
face. "You are very late, madame; Armantine was distressed at your
non-appearance; which, however, did not prevent her dancing. But
Monsieur Rochebrune can tell you that, for I saw him waltzing with my
wife, and very well, too, I assure you."

"What, monsieur! was it your wife with whom I had the pleasure of
waltzing?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Why, what extraordinary mortals you are!" cried Madame Dauberny,
looking from one to the other, with an ironical expression. "You know
each other, and yet monsieur does not know that it was Madame Sordeville
with whom he waltzed?"

"What is there so surprising in that, madame? I have met Monsieur
Rochebrune at parties to which my wife did not accompany me; that
happens every day. Because one is married is no reason why one should
not go out sometimes without his or her spouse; and I may say that you
yourself are proving the truth of that statement this very evening."

Monsieur Sordeville said this in a meaning tone. Now that I knew that he
was my charming partner's husband, I examined him more closely. He was
very good-looking; his features were regular, and he had rather a
distinguished face; but I was not attracted by it.

Meanwhile, Madame Dauberny had not remained passive under the little
shaft Monsieur Sordeville had let fly at her; but I did not hear her
rejoinder, because my pretty partner came up and took her husband's arm
just as her friend was speaking to him.

"My dear Armantine," said my patroness, "you do not know, do you, that
your husband is acquainted with Monsieur Rochebrune, whom I took the
liberty of bringing to this festivity? He's a terrible man, is your
husband; if I had undertaken to introduce anyone here under a false
name, he would certainly have discovered the whole intrigue."

The pretty brunette smiled and blushed slightly; then she put her arm
through her friend's and led her away, but not before I had whispered in
Madame Dauberny's ear:

"Well! are you convinced now that I did not lie to you?"

"I never thought that you were lying," she replied, squeezing my hand as
a man would do.

Monsieur Sordeville remained with me. He seemed inclined to continue the
conversation, and I asked nothing better than to become more fully
acquainted with the husband of a lady who pleased me exceedingly. For if
he had a face which did not attract me, I was at liberty to think of his
wife while I was talking with him.

"She is an extremely agreeable person--Madame Dauberny!" Monsieur
Sordeville began.

"Yes, she is very agreeable; she seems to have much wit."

"Have you never before been in a position to judge of her wit?"

I bit my lips; I had said a stupid thing; but I hastened to add, in an
off-hand tone:

"What I meant to say was that she has even more wit than she allows to
appear on the surface."

"Ah! do you think so? I must say that it seems to me that she doesn't
hide what wit she has."

I saw that I should have difficulty in extricating myself; when one has
strayed into a bad road, it's the devil and all to get back to solid
ground. And then, too, that Monsieur Sordeville had an embarrassing way
of making one talk. The bride's brother happened to be passing us at
that moment. He stopped and said to Monsieur Sordeville:

"Of whom are you speaking?"

"Madame Dauberny."

"Madame Dauberny! Oh! she's a _gaillarde_, she is!"

Monsieur Sordeville raised his eyebrows slightly as he replied:

"Hum! that word is a little strong!"

"Why so? I mean by _gaillarde_ a decided character, which never bends,
and does nothing except in accordance with its own desires; which takes
its stand above a multitude of everyday prejudices, and snaps its
fingers at what people will say. Indeed, Madame Frédérique--she prefers
to be called that, you know, for she detests her husband's name--Madame
Frédérique, I say, makes no bones of declaring that she does only what
she pleases, and that she intends to do everything that she pleases.
When a woman says that, I should say that one may well call her a
_gaillarde_!"

Monsieur Sordeville smiled, and said simply:

"People say so many things that they don't do! Sometimes, it is to
obtain a reputation for originality."

"And you, monsieur," continued Archibald, turning to me, "you, who are
one of Madame Frédérique's early friends, do not you share the opinion
of her which I have just expressed?"

I saw that Monsieur Sordeville was covertly watching me, and I replied,
measuring my words:

"Since I have had the honor of knowing Madame Dauberny, monsieur, I have
always recognized in her the possessor of many invaluable qualities, and
a keen wit, slightly satirical perhaps; as for her faults, I know of
none; but clever people are becoming so scarce that they may well pass
for originals."

My interlocutors held their peace. Monsieur Sordeville shook his head,
and Monsieur Archibald pursed his lips. The orchestra played the prelude
to a quadrille. I determined to perform a noble deed, which would put me
on good terms with the bride's family: I invited Mademoiselle Joliette
to dance.

The ugly child accepted with unbounded delight. While we were dancing, I
saw Madame Dauberny looking at me with a smile that seemed to say:

"That's a very clever thing you are doing."

For my own part, I hoped to reward myself in the next quadrille by
inviting the seductive Armantine.

But while we were executing the final figure, a great uproar suddenly
arose outside the door; people were shouting and quarrelling in the
corridor, and I fancied that I recognized Balloquet's voice. Either he
had not been so fortunate as I, or he had been guilty of some
imprudence. I ran in the direction of the outcry.



XII

THE WEDDING PARTY IN THE REAR ROOM


As I stepped out into the hall which separated the two ballrooms, the
dispute seemed to be growing warmer. I could distinguish Balloquet's
voice perfectly, shouting:

"Once more, messieurs, I tell you it's a mistake, a simple mistake. What
the devil! any man may be mistaken. I mistook one party for the other.
Wedding parties are a good deal alike, as a rule, especially after the
dancing begins. There's not enough harm done to whip a cat for."

The waiters did their utmost to restore peace, testifying that Balloquet
had dined upstairs with some most respectable gentlemen.

I succeeded in forcing my way through the crowd. I saw a number of
grotesque faces, which would not have been out of place in the
_Charivari's_ caricatures. Most of the men had retained beneath their
gala dress the vulgur or stupid air which the finest coat cannot
conceal. They were all very hot against poor Balloquet, who was as red
as a cherry and gesticulating in the midst of them like one possessed. A
stout man of some fifty years, whose eyes looked as if they were made of
glass, they were so expressionless and so protruding, held him by the
arm and kept repeating:

"You don't get off like this, _bigre_! You either belong here or you
don't, that's all! Proofs! proofs! I want proofs!"

A tall, fair-haired young man, with a weak, stupid face, and hair
brushed flat over his forehead almost to his eyebrows, seemed to be
threatening Balloquet, as he said:

"And what did you do to my wife? tell me that! Did you or didn't you?
Pétronille ain't capable of lying about it. She told me you pinched her!
That's a pretty way to do--pinch the bride, when you don't belong in the
party! If you'd been invited to the wedding--but that wouldn't be any
excuse."

"I was dancing, monsieur le marié; my hand may have gone astray. If I
did pinch her anywhere, I thought it was part of the figure, and----"

"Oh! that's a good one! that don't seem reasonable!"

"But, monsieur, you don't understand."

"You don't get off like that, _bigre_!" cried the fat man with the
glassy eyes; "proofs! proofs! proofs!"

At that moment, to add to the uproar, a corpulent dame of at least sixty
years of age, with a flat nose, smeared with snuff, her face encircled
by a flaxen false front, the curls of which, artistically grouped in
terraces, made her look as if she wore whiskers, and overladen with
flowers, ribbons, lace, and false jewelry, appeared in the midst of the
men, crying in a shrill voice:

"I don't want Pamphile to fight! I forbid him to fight! What's it all
about? You shan't fight, Pamphile--I'd sooner fight myself, in my son's
place. O my son, I'm your mother, or I ain't your mother! Monsieur's an
intruder, a villain, a blackguard. Throw him out of doors! Call the
watch!"

"No, madame, I am not a villain," retorted Balloquet, glaring savagely
at the old woman, who was bedizened like a circus horse; "and I'll prove
it."

"Go back to the ballroom, Madame Girie; this is no place for you; we
don't need a woman's help to settle this business."

"I tell you, I don't want my son to fight!--Come, Pamphile, come back
with me; don't get mixed up in this row."

"Oh! do let me alone, mamma! Go back with the other ladies."

"No! no! I don't want you to fight because monsieur pinched your wife.
Mon Dieu! what a terrible thing! In the first place, Pétronille had no
business to tell you of it. God! if the late Girie had fought every time
anyone pinched me! But I didn't tell him! I took good care not to
complain! I was too fond of my husband to do that; and he--oh! he loved
his lovely blonde! You ought to hand monsieur over to the watch.--Watch!
watch!"

Madame Girie persisted in shrieking: "Watch!" waving her arms, striking
everybody within reach, and increasing the confusion immeasurably by
trying to restore peace.

It was at that moment that I succeeded in reaching Balloquet's side, and
released him from the man with the glassy eyes.

"What's all this, messieurs?" I exclaimed.--"What has happened to you,
my dear Balloquet? Why are all these people so incensed with you?"

Balloquet uttered a cry of joy at sight of me, and cast a haughty glance
at his adversaries, saying:

"You see that I didn't lie to you, messieurs; here's my friend, who is a
guest at the other wedding and has come in search of me.--Isn't it true,
Rochebrune, that you have come to fetch me, and that I am Arthur
Balloquet, medical practitioner, and that I am not the sort of man to be
turned out of doors?"

"Proofs! proofs! proofs!"

"I don't want my son to fight!--Listen to your mother, Pamphile!"

"You pinched Pétronille; I stick to that!"

"But I made a mistake!"

"Watch!"

"In God's name, Madame Girie, be good enough to hold your tongue!"

A small man, whom I had not yet seen, as he was hidden by the crowd,
succeeded in passing his perfectly curled blonde head under Madame
Girie's ear rings, and said, gesticulating freely after the manner of
Mr. Punch, for he bore a strong resemblance to a marionette:

"Allow me! allow me! we must try to understand each other. Monsieur says
he came to my cousin Pamphile Girie's wedding party by mistake; but a
mistake like that don't last an hour, and monsieur's been with us more
than an hour. I noticed him; he drank punch every minute; he made more
noise than all the rest of the company, and I said to myself: 'That
man's a _boute-en-train_![A] Oh! he's a famous _boute-en-train_!' But
monsieur must have discovered that he didn't know us; that the bride and
groom were not the ones who invited him. It seems to me that that's
good, logical reasoning. I'm a logical man!"

The little automaton was not such a fool as one would have supposed at
first sight. Balloquet was at a loss for a reply to his speech. I made
haste to take the floor.

"Messieurs, my friend Arthur Balloquet has not deceived you; he is a
most estimable physician, and incapable of offending you intentionally.
He mistook the salon, that is all; you must not see anything more in the
affair than there really is in it."

"And I was so comfortable where I was," said Balloquet, "that I could
not make up my mind to go away."

This compliment allayed the ferocity of the vitreous-eyed gentleman.
However, he was about to repeat his demand for proofs, when, on turning
his head, he saw Monsieur Guillardin, who had come out to ascertain the
cause of the uproar, accompanied by Madame Dauberny. She came to my side
and whispered:

"I presume that your friend Balloquet has been putting his foot in it?"

As I said yes with my eyes, we heard a cry of surprise:

"Why, there's Monsieur Guillardin--my landlord!"

"Himself, Monsieur Bocal. What are you doing here, pray?"

"What am I doing? Why, I am marrying my daughter Pétronille to Monsieur
Girie here.--Come forward, Girie; come, I say, and speak to my landlord,
to whom I sent cards, I am sure."

The tall, fair-haired youth came forward with the loutish air that never
left him, and bowed sheepishly to Monsieur Guillardin. This incident
produced a fortunate diversion; attention was diverted from Balloquet,
although Madame Girie continued to mutter:

"Oh! if my son should fight, I should be sick three times over! But he
shan't go out, or, if he does, I'll follow him! I'm capable of anything
where Pamphile's concerned. When he ain't home at eleven o'clock or
twelve, I go and sit at the window, and there I sit all night, till he
comes home. When I hear a horse, I says: 'There's my son.'--Sometimes I
don't have anything on but three undervests and two chemises! but I
don't care; I snap my fingers at the risk of catching cold!"

But nobody listened to Madame Girie. Monsieur Guillardin, having
acknowledged the salutations of Monsieur Bocal and long-legged Pamphile,
said to the former:

"Faith! my dear monsieur, this is a curious coincidence. I'm here for
the same purpose that you are."

"I don't understand."

"I have married my daughter to-day, and we're celebrating the occasion
right beside you here."

"Is that so? can it be possible? This other wedding party is yours? I
mean, that you're marrying your daughter--no, giving her in marriage?"

"Yes, monsieur," interposed Madame Dauberny; "and I have been waiting a
long while for Monsieur Balloquet to ask me to dance. I told him that I
should be at Mademoiselle Guillardin's wedding."

Balloquet stared in amazement when that lady, whom he did not know,
called him by name; but he replied at once:

"I am at your service, madame; but, you see, I was trying to explain
matters to these gentlemen, and----"

"Oh! that's all over! let's not say any more about that!" cried Bocal,
grasping Balloquet's hand. "If I had had any idea that you were invited
to my landlord's wedding party!--Madame, messieurs, we shall be much
flattered if you will honor us with your presence, if you will deign to
come to our ball.--I beg you, Monsieur Guillardin, to do me that honor.
Let me present Pétronille--Pamphile, go and call Pétronille.--Come,
madame and messieurs, pray take a turn at our ball.--Cousin Ravinet,
make our friends stand aside and make room for my landlord."

Cousin Ravinet was the little man who talked like Mr. Punch; he rushed
into the room where Monsieur Girie's wedding was being celebrated,
crying:

"Here comes my cousin's landlord! He's coming to our party. Bocal's
bringing him.--A little music, please. I say there, you in the
orchestra!"

The musicians supposed that he was calling for dance music, and they
began to play a polka. Monsieur Guillardin, impelled almost by force by
his tenant Monsieur Bocal, found himself in the ballroom at the rear.
Madame Dauberny and I followed him, as did Balloquet, the latter being
escorted almost in triumph by the bridegroom, who had taken his arm.

"You ought to have told us right off that you were a friend--a friend of
friends of ours," said Girie. "Then we wouldn't have quarrelled. As
you're invited to the party of my father-in-law Bocal's landlord, why,
give me your hand! I must insist on your dancing the next dance with
Pétronille."

"You're too kind, Monsieur Girie. As for the mistake I made in pinching
your good wife----"

"Nonsense! don't say any more about that! It was a joke--just a joke!
Look you, if you're a good fellow, you'll stay with us--as long as
you're enjoying yourself. Now we know each other, we'll have some sport;
we'll raise the deuce. It's agreed, ain't it? You stay with us; and at
supper I'll take good care of you."

"What's that? you're going to have a supper?"

"Parbleu! I should say so! What does a party amount to without supper?
You'll stay, won't you?"

"Faith! Monsieur Pamphile, you are so kind--your company is so lively;
I'm tempted to let the landlord's party go by the board."

Madame Dauberny and I were walking behind them, and heard every word of
their conversation. She had taken my arm as if we were old
acquaintances, and she said in an undertone:

"It will be fortunate if your friend Balloquet stays here, for I think
that he's a little exhilarated, and if he should come to Anna's ball he
might say something that would compromise us by betraying our little
fraud."

"You are entirely right, madame; but you need have no fear: Balloquet
will stay here. He has been told of a supper to come, and he is one of
those persons who never refuse a meal, even when they have had four
during the day."

"That speaks well for his digestion.--Mon Dieu! just look: I believe
that they propose to make us dance now. Monsieur Bocal is trying to
induce his landlord to polk. It must be that the man's lease is nearing
its end, and he wants to renew it."

The music had, in fact, excited Monsieur Bocal, who deemed it his duty
to walk in step and was almost polking when he presented his landlord to
his daughter Pétronille, who was a plump, chubby-cheeked wench, very
fresh and red, with no other recommendation than her youth.

Monsieur Guillardin took out his snuffbox and offered it to the bride,
who muttered:

"Snuff! Sneeze all the time I'm dancing! I guess not! And I haven't got
a handkerchief, either."

"Do you polk?" Madame Frédérique asked me.

"Yes, madame."

"Very well; then let us take a turn. I prefer to make my entry dancing;
it will be more amusing. Indeed, I see some faces already that make me
long to laugh. Come, monsieur, they say that you waltz beautifully; let
us see if you polk as well."

We started off. I was in luck that evening: after an excellent waltzer,
I found myself with a partner who polked to perfection. We danced
forward and backward, and turned in every direction. Our manner of
dancing seemed to arouse the admiration of the company, for I heard
people say as we passed:

"Look! there's a couple who dance pretty well!"

"Just look at those two; see what pretty steps they take!"

"Who are those people?"

"They belong to the party in front, the wedding party of Monsieur
Bocal's landlord's daughter; Monsieur Bocal invited them."

"They polk mighty well; they must be ballet dancers at least."

"I'll bet they belong to the Opéra."

Madame Dauberny heard this last. She laughed heartily, but that did not
interfere with her running comments on the wedding guests:

"Look at that couple yonder; for ten minutes they have been in the same
spot; they are trying to polk, and can't go forward or back.--You will
notice a tall woman in pink, in the corner at our left, with a garland
of green leaves on her head; she has struck the attitude of a caryatid,
and seems disposed to weep.--And see those two ladies, or demoiselles,
polking together, and bumping into everybody.--And that little man
hopping about with a tall partner."

"That's Cousin Ravinet."

"On my word, there are some sweet caricatures here! There are some very
good-looking girls, but they look like grisettes; probably that's all
they are. I am very curious to know what Monsieur Bocal's business is."

The music stopped. The heat was stifling in the ballroom.

"I have had enough of it," said Madame Dauberny; "besides, I believe
that Monsieur Guillardin has returned to his daughter. Take me back to
the other party; then you may return here, if you choose."

"I beg you to believe, madame, that I too prefer the company of which
you are one."

"I believe you; I should be sorry for you if it were otherwise. But you
must return and speak to your friend Balloquet. Balloquet! you must
agree that that is a singular name for a physician. If I were ill, I
would never put myself in the hands of a doctor named Balloquet!"

"So you think that the name is of some consequence, do you, madame?"

"Much, monsieur; if your name had been Balloquet, I could never have
made up my mind to say that you were a friend of my girlhood."

While we talked, we had returned to the Guillardin party, of which I was
now a duly accredited member. But as a quadrille was beginning just as
we entered the ballroom, Madame Dauberny seated herself by the door, and
I stood beside her, delighted to be able to continue my conversation
with the amiable Frédérique; for to my mind she was extremely amiable,
and if I had not been in love with her friend Armantine---- But it is so
pleasant to be in love, even when it amounts to nothing, and vastly more
so when it may amount to something. I was still in the dark as to how it
would be with my new passion; but one is always at liberty to hope.

"I am under great obligations to you, madame, for what you have done for
me to-night."

"Mon Dieu! you have already expressed your gratitude, monsieur! I trust
that I shall hear no more of it."

"You know now, madame, that I have sometimes met Monsieur Sordeville in
society; but that is not enough for me. I should be glad to make myself
known to you more fully; and if you will allow me to call and pay my
respects to you----"

Madame Dauberny looked at me a moment with a strange expression; I would
have liked to know what was passing through her mind; but she soon
replied, with her deliberate air:

"No, monsieur, no; I will not allow you to call on me; indeed, why
should you do so?"

"Why, to have the pleasure of being with you, madame; and because I
desire to make myself better known to you; and----"

"No; it's unnecessary, I tell you. I am entirely convinced, monsieur, of
your good faith in all that you have told me; what more can you desire?"

"Nothing in that direction. But when one has once had the pleasure of
being your escort, it is painful, madame, to think of the possibility of
never seeing you again."

"Never! That is a word that ought to be stricken from the dictionary,
monsieur, don't you think?"

"I agree with you, madame, for it is a very sad word."

"And false three-quarters of the time. However, if you really wish to
see me again, don't be disturbed; you will have an opportunity."

"Where, madame?"

"At Armantine's."

"Madame Sordeville's? But I know her no better than I do you."

"True; but her husband knows you. Talk a little more with him, and I
will undertake to say that he'll invite you to his house."

"Do you think so, madame?"

"Try it, and you will see. Ah! here's the terrible Archibald coming
toward us. Beware, or you will make an enemy of him!"

"How so?"

"Because I am sure that he thinks you are making love to me. He is
capable of believing even more than that; and you must know that he has
made me a declaration of love."

"I presume that that must be a common experience with you."

"That is quite true."

"And Monsieur Archibald has simply followed a road which many men are
tempted to take."

"Look you, monsieur, I agree that a man may make a declaration of love
to a woman, without meaning anything in particular; that is the
commonest thing in the world; and if a woman is ever so little
coquettish and attractive, she can safely bet that she will extort a
declaration from every man she knows. So there's no great merit in
that. But because a woman is less coy than another, because she says
frankly what she thinks, because she doesn't play the prude and isn't
afraid to laugh at a joke, because, in a word, she has in her manners
more or less unconstraint, originality, character, boldness if you
will--to imagine, therefore, that that woman is likely to be an easy
conquest, that a man has only to--you can divine what I do not say----
Well! monsieur, that is a very grave mistake, born either of stupidity
or monumental conceit."

Did she say that for my benefit? I could not tell. Still, I had made no
declaration; and although I had expressed a wish to see her again, to
thank her again, it seemed to me that that was perfectly natural after
the service she had rendered me. No; she simply meant to give me a
warning. But in that case she must be convinced that I proposed to make
love to her? She was mistaken, for I thought only of my charming
partner, Madame Sordeville.

The quadrille came to an end, and I left my place, thinking that I would
return for a moment to the other ball, to make sure that Balloquet would
not come in search of me, and to see what he was doing as Monsieur
Bocal's guest. From the glimpse I had caught of that other function, I
fancied that there were likely to be some amusing sights there, and
that love was probably treated there in another fashion than in the
salons at the front of the house.



XIII

THE BRIDE AND GROOM AND THEIR KINSFOLK


At Mademoiselle Bocal's wedding feast, punch, mulled wine, and
_bischoff_ were circulating all the time, and the ladies partook of that
species of refreshment as often as the men. From this fact it will be
understood that at the Bocal ball there was an enthusiasm which
threatened to develop into wild revelry. Most of the ladies were as red
as poppies; some of them laughed incessantly; others, who were
presumably very sentimental in their cups, rolled their eyes in a
languishing way that drove you back to your entrenchments; others, whom
the punch made melancholy, heaved prodigious sighs and were damp about
the eyes.

As for the men, they were almost all loquacious and noisy, and I believe
that I might safely say, tipsy.

When I entered the ballroom the second time, I looked about for
Balloquet. I discovered him sitting beside a brunette with a headdress
of roses, whose cheeks were of a brilliancy and lustre that dimmed the
hue of the flowers. Their conversation was so animated that the young
doctor in embryo--for to that class Balloquet belonged--did not notice
me, although I had planted myself directly in front of him.

I concluded to tap him on the shoulder.

"Monsieur Balloquet," said I, "I would be glad to say a word to you, if
possible."

"It isn't possible at this moment. I am engaged. I am explaining to
mademoiselle the proper method of applying leeches."

And Balloquet gave me a meaning glance. I understood that his interview
had reached an interesting point, and I was about to walk away, when I
felt a hand on my arm. It was the little marionette named Ravinet, who
was trying to make fast to me, and shouting--for everybody in the room
shouted instead of speaking:

"Ah! you're one of the landlord's guests; I recognize you. You're the
man who polks so well! It's very polite of you to come back to us.
You'll polk again, won't you? If you want to please Aunt Chalumeau,
you'll invite her; poor, dear woman, she's never polked in her life, and
she's dying to. Her hair dresser told her she had the right make-up."

I had no inclination whatever to put Aunt Chalumeau's make-up to the
test, and I told Cousin Ravinet, who struck me as being well primed, and
persisted in hanging on my arm:

"I will tell you in confidence that I shall not polk again for some
time; I am very tired."

"Oh! that's a pity. Do you belong to the Opéra?"

"I? No, indeed!"

"Are you related to my cousin's landlord?"

"No; I am a friend of his."

"And that lady who was dancing with you don't belong to the Opéra,
either?"

"By no means."

"We all thought you did. You jigged it so well!"

"Monsieur Ravinet----"

"Ah! you know my name!"

"I have that honor. Do me the favor to tell me what Monsieur Bocal's
business is."

"What's that! don't you know my cousin?"

"I know that he's the bride's father, and that he's Monsieur
Guillardin's tenant; that's all."

"What! you don't know Bocal the distiller's shop, on Rue Montmartre?
He's one of the largest distillers in Paris."

"Ah! he's a distiller, is he?"

"Why, everybody knows him!"

"I must tell you that I very rarely have dealings with distillers."

"He's the man who makes the syrup of punch--that's a famous brew! Did
you ever drink it?"

"No; and I am not anxious to."

"Oh! you must take some, and tell us what you think of it.--Come here
quick, Cousin Bocal! I say! here's a gentleman from your landlord's
party; he's never tasted your punch."

The stout man with the glassy eyes stopped at Cousin Ravinet's summons;
then he came to me and gripped my other arm, saying with an effusiveness
that scorched my cheeks, for he had the unpleasant habit of speaking
within an inch of your nose:

"Ah! monsieur, you're one of my landlord's guests. Surely you won't
insult me by joining us without taking something?--Here, waiter!"

"You are too good, Monsieur Bocal, but----"

"The punch is made with my syrup; it's perfumed, and sweetens your
breath."

"That is what I was just saying to monsieur, cousin----"

"I say there! waiter!"

"Waiter! bring some punch! My cousin is calling you!"

Cousin Ravinet was determined to do his part. The two men held me so
that I could not escape. A waiter arrived with a salver. I realized that
I should get into serious difficulty if I refused; it would be quite
likely to draw down upon me the wrath of Madame Girie, whom I spied in a
corner, whispering with some other women. So I swallowed the glass of
punch, hoping that I should be set free; but I was disappointed.
Monsieur Bocal led me away toward his daughter Pétronille, saying:

"You must dance with the bride."

"It's a very great honor, but----"

"Oh! you must dance with her. My landlord refused to dance, but he's an
elderly man. But a famous dancer, a zephyr, like you, can't refuse."

I did not know how to evade the honors with which I was overwhelmed.
Monsieur Bocal had already said to his daughter:

"Pétronille, you're going to dance with monsieur--my landlord's friend."

"But, papa, I am going to dance with Freluchon."

"What do I care for Freluchon! I tell you, Pétronille, you're going to
dance with monsieur; and you'll see how he dances. All you've got to do
is stand straight----"

"But I promised poor Freluchon two hours ago, and he's gone to wash his
hands on purpose, because he's lost his gloves; he'll be mad."

"For heaven's sake, Monsieur Bocal," said I, "don't let me interfere
with your daughter's plans! I will dance with her later; I should be
very sorry to offend anyone."

"On the contrary, monsieur, it will give me much pleasure," said Bocal.
"I don't care a snap of my finger whether Freluchon's angry or not. The
idea of putting ourselves out for him! Not much! You shall dance this
dance with the bride. Hark! there goes the orchestra; take your places
quick!"

Escape was impossible. What had I tumbled into? Those people were as
obstinate as mules, and a refusal on my part would irritate them; people
of little education are always extremely sensitive with fashionable
persons, for they feel their inferiority; they are afraid of being
laughed at, when no one has any idea of laughing at them.

I made the best of it and took my place beside the bride, who did not
act as if she were overjoyed to dance with me and probably regretted
Freluchon.

"Who's going to dance opposite the bride?" shouted Monsieur Bocal, in
stentorian tones.

"I am! I am! here I am!"

And a tall, thin, bald-headed old man appeared, leading by the hand a
girl of seven or eight. There was a vîs-à-vîs which would not afford me
any distraction! I heard a muttering behind me, then groans, then
Monsieur Bocal's voice above all the rest. It was probably Monsieur
Freluchon, indignant to find that he had washed his hands for nothing.

The quadrille began. The bride went into it with all her heart; she was
a buxom wench, who had made up her mind to let herself go on her wedding
day, and was determined to do what she had set out to do. If only I did
not get in the way of her feet, I felt that I should be lucky. The tall
old man, who stood opposite her, danced with a zeal deserving of the
greatest praise; he persisted in taking all the little steps and even
essayed some leaps and bounds; the perspiration rolled down his face
after the second figure, but he did not omit a step. He was a
conscientious dancer, and would have been in great demand under the
Empire. The little girl hopped about in every direction, and made a mess
of every figure; she was always behind me when she should have been in
front; but I was indifferent and let her wander about at her pleasure.

I was convinced that Cousin Ravinet had spread the information that I
was a famous dancer, for there was a crowd about our set. The good
people must have been sadly disappointed, as I did nothing but walk
through the figures. Indeed, I heard some voices muttering:

"Bah! it wasn't worth while to put ourselves out; I can dance better
than that. Ravinet must have seen double; he don't even know how to do
the _basque_ step!"

I felt called upon to try to talk with the bride.

"You must be tired, madame?"

"Tired? why?"

"You have probably been dancing a long while."

"_Dame!_ if the bride didn't dance, it would be a pretty wedding! The
men have to ask me to dance; that's what they were invited for."

I bit my lip, as I rejoined:

"This is a very happy day for you, madame, is it not?"

"A happy day! Oh! it's rather amusing just now; but I've found it pretty
stupid all day!"

"Ah! is that so? But I presume that you love the man you have married?"

"Oh, yes! well enough, as far as that goes; not too much; but it'll
come; pa said it would come."

"Would it be impertinent of me to ask what your husband's business is?"

"My husband's? He sells sponges, at wholesale; we're going to keep a
sponge shop."

"That must be a good business."

"_Dame!_ I don't know anything about it. I shan't like it very much to
be among sponges all the time. But we won't have any dog, anyway; that
was one of the first conditions I made."

"Ah! you don't want a dog; I judge that you dislike dogs?"

"Mon Dieu! no, I like all kinds of animals. But it's on account of the
song."

"Ah! is there a song about dogs?"

"About the _Sponge Man's Dog_! Don't you know that song?"

"No; I must admit that it is entirely unknown to me."

"It's a comic song; every verse ends like this: 'And it was the sponge
man's dog.'--Everybody knows that refrain, and pa says to Pamphile: 'If
you had a dog, people would always sing that song when they saw him.
That might injure your business.'--And Pamphile says: 'I'll never have a
dog, I swear,' and I married him. Pa did well, didn't he?"

"I admire Monsieur Bocal's foresight."

"He insisted, too, that my mother-in-law shouldn't live with us."

"In that respect I applaud him; for mothers-in-law seldom agree with
their daughters-in-law."

"Especially as Madame Girie---- Why, she's a woman that would set
mountains to fighting if she could; and yet, she says she adores her
children! it's amazing how happy they've been with her! Pamphile's
younger brother was very delicate, so she said; she insisted on his
purging himself all the time, taking cathartics and enemas. When he came
home at night after dining out, Madame Girie was always waiting for him
on the stairs, with a syringe. If he refused to have an enema, she'd
chase him through all the rooms. The next day, she'd purge him without
telling him, by putting something in his coffee. In fact, she pestered
the poor boy so with what she called her little attentions, that one
fine morning he went off and enlisted in the dragoons; he preferred that
to being syringed."

"Faith! I believe that I would have done the same if I had been in his
place."

"Madame Girie said he was an ingrate. She didn't want her other son,
Pamphile, to marry, so's he could stay with her. You can see that that
prospect didn't tempt him, especially as Madame Girie wanted to run the
business, and as she found a way to quarrel with all the customers. One
day, she refused to sell a man sponges, because he didn't bow to her
when he came in; another time, it was a woman who spoke to her as if she
was a servant. In fact, if she'd stayed with Pamphile a while longer, it
would have been all up with his business; for no one would come there
to buy. Well! here we are married. We make Madame Girie an allowance,
but it won't be enough for her, you see! she's never had any idea how to
take care of money, she always runs right through it.--Ah! it's our
turn, monsieur; this is the _poule_."

When the _poule_ figure was at an end, the bride said to me, with an
ironical air:

"It don't seem to me that there's any need of my holding myself so
straight to dance with you. They said you were such a fine dancer!"

"Cousin Ravinet was mistaken, madame, in saying that I danced well."

"Oh! as to that, if you were dancing with the lady you had a little
while ago, you'd jump higher, I suppose."

"I beg you to believe that no partner could induce me to jump any
higher."

"Freluchon dances mighty well, I tell you; he bounds like a rubber
ball."

"That is a gift of nature, and I would not contend with the gentleman.
Is he a relation of yours?"

"Freluchon? No; he's head salesman in pa's shop. He cried when he heard
I was going to be married."

"The deuce! was it with pleasure?"

"Well, I guess not! it was with something else. But I consoled him; I
told him I'd be his friend as long as we live, and that he could kiss me
every Sunday."

"I can imagine, madame, that such a prospect dried his tears."

"It's our turn! it's our turn!"

The quadrille was over at last. I escorted the bride to her place, and
dodged the glasses of mulled wine that were circulating in all
directions. Someone seized my arm; I jumped back in dismay, fearing that
it was either Monsieur Bocal again or little Ravinet.

But it was Balloquet, who led me to a corner of the room, where we sat
down upon an unoccupied bench. My medical friend seemed to be in very
high spirits. He began to laugh before he spoke to me.

"Well! my dear Rochebrune, I should say that we had succeeded in our
undertakings, eh? What an excellent idea it was of mine, that we should
join these wedding parties!"

"True; but suppose I hadn't appeared with Monsieur Bocal's
landlord--what then? It seems to me that you were in for a bad quarter
of an hour! What the devil had you been doing?"

"Nothing; it was just a joke. The little woman I was talking with just
now had excited me; and then, the way they drink here is something
terrific. Faith! while I was dancing with the bride, my hand went
astray. That idiot of a Pamphile did nothing but say to us: 'I've
married an apple! My wife's as solid as one!' And I just wanted to see
if it was true. I give you my word that he flatters himself. But that's
all gone by now; the husband adores me. What do you think of this
party?"

"I prefer the one I belong to."

"How did you arrange your affair?"

"I was sorely embarrassed; but two charming women took me under their
protection. Afterward, I found a gentleman there who knew me. But, for
all that, my dear Balloquet, don't be imprudent enough to come into the
other ballroom. The company is very different from this; you might be
questioned, and----"

"Never fear; I'm very well off here, and I shall stay. In the first
place, there's to be a supper, and I have always had a weakness for that
sort of amusement. And, secondly, I have my hands full: I am at work on
a brunette--the one I was colloguing with just now. I like her
immensely; I propose to give her my custom. She's a Madame Satiné,
Boulevard des Italiens; a fashionable quarter, where gloves are very
dear. She says she's a widow; all the attractions at once. She's no
light-footed nymph, but good, solid flesh and blood, and no prude,
either. We dine together to-morrow; that's already arranged."

"I congratulate you; you do business promptly."

"And you--have you found anything to make it worth your while?"

"I have made the acquaintance of a charming woman; but I don't know yet
whether it will go any further."

"The one who came here with you?"

"No; that was my second protectress."

"Do you know that she has a regular--military air. _Bigre!_ how she
looked at me!"

"Yes, there is a touch of decision in her manners. She is clever and
original; but she's not the one I am making up to."

"I say! who in the devil is this old woman standing in front of us and
making faces?"

I looked up and recognized Madame Girie, who had halted in front of
Balloquet and myself and had her eyes fixed upon us, raising her
eyebrows, smiling--in a word, indulging in a pantomime which was
certainly intended to compel us to speak to her.

There was no way of escaping her; for, as soon as I raised my eyes,
Madame Girie made a minuet courtesy and stepped forward, saying in a
tone in which she clearly intended to announce the mistress of the
feast:

"Have you had some punch, monsieur, or some _bischoff_? Have you taken
anything?"

"Yes, madame; I am infinitely obliged to you, I have taken many things."

"You see, Monsieur Bocal is so heedless! He talks a great deal and makes
a lot of noise, and acts as if he wanted to manage everything; but, as
a matter of fact, he don't do anything at all; and if I wasn't here to
look after things---- I am the bridegroom's mother, monsieur."

"You are quite capable of being, madame," said Balloquet, rising and
bowing to Madame Girie; then he walked away and left me to my fate. I
would have been glad to follow Balloquet's example; but Madame Girie at
once took his seat by my side and seemed disposed to remain there. I
felt a cold perspiration break out all over me. The bridegroom's mother
turned toward me and continued the conversation:

"Yes, monsieur, I am the bridegroom's mother. That magnificent boy is my
son; he looks like me, don't he, monsieur?"

"Yes, madame; he has your expression."

"My expression--that's it exactly; you've struck it! He wanted to marry.
I wanted to be everything to him. 'Stay with your mother,' I says;
'you'll be much happier! What more do you need?'"

"But, madame, it seems to me that a mother can hardly take the place of
a wife; and I imagined that a mother's greatest happiness was to live
again in her grandchildren."

Madame Girie took from her pocket a handkerchief redolent of snuff, and
rejoined:

"Oh! certainly, monsieur, a man can marry; but he'd ought to make a good
choice, and that's so hard!"

"Do you mean that you are not satisfied with the choice your son has
made?"

"Hum! hum! I don't want to speak unkind of my daughter-in-law, monsieur;
I ain't capable of it; but if I was inclined to! In the first place,
she's as stupid as a pot, that little Pétronille is. But you've been
dancing with her, and you must have found it out."

"Why, no, madame; I found her _naïve_ and natural."

"Ha! ha! silly [_niaise_] enough, ain't she? You're frank, you are!
However, Pamphile was cracked over her, and I don't know why; for she
ain't pretty."

"She's very fresh."

"_Dame!_ if a girl wasn't fresh at her age! But she's running to fat,
and I won't give her three years before she's a sight. And then, she's
been brought up in such a curious way! Having no mother, she's done just
as she chose, you see. Alone all day long with the clerks; young men,
too--I actually believe she went down into the cellar with 'em! Fie!
fie! what actions! catch me choosing that hussy for my son's wife! But
he wouldn't listen to me, when I says to him: 'You'll repent of your
bargain.'--You just wait a little while, monsieur, and you'll see.
There's a certain Freluchon,--one of Monsieur Bocal's clerks,--who was
dead in love with Pétronille. Everybody knows that; why, she didn't
conceal it herself, but just laughed about it!--a modest girl doesn't
laugh at such a thing.--This Freluchon taught her to swim--do you hear,
monsieur?--to swim, in the river; she went into deep water with him!
Fine doings! And Pamphile thinks that's all right. 'Look out what you're
doing!' I says to him.--Oh, monsieur! what fools men are when they're in
love!"

"That is a profound truth, madame; but it does little honor to your sex;
if women really were what men suppose them to be when they're in love,
men wouldn't be such fools to love them."

Madame Girie pursed up her lips, shook her head, and smiled, as she
said:

"Thank God! all women ain't Pétronilles!"

"And all mothers-in-law aren't like you, madame!"

I don't know whether Madame Girie took that for a compliment, but she
bowed low. For my part, I had had quite enough of the excellent dame's
chatter, so I left my seat and the ballroom, where the odor of mulled
wine and punch was beginning to be insufferable.



XIV

A YOUNG DANDY.--A DELIGHTFUL HUSBAND


Returning to the Dablémar function, I drew a long breath of delight; a
pleasant odor of patchouli and muslin replaced the fumes of mulled wine,
which were intensified on the other side of the corridor by a multitude
of other emanations. The temperature, too, was endurable, and the faces
of the guests did not glisten with drunkenness and perspiration, which
impart to the countenance a gloss that does not embellish it.

My first care was to look about for Madame Sordeville. I discovered her
talking with her friend Frédérique, and with them was a young man whom I
had not yet seen.

This new personage was twenty-eight to thirty years of age, and was
dressed in the height of fashion. He was very dark, and his hair,
artistically parted and curled, was beautifully glossy. A long, pale
face, regular features, black eyes somewhat sunken, a small, tightly
closed mouth, a slight, carefully trimmed moustache, made him a very
good-looking fellow; but a self-sufficient, conceited air, which almost
amounted to impertinence--that too I observed in my scrutiny of that
young man, who, at the very outset, and for some reason which I could
not explain, made a most unpleasant impression on me.

We often feel sympathies or antipathies for persons we do not know; and
when we are in a position to become better acquainted with such persons,
it rarely happens that the instinctive prevision of our hearts is not
justified. So that we must have a sort of second-sight, of the heart,
which warns us when we are in presence of a friend or an enemy.

This gentleman was talking with the two ladies, with a familiarity that
seemed to denote a close intimacy. Was he probably the lover of one or
the other? Suppose he were of both? Such things have been seen. One
thing was certain, and that was that there was no trace of the discreet
lover about him.

You will consider that I have a low opinion of women. It is not of women
alone, but of the world in general that I have such an opinion. It is
not my fault; why has it so often given me reason to think ill of it?

I did not approach them, for the presence of that handsome dandy annoyed
me; but I watched them. I must have been very dull-witted not to
discover with which of the two ladies he was on most intimate terms.
There are many little nothings by which people always betray themselves,
unless they are constantly on their guard; and even then!

Ah! my mind was made up! A hand placed a little too familiarly on the
fellow's knee, a long glance, which said things that are not said in
public, told me that he was intimately associated with Madame Dauberny.
I was conscious of a joyful thrill, for I had feared for a moment that
it was with my charming partner, and, frankly, that would have
distressed me. Therefore, I was certainly in love with her.

I walked toward the group, and spoke to Madame Sordeville, who replied
with her usual affability. But while I was talking with her I noticed
that my fine gentleman with the moustache eyed me from head to foot with
something very like impertinence! I wondered how long that would last.

There are such people in society; people whose impertinent glances force
you to pay them back in their own coin in a way which is almost a
challenge, and which signifies plainly:

"Have you anything to say to me? I am waiting, and I am all ready to
reply."

As that superb _lion_ did not cease to stare at me, I stared back at him
in the manner I have described. He lowered his eyes and turned his head.
That was very lucky! But you may be quite certain that from that moment
my gentleman and I could not endure each other.

As it seemed to annoy him to see me talk and laugh with the charming
Armantine, I put all the more fire into my conversation; and as she
laughed very readily, I continued to incite her to laughter.

Madame Dauberny whispered in the young man's ear; I noticed that he
frowned slightly and compressed his lips. Was she telling him what she
had done to help me out of my predicament? What difference did it make
to me whether her action pleased or displeased the fellow? Madame
Frédérique no longer seemed to me so attractive as before; no, she
certainly was not pretty. Moreover, what she had said to me in our last
interview had cooled my feeling for her considerably.

Madame Sordeville was engaged for the next contra-dance, but she
promised me the next but one. Her partner came to claim her. The superb
Frédérique stood up with her dark-eyed swain. What was I to do during
that quadrille? It is a terrible bore not to dance at a ball in polite
society, where you know no one.

I concluded to find Monsieur Sordeville, remembering the advice Madame
Dauberny had given me before her cicisbeo's arrival.

I discovered Armantine's husband in an adjoining salon, in a group of
men, most of whom were decorated; he was not talking, but listening to
the others. I walked toward him, and he came to meet me.

"Aren't you dancing, Monsieur Rochebrune?"

"I am resting."

"I'll wager that my wife isn't; she is indefatigable!"

"Madame Sordeville is dancing, it is true; and Madame Dauberny,
too--with a young man whom I had not noticed before--a dark young man
with a moustache."

"Ah, yes! Saint-Bergame. He came very late, as usual; one produces a
greater effect by making people wait for one. Ha! ha! But you must know
him, if you have been a friend of Madame Dauberny from childhood. You
must have met him often at her house."

Again Monsieur Sordeville's smile was tinged with mockery. I answered,
this time without embarrassment:

"I saw nothing of Madame Dauberny for a long time, until very recently."

"Then it must have been during that time that she made Saint-Bergame's
acquaintance; their liaison is hardly six months old. But he is on a
very intimate footing with her, none the less; however, that is easily
seen."

The tone in which Monsieur Sordeville said this left me in no doubt that
he had the same opinion that I myself had formed concerning the
relations between these two. But if he believed it, it seemed strange to
me that he should allow his wife to be so intimate with Madame Dauberny
as she seemed to be. Was there not reason to fear that the evil example
might be contagious? or was Monsieur Dauberny's conduct such as to
excuse his wife's? or again, was Monsieur Sordeville one of those
philosophical husbands who look upon all such things as mere trifles
undeserving of their attention? I was tempted to believe that the last
conjecture was nearest the truth.

"Who is this Monsieur Saint-Bergame?" I asked, after a moment.

"Hum! I have no very definite idea. However, he represents himself as a
journalist. But nowadays, you know, a man is a journalist just as he is
an advocate. Everybody writes for the newspapers, or at least tries to
create that impression."

"I know that the profession of journalist is an honorable one, when it
is carried on without prejudice or passion, when one writes with
impartiality. I will not say, with spirit and good taste, for those
qualities should be indispensable prerequisites of admission to the
guild. Unluckily, it is not always so. Since newspapers have become so
numerous, all the unappreciated poets, all the unsuccessful authors,
have turned journalists. These gentry, having failed to induce anyone to
produce their plays, fall furiously upon those authors who succeed.
Luckily, the real public does substantial justice; often, indeed, the
very extravagance of the insults heaped upon a man of talent simply
intensifies the public interest in him. And, after all, it is a pitiable
thing, it seems to me, to pass one's life tearing to tatters those who
produce! It is the old story of the he-goat in the fold: he does
nothing, and attacks whoever wants to work."

"You don't seem to be fond of journalists?"

"I think very highly of them when they are intelligent and their
criticisms are decent. I once knew a very popular literary man, who
laughed till he cried over the savage attacks that the journalists made
upon his works. 'If I were not successful,' he would say, 'those fellows
would not honor me with their hatred. They would not say anything about
me unless it were to offer me some patronizing compliment. Ah! my dear
fellow, congratulate me! Everybody cannot have enemies.'--But, to
return to Monsieur Saint-Bergame: for what newspaper does he write?"

"Really, I can't tell you; for some new sheet--more than one, perhaps.
He has the reputation of being very bitter, and prides himself on it."

"He has no reason to. Nothing is so easy as to say unkind things; the
conversation of cooks and concierges is principally made up of them."

"I believe, too, that Saint-Bergame has had a long play in verse
accepted at the Odéon, or at the Français, or perhaps at the
Théâtre-Historique. But he's been talking about it a long, long while,
and nobody else ever mentions it."

"And are these monsieur's only titles to the admiration of his
contemporaries?"

"I know of no others. However, he's a good-looking fellow, dresses well,
and follows all the fashions. He's a _beau cavalier_; so you must not be
surprised if all the ladies fight for the honor of capturing him."

"Oh! I am surprised at nothing."

"But do you not cultivate the arts, Monsieur Rochebrune? I should say
that I had heard of songs and ballads of which you are doubly the
author, having composed both words and music."

"Yes, monsieur, that is true. But one is no more a literary man because
one can write a ballad, than one is a composer because one has composed
an air and worked out a piano accompaniment for it."

"Mere modesty on your part, monsieur; you can't make me believe that a
man can compose an air without being a musician."

"One may be like Jean-Jacques, who had not the slightest conception of
counterpoint."

"I don't know whether Rousseau was a consummate musician, but I wish
that somebody would give us something equal to his _Devin du Village_."

"I am with you there, monsieur, although it should have a new
orchestration."

"My wife is a fine performer on the piano, and she has a good voice; we
have music at our house on Thursdays; that is the day the music lovers
assemble. If it would be agreeable to you to hear them and to join
them----"

"You are too kind, monsieur; it will be a very great pleasure to me. I
can listen to music twelve hours at a time, without tiring."

"We shall rely upon you, then, monsieur, on Thursdays especially. But
you will be welcome at any time. Do you know our address?"

"No, I do not."

"Here is my card."

Having handed me his card, Monsieur Sordeville walked away. On my word!
a charming husband! he anticipated my dearest wish. And yet, he did not
act like a simpleton. Oh, no! he certainly was not one of those obliging
husbands who see nothing of what goes on under their roofs. Madame
Frédérique was right in her prediction that he would invite me. I was
decidedly puzzled; but I could see nothing in it at all that augured ill
for me. Madame Sordeville was very pretty, very captivating. I felt that
I should love her passionately. I did not know whether she was inclined
to follow her friend Frédérique's example, but I had permission to call
at her house, and that was something.

As soon as the quadrille was at an end, I once more approached the spot
where the two ladies had established themselves. Monsieur Saint-Bergame
was still with them; but he did not frighten me--he bored me, that was
all.

I cannot say whether the invitation I had just received had given me an
air of triumph; but when she saw my face, Madame Sordeville smiled and
exchanged a glance with her friend. I would have given--I cannot say how
much, to know the meaning of that glance.

Monsieur Saint-Bergame said to Madame Dauberny, with a curl of the lip,
and an affectation of familiarity:

"Do you expect to stay here long?"

"Why not? I am in no hurry; my mind is at rest; Monsieur Dauberny won't
sit up for me."

"This party seems to me intolerably dull."

"You are exceedingly polite! For my part, I am enjoying myself
immensely."

"Oh! you enjoy yourself everywhere, madame!"

"That is creditable to my temperament, at all events."

"There's a curious mixture of faces here--it's not homogeneous."

"Very good! try to write an amusing article about it; it will be a
windfall to you."

"On my word, you are very sharp this evening!"

"I thought that you were used to it."

"The next contra-dance is mine, you know, madame?" I said to Madame
Sordeville.

"Yes, monsieur, to be sure; I have not forgotten it."

Her manner as she made that reply was charming. Women have a way of
saying the most trivial things which gives them enormous value in our
eyes. That depends considerably, however, on one's frame of mind.

The orchestra began to play a polka. I looked disconsolately at my
pretty partner.

"Do you polk?" I asked.

"No. I waltz, but I don't polk."

"But I do," said Madame Dauberny, holding out her hand. "And you know
how well we danced together. Suppose we see if we can succeed as well
here as at Monsieur Bocal's ball?"

What an extraordinary woman! she said that as if we had known each other
ten years. She was very pretty in my eyes at that moment. I hastened to
take her hand, and we began to dance. I enjoyed it all the more because
I had observed Saint-Bergame's horrible scowl.

We danced for some time without speaking, and, vanity aside, I believe
we performed very creditably. After we had twice made the circuit of the
room, I could contain myself no longer.

"Doesn't that gentleman who was with you polk?" I murmured.

"I was sure that you would ask me that!"

And she began to laugh. In truth, my question was most idiotic. But I am
very prone to say such things. I am always conscious of it afterward,
which is a little late. For fear of making a fool of myself again, I did
not say another word. Thereupon my partner asked me:

"Have you spoken with Monsieur Sordeville again?"

"Yes, madame."

"And he invited you to his house?"

"Yes, madame."

"What did I tell you? We guessed as much by your radiant expression
just now."

I knew then the meaning of the glance they exchanged when I approached
them. But I did not like that: "_We_ guessed as much"; that identity of
thoughts and sentiments was by no means pleasing to me. I have always
noticed that the women who tell each other everything, their inmost
thoughts and the most secret impulses of their hearts, never have
anything left to confide to their lovers. With them they act, but do not
lay bare their hearts. Friendship is almost always injurious to love.
That is not my understanding of a profound sentiment, a genuine
attachment.--But what am I moralizing about?

I took the indefatigable Frédérique back to her friend. The handsome
dandy was no longer there. I heard Madame Sordeville whisper:

"He has gone. He said he was going away; he was furious."

"Really? That doesn't disturb me in the least!"

But my gentleman had not gone. I saw him not far away. If he was jealous
of me, he was sadly astray: I was thinking exclusively of Madame
Sordeville and waiting impatiently for the quadrille, so that I could
talk with her more freely.

That moment arrived at last. I stood up beside my partner; each cavalier
did the same. O blessed moment! What an excellent invention is dancing!

I felt that I must make the most of my opportunity; I told Madame
Sordeville that her husband had invited me to come to their house. She
smiled, but made no reply. I could not rest content with that.

"May I hope to be so fortunate, madame, as to obtain from your lips a
confirmation of the invitation I have received?"

"Whatever my husband does is well done, monsieur, and I can only approve
it."

That was a courteous reply, but nothing more. It seemed as if my fair
partner were distraught. It is never very flattering to one's
self-esteem to have the person to whom one is talking thinking of
something else; and when that person is a woman with whom one is in
love, it is much more mortifying. I was on the point of making a
declaration of love, but it did not pass my lips. Could it be possible
that she was nothing more or less than a coquette who had been amusing
herself at my expense? Nonsense! Had I already forgotten all that she
had done for me that evening? Wounded self-esteem often makes us very
unjust. I determined to wait and not to go so fast, either in forming my
judgments, or in my love.

When the dance came to an end, many of the guests prepared to go away.
Madame Sordeville rejoined her friend, who also seemed disposed to
retire. What was there to detain me there? I had permission to call upon
the charming Armantine, and that was all that I could expect.

I left the restaurant. As I passed the rooms where the Bocal wedding
party was still in full blast, I heard a good deal of noise. Was it
merrymaking or quarrelling? Faith! Balloquet must take care of himself;
and I went home and to bed.



XV

A VAGABOND


On the day following that night which I had so well employed, I did not
wake until after noon. I went over in my mind the events of the
preceding evening. When one has done so much and heard so many
anecdotes, one may be pardoned for being a little confused.

Madame Sordeville's pretty face very soon presented itself to my memory.
Now that I was no longer excited by the illusions of the ballroom and
the strains of the music, I tried to determine what sort of woman she
was, and whether I could reasonably hope for success if I should make
love to her.

She was pretty, well formed, graceful, amiable--yes, and intelligent; at
all events, she possessed that sort of wit that gives sparkle to a
conversation; I could not say as yet whether it had any substantial
foundation. In that respect, women are much more deceitful than men;
they are much more skilful in throwing dust in one's eyes. Too often
the flow of words and bright sallies is only a sort of froth that will
not stand the test of time.

Madame Sordeville was undoubtedly a flirt. It is often said that all
women are; but there are gradations. There are the amiable flirts who
give a pungent flavor to love; there are others who do not give a lover
one moment's peace or rest; and, frankly, a woman who takes pleasure in
tormenting one is a sorry acquaintance. But I had not got to that point;
perhaps the lady in question would never be anything to me, albeit her
husband seemed to be not at all jealous.

The anecdotes that were told at our dinner the day before recurred to my
mind; one of them especially had made a deep impression on me, and I was
surprised that I had forgotten for so long a time that young girl of
Sceaux--that unhappy Mignonne, toward whom Fouvenard had behaved so
abominably. As if it were not enough to abandon her after having made
her a mother, he must needs force her, against her will, into another
man's arms! That was a perfect outrage! The law punishes men for less
than Fouvenard had done--and all because she loved him! Unhappy girl!
and to think that she was on the point of becoming a mother! I simply
must see her, and try to alleviate her misery. Perhaps she was in utter
destitution. He said Rue Ménilmontant, No. 80. I determined to go there;
but I hoped that he had lied to us; that his Mignonne did not exist. It
would be too execrable, if it were true.

I rang for my servant, and he appeared. He was a simple-minded fellow,
but trustworthy, I was confident; and as that is the rarest of qualities
in all ranks of society, I kept Pomponne in my service, although he was
very often guilty of the most stupid blunders, and was of such a prying,
inquisitive turn that I often had to reprove him.

Pomponne gave me all that I required for my toilet; but, as he walked
about the room, I noticed that his manner was unusually idiotic, a
symptom which always indicated that he had something to say and did not
know how to go about it. So that it was necessary for me to give him a
lead.

"Have you been making a fool of yourself since yesterday, Pomponne?"

"Me, monsieur! what makes you ask me that? You didn't tell me to, did
you?"

"Why, you don't usually wait for my instructions to do that. Are there
any letters for me?"

"No, monsieur."

"Did anybody call while I was asleep?"

"Call?"

"Yes, call."

"I don't think so, monsieur."

"You don't think so? Aren't you sure?"

"Oh, yes! I am sure."

"What the devil's the matter with you this morning, that you seem so
much more stupid than usual?"

"Why, it seems to me that I'm just the same as usual."

"Come, brush my hair, and be quick about it! It's late."

You must know that Monsieur Pomponne was an excellent hair dresser; that
and his trustworthiness, you see, made him rather a notable personage.
He had studied the trade of hair dressing for some time; he gave it up,
so he told me, because, as he had a fine lot of hair, his head was
constantly used for beginners to practice on, and that got to be rather
tiresome.

"And the love affairs, Pomponne--how do they come on?"

My servant blushed; he was not an accomplished rake, you see.

"Oh, monsieur! I haven't any love affairs!"

"Ah! so you choose to play the close-mouthed lover with me?--What about
the maid-servant of the old gentleman opposite? you haven't made love to
her, you rascal, have you?"

"Oh, monsieur! I may have laughed a little with her; just in a joking
way, that's all."

"We all know what it means to laugh with maid-servants."

"However, I think I'm going to lose her--poor Mademoiselle Rosalie!"

"Is she sick?"

"No, monsieur; I mean that she's probably going to leave the house. She
has discharged her master."

"Discharged her master? You mean that her master has discharged her, of
course?"

"No, monsieur; I give you my word that she told me: 'I don't want any
more of my master; I've given him his papers.'--And she added: 'I said
_zut_! to him.'"

"The deuce! Mademoiselle Rosalie's language is rather décolleté, I
should say! Why is she leaving her master? He's rich and a widower--an
excellent place for a servant, especially for one who says _zut_."

"It seems, monsieur, that her master doesn't like to pay her."

"Nonsense! that can't be. My old neighbor is noted for paying promptly
and not having any debts."

"I beg pardon, monsieur: they have had a dispute. You see, Mademoiselle
Rosalie has a funny custom; she gets a commission for everything."

"I don't understand. Doesn't she get any wages?"

"Yes, monsieur; she has three hundred francs."

"Well?"

"Well, that don't make any difference; when she does an errand--for
instance, when her master sends her with a letter to one of his friends,
or anywhere else--well, that's fifteen sous; she charges a commission of
fifteen sous. When she has to wash the windows, it's twenty sous. When
she scrubs, it's twenty-five sous; do you see?"

"Perfectly. So it's just the same as if he hadn't any servant; that's
very convenient!"

"She calls that putting the masters where they belong."

"Just try putting me where I belong! I'll discharge you on the instant."

"However, it seems that Rosalie's master never found any fault with all
that; but the other night he told her to warm his bed; and when she
charged him twelve sous for it the next day, that made him mad. I says
to her: 'I must say, mamzelle, it seems to me, you might warm your
master's bed for nothing!'--'Well, I guess not!' says she; 'he'd get
into the habit of having it done every night!'"

"Peste! there's a servant who will make her way in the world."

"She's making it, monsieur; she tells me that she takes thirty-six
francs to the savings bank every month."

"And her wages are only twenty-five! She has the saving instinct, sure!"

While I was talking with Pomponne, I noticed an odor that was not
customary in my apartments.

"Pomponne," I said abruptly, "have you been smoking this morning?"

"Smoking, monsieur? You know I never smoke."

"But it smells of tobacco here; not of cigars, but of a pipe, and vile
tobacco too."

My servant smiled with an expression which he tried to render cunning,
and said in an undertone, leaning over me:

"I know who it is; it's the other one."

"What other one?"

"The man who's waiting out there, in the reception room."

"What! there's someone waiting for me, and you didn't tell me?"

"Oh! he--he said he wasn't in any hurry."

"And you told me that no one had called!"

"He's not a caller. I heard you say once: 'If that person comes here
again, and I have company, call me at once; don't let him in.'"

I trembled as I began to realize who the visitor was.

"Can it be----" I faltered.

"Yes, monsieur; it's the party named Ballangier--the one who's so free
and easy like, and makes himself so much at home here, just as if he was
in his own house."

I felt as if a heavy weight had settled down on my chest. In an instant
all my cheerful thoughts had vanished. A feeling of depression replaced
them. The presence--the very name--of Ballangier always produced that
effect on me.

"Has this--gentleman been here long?"

"About three-quarters of an hour, monsieur, when you rang."

"Didn't you tell him that I had been at a ball, and that I was likely to
sleep very late?"

"Yes, monsieur, I said all that. But he just sat down and said: 'That's
all the same to me; I've got plenty of time.' And then, he took out a
pipe and lighted it. It was no use for me to say: 'You mustn't smoke
here; my master don't like the smell.'--He sings out: 'I smoke
everywhere! and you can open the windows and burn some _castonnade_.'"

"Show the gentleman in, and leave us. And if anybody should call while
he is here, remember, Pomponne, that I am not at home to anyone."

"Yes, monsieur--as usual."

Pomponne went out, and in a moment the person who was waiting entered my
bedroom.

Ballangier was thirty-four years old; he looked older, because he had
led a riotous life for a long while. Dissipation and debauchery make a
man old prematurely.

Imagine a man of more than ordinary height, who would have had a good
figure if he had not acquired the habit of stooping. A refined, regular
face, aquiline nose, small, heart-shaped mouth, and very black eyes
surmounted by heavy eyebrows; an abundance of hair, once black, but now
gray. All this would have formed an attractive whole, had it not been
spoiled by a pronounced hangdog air. An expression that was impudent
when not made stupid by drink, and manners that were often brutal; in
addition, clothes that were always soiled and often in tatters, and the
gait of a drummer; this rough sketch may serve to convey an impression
of the person who stood before me.

On the present occasion he wore a brown frock-coat that was neither
ripped nor torn. It lacked only two buttons in front, but it was covered
with spots and stains. His black trousers were shockingly muddy, as were
his boots. As for his linen, that was invisible. A frayed black stock
encircled his neck, and he held in his hand a round black hat which
seemed to have had many hard knocks.

When he entered my bedroom, Ballangier removed his pipe from his mouth.
He walked forward, swaying his hips, nodded to me with a smile, and
stretched himself out in an easy-chair, saying:

"Here I am! How goes it, Charles?"

"Very well, thanks."

"It seems that you had a bit of a spree last night, and you've had a
good snooze this morning. You do right to enjoy yourself. It's such good
fun to spree it! I'd like to do nothing else, myself."

"I should say that you had done little else thus far."

"Bah! bagatelles! To make things hum, a fellow must have the needful.
Everything's so dear to-day! Those villains of wine merchants and
restaurant keepers won't give credit any more!"

"They are wise."

"Why are they wise?"

"Because you have run up bills more than once that would never have been
paid if I hadn't paid them."

"Who says I wouldn't have paid my debts? But a fellow must have time!
Why are they in such a hurry?"

"You make me blush for you, Ballangier! Am I the person for you to make
such speeches to?"

"Well, what's the matter now? Ain't I to be allowed to speak?"

"You might at least save yourself the trouble of lying to me, who know
you too well! and who know what your conduct has always been! When a man
who has no income desires to meet his obligations, he says to himself:
'I'll work and earn money.'--For, as I have told you a hundred times,
there's no other way to obtain an honorable position in the world. You
refuse to understand that everybody on this earth has to work, from the
smallest to the greatest, from the humblest clerk to the highest
functionary, from the artisan to the artist. The very rich men whose lot
you envy--for the idle and lazy, the people who do nothing, naturally
envy the lot of the rich--those who have great wealth have to busy
themselves with investing it, managing their property, overlooking the
conduct of the people they employ, regulating their expenses; and if
they wish to retain their fortune, I assure you they don't pass their
whole life enjoying themselves."

Ballangier lay back in his chair, shook the ashes out of his pipe, and
looked at me with a bantering air, as he rejoined:

"What work have you, who preach so eloquently, ever done? What is your
employment? I don't know what it is, but I don't think it's very
wearisome."

I could not restrain an indignant gesture, for the man's ingratitude was
revolting to me; he owed everything to me! But I soon grew calm again;
there was one thought before which my anger vanished, and I replied
quietly:

"In the first place, I was justified in not taking up any profession, as
my father left me fifteen thousand francs a year."

"I don't say that you did wrong; I am not blaming you, my dear fellow,
but, that being the case, I wasn't so far out of the way, was I?"

"I beg your pardon. Be good enough to listen to me. Although I had some
fortune, I began at once to study law, in order to become an advocate.
Some time after, having a passion for the arts, I studied music,
painting, and sculpture, in turn; then I turned to poetry, I wrote a
poem--a bad one, perhaps, but I devoted my best energies to it, none the
less. So you see that I have done something; and if I should lose now
what money I still have, I could make a living honestly, and without
assistance, with the small talents I have acquired. Can you say as much,
you who have nothing, no future prospects, but have never been willing
to do anything or to learn anything? who, instead of remaining in the
sphere in which you were born, have plunged into a vice-ridden circle,
and acquired the tastes and habits and manners of people who are cast
out from all respectable society?"

"What's that? what's that? I'm a cabinetmaker! Isn't that a respectable
trade? Anyone would think, to hear you, that I worked nights--on the
dust heaps!"

"Oh! I don't despise any trade, monsieur. I esteem every man whose
behavior is honorable. The mechanic, the artisan, the day laborer, are
all entitled to my esteem and consideration when they are honest and
upright. I say again, there is no despicable trade; the vicious, lazy,
idle people, the drunken debauchees, no matter to what rank in life they
belong, are the ones whom we should look upon with contempt and shame.
You claim to be a mechanic, but you lie. You are nothing, neither
cabinetmaker nor anything else, because you will not do anything,
because work is a burden and a bore to you, because you have acquired
the habit of passing your time in wine shops and dance halls, or in
vile dens of debauchery, where you have associated yourself with
wretches who are the offscourings of society! And at thirty-four years
of age, you continue this line of conduct! Ah! you are incorrigible;
that is evident!"

Ballangier threw his pipe on the floor, exclaiming angrily:

"Damnation! I'm sick of this sort of thing! If I am incorrigible, I
don't quite see why you preach this sermon at me!"

"I am entitled to do it; if you had followed my advice, listened to my
entreaties, you would not be where I find you now. Furthermore, if my
sermons displease you, why do you come here? I told you not to. Do I not
send you regularly every three months the allowance that I have
consented to make you, although, as you well know, I am under no
obligation to do it? Only a fortnight ago, I went myself and handed your
quarterly payment to your concierge."

"That's just what I don't want you to do! He kept half of it, the
miserly old screw!"

"Kept it! You told me yourself that he was an honest man; and you say
that he kept money belonging to you!"

"He claimed that I owed him for loans, and food, and carrying
letters--mere trifles!"

"If you owed him, you should pay him."

"I'd have paid him later; he had no right to pay himself. Oh! I know
the law, don't I? You ought to know about it, as you studied to be an
advocate."

"What do you want to-day? Why did you come here?"

"I wanted to tell you that I am going to move! I can't stay in a house
where the concierge has no sense of delicacy. By the way, you haven't a
glass of anything to give me, have you? I came out without my breakfast
this morning; I've done a good deal of running around, and it makes a
man hollow. Come, Charlot, be a good fellow! Don't scowl at Fanfinet!
You know that I'm a good friend."

I made no reply, but opened a cupboard containing several bottles of
different liqueurs. I took out one of them and a small glass, and placed
them in front of Ballangier; who instantly pounced on the bottle and
filled the glass to the brim, saying:

"Won't you drink with me?"

"No; I never drink liqueur in the morning."

"As you please; there's no accounting for tastes. You are very delicate,
you are; for my part, I'd drink a goblet of rum without winking. This is
anisette--a lady's cordial! sweet as sugar! Never mind, it's not bad."

"What are you doing now, Ballangier? Are you working anywhere? Come,
tell me frankly."

"I'm going to tell you just how it is. As if I could conceal anything
from you! I always pour out my troubles on your breast."

"Why did you come here to-day?"

"I'll tell you all about it. But haven't you something a little stiffer
to give me? Your anisette makes me sick at my stomach. Tell me where it
is; don't disturb yourself."

"I have nothing else to give you; moreover, I don't choose to give you
anything else. If I listened to you, you would drink yourself drunk
here. It's quite enough that you should take the liberty to smoke; you
know perfectly well that I don't like it."

"People smoke in the most select society."

"Enough of this, monsieur! Why did you come here in spite of my
prohibition?"

"Oh! monsieur--what a tone! We seem to be in an infernal humor to-day,
monseigneur! Luckily, I'm not easily frightened."

I strove to keep down my irritation; I stood in front of my mirror and
arranged my cravat, then finished dressing myself. Ballangier, seeing
that I paid no heed to him, poured out another glass of anisette; then,
trying to assume a piteous tone, he mumbled:

"I know well enough that I don't amount to much, that I've often done
foolish things. That's true; but, after all, youth must have its fling;
mine seems to last a good while, but whose fault is it? And it's no time
to treat me like a dog, just when I've made up my mind to turn over a
new leaf, to straighten myself out and be sensible!"

He paused and glanced at me; but I did not say a word, and he
continued:

"Yes, this time, I have reflected seriously. As you said just now, I am
no longer young, I must think of my future; and an opportunity is
offered me--an affair that would suit me to a T. I have spoken to you
about Morillot--a good fellow, who's in the cabinetmaking line; he's no
ne'er-do-well, but a worker; and I confess that if I'd listened to him,
I'd be in better case than I am. Well, Morillot has gone back to
Besançon, where he came from. He always said to me: 'When I have a place
for you, I'll write and you can come.'--Well, he's just written to me,
and he says that, if I choose to come, he's got just what I want; and
that, if I behave myself, I'll soon be able to set up for myself at
Besançon. I came here to tell you that."

I listened to Ballangier without interrupting him. I did not know
whether I ought to believe him, he had deceived me so often! It was no
easy matter to read his face; he could assume any expression he chose;
he could even weep, when he thought that would advance his schemes.

"If this Morillot has really made you such a proposition, why don't you
go?" I asked at last.

"Ah! you're a good one, you are! That's easy enough to say. But I don't
want to go to Besançon dressed like this--all in rags; that would give
people a bad opinion of me at the outset. If a man's hide isn't
somewhere near decent--you know what fools folks are! And then the
journey; and then, I shan't get paid as soon as I arrive. In fact, I
haven't a sou, as that rascally concierge kept almost the whole of what
you gave him for me. And, anyway, fifty francs a month ain't a fortune!
A man can't go far with that!"

"A man can live with that; and if you chose to work, you could have
everything you need. How many poor women who pass their days sewing, and
sit up half the night to add a few sous to their day's pay, don't earn
as much as this sum that seems to you too small! But do you forget all
that I have done for you? I have tried every possible means of bringing
you back to a respectable mode of life. The more money I give you, the
more you spend in those dens of iniquity where you pass your life. I got
tired at last of supporting your vices; and I still do too much for
you."

"Come! come! let's not get excited! It's not worth while to talk about
the past. What's gone by is wiped out. To-day, to replenish my wardrobe,
to pay for my journey and incidental expenses, and to keep me till I get
paid for my work, I need--_dame!_ I need fully four hundred francs. Oh!
I know it's like pulling out a tooth, and that I've cost you a lot of
money already; but this will be the last time; and you wont hear of me
again. I'll settle at Besançon; they say Franche-Comté is a pleasant
country; at all events, I can be happy anywhere."

I reflected, while Ballangier watched me with something very like
anxiety. He had lied to me so often that I dared not put faith in what
he said.

"What have you to prove the truth of what you tell me?"

"Oh! I suspected that you wouldn't believe me; but I have my proofs."

And Ballangier, feeling in his pocket, triumphantly produced a letter,
which he handed to me. It came from Besançon, it was signed _Morillot_,
and it did, in fact, contain what he had said. I had already given him
money; but if I could finally rid myself of him and of the fear of
meeting him in Paris---- That hope put an end to my hesitation.

I opened my secretary, took out four hundred francs in gold, and placed
the money in Ballangier's hand.

"Take it," I said; "and may you at last make a good use of what I give
you!"

Ballangier turned purple with pleasure when he held the gold pieces in
his hand; he made as if he would throw himself on my neck; but I stepped
back and he checked himself, crying:

"That is true, I am not worthy; but I will wait till another time. I
propose to become a model of virtue. Sacrebleu! I propose that you shall
be satisfied with me at last! I will make it a point of honor! Au
revoir, Charlot!--no, I mean adieu! you prefer that, and you're quite
right."

He said no more, but walked quickly from the room. And I breathed more
freely when he was no longer there.



XVI

MADAME LANDERNOY


I felt the need of some distraction to enable me to forget the visit I
had just received.

"Ah!" I thought; "I will go and hunt up the poor girl from Sceaux."

I had finished dressing. Pomponne, seeing that I was preparing to go
out, planted himself in front of me, like a soldier awaiting the
countersign, and said:

"Is monsieur going out?"

"As you see."

"Monsieur has no orders for me?"

"None."

"Will monsieur return to dinner?"

"Come, come, Pomponne! are you going crazy altogether?"

"I don't think so, monsieur."

"Then why do you ask me that question? You know perfectly well that I
usually dine at a table d'hôte, and never at home."

"True, monsieur; but you do sometimes dine at home, when you have
company, you know.--Ha! ha!"

Monsieur Pomponne felt called upon to laugh slyly and assume a
mischievous look; for you must know that I dine at home only when I am
entertaining a lady who fears to compromise her reputation by going to a
restaurant. There are ladies who decline to go to restaurants, but are
perfectly willing to go to a gentleman's apartment. I am far from
blaming them; everyone is free to act as she pleases. But it was a long
time since I had entertained in my own quarters, my recent acquaintances
having had no dislike for restaurants. So I simply informed Pomponne
that he was a zany, and left the house.

From Rue Bleue, where I lived, to Rue Ménilmontant is a long distance,
but the fresh air and the exercise did me good. I thought of my charming
partner, the seductive Armantine's image was constantly before my eyes;
and when I spied a woman of her stature and figure, I quickened my pace,
in order to overtake her and find out if it were she. I always had my
trouble for my pains, which did not deter me from doing the same thing
again a few moments later. I have noticed that love always gives as
much occupation to the legs as to the mind.

My amorous thoughts cooled a little as I drew near Rue Ménilmontant, a
street, by the way, which might well pass for a faubourg. In that
quarter I met no more women who reminded me of Armantine. I called her
"Armantine" to myself, although that was perhaps a slightly familiar way
of speaking of a woman I had known less than twenty-four hours, and who
had given me no right to claim that privilege. But when a lover is
speaking to himself, is he not at liberty to apply the fondest names to
the object of his adoration, and to address her by the most familiar
terms, in the ecstasy of his illusions? That injures nobody and affords
him so much pleasure! It has often been said, and justly, that: "Men are
overgrown children, who must always have some plaything to fondle. With
some it is ambition, honors; with others, wealth; with others, peace and
repose; but with the vast majority, love."--To these last, the image of
the loved one is the persistent idea that guides all their actions.

The number mentioned by Fouvenard was a long way up the street. I was
not very far from the barrier, and it was easy to imagine one's self in
the country. I presumed that lodgings thereabout were not very dear. At
last I found the number I sought. It was a house of great height. As I
entered, I began to wonder what I should say to that young woman, whom I
had never seen, and what pretext I should allege for my visit. The first
step was to find if she really lived there. I found a concierge, almost
entirely hidden by two cats and a dog that had established themselves
upon her person and covered her face so that only the end of her nose
was visible. I asked for Mademoiselle Mignonne.

The concierge managed to push her way through the cats, and responded:

"Mademoiselle Mignonne? Don't know her."

"You don't know her?"

"Faith, no! What does she do?"

"What does she do? Why, she works; sews or embroiders, I believe."

"No such person in the house, monsieur."

So Fouvenard had deceived us; his Mignonne was a creation of his fancy.
I was sure of it! I much preferred to find out that he had lied to us,
rather than that that poor girl really existed. I had already left the
house; but a few steps away, I stopped; I remembered that the girl had a
family name also; perhaps she had hired a lodging in Paris under that
name. So I retraced my steps to where the concierge sat amid her
animals, and said:

"The person I am looking for is named Landernoy; Mignonne is her
Christian name."

"Oh! Landernoy--that's a different matter; if you had asked for that
name first, you wouldn't have had the trouble of coming back."

"You know her, then?"

"_Pardi!_ to be sure I do, as she lives in the house. Mamzelle
Landernoy--Madame, I mean, for we call her _madame_ now, you see; it's
properer, considering her condition. I don't know whether you know what
I mean?"

"Yes, yes, perfectly; of course, I ought to have said _madame_."

"Oh! as to that, we know well enough that the only marriage she ever had
was at the mayor's office of the thirteenth arrondissement! But then,
what can you expect? she's one more poor girl that's made a misstep; but
that's no reason for heaving stones at her. The good Lord said we
mustn't heave stones at anybody--especially at poor women who've been
weak; eh, monsieur?"

The concierge's words led me to forgive her her cats, and I would
gladly have shaken hands with her if I had not been afraid of being
clawed.

"Madame," I said, "your sentiments do you honor."

"_Dame!_ I say what I think, that's all. And then, the poor thing seems
so unhappy! It ain't that she complains the least bit--oh, no! she's
proud enough in her poverty! But, in the first place, she can't be
happy, because her seducer's gone back on her altogether; that is, I
suppose he has; for nobody ever comes to see her now, not even a
cat--except mine; they sometimes go and bid her good-day. And then, when
she came here, she had a modest little room on the fifth; and now she's
left that and taken another one right up under the eaves, with a little
round window and no fireplace. In fact, you can hardly call it a room;
it's only a closet at best. But, dame! it only costs seventy francs a
year, and the other room was almost twice that; and when you haven't got
anything but your work to live on--and a woman earns so little--and on
the point of being a mother, too!--Still, it don't make any difference;
as I was just saying, she don't complain. She's making clothes for the
baby; and when I go in to say good-day to her, she always shows me a
little cap or a little shirt, and says:

"'Look--this is for him!'--And then she smiles. Poor soul! she never
smiles, only when she speaks of her child."

"But what does the poor girl live on, in heaven's name?"

"Oh! she works, she makes linen garments; she sews mighty well; and
then, she's got a pretty taste for trimming caps and headdresses; I'm
sure she could have kept her first room, if she'd wanted to; but I
suppose that she said to herself that, as she was going to be a mother,
she must be saving and put a little something aside against the time
when the child comes. And, as I tell you, she's making him a pretty
little outfit; I'm sure that there's a dozen little caps already."

I was deeply moved by what I had heard. The concierge pointed out the
staircase leading to Mignonne's lodging, but, as she did so, she said to
me:

"Have you come to give the poor woman an order for some work?"

"Yes, that is my purpose."

"This is what I was going to say, monsieur: since her--lover stopped
coming to see her--a fellow with a big beard that I didn't call very
good-looking--Madame Landernoy--we call her _madame_, you know--has got
to be sort of wild like; you would say she was afraid. She says to me:
'If any gentlemen come to speak to me, please to say always that I ain't
in, that I've gone out; don't let 'em come up.'--As there hasn't been
one come for a long while, I ain't had to say anything, but I just this
minute thought of her orders. However, if you mean to give her work,
that can't disturb her."

"Never fear, madame; my only desire is to try to be useful to your
interesting tenant, not to distress her in any way."

"All right, then; go up--way up to the top, as long as you find stairs;
then the door facing you. There's nobody but Madame Landernoy up there
in the daytime, anyway; the other two rooms belong to servants, who
never go up till bed time."

I understood why the poor girl did not wish to receive visits from men.
After the plot of which she had been the victim, she must naturally have
retained a feeling of aversion for them and must look upon them all
with suspicion. In that case, I should not be warmly received, and what
was I to say? I had no idea; but, no matter! I was determined to see
Mignonne, and even to face her wrath.

I ascended the stairs, the first flights being broad and roomy, but the
upper ones very narrow. On the fifth floor I paused to take breath; in
front of me was a sort of ladder, the only means of access to the lofts
which many landlords have the assurance to call rooms. I know that
Béranger said:

    "How happy one is in a garret at twenty!"

True, when one is there to make love! but it must be a miserable sojourn
when love abandons one there!

I climbed the ladder and found myself in a low, narrow, dark passageway;
I distinguished a door in front of me; that was where she lived. My
heart beat as if I were on the point of committing some evil deed. Why
are we no less excited when about to do good than when about to do evil?
I like to believe that the sensation is different.

I approached the door, and was on the point of knocking, when I heard a
voice. I listened.

"Yes, you will be warmly wrapped in this, dear child! Another little
nightgown; that makes six. Ah! you see, I don't want you to lack
anything; you will be my companion, my little companion; you will never
leave me, and I shan't be alone any more, then; I shall be very happy;
I'll kiss you as much as I choose, all day long, for I shall be the one
to nurse you! Some people look as if they pitied me because I am going
to be a mother! Ah! they don't understand all the joys and hopes that go
with that title! Why, if it wasn't for my child, I should be dead! Oh,
yes! I should have preferred to die! If it's a girl, I shall call her
Marie; that was my mother's name. If it's a boy, I shall call him--I--I
don't know yet. Édouard's a nice name, or Léon. But not Ernest, in any
case! Ah! what a horrible name!"

These last words were uttered in a trembling voice, and I heard nothing
more. I knocked gently on the door.

"Who's there? Is it you, Madame Potrelle? Wait a minute, and I'll let
you in."

The door opened. It was, in truth, Mignonne, as Fouvenard had described
her to us: a pale, fair-haired girl, with soft, blue eyes; but the lips
were no longer red, or the complexion rosy; grief and lonely vigils,
during an advanced stage of pregnancy, had seamed and emaciated that
youthful face, whose habitual expression now was one of melancholy.

Mignonne stood as if struck dumb with amazement at sight of me. I
removed my hat and bowed respectfully; I was desirous to inspire her
with confidence; but as I did not know what to say, and as she seemed to
be waiting for me to speak, we stood for several minutes, looking at
each other, without a word.

"Monsieur--you have mistaken the room, I think," faltered Mignonne at
last, in an uncertain voice. "You did not mean to come to my room; you
came up too high."

"No, mademoi--no, madame; I think that I have not made a mistake. I am
looking for Madame Landernoy; are not you she?"

"Yes, monsieur, that is my name. What do you want of me?"

Mignonne spoke in a short, sharp tone, which proved that my visit was
not agreeable to her. I was still at the door, and she did not ask me to
come in. Perhaps she did not wish me to see the wretched place she lived
in, and, in truth, what I did see made my heart bleed, for, without
entering, the whole room was visible. It was a tiny room, with no light
except from a round hole in the sloping roof, the window being opened
or closed by an iron bar, as it was so high as to be out of reach. So
that she had no sight of anything but a little patch of sky when she
raised her eyes to look out. There was no fireplace, but a small
air-tight stove. A bed, a commode, a table, a small buffet, a water
pail, and six chairs composed the poor girl's furniture. But everything
was neatly arranged and spotlessly clean.

Evidently, in my inspection of the room, I forgot to answer the question
she asked me, for it was repeated in a still more imperative tone:

"I asked you what you wanted, monsieur; for I don't know you."

"Oh! I beg pardon, madame! I came to ask you--I am told that you do very
fine linen work, and I wanted--I had some work to give you to do, if you
chose to undertake it."

"Who told you that I did linen work, monsieur?"

"Why--a lady--for whom you have worked."

"What is the lady's name?"

I was sadly embarrassed. I stammered and stuttered, and finally replied:

"Faith! I really don't remember. The lady told another lady, a friend of
hers, who told me, because she knew I wanted some shirts made."

"I am not very skilful, monsieur; and the person I work for must not be
very exacting."

"Oh! I am not at all exacting, madame; I want some shirts--to wear in
the country. If you had the simplest kind of a pattern to show me."

I took several steps forward; Mignonne allowed me to enter her garret;
she seemed to have laid aside her distrust. I was conscious of a secret
joy, and, while she was looking in a drawer, I took a chair, saying:

"Excuse me, madame, if I sit down; but I came up rather rapidly, and the
stairs are quite steep."

"Pray rest, monsieur; I should have offered you a seat; but my room is
not very cheerful, and it never occurs to me to do the honors. Dear me!
I can't find any pattern. I remember now that the day before yesterday I
returned the last shirts I had to make. But you have brought me a
pattern, no doubt?"

"No; I did not think of it."

"But it is absolutely necessary."

"I will bring you one, then."

"If you will kindly hand it to the lady who gave you my address,
monsieur, with the linen for the shirts, I will go there and get them;
for, of course, you would not bring the package here yourself."

She was determined to find out who had given me her address. In my
earnest desire to obtain her confidence, I said:

"Oh! I thought that you would probably undertake to buy it yourself--the
linen, or percale, or Scotch batiste, or what you will; for I don't know
anything about it; ladies are better at buying such things than we are.
I can bring you a pattern; I will roll it up and put it in my pocket,
and you won't need to put yourself out. In view of your condition,
madame, you should avoid fatigue as much as possible."

"But, monsieur, if I go out to buy linen, it won't be any extra trouble
to call on the lady; and I can thank her at the same time for thinking
about me."

"Oh! that is natural enough! She knew that you could--that you had more
claim than most women to her interest. She said to me: 'Mademoiselle
Mignonne--that is to say, Madame Landernoy--deserves your full
confidence, and I commend her to you.'"

The moment that I mentioned the name of Mignonne, she sprang to her feet
from the chair she had taken; her brow clouded, she fixed her eyes on
the floor, trembling convulsively, and murmured:

"Who told you, monsieur, that my name was Mignonne? None of the people I
have worked for have known me by any other name than that of Madame
Landernoy."

"Mon Dieu! I can't remember now, madame. But someone must have told me.
That lady probably learned it by accident."

Mignonne made a slight movement of her shoulders, which I could not
interpret as flattering to me. To be sure, for the last minute I had
been stumbling and splashing about, with no idea of what I was saying. I
saw that I had made an egregious blunder by calling her Mignonne. Of
course, her Christian name was not generally known; and, as I knew it,
she thought, no doubt, that I was a friend of the man who had so
shamelessly betrayed her; perhaps she imagined that Fouvenard had sent
me to her. That idea drove me to despair. A fine thing I had done,
parbleu! How was I to regain her confidence?

I took two hundred francs from my pocket and handed them to her, saying:

"Here is some money to buy linen with, madame, if you will kindly attend
to it. If it is not enough, please let me know----"

Mignonne refused to take the money, saying in a severe tone:

"It's not worth while for you to give me this money, monsieur; I am not
in the habit of buying materials myself. Besides, I cannot, at this
moment, undertake the work you offer me. I haven't time to do it; I have
other work that is more urgent."

I sadly put the money back in my pocket, mumbling:

"But I'm not in any hurry for the shirts, madame; you may make them when
you choose."

"No, monsieur; I don't accept work unless I have time to do it.--Adieu,
monsieur!"

She had thrown her door wide open, and she stood at one side, apparently
inviting me to go. She dismissed me, she was anxious to see the last of
me. Clearly, to remain any longer would simply have irritated her more.
I rose and bowed low, but I paused in the doorway to say to her:

"I venture to hope, madame, that I shall be more fortunate another time,
and that you will then consent to work for me."

"Yes, monsieur, another time."

And she closed her door almost in my face. I was incensed against
myself. If I had not called her Mignonne, she would have undertaken the
work I offered her. Now she looked upon me with suspicion, with horror
perhaps, thinking that I was a friend of Fouvenard, and remembering why
he sent his friends to her and how they treated her.

I was convinced that she would forbid her concierge to allow me to go up
to her room. I had guessed that by her manner when she said:

"Yes, monsieur, another time."

So I was dismissed, turned out of doors, by that girl whom I had visited
with none but the purest and most honorable purposes! To be useful to
her, to relieve her distress, to avenge her if possible for the outrages
of which she had been the victim--that was my object in going to see
her; and although the girl was pretty enough, never, not even since I
had been in a position to judge of her beauty, had any ulterior purpose
suggested itself to my mind. It seemed to me that Mignonne could be to
me nothing more than a friend, a sister; no other thought had come to my
mind or my heart.

However, I determined to be of some use to her, no matter what she might
do; and when I have determined on a thing, I am not to be deterred by
obstacles.

I hastened down the stairs, and passed the concierge and her cats
without stopping. I walked very fast until I found a cab, which I
entered, and was driven to a shop where they sold linens, batistes--in a
word, stuff for shirts. I chose the first thing they showed me--Scotch
batiste, I believe--and took enough to make a dozen shirts. Then I
returned to my cab and went home, for I remembered that I must have a
pattern. I took one of my shirts that seemed to be made in the simplest
way, and was about to start off again, when it occurred to me that if,
as I feared, she should refuse to see me, I had best leave a letter; so
I concluded to write a few lines, and sign my name, in order to regain
her confidence; when a man is not afraid to give his name, it is usually
a proof that he has no evil designs.

I sat down at my desk and wrote:

     "MADAME:

     "Although you refused the work I offered you, I take the liberty of
     sending it to you. You can do it at odd moments; do not let it put
     you out in the least. If I have been unfortunate enough, madame, to
     arouse your distrust, and if you do not choose to receive me again,
     you may hand the work to your concierge when it is done, with a
     memorandum of what I owe you; and I will pay her. But I beg you to
     believe, madame, that I was led to call upon you solely by the
     interest that you cannot fail to arouse in all honorable persons,
     and that my motive is one that can be unhesitatingly avowed.

    "CHARLES ROCHEBRUNE."

I closed the letter, took my cab once more, and returned to Mignonne's
abode.

All this going and coming had taken some time. When I stopped in front
of the house the second time, it was nearly two hours since I had left
it. I went at once to the concierge, with my bundle of linen under my
arm. Before I had mentioned the girl's name, the concierge cried:

"She ain't in, monsieur; that young lady's gone out; you can't go up. In
fact, she don't want you to go up to her room any more; she scolded me
for letting you go."

"I thought that you might have received that order, madame, and I do not
insist on seeing Madame Landernoy; but here is a letter for her, and a
package, which I beg you to be good enough to hand her."

"A package! I don't know if I ought to take it."

"You cannot refuse to receive it, madame. Besides, I assure you that my
intentions are honorable, and that young woman does very wrong to
distrust me. I hope that she will do me justice later. I will return in
about a fortnight."

With that, I tossed letter and bundle on the concierge's knees, at the
risk of crushing one of her cats, and turned away, paying no heed to her
reply.



XVII

MADAME SORDEVILLE AND HER RECEPTION


I had done all that I could, all that it was possible for me to do at
that moment for Mignonne; and I felt better satisfied with myself. I
determined to forget her for a while and think of my new love.

I made up my mind to go to Monsieur Sordeville's on Thursday. I must
wait until then to see the charming Armantine. The intervening four days
seemed very long. There are some men who kill time and shorten the
period of separation by talking of their loved one with their friends;
but I have never had confidants; true love is always better placed in
the depths of our hearts than in the memory of indifferent persons, who
take no interest in it, or recall it only to laugh at us if we are
betrayed, to call us fools if we are loyal, to envy us if we are happy.
Moreover, is it true that we have any real friends? For my own part, I
know of none. In my youth, I believed in the friendship of some young
men with whom I was often thrown in parties of pleasure; at that time,
over-flowing with confidence, I asked nothing better than to lay bare my
heart, to devote myself in all sincerity to those who pressed my hand;
but I was very ill repaid for my frankness and my kindliness. My
delusions were destroyed too soon, and I held aloof from men and drew
nearer to women; I have never repented of it, for in friendship women
are infinitely superior to men.

I do not call those people my friends whom I meet by chance at parties
or dinners, like Balloquet and Dupréval; they are acquaintances, nothing
more.

Thursday arrived, and I betook myself to Monsieur Sordeville's, on Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin: a handsome house, handsome hall, handsome
apartments; a servant to announce the guests; all the externals which
indicate opulence. I entered a very spacious salon, in which there were
already many people, and passed rapidly through a throng of unfamiliar
faces. Monsieur Sordeville left a group of men, with whom he was
talking, to come to meet me and shake hands as if we were old friends. I
could not help laughing inwardly at the prodigious expenditure of
handshakings in society, among people who know one another as little as
Monsieur Sordeville and myself, and often are not at all fond of one
another. 'Tis a pity; it would be so pleasant to have one's hand shaken,
if it were to be depended upon as an assurance of affection and good
will. But men have spoiled everything, and the most expressive words
and gestures mean nothing now, because they have been so abused.

Monsieur Sordeville, still holding my hand and pressing it, took me to
his wife.

"My dear," he said, "here is Monsieur Rochebrune, who has been good
enough to accept our invitation."

The charming Armantine wore a fascinating gown, with infinite grace and
coquetry. I did not recognize in her the unconstraint of my partner at
Mademoiselle Guillardin's wedding party,--to-day she was a true
_petite-maîtresse_, a little affected, and a little ceremonious too. But
she was a very seductive woman still. Moreover, it was natural enough
that in her own house she should be more punctilious in her manners than
at a wedding ball. Doubtless it seemed to her becoming to assume a more
dignified bearing to receive her guests; a hostess is a different person
from a guest at a party, who has not to play a leading part.

It was too bad! she was so attractive at the ball! she laughed so
readily, and seemed to invite one to laugh with her. However, she did
the honors of her salon very gracefully; she welcomed me with an affable
smile, and thanked me as her husband had done for remembering their
invitation. I cannot say what answer I made; my eyes must have said more
than my mouth. I tried to detect in her eyes an expression that would at
least tell me that she understood me, that she guessed my meaning; but I
saw only that gracious smile with which she received the homage of all
the men who came up to salute her.

A person is always awkward and embarrassed in a company to which he is
an entire stranger, and where he can find no familiar face. I walked
away from Madame Sordeville, as it was impossible for me to stand
staring at her; that would have made me look like a fool, and would not
have advanced my interests at all. With women whom one is anxious to
please, one should, above all things, avoid looking like a fool; to be
sure, that does not always depend on one's self.

I looked about for Madame Dauberny; I looked forward to meeting her
there, because she had seemed to me to be very intimate with the
mistress of the house. I did not see her. Men were in a large majority;
why were there so few women, and, above all, so few pretty ones? Was it
intentional on the part of the hostess? Surely she was pretty enough to
fear no rivalry!

The guests were chatting together in groups in different parts of the
salon. There was a piano, but thus far there had been no suggestion of
music. I walked into another room, where two whist tables were in
operation. There were fewer people there. If she should come into that
room, I could talk more freely with her. But she was too busily engaged
in receiving her guests and listening to the compliments they paid her;
she seemed to me to be a great flirt. It has frequently been said that
all women are--the desire to please is so natural! As if men were not
flirts, too! Everybody wishes to produce an impression: the ugly man
seeks to please by his wit; this one by his magnificence, another by his
generosity, another by his attentions, his servility, his flatteries;
but the end is always the same. So, let us not blame women for being
coquettish; nature, when endowing them with beauty, grace, and charm,
seems to have taught them what use they could make of these advantages.
But the one person that I cannot endure is a capricious woman; is there
anything more insufferable than to be greeted coldly or sulkily, when
you do not know the reason and have done nothing to deserve it?
Certainly I had no right to complain of Madame Sordeville; still, after
her friendly treatment of me at the wedding party, after the sort of
intimacy which the disclosure of my secret had at once established
between us, I had flattered myself that she would receive me less
ceremoniously. But I must wait and see.

Monsieur Sordeville came to me and asked me if I cared for whist.

"I like all games," I replied.

An old gentleman, who closed his eyes when he spoke, as if he were going
to sleep, joined us; I had no idea what he said, for the fascinating
Armantine entered the room where we were, and I followed her with my
eyes. A handsome young man with light hair was walking behind her,
talking to her in an undertone--at least, so it seemed to me; the pretty
creature laughed heartily, with divers little gestures and expressions
that would have brought a regiment to terms. I was annoyed; it was
unreasonable of me, perhaps, but I could not bear to have her listen so
to that fellow; I was strongly tempted to join in their conversation.
But it was impossible; the man who talked with his eyes closed was
telling me things that must have been very interesting, judging from the
way he emphasized every syllable. Mon Dieu! what tiresome people there
are in the world! But, among the various species, the most insufferable,
in my opinion, is the man who never stops talking, who joins the story
he tells you on to another one, which in turn becomes entangled in a
third, after the style of the _Thousand and One Nights_; so that he is
quite capable of keeping you a whole evening in a corner of the salon,
without ever giving you a chance of escape, unless you decide boldly to
break away from him in the middle of one of his tales.

I have no idea how my conversation with those two gentlemen veered
around to politics, of which I have a perfect horror. I discovered to my
surprise that Monsieur Sordeville was in government employ and already
hinted at opposition. But it did not interest me. I was tempted to close
my eyes, like the old gentleman; then I should be more at liberty to
think of something else. Luckily, someone began to play on the piano,
and gave me an excuse for leaving my politicians.

I returned to the salon, and approached the mistress of the house,
intending to say something agreeable to her. But I did not know how to
begin the conversation, and I finally asked her if she were going to
sing.

"No, I don't sing; but I am ready to play an accompaniment, if anybody
wants me to."

"Do you play the piano?"

"Yes, monsieur; and you?"

"A little."

"Do you sing?"

"Only at home, when I am alone."

"Ha! ha! that's selfishness."

"Prudence, rather."

"Surely you will depart from your habit this evening, and sing in
company?"

"Oh, no! I should not dare to, before you."

"Why so? do I frighten you?"

"You do something very different."

She smiled, as she smiled at the ball. Ah! how sweet she was at that
moment!

But somebody spoke to her, and I was separated from her again. Someone
was going to sing, and silence was requested; I took a seat behind two
consummately ugly women, who would not distract my thoughts.

The singer was a man, a stout, square-shouldered young man, who struck
an attitude like Monsieur Keller as Hercules. I expected a voice that
would make our ears ring and the windows rattle; surely nothing
different could come from that colossus. In truth, at the first note
everybody shuddered. What a voice! indeed, I doubt if it could be called
a voice. For my part, I could think of nothing but the roaring of a
bull. But there were some people who thought it magnificent. He sang an
aria from _Robert le Diable_. The two ladies in front of me emitted
_ohs!_ and _ahs!_ which led me to believe that they agreed with me and
that the performance deafened them; especially as the singer, not
content with bursting our ear drums, was almost invariably off the
pitch; he sang false with imperturbable assurance. There were moments
when he put forth such a volume of voice that I wondered if people
passing through the street would not think that a crime was being
committed in the house.

At last the performance came to an end. The two ladies turned toward me
with smiling faces, and I could not help saying:

"I prefer an orchestra with four drums. I don't know yet whether I have
any ears left; I believe they are split."

The words were hardly out of my mouth, when the bulky singer walked
across the salon and halted directly in front of the two ladies.

"I am not in good voice this evening," he said; "it seemed as if my
notes wouldn't come out. What did you think, mother?"

"Why, my dear, you sang beautifully, I assure you."

"Yes, brother; you sang very well, and you made a great impression. You
can depend on us; we know what we are talking about, you see. There are
people who set up for judges of music, but who don't understand the
first thing about it. So much the worse for them! You sang with perfect
taste, and I am sure that you made many people envious of you!"

I had addressed my criticisms judiciously! the ladies in front of me
were the singer's mother and sister! So the _ohs!_ and _ahs!_ indicated
admiration, and I must needs tell them that I preferred to listen to
drums! An additional proof that we should be careful what we say when
we do not know the person to whom we are speaking.

I saw that the singer's sister was casting withering glances in my
direction, so I decided to walk away and take up my position on the
other side of the salon. I had made two enemies; another time I would be
more prudent.

After the roaring of our friend, the audience required something soft to
soothe its auditory nerves. A lady seated herself at the piano and sang
an air with an abundance of trills and roulades. What a misfortune to
think of singing in public when one has a shrill, squeaky voice! But I
determined to make no comments this time, or express an opinion in any
form of words. A young man behind me was not so scrupulous.

"They call that singing with a lemon on the key-board," he muttered.

"If this sort of thing goes on," I thought, "it certainly can't be for
the music that people come to Monsieur Sordeville's."

But the hostess made us some amends by executing with much dash and
brilliancy a theme with variations which had the merit of not being too
long. Next, the fair-haired youth whom I had seen talking with Armantine
sang several ballads. He had a pleasant voice and sang with good taste.
That added to my vexation, for I was convinced that he was paying court
to her. But I did him the justice to admit that he sang well.

While a duet for piano and violin was being performed, I went into
another room; I confess that I was not enjoying myself. The hostess was
so surrounded by courtiers and adorers that it was impossible to talk
with her an instant. Indeed, she made no effort to give me an
opportunity. Ah! how different from the night of the wedding ball! There
were times when I fancied that she was not the same woman.

I sat down at a baccarat table which had just been made up. I was well
pleased to play cards, for I have always considered it the best of all
ways to entertain people in society.

I had been playing for some little time, when, happening to turn my
head, I saw Madame Frédérique. Never did a meeting afford me greater
pleasure. She smiled at me, and said:

"Good-evening! Are you in luck?"

"Not thus far."

"Will you give me an interest in your play? I will bring you luck."

"With pleasure!"

"Here is my stake."

She tossed me a purse filled with napoleons, and turned away without
giving me time to ask her how much she wanted to bet. Strange woman!
But, at all events, she was just the same as she was the other evening;
she was not like her friend.

My partnership seemed to bring me luck in very truth; for the vein
changed, and I won. I looked about for my partner, to ask her if she
wished to go on, but I did not see her; so I continued to play, and won
again. I dared not stop then; but the game was interrupted when tea was
served. I saw Monsieur Archibald, Monsieur Guillardin's son, a few steps
away, and bowed to him; he returned the bow, but very coldly, as if he
did not care to renew the acquaintance. He need have had no fear, I was
nowise inclined to strike up an intimacy with him; I remembered the way
he looked at me on the night of his sister's wedding. I fancied that he
looked upon me as a rival aspirant for Madame Dauberny's favor. How many
false conjectures are constantly made in society!

Certainly I had had very little entertainment in that house. Madame
Sordeville laughed and talked with everybody but me. I was evidently
mistaken the other evening, when I thought that she looked kindly upon
me, that she felt drawn toward me.

"Oh! these women!" I thought; "one never knows what to depend upon with
them! But, yes, there is one thing that one can depend upon; I do not
deem it necessary to name it."

I was strongly inclined to go away; but I must first settle my account
with my partner, and Madame Dauberny was at that moment deep in
conversation with a gentleman possessed of a superb pair of red
moustaches, and chin whiskers of the same hue. He was talking with much
animation; and I am very much mistaken if he was not making a
declaration of love to Madame Frédérique.

You will say that I am prone to discover love intrigues everywhere. The
fact is that they are the commonest things in the world. And if we see
many of them, you may be sure that there are many more of which we have
no suspicion. Madame Frédérique was listening to her companion as if he
were telling her the story of Telemachus. I determined to wait until
they had finished. I sat down in a corner of the salon, and pretended to
listen to a man who had been drumming on the piano for a long time,
without anyone being able to tell what he was playing. Luckily for him,
nobody seemed to be paying any attention to him.

In the midst of that assemblage of persons, almost all of whom were
unknown to me, I had a feeling of emptiness, of melancholy, which did
not surprise me at all. There was no one there who cared anything for
me! Why should I care for them? I had come there on account of a woman
who had fascinated me, whom I already loved, whom I would have adored;
but her cold greeting, and her coquetry with all of her male guests, had
forced back into the depths of my heart the sentiments she had inspired.
I was vexed that I had fallen in love with her; I determined to think no
more about her. Balloquet was more fortunate than I: he never took love
seriously; he made an acquaintance as he ordered a coat; when the coat
ceased to please him, he tossed it aside, often before it was worn out.
He was right; that is the only sure way of being always well dressed.
For my part, I have always had a deep-rooted feeling for the women who
have been my mistresses. I do not refer to those I have known for a few
days only; I do not call them mistresses. You will find it hard to
believe that a man loves sincerely, when he confesses that he has had
several mistresses at the same time. But are you familiar with the
workings of the human heart? Nature has eccentricities and secrets which
we shall never know.

It is probable that my reflections had not given a cheerful cast to my
expression; they absorbed me so completely that I did not notice the
superb Frédérique, who had stopped in front of me and finally said to me
in a mocking tone:

"Mon Dieu! how you seem to be enjoying yourself, Monsieur Rochebrune!"

"Enjoying myself! No, indeed! and but for you, I should have gone away
long ago. We won twenty-eight napoleons, and I have put your share in
your purse; here it is, madame."

"That is first-rate! I brought you luck, you see."

"True; but that's all the luck I have had to-night."

"I understand! Poor boy! somebody has not treated him as he had hoped."

I contented myself with a slight movement of the head.

"I am tempted to afford you a little diversion," continued Frédérique.
"Will you come and take supper with me?"

I looked up at Madame Dauberny. She saw that I took her suggestion for
a joke, and she instantly added:

"What is there so extraordinary in that? I am in the habit of having
supper every night; I invite you to join me, and, if you accept, I shall
invite another gentleman, who has just made me a most grotesque
declaration of love; but he's a Prussian, and hasn't perfect command of
our language."

"Is it the gentleman with red moustaches?"

"Just so; Baron von Brunzbrack. There's a name for you! I have fairly
turned his head, but I give you my word that I did it unintentionally.
Come, what do you say--do you accept?"

"With great pleasure; but, if I remember rightly, the night that I had
the good fortune to make your acquaintance, you denied me the favor of
calling on you."

"That is quite possible; you see, that night, I thought for a moment
that you proposed to make love to me. I was an idiot! You are in love
with Armantine only; and as you have discovered to-night that many
others besides yourself are in love with her, you are melancholy,
ill-humored, desperate. Ha! ha! I have guessed the truth, haven't I?
Come, monsieur, give me your hand; by taking you away, I advance your
interests much more than you do with your languishing airs; all women
are jealous of their conquests, and Armantine will think that I am
trying to steal one of hers. You will be the cause of a dispute between
us, but it will be only a cloud which the slightest breeze will blow
away."

The hope of causing Madame Sordeville some chagrin made me radiant. I
gladly took the hand that was offered me. A large part of the company
had already disappeared. Madame Dauberny said a word in the ear of the
Prussian baron, who was standing like a sentinel in the middle of the
salon. That word produced a magical effect: Herr von Brunzbrack jumped
back and landed on the feet of the gentleman who talked with his eyes
closed; he opened them very wide now, however, exclaiming:

"Take care, monsieur! you've lamed me for life! What on earth is the
matter with you?"

Herr von Brunzbrack was profuse in his apologies; but at that moment he
was so transported by the invitation he had received from Madame
Dauberny, that, while he was apologizing, he trod on the dress of a lady
who stood beside him, then overturned a chair, and, as he stooped to
pick it up, caught his coat buttons in the lace-trimmed cloak of a lady
who had just put it on to go home. The poor Prussian lost his head; he
did not know where he was; he dared not take a step forward or back.
Frédérique extricated him from his plight by taking his arm and leading
him away.

"Come, baron, come," she said; "we are waiting for you!"

We three left the salon; I cast a glance at Madame Sordeville, who
seemed thunderstruck to see me go away with Madame Dauberny, who had
sent the baron on ahead and had taken my arm with the greatest
familiarity.

I felt a thrill of joy and satisfaction, which fully compensated me for
all the tedium of the evening. Frédérique was right; by taking me away
with her, she had served my passion more effectually than I had done by
all the ardent glances I had bestowed upon the seductive Armantine.
Women are never mistaken as to what it is necessary to do to make sure
that the arrow reaches its mark.



XVIII

BARON VON BRUNZBRACK


The baron's carriage, which was at the door, conveyed us in a very short
time to Madame Dauberny's, on Boulevard Montmartre.

On the way we said little; the baron was still dazed by the gaucheries
he had committed and his joy at being invited to sup with the fair
Frédérique; and, besides, I fancy that my presence embarrassed him; he
did not know upon what footing I stood with the lady, but he saw that I
too was to sup with her, and I think that that fact kept his mind busy.

Our singular hostess also seemed to be in a contemplative mood, and I
was thinking of the glance Madame Sordeville bestowed upon me when I
left her salon.

But Madame Dauberny resumed her playful mood as soon as we reached her
house, and devoted herself to the duties of a hostess. I was very
certain that we should not meet her husband; I had a secret conviction
that he never attended her little supper parties.

"Three covers," said Frédérique to a servant who was in the reception
room. "And a good fire, for there's no satisfaction in eating when one
is cold. Is there a fire in the salon?"

"No, madame; but there is one in your room."

"Very well! let us go to my room, then, messieurs; you will allow me to
receive you in my bedroom, will you not? At one o'clock in the morning,
we may snap our fingers at etiquette."

"Ah, madame!" I said, bowing low; "it is a great favor, for which we
thank you."

"Ah, montame!" said the baron, in his turn, with a still lower bow; "id
vould pe fery bretty in any room mit you."

Without listening to our thanks, Madame Dauberny had already left the
room before us. A lady's-maid carried a light. We arrived in the bed
chamber of the lady whom Monsieur Archibald called a _gaillarde_. It was
a delicious spot, furniture and draperies being in the most perfect
taste; an alabaster globe hanging from the ceiling cast a soft light
upon everything. Quantities of flowers, in lovely Chinese vases, filled
the air with an intoxicating perfume. It was the retreat of a
_petite-maîtresse_; there was nothing there to suggest a _gaillarde_. I
expected to find foils, pipes, and statuettes; I found nothing but
flowers, and inhaled nothing but perfumes.

We were hardly ushered into her room when the charming Frédérique left
us, saying:

"Messieurs, I crave your permission to go and make myself comfortable."


I was left alone with the Prussian baron; I examined him more closely,
while he gazed amorously at the bed which stood at one end of the room.
Herr von Brunzbrack seemed to be about forty years of age; he was tall
and well built and powerful--a man of the type of those from whom
Frederick the Great recruited a regiment of grenadiers. His blond
coloring was a little too pronounced, although his hair, cut in military
fashion, was less red than his moustaches; he had great blue eyes on a
level with his face, which were always wide open, and which had not an
intelligent expression; but, on the other hand, there was frankness in
them, and a kindliness that soon gave place to wrath if anybody seemed
inclined to make sport of him. Taken as a whole, Herr von Brunzbrack had
what is conventionally called a "good face." He laughed very readily,
opening a cavernous mouth; but he resumed his seriousness so suddenly
that one was surprised to have heard him laugh.

As he spoke French with difficulty, he deemed it advisable to accompany
his words with a pantomime which he considered most expressive, I doubt
not, but which was often more grotesque than intelligible.

I do not know whether he was taking the trouble to draw my portrait at
the same time, but I noticed that he glanced at me now and then out of
the corner of his eye.

I tried to converse with him.

"This chamber is decorated with exquisite taste!"

"Ja! te shamber pe fery bretty."

"This cabinet is full of curious and well-selected objects."

"Ja! tere's a lot of leedle chems--for shildren."

"But the ladies like them, too."

"Oh, ja! te ladies haf shildren for blaytings."

"But I don't think that Madame Dauberny has any children."

"Oh, ja! all apoud--and on te mandel, too."

I did not understand him. I looked at the flowers in the vases, and
said:

"There's nothing prettier and more ornamental than flowers! What a pity
that they are perfect poison in a bedroom!"

The baron opened his eyes even wider than usual, and looked all about; I
am not sure that he did not stoop to look under the bed. Then he
rejoined:

"I see no _poisson_ [fish] in te room."

Luckily, Madame Dauberny's return put an end to this interview, in which
I found little amusement.

At sight of Frédérique, a cry of admiration escaped the baron and
myself. She had put on an ample robe de chambre, of blue cashmere,
caught in at the waist by a girdle of orange silk. The gown was buttoned
to the neck, about which was a narrow white silk cravat, carelessly
tied. Her feet were encased in fascinating orange slippers, studded with
steel beads. Lastly, on her hair, which she had arranged in haste, in a
_bandeau_ on one side, and on the other in long curls, she had placed a
small blue velvet toque, with an enormous silver tassel, which hung down
on the same side as the curls and seemed to intensify their brilliancy.


It is impossible to describe the charm which that négligé costume
imparted to its wearer. Her figure was so gracefully outlined by the
folds of the cashmere, her unique headdress gave so much expression to
her features, that the baron and I remained under the spell and could
not tire of gazing at her.

"Here I am," said Frédérique, with a smile. "As you see, I take the
liberty of supping in a robe de chambre."

"Ah! how loafely you pe so!" murmured the baron, passing his right hand
over his face as he spoke, kissing it, and throwing kisses to the
ceiling.

"All right, all right, my dear baron! As I have told you, I can
understand you without pantomime; so you may spare yourself so much
extravagance of gesture.--Let us toast ourselves, messieurs, while we
are waiting for our supper."

As she spoke, Frédérique seated herself in a great easy-chair in front
of the fire; we took armchairs and moved them to her side, and in a
moment all three had our feet on the andirons.

"Now," said Frédérique, "a few words by way of prologue to our
supper.--You, Baron von Brunzbrack, I have known only two months, having
met you in society; but I know that you are an honorable man. This
evening you made a declaration of love in due form. You think, perhaps,
that it was on that account that I invited you to sup with me. It is my
duty to undeceive you. I do not love you, my dear baron; my heart will
never beat one little bit faster because of you. It was to tell you
that, and, at the same time, to offer you sincere friendship in place of
love, that I asked you to sup with me. I trust that you are content with
my course of action, and that you will show yourself worthy of my
friendship."

The baron rolled his eyes about in most extraordinary fashion; he made
a piteous face; he did not know whether he ought to appear offended or
gratified; he looked down at the floor, heaved a sigh, and was about to
take refuge in pantomime; but Frédérique placed her hand on his arm,
saying:

"Sit still, and let me go on. I now present to you Monsieur Charles
Rochebrune; I have known him only five days; he is a more recent
acquaintance than you, but I know whom I am receiving; I know monsieur
as well now as if we had been brought up together. Well, baron, do you
know why I have invited monsieur to share my supper with you? It is
because I know that he has no thought of loving me, of paying court to
me; because his heart is wholly occupied by a very pretty woman, who has
tormented him cruelly this evening, but who will be more amiable another
time, no doubt."

The baron had no sooner heard these details concerning me than his face
beamed with joy. The honest German had probably taken me for a rival,
and a happy rival, I suppose; but as soon as he learned that nothing of
the sort was true, and that I was not in love with Madame Dauberny, he
turned to me and grasped my hand, crying:

"Ah! you not rifal of me. Gif me your hand; ve pe gut frents, ve
untershtand each oder, ve tell each oder all ve haf onto our hearts."

And Herr von Brunzbrack put one of his hands to his breast, shook his
head violently, and stamped on the floor like a horse anxious to leave
the stable. I hastened to give him my hand, which he squeezed until he
hurt me, repeating:

"Ve pe gut frents. Montame, she not bleeze you, hein?"

"We need not go so far, monsieur le baron; I beg you to believe that I
do full justice to madame's wit and grace and abundant charms."

"Oh! enough! enough!" cried Frédérique; "you will alarm him. Just tell
him simply that you are not at all in love with me and never expect to
be."

I do not know why I was reluctant to say that; I looked at the graceful
folds of Frédérique's gown, and did not reply.

"You see, my dear Herr von Brunzbrack," continued our amiable hostess,
"I thought it best to tell you that Monsieur Rochebrune does not love
me, that his heart is engrossed by another; in short, that you must not
look upon him as a rival, for I saw you glaring at him with your big
eyes, which are very savage when they are not very sweet; and because it
is more agreeable to me to see perfect harmony between my guests. But do
not reason from that, that other men do not make love to me, and that I
do not love anybody. I have told you that you would never be my lover,
so that you have no rights over me; and whenever it pleases me, even in
your presence, to allow myself to be made love to, remember that you
will have no right to say the least little word. Otherwise, it's all
over between us; I withdraw my friendship, and I see you no more."

The baron heaved a sigh that reminded me of the low notes of the stout
singer I had heard that evening. He beat his brow, gazed at the
ceiling, then took my hand and shook it so that he nearly put my
shoulder out of joint.

"Ah! my gut frent," he murmured, "montame can pe fery unkind. I know not
how to say. But, nefer mind, ve must do als she say. But alvays shall I
loafe her; alvays shall I loafe her madly."

"As for that," said Frédérique, "you may do as you please; I have no
further concern with it. But I am not at all worried about your future
repose. When a man sees that he cannot retain any hope, he soon ceases
to love."

"Not te Prussian! Nein! nein! te more unhappier he is, te more constant
he is!"

"So much the worse for the Prussian, then; the best thing he can do is
to adopt the French fashion. But we have had enough of love and of
unveiling the secrets of our hearts; you must understand, baron, that
this subject of conversation would soon become monotonous to us all. I
propose that we don't have any more of it at supper."

"Madame is served," said a footman.

"Bravo! Come, messieurs, give me a hand each. I will escort you.
Remember that I command here, and that I must be obeyed."

"Here and everywhere, madame."

"Ja," said the baron, "eferyvere and elsevere."



XIX

THE LITTLE SUPPER PARTY


Frédérique led us through a narrow hall, at the end of which we entered
a small room, well carpeted and deliciously warm; in each corner, and
between the windows, were boxes of growing flowers. The apartment was
too elegant for a dining-room, and not enough so for a boudoir. A table
was laid there, with all the luxurious appointments that add so much to
the charm of a repast.

"This, messieurs, is what I call my _Petit Trianon_, or my _petits
appartements_--that is to say, it is the room where I receive my
friends. I need not tell you that my husband is never admitted here. I
believe that you did not come here to see him. We are like the sun and
the moon: we are never seen together unless there is some serious
disturbance in the solar system. As we have agreed that each of us shall
enjoy absolute liberty, we live up to our agreement."

"Ten id is apsoludely as if you haf no husbant, hein? Ha! ha!"

"Oh! it isn't the same thing, by any means.--To table, messieurs!"

We took our places, Frédérique between us, of course. Her affable,
unconventional manner instantly put her guests at their ease. The baron
was radiant; he rolled his eyes about, and kept repeating:

"Ich loafe sehr viel your _betit Trille-anon_."

"Flowers everywhere!" I said, glancing at those on the table, and at the
boxes that surrounded us.

"Yes, I adore them; I must always have some about me."

"Birds of a feather flock together."

"Oh! my dear Rochebrune, pray don't put me on a diet of insipid
compliments! I detest them. I prefer the volnay. Come, messieurs, drink!
Do you prefer chambertin--or pomard? You have only to speak."

"I should mit bleazure trink all te drei."

"And you are quite right. Vive variety! It is charming, isn't it,
messieurs?"

"It's very nice, in the matter of wine."

"And in everything else! own up to it, hypocrite!"

"I am too honest to contradict you."

"That's right! Why, see my flowers--how lovely they are! these roses and
camellias and hyacinths and cactuses! Would the bouquet be so pretty, if
I had nothing but roses?"

"Evidently, flowers are your passion."

"Faith! yes; and I believe the only one I have ever had thus far.
Perhaps that is the reason I have been so frivolous, so fickle."

"I vould like to pe a tulib," murmured the baron.

"You choose ill, baron; the tulip has very little charm for me; I care
little for odorless flowers."

"In tat case, I vould like to pe--a beony."

"Ha! ha! ha! you are not happy in your choice of flowers. Well,
messieurs, what did you think of Monsieur Sordeville's reception? Was
the concert good? I arrived very late."

"Faith! that was lucky for your ears; for there were a lady and a
gentleman who put us to a severe test. By the way, a young man, with a
very light complexion, sang some ballads tolerably well. Who was he, I
wonder? He talked a good deal with Madame Sordeville."

"Oh! I know: it was Mondival. He's very good-looking, but a fool; he's
conceited, and I hate conceited men. I prefer them ugly--and clever. I
don't mean that for you, messieurs."

And the fair Frédérique laughed aloud. The baron felt called upon to
follow suit. I said nothing, for I was thinking of Armantine. My
neighbor, noticing my serious face, nudged me with her knee.

"Well! he has nothing to say!" she exclaimed. "Have I offended you? But,
no--I said nothing that was meant for you."

"Offended me? How, pray?"

"He doesn't even know what I said! He's thinking of his Armantine; I was
sure of it! Do you love her so much, then--with all your heart, as they
say?"

"Yes--that is to say, I did love her."

"And it's over already, because she played the coquette?"

"She paid no more attention to me than if I had been a perfect
stranger."

"But she hasn't known you so very long! And then, I warn you that she is
extremely capricious."

"Oh! I have noticed that; it's a wretched fault."

"It's common enough among _petites-maîtresses_. I am not capricious,
myself; to be sure, I am not a _petite-maîtresse_! Pray drink,
messieurs; you lag behind. You're not lusty suppers! Look at me: I'll
set you an example."

Frédérique emptied her glass at one swallow. The baron tried to do the
same, but swallowed it the wrong way; he left the table, to cough and
stamp on the floor. The servant brought champagne and malvoisie; the
supper was delicious. I began to feel less melancholy; Madame Dauberny's
example led me on, and I did honor to the good cheer.

The baron, having ceased to cough, resumed his seat; his cheeks were
beginning to turn purple.

"In a moment," said Frédérique, "I will dismiss the servant; then we
will put our elbows on the table and talk nonsense."

"Ja! ja! nonzenz, I like to talk nonzenz; und mit unser foot on te
table; tat vill be sehr amusing."

"Not the feet; that would be uncomfortable. I said elbows."

"Ja! te knees."

"Impromptu parties forever! they are the only merry ones. Certainly I
had no idea this morning that I should have you gentlemen to supper this
evening, or rather to-night; and you didn't expect to come here."

"We did not foresee our good fortune."

"Oh! you are stupefying with your compliments, Rochebrune! I like to
believe that you talk differently to the women you love. However, there
are women who like that sort of talk; Armantine doesn't detest
compliments."

"I assure you, madame, that I had no intention of paying you one. But
one can no longer say what one thinks. This supper is a genuine piece of
good fortune, so far as I am concerned: I was depressed, you have
restored my good spirits; I had abandoned all hope, you have renewed it;
in truth, I can't tell you why I feel so happy now! You are willing that
we should say just what we think, are you not?"

"Oh, yes! for I do, myself."

"Well, you have a headdress that does my heart good! If you knew how
becoming it is to you!--Isn't it true, baron, that madame's headdress is
fascinating?"

The baron began by offering me his hand; I had no choice but to take it;
and he began to shake mine, crying:

"You not pe in loafe mit her, nicht wahr? you haf id to me pevore supper
bromised."

I could not help laughing at the baron's anxiety concerning the state of
my heart.

The seductive Frédérique shrugged her shoulders slightly, and said with
some show of impatience:

"Why, no, a thousand times no! he doesn't give me a thought! Can't a man
tell a lady that her headdress becomes her, that he likes that style of
headdress, without being in love with her? If you return to that
subject, Monsieur le Prussien, I'll put an end to the session."

"I am dumb."

"Oh! talk, but talk about something else.--_Vivat!_ we are free at
last!"

The servant had left the room, after bringing the dessert. Frédérique
filled our glasses, then rose, and rang a bell.

"I forgot the best of all," she said.

The servant returned.

"Bring cigars, cigarettes, pipes, and tobacco, Jean. Hurry!"

The baron uttered something very like an oath of admiration.

"_Sapré tarteff!_" he cried; "are ve going to schmoke? Is id bermitted?"

"I not only permit it, but set the example; not always, by the way, but
to-night we are so snug and cozy, and I am like Rochebrune, I am
satisfied with my supper."

"Ah! do you smoke, madame?"

"Does that surprise you?"

"Nothing surprises me that you do?"

"Really! I don't know whether I ought to take that as a compliment. But
I must, must I not? one should take everything in good part."

"Is it possible that I could dream of criticising you, who have been and
still are so kind to me?"

"Really! you think that I am kind?--Ah! here is what I sent for."

The servant drew a small table near the supper table, and placed on it a
large assortment of pipes, cigars, and several kinds of tobacco. Each of
us chose what he liked best. I supposed that Frédérique would confine
herself to cigarettes, but she took a very fine Turkish pipe and filled
it with tobacco from the same country. Then she threw herself back in
her chair, emptied a glass of malvoisie, and smoked with the abandon of
a Mohammedan.

The baron clapped his hands, murmuring:

"Sehr gut! sehr gut! you haf all te qualidies to bleeze."

"Because I smoke? Why, my dear Brunzbrack, many people would call that a
vice."

"Ach, ja! I say tat to you id pe most pecoming; you pe a she-pear----"

"A she-bear! Ha! ha! that can't be what you mean."

"Bardon--how do tey say?--an animal of te desert--te female of te king
of animals."

"A _lionne_ [lioness]; that is what you mean."

"Ja! you be te _lionne à la mode_; id is all te same."

I took a cigar, and the baron an ordinary pipe, and in a moment we were
all smoking for dear life. Herr von Brunzbrack, whom the pipe seemed to
make thirsty, emptied his glass very frequently and belauded the
champagne; for my part, the malvoisie suited my taste exactly; and I had
such an exquisite sense of well-being, seated at that table beside that
original creature, who acted just like a man!

"Messieurs," she said, blowing a cloud of smoke at the ceiling, "life
has some very pleasant moments."

"It is delicious to me just now."

"Id runs ein leedle; but id is gut."

"What's that, baron? your life runs a little?"

"I did not untershtand; I said id of mein bibe."

"Oh, indeed!--It's a pity that we have bad days, that melancholy
thoughts sometimes take possession of us!"

"Melancholy thoughts come only as a result of disappointments of the
heart."

"True, you are right, Rochebrune; that is why your thoughts are so sad
to-night, isn't it? The handsome Mondival distanced you; he had the pole
to-night. Ha! ha! what a way to talk about love! What will you think of
me? that I am a very _mauvais sujet_, eh?"

"We should be too fortunate if that were so!"

"Ach, ja! as mein frent Rochebrune say--if id vas so---- _Sapremann_, id
is running again!"

"Pray take another pipe, baron; there are enough to choose from."

A thought that had come to my mind several times during supper still
absorbed me. I do not know whether Frédérique could read it in my eyes,
but, after looking at me a moment, she said:

"What are you thinking about? Come, tell me! It has come to your lips
several times, and you keep it back. Is it something very unkind, pray,
that you are afraid to say it?"

"No; it's a very natural reflection, but one that I have no right to
make, perhaps."

"But you seem to have taken the liberty to make it. I don't like the
things one keeps back; they are more dangerous."

"Your gut healt', montame, and te bleazure id gif me to schmoke tis bibe
in your company."

"Thanks, baron, thanks!"

"Vill you trink mit me?"

"Certainly I will."

While she honored Brunzbrack's toast, Frédérique kept her eyes on me,
and they peremptorily bade me to speak.

"Well, madame," I began, hesitatingly.

"Why do you continue to call me _madame_? I call you Rochebrune."

"But, if not that, what may I presume to call you?"

"I have told you to look upon me as your friend, your comrade. If I were
a man, you would call me Frédérique, as I call you Rochebrune; so, call
me Frédérique."

"I shall never dare!"

"Why not, when I give you leave?"

"Because you don't seem to me in the least like a man."

She smiled queerly, passed her hand over her head, took off her little
cap and tossed it on the floor, ran her fingers through her curls,
rumpled up the _bandeau_, and made curls of that, saying, as she thus
rearranged her coiffure:

"Does Monsieur Charles Rochebrune refuse to tell me what he has had on
the tip of his tongue several times?"

"I beg your pardon, madame--I was thinking--I was surprised--not to
find--another person here."

Frédérique curled her lip and frowned slightly.

"Do you refer to Monsieur Saint-Bergame?" she said.

"Yes."

"It is true that--three days ago--I should not have taken supper without
him. But we have quarrelled."

"Ah! you are on bad terms now?"

"Yes."

"Not for long, I presume?"

"Perhaps so. When one has been able to pass two days without trying to
see a certain person, one can pass a week; when one has passed a week,
there is no reason why one should not pass a month, and so on. He did
something that--displeased me, and I told him so. Instead of
apologizing, he thought it became him to make a scene, and he made a
miserable failure of it. He should have come the next day--that same
night, indeed--to beg my pardon; he didn't do it, and now I think it
would be too late. Look you, my friend--I want to call you my friend,
and you give me leave, do you not, monsieur?--I believe that I can do
without Saint-Bergame much better than I thought."

As she spoke, she offered me her hand so prettily that I was tempted to
throw my arms about her and kiss her. But I confined myself to taking
her hand and putting it to my lips; whereupon she hastily withdrew it,
crying:

"Well, well! what in heaven's name is he doing? Are men in the habit of
kissing their male friends' hands? that is a new idea, on my word!"



XX

BETWEEN THE PIPE AND THE CHAMPAGNE


The baron, who was beginning to be drowsy with the combined effects of
the wine and tobacco, and whose eyes were not nearly so wide open as at
the beginning of the supper, saw me, none the less, when I kissed Madame
Dauberny's hand. He immediately snatched his pipe from his mouth and
glared at me, crying:

"Mein gut frent, is id drue tat you pe not ein leedle pit in loafe mit
montame? not ein leedle pit, I say?"

"What has stirred you up now, baron?" laughed Frédérique; "are you going
to begin again?"

"Nein, but for vat do mein gut frent Rocheverte, he kiss your hand? I
haf seen him kiss your hand."

"I did it without concealment, baron, and I ask nothing better than to
do it again."

"So! in tat case, so vill ich do id again; but I haf not yet done id at
all."

"Fill your pipe, baron, and let my hand alone. We were saying that
Armantine's concert this evening was a bit _mouche_, to use a slang
term--eh, monsieur?"

"Yes, madame."

"I haf not seen if tere vas _mouches_ [flies] at Monsir Sordeville's;
but he pe ein sehr bleazant man, sehr--how you say?--he make me much
talk; he loafe ven I talk; he say tat I shpeak vell te language."

Frédérique's face suddenly changed; her brow grew dark, and her
expression was no longer the same. She looked keenly at the baron,
saying:

"What did you talk about with Monsieur Sordeville?"

"Ve talk of pizness. As I haf come to France mit der ambassador, he haf
question me of bolitics, of te gufernment, of many serious subjects. He
pe a brovound man, he haf alvays agree mit me."

Frédérique seemed to be lost in thought.

"And this was only the second time that you had been to Monsieur
Sordeville's?" she asked, after a moment.

"Ja! id vas te second time. I haf met te monsir at te house of Montame
de Granvallon, vere I haf had te bleazure to meet mit you."

"And you did not know Monsieur Sordeville before?"

"Not at all; but he make agwaindance so easy, he vas sehr amiable; his
vife, as he tell me, she haf peen much frent mit you."

"Yes, Armantine and I were at the same boarding school; we were friends.
I left the school long before she did; I refused to learn to do anything
except fence and ride, and those things were just what they didn't teach
there. I would have liked to go to the Polytechnic, and then to
Saint-Cyr; to be a soldier, in fact. I held up to my parents the
precedent of the Chevalier d'Éon, who, although a woman, was cunning
enough to lead a man's life for years. But they declared that it would
be too great a risk. Parents constantly thwart their children's
inclinations like that.--When I met Armantine again, she was married,
and we renewed our old friendship. She is good-humored, merry, a little
inclined to be capricious, a great flirt, but good at heart. As for her
husband--in my opinion, he pays too little attention to his wife; he
gives her too much liberty. I don't say that she abuses it, but, you
see, you gentlemen are sometimes very gallant, very adventurous! And
when the husband is never on the spot, why, it's his own fault if
anything happens to him."

"What is this Monsieur Sordeville's business?" I asked Frédérique. She
did not answer for some time, but at last she said:

"I thought that you knew him?"

"From having met him two or three times at a house where they give balls
and play cards. He talked with me, more or less; he doesn't lack
intelligence, he talks well, and possesses the much rarer gift of making
others talk. We see so many people in society whose conversational
powers consist in interrupting one at every instant, and who do not
understand that one may have something better to do than listen to them.
I had some talk with Monsieur Sordeville, as I say; and then I met him
again at that wedding party, where you were so kind to me, and where he
invited me to his house. But I did not dream of asking him what his
profession was. Indeed, if he is rich, he is justified in having none."

"It seems that he has some property; but I have an idea that he
speculates on the Bourse. Were you better pleased with him this evening
than with--did he make himself agreeable? He received you cordially, I
have no doubt; but what did you talk about with him? not his wife, I
presume?"

"No; he was discussing serious subjects with an old gentleman who kept
blinking, or rather closed his eyes altogether, when he spoke. They got
onto politics, and talked thereon a long while."

Frédérique was not at all the same woman as our hostess of a few moments
earlier. After quite a long silence, during which our lovelorn Prussian
continued to drown his heartache in champagne, I touched my neighbor's
arm softly, saying:

"You seem to be a long way off. Are you tired? do you wish us to go?"

Frédérique raised her head, passed her hand across her forehead, and
resumed her jovial air.

"Ah! you are right!" she exclaimed; "scold me, my friend. I have fits of
musing, sometimes; I fall into a train of thought that is utterly void
of sense! It is very wrong in me, for when you are with me is no time
for me to have such thoughts. But I don't want you to leave me yet; we
get along so well together! Are you inclined to sleep?"

"Oh! no, madame!"

"_Madame_ again! You irritate me! Beware! if you go on in this way, I am
no longer your comrade."

"Pray don't say that--Frédérique."

"He called me Frédérique! that's very lucky for him! What a lot of
trouble I had, to bring him to that! Ah! I am very glad I succeeded."

She sprang to her feet and began to waltz about the table; then stopped
in front of a mirror over the mantel, and changed the arrangement of her
hair once more, this time twisting a red silk handkerchief about her
head, _à la_ Creole. Then she went to the baron, took him by the
shoulders, and shook him, crying:

"Well! my friend Brunzbrack, you don't open your mouth! Have you gone to
sleep?"

The baron raised his head, rubbed his eyes, and tried to open them, as
he replied:

"Ach! _zaperlotte!_ gone to shleep, me! ven ich bin mit ein so bretty
voman! mit ein voman who turns mein head und mein heart!"

"I don't know whether I have turned your head, but it seemed to me that
you were hardly following the conversation."

"Id vas te bibe vich haf make mein head heafy ein leedle pit. But I haf
not seen! Mein Gott! how you pe bretty mit tis oder way to do your hair!
I know not vy you like to blay all tese leedle dricks mit your head, als
if id haf not peen bretty enough pevore!"

"Herr von Brunzbrack is right," said I, looking at Frédérique, to whom
the red silk handkerchief gave a saucy, wanton look that changed her
completely. "Do you know, my friend, that it is ungenerous to keep
changing your coiffure, and to invent such alluring ones? Do you want
the poor baron here to die of love?"

"Ha! ha! I'm not afraid of that. I have put on my nightcap; isn't a
body at liberty to put on her nightcap? But I don't want you to go to
sleep, baron! Come, let's sing and drink and laugh! Oh! I am in a
laughing mood to-night!"

"Ja! ja! let's trink und sing!"

"Do you begin, baron; but no love songs, and, above all things, no
languorous lamentations. What we want is something lively, a little
décolleté even. Do men stand on ceremony with one another?"

She filled our glasses, then threw herself back in her chair, laughing
till the tears came, because the baron gazed at her with such a tender
expression, that his eyes were invisible and his face resembled an
egg-plant.

"Come, baron; we're waiting for you."

"Ach! I must sing te first; und so vill I. Vait, till I remember me some
bretty song; I know many--vait. Trum, trum, trum, trideri, tram, tram,
tram. _Sapremann!_ So many I know! Vait! Troum, troum, troum, tradera,
tradera. Id is sehr--how you say?--astonish! Ich kann nicht te peginning
remember. Vait--trim, trim, turlulu, traderi----"

"I'm afraid you are stuck fast, my poor Brunzbrack. While we are waiting
for your memory to come back, Rochebrune will sing us something."

"I?"

"To be sure. Well! has this one lost his memory, too? Why, what sort of
men are these two, that a glass of champagne puts their wits to flight?"

"I am perfectly willing to sing; but I know nothing but nonsensical
things."

"Sing us a nonsensical thing! I will allow anything that isn't downright
bad. Moreover, I am sure that my friend will not sing me anything
unseemly."

"On the contrary, I am very unseemly, sometimes."

"In that case, monsieur, keep quiet."

She assumed a pouting expression, and I hastened to hum a tune, saying:

"This is only a little free."

"Go on, then; I'll let it pass. Vadé, Gallet, Favart. Clever things are
never indecent, because if they were they would not be clever."

"I am trying to remember the tune."

"Mon Dieu! how insufferable they are with their tunes! Here, how is
this: Tra la la la--tra la la; you can sing any song to that."

"You are right; it's from the _Famille de l'Apothicaire_."

"I don't know what family it's from, but if it's all right---- Begin,
monsieur."

"Here I go! I am going to sing _Le Vent_. Have I your permission?"

"_Le Vent_ it is!"

"I beg you to believe that it is not the _Vent_ which is the key to the
riddle in _Le Mercure Galant_."

"I trust not; it's the _vent_ [wind] that _blows through the mountains_;
the _vent de Gastibelza_."

"Just so. I am going to begin:

    "'Quand on te propose----'

Ah! that won't go to the tune of the _Famille de l'Apothicaire_."

"That's strange; it ought to. Try some other tune."

"I think the _Baiser au Porteur_ will do the business."

"Oh! how long it takes you to get started, my dear fellow!"

"I begin:

    "'Quand on t'offre une promenade----'"

"Trum, trum, trum, traderi dera, troum, troum, troum."

"Oh! please be kind enough to hold your tongue, baron, with your troum
troum!"

"I dry yet to find mein tune."

"You can find it later; listen now to Rochebrune, who is going to sing
us a _risqué_ little chansonnette."

"Ach! gut, gut! _risqué!_ tat must pe sehr amusing! _Risqué!_ Vat is a
_risqué_ chanson?"

"That means lively; but we may as well speak out, as we are all men: it
means naughty."

"Ach! id vill pe sehr bretty so! I loafe tat kind! Ve vill much laugh.
Let us hear te naughty song. Ha! ha! How id vill pe amusing! Ho! ho!"

The baron laughed so heartily in anticipation of the pleasure in store
for him, that Frédérique had much difficulty in silencing him; he ceased
at last, and contented himself with muttering between his teeth:
"Naughty, _risqué!_--_risqué_, naughty!" while I sang to the tune of the
_Baiser au Porteur_:

    "'Quand on t'offre une promenade,
      Lisa, prends garde au temps qu'il fait!
      S'il fait du vent, dis-toi malade,
      Ou bien, l'on en profiterait
      Pour te faire ce qu'on voudrait.
      Va, je ne ris pas, sur mon âme!
      Par ce temps-la je fus prise souvent!
      Ma chère, il n'est pour une femme
      Rien de plus traître que le vent.'"[B]

I paused after the first verse and glanced at Frédérique. She smiled;
that was a good sign. As for the baron, he repeated each line after me,
sometimes with variations, and with an accompaniment of loud guffaws. We
heard him mumbling:

"Noding so slyer als der vind! Ho! ho! ho! Gut, gut! Naughty!"

"Go on," said Frédérique.

I cleared my throat, drank a glass of wine, and cried like Ravel in the
_Tourlourou_:

"Second verse, same tune:

    "'Et puis, comment veux-tu qu'on fasse?
      On s'habille quand il fait beau:
      Le vent arrive, on s'embarrasse,
      On ne peut tenir de niveau,
      Le bas d'sa robe et son chapeau;
      On a les yeux pleins de poussière
      Lorsque ça souffle par devant,
      Mais c'est plus perfide, ma chère,
      Quand on n'voit pas venir le vent.'"[C]

"My loafe! Ven she don't feel te vind plowing! Ho! ho! gut! gut! gut!
Troum! troum! troum!"

Frédérique laughed outright.

"Oh! how insufferable he is with his repetitions! Next verse."

    "'Si la pluie est désagréable
      Et sur nous mouille nos jupons,
      Le vent est libertin en diable!
      Il dessin' ce que nous avons.
      Il nous fait comm' des petits cal'cons;
      Un homme, alors, garde moins de mesure,
      Car ça le monte au ton du sentiment!
      Et ce n'est pas notre figure
      Qu'il regarde tant qu'il fait du vent.'"[D]

"Ho! ho! ho! gut! gut! Id is not te face. Ich nicht untershtand."

"So much the worse for you, baron; for I don't propose to have it
explained to you. It seems to me that it's plain enough. It's a little
free, but it's amusing. Is that all?"

"Yes."

"Only three verses! That's a pity!" And Frédérique put her glass to her
lips, adding: "After all, where's the harm? In the old days, men sang
more and they weren't so ill-tempered as they are to-day. Poor French
gayety! what has become of thee? O merry meetings of the _Caveau_! In
truth, it was only to sing that men sought admission to thy meetings."

"Troum, troum, traderi dera. Ach! I remember me mein song now."

"Let's have it, baron; we are listening."

The baron opened his enormous mouth, and we supposed that a stentorian
voice would issue therefrom; but we were agreeably surprised. When he
sang, Herr von Brunzbrack had a shrill voice resembling that of a child
of two; it reminded me strongly of the voice of the _Man with the Doll_.

    "'Moi, qui jadis ch'affre eu le gloire,
      De chansonner bour Montemoiselle Iris,
      Che vais avec votre bermission fous dire l'histoire
      Du jeune perger Paris;
      Sur le mirlidon.'"[E]

"Enough! enough!" cried Frédérique; interrupting him without ceremony;
"we know that, my dear Brunzbrack. You needn't have taken so much pains
to remember that song."

"Vat! you know id?"

"Who doesn't know the _Judgment of Paris_; to the air of _mirliton_,
_mirlitaine_? I think Collé wrote it. Perhaps I ought not to have
admitted that I know it; but as I have told you that I am a man, that
shouldn't astonish you."

"Id is sehr bretty! Id ended alvays mit: Mirlidon, mirlidaine, mirlidon,
don, don."

"Yes. I advise you to think of something else, baron."

Frédérique threw her red handkerchief on the table, then ran again to
the mirror, took a little comb from the pocket of her gown, and in an
instant entirely rearranged her coiffure. She selected a beautiful white
rose, put it in her hair, made curls much longer than before, and gave
herself the aspect of one of those charming English faces of Lawrence,
which have been freely reproduced in engravings, and which one cannot
look at without the reflection that one would be very fortunate to
possess the model.

A most extraordinary woman, this Madame Dauberny! How far I had been
from imagining her as she then was! What a captivating succession of
moods! First, a very madcap, laughing uproariously; then, of a sudden,
serious, almost melancholy, stern even; free in her actions, reserved in
her speech; one moment assuming the tone and manners of a man; then
abruptly recurring to the graces and dainty ways of a woman! I was still
uncertain what opinion to form of her; but the one thing of which I
could entertain no doubt was her perfect frankness; I was perfectly
certain that she never had any hesitation about saying exactly what she
thought.

"Mirlidon, don, don, mirlidaine!" hummed the baron, between his teeth.

Frédérique resumed her place at the table, looked me squarely in the
eye, and said:

"Well, comrade, what do you think of this arrangement of the hair? But,
first of all, my dear fellow, be assured that there isn't the slightest
coquetry in all this! It amuses me to vary my headdress, to give myself
a serious, saucy, romantic, harum-scarum look, turn and turn about. I
would have liked to be an actress, so that I might have changed my rôle
constantly. Sometimes I am as much of a child as when I was twelve years
old; but, I repeat, I don't do all this to make myself attractive; it is
only to amuse myself."

"Suppose you were coquettish, where would be the harm? You are entitled
to be."

"I know it, and that's just why I am not. Still, perhaps I am,
unconsciously. They say one doesn't know one's self. Why don't you tell
me how I look?"

"Because I am at a loss what to say. You were more alluring a moment
ago. Now, your aspect inclines one more to reverie, which, I think, is
more dangerous."

"And you, baron--what do you think of my new coiffure?"

By dint of humming _Mirlidon, don, don, mirlidaine_, Herr von Brunzbrack
had fallen asleep; his only reply was a mumbled repetition of the
refrain.

"He is in some imaginary country," said Frédérique, turning again to me.
"Let's let him sleep. For a German, he's a very poor drinker; I mean, he
drinks too much. But you are different; you don't show it. It's great
fun to get merry, but it's stupid to get tipsy and go to sleep. For my
part, I can drink all the champagne I choose, and it only makes me
talkative, expansive, don't you know, my friend, don't you know? Ah! I
have a strange fancy; if I don't yield to it, I shall stifle!"

"What is it, in heaven's name? Pray yield to it at once!"

"Well, I have a fancy to _tutoyer_[F] you; are you willing?"

I cannot describe the effect produced upon me by that: "Are you
willing?"--A sort of shiver passed through my body. I was moved to the
very depths of my being. For a man cannot, unmoved, hear a young and
attractive woman address him thus familiarly. It was of no use for me to
say to myself that with Frédérique that meant nothing, that it was
simply one effect of her originality; I was perturbed, and I did not
know what to reply.

She saved me the trouble by going on:

"It's agreed; we will _tutoyer_ each other. I will be your confidant,
and you shall be mine. Like the intimate friends we are, we will have no
secrets from each other. Give me your hand. Your name is Charles, I
believe? Well, I will call you Charles; it's less ceremonious than
Rochebrune. Come, shake hands. Aren't you willing to address me as
_thou_?"

"Oh, yes, indeed! I am delighted! I will gladly address you--address
thee--_thou_."

"One would say that it came rather hard! For my part, I feel as if you
were my brother, and I had _thou'd_ thee all my life."

"Ah! you feel as if I were your brother, do you?"

I was not at all pleased to have her look upon me as her brother. Ah!
what conceited fools men are! I fancied that I had turned Frédérique's
head! Her last words dispelled my illusion. I was silent for a moment,
but I soon recovered myself and shook her hand, saying:

"It's agreed, my dear friend: confidences and questions to the fore!
Tell me why your brow darkened just now when we were talking of
Monsieur Sordeville? Are you afraid that he doesn't make his wife
happy?"

Frédérique resumed her grave--yes, sombre air; she lowered her eyes and
was silent for some time before she replied:

"You have made an unfortunate choice for your first question. I can't
answer it, my dear Charles; there are some things that one must keep
concealed in the depths of one's soul, that one cannot reveal--even to a
friend--especially when---- I did wrong to give way to thoughts that----
No, it's impossible! it cannot be! I say again: I ought not to have had
those thoughts that banished my cheerfulness for a moment. It is
altogether useless to mention that subject again."

"I see only one thing clearly, Frédérique; and that is that you have a
secret that you won't trust to me. You may do as you please!"

"Now it's my turn to ask questions, monsieur. I have been told--by
someone I have talked with about you since that wedding; for I have made
some inquiries since then, otherwise you must not think, my dear friend,
that I would have asked you to sup with me; a lady in whom I have
perfect confidence, and whom you loved dearly once on a time--that ought
not to surprise you, you have loved so many! Have you kept notes of your
loves?"

"Go on, I beg! What did this lady say to you?"

"She said much that was flattering to you; that's a fine thing on the
part of a mistress one has left; but she expected it, she had served her
time. Moreover, it seems that you were very considerate in your
treatment of her, and that you remained good friends."

"Her name?"

"It's not worth while to tell you. This lady, then, spoke to me about
you; I led her on, for I was glad to be posted. You had pleased me at
the first glance; I had divined at once that we should be good friends
some day--good friends, do you understand? that's much better than lover
and mistress: it lasts longer."

"But, you see, I have continued to be that lady's friend, although she
was once my mistress."

"That's an exceptional case. Why do you say _you_?"

"I beg your pardon; I am not used to the other yet. You were saying?"

"I keep digressing, don't I? I prattle along, and say everything that
comes into my head. Ah! but it's so nice to be able to lay bare one's
thoughts! Don't be impatient; there's no hurry. You are comfortable,
aren't you? No woman is expecting you, eh? Let my words flow on at the
bidding of my imagination, which sometimes whisks me away from one
subject to another. You must be indulgent to your friends!"

As she said this, she passed an arm about my waist and leaned against my
shoulder; her head was close to my face; and when, as she talked, she
raised her eyes and fixed them on mine, our glances mingled. We were so
close together that I felt her breath on my cheek. "Ah!" I thought;
"this woman must be very cold, very indifferent, to treat me as if I
really were her father or her brother!"--But we were heated by the
champagne, and it seemed to affect us differently. Frédérique saw in me
only a friend, to whom she could show herself as she really was;
whereas I saw in her a lovely woman. Certainly it did not occur to me to
make love to her; but the more freely she abandoned herself to her
natural unreserve, the more seductive she seemed to me; and I felt that
she was putting my friendship to a severe test by almost taking my
breast for a pillow.

"To return to this lady--your former friend--she told me that you were
engaged to be married some time ago, and that your engagement was
suddenly broken off for some reason unknown to her. She asked you the
reason, and you refused to tell her; and she has an impression that that
was the beginning of your rupture with her."

"That is possible."

"But some things that a man doesn't tell to his mistress, he may confide
to an intimate friend. What was it that broke off your marriage? Tell
me."

Frédérique's last words suddenly dispelled my gayety; a painful memory
drove all before it. I sighed, and held my peace.

"Well! you don't answer?" cried Frédérique, after a long silence.

"The fact is--I am terribly sorry, my charming friend, but you have made
an unfortunate choice for your first question, and I cannot tell you
what you wish to know."

"Ha! ha! ha! that's a good joke!"

"What are you laughing at?"

"Why, don't you see? here are two intimate friends who have sworn to
have no secrets from each other, and neither of us can--or chooses
to--answer the first question the other asks! It's almost always so, my
friend, with the plans we make. Let us never bind ourselves to
anything--that's the safest way; and then, no matter what happens----"

"Mirlidon, don, don--don, don!"

"Ah! mon Dieu! How that frightened me! I thought that the baron was
awake; and, frankly, I am quite willing that he should sleep."

"He is dreaming that he's singing, that's all."

"Look you, my little Charles, there's one thing I will tell you. You
think my behavior very strange, no doubt--perhaps very blameworthy?"

"Why, I pray to know?"

"Let me speak. I know very well that I offend the proprieties, that I
run counter to the prejudices of the common herd; that people indulge in
numberless comments upon me, which are rarely favorable; but I--snap my
fingers at them! Listen."



XXI

CONFIDENCES


"I was not twenty-one years old when I was married; but I had already
loved, or thought that I loved. I was impulsive and passionate. I come
from a region where women do not know how to conceal their sentiments,
where they sometimes anticipate a declaration; and in my case, 'the
accent of the province is in the heart as well as in the language,' as
La Rochefoucauld says. At eighteen, I fell in love with a very comely
youth--at eighteen, a girl thinks a good deal of physical beauty; and
that is natural enough, for we pass judgment first of all on what we
see. My rosy-cheeked, fair-haired, blue-eyed young man was two years
older than I; but he had the manner of a sixteen-year-old schoolboy:
awkward, shy, embarrassed; he did not know what to say to me, and was
content to stare at me; but, as his eyes were fine, I considered myself
fortunate in having them always fastened on my face. 'He loves me,' I
said to myself; 'he must be very much in love with me, to stand in rapt
contemplation before me as he does.'--Still, I should not have been
sorry to hear a word or two of love from his lips. I tried to furnish
him with opportunities to be alone with me; I thought that he would
finally speak out. But Gabriel--his name was Gabriel--didn't know enough
to seize an opportunity. When he came, and I had a girl friend with me,
I would motion to her to leave us for a moment; young girls understand
each other very readily. But when she had invented some excuse for
leaving the room, Gabriel always felt called upon to take his hat and go
with her. You can judge whether I used to fret and fume. But one day,
when Gabriel started off on the heels of a peddler I had just dismissed,
I detained him by his coat tails, and he was compelled to remain; which
he did, blushing to the whites of his eyes, and saying:

"'Have I got anything on my back, mademoiselle?'

"'No, monsieur, there's nothing on your back, but I want to talk with
you; that's why I detained you. I was driven to resort to this method,
because you always run away as soon as I am alone.'

"Gabriel looked at the floor, playing with a little bamboo cane that he
usually carried. I invited him to sit down on a sofa beside me; he did
so, but moved as far away from me as possible, and continued to keep his
eyes averted, gazing sometimes at the ferrule and sometimes at the head
of his stick.

"'Monsieur Gabriel,' I cried at last, irritated by his silence, 'haven't
you anything to say to me? Do look at me, at least; before to-day, when
you were not speaking, you always had your eyes on me; why, pray, do you
gaze at your cane all the time to-day? Come, monsieur, look up, and tell
me just what you're thinking about; and come a little nearer; anybody
would think you were afraid of me, that I was scolding you.'

"Gabriel made up his mind at last to look at me and to move a little
nearer. He was as red as a cherry. He acted like a schoolboy who is
afraid of the birch; but he was such a handsome boy!

"'Monsieur,' I continued, 'I see that you don't dare to tell me what it
is that makes you sigh so when you are with me. But when a person
doesn't explain himself, he doesn't make any headway. As I am less
timid than you--as I like to know what to expect--I am going to help you
to speak out, for I believe that I have guessed the secret of your
heart. You--you--are in love with me, aren't you, Monsieur Gabriel?'

"My bashful suitor began anew to examine the two ends of his cane, which
annoyed me beyond words. At last, he stammered:

"'I--I don't know, mademoiselle.'

"'What, monsieur, you don't know? Then you must try to find out. Don't
you think me pretty?'

"'Oh, yes, mademoiselle!'

"'Don't you feel great pleasure in being with me?'

"'Yes, mademoiselle.'

"'Then, monsieur, of course you are in love with me.'

"'_Dame!_ it is very possible.'

"And he kept on playing with his stick. Unable to contain myself, I
snatched it out of his hands and threw it on the floor.

"'It seems to me, monsieur,' I cried, 'that, while I am speaking to you,
you might stop playing with your cane; it looks as if you weren't
listening to me, and that's very impolite!'

"The poor boy was thunderstruck by my action. He glanced at his cane out
of the corner of his eye, and murmured:

"'I wont do it any more, mademoiselle.'

"Somewhat mollified by his submissive air, I continued:

"'Well, Monsieur Gabriel, as you are in love with me, of course you want
to marry me; for my parents say that people ought not to love unless
they're going to be married. I don't know how true that is. Would you
like to marry me, Monsieur Gabriel?'

"'Why, certainly, mademoiselle, if you think it's possible.'

"'Why shouldn't it be, monsieur? Isn't it true that young men are
brought into the world to marry young women?'

"'I don't know, mademoiselle.'

"'What's that? you don't know? For heaven's sake, what did they teach
you at your school, monsieur?'

"'Latin, Greek, mathematics, geography, mademoiselle.'

"'And nothing at all about young ladies and love and marriage?'

"'Nothing at all!'

"'Much good it does to send boys to school! it's a funny kind of
education they get! However, Monsieur Gabriel, you're in love with me,
you love me, you want to marry me; and I ask nothing better than to be
your wife. Well, monsieur, you must go to my father and ask him for my
hand.'

"'You want me to go to monsieur your papa?'

"'Yes, monsieur, and right away; he's in his study now. Go and prefer
your suit.'

"'But--mademoiselle--you see--I don't think I'd dare say that to
monsieur your papa.'

"'My papa! my papa! Great heaven! can't you say my _father_, Monsieur
Gabriel? You talk like a little boy of six! This is no time to tremble
in your shoes and be afraid; if you don't go and make your request, some
other man will be bolder than you; he'll speak out, my father will
listen to him, I shall be bound to another, and I shan't be your wife.'

"Gabriel summoned all his courage, cast a glance at his costume, and
cried:

"'I will go and speak to monsieur your pap--your father, mademoiselle.'

"'Good! and you must come right back and tell me what answer he makes.'

"'Right away?'

"'Why, of course! Do you think that I am not interested in it?'

"'I will come back, mademoiselle.'

"He walked to the door of the salon, then retraced his steps and picked
up his stick, which lay where I had thrown it. I stamped the floor
angrily, and said:

"'What, monsieur! you have come back for that?'

"'Because I am used to having it in my hand, mademoiselle; it encourages
me. When I haven't it, I don't know what to do with my hands.'

"'When a person's mind is occupied, monsieur, he is never embarrassed by
his hands. But go, and hurry back!'

"When Gabriel had gone, I was anxious and impatient; I imagined that I
loved that young man with a very profound love. In girls of that age,
the slightest sentiment, the most trivial caprice, at once assumes the
form of a passion. A pleasing illusion! which lasts too short a time,
thanks to you, messieurs, who are so well skilled in opening our eyes to
the melancholy reality!"

"My dear Frédérique, the illusions and disappointments are the same in
both sexes! You are more affectionate, perhaps, but you are more easily
fascinated, too. We change without reason, you change from pure
coquetry. There is no more fidelity on one side than on the other."

"Do you think so? That may be true. Let me finish the story of my first
love.

"Gabriel was not long away; in about ten minutes he returned; his face
was flushed, his eyes gleamed--but not with joy. I must tell you that my
father, an ex-naval officer, was not good-humored every day, that his
language was often brusque, and that his manners corresponded with his
language.

"'Well, monsieur,' I said, 'did you see my father?'

"'Yes, mademoiselle.'

"'Did you ask him for my hand?'

"'Yes, mademoiselle.'

"'What answer did he make?'

"Gabriel began to twirl his cane.

"'If you don't keep your cane quiet, monsieur, I'll throw it out of the
window! What did father say?'

"'Mademoiselle--monsieur your father--he is not in a very good humor--he
listened to me with a sarcastic expression, and then--then he took me by
the hand, and--and put me out of his study. "Go and blow your nose!" he
said; "you may come again in ten years and talk about your love."'

"'What! is it possible? My father told you to--to go and blow your
nose?'

"'Yes, mademoiselle; and I give you my word I had no desire to.'

"I was petrified. My father's response seemed to me so rude, so
humiliating, to Gabriel, that I asked him, looking him in the eye:

"'And you took that without a word?'

"'What would you have had me do, mademoiselle? I could not--threaten
your papa, could I?'

"'No, of course not. Well, Monsieur Gabriel, as he looks upon you as a
schoolboy, you must show him that you're a man. You must--you must--run
off with me.'

"'Run off with you!'

"Gabriel was paralyzed; but I, afraid of nothing, and having no
comprehension of the importance of my projected action, continued:

"'Mon Dieu! Monsieur Gabriel, you seem dumfounded. However, it's a very
simple matter. You carry me off--that is to say, I run away--to-night,
after dinner. No one suspects anything, and it will be easy enough for
me to do it. You must be waiting for me at the corner, wrapped in a
cloak--do you hear? You must have a cloak,--no one ever abducts a girl
without that,--and a broad-brimmed hat pulled down over your eyes. I
will wear a long pelisse and a veil. It will be great fun! You must take
me--wherever you choose. Then you can write to my father that I am with
you, and he can't help consenting to our marriage; that's the way it
always ends.'

"'In that case, mademoiselle, I will run away with you; I should like
to.'

"'To-night?'

"'To-night.'

"'I will leave the house at eight o'clock; be on the lookout for me.'

"'I will.'

"'And you will wear a cloak?'

"'I have one, mademoiselle; but I haven't a broad-brimmed hat.'

"'Buy one.'

"'To be sure; I didn't think of that.'

"'And think about where you will take me.'

"'I'll think about it.'

"'Now go; until to-night!'

"I can't tell you, my dear Charles, all the thoughts that assailed me as
soon as I had persuaded my lover to abduct me. I was glad, and sorry; I
looked forward with delight to being abducted, for I had read many
novels, and, unluckily, of the sort in which one never finds a truthful
line; in which nature, constantly perverted and distorted, like the
language of the characters, is made to produce only such individuals as
never existed, with an accompaniment of stilted, bombastic phrases; and
whose moral is that vice or crime is always triumphant over virtue and
honesty. Is it not true, my friend, that those are villainous books, and
that if by chance they contain charm of style and poetic thoughts the
author is all the more culpable, since he employs his talent solely to
disgust us with what is good and beautiful, with what has always been
held in respect?

"As I was saying, I was intensely excited, in a sort of delirium, in
fact. I had had no mother from childhood! Abandoned at an early age to
the care of paid dependents, never having found a heart into which I
could pour out my thoughts and feelings, treated by my father like a
little girl, or rather like a boy who was left to himself all day to
raise the deuce, I had no one but myself. Ah! if my mother had lived!
how many, many things would not have happened to me! She would have made
me more prudent and careful; and it is probable that you would not be
supping with me to-night.

"I had no thought of drawing back. At the appointed hour, I stole out of
the house, wrapped in my pelisse, with a veil over my face, carrying a
small bundle, in which, I remember, I had put a ball dress, a pair of
bracelets, a package of candy, a toothbrush, three pairs of gloves, two
cakes of chocolate, a fan, and a shoehorn.

"I found Gabriel waiting for me. The poor fellow was trembling much more
than I was; he had the conventional cloak, but his head was almost
invisible in an enormous hat like those worn by the porters at the
market; it crushed him, made him look small and insignificant, and was
not at all the style of headgear that I had hoped to see on my abductor.
And, to cap the climax, he still carried in his right hand that
miserable switch which had already caused me so much vexation of spirit.

"He came to meet me, and stammered something or other. I took possession
of his arm, saying:

"'Let us make haste, we may be followed. Where's the post chaise?'

"'The post chaise? There isn't any. You didn't mention a post chaise.'

"'I thought that you would understand that. Where are you going to take
me, then?'

"'Oh! never fear! I have engaged a lodging. Come.'

"I followed where he led. But I could not help saying to him:

"'That's a horribly ugly hat!'

"'Why, mademoiselle, it has a turned-down brim.'

"'So I see! but it's too much of a good thing. You ought to have a hat
such as they wore under Louis XIII, with a feather curled round it. You
look like a miller.'

"'_Dame!_ you didn't tell me----'

"'Great heaven! must I tell you everything?'

"We halted in front of a furnished lodging house in the heart of the
town, into which my abductor escorted me. I considered that very
unromantic; I had flattered myself that I was to be spirited away to
some venerable château, or to some village inn, where there would be
robbers, or, at all events, very dark passages. Instead of that, we were
shown into a pleasant, well-lighted room, where a table was laid, but in
which there was nothing to suggest that we were to pass the night there.
I said nothing, but it seemed strange to me. When we were left alone,
Gabriel, who had removed his cloak and his plebeian hat, began to play
with his cane.

"'Mademoiselle Frédérique,' he said,'do you like roast duck with
olives?'

"You cannot conceive the impression produced upon me by that question,
at a moment when I expected my lover to throw himself at my feet with
passionate protestations of love.

"'Was it to feed me on roast duck with olives that you eloped with me,
monsieur?' I demanded angrily.

"'No, mademoiselle; but we must eat. They won't take us in here unless
we order supper; and while we're waiting for them to come for you----'

"'To come for me! Who, pray?'

"'Why, your papa.'

"'My father come here for me! Who can have told him that I am here?'

"'Why, I did.'

"'You? What do you mean? You bring me to this hotel, to conceal me, and
you send word to my father!'

"'Why, mademoiselle, it was you yourself who said to me: "You will carry
me off, then you will write to my father, and he'll have to consent to
our marriage."--I have followed your instructions; I have sent a letter
to your papa by a messenger, telling him that I have carried you off and
that we are here.'

"'Oh! is it possible that anybody can be such a stupid fool! Why,
monsieur, the time to write to the parents is after a few days have
passed; when the elopement has made a great sensation, and they have
hunted everywhere for the girl, and when--when--things have happened
that---- Oh! how stupid you are, monsieur! Mon Dieu!'

"Gabriel was at his wits' end, and I was choking with rage. At that
moment, I heard my father's voice in the street. He was just entering
the house, with a friend of his, and I heard him say:

"'It's a boy and girl's joke, but I don't like it.'

"The thought of being found there by my father, and of the bundle I had
brought, together with Gabriel's dazed look, drove me into a perfect
frenzy of rage; and in my longing to be revenged, to vent my spleen upon
someone, I seized my lover's cane, and, without taking time to reflect,
beat him soundly over the shoulders before he knew what I was doing.
Then I opened the window--we were only on the entresol--and jumped
without a moment's hesitation. I landed in the street, uninjured,
hurried home, and succeeded in creeping up to my room without being
seen. I quickly scrambled into bed, so that when my father returned he
concluded that the letter he had received was simply a hoax, and never
mentioned it. As for little Gabriel, I never saw him again.

"That, my friend, is the story of my first love, if one may fairly give
that name to the impulsive fancy of a mere girl, which makes her think
that she loves the first fair-haired stripling who sighs when he looks
at her.

"A few months after this adventure, another young man paid court to me;
but he was not timid, not he! he knew how to speak out, and was not at
all embarrassed about declaring his affection; he expressed himself too
eloquently, perhaps, for he turned my head with fine phrases which I
thought superb at the time, but which would seem quite devoid of sense
now. After declaring his passion to me, he asked my father for my hand,
and was formally refused. He had not a sou, and I have learned since
that he was a very bad character. But at that time I looked upon my
father as a tyrant, and when Anatole proposed an elopement, to be
followed by a marriage, it seemed to me a perfectly natural proposal.

"However, I hesitated. The memory of my escapade with Gabriel had cooled
my ardor somewhat on the subject of elopements, and at first I made some
objections. Anatole thereupon drew from under his waistcoat a little
dagger with a gleaming blade, swearing that he would kill himself before
my eyes if I did not consent to be abducted. A man who proposes to kill
himself for love of you! That is magnificent, and not to be resisted. I
consented.

"The elopement was carried out without difficulty--I was so poorly
guarded! This time I had the pleasure of being abducted in a carriage;
but we went only three leagues from the city. Anatole told the coachman
to stop at an inn, where we were to pass the night. Ah! that time I was
in great danger.

"In the common room of the inn, where we had to wait while a room was
prepared for us, we met two ladies on their way to Bordeaux. I fancied
that I detected an interchange of smiles and knowing glances between
them and Anatole. I was suspicious, but I said nothing. I refused to eat
any supper, and went up to the room that had been prepared for me,
telling Anatole not to put himself out on my account, but to sup without
me. He assented, which was in itself rather ungallant; for there are
times when a man ought not to think of eating. Although I had had little
experience, it seemed to me that that was one of the times.

"A quarter of an hour later, I opened my door very softly and crept
downstairs without meeting a soul. As I passed through a hall into which
several doors opened, I heard laughter, and recognized Anatole's voice.
I went to the door from which it came, and put my ear to the crack. I
cannot describe my feelings when I heard the man who had eloped with me
speak of me as a little fool whose head he had turned without
difficulty. I heard two women's voices also; they spoke sneeringly of me
and laughed at my expense; then they kissed, chuckling over the good
times they would have with my dowry. I was furious, and for a moment I
was tempted to rush into the room and box my seducer's ears as well as
his companions'. But I restrained myself, reflecting that a scandalous
scene in an inn would compromise me much more, and that it would be far
better to go away without a word and leave Monsieur Anatole to his
reflections.

"I had no difficulty in leaving the inn; I found my way to the highroad
and entered a diligence going to Bordeaux. To make a long story short, I
succeeded in returning home before my absence was discovered; so that my
father had no suspicion that I had eloped a second time. That was
wonderful luck; but I swore that I would never take the risk again.

"Several days passed before I heard from Anatole, but at last I received
a letter from him. He demanded an explanation of my conduct and
reiterated his protestations of undying love; in conclusion, he asked
for a meeting. You will readily understand that I did not answer the
letter. The next day came another, in which he himself appointed a
meeting. At that, I went to my father and told him that Monsieur
Anatole, whom I could not endure, had the assurance to make assignations
with me, and I mentioned the place where he proposed to meet me. My
father kissed me in acknowledgment of my trust in him and my prudence,
saying that he would take it upon himself to administer fitting
chastisement to the impertinent scoundrel who presumed to write to me.
In fact, that same evening Monsieur Anatole received from my father's
foot a number of blows on a sensitive spot."

Frédérique paused to moisten her lips with malvoisie, and I turned my
face so that I could see her better.



XXII

MONSIEUR DAUBERNY


After a moment's silence, during which we both seemed to be lost in
thought, Frédérique continued:

"Such, my friend, were the results of my first two girlish passions; I
was entirely disillusionized concerning the pretty love romances that
girls dream of at boarding school. Some time after, my father proposed
Monsieur Dauberny to me as a suitable match. I did not know him, but I
readily assented. I did not propose to love again, and it mattered
little to me whom they gave me for a husband.

"So I married Monsieur Dauberny. As you do not know my husband, allow me
to draw his portrait for you. He was thirty-six years old when he
married me, and is now forty-four. A man of thirty-six is still young,
especially when he is a bachelor. My husband is a handsome man, with
regular features; his face has no mobility, but, at first glance, that
lack may easily be taken for gravity; at that time he was not so stout
as he is to-day. In the early days of our union, I did not dislike him;
I simply thought that he did not take enough pains to please me. I was
nineteen years old! Frankly, I was well worth the trouble of making love
to. Instead of that, my husband already neglected me to go--where? I did
not know; but one day I took it into my head to find out. I dressed as a
man; I had often worn a masculine costume for my own amusement, and I
wore it with as much ease as that of my own sex.

"I played the spy on Monsieur Dauberny; he took a fiacre, and I followed
him in a cabriolet. I supposed that he would go to visit some lorette,
or perhaps some grisette. I was surprised when I found that his cab
turned into Faubourg du Temple, passed the barrier, and stopped at La
Courtille, in front of one of the most famous restaurants there. So
Monsieur Dauberny frequented La Courtille. But why did he go there? Was
it simply from curiosity? from a liking for those popular scenes, with
which the court used to divert itself, so they say, at the Grand-Salon
on Rue Coquenard? It was necessary to follow Monsieur Dauberny in order
to obtain fuller information. I confess that I hesitated a moment. I
felt a sort of thrill of terror when I found myself in the midst of a
throng so entirely unfamiliar to me, hearing a medley of shouts, oaths,
howling, singing, and laughter all about me. But, as you know, I am not
fond of retreating. I entered a wine shop which seemed very popular, and
followed the crowd past a succession of long counters, looking about for
my husband.

"Everybody seemed to be going up a broad staircase, and I did as the
others did. Luckily, my costume, being very simple, did not attract
attention. Still, several men in blouses had glanced at me as they
passed, saying to one another:

"'Who in the devil's this fellow?'

"'I should think he was some English lord's valet.'

"'How sheepish he looks in his coat! One would say he didn't dare to
stoop. My eye! see the gloves! There's style for you! gloves! He looks
as if he'd been to a wedding.'

"All this was not calculated to put me at my ease. I hastened to take
off my gloves, and stuffed them in my pocket; then I cocked my hat over
one ear, to give myself a swaggering air, and went up to the first
floor.

"I found myself in an enormous room, where there was an orchestra. The
centre of the room was reserved for dancing and was surrounded by a
railing. But outside the railing were tables, without cloths, with
wooden benches beside them. There were men and women eating and drinking
at almost all the tables. All those people did not hesitate to talk in
loud voices, laugh and sing, or blackguard one another. They kept
shouting to the waiters, who had much ado to fill the orders of the
customers; and when to that uproar were added the music of the
orchestra, in which wind instruments and the bass drum predominated, and
the clatter of the dancers, who were not shod in pumps, the result was a
bacchanalian tumult quite capable of deafening and stupefying a person,
especially one who heard it for the first time.

"The heat was suffocating; the room was filled with a heavy vapor
produced by the smoking dishes, the wine spilt on the table, the dust
raised by the dancers, and the perspiration, which seemed to be the
normal condition of the company. There was a sort of mist before my
eyes; they smarted painfully, and I felt that I staggered like an
intoxicated person. I leaned against a table. A waiter passed me,
carrying glasses of eau-de-vie to several women; I asked him for one of
them and swallowed it at a draught, amid the applause of the women who
sat about the table.

"'He's doing well, that boy is!' said one of them; 'with his little
touch-me-not air, he tosses down his dram like a regular fireman! I give
him my esteem!--I say, little one, I engage you for the waltz.'

"I thanked them, saying that I did not waltz, and walked quickly away
from the table, for they seemed altogether too kindly disposed toward
me. At last, I discovered my husband in the midst of the crowd around
the tables. He had just taken his seat at one, at which two women in
fichus were already seated dressed like fishwomen in their everyday
clothes.

"The brandy I had drunk had restored my spirit; I was no longer afraid,
but was inclined to fight anybody who chose to place any obstacle in the
way of my plans. I stole cautiously behind Monsieur Dauberny, and seated
myself on a bench at the table next to his, and ordered wine, bread, and
veal cutlets. I could hear my neighbors' conversation, especially as my
husband's companions had voices of the sort that drowns every other
noise, even that of a bass drum.

"The two women in fichus were young; one was ugly, while the other had
rather pretty features. But such a shameless expression! Such bold eyes,
such a voice, such gestures, and such language! I have never been
prudish, but I confess that I felt the color rising in my cheeks when I
heard that woman's remarks. But it seemed to be much to Monsieur
Dauberny's taste; for he sat very close indeed to Mademoiselle Mariotte,
as they called her whose look seemed to defy a regiment. I heard her
call my husband _Bouqueton_; that was the name he had adopted for use
with his conquests at La Courtille. They were already acquainted, for
Mademoiselle Mariotte said to him:

"'Why didn't you come night before last, as you promised, you vagabond?
It was all on your account I accepted a salad and a sword knot from the
Gârenboule brothers, who made me drink a lot of stuff and play cards
with 'em till I won all their cash. If you don't keep your word better'n
that, I'll play tricks on you as would give the monkeys the go-by!'

"Monsieur Dauberny apologized, and ordered two or three dishes and
several bottles of wine. I expected to see him dance with his belle, but
he contented himself with treating her and even making her tipsy.
Mademoiselle Mariotte was sentimental in her cups; I heard them kissing
behind me, but I beg you to believe that my heart felt no wound. Since I
had seen my husband make soft eyes at Mademoiselle Mariotte, I had felt
nothing but contempt for him, and contempt, I can assure you, is the
sovereign remedy for love; but I had never loved Monsieur Dauberny.

"The caresses became more frequent, but that was a very common
occurrence in that den; for there was an incessant volley of them from
all the tables. Suddenly my husband's mistress rose and led him away.

"'I believe private rooms ain't for wax figures!' she cried.

"And they went off, arm in arm. That time I had no desire to follow
them; I had seen and heard enough. I made haste to pay for the food and
drink I had not touched, and to leave that wine shop where sport was so
noisy and love so shameless.

"I did not see my husband for several days. I said that I was ill, and
kept my room; when he came to the door and asked to see me, I alleged my
need of rest as an excuse for not receiving him. I felt such an
unutterable aversion for him that even the sound of his footsteps upset
me completely. However, before deciding definitely what course to
pursue, before letting him know that I was aware of his debauched
tastes, I asked myself if it were not possible that he had been led away
once by some unusual combination of circumstances; if it would be just
to condemn him on the strength of a single act. You see that I meant to
deal fairly by him. What I had seen would have been enough to lead many
women to consider themselves released from their oaths. But I determined
to follow him once more, being fully persuaded beforehand that I should
simply acquire fresh proofs of his disgusting habits.

"On the second occasion, instead of putting on a frock-coat and a round
hat, I dressed in a blouse, with a workman's cap on my head; I was
careful not to wear gloves, and I tried to blacken my hands. In short, I
disguised myself as a street urchin. Well for me that I did so! for,
instead of leading me to La Courtille, Monsieur Dauberny, who was on
foot, went in the direction of the Cité, and in due time turned into a
narrow, muddy street, where the houses had a very evil look. I have
learned since that it was Rue Saint-Éloy. I remembered the _Mysteries of
Paris_, and I shuddered at the thought that I might perhaps have to
follow my husband into a _tapis franc_! but my costume protected me, and
no one paid any heed to me.

"Monsieur Dauberny stopped in front of a hovel that was styled a café,
and looked through the window. It must have been hard to distinguish
anything, for the glass was covered with a coating of smoke; and
Monsieur Dauberny, who probably had not succeeded in looking in, seemed
to hesitate, when a man entered the street at the other end and tapped
my husband on the shoulder. I recognized the new-comer as one Faisandé,
who was very intimate with Monsieur Dauberny, and sometimes came to the
house; but the fellow, who was a clerk at the Treasury, had always
seemed to me so reserved in his language, he professed to entertain such
rigid principles and displayed so little indulgence for the most trivial
peccadilloes, that I believed him to be a perfect Cato!"

"Faisandé!" cried I; "a clerk at the Treasury! Hypocrite, tartuffe, and
debauchee! Ah! that's the very man!"

"Do you know him?"

"He was at the dinner at Deffieux's, the night that I made bold to
attend Mademoiselle Guillardin's ball. He was very much shocked because
we were a little free in our talk; he preached morality to us."

"Oh! that's the man to the life! Let me finish my story:

"When Monsieur Faisandé appeared, I stretched myself out on a stone
bench in front of the hovel. I turned my face to the wall, and listened
to their talk.

"'I was waiting for you,' my husband said.

"'Why didn't you go in?'

"'I am not so well known here as you are. I was not sure that they'd
give me the little secret room.'

"'You must say: "I am Saint-Germain's friend,"--that's the name I go by
here,--and they'd have taken you there at once.'

"'It seems that you're a regular habitué?'

"'I sometimes pass a whole week here, without putting my nose outside
the door.'

"'A week! What about your place?'

"'I let it go to the devil!'

"'And your wife?'

"'The same with her. I have never put myself out for her. A week after
my wedding, I slept away from home three nights in succession. A man
should always put his wife on the proper footing at the outset. You
ought to have done the same with yours.'

"'Oh! my wife pays very little attention to what I do. I can stay away
all night if I choose; she won't say anything.'

"'That's all right! But let's go in; the women must be here, waiting for
us.'

"'How many are there?'

"'Two each, or rather four each, as there are four of them.--Ha! ha!'

"'Pardieu! that's true. By the way, remember not to call me anything but
Bouqueton.'

"'And I am Saint-Germain.'

"'It's a good idea to change our names.'

"'All the better, when you have a grudge against someone: you take his
name in some risky affair, and if there's any trouble about it, why, it
all comes back on the man whose name you took.'

"'What a devil of a fellow! He thinks of everything; he's far-sighted.
Let's go in.'

"My husband and his worthy friend entered the vile resort. A few moments
later, three or four urchins of fourteen or fifteen years went in, and I
slipped in with them. I was anxious to get a glimpse of the interior of
the place. It was very bold, was it not, my dear Charles? But there are
days when I would brave the greatest dangers; apparently that was one of
the days.

"I found myself in a very large room, but no higher than the ordinary
entresol. The atmosphere was so dense with smoke that when I went in I
could not see a billiard table at one end of the room. Not for some
little time did my eyes become so far accustomed to the mist that I
could distinguish anything. There were tables on all sides. A large
number of men, of all ages, stood about the billiard table, which was
dimly lighted by two lamps hanging from the ceiling. A common kitchen
lamp stood on a desk near the outer door. There were no other lights in
the room, so that in places it was quite dark. There were, as I say,
many people about the billiard table; very few women, but many youths,
or rather children, barely fourteen years old, whose worn faces, hollow
eyes, and leaden complexions denoted premature debauchery. As for the
women! I need not tell you to what class they belonged. There was no
noise such as had deafened me at the ball at La Courtille; on the
contrary, everybody spoke in undertones, and, except for a few energetic
oaths from the billiard players, a forbidding silence reigned. My heart
sank when I found myself in that den of iniquity. The dance hall at La
Courtille was a veritable Château of Flowers compared with that ghastly
café. I stood inside the door, and was about to go out again, when four
women entered together. They were all young and shapely, and dressed
like the wretched creatures who roam the streets in that quarter;
breasts uncovered, eyes inflamed, heads thrown back, and faces upon
which all the vices were engraved. Several men in blouses ran to meet
them, crying:

"'Ah! here's the _siroteuses_! We're going to have some sport to-night.'

"'Bonsoir, _la fourmi_!'

"'Bonsoir, _la mouche_!'

"But the four women forced their way through the men who surrounded
them, saying almost disdainfully:

"'We ain't for you to-night. There ain't no show! We're engaged! Have
Messieurs Bouqueton and Saint-Germain got here?'

"'To be sure!' said a woman at the desk, who had been darting fiery
glances at me for some minutes. 'They're waiting for you, and the
table's set.'

"'The devil! there's going to be a treat, it seems!' cried one of the
men.

"'Yes, yes,' said the girls. 'We're going to earn some shiners. And if
you behave yourselves, there'll be something for you. Get out of the
way! Let us go to work.'

"And the four women hurried to the other end of the room and disappeared
through a little door, which closed behind them. I made haste to escape
from that horrible place. I believe that it was high time, for the woman
at the desk had pointed me out to some men, who were scrutinizing me
closely.

"As soon as I was in the street, I ran at the top of my speed. I thought
then, and I still believe that I was not mistaken, that I was chased by
some men who came out of the café behind me. But some soldiers came
along, and I walked beside them until I reached a more frequented
quarter. Then I took a cab and went home.

"I cannot tell you what took place in my heart when I was able to
reflect calmly on my plight--that I was the wife of a man of honorable
birth and breeding, the bearer of an honorable name, who was at liberty
to frequent respectable society in Paris, and who had a wife who was
young and pretty, and not a fool,--I flattered myself, perhaps!--and
that that man was at that moment in one of those sink-holes of vice
which are tolerated in great cities because fugitives from justice can
be found there; that he was in the company of public prostitutes of the
lowest type, and that he would probably pass the night there.

"I trembled convulsively from head to foot, I had paroxysms of passion,
and cried in a sort of frenzy: 'And I am tied to such a creature!'

"To calm myself I thought of that hypocrite Faisandé; he too had a wife;
I had happened to meet her twice, and I knew that she was young and
pretty and had all the qualities of a good wife and mother; she was
virtuous, orderly, economical, not coquettish, and she adored her
husband! It seems that there is a fatality about it: the worst
scoundrels always obtain such phoenixes. Moreover, Monsieur Faisandé
had a daughter; but even that did not deter the wretch! He abandoned
himself to his abominable tastes, wholly oblivious of the fact that he
was a father.

"I, at all events, had no child; and I thanked God for it at that
moment. Recovering my strength of will and my courage, I said to myself
that in all probability many wives had passed through such ordeals as
mine. Ah! if we knew all the family secrets of our friends! This is not
romancing, my friend; I invent nothing; it is history.

"I was conscious of a thrill of joy at the thought that I was free; that
Monsieur Dauberny had released me from all the oaths that bound me to
him. For I did not feel disposed, for my part, to imitate Madame
Faisandé, who, although she was aware of her husband's conduct, hardly
dared to say a word of reproach, and remained faithful to her vows. That
is very fine, but I am not so self-sacrificing! and, frankly, I have
never understood that precept of the Gospel about returning good for
evil. No, no! let us not forgive an insult, let us not kiss the hand
that strikes us; for then the insult and the blow will be repeated. The
_lex talionis_! that is the natural law, and it is my idea of justice!

"Three days passed before I saw my husband; he probably passed them in
that den where his friend Faisandé sometimes passed a week. At last,
Monsieur Dauberny came to my room one morning and approached me as if to
kiss me. I felt as if I were about to come in contact with a toad. I
rose hastily, and I doubt not that my face expressed what was passing
through my mind, for Monsieur Dauberny stopped in utter amazement.

"'Monsieur,' I said to him, pointing to the door, 'you will never cross
that threshold again! More than that, you will never seek to see me or
to speak to me. Henceforth we are utter strangers to each other. I will
never go out with you; when I dine at home, it will not be at your
table; we will have our meals separately. Absolute liberty, monsieur! I
shall do whatever I please--absolutely! do you understand, monsieur? And
you will not venture to find fault with any act of mine.'

"Monsieur Dauberny, bewildered at first by what I said, tried to demand
an explanation. I closed his mouth with these words:

"'I know all about La Courtille, Mariotte, the vile hole on Rue
Saint-Éloy, and the four _siroteuses_!'

"He turned deathly pale and trembled like a leaf; he stammered some
words which I could not understand, then bowed, and rushed from the
room. Since that day--and that was years ago!--I have not exchanged a
word with my husband. We live as I had resolved. Sometimes I don't see
him for three weeks; and if we chance to meet, we bow, and that is all.
The world has become accustomed to seeing me go about without my
husband. What the world thinks about it matters little to me! It is so
often mistaken in its judgments that we are fools to worry about it. I
have always thought that our own esteem was worth more than the
consideration which is often most freely bestowed on people who hardly
deserve it."



XXIII

A MOMENT OF FORGETFULNESS


"Now, my dear Charles, you know the secret of my entire liberty, and of
my conduct, which gives rise to so much gossip; of my inviting you to
supper to-night with our dear baron, who is sleeping so soundly now; of
my having a table of my own, in short, at which I can entertain whom I
please, without the slightest concern as to whether anyone will
criticise me for it. Are you glad that I have told you?"

"Oh, yes!" I said, pressing her hand with force. "Yes! In the first
place, I am proud of having inspired you with confidence in me. And
then, too, I--I----"

"You are very glad to find that I am not such a good-for-naught as you
thought at first, eh?"

She was right. Her conduct seemed to me now to be perfectly natural, or,
at all events, excusable. Frédérique's head no longer rested on my
shoulder: she sat up and passed her hand across her forehead, saying:

"I believe it is time for us to think of separating. I feel a little
tired, my friend. You will go home with Herr von Brunzbrack, will you
not? He is a little--tipsy, and I should be sorry if anything happened
to him. And, although he has his carriage here, he is quite capable of
refusing to go home."

"Yes, yes; I will put him in the hands of his servants. But just a
moment; why need we separate so soon?"

"The clock has just struck half-past three."

"Suppose it has? what does the time matter, when we are so comfortable
and our own masters?"

"Oh! as far as that goes, nobody is more uncontrolled than I am now.
Stay on, if you choose. But, if you do, you must tell me something,
confide in me. Do you fence?"

"Yes; why?"

"Because, if you do, you must come here and fence with me; it's a form
of exercise that I am very fond of."

"What! do you really know how to handle a foil?"

"And very prettily too, I flatter myself. I told you that I was a man;
so, of course, I have learned the things that go to perfect a man's
education."

"Then you must ride too?"

"Oh! that is another exercise that I adore. We will ride together--and
you will see that I am not afraid, and that I have a good seat. But you
don't seem to be listening to me! What in the deuce shall I talk to him
about?--Poor boy, talk to me about Armantine. It is such a joy to speak
of the person one loves! And you are very much in love with her, aren't
you?"

I confess that at that moment I was thinking much less of Madame
Sordeville. So that I replied, rather coldly:

"I was very much in love with her; but her treatment of me to-night
cooled me off."

"Oh! when a man is really in love with a woman, monsieur, he doesn't
cease to love her just because she flirts a little with other men; on
the contrary, he often loves her all the more for it."

"Coquetry has never had that effect on me."

"Go and see Armantine in a few days, in the daytime. I'll wager that she
will be very amiable to you."

"So the lady is capricious, is she?"

"Exceedingly capricious."

"That is a failing which I have never been able to endure."

"Ah! but when one loves a woman, one loves her with all her failings."

"My theory is that when one really loves, one is not capricious in
dealing with the object of one's love. Consequently, I am persuaded that
all these women who have caprices don't know what it is to love."

"Perhaps you are right. But I think that Armantine is in reality very
susceptible."

"You think so? You are not sure?"

"How is one to be sure of other people? one is not always sure of one's
self."

We sat for some time without speaking; but to me that silence was not
without charm. It is often pleasant to think, in the company of a person
who is thinking at the same time.

Suddenly Frédérique looked me in the face and said:

"Well, Charles! you don't seem to talk about Armantine?"

"I have so little hope!"

"Oho! monsieur plays the modest adorer! After all, I don't pretend to
say that she will yield to you. That is a mystery--the secret of the
gods."

"True; but you might tell me whether--whether any previous weakness on
her part gives me reason to hope."

"My dear man, it isn't right to ask me that. If Armantine had given me
her confidence, I would not betray it. But, frankly, I know nothing
about it. All that I can say is that Monsieur Sordeville is not in the
least jealous; that he gives his wife her liberty in a way that strongly
resembles indifference; that Armantine is pretty, coquettish, likes to
be courted; and that all those things may very well lead to certain
results. But whose fault is it, if not her husband's? Oh! these
husbands! I've learned to my cost not to love them!--Well! what are you
thinking about? you are not listening."

"Yes, I am. I was thinking that you--that---- Oh, no! it isn't worth
while; I prefer not to say anything."

"My dear fellow, you don't like capricious women, you say, and, for my
part, I detest a person who begins a sentence, then stops, and doesn't
finish it. There's nothing so impertinent as that, in my opinion! It is
almost equivalent to a confession that you had something disagreeable to
say, and discovered it in time. Sometimes our conjectures go beyond the
truth. Finish what you were going to say, I insist! I demand it! or I am
done with you! Come, quickly! don't try to fabricate something, for you
would simply lie."

Frédérique pressed me so hard that I had no time to invent a lie, as
often happens in such cases, and I replied, almost shamefacedly:

"I was thinking of Monsieur--Saint-Bergame; and I was wondering about a
lot of things. You told me that you and he had quarrelled. But are you
not afraid of offending him still more, if he knows that you had guests
to-night at supper?"

Frédérique compressed her lips and frowned. I realized that I had been
indiscreet, that I had no right to ask such questions; but the thought
had been at the end of my tongue for some time, and it must escape me
sooner or later; it had been tormenting me since the very beginning of
the supper.

"What on earth made you think of Monsieur Saint-Bergame?" cried
Frédérique at last, with something very like anger. "Would you have
liked to have him here? Would you have enjoyed being with him? In that
case, you are not like him, for he can't endure you. I don't know why it
is, but he is not attracted to you."

"I do not regret the gentleman's absence in the least, far from it! But
it surprised me, because----"

"Because you had guessed that he was my lover, eh? Mon Dieu! it did not
require much perspicacity to discover that!"

"Well! as you make no concealment of it, you ought not to be angry
because I ask the question."

"There are some things that one doesn't conceal, or conceals
imperfectly, that one doesn't like to have thrown in one's face, none
the less. But you have said a lot of----"

"Stupid things! Finish the sentence, pray! I am like you, I hate
unfinished sentences."

"Well, yes! _Stupid_ isn't just the word, but things that people keep to
themselves when they think them."

"I beg your pardon. I have the bad habit of saying whatever comes into
my mind. It's a serious fault, I admit, and I have often had occasion to
regret it in society. I regret it all the more, because I see that it
has annoyed you, for you have ceased to _tutoyer_ me; and yet you were
the one who said to me just now: 'Let us have no secrets from each
other.'"

Frédérique turned her face to mine, with a charming smile, and held out
her hand, saying:

"You are right I was foolish to be angry, as we agreed to be like two
brothers. Come, give me your hand! That's right! The fact is, you see,
that you touched a sensitive chord. I have quarrelled with
Saint-Bergame; the wound is still fresh; and wounds in the vicinity of
the heart do not heal quickly. I will tell you about it."

"No, it's not necessary. I don't want to know it."

"Oh! but I want to tell you, now. Upon my word, he is trying to prevent
my speaking!"

"Because I sincerely regret----"

"Hush! Be quiet, and listen.--You know that Saint-Bergame writes for a
newspaper?"

"Yes."

"The newspaper in question has much to say about literature and the
stage; and Saint-Bergame writes almost all the dramatic criticisms. I
have often thought that his judgments were partial and unjust, and I
have not hesitated to tell him so. When I have read in his article,
after a play has been successfully produced, that it has failed
miserably and been hissed, I have exclaimed:

"'What you have written is false! It's a shame! Why do you cry down that
play?'

"'Because the author is not my friend. Because he didn't come to bespeak
my good will.'

"'So, because an author is conscious of his dignity, because he doesn't
go about begging praise; because, in short, he relies upon your sense of
justice, your impartiality, you abuse him and belittle his work! And you
call that exercising your profession of critic! In that case, it's a
vile profession; you had better be a mason, monsieur, if your talents
lie in that direction.'

"But Saint-Bergame always laughed at my anger, and that was the end of
it. A few days ago, however, I saw at one of the boulevard theatres a
very pretty young débutante, who showed great promise in her part.
Saint-Bergame was with me, and echoed my opinion of the young actress's
talent.

"'Then, of course, you will speak well of her in your newspaper?' I
said. He smiled in a curious way, and answered:

"'We shall see; that depends.'

"'Depends on what? What is there to prevent your writing what you think
at this moment?'

"'One of my friends is making love to this débutante.'

"'Well! what has that to do with the article you are going to write?'

"'The girl is playing the prude. She refuses to listen to my friend's
proposals, and won't accept his bouquets. That's a familiar manoeuvre
to increase her value.'

"'But suppose your friend doesn't please her? Isn't she her own
mistress, pray?'

"'Bah! that's all mere comedy! She means to lead my friend on. But he
has invited her to a nice little dinner to-morrow. I am to be there. If
she comes, I exalt her to the skies; if she doesn't, I tear her to
tatters.'

"I said nothing, but I cannot describe my sensations. I turned my eyes
away so that Saint-Bergame should not see their expression, in which he
might read what I thought of him. I waited impatiently for the second
day following--that was the day before yesterday. I lost no time in
opening the newspaper edited by Saint-Bergame, in which I found an
article on the young débutante we had seen. Not only did he criticise
her acting, her methods, and her stage manner in the most contemptuous
terms, but he also attacked her personal appearance; she is pretty, and
he called her ugly; she has a fine figure, and he said she was deformed;
she is exceedingly graceful, and he could not find words to describe her
awkwardness and her embarrassment; in short, according to that article,
she was a sort of monster who had been allowed to go on the stage to
amuse the public for a moment.

"I crumpled the paper in my hands and threw it on the floor; I was
furiously angry with Saint-Bergame. When he appeared, I threw his
abominable article in his face, and told him that he was a dastard; that
a man who would empty his gall so on a woman deserved no woman's love,
and that I forbade him to darken my doors again. He tried to insist, to
turn it into a joke, and called me hot-headed. But when he saw that I
was in earnest, I believe that he lost his temper, too, and asked me by
what right I presumed to pass judgment on his writings. I made no
answer, but locked myself into my room. He went away in a rage, and I
have not seen him since."

"And if he comes back?"

"I shall not receive him. It's all over! all over!"

"And you don't regret him?"

"I regret having had any relations with him--that is what I regret. He's
a good-looking fellow, and I liked him. But I realize now that I never
loved him."

"But if he loves you, he will return; he will beg you, beseech you."

"He will do nothing of the sort. He never loved me, either. It flattered
his self-esteem to make a conquest of me, and that was all. He is one of
the men who think that a woman is too highly favored when they deign to
look at her. Oh! I know him now, I know him too well! I see him now as
he is! Besides, he was not faithful to me, I am sure. How do I know that
it was not he himself who was making love to that actress? Ah! my dear
Charles, how does it happen that a connection so intimate, which is
sometimes based on sincere love, often leaves nothing but regrets and
bitter memories in the heart? After love should come friendship. Should
not that be the natural consequence of the relation lovers have borne to
each other? But, instead of that, they part in anger, and sometimes come
to hate where they have loved so dearly."

"No, Frédérique, no! that does not happen when two hearts have burned
for each other with a sincere passion. The connection may be broken, but
a pleasant remembrance of the happiness they have enjoyed always
remains."

"Do you think so? In that case, I never loved Saint-Bergame. Yes, I am
sure now that I didn't love him; and, more than that--would you like me
to tell you my inmost thoughts? Well! I believe that I have never loved
any man! and I propose to continue on that line; it's much more amusing.
Then one treats men just as they treat us--one drops them as soon as
they cease to be attractive! You won't say that I am right; but in the
bottom of your heart you think so."

"I--I--I am thinking that you are free at this moment----"

"Yes, and I believe I am almost as delighted as I was when I ceased all
relations with Monsieur Dauberny."

"Oh! for all that--before long--another sentiment----"

"We shall see; one can be sure of nothing; but not very soon. No, I am
in no hurry to assume new chains, however light they may be. I believe
that I was born to be independent. It is such fun to do just what you
please! For example: if I had been Saint-Bergame's mistress still, I
couldn't have had you to supper to-night. It would have displeased him;
or else I should have had to conceal it from him; and I don't like
mysteries.--Ha! ha! ha! how poor Brunzbrack is snoring! If that's his
way of making love to a woman----"

"He won't be the man to replace Saint-Bergame, will he?"

"No, indeed! Besides, I don't mean to love any more; I have decided. I
don't feel sure--whether--I am--right; tell me--if I'm--right. It's very
late--isn't it? I must--go to bed. You don't tell me anything; I have to
do all the talking myself."

For several minutes Frédérique had had difficulty in fighting against
the drowsiness that made her eyelids heavy. While she was talking, she
let her head fall on the back of her chair; her eyes closed and still
she talked on. But suddenly she ceased--she had fallen asleep.

I turned and leaned over her to gaze upon her at my leisure. I could not
tire of contemplating that strange woman, whom I had known so short a
time, and with whom I was already on the most friendly terms. I liked
that face, which reflected so clearly the impressions of the heart;
surely that mouth could not speak falsely! Her forehead was noble and
distinguished; at that moment, her lovely hair, through which she had
passed her fingers a moment before, fell in long curls about her temples
and partly covered her face. I have seldom seen black hair of such
brilliancy and of such a beautiful shade. I could understand why she
enjoyed changing its arrangement; with that natural adornment she was
sure of always looking well.

She was speaking at the moment that sleep overcame her. Her lips were
partly open; but her expression was rather serious than smiling. When
she fell asleep she threw her body back, so that there was nothing to
prevent my examining her bust, her waist, and the graceful figure which
the fine, soft fabric of her gown outlined while it concealed them, and
which disappeared at one point beneath the clinging folds, only to
reappear farther on more alluring than ever.

I took much pleasure in that scrutiny. I can hardly define the sentiment
that made my heart beat fast; but I was profoundly moved. I tried to
forget the fascinating sleeper for a moment by glancing about the room;
but the oddity of my position, the place, the time, and everything
within my view, simply intensified the agitation that had taken
possession of me. Imagine yourself, in the middle of the night, in a
deliciously cosy retreat, near a table at which you have enjoyed a
dainty supper, and on which the decanters are still half full of
exquisite wines which you have not spared; the lamps diffusing only a
dim light; and beside you, seated, or rather reclining in an easy-chair,
a young, fascinating, original woman, a woman who addresses you _thou_
and who has confided to you the secrets of her heart; that woman in a
ravishing négligé which permits you to admire a portion of her charms
and to divine the rest. If all this does not give you a sort of vertigo,
upon my word I pity you! As for the third person who was with us, he did
not count. He was snoring like a bell ringer, with his head resting on
his hands, and his elbows on the table.

I moved nearer to Frédérique, then drew back. I resumed my contemplation
of her; and suddenly, unable to resist the impulse that drove me on, I
put my lips to hers and stole a kiss in which there was nothing
fraternal.

Frédérique woke instantly, pushed me away, and sprang to her feet; her
brow was clouded, her bosom rose and fell more quickly, and I thought
that her eyes, which she turned away from me, were wet with tears.

"Ah! so this is the way you treat me!" she cried, in a quivering voice.
"What do you take me for, monsieur, in heaven's name? I receive you in
my house, I look upon you as a friend; and you treat me like one of the
women with whom a man seeks to gratify a caprice! Do you suppose that I
asked you to my house to make you my lover? that I, the friend of
Armantine, whom you love to distraction, asked you to sup with me in
order to steal from her the heart of a man who is paying court to her?
Ah! you know me very little, monsieur. I do not love you, I shall never
love you! It was because I knew that you were in love with Armantine
that I invited you this evening and then offered you a brotherly
affection. You understand me now. Adieu, monsieur! It is not worth while
for you to come to my house again."

She took a lamp and vanished before I had recovered from the shock her
words had caused me, or had found anything to say in reply.

But in a few moments my excitement subsided, and I had no other
sentiment than irritation at having allowed myself to be so roughly
handled by the lady with whom I had supped. I said to myself that when
one is dealing with a _gaillarde_ of Frédérique's stamp, it does not pay
to do things by halves. If, instead of kissing her so gently, I had been
more audacious, would she have shrieked louder? I could not say, but, at
all events, she would have had some excuse for shrieking. Oh! these
women! I utterly failed to understand that one. The idea of forbidding
me her house because I had kissed her! Could she not have scolded me
gently, instead of flying into a rage? I decided that I should be a
great fool to waste another thought on Madame Dauberny.

But as one should never forget to be polite or to keep one's promises, I
went to the Baron von Brunzbrack, whom none of these episodes had
aroused from his heavy sleep, and shook him violently.

"Wake up, monsieur le baron, it's time for us to go! Madame Dauberny has
gone to her room."

He raised his head at last, rubbed his eyes, and exclaimed:

"Vat! is id bossible? Haf I pin ashleep? _Sapremann!_ Nein, nein! I vas
not ashleep; you tought--you haf been mishtook."

"As you please; but let us go."

"Wo ist te bretty hostess--Montame Frédérique?"

"She has gone to her room, I tell you, requesting us to go home."

"Ach Gott! is id tat she too tought tat I haf pin ashleep? I am fery
annoyed--I haf not shlept; I haf reflected; I haf pin shtill in loafe
mit te lady; and you, mein gut frent, you must not loafe her ein leedle
pit; you haf bromised."

"No, monsieur le baron, I am not at all in love with Madame Dauberny.
Make love to her, if you will; I shall not be your rival."

"Gif me your hand, mein frent."

"But it's very late; let us go."

"I vould vish to say gut night to te lady; to say to her tat I haf not
shleep."

"You can come another time and tell her that. She has gone to her room,
and to bed probably; she would not see you. Come!"

I succeeded at last, with much difficulty, in inducing the baron to
leave the place. When we reached the street, he himself asked me to get
into his carriage, and insisted on taking me home. But we were no sooner
seated than his head fell back heavily against the cushions and he slept
once more. I told the coachman to drive to his master's hotel, where he
and the footman undertook to take him up to his apartment.

I returned on foot to my lodgings. The fresh air always does one good
after a banquet at which one has not been abstemious; and then, too, I
have always loved to be out late in Paris. It is so easy to walk, and
the noisy, bustling city wears such a different aspect! Everything is
quiet and deserted. You may walk through the most frequented streets,
the most populous quarters, as if you were strolling on the outer
boulevards. No carriages to block your way; no itinerant hucksters to
deafen you with their yells; no passers-by to elbow you; no awnings, no
stands outside of shop doors for you to run into; no dogs to run between
your legs; no horses to splash mud on you; no concierges to sweep their
gutters onto your boots. Vive Paris at night! especially since the
streets have been lighted by gas, so that one can see as well as at
noonday.



XXIV

COQUETRY AND BACCARAT.--A FIASCO


A week had passed since the unique night I had spent at Madame
Dauberny's. I had respected that lady's orders and had made no attempt
to see her; I had simply left my card with her concierge.

When the image of _my friend Frédérique_ presented itself to my mind, I
exerted myself to banish it without pity; it seemed to me that my supper
in her apartments was a dream, which it was not necessary that I should
remember.

For several days, too, I had felt strongly inclined not to call again on
Madame Sordeville. But, before renouncing my hopes in that direction
altogether, I determined to go to her house once more. If she received
me coldly a second time, I swore that I would not try to see her again.

One fine day, after making a careful toilet,--which always made my
servant Pomponne smile, for he was bent on considering himself very
sly,--I presented myself at the door of the pretty brunette, whose hair,
by the way, was not so beautiful as her friend Frédérique's; but we
cannot have everything.

"Madame is at home," said the concierge.

I went upstairs, gave my name, and was admitted to madame's boudoir, a
charming sanctuary, the divinity of which was sure to attract many of
the faithful.

I was greeted with the most gracious smile imaginable; she reproached me
most kindly for having left her so long without a glimpse of me. Never
had Armantine looked lovelier to me, and her amiability was delightful.
I found once more my partner of the ball at Deffieux's.

I passed an hour at Madame Sordeville's, and at the end of the hour it
seemed to me that I had just arrived. What did I say to her? I have no
idea; but I think that I squeezed her hand more than once, and that it
did not seem to offend her. I went so far as to put her hand to my lips;
she withdrew it, and said in a tone in which there was no trace of
severity:

"Well, well! what are you doing? what are you thinking about?"

"You, nothing but you."

"Oh! pardon me if I do not believe you! When one thinks so much of
people, one doesn't go whole weeks without seeing them."

"When those people have received us with icy coldness, is it not natural
that we should hesitate before venturing to present ourselves again?"

"Coldness! Ought I to have taken your hand, made you sit down beside me,
and talked exclusively with you all the evening?"

"Oh! you are laughing at me, madame! You are well aware that, even in a
crowd, before witnesses, there are a thousand ways of pouring balm on a
suffering, anxious heart; a word, a glance, is enough."

"But, monsieur, such words and glances are almost signs of a mutual
understanding, and are only exchanged by persons who know each other
very well, who are sure of each other."

I kissed her hand. That time she made no objection and did not withdraw
it; but she faltered:

"You are so impulsive! I begin to think that a tête-à-tête with you is
very dangerous."

"And you will not receive me again?"

"I didn't say that."

"And you will permit me to love you?"

"If I should forbid you to, would you obey me?"

"Oh, no!"

"Then you see that I may as well permit it."

"And I may hope?"

"Ah! I didn't say that!"

"But you will not say anything!"

"I am not so quick as you.--By the way, I did have something to say to
you. The other evening, you went away with Madame Dauberny, I believe.
Did you escort her home? That would be very natural, as my friend was of
such great assistance to you at the Guillardin ball that you should be
polite to her."

I did not know what to say; I was uncertain whether Frédérique wanted it
known that she had invited us to supper. In that uncertainty, it seemed
to me more becoming to say nothing about that episode; one never repents
having been discreet.

"I escorted Madame Dauberny to her door," I replied, after a moment,
"and left her there."

"Ah! that is strange! It took you a long time to tell me that!"

"Because--I had forgotten."

"Indeed! Frédérique is so original--so disdainful of conventionalities
sometimes, that I had thought----"

"What, pray?"

"But, no, that would have been contrary to all the proprieties! To be
sure, she snaps her fingers at them."

"But what was it that you thought?"

"Nothing; or, rather, I don't choose to tell you."

"You must have seen your friend often since that evening?"

"Only once. I have no idea what she is doing now. She is hardly ever
seen in society. She probably has something to keep her busy.
Saint-Bergame must be replaced. For you know, I suppose, that they have
quarrelled? Frédérique is not in the habit of remaining unengaged.
Before Saint-Bergame there was another, and before him another, and
another. She loves variety."

I admire the way women abuse their intimate friends! At that moment, I
wondered what they would say when they spoke of their enemies; the
difference could hardly be perceptible.--And so Madame Dauberny had had
a large number of weaknesses! She had never had a serious attachment!
That was a pity; and it surprised me; for it seemed to me that she was
just the woman to inspire one.

I do not know what I should have said in reply to Madame Sordeville's
remark, but a visitor arrived: a lady of uncertain age, almost lost in
gauze and lace and veils, which were heaped upon her head and hung down
about her body. I fancied that I had a cloud before me, or one of
Isabey's pictures, minus the beautiful coloring. I surrendered my place
to that atmospheric personage, and took my leave. Madame Sordeville made
me promise to attend her next reception, and honored me with a glance
that filled my soul with joy.

I left the house, as light as a feather. I did not walk, I fairly
bounded. Pleasure transformed me into a goat; I longed to dance. You
will consider, doubtless, that I was very childish, and that a man who
had had so many amorous adventures should have been more blasé; you are
entirely wrong, for I was blasé in no respect; my last _bonne fortune_
made me as happy as the first of all. That was a dispensation of
Providence in my favor, for blasé people have two drawbacks: they do not
enjoy themselves, and they bore their friends.

Pomponne smiled again when I reached home; that fellow was not such a
fool as I supposed: he read my face very well indeed.

I waited impatiently for the Thursday which was to give me an
opportunity to see the charming Armantine once more. I had thought of
nothing else since my call upon her; she was so affable and expansive
that day, that I believed that the moment of my happiness could not be
very distant. She had received the avowal of my love without
indignation; nay, she had seemed to listen to it with pleasure; she had
abandoned her hand to me and let me put it to my lips; and, but for that
inopportune visitor, who could say that I should not have obtained more?
No matter! it seemed that I was fairly justified in hoping.

Thursday arrived in due course. Pomponne was ordered to surpass himself
in dressing my hair; I do not know whether he succeeded, but I do know
that he pulled my hair for half an hour; so that he made my head
extremely sore. But I did not scold him. I dressed with my eye on the
clock. I longed to be there, but I said to myself that it was more
adroit to make her wait a little--and I had no doubt that she was
waiting for me.

The moment came at last. I set out with my heart full of Armantine's
image. I arrived at her door. I remembered that in society one must wear
a mask, so that one's secret thoughts may not be divined. But that mask
embarrassed me; I could hardly endure it.

There were a good many people there before me. So much the better, I
thought. The more numerous the company, the greater one's freedom of
action. Monsieur Sordeville greeted me warmly, shook my hand, and
reproached me for not coming to their little receptions for several
weeks. His excessive amiability should have made me remorseful; but I
had never had the slightest liking for the man; and, in any event, why
did he neglect his wife?

I succeeded in approaching her for whose sake, and that alone, I had
come. She greeted me most graciously; but when I tried to exchange with
her one of those glances which are far more eloquent than empty words, I
could not meet her eye. She had turned to a young man who had just been
presented to her, and received his compliments with a profusion of
little smirks and grimaces, which were very pretty, perhaps, but which I
considered sadly out of place at that moment. I flattered myself,
however, that my turn would come; that she had not forgotten that I was
there, within a few feet. But lo! the fair-haired youth of the other
evening, Monsieur Mondival, came up and entered into conversation with
her; the fellow must have said something very amusing, to make her laugh
so heartily! But Madame Dauberny had assured me that the man was stupid,
and I relied upon her judgment. Next, a tall man, with black beard,
whiskers, and moustaches, came to pay his respects to the mistress of
the house. She greeted him with a smile, playing with her fan; their
conversation seemed likely to be protracted, and I began to grow weary
of waiting for my turn. I walked away, presumably with a very long face;
and to cap the climax of my woes, I almost ran into the arms of the
gentleman who kept his eyes almost closed, but who saw well enough to
recognize me, and entered into conversation with me.

I have no idea what answer I made. I turned my back on him, for he bored
me beyond words. I watched the whist players for a while, but soon
returned to the salon where Armantine was, saying to myself:

"It can't go on like this; if she laughs with others, there is no reason
why she shouldn't laugh with me; I am a fool not to stand my ground."

And I approached Madame Sordeville, who was talking with a lady.
Suddenly she turned toward me and burst out laughing.

"Mon Dieu! what on earth is the matter with you to-night, Monsieur
Rochebrune? What a horrible face you are making! Have you the
toothache?"

When one is already in an ill temper, and is trying to conceal it, there
is nothing more maddening than to have someone ask what the matter is;
the result is that, instead of simply looking unhappy, you make a
grimace; and that is probably what I did, for Armantine restrained with
difficulty a longing to laugh again, while I muttered, biting my lips:

"The matter, madame? Why, nothing. What do you suppose is the matter? I
have never had the toothache."

"Monsieur," said a tall, thin old woman, who was sitting beside Madame
Sordeville, and had, I suppose, heard my last words, "put in some cotton
soaked in eau de Cologne. Soak the cotton thoroughly and put it in the
tooth. It's an excellent remedy, I assure you! It doesn't take away the
pain at once, but, after a few days, you suffer much less."

"But, madame," I said to the old lady who insisted upon my having the
toothache, "I have not complained, I am not in pain! I don't know why
you insist that----"

"Then, monsieur," she continued, paying no heed to me, "you have another
remedy, bay salt. Two or three grains of it produce saliva; you spit,
and take more salt, and keep on till the pain is relieved."

I saw that Madame Sordeville was laughing heartily at the impatience
with which I listened to the old lady, who continued:

"Above all things, monsieur, don't have them extracted! Oh! keep your
teeth, monsieur! keep them, by all means! You no sooner have them taken
out than you regret them. I myself, monsieur, have lost fourteen, and I
am in despair to-day! I feel that something is lacking. Of course, I
know that one can----"

I had had enough. Something more was to be lacking to that lady; to wit,
myself as a listener for the entire evening. I had not come there to
attend a course of lectures on dentistry. It seemed to me that Armantine
was laughing at me while I was having that consultation about my teeth.
She had gone to the piano, meanwhile, and the concert began. If it was
to be as fine a performance as on the previous evening, the prospect was
captivating. I felt inclined to find fault with everything. Now that the
music was under way, it would be hard for me to talk to Armantine; she
either accompanied, or turned the pages for singers and players. In
short, she devoted herself to everybody, except myself. So I had
encouraged myself with a false hope! She did not love me--and yet, how
charming she was only three days before! Did she not let me squeeze her
hand and kiss it? Did she not smile at my declaration of love? Suppose
that she ostentatiously treated me coldly before the world, only to
conceal more effectually the sentiments I inspired? I grasped at that
idea, because it left me some hope. Moreover, if it were not so, Madame
Sordeville was a downright coquette, who had been making sport of me and
would do it again! I preferred to believe that she was dissembling her
love; if so, she dissembled perfectly.

The Baron von Brunzbrack entered the salon and came up to me:

"Ponshour, mein gut frent Rocheprune!"

"Good-evening, monsieur le baron!"

"Do you know if Montame Dauberny vill come to tis barty?"

"I have no idea; I have not seen her since we three were together."

"Ach! you haf not seen her."

And the baron pressed my hand with new warmth.

"So id is mit me. I haf pin often to bay mein resbects, put te lady, she
haf pin always oud. Haf you pin to see her?"

"No; I have left my card, nothing more."

"Ach! gut, gut! you pe not in loafe mit her shtill?"

"What, baron! are you still harping on that idea? How many times must I
tell you that I have never made love to Madame Dauberny, that I have
never thought of doing it?"

"Ach! ja! ja! You pe in loafe mit anoder. I haf forgot."

The baron could not understand how anybody could fail to make love to
Madame Dauberny, and I could not understand how Madame Sordeville could
allow everybody to make love to her; in love, each of us has his own way
of looking at things.

Suddenly Brunzbrack seized my arm as if he meant to tear it from its
socket. I thought that he had an attack of hysteria; but, as I saw
Madame Dauberny enter the salon at that moment, I understood what had
caused his convulsive movement.

Frédérique wore an original costume, as indeed she generally did. A
black velvet gown, high in the neck, fitted closely to her figure, which
seemed more than ordinarily slender; her hair was dressed with sprays of
jet and black velvet bows, and that severe style gave to her face, which
was unusually pale, a serious expression. I did not know whether I ought
still to be angry with her; I remembered the decidedly brusque way in
which she had dismissed me, but in the next moment I remembered all the
confidence and friendship she had shown me. While I hesitated, trying to
make up my mind, Frédérique passed us, and bowed coolly enough to us
both.

Brunzbrack left me, to dog the steps of the woman he adored, and I
continued to prowl about Armantine. We were both playing the same game.
Should we have luck? Up to that time, I had seen no prospect of it.

Monsieur Mondival sang several ballads; he sang them precisely as a
schoolboy repeats his lessons; but as the ballads themselves were
amusing, the company laughed heartily, and the singer attributed it to
his own performance, whereas his only merit was his skilful choice of
songs.

After he had finished, the black-bearded man, who had talked a long
while with Armantine, seated himself at the piano, and sang a grand aria
with infinitely more assurance than voice. But assurance is a great
thing in society. He was loudly applauded, and when he left the piano I
was certain that Madame Sordeville complimented him. If I chose--one
thing was certain, that I had a better voice than that man.

All this irritated me; I was intensely annoyed to find that she paid no
attention to me, and I went to the piano and began to turn over the
music. But she observed my movements sufficiently to see that I was
there, for she came to me and said:

"It's a great pity that you sing only when you are alone; for I should
have been delighted to hear you, monsieur."

"Mon Dieu! if it will give you any pleasure, madame----"

"You will sing? How good of you!"

"I will try to sing something. I don't know whether I can manage it."

"Oh! that is an amateur's modesty! I am sure that you sing beautifully."

She walked quickly to a seat, saying:

"Monsieur Rochebrune is going to sing. Silence, if you please!"

Everyone ceased talking, and the room became perfectly still. I began to
be afraid that I had gone too fast. To be sure, I sing rather well, but
it so rarely happens that I sing before strangers. However, I realized
that I must do my best; it was impossible to back out.

I sat down at the piano. My fingers refused to move. What was I to sing?
I must make up my mind, for everybody was waiting. I settled upon a
romanza by Massini; as is usually the case when one is afraid, I
selected the most difficult piece I knew and the one that I sang least
well.

At the outset, I forgot the accompaniment and struck two or three
discordant notes in the bass--something that had never happened to me
before. That was calculated to give my hearers rather a sorry idea of my
musical organization.

When I came to the second verse, I forgot the words. I stopped, and
began again; but it was of no use, and I mumbled between my teeth:

"Tradera, deri, dera!"

The words of the third verse came to me all right, and I determined to
be revenged for the mess I had made of the other two. I attacked it with
confidence, and when I came to an _ad libitum_ passage I risked a note
which I had taken a hundred times without any trouble. But I had
something in my throat that night. Was it fear? was it ill humor? This
much is certain, that I made a vile fiasco, and that I ended my song
coughing as if I had swallowed something the wrong way.

I left the piano, purple with chagrin, and still coughing. Somebody was
malicious enough to applaud me; but I saw in the eyes of the guests that
malignant joy which people always feel in society when they have a fair
opportunity to laugh at somebody. What distressed me most of all was
that I had made an ass of myself before Armantine, who was much given to
raillery, and who could hardly restrain her laughter; while Herr von
Brunzbrack said to me with the utmost good faith:

"Vat a bity tat you haf ein cold! Id vas going so vell!"

I made no reply; I would have liked to crawl under a sofa. I slunk away
to a corner of the salon, where I heard a voice in my ear:

"That false note puts you back at least three months!"

Frédérique was behind me. I understood her meaning perfectly. In truth,
in the eyes of a vain, coquettish woman like Madame Sordeville, to make
one's self ridiculous before witnesses is a great crime! There are so
few women who love us for ourselves! With the great majority we owe our
success solely to all the previous successes we have had.

I took refuge in the card room. Frédérique followed me there and
organized a game of baccarat, with herself as banker. The stakes were
high, and she won from everybody, until she had a pile of gold in front
of her. Herr von Brunzbrack had lost all the money that he had with him;
but that did not disturb him: he tried to obtain a word, even a glance,
from the superb banker; but to no purpose, she paid no attention to him.
After a time, in my effort to distract my thoughts, I took my turn
against Madame Dauberny, who played with perfect tranquillity, utterly
indifferent to her good fortune, and did not deign to notice the laments
or the ogling of those whom she had despoiled.

"Ah! so you are going to play," she said to me, in a bantering tone.
"Indeed, you are very wise, for, if the proverb is to be depended on,
you will be very lucky to-night. But proverbs take the liberty of lying
sometimes--poor Baron von Brunzbrack is a living example. If anyone
ought to win, he is the man! And yet, I have ruined him as well as all
the others. Come, monsieur, let us play, let us play! I shall not be
sorry to vanquish you also."

It seemed to me that there was an ironical tone in Madame Dauberny's
voice, which was not usual with her. I remembered what her friend had
told me as to the numerous lovers who had succeeded one another in her
heart; if I chose to be sarcastic, there were many things I might say to
her by way of retort. But, no--I was conscious of an indefinable feeling
of sympathy with that woman. I loved her--not with love; it was rather
friendship, confidence, which drew me toward her. Why, in heaven's name,
did I steal that kiss while she was asleep? But, on the other hand, why
did she keep changing her coiffure, and make herself so alluring, so
seductive? A woman ought not to try such experiments, even on a man who
is in love with her friend.

I placed some gold in front of me, and began to play. I won; I doubled
my stake, and won again; I continued on the same line, and won
incessantly. But after a few moments Frédérique seemed to be inattentive
to her game; I noticed that she glanced frequently and with evident
impatience toward her left: Monsieur Sordeville was there, talking
confidentially with the Baron von Brunzbrack. Suddenly my banker
interrupted the game and cried, turning to the two men:

"Mon Dieu! Monsieur Sordeville, do let that poor baron alone for a
moment; he comes here to amuse himself, and you compel him to talk to
you about the affairs of his government! Really, you abuse your position
as host; it is not generous."

Monsieur Sordeville became dumb; his lips blanched, but he forced
himself to smile, and replied, after a brief interval:

"In truth, madame, I was ill-advised to converse with one of my guests;
it is robbing you of an adorer."

"Come and play, baron," said Madame Dauberny, making no reply to
Monsieur Sordeville's compliment.

The baron came to the table with a blissful air, crying:

"I vould like noding petter, but I haf not ein sou."

"You may play on credit, monsieur; you are one of those men whose honor
is evident to all, and of whom no one ventures to speak slightingly."

The baron bowed; he was radiant with joy. It seemed to me that there was
a hidden meaning in Madame Dauberny's last words, and that they were
accompanied with a glance at Monsieur Sordeville, who did not stir.

The baron seated himself by my side. I offered to lend him money; he
accepted, and in a short time we broke the bank. Thereupon the fair
Frédérique gravely rose and left the table, saying:

"Faith! the proverb did not lie; it was written that you should both
win."

"Are you going, montame?"

"Yes, baron."

"Vill you not bermit me to escord you in my carriage?"

"No, not to-night."

"Monsir Rocheprune, he vill come mit us."

"Thanks; but I do not care for an escort to-night. Nights succeed one
another, but do not resemble one another."

Frédérique took her departure, leaving the baron discomfited. I returned
to Madame Sordeville, as I was determined to speak to her before I went
away. I saw that she was alone, so I hastened to her side and told her
how happy I should be if I could see her again soon and tell her of my
love, without witnesses. She listened with a distraught, indifferent
air; and when I thought that she was about to reply, she cried:

"Dear me! they haven't served the tea yet, and it's after twelve!"

And she left me. I stood for a moment as if rooted to the floor. I could
not understand the caprice, the coquetry, the bewildering changes, in
Armantine's treatment of me. I asked myself if a false note could have
caused it all; and if so, what reliance was to be placed upon a lady's
favor. I concluded that it would be well for me to go away. At that
moment, the tall, thin woman who had previously spoken to me accosted me
again:

"When your teeth ache too badly, monsieur, you can fill them yourself.
I'll show you how. Come and sit here."

I had no desire to hear any more, and turned and fled while she was
seating herself in a convenient position to show me how one can fill
one's own teeth.



XXV

A YOUNG MOTHER


Three months had passed, and I had not tried to see Madame Sordeville
again. However, her image had not faded from my heart; on the contrary,
she was constantly in my thoughts, and I imagined her as amiable and
fascinating as on the first day that I saw her. So that I was not cured
of my passion for that lady, although I had sufficient self-control not
to call upon her again. To my mind, it was perfectly natural to love a
person who did not love me; that is something that happens every day;
but I did not understand how any man could consent to act as laughing
stock to a coquette. One must needs try to retain a certain amount of
dignity; to forget one's dignity is not the way to win love. When,
burning with desire to see Armantine, I was on the point of forgetting
my resolutions and running to throw myself at her feet, I remembered how
she had left me abruptly, to attend to her tea, without a word in reply
to what I had said to her.

I had not once met Madame Dauberny, and I regretted more deeply every
day the loss of that strange creature's friendship. It was so novel to
be _thou'd_ by a woman whose lover I had never been. At least, it was a
change, a departure from common custom. And then, she had given me her
confidence so unreservedly! Why had I sacrificed all that by a moment's
forgetfulness?

But, after all, I considered that Frédérique had treated me very
harshly. She might well have scolded me, have made me understand my
mistake, without breaking off all relations with me on the spot. The
idea of being so angry about a kiss! It was a most extraordinary thing,
for that is one of the offences which the sex readily forgives. And
then, there were so many extenuating circumstances! The supper, the
champagne, the hour! And that hair of hers, which she arranged in a
different way every minute!

It was the end of February, and the cold was still very sharp, when, on
one of those keen, bracing mornings that invite one to walk, I happened
to remember Mignonne Landernoy. Poor girl! How could I have forgotten
her so long, and all for a coquette who certainly did not give a thought
to me! I determined to repair my neglect at once. I enveloped myself in
a heavy coat, put a comforter around my neck, and started for Rue
Ménilmontant.

As I walked along, I recalled Mignonne's plight when I saw her in
November; I thought of all that must have happened since then, and I was
conscious of nothing but an eager desire to have news of the young
woman. I quickened my pace, and at last found myself in front of the
concierge's door. She was surrounded by cats, as on the occasion of my
first visit.

At sight of a man enveloped in a heavy coat with the collar turned up,
and with his face almost entirely hidden by a comforter, Madame Potrelle
sat up in her chair and took one of the cats in her right hand as if to
hurl it at my head.

"What do you want, monsieur?" she cried, with an imposing air; "what
does this mean? Do people come into other people's houses disguised like
that? Unmask yourself, monsieur; I don't answer masks, I tell you!"

I removed my comforter, and could not refrain from laughing at the
concierge's alarm, as I said:

"Are comforters unknown in your quarter, madame? It seems to be quite as
cold here as it is where I came from."

The good woman uttered an exclamation of surprise, for she recognized
me; thereupon she placed on the stove the cat she had seized in lieu of
a pistol, which instantly vanished. I stepped into the lodge.

"What! is it you, monsieur? _Pardine!_ I remember you now! You're the
young man with the shirts."

"The same, madame; it was I who left with you some work for--Madame
Landernoy."

"And a letter; yes, yes! Oh! I recognize you. But I couldn't see
anything but your eyes just now, and, you see, that startled me at
first. Well! you've taken your time about coming to get your shirts;
anybody can see you ain't in a hurry!"

"Tell me about that poor young woman."

"She's pretty well, although she works awful hard. You see, she has to
work for two now! She was confined more than two months ago; she's got a
little girl, a sweet, pretty little thing."

"Ah! so much the better! And the child is with her?"

"Yes, to be sure; oh! there's no danger of her parting with the child;
she nurses her herself, and never leaves her a minute; she's so afraid
something'll happen to her, that she'll cry or need her care, that she
wont let her out of her sight a single minute. When she goes out to buy
her provisions, she carries her in her arms. Sometimes I say to her:
'Why, Madame Landernoy'--I never call her anything but _madame_
now--'why, Madame Landernoy,' I says, 'just leave your child here with
me; I'll look after little Marie while you do your errands, and you can
go much quicker if you don't have her to carry.'--But she won't do it. I
believe, God forgive me! that she's afraid my cats will hurt the child;
but they ain't capable of it, monsieur; I've brought 'em up too well for
that. They're playful and sly--that's because they're young, and we've
all been young; but as for bad temper and clawing, I never saw any signs
of it in 'em."

"I see that Madame Landernoy loves her daughter dearly."

"Love her! why, her daughter's her life, her thought, her heart! Ah! my
word! it would be a pity not to have a child, when one's such a good
mother!"

"You are right, madame; children are a burden only to those who do not
know how to love them! Did the young mother consent finally to accept
the work I left with you?"

"Yes, monsieur. At first, when she read your letter--she read it here in
my lodge--she shook her head like a person who ain't quite convinced.
What can you expect? she's suspicious, poor girl! Well! just hear me
call her a girl, will you! what a stupid! The poor woman has good cause
for that. A scalded cat's afraid of cold water--mine all are; I can
punish 'em more, monsieur, by throwing two or three drops of water in
their faces than if I took a stick to 'em."

"You were saying that when Madame Landernoy read my letter she did not
seem fully convinced of the honesty of my intentions?"

"There was a little doubt left in her mind; but then she says: 'I may as
well do this work, as that gentleman will come here to get it.'"

"So that my shirts are done?"

"Yes, monsieur; they've been here more'n five weeks, with the little
bill; and in the last few days Madame Landernoy's asked me two or three
times if you'd been or sent anybody to get your shirts--because, I
guess--just now---- _Dame!_ monsieur, work ain't always very plenty, you
understand; and now that she's got a child, she has to have a stove in
her room, because she don't want her daughter to take cold."

"I understand, madame; I am very, very sorry that I delayed so about
coming. Give me the bill at once."

"Take your shirts first and see how well they're done! Such sewing! it's
perfect!"

The concierge had taken a parcel from her commode; but I pushed it away,
saying:

"I am sure they are well done. But the bill, the bill!"

"I'll give it to you, monsieur. I'm sorry you won't look at your shirts.
Here's the bill--yes, that's it."

I looked to see what I owed, and read:

"For making twelve shirts--twenty-seven francs."

I put my hand in my pocket, and sighed.

"Twenty-seven francs!" I muttered.

"_Dame!_ yes, at forty-five sous the shirt," said the concierge, hearing
the sigh. "Do you think that's too much?"

"No, madame; on the contrary, I think that it's not enough. The young
woman must spend at least two days making a shirt, doesn't she?"

"I should think so! Say three, and you'll be nearer the mark."

"So that, by working constantly, and robbing herself of sleep
perhaps,--for she has a child that often requires her attention,--the
poor woman would earn only fifteen sous a day. Can she live, board and
clothe herself, and keep herself warm, on fifteen sous?"

"Mon Dieu! monsieur, it ain't every woman who sews for a living as earns
that. But then, as you say, they can't live, and they're obliged to--to
do something else."

"If I should have these shirts made at a shop, madame, I should have to
pay at least three francs each. I am not a tradesman myself, and I don't
care to make money out of a workwoman. Twelve shirts at three francs
makes thirty-six francs which I owe Madame Landernoy. Be kind enough to
hand it to her for me."

I held out the money to the concierge, who did not take it, because she
was wiping her eyes. My action seemed to her very meritorious, and yet
it was no more than just.

"You are a very good man, monsieur," she said at last, in a tearful
voice; "if everybody thought as you do, seamstresses could live and we
should see fewer poor wretches on the streets at night. But still, I
don't know whether I ought to take the sum you offer me."

"Why not, pray?"

"Because the little woman's so proud in her poverty. She'll say: 'He
only owed me twenty-seven francs, and you ought not to have taken any
more.'"

"You can explain to her that it's the price I always pay."

"Oh, yes! but that won't seem right to her. _Dame!_ what can you
expect? She's suspicious, as I told you. And, worse luck! people do so
few--honest things in these days----"

"You must remind her that her daughter may need a thousand things."

"Oh, yes! I know; that's where I shall have to catch her. Well, I'll
keep what you give me; and I can give it back if she won't take it."

"She must take it! But that is not all, madame; has she much work at
this moment?"

"I don't think so; so this money'll come in very handy."

"That isn't enough; it will soon be spent."

"The deuce! how fast you go! My, thirty-six francs is a lot of money!"

"I would like to give Madame Landernoy other work to do."

"But you can't go on having shirts made forever."

"Mon Dieu! what can I give her? Ah! does she make waistcoats?"

"I believe she tried one for the landlord's little boy; but they said it
was a failure. Still, that little fellow's terrible hard to suit; he had
his cap made over five times, and finally swore he'd have a
three-cornered hat! He's so spoiled that he's unreasonable. But just let
him try again to set my cats fighting!"

"Then it's understood, madame, that I am to buy some material for
waistcoat fronts, which I will bring you, together with a pattern, and
you are to give the work to Madame Landernoy to do, and tell her not to
worry; that her customer isn't exacting, that I am having them made for
someone in the country."

The concierge dropped her cats to shake hands with me.

"I understand you, monsieur," she said; "you're afraid the young mother
won't have work enough; you mean to give her work, by hook or by crook.
You're interested in her, and I'll bet that she makes a mistake to
suspicion you. Oh! I know what's what, I do; I can scent one of those
empty-headed puppies who comes to talk nonsense, when he's a mile away!
They don't go about it the way you do; they slip a piece of money in my
hand, with a little note that smells of musk and hair oil, and then they
examine the house and the yard and the windows as if they meant to break
in. I know 'em, I know 'em!"

"No, Madame Potrelle, I am not a lover--here, at all events."

"_Pardi!_ I can understand that you may be, somewhere else. It would be
a pity if you didn't think about such things, at your age."

"I will go and buy the material and bring it to you."

"But that will give you the trouble of coming back again, monsieur. If
you want, I can save you that. My niece happens to be here just now, and
she can look out for my lodge while I go to monsieur's address; and I'll
tell you at the same time whether Madame Landernoy consents to take the
thirty-six francs."

Something told me that the woman had some hidden reason for making that
suggestion. I fancied that she desired to come to my lodgings, so that
she might find out more about me and be certain that I had given my own
name in my letter to Mignonne; indeed, might it not be that the young
mother herself had asked her to try to find out who I was?

As I had nothing to fear from such information as Madame Potrelle could
collect about me, I accepted her proposal.

"Here is my address," I said, handing her one of my cards. "Be there in
two hours, and I shall have made my purchases. Please be good enough to
bring me my shirts at the same time."

"With pleasure, monsieur!"

Madame Potrelle was prompt; I had been at home only a few minutes, when
Pomponne appeared and said with comic gravity:

"There's a woman outside asking for you, monsieur. She has something in
her apron, and a parcel under her arm. I suppose she's a second-hand
dealer who wants to sell you something."

"Hold your tongue, Pomponne, and show her in!"

My servant obeyed my order, although he seemed much puzzled that I
received in my salon a person whom he evidently considered unworthy of
the honor; and he kept his eye on the object which the concierge held to
her breast, wrapped in her apron. I motioned to him to withdraw, and he
left the room, walking backward.

Madame Potrelle made a succession of reverences, and handed me my
shirts, which she had under her arm, wrapped in a handkerchief. The good
woman expressed her admiration of my apartments and their furnishings;
which goes to show that opulence always produces its effect on the
multitude and on private individuals as well. I tried to put her at her
ease, and forced her to sit down in an easy-chair; but she continued to
hug her apron to her breast, and it seemed to embarrass her.

At last she partly opened the apron, saying:

"I beg your pardon, monsieur, for venturing to bring him here--but he
never goes out, poor dear, and I thought it would do him good."

"What do you mean, Madame Potrelle? have you got a child in there?"

"No, monsieur, no; it's one of my cats, Bribri, the youngest one. The
others let him be and won't ever play with him, just because he limps a
bit, poor little rascal! He's got a little trouble in his leg. Cats are
as bad as men; they turn up their noses at the weak ones! That's why I
wanted to give the poor dear a little pleasure."

"You did well, Madame Potrelle; let Bribri run about a little, if you
wish."

"You see, monsieur, my cats are well brought up; they ain't capable of
forgetting themselves, no matter where they be."

"I am sure of it."

The concierge opened her apron entirely, and a small black and white cat
escaped from its folds and scuttled under a piece of furniture.

"Well," I said, "have you seen Madame Landernoy?"

"Yes, monsieur; when she found out that you'd given me more money than
she'd put in her bill, she wouldn't take it, and she almost got mad with
me. It was no use for me to say: 'The gentleman always pays that price;'
she said that didn't make any difference to her. The only way I could
make her take the money was to tell her that you had other work for her
to do and she could let it go on that.--Well! on my word! there he is on
the couch now! Bribri! you mustn't get upon that, you scamp!"

"We will see, when it comes to paying for the waistcoats. Poor girl!
what noble pride! what an upright soul! And this is the sort of woman
that men take pleasure in defiling!"

"What do you say, monsieur?"

"Nothing, Madame Potrelle. Here are the material, the linings, and the
pattern. Take them all, and please accept this for your trouble."

I slipped five francs into the concierge's hand; she made some objection
to taking it, declaring that whatever she did for her tenant she did
unselfishly. I succeeded without too much difficulty in removing her
scruples. She took the material; but the next thing was to capture
Bribri, who had established himself under a sofa and refused to come out
at all, or came out only to run under something else. It seemed to me
that he showed much agility for a cripple.

Madame Potrelle made the circuit of my salon several times on all fours.
At last, by rolling a ball of paper across the floor, we succeeded in
enticing and catching Bribri, whom his mistress replaced in her apron,
saying reprovingly:

"You ain't been a good boy; you shan't go out again for six
weeks.--Adieu, monsieur! you haven't got any other word to send to my
tenant?"

"Tell her that I am very fond of children, and that I would like to kiss
her daughter."

"Ah! if she could hear you, monsieur, I'll bet that she'd hold her
little Marie up to you right away. But you won't let three months go by
without coming again, will you, monsieur?"

"No, Madame Potrelle; I shall come very soon to hear about Madame
Landernoy."

"And I'll tell her, monsieur, that you're an excellent young
man--because--anyone can see right away that---- Well! if the little
rascal ain't swearing now! Ah! catch me taking you to walk again!"

I dismissed the concierge, who went away without giving Pomponne a
chance to see what she had under her apron. He was thunderstruck.



XXVI

THE SQUIRREL


As I was about to leave the house, Pomponne handed me a card; it was
Balloquet's. He had been several times to see me and had failed to find
me. I was ashamed of my discourteous treatment of that young man, to
whom I was indebted for my acquaintance with Armantine and Frédérique.
It was not his fault if nothing had come of that acquaintance, neither
love nor friendship. I was very sure that he had been more fortunate
than I, and that the liaison he had begun at Monsieur Bocal's party had
led to something. But there was no reason why I should not convince
myself of the fact, and I determined to pay Balloquet a visit.

I betook myself to the young physician's abode on Place Bréda. Balloquet
had established himself there in the hope of obtaining patients among
the lorettes. He considered that with such a clientage his fortune was
assured. He had my best wishes, but it was not medicine that he
practised with those ladies.

As I was entering the house in which lived my jovial companion of the
night of the weddings, the concierge stopped me.

"Where is monsieur going?"

"To see Monsieur Balloquet, physician."

"He has not lived here for two months, monsieur."

"His address, if you please?"

"Rue d'Amsterdam, No. 42, near the railroad station."

To Rue d'Amsterdam I went. It seemed that Balloquet had not obtained the
practice that he hoped for among the lorettes; perhaps he had decided to
be a railroad doctor--that is to say, to be on hand to attend to
arriving and departing travellers. That would not be a bad idea.

I arrived at No. 42. It was a handsome house, and quite new, naturally
enough, as the street was new. I asked for Dr. Balloquet. The concierge
pointed to a staircase at the rear of the courtyard:

"Top floor, door facing you. He must be in."

The top floor was at least the fifth. It seemed to me that it must be a
bad thing for a doctor to live so far up. Some of the patients who came
to consult him would certainly find it hard work to climb so high.
Probably Balloquet loved fresh air, and made more visits than he
received.

The hall was quite light and very clean and neat; but I had to climb six
flights of stairs before I reached the top landing. I got there at last,
and found the name of Balloquet, with his professional title, on a
little card nailed to the door that faced me. It occurred to me that a
copper plate would be better. I thought that I remembered that he had a
very fine one at his other lodgings; probably he was having it changed.

I pulled a dilapidated tassel, which had at one time done duty on a
curtain. The bell rang shrilly, but nobody opened the door. Perhaps the
apartment was very large. I rang again, but nobody appeared. Still, the
concierge had said:

"He must be in."

I tried another method. Sometimes young men dread a woman's visit,
especially when they have another woman with them. I coughed in several
keys, and in a moment the door opened a little way and Balloquet's nose
appeared. When he spied me, he threw the door wide open, crying:

"Why, it's my dear Rochebrune! Come in, my dear fellow, come in! That
was a good idea of yours, to cough. I was apprehensive of other visits."

"A doctor doesn't ordinarily fear them."

"That depends on what kind they are."

"Perhaps you have company, and I disturb you?"

"Not at all. I am alone. Come in."

I passed through a very small room, in which I did not see a single
piece of furniture, into a large bedroom with an iron bed, a desk,
chairs, two trunks, and a small book-case. Clothes and toilet articles
were scattered about on all the furniture and in every corner. If
picturesque disorder is the result of an artistic temperament, it is
impossible to be more artistic than Balloquet, who offered me a chair,
saying, as he removed the dressing gown in which he was wrapped:

"I'll go back to bed, with your permission?"

"Certainly; but you lie in bed very late; are you ill?"

"Not now; but I've had a hard time."

"You are changed, that is true. Where is your fine coloring, and the
fresh complexion that procured you so many soft glances?"

"Oh! as to my fresh complexion, I have lost that entirely; but it will
come back. It's infernally cold here!"

"That is true."

"Come nearer the fireplace."

"I haven't the slightest objection, but how will that help me? There's
no fire."

"No fire! Gad! that's so. I remember now that I didn't find a single
stick this morning in that trunk that I use as a woodbox; indeed, that's
why I stayed in bed, because it was warmer here. Will you get into bed
with me, without ceremony?"

"No, thanks; I prefer to be cold. But, tell me, Balloquet, what in the
deuce has happened to you since I saw you last? Then you had a very
pretty little suite of rooms, handsomely furnished; you had everything
you wanted, and a fellow didn't freeze in your room; and to-day you are
perched on a sixth floor, in a single room; for I don't see any other
than the one I entered, and this is evidently the whole apartment."

"Yes; but how beautifully it's decorated, eh? Fresh paint, and this
wall paper, and that ceiling with a centre-piece!"

"Yes, yes, it's all fresh and new; for all that, I should think that
you'd need some furniture."

"Do you think so? For my part, when an apartment has pretty wall paper
and fresh paint, it seems to me that very little furniture is required."

"Very little, possibly, but some; and I didn't see a single piece in the
outer room."

"Furniture would make it look smaller, and it's none too large."

I began to laugh, and Balloquet followed suit, rolling himself up in the
bedclothes.

"My dear Rochebrune," he continued, "I will conceal the truth from you
no longer: you see before you a man who is completely _strapped_--yes,
completely!"

"Parbleu! did you suppose that I hadn't discovered it?"

"I'll tell you what has happened to me.--Sapristi! where in the deuce is
it? I can't find it, and I must have it."

"What are you looking for under your bedclothes?"

"A friend, a trusty companion, who is of great assistance to me."

"A dog taught to fetch and carry, eh?"

"No, no, it isn't a dog. Ah! here it is!"

And Balloquet produced a little squirrel which he had just captured at
the foot of his bed, and which he proceeded to fasten to the back of a
chair by a small chain.

"What do you do with that beast?"

"He's a gift from the sentimental Satiné; and he would have gone the way
of everything else, but for the fact that he has often helped me out of
a scrape."

"That squirrel?"

"Yes, my dear fellow. Perhaps you will have ocular proof of it before
long. But let me tell you the story of my misfortunes. I am sorry that
you won't get into bed; I'm afraid that you are cold."

"No. Haven't you even a match here?"

"Faith! it's doubtful. Ah, yes! I see three in the corner. Why? have you
got some firewood in your pocket?"

"No; but I have some cigars, and I propose to smoke one."

"An excellent idea! smoking keeps you warm. Have you a cigar for
friendship?"

"Always."

"I recognize you there!"

"Could Achilles have smoked without Patroclus?"

Balloquet gave me a single match, begging me to be careful of it. I
lighted a cigar, and from it he lighted the one that I gave him. Then he
covered himself with the bedclothes, I wrapped myself hermetically in my
cloak, and he began:

"The last time I saw you was at the dinner Dupréval gave us, where
Fouvenard told us such a villainous story."

"By the way, you were rather intimate with Fouvenard, I think; what is
he doing now?"

"I don't know. I never see him. I am very far from being a saint, but
his adventure with that poor girl from Sceaux made me detest him."

"Give me your hand, Balloquet; I am glad that you think as I do on that
subject. I should have had a very poor opinion of you, if you had
continued to be that man's friend. Take another cigar, and go on; I am
listening."

"You remember those two famous wedding parties, don't you? I attended
Mademoiselle Pétronille Bocal's, where, after some rather lively
scrimmages, I became the jewel, the Benjamin of the family, thanks to
your arrival with Papa Bocal's landlord. You saw how refreshments were
served at that function: punch, mulled wine, and _bischoff_ circulating
all the time. The women were of all the colors of the rainbow, and so
lively and free and easy! the number of glances that were flashed at me
was fabulous! but I had cast my spell on a buxom, high-colored
brunette, with red roses in her hair."

"I remember your charmer; I saw you talking with her."

"In that case, you see that I don't flatter her. To make a long story
short, after supper, during which there was a time when the whole
company was fighting because Madame Girie, the groom's mother, swore
that she hadn't had the second joint of a chicken that rightfully
belonged to her, and that they hadn't given her any truffles when all
the others had some, we left the mother-in-law quarrelling, the father
swearing, the groom apologizing, and the bride weeping and tearing her
hair, and stole away, my widow and I, in much better spirits than the
givers of the feast. But it's almost always like that; _sic vos_--you
know the rest.

"My new conquest sold gloves; she had a fine shop on Boulevard des
Italiens. No end of style! Mirrors everywhere, violet-wood counter, and
an odor of perfumery as soon as you entered the shop! I was in raptures.
'At last, here's a woman who won't cost you anything, and they're very
scarce!' I said to myself. In fact, during the first few days, my pretty
widow invited me to dine in her back shop. We dined very well, for
Madame Satiné likes good things, the delicacies of the season; moreover,
she kept me in gloves; as soon as she saw that mine were shabby, she'd
say:

"'Fi! fi! what sort of gloves are you wearing? I like to have a man
always well gloved; that's the way to recognize a dandy.'

"I let her do as she pleased; I can never refuse a woman anything.

"One day, my loving Satiné, with whom I was dining, said to me:

"'Look you, my little Loquet,'--she always called me by the tail of my
name,--'I have an opportunity to make a lot of money.'

"'My dear,' said I, 'you must seize it as you do my name--by the tail.'

"'I know someone who has invented a way of making gloves without seams.
They will be splendid; fashionable people won't wear anything else.
There's a hundred thousand francs to be made in it.'

"'Somebody once invented seamless boots,' I replied, 'but I don't think
he ever made much money, for they didn't take.'

"'Hands aren't like feet. I am sure of the success of this enterprise.'

"'Go on and make your seamless gloves, then.'

"'But I must buy the secret process first, and I can't get it for less
than fifteen thousand francs.'

"'That's rather dear for a few less seams.'

"'But with that fifteen thousand francs I shall make a hundred
thousand!'

"'Buy the secret, then.'

"'That's what I want to do. A mere trifle prevents me--I haven't any
money; but I thought of you. You told me, you know, that it would make
you unhappy if I didn't always think of you.'

"'When it's a matter of love, that is true.'

"'I think of you for everything. My little Loquet, you must lend me the
fifteen thousand francs.'

"'I should be delighted to oblige you, my sweet love; but there's a
trifle that prevents me too: I have no money.'

"'Oh! nonsense!'

"'Five or six hundred francs, at your service, but no more. I am just
beginning the practice of medicine, you understand; I have a large
number of patients already: almost all the lorettes in the Bréda quarter
have me to attend them, and they often have trifling indispositions; but
not one of them ever pays me, that isn't their custom. As for my
parents, who live in La Beauce, they have got tired of sending me money.
They claim that I ought to have acquired talent enough to earn my
living. Parbleu! talent isn't what I lack, but paying patients.'

"My brunette stamped impatiently, crying:

"'I mean to make my fortune, I tell you, and I can do it by selling
seamless gloves. Look you, my little Loquet, you can give me your notes
of hand; I can negotiate them; the owner of the process will take them
in payment.'

"'But how am I to pay them?'

"'The profits will begin to come in before they fall due; I shall be
selling my new gloves, and we shall have the means to pay them.'

"I hesitated; but my brunette was so sure of success; and then, I had
dined well, and at such times I sign whatever anyone asks me to. I made
five notes of hand, of three thousand francs each.--You can guess the
result! The seamless gloves tore as soon as anyone attempted to put them
on. My poor Satiné was forced to assign. We paid the first two notes,
but I was obliged to sell almost everything I possessed. The third has
come due, and they will soon be here to demand payment. I am besieged
already by a crowd of other creditors; for, after all, a man must live,
and clothe himself, and have a roof over his head. I am completely
cleaned out! But I don't bear my mistress any grudge; she has gone to
law with the villain who defrauded her with his secret, and hopes to
make him disgorge the last two notes at least, and----"

A ring at the doorbell interrupted Balloquet, who sat up in bed and
looked at me, saying in an undertone:

"Damnation! there's someone!"

"Shall I open the door?"

"No, no! wait a moment. I recognize a creditor by his way of ringing;
perhaps it's the bearer of that note. No matter! I might as well have it
over with. Wait!"

Balloquet jumped out of bed and opened a closet near the headboard, in
which I saw a rather large iron chest set into the wall.

"I found this safe here when I took possession," whispered Balloquet,
"and it serves my turn splendidly."

"I can't imagine what purpose a safe can serve, when you have no money."

"You will see, my dear fellow."

He opened the chest, threw in three large two-sou pieces, then said to
me:

"Will you lend me two hundred-sou pieces for a few minutes? They will do
much better."

"With pleasure, my dear fellow! do you want more?"

"No, two are enough, but I don't happen to have any at this moment."

He took out the two-sou pieces and replaced them by the five-franc
pieces I had given him; then, untying his squirrel, he put him into the
chest, and at once closed and locked the door, taking care to remove the
key. Then he closed the closet. Having completed this operation, he
returned to the bed, motioning to me to open the door.

An old man stood on the landing, well dressed, very short and stout,
with a red face; he had all the externals of a retired restaurant
keeper.

"Monsieur Balloquet, if you please?"

"This is the place, monsieur."

"I have come to collect a note for----"

"Be good enough to come in, monsieur."

He entered the inner room, where Balloquet, still in bed, nodded his
head to him.

"I have come," the visitor repeated, "to collect a note of hand for
three thousand francs, due to-morrow; but to-morrow being a holiday, it
falls due the day before."

"Very well, monsieur. Please take a seat, and you shall be paid.--My
dear Charles, will you be good enough to get the amount from my safe?
It's in the closet at the head of my bed."

Balloquet said this with a self-possession which I could not but admire;
I opened the closet, and we heard the jingling of money in the safe. I
guessed that it was the squirrel playing with the coins with which he
was confined, and I had to bite my lips to keep from laughing, while
Balloquet exclaimed:

"I would like right well to know what my next-door neighbor is doing;
something that shakes the house, apparently, as it makes the gold pieces
dance in my safe; and it's like that almost all day. I shall end by
complaining to the landlord.--Take three thousand francs and pay
monsieur, will you, Charles?"

I put my head into the closet and replied:

"But the safe is locked and the key isn't in it."

"What do you say? the key isn't in the lock?"

"No."

"Look on the floor--and on top."

"I have looked on top and underneath, but I don't see any key."

"Ah! the rattle-headed rascal! I'll stake my head that that's what has
happened. Sapristi! it puts me in a pretty fix, on my word!"

"What's the matter?"

"Imagine, Charles, that I had twelve thousand francs to pay this
morning. It was all right, the funds were ready--I am never behindhand,
you know--but, being ill, I had asked Bertinet, a friend of mine, who
happened to drop in, to stay with me, so that I need not have to get up.
He consented, after some urging; he had business at Rouen and was in a
hurry to be off. Luckily, my creditor came early to get the twelve
thousand francs. Bertinet paid him, and soon after went away. Well, I
see now that the careless fellow must have put the key of my safe in his
pocket, by accident, and gone off with it! It's very amusing, as he
isn't to return for a week!"

Balloquet's tale was accompanied by the rattle of the silver pieces,
which the squirrel kept constantly in motion in the safe. It seemed to
me a most ingenious trick, and I rejoined, indulgently:

"It's all the more disagreeable because these safes have secret locks
and there's no way of opening them except by destroying them altogether;
and that would be a pity, for they're quite expensive."

"I should say so! that safe cost me nine hundred francs. But it's a
solid fellow! You might try to smash it, but you couldn't do it. It
would require a charge of gunpowder to open it, and then---- You see
what has happened, monsieur; I am exceedingly mortified that you have
come here for nothing, but it is not my fault; my friend will return in
a week, and then----"

The old gentleman, who had listened with an expression bordering on
idiocy, rejoined in the same tone as when he first entered the room:

"I have come to collect a note for three thousand francs, due to-morrow;
but as to-morrow is a----"

"All right, monsieur!" interposed Balloquet, impatiently; "I know
perfectly well why you have come, and I was going to pay you. Parbleu!
your money's there; it isn't the money that's lacking; indeed, you can
hear my gold pieces dancing, thanks to my neighbor. But as I haven't the
key of my safe, as it has been carried off by mistake,--for it wasn't
done maliciously, I am sure,--I can't pay you to-day. It is annoying, I
can understand that; but, after all, it's only a delay of a few days."

The little old man blew his nose at great length, took a pinch of
snuff, coughed, spat, wiped his nose, and began:

"I have come to collect a note----"

"Sapristi! this is too much!" cried Balloquet, throwing his head back on
his pillow; then he crawled under his bedclothes, so that nothing was
visible but the end of his nose, muttering: "Do what you please; I have
had enough; I've nothing more to say."

The bearer of the note of hand gazed at me in blank amazement. I tried
to make him understand the situation. I took him by the hand and led him
to the safe, where the squirrel was still at play, and said:

"How do you expect my friend to pay you? He hasn't the key; it's at
Rouen; and there's no way of forcing this lock."

"But then I, who came here to----"

"Come again in a few days; then my friend will have his key, and you
will be paid. I have the honor to salute you, monsieur; if you should
stay here three hours, the fact would remain the same, so you might as
well go!"

And I pushed him gently toward the door; he made no resistance, so I
escorted him to the landing and closed the door on him. I heard him
mumbling as he went downstairs:

"I came to collect a note of hand for three thousand francs----"

"Bravo, my dear Rochebrune, and a thousand thanks!" said Balloquet. "We
had hard work; he was as tenacious as the devil, that fellow, but I am
rid of him."

"He'll come again in a few days."

"He won't find me, for I am going to move, to hide myself, wall myself
up. Would you have me pay a second time for those seamless abortions?
Satiné will find money somehow--that's her business."

The bell rang again.

"_Bigre!_ do you suppose the old fossil has come back? He can't have
gone to get a locksmith, can he?"

"It isn't probable; he hasn't had time. What are you going to do? Shall
I open the door?"

"Faith! the squirrel is still in the safe, playing his little game. If
it happens to be a creditor, the trick may work again. Be kind enough to
open the door."

I complied with his request, and received a lady fully fifty years of
age, who was dressed with much coquetry, although her costume was not
absolutely fresh. She bowed to me, and, without waiting to be ushered
in, walked quickly by me, saying:

"I beg pardon, monsieur, it's Monsieur Balloquet I want to see, and I
know he's in; I took pains to inquire."

She was in the inner room before I had had time to answer her. Seeing my
friend in bed, she started back; but she speedily recovered herself and
went on.

"Ah! so you're in bed, are you?" she exclaimed. "But, after all, the
doctors visit us when we're in bed; so why shouldn't we do the same by
them?"

"Perfectly argued, Madame Philocome. Pray take the trouble to be
seated."

Madame Philocome took a chair, after some show of reluctance.

"Are you sick?" she said, twisting her mouth out of shape.

"Mon Dieu! yes, dear Madame Philocome, I am sick. But may I know to what
I am indebted for the honor of this visit?"

"Why, I happen to have in my hands a little _broche_ of yours."

"A _broche?_"

"A little note, if you like that better; a hundred and fifty francs.
It's a small matter. You made it to your tailor's order; he paid it to
me, and I came to collect it. If, at the same time, you could give me
what you owe me for perfumery and essences, you know----"

"Yes, I know that I owe you a trifle. Parbleu! if you have your bill
here, we'll settle the whole thing together; I ask nothing better."

"It will be an accommodation to me, especially as you don't come to see
us any more, doctor; you've taken your custom away from us; that's all
wrong."

"Not at all; but when I moved into another quarter----"

"Here's my bill; it amounts to a hundred and thirty-two francs."

"Very good; a hundred and fifty and a hundred and thirty-two; that makes
two hundred and eighty-two in all.--My dear Charles, do me the favor to
take that amount from my safe."

Thereupon we performed for Madame Philocome's benefit the scene of the
lost key, with an accompaniment of money jingling by the squirrel. But I
was pained to see that the perfumer shook her head and smiled in a very
equivocal fashion. Finally, when Balloquet essayed to express his regret
at the loss of his key, the old coquette interrupted him, saying:

"It seems that you mislay your key very often, monsieur; for I have
happened to see two of your creditors, and they have told me why you
didn't pay them; it was exactly the same thing as to-day--the same
scheme and the same details."

"That may be, madame; in fact, I did lose my key several days ago."

"Then, monsieur, why did you pretend at first that you were ready to pay
me?"

Balloquet buried himself under the bedclothes, with a horrible grimace.
I closed the closet door so that we could no longer hear the squirrel,
whose efforts thenceforth were of no avail. Madame Philocome settled
herself comfortably in her chair, saying:

"I'm very sorry, monsieur, but I want my money. You must have some,
judging from that silvery tinkle in your safe. I refuse to be so
good-natured as the others you have got rid of by this means. You must
pay me; I won't go away until you do."

"Then you'll stay here a long while, madame."

"It's all the same to me, monsieur; I'm in no hurry."

Balloquet angrily rolled himself up in his bedclothes. I seated myself
beside the hearth, curious to see how it would end. Madame Philocome
stared for a while at the centre-piece on the ceiling, then took a book
from the shelves. If she began to read, the situation might be prolonged
indefinitely.

After some time, Balloquet broke the silence by groaning as if he were
in pain; I rose and went to the bedside.

"My friend," he said, with a wink that I understood, "is my face red in
spots?"

"Why, yes--you have some blotches."

"Are the whites of my eyes yellow?"

"Very yellow!"

"The devil! Be kind enough to look at my tongue and tell me if there are
any little swellings on it?"

He put out his tongue, and I exclaimed after examining it:

"It's covered with them!"

"Damnation! Then it must be that; I can't fool myself any longer. I know
now what my trouble is. However, I can take care of myself."

"Why, what is your trouble?"

"Pardieu! I am going to have the smallpox, that's all! However, I have
been vaccinated!"

Balloquet had not finished speaking, when Madame Philocome threw down
her book, sprang abruptly to her feet, and rushed from the room, crying:

"Adieu, doctor! you can pay me later; when you please!"

"But, Madame Philocome, if you would rather wait for my key, I'll send
to Rouen."

It was unnecessary to say more; we heard the outer door open and close
with a bang, and Madame Philocome scrambling down the stairs. Then
Balloquet looked at me and roared with laughter, in which I joined. We
were still laughing, I am sure, when the old coquette was a long way
from the house.



XXVII

A CONSULTATION


"What do you think of my second method, Rochebrune?"

"Excellent; indeed, I think that it's better than the other, for it
requires less preparation."

"That depends. We have creditors who will defy smallpox, yellow
fever--aye, the plague itself. But I must get up and liberate my
squirrel, and return your ten francs."

"I will take back the ten francs, which would be of no great use to you;
but if you would like this five-hundred-franc note, which I put in my
pocket with a view to settling with my tailor, why, don't hesitate to
say so; I shall be glad to do you a service."

Balloquet forgot that he was in his shirt; he leaped on my neck, crying:

"Would I like it! I should say so! I wouldn't have asked for it, but you
offer it! You're a friend indeed! Let me hear anyone say that there are
no such things as friends nowadays! Dear old Rochebrune! And you don't
know me very well, either."

"I know you well enough to be happy that I am able to oblige you."

"Oh! by the way, I ought to warn you of one thing: I can't say just when
I shall be able to pay you."

"Don't let that disturb you! You may pay me when fortune smiles on you
again, when you have a profitable practice."

"Oh! as for that, you will be the first person paid. So I'm in funds
once more! _Vive la joie!_--No more potatoes! I've had enough of them;
I've been stuffed with them for a long time. But I won't tell Satiné
that my pockets are lined, for she has always some invention or other in
her head, and it's too risky."

I was about to take leave of Balloquet, who was just pulling on his
trousers, when we heard three little taps at his door. The young doctor
listened and smiled.

"What sort of a farce are you going to play this time?" I asked him.

"Oh! this is no creditor, my dear fellow, I am sure. The creditor knocks
noisily; but those soft little taps--I'll bet that it's someone to
consult me."

He went into the outer room and called:

"Who's there?"

"Someone who wishes to consult monsieur le médécin," replied a soft,
female voice.

"I will leave you," I said, taking my hat; but Balloquet detained me.

"Do stay," he said. "Thus far you have seen nothing but the unpleasant
features of my position as a debtor; it is only fair that you should be
a witness also of the advantages we owe to our profession. This is some
girl to consult me. It is sometimes quite amusing to listen. They
conceal nothing from their doctor; they tell him some things that they
certainly wouldn't tell their lovers."

"But she won't dare to say anything before a witness, will she?"

"It will be enough to tell her that you're a confrère; then she'll look
on you as another myself. If there were ten of us here, and I should say
they were all doctors, she'd take them all for her confidants."

"In that case, I will stay and listen to the consultation."

I resumed my seat, while Balloquet donned his dressing gown, and opened
the door himself.

The doctor was not mistaken; it was a young girl, with a costume halfway
between that of a grisette and a nursery maid. Light hair, an attractive
face, eyes cast down like an innocent schoolgirl, but with a certain
twist in her gait which bore no trace of innocence.

She made a courtesy, then glanced at me, and halted.

"Monsieur is a confrère, another myself," said Balloquet; "so you may
speak before him without fear; indeed, you may be the gainer by so
doing, for two opinions are better than one. Be seated, mademoiselle,
and tell me what brings you here."

The girl courtesied again, and tried to smile; but in the midst of the
smile, her features contracted with pain; she pressed her lips together,
clenched her hands, and leaned against the desk.

"Are you in pain?" asked Balloquet, pushing a chair toward her.

She seemed to breathe with difficulty, but she smiled again, saying:

"It's over now; I hope it won't amount to anything, but it makes me feel
very bad at times."

"Tell me what it is."

"I am a lacemaker, monsieur; but there hasn't been much doing in that
trade for some time, and one earns so little! And I admit that I'm a
good deal of an idler; when I'm sent on an errand, I like to stop in
front of the caricature shops and confectioners; and I like the theatre
too, and balls. It's such good fun to dance at Mabille, at Valentino's,
and at the Cité-d'Antin. In fact, I like a good time, I don't deny it."

"That's characteristic of your age, mademoiselle; indeed, we all like a
good time. Everyone enjoys it according to his tastes. At twenty, it's
love and clothes; at thirty, money; at forty, ambition and titles;
later, cards and rest. But at every age, when we seek to gratify our
desires, we are always after a good time. Go on."

"But, monsieur, when you want to enjoy yourself, and haven't any money,
it's very hard!"

"Sometimes; it depends on the sort of enjoyment you want."

"One night, I was walking on the Champs-Élysées with a friend of mine,
who's a good deal of an idler, like myself, and likes good things to
eat, too. As we passed a café, we looked at the people eating ices at
the tables outside, and my friend said: 'I've never eaten any of that!
None of the lovers I've ever had have been good for more than a bottle
of cider or beer. Oh, yes! there was one who ordered punch; but he drank
it all and didn't leave me half a glass!'--'I don't know what ices taste
like, either,' said I; 'but I'd like right well to try one.'--At that, a
fat man behind us, who was listening to us, I suppose, said: 'Allow me
to satisfy your longing, mesdemoiselles, and to offer you an ice. See,
here's an unoccupied table; let's sit down here.'

"I was rather taken by surprise and didn't know what to reply, but my
friend nudged me and whispered: 'Let's accept and take the ices; what
harm will it do? it don't bind us to anything. Besides, he's a
well-dressed man, he's _comme il faut_. I'm going to accept,
anyway!'--And she drew me toward the table. You can understand that I
couldn't very well refuse.--Well, he treated us; my friend had three
ices, but I only took two; they made my teeth ache a little. He stuffed
us with cakes and macaroons, too; so my friend thought he was charming;
but he wasn't at all to my taste. His face was red and all covered with
pimples. However, he had pleasant manners, and, although my friend made
eyes at him, he paid all his attention to me. That made my friend mad.
At last, messieurs--monsieur le docteur--you understand?"

"Yes, perfectly; you made the acquaintance of the stout man who paid for
the ices; but that doesn't tell us why you are suffering now."

"Ah! that's the sequel. I had known that gentleman about six months. I
hadn't got used to him at all; but I had got used to his presents. It
isn't that he was very generous---- However, when you don't love a man,
you ask nothing better than to deceive him."

"That is perfectly natural, mademoiselle; sometimes, indeed, you deceive
him when you do love him."

"Oh! that's true, too; I believe such things have been known. Well,
about six weeks ago I made the acquaintance of a young man I liked very
much."

"And you left the stout party?"

"Mon Dieu! I intended to, certainly--that was my purpose--but----"

"You didn't have a chance, eh?"

"That's it, monsieur. I was looking for an opportunity; I didn't know
just what to do, for I had discovered that Monsieur Bouqueton was very
brutal, with all his _comme il faut_ air."

"Bouqueton!" I exclaimed, struck by that name, as I recalled Madame
Dauberny's confidences on the subject of her husband. "So your stout
man's name is Bouqueton, is it?"

"Yes, monsieur. Do you know him?"

"No, not I. But I have heard of him from a friend of mine, who didn't
speak very highly of him. Go on, mademoiselle."

"I was looking for a chance to break with Monsieur Bouqueton; but,
meanwhile, I continued to receive his presents--so as not to make him
suspicious. Well, three days ago, my lover--my real lover--came and
asked me to dine with him at a little restaurant on Rue du Ponceau,
where they have private rooms. Naturally, I said _yes_. When I went out,
I met my friend, the one who had the ices with me on the Champs-Élysées.
She asked me where I was going, and I was fool enough to tell her. Oh!
women are such traitors! It's never safe to trust one's friends! I am
sure that it was she who told Monsieur Bouqueton that I had another
lover. By making trouble between him and me, she hoped he'd take her, I
suppose--the vile slut! Well, messieurs, when I came out of the
restaurant with my lover, I saw Monsieur Bouqueton standing guard at the
door. I trembled all over. I didn't want to go home, but my young man
couldn't take me with him, for he hadn't any rooms of his own: he lives
with his employer, four clerks in one room. I couldn't go and play
puss-in-the-corner with all four; so I says to myself: 'Never mind!
here's the opportunity I've been looking for to break with Monsieur
Bouqueton.'

"Sure enough, I hadn't been at home half an hour, when someone knocked
at my door. It was Monsieur Bouqueton. I was all of a tremble when I
opened the door; but I was surprised to hear him speak to me very
gently, and say: 'So you don't love me any more, Annette?'--My name's
Annette.--'I can't blame you; for I know that liaisons like ours can't
last forever. I have come to say good-bye to you; but I don't propose to
part on bad terms; on the contrary, to prove that I don't bear you any
grudge, I'll treat you to _bischoff_. I know a place where they make it
delicious. We'll take a cab and go there; then I'll bring you home, and
we'll part the best of friends.'

"I was so delighted that Monsieur Bouqueton didn't make a scene, that I
accepted his invitation. I certainly ought to have been suspicious of
his honey-sweet air, but I'm very fond of _bischoff_. Oh! what a
miserable thing it is to be a glutton! That fault has always made me
make a fool of myself.

"I put my cap on again, and we went out. Monsieur Bouqueton put me into
a cab, but I didn't hear what he said to the driver. We started off. It
was about ten o'clock at night. The cab went on and on.

"'Is this café of yours very far?' I asked.

"'Rather far; but we shall soon be there now.'

"The cab stopped at last. Monsieur Bouqueton helped me out and paid the
cabman, who drove away. I looked about; it was as dark as a pocket, and
we had no lantern. All I could see was big trees.

"'Where are we?' I asked, beginning to be frightened; for I began to
suspect treachery. I couldn't see any light; but the trees made me think
that we might be on the outer boulevards. But why should he have taken
me there? At that time of night, in winter, all the restaurants must be
closed.

"Without answering my question, Monsieur Bouqueton took my arm and led
me away; we walked for some minutes, but didn't meet a soul.

"'I won't go any farther,' I said suddenly, and stopped. 'You have
deceived me, and I want to go back to Paris.'

"'Well! all right! we won't go any farther,' said my conductor, in a
voice whose savage accent froze the blood in my veins. 'We are well
enough here for what I have to say to you, and for the lesson I propose
to give you.'

"He had no sooner said this than he knocked me down with a blow of his
fist. I shrieked as I fell; but the miserable villain knew well enough
that no one would come to my rescue. He called me the most horrible
names--beggar--oh! I can't tell you all the vile names he called me!
Certainly, I deserved some of them! But he wasn't content with treating
me like the lowest of the low; he kicked me in the head and breast and
everywhere."

"What a ghastly thing!" cried Balloquet, while I, restraining my
feelings with the utmost difficulty, felt great drops of perspiration on
my brow. The story of that loathsome conduct made my cheeks tingle.

"I begged Monsieur Bouqueton to spare me," continued Annette. "I
confessed my guilt and begged for mercy; but he would not listen; he
kept on kicking me and calling me vile names. At last, he hurt me so
that I could not speak. I don't know whether the monster thought he had
killed me,--that was his purpose, I don't doubt,--but, when he saw that
I didn't move, he may have been frightened, for he suddenly ran off, and
I heard his steps die away in the distance. I lay there on the ground a
long while, in horrible pain. At last a heavy wagon came along, and the
driver heard me groaning. He came to me, put me in his wagon, and took
me as far as the barrier, where he left me. There they gave me what
assistance I needed. I came to myself, but when they asked me what had
happened, I couldn't tell them the truth, so I made up a story about
robbers. When I felt able to go home, they called a cab and sent me
home. All men aren't as wicked as Monsieur Bouqueton, thank God! if they
were, we should have to long for another Flood. The next day, I took
some medicine. The blows on my hips and legs are all black and blue, but
they won't amount to anything. I hoped it would be the same with the one
I got here, on the breast, but it hurts me awfully, it cuts like a
knife; and that's why I came to see you, monsieur."

"Let me see the bruise, my child; you must show us your breast--doctors,
you know----"

"Oh! I'll show you whatever you say, monsieur."

And, without any false modesty, Mademoiselle Annette unbuttoned her
dress and bared her breast. At that moment we could examine it without
any risk to her, for the thought that the poor girl was in pain put all
other thoughts to flight. Under the left breast there was a purple spot,
with a yellowish circle all about it. Balloquet frowned and his face
became grave and sad; I believed that I could divine his thought and I
turned my head away; the sight was too distressing. The girl meanwhile
smiled a wan sort of smile, and said:

"That was a famous blow I got, wasn't it, monsieur?"

"Yes, mademoiselle, yes."

The doctor put his finger on the purple spot.

"Does that hurt?" he asked.

"Oh, yes!"

"And that?"

"Yes!"

"And that?"

"Oh! yes, it does!"

"We must look after this; you must do just what I say, and take the
draught I prescribe."

"But it isn't dangerous, is it, monsieur?"

Balloquet made an effort to resume his customary cheerful expression as
he replied:

"No, mademoiselle, no; you will come out all right. But you must follow
my directions carefully; you must keep a bandage on your breast all the
time, wet with a liquid I will give you."

"You don't need to feel it any more, monsieur?"

"No, mademoiselle."

"When must I come again?"

Balloquet reflected a moment, and said:

"Don't come here again; I am going to move, and I don't know yet where
I shall go; but leave me your address; I will call to see you."

"Oh! you are very kind, monsieur; but--when a doctor puts himself out to
call, it costs more than when one goes to see him."

"Never fear; it won't cost you any more, for it won't cost anything."

"Oh! you are very good! And you won't forget to come?"

"If your bruise was a mere trifle, I might forget you; but it's serious
enough to prevent my neglecting it. I will come to see you."

"This is my address, monsieur: Annette--Rue Rochechouart, corner of Rue
Bellefond."

"Just Annette?"

"That's all, monsieur; when a girl has been foolish, she ought not to
bear her parents' name."

"Here, my child, here are your prescriptions. Be careful to follow my
directions. Don't tire yourself, and be good. It's a bore, I know, but
it is necessary for your safety. I will see you in a few days."

The girl had rebuttoned her dress and was about to leave the room.

"Have you seen Monsieur Bouqueton since?" I asked.

"Oh, no, monsieur! the monster! If I should see him, I believe I should
faint with fright."

"But what about your young lover? Didn't he promise to avenge you, when
he found out what had happened?"

"Oh, yes! he is going to square accounts with him, if he ever meets him.
But he's a thoughtless fellow, my lover is! He says that one day, but
forgets all about it the next."

"Well, mademoiselle, I promise you that you shall be avenged; I promise
you that Monsieur--Bouqueton shall receive sooner or later the
punishment that his treatment of you deserves. If your lover doesn't
administer it, I myself will undertake to do it."

"You, monsieur? Why, do you know Monsieur Bouqueton?"

"I never saw the man, but I know who he is. I tell you again--you shall
be avenged."

"Oh! mon Dieu! monsieur, I am not very vindictive; just let me get well,
and I won't think any more about that old villain.--I have the honor to
salute you, monsieur le médécin!"

"I expected that you were to witness an amusing consultation," said
Balloquet, after Annette had gone; "for these girls come to see us so
often for mere trifles. But, unluckily, I was mistaken. That poor
creature made my heart ache, her injury is so serious; I anticipate the
worst--terrible suffering, and death."

"Poor girl! What a punishment for her sins! What a ghastly result of
idleness, of indolence! I will not say, of coquetry, for there was
nothing in her dress to indicate that she has ever been kept."

"Is it true that you know this infamous blackguard who kicked her in the
breast?"

"Yes; his name is not Bouqueton; that is a name he assumes to cover up
his escapades."

"Look you, my dear fellow, if ever you need my help in thrashing that
scoundrel, you will afford me a very great pleasure, and I beg you not
to forget me. I am a good-for-naught, I admit; I love all the women
whose physique makes them worth the trouble of loving; I deceive them
without scruple, because they pay me back in my own coin. In that
respect, I fancy you are not unlike me. But to strike a woman, to
inflict bodily suffering on a weak creature to whom we have owed the
most delicious of joys!--oh! that is infamous, execrable! No infidelity
can excuse such barbarous conduct!"

"You are quite right, Balloquet. Remember the two lines that have never
grown old, despite their antiquity:

    "'Let shallow fops cry out, and fools lament;
      The honest man, deceived, departs and says no word.'

Au revoir, Balloquet! you will let me know about the poor girl, won't
you?"

"To be sure! I will call on you and give you my address, when I have
one."



XXVIII

A WORD OF ADVICE.--AN ASSIGNATION


It was cold, but the weather was superb. On leaving Balloquet, the whim
seized me to take a turn about the garden of the Tuileries. I found many
people in the garden. Fashionably attired ladies, well supplied with
furs and warm cloaks, were seated along the main avenue, near the
Terrasse des Feuillants. I glanced at them without stopping, but with
the pleasure that one has in looking at flowers when one walks through a
flower garden.

Suddenly I felt an involuntary thrill; I had recognized Madame
Sordeville, but not until I was almost face to face with her. I was
about to look the other way, when I saw another familiar face beside
Armantine's: Madame Dauberny was sitting with her friend. They had seen
me, and both had their eyes fixed on me. To pretend not to see them was
impossible, and I raised my hat.

Frédérique barely moved her head, still looking at me, but maintaining
the grave and almost frigid expression which she had adopted with me. It
was not so with Madame Sordeville; she smiled upon me most affably, and
said in her sweetest voice, as she pointed to a vacant chair by her
side:

"Ah! is it you, Monsieur Rochebrune? I supposed that you had gone
abroad, it is so long since we saw you. Pray sit down a moment with us.
As we must depend upon chance for meeting you, you will surely give us a
few moments."

"If monsieur is in a hurry, why do you insist upon detaining him?" said
Frédérique, sharply. "For my part, I have never understood how anyone
could compel a person to break an appointment wholly as a matter of
courtesy."

But I had already seated myself beside Madame Sordeville, for I could
not resist the charm of her smile. All my resolutions vanished before
that smile, and I replied:

"I have time to stop; and even if I had any business on hand, I should
be too happy to postpone it for such a pleasure."

Frédérique said nothing; she sat erect in her chair, with her head
thrown back a little, so that I could not see her face; but, as a
compensation, I was able to look at Armantine to my heart's content, for
she turned to me and said, with the same charmingly amiable expression:

"Why have you abandoned us so entirely, monsieur? Our house must have
offered you very little attraction. Indeed, I can easily believe that
our small parties are not very amusing; and yet, I had imagined that you
would enjoy yourself there. I was very foolish, was I not?"

"No, madame; you were quite right. But urgent business----"

"Oh! don't talk like that, monsieur; you know perfectly well that we
don't believe anything of the sort. You have found more entertainment
with others, and you have been very sensible to give them the
preference."

"You know that that is not true, madame."

"Know it, monsieur? How do you expect me to know anything, except that
you suddenly ceased to come to us? It seems to me that I could not very
well ask you the reason. I was talking with Frédérique about you a
moment ago."

"What! you thought of me, madame?"

"Yes," murmured Frédérique, swaying back and forth on her chair;
"Armantine was saying that you sang ballads beautifully."

Madame Sordeville nudged her friend; I believe, indeed, that she
pinched her. As for myself, being not at all wounded by that malicious
remark, I hastened to reply:

"If I had any pretension to be considered a singer, madame, what you
have just said might mortify me; but as it has never occurred to me to
hold myself out as anything of the sort, I will be the first to laugh
with you over my performance at Madame Sordeville's."

"Mon Dieu! Monsieur Rochebrune, I have no idea why Frédérique said that;
I don't think that she did it to laugh at you, for, after all, it may
happen to anyone not to be in condition for singing--to have trouble
with his throat;--and he may sing perfectly well another time."

"He takes his revenge," said Frédérique, in an undertone. "'This play is
by a clever man who will take his revenge sooner or later.'--That's the
consecrated phrase of newspaper critics after a play has failed."

"You seem to be very ill-disposed toward me, madame," I said, trying to
catch a glimpse of Madame Dauberny's face; but I could not succeed.

"I, monsieur? Not in the least; I am joking, that's all. I am not one of
those people whose feelings are changed by a false note."

Armantine seemed ill at ease, and hastened to change the subject. We
talked about indifferent matters, but our eyes were not indifferent.
Madame Dauberny did not utter a word. Was she angry with me? did she
still bear me a grudge? Surely it was a long while for a kiss to rankle!
I was almost grieved by Frédérique's treatment of me, but Armantine made
me forget it by the amiable way in which she talked with me. I had never
seen her show so much pleasure in being with me. However, I realized
that I must not wear my welcome out, so I took leave of them.

"Shall I still have to depend on chance meetings for a glimpse of you?"
asked Madame Sordeville, as she answered my salutation.

"No, madame; I shall not again wait for chance to serve me, as it might
not always be so favorable."

Frédérique nodded slightly in acknowledgment of my bow, but not a word,
not a smile.

"Upon my word," thought I, "she's very sensitive for a _gaillarde_!"

Armantine, I had been told, was a flirt; and, indeed, I had been several
times in a position to judge that it was not safe to rely on the hopes
she aroused. But, without flattering myself that I could cure her of
that failing, it was possible that she might love me. After all, I had
never yet met a perfect woman; in truth, I had never sought one. In
short, that lady had turned my head again by her glances and her smiles,
and I had already forgotten the way she treated me at her two
receptions; the resolution I had formed not to expose myself again to
the risk of being made the plaything of a coquette did not hold out
against the allurements she had practised on me. Mon Dieu! why should we
keep our resolutions in love, when we have no resolution at all in
respect to the most serious matters?

On the day following this meeting, I could contain myself no longer, and
I made a careful toilet with the purpose of calling on Madame
Sordeville; for I had noticed that she attached some importance to the
costumes of her guests. That was another pardonable foible in a woman
who thought constantly of dress, and who believed, in all probability,
that everybody agreed with her as to the momentous nature of the
subject.

I was preparing to go out, when Pomponne brought me a letter which had
just been handed to the concierge with the request that it be delivered
to me at once.

I did not know the writing; in such cases, the first thing one does
after breaking the seal is to look at the signature. I saw at the foot
of the page: _Frédérique_.

What! Madame Dauberny writing to me! I lost no further time in reading
the letter.

     "You are probably intending to go to Madame Sordeville's. Do not go
     there, do not go to that house again; this is the best advice I can
     give you. If you are really desirous to see Armantine, if your love
     for her has revived, thanks to the coquetries she lavished upon you
     yesterday, see her elsewhere than at her own house. I write you
     these lines because I remember our pleasant intimacy, which was of
     short duration, but which has left in my heart marks of its
     passage. So, trust me and take my advice. I should consider that I
     insulted you if I should ask you not to mention this warning.

     "FRÉDÉRIQUE."

The contents of that letter seemed to me most extraordinary. I read it
over several times, but could not understand it. Frédérique urged me not
to go to Madame Sordeville's, but she gave me no reason, no hint, as to
the purpose of that warning. It could be nothing more than a freak, the
result of momentary ill humor with her friend. I was much perplexed by
the letter, but I had no idea of following the advice contained therein.
Indeed, for some time past, Madame Dauberny had treated me so strangely,
she had been so cold to me, that I found it hard to believe in that
recrudescence of friendship of which she spoke in her letter. If she
meant the warning seriously, why did she not come and speak to me
herself? She had told me several times that she had no more hesitation
in calling on a young man than on a friend of her own sex.

And so, without giving another thought to Frédérique's advice, I went at
once to Madame Sordeville's.

I found Armantine in her dainty boudoir, surrounded by flowers and
embroidery.

I do not know whether she expected me, but it seemed to me that her
dress and her coiffure were even more coquettish than usual. Probably I
was mistaken, and it was because I was not accustomed to gaze upon her
charms that they produced that effect on me.

I was welcomed with extreme cordiality. Armantine had her merry,
sarcastic, and melancholy moods. On the day in question, she seemed
almost sentimental; she laughed less frequently than usual, but I
considered her the more fascinating so.

She gave me her hand and bade me sit beside her, saying:

"This is delightful! It hasn't taken you long to keep your promise this
time."

"It is my greatest happiness to be with you, madame; and my reason for
depriving myself of that happiness so long is that----"

"Well, monsieur? it is that----?"

"That---- Look you, madame, I propose to be quite frank; have I your
permission?"

"Why, of course."

"I propose to tell you of all the torments I have suffered. In the first
place, I love you--but you are well aware of that; I have told you so
before."

"Yes, you have told me so; but that is no reason why it should be true.
All men say as much to a woman who is at all attractive, and of whom
they flatter themselves that they can make the conquest."

"But, in that case, madame, what must a man do to prove that he really
loves?"

"In the first place, it seems to me that he should not let centuries
pass without calling; you must agree, monsieur, that that is a curious
way of proving one's love."

"But, madame, when he is received coldly, when the person in question
does not deign to address a word to him, after having given him some
reason to hope; and when she laughs and talks incessantly with other men
before his eyes, without any pity for the anguish he suffers----"

Armantine laughed aloud, disconcerting me so that I dared not go on.

"Ah!" she cried, when her paroxysm of merriment had subsided; "that is
to say, monsieur, that if a woman was weak enough to listen to you and
believe you, she must never listen to any other man's gallant speeches?
When a gentleman accosted her, she should run away at once, lest he be
tempted to offer her his homage? Perhaps, too, she ought to make wry
faces, squint when anyone looks at her, for fear she might be thought
pretty?"

"Oh! madame!"

"If that's your way of thinking, monsieur, I must warn you that you
would very often have occasion to lose your temper with me. I like to
have men pay court to me; I like to have them think me pretty--yes, and
tell me so. I don't know whether that is coquetry, but, in my opinion,
there is no greater pleasure for a woman."

"No greater pleasure? Not even love? Not even to be loved sincerely?"

"One does not prevent the other."

"Well! tell me that you love me; let me prove to you that I adore you,
and I promise not to be jealous of all the men I see fluttering about
you. When a man has the certainty of being preferred to all others, then
suspicion is an insult. But is he not justified in trembling, when he
has received no favor?"

Armantine did not reply, but she was deeply moved. I tried to take
advantage of her agitation to embrace her; but she pushed me away and
eluded me, saying:

"What are you doing? Someone may come at any minute. I cannot deny
myself to callers; the servants know that you are here."

"Very well! meet me somewhere. Do you not go out whenever you choose?"

"Yes, but---- One thing I will not do, and that is, go to your rooms.
Someone might see me go in, and I should be ruined! I am not a
_gaillarde_, like Frédérique, you know."

"Let us meet somewhere."

"I should never dare to go alone to any out-of-the-way place."

"You can take a cab."

"I should be afraid, all alone, in a cab. No, monsieur, I am no
dare-devil; I am very cowardly."

"Say rather, madame, that you do not choose to grant me an assignation."

"Ah! monsieur is losing his temper already. Well, let me see; to-morrow
I am to go to the Champs-Élysées with Madame Gerbancourt and her
sister--two _petites-maîtresses_ whom you must have seen here. They are
not beautiful, but they are always beautifully dressed. Madame
Gerbancourt has rather a good figure; her sister is too thin."

"I haven't the faintest recollection of the ladies."

"No matter! You will find us sitting opposite the Cirque."

"Very good!"

"It will be about two o'clock. You may come and speak to me. They live
near by, on Rue de Ponthieu. When they start to go home, I will say that
I am waiting for Frédérique. They will leave me, I will stay with you,
and then----"

"Oh! you are adorable! I swear to love you all my life!"

"Really? I thought that you were in love with Madame Dauberny too?"

"With your friend? No, indeed; I have never dreamed of such a thing! I
would have been glad to obtain her friendship; her original character
pleased me mightily; but I have failed to do it. You must have noticed
how coldly she treated me yesterday."

"Yes, I did. But I don't know what has been the matter with her lately;
she is so capricious; I see much less of her than I used."

The doorbell rang, announcing visitors. I took leave of Madame
Sordeville at once, fearing that something might happen to make her
change her mind; for she was very capricious, too, and it was not safe
to give her time to retract.

"Until to-morrow!" I said, very tenderly, as I left the room.

I was so happy, that I trod on air. I was sure of my triumph now. When a
woman gives us an assignation, is it not equivalent to a surrender? And,
under such circumstances, the man who does not grasp the opportunity is
an idiot--or something worse!



XXIX

AN ENCOUNTER ON THE CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES


The day of my assignation was magnificently clear. I gave thanks to the
weather; for if it had been stormy, she would not have been likely to
walk on the Champs-Élysées; and the day before, in my delight, I had not
thought of that. But everything seemed propitious, and I fairly swam in
bliss. Pomponne curled his lip slightly, as he looked at me with an
idiotic expression; the fellow evidently considered himself very
penetrating. I thought of nothing but Armantine; I was really in love
with her, and it seemed to me that I had never loved other women so
dearly.

While dressing, I found Madame Dauberny's note in my pocket. I was
overjoyed that I had not heeded her advice; but still I reread the note
once more. I determined that, when I met the writer, she would have to
explain what she meant by that warning.--"Our brief intimacy," she
wrote, "has left in my heart marks of its passage."--Really, I should
not have suspected it, in view of her present treatment of me.

I was on the Champs-Élysées a little before two. It was cold; but the
sun was so bright that there were many people driving and walking. The
Champs-Élysées is the general rendezvous of the world of fashion.
Magnificent equipages passed back and forth, or vanished in the
direction of the Bois de Boulogne, escorted by innumerable equestrians,
who always glanced inside the carriages as they passed; and when they
saw a young and beautiful woman, they instantly assumed a more dashing
air, and made their steeds prance and curvet, so that horse and rider
might be admired at the same time.

The pedestrians, too, were very numerous; for winter costumes have a
charm of their own, and the cloaks and furs in which a pretty woman
wraps herself sometimes form an admirable foil for delicate features or
dainty graces: the flowers we find under the snow seem fairer than
others. You need not cry out--there are flowers under the snow.

My own attire was irreproachable, and I flattered myself that it was in
excellent taste. I strolled along, beaming with anticipation, toward the
appointed place. There were many people seated, but I soon spied her I
sought. Armantine was there, with two ladies whom I recognized as having
seen among her guests. The three vied with one another in elegance. I
approached them and bowed, as if the meeting were accidental.

Madame Sordeville welcomed me with the sweetest glance, pointing to a
chair by her side. We exchanged the customary greetings, and I seated
myself beside Armantine.

"So you are not afraid of the cold?" she said laughingly.

"When ladies defy it, what would you think of me if I were afraid of
it?"

"And then," said one of her companions, "if we had to pass the whole
winter indoors, for fear of the cold, I fancy we should not be very
fresh in the spring."

The ladies criticised the costumes and equipages of those who passed,
and I put in a word or two now and then. But I was rather distraught,
for I was dreaming of the happiness which I hoped for and expected, and
I was counting the minutes. My plan was already formed. There are some
excellent restaurants on the Champs-Élysées, with charming private rooms
into which one can slip without being seen. If she refused to go to a
restaurant, there were plenty of cabs; I had only to hire one with
blinds and tell the driver to take us outside the walls.

I glanced at Armantine from time to time and motioned toward her two
companions, murmuring under my breath words which she understood; for
she whispered:

"Be patient a while."

At last, about three o'clock, Madame Gerbancourt said to her sister:

"We must be thinking about going home, for we are to have company
to-day, you know.--Are you going soon, my dear?"

This question was addressed to Armantine, who replied:

"Madame Dauberny promised to join me here, and I shall wait for her. If
Monsieur Rochebrune will honor me with his company till she comes, it
will be very kind of him. It is putting his good nature to a severe
test, but we have only one cavalier, and I must make the most of him."

I hastened to reply that I was entirely at her service; my heart beat
fast with joy, for I thought that the two sisters were going away at
last. But the younger said, as she drew her cloak about her:

"Oh! we have time enough; it isn't three o'clock. Your people won't come
so early; we don't dine at three!"

"But they are provincials, my dear, and they think it's more polite to
come and bore us two hours ahead of time."

"So much the worse for them! I am going to stay here until my watch says
three o'clock."

"Obstinate!--You see, monsieur, she is younger than I am, and I always
have to give way to her."

I was strongly tempted to reply that she did very wrong to give way. But
I contented myself with tearing savagely at whatever I found in my
pocket. There are times when one vents one's spleen on whatever happens
to be at hand.

Suddenly we heard sounds of a dispute; the sounds drew nearer and came
to a standstill about ten yards behind us, and a man's voice, which,
although a little hoarse, rang out like a clarinet, cried:

"I tell you, you shan't go off like that! I've been looking for you long
enough. It ain't an easy job to run you to earth; but I've got you now,
and I'll hang on to you!"

"Come, come, no nonsense, Père Piaulard!" replied another voice; "you
shouldn't insult a friend. I'm a friend, and you're a friend; you're an
old friend, an old fellow I respect. Don't shake me like that! _Cré
coquin!_ I don't like to be shook!"

The tones of this second voice struck me as familiar; I could not say at
once of whom they reminded me, yet I was conscious of a vague feeling of
alarm, of apprehension; I listened anxiously for what was to come.

The clarinet-like voice continued, more forcibly than before:

"Friends has nothing to do with it! Customers is all I know. You owe me
money, and you've got to pay me; the last time you came to my place to
drink with your girl, you didn't so much as ask my leave not to pay, but
skulked off with your good-for-nothing slut through the back door, while
the waiter was busy somewheres else."

"As I hadn't any money, what would have been the sense of my asking
leave not to pay? Would that have put any _stuff_ in my pockets?"

"When you haven't got anything to pay with, you shouldn't go and drink
at a place where you owe twenty-two francs already."

"Well, that's a good one! I owe you money, and you want me to take away
my custom, eh? Why, your wits are wool gathering just now, old
Piaulard."

"A fine thing your custom is! Monsieur Ballangier's custom! My word!
You're the kind of customer that ruins a place!"

I could doubt no longer: the name of Ballangier rang in my ears; indeed,
I had already recognized the man; my face was flushed with shame, and my
heart stood still. I dared not stir, or turn my head. I longed to be a
hundred miles away. If I could have made my escape unseen by that man, I
would have fled without a word. But he would probably see me. What was I
to do? How could I hide from him?

All these thoughts passed through my mind at the same instant. The
ladies spoke to me, but I did not reply; I had no idea what I was
saying. Doubtless my perturbation was reflected on my face, for
Armantine cried:

"What on earth is the matter with you, Monsieur Rochebrune? You seem to
be in pain; aren't you well?"

I stammered something, but I was listening--listening intently. It
seemed to me that the voices came still nearer.

"Come now, Père Piaulard, let alone of my coat! it's old, and you'll
tear it."

"I won't let you go. Pay me what you owe me; with the old account, it's
twenty-nine francs. I need the money; pay me, or come before the
magistrate; he'll have you arrested as a good-for-nothing, a tramp, a
vagabond, as you are--and something worse, perhaps."

"I say! no rough words, or I'll lose my temper, too!"

"Mon Dieu!" said Madame Gerbancourt; "are those horrid men coming any
nearer?"

"One of them is very drunk!" said Armantine. "How disgusting! Why, the
men ought to be arrested! If we hadn't Monsieur Rochebrune with us, I
should have run away long ago."

"Oh! mon Dieu! I believe they're going to fight; and they're coming this
way!"

"Oh! look, monsieur!"

I did not turn my head; I pretended not to hear, pulled my hat over my
eyes, and sat perfectly still.

Suddenly all three of the ladies jumped to their feet with a cry of
alarm. Armantine seized my arm, so that I was compelled to rise.
Ballangier, trying to escape from his persecutor, had almost fallen over
our chairs, to one of which he clung to keep from falling. The wretch
was drunk, but not enough so to prevent his recognizing familiar faces;
and the fatality which had brought him to that exact spot decreed that
he should be at my side when I rose to follow the ladies.

The miserable sot uttered a cry of joy on recognizing me, and, seizing
my overcoat with both hands just as his creditor descended upon him, he
cried:

"Stop, Piaulard! you may go to the devil now! Here's a friend who'll
answer for me--pay for me if necessary. Ah! he has the _stuff_, he has;
and I forbid you to call me a thief before him; if you do, I'll have a
crack at you in my turn--ugly mug!"

I stood as if petrified. I had not the strength to move a muscle. The
great colossus, who was on the point of striking Ballangier, paused in
amazement, and stared at me with the expression of one who cannot
believe his ears. As for the ladies, they continued to pull me by the
arm.

"For heaven's sake, push that man away!"

"Do come, Monsieur Rochebrune!"

"That drunkard takes you for a friend of his; drive him away, do! Come!
let's not stay here. Oh! it's horrible to come in contact with such
people!"

But I was incapable alike of speech and action. Moreover, Ballangier did
not relax his grasp on my coat.

"Drive me away!" he cried; "me--his friend--the most intimate friend
he's got in the world! I think I see him driving me away, good old
Charles! Charlot--Rochebrune, if you like that better. Ah! you think I'm
mistaken, do you? you think I don't know him? Just ask him if he don't
know me; ask him, and see what he says. Piaulard, you're an old ass! I'm
not a vagabond and a tramp, for I've got friends to answer for
me.--You'll answer for me, won't you, Charles? you won't let this old
rascal arrest me?"

Since Ballangier had mentioned my name, and I, by my silence, had
admitted that he was not lying when he said that he knew me, Madame
Gerbancourt, her sister, and even Armantine herself, had dropped my arm;
and, as a crowd soon collected about us, the first two speedily
disappeared, and were lost in the multitude. Armantine also walked away,
but I could see that she was still listening.

"If it's true that monsieur knows you, and if he chooses to pay your
bill," said tall Piaulard, walking toward me, "that makes a difference,
and things can be settled without a row."

I realized at that moment all the falseness and absurdity of my
position; I realized also how foolish it is to be afraid of prejudice
and the opinion of gossips. Passing abruptly from shame to anger, I
extricated myself roughly from Ballangier's grasp, and, seizing him by
the collar, shook him violently.

"Yes, I am unfortunate enough to know you!" I cried; "twenty times I
have helped you, rescued you from want; but that gives you no right to
make demands on me in a public place, when you are drunk. I will do
nothing more for you, you wretch! And I forbid you ever to speak to me
again!"

Excited by anger and disgust, I pushed Ballangier so violently that he
fell with a crash among the chairs, at some distance. The crowd, always
easily swayed in favor of the man who makes the most noise, began to
laugh when the drunken man fell. I heard Monsieur Piaulard's voice
threatening his debtor anew, but I was no longer disturbed by that; I
had recovered my courage. I pushed my way through the crowd and looked
about for Armantine; but the first person I saw was Madame Dauberny,
standing in a group of people a few steps away. She seemed to be
inquiring what had happened. I paid no attention to Frédérique; it was
Madame Sordeville whom I was looking for. I walked on, and ere long I
was at a distance from the crowd and from the spot where that sickening
scene had taken place. I spied a woman, alone, and walking very fast. It
was Armantine. I ran after her, overtook her, and detained her.

"Ah! I have found you out at last!" I cried.

She turned and looked at me. Her expression was cold, and her manner
almost impertinent; she stared at me a moment as if she did not know me,
but concluded at last to answer:

"Ah! is it you, monsieur? How is it that you didn't stay with
your--intimate friend?"

"Oh! I trust, madame, that you do not suppose that I associate with that
wretch! There are some things, circumstances, which appear very odd,
very strange at first sight, but which can easily be explained!"

"But I beg you to believe, monsieur, that I do not desire any
explanation; you are entirely at liberty to select your friends in
whatever social rank you choose."

"How strangely you speak to me, madame! What a manner! What icy
coldness! What a change in your demeanor!"

"Oh! you are mistaken, monsieur; I assure you that my manners are the
same as always. To be sure, they may, perhaps, differ a little from
those of the people you associate with. But, excuse me, monsieur, I
cannot stand here any longer, and I am not going in the same direction
that you are."

"What! you are going to leave me!"

"Adieu, monsieur!--By the way, I must tell you that I do not receive any
more. We have ceased to have our evenings at home."

She gave me a disdainful nod, and, without listening to my efforts to
detain her, walked away so rapidly that I soon lost sight of her.

I was stupefied; that woman's conduct seemed to me so outrageous, so
insulting, that it was some time before I could believe in its reality.
It seemed to me that I must have been dreaming. For a moment, I was
tempted to run after her; but I had enough control over myself to
understand that it would be weak and cowardly to make any further
attempt to speak to a woman who had treated me with such contempt. And I
had believed that she loved me! Ah! how I had fooled myself! Because a
drunken man in cap and blouse had called me his friend, because I had
admitted that I knew him, I became a compromising personage, and she
could no longer afford to see me or speak to me! she had even given me
to understand that she did not propose to receive me at her own house!
and all that, without listening to what I might have to say, without
finding out whether I could or could not explain that unpleasant
adventure. Ah, madame! I thought that you had a heart; I found that I
was mistaken, that you had a mind only; and that is a very barren mind
in which no trace of sentiment can ever be detected.

I stood a long while on the same spot, absorbed in my thoughts. But the
throng had largely disappeared, and the Champs-Élysées was becoming
deserted; snowflakes falling on my face explained the sudden change. The
weather was no longer the same; the radiant sun was obscured by clouds,
which, with the snow, gave a totally different aspect to the scene.

"Well!" I said to myself, as I walked slowly away, "nothing is constant,
in the heavens or on earth! We must submit to the storms of the heart,
as to those of nature."

As I retraced my steps toward the scene of that unfortunate meeting, I
remembered the paroxysm of anger to which I had given way; and now that
I was once more able to reflect, I was stirred by a feeling of regret
and pity when I thought how violently I had thrown to the ground the
poor wretch who sought my assistance. I knew that his conduct was most
reprehensible, that he had abused my kindness a hundred times; but to
spurn him, to throw him into the dust! Was it possible that I had really
treated him so? That woman's presence, my anger, my humiliated
self-esteem, had led my reason astray. What could have become of the
poor fellow? He had fallen at my feet without attempting to defend
himself, without a complaint; and it seemed to me that I had read only
surprise and grief in his eyes, instead of anger. If that other man had
had him arrested!--and that seemed to be his intention, for I had not
thought of giving him what Ballangier owed him, and that was the first
thing that I should have done. How could I find out how the episode had
ended?

I looked about; I recognized the place where I was sitting with the
three ladies, but there was no one there. The snow had put all the
idlers to flight. The people who passed walked rapidly, with their heads
down; there were no hucksters, no itinerant singers, nobody to whom I
could apply for information. I walked on, but had not taken thirty steps
when I saw a man leaning against a large tree, apparently unconscious of
the snow that covered his cap and blouse. He stood quite still, but his
eyes were turned in my direction. I walked toward him: it was
Ballangier.

He looked at me with a shamefaced, timid expression; when he saw me
walking sadly toward him, I fancied that tears glistened in the eyes
which no longer dared to meet mine; and when I stood beside him, and was
on the point of apologizing for pushing him away so roughly, he fell at
my feet, on the snow, and humbly begged my pardon for speaking to me
when I was with friends.

Ah! I was no longer angry with him; I made haste to raise him, and shook
him by the hand. I believe that my eyes too were moist.

"You forgive me, then?" murmured Ballangier. "I was drunk, you see; I
had been drinking; if it hadn't been for that, I wouldn't have spoken to
you. I should have remembered that one time a scene almost like this
broke off a marriage you had in view.--But you punished me, and you did
right; I deserved it. Still, you know, I am little used to such lessons
from you. _Dame!_ when you threw me down, that sobered me off in an
instant. You were in such a rage with me--and you've always been so
good-natured before. But you did well; yes, you did well to treat me
like that, for it shook me all up. I realized that I was a great scamp,
a miserable wretch; that I was always on hand to do you a bad turn, to
put you to shame; although I didn't say--no, it don't make any
difference how drunk I may be, I'll never say that thing. But I promise
you that this will be the last. You'll never have any reason to complain
of me again."

"I believe you, Ballangier, I believe you! But your conduct is no excuse
for mine. I ought not to have treated you harshly, as I did just now.
You were drunk, and I should have taken pity on your condition. When I
think that I pushed you so roughly that you fell, I am terribly angry
with myself. Come, give me your hand again, and forgive me for throwing
you down."

Ballangier took my hands and effusively pressed them in his, while great
tears fell from his eyes and he muttered:

"He asks me to forgive him, after all the mean tricks I've played on
him! Oh! you're too good to me, Charles; you ought to beat me--yes, beat
me like an old carpet; for I cheated you also about going to Besançon.
It is true that I had had a letter from Morillot--you saw the letter,
you know; but when you gave me four hundred francs for the journey, I
didn't go as I had promised you! I allowed myself to be led away by some
of those villainous loafers whom we are foolish enough to call
_friends_, when we ought rather to call them _enemies_. What sort of
friends are they who can do nothing but drink and carouse and raise the
devil in wine shops, who pass their lives in idleness and make sport of
steady, hard-working mechanics, and who never cease trying to make us do
all sorts of foolish things, so that we may end by being as worthless as
they are? With friends like that, a man ought to smash their ribs the
first time they give him bad advice; I'm sure that would lessen the
number of vagrants that are taken to the Préfecture every week. But
that's all over; I'll take my oath, Charles, by all that's holy, that
it's all over this time! You won't be obliged again to--push me, as you
did just now."

"I believe you, Ballangier; let us forget all that. But tell me--how did
you succeed in getting rid of your creditor?"

"Piaulard? Oh, yes! now you remind me of it, it is strange; for I didn't
pay him. Well, after you threw me on the ground, where I lay for some
time, all dazed like--not that I was hurt at all, but I was dazed by the
effect I felt inside of me; I can't describe it--at last I got up, and
found everybody had gone, Piaulard with the rest, for I didn't see him
again. It's a strange thing, sure enough. I stayed a long while right in
the same place, like a dazed man; I don't know what I was thinking
about--that is to say, I was looking for you; I was determined to see
you and ask your pardon.--Ah! now I remember--a lady came and spoke to
me."

"A lady?"

"Yes, yes! Why, I forgot all about her!"

"What was her appearance? Try to remember; draw her portrait for me."

"She was dressed in style, and I think she was rather tall; as for her
face, I didn't pay any attention to it. I was still looking for you; I
was like a madman; I didn't know what I was doing, but I was calling
your name, and I think I was weeping too."

"But what did this lady say? what did she want of you?"

"Wait a minute; I don't just remember what she said. She tried to
comfort me, and then--yes, I think she offered me money."

"Money?"

"Yes. I don't know what for, but she said: 'Take this;' and then, faith!
I don't know what else she said. All I know is that I told her to let me
alone; she interfered with my looking for you. When she saw that I
wouldn't answer her, she left me."

"And you didn't take her money?"

"Oh, no! indeed I didn't!"

"That was right, Ballangier; you did right to refuse. Didn't she say
anything else to you?"

"Mon Dieu! I didn't listen to her at all. I was looking all the time to
see if I could see you pass, and I just said to her: 'Oh! let me look
for Charles; you prevent my finding him!'--And she went off."

"Poor fellow! Here, take this; pay your creditor--you owe him
twenty-nine francs, I believe--that is, if someone hasn't already taken
it upon herself to pay him, as I am inclined to think."

"Someone? Nonsense! who could it be?"

"A person whom you don't know, but I do. However, you must look up this
Piaulard, and find out about it. Then go to work, straighten yourself
out, make yourself a good workman, and come to see me if you need my
help."

"Ah! Charles, I don't deserve to have you make any more sacrifices for
me; I am forever annoying and distressing you! Keep the money; I must
learn to earn my living at last."

"You will succeed, as soon as you have sincerely made up your mind to do
it, I don't doubt. But, meanwhile, I want you to pay your debts and not
be left without anything. So, take this; I insist upon it! If by means
of your work you should become rich, and I should need to be helped, I
would accept without blushing what you offered me."

"What you say puts some heart and courage into me," cried Ballangier,
grasping my hand as he spoke. "Help you some day! _Cré coquin!_ I should
be a proud and happy man then!"

Luckily, my purse was well filled, for I had come out with anticipations
of an intrigue. I put eighty francs in Ballangier's hand. The money had
been intended for another purpose; but I began to think that it was
better employed so.

I said adieu to Ballangier, who reiterated his oath to turn over a new
leaf, and I went home.

I had an idea that it was Madame Dauberny who had paid Piaulard and
offered money to Ballangier. Why did she do it? A strange woman that,
whom I would have liked right well to understand.



XXX

CONFIDENCE IS OF SLOW GROWTH


Madame Sordeville's behavior after my encounter with Ballangier left me
in a morose and melancholy humor, which I was unable to overcome for
several days. I would have been glad to see Madame Dauberny, to divert
my thoughts. If, while losing my hold upon a pretty woman, I had found a
sincere friend, I certainly should not have lost by the exchange. But
how was I to see Frédérique? Where could I meet her? Surely I could not
go to her house! Strangely enough, I had succeeded in closing the doors
of both those ladies; and what had I done to bring about that result?
After all, I had no proof that it was Frédérique who had paid Monsieur
Piaulard. To write to her on that subject would be a great blunder, even
if I were not mistaken; so I concluded to wait until chance should bring
us together.

One morning Pomponne appeared, with the mysterious air which he deemed
it fitting to assume, even when he brought me my coat. He leaned over me
and said in a low tone:

"Monsieur, that woman who came here some time ago, with something in her
apron that I couldn't see--she is outside; she wants to know if she can
speak to monsieur."

"What woman? I don't know what you're talking about."

"She said: 'Ask your master if he will see Madame Potrelle.'"

"Madame Potrelle! Idiot! why didn't you tell me her name at once?
Certainly I will see her; show her in."

Pomponne seemed sorely perplexed; but he went to the door and said:

"You may come in, Madame Potrelle!"

The concierge from Rue Ménilmontant made her appearance, courtesying
profusely. She had her apron rolled up against her breast as before;
which fact led me to think that she had again taken the opportunity to
give one of her cats a little outing.

I motioned to Monsieur Pomponne to withdraw; which he did regretfully,
after a piercing glance at the concierge's apron.

"Excuse me for disturbing you, monsieur," said Madame Potrelle,
unrolling her apron, in which, instead of a cat, I discovered several
waistcoats and remnants of material. "I've brought back the work you
gave my young tenant; it's been done more'n three weeks now; and, you
see, when I found you didn't come again---- Do you know it's more'n two
months since you sent Madame Landernoy this work?"

"What? is it really so long as that, Madame Potrelle? I am too negligent
altogether. But I have had many things on my mind since, and I may as
well admit frankly that I had forgotten my waistcoats."

"Oh! you needn't make any apologies for that, monsieur. _Pardi!_ a young
man in society must enjoy himself; that's easy to understand. And then,
you know, as a usual thing, the seamstresses carry the work back to
their customers--the customers don't go after it. That's why I says to
our young mother this morning----"

"First of all, how is she? how is the child coming on?"

"Very well, monsieur; little Marie's rather delicate; she's slight, like
her mother; but she's growing like a little mushroom. As for Madame
Landernoy--you know, you saw her before the baby was born; well, you
wouldn't know her to-day. Her cheeks and lips are red again, and her
figure's slender and her eyes clear. Oh! she's mighty pretty now, I tell
you!"

"So much the better, I am sure!"

"Well, no, monsieur; it ain't so much the better! in fact, she don't
like to have people call her pretty."

"Why so, Madame Potrelle? I shall never believe that a woman is sorry to
be attractive."

"Well, that's the way it is with her, monsieur; because, since she's got
to be so fresh and pretty, it's begun all over again."

"What has begun again?"

"Oh! mon Dieu! the young popinjays running after her."

"When a woman doesn't answer the men who follow her, they soon leave her
in peace."

"Sometimes, monsieur, sometimes. But some of 'em stick like leeches.
Still, as you say, she don't answer 'em, and when they come and apply to
me, as a middle-aged man did not long ago--you ought to see how I stand
'em off! He offered me ten francs, the blackguard, to let him go
upstairs and say two words to Madame Landernoy; he was sure she wouldn't
be sorry to have him come; he had a pretty proposal to make to her.
'Monsieur,' says I, standing on my footwarmer to make myself more
imposing, 'you take that young woman for what she ain't; and if you
don't clear out this minute, I'll throw two cats at your head.' He saw
that I had Bribri in one hand and his brother in the other, and he
didn't ask for his change. He ran, and I guess he's running still."

"Very well done, Madame Potrelle! I see that your cats may serve a
useful purpose on occasion."

"My cats! Why, monsieur, there's Mahon, the oldest one--he's every bit
as good as a Newfoundland."

"Did the man you speak of come again?"

"Never. As you said, you can sweep out such fellows as that very quick.
But about a week ago, the poor woman came into the house in a terrible
fright, trembling all over. She rushed into my place, and said: 'Protect
me! don't let him come in here, or I am lost!"

"Mon Dieu! whom had she seen? Her seducer, probably; that wretch who
treated her so horribly!"

"I don't think it was him; for his name's Ernest, and that wasn't the
name she said. 'He dares to pursue me again, the monster!'--Anyway, she
had a terrible scare, for she hasn't dared to put her foot outdoors
since that day."

"And she said nothing else?"

"No, monsieur; when I tried to ask her what had scared her so, she said:
'Oh! don't say anything more about it, Madame Potrelle; he's a villain
who did me a great injury; but you mustn't let anybody come up to my
room, and I shan't go out again for some time.'--Now, monsieur, I'm
coming back to your waistcoats. As I have a shrewd knack of guessing
when the waters are low--that is to say, when money is scarce, without
being told, I says this morning to our young mother, while she was
dandling the little girl on her lap: 'But,' I says,'you have some work
here that you finished long ago: Monsieur Rochebrune's waistcoats.'--I
took the liberty of mentioning your name, monsieur, because I know it
from you giving me your address; and you didn't say anything about
keeping it secret."

"No, Madame Potrelle; I told you that I had no reason for concealing my
name, for I have no evil designs. Go on."

"'The waistcoats are done, that's true,' says Madame Landernoy, 'but I
don't know if the gentleman will be satisfied. I did my very best; but
as he don't come to get them----' 'Well,' I says, 'as he don't come to
get them, why shouldn't we take 'em to him? It seems to me, that would
be more polite, for he's rather a dandy, and he wouldn't want to carry a
bundle.'--'Perhaps you're right,'she says, thoughtful like; 'but one
thing's certain; I won't go to that gentleman's house.'--Do you see?
she's still afraid--yes, she's still afraid of you! In spite of all I
could say about you, she couldn't believe you would take an interest in
her without some motive. You mustn't be angry, monsieur, for, as the
proverb says: 'A burnt child dreads the fire.'"

"It doesn't anger me at all, Madame Potrelle; the better one knows the
world, the more fully one realizes how hard it is to inspire confidence.
That is sad, like almost all truths."

"So, then, monsieur, I offered to bring you the waistcoats; she was more
than willing, and here I am. If monsieur wants to examine the
work--here's the pattern."

I looked at what the woman had brought me, and was perfectly amazed at
the exquisite quality of the work. I had intended the waistcoats for my
servant; but they were as fine as if they had come from one of our most
famous tailors.

"The buttonholes are pretty well made, seems to me," said the concierge;
"but perhaps monsieur don't agree with me?"

"Indeed I do, Madame Potrelle; and I can't understand how that young
woman can have succeeded so well with work that she isn't accustomed
to."

"Oh! _dame!_ it's because she was bound to satisfy monsieur. Now, you
must see if they fit you all right."

I tried on the waistcoats; we were compelled to admit that there was a
defect in the way they were cut; they gaped apart at the top. The poor
concierge walked round and round me, crying:

"I'm sure it's a small matter, just a little bit to be taken in
somewhere; but we must find out where. If our young woman could see 'em
on you, I'll bet she'd know in a minute what needs to be done."

"I should be very glad to go to her room and try them on; but she's so
afraid of me! No matter! I'll keep them as they are."

"No, monsieur, no; I don't propose to have her send you work that ain't
done right; you pay too well."

"By the way, how much do I owe for these?"

"I don't know, monsieur. Madame Landernoy's never made any before; so
she says: 'Let the gentleman pay what he thinks they're worth, and I'll
be satisfied.'"

"Four waistcoats, at twelve francs each, makes forty-eight francs."

"Oh! monsieur is joking! Twelve francs for making a waistcoat! You can't
mean that, monsieur! At that rate, all women would be waistcoat makers;
they can't get any such pay as that."

"You weary me with your scruples, Madame Potrelle; my tailor charges me
eighteen or twenty francs, sometimes more, for a waistcoat. With what I
paid for the material, these won't cost any more than that, and I
certainly don't propose to get them any cheaper."

"Sapristi! monsieur, tailors must do mighty well, then! All right, you
can pay that price, since that suits you; but, I tell you, I won't take
the money till they fit."

Thereupon the concierge walked toward the door.

"Where are you going, Madame Potrelle?"

"I'm going to tell our young woman she must fix over your waistcoats,
monsieur; that they're a gold mine, but that she's got to take 'em in a
little. In a word, I'm going to bring Madame Landernoy back with me.
What the devil! with me here, she won't be afraid of you eating her, I
fancy! To be on your guard is all right; but there's no need of making a
fool of yourself! I'll be back, monsieur."

"But your door, Madame Potrelle?"

"My cats are there--and my little niece."

The good woman went away, refusing to listen to my remonstrances. Would
she bring Mignonne back with her? I most sincerely hoped that the young
woman would not be annoyed thereat. My desire to know her better was due
solely to my wish to be of use to her. I was not in love with her.
Indeed, since Madame Sordeville had treated me so shamefully, I did not
propose to love any woman. That was my intention, at least.

Madame Potrelle had been gone nearly two hours, and I was preparing to
go out, thinking that she would not return, when there came a gentle
ring at my door, and Pomponne soon appeared, still with his air of
mystery and walking on tiptoe, and said:

"Monsieur, it's the old woman who was here just now; she hasn't got
anything in her apron this time, but she's brought with her a young
woman--or demoiselle--who is very good-looking."

I could not help laughing at Monsieur Pomponne's reflections; but I
remembered Mignonne's extreme suspicion. It was essential that I should
assume a serious bearing, to banish from her mind any thought of
seduction. So that my expression was almost stern when I ordered
Pomponne to admit my visitors.

Madame Potrelle entered first. Mignonne came behind her, with a timid,
embarrassed air, in which one could read a serious and studied reserve.
The concierge had not exaggerated when she said that her tenant had
become a lovely woman. It was a long time since I had seen Mignonne, and
I am not sure that I should have recognized her. She was remarkable for
the refinement of her features, for the beauty of her coloring, which
was not red, but a delicate pink, perfectly in harmony with her white
skin; for her fair hair, which was neither colorless nor of too
pronounced a tone; and, lastly, for the genuine _blueness_ of her
eyes--a thing that is seldom seen, for most eyes that are called blue
are of any color you please except that.

And then, there was in Mignonne's whole aspect a touch of melancholy
that made her doubly interesting, because it was in no wise affected; it
seemed to me that everyone must, at sight of her, have a feeling of
sympathy for her. Perhaps it was because I was acquainted with her
misfortunes that I thought so. This much is certain: that, as I looked
upon her, I was touched, deeply moved, and that in my feelings there was
nothing resembling love, or the desires to which the sight of a pretty
girl often gives birth. There was a large element of respect in the
interest that she aroused in me.

"Excuse me, monsieur," said Madame Potrelle, pushing Mignonne in front
of her. "Here's Madame Landernoy; I told her there was something to be
done to your waistcoats, with which you are well satisfied, all the
same."

"I regret the trouble you have taken, madame. However, it affords me the
opportunity of congratulating you on the perfection of your work. I was
fortunate in having you consent to work for me."

I said this in a very cold tone and without fixing my eyes on Mignonne,
who seemed to grow a little bolder and replied:

"But your waistcoats don't fit, monsieur----"

"Oh! I think that it's a very small matter; you are not a tailor, and,
of course, you could not succeed in doing everything just right at the
first trial; but if you will allow me to try on one of them in your
presence----"

"_Pardi!_ of course you must try 'em on," cried the concierge; "there's
no other way to see what's wrong! and, after all, a waistcoat's
different from a pair of breeches!"

Mignonne lowered her eyes at Madame Potrelle's remark. I removed my coat
and put on one of the waistcoats. Mignonne had no choice but to come to
me and touch my chest and back, like a tailor taking my measure. But
while she was making her examination, I was careful not to look at her
once; so that she was somewhat reassured.

"I see what needs to be done, monsieur: the collar is too low; it's not
much to do, and then I think they'll fit very well. I will take them
away with me, and to-morrow----"

She hesitated, and I made haste to say:

"I shall not be here to-morrow, but that makes no difference; if you
bring the waistcoats back, be good enough to leave them with the
concierge; you need not take the trouble to come up."

"Yes, monsieur," she murmured, almost smiling, for she was beginning to
feel altogether at her ease. Madame Potrelle looked at her with a
triumphant expression.

I offered Mignonne the money that I owed her. She looked at it and said:

"What, monsieur, as much as that--for so little work? It's too much,
monsieur!"

"Madame," I said, rather sharply, "I have told Madame Potrelle what I
have to pay my tailor for a waistcoat. I do not intend to make you a
present; but, on the other hand, I don't propose to have anyone think
that I am trying to defraud a poor seamstress."

"Don't you go to work and make monsieur angry!" cried the concierge. "As
he's in the habit of paying that price, what's the use of vexing him and
putting him in a bad humor? you mustn't go against people's grain like
that!"

Mignonne said nothing; but she took the money I offered, and made a very
modest courtesy. For the first time she looked at me without a
suspicious expression in her eyes.

"Now," I said, "will you allow me to make you a proposition, madame? You
may accept it or not, as you think best. But, first of all, pray be
seated for a moment; and you too, Madame Potrelle."

The concierge did not wait to be urged. The younger woman made more ado
about it; her suspicions were reawakened. She waited to hear what I had
to say.

"I am a bachelor; I have none of the kind-hearted female relations, no
aunts or cousins, who condescend sometimes to cast an eye over a young
man's linen closet, where there is always something that needs mending.
Our clothes especially are sadly neglected; indeed, no care at all is
taken of them. The result is that we spend much more money than we need
to spend, which would not happen if some trustworthy person, some
skilful seamstress, like yourself, madame, would take charge of affairs.
This, then, is my proposition: that you should come once a week--with
Madame Potrelle--and inspect this chest of drawers in which my linen is
kept; carry away what may need to be mended, and bring it back when it
is done; in short, madame, that you should keep this part of my
establishment in order. If you are afraid of disturbing me, or of
finding company here, come about five o'clock in the afternoon, for I am
never at home at that time; the keys are always in these drawers, and my
servant will have orders to allow you to do as you please. That is what
I propose, madame. As for your compensation for the work, I fancy that
we shall have no difficulty on that subject."

Mignonne listened to me with close attention. Madame Potrelle was in
ecstasies; she could hardly keep her seat, and did nothing but cross and
uncross her legs. At last, after reflection, the young woman replied:

"Really, monsieur, I do not know how I have earned the confidence with
which you honor me. What you propose is a new proof of your kindness,
and----"

"No, no, madame; pray consider that, by undertaking this work, you will
do me a real service; you will bring order, and consequently economy,
into my housekeeping. So you see that I shall be your debtor. Well! do
you accept?"

"Does she accept!" cried Madame Potrelle, springing up as if she were
going to dance. "Why, who ever heard of refusing such an offer as that?
a thing that makes her sure of regular work; especially when she sees
that it's for a gentleman who--for someone who hasn't any desire
to--why, it's as plain as can be!"

"Yes, monsieur, I accept, and with gratitude," said Mignonne; "for I
have a child, and by giving the mother assurance of a living you benefit
the child no less."

I would have liked to shake hands with her; but I restrained myself, and
replied, with the same indifferent air:

"In that case, madame, it is all settled, and it rests with you to say
when you will enter upon your duties. You will have work enough, I
promise you, for it's a long time since my belongings have been put in
order."

"Then, monsieur, as I have nothing to do just now, I'll carry a bundle
of linen home with me, by your leave. I'll look it over at home, for I
have left my daughter with a neighbor, and I don't like to abuse her
good nature."

"That's so," said the concierge; "and I ain't very easy in my mind about
the actions of my twins and their sister."

"Do as you please, madame. Just open those drawers; you will find the
bed and table linen in this closet."

Mignonne opened one of the drawers in the commode, and hastily made up a
bundle, which she wrapped carefully in a handkerchief. She was still
engaged in that occupation, when I heard my doorbell, and a moment later
a familiar voice in the reception room.

"There's no need of announcing me, my boy; I'll go right in without
ceremony. A doctor may always go in."

At the same instant, the bedroom door opened and Balloquet appeared.

"Bonjour, my dear fellow!" he said; "I beg your pardon; I interrupt you,
perhaps. But if I intrude, tell me so, and I'll go away."

I had just taken Balloquet's hand, and told him to remain, when
Mignonne, who had made haste to tie up her bundle, and was about to
leave the room with Madame Potrelle, glanced at the new-comer and
suddenly changed color; then, trembling with agitation, she threw her
bundle on the floor, seized the old woman's arm, and cried:

"Come, come, madame! Let us go at once; I can't stay here another
minute! Oh! it's shameful! It was a trap!"

"Well, well! what makes you throw all that linen on the floor? Why don't
you carry it away?" murmured the old woman, aghast at Mignonne's action.

"I won't take the work. I refuse it! I'll never come here again, never!
never! Come, madame! let us go at once!"

As she spoke, the young woman ran to the door and went out, refusing to
listen to what her companion said; and she, utterly unable to understand
what she saw, decided to follow her, crying:

"What on earth's the matter with her? What's got into her? Refuse work,
when she needs it! Refuse the offers of an honorable man, who wishes her
nothing but good! Faith! it's sickening! Much good it does to take an
interest in folks! Excuse me, monsieur, I must follow her; but she's got
to explain all this. Excuse her, monsieur; it's some crazy idea she's
got in her head. Mon Dieu! mon Dieu! to refuse a gentleman like
monsieur--there's no sense in it!"

The concierge left the room at last. As for myself, I was so
thunderstruck by Mignonne's conduct that it had not occurred to me to
ask her for an explanation.

Balloquet, meanwhile, had remained standing in the middle of the room,
looking from one to another, unable to understand what was taking place.

"Well! what in the deuce is going on here, my dear fellow?" said the
young doctor, when Madame Potrelle had disappeared. "Can it be that my
arrival caused all this hurly-burly and put that young woman to flight?
She seemed to be a very attractive person--not the one who went out
last, but the other. I didn't have time for a good look at her, but she
struck me as rather _chicolo_."

"You didn't recognize her, then, Balloquet?"

"Recognize her? Why, do I know her? I have no remembrance of ever seeing
her."

"Ah! I see, I see; I understand it all now."

"You are very lucky, for I don't understand a word of it."

I remembered that Balloquet had been Fouvenard's friend, and it was
probable that Mignonne had met him when she was with her seducer; and
so, when she saw a man come into my room whom she had seen with him who
had deceived her so shamefully, she concluded, doubtless, that I too was
a friend of Fouvenard. That being so, was it surprising that her
suspicions and her terror should have returned, and that she should have
refused to work for me? Poor girl! I had succeeded in winning her
confidence, and this accident had destroyed all that I had had so much
difficulty in obtaining. It seemed that, with the best intentions, I was
fated always to remain an object of terror to her.

I kept my reflections to myself; I deemed it unnecessary to tell
Balloquet that the young woman he had found in my room was she whose
shame Monsieur Fouvenard had not hesitated to proclaim. My visitor was
still standing in the middle of the room, and he cried at last,
irritated by my silence:

"Evidently I came at an inopportune moment. Excuse me. I'll come again."

But I detained him and made him sit down.

"No; you could never guess---- But let us say no more about this
incident.--You seem in better spirits, my dear Balloquet?"

"Oh! my feathers are coming out again; not enough to pay you, but that
may come in time."

"For heaven's sake, don't talk about that!"

"I have seen Satiné, my sweetheart, again. She has gone into another
invention now--still in the glove line, however. She cleanses gloves;
she has invented, or someone has given her, a secret for cleansing them;
and as gloves get soiled very quickly and are rather expensive, there's
a lot of money to be made in cleansing."

"True; but I thought the process was already known."

"Yes, it is possible to have gloves cleansed; that's so; but when they
had been through the process they smelt of the cleansing
liquid--turpentine, or something else. You went into a salon and
swaggered about, playing the dandy, and people said as soon as you came
near: 'Ah! here's a man whose gloves have been cleansed!'--That was
annoying, you must admit. It took fifty per cent off your costume. Some
people concluded at once that your coat had been turned and your
trousers dyed, that your waistcoat was second-hand, etcetera, etcetera.
Conjectures went a long way, sometimes."

"And your charmer has found a way of avoiding that?"

"Yes--that is to say, not altogether; gloves cleansed by her process
have an extremely pleasant odor; they smell of rose; oh! you can smell
them a mile away; it's amazing! You go into a salon, and people think
that the Grand Turk and his whole harem have arrived; they can't smell
anything but you."

"But that may have the same drawbacks as the other process, my dear
fellow. People will wonder why you smell so strongly of rose."

"Yes; but when I arrive, I shall begin by saying: 'I adore the odor of
rose! I have lately bought some essence of rose, so strong that all my
clothes are perfumed with it'--In that way, I avert suspicion from my
gloves. However, it seems that the new process is a success. My
sentimental Satiné is in funds; the odor of rose is popular. For my
part, I have had a few patients--among others, a rich old gentleman with
whom I am very well satisfied; he has had an inflammation of the lungs
for six weeks, and it doesn't seem inclined to subside. I keep it up by
means of fumigations. I have paid three creditors already with that
inflammation. To-day, as I happened to be in your neighborhood, I said
to myself: 'I may as well call on Rochebrune and give him my address;'
for I have an address for the moment. Cité Vindé, No. 4, _ter_ or _bis_.
But I'm very sorry that I put that young woman to flight. Have I such a
very terrifying aspect? I haven't any moustache."

"I repeat, Balloquet, don't think any more of that incident. You could
not have foreseen what happened.--But tell me about that girl who came
to consult you while I was in your room; you remember, don't you? the
girl who had been so maltreated by a miserable blackguard!"

Balloquet passed his hand across his brow and his face became almost
serious--a rare occurrence.

"Yes, I remember; you mean Annette?"

"Annette--that was the name. You went to see her, didn't you?"

"Yes, I visited her nearly two months."

"And then?"

"And then happened what I had anticipated from the very first: she
died."

"Died! Great God! you could not save her?"

"It was impossible. All that I could do was to relieve her suffering as
much as possible. Poor girl! she suffered too much, even then. A cancer
developed, you understand, at that place. I say again, I deadened the
pain as much as I could, but it was impossible to save her."

"It is perfectly ghastly. So the unfortunate child was tortured--yes,
murdered by that---- Oh! the infernal scoundrel! the monster!"

"Yes, it was that Bouqueton who caused the poor girl's death; I am ready
to testify to it, if necessary. But you told me, I believe, that you
know the villain?"

"I don't know him, but I know who he is."

"Well, is there no way of avenging the poor creature, of punishing her
assassin?--for the man is an assassin, and a hundred times more criminal
than those who ply their trade openly on the highroad. If we prosecuted
him before the courts, we should have no chance of proving his crime, I
fancy. The victim is dead, and there is no evidence. I asked her several
times if she had not some letter, or something that came from that
Bouqueton; it would have been invaluable. But all that she had was a
paltry ring, of no value, not even gold, which he gave her one day as
being very valuable."

"Have you seen the ring?"

"Yes; I asked Annette for it several days before she died. The poor
child, who had divined her doom, although I did my best to conceal it
from her, gave me the bauble, and said with angelic gentleness: 'You may
intend to search for the man who injured me so, and punish him; but it
isn't worth while, monsieur; after all, I have only received the reward
of my misconduct. If I hadn't left my parents to lead a disorderly life,
this thing wouldn't have happened to me. I see that I've got to die, but
I forgive the man who caused my death."

"Poor Annette!"

"I concealed my intentions from her, but I took the ring. It's all right
for the victim to forgive--but our duty is to punish. This is the ring,
Rochebrune."

Balloquet took from his pocket a little gold-plated ring, with several
colored stones of no value set in the form of a star; its only merit was
that it was easily identified by its oddity and its ugliness. I took
possession of it eagerly, crying:

"Leave it with me, my friend; let me keep it, I beg you; it will help me
some day to avenge poor Annette."

"With all my heart. But I say again, try to let me have a share in the
vengeance; don't forget me when the time comes. I saw the victim die,
and I should enjoy seeing the murderer punished."

"I promise to let you know at once, when the time comes; and if I need
you to help me----"

"Sapristi! I will be on hand then, even if I am pursued by creditors!
But my affairs will be settled in due time. Au revoir, my dear fellow!
The next time I come to see you, I'll wear a pair of my essence of rose
gloves, so that you can tell your friends and acquaintances about them."

Balloquet shook hands with me and took his leave; and I carefully put
poor Annette's ring away in my desk.



XXXI

DISAPPOINTED HOPES


Annette's death and Mignonne's unjust suspicions of me left me in a
melancholy mood; and when, as sometimes happened, Madame Sordeville's
conduct came to my mind, it did not tend to restore my self-contentment.
I was not precisely unhappy, but I was disgusted to think that I had so
misplaced my affections; and, more than all, I craved other affection.
Can a man live without love, at thirty years? Indeed, I believe, with
Voltaire, that love is necessary at every age, and that it is love that
sustains us.

I was in this frame of mind when Madame Potrelle appeared. The good
woman began with her usual profusion of reverences, and with an
abundance of apologies for the abrupt manner of her departure on the
occasion of her last visit; but she hoped that I bore her no ill will
therefor.

I reassured her, and asked if she was sent by Madame Landernoy.

"Oh, no, monsieur! she didn't send me--that is to say, not exactly; but
she knows I've come. I'll bet she's waiting impatiently for my return;
and yet, worse luck! she won't listen to a word about you; she won't
work for you; she wouldn't put her foot inside your door for--I don't
know what! She's wrong; I'm perfectly sure she's doing wrong, and that
she's mistaken in what she thinks about you. So I came to tell you what
it was that frightened her, what turned her head."

"I suspect what it was, Madame Potrelle. But, no matter, tell me what
you know."

"In the first place, monsieur, as I told you, when she came back from
buying provisions a week or two ago, my young tenant rushed into my
place, frightened to death, and singing out: 'Protect me! don't let him
come in!'"

"Yes; and afterward a middle-aged man offered you ten francs to let him
go up to Madame Landernoy's room."

"Yes, monsieur; but that last one was just one of the men who are always
following women. But, for all that, it seems he was in earnest, and he
watched her a long while after, poor child. When men are--on my word,
they're worse'n tomcats. Excuse the comparison, monsieur; I don't mean
that for you."

"Let us come to what you had to tell me, Madame Potrelle."

"You see, a woman ends by getting confused with all these blackguards.
_Dame!_ she's got to be so pretty again! I didn't lie to you about that,
did I, monsieur?"

"Your tenant is very good-looking. Above all, she has an interesting,
respectable look, which ought to protect her from the schemes of seekers
after adventures."

"Oh, no! not at all, monsieur; just the opposite! Libertines run after
virtuous women most of all. They want 'em! they must have 'em! 'Ah!'
they'll say; 'there's one that's never gone wrong; I'll just push her
down into perdition.'--Excuse me; I'll come back to the point. The other
day, when Madame Landernoy went out of here like a rocket, I ran after
her, and, _dame!_ as I didn't think she'd done right, I asked her to
explain herself; and this is what she said, word for word: 'I was right
in not having confidence in Monsieur Rochebrune; I recognized that young
man who just came in as a friend of my seducer, of the man who wasn't
content with deserting me, but tried to cover me with shame. Now,
nothing will take away my idea that Monsieur Rochebrune is one of
Ernest's friends, too. How do I know that they are not planning some
trap that they mean to lead me into? When I came home in such a fright
two or three days ago, it was because I'd met that horrible
Rambertin--the man who conceived and carried out the most outrageous
treachery! And that man ran after me and dared to talk to me again about
his passion! No, Madame Potrelle, I won't go to Monsieur Rochebrune's
again, and I won't work for him; for all that he's doing for me isn't
natural. Besides, I am sure now that he has seen Ernest, and that's
enough to make me feel something worse than fear of him.'--Those are
Madame Landernoy's very words, monsieur. I stood up for you; I told her
that it wasn't possible that you had any hand in wicked schemes against
her; and that I'd put my hand in the fire to prove it--and so I would!"

"I thank you for your good opinion of me, Madame Potrelle, and I assure
you that I deserve it in this matter."

"Oh! I don't doubt it, monsieur. But the young woman's got that idea in
her brain, and there's no way to get it out. But something came into my
head, and I told her of it. 'You think,' I says, 'that Monsieur
Rochebrune's a friend of your seducer, and you think it's strange he
should take so much interest in you and pay you more for your work than
it's worth. But how do you know Monsieur Ernest hasn't repented of the
way he's treated you? After all, he's the father of your little girl;
how do you know but what he's thinking about her, and wants her to have
everything she needs?'--That seemed to strike her; she thought a long
while, and then she says: 'Oh, no! no! when a man has tried to cover an
unhappy mother with shame, he don't repent! his heart is closed to every
honest feeling, and he never remembers that he has a child. And yet, if
by any chance--if you have guessed right---- But, no, I can't believe
it, it isn't possible!'--At that, monsieur, I saw that in the bottom of
her heart she thought I had guessed right; so I says to her: 'Well! I'll
just go to Monsieur Rochebrune, and ask him flat-footed how it is, and
I'm sure he'll answer me honest.'--So I started off, monsieur, and here
I am."

"You did well, madame, to believe that I would answer you frankly. You
may repeat what I am going to tell you to Mignonne--that is her
Christian name, and she will understand now how I know it.--I do know
Monsieur Ernest Fouvenard; he has never been a friend of mine; and if he
had been, his treatment of your tenant, of which he dared to boast in my
presence, would have been enough to put an end to our friendship. In
fact, that is just what has happened between him and the young man whom
you saw here. He was intimate with Monsieur Ernest; he broke with him
entirely as soon as he learned of this outrageous performance of his. I
was profoundly interested by Mignonne's misfortunes; and that interest
was absolutely pure, as I did not then know her. I understand why she
looked upon me at first with suspicion; when one has been so shamefully
betrayed, it is natural to suspect evil designs in the most innocent
actions. I saw your young tenant, and I did not fall in love with
her--not even after she recovered her beauty. But she aroused the
liveliest interest in me, and it would have been a very pleasant task to
me to make her lot easier. That is the whole truth; I hope that Mignonne
will deign to believe it. As a general rule, men are evil-minded; but
there are still some who do good solely for the pleasure of doing it;
the exception proves the rule."

"I believe you, monsieur; oh, yes! I believe you," said the concierge,
sadly; "but I am sorry that I didn't guess right. I wish that miserable
Monsieur Ernest had thought of his child. Whatever she may say, I am
sure the poor mother would have been pleased in the bottom of her
heart."

"I am not enough of a hero, Madame Potrelle, to give credit to another
for the little good I am able to do; besides, when that other is a
miserable wretch, a dastard, who prides himself on his infamous conduct,
it seems to me that it would be nothing less than downright fraud to
give him credit for acts which would imply that his heart was not devoid
of every worthy feeling. Mignonne was right in thinking that the man who
would have covered an unhappy mother with opprobrium is not capable of
repentance. Your supposition was born of a kind heart; but Monsieur
Ernest has one that is rotten to the core, and with such hearts there is
no resource. Now, I have told you the whole truth; Mignonne will believe
me or not; I cannot help myself. But if she does change her opinion with
regard to me, tell her that I bear no malice, and that the work I
offered her will still be at her disposal."

I dismissed the concierge. Let Mignonne think and do what she chose, I
had done all that I could to help her. I neither could nor ought to go
any further.

The spring had returned, and one fine day I had left home thinking of
Madame Dauberny, whom I would have given all the world to meet, when I
felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned, and recognized my former
acquaintance, Baron von Brunzbrack.

"How in der teufel are you?" said the baron, taking my hand.

"Ah! is it you, Monsieur de Brunzbrack? I am delighted to meet you. Do
you know that it is more than six months since we met?"

"Ja, I know id veil; but I could not meed you no more, pecause--you know
pecause vhy?"

"What do I know? Assume that I do not know--I shall be much obliged."

"Pecause I no longer go to Monsir Sordeville."

"Ah! you no longer go there? Faith! I had no means of knowing that, for
the very simple reason that I myself have not put my foot inside that
door since--yes, since the night we played baccarat together, against
Madame Dauberny."

"Ten you pe like me. Te loafely voman, she vill haf varned us poth."

"Warned---- Who, pray?"

"Te loafely Frédérique."

"Ah! so Madame Dauberny suggested to you too not to go to Madame
Sordeville's, did she?"

"Ja! I haf one day received from her ein leedle note, vich I haf alvays
keep, pecause I vas much bleezed to receive tat note vich she haf write
herself. You shall see; I haf id alvays on my heart, in my cigar case."

And the baron, taking a dainty cigar case from his pocket, produced a
small folded paper that smelt horribly of tobacco; luckily, the tobacco
was of the best quality.

He opened the letter and handed it to me, but did not let it leave his
own hands. I recognized Frédérique's hand, and I read:

     "MY DEAR BARON:

     "Do you care for my advice? Do not go to Monsieur Sordeville's any
     more. I say this in your own interest. Later, perhaps, I shall be
     able to explain my reasons. /* "Yours devotedly,

     "FRÉDÉRIQUE DAUBERNY."

I could not restrain a sort of shudder as I read the last name, and
reflected that such a woman as Frédérique was that man's wife. Suppose
that she knew what he was doing! But, no; she would do something
imprudent; it was better that she should not know that story until
Annette was avenged.

The baron carefully replaced the letter in his cigar case, and restored
the latter to his pocket, saying:

"Vhen I haf tat note received, I vas mad mit choy. I pelieved tat te
Frédérique, she vas chealous of some voman who vent to Monsir
Sordeville, berhaps of Montame Sordeville herself. Ha! ha! ha!"

"Did you follow the advice she gave you?"

"Ach! _pigre!_ I vould haf no more gone to Sordeville's for ein embire!
But I haf called often to see Montame Dauberny; I haf hard luck; she pe
nefer in! I haf not pin aple to meed her. And you, mein gut frent?"

"I received the same advice from Madame Dauberny."

"And you opeyed, like me?"

"Not instantly; I went once more to see Madame Sordeville, but in the
afternoon."

"Ach! gut! gut!"

"Indeed, I expected to see her often; but an unforeseen event changed
all my plans. I have not been there since, and I shall never go again."

"Ach! gut! gut! Is id also to do Montame Dauberny's vish?"

"Not at all; it is for another reason, which I cannot tell you."

"Gut! gut! I no untershtand. You must not--you must not shtill pe in
loafe mit te peautiful Frédérique?"

"Mon Dieu! no, my dear baron! When could I have fallen in love with her,
pray? I never see her; I never meet her."

"Gif me your hand, mein frent."

"And yet, I confess that I have the greatest desire to see her and speak
with her."

"Ach, ja! I untershtand; and so haf I; to ask her vhy she haf forbid us
to go to te Sordevilles."

"I should not be sorry to know that. But I want to talk to her about
something which interests me more."

The baron drew back with a frown, and muttered:

"You haf a teclaration to make to her--in secret--mit mystery!"

"Sapristi! you are infernally tenacious in your ideas, baron. Once more,
there is no question of a declaration! Why on earth have you taken it
into your head that I am likely to fall in love with Madame Dauberny?
Would it please you very much if I should?"

"Ach! no! no! Gif me your hand, mein frent; I haf pin wrong. I am one
pig fool!"

The baron was still holding my hand, when a calèche stopped beside us
and a voice said:

"Would you like to take a short drive with me, messieurs?"

We looked up and recognized Madame Dauberny, alone in an open calèche.
Herr von Brunzbrack turned crimson with pleasure; for my part, I was
well pleased to have met Frédérique at last.

"Faith! madame," said I, "the baron and I were just talking of you."

"Ja, loafely lady; ve haf pin talking of you."

"I suspected as much; that is why I stopped. Well, messieurs, wouldn't
you rather talk with me than confine yourselves to talking about me?"

Our only reply was to enter the carriage without more ado. I seated
myself opposite Frédérique, the baron by her side, and we drove away.



XXXII

A REVELATION


Unless by keeping my eyes constantly lowered, I could not avoid looking
often at Frédérique; and as I had no reason to lower my eyes, and,
moreover, as I had always taken pleasure in looking at her, I was able
at that moment to enjoy that pleasure to the full.

Madame Dauberny was always dressed in good taste; that morning she wore
a gray silk gown, cut very high, which was wonderfully becoming to her.
But, after all, is it not rather the wearer who embellishes the gown?
For example: I had often noticed that Frédérique's waists fitted her to
perfection, and I had rarely noticed that fact in other women. Was it
not because Frédérique had a beautiful figure?

I was overjoyed to see that Madame Dauberny's face no longer wore that
cold, stern expression which she had formerly adopted with me. Her face
was entirely different; I could not say what it expressed, because,
although she looked at me often, she never fixed her eyes on mine; but
they shone with a brilliancy I had never before seen in them; they were
at once softer and merrier than of old; they no longer had, for the
moment at least, that ironical or severe expression to which I had once
become accustomed.

The baron, who seemed enchanted at first to be at Frédérique's side,
soon began, I think, to be sorry that he was not where I was. He
constantly leaned forward, trying to see Frédérique's face; but she wore
a broad-brimmed gray felt hat, and when the baron leaned forward to
speak to her she always turned her head, apparently in a spirit of
mischief, so that he could not have the pleasure of looking at her.

"I am very glad to have met you, messieurs," said Frédérique; "in the
first place, because it gives me the greatest pleasure to see
you--both."

That _both_ she said in a curious tone, and accompanied it with a glance
in my direction. I had sufficient conceit to believe, after all, that
she still preferred my company to the baron's.

"In the second place, messieurs, I owe you an explanation for the
letters I wrote you on the subject of Monsieur Sordeville; for I
referred to him solely, and not to his wife, when I urged you to break
off your relations with that household. Monsieur Rochebrune paid little
heed to my advice.--I do not blame you, monsieur; besides, Armantine is
my friend, and, as I have told you before, I have no desire to injure
her in your esteem. If her husband is a scoundrel, I believe you to be
just enough not to include his wife in the contempt which that man must
inspire."

"Go on, madame; what is his business?"

"Haf he made ein pankrupt?"

"Oh! if it were no worse than that! But, in the first place, Monsieur
Sordeville was neither banker, nor merchant, nor solicitor; he was
nothing, and pretended to be everything. That strange state of affairs
aroused my curiosity more than once, especially as he gave parties,
lived handsomely, made a good deal of show, and yet he was not known to
have any fortune, and Armantine's dowry was very, very small. There is
one point upon which I have always liked to be well posted, and that is,
the means of existence of the people with whom I associate. Indeed, how
much confidence can one have in those who spend a great deal and earn
nothing?

"I had several times been tempted to say a word of warning to Armantine
on that subject; but she did not trouble herself in the least about her
husband's business, and had unbounded faith in what he told her. She led
such a life as she liked; for her husband left her entirely at liberty
to do just what she chose, and seemed happy to be the husband of a
charming woman, only because she attracted numerous guests to his house.
You will agree that it would have been horrible to disturb Armantine's
peace of mind by giving her a hint of my suspicions; she would have
spurned them with horror. Poor woman! More than once, I said to myself
that I was a fool, that my ideas were an insult to Monsieur Sordeville;
and not until I had learned of several facts that confirmed my
suspicions, did I feel absolutely certain of the truth."

"Not yet do I know vat is te trut," muttered the baron, craning his neck
in an attempt to see his neighbor's lovely eyes.

"Ah! Monsieur de Brunzbrack, there are some things that are so hard, so
painful, to say! Listen: about a year ago, a young man attached to the
Dutch legation was suddenly dismissed, without the slightest explanation
of his disgrace. He had been an habitué of Monsieur Sordeville's salon
for two months. A clerk in the War Department lost his place--no reason
assigned. But he, too, had attended Monsieur Sordeville's receptions.
And you yourself, baron--did not your ambassador thank you and request
you never to set foot in his offices again?"

"Ja! Te ambassador, he haf say to me: 'You talk too much! You haf
divulzhe te secrets of te cabinet.'--I haf not untershtand, but id vas
all one to me; I haf not care for my blace."

"How is it with you, Monsieur Rochebrune? do you begin to understand?"

"In truth, madame, I fear that I do; but I dare not say as yet."

"Well, monsieur, the young attaché of the Dutch legation had been lured
on by Monsieur Sordeville to talk foolishly about certain plans of his
government.--You did the same, baron, unwittingly perhaps; that man was
so clever at making people talk about what he wanted to find out! As for
the young clerk, he had tattled about certain peculiarities of his
superiors, and Monsieur Sordeville took care that they were informed. In
a word, Monsieur Sordeville was connected with the secret police. That
is what I dared not believe at first, what I was determined to have the
proof of, if it were true. I never hesitate when the honor of a friend,
the safety and the future of people I love, are at stake. I had once
rendered a slight service to a person who is employed in the police
bureau to-day, but in a position which he can afford to avow; that
person had begged me to give him an opportunity to show his gratitude,
and I said to him: 'The opportunity has come; find out for me what
Monsieur Sordeville's position is.' I speedily received a reply
containing these words only: 'Connected with the secret police.'"

"_Sapremann!_" cried the baron; "I am sorry tat I haf talk mit him! Vat!
tat so bolite monsir--he vas ein shpy! Ach! I am shtubefied!"

I shared the baron's stupefaction; Frédérique's revelation appalled me;
and yet, I knew that in society the most disgusting vices lie hidden
beneath the most brilliant exteriors.

"And--his wife," I said at last; "does she know now what her husband
does?"

"She knows all, and I was spared the melancholy duty of telling her.
There were some scandalous scenes at Monsieur Sordeville's not long ago.
It seems that a certain man--one of the victims of that wretch's
denunciations--had succeeded, by unwearying perseverance, in learning
the source of the report that ruined him. He also learned the truth with
respect to Monsieur Sordeville. Then what did he do? Accompanied by
several friends, to whom he had told the facts, he went to the house on
a certain evening at home--for they continued to receive,
notwithstanding what was told you to the contrary."

This was said to me, and proved that Frédérique knew all.

"He went to Monsieur Sordeville's," she continued, "and there, in the
middle of the salon, before all the guests, he called him a spy and
struck him! Imagine the uproar, the amazement, the confusion, of all
those people, who were thoroughly ashamed to be there; for Monsieur
Sordeville turned pale, and did not say a word or return the blow. Poor
Armantine fainted, and they carried her to her room. Thereupon the
guests all took their hats and fled, assuring the master of the house
that they didn't believe a word of what had been said, but fully
determined never to go there again. On the next day, Armantine took
refuge with me. I dictated the following plainly worded letter, which
she sent to her husband:

       *       *       *       *       *

"'You have deceived me shamefully, monsieur. I leave you, and I lay
aside your name. You will never hear of me again, and I trust that I may
never hear of you.'

"That is what Armantine wrote to him. You must agree, Rochebrune, that
we are not very fortunate in our husbands, either of us!"

Poor Frédérique! She did not know how truly she spoke.

"Now, messieurs, it's all over. The Sordeville family has ceased to
exist. Nobody knows what has become of the man, and nobody cares very
much. Probably he is still carrying on his profession, on his own
account. As to Armantine, luckily she has about eighteen hundred francs
a year which her husband cannot touch. She will live on that, in the
retreat she has chosen; she will cut less of a figure and not change her
gown so often; but perhaps she will be happier."

As she said that, Frédérique fixed her eyes on me for a moment, then
continued:

"I hope, messieurs, that you will forgive me now for advising you both
to stay away from Monsieur Sordeville's?"

"That is to say, madame, that we owe you our warmest thanks."

"Ach! ja! and I haf te note in your hand; id is alvays here--on my
heart."

"You do me too much honor, baron," said Madame Dauberny, with a smile;
"and I am quite sure that everybody doesn't do as you have done."

I would have been glad to be rid of the baron, for I had many questions
to ask Frédérique. I do not know whether she divined my thought, but she
ordered her coachman to drive back to Paris.

"I will not abuse your good nature any longer, messieurs," she said. "I
carried you both away rather unceremoniously; and perhaps somebody is
impatiently awaiting you."

"No; I am not avaited at all," said the baron; "I am te master of my
time."

"Where were you going, baron?" Frédérique asked, as if she had not heard
what he said.

"Montame--I vas going--I know not--I vas going novere."

"But as I am going somewhere, I will set you down at your hotel, then I
will take Monsieur Rochebrune home."

I was well pleased that she proposed to set down the baron first. To no
purpose did he say again and again that no one was expecting him, that
he was not sure that he wanted to go home; Madame Dauberny replied
simply:

"I am very sorry; but I can't drive you about all day."

Before long, she ordered the coachman to stop; the carriage door was
opened and she offered the baron her hand, saying:

"Adieu! until I have the pleasure of seeing you again."

Herr von Brunzbrack decided at last, although with great reluctance, to
alight; but when he was on the ground, he looked at me and beckoned:

"Vell! vhy haf not you come, too?"

"Because Monsieur Rochebrune is going in another direction, and I am
going to drive him part of the way."

As she spoke, Frédérique motioned to the coachman to drive on, paying no
heed to the baron, who declared that he wanted to stay with me. The poor
Prussian stood on the same spot, and glared at me in a far from friendly
fashion.

"I am not sorry to be rid of the baron," said Frédérique, "for I want to
talk with you; if you are really in no hurry, suppose we take a turn in
the Bois?"

"That will give me great pleasure, madame, for I too long to talk with
you."

"Take us to the Bois de Boulogne, _cocher_.--Ah! if the poor baron knew
this, he would be frantic!"

"Yes, for he's terribly jealous; he sees a rival in every man who has
the privilege of knowing you."

"The man believes that everybody's in love with me! he is too stupid!
But let us say no more of the baron and his love, which disturbs me very
little. Let us come to what interests you. You want to know, of course,
what has become of Armantine? Before a stranger, I would not betray her
incognito; but to you, it seems to me that I may safely tell where she
is, so that you can go there and condole with her. Armantine is living
at Passy, on the Grande Rue, near the forest; she has taken the name of
Madame Montfort. That is what I had to tell you."

"Is that all, madame?"

"Why, I should suppose that it was a great deal to you, to know what has
become of the lady of your thoughts."

"Frédérique, are you willing that we should be friends again?"

As I spoke, I held out my hand. She turned her head away, and for some
seconds seemed to hesitate; then she gave me her hand, and replied in a
voice that was not quite steady:

"Well, yes, I am willing; sincere friends; all except the _tutoiement_;
for I realize that that is impossible; anyone who heard us would form
wrong conclusions."

"Very good. But no more mystery between us; absolute and mutual
confidence. If you knew how deeply I have regretted having angered you!
You were so severe with me! You spoke to me so frigidly, and sometimes
with a touch of irony even."

"Let's forget all that. I am a little whimsical! But it's all over now.
We are reconciled. As for--as for what made me angry, I am sure that you
won't be guilty of the same offence again. You were a little bewildered
that night--otherwise, it never would have occurred to you to kiss me."

I was at a loss what to reply; for there are offences for which it is a
blunder to apologize. But Frédérique gave me no time, for she continued:

"Once more, let's say no more about it! The poet is right when he sings:

    "'The past is but a dream!'

From this day forth, we are and will remain good friends. You will tell
me all your secrets, make me the confidante of all your love affairs.
How entertaining it will be to know everything!"

"And you, Frédérique, will you tell me all your thoughts, all the
feelings that agitate your heart?"

"To be sure! But you will receive few confidences from me, for I have no
intrigues now. I don't propose to form any more liaisons of that sort.
In short, I am done with loving; I am happy as I am. I have resolved
never to listen to any man again."

"At your age! Nonsense! That resolution won't last long."

"Very well; if I change--why, I'll let you know. But let us come to you,
the man of the thousand and one passions! You ought to tell the story of
them, as a supplement to the _Thousand and One Nights_."

"That may have been true once; but I've been getting rusty of late. It
isn't virtue, I suppose; but I fancy that I am becoming hard to please."

"You will undoubtedly hasten to console Armantine, who may, perhaps,
regret her former position in society, but surely doesn't regret her
husband!"

"I, go to see Madame--Madame Montfort! Oh, no! no, indeed! Do you
imagine that I still love her?"

"Of course! Weren't you mad over her?"

"Love is a form of madness that can be cured, and I am surprised that
you think it possible for me to love that woman still--after the scene
that you witnessed on the Champs-Élysées."

"What do you say? What scene?"

"Oh! my dear friend, let us not begin already to go back on the promise
we made only a moment ago! You were on the Champs-Élysées, were you not,
when an intoxicated man claimed acquaintance with me?"

"Yes; that is, I arrived just at the end. Armantine was running away; I
saw that."

"It was you who paid the man who threatened to have the unfortunate
fellow I had thrown down arrested."

Frédérique said nothing; she dared not deny it.

"How much did you give the man?"

"Twenty-nine francs, I believe."

"Here is the money, my dear friend; accept at the same time my thanks
for your kind impulse, which did not occur to me, because I thought of
nothing but that woman who was running away from me. Furthermore, I know
that you also offered money to that poor devil, whom I left there."

"That is true; but he refused it."

"I know that too. Ah! Frédérique, _you_ are kind-hearted; you have a
generous heart, superior to the prejudices of society. You would not
have run away from me, then closed your door to me, simply because a man
in cap and blouse had called me his friend!"

Frédérique turned her face away, but her voice trembled as she replied:

"No, of course not! But you must forgive such foibles--the result of a
false way of looking at things."

"Forgive jeers, sarcasm, insults, neglect, if you please; I can
understand that; but contempt! never! Love must necessarily be destroyed
where contempt shows its head."

"But suppose that she has repented of her treatment of you?"

"True; she may have done so, since she has learned that her husband is a
spy!"

"Rochebrune! that was a very spiteful remark of yours!"

"I am entitled to say what I think of that lady."

"You are very angry with her, which proves that you still love her."

"When you mention her to me, I remember how she treated me; but for
that, I should not think of her at all. In short, I no longer love her."

"You say that because she isn't here. But if you should find yourself
looking into her lovely eyes----"

"I should remember the way they looked at me at our last interview on
the Champs-Élysées; and I assure you that those eyes would no longer
endanger my repose."

"Really? do you no longer love Armantine?"

Frédérique turned toward me as she asked the question, and I had never
seen such an expression of satisfaction and pleasure in her eyes.

"If I still loved her, why should I conceal it from you? You know, we
are to tell each other everything now."

"True; for we are friends now. We won't lose our tempers with each other
any more, will we?"

"I wasn't the one who lost my temper."

"You will come to see me, I hope?"

"You will allow me to?"

"Of course, as the past is only a dream. And I will come to your
rooms--as a friend. I am a man, you know. I don't see why I should not
come to see you--unless, of course, it would displease you?"

"Never!"

"In any event, when you have company, or when you expect some fair one,
you can tell me so, and I will leave you at liberty. It's agreed, isn't
it? I shall not come to see you on any other condition."

"It's agreed."

I took Frédérique's hand again and pressed it warmly, nor did she think
of withdrawing it. At that moment, we passed a riding party. The young
dandies of whom it was composed glanced into our carriage as they
passed. Frédérique suddenly turned pale. I looked up, and recognized one
of the cavaliers as Monsieur Saint-Bergame. At the same moment I heard
his voice, and distinguished this sentence, the last words coming very
indistinctly as he receded:

"Ah! so it's that fellow now! Each in his turn!"

Madame Dauberny withdrew her hand from mine, her features contracted,
her brow grew dark; but she said nothing. I too was silent; for, not
knowing whether she had heard what Saint-Bergame said, I was careful not
to tell her. But I had a feeling of embarrassment and of wrath, which
banished all the pleasurable sensations of a moment before.

We drove a considerable distance without speaking; and when she turned
so that I could see her face, which she had kept averted for a long
while, I detected tears in her eyes.

I quickly grasped her hand again, saying:

"What is the matter?"

Thereupon she at once resumed her usual manner, as if she were ashamed
that I had observed her emotion, and answered, with a smile:

"Nothing, nothing at all! Mon Dieu! my friend, can one always tell what
the matter is? It all depends on one's frame of mind. We are sometimes
deeply moved by a remark that isn't worth the labor of listening
to.--Take us home, _cocher_.--I can properly say _home_, for, thank
heaven! I am alone, and mistress of the house for the present."

"Your husband is----?"

"He is not in Paris; he has gone on a little trip, according to the word
he sent to me; and you can imagine that I did not detain him. It is true
that Monsieur Dauberny doesn't interfere with me in any way, that he
doesn't prevent me from doing whatever I please; but, for all that, I
feel happier when I know that he isn't under the same roof. Oh! if only
he could travel forever!"

I was certain that the man had fled after the ill-fated Annette's death;
perhaps he was afraid that she would make damaging disclosures before
she died. I was persuaded that fear alone had driven him from Paris, and
that he proposed to wait until that affair was forgotten before he
returned.

"How long has your husband been absent?" I asked Frédérique.

"About three weeks."

"When is he coming back?"

"I have no idea; you may be sure that I didn't ask him. But, my friend,
you seem to take a great deal of interest in my husband's movements: can
it be that his absence distresses you?"

I tried to smile, as I answered:

"Oh! not in the least, I beg you to believe. I asked you the question--I
don't quite know why."

Frédérique looked earnestly at me and squeezed my hand hard, murmuring:

"So it is true that even sincere friends can't tell each other
everything."

The calèche stopped on the boulevard, and I left Madame Dauberny.

"We shall meet again soon," I said.

       *       *       *       *       *


FOOTNOTES:

[A] That is, a leader in revelry or merrymaking.

[B]

    When you're asked to take a walk,
    Look well to the weather, Lisa!
    If it blows, say that you're ill,
    Or else he'll make the most of it,
    To work his wicked will on you.
    Nay, I joke not, on my soul!
    On windy days, I've oft been caught!
    My love, for us poor, helpless girls,
    There's naught so trait'rous as the wind.


[C]

    And then, what can a poor girl do?
    She dons her good clothes, when 'tis fair:
    The wind springs up, she's in a mess,
    She cannot hold her hat in place
    And skirts and flounces all at once;
    Her eyes are quickly filled with dust,
    When in her face the sly wind blows;
    But 'tis more trait'rous far, my love,
    When she sees not the wind's approach.


[D]

    If the rain is most unpleasant,
    And wets our poor skirts thro' and thro',
    The wind's as wanton as the deuce!
    He draws in outline all our figure.
    'Tis just as if we wore tight breeches;
    A man at such times is less careful,
    For it makes him sentimental!
    And, my love, it's not our face
    He looks at while the wind is blowing.


[E] I, who once had the glory of singing for Mademoiselle Iris, propose,
with your leave, to tell you the story of the young shepherd Paris, etc.

[F] _Tutoyer_; that is, to use the more familiar form of address, to
"thee and thou" one; which, the reader will please understand,
Frédérique proceeds to do, and Rochebrune also, with some slips.





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