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Title: A Chambermaid's Diary
Author: Mirbeau, Octave, 1848-1917
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A CHAMBERMAID'S DIARY

BY

OCTAVE MIRBEAU


Translated from the French by

BENJ. R. TUCKER


NEW YORK:

BENJ. R. TUCKER, PUBLISHER

1900



        A French chambermaid, who has served in Paris, in the houses of
        the nobility, the bourgeois, and professional people, finally
        enters the service of a rich couple living in the country,
        and there begins to keep a diary. In describing the events of
        her daily life and the people about her, she is frequently
        reminded of episodes in her past, and digresses to relate them.
        Thus her diary becomes a piquant panorama of social life and
        institutions. It is a terrific social exposure, a grim social
        satire, crammed with humor, bitterness, and truth. It has been
        described by a French critic as "an attempt to show that nearly
        all the masters are low-lived wretches, and that nearly all the
        servants are as near like them as they know how to be."



To

MONSIEUR OCTAVE MIRBEAU.


I offer you my sincere apology for mutilating your brave and admirable
work. In publishing it in English, I have omitted certain portions,
much against my inclination. Perhaps you, who live in a land that
enjoys a greater freedom of the press than we know in the United
States, will wonder why I was forced to do this. Let me, then, explain
to you that the men whose ugly souls your Célestine does not hesitate
to lay bare are types, to a greater or less extent, of most of the men
whom we place in our halls of legislation to make our laws, in our
halls of administration to execute them, and in our halls of so-called
justice to interpret and enforce them, and that among the laws which
they have made are some, aimed ostensibly at the suppression of obscene
literature, that are really intended to protect from exposure their own
obscene lives and those of others of their ilk, and to protect from
attack the social evils and political institutions upon which they
thrive. These lawless law-givers hope, by obscuring the sufficiently
sharp line that divides the vulgar appeal to eroticism from the
earnest narrative of the honest thinker and the truthful picture of
the conscientious artist, to brand both with the same condemnation,
and thus secure immunity for those who, by all the various forms of
exploitation, deal, as Célestine bluntly says, in human meat. This is
why it is unsafe to publish in the English language those portions of
her diary which I have omitted. But, if, as I hope and believe, the
portions that are here printed shall do something to change the public
opinion that sanctions the claim of these law-givers to legislative
power, I am sure that you will excuse a liberty which under other
circumstances would be an inexcusable act of vandalism.

BENJ. R. TUCKER.



To

MONSIEUR JULES HURET.


My dear friend:

For two reasons, very strong and very precise, it is my wish to
inscribe your name at the head of these pages. First, that you may know
how dear your name is to me. Second,--and I say it with a tranquil
pride,--because you will like this book. And you will like it, in spite
of all its faults, because it is a book free from hypocrisy, because
it portrays life, life as you and I understand it. I have always in my
mind's eye, my dear Huret, many of the faces, so strangely human, which
you have arrayed in procession in a long series of social and literary
studies. They haunt me. It is because no one better than you, and more
profoundly than you, has felt, when surveying these human masqueraders,
how sad and how comical a thing it is to be a man. May you find again
in these pages that sadness which makes lofty souls laugh, that
comicality which makes them weep.

OCTAVE MIRBEAU.

May, 1900.



_The book that I publish under this title, "A Chambermaid's Diary,"
was really written by Mlle. Célestine R------, chambermaid. When I
was asked to revise the manuscript, to correct it, and to rewrite
some parts of it, I refused at first, thinking, not without reason,
that, just as it was, in all its disorder, this diary had a certain
originality, a special savor, and that I could only render it
commonplace by putting into it anything of myself. But Mlle. Célestine
R------ was very pretty. She insisted. I finally yielded, for, after
all, I am a man._

_I confess that I was wrong. In doing this work which she asked of
me,--that is, in adding here and there some accents to this book,--I
am very much afraid that I have impaired its somewhat corrosive grace,
diminished its sad power, and, above all, substituted simple literature
for the emotion and life which these pages contained._

_I say this to answer in advance the objections which certain grave and
learned, and how noble, critics will not fail to raise._

_O. M._



A CHAMBERMAID'S DIARY



I


_September 14._

To-day, September 14, at three o'clock in the afternoon, in mild, gray,
and rainy weather, I have entered upon my new place. It is the twelfth
in two years. Of course I say nothing of the places which I held in
previous years. It would be impossible for me to count them. Ah! I can
boast of having seen interiors and faces, and dirty souls. And the
end is not yet. Judging from the really extraordinary and dizzy way
in which I have rolled, here and there, successively, from houses to
employment-bureaus, and from employment-bureaus to houses, from the
Bois de Boulogne to the Bastille, from the Observatory to Montmartre,
from the Ternes to the Gobelins, everywhere, without ever succeeding in
establishing myself anywhere, the masters in these days must be hard to
please. It is incredible.

The affair was arranged through an advertisement in the "Figaro," and
without any interview with Madame. We wrote letters to each other,
that is all; a risky method, often resulting in surprises on both
sides. Madame's letters are well written, it is true. But they reveal
a meddlesome and fastidious character. Ah! the explanations and the
commentaries that she insisted upon, the whys and the becauses. I do
not know whether Madame is stingy; at any rate she is hardly ruining
herself with her letter-paper. It is bought at the Louvre. I am not
rich, but I have more elegance than that. I write on paper perfumed _à
la peau d'Espagne_, beautiful paper, some of it pink, some light blue,
which I have collected from my former mistresses. Some of it even bears
a countess's coronet engraved upon it. That must have been a crusher
for her.

Well, at last, here I am in Normandy, at Mesnil-Roy. Madame's estate,
which is not far from the country, is called the Priory. This is almost
all that I know of the spot where henceforth I am to live.



I am not without anxiety, or without regret, at having come, in
consequence of a moment's rashness, to bury myself in the depths of the
country. What I have seen of it frightens me a little, and I ask myself
what further is going to happen to me here. Doubtless nothing good,
and the usual worries. To worry is the clearest of our privileges. For
every one who succeeds,--that is, for every one who marries a worthy
young fellow or forms an alliance with an old man,--how many of us are
destined to ill-luck, swept away in the great whirlwind of poverty?
After all, I had no choice, and this is better than nothing.



This is not the first time that I have had a place in the country.
Four years ago I had one. Oh! not for long, and in really exceptional
circumstances. I remember this adventure as if it had occurred
yesterday. Although the details are slightly indecorous, and even
horrible, I wish to relate it. Moreover, I charitably warn my readers
that it is my intention, in writing this diary, to keep nothing back,
in relation either to myself or to others. On the contrary, I intend
to put into it all the frankness that is in me, and, when necessary,
all the brutality that is in life. It is not my fault if the souls from
which we tear the veils, and which then appear in all their nakedness,
exhale so strong an odor of rottenness.

Well, here it is.

I was engaged in an employment-bureau, by a sort of fat governess, to
be a chambermaid in the house of a certain M. Rabour, in Touraine. The
conditions accepted, it was agreed that I should take the train on such
a day, at such an hour, for such a station; which was done, according
to the programme.

As soon as I had given up my ticket at the exit, I found, outside, a
sort of coachman with a rubicund and churlish face, who asked me:

"Are you M. Rabour's new chambermaid?"

"Yes."

"Have you a trunk?"

"Yes, I have a trunk."

"Give me your baggage ticket, and wait for me here."

He made his way to the platform. The employees hastened about him. They
called him "Monsieur Louis" in a tone of friendly respect. Louis looked
for my trunk in the pile of baggage, and had it placed in an English
cart that stood near the exit.

"Well, will you get in?"

I took my seat beside him, and we started. The coachman looked at me
out of the corner of his eye. I examined him similarly. I saw at once
that I had to do with a countryman, an unpolished peasant, an untrained
domestic who had never served in grand establishments. That annoyed me.
For my part, I like handsome liveries. I dote on nothing so much as on
white leather knee-breeches tightly fitting nervous thighs. And how
lacking in elegance he was, this Louis, without driving-gloves, with
a full suit of grayish-blue drugget that was too big for him, and a
flat cap of glazed leather, ornamented with a double row of gold lace.
No, indeed, they are slow in this region. And, with all, a scowling,
brutal air, but not a bad fellow at bottom. I know these types. At
first they assume a knowing air with the new people, and later a more
friendly footing is arrived at. Often more friendly than one would like.

We sat a long time without saying a word. He assumed the manners of
a grand coachman, holding the reins high and swinging his whip with
rounded gestures. Oh! how ridiculous he was! For my part, with much
dignity I surveyed the landscape, which had no special feature; simply
fields, trees, and houses, just as everywhere else. He brought his
horse down to a walk in order to ascend a hill, and then, suddenly,
with a quizzing smile, he asked:

"I suppose that at least you have brought a good supply of shoes?"

"Undoubtedly," said I, astonished at this question, which rhymed with
nothing, and still more at the singular tone in which he put it to me.
"Why do you ask me that? It is a rather stupid question, don't you
know, my old man?"

He nudged me slightly with his elbow, and, gliding over me a strange
look whose two-fold expression of keen irony and, indeed, of jovial
obscenity was unintelligible to me, he said, with a chuckle:

"Oh! yes, pretend that you know nothing. You are a good one, you
are,--a jolly good one!"

Then he clacked his tongue, and the horse resumed its rapid gait.

I was puzzled. What could be the meaning of this? Perhaps nothing at
all. I concluded that the good man was a little silly, that he did not
know how to talk with women, and that he had been able to think of no
other way to start a conversation which, however, I did not see fit to
continue.

M. Rabour's estate was sufficiently large and beautiful. A pretty
house, painted light green, and surrounded by broad lawns adorned with
flowers and by a pine forest which gave forth an odor of turpentine.
I adore the country, but, oddly enough, it makes me sad and sleepy. I
was utterly stupid when I entered the vestibule where the governess was
awaiting me,--she who had engaged me at the Paris employment-bureau,
God knows after how many indiscreet questions as to my private habits
and tastes, which ought to have made me distrustful. But in vain does
one see and endure things stronger and stronger; they never teach you
anything. The governess had not pleased me at the employment-bureau;
here she instantly disgusted me. She seemed to me to have the air
of an old procuress. She was a fat woman, and short, with puffed-up
yellowish flesh, hair brushed flat and turning gray, huge and rolling
breasts, and soft, damp hands as transparent as gelatine. Her grey eyes
indicated wickedness, a cold, calculating, vicious wickedness. The
tranquil and cruel way in which she looked at you, searching soul and
flesh, was almost enough to make you blush.

She escorted me into a little reception-room, and at once left me,
saying that she was going to notify Monsieur, that Monsieur wished to
see me before I should begin my service.

"For Monsieur has not seen you," she added. "I have taken you, it is
true, but then it is necessary that you please Monsieur."

I inspected the room. It was extremely clean and orderly. The brasses,
the furniture, the floor, the doors, thoroughly polished, waxed,
varnished, shone like mirrors. No clap-trap, no heavy hangings, no
embroidered stuffs, such as are seen in certain Paris houses; but
serious comfort, an air of rich decency, of substantial country life,
regular and calm. But my! how tiresome it must be to live here!

Monsieur entered. Oh! the queer man, and how he amused me! Fancy a
little old man, looking as if he had just stepped out of a band-box,
freshly shaven, and as pink as a doll. Very erect, very sprightly,
very inviting, in fact, he hopped about, in walking, like a little
grasshopper in the fields. He saluted me, and then asked, with infinite
politeness:

"What is your name, my child?"

"Célestine, Monsieur."

"Célestine!" he exclaimed. "Célestine? The devil! It is a pretty
name,--that I do not deny,--but too long, my child, much too long. I
will call you Marie, if you are willing. That is a very nice name, too,
and it is short. And besides, I have called all my chambermaids Marie.
It is a habit which it would distress me to abandon. I would rather
abandon the person."

They all have this queer mania of never calling you by your real name.
I was not too much astonished, having already borne all the names of
all the saints in the calendar. He persisted:

"So it will not displease you if I call you Marie? That is agreed, is
it?"

"Why, certainly, Monsieur."

"A pretty girl; good character; very well, very well."

He had said all this to me in a sprightly and extremely respectful way,
and without staring at me, without seeming to undress me with his eyes,
after the fashion of men generally. Scarcely had he looked at me. From
the moment that he entered the room, his eyes had remained obstinately
fixed upon my shoes.

"You have others?" he asked, after a short silence, during which it
seemed to me that his eyes became strangely brilliant.

"Other names, Monsieur?"

"No, my child, other shoes."

And with a slender tongue he licked his lips, after the manner of cats.

I did not answer at once. This word shoes, reminding me of the
coachman's salacious joke, had astounded me. Then that had a meaning?
On a more pressing interrogation I finally answered, but in a voice
somewhat hoarse and thick, as if I were, confessing a sin of gallantry:

"Yes, Monsieur, I have others."

"Glazed?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"Highly, highly glazed?"

"Why, yes, Monsieur."

"Good, good! And of yellow leather?"

"I have none of that kind, Monsieur."

"You will have to have some; I will give you some."

"Thank you, Monsieur."

"Good, good! Be still!"

I was frightened, for dull gleams had just passed over his eyes, and
drops of sweat were rolling down his forehead. Thinking that he was
about to faint, I was on the point of shouting, of calling for help.
But the crisis quieted down, and, after a few minutes, he continued in
a calmer voice, though a little saliva still foamed at the corner of
his lips.

"It is nothing. It is over. Understand me, my child. I am a little
of a maniac. At my age that is allowed, is it not? For instance, I do
not think it proper that a woman should black her own shoes, much less
mine. I have a great respect for women, Marie, and cannot endure that.
So I will black your shoes, your little shoes, your dear little shoes.
I will take care of them. Listen to me. Every evening, before going to
bed, you will carry your shoes into my room; you will place them near
the bed, on a little table, and every morning, on coming to open my
windows, you will take them away again."

And, as I manifested a prodigious astonishment, he added:

"Oh! now, it is nothing enormous that I ask of you; it is a very
natural thing, after all. And if you are very nice...."

Quickly he took from his pocket two louis, which he handed to me.

"If you are very nice, very obedient, I will often make you little
presents. The governess will pay you your wages every month. But
between ourselves, Marie, I shall often make you little presents. And
what is it that I ask of you? Come, now, it is not extraordinary. Is
it, then, indeed, so extraordinary?"

Monsieur was getting excited again. As he spoke his eyelids rapidly
rose and fell, like leaves in a tempest.

"Why do you say nothing, Marie? Say something. Why do you not
walk? Walk a little, that I may see them move, that I may see them
live,--your little shoes."

He knelt down, kissed my shoes, kneaded them with his feverish and
caressing fingers, unlaced them. And, while kissing, kneading, and
caressing them, he said, in a supplicating voice, in the voice of a
weeping child:

"Oh! Marie, Marie, your little shoes; give them to me directly,
directly, directly. I want them directly. Give them to me."

I was powerless. Astonishment had paralyzed me. I did not know whether
I was really living or dreaming. Of Monsieur's eyes I saw nothing but
two little white globes streaked with red. And his mouth was all daubed
with a sort of soapy foam.

At last he took my shoes away and shut himself up with them in his room
for two hours.

"Monsieur is much pleased with you," said the governess to me, in
showing me over the house. "Try to continue to please him. The place is
a good one."

Four days later, in the morning, on going at the usual hour to open the
windows, I came near fainting with horror in the chamber. Monsieur was
dead. Stretched on his back in the middle of the bed, he lay with all
the rigidity of a corpse. He had not struggled. The bed-clothing was
not disarranged. There was not the slightest trace of shock, of agony,
of clinched hands striving to strangle Death. And I should have thought
him asleep, if his face had not been violet, frightfully violet, the
sinister violet of the egg-plant. And,--terrifying spectacle, which,
still more than this face, caused me to quake with fear,--Monsieur
held, pressed between his teeth, one of my shoes, so firmly pressed
between his teeth that, after useless and horrible efforts, I was
obliged to cut the leather with a razor, in order to tear it from him.

I am no saint; I have known many men, and I know, by experience, all
the madness, all the vileness, of which they are capable. But a man
like Monsieur? Oh! indeed, is it not ridiculous all the same that such
types exist? And where do they go in search of all their conceits,
when it is so simple and so good to love each other prettily, as other
people do?



I do not think that anything of that kind will happen to me here. Here,
evidently, they are of another sort. But is it better? Is it worse? As
to that, I know nothing.

There is one thing that torments me. I ought, perhaps, to have
finished, once for all, with all these dirty places, and squarely taken
the step from domesticity into gallantry, like so many others that I
have known, and who--I say it without pride--had fewer "advantages"
than I. Though I am not what is called pretty, I am better; without
conceit I may say that I have an atmosphere, a style, which many
society women and many women of the _demi-monde_ have often envied me.
A little tall, perhaps, but supple, slender, and well-formed, with very
beautiful blonde hair, very beautiful deep-blue eyes, an audacious
mouth, and, finally, an original manner and a turn of mind, very lively
and languishing at once, that pleases men. I might have succeeded.
But, in addition to the fact that, by my own fault, I have missed some
astonishing opportunities, which probably will never come to me again,
I have been afraid. I have been afraid, for one never knows where that
will lead you. I have rubbed against so many miseries in that sphere of
life; I have received so many distressing confidences. And those tragic
calvaries from the Depot to the Hospital, which one does not always
escape! And, for a background to the picture, the hell of Saint-Lazare!
Such things cause one to reflect and shudder. Who knows, too, whether
I should have had, as woman, the same success that I have had as
chambermaid? The particular charm which we exercise over men does not
lie solely in ourselves, however pretty we may be. It depends largely,
as I have had occasion to know, on our environment, on the luxury and
vice of our surroundings, on our mistresses themselves and on the
desire which they excite. In loving us, it is a little of them and much
of their mystery that men love in us.

But there is something else. In spite of my dissolute life, I have
luckily preserved, in the depths of my being, a very sincere religious
feeling, which saves me from definitive falls and holds me back at
the edge of the worst abysses. Ah! if there were no religion; if, on
evenings of gloom and moral distress, there were no prayer in the
churches; if it were not for the Holy Virgin, and Saint Anthony of
Padua, and all the rest of the outfit,--we should be much more unhappy,
that is sure. And what would become of us, and how far we should go,
the devil only knows!

Finally,--and this is more serious,--I have not the least defence
against men. I should be the constant victim of my disinterestedness
and their pleasure. I am too amorous,--yes, I am too much in love with
love, to draw any profit whatever out of love. It is stronger than I; I
cannot ask money of one who gives me happiness and sets ajar for me the
radiant gates of Ecstasy.

So here I am, then, at the Priory, awaiting what? Indeed, I do not
know. The wisest way would be not to think about it, and trust
everything to luck. Perhaps it is thus that things go best. Provided
that to-morrow, and pursued even here by that pitiless mischance which
never leaves me, I am not forced once more to quit my place. That
would annoy me. For some time I have had pains in my loins, a feeling
of weariness in my whole body; my stomach is becoming impaired, my
memory is weakening; I am growing more irritable and nervous. Just now,
when looking in the glass, I discovered that my face had a really tired
look, and that my complexion--that amber complexion of which I was so
proud--had taken on an almost ashen hue. Can I be growing old already?
I do not wish to grow old yet. In Paris it is difficult to take care of
one's self. There is no time for anything. Life there is too feverish,
too tumultuous; one comes continually in contact with too many people,
too many things, too many pleasures, too much of the unexpected. But
you have to go on, just the same. Here it is calm. And what silence!
The air that one breathes must be healthy and good. Ah! if, at the risk
of being bored, I could but rest a little.

In the first place, I have no confidence. Certainly Madame is nice
enough with me. She has seen fit to pay me some compliments on my
appearance, and to congratulate herself on the reports that she has
received concerning me. Oh! her head, if she knew that these reports
are false, or at least that they were given simply to oblige! What
especially astonishes her is my elegance. And then, as a rule, they
are nice the first day, these camels. While all is new, all is
beautiful. That is a well-known song. Yes, and the next day the air
changes into another one equally well known. Especially as Madame has
very cold, hard eyes, which do not please me,--the eyes of a miser,
full of keen suspicion and spying inquiry. Nor do I like her dry and
too thin lips, which seem to be covered with a whitish crust, or her
curt, cutting speech, which turns an amiable word almost into an
insult or a humiliation. When, in questioning me concerning this or
that, concerning my aptitudes and my past, she looked at me with that
tranquil and sly impudence of an old customs official which they all
have, I said to myself:

"There is no mistake about it. Here is another one who is bound to put
everything under lock and key, to count every evening her grapes and
her lumps of sugar, and to put marks on the bottles. Oh! yes, indeed,
we change and change, but we find always the same thing."

Nevertheless, it will be necessary to see, and not rely on this first
impression. Among so many mouths that have spoken to me, among so many
looks that have searched my soul, I shall find perhaps, some day,--who
knows?--a friendly mouth, a sympathetic look. It costs me nothing to
hope.

As soon as I had arrived, still under the deadening influence of four
hours in a third-class railway carriage, and before any one in the
kitchen had even thought of offering me a slice of bread, Madame took
me over the house, from cellar to garret, in order to immediately
familiarize me with my duties. Oh! she does not waste her time, or
mine. How big this house is! And how many things and corners it
contains! Oh! no, thank you, to keep it in order as it should be, four
servants would not suffice. Besides the ground floor, which in itself
is very important,--for there are two little pavilions, in the form
of a terrace, which constitute additions and continuations,--it has
two stories, in which I shall have to be forever going up and down,
since Madame, who stays in a little room near the dining-room, has had
the ingenious idea of placing the linen-room, where I am to work, at
the top of the house, by the side of our chambers. And cupboards, and
bureaus, and drawers, and store-rooms, and litters of all sorts,--if
you like these things, there are plenty of them. Never shall I find
myself in all this.

At every minute, in showing me something, Madame said to me:

"You will have to be careful about this, my girl. This is very pretty,
my girl. This is very rare, my girl. This is very expensive, my girl."

She could not, then, call me by my name, instead of saying all the
time, "My girl," this, "My girl," that, in that tone of wounding
domination which discourages the best wills and straightway puts such
a distance, so much hatred, between our mistresses and us? Do I call
her "little mother"? And then Madame has always on her lips the words
"very expensive." It is provoking. Everything that belongs to her, even
paltry articles that cost four sous, are "very expensive." One has no
idea where the vanity of the mistress of a house can hide itself. It is
really pitiful. In explaining to me the working of an oil lamp, which
in no way differed from all other lamps, she said to me:

"My girl, you know that this lamp is very expensive, and that it can be
repaired only in England. Take care of it, as if it were the apple of
your eye."

Oh! the cheek that they have, and the fuss that they make about
nothing! And when I think that it is all done just to humiliate you, to
astonish you!

And the house is not so much after all. There is really no reason to
be so proud of it. The exterior, to be sure, with the great clusters
of trees that sumptuously frame it and the gardens that descend to the
river in gentle slopes, ornamented with broad rectangular lawns, gives
an impression of some importance. But within it is sad, old, rickety,
and has a musty smell. I do not understand how they can live in it.
Nothing but rats' nests, break-neck wooden stairways, whose warped
steps tremble and creak beneath your feet; low and dark passage-ways,
whose floors, instead of being covered with soft carpets, consist of
badly-laid tiles, of a faded red color, and glazed, glazed, slippery,
slippery. The too thin partitions, made of too dry planks, make the
chambers as sonorous as the inside of a violin. Oh! it is all hollow
and provincial. It surely is not furnished in the Paris fashion. In
all the rooms old mahogany, old worm-eaten stuffs, old worn-out faded
rugs, and arm-chairs and sofas, ridiculously stiff, without springs,
worm-eaten, and rickety. How they must grind one's shoulders! Really,
I, who am so fond of light-colored hangings, broad elastic divans,
where one can stretch voluptuously on heaps of cushions, and all these
pretty modern furnishings, so luxurious, so rich, and so gay,--I feel
utterly saddened by the gloomy sadness of these. And I am afraid that
I shall never get accustomed to such an absence of comfort, to such a
lack of elegance, to so much old dust and so many dead forms.



Nor is Madame dressed in Parisian fashion. She is lacking in style,
and is unacquainted with the great dressmakers. She is somewhat of a
fright, as they say. Although she shows a certain pretension in her
costumes, she is at least ten years behind the fashion. And what a
fashion! Still, she would not be bad-looking, if she chose not to be;
at least, she would not be too bad-looking. Her worst fault is that
she awakens in you no sympathy,--that she is a woman in nothing. But
she has regular features, pretty hair naturally blonde, and a beautiful
skin; in fact, she has too much color, as if she were suffering from
some internal malady. I know this type of woman, and I am not to be
deceived by the brilliancy of their complexion. They are pink on
the surface, yes, but within they are rotten. They cannot stand up
straight, they cannot walk, they cannot live, except by the aid of
girdles, trusses, pessaries, and a whole collection of secret horrors
and complex mechanisms. Which does not prevent them from making a show
in society. Yes, indeed, they are coquettish, if you please; they flirt
in the corners, they exhibit their painted flesh, they ogle, they
wiggle; and yet they are fit for nothing but preservation in alcohol.
Oh! misfortune! One has but little satisfaction with them, I assure
you, and it is not always agreeable to be in their service.

I do not know whether it is from temperament or from organic
indisposition, but, judging from the expression of Madame's face, her
severe gestures, and the stiff bending of her body, she cares nothing
at all for love. She has the sharpness and sourness of an old maid,
and her whole person seems dried up and mummified,--a rare thing with
blondes. Not such women as Madame does beautiful music, like that of
"Faust",--oh! that "Faust"!--cause to fall with languor and swoon
voluptuously in the arms of a handsome man. Oh, no indeed! She does
not belong to that class of very ugly women into whose faces the ardor
of sex sometimes puts so much of radiant life, so much of seductive
beauty. After all, though, one cannot trust too securely in airs like
those of Madame. I have known women of the most severe and crabbed
type, who drove away all thought of desire and love, and who yet were
famous rovers.

Although Madame forces herself to be amiable, she surely is not up to
date, like some that I have seen. I believe her to be very wicked, very
spying, very fault-finding,--a dirty character and a wicked heart. She
must be continually at people's heels, pestering them in all ways.
"Do you know how to do this?" and "Do you know how to do that?" or
again: "Are you in the habit of breaking things? Are you careful? Have
you a good memory? Are you orderly?" There is no end to it. And also:
"Are you clean? I am very particular about cleanliness; I pass over
many things, but I insist upon cleanliness." Does she take me for a
farm girl, a peasant, a country servant? Cleanliness? Oh! I know that
chestnut. They all say that. And often, when one goes to the bottom
of things, when one turns up their skirts and examines their linen,
how filthy they are! Sometimes it is disgusting enough to turn one's
stomach.

Consequently I distrust Madame's cleanliness. When she showed me her
dressing-room, I did not notice any bath, or any of the things that
are necessary to a woman who takes proper care of herself. And what a
scant supply she has of _bibelots_, bottles, and all those private and
perfumed articles with which I am so fond of messing! I long, for the
sake of amusement, to see Madame naked. She must be a pretty sight.

In the evening, as I was setting the table, Monsieur entered the
dining-room. He had just returned from a hunt. He is a very tall man,
with broad shoulders, a heavy black moustache, and a dull complexion.
His manners are a little heavy and awkward, but he seems good-natured.
Evidently he is not a man of genius, like M. Jules Lemaître, whom
I have so often served in the Rue Christophe-Colomb, or a man of
elegance, like M. de Janzé. Ah, M. de Janzé! There was a man for
you! Yet he is sympathetic. His thick and curly hair, his bull neck,
his calves that look like a wrestler's, his thick, intensely red,
and smiling lips, testify to his strength and good humor. He is not
indifferent. That I saw directly from his mobile, sniffing, sensual
nose, and from his extremely brilliant eyes, which are at once gentle
and fun-loving. Never, I think, have I met a human being with such
eyebrows, thick to the point of obscenity, and with so hairy hands.
Like most men of little intelligence and great muscular development, he
is very timid.

He surveyed me with a very queer air, an air in which there was
kindness, surprise, and satisfaction,--something also of salaciousness,
but without impudence, something of an undressing look, but without
brutality. It is evident that Monsieur is not accustomed to such
chambermaids as I, that I astonish him, and that I have made a
great impression on him at the start. He said to me, with a little
embarrassment:

"Ah! Ah! So you are the new chambermaid?"

I bent forward, slightly lowered my eyes, and then, modest and mutinous
at once, I answered simply, in my gentlest voice:

"Why, yes, Monsieur."

Then he stammered:

"So you have come? That's very good, that's very good."

He would have liked to say something further,--was trying, indeed, to
think of something to say,--but, being neither eloquent or at his ease,
he did not find anything. I was greatly amused at his embarrassment.
But, after a short silence, he asked:

"You come from Paris, like that?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"That's very good, that's very good."

And growing bolder:

"What is your name?"

"Célestine, Monsieur."

He rubbed his hands,--a mannerism of his,--and went on:

"Célestine. Ah! Ah! that's very good. Not a common name; in fact, a
pretty name. Provided Madame does not oblige you to change it. She has
that mania."

I answered, in a tone of dignified submission:

"I am at Madame's disposition."

"Undoubtedly, undoubtedly. But it is a pretty name."

I almost burst out laughing. Monsieur began to walk up and down the
room; then, suddenly, he sat down in a chair, stretched out his legs,
and, putting into his look something like an apology, and into his
voice something like a prayer, he asked:

"Well, Célestine,--for my part, I shall always call you
Célestine,--will you help me to take off my boots? That does not annoy
you, I hope."

"Certainly not, Monsieur."

"Because, you see, these confounded boots are very difficult to manage;
they come off very hard."

With a movement that I tried to make harmonious and supple, and even
provocative, I knelt before him, and, while I was helping him to take
off his boots, which were damp and covered with mud, I was perfectly
conscious that the perfumes of my neck were exciting his nose, and that
his eyes were following with increasing interest the outlines of my
form as seen through my gown. Suddenly he murmured:

"Great heavens! Célestine, but you smell good."

Without raising my eyes, I assumed an air of innocence:

"I, Monsieur?"

"Surely, you; it can hardly be my feet."

"Oh! Monsieur!"

And this "Oh! Monsieur!" at the same time that it was a protest in
favor of his feet, was also a sort of friendly reprimand,--friendly to
the point of encouragement,--for his familiarity. Did he understand? I
think so, for again, with more force, and even with a sort of amorous
trembling, he repeated:

"Célestine, you smell awfully good,--awfully good."

Ah! but the old gentleman is making free. I appeared as if slightly
scandalized by his insistence, and kept silence. Timid as he is, and
knowing nothing of the tricks of women, Monsieur was disturbed. He
feared undoubtedly that he had gone too far, and, suddenly changing his
idea, he asked:

"Are you getting accustomed to the place, Célestine?"

That question? Was I getting accustomed to the place? And I had been
there but three hours. I had to bite my lips to keep from laughing. The
old gentleman has queer ways; and, really, he is a little stupid.

But that makes no difference. He does not displease me. In his very
vulgarity he reveals a certain power and masculinity which are not
disagreeable to me.

When his boots had been taken off, and to leave him with a good
impression of me, I asked him, in my turn:

"I see Monsieur is a hunter. Has Monsieur had a good hunt to-day?"

"I never have good hunts, Célestine," he answered, shaking his head. "I
hunt for the sake of walking,--for the sake of riding,--that I may not
be here, where I find it tiresome."

"Ah! Monsieur finds it tiresome here?"

After a pause, he gallantly corrected himself.

"That is to say, I did find it tiresome. For now, you see, it is
different."

Then, with a stupid and moving smile:

"Célestine?"

"Monsieur."

"Will you get me my slippers? I ask your pardon."

"But, Monsieur, it is my business."

"Yes, to be sure; they are under the stairs, in a little dark closet,
at the left."

I believe that I shall get all that I want of this type. He is not
shrewd; he surrenders at the start. Ah! one could lead him far.



The dinner, not very luxurious, consisting of the leavings from the
day before, passed off without incident, almost silently. Monsieur
devours, and Madame picks fastidiously at the dishes with sullen
gestures and disdainful mouthings. But she absorbs powders, syrups,
drops, pills, an entire pharmacy which you have to be very careful
to place on the table, at every meal, beside her plate. They talked
very little, and what they did say concerned local matters and people
of little or no interest to me. But I gathered that they have very
little company. Moreover, it was plain that their thoughts were not on
what they were saying. They were watching me, each according to the
ideas that prompted him or her, each moved by a different curiosity;
Madame, severe and stiff, contemptuous even, more and more hostile,
and dreaming already of all the dirty tricks that she would play me;
Monsieur, slyly, with very significant winks, and, although he tried to
conceal them, with strange looks at my hands. Really, I don't know what
there is about my hands that so excites men. For my part, I seemed
to be taking no notice of their game. I went and came with dignity,
reserved, adroit, and distant. Ah! if they could have seen my soul, if
they could have heard my soul, as I saw and heard theirs!

I adore waiting on table. It is there that one surprises one's masters
in all the filthiness, in all the baseness of their inner natures.
Prudent at first, and watchful of each other, little by little they
reveal themselves, exhibit themselves as they are, without paint and
without veils, forgetting that some one is hovering around them,
listening and noting their defects, their moral humps, the secret sores
of their existence, and all the infamies and ignoble dreams that can be
contained in the respectable brains of respectable people. To collect
these confessions, to classify them, to label them in our memory, for
use as a terrible weapon on the day of settlement, is one of the great
and intense joys of our calling, and the most precious revenge for our
humiliations.

From this first contact with my new masters I have obtained no precise
and formal indications. But I feel that things do not go well here,
that Monsieur is nothing in the house, that Madame is everything, that
Monsieur trembles before Madame like a little child. Oh! he hasn't a
merry time of it, the poor man! Surely he sees, hears, and suffers all
sorts of things. I fancy that I shall get some amusement out of it, at
times. At dessert, Madame, who, during the meal, had been continually
sniffing at my hands, my arms, and my waist, said, in a clear and
cutting tone:

"I do not like the use of perfumes."

As I did not answer, pretending to ignore the fact that the remark was
addressed to me, she added:

"Do you hear, Célestine?"

"Very well, Madame."

Then I looked stealthily at poor Monsieur, who likes perfumes, or who
at least likes my perfume. With his elbows on the table, apparently
indifferent, but really humiliated and distressed, he was following
the flight of a wasp which had been lingering over a plate of fruit.
And there was now a dismal silence in this dining-room, which the
twilight had just invaded, and something inexpressibly sad, something
unspeakably heavy, fell from the ceiling on these two beings,
concerning whom I really asked myself of what use they are and what
they are doing on earth.

"The lamp, Célestine."

It was Madame's voice, sharper than ever in the silence and the shade.
It made me start.

"Do you not see that it is dark? I should not have to ask you for the
lamp. Let it be the last time."

While lighting the lamp,--this lamp which can be repaired only in
England,--I had a strong desire to cry out to poor Monsieur:

"Just wait a little, my old man, and fear nothing, and don't distress
yourself. You shall eat and drink the perfumes that you so love, and of
which you are so deprived. You shall breathe them, I promise you; you
shall breathe them in my hair, on my lips, on my neck. And the two of
us will lead this blockhead a merry dance, I answer for it."

And, to emphasize this silent invocation, I took care, as I placed the
lamp upon the table, to slightly brush against Monsieur's arm, and I
went out.



The servants' hall is not gay. Besides myself, there are only two
domestics,--a cook, who is always scolding, and a gardener-coachman,
who never says a word. The cook's name is Marianne; that of the
gardener-coachman, Joseph. Stupid peasants. And what heads they have!
She, fat, soft, flabby, sprawling, a neck emerging in a triple cushion
from a dirty neckkerchief which looks as if she wiped her kettles with
it, two enormous and shapeless breasts rolling beneath a sort of blue
cotton camisole covered with grease, her too short dress disclosing
thick ankles and big feet encased in grey woolen; he, in shirt-sleeves,
work-apron, and wooden shoes, shaven, dry, nervous, with an evil
grimace on his lips which stretch from ear to ear, and a devious gait,
the sly movements of a sacristan. Such are my two companions.

No dining-room for the servants. We take our meals in the kitchen, at
the same table where, during the day, the cook does her dirty work,
carves her meats, cleans her fish, and cuts up her vegetables, with
fingers fat and round as sausages. Really, that is scarcely proper. The
fire in the stove renders the atmosphere of the room stifling; odors of
old grease, of rancid sauces, of continual fryings, circulate in the
air. While we eat, a kettle in which the dogs' soup is boiling exhales
a fetid vapor that attacks your throat and makes you cough. One almost
vomits. More respect is shown for prisoners in their cells and dogs in
their kennels.

We had bacon and cabbage, and stinking cheese; for drink, sour cider.
Nothing else. Earthen plates, with cracked enamel, and which smell of
burnt grease, and tin forks, complete this pretty service.

Being too new in the house, I did not wish to complain. But neither did
I wish to eat. Do further damage to my stomach, no, thank you!

"Why don't you eat?" asked the cook.

"I am not hungry."

I uttered this in a very dignified tone; then Marianne grunted:
"Perhaps Mademoiselle must have truffles?"

Without showing anger, but with a stiff and haughty air, I replied:

"Why, you know, I have eaten truffles. Not everybody here can say as
much."

That shut her up.

Meantime the gardener-coachman was filling his mouth with big pieces of
bacon and examining me stealthily. I cannot say why, but this man has
an embarrassing look, and his silence troubles me. Although he is no
longer young, I am astonished at the suppleness and elasticity of his
movements; the undulations of his loins are reptilian. Let me describe
him in greater detail. His stiff, grizzled hair, his low forehead,
his oblique eyes, his prominent cheek-bones, his broad, strong jaw,
and his long, fleshy, turned-up chin, give him a strange character
that I cannot define. Is he a simpleton? Is he a rascal? I cannot
tell. Yet it is curious that this man holds my attention as he does.
After a time this obsession lessens and disappears. And I realize that
this is simply another of the thousands and thousands of tricks of my
excessive, magnifying, and romantic imagination, which causes me to see
things and people as too beautiful or as too ugly, and which compels
me to make of this miserable Joseph a being superior to the stupid
countryman, to the heavy peasant that he really is.

Towards the end of the dinner, Joseph, still without saying a word,
took from his apron-pocket the "Libre Parole," and began to read it
attentively, and Marianne, softened by having drunk two full decanters
of cider, became more amiable. Sprawling on her chair, her sleeves
rolled up and revealing bare arms, her cap set a little awry upon her
uncombed hair, she asked me where I came from, where I had been, if
I had had good places, and if I was against the Jews. And we talked
for some time, in an almost friendly way. In my turn I asked her for
information concerning the house, whether many people came and what
sort of people, whether Monsieur was attentive to the chambermaids,
whether Madame had a lover.

Oh! but you should have seen her head, and that of Joseph, too, whose
reading was suddenly interrupted, now and then, by my questions.
How scandalized and ridiculous they were! You have no idea how far
behind the times they are in the country. They know nothing, they see
nothing, they understand nothing; the most natural thing abashes them.
And yet, he with his awkward respectability, she with her virtuous
disorder,--nothing will get it out of my mind that they are intimate.
Oh! indeed, one must really be in a bad way to be satisfied with a type
like that.

"It is easy to see that you come from Paris, from I know not where,"
remarked the cook, in a tone of bitter reproach.

Whereupon Joseph, with a toss of his head, curtly added:

"Sure."

And he began to read the "Libre Parole" again. Marianne rose heavily,
and took the kettle from the fire. We talked no more.

Then I thought of my last place, of Monsieur Jean, the valet, so
distinguished with his black side-whiskers and his white skin, for
which he cared as if he were a woman. Ah! he was such a handsome
fellow, Monsieur Jean, so gay, so nice, so delicate, so artful, when
at night he read aloud to us from the "Fin de Siècle" or told us
salacious and touching stories, or familiarized us with the contents of
Monsieur's letters. Things have changed to-day. How did I ever come to
get stranded here, among such people, and far from everything that I
like?

I almost want to cry.



And I am writing these lines in my chamber, a dirty little chamber, at
the top of the house, open to all winds, to the winter's cold, to the
summer's burning heat. No other furniture than a paltry iron bed and a
paltry white-wood wardrobe which does not close and where I have not
room enough to arrange my things. No other light than a tallow candle
that smokes and runs down into a brass candlestick. It is pitiful. If I
wish to continue to write this diary, or even to read the novels that I
have brought, or to tell my fortune with the cards, I shall have to buy
wax candles with my own money, for, as for Madame's wax candles,--nit!
as Monsieur Jean would say,--they are under lock and key.

To-morrow I will try to get a little settled. Over my bed I will nail
my little gilt crucifix, and on the mantel I will place my painted
porcelain virgin, together with my little boxes, my bric-à-brac, and
the photographs of Monsieur Jean, so as to penetrate this hole with a
ray of privacy and joy.

Marianne's room is next to mine. A thin partition separates us, and you
can hear everything that goes on. I thought that Joseph, who sleeps in
the out-buildings, might visit Marianne to-night. But no. For a long
time Marianne turned about in her room, coughing, hawking, dragging
chairs, moving a heap of things. Now she is snoring. It is doubtless in
the day-time that they have their clandestine meetings.

A dog barks, far away, in the country. It is nearly two o'clock, and my
light is going out. I, too, am obliged to go to bed. But I feel that I
shall not sleep.

Ah! how old I shall grow in this hovel! Yes, indeed!



II


_September 15._

I have not yet written a single time the name of my masters. It is a
ridiculous and comical name: Lanlaire; Monsieur and Madame Lanlaire.
You see at once the plays that can be made on such a name, and the
jokes to which it is bound to give rise. As for their Christian names,
they are, perhaps, more ridiculous than their surname, and, if I may
say so, they complete it. That of Monsieur is Isidore; that of Madame,
Euphrasie. Euphrasie! Think of it!

I have just been to the haberdasher's to match some silk. And the woman
who keeps the shop has given me some information as to the house. It
is not delightful. But, to be just, I must say that I have never met
such a chattering jade. If the dealers of whom my masters buy speak in
this way of them, what must be said of them by those whom they do not
patronize? My! but they have good tongues in the country.

Monsieur's father was a manufacturer of cloths, and a banker, at
Louviers. He went into a fraudulent bankruptcy that emptied all
the little purses of the region, and was condemned to ten years'
imprisonment, which, in view of the forgeries, abuses of confidence,
thefts, and crimes of all sorts, that he had committed, was deemed a
very light sentence. While he was serving his time at Gaillon, he died.
But he had taken care to put aside, and in a safe place, it seems, four
hundred and fifty thousand francs, which, artfully withheld from the
ruined creditors, constitute Monsieur's entire personal fortune. Ah!
you see, it is no trick at all to be rich.

Madame's father was much worse, although he was never sentenced to
imprisonment, and departed this life respected by all the respectable
people. He was a dealer in men. The haberdasher explained to me that,
under Napoleon III, when everybody was not obliged to serve in the
army, as is the case to-day, the rich young men who were drawn by lot
for service had the right to send a substitute. They applied to an
agency or to a Monsieur who, in consideration of a premium varying from
one to two thousand francs, according to the risks at the time, found
them a poor devil, who consented to take their place in the regiment
for seven years, and, in case of war, to die for them. Thus was carried
on in France the trade in whites, as in Africa the trade in blacks.
There were men-markets, like cattle-markets, but for a more horrible
butchery. That does not greatly astonish me. Are there, then, none
to-day? What, I should like to know, are the employment-bureaus and the
public houses, if not slave-fairs, butcher-shops for the sale of human
meat?

According to the haberdasher, it was a very lucrative business, and
Madame's father, who had a monopoly of it for the entire department,
showed great skill in it,--that is to say, he kept for himself and
put in his pocket the larger part of the premium. Ten years ago
he died, mayor of Mesnil-Roy, substitute justice of the peace,
councillor-general, president of the board of vestrymen, treasurer of
the charity bureau, decorated, and leaving, in addition to the Priory,
which he had bought for nothing, twelve hundred thousand francs, of
which six hundred thousand went to Madame,--for Madame has a brother
who has gone to the bad, and they do not know what has become of him.
Well, say what you will, that is money that can hardly be called clean,
if, indeed, there be any clean money. For my part, it is very simple; I
have seen nothing but dirty money and wicked wealth.

The Lanlaires--is it not enough to disgust you?--have, then, more
then a million. They do nothing but economize, and they spend hardly
a third of their income. Curtailing everything, depriving others
and themselves, haggling bitterly over bills, denying their words,
recognizing no agreements save those that are written and signed, one
must keep an eye on them, and in business affairs never open the door
for any dispute whatever. They immediately take advantage of it, to
avoid payment, especially with the little dealers who cannot afford the
costs of a lawsuit, and the poor devils who are defenceless. Naturally,
they never give anything, except from time to time to the church, for
they are very pious. As for the poor, they may die of hunger before
the door of the Priory, imploring and wailing. The door remains always
closed.

"I even believe," said the haberdasher, "that, if they could take
something from the beggar's sack, they would do it remorselessly, with
a savage joy."

And she added, by way of a monstrous example:

"All of us here who earn our living with difficulty, when giving
hallowed bread, buy cake for the purpose. It is a point of propriety
and pride. They, the dirty misers, they distribute,--what? Bread, my
dear young woman. And not first-class bread at that, not even white
bread. No, workman's bread. Is it not shameful,--people as rich as
they are? Why, one day the wife of Paumier, the cooper, heard Madame
Lanlaire say to the priest, who was mildly reproaching her for this
avarice: 'Monsieur le curé, that is always good enough for these
people.'"

One must be just, even with his masters. Though there is only one voice
in regard to Madame, they have nothing against Monsieur. They do not
detest Monsieur. All agree in declaring that Monsieur is not proud,
that he would be generous to people, and would do much good, if he
could. The trouble is that he cannot. Monsieur is nothing in his own
house,--less than the servants, badly treated as they are, less than
the cat, to whom everything is allowed. Little by little, and for the
sake of tranquillity, he has abrogated all his authority as master
of the house, all his dignity as a man, into the hands of his wife.
Madame directs, regulates, organizes, administers everything. Madame
attends to the stable, to the yard, to the garden, to the cellar, and
to the wood-house, and is sure to find something amiss everywhere.
Never do things go to her liking, and she continually pretends that
they are being robbed. What an eye she has! It is inconceivable. They
play her no tricks, be sure, for she knows them all. She pays the
bills, collects the dividends and rents, and makes the bargains. She
has the devices of an old bookkeeper, the indelicacies of a corrupt
process-server, the ingenious strategy of a usurer. It is incredible.
Of course, she holds the purse, and ferociously; and she never loosens
the strings, except to let in more money. She leaves Monsieur without
a sou; the poor man has hardly enough to buy his tobacco. In the midst
of his wealth, he is even more destitute than the rest of us here.
However, he does not balk; he never balks. He obeys like the comrades.
Oh! how queer he is at times, with his air of a tired and submissive
dog! When, Madame being out, there comes a dealer with a bill, a
poor man with his poverty, a messenger who wants a tip, you ought to
see Monsieur. Monsieur is really a comical sight. He fumbles in his
pockets, gropes about, blushes, apologizes, and says, with a sorrowful
face:

"Why, I have no change about me. I have only thousand-franc bills. Have
you change for a thousand francs? No? Then you will have to call again."

Thousand-franc bills, he, who never has a hundred sous about him. Even
his letter-paper Madame keeps locked in a closet, of which she holds
the key, and she gives it out to him sheet by sheet, grumbling:

"Thank you, but you use a tremendous amount of paper. To whom, then,
can you be writing that you use so much?"

The only thing that they reproach him with, the only thing that they
do not understand, is the undignified weakness in consequence of which
he allows himself to be led in this way by such a shrew. For no one is
ignorant of the fact--indeed, Madame shouts it from the house-top--that
Monsieur and Madame are no longer anything to each other. Madame, who
has some internal disease and can have no children, will not allow him
to approach her.

"Then," asked the haberdasher, in finishing her conversation, "why is
Monsieur so good and so cowardly toward a woman who denies him not only
money, but pleasure? I would bring him to his senses, and rudely, too."

And this is what happens. When Monsieur, who is a vigorous man, and who
is also a kindly man, wishes to enjoy himself away from home, or to
bestow a little charity upon a poor man, he is reduced to ridiculous
expedients, to clumsy excuses, to not very dignified loans, the
discovery of which by Madame brings on terrible scenes,--quarrels that
often last for months. Then Monsieur is seen going off through the
fields, walking, walking, like a madman, making furious and threatening
gestures, crushing the turf beneath his feet, talking to himself, in
the wind, in the rain, in the snow; and then coming back at night more
timid, more bowed, more trembling, more conquered than ever.

The curious, and also the melancholy, part of the matter is that, amid
the worst recriminations of the haberdasher, among these unveiled
infamies, this shameful vileness, which is hawked from mouth to mouth,
from shop to shop, from house to house, it is evident that the jealousy
of the town's-people toward the Lanlaires is even greater than their
contempt for them. In spite of their criminal uselessness, of their
social wrong-doing, in spite of all that they crush under the weight
of their hideous million, this million none the less surrounds them
with a halo of respectability, and almost of glory. The people bow
lower to them than to others, and receive them more warmly than others.
They call--with what fawning civility!--the dirty hovel in which they
live in the filth of their soul, the château. To strangers coming to
inquire concerning the curiosities of the region I am sure that the
haberdasher herself, hateful though she is, would answer:

"We have a beautiful church, a beautiful fountain, and, above all,
we have something else very beautiful,--the Lanlaires, who possess a
million and live in a château. They are frightful people, and we are
very proud of them."

The worship of the million! It is a low sentiment, common not only
to the _bourgeois_, but to most of us also,--the little, the humble,
the penniless of this world. And I myself, with my frank ways and my
threats to break everything, even I am not free from this. I, whom
wealth oppresses; I, who owe to it my sorrows, my vices, my hatreds,
the bitterest of my humiliations, and my impossible dreams, and
the perpetual torment of my life,--well, as soon as I find myself
in presence of a rich man, I cannot help looking upon him as an
exceptional and beautiful being, as a sort of marvellous divinity, and,
in spite of myself, surmounting my will and my reason, I feel rising,
from the depths of my being, toward this rich man, who is very often
an imbecile, and sometimes a murderer, something like an incense of
admiration. Is it not stupid? And why? Why?

On leaving this dirty haberdasher, and this strange shop, where, by
the way, it was impossible for me to match my silk, I reflected with
discouragement upon all that this woman had told me about my masters.
It was drizzling. The sky was as dirty as the soul of this dealer in
pinchbeck. I slipped along the slimy pavement of the street, and,
furious against the haberdasher and against my masters, and against
myself, furious against this country sky, against this mud, in which my
heart and my feet were splashing, against the incurable sadness of the
little town, I kept on repeating to myself:

"Well, here is a clean place for you! I had seen everything but this. A
nice hole I have fallen into!"



Ah! yes, a nice hole indeed! And here is something more.

Madame dresses herself all alone, and does her own hair. She locks
herself securely in her dressing-room, and it is with difficulty that
I can obtain an entrance. God knows what she does in there for hours
and hours! This evening, unable to restrain myself, I knocked at the
door squarely. And here is the little conversation that ensued between
Madame and myself:

"Tac, tac!"

"Who is there?"

Ah! that sharp, shrill voice, which one would like to force back into
her throat with one's fist!

"It is I, Madame."

"What do you want?"

"I come to do the dressing-room."

"It is done. Go away. And come only when I ring for you."

That is to say that I am not even the chambermaid here. I do not know
what I am here, and what my duties are. And yet, to dress and undress
my mistresses and to do their hair is the only part of my work that
I like. I like to play with night-gowns, with dresses and ribbons,
to dabble among the linens, the hats, the laces, the furs, to rub my
mistresses after the bath, to powder them, to rub their feet with
pumice-stone, to perfume their breasts, to oxygenize their hair, to
know them, in short, from the tips of their slippers to the peak of
their chignon, to see them all naked. In this way they become for you
something else than a mistress, almost a friend or an accomplice, often
a slave. One inevitably becomes the confidant of a heap of things, of
their pains, of their vices, of their disappointments in love, of the
inner secrets of the household, of their diseases. To say nothing of
the fact that, when one is adroit, one holds them by a multitude of
details which they do not even suspect. One gets much more out of them.
It is at once profitable and amusing. That is how I understand the work
of a chambermaid.

You cannot imagine how many there are--how shall I say that?--how many
there are who are indecent and lewd in their privacy, even among those
who, in society, pass for the most reserved and the most strict, and
whose virtue is supposed to be unassailable. Ah! in the dressing-rooms
how the masks fall! How the proudest fronts crack and crumble!



Well, what am I going to do here? In this country hole, with an
impertinent minx like my new mistress, I have no favors to dream of,
no distractions to hope for. I shall do stupid housework, wearisome
sewing, and nothing else. Ah! when I remember the places where I have
served, that makes my situation still sadder, more intolerably sad. And
I have a great desire to go away,--to make my bow once for all to this
country of savages.



Just now I met Monsieur on the stairs. He was starting for a hunt.
Monsieur looked at me with a salacious air. Again he asked me:

"Well, Célestine, are you getting accustomed to the place?"

Decidedly, it is a mania with him. I answered:

"I do not know yet, Monsieur."

Then, with effrontery:

"And Monsieur, is he getting accustomed here?"

Monsieur burst out laughing. Monsieur takes a joke well. Monsieur is
really good-natured.

"You must get accustomed, Célestine. You must get accustomed.
_Sapristi!_"

I was in a humor for boldness. Again I answered:

"I will try, Monsieur,--with Monsieur's aid."

I think that Monsieur was going to say something very stiff to me.
His eyes shone like two coals. But Madame appeared at the top of the
stairs. Monsieur was off in his direction, I in mine. It was a pity.

This evening, through the door of the _salon_, I heard Madame saying to
Monsieur, in the amiable tone that you can imagine:

"I wish no familiarity with my servants."

Her servants? Are not Madame's servants Monsieur's servants? Well,
indeed!



III


_September 18._

This morning (Sunday) I went to mass.

I have already declared that, without being pious, I have religion all
the same. Say and do what you like, religion is always religion. The
rich, perhaps, can get along without it, but it is necessary for people
like us. I know very well that there are individuals who make use of it
in a rather queer fashion,--that many priests and good sisters scarcely
do it honor. But never mind. When one is unhappy,--and, in our calling,
we get more than our share of unhappiness,--it is the only thing that
will soothe you. Only that, and love. Yes, but love, that is another
sort of consolation. Consequently, even in impious houses, I never
missed mass. In the first place, mass is an excursion, a distraction,
time gained from the daily ennui of the household. And, above all, we
meet comrades, hear stories, and form acquaintances. Ah! if, on going
out of the chapel of the Assumptionists, I had wished to listen to the
good-looking old gentlemen who whispered psalms of a curious sort in my
ears, perhaps I should not be here to-day.

To-day the weather is improved. There is a beautiful sun,--one of those
misty suns that make walking agreeable and sadness less burdensome. I
know not why, but, under the influence of this blue and gold morning, I
have something like gaiety in my heart.

We are about a mile from the church. The way leading to it is a
pleasant one,--a little path winding between hedges. In spring it must
be full of flowers, wild cherry trees, and the hawthorns that smell
so good. I love the hawthorns. They remind me of things when I was a
little girl. Otherwise the country is like the country everywhere else;
there is nothing astonishing about it. It is a very wide valley, and
then, yonder, at the end of the valley, there are hills. In the valley
there is a river, on the hills there is a forest; all covered with a
veil of fog, transparent and gilded, which hides the landscape too much
to suit me.

Oddly enough, I keep my fidelity to nature as it is in Brittany. I have
it in my blood. Nowhere else does it seem to me as beautiful; nowhere
else does it speak better to my soul. Even among the richest and most
fertile fields of Normandy I am homesick for the moors, and for that
tragic and splendid sea where I was born. And this recollection,
suddenly called up, casts a cloud of melancholy into the gaiety of this
delightful morning.

On the way I meet women and women. With prayer-books under their arms,
they, too, are going to mass,--cooks, chambermaids, and barn-yard
scullions, thick-set and clumsy, and with the slow and swaying
gait of animals. How queerly they are rigged out, in their holiday
garb,--perfect mops. They smell powerfully of the country, and it
is easy to see that they have not served in Paris. They look at me
with curiosity,--a curiosity at once distrustful and sympathetic.
They note enviously, in detail, my hat, my closely-fitting gown, my
little baize jacket, and my umbrella rolled in its green silk cover.
My costume--that of a lady--astonishes them, and especially, I think,
my coquettish and smart way of wearing it. They nudge each other with
their elbows, make enormous eyes, and open their mouths immoderately,
to show each other my luxury and my style. And I go tripping along,
nimbly and lightly, with my pointed shoes, and boldly lifting up my
dress, which makes a sound of rustling silk against the skirts beneath.
What can you expect? For my part, I am glad to be admired.

As they pass by me, I hear them say to each other, in a whisper:

"That is the new chambermaid at the Priory."

One of them, short, fat, red-faced, asthmatic, and who seems to have
great difficulty in carrying an immense paunch on legs widely spread
apart, undoubtedly to the better steady it, approaches me with a smile,
a thick, glutinous smile on her gluttonous lips:

"You are the new chambermaid at the Priory? Your name is Célestine? You
arrived from Paris four days ago?"

She knows everything already. She is familiar with everything, and with
me. And there is nothing about this paunchy body, about this walking
goatskin, that so amuses me as the musketeer hat,--a large, black, felt
hat, whose plumes sway in the breeze.

She continues:

"My name is Rose, Mam'zelle Rose; I am at M. Mauger's, the next place
to yours; he is a former captain. Perhaps you have already seen him?"

"No, Mademoiselle."

"You might have seen him over the hedge that separates the two estates.
He is always working in the garden. He is still a fine man, you know."

We walk more slowly, for Mam'zelle Rose is almost stifling. She
wheezes like a foundered mare. With every breath her chest expands and
contracts, then to expand again. She says, chopping her words:

"I have one of my attacks. Oh! how people suffer these days! It is
incredible."

Then, between wheezes and hiccoughs, she encourages me:

"You must come and see me, my little one. If you need anything, good
advice, no matter what, do not hesitate. I am fond of young people.
We will drink a little glass of peach brandy as we talk. Many of these
young women come to our house."

She stops a moment, takes breath, and then, in a lower voice and a
confidential tone, continues:

"And, say, Mademoiselle Célestine, if you wish to have your letters
addressed in our care, it would be more prudent. A bit of good advice
that I give you. Madame Lanlaire reads the letters, all the letters.
Once she came very near being sentenced for it by the justice of the
peace. I repeat, do not hesitate."

I thank her, and we continue to walk. Although her body pitches and
rolls like an old vessel in a heavy sea, Mademoiselle Rose seems now to
breathe more easily. And we go on, gossiping:

"Oh! it will be a change for you here, surely. In the first place, my
little one, at the Priory they never keep a chambermaid for any length
of time. That is a settled matter. When Madame does not discharge them,
Monsieur gets them into trouble. A terrible man, Monsieur Lanlaire. The
pretty, the ugly, the young, the old,--all are alike to him. Oh! the
house is well known. And everybody will tell you what I tell you. You
are ill-fed there; you have no liberty; you are crushed with work. And
chiding and scolding all the time. A real hell! One needs only to see
you, pretty and well brought up as you are, to know, beyond a doubt,
that you are not made to stay with such curmudgeons."

All that the haberdasher told me, Mademoiselle Rose tells me again,
with more disagreeable variations. So violent is this woman's passion
for chattering that she finally forgets her suffering. Her malice gets
the better of her asthma. And the scandal of the house goes its course,
mingled with the private affairs of the neighborhood. Although already
I know them all, Rose's stories are so black, and her words are so
discouraging, that again I am thoroughly saddened. I ask myself if I
had not better go away at once. Why try an experiment in which I am
conquered in advance?

Other women have overtaken us, curious, nosy, accompanying with an
energetic "For sure" each of the revelations of Rose, who, less and
less winded, continues to jabber:

"M. Mauger is a very good man, and all alone, my little one. As much as
to say that I am the mistress. Why! a former captain; it is natural,
isn't it? He is no manager; he knows nothing of household affairs; he
likes to be taken care of and coddled, have his linen well kept, his
caprices respected, nice dishes prepared for him. If he had not beside
him a person in whom he had confidence, he would be plundered right and
left. My God, there is no lack of thieves here!"

The intonation of her spasmodic utterances, and her winks, clearly
revealed to me her exact situation in Captain Mauger's house.

"Why, you know, a man all alone, and who still has ideas. And besides,
there is work to do all the same. And we are going to hire a boy to
assist."

This Rose is lucky, I, too, have often dreamed of entering an old man's
service. It is disgusting. But at least one is tranquil, and has a
future.

We traverse the entire district. Oh! indeed, it is not pretty. It in
no way resembles the Boulevard Malesherbes. Dirty, narrow, winding
streets, and houses that stand neither square or straight,--dark
houses, of old, rotten wood, with high, tottering gables, and bulging
stories that project one past the other, in the olden fashion. The
people who pass are ugly, ugly, and I have not seen a single handsome
fellow. The industry of the neighborhood is the manufacture of
list-shoes. Most of the shoemakers, having been unable to deliver
a week's product at the factory, are still at work. And behind the
window-panes I see poor sickly faces, bent backs, and black hands
hammering leather soles.

That adds still further to the dismal sadness of the place. It seems
like a prison.

But here is the haberdasher, who, standing at her threshold, smiles at
us and bows.

"You are going to eight o'clock mass? I went to seven o'clock mass. You
have plenty of time. Will you not come in, a moment?"

Rose thanks her. She warns me against the haberdasher, who is a
malicious woman and speaks ill of everybody, a real pest! Then she
begins again to boast of her master's virtues and of her easy place. I
ask her:

"Then the captain has no family?"

"No family?" she cries, scandalized. "Well, my little one, you are not
on. Oh! yes, there is a family, and a nice one, indeed! Heaps of nieces
and cousins,--loafers, penniless people, hangers-on, all of whom were
plundering him and robbing him. You should have seen that. It was an
abomination. So you can imagine whether I set that right,---whether I
cleared the house of all this vermin. Why, my dear young woman, but for
me, the captain now would be on his uppers. Ah! the poor man! He is
well satisfied with the way things are now."

I insist with an ironical intention, which, however, she does not
understand:

"And, undoubtedly, Mademoiselle Rose, he will remember you in his will?"

Prudently, she replies:

"Monsieur will do as he likes. He is free. Surely I do not influence
him. I ask nothing of him. I do not ask him even to pay me wages. I
stay with him out of devotion. But he knows life. He knows those who
love him, who care for him with disinterestedness, who coddle him. No
one need think that he is stupid as certain persons pretend,--Madame
Lanlaire at the head, who says things about us. It is she, on the
contrary, who is evil-minded, Mademoiselle Célestine, and who has a
will of her own. Depend upon it!"

Upon this eloquent apology for the captain, we arrive at the church.

The fat Rose does not leave me. She obliges me to take a chair near
hers, and begins to mumble prayers, to make genuflections and signs of
the cross. Oh! this church! With its rough timbers that cross it and
sustain the staggering vault, it resembles a barn; with the people in
it, coughing, hawking, running against benches, and dragging chairs
around, it seems also like a village wine-shop. I see nothing but faces
stupefied by ignorance, bitter mouths contracted by hatred. There are
none here but wretched creatures who come to ask God to do something
against somebody. It is impossible for me to concentrate my thoughts,
and I feel a sort of cold penetrating me and surrounding me. Perhaps
it is because there is not even an organ in this church. Queer, isn't
it? but I cannot pray without an organ. An anthem on the organ fills
my chest, and then my stomach; it completely restores me, like love.
If I could always hear the strains of an organ, I really believe that
I should never sin. Here, instead of an organ, there is an old woman,
in the choir, with blue spectacles, and a poor little black shawl over
her shoulders, who painfully drums on a sort of piano, wheezy and out
of tune. And the people are always coughing and hawking, the droning of
the priest and the responses of the choristers being drowned by a sound
of catarrh. And how bad it all smells,--mingled odors of the muck-heap,
of the stable, of the soil, of sour straw, of wet leather, of damaged
incense. Really, they are very ill-bred in the country.

The mass drags along, and I grow weary. I am especially vexed at
finding myself among people so ordinary and so ugly, and who pay so
little attention to me. Not a pretty spectacle, not a pretty costume
with which to rest my thought or cheer my eyes. Never did I better
understand that I am made for the joy of elegance and style. Instead
of being lifted up, as at mass in Paris, all my senses take offence,
and rebel at once. For distraction, I follow attentively the movements
of the officiating priest. Oh! thank you! he is a sort of tall,
jovial fellow, very young, with an ordinary face, and a brick-red
complexion. With his dishevelled hair, his greedy jaw, his gluttonous
lips, his obscene little eyes, and his eyelids circled with black, I
have sized him up at once. How he must enjoy himself at the table! And
at the confessional, too,--the dirty things that he must say! Rose,
perceiving that I am watching him, bends toward me, and says, in a very
low voice:

"That is the new vicar. I recommend him to you. There is no one like
him to confess the women. The curate is a holy man, certainly, but he
is looked upon as too strict. Whereas the new vicar...."

She clacks her tongue, and goes back to her prayer, her head bent over
the prie-Dieu.

Well, he would not please me, the new vicar; he has a dirty and brutal
air; he looks more like a ploughman than a priest. For my part, I
require delicacy, poetry, the beyond, and white hands. I like men to be
gentle and _chic_, as Monsieur Jean was.

After mass Rose drags me to the grocery store. With a few mysterious
words she explains to me that it is necessary to be on good terms with
the woman who keeps it, and that all the domestics pay her assiduous
court.

Another little dump,--decidedly, this is the country of fat women. Her
face is covered with freckles, and, through her thin, light, flaxen
hair, which is lacking in gloss, can be seen portions of her skull, on
top of which a chignon stands up in a ridiculous fashion, like a little
broom. At the slightest movement her breast, beneath her brown cloth
waist, shakes like a liquid in a bottle. Her eyes, bordered with red
circles, are bloodshot, and her ignoble mouth makes of her every smile
a grimace. Rose introduces me:

"Madame Gouin, I bring you the new chambermaid at the Priory."

The grocer observes me attentively, and I notice that her eyes fasten
themselves upon my waist with an embarrassing obstinacy. She says in a
meaningless voice:

"Mademoiselle is at home here. Mademoiselle is a pretty girl.
Mademoiselle is a Parisienne, undoubtedly?"

"It is true, Madame Gouin, I come from Paris."

"That is to be seen; that is to be seen directly. One need not look at
you twice. I am very fond of the Parisiennes; they know what it is to
live. I too served in Paris, when I was young. I served in the house of
a midwife in the Rue Guénégaud,--Madame Tripier. Perhaps you know her?"

"No."

"That makes no difference. Oh! it was a long time ago. But come in,
Mademoiselle Célestine."

She escorts us, with ceremony, into the back shop, where four other
domestics are already gathered about a round table.

"Oh! you will have an anxious time of it, my poor young woman," groaned
the grocer, as she offered me a chair. "It is not because they do not
patronize me at the château; but I can truly say that it is an infernal
house, infernal! Is it not so, Mesdemoiselles?"

"For sure!" answer in chorus, with like gestures and like grimaces, the
four domestics thus appealed to.

Madame Gouin continues:

"Oh! thank you, I would not like to sell to people who are continually
haggling, and crying out, like pole-cats, that they are being robbed,
that they are being injured. They may go where they like."

The chorus of servants responds:

"Surely they may go where they like."

To which Madame Gouin, addressing Rose more particularly, adds, in a
firm tone:

"They do not run after them, do they, Mam'zelle Rose? Thank God! we
have no need of them, do we?"

Rose contents herself with a shrug of her shoulders, putting into this
gesture all the concentrated gall, spite, and contempt at her command.
And the huge musketeer hat emphasizes the energy of these violent
sentiments by the disorderly swaying of its black plumes.

Then, after a silence:

"Oh! well, let us talk no more about these people. Every time that I
speak of them it turns my stomach."

Thereupon the stories and gossip begin again. An uninterrupted flow of
filth is vomited from these sad mouths, as from a sewer. The back-shop
seems infected with it. The impression is the more disagreeable because
the room is rather dark and the faces take on fantastic deformities.
It is lighted only by a narrow window opening on a damp and filthy
court,--a sort of shaft formed by moss-eaten walls. An odor of pickle,
of rotting vegetables, of red herring, persists around us, impregnating
our garments. It is intolerable. Then each of these creatures, heaped
up on their chairs like bundles of dirty linen, plunges into the
narration of some dirty action, some scandal, some crime. Coward that
I am, I try to smile with them, to applaud with them; but I feel
something insurmountable, something like frightful disgust. A nausea
turns my stomach, forces its way to my throat, leaves a bad taste in my
mouth, and presses my temples. I should like to go away. I cannot, and
I remain there, like an idiot, heaped up like them on my chair, making
the same gestures that they make,--I remain there, stupidly listening
to these shrill voices that sound to me like dish-water gurgling and
dripping through sinks and pipes.

I know very well that we have to defend ourselves against our masters,
and I am not the last to do it, I assure you. But no; here, all the
same, that passes imagination. These women are odious to me. I detest
them, and I say to myself, in a low voice, that I have nothing in
common with them. Education, contact with stylish people, the habit
of seeing beautiful things, the reading of Paul Bourget's novels,
have saved me from these turpitudes. Ah! the pretty and amusing
monkey-tricks of the servants' halls in Paris,--they are far away!

As we are leaving, the grocer says to me, with an amiable smile:

"Pay no attention to the fact that your masters do not patronize me;
you must come and see me again."

I go back with Rose, who finishes familiarizing me with the daily
doings of the neighborhood. I had supposed that her stock of infamies
was exhausted. Not at all. She discovers and invents new and more
frightful ones. In the matter of calumny her resources are infinite.
And her tongue goes on forever, without stopping. It does not forget
anybody or anything. It is astonishing how, in a few minutes, one can
dishonor people, in the country. Thus she escorts me back to the Priory
gate. Even there she cannot make up her mind to leave me; talks on,
talks incessantly, tries to envelop and stun me with her friendship and
devotion. As for me, my head is broken by all that I have heard, and
the sight of the Priory fills me with a feeling of discouragement. Ah!
these broad, flowerless lawns! And this immense building, that has the
air of a barrack or a prison, and where, from behind each window, a
pair of eyes seems to be spying you.

The sun is warmer, the fog has disappeared, and the view of the
landscape has become clearer. Beyond the plain, on the hills, I
perceive little villages, gilded by the light, and enlivened by red
roofs. The river running through the plain, yellow and green, shines
here and there in silvery curves. And a few clouds decorate the sky
with their light and charming frescoes. But I take no pleasure in the
contemplation of all this. I have now but one desire, one will, one
obsession,--to flee from this sun, from this plain, from these hills,
from this house, and from this fat woman, whose malicious voice hurts
and tortures me.

At last she gets ready to leave me, takes my hand, and presses it
affectionately in her fat fingers gloved with mittens. She says to me:

"And then, my little one, Madame Gouin, you know, is a very amiable and
very clever woman. You must go to see her often."

She lingers longer, and adds more mysteriously:

"She has relieved many young girls. As soon as they are in any trouble,
they go to her. Neither seen or known. One can trust her, take my word
for it. She is a very, very expert woman."

With eyes more brilliant, and fastening her gaze on me with a strange
tenacity, she repeats:

"Very expert, and clever, and discreet. She is the Providence of the
neighborhood. Now, my little one, do not forget to come to see us when
you can. And go often to Madame Gouin's. You will not regret it. We
will see each other soon again."

She has gone. I see her, with her rolling gait, moving away, skirting
first the wall and then the hedge with her enormous person, and
suddenly burying herself in a road, where she disappears.



I pass by Joseph, the gardener-coachman, who is raking the paths. I
think that he is going to speak to me; he does not speak to me. He
simply looks at me obliquely, with a singular expression that almost
frightens me.

"Fine weather this morning, Monsieur Joseph."

Joseph grunts I know not what between his teeth. He is furious that I
have allowed myself to walk in the path that he is raking.

What a queer man he is, and how ill-bred! And why does he never say a
word to me? And why does he never answer when I speak to him?



In the house I find Madame by no means contented. She gives me a very
disagreeable reception, treats me very roughly:

"I beg you not to stay out so long in future."

I desire to reply, for I am vexed, irritated, unnerved. But fortunately
I restrain myself. I confine myself to muttering a little.

"What's that you say?"

"I say nothing."

"It is lucky. And furthermore, I forbid you to walk with M. Mauger's
servant. She is very bad company for you. See, everything is late this
morning, because of you."

I say to myself:

"_Zut! zut!_ and _zut!_ You make me tired. I will speak to whom I like.
I will see anyone that it pleases me to see. You shall lay down no law
for me, camel!"

I need only to see once more her wicked eyes, and hear her shrill
voice and her tyrannical orders, in order to lose at once the bad
impression, the impression of disgust, that I brought back from the
mass, from the grocer, and from Rose. Rose and the grocer are right;
the haberdasher also is right; all of them are right. And I promise
myself that I will see Rose; that I will see her often; that I will
return to the grocer's; that I will make this dirty haberdasher my best
friend,--since Madame forbids me to do so. And I repeat internally,
with savage energy:

"Camel! Camel! Camel!"

But I would have been much more relieved if I had had the courage to
hurl and shout this insult full in her face.



During the day, after lunch, Monsieur and Madame went out driving.
The dressing-room, the chambers, Monsieur's desk, all the closets, all
the cupboards, all the sideboards, were locked. What did I tell you?
Ah, well, thank you! no means of reading a letter, or of making up any
little packages.

So I have remained in my room. I have written to my mother and to
Monsieur Jean, and I have read "En Famille." What a delightful book!
And how well written! It is queer, all the same; I am very fond of
hearing dirty things, but I do not like to read them. I like only the
books that make me cry.



For dinner they had boiled beef and broth. It seemed to me that
Monsieur and Madame were very cool toward each other. Monsieur read
the "Petit Journal" with provoking ostentation. He crumpled the paper,
rolling all the time his kind, comical, gentle eyes. Even when he is
in anger, Monsieur's eyes remain gentle and timid. At last, doubtless
to start the conversation, Monsieur, with his nose still buried in his
paper, exclaimed:

"Hello! another woman cut to pieces!"

Madame made no answer. Very stiff, very straight, austere in her black
silk dress, her forehead wrinkled, her look stern, she did not cease
her dreaming. About what?

It is, perhaps, because of me that Madame is sulky with Monsieur.



IV


_September 26._

For a week I have been unable to write a single line in my diary. When
it comes night, I am tired, exhausted, at the end of my strength. I
think of nothing but going to bed and to sleep. To sleep! If I could
always sleep!

Oh! what a shabby place, My God! You can have no idea of it!

For a yes, for a no, Madame makes you run up and down the two cursed
flights of stairs. One has not even time to sit down in the linen-room
and breathe a little, when ... drinn!... drinn!... drinn!... one
has to get up and start again. It makes no difference if one is not
feeling well, drinn!... drinn!... drinn! In these days I have pains
in my loins that bend me in two, and gripe my stomach, and almost make
me cry out. That cuts no figure; drinn!... drinn!... drinn!... One
has no time to be sick; one has not the right to suffer. Suffering
is a master's luxury. We, we must walk, and fast, and forever; walk
at the risk of falling. Drinn!... drinn!... drinn!... And if one
is a little slow in coming at the sound of the bell, then there are
reproaches and angry scenes.

"Well, what are you about? You do not hear, then? Are you deaf? I have
been ringing for three hours. It is getting to be very provoking."

And this is what generally happens.

"Drinn!... drinn!... drinn!..."

That throws you from your chair, as if impelled by a spring.

"Bring me a needle."

I go for the needle.

"All right! Bring me some thread."

I go for the thread.

"Very good! Bring me a button."

I go for the button.

"What is this button? I did not ask for this button. You never
understand anything. A white button, number four. And be quick about
it."

And I go for the white button, number four.

You can imagine how I storm, and rage, and abuse Madame, within myself.
During these goings and comings, these ascents and descents, Madame has
changed her mind. She wants something else, or she wants nothing at all.

"No, take away the needle and the button. I have no time."

My back is broken, my knees absolutely stiff, I can do no more. That
suffices for Madame; she is satisfied. And to think that there is a
society for the protection of animals!

In the evening, when making her examination of the linen-room, she
storms:

"What! you have done nothing? What do you do all day long, then? I do
not pay you to be idle from morning till night."

I reply rather curtly, for this injustice fills me with rebellion:

"Why, Madame has been interrupting me all day."

"I have been interrupting you, I? In the first place, I forbid you
to answer me. I want no remarks, do you understand? I know what I am
talking about."

And she goes away, slamming the door, and grumbling as if she would
never stop. In the corridors, in the kitchen, in the garden, her shrill
voice can be heard for hours. Oh! how tiresome she is!

Really one knows not how to take her. What can she have in her body
that keeps her always in such a state of irritation? And how quickly I
would drop her, if I were sure of finding a place directly!

Just now I was suffering even more than usual. I felt so sharp a pain
that it seemed as if a beast were tearing the interior of my body with
its teeth and claws. Already, in the morning, on rising, I had fainted
because of loss of blood. How have I had the courage to keep up, and
drag myself about, and do my work? I do not know. Occasionally, on the
stairs, I was obliged to stop, and cling to the banister, in order to
get my breath and keep from falling. I was green, with cold sweats that
wet my hair. It was enough to make one scream, but I am good at bearing
pain, and it is a matter of pride with me never to complain in presence
of my masters. Madame surprised me at a moment when I thought that I
was about to faint. Everything was revolving about me,--the banister,
the stairs, and the walls.

"What is the matter with you?" she said to me, rudely.

"Nothing."

And I tried to straighten up.

"If there is nothing the matter with you," rejoined Madame, "why
these manners? I do not like to see funereal faces. You have a very
disagreeable way of doing your work."

In spite of my pain, I could have boxed her ears.



Amid these trials, I am always thinking of my former places. To-day it
is my place in the Rue Lincoln that I most regret. There I was second
chambermaid, and had, so to speak, nothing to do. We passed the day in
the linen-room, a magnificent linen-room, with a red felt carpet, and
lined from ceiling to floor with great mahogany cupboards, with gilded
locks. And we laughed, and we amused ourselves in talking nonsense,
in reading, in mimicking Madame's receptions, all under the eye of
an English governess, who made tea for us,--the good tea that Madame
bought in England for her little morning breakfasts. Sometimes, from
the servants' hall, the butler--one who was up to date--brought us
cakes, caviare on toast, slices of ham, and a heap of good things.

I remember that one afternoon they obliged me to put on a very swell
costume belonging to Monsieur,--to Coco, as we called him among
ourselves. Naturally we played at all sorts of _risqués_ games; we even
went very far in our fun-making.

Ah! that was a place!



I am beginning to know Monsieur well. They were right in saying that he
is an excellent and generous man, for, if he were not, there would not
be in the world a worse rascal, a more perfect sharper. The need, the
passion that he feels for being charitable, impel him to do things that
are not very admirable. His intention is praiseworthy, but the result
upon others is often disastrous, all the same. It must be confessed
that his kindness has been the cause of dirty little tricks, like the
following:



Last Tuesday a very simple old man, father Pantois, brought some
sweet-briers that Monsieur had ordered,--of course without Madame's
knowledge. It was toward the end of the day. I had come down for some
hot water for a belated bath. Madame, who had gone to town, had not
yet returned. And I was chattering in the kitchen with Marianne, when
Monsieur, cordial, joyous, unreserved, and noisy, brought in father
Pantois. He immediately had him served with bread, cheese, and cider.
And then he began to talk with him.

The good man excited my pity, so worn, thin, and dirtily clad was he.
His pantaloons were in rags; his cap was a mass of filth. And his open
shirt revealed a part of his bare breast, chapped, crimped, seasoned
like old leather. He ate greedily.

"Well, father Pantois," cried Monsieur, rubbing his hands, "that goes
better, eh?"

The old man, with his mouth full, thanked him.

"You are very good, Monsieur Lanlaire. Because, you see, since this
morning, at four o'clock, when I left home, I have put nothing in my
stomach,--nothing at all."

"Well, eat away, father Pantois. Regale yourself, while you are about
it."

"You are very good, Monsieur Lanlaire. Pray excuse me."

The old man cut off enormous pieces of bread, which he was a long time
in chewing, for he had no teeth left. When he was partially satisfied,
Monsieur asked him:

"And the sweet-briers, father Pantois? They are fine this year, eh?"

"There are some that are fine; there are some that are not so fine;
there are almost all sorts, Monsieur Lanlaire. Indeed, one can scarcely
choose. And they are hard to pull up, you can believe. And besides,
Monsieur Porcellet will not let us take them from his woods any more.
We have to go a long way now to find them, a very long way. If I were
to tell you that I come from the forest of Raillon,--more than three
leagues from here? Yes, indeed, Monsieur Lanlaire."

While the good man was talking, Monsieur had taken a seat at the table
beside him. Gay, almost uproarious, he slapped him on the shoulder, and
exclaimed:

"Five leagues! you are a jolly good one, father Pantois. Always strong,
always young."

"Not so much as that, Monsieur Lanlaire; not so much as that."

"Nonsense!" insisted Monsieur, "strong as an old Turk,--and
good-humored, yes, indeed! They don't make any more like you these
days, father Pantois. You are of the old school, you are."

The old man shook his head, his gaunt head, of the color of old wood,
and repeated:

"Not so much as that. My legs are weakening, Monsieur Lanlaire; my
arms are getting soft. And then my back. Oh! my confounded back! My
strength is almost gone. And then the wife, who is sick, and who never
leaves her bed,--what a bill for medicines! One has little luck, one
has little luck. If at least one did not grow old? That, you see,
Monsieur Lanlaire, that is the worst of the matter."

Monsieur sighed, made a vague gesture, and then, summing up the
question philosophically, said:

"Oh! yes, but what do you expect, father Pantois? Such is life. One
cannot be and have been. That's the way it is."

"To be sure; one must be reasonable."

"That's it."

"We live while we can, isn't it so, Monsieur Lanlaire?"

"Indeed it is."

And, after a pause, he added in a voice that had become melancholy:

"Besides, everybody has his sorrows, father Pantois."

"No doubt of it."

There was a silence. Marianne was cutting up herbs. It was growing
dark in the garden. The two big sunflowers, which could be seen in the
perspective of the open door, were losing their color and disappearing
in the shade. And father Pantois kept on eating. His glass had
remained empty. Monsieur filled it, and then, suddenly abandoning his
metaphysical heights, he asked:

"And what are sweet-briers worth this year?"

"Sweet-briers, Monsieur Lanlaire? Well, this year, taking them as they
come, sweet-briers are worth twenty-two francs a hundred. It is a
little dear, I know; but I cannot get them for less; really I cannot."

Like a generous man, who despises considerations of money, Monsieur
interrupted the old man, who was getting ready to justify himself by
explanations.

"It is all right, father Pantois. It is agreed. Do I ever haggle with
you? In fact, instead of twenty-two francs, I will pay you twenty-five
for your sweet-briers."

"Ah! Monsieur Lanlaire, you are too good!"

"No, no; I am just. I am for the people, I am; for labor, don't you
know?"

And, with a blow on the table, he went higher still.

"No, not twenty-five,--thirty, father Pantois. I will pay you thirty
francs, do you hear that?"

The good man lifted his poor eyes to Monsieur, in astonishment and
gratitude, and stammered:

"I hear very well. It is a pleasure to work for you, Monsieur Lanlaire.
You know what work is, you do."

Monsieur put an end to these effusions.

"And I will go to pay you,--let us see; to-day is Tuesday,--I will go
to pay you on Sunday. Does that suit you? And at the same time I will
take my gun. Is it agreed?"

The gleam of gratitude which had been shining in the eyes of father
Pantois faded out. He was embarrassed, troubled; he stopped eating.

"You see," said he, timidly,--"well, in short, if you could pay it
to-night, that would oblige me greatly, Monsieur Lanlaire. Twenty-two
francs, that's all; pray excuse me."

"You are joking, father Pantois," replied Monsieur, with superb
assurance; "certainly; I will pay you that directly. I proposed that
only for the purpose of making a little trip and paying you a little
visit."

He fumbled in the pockets of his pantaloons, then in those of his vest
and waistcoat, and, assuming an air of surprise, he cried:

"Well, there! here I am again without change! I have nothing but
confounded thousand-franc bills."

With a forced and really sinister laugh, he asked:

"I will bet that you have not change for a thousand francs, father
Pantois?"

Seeing Monsieur laugh, father Pantois thought that it was proper for
him to laugh too, and he answered, jovially:

"Ha! ha! ha! I have never even seen these confounded bills."

"Well, on Sunday then," concluded Monsieur.

Monsieur had poured out a glass of cider for himself, and was drinking
with father Pantois, when Madame, whom they had not heard coming,
suddenly entered the kitchen, like a gust of wind.

Ah! her eye, when she saw that! when she saw Monsieur sitting at table
beside the poor old man, and drinking with him!

"What's this?" she exclaimed, her lips all white.

Monsieur stammered, and hemmed and hawed.

"It is some sweet-briers; you know very well, my pet; some
sweet-briers. Father Pantois has brought me some sweet-briers. All the
rose-bushes were frozen this winter."

"I have ordered no sweet-briers. We need no sweet-briers here."

This was said in a cutting tone. Then she made a half-circuit of the
room, and went out, slamming the door and showering insults. In her
anger she had not noticed me.

Monsieur and the poor old puller of sweet-briers had risen.
Embarrassed, they looked at the door through which Madame had just
disappeared. Then they looked at each other, without daring to say a
word. Monsieur was the first to break this painful silence.

"Well, then, on Sunday, father Pantois."

"On Sunday, Monsieur Lanlaire."

"And take good care of yourself, father Pantois."

"You also, Monsieur Lanlaire."

"And thirty francs, mind you. I do not take back what I said."

"You are very good."

And the old man, trembling on his legs, and with back bent, went away,
and disappeared in the darkness.



Poor Monsieur! he must have received his lecture! And, as for father
Pantois, if ever he gets his thirty francs,--well, he will be lucky.

I do not wish to justify Madame, but I think that Monsieur is wrong in
talking familiarly with people that are too far beneath him. It is not
dignified.

I know very well that he doesn't lead a gay life, to be sure, and that
he takes such opportunities as offer. That is not always convenient.
When he comes back late from a hunt, dirty and wet, and singing to keep
up his courage, Madame gives him a warm reception.

"Ah! it is very nice of you to leave me alone all day!"

"But you know very well, my pet...."

"Be still."

She sulks for hours and hours, her forehead stern, her mouth ugly. He
follows her about everywhere, trembling and stammering excuses.

"But, my pet, you know very well...."

"Let me alone; you make me tired."

The next day, naturally, Monsieur does not go out, and Madame exclaims:

"Why do you wander about thus in the house, like a soul in torment?"

"But, my pet...."

"You would do much better to go out, to go hunting, the devil knows
where! You annoy me; you unnerve me. Go away."

So that he never knows what to do, whether to go or stay, to be here or
elsewhere. A difficult problem. But, as in either case Madame scolds,
Monsieur has taken the course of going away as often as possible. In
that way he does not hear her scold.

Ah! it is really pitiful.



The other morning, as I was going to spread a little linen on the
hedge, I saw him in the garden. Monsieur was gardening. The wind having
blown down some dahlias during the night, he was refastening them to
their props.

Very often, when he does not go out before lunch, Monsieur works in the
garden; at least, he pretends to be occupying himself with something
or other in his platbands. It is always time gained from the ennui of
the household. During these moments there are no scenes. Away from
Madame, he is no longer the same man. His face lightens up, his eyes
shine. Naturally gay, his gaiety comes to the surface. Really, he is
not disagreeable. In the house, indeed, he rarely speaks to me now,
and, though still bent on his idea, seems to pay no attention to me.
But outside he never fails to address me a pleasant little word, after
making sure, however, that Madame cannot be spying him. When he does
not dare to speak to me, he looks at me, and his look is more eloquent
than his words. Moreover, I amuse myself in exciting him in all ways,
although I have taken no resolution concerning him.

In passing by him, in the path where he was working, bent over his
dahlias, with bits of string between his teeth, I said to him, without
slackening my pace:

"Oh! how hard Monsieur is working this morning!"

"Yes, indeed," he answered; "these confounded dahlias! You see...."

He invited me to stop a minute.

"Well, Célestine, I hope you are getting accustomed to the place, now?"

Always his mania! Always the same difficulty in engaging in
conversation! To please him, I replied with a smile:

"Why, yes, Monsieur, certainly; I am getting accustomed here."

"I am glad to hear it. It is not bad here; really, it is not bad."

He quite straightened up, gave me a very tender look, and repeated: "It
is not bad," thus giving himself time to think of something ingenious
to say to me.

He took from his teeth the bits of string, tied them at the top of the
prop, and, with legs spread apart, and his two palms resting on his
hips, with a knowing look, and frankly obscene eyes, he cried:

"I'll bet, Célestine, that you led a gay life in Paris? Say, now,
didn't you?"

I was not expecting this. And I had a great desire to laugh. But I
lowered my eyes modestly, with an offended air, and, trying to blush,
as was proper under the circumstances, I exclaimed, in a tone of
reproach:

"Oh! Monsieur!"

"Well, what?" he insisted; "a pretty girl like you,--with such eyes!
Oh! yes, you must have had a gay time. And so much the better. For my
part, I am for amusement; yes, I am for love."

Monsieur was becoming strangely animated. And, on his robust, muscular
person I recognized the most evident signs of amorous exaltation. He
was on fire; desire was flaming in his eyes. I deemed it my duty to
pour a good shower of cold water on this fire. In a very dry tone, and
at the same time very loftily, I said:

"Monsieur is mistaken. Monsieur thinks that he is speaking to his other
chambermaids. Monsieur must know, however, that I am a good girl."

And with great dignity, to show exactly to what extent this outrage had
offended me, I added:

"It will serve Monsieur right, if I go to complain to Madame directly."

And I made a pretence of starting. Monsieur quickly grasped me by the
arm.

"No, no," he stammered.

How did I ever say all that without bursting? How did I ever succeed in
burying in my throat the laugh that was ringing there? Really, I don't
know.

Monsieur was prodigiously ridiculous. Livid now, with mouth wide open,
his whole person bearing a two-fold expression of annoyance and fear,
he remained silent, digging into his neck with his nails.

Near us an old pear tree twisted its pyramid of branches, eaten by
lichens and mosses. A few pears hung within reach of his hand. A magpie
was chattering ironically at the top of a neighboring chestnut tree.
Crouching behind the border of box, the cat was pawing at a bumble-bee.
The silence was becoming more and more painful for Monsieur. At
last, after efforts that were almost sorrowful,--efforts that brought
grotesque grimaces to his lips,--Monsieur asked:

"Do you like pears, Célestine?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

I did not disarm; I answered in a tone of lofty indifference.

In the fear of being surprised by his wife, he hesitated a few seconds.
And suddenly, like a thieving child, he took a pear from the tree, and
gave it to me,--oh! how piteously! His knees bent, his hand trembled.

"There, Célestine, hide that in your apron. You never have any in the
kitchen, do you?"

"No, Monsieur."

"Well, I will give you some occasionally, because ... because ... I
wish you to be happy."

The sincerity and ardor of his desire, his awkwardness, his clumsy
gestures, his bewildered words, and also his masculine power, all had
a softening effect upon me. I relaxed my face a little, veiled the
severity of my look with a sort of smile, and, half ironically, half
coaxingly, I said to him:

"Oh! Monsieur, if Madame were to see you?"

Again he became troubled, but, as we were separated from the house by
a thick curtain of chestnut trees, he quickly recovered himself, and,
growing more defiant as I became less severe, he exclaimed, with easy
gestures:

"Well, what? Madame? And what of her? I care nothing for Madame. I do
not intend that she shall annoy me. I have enough of her. I am over my
head in Madame."

I declared gravely:

"Monsieur is wrong. Monsieur is not just. Madame is a very amiable
woman."

He gave a start.

"Very amiable? She? Ah! Great God! But you do not know, then, what she
has done? She has spoiled my life. I am no longer a man; I am nothing
at all. I am the laughing-stock of the neighborhood. And all on account
of my wife. My wife? She ... she ... she is a hussy,--yes, Célestine, a
hussy ... a hussy ... a hussy."

I gave him a moral lecture. I talked to him gently, hypocritically
boasting of Madame's energy and order and all her domestic virtues. At
each of my phrases he became more exasperated.

"No, no. A hussy! A hussy!"

However, I succeeded in calming him a little. Poor Monsieur! I played
with him with marvelous ease. With a simple look I made him pass from
anger to emotion. Then he stammered:

"Oh! you are so gentle, you are! You are so pretty! You must be so
good! Whereas that hussy"...

"Oh! come, Monsieur! come! come!"

He continued:

"You are so gentle! And yet, what?... you are only a chambermaid."

For a moment he drew nearer to me, and in a low voice said:

"If you would, Célestine?"

"If I would what?"

"If you would ... you know very well; yes, you know very well."

"Monsieur wishes me perhaps to betray Madame with Monsieur?"

He misunderstood the expression of my face; and, with eyes standing out
of his head, the veins in his neck swollen, his lips moist and frothy,
he answered, in a smothered voice:

"Yes; yes, indeed."

"Monsieur doesn't think of such a thing?"

"I think of nothing else, Célestine."

He was very red, his face congested.

"Ah! Monsieur is going to begin again?"

He tried to grasp my hand, to draw me to him.

"Well, yes," he stammered, "I am going to begin again; I am going to
begin again, because ... because ... I am mad over you, Célestine;
because I think of nothing else; because I cannot sleep; because I feel
really sick. And don't be afraid of me; have no fears! I am not a
brute. No, indeed; I swear it. I ... I...."

"Another word, Monsieur, and this time I tell everything to Madame.
Suppose some one were to see you in the garden in this condition?"

He stopped short. Distressed, ashamed, thoroughly stupid, he knew not
what to do with his hands, with his eyes, with his whole person. And
he looked, without seeing them, at the ground beneath his feet, at the
old pear tree, at the garden. Conquered at last, he untied the bits of
string at the top of the prop, bent again over the fallen dahlias, and
sad, infinitely so, and supplicating, he groaned:

"Just now, Célestine, I said to you ... I said that to you ... as I
would have said anything else to you,--as I would have said no matter
what. I am an old fool. You must not be angry with me. And, above all,
you must not say anything to Madame. You are right, though; suppose
some one had seen us in the garden?"

I ran away, to keep from laughing.

Yes, I wanted to laugh. And, nevertheless, there was an emotion singing
in my heart, something--what shall I call it?--something maternal. And,
besides, it would have been amusing, because of Madame. We shall see,
later.

Monsieur did not go away all day. He straightened his dahlias, and
during the afternoon he did not leave the wood-house, where he
split wood furiously for more than four hours. From the linen-room I
listened, with a sort of pride, to the blows of the axe.



Yesterday Monsieur and Madame spent the entire afternoon at Louviers.
Monsieur had an appointment with his lawyer, Madame with her
dressmaker. Her dressmaker!

I took advantage of this moment of rest to pay a visit to Rose, whom I
had not seen since that famous Sunday. And I was not averse to making
the acquaintance of Captain Mauger.

A true type of an old sea-dog, this man, and such as you seldom see,
I assure you. Fancy a carp's head, with a moustache and a long gray
tuft of beard. Very dry, very nervous, very restless, he cannot stay
in one place for any length of time, and is always at work, either in
his garden, or in a little room where he does carpentering, humming
military airs or imitating the bugle of the regiment.

The garden is very pretty,--an old garden divided into square beds in
which old-fashioned flowers are cultivated,--those very old flowers
that are found now only in very old fields and in the gardens of very
old priests.

When I arrived, Rose, comfortably seated in the shade of an acacia,
beside a rustic table, on which lay her work-basket, was mending
stockings, and the captain, squatting on the grass, and wearing an old
foraging-cap on his head, was stopping the leaks in a garden-hose which
had burst the night before.

They welcomed me enthusiastically, and Rose ordered the little servant,
who was weeding a bed of marguerites, to go for the bottle of peach
brandy and some glasses.

The first courtesies exchanged, the captain asked:

"Well, he has not yet croaked, then, your Lanlaire? Oh! you can boast
of serving in a famous den! I really pity you, my dear young woman."

He explained to me that formerly Monsieur and he had lived as good
neighbors, as inseparable friends. A discussion apropos of Rose had
brought on a deadly quarrel. Monsieur, it seems, reproached the captain
with not maintaining his dignity with his servant,--with admitting her
to his table.

Interrupting his story, the captain forced my testimony:

"To my table! Well, have I not the right? Is it any of his business?"

"Certainly not, captain."

Rose, in a modest voice, sighed:

"A man living all alone; it is very natural isn't it?"

Since this famous discussion, which had come near ending in blows, the
two old friends had passed their time in lawsuits and tricks. They
hated each other savagely.

"As for me," declared the captain, "when I find any stones in my
garden, I throw them over the hedge into Lanlaire's. So much the worse
if they fall on his bell-glasses and on his garden-frames! Or, rather,
so much the better! Oh! the pig! Wait now, let me show you."

Having noticed a stone in the path, he rushed to pick it up, approached
the hedge cautiously, creeping like a trapper, and threw the stone into
our garden with all his might. We heard a noise of breaking glass.
Then, returning to us triumphantly, shaking, stifled, twisted with
laughter, he exclaimed:

"Another square broken! The glazier will have to come again."

Rose looked at him with a sort of maternal admiration, and said:

"Is he not droll? What a child! And how young, for his age!"

After we had sipped a little glass of brandy, Captain Mauger desired to
do me the honors of the garden. Rose excused herself for her inability
to accompany us, because of her asthma, and counselled us not to stay
too long.

"Besides," said she, jokingly, "I am watching you."

The captain took me through the paths, among the beds bordered with box
and filled with flowers. He told me the names of the prettiest ones,
remarking each time that there were no such to be seen in the garden
of that pig of a Lanlaire. Suddenly he plucked a little orange-colored
flower, odd and charming, twirled the stem gently in his fingers, and
asked me:

"Did you ever eat any of these?"

I was so surprised by this preposterous question that I stood with
mouth closed. The captain declared:

"Well, I have eaten them. They are perfect to the taste. I have eaten
all the flowers that are here. Some are good; some are not so good; and
some don't amount to much. But, as for me, I eat everything."

He winked, clacked his tongue, tapped his belly, and repeated in a
louder voice, in which an accent of defiance was uppermost:

"I eat everything, I do."

The way in which the captain had just proclaimed this strange
confession of faith revealed to me that his vanity in life was to eat
everything. I amused myself in humoring his mania.

"And you are right, Captain."

"Surely," he answered, not without pride. "And it is not only plants
that I eat; I eat animals also,--animals that nobody else has
eaten,--animals that are not known. I eat everything, I do."

We continued our walk among the flower-beds, through the narrow paths
where pretty corollas, blue, yellow, and red, were swaying in the
breeze. And, as he looked at the flowers, it seemed to me that the
captain's belly gave little starts of joy. His tongue passed over his
chapped lips with a slight smack.

He said to me further:

"And I am going to confess to you. There are no insects, no birds, no
earth-worms that I have not eaten. I have eaten skunks and snakes,
rats and crickets and caterpillars. I have eaten everything. It is
well known in the neighborhood. When they find a beast, dead or alive,
a beast unknown to anybody, they say to themselves: 'I must take it
to Captain Mauger.' They bring it to me, and I eat it. In winter
especially, when it is very cold, unknown birds pass this way, coming
from America, or from a greater distance perhaps. They bring them to
me, and I eat them. I will bet that there is not a man in the world who
has eaten as many things as I have. I eat everything."

The walk over, we returned to sit down under the acacia. And I was
getting ready to leave, when the captain cried:

"Oh! I must show you something curious,--something that you have never
seen, I am sure."

And he called in a loud voice:

"Kléber! Kléber!"

Between two calls he explained to me:

"Kléber is my ferret. A phenomenon!"

And he called again:

"Kléber! Kléber!"

Then, on a branch above us, between green and golden leaves, there
appeared a pink snout and two little black, sharp, bright eyes.

"Oh! I knew well that he was not far away. Come, come here, Kléber!
Psstt!"

The animal crept along the branch, ventured upon the trunk, and
descended carefully, burying its claws in the bark. His body, covered
with white fur and marked with pale yellow spots, had the supple
movements, the graceful undulations, of a serpent. He touched ground,
and in two bounds was on the knees of the captain, who began to caress
him joyfully.

"Oh! the good Kléber! Oh! the charming little Kléber!"

He turned to me:

"Did you ever see a ferret as tame as that? He follows me about the
garden everywhere, like a little dog. I have only to call him, and he
is there directly, his tail frisking, his head lifted. He eats with us,
sleeps with us. Indeed, I love the little beast as if he were a person.
Why, Mademoiselle Célestine, I have refused three hundred francs for
him. I would not sell him for a thousand francs,--no, not for two
thousand francs. Here, Kléber."

The animal lifted its head toward its master; then it climbed upon
him, mounted his shoulders, and, after a thousand caresses and a
thousand pretty tricks, rolled itself around the captain's neck, like a
handkerchief. Rose said nothing. She seemed vexed.

Then an infernal idea flashed into my mind.

"I will bet you," I said, suddenly,--"I will bet you, Captain, that you
would not eat your ferret."

The captain looked at me with profound astonishment, and then with
infinite sadness. His eyes became round, his lips quivered.

"Kléber?" he stammered; "eat Kléber?"

Evidently this question had never occurred to him, who had eaten
everything. A sort of new world, strangely comestible, appeared before
him.

"I will bet," I repeated, ferociously, "that you would not eat your
ferret."

Bewildered, distressed, moved by a mysterious and invincible shock, the
old captain had risen from his bench. He was extraordinarily agitated.

"Just say that again, and see!" he stammered.

For the third time, violently, separating each word, I said:

"I will bet that you would not eat your ferret."

"I would not eat my ferret? What's that you say? You say that I would
not eat it? Yes, you say that? Well, you shall see. I tell you that I
eat everything."

He seized the ferret. As one breaks a loaf of bread, he broke the
little beast's back with a snap, and threw it, dead without a shock,
without a spasm, on the sandy path, shouting to Rose:

"Make me a stew out of that for dinner!"

And, madly gesticulating, he ran to shut himself up in the house.

For some minutes I felt a real and unspeakable horror. Still completely
dazed by the abominable action that I had just committed, I rose to go.
I was very pale. Rose accompanied me. With a smile she confided to me:

"I am not sorry for what has just happened. He was too fond of his
ferret. I do not wish him to love anything. He loves his flowers
already too much to suit me."

After a short silence, she added:

"But he will never forgive you for that. He is not a man to be defied.
An old soldier, you know!"

Then, a few steps farther on:

"Pay attention, my little one. They are beginning to gossip about you
in the neighborhood. It seems that you were seen the other day, in the
garden, with Monsieur Lanlaire. It is very imprudent, believe me. He
will get you into trouble, if he hasn't already done so. You want to
look out for yourself."

And, as she closed the gate behind me:

"Well, _au revoir!_ Now I must go to make my stew."

All day long I saw before my eyes the body of the poor little ferret,
lying there on the sandy path.



This evening, at dinner, when dessert was being served, Madame said to
me, very severely:

"If you like prunes, you have only to ask me for them; I will see if I
can give you any; but I forbid you to take them."

I answered:

"I am not a thief, Madame, and I do not like prunes."

Madame insisted:

"I tell you that you have taken some prunes."

I replied:

"If Madame thinks me a thief, Madame has only to pay me and let me go."

Madame snatched the plate of prunes from my hand.

"Monsieur ate five this morning; there were thirty-two; now there are
but twenty-five; then you have taken two. Don't let that happen again."

It was true. I had eaten two of them. She had counted them!

Did you ever in your life?



V


_September 28._

My mother is dead. I received the news this morning, in a letter from
home. Although I have never had anything but blows from her, the news
has given me pain, and I have cried, and cried, and cried. Seeing me
crying, Madame said:

"Again these manners?"

I answered:

"My mother, my poor mother, is dead!"

Then Madame, in her ordinary voice:

"It is a pity, but I can do nothing about it. At any rate, the work
must not suffer."

And that was all. Oh! indeed, Madame's kindness will never kill her.

What has made me most unhappy is the fact that I have seen a
coincidence between my mother's death and the murder of the little
ferret. It seems to me like a punishment from heaven, and that perhaps
my mother would not be dead if I had not obliged the captain to kill
poor Kléber. In vain have I repeated to myself that my mother died
before the ferret. That had no effect; the idea has pursued me all day
long, like a remorse.

I should have liked to go home. But Audierne is so far away,--at the
end of the world, it seems. And I have no money. When I shall receive
my first month's wages, I shall have to pay the employment-bureau.
I shall not have enough to even pay the few little debts contracted
during the days when I was on the pavement.

And then, of what use would it be to go? My brother is in the naval
service, and his vessel is in China, I believe, for it is a very long
time since we had any news from him. And my sister Louise? Where is
she now? I do not know. Since she left us to follow Jean le Duff to
Concarneau, nothing has been heard from her. She must have rolled
hither and thither, the devil knows where! Perhaps she is in a public
house; perhaps she, too, is dead. And perhaps, also, my brother is dead.

Yes, why should I go there? In what way would it help me? There is no
one there now who interests me, and surely my mother has left nothing.
Her rags and the little furniture that she had certainly will not pay
her brandy bill.

It is queer, all the same; as long as she was living, I almost never
thought of her; I felt no desire to see her again. I wrote to her only
when I changed my place, and then simply to give her my address. She
has beaten me so much! I was so unhappy with her, she being always
drunk. And yet, on learning suddenly that she is dead, my soul is
plunged in mourning, and I feel more alone than ever.

And I remember my childhood with singular clearness. I see again all
the things and beings among whom I began the stern apprenticeship of
life. There is really too much sorrow on one side, too much happiness
on the other. The world is not just.

One night, I remember,--I was very small, moreover,--I remember that
we were awakened with a start by the whistle of the life-saving boat.
Oh! those calls in the tempest and in the darkness,--how lugubrious
they are! Since the night before, the wind had been blowing a gale. The
harbor bar was white and furious. Only a few sloops had been able to
get back. The others, the poor others, were surely in danger.

Knowing that my father was fishing in the vicinity of the Ile de Sein,
my mother was not too anxious. She hoped that he had put into the
island harbor, as he had done so often before. Nevertheless, on hearing
the whistle of the life-saving boat, she arose, trembling and very
pale, wrapped me hurriedly in a thick woolen shawl, and started for the
breakwater. My sister Louise, who was already grown, and my younger
brother, followed her, crying:

"Oh! Holy Virgin! Oh! Our Jesus!"

And she, too, cried:

"Oh! Holy Virgin! Oh! Our Jesus!"

The narrow streets were full of people,--women, old men, children. A
crowd of frightened shadows were hastening to the pier, where the
groaning of the boats could be heard. But they could not stay on the
breakwater because of the strong wind, and especially because of the
waves, which, beating against the stone embankment, swept it from end
to end, with the noise of a cannonade. My mother took the path ...
"Oh! Holy Virgin! Oh! Our Jesus!...." took the path that winds around
the estuary to the light-house. Everything was black on land, and on
the sea, which was black also, could be seen, from time to time, in
the distance, by the rays from the light-house, the white breaking
of enormous waves. In spite of the shocks ... "Oh! Holy Virgin! Oh!
Our Jesus!...." in spite of the shocks and in a way lulled by them,
in spite of the wind and in a way stunned by it, I went to sleep in
my mother's arms. I awoke in a low room, and I saw, among sombre
backs, gloomy faces, and waving arms,--I saw, on a camp bed, lighted
by two tallow candles, a great corpse ... "Oh! Holy Virgin! Oh! Our
Jesus!...." a frightful corpse, long and naked, perfectly rigid, the
face crushed, the limbs streaked with bleeding gashes and covered with
black and blue spots. It was my father.

I see him still. His hair was glued to his skull, and filled with a
mass of sea-weed that made a sort of crown. Men were bending over him,
rubbing his skin with warm flannels and forcing air into his mouth.
There was the mayor; there was the rector; there was the captain of
customs; there was the marine policeman. I was frightened; I freed
myself from my shawl, and, running between the legs of these men, over
the wet stone floor, I began to cry,--to call papa,--to call mamma. A
neighbor took me away.



From that moment my mother took to drinking furiously. At first she
really tried to work in the sardine-packing establishments, but, as she
was always drunk, none of her employers would keep her. Then she stayed
at home to intoxicate herself, quarrelsome and gloomy; and, when she
was full of brandy, she beat us. How does it happen that she did not
kill me?

I avoided the house as much as I could. I spent my days in playing on
the pier, in thieving in the gardens, and in paddling in the puddles
when the tide was low. Or else, on the Plogoff road, at the bottom
of a grassy decline, sheltered from the sea wind and covered with
thick bushes, I misbehaved with the little boys, among the hawthorns.
On returning at night, I generally found my mother stretched on the
tile floor across the threshold, inert, her mouth covered with vomit,
and a broken bottle in her hands. Often I had to step over her body.
Her awakenings were terrible. She was seized with a passion for
destruction. Without listening to my prayers or my cries, she tore
me from the bed, pursued me, kicked me, and knocked me against the
furniture, crying:

"I'll have your hide! I'll have your hide!"

Many times I thought I should die.

And then she debauched herself, to get money with which to buy liquor.
At night, every night, low knocks were heard at the door of our house.
A sailor entered, filling the room with a strong odor of sea-salt
and fish. He lay down, remained an hour, and went away. And another
came, after him, lay down also, remained another hour, and went away.
There were struggles and terrifying uproars in the darkness of these
abominable nights, and several times the police interfered.



Thus years rolled by. I was not wanted anywhere; nor was my sister,
or my brother. They avoided us in the streets. The respectable people
drove us with stones from their houses, to which we went, sometimes to
steal, sometimes to beg. One day my sister Louise, who also had got
into bad ways with the sailors, ran away. And then my brother enlisted
as a cabin-boy. I was left alone with my mother.



At the age of ten I was no longer chaste. Made familiar with love by
the sad example of mamma, perverted by the little boys with whom I
associated, my physical development had been very rapid. In spite of
deprivations and blows, living continually in the open sea air, free
and strong, I had grown so fast that at the age of eleven I experienced
the first awakenings of womanhood. Beneath my girlish exterior, I was
almost a woman.

At the age of twelve I was a woman quite, and no longer a virgin.
Raped? No, not exactly. Consenting? Yes, almost,--at least in the
degree in which the artlessness of my vice and the candor of my
depravity were consistent with consent. The thing occurred one Sunday,
after high mass, near the beach, on the Saint Jean side, in a recess
in the cliff, in a dark hole among the rocks where the sea-gulls came
to build their nests, and where the sailors sometimes hid the wreckage
which they found at sea. The man was the foreman of a sardine-packing
establishment,--an old, hairy, ill-smelling man, whose face was nothing
but a dirty mass of beard and hair. He gave me an orange. He had a
funny name,--M. Cléophas Biscouille.

And here is an incomprehensible thing, of which I have found no
explanation in any novel. Ugly, brutal, and repulsive though M.
Biscouille was, when I think of him now,--and I often do,--how happens
it that it is never with a feeling of detestation for him, never with
a disposition to curse him? At this recollection, which I call up
with satisfaction, I feel a sort of great gratitude, a sort of great
tenderness, and also a sort of real regret at having to say to myself
that never shall I see this disgusting personage again.

In this connection may I be permitted to offer here, humble though I
am, my personal contribution to the biography of great men.



M. Paul Bourget was the intimate friend and spiritual guide of the
Countess Fardin, in whose house last year I served as chambermaid. I
had always heard it said that he alone knew, even to its subsoil, the
complex soul of woman. And many times I had had the idea of writing
to him, in order to submit to him this case of passional psychology.
I had not dared. Do not be too much astonished at the gravity of such
preoccupations. They are not usual among domestics, I admit. But
in the _salons_ of the countess they never talked of anything but
psychology. It is an admitted fact that our mind is modeled on that
of our masters, and that what is said in the _salon_ is said also in
the servants' hall. Unhappily we had not in the servants' hall a Paul
Bourget, capable of elucidating and solving the cases of feminism that
we discussed there. The explanations of Monsieur Jean himself were not
satisfactory to me.

One day my mistress sent me to carry an "urgent" letter to the
illustrious master. He handed me the reply himself. Then I made bold
to put to him the question that tormented me, pretending, however, that
the heroine of this ticklish and obscure story was a friend of mine. M.
Paul Bourget asked:

"What is your friend? A woman of the people? A poor woman, undoubtedly?"

"A chambermaid, like myself, illustrious master."

A superior grimace, a look of disdain, appeared on M. Bourget's face.
Ah! _sapristi!_ he does not like the poor.

"I do not occupy myself with these souls," said he. "These are too
little souls. They are not even souls. They are outside the province of
my psychology."

I understood that, in this province, one begins to be a soul only with
an income of a hundred thousand francs.

Not so M. Jules Lemaitre, also a familiar of the house. When I asked
him the same question, he answered, prettily catching me about the
waist:

"Well, charming Célestine, your friend is a good girl, that is all.
And, if she resembles you, I would say a couple of words to her, you
know,--hey! hey! hey!"

He, at least, with his face of a little humpbacked and merry-making
faun, put on no airs; and he was good-natured. What a pity that he has
fallen among the priests!



With all that, I know not what would have become of me in that hell
of an Audierne, if the Little Sisters of Pont-Croix, finding me
intelligent and pretty, had not taken me in, out of pity. They did not
take advantage of my age, of my ignorance, of my trying and despised
situation, to make use of me, to secrete me for their benefit, as
often happens in such establishments, which carry human exploitation
to the point of crime. They were poor, candid, timid, charitable
little beings, who were not rich, and who did not even dare to extend
their hands to passers-by or to beg at the doors of houses. There was
sometimes much poverty among them, but they got along as best they
could. And, amid all the difficulties of living, they continued none
the less to be gay, and to sing continually like larks. Their ignorance
of life had something touching about it, something which brings the
tears to my eyes to-day, now that I can better understand their
infinite and pure kindness.

They taught me to read, to write, to sew, to do housework; and, when
I had become almost expert in these necessary things, they got me a
place as a little housemaid in the house of a retired colonel, who came
every summer, with his wife and his two daughters, to occupy a sort of
dilapidated little château near Comfort. Worthy people, certainly, but
so sad, so sad! And maniacs, too! Never a smile on their faces, never
a sign of joy in their garments, which were always black. The colonel
had had a lathe put in at the top of the house, and there, all day
long, he turned egg cups out of box-wood, or else those oval balls,
called "eggs," which housewives use in mending stockings. Madame drew
up petition after petition, in order to obtain a tobacco-shop. And the
two daughters, saying nothing, doing nothing, one with a duck's beak,
the other with a rabbit's face, yellow and thin, angular and faded,
dried up on the spot, like two plants lacking everything,--soil, water,
sunshine. They bored me enormously. At the end of eight months I left
them, in a moment of rashness which I have regretted.

But then! I heard Paris breathing and living around me. Its breath
filled my heart with new desires. Although I did not go out often,
I had admired with a prodigious astonishment the streets, the
shop-windows, the crowds, the palaces, the brilliant equipages, the
jeweled women. And, when, at night, I went to bed in the sixth story,
I envied the other domestics of the house, and their pranks which I
found charming, and their stories which left me in a state of marvelous
surprise. Though I remained in the house but a short time, I saw there,
at night, in the sixth story, all sorts of debaucheries, and took my
part in them with the enthusiasm and emulation of a novice. Oh! the
vague hopes and the uncertain ambitions that I cherished there, in that
fallacious ideal of pleasure and vice!

Alas! yes, one is young, one knows nothing of life, one entertains
imaginations and dreams. Oh! the dreams! Stupidities! I have supped on
them, in the words of M. Xavier, a prettily perverted boy, of whom I
shall have something to say later.

And I have rolled. Oh! how I have rolled! It is frightful when I think
of it.

Yet I am not old, but I have had a very close view of things; I have
seen people naked. And I have sniffed the odor of their linen, of
their skin, of their soul. In spite of perfumes, they do not smell
good. All that a respected interior, all that a respectable family,
can hide in the way of filth, shameful vices, and base crimes, beneath
the appearance of virtue,--ah! I know it well. It makes no difference
if they are rich, if they have rags of silk and velvet and gilded
furniture; it makes no difference if they wash in silver tubs and make
a great show,--I know them. They are not clean. And their heart is more
disgusting than was my mother's bed.

Oh! how a poor domestic is to be pitied, and how lonely she is! She
may live in houses full of joyous and noisy people, but how lonely she
is always! Solitude does not consist in living alone; it consists in
living with others, with people who take no interest in you, with whom
you count for less than a dog gorged with goodies, or than a flower
cared for as tenderly as a rich man's child,--people of whom you have
nothing but their cast-off garments or the spoiled remains of their
table.

"You may eat this pear; it is rotten. Finish this chicken in the
kitchen; it smells bad."

Every word is contemptuous of you, every gesture disparaging of you,
placing you on a level lower than that of the beasts. And you must say
nothing; you must smile and give thanks; unless you would pass for an
ingrate or a wicked heart. Sometimes, when doing my mistresses' hair, I
have had a mad desire to tear their neck, to scratch their bosom with
my nails.

Fortunately one is not always under the influence of these gloomy
ideas. One shakes them off, and arranges matters to get all the fun one
can, by himself.



This evening, after dinner, Marianne, seeing that I was utterly sad,
was moved to pity, and tried to console me. She went to get a bottle of
brandy from the depths of the sideboard, where it stood among a heap of
old papers and dirty rags.

"You must not grieve like that," she said to me; "you must shake
yourself a little, my poor little one; you must console yourself."

And, having poured me out a drink, she sat for an hour, with elbows
on the table, and, in a drawling and lamenting voice, told me gloomy
stories of sickness, of child-birth, of the death of her mother, of her
father, and of her sister. With every minute her voice became thicker;
her eyes moistened; and she repeated, as she licked her glass:

"You must not grieve like that. The death of your mamma,--oh! it is a
great misfortune! But what do you expect? We are all mortal. Oh! my
God! Oh! my poor little one!"

Then she suddenly began to weep and weep, and, while she wept and wept,
she did not cease to wail:

"You must not grieve; you must not grieve."

At first it was a plaint; but soon it became a sort of frightful bray,
which grew louder and louder. And her big belly, and her big breasts,
and her triple chin, shaken by her sobs, heaved in enormous surges.

"Be still, then, Marianne," I said to her; "Madame might hear you, and
come."

But she did not listen to me, and, crying louder than ever, exclaimed:

"Ah! what a misfortune! what a great misfortune!"

So that I too, my stomach turned by drink, and my heart moved by
Marianne's tears, began to sob like a Madeleine. All the same, she is
not a bad girl.

But I am getting tired here; I am getting tired; I am getting tired.
I should like to get a place in the house of some member of the
_demi-monde,_ or else in America.



VI


_October 1._

Poor Monsieur! I believe that I was too sharp with him the other day,
in the garden. Perhaps I went further than I should. He is such a
simpleton that he imagines that he has given me serious offence, and
that my virtue is impregnable. Oh! his humiliated, imploring looks,
which never cease to ask my pardon!

Although I have become more teasing and agreeable, he says no more to
me about the matter, and cannot make up his mind to try a new direct
attack,--not even the classic device of a button to be sewed on a pair
of pantaloons. A clumsy device, but one that does not often fail of its
effect. My God! how many such buttons have I sewed on!

And yet it is plain that he desires me,--that he is dying of desire,
more and more. The least of his words betrays a confession, an indirect
confession of his desire; and what a confession! But he is also more
and more timid; he is afraid to come to a decision. He fears that it
might bring about a definite rupture, and he no longer trusts in my
encouraging looks.

On one occasion, approaching me with a strange expression, with a sort
of haggard look in his eyes, he said to me:

"Célestine ... you ... you ... black ... my shoes ... very well ...
very ... very ... well ... Never ... have ... my ... shoes ... been
blacked ... like that."

Then I expected the button trick. But no! Monsieur gasped and slobbered
as if he had eaten a pear that was too big and juicy.

Then he whistled for his dog, and started off.

But here is something stronger.

Yesterday Madame had gone to market,--for she does her own marketing.
Monsieur had been out since dawn, with his gun and his dog. He came
back early, having killed three thrushes, and immediately went up to
his dressing-room to take a tub and dress, as usual. Oh, for that
matter, Monsieur is very clean, and he is not afraid of water. I
thought it a favorable opportunity to try something that might at
last put him at his ease with me. Leaving my work, I started for the
dressing-room, and for a few seconds I stood there listening, with my
ear glued to the door. Monsieur was walking back and forth in his room.
He was whistling and singing:

  Et allez donc, Mam'zelle Suzon!...
  Et ron, ronron ... petit patapon ...

A habit that he has of mingling a number of refrains when singing.

I heard chairs moving about, cupboards opening and closing, and then
the water streaming into the tub, and the "Ahs" and "Ohs" and "Fuuiis"
and "Brrrs" which the shock of the cold water wrung from Monsieur.
Then, suddenly, I opened the door.

Monsieur stood facing me, shivering, with wet skin, and the sponge in
his hands running like a fountain. Oh! his head, his eyes! he seemed
to stand transfixed. I think I never saw a man so astounded. Having
nothing with which to cover his body, with a gesture instinctively
modest and comical he used the sponge as a fig-leaf. It required great
strength of will on my part to suppress the laugh which this spectacle
loosened within me. I noticed that Monsieur had thick tufts of hair on
his shoulders, and that his chest was like a bear's. But my! he is a
fine man, all the same.

Naturally, I uttered a cry of alarmed modesty, as was proper, and
closed the door again violently. But, once outside the door, I said
to myself: "Surely he will call me back; and what is going to happen
then?" I waited some minutes. Not a sound,--except the crystalline
sound of a drop of water falling, from time to time, into the tub. "He
is reflecting," thought I; "he does not dare to come to a decision; but
he will call me back." In vain. Soon the water streamed again. Then I
heard Monsieur wiping and rubbing himself, and clearing his throat; old
slippers dragged over the floor; chairs moved about, and cupboards
opened and closed. Finally Monsieur began again to sing:

  Et allez donc, Mam'zelle Suzon!...
  Et ron, ronron ... petit patapon ...

"No, really, he is too stupid!" I murmured, in a low voice, furiously
spiteful.

And I went back to the linen-room, firmly resolved to take no further
pity on him.

In the afternoon Monsieur kept revolving around me, in an absent-minded
way. He joined me in the yard, whither I had gone to throw some refuse
on the muck-heap. And as I, for the sake of laughing a little at his
embarrassment, apologized for what had happened in the morning, he
whispered:

"That is nothing, that is nothing; on the contrary."

He tried to detain me, stammering I know not what. But I dropped
him then and there, in the middle of the phrase in which he was
floundering; and, in a cutting voice, I said these words:

"I ask Monsieur's pardon. I have no time to talk to Monsieur. Madame is
waiting for me."

"_Sapristi!_ Célestine, listen to me a moment."

"No, Monsieur."

When I turned the corner of the path leading to the house, I could see
Monsieur. He had not stirred from the spot. With head lowered, and
irresolute legs, he was still looking at the muck-heap, scratching his
neck.



After dinner, in the _salon_, Monsieur and Madame had a hot quarrel.

Madame said:

"I tell you that you are paying attention to this girl."

Monsieur answered:

"I? Well, indeed, that's an idea! Come, my pet; such a loose
creature,--a dirty thing, and possibly diseased. Oh! really, that is
too much."

Madame resumed:

"Do you think, then, that I don't know your conduct and your tastes?"

"Permit me; oh! permit me."

"And all the dirty creatures whom you meet in the fields!"

I heard the floor creak under Monsieur's feet, as he walked back and
forth in the _salon_, with feverish animation.

"I? Well, indeed, such ideas as you have! Where did you find them all,
my pet?"

Madame was obstinate:

"And the little Jézureau? And only fifteen years old, you wretch! And
on whose account I had to pay five hundred francs! But for which,
to-day you perhaps would be in prison, like your thief of a father."

Monsieur stopped walking. He sank into a chair. He became silent.

The discussion ended with these words from Madame:

"However, it is all one to me. I am not jealous. You can behave as you
like with this Célestine. But it must not cost me any money."

Oh, no! Now I have them both.



This evening we remained longer than usual in the kitchen. I helped
Marianne to make up her accounts. She did not succeed in getting
them straight. I have noticed that, like all trusted persons, she
pinches here, and steals there, all that she can. She even has tricks
that astonish me; but she has to make her accounts square with them.
Sometimes she gets lost in her figures, which embarrasses her greatly
with Madame, who is very quick to find out anything wrong in them.
Joseph is becoming a little more human with us. Now, from time to
time, he condescends to speak to me. This evening, for instance, he
did not go as usual to see the sacristan, his intimate friend. And,
while Marianne and I were working, he read the "Libre Parole." That is
his newspaper. He does not admit that any other is fit to read. I have
noticed that several times, while reading, he looked at me with a new
expression in his eyes.

The reading finished, Joseph saw fit to tell me what his political
opinions are. He is weary of the republic, which is ruining and
disgracing him. He wants a sword.

"As long as we do not have a sword, and a very red one, there will be
nothing done," said he.

He is for religion ... because ... in short ... well ... he is for
religion.

"Until religion shall have been restored in France, as we used to have
it; until everybody is obliged to go to mass and to confession,--there
will be nothing done, my God!"

He has hung up in his harness-room portraits of the pope and of
Drumont; in his chamber, that of Déroulède; in the little seed-room
those of Guérin and General Mercier,--terrible fellows, patriots,
real Frenchmen! He preciously collects all the anti-Jewish songs, all
the colored portraits of the generals, all the caricatures of the
circumcised. For Joseph is violently anti-Semitic. He belongs to all
the religious, military, and patriotic societies of the department.
He is a member of the "Anti-Semitic Youth" of Rouen, a member of the
"Anti-Jewish Old Age" of Louviers, and a member also of an infinite
number of groups and sub-groups, such as the "National Cudgel," the
"Norman Alarm-Bell," the "Bayados du Vexin," etc. When he speaks of
the Jews, there are sinister gleams in his eyes, and his gestures show
bloodthirsty ferocity. And he never goes to town without a club.

"As long as there is a Jew left in France, there is nothing done."

And he adds:

"Ah! my God! if I were in Paris, I would kill and burn and gut these
cursed sheenies. There is no danger that the traitors will come to
live at Mesnil-Roy. They know very well what they are about, these
mercenaries!"

He joins in one and the same hatred Protestants, Free Masons,
freethinkers, all the brigands who never set foot in the churches, and
who are, moreover, nothing but Jews in disguise. But he does not belong
to the Clerical party; he is for religion, that's all!

As for the ignoble Dreyfus, he had better not think of coming back
to France from Devil's Island. Oh, no! And Joseph strongly advises
the unclean Zola not to come to Louviers to give a lecture, as it is
reported that he intends to do. His hash would be settled, and Joseph
himself would settle it. This miserable traitor of a Zola, who, for six
hundred thousand francs, has delivered the entire French army, and also
the entire Russian army, to the Germans and the English? And this is no
humbug, no gossip, no lightly-spoken word; no, Joseph is sure of it.
Joseph has it from the sacristan, who has it from the priest, who has
it from the bishop, who has it from the pope, who has it from Drumont.
Ah! the Jews may visit the Priory. They will find, written by Joseph,
in the cellar, in the attic, in the stable, in the coach-house,
under the lining of the harnesses, and even on the broom-handles, and
everywhere, these words: "Long Live the Army! Death to the Jews!"

From time to time Marianne approves these violent remarks with nods of
her head and silent gestures. She, too, undoubtedly is being ruined and
disgraced by the republic. She, too, is for the sword, for the priests,
and against the Jews,--about whom she knows nothing, by the way, except
that they are lacking something somewhere.

And certainly I, too, am for the army, for the country, for religion,
and against the Jews. Who, then, among us house-servants, from the
lowest to the highest, does not profess these nickel-plated doctrines?
Say what you will of the domestics,--it is possible that they have many
faults,--but it cannot be denied that they are patriots. Take myself,
for instance; politics is not in my line, and it bores me. But, a
week before I started for this place, I squarely refused to serve as
chambermaid in the house of Labori; and all the comrades who were at
the employment-bureau that day refused also.

"Work for that dirty creature? Oh, no, indeed! Never!"

Yet, when I seriously question myself, I do not know why I am against
the Jews, for I used to serve in their houses in the days when one
could still do so with dignity. I find that at bottom the Jews and the
Catholics are very much alike. They are equally vicious, have equally
vile characters, equally ugly souls. They all belong to the same world,
you see, and the difference in religion counts for nothing. Perhaps the
Jews make more show, more noise; perhaps they make a greater display of
the money that they spend. But, in spite of what you hear about their
management and their avarice, I maintain that it is not bad to be in
their houses, where there is even more leakage than in Catholic houses.

But Joseph will hear nothing of all this. He reproached me with being a
bogus patriot and a bad Frenchwoman, and, with prophecies of massacre
on his lips, and with bloody visions of broken heads and gashed bellies
before his eyes, he went off to bed.

Straightway Marianne took the bottle of brandy from the sideboard. We
needed to recover ourselves, and we talked of something else. Marianne,
who every day becomes more confiding, told me of her childhood, of the
hard time that she had in her youth, and how, when in the employ, as a
servant, of a woman who kept a tobacco-shop at Caen, she was seduced by
a hospital-surgeon,--a delicate, slender, blonde young fellow, who had
blue eyes and a pointed, short, and silky beard,--oh! how silky! She
became pregnant, and the tobacco merchant, who herself was intimate
with any number of people, including all the sub-officers of the
garrison, turned her out. So young, on the pavements of a great city,
and carrying a child! Ah! the poverty that she experienced, her friend
having no money. And surely she would have died of hunger, if the
surgeon had not found her a queer place in the medical school.

"My God! yes," she said, "at the Boratory I killed rabbits and
guinea-pigs. It was very nice."

And the recollection brought to Marianne's thick lips a smile that
seemed to me strangely melancholy.

After a silence, I asked her:

"And the kid! What became of it?"

Marianne made a vague and far-away gesture,--a gesture that seemed
to pull aside the heavy veils from the limbos where her child was
sleeping. She answered in that harsh voice which alcohol produces:

"Oh! well, you can imagine. What should I have done with it, my God!"

"Like the little guinea-pigs, then?"

"That's it."

And she poured herself out a drink.

We went up to our rooms somewhat intoxicated.



VII


_October 6._

Decidedly, autumn is here. Frosts which were not expected so soon have
browned the last flowers of the garden. The dahlias, the poor dahlias,
witnesses of Monsieur's amorous timidity, are dried up; dried up also
are the big sunflowers that mounted guard at the kitchen-door. There
is nothing left in the devastated flower-beds,--nothing but a few
sorry-looking geraniums here and there, and five or six clusters of
asters, whose blue flowers--the dull blue of rottenness--are bending
toward the ground in anticipation of death. The garden-plots of
Captain Mauger, whom I saw just now over the hedge, present a scene of
veritable disaster, and everything is of the color of tobacco.

The trees, through the fields, are beginning to turn yellow and to lose
their foliage, and the sky is funereal. For four days we have been
living in a thick fog, a brown fog that smelt of soot and that did not
dissipate even in the afternoon. Now it is raining, an icy, beating
rain, which a fierce wind, blowing in squalls from the northwest,
occasionally intensifies.

Ah! I am not comfortably situated here. In my room it is bitter cold.
The wind blows into it, and the water penetrates the cracks in the
roof, principally around the two windows which stingily illuminate
this dark hole. And the noise of lifting slates, of shocks that shake
the roof, of creaking timbers and of squeaking hinges, is deafening.
In spite of the urgent need of repairs, I have had all the difficulty
in the world in getting Madame to order the plumber to come to-morrow
morning. And I do not dare yet to ask for a stove, although, being very
chilly, I feel that I shall not be able to live in this mortal room
through the winter. This evening, to stop the wind and the rain, I have
had to stuff old skirts into the cracks. And this weather-vane above my
head, never ceasing to turn on its rusty pivot, at times shrieks out so
sharply in the night that one would take it for Madame's voice in the
corridors, after a scene.

My first feelings of revolt having quieted down a little, my life
proceeds here monotonously and stupidly; and I am gradually getting
accustomed to it, without too great moral suffering. No one ever
comes here; one would take it for a cursed house. And, outside of the
petty domestic incidents that I have related, never does anything
happen. All the days are alike, and all the tasks, and all the faces.
It is ennui and death. But I am beginning to be so stupid that I am
accommodating myself to this ennui, as if it were a natural thing. Even
the deprivation of love does not cause me too much embarrassment, and
I endure without too painful struggles this chastity to which I am
condemned, or to which, rather, I have condemned myself,--for I have
abandoned Monsieur, I have dropped Monsieur finally. Monsieur bores me,
and I am angry with him for having, out of cowardice, disparaged me
so grossly in talking with Madame. Not that he is becoming resigned,
or ceasing to pay attention to me. On the contrary, he persists in
revolving about me, with eyes that grow rounder and rounder, and a
mouth that grows more and more frothy. According to an expression that
I have read in I have forgotten what book, it is always toward my
trough that he drives the pigs of his desire to drink.

Now that the days are shortening, Monsieur spends the afternoon at his
desk, where he does the devil knows what, occupying his time in moving
about old papers without reason, in checking off seed-catalogues and
medical advertisements, and in distractedly turning the leaves of old
hunting-books. You should see him when I go in at night to close the
blinds or attend to his fire. Then he rises, coughs, sneezes, clears
his throat, runs against the furniture, upsets objects, and tries in
all sorts of stupid ways to attract my attention. It is enough to make
one twist with laughter. I make a pretence of hearing nothing, of not
understanding his puerile tricks; and I go away, silent and haughty,
without looking at him any more than if he were not there.

Last evening, however, we exchanged the following brief remarks:

"Célestine!"

"Monsieur desires something?"

"Célestine, you are unkind to me; why are you unkind to me?"

"Why, Monsieur knows very well that I am a loose creature!...."

"Oh! come!"

"A dirty thing!...."

"Oh! come, come!"

"And possibly diseased."

"Oh! heavens! Célestine! Come, Célestine, listen to me!"

"Bah!"

Oh! I have enough of him. It no longer amuses me to upset his head and
his heart by my coquetries.



In fact, nothing amuses me here. And the worst of it is that nothing
bores me, either. Is it the air of this dirty country, the silence of
the fields, the heavy, coarse food that I eat? A feeling of torpor is
taking possession of me,--a feeling, moreover, which is not without
charm. At any rate, it dulls my sensibility, deadens my dreams, and
helps me to endure Madame's insolence and scolding. Thanks to it also,
I feel a certain content in chattering, at night, for hours, with
Marianne and Joseph,--this strange Joseph who does not go out any more,
and seems to find pleasure in remaining with us. The idea that Joseph
perhaps is in love with me,--well, that flatters me. Yes, indeed, I
have got to that point. And then I read, and read,--novels, novels, and
more novels. I have reread Paul Bourget. His books do not excite my
enthusiasm as they used to. In fact, they tire me, and I consider them
false and superficial. They are conceived in that state of soul which
I know well from having experienced it when, dazzled and fascinated, I
came in contact with wealth and luxury. I am all over it to-day, and
these things no longer astonish me. They still astonish Paul Bourget.
Oh! I would not be so silly now as to go to him for psychological
explanations, for I know better than he what there is behind a parlor
portière and under a lace dress.



A thing to which I cannot get accustomed is the receiving of no
letters from Paris. Every morning, when the carrier comes, I feel a
sort of laceration in my heart at realizing that I am so abandoned by
everybody; and it is in this way that I can best measure the extent of
my solitude. In vain have I written to my old comrades, and especially
to Monsieur Jean, urgent and disconsolate letters; in vain have I
implored them to pay some attention to me, to take me out of my hell,
to find me a place in Paris, however humble it may be. Not one of them
answers me. I would never have believed in so much indifference, in so
much ingratitude.

And this forces me to cling more tightly to what I have left,--my
memories and the past. Memories in which, in spite of everything,
joy dominates suffering; a past which renews my hope that all is
not over with me, and that it is not true that an accidental fall
means irreparable ruin. That is why, alone in my room, while, on the
other side of my partition, Marianne's snoring represents to me the
distressing present, I try to drown this ridiculous sound in the sound
of my old-time joys, and I passionately scrutinize this past, in order
to reconstruct from its scattered bits the illusion of a future.

This very day, October 6, is a date full of recollections. During the
five years that have elapsed since the tragedy which I now desire to
relate, all the details have remained deep-rooted within me. There is
a dead boy in this tragedy, a poor little dead boy, sweet and pretty,
whom I killed by giving him too many caresses and too many joys,
by giving him too much of life. And during the five years since he
died,--died of me,--this will be the first time that I have not gone,
on the sixth of October, to cover his grave with the usual flowers.
But of these flowers, which I shall not carry to his grave, I will
make a more durable bouquet, which will adorn and perfume his beloved
memory better than the graveyard flowers adorn and perfume the bit of
earth in which he sleeps. For the flowers of which the bouquet that I
shall make will be composed I will gather, one by one, in the garden of
my heart,--in the garden of my heart, where not only grow the mortal
flowers of debauchery, but where bloom also the great white lilies of
love.



I remember that it was on a Saturday. At the employment-bureau in the
Rue du Colisée, which I had visited regularly every morning for a week
in search of a place, I was introduced to an old lady in mourning.
Never had I met a face more engaging, a look more gentle, manners more
simple; never had I heard more winning words. She received me with a
great politeness that warmed my heart.

"My child," she said to me, "Mme. Paulhat-Durand [that was the name of
the woman who kept the employment-bureau] has spoken to me of you in
terms of the highest praise. I believe that you deserve it, for you
have an intelligent face, frank and gay, which pleases me greatly. I am
in need of a person worthy of trust and capable of devotion. Devotion!
Ah! I know that I am asking a thing that it is not easy to give; for,
after all, you do not know me, and you have no reason to be devoted to
me. Let me explain to you my situation. But do not remain standing, my
child; come and sit down beside me."

The moment I am spoken to gently, the moment that I am not looked
upon as a being outside of others and on the fringe of life, as
something between a dog and a parrot, in that moment I am touched,
and at once I feel the soul of my childhood reborn within me. All my
spite, all my hatred, all my spirit of rebellion, I forget as by a
miracle, and toward the people who speak to me in a human fashion I
feel no sentiments save those of sacrifice and love. I know also, from
experience, that it is only the unfortunate who place the suffering of
the humble on a footing with their own. There is always insolence and
distance in the kindness of the fortunate.

When I had taken my seat beside this venerable lady in mourning, I
already loved her; I really loved her.

She sighed:

"It is not a very gay place that I offer you, my child."

With a sincerity of enthusiasm that did not escape her, I earnestly
protested:

"That does not matter, Madame. Anything that Madame may ask of me I
will do."

And it was true. I was ready for anything.

She thanked me with a kind and tender look, and continued:

"Well, this is it. I have had many trials in my life. I have lost all
of my family, with the exception of a grandson, who now, he also, is
threatened with death from the terrible disease of which the others
have died."

Fearing to pronounce the name of this terrible disease, she indicated
it to me by placing upon her chest her old hand, gloved in black, and
then, with a more painful expression, continued:

"Poor little fellow! He is a charming child, an adorable being, in
whom I have placed my last hopes. For, when he is gone, I shall be all
alone. And, my God! what shall I do upon earth?"

Her eyes filled with tears. She wiped them away with her handkerchief,
and went on:

"The doctors assure me that they can save him,--that the disease is
not yet deep-seated. They have prescribed a _régime_ from which they
expect very good results. Every afternoon Georges must take a sea-bath,
or, rather, he must dip himself for a second in the sea. Then his
whole body must be rubbed vigorously with a hair-glove, to stimulate
the circulation; then he must be obliged to drink a glass of old port;
and then he must lie stretched for at least an hour in a very warm
bed. That is what I want of you in the first place, my child. But
understand me well; what I specially want is youth, grace, gaiety,
life. In my house it is these things that are most lacking. I have
two very devoted servants, but they are old and sad, and possessed
of manias. Georges cannot endure them. And I myself, with my old
white head and my perpetual wearing of mourning,--I feel that I am an
affliction to him. And, what is worse still, I feel also that I often
am unable to hide from him my apprehensions. Oh! I know that this,
perhaps, is not exactly the _role_ for a young girl like you, beside so
young a boy as Georges; for he is only nineteen! The world undoubtedly
will find something to say about it. But I care not for the world; I
care only for my sick grandchild, and I have confidence in you. You are
a good woman, I suppose?"

"Oh! yes, Madame," I cried, certain in advance of being the sort of
saint of whom this disconsolate grandmother was in search, for the
salvation of her child.

"And he, the poor little one, my God! In his condition! In his
condition, you see, he needs, more than sea-baths perhaps, the
continual companionship of a pretty face, a fresh young laugh,
something to drive from his mind the idea of death, some one to give
him confidence in life. Will you undertake it?"

"I accept, Madame," I answered, moved to the depths of my being. "And
Madame may be sure that I will take good care of M. Georges."

It was agreed that I should enter upon my duties that very evening, and
that we should start on the next day but one for Houlgate, where the
lady in mourning had rented a beautiful villa near the beach.

The grandmother had not lied. M. Georges was a charming, an adorable
child. His beardless face had the loveliness of that of a beautiful
woman; womanly also were his indolent movements, and his long, white,
supple hands, through which could be seen the network of his veins.
But what ardent eyes! Pupils consumed by a dull fire, beneath eyelids
ringed with blue, and seemingly burned by the flaming gaze! What an
intense focus of thought, of passion, of sensibility, of intelligence,
of inner life! And to what an extent already had the red flowers of
death invaded his cheeks! It seemed as if it were not of disease,
as if it were not of death, that he was dying, but of an excess of
life, of the fever of life that was in him, gnawing at his organs and
withering his flesh. Oh! how pretty and how painful a spectacle! When
his grandmother took me to him, he was stretched on a long chair, and
holding in his long white hands an odorless rose. He received me, not
as a servant, but almost as a friend whom he expected. And from the
first moment I became attached to him with all the strength of my soul.

Our establishment at Houlgate was effected without incident, as our
journey had been also. Everything was ready, when we arrived. We
had only to take possession of the villa,--a roomy, elegant villa,
full of life and gaiety, and separated from the beach by a broad
terrace covered with wicker-chairs and tents of many colors. A stone
stairway, cut in the embankment, led to the sea, and against its lower
steps sounded the music of the waves when the tide was coming in. M.
Georges's room, on the ground floor, commanded an admirable view of the
sea from large bay-windows. My own room--not the room of a servant, but
that of a master--was opposite M. Georges's, across a passage-way, and
was hung with light cretonne. From its windows one looked out into a
little garden, where were growing some sorry-looking spindle-trees and
some sorrier-looking rose-bushes. To express in words my joy, my pride,
my emotion, and the pure and new elevation of mind that I felt at being
thus treated and petted, admitted, like a lady, to comfort, to luxury,
and to a share in that thing so vainly coveted which is called the
family; to explain how, by a simple wave of the wand of that miraculous
fairy, kindness, there came instantly an end to the recollection of
my past humiliations and a conception of all the duties laid upon me
by the dignity that belongs to a human being, and at last vouchsafed
to me,--is quite beyond me. But I can say at least that I really
perceived the magic of the transfiguration. Not only did the mirror
testify that I had suddenly become more beautiful, but my heart assured
me that I was really better. I discovered within me sources, sources,
sources,--inexhaustible sources, ever-flowing sources, of devotion,
of sacrifice, of heroism; and I had but one thought,--to save, by
intelligent care, by watchful fidelity, and by marvellous skill,--to
save M. Georges from death.

With a robust faith in my power of cure, I said in positive tones to
the poor grandmother, who was in a state of perpetual despair, and
often spent her days in weeping in the adjoining room:

"Do not weep, Madame. We will save him. I swear to you that we will
save him."

And, in fact, at the end of a fortnight's time, M. Georges was much
improved. A great change in his condition had taken place. The fits
of coughing had diminished in number and intensity; his sleep and
appetite were becoming more regular. He no longer had, in the night,
those copious and terrible sweats that left him gasping and exhausted
in the morning. His strength was so far recovered that we could take
long drives and short walks, without serious fatigue. It was a sort
of resurrection. As the weather was very fine, and the air very warm,
but tempered by the sea-breeze, on days when we did not leave the
premises we spent most of the time on the terrace, in the shelter of
the tents, awaiting the bathing hour,--the hour of "the little dip in
the sea," as M. Georges gaily called it. For he was gay, always gay;
never did he speak of his illness, never of death. I really believe
that in all those days he never once uttered the terrible word death.
On the other hand, he was much amused by my chatter, provoking it if
necessary; and I, confiding in his eyes, reassured by his heart, won
by his indulgence and his grace, told him everything that came into
my mind,--farces, follies, and songs. My little childhood, my little
desires, my little misfortunes, and my dreams, and my rebellions,
and my various experiences with ludicrous or infamous masters,--I
told him all, without much masking of the truth, for, young though he
was, and separated from the world, and shut up as he had always been,
he nevertheless, by a sort of prescience, by a marvelous divination
which the sick possess, understood life thoroughly. A real friendship,
that his nature surely facilitated, and that his solitude caused him
to desire, and, above all, that the intimate and constant care with
which I delighted his poor moribund flesh brought about, so to speak,
automatically, sprang up between us. I was happy to a degree that I
cannot picture, and my mind gained in refinement by incessant contact
with his.

M. Georges adored poetry. For entire hours, on the terrace, to the
music of the waves, or else at night in his room, he asked me to
read him the poems of Victor Hugo, of Baudelaire, of Verlaine, of
Mæterlinck. Often he closed his eyes, and lay motionless, with his
hands folded on his breast, and I, thinking that he was asleep, stopped
reading; but he smiled, and said:

"Go on, little one; I am not asleep. I can listen better so. I hear
your voice better. And your voice is charming."

Sometimes it was he who interrupted me. After concentrating his
thoughts, he slowly recited, with a prolongation of the rhythms,
the lines that had excited in him the greatest enthusiasm, and he
tried--oh! how I loved him for that!--to make me understand them, to
make me feel their beauty. One day he said to me,--and I have kept
these words as a relic:

"The sublimity of poetry, you see, lies in the fact that it does
not take an educated person to understand it and to love it. On the
contrary. The educated do not understand it, and generally they despise
it, because they have too much pride. To love poetry it is enough to
have a soul,--a little soul, naked, like a flower. Poets speak to the
souls of the simple, of the sad, of the sick. And that is why they are
eternal. Do you know that, when one has sensibility, one is always
something of a poet? And you yourself, little Célestine, have often
said to me things that are as beautiful as poetry."

"Oh! Monsieur Georges, you are making fun of me."

"Not in the least. And you are unaware that you have said these
beautiful things. And that is the delightful part of it."

For me those were unique hours; whatever destiny may bring me, they
will sing in my heart as long as I may live. I felt that indescribably
sweet sensation of becoming a new being, of witnessing, so to speak,
from minute to minute, the revelation of something unknown in me,
and which yet was I. And to-day, in spite of worse falls, thoroughly
reconquered as I am by all that is bad and embittered in me, if I have
kept this passionate fondness for reading, and sometimes that impulse
toward things superior to my social environment and to myself; if,
trying to regain confidence in the spontaneity of my nature, I have
dared--I who am so ignorant--to write this diary,--it is to M. Georges
that I owe it.

Oh! yes, I was happy,--happy especially at seeing the pretty patient
gradually reborn, his flesh swelling out and his face blooming again,
through the flow of a new sap; happy at the joy, and the hopes, and the
certainties, that the rapidity of this resurrection gave to the entire
house, of which I was now the queen and the fairy. They attributed to
me, they attributed to the intelligence of my care, to the vigilance
of my devotion, and, more still perhaps, to my constant gaiety, to my
youth so full of charm, to my surprising influence over Georges, this
incomparable miracle. And the poor grandmother thanked me, overwhelmed
me with gratitude and blessings, and also with presents, like a nurse
to whom has been confided a baby almost dead, and who, with her pure
and healthy milk, reconstructs his organs, brings back his smile, and
restores him to life.

Sometimes, forgetful of her station, she took my hands, caressed them,
kissed them, and, with tears of joy, said to me:

"I knew very well ... I ... when I saw you ... I knew very well!"

And already projects were being formed,--journeys to the land of
sunshine, fields full of roses!

"You shall never leave us; never more, my child."

Her enthusiasm often embarrassed me, but I finally came to believe that
I deserved it. If, as many others would have done in my place, I had
chosen to abuse her generosity ... Oh, misfortune!

And what was to happen happened.

On the day of which I speak, the weather had been very warm, very
heavy, and very threatening. Across the sky, above the leaden and
perfectly flat sea, rolled stifling clouds, thick red clouds, through
which the storm could not break. M. Georges had not gone out, even to
the terrace, and we had remained in his room. More nervous than usual,
a nervousness due undoubtedly to the electricity in the atmosphere, he
had even refused to let me read poetry to him.

"That would tire me," he said. "And, besides, I feel that you would
read very badly to-day."

He had gone into the _salon_, where he had tried to play a little on
the piano. The piano having plagued him, he had at once come back
into the room, where he had sought to divert himself for a moment by
drawing, as it seemed to me, some feminine profiles. But he had not
been slow in abandoning paper and pencil, fuming with some impatience:

"I cannot; I am not in the mood. My hand trembles. I don't know what is
the matter with me. And you,--there is something the matter with you,
too. You are restless."

Finally he had stretched himself on his long chair, near the large
bay-window, through which one could see a vast expanse of water.
Fishing-boats in the distance, fleeing from the ever-threatening storm,
were re-entering the port of Trouville. With a distracted look he
followed their manoeuvres and their grey sails.

As M. Georges had said, I was restless; I could not keep still; I
was continually moving about, to find something with which to occupy
his mind. Of course I found nothing, and my agitation did not have a
quieting influence on his.

"Why do you move about so? Why do you enervate yourself? Stay beside
me."

I had asked him:

"Would you not like to be on one of those little boats yonder? I would."

"Oh! do not talk for the sake of talking. Why say useless things? Stay
beside me."

Scarcely had I taken my seat beside him, when, the sight of the sea
becoming utterly unendurable to him, he asked me to lower the blind.

"This bad light exasperates me; this sea is horrible. I do not wish
to look at it. Everything is horrible to-day. I do not wish to see
anything; I wish to see you only."

I had gently chided him.

"Oh! Monsieur Georges, you are not good. You are not behaving well. If
your grandmother were to come in and see you in this condition, you
would make her cry again."

Having raised himself a little on the cushions:

"In the first place, why do you call me 'Monsieur Georges'? You know
that I do not like it."

"But I cannot call you 'Monsieur Gaston'!"

"Call me 'Georges' for short, naughty girl."

"Oh! I could not; I could never do that!"

Then he had sighed:

"Is it not curious? Are you, then, still a poor little slave?"

Then he had lapsed into silence. And the rest of the day passed off,
half in enervation, half in silence, which was also an enervation, and
more painful.

In the evening, after dinner, the storm at last broke out. The wind
began to blow violently, the waves to beat against the embankment with
a heavy sullen sound. M. Georges would not go to bed. He felt that it
would be impossible for him to sleep, and in a bed sleepless nights
are so long! He on his long chair, I sitting near a little table on
which, veiled by a shade, was burning a lamp that shed a soft, pink
light about us, we said nothing. Although his eyes were more brilliant
than usual, M. Georges seemed calmer, and the pink reflection from the
lamp heightened his color, and outlined more clearly in the light the
features of his delicate and charming face. I was engaged in sewing.

Suddenly he said to me:

"Leave your work for a little while, Célestine, and sit beside me."

I always obeyed his desires, his caprices. At times he manifested an
effusive and enthusiastic friendship, which I attributed to gratitude.
This time I obeyed as usual.

"Nearer, still nearer," he exclaimed.

Then:

"Now give me your hand."

Without the slightest mistrust I allowed him to take my hand, which he
caressed.

"How pretty your hand is! And how pretty your eyes are! And how pretty
you are, altogether, altogether, altogether!"

He had often spoken to me of my kindness, but never had he told me
that I was pretty; at least, he had never told me so with such an air.
Surprised and, in reality, charmed by these words, which he uttered in
a grave and somewhat gasping voice, I instinctively drew back.

"No, no, do not go away; stay near me, close to me. You cannot know how
much good it does me to have you near me, how it warms me. See, I am
no longer nervous, agitated; I am no longer sick; I am content, happy,
very happy."

And, having chastely placed his arm about my waist, he obliged me to
sit down beside him on the long chair. And he asked:

"Are you uncomfortable so?"

I was not reassured. In his eyes burned a fire more ardent than ever.
His voice trembled more--with that trembling which I know,--oh! yes,
how I know it!--that trembling which is given to the voice of all men
by the violent desire of love. I was very much moved, and I was very
cowardly; my head was whirling a little. But, firmly resolved to defend
myself against him, and especially to energetically defend him against
himself, I answered in a childish way:

"Yes, Monsieur Georges, I am very uncomfortable; let me get up."

His arm did not leave my waist.

"No, no, I beg of you, be nice."

And in a tone the coaxing gentleness of which I cannot describe, he
added:

"You are very timid. What are you afraid of, then?"

At the same time he approached his face to mine, and I felt his warm
breath with its insipid odor,--something like an incense of death.

My heart seized with an inexpressible anguish, I cried:

"Monsieur Georges! Oh! Monsieur Georges, let me go. You will make
yourself sick. I beg of you! Let me go."

I did not dare to struggle, because of his weakness, out of respect for
the fragility of his members. I simply tried--and how carefully!--to
put away his hand, which, awkward, timid, trembling, was trying to
unhook my waist. And I repeated:

"Let me go! You are behaving very badly, Monsieur Georges. Let me go!"

His effort to hold me against him had tired him. His embrace soon
weakened. For a few seconds he breathed with greater difficulty, and
then a dry cough shook his chest.

"You see, Monsieur Georges," I said to him, with all the gentleness of
a maternal reproach, "you are wilfully making yourself sick. You will
listen to nothing. And all will have to be begun over again. Great
progress we shall make in this way! Be good, I beg of you! And, if you
were very nice, do you know what you would do? You would go to bed
directly."

He withdrew his hand, stretched out on the long chair, and, as I
replaced beneath his head the cushions that had slipped down, he sadly
sighed:

"After all, you are right; I ask your pardon."

"You have not to ask my pardon, Monsieur Georges; you have to be quiet."

"Yes, yes," he exclaimed, his eyes fixed on the spot in the ceiling
where the lamp made a circle of moving light. "I was a little mad ...
to have dreamed for a moment that you could love me,--me who have never
had love,--me who have never had anything but suffering. Why should
you love me? It would cure me to love you. Since you have been here
beside me, and since the beginning of my desire for you; since you have
been here with your youth, and your freshness, and your eyes, and your
hands,--your little silky hands, whose attentions are the gentlest of
caresses; since the time I began to dream of you alone,--I have felt
boiling within me, in my soul and in my body, new vigor, a wholly
unknown life. That is to say, I did feel that,--for now ... In short,
what do you expect? I was mad! And you, you are right."

I was greatly embarrassed. I knew not what to say; I knew not what
to do. Powerful and opposite feelings pulled me in all directions.
An impulse rushed me toward him, a sacred duty held me back. And in
a silly fashion, because I was not sincere, because I could not be
sincere in a struggle where these desires and this duty combatted with
equal force, I stammered:

"Monsieur Georges, be good. Do not think of these ugly things. It makes
you sick. Come, Monsieur Georges, be very nice."

But he repeated:

"Why should you love me? Truly, you are right in not loving me. You
think me ill. You fear to poison your mouth with the poisons of mine;
you are afraid of contracting my disease--the disease of which I am
dying, am I not?--from one of my kisses. You are right."

The cruel injustice of these words struck me to the heart.

"Do not say that, Monsieur Georges," I cried, wildly; "what you say is
horrible and wicked. And you really give me too much pain, too much
pain."

I seized his hands; they were moist and burning. I bent over him; his
breath had the raucous ardor of a forge.

"It is horrible, horrible!"

He continued:

"A kiss from you,---why! that meant my resurrection, my complete
restoration to life. Oh! you have believed seriously in your baths, in
your port wine, in your hair-glove. Poor little one! It is in your love
that I have bathed, it is the wine of your love that I have drunk, it
is the revulsion of your life that has set a new blood flowing beneath
my skin. It is because I have so hoped and longed and waited for your
kiss that I have begun to live again, to be strong,--for I am strong
now. But I am not angry with you for refusing me; you are right in
refusing. I understand; I understand. You are a timid little soul,
without courage; a little bird that sings on one branch, and then on
another, and flies away at the slightest noise ... frroutt!"

"These are frightful things which you are saying, Monsieur Georges."

He still went on, while I wrung my hands:

"Why are they frightful? No, indeed, they are not frightful; they
are true. You think me sick. You think that one is sick when one has
love. You do not know that love is life,--eternal life. Yes, yes, I
understand, since your kiss, which is life for me, might, you fancy, be
death for you. Let us say no more about it."

I could not listen further. Was it pity? Was it the bleeding reproach
and bitter challenge that these atrocious and sacrilegious words
conveyed? Was it simply the impulsive and savage love that suddenly
took possession of me? I do not know. Perhaps it was all of these
together. What I know is that I allowed myself to fall, like a mass,
on the long chair, and that, lifting in my hands the child's adorable
head, I wildly cried:

"There, naughty boy, see how afraid I am of you! See, then, how afraid
I am of you!"

I glued my lips to his lips, I pressed my teeth against his, with such
quivering fury that my tongue seemed to penetrate the deepest sores of
his chest, to lick them, to drink from them, to draw out of them all
the poisoned blood and all the mortal pus. His arms opened, and closed
again about me, in an embrace.

And what was to happen happened.

Well, no. The more I think about it, the surer I am that what threw
me into Georges's arms, what fastened my lips to his, was, first and
only, an imperative, spontaneous movement of protest against the base
sentiments that Georges--through strategy, perhaps--attributed to my
refusal. It was, above all, an act of fervent, disinterested, and very
pure piety, which meant to say:

"No, I do not think that you are sick; no, you are not sick. And
the proof is that I do not hesitate to mingle my breath with yours,
to breathe it, to drink it in, to impregnate my lungs with it, to
saturate with it all my flesh. And, even though you were really
sick, even though your disease were contagious and fatal to any one
approaching it, I do not wish you to entertain concerning me this
monstrous idea that I am afraid of contracting it, of suffering from
it, and of dying from it."

Nor had I foreseen and calculated the inevitable result of this kiss,
and that I would not have the strength, once in my friend's arms, once
my lips on his, to tear myself from this embrace and put away this
kiss. But there it is, you see! When a man holds me in his arms, my
skin at once begins to burn, and my head to turn and turn. I become
drunk; I become mad; I become savage. I have no other will than that of
my desire. I see only him; I think only of him; and I suffer myself to
be led by him, docile and terrible, even to crime!

Oh! that first kiss of M. Georges, his awkward and delicious caresses,
the passionate artlessness of all his movements, and the wondering
expression of his eyes in presence of the mystery, at last unveiled,
of woman and of love! But, the intoxication passed, when I saw the
poor and fragile child, panting, almost swooning in my arms, I felt a
frightful remorse,--at least the terrifying sensation that I had just
committed a murder.

"Monsieur Georges! Monsieur Georges! I have made you ill. Oh! poor
little one!"

But he,--with what feline, tender, and trusting grace, with what
dazzled gratitude, he rolled against me, as if in search of protection.
And he said to me, his eyes filled with ecstasy:

"I am happy. Now I can die."

And, as I cursed my weakness in my despair, he repeated:

"I am happy. Oh! stay with me; do not leave me. It seems to me, you
see, that, if I were left alone, I could not endure the violence of my
happiness, although it is so sweet."

While I was helping him to go to bed, he had a fit of coughing.
Fortunately it was short. But, short though it was, it lacerated my
soul. After having relieved and cured him, was I going to kill him
now? I thought that I should be unable to keep the tears back. And I
detested myself.

"It is nothing; it is nothing," he exclaimed, with a smile; "you must
not grieve, since I am so happy. And besides, I am not sick, I am not
sick. You will see how soundly I shall sleep against you. For I wish to
sleep upon your breast, as if I were your little child,--my head upon
your breast."

"And if your grandmother should ring for me to-night, Monsieur Georges?"

"Oh no! Oh no! Grandmother will not ring. I wish to sleep against you."

During the fortnight that followed that memorable night, that delicious
and tragic night, a sort of fury took possession of us, mingling our
kisses, our bodies, our souls, in an embrace, in an endless possession.
We were in haste to enjoy, in compensation for the lost past; we
desired to live, almost without rest, the love of which we felt that
death, now near at hand, was to be the climax.

A sudden change had taken place in me. In my kiss there was something
sinister and madly criminal. Knowing that I was killing Georges, I
was furiously bent upon killing myself also, of the same joy and of
the same disease. Deliberately I sacrificed his life and mine. With
a wild and bitter exaltation I breathed and drank in death, all the
death, from his mouth; and I besmeared my lips with his poison. Once,
when he was coughing, seized, in my arms, with a more violent attack
than usual, I saw, foaming on his lips, a huge and unclean clot of
blood-streaked phlegm.

"Give! give! give!"

And I swallowed the phlegm with murderous avidity, as I would have
swallowed a life-giving cordial.

Monsieur Georges was not slow in wasting away. His crises became
more frequent, more painful. He spat blood, and had long periods
of swooning, during which he was thought to be dead. His body grew
thin, hollow, and emaciated, until it really resembled an anatomical
specimen. And the joy that had regained possession of the house
changed very speedily into dismal sorrow. The grandmother began again
to pass her days in the _salon_, crying, praying, on the alert for
sounds, and, with her ear glued to the door that separated her from
her child, undergoing the frightful and continual anguish of hearing
a cry,--a rattle,--a sigh, the last,--the end of everything dear and
still living that was left to her here below. When I went out of the
room, she followed me, step by step, about the house, wailing:

"Why, my God, why? And what then has happened?"

She said to me also:

"You are killing yourself, my poor little one. But you cannot pass all
your nights by Georges's side. I am going to send for a sister to take
your place."

But I refused. And she cherished me all the more for this refusal,
seeming to think that, having already worked one miracle, I could now
work another. Is it not frightful? I was her last hope.

As for the doctors, summoned from Paris, they were astonished at the
progress of the disease, and that it had worked such ravages in so
short a time. Not for a moment did they or anyone suspect the terrible
truth. Their intervention was confined to the prescribing of quieting
potions.

Monsieur Georges alone remained gay, happy,--steadily gay, unalterably
happy. Not only did he never complain, but his soul continually poured
itself out in effusions of gratitude. He spoke only to express his joy.
Sometimes, at night, in his room, after terrible crises, he said to me:

"I am happy. Why grieve and weep? Your tears do something to spoil my
joy, the ardent joy with which I am filled. Oh! I assure you that death
is not a high price to pay for the superhuman happiness which you have
given me. I was lost; death was in me; nothing could prevent it from
being in me. You have rendered it radiant and pleasant. Then do not
weep, dear little one. I adore you, and I thank you."

My fever of destruction had entirely vanished now. I lived in a
condition of frightful disgust with myself, in an unspeakable horror
of my crime, of my murder. There was nothing left me but the hope, the
consolation, or the excuse that I had contracted my friend's disease,
and would die with him, and at the same time.

And what was to happen happened.

We were then in the month of October, precisely the sixth of October.
The autumn having remained mild and warm that year, the doctors had
counselled a prolongation of the patient's stay at the seaside, pending
the time when he could be taken to the south. All day long, on that
sixth of October, Monsieur Georges had been quieter. I had opened wide
the large bay-window in his room, and there, lying on his long chair,
beside the window, protected from the air by warm coverings, he had
breathed for at least four hours, and deliciously, the iodic emanations
from the offing. The life-giving sun, the good sea odors, the deserted
beach, now occupied again by the shell-fishermen, delighted him. Never
had I seen him gayer. And this gaiety on his emaciated face, where
the skin, growing thinner from week to week, covered the bones like a
transparent film, had something funereal about it, and so painful to
witness that several times I had to leave the room in order to weep
freely. He refused to let me read poetry to him. When I opened the
book, he said:

"No; you are my poem; you are all my poems, and far the most beautiful
of all."

He was forbidden to talk. The slightest conversation fatigued him, and
often brought on a fit of coughing. Moreover, he had hardly strength
enough to talk. What was left to him of life, of thought, of will to
express, of sensibility, was concentrated in his gaze, which had become
a glowing fireplace, in which the soul continually kindled a flame of
surprising and supernatural intensity. That evening, the evening of
the sixth of October, he seemed no longer to be suffering. Oh! I see
him still, stretched upon his bed, his head high upon his pillow, his
long thin hands playing tranquilly with the blue fringe of the curtain,
his lips smiling at me, and his eyes, which, in the shade of the bed,
shone and burned like a lamp, following all my goings and comings.

They had placed a couch in the room for me, a nurse's couch and--oh!
irony, in order doubtless to spare his modesty and mine--a screen
behind which I could, undress. But often I did not lie upon the
couch; Monsieur Georges wanted me always by his side. He was really
comfortable, really happy, only when I was near him.

After having slept two hours, almost peacefully, he awoke toward
midnight. He was a little feverish; the spots at the points of his
cheek-bones were a little redder. Seeing me sitting at the head of his
bed, my cheeks damp with tears, he said to me, in a tone of gentle
reproach:

"What, weeping again? You wish, then, to make me sad, and to give me
pain? Why do you not lie down? Come and lie down beside me."

I cried, shaken by sobs:

"Ah! Monsieur Georges, do you wish me, then, to kill you? Do you wish
me to suffer all my life from remorse at having killed you?"

All my life! I had already forgotten that I wanted to die with him, to
die of him, to die as he died.

"Monsieur Georges! Monsieur Georges! Have pity on me, I implore you!"

But his lips were on my lips. Death was on my lips.

"Be still!" he exclaimed, gasping. "I have never loved you so much as
to-night."

Suddenly his arms relaxed and fell back, inert, upon the bed; his lips
abandoned mine. And from his mouth, turned upward, there came a cry of
distress, and then a flow of hot blood that spattered my face. With a
bound I was out of bed. A mirror opposite revealed my image, red and
bloody. I was mad, and, running about the room in bewilderment, it was
my impulse to call for aid. But the instinct of self-preservation, the
fear of responsibilities, of the revelation of my crime, and I know not
what else that was cowardly and calculating, closed my mouth, and held
me back at the edge of the abyss over which my reason was tottering.
Very clearly and very speedily I realized that it would not do for any
one to enter the room in its present condition.

O human misery! There was something more spontaneous than my grief,
more powerful than my fear; it was my ignoble prudence and my base
calculations. In my terror I had the presence of mind to open the door
of the _salon_, and then the door of the ante-room, and listen. Not
a sound. Everybody in the house was asleep. Then I returned to the
bedside. I raised Georges's body, as light as a feather, in my arms. I
lifted up his head, maintaining it in an upright position in my hands.
The blood continued to flow from his mouth in pitchy filaments; I
heard his chest discharging itself through his throat, with the sound
of an emptying bottle. His eyes, turned up, showed nothing but their
reddish globes between the swollen eyelids.

"Georges! Georges! Georges!"

Georges did not answer these calls and cries. He did not hear them. He
heard nothing more of the cries and calls of earth.

"Georges! Georges! Georges!"

I let go his body; his body sank upon the bed. I let go his head; his
head fell back heavily upon the pillow. I placed my hand upon his
heart; his heart had ceased to beat.

"Georges! Georges! Georges!"

The horror of this silence, of these mute lips, of this corpse red
and motionless, and of myself, was too much for me. And, crushed with
grief, crushed with the frightful necessity of restraining my grief, I
fell to the floor in a swoon.

How many minutes did this swoon last, or how many centuries? I do not
know. On recovering consciousness, one torturing thought dominated all
others,--that of removing every accusing sign. I washed my face, I
redressed myself, and--yes, I had the frightful courage,--I put the bed
and the room to rights. And, when that was done, I awoke the house; I
cried the terrible news through the house.

Oh! that night! That night I suffered all the tortures that hell
contains.

And this night here at the Priory reminds me of it. The storm is
raging, as it raged there the night when I began my work of destruction
on that poor flesh. And the roaring of the wind through the trees
in the garden sounds to me like the roaring of the sea against the
embankment of the forever-cursed Houlgate villa.



Upon our return to Paris, after M. Georges's funeral, I did not wish
to remain in the poor grandmother's service, in spite of her repeated
entreaties. I was in a hurry to go away, that I might see no more of
that tearful face,--that I might no longer hear the sobs that lacerated
my heart. And, above all, I was in a hurry to get away from her
gratitude, from the necessity which she felt, in her doting distress,
of continually thanking me for my devotion, for my heroism, of calling
me her "daughter, her dear little daughter," and of embracing me with
madly effusive tenderness. Many times during the fortnight in which
I consented to call upon her, in obedience to her request, I had an
intense desire to confess, to accuse myself, to tell her everything
that was lying so heavily on my soul and often stifling me. But what
would have been the use? Would it have given her any relief whatever?
It would simply have added a more bitter affliction to her other
afflictions, and the horrible thought and the inexpiable remorse that,
but for me, her dear child perhaps would not be dead. And then, I must
confess that I had not the courage. I left her house with my secret,
worshipped by her as if I were a saint, overwhelmed with rich presents
and with love.

Now, on the very day of my departure, as I was coming back from Mme.
Paulhat-Durand's employment-bureau, I met in the Champs-Elysées a
former comrade, a valet, with whom I had served for six months in the
same house. It was fully two years since I had seen him. After our
first greetings, I learned that he, as well as I, was looking for a
place. Only, having for the moment some nickel-plated extra jobs, he
was in no hurry to find one.

"This jolly Célestine!" he exclaimed, happy at seeing me again; "as
astonishing as ever!"

He was a good fellow, gay, full of fun, and fond of a good time. He
proposed:

"Suppose we dine together, eh?"

I needed to divert myself, to drive far away from me a multitude of sad
images, a multitude of obsessing thoughts. I accepted.

"Good!" he exclaimed.

He took my arm, and led me to a wine-shop in the Rue Cambon. His heavy
gaiety, his coarse jokes, his vulgar obscenity, I keenly appreciated.
They did not shock me. On the contrary, I felt a certain rascally joy,
a sort of crapulous security, as if I were resuming a lost habit. To
tell the truth, I recognized myself, I recognized my own life and my
own soul in those dissipated eyelids, in that smooth face, in those
shaven lips, which betray the same servile grimace, the same furrow of
falsehood, the same taste for passional filth, in the actor, the judge,
and the valet.

After dinner we strolled for a time on the boulevards; then he took
me to see a cinematograph exhibition. My will was a little weak from
having drunk too much Saumur wine. In the darkness of the hall, as
the French army was marching across the illuminated screen amid the
applause of the spectators, he caught me about the waist, and imprinted
a kiss upon the back of my neck which came near loosening my hair.

"You are astonishing!" he whispered. "Oh! how good you smell!"

He accompanied me to my hotel, and we stood for a few minutes on the
sidewalk, silent and a little stupid. He was tapping his shoes with
the end of his cane; I, with head lowered, my elbows pressed closely
against my body, and my hands in my muff, was crushing a bit of
orange-peel beneath my feet.

"Well, _au revoir!_" I said to him.

"Oh! no," he exclaimed, "let me go up with you. Come, Célestine."

I defended myself, in an uncertain fashion, for the sake of form. He
insisted.

"Come, what is the matter with you? Heart troubles? Now is the very
time...."

He followed me. In this hotel they did not look too closely at the
guests who returned at night. With its dark and narrow staircase,
its slimy banister, its vile atmosphere, its fetid odors, it seemed
like a house for the accommodation of transients and cut-throats. My
companion coughed, to give himself assurance. And I, with my soul full
of disgust, reflected:

"Oh! indeed! this is not equal to the Houlgate villas or to the warm
and richly-adorned mansions in the Rue Lincoln."

What a hussy one is sometimes! Oh, misery me!



And my life began again, with its ups and downs, its changes of front,
its _liaisons_ as quickly ended as begun, and its sudden leaps from
opulent interiors into the street, just as of old.

Singular thing! I, who in my amorous exaltation, my ardent thirst for
sacrifice, had sincerely and passionately wished to die, was haunted
for long months by the fear of having contracted Monsieur Georges's
disease from his kisses. The slightest indisposition, the most fleeting
pain, filled me with real terror. Often at night I awoke with mad
frights and icy sweats. I felt of my chest, where, by suggestion, I
suffered from pains and lacerations; I examined the discharges from
my throat, in which I saw red streaks; and I gave myself a fever,
by frequent counting of my pulse. It seemed to me, as I looked in
the glass, that my eyes were growing hollow, and that my cheeks were
growing pinker, with that mortal pink that colored Monsieur Georges's
face. One night, as I was leaving a public ball, I took cold, and I
coughed for a week. I thought that it was all over with me. I covered
my back with plasters, and swallowed all sorts of queer medicines; I
even sent a pious offering to Saint Anthony of Padua. Then, as, in
spite of my fear, my health remained good, showing that I had equal
power to endure the fatigues of toil and of pleasure, it all passed
away.



Last year, on the sixth of October, I went to lay flowers on M.
Georges's grave, as I had done every year when that sad date came
round. He was buried in the Montmartre cemetery. In the main path I
saw, a few steps ahead of me, the poor grandmother. Oh! how old she
was, and how old also were the two old servants who accompanied her!
Arched, bent, tottering, she walked heavily, sustained at the arm-pits
by her two old servants, as arched, as bent, as tottering, as their
mistress. A porter followed them, carrying a large bunch of red and
white roses. I slackened my pace, not wishing to pass them and be
recognized. Hidden behind the wall of a high monument, I waited until
the poor and sorrowful old woman had placed her flowers, told her
beads, and dropped her tears upon her grandson's grave. They came
back with the same feeble steps, through the smaller path, brushing
against the wall of the vault on the other side of which I was hiding.
I concealed myself still more, that I might not see them, for it seemed
to me that it was my remorse, the phantoms of my remorse, that were
filing by me. Would she have recognized me? Ah! I do not think so. They
walked without looking at anything, without seeing even the ground
about them. Their eyes had the fixity of the eyes of the blind; their
lips moved and moved, and not a word came from them. One would have
said that they were three old dead souls, lost in the labyrinth of the
cemetery, and looking for their graves. I saw again that tragic night,
and my red face, and the blood flowing from Georges's mouth. It sent a
shiver to my heart. At last they disappeared.

Where are they to-day, those three lamentable shades? Perhaps they are
a little more dead; perhaps they are dead quite. After having wandered
on for days and nights, perhaps they have found the hole of silence and
of rest of which they were in search.

All the same, it is a queer idea that the unfortunate grandmother had,
in choosing me as a nurse for a young and pretty boy like Monsieur
Georges. And really, when I think of the matter again, and realize
that she never suspected anything, that she never saw anything, that
she never understood anything, this seems to me the most astonishing
feature of the matter. Ah! one can say it now; they were not very
sharp, the three of them. They had an abundance of confidence.



I have seen Captain Mauger again, over the hedge. Crouching before a
freshly-dug bed, he was transplanting pansies and gilly-flowers. As
soon as he saw me, he left his work, and came to the hedge to talk. He
is no longer angry with me for the murder of his ferret. He even seems
very gay. Bursting with laughter, he confides to me that this morning
he has wrung the neck of the Lanlaires' white cat. Probably the cat
avenges the ferret.

"It is the tenth that I have gently killed for them," he cries,
with ferocious joy, slapping his thigh, and then rubbing his grimy
hands. "Ah! the dirty thing will scratch no more compost from my
garden-frames; it will no longer ravage my seed-plots, the camel! And,
if I could also wring the necks of your Lanlaire and his female! Oh!
the pigs! Oh! oh! oh! that's an idea."

This idea makes him twist with laughter for a moment. And suddenly, his
eyes sparkling with a stealthy malice, he asks:

"Why don't you put some smart-weed in their bed? The dirty creatures!
Oh! I would give you a package of it for the purpose. That's an idea!"

Then:

"By the way, you know? Kléber? my little ferret?"

"Yes. Well?"

"Well, I ate him. Alas! alas!"

"He was not very good, was he?"

"Alas! he tasted like bad rabbit."

And that was all the funeral sermon that the poor animal got.

The captain tells me also that a week or two ago he caught a hedge-hog
under a wood-pile. He is engaged in taming him. He calls him Bourbaki.
Ah! that's an idea! An intelligent, comical, extraordinary beast that
eats everything!

"Yes, indeed!" he exclaims. "In the same day this confounded hedge-hog
has eaten beefsteak, mutton stew, salt bacon, gruyère cheese, and
preserves. He is astonishing. It is impossible to satisfy him. He is
like me; he eats everything!"

Just then the little domestic passes the path, with a wheelbarrow full
of stones, old sardine-boxes, and a heap of _débris_, which he is
carrying to the refuse-heap.

"Come here!" calls the captain.

And, as, in answer to his question, I tell him that Monsieur has gone
hunting, that Madame has gone to town, and that Joseph has gone on
an errand, he takes from the wheelbarrow each of the stones, each bit
of the _débris_, and, one after another, throws them into the garden,
crying in a loud voice:

"There, pig! Take that, you wretch!"

The stones fly, the bits of _débris_ fall upon a freshly-worked bed,
where Joseph the day before had planted peas.

"Take that! And this, too! And here is another, in the bargain!"

The bed, soon covered with _débris_, becomes a confused heap. The
captain's joy finds expression in a sort of hooting and disorderly
gestures. Then, turning up his old grey moustache, he says to me, with
a triumphant and rakish air:

"Mademoiselle Célestine, you are a fine girl, for sure! You must come
and see me, when Rose is no longer here, eh? Ah! that's an idea!"

Well, indeed! He has no cheek!



VIII


_October 28._

At last I have received a letter from Monsieur Jean. It is very dry,
this letter. From reading it, one would think that there never had been
any intimacy between us. Not a word of friendship, not a particle of
tenderness, not a recollection! He tells me only of himself. If he is
to be believed, it seems that Jean has become an important personage.
That is to be seen and felt from the patronizing and somewhat
contemptuous air which he assumes toward me at the beginning of his
letter. In short, he writes to me only to astonish me. I always knew
that he was vain,--indeed, he was such a handsome fellow!--but I never
realized it so much as to-day. Men cannot stand success or glory.

Jean is still first _valet de chambre_ in the house of the Countess
Fardin, and at this moment the countess is perhaps the most-talked-of
woman in France. To his capacity of _valet de chambre_ Jean adds
the _role_ of a participant in political manifestations and of
royalist conspirator. He manifests with Coppée, Lemaitre, Quesnay de
Beaurepaire; he conspires with General Mercier,--and all to overturn
the republic. The other evening he accompanied Coppée to a meeting of
the "Patrie Française." He strutted on the platform, behind the great
patriot, and held his overcoat all the evening. For that matter, he can
say that he has held all the overcoats of all the great patriots of
this time. That will count for something in his life. Another evening,
at the exit of a Dreyfusard meeting, to which the countess had sent him
to "smash the jaws of the cosmopolitans," he was arrested and taken to
the station-house for having spat upon these people without a country,
and shouted at the top of his voice: "Death to the Jews! Long Live
the King! Long Live the Army!" The countess threatened the government
with an interpellation in the chamber, and Monsieur Jean was at once
released. His mistress even added twenty francs a month to his wages,
in compensation for this lofty feat of arms. M. Arthur Meyer printed
his name in the "Gaulois." His name figures also opposite the sum of a
hundred francs in the "Libre Parole," among the subscribers to the fund
for a monument for Colonel Henry. Coppée inscribed it there officially.
Coppée also made him an honorary member of the "Patrie Française,"--an
astonishing society. All the servants in the great houses belong to it.
There are also counts, marquises, and dukes. On coming to breakfast
yesterday, General Mercier said to Jean: "Well, my brave Jean?" My
brave Jean! Jules Guérin, in the "Anti-Juif," has written, under the
heading, "Another Victim of the Sheenies!" an article beginning: "Our
valiant anti-Semitic comrade, M. Jean," etc. And finally, M. Forain,
who now is always at the house, has had Jean pose for a design, which
is to symbolize the soul of the country. M. Forain thinks that Jean
has "just the mug for that." He receives at this moment an astonishing
number of illustrious decorations, of serious tips, and of honorary and
extremely flattering distinctions. And if, as there is every reason to
believe, General Mercier decides to summon Jean for the coming Zola
trial, to give false testimony,--the nature of which the staff will
decide upon soon,--nothing will be lacking to complete his glory. This
year, in high society, there is nothing so fashionable and effective
as false testimony. To be selected for a perjurer, besides bringing
certain and swift glory, is as good as winning the capital prize in
a lottery. M. Jean clearly perceives that he is making a greater and
greater sensation in the neighborhood of the Champs-Elysées. When, in
the evening, he goes to the café in the Rue Francois I. to play pool
for a turkey, or when he takes the countess's dogs out for an airing,
he is the object of universal curiosity and respect; so are the dogs,
for that matter. That is why, in view of a celebrity which cannot
fail to spread from the neighborhood over Paris, and from Paris over
France, he has become a subscriber to a clipping-bureau, just as the
countess has done. He will send me the smartest things that are written
about him. This is all that he can do for me, for I must understand
that he has no time to attend to my affairs. He will see, later,--"when
we shall be in power," he writes me, carelessly. Everything that
happens to me is my fault; I have never known how to conduct myself;
there has never been any sequence in my ideas; I have wasted the best
places, without profit. If I had not been such a hot-head, I, too,
perhaps, would be on the best terms with General Mercier, Coppée,
Déroulède; and perhaps, although I am only a woman, I should see my
name sparkling in the columns of the "Gaulois," which is so encouraging
for all sorts of domesticity. Etc., etc.

To read this letter almost made me cry, for I felt that Monsieur Jean
is quite gone from me, and that I can no longer count on him,--on him
or on anybody! He does not tell me a word of my successor. Ah! I see
her from here, I see them from here, both of them, in the chamber
that I know so well, kissing and caressing each other, and making the
round of the public balls and the theatres together, as we used to do
so prettily. I see him, in his putty-colored overcoat, returning from
the races, after having lost his money, and saying to her, as so many
times he has said to me: "Lend me your jewels and your watch, that I
may hang them up." Unless his new _role_ of participant in political
manifestations and of royalist conspirator has filled him with new
ambitions, and he has abandoned the loves of the servants' hall for the
loves of the _salon_. He will come back to them.

Is all that happens to me really my fault? Perhaps. And yet it seems to
me that a fatality of which I have never been the mistress has weighed
upon my entire existence, and has prevented me from ever staying more
than six months in the same place. When they did not discharge me, I
left, disgusted beyond endurance. It is funny, and it is sad,--I have
always been in a hurry to be "elsewhere," I have always entertained a
mad hope of "those chimerical elsewheres," which I invest with the vain
poesy, the illusory mirage of far-away distances, especially since my
stay at Houlgate with poor M. Georges. That stay has left me with a
certain anxiety, a certain torturing necessity of reaching fruitlessly
after unattainable ideas and forms. I really believe that this too
short and sudden glimpse of a world which I had better never have
known at all, being unable to know it better, has been very harmful to
me. Oh! how disappointing are these ways leading to the unknown! One
goes on and on, and it is always the same thing. See that sparkling
horizon yonder. It is blue, it is pink, it is fresh, it is as light
and luminous as a dream. It must be fine to live there. You approach,
you arrive. There is nothing. Sand, pebbles, hills as dismal as walls.
There is nothing else. And above this sand, these pebbles, these hills,
there is a gray, opaque, heavy sky,--a sky which kills the day, and
whose light weeps dirty tears. There is nothing,--nothing of that which
one is looking for. Moreover, I do not know what I am looking for; and
neither do I know who I am.

A domestic is not a normal being, a social being. He is an incongruous
personage, made up of pieces and bits that cannot fit into one another,
that can only lie next one another. He is something worse,--a monstrous
human hybrid. He is no longer of the people, whence he came; neither
is he of the _bourgeoisie_, among whom he lives and toward whom he
tends. He has lost the generous blood and the artless strength of the
people that he has denied, and has gained the shameful vices of the
_bourgeoisie_, without having succeeded in acquiring the means of
satisfying them,--the vile sentiments, the cowardly fears, the criminal
appetites, without the setting, and consequently without the excuse, of
wealth. With a soiled soul, he traverses this respectable _bourgeois_
world, and, simply from having breathed the mortal odor that rises
from these putrid sinks, he loses forever the security of his mind,
and even the very form of his personality. At the bottom of all these
recollections, amid this host of figures among whom he wanders, a
phantom of himself, he finds nothing to work upon but filth,--that is,
suffering. He laughs often, but his laugh is forced. This laugh does
not come from joy found or from hope realized, and it shows the bitter
grimace of rebellion, the hard and contracted curve of sarcasm. Nothing
is more sorrowful and ugly than this laugh; it burns and withers. It
would have been better, perhaps, if I had wept. And then, I do not
know. And then, _zut!_ Come what will.



But nothing comes at all,--never anything. And I cannot accustom myself
to that. It is this monotony, this absolute fixity in life, that is the
hardest thing for me to endure. I should like to go away from here. Go
away? But where and how? I do not know, and I stay.



Madame is always the same; distrustful, methodical, severe, rapacious,
without an impulse, without a caprice, without a particle of
spontaneity, without a ray of joy upon her marble face. Monsieur has
resumed his habits, and I imagine, from certain sullen airs, that he
has a spite against me because of my severity; but his spites are not
dangerous. After breakfast, armed and gaitered, he starts off on a
hunting expedition, returns at night, asks me only to help him in
taking off his boots, and goes to bed at nine o'clock. He is still
awkward, comical, and irresolute. He is growing fat. How can people as
rich as they are be resigned to so dismal an existence? Sometimes I
question myself regarding Monsieur. What should I have done with him?
He has no money, and would have given me no pleasure. And especially as
Madame is not jealous!

The terrible thing about this house is its silence. I cannot get used
to it. Yet, in spite of myself, I am beginning to glide, to "walk in
the air," as Joseph says. Often in these dark passage-ways, alongside
these cold walls, I seem to myself like a spectre, like a ghost. And I
am stifling in it all. And I stay.

My sole diversion is to go on Sunday, after mass, to call on Mme.
Gouin, the grocer. Disgust holds me back, but ennui, stronger than
disgust, takes me there. There at least we are ourselves again,--all of
us together. We gossip, we laugh, we tell stories as we sip our little
black-currant cocktails. There we find a little of the illusion of
life. The time passes. A few Sundays ago I missed a little woman, with
running eyes and a rat-like nose, whom I had seen there previously. I
inquire about her.

"It is nothing; it is nothing," said the grocer, in a tone to which
she tried to impart a certain mystery.

"She is sick, then?"

"Yes, but it is nothing. In two days it will be all gone."

And Mam'zelle Rose looks at me with confirmatory eyes, which seem to
say:

"Ah, you see, this is a very skilful woman."

To-day I have learned at the grocer's that a party of hunters found
yesterday, in the forest of Raillon, among the briers and dead leaves,
the body of a little girl, horribly outraged. It seems that she was the
daughter of a road-laborer. She was known in the neighborhood as the
little Claire. She was a little bit simple, but sweet and pretty, and
she was not twelve years old! A rich windfall, as you can imagine, for
a place like the grocer's shop, where they had to content themselves
with telling the same stories week after week. Consequently the tongues
rattled famously.

According to Rose, always better informed than the others, the
little Claire had been cut open with a knife, and her intestines
were protruding through the wound. Her neck and throat still bore
visible marks of strangling fingers. There was still to be seen in the
short heather the trampled and trodden spot where the crime had been
committed. It must have happened at least a week ago, for the body was
almost entirely decomposed.

The assembled domestics relate a heap of things; they remember that
the little Claire was always in the woods. In the spring she gathered
there jonquils and lilies of the valley and anemones, of which she made
pretty bouquets for the ladies of the town; she also went there to look
for morels, which she sold on Sunday at the market. In summer there
were mushrooms of all sorts, and other flowers. But at this time of
year why did she go to the woods, where there was nothing left to pick?

One says, discreetly:

"Why had the father shown no anxiety regarding the child's
disappearance? Perhaps he did it himself?"

To which another no less discreetly replies:

"But, if he had wanted to do it himself, he had no need to take his
daughter to the woods; come now."

Mlle. Rose intervenes:

"It all looks very suspicious to me."

With knowing airs, the airs of one who is in possession of terrible
secrets, she goes on in a lower voice, a voice of dangerous confidence:

"Oh! I know nothing about it; I make no assertions. But...."

And she leaves our curiosity hanging on this "but."

"What then? what then?" they cry from all sides, with outstretched
necks and open mouths.

"But ... I should not be astonished ... if it were...."

We are breathless.

"Monsieur Lanlaire. There, that is what I think, if you want to know,"
she concludes, with an expression of base and atrocious ferocity.

Several protest; others reserve judgment. I declare that Monsieur
Lanlaire is incapable of such a crime, and I cry:

"He, Lord Jesus? Oh, the poor man! He would be too much afraid."

But Rose, with still more hatred, insists:

"Incapable? Ta, ta, ta! And the little Jézureau? And Valentin's little
girl? And the little Dougère? Do you remember them? Incapable?"

"It is not the same thing; it is not the same thing."

In their hatred of Monsieur they do not, like Rose, go so far as
to make a formal charge of murder. That he outrages little girls
who consent to be outraged,--yes, that is possible. That he kills
them,--that is scarcely credible. But Rose stormily insists. She froths
at the mouth; she pounds the table with her soft, fat hands; she cries,
with excited gestures:

"Do I not tell you yes? I am sure of it."

Mme. Gouin, who has been listening in a dreamy fashion, finally
declares, in her meaningless voice:

"Oh! indeed, young women, in these matters one can never tell. As for
the little Jézureau, it was a famous bit of luck, I assure you, that he
did not kill her."

In spite of the authority of the grocer, in spite of the obstinacy of
Rose, who will not consent to change the subject, they pass in review,
one after another, all the people in the neighborhood who could have
done the deed. They find heaps of them,--all those whom they detest,
all those of whom they have any jealousy, against whom they have any
spite. Finally the pale little woman with the rat-like nose remarks:

"You know that last week there were two capuchins begging around here,
who did not present a very inviting appearance, with their dirty
beards. May it not have been they?"

A cry of indignation arises:

"Worthy and pious monks? The good God's holy souls! It is abominable!"

And, as we take our departure, after laying everybody under suspicion,
Rose, bent on establishing her theory, repeats:

"Do I not tell you that it is he? It is he, be sure!"



Before re-entering the house, I stop a moment in the harness-room,
where Joseph is polishing his harnesses. Above a dresser, on which
bottles of varnish and boxes of blacking are symmetrically arranged,
I see flaming on the pine wainscoting the portrait of Drumont. To give
him greater majesty, undoubtedly, Joseph has recently adorned him
with a crown of laurel. Opposite, the portrait of the pope is almost
entirely hidden by a horse-blanket hung upon a nail. Anti-Jewish
pamphlets and patriotic songs are piled up on a shelf, and in a corner
Joseph's club stands lonely among the brooms.

Suddenly I say to Joseph, solely from a motive of curiosity:

"Do you know, Joseph, that the little Claire has been found in the
woods, murdered and outraged?"

At first Joseph cannot suppress a movement of surprise,--is it really
surprise? Rapid and furtive as this movement was, it seems to me that,
at the sound of the little Claire's name, a sort of strange shock,
something like a shudder, passed through him. He recovers very quickly.

"Yes," he says, in a firm voice, "I know it. I was told so in the
neighborhood this morning."

Now he is indifferent and placid. He rubs his harnesses methodically
with a thick, black cloth. I admire the muscular development of his
bare arms, the harmonious and powerful suppleness of his biceps,
the whiteness of his skin. I cannot see his eyes under the lowered
lids,--his eyes so obstinately fixed upon his work. But I see his
mouth, his large mouth, his enormous jaw, the jaw of a cruel and
sensual beast. And I feel a sort of light tremor at my heart. I ask him
further:

"Do they know who did it?"

Joseph shrugs his shoulders. Half jesting, half serious, he answers:

"Some vagabonds, undoubtedly; some dirty sheenies."

Then, after a short silence:

"Puuutt! you will see that they will not pinch them. The magistrates
are all sold."

He hangs up the finished harnesses, and, pointing to Drumont's
portrait, in its laurel halo, he adds:

"If we only had him? Oh, misfortune!"

I know not why I left him with a singular feeling of uneasiness in my
soul.

At any rate, this story is going to give us something to talk about,
something to divert us a little.



Sometimes, when Madame is out, and I cannot stand the ennui, I go to
the iron fence by the roadside, where Mlle. Rose comes to meet me.
Always on the watch, nothing that goes on in our place escapes her.
She sees all who come in and go out. She is redder, fatter, flabbier
than ever. Her lips hang more than they did, and she is more and more
haunted by obscene ideas. Every time that we meet, her first look is at
my person, and her first words, uttered in her thick voice, are:

"Remember my advice. As soon as you notice anything, go straight to
Mme. Gouin; straight."

It is a veritable obsession, a mania. A little annoyed, I reply:

"But why do you expect me to notice anything? I know nobody here."

"Ah!" she exclaims, "a misfortune comes so quickly! A moment of
forgetfulness,--it is very natural,--and there you are! Sometimes one
does not know how it happens. I have seen some who were as sure as
you are, and then it happened all the same. But with Mme. Gouin one
can rest easy. So expert a woman is a real blessing to a town. Why,
formerly, my dear little one, you saw nothing but children around
here. The town was poisoned with children. An abomination! They
swarmed in the streets, like chickens in a hen-yard. They bawled on
the door-steps, and made a terrible hullaballoo. One saw nothing else.
Well, I don't know whether you have noticed it, but to-day there are no
more to be seen, almost none at all."

With a more slimy smile, she continues:

"Not that the girls amuse themselves any less. Oh! heavens, no! On
the contrary. You never go out in the evening; but, if you were to
take a walk at nine o'clock under the chestnut trees, you would see.
Everywhere couples on the benches, kissing and caressing. It is a very
pretty spectacle. Oh! to me, you know, love is so pretty. I perfectly
understand that one cannot live without love. Yes, but it is very
annoying also to have a lot of children tagging at one's heels. Well,
they have none now; they have no more. And it is to Mme. Gouin that
they owe that. Just a disagreeable moment to pass through; after all,
it is not like having to swallow the sea. In your place I would not
hesitate. A pretty girl like you, so distinguished, and who must have
so good a figure,--a child would be a murder."

"Reassure yourself. I have no desire to have one."

"Yes, I know; nobody has any desire to have one. Only ... But, tell me,
has Monsieur never made advances to you?"

"Why, no."

"That is astonishing, for he has a great reputation for that. Not even
that morning in the garden?"

"I assure you."

Mam'zelle Rose shakes her head.

"You are unwilling to say anything. You distrust me. Well, that is your
business. Only, we know what we know."

Peasants pass in the road, and salute Mam'zelle Rose, with respect.

"How do you do, Mam'zelle Rose? And the captain,--is he well?"

"Very well, thank you. He is drawing some wine just now."

_Bourgeois_ pass in the road, and salute Mam'zelle Rose with respect.

"How do you do, Mam'zelle Rose? And the captain?"

"Always vigorous, thank you; you are very good."

The priest passes in the road, with a slow step, wagging his head. At
the sight of Rose, he bows, smiles, closes his breviary, and stops.

"Ah! it is you, my dear child? And the captain?"

"Thank you, Father, things are going very nicely. The captain is busy
in the cellar."

"So much the better, so much the better! I hope that he has planted
some beautiful flowers, and that next year, on Corpus Christi day, we
shall have again a superb street altar."

"You may be sure of it, Father."

"All my friendships to the captain, my child."

"And the same to you, Father."

And, as he goes away, his breviary again open:

"_Au revoir! au revoir!_ All that a parish needs is parishioners like
you."

And I go back, a little sad, a little discouraged, a little hateful,
leaving this abominable Rose to enjoy her triumph, saluted by all,
respected by all, fat, happy, hideously happy. Soon, I am sure, the
priest will place her in a niche in his church, between two candles,
with a nimbus of gold about her, like a saint.



IX


_October 25._

Joseph puzzles me. His ways are really mysterious, and I do not know
what goes on in this silent and furious soul. But surely something
extraordinary. His look sometimes is difficult to endure,--so difficult
that mine avoids its intimidating fixity. He has a slow and gliding
gait, that frightens me. One would say that he was dragging a ball
riveted to his ankle, or, rather, the recollection of a ball. Is this
a relic of a prison or of a convent? Both, perhaps. His back, too,
frightens me, and also his large, powerful neck, tanned by the sun till
it looks like old leather, and stiffened with sinews that stretch and
strain like ropes. I have noticed on the back of his neck a collection
of hard muscles that stand out in an exaggerated fashion, like those of
wolves and wild beasts which have to carry heavy prey in their jaws.

Apart from his anti-Semitic craze, which indicates in Joseph a great
violence and a thirst for blood, he is rather reserved concerning
all matters. It is even impossible to know what he thinks. He has
none of the swagger, and none of the professional humility, by which
true domestics are to be recognized. Never a word of complaint,
never the slightest disparagement of his masters. He respects his
masters, without servility, and seems to be devoted to them, without
ostentation. He does not sulk at his work, even when it is most
repulsive. He is ingenious; he knows how to do everything, even the
most difficult and different things, not a part of his regular work.
He treats the Priory as if it were his own, watches it, guards it
jealously, defends it. He drives away the poor, the vagrant, and
the unfortunate, sniffing and threatening like a bull-dog. He is a
type of the old-time servant, of the domestic of the days before the
revolution. Of Joseph they say in the neighborhood: "There is nobody
like him. A pearl!" I know that they try to get him away from the
Lanlaires. From Louviers, from Elbeuf, from Rouen, he receives the
most flattering offers. He refuses them, and does not boast of having
refused them. Oh, no, indeed! He has been here for fifteen years, and
he considers this house as his own. As long as they want him, he will
stay. Madame, suspicious as she is, and seeing evil everywhere, places
a blind confidence in him. She, who believes in nobody, believes in
Joseph, in Joseph's honesty, in Joseph's devotion.

"A pearl! He would throw himself into the fire for us," she says.

And, in spite of her avarice, she overwhelms him with petty
generosities and little gifts.

Nevertheless, I distrust this man. He disturbs me, and at the same
time he interests me prodigiously. Often I have seen frightful things
passing in the troubled water, in the dead water of his eyes. Since
I have been observing him, I have changed the opinion that I formed
of him when I first entered this house,--the opinion that he is a
gross, stupid, and clumsy peasant. I ought to have examined him more
attentively. Now I think him singularly shrewd and crafty, and even
better than shrewd, worse than clever; I know not how to express myself
concerning him. And then--is it because I am in the habit of seeing
him every day?--I no longer find him so ugly or so old. Habit, like a
fog, tends to palliate things and beings. Little by little it obscures
the features of a face and rubs down deformities; if you live with
a humpback day in and day out, after a time he loses his hump. But
there is something else; I am discovering something new and profound
in Joseph, which upsets me. It is not harmony of features or purity
of lines that makes a man beautiful to a woman. It is something less
apparent, less defined, a sort of affinity, and, if I dare say so, a
sort of sexual atmosphere, pungent, terrible, or intoxicating, to the
haunting influence of which certain women are susceptible, even in
spite of themselves. Well, such an atmosphere emanates from Joseph. The
other day I admired him as he was lifting a cask of wine. He played
with it like a child with its rubber ball. His exceptional strength,
his supple skill, the terrible leverage of his loins, the athletic
push of his shoulders, all combined to make me dreamy. The strange and
unhealthy curiosity, prompted by fear as much as by attraction, which
is excited in me by the riddle of these suspicious manners, of this
closed mouth, of this impressing look, is doubled by this muscular
power, this bull's back. Without being able to explain it to myself
further, I feel that there is a secret correspondence between Joseph
and me,--a physical and moral tie that is becoming a little more
binding every day.

From the window of the linen-room where I work, I sometimes follow
him with my eyes in the garden. There he is, bending over his work,
his face almost touching the ground, or else kneeling against the
wall where the espaliers stand in line. And suddenly he disappears,
he vanishes. Lower your head, and, before you can raise it again, he
is gone. Does he bury himself in the ground? Does he pass through the
walls? From time to time I have occasion to go to the garden to give
him an order from Madame. I do not see him anywhere, and I call him:

"Joseph! Joseph! where are you?"

Suddenly, without a sound, Joseph arises before me, from behind a tree,
from behind a vegetable-bed. He rises before me in the sunlight, with
his severe and impenetrable mask, his hair glued to his skull, and his
open shirt revealing his hairy chest. Where does he come from? From
what hole does he spring? From what height has he fallen?

"Oh! Joseph, how you frightened me!"

And over Joseph's lips, and in his eyes, there plays a terrifying
smile, which really has the swift, short flashes of a knife. I believe
that this man is the devil.



The murder of the little Claire continues to be the all-absorbing
topic, and to excite the curiosity of the town. They fight for the
local and Paris newspapers that give the news. The "Libre Parole"
accuses the Jews squarely and by wholesale, and declares that it was a
"ritual murder." The magistrates have visited the spot, made inquiries
and examinations, and questioned many people. Nobody knows a thing.
Rose's charge, which has been circulating, has been met everywhere
with an incredulous shrug of the shoulders. Yesterday the police
arrested a poor peddler, who had no trouble in proving that he was not
in the vicinity at the time of the crime. The father, to whom public
rumor pointed, has been exonerated. Moreover, he bears an excellent
reputation. So nowhere is there any clue to put justice on the track
of the guilty. It seems that this crime excites the admiration of the
magistrates, and was committed with a surprising skill,--undoubtedly
by professionals, by Parisians. It seems also that the prosecuting
attorney is pushing the affair in a very tame fashion and for the sake
of form. The murder of a poor little girl is not a very interesting
matter. So there is every reason to believe that no clue will ever be
found, and that the case will soon be pigeon-holed, like so many others
that have not told their secret.



I should not wonder if Madame believed her husband guilty. That is
really comical, and she ought to know him better. She has behaved very
queerly ever since the news. She has ways of looking at Monsieur that
are not natural. I have noticed that during meals, whenever the bell
rings, she gives a little start.

After breakfast to-day, as Monsieur manifested an intention of going
out, she prevented him.

"Really, you may as well remain here. Why do you need to be always
going out?"

She even walked with Monsieur for a full hour in the garden. Naturally
Monsieur perceives nothing; he does not lose a mouthful of food or a
puff of tobacco-smoke. What a stupid blockhead!

I had a great desire to know what they could be saying to each other
when they were alone,--the two of them. Last night, for more than
twenty minutes, I listened at the door of the _salon_. I heard
Monsieur crumpling a newspaper. Madame, seated at her little desk, was
casting up her accounts.

"What did I give you yesterday?" Madame asked.

"Two francs," answered Monsieur.

"You are sure?"

"Why, yes, my pet."

"Well, I am short thirty-eight sous."

"It was not I who took them."

"No, it was the cat."

Of the other matter they said not a word.



In the kitchen Joseph does not like to have us talk about the little
Claire. When Marianne or I broach the subject, he immediately changes
it, or else takes no part in the conversation. It annoys him. I do not
know why, but the idea has come to me--and it is burying itself deeper
and deeper in my mind--that it was Joseph who did it. I have no proofs,
no clues to warrant my suspicion,--no other clues than his eyes, no
other proofs than the slight movement of surprise that escaped him
when, on my return from the grocer's, I suddenly, in the harness-room,
threw in his face for the first time the name of the little Claire
murdered and outraged. And yet this purely intuitive suspicion has
grown, first into a possibility, and then into a certainty. Undoubtedly
I am mistaken. I try to convince myself that Joseph is a "pearl."
I say to myself over and over again that my imagination takes mad
flights, obedient to the influence of the romantic perversity that is
in me. But all in vain; the impression remains, in spite of myself,
never leaves me for a moment, and is assuming the tormenting and
grimacing form of a fixed idea. And I have an irresistible desire to
ask Joseph:

"Say, Joseph, was it you who outraged the little Claire in the woods?
Was it you, old pig?"

The crime was committed on a Saturday. I remember that Joseph, at about
that date, went to the forest of Raillon to get some heath mould. He
was absent all day, and did not return to the Priory with his load
till late in the evening. Of that I am sure. And--an extraordinary
coincidence--I remember certain restless movements, certain troubled
looks, that he had that evening, when he came back. I took no notice of
them then. Why should I have done so? But to-day these facial details
come back to me forcibly. But was it on the Saturday of the crime
that Joseph went to the forest of Raillon? I seek in vain to fix the
date of his absence. And then, had he really the restless movements,
the accusing looks, that I attribute to him, and which denounce him
to me? Is it not I who am bent upon suggesting to myself the unusual
strangeness of those movements and those looks? Am I not determined,
without reason and against all probability, that it shall be Joseph--a
pearl--who did it? It irritates me, and at the same time confirms me
in my apprehensions, that I cannot reconstruct before my eyes the
tragedy of the forest. If only the judicial examination had revealed
fresh tracks of a cart on the dead leaves and on the heather in the
neighborhood? But no; the examination revealed nothing of the kind;
it revealed the outrage and murder of a little girl, and that is all.
Well, it is precisely that which so excites me. This cleverness of the
assassin in leaving not the slightest trace of his crime behind him,
this diabolical invisibility,--I feel in it and see in it the presence
of Joseph. Enervated, I make bold suddenly, after a silence, to ask him
this question:

"Joseph, what day was it that you went to the forest of Raillon to get
heath mould? Do you remember?"

Without haste, without a start, Joseph puts down the newspaper that he
was reading. Now his soul is steeled against surprises.

"Why do you ask?" he says.

"Because I want to know."

Joseph looks at me with his heavy, searching gaze. Then, without
affectation, he seems to be ransacking his memory in search of
recollections that are already old. And he answers:

"Indeed, I do not remember exactly; I think, though, that it was on a
Saturday."

"The Saturday when the body of the little Claire was found in the
woods?" I go on, giving to this inquiry, too quickly uttered, an
aggressive tone.

Joseph does not take his eyes from mine. His look has become so sharp
and so terrible that, in spite of my customary effrontery, I am obliged
to turn away my head.

"Possibly," he says again; "indeed, I really think that it was that
Saturday."

And he adds:

"Oh! these confounded women! You would do much better to think of
something else. If you read the newspaper, you would see that they have
been killing Jews again in Algeria. That at least is something worth
while."

Apart from his look, he is calm, natural, almost good-natured. His
gestures are easy; his voice no longer trembles. I become silent, and
Joseph, picking up the newspaper that he had laid on the table, begins
to read again, in the most tranquil fashion in the world.

For my part, I have begun to dream again. Now that I am about it, I
should like to find in Joseph's life some act of real ferocity. His
hatred of the Jews, his continual threats to torture, kill, and burn
them,--all this, perhaps, is nothing but swagger, and political swagger
at that. I am looking for something more precise and formal, some
unmistakable evidence of Joseph's criminal temperament. And I find
nothing but vague and moral impressions, hypotheses to which my desire
or my fear that they may be undeniable realities gives an importance
and a significance which undoubtedly they do not possess. My desire or
my fear? I do not know which of these two sentiments it is that moves
me.

But yes. Here is a fact, a real fact, a horrible fact, a revealing
fact. I do not invent it; I do not exaggerate it; I did not dream it;
it is exactly as I state it. It is one of Joseph's duties to kill the
chickens, rabbits, and ducks. He kills the ducks by the old Norman
method of burying a pin in their head. He could kill them with a blow,
without giving them pain. But he loves to prolong their suffering by
skilful refinements of torture. He loves to feel their flesh quiver and
their heart beat in his hands; he loves to follow, to count, to hold
in his hands, their suffering, their convulsions, their death. Once I
saw Joseph kill a duck. He held it between his knees. With one hand he
grasped it by the neck, with the other he buried a pin in its head; and
then he turned and turned the pin in the head, with a slow and regular
movement. One would have thought he was grinding coffee. And, as he
turned the pin, Joseph said, with savage joy:

"It is necessary to make it suffer. The more it suffers, the better its
blood will taste."

The animal had freed its wings from Joseph's knees; they were beating,
beating. Its neck, in spite of Joseph's grasp, twisted into a frightful
spiral, and beneath its feathers its flesh heaved. Then Joseph threw
the animal upon the stone floor of the kitchen, and, with elbows on his
knees and chin in his joined palms, he began to follow, with a look of
hideous satisfaction, its bounds, its convulsions, the mad scratching
of its yellow claws upon the floor.

"Stop then, Joseph," I cried. "Kill it at once; it is horrible to make
animals suffer."

And Joseph answered:

"That amuses me. I like to see that."

I recall this memory; I evoke all its sinister details; I hear all
the words that were spoken. And I have a desire, a still more violent
desire, to cry to Joseph:

"It was you who outraged the little Claire in the woods. Yes, yes; I am
sure of it now; it was you, you, you, old pig."

There is no longer any doubt of it; Joseph must be a tremendous
scoundrel. And this opinion that I have of his moral personality,
instead of driving me from him, far from placing a wall of horror
between us, causes me, not to love him perhaps, but to take an enormous
interest in him. It is queer, but I have always had a weakness for
scoundrels. There is something unexpected about them that lashes the
blood,--a special odor that intoxicates you,--something strong and
bitter that attracts you sexually. However infamous scoundrels may be,
they are never as infamous as the respectable people. What annoys me
about Joseph is that he has the reputation, and, to one who does not
know his eyes, the manners, of an honest man. I should like him better
if he were a frank and impudent scoundrel. It is true that he would
lose that halo of mystery, that prestige of the unknown, which moves
and troubles and attracts me--yes, really, attracts me--toward this old
monster.

Now I am calmer, because I am certain, and because nothing henceforth
can remove the certainty from my mind, that it was he who outraged the
little Claire in the woods.



For some time I have noticed that I have made a considerable impression
upon Joseph's heart. His bad reception of me is at an end; his
silence toward me is no longer hostile or contemptuous, and there is
something approaching tenderness in his nudges. His looks have no
more hatred in them,--did they ever have any, however?--and, if they
are still so terrible at times, it is because he is seeking to know
me better, always better, and wishes to try me. Like most peasants,
he is extremely distrustful, and avoids trusting himself to others,
for he thinks that they are planning to "take him in." He must be in
possession of numerous secrets, but he hides them jealously, under
a severe, scowling, and brutal mask, as one locks treasures in a
strong-box equipped with solid bars and mysterious bolts. However, his
distrust of me is lessening. He is charming toward me, in his way. He
does all that he can to show his friendship for me, and to please me.
He relieves me of my most painful duties; takes upon himself the heavy
work that is given me to do; and all without roguishness, without any
underlying gallantry, without seeking to provoke my gratitude, without
trying to get any profit from it whatsoever. On my side, I keep his
affairs in order, mend his stockings and his pantaloons, patch his
shirts, and arrange his closet with much more care and coquetry than I
do Madame's. And he says to me, with a look of satisfaction:

"That is very well, Célestine. You are a good woman,--an orderly woman.
Order, you see, means fortune. And, when one is pretty besides,--when
one is a beautiful woman, there is nothing better."

Hitherto we have talked together only for brief moments. At night, in
the kitchen, with Marianne, the conversation has to be general. No
intimacy is permissible between us two. And, when I see him alone,
nothing is more difficult than to make him talk. He refuses all long
conversations, fearing, undoubtedly, to compromise himself. A word
here, a word there, amiable or crusty, and that is all. But his eyes
speak, though his lips are silent. And they prowl around me, and they
envelop me, and they descend into me, into my very depths, in order to
turn my soul inside out and see what is in it.

For the first time we had a long talk yesterday. It was at night. The
masters had gone to bed; Marianne had gone to her room earlier than
usual. Not feeling disposed to read or write, it was tiresome for me
to remain alone. Still obsessed by the image of the little Claire, I
went to find Joseph in the harness-room, where, seated at a little
white-wood table, he was sorting seeds by the light of a dark lantern.
His friend, the sacristan, was there, standing near him, holding under
his two arms packages of little pamphlets, red, green, blue, tricolor.
With big round eyes surpassing the arch of the eyebrows, flattened
skull, and wrinkled, yellow, and cross-grained skin, he looked like a
toad. He had also the bounding heaviness of a toad. Under the table the
two dogs, rolled into a ball, were sleeping, with their heads buried in
their shaggy skins.

"Ah! it is you, Célestine?" exclaimed Joseph.

The sacristan tried to hide his pamphlets, but Joseph reassured him.

"We can talk before Mademoiselle. She is an orderly woman."

And he gave him directions.

"So, old man, it is understood, isn't it? At Bazoches, at Courtain,
at Fleur-sur-Tille. And let them be distributed to-morrow, in the
day-time. And try to get subscriptions. And let me tell you again;
go everywhere, into all the houses,--even the houses of republicans.
Perhaps they will show you the door, but that makes no difference.
Keep right on. If you win one of these dirty pigs, it is always so
much gained. And then, remember that you get five francs for every
republican."

The sacristan nodded his head approvingly. Having tucked the pamphlets
under his arms, he started off, Joseph accompanying him as far as the
iron fence. When the latter returned, he noticed my curious face, my
inquisitive eyes.

"Yes," he said, carelessly, "some songs, and some pictures, and
some pamphlets against the Jews, which are being distributed for
propagandism. I have made an arrangement with the priests; I work for
them. It is in the line of my own ideas, surely; but I must say also
that I am well paid."

He sat down again at the little table where he was sorting his seeds.
The two dogs, awakened, took a turn about the room, and went to lie
down again farther off.

"Yes, yes," he repeated, "I get good pay. Oh! the priests have money
enough."

And, as if fearing that he had said too much, he added:

"I tell you this, Célestine, because you are a good woman and an
orderly woman, and because I have confidence in you. It is between
ourselves, you know."

After a silence:

"What a good idea it was of yours to come out here to-night!" he
thanked me; "it is very nice of you; it flatters me."

Never had I seen him so amiable, so talkative. I bent over the little
table very near him, and, stirring the sorted seeds in the plate, I
answered coquettishly:

"It is true, too; you went away directly after dinner; we had no time
to gossip. Shall I help you sort your seeds?"

"Thank you, Célestine, I have finished."

He scratched his head.

"_Sacristi!_" he exclaimed, with annoyance, "I ought to go and see to
my garden-frames. The field-mice do not leave me a salad, the vermin!
But then, no, indeed, I must talk with you, Célestine."

Joseph rose, closed the door, which had been left half open, and led
me to the back of the harness-room. For a minute I was frightened. The
little Claire, whom I had forgotten, appeared before my eyes on the
forest heath, frightfully pale and bleeding. But there was nothing
wicked in Joseph's looks; they were timid, rather. We could scarcely
see each other in this dark room, lighted by the dull and hazy gleams
of the lantern. Up to this point Joseph's voice had trembled. Now it
suddenly took on assurance, almost gravity.

"For some days I have been wanting to confide this to you, Célestine,"
he began; "well, here it is. I have a feeling of friendship for you.
You are a good woman, an orderly woman. Now I know you very well."

I thought it my duty to assume an archly mischievous smile, and I
replied:

"You must admit that it has taken you some time. And why were you so
disagreeable with me? You never spoke to me; you were always rough with
me. You remember the scenes that you made me when I went through the
paths that you had just raked? Oh! how crusty you were!"

Joseph began to laugh, and shrugged his shoulders:

"Oh! yes; why, you know, one cannot get acquainted with people at the
very start. And women especially,--it takes the devil to know them. And
you came from Paris! Now I know you very well."

"Since you know me so well, Joseph, tell me, then, what I am."

With set lips and serious eyes, he said:

"What you are, Célestine? You are like me."

"I am like you, I?"

"Oh! not in your features, of course. But you and I, in the very depths
of the soul, are the same thing. Yes, yes, I know what I say."

Again there was a moment of silence. Then he resumed, in a voice that
was less stern:

"I have a feeling of friendship for you, Célestine. And then...."

"And then?..."

"I have some money, too,--a little money."

"Ah?"

"Yes, a little money. Why, one does not serve forty years in good
houses without saving something. Is it not so?"

"Surely," I answered, more and more astonished by Joseph's words and
manner. "And you have much money?"

"Oh! only a little."

"How much? Let me see."

Joseph gave a slight chuckle.

"You may know well that it is not here. It is in a place where it is
making little ones."

"Yes, but how much?"

Then in a low voice, almost a whisper:

"Perhaps fifteen thousand francs; perhaps more."

"My! but you are well fixed, you are!"

"Oh! perhaps less, too. One cannot tell."

Suddenly the two dogs lifted their heads simultaneously, bounded to
the door, and began to bark. I made a movement of fright.

"That's nothing," said Joseph, reassuringly, giving each of them a kick
in the side; "simply people passing in the road. Why, it is Rose, going
home. I know her step."

And, in fact, a few seconds later I heard a sound of dragging steps in
the road, and then a more distant sound of a closing gate. The dogs
became silent again.

I had sat down on a stool in a corner of the harness-room. Joseph, with
his hands in his pockets, walked back and forth in the narrow room,
his elbows hitting against the pine wainscoting from which leather
straps were hanging. We did not speak, I being horribly embarrassed and
regretting that I had come, and Joseph being plainly tormented by what
he had still to say to me.

After some minutes he made up his mind.

"There is another thing that I must confide to you, Célestine. I
am from Cherbourg. And Cherbourg is a tough town, full of sailors
and soldiers, of jolly lascars who do not deny themselves pleasure;
business is good there. Well, I know a fine opportunity just now at
Cherbourg. It is a matter of a little café near the water. A little
café in a first-rate location. The army is drinking a great deal
these days; all the patriots are in the street; they shout and bawl
and get thirsty. Now is the time to get it. One could make hundreds
and thousands, I promise you. Only, you see, there must be a woman
there,--an orderly woman, a pretty woman, well equipped, and not afraid
of slang and smut. The sailors and soldiers are good-natured and gay
and full of fun. They get drunk on the slightest provocation, and they
are fond of women, and spend much for them. What do you think about it,
Célestine?"

"I?" I exclaimed, stupefied.

"Yes; just suppose the case. Would you like it?"

"I?"

I did not know what he was coming at. I trembled from surprise to
surprise. Utterly upset, I could think of no answer to make. He
insisted:

"You, of course. And who, then, do you expect to come to the little
café? You are a good woman; you are orderly; you are not one of those
affected creatures who do not know even how to take a joke; and you are
patriotic! And then you are pretty, very nice to look at; you have eyes
to drive the whole Cherbourg garrison crazy. Just the cheese! Now that
I know you well, now that I know all that you can do, this idea keeps
continually running through my head."

"Well? And you?"

"I, too, of course! We would marry, like good friends."

"Then," cried I, with sudden indignation, "you want me to prostitute
myself to make money for you?"

Joseph shrugged his shoulders, and said tranquilly:

"All depends on the intention, Célestine. That is understood, is it
not?"

Then he came to me, took my hands, pressed them so tightly that I
screamed with pain, and stammered:

"I dream of you, Célestine; I dream of you in the little café. I am
crazy over you."

And, as I stood in amazement, a little frightened by this confession,
and without a gesture or a word, he continued:

"And then, perhaps there are more than fifteen thousand francs. Perhaps
more than eighteen thousand francs. One never knows how many little
ones this money makes. And then, things ... things ... jewels ... you
would be tremendously happy in the little café."

He held my waist clasped in the powerful vise of his arms. And I felt
his whole body against me, trembling with desire. If he had wished, he
could have taken me and stifled me without the slightest resistance on
my part. And he continued to unfold his dream:

"A little café, very pretty, very clean, very shining. And then, at the
bar, before a large mirror, a beautiful woman, dressed in the costume
of Alsace-Lorraine, with a beautiful silk waist and broad velvet
ribbons. Hey, Célestine? Think of that! I will talk with you about it
again one of these days; I will talk with you about it again."

I found nothing to say,--nothing, nothing, nothing. I was stupefied
by this thing, of which I had never dreamed; but I was also without
hatred, without horror, of this man's cynicism. Clasping me with the
same hands that had clasped, stifled, strangled, murdered the little
Claire in the woods, Joseph repeated:

"I will talk with you about it again. I am old; I am ugly. Possibly.
But to fix a woman, Célestine,--mark this well,--there is nobody like
me. I will talk with you about it again."

To fix a woman! How he fills one with forebodings! Is it a threat? Is
it a promise?



To-day Joseph has resumed his customary silence. One would think
nothing had happened last night between us. He goes, he comes, he
works, he eats, he reads his paper, just as usual. I look at him, and
I should like to detest him. I wish that his ugliness would fill me
with such immense disgust as to separate me from him forever. Well, no.
Ah! how queer it is! This man sends shivers through me, and I feel no
disgust. And it is a frightful thing that I feel no disgust, since it
was he who killed and outraged the little Claire in the woods.



X


_November 3._

Nothing gives me so much pleasure as to find in the newspapers the
name of a person in whose house I have served. This pleasure I felt
this morning more keenly than ever before, in learning from the "Petit
Journal" that Victor Charrigaud has just published a new book, which
has met with much approval and of which everybody speaks in admiration.
This book is entitled, "From Five to Seven," and is a howling
success. It is, says the article, a series of brilliant and cutting
society studies, which, beneath their light exterior, hide a profound
philosophy. Yes, rely upon it! At the same time that they praise Victor
Charrigaud for his talent, they also compliment him highly on his
elegance, on his distinguished social position, on his _salon_. Ah! let
us say a word of his _salon_. For eight months I was the Charrigauds'
chambermaid, and I really believe that I have never met such boors. God
knows, however!

Everybody is familiar with the name Victor Charrigaud. He has already
published a series of books that have made a sensation. "Their Little
Garters," "How They Sleep," "The Sentimental Bigoudis," "Humming-Birds
and Parrots," are among the most celebrated. He is a man of infinite
wit, a writer of infinite talent; unhappily, success and wealth have
come to him too quickly. His beginnings aroused the greatest hopes.
Everybody was struck with his great faculty of observation, with his
powerful gift of satire, with his implacable and just irony that
penetrated so deeply humanity's ridiculous side. A well-informed and
free mind, to which social conventions were nothing but falsehood and
servility, a generous and clear-sighted soul, which, instead of bending
under the humiliating level of prejudice, bravely directed its impulses
toward a pure and elevated social ideal. At least so Victor Charrigaud
was described to me by one of his friends, a painter, who was stuck on
me, and whom I used sometimes to go to see, and from whom I got the
opinions just expressed and the details that are to follow regarding
the literature and the life of this illustrious man.

Among the ridiculous things that Charrigaud had lashed so severely,
there was none that he had treated so harshly as snobbishness. In his
lively conversation, well supported by facts, even more than in his
books, he branded its moral cowardice and its intellectual barrenness
with a bitter precision in the picturesque, a comprehensive and
merciless philosophy, and sharp, profound, terrible words, which, taken
up by some and passed on by others, were repeated at the four corners
of Paris, and at once became classics, in a way. A complete and
astonishing psychology of snobbishness is contained in the impressions,
the traits, the concise profiles, the strangely-outlined and life-like
silhouettes, of which this prodigal and never-wearying originality
was an ever-flowing source. It seems, then, that, if any one should
have escaped that sort of moral influenza which rages so violently in
the _salons_, it was Victor Charrigaud, better protected than anybody
else against contagion by that admirable antiseptic--irony. But man is
nothing but surprise, contradiction, incoherence, and folly.

Scarcely had he felt the first caresses of success, when the snob
that was in him--and that was the reason why he was able to paint the
snob with such force of expression--revealed itself, exploded, one
might say, like an engine that has just received an electric shock.
He began by dropping those friends that had become embarrassing or
compromising, keeping only those who, some by their recognized talent,
others by their position in the press, could be useful to him, and
bolster his young fame by their persistent puffery. At the same time
he made dress and fashion a subject of most careful consideration. He
was seen in frock coats of an audacious Philippism, wearing collars
and cravats of the style of 1830 much exaggerated, velvet waistcoats
of irresistible cut, and showy jewels; and he took from metal cases,
inlaid with too precious stones, cigarettes sumptuously rolled in gilt
paper. But, heavy of limb and awkward of movement, he retained, in
spite of everything, the unwieldy gait of the Auvergne peasants, his
compatriots. Too new in a too sudden elegance in which he did not feel
at home, in vain did he study himself and the most perfect models of
Parisian style; he could not acquire that ease, that supple, delicate,
and upright line which he saw in the young swells at the clubs, at
the race-courses, at the theatres, and at the restaurants, and which
he envied them with a most violent hatred. It astonished him, for,
after all, he patronized only the most select furnishing houses, the
most famous tailors, memorable shirt-makers, and what shoemakers!
what shoemakers! Examining himself in the glass, he threw insults at
himself, in his despair.

"In vain do I cover myself with velvets, silks, and satin; I always
look like a boor. There is always something that is not natural."

As for Madame Charrigaud, who previously had dressed very simply and
with discreet taste, she, too, sported showy and stunning costumes,
with hair too red, jewels too big, silks too rich, giving her the air
of a laundry queen, the majesty of a Mardi-Gras empress. They made a
great deal of sport of her, sometimes cruelly. Old comrades, at once
humiliated and delighted by so much luxury and so much bad taste,
avenged themselves by saying jestingly of this poor Victor Charrigaud:

"Really, for an ironist, he has no luck."

Thanks to fortunate manoeuvres, incessant diplomacy, and more incessant
platitudes, they were received into what they called--they too--real
society, in the houses of Jewish bankers, Venezuelan dukes, and
vagrant arch-dukes, and in the houses of very old ladies, crazed over
literature, panderism, and the Academy. They thought of nothing but
cultivating and developing these new relations, and of acquiring others
more desirable and more difficult of attainment,--others, others, and
always others.

One day, to free himself from an obligation which he had stupidly
assumed by accepting an invitation to the house of a friend who was
not a conspicuous personage, but whom he was not yet ready to drop,
Charrigaud wrote him the following letter:

        _My Dear Old Friend:_

        We are disconsolate. Excuse us for not keeping our promise
        for Monday. But we have just received, for that very day, an
        invitation to dine at the Rothschilds. It is the first. You
        understand that we cannot refuse. It would be disastrous.
        Fortunately, I know your heart. Far from being angry with us, I
        am sure that you will share our joy and our pride.

Another day he was telling of the purchase that he had just made of a
villa at Deauville:

"I really don't know for whom these people took us. They undoubtedly
took us for journalists, for Bohemians. But I quickly let them see that
I had a notary."

Gradually he eliminated all that remained of the friends of his
youth,--those friends whose simple presence in his house was a constant
and disagreeable reminder of the past, and a confession of that stain,
of that social inferiority,--literature and labor. And he contrived
also to extinguish the flames that sometimes kindled in his brain,
and to finally stifle that cursed wit whose sudden revival on certain
occasions it frightened him to feel, supposing it to be dead forever.
Then, it was no longer enough for him to be received in the houses of
others; he desired, in turn, to receive others in his own house. His
occupancy of a residence of some pretension, which he had just bought
in Auteuil, was made the pretext for a dinner.

I entered their service at the time when the Charrigauds had at last
resolved to give this dinner. Not one of those private dinners, gay and
without pose, such as they had been in the habit of giving, and which
for some years had made their house so charming, but a really elegant,
really solemn dinner, a stiff and chilly dinner, a select dinner, to
which should be ceremoniously invited, together with some correct
celebrities of literature and art, some society personalities, not too
difficult to reach, not too regularly established, but sufficiently
decorative to shed a little of their brilliancy upon their hosts.

"For the difficult thing," said Victor Charrigaud, "is not to dine in
the city, but to give a dinner at home."

After thinking over the plan for a long time, Victor Charrigaud made
this proposition:

"Well, I have it. I think that at first we can have only divorced
women--with their lovers. We must begin somewhere. There are some who
are very suitable, and whom the most Catholic newspapers speak of
with admiration. Later, when our connections shall have become more
extensive, and at the same time more select,--why, we can let the
divorced people slide."

"You are right," approved Mme. Charrigaud. "For the moment, the
important thing is to get the best people among those who are divorced.
Say what you will, the time has come when a divorce gives a person a
certain position."

"It has at least the merit of abolishing adultery," chuckled
Charrigaud. "Adultery is now very old-fashioned. Nobody but friend
Bourget now believes in adultery,--Christian adultery,--and in English
furniture."

To which Mme. Charrigaud replied, in a tone of nervous vexation:

"How you tire me, with your maliciously wicked remarks! You will see,
you will see that, because of them, we shall never be able to establish
a desirable _salon_."

And she added:

"If you really wish to become a man of society, you must learn first
either to be an imbecile or to hold your tongue."

They made, unmade, and remade a list of guests, which, after laborious
combinations, was finally settled upon as follows:

The Countess Fergus, divorced, and her friend, the economist and
deputy, Joseph Brigard.

The Baroness Henri Gogsthein, divorced, and her friend, the poet, Théo
Crampp.

The Baroness Otto Butzinghen, and her friend, the Viscount Lahyrais,
clubman, sportsman, gambler, and trickster.

Mme. de Rambure, divorced, and her friend, Mme. Tiercelet, suing for
divorce.

Sir Harry Kimberly, symbolist musician, and his young friend, Lucien
Sartorys, as beautiful as a woman, as supple as a _peau de Suède_
glove, as slender and blonde as a cigar.

The two academicians, Joseph Dupont de la Brie, collector of obscene
coins, and Isidore Durand de la Marne, author of gallant memoirs in
private and severe student of Chinese at the Institute.

The portrait-painter, Jacques Rigaud.

The psychological novelist, Maurice Fernancourt.

The society reporter, Poult d'Essoy.

The invitations were sent out, and, thanks to the mediation of
influential persons, all were accepted.

The Countess Fergus alone hesitated:

"The Charrigauds?" said she. "Is theirs really a proper house? Has he
not been engaged in all sorts of pursuits on Montmartre, in the past?
Do they not say that he sold obscene photographs, for which he had
posed, with an artificial bust? And are there not some disagreeable
stories afloat regarding her? Did she not have some rather vulgar
experiences before her marriage? Is it not said that she has been a
model,--that she has posed for the altogether? What a horror! A woman
who stripped before men who are not even her lovers?"

Finally she accepted the invitation, on being assured that Mme.
Charrigaud had posed only for the head, that Charrigaud, who was very
vindictive, would be quite capable of disgracing her in one of his
books, and that Kimberly would come to this dinner. Oh! if Kimberly had
promised to come! Kimberly, such a perfect gentleman, and so delicate
and so charming, really charming!

The Charrigauds were informed of these negotiations and these scruples.
Far from taking offence, they congratulated themselves that they had
successfully conducted the former and overcome the latter. It was now
a matter only of watching themselves, and, as Mme. Charrigaud said,
of behaving themselves like real society people. This dinner, so
marvelously prepared and planned, so skilfully negotiated, was really
their first manifestation in the new avatar of their elegant destiny,
of their social ambitions. It must, then, be an astonishing affair.

For a week beforehand everything was topsy-turvy in the house. It was
necessary that the apartments should be made to look like new, and that
there should be no hitch. They tried various lighting arrangements
and table decorations, that they might not be embarrassed at the last
moment. Over these matters M. and Mme. Charrigaud quarreled like
porters, for they had not the same ideas, and their æsthetic views
differed on all points, she inclining to sentimental arrangements, he
preferring the severe and "artistic."

"It is idiotic," cried Charrigaud. "They will think that they are in a
grisette's apartments. Ah! what a laughing-stock we shall be!"

"You had better not talk," replied Mme. Charrigaud, her nervousness
reaching the point of paroxysm. "You are still what you used to be, a
dirty tavern bum. And besides, I have enough of it; my back is broken
with it."

"Well, that's it; let us have a divorce, my little wolf, let us have a
divorce. By that means we at least shall complete the series, and cast
no reflection on our guests."

They perceived also that there would not be enough silverware,
glassware, and plates. They must rent some, and also rent some chairs,
for they had only fifteen, and even these were not perfect. Finally,
the menu was ordered of one of the grand caterers of the Boulevard.

"Let everything be ultra-stylish," ordered Mme. Charrigaud, "and
let no one be able to recognize the dishes that are served. Shrimp
hash, goose-liver cutlets, game that looks like ham, ham that
looks like cake, truffles in whipped cream, and mashed potatoes in
branches,--cherries in squares and peaches twisted into spirals. In
short, have everything as stylish as possible."

"Rest easy," declared the caterer. "I know so well how to disguise
things that I defy anybody to know what he is eating. It is a specialty
of the house."

At last the great day arrived.

Monsieur rose early,--anxious, nervous, agitated. Madame, who had
been unable to sleep all night, and weary from the errands of the day
before and the preparations of all sorts, could not keep still. Five
or six times, with wrinkled brow, out of breath, trembling and so
weary that, as she said, she felt her belly in her heels, she made a
final examination of the house, upset and rearranged bric-à-brac and
furniture without reason, and went from one room to another without
knowing why and as if she were mad. She trembled lest the cooks might
not come, lest the florist might fail them, and lest the guests might
not be placed at table in accordance with strict etiquette. Monsieur
followed her everywhere, clad only in pink silk drawers, approving
here, criticising there.

"Now that I think about it again," said he, "what a queer idea that was
of yours to order centauries for the table decoration! I assure you
that blue becomes black in the light. And then, after all, centauries
are nothing but simple corn-flowers. It will look as if we had been to
the fields to gather corn-flowers."

"Oh! corn-flowers! how provoking you are!"

"Yes, indeed, corn-flowers. And the corn-flower, as Kimberly said very
truly the other evening at the Rothschilds, is not a society flower.
Why not also corn poppies?"

"Let me alone," answered Madame. "You drive me crazy with all your
stupid observations. A nice time to offer them, indeed!"

But Monsieur was obstinate:

"All right, all right; you will see, you will see. Provided, my God,
that everything goes off tolerably well, without too many accidents,
without too many delays. I did not know that to be society people was
so difficult, so fatiguing, and so complicated a matter. Perhaps we
ought to have remained simple boors."

And Madame growled:

"Oh! for that matter, I see clearly that nothing will change you. You
scarcely do honor to a woman."

As they thought me pretty, and very elegant to look at, my masters had
allotted to me also an important _role_ in this comedy. First I was to
preside over the cloak-room, and then to aid, or rather superintend,
the four butlers, four tall lascars, with immense side-whiskers,
selected from several employment-bureaus to serve this extraordinary
dinner.

At first all went well. Nevertheless, there was a moment of alarm. At
quarter before nine the Countess Fergus had not yet arrived. Suppose
she had changed her mind, and resolved at the last moment not to come?
What a humiliation! What a disaster! The Charrigauds were in a state of
consternation. Joseph Brigard reassured them. It was the day when the
countess had to preside over her admirable "Society for the Collection
of Cigar-Stumps for the Army and Navy." The sessions sometimes did not
end till very late.

"What a charming woman!" said Mme. Charrigaud, ecstatically, as if
this eulogy had the magic power to hasten the coming of "this dirty
countess," whom, at the bottom of her soul, she cursed.

"And what a brain!" said Charrigaud, going her one better, though
really entertaining the same feeling. "The other day at the Rothschilds
I felt that it would be necessary to go back to the last century to
find such perfect grace and such superiority."

"And even then!" said Joseph Brigard, capping the climax. "You see,
my dear Monsieur Charrigaud, in democratic societies based upon
equality...."

He was about to deliver one of those semi-gallant, semi-sociological
discourses which he was fond of retailing in the _salons_, when the
Countess Fergus entered, imposing and majestic, in a black gown
embroidered with jet and steel that showed off the fat whiteness and
soft beauty of her shoulders. And it was amid murmurs and whispers of
admiration that they made their way ceremoniously to the dining-room.

The beginning of the dinner was rather cold. In spite of her success,
perhaps even because of her success, the Countess Fergus was a little
haughty, or, at least, too reserved. She seemed to wear an air of
condescension at having honored with her presence the humble house
of "these little people." Charrigaud thought he noticed that she
examined with a discreetly but visibly contemptuous pout the rented
silverware, the table decoration, Mme. Charrigaud's green costume, and
the four butlers whose too long side-whiskers dipped into the dishes.
He was filled with vague terrors and agonizing doubts as to the proper
appearance of his table and his wife. It was a horrible minute!

After some commonplace and laborious replies, exchanged apropos of
trivial topics then current, the conversation gradually became general,
and finally settled down upon the subject of correctness in society
life.

All these poor devils, all these poor wretches, male and female,
forgetting their own social irregularities, showed a strangely
implacable severity toward persons whom it was allowable to suspect,
not even of stains or blemishes, but simply of some formal lack of
respect for society laws,--the only ones that ought to be obeyed.
Living, in a certain sense, outside of their social ideal, thrown
back, so to speak, to the margin of that existence whose disgraced
correctness and regularity they honored as a religion, they undoubtedly
hoped to get into it again by driving out others. The comicality of
this was really intense and savory. They divided the universe into two
great parts: on the one side, that which is regular; on the other,
that which is not; here the people that one may receive; there the
people that one may not receive. And these two great parts soon became
pieces, and the pieces became thin slices, the subdivision going on
_ad infinitum_. There were those in whose houses one may dine, and
also those to whose houses one may go only for the evening. Those in
whose houses one may not dine, but to which one may go for the evening.
Those whom one may receive at his table, and those to whom one may
accord only admission to his _salon_,--and even then only under certain
circumstances, clearly defined. There were also those in whose houses
one may not dine and whom one should not receive at one's house, and
those whom one may receive at one's house and in whose houses one may
not dine; those whom one may receive at breakfast, and never at dinner;
and those in whose country houses one may dine, but never in their
Paris residences, etc. The whole being supported with demonstrative
and peremptory examples, well-known names being cited by way of
illustration.

"Shades," said the Viscount Lahyrais, sportsman, clubman, gambler, and
trickster. "The whole thing lies there. It is by the strict observance
of shades that a man is really in society, or is not."

I believe that I never heard such dreary things. As I listened to them,
I really felt a pity for these unfortunates.

Charrigaud neither ate or drank, and said nothing. Although he was
scarcely in the conversation, he nevertheless felt its enormous and
forbidding stupidity like a weight upon his skull. Impatient, feverish,
very pale, he watched the service, tried to catch favorable or ironical
impressions of the faces of his guests, and mechanically, with
movements more and more accelerated, and in spite of the warnings of
his wife, rolled big pellets of bread-crumb between his fingers. When
a question was put to him, he answered in a bewildered, distracted,
far-away voice:

"Certainly ... certainly ... certainly."

Opposite him, very stiff in her green gown, upon which spangles of
green steel glittered with a phosphorescent brilliancy, and wearing an
aigrette of red feathers in her hair, Mme. Charrigaud bent to right
and to left, and smiled, without ever a word,--a smile so eternally
motionless that it seemed painted on her lips.

"What a goose!" said Charrigaud to himself; "what a stupid and
ridiculous woman! And what a carnival costume! To-morrow, because of
her, we shall be the laughing-stock of Parisian society."

And on her side Mme. Charrigaud, beneath the fixity of her smile, was
thinking:

"What an idiot this Victor is! And what a bad appearance he makes!
To-morrow we shall catch it on account of his pellets."

The topic of correctness in society being exhausted, there followed an
embarrassing lull in the conversation, which Kimberly broke by telling
of his last trip to London.

"Yes," said he, "I spent in London an intoxicating week; and, ladies,
I witnessed a unique thing. I attended a ritual dinner which the great
poet, John-Giotto Farfadetti, gave to some friends to celebrate his
betrothal to the wife of his dear Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton."

"How exquisite that must have been!" minced the Countess Fergus.

"You cannot imagine," answered Kimberly, whose look and gestures, and
even the orchid that adorned the button-hole of his coat, expressed the
most ardent ecstasy.

And he continued:

"Fancy, my dear friends, in a large hall, whose blue walls,
though scarcely blue, are decorated with white peacocks and gold
peacocks,--fancy a table of jade, inconceivably and delightfully oval.
On the table some cups, in which mauve and yellow bonbons harmonized,
and in the centre a basin of pink crystal, filled with kanaka preserves
... and nothing more. Draped in long white robes, we slowly passed
in turn before the table, and we took, upon the points of our golden
knives, a little of these mysterious preserves, which then we carried
to our lips ... and nothing more."

"Oh! I find that moving," sighed the countess, "so moving!"

"You cannot imagine. But the most moving thing--a thing that really
transformed this emotion into a painful laceration of our souls--was
when Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton sang the poem of the betrothal of his
wife and his friend. I know nothing more tragically, more superhumanly
beautiful."

"Oh! I beg of you," implored the Countess Fergus, "repeat this
prodigious poem for our benefit, Kimberly."

"The poem, alas! I cannot. I can give you only its essence."

"That's it, that's it! The essence."

In spite of his morals, in which they cut no figure, Kimberly filled
women with mad enthusiasm, for his specialty was subtle stories of
transgression and of extraordinary sensations. Suddenly a thrill ran
round the table, and the flowers themselves, and the jewels on their
beds of flesh, and the glasses on the table-cloth, took attitudes in
harmony with the state of souls. Charrigaud felt his reason departing.
He thought that he had suddenly fallen into a mad-house. Yet, by force
of will, he was still able to smile, and say:

"Why, certainly ... certainly."

The butlers finished passing something that resembled a ham, from
which, in a flood of yellow cream, cherries poured like red larvæ. As
for the Countess Fergus, half swooning, she had already started for
extra-terrestrial regions.

Kimberly began:

"Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton and his friend, John-Giotto Farfadetti,
were finishing their daily tasks in the studio which they occupied
in common. One was the great painter, the other the great poet; the
former short and stout, the latter tall and thin; both alike clad in
drugget robes, their heads alike adorned with Florentine BONNETS, both
alike neurasthenics, for they had, in different bodies, like souls
and lily-twin spirits. John-Giotto Farfadetti sang in his verses the
marvelous symbols that his friend, Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton, painted
on his canvases, so that the glory of the poet was inseparable from
that of the painter, and that their works and their immortal geniuses
had come to be confounded in one and the same adoration."

Kimberly stopped for a moment. The silence was religious. Something
sacred hovered over the table. He continued:

"The day was nearing its end. A very soft twilight was enveloping the
studio in a pallor of fluid and lunar shade. Scarcely could one still
distinguish on the mauve walls the long, supple, waving, golden algæ
that seemed to move in obedience to the vibration of some deep and
magic water. John-Giotto Farfadetti closed the sort of antiphonary on
the vellum of which, with a Persian reed, he wrote, or rather engraved,
his eternal poems; Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton turned his lyre-shaped
easel against a piece of drapery, placed his heart-shaped palette
upon a fragile piece of furniture, and the two, facing one another,
stretched themselves, with august poses of fatigue, upon a triple row
of cushions, of the color of sea-weed."

"Hum!" said Mme. Tiercelet, with a slightly warning cough.

"No, not at all," said Kimberly, reassuringly; "it is not what you
think."

And he continued:

"In the centre of the studio, from a marble basin in which the petals
of roses were bathing, a violent perfume was rising. And on a little
table long-stemmed narcissuses were dying, like souls, in a narrow
vase whose neck opened into the calyx of a lily, strangely green and
distorted."

"Impossible to forget," said the countess, in a quivering voice, so low
that it could scarcely be heard.

And Kimberly, without stopping, went on with his narration:

"Outside, the street became more silent, because deserted. From the
Thames came, muffled by the distance, the distracted voices of sirens,
the gasping voices of marine boilers. It was the hour when the two
friends, giving themselves over to dreaming, preserved an ineffable
silence."

"Oh! I see them so clearly!" said Madame Tiercelet, in a tone of
admiration.

"And that 'ineffable,' how evocative it is!" applauded the Countess
Fergus, "and so pure!"

Kimberly profited by these flattering interruptions to take a swallow
of champagne. Then, feeling that he was listened to with more
passionate attention than before, he repeated:

"Preserved an ineffable silence. But on this special evening
John-Giotto Farfadetti murmured: 'I have a poisoned flower in my
heart.' To which Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton answered: 'This evening
a sorrowful bird has been singing in my heart.' The studio seemed
moved by this unusual colloquy. On the mauve wall, which was gradually
losing its color, the gold algæ seemed to spread and contract, and
to spread and contract again, in harmony with the new rhythms of an
unusual undulation, for it is certain that the soul of man communicates
to the soul of things its troubles, its passions, its fervors, its
transgressions, its life."

"How true that is!"

This cry, coming from several mouths at once, did not prevent Kimberly
from going on with the recital, which thenceforth was to unfold itself
amid the silent emotion of his hearers. His voice became even more
mysterious.

"This minute of silence was poignant and tragic. 'Oh! my friend!'
implored John-Giotto Farfadetti, 'you who have given me everything,
you whose soul is so marvelously twin with mine, you must give me
something of yourself that I have not yet had, and from the lack of
which I am dying.' 'Is it, then, my life that you ask?' said the
painter; 'it is yours; you can take it.' 'No, it is not your life;
it is more than your life; it is your wife!' 'Botticellina!' cried
the poet. 'Yes, Botticellina; Botticellinetta; flesh of your flesh,
the soul of your soul, the dream of your dream, the magic sleep of
your sorrows!' 'Botticellina! Alas! Alas! It was to be. You have
drowned yourself in her, she has drowned herself in you, as in a
bottomless lake, beneath the light of the moon. Alas! Alas! It was
to be.' Two tears, phosphorescent in the penumbra, rolled from the
eyes of the painter. The poet answered: 'Listen to me, oh! my friend!
I love Botticellina, and Botticellina loves me, and we shall both
die of loving one another, and of not daring to tell one another,
and of not daring to unite. She and I are two fragments, long ago
separated, of one and the same living being, which for perhaps two
thousand years have been seeking and calling one another, and which
meet at last to-day. Oh! my dear Pinggleton, unknown life has these
strange, terrible, and delicious fatalities. Was there ever a more
splendid poem than that which we are living to-night?' But the
painter kept on repeating, in a voice more and more sorrowful, this
cry: 'Botticellina! Botticellina!' He rose from the triple row of
cushions upon which he was lying, and walked back and forth in the
studio, feverishly. After some minutes of anxious agitation, he said:
'Botticellina was Mine. Henceforth must she be Thine?' 'She shall be
Ours!' replied the poet, imperiously; 'for God has chosen you to be the
point of suture for this severed soul which is She and which is I! If
not, Botticellina possesses the magic pearl that dissipates dreams, I
the dagger that delivers from corporeal chains. If you refuse, we shall
love each other in death.' And he added, in a deep tone that resounded
through the studio like a voice from the abyss: 'Perhaps it would be
better so.' 'No,' cried the painter, 'you shall live. Botticellina
shall be Thine, as she has been Mine. I will tear my flesh to shreds,
I will tear my heart from my breast, I will break my head against the
wall, but my friend shall be happy. I can suffer. Suffering, too, is
voluptuousness, in another form!' 'And a voluptuousness more powerful,
more bitter, more fierce than any other!' exclaimed John-Giotto
Farfadetti, ecstatically; 'I envy your fate, do you know? As for me,
I really believe that I shall die either of the joy of my love or of
the sorrow of my friend. The hour has come. Adieu!' He rose, like an
archangel. At that moment the drapery moved, opening and closing again
on an illuminating apparition. It was Botticellina, draped in a flowing
robe, of the color of the moonlight. Her floating hair shone around her
like artificial fire. In her hand she held a golden key. An ecstasy was
on her lips, and the night-sky in her eyes. John-Giotto rushed forward,
and disappeared behind the drapery. Then Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton lay
down again on the triple row of cushions, of the color of sea-weed.
And, while he buried his nails in his flesh, and while the blood
streamed from him as from a fountain, the golden algæ, now scarcely
visible, gently quivered upon the wall, which was gradually taking on a
coating of darkness. And the heart-shaped palette and the lyre-shaped
easel resounded long and long, in nuptial songs."

For some moments Kimberly was silent; then, while the emotion that
prevailed around the table was choking throats and compressing hearts,
he concluded:

"And this is why I have dipped the point of my golden knife in the
preserves prepared by kanaka virgins in honor of a betrothal more
magnificent than any that our century, in its ignorance of beauty, has
ever known."

The dinner was over. They rose from the table in religious silence,
but thrilled through and through. In the _salon_ Kimberly was closely
surrounded and warmly congratulated. The looks of all the women
converged radiantly upon his painted face, surrounding it with a halo
of ecstasies.

"Ah! I should so like to have my portrait painted by Frederic-Ossian
Pinggleton," cried Mme. de Rambure; "I would give anything to enjoy
such happiness."

"Alas! Madame," answered Kimberly, "since the sorrowful and sublime
event which I have related, Frederic-Ossian Pinggleton has been
unwilling to paint human faces, however charming they may be; he paints
only souls."

"And he is right! I should so like to be painted as a soul!"

"Of what sex?" asked Maurice Fernancourt, in a slightly sarcastic tone,
visibly jealous of Kimberly's success.

The latter said, simply:

"Souls have no sex, my dear Maurice. They have...."

"Hair on their paws," said Victor Charrigaud, in a very low voice, so
as to be heard only by the psychological novelist, to whom he was just
then offering a cigar.

And, dragging him into the smoking-room, he whispered:

"Ah! old man! I wish I could shout the most filthy things, at the top
of my voice, in the faces of all these people. I have enough of their
souls, of their green and perverse loves, of their magic preserves.
Yes, yes, to say the coarsest things, to besmear one's self with good
black fetid mud for a quarter of an hour,--oh! how exquisite that
would be, and how restful! And how it would relieve me of all these
nauseating lilies that they have put into my heart! And you?"

But the shock had been too great, and the impression of Kimberly's
recital remained. They could no longer interest themselves in the
vulgar things of earth,--in topics of society, art, and passion. The
Viscount Lahyrais himself, clubman, sportsman, gambler, and trickster,
felt wings sprouting all over him. Each one felt the need of collecting
his thoughts, of being alone, of prolonging the dream, of realizing
it. In spite of the efforts of Kimberly, who went from one to another,
asking: "Did you ever drink sable's milk? Ah! then, drink sable's milk;
it is ravishing!" the conversation could not be resumed; so that, one
after another, the guests excused themselves, and slipped away. At
eleven o'clock all had gone.

When they found themselves face to face, alone, Monsieur and Madame
looked at each other for a long time, steadily and with hostility,
before exchanging their impressions.

"For a pretty fizzle, you know, it is a pretty fizzle," declared
Monsieur.

"It is your fault," said Madame, in a tone of bitter reproach.

"Well, that's a good one!"

"Yes, your fault. You paid no attention to anything; you did nothing
but roll dirty pellets of bread in your fat fingers. Nobody could get a
word out of you. How ridiculous you were! It is shameful."

"Well, you needn't talk," rejoined Monsieur. "And your green gown, and
your smiles, and your blunders. It was I perhaps, it was I undoubtedly,
who told of Pinggleton's sorrow, who ate kanaka preserves, who painted
souls,--I doubtless am the lily-worshipper."

"You are not even capable of being," cried Madame, at the height of her
exasperation.

For a long time they hurled insults at one another. And Madame, after
having arranged the silverware and the opened bottles in the sideboard,
took herself off to her room, and shut herself up.

Monsieur continued to roam about the house in a state of extreme
agitation. Suddenly noticing me in the dining-room, where I was putting
things a little to rights, he came to me, and, taking me about the
waist, he said:

"Ah, Célestine, you do not know the immense delight that you give me.
To see a woman who is not a soul! To touch a woman who is not a lily!
Kiss me."

You may judge whether I was expecting that.

But the next day, when they read in the "Figaro" an article in which
their dinner, their elegance, their taste, their wit, and their social
connections were pompously celebrated, they forgot everything, and
talked of nothing but their great success. And their soul set sail for
more illustrious conquests and more sumptuous snobberies.

"What a charming woman is the Countess Fergus!" said Madame, at lunch,
as they were finishing the leavings of the dinner.

"And what a soul!" said Monsieur, in confirmation.

"And Kimberly, would you believe it? There's an astonishing talker for
you! And so exquisite in his manners!"

"It is a mistake to make sport of him. After all, his vice concerns no
one but himself; it is none of our business."

"Certainly not."

And she added, indulgently:

"Ah! if it were necessary to pick everybody to pieces!"



All day long, in the linen-room, I have amused myself in calling up the
queer things that happened in that house,--the passion for notoriety
with which, from that time, Madame was so filled that she would
prostitute herself to all the dirty journalists who would promise her
an article on her husband's books or a word about her costumes and her
_salon_, and Monsieur's complacency in letting this vile conduct go on,
though perfectly aware of it. With admirable cynicism he said: "At any
rate--it is less expensive than paying by the line at the newspaper
offices." Monsieur, on his side, fell to the lowest depths of baseness
and unscrupulousness. He called that the politics of the _salon_, and
society diplomacy.

I am going to write to Paris to have them send me my old master's new
book. But how rotten it must be at bottom!



XI


_November 10._

Now all talk of the little Claire has ceased. As was expected, the case
has been abandoned. So Joseph and the forest of Raillon will keep their
secret forever. Of that poor little human creature no more will be said
henceforth than of the body of a blackbird that dies in the woods, in
a thicket. The father continues to break stone on the highway, as if
nothing had happened, and the town, stirred and roused for a moment
by this crime, resumes its usual aspect,--an aspect still more dismal
because of the winter. The very bitter cold keeps people shut up in
their houses. One can scarcely get a glimpse of their pale and sleepy
faces behind the frosty windows, and in the streets one seldom meets
anybody except ragged vagabonds and shivering dogs.

To-day Madame sent me on an errand to the butcher's shop, and I took
the dogs with me. While I was there, an old woman timidly entered the
shop, and asked for meat,--"a little meat to make a little soup for my
sick boy." The butcher selected, from the _débris_ piled up in a large
copper pan, a dirty bit, half bone, half fat, and, after carefully
weighing it, announced:

"Fifteen sous."

"Fifteen sous!" exclaimed the old woman; "but that is impossible! And
how do you expect me to make soup out of that?"

"As you like," said the butcher, throwing the piece back into the pan.
"Only, you know, I am going to send you your bill to-day. If it is not
paid by to-morrow, then the process-server!"

"Give it to me," said the old woman, then, with resignation.

When she had gone, the butcher explained to me:

"Nevertheless, if we did not have the poor to buy the inferior parts,
we really should not make enough out of an animal. But these wretches
are getting to be very exacting nowadays."

And, cutting off two long slices of good red meat, he threw them to the
dogs.

The dogs of the rich,--indeed! they are not poor.



At the Priory events succeed one another. From the tragic they pass
to the comical, for one cannot always shudder. Tired of the captain's
mischief-making, and acting on Madame's advice, Monsieur has at last
brought suit before a justice of the peace. He claims damages and
interest for the breaking of his bell-glasses and his frames, and for
the devastation of the garden. It seems that the meeting of the two
enemies in the office of the justice was really something epic. They
blackguarded one another like rag-pickers. Of course, the captain
denies, with many oaths, that he has ever thrown stones or anything
else into Lanlaire's garden; it is Lanlaire who throws stones into his.

"Have you witnesses? Where are your witnesses? Dare to produce
witnesses," screams the captain.

"Witnesses?" rejoins Monsieur; "there are the stones, and all the dirty
things with which you have been continually covering my land. There are
the old hats, and the old slippers, that I pick up every day, and that
everybody recognizes as having belonged to you."

"You lie."

"You are a scoundrel, a drunken rake."

But, it being impossible for Monsieur to bring admissible and
conclusive testimony, the justice of the peace, who, moreover, is the
captain's friend, invites Monsieur to withdraw his complaint.

"And for that matter, permit me to say to you," concluded the
magistrate, "it is highly improbable, it is quite inadmissible, that a
valiant soldier, an intrepid officer, who has won all his stripes on
fields of battle, amuses himself in throwing stones and old hats upon
your land, like a small boy."

"Egad!" vociferates the captain, "this man is an infamous Dreyfusard.
He insults the army."

"I?"

"Yes, you! What you are trying to do, you dirty Jew, is to disgrace the
army. Long live the army!"

They came near taking each other by the hair, and the justice had
much difficulty in separating them. Since then Monsieur has stationed
permanently in the garden two invisible witnesses, behind a sort of
board shelter, in which are pierced, at the height of a man, four round
holes, for the eyes. But the captain, being warned, is lying low, and
Monsieur is out the cost of his watchers.



I have seen the captain two or three times, over the hedge. In spite of
the frost, he stays in his garden all day long, working furiously at
all sorts of things. For the moment he is putting oil-paper caps on his
rose-bushes. He tells me of his misfortunes. Rose is suffering from an
attack of influenza, and then--with her asthma!... Bourbaki is dead.
He died of a congestion of the lungs, from drinking too much cognac.
Really, the captain has no luck. And surely that bandit of a Lanlaire
has cast a spell over him. He wishes to get the upper hand of him, to
rid the country of him, and he submits to me an astonishing plan of
campaign.

"Here is what you ought to do, Mademoiselle Célestine. You ought to
lodge with the prosecuting attorney at Louviers a complaint against
Lanlaire for outrages on morals and an assault on modesty. Ah! that's
an idea!"

"But, captain, Monsieur has never outraged my morals or assaulted my
modesty."

"Well, what difference does that make?"

"I cannot."

"What! you cannot? But there is nothing simpler. Lodge your complaint,
and summon Rose and me. We will come to declare, to certify in a court
of justice, that we have seen everything, everything, everything. A
soldier's word amounts to something, especially just now, thunder of
God! And remember that, after that, it will be easy to rake up the case
of little Claire, and involve Lanlaire in it. Ah! that's an idea! Think
it over, Mademoiselle Célestine; think it over."



Ah! I have many things, much too many things, to think over just now.
Joseph is pressing me for a decision; the matter cannot be postponed.
He has heard from Cherbourg that the little café is to be sold next
week. But I am anxious, troubled. I want to, and I don't want to. One
day the idea pleases me, and the next it doesn't. I really believe that
I am afraid that Joseph wants to drag me into terrible things. I cannot
come to a decision. He is not brutal in his method of persuasion;
he advances arguments, and tempts me with promises of liberty, of
handsome costumes, of secure, happy, triumphant life.

"But I must buy the little café," he says to me. "I cannot let such an
opportunity go by. And if the Revolution comes? Think of it, Célestine;
that means fortune right away. And who knows? The Revolution--ah! bear
that in mind--is the best thing possible for the cafés."

"Buy it, at any rate. If it is not I, it will be somebody else."

"No, no, it must be you. Nobody else will do. I am crazy over you. But
you distrust me."

"No, Joseph, I assure you."

"Yes, yes; you have bad ideas about me."

I do not know, no, really, I do not know, where, at that moment, I
found the courage to ask him:

"Well, Joseph, tell me that it was you who outraged the little Claire
in the woods."

Joseph received the shock with extraordinary tranquillity. He simply
shrugged his shoulders, swayed back and forth a few seconds, and then,
giving a hitch to his pantaloons, which had slipped a little, he
answered, simply:

"You see? Did I not tell you so? I know your thoughts; I know
everything that goes on in your mind."

His voice was softer, but his look had become so terrifying that it was
impossible for me to articulate a word.

"It is not a question of the little Claire; it is a question of you."

He took me in his arms, as he did the other evening.

"Will you come with me to the little café?"

Shuddering and trembling, I found strength to answer:

"I am afraid; I am afraid of you, Joseph. Why am I afraid of you?"

He held me cradled in his arms. And, disdaining to justify himself,
happy perhaps at increasing my terrors, he said to me, in a paternal
tone:

"Well, well, since that is the case, I will talk with you again about
it to-morrow."



A Rouen newspaper is circulating in town, in which there is an article
that is creating a scandal among the pious. It is a true story, very
droll, and somewhat _risqué_, which happened lately at Port-Lançon,
a pretty place situated three leagues from here. And it gains in
piquancy from the fact that everybody knows the personages. Here again
is something for people to talk about, for a few days. The newspaper
was brought to Marianne yesterday, and at night, after dinner, I read
the famous article aloud. At the first phrases Joseph rose, with much
dignity, very severe and even a little angry. He declared that he does
not like dirty stories, and that he cannot sit and listen to attacks on
religion.

"You are not behaving well in reading that, Célestine; you are not
behaving well."

And he went off to bed.



To-day, November 10, it took us all day to clean the silver service.
That is an event in the house,--a traditional epoch, like the
preserve-canning season. The Lanlaires possess a magnificent silver
service, containing old pieces, rare and very beautiful. It comes
from Madame's father, who took it, some say on deposit, others say as
security for money lent to a neighboring member of the nobility. Young
people for military service were not all that this blusterer bought.
Everything was fish that came to his net, and one swindle more or less
made no difference to him. If the grocer is to be believed, the story
of this silver service is one of the most doubtful, or one of the
clearest, as you choose to look at it. It is said that Madame's father
got his money back, and then, thanks to some circumstance the nature
of which I do not know, succeeded in keeping the silver service in the
bargain. An astonishing piece of sharp practice!

Of course, the Lanlaires never use it. It remains locked up at the back
of a closet in the servants' hall, in three great boxes lined with red
velvet and fastened to the wall by solid iron clamps. Every year, on
the tenth of November, it is taken from the boxes, and cleaned under
Madame's supervision. And it is never seen again until the following
year. Oh! Madame's eyes in presence of her silver service,--her
silver service in our hands! Never have I seen in a woman's eyes such
aggressive cupidity.

Are they not curious,--these people who hide everything, who bury their
silver, their jewels, all their wealth, all their happiness, and who,
being able to live in luxury and joy, persist in living a life of ennui
bordering on deprivation?

The work done, the silver service locked up for a year in its boxes,
and Madame having gone away after satisfying herself that none of it
has stuck to our fingers, Joseph said to me, with a queer air:

"That is a very beautiful silver service, you know, Célestine.
Especially 'the cruet of Louis XVI.' Ah! _sacristi!_ and how heavy it
is! The whole business is worth perhaps twenty-five thousand francs,
Célestine; perhaps more. One does not know what it is worth."

And, looking at me steadily and heavily, piercing the very depths of my
soul, he asked:

"Will you come with me to the little café?"



What relation can there be between Madame's silver service and the
little café at Cherbourg? Really, I don't know why, but Joseph's
slightest words make me tremble.



XII


_November 12._

I have said that I would speak of M. Xavier. The memory of this boy
pursues me, runs continually through my head. Among so many faces his
is one of those that come back most frequently to my mind. Sometimes
with regret, sometimes with anger. All the same, he was prettily droll
and prettily vicious, M. Xavier, with his irregular features and his
blonde and brazen face. Ah! the little rascal! Really one may say of
him that he belonged to his epoch.

One day I was engaged as chambermaid by Mme. de Tarves, in the Rue
de Varennes. A nickel-plated establishment, an elegant retinue, and
handsome wages. A hundred francs a month, with washing, and wine,
and everything, included. The morning that I arrived at the house,
in a highly satisfied state of mind, Madame had me shown into her
dressing-room. An astonishing room, hung with cream silk, and Madame,
a tall woman, extremely made up, her skin too white, her lips too
red, her hair too blonde, but nevertheless pretty, rustling,--with an
imposing presence, and style! So much was not to be gainsaid.

I already possessed a very keen eye. Even from rapidly passing through
a Parisian interior, I was able to judge of its habits and morals,
and, although furniture lies as well as faces, I was rarely mistaken.
In spite of the sumptuous and decent appearance of this establishment,
I felt at once the disorganization that prevailed there, the broken
ties, the intrigue, the haste, the feverish life, the private and
hidden filth,--not sufficiently hidden, however, to prevent me from
detecting the odor, always the same! Moreover, in the first looks
exchanged between new and old servants there is a sort of masonic sign,
generally spontaneous and involuntary, which immediately informs you
regarding the general spirit of the establishment. As in all other
professions, servants are very jealous of each other, and they defend
themselves ferociously against new-comers. Even I, who am so easy in my
ways, have suffered from these jealousies and hatreds, especially on
the part of women who were enraged at my beauty. But, for the contrary
reason, men--I must do them this justice--have always welcomed me
cordially.

In the look of the _valet de chambre_ who had opened the door for me at
the house of Mme. de Tarves I had clearly read these words: "This is
a queer box ... with ups and downs ... nothing like security ... but
plenty of fun, all the same. You can come in, my little one." So, in
making my way to the dressing-room, I was prepared, to the extent of
these uncertain and summary impressions, for something peculiar. But I
must confess that I had no idea of that which really awaited me.

Madame was writing letters at a little jewel of a desk. A large skin
of white astrachan served as a carpet for the room. On the cream silk
walls I was astonished to see engravings of the eighteenth century,
more than licentious, almost obscene, not very far from the very old
enamels representing religious scenes. In a glass cabinet a quantity of
old jewels, ivories, miniature snuff-boxes, and gallant little Saxon
porcelains, deliciously fragile. On a table, toilet articles, very
rich, of gold and silver. A little yellow dog, a ball of silky and
shiny hair, was asleep on a long chair, between two mauve silk cushions.

Madame said to me:

"Célestine, is it not? Ah! I do not like that name at all. I will call
you Mary, in English. Mary, you will remember? Mary, yes; that is more
suitable."

That is in the order of things. We servants have not a right even to
a name of our own, because in all the houses there are daughters,
cousins, dogs, and parrots that have the same name that we have.

"Very well, Madame," I answered.

"Do you know English, Mary?" "No, Madame. I have already told Madame
so."

"Ah! to be sure. I regret it. Turn a little, Mary, that I may look at
you."

She examined me from every point of view, front, back, and profile,
murmuring from time to time:

"Well, she is not bad; she is rather good-looking."

And suddenly:

"Tell me, Mary, have you a good figure ... a very good figure?"

This question surprised and disturbed me. I did not grasp the
connection between my service in the house and the shape of my body.
But, without waiting for my reply, Madame said, talking to herself, and
surveying my entire person from head to foot, through her _face-à-main:_

"Yes, she seems to have a good figure enough."

Then, addressing me directly, she exclaimed, with a satisfied smile:

"You see, Mary, I like to have about me only women with good figures.
It is more suitable."

I was not at the end of my surprises. Continuing to examine me
minutely, she cried, suddenly:

"Oh! your hair! I desire you to do your hair otherwise. Your hair is
not done with elegance. You have beautiful hair; you should make the
most of it. A fine head of hair is a very important matter. See, like
that; something in that style."

She dishevelled a little the hair on my forehead, repeating:

"Something in that style. She is charming. See, Mary, you are charming.
It is more suitable."

And, while she was patting my hair, I asked myself if Madame was not a
little off.

When she had finished, being satisfied with my hair, she asked:

"Is that your prettiest gown?"

"Yes, Madame."

"It is not much, your prettiest gown. I will give you some of mine
which you can make over. And your underwear?"

She raised my skirt, and turned it up slightly.

"Yes, I see," said she; "that will not do at all. And your linen, is it
suitable?"

Vexed by this invasive inspection, I answered, in a dry voice:

"I do not know what Madame means by suitable."

"Show me your linen; go and get me your linen. And walk a little ...
again ... come back ... turn round ... she walks well, she has style."

As soon as she saw my linen, she made a face:

"Oh, this cotton cloth, these stockings, these chemises,--horrible!
And this corset! I do not wish to see that in my house. I do not wish
you to wear that in my house. Wait, Mary; help me."

She opened a pink lacker wardrobe, pulled out a large drawer full of
fragrant garments, and emptied its contents, pell-mell, on the carpet.

"Take that, Mary; take it all. You will see there are some stitches to
be taken, some repairs to be made, some little places to be mended.
You will attend to that. Take it all; there is a little of everything;
there is enough there to fit you out with a pretty wardrobe, a suitable
_trousseau_. Take it all."

Indeed, there was everything,--silk corsets, silk stockings, silk and
fine linen chemises, loves of drawers, delicious ruffs, and ornamented
petticoats. A strong odor, an odor of _peau d'Espagne_, of jasmine,
of well-groomed woman, in short, an odor of love, rose from these
piled-up garments whose soft, faded, or violent colors glistened on
the carpet like a basket of flowers in a garden. I could not get over
it; I stood thoroughly stupefied, contented and embarrassed at once,
before this pile of pink, mauve, yellow, and red stuffs, in which there
still were ribbons of brighter shades and delicate bits of lace. And
Madame stirred up these old things that were still so pretty, these
undergarments that were scarcely worn, showed them to me, selected for
me, and advised me, indicating her preferences.

"I like the women in my service to be coquettish, elegant; I like to
have them smell good. You are a brunette; here is a red skirt that will
become you marvelously. Moreover, all these things will become you very
well. Take them all."

I was in a state of profound stupefaction. I knew not what to do; I
knew not what to say. Mechanically, I repeated:

"Thank you, Madame. How good Madame is! Thank you, Madame."

But Madame did not leave me time to get a clear idea of my own
thoughts. She talked and talked, by turns familiar, shameless,
maternal, pandering, and so strange!

"It is like cleanliness, Mary, care of the body, private toilets.
Oh! I insist upon that, above all things. On this point I am
exacting,--exacting to the point of mania."

She entered into intimate details, insisting always on this word
"suitable," that came back continually to her lips apropos of things
that were scarcely so,--at least, to my thinking. As we finished our
sorting of the garments, she said to me:

"A woman, no matter what woman, should always be well kept. For
the rest, Mary, you will do as I do; this is a point of capital
importance. You-will take a bath to-morrow. I will show you."

Then Madame took me to her room, showed me her closets, her hangings,
the place for everything, familiarized me with the service, all the
time making remarks that seemed to me queer and not natural.

"Now," said she, "let us go to M. Xavier's room. That, too, will be in
your charge. M. Xavier is my son, Mary."

"Very well, Madame."

M. Xavier's room was situated at the other end of the vast apartment.
A coquettish room, hung in blue cloth with yellow trimmings. On the
walls colored English engravings representing hunting and racing
scenes, teams, châteaux. A cane-holder stood in front of a panel,--a
real panoply of canes, with a hunting-horn in the middle, flanked by
two mail-coach trumpets crossed. On the mantel, among many bibelots,
cigar-boxes, and pipes, a photograph of a pretty boy, very young and
still beardless, with the insolent face of a precocious dude and the
uncertain grace of a girl,--the whole producing an effect that pleased
me.

"That is M. Xavier," said Madame.

I could not help exclaiming, undoubtedly with too much warmth:

"Oh! what a handsome boy!"

"Well, well, Mary!" exclaimed Madame.

I saw that my exclamation had not offended her, for she had smiled.

"M. Xavier is like all young people," she said to me. "He is not very
orderly. You must be orderly for him; and his room must be perfectly
kept. You will enter the room every morning at nine o'clock; you will
bring him his tea; at nine o'clock, you understand, Mary? Sometimes M.
Xavier comes home late. Perhaps he will not receive you well in the
morning, but that makes no difference. A young man should be awakened
at nine o'clock."

She showed me where M. Xavier kept his linen, his cravats, his shoes,
accompanying each detail with some remark like this:

"My son is a little sharp, but he is a charming child."

Or else:

"Do you know how to fold pantaloons? Oh! M. Xavier is especially
particular about his pantaloons."

As for the hats, it was agreed that I need pay no attention to them,
the glory of their daily ironing belonging to the _valet de chambre_.

I found it extremely odd that, in a house where there was a _valet de
chambre_, Madame should select me to serve M. Xavier.

"It is funny, but perhaps it is not very suitable," I said to myself,
parodying the word which my mistress was constantly repeating apropos
of no matter what.

It is true that everything seemed odd to me in this odd house.



In the evening, in the servants' hall, I learned many things.

"An extraordinary box," they explained to me. "It is very astonishing
at first, and then you get used to it. Sometimes there isn't a sou in
the whole house. Then Madame goes, comes, runs, goes away and comes
back again, nervous, tired, her mouth filled with high words. As for
Monsieur, he never leaves the telephone. He shouts, threatens, begs,
and raises the devil through the instrument. And the process-servers!
It has often happened that the butler had to give something out of his
own pocket, on account, to furious tradesmen who were unwilling to
supply anything more. On one reception day the electricity and gas were
cut off. And then, suddenly, there comes a rain of gold. The house is
overflowing with wealth. Where does it come from? That nobody knows
exactly. As for the servants, they wait months and months for their
wages. But they are always paid at last; only after what scenes, after
what insults, after what squabbles! It is incredible."

Well, indeed, a nice place I had tumbled into! And such was my luck,
for the one time in my life when I had good wages.

"M. Xavier has not yet come in to-night," said the _valet de chambre_.

"Oh!" exclaimed the cook, looking at me persistently, "perhaps he will
return now."

And the _valet de chambre_ related that that very morning a creditor
of M. Xavier had come again to raise a row. It must have been a very
dirty matter, for Monsieur had sung small, and had been obliged to pay
a heavy sum,--at least four thousand francs.

"Monsieur was in a pretty rage," he added; "I heard him say to Madame:
'This cannot last; he will disgrace us; he will disgrace us.'"

The cook, who seemed very philosophical, shrugged her shoulders.

"Disgrace them?" said she, with a chuckle; "little they care about
that. It is the having to pay that bothers them."

This conversation made me ill at ease. I understood vaguely that there
might be some relation between Madame's garments, Madame's words, and
M. Xavier. But exactly what?

"It is having to pay that bothers them!"

I did not sleep at all well that night, haunted by strange dreams and
impatient to see M. Xavier.

The _valet de chambre_ had not lied. A queer box, indeed!

Monsieur was in the pilgrimages,--I don't know exactly
what,--president, director, or something of that sort. He picked
up pilgrims where he could, among the Jews, the Protestants, the
vagabonds, even among the Catholics; and once a year he took these
people to Rome, to Lourdes, to Paray-le-Monial, not without gaining
notoriety and profit, of course. The pope didn't see through it, and
religion triumphed. Monsieur occupied himself also with charitable
and political works: "The League against Secular Education," "The
League against Obscene Publications," "The Society of Amusing and
Christian Libraries," "The Society for the Collection of Congreganist
Sucking-Bottles for the Nursing of Working People's Children." And any
number of others. He presided over orphan asylums, alumnæ, convents,
clubs, employment-bureaus. He presided over everything. Oh! the trades
that he had! He was a plump little man, very lively, very neat, very
clean-shaven, whose manners, at the same time sugary and cynical, were
those of a shrewd priest full of the devil. Sometimes the newspapers
contained references to him and his works. Naturally, some of them
extolled his humanitarian virtues and his high apostolic sanctity;
others treated him as an old rascal and a dirty scoundrel. In the
servants' hall we were much amused over these quarrels, although it
is rather _chic_ and flattering to be in the service of masters
who are talked about in the newspapers. Every week Monsieur gave a
grand dinner, followed by a grand reception, which were attended by
celebrities of all sorts, academicians, reactionary senators, Catholic
deputies, recalcitrant priests, intriguing monks, and archbishops.
There was one especially to whom they paid especial attention, a very
old Assumptionist, Father something or other, a sanctimonious and
venomous man, who was always saying spiteful things with a contrite and
pious air. And everywhere, in every room, there were portraits of the
pope. Ah! he must have seen some tall things in that house, the Holy
Father.

For my part, Monsieur was not to my liking. He did too many things, he
loved too many people. And yet nobody knew half the things that he did
and half the people that he loved. Surely he was a sly old dog.

On the day after my arrival, as I was helping him to put on his
overcoat in the ante-chamber, he asked me:

"Do you belong to my society,--the Society of the Servants of Jesus?"

"No, Monsieur."

"You must join it. It is indispensable. I am going to enter your name."

"Thank you, Monsieur. May I ask Monsieur what this society is?"

"An admirable society, which takes in girl mothers and gives them a
Christian education."

"But, Monsieur, I am not a girl mother."

"That makes no difference. There are also women just out of prison;
there are repentant prostitutes; there is a little of everything. I am
going to enter your name."

He took from his pocket some carefully-folded newspapers, and handed
them to me.

"Hide these; read them when you are alone. They are very curious."

And he chucked me under the chin, saying with a slight clack of his
tongue:

"Ah! she is a queer little one,--yes, indeed, a very queer little one!"

When Monsieur had gone, I looked at the newspapers that he had left
with me. They were the "Fin de Siècle," the "Rigolo," the "Petites
Femmes de Paris." Dirty sheets, indeed!



Oh! the _bourgeois!_ What an eternal farce! I have seen many of them,
and of the most different kinds. They are all alike. For instance, I
was once a domestic in the house of a republican deputy. He spent his
time in railing at the priests. A blower, indeed! you should have seen
him. He would not hear a word about religion, or the pope, or the good
sisters. If people had listened to him, they would have overturned all
the churches and blown up all the convents. Well, on Sunday he went to
mass, secretly, in far-away parishes. At the slightest ailment he sent
for the priests, and all his children were brought up by the Jesuits.
He would never consent to meet his brother after the latter's refusal
to marry in church. All hypocrites, all cowards, all disgusting, each
in his own way.



Madame de Tarves was also in the charity line: she too presided over
religious committees and benevolent societies, and organized charity
sales. That is to say, she was never at home, and things in the house
went on as they could. Very often Madame returned late, coming from the
devil knows where. Oh! I know these returns; they directly acquainted
me with the sort of works in which Madame was engaged, and with the
queer capers that were cut in her committees. But she was nice with me.
Never an abrupt word, never a reproach. On the contrary, she treated
me familiarly, almost like a comrade; and so far did she carry this
that sometimes, she forgetting her dignity and I my respect, we talked
nonsense together and said _risqués_ things. She gave me advice as to
the arrangement of my little affairs, encouraged my coquettish tastes,
deluged me with glycerine and _peau d'Espagne_, covered my arms with
cold cream, and sprinkled me with powder. And during these operations
she was continually saying:

"You see, Mary, a woman must be well groomed. Her skin must be white
and soft. You have a pretty face; you must learn how to set it off. You
have a very fine bust; you must give it its full value. Your legs are
superb; you must be able to show them. It is more suitable."

I was content. Yet within I still was not free from anxiety and obscure
suspicions. I could not forget the surprising stories that they told me
in the servants' hall. There, when I praised Madame and enumerated her
kindnesses toward me, the cook said:

"Yes, yes, that's all right; but wait and see what follows. What she
wants of you is to be intimate with her son, that he may be kept in
the house more, and thus may cost these curmudgeons less money. She
has already tried that with others. She has even induced friends of
hers to come here,--married women,--young girls,--yes, young girls, the
trollop! But M. Xavier does not fall in with this. He prefers to roam
elsewhere. You will see; you will see."

And she added, with a sort of hateful regret:

"If I were in your place, how I would blackmail them! I would not
hesitate, be sure."

These words made me slightly ashamed of my comrades in the servants'
hall. But, to reassure myself, I preferred to believe that the cook was
jealous of Madame's evident preference for me.



I went every morning at nine o'clock to open M. Xavier's curtains and
carry him his tea. It is queer; I always entered his room with my heart
beating and a strong feeling of apprehension. It was a long time before
he paid any attention to me. I turned this way and that, prepared
his things for him, arranged his garments, trying to look pretty and
show myself off to advantage. He spoke to me only to complain, in the
growling voice of one who is half awake, of being disturbed too early.
I was put out by this indifference, and I redoubled the silent tricks
of coquetry which I had carefully planned. I was expecting every day
something that did not happen; and this silence on the part of M.
Xavier, this disdain for my person, irritated me to the last degree.
What should I have done, if that which I expected had happened? I did
not ask myself. I simply wanted it to happen.

M. Xavier was really a very pretty boy, even prettier than his
photograph. A light blonde moustache--two little arcs of gold--set
off his lips better than in his portrait, their red and fleshy pulp
inviting a kiss. His light blue eyes, dusted with yellow, were
strangely fascinating, and his movements were characterized by the
indolence, the weary and cruel grace, of a girl or young deer. He
was tall, slender, very supple, ultra-modern in his elegance, and
wonderfully seductive through his evident cynicism and corruption.
In addition to the fact that he had pleased me from the first, his
resistance, or, rather, his indifference, caused my desire to quickly
ripen into love.

One morning I found M. Xavier awake, and sitting on the edge of the
bed. I remember that he wore a white silk shirt with blue dots. I
modestly started to withdraw, but he called me back:

"Oh! what is the matter? Come in. You are not afraid of me, are you?"

With his two hands clasped over his leg, and his body swaying to and
fro, he surveyed me for a long time with the utmost effrontery, while
I, with slow and graceful movements, and blushing a little, placed a
tray on the little table near the mantel. And, as if he then really saw
me for the first time, he said:

"Why, you are a very stylish girl. How long, then, have you been here?"

"Three weeks, Monsieur."

"Well, that's astonishing!"

"What is astonishing, Monsieur?"

"That I have never noticed that you were so beautiful. Come here!" said
he.

I approached, trembling a little. Without a word he took me by the
waist, and forced me to sit down beside him.

"Oh! Monsieur Xavier," I sighed, struggling, but not very vigorously.
"Stop, I beg of you. If your parents were to see you?"

But he began to laugh:

"My parents! Oh! my parents, you know,--I have supped on them."

This was a phrase that he was continually using. When one asked him
anything, he answered: "I have supped on that." And he had supped on
everything.

To gain a little time I asked him:

"There is one thing that puzzles me, Monsieur Xavier. How does it
happen that one never sees you at Madame's dinners?"

"You certainly don't expect me, my dear ... oh! no, you know, Madame's
dinners tire me too much."

"And how is it," I insisted, "that your room is the only one in the
house in which there is not a picture of the pope?"

This observation flattered him. He answered:

"Why, my little baby, I am an Anarchist, I am. Religion, the Jesuits,
the priests,--oh! no, I have enough of them. I have supped on them. A
society made up of people like papa and mamma? Oh! you know ... none of
that in mine, thank you!"

Now I felt at ease with M. Xavier, in whom I found, together with the
same vices, the drawling accent of the Paris toughs. It seemed to me
that I had known him for years and years. In his turn he asked me:

"Tell me, are you intimate with papa?"

"Your father!" I cried, pretending to be scandalized. "Oh! Monsieur
Xavier! Such a holy man!"

His laugh redoubled, and rang out loudly:

"Papa! Oh! papa! Why, he is intimate with all the servants here. Then
you are not yet intimate with papa? You astonish me."

"Oh! no," I replied, laughing also. "Only he brings me the 'Fin de
Siècle,' the 'Rigolo,' the 'Petites Femmes de Paris'."

That set him off in a delirium of joy, and, shaking more than ever with
laughter, he cried:

"Papa! Oh! he is astonishing!"

And, being now well started, he continued in a comical tone:

"He is like mamma. Yesterday she made me another scene. I am disgracing
her,--her and papa. Would you believe it? And religion, and society,
and everything! It is twisting. Then I declared to her: 'My dear little
mother, it is agreed; I will settle down to a regular life on the day
when you shall have given up your lovers.' That was a hot one, eh? That
shut her up. Oh! no, you know, they make me very tired, these authors
of my being. I have supped on their lectures. By the way, you know
Fumeau, don't you?"

"No, Monsieur Xavier."

"Why, yes ... why, yes ... Anthime Fumeau?"

"I assure you that I do not."

"A fat fellow, very young, very red-faced, ultra-stylish, the finest
teams in Paris. Fumeau ... an income of three millions. Tartlet the
Kid? Why, yes, you know him."

"But I tell you that I do not know him."

"You astonish me! Why, everybody knows him. Don't you know the Fumeau
biscuit? The young fellow who had a judicial adviser appointed for him
two months ago? Don't you remember?"

"Not at all, I swear to you, Monsieur Xavier."

"Never mind, little turkey. Well, I played a good one on Fumeau last
year,--a very good one. Guess what? You do not guess?"

"How do you expect me to guess, since I do not know him?"

"Well, it was this, my little baby. I introduced Fumeau to my
mother. Upon my word! What do you think of that for a discovery? And
the funniest part of it is that in two months mamma succeeded in
blackmailing Fumeau to the tune of three hundred thousand bones. What a
godsend that, for papa's works! Oh! they know a thing or two; they are
up to snuff! But for that, the house would have gone up. We were over
head and ears in debt. The priests themselves were refusing to have
anything to do with us. What do you say to that, eh?"

"I say, Monsieur Xavier, that you have a queer way of treating the
family."

"What do you expect, my dear? I am an Anarchist, I am. I have supped on
the family."

That morning Madame was even nicer than usual with me.

"I am well satisfied with your service," she said to me. "Mary, I raise
your wages ten francs."

"If she raises me ten francs every time," thought I to myself, "that
will not be bad. It is more suitable."

Oh! when I think of all that! I, too, have supped on it.



M. Xavier's fancy did not last long; he had quickly "supped on me."
Not for a moment, moreover, was I able to keep him in the house.
Several times, on entering his room in the morning, I found the bed
undisturbed and empty. M. Xavier had been out all night. The cook knew
him well, and she had told the truth when she said: "He prefers to
roam elsewhere." He pursued his old habits, and went in search of his
customary pleasures, as before. On those mornings I felt a sudden pain
in my heart, and all day long I was sad, sad!

The unfortunate part of it all is that M. Xavier had no feeling. He was
not poetical, like M. Georges. He did not vouchsafe me the slightest
attention. Never did he say to me a kind and touching word, as lovers
do in books and plays. Moreover, he liked nothing that I liked; he did
not like flowers, with the exception of the big carnations with which
he adorned the buttonhole of his coat. Yet it is so good to whisper
to each other things that caress the heart, to exchange disinterested
kisses, to gaze for eternities into one another's eyes. But men are
such coarse creatures; they do not feel these joys,--these joys so pure
and blue. And it is a great pity. M. Xavier knew nothing but vice,
found pleasure only in debauchery. In love all that was not vice and
debauchery bored him.

"Oh! no, you know, that makes me very tired. I have supped on poetry.
The little blue flower ... we must leave that to papa."

To him I was always an impersonal creature, the domestic to whom he
gave orders and whom he maltreated in the exercise of his authority
as master, and with his boyish cynical jests. And he often said to
me, with a laugh in the corner of his mouth,--a frightful laugh that
wounded and humiliated me:

"And papa? Really, you are not yet intimate with papa? You astonish
me."

Once I had not the power to keep back my tears; they were choking me.
M. Xavier became angry at once:

"Oh! no, you know, that is the most tiresome thing of all. Tears,
scenes? You must stop that, my dear; or else, good evening! I have
supped on all that nonsense."

For my part I feel an immense and imperative need of that pure embrace,
of that chaste kiss, which is no longer the savage bite of the flesh,
but the ideal caress of the soul. I need to rise from the hell of love
to the paradise of ecstasy, to the fullness, the delicious and candid
silence, of ecstasy. But M. Xavier had supped on ecstasy.

Nothing pained me so much as to see that I had not left the slightest
trace of affection, not the smallest tenderness, in his heart. Yet I
believe that I could have loved the little scoundrel,--that I could
have devoted myself to him, in spite of everything, like a beast. Even
to-day I think regretfully of his impudent, cruel, and pretty phiz,
and of his perfumed skin. And I have often on my lips, from which,
since then, so many lips ought to have effaced it, the acid taste, the
burning sensation of his kiss. Oh! Monsieur Xavier! Monsieur Xavier!



One evening, before dinner, when he had returned to dress,--my! but how
nice he looked in evening dress!--and as I was carefully arranging his
affairs in the dressing-room, he asked me, without embarrassment or
hesitation, and almost in a tone of command, precisely as he would have
asked me for hot water:

"Have you five louis? I am in absolute need of five louis to-night. I
will return them to you to-morrow."

That very morning Madame had paid me my wages. Did he know it?

"I have only ninety francs," I answered, a little ashamed,--ashamed of
his question, perhaps, but more ashamed, I think, at not having the
entire sum that he asked.

"That makes no difference," said he; "go and get me the ninety francs.
I will return them to you to-morrow."

He took the money, and, by way of thanks, said in a dry, curt tone that
froze my heart: "That's good!" Then, putting out his foot with a brutal
movement, he commanded insolently:

"Tie my shoes. And be quick about it; I am in a hurry."

I looked at him sadly, imploringly:

"Then you are not to dine here this evening, Monsieur Xavier?"

"No, I dine in town. Make haste."

As I tied his shoes, I moaned:

"And you will not return to-night? I shall cry all night long. It is
not nice of you, Monsieur Xavier."

His voice became hard and thoroughly wicked.

"If you lent me your ninety francs that you might say that, you can
take them back. Here, take them!"

"No, no," I sighed. "You know very well that it was not for that."

"Well, then, don't bother me."

He had quickly finished dressing, and he started off without kissing me
and without saying a word.

The next day nothing was said about returning the money; and I did not
wish to claim it. It gave me pleasure to think that he had something of
me. And now I understand the women who kill themselves with toil, the
women who sell themselves to passers-by, at night, on the sidewalks,
the women who steal, and the women who kill, in order to get a little
money with which to procure indulgences for the little man whom they
love. That is what has happened to me, in fact. Or has it really
happened to me in the degree that I say? Alas! I do not know. There are
moments when, in presence of a man, I feel so soft, so soft, without
will, without courage, so yielding ... yes, so yielding!



Madame was not slow in changing her manner toward me. Instead of
treating me nicely, as she had done before, she became severe,
exacting, fault-finding. I was only a blockhead; I never did anything
right; I was awkward, unclean, ill-bred, forgetful, dishonest. And her
voice, which at first had been so sweet, so much like the voice of a
comrade, now became as sour as vinegar. She gave me orders in a blunt
and humiliating tone. No more gifts of underwear, no more cold cream
and powder, no more of the secret counsels and private confidences that
had so embarrassed me at first. No more of that suspicious comradeship
which at bottom I felt not to be kindness, and which caused me to lose
my respect for this mistress who raised me to the level of her own
vice. I snapped at her sharply, strong in my knowledge of all the open
or hidden infamies of the house. We got to quarreling like fish-wives,
hurling our week's notice at each other's heads, like dirty rags.

"What, then, do you take my house for?" she cried. "Do you think you
are working for a fast woman?"

Think of her cheek! I answered:

"Oh! your house is a clean one, indeed! You can boast of it. And you?
Let us talk about it; yes, let us talk about it! You are clean, too!
And what about Monsieur? Oh! la! la! And do you think they don't
know you in the neighborhood, and in Paris? Why, you are notorious,
everywhere. Your house? A brothel. And, in fact, there are brothels
which are not as dirty as your house."

And so these quarrels went on; we exchanged the worst insults and the
lowest threats; we descended to the vocabulary of the street-walkers
and the prisons. And then, suddenly, everything quieted down. M.
Xavier had only to show signs of a reviving interest in me,--fleeting,
alas!--when straightway began again the suspicious familiarity, the
shameful complicities, the gifts of garments, the promises of doubled
wages, the washing with Simon cream,--it is more suitable,--and the
initiations into the mysteries of refined perfumes. M. Xavier's
conduct toward me was the thermometer by which Madame regulated her
own. The latter's kindness immediately followed the former's caresses.
Abandonment by the son was accompanied by insults from the mother. I
was the victim, continually tossed back and forth, of the enervating
fluctuations to which the intermittent love of this capricious and
heartless boy was subject. One would have thought that Madame must have
played the spy with us, must have listened at the door, must have kept
tabs for herself on the different phases of our relations. But no. She
simply had the instinct of vice, that's all. She scented it through
walls and souls, as a dog inhales in the breeze the far-away odor of
game.



As for Monsieur, he continued to dance about among all these events,
among all the hidden dramas of this house, alert, busy, cynical, and
comical. In the morning he disappeared, with his face of a little
pink and shaven faun, with his documents, with his bag stuffed with
pious pamphlets and obscene newspapers. In the evening he reappeared,
cravated with respectability, armored with Christian Socialism, his
gait a little slower, his gestures a little more oily, his back
slightly bent, doubtless under the weight of the good works done
during the day. Regularly every Friday he gave me the week's issues
of indecent journals, awaiting just the right occasion for making his
declaration, and contenting himself with smiling at me with the air of
an accomplice, caressing my chin, and saying to me, as he passed his
tongue over his lips:

"Ho, ho, she is a very queer little one, indeed!"

As it amused me to watch Monsieur's game, I did not discourage him,
but I promised myself to seize the first exceptionally favorable
opportunity to sharply put him where he belonged.

One afternoon I was greatly surprised to see him enter the linen-room,
where I sat alone, musing sadly over my work. In the morning I had
had a painful scene with M. Xavier, and was still under the influence
of the impression it had left on me. Monsieur closed the door softly,
placed his bag on the large table near a pile of cloth, and, coming to
me, took my hands and patted them. Under his blinking eyelid his eye
turned, like that of an old hen dazzled by the sunlight. It was enough
to make one die of laughter.

"Célestine," said he, "for my part, I prefer to call you Célestine.
That does not offend you, does it?"

I could hardly keep from bursting.

"Why, no, Monsieur," I answered, holding myself on the defensive.

"Well, Célestine, I think you charming! There!"

"Really, Monsieur?"

"Adorable, in fact; adorable, adorable!"

"Oh! Monsieur!"

His fingers had left my hand, and were caressing my neck and chin with
fat and soft little touches.

"Adorable, adorable!" he whispered.

He tried to embrace me. I drew back a little, to avoid his kiss.

"Stay, Célestine, I beg of you. I do not annoy you, do I?"

"No, Monsieur; you astonish me."

"I astonish you, you little rogue. I astonish you? Oh! you don't know
me."

His voice was no longer dry. A fine froth moistened his lips.

"Listen to me, Célestine. Next week I am going to Lourdes; yes, I
conduct a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Do you wish to come to Lourdes? I
have a way of taking you to Lourdes. Will you come? Nobody will notice
anything. You will stay at the hotel; you will take walks, or do what
you like. And I will meet you in the evening."

What stupefied me was not the proposition in itself,--for I had been
expecting it a long time,--but the unforeseen form which Monsieur
gave it. Yet I preserved all my self-possession. And, desirous of
humiliating this old rake, of showing him that I had not been the dupe
of Madame's dirty calculations and his own, I lashed him squarely in
the face with these words:

"And M. Xavier? Say, it seems to me that you are forgetting M. Xavier?
What is he to do while we are amusing ourselves in Lourdes, at the
expense of Christianity?"

An indirect and troubled gleam, the look of a surprised deer, lighted
in the darkness of his eyes. He stammered:

"M. Xavier?"

"Why, yes!"

"Why do you speak to me of M. Xavier? There is no question of M.
Xavier? M. Xavier has nothing to do with this."

I redoubled my insolence.

"On your word? Oh! don't pretend to be ignorant. Am I hired, yes or no,
to be company for M. Xavier? Yes, am I not? Well, I am company for him.
But you? Oh! no, that is not in the bargain. And then, you know, my
little father, you are not my style."

And I burst out laughing in his face.

He turned purple; his eyes flamed with anger. But he did not think it
prudent to enter into a discussion, for which I was terribly armed. He
hastily picked up his bag, and slunk away, pursued by my laughter.

The next day, apropos of nothing, Monsieur made some gross remark to
me. I flew into a passion. Madame happened along. I became mad with
anger. The scene that ensued between us three was so frightful, so
low, that I cannot undertake to describe it. In unspeakable terms I
reproached them with all their filth and with all their infamy. I
demanded the return of the money that I had lent M. Xavier. They foamed
at the mouth. I seized a cushion, and hurled it violently at Monsieur's
head.

"Go away! Get out of here, at once, at once!" screamed Madame,
threatening to tear my face with her nails.

"I erase your name from the membership of my society; you no longer
belong to my society, lost creature, prostitute!" vociferated Monsieur,
stuffing his bag with thrusts of his fists.

Finally Madame withheld my week's wages, refused to pay the ninety
francs that I had lent M. Xavier, and obliged me to return all the rags
that she had given me.

"You are all thieves," I cried; "you are all pimps!"

And I went away, threatening them with the commissary of police and the
justice of the peace.

"Oh! you are looking for trouble? Yes, well, you shall have it,
scoundrels that you are!"

Alas! the commissary of police pretended that the affair did not
concern him. The justice of the peace advised me to let it drop. He
explained:

"In the first place, Mademoiselle, you will not be believed. And that
is as it should be. What would become of society if a servant could be
right against a master? There would be no more society, Mademoiselle.
That would be anarchy."

I consulted a lawyer; he demanded two hundred francs. I wrote to M.
Xavier; he did not answer me. Then I counted up my resources. I had
three francs fifty left--and the street pavement.



XIII


_November 13._

And I see myself again at Neuilly, with the sisters of Our Lady
of Thirty-Six Sorrows, a sort of house of refuge, and also an
employment-bureau for housemaids. My! but it is a fine establishment,
with a white front, and at the rear of a large garden. In the garden,
which is ornamented, at intervals of fifty steps, with statues of the
Virgin, there is a little chapel, very new and sumptuous, built from
the proceeds of the collections. Large trees surround it. And every
hour one hears the tolling of the bells. It is so nice to hear the
bells toll. It stirs in one's heart memories of things so old and
long forgotten. When the bells toll, I close my eyes and listen, and
I see again landscapes which perhaps I never saw before, and which I
recognize all the same,--very peaceful landscapes, imbued with all the
transformed recollections of childhood and youth,... and bagpipes,...
and, on the moor bordering on the beaches, the slowly-moving panorama
of holiday crowds. Ding ... dinn ... dong! It is not very gay; it
is not the same thing as gaiety; it is even sad at bottom,--sad,
like love. But I like it. In Paris one never hears anything but the
fountaineer's horn, and the deafening trumpet of the tramway.

In the establishment of the sisters of Our Lady of Thirty-Six Sorrows,
you sleep in attic dormitories; you are fed meagrely on scraps of meat
and spoiled vegetables, and you pay twenty-five sous a day to the
institution. That is to say, the sisters withhold twenty-five sous from
your wages, when they have secured a place for you. They call that
getting you a place for nothing. Further, you have to work from six
o'clock in the morning until nine in the evening, like the inmates of
prisons. You are not allowed to go out. Meals and religious exercises
take the place of recreation. Ah! the good sisters do not bore
themselves, as M. Xavier would say; and their charity is a famous trap.
They rope you in finely! But there it is,--I shall be stupid all my
life. The stern lessons of experience, the succession of misfortunes,
never teach me anything, are of no use to me. I am always crying out
and raising a row, but in the end I am always victimized by everybody.

Several times comrades had spoken to me of the sisters of Our Lady of
Thirty-Six Sorrows.

"Yes, my dear, it seems that only very swell people come to the box,...
countesses,... marchionesses. One may chance on astonishing places."

I believed it. And then, in my distress, I remembered with some
feeling, booby that I am, the happy years that I spent with the little
sisters of Pont-Croix. Moreover, I had to go somewhere. Beggars cannot
be choosers.

When I arrived, there were forty housemaids there. Many came from a
great distance,--from Brittany, from Alsace, from the south, girls who
had never yet had a place,--awkward, clumsy, with livid complexions,
sly airs, and singular eyes that looked over the walls of the convent
at the mirage of Paris lying beyond. Others, not as green, were just
out of a place, like myself.

The sisters asked me whence I came, what I knew how to do, whether I
had good references, and whether I had any money left. I told them all
sorts of things, and without further inquiry they welcomed me, saying:

"This dear child! We will find her a good place."

We all were their "dear children." While waiting for the promised good
place, each of these dear children was put at some work, according
to her faculties. Some did cooking and housework; others worked
in the garden, digging in the soil, like navvies. I was promptly
put at sewing, having, said Sister Boniface, supple fingers and a
distinguished air. I began by mending the chaplain's pantaloons and
the drawers of a sort of monk who was just then preaching a retreat
in the chapel. Oh! those pantaloons! Oh! those drawers! Surely they
did not resemble M. Xavier's. Then they intrusted to me tasks less
ecclesiastical,--quite profane, in fact,--the making of fine and
delicate linen garments, among which I again found myself in my
element. I participated in the making of elegant bridal _trousseaux_,
of rich baby-linen, ordered of the good sisters by charitable and
wealthy ladies who were interested in the establishment.

At first, after so many shocks, in spite of the bad food, the
chaplain's pantaloons, the lack of liberty, in spite of all the fierce
exploitation that I could plainly see, I felt a sense of real relief
amid this calm and silence. I did not reason much; I felt rather a need
of prayer. Remorse over my past conduct, or, rather, the weariness
resulting from it, prompted me to fervent repentance. Several times
in succession I confessed to the chaplain. He was a queer man, this
chaplain, very round and red, a little rude in manner and in speech,
and afflicted with a disagreeable body-smell. He asked me strange
questions, and insisted on knowing my favorite authors.

"Armand Silvestre? Yes. To be sure, he is dirty. I would not
give you his works instead of the 'Imitation.' No, not that; yet
he is not dangerous. But you must not read impious books, books
against religion,--Voltaire, for instance. No, never; never read
Voltaire,--that is a mortal sin,--or Renan, or Anatole France. They are
dangerous."

"And Paul Bourget, Father?"

"Paul Bourget! He is entering on the right path; that I do not
deny. But his Catholicism is not sincere,--not yet; at least, it
is much mixed. Your Paul Bourget makes upon me the impression of a
wash-basin,--yes, that is it,--of a wash-basin, in which no matter
what has been washed, and in which olives from Calvary are swimming
amid hair and soapsuds. You should wait a little before reading him!
Huysmans! Well, he is a little stiff in his expressions,--yes, indeed,
very stiff,--but he is orthodox."

And he said to me further:

"Yes ... Ah! you do mad things with your body! That is not good. No,
indeed, that is always bad. But, sin for sin, it is better to sin with
your masters, when they are pious persons, than with people of your own
condition. It is less serious, less irritating to the good God. And
perhaps these people have dispensations. Many have dispensations."

As I named M. Xavier and his father, he cried:

"No names. I do not ask you for names. Never tell me names. I do not
belong to the police. Besides, those are rich and respectable people
whom you have just named,--extremely religious people. Consequently you
are wrong; you are rebellious against morality and against society."

These ridiculous conversations considerably cooled my religious zeal,
my ardor for repentance. The work, too, annoyed me. It made me homesick
for my own calling. I felt impatient desires to escape from this
prison, to return to the privacies of dressing-rooms. I sighed for
the closets full of sweet-smelling linen, the wardrobes stuffed with
silks, satins, and velvets, so smooth to the touch, and the bath-rooms
where white flesh is lathered with oily soaps. And the stories of the
servants' hall, and the unforeseen adventures, and the evenings on the
stairs and in the chambers! It is really curious; when I have a place,
these things disgust me, but, when I am out of a place, I miss them.
I was tired also, excessively tired, sickened in fact, from having
eaten for a week nothing but preserves made out of spoiled currants, of
which the good sisters had purchased a large quantity in the Levallois
market. Anything that the holy women could rescue from the refuse-heap
was good enough for us.

What completed my irritation was the evident, the persistent effrontery
with which we were exploited. Their game was a very simple one, and
they took little pains to conceal it. They found places only for those
girls of whom they could make no use themselves. Those from whom they
could reap any profit whatever they held as prisoners, taking advantage
of their talents, of their strength, and of their simplicity. As the
height of Christian charity, they had found a way of having servants
who paid for the privilege of working, and whom they stripped, without
remorse and with inconceivable cynicism, of their modest resources and
their little savings, after making a profit out of their labor. And the
costs kept running on.

I complained, at first feebly, and then more forcibly, that they had
not once summoned me into the reception-room, but to all my complaints
the hypocrites answered:

"A little patience, my dear child! We are planning to get you an
excellent place, my dear child; for you we desire an exceptional place.
We know what sort of a place you should have. As yet not one has
offered itself such as we wish for you, and such as you deserve."

Days and weeks passed. The places were never good enough, never
exceptional enough for me. And the costs kept running on.

Although there was a watcher in the dormitory, the things that went on
every night were enough to make one shudder. As soon as the watcher had
finished her round, and every one seemed to be asleep, you could see
white forms arise and glide about among the beds. The good sisters,
holy women, closed their eyes that they might see nothing, stopped up
their ears that they might hear nothing. Wishing to avoid scandal,
they tolerated horrors of which they feigned ignorance. And the costs
kept running on.

Fortunately, when I was at the very depth of my ennui, I was delighted
by the entrance into the establishment of a little friend, Clémence,
whom I called Cléclé, and whom I had known in a place where I had
worked in the Rue de l'Université. Cléclé was a charming pink blonde,
extremely gay and lively, and very fly. She laughed at everything,
accepted everything, and was contented everywhere. Devoted and
faithful, she knew but one pleasure,--that of being useful to others.
Vicious to the marrow of her bones, her vice had nothing repugnant
about it, it was so gay, artless, and natural. She bore vice as a plant
bears flowers, as a cherry-tree bears cherries. Her pretty, bird-like
chatter sometimes made me forget my feeling of weariness, and put to
sleep my tendency to rebel. Our two beds were next to each other; and
one night she told me, in a funny sort of whisper, that she had just
had a place in the house of a magistrate at Versailles.

"Fancy, there were nothing but animals in the den,--cats, three
parrots, a monkey, and two dogs. And they all had to be taken care of.
Nothing was good enough for them. We were fed on old scraps, the same
as in this box here. But they had what was left over of the poultry;
they had cream, and cakes, and mineral water, my dear! Yes, the
dirty beasts drank nothing but Evian water, because of an epidemic of
typhoid fever that was raging at Versailles. In the winter Madame had
the cheek to take the stove out of my chamber, and put it in the room
where the monkey and the cats slept. Would you believe it? I detested
them, especially one of the dogs, a horrible old pug, that was always
sniffing at my skirts, in spite of the kicks that I gave it. The other
morning Madame caught me whipping it. You can imagine the scene. She
showed me the door in double-quick time."

Oh! this Cléclé! how agreeable and amusing she was!



People have no idea of all the annoyances to which domestics are
subjected, or of the fierce and eternal exploitation under which they
suffer. Now the masters, now the keepers of employment-bureaus, now
the charitable institutions, to say nothing of the comrades, some of
whom are capable of terrible meanness. And nobody takes any interest
in anybody else. Each one lives, grows fat, and is entertained by the
misery of some one poorer than himself. Scenes change, settings are
shifted, you traverse social surroundings that are different and even
hostile, but everywhere you find the same appetites and passions. In
the cramped apartments of the _bourgeois_ and in the elegant mansion
of the banker you meet the same filth, and come in contact with the
inexorable. The result of it all, for a girl like me, is that she is
conquered in advance, wherever she may go and whatever she may do.
The poor are the human manure in which grow the harvests of life,
the harvests of joy which the rich reap, and which they misuse so
cruelly against us. They pretend that there is no more slavery. Oh!
what nonsense? And what are domestics, then, if not slaves? Slaves in
fact, with all that slavery involves of moral vileness, inevitable
corruption, and hate-engendering rebellion. Servants learn vice in
the houses of their masters. Entering upon their duties pure and
innocent,--some of them,--they are quickly made rotten by contact with
habits of depravity. They see nothing but vice, they breathe nothing
but vice, they touch nothing but vice. Consequently, from day to
day, from minute to minute, they get more and more used to it, being
defenceless against it, being obliged, on the contrary, to serve it, to
care for it, to respect it. And their revolt arises from the fact that
they are powerless to satisfy it, and to break down all the obstacles
in the way of its natural expansion. Oh! it is extraordinary. They
demand of us all the virtues, complete resignation, all the sacrifices,
all the heroisms, and only those vices that flatter the vanity of the
masters, and which yield them a profit. And all this in return for
contempt and wages ranging from thirty-five to ninety francs a month.
No, it is too much! Add that we live in perpetual distress of mind, in
a perpetual struggle between the ephemeral semi-luxury of the places
that we fill, and the anguish which the loss of these places causes
us. Add that we are continually conscious of the wounding suspicions
that follow us everywhere,--bolting doors, padlocking drawers, marking
bottles, numbering cakes and prunes, and continually putting us to
shame by invasive examination of our hands, our pockets, and our
trunks. For there is not a door, not a closet, not a drawer, not a
bottle, not an article, that does not cry out to us: "Thief! thief!
thief!" And also the continuous vexation caused by that terrible
inequality, that frightful disproportion in our destinies, which,
in spite of familiarities, smiles, and presents, places between our
mistresses and ourselves an impassable abyss, a whole world of sullen
hatreds, suppressed desires, and future vengeances,--a disproportion
which is rendered every minute more perceptible, more humiliating,
more disgracing, by the caprices, and even by the kindnesses, of
those beings that know no justice and feel no love,--the rich. Did
you ever think for a moment of the mortal and legitimate hatred, of
the murderous--yes, murderous--desires with which we must be filled
when we hear one of our masters, in trying to describe something base
and ignoble, cry out in our presence, with a disgust that casts us so
violently outside the pale of humanity: "He has the soul of a domestic;
that is the sentiment of a domestic." Then what do you expect us to
become in these hells? Do these mistresses really imagine that I should
not like to wear fine dresses, ride in fine carriages, have a gay time
with lovers, and have servants of my own? They talk to us of devotion,
of honesty, of fidelity. Why; but it would choke you to death, my
little chippies!



Once, in the Rue Cambon ... how many of these places I have had!...
the masters were marrying their daughter. They gave a grand reception
in the evening, at which the wedding-presents were exhibited,--enough
of them to fill a furniture-van. By way of jest I asked Baptiste, the
_valet de chambre:_

"Well, Baptiste, and you? What is your present?"

"My present?" exclaimed Baptiste, with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Yes, tell me, what is it?"

"A can of petroleum lighted under their bed. That is my present."

It was a smart answer. Moreover, this Baptiste was an astonishing man
in politics.

"And yours, Célestine?" he asked, in his turn.

"Mine?"

I contracted my two hands into the shape of talons, and, pretending to
claw a face ferociously, I answered:

"My nails, in their eyes!"

The butler, without being asked, remarked quietly, while arranging
flowers and fruits in a glass dish with his fastidious fingers:

"I would be satisfied to sprinkle their faces in church with a bottle
of good vitriol."

And he stuck a rose between two pears.

Oh! yes, how we love them! The extraordinary thing is that these
revenges are not taken more frequently. When I think that a cook, for
instance, holds her masters' lives in her hands every day; a pinch
of arsenic instead of salt, a little dash of strychnine instead of
vinegar, and the thing is done. Well, no, it must be that we have
servitude in our very blood!

I have no education, and I write what I think and what I have seen.
Well, I say that all this is not beautiful. I say that from the moment
when any one installs another under his roof, though he were the last
of poor devils, or the lowest of disreputable girls, he owes them
protection, he owes them happiness. I say also that, if the master
does not give it to us, we have a right to take it, even from his
strong-box, even from his blood.

But enough of this! I do wrong to think of things that make my head
ache and turn my stomach. I come back to my little stories.



I had much difficulty in leaving the sisters of Our Lady of Thirty-Six
Sorrows. In spite of Cléclé's companionship, I was growing old in the
box, and beginning to be hungry for liberty. When they understood that
I had made up my mind to go, then the worthy sisters offered me places
and places. There were places only for me. But I am not always a fool,
and I have a keen eye for rascalities. All these places I refused.
In all of them I found something that did not suit me. You should
have seen the heads of these holy women. It was laughable. They had
calculated on finding me a place in the house of some old bigot, where
they could get back out of my wages the cost of my board with usury,
and I enjoyed playing them a trick in my turn.

One day I notified Sister Boniface that it was my intention to go that
very evening. She had the cheek to answer me, raising her arms to
heaven:

"But, my dear child, it is impossible."

"How so? Why is it impossible?"

"Why, my dear child, you cannot leave the house like that. You owe us
more than seventy francs. You will have to pay us first these seventy
francs."

"And with what?" I replied. "I have not a sou; you can search me."

Sister Boniface gave me a hateful look, and, then declared, with severe
dignity: "But, Mademoiselle, do you know that this is a robbery? And to
rob poor women like us is worse than robbery; it is a sacrilege, for
which the good God will punish you. Reflect."

Then anger got the better of me, and I cried:

"Say, then, who is it that steals here,--you or I? No, but you are
astonishing, my little mothers."

"Mademoiselle, I forbid you to speak in this way."

"Oh! don't talk to me. What? One does your work, one toils like a beast
for you from morning to night, one earns enormous money for you, you
give us food which dogs would refuse, and then we must pay you into the
bargain! Indeed, you have no cheek!"

Sister Boniface had turned very pale. I felt that coarse, filthy,
furious words were on her lips, and ready to leave them; but, not
daring to let them go, she stammered:

"Silence! You are a girl without shame, without religion. God will
punish you. Go, if you will; but we keep your trunk."

I planted myself squarely before her, in an attitude of defiance, and,
looking her full in the face, I said:

"Well, I should like to see you try it. Just try to keep my trunk, and
you will have a visit from the commissary of police in short order.
And, if religion consists in patching the dirty pantaloons of your
chaplains, in stealing bread from poor girls, in speculating on the
horrors that go on every night in the dormitory...."

The good sister was fairly white. She tried to cover my voice with her
own.

"Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle!"

"Oh! don't pretend ignorance of the dirty things that go on every night
in the dormitory! Do you dare to tell me, in my face, your eyes looking
into mine, that you are ignorant of them? You encourage them because
they are profitable to you,--yes, because they are profitable to you."

And trembling, panting, with dry throat, I completed my accusation.

"If religion is all that; if it is religious to keep a prison and a
brothel,--well, then, I have enough of religion. My trunk, do you hear?
I wish my trunk. You will give me my trunk at once."

Sister Boniface was frightened.

"I do not wish to discuss with a lost creature," said she, in a voice
of dignity. "All right; you shall go."

"With my trunk?"

"With your trunk."

"Very well; but it takes tall talk to get one's rights here. It is
worse than at the custom-house."

I went, in fact, that very evening. Cléclé, who was very nice, and who
had saved something, lent me twenty francs. I went to engage a room in
a lodging-house in the Rue de la Sourdière, and I bought a seat among
the gallery-gods at the Porte-Saint-Martin. The play was "The Two
Orphans." How true it is! Almost my own story.

I passed there a delightful evening, weeping, weeping, weeping.



XIV


_November 18._

Rose is dead. Decidedly, misfortune hangs over the captain's house.
Poor captain! His ferret dead ... Bourbaki dead ... and now it is
Rose's turn! After a sickness of some days, she was carried off day
before yesterday, in the evening, by a sudden attack of congestion
of the lungs. She was buried this morning. From the windows of the
linen-room I saw the procession pass in the road. The heavy coffin,
borne by six men, was covered with crowns and with bunches of white
flowers, like that of a young virgin. A considerable crowd, in long,
dark, babbling files,--all Mesnil-Roy--followed Captain Mauger, who,
wearing a tightly-fitting black frock-coat, and holding himself very
stiffly, led the mourners, in thoroughly military fashion. And the
church bells, tolling in the distance, responded to the sound of the
rattle waved by the beadle. Madame had warned me that I was not to go
to the funeral. However, I had no desire to go. I did not like this
fat and wicked woman; her death leaves me very calm and indifferent.
Yet perhaps I shall miss Rose; perhaps I shall miss my occasional
conversations with her in the road. But what a source of gossip this
event must be at the grocer's!

I was curious to know what impression this sudden death had made upon
the captain. And, as my masters were visiting, I took a walk in the
afternoon along the hedge. The captain's garden is sad and deserted. A
spade stuck in the ground indicates abandoned work. "The captain will
not come into the garden," said I to myself; "he is undoubtedly weeping
in his chamber, among the souvenirs." And suddenly I perceive him.
He has taken off his fine frock-coat, and put on his working-clothes
again, and, with his old foraging-cap on his head, he is engaged in
manuring his lawns. I even hear him humming a march in a low voice. He
leaves his wheelbarrow, and comes toward me, carrying his fork on his
shoulder.

"I am glad to see you, Mademoiselle Célestine."

I should like to offer him consolation or pity. I search for words, for
phrases. But how can one find a touching word in presence of such a
droll face? I content myself with repeating:

"A great misfortune, captain, a great misfortune for you! Poor Rose!"

"Yes, yes," he says, tamely.

His face is devoid of expression. His movements are uncertain. He adds,
jabbing his fork into a soft spot in the ground near the hedge:

"Especially as I cannot get along without anybody."

I insist upon Rose's domestic virtues.

"You will not easily replace her, Captain."

Decidedly, he is not touched at all. One would say even, from looking
at his eyes that have suddenly become brighter and from watching his
movements, now more alert, that he has been relieved from a great
weight.

"Bah!" says he, after a short silence, "everything can be replaced."

This resignation astonishes me, and even scandalizes me a little. To
amuse myself, I try to make him understand all he has lost in losing
Rose.

"She knew so well your habits, your tastes, your manias! She was so
devoted to you!"

"Well, if she had not been, that would have been the last straw," he
growled.

And, making a gesture by which he seems to put aside all sorts of
objections, he goes on:

"Besides, was she so devoted to me? Oh! I may as well tell you the
truth. I had had enough of Rose. Yes, indeed! After we took a little
boy to help us, she attended to nothing in the house, and everything
went badly, very badly. I could not even have an egg boiled to my
taste. And the scenes that went on, from morning to night, apropos of
nothing. If I spent ten sous, there were cries and reproaches. And,
when I talked with you, as I am doing now,--well, there was a row,
indeed; for she was jealous, jealous. Oh! no. She went for you; you
should have heard her. In short, I was no longer at home in my own
house."

He breathes deeply, noisily, and, with the new and deep joy that a
traveler feels on returning from a long journey, he contemplates the
sky, the bare grass-plots in the garden, the violet interlacings of the
branches of the trees against the light, and his little house.

This joy, so offensive to Rose's memory, now seems to me very comical.
I stimulate the captain to further confidences. And I say to him, in a
tone of reproach:

"Captain, I think you are not just to Rose."

"Egad!" he rejoins, quickly. "You do not know; you don't know anything
about it. She did not go to tell you of all the scenes that she made,
her tyranny, her jealousy, her egoism. Nothing belonged to me here any
longer. Everything in my house was hers. For instance, you would not
believe it, my Voltaire arm-chair was never at my disposition. She had
it all the time. She had everything, for that matter. To think that I
could no longer eat asparagus with oil, because she did not like it!
Oh! she did well to die. It was the best thing that could happen to
her, for, in some way or other, I should have gotten rid of her. Yes,
yes, I should have gotten rid of her. She was becoming too much for me.
I had had enough. And let me tell you; if I had died before her, Rose
would have been prettily trapped. I had a bitter pill in store for her.
My word for it!"

His lip curls in a smile that ends in an atrocious grimace. He
continues, chopping each of his words with moist little puffs of
laughter:

"You know that I made a will, in which I gave her everything,--house,
money, dividends, everything. She must have told you; she told
everybody. Yes, but what she did not tell you, because she did not know
it, is that, two months later, I made a second will, cancelling the
first, in which I did not leave her anything,--not a sou."

Unable to contain himself longer, he bursts out laughing, a strident
laugh that scatters through the garden like a flight of scolding
sparrows. And he cries:

"Ah! that's an idea, hey? Oh! her head,--you can see it from here,--on
learning that I had left my little fortune to the French Academy. For,
my little Célestine, it is true; I had left my fortune to the French
Academy. Ah! that's an idea!"

I allow his laughter to become quieter, and then I gravely ask him:

"And now, Captain, what are you going to do?"

The captain gives me a long, sly, amorous look, and says:

"Well, that depends on you."

"On me?"

"Yes, on you; on you alone."

"And how is that?"

A moment of silence follows, during which, straightening up and
twisting his pointed beard, he seeks to envelop me in a seductive fluid.

"Come," he says, suddenly, "let us go straight to the point. Let us
speak squarely,--soldier-fashion. Do you wish to take Rose's place?"

I was expecting the attack. I had seen it coming from the depth of his
eyes. It does not surprise me. I receive it with a serious and unmoved
expression.

"And the wills, Captain?"

"Oh! I tear them up."

I object:

"But I do not know how to cook."

"Oh! I will do the cooking; I will make my bed; I will do everything."

He becomes gallant, sprightly; his eye sparkles. He leans towards the
hedge, stretching out his neck. His eyes become bloodshot. And in a
lower voice he says:

"If you came to me, Célestine,--well...."

"Well, what?"

"Well, the Lanlaires would die of rage. Ah! that's an idea!"

I lapse into silence, and pretend to be profoundly dreaming. The
captain becomes impatient. He digs the heels of his shoes into the
sandy path.

"See, Célestine, thirty-five francs a month; the master's table; the
master's room; a will; does that suit you? Answer me."

"We will see later. But, while waiting, take another."

And I run away that I may not blow into his face the tempest of
laughter that is roaring in my throat.



I have, then, only the embarrassment of choice. The captain or Joseph?
To live as a servant-mistress, with all the contingencies that such a
position involves,--that is, to remain still at the mercy of a stupid,
coarse, changeable man, and dependent upon a thousand disagreeable
circumstances and a thousand prejudices; or else to marry, and thus
acquire a sort of regular and respected liberty, in a situation free
from the control of others, and liberated from the caprice of events?
Here at last a portion of my dream promises to be realized.

It is very evident that I should have liked a realization on a
grander scale. But, when I think how few chances present themselves,
in general, in the existence of a woman like me, I must congratulate
myself that something is coming to me at last other than this eternal
and monotonous tossing back and forth from one house to another, from
one bed to another, from one face to another face.

Of course, I put aside at once the captain's plan. Moreover, I had no
need of this last conversation with him to know the sort of grotesque
and sinister mountebank, the type of odd humanity, that he represents.
Beyond the fact that his physical ugliness is complete,--for there
is nothing to relieve and correct it,--he gives one no hold on his
soul. Rose believed firmly in her assured domination over this man,
and this man tricked her. One cannot dominate nothing; one can have
no influence over emptiness. I cannot, without choking with laughter,
think of myself for an instant in the arms of this ridiculous personage
and caressing him. Yet, in spite of this, I am content, and I feel
something akin to pride. However low the source from which it comes, it
is none the less an homage, and this homage strengthens my confidence
in myself and in my beauty.

Quite different are my feelings toward Joseph. Joseph has taken
possession of my mind. He retains it, he holds it captive, he
obsesses it. He disturbs me, bewitches me, and frightens me, by
turns. Certainly, he is ugly, brutally, horribly ugly; but, when
you analyze this ugliness, you find something formidable in it,
something that is almost beauty, that is more than beauty, that is
above beauty,--something elemental. I do not conceal from myself the
difficulty, the danger, of living, whether married or not, with such
a man, of whom I am warranted in suspecting everything, and of whom,
in reality, I know nothing. And it is this that draws me to him with
a dizzy violence. At least he is capable of many things in crime,
perhaps, and perhaps also in the direction of good. I do not know.
What does he want of me? What will he do with me? Should I be the
unscrupulous instrument of plans that I knew nothing of, the plaything
of his ferocious passions? Does he even love me? And why does he love
me? For my beauty; for my vices; for my intelligence; for my hatred of
prejudices,--he who makes parade of all the prejudices? I do not know.
In addition to this attraction which the unknown and mysterious has
for me, he exercises over me the bitter, powerful charm of force. And
this charm, yes, this charm acts more and more on my nerves, conquers
my passive and submissive flesh. It is something which I cannot define
exactly, something that takes me wholly, by my mind and by my sex,
revealing in me instincts of which I was unaware, instincts that
slept within me without my knowledge, and that no love, no thrill of
voluptuousness had before awakened. And I tremble from head to foot
when I remember the words of Joseph, saying to me:

"You are like me, Célestine. Oh! not in features, of course. But our
two souls are alike; our two souls resemble each other."

Our two souls! Is that possible?

These sensations that I feel are so new, so imperious, so strongly
tenacious, that they do not leave me a minute's rest, and that I remain
always under the influence of their stupefying fascination. In vain do
I seek to occupy my mind with other thoughts. I try to read and walk in
the garden, when my masters are away, and, when they are at home, to
work furiously at my mending in the linen-room. Impossible! Joseph has
complete possession of my thought. And not only does he possess it in
the present, but he possesses it also in the past. Joseph so interposes
himself between my entire past and myself that I see, so to speak,
nothing but him, and that this past, with all its ugly or charming
faces, draws farther and farther from me, fades away, disappears.
Cléophas Biscouille; M. Jean; M. Xavier; William, of whom I have not
yet spoken; M. Georges, himself, by whom I believed my soul to have
been branded forever, as the shoulder of the convict is branded by the
red iron; and all those to whom, voluntarily, joyously, passionately,
I have given a little or much of myself, of my vibrant flesh and of my
sorrowful heart,--all of them shadows already! Uncertain and ludicrous
shadows that fade away until they are hardly recollections, and then
become confused dreams ... intangible, forgotten realities ... vapors
... nothing. Sometimes, in the kitchen, after dinner, when looking at
Joseph and his criminal mouth, and his criminal eyes, and his heavy
cheek-bones, and his low, knotty, humpy forehead, upon which the
lamplight accumulates hard shadows, I say to myself:

"No, no, it is not possible. I am under the influence of a fit of
madness; I will not, I cannot, love this man. No, no, it is not
possible."

And yet it is possible, and it is true. And I must at last confess it
to myself, cry out to myself: "I love Joseph!"

Ah! now I understand why one should never make sport of love; why there
are women who rush, with all the consciencelessness of murder, with
all the invincible force of nature, to the kisses of brutes and to the
embraces of monsters, and who voluptuously sound the death-rattle in
the sneering faces of demons and bucks.



Joseph has obtained from Madame six days' leave of absence, and
to-morrow he is to start for Cherbourg, pretending to be called by
family matters. It is decided; he will buy the little café. But for
some months he will not run it himself. He has some one there, a
trusted friend, who is to take charge of it.

"Do you understand?" he says to me. "It must first be repainted, and
made to look like new; it must be very fine, with its new sign, in gilt
letters: 'To the French Army!' And besides, I cannot leave my place
yet. That I cannot do."

"Why not, Joseph?"

"Because I cannot now."

"But when will you go, for good?"

Joseph scratches his neck, gives me a sly glance, and says:

"As to that I do not know. Perhaps not for six months yet; perhaps
sooner; perhaps even later. I cannot tell. It depends."

I feel that he does not wish to speak. Nevertheless I insist:

"It depends on what?"

He hesitates to answer; then, in a mysterious and, at the same time,
somewhat excited tone, he says:

"On a certain matter; on a very important matter."

"But what matter?"

"Oh! on a certain matter, that's all."

This is uttered in a brusque voice,--a voice not of anger exactly, but
of impatience. He refuses to explain further.

He says nothing to me of myself. This astonishes me, and causes
me a painful disappointment. Can he have changed his mind? Has my
curiosity, my hesitation, wearied him? Yet it is very natural that I
should be interested in an event in the success or failure of which I
am to share. Can the suspicion that I have not been able to hide, my
suspicion of the outrage committed by him upon the little Claire, have
caused Joseph to reflect further, and brought about a rupture between
us? But I feel from the tremor of my heart that my resolution, deferred
out of coquetry, out of a disposition to tease, was well taken. To be
free, to be enthroned behind a bar, to command others, to know that one
is looked at, desired, adored by so many men! And that is not to be?
And this dream is to escape me, as all the others have? I do not wish
to seem to be throwing myself at Joseph's head, but I wish to know what
he has in his mind. I put on a sad face, and I sigh:

"When you have gone, Joseph, the house will no longer be endurable to
me. I have become so accustomed to you now, to our conversations."

"Oh! indeed!"

"I too shall go away."

Joseph says nothing.

He walks up and down the harness-room, with anxious brow and
preoccupied mind, his hands nervously twirling a pair of garden-shears
in the pocket of his blue apron. The expression of his face is
unpleasant. I repeat, as I watch him go back and forth:

"Yes, I shall go away; I shall return to Paris."

He utters not a word of protest, not a cry; not even an imploring
glance does he turn upon me. He puts a stick of wood in the stove, as
the fire is low, and then begins again his silent promenade up and down
the room. Why is he like this? Does he, then, accept this separation?
Does he want it? Has he, then, lost his confidence in me, the love
that he had for me? Or does he simply fear my imprudence, my eternal
questions?

Trembling a little, I ask him:

"Will it cause you no pain, Joseph, if we do not see each other again?"

Without halting in his walk, without even glancing at me out of the
corner of his eye, in the manner so characteristic of him, he says:

"Of course. But what can you expect? One cannot oblige people to do
what they refuse to do. A thing either pleases, or it does not please."

"What have I refused to do, Joseph?"

"And besides, you are always full of bad ideas about me," he continues,
without answering my question.

"Why do you say that?"

"Because...."

"No, no, Joseph; you no longer love me; you have something else in
mind now. I have refused nothing; I have reflected, that is all. It is
natural enough, isn't it? One does not make a life-contract without
reflection. My hesitation, on the contrary, ought to make you think
well of me. It proves that I am not light-headed,--that I am a serious
woman."

"You are a good woman, Célestine, an orderly woman."

"Well, then?"

At last Joseph stops walking, and, gazing at me with profound and still
suspicious, but yet tenderer, eyes, he says, slowly:

"It is not that, Célestine. There is no question of that. I do not
prevent you from reflecting. Reflect all you like. There is plenty of
time, and we will talk again on my return. But what I do not like, you
see, is so much curiosity. There are things that do not concern women;
there are things...."

And he finishes his phrase with a shake of his head.

After a moment's silence he resumes:

"I have nothing else in mind, Célestine. I dream of you; I am crazy
over you. As true as the good God exists, what I have said once I say
always. We will talk it over again. But you must not be curious. You
do what you do; I do what I do. In that way there is no mistake, no
surprise."

Approaching me, he grasps my hands.

"I have a hard head, Célestine; yes, indeed! But what is in it stays in
it, and cannot be gotten out of it. I dream of you, Célestine, of you
... in the little café."



XV


_November 20._

Joseph started for Cherbourg yesterday morning, as had been agreed.
On coming down stairs, I find him already gone. Marianne, half awake,
with swollen eyes and hawking throat, is pumping water. The plate from
which Joseph has just eaten his soup, and the empty cider-pitcher, are
still on the kitchen table. I am anxious, and at the same time I am
content, for I feel that, starting from to-day, a new life is at last
preparing for me. The sun has scarcely risen; the air is cold. Beyond
the garden the country is still sleeping under a curtain of fog, and in
the distance, coming from an invisible valley, I hear the very feeble
sound of a locomotive whistle. It is the train that bears Joseph and
my destiny. I can eat no breakfast; it seems to me that something huge
and heavy fills my stomach. I no longer hear the whistle. The fog is
thickening; it has entered the garden.

And if Joseph were never to come back?



All day long I have been distracted, nervous, extremely agitated. Never
did the house weigh more heavily upon me; never did the long corridors
seem more dismal, more icily silent; never have I so much detested the
crabbed face and shrill voice of Madame. Impossible to work. I have
had with Madame a very violent scene, in consequence of which I really
thought that I should be obliged to go. And I ask myself what I am
going to do during these six days, without Joseph. I dread the ennui of
being alone, at meals, with Marianne. I really need somebody to talk to.

As a rule, as soon as it comes night, Marianne, under the influence of
drink, falls into a state of complete stupefaction. Her brain becomes
torpid; her tongue becomes thick; her lips hang and shine like the worn
brink of an old well; and she is sad, sad to the point of weeping. I
can get nothing out of her but little plaints, little cries, something
like the puling of a child. Nevertheless, last night, less drunk than
usual, she confided to me, amid never-ending groans, that she is afraid
she is in trouble. Well, that caps the climax! My first impulse is to
laugh. But soon I feel a keen sorrow,--something like the cutting of
a lash in the pit of my stomach. Suppose it were through Joseph? I
remember that, on the day of my arrival here, I at once suspected them.
But since then nothing has happened to justify this stupid suspicion.
On the contrary. No, no, it is impossible. It cannot be. I ask:

"You are sure, Marianne?"

"Sure? No," she says; "I am only afraid."

"And through whom?"

She hesitates to answer; then, suddenly, with a sort of pride, she
declares:

"Through Monsieur."

This time I came near bursting with laughter. Marianne, mistaking my
laugh for one of admiration, begins to laugh, too.

"Yes, yes, through Monsieur," she repeats. "I am going to see Madame
Gouin to-morrow."

I feel a real pity for this poor woman whose brain is so dark and whose
ideas are so obscure. Oh! how melancholy and lamentable she is! And
what is going to happen to her now? An extraordinary thing,--love has
given her no radiance, no grace. She has not that halo of light with
which voluptuousness surrounds the ugliest faces. She has remained the
same,--heavy, flabby, lumpy.

I left her with a somewhat heavy heart. Now I laugh no more; I will
never laugh at Marianne again, and the pity that I feel for her turns
into a real and almost painful emotion.

But I feel that my emotion especially concerns myself. On returning to
my room, I am seized with a sort of shame and great discouragement. One
should never reflect upon love. How sad love is at bottom! And what
does it leave behind? Ridicule, bitterness, or nothing at all. What
remains to me now of Monsieur Jean, whose photograph is on parade on
the mantel, in its red plush frame? Nothing, except my disappointment
at having loved a vain and heartless imbecile. Can I really have
loved this insipid beauty, with his white and unhealthy face, his
regulation black mutton-chops, and his hair parted down the middle?
This photograph irritates me. I can no longer have continually before
me those two stupid eyes that look at me with the unchangeable look of
an insolent and servile flunky. Oh! no, let it go to keep company with
the others, at the bottom of my trunk, pending the time when I shall
make of my more and more detested past a fire of joy and ashes.



And I think of Joseph. Where is he at the present moment? What is he
doing? Is he even thinking of me? Undoubtedly he is in the little café.
He is looking, discussing, measuring; he is picturing to himself the
effect that I shall produce at the bar, before the mirror, amid the
dazzling of the glasses and the multi-colored bottles. I wish that I
knew Cherbourg, its streets, its squares, its harbor, that I might
represent Joseph to myself going and coming, conquering the city as he
has conquered me. I turn and turn again in my bed, a little feverish.
My thought goes from the forest of Raillon to Cherbourg, from the body
of Claire to the little café. And, after a painful period of insomnia,
I finally go off to sleep with the stern and severe image of Joseph
before my eyes, the motionless image of Joseph outlining itself in the
distance against a dark and choppy background, traversed by white masts
and red yards.



To-day, Sunday, I paid a visit in the afternoon to Joseph's room. The
two dogs follow me eagerly. They seem to be asking me where Joseph is.
A little iron bed, a large cupboard, a sort of low commode, a table,
two chairs, all in white-wood, and a porte-manteau, which a green
lustring curtain, running on a rod, protects from the dust,--these
constitute the furnishings. Though the room is not luxurious, it
is extremely orderly and clean. It has something of the rigidity
and austerity of a monk's cell in a convent. On the white-washed
walls, between the portraits of Déroulède and General Mercier, holy
pictures unframed,--Virgins, an Adoration of the Magi, a Massacre of
the Innocents, a view of Paradise. Above the bed a large crucifix of
dark wood, serving as a holy-water basin, and barred with a branch of
consecrated box.

It is not very delicate, to be sure, but I could not resist my violent
desire to search everywhere, in the hope, vague though it were, of
discovering some of Joseph's secrets. Nothing is mysterious in this
room, nothing is hidden. It is the naked chamber of a man who has no
secrets, whose life is pure, exempt from complications and events. The
keys are in the furniture and in the cupboards; not a drawer is locked.
On the table some packages of seeds and a book, "The Good Gardener."
On the mantel a prayer-book, whose pages are yellow, and a little
note-book, in which have been copied various receipts for preparing
encaustic, Bordelaise stew, and mixtures of nicotine and sulphate of
iron. Not a letter anywhere; not even an account-book. Nowhere the
slightest trace of any correspondence, either on business, politics,
family matters, or love. In the commode, beside worn-out shoes and
old hose-nozzles, piles of pamphlets, numerous numbers of the "Libre
Parole." Under the bed, mouse-traps and rat-traps. I have felt of
everything, turned everything upside down, emptied everything,--coats,
mattress, linen, and drawers. There is nothing else. In the cupboard
nothing has been changed. It is just as I left it a week ago, when I
put it in order in Joseph's presence. Is it possible that Joseph has
nothing? Is it possible that he is so lacking in those thousand little
intimate and familiar things whereby a man reveals his tastes, his
passions, his thoughts, a little of that which dominates his life?
Ah! yes, here! From the back of the table-drawer I take a cigar-box,
wrapped in paper and strongly tied with string running four times
round. With great difficulty I untie the knots, I open the box, and
on a bed of wadding I see five consecrated medals, a little silver
crucifix, and a rosary of red beads. Always religion!

My search concluded, I leave the room, filled with nervous irritation
at having found nothing of what I was searching for, and having learned
nothing of what I wanted to know. Decidedly, Joseph communicates his
impenetrability to everything that he touches. The articles that he
possesses are as silent as his lips, as unfathomable as his eyes and
brow. The rest of the day I have had before me, really before me,
Joseph's face, enigmatical, sneering, and crusty, by turns. And it has
seemed to me that I could hear him saying to me:

"And much farther you have got, my awkward little one, in consequence
of your curiosity. Ah! you can look again, you can search my linen, my
trunks, my soul; you will never find anything out."

I do not wish to think of all this any more; I do not wish to think of
Joseph any more. My head aches too hard, and I believe that I should go
mad. Let us return to my memories.



Scarcely had I left the good sisters of Neuilly, when I fell again into
the hell of the employment-bureaus. And yet I had firmly resolved never
to apply to them again. But, when one is on the pavements, without
money enough to buy even a bit of bread, what is one to do? Friends,
old comrades? Bah! They do not even answer you. Advertisements in
the newspapers? They cost a great deal, and involve interminable
correspondence,--a great lot of trouble for nothing. And besides,
they are very risky. At any rate, one must have something ahead, and
Cléclé's twenty francs had quickly melted in my hands. Prostitution?
Street-walking? To take men home with you who are often more destitute
than yourself? Oh! no, indeed. For pleasure,--yes, as much as you like.
But for money? I cannot; I do not know how; I am always victimized. I
was even obliged to hang up some little jewels that I had, in order to
pay for my board and lodging. Inevitably, hard luck brings you back to
the agencies of usury and human exploitation.

Oh! the employment-bureaus, what dirty traps they are! In the first
place, one must give ten sous to have her name entered; and then there
is the risk of getting a bad place. In these frightful dens there is
no lack of bad places; and, really, one has only the embarrassment of
choice between one-eyed hussies and blind hussies. Nowadays, women with
nothing at all, keepers of little fourpenny grocery stores, pretend
to have servants and to play the _role_ of countess. What a pity!
If, after discussions, and humiliating examinations, and still more
humiliating haggling, you succeed in coming to terms with one of these
rapacious _bourgeoises_, you owe to the keeper of the employment-bureau
three per cent. of your first year's wages. So much the worse, if
you remain but ten days in the place she has procured for you. That
does not concern her; her account is good, and the entire commission
is exacted. Oh! they know the trick; they know where they send you,
and that you will come back to them soon. Once, for instance, I had
seven places in four months and a half. A run on the black; impossible
houses, worse than prisons. Well, I had to pay the employment-bureau
three per cent. of seven years' wages,--that is, including the ten sous
required for each fresh entrance of my name, more than ninety francs.
And nothing had been accomplished, and all had to be begun over again.
Is that just, I want to know? Is it not abominable robbery?

Robbery? In whatever direction one turns, one sees nothing but robbery
anywhere. Of course it is always those who have nothing who are the
most robbed, and robbed by those who have all. But what is one to do?
One rages and rebels, and then ends by concluding that it is better
to be robbed than to die like a dog in the street. Oh! the world is
arranged on a fine plan, that's sure! What a pity it is that General
Boulanger did not succeed! At least he, it seems, loved domestics.



The employment-bureau in which I was stupid enough to have my
name entered is situated in the Rue du Colisée, at the back of a
court-yard, on the third floor of a dark and very old house,--almost
a house for working-people. At the very entrance the narrow and steep
staircase, with its filthy steps that stick to your shoes and its
damp banister that sticks to your hands, blows into your face an
infected air, an odor of sinks and closets, and fills your heart with
discouragement. I do not pretend to be fastidious, but the very sight
of this staircase turns my stomach and cuts off my legs, and I am
seized with a mad desire to run away. The hope which, on the way, has
been singing in your head is at once silenced, stifled by this thick
and sticky atmosphere, by these vile steps, and these sweating walls
that seem to be frequented by glutinous larvæ and cold toads. Really, I
do not understand how fine ladies dare to venture into this unhealthy
hovel. Frankly, they are not disgusted. But what is there to-day that
disgusts fine ladies? They would not go into such a house to help a
poor person, but to worry a domestic they would go the devil knows
where!

This bureau was run by Mme. Paulhat-Durand, a tall woman of almost
forty-five years, who, underneath her very black and slightly wavy
hair, and in spite of soft flesh crammed into a terrible corset, still
preserved remnants of beauty, a majestic deportment,... and such an
eye! My! but she must have had fun in her day! With her austere
elegance, always wearing a black watered-silk dress, a long gold chain
falling in loops over her prominent bosom, a brown velvet cravat
around her neck, and with very pale hands, she seemed the perfection
of dignity and even a little haughty. She lived, outside of marriage,
with a city employee, M. Louis. We knew him only by his Christian name.
He was a queer type, extremely near-sighted, with mincing movements,
always silent, and presenting a very awkward appearance in a grey
jacket that was too short for him. Sad, timid, bent, although young, he
seemed, not happy, but resigned. He never dared to speak to us, or even
to look at us, for the madame was very jealous. When he came in, with
his bag of papers under his arm, he contented himself with slightly
lifting his hat in our direction, without turning his head toward
us, and, with a dragging step, glided into the hall, like a shadow.
And how tired the poor fellow was! At night M. Louis attended to the
correspondence, kept the books,... and did the rest.

Mme. Paulhat-Durand was named neither Paulhat or Durand; these two
names, which go so well together, she acquired, it seems, from two
gentlemen, dead to-day, with whom she had lived, and who had supplied
her with funds to open her employment-bureau. Her real name was
Josephine Carp. Like many keepers of employment-bureaus, she was an
old chambermaid. That was to be seen, moreover, in her pretentious
bearing, in her manners, modeled upon those of the great ladies in
whose service she had been, and beneath which, in spite of her gold
chain and black silk dress, one could see the filth of her inferior
origin. She showed all the insolence of an old domestic, but she
reserved this insolence for us exclusively, showing her customers, on
the contrary, a servile obsequiousness, proportioned to their wealth
and social rank.

"Oh! what a set of people, Madame the Countess," said she, with an
air of affectation. "Chambermaids _de luxe_,--that is, wenches who
are unwilling to do anything, who do not work, and whose honesty and
morality I do not guarantee,--as many of those as you want! But women
who work, who sew, who know their trade,--there are no more of them; I
have no more of them; nobody has any more of them. That's the way it
is."

Yet her bureau was well patronized. She had the custom especially
of the people in the Champs-Elysées quarter, consisting largely of
foreigners and Jewesses. Ah! the scandals that I know about them!

The door opens into a hall leading to the _salon_, where Mme.
Paulhat-Durand is enthroned in her perpetual black silk dress. At the
left of the hall is a sort of dark hole, a vast ante-room with circular
benches, and in the middle a table recovered with faded red serge.
Nothing else. The ante-room is lighted only by a narrow strip of glass
set in the upper part of the partition which separates the room from
the employment-bureau, and running its entire length. A bad light, a
light more gloomy than darkness, comes through this glass, coating
objects and faces with something less than a twilight glimmer.

We came there every morning and every afternoon, heaps of us,--cooks
and chambermaids, gardeners and valets, coachmen and butlers,--and we
spent our time in telling each other of our misfortunes, in running
down the masters, and in wishing for extraordinary, fairy-like,
liberating places. Some brought books and newspapers, which they read
passionately; others wrote letters. Now gay, now sad, our buzzing
conversations were often interrupted by the sudden irruption of Mme.
Paulhat-Durand, like a gust of wind.

"Be silent, young women," she cried. "It is impossible to hear
ourselves in the _salon_."

Or else she called in a curt, shrill voice:

"Mademoiselle Jeanne!"

Mlle. Jeanne rose, arranged her hair a little, followed the madame into
the bureau, from which she returned a few moments later, with a grimace
of disdain upon her lips. Her recommendations had not been found
sufficient. What did they require then? The Monthyon prize? A maiden's
diploma?

Or else they had been unable to agree upon wages.

"Oh! no, the mean things! A dirty dance hall ... nothing to pinch. She
does her own marketing. Oh! la! la! Four children in the house! Think
of it!"

The whole punctuated by furious or obscene gestures.

We all passed into the bureau by turns, summoned by Mme.
Paulhat-Durand, whose voice grew shriller and shriller, and whose
shining flesh at last became green with anger. For my part, I saw
directly with whom I had to deal, and that the place did not suit me.
Then, to amuse myself, instead of submitting to their stupid questions,
I questioned the fine ladies themselves.

"Madame is married?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Ah! And Madame has children?"

"Certainly."

"Dogs?"

"Yes."

"Madame makes the chambermaid sit up?"

"When I go out in the evening ... evidently."

"And Madame often goes out in the evening?"

Pursing up her lips, she was about to answer; but I, casting a
contemptuous glance at her hat, her costume, and her entire person,
said, in a curt and disdainful voice:

"I regret it, but Madame's place does not please me. I do not go into
houses like Madame's."

And I sailed out triumphantly.

One day a little woman, with hair outrageously dyed, with lips painted
with minium, with enameled cheeks, as insolent as a guinea-hen, and
perfumed like a bidet, after asking me thirty-six questions, put a
thirty-seventh:

"Are you well behaved? Do you receive lovers?"

"And Madame?" I answered very quietly, showing no astonishment.

Some, less difficult to please, or more weary or more timid, accepted
infected places. They were hooted.

"_Bon voyage!_ We shall see you soon again."

At the sight of us thus piled up on our benches, with legs spread
apart, dreamy, stupid, or chattering, and listening to the successive
calls of the madame: "Mademoiselle Victoire!... Mademoiselle Irène!...
Mademoiselle Zulma!" it sometimes seemed to me as if we were in a
public house, awaiting the next caller. That seemed to me funny or sad,
I don't know which; and one day I remarked upon it aloud. There was a
general outburst of laughter. Each one immediately delivered herself of
all the exact and marvelous information of which she was in possession
concerning establishments of that character. A fat and puffy creature,
who was peeling an orange, said:

"Surely that would be better. They are sure of a living in those
places. And champagne, you know, young women; and chemises with silver
stars; and no corsets!"

I remember that that day I thought of my sister Louise, undoubtedly
shut up in one of those houses. I pictured to myself her life, possibly
happy, at least tranquil, in any case exempt from the danger of poverty
and hunger. And, more than ever disgusted with my dismal and beaten
youth, with my wandering existence, with my dread of the morrow, I too
dreamed:

"Yes, perhaps that would be better."

And evening came, and then night,--a night hardly darker than the day.
We became silent, fatigued from having talked too much, from having
waited too long. A gas jet was lighted in the hall, and regularly,
at five o'clock, through the glass in the door, we could see the
slightly-bent outline of M. Louis passing very quickly, and then
vanishing. It was the signal for our departure.

Often old women, runners for public houses, pimps with a respectable
air, and quite like the good sisters in their honeyed sweetness,
awaited us at the exit on the sidewalk. They followed us discreetly,
and, in some darker corner of the street, behind the groups of trees in
the Champs-Elysées, out of sight of the police, they approached us.

"Come, then, to my house, instead of dragging out your poor life from
anxiety to anxiety, and from poverty to poverty. In my house you will
find pleasure, luxury, money; you will find liberty."

Dazzled by the marvelous promises, several of my little comrades
listened to these love-brokers. With sadness I saw them start. Where
are they now?

One evening one of these prowlers, fat and flabby, whom I had already
brutally dismissed, succeeded in getting me to go with her to a café in
the Rond-Point, where she offered me a glass of chartreuse. I see her
still, with her hair turning grey, her severe costume of a _bourgeoise_
widow, her plump and sticky hands, loaded with rings. She reeled
off her story with more spirit and conviction than usual, and, as I
remained indifferent to all her humbug inducements, she cried:

"Oh! if you only would, my little one. I do not need to look at you
twice to see how beautiful you are in all respects. And it is a real
crime to let such beauty go to waste, and be squandered in the company
of house-servants. With your beauty, you would quickly make a fortune.
Oh! you would have a bag of money in a very little time. You see, I
have a wonderful set of customers,--old gentlemen, very influential,
and very, very generous. All that is best in Paris comes to my
house,--famous generals, powerful magistrates, foreign ambassadors."

She drew nearer to me, lowering her voice.

"And if I were to tell you that the president of the republic himself
... why, yes, my little one! That gives you an idea of what my house
is. There is not one like it in the world. Rabineau's is nothing side
of my house. And stay! yesterday at five o'clock the president was so
well pleased that he promised me the academic palms ... for my son, who
is chief auditor in a religious educational institution at Auteuil."

She looked at me a long time, searching me body and soul, and repeated:

"Oh! if you would! What a success!"

I offered a heap of objections, my lack of fine linen, of costumes, of
jewels. The old woman reassured me.

"Oh! if that's all," said she, "you need not worry, because in my
house, you understand, natural beauty is the chief adornment."

"Yes, yes, I know, but still...."

"I assure you that you need not worry," she insisted, with benevolence.
"Listen, sign a contract with me for three months, and I will give you
an outfit of the best, such as no soubrette of the Théâtre-Français
ever had. My word for it!"

I asked time to reflect.

"Well, all right! reflect," counseled this dealer in human flesh. "Let
me give you my address, at any rate. When your heart speaks,--well,
you will have only to come. Oh! I am perfectly confident. And
to-morrow I am going to announce you to the president of the republic."

We had finished drinking. The old woman settled for the two glasses,
and took from a little black pocket-book a card, which she slyly
slipped into my hand. When she had gone, I looked at the card, and I
read:

         MADAME REBECCA RANVET
           _Millinery_

At Mme. Paulhat-Durand's I witnessed some extraordinary scenes. As I
cannot describe them all, unfortunately, I select one to serve as an
example of what goes on daily in this house.

I have said that the upper part of the partition separating the
ante-room from the bureau consists of a strip of glass covered with
transparent curtains. In the middle of the strip is a casement-window,
ordinarily closed. One day I noticed that, by some oversight, of which
I resolved to take advantage, it had been left partly open. Putting
a small stool upon the bench, I stood upon it, and thus succeeded in
touching with my chin the frame of the casement-window, which I softly
pushed. I was thus enabled to look into the room, and here is what I
saw.

A lady was seated in an arm-chair; a chambermaid was standing in
front of her; in the corner Mme. Paulhat-Durand was distributing
some cards among the compartments of a drawer. The lady had come from
Fontainebleau in search of a servant. She may have been fifty years
old. In appearance a rich and rough _bourgeoise_, dressed soberly,
provincial in her austerity. The maid, puny and sickly, with a
complexion that had been made livid by poor food and lack of food,
had nevertheless a sympathetic face, which, under more fortunate
circumstances, would perhaps have been pretty. She was very clean and
trim in a black skirt. A black jersey moulded her thin form, and on her
head she wore a linen cap, prettily set back, revealing her brow and
her curly brown hair.

After a detailed, sustained, offensive, aggressive examination, the
lady at last made up her mind to speak.

"Then," said she, "you offer yourself as ... what? As a chambermaid?"

"Yes, Madame."

"You do not look like one. What is your name?"

"Jeanne Le Godec."

"What did you say?"

"Jeanne Le Godec, Madame."

The lady shrugged her shoulders.

"Jeanne," she exclaimed. "That is not a servant's name; that is a
name for a young girl. If you enter my service, you do not expect, I
suppose, to keep this name Jeanne?"

"As Madame likes."

Jeanne had lowered her head, and was leaning with her two hands on the
handle of her umbrella.

"Raise your head," ordered the lady; "stand up straight. Don't you see
you are making a hole in the carpet with the point of your umbrella?
Where do you come from?"

"From Saint-Brieuc."

"From Saint-Brieuc!"

And she gave a pout of disdain that quickly turned into a frightful
grimace. The corners of her mouth and eyes contracted, as if she had
swallowed a glass of vinegar.

"From Saint-Brieuc!" she repeated. "Then you are a Breton? Oh! I do not
like the Bretons. They are obstinate and dirty."

"I am very clean, Madame," protested the poor Jeanne.

"You say so. However, we haven't reached that yet. How old are you?"

"Twenty-six."

"Twenty-six? Not counting the nursing months, no doubt? You look much
older. It is not worth while to deceive me."

"I am not deceiving Madame. I assure Madame I am only twenty-six. If I
look older, it is because I have been sick a long time."

"Oh! you have been sick?" replied the _bourgeoise_, in a voice of
sneering severity. "Oh! you have been sick a long time? I warn you,
my girl, that the place, though not a very hard one, is of some
importance, and that I must have a woman of very good health."

Jeanne tried to repair her imprudent words. She declared:

"Oh! I am cured, quite cured."

"That is your affair. Moreover, we haven't reached that yet. You are
married or single, which? What are you?"

"I am a widow, Madame."

"Ah! You have no child, I suppose?"

And, as Jeanne did not answer directly, the lady insisted, more sharply:

"Say, have you children, yes or no?"

"I have a little girl," she confessed, timidly.

Then, making grimaces and gestures as if she were scattering a lot of
flies, she cried:

"Oh! no child in the house; no child in the house; not under any
consideration. Where is your little girl?"

"She is with my husband's aunt."

"And what is this aunt?"

"She keeps a wine-shop in Rouen."

"A deplorable calling. Drunkenness and debauchery,--that is a pretty
example for a little girl! However, that concerns you, that is your
affair. How old is your little girl?"

"Eighteen months, Madame."

Madame gave a start, and turned violently in her arm-chair. This was
too much for her; she was scandalized. A sort of growl escaped from her
lips.

"Children! Think of it! Children, when one cannot bring them up, or
have them at home! These people are incorrigible; the devil is in their
bodies!"

Becoming more and more aggressive, and even ferocious, she addressed
herself to Jeanne again, who stood trembling before her gaze.

"I warn you," said she, enunciating each word separately, "I warn you
that, if you enter my service, I will not allow you to bring your
little girl to my house. No goings and comings in the house; I want no
goings and comings in the house. No, no. No strangers, no vagabonds, no
unknown people. One is exposed quite enough with the ordinary run of
callers. Oh! no, thank you!"

In spite of this declaration, which was not very prepossessing, the
little servant dared to ask, nevertheless:

"In that case, Madame surely will permit me to go and see my little
girl, once a year,--just once a year!"

"No."

Such was the reply of the implacable _bourgeoise_. And she added:

"My servants never go out. It is the principle of the house,--a
principle on which I am not willing to compromise. I do not pay
domestics that they may make the round of doubtful resorts, under
pretence of going to see their daughters. That would be really too
convenient. No, no. You have recommendations?"

"Yes, Madame."

She drew from her pocket a paper in which were wrapped some
recommendations, yellow, crumpled, and soiled; and she silently handed
them to Madame, with a trembling hand. Madame, with the tips of her
fingers, as if to avoid soiling them, and with grimaces of disgust,
unfolded one, which she began to read aloud:

"'I certify that the girl J'...."

Suddenly interrupting herself, she cast an atrocious look at Jeanne,
who was growing more anxious and troubled.

"'The girl'? It plainly says 'girl.' Then you are not married? You have
a child, and you are not married? What does that mean?"

The servant explained.

"I ask Madame's pardon. I have been married for three years, and this
recommendation was written six years ago. Madame can see the date for
herself."

"Well, that is your affair."

And she resumed her reading of the recommendation.

"... 'that the girl Jeanne Le Godec has been in my service for thirteen
months, and that I have no cause of complaint against her, on the score
of work, behavior, and honesty.' Yes, it is always the same thing.
Recommendations that say nothing, that prove nothing. They give one no
information. Where can one write to this lady?"

"She is dead."

"She is dead. To be sure, evidently she is dead. So you have a
recommendation, and the very person who gave it to you is dead. You
will confess that has a somewhat doubtful look."

All this was said with a very humiliating expression of suspicion, and
in a tone of gross irony. She took another recommendation.

"And this person? She is dead, too, no doubt?"

"No, Madame. Mme. Robert is in Algeria with her husband, who is a
colonel."

"In Algeria!" exclaimed the lady. "Naturally. How do you expect anybody
to write to Algeria? Some are dead, others are in Algeria. The idea of
seeking information in Algeria! This is all very extraordinary."

"But I have others, Madame," implored the unfortunate Jeanne Le Godec.
"Madame can see for herself. Madame can inform herself."

"Yes, yes! I see you have many others. I see that you have been in
many places,--much too many places. At your age, that is not very
prepossessing! Well, leave me your recommendations, and I will see. Now
something else. What can you do?"

"I can do housework, sew, wait on table."

"Are you good at mending?"

"Yes, Madame."

"Do you know how to fatten poultry?"

"No, Madame. That is not my business."

"Your business, my girl," declared the lady, severely, "is to do what
your masters tell you to do. You must have a detestable character."

"Why, no, Madame. I am not at all inclined to talk back."

"Naturally. You say so; they all say so; and they are not to be touched
with a pair of tongs. Well, let me see, I believe I have already told
you that the place, while not particularly hard, is of some importance.
The servants rise at five o'clock."

"In winter too?"

"In winter too. Yes, certainly. And why do you say: 'In winter too'?
Is there less work to be done in winter? What a ridiculous question!,
The chambermaid does the stairs, the _salon_, Monsieur's study, the
chamber of course, and attends to all the fires. The cook does the
ante-chamber, the halls, and the dining-room. I am very particular on
the score of cleanliness. I cannot bear to see a speck of dust in the
house. The door-knobs must be well polished, the furniture must shine,
and the mirrors must be thoroughly cleaned. The chambermaid has charge
of the poultry-yard."

"But, Madame, I know nothing about poultry-yards."

"Well, you will learn. The chambermaid soaps, washes, and irons, except
Monsieur's shirts; she does the sewing,--I have no sewing done outside,
except the making of my costumes; she waits on table, helps the cook to
wipe the dishes, and does the polishing. There must be order, perfect
order. I am a stickler for order and cleanliness, and especially for
honesty. Moreover, everything is under lock and key. If anything is
wanted, I must be asked for it. I have a horror of waste. What are you
accustomed to take in the morning?"

"Coffee with milk, Madame."

"Coffee with milk? You do not stint yourself. Yes, in these days they
all take coffee with milk. Well, that is not the custom in my house.
You will take soup; it is better for the stomach. What did you say?"

Jeanne had said nothing. But it was evident she was making an effort to
say something. At last she made up her mind.

"I ask Madame's pardon, but what does Madame give us to drink?"

"Six quarts of cider a week."

"I cannot drink cider, Madame. The doctor has forbidden me to."

"Ah! the doctor has forbidden you to. Well, I will give you six quarts
of cider. If you want wine, you will buy it. That concerns you. What
pay do you expect?"

She hesitated, looked at the carpet, the clock, and the ceiling, rolled
her umbrella in her hands, and said, timidly:

"Forty francs."

"Forty francs!" exclaimed Madame. "Why don't you say ten thousand
francs, and done with it? You must be crazy. Forty francs! Why, it
is unheard of! We used to pay fifteen francs, and got much better
service. Forty francs! And you do not even know how to fatten poultry!
You do not know how to do anything! I pay thirty francs, and I think
that altogether too much. You have no expenses in my house. I am not
exacting as to what you wear. And you are washed and fed. God knows how
well you are fed! I give out the portions myself."

Jeanne insisted:

"I have had forty francs in all the places where I have worked."

But the lady had risen. And, in a dry and ugly voice, she exclaimed:

"Well, you had better go back to them. Forty francs! Such impudence!
Here are your recommendations--your recommendations from dead people.
Be off with you!"

Jeanne carefully wrapped up her recommendations, put them back into
the pocket of her dress, and then said, imploringly, in a timid and
sorrowful voice:

"If Madame will go as high as thirty-five francs, we could come to
terms."

"Not a sou. Be off with you! Go to Algeria to find again your Mme.
Robert. Go where you like. There is no lack of vagabonds like you;
there are heaps of them. Be off with you."

With sad face and slow step Jeanne left the bureau, after curtseying
twice. I saw from her eyes and lips that she was on the point of crying.

Left alone, the lady shouted furiously: "Ah! these domestics, what a
plague! It is impossible to be served these days."

To which Mme. Paulhat-Durand, who had finished sorting her cards,
answered, majestic, crushed, and severe:

"I had warned you, Madame; they are all like that. They are unwilling
to do anything, and expect to earn hundreds and thousands. I have
nothing else to-day. All the others are worse. To-morrow I will try to
find you something. Oh! it is very distressing, I assure you."

I got down from my post of observation the very moment that Jeanne Le
Godec was re-entering the ante-room, amid an uproar.

"Well?" they asked her.

She went and sat down on her bench at the rear of the room, and there,
with lowered head, folded arms, heavy heart, and empty stomach, she
remained in silence, her two little feet twitching nervously under her
gown.



But I saw things sadder still.

Among the girls who came daily to Mme. Paulhat-Durand's I had
noticed one especially, in the first place because she wore a
Breton cap, and then because the very sight of her filled me with
unconquerable melancholy. A peasant girl astray in Paris, in this
frightful, jostling, feverish Paris,--I know nothing more lamentable.
Involuntarily it invites me to a survey of my own past, and moves me
infinitely. Where is she going? Where does she come from? Why did she
leave her home? What madness, what tragedy, what tempest has pushed her
forth, and stranded her, a sorrowful waif, in this roaring human sea?
These questions I asked myself every day, as I examined this poor girl
sitting in her corner, so frightfully isolated.

She was ugly with that definitive ugliness which excludes all idea of
pity and makes people ferocious, because it is really an offence to
them. However disgraced she may be by nature, a woman rarely reaches
the point of total and absolute ugliness, utter degeneracy from the
human estate. Generally she has something, no matter what,--eyes, a
mouth, an undulation of the body, a bending of the hips, or less than
that, a movement of the arms, a coupling of the wrist, a freshness of
skin, upon which others may rest their eyes without being offended.
Even in the very old a certain grace almost always survives the
deformations of the body, the death of sex, and the seamy flesh betrays
some souvenir of what they formerly were. The Breton had nothing of
the kind, and she was very young. Little, long-waisted, angular, with
flat hips, and legs so short that it seemed as if she really called
to mind those barbarian virgins, those snub-nosed saints, shapeless
blocks of granite that have been leaning for centuries, in loneliness,
on the inclined arms of Armorican Calvaries. And her face? Ah! the
unfortunate! An overhanging brow; pupils so dim in outline that they
seemed to have been rubbed with a rag; a horrible nose, flat at the
start, gashed with a furrow down the middle, and suddenly turning up
at its tip, and opening into two black, round, deep, enormous holes,
fringed with stiff hair. And over all this a gray and scaly skin,--the
skin of a dead adder, a skin that, in the light, looked as if it had
been sprinkled with flour. Yet the unspeakable creature had one beauty
that many beautiful women would have envied,--her hair, magnificent,
heavy, thick hair, of a resplendent red reflecting gold and purple.
But, far from being a palliation of her ugliness, this hair only
aggravated it, making it more striking, fulgurating, irreparable.

This is not all. Every movement that she made was clumsy. She could
not take a step without running against something; everything she took
into her hands she was sure to let fall; her arms hit against the
furniture, and swept off everything that was lying on it. When walking,
she stepped on your toes and dug her elbows into your breast; then she
excused herself with a harsh and sullen voice, a voice that breathed
into your face a tainted, corpse-like odor. As soon as she entered the
ante-room there at once arose among us a sort of irritated complaint,
which quickly changed into insulting recriminations and ended in
growls. The wretched creature was hooted as she crossed the room,
rolling along on her short legs, passed on from one to another like a
ball, until she reached her bench at the end of the room. And every one
pretended to draw away from her, with significant gestures of disgust,
and grimaces that were accompanied with a lifting of handkerchiefs.
Then, in the empty space instantaneously formed behind the sanitary
cordon that isolated her from us, the dismal girl sat leaning against
the wall, silent and detested, without a complaint, without revolt,
without seeming to understand that all this contempt was meant for her.

Although, not to be unlike the others, I sometimes took part in
this cruel sport, I could not help feeling a sort of pity for the
little Breton. I understood that here was a being predestined to
misfortune,--one of those beings who, whatever they may do and
wherever they may go, will be eternally repulsed by men, and also by
beasts,--for there is a certain height of ugliness, a certain form of
infirmity, that the beasts themselves do not tolerate.

One day, overcoming my disgust, I approached her, and asked:

"What is your name?"

"Louise Randon."

"I am a Breton ... from Audierne. And you, too, are a Breton, are you
not?"

Astonished that anyone was willing to speak to her, and fearing some
insult or practical joke, she did not answer directly. She buried her
thumb in the deep caverns of her nose. I repeated my question.

"From what part of Brittany do you come?"

Then she looked at me, and, seeing undoubtedly that there was no
unkindness in my eyes, she decided to answer:

"I am from Saint-Michel-en-Grève, near Lannion."

I knew not what further to say to her. Her voice was repulsive to
me. It was not a voice; it was something hoarse and broken, like a
hiccup,--a sort of gurgle. This voice drove away my pity. However, I
went on.

"You have relatives living?"

"Yes; my father, my mother, two brothers, four sisters. I am the
oldest."

"And your father? What does he do?"

"He is a blacksmith."

"You are poor."

"My father has three fields, three houses, three threshing-machines...."

"Then he is rich?"

"Surely he is rich. He cultivates his fields and rents his houses, and
goes about the country with his threshing-machines and threshes the
peasants' wheat. And my brother shoes the horses."

"And your sisters?"

"They have beautiful lace caps and embroidered gowns."

"And you?"

"I have nothing."

I drew further away, that I might not get the mortal odor of this voice.

"Why are you a domestic?" I resumed.

"Because...."

"Why did you leave home?"

"Because...."

"You were not happy?"

She spoke very quickly, in a voice that rushed and rolled the words
out, like pebbles.

"My father whipped me; my mother whipped me; my sisters whipped me;
everybody whipped me; they made me do everything. I brought up my
sisters."

"Why did they whip you?"

"I do not know; just to whip me. In all families there is some one who
is whipped ... because ... well, one does not know."

My questions no longer annoyed her. She was gaining confidence.

"And you?" she said to me, "did not your parents whip you?"

"Oh! yes."

"Of course; that is how things are."

Louise was no longer exploring her nose; her two hands, with their
close-clipped nails, lay flat upon her thighs. Whispering was going on
around us. Laughs, quarrels, and lamentations prevented the others from
hearing our conversation.

"But how did you happen to come to Paris?" I asked, after a silence.

"Last year," answered Louise, "there was a lady from Paris at
Saint-Michel-en-Grève, who was taking the sea-baths with her children.
She had discharged her domestic for stealing, and I offered to go to
work for her. And so she took me with her to Paris, to take care of her
father, an old invalid whose legs were paralyzed."

"And you did not stay in your place? In Paris it is not the same thing."

"No," she exclaimed, energetically. "I could have remained; it was not
that. But I was not treated right."

Her dull eyes lighted up strangely. Something like a gleam of pride
passed over them. And her body straightened up, and became almost
transfigured.

"I was not treated right," she repeated. "The old man made advances to
me."

For a moment I was stunned by this revelation. Was it possible? Then a
desire, even that of a low and nasty old man, had been felt for this
bundle of shapeless flesh, this monstrous irony of nature? A kiss
had wished to place itself upon these decaying teeth and mingle with
this rotten breath? Ah! what filthy things men are! What a frightful
madness, then, is love! I looked at Louise. But the flame had gone out
of her eyes. Once more her pupils looked like dead gray spots.

"That was some time ago?" I asked.

"Three months."

"And since then you have found no place?"

"Nobody wants me. I do not know why. When I enter the bureau, all the
ladies cry out at the sight of me: 'No, no; I don't want _her_.' There
must surely be some spell over me. For, you know, I am not ugly; I am
very strong; I know my work; and my will is good. If I am too small,
it is not my fault. Surely, some one has thrown a spell over me."

"How do you live?"

"In a lodging-house. I do all the chambers, and I mend the linen. They
give me a mattress in the garret, and a meal in the morning."

There were some, then, that were more unfortunate than myself! This
egoistic thought brought back the pity that had vanished from my heart.

"Listen, my little Louise," I said, in a voice which I tried to make
as tender and convincing as possible. "Places in Paris are very hard.
One has to know many things, and the masters are more exacting than
elsewhere. I am much afraid for you. If I were you, I would go home
again."

But Louise became frightened.

"No, no," she exclaimed, "never! I do not want to go home. They would
say that I had not succeeded, that nobody wanted me; they would laugh
at me too much. No, no, it is impossible; I would rather die!"

Just then the door of the ante-room opened. The shrill voice of Mme.
Paulhat-Durand called:

"Mademoiselle Louise Randon!"

"Are they calling me?" asked Louise, frightened and trembling.

"Why, yes, it is you. Go quickly, and try to succeed this time."

She arose, gave me a dig in the ribs with her outstretched elbows,
stepped on my feet, ran against the table, and, rolling along on her
too short legs, disappeared, followed by hoots.

I mounted my stool, and pushed open the casement-window, to watch the
scene that was about to take place. Never did Mme. Paulhat-Durand's
_salon_ seem to me gloomier; yet God knows whether it had frozen my
soul, every time I had entered it. Oh! that furniture upholstered in
blue rep, turned yellow by wear; that huge book of record spread like
the split carcass of a beast, on the table, also covered with blue
rep spotted with ink. And that desk, where M. Louis's elbows had left
bright and shining spots on the dark wood. And the sideboard at the
rear, upon which stood foreign glassware, and table-ware handed down
from ancestors. And on the mantel, between two lamps which had lost
their bronze, between photographs that had lost their color, that
tiresome clock, whose enervating tic-tac made the hours longer. And
that dome-shaped cage in which two homesick canaries swelled their
damaged plumage. And that mahogany case of pigeon-holes, scratched
by greedy nails. But I had not taken my post of observation for the
purpose of taking an inventory of this room, which I knew, alas! too
well,--this lugubrious interior, so tragic, in spite of its _bourgeois_
obscurity, that many times my maddened imagination transformed it into
a gloomy butcher-shop for the sale of human meat. No; I wanted to see
Louise Randon, in the clutches of the slave-traders.

There she was, near the window, in a false light, standing motionless,
with hanging arms. A hard shadow, like a thick veil, added confusion to
the ugliness of her face, and made still more of a heap of the short
and massive deformity of her body. A hard light illuminated the lower
locks of her hair, enhanced the shapelessness of her arms and breast,
and lost itself in the dark folds of her deplorable skirt. An old lady
was examining her. She was sitting in a chair with her back toward
me,--a hostile back, a ferocious neck. Of this old lady I saw nothing
but her black cap, with its ridiculous plumes, her black cape, whose
lining turned up at the bottom in grey fur, and her black gown, which
made rings upon the carpet. I saw especially, lying upon one of her
knees, her hand gloved with black floss-silk, a knotty and gouty hand
that moved slowly about, the fingers stretching out and drawing back,
clutching the material of her dress, as talons fasten upon living prey.
Standing near the table, very erect and dignified, Mme. Paulhat-Durand
was waiting.

It seems a small matter, does it not? the meeting of these three
commonplace beings, in this commonplace setting. In this very ordinary
fact there was nothing to cause one to stop, nothing to move one.
Nevertheless it seemed to me an enormous drama, these three persons,
silently gazing at one another. I felt that I was witnessing a social
tragedy, terrible, agonizing, worse than a murder! My throat was dry.
My heart beat violently.

"I do not get a good view of you, my little one," said the old lady,
suddenly. "Do not stay there; I do not get a good view of you. Go to
the rear of the room, that I may see you better."

And she cried, in an astonished voice:

"My God! how little you are!"

In saying these words, she had moved her chair, and now I had a sight
of her profile. I expected to see a hooked nose, long teeth protruding
from the mouth, and the round and yellow eye of a hawk. Not at all;
her face was calm, rather amiable. In truth, there was no expression
at all in her eyes, either kind or unkind. She must have been an old
shop-keeper, retired from business. Merchants have this faculty of
acquiring a special physiognomy, revealing nothing of their inner
nature. In proportion as they grow hardened in their business, and
as the habit of unjust and rapid gains develops low instincts and
ferocious ambitions, the expression of their face softens, or, rather,
becomes neutralized. That in them which is bad, that which might
inspire distrust in their customers, hides itself in the privacies of
their being, or takes refuge on corporeal surfaces that are ordinarily
destitute of any expression whatever. In this old lady the hardness of
her soul, invisible in her eyes, in her mouth, in her forehead, in all
the relaxed muscles of her flabby face, was exhibited prominently in
her neck. Her neck was her real face, and this face was terrible.

Louise, obeying the old lady's command, had gone to the rear of the
room. The desire to please gave her a really monstrous look and a
discouraging attitude. Scarcely had she placed herself in the light,
when the lady cried:

"Oh! how ugly you are, my little one!"

And calling Mme. Paulhat-Durand to witness:

"Can there really be creatures on earth as ugly as this little one?"

Ever solemn and dignified, Mme. Paulhat-Durand answered:

"Undoubtedly she is not a beauty, but Mademoiselle is very honest."

"Possibly," replied the lady. "But she is too ugly. Such ugliness is in
the last degree disagreeable. What? What did you say?"

Louise had not uttered a word. She had simply blushed a little, and
lowered her head. Her dull eyes were surrounded with a red streak. I
thought she was going to cry.

"Well, let us look into this," resumed the lady, whose fingers at this
moment, furiously agitated, were tearing the material of her gown,
with the movements of a cruel beast.

She questioned Louise regarding her family, her previous places,
and her capacities for cooking, sewing, and doing housework. Louise
answered, "Yes, indeed," or "No, indeed," hoarsely and spasmodically.
The examination, fastidious, unkind, criminal, lasted twenty minutes.

"Well, my little one," concluded the old lady, "the clearest thing
about you is that you do not know how to do anything. I shall have to
teach you everything. For four or five months you will be of no use to
me. And besides, such ugliness is not prepossessing. That gash in your
nose? Have you received a blow?"

"No, Madame, it has always been there."

"Well, it is not very attractive. What pay do you expect?"

"Thirty francs, washing, and wine," declared Louise, resolutely.

The old woman started.

"Thirty francs! Have you never, then, looked at yourself? It is
senseless! What? Nobody wants you; nobody will ever want you. If I
take you, it is because I am kind, it is because I really pity you.
And you ask me thirty francs! Well, you have audacity, my little one.
Undoubtedly your comrades have been giving you bad advice. You do wrong
to listen to them."

"Surely," said Mme. Paulhat-Durand, approvingly. "When they get
together, they get very big ideas."

"Well," offered the old lady, in a tone of conciliation, "I will give
you fifteen francs. And you will pay for your wine. It is too much. But
I do not wish to take advantage of your ugliness and distress."

She softened. Her voice became almost caressing.

"You see, my little one, this is a unique opportunity, such as you
will not find again. I am not like the others; I am alone, I have no
family, I have no one. My servant is my family. And what do I ask of
my servant? To love me a little, that is all. My servant lives with
me, eats with me ... apart from the wine. Oh! I am indulgent to her.
And then, when I die,--for I am very old and often sick,--when I die,
surely I shall not forget the girl who has been devoted to me, served
me well, and taken care of me. You are ugly, very ugly, too ugly. Well,
I shall get used to your ugliness, to your face. There are some pretty
women who are very ill-disposed, and who rob you beyond question.
Ugliness is sometimes a guarantee of morality in the house. Of course,
you will bring no men to my house? You see, I know how to do you
justice. Under these conditions, and as kind as I am, what I offer you,
my little one,--why, it is a fortune; better than a fortune, it is a
family!"

Louise was shaken. Certainly, the old lady's words caused unknown hopes
to sing in her head. With her peasant's rapacity, she had visions of
strong-boxes filled with gold, and fabulous wills. And life in common,
with this good mistress, the table shared, frequent trips to the
squares and the suburban woods,--these things seemed marvelous to her.
And they frightened her also, for doubts, an unconquerable and native
mistrust, dimmed the brilliancy of these promises. She knew not what
to say or do; she knew not what course to take. I felt a desire to cry
out to her: "Do not accept." For I could see this hermit-like life, the
exhausting tasks, the bitter reproaches, the disputed food, and the
stripped bones and spoiled meat thrown to her hunger, and the eternal,
patient, torturing exploitation of a poor, defenceless being. "No, do
not listen to her; go away!" But I repressed this cry, which was on my
lips.

"Come a little nearer, my little one," ordered the old lady. "One would
think that you were afraid of me. Come, do not be afraid of me; come
nearer. How curious it is! Already you seem less ugly. Already I am
getting used to your face."

Louise approached slowly, with stiffened members, trying hard not
to run against the chairs and furniture, endeavoring to walk with
elegance, the poor creature! But she had scarcely placed herself beside
the old lady, when the latter repulsed her with a grimace.

"My God!" she cried, "what is the matter with you? Why do you smell so
bad? Is your body rotten? It is frightful! It is incredible! Never did
any one smell as you smell. Have you, then, a cancer in your nose, or
perhaps in your stomach?"

Mme. Paulhat-Durand made a noble gesture.

"I had warned you, Madame," she said. "That is her great fault. It is
that which keeps her from finding a place."

The old lady continued to groan.

"My God! My God! is it possible? Why, you will taint the whole house;
you cannot stay near me. This changes the case entirely. And when I
was beginning to feel sympathy for you! No, no; in spite of all my
kindness, it is not possible, it is no longer possible!"

She had pulled out her handkerchief, and was trying to dissipate the
putrid air, as she repeated:

"No, really, it is no longer possible!"

"Come, Madame," intervened Mme. Paulhat-Durand, "make an effort. I am
sure that this unhappy girl will always be grateful to you."

"Grateful? That is all well enough. But gratitude will not cure her of
this frightful infirmity. Well, so be it! But I can give her only ten
francs. Ten francs, no more! She can take it or leave it."

Louise, who had so far kept back her tears, was choking.

"No ... I will not ... I will not ... I will not."

"Listen, Mademoiselle," said Mme. Paulhat-Durand, dryly. "You will
accept this place. If you don't, I will not undertake to get another
for you. You can go and ask for places at the other bureaus. I have had
enough. And you are doing injury to my house."

"It is evident," insisted the old lady. "And you ought to thank me for
these ten francs. It is out of pity, out of charity, that I offer them
to you. How is it that you do not see that I am doing a good work, of
which no doubt I shall repent, as I have repented of others?"

Then, addressing Mme. Paulhat-Durand, she added:

"What do you expect? I am so constituted. I cannot bear to see people
suffer. In the presence of misfortune I become utterly stupid. And at
my age one does not change, you know. Come, my little one, I take you
with me."

Just then a sudden cramp forced me to descend from my post of
observation. I never saw Louise again.



The next day but one Mme. Paulhat-Durand had me ceremoniously
ushered into the bureau, and, after having examined me in rather an
embarrassing fashion, she said to me:

"Mademoiselle Célestine, I have a good place for you, a very good
place. Only you have to go into the country,--oh! not very far."

"Into the country? I do not go there, you know."

She insisted.

"You do not know the country. There are excellent places in the
country."

"Oh! excellent places! What a humbug!" I said. "In the first place,
there are no good places anywhere."

Mme. Paulhat-Durand smiled amiably and affectedly. Never had I seen
such a smile on her face.

"I beg your pardon, Mademoiselle Célestine, there are no bad places."

"Indeed, I know it well. There are only bad masters."

"No, only bad servants. See, I offer you all the best houses; it is not
my fault, if you do not stay in them."

She looked at me in a way that was almost friendly.

"Especially as you are very intelligent. You have a pretty face, a
pretty figure, charming hands not at all ruined by work, and eyes that
are not in your pockets. Good fortune might easily come to you. One
does not know what good fortune could come to you ... with conduct."

"With misconduct, you mean."

"That depends on how you look at it. For my part, I call it conduct."

She was melting. Little by little, her mask of dignity fell. I
was now confronted simply with the former chambermaid, expert at
all rascalities. Now she had the piggish eye, the fat and flabby
movements, the sort of ritual lapping of the mouth characteristic of
the procuress, and which I had observed on the lips of "Madame Rebecca
Ranvet, Millinery." She repeated:

"For my part, I call it conduct."

"It! What?" I exclaimed.

"Come, Mademoiselle, you are not a beginner, and you are acquainted
with life. One can talk with you. It is a question of a single
gentleman, already old, not extremely far from Paris, and very
rich,--yes, in fact, rich enough. You will keep his house,--something
like a governess, do you understand? Such places are very delicate,
much in demand, and highly profitable. This one offers a certain future
for a woman like you, as intelligent as you are, as pretty as you
are,--especially, I repeat, with conduct."

This was my ambition. Many times I had built marvelous futures on
an old man's fancy, and now this paradise that I had dreamed of was
before me, smiling, calling me. By an inexplicable irony of life, by
an imbecile contradiction, the cause of which I cannot understand,
I squarely refused this good fortune which I had wished for so many
times, and which at last presented itself.

"An old rake! Oh! no! Besides, men are too disgusting to me,--the old,
the young, all of them."

For a few seconds Mme. Paulhat-Durand stood in amazement. She had not
expected this sally. Resuming her severe and dignified air, which
placed so great a distance between the correct _bourgeoise_ that she
wished to be and the bohemian girl that I am, she said:

"Ah! Mademoiselle, what do you think, then? What do you take me for?
What are you imagining?"

"I imagine nothing. Only I repeat that I have had enough of men."

"Do you really know of whom you are speaking? This gentleman,
Mademoiselle, is a very respectable man. He is a member of the Society
of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. He has been a royalist deputy."

I burst out laughing.

"Yes, yes, of course. I know your Saint-Vincent-de-Pauls, and all the
devil's saints, and all the deputies. No, thank you!"

Then, suddenly, without transition, I asked:

"Just what is your old man? To be sure, one more or less will make no
difference. It is not a matter of great consequence, after all."

But Mme. Paulhat-Durand did not unbend. She declared, in a firm voice:

"It is useless, Mademoiselle. You are not the serious woman, the trusty
person, that this gentleman needs. I thought you were more suitable.
With you, one cannot be sure of anything."

I insisted a long time, but she was inflexible. And I went back to the
ante-room in a very uncertain state of mind. Oh! that ante-room, so sad
and dark, always the same! These girls sprawling and crushed upon the
benches, this market for human meat to tempt _bourgeois_ voracity, this
flux of filth and this reflux of poverty that bring you back there,
mournful waifs, wreckage from the sea, eternally tossed hither and
thither.

"What a queer type I am!" thought I. "I desire things ... things ...
things ... when I think them unrealizable, and, so soon as they promise
realization, so soon as they present themselves to me in clearer
outline, I no longer want them."

There was something of this, certainly, in my refusal; but there was
also a childish desire to humiliate Mme. Paulhat-Durand a little, and
to take a sort of vengeance upon her by catching the contemptuous and
haughty creature in the very act of catering to lust.

I regretted this old man, who now exercised over me all the seductions
of the unknown, all the charms of an inaccessible ideal. And I found
pleasure in picturing him to my fancy,--a spruce old man, with soft
hands, a pretty smile, a pink and shaven face, and gay, and generous,
and good-natured, not so much a maniac as M. Rabour, allowing himself
to be led by me, like a little dog.

"Come here. Come, come here."

And he came, caressing, frisking about, with a kind and submissive look.

"Now sit up."

And he sat up, in such a funny way, with his forepaws beating the air.

"Oh! the good bow-wow!"

I gave him sugar; I stroked his silky skin. He no longer disgusted me.
And again I reflected:

"How stupid I am, all the same! A good doggy, a fine garden, a fine
house, money, tranquillity, an assured future,--to think that I have
refused all these, and without knowing why. And never to know what
I want, and never to will what I desire! At bottom I am afraid of
man,--worse than that, I have a disgust for man,--when he is far away.
When he is near me, I am capable of anything. I have no power of
resistance save against things that are not to happen and men whom I
shall never know. I really believe that I shall never be happy."

The ante-room was oppressive to me. This obscurity, this dim light,
these sprawling creatures, made my ideas more and more lugubrious.
Something heavy and irremediable hovered over me. Without waiting
for the bureau to close, I went away, with heavy heart and choking
throat. On the stairs I met M. Louis. Clinging to the banister, he was
ascending the steps, slowly and painfully. We looked at each other for
a second. He did not say anything, and I too found no word; but our
looks said all. Ah! he, as well as I, was not happy. I listened to him
a moment, as he went up the steps; then I plunged down the stairway.
Poor little wretch!



In the street I stood for a moment as if stunned. I looked about for
love's recruiting-agents, for the round back and black costume of "Mme.
Rebecca Ranvet, Millinery." Ah! if I had seen her, I would have gone
to her, I would have delivered myself to her. But there was no such
person there. The people passing were busy and indifferent, and paid no
attention to my distress. Then I stopped at a wine-shop, where I bought
a bottle of brandy, and, after strolling about for a while, still
stupid and with heavy head, I went back to my hotel.

Toward evening, late, I heard a knock at my door. I lay stretched upon
my bed, half naked, stupefied by drink.

"Who is there?" I cried.

"It is I."

"Who are you?"

"The waiter."

I rose, with my loosened hair falling from my shoulders, and opened the
door.

"What do you want?"

The waiter smiled. He was a tall fellow with red hair, whom I had met
several times on the stairs, and who always looked at me strangely.

"What do you want?" I repeated.

The waiter smiled again, apparently embarrassed, and, rolling in his
fat fingers the bottom of his blue apron, covered with grease spots, he
stammered:

"Mam'zelle ... I...."

He surveyed my person with a sort of dismal desire.

"Well, come in, you brute," I cried, suddenly.

And pushing him into my room, I closed the door again, violently.

Oh! misery me!

The waiter was discharged. I never knew his name!



I should not like to leave the subject of Mme. Paulhat-Durand's
employment-bureau, without giving my recollection of a poor devil
whom I met there. He was a gardener, who had been a widower for four
months, and who was looking for a place. Among the many lamentable
faces that passed through the bureau I saw none as sad as his, none
that seemed to me more overwhelmed by life. His wife had died of a
miscarriage ... of a miscarriage?... the night before the day when,
after two months of poverty, they were at last to take positions on an
estate,--he in charge of the garden, she in charge of the barn-yard.
Whether from ill-luck, or from weariness and from disgust of life, he
had found nothing since this great misfortune; he had not even looked
for anything. And during this period of idleness his little savings
had quickly melted away. Although he was very suspicious, I succeeded
in taming him a little. I put into the form of an impersonal narrative
the simple and poignant tragedy that he related to me one day when I,
greatly moved by his misfortune, had shown more interest and pity than
usual. Here it is.



When they had examined the gardens, the terraces, the conservatories,
and the gardener's house at the park entrance, sumptuously clothed with
ivies, climbing plants, and wild vines, they came back slowly, without
speaking to each other, their souls in anguish and suspense, toward the
lawn where the countess was following with a loving gaze her three
children, who, with their light hair, their bright trinkets, and their
pink and prosperous flesh, were playing in the grass, under the care of
the governess. At a distance of twenty steps they halted respectfully,
the man with uncovered head and holding his cap in his hand, the woman,
timid under her black straw hat, embarrassed in her dark woollen
sack, and twisting the chain of a little leather bag, to give herself
confidence. The undulating greensward of the park rolled away in the
distance, between thick clusters of trees.

"Come nearer," said the countess, in a voice of kind encouragement.

The man had a brown face, skin tanned by the sun, large knotty hands
of the color of earth, the tips of the fingers deformed and polished
by the continual handling of tools. The woman was a little pale, with
a gray pallor underlying the freckles that besprinkled her face,--a
little awkward, too, and very clean. She did not dare to lift her
eyes to this fine lady, who was about to examine her inconsiderately,
overwhelm her with torturing questions, and turn her inside out,
body and soul, as others had done before. And she looked intently at
the pretty picture of the three babies playing in the grass, already
showing manners well under control and studied graces.

They advanced a few steps, slowly, and both of them, with a mechanical
and simultaneous movement, folded their hands over their stomachs.

"Well," asked the countess, "you have seen everything?"

"Madame the Countess is very good," answered the man. "It is very grand
and very beautiful. Oh! it is a superb estate. There must be plenty of
work, indeed!"

"And I am very exacting, I warn you,--very just, but very exacting. I
love to have everything perfectly kept. And flowers, flowers, flowers,
always and everywhere. However, you have two assistants in summer, and
one in winter. That is sufficient."

"Oh!" replied the man, "the work does not worry me; the more
there is, the better I like it. I love my calling, and I know it
thoroughly,--trees, early vegetables, mosaics, and everything. As
for flowers, with good arms, taste, water, good straw coverings,
and--saving your presence, Madame the Countess--an abundance of manure,
one can have as many as one wants."

After a pause, he continued:

"My wife, too, is very active, very skilful, and a good manager. She
does not look strong, but she is courageous, and never sick, and nobody
understands animals as she does. In the place where we last worked
there were three cows and two hundred hens."

The countess nodded approvingly.

"How do you like your lodge?"

"The lodge, too, is very fine. It is almost too grand for little people
like us, and we have not enough furniture for it. But one need not
occupy the whole of it. And besides, it is far from the château, and it
ought to be. Masters do not like to have the gardeners too near them.
And we, on the other hand, are afraid of being embarrassed. Here each
is by himself. That is better for all. Only...."

The man hesitated, seized with a sudden timidity, in view of what he
had to say.

"Only what?" asked the countess, after a silence that increased the
man's embarrassment.

The latter gripped his cap more tightly, turned it in his fat fingers,
rested more heavily on the ground, and, making a bold plunge, exclaimed:

"Well, it is this. I wanted to say to Madame the Countess that the
wages do not correspond with the place. They are too low. With the best
will in the world it would be impossible to make ends meet. Madame the
Countess ought to give a little more."

"You forget, my friend, that you are lodged, heated, lighted; that you
have vegetables and fruits; that I give a dozen eggs a week and a quart
of milk a day. It is enormous."

"Ah, Madame the Countess gives milk and eggs? And she furnishes light?"

And he looked at his wife as if to ask her advice, at the same time
murmuring:

"Indeed, that is something! One cannot deny it. That is not bad."

The woman stammered:

"Surely that helps out a little."

Then, trembling and embarrassed:

"Madame the Countess no doubt gives presents also in the month of
January and on Saint Fiacre's day?"

"No, nothing."

"It is the custom, however."

"It is not mine."

In his turn the man asked:

"And for the weasels and pole-cats?"

"No, nothing for those either; you can have the skins."

This was said in a dry, decisive tone, that forbade further discussion.
And suddenly:

"Ah! I warn you, once for all, that I forbid the gardener to sell
or give vegetables to any one whomsoever. I know very well that it
is necessary to raise too many in order to have enough, and that
three-fourths of them are wasted. So much the worse! I intend to allow
them to be wasted."

"Of course, the same as everywhere else!"

"So it is agreed? How long have you been married?"

"Six years," answered the woman.

"You have no children?"

"We had a little girl. She is dead."

"Ah! that is well; that is very well," approved the countess, in an
indifferent tone. "But you are both young; you may have others yet."

"They are hardly to be desired, Madame the Countess, but they are more
easily obtained than an income of three hundred francs."

The countess's eyes took on a severe expression.

"I must further warn you that I will have no children on the premises,
absolutely none. If you were to have another child, I should be
obliged to discharge you at once. Oh! no children! They cry, they are
in the way, they ruin everything, they frighten the horses and spread
diseases. No, no, not for anything in the world would I tolerate a
child on my premises. So you are warned. Govern yourselves accordingly;
take your precautions."

Just then one of the children, who had fallen, came, crying, to take
refuge in his mother's gown. She took him in her arms, lulled him with
soothing words, caressed him, kissed him tenderly, and sent him back
to rejoin the two others, pacified and smiling. The woman suddenly
felt her heart growing heavy. She thought that she would not be able
to keep back her tears. Joy, tenderness, love, motherhood, then, were
for the rich only? The children had begun to play again on the lawn.
She hated them with a savage hatred; she felt a desire to insult them,
to beat them, to kill them; to insult and kill also this insolent and
cruel woman, this egoistic mother, who had just uttered abominable
words, words that condemned not to be born the future humanity that lay
sleeping in her womb. But she restrained herself, and said simply, in
response to a new warning, more imperative than the other:

"We will be careful, Madame the Countess; we will try."

"That's right; for I cannot too often repeat it to you,--this is a
principle here, a principle upon which I cannot compromise."

And she added, with an inflection in her voice that was almost
caressing:

"Moreover, believe me, when one is not rich, it is better to have no
children."

The man, to please his future mistress, said, by way of conclusion:

"Surely, surely. Madame the Countess speaks truly."

But there was hatred within him. The sombre and fierce gleam that
passed over his eyes like a flash gave the lie to the forced servility
of these last words. The countess did not see this murderous gleam, for
she had fixed her eyes instinctively on the person of the woman whom
she had just condemned to sterility or infanticide.

The bargain was quickly concluded. She gave her orders, detailed
minutely the services that she expected of her new gardeners, and,
as she dismissed them with a haughty smile, she said, in a tone that
admitted of no reply:

"I think that you have religious sentiments, do you not? Here everybody
goes to mass on Sunday, and receives the sacrament at Easter. I insist
upon it absolutely."

They went away without speaking to each other, very serious, very
sober. The road was dusty and the heat oppressive, and the poor woman
walked painfully, dragging her legs after her. As she was stifling a
little, she stopped, placed her bag upon the ground, and unlaced her
corsets.

"Ouf!" she exclaimed, taking in deep breaths of air.

And her figure, which had been long compressed, now swelled out,
revealing the characteristic roundness, the stain of motherhood, the
crime. They continued on their way.

A few steps further on they entered an inn by the roadside, and ordered
a quart of wine.

"Why didn't you say I was pregnant?" asked the woman.

The man answered:

"What? That she might show us the door, as the three others have done?"

"To-day or to-morrow makes but little difference."

Then the man murmured between his teeth:

"If you were a woman,--well, you would go this very evening to Mother
Hurlot. She has herbs."

But the woman began to weep. And in her tears she groaned:

"Don't say that; don't say that! That brings bad luck."

The man pounded the table, and cried:

"Must we, then, die, my God!"

The bad luck came. Four days later the woman had a miscarriage ... a
miscarriage?... and died in the frightful pains of peritonitis.

And, when the man had finished his story, he said to me:

"So now here I am, all alone. No wife, no child, nothing. I really
thought of revenging myself; yes, for a long time I thought of killing
those three children that were playing on the lawn, although I am not
wicked, I assure you. But that woman's three children, I swear to you,
I could have strangled with joy, with real joy! Oh! yes. But then, I
did not dare. What do you expect? We are afraid; we are cowards; we
have courage only to suffer!"



XVI


_November 24._

No letter from Joseph. Knowing how prudent he is, I am not greatly
astonished at his silence, but it causes me a little suffering. To be
sure, Joseph is not unaware that the letters go through Madame's hands
before reaching ours, and doubtless he does not wish to expose himself
or me to the danger of their being read by her, or even have the fact
that he writes to me made a subject of Madame's malicious comments.
Yet, with his great mental resources, it seems to me that he could have
found a way of sending me news. He is to return to-morrow morning. Will
he return? I am not without anxiety, and cannot keep from thinking
about it. Why, too, was he unwilling to give me his Cherbourg address?
But I do not wish to think of all these things, that split my head and
put me into a fever.

Here everything goes on in the same way, except that there are fewer
events and still greater silence. Joseph's work is done by the
sacristan, out of friendship. He comes every day, punctually, to groom
the horses and to tend to the garden-frames. Impossible to get a single
word out of him. He is more silent and suspicious than Joseph, and his
manners are more doubtful. He is more ordinary, too, and lacks his
greatness and power. I see him only when I have an order to deliver to
him. He is a queer type, too. The grocer tells me that, when young,
he studied for the priesthood, and was expelled from the seminary on
account of his indelicacy and immorality. May it not have been he who
outraged the little Claire in the woods? Since then, he has tried his
hand at all trades. Now a pastry-cook, now a church-singer, now a
peddler, a notary's clerk, a domestic, the town drummer, an auctioneer,
and an employee in the sheriff's office, for the last four years he
has been sacristan. To be sacristan is to be also something of a
priest. Moreover, he has all the slimy and crawling manners of the
ecclesiastical bugs. Surely he would not recoil from the vilest tasks.
Joseph does wrong to make him his friend. But is he his friend? Is he
not, rather, his accomplice?

Madame has a sick headache. It seems she has one regularly every three
months. For two days she remains shut up in her room, with drawn
curtains and without light, only Marianne being allowed to enter. She
does not want me. Madame's sickness means a good time for Monsieur.
Monsieur makes the most of it. He does not leave the kitchen.

Captain Mauger, who does not speak to me any more, but casts furious
glances at me over the hedge, has become reconciled with his
family,--at least, with one of his nieces, who has come to live with
him. She is not bad-looking,--a tall blonde with a nose that is too
long, but with a fresh complexion and a good figure. People say she is
to keep the house, and take Rose's place.

As for Mme. Gouin, Rose's death must have been a blow to her Sunday
mornings. She saw at once that she could not get along without a
leading lady. Now, it is that pest of a haberdasher who leads off in
the gossip, and undertakes to maintain the admiration of the girls
of Mesnil-Roy for the clandestine talents of this infamous grocer.
Yesterday being Sunday, I went to the grocery-shop. It was a very
brilliant occasion; they were all there. There was very little said
about Rose, and, when I told the story of the wills, there was a
general shout of laughter. Ah! the captain was right when he said to
me: "Everything can be replaced." But the haberdasher has not Rose's
authority, for she is a woman concerning whom, from the point of view
of morals, there unhappily is nothing to be said.

In what a hurry I am to see Joseph! With what nervous impatience I
await the moment when I shall know what I must hope or fear from
destiny! I can no longer live as I am living now. Never have I been
so distressed by this mediocre life that I live, by these people whom
I serve, by all these dismal mountebanks around me, among whom I am
growing more stupid from day to day. If I were not sustained by the
strange feeling that gives a new and powerful interest to my present
life, I think it would not be long before I, too, should plunge into
the abyss of stupidity and vileness which I see continually widening
around me. Ah! whether Joseph succeeds or not, whether he changes his
mind about me or not, I have come to a final decision; I will no longer
stay here. A few hours more, another whole night of anxiety, and then I
shall be settled regarding my future.

I am going to spend this night in a further revival of old memories,
perhaps for the last time. It is the only way that I have of avoiding
the anxieties of the present and not splitting my head over the dreams
of to-morrow. In reality these recollections amuse me, and deepen my
contempt. What singular and monotonous faces, all the same, I have met
on my path of servitude! When I see them again, in my mind's eye, they
do not make on me the impression of really living beings. They live,
or at least give the illusion of life, only through their vices. Take
away the vices that sustain them as bandages sustain mummies, and they
are no longer even phantoms ... they are nothing but dust ... ashes ...
death.



Oh! that was a famous house, for instance, to which, a few days
after my refusal to go into the service of the old gentleman in the
country, I was sent, with all sorts of admirable references, by Mme.
Paulhat-Durand. My masters were a very young couple, without animals
or children, living in an ill-kept interior, though the furniture was
stylish and there was a heavy elegance about the decorations. Luxury
and great waste! A single glance as I entered showed me all; I saw
clearly with whom I had to deal. It was my dream! Now then, I was going
to forget all my miseries,--M. Xavier, and the good sisters of Neuilly,
and the killing sessions in the ante-room of the employment-bureau,
and the long days of anguish, and the long nights of solitude and
debauchery.

Now then, I was going to plan for myself an agreeable life, with easy
work and certain profits. Made happy by this prospect, I promised
myself that I would correct my caprices, repress the ardent impulses
of my frankness, in order to stay in this place a long, long time. In
a twinkling my gloomy ideas vanished; and my hatred of the _bourgeois_
flew away, as if by enchantment. I again became madly and hilariously
gay, and, seized anew with a violent love of life, I began to think
that the masters are sometimes good. The personnel was not numerous,
but it was select,--a cook, a _valet de chambre_, an old butler, and
myself. There was no coachman, the masters having abolished their
stable a short time before, preferring to hire their teams from a
livery-man. We became friends directly. That very evening they gave me
welcome by opening a bottle of champagne.

"My!" I exclaimed, clapping my hands; "they do things well here."

The _valet de chambre_ smiled, and shook a bunch of keys musically in
the air. He had the keys to the cellar; he had all the keys. He was the
trusted servant of the house.

"Say, will you lend them to me?" I asked, by way of a joke.

Giving me a tender look, he answered:

"Yes, if you are nice with Baby. You will have to be nice with Baby."

Oh! he was a _chic_ man, and he knew how to talk to women. He had an
English name,--William. What a pretty name!

During the meal, which lasted for some time, the old butler did not say
a word, but ate and drank a great deal. They paid no attention to him,
and he seemed a little dopy. As for William, he was charming, gallant,
and assiduous; he paid me delicate attentions under the table; and,
when we were drinking our coffee, he offered me Russian cigarettes, of
which his pockets were full. Then, drawing me to him,--the tobacco had
made me a little dizzy, and I was a little drunk too, and my hair was
disarranged,--he seated me upon his knees, and whispered audacious
things in my ear. Oh! but he was bold!

Eugénie, the cook, did not seem scandalized by these remarks and
these performances. Anxious and dreamy, she kept her neck continually
inclined toward the door, pricked up her ears at the slightest sound,
as if she were expecting some one, and, with a very uncertain eye,
kept on guzzling wine, glass after glass. She was a woman of about
forty-five, with a large bust, fleshy, sensual lips, languishing and
passionate eyes, and an air of great kindness mingled with melancholy.
At last there came a discreet knock at the door. Eugénie's face lighted
up; she rose with a bound, and went to open the door. Not being
familiar with the habits of this servants' hall, I wanted to assume a
more decorous attitude, but William held me more tightly than before,
pressing me close against him with a firm embrace.

"That's nothing," he remarked, quietly. "That is the little one."

Meantime a young man had entered, almost a child. Very slender, very
blonde, with a very white skin underlying the dark beginnings of a
beard, scarcely eighteen, he was as pretty as a love. He wore an
entirely new and elegant jacket, which set off his trim and slender
bust, and a pink cravat. He was the son of the janitor in the next
house. He came, it seems, every evening. Eugénie adored him, was mad
over him. Every day she put aside, in a big basket, tureens full of
_bouillon_, fine slices of meat, bottles of wine, cakes, and delicious
fruits, which the little one carried to his parents.

"Why are you so late to-night?" asked Eugénie.

The little one excused himself in a drawling voice.

"I had to look out for the lodge. Mamma had gone on an errand."

"Your mother, your mother ... are you telling me the truth, young
scamp?"

She sighed, and, with her eyes gazing into the child's eyes, and her
two hands resting on his shoulders, she continued, in a mournful tone:

"When you are late, I am always afraid something has happened. I do not
want you to be late, my darling. You will say to your mother that, if
that continues,--well, I will give you nothing more ... for her."

Then, with quivering nostrils and her whole body shaken by a thrill,
she said:

"How pretty you are, my love! Oh! your little phiz! your little phiz!
Why did you not wear your pretty yellow shoes? I want you to look your
best when you come to see me. And those eyes, those big eyes, you
little brigand! Ah! I'll bet they have been looking at another woman.
And your lips! your lips! What have those lips been doing?"

He smilingly reassured her, with a slightly swaying motion of his body:

"No, indeed, I assure you, Nini, that's straight. Mamma had gone on an
errand,--yes, truly."

Eugénie repeated several times:

"Oh! you scamp, you scamp, I do not want you to be looking at other
women. Your little phiz for me, your little mouth for me, your big eyes
for me! Say, do you really love me?"

"Oh, yes, surely."

"Say it again."

"Oh! surely."

She leaped upon his neck, and, panting, led him into the adjoining
room, stammering words of love.

William said to me:

"How she holds him! And what a pile this little chap costs her! Last
week she gave him a complete new outfit. You would not love me like
that."

This scene had stirred me deeply, and I promptly vowed a sister's
friendship for the poor Eugénie. This boy resembled M. Xavier. At least
there was a moral similarity between these two beings,--so pretty,
though so rotten. And this reminder made me sad,--oh! infinitely
sad! I saw myself again in M. Xavier's room, the night when I gave
him the ninety francs. Oh! your little phiz! your little mouth! your
big eyes! They were the same cold and cruel eyes, there was the same
undulation of the body, there was the same vice shining in the pupils
and imparting a sort of benumbing poison to the lips.

I released myself from William's arms, and, as I was arranging my
disordered hair, I remarked:

"Well, I must say, you don't lose any time."

Of course I did not want to change anything in the habits of the house,
or in the service. William did the housework, in a go-as-you-please
fashion. A stroke of the broom here, a stroke of the duster there,
and the thing was done. The rest of the time he babbled, ransacked
drawers and closets, and read the letters that were dragging about on
every hand and in every corner. I did as he did. I allowed the dust to
accumulate upon and under the furniture, and I took good care not to
disturb the disorder of the _salons_ and the chambers. If I had been in
the masters' place, I should have been ashamed to live in so untidy an
interior. But they did not know how to command, and, being timid and
fearing scenes, they never dared to say anything. If sometimes, after
an omission that was too patent or too embarrassing, they ventured to
stammer: "It seems to me that you have not done this or that," we had
only to answer, in a tone whose firmness did not exclude insolence: "I
really ask Madame's pardon; Madame is mistaken. And, if Madame is not
content...." Then they insisted no further, and that was the end of it.
Never in my life have I met masters having less authority over their
servants, or such ninnies! Really, one is not to be led by the nose as
they were.

It is necessary to do William this justice,--that he had known how to
put things on a good footing in the box. William had a passion that
is common among servants,--the passion for the races. He knew all the
jockeys, all the trainers, all the bookmakers, and also some very
sporty gentlemen, barons and viscounts, who showed a certain friendship
for him, knowing that he had astonishing tips from time to time. This
passion, whose maintenance and satisfaction require numerous suburban
excursions, does not harmonize with a restricted and sedentary calling,
like that of a _valet de chambre_. Now, William had regulated his life
in this way; after breakfast, he dressed and went out. How _chic_ he
was in his black and white check pantaloons, his highly-polished shoes,
his putty-colored overcoat, and his hats! Oh! William's hats, hats the
color of deep water, in which skies, trees, streets, rivers, crowds,
hippodromes, succeeded one another in prodigious reflections! He came
back just in time to dress his master, and often, in the evening,
after dinner, he went out again, saying that he had an important
rendezvous with the English. I did not see him again until very late
at night, when he always came home a little drunk, from having taken
too many cocktails. Every week he invited friends to dinner,--coachmen,
_valets de chambre_, race-track people,--these latter very comical
and weird with their twisted legs, their deformed knees, and their
appearance of crapulous cynicism and ambiguous sex. They talked horses,
turf, women, told all sorts of disagreeable stories about the morals
of their masters, and then, becoming excited by the fumes of the wine,
began on politics. William was a superbly uncompromising and terribly
violent reactionary.

"The man for me," he cried, "is Cassagnac. A rude lad, Cassagnac! They
are afraid of him. How he can write! What raps he gives! Yes, let the
dirty rascals tackle this strenuous chap if they dare!"

And suddenly, at the height of the noise, Eugénie rose, paler and with
shining eyes, and rushed for the door. The little one entered, his face
wearing an expression of astonishment at sight of these unusual people,
of these empty bottles, of this reckless pillage of the table. Eugénie
had saved a glass of champagne and a plate of goodies for him. Then
they both disappeared into the adjoining room.

"Oh! your little phiz, your little mouth, your big eyes!"

That night the parents' basket contained larger and better portions. Of
course these worthy people should profit by the feast.



William often spoke to me of Edgar, the celebrated stud-groom of the
baron de Borgsheim. He was proud to know him; he admired him almost as
much as he admired Cassagnac. Edgar and Cassagnac were the two great
enthusiasms of his life. I think it would have been dangerous to joke
him about them, or even to discuss them with him. When he came home
at night, late, William excused himself by saying to me, "I was with
Edgar." It seemed that to be with Edgar constituted not only an excuse,
but a glory.

"Why don't you bring your famous Edgar to dinner, that I may see him?"
I asked of him one day.

William was scandalized at this idea, and he declared, loftily: "What!
do you imagine that Edgar would dine with simple servants?"

It was from Edgar that William got his incomparable method of polishing
his hats. Once, at the Auteuil races, Edgar was approached by the young
marquis de Plérin.

"Say, my lad," begged the marquis, "how do you get your hats?"

"My hats, Monsieur the Marquis?" responded Edgar, highly flattered,
for the young Plérin, a robber at the races and a trickster at the
gaming-table, was then one of the most famous personalities of Parisian
society. "It is very simple; only it is like picking the winner,--you
must know how. Well, this is the trick. Every morning I make my _valet
de chambre_ run for a quarter of an hour. He sweats, of course. And the
sweat contains oil. Then, with a very fine silk handkerchief, he wipes
the sweat from his brow, and rubs my hats with it. A stroke or two
with the iron finishes the job. But it takes a clean and healthy man,
preferably a man with nut-brown complexion,--for some blondes smell
strong, and all sweats are not suitable. Last year I gave the receipt
to the prince of Wales."

And, as the young marquis de Plérin thanked Edgar and slyly shook his
hand, the latter added, confidently:

"Take Baladeur at seven to one. He is to be the winner, Monsieur the
Marquis."

It is really funny when I think of it, but I finally came to feel
flattered myself that William had such a relation. To me, too, Edgar
was something admirable and inaccessible, like the emperor of Germany,
Victor Hugo, or Paul Bourget. That is why I think it advisable to fix
in these pages, from all that William told me, the portrait of this
more than illustrious, this historic personage.



Edgar was born in London, in a frightful den, between two hiccups
of whiskey. As a boy he was a vagabond, a beggar, a thief, and a
jail-bird. Later, having the requisite physical deformities and the
most crapulous instincts, he was pitched on for a groom. From ante-room
to stable, rubbing against all the trickery, all the rapacity, all the
vice prevailing among the servants of a grand establishment, he became
a "lad" in the Eaton stud. And he strutted about in a Scotch cap, a
yellow and black striped waistcoat, and light pantaloons, loose at the
thighs, tight at the calves, and wrinkled at the knees in the form of
a screw. When scarcely an adult, he looked like a little old man, with
frail limbs and furrowed face, red at the cheek-bones, yellow at the
temples, with worn-out and grimacing mouth, with thin hair brushed over
his ears in the form of a greasy spiral. In a society which the odor of
horse-dung causes to swoon with delight Edgar was already a personage
less anonymous than a workingman or a peasant,--almost a gentleman.

At Eaton he learned his trade thoroughly. He knows how to groom a
stylish horse, how to take care of it when it is sick, and what
detailed and complicated toilets are most suitable to the color of
its coat. He knows the secret of the intimate washings, the refined
polishings, the expert pedicurings, and the ingenious processes of
make-up, by which the beasts of the race-track, like the beasts of
love, are set out and beautified. In the bar-rooms he knew important
jockeys, celebrated trainers, and the big-bellied baronets, and
blackleg dukes and bums, who are the _cream_ of this muck-heap and the
_flower_ of this horse-dung. Edgar would have liked to become a jockey,
for he soon saw all the tricks that could be played and the money that
could be made. But he had grown too large. Though his legs had remained
thin and bowed, he had acquired something of a corporation. He was too
heavy. So, being unable to don the jockey's coat, he decided to wear
the coachman's livery.

To-day Edgar is forty-three years old. He is one of the five or six
English, Italian, and French stud-grooms of whom they talk in elegant
society with wondering admiration. His name triumphs in the sporting
papers, and even in the paragraphs of the society and literary
journals. The baron de Borgsheim, his present master, is proud of
him,--more proud of him than he would be of a financial operation
that had ruined a hundred thousand janitors. Swelling up with an air
of definitive superiority, he says: "My stud-groom!" as a collector
of pictures would say: "My Rubens!" And, in fact, the lucky baron has
reason to be proud, for, since he came into possession of Edgar, he has
made great strides in fame and respectability. Edgar has gained for
him that admission to uncompromising _salons_ which he so long coveted.
Through Edgar he has at last overcome the resistance of society to his
race. At the club they talk of the famous "victory of the baron over
England." The English have taken Egypt from us, but the baron has taken
Edgar from the English, and that restores the equilibrium. If he had
conquered the Indies, he would not have been more loudly acclaimed.
This admiration is accompanied, however, by deep jealousy. They would
like to get Edgar away from him, and so there goes on around Edgar all
sorts of intrigues, and corrupting conspiracies, and flirtations, like
those that go on around a beautiful woman. As for the newspapers, they,
in their respectful enthusiasm, have reached a point where they are
no longer able to tell exactly which of the two, Edgar or the baron,
is the admirable stud-groom, and which the admirable financier. They
confound the two in the mutual glories of one and the same apotheosis.

Provided you have been curious enough to circulate among aristocratic
crowds, you certainly must have met Edgar, who is one of their most
precious ornaments and one who is most commonly displayed. He is a man
of average height, very ugly,--that comical English ugliness,--and
having an immoderately long nose, with doubly royal curves, which
oscillate between the Semitic curve and the Bourbon curve. His lips,
very short and turned-up, reveal black holes between decaying teeth.
His complexion is lightened in the scale of the yellows, relieved at
the cheek-bones with some hatchings in bright lake. Without being
obese, like the majestic coachman of the olden time, he is now endowed
with a comfortable and regular _embonpoint_ which covers with fat the
vulgar protuberances of his frame. And, slightly throwing out his
chest, he walks with an elastic step, his elbows bent at the regulation
angle. Scorning to follow the fashion, desirous rather of setting it,
he dresses richly and fantastically. He has blue frock-coats, with
watered-silk facings, excessively tight-fitting and too new; pantaloons
of English cut that are too light; cravats that are too white; jewels
that are too big; handkerchiefs that are too fragrant; shoes that are
too highly polished; hats that are too shining. How long the young
swells have envied Edgar the unusual and fulgurating brilliancy of his
headgear!

At eight o'clock in the morning, wearing a little round hat and a
putty-colored overcoat as short as a jacket, with an enormous yellow
rose in his button-hole, Edgar descends from his automobile, in front
of the baron's mansion. The grooming is just finished. After having
cast an ill-humored look around the yard, he enters the stables and
begins his inspection, followed by the anxious and respectful hostlers.
Nothing escapes his suspicious and sidewise glances,--a bucket not
in its place, a spot on the steel chains, a scratch on the silvers
and brasses. And he growls, flies into a passion, and threatens in a
phlegm-choked voice, his bronchial tubes being still obstructed by the
fermentation of the champagne drunk the night before. He enters each
box, and passes his white-gloved hand over the manes, necks, bellies,
and legs of the horses. If he finds the slightest trace of dirt on
his glove, he jaws the hostlers; there is a flood of filthy words and
insulting oaths, and a tempest of furious gestures. Then he examines
minutely the horses' hoofs, smells of the oats in the marble mangers,
feels of the litter, and long and carefully studies the form, color,
and density of the dung, which never suits him.

"What kind of dung do you call that, I should like to know? It is the
dung of a cab-horse. Be sure that I see nothing like it to-morrow, pack
of good-for-nothings that you are!"

Sometimes the baron puts in an appearance, glad of a chance to talk
with his stud-groom. Scarcely does he notice his master's presence. The
latter's timid questions he answers with curt and snarling words. Never
does he say "Monsieur the Baron." The baron, on the contrary, is almost
tempted to say: "Monsieur the coachman!" Afraid that he may irritate
Edgar, he does not stay long, and retires discreetly.

Having finished his review of the stables, the carriage-houses, and
the harness-rooms, and having given his orders in a tone of military
command, Edgar gets into his automobile again, and starts rapidly for
the Champs-Elysées, where at first he makes a short stop in a little
bar-room, among race-track people, skunk-faced tipsters, who drop
mysterious words into his ears, and show him confidential dispatches.
The rest of the morning is devoted to visits to sundry trades-people,
to give them new orders and receive commissions, and to horse-dealers,
with whom such conversations as the following take place:

"Well, Master Edgar?"

"Well, Master Poolny?"

"I have a buyer for the baron's bays."

"They are not for sale."

"Fifty pounds for you."

"No."

"A hundred pounds, Master Edgar."

"We will see, Master Poolny."

"That is not all, Master Edgar."

"What else, Master Poolny?"

"I have two magnificent sorrels for the baron."

"We do not need them."

"Fifty pounds for you."

"No."

"A hundred pounds, Master Edgar."

"We will see, Master Poolny."

A week later Edgar has spoiled the paces of the baron's bays in
just the right degree, not too much or too little, and then, having
demonstrated to the baron that it is high time to get rid of them, he
sells them to Poolny, who sells to Edgar the two magnificent sorrels.
Poolny restores the bays to good condition by sending them to pasture
for three months, and two years later perhaps sells them again to the
baron.

At noon Edgar's work is done. He returns for lunch to his apartments in
the Rue Euler, for he does not live in the baron's mansion, and never
drives the baron. His apartments consist of a ground-floor, heavily
upholstered in embroidered plush of the loudest shades, the walls
being covered with English lithographs of hunts, steeplechases, famous
cracks, and various portraits of the prince of Wales, one of which
was presented to Edgar by the prince himself, and bears a dedication
from him. Then there are canes, whips, stirrups, bits, and tally-ho
horns, arranged in a panoply, with an enormous bust of Queen Victoria,
made of polychromatic and loyalist terra cotta, in the centre, between
two gilded pediments. Then, free from care, strangling in his blue
frock-coats, his head covered with his radiant beacon, Edgar devotes
the rest of his day to his own affairs and to his own pleasures. His
affairs are numerous, for he is in partnership with a club cashier,
a bookmaker, and a horse photographer, and he has three horses in
training near Chantilly. Nor are his pleasures lacking; the most famous
little women know the way to the Rue Euler, where, on days when they
happen to be short, they are sure to find a cup of tea and five louis.

In the evening, after having shown himself at the Ambassadeurs, at the
Cirque, and at the Olympia, very correct in his silk-faced dress-coat,
Edgar repairs to the _Ancien_, and there spends a long time in getting
drunk, in the company of coachmen who assume the airs of gentlemen, and
of gentlemen who assume the airs of coachmen.

And every time that William told me one of these stories he concluded,
with a voice of admiring wonder:

"Oh! this Edgar! there is a man for you, indeed!"



My masters belonged to what it is agreed to call the high society of
Paris; that is to say, Monsieur was a penniless nobleman, and nobody
knew exactly where Madame came from. Many stories were afloat regarding
her origin, each more disagreeable than the others. William, very
familiar with the scandals of high society, pretended that the madame
was the daughter of an old coachman and an old chambermaid, who,
by pinching and general misbehavior, got together a small capital,
established themselves as usurers in a disreputable quarter of
Paris, and rapidly made a large fortune by lending money, mainly to
prostitutes and house-servants. They struck it rich, indeed!

It was certainly true that Madame, in spite of her apparent elegance
and her very pretty face, had queer manners and vulgar habits that were
very disagreeable. The dirty creature was fond of boiled beef, and
bacon and cabbage; and, like the cabmen, it was her delight to pour red
wine into her soup. I was ashamed of her. Often, in her quarrels with
Monsieur, her anger stirred the mud that still remained in the depths
of her being, not yet thoroughly cleaned by her suddenly-acquired
luxury, and brought up to her lips a filthy foam of words,--ah! words
that I, who am not a lady, often regret having uttered. But there
you are! One does not imagine how many women there are, with angels'
mouths, and starry eyes, and three-thousand-franc dresses, who, in
their own houses, use coarse language, make filthy gestures, and are
disgusting by their vulgarity,--in fact, strumpets of the lowest type.

"Great ladies," said William, "are like the best sauces,--it is better
not to know how they are made."

William was given to these disenchanting aphorisms. And, being all the
same a very gallant man, he added, as he took me about the waist:

"A little girl like you is less flattering to a lover's vanity. But she
is more serious, all the same."

I must say that Madame spent all her wrath and showered all her coarse
words upon Monsieur; with us, I repeat, she was rather timid.

Moreover, amid the disorder of her house, amid all the reckless waste
she tolerated, Madame showed queer streaks of avarice that were quite
unexpected. She higgled with the cook over two sous spent for salad,
economized in the matter of the servants' washing, raised objections
to a bill of three francs, and did not rest until, after endless
complaints and correspondence, and interminable negotiations, she had
secured a refunding of fifteen centimes unwarrantably collected by an
expressman for the transportation of a package. Every time she took a
cab, there was a quarrel with the coachman, to whom she gave no tip,
and whom she even found a way of cheating. And yet she left her money
about everywhere, with her jewels and her keys, on the mantels and
on the furniture. She recklessly ruined her richest costumes and her
finest linen, she suffered herself to be impudently robbed by dealers
in articles of luxury, and accepted with without a frown the books
of the old butler, as Monsieur, for that matter, accepted those of
William. And yet God knows what frauds they contained! Sometimes I
said to William:

"Really, you pinch too much; some day you will get into trouble."

To which William replied, very calmly:

"Oh! let me alone; I know what I am about, and how far I can go. When
one has masters as stupid as these are, it would be a crime not to take
advantage of them."

But the poor fellow scarcely profited by these continual larcenies,
which, in spite of the astonishing tips he had, continually went to
fill the pockets of the bookmakers.



Monsieur and Madame had been married for five years. At first they
went into society a great deal, and gave dinners. Then gradually they
restricted their goings-out and their receptions, and lived almost
alone, saying that they were jealous of each other. Madame reproached
Monsieur with flirting with the women; Monsieur accused Madame of
looking too much at the men. They loved each other much,--that is to
say, they quarreled all day long, like a little _bourgeois_ household.
The truth is that Madame had not succeeded in society, and that her
manners had cost her not a few insults. She was angry with Monsieur for
not having been able to impose her upon society, and Monsieur was angry
with Madame for having made him ridiculous in the eyes of his friends.
They did not confess to each other the bitterness of their feelings,
finding it simpler to charge their dissensions to the score of love.

Every year, in the middle of June, they started for the country, Madame
having, it seems, a magnificent château in Touraine. The personnel was
re-enforced with a coachman, two gardeners, a second chambermaid, and
some barnyard-scullions. There were cows, peacocks, hens, and rabbits.
How delightful! William told me the details of their country life with
a bitter and grumbling ill-humor. He did not like the country; the
fields, the trees, and the flowers made him tired. Nature was endurable
to him only with bar-rooms, race-tracks, bookmakers, and jockeys. He
was exclusively Parisian.

"Do you know anything more stupid than a chestnut tree?" he often said
to me. "Take Edgar, for instance; he is a _chic_ man, a superior man;
does he like the country?"

I became enthusiastic:

"Oh! but the flowers in the broad lawns! And the little birds!"

William sneered:

"The flowers? They are pretty only on hats and in the millinery shops.
And the little birds? Oh, don't talk about them! They prevent you from
sleeping in the morning. They sound like bawling children. Oh! no. Oh!
no. I have enough of the country. The country is fit only for peasants."

And, straightening up, with a noble gesture, he concluded, in a proud
voice:

"I must have sport. I am not a peasant; I am a sportsman."

Nevertheless I was happy, and I awaited the month of June with
impatience. Oh! the marguerites in the meadows; the little paths
under the trembling leaves; the nests hidden in the ivies against
the old walls; and the nightingales on moonlight nights; and the
sweet conversations, hand in hand, on the brinks of wells, lined with
honeysuckles and carpeted with maiden's-hair and moss; and the bowls
of foaming milk; and the broad-brimmed straw hats; and the little
chickens; and the masses heard in the village churches, with their
towering steeples; and everything that moves and charms you, and makes
an impression on your heart, like one of those pretty ballads they sing
in the music-halls!

Although I am fond of fun, I have a poetical nature. The old shepherds,
the outspread hay, the birds that pursue one another from branch
to branch, and the brooks that run singing over light pebbles, and
the handsome lads, with complexions made purple by the sun, like
grapes on very old vines,--the handsome lads with robust limbs and
powerful chests,--all these things make me dream pleasant dreams. In
thinking of these things, I become almost a little girl again, my soul
inundated and my heart refreshed by innocence and candor, as a little
rain refreshes the little flower too much burned by the sun, too much
dried by the wind. And at night, while waiting for William, becoming
enthusiastic over the prospects of this future of pure joys, I made
verses:

  Petite fleur,
  O toi, ma soeur,
  Dont la senteur
  Fait mon bonheur ...

  Et toi, ruisseau,
  Lointain coteau,
  Frêle arbrisseau,
  Au bord de l'eau,

  Que puis-je dire,
  Dans mon délire?
  Je vous admire ...
  Et je soupire ...

  Amour, amour,
  Amour d'un jour,
  Et de toujours!...
  Amour, amour!...

As soon as William returned, all poesy flew away. He brought me the
heavy odor of the bar-room, and his kisses, which smelt of gin, quickly
broke the wings of my dream. I never wanted to show him my verses. What
was the use? He would have laughed at me, and at the sentiment that
inspired them. And undoubtedly he would have said to me:

"Take Edgar, now! He is an astonishing man. Does he make verses?"

My poetical nature was not the only cause of my impatience to start for
the country. My stomach was out of order, in consequence of the long
period of poverty through which I had just passed, and perhaps also
in consequence of the too abundant and exciting food that I was now
enjoying, and the champagne and the Spanish wines that William forced
me to drink. I was really suffering. Often, in the morning, on getting
out of bed, I was seized with vertigo. During the day my legs bent
under me, and I felt pains in my head, like the blows of a hammer. I
really needed a quieter life, to restore me a little.

Alas! it was written that all this dream of happiness and health was
also to be dashed.

"Oh! hell!" as Madame would say.



The scenes between Monsieur and Madame always began in Madame's
dressing-room, and always grew out of trifling pretexts, out of
nothing. The more trifling the pretext, the more violent was the scene.
After which, having vomited all that their hearts contained of long
pent-up bitterness and wrath, they sulked for entire weeks. Monsieur
retired into his room, where he played solitaire and rearranged
his collection of pipes in new harmonies. Madame remained all the
time in her room, where, stretched upon a long chair, she read love
stories, interrupting her reading only to rearrange her closets and
her wardrobe, with rage and frenzy,--such a pillage! They met only
at meals. At first, not being familiar with their manias, I thought
they were going to throw plates, knives, and bottles at each other's
heads. Nothing of the kind, alas! It was at these times that they were
the best behaved, and that Madame contrived to appear like a woman
of society. They talked about their little affairs as if nothing had
happened,--a little more ceremoniously than usual, with a little more
cold and stilted politeness,--that was all. One would have said they
were dining in town. Then, the meal finished, with serious air, sad
eyes, and very dignified, they retired to their respective rooms.
Madame began again on her novels and drawers, Monsieur on his solitaire
and his pipes. Sometimes Monsieur went to pass an hour or two at
his club, but rarely. And they exchanged a furious correspondence,
hen-shaped or heart-shaped love-letters, with the transmission of which
I was entrusted. All day long I played the letter-carrier, bearing
terrible ultimatums, threats, supplications, pardons, and tears, from
the room of Madame to that of Monsieur. It was enough to make one die
of laughter.

After a few days, they became reconciled, just as they had fallen out,
without any apparent reason. And there were sobs, and "Oh, you naughty
boy!" "Oh! you naughty girl!" and "It is over, do I not tell you it is
over?" And they went away to have a little fête at the restaurant, and
the next day arose very late, much fatigued.

I at once understood the farce that the two poor actors were playing
for themselves. And, when they threatened to leave each other, I
knew very well that they were not sincere. They were riveted to each
other,--he by his interest, she by her vanity. Monsieur clung to
Madame's money, Madame held fast to Monsieur's name and title. But, as
in reality they detested each other, precisely because of this dupe's
bargain that bound them, they felt the need of saying so to each other
from time to time, and of giving to their disappointment, their spite,
and their contempt an expression as base as their souls.

"What are such lives good for?" said I to William.

"For Baby!" answered William, who, under all circumstances, found the
accurate and final word.

For immediate and material proof he drew from his pocket a magnificent
cigar, pinched that very morning, carefully cut off the tip, and then,
lighting it with satisfaction and tranquillity, declared, between two
fragrant whiffs:

"One should never complain of the stupidity of his masters, my little
Célestine. It is the only guarantee of happiness that we servants have.
The more stupid the masters, the more fortunate the servants. Go and
get me the fine champagne."

Half stretched out in a rocking-chair, with legs cocked up and crossed,
with the cigar in his mouth, and a bottle of old Martell within reach
of his hand, he slowly and methodically unfolded the "Autorité," and
said, with admirable good nature:

"You see, my little Célestine, one must be stronger than the people
whom one serves. That is the whole secret. God knows whether Cassagnac
is a terrible man. God knows whether his ideas suit me to a T, and
whether I admire this tall devil. Well, do you know? I would not like
to be his servant,--not for anything in the world. And what I say of
Cassagnac I say also of Edgar. Remember this, and try to profit by it.
To serve in the houses of intelligent people who are 'on to us' is to
be duped, my little pet."

And, enjoying his cigar, he added, after a silence:

"When I think that there are servants who pass their lives in running
down their masters, in annoying them and threatening them! What brutes!
When I think that there are some who would like to kill them! Kill
them! And what then? Do we kill the cow that gives us milk, and the
sheep that gives us wool? No, we milk the cow, and shear the sheep ...
skilfully ... gently."

And he silently plunged into the mysteries of conservative politics.

Meanwhile Eugénie was prowling around the kitchen, amorous and flabby.
She did her work mechanically, like a somnambulist, far from the people
up-stairs, far from us, far from herself, with no eye for their follies
or ours, and with silent words of sorrowful admiration always on her
lips.

"Your little mouth, your little hands, your big eyes!"

All this often saddened me,--I don't know why,--saddened me to the
point of tears. Yes, this strange house, in which all the beings in it,
the silent old butler, William, and myself, seemed to me disquieting,
empty, and dismal, like phantoms, sometimes filled me with unspeakable
and oppressive melancholy.

The last scene that I witnessed was particularly droll.

One morning Monsieur entered the dressing-room at the moment when
Madame was trying on a new corset in my presence, a frightful mauve
satin corset with yellow flowerets and yellow silk lacings. Madame's
taste will never choke her.

"What?" said Madame, in a tone of gay reproach. "Is that the way one
enters women's rooms, without knocking?"

"Oh! women?" chirped Monsieur. "In the first place, you are not women."

"I am not women? What am I, then?"

Monsieur rounded his lips,--My! what a stupid air he had!--and very
tenderly, or pretending tenderness, he buzzed:

"Why! you are my wife, my little wife, my pretty little wife. There is
no harm in entering the room of one's little wife, I suppose."

When Monsieur played the imbecile lover, it was because he wanted to
get some money out of Madame. She, still suspicious, replied:

"Yes, there is harm."

And she minced:

"Your little wife? Your little wife? It is not so sure that I am your
little wife."

"What! It is not so sure?"

"Indeed, one never knows. Men are so queer."

"I tell you, you are my little wife,--my dear, my only little wife ...
ah!"

"And you ... my baby ... my big baby ... his little wife's only big
baby ... na!"

I was lacing Madame, who, with bare arms raised, was looking into the
mirror. And I had a great desire to laugh. How they tired me with their
"little wife" and their "big baby"! What a stupid air they both had!

After picking up skirts, stockings, and towels, and disturbing brushes,
jars, and bottles, Monsieur took a fashion journal which was lying on
the dressing-table, and sat down on a sort of plush-covered stool. He
asked:

"Is there a rebus in this number?"

"Yes, I think there is a rebus."

"Have you guessed it?"

"No, I have not guessed it."

"Ah! ah! let's have a look at it."

While Monsieur, with wrinkled brow, was absorbed in the study of the
rebus, Madame said, a little dryly:

"Robert?"

"My darling."

"Then you notice nothing?"

"No. What? In this rebus?"

She shrugged her shoulders, and pursed up her lips.

"It is not a question of the rebus. Then you notice nothing? Well, you
never notice anything."

Monsieur surveyed the room from carpet to ceiling, from dressing-table
to door, with an annoyed and a very round look, which was excessively
comical.

"No, indeed! What is it? Is there anything new here, then, that I have
not noticed? I see nothing, upon my word."

Madame became very sad, and she groaned:

"Robert, you no longer love me."

"What! I no longer love you! Indeed, that is putting it a little too
strong!"

He rose, brandishing the fashion journal.

"What! I no longer love you!" he repeated. "Well, that's an idea! Why
do you say that?"

"No, you no longer love me ... because, if you still loved me, you
would have noticed something."

"But what thing?"

"Well, you would have noticed my corset."

"What corset? Oh! yes, this corset. 'Tis true, I had not noticed it.
How stupid I am! Why, yes, it is very pretty, you know,... ravishing."

"Yes, you say that now, and you don't mean it. I am too stupid, myself.
I tire myself out in trying to make myself beautiful,--in trying to
find things to please you. And you care nothing about it. Besides, what
am I to you? Nothing; less than nothing! You come in here, and what do
you see? That dirty newspaper. In what are you interested? In a rebus!
Ah, a pretty life you give me here! We do not see anybody; we do not go
anywhere; we live like wolves, like poor people."

"Oh! come, come, I beg of you. Don't get angry. Come! As poor people,
indeed!"

He tried to approach Madame, to take her about the waist, to kiss her,
but she repulsed him severely.

"No, let me alone. You provoke me."

"Oh! come, my darling, my little wife."

"You provoke me, do you hear? Let me alone. Do not approach me. You are
a gross egoist, a clumsy puppy; you don't know how to do anything for
me; you are a dirty type, there!"

"Why do you say that? It is madness. Come, don't fly into a passion
like that. Well, yes, I was wrong. I ought to have seen this corset
right away,--this very pretty corset. Why did I not see it right away?
I do not understand it. Look at me; smile at me. My! how pretty it is!
And how it becomes you!"

Monsieur dwelt too persistently upon the subject. He irritated me,
although I had no interest in the quarrel. Madame stamped on the
carpet, and, becoming more and more nervous, with pale lips and
clenched hands, she rattled on:

"You provoke me, you provoke me! Do you understand? Clear out!"

Monsieur continued to stammer, beginning now to show signs of
exasperation.

"My darling! It is not reasonable. Just for a corset! It is out of all
proportion. Come, my darling, look at me, smile at me. It is stupid to
make such a fuss over a corset."

"Ah! _Tu m'emmerdes!_" vomited Madame, in the voice of a washerwoman.
"_Tu m'emmerdes!_ Clear out!"

I had finished lacing my mistress. I arose at this word, delighted at
having surprised their two beautiful souls in all their nakedness, and
at the thought of the humiliation that they would feel in my presence
afterward. They seemed to have forgotten that I was there. Desiring to
see how the scene would end, I kept perfectly still, and made myself as
small as possible.

Monsieur, who had been holding in for a long time, now got angry in his
turn. He made the fashion journal into a big ball, and flung it with
all his might against the dressing-table; and he cried:

"_Zut! Flûte!_ This is really getting too tiresome! It is always the
same thing. One cannot say anything or do anything without being
received like a dog. And always brutalities and coarse language. I have
enough of this life; I have had enough of these fishwife's manners. And
shall I tell you the truth? Your corset,--well, your corset is vile. It
is a prostitute's corset."

"Wretch!"

With bloodshot eye, foaming mouth, and clenched and threatening fist,
she advanced toward Monsieur. And such was her rage that the words came
from her mouth in a sort of hoarse belching.

"Wretch!" she roared again. "And it is you who dare to speak to me in
this way,--you? Oh! but it is unheard of. When I picked him up in the
mud, this poverty-stricken fine gentleman, covered with dirty debts,
posted at his club,--when I saved him from the mire, he was not so
proud! Your name, I suppose? Your title? Oh! clean they were, indeed,
this name and title, on which the usurers were unwilling to advance
you another hundred sous. You can take them back, and welcome. And he
talks of his nobility, of his ancestors, this Monsieur whom I have
bought and whom I support! Well, the nobility will have nothing more
from me,--not that! And, as for your ancestors, you scoundrel, you can
try to hang them up. You will see whether you can borrow even ten sous
on their ugly mugs,--mugs of veterans and valets. Nothing more, do you
hear? Never, never! Back to your gaming-tables, trickster! Back to your
prostitutes, pimp!"

She was frightful. Monsieur, timid, trembling, with cowardly back and
humiliated eye, retired before this flood of filth. He reached the
door, noticed me, and fled, and Madame again cried after him, in the
passage-way, in a voice which had become more hoarse and horrible:

"Pimp! Dirty pimp!"

And she sank upon her long chair, overcome by a terrible nervous
attack, which I finally quieted by making her inhale an entire flask of
ether.

Then Madame began again the reading of her love stories and the
rearrangement of her drawers. Monsieur was more absorbed than ever in
the complexities of solitaire and in the revision of his collection of
pipes. And the correspondence began again. Timid and widely-spaced at
first, it was soon going on fast and furiously. I became utterly tired
out with running from the room of one to the room of the other, bearing
heart-shaped or hen-shaped threats. But oh! what fun I had!

Three days after this scene, while reading a missive from Monsieur,
on pink paper and bearing his coat of arms, Madame turned pale, and
suddenly asked me, in a gasping voice:

"Célestine, do you really think that Monsieur wants to kill himself?
Have you seen him with weapons in his hands? My God! If he were to kill
himself?"

I burst out laughing in Madame's face. And this laugh, which had
escaped me in spite of myself, increased, let itself loose, poured
itself out. I thought I should die, choked by this laugh, strangled by
this cursed laugh that rose, like a tempest, in my breast, and filled
my throat with irrepressible hiccups.

For a moment Madame sat aghast.

"What is it? What is the matter with you? Why do you laugh like that?
Be still, then. Will you be still, nasty creature?"

But the laugh held me fast; it would not let go. At last, between two
gasps, I cried:

"Oh! no, your goings on are too funny, too stupid! Oh! la la! Oh! la
la! How stupid it is!"

Of course I quit the house that night, and found myself once more on
the street pavement.

What a dog of a trade! What a dog of a life!



The blow was a hard one, and I said to myself, but too late, that never
should I find another place like that. There I had everything,--good
wages, profits of all sorts, easy work, liberty, pleasures. I had
only to let myself live. Another, less crazy than I, would have been
able to put much money aside, and gradually accumulate a complete and
beautiful wardrobe. Five or six years only, and who knows? One could
marry, buy a little business, have a home of one's own, secure against
want and ill-luck,--almost a lady. But now the series of miseries must
begin over again, and I submit anew to the offences of chance. I was
much put out by this accident, and furious; furious against myself,
against William, against Eugénie, against Madame, against everybody.
Curious and inexplicable thing,--instead of clinging and holding fast
to my place, which would have been easy with a type like Madame, I had
buried myself deeper in my stupidity, and, cheeking it through, I had
rendered irreparable that which could have been repaired. What strange
things take place in one at certain moments! It passes understanding.
It is like a fit of madness which falls upon you, you know not whence,
you know not why,--which seizes you, shakes you, excites you, and
forces you to cry out and shower insults. Under the influence of this
fit of madness, I had heaped outrages upon Madame. I had reproached
her with her father, with her mother, and with the imbecile falsehood
of her life; I had treated her as one does not treat a prostitute; I
had spat upon her husband. And this frightens me, when I think of it.
I feel ashamed of these sudden descents into baseness, of these filthy
intoxications, in which my reason so often staggers, and which impel me
to violence and murder. Why did I not kill her that day? Why did I not
strangle her? I do not know. God knows, however, that I am not wicked.
To-day I see again this poor woman, in my mind's eye; I see again her
sad and disorderly life, with her coward, her dismal coward, of a
husband. And I feel an immense pity for her; and I would like her to
have strength enough to leave him and be happy.

After the terrible scene I hurried down to the servants' hall. William
was mildly polishing the silverware, and smoking a Russian cigarette.

"What is the matter with you?" asked he, in the most tranquil fashion
in the world.

"I must go away; I must quit the box to-night," I gasped.

I could scarcely speak.

"What! you are going?" exclaimed William, without the least emotion.
"And why?"

In short and hissing phrases, and mimicking their manners, I related
the entire scene between Madame and Monsieur. William, very calm and
indifferent, shrugged his shoulders.

"It is too stupid, indeed!" said he. "One should not be as stupid as
that!"

"And that is all you find to say to me?"

"What else do you expect me to say to you? I say that it is stupid.
There is nothing else to say."

"And you? What are you going to do?"

He looked at me obliquely. There was a sneer on his lips. Ah! how ugly
was his look, in that moment of distress; how ugly and hideous was his
mouth!

"I?" said he, pretending not to understand that, in this question,
there were prayers for him.

"Yes, you. I asked you what you were going to do."

"Nothing. I have nothing to do. I am going to continue. Why, you are
crazy, my girl. You do not expect...."

I burst out:

"You are going to have the courage to remain in a house from which I am
driven out?"

He rose, relighted his cigarette, and said, icily:

"Oh! no scene, you know. I am not your husband. You have seen fit to
commit a stupidity. I am not responsible for it. What do you expect?
You must take the consequences. Life is life."

I became indignant.

"Then you are going to drop me? You are a wretch, a scoundrel, like the
others, do you know it?"

William smiled. He was really a superior man.

"Oh! don't say useless things. I have made you no promises. Nor have
you made me any. People meet; that is well. They part; that is well,
too. Life is life."

And he added, sententiously:

"You see, Célestine, in life there must be conduct; there must be what
I call administration. You have no conduct; you have no administration.
You allow yourself to be carried away by your nerves. In our business
nerves are a very bad thing. Remember this well: life is life."

I think I should have thrown myself upon him and torn his face,
his emotionless and cowardly face of a flunky, with furious digs
of my nails, if tears had not suddenly come to soften and relax my
overstrained nerves. My wrath fell, and I begged:

"Oh! William! William! my little William! my dear little William! how
unhappy I am!"

William tried to revive my drooping spirits a little. I must say that
he made use of all his powers of persuasion and all his philosophy.
During the day he generously overwhelmed me with lofty thoughts, with
grave and consoling aphorisms, in which these words, provoking and
soothing at the same time, continually recurred:

"Life is life."

I must do him justice. This last day he was charming, though a little
too solemn, and he did things very well. In the evening, after dinner,
he put my trunks on a cab, and escorted me to a lodging-house where he
was known, paying a week's rent in advance out of his own pocket, and
recommending the proprietor to take good care of me. But he could not
stay himself, for he had an appointment with Edgar!

"You understand, of course, that I cannot disappoint Edgar. And
perhaps, too, he might know of a place for you. A place gotten through
Edgar,--ah! that would be astonishing."

On leaving me, he said:

"I will come to see you to-morrow. Be wise; no more stupidities.
They do you no good. And get this truth well into your head,
Célestine,--that life is life!"

The next day I waited for him in vain. He did not come.

"It is life," I said to myself.

But the following day, being impatient to see him, I went to the
house. I found in the kitchen only a tall blonde girl, bold and
pretty,--prettier than I.

"Eugénie is not here?" I asked.

"No, she is not here," answered the tall girl, dryly.

"And William?"

"Nor William either."

"Where is he?"

"How do I know?"

"I want to see him. Go tell him I want to see him."

The tall girl looked at me scornfully.

"Say, am I your servant?"

I understood it all. And, being tired of struggling, I went away.

"It is life."

This phrase pursued me, obsessed me, like a music-hall refrain.

And, as I went away, I could not help thinking, not without a feeling
of sorrowful melancholy, of the joy with which I had been welcomed in
that house. The same scene must have taken place. They had opened the
usual bottle of champagne. William had taken the blonde girl on his
knees, and had whispered in her ear:

"You will have to be nice with Baby."

The same words, the same movements, the same caresses, while Eugénie,
devouring the janitor's son with her eyes, led him into the adjoining
room.

"Your little phiz, your little hands, your big eyes!"

I walked on, utterly irresolute and stupefied, repeating to myself with
stupid obstinacy:

"Yes, indeed, it is life; it is life."

For more than an hour, in front of the door, I paced up and down the
sidewalk, hoping that William might come in or go out. I saw the grocer
enter, a little milliner with two big band-boxes, and the delivery-man
from the Louvre; I saw the plumbers come out, and I know not who or
what else,--shades, shades, shades. I did not dare to go into the
janitor's lodge in the next house. The janitress undoubtedly would not
have received me well. And what would she have said to me? Then I went
away for good, still pursued by the irritating refrain:

"It is life."

The streets seemed to me intolerably sad. The passers-by made upon me
the impression of spectres. When I saw in the distance a hat shining
on a gentleman's head, like a light-house in the night, like a gilded
cupola in the sunshine, my heart leaped. But it was never William. In
the lowering, pewter-colored sky, no hope was shining.

I returned to my room, disgusted with everything.

Ah! yes, the men! Be they coachmen, _valets_, dudes, priests, or poets,
they are all the same. Low-lived wretches!



I think that these are the last recollections that I shall call up. I
have others, however,--many others. But they all resemble each other,
and it tires me to continually write the same stories, and to unroll,
in a continuous and monotonous panorama, the same faces, the same
souls, the same phantoms. And then I feel that I have no mind left
for it, for I am becoming more and more distracted from the ashes of
this past by the new preoccupations of my future. I could have told
also of my stay in the Countess Fardin's mansion. But what is the
use? I am too weary, and also too distressed. There, amid the same
social phenomena, there was one vanity that disgusts me more than any
other,--literary vanity; one species of stupidity that is lower than
any other,--political stupidity.

There I knew M. Paul Bourget in all his glory; it is needless to say
more. Ah! there you have the philosopher, the poet, the moralist,
befitting the pretentious nullity, the intellectual hollowness,
the falsehood, of that sphere of society in which everything is
artificial,--elegance, love, cooking, religious feeling, patriotism,
art, charity, and vice itself, which, making a pretext of politeness
and literature, wraps itself in mystical tinsel and covers itself with
sacred masks; that sphere of society in which there is to be found
but one sincere desire,--the fierce desire for money, which gives to
these ridiculous mountebanks something even more odious and grim than
their ridiculousness. That is the only thing that makes of these poor
phantoms living human creatures.

There I knew Monsieur Jean, he too a psychologist and a moralist,
a moralist of the servants' hall, a psychologist of the ante-room,
scarcely more of a _parvenu_ in his way, or more of a ninny, than he
who reigned in the _salon_. Monsieur Jean emptied chamber-vessels; M.
Paul Bourget emptied souls. Between the servants' hall and the _salon_
there is not such a distance of servitude as we think. But, since I
have put Monsieur Jean's photograph in the bottom of my trunk, let his
memory remain, similarly buried, in the bottom of my heart, under a
thick layer of oblivion.



It is two o'clock in the morning. My fire is going out, my lamp is
smoking, and I have no more wood or oil. I am going to bed. But there
is too much fever in my brain; I shall not sleep. I shall dream of him
who is on the way to me. I shall dream of what is to happen to-morrow.
Outside, the night is calm and silent. A sharp, cold air is hardening
the ground, beneath a sky sparkling with stars. And somewhere in this
night Joseph is on his way. Through space I see him,--yes, really, I
see him, serious, dreaming, enormous, in his compartment in a railway
carriage. He is smiling at me; he is drawing nearer to me; he is coming
toward me. He is bringing me, at last, peace, liberty, happiness.
Happiness?

I shall see him to-morrow.



XVII


It is eight months since I have written a single line in this diary,--I
have had something else to do and to think of,--and it is exactly three
months since Joseph and I left the Priory, and established ourselves in
the little café at Cherbourg, near the harbor. We are married; business
is good; I like the trade; I am happy. Born by the sea, I have come
back to the sea. I did not miss it, but it gives me pleasure, all the
same, to find it again. Here one does not see the desolate landscapes
of Audierne, the infinite sadness of its coasts, the magnificent horror
of its beaches that howl so mournfully. Here nothing is sad; on the
contrary, everything contributes to gaiety. There is the joyous sound
of a military city, the picturesque movement and varied activity of
a military harbor. Crowds in a hurry to enjoy between two periods
of far-off exile; spectacles incessantly changing and diverting, in
which I inhale that natal odor of coal tar and sea-weed which I love,
although I never found it agreeable in my childhood. I have seen again
the lads of my native province, now serving on State men-of-war. We
have scarcely talked together, and I have not dreamed of asking them
for news of my brother. It is so long ago! To me it is as if he were
dead. Good day!... good evening!... be good. When they are not drunk,
they are too stupid. When they are not stupid, they are too drunk. And
they have heads like those of old fishes. Between them and me there has
been no other emotion, no other effusion. Besides, Joseph does not like
me to be familiar with simple seamen, dirty Bretons who haven't a sou,
and who get drunk on a glass of kill-me-quick.

But I must relate briefly the events that preceded our departure from
the Priory.



It will be remembered that, at the Priory, Joseph slept in the
out-buildings, over the harness-room. Every day, summer and winter, he
rose at five o'clock. Now, on the morning of December 24, just a month
after his return from Cherbourg, he noticed that the kitchen-door was
wide open.

"What!" said he to himself. "Can they have risen already?"

He noticed at the same time that a square of glass had been cut out
of the glass door, with a diamond, near the lock, in such a way as to
admit the introduction of an arm. The lock had been forced by expert
hands. Bits of wood, glass, and twisted iron were strewn along the
stone flagging. Within, all the doors, so carefully bolted at night
under Madame's eyes, were open also. One felt that something frightful
had happened. Greatly impressed,--I tell the story of his discovery
as he told it himself before the magistrates,--Joseph passed through
the kitchen, and then through the passage-way into which opened, at
the right, the fruit-room, the bath-room, and the ante-room; at the
left, the servants' hall, the dining-room, and the little _salon_; and,
at the end, the grand _salon_. The dining-room presented a spectacle
of frightful disorder, of real pillage. The furniture was upset; the
sideboard had been ransacked from top to bottom; its drawers, as well
as those of the two side-tables, were turned upside down on the carpet;
and on the table, among empty boxes and a confused heap of valueless
articles, a candle was burning itself out in a brass candlestick. But
it was in the servants' hall that the spectacle became really imposing.
In the servants' hall--I believe I have already noted the fact--there
was a very deep closet, protected by a very complicated system of
locks, the secret of which was known only to Madame. There slept the
famous and venerable silver service, in three heavy boxes, with steel
corners and cross-pieces. The boxes were screwed to the floor, and held
fast against the wall by solid iron clamps. But now the three boxes,
torn from their mysterious and inviolable tabernacle, lay yawning and
empty, in the middle of the room. At sight of these, Joseph gave the
alarm. With all the strength of his lungs, he shouted up the stairs:

"Madame! Monsieur! Come down right away. We are robbed! we are robbed!"

There was a sudden avalanche, a frightful plunge down the stairs.
Madame, in her chemise, with her shoulders scarcely covered by a light
neckkerchief. Monsieur, in his drawers and shirt. And both of them,
dishevelled, pale, and grimacing, as if they had been awakened in the
middle of a nightmare, shouted:

"What is the matter? What is the matter?"

"We are robbed! we are robbed!"

"We are robbed, what? We are robbed, what?"

In the dining-room, Madame groaned:

"My God! My God!"

While, with distorted mouth, Monsieur continued to scream:

"We are robbed, what? what?"

Guided by Joseph into the servants' hall, Madame, at sight of the three
boxes unsealed, made a great gesture, uttered a great cry:

"My silver service! My God! Is it possible? My silver service!"

And, lifting the empty compartments, and turning the empty cases upside
down, she sank, frightened and horrified, upon the floor. Scarcely had
she strength enough to stammer, in the voice of a child:

"They have taken everything! They have taken everything ... everything
... everything ... everything! Even the Louis XVI cruet."

While Madame was looking at the boxes as if she were looking at a dead
child, Monsieur, scratching his neck, and rolling haggard eyes, moaned
persistently in the far-away voice of a demented person:

"Name of a dog! Ah! name of a dog! Name of a dog of name of a dog!"

And Joseph, too, with atrocious grimaces, was exclaiming:

"The cruet of Louis XVI! The cruet of Louis XVI! Oh! the bandits!"

Then there was a minute of tragic silence, a long minute of
prostration,--that silence of death, that prostration of beings and
things, which follows the fracas of a terrible downfall, the thunder of
a great cataclysm. And the lantern, swinging in Joseph's hands, cast
a red, trembling, sinister gleam over the whole scene, over the dead
faces and the empty boxes.

I had come down, in response to Joseph's call, at the same time as the
masters. In presence of this disaster, and in spite of the prodigious
comicality of these faces, my first feeling was one of compassion. It
seemed to me that this misfortune fell upon me too, and that I was one
of the family, sharing its trials and sorrows. I should have liked to
speak consoling words to Madame, whose dejected attitude it gave me
pain to see. But this impression of solidarity or of servitude quickly
vanished.



In crime there is something violent, solemn, justiciary, religious,
which frightens me, to be sure, but which also leaves in me--how shall
I express it?--a feeling of admiration. No, not of admiration, since
admiration is a moral feeling, a spiritual excitement, whereas that
which I feel influences and excites only my flesh. It is like a brutal
shock throughout my physical being, at once painful and delicious,--a
sorrowful and swooning rape of my sex. It is curious, doubtless it is
peculiar, perhaps it is horrible,--and I cannot explain the real cause
of these strange and powerful sensations,--but in me every crime,
especially murder, has secret relationships with love. Yes, indeed! A
fine crime takes hold of me just as a fine man does.



I must say that further reflection suddenly transformed into a
hilarious gaiety, a childish content, that grave, atrocious, and
powerful enjoyment of crime which succeeded the impulse to pity that at
first so inappropriately startled my heart. I thought:

"Here are two beings who live like moles, like larvæ. Like voluntary
prisoners, they have voluntarily shut themselves up in the jail of
these inhospitable walls. All that constitutes the joy of life, the
smile of a house, they repress as something superfluous. Against
everything that could excuse their wealth, and pardon their human
uselessness, they guard as they would guard against filth. They let
nothing fall from their parsimonious table to satisfy the hunger of
the poor; they let nothing fall from their dry hearts to relieve the
pain of the suffering. They even economize in making provision for
their own happiness. And should I pity them? Oh! no. It is justice
that has overtaken them. In stripping them of a portion of their
goods, in giving air to the buried treasures, the good thieves have
restored equilibrium. What I regret is that they did not leave these
two maleficent beings totally naked and miserable, more destitute than
the vagabond who so often begged at their door in vain, sicker than
the abandoned creature dying by the roadside, within two steps of this
hidden and accursed wealth."

This idea of my masters, with wallets on their backs, having to drag
their lamentable rags and their bleeding feet over the stony highways,
and to stand with outstretched hands at the implacable threshold of
the evil-minded rich, enchanted me, and filled me with gaiety. But my
gaiety became more direct, and more intense, and more hateful, as I
surveyed Madame, stranded beside her empty boxes, deader than if she
had been really dead,--for she was conscious of this death, the most
horrible death conceivable to a being who had never loved anything but
the valuation in money of those invaluable things,--our pleasures, our
caprices, our charities, our love, the divine luxury of the soul. This
shameful sorrow, this crapulous dejection, was also a revenge for the
humiliations and severities that I have undergone, that came to me from
her, in every word that issued from her mouth, in every look that fell
from her eyes. This deliciously grim enjoyment I tasted to the full. I
would have liked to cry out: "Well done! Well done!" And, above all,
I would have liked to know these admirable and sublime thieves, in
order to thank them in the name of all the ragamuffins, and to embrace
them, as brothers. Oh! good thieves, dear figures of justice and pity,
through what a series of intense and delightful sensations you have
made me pass!

Madame was not slow in recovering her self-possession. Her combative,
aggressive nature suddenly reawakened in all its violence.

"And what are you doing here?" she said to Monsieur, in a tone of anger
and supreme scorn. "Why are you here? How ridiculous you are, with your
big puffy face, and in your shirt-tail! Do you think that will get us
back our silver service? Come! shake yourself; stir yourself; try to
understand. Go for the police, for the justice of the peace. Ought they
not to have been here long ago? Oh! my God! what a man!"

Monsieur, with bent back, started to go. She interrupted him:

"And how is it that you heard nothing? What! they turn the house upside
down, break in doors, force locks, empty walls and boxes, and you hear
nothing? What are you good for, big blockhead?"

Monsieur ventured to answer:

"But you, too, my pet, you did not hear anything."

"I? It is not the same thing. Is it not a man's business to hear? And
besides, you provoke me. Clear out!"

And, as Monsieur went up-stairs to dress, Madame turned her fury upon
us.

"And you? What are you doing, standing there like so many bundles,
and looking at me? It is all the same to you, I suppose, whether your
masters are plundered or not? And you too heard nothing? What luck! It
is charming to have such servants. You think of nothing but eating and
drinking, pack of brutes that you are!"

Then, addressing Joseph directly, she asked:

"Why didn't the dogs bark? Say, why not?"

This question seemed to embarrass Joseph for a fraction of a second,
but he quickly recovered himself.

"I don't know, Madame," said he, in a most natural tone. "It is true
that the dogs didn't bark. That is curious, indeed!"

"Did you let them loose last night?"

"Certainly I let them loose, as I do every night. That is curious! Yes,
indeed! that is curious! It must be that the robbers knew the house ...
and the dogs."

"Well, Joseph, how is it that you, so devoted and punctual as a rule,
did not hear anything?"

"It is true that I heard nothing. That is another singular thing. For I
do not sleep soundly. If a cat crosses the garden, I hear it. It is not
natural, all the same. And those confounded dogs especially! Indeed,
indeed!"

Madame interrupted Joseph:

"Stop! Leave me in peace. You are brutes, all of you! And Marianne.
Where is Marianne? Why isn't she here? She is sleeping like a chump,
undoubtedly."

And, going out of the servants' hall, she called up the stairs:

"Marianne! Marianne!"

I looked at Joseph, who looked at the boxes. Joseph's face wore a grave
expression. There was a sort of mystery in his eyes.



I will not try to describe this day, with all its varied incidents
and follies. The prosecuting attorney, summoned by dispatch, came in
the afternoon, and began his investigation. Joseph, Marianne, and I
were questioned, one after the other,--the first two for the sake of
form, I with a hostile persistence which was extremely disagreeable
to me. They visited my room, and searched my commode and my trunks.
My correspondence was examined in detail. Thanks to a piece of good
luck that I bless, the manuscript of my diary escaped them. A few days
before the event I had sent it to Cléclé, from whom I had received an
affectionate letter. But for that the magistrates perhaps would have
found in these pages a foundation for a charge against Joseph, or at
least for suspicion of him. I still tremble at the thought of it. It
goes without saying that they also examined the garden paths, the
platbands, the walls, the openings in the hedges, and the little yard
leading to the lane, in the hope of finding foot-prints and traces of
wall-scaling. But the ground was very dry and hard; it was impossible
to discover the slightest imprint, the slightest clue. The fence,
the walls, the openings in the hedges, kept their secret jealously.
Just as in the case of the outrage in the woods, the people of the
neighborhood hurried forward, asking to testify. One had seen a man of
light complexion "whose looks he did not like;" another had seen a man
of dark complexion "who had a funny air." In short, the investigation
proved fruitless. No scent, no suspicion.

"We shall have to wait," declared the prosecuting attorney,
mysteriously, as he left that night. "Perhaps the Paris police will put
us on the track of the guilty."

During this fatiguing day, amid the goings and comings, I had scarcely
the leisure to think of the consequences of this drama, which for the
first time put a little animation and life into this dismal Priory.
Madame did not give us a minute's rest; we had to run hither and
thither,--without reason, moreover, for Madame had lost her head a
little. As for Marianne, she seemed to take no notice of anything,
and to be unaware that anything had happened to upset the house. Like
the sad Eugénie, she followed her own idea, and her own idea was very
far from our preoccupations. When Monsieur appeared in the kitchen,
she became suddenly like one intoxicated, and she looked at him with
ecstatic eyes.

"Oh! your big phiz! Your big hands! Your big eyes!"

In the evening, after a silent dinner, I had an opportunity to reflect.
The idea had struck me immediately, and now it was fortified within me,
that Joseph was not a stranger to this bold robbery. I even went so far
as to hope that between his Cherbourg trip and the preparation of this
audacious and incomparably executed stroke there had been an evident
connection. And I remembered the answer he made to me, on the eve of
his departure:

"That depends ... on a very important matter."

Although he endeavored to appear natural, I perceived in his movements,
in his attitude, in his silence, an unusual embarrassment, visible only
to me.

I took so much satisfaction in this presentiment that I did not try to
put it aside. On the contrary, I felt an intense joy in contemplating
the idea. Marianne having left us alone a moment in the kitchen,
I approached Joseph, and, in a coaxing, tender voice, moved by an
inexpressible emotion, I asked him:

"Tell me, Joseph, that it was you who outraged the little Claire in the
woods. Tell me that it was you who stole Madame's silver service."

Surprised, stupefied by this question, Joseph looked at me. Then,
suddenly, without answering, he drew me to him, and, making my neck
bend under a kiss that fell like a blow of a club, he said to me:

"Don't talk about that, since you are to come with me to the little
café, and since our two souls are alike."

I remember having seen in a little _salon_ at the Countess Fardin's a
sort of Hindoo idol, horribly and murderously beautiful. At this moment
Joseph resembled it.



Days passed, and months. Naturally the magistrates were unable to
discover anything, and finally they abandoned the investigation. Their
opinion was that the crime was the work of expert burglars from Paris.
Paris has a broad back. Go look for them in the heap!

This negative result made Madame indignant. She railed violently
at the magistracy, which could not recover her silver service. But
nevertheless she did not give up hope of finding "the cruet of Louis
XVI," as Joseph called it. Every day she concocted new and outlandish
schemes, which she sent to the magistrates, who, tiring at last of
all this nonsense, did not even answer her. At last I was reassured
concerning Joseph; for I was always afraid that some catastrophe would
overtake him.

Joseph had again become silent and devoted, the family servant, the
rare pearl. I cannot help puffing with laughter at the recollection
of a conversation which, on the very day of the robbery, I overheard
behind the door of the _salon_, between Madame and the prosecuting
attorney, a dry little man, with thin lips and bilious complexion,
whose profile was as sharp as the edge of a sword.

"You do not suspect anybody among your people?" asked the prosecuting
attorney. "Your coachman?"

"Joseph!" cried Madame, scandalized, "a man who is so devoted to
us, who has been in our service for more than fifteen years! Honesty
itself, Monsieur; a pearl! He would throw himself into the fire for us."

Anxious, with wrinkled brow, she reflected:

"Unless it were this girl, the chambermaid. I do not know her. Perhaps
she has very bad relations in Paris. Several times I have caught her
drinking the table-wine and eating our prunes. A servant who drinks his
master's wine is capable of anything."

And she murmured:

"One should never take servants from Paris. She is singular, indeed."

Just fancy the mean thing!

That is the way with suspicious people. They suspect everybody, save
him who robs them, of course. For I was more and more convinced that
Joseph had been the soul of this affair. For a long time I had watched
him, not from any hostile feeling, as you may know, but from curiosity;
and I was certain that this faithful and devoted servant, this unique
pearl, was foraging in the house for all he was worth. He stole oats,
coal, eggs, all sorts of little things that could be sold without
giving any trace of their origin. And his friend, the sacristan, did
not come to the harness-room in the evening for nothing, and simply
to discuss the benefits of anti-Semitism. Being a circumspect,
patient, prudent, methodical man, Joseph was not unaware that petty
larcenies, committed daily, foot up largely at the end of the year,
and I am persuaded that in this way he tripled and quadrupled his
wages,--a thing never to be disdained. I know very well that there is
a difference between these little thefts and such an audacious pillage
as that of the night of December 24. That proves that he liked also
to work on the grand scale. How do I know that Joseph was not then a
member of a gang? Ah! how I should have liked to know all that, and how
I should like to know it still.

After the evening when he gave me the kiss that to me was equivalent
to a confession of the crime, when his confidence went out to me in
a moment of passion, Joseph steadily denied. In vain did I turn him
this way and that, set traps for him, and wheedle him with soft words
and caresses; he would not contradict himself. And he entered into
the madness of Madame's hopes. He too concocted schemes, and tried to
imagine the robbery in all its details; and he beat the dogs that did
not bark, and he threatened with his fist the unknown thieves, the
chimerical thieves, as if he saw them running at the horizon. I did
not know what to think about this impenetrable man. One day I believed
him guilty; another day I believed him innocent. And it was horribly
provoking.

We met again in the harness-room in the evening, as before.

"Well, Joseph?"

"Ah! it is you, Célestine!"

"Why don't you speak to me any more? You seem to shun me."

"Shun you? I? Oh! heavens!"

"Yes, since that famous morning."

"Don't talk of that, Célestine; you have too bad ideas."

And he sadly wagged his head.

"Come, Joseph, you know that I do that for fun. Would I love you, if
you had committed such a crime? My little Joseph...."

"Yes, yes. You are trying to wheedle me. It is not well."

"And when are we to start? I cannot live here any longer."

"Not directly. We must wait awhile."

"But why?"

"Because ... that cannot be done at once."

A little piqued, I said in a tone of slight anger:

"It is not nice of you. You evidently are in no hurry for me."

"I?" cried Joseph, with ardent grimaces. "Why, I am crazy over you."

"Well, then, let us start."

But he was obstinate, refusing to explain further.

"No, no; that cannot be done yet."

Very naturally I reflected:

"He is right, after all. If he has stolen the silver service, he cannot
go away now, or set up in business. Perhaps it would awaken suspicion.
Some time must be allowed to pass, so that this mysterious affair may
be forgotten."

Another evening I proposed:

"Listen, my little Joseph; I know a way of leaving here. We could get
up a quarrel with Madame, and force her to discharge us both."

But he protested sharply.

"No, no," he exclaimed. "None of that, Célestine. No, indeed! For my
part, I love my masters. They are good masters. We must part with them
on good terms. We must go away from here like worthy people, like
serious people. The masters must be sorry to have us leave; they must
weep to see us go."

With a sad gravity, in which I perceived no trace of irony, he declared:

"I, you know, shall be greatly grieved at leaving here. I have been
here for fifteen years. One gets attached to a house in that time. And
you, Célestine, will it give you no pain?"

"Oh! no," I shouted, laughing.

"It is not well; it is not well. One should love one's masters.
Masters are masters. And let me give you some advice. Be very nice,
very gentle, very devoted; do your work well; don't talk back. In
short, Célestine, we must leave on good terms with them,--with Madame,
especially."

I followed Joseph's advice, and, during the months that we had to
remain at the Priory, I promised myself that I would be a model
chambermaid,--that I would be a pearl, too. I lavished upon them all
my intelligence, all my willingness, all my delicacy. Madame became
human with me; little by little, she became really my friend. I do
not think it was my care alone that brought about this change in
Madame's character. Madame's pride, and even her reasons for living,
had received a blow. As after some great sorrow, after the overwhelming
loss of some cherished darling, she no longer struggled, but gently
and plaintively abandoned herself to the dejection of her conquered
nerves and her humiliated pride, seeming to seek from those about her
only consolation, pity, and confidence. The hell of the Priory was
transformed for everybody into a real paradise.

It was in the height of this family peace, of this domestic calm, that
I announced one morning to Madame that I was under the necessity of
leaving her. I invented a romantic story; I was to return to my native
province, there to marry a worthy fellow who had long been waiting
for me. In words of tenderness I expressed my pain, my regrets, my
appreciation of Madame's kindness, etc. Madame was overwhelmed. She
tried to keep me by appealing to my sentiments and to my interest. She
offered to increase my wages, and to give me a fine room on the second
floor. But, finding me determined, she had to be resigned.

"I have become so accustomed to you now," she sighed. "Ah! I have no
luck."

But it was much worse when, a week later, Joseph came, in his turn, to
explain that, being too old and tired, he could no longer continue his
service, and must seek the rest that he needed.

"You, Joseph?" cried Madame. "You, too? It is not possible. A curse
must have fallen on the Priory. Everybody abandons me; everything
abandons me."

Madame wept. Joseph wept. Monsieur wept. Marianne wept.

"You take with you all our regrets, Joseph."

Alas! he took not only regrets; he took also the silver service.

Once away, I was much perplexed. I had no scruple about enjoying
Joseph's money, the stolen money,--no, it was not that,--where is
the money that is not stolen?--but I feared lest my feeling might
prove only a fleeting curiosity. Joseph had acquired over me, over my
mind as well as my flesh, an ascendency that perhaps would not last.
And perhaps it was only a momentary perversion of my senses. There
were moments, too, when I asked myself if it was not my imagination,
carried to the heights of exceptional dreams, which had created Joseph
as I saw him; if really he was anything more than a simple brute, a
peasant, incapable even of a fine act of violence, of a fine crime.
The consequences of this act frightened me. And then, is it not really
inexplicable? This idea that I was no longer to be in the service of
others caused me some regret. Formerly I thought that I should welcome
the news of my liberty with great joy. Well, no! Through being a
domestic, one gets it into his blood. Suppose I should suddenly miss
the spectacle of _bourgeois_ luxury? I foresaw my own little interior,
severe and cold, like a workman's interior, my mediocre life, deprived
of all these pretty things, of all these pretty stuffs so soft to the
touch, of all these pretty vices which it was my pleasure to serve, to
dress, to adorn, to plunge into, as into a perfumed bath. But it was
too late to draw back.

Ah! who could have told me, on the gray, sad, and rainy day on which I
arrived at the Priory, that I would end with this strange, silent, and
crusty man, who looked at me with such disdain?

Now we are in the little café. Joseph has grown young again. He is no
longer bent and clumsy. And he walks from one table to another, and he
runs from one room to the other, with supple leg and elastic spine.
His shoulders, which so frightened me, have taken on good nature; his
neck, sometimes so terrible, has something about it that is fraternal
and restful. Always freshly shaven, with skin as dark and shining as
mahogany, with a skull cap on his head, and wearing a blue and very
clean woollen shirt, he has the air of an old sailor, of an old sea-dog
who has seen extraordinary things and passed through extravagant
countries. What I admire in him is his moral tranquillity. There is
no longer any anxiety in his look. One sees that his life rests on
solid foundations. More violently than ever, he is for the family, for
property, for religion, for the navy, for the army, for the country. He
astonishes me!

When we married, Joseph gave me a marriage portion of ten thousand
francs. The other day the maritime commissary knocked down to him at
fifteen thousand francs a lot of wreckage, for which he paid cash, and
which he has sold again at a big profit. He also does a little banking
business,--that is, he lends money to fishermen. And already he is
thinking of branching out, by taking the next house. Perhaps we shall
start a music-hall there.

It puzzles me that he has so much money. And how much is his fortune?
I do not know. He does not like me to talk to him about that. He does
not like me to talk to him about the time that we were servants. One
would say that he has forgotten everything, and that his life really
began only on the day when he took possession of the little café. When
I ask him a question that torments me, he seems not to understand what
I say. And then terrible gleams flash through his eyes, as they used
to do. Never shall I know anything of Joseph; never shall I know the
mystery of his life. And perhaps it is this mystery which so attaches
me to him.

Joseph looks out for everything in the house, and there is no
hitch anywhere. We have three waiters to serve the customers, a
maid-of-all-work for the kitchen and the household, and everything goes
as to the beat of a magic wand. It is true that in three months we have
changed our servant four times. How exacting these Cherbourg servants
are! how thieving, and how shameless! No, it is incredible, and it is
disgusting.

As for me, I superintend the cash, enthroned behind the bar, amid a
forest of colored bottles. I am there also on show, and to chat. Joseph
wishes me to be finely arrayed; he never refuses me anything for the
adornment of my person, and he likes me to show my skin in the evening,
in a tantalizing dress, somewhat low in the neck. It is necessary
to excite the customer, to keep him in a state of constant joy, of
constant desire. There are already two or three fat quartermasters,
two or three engineers of the squadron, very well fixed, who pay me
assiduous court. Naturally, to please me, they spend a good deal.
Joseph spoils them especially, for they are terrible drinkers. We
have also taken four boarders. They eat with us, and every evening
pay for wine and cordials, which all hands drink. They are very
gallant with me, and I do my best to excite them. But I am careful not
to let my manners go farther than the encouragement of commonplace
ogling, equivocal smiles, and illusory promises. Moreover, I have no
intentions. Joseph is enough for me, and I really think I should suffer
by the change, even if I had the opportunity to deceive him with the
admiral. It is really funny; ugly as he is, nobody is as handsome as
my Joseph. Oh! the old monster! What a hold he has taken on me! And to
think that he has always lived in the country, and has been all his
life a peasant!

But where Joseph especially triumphs is in politics. Thanks to him, the
little café, whose sign, "To the French Army," shines over the whole
neighborhood, in big letters of gold by day, in big letters of fire by
night, is now the official rendezvous of the conspicuous anti-Semites
and the noisiest patriots of the town. These come here to fraternize,
in heroic sprees, with sub-officers of the army and non-commissioned
officers of the navy. There have already been some bloody fights, and
several times, apropos of nothing, the sub-officers have drawn their
swords, threatening to kill imaginary traitors. The night that Dreyfus
landed in France I thought that the little café would tumble down under
the cries of "Long Live the Army!" and "Death to the Jews!" That night
Joseph, who is already popular in the town, had a mad success. He
mounted a table, and shouted:

"If the traitor is guilty, let him be sent back. If he is innocent, let
him be shot."

On every hand they shouted:

"Yes, yes! Let him be shot! Long live the army!"

This proposition had carried the enthusiasm to the height of paroxysm.
Above the shouting, in the café, could be heard only the clashing of
swords and the pounding of fists on the marble tables. Some one, having
ventured to say nobody knows what, was hooted, and Joseph, rushing upon
him, smashed his mouth with a blow of his fist, and broke five teeth
for him. Struck repeatedly with the flat of a sword, torn, covered with
blood, and half dead, the unfortunate man was cast, like so much filth,
into the street, always to the cries of "Long Live the Army! Death to
the Jews!"

There are moments when I am afraid in this atmosphere of debauchery,
among all these bestial faces, heavy with alcohol and murder. But
Joseph, reassures me.

"That's nothing," he says. "That is good for business."

Yesterday, coming back from the market, Joseph announced, gaily rubbing
his hands:

"Bad news. There is talk of a war with England."

"Oh! my God!" I cried. "Suppose Cherbourg should be bombarded?"

"Pooh! Pooh!" sneered Joseph. "Only I have thought of something; I have
thought of a stroke, a rich stroke."

In spite of myself I shuddered. He must be contemplating some immense
rascality.

"The more I look at you," he said, "the more I say to myself that you
have not the head of a Breton. Oh! no, you have not the head of a
Breton. You have rather an Alsatian head. Hey? That would make a fine
show behind the bar."

I was disappointed. I thought that Joseph was going to propose some
terrible thing. I was proud already at the thought of being admitted
to partnership in a bold undertaking. Whenever I see him in reflective
mood, my ideas are immediately inflamed. I imagine tragedies,
nocturnal wallscalings, robberies, drawn knives, people in the agony
of death on the forest heath. And it was nothing but a petty and vulgar
piece of advertising.

With his hands in his pockets, and his blue skull-cap on his head, he
swayed to and fro, in a droll fashion.

"Do you understand?" he insisted. "At the outbreak of a war a very
pretty Alsatian, finely dressed, would inflame hearts and excite
patriotism. And there is nothing like patriotism to get people drunk.
What do you think of it? I would put you in the newspapers, and perhaps
even on posters."

"I prefer to remain in the costume of a lady," I answered, a little
dryly.

Thereupon we began to quarrel. And for the first time we came to
violent words.

"You did not put on so many airs when you were intimate with
everybody," cried Joseph.

"And you?... When you ... Oh! you had better let me alone, because I
could say too much."

"Strumpet!"

"Thief!"

A customer came in. The discussion ceased. And at night there was a
reconciliation, with kisses.

I am going to have a pretty Alsatian costume made for me, of silk and
velvet. Really I am powerless against Joseph's will. In spite of this
little fit of revolt, Joseph holds me, possesses me, like a demon. And
I am happy in being his. I feel that I shall do whatever he wishes me
to do, and that I shall go wherever he tells me to go ... even to crime!

_March, 1900._





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