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Title: Piping Hot! - Pot-Bouille, A Realistic Novel
Author: Zola, Émile
Language: English
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PIPING HOT!

(_POT-BOUILLE_)

A Realistic Novel

By Émile Zola.

Translated From The 63rd French Edition.

_Illustrated With Sixteen Page Engravings_

From Designs By Georges Bellenger

London: Vizetelly & Co.

1887.


[Illustration: 0001]


[Illustration: 0010]


[Illustration: 0015]



PREFACE.

 One day, in the middle of a long literary conversation, Théodore Duret
said to me: “I have known in my life two men of supreme intelligence. I
knew of both before the world knew of either. Never did I doubt, nor
was it possible to doubt, but that they would one day or other gain the
highest distinctions--those men were Léon Gambetta and Émile Zola.”

Of Zola I am able to speak, and I can thoroughly realise how interesting
it must have been to have watched him, at that time, when he was poor
and unknown, obtaining acceptance of his articles with difficulty,
and surrounded by the feeble and trivial in spirit, who, out of inborn
ignorance and acquired idiocy, look with ridicule on those who believe
that there is still a new word to say, still a new cry to cry.

I did not know Émile Zola in those days, but he must have been then as
he is now, and I should find it difficult to understand how any man of
average discrimination could speak with him for half-an-hour without
recognising that he was one of those mighty monumental intelligences,
the statues of a century, that remain and are gazed upon through the
long pages of the world’s history. This, at least, is the impression
Émile Zola has always produced upon me. I have seen him in company,
and company of no mean order, and when pitted against his compeers, the
contrast has only made him appear grander, greater, nobler. The witty,
the clever Alphonse Daudet, ever as ready for a supper party as a
literary discussion, with all his splendid gifts, can do no more when
Zola speaks than shelter himself behind an epigram; Edmond De Goncourt,
aristocratic, dignified, seated amid his Japanese watercolours, bronzes,
and Louis XV. furniture, bitterly admits, if not that there is a greater
naturalistic god than he, at least that there is a colossus whose
strength he is unable to oppose.

This is the position Emile Zola takes amid his contemporaries.

By some strange power of assimilation, he appropriates and makes his
own of all things; ideas that before were spattered, dislocated, are
suddenly united, fitted into their places. In speaking, as in writing,
he always appears greater than his subject, and, Titan-like, grasps it
as a whole; in speaking, as in writing, the strength and beauty of his
style is an unfailing use of the right word; each phrase is a
solid piece of masonry, and as he talks an edifice of thought rises
architecturally perfect and complete in design.

And it is of this side of Émile Zola’s genius that I wish particularly
to speak--a side that has never been taken sufficiently into
consideration, but which, nevertheless, is its ever-guiding and
determinating quality. Émile Zola is to me a great epic poet, and he may
be, I think, not inappropriately termed the Homer of modern life. For
he, more than any other writer, it seems, possesses the power of seeing
a subject as a whole, can divest it at will of all side issues, can
seize with a firm, logical comprehension on the main lines of its
construction, and that without losing sight of the remotest causes or
the furthest consequences of its existence. It is here that his strength
lies, and his is the strength which has conquered the world. Of his
realism a great deal, of course, has been said, but only because it
is the most obvious, not the most dominant quality of his work. The
mistletoe invariably hides the oak from the eyes of the vulgar.

That Émile Zola has done well to characterise his creations with the
vivid sentiment of modern life rather than the pale dream which reveals
to us the past, that he was able to bend, to model, to make serviceable
to his purpose the ephemeral habits and customs of our day, few will now
deny. But this was only the off-shoot of his genius. That the colour of
the nineteenth century with which he clothes the bodies of his heroes
and heroines is not always exact, that none other has attempted to spin
these garments before, I do not dispute. They will grow threadbare and
fall to dust, even as the hide of the megatharium, of which only the
colossal bones now remain to us wherewith to construct the fabric of the
primeval world. And, in like manner, when the dream of the socialist
is realized, when the burden of pleasure and work is proportioned out
equally to all, and men live on a more strictly regulated plan than do
either the ant or the bee, I believe that the gigantic skeleton of the
Rougon-Macquart family will still continue to resist the ravages of
time, and that western scientists will refer to it when disputing about
the idiosyncrasies of a past civilization.

In the preceding paragraph, I have said neither more nor less than my
meaning, for I am convinced that the living history of no age has been
as well written as the last half of the nineteenth century is in the
Rougon-Maequart series. I pass over the question whether, in describing
Renee’s dress, a mistake was made in the price of lace, also whether the
author was wrong in permitting himself the anachronism of describing
a fête in the opera-house a couple of years before the building
was completed. Errors of this kind do not appear to me to be worth
considering. What I maintain is, that what Émile Zola has done, and what
he alone has done--and I do not make an exception even in the case of
the mighty Balzac--is to have conceived and constructed the frame-work
of a complex civilization like ours, in all its worse ramifications.
Never, it seems to me, was the existence of the epic faculty more
amply demonstrated than by the genealogical tree of this now celebrated
family.

The grandeur, the amplitude of this scheme will be seen at once.
Adélaïde Fouque, a mad woman confined in a lunatic asylum at Plassans,
is the first ancestor; she is the transmitter of the original neurosis,
which, regulated by his or her physical constitution, assumes various
forms in each individual member of the family, and is developed
according to the surroundings in whieh he or she lives. By Rougon this
woman had two children; by Macquart, with whom she cohabited on the
death of her husband, she had three. Ursule Macquart married a man
named Mouret, and their children are therefore cousins of the
Rougon-Macquarts. This family has some forty or fifty members, who are
distributed through the different grades of our social system. Some have
attained the highest positions, as, Son Excellence Eugène Rougon, others
have sunk to the lowest depths, as Gervaise in “L’Assommoir,” but all
are tainted with the hereditary malady. By it Nana is invincibly driven
to prostitution; by it Etienne Lantier, in “Germinal,” will be driven
to crime; by it his brother, Claude, will be made a great painter.
Protean-like is this disease. Sometimes it skips over a generation,
sometimes lies almost latent, and the balance of the intelligence is but
slightly disturbed, as in the instance of Octave in “Pot-Bouille,”
 and Lazare in “La Joie de Vivre.” But the mind of the latter is more
distorted than is Octave’s. Lazare lives in a perpetual fear of death,
and is prevented from realizing any of his magnificent projects by
his vacillating temperament; in him we have an example how a splendid
intelligence may be drained away like water through an imperceptible
crack in the vase, and how what might have been the fruit of a life
withers like the flowers from which the nourishing liquid has been
withdrawn.

And so in the Rougon-Macquart series we have instances of all kinds
of psychical development and decay; and with an overt and an intuitive
reading of character truly wonderful, Émile Zola makes us feel that
as the north and south poles and torrid zones are hemmed about with a
girdle of air, so an ever varying but ever recognisable kinship unites,
sometimes, indeed, by an almost imperceptible thread, the ends the most
opposed of this remarkable race, and is diffused through the different
variation each individual member successively presents. Can we not trace
a mysterious physical resemblance between Octave Mouret in “Le Bonheur
des Dames” and Maxime in “La Curée?” Is not the moral something by which
Claude Lantier in “Le Ventre de Paris” escapes the fate of Lazare made
apparent? Then, again, does not the inherited neurosis that makes of
Octave a millionaire, of Lazare a wretched hypochondriac, of Claude
Lantier a genius, of Maxime a symbol of ephemeral vice, reappear in a
new and more deadly form in Jeanne, the hysterical child, in that most
beautiful of beautiful books, “Une Page d’Amour?”

As beasts at a fair are urged on by the goads of their drivers, so
certain fate pushes this wretched family forward into irrevocable death
that is awaiting it. At each generation they grow more nervous, more
worn out, more ready to succumb beneath the ravages of the horrible
disease that in a hundred different ways is sweeping them into the night
of the grave.

Even from this imperfect outline, what majesty, what grandeur there is
in this dark design! Does not the great idea of fate receive a new and
more terrible signification? Is not the horror and gloom of the tragedy
increased by the fact that the thought was born in the study of the
scientist, and not in the cloud-palace of the dreamer? What poet ever
conceived an idea more vast! and if further proof of the epic faculty
with which I have credited Émile Zola be wanting, I have only to refer
to Pascal Rougon. Noah survived the deluge. Pascal Rougon, by some
miracle, escapes the inherited stain--he, and he alone, is completely
free from it He is a doctor, an advanced scientist, and he, in the
twentieth volume, will analyse the terrible neurosis that has devastated
his family.

In the upbuilding of this enormous edifice, Émile Zola shows the same
constructive talent as he did in its conception. The energy he displays
is marvellous. Every year a wing, courtyard, cupola, or tower is added,
and each is as varied as the most imaginative could desire. Without
looking further back than “L’Assommoir,” let us consider what has been
done. In this work, we have a study of the life of the working people
in Paris, written, for the sake of preserving the “milieu,” for the most
part in their own language. It shows how the workers of our great social
machine live, and must live, in ignorance and misery; it shows, as never
was shown before, what the accident of birth means; it shows in a new
way, and, to my mind, in as grand a way as did the laments of the
chorus in the Greek play, the irrevocability of fate. “L’Assommoir” was
followed by “Une Page d’Amour,” a beautiful Parisian idyl. Here we see
the “bourgeois” at their best. We have seven descriptions of Paris seen
from a distance of which Turner might be proud; we have a picture of a
children’s costume ball which Meissonier might fall down and worship;
we have the portrait of a beautiful and virtuous woman with her love
story told, as it were, over the dying head of Jeanne (her little girl),
the child whose nervous sensibilities are so delicate that she trembles
with jealousy when she suspects that behind her back her mother is
looking at the doctor. After “Une Page d’Amour” comes “Nana,” and with
her we are transported to a world of pleasure-seekers; vicious men and
women who have no thought but the killing of time and the gratification
of their lusts. Nana is the Messaline of modern days, and, obeying the
epic tendency of his genius, Émile Zola has instituted a comparison
between the death of the “gilded fly,” conceived in drunkenness and
debauchery, and the harlot city of the third Emperor, which, rotten with
vice, falls before the victorious arms of the Germans.

“Nana” and “Une Page d’Amour” are psychological and philological studies
of two radically different types of women; in both works, and likewise
in “L’Assommoir,” there is much descriptive writing, and, doubtless,
Émile Zola had this fact present in his mind when he set himself to
write “Pot-Bouille,” that terrible satire on the “bourgeoisie.” He must
have said, as his plan formulated itself in his mind, “this is a novel
dealing with the home-life of the middle-classes; if I wish to avoid
repeating myself, this book must contain a vast number of characters,
and the descriptions must be reduced to a bare sufficiency, no more than
will allow my readers to form an exact impression of the surroundings
through which, the action passes.”

“Pot-Bouille,” or “Piping Hot!” as the present translation is called,
is, therefore, an inquiry into the private lives of a number of
individuals, who, while they follow different occupations, belong to
the same class and live under the same roof. The house in the Rue
de Choiseul is one of those immense “maisons bourgeoises,” in which,
apparently, an infinite number of people live. On the first floor, we
find Monsieur Duveyrier, an “avocat de la cour,” with his musical
wife, Clotilde, and her father, Monsieur Vabre, a retired notary and
proprietor of the house, who is absorbed in the preparation of an
important statistical work; on the fourth floor are Madame Josserand,
her two daughters, whom she is always trying to marry, her crazy son
Saturnin, and her husband who spends his nights addressing advertising
circulars at three francs a thousand, in order to eke out an additional
something to help his family to ape an appearance of easy circumstances.
On the third floor is an architect, Monsieur Campardon, with his ailing,
yet blooming, wife Rose, and her cousin, “l’autre Madame Campardon.”
 There is also one of Monsieur Vabre’s sons, and “a distinguished
gentleman who comes one night a week to work.”

These are the principal “locataires” but, in various odd corners, “des
petits appartements qui donnent sur la cour,” we find all sorts and
conditions of people. First on the list is the government clerk Jules
and his wife Marie. She is a weak-minded little thing who commits
adultery without affection, without desire, and the frequency of her
confinements excites the ire of her mother and father. Then come two
young men, Octave and Trublot. The former plays a part similar to that
of a tenor in an opera; he is the accepted lover of the ladies. The
latter is equally beloved by the maids. From the frequency of his
visits, he may almost be said to live in the house; he is constantly
asked to dine by one or other of the inmates, and in the morning he is
generally found hiding behind the door of one of the servants’ rooms,
waiting for an opportunity of descending the staircase unperceived by
the terrible “concierge,” the moral guardian of the house.

Other visitors who figure prominently in the story are Madame
Josserand’s brother, Uncle Bachelard, a dissipated widower, and his
nephew Gueulin; the Abbé Mouret, ever ready to throw the mantle of
religion over the back-slidings of his flock, and Madame Hédouin, the
frigid directress of “The Ladies’ Paradise,” where Octave is originally
engaged. The remaining “locataires” are Madame Juzeur, a lady who only
reads poetry, and who was deserted by her husband after a single week of
matrimonial, bliss; a workwoman who has a garret under the slates; and
last, but not least, an author who lives on the second floor. He is
rarely ever seen, he makes no one’s acquaintance, and thereby excites
the enmity of everyone.

All these, the author of course excepted, pass and repass before the
reader, and each is at once individual and representative; even the
maid-servants--who only answer “yes” and “no” to their masters and
mistresses--are adroitly characterised. We see them in their kitchens
engaged in their daily occupations: while peeling onions and gutting
rabbits and fish they call to and abuse each other from window to
window. There is Julie, the belle of the attics, of whose perfume and
pomatum Trublot makes liberal use when he honours her with a visit;
there is fat Adèle whose dirty habits and slovenly ways make of her a
butt whereat is levelled the ridicule and scorn of her fellow-servants;
there are the lovers, Hippolyte and Clémence, whose carnal intercourse
affords to Madame Duveyrier much ground for uneasiness, and in the end
necessitates the intervention of the Abbé. Never were the manners
and morals of servants so thoroughly sifted before, never was the
relationship which their lives bear to those of their masters and
mistresses so cunningly contrasted. The courtyard of the house echoes
with their quarrelling voices, and it is there, in a scene of which
Swift might be proud, that is spoken the last and terrible word of scorn
which Emile Zola flings against the “bourgeoisie.” From her kitchen
window a fellow-servant of Julie’s is congratulating her on being about
to leave, and wishing that she may find a better place. To which Julie
replies, “Toutes les baraques se ressemblent. Au jour d’aujourd’hui, qui
a fait l’une a fait l’autre. C’est cochon et compagnie.”

I do not know to what other work to go to find so much successful
sketching of character. I had better, I think, explain the meaning I
attach to this phrase, “sketching of character,” for it is too common
an error to associate the idea of superficiality with the word “sketch.”
 The true artist never allows anything to leave his studio that he deems
superficial, or even unfinished. The word unfinished is not found in his
vocabulary; to him a sketch is as complete as a finished picture. In
the former he has painted broadly and freely, wishing to render the
vividness, the vitality of a first impression; in the latter he is
anxious to render the subtlety of a more intellectual and consequently
a less sensual emotion. The portrait of Madame Josserand is a case in
point, it is certainly less minute than that of Hélène Mouret, but
is not for that less finished. In both, the artist has achieved, and
perfectly, the task he set himself. “Piping Hot!” cannot be better
defined than as a portrait album in which many of our French neighbours
may be readily recognized.

This merit will not fail to strike any intelligent reader; but the
marvellous way the almost insurmountable difficulties of binding
together the stories of the lives of the different inhabitants of the
house in the Rue de Choiseul are overcome, none but a fellow-worker
will be able to appreciate at their full value. Up and down the famous
staircase we go, from one household to another, interested equally in
each, disgusted equally with all. And this sentence leads us right up to
the enemies’ guns, brings us face to face with the two batteries
from which the critics have directed their fire. The first is the
truthfulness of the picture, the second is the coarseness with which it
is painted. I will attempt to reply to both.

M. Albert Wolff in the “Figaro” declared that in a “maison bourgeoise”
 so far were “locataires” from being all on visiting terms, that it was
of constant occurrence that the people on one floor not only did not
know by sight but were ignorant of the names of those living above
and below them; that the spectacle of a “maison bourgeoise,” with the
lodgers running up and down stairs in and out of each other’s apartments
at all hours of the night and day, was absolutely false; had never
existed in Paris, and was an invention of the writer. Without a word of
parley I admit the truth of this indictment. I will admit that no house
could be found in Paris where from basement to attic the inhabitants
are on such terms of intimacy as they are in the house in the Rue
de Choiseul; but at the same time I deny that the extreme isolation
described by M. Wolff could be found or is even possible in any house
inhabited over a term of years by the same people. Émile Zola has then
done no more than to exaggerate, to draw the strings that attach the
different parts a little tighter than they would be in nature. Art, let
there be no mistake on this point, be it romantic or naturalistic, is a
perpetual concession; and the character of the artist is determined by
the selection he makes amid the mass of conflicting issues that, all
clamouring equally to be chosen, present themselves to his mind. In the
case of Émile Zola, the epic faculty which has been already mentioned
as the dominant trait of his genius naturally impelled him to make
too perfect a whole of the heterogeneous mass of material that he had
determined to construct from. The flaw is more obvious than in his other
works, but in “Piping Hot!” he has only done what he has done since he
first put pen to paper, what he will continue to do till he ceases to
write. We will admit that to make all the people living in the house in
the Rue de Choiseul on visiting terms was a trick of composition--_et
puis?_

This was the point from which the critics who pretended to be guided
by artistic considerations attacked the book; the others entrenched
themselves behind the good old earthworks of morality, and primed their
rusty popguns. Now there was a time, and a very good time it must have
been, when a book was judged on its literary merits; but of late years
a new school of criticism has come into fashion. Its manners are very
summary indeed. “Would you or would you not give that book to your
sister of sixteen to read?” If you hesitate you are lost; for then the
question is dismissed with a smile and you are voted out of court.
It would be vain to suggest that there are other people in the world
besides your sister of sixteen summers.

I do not intend putting forward any well known paradox, that art is
morals, and morals are art. That there are great and eternal moral laws
which must be acted up to in art as in life I am more than ready to
admit; but these are very different from the wretched conventionalities
which have been arbitrarily imposed upon us in England. To begin with,
it must be clear to the meanest intelligence that it would never do to
judge the dead by the same standard as the living. If that were done,
all the dramatists of the sixteenth century would have to go; those of
the Restoration would follow. To burn Swift somebody lower in the social
scale than Mr. Binns would have to be found, although he might do to
commit Sterne to the flames. Byron, Shelley, yes, even Landor would have
to go the same way. What would happen then, it is hard to-say; but it
is not unfair to hint that if the burning were argued to its logical
conclusion, some of the extra good people would find it difficult to
show reason, if the intention of the author were not taken into account,
why their most favourite reading should be saved from the general
destruction.

Many writers have lately been trying to put their readers in the
possession of infallible recipes for the production of good fiction;
they would, to my mind, have employed their time and talents to far more
purpose had they come boldly to the point and stated that the overflow
of bad fiction with which we are inundated is owing to the influence
of the circulating library, which, on one side, sustains a quantity of
worthless writers who on their own merits would not sell a dozen copies
of their books; and, on the other, deprives those who have something to
say and are eager to say it of the liberty of doing so. It may be a sad
fact, but it is nevertheless a fact, that literature and young girls are
irreconcilable elements, and the sooner we leave off trying to reconcile
them the better. At this vain endeavour the circulating library has
been at work for the last twenty years, and what has been the result? A
literature of bandboxes. Were Pope, Addison, Johnson, Fielding, Smollet,
suddenly raised from their graves and started on reviewing “three
vols.,” think you that they would not all cry together, “This is a
literature of bandboxes?”

We judge a pudding by the eating, and I judge Messrs. Mudie and Smith
by what they have produced; for they, not the ladies and gentlemen who
place their names on the title pages, are the authors of our fiction.
And what a terrible brood to admit the parentage of! Let those who
doubt put aside pre-conceived opinions, and forgetting the bolstered
up reputation of the authors, read the volumes by the light of a little
common sense. Cast a glance at those that lie in Miss Rhoda Broughton’s
lap. What a wheezing, drivelling lot of bairns they are! They have not
a virtue amongst them, and their pinafore pages are sticky with childish
sensualities.

And here we touch the keynote of the whole system. For, mark you, you
can say what you like provided you speak according to rule. Everything
is agreed according to precedent. I could give a hundred instances, but
one will suffice. On the publication of “Adam Bede” a howl was raised,
but the book was alive; it finished by being accepted, and the libraries
were obliged to give way. The employment of seduction in the fabulation
of a story was therefore established. This would have been a great point
gained, if Mr. Mudie had not succeeded in forcing on all succeeding
writers George Eliot’s manner of conducting her story. In “Adam Bede” we
have Hetty described as an extremely fascinating dairymaid and Arthur as
a noble-minded young man. After a good deal of flirtation they are shown
to us walking through a wood together, and three months after we hear
that Hetty is _enceinte_. Now, ever since the success of this book was
assured, we have had numberless novels dealing with seductions, but
invariably an interval of three months is allowed wherein the reader’s
fancy may disport until the truth be told.

Not being a select librarian I will not undertake to say that the
cause of morality is advanced by leaving the occurrence of the offence
unmarked by a no more precise date than that of three months, but being
a writer who loves and believes in his art, I fearlessly declare that
such quibblery is not worthy of the consideration of serious men; and
it was to break through this puerile conventionality that I was daring
enough in my “Mummer’s Wife” to write that Dick dragged Kate into the
room and that the door was slammed behind her. And it is on this passage
that the select circulating libraries base a refusal to take the book.
And it is such illiterate censorship that has thrown English fiction
into the abyss of nonsense in which it lies; it is for this reason and
no other that the writers of the present day have ceased even to try to
produce good work, and have resigned themselves to the task of turning
out their humdrum stories of sentimental misunderstanding. Yet, strange
to say, in every other department of art, an unceasing intellectual
activity prevails. Our poetry, our histories, our biographies, our
newspapers are strong and vigorous, pregnant with thought, trenchant
in style; it is not until we turn to the novel that we find a wearisome
absence of everything but drivel.

Though much that I would like to have said is still unsaid, the
exigencies of space compel me to bring this notice to a close. However,
this one thing I hope I have made clear: that it is my firm opinion
that if fiction is to exist at all, the right to speak as he pleases on
politics, morals, and religion must be granted to the writer, and that
he on his side must take cognizance of other readers than sentimental
young girls, who require to be provided with harmless occupation until
something fresh turns up in the matrimonial market. Therefore the great
literary battle of’ our day is not to be fought for either realism or
romanticism, but for freedom of speech; and until that battle be gained
I, for one, will continue fearlessly to hold out a hand of welcome
to all comers who dare to attack the sovereignty of the circulating
library.

The first of these is “Piping Hot!” and, I think, the pungent odour of
life it exhales, as well as its scorching satire on the middle-classes,
will be relished by all who prefer the fortifying brutalities of truth
to the soft platitudes of lies. As a satire “Piping Hot!” must be read;
and as a satire it will rank with Juvenal, Voltaire, Pope, and Swift.

George Moore.



PIPING-HOT!

(_POT-BOUILLE_)



CHAPTER I.

In the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, a block of vehicles arrested the cab
which was bringing Octave Mouret and his three trunks from the Lyons
railway station. The young man lowered one of the windows, in spite
of the already intense cold of that dull November afternoon. He was
surprised at the abrupt approach of twilight in this neighbourhood of
narrow streets, all swarming with a busy crowd. The oaths of the drivers
as they lashed their snorting horses, the endless jostlings on the
foot-pavements, the serried line of shops swarming with attendants and
customers, bewildered him; for, though he had dreamed of a cleaner
Paris than the one he beheld, he had never hoped to find it so eager
for trade, and he felt that it was publicly open to the appetites of
energetic young fellows.

The driver leant towards him.

“It’s the Passage Choiseul you want, isn’t it?”

“No, the Rue de Choiseul. A new house, I think.”

And the cab only had to turn the corner. The house was the second one
in the street: a big house four storeys high, the stonework of which was
scarcely discoloured, in the midst of the dirty stucco of the adjoining
old frontages. Octave, who had alighted on to the pavement, measured it
and studied it with a mechanical glance, from the silk warehouse on the
ground floor to the projecting windows on the fourth floor opening on
to a narrow terrace. On the first floor, carved female heads supported
a highly elaborate cast-iron balcony. The windows were surrounded with
complicated frames, roughly chiselled in the soft stone; and, lower
down, above the tall doorway, two cupids were unrolling a scroll bearing
the number, which at night-time was lighted up by a jet of gas from the
inside.

A stout fair gentleman, who was coming out of the vestibule, stopped
short on catching sight of Octave.

“What! you here!” exclaimed he. “Why, I was not expecting you till
to-morrow!”

“The truth is,” replied the young man, “I left Hassans a day earlier
than I originally intended. Isn’t the room ready?”

“Oh, yes. I took it a fortnight ago, and I furnished it at once in the
way you desired. Wait a bit, I will take you to it.”

He re-entered the house, though Octave begged he would not give himself
the trouble. The driver had got the three trunks off the cab. Inside
the doorkeeper’s room, a dignified-looking man with a long face,
clean-shaven like a diplomatist, was standing up gravely reading the
“Moniteur.” He deigned, however, to interest himself about these trunks
which were being deposited in his doorway; and, taking a few steps
forward, he asked his tenant, the architect of the third floor as he
called him:

“Is this the person, Monsieur Campardon?”

“Yes, Monsieur Gourd, this is Monsieur Octave Mouret, for whom I have
taken the room on the fourth floor. He will sleep there and take his
meals with us. Monsieur Mouret is a friend of my wife’s relations, and I
beg you will show him every attention.”

Octave was examining the entrance with its panels of imitation marble
and its vaulted ceiling decorated with rosettes. The courtyard at the
end was paved and cemented, and had a grand air of cold cleanliness; the
only occupant was a coachman engaged in polishing a bit with a chamois
leather at the entrance to the stables. There were no signs of the sun
ever shining there.

Meanwhile, Monsieur Gourd was inspecting the trunks. He pushed them
with his foot, and, their weight filling him with respect, he talked of
fetching a porter to carry them up the servants’ staircase.

“Madame Gourd, I’m going out,” cried he, just putting his head inside
his room.

It was like a drawing-room, with bright looking-glasses, a red flowered
Wilton carpet and violet ebony furniture; and, through a partly opened
door, one caught a glimpse of the bed-chamber with a bedstead hung with
garnet rep. Madame Gourd, a very fat woman with yellow ribbons in her
hair, was stretehed out in an easy-chair with her hands clasped, and
doing nothing.

“Well! let’s go up,” said the architect.

And seeing how impressed the young man seemed to be by Monsieur Gourd’s
black velvet cap and sky blue slippers, he added, as he pushed open the
mahogany door of the vestibule:

“You know he was formerly the Duke de Vaugelade’s valet.”

“Ah!” simply ejaculated Oetave.

“It’s as I tell you, and he married the widow of a little bailiff of
Mort-la-Ville. They even own a house there. But they are waiting until
they have three thousand francs a year before going there to live. Oh!
they are most respectable doorkeepers!”

The decorations of the vestibule and the staircase were gaudily
luxurious. At the foot of the stairs was the figure of a woman, a kind
of gilded Neapolitan, supporting on her head an amphora from which
issued three gas-jets protected by ground glass globes. The panels of
imitation white marble with pink borders succeeded each other at regular
intervals up the wall of the staircase, whilst the cast-iron balustrade
with its mahogany hand-rail was in imitation of old silver with clusters
of golden leaves. A red carpet, secured with brass rods, covered the
stairs. But what especially struck Oetave on entering was a green-house
temperature, a warm breath which seemed to be puffed from some mouth
into his face.

“Hallo!” said he, “the staircase is warmed.”

“Of course,” replied Campardon. “All landlords who have the least
self-respect go to that expense now. The house is a very fine one, very
fine.”

He looked about him as though he were sounding the walls with his
architect’s eyes.

“My dear fellow, you will see, it is a most comfortable place, and
inhabited solely by highly respectable people!”

Then, slowly ascending, he mentioned the names of the different tenants.
On each floor were two separate suites of apartments, one looking on
to the street, the other on to the courtyard, and the polished mahogany
doors of which faeed eaeh other. He began by saying a few words
respecting Monsieur Auguste Vabre; he was the landlord’s eldest son;
since the spring he had rented the silk warehouse on the ground floor,
and he also occupied the whole of the “entresol” above. Then, on the
first floor the landlord’s other son, Monsieur Théophile Vabre and his
wife, resided in the apartment overlooking the courtyard; and in the one
overlooking the street lived the landlord himself, formerly a notary
at Versailles, but who was now lodging with his son-in-law, Monsieur
Duveyrier, a judge at the Court of Appeal.

“A fellow who is not yet forty-five,” said Campardon, stopping short.
“That’s something remarkable, is it not?”

He ascended two steps, and then suddenly turning round, he added:

“Water and gas on every floor.”

Beneath the tall window on each landing, the panes of which, bordered
with fretwork, lit up the staircase with a white light, was placed a
narrow velvet covered bench. The architect observed that elderly persons
could sit down and rest. Then, as he passed the second floor without
naming the tenants.

“And there?” asked Octave, pointing to the door of the principal suite.

“Oh! there,” said he, “persons whom one never sees, whom no one knows.
The house could well do without them. Blemishes, you know, are to be
found everywhere.”

He gave a little snort of contempt.

“The gentleman writes books, I believe.”

But on the third floor his smile of satisfaction reappeared. The
apartments looking on to the courtyard were divided into two suites;
they were occupied by Madame Juzeur, a little woman who was most
unhappy, and a very distinguished gentleman who had taken a room to
which he came once a week on business matters. Whilst giving these
particulars, Campardon opened the door on the other side of the landing.

“And this is where I live,” resumed he. “Wait a moment, I must get your
key. We will first go up to your room; you can see my wife afterwards.”

During the two minutes he was left alone, Octave felt penetrated by the
grave silence of the staircase. He leant over the balustrade, in
the warm air which ascended from the vestibule; he raised his
head, listening if any noise came from above. It was the death-like
peacefulness of a middle-class drawing-room, carefully shut in and not
admitting a breath from outside. Behind the beautiful shining mahogany
doors there seemed to be unfathomable depths of respectability.

“You will have some excellent neighbours,” said Campardon, reappearing
with the key; “on the street side there are the Josserands, quite a
family, the father who is cashier at the Saint-Joseph glass works,
and also two marriageable daughters; and next to you the Pichons,
the husband is a clerk; they are not rolling in wealth, but they are
educated people. Everything has to be let, has it not? even in a house
like this.”

From the third landing, the red carpet ceased and was replaced by a
simple grey holland. Octave’s vanity was slightly ruffled. The staircase
had, little by little, filled him with respect; he was deeply moved at
inhabiting such a fine house as the architect termed it. As, following
the latter, he turned into the passage leading to his room, he caught
sight through a partly open door of a young woman standing up before a
cradle. She raised her head at the noise. She was fair, with clear and
vacant eyes; and all he carried away was this very distinct look,
for the young woman, suddenly blushing, pushed the door to in the
shame-faced way of a person taken by surprise.

Campardon turned round to repeat:

“Water and gas on every floor, my dear fellow.”

Then he pointed out a door which opened on to the servants’ staircase.
Their rooms were up above. And stopping at the end of the passage, he
added:

“Here we are at last.”

The room, which was square, pretty large, and hung with a grey
wall-paper with blue flowers, was furnished very simply. Close to the
alcove was a little dressing-closet with just room enough to wash one’s
hands. Octave went straight to the window, which admitted a greenish
light. Below was the courtyard looking sad and clean, with its regular
pavement, and the shining brass tap of its cistern. And still not a
human being, nor even a noise; nothing but the uniform windows, without
a bird-cage, without a flower-pot, displaying the monotony of their
white curtains. To hide the big bare wall of the house on the left hand
side, which shut in the square of the courtyard, the windows had been
repeated, imitation windows in paint, with shutters eternally closed,
behind which the walled-in life of the neighbouring apartments appeared
to continue.

“But I shall be very comfortable here!” cried Octave delighted.

“I thought so,” said Campardon. “Well! I did everything as though it had
been for myself; and, moreover, I carried out the instructions contained
in your letters. So the furniture pleases you? It is all that is
necessary for a young man. Later on, you can make any changes you like.”

And, as Octave shook his hand, thanking him, and apologising for having
given him so much trouble, he resumed in a serious tone of voice:

“Only, my boy, no rows here, and above all no women! On my word of
honour, if you were to bring a woman here it would revolutionize the
whole house!”

“Be easy!” murmured the young man, feeling rather anxious.

“No, let me tell you, for it is I who would be compromised. You have
seen the house. All middle-class people, and of extreme morality!
between ourselves, they affect it rather too much. Never a word, never
more noise than you have heard just now. Ah, well! Monsieur Gourd would
at once fetch Monsieur Vabre, and we should both be in a nice pickle!
My dear fellow, I ask it of you for my own peace of mind: respect the
house.”

Octave, overpowered by so much virtue and respectability, swore to do
so. Then, Campardon, casting a mistrustful glance around, and lowering
his voice as though some one might have heard him, added with sparkling
eyes:

“Outside it concerns nobody. Paris is big enough, is it not? there is
plenty of room. As for myself, I am at heart an artist, therefore I
think nothing of it!”

A porter carried up the trunks. When everything was straight, the
architect assisted paternally at Octave’s toilet. Then, rising to his
feet he said:

“Now we will go and see my wife.”

Down on the third floor the maid, a slim, dark, and coquettish looking
girl, said that madame was busy. Campardon, with a view of putting his
young friend at ease, showed him over the rooms: first of all, there was
the huge white and gold drawingroom, highly decorated with artificial
mouldings, and situated between a green parlour which the architect had
turned into a workroom and the bedroom, into which they could not enter,
but the narrow shape of which, and the mauve wall-paper, he described.
As he next ushered him into the dining-room, all in imitation wood,
with an extraordinary complication of baguettes and coffers, Octave,
enchanted, exclaimed:

“It is very handsome!”

On the ceiling, two big cracks cut right through the coffers, and, in a
corner, the paint had peeled off and displayed the plaster.

“Yes, it creates an effect,” slowly observed the architect, his eyes
fixed on the ceiling. “You see, these kind of houses are built to create
effect. Only, the walls will not bear much looking into. It is not
twelve years old yet, and it is already cracking. One builds the
frontage of handsome stone, with a lot of sculpture about it; one gives
three coats of varnish to the walls of the staircase; one paints and
gilds the rooms; and all that flatters people, and inspires respect. Oh!
it is still solid, it will certainly last as long as we shall!”

He led him again across the ante-room, which was lighted by a window
of ground glass. To the left, looking on to the courtyard, there was a
second bed-chamber where his daughter Angèle slept, and which, all in
white, looked on this November afternoon as sad as a tomb. Then at
the end of the passage, came the kitchen, into which he insisted on
conducting Octave, saying that it was necessary to see everything.

“Walk in,” repeated he, pushing open the door.

A terrible uproar issued from it. In spite of the cold, the window was
wide open. With their elbows on the rail, the dark maid and a fat cook,
a dissolute looking old party, were leaning out into the narrow well
of an inner courtyard, which lighted the kitchens of each floor, placed
opposite to each other. They were both yelling with their backs bent,
whilst, from the depths of this hole, arose the sounds of vulgar voices,
mingled with oaths and bursts of laughter. It was like the overflow
of some sewer: all the domestics of the house were there, easing their
minds. Octave’s thoughts reverted to the peaceful majesty of the grand
staircase.

Just then the two women, warned by some instinct, turned round. They
remained thunderstruck on beholding their master with a gentleman. There
was a gentle whistle, windows were shut, and all was once more as silent
as death.

“What is the matter, Lisa?” asked Campardon.

“Sir,” replied the maid, greatly excited, “it’s that filthy Adèle again.
She has thrown a rabbit’s guts out of the window. You should speak to
Monsieur Josserand, sir.”

Campardon became very grave, anxious not to make any promise. He
returned to his workroom, saying to Octave:

“You have seen all. On each floor, the rooms are arranged the same. I
pay a rent of two thousand five hundred francs, and on a third floor,
too! Rents are rising every day. Monsieur Vabre must make about
twenty-two thousand francs a year from his house. And it will increase
still more, for there is a question of opening a wide thoroughfare from
the Place de la Bourse to the new Opera-house. And he had the ground
this is built upon almost for nothing, twelve years ago, after that
great fire caused by a druggist’s servant!”

As they entered, Octave observed, hanging above a drawing-table, and
in the full light from the window, a richly framed picture of a Virgin,
displaying in her opened breast an enormous flaming heart. He could
not repress a movement of surprise; he looked at Campardon, whom he had
known to be a rather wild fellow at Plassans.

“Ah! I forgot to tell you,” resumed the latter slightly colouring,
“I have been appointed diocesan architect, yes, at Evreux. Oh! a mere
bagatelle as regards money, in all barely two thousand francs a year.
But there is scarcely anything to do, a journey now and again; for the
rest I have an inspector there. And, you see, it is a great deal, when
one can print on one’s cards: ‘government architect.’ You can have no
idea what an amount of work that procures me in the highest society.”

Whilst speaking, he looked at the Virgin with the flaming heart.

“After all,” continued he in a sudden fit of frankness, “I do not care a
button for their paraphernalia!”

But, on Octave bursting out laughing, the architect was seized with
fear. Why confide in that young man? He gave a side glance, and, putting
on an air of compunction, he tried to smooth over what he had said.

“I do not care and yet I do care. Well! yes, I am becoming like that.
You will see, you will see, my friend: when you have lived a little
longer, you will do as every one else.”

And he spoke of his forty-two years, of the emptiness of life, posing
for being very melancholy, which his robust health belied. In the
artist’s head which he had fashioned for himself, with flowing hair
and beard trimmed in the Henri IV. style, one found the flat skull and
square jaw of a middle-class man of limited intelligence and voracious
appetites. When younger, he had a fatiguing gaiety.

Octave’s eyes became fixed on a number of the “Gazette de France,” which
was lying amongst some plans. Then, Campardon, more and more ill at
ease, rang for the maid to know if madame was at length disengaged. Yes,
the doctor was just leaving, madame would be there directly.

“Is Madame Campardon unwell?” asked the young man.

“No, she is the same as usual,” said the architect in a bored tone of
voice.

“Ah! and what is the matter with her?”

Again embarrassed, he did not give a straightforward answer.

“You know, there is always something going wrong with women. She
has been in this state for the last thirteen years, ever since her
confinement. Otherwise, she is as well as can be. You will even find her
stouter.”

Octave asked no further questions. Just then, Lisa returned, bringing
a card; and the architect, begging to be excused, hastened to the
drawing-room, telling the young man as he disappeared to talk to his
wife and have patience. Octave had caught sight, on the door being
quickly opened and closed, of the black mass of a cassock in the centre
of the large white and gold apartment.

At the same moment, Madame Campardon entered from the ante-room. He
scarcely knew her again. In other days, when a youngster, he had known
her at Plassans, at her father’s, Monsieur Domergue, government clerk
of the works, she was thin and ugly, as puny-looking as a young girl
suffering from the crisis of her puberty; and now he beheld her plump,
with the clear and placid complexion of a nun, soft eyes, dimples, and
a general appearance of an overfed she-cat. If she had not been able to
grow pretty, she had ripened towards thirty, gaining a sweet savour
and a nice fresh odour of autumn fruit. He remarked, however, that she
walked with difficulty, her whole body wrapped, in a mignonette coloured
silk dressing-gown, moving; which gave her a languid air.

“But you are a man, now!” said she gaily, holding out her hands. “How
you have grown, since our last journey to the country!”

And she gazed at him: tall, dark, handsome, with his well kept moustache
and beard. When he told her his age, twenty-two, she scarcely believed
it: he looked twenty-five at least. He, whom the presence of a woman,
even though she were the lowest of servants, filled with rapture,
laughed melodiously, enveloping her with his eyes of the colour of old
gold, and of the softness of velvet.

“Ah! yes,” repeated he gently, “I have grown, I have grown. Do you
recollect, when your cousin Gasparine used to buy me marbles?”

Then, he gave her news of her parents. Monsieur and Madame Domergue
were living happily, in the house to which they had retired; they merely
complained of being very lonely, bearing Campardon a grudge for having
taken their little Rose from them, during a stay he had made at Plassans
on business. Then, the young man tried to bring the conversation round
to cousin Gasparine, having a precocious youngster’s old curiosity
to satisfy, in the matter of an hitherto unexplained adventure: the
architect’s mad passion for Gasparine, a tall lovely girl, but poor, and
his sudden marriage with skinny Rose who had a dowry of thirty thousand
francs, and quite a tearful scene, and a quarrel, and the flight of
the abandoned one to Paris, to an aunt who was a dressmaker. But Madame
Campardon, whose placid complexion preserved a rosy paleness, did not
appear to understand. He was unable to draw a single particular from
her.

“And your parents?” inquired she in her turn. “How are Monsienr and
Madame Mouret?”

“Very well, thank you,” replied he. “My mother scarcely leaves her
garden. You would find the house in the Rue de la Banne, just as you
left it.”

Madame Campardon, who seemed unable to remain standing for long without
feeling tired, had seated herself on a high drawing-chair, her legs
stretched out in her dressing-gown; and he, taking a low chair beside
her, raised his head when speaking, with his air of habitual adoration.
With his large shoulders, he was like a woman, he had a woman’s feeling
which at once admitted him to their hearts. So that, at the eud of ten
minutes, they were both talking like two lady friends of long standing.

“Now I am your boarder,” said he, passing a handsome hand with neatly
trimmed nails over his beard. “We shall get on well together, you will
see. How charming it was of you to remember the Plassans youngster and
to busy yourself about everything, at the first word!”

But she protested.

“No, do not thank me. I am a great deal too lazy, I never move. It was
Achille who arranged everything. And, besides, was it not sufficient
that my mother mentioned to us your desire to board in some family, for
us to think at once of opening our doors to you? You will not be with
strangers, and will be company for us.”

Then, he told her of his own affairs. After having obtained a bachelor’s
diploma, to please his family, he had just passed three years at
Marseilles, in a big calico print warehouse, which had a factory in
the neighbourhood of Plassans. He had a passion for trade, the trade in
women’s luxuries, into which enters a seduction, a slow possession
by gilded words and adulatory glances. And he related, laughing
victoriously, how he had made the five thousand francs, without which he
would never have ventured on coming to Paris, for he had the prudence of
a Jew beneath the exterior of an amiable giddy-headed fellow.

“Just fancy, they had a Pompadour calico, an old design, something
marvellous. No one would bite at it; it had been stowed away in the
cellars for two years past. Then, as I was about to travel through
the departments of the Var and the Basses-Alpes, it occurred to me to
purchase the whole of the stock and to sell it on my own account.
Oh! such a success! an amazing success! The women quarrelled for the
remnants; and to-day, there is not one there who is not wearing some of
my calico. I must say that I talked them over so nicely! They were all
with me, I might have done as I pleased with them.”

And he laughed, whilst Madame Campardon, charmed, and troubled by
thought of that Pompadour calico, questioned him: “Little bouquets on an
unbleached ground, was it not?” She had been trying to obtain the same
thing everywhere for a summer dressing-gown.

“I have travelled for two years, which is enough,” resumed he. “Besides,
there is Paris to conquer. I must immediately look out for something.”

“What!” exclaimed she, “has not Achille told you? But he has a berth for
you, and close by, too!”

He uttered his thanks, as surprised as though he were in fairy land,
asking, by way of a joke, whether he would not find a wife and a hundred
thousand francs a-year in his room that evening, when a young girl of
fourteen, tall and ugly, with fair insipid-looking hair, pushed open the
door, and gave a slight cry of fright.

“Come in and don’t be afraid,” said Madame Campardon. “It is Monsieur
Octave Mouret, whom you have heard us speak of.”

Then, turning towards the latter, she added:

“My daughter, Angèle. We did not bring her with us at our last journey.
She was so delicate! But she is getting stouter now.”

Angèle, with the awkwardness of girls in the ungrateful age, went and
placed herself behind her mother, and cast glances at the smiling young
man. Almost immediately, Campardon reappeared, looking excited; and he
could not contain himself, but told his wife in a few words of his good
fortune: the Abbé Mauduit, Vicar of Saint-Roch, had called about some
work, merely some repairs, but which might lead to many other things.
Then, annoyed at having spoken before Octave, and still quivering, he
rapped one hand in the other, saying:

“Well! well! what are we going to do?”

“Why, you were going out,” said Octave. “Do not let me disturb you.”

“Achille,” murmured Madame Campardon, “that berth, at the Hédouins’--”

“Why, of course! I was forgetting,” exclaimed the architect. “My dear
fellow, a place of first clerk at a large linen-draper’s. I know some
one there who has said a word for you. You are expected. It is not yet
four o’clock; shall I introduce you now?”

Oetave hesitated, anxious about the bow of his necktie, flurried by his
mania for being neatly dressed. However, he decided to go, when Madame
Campardon assured him that he looked very well. With a languid movement,
she offered her forehead to her husband, who kissed her with a great
show of tenderness, repeating:

“Good-bye, my darling--good-bye, my pet.”

“Do not forget that we dine at seven,” said she, accompanying them
across the drawing-room, where they had left their hats.

Angèle followed them without the slightest grace. But her music-master
was waiting for her, and she at once commenced to strum on the
instrument with her bony fingers. Octave, who was lingering in the
ante-room, repeating his thanks, was unable to make himself heard. And,
as he went downstairs, the sound of the piano seemed to follow him: in
the midst of the warm silence other pianos--from Madame Juzeur’s, the
Vabres’, and Duveyriers’--were answering, playing on eaeh floor other
airs, whieh issued, distantly and religiously, from the calm solemnity
of the doors.

On reaching the street, Campardon turned into the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin. He remained silent, with the absorbed air of a man
seeking for an opportunity to broach a subject.

“Do you remember Mademoiselle Gasparine?” asked he, at length. “She is
first lady assistant at the Hédouins’. You will see her.”

Oetave thought this a good time for satisfying his curiosity.

“Ah!” said he. “Does she live with you?”

“No! no!” exelaimed the architect, hastily, and as though feeling hurt
at the bare idea.

Then, as the young man appeared surprised at his vehemence, he gently
continued, speaking in an embarrassed way:

“No; she and my wife no longer see each other. You know, in families--
Well, I met her, and I could not refuse to shake hands, could I? more
especially as she is not very well off, poor girl. So that, now, they
have news of each other through me. In these old quarrels, one must
leave the task of healing the wounds to time.”

Octave was about to question him plainly on the subject of his marriage,
when the architect suddenly put an end to the conversation by saying:

“Here we are!”

It was a large linen-drapers, opening on to the narrow triangle of the
Place Gaillon, at the corner of the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin and the Rue
de la Michodière. Across two windows immediately above the shop was a
signboard, with the words, “The Ladies’ Paradise, founded in 1822,” in
faded gilt letters, whilst on the shop windows was inscribed, in red,
the name of the firm, “Deleuze, Hédouin, & Co.”

“It has not the modern style, but it is honest and solid,” rapidly
explained Campardou. “Monsieur Hédouin, formerly a clerk, married the
daughter of the elder Deleuze, who died a couple of years ago; so that
the business is now managed by the young couple--the old Deleuze and
another partner, I think, both keep out of it. You will see Madame
Hédouin. Oh! a woman with brains! Let us go in.”

It so happened that Monsieur Hédouin was at Lille buying some linen;
therefore Madame Hédouin received them. She was standing up, a penholder
behind her ear, giving orders to two shopmen who were putting away some
pieces of stuff on the shelves; and she appeared to him so tall, so
admirably lovely, with her regular features and her tidy hair, so
gravely smiling, in her black dress, with a turn-down collar and a
man’s tie, that Octave, not usually timid, could only stammer out a few
observations. Everything was settled without any waste of words.

“Well!” said she, in her quiet way, and with her tradeswoman’s
accustomed gracefulness, “you may as well look over the place, as you
are not engaged.”

She called one of her clerks, and put Octave under his guidance;
then, after having politely replied to a question of Cam-pardon’s that
Mademoiselle Gasparine was out on an errand, she turned her back and
resumed her work, continuing to give her orders in her gentle and
concise voice.

“Not there, Alexandre. Put the silks up at the top. Be careful, those
are not the same make!”

Campardon, after hesitating, at length said to Octave that he would call
again for him to take him back to dinner. Then, during two hours, the
young man went over the warehouse. He found it badly lighted, small,
encumbered with stock, which, overflowing from the basement, became
heaped up in the corners, leaving only narrow passages between high
walls of bales. On several different occasions he ran against Madame
Hédouin, busy, and scuttling along the narrowest passages without ever
catching her dress in anything. She seemed the very life and soul of
the establishment, all the assistants belonging to which obeyed the
slightest sign of her white hands. Octave felt hurt that she did not
take more notice of him. Towards a quarter to seven, as he was coming
up a last time from the basement, he was told that Campardon was on
the first floor with Mademoiselle Gasparine. Up there was the hosiery
department, which that young lady looked after. But, at the top of the
winding staircase, the young man stopped abruptly behind a pyramid
of pieces of calico systematically arranged, on hearing the architect
talking most familiarly to Gasparine.

“I swear to you it is not so!” cried he, forgetting himself so far as to
raise his voice.

A slight pause ensued.

“How is she now?” at length inquired the young woman.

“Well! always the same. It comes and goes. She feels that it is all over
now. She will never get right again.”

Gasparine resumed, in compassionate tones:

“My poor friend, it is you who are to be pitied. However, as you have
been able to manage in another way, tell her how sorry I am to hear that
she is still unwell--”

Campardon, without letting her finish, seized hold of her by the
shoulders and kissed her roughly on the lips, in the gas-heated air
already becoming heavy beneath the low ceiling. She returned his kiss,
murmuring:

“To-morrow morning, if you can, at six o’clock; I will remain in bed.
Knock three times.”

Octave, bewildered, and beginning to understand, coughed, and showed
himself. Another surprise awaited him. Cousin Gasparine had become dried
up, thin and angular, with her jaw projecting, and her hair coarse; and
all she had preserved of her former self were her large superb eyes, in
a face that had now become cadaverous. With her jealous forehead, her
ardent and obstinate mouth, she troubled him as much as Rose had charmed
him by her tardy expansion of an indolent blonde.

Gasparine was polite, without effusiveness. She remembered Plassans--she
talked to the young man of the old times. When they went off, Campardon
and he, she shook their hands. Downstairs, Madame Hédouin simply said to
Oetave:

“To-morrow, then, sir.”

Out in the street the young man, deafened by the cabs, jostled by the
passers-by, eould not help remarking that this lady was very beautiful,
but that she did not seem particularly amiable. On the black and muddy
pavement, the bright windows of freshly-painted shops, flaring with gas,
east broad rays of vivid light; whilst the old shops, with their sombre
displays, lit up in the interior only by smoking lamps, which burnt like
distant stars, saddened the streets with masses of shadow. In the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin, just before turning into the Rue do Choiseul, the
architect bowed on passing before one of these establishments.

A young woman, slim and elegant, dressed in a silk mantlet, was standing
in the doorway, drawing a little boy of three towards her, so that he
might not get run over. She was talking to an old bareheaded lady, the
shopkeeper, no doubt, whom she addressed in a familiar manner. Octave
eould not distinguish her features in that dim light, beneath the
dancing reflections of the neighbouring gas-jets; she seemed to him to
be pretty, he only saw two bright eyes, whieh were fixed a moment upon
him like two flames. Behind her yawned the shop, damp like a cellar, and
emitting an odour of saltpetre.

“That is Madame Vabre, the wife of Monsieur Théophile Vabre, the
landlord’s younger son. You know the people who live on the first
floor,” resumed Campardon, when he had gone a few steps. “Oh! a most
charming lady! She was born in that shop, one of the best paying
haberdashers of the neighbourhood, which her parents, Monsieur and
Madame Louhette, still manage, for the sake of having something to
occupy them. They have made some money there, I will warrant!”

But Oetave did not understand trade of that sort, in those holes of old
Paris, where at one time a piece of stuff was sufficient sign. He swore
that nothing in the world would ever make him consent to live in such a
den. One surely caught some rare aches and pains there!

Whilst talking, they had reaehed the top of the stairs. They were being
waited for. Madame Campardon had put on a grey silk dress, had arranged
her hair coquettishly, and looked very neat and prim. Campardou kissed
her on the neck, with the emotion of a good husband.

“Good evening, my darling; good evening, my pet.”

And they passed into the dining-room. The dinner was delightful. Madame
Campardon at first talked of the Deleuzes and the Hédouins--families
respected throughout the neighbourhood, and whose member’s were well
known; a cousin who was a stationer in the Rue Gaillon, an uncle who
had an umbrella shop in the Passage Choiseul, and nephews and nieces in
business all round about. Then the conversation turned, and they talked
of Angèle, who was sitting stiffly on her chair, and eating with inert
gestures. Her mother was bringing her up at home, it was preferable;
and, not wishing to say more, she blinked her eyes, to convey that young
girls learnt very naughty things at boarding-schools. The child had
slyly balanced her plate on her knife. Lisa, who was clearing the cloth,
missed breaking it, and exclaimed:

“It was your fault, mademoiselle!”

A mad laugh, violently restrained, passed over Angèle’s face. ‘Madame
Campardon contented herself with shaking her head; and, when Lisa
had left the room to fetch the dessert, she sang her praises--very
intelligent, very active, a regular Paris girl, always knowing which way
to turn. They might very well do without Victoire, the cook, who was
no longer very clean, on account of her great age; but she had seen her
master born at his father’s--she was a family ruin which they respected.
Then as the maid returned with some baked apples:

“Conduct irreproachable,” continued Madame Campardon in Octave’s ear.
“I have discovered nothing against her as yet. One holiday a month to go
and embrace her old aunt, who lives some distance off.”

Octave observed Lisa. Seeing her nervous, flat-chested, blear-eyed, the
thought came to him that she must go in for a precious fling, when at
her old aunt’s. However, he greatly approved what the mother said, as
she continued to give him her views on education--a young girl is such
a heavy responsibility, it is necessary to keep her clear even of the
breaths of the street And, during this, Angèle, each time Lisa leant
over near her chair to remove a plate, pinched her in a friendly way,
whilst they both maintained their composite, without even moving an
eyelid.

[Illustration: 0010]

“One should be virtuous for one’s own sake,” said the architect
learnedly, as though by way of conclusion to thoughts he had not
expressed. “I do not care a button for public opinion; I am an artist!”

After dinuer, they remained in the drawing-room until midnight. It was
a little jollification to celebrate Octave’s arrival. Madame Campardon
appeared to be very tired; little by little she abandoned herself,
leaning back on the sofa.

“Are you suffering, my darling?” asked her husband.

“No,” replied she in a low voice. “It is always the same thing.”

She looked at him, and then gently asked:

“Did you see her at the Hédouins’?”

“Yes. She asked after you.”

Tears came to Rose’s eyes.

“She is in good health, she is!”

“Come, come,” said the architect, showering little kisses on her hair,
forgetting they were not alone. “You will make yourself worse again. You
know very well that I love you all the same, my poor pet!”

Octave, who had discreetly retired to the window, under the pretence
of looking into the street, returned to study Madame Campardon’s
countenance, his curiosity again awakened, and wondering if she knew.
But she had resumed her amiable and doleful expression, and was curled
up in the depths of the sofa, like a woman who has to find her pleasure
in herself, and who is forcibly resigned to receiving the caresses that
fall to her share.

At length Octave wished them good-night. With his candlestick in his
hand, he was still on the landing, when he heard the sound of silk
dresses rustling over the stairs. He politely stood on one side. It was
evidently the ladies of the fourth floor, Madame Josserand and her two
daughters, returning from some party. As they passed, the mother, a
superb and corpulent woman, stared in his face; whilst the elder of
the young ladies kept at a distance with a sour air, and the younger,
giddily looked at him and laughed, in the full light of the candle. She
was charming, this one, with her irregular but agreeable features, her
clear complexion, and her auburn hair gilded with light reflections; and
she had a bold grace, the free gait of a young bride returning from a
ball in a complicated costume of ribbons and lace, like unmarried girls
do not wear. The trains disappeared along the balustrade: a door closed.
Octave lingered a moment, greatly amused by the gaiety of her eyes.

He slowly ascended in his turn. A single gas-jet was burning, the
staircase was slumbering in a heavy warmth. It seemed to him more
wrapped up in itself than ever, with its chaste doors, its doors of rich
mahogany, closing the entrances to virtuous alcoves. Not a sigh passed
along, it was the silence of well-mannered people who hold their
breath. Presently a slight noise was heard; Octave leant over and beheld
Monsieur Gourd, in his cap and slippers, turning out the last gas-jet.
Then all subsided, the house became enveloped by the solemnity of
darkness, as though annihilated in the distinction and decency of its
slumbers.

Octave, nevertheless, had great difficulty in getting to sleep. He kept
feverishly turning over, his brain occupied with the new faces he had
seen. Why the devil were the Campardons so amiable? Were they dreaming
of marrying their daughter to him later on? Perhaps, too, the husband
took him to board with them so that he might amuse and enliven the wife?
And that poor lady, what peculiar complaint could she be suffering from?
Then his ideas got more mixed; he saw shadows pass--? little Madame
Pichon, his neighbour, with her clear empty glances; beautiful Madame
Hédouin, correct and grave in her black dress; and Madame Vabre’s ardent
eyes, and Mademoiselle Josserand’s gay laugh. How they swarmed in a few
hours in the streets of Paris! It had always been his dream, ladies who
would take him by the hand and help him in his affairs. But these kept
returning and mingling with fatiguing obstinacy. He knew not which to
choose; he tried to keep his voice soft, his gestures cajoling. And
suddenly, worn-out, exasperated, he yielded to his brutal inner nature,
to the ferocious disdain in which he held woman, beneath his air of
amorous adoration.

“Are they going to let me sleep at all?” said he out loud, turning
violently on to his back. “The first who likes, it is the same to me,
and all together if it pleases them! To sleep now, it will be daylight
to-morrow.”



CHAPTER II.

When Madame Josserand, preceded by her young ladies, left the evening
party given by Madame Dambreville, who resided on a fourth floor in
the Rue de Rivoli, at the corner of the Rue de l’Oratoire, she roughly
slammed the street door, in the sudden outburst of a passion she had
been keeping under for the past two hours. Berthe, her younger daughter,
had again just gone and missed a husband.

“Well! what are you doing there?” said she angrily to the young girls,
who were standing under the arcade and watching the cabs pass by. “Walk
on! don’t have any idea we are going to ride! To waste another two
francs, eh?”

And as Hortense, the elder, murmured:

“It will be pleasant, with this mud. My shoes will never recover it.”

“Walk on!” resumed the mother, all beside herself. “When you have no
more shoes, you can stop in bed, that’s all. A deal of good it is,
taking you out!”

Berthe and Hortense bowed their heads and turned into the Rue de
l’Oratoire. They held their long skirts up as high as they could over
their crinolines, squeezing their shoulders together and shivering under
their thin opera-cloaks. Madame Josserand followed behind, wrapped in
an old fur cloak made of Calabar skins, looking as shabby as cats’.
All three, without bonnets, had their hair enveloped in lace wraps,
head-dresses which caused the last passers-by to look back, surprised
at seeing them glide along the houses, one by one, with bent backs, and
their eyes fixed on the puddles. And the mother’s exasperation increased
still more at the recollection of many similar returns home, for three
winters past, hampered by their gay dresses, amidst the black mud of the
streets and the jeers of belated blackguards. No, decidedly, she had had
enough of dragging her young ladies about to the four corners of Paris,
without daring to venture on the luxury of a cab, for fear of having to
omit a dish from the morrow’s dinner!

“And she makes marriages!” said she out loud, returning to Madame
Dambreville, and talking alone to ease herself, without even addressing
her daughters, who had turned down the Rue Saint-Honoré. “They are
pretty, her marriages! A lot of impertinent minxes, who come from no
one knows where! Ah! if one was not obliged! It’s like her last success,
that bride whom she brought out, to show us that it did not always fail;
a fine specimen! a wretched child who had to be sent back to her convent
for six months, after a little mistake, to be re-whitewashed!”

The young girls were crossing the Place du Palais-Royal, when a shower
came on. It was a regular rout. They stopped, slipping, splashing,
looking again at the vehicles passing empty along.

“Walk on!” cried the mother, pitilessly. “We are too near now; it is not
worth two francs. And your brother Léon, who refused to leave with us
for fear of having to pay for the cab! So much the better for him if he
gets what he wants at that lady’s, but we can say that it is not at all
decent. A woman who is over fifty and who only receives young men! An
old nothing-much whom a high personage married to that fool Dambreville,
appointing him head clerk!”

Hortense and Berthe trotted along in the rain, one before the other,
without seeming to hear. When their mother thus eased herself, letting
everything out, and forgetting the wholesome strictness with which she
kept them, it was agreed that they should be deaf. Berthe, however,
revolted on entering the gloomy and deserted Rue de l’Echelle.

“Oh, dear!” said she, “the heel of my shoe is coming off. I cannot go a
step further!”

Madame Josserand’s wrath became terrible.

“Just walk on! Do I complain? Is it my place to be out in the street
at such a time and in such weather? It would be different if you had a
father like others! But no, the fine gentleman stays at home taking his
ease. It is always my turn to drag you about; he would never accept the
burden. Well! I declare to you that I have had enough of it. Your father
may take you out in future if he likes; may the devil have me if ever
again I accompany you to houses where I am plagued like that! A man who
deceived me as to his capacities, and who has never yet procured me the
least pleasure! Ah! good heavens! there is one I would not marry now, if
it were to come over again!”

The young ladies no longer protested. They were already acquainted with
this inexhaustible chapter of their mother’s blighted hopes. With their
lace wraps drawn over their faces, their shoes sopping wet, they rapidly
followed the Rue Sainte-Anne. But, in the Rue de Choiseul, at the very
door of her house, a last humiliation awaited Madame Josserand: the
Duveyriers’ carriage splashed her as it passed in.

On the stairs, the mother and the young ladies, worn out and enraged,
recovered their gracefulness when they had to pass before Octave. Only,
as soon as ever their door was closed behind them, they rushed through
the dark apartment, knocking up against the furniture, and tumbled into
the dining-room, where Monsieur Josserand was writing by the feeble
light of a little lamp.

“Failed!” cried Madame Josserand, letting herself fall on to a chair.

And, with a rough gesture, she tore the lace wrap from her head, threw
her fur cloak on to the back of her chair, and appeared in a flaring
dress trimmed with black satin and cut very low in the neck, looking
enormous, her shoulders still beautiful, and resembling a mare’s shining
flanks. Her square face, with its drooping cheeks and too big nose,
expressed the tragic fury of a queen restraining herself from descending
to the use of coarse, vulgar expressions.

“Ah!” said Monsieur Josserand simply, bewildered by this violent
entrance.

He kept blinking his eyes and was seized with uneasiness. His wife
positively crushed him when she displayed that giant throat, the full
weight of which he seemed to feel on the nape of his neck. Dressed in an
old thread-bare frock-coat which he was finishing to wear out at home,
his face looking as though tempered and expunged by thirty-five years
spent at an office desk, he watched her for a moment with his big
lifeless blue eyes. Then, after thrusting his grey locks behind his
ears, feeling very embarrassed and unable to find a word to say, he
attempted to resume his work.

“But you do not seem to understand!” resumed Madame Josserand in a
shrill voice. “I tell you that there is another marriage knocked on the
head, and it is the fourth!”

“Yes, yes, I know, the fourth,” murmured he. “It is annoying, very
annoying.”

And, to escape from his wife’s terrifying nudity, he turned towards his.
daughters with a good-natured smile. They also were removing their lace
wraps and their opera-cloaks; the elder one was in blue and the younger
in pink; their dresses, too, free in cut and over-trimmed, were like a
provocation. Hortense, with her sallow complexion, and her face spoilt
by a nose like her mother’s, which gave her an air of disdainful
obstinacy, had just turned twenty-three and looked twenty-eight; whilst
Berthe, two years younger, retained all a child’s gracefulness, having,
however, the same features, but more delicate and dazzlingly white, and
only menaced with the coarse family mask after she entered the fifties.

“It will do no good if you go on looking at us for ever!” cried Madame
Josserand. “And, for God’s sake, put your writing away; it worries my
nerves!”

“But, my dear,” said he peacefully, “I am addressing wrappers.”

“Ah! yes, your wrappers at three francs a thousand! Is it with those
three francs that you hope to marry your daughters?”

Beneath the feeble light of the little lamp, the table was indeed
covered with large sheets of coarse paper, printed wrappers, the blanks
of which Monsieur Josserand filled in for a largo publisher who had
several periodicals. As his salary as cashier did not suffice, he passed
whole nights at this unprofitable labour, working in secret, and seized
with shame at the idea that any one might discover their penury.

“Three francs are three francs,” replied he in his slow, tired voice.
“Those three francs will enable you to add ribbons to your dresses, and
to offer some pastry to your guests on your Tuesdays at home.”

He regretted his words as soon as he had uttered them; for he felt that
they struck Madame Josserand full in the heart, in the most sensitive
part of her wounded pride. A rush of blood purpled her shoulders; she
seemed on the point of breaking out into revengeful utterances; then, by
an effort of dignity, she merely stammered, “Ah! good heavens! ah! good
heavens!”

And she looked at her daughters; she magisterially crushed her husband
beneath a shrug of her terrible shoulders, as much as to say, “Eh! you
hear him? what an idiot!” The daughters nodded their heads. Then, seeing
himself beaten, and laying down his pen with regret, the father opened
the “Temps” newspaper, which he brought home every evening from his
office.

“Is Saturnin asleep?” sharply inquired Madame Josserand, speaking of her
younger son.

“Yes, long ago,” replied he. “I also sent Adèle to bed. And Léon, did
you see him at the Dambrevilles’?”

“Of course! he sleeps there!” she let out in a cry of rancour which she
was unable to restrain.

The father, surprised, naively added,

“Ah! you think so?”

Hortense and Berthe had become deaf again. They faintly smiled,
however, affecting to be busy with their shoes, which were in a pitiful
state. To create a diversion, Madame Josserand tried to pick another
quarrel with Monsieur Josserand; she begged him to take his newspaper
away every morning, not to leave it lying about in the room all day, as
he had done with the previous number, for instance, a number containing
the report of an abominable trial, which his daughters might have read.
She well recognised there his want of morality.

“Well, are we going to bed?” asked Hortense. “I am hungry.”

“Oh! and I too!” said Berthe. “I am famishing.”

“What! you are hungry!” cried Madame Josserand beside herself. “Did you
not eat any cake there, then? What a couple of geese! You should have
eaten some! I did.”

The young ladies resisted. They were hungry, they were feeling quite
ill. So the mother accompanied them to the kitchen, to see if they
could discover anything. The father at once returned stealthily to his
wrappers. He well knew that, without them, every little luxury in the
home would have disappeared; and that was why, in spite of the scorn and
unjust quarrels, he obstinately remained till daybreak engaged in this
secret work, happy like the worthy man he was whenever he fancied that
an extra piece of lace would hook a rich husband. As they were already
stinting the food, without managing to save sufficient for the dresses
and the Tuesday receptions, he resigned himself to his martyr-like
labour, dressed in rags, whilst the mother and daughters wandered from
drawing-room to drawing-room with flowers in their hair.

“What a stench there is here!” cried Madame Josserand on entering the
kitchen. “To think that I can never get that slut Adèle to leave the
window slightly open! She pretends that the room is so very cold in the
morning.”

She went and opened the window, and from the narrow courtyard separating
the kitchens there rose an icy dampness, the unsavoury odour of a musty
cellar. The candle which Berthe had lighted caused colossal shadows of
naked shoulders to dance upon the wall.

“And what a state the place is in!” continued Madame Josserand, sniffing
about, and poking her nose into all the dirty corners. “She has not
scrubbed her table for a fortnight. Here are plates which have been
waiting to be washed since the day before yesterday. On my word, it is
disgusting! And her sink, just look! smell it now, smell her sink!”

Her rage was lashing itself. She tumbled the crockery about with her
arms white with rice powder and bedecked with gold bangles; she trailed
her flaring dress amidst the grease stains, catching it in cooking
utensils thrown under the tables, risking her hardly earned luxury
amongst the vegetable parings. At last, the discovery of a notched knife
made her anger break all bounds.

“I will turn her into the street to-morrow morning!”

“You will be no better off,” quietly remarked Hortense. “We are never
able to keep anyone. This is the first who has stayed three months. The
moment they begin to get a little decent and know how to make melted
butter, off they go.”

Madame Josserand bit her lips. As a matter of fact, Adèle alone, stupid
and lousy, and only lately arrived from her native Brittany, could put
up with the ridiculously vain penury of these middle-class people, who
took advantage of her ignorance and her slovenliness to half starve her.
Twenty times already, on account of a comb found on the bread or of
some abominable stew which gave them all the colic, they had talked of
sending her about her business; then, they had resigned themselves to
putting up with her, in the presence of the difficulty of replacing her,
for the pilferers themselves declined to be engaged, to enter that hole,
where even the lumps of sugar were counted.

“I can’t discover anything!” murmured Berthe, who was rummaging a
cupboard.

The shelves had the melancholy emptiness and the false luxury of
families where inferior meat is purchased, so as to be able to put
flowers on the table. All that was lying about were some white and gold
porcelain plates, perfectly empty, a crumb-brush, the silver-plated
handle of which was all tarnished, and some cruets without a drain of
oil or vinegar in them; there was not a forgotten crust, not a morsel
of dessert, not a fruit, nor a sweet, nor a remnant of cheese. One could
feel that Adèle’s hunger never satisfied, lapped up the rare dribblets
of sauce which her betters left at the bottoms of the dishes, to the
extent of rubbing the gilt off.

“But she has gone and eaten all the rabbit!” cried Madame Josserand.

“True,” said Hortense, “there was the tail piece. Ah! no, here it is. It
would have surprised me if she had dared. I shall stick to it, you know.
It is cold, but it is better than nothing!”

Berthe, on her side, was rummaging about, but without result. At length
her hand encountered a bottle, in which her mother had diluted the
contents of an old pot of jam, so as to manufacture some red currant
syrup for her evening parties. She poured herself out half a glass,
saying:

“Ah! an idea! I will soak some bread in this, as it is all there is!”

But Madame Josserand, all anxiety, looked at her sternly.

“Pray, don’t restrain yourself, fill your glass whilst you are about it.
It will be quite sufficient if I offer water to the ladies and gentlemen
to-morrow, will it not?”

Fortunately, the discovery of another of Adèle’s evil doings interrupted
her reprimand. She was still turning about, searching for crimes, when
she caught sight of a volume on the table; and then occurred a supreme
explosion.

“Oh! the beast! she has again brought my Lamartine into the kitchen!”

It was a copy of “Jocelyn.” She took it up and rubbed it hard, as though
dusting it; and she kept repeating that she had twenty times forbidden
her to leave it lying about in that way, to write her accounts upon.
Berthe and Hortense, meanwhile, had shared the little piece of bread
which remained; then carrying their suppers away with them, they said
that they would undress first. The mother gave the icy cold stove a last
glance, and returned to the dining-room, tightly holding her Lamartine
beneath the massive flesh of her arm.

Monsieur Josserand continued writing. He trusted that his wife would be
satisfied with crushing him with a glance of contempt as she crossed the
room to go to bed. But she again dropped on to a chair, facing him,
and looked at him fixedly without speaking. He felt this look, and was
seized with such uneasiness, that his pen kept sputtering on the flimsy
wrapper paper.

“So it was you who prevented Adèle making a cream for tomorrow evening?”
 said she at length.

He raised his head in amazement.

“I, my dear!”

“Oh! you will again deny it, as you always do. Then, why has she not
made the cream I ordered? You know very well that before our party
to-morrow Uncle Bachelard is coming to dinner, it is his saint’s-day,
which is very awkward, happening as it does on my reception day. If
there is no cream, we must have an ice, and that will be another five
francs squandered!”

He did not attempt to exculpate himself. Not daring to resume his work,
he began to play with his penholder. There was a brief pause.

“To-morrow morning,” resumed Madame Josserand, “you will oblige me by
calling on the Campardons and reminding them very politely, if you
can, that we are expecting to see them in the evening. Their young
man arrived this afternoon. Ask them to bring him with them. Do you
understand? I wish him to come.”

“What young man?”

“A young man; it would take too long to explain everything to you. I
have obtained all necessary information about him. I am obliged to try
everything, as you leave your daughters entirely to me, like a bundle
of rubbish, without occupying yourself about marrying them any more than
about marrying the Grand Turk.”

The thought revived her anger.

“You see, I contain myself, but it is more, oh! it is more than I can
stand! Say nothing, sir, say nothing, or really my anger will get the
better of me.”

He said nothing, but she vented her wrath upon him all the same.

“It has become unbearable! I warn you, that one of these mornings I
shall go off, and leave you here with your two idiotic daughters. Was
I born to live such a skinflint life as this? Always cutting farthings
into four, never even having a decent pair of boots, and not being able
to receive my friends decently! And all that through your fault! Ah! do
not shake your head, do not exasperate me more than I am already! Yes,
your fault! You deceived me, sir, basely deceived me. One should not
marry a woman, when one is decided to let her want for everything. You
played the boaster, you pretended you had a fine future before you, you
were the friend of your employer’s sons, of those brothers Bemheim, who,
since, have merely made a fool of you. What! You dare to pretend that
they have not made a fool of you! But you ought to be their partner
by now? It is you who made their business what it is, one of the
first glass-houses in Paris, and you have remained their cashier, a
subordinate, a hireling. Really! you have no spirit; hold your tongue.”

“I get eight thousand francs a year,” murmured the cashier. “It is a
very good berth.”

“A good berth, after more than thirty years’ labour?” resumed Madame
Josserand. “They grind you down, and you are delighted. Do you know what
I would have done, had I been in your place? well! I would have put the
business into my pocket twenty times over. It was so easy. I saw it when
I married you, and since then I have never ceased advising you to do so.
But it required some initiative and intelligence; it was a question of
not going to sleep on your leather-covered stool, like a blockhead.”

“Come,” interrupted Monsieur Josserand, “are you going to reproach me
now with being honest?”

She jumped up, and advanced towards him, flourishing her Lamartine.

“Honest! in what way do you mean? Begin by being honest towards me.
Others do not count till afterwards, I hope! And I repeat, sir, it is
not honest to take a young girl in, pretending to be ambitious to become
rich some day, and then to end by losing what little wits you had
in looking after somebody else’s cashbox. On my word, I was nicely
swindled! Ah! if it were to happen over again, and if I had only known
your family!”

She was walking violently about. He could not restrain a slight sign of
impatience, in spite of his great desire for peace.

“You would do better to go to bed, Eléonore,” said he. “It is past one
o’clock, and I assure you this work is pressing. My family has done you
no harm, so do not speak of it.”

“Ah! and why, pray? Your family is no more sacred than another, I
suppose. Every one at Clermont knows that your father, after selling
his business of solicitor, let himself be ruined by a servant. You might
have seen your daughters married long ago, had he not taken up with a
strumpet when over seventy. There is another who has swindled me!”

Monsieur Josserand turned pale. He replied in a trembling voice, which
rose higher as he went on:

“Listen, do not let us throw our relations at each other’s heads.
Your father never paid me your dowry, the thirty thousand francs he
promised.”

“Eh? what? thirty thousand francs!”

“Exactly; don’t pretend to be surprised. And if my father met with
misfortunes, yours behaved in a most disgraceful way towards us. I was
never able to find out clearly what he left. There were all sorts
of underhand dealings, so that the school in the Rue des
Fossés-Saint-Victor should remain with your sister’s husband, that
shabby usher who no longer recognises us now. We were robbed as though
in a wood.”

Madame Josserand, now ghastly white, was choking with rage before her
husband’s inconceivable revolt.

“Do not say a word against papa! For forty years he was a credit to
instruction. Go and talk of the Bachelard Academy in the neighbourhood
of the Panthéon! And as for my sister and my brother-in-law, they are
what they are. They have robbed me, I know; but it is not for you to
say so. I will not permit it, understand that! Do I speak to you of
your sister, who eloped with an officer? Oh! you have indeed some nice
relations!”

“An officer who married her, madame. There is uncle Bachelard, too, your
brother, a man totally destitute of all morality--”

“But you are becoming cracked, sir! He is rich, he earns what he pleases
as a commission merchant, and he has promised to provide Berthe’s dowry.
Do you then respect nothing?”

“Ah! yes, provide Berthe’s dowry! Will you bet that he will give a
sou, and that we shall not have had to put up with his nasty habits for
nothing? He makes me feel ashamed of him every time he comes here. A
liar, a rake, a person who takes advantage of the situation, who for
fifteen years past, seeing us all on our knees before his fortune, has
been taking me every Saturday to spend two hours in his office, to
go over his books! It saves him five francs. We have never yet been
favoured with a single present from him.”

Madame Josserand, catching her breath, was wrapped for a moment in
thought. Then she uttered this last cry:

“And you have a nephew in the police, sir!”

A fresh pause ensued. The light from the little lamp was becoming
dimmer, wrappers were flying about beneath Monsieur Josserand’s feverish
gestures; and he looked his wife full in the face--his wife in her low
neck dress--determined to say everything, and quivering with courage.

“With eight thousand francs a year one can do many things,” resumed
he. “You are always complaining. But you should not have arranged your
housekeeping on a footing superior to our means. It is your mania for
receiving and for paying visits, of having your at homes, of giving tea
and pastry--“?

She did not let him finish.

“Now we have come to it! Shut me up in a box at once. Reproach me for
not walking out as naked as my hand. And your daughters, sir, who will
marry them if we never see any one? We don’t see many people as it is.
It does well to sacrifice oneself, to be judged afterwards with such
meanness of heart!”

“We have all of us, madame, sacrificed ourselves. Léon had to make way
for his sisters; and he left the house to earn his own living without
any assistance from us. As for Saturnin, poor child, he does not even
know how to read. And I deny myself everything; I pass my nights--”

“Why did you have daughters then, sir? You are surely not going to
reproach them with their education, I hope? Any other man in your place
would be proud of Hortense’s diploma and of Berthe’s talents. The dear
child again delighted every one this evening with her waltz, the ‘Banks
of the Oise,’ and her last painting will certainly enchant our guests
to-morrow. But you, sir, you are not even a father; you would have sent
your children to take cows to grass, instead of sending them to school.”

“Well! I took out an assurance for Berthe’s benefit Was it not you,
madame, who, when the fourth payment became due, made use of the money
to cover the drawing-room furniture? And, since then, you have even
negotiated the premiums that had been paid.”

“Of course! as you leave us to die of hunger. Ah! you may indeed bite
your fingers, if your daughters become old maids.”

“Bite my fingers! But, Jove’s thunder! it is you who frighten the likely
men away, with your dresses and your ridiculous parties!”

Never before had Monsieur Josserand gone so far. Madame Josserand,
suffocating, stammered forth the words: “I--I ridiculous!” when the
door opened. Hortense and Berthe were returning, in their petticoats
and little calico jackets, their hair let down, and their feet in old
slippers.

“Ah, well! it is too cold in our room!” said Berthe shivering. “The
food freezes in your mouth. Here, at least, there has been a fire this
evening.”

And both dragging their chairs along the floor, seated themselves close
to the stove, which still retained a little warmth. Hortense held her
rabbit bone in the tips of her fingers, and was skilfully picking
it. Berthe dipped pieces of bread in her glass of syrup. The parents,
however, were so excited that they did not even appear to notice their
arrival. They continued:

“Ridiculous--ridiculous, sir! I shall not be ridiculous again! Let my
head be cut off if I wear out another pair of gloves in trying to get
them husbands. It is your turn now! And try not to be more ridiculous
than I have been!”

“I daresay, madame, now that you have exhibited them and compromised
them everywhere! Whether you marry them or whether you don’t, I don’t
care a button!”

“And I care less, Monsieur Josserand! I care so little that I will
bundle them out into the street if you aggravate me much more. And if
you have a mind to, you can follow them, the door is open. Ah, heavens!
what a good riddance!”

The young ladies quietly listened, used to these lively recriminations.
They were still eating, their little jackets dropping from their
shoulders, and their bare skin gently rubbing against the lukewarm
earthenware of the stove; and they looked charming in this undress, with
their youth and their hearty appetites and their eyes heavy with sleep.

“You are very foolish to quarrel,” at length observed Hortense, with her
mouth full. “Mamma only spoils her temper, and papa will be ill again
to-morrow at his office. It seems to me that we are old enough to be
able to find husbands for ourselves.”

This created a diversion. The father, thoroughly exhausted, made a feint
of returning to his wrappers; and he sat with his nose over the paper,
unable to write, his hands trembling violently. The mother, who had been
moving about the room like an escaped lioness, went and planted herself
in front of Hortense.

“If you are speaking for yourself,” cried she, “you are a great ninny!
Your Verdier will never marry you.”

“That is my business,” boldly replied the young girl.

After having contemptuously refused five or six suitors, a little clerk,
the son of a tailor, and other young fellows whose prospects she did not
consider good enough, she had ended by setting her cap at a barrister,
whom she had met at the Dambrevilles’, and who was already turned forty.
She considered him very clever, and destined to make a name in the
world. But the misfortune was that for fifteen years past Verdier had
been living with a mistress, who in the neighbourhood even passed for
his wife. She knew of this, though, and by no means let it trouble her.

“My child,” said the father, raising his head once more, “I begged you
not to think of this marriage. You know the situation.”

She stopped sucking her bone, and said with an air of impatience:

“What of it? Verdier has promised me he will leave her. She is a fool.”

“You are wrong, Hortense, to speak in that way. And if he should also
leave you one day to return to her whom you would have caused him to
abandon?”

“That is my business,” sharply retorted the young woman.

Berthe listened, fully acquainted with this matter, the contingencies
of which she discussed daily with her sister. She was, besides, like her
father, all in favour of the poor woman, whom it was proposed to turn
out into the street, after having performed a wife’s duties for fifteen
years. But Madame Josserand intervened.

“Leave off, do! those wretched women always end by returning to the
gutter. Only, it is Verdier who will never bring himself to leave her.
He is fooling you, my dear. In your place, I would not wait a second for
him; I would try and find some one else.”

Hortense’s voice became sourer still, whilst two livid spots appeared on
her cheeks.

“Mamma, you know how I am. I want him, and I will have him. I will never
marry any one else, even though he kept me waiting a hundred years.”

The mother shrugged her shoulders.

“And you call others fools!”

But the young girl rose up, quivering with rage.

“Here! don’t go pitching into me!” cried she. “I have finished my
rabbit. I prefer to go to bed. As you are unable to find us husbands,
you must let us find them in our own way.”

And she withdrew, violently slamming the door behind her.

Madame Josserand turned majestically towards her husband, and uttered
this profound remark:

“That, sir, is the result of your bringing up!”

Monsieur Josserand did not protest; he was occupied in dotting his
thumb nail with ink, whilst waiting till they allowed him to resume his
writing. Berthe, who had eaten her bread, dipped a finger in the glass
to finish up her syrup. She felt comfortable, with her back nice and
warm, and did not hurry herself, being undesirous of encountering her
sister’s quarrelsome temper in their bedroom.

“Ah! and that is the reward!” continued Madame Josserand, resuming her
walk to and fro across the dining-room. “For twenty years one wears
oneself out for these young ladies, one goes in want of everything in
order to make them accomplished women, and they will not even let one
have the satisfaction of seeing them married according to one’s own
fancy. It would be different, if they had ever been refused a single
thing! But I have never kept a sou for myself, and have even gone
without clothes to dress them as though we had an income of fifty
thousand franca No, really, it is too absurd! When those hussies have
had a careful education, have got just as much religion as is necessary,
and the airs of rich girls, they leave you in the lurch, they talk of
marrying barristers, adventurers, who lead lives of debauchery!”

She stopped before Berthe, and, menacing her with her finger, said:

“As for you, if you follow your sister’s example, you will have me to
deal with.”

Then she recommenced stamping round the room, speaking to herself,
jumping from one idea to another, contradicting herself with the
brazenness of a woman who will always be in the right.

“I did what I ought to do, and were it to be done over again I should
do the same. In life, it is only the most shamefaced who lose. Money is
money; when one has none, one may as well retire. Whenever I had twenty
sous, I always said I had forty; for that is real wisdom, it is better
to be envied than pitied. It is no use having a good education if one
has not good clothes to wear, for then people despise you. It is not
just, but it is so. I would sooner wear dirty petticoats than a cotton
dress. Feed on potatoes, but have a chicken when you have any one to
dinner. And only fools would say the contrary!”

She looked fixedly at her husband, to whom these last reflections were
addressed. The latter, worn out, and declining another battle, had the
cowardice to declare:

“It is true; money is everything in our days.”

“You hear,” resumed Madame Josserand, returning towards her daughter.
“Go straight ahead and try to give us satisfaction. How is it you let
this marriage fall through?”

Berthe understood that her turn had come.

“I don’t know, mamma,” murmured she “A second head-clerk in a government
office,” continued the mother; “not yet thirty, with a splendid future
before him. Every month he would be bringing you his money; it is
something substantial that, there is nothing like it. You have been up
to some tomfoolery again, just the same as with the others.”

“I have not, mamma, I assure you. He must have obtained some
information--have heard that I had no money.”

But Madame Josserand cried out at this.

“And the dowry that your uncle is going to give you! Every one knows
about that dowry. No, there is something else; he withdrew too abruptly.
When dancing you passed into the parlour.”

Berthe became confused.

“Yes, mamma. And, as we were alone, he even tried to do some naughty
things; he kissed me, seizing hold of me like that. Then I was
frightened; I pushed him up against the furniture--”

Her mother, again overcome with rage, interrupted her.

“Pushed him up against the furniture, ah! the wretched girl pushed him
up against the furniture!”

“But, mamma, he held me--”

“What of it? He held you, that was nothing! A fat lot of good it is
sending such fools to school! Whatever did they teach you, eh?”

A rush of colour rose to the young girl’s cheeks and shoulders. Tears
filled her eyes, whilst she looked as confused as a violated virgin.

“It was not my fault; he looked so wicked. I did not know what to do.”

“Did not know what to do! she did not know what to do! Have I not told
you a hundred times that your fears are ridiculous? It is your lot to
live in society. When a man is rough, it is because he loves you, and
there is always a way of keeping him in his place in a nice manner. For
a kiss behind a door! in truth now, ought you to mention such a thing
to us, your parents? And you push people against the furniture, and you
drive away your suitors!”

She assumed a doctoral air as she continued:

“It is ended; I despair of doing anything with you, you are too stupid,
my girl. One would have to coach you in everything, and that would be
awkward. As you have no fortune, understand at least that you must hook
the men by some other means. One should be amiable, have loving eyes,
abandon one’s hand occasionally, allow a little playfulness, without
seeming to do so; in short, one should angle for a husband. You make a
great mistake, if you think it improves your eyes to cry like a fool!”

Berthe was sobbing.

“You aggravate me--leave off crying. Monsienr Josserand, just tell your
daughter not to spoil her face by crying in that way. It will be too
much if she becomes ugly!”

“My child,” said the father, “be reasonable; listen to your mother’s
good advice. You must not spoil your good looks, my darling.”

“And what irritates me is that she is not so bad when she likes,”
 resumed Madame Josserand. “Come, wipe your eyes, look at me as if I
was a gentleman courting you. You smile, you drop your fan, so that the
gentleman, in picking it up, slightly touches your fingers. That is not
the way. You are holding you head up too stiffly, you look like a sick
hen. Lean back more, show your neck; it is too young to be hidden.”

“Then, like this, mamma?”

“Yes, that is better. And never be stiff, be supple. Men do not care for
planks. And, above all, if they go too far do not play the simpleton. A
man who goes too far is done for, my dear.”

The drawing-room clock struck two; and, in the excitement of that
prolonged vigil, in her desire now become furious for an immediate
marriage, the mother forgot herself in thinking out loud, making her
daughter turn about like a papier-mache doll. The latter, without spirit
or will, abandoned herself; but she felt very heavy at heart, fear and
shame brought a lump to her throat. Suddenly, in the midst of a silvery
laugh which her mother was forcing her to attempt, she burst into sobs,
her face all upset:

“No! no! it pains me!” stammered she,

For a second, Madame Josserand remained incensed and amazed. Ever since
she left the Dambrevilles’, her hand had been itching, there were slaps
in the air. Then, she landed Berthe a clout with all her might.

“Take that! you are too aggravating! What a fool! On my word, the men
are right!”

In the shock, her Lamartine, which she had kept under her arm, fell to
the floor. She picked it up, wiped it, and without adding another word,
she retired into the bedroom, royally drawing her ball-dress around her.

“It was bound to end thus,” murmured Monsieur Josserand, not daring to
detain his daughter, who went off also, holding her cheek and crying
louder than ever.

But, as Berthe felt her way across the ante-room, she found her brother
Saturnin up, barefooted and listening. Saturnin was a big, ill-formed
fellow of twenty-five, with wild-looking eyes, and who had remained
childish after an attack of brain-fever. Without being mad, he terrified
the household by attacks of blind violence, whenever he was thwarted.
Berthe, alone, was able to subdue him with a look. He had nursed her
when she was still quite a child, through a long illness, obedient as a
dog to her little invalid girl’s caprices; and, ever since he had saved
her, he was seized with an adoration for her, into which entered every
kind of love.

“Has she been beating you again?” asked he in a low and ardent voice.

Berthe, uneasy at finding him there, tried to send him away.

“Go to bed, it is nothing to do with you.”

“Yes, it is. I will not have her beat you! She woke me up, she was
shouting so. She had better not try it on again, or I will strike her!”

Then, she seized him by the wrists, and spoke to him as to a disobedient
animal. He submitted at once, and stuttered, crying like a little boy:

“It hurts you very much, does it not? Where is the sore place, that I
may kiss it?”

And, having found her cheek in the dark, he kissed it, wetting it with
his tears, as he repeated:

“It is well, now, it is well, now.”

Meanwhile, Monsieur Josserand, left alone, had laid down his pen, his
heart was so full of grief. At the end of a few minutes, he got up
gently to go and listen at the doors. Madame Josserand was snoring.
No sounds of crying issued from his daughters’ room. All was dark and
peaceful. Then he returned, feeling slightly relieved. He saw to the
lamp which was smoking, and mechanically resumed his writing. Two big
tears, unfelt by him, dropped on to the wrappers, in the solemn silence
of the slumbering house.



CHAPTER III.


So soon as the fish was served, skate of doubtful freshness with black
butter, which that bungler Adèle had drowned in a flood of vinegar,
Hortense and Berthe, seated on the right and left of uncle Bachelard,
incited him to drink, filling his glass one after the other, and
repeating:

“It’s your saint’s-day, drink now, drink! Here’s your health, uncle!”

They had plotted together to make him give them twenty francs. Every
year, their provident mother placed them thus on either side of her
brother, abandoning him to them. But it was a difficult task, and
required all the greediness of two girls prompted by dreams of Louis XV.
shoes and five button gloves. To get him to give the twenty francs, it
was necessary to make the uncle completely drunk. He was ferociously
miserly whenever he found himself amongst his relations, though out of
doors he squandered in crapulous boozes the eighty thousand francs
he made each year out of his commission business. Fortunately, that
evening, he was already half fuddled when he arrived, having passed the
afternoon with the wife of a dyer of the Faubourg Montmartre, who kept a
stock of Marseilles vermouth expressly for him.

“Your health, my little ducks!” replied he each time, with his thick
husky voice, as he emptied his glass.

Covered with jewellery, a rose in his button-hole, enormous in build,
he filled the middle of the table, with his broad shoulders of a boozing
and brawling tradesman, who has wallowed in every vice. His false teeth
lit up with too harsh a whiteness his ravaged face, the big red nose of
which blazed beneath the snowy crest of his short cropped hair; and,
now and again, his eyelids dropped of themselves over his pale and misty
eyes. Gueulin, the son of one of his wife’s sisters, affirmed that his
uncle had not been sober during the ten years he had been a widower.

“Narcisse, a little skate, I can recommend it,” said Madame Josserand,
smiling at her brother’s tipsy condition, though at heart it made her
feel rather disgusted.

She was sitting opposite to him, having little Gueulin on her left, and
another young man on her right, Hector Trublot, to whom she was desirous
of showing some politeness. She usually took advantage of family
gatherings like the present to get rid of certain invitations she had to
return; and it was thus that a lady living in the house, Madame Juzeur,
was also present, seated next to Monsieur Josserand. As the uncle
behaved very badly at table, and it was the expectation of his fortune
alone which enabled them to put up with him without absolute disgust,
she only had intimate acquaintances to meet him or else persons whom she
thought it was no longer worth while trying to dazzle. For instance, she
had at one time thought of finding a son-in-law in young Trublot, who
was employed at a stockbroker’s, whilst waiting till his father, a
wealthy man, purchased him a share in the business; but, Trublot having
professed a determined objection to matrimony, she no longer stood upon
ceremony with him, even placing him next to Saturnin, who had never
known how to eat decently. Berthe, who always had a seat beside her
brother, was commissioned to subdue him with a look, whenever he put his
fingers too much into the gravy.

After the fish came a meat pie, and the young ladies thought the moment
arrived to commence their attack.

“Take another glass, uncle!” said Hortense. “It is your saint’s day.
Don’t you give anything when it’s your saint’s-day?”

“Dear me! why of course,” added Berthe naively. “People always give
something on their saint’s-day. You must give us twenty francs.”

On hearing them speak of money, Bachelard at once exaggerated his tipsy
condition. It was his usual dodge; his eyelids dropped, and he became
quite idiotic.

“Eh? what?” stuttered he.

“Twenty francs. You know very well what twenty francs are, it is no use
your pretending you don’t,” resumed Berthe. “Give us twenty francs, and
we will love you, oh! we will love you so much!”

They threw their arms round his neck, called him the most endearing
names, and kissed his inflamed face without the least repugnance for the
horrid odour of debauchery which he exhaled. Monsieur Josserand, whom
these continual fumes of absinthe, tobacco and musk upset, had a feeling
of disgust on seeing his daughters’ virgin charms rubbing up against
those infamies gathered in the vilest places.

“Leave him alone!” cried he.

“Why?” asked Madame Josserand, giving her husband a terrible look. “They
are amusing themselves. If Narcisse wishes to give them twenty francs,
he is quite at liberty to do so.”

“Monsieur Bachelard is so good to them!” complacently murmured little
Madame Juzeur.

But the uncle struggled, becoming more idiotic than ever, and repeating,
with his mouth full of saliva:

“It’s funny. I don’t know, word of honour! I don’t know.”

Then, Hortense and Berthe, exchanging a glance, released him. No doubt
he had not had enough to drink. And they again resorted to filling his
glass, laughing like courtesans who intend robbing a man. Their bare
arms, of an adorable youthful plumpness, kept passing every minute under
the uncle’s big flaming nose.

Meanwhile, Trublot, like a quiet fellow who takes his pleasures alone,
was watching Adèle as she turned heavily round the table. Being very
short-sighted he thought her pretty, with her pronounced Breton features
and her hair the colour of dirty hemp. When she brought in the roast, a
piece of veal, she leant right over his shoulder, to reach the centre
of the table; and he, pretending to pick up his napkin, gave her a good
pinch on the calf of her leg. The servant, not understanding, looked at
him, as though he had asked her for some bread.

“What is it?” said Madame Josserand. “Did she knock against you, sir?
Oh! that girl! she is so awkward! But, you know, she is quite new to the
work; she will be better when she has had a little training.”

“No doubt, there is no harm done,” replied Trublot, stroking his bushy
black beard with the serenity of a young Indian god.

The conversation was becoming more animated in the diningroom, at first
icy cold, and now gradually warming with the fumes of the dishes. Madame
Juzeur was once more confiding to Monsieur Josserand the dreariness of
her thirty years of solitary existence. She raised her eyes to heaven,
and contented herself with this discreet allusion to the drama of her
life: her husband had left her after ten days of married bliss, and
no one knew why; she said nothing more. Now, she lived by herself in
a lodging that was as soft as down and always closed, and which was
frequented by priests.

“It is so sad, at my age!” murmured she languishingly, cutting up her
veal with delicate gestures.

“A very unfortunate little woman,” whispered Madame Josserand in
Trublot’s ear, with an air of profound sympathy.

But Trublot glanced indifferently at this clear-eyed devotee, so full of
reserve and hidden meanings. She was not his style.

Then there was a regular panic. Saturnin, whom Berthe was not watching
so closely, being too busy with her uncle, had amused himself by cutting
up his meat into various designs on his plate. This poor creature
exasperated his mother, who was both afraid and ashamed of him; she
did not know how to get rid of him, not daring through pride to make
a workman of him, after having sacrificed him to his sisters by having
removed him from the school where his slumbering intelligence was too
long awakening; and, during the years he had been hanging about the
house, useless and stinted, she was in a constant state of fright
whenever she had to let him appear before company. Her pride suffered
cruelly.

“Saturnin!” cried she.

But Saturnin began to chuckle, delighted with the mess he had made in
his plate. He did not respect his mother, but called her roundly a great
liar and a horrid nuisance, with the perspicacity of madmen who think
out loud. Things certainly seemed to be going wrong. He would have
thrown his plate at her head, if Berthe, reminded of her duties, had not
looked him straight in the face. He tried to resist; then the fire in
his eyes died out; he remained gloomy and depressed on his chair, as
though in a dream, until the end of the meal.

“I hope, Gueulin, that you have brought your flute?” asked Madame
Josserand, trying to dispel her guests’ uneasiness.

Gueulin was an amateur flute-player, but solely in the houses where he
was treated without ceremony.

“My flute! Of course I have,” replied he.

He was absent-minded, his carroty hair and whiskers were more bristly
than usual, as he watched with deep interest the young ladies’
manoeuvres around their uncle. Employed at an assurance office, he would
go straight to Bachelard on leaving off work, and stick to him, visiting
the same cafés and the same disreputable places. Behind the big,
ill-shaped body of the one, the little pale face of the other was sure
always to be seen.

“Cheerily, there! stick to him!” said he, suddenly, like a true
sportsman.

The uncle was indeed losing ground. When, after the vegetables, French
beans swimming in water, Adèle placed a vanilla and currant ice on the
table, it caused unexpected delight amongst the guests; and the young
ladies took advantage of the situation to make the uncle drink half of
the bottle of champagne, which Madame Josserand had bought for three
francs of a neighbouring grocer. He was becoming quite affectionate, and
forgetting his pretended idiocy.

“Eh, twenty francs! Why twenty francs? Ah! you want twenty francs! But
I have not got them, really now. Ask Gueulin. Is it not true, Gueulin,
that I forgot my purse, and that you had to pay at the café? If I had
them, my little ducks, I would give them to you, you are so nice.”

Gueulin was laughing in his cool way, making a noise like a pulley that
required greasing. And he murmured:

“The old swindler!”

Then, suddenly, unable to restrain himself, he cried:

“Search him!”

So Hortense and Berthe again threw themselves on the uncle, this time
without the least restraint. The desire for the twenty francs, which
their good education had hitherto kept within bounds, bereft them of
their senses in the end, and they forgot everything else. The one, with
both hands, examined his waistcoat pockets, whilst the other buried
her fingers inside the pockets of his frock-coat. The uncle, however,
pressed back on his chair, still struggled; but he gradually burst out
into a laugh--a laugh broken by drunken hiccoughs.

“On my word of honour, I haven’t a sou! Leave off, do; you’re tickling
me.”

[Illustration: 0073]

“In the trousers!” energetically exclaimed Gueulin, excited by the
spectacle.

And Berthe resolutely searched one of the trouser pockets.

Their hands trembled; they were both becoming exceedingly rough, and
could have smacked the uncle. But Berthe uttered a cry of victory: from
the depths of the pocket she brought forth a handful of money, which she
spread out in a plate; and there, amongst a heap of coppers and pieces
of silver, was a twenty-franc piece.

“I have it!” said she, her face all red, her hair undone, as she tossed
the coin in the air and caught it again.

There was a general clapping of hands, every one thought it very funny.
It created quite a hubbub, and was the success of the dinner. Madame
Josserand looked at her daughters with a mother’s tender smile. The
uncle, who was gathering up his money, sententiously observed that, when
one wanted twenty francs, one should earn them. And the young ladies,
worn out and satisfied, were panting on his right and left, their lips
still trembling in the enervation of their desire.

A bell was heard to ring. They had been eating slowly, and the other
guests were already arriving. Monsieur Josserand, who had decided to
laugh like his wife, enjoyed singing some of Béranger’s songs at table;
but as this outraged his better half’s poetic tastes, she compelled him
to keep quiet. She got the dessert over as quickly as possible, more
especially as, since the forced present of the twenty francs, the uncle
had been trying to pick a quarrel, complaining that his nephew, Léon,
had not deigned to put himself out to come and wish him many happy
returns of the day. Léon was only coming to the evening party. At
length, as they were rising from table, Adèle said that the architect
from the floor below and a young man were in the drawing-room.

“Ah! yes, that young man,” murmured Madame Juzeur, accepting Monsieur
Josserand’s arm. “So you have invited him? I saw him to-day talking to
the doorkeeper. He is very good-looking.”

Madame Josserand was taking Trublot’s arm, when Saturnin, who had been
left by himself at the tableland who had not been roused from slumbering
with his eyes open by all the uproar about the twenty francs, kicked
back his chair, in a sudden outburst of fury, shouting:

“I won’t have it, damnation! I won’t have it!”

It was the very thing his mother always dreaded. She signalled to
Monsieur Josserand to take Madame Juzeur away. Then she freed herself
from Trublot, who understood, and disappeared; but he probably made a
mistake, for he went off in the direction of the kitchen, close upon
Adèle’s heels. Bachelard and Gueulin, without troubling themselves about
the maniac, as they called him, chuckled in a corner, whilst playfully
slapping one another.

“He was so peculiar, I felt there would be something this evening,”
 murmured Madame Josserand, uneasily. “Berthe, come quick!”

But Berthe was showing the twenty-franc piece to Hortense. Saturnin had
caught up a knife. He repeated:

“Damnation! I won’t have it! I’ll rip their stomachs open!”

“Berthe!” called her mother in despair.

And, when the young girl hastened to the spot, she only just had time
to seize him by the hand and prevent him from entering the drawing-room.
She shook him angrily, whilst he tried to explain, with his madman’s
logic.

“Let me be, I must settle them. I tell you it’s best. I’ve had enough of
their dirty ways. They’ll sell the whole lot of us.”

“Oh! this is too much!” eried Berthe. “What is the matter with you? what
are you talking about?”

He looked at her in a bewildered way, trembling with a gloomy rage, and
stuttered:

“They’re going to marry you again. Never, you hear! I won’t have you
hurt.”

The young girl eould not help laughing. Where had he got the idea from
that they were going to marry her? But he nodded his head: he knew it,
he felt it. And as his mother intervened to try and calm him, he grasped
his knife so tightly that she drew back. However, she trembled for fear
he should be overheard, and hastily told Berthe to take him away and
lock him in his room; whilst he, becoming crazier than ever, raised his
voice:

“I won’t have you married, I won’t have you hurt. If they marry you,
I’ll rip their stomachs open.”

Then Berthe put her hands on his shoulders, and looked him straight in
the face.

“Listen,” said she, “keep quiet, or I will not love you any more.”

He staggered, despair softened the expression of his face, his eyes
filled with tears.

“You won’t love me any more, you won’t love me any more. Don’t say that.
Oh! I implore you, say that you will love me still, say that you will
love me always, and that you will never love any one else.”

She had seized him by the wrist, and she led him away as gentle as a
child.

In the drawing-room Madame Josserand, exaggerating her intimacy, called
Campardon her dear neighbour. Why had Madame Campardon not done her the
great pleasure of coming also? and on the architect replying that his
wife still continued poorly, she exelaimed that they would have been
delighted to have received her in her dressing-gown and her slippers.
But her smile never left Oetave, who was conversing with Monsieur
Josserand; all her amiability was directed towards him, over Campardon’s
shoulder. When her husband introduced the young man to her, her
cordiality was so great that the latter felt quite uncomfortable.

Other guests were arriving; stout mothers with skinny daughters, fathers
and uncles scarcely roused from their office drowsiness, pushing before
them flocks of marriageable young ladies. Two lamps, with pink paper
shades, lit up the drawingroom with a pale light, which only faintly
displayed the old, worn, yellow velvet covered furniture, the scratched
piano, and the three smoky Swiss views, which looked like black stains
on the cold, bare, white and gold panels. And, in this miserly light,
the guests--poor, and, so to say, worn-out figures, without resignation,
and whose attire was the cause of much pinching and saving--seemed to
become obliterated. Madame Josserand wore her fiery costume of the day
before; only, with a view of throwing dust in people’s eyes, she had
passed the day in sewing sleeves on to the body, and in making herself
a lace tippet to cover her shoulders; whilst her two daughters, seated
beside her in their dirty cotton jackets, vigorously plied their
needles, rearranging with new trimmings their only presentable dresses,
which they had been thus altering bit by bit ever since the previous
winter.

After each ring at the bell, the sound of whispering issued from the
ante-chamber. They conversed in low tones in the gloomy drawing-room,
where the forced laugh of some young lady jarred at times like a false
note. Behind little Madame Juzeur, Bachelard and Gueulin were nudging
each other, and making smutty remarks; and Madame Josserand watched them
with an alarmed look, for she dreaded her brother’s vulgar behaviour.
But Madame Juzeur might hear anything; her lips quivered, and she smiled
with angelic sweetness as she listened to the naughty stories. Uncle
Bachelard had the reputation of being a dangerous man. His nephew, on
the contrary, was chaste. No matter how splendid the opportunities were,
Gueulin declined to have anything to do with women upon principle, not
that he disdained them, but because he dreaded the morrows of bliss:
always very unpleasant, he said.

Berthe at length appeared, and went hurriedly up to her mother.

“Ah, well! I have had a deal of trouble!” whispered she in her ear. “He
would not go to bed, so I double-locked the door. But I am afraid he
will break everything in the room.”

Madame Josserand violently tugged at her dress. Octave, who was close to
them, had turned his head.

“My daughter, Berthe, Monsieur Mouret,” said she, in her most gracious
manner, as she introduced them. “Monsieur Octave Mouret, my darling.”

And she looked at her daughter. The latter was well acquainted with this
look, which was like an order to clear for action, and which recalled
to her the lessons of the night before. She at once obeyed, with the
complaisance and the indifference of a girl who no longer stops to
examine the person she is to marry. She prettily recited her little
part with the easy grace of a Parisian already weary of the world, and
acquainted with every subject, and she talked enthusiastically of
the South, where she had never been. Octave, used to the stiffness of
provincial virgins, was delighted with this little woman’s cackle and
her sociable manner.

Presently, Trublot, who had not been seen since dinner was over, entered
stealthily from the dining-room; and Berthe, catching sight of him,
asked thoughtlessly where he had been. He remained silent, at which
she felt very confused 3 then, to put an end to the awkward pause which
ensued, she introduced the two young men to each other. Her mother
had not taken her eyes off her 3 she had assumed the attitude of a
commander-in-chief, and directed the campaign from the easy-chair in
which she had settled herself. When she judged that the first engagement
had given all the result that could have been expected from it, she
recalled her daughter with a sign, and said to her, in a low voice:

“Wait till the Vabre’s are here before commencing your music. And play
loud.”

Octave, left alone with Trublot, began to engage him in conversation.

“A charming person.”

“Yes, not bad.”

“The young lady in blue is her elder sister, is she not? She is not so
good-looking.”

“Of course not; she is thinner!”

Trublot, who looked without seeing with his near-sighted eyes, had the
broad shoulders of a solid male, obstinate in his tastes. He had come
back from the kitchen perfectly satisfied, crunching little black things
which Octave recognised with surprise to be coffee berries.

“I say,” asked he abruptly, “the women are plump in the South, are they
not?”

Octave smiled, and at once became on an excellent footing with Trublot.
They had many ideas in common which brought them closer together. They
exchanged confidences on an out-of-the-way sofa; the one talked of his
employer at “The Ladies’ Paradise,” Madame Hédouin, a confoundedly
fine woman, but too cold; the other said that he had been put on to
the correspondence, from nine to five, at his stockbroker’s, Monsieur
Desmarquay, where there was a stunning maid servant. Just then the
drawing-room door opened, and three persons entered.

“They are the Vabres,” murmured Trublot, bending over towards his new
friend. “Auguste, the tall one, he who has a face like a sick sheep, is
the landlord’s eldest son--thirty-three years old, ever suffering from
headaches which make his eyes start from his head, and which, some years
ago, prevented him from continuing to learn Latin; a sullen fellow who
has gone in for trade. The other, Théophile, that abortion with carroty
hair and thin beard, that little old-looking man of twenty-eight, ever
shaking with fits of coughing and of rage, tried a dozen different
trades, and then married the young woman who leads the way, Madame
Valérie--”

“I have already seen her,” interrupted Octave. “She is the daughter of
a haberdasher of the neighbourhood, is she not? But how those veils
deceive one! I thought her pretty. She is only peculiar, with her
shrivelled face and her leaden complexion.”

“She is another who is not my ideal,” sententiously resumed Trublot.
“She has superb eyes, and that is enough for some men. But she’s a thin
piece of goods.”

Madame Josserand had risen to shake Valérie’s hand.

“How is it,” cried she, “that Monsieur Vabre is not with you? and that
neither Monsieur nor Madame Duveyrier have done us the honour of coming?
They promised us though. Ah! it is very wrong of them!”

The young woman made excuses for her father-in-law, whose age kept him
at home, and who, moreover, preferred to work of an evening. As for her
brother and sister-in-law, they had asked her to apologise for them,
they having received an invitation to an official party, which they were
obliged to attend. Madame Josserand bit her lips. She never missed one
of the Saturdays at home of those stuck-up people on the first floor,
who would have thought themselves dishonoured had they ascended, one
Tuesday, to the fourth. No doubt her modest tea was not equal to their
grand orchestral concerts. But, patience! when her two daughters were
married, and she had two sons-in-law and their relations to fill her
drawing-room, she also would go in for choruses.

“Get yourself ready,” whispered she in Berthe’s ear.

They were about thirty, and rather tightly packed, for the parlour,
having been turned into a bedroom for the young ladies, was not thrown
open. The new arrivals distributed handshakes round. Valérie seated
herself beside Madame Juzeur, whilst Bachelard and Gueulin made
unpleasant remarks out loud about Théophile Vabre, whom they thought
it funny to call “good for nothing.” Monsieur Josserand--who in his own
home kept himself so much in the background that one would have taken
him for a guest, and whom one would fail to find when wanted, even
though he were standing close by--was in a corner listening in a
bewildered way to a story related by one of his old friends, Bonnaud. He
knew Bonnaud, who was formerly the general accountant of the Northern
railway, and whose daughter had married in the previous spring?
Well! Bonnaud had just discovered that his son-in-law, a very
respectable-looking man, was an ex-clown, who had lived for ten years at
the expense of a female circus-rider.

“Silence! silence!” murmured some good-natured voices. Berthe had opened
the piano.

“Really!” explained Madame Josserand, “it is merely an unpretentious
piece, a simple reverie. Monsieur Mouret, you like music, I think. Come
nearer then. My daughter plays pretty fairly--oh! purely as an amateur,
but with expression; yes, with a great deal of expression.”

“Caught!” said Trublot in a low voice. “The sonata stroke.” Octave was
obliged to leave his seat and stand up beside the piano. To see the
caressing attentions which Madame Josserand showered upon him, it seemed
as though she were making Berthe play solely for him.

“‘The Banks of the Oise,’” resumed she. “It is really very pretty.
Come begin, my love, and do not be confused. Monsieur Mouret will be
indulgent.”

The young girl commenced the piece without being in the least confused.
Besides, her mother kept her eyes upon her like a sergeant ready to
punish with a blow the least theoretical mistake. Her great regret was
that the instrument, worn-out by fifteen years of daily scales, did
not possess the sonorous tones of the Duveyriers’ grand piano; and her
daughter never played loud enough in her opinion.

After the sixth bar, Octave, looking thoughtful and nodding his head at
each spirited passage, no longer listened. He looked at the audience,
the politely absent-minded attention of the men, and the affected
delight of the women, all that relaxation of persons for a moment at
rest, but soon again to be harassed by the cares of every hour, the
shadows of which, before long, would be once more reflected on their
weary faces. Mothers were visibly dreaming that they were marrying their
daughters, whilst a smile hovered about their mouths, revealing their
fierce-looking teeth in their unconscious abandonment; it was the mania
of this drawing-room, a furious appetite for sons-in-law, which consumed
these worthy middle-class mothers to the asthmatic sounds of the piano.

The daughters, who were very weary, were falling asleep, with their
heads dropping on to their shoulders, forgetting to sit up erect.
Octave, who had a certain contempt for young ladies, was more interested
in Valerie--she looked decidedly ugly in her peculiar yellow silk dress,
trimmed with black satin--and feeling ill at ease, yet attracted all the
same, his gaze kept returning to her; whilst she, with a vague look in
her eyes, and unnerved by the discordant music, was smiling like a crazy
person.

At this moment quite a catastrophe occurred. A ring at the bell was
heard, and a gentleman entered the room without the least regard for
what was taking place.

“Oh! doctor!” said Madame Josserand angrily.

Doctor Juillerat made a gesture of apology, and stood stockstill.
Berthe, at this moment, was executing a little passage with a slow and
dreamy fingering, which the guests greeted with flattering murmurs. Ah!
delightful! delicious! Madame Juzeur was almost swooning away, as though
being tickled. Hortense, who was standing beside her sister, turning the
pages, was sulkily listening for a ring at the bell amidst the avalanche
of notes; and, when the doctor entered, she made such a gesture of
disappointment that she tore one of the pages on the stand. But,
suddenly, the piano trembled beneath Berthe’s weal: fingers, thrumming
away like hammers; it was the end of the reverie, amidst a deafening
uproar of clangorous chords.

There was a moment of hesitation. The audience was waking up again.. Was
it finished? Then the compliments burst out on all sides. Adorable! a
superior talent!

“Mademoiselle is really a first-rate musician,” said Octave, interrupted
in his observations. “No one has ever given me such pleasure.”

“Do you really mean it, sir?” exclaimed Madame Josserand delighted. “She
does not play badly, I must admit. Well! we have never refused the child
anything; she is our treasure! She possesses every talent she wished
for. Ah! sir, if you only knew her.”

A confused murmur of voices again filled the drawing-room. Berthe very
calmly received the praise showered upon her, and did not leave the
piano, but sat waiting till her mother relieved her from fatigue-duty.
The latter was already speaking to Octave of the surprising manner in
which her daughter dashed off “The Harvesters,” a brilliant gallop,
when some dull and distant thuds created a stir amongst the guests. For
several moments past there had been violent shocks, as though some one
was trying to burst a door open. Everybody left off talking, and looked
about inquiringly.

“What is it?” Valérie ventured to ask. “I heard it before, during the
finish of the piece.”

Madame Josserand had turned quite pale. She had recognised Saturnin’s
blows. Ah! the wretched lunatic! and in her mind’s eye she beheld him
tumbling in amongst the guests. If he continued hammering like that, it
would be another marriage done for!

“It is the kitchen door slamming,” said she with a constrained smile.
“Adèle never will shut it. Go and sec, Berthe.”

The young girl had also understood. She rose and disappeared. The noise
ceased at once, but she did not return immediately. Uncle Bachelard,
who had scandalously disturbed “The Banks of the Oise” with reflections
uttered out loud, finished putting his sister out of countenance by
calling to Gueulin that he felt awfully bored and was going to have a
grog. They both returned to the dining-room, banging the door behind
them.

“That dear old Narcisse, he is always original!” said Madame Josserand
to Madame Juzeur and Valérie, between whom she had gone and seated
herself. “His business occupies him so much! You know, he has made
almost a hundred thousand francs this year!”

Octave, at length free, had hastened to rejoin Trublot, who was half
asleep on the sofa. Near them, a group surrounded Doctor Juillerat, the
old medical man of the neighbourhood, not over brilliant, but who had
become in course of time a good practitioner, and who had delivered all
the mothers in their confinements and had attended all the daughters. He
made a speciality of women’s ailments, which caused him to be in great
demand of an evening, the husbands all trying to obtain a gratuitous
consultation in some corner of the drawing-room. Just then, Théophile
was telling him that Valérie had had another attack the day before; she
was for ever having a choking fit and complaining of a lump rising in
her throat; and he, too, was not very well, but his complaint was not
the same. Then he did nothing but speak of himself, and relate his
vexations: he had commenced to read for the law, had engaged in
manufactures at a foundry, and had tried office management at the
Mont-de-Piété; then he had busied himself with photography, and thought
he had found a means of making vehicles supply their own motive power;
meanwhile, out of kindness, he was travelling some piano-flutes, an
invention of one of his friends. And he complained of his wife: it was
her fault if nothing went right at home; she was killing him with her
perpetual nervous attacks.

“Do pray give her something, doctor!” implored he, coughing and moaning,
his eyes lit up with hatred, in the querulous rage of his impotency.

Trublot watched him, full of contempt; and he laughed silently as he
glanced at Octave. Doctor Juillerat uttered vague and calming words:
no doubt, they would relieve her, the dear lady. At fourteen, she was
already stifling, in the shop of the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin; he had
attended her for vertigo which always ended by bleeding at the nose;
and, as Théophile recalled with despair her languid gentleness when a
young girl, whilst now, fantastic and her temper changing twenty times
in a day, she absolutely tortured him, the doctor merely shook his head.
Marriage did not succeed with all women.

“Of course!” murmured Trublot, “a father who has gone off his chump by
passing thirty years of his life in selling needles and thread, a mother
who has always had her face covered with pimples, and that in an airless
hole of old Paris, no one can expect such people to have daughters like
other folks!”

Octave was surprised. He was losing some of his respect for that
drawing-room which he had entered with a provincial’s emotion. Curiosity
was awakened within him, when he observed Campardon consulting the
doctor in his turn, but in whispers, like a sedate person desirous of
letting no one become acquainted with his family mishaps.

“By the way, as you appear to know everything,” said Octave to Trublot,
“tell me what it is that Madame Campardon is suffering from. Every one
puts on a very sad face whenever it is mentioned.”

“Why, my dear fellow,” replied the young man, “she has--”

And he whispered in Octave’s ear. Whilst he listened, the latter’s face
first assumed a smile, and then became very long with a look of profound
astonishment.

“It is not possible!” said he.

Then, Trublot gave his word of honour. He knew another lady in the same
state.

“Besides,” resumed he, “it sometimes happens after a confinement that--”

And he began to whisper again. Octave, convinced, became quite sad. He
who had fancied all sorts of things, who had imagined quite a romance,
the architect occupied elsewhere and drawing him towards his wife to
amuse her! In any case he now knew that she was well guarded. The young
men pressed up against each other, in the excitement caused by these
feminine secrets which they were stirring up, forgetting that they might
be overheard.

Madame Juzeur was just then confiding to Madame Josser-and her
impressions of Octave. She thought him very becoming, no doubt, but she
preferred Monsieur Auguste Vabre The latter, standing up in a corner of
the drawing-room, remained silent, in his insignificance and with his
usual evening headache.

“What surprises me, dear madame, is that you have not thought of him for
your Berthe. A young man set up in business, who is prudence itself. And
he is in want of a wife, I know that he is desirous of getting married.”

Madame Josserand listened, surprised. She would never herself have
thought of the linendraper. Madame Juzeur, however, insisted, for in
her misfortune, she had the mania of working for the happiness of other
women, which caused her to busy herself with everything relating to the
tender passions of the house. She affirmed that Auguste never took his
eyes off Berthe. In short, she invoked her experience of men: Monsieur
Mouret would never let himself be caught, whilst that good Monsieur
Vabre would be very easy and very advantageous. But Madame Josserand,
weighing the latter with a glance, came decidedly to the conclusion that
such a son-in-law would not be of much use in filling her drawing-room.

“My daughter detests him,” said she, “and I would never oppose the
dictates of her heart.”

A tall thin young lady had just played a fantasia on the “Dame Blanche.”
 As uncle Bachelard had fallen asleep in the dining-room, Gueulin
reappeared and imitated the nightingale on his flute. No one listened,
however, for the story about Bonnaud had spread. Monsieur Josserand was
quite upset, the fathers held up their arms, the mothers were stifling.
What! Bonnaud’s son-in-law was a clown! Then who could one believe in
now? and the parents, in their appetites for marriages, suffered regular
nightmares, like so many distinguished convicts in evening dress. The
fact was, that Bonnaud had been so delighted at the opportunity
of getting rid of his daughter that he had not troubled much about
references, in spite of his rigid prudence of an over-scrupulous general
accountant.

“Mamma, the tea is served,” said Berthe, as she and Adèle opened the
folding doors.

And, whilst the company passed slowly into the dining-room, she went up
to her mother and murmured:

“I have had enough of it! He wants me to stay and tell him stories, or
he threatens to smash everything!”

On a grey cloth which was too narrow, was served one of those teas
laboriously got together, a cake bought at a neighbouring baker’s, with
some mixed sweet biscuits, and some sandwiches on either side. At either
end of the table quite a luxury of flowers, superb and costly roses,
withdrew attention from the ancient dust on the biscuits, and the poor
quality of the butter. The sight caused a commotion, and jealousies were
kindled: really those Josserands were ruining themselves in trying to
marry off their daughters. And the guests, having but poorly dined,
and only thinking of going to bed with their bellies full, casting side
glances at the bouquets, gorged themselves with weak tea and imprudently
devoured the hard stale biscuits and the heavy cake. For those persons
who did not like tea, Adèle handed round some glasses of red currant
syrup. It was pronounced excellent.

Meanwhile, the uncle was asleep in a corner. They did not wake him, they
even politely pretended not to see him. A lady talked of the fatigues of
business. Berthe went from one to another, offering sandwiches, handing
cups of tea, and asking the men if they would like any more sugar. But
she was unable to attend to every one, and Madame Josserand was looking
for her daughter Hortense, when she caught sight of her standing in the
middle of the deserted drawing-room, talking to a gentleman, of whom one
could only see the back.

“Ah! yes! he has come at last,” she permitted, in her anger, to escape
her.

There was some whispering. It was that Verdier, who had been living with
a woman for fifteen years past, whilst waiting to marry Hortense. Every
one knew the story, the young ladies exchanged glances; but they bit
their lips, and avoided speaking of it, out of propriety. Octave, being
made acquainted with it, examined the gentleman’s back with interest.
Trublot knew the mistress, a good girl, a reformed streetwalker, who was
better now, said he, than the best of wives, taking care of her man, and
looking after his clothes; and he was full of a fraternal sympathy for
her. Whilst they were being watched from the dining-room, Hortense was
scolding Verdier with all the sulkiness of a badly brought up virgin for
having come so late.

“Hallo! red currant syrup!” said Trublot, seeing Adèle standing before
him, a tray in her hand.

He sniffed it and declined. But, as the servant turned round, a stout
lady’s elbow pushed her against him, and he pinched her back. She
smiled, and returned to him with the tray.

“No, thanks,” said he. “By-and-by.”

[Illustration: 0086]

Women were seated round the table, whilst the men were eating, standing
up behind them. Exclamations were, heard, an enthusiasm, which died away
as the mouths were filled with food. The gentlemen were appealed to.
Madame Josserand cried:

“Ah! yes, I was forgetting. Come and look, Monsieur Mouret, you who love
the arts.”

“Take care, the water-colour stroke!” murmured Trublot, who knew the
house.

It was better than a water-colour. As though by chance, a porcelain bowl
was standing on the table; right at the very bottom of it, surrounded by
the brand new varnished bronze mounting, Greuze’s “Young girl with the
broken Pitcher” was painted in light colours, passing from pale lilac to
faint blue. Berthe smiled in the midst of the praise.

“Mademoiselle possesses every talent,” said Octave with his good-natured
grace. “Oh! the colours are so well blended, and it is very accurate,
very accurate!”

“I can guarantee that the design is!” resumed Madame Josserand,
triumphantly. “There is not a hair too many or few. Berthe copied it
here, from an engraving. There are really such a number of nude subjects
at the Louvre, and the people there are at times so mixed!”

She had lowered her voice when giving this last piece of information,
desirous of letting the young man know that, though her daughter was an
artist, she did not let that carry her beyond the limits of propriety.
She probably, however, thought Octave rather cold, she felt that the
bowl had not met with the success she had anticipated, and she watched
him with an anxious look, whilst Valérie and Madame Juzeur, who were
drinking their fourth cup of tea, examined the painting and gave vent to
little cries of admiration.

“You are looking at her again,” said Trublot to Octave, on seeing him
with his eyes fixed on Valérie.

“Why, yes,” replied he, slightly confused. “It is funny, she looks
pretty just at this moment. A warm woman, evidently. I say, do you think
one might venture?”

“Warm, one never knows. It is a peculiar fancy! Anyhow, it would be
better than marrying the girl.”

“What girl?” exclaimed Octave, forgetting himself. “What! you think I am
going to let myself be hooked’ Never! My dear fellow, we don’t marry at
Marseilles!” Madame Josserand had drawn near. The words came upon her
like a stab in the heart. Another fruitless campaign, another evening
party wasted! The blow was such, that she was obliged to lean against a
chair, as she looked with despair at the now despoiled table, where all
that remained was a burnt piece of the cake. She had given up counting
her defeats, but this one should be the last; she took a frightful
oath, swearing that she would no longer feed persons who came to see
her solely to gorge. And, upset and exasperated, she glanced round the
dining-room, seeking into what man’s arms she could throw her daughter,
when she caught sight of Auguste resignedly standing against the wall
and not having partaken of anything.

Just then, Berthe, with a smile on her face, was moving towards Octave,
with a cup of tea in her hand. She was continuing the campaign, obedient
to her mother’s wishes. But the latter caught her by the arm and called
her a silly fool under her breath.

“Take that cup to Monsieur Vabre, who has been waiting for an hour
past,” said she, graciously and very loud.

Then, whispering again in her daughter’s ear, and giving her another of
her warlike looks, she added:

“Be amiable, or you will have me to deal with!”

Berthe, for a moment put out of countenance, soon recovered herself.
It often changed thus three times in an evening. She carried the cup
to Auguste, with the smile which she had commenced for Octave; she was
amiable, talked of Lyons silks, and did the engaging young person
who would look very well behind a counter. Auguste’s hands trembled a
little, and he was very red, as he was suffering a good deal from his
head that evening.

Out of politeness, a few persons returned and sat down for some moments
in the drawing-room. Having fed, they were all going off. When they
looked for Verdier, he had already taken his departure; and some young
ladies, greatly put out, only carried away an indistinct view of his
back. Campardon, without waiting for Octave, retired with the doctor,
whom he detained on the landing, to ask him if there was really no more
hope. During the tea, one of the lamps had gone out, emitting a stench
of rancid oil, and the other lamp, the wick of which was all charred,
lit up the room with so poor a light that the Vabres themselves
rose to leave in spite of the attentions with which Madame Josserand
overwhelmed them. Octave had preceded them into the ante-room, where
he had a surprise: Trublot, who was looking for his hat, suddenly
disappeared. He could only have gone off by the passage leading to the
kitchen.

“Well! wherever has he got to? does he leave by the servants’
staircase?” murmured the young man.

But he did not seek to clear up the mystery. Valérie was there, looking
for a lace neckerchief. The two brothers, Théophile and Auguste, were
going downstairs, without troubling themselves about her. Octave, having
found the neckerchief, handed it to her, with the air of admiration he
put on when serving the pretty lady customers of “The Ladies’ Paradise.”
 She looked at him, and he felt certain that her eyes, on fixing
themselves on his, had flashed forth flames.

“You are too kind, sir,” said she, simply.

Madame Juzeur, who was the last to leave, enveloped them both in a
tender and discreet smile. And when Octave, highly excited, had reached
his cold chamber, he looked at himself for an instant in the glass, and
he thought it worth while to make the attempt!

Meanwhile, Madame Josserand was wandering about the deserted room,
without saying a word, and as though carried away by some gale of wind.
She had violently closed the piano and turned out the last lamp; then,
passing into the diningroom, she began to blow out the candles so
vigorously that the chandelier quite shook. The sight of the despoiled
table covered with dirty plates and empty cups, increased her rage; and
she turned round it, casting terrible glances at her daughter Hortense,
who, quietly sitting down, was devouring the piece of burnt cake.

“You are putting yourself in a fine state again, mamma,” said the
latter. “Is it not going on all right, then? For myself, I am satisfied.
He is purchasing some chemises for her to enable her to leave.”

The mother shrugged her shoulders.

“Eh? you say that this proves nothing. Very good, only steer your ship
as well as I steer mine. Here now is a cake which may flatter itself
it is a precious bad one! They must be a wretched lot to swallow such
stuff.”

Monsieur Josserand, who was always worn out by his wife’s parties, was
reposing on a chair 3 but he was in dread of an encounter, he feared
that Madame Josserand might drive him before her in her furious
promenade 3 and he drew close to Bachelard and Gueulin, who were seated
at the table in front of Hortense. The uncle, on awaking, had discovered
a decanter of rum. He was emptying it, and bitterly alluding to the
twenty francs.

“It is not for the money,” he kept repeating to his nephew, “it is the
way the thing was done. You know how I behave to women: I would give
them the shirt off my back, but I do not like them to ask me for
anything. The moment they begin to ask, it annoys me, and I don’t even
chuck them a radish.”

And, as his sister was about to remind him of his promises: “Be quiet,
Eléonore! I know what I have to do for the child. But, you see, when a
woman asks, it is more than I can stand. I have never been able to keep
friends with one, have I now, Gueulin? And besides, there is really such
little respect shown me! Léon has not even deigned to wish me many happy
returns of the day.”

Madame Josserand resumed her walk, clinching her fists. It was true,
there was Léon too, who promised and then disappointed her like the
others. There was one who would not sacrifice an evening to help to
marry off his sisters! She had just discovered a sweet biscuit, fallen
behind one of the flower vases, and was locking it up in a drawer when
Berthe, who had gone to release Saturnin, brought him back with her. She
was quieting him, whilst he, haggard and with a mistrustful look in his
eyes, was searching the corners, with the feverish excitement of a dog
that has been long shut up.

“How stupid he is!” said Berthe, “he thinks that I have just been
married. And he is seeking for the husband! Ah! my poor Saturnin, you
may seek. I tell you that it has come to nothing! You know very well
that it never comes to anything.”

Then, Madame Josserand’s rage burst all bounds.

“Ah! I swear to you that it sha’n’t come to nothing next time, even if
I have to tie him to you myself! There is one who shall pay for all the
others. Yes, yes, Monsieur Josserand, you may stare at me, as though you
did not understand: the wedding shall take place, and without you, if
it does not please you. You hear, Berthe! you have only to pick that one
up!” Saturnin appeared not to hear. He was looking under the table. The
young girl pointed to him; but Madame Josserand made a gesture which
seemed to imply that he would be got out of the way. And Berthe
murmured:

“So then it is decidedly to be Monsieur Vabre? Oh! it is all the same to
me. To think though that not a single sandwich has been saved for me?”



CHAPTER IV.

AS early as the morrow, Octave commenced to occupy himself about
Valérie. He studied her habits, and ascertained the hour when he would
have a chance of meeting her on the stairs; and he arranged matters
so that he could frequently go up to his room, taking advantage of
his coming home to lunch at the Campardons’, and leaving “The Ladies’
Paradise” for a few minutes under some pretext or other. He soon noticed
that, every day towards two o’clock, the young woman, who took her child
to the Tuileries gardens, passed along the Rue Gaillon. Then he would
stand at the door, wait till she came, and greet her with one of his
handsome shopman’s smiles. At each of their meetings, Valérie politely
inclined her head and passed on; but he perceived her dark glance to
be full of passionate fire; he found encouragement in her ravaged
complexion and in the supple swing of her gait.

His plan was already formed, the bold plan of a seducer used to
cavalierly overcoming the virtue of shop-girls. It was simply a question
of luring Valérie inside his room on the fourth floor; the staircase was
always silent and deserted, no one would discover them up there; and he
laughed at the thought of the architect’s moral admonitions; for taking
a woman belonging to the house was not the same as bringing one into it.

One thing, however, made Octave uneasy. The passage separated the
Pichons’ kitchen from their dining-room, and this obliged them to
constantly have their door open. At nine o’clock in the morning, the
husband started off for his office, and did not return home until about
five in the evening; and, on alternate days of the week, he went out
again after his dinner to do some bookkeeping, from eight to midnight.
Besides this, though, the young woman, who was very reserved--almost
wildly timid--would push her door to, directly she heard Octave’s
footsteps. He never caught sight of more than her back, which always
seemed to be flying away, with her light hair done up into a scanty
chignon. Through that door kept discreetly ajar, he had, up till
then, only beheld a small portion of the room: sad and clean looking
furniture, linen of a dull whiteness in the grey light admitted through
a window which he could not see, and the corner of a child’s crib inside
an inner room; all the monotonous solitude of a wife occupied from
morning to night with the recurring cares of a clerk’s home. Moreover,
there was never a sound; the child seemed dumb and worn-out like the
mother; one scarcely distinguished at times the soft murmur of some
ballad which the latter would hum for hours together in an expiring
voice. But Octave was none the less furious with the disdainful creature
as he called her. She was playing the spy upon him perhaps. In any case,
Valérie could never come up to him if the Pichons’ door was thus being
continually opened.

He was just beginning to think that things were taking the right course.
One Sunday when the husband was absent, he had manoeuvred in such a
way as to be on the first-floor landing at the moment the young woman,
wrapped in her dressing-gown, was leaving her sister-in-law’s to return
to her own apartments; and she being obliged to speak to him, they had
stood some minutes exchanging polite remarks. So he was hoping that next
time she would ask him in. With a woman with such a temperament the rest
would follow as a matter of course. That evening during dinner, there
was some talk about Valérie at the Campardons’. Octave tried to draw the
others out. But as Angèle was listening and casting sly glances at Lisa,
who was handing round some leg of mutton and looking very serious,
the parents at first did nothing but sing the young woman’s praises.
Moreover, the architect always stood up for the respectability of the
house, with the vain conviction of a tenant who seemed to obtain from it
a regular certificate of his own gentility.

“Oh! my dear fellow, most respectable people. You saw them at the
Josserands’. The husband is no fool; he is full of ideas, he will end
by discovering something very grand. As for the wife, she has some style
about her, as we artists say.”

Madame Campardon, who had been rather worse since the day before, and
who was half reclining, though her illness did not prevent her eating
thick underdone slices of meat, languidly murmured in her turn:

“That poor Monsieur Théophile, he is like me, he drags along. Ah! great
praise is due to Valérie, for it is not lively always having by one
a man trembling with fever, and whose infirmity usually makes him
quarrelsome and unjust.”

During dessert, Octave, seated between the architect and his wife
learnt more than he asked. They forgot Angèle, they spoke in hints, with
glances which underlined the double meanings of the words; and, when
they were at a loss for an expression, they bent towards him one after
the other, and coarsely whispered the rest of the disclosure in his ear.
In short, that Théophile was a stupid and impotent person, who deserved
to be what his wife made him. As for Valérie, she was not worth much,
she would have behaved just as badly even if her husband had been
different, for with her, nature had so much the mastery. Moreover, no
one was ignorant of the fact that, two months after her marriage, in
despair at recognising that she would never have a child by her husband,
and fearing she would lose her share of old Vabre’s fortune if Théophile
happened to die, she had her little Camille got for her by a butcher’s
man of the Rue Sainte-Anne.

Campardon bent down and whispered a last time in Octave’s ear:

“Well! you know, my dear fellow, a hysterical woman!”

And he put into the word all the middle-class wantonness of an
indelicacy combined with the blobber-lipped smile of a father of a
family whose imagination, abruptly let loose, revels in licentiousness.
The conversation then took a different turn, they were speaking of the
Pichons, and words of praise were not stinted.

“Oh! they are indeed worthy people!” repeated Madame Campardon.
“Sometimes, when Marie takes her little Lilitte out, I also let her take
Angèle. And I assure you, Monsieur Mouret, I do not trust my daughter
to everyone; I must be absolutely certain of the person’s morality. You
love Marie very much, do you not, Angèle?”

“Yes, mamma,” answered the child.

The details continued. It was impossible to find a woman better brought
up, or according to severer principles. And it was a pleasure to see
how happy the husband was! Such a nice little home, and so clean, and
a couple that adored each other, who never said one word louder than
another!

“Besides, they would not be allowed to remain in the house, if they did
not behave themselves properly,” said the architect gravely, forgetting
his disclosures about Valérie. “We will only have respectable people
here. On my word of honour! I would give notice, the day that my
daughter ran the risk of meeting disreputable women on the stairs.”

That evening, he had secretly arranged to take cousin Gasparine to the
Opéra-Comique. He therefore went and fetched his hat at once, talking of
a business matter which would keep him out till very late. Rose though
probably knew of the arrangement, for Octave heard her murmur, in her
resigned and maternal voice, when her husband came to kiss her with his
habitual effusive tenderness:

“Amuse yourself well, and do not catch cold on coming out.” On the
morrow, Octave had an idea: it was to become acquainted with Madame
Pichon, by rendering her a few neighbourly services; in this way, if she
ever caught Valeric, she would keep her eyes shut. And an opportunity
occurred that very day. Madame Pichon was in the habit of taking
Lilitte, then eighteen months old, out in a little basket-work
perambulator, which raised Monsieur Gourd’s ire; the doorkeeper would
never permit it to be carried up the principal staircase, so that she
had to take it up the servants’; and as the door of her apartment was
too narrow, she had to remove the wheels every time, which was quite a
job. It so happened that that day Octave was returning home, just as his
neighbour, incommoded by her gloves, was giving herself a great deal of
trouble to get the nuts off. When she felt him standing up behind her,
waiting till the passage was clear, she quite lost her head, and her
hands trembled.

“But, madame, why do you take all that trouble?” asked he at length. “It
would be far simpler to put the perambulator at the end of the passage,
behind my door.”

She did not reply, her excessive timidity kept her squatting there,
without strength to rise; and, beneath the curtain of her bonnet, he
beheld a hot blush invade the nape of her neck and her ears. Then he
insisted:

“I assure you, madame, it will not inconvenience me in the least.”

Without waiting, he lifted up the perambulator and carried it in his
easy way. She was obliged to follow him; but she remained so confused,
so frightened by this important adventure in her uneventful every-day
life, that she looked on, only able to stutter fragments of sentences.

“Dear me! sir, it is too much trouble--I feel quite ashamed--you will
find it very awkward. My husband will be very pleased--”

And she entered her room and locked herself in, this time hermetically,
with a sort of shame. Octave thought that she was stupid. The
perambulator was a great deal in his way for it prevented him opening
his door wide, and he had to slip into his room sideways. But his
neighbour seemed to be won over, more especially as Monsieur Gourd
consented to authorize the obstruction at that end of the passage,
thanks to Campardon’s influence.

Every Sunday, Marie’s parents, Monsieur and Madame Vuillaume, came to
spend the day. On the Sunday following, as Octave was going out, he
beheld all the family seated taking their coffee, and he was discreetly
hastening by, when the young woman, whispering quickly in her husband’s
ear, the latter jumped up, saying:

“Excuse me, sir, I am always out, I have not yet had an opportunity of
thanking you. But I wish to tell you how pleased I was--”

Octave protested. At length he was obliged to give in. Though he had
already had his coffee, they made him accept another cup. They gave him
the place of honour, between Monsieur and Madame Vuillaume. Opposite to
him, on the other side of the round table, Marie was again thrown into
one of those confused conditions which at any minute, without apparent
cause, brought all the blood from her heart to her face. He watched her,
never having seen her at his ease. But, as Trublot said, she was not his
fancy: she seemed to him wretched and washed out, with her flat face
and her thin hair, though her features were refined and pretty. When she
recovered herself a little, she laughed lightly as she again talked of
the perambulator, about which she found a great deal to say.

“Jules, if you had only seen Monsieur Mouret carry it in his arms. Ah
well! it did not take long!”

Pichon again uttered his thanks. He was tall and thin, with a doleful
look about him, already subdued to the routine of office life, his dull
eyes full of the apathetic resignation displayed by circus horses.

“Pray say no more about it!” Octave ended by observing, “it is really
not worth while. Madame, your coffee is exquisite. I have never drunk
any like it.”

She blushed again, and so much that her hands even became quite rosy.

“Do not spoil her, sir,” said Monsieur Vuillaume gravely, “Her coffee
is good, but there is better. And you see how proud she has become at
once!”

“Pride is worth nothing,” declared Madame Vuillaume. “We have always
taught her to be modest.”

They were both of them little and dried up, very old, and with
dark-looking countenances; the wife wore a tight black dress, and the
husband a thin frock-coat, on which only the mark of a big red ribbon
was to be seen.

“Sir,” resumed the latter, “I was decorated at the age of sixty, on
the day I was pensioned off, after having been for thirty-nine years
employed at the Ministry of Public Instruction. Well! sir, on that day
I dined the same as on other days, and did not let pride interfere
with any of my habits. The Cross was due to me, I knew it. I was simply
filled with gratitude.” His life was perfectly clear, he wished every
one to know it. After twenty-five years’ service, he had been promoted
to four thousand francs. His pension, therefore, was two thousand. But
he had had to re-engage himself in a subordinate position at fifteen
hundred francs, as they had had their little Marie late in life when
Madame Vuillaume was no longer expecting either son or daughter. Now
that the child was established in life, they were living on the pension,
by pinching themselves, in the Rue Durantin at Montmartre, where things
were cheaper.

“I am sixty-three,” said he, in conclusion, “and that is all about it,
and that is all about it, son-in-law!”

Pichon looked at him in a silent and weary way, his eyes fixed on his
red ribbon. Yes, it would be his own story if luck favoured him. He was
the last born of a greengrocer who had spent the entire worth of her
shop in her anxiety to make her son take a degree, just because all the
neighbourhood said he was very intelligent; and she had died bankrupt
eight days before his triumph at the Sorbonne. After three years of
hardships at his uncle’s, he had had the unexpected luck of getting a
berth at the Ministry, which was to lead him to everything, and on the
strength of which he had already married.

“When one does one’s duty, the government does the same,” murmured he,
mechanically reckoning that he still had thirty-six years to wait before
obtaining the right to wear a piece of red ribbon and to enjoy a pension
of two thousand francs.

Then he turned towards Octave.

“You see, sir, it is the children who are such a heavy weight.”

“No doubt,” said Madame Vuillaume. “If we had had another we should
never have made both ends meet. Therefore, remember Jules, what I
insisted upon when I gave you Marie: one child and no more, or else we
shall quarrel! It is only workpeople who have children like fowls lay
eggs, without troubling themselves as to what it will cost them. It is
true that they turn the youngsters out on to the streets, like flocks of
animals, which make me feel sick when I pass by.”

Octave had looked at Marie, thinking that this delicate subject would
make her cheeks crimson; but she remained pale, approving her mother’s
words with ingenuous serenity. He was feeling awfully bored, and did
not know how to retire. In the little cold dining-room these people thus
spent their afternoon, slowly muttering a few words every five minutes,
and always about their own affairs. Even dominoes disturbed them too
much.

Madame Vuillaume now explained her notions. At the end of a long
silence, which left all four of them in no way embarrassed as though
they had felt the necessity of rearranging their ideas, she resumed:

“You have no child, sir? It will come in time. Ah! it is a
responsibility, especially for a mother! When my little one was born I
was forty-nine, sir, an age when luckily one knows how to behave. A boy
will get on anyhow, but a girl! And I have the consolation of knowing
that I have done my duty, oh, yes!”

Then, she explained her plan of education, in short sentences. Honesty
first. No playing on the stairs, the little one always kept at home and
watched closely, for children think of nothing but evil. The doors and
windows shut, never any draughts, which bring the wicked things of the
street with them. Out of doors, never leave go of the child’s hand,
teach it to keep its eyes lowered to avoid seeing anything wrong. With
regard to religion, it should not be overdone, just sufficient as a
moral restraint. Then, when she has grown up, engage teachers instead of
sending her to school, where the innocent ones are corrupted; and assist
also at the lessons, see that she does not learn what she should not
know, hide all newspapers of course, and keep the bookcase locked.

“A young person always knows too much,” declared the old lady coming to
an end.

Whilst her mother spoke, Marie kept her eyes vaguely fixed on space. She
once more beheld the little convent-like lodging, those narrow rooms
in the Rue Durantin, where she was not even allowed to lean out of a
window. It was one prolonged childhood, all sorts of prohibitions
which she did not understand, lines which her mother inked out on their
fashion paper, the black marks of which made her blush, lessons purified
to such an extent that even her teachers were embarrassed when she
questioned them. A very gentle childhood, however, the soft warm growth
of a greenhouse, a waking dream in which the words uttered by the
tongue, and the facts of every day life acquired ridiculous meanings.
And, even at that hour as she gazed vacantly, and was filled with these
recollections, a childish smile hovered about her lips, as though she
had remained in ignorance spite even of her marriage.

“You will believe me if you like, sir,” said Monsieur Vuillaume, “but my
daughter had not read a single novel when she was past eighteen. Is it
not true, Marie?”

“Yes, papa.”

“I have George Sand’s works very handsomely bound,” he continued,
“and in spite of her mother’s fears I decided, a few months before her
marriage, to permit her to read ‘André,’ a perfectly innocent work,
full of imagination, and which elevates the soul. I am for a liberal
education. Literature has certainly its rights. The book produced an
extraordinary effect upon her, sir. She cried all night in her sleep:
which proves that there is nothing like a pure imagination to understand
genius.”

“It is so beautiful!” murmured the young woman, her eyes sparkling.

But Pichon having enunciated this theory: no novels before marriage, and
as many as one likes afterwards--Madame Vuillaume shook her head. She
never read, and was none the worse for it. Then, Marie gently spoke of
her loneliness.

“Well! I sometimes take up a book. Jules chooses them for me at the
library in the Passage Choiseul. If I only played the piano!”

For some time past, Octave had felt the necessity of saying something.

“What! madame,” exclaimed he, “you do not play!”

A slight awkwardness ensued. The parents talked of a succession of
unfortunate circumstances, not wishing to admit that they had not been
willing to incur the expense. Madame Vuillaume, moreover, affirmed, that
Marie sang in tune from her birth; when she was a child she knew all
sorts of very pretty ballads, she had only to hear the tunes once to
remember them; and the mother spoke of a song about Spain, the story
of a captive weeping for her lover, which the child gave out with an
expression that would draw tears from the hardest hearts. But Marie
remained disconsolate. She let this cry escape her, as she extended
her hand in the direction of the inner room, where her little one was
sleeping:

“Ah! I swear that Lilitte shall learn to play the piano, even though I
have to make the greatest sacrifices!”

“Think first of bringing her up as we brought you up,” said Madame
Vuillaume, severely. “I certainly do not condemn music, it develops
one’s feelings. But, above all, watch over your daughter, keep every
foul breath from her, strive that she may preserve her innocence.”

She started off again, giving even more weight to religion, settling the
number of times to go to confess each month, naming the masses that
it was absolutely necessary to attend, all from the point of view of
propriety. Then Octave, unable to bear any more of it, talked of an
appointment which obliged him to go out. He had a singing in his ears,
he felt that this conversation would continue in a like manner until the
evening. And he hastened away, leaving the Vuillaumes and the Pichons
telling one another, around the same cups of coffee slowly emptied, what
they told each other every Sunday. As he was bowing a last time, Marie,
suddenly and without any reason, became scarlet.

Ever since that afternoon, Octave hastened past the Pichons’ door
whenever he heard the slow tones of Monsieur and Madame Vuillaume on a
Sunday. Moreover, he was entirely absorbed in his conquest of Valérie.
In spite of the fiery glances of which he thought himself the object,
she maintained an inexplicable reserve; and in that he fancied he saw
the play of a coquette. He even met her one day, as though by chance, in
the Tuileries gardens, when she quietly began to talk of a storm of the
day before; which finally convinced him that she was devilish smart.
And he was constantly on the staircase, watching for an opportunity
of entering her apartments, decided if necessary upon being positively
rude.

Now, every time that he passed her, Marie smiled and blushed. They
exchanged the greetings of good neighbours. One morning, at lunch-time,
as he brought her up a letter, which Monsieur Gourd had given him, to
avoid having to go up the four flights of stairs himself, he found her
in a sad way: she had seated Lilitte in her chemise on the round table,
and was trying to dress her again.

“What is the matter?” asked the young man.

“Why, this child!” replied she. “I foolishly took her things off,
because she was complaining. And now I don’t know what to do, I don’t
know what to do!”

He looked at her in surprise. She was turning a skirt over and over,
looking for the hooks. Then, she added:

“You see, her father always helps me to dress her in the morning before
he goes out. I can never manage it by myself. It bothers me, it annoys
me.”

The child, meanwhile, tired of being in her chemise and frightened by
the sight of Octave, was struggling and tumbling about on the table.

“Take care!” cried he, “she will fall.”

It was quite a catastrophe. Marie looked as though she dare not touch
her child’s naked limbs. She continued contemplating her, with the
surprise of a virgin, amazed at having been able to produce such a
thing. However, assisted by Octave, who quieted the little one, she
succeeded in dressing her again.

“How will you manage when you have a dozen?” asked he, laughing.

“But we shall never have any more!” answered she in a fright.

Then, he joked: she was wrong to be so sure, a child comes so easily?

“No! no!” repeated she obstinately. “You heard what mamma said, the
other day. She forbade Jules to have any more. You do not know her; it
would lead to endless quarrels, if another came.”

Octave was amused by the quiet way in which she discussed this question.
He drew her out, without, however, succeeding in embarrassing her. She,
moreover, did as her husband wished. No doubt, she loved children; had
she been allowed to desire others, she would not have said no. And,
beneath this complacency, which was restricted to her mother’s commands,
the indifference of a woman whose maternity was still slumbering could
be recognized. Lilitte occupied her like her home, which she looked
after through duty. When she had washed up the breakfast things and
taken the child for her walk, she continued her former young girl’s
existence, of a somnolent emptiness, lulled by the vague expectation of
a joy which never came. Octave having remarked that she must feel very
dull, being always alone, she seemed surprised: no, she was never dull,
the days passed somehow or other, without her knowing, when she went to
bed, how she had employed her time. Then, on Sundays, she sometimes
went out with her husband; or her parents called, or else she read. If
reading did not give her headaches, she would have read from morning
till night, now that she was allowed to read everything.

“What is really annoying,” resumed she, “is that they have scarcely
anything at the library in the Passage Choiseul. For instance, I wanted
‘André,’ to read it again, because it made me cry so much the other
time. Well! their copy has been stolen. Besides that, my father refuses
to lend me his, because Lilitte might tear the pictures.”

“But,” said Octave, “my friend Campardon has all George Sand’s works. I
will ask him to lend me ‘André’ for you.”

She blushed, and her eyes sparkled. He was really too kind! And, when he
left her, she stood before Lilitte, her arms hanging down by her sides,
without an idea in her head, in the attitude which she maintained for
whole afternoons together. She detested sewing, she did crochet work,
always the same piece, which she left lying about the room.

Octave brought her the book on the morrow, a Sunday. Pichon had had to
go out, to leave his card on one of his superiors. And, as the young man
found her dressed for walking, she having just been on some errand in
the neighbourhood, he asked her out of curiosity whether she had been to
church, having the idea that she was religious. She answered no. Before
marrying her off, her mother used to take her regularly to mass. During
the six first months of her married life, she continued going through
force of habit, with the constant fear of being too late. Then, she
scarcely knew why, after missing a few times, she left off going
altogether. Her husband detested priests, and her mother never even
mentioned them now. Octave’s question, however, disturbed her, as though
it had awakened within her things that had been long buried beneath the
idleness of her existence.

“I must go to Saint-Roch one of these mornings,” said she. “An
occupation gone always leaves a void behind it.”

And, on the pale face of this late child, born of parents too old, there
appeared the unhealthy regret of another existence, dreamed of once upon
a time, in the land of chimeras. She could conceal nothing, everything
was reflected in her face, beneath her skin, which had the softness and
the transparency accompanying an attack of chlorosis. Then, she gave
way to her feelings, and caught hold of Octave’s hands with a familiar
gesture.

“Ah! let me thank you for having brought me this book! Come to-morrow
after lunch. I will return it to you and tell you the effect that it
produced on me. It will be amusing, will it not?”

On leaving her, Octave thought that she was funny all the same. She was
beginning to interest him, he contemplated speaking to Pichon so as to
make him rouse her up a bit; for the little woman, most decidedly, only
wanted a shaking. It so happened that on the morrow he came across the
clerk just as he was going off, and he accompanied him part of the way,
at the risk of being late himself at “The Ladies’ Paradise.” But Pichon
seemed to him to be even more benumbed than his wife, full of manias in
their early stage, and entirely occupied with the dread of getting mud
on his shoes in wet weather. He walked on his toes, and continually
talked of the second head-clerk of his office. Octave, who was only
animated by fraternal intentions in the matter, ended by leaving him in
the Rue Saint-Honoré, after advising him to take Marie to the theatre
frequently.

“Whatever for?” asked Pichon in amazement.

“Because it is good for women. It makes them nicer.”

“Ah! you really think so?”

He promised to give the matter his attention, and crossed the street,
eyeing the cabs with terror, the only thing in life which worried him
being the fear of getting splashed.

At lunch-time, Octave knocked at the Pichons’ door for the book.
Marie was reading, her elbows on the table, her hands buried in her
dishevelled hair. She had just eaten an egg cooked in a tin pan which
was lying in the centre of the hastily laid table without any cloth.
Lilitte, forgotten on the floor, was sleeping with her nose on the
pieces of a plate which she had no doubt broken.

“Well?”

Marie did not answer at once. She was still wrapped in her morning
dressing-gown, which, from the buttons being torn off, displayed her
throat, in all the disorder of a woman just risen from her bed.

“I have scarcely read a hundred pages,” she ended by saying. “My parents
came yesterday.”

And she spoke in a painful tone of voice, with a sourness about her
mouth. When she was younger, she longed to live in the midst of the
woods. She was for ever dreaming that she met a huntsman who was
sounding his horn. He approached her and knelt down. This took place in
a copse, very far away, where roses were blooming like in a park. Then,
suddenly, they had been married, and afterwards lived there, wandering
about till eternity. She, very happy, wished for nothing more; he, as
tender and submissive as a slave, was continually at her feet.

“I had a talk with your husband this morning,” said Octave. “You do not
go out enough, and I have persuaded him to take you to the theatre.”

But she shook her head, turning pale and shivering. A silence ensued.
She again beheld the narrow dining-room with its cold light. Jules’s
image, sullen and correct, had suddenly cast a shadow over the huntsman
of the romance whom she had been imagining, and the sound of whose horn
in the distance again rang in her ears. Every now and then she listened:
perhaps he was coming. Her husband had never taken her feet in his hands
to kiss them; he had never either knelt beside her to tell her he adored
her. Yet, she loved him well; but she was surprised that love did not
contain more sweetness.

“What stifles me, you know,” resumed she, returning to the book, “is
when there are passages in novels about the characters telling one
another of their love.”

Octave then sat down. He wished to laugh, not caring for such
sentimental trifling.

“I detest a lot of phrases,” said he. “When two persons adore each
other, the best thing is to prove it at once.”

But she did not seem to understand, her eyes remained undimmed. He
stretched out his hand, slightly touching hers, and leant over so close
to her to observe a passage in the book that his breath warmed her
shoulder through the open dressing-gown; yet she remained insensible.
Then, he rose up, full of a contempt mingled with pity. As he was
leaving, she said:

“I read very slowly, I shall not have finished it before tomorrow. It
will be amusing to-morrow! Look in during the evening.”

He certainly had no designs upon her, and yet he felt indignant. He
conceived a singular friendship for this young couple who exasperated
him, they seemed to take life so stupidly. And the idea came to him of
rendering them a service in spite of them; he would take them out to
dinner, make them tipsy, and then amuse himself by pushing them into
each other’s arms. When such fits of kindness got hold of him, he, who
would not have lent ten francs, delighted in flinging his money out of
the window, to bring two lovers together and give them joy.

Little Madame Pichon’s coldness, however, brought Octave back to the
ardent Valérie. This one, certainly, would not require to be breathed
upon twice on the back of her neck. He was advancing in her favour:
one day that she was going upstairs before him, he had ventured to
compliment her on her ankle, without her appearing displeased.

At length the opportunity so long watched for presented itself. It was
the evening that Marie had made him promise to look in; they would be
alone to talk about the novel, as her husband was not to be home till
very late. But the young man had preferred to go out, seized with
fright at the thought of this literary treat. However, he had decided to
venture upon it, towards ten o’clock, when he met Valérie’s maid on the
first-floor landing with a scared look on her face, and who said to him:

“Madame has gone into hysterics, my master is out, and every one
opposite has gone to the theatre. Pray come in. I am all alone, I don’t
know what to do.”

Valérie was stretched out in an easy-chair in her bedroom, her limbs
rigid. The maid had unlaced her stays, and her bosom was heaving. The
attack subsided almost immediately. She opened her eyes, was surprised
to see Octave there, and acted moreover as she might have done in the
presence of a doctor.

“I must ask you to excuse me, sir,” murmured she, her voice still
choking. “I have only had this girl since yesterday, and she lost her
head.”

Her perfect coolness in adjusting her stays and fastening up her dress
again, embarrassed the young man. He remained standing, swearing not to
depart thus, yet not daring to sit down. She had sent away the maid,
the sight of whom seemed to irritate her; then she went to the window
to breathe the cool outdoor air in long nervous inspirations, her mouth
wide open. After a short silence, they commenced talking. She had first
suffered from these attacks when fourteen years old; Doctor Juillerat
was tired of prescribing for her; sometimes they seized her in the arms,
sometimes in the loins. However, she was getting used to them; she might
as well have them as anything else, as no one was really perfectly well.
And, whilst she talked, with scarcely any life in her limbs, he excited
himself with looking at her, he thought her provoking in the midst of
her disorder, with her leaden complexion, her face upset by the attack
as though by a whole night of love. Behind the black mass of her loose
hair, which hung over her shoulders, he fancied he beheld the husband’s
poor and beardless head. Then, stretching out his hands, with the
unrestrained gesture with which he would have seized some harlot, he
tried to take hold of her.

“Well! what now?” asked she, in a voice full of surprise.

In her turn she looked at him, whilst her eyes were so cold, her flesh
so calm, that he felt frozen and let his hands fall with an awkward
slowness, fully aware of the ridiculousness of his gesture. Then, in a
last nervous gape which she stifled, she slowly added:

“Ah! my dear sir, if you only knew!”

And she shrugged her shoulders, without getting angry, as though crushed
beneath her contempt for man and her weariness of him. Octave thought
she was about to have him turned out when he saw her move towards a
bell-pull, dragging her loosely fastened skirts along with her. But she
merely required some tea; and she ordered it to be very weak and very
hot. Altogether nonplussed, he muttered some excuses and made for the
door, whilst she again reclined in the depths of her easy-chair, with
the air of a chilly woman greatly in want of sleep.

On the stairs, Octave stopped at each landing. She did not like that
then? He had just seen how indifferent she was, without desire as
without indignation, as difficult to deal with as his employer, Madame
Hédouin. Why did Campardon say she was hysterical? it was absurd to
take him in by telling him such humbug; for had it not been for the
architect’s lie, he would never have risked such an adventure. And
he remained quite bewildered by the result, his ideas of hysteria
altogether upset, and thinking of the different stories that were going
about. He recalled Trublot’s words: one never knows what to expect, with
those crazy sort of people whose eyes shine like balls of fire.

Up on his landing Octave, annoyed with all women, walked as softly as he
could. But the Pichons’ door opened, and he had to resign himself. Marie
awaited him, standing in the narrow room, which the charred wick of the
lamp but imperfectly lighted. She had drawn the crib close to the table,
and Lilitte was sleeping there in the circle of the yellow light. The
lunch things had probably also served for the dinner, for the closed
book was lying beside a dirty plate full of radish ends.

“Have you finished it?” asked Octave, surprised at the young woman’s
silence.

She seemed intoxicated, her face was swollen as though she had just
awakened from a too heavy sleep.

“Yes, yes,” said she, with an effort. “Oh! I have passed the day, my
head in my hands, buried in it. When the fit takes one, one no longer
knows where one is. I have such a stiff neck.”

And, feeling pains all over her, she did not speak any more of the book,
but was so full of her emotion and of confused dreams engendered by her
reading, that she was choking. Her ears rang with the distant calls of
the horn, blown by the huntsman of her romances, in the blue background
of ideal loves. Then, without the least reason, she said that she had
been to Saint-Roch that morning to hear the nine o’clock mass. She had
wept a great deal, religion replaced everything.

“Ah! I feel better,” resumed she, heaving a deep sigh and standing still
in front of Octave.

A pause ensued. She smiled at him with her candid eyes. He had never
thought her so useless, with her scanty hair and her washed-out
features. But as she continued looking at him, she became very pale and
almost stumbled; and he was obliged to put out his hands to support her.

“Good heavens! good heavens!” stuttered she, sobbing.

He continued to hold her, feeling considerably embarrassed.

“You should take a little infusion. You have been reading too much.”

“Yes, it upset me, when on closing the book I found myself alone. How
kind you are, Monsieur Mouret! I might have hurt myself, had it not been
for you.”

He looked for a chair on which to seat her.

“Shall I light a fire?”

“No, thank you, it would dirty your hands. I have noticed that you
always wear gloves.”

And choking again at the idea, and suddenly feeling faint, she launched
an awkward kiss into space as though in a dream, a kiss which slightly
touched the young man’s ear.

Octave received this kiss with amazement. The young woman’s lips were as
cold as ice. Then, when she had sank upon his breast in an abandonment
of her whole frame, he was seized with a sudden desire, and sought to
bear her into the inner room. But this brusque wooing roused Marie; her
womanly instinct revolted; she struggled and called upon her mother,
forgetting her husband, who was shortly to return; and her daughter who
was sleeping near her.

“No, oh! no, no. It is wrong.”

But he kept ardently repeating:

“No one will ever know--I shall never tell.”

“No, Monsieur Octave. Do not spoil the happiness I have in knowing you.
It will do no good I assure you, and I had dreamed things--”

Then he left off speaking, having a revenge to take on woman-kind, and
saying coarsely to himself: “You, at any rate, shall succumb!” The door
had not even been shut, the solemnity of the staircase seemed to ascend
in the midst of the silence. Lilitte was peacefully sleeping on the
pillow of her crib.

When Marie and Octave rose up, they could find nothing to say to each
other. She, mechanically, went and looked at her daughter, took up
the plate, and then laid it down again. He remained silent, a prey
to similar uneasiness, the adventure had been so unexpected; and he
recalled to mind how he had fraternally planned to restore the young
woman to her husband’s arms. Feeling the necessity of breaking that
intolerable silence he ended by murmuring:

“You did not shut the door, then?”

She glanced out on to the landing, and stammered:

“That is true, it was open.”

Her face wore an expression of disgust. The young man too was now
thinking that after all there was nothing the least funny in this
adventure with a helpless woman, in the midst of that solitude.

“Dear me! the book has fallen on the floor!” she continued, picking the
volume up.

A corner of the cover was broken. That drew them together, and afforded
some relief. Speech returned to them. Marie appeared quite distressed.

“It was not my fault. You see, I had covered it with paper for fear of
soiling it. We must have knocked it over, without doing so on purpose.”

“Was it there then?” asked Octave. “I did not notice it. Oh! for myself,
I don’t care a bit! But Campardon thinks so much of his books!”

They kept passing it from one to the other, trying to put the corner
straight again. Their fingers touched without a quiver. As they
inflected on the consequences, they were quite dismayed at the accident
which had happened to that handsome volume of George Sand.

“It was bound to end badly,” concluded Marie, with tears in her eyes.

Octave was obliged to console her. He would invent some story, Campardon
would not eat him. And their uneasiness returned, at the moment of
separation. They would have liked at least to have said something
amiable to eaeh other; but the words choked them. Fortunately, a step
was heard, it was the husband coming upstairs. Octave silently took her
in his arms again and kissed her in his turn on the mouth. She once
more complaisantly submitted, her lips iey cold as before. When he had
noiselessly regained his room, he asked himself, as he took off
his overcoat, whatever was it that she wanted? Women, he said, were
decidedly very peculiar.

On the morrow, at the Cam pardons’, just as lunch was finished, Octave
was once more explaining that he had clumsily knocked the book over,
when Marie entered the room. She was going to take Lilitte to the
Tuileries gardens, and she had called to ask if they would allow Angèle
to accompany her. And she smiled at Octave, without the least confusion,
and glanced in her innocent way at the book lying on a chair.

“Why, I shall be only too pleased!” said Madame Campardon. “Angèle, go
and put your hat on. I have no fear in trusting her with you.”

Marie, looking very modest, in a simple dress of dark woollen stuff,
talked of her husband, who had caught a cold the night before, and of
the price of meat, which would soon prevent people buying it at all.
Then, when she had left with Angèle, they all leant out of the windows
to see them depart. Marie gently pushed Lilitte’s perambulator along the
pavement with her gloved hands; whilst Angèle, knowing that they were
looking at her, walked beside her friend, with her eyes fixed on the
ground.

“How respectable she looks!” exclaimed Madame Campardon. “And so gentle!
so decorous!”

Then, slapping Octave on the shoulder, the architect said:

“Education is everything in a family, my dear fellow; there is nothing
like it!”

[Illustration: 0115]



CHAPTER V.


That evening, there was a reception and concert at the Duveyriers.

Towards nine o’clock, Octave, who had been invited for the first time,
was just finishing dressing. He was grave, and felt irritated with
himself. Why had he missed fire with Valérie, a woman so well connected?
And Berthe Josserand, ought he not to have reflected before refusing
her? At the moment he was tying his white tie, the thought of Marie
Pichon had become unbearable to him: five months in Paris, and nothing
but that wretched adventure! It was as painful to him as a disgrace, for
he well saw the emptiness and the uselessness of such a connection. And
he vowed to himself, as he took up his gloves, that he would no longer
waste his time in such a manner. He was decided to act, as he had at
length got into society, where opportunities were certainly not wanting.

But, at the end of the passage, Marie was watching for him. Pichon not
being there, he was obliged to go in for a moment.

“How smart you are!” murmured she.

They had never been invited to the Duveyriers’, and that filled her with
respect for the first floor drawing-room. Besides, she was jealous of no
one, she had neither the strength nor the will to be so.

“I shall wait for you,” resumed she holding up her forehead. “D° not
come up too late; you can tell me how you amused yourself.”

Octave had to deposit a kiss on her hair. Though relations were
established between them, according to his fancy, whenever a desire or
want of something to do drew him to her, they did not as yet address
each other very familiarly. He at length went downstairs; and she,
leaning over the balustrade, followed him with her eyes.

At the same minute, quite a drama was enacting at the Josserands’. In
the mind of the mother, the Duveyriers’ party to which they were going,
was to decide the question of a marriage between Berthe and Auguste
Vabre. The latter, who had been vigorously attacked for a fortnight
past, still hesitated, evidently entertaining doubts with respect to the
dowry. So Madame Josserand, for the purpose of striking a decisive blow,
had written to her brother, informing him of the contemplated marriage
and reminding him of his promises, with the hope that, in his answer, he
might say something that she could turn to account. And all the family
were awaiting nine o’clock before the dining-room stove, dressed ready
to go down, when Monsieur Gourd brought up a letter from uncle Bachelard
which had been forgotten under Madame Gourd’s snuff-box since the last
delivery.

“Ah! at last!” said Madame Josserand, tearing open the envelope.

The father and the two daughters watched her anxiously as she read.
Adèle, who had had to dress the ladies, was moving heavily about,
clearing the table still covered with the dirty crockery from the
dinner. But Madame Josserand turned ghastly pale.

“Nothing! nothing!” stuttered she, “not a clear sentence! He will see
later on, at the time of the marriage. And he adds that he loves us very
much all the same. What a confounded scoundrel!”

Monsieur Josserand in his evening dress sank into a chair. Hortense and
Berthe also sat down, their legs feeling worn out; and they remained
there, the one in blue, the other in pink, in their eternal costumes,
altered once again.

“I have always said,” murmured the father, “that Bachelard is imposing
upon us. He will never give a sou.”

Standing up in her flaring dress, Madame Josserand was reading the
letter over again. Then, her anger burst out, “Ah! men! men! That one,
one would think him an idiot, he leads such a life. Well! not a bit of
it! Though he never seems to be in his right mind, he opens his eye the
moment any one speaks to him of money. Ah! men! men!”

She turned towards her daughters, to whom this lesson was addressed.

“It has come to the point, you see, that I ask myself why it is you have
such a mania for getting married. Ah! if you had been worried out of
your lives by it as I have! Not a fellow who loves you for yourselves
and who would bring you a fortune without haggling! Millionaire uncles
who, after having been fed for twenty years, will not even give their
nieces a dowry! Husbands who are quite incompetent, oh! yes, sir,
incompetent!”

Monsieur Josserand bowed his head. Adèle, who was not even listening,
was quietly finishing clearing the table. But Madame Josserand suddenly
turned angrily upon her.

“What are you doing there, spying upon us? Go into your kitchen and see
if I am there!”

And she wound up by saying:

“In short, everything for those wretched beings, the men; and for us,
not even enough to satisfy our hunger. Listen! they are only fit for
being taken in! Remember my words!”

Hortense and Berthe nodded their heads, as though deeply penetrated
by what their mother had been saying. For a long time past she had
completely convinced them of man’s utter inferiority, his unique part
in life being to marry and to pay. A long silence ensued in the smoky
dining-room, where the remainder of the things left on the table
by Adèle emitted a stuffy smell of food. The Josserands, gorgeously
arrayed, scattered on different chairs and overwhelmed, were forgetting
the Duveyriers’ concert as they reflected on the continual deceptions
of life From the depths of the adjoining chamber, one could hear the
snoring of Saturnin, whom they had sent to bed early.

At length, Berthe spoke:

“So it is all up. Shall we take our things off?”

But, at this, Madame Josserand’s energy at once returned to her. Eh?
what? take their things off! and why pray! were they not respectable
people, was not an alliance with their family as good as with any other?
The marriage should take place all the same, she would die rather. And
she rapidly distributed their parts to each: the two young ladies were
instructed to be very amiable to Auguste, and not to leave him until he
had taken the leap; the father received the mission of overcoming old
Vabre and Duveyrier, by agreeing with everything they said, if his
intelligence was sufficient to enable him to do such a thing; as for
herself, desirous of neglecting nothing, she undertook the women,
she would know how to get them all on her side. Then, collecting her
thoughts and casting a last glance round the dining-room, as though to
make sure that no weapon had been forgotten, she put on the terrible
look of a man of war about to lead his daughters to massacre, and
uttered these words in a powerful voice:

“Let us go down!”

And down they went. In the solemnity of the staircase, Monsieur
Josserand was full of uneasiness, for he foresaw many disagreeable
things for the too narrow conscience of a worthy man like himself.

When they entered, there was already a crush at the Duveyriers’.

The enormous grand piano occupied one entire end of the drawing-room,
the ladies being seated in front of it on rows of chairs, like at the
theatre; and two dense masses of black coats filled up the doorways
leading to the dining-room and the parlour. The chandelier and the
candelabra, and the six lamps standing on side-tables, lit up with a
blinding light the white and gold room in which the red silk of the
furniture and of the hangings showed up vividly. It was very warm,
the fans produced a breeze at regular intervals, impregnated with the
penetrating odours of bodices and bare shoulders.

Just at that moment, Madame Duveyrier was taking her seat at the piano.
With a gesture, Madame Josserand smilingly begged she would not disturb
herself; and she left her daughters in the midst of the men, as she
accepted a chair for herself between Valérie and Madame Juzeur. Monsieur
Josserand had made for the parlour, where the landlord, Monsieur Vabre,
was dozing at his usual place, in the corner of a sofa. There were also
Campardon, Théophile and Auguste Vabre, Doctor Juillerat and the Abbé
Mauduit, forming a group; whilst Trublot and Octave, who had rejoined
each other, had flown from the music to the end of the dining-room. Near
them, and behind the stream of black coats, Duveyrier, thin and tall of
stature, was looking fixedly at his wife seated at the piano waiting for
silence. In the button-hole of his coat he wore the ribbon of the Legion
of Honour in a neat little rosette.

“Hush! hush! silence!” murmured some friendly voices.

Then, Clotilde Duveyrier commenced one of Chopin’s most difficult
serenades. Tall and handsome, with magnificent red hair, she had a
long face, as pale and cold as snow; and, in her grey eyes, music alone
kindled a flame, an exaggerated passion on which she existed without
any other desire either of the flesh or the spirit. Duveyrier continued
watching her; then, after the first bars, a nervous exasperation
contracted his lips, he drew aside and kept himself at the farthest end
of the dining-room. On his clean-shaven face, with its pointed chin
and eyes all askew, large red blotches indicated a bad blood, quite a
pollution festering just beneath the skin.

Trublot, who was examining him, quietly observed:

“He does not like music.”

“Nor I either,” replied Octave.

“Oh! the unpleasantness is not the same for you. A man, my dear fellow,
who was always lucky. Not a whit more intelligent than another, but who
was helped along by every one. Belonging to an old middle-class family,
the father an ex-presiding judge, called to the bar the moment he had
completed his studies, then appointed, deputy judge at Reims, from
whence he was removed to Paris and made judge of the Court of First
Instance, decorated, and now a counsellor before he is forty-five years
of age. It’s stiff, isn’t it? But he does not like music, that piano has
been the bane of his life. One cannot have everything.”

Meanwhile, Clotilde was knocking off the difficult passages with
extraordinary composure. She handled her piano like a circus-rider her
horse. Octave’s attention was solely occupied with the furious working
of her hands.

“Just look at her fingers,” said he, “it is astonishing! A quarter of an
hour of that must hurt her immensely.”

And they both fell to talking of women without troubling themselves any
further with what she was playing. Octave felt rather embarrassed on
catching sight of Valérie: what line of conduct should he pursue? ought
he to speak to her or pretend not to see her? Trublot affected a
great disdain: there was still not one to take his fancy; and, as his
companion protested, looking about, and saying that there was surely one
amongst the number who would suit him, he learnedly declared:

“Well! take your choice, and you will see afterwards, when the gloss is
off. Eh? not the one with the feathers over there; nor the blonde in the
mauve dress; nor that old party, though she at least has the merit of
being fat. I tell you, my dear fellow, it is absurd to seek for anything
of the kind in society. Plenty of airs, but not a particle of pleasure!”

Octave smiled. He had to make his position in the world; he could not
afford merely to consider his taste, like Trublot, whose father was so
rich. The sight of those rows of women set him musing, he asked himself
which among them he would have chosen for his fortune and his pleasure,
if he had been allowed to take one of them away. As he was weighing them
with a glance, one after the other, he suddenly exclaimed:

“Hallo! my employer’s wife! She visits here then?”

“Did you not know it?” asked Trublot. “In spite of the difference in
their ages, Madame Hédouin and Madame Duveyrier are two school friends.
They used to be inseparable, and were called the polar bears, because
they were always fully twenty degrees below freezing point. They are
some more of the ornamental class! Duveyrier would be in a sad plight if
he had not some other hot water-bottle for his feet in winter time!”

But Octave had now become serious. For the first time, he beheld Madame
Hédouin in a low neck dress, her shoulders and arms bare, with her
black hair plaited in front; and she appeared in the ardent light as the
realisation of his desires: a superb woman, extremely healthy and calmly
beautiful, who would be a benefit in every way to a man. Complicated
plans were already absorbing him, when an awful din awoke him from his
dream.

“What a relief! it is finished!” said Trublot.

Compliments were being showered upon Clotilde. Madame Josserand, who had
hastened to her, was pressing her hands; whilst the men resumed
their conversation, and the ladies fanned themselves more vigorously.
Duveyrier then ventured back into the parlour, where Trublot and Octave
followed him. Whilst in the midst of the skirts, the former whispered
into the latter’s ear:

“Look on your right. The angling has commenced.”

It was Madame Josserand who was setting Berthe on to Auguste. He had
imprudently gone up to the ladies to wish them good evening. His head
was not bothering him so much just then; he merely felt a touch of
neuralgia in his left eye; but he dreaded the end of the party, for
there was going to be singing, and nothing was worse for him than this.

“Berthe,” said the mother, “tell Monsieur Vabre of the remedy you copied
for him out of that book. Oh! it is a sovereign cure for headaches!”

And, having started the affair, she left them standing beside a window.

“By Jove! they are going in for chemistry!” murmured Trublot.

In the parlour, Monsieur Josserand, desirous of pleasing his wife, had
remained seated before Monsieur Vabre, feeling very embarrassed, for
the old gentleman was asleep, and he did not dare awake him to do the
amiable. But, when the music ceased, Monsieur Vabre raised his eye-lids.
Short and stout, and completely bald, save for two tufts of white hair
over his ears, he had a ruddy face, with thick lips, and round eyes
almost at the top of his head. Monsieur Josserand having politely
inquired after his health, the conversation began. The retired notary,
whose four or five ideas always followed the same order, commenced by
making an observation about Versailles, where he had practiced during
forty years; then, he talked of his sons, once more regretting that
neither the one nor the other had shown himself capable of carrying on
the practice, so that he had decided to sell it and inhabit Paris; after
which, he came to the history of his house, the building of which was
the romance of his life.

“I have buried three hundred thousand francs in it, sir. A superb
speculation, my architect said. But to-day I have great difficulty in
getting the value of my money; more especially as all my children have
come to live here, with the idea of not paying me, and I should
never have a quarter’s rent, if I did not apply for it myself on the
fifteenth. Fortunately, I have work to console me.”

“Do you still work much?” asked Monsieur Josserand.

“Always, always, sir!” replied the old gentleman with the energy of
despair. “Work is life to me.”

And he explained his great task. For ten years past, he had every year
waded through the official catalogue of the exhibition of paintings,
writing on tickets each painter’s name, and the paintings exhibited.
He spoke of it with an air of weariness and anguish; the whole year
scarcely gave him sufficient time, the task was often so arduous, that
it sometimes proved too much for him; for instance, when a lady artist
married, and then exhibited under her husband’s name, how was he to see
his way clearly?

“My work will never be complete, it is that which is killing me,”
 murmured he.

“You take a great interest in art, do you not?” resumed Monsieur
Josserand, to flatter him.

Monsieur Vabre looked at him, full of surprise.

“No, I do not require to see the paintings. It is merely a matter of
statistics. There now! I had better go to bed, my head will be all the
clearer to-morrow. Good-night, sir.”

He leant on a walking-stick, which he used even in the house, and
withdrew, walking painfully, the lower part of his back already
succumbing to paralysis. Monsieur Josserand felt perplexed: he had not
understood very clearly, he feared he had not spoken of the tickets with
sufficient enthusiasm.

But a slight hubbub coming from the drawing-room, attracted

Trublot and Octave again to the door. They saw a lady of about fifty
enter, very stout, and still handsome, followed by a young man,
correctly attired, and with a serious air about him.

“What! they arrive together!” murmured Trublot. “Well! I never!”

The new-comers were Madame Dambreville and Léon Josserand. She had
undertaken to find him a wife; then, whilst waiting, she had kept him
for her own personal use; and they were now in their full honeymoon,
attracting general attention in the middle-class drawing-rooms. There
were whisperings amongst the mothers who had daughters to marry. But
Madame Duveyrier was advancing to meet Madame Dambreville, who supplied
her with young men for her choruses. Madame Josserand at once supplanted
her, and overwhelmed her son’s friend with all sorts of attentions,
reflecting that she might have need of her. Léon coldly exchanged a few
words with his mother; yet, she was now beginning to think that he would
after all be able to do something for himself.

“Berthe does not see you,” said she to Madame Dambreville. “Excuse her,
she is telling Monsieur Auguste of some remedy.”

“But they are very well together, we must leave them alone,” replied the
lady, understanding at a glance.

They both watched Berthe maternally. She had ended by pushing Auguste
into the recess caused by the window, and was keeping him there with her
pretty gestures. He was becoming animated, and running the risk of a bad
headache.

Meanwhile, a group of grave men were talking politics in the parlour.
There had been a stormy sitting of the Senate the day before, where they
were discussing the address respecting the Roman question; and Doctor
Juillerat, whose opinions were atheistical and revolutionary, was
maintaining that Rome ought to be given to the king of Italy; whilst the
Abbé Mau-duit, one of the heads of the Ultramontane party prophesied
the most awful catastrophes, if Frenchmen did not shed the last drop of
their blood in supporting the temporal power of the pope.

“Perhaps some _modus vivendi_ may be found which will prove acceptable
to both parties,” observed Léon Josserand arriving.

He was just then the secretary of a celebrated barrister, one of the
deputies of the left. During two years, having nothing to expect
from his parents, whose mediocrity moreover exasperated him, he had
frequented the students’ quarter in the guise of a ferocious demagogue.
But, since his acquaintance with the Dambrevilles, at whose expense he
was satisfying his first appetites, he was calming down, and drifting
into the learned Republican.

“No, no agreement is possible,” said the priest. “The Church could not
make terms.”

“Then, it shall vanish!” exclaimed the doctor.

And, though great friends, having met at the bedsides of all the
departing souls of the Saint-Roch district, they seemed irreconcilable,
the doctor thin and nervous, the priest fat and affable. The latter
preserved a polite smile, even when making his most absolute statements,
like a man of the world, tolerant for the shortcomings of existence, but
also like a Catholic who did not intend to abandon any of his religions
belief.

“The Church vanish, pooh!” said Campardon with a furious air, just to be
well with the priest, from whom he was expecting a large order.

Besides, it was the opinion of almost all the gentlemen: it could not
vanish. Théophile Vabre, who, coughing and spitting, and shaking with
fever, dreamed of universal happiness through the organization of a
humanitarian republic, alone maintained that, perhaps, it would be
transformed.

The priest resumed in his gentle voice:

“The Empire is committing suicide. You will see it is so, next year,
when the elections come on.”

“Oh! as for the Empire, we permit you to rid us of it,” said the doctor
boldly. “You will be rendering us a precious service.”

Then, Duveyrier, who seemed listening profoundly, shook his head. He
belonged to an Orleanist family; but he owed everything to the Empire
and considered he ought to defend it.

“Believe me,” he at length declared severely, “do not shake the
foundations of society, or everything will collapse. It is we, as sure
as fate, who suffer from every catastrophe.”

“Very true!” observed Monsieur Josserand, who entertained no opinion,
but remembered his wife’s instructions.

All spoke at once. None of them liked the Empire. Doctor Juillerat
condemned the Mexican expedition, the Abbé Mauduit blamed the
recognition of the kingdom of Italy. Yet, Théophile Vabre and even Léon
felt anxious when Duveyrier threatened them with another ‘93. What was
the use of those continual revolutions? had not liberty been obtained?
and the hatred of new ideas, the fear of the people wishing their share,
calmed the liberalism of those satisfied middle-class men. They all
declared, however, that they would vote against the Emperor, for he was
in need of a lesson.

“Ah! how they bore me!” said Trublot, who had been trying to understand
for some minutes past.

Octave persuaded him to return to the ladies. In the recess of the
window, Berthe was deafening Auguste with her laughter. This big fellow,
with his pale blood, was forgetting his fear of women, and was becoming
quite red, beneath the attacks of the lovely girl, whose breath warmed
his face. Madame Josserand, however, probably considered that the
affair was dragging, for she looked fixedly at Hortense; and the latter
obediently went and gave her sister her assistance.

“Are you quite recovered, madame?” Octave dared to ask Valérie. “Quite,
sir, thank you,” replied she coolly, as though she remembered nothing.

Madame Juzeur spoke to the young man about some old lace which she
wished to show him, to have his opinion of it; and he had to promise
to look in on her for a moment on the morrow. Then, as the Abbé Mauduit
re-entered the drawing-room, she called him and made him sit beside her
with an air of rapture.

The conversation had again resumed. The ladies were discussing their
servants.

“Well! yes,” continued Madame Duveyrier, “I am satisfied with Clémenee,
she is a very clean and very active girl.”

“And your Hippolyte,” asked Madamo Josserand, “had you not the intention
of discharging him?”

Just then, Hippolyte, the footman, was handing round some iees. When
he had withdrawn, tall, strong, and with a florid complexion, Clotilde
answered in an embarrassed way:

“We have deeided to keep him. It is so unpleasant changing! You know,
servants get used to one another, and I should not like to part with
Clémence.”

Madame Josserand hastened to agree with her, feeling that they were on
delicate ground. There was some hope of marrying the two together, some
day; and the Abbé Mauduit, whom the Duveyriers’ had consulted in the
matter, slowly wagged his head, as though to dissemble a state of
affairs known to all the house, but of which no one ever spoke. All the
ladies now opened their hearts: Valérie had sent another servant about
her business that very morning, and that made three in a week; Madamo
Juzeur had deeided to take a young girl of fifteen from the foundling
hospital so as to teach her herself; as for Madame Josserand,
her complaints of Adèle seemed never likely to cease, a slut, a
good-for-nothing, whose goings-on were most extraordinary. And they
all, feeling languid in the blaze of the candles and the perfume of the
flowers, sank deeper into these ante-room stories, wading through greasy
account-books, and taking a delight in relating the insolence of a
coachman or of a scullery-maid.

“Have you seen Julie?” abruptly asked Trublot of Octave, in a mysterious
tone of voice.

And, as the other looked at him in amazement, he added:

“My dear fellow, she is stunning. Go and see her. Just pretend you want
to go somewhere, and then slip into the kitchen. She is stunning!”

He was speaking of the Duveyriers’ cook. The ladies’ conversation
was taking a turn: Madame Josserand was describing, with overflowing
admiration, a very modest estate which the Duveyriers had near
Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, and which she had merely caught a glimpse
of from the train, one day when she was going to Fontainebleau.
But Clotilde did not like the country, she lived there as little as
possible, merely during the holidays of her son, Gustave, who was then
studying rhetoric at the Lycée Bonaparte.

“Caroline is right in not wishing to have any children,” declared she,
turning towards Madame Hédouin, seated two chairs away from her. “The
little things interfere with all your habits!”

Madame Hédouin said that she liked them a good deal. But she was much
too busy; her husband was constantly away, and she had everything to
look after.

Octave, standing up behind her chair, searched with a side glance the
little curly hairs, as black as ink, on the nape of her neck, and
the snowy whiteness of her bosom, which--her dress being open very
low--disappeared in a mass of lace. She ended by completely confusing
him, as she sat there so calm, speaking but rarely and with a continuous
smile on her handsome face; he had never before seen so superb a
creature, even at Marseilles. Decidedly, it was worth trying, though it
would be a long task.

“Having children robs women of their good looks so quickly!” said he in
her ear, leaning over, feeling an absolute necessity to speak to her,
and yet finding nothing else to say.

She slowly raised her large eyes, and then replied with the simple air
with which she would give him an order at the warehouse.

“Oh! no, Monsieur Octave; with me it is not for that. One must have the
time, that is all.”

But Madame Duveyrier intervened. She had merely greeted the young man
with a slight bow, when Campardon had introduced him to her; and now
she was examining him, and listening to him, without seeking to hide
a sudden interest. When she heard him conversing with her friend, she
could not help asking:

“Pray, excuse me, sir. What voice have you?”

He did not understand immediately; but he ended by saying that his was
a tenor voice. Then, Clotilde became quite enthusiastic: a tenor voice,
really! what a piece of luck, tenor voices were becoming so rare! For
instance, for the “Blessing of the Daggers,” which they were going to
sing by-and-by, she had never been able to find more than three tenors
among her acquaintances, when at least five were required. And, suddenly
excited, her eyes sparkling, she had to restrain herself from going at
once to the piano to try his voice. He was obliged to promise to come
one evening for the purpose. Trublot, who was behind him, kept nudging
him with his elbow, ferociously enjoying himself in his impassibility.

“Ah! so you are in for it too!” murmured he, when she had moved away.
“For myself, my dear fellow, she first of all thought I had a barytone
voice; then, seeing that I did not get on all right, she tried me as a
tenor; but as I went no better, she has decided to use me to-night as
bass. I am one of the monks.”

But he had to leave Octave as Madame Duveyrier was just then calling
him; they were about to sing the chorus, the great piece of the evening.
There was quite a commotion. Some fifteen men, all amateurs, and all
recruited among the guests of the house, painfully opened a passage for
themselves through the groups of ladies, to form in front of the piano.
They were constantly brought to a standstill, and asked to be excused,
in voices drowned by the hum of conversations; whilst the fans were
moved more rapidly in the increasing heat. At length, Madame Duveyrier
counted them; they were all there, and she distributed them their parts,
which she had copied out herself. Campardon took the part of Saint-Bris;
a young auditor attached to the Council of State was intrusted with
De Nevers’s few bars; then came eight nobles, four aldermen, and three
monks, represented by barristers, clerks, and simple householders.
She, who accompanied, had also reserved herself the part of Valentine,
passionate cries which she uttered whilst striking chords; for she
would have no lady amongst the gentlemen, the resigned troop of whom she
directed with all the severity of a conductor of an orchestra.

The conversations continued, an intolerable noise issued from the
parlour especially, where the political discussions were evidently
entering on a disagreeable phase. Then Clotilde, taking a key from her
pocket, tapped gently with it on the piano. A murmur ran through the
room, the voices dropped, two streams of black coats again flowed to the
doors; and, looking over the heads, one beheld for a moment Duveyrier’s
red spotted face wearing an agonised expression. Octave had remained
standing behind Madame Hédouin, the glances from his lowered eyes losing
themselves, in the shadows of her bosom, in the depths of the lace. But
when the silence was almost complete, there was a burst of laughter,
and he raised his head. It was Berthe, who was amused at some joke of
Auguste’s; she had heated his poor blood to such a point that he was
becoming quite jovial. Every person in the drawing-room looked at them,
mothers became grave, members of the family exchanged a glance.

“She has such spirits!” murmured Madame Josserand tenderly, in such a
way as to be heard.

Hortense, close to her sister, was assisting her with complaisant
abnegation, joining in her laughter, and pushing her up against the
young man; whilst the breeze which entered through the partly open
window behind them gently swelled the big crimson silk curtains.

But a sepulchral voice resounded, all the heads turned towards the
piano. Campardon, his mouth wide open, his beard spread out in a lyrical
blast, was giving the first line:

               “Yes, we are here assembled by the queen’s command.”

Clotilde at once ran up a scale and down again; then, her eyes fixed on
the ceiling, a look of fright on her face, she uttered the cry:

               “I tremble!”

And the whole thing followed, the eight barristers, clerks and
householders, their noses on their parts, in the postures of schoolboys
humming and hawing over a page of Greek, swore that they were ready to
deliver France. This opening was a surprise, for the voices were stifled
beneath the low ceiling, one was unable to catch more than a sort of
hum, like a noise of passing carts full of paving stones causing the
windows to rattle. But when Saint-Bris’s melodious line: “For this holy
cause--” unrolled the principal theme, some of the ladies recognised
it and nodded their heads knowingly. All were warming to the work, the
nobles shouted out at random: “We swear it!--We will follow you!” and,
each time, it was like an explosion which caught the guests full in the
chest.

“They sing too loud,” murmured Octave in Madame Hédouin’s ear.

She did not move. Then, as De Nevers’s and Valentine’s explanations
bored him, more especially as the auditor attached to the Council of
State was a false barytone, he corresponded by signs with Trublot who,
whilst awaiting the entrance of the monks, drew his attention with
a wink to the window where Berthe was continuing to keep Auguste
imprisoned. Now, they were alone, in the fresh breeze from outside;
whilst, with her ear pricked up, Hortense stood before them, leaning
against the curtain and mechanically twisting the loop. No one was
watching them now, even Madame Josserand and Madame Dambreville were
looking away, after an instinctive exchange of glances.

Meanwhile, Clotilde, her fingers on the keys, carried away and unable to
risk a gesture, stretehed her neck and addressed to the music stand this
oath intended for De Nevers:

               “Ah! from to-day all my blood is yours!”

The aldermen had made their entrance, a substitute, two attorneys, and
a notary. The quartette was well delivered, the line: “For this holy
cause--” returned, spread out, supported by half the chorus, in a
continuous expansion. Cam pardon, his mouth opened wider and wider,
gave the orders for the combat, with a terrible roll of syllables. And,
suddenly, the chant of the monks burst forth: Trublot sang from his
stomach, so as to reach the low notes.

Octave, having had the curiosity to wateh him singing, was struck with
surprise, when he again cast his eyes in the direction of the window. As
though carried away by the chorus, Hortense had unfastened the loop, by
a movement which might have been unintentional; and, in falling, the big
crimson silk curtain had completely hidden Auguste and Berthe. They
were there behind it, leaning against the window bar, without a movement
betraying their presence. Oetave no longer troubled himself about
Trublot, who was just then blessing the daggers: “Holy daggers, by us
be blessed.” Whatever could they be doing behind that curtain? The fugue
was commencing; to the deep tones of the monks, the chorus replied:
“Death! death! death!” And still they did not move; perhaps, feeling the
heat too much, they were simply watching the cabs pass. But Saint-Bris’s
melodious line had again returned, by degrees all the voices uttered
it with the whole strength of their lungs, progressively and in a final
outburst of extraordinary force. It was like a gust of wind burying
itself in the farthest corners of the too narrow room, scaring the
candles, making the guests turn pale and their ears bleed. Clotilde
furiously strummed away on the piano, carrying the gentlemen along with
her with a glance; then the voices quieted down, almost whispering: “At
midnight, let there be not a sound!” and she continued on alone, using
the soft pedal, and imitating the cadenced and distant footsteps of some
departing patrol.

Then, suddenly, in the midst of this expiring music, of this relief
after so much uproar, one heard a voice exclaim:

“You are hurting me!”

[Illustration: 0127]

All the heads again turned towards the window. Madame Dambreville kindly
made herself useful, by going and pulling the curtain aside. And the
whole drawing-room beheld Auguste looking very confused and Berthe very
red, still leaning against the bar of the window.

“What is the matter, my treasure?” asked Madame Josserand earnestly.

“Nothing, mamma. Monsieur Auguste knocked my arm with the window. I was
so warm!”

She turned redder still. There were, affected smiles and scandalized
pouts. Madame Duveyrier, who, for a month past, had been trying to keep
her brother out of Berthe’s way, turned quite pale, more especially as
the incident had spoilt the effect of her chorus. However, after
the first moment of surprise, the applause burst forth, she was
congratulated, and some amiable things were said about the gentlemen.
How delightfully they had sung! what pains she must have taken to get
them to sing so well in time! Really, it could not have been rendered
better at a theatre. But, beneath all this praise, she could not fail
to hear the whispering which went round the drawing-room: the young girl
was too much compromised, a marriage had become inevitable.

“Well! he is hooked!” observed Trublot as he rejoined Octave. “What
a ninny! as though he could not have pinched her whilst we were all
bellowing! I thought all the while that he was taking advantage of it.
You know, in drawing-rooms where they go in for singing, one pinches a
lady, and if she cries out it does not matter, no one hears!”

Berthe, now very calm, was again laughing, whilst Hortense looked at
Auguste with her crabbed air of a girl who had taken a diploma; and, in
their triumph, the mother’s lessons reappeared, the undisguised contempt
for man. All the gentlemen had now invaded the drawing-room, mingling
with the ladies, and raising their voices. Monsieur Josserand, feeling
sick at heart through Berthe’s adventure, had drawn near his wife. He
listened uneasily as she thanked Madame Dambreville for all her kindness
to their son Léon, whom she had most decidedly changed to his advantage.
But his uneasiness increased when he heard her again refer to her
daughters. She pretended to converse in low tones with Madame Juzeur,
though speaking all the while for Valérie and Clotilde, who were
standing up close beside her.

“Well, yes! her uncle mentioned it in a letter again to-day; Berthe will
have fifty thousand francs. It is not much, no doubt, but when the money
is there, and as safe as the bank too!”

This lie roused his indignation. He could not help stealthily touching
her shoulder. She looked at him, forcing him to lower his eyes before
the resolute expression of her face. Then, as Madame Duveyrier turned
round quite amiably, she asked her with great concern for news of her
father.

“Oh! papa has probably gone to bed,” replied the young woman, quite won
over. “He works so hard!”

Monsieur Josserand said that Monsieur Vabre had indeed retired, so as to
have his ideas clear on the morrow. And he mumbled a few words: a most
remarkable mind, extraordinary faculties; asking himself at the same
time where he would get that dowry from, and thinking what a figure he
would cut, the day the marriage contract had to be signed.

A great noise of chairs being moved now filled the drawingroom. The
ladies passed into the dining-room, where the tea was ready served.
Madame Josserand sailed victoriously in, surrounded by her daughters and
the Vabre family. Soon only the group of serious men remained amidst the
vacant chairs. Campardon had button-holed the Abbé Mauduit: there was
a question of some repairs to the calvary at Saint-Roch. The architect
said he was quite free, for the diocese of Evreux gave him very little
to do. All he had in hand there were a pulpit and a heating apparatus,
and also some new ranges to be placed in the bishop’s kitchen, which
work his inspector was quite competent to see after. Then, the priest
promised to have the matter definitely settled at the next meeting of
the vestry. And they both joined the group where Duveyrier was being
complimented on a judgment, of which he admitted himself to be the
author; the presiding judge, who was his friend, reserved certain easy
and brilliant tasks for him, so as to bring him to the fore.

“Have you read this last novel?” asked Léon, looking through a number of
the “Revue des Deux Mondes,” lying on a table. “It is well written; but
there is another adultery, it is really becoming wearisome!”

And the conversation turned upon morality. Campardou said that there
were some very virtuous women. All the others agreed with him. Moreover,
according to the architect, one could always live peacefully at home, if
one only went the right way about it. Théophile Vabre observed that it
depended on the woman, without explaining himself farther. They wished
to have Doctor Juillerat’s opinion, but he smiled and begged to be
excused: he considered virtue was a question of health. During this,
Duveyrier had remained wrapped in thought.

“Dear me!” murmured he at length, “these authors exaggerate; adultery is
very rare amongst educated people. A woman who comes from a good family,
has in her soul a flower--”

He was for grand sentiments, he uttered the word “ideal” with an emotion
which brought a mist to his eyes. And he said that the Abbé Mauduit was
right when the latter spoke of the necessity for the wife and mother
having some religious belief. The conversation was thus brought back to
religion and politics, at the point where these gentlemen had previously
left it. The Church would never disappear, because it was the foundation
of all families, the same as it was the natural support of governments.

“As a sort of police, perhaps it is,” murmured the doctor.

Duveyrier, however, did not like politics being discussed in his house,
and he contented himself with severely declaring, as he glanced into
the dining-room where Berthe and Hortense were stuffing Auguste with
sandwiches:

“There is one fact, gentlemen, which settles everything: religion
moralizes marriage.”

At the same moment, Trublot, seated on a sofa beside Octave, was bending
towards the latter.

“By the way,” asked he, “would you like me to get you invited to a
lady’s where there is plenty of amusement?”

And as his companion desired to know what kind of a lady, he added,
indicating the counsellor by a sign:

“His mistress.”

“Impossible!” said Octave in amazement.

Trublot slowly opened and closed his eyes. It was so. When one married a
woman who was disobliging and disgusted with one’s little ailments, and
who strummed on her piano to the point of making all the dogs of the
neighbourhood ill, one had to go elsewhere and be made a fool of!

“Let us moralize marriage, gentlemen, let us moralize marriage,”
 repeated Duveyrier in his rigid way, with his inflamed face, where
Octave now distinguished the foul blood of secret vices.

The gentlemen were being called into the dining-room. The Abbé Mauduit,
left for a moment alone in the middle of the empty drawing-room, looked
from a distance at the crush of guests. His fat shrewd face bore an
expression of sadness. He who heard all those ladies, both old and
young, at confession, knew them all in the flesh, the same as Doctor
Juillerat, and he had had to end by merely watching over appearances,
like a master of the ceremonies throwing the mantle of religion over the
corruption of the middle classes, trembling at the certainty of a final
downfall, the day when the canker would appear in all its hideousness.
At times, in his ardent and sincere faith of a priest, his indignation
would overcome him. But his smile returned; he took the cup of tea which
Berthe came and offered him, and conversed a minute with her so as to
cover, as it were, the scandal of the window, with his sacred character;
and he again became the man of the world, resigned to merely insisting
upon a decent behaviour from those sinners, who were escaping him, and
who would have compromised providence.

“Well, these are fine goings-on!” murmured Octave, whose respect for the
house had received another shock.

And seeing Madame Hédouin move towards the ante-room, he wished to
reach there before her, and followed Trublot, who was also leaving. His
intention was to see her home. She refused; it was scarcely midnight,
and she lived so near. Then, a rose having fallen from the bouquet at
her breast, he picked it up in spite and made a pretence of keeping it.
The young woman’s beautiful eyebrows contracted; then, she said in her
quiet way:

“Pray open the door for me, Monsieur Octave. Thank you.” When she had
departed, the young man, who was rather confused, looked for Trublot.
But Trublot had disappeared, the same as he had done at the Josserands’.
This time also he must have slipped along the passage leading to the
kitchen.

Octave, greatly put out, went off to his room, his rose in his hand.
Upstairs, he beheld Marie leaning over the balustrade, at the place
where he had left her; she had been listening for his footstep, and had
hastened to see him come up. And when she had made him enter her room,
she said:

“Jules has not yet come home. Did you enjoy yourself? Were there any
pretty dresses?”

But she did not give him time to answer. She had caught sight of the
rose, and was seized with a childish delight. “Is that flower for me?
You have thought of me? Ah! how nice of you! how nice of you!”

And her eyes filled with tears, she became quite confused and very red.
Then Octave, suddenly moved, kissed her tenderly.

Towards one o’clock, the Josserands withdrew in their turn. Adèle always
left a candle and some matches on a chair. When the members of the
family, who had not exchanged a word coming upstairs, had entered the
dining-room, from whence they had gone down in despair, they suddenly
yielded to a mad delirious joy, holding each others’ hands, and dancing
like savages round the table; the father himself gave way to the
contagion, the mother cut capers, and the daughters uttered little
inarticulate cries; whilst the candle in the middle of them showed up
their huge shadows careering along the walls.

“At last, it is settled!” said Madame Josserand, out of breath, dropping
on to a chair.

But she jumped up again at once, in a fit of maternal affection, and ran
and imprinted two big kisses on Berthe’s cheeks.

“I am very pleased, very pleased indeed with you, my darling. You have
just rewarded me for all my efforts. My poor girl, my poor girl it is
true then, this time!”

Her voice was choking, her heart was in her mouth. She succumbed in
her flaring dress, beneath the weight of a deep and sincere emotion,
suddenly overwhelmed in the hour of her triumph by the fatigues of her
terrible campaign which had lasted three winters. Berthe had to swear
that she was not ill, for her mother thought she looked ill, and was
full of little attentions, almost insisting on making her a cup of
infusion. When the young girl was in bed, she went barefooted and
carefully tucked her in, like in the already distant days of her
childhood.

Meanwhile, Monsieur Josserand, his head on his pillow, awaited her. She
blew out the light, and stepped over him, to reach the side of the
bed nearest the wall. He was wrapped in thought, his uneasiness having
returned, his conscience all upset by that promise of a dowry of fifty
thousand francs. And he ventured to mention his scruples aloud. Why make
a promise, when one has a doubt of being able to keep it? It was not
honest.

“Not honest!” exclaimed Madame Josserand in the dark, her voice resuming
its ferocious tone. “It is not honest to let your daughters become old
maids, sir; yes, old maids, such was perhaps your dream! We have plenty
of time to turn about, we can talk the matter over, we will end by
persuading her uncle. And understand, sir, that in my family, we have
always been honest!”



CHAPTER VI.

On the morrow, which was a Sunday, Octave with his eyes open lay
thinking for an hour in the warmth of the sheets. He awoke happy, full
of the lucidity of the morning laziness. What need was there to hurry?
He was very comfortable at “The Ladies’ Paradise,” he was there losing
all his provincial ways, and he had an absolute and profound conviction
of one day possessing Madame Hédouin, who would make his fortune; but it
was an affair that required prudence, a long series of gallant
tactics, which his voluptuous passion for women was already enjoying by
anticipation. As he was dozing off again, forming his plans, allowing
himself six months to succeed in, Marie Pichon’s image resulted in
calming his impatience. A woman like that was a real boon; he had merely
to stretch out his arm, when he required her, and she did not cost him a
sou. Whilst awaiting the other, he could certainly not hope for anything
better. In his half-slumber, this bargain and this convenience ended
by making him quite tender-hearted: she appeared to him very nice and
pretty with all her good-nature, and he promised himself he would behave
better to her in future.

“Hang it! nine o’clock!” said he thoroughly roused by his clock
striking. “I must get up.”

A fine rain was falling. Then, he made up his mind not to go out all
day. He would accept an invitation to dine with the Pichons, which he
had been refusing for some time past, dreading another meeting with
the Vuillaumes; it would please Marie, he would find opportunities of
kissing her behind the doors; and, as she was always asking for books,
he even thought of giving her the surprise of a quantity which he had,
stowed away in one of his boxes in the loft. When he was dressed, he
went down to Monsieur Gourd to get the key of this common loft, where
all the tenants got rid of whatever things were in their way, or which
they had no present use for.

Down below, on that damp morning, it was quite stifling in the heated
staircase, the imitation marble, the tall looking-glasses, and the
mahogany doors of which were covered with steam. Under the porch, a
poorly clad woman, mother Pérou, to whom the Gourds paid four sons an
hour for doing the heavy work of the house, was washing the pavement
with plenty of water, in face of the icy-cold blast blowing from the
courtyard.

“Eh! I say old ‘un, just rub that a bit better, that I may not find a
spot on it!” called ont Monsieur Gourd, warmly covered up, standing on
the threshold of his apartment.

And, Octave arriving, he talked to him of mother Pérou with the brutal
domineering spirit, the mad mania for revenge, of former servants who
were being served in their turn.

“A lazy creature that I can do nothing with! I should like to have seen
her at the duke’s! Ah well! they stood no nonsense there! I’ll send her
to the right about, if she doesn’t give me my money’s worth! That’s all
I care about. But, excuse me, what is it you require, Monsieur Mouret?”

Octave asked for the key. Then the doorkeeper, without hurrying himself,
continued to explain to him that, if they had chosen, Madame Gourd
and he, they might have lived respectably in their own house, at
Mort-la-Ville; only, Madame Gourd adored Paris, in spite of her swollen
legs which prevented her getting as far as the pavement; and they were
waiting until they had made their income into a round sum, their hearts
almost breaking moreover and drawing back, each time that they felt a
desire to go and live at last upon the little fortune which they had got
together sou by sou.

“No one had better bother me,” concluded he, drawing himself up to the
full height of his handsome figure. “I’m no longer working for a living.
The key of the loft you said, did you not, Monsieur Mouret? Wherever
have we put the key of the loft, my dear?”

Madame Gourd, tenderly seated before a wood fire, the flames of which
enlivened the big light room, was drinking her coffee and milk out of a
silver cup. She had no idea; perhaps in one of the drawers. And,
whilst soaking her toast, she did not take her eyes off the door of the
servants’ staircase, at the other end of the courtyard, looking barer
and severer than ever in the rain.

“Look out! here she is!” said she suddenly, as a woman appeared in the
doorway.

Monsieur Gourd at once went and placed himself before his room, so as to
prevent the woman from passing, whilst she slackened her footsteps with
an air of anxiety.

“We have been on the look-out for her since the first thing this
morning, Monsieur Mouret,” resumed he, in a low voice. “Last night we
saw her pass. You know she comes from that carpenter, upstairs, the only
workman we have in the house, thank goodness! And if the landlord only
listened to me, he would let the room remain empty, a servant’s room
which does not go with the other apartments. For one hundred and thirty
francs a year, it is really not worth while having such a scum in the
place--”

He interrupted himself, to ask the woman roughly:

“Where do you come from?”

“From upstairs, of course!” answered she, walking on.

Then, he exploded.

“We’ll have no women here, understand! The man who brings you has
already been told so. If you return here to sleep, I’ll fetch a
policeman, that’s what I’ll do! and we’ll see if you’ll continue your
goings-on in a respectable house!”

“Oh! don’t bother me!” said the woman. “I’ve a right here; I shall come
if I choose.”

And she went off, followed by Monsieur Gourd’s indignation, as he talked
of going up to fetch the landlord. Had any one ever heard the like! such
a creature amongst respectable people, who did not tolerate the least
immorality! And it seemed as though that little room occupied by a
workman was the abomination of the house, a bad place, the supervision
of which offended the doorkeeper’s delicacy and spoilt his rest at
night.

“And that key!” Octave ventured to observe.

But the doorkeeper, furious at a tenant’s having been able to see his
authority disputed, fell on mother Pérou, wishing to show that he knew
how to make himself obeyed. Did she take him for a fool? She had again
splashed the door of his room with her broom. If he paid her out of
his own pocket, it was to save him from dirtying his hands, and yet he
continually had to clean up after her. Might the devil take him if he
was ever again charitable enough to have anything more to do with
her! she could go and croak. Without answering, and bent double by the
fatigue of this task so much above her strength, the old body continued
to scrub with her skinny arms, struggling to keep back her tears, so
great was the respectful fright that broad shouldered gentleman in cap
and slippers caused her.

“I remember, my darling,” called Madame Gourd from her easy chair in
which she passed the day, warming her fat person. “It was I who hid the
key under the shirts, so that the servants should not be always going
into the loft. Come, give it to Monsieur Mouret.”

“They’re a nice lot, too, those servants!” murmured Monsieur Gourd,
who, from his many years in service, had preserved a hatred for menials.
“Here is the key, sir; but I must ask you to bring it me back, for
no place can be left open, without the servants getting in there and
misconducting themselves.”

To save crossing the wet courtyard, Octave went back up the principal
staircase. It was not till he had reached the fourth floor that he
gained the servants’ staircase, by taking the door of communication that
was close to his room. Up above, a long passage was intersected twice
at right angles, it was painted pale yellow with a dado of darker ochre;
and the doors of the servants’ rooms, also yellow, were uniform and
placed at equal distances, the same as in the corridor of a hospital.
An icy chill came from the zinc roof. All was bare and clean, with that
unsavoury odour of the lodgings of the poor.

The loft overlooking the courtyard was in the right wing, at the further
end. But Octave, who had not been there since the day of his arrival,
was going along the left wing, when, suddenly, a spectacle which he
beheld inside one of the rooms, by the partly open door, brought him to
a standstill and filled him with amazement. A gentleman was standing in
his shirt sleeves before a little looking-glass, tying his white cravat.

“What! you here?” said he.

It was Trublot. He also, at first, stood as one petrified. No one ever
came near there at that hour. Octave, who had walked in, looked at him
in that room with its narrow iron bedstead, and its washstand on which
a little bundle of woman’s hair was floating on the soapy water; and,
perceiving the black dress coat hanging up amongst some aprons, he could
not restrain himself from saying:

“So you sleep with the cook?”

“Not at all!” replied Trublot, in a fright.

Then, recognising the stupidity of this lie, he began to laugh in his
convinced and satisfied way.

“Eh! she is amusing! I assure you, my dear fellow, it is awfully fine!”

Whenever he dined out, he escaped from the drawing-room to go and pinch
the cook before her stove; and when she was willing to trust him with
her key, he would take his departure before midnight, and go and wait
patiently for her in her room, seated on a trunk, in his black dress
coat and white tie. On the morrow, he would leave by the principal
staircase towards ten o’clock, and pass before the doorkeeper as though
he had been making an early call on one of the tenants. So long as he
was pretty punctual at the stockbroker’s, his father was satisfied.
Moreover, he was now employed in attending the Bourse from twelve to
three. It would sometimes happen that on a Sunday he would spend the
whole day in some servant’s bed, happy, lost, his nose buried in the
pillow.

“You, who are going to be so rich some day!” said Octave, his face
retaining an expression of disgust.

Then Trublot learnedly declared:

“My dear fellow, you don’t know what it is; don’t speak about it.”

And he stood up for Julie, a tall Burgundian of forty, with her big face
pitted with small-pox, but who had the body of a superb woman. One might
disrobe the ladies of the house; they were all sticks, not one would
come up to her knee. Besides that, she was a girl very well to do; and
to prove it he opened her drawers, displayed a bonnet, some jewellery,
and some chemises trimmed with lace, no doubt stolen from Madame
Duveyrier. Octave, indeed, now noticed a certain coquettishness about
the room, some gilded cardboard boxes on the drawers, a chintz curtain
hung over the skirts, all the accessaries of a cook aping the grand
lady.

“There is no denying, you see, that one may own to this one,” repeated
Trublot. “If they were only all like her!”

At this moment a noise came from the servants’ staircase. It was Adèle
coming up to wash her ears, Madame Josserand having furiously forbidden
her to proceed with her work until she had cleaned them with soap.
Trublot peeped out and recognised her.

“Shut the door quick!” said he very anxiously. “Hush! don’t say a word!”

He pricked up his ear, and listened to Adèle’s heavy footstep along the
passage.

“You sleep with her too, then?” asked Octave, surprised at his paleness,
and guessing that he dreaded a scene.

But this time Trublot was coward enough to deny.

“Oh! no indeed! not with that slat! Whoever do you take me for, my dear
fellow!”

He had seated himself on the edge of the bed, and while waiting to
finish dressing, begged Oetave not to move; and both remained perfectly
still, whilst that filthy Adèle scoured out her ears, which took at
least ten good minutes. They heard the tempest in her washhand basin.

“There is, however, a room between this one and hers,” softly explained
Trublot, “a room that is let to a workman, a carpenter who stinks the
place out with his onion soup. ‘This morning again, it almost made me
sick. And you know, in all houses, the partitions of the servants’
rooms are now almost as thin as sheets of paper. I don’t understand the
landlords. It is not very decent, one can scarcely turn in one’s bed. I
think it very inconvenient.”

When Adèle had gone down again, he resumed his swagger and finished
dressing himself, making free use of Julie’s combs and pomatum. Oetave
having spoken of the loft, he insisted on taking him there, for he knew
the most out-of-the-way corner of that floor. And, as he passed the
doors, he familiarly mentioned the servants’ names: in this bit of a
passage, after Adèle came Lisa, the Campardons’ maid, a wench who took
her pleasures outside; then, Victoire, their cook, a stranded whale,
seventy years old, the only one he respected; then, Françoise, who had
entered Madame Valerie’s serviee the day before, and whose trunk would
perhaps only remain twenty-four hours behind the meagre bed upon whieh
such a gallop of maids passed, that it was always necessary to make
inquiries before going there and waiting in the warmth of the blanket;
then, a quiet couple, in the serviee of the people on the second floor;
then, these people’s coachman, a strapping fellow of whom he spoke with
the jealousy of a handsome man, suspecting him of going from door to
door and noiselessly doing some very fine work; finally, at the other
end of the passage, there were Clémenee, the Duveyriers’ maid, whom her
neighbour Hippolyte, the butler, rejoined matrimonially every night, and
little Louise, the orphan whom Madame Juzeur had taken on trial, a chit
of fifteen, who must hear some very strange things in the small hours,
if she were a light sleeper.

“My dear fellow, don’t lock the door, do this to oblige me,” said he to
Oetave, when he had helped him to take the books from the box. “You see,
when the loft is open, one can hide there and wait.”

Octave, having consented to deceive Monsieur Gourd, returned with
Trublot to Julie’s room. The young man had left his overcoat there.
Then it was his gloves that he could not find; he shook the skirts,
overturned the bed-clothes, raised such a dust and such an odour of
soiled linen, that his companion, half-suffocated, opened the window.
It looked on to the narrow inner courtyard, which gave light to all the
kitchens. And he was stretching out his head over this damp well, which
exhaled the greasy odours of dirty sinks, when a sound of voices made
him hastily withdraw.

“The little morning gossip,” said Trublot on all fours under the bed,
still searching. “Just listen to it.”

It was Lisa, who was leaning out of the window of the Cam-pardons’
kitchen to speak to Julie, two storeys below her.

“So it’s come off then this time?”

“It seems so,” replied Julie, raising her head. “You see, she did
all she could to catch him. Hippolyte came from the drawing-room so
disgusted, that he almost had an attack of indigestion.”

“If we were only to do a quarter as much!” resumed Lisa.

But she disappeared a moment, to drink some broth that Victoire brought
her. They got on well together, nursing each other’s vices, the maid
hiding the cook’s drunkenness, and the cook facilitating the maid’s
outings, from which the latter returned quite worn out, her limbs
aching, her eyelids blue.

“Ah! my children,” said Victoire leaning out in her turn, her elbows
touching Lisa’s, “you’re young. When you’ve seen what I’ve seen! At old
Campardon’s, there was a niece who had been well brought up, and who
used to go and look at the men through the key-hole.”

“Pretty goings-on!” murmured Julie with the horrified air of a lady.
“Had I been in the place of the little one of the fourth floor, I’d have
boxed Monsieur Auguste’s ears, if he’d touched me in the drawing-room!
He’s a fine fellow!”

At these words, a shrill laugh issued from Madame Juzeur’s kitchen.
Lisa, who was opposite, searched the room with a glance, and caught
sight of Louise, whose precocious fifteen years took a delight in
listening to the other servants.

“She’s spying on us from morning to night, the chit,” said she. “How
stupid it is to thrust a child upon us! We sha’n’t be able to talk at
all soon.”

She did not finish. The sound of a suddenly opened window chased them
away. A profound silence ensued. But they ventured to look out again.
Eh! what! what was the matter? They had thought that Madame Valérie or
Madame Josserand was going to catch them.

“No fear!” resumed Lisa. “They’re all soaking in their washhand basins.
They’re too busy with their skins, to think of bothering us. It’s the
only moment in all the day when one can breathe freely.”

“So it still goes on the same at your place?” asked Julie, who was
paring a carrot.

“Still the same,” replied Victoire. “It’s all over, she’s no more use.”

“But your big noodle of an architect, what does he do then?”

“Takes up with the cousin, of course!”

They were laughing louder than ever, when they beheld the new servant,
Françoise, in Madame Valérie’s kitchen. It was she who had caused
the alarm, by opening the window. At first there was an exchange of
politeness.

“Ah! it’s you, mademoiselle.”

“Why, yes, mademoiselle. I am trying to make myself at home, but this
kitchen is so filthy!”

Then came scraps of abominable information.

“You will be more than constant, if you remain there long. The last one
had her arms all scratched by the child, and madame worked her so hard,
that we could hear her crying from here.”

“Ah well! that won’t last long with me,” said Françoise. “Thanks all the
same, mademoiselle.”

“Where is she, your missus?” asked Victoire curiously.

“She’s just gone off to lunch with a lady.”

Lisa and Julie stretched their necks, to exchange a glance. They knew
her well, the lady. A funny sort of lunch, with her head down and her
feet in the air! Was it possible, to lie to that extent! They did
not pity the husband, for he deserved more than that; only, it was a
disgrace to humanity, that a woman should not behave herself better.

“There’s Dish-cloth!” interrupted Lisa, discovering the Josserands’
servant overhead.

Then a host of vulgar expressions were bawled from the depths of this
hole, as obscure and infected as a sewer. All, with their faces raised,
violently yelled at Adèle, who was their butt, the dirty awkward
creature on whom the entire household vented their spite.

“Hallo! she’s washed herself, it’s evident!”

“Just throw your fish bones into the yard again, and I’ll come up and
rub ‘em in your face!”

Thoroughly bewildered, Adèle looked down upon them from above, her body
half out of the window. She ended by answering:

“Leave me alone, can’t you? or I’ll water you.”

But the yells and the laughter increased.

“You married your young mistress, last night, didn’t you! Eh! it’s you,
perhaps, who teach her how to hook the men?”

“Ah! the heartless thing! she stops in a place where they don’t give you
enough to eat! On my word, it’s that which exasperates me against her!
You’re such a fool, you should send ’em to blazes!”

Adèle’s eyes filled with tear’s.

“You can only talk nonsense,” stammered she. “It’s not my fault if I
don’t get enough to eat.”

And the voices swelled, unpleasant words commenced to be exchanged
between Lisa and the new servant, Françoise, who stuck up for Adèle,
when the latter, forgetting the abuse heaped upon her, and yielding to
party instinct, called out: “Look out! here’s madame!”

The silence of the tomb ensued. They all immediately plunged back into
their kitchens; and from the dark chasm of the narrow courtyard all that
ascended was the stench of the dirty sinks, like the exhalation of the
hidden abominations of the families, stirred up there by the spite of
the hirelings. It was the sewer of the house, the shames of which it
carried off, whilst the masters were still lounging in their slippers,
and the grand staircase unfolded the solemnity of its flights, in the
silent suffocation of the hot air stove. Octave recalled the blast
of uproar he received full in the face, when entering the Campardons’
kitchen, the day of his arrival.

“They are very nice,” said he simply.

And, leaning out in his turn, he looked at the walls, as though annoyed
at not having at once read through them, behind the imitation marble and
the mouldings bright with gilding.

“Where the devil has she stowed them away?” repeated Trublot who had
searched everywhere for his white kid gloves.

At length, he discovered them at the bottom of the bed itself, flattened
out and quite warm. He gave a last glance in the glass, went and hid the
key in the place agreed upon, right at the end of the passage,
underneath an old sideboard left behind by some lodger, and led the way
downstairs, accompanied by Octave. After passing the Josserands’ door,
on the grand staircase, he recovered all his assurance, with his
overcoat buttoned up to the neck to hide his dress clothes and white
tie.

“Good-bye, my dear fellow,” said he raising his voice. “I felt anxious,
so I just looked in to hear how the ladies were. They passed a very good
night. Good-bye.”

Octave watched him with a smile as he went downstairs. Then, as it was
almost lunch time, he decided to return the key of the loft later on.
During lunch, at the Campardons’, he particularly watched Lisa, who
waited at table. She had her usual clean and agreeable look; but, in his
mind, he could still hear her defiling her lips with the most abominable
words. His knowledge of women had not deceived him with respect to that
girl with the flat chest. Madame Campardon continued to be enchanted
with her, surprised that she did not steal anything, which was a fact,
for her vice was of a different kind. Moreover, the girl seemed very
kind to Angèle, and the mother entirely trusted her. .

It so happened, that on that day Angèle disappeared when the dessert
was placed on the table, and she could be heard laughing in the kitchen.
Octave ventured to make an observation.

“You are perhaps wrong, to let her be so free with the servants.”

“Oh! there is not much harm in it,” replied Madame Campardon, in her
languid way. “Victoire saw my husband born, and I am so sure of Lisa.
Besides, how can I help it? the child gives me a headache. I should go
crazy, if I heard her jumping about me all day.”

The architect gravely chewed the end of his cigar.

“It is I,” said he, “who make Angèle pass two hours in the kitchen,
every afternoon. I wish her to become a good housewife. It teaches her a
great deal. She never goes out, my dear fellow, she is continually under
our sheltering wing. You will see what a jewel we shall make of her.”

Octave said no more. On certain days, Campardon appeared to him to be
very stupid; and as the architect pressed him to go and hear a great
preacher at Saint-Roch, he refused, obstinately persisting in remaining
indoors. After telling Madame Campardon that he would not dine with them
that evening, he was returning to his room, when he felt the key of the
loft in his pocket. He preferred to go down and return it at once. But
on the landing an unexpected sight attracted his attention. The door of
the room let to the highly distinguished gentleman, whose name was never
mentioned, happened to be open; and this was quite an event, for it
was invariably shut, as though barred by the silence of the tomb. His
surprise increased: he was looking for the gentleman’s work-table, and
in its stead had discovered the corner of a big bedstead, when he beheld
a slim lady dressed in black, her face hidden behind a thick veil, come
ont of the room, whilst the door closed noiselessly behind her.

Then, his curiosity being roused, he followed the lady downstairs, to
find out if she were pretty. But she hastened along with an anxious
nimbleness, scarcely touching the Wilton carpet with her tiny boots,
and leaving no trace in the house, save a faint odour of verbena. As
he reached the vestibule, she disappeared, and he only beheld Monsieur
Gourd standing under the porch, cap in hand and bowing very low to her.

When the young man had returned the doorkeeper his key, he tried to make
him talk.

“She looks very lady-like,” said he. “Who is she?”

“A lady,” answered Monsieur Gourd.

And he would add nothing further. But he was more communicative
regarding the gentleman on the third floor. Oh! a man belonging to
the very best society, who had taken that room to come and work there
quietly, one night a week.

“Ah! he works!” interrupted Octave. “What at, pray!”

“He was kind enough to ask me to keep his room tidy for him,” continued
Monsieur Gourd, without appearing to have heard the question. “And, you
know, he pays money down. Ah! sir, when one waits on people, one soon
knows whether they are decent He is everything that is most respectable:
it is easily seen by his clothes.”

He was obliged to jump on one side, and Octave himself had to enter
the doorkeepers’ room for a moment, in order to let the carriage of the
second floor people, who were going to the Bois, pass. The horses pawed
the ground, held back by the coachman the reins high; and, when the
big closed landau rolled under the vaulted roof, one beheld through the
windows two handsome children, whose smiling faces almost hid the vague
profiles of the father and mother. Monsieur Gourd drew himself up,
polite, but cold.

“They don’t make much noise in the house,” observed Octave.

“No one makes any noise,” said the doorkeeper, curtly.

“Eaeh one lives as he thinks best, that’s all. There are people who know
how to live, and there are people who don’t know how to live.”

The second floor tenants were judged severely, because they associated
with no one. They appeared to be well off, however; but the husband
wrote books, and Monsieur Gourd mistrusted him, curling his lip with
contempt; more especially as no knew what the family was up to in there,
with its air of requiring nobody, and being always perfectly happy. It
did not seem to him natural.

Octave was opening the vestibule door, when Valérie returned. He drew
politely on one side, to allow her to pass before him.

“Are you quite well, madame?”

“Yes, sir, thank you.”

She was out of breath; and as she went upstairs he looked at her muddy
boots, thinking of that lunch, with her head down and her feet in the
air, which the servants had spoken of. She had no doubt walked home, not
having been able to find a cab. A hot unsavoury odour came from her damp
skirts. Fatigue, a placid weariness of all her flesh, made her at times,
in spite of herself, place her hand on the balustrade.

“What a disagreeable day, is it not, madame?”

“Frightful, sir. And, with that, the atmosphere is very close.”

She had reaehed the first-floor landing, and they bowed to each other.
But, with a glance, he had seen her haggard face, her eyelids heavy with
sleep, her unkempt hair beneath the bonnet tied on in haste; and as he
continued on his way upstairs, he reflected, annoyed and angry. Then,
why not with him? He was neither more stupid nor uglier than the others.

When before Madame Juzeur’s door, on the third floor, his promise of the
evening before recurred to him. He felt curious about that little woman,
so discreet and with eyes like periwinkles. He rang. It was Madame
Juzeur herself who answered the door.

“Ah! dear sir, how kind of you! Pray walk in.”

There was a softness about the lodging which smelt a bit stuffy: carpets
and hangings everywhere, seats as yielding as down, with the warm
unruffled atmosphere of a chest padded with old rainbow coloured
satin. In the drawing-room, to which the double curtains imparted the
peacefulness of a church, Octave was invited to seat himself on a broad
and very low sofa.

“Here is the lace,” resumed Madame Juzeur, reappearing with a
sandal-wood box full of finery. “I am going to make a present of it to
some one, and I am curious to know its value.”

It was a piece of very fine old Brussels. Octave examined it carefully,
and ended by valuing it at three hundred francs. Then, without waiting
further, as their hands were both handling the lace, he bent forward and
kissed her fingers, fingers as delicate as a little girl’s.

“Oh! Monsieur Octave, at my age! you cannot think what you are doing!”
 murmured Madame Juzeur, prettily, without getting angry.

She was thirty-two, and pretended she was quite old. And she made her
usual allusion to her misfortunes; good heavens! yes, after ten days
of married bliss, the cruel man had gone off one morning and had not
returned, nobody had ever discovered why.

“You can understand,” continued she, gazing up at the ceiling, “that all
is over for the woman who has gone through this.”

Octave had kept hold of her little warm hand which seemed to mould
itself to his, and he continued kissing it lightly, on the fingers. She
turned her eyes towards him, and gazed upon him with a vague and tender
look; then, in a maternal way, she uttered this single word:

“Child!”

Thinking himself encouraged, he wished to take her round the waist, and
draw her on to the sofa; but she freed herself without any violence, and
slipped from his arms, laughing, and with an air of thinking that he was
merely playing.

“No, leave me alone, do not touch me, if you wish that we should remain
good friends.”

“Then, no?” asked he in a low voice.

“What, no? What do you mean? Oh! my hand, as much as you like!”

He had again taken hold of her hand. But, this time, he opened it,
kissing it on the palm; and, her eyes half closed, treating the little
game as a joke, she opened her fingers like a cat spreads out its claws
to be tickled inside its paw. She did not let him go farther than the
wrist. The first day, a sacred line was drawn there, where harm began.

“The priest is coming upstairs,” Louise suddenly entered and said, on
returning from some errand.

The orphan had the yellow complexion, and the squashed features of girls
forgotten on doorsteps. She burst into an idiotic laugh on beholding the
gentleman eating, as she thought, out of her mistress’s hand. But at a
glance from the latter, she hastened away.

“I greatly fear I shall never be able to do anything with her,” resumed
Madame Juzeur. “However, it is only right to try and put one of those
poor souls into the straight path. Come this way, if you please,
Monsieur Mouret.”

She conducted him to the dining-room, so as to leave the drawing-room to
the priest, whom Louise ushered in. She invited Octave to come again and
have a chat. It would be a little company for her; she was always so sad
and so lonely! Happily, religion consoled her.

That evening, towards five o’clock, Octave experienced a real relief in
making himself comfortable at the Pichons’ whilst waiting for dinner.
The house bewildered him somewhat; after having allowed himself to be
impressed with a provincial’s respect, in the face of the rich solemnity
of the staircase, he was gliding to an exaggerated contempt for what he
thought he could guess took place behind the high mahogany doors. He was
quite at sea; it seemed to him now that those middle-class women, whose
virtue had frozen him at first, should yield at a sign; and, when one of
them resisted, he was filled with surprise and rancour.

Marie blushed with joy on seeing him place the pile of books which he
had fetched for her in the morning on the sideboard. She kept saying,
“How nice of you, Monsieur Octave! Oh! thank you, thank you! And how
kind to come early! Will you have a glass of sugar and water with some
cognac? It assists the appetite.”

He accepted, just to please her. Everything appeared pleasant to him,
even Pichon and the Vuillaumes, who conversed round the table, slowly
mumbling over again their usual Sunday conversation. Marie, now and
again, ran to the kitchen, where she was cooking a boned shoulder of
mutton; and he dared in a chaffing way to follow her, seizing hold of
her before the stove, and kissing her on the nape of her neck. She,
without a cry and without a start, turned round and kissed him in her
turn on the mouth, with lips which were always cold. This coolness
seemed delicious to the young man.

“Well, and your new Minister?” asked he of Pichon, on returning into the
room.

But the clerk gave a start. Ah! there was going to be a new Minister of
Public Instruction! He knew nothing of it; no one ever troubled about
that at the Ministry.

“The weather is so bad!” he abruptly remarked. “It is quite impossible
to keep one’s trousers clean!”

Madame Vuillaume talked of a girl at Batignolles who had gone to the
bad.

“You will scarcely believe me, sir,” said she. “She had been exceedingly
well brought up; but she felt so bored at her parents’, that she had
twice tried to throw herself into the street. It is incredible!”

“They should have put bars on the windows,” said Monsieur Vuillaume
simply.

The dinner was delightful. This kind of conversation lasted all the time
around the modest board lighted by a little lamp. Pichon and Monsieur
Vuillaume, having got on to the staff of the Ministry, did nothing
but talk of head-clerks and second head-clerks; the father-in-law
obstinately alluded to those of his time, then recollected that they
were dead; whilst, on his side, the son-in-law continued to speak of the
new ones, in the midst of an inextricable confusion of names. The two
men, however, as well as Madame Vuillaume, agreed on one point: fat
Chavignat, he who had such an ugly wife, had gone in for a great deal
too many children. It was absurd for a man of his position. And
Octave smiled, feeling happy and at his ease; he had not spent such an
agreeable evening for a long time; he even ended by blaming Chavignat
with conviction. Marie quieted him with her clear, innocent look, devoid
of emotion at seeing him seated beside her husband, helping them
both according to their tastes, with her rather tired air of passive
obedience.

Punctually at ten o’clock, the Vuillaumes rose to take their departure.
Pichon put on his hat. Every Sunday he saw them to the omnibus. Out of
deference, he had got into the habit about the time of his marriage, and
the Vuillaumes would have been deeply offended had he now tried to give
it up. All three made for the Rue de Richelieu, then walked slowly up
it, searching with a glance the Batignolles omnibuses which kept passing
full, so that Pichon often went thus as far as Montmartre; for he would
never have thought of leaving his father and mother-in-law before seeing
them into an omnibus. As they could not walk fast, it took him close
upon two hours to go there and back.

They exchanged some friendly handshakes on the landing. Octave, on
returning to the room with Marie, said quietly, “It rains; Jules will
not get back before midnight.”

And, as Lilitte had been put to bed early, he at once took Marie on his
knees, and drank the rest of the coffee with her out of the same cup,
like a husband glad at having got rid of his guests and at finding
himself again in the quiet of his home, excited by a little family
gathering, and able to kiss his wife at his case, with the doors closed.
A pleasant warmth filled the narrow room, where some frosted eggs had
left an odour of vanilla. He was gently kissing the young woman under
the chin, when some one knocked. Marie did not even give a start of
affright. It was young Josserand, he who was a bit cracked. Whenever he
could escape from the apartment opposite, he would come in this way to
chat with her, attracted by her gentleness; and they both got on well
together, remaining ten minutes at a time without speaking, exchanging
at distant intervals phrases which had no connection with each other.
Octave, very much put out, remained silent.

“They’ve some people there,” stuttered Saturnin. “I don’t care a hang
for their not letting me dine with them! So I took the lock off and
bolted. It serves them right.”

“They will be anxious; you ought to go back,” said Marie, who noticed
Octave’s impatience.

But the idiot laughed with delight. Then, with his embarrassed speech,
he related what took place in his home. He seemed to come each time for
the sake of thus relieving his memory.

“Papa worked all night again. Mamma slapped Berthe. I say, when people
get married, does it hurt?”

And, as Marie did not reply, becoming excited, he continued: “I won’t
go to the country; I won’t. If they only touch her, I’ll strangle them;
it’s easy to do in the night, when they’re asleep. The palm of her
hand is as soft as note-paper. But, you know, the other is a beast of a
girl--”

He recommenced, got more muddled still, and did not succeed in
expressing what he had come to say. Marie, at length, made him return to
his parents, without his even having noticed Octave’s presence.

Then the latter, through fear of being again disturbed, wanted to take
the young woman into his own room. But she refused, her cheeks suddenly
becoming scarlet He, not understanding this bashfulness, said that they
would be sure to hear Jules coming up, and that she would have time to
slip into her room; and as he drew her along, she became quite angry,
with the indignation of a woman to whom violence is being offered.

“No, not in your room, never! It would be too wrong. Let us remain
here.”

And she ran to the farthest end of her room. Octave was still on the
landing, surprised at this unexpected resistance, when the sounds of
a violent altercation ascended from the courtyard. Really, everything
seemed to be against him, he would have done better to have gone off to
bed. Such an uproar was so unusual at that late hour, that he ended by
opening a window, to hear what was going on. Monsieur Gourd, down below,
was shouting out:

“I tell you, you shall not pass! The landlord has been sent for. He will
come and turn you out himself.”

“What! turn me out!” replied a thick voice. “Don’t I pay my rent? Pass,
Amélie, and if the gentleman touches you, we’ll have something to laugh
at!”

It was the workman from upstairs, who had returned with the woman sent
away in the morning. Octave leant out; but, in the black hole of the
courtyard, he could only distinguish some big moving shadows in a ray of
gaslight from the vestibule.

“Monsieur Vabre! Monsieur Vabre!” called the doorkeeper in urgent tones,
as the carpenter shoved him aside. “Quick, quick, she is coming in!”

In spite of her poor legs, Madame Gourd had gone to fetch the landlord,
who was just then at work on his great task. He was coming down. Octave
could hear him furiously repeating:

“It is scandalous! it is disgraceful! I will never allow such a thing in
my house!”

And, addressing the workman, whom his presence seemed at first to
intimidate:

“Send that woman away, at once, at once. You hear me! we will have no
women brought to the house.”

“But she’s my wife!” replied the workman in a scared way.

“She is out at service, she comes once a month, when her people allow
her to. What a fuss! It isn’t you who’ll prevent me sleeping with my
wife, I suppose!”

At these words, the doorkeeper and the landlord quite lost their heads.

“I give you notice to quit,” stuttered Monsieur Vabre. “And, in the
meantime, I forbid you to take my premises for what they are not. Gourd,
turn that creature out on to the pavement. Yes, sir, I don’t like bad
jokes. When a person is married, he should say so. Hold your tongue, do
not give me any more of your rudeness!”

The carpenter, who was a jolly fellow, and who had no doubt had a drop
too much wine, ended by bursting out laughing.

“It’s damned funny all the same. However, as the gentleman objects,
you’d better return home, Amélie. We’ll wait till some other time. By
Jove! I accept your notice with pleasure! I wouldn’t stop in such a hole
on any account! There are some pretty goings-on in it, one comes across
some rare filth. You won’t have women brought here, but you tolerate,
on every floor, well-dressed strumpets who lead fine lives behind the
doors! You set of muffs! you swells!”

Amélie had gone off so as not to cause her old man any more annoyance;
and he, jolly, and without anger, continued his chaff. During this time,
Monsieur Gourd protected Monsieur Vabre’s retreat, permitting himself
to make a few remarks out loud. What a dirty set the lower classes were!
One workman in a house was sufficient to pollute it.

Octave closed the window. But, just as he was returning to Marie, an
individual who was lightly gliding along the passage, knocked up against
him.

“What! it’s you again!” said he recognising Trublot.

The latter remained a second taken aback. Then, he wished to explain his
presence.

“Yes, it is I. I dined at the Josserands’, and I’m going--”

Octave felt disgusted.

“What, with that slut Adèle? You declared it was not so.”

Then, Trublot assumed all his swagger, saying with an air of intense
satisfaction:

“I assure you, my dear fellow, it’s awfully fine. She has such a skin,
you’ve no idea what a skin!”

Then he railed against the workman, who had almost been the cause of his
being caught on the servants’ staircase, and all his dirty fuss about
women. He had been obliged to come round by the grand staircase. And, as
he made off, he added:

“Remember, it is next Thursday that I am going to take you to see
Duveyrier’s mistress. We will dine together.”

The house resumed it’s peacefulness, lapsing into that religious silence
which seemed to issue from its chaste alcoves. Octave had rejoined Marie
in the inner chamber at the side of the conjugal couch, where she was
arranging the pillows. Upstairs, the chair being littered with the
washhand basin and an old pair of shoes, Trublot sat down on Adèle’s
narrow bed, and waited in his dress clothes and his white tie. When
he recognised Julie’s step as she came up to bed, he held his breath,
having a constant dread of women’s quarrels. At length Adèle appeared.
She was in a temper, and went for him at once.

“I say, you! you might treat me a bit better, when I wait at table!”

“How, treat you better?”

“Why of course you don’t even look at me, you never say if you please,
when you ask for bread. For instance, this evening when I handed round
the veal, you had a way of disowning me. I’ve had enough of it, look
you! All the house badgers me with its nonsense. It’s too much, if
you’re going to join the others!”

Whilst this was taking place, the workman in the next room, not yet
sobered, talked to himself in so loud a voice that every one on that
landing could hear him.

“Well! it’s funny all the same, that a fellow can’t sleep with his wife!
No woman allowed in the house, you fussy old idiot! Just go now and poke
your nose into all the rooms, and see what you’ll see?”



               second volume



CHAPTER VII.

For a fortnight past, with the view of getting uncle Bachelard to give
Berthe a dowry, the Josserands had been inviting him to dinner almost
every evening, in spite of his offensive habits.

When the marriage was announced to him, he had contented himself with
giving his niece a gentle pat on the cheek, saying:

“What! you are going to get married! Ah! that’s very nice, little girl!”

And he remained deaf to all allusions, exaggerating his air of a silly
old boozer who got drunk on liquors, the moment money was mentioned
before him.

Madame Josserand had the idea to invite him one evening together with
Auguste, the bridegroom elect. Perhaps the sight of the young man
would decide him. The step was heroical, for the family did not like
exhibiting the uncle, always fearing that he would give people a bad
impression of them. He had, however, behaved pretty well; his waistcoat
alone had a big syrup stain, which it had obtained no doubt in some
café. But when his sister questioned him, after Auguste had taken
his departure, and asked him what he thought of the young fellow, he
answered without involving himself:

“Charming, charming.”

This would never do. It was a pressing matter. Therefore, Madame
Josserand determined to plainly place the position of affairs before
him.

“As we are by ourselves,” resumed she, “we may as well take advantage
of it. Leave us, my darlings; we want to have some talk with your uncle.
You, Berthe, just look after Saturnin, and see that he does not take the
lock off the door again.”

Saturnin, ever since they had been busy about his sister’s marriage,
hiding everything from him, had taken to wandering about the rooms, an
anxious look in his eyes, and scenting that there was something up; and
he imagined most diabolical things which gave the family awful frights.

“I have obtained every information,” said the mother, when she had shut
herself in with the father and the uncle. “This is the position of the
Vabres.”

And she went into long details of figures. Old Vabre had brought half
a million with him from Versailles. If the house had cost him three
hundred thousand francs, he had two hundred thousand left, which, during
the twelve years that had past had been producing interest. Moreover, he
received each year twenty-two thousand francs in rent; and, as he
lived with the Duveyriers, scarcely spending anything at all, he must
consequently be altogether worth five or six hundred thousand francs,
besides the house. Thus, there were some very handsome expectations on
that side.

“Has he no vices, then?” asked uncle Bachelard. “I thought he speculated
at the Bourse.”

But Madame Josserand cried out. Such a quiet old gentleman, and occupied
on a such a great task! That one, at least, had shown himself capable
of putting a fortune by; and she smiled bitterly as she looked at her
husband, who bowed his head.

As for Monsieur Vabre’s three children, Auguste, Clotilde and Théophile,
they had each had a hundred thousand francs on their mother’s death.
Théophile, after some ruinous enterprises, was living as best he could
on the crumbs of this inheritance. Clotilde, with no other passion than
her piano, had probably invested her share. And Auguste had purchased
the business on the ground floor and gone in for the silk trade with his
hundred thousand francs, which he had long kept in reserve.

“And the old fellow naturally gives nothing to his children when they
marry,” observed the uncle.

Well! he did not much like giving, that was a fact which was
unfortunately indisputable.

“Well!” declared Bachelard, “it is always hard on the parents. Dowries
are never really paid.”

“Let us return to Auguste,” continued Madame Josserand. “I have told you
his expectations, and the only danger comes from the Duveyriers, whom
Berthe will do well to watch very closely, if she enters the family.
At the present moment, Auguste, after purchasing the business for sixty
thousand francs, has started with the other forty thousand. Only, the
sum is not sufficient; besides which, he is single, and requires a wife;
that is why he wishes to marry. Berthe is pretty, he already sees her
in his counting-house; and as for the dowry, fifty thousand francs are a
respectable sum which has decided him.”

Uncle Bachelard did not so much as blink his eyes. He ended by saying,
in a tender-hearted way, that he had dreamed of something better. And
he commenced to pick the future husband to pieces: a charming fellow,
certainly; but too old, a great deal too old, thirty-three years and
over; besides which, always ill, his face distorted by neuralgia; in
short, a sorry object, not near lively enough for trade.

“Have you another?” asked Madame Josserand, whose patience was wearing
out. “I searched all Paris before finding him.”

However, she did not deceive herself much. She too picked him to pieces.

“Oh! he is not a phoenix, in fact I think him a bit of a fool. Besides
which, I mistrust those men who have never had any youth and who do not
risk a stride in life without thinking about it for years beforehand.
On leaving college, where his headaches prevented him completing his
studies, he remained for fifteen years a mere clerk before daring to
touch his hundred thousand francs, the interest of which, it seems, his
father was cheating him out of all the time. No, no, he is not up to
much.”

Monsieur Josserand, who until then had kept silent, ventured an
observation.

“But, my dear, why insist so obstinately on this marriage? If the young
man’s health is so bad----”

“Oh! it is not bad health that need prevent it,” interrupted Bachelard.
“Berthe would find no difficulty in marrying again.”

“However, if he is incapable,” resumed the father, “if he is likely to
make our daughter unhappy----”

“Unhappy!” cried Madame Josserand. “Say at once that I throw my child at
the head of the first-comer! We are among ourselves, we discuss him: he
is this, he is that, not young, not handsome, not intelligent. We just
talk the matter over, do we not? it is but natural. Only, he is very
well, we shall never find a better; and, shall I tell you? it is a most
unexpected match for Berthe. I was about to give up all hope, on my word
of honor!” She rose to her feet. Monsieur Josserand, reduced to silence,
pushed back his chair.

“I have only one fear,” continued she, making a resolute stand before
her brother, “and that is that he may break it off if he is not paid the
dowry on the day the contract is to be signed. It is easy to understand,
he is in want of money----”

But at this moment a hot breathing, which she heard behind her, caused
her to turn round. Saturnin was there, passing his head round the partly
opened door, his eyes glaring like a wolf’s as he listened to what was
being said. And it created quite a panic, for he had stolen a spit from
the kitchen, to spit the geese, said he. Uncle Bachelard, feeling very
uneasy at the turn the conversation was taking, availed himself of the
general alarm.

“Don’t disturb yourselves,” cried he, from the ante-room. “I’m off,
I’ve an appointment at midnight, with one of my customers, who’s come
specially from Brazil.”

When they had succeeded in getting Saturnin to bed, Madame Josserand,
exasperated, declared that it was impossible to keep him any longer.
He would end by doing some one an injury, if he was not shut up in a
madhouse. Life was unbearable with him always to be kept in hiding. His
sisters would never get married, so long as he was there to disgust and
frighten people.

“Wait a bit longer,” murmured Monsieur Josserand, whose heart bled at
the thought of this separation.

“No, no!” declared the mother, “I do not want him to spit me in the
end! I had brought my brother to the point, I was about to get him to
do something. Never mind! we will go with Berthe to-morrow to his own
place, and we will see if he will have the cheek to escape from his
promises. Besides, Berthe owes her godfather a visit. It is only
proper.”

On the morrow, all three, the mother, the father, and the daughter, paid
an official visit to the uncle’s warehouses, which occupied the basement
and the ground floor of an enormous house in the Rue d’Enghien.

“Hallo! you here!” said he, greatly annoyed.

And he received them in a little closet, from which he watched his men
through a window.

“I have brought Berthe to see you,” explained Madame Josserand. “She
knows what she owes you.”

Then, when the young girl, after kissing her uncle, had, on a glance
from her mother, returned to look at the goods in the courtyard, the
latter resolutely broached the subject.

“Listen, Narcisse; this is how we are situated. Counting on your
kindness of heart and on your promises, I have engaged to give a dowry
of fifty thousand francs. If I do not give it, the marriage will be
broken off. It would be a disgrace, things having gone as far as they
have. You cannot leave us in such an embarrassing position.”

But a vacant look had come into Bachelard’s eyes, and he stuttered, as
though very drunk:

“Eh? what? you’ve promised. You should never promise; it’s a bad thing
to promise.”

He pleaded poverty. For instance, he had bought a whole stock of
horsehair, thinking that the price of horsehair would go up; but not
at all; the price had fallen lower still, and he had been obliged
to dispatch them at a loss. And he pounced on his books, opened his
ledgers, and insisted on showing the invoices, it was ruination.

“Nonsense!” Monsieur Josserand ended by saying, completely out of
patience. “I know your business; you make no end of money, and you would
be rolling in wealth if you did not squander it in the way you do. I
ask you for nothing myself. It was Eléonore who persisted in applying to
you. But allow me to tell you, Bachelard, that you have been fooling
us. Every Saturday for fifteen years past, when I come to look over your
books for you, you are forever promising me----”

The uncle interrupted him, and violently slapped himself on the chest.

“I promise? impossible! No, no; let me alone, you’ll see. I don’t like
being asked, it annoys me--it makes me ill. You’ll see one day.”

Madame Josserand herself could get nothing further out of him. He shook
their hands, wiped away a tear, talked of his soul and of his love
for the family, imploring them not to worry him any more, and swearing
before heaven that they would never repent it. He knew his duty; he
would perform it to the uttermost. Later on, Berthe would know how her
uncle loved her.

“And what about the dotal insurance,” asked he, in his natural tone of
voice, “the fifty thousand francs you had insured the little one for?”

Madame Josserand shrugged her shoulders.

“It has been dead and buried for fourteen years past. You have been
told twenty times already that when the fourth premium fell due, we were
unable to pay the two thousand francs.”

“That doesn’t matter,” murmured he, with a wink, “the thing is to talk
of this insurance to the family, and then get time for paying the dowry.
One never pays a dowry.”

Monsieur Josserand rose indignantly.

“What! that is all you can find to say?”

But the uncle mistook his meaning, and went on to show that it was quite
a usual thing.

“Never, I tell you I One gives something on account, and then merely
pays the interest. Look at Monsieur Vabre himself. Did our father ever
pay you Eléonore’s dowry? why, no, of course not. Every one sticks to
his money; its only natural!”

“In short, you advise me to commit a most abominable action!” cried
Monsieur Josserand. “I should lie; it would be a forgery to produce the
policy of that insurance----”

Madame Josserand stopped him. The idea suggested by her brother had
rendered her grave. She was surprised she had not thought of it herself.

“Dear me! how excited you become, my dear. Narcisse has not told you to
forge anything.”

“Of course not,” murmured the uncle. “There is no occasion to show any
documents.”

“It is simply a question of gaining time,” continued she. “Promise the
dowry, we shall always manage to give it later on.”

Then the worthy man’s conscience spoke out. No! he refused; he would not
again venture on such a precipice. They were always taking advantage of
his complacency, to get him to agree little by little to things which
afterward made him ill, so deeply did they wound his feelings. As he had
no dowry to give, he could not promise one.

Bachelard was strumming on the little window with his fingers, and
whistling a march, as though to show his great contempt for such
scruples. Madame Josserand had listened to her husband, her face all
pale with an anger which had been slowly rousing, and which suddenly
exploded.

“Well! sir, as this is how you look at it, this marriage shall take
place. It was my daughter’s last chance. I will cut my hand off sooner
than she will lose it. So much the worse for the others! One becomes
capable of anything at last.”

“So, madame, you would commit murder to get your daughter married?”

She rose to her full height.

“Yes!” said she furiously.

Then she smiled. The uncle had to quell the storm. What was the use of
wrangling? It was far better to agree together. And, still trembling
from the quarrel, bewildered and worn out, Monsieur Josserand ended by
promising to talk the matter over with Duveyrier, on whom everything
depended, according to Madame Josserand. Only to get hold of the
counselor when he was in good humor, the uncle offered to put his
brother-in-law in the way of meeting him at a house where he could
refuse nothing.

“It is merely to be an interview,” declared Monsieur Josserand, still
struggling. “I swear that I will not enter into any engagements.”

“Of course, of course,” said Bachelard. “Eléonore does not wish you to
do anything dishonorable.”

Berthe just then returned. She had seen some boxes of preserved fruits,
and, after some lively caresses, she tried to get one given her. But the
uncle’s speech again became thick; impossible, they were counted, and
had to leave that very evening for Saint-Petersburg. He slowly got them
in the direction of the street, whilst his sister lingered before
the activity of the vast warehouses, full to the rafters with every
imaginable commodity, suffering from the sight of that fortune made by a
man without any principles, and bitterly comparing it with her husband’s
incapable honesty.

“Well! to-morrow night, then, toward nine o’clock, at the Café de
Mulhouse,” said Bachelard outside, as he shook Monsieur Josserand’s
hand.

It so happened that, on the morrow, Octave and Trublot, who had dined
together before going to see Clarisse, Duveyrier’s mistress, entered the
Café de Mulhouse, so as not to call too early, although she lived in the
Rue de la Cerisaie, which was some distance off. It was scarcely eight
o’clock. As they entered, the sound of a violent quarrel attracted
them to a rather out-of-the-way room at the end. And there they beheld
Bachelard already drunk, enormous in size, and his cheeks flaring red,
having an altercation with a little gentleman, pale and quarrelsome.

“You have again spat in my beer!” roared he in his voice of thunder.
“I’ll not stand it, sir!”

“Go to blazes, do you hear? or I’ll give you a thrashing!” said the
little man, standing on the tips of his toes.

Then Bachelard raised his voice very provokingly, without drawing back
an inch.

“If you think proper, sir! As you please!”

And the other having with a blow knocked in his hat, which he always
wore swaggeringly on the side of his head, even in the cafés, he
repeated more energetically still:

“As you please, sir! If you think proper!”

Then, after picking up his hat, he sat himself down with a superb air,
and called to the waiter:

“Alfred, change my beer!”

Octave and Trublot, greatly astonished, had caught sight of Gueulin
seated at the uncle’s table, his back against the wall, smoking with a
tranquillity amounting to indifference. As they questioned him on the
cause of the quarrel.

“I don’t know,” replied he, watching the smoke ascend from his cigar.
“Always a lot of rot! Oh! a mania for getting his head punched! He never
retreats.”

Bachelard shook hands with the new-comers. He adored young people.
When he heard that that they were going to call on Clarisse, he was
delighted, for he himself was going there with Gueulin; only he had to
wait for his brother-in-law, Josserand, whom he had an appointment with.
And he filled the little room with the sounds of his voice, covering the
table with every drink imaginable for the benefit of his young friends,
with the insane prodigality of a man who does not care what he spends
when out on pleasure. Illformed, with his teeth too new and his nose in
a blaze beneath his short, snow-white hair, he talked familiarly to the
waiters and thoroughly tired them out, and made himself unbearable to
his neighbors to such a point that the landlord came twice to beg him to
leave, if he could not keep quiet. The night before, he had been turned
out of the Café de Madrid.

But a girl having put in an appearance, and then gone away, after
walking round the room with a wearied air, Octave began to talk of
women. This set Bachelard off again. Women had cost him too much money;
he flattered himself that he had had the best in Paris. In his business,
one never bargained about such things; just to show that one had
something to fall back upon. Now he was giving all that up, he wished
to be loved. And, in presence of this bawler chucking bank notes about,
Octave thought with surprise of the uncle who exaggerated his stuttering
drunkenness to escape the family extortions.

“Don’t boast, uncle,” said Gueulin. “One can always have more women than
one wants.”

“Then, you silly fool, why do you never have any?” asked Bachelard.

Gueulin contemptuously shrugged his shoulders.

“Why? Listen! Only yesterday I dined with a friend and his mistress.
The mistress at once began to kick me under the table. It was an
opportunity, wasn’t it? Well! when she asked me to see her home, I made
off, and I haven’t been near her since. Oh! I don’t deny that, for the
time being, it might have been very agreeable. But afterward, afterward,
uncle! Perhaps one of those women a fellow can never get rid of. I’m not
such a fool!”

Trublot nodded his head approvingly, for he also had renounced women of
society, through a dread of the troublesome morrows. And Gueulin, coming
out of his shell, continued to give examples. One day in the train,
a superb brunette, whom he did not know, had fallen asleep on his
shoulder; but he had thought twice, what would he have done with her on
arriving at the station? Another day, after a wedding, he had found a
neighbor’s wife in his room, eh? that was rather cool; and he would have
made a fool of himself had it not been for the idea that afterward she
would have wanted him to keep her in boots.

“Opportunities, uncle!” said he, coming to an end, “no one has such
opportunities as I! But I keep myself in check. Every one, moreover,
does the same; one is afraid of what may follow. Were it not for that,
it would, of course, be very pleasant! Good morning! good evening! one
would see nothing else in the streets.”

Bachelard, becoming wrapped in thought, was no longer listening to him.
His bluster had calmed down, his eyes were wet.

“If you are very good,” said he suddenly, “I will show you something.”

And, after paying, he led them out. Octave reminded him of old
Josserand. That did not matter, they would come back for him.

Then, after leaving the room, the uncle, casting a furious glance
around, stole the sugar left by a customer on a neighboring table.

“Follow me,” said he, when he was outside. “It’s close by.”

He walked along, grave and thoughtful, without uttering a word. He drew
up before a door in the Rue Saint-Mare. The three young men were about
to follow him, when he appeared to give way to a sudden hesitation.

“No, let us go off, I won’t.”

But they cried out at this. Was he trying to make fools of them?

“Well! Gueulin mustn’t come up, nor you either, Monsieur Trublot. You’re
not nice enough, you respect nothing, you’d joke. Come, Monsieur Octave,
you’re a serious sort of fellow.”

He made Octave walk up before him, whilst the other two laughed, and
called to him from the pavement to give their compliments to the ladies.
On reaching the fourth floor, he knocked, and an old woman opened the
door.

“What! it’s you, Monsieur Narcisse? Fifi did not expect you this
evening,” said she, with a smile.

She was fat, with the calm, white face of a nun. In the narrow
dining-room into which she ushered them, a tall, fair young girl, pretty
and simple looking, was embroidering an altar cloth.

“Good day, uncle,” said she, rising to offer her forehead to
Bachelard’s thick, trembling lips.

When the latter had introduced Monsieur Octave Mouret, a distinguished
young man whom he counted amongst his friends, the two women curtesied
in an old-fashioned way, and then they all seated themselves round the
table, lighted by a petroleum lamp. It was like a quiet country home,
two regulated existences, out of sight of all, and living upon next to
nothing. As the room overlooked an inner courtyard, one could not even
hear the sound of the passing vehicles.

Whilst Bachelard paternally questioned the child on her feelings and her
occupations since the night before, the aunt, Mademoiselle Menu, at once
began to tell Octave their history, with the familiarity of a worthy
woman who thinks she has nothing to hide.

“Yes, sir, I came from Villeneuve, near Lille. I am well known to
Messieurs Mardienne Frères, in the Rue Saint-Sulpice, where I worked as
an embroiderer for thirty years. Then, a cousin having left me a house
in our part of the country, I was lucky enough to let it as a life
interest at a thousand francs a year, sir, to people who thought they
would bury me on the morrow, and who are nicely punished for their
wicked idea, for I am still alive, in spite of my seventy-five years.”

She laughed, displaying teeth as white as a young girl’s.

“I was doing nothing, my eyes being quite worn put,” continued she,
“when my niece, Fanny, came to me. Her father, Captain Menu, had died
without leaving a sou, and no other relation, sir. So, I at once took
the child away from her school, and made an embroiderer out of her--a
very unprofitable craft; but what could be done? whether that, or
something else, women always have to starve. Fortunately, she met
Monsieur Narcisse. Now, I can die happy.”

And, her hands clasped on her stomach, in her inaction of an old
workwoman who has sworn never again to touch a needle, she looked
tenderly at Bachelard and Fifi with tearful eyes. The old man was just
then saying to the child:

“Really, you thought of me! And what did you think?”

Fifi raised her limpid eyes, without ceasing to draw her golden thread.

“Why, that you were a good friend, and that I loved you very much.”

She had scarcely looked at Octave, as though indifferent to the youth of
so handsome a fellow. Yet he smiled on her, surprised, and moved by her
gracefulness, not knowing what to think; whilst the aunt, who had grown
old in a celibacy and a chastity which had cost her nothing, continued,
lowering her voice:

“I might have married her, might I not? A workman would have beaten her,
a clerk would have given her no end of children. It is better far that
she should behave well with Monsieur Narcisse, who looks a very worthy
man.”

And, raising her voice:

“Ah! Monsieur Narcisse, it will not have been my fault if she does not
please you. I am always telling her: do all you can to please him, show
yourself grateful. It is but natural, I am so thankful to know that she
is at last provided for. It is so difficult to get a young girl settled
in life, when one has no friends!”

Then Octave abandoned himself to the happy simplicity of this home.
In the still atmosphere of the room floated an odor of fruit. Fifi’s
needle, as it pierced the silk, alone made a slight monotonous noise,
like the ticking of a little clock, which might have regulated the
placidity of the uncle’s amours. Moreover, the old maid was honesty
itself; she lived on the thousand francs of her income, never touching
Fifi’s money, which the latter spent as she chose. Her scruples yielded
only to white wine and chestnuts, which her niece occasionally treated
her to, after opening the money box in which she collected four sou
pieces, given as medals by her good friend.

“My little duck,” at length said Bachelard, rising, “we have business to
attend to. Good-bye till to-morrow. Now, mind you are very good.”

He kissed her on the forehead. Then, after looking at her with emotion,
he said to Octave:

“You may kiss her too, she is a mere child.”

[Illustration: 0165]

The young man pressed his lips to her fair skin. She smiled, she was
very modest; however, it was merely like a family gathering, he had
never seen such sober-minded people. The uncle was going off, when he
re-entered the room, exclaiming:

“I was forgetting, I’ve a little present.”

And, turning out his pocket, he gave Fifi the sugar which he had just
stolen at the café. She thanked him very heartily, and, as she crunched
up a piece, she became quite red with pleasure. Then, becoming bolder,
she asked:

“Do you not happen to have some four sou pieces?”

Bachelard searched his pockets without result. Octave had one, which
the young girl accepted as a memorial. She did not accompany them to the
door, no doubt out of propriety; and they heard her drawing her needle,
having at once resumed her altar cloth, whilst Mademoiselle Menu saw
them to the landing, with her good old woman’s amiability.

“Eh? it’s worth seeing,” said uncle Bachelard, stopping on the stairs.
“You know, it doesn’t cost me five louis a month. I’ve had enough of
the hussies who almost devoured me. On my word! what I required was a
heart.”

But, as Octave laughed, he became mistrustful.

“You’re a decent fellow; you won’t take advantage of what I have shown
you. Not a word to Gueulin, you swear it on your honor? I am waiting
till he is worthy of her to show her to him. An angel, my dear fellow!
No matter what is said, virtue is good: it refreshes one. I have always
gone in for the ideal.”

His old drunkard’s voice trembled; tears swelled his heavy eyelids.
Down below, Trublot chaffed, pretending to take the number of the house,
whilst Gueulin shrugged his shoulders, asking Octave, who was astounded,
what he thought of the little thing. Whenever the uncle’s feelings had
been softened by a booze, he could not resist taking people to see these
ladies, divided between the vanity of showing his treasure and the fear
of having it stolen from him; then, on the morrow, he forgot all about
it, and returned to the Rue-Saint-Marc with an air of mystery.

“Everyone knows Fifi,” said Gueulin, quietly.

Meanwhile, Bachelard was looking out for a cab, when Octave exclaimed:

“And Monsieur Josserand, who is waiting at the café?”

The others had forgotten him entirely. Monsieur Josserand, very annoyed
at wasting his evening, was impatiently waiting at the entrance, for he
never took anything but of doors. At length they started for the Rue de
la Cerisaie. But they had to take two cabs; the commission agent and the
cashier in the one, and the three young men in the other.

Gueulin, his voice drowned by the jingling noise of the old vehicle, at
first talked of the insurance company where he was employed. Insurance
companies and stockbrokers were equally unpleasant, affirmed Trublot.
Then the conversation turned to Duveyrier. Was it not unfortunate that
a rich man, a magistrate, should let himself be fooled by women in that
way? He always wanted them in out-of-the-way neighborhoods, right at the
end of the omnibus routes; modest little ladies in their own apartments,
playing the parts of widows; unknown milliners, having shops and no
customers; girls picked out of the gutter, clothed and shut up, as
though in a convent, whom he would go to see regularly once a week, like
a clerk trudging to his office.

Trublot, however, found excuses for him: to begin with, it was the fault
of his constitution; then, it was impossible to put up with a confounded
wife like his. On the very first night, so it was said, she could not
bear him, affecting to be disgusted at his red blotches, so that she
willingly allowed him to have mistresses, whose complacencies relieved
her of him, though at times she accepted the abominable burden, with the
resignation of a virtuous woman who makes a point of accomplishing all
her duties.

“Then, she is virtuous, is she?” asked Octave, interested.

“Virtuous? Oh! yes, my dear fellow! Every good quality; pretty, serious,
well brought up, learned, full of taste, chaste, and unbearable!”

A block of vehicles at the bottom of the Rue Montmartre stopped the
cab. The young men, who had let down the windows, could hear Bachelard’s
voice, furiously abusing the coachman. Then, when the cab moved on
again, Gueulin gave some information about Clarisse. Her name was
Clarisse Bocquet, and she was the daughter of a former toy merchant in
a small way, who now attended all the fairs with his wife and quite a
troop of dirty children. Duveyrier had come across her one night when
it was thawing, just as her lover had chucked her out. No doubt, this
strapping wench answered to an ideal long sought after; for as early as
the morrow he was hooked; he wept as he kissed her eyelids, all shaken
by his need to cultivate the little blue flower of romance in his huge
masculine appetites. Clarisse had consented to live in the Rue de la
Cerisaie, so as not to expose him; but she led him a fine dance--had
made him buy her twenty-five thousand francs’ worth of furniture,
and was devouring him heartily, in company with some actors of the
Montmartre Theater.

“I don’t care a hang!” said Trublot, “so long as one amuses oneself
at her place. Anyhow, she doesn’t make you sing, and she isn’t forever
strumming away on a piano like the other. Oh! that piano! Listen, when
one is deafened at home, when one has had the misfortune to marry a
mechanical piano which frightens everybody away, one would be precious
stupid not to arrange a pleasant little nest elsewhere, where one could
receive one’s friends in their slippers.”

“Last Sunday,” related Gueulin, “Clarisse wanted me to lunch alone with
her. I declined. After those sort of lunches, one always does something
foolish; and I was afraid of seeing her take up her quarters with me
the day she left Duveyrier for good. You know, she detests him. Oh!
her disgust almost makes her ill. Well, the girl doesn’t care much for
pimples either. But she hasn’t the resource of sending him elsewhere
like his wife has; otherwise, if she could pass him over to her maid, I
assure you she’d get rid of the job precious quick.”

The cab stopped. They alighted before a dark and silent house in the
Rue de la Cerisaie. But they had to wait for the other cab fully ten
minutes, Bachelard having taken his driver with him to drink a
grog after the quarrel in the Rue Montmartre. On the staircase, as
severe-looking as those of the middle classes, Monsieur Josserand again
asked some questions respecting Duveyrier’s lady friend, but the uncle
merely answered:

“A woman of the world, a very decent girl. She won’t eat you.”

It was a little maid, with a rosy complexion, who opened the door
to them. She took the gentlemen’s coats with familiar and and tender
smiles. For a moment, Trublot kept her in a corner of the ante-room,
whispering things in her ear which almost made her choke, as though
being tickled. But Bachelard had pushed open the drawing-room door, and
he at once introduced Monsieur Josserand. The latter stood for a moment
embarrassed, finding Clarisse ugly, and not understanding how the
counselor could prefer this sort of creature--black and skinny, and with
a head of hair like a poodle--to his wife, one of the most beautiful
women of society. Clarisse, however, was charming. She had preserved
the Parisian cackle, a superficial and borrowed wit, an itch of drollery
caught by rubbing up against men, but was able to put on a grand lady
sort of air when she chose.

“Sir, I am charmed. All Alphonse’s friends are mine. Now you are one of
us, the house is yours.”

Duveyrier, warned by a note from Bachelard, also greeted Monsieur
Josserand very amiably. Octave was surprised at the counselor’s youthful
appearance. He was no longer the severe and ill-at-ease individual, who
never seemed to be in his own home in the drawing-room of the Rue de
Choiseul. The deep red blotches on his face were turning to a rosy hue,
his oblique eyes shone with a childish delight, whilst Clarisse related
in the midst of a group how he sometimes hastened to come and see her
during a short adjournment of the court--just time to jump into a
cab, to kiss her, and start back again. Then he complained of being
overworked. Four sittings a week, from eleven to five; always the same
skein of bickerings to unravel, it ended by destroying all feeling in
one’s heart.

“It is true,” said he, laughing, “one requires a few roses amongst all
that. I feel better afterward.”

However, he did not wear his bit of red ribbon, but always took it off
when visiting his mistress; a last scruple, a delicate distinction,
which his sense of decency obstinately persisted in. Clarisse, without
wishing to say so, felt very much hurt at it.

Octave, who had at once shook hands with the young woman like a comrade,
listened and looked about him. Clarisse never received other women,
out of decency, she said. When her acquaintances complained that her
drawing-room was in want of a few ladies, she would answer with a laugh:

“Well! and I--am I not enough?”

She had arranged a decent home for Alphonse, very middle-class in the
main, having a mania for what was proper all through the ups and
downs of her existence. When she received she would not be addressed
familiarly.

The little maid handed round some glasses of punch, with her agreeable
air. Octave took one, and, leaning toward his friend, whispered in his
ear:

“The servant is better than the mistress.”

“Why, of course! always!” said Trublot, with a shrug of the shoulders,
full of a disdainful conviction.

Clarisse came and talked with them for a moment. She multiplied herself,
going from one to another, casting a word here, a laugh or gesture
there. As each new-comer lighted a cigar the drawing-room was soon full
of smoke.

“Oh! the horrid men!” exclaimed she, prettily, as she went and opened a
window.

Without losing any time, Bachelard made Monsieur Josserand comfortable
in the recess of this window, to enable him to breathe, said he. Then,
thanks to a masterly maneuver, he brought Duvey-rier to an anchor there
also, and quickly broached the affair. So the two families were about to
be united by a close tie; he felt highly honored. Then he inquired what
day the marriage contract was going to be signed, and that led him up to
the matter in hand.

“We intended calling on you to-morrow, Josserand and I, to settle
everything, for we are aware that Monsieur Auguste would do nothing
without you. It is with respect to the payment of the dowry; and,
really, as we are so comfortable here----”

Monsieur Josserand, again suffering the greatest anguish, looked out
into the gloomy depths of the Rue de la Cerisaie, with its deserted
pavements, and its dark façades. He regretted having come. They were
again going to take advantage of his weakness and engage him in some
disgraceful affair, which would cause him no end of suffering afterward.
A feeling of revolt made him interrupt his brother-in-law.

“Another time; this is not a fitting place, really.”

“But why, pray?” exclaimed Duveyrier, very graciously. “We are better
here than anywhere else. You were saying, sir?”

“We give Berthe fifty thousand francs,” continued the uncle. “Only,
these fifty thousand francs are represented by a dotal insurance at
twenty years’ date, which Josserand took out for his daughter when she
was four years old. She will, therefore, only receive the money in three
years’ time----”

“Allow me!” again interrupted the cashier, with a scared look.

“No, let me finish; Monsieur Duveyrier understands perfectly. We do not
wish the young couple to wait three years for money they may need at
once, and we engage ourselves to pay the dowry in installments of ten
thousand francs every six months, on the understanding that we repay
ourselves later on with the insurance money.”

A pause ensued. Monsieur Josserand, feeling frozen and choking, again
looked into the dark street.

“All that seems to me very reasonable,” said he, at length. “It is
for us to thank you. It is very seldom that a dowry is paid at once in
full.”

“Never, sir!” affirmed the uncle, energetically. “Such a thing is never
done.”

And the three men shook hands as they arranged to meet on the Thursday
at the notary’s. When Monsieur Josserand came back into the light, he
was so pale that he was asked if he was unwell. As a matter of fact he
did not feel very well, and he withdrew, without being willing to wait
for his brother-in-law, who had just gone into the dining-room where the
classic tea was represented by champagne.

Gueulin, stretched on a sofa near the window, murmured:

“That scoundrel of an uncle!”

He had overheard some words about the insurance, and he chuckled as he
confided the truth of the matter to Octave and Trublot. It had been done
at his office; there was not a sou to receive, the Vabres were being
taken in. Then, as the two others laughed at this good joke, holding
their sides meanwhile, he added, with comical earnestness.

“I want a hundred francs. If the uncle doesn’t give me a hundred francs,
I’ll split.”

The voices were becoming louder, the champagne was upsetting the good
behavior established by Clarisse. In her drawing-room the conclusion of
all the parties was invariably rather lively. She herself would make a
mistake sometimes. Trublot drew Octave’s attention to her as she stood
behind a door with her arms round the neck of a fellow with the build
of a peasant, a stone carver just arrived from the South, and whom his
native town wished to make an artist of. But, Duveyrier having pushed
the door, she quickly removed her arms, and recommended the young man
to him: Monsieur Payan, a sculptor with a very graceful talent; and
Duveyrier, delighted, promised to obtain some work for him.

“Work, work,” repeated Gueulin, in a low voice; “he has as much here as
he can want, the big ninny!”

Toward two o’clock, when the three young men and the uncle left the Rue
de la Cerisaie, the latter was completely drunk.

“Hang it all, uncle! keep yourself up! you’re breaking our arms!”

He, with his throat full of sobs, had become very tender hearted and
very moral.

“Go away, Gueulin,” stuttered he; “go away! I won’t have you see your
uncle in such a state. No, my boy, it’s not right; go away!”

And as his nephew called him an old rogue:

“Rogue! that’s nothing. One must make oneself respected. I esteem
women--always decent women; and when there’s no feeling it disgusts me.
Go away, Gueulin, you’re making your uncle blush. These gentlemen are
sufficient.”

“Then,” declared Gueulin, “you must give me a hundred francs. Really, I
want them for my rent. They’re going to turn me out.”

At this unexpected demand, Bachelard’s intoxication increased to such an
extent that he had to be propped up against the shutters of a warehouse.
He stuttered:

“Eh! what! a hundred francs! Don’t search me. I’ve nothing but coppers.
You want ’em to squander in bad places! No, I’ll never encourage you
in your vices. I know my duty; your mother confided you to my care on
her death-bed. You know, I’ll call out if I am searched.”

He continued, his indignation increasing against the dissolute life led
by youth, and returning to the necessity there was for the display of
virtue.

“I say,” Gueulin ended by saying, “I’ve not got to the point of taking
families in. Ah! you know what I mean! If I were to talk, you’d soon
give me my hundred francs!”

But the uncle at once became deaf to everything. He went grunting and
stumbling along. In the narrow street where they then were, behind the
church of Saint-Gervaise, a white lantern alone burned with the palish
glimmer of a night-light, displaying a gigantic number painted on its
roughened glass. A stifled trepidation issued from the house, whilst the
closed shutters emitted a tew narrow rays of light.

“I’ve had enough of it,” declared Gueulin, abruptly. “Excuse me, uncle,
I forgot my umbrella up there.”

And he entered the house. Bachelard was indignant and full of disgust.
He demanded at least a little respect for women. With such morals France
was done for. On the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, Octave and Trublot at
length found a cab, inside which they shoved him like some bundle.

“Rue d’Enghien,” said they to the driver. “You must pay yourself. Search
him.”

The marriage contract was signed on the Thursday before Maitre Renandin,
notary in the Rue de Grammont. At the moment of starting, there had been
another awful row at the Josserands’, the father having, in a supreme
revolt, made the mother responsible for the lie they had forced him to
countenance; and they had once more cast their families in each other’s
teeth. How did they expect him to earn another ten thousand francs every
six months? The obligation was driving him mad. Uncle Bachelard, who was
there, kept placing his hand on his heart, full of fresh promises, now
that he had so managed that he would not have to part with a sou, and
overflowing with affection, and swearing that he would never leave
his little Berthe in an awkward position. But the father, in his
exasperation, had merely shrugged his shoulders, asking Bachelard if he
really took him for a fool.

On the evening of that day, a cab came to fetch Saturnin away. His
mother had declared that it was too dangerous for him to be at the
ceremony; one could not cast loose a madman who talked of spitting
people in the midst of a wedding party; and, Monsieur Josserand,
broken-hearted, had been obliged to apply for the admission of the poor
fellow into the Asile des Moulineaux, kept by Doctor Chassagne. The
cab was brought under the porch at twilight. Saturnin came down holding
Berthe’s hand, and thinking he was going with her into the country. But
when he was inside the cab, he struggled furiously, breaking the windows
and thrusting his bloody fists through them. And Monsieur Josserand
returned up-stairs weeping, all upset by this departure in the dark,
his ears ringing with the wretched creature’s yells, mingled with the
cracking of the whip and the gallop of the horse.



CHAPTER VIII.

The marriage before the mayor had taken place on the Thursday. On
the Saturday morning, as early as a quarter past ten, some ladies were
already waiting in the Josserands’ drawing-room, the religious ceremony
being fixed for eleven o’clock, at Saint-Roch. There were Madame Juzeur,
always in black silk; Madame Dambreville, tightly laced in a costume of
the color of dead leaves; and Madame Duveyrier, dressed very simply in
pale blue. All three were conversing in low tones amongst the scattered
chairs; whilst Madame Josserand was finishing dressing Berthe in
the adjoining room, assisted by the servant and the two bridesmaids,
Hortense and little Campardou.

“Oh! it is not that,” murmured Madame Duveyrier; “the family is
honorable. But, I admit, I rather dreaded on my brother Auguste’s
account the mother’s domineering spirit. One cannot be too careful, can
one?”

“No doubt,” said Madame Juzeur; “one not only marries the daughter, one
often marries the mother as well, and it is very unpleasant when the
latter interferes in the home.”

This time Angèle and Hortense opened the folding doors wide so that the
bride should not catch her dress in anything; and Berthe appeared in
a white silk dress, all gay with white flowers, with a white wreath,
a white bouquet, and a white garland, which crossed the skirt, and was
lost in the train in a shower of little white buds. She looked charming
amidst all this whiteness, with her fresh complexion, her golden hair,
her laughing eyes, and her candid mouth of an already enlightened girl.

“Oh! delicious!” exclaimed the ladies.

They all embraced her with an air of ecstasy. The Josserands, at their
wits’ end, not knowing where to obtain the two thousand francs which
the wedding would cost them, five hundred francs for dress, and fifteen
hundred francs for their share of the dinner and ball, had been obliged
to send Berthe to Doctor Chassagne’s to see Saturnin, to whom an
aunt had just left three thousand francs; and Berthe, having obtained
permission to take her brother out for a drive, by way of amusing him,
had smothered him with caresses in the cab, and had then gone with
him for a minute to the notary, who was unaware of the poor creature’s
condition, and who had everything ready for his signature. The silk
dress and the abundance of flowers surprised the ladies, who were
reckoning up the cost whilst giving vent to their admiration.

“Perfect! in most exquisite taste!”

Madame Josserand appeared, beaming, in a mauve dress of an unpleasant
hue, which made her look taller and rounder than ever, with the majesty
of a tower. She fumed about Monsieur Josserand, called to Hortense to
find her shawl, and vehemently forbade Berthe to sit down.

“Take care, you will crush your flowers!”

“Do not worry yourself,” said Clothilde, in her calm voice. “We have
plenty of time. Auguste is coming for us.”

They were all waiting in the drawing-room, when Théophile abruptly burst
in, his dress-coat askew, his white cravat tied like a piece of cord,
and without his hat. His face, with its few hairs and bad teeth, was
livid; his limbs, like an ailing child’s, were trembling with fury.

“What is the matter with you?” asked his sister, in amazement.

“The matter is--the matter is----”

But a fit of coughing interrupted him, and he stood there for a minute,
choking, spitting in his handkerchief, and enraged at being unable to
give vent to his anger. Valérie looked at him, confused, and warned by
a sort of instinct. At length, he shook his fist at her, without even
noticing the bride and the other ladies around him.

“Yes, whilst looking everywhere for my necktie, I found a letter in
front of the wardrobe.”

He crumpled a piece of paper between his febrile fingers. His wife had
turned pale. She realized the situation; and, to avoid the scandal of a
public explanation, she passed into the room that Berthe had just left.

“Ah! well,” said she, simply, “I prefer to leave if he is going mad.”

“Let me alone!” cried Théophile to Madame Duveyrier, who was trying to
quiet him. “I intend to confound her. This time I have proof, and
there is no doubt, oh, no! It shall not pass off like that, for I know
him----”

His sister had seized him by the arm, and squeezing it, shook him
authoritatively.

“Hold your tongue! don’t you see where you are? This is not the proper
time, understand!”

But he started off again:

“It is the proper time! I don’t care a hang for the others. So much the
worse that it happens to-day! It will serve as a lesson to every one.”

However, he lowered his voice, his strength failing him, he had dropped
onto a chair, ready to burst into tears. An uncomfortable feeling had
invaded the drawing-room. Madame Dambreville and Madame Juzeur had
politely gone to the other end of the apartment, and pretended not
to understand. Madame Josserand, greatly annoyed at an adventure, the
scandal of which would cast a gloom over the wedding, had passed into
the bed-room to cheer up Valérie. As for Berthe, who was studying her
wreath before the looking-glass, she had not heard anything. Therefore,
she questioned Hortense in a low voice. They whispered together; the
latter indicated Théophile with a glance, and added some explanations,
while pretending to arrange the fall of the veil.

“Ah!” simply said the bride, with a chaste and amused look, her eyes
fixed on the husband, without the least sign of confusion in her halo of
white flowers.

Clotilde softly asked her brother for particulars. Madame Josserand
reappeared, exchanged a few words with her, and then returned to the
adjoining room. It was an exchange of diplomatic notes. The husband
accused Octave, that counter-jumper, whom he would chastise in church,
if he dared to come there. He swore he had seen him the previous day
with his wife on the steps of Saint-Roch; he had had a doubt before, but
now he was sure of it--everything tallied, the height, the walk. Yes,
madame invented luncheons with lady friends, or else she went inside
Saint-Roch with Camille, through the same door as every one, as though
to say her prayers; then leaving the child with the woman who let out
the chairs, she would make off with her gentleman by the old way, a
dirty passage, where no one would have gone to look for her. However,
Valérie had smiled on hearing Octave’s name mentioned; never with that
one, she pledged her oath to Madame Josserand, with nobody at all for
the matter of that, she added, but less with him than with any one else;
and, this time, with truth on her side, she, in her turn, talked of
confounding her husband, by proving to him that the note was no more in
Octave’s handwriting than that Octave was the gentleman of Saint-Roch.
Madame Josserand listened to her, studying her with her experienced
glance, and solely preoccupied with finding some means of helping her to
deceive Théophile. And she gave her the very best advice.

“Leave all to me, don’t move in the matter. As he chooses, it shall he
Monsieur Mouret, well! it shall be Monsieur Mouret. There is no harm in
being seen on the steps of a church with Monsieur Mouret, is there? The
letter alone is compromising. You will triumph when our young friend
shows him a couple of lines of his own handwriting. Above all, say just
the same as I say. You understand, I don’t intend to let him spoil such
a day as this.”

When she returned into the room with Valérie, who was greatly affected,
Théophile, on his side, was saying to his sister in a choking voice:

“I will do so for you, I promise not to disfigure her here, as you
assure me it would scarcely be proper, on account of this wedding. But
I cannot be answerable for what may take place at church. If the
counter-jumper comes and beards me there, in the midst of my own family,
I will exterminate them one after the other.”

Auguste, looking very correct in his black dress-coat, his left eye
shrunk up, suffering from a headache which he had been dreading for
three days past, arrived at this moment, accompanied by his father and
his brother-in-law, both looking very solemn, to fetch his bride. There
was a little jostling, for they had ended by being late.

At Saint-Roch the big double doors were opened wide. A red carpet
covered the steps down to the pavement. It was raining; the May morning
was very cold.

“Thirteen steps,” said Madame Juzeur in a low voice to Valérie, when
they had passed through the doorway. “It is not a good sign.”

“Are you sure you have the ring?” inquired Madame Josserand of Auguste,
who was seating himself with Berthe on the arm-chairs placed before the
altar.

He had a fright, fancying he had forgotten it, then felt it in his
waistcoat pocket. She had, however, not waited for his answer. Ever
since she entered, she had been standing on tip-toe, searching the
company with her glance. There were Trublot and Gueulin, both best men;
Uncle Bachelard and Campardon, the bride’s witnesses; Duveyrier and
Doctor Juillerat, the bridegroom’s witnesses, and all the crowd of
acquaintances of whom she was proud. But she had just caught sight of
Octave, who was assiduously opening a passage for Madame Hédouin, and
she drew him behind a pillar, where she spoke to him in low and rapid
tones. The young man, a look of bewilderment on his face, did not appear
to understand. However, he bowed with an air of amiable obedience.

“It is settled,” whispered Madame Josserand in Valérie’s ear, returning
and seating herself in one of the arm-chairs placed for the members of
the family, behind those of Berthe and Auguste. Monsieur Josserand, the
Vabres, and the Duveyriers were also there.

The organs were now giving forth scales of clear little notes, broken
by big pants. There was quite a crush; the choir was filling up, and
men remained standing in the aisles. The Abbé Mauduit had reserved to
himself the joy of blessing the union of one of his dear penitents.
When he appeared in his surplice, he exchanged a friendly smile with
the congregation, every face there being familiar to him. Some voices
commenced the _Veni Creator_, the organs resumed their song of triumph,
and it was at this moment that Théophile discovered Octave, to the left
of the chancel, standing before the chapel of Saint-Joseph.

His sister Clotilde tried to detain him.

“I cannot,” stammered he; “I will never submit to it.”

And he made Duveyrier follow him, to represent the family. The _Veni
Creator_ continued. A few persons looked round.

Théophile, who had talked of blows, was in such a state of agitation,
when planting himself before Octave, that he was unable at first to say
a word, vexed at being short, and raising himself up on tiptoe.

“Sir,” said he at length, “I saw you yesterday with my wife----”

But the _Veni Creator_ was just coming to an end, and he was quite
scared on hearing the sound of his own voice. Moreover, Duveyrier, very
much annoyed by the incident, tried to make him understand that the time
was badly chosen for an explanation. The ceremony had now begun before
the altar. After addressing an affecting exhortation to the bride and
bridegroom, the priest took the wedding-ring to bless it.

“_Benedic, Domine Deus noster, annulum nuptialem hunc, quem nos in tuo
nomine benedieimus_----”

Then Théophile plucked up courage to repeat his words in a low voice:

“Sir, you were in this church yesterday with my wife.”

Octave, still bewildered by what Madame Josserand had said to him, and
without having thoroughly understood her, related the little story,
however, in an easy sort of way.

“Yes, I did indeed meet Madame Vabre, and we went and looked at the
repairing of the Calvary which my friend Campardon is directing.”

“You admit it,” stammered the husband, again overcome with fury, “you
admit it----”

Duveyrier was obliged to slap him on the shoulder to calm him. The
shrill voice of one of the boy choristers was responding:

“_Amen_.”

“And you no doubt recognize this letter,” continued Théophile, offering
a piece of paper to Octave.

“Come, not here!” said the counselor, thoroughly scandalized. “You are
going out of your mind, my dear fellow.”

Octave unfolded the letter. The emotion had increased amongst the
congregation. There were whisperings, and nudgings of elbows, and
glancing over the tops of prayer-books; no one was now paying the least
attention to the ceremony. The bride and bridegroom alone remained grave
and stiff before the priest. Then Berthe, turning her head, caught sight
of Théophile getting whiter and whiter as he addressed Octave; and, from
that moment, her mind was absent--she kept casting bright side glances
in the direction of the chapel of Saint-Joseph.

Meanwhile, the young man was reading in a low voice:

“My duck, what bliss yesterday! Tuesday next, in the confessional of the
chapel of the Holy Angels.”

The priest, after having obtained from the bridegroom the “yes” of a
serious man who signs nothing without reading it, had turned toward the
bride.

“You promise and swear to be faithful to Monsieur Auguste Vabre in all
things, like a true wife should be to her husband, in accordance with
God’s commandment?”

But Berthe, having seen the letter, and full of the thought of the blows
she was expecting would be given, was not listening, but was following
the scene from beneath her veil. There was an awkward silence. At length
she became aware that they were waiting for her.

“Yes, yes,” she hastily replied, in a happen-what-may manner.

The abbé followed the direction of her glance with surprise; and,
guessing that something unusual was taking place in one of the
aisles, he in turn became singularly absent-minded. The story had now
circulated; every one knew it. The ladies, pale and grave, did not
withdraw their eyes from Octave. The men smiled in a discreetly waggish
way. And, whilst Madame Josserand reassured Madame Duveyrier, with
slight shrugs of her shoulders, Valérie alone seemed to give all her
attention to the wedding, beholding nothing else, as though overcome by
emotion.

“My duck, what bliss yesterday--” Octave read again, affecting intense
surprise.

Then, returning the letter to the husband, he said:

“I do not understand it, sir. The writing is not mine. See for
yourself.”

And taking from his pocket a note-book in which he wrote down his
expenses, like the careful fellow he was, he showed it to Théophile.

“What! not your writing!” stammered the latter. “You are making a fool
of me; it must be your writing.”

The priest had to make the sign of the cross on Berthe’s left hand. His
eyes elsewhere, he mistook the hand and made it on the right one.

“_In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti_.”

“_Amen_,” responded the boy chorister, also raising himself up to see.

In short, the scandal was prevented. Duveyrier proved to poor,
bewildered Théophile that the letter could not have been written by
Monsieur Mouret. It was almost a disappointment for the congregation.
There were sighs, and a few hasty words exchanged. And when every one,
still in a state of excitement, turned again toward the altar, Berthe
and Auguste were man and wife, she without appearing to have been
aware of what was going on, he not having missed a word the priest had
uttered, giving his whole attention to the matter, only disturbed by his
headache, which closed his left eye.

“The dear children!” said Monsieur Josserand, absorbed in mind and his
voice trembling, to Monsieur Vabre, who ever since the commencement of
the ceremony had been busy counting the lighted tapers, always making a
mistake, and beginning his calculations over again.

“Admit nothing,” said Madame Josserand to Valérie, as the family moved
toward the vestry after the mass.

In the vestry the married couple and their witnesses first of all wrote
their signatures. They were kept waiting, however, by Campardon, who had
taken some ladies to inspect the works at the Calvary, at the end of the
choir, behind a wooden hoarding. He at length arrived, and, apologizing,
proceeded to cover the register with a big flourish. The Abbé Manduit
had wished to honor the two families by handing round the pen himself,
and pointing out with his finger the place where each one was to sign;
and he smiled with his air of amiable, worldly tolerance in the center
of the grave apartment, the woodwork of which retained a continual odor
of incense.

“Well! mademoiselle,” said Campardon to Hortense, “does not all this
make you long to do the same?”

Then he regretted his want of tact. Hortense, who was the elder sister,
bit her lips. She was expecting to have a decisive answer from Verdier
that evening at the ball, for she had been pressing him to choose
between her and his creature. Therefore she replied in an unpleasant
tone of voice:

“I have plenty of time. Whenever I think proper.”

And, turning her back on the architect, she attacked her brother Léon,
who had only just arrived, late as usual.

“You are nice! papa and mamma are very pleased. Not even able to be in
time when one of your sisters is being married! We were expecting you at
least with Madame Dambreville.”

“Madame Dambreville does what she pleases,” said the young man curtly,
“and I do what I can.”

A coolness had arisen between them. Léon considered that she was keeping
him too long for her own use, and was weary of a connection the burden
of which he had accepted in the sole hope of its leading to some grand
marriage; and for a fortnight past he had been requesting her to keep
her promises. Madame Dambreville, carried away by a passion of love,
had even complained to Madame Josserand of what she termed her son’s
crotchets.

“Yet a marriage is so soon settled!” said Madame Dambreville, without
thinking of her words, and bestowing on him an imploring look to soften
him.

“Not always!” retorted he, harshly.

And he went and kissed Berthe, then shook his new brother-inlaw’s hand,
whilst Madame Dambreville turned pale with anguish, drawing herself up
in her costume of the color of dead leaves, and smiling vaguely toward
the persons who entered.

It was the procession of friends, of simple acquaintances, of all the
guests gathered together in the church, which now passed through
the vestry. The newly married couple, standing up, were continually
distributing hand-shakes, and invariably with the same embarrassed and
delighted air. The Josserands and the Duveyriers were not always able
to go through the introductions. At times they looked at each other in
surprise, for Bachelard had brought persons whom nobody knew, and who
talked too loud. Little by little everything gave way to confusion;
there was quite a crush, hands were held out over the heads, young
girls squeezed between pot-bellied gentlemen, left pieces of their white
skirts on the legs of these fathers, these brothers, these uncles, still
sweating with some vice, enfranchised in a quiet neighborhood. Away from
the crowd, Gueulin and Trublot were relating to Octave how Clarisse had
almost been caught by Duveyrier the night before, and had now resigned
herself to smothering him with caresses, so as to shut his eyes.

“Hallo!” murmured Gueulin, “he is kissing the bride; it must smell
nice.”

Valérie, who kept Madame Juzeur near her to help her to keep her
countenance, listened with emotion to the conciliatory words which the
Abbé Manduit also considered it his duty to address to her. Then,
as they were at length leaving the church, she paused before the two
fathers, to allow Berthe to pass on her husband’s arm.

“You ought to be satisfied,” said she to Monsieur Josserand, wishing to
show how free her mind was. “I congratulate you.”

“Yes, yes,” declared Monsieur Vabre in his clammy voice, “it is a very
great responsibility the less.”

And, whilst Trublot and Gueulin rushed about seeing all the ladies to
the carriages, Madame Josserand, whose shawl attracted quite a crowd,
obstinately insisted on remaining the last on the pavement, publicly to
display her maternal triumph.

The repast that evening at the Hôtel du Louvre was likewise marred by
Théophile’s unlucky affair. The latter was quite a plague, it had been
the topic of conversation all the afternoon in the carriages during
the drive in the Bois de Boulogne; and the ladies always came to this
conclusion, that the husband ought at least to have waited until the
morrow before finding the letter. None but the most intimate friends of
both families sat down to table. The only lively episode was a speech
from uncle Bachelard, whom the Josserands could not very well avoid
inviting, in spite of their terror. He was drunk, indeed, as early as
the roast: he raised his glass, and commenced with these words: “I
am happy in the joy I feel,” which he kept repeating, unable to say
anything further. The other guests smiled complacently. Auguste and
Berthe, already worn out, looked at each other every now and then, with
an air of surprise at seeing themselves opposite one another; and, when
they remembered how this was, they gazed in their plates in a confused
way.

Nearly two hundred invitations had been issued for the ball. The guests
began to arrive as early as half-past nine. Three chandeliers lit up the
large red drawing-room, in which only some seats along the wall had been
left, whilst at one end, in front of the fireplace, the little orchestra
was installed; moreover, a bar had been placed at the farthest end of
an adjoining room, and the two families also had a small apartment into
which they could retire.

As Madame Duveyrier and Madame Josserand were receiving the first
arrivals, that poor Théophile, who had been watched ever since the
morning, was guilty of a most regrettable piece of brutality. Campardon
was asking Valérie to grant him the first waltz. She laughed, and the
husband took it as a provocation.

“You laugh! you laugh!” stammered he. “Tell me who the letter is from?
it must be from somebody, that letter must.”

He had taken the entire afternoon to disengage that one idea from the
confusion into which Octave’s answers had plunged him. Now, he stuck
to it: if it was not Monsieur Mouret, it was then some one else, and he
demanded a name. As Valerie was walking off without answering him, he
seized hold of her arm and twisted it spitefully, with the rage of an
exasperated child, repeating the while:

“I’ll break it. Tell me, who is the letter from?”

The young woman, frightened, and stifling a cry of pain, had become
quite white. Campardon felt her abandoning herself against his shoulder,
succumbing to one of those nervous attacks which would shake her for
hours together. He had scarcely time to lead her into the apartment
reserved for the two families, where he laid her on a sofa. Some ladies
had followed him--Madame Juzeur, Madame Dambreville--who unlaced her,
whilst he discreetly retired.

“Sir, I beg your pardon,” said Théophile, going up to Octave, whose eyes
he had encountered when twisting his wife’s arm. “Every one in my place
would have suspected you; is it not so? But I wish to shake hands with
you, to prove to you that I admit myself to have been in the wrong.”

He shook hands with him, and led him one side, tortured by a necessity
to unbosom himself, to find a confidant for the outpourings of his
heart.

“Ah! sir, if I were to tell you----”

And he talked for a long while of his wife. When a young girl, she was
delicate, it was said jokingly that marriage would set her right. She
had not sufficient air in her parents’ shop, where, every evening for
three months, she had appeared to him very nice, obedient, of a rather
sad disposition, but charming.

“Well! sir, marriage did not set her right--far from it. After a few
weeks she became terrible; we could no longer agree together. There
were quarrels about nothing at all. Changes of temper at every
minute--laughing, crying, without my knowing why. And absurd sentiments,
ideas that would knock a person down, a perpetual mania for making
people wild. In short, sir, my home has become a hell.”

“It is very remarkable,” murmured Octave, who felt a necessity for
saying something.

Then, the husband, ghastly pale, and drawing himself up on his short
legs, to override the ridiculous, came to what he called the wretched
woman’s bad behavior. Twice he had suspected her; but he was too
honorable; he could not retain such an idea in his head. This time,
though, he was obliged to yield to evidence. It was not possible to
doubt, was it? And, with his trembling fingers, he felt the pocket of
his waistcoat which contained the letter.

“If she did it for money, I might understand it,” added he. “But they
never gave her any; I am sure of that; I should know it. Then, tell me
what it can be that she has in her skin? I am very nice myself; she has
everything at home. I cannot understand it. If you can understand it,
sir, explain it to me, I beg of you.”

“It is very curious, very curious,” repeated Octave, embarrassed by all
these disclosures, and trying to make his escape.

But the husband, in a state of fever, and tormented by a want of
certitude, would not let him go. At this moment, Madame Juzeur,
reappearing, went and whispered a word to Madame Josserand, who was
greeting the arrival of a big jeweler of the Palais-Royal with a grand
curtesy; and she, quite upset, hastened to follow her.

“I think that your wife has a very violent attack,” observed Octave to
Théophile.

“Never mind her!” replied the latter in a fury, vexed at not being ill,
so as to be coddled up also; “she is only to pleased to have an attack!
It always puts every one on her side. My health is no better than hers,
yet I have never deceived her!”

Madame Josserand did not return. The rumor circulated among the intimate
friends that Valérie was struggling in frightful convulsions. There
should have been men present to hold her down; but, as they had been
obliged to half undress her, they declined Trublot’s and Gueulin’s
offers of assistance.

“Doctor Juillerat! where is Doctor Juillerat?” asked Madame Josserand,
rushing back into the room.

The doctor had been invited, but no one had as yet seen him. Then she
no longer strove to hide the slumbering rage which had been collecting
within her since the morning. She spoke out before Octave and Campardon,
without mincing her words.

“I am beginning to have enough of it. It is not very pleasant for my
daughter, all this cuckoldom paraded before us!”

She looked about for Hortense, and at length caught sight of her talking
to a gentleman, of whom she could only see the back, but whom she
recognized by its breadth. It was Verdier. This increased her ill-humor.
She sharply called the young girl to her, and, lowering her voice, told
her that she would do better to remain at her mother’s disposal on
such a day as that. Hortense did not listen to the reprimand. She was
triumphant; Verdier had just fixed their marriage at two months from
then, in June.

“Shut up!” said the mother.

“I assure you, mamma. He already sleeps out three nights a week so as
to accustom the other to it, and in a fortnight he will stop away
altogether. Then it will be all over, and I shall have him.”

“Shut up! I have already had more than enough of your romance! You will
just oblige me by waiting near the door for Doctor Juillerat, and by
sending him to me the moment he arrives. And, above all, not a word of
all this to your sister!”

She returned to the adjoining room, leaving Hortense muttering that,
thank goodness! she required no one’s approbation, and that they would
all be nicely caught one day, when they saw her make a better marriage
than the others. Yet, she went to the door, and watched for the doctor’s
arrival.

The orchestra was now playing a waltz. Berthe was dancing with one of
her husband’s young cousins, so as to dispose of the relations in
turn. All the guests had an air of amusing themselves immensely, and
expatiated before them on the liveliness of the ball. It was, according
to Campardon, a liveliness of a good standard.

The architect, with an effusion of gallantry, concerned himself a great
deal about Valérie’s condition, without, however, missing a dance.
He had the idea to send his daughter Angèle for news in his name. The
child, whose fourteen years had been burning with curiosity since the
morning around the lady that every one was talking about, was delighted
at being able to penetrate into the little room. And, as she did not
return, the architect was obliged to take the liberty of slightly
opening the door and thrusting his head in. He beheld his daughter
standing up beside the sofa, deeply absorbed by the sight of Valérie,
whose bosom, shaken by spasms, had escaped from the unhooked bodice.
Protestations arose, the ladies called to him not to come in; and
he withdrew, assuring them that he merely wished to know how she was
getting on.

“She is no better, she is no better,” said he, in a melancholy way to
the persons who happened to be near the door. “There are four of them
holding her. How strong a woman must be, to be able to bound about like
that without hurting herself!”

[Illustration: 0193]

But Doctor Juillerat quickly crossed the ball-room, accompanied by
Hortense, who was explaining matters to him. Madame Duveyrier followed
them. Some persons showed their surprise, more rumors circulated.
Scarcely had the doctor disappeared than Madame Josserand left the
little room with Madame Dambreville. Her rage was increasing; she had
just emptied two water bottles over Valerie’s head; never before had she
seen a woman as nervous as that. Then she had decided to make the round
of the ball-room, so as to stop all remarks by her presence. Only, she
walked with such a terrible step, she distributed such sour smiles, that
every one behind her was let into the secret.

Madame Dambreville did not leave her. Ever since the morning she had
been speaking to her of Léon, making vague complaints, trying to bring
her to speak to her son, so as to patch up their connection. She drew
her attention to him, as he was conducting a tall, scraggy girl back to
her place, and to whom he made a show of being very assiduous.

“He abandons us,” said she, with a slight laugh, trembling with
suppressed tears. “Scold him now, for not so much as looking at us.”

“Léon!” called Madame Josserand.

When he came to her, she added roughly, not being in the temper to
choose her words:

“Why are you angry with madame? She bears you no ill-will. Make it up
with her. It does no good to be ill-tempered.”

And she left them embarrassed before each other. Madame Dambreville took
Léon’s arm, and they went and conversed in the recess of a window; then
they tenderly left the ball-room together. She had sworn to arrange his
marriage in the autumn.

Madame Josserand, who continued to distribute smiles, was overcome by
emotion when she found herself before Berthe, who was out of breath at
having danced so much, and looked quite rosy in her white dress, which
was becoming rumpled. She clasped her in her arms, and almost fainted
away at a vague association of ideas, recalling, no doubt, the other
one, whose face was so frightfully convulsed:

“My poor darling, my poor darling!” murmured she, giving her two big
kisses.

Then Berthe calmly asked:

“How is she?”

At this, Madame Josserand at once became very sour again. What! Berthe
knew it! Why of course she knew it, every one knew it. Her husband
alone, whom she pointed out conducting an old lady to the refreshment
bar, was still ignorant of the story. She even intended to get some one
to tell him everything, for it made him appear too stupid to be always
behind every one else, and never to know anything.

“And I, who have been slaving to hide the catastrophe” said Madame
Josserand, beside herself. “Ah, well! I shall not put myself out any
more, it must be put a stop to. I will not tolerate their making you
ridiculous.”

Every one did indeed know it. Only, so as not to cast a gloom over the
ball, it was not talked about.

“She is better,” Campardon, who had taken another peep, hastened to say.
“One can go in.”

A few male friends ventured to enter. Valerie was still lying down, only
the attack was passing off; and, out of decency, they had covered her
bosom with a napkin, found lying on a sideboard. Madame Juzeur and
Madame Duveyrier were standing before the window listening to Doctor
Juillerat, who was explaining that the attacks sometimes yielded to hot
water applications to the neck.

But the invalid, having seen Octave enter with Campardon, called him
to her by a sign, and spoke a few incoherent words to him in a final
hallucination. He had to sit down beside her, at the doctor’s express
order, who was desirous above all not to thwart her; and thus the young
man listened to her disclosures, he who, during the evening, had already
heard the husband’s. She trembled with fright, she took him for her
lover, and implored him to hide her. Then she recognized him, and burst
into tears, thanking him for his lie of the morning during mass. Octave
thought of that other attack, of which he had wished to take advantage,
with the greedy desire of a school-boy. Now, he was her friend, and she
would tell him everything, perhaps it would be better.

At this moment, Théophile, who had continued to wander up and down
before the door, wished to enter. Other men were there, so he could very
well be there himself. But his appearance created a regular panic. On
hearing his voice, Valérie was again seized with a fit of trembling,
every one thought she was about to have another attack. He, imploring,
and struggling amongst the ladies, whose arms thrust him back, kept
obstinately repeating:

“I only ask her for the name. Let her tell me the name.”

Then, Madame Josserand, arriving, gave vent to her wrath. She drew
Théophile into the little room, to hide the scandal; and said to him
furiously:

“Look here! will you shut up? Ever since this morning you have been
badgering us with your stupidities. You have no tact, sir; yes, you
have absolutely no tact at all! One should not harp on such things on a
wedding day.”

“Excuse me, madame,” murmured he, “this is my business, and does not
concern you!”

“What! it does not concern me? but I form part of your family now, sir,
and do you think your affair amuses me on account of my daughter? Ah!
you have given her a pretty wedding! Not another word, sir, you are
deficient in tact!”

This cry closed his mouth. He was so scared, so feeble looking, with
his slender limbs, and his face like a girl’s, that the ladies smiled
slightly. When one had not the facilities for making a woman happy,
one ought not to marry. Hortense weighed him with a disdainful glance;
little Angèle, whom they had forgotten, hovered round him, with her
sly air, as though she had been looking for something; and he drew back
embarrassed, and blushed when he saw them all, so big and plump, hemming
him in with their sturdy hips. But they felt the necessity of patching
up the matter. Valérie had started off sobbing again, whilst the doctor
continued to bathe her temples. Then they understood one another with
a glance, a common feeling of defense drew them together. They puzzled
their brains, trying to explain the letter to the husband.

“Pooh!” murmured Trublot, who had just rejoined Octave, “it is easy
enough; they have only to say the letter was addressed to the servant.”

Madame Josserand heard him. She turned round and looked at him with a
glance full of admiration. Then, turning toward Théophile:

“Does an innocent woman lower herself to give explanations, when accused
with such brutality? Still, I may speak. The letter was dropped by
Françoise, that maid whom your wife had to pack off on account of her
bad conduct. There, are you satisfied? do you not blush with shame?”

At first the husband shrugged his shoulders. But the ladies all remained
serious, answering his objections with very strong reasoning. He was
shaken, when, to complete his discomfiture, Madame Duveyrier got angry,
telling him that his conduct had been abominable, and that she disowned
him. Then, vanquished, and feeling a longing to be kissed, he threw his
arms round Valérie’s neck, and begged her pardon. It was most touching.
Even Madame Josserand was deeply affected.

“It is always best to come to an understanding,” said she, with relief.
“The day will not end so badly, after all.”

When they had dressed Valérie again, and she appeared in the ball-room
on Theophile’s arm, the joy seemed to be redoubled. It was close upon
three o’clock, the guests were beginning to leave; but the orchestra
continued to get through the quadrilles with great gusto. Some of the
men smiled behind the backs of the reconciled couple. A medical remark
of Campardon’s, respecting that poor Théophile, quite delighted Madame
Juzeur. The young girls hastened to stare at Valérie; then they put on
their stupid looks before their mothers’ scandalized glances. Berthe,
who was at length dancing with her husband, must have whispered a word
or two in his ear; for Auguste, made aware of what had been taking
place, turned his head round, and, without getting out of step, looked
at his brother Théophile with the surprise and the superiority of a man
to whom such things cannot happen. There was a final galop, the guests
were getting more free in the stifling heat and the reddish light of
the candles, the vacillating flames of which caused the pendants of the
chandeliers to sparkle.

“You are very intimate with her?” asked Madame Hédouin, as she whirled
round on Octave’s arm, having accepted his invitation to dance.

The young man fancied he felt a slight quiver in her frame, so erect and
so calm.

“Not at all,” said he. “They mixed me up in the matter, which annoys me
immensely. The poor devil swallowed everything.”

“It is very wrong,” declared she, in her grave voice.

No doubt Octave was mistaken. When he withdrew his arm from her waist,
Madame Hédouin was not even panting, her eyes were clear, and her hair
not the least disarranged. But a scandal upset the end of the ball.
Uncle Bachelard, who had finished himself off at the refreshment bar,
ventured on a lively idea. He had suddenly been seen dancing, a most
indecent step before Gueulin. Some napkins rolled round and stuffed in
front of his buttoned-up coat, gave him the bosom of a wet-nurse, and
two big oranges placed on the napkins, behind the lapels, displayed
their roundness, in the sanguineous redness of an excoriated skin. This
time every one protested: though one may earn heaps of money, yet there
are limits which a man who respects himself should never go beyond,
especially before young persons. Monsieur Josserand, ashamed and in
despair, drew his brother-in-law away. Duveyrier displayed the greatest
disgust.

At four o’clock the newly married couple returned to the Rue de
Choiseul. They brought Théophile and Valérie back in their carriage. As
they went up to the second floor, where an apartment had been prepared
for them, they came across Octave, who was also retiring to rest. The
young man wished to draw politely on one side, but Berthe made a similar
movement, and they knocked up against each other.

“Oh! excuse me, mademoiselle,” said he.

The word “mademoiselle” amused them immensely. She looked at him, and he
recalled the first glance exchanged between them on that same staircase,
a glance of gayety and daring, the charming welcome of which he again
beheld. They understood each other perhaps; she blushed, whilst he went
up alone to his room, in the midst of the death-like peacefulness of the
upper floors.

Auguste, with his left eye closed up, half mad with the headache
which had been clinging to him since the morning, was already in the
apartment, where the other members of the family were arriving. Then,
at the moment of quitting Berthe, Valérie yielded to a sudden fit of
emotion, and pressing her in her arms, and completing the rumpling of
her white dress, she kissed her, saying, in a low voice:

“Ah! my dear, I wish you better luck than I have had!”



CHAPTER IX.

Two days later, toward seven o’clock, as Octave arrived at the
Campardons’ for dinner, he found Rose by herself, dressed in a
cream-color dressing-gown, trimmed with white lace.

“Are you expecting any one?” asked he.

“No,” replied she, rather confused. “We will have dinner directly
Achille comes in.”

The architect was abandoning his punctual habits; was never there at
the proper time for his meals, arrived very red in the face, with a wild
expression, and cursing business. Then he went off again every evening,
on all kinds of pretexts, talking of appointments at cafés, inventing
distant meetings. Octave, on these occasions, would often keep Rose
company till eleven o’clock, for he had understood that the husband had
him there to board to amuse his wife, and she would gently complain,
and tell him her fears: ah! she left Achille very free, only she was so
anxious when he came home after midnight!

“Do you not think he has been rather sad lately?” asked she, in a
tenderly frightened tone of voice.

The young man had not noticed it.

“I think he is rather worried, perhaps. The works at Saint-Roch cause
him some anxiety.”

But she shook her head, without saying anything further about it.
Then she was very kind to Octave, questioning him with a motherly and
sisterly affection as to how he had employed the day. During nearly nine
months that he had been boarding with them, she had always treated him
thus as a child of the house.

At length the architect appeared.

“Good evening, my pet; good evening, my duck,” said he, kissing her
with his doting air of a good husband. “Another fool has been detaining
me in the street!”

Octave moved away, and he heard them exchange a few words in a low
voice.

“Will she come?”

“No; what is the good? and, above all, do not worry yourself.”

“You declared to me that she would come.”

“Well! yes; she is coming. Are you pleased? It is for your sake that I
have done it.”

They took their seats at the table. During the whole of dinnertime they
talked of the English language, which little Angèle had been learning
for a fortnight past.

They were taking their dessert, when a ring at the bell caused Madame
Campardou to start.

“It is madame’s cousin,” Lisa returned and said, in the wounded tone of
a servant whom one has omitted to let into a family secret.

And it was indeed Gasparine who entered. She wore a black woolen dress,
looking very quiet, with her thin face, and her air of a poor shop-girl.
Rose, tenderly enveloped in her dressing-gown of cream-color silk, and
plump and fresh, rose up so moved that tears filled her eyes.

“Ah! my dear,” murmured she, “you are good. We will forget everything;
will we not?”

She took her in her arms and gave her two hearty kisses. Octave
discreetly wished to retire. But they grew angry: he could remain; he
was one of the family. So he amused himself by looking on. Campardon,
at first greatly embarrassed, turned his eyes away from the two women,
puffing about, and looking for a cigar; whilst Lisa, who was roughly
clearing the table, exchanged glances with surprised Angèle.

“It is your cousin,” at length said the architect to his daughter. “You
have heard us speak of her. Come, kiss her now.”

She kissed her with her sullen air, troubled by the sort of governess
glance with which Gasparine took stock of her, after asking some
questions respecting her age and education. Then, when the others passed
into the drawing-room, she preferred to follow Lisa, who slammed the
door, saying, without even fearing that she might be heard:

“Ah, well! it’ll become precious funny here now!”

In the drawing-room, Campardon, still restless, began to excuse
himself.

“On my word of honor! the happy idea was not mine. It is Rose who wished
to be reconciled. Every morning, for more than a week past, she has been
saying to me: ‘Now, go and fetch her.’ So I ended by fetching you.”

And, as though he had felt the necessity of convincing Octave, he took
him up to the window.

“Well! women are women. It bothered me, because I have a dread of
rows. One on the right, the other on the left, there was no squabbling
possible. But I had to give in. Rose says we shall be far happier thus.
Anyhow, we will try. It depends on these two, now, to make my life
comfortable.”

Meanwhile Rose and Gasparine had seated themselves side by side on the
sofa. They were talking of the past, of the days lived at Plassans, with
good papa Domergue.

“And your health?” asked she, in a low voice. “Achille spoke to me about
it. Is it no better?”

“No, no,” replied Rose, in a melancholy tone. “You see, I eat; I look
very well. But it gets no better; it will never get any better.”

As she began to cry, Gasparine, in her turn, took her in her arms
and pressed her against her flat and ardent breast, whilst Campardon
hastened to console them.

“Why do you cry?” asked she maternally. “The main thing is that you do
not suffer. What does it matter if you have always people about you to
love you?”

Rose was becoming calmer, and already smiling amidst her tears. Then the
architect, carried away by his feelings, clasped them both in the same
embrace, kissing them alternately, and stammering:

[Illustration: 0203]

“Yes, yes, we will love each other very much, we will love you such a
deal, my poor little duck. You will see how well everything will go, now
that we are united.”

And, turning toward Octave, he added:

“Ah! my dear fellow, people may talk, there is nothing, after all, like
family ties!”

The end of the evening was delightful. Campardon, who usually fell
asleep on leaving the table if he remained at home, recovered all his
artist’s gayety, the old jokes and the broad songs of the School of Fine
Arts. When, toward eleven o’clock, Gasparine prepared to leave, Rose
insisted on accompanying her to the door, in spite of the difficulty she
experienced in walking that day: and, leaning over the balustrade, in
the grave silence of the staircase, she called after her:

“Come and see us often!”

On the morrow, Octave, feeling interested, tried to make the cousin talk
at “The Ladies’ Paradise,” whilst they were receiving a consignment of
linen goods together. But she answered curtly, and he felt that she
was hostile, annoyed at his having been a witness the evening before.
Moreover, she did not like him; she even displayed a sort of rancor
toward him in their business relations.

Octave had given himself six months, and, though scarcely four had
passed, he was becoming impatient. Every morning he asked himself
whether he should not hurry matters forward, seeing the little progress
he had made in the affections of this woman, always so icy and gentle.
She had ended, however, by showing a real esteem for him, won over by
his enlarged ideas, his dreams of vast modern warehouses discharging
millions of merchandise into the streets of Paris. Often, when her
husband was not there, and she opened the correspondence with the young
man of a morning, she would detain him beside her and consult him,
profiting a great deal by his advice, and a sort of commercial intimacy
was thus gradually established between them. Their hands met amidst
bundles of invoices, their breaths mingled as they added up columns of
figures, and they yielded to moments of emotion before the open cash-box
after some extra fortunate receipts. He even took advantage of these
occasions, his tactics being now to reach her heart through her good
trader’s nature, and to conquer her on a day of weakness, in the midst
of the great emotion occasioned by some unexpected sale. So he remained
on the watch for some surprising occurrence which should deliver her up
to him.

About this time, Monsieur Hédouin, having fallen ill, went to pass
a season at Vichy to take the waters. Octave, to speak frankly, was
delighted. Though as cold as marble, Madame Hédouin would become more
tender-hearted during her enforced widowhood. But he fruitlessly awaited
a quiver, a languidness of desire. Never had she been so active, her
head so free, her eye so clear.

At heart, though, the young man did not despair. At times he thought he
had reached the goal, and was already arranging his mode of living for
the near day when he would be the lover of his employer’s wife. He had
kept up his connection with Marie to help him to wait patiently; only,
though she was convenient and cost him nothing, she might perhaps one
day become irksome, with her faithfulness of a beaten cur. Therefore,
at the same time that he took her in his arms on the nights when he felt
dull, he would be thinking of a way of breaking off with her. To do so
abruptly seemed to him to be worse than foolish. One holiday morning,
when about to rejoin his neighbor’s wife, the neighbor himself having
gone out early, the idea had at length come to him of restoring Marie to
Jules, of sending them in a loving way into each other’s arms, so that
he might withdraw with a clear conscience. It was, moreover, a good
action, the touching side of which relieved him of all remorse. He
waited a while, however, not wishing to find himself without a female
companion of some kind.

At the Campardons’ another complication was occupying Octave’s mind. He
felt that the moment was arriving when he would have to take his meals
elsewhere. For three weeks past Gasparine had been making herself quite
at home there, with an authority daily increasing. At first she had
begun by coming every evening; then she had appeared at lunch: and,
in spite of her work at the shop, she was commencing to take charge of
everything, of Angèle’s education, and of the household affairs. Rose
was ever repeating in Campardon’s presence:

“Ah! if Gasparine only lived with us!”

But each time the architect, blushing with conscientious scruples, and
tormented with shame, cried out:

“No, no; it cannot be. Besides, where would you put her to sleep?”

And he explained that they would have to give his study as a bedroom
to their cousin, whilst he would move his table and plans into the
drawing-room. It would certainly not inconvenience him in the least;
he would, perhaps, decide to make the alteration one day, for he had no
need of a drawing-room, and his study was becoming too cramped for all
the work he had in hand. Only, Gasparine might very well remain as she
was. What need was there to live all in a heap?

“When one is comfortable,” repeated he to Octave, “it is a mistake to
wish to be better.”

About that time he was obliged to go and spend two days at Evreux.
He was worried about the work in hand at the bishop’s palace. He had
yielded to the bishop’s desires without a credit having been opened for
the purpose, and the construction of the range for the new kitchens and
of the heating apparatus threatened to amount to a very large figure,
which it would be impossible to include in the cost of repairs. Besides
that, the pulpit, for which three thousand francs had been granted,
would come to ten thousand at least. He wished to talk the matter over
with the bishop, so as to take certain precautions.

Rose was only expecting him to return on the Sunday night. He arrived
in the middle of lunch, and his sudden entrance caused quite a scare.
Gasparine was seated at the table, between Octave and Angèle. They
pretended to be all at their ease; but there reigned a certain air of
mystery. Lisa had closed the drawing-room door at a despairing gesture
from her mistress, whilst the cousin kicked beneath the furniture some
pieces of paper that were lying about.

When Campardon talked of changing his things, they stopped him.

“Wait a while. Have a cup of coffee, as you lunched at Evreux.”

At length, as he noticed Rose’s embarrassment, she went and threw her
arms around his neck.

“My dear, you must not scold me. If you had not returned till this
evening, you would have found everything straight.”

She tremblingly opened the doors, and took him into the drawingroom
and the study. A mahogany bedstead, brought that morning by a furniture
dealer, occupied the place of the drawing-table, which had been moved
into the middle of the adjoining room; but as yet nothing had been put
straight; portfolios were knocking about amongst some of Gasparine’s
clothes; the Virgin with the Bleeding Heart was lying against the wall,
kept in position by a new wash-stand.

“It was a surprise,” murmured Madame Campardon, her heart bursting, as
she hid her face in her husband’s waistcoat.

He, deeply moved, looked about him. He said nothing, and avoided
encountering Octave’s eyes. Then, Gasparine asked, in her sharp voice:

“Does it annoy you, cousin? It is Rose who pestered me. But, if you
think I am in the way, it is not too late for me to leave.”

“Oh! cousin!” at length exclaimed the architect. “All that Rose does is
well done.”

And, the latter having burst out sobbing on his breast, he added:

“Come, my duck, how foolish of you to cry! I am very pleased. You
wish to have your cousin with you; well! have your cousin with you.
Everything suits me. Now, do not cry any more! See! I kiss you like I
love you, so much! so much!”

He devoured her with caresses. Then, Rose, who melted into tears for a
word, but who smiled at once, in the midst of her sobs, was consoled.
She kissed him in her turn, on his beard, saying to him, gently:

“You were harsh. Kiss her also.”

Campardon kissed Gasparine. They called Angèle, who had been looking on
from the dining-room, her eyes bright and her mouth wide open; and
she had to kiss her also. Octave had moved away, having arrived at the
conclusion that they were becoming far too loving in that family. He
had noticed with surprise Lisa’s respectful attitude and smiling
attentiveness toward Gasparine. She was decidedly an intelligent girl,
that hussy with the blue eyelids!

Meanwhile, the architect had taken off his coat, and whistling and
singing, as lively as a boy, he spent the afternoon in arranging the
cousin’s room. Then Octave understood that his presence interfered with
the free expansion of their hearts; he felt he was one too many in
such a united family, so mentioned that he was going to dine out that
evening. Moreover, he had made up his mind; on the morrow he would thank
Madame Campardon for her kind hospitality, and invent some story for no
longer trespassing upon it.

Toward five o’clock, as he was regretting that he did not know where to
find Trublot, he had the idea to go and ask the Pichons for some dinner,
so as not to pass the evening alone. But, on entering their apartments,
he found himself in the midst of a deplorable family scene. The
Vuillaumes were there, trembling with rage and indignation.

“It is disgraceful, sir!” the mother was saying, standing up with her
arm thrust out toward her son-in-law, who was sitting in a chair in a
state of collapse. “You gave me your word of honor.”

“And you,” added the father, causing his daughter to draw back trembling
as far as the sideboard, “do not try to defend him, you are quite as
guilty. Do you wish to die of hunger!”

Madame Vuillaume had put on her bonnet and shawl again.

“Good-bye!” uttered she, in a solemn tone. “We will at least not
encourage your dissoluteness by our presence. As you no longer pay
the least attention to our wishes, we have nothing to detain us here.
Good-bye!”

And, as through force of habit her son-in-law rose to accompany them,
she added:

“Do not trouble yourself, we shall be able to find the omnibus very well
without you. Pass first, Monsieur Vuillaume. Let them eat their dinner,
and much good may it do them, for they won’t always have one!”

Octave, thoroughly bewildered, drew on one side. When they had gone, he
looked at Jules, who was still in a state of collapse on his chair, and
at Marie leaning against the sideboard and looking very pale. Neither of
them said a word.

“What is the matter?” asked he.

But, without answering him, the young woman commenced scolding her
husband in a doleful voice.

“I told you how it would be. You should have waited, and let them learn
the thing by degrees. There was no hurry, it does not show as yet.”

“What is the matter?” repeated Octave.

Then, without even turning her head, she said bluntly, in the midst of
her emotion!

“I am in the family way.”

“I have had enough of them!” cried Jules, rising indignantly. “I thought
it right to tell them at once of this bother. I wonder if they think it
amuses me! I am more taken in by it all than they are. More especially,
by Jove! as it is through no fault of mine. Is it not true, Marie, that
we have no idea how it has come about?”

“That is so, indeed,” affirmed the young woman.

It quite affected Octave; and he felt a violent desire to do something
nice for the Pichons. Jules continued to grumble: they would receive
the child all the same, only it would have done better to have remained
where it was. On her side, Marie, generally so gentle, became angry, and
ended by agreeing with her mother, who never forgave disobedience. And
the couple were coming to a quarrel, throwing the youngster from one
to the other, accusing each other of being the cause of it, when Octave
gayly interfered.

“It is no use quarreling, now that it is there. Come, we won’t dine
here; it would be too sad. I will take you to a restaurant, if you are
agreeable.”

The young woman blushed. Dining at a restaurant was her delight. She
spoke, however, of her little girl, who invariably prevented her from
having any pleasure. But it was decided that, for this once, Lilitte
should go too. And they spent a very pleasant evening. Octave took them
to the “Bouf à la Mode,” where they had a private room, to be more at
their ease, as he said. There, he overwhelmed them with food, with an
earnest prodigality, without thinking of the bill, happy at seeing them
eat. He even, at dessert, when they had laid Lilitte down between two
of the sofa cushions, called for champagne; and they sat there, their
elbows on the table, their eyes dim, all three full of heart, and
feeling languid from the suffocating heat of the room. At length, at
eleven o’clock, they talked of going home; but they were red, and the
fresh air of the street intoxicated them. Then, as the child, heavy with
sleep, refused to walk, Octave, to do things handsomely until the end,
insisted on hailing a cab, though the Rue de Choiseul was close by. In
the cab, he was scrupulous to the point of not pressing Marie’s knees.
Only, upstairs, whilst Jules was tucking Lilitte in, he imprinted a kiss
on the young woman’s forehead, the farewell kiss of a father parting
with his daughter to a son-in-law. Then, seeing them very loving
and looking at each other in a drunken sort of way, he left them to
themselves, wishing them a good-night and many pleasant dreams as he
closed the door.

“Well!” thought he, as he jumped all alone into bed, “it has cost me
fifty francs, but I owed them quite that. After all, my only wish is
that her husband may make her happy, poor little woman!”

And, with his heart full of emotion, he resolved, before falling asleep,
to make his grand attempt on the following evening.

Every Monday, after dinner, Octave assisted Madame Hédouin to examine
the orders of the week. For this purpose they both withdrew to the
little closet at the back, a narrow apartment which merely contained
a safe, a desk, two chairs and a sofa. But it so happened that on the
Monday in question the Duveyriers were going to take Madame Hédouin to
the Opéra-Comique. So, toward three o’clock, she sent for the young man.
In spite of the bright sunshine, they were obliged to burn the gas, for
the closet only received a pale light from an inner courtyard. He bolted
the door, and, as she looked at him in surprise, he murmured:

“No one can come and disturb us.”

She nodded her head approvingly, and they set to work. The new summer
goods were going splendidly, the business of the house continued
increasing. That week especially the sale of the little woolens seemed
so promising that she heaved a sigh.

“Ah! if we only had enough room!”

“But,” said he, commencing the attack, “it depends upon yourself. I have
had an idea for some time past, which I wish to lay before you.”

It was the stroke of andacity he had been waiting for. His idea was to
purchase the adjoining house in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, to give
notice to an umbrella-dealer and to a toy-merchant, and then to enlarge
the warehouses, to which they could add several other vast departments.
And he warmed up as he spoke, showing himself full of disdain for the
old way of doing business in the depths of damp, dark shops, without any
display, evoking a new commerce with a gesture, piling up in palaces of
crystal all the luxury pertaining to woman, turning over millions in the
light of day, and illuminating at night-time in a princely style.

“You will crush the other drapers of the Saint-Roch neighborhood,” said
he; “you will secure all the small customers.”

Madame Hédouin listened to him, her elbow on a ledger, her beautiful,
grave head buried in her hand. She was born at “The Ladies’ Paradise,”
 which had been founded by her father and her uncle. She loved the house;
she could see it expanding, swallowing up the neighboring houses,
and displaying a royal frontage, and this dream suited her active
intelligence, her upright will, her woman’s delicate intuition of the
new Paris.

“Uncle Deleuze would never give his consent,” murmured she. “Besides, my
husband is too unwell.”

Then, seeing her wavering, Octave assumed his most seductive voice--an
actor’s voice, soft and musical. At the same time he looked tenderly
at her, with his eyes the color of old gold, which some women thought
irresistible. But, though the gas-jet flared close to the nape of her
neck, she remained as cool as ever; she merely fell into a revery, half
stunned by the young man’s inexhaustible flow of words. He had come
to studying the affair from the money point of view, already making an
estimate with the impassioned air of a romantic page declaring a long
pent up love. When she suddenly awoke from her reflections, she found
herself in his arms. He was thinking that she was at length yielding.

“Dear me! so this is what it all meant!” said she in a sad tone of
voice, freeing herself from him as from some tiresome child.

“Well! yes, I love you,” cried he. “Oh! do not repel me. With you I will
do great things----”

And he went on thus to the end of the tirade, which had a false ring
about it. She did not interrupt him; she was standing up and again
scanning the pages of the ledger. Then, when he had finished, she
replied:

“I know all that--I have already heard it before. But I thought you were
more sensible than the others, Monsieur Octave. You grieve me, really
you do, for I had counted upon you. However, all young men are foolish.
We need a great deal of order in such a house as this, and you begin by
desiring things which would disturb us from morning to night. I am not
a woman here, I have too much to occupy me. Come, you who are so well
organized, how is it you did not comprehend that it could never be,
because in the first place it is stupid, in the second useless, and,
moreover, luckily for me, I do not care the least about it!”

He would have preferred her to have been indignantly angry, displaying
grand sentiments. Her calm tone of voice, her quiet reasoning of a
practical woman, sure of herself, disconcerted him. He felt himself
becoming ridiculous.

“Have pity, madame,” stammered he, before losing all hope. “See how I
suffer.”

“No, you do not suffer. Anyhow, you will get over it. Hark! there is
some one knocking, you would do better to open the door.”

Then he had to draw the bolt. It was Mademoiselle Gasparine, who wished
to know if any lace-trimmed chemises were expected. The bolted door had
surprised her. But she knew Madame Hédouin too well; and, when she
saw her with her cold air standing in front of Octave, who was full of
uneasiness, a slight mocking smile played about her lips as she looked
at him. It exasperated him, and in his own mind he accused her of having
been the cause of his ill-success.

“Madame,” declared he, abruptly, when Gasparine had withdrawn, “I leave
your employment this evening.”

This was a surprise for Madame Hédouin. She looked at him.

“Why so? I do not discharge you. Oh! it will not make any difference; I
have no fear.”

These words decided him. He would leave at once; he would not endure his
martyrdom a minute longer.

“Very good, Monsieur Octave,” resumed she as serenely as ever. “I will
settle with you directly. However, the firm will regret you, for you
were a good assistant.”

Once out in the street, Octave perceived that he had behaved like a
fool. Four o’clock was striking, the gay spring sun covered with a sheet
of gold a whole corner of the Place Gaillon. And, angry with himself,
he wandered at hap-hazard down the Rue Saint-Roch, discussing the way in
which he ought to have acted. He would go and see if Campardon happened
to be in the church, and take him to the café to have a glass of
Madeira. It would help to divert his thoughts. He entered by the
vestibule into which the vestry door opened, a dark, dirty passage such
as is to be met with in houses of ill-repute.

“You are perhaps looking for Monsieur Campardon?” said a voice close
beside him, as he stood hesitating, scrutinizing the nave with his
glance.

It was the Abbé Manduit, who had just recognized him. The architect
being away, he insisted on showing the works, about which he was most
enthusiastic, to the young man.

“Walk in,” said the Abbé Manduit, gathering up his cassock. “I will
explain everything to you.”

“Here we are,” continued the priest. “I had the idea of lighting the
central group of the Calvary from above by means of an opening in the
cupola. You can fancy what an effect it will have.”

“Yes, yes,” murmured. Octave, whose thoughts were diverted by this
stroll amidst building materials.

The Abbé Manduit, speaking in a loud voice, had the air of a
stage-carpenter directing the placing of some gorgeous scenery.

And he turned round to call out to a workman:

“Move the Virgin on one side; you will be breaking her leg directly.”

The workman called a comrade. Between them they got hold of the Virgin
round the small of her back, and carried her to a place of safety, like
some tall white girl who had fallen down under a nervous attack.

“Be careful!” repeated the priest, following them through the rubbish,
“her dress is already cracked. Wait a while!”

He gave them a hand, seizing Mary round the waist, and then, all covered
with plaster, withdrew from the embrace.

“Then,” resumed he, returning to Octave, “just imagine that the two bays
of the nave there before us are open, and go and stand in the chapel
of the Virgin. Over the altar, and through the chapel of Perpetual
Adoration, you will behold the Calvary right at the back. Just fancy the
effect: these three enormous figures, this bare and simple drama in this
tabernacle recess, beyond the dim, mysterious light of the stained-glass
windows, the lamps and the gold candelabra. Eh? I think it will be
irresistible!”

He was waxing eloquent, and, proud of his idea, he laughed joyfully.

“The most skeptical will be moved,” observed Octave, to please him.

“That is what I think!” cried he. “I am impatient to see everything in
place.”

“I am going to see Monsieur Campardon this evening,” at length said the
Abbe Manduit. “Ask him to wait in for me. I wish to speak to him about
an improvement without being disturbed.”

And he bowed with his worldly air. Octave was calmed now. Saint-Roch,
with its cool vaults, had unbraced his nerves. He looked curiously at
this entrance to a church through a private house, at the doorkeeper’s
room, from whence at night time the door was often opened for the cause
of the faith, at all that corner of a convent lost amidst the black
conglomeration of the neighborhood. Out in the street, he again raised
his eyes; the house displayed its bare frontage, with its barred and
curtainless windows; but boxes of flowers were fixed by iron supports
to the windows of the fourth floor; and, down below, in the thick walls,
were narrow shops, which helped to fill the coffers of the clergy--a
cobbler’s, a clock-maker’s, an embroiderer’s, and even a wine shop,
where the mutes congregated whenever there was a funeral. Octave, who,
from his rebuff, was in a mood to renounce the world, regretted the
quiet lives which the priests’ servants led up there in those rooms
enlivened with verbenas and sweet peas.

That evening, at half past six, as he entered the Campardons’ apartments
without ringing, he came suddenly upon the architect and Gasparine
kissing each other in the ante-room. The latter, who had just come from
the warehouse, had not even given herself time to close the door. Both
stood stock-still.

“My wife is combing her hair,” stammered the architect, for the sake of
saying something. “Go in and see her.”

Octave, feeling as embarrassed as themselves, hastened to knock at the
door of Rose’s room, where he usually entered like a relation. He really
could no longer continue to board there, now that he caught them behind
the doors.

“Come in!” cried Rose’s voice. “So it is you, Octave. Oh! there is no
harm.”

She had not, however, donned her dressing-gown, and her arms and
shoulders, as white and delicate as milk, were bare. Sitting attentively
before the looking-glass, she was rolling her golden hair in little
curls.

“So you are making yourself beautiful again to-night,” said Octave,
smiling.

“Yes, for it is the only amusement I have,” replied she. “It occupies
me. You know I have never been a good housewife; and, now that Gasparine
will be here--Eh? don’t you think that curl suits me? It consoles me a
little when I am well dressed and I feel that I look pretty.”

As the dinuer was not ready, he told her of his having left “The Ladies’
Paradise.” He invented a story about some other situation he had long
been on the look-out for; and thus reserved to himself a pretext
for explaining his intention of taking his meals elsewhere. She was
surprised that he could give up a berth which held out great promises
for the future. But she was busy at her glass, and did not catch all he
said.

“Look at this red place behind my ear. Is it a pimple?”

He had to examine the nape of her neck, which she held toward him with
her grand tranquillity of a sacred woman.

“It is nothing,” said he. “You must have dried yourself too roughly.”

And, when he had assisted her to put on her dressing-gown of blue satin
embroidered with silver, they passed into the diningroom. As early as
the soup, Octave’s departure from the Hédouins’ was discussed. Campardon
did not repress his surprise, whilst Gasparine smiled faintly; they were
quite at their ease together.

At dessert Gasparine sharply rated Lisa, who had answered her mistress
rudely respecting a piece of cheese that was missing. The maid became
very humble. Gasparine had already taken the household arrangements
in hand, and had mastered the servants; with a word, she could make
Victoire herself quake amongst her saucepans. So that Rose looked at her
gratefully with moist eyes; she was respected, now that her cousin
was there, and her longing was to get her also to leave “The Ladies’
Paradise,” and take charge of Angèle’s education.

“Come,” murmured she, caressingly, “there is quite enough to occupy you
here. Angèle, implore your cousin, tell her how pleased you will be.”

The young girl implored her cousin, whilst Lisa nodded her head
approvingly. But Campardon and Gasparine remained grave; no, no, they
must wait, one should not take a leap in life without having something
to hold on to.

The evenings in the drawing-room were now delightful. The architect had
altogether given up going out. That evening he had arranged to hang some
engravings, which had come back from the framer, in Gasparine’s room.
Then Octave, finding himself alone with Rose, resumed his story, and
explained that at the end of the month he would be obliged to take
his meals away from them. She seemed surprised, but her thoughts were
elsewhere; she returned at once to her husband and her cousin, whom she
heard laughing.

“Ah! how it amuses them to hang those pictures! What would you have!
Achille no longer stays out; for a fortnight past he has not left me of
an evening. No, no more going to the café, no more business meetings,
no more appointments; and you remember how anxious I used to be, when
he was out after midnight! Ah! it is a great ease to my mind now! I at
least have him by me.”

“No doubt, no doubt,” murmured Octave.

And she continued speaking of the economy of the new arrangement.
Everything went on better in the house, they laughed from morning to
night.

“When I see Achille pleased,” resumed she, “I am satisfied.” Then,
returning to the young man’s affairs, she added:

“So you are really going to leave us? You should stay, though, as we are
all going to be so happy.”

He recommenced his explanations. She comprehended, and lowered her eyes:
the young fellow would indeed interfere with their family effusions, and
she herself felt a certain relief at his departure, no longer requiring
him, moreover, to keep her company of an evening. He had to promise to
come and see her very often.

“There you are, Mignon, supplicating Heaven!” cried Campardon joyously.
“Wait a moment, cousin; I will help you down.”

They heard him take her in his arms and place her somewhere. There was
a short silence, and then a faint laugh. But the architect was already
entering the drawing-room; and he held his hot cheek to his wife.

“It is done, my duck. Kiss your old pet for working so well.” But the
architect suddenly became virtuously indignant. He had just noticed
that, instead of studying her Scripture history, the child was reading
the “Gazette de France,” lying on the table.

“Angèle,” said he, severely, “what are you doing? This morning, I
crossed out that article with a red pencil. You know very well that you
are not to read what is crossed out.”

“I was reading beside it, papa,” replied the young girl.

All the same, he took the paper away from her, complaining in low tones
to Octave of the demoralization of the press. That number contained the
report of another abominable crime. If families could no longer admit
the “Gazette de France,” then what paper could they take in? And he was
raising his eyes to heaven, when Lisa announced the Abbé Manduit.

“Ah! yes,” observed Octave, “he asked me to tell you he was coming.”

The priest entered smiling. As the architect had forgotten to take off
his paper cross, he stammered in the presence of that smile. The Abbé
Manduit happened to be the person whose name was kept a secret and who
had the matter in hand.

“The ladies did it,” murmured Campardon, preparing to take the cross
off. “They are so fond of a joke.”

“No, no, keep it,” exclaimed the priest, very amiably. “It is well where
it is, and we will replace it by a more substantial one.”

He at once asked after Rose’s health, and greatly approved Gasparine’s
coming to live with one of her relations. Single young ladies ran so
many risks in Paris! He said these things with all his good priest’s
unction, though fully aware of the real state of affairs.

When the Abbé Manduit appeared, Octave had wished the Cam-pardons good
evening. As he crossed the ante-room, he heard Angèle’s voice in the now
dark dining-room, she having also made her escape.

“Was it about the butter that she was kicking up such a row?” asked she.

“Of course,” answered another voice, which was Lisa’s. “She’s as
spiteful as can be. You saw how she went on at me at dinner time. But I
don’t care a fig! One must pretend to obey, with a person of that sort,
but that doesn’t prevent our amusing ourselves all the same!”

Then, Angèle must have thrown her arms round Lisa’s neck, for her voice
was drowned in the servant’s bosom.

“Yes, yes. And, afterward, so much the worse! it’s you I love!”

Octave was going up to bed, when a desire for fresh air brought him down
again. It was not more than ten o’clock, he would stroll as far as the
Palais-Royal. Now, he was single again: both Valérie and Madame Hédouin
had declined to have anything to do with his heart, and he had been too
hasty in restoring Marie to Jules, the only woman he had succeeded in
conquering, and without having done anything for it.

As he was placing his foot on the pavement, a woman’s voice called to
him; and he recognized Berthe at the door of the silk warehouse, the
shutters of which were being put up by the porter.

“Is it true, Monsieur Mouret?” asked she, “have you really left ‘The
Ladies’ Paradise?’”

He was surprised that it was already known in the neighborhood.

The young woman had called her husband. As he intended speaking to
Monsieur Mouret on the morrow, he might just as well do so then. And
Auguste abruptly offered Octave in a sour way a berth in his employ. The
young man, taken unawares, hesitated and was on the point of refusing,
thinking of the small importance of the house. But he caught sight of
Berthe’s pretty face, as she smiled at him with her air of welcome,
with the gay glance he had already twice encountered, on the day of his
arrival and the day of the wedding.

“Well! yes,” said he resolutely.



CHAPTER X.

THEN, Octave found himself brought into closer contact with the
Duveyriers. Often, when Madame Duveyrier returned from a walk, she would
come through her brother’s shop, and stop to talk a minute with Berthe;
and, the first time that she saw the young man behind one of the
counters, she amiably reproached him for not keeping his word, reminding
him of his long-standing promise to come and see her one evening, and
try his voice at the piano. She wished to give a second performance of
the “Benediction of the Daggers,” at one of her first Saturdays at
home of the coming winter, but with two extra tenors, something very
complete.

“If it does not interfere with your arrangements,” said Berthe one day
to Octave, “you might go up to my sister-in-law’s after dinner. She is
expecting you.”

She maintained toward him the attitude of a mistress, simply polite.

“The fact is,” he observed, “I intended arranging these shelves this
evening.”

“Do not trouble about them,” resumed she, “there are plenty of people
here to do that. I give you your evening.”

Toward nine o’clock, Octave found Madame Duveyrier awaiting him in her
grand white and gold drawing-room. Everything was ready, the piano
open, the candles lit. A lamp placed on a small round table beside the
instrument only imperfectly lighted the room, one half of which remained
in shadow. Seeing the young woman alone, he thought it proper to
ask after Monsieur Duveyrier. She replied that he was very well; his
colleagues had selected him to report on a very grave affair, and he had
just gone out to obtain certain information respecting it.

“You know; the affair of the Rue de Provence,” said she simply.

“Ah! he has that in hand!” exclaimed Octave.

It was a scandal which was the talk of all Paris, quite a clandestine
prostitution, young girls of fourteen procured for high personages.
Clotilde added:

“Yes, it gives him a great deal of work. For a fortnight past all of his
evenings have been taken up with it.”

“No doubt! for he too has the cure of souls,” murmured he, embarrassed
by her clear glance.

“Well! sir, shall we begin?” resumed she. “You will excuse my
importunity, will you not? And open your lungs, display all your powers,
as Monsieur Duveyrier is not here. You, perhaps, heard him boast that he
did not like music.”

She put such contempt into the words, that he thought it right to risk
a faint laugh. Moreover, it was the sole bitter feeling which at times
escaped her before other people with respect to her husband, when
exasperated by his jokes on her piano, she who was strong enough to hide
the hatred and the physical repulsion with which he inspired her.

“How can one help liking music?” remarked Octave with an air of ecstasy,
so as to make himself agreeable.

Then she seated herself on the music-stool. A collection of old tunes
was open on the piano. She had already selected an air out of “Zémire
and Azor,” by Grétry. As the young man could only just manage to read
his notes, she made him go through it first in a low voice. Then she
played the prelude, and he sang the first verse.

“Perfect!” cried she with delight, “a tenor, there is not the least
doubt of it, a tenor! Pray continue, sir.”

Octave, feeling highly flattered, gave out the two other verses. She was
beaming. For three years past she had been seeking for one! And she told
him of all her vexations, Monsieur Trublot, for instance; for it was a
fact, the causes of which were worth studying, that there were no longer
any tenors among the young men of society: no doubt it was owing to
tobacco.

“Be careful, now!” resumed she, “we must put some expression into it.
Begin it boldly.”

Her cold face assumed a languid expression, her eyes turned toward him
with an expiring air. Thinking that she was warming, he became more
animated also, and considered her charming.

“You will get along very well,” said she. “Only, accentuate the time
more. See, like this.”

And she herself sang, repeating quite twenty times: “More trembling than
you,” bringing out the notes with the rigor of a sinless woman, whose
passion for music was not more than skin deep in her mechanism. Her
voice rose little by little, filling the room with shrill cries, when
they both suddenly heard some one exclaiming loudly behind their backs:

“Madame! madame!”

She started, and, recognizing her maid Clémence, exclaimed:

“Eh? what?”

“Madame, your father has fallen with his face in his papers, and he
doesn’t move. We are so frightened.”

Then, without exactly understanding, and greatly surprised, she quitted
the piano and followed Clémence. Octave, who was uncertain whether to
accompany her, remained walking about the drawing-room. However, after a
few minutes of hesitation and embarrassment, as he heard people rushing
about and calling out distractedly, he made up his mind, and, crossing
a room that was in darkness, he found himself in Monsieur Vabre’s
bedchamber.

“He is in a fit,” said Octave. “He must not be left there. We must get
him onto his bed.”

[Illustration: 0227]

But Madame Duveyrier was losing her head. Emotion was little by little
seizing upon her cold nature. She kept repeating:

“Do you think so? do you think so? O good heavens! O my poor father!”

Hippolyte, a prey to an uneasy feeling, to a visible repugnance to touch
the old man, who might go off in his arms, did not hurry himself. Octave
had to call to him to help. Between them they laid him on the bed.

“Bring some warm water!” resumed the young man, addressing Julie. “Wipe
his face.”

Now, Clotilde became angry with her husband. Ought he to have been away?
What would become of her if anything happened?

“To leave me alone like this!” continued Clotilde. “I don’t know, but
there must be all sorts of affairs to settle. O my poor father!”

“Would you like me to inform the other members of the family?” asked
Octave. “I can fetch your brothers. It would be prudent.” She did not
answer. Two big tears swelled her eyes, whilst Julie and Clémence tried
to undress the old man.

“Madame,” observed Clémence, “one side of him is already quite cold.”

This increased Madame Duveyrier’s anger. She no longer spoke, for fear
of saying too much before the servants. Her husband did not, apparently,
care a button for their interests! Had she only been acquainted with the
law! And she could not remain still; she kept walking up and down
before the bed. Octave, whose attention was diverted by the sight of the
tickets, looked at the formidable apparatus which covered the table;
it was a big oak box, filled with a series of cardboard tickets,
scrupulously sorted, the stupid work of a lifetime. Just as he was
reading on one of these tickets: “‘Isidore Charbotel;’ ‘Exhibition of
1857,’ ‘Atalanta;’ ‘Exhibition of 1859,’ ‘The Lion of Androcles;’
‘Exhibition of 1861,’ ‘Portrait of Monsieur P-----,’” Clotilde went and
stood before him and said resolutely, in a low voice:

“Go and fetch him.”

And, as he evinced his surprise, she seemed, with a shrug of her
shoulders, to cast off the story about the report of the affair of the
Rue dc Provence, one of those eternal pretexts which she invented for
her acquaintances. She let out everything in her emotion.

“You know, Rue de la Cerisaie. All our friends know it.”

He wished to protest.

“I assure you, madame-------”

“Do not stand up for him!” resumed she. “I am only too pleased; he can
stay there. Ah! good heavens! if it were not for my poor father!”

Octave bowed. Julie was wiping Monsieur Vabre’s eye with the corner of a
towel; but the ink had dried, and the smudge remained in the skin, which
was marked with livid streaks. Madame Duvey-rier told her not to rub so
hard; then she returned to the young man, who was already at the door.

“Not a word to any one,” murmured she. “It is needless to upset
the house. Take a cab, call there, and bring him back in spite of
everything.”

When he had gone, she sank onto a chair beside the patient’s pillow. He
had not recovered consciousness; his breathing alone, a deep and painful
breathing, troubled the mournful silence of the chamber. Then, the
doctor not arriving, finding herself alone with the two servants, who
stood by with frightened looks, she burst out into a terrible fit of
sobbing, in a paroxysm of deep grief.

It was at the Café Anglais that uncle Bachelard had invited Duveyrier to
dine, without any one knowing why, perhaps for the pleasure of treating
a counselor, and of showing him that tradespeople knew how to spend
their money. He had also invited Trublot and Gueulin--four men and
no women--for women do not know how to eat; they interfere with the
truffles, and spoil digestion.

“Drink away! drink away, sir!” he kept saying to Duveyrier; “when wines
are good they never intoxicate. It’s the same with food; it never does
one harm so long as it’s delicate.”

[Illustration: 0231]

He, however, was careful. On this occasion he was posing for the
gentleman, shaved and brushed up, and with a rose in his buttonhole,
restraining himself from breaking the crockery, which he was in the
habit of doing. Trublot and Gueulin eat of everything. The uncle’s
theory seemed the right one, for Duveyrier, who suffered a great deal
from his stomach, had drank considerably, and had returned to the
crayfish salad, without feeling the least indisposed, the red blotches
on his face merely assuming a purple hue.

Then, when the coffee had been served, with some liquors and cigars, and
all the attendants had withdrawn, uncle Bachelard suddenly leaned back
in his chair and heaved a sigh of satisfaction.

“Ah!” declared he, “one is comfortable.”

Trublot and Gueulin, also leaning back in their chairs, opened their
arms.

“Completely!” said the one.

“Up to the eyes!” added the other.

Duveyrier, who was puffing, nodded his head, and murmured:

“Oh! the crayfish!”

All four looked at each other and chuckled. Their skins were well-nigh
bursting, and they were digesting in the slow and selfish way of four
worthy citizens who had just had a tuckout away from the worries of
their families. It had cost a great deal; no one had partaken of it with
them; there was no girl there to take advantage of their emotion; and
they unbuttoned their waistcoats, and laid their stomachs as it were on
the table. With eyes half-closed, they even avoided speaking at first,
each one absorbed in his solitary pleasure. Then, free and easy, and
whilst congratulating themselves that there were no women present, they
placed their elbows on the table, and, with their excited faces close
together, they did nothing but talk incessantly of them.

“As for myself, I am disabused,” declared uncle Bachelard. “It is after
all far preferable to be virtuous.”

This conversation tickled Duveyrier’s fancy. He was sipping kummel,
whilst sharp twinges of sensuality kept shooting across his stiff,
magisterial face.

“For my part,” said he, “I cannot bear vice. It shocks me. Now, to be
able to love a woman, one must esteem her, is it not so? Love could not
have a nobler mission. In short, a virtuous mistress, you understand me?
Then, I do not deny I might succumb.”

“Virtuous mistresses! but I have had no end of them!” cried Bachelard.
“They are a far greater nuisance than the others; and such sluts
too! Wenches who, behind your back, lead a life fit to give you
every possible ailment! Take, for instance, my last, a very
respectable-looking little lady, whom I met at a church door. I set her
up in business at Les Ternes as a milliner, just to give her a position.
She never had a single customer, though. Well, sir, believe me or not as
you like, but she had the whole street to sleep with her.”

Gueulin was chuckling, whilst his carroty hair bristled more than
usual, and his forehead was bathed in perspiration from the heat of the
candles. He murmured, as he sucked his cigar:

“And the other, the tall one at Passy, who had a sweet-stuff shop. And
the other, she who had a room over there, with her outfits for orphan
children. And the other, the captain’s widow, you surely remember her!
she used to show the mark of a sword-thrust on her body. All, uncle, all
of them played the fool with you! Now, I may tell you, may I not? Well!
I had to defend myself one night against the one with the sword-thrust.
She wanted to, but I was not such a fool! One never knows what such
women may lead a man to!”

Bachelard seemed annoyed. He recovered his good humor, however, and,
blinking his heavy eyelids, said:

“My little fellow, you can have them all; I have something far better.”

And he refused to explain himself further, delighted at having awakened
the others’ curiosity. Yet he was burning to be indiscreet, to let them
imagine what a treasure he possessed.

“A young girl,” said he at length, “and a genuine one, on my word of
honor.”

“Impossible!” cried Trublot, “Such things no longer exist.”

“Of good family!” asked Duveyrier.

“Of most excellent family,” affirmed the uncle. “Imagine something
stupidly chaste. A mere chance. She submitted quite innocently. She has
no idea of anything even now.”

Gueulin listened to him in surprise; then, making a skeptical gesture,
murmured:

“Ah! yes, I know.”

“What? you know!” said Bachelard angrily. “You know nothing at all, my
little fellow; no one knows anything. She is for yours truly. She is
neither to be seen nor touched. Hands off!” And, turning to Duveyrier,
he added:

“You will understand, sir, you who have feeling. It affects me so much
going there, that when I come away I feel quite young again. In short,
it is a cozy little nook for me, where I can recruit myself after all
those hussies. And, if you only knew, she is so polite and so fresh,
with a skin like a flower, and a figure not in the least thin, sir, but
as round and firm as a peach!”

The counselor’s red blotches were almost bleeding through the rush of
blood to his face. Trublot and Gueulin looked at the uncle; and they
felt a desire to slap him as they beheld him with his set of false
teeth, which were too white, and at the corners of which the saliva
trickled.

Bachelard became quite tender-hearted, and resumed, licking the brim of
his liquor glass with the tip of his tongue:

“After all, my sole dream is to make the child happy! But there, my
pot-belly tells me I am getting old; I’m like a father to her. I give
you my word! if I found a very good young fellow, I’d give her to him,
oh! in marriage, not otherwise.”

“You would make two happy ones,” murmured Duveyrier sentimentally.

It was almost stifling in the small apartment. A glass of chartreuse
that had been upset had made the tablecloth all sticky, and it was also
covered with cigar-ash. The gentlemen were in want of some fresh air.

“Would you like to see her?” abruptly asked the uncle, rising from his
seat.

They consulted one another with a glance. Well, yes, they were willing,
if it could afford him any pleasure; and their affected indifference hid
a gluttonous satisfaction at the thought of going and finishing their
dessert with the old fellow’s little one.

“Let’s get along, uncle! Which is the way?”

Bachelard became quite grave again, tortured by his ridiculously vain
longing to exhibit Fifi, and by his terror of being robbed of her. For
a moment he looked to the left, then to the right, in an anxious way. At
length he boldly said:

“Well! no, I won’t.”

And he obstinately adhered to his determination, without caring a straw
for Trublot’s chaff, nor even deigning to explain by some pretext
his sudden change of mind. They therefore had to turn their steps in
Clarisse’s direction. As it was a splendid evening, they decided to walk
all the way, with the hygienic idea of hastening their digestion. Then
they started off down the Rue de Richelieu, pretty steady on their legs,
but so full that they considered the pavements far too narrow.

The house in the Rue de la Cerisaie seemed asleep amidst the solitude
and the silence of the street. Duveyrier was surprised at not seeing
any lights in the third-floor windows. Trublot said, with a serious air,
that Clarisse had no doubt gone to bed to wait for them; or perhaps,
Gueulin added, she was playing a game of bézique in the kitchen with
her maid. They knocked. The gas on the staircase was burning with the
straight and immovable flame of a lamp in some chapel. Not a sound, not
a breath. But, as the four men passed before the room of the doorkeeper,
the latter hastily came out.

“Sir, sir, the key!”

Duveyrier stood stock-still on the first step.

“Is madame not there, then?” asked he.

“No, sir. And, wait a moment, you must take a candle with you.”

As he handed him the candlestick, the doorkeeper allowed quite a chuckle
of ferocious and vulgar jocosity to pierce through the exaggerated
respect depicted on his pallid countenance. Neither of the two young men
nor the uncle had said a word. It was in the midst of this silence,
and with bent backs, that they ascended the stairs in single file,
the interminable noise of their footsteps resounding up each mournful
flight. At their head, Duveyrier, who was puzzling himself trying
to understand, lifted his feet with the mechanical movement of a
somnambulist; and the candle, which he held with a trembling hand, cast
their four shadows on the wall, resembling in their strange ascent a
procession of broken puppets.

On the third floor, a faintness came over him, and he was quite unable
to find the key-hole. Trublot did him the service of opening the door.
The key turned in the lock with a sonorous and reverberating noise, as
though beneath the vaulted roof of some cathedral.

“Jupiter!” murmured he, “it doesn’t seem as if the place was inhabited.”

“It sounds empty,” said Bachelard.

“A little family vault,” added Gueulin.

They entered. Duveyrier passed first, holding high the candle. The
ante-room was empty, even the hat-pegs had disappeared. The drawing-room
and the parlor were also empty: not a stick of furniture, not a curtain
at the windows, not even a brass rod. Duveyrier stood as one petrified,
first looking down at his feet, then raising his eyes to the ceiling,
and then searchingly gazing at the walls, as though he had been seeking
the hole through which everything had disappeared.

“What a clear out!” Trublot could not help exclaiming.

“Perhaps the place is going to be done up,” observed Gueulin, without as
much as a smile. “Let us see the bed-room. The furniture may have been
moved in there.”

But the bed-room was also bare, with that ugly and chilly bareness of
plaster walls from which the paper has been torn off. Where the bedstead
had stood, the iron supports of the canopy, also removed, left gaping
holes; and, one of the windows having been left partly open, the
air from the street filled the apartment with the humidity and the
unsavoriness of a public square.

“My God! my God!” stuttered Duveyrier, at length able to weep, unnerved
by the sight of the place where the friction of the mattresses had
rubbed the paper off the wall.

Uncle Bachelard became quite paternal.

“Courage, sir!” he kept repeating. “The same thing happened to me, and I
did not die of it. Honor is safe, damn it all!”

The counselor shook his head, and went into the dressing-room, and then
into the kitchen. The evidence of the disaster increased. The piece of
American cloth behind the washstand in the dressing-room had been taken
down, and the hooks had been removed from the kitchen.

“No, that is too much, it is pure capriciousness!” said Gueulin, in
amazement. “She might have left the hooks.”

“I can’t stand this any longer, you know,” Trublot ended by declaring,
as they visited the drawing-room for the third time.

“Really! I would give ten sous for a chair.”

All four came to a halt, standing.

“When did you see her last?” asked Bachelard.

“Yesterday, sir!” exclaimed Duveyrier.

Gueulin wagged his head. By Jove! it had not taken long, it had been
neatly done. But Trublot uttered an exclamation. He had just caught
sight of a dirty collar and a damaged cigar on the mantelpiece.

“Do not complain,” said he, laughing, “she has left you a keepsake. It
is always something.”

Duveyrier looked at the collar with sudden emotion. Then he murmured:

“Twenty-five thousand francs’ worth of furniture, there was twenty-five
thousand francs’ worth! Well! no, no, it is not that which I regret!”

“You will not have the cigar?” interrupted Trublot. “Then, allow me to.
It has a hole in it, but I can stick a cigarette paper over that.”

He lighted it at the candle which the counselor was still holding, and,
letting himself drop down against the wall, he added:

“So much the worse! I must sit down a while on the floor. My legs will
not bear me any longer.”

“I beg of you,” at length said Duveyrier, “to explain to me where she
can possibly be.”

Bachelard and Gueulin looked at each other. It was a delicate matter.
However, the uncle came to a manly decision, and he told the poor fellow
everything, all Clarisse’s goings-on, her continual escapades, the
lovers she picked up behind his back, at each of their parties. She had
no doubt gone off with the last one, big Payan, that mason of whom
a Southern town wished to make an artist. Duveyrier listened to the
abominable story with an expression of horror. He allowed this cry of
despair to escape him:

“There is, then, no honesty left on earth!”

And suddenly opening his heart, he told them all he had done for her.

“Leave her alone!” exclaimed Bachelard, delighted with the counselor’s
misfortune, “she will humbug you again. There is nothing like virtue,
understand! It is far better to take a little one devoid of malice, as
innocent as the child just born. Then, there is no danger, one may sleep
in peace.”

Trublot meanwhile was smoking, leaning against the wall with his legs
stretched out. He was gravely reposing, the others had forgotten him.

“If you particularly want it, I can find the address for you,” said he.
“I know the maid.”

Duveyrier turned round, surprised at that voice which seemed to issue
from the boards; and, when he beheld him smoking all that remained of
Clarisse, puffing big clouds of smoke, in which he fancied he beheld the
twenty-five thousand francs’ worth of furniture evaporating, he made an
angry gesture and replied:

“No, she is unworthy of me. She must beg my pardon on her knees.”

“Hallo! here she is coming back!” said Gueulin, listening.

And some one was indeed walking in the ante-room, whilst a voice said:
“Well! what’s up? is every one dead?” And Octave appeared. He was quite
bewildered by the open doors and the empty rooms. But his amazement
increased still more when he beheld the four men in the midst of the
denuded drawing-room, one sitting on the floor, and the other three
standing up, and only lighted by the meager candle which the counselor
was holding, like a taper at church. A few words sufficed to inform him
of what had occurred.

“It isn’t possible!” cried he.

“Did they not tell you anything, then, down-stairs?” asked Gueulin.

“No, nothing at all; the doorkeeper quietly watched me come up. Ah! so
she’s gone! It does not surprise me. She had such queer hair and eyes!”

He asked some particulars, and stood talking a minute, forgetful of the
sad news which he had brought. Then, turning abruptly toward Duveyrier,
he said:

“By the way, it’s your wife who sent me to fetch you. Your father-in-law
is dying.”

“Ah!” simply observed the counselor.

“Old Vabre!” murmured Bachelard. “I expected as much.”

“Pooh! when one gets to the end of one’s reel!” remarked Gueulin,
philosophically.

“Yes, it’s best to take one’s departure,” added Trublot, in the act of
sticking a second cigarette paper round his cigar.

The gentlemen at length decided to leave the empty apartment. Octave
repeated he had given his word of honor that he would bring Duveyrier
back with him at once, no matter what state he was in. The latter
carefully shut the door, as though he had left his dead affections
there; but, down-stairs, he was overcome with shame, and Trublot had to
return the key to the doorkeeper. Then, outside on the pavement, there
was a silent exchange of hearty hand-shakes; and, directly the cab had
driven off with Octave and Duveyrier, Uncle Bachelard said to Gueulin
and Trublot, as they stood in the deserted street:

“Jove’s thunder! I must show her to you.”

For a minute past he had been stamping about, greatly excited by
the despair of that big noodle of a counselor, bursting with his own
happiness, with that happiness which he considered due to his own deep
malice, and which he could no longer contain.

“You know, uncle,” said Gueulin, “if it’s only to take us as far as the
door again, and then to leave us----”

“No, Jove’s thunder! you shall see her. It will please me. True, it’s
nearly midnight, but she shall get up if she’s in bed. You know, she’s
the daughter of a captain, Captain Menu, and she has a very respectable
aunt, born at Villeneuve, near Lille, on my word of honor! Messieurs
Mardienne Brothers, of the Rue Saint-Sulpice, will give her a character.
Ah! Jove’s thunder! we’re in need of it; you’ll see what virtue is!”

And he took hold of their arms, Gueulin on his right, Trublot on his
left, putting his best foot forward as he started off in quest of a cab,
to arrive there the sooner.

Meanwhile Octave briefly related to the counselor all he knew of
Monsieur Vabre’s attack, without hiding that Madame Duveyrier was
acquainted with the address of the Rue de la Cerraise. After a pause,
the counselor asked, in a doleful voice:

“Do you think she will forgive me?”

Octave remained silent. The cab continued to roll along, in the
obscurity lighted up every now and then by a ray from a gas-lamp.
Just as they were reaching their destination Duveyrier, tortured with
anxiety, put another question:

“The best thing for me to do for the present is to make it up with my
wife; do you not think so?”

“It would, perhaps, be wise,” replied the young man, obliged to answer.

Then, Duveyrier felt the necessity of regretting his father-in-law. He
was a man of great intelligence, with an incredible capacity for work.
However, they would, very likely, be able to set him on his legs again.
In the Rue de Choiseul, they found the street-door open, and quite
a group gathered before Monsieur Gourd’s room. But they held their
tongues, directly they caught sight of Duveyrier.

“Well?” inquired the latter.

“The doctor is applying mustard poultices to Monsieur Vabre,” replied
Hippolyte. “Oh! I had such difficulty to find him!”

Up-stairs in the drawing-room, Madame Duveyrier came forward to meet
them. She had cried a great deal, her eyes sparkled beneath the swollen
lids. The counselor, full of embarrassment, opened his arms; and he
embraced her as he murmured:

“My poor Clotilde!”

Surprised at this unusual display of affection, she drew back. Octave
had kept behind; but he heard the husband add, in a low voice:

“Forgive me, let us forget our grievances on this said occasion. You
see, I have come back to you, and for always. Ah! I am well punished!”

She did not reply, but disengaged herself. Then, resuming in Octave’s
presence her attitude of a woman who desires to ignore everything, she
said:

“I should not have disturbed you, my dear, for I know how important that
inquiry respect the Rue de Provence is. But I was all alone, I felt that
your presence was necessary. My poor father is lost. Go and see him: you
will find the doctor there.”

When Duveyrier had gone into the next room, she drew near to Octave,
who, so as not to appear to be listening to them, was standing in front
of the piano.

“Was he there?” asked she briefly.

“Yes, madame.”

“Then, what has happened? what is the matter with him?”

“The person has left him, madame, and taken all the furniture away with
her. I found him with nothing but a candle between the bare walls.”

Clothilde made a gesture of despair. She understood. An expression of
repugnance and discouragement appeared on her beautiful face. It was not
enough that she had lost her father, it seemed as though this misfortune
was also to serve as a pretext for a reconciliation with her husband!
She knew him well, he would be forever after her, now that there would
be nothing elsewhere to protect her; and, in her respect for every duty,
she trembled at the thought that she would be unable to refuse to submit
to the abominable service. For an instant, she looked at the piano.
Bitter tears came to her eyes, as she simply said to Octave:

“Thank you, sir.”

They both passed in turn into Monsieur Vabre’s bed-chamber. Duveyrier,
looking very pale, was listening to Doctor Juillerat, who was giving him
some explanations in a low voice. It was an attack of serous apoplexy;
the patient might last till the morrow, but there was not the slightest
hope of his recovery. Clotilde just at that moment entered the room; she
heard this giving over of the patient, and dropped into a chair, wiping
her eyes with her handkerchief, already soaked with tears, and twisted
up, and almost reduced to a pulp. She, however, found strength to ask
the doctor if her poor father would recover consciousness. The doctor
had his doubts; and, as though he had penetrated the object of the
question, he expressed the hope that Monsieur Vabre had long since put
his affairs in order.

“I presume the family knows what has happened,” said Doctor Juillerat.

“Well! no,” murmured Clotilde. “I received such a shock! My first
thought was to send Monsieur Mouret for my husband.”

Duveyrier gave her another glance. Now they understood each other. He
slowly approached the bed, and examined Monsieur Vabre, stretched out
in his corpse-like stiffness, and whose immovable face was streaked with
yellow blotches. One o’clock struck. The doctor talked of withdrawing,
for he had tried all the usual remedies, and could do nothing more. He
would call again early on the morrow. At length, he was going off with
Octave, when Madame Duveyrier called the latter back.

“We will wait till to-morrow,” said she, “you can send Berthe to me
under some pretext; I will also get Valérie to come, and they shall
break the news to my brothers. Ah! poor things, let them sleep in peace
this night! There is quite enough with our having to watch in tears.”

And she and her husband remained alone with the old man, whose death
rattle chilled the chamber.



CHAPTER XI.

When Octave went down on the morrow at eight o’clock, he was greatly
surprised to find the entire house acquainted with the attack of the
night before, and the desperate condition of the landlord. The house,
however, was not concerned about the patient: it was solely interested
in what he would leave behind him.

The Pichons were seated before some basins of chocolate in their little
dining-room. Jules called Octave in.

“I say, what a fuss there will be if he dies like that! We shall see
something funny. Do you know if he has made a will?”

The young man, without answering, asked them where they had heard the
news. Marie had learnt it at the baker’s; moreover, it crept from story
to story, and even to the end of the street by means of the servants.
Then, after slapping Lilitte, who was soaking her fingers in her
chocolate, the young woman observed in her turn:

“Ah! all that money! If he only thought of leaving us as many sous as
there are five franc pieces. But there is no fear of that!”

And, as Octave took his departure, she added:

“I have finished your books, Monsieur Mouret. Will you please take them
when convenient?”

He was hastening down-stairs, feeling anxious, as he recollected having
promised Madame Duveyrier to send Berthe to her before anything was
known of the matter, when, on the third floor, he came in contact with
Campardon, who was going out.

“Well!” said the latter, “so your employer is coming in for something.
I have heard that the old fellow has close upon six hundred thousand
francs, besides this property. You see, he spent nothing at the
Duveyriers’, and he had a good deal left of what he brought from
Versailles, without counting the twenty and odd thousand francs received
in rent from the house. Eh? it is a fine cake to share, when there are
only three to partake of it!”

Whilst talking thus, he continued to go down behind Octave. But, on the
second floor, they met Madame Juzeur, who was returning from seeing what
her little maid, Louise, could be doing of a morning, taking over an
hour to fetch four sous’ worth of milk. She entered naturally into the
conversation, being very well informed.

“It is not known how he has settled his affairs,” murmured she in her
gentle way. “There will perhaps be some bother.”

“Ah, well!” said the architect, gayly, “I should like to be in their
shoes. It would not take long. One makes three equal shares, each takes
his own, and there you are!”

Madame Juzeur leant over the balusters, then raised her head, and made
sure that no one else was on the stairs. At length, lowering her voice,
she observed:

“And if they did not find what they expected? There are rumors about.”

The architect opened his eyes wide with amazement. Then he shrugged his
shoulders. Pooh! mere gossip! Old Vabre was a miser who hid his savings
in worsted stockings. And he went off, as he had an appointment at
Saint-Roch with the Abbé Manduit.

“My wife complains of you,” said he to Octave, looking back, after going
down three stairs. “Call in and have a chat with her now and then.”

Madame Juzeur detained the young man a moment.

“And I, how you neglect me! I thought you loved me a little. When you
come, I will let you taste a liquor from the West Indies, oh! something
delicious!”

Octave at length entered the warehouse. The first person he beheld,
seated at the cashier’s desk, was Madame Josserand under arms, polished
up and laced, and her hair already done. Close beside her, Berthe,
who had no doubt come down in haste, in the charming deshabille of a
dressing-gown, appeared to be very excited. But they stopped talking on
catching sight of him, and the mother looked at him with a terrible eye.

“So, sir,” said she, “it is thus that you love the firm? You enter into
the plots of my daughter’s enemies.”

He wished to defend himself, and state the facts of the case. But she
prevented him from speaking, she accused him of having spent the night
with the Duveyriers, looking for the will, to insert all sorts of things
in it. And, as he laughed, asking what interest he could have had in
doing such a thing, she resumed:

“Your own interest, your own interest. In short! sir, you should have
hastened to inform us, as God was good enough to make you a witness
of the occurrence. When one thinks that, had it not been for me, my
daughter might still have been in ignorance of it! Yes, she would have
been despoiled, had I not run down-stairs the moment I heard the
news. Eh! your interest, your interest, sir, who knows? Though Madame
Duveyrier is very faded, yet some people, not over particular, may still
find her good enough, perhaps.”

“Oh! mamma!” said Berthe, “Clotilde, who is so virtuous!” But Madame
Josserand shrugged her shoulders pityingly.

“Pooh! you know very well people will do anything for money!” Octave
was obliged to relate to them all the circumstances of the attack.
They exchanged glances: as the mother said, there had evidently been
maneuvers. Clotilde was really too kind to wish to spare her relations’
emotions! However, they let the young man start on his work, though
still having their doubts as to his conduct in the matter. Their lively
explanation continued:

“And who will pay the fifty thousand francs agreed upon in the
contract?” said Madame Josserand. “We are not likely to see a single one
of them when he is dead and buried.”

“Oh! the fifty thousand francs!” murmured Berthe, in an embarrassed way.
“You know he only agreed, as we did, to pay ten thousand francs every
six months. The time is not up yet; the best thing is to wait.”

“Wait! wait till he comes back and brings them to you, I suppose! You
great blockhead, do you want to be robbed? No, no! you must demand
them at once out of the estate. As for us, we are still alive, thank
goodness! It is not known whether we shall pay or not; but with him it
is another thing; as he is dead, he must pay.”

And she made her daughter swear not to yield, for she had never given
any one the right to take her for a fool.

“Go up too!” she ended by exclaiming, in a cry from her heart: “Auguste
is too weak; they are sure to be taking him in again!” Then Berthe went
off up-stairs. Octave, who was arranging the display in the window,
had listened to what they said. When he found himself alone with Madame
Josserand, and saw her moving in the direction of the door, he asked
her, in the hope of a holiday, whether it would not be proper to close
the warehouse.

“Whatever for?” inquired she. “Wait till he is dead. It is not worth
while losing a day’s sale.”

Then, as he folded a remnant of poppy-colored silk, she added, to soften
the harshness of her words:

“Only, you may as well, I think, not put any red in the window.”

Up on the first floor, Berthe found Auguste with his father. The room
had in no way changed since the day before; it was still dampish and
silent, save for the same long and painful death-rattle. The old man
on the bed continued perfectly rigid, in a complete annihilation of all
feeling and movement.

“Ah! my dear, what a frightful visitation!” said Clotilde, going up to
and embracing Berthe.

“Why not have informed us of it?” asked the latter, with her mother’s
affected pout. “We were there to help you to bear it.” Auguste, with
a glance, begged her to keep silent. The moment for quarreling had not
arrived. They could wait. Doctor Juillerat, who had already been once,
was to call again; but he still gave no hope; the patient would not live
through the day. Auguste was informing his wife of this, when Théophile
and Valérie entered in their turn. Clotilde at once advanced to meet
them, and repeated, as she embraced Valérie:

“What a frightful visitation, my dear!”

But Théophile was in a state of great excitement. “So, now,” said he,
without even lowering his voice, “when one’s father is dying one only
hears of it through the charcoal dealer. Did you, then, require time to
rifle his pockets?”

Duveyrier rose up indignantly. But Clotilde motioned him aside, whilst
she answered her brother very gently:

“Unhappy man! is our father’s death agony not even sacred to you? Look
at him; behold your work! yes, it is you who have brought him to this,
by refusing to pay your overdue rent.”

Valérie burst out laughing.

“Come,” said she, “you are not speaking seriously.”

“What! not speaking seriously!” resumed Clotilde, filled with
indignation. “You know how much he liked to collect his rents. Had you
really wished to kill him, you could not have acted in a better way.”

And they came to high words; they reciprocally accused one another of
wishing to lay hands on the estate, when Auguste, still sullen and calm,
requested them to recollect where they were.

“Keep quiet! You have plenty of time. It is not decent at such a
moment.”

Then the others, admitting the justice of this observation, settled
themselves around the bed. A deep silence ensued; again nothing but the
death rattle was heard in the moist atmosphere of the room. Berthe and
Auguste were at the dying man’s feet; Valérie and Théophile, being the
last comers, had been obliged to seat themselves at the table, some
distance off; whilst Clotilde was at the head of the bed, with her
husband behind her; and she had pushed her son Gustave, whom the old man
adored, close up against the edge of the mattresses. They now all looked
at one another, without exchanging a word. But the bright eyes, the
tightly-compressed lips, told of the hidden thoughts, the surmises full
of anxiety and irritation, which were passing in the pale-faced heads of
those next-of-kin, with their red and swollen eyelids. The sight of the
collegian, so close to the bed, especially exasperated the two young
couples; for it was self-evident that the Duveyriers were counting
on Gustave’s presence to influence the grandfather’s affections if he
recovered consciousness.

Moreover, this maneuver was a proof that in all probability no will
existed; and the Vabres glanced covertly at the old iron safe which the
retired notary had brought with him from Versailles and had had fixed in
the wall of his bed-chamber. He had a mania for shutting up all sorts of
things inside it. No doubt the Duveyriers had hastened to ransack this
safe during the night. Théophile had the idea of laying a trap for them
to compel them to speak.

“I say,” he at length went and whispered in the counselor’s ear,
“suppose we send for the notary. Papa may wish to alter his will.”

Duveyrier did not at first hear. As he felt excessively bored in that
room, he had allowed his thoughts all through the night to revert to
Clarisse. The wisest thing would decidedly be to make it up with his
wife; but then the other was so funny, when she threw her chemise over
her head, with the gesture of a street-arab; and with his vague glance
fixed on the dying man, he still had visions of her, and would have
given everything to have had her with him again. Théophile was obliged
to repeat his question.

“I have questioned Monsieur Renandin,” at length answered the counselor
in a bewildered way. “There is no will.”

“But here?”

“No more here than at the notary’s.”

Théophile looked at Auguste; was it not sufficiently evident? the
Duveyriers had searched everything. Clotilde saw the glance, and was
greatly irritated with her husband. What was the matter with him? was
grief sending him to sleep? And she added:

“Papa has no doubt done what he thought right. We shall learn it only
too soon, heaven knows!”

Meanwhile, the hours passed away. At eleven o’clock they had a
diversion, Doctor Juillerat again calling. The patient’s condition was
becoming worse and worse, it was now even doubtful whether he would be
able to recognize his children before dying. And the sobbing started
afresh when Clémence announced the Abbe Mand-uit. Clotilde, who rose to
meet him, was the first to receive his consolations. He appeared to be
deeply affected by the family visitation; he had an encouraging word
for each. Then, with much tact, he talked of the rites of religion,
insinuating that they should not let that soul pass away without the
succor of the Church.

“I had thought of it,” murmured Clotilde.

But Théophile raised objections. The father was not at all religious;
he had at one time very advanced ideas, for he was a reader of
Voltaire’s works; in short, the best thing was to do nothing, as they
were unable to consult him. In the heat of the discussion, he even
added:

“It is as though you brought the sacrament to that piece of furniture.”

The three women compelled him to leave off. They were all trembling
with emotion, and said that the priest was right, whilst they excused
themselves for not having sent for him before, through the confusion in
which the catastrophe had plunged them. Monsieur Vabre would certainly
have consented had he been able to speak, for he had a horror of
acting different to other people. Moreover, the ladies would take the
responsibility on their own shoulders.

“It should be done, if only on account of the neighbors,” repeated
Clotilde.

“No doubt,” said the Abbé Manduit, who hastened to give his approval. “A
man of your father’s position should set a good example.”

Auguste had no opinion either way. But Duveyrier, aroused from his
recollections of Clarisse, whose way of putting on her stockings with
one leg in the air he was just then thinking of, energetically demanded
the sacraments. They were absolutely necessary; not a member of the
family should die without them. Doctor Juillerat, who had discreetly
moved on one side, hiding his freethinker’s disdain, then went up to
the priest, and said familiarly to him, in a whisper, the same as to a
colleague often encountered under similar circumstances:

“Be quick; you have no time to lose.”

The priest hastened to take his departure. He announced that he would
bring the sacrament and the extreme unction, so as to be prepared for
every emergency. And Théophile, in his obstinacy, murmured:

“Ah, well! so dying people are now made to receive the communion in
spite of themselves!”

But they all at once experienced a great emotion. On regaining her
place, Clotilde had found the dying man with his eyes wide open. She
could not repress a faint cry; the others hastened to the bedside; and
the old fellow’s glance slowly wandered round the circle, without the
least movement of his head. Doctor Juillerat, with an air of surprise,
came and bent over his patient, to follow this last crisis.

“Father, it is us; do you know us?” asked Clotilde.

Monsieur Vabre looked at her fixedly; then his lips moved, but not a
sound came from them. They were all pushing one another, wishing to
secure his last word. Valérie, who found herself right at the rear, and
obliged therefore to stand on tip-toe, said, harshly:

“You are stifling him. Do move away from him. If he desired anything, no
one would be able to know.”

The others had to draw on one side. And Monsieur Vabre’s eyes were
indeed looking round the room.

“He wants something, that is certain,” murmured Berthe.

“Here’s Gustave,” said Clotilde. “You see him, do you not? He has come
expressly from school to embrace you. Kiss your grandfather, my child.”

As the youngster drew back, frightened, she kept him there with her arm,
whilst she waited a smile on the dying man’s distorted features. But
Auguste, who had been watching his eyes, declared that he was looking at
the table; no doubt he wished to write. This caused quite a shock. All
tried to be first. They brought the table to the bedside, and fetched
some paper, an inkstand, and a pen. Then they raised him, propping him
up with three pillows. The doctor gave his consent to all this with a
simple blink of the eyes.

“Give him the pen,” said Clotilde, quivering, and without leaving go of
Gustave, whom she continued to hold toward him.

Then came a solemn moment. The relations, pressed round the bed, awaited
anxiously. Monsieur Vabre, who did not appear to recognize any one, had
let the penholder drop from his fingers. For a moment his eyes wandered
over the table, on which was the oak box full of tickets. Then, slipping
from off his pillows, and falling forward like a piece of rag, he
stretched out his arm in a final effort, and, plunging his hand among
the tickets, he dabbled about in the happy manner of a baby playing with
something dirty. He brightened up, and wished to speak, but he could
only lisp one syllable, ever the same, one of those syllables into which
brats in swaddling-clothes put a whole host of sensations.

“Ga--ga--ga--ga-----”

It was to the work of his life, to his great statistical study, that he
was bidding good-bye. Suddenly his head rolled over. He was dead.

“I expected as much,” murmured the doctor, who, seeing how scared the
relations were, carefully laid him out, and closed his eyes.

Was it possible? Auguste had removed the table; they all remained
chilled and dumb. Soon their sobs burst forth. Well! as there was
nothing more to hope for, they would manage all the same to share the
fortune. And Clotilde, after hastening to send Gustave away, to spare
him the frightful spectacle, gave free vent to her tears, her head
leaning against Berthe, who was sobbing the same as Valérie. Standing at
the window, Théophile and Auguste were roughly rubbing their eyes. But
Duveyrier, especially, exhibited a most extraordinary amount of grief,
stifling heart-rending sobs in his handkerchief. No, really, he could
not live without Clarisse; he would rather die at once, like the other
one there; and the loss of his mistress, coming in the midst of all this
mourning, caused him immense bitterness.

“Madame,” announced Clémence, “here are the sacraments.”

Abbé Manduit appeared on the threshold. Behind his shoulder, one caught
a glimpse of the face full of curiosity of a boy chorister. On beholding
the display of grief, the priest questioned the doctor with a glance,
whilst the latter extended his arms, as though to say it was not his
fault. So, after mumbling a few prayers, Abbé Mand uit withdrew with an
air of embarrassment, taking his paraphernalia along with him.

“It is a bad sign,” said Clémence to the other servants, standing in
a group at the door of the ante-room. “The sacraments are not to be
brought for nothing. You will see they will be back in the house before
another year goes by.”

Monsieur Vabre’s funeral did not take place till the day after
the morrow. Duveyrier, all the same, had inserted in the circulars
announcing his demise, the words, “provided with the sacraments of the
Church.”

As the warehouse did not open on that day, Octave was free. This holiday
delighted him, as, for a long time past, he had wished to put his room
straight, alter the position of some of the furniture, and arrange his
few books in a little bookcase he had bought second-hand. He had risen
earlier than usual, and was just finishing what he was about toward
eight o’clock on the morning of the funeral, when Marie knocked at the
door. She had brought him back a heap of books.

“As you do not come for them,” said she, “I am delighted to take the
trouble to return them to you.”

But she blushingly refused to enter, shocked at the idea of being in
a young man’s room. Their intimate relations had, moreover, completely
ceased, in quite a natural manner, because he had not returned to her.
And she remained quite as affectionate with him, always greeting him
with a smile whenever they met.

Octave was very merry that morning. He wished to tease her.

“So it is Jules who won’t let you come into my room?” he kept saying.
“How do you get on with Jules now? Is he amiable? Yes, you know what I
mean. Answer now!”

She laughed, and was not at all scandalized.

“Why, of course! whenever you take him out, you treat him to vermouth,
and tell him things which send him home like a madman. Oh I he is too
amiable. You know, I don’t ask for so much. Still, I prefer it should
take place at home than elsewhere, that’s very certain.”

She became serious again, and added:

“Here, I have brought you back your Balzac, I was not able to finish it.
It’s too sad. That gentleman has nothing but disagreeable things to tell
one!”

When Octave was dressed, he remembered his promise to go and see Madame
Campardon. He had two good hours to while away, the funeral being timed
for eleven o’clock, and he thought of utilizing his morning in making a
few calls in the house. Rose received him in bed: he apologized, fearing
that he disturbed her; but she herself called him in. They saw so little
of him, and she was so delighted at having some one to talk to.

“Ah! my dear child,” declared she at once, “it is I who ought to be
below, nailed up between four planks!”

Yes, the landlord was very lucky, he had finished with existence. And
Octave, surprised at finding her a prey to such melancholy, asked her if
she felt worse.

“No, thank you. It is always the same. Only there are times when I have
had enough of it. Achille has been obliged to have a bed put up in his
work-room, because it annoyed me whenever he moved in the night. And
you know that Gasparine has yielded to our entreaties, and has left
the drapery establishment. I am very grateful to her, she nurses me
so tenderly! Ah! I could no longer live were it not for all these kind
affections around me!”

Just then, Gasparine, with her submissive air of a poor relation, fallen
to the rank of a servant, brought her a cup of coffee and some bread
and butter. She helped her to raise herself, propped her up against some
cushions, and served her on a little tray covered with a napkin. And
Rose, dressed in a little loose embroidered jacket, ate with a hearty
appetite, amidst the linen, edged with lace. She was quite fresh,
looking younger than ever, and very pretty, with her white skin, and
short, fair, curly hair.

“Oh! the stomach is all right, it is not the stomach that is ailing,”
 she kept saying, as she soaked her slices of bread and butter.

Two tears dropped into her coffee. Then Gasparine scolded her.

“If you cry, I shall call Achille. Are you not pleased? are you not
sitting there like a queen?”

When Madame Campardon had finished, and she again found herself alone
with Octave, she was quite consoled. Out of coquetry, she again returned
to the subject of death, but with the gentle gayety of a woman idling
away the morning between her warm sheets. Well! she would go off all the
same, when her turn came; only, they were right, she was not unhappy,
she could let herself live; for, in point of fact, they spared her all
the main cares of life.

Then, as the young man rose to leave, she added:

“Now, do try and come oftener? Amuse yourself well, don’t let the
funeral make you too sad. One dies a trifle every day, the thing is to
get used to it.”

It was the little maid Louise who opened the door to Octave at Madame
Juzeur’s, on the same landing. She ushered him into the drawing-room,
looked at him a moment as she laughed in her bewildered sort of way,
and then ended by stating that her mistress was just finishing dressing.
Madame Juzeur appeared almost at once, dressed in black, and looking
gentler and more refined than ever in her mourning.

“I felt sure you would call this morning,” sighed she with a weary air.
“All night long I have been dreaming and seeing you. It is impossible to
sleep, you understand, with that corpse in the house!”

And she admitted that she had got up three times in the night to look
under the furniture.

“But you should have called me!” said the young man, gallantly. “Two in
a bed are never frightened.”

She assumed a charming air of shame.

“Hold your tongue, it’s naughty!”

And she held her open hand over his lips. He was naturally obliged to
kiss it. Then she spread the fingers out, laughing the while as though
being tickled. But he, excited by this play, sought to push matters
farther. He had caught hold of her, and was pressing her against his
breast, without her making the least attempt to free herself.

In her determination there was a sort of jesuitical reserve, a fear of
the confessional, a certainty of having her minor sins forgiven,
whilst the great one would cause her no end of unpleasantness with her
spiritual director. Then, there were other unavowed sentiments, her
honor and self-esteem blended together, the coquetry of always having
the advantage of men by never satisfying them, and a shrewd
personal enjoyment in being smothered with kisses, without any after
consequences. She liked this better, and she stuck to it; not a man
could flatter himself of having succeeded with her, since her husband’s
cowardly desertion. And she was a respectable woman!

“No, sir; not one! Ah! I can hold up my head, I can! What a number of
wretched women, in my position, would have misconducted themselves!”

She pushed him gently aside, and rose from the sofa.

“Leave me. It worries me so much, does that corpse downstairs. It seems
to me that the whole house smells of it.”

Meanwhile the time for the funeral was approaching. She wished to be at
the church beforehand, so as not to see all the funeral trappings. But,
while escorting him to the door, she recollected having mentioned her
liquor; she therefore made him come in again, and fetched the bottle and
a couple of glasses herself. It was a very sweet cream, with a perfume
of flowers. When she had drank of it, a greediness, like that of a
little girl, gave an air of languid delight to her face. She could have
lived on sugar; vanilla and rose-scented sweeties had the same effect on
her as an amorous caress.

“It will sustain us,” said she.

And, when he kissed her on the mouth in the ante-room, she closed her
eyes. Their sugary lips seemed to be melting like sweetmeats.

It was close upon eleven o’clock. The coffin had not been brought down
for exhibition, as the undertaker’s men; after wasting their time at a
neighboring wine shop, had not finished putting up the hangings. Octave
went to have a look out of curiosity. The porch was already closed in
at the back by a large black curtain, but the men had still to fix
the hangings over the door. And outside on the pavement a group of
maid-servants were gossiping with their noses in the air; whilst
Hippolyte, dressed in deep mourning, hastened on the work with a
dignified air.

Then Madame Gourd, who had remained in her arm-chair on account of her
poor legs, rose painfully on her feet. As she was quite unable to get
even as far as the church, Monsieur Gourd had told her to be sure and
salute the landlord’s corpse when it passed their room. It was a matter
of duty. She went to the door with a mourning cap on her head, and
curtesied as the coffin went by.

At Saint-Roch, Doctor Juillerat made a show of not going inside during
the ceremony. There was, however, a tremendous crowd, and quite a group
of men preferred to remain on the steps. The weather was very mild--a
superb June day. And, as they were unable to smoke, their conversation
turned upon politics. The principal door was left open, and at moments
the sound of the organs issued from the church, which was draped in
black and filled with lighted tapers, looking like so many stars.

“You know that Monsieur Thiers will stand for our district next year,”
 announced Léon Josserand, in his grave way.

“Ah!” said the doctor. “Of course you will not vote for him--you are a
Republican?”

The young man, whose opinions cooled down the more Madame Dambreville
introduced him into good society, curtly answered:

“Why not? He is the declared adversary of the Empire.”

Then a heated discussion ensued. Léon talked of tactics, whilst Doctor
Juillerat stuck to principles. According to the latter, the middle
classes had had their day; they were an obstacle in the road of the
Revolution; now that they had acquired property, they barred the future
with greater obstinacy and blindness than the old nobility.

“You are afraid of everything; you go in for the very worst reaction the
moment you fancy yourself threatened!”

At this Campardon flew into a passion.

“I, sir, have been a Jacobin and an atheist like you. But, thank heaven!
reason came to me. No, I will not even stoop to your Monsieur Thiers. A
blunderhead--a man who amuses himself with chimeras!”

However, all the Liberals present--Monsieur Josserand, Octave, Trublot
even, who did not care a straw, declared that they would vote
for Monsieur Thiers. The official candidate was a great chocolate
manufacturer of the Rue Saint-Honoré, Monsieur Dewinck, whom they
chaffed immensely. This Monsieur Dewinck had not even the support of the
clergy, who were uneasy at his relations with the Tuileries. Campardon,
decidedly gone over to the priests, greeted his name with reserve. Then,
suddenly changing the subject, he exclaimed:

“Look here! the bullet which wounded your Garibaldi in the foot ought to
have pierced his heart!”

And, so as not to be seen any longer in the company of these gentlemen,
he entered the church, where the Abbé Manduit’s shrill voice was
responding to the lamentations of the chanters.

“He sleeps there now,” murmured the doctor, shrugging his shoulders.
“Ah! what a clean sweep ought to be made of it all!” The Roman question
interested him immensely. Then, as Léon reminded them of the words of
the Cabinet Minister to the Senate that the Empire had sprung from the
Revolution, only in order to keep it within bounds, they returned to
the coming elections. All were agreed upon the necessity of giving the
Emperor a lesson; but they were beginning to be troubled with anxiety,
they were already divided respecting the candidates, whose names gave
rise to visions of the red specter at night time. Close to them Monsieur
Gourd, dressed as correctly as a diplomatist, listened with supreme
contempt to what they were saying; he was for the powers that be, pure
and simple.

The service was drawing to a close; a long, melancholy wail which issued
from the depths of the church, silenced them.

“_Requiescat in pace!_”

“_Amen!_”

Whilst the body was being lowered into the grave at the Père-Lachaise
cemetery, Trublot, who had not let go of Octave’s arm, saw him exchange
another smile with Madame Juzeur.

“Ah! yes,” murmured he, “the very unhappy little woman. Anything you
like except that!”

Octave started. What! Trublot also! The latter made a gesture of
disdain: no, not he, one of his friends. And, moreover, everybody who
cared for that kind of thing.

“Excuse me,” added he. “As the old fellow’s now stowed away, I will go
and render Duveyrier an account of something which I undertook to see
after for him.”

The relations were retiring, silent and doleful. Then Trublot detained
the counselor behind the others, to tell him that he had seen Clarisse’s
maid; but he did not know the new address, the maid having left Clarisse
the day before she moved out, after a battle royal. It was the last
hope which had flown. Duveyrier buried his face in his handkerchief, and
rejoined the other relations.

That very evening quarrels commenced, The family found itself in the
presence of a disaster. Monsieur Vabre, with that skeptical carelessness
which notaries occasionally display, had not left any will. All the
furniture was ransacked in vain, and the worst was that there was not a
rap of the expected six or seven hundred thousand francs, neither
money, title-deeds nor shares; they discovered merely seven hundred and
thirty-four francs in ten-sou pieces, the hoard of a silly, paralytic
old man. And undeniable traces, a note-book covered with figures,
letters from stockbrokers, opened the eyes of the next-of-kin, pale with
passion, to the old fellow’s secret vice, an ungovernable passion for
gambling, an unskillful and desperate craving for stock-jobbing, which
he hid behind the innocent mania for his great statistical work. All had
been engulfed, the money he had saved at Versailles, the rents of his
house, even the sous he had sneaked from his children; and, during the
latter years, he had gone to the point of mortgaging the house for
one hundred and fifty thousand francs, at three different periods.
The family stood thunder-stricken before the famous safe, in which it
thought the fortune was locked up, but which simply contained a host of
singular things, broken scraps picked up in the various rooms, pieces
of old iron, fragments of glass, ends of ribbon, jumbled amidst wrecked
toys stolen from young Gustave in bygone days.

Then the most violent recriminations were indulged in. They called the
old fellow a swindler. It was disgraceful to fritter away his money
thus, like a sly person who does not care a straw for any one, and who
acts an infamous comedy in order to get people to continue to coddle
him. The Duveyriers were inconsolable at having boarded him for twelve
years, without once asking him for the eighty thousand francs of
Clotilde’s dowry, of which they had only had ten thousand francs. It was
always ten thousand francs, rejoined Théophile, who had not had a sou
of the fifty thousand promised him at the time of his marriage. But
Auguste, in his turn, complained more bitterly still, reproaching his
brother with having at least secured the interest of the money during
three months; whilst he would never have a shadow of the fifty thousand
francs inserted in his contract. And Berthe, incited by her mother, said
some very unpleasant things with an indignant air at having entered a
dishonest family. And Valérie, bemoaning the rent she had so long been
stupid enough to pay the old chap, for fear of being disinherited, could
not stomach it, regretting the money as though it had been used for an
immoral purpose, employed in supporting debauchery.

For fully a fortnight all these stories formed an exciting topic of
conversation to the occupants of the house. The long and short of it
was that there remained nothing but the building, estimated to be worth
three hundred thousand francs; when the mortgage had been paid off,
there would be about half that sum to divide between Monsieur Vabre’s
three children. It was fifty thousand francs for each; a meager
consolation, but they would have to make the most of it. Théophile and
Auguste had already decided what they would do with their shares. It was
settled that the building should be sold. Duveyrier undertook all the
arrangements in his wife’s name. Then, on the day of the sale, after
five or six bids, Maître Renandin abruptly knocked the house down to
Duveyrier for the sum of one hundred and forty-nine thousand francs.
There was not even sufficient to pay the mortgage. It was the final blow.

One never knew the particulars of the terrible scene which was enacted
that same evening at the Duveyriers’. The solemn walls of the house
stifled the sounds. Théophile most probably called his brother-in-law a
scoundrel: he publicly accused him of having fought over the notary, by
promising to get him appointed a justice of the peace. As for Auguste,
he simply talked of the assize-court, where he wished to drag Maître
Renandin, whose rogueries were the talk of the neighborhood. But, though
one always ignored how it was that the relatives got to the point of
knocking each other about, as rumor said they did, one heard the last
words exchanged on the threshold, words which had an unpleasant ring in
the respectable severity of the staircase.

“Dirty scoundrel!” shouted Auguste. “You sentence people to penal
servitude who have not done nearly so much!”

Théophile, who came out last, held the door, whilst he almost choked
with rage and coughing. .

“Robber! robber! Yes, robber! And you, too, Clotilde; do you hear?
robber!”

He swung the door to so roughly that all the other doors on the
staircase shook. Monsieur Gourd, who was listening, was quite alarmed.
He darted a searching glance at the different floors, but he merely
caught sight of Madame Juzeur’s sharp profile. Arching his back, he
returned on tiptoe to his room, where he resumed his dignified demeanor.
One could deny everything. He, delighted, considered the new landlord in
the right.

A few days later there was a reconciliation between Auguste and his
sister. The whole house was amazed. Octave had been seen to go to the
Duveyriers. The counselor, feeling anxious, had agreed not to charge
any rent for the warehouse for five years, thus shutting one of the
grumbler’s mouths. When Théophile learnt this, he went with his wife and
had another row, this time with his brother. So he had sold himself; he
had gone over to the bandits! But Madame Josserand happened to be in the
shop, and he was soon shut up. She plainly advised Valérie not to sell
herself any more than her daughter had sold herself. And Valérie had to
beat a retreat, exclaiming:

“Then, we’re the only ones who get nothing? May the devil take me if I
pay my rent! I’ve a lease. The convict won’t dare to turn us out. And
as for you, my little Berthe, we’ll see one day what it’ll cost to have
you!”

The doors banged again. The two families were sworn enemies for life.
Octave, who had rendered some services, was present, and entered into
the private affairs of the family. Berthe almost fainted in his arms,
whilst Auguste was ascertaining whether the customers had overheard
anything. Even Madame Josserand confided in the young man. She,
moreover, continued to judge the Duveyriers very severely.

“The rent is something,” said she. “But I want the fifty thousand
francs.”

“Of course, if you paid yours,” Berthe ventured to observe.

The mother did not appear to understand.

“You hear me, I want them! No, no; he must be laughing too much in his
grave, that old scoundrel Vabre. I will not let him boast of having
taken me in. What rascals there are in the world! to promise money one
does not possess! Oh! they will pay you, my daughter, or I will dig him
up again and spit in his face!”



CHAPTER XII.

One morning that Berthe happened to be at her mother’s, Adèle came and
said with a scared look that Monsieur Saturnin was there with a man.
Doctor Chassagne, the director of the Asile des Moulineaux, had already
warned the parents several times that he would he unable to keep their
son, for he did not consider him sufficiently mad. And, hearing of
the signature which Berthe had obtained from her brother for the three
thousand francs, dreading being compromised in the matter, he suddenly
sent him home to his family.

It created quite a scare. Madame Josserand, who was afraid of being
strangled, wished to argue with the man. But all she could get out of
him was:

“The director told me to inform you that when one is sufficiently
sensible to give money to one’s parents, one is sensible enough to live
with them.”

“But he is mad, sir! he will murder us.”

“Anyhow, he is not too mad to sign his name!” answered the man, going
off.

However, Saturnin came home very quietly, with his hands in his pockets,
just as though he had returned from a stroll in the Tuileries gardens.
He did not even allude to where he had been staying. He embraced his
father, who was crying, and likewise heartily kissed his mother and his
sister Hortense, whilst they both trembled tremendously. Then, when he
caught sight of Berthe, he was indeed delighted, and caressed her with
all the pretty ways of a little boy. She at once took advantage of
his affected and confused condition to inform him of her marriage. He
displayed no anger, not appearing at first to understand, as though he
had forgotten his former fits of passion. But when she wished to return
to her home down-stairs, he began to howl; he did not mind whether she
was married or not, so long as she remained where she was, always with
him and close to him. Then, seeing her mother’s frightened looks as she
ran and locked herself in another room, it occurred to Berthe to take
Saturnin to live with her. They would be able to find him something
to do in the basement of the warehouse, though it were only to tie up
parcels.

That same evening, Auguste, in spite of his evident repugnance, acceded
to Berthe’s desire. They had scarcely been married three months and
a secret disunion was already cropping up between them; it was the
collision of two different constitutions and educations, a surly,
fastidious and passionless husband, and a lively woman who had been
reared in the hot-house of false Parisian luxury, who played fast and
loose with existence, so as to enjoy it all alone like a spoiled and
selfish child.

The husband’s main revolts were on account of these too glaring
costumes, the usefulness of which he was unable to see. Why dress
himself thus above one’s means and position in life? What need was
there to spend in such a manner the money that was so necessary for his
business? He generally said that when one sold silks to other women, one
should wear woolens oneself.

As a result of matrimony, Berthe was gradually acquiring her mother’s
build. She was growing fatter, and resembled her more than she had ever
done before. She was no longer the girl who did not seem to care about
anything and who quietly submitted to the maternal cuffs; she had grown
into a woman, who was rapidly becoming more obstinate every day, and
who had formed the intention of making everything bow to her pleasure.
Auguste looked at her at times, astounded at such a sudden change. At
first, she had felt a vain joy in throning herself at the cashier’s
desk, in a studied costume of elegant simplicity. Then she had soon
wearied of trade, suffering from constant want of exercise, threatening
to fall ill, yet resigning herself to it all the same, but with the
attitude of a victim who sacrifices her life to the prosperity of her
home. And, from that moment, a struggle at every hour of the day had
commenced between her and her husband. She shrugged her shoulders behind
his back, the same as her mother did behind her father’s; she went again
through all the family quarrels which had disturbed her youth, treating
her husband as the gentleman who had simply got to pay, overwhelming him
with that contempt for the male sex which was, so to say, the basis of
her education.

“Ah! mamma was right!” she would exclaim after each of their quarrels.

Yet, in the early days, Auguste had tried to please her. He liked peace,
he longed for a quiet little home, he already had his whims like an old
man, and had got thoroughly into the habits of his chaste and economical
bachelor life. His old lodging on the “entresol” no longer sufficing, he
had taken the suite of apartments on the second floor, overlooking the
courtyard, and thought himself sufficiently insane in spending five
thousand francs on furniture. Berthe, at first delighted with her room
upholstered in thuja and blue silk, had shown the greatest contempt for
it after visiting a friend who had just married a banker. Then quarrels
arose with respect to the servants. The young woman, used to the waiting
of poor semi-idiotic girls, who had their bread even cut for them,
insisted on their doing things which set them crying in their kitchens
for afternoons together. Auguste, not particularly tender-hearted as a
rule, having imprudently gone and consoled one, had to turn her out of
the place an hour later on account of madame’s tears, and her request
that he should, choose between her and that creature.

Afterward a wench had come who appeared to have made up her mind to
stop. Her name was Rachel, and she was probably a Jewess, but she denied
it, and let no one know whence she had sprung. She was about twenty-five
years old, with harsh features, a large nose, and very black hair. At
first, Berthe declared that she would not allow her to stop two days;
then, in presence of her dumb obedience, her air of understanding
and saying nothing, she had little by little allowed herself to be
satisfied, as though she had yielded in her turn, and was keeping her
for her good qualities, and also through an unavowed fear. Rachel, who
submitted without a murmur to the hardest tasks, accompanied by dry
bread, took possession of the establishment, with her eyes open and her
mouth shut, like a servant of foresight biding the fatal and foreseen
hour when her mistress would be able to refuse her nothing.

Meanwhile, from the ground floor of the house to the servants’ story,
a great calm had succeeded to the emotions caused by Monsieur Vabre’s
sudden death. The staircase had again become as peaceful as a church;
not a breath issued from behind the mahogany doors, which were forever
closed upon the profound respectability of the various homes. There
was a rumor that Duveyrier had become reconciled with his wife. As for
Valérie and Théophile, they spoke to no one, but passed by stiff and
dignified. Never before had the house exhaled a more strict severity of
principles. Monsieur Gourd, in his cap and slippers, wandered about it
with the air of a solemn beadle.

One evening, toward eleven o’clock, Auguste continued going to the door
of the warehouse, stretching his head out, and glancing up and down the
street. An impatience which had increased little by little was agitating
him. Berthe, whom her mother and sister had fetched away during dinner,
without even giving her time to finish her dessert, had not returned
home after an absence of more than three hours, and in spite of her
distinct promise to be back by closing time.

“Ah! good heavens! good heavens!” he ended by saying, clasping his hands
together, and making his fingers crack.

And he stood still before Octave, who was ticketing some remnants of
silk on a counter. At that late hour of the evening, no customer ever
appeared in that out-of-the-way end of the Rue de Choiseul. The shop was
merely kept open to put things straight.

“Surely you know where the ladies have gone?” inquired Auguste of the
young man.

The latter raised his eyes with an innocent and surprised air.

“But, sir, they told you. To a lecture.”

“A lecture, a lecture,” grumbled the husband. “Their lecture was over at
ten o’clock. Respectable women should be home at this hour!”

Then he resumed his walk, casting side glances at his assistant, whom he
suspected of being an accomplice of the ladies, or at least of excusing
them. Octave, also feeling anxious, slyly observed him. He had never
before seen him so nervously excited. What was it all about? And, as
he turned his head, he caught sight of Saturnin at the other end of the
shop cleaning a looking-glass with a sponge dipped in spirit. Little by
little, the family set the madman to do housework, so that he might
at least earn his food. But that evening Saturnin’s eyes sparkled
strangely. He crept behind Octave, and said, in a very low voice:

“Beware of him. He has found a paper. Yes, he has a paper in his pocket.
Look out, if it’s anything of yours!”

And he quickly resumed rubbing his glass. Octave did not understand. For
some time past the madman had been displaying a singular affection for
him, like the caress of an animal yielding to an instinct. Why did he
speak to him of a paper? He had written no letter to Berthe; as yet
he only ventured to look at her with tender glances, watching for an
opportunity of making her some trifling present. It was a tactic he had
adopted after deep reflection.

“Ten minutes past eleven!--damnation! damnation!” suddenly exclaimed
Auguste, who never swore.

But at that very moment the ladies returned. Berthe had on a delicious
dress, of pink silk, embroidered over with white jet, whilst her sister,
always in blue, and her mother, always in mauve, still wore their
glaring and laboriously obtained costumes, altered every season. Madame
Josserand, broad and imposing, entered first, so as at once to nip in
the hud the reproaches which all three had just foreseen, at a council
held at the end of the street, her son-in-law would begin to make. She
even deigned to explain that they were late through having loitered
before the shop-windows. But Auguste, who was very pale, did not utter
a single complaint; he answered curtly; it was evident he was keeping
it in and waiting. For a moment longer, the mother, who felt the
coming storm through her great knowledge of domestic broils, tried to
intimidate him; then she was obliged to go up-stairs, merely adding:

“Good night, my child. And sleep well, you know, if you wish to live
long.”

Directly she had gone, Auguste, losing all patience, forgetting that
Octave and Saturnin were present, withdrew a crumpled paper from his
pocket, and thrust it under Berthe’s nose, whilst he stammered out:

“What’s that?”

Berthe had not even had time to take her bonnet off. She turned very
red.

“That?” said she; “why, it’s a bill!”

“Yes, a bill! and for false hair, too! Is it possible? for hair! as
though you had none left on your head! But that’s not all. You’ve paid
the bill; tell me, what did you pay it with?”

The young woman, becoming more and more confused, ended by replying:

“With my own money, of course!”

“Your money! but you haven’t any. Some one must have given you some,
or else you have taken it from here. And, listen! I know all; you’re
in debt. I will tolerate what you like; but no debts, understand me, no
debts!--never!”

And he put into these words all the horror of a prudent fellow, all his
commercial integrity, which consisted in never owing anything. For a
long while he relieved his pent-up feelings, reproaching his wife with
her constant goings-out, her visits all over Paris, her dresses, her
luxury, which he could not provide for. Was it sensible for people in
their position to stop out till eleven o’clock at night, with pink silk
dresses embroidered with white jet? When one had such tastes as those,
one should bring five hundred thousand francs as a marriage portion.
Moreover, he knew who was the guilty one; it was the silly mother who
brought up her daughters to squander fortunes, without even being able
to give them so much as a chemise on their wedding-day.

“Don’t say a word against mamma!” cried Berthe, raising her head and
thoroughly exasperated at last. “No one can reproach her with anything;
she has done her duty. And your family--it’s a nice one! People who
killed their father!”

Octave had buried himself in his tickets, and pretended not to hear.
But he followed the quarrel from out of the corner of his eye, and
especially watched Saturnin, who was all in a tremble, and had left off
rubbing the glass, his fists clenched, his eyes glaring, ready to spring
at the husband’s throat.

“Let us leave our families alone,” resumed the latter. “We have quite
enough with our own home. Listen! you must alter your ways, for I will
not give another sou for all this tomfoolery. Oh! I have quite made up
my mind. Your place is here at the till, in a quiet dress, like a woman
who has some respect for herself. And if you incur any more debts, we’ll
see.”

Berthe was almost stifling, in presence of that brutal husband’s foot
set down upon her habits, her pleasures, and her dresses. It was the
extinction of all she loved, of all she had dreamed of when marrying.
But, with a woman’s tactics, she hid the wound from which her heart was
bleeding; she gave a pretext to the passion which was swelling her face,
and repeated more violently than ever:

“I will not permit you to insult mamma!”

Auguste shrugged his shoulders.

“Your mother! Listen? you’re like her, you’re quite ugly, when you put
yourself in that state. Yes, I scarcely know you; it is she herself. On
my word, it quite frightens me!”

At this, Berthe calmed down, and, looking him full in the face,
exclaimed:

“Only go and tell mamma what you were saying just now, and see how
quickly she’ll show you the door.”

“Ah! she’ll show me the door!” yelled the husband, in a fury. “Well,
then! I’ll go up and tell her at once.”

And he did indeed move toward the door. It was time he went, for
Saturnin, with his wolf-like eyes, was treacherously advancing to
strangle him from behind. The young woman had dropped into a chair,
where she was murmuring, in a low voice:

“Ah! good heavens! I’d take care not to marry him, if I had my choice
over again!”

Up-stairs, Monsieur Josserand, greatly surprised, answered the door,
Adèle having just gone up to bed. As he was then preparing to pass the
night in addressing wrappers, in spite of the ill-health he had been
lately complaining of, it was with a certain embarrassment, a shame at
being found out, that he ushered his son-in-law into the dining-room;
and he spoke of some pressing work, a copy of the last inventory of the
Saint Joseph glass factory. But, when Auguste deliberately accused
his daughter, reproaching her with running into debt, relating all the
quarrel brought about by the matter of the false hair, the poor old
man’s hands were seized with a nervous trembling. Struck to the heart,
he could only manage to stammer out a few words, whilst his eyes filled
with tears. His daughter in debt, living as he had lived himself, in the
midst of constant matrimonial squabbles! All the unhappiness of his life
was then going to be gone through again in the person of his daughter!
And another fear almost froze him on his chair: he dreaded every minute
to hear his son-in-law broach the money question, demand the dowry, and
call him a thief. No doubt the young man knew everything, as he burst in
upon them at past eleven o’clock at night.

“My wife is going to bed,” stammered he, his head in a whirl. “It is
useless to disturb her, is it not? I am really amazed at the things
you have told me! Poor Berthe is not wicked, though, I assure you. Be
indulgent. I will speak to her. As for ourselves, my dear Auguste, we
have done nothing, I think, which can displease you.”

And he sounded him, so to speak, with his glance, already reassured, as
he saw that he could know nothing as yet, when Madame Josserand appeared
on the threshold of the bed-room. She was in her night-gown, all white
and terrible. Auguste, though greatly excited, drew back. No doubt she
had been listening at the door, for she commenced with a direct thrust.

“It’s not your ten thousand francs you’ve come for, I suppose? There
are still two months before the time they become due. And in two months’
time we will pay them to you, sir. We don’t die to get out of our
engagements.”

This superb assurance completely overwhelmed Monsieur Josserand.
However, Madame Josserand continued dumbfounding her son-in-law by the
most extraordinary declarations, without allowing him time to speak.

“You’re by no means smart, sir. When you’ve made Berthe ill, you’ll
have to call in the doctor, and that will occasion some expense at the
chemist’s, and it will still be you who’ll have to pay. A little while
ago, I went off, when I saw that you were bent on making a fool of
yourself. Do as you like! Beat your wife, my maternal heart is easy, for
God is watching, and retribution is never long in coming!”

At length Auguste was able to state his grievances. He returned to the
constant goings-out, the dresses, and was even so bold as to condemn the
way in which Berthe had been brought up. Madame Josserand listened to
him with an air of supreme contempt. Then, when he had finished, she
retorted:

“What you say is so absurd that it does not deserve an answer, my
dear fellow! I’ve my conscience, and that suffices me. A man to whom I
confided an angel! I’ll have nothing more to do with the matter, as I’m
insulted. Settle it between yourselves.”

“But your daughter will end by deceiving me, madame!” exclaimed Auguste,
again overcome with passion.

Madame Josserand, who was going off, turned round, and looked him full
in the face.

“You’re doing all you can to bring such a thing about, sir.”

And she retired into her room with the dignity of a colossal
triple-breasted Ceres draped in white.

The father kept Auguste a few minutes longer. He was conciliatory,
giving him to understand that with women it was best to put up with
everything, and finally sent him off calmed and resolved to forgive.
But when the poor old man found himself alone again in the dining-room,
seated in front of his little lamp, he burst into tears. It was all
over; there was no longer any happiness; he would never have time enough
of a night to address sufficient wrappers to enable him to assist his
daughter clandestinely. The thought that his child might run into debt
crushed him like some personal fault. And he felt ill; he had just
received another blow; strength would fail him one of those nights. At
length, restraining his tears, he painfully recommenced his work.

Down-stairs in the shop, her face buried in her hands, Berthe had
remained for a while immovable. After putting up the shutters, the
porter had returned to the basement. Then Octave thought he might
approach the young woman. Ever since the husband’s departure, Saturnin
had been making signs to him over his sister’s head, as though inviting
him to console her. Now he was beaming and multiplied his winks; fearing
that he was not understood, he emphasized his advice by blowing kisses
into space, with a child’s overflowing effusion.

“What! you want me to kiss her?” asked Octave by signs.

“Yes, yes,” replied the madman, with an enthusiastic nod of the head.

And, when he beheld the young man smiling before his sister, who had
noticed nothing, he seated himself on the floor, behind a counter,
hiding, so as not to be in their way. In the profound silence of the
closed warehouse the gas-jets were still burning with tall flames. There
reigned a death-like peacefulness, a closeness of atmosphere mingled
with the unsavory odor of the dressed silk.

“Do not take it so much to heart, madame, I beg of you,” said Octave, in
his caressing tones.

She started at finding him so close to her.

“Excuse me, Monsieur Octave. It is not my fault that you assisted at
this painful scene. And I must ask you to excuse my husband, for
he could not have been very well this evening. You know that in all
families there are little unpleasantnesses----”

Sobs choked her utterance. The mere idea of extenuating her husband’s
faults before the world had brought on a copious flood of tears, which
quite unnerved her. Saturnin raised his anxious face on a level with the
counter; but he dived down again directly he saw Octave take hold of his
sister’s hand.

“I beg of you, madame, summon up a little courage,” said the assistant.

“No, I cannot help it,” stammered she. “You were there--you heard
everything. For ninety-five francs’ worth of hair! As though all women
did not wear false hair now! But he knows nothing--he understands
nothing. He knows no more about women than the Grand Turk; he has never
had anything to do with them, no never, Monsieur Octave! Ah! I am very
miserable!”

She said all this in her feverish spite. A man whom she pretended she
had married for love, and who would soon allow her to go without a
chemise! Did she not fulfill her duties? Had he the least negligence to
reproach her with? If he had not flown into a passion on the day when
she asked him for some hair, she would never have been reduced to the
necessity of paying for it out of her own pocket! And for the least
thing there was the same story over again; she could never express a
wish, desire the most insignificant article of dress, without coming
into contact with his ferocious sullenness. She naturally had her
pride, so she no longer asked for anything, preferring to go without
necessaries rather than to humiliate herself to no purpose. Thus, for
a fortnight past, she had been ardently longing for a fancy set of
ornaments which she had seen with her mother in a jeweler’s window in
the Palais-Royal.

“You know, three stars in paste for the hair. Oh! a mere trifle--a
hundred francs, I think. Well! although I spoke of them from morning
till night, don’t imagine that my husband understood!”

Octave would never have dared to hope for such an opportunity. He
hastened matters.

“Yes, yes, I know. You mentioned the subject several times in my
presence. And, dear me! madame, your parents received me so well; you
yourself have welcomed me so kindly, that I thought I might venture----”

As he spoke he withdrew from his pocket an oblong box, in which the
three stars were sparkling on some cotton wool. Berthe had risen from
her seat, deeply affected.

“But it is impossible, sir. I will not--you were very wrong indeed.”

He pretended to be very simple, inventing various pretexts. In the South
such things were done constantly. And, besides, the ornaments were of
no value whatever. She had turned quite rosy, and was no longer weeping,
whilst her eyes, fixed on the box, acquired a fresh luster from the
sparkling of the imitation gems.

“I beg of you, madame. Just to show me that you are satisfied with my
work.”

“No, really, Monsieur Octave; do not insist. You pain me.”

Saturnin had reappeared, and he looked at the jewels in ecstasy,
as though he were beholding some reliquary. But his sharp ear heard
Auguste’s returning footsteps. He warned Berthe by making a slight noise
with his tongue. Then the latter came to a decision just as her husband
was about to enter.

“Well! listen,” murmured she rapidly, popping the box into her pocket,
“I’ll say that my sister Hortense made me a present of them.”

Auguste gave orders for the gas to be turned out, and then went up with
her to bed, without saying a word about the quarrel, delighted at heart
at finding her all right again and very lively, as though nothing
had taken place between them. The warehouse became wrapped in intense
darkness; and, just as Octave was also retiring, he felt hot hands
squeezing his own almost sufficient to crush them in the obscurity. It
was Saturnin, who slept in the basement.

“Friend--friend--friend,” repeated the madman, with an outburst of wild
tenderness.

Disconcerted in his expectations, Octave little by little became seized
with a young and passionate desire for Berthe. If he had at first been
merely following his old plan, his wish to succeed by the aid of women,
he now no longer beheld in her the employer simply, whose possession
would place the whole establishment in his hands; he desired above all
the Parisian, that adorable creature of luxury and grace, which he
had never had an opportunity of tasting at Marseilles; he felt a sudden
hunger for her little gloved hands, her tiny feet encased in high-heeled
boots, her delicate neck hidden by gewgaws, even for the questionable
unseen, the make-shifts which, he suspected, were covered by her
gorgeous costumes; and this sudden attack of passion went so far as to
get the better of his shrewd economical nature to the extent of causing
him to squander in presents and all sorts of other expenses the five
thousand francs which he had brought with him from the South, and had
already doubled by financial operations which he never mentioned to
anybody.

On the morrow of the quarrel, Octave, delighted at having prevailed on
the young woman to accept his present, thought that it would be well for
him to ingratiate himself with the husband. Therefore, as he took his
meals at his employer’s table--the latter being in the habit of feeding
his assistants, so as always to have them at hand--he showed him the
utmost attention, listened to him at desserts and warmly approved all he
said. He even went so far in private as to appear to sympathize with his
complaints against his wife, pretending, too, to watch her, and making
him little reports. Auguste felt greatly touched; he admitted one night
to the young man that he had been on the point of discharging him, under
the idea that he was conniving with his mother-in-law.

“You understand me, you do!” he would say to the young man. “I merely
want peace. Beyond that I don’t care a hang, virtue excepted, of course,
and providing my wife doesn’t carry off the cash-box. Eh? am I not
reasonable? I don’t ask her for anything extraordinary?”

And Octave lauded his wisdom, and they celebrated together the sweetness
of an uneventful existence, year after year, always the same, passed in
measuring off silk. One evening he had alarmed Auguste by reverting to
his dream of vast modern bazars, and by advising him, as he had advised
Madame Hédouin, to purchase the adjoining house, so as to enlarge his
premises. Auguste, whose head was already splitting between his four
counters, had looked at him with the frightened air of a tradesman
accustomed to dividing farthings into four, that he had hastened to
withdraw his suggestion and to go into raptures over the honest security
of small dealings.

Days passed by; Octave was making his little nest in the place, a cozy
nest lined with wool which would keep him nice and warm. The husband
esteemed him; Madame Josserand herself, with whom, however, he avoided
being too polite, looked at him encouragingly. As for Berthe, she
was becoming charmingly familiar with him. But his great friend was
Saturnin, whose dumb affection he felt was increasing daily--a faithful
dog’s devotion which grew as his longing for the young woman became more
intense. Toward every one else the madman displayed a gloomy jealousy;
a man could not approach his sister without his becoming at once uneasy,
curling up his lips, and preparing to bite. But if, on the contrary,
Octave leant freely toward her, and caused her to laugh with the
soft and tender laughter of a happy mistress, he laughed himself with
delight, and his face reflected a little of their sensual joy. The poor
creature seemed to feel a gratitude full of happiness for the
chosen lover. He would detain the latter in all the corners, casting
mistrustful glances about; then, if he found they were alone, he
would speak to him of her, always repeating the same stories in broken
phrases.

“When she was little, she had tiny limbs as large as that; and already
plump, and quite rosy, and so gay; then, she used to sprawl about on the
floor. It amused me; I would go down on my knees and watch her. Then,
bang! bang! bang! she would kick me in the stomach, and I would be so
pleased, oh! so pleased!”

Octave thus learnt all about Berthe’s childhood, with its little
ailments, its playthings, its growth of a charming, uncontrolled little
creature.

His eyes lighted up; he laughed and cried, just as though these events
had occurred the day before. From his broken sentences the history of
this strange affection could be spun together: his poor, half-witted
devotion at the little patient’s bedside, when she had been given up by
the doctors, his heart and body devoted to the dying darling, whom he
nursed in her nudity with all the tenderness of a mother; his affection
and his desires had been arrested there, checked forevermore by this
drama of suffering, from the shock of which he never recovered; and,
from that time, in spite of the ingratitude which followed the recovery,
Berthe remained everything to him, a mistress before whom he trembled,
a child and a sister whom he had saved from death, an idol which he
worshiped with a jealous adoration. So that he pursued the husband
with the furious hatred of a displeased lover, never at a loss for
ill-natured remarks as he opened his heart to Octave.

“He’s got his eye bunged up again. His headache’s becoming a
nuisance!--You heard him dragging his feet about yesterday--Look, there
he is squinting into the street. Eh? isn’t he a fool?--Dirty beast,
dirty beast!”

And Auguste could scarcely move without angering the madman. Then would
come the disquieting proposals.

“If you like, we’ll bleed him like a pig between us.”

Octave would calm him. Then, on his quiet days, Saturnin would go from
Octave to the young woman, with an air of delight, repeating what
one had said about the other, doing their errands, and acting like a
continual bond of tenderness between them. He would have thrown himself
on the floor at their feet, to serve them as a carpet.

Berthe had not again alluded to the present. She did not seem to notice
Octave’s trembling attentions, but treated him as a friend, without the
least confusion. He had never before been so careful in his dress, and
he was ever caressing her with his eyes of the color of old gold, and
whose velvety softness he deemed irresistible.

One day, however, she experienced a great emotion. On returning from a
dog-show, Octave beckoned to her to descend to the basement; and there
handed her a bill, amounting to sixty-two francs, for some embroidered
stockings which had been brought during her absence. She turned quite
pale, and in a cry that came from her heart, at once asked:

“Good heavens! has my husband seen this?”

He hastened to set her mind at rest, telling her what trouble he had
had to get hold of the bill under Auguste’s very nose. Then, in an
embarrassed way, he was obliged to add in a low voice:

“I paid it.”

Then she made a show of feeling in her pockets, and, finding nothing,
said simply:

“I will pay you back. Ah! what thanks I owe you, Monsieur Octave! It
would have killed me if Auguste had seen this.”

And, this time, she took hold of both his hands, and for a moment held
them pressed between her own. But the sixty-two francs were never again
mentioned.

Thus, little by little, the breach between the couple widened, in spite
of the husband’s efforts, he being desirous of having no disturbance in
his existence. He desperately defended his desire for a somnolent and
idiotic peacefulness, he closed his eyes to small faults, and even
stomached some big ones, with the constant dread of discovering
something abominable which would drive him into a furious passion.
He therefore tolerated Berthe’s lies, by which she attributed to her
sister’s or her mother’s affection a host of little things, the purchase
of which she could not have otherwise explained; he even no longer
grumbled overmuch when she went out of an evening, thus enabling Octave
to take her twice privately to the theater, accompanied by Madame
Josserand and Hortense; delightful outings, after which these ladies
agreed together that the young man knew how to live.

It was on a Saturday that a frightful quarrel occurred between the
husband and wife, with respect to twenty sous which were deficient
in Rachel’s accounts. While Berthe was balancing up the book, Auguste
brought, according to his custom, the money necessary for the household
expenses of the ensuing week. The Josserands were to dine there that
evening, and the kitchen was littered with things--a rabbit, a leg of
mutton, and some cauliflowers. Saturnin, squatting on the tiled
floor beside the sink, was blacking his sister’s shoes and his
brother-in-law’s boots. The quarrel began with long arguments respecting
the twenty sou piece. What had become of it? How could one mislay twenty
sous? Auguste would go over all the additions again. During this time,
Rachel, always pliant in spite of her harsh looks, her mouth closed but
her eyes on the watch, was quietly spitting the leg of mutton. At length
he gave fifty francs, and was on the point of going down-stairs again,
when he returned, worried by the thought of the missing coin.

“It must be found, though,” said he. “Perhaps you borrowed it of Rachel,
and have forgotten doing so.”

Berthe felt greatly hurt at this.

“Accuse me of cooking the accounts! Ah! you are nice!”

Everything started from that, and they soon came to high words. Auguste,
in spite of his desire to purchase peace at a dear price, became
aggressive, excited by the sight of the rabbit, the leg of mutton and
the cauliflowers, beside himself before the pile of food, which she was
going to thrust all at once under her parents’ noses. He looked through
the account book, expressing astonishment at almost every item. It was
incredible! She must be in league with the servant to make something on
the marketing.

“I! I!” exclaimed the young woman, thoroughly exasperated; “I in league
with the servant! But it’s you, sir, who pay her to spy upon me! Yes,
I am forever feeling her about me; I can’t move a step without
encountering her eyes. Ah! she may watch me through the key-hole, when
I’m changing my under-linen. I do no harm, and I don’t care a straw for
your system of police. Only, don’t you dare to reproach me with being in
league with her.”

This unexpected attack quite dumbfounded the husband for a moment.
Rachel turned round, still holding the leg of mutton; and, placing her
hand upon her heart, she protested.

“Oh! madame, how can you think so? I who respect madame so much!”

“She’s mad!” said Auguste, shrugging his shoulders. “Don’t take the
trouble to defend yourself, my girl. She’s mad!”

But a noise behind his back caused him some anxiety. It was Saturnin,
who had violently thrown down one of the half-polished shoes to fly to
his sister’s assistance. With a terrible expression in his face and his
fists clenched, he stuttered out that he would strangle the dirty rascal
if he again called her mad. Thoroughly frightened, Auguste sought refuge
behind the filter, calling out:

“It’s really become unbearable; I can no longer make a remark to you
without his thrusting himself in between us! I allowed him to come here,
but he must leave me alone! He’s another nice present of your mother’s!
She was frightened to death of him, and so she saddled him on me,
preferring to see me murdered in her stead. Thanks for nothing! He’s got
a knife now. Do make him desist!”

[Illustration: 0287]

Berthe disarmed her brother, and calmed him with a look, whilst Auguste,
who had turned very pale, continued to mumble angry words. Always knives
being caught up! An injury is so soon done; and, with a madman, one
could do nothing; justice would even refuse to avenge it! In short,
it was not proper to make a bodyguard of such a brother, rendering
a husband powerless, even in circumstances of the most legitimate
indignation, going as far as forcing him to submit to his shame.

“You’ve no tact, sir,” declared Berthe, disdainfully. “A gentleman would
not discuss such matters in a kitchen.”

And she withdrew to her room, slamming the doors behind her. Rachel had
returned to the roaster, as though no longer hearing the quarrel between
her master and mistress.

“Do understand, my dear,” said Auguste to Berthe, whom he had rejoined
in the bed-room, “it was not in reference to you that I spoke, it was
for that girl who robs us. Those twenty sous ought certainly to be
found.”

The young woman trembled nervously with exasperation. She looked him
full in the face, very pale and resolute.

“Will you leave off bothering me about your twenty sous? It’s not twenty
sous I want, it’s five hundred francs a month. Yes, five hundred francs
for my dress. Ah! you discuss money matters in the kitchen, before
the servant! Well! that has decided me to discuss them also! I’ve been
restraining myself for a long time past. I want five hundred francs.”

He stood aghast at such a demand. And she commenced the grand quarrel
which, during twenty years, her mother had picked with her father,
regularly every fortnight. Did he expect to see her walk about barefoot?
When one married a woman, one should at least arrange to clothe and feed
her decently. She would sooner beg than resign herself to such a pauper
existence! It was not her fault if he proved incapable of managing his
business properly; oh! yes, incapable, without ideas or initiative, only
knowing how to split farthings into four. A man who ought to have made
it his glory to acquire a fortune quickly, so as to dress her like a
queen, and make the people of The “Ladies’ Paradise” die with rage! But
no! with such a poor head as his, bankruptcy was sure to come sooner
or later. And from this flow of words emerged the respect, the furious
appetite for money, all that worship of wealth, the adoration of which
she had learnt in her family, when beholding the mean tricks to which
one stoops, merely to appear to possess it.

“Five hundred francs!” said Auguste at length. “I would sooner shut up
the shop.”

She looked at him coldly.

“You refuse. Very well, I will run up bills.”

“More debts, you wretched woman!”

In a sudden violent movement, he seized her by the arms, and pushed her
against the wall. Then, without a cry, choking with passion, she ran and
opened the window, as though to throw herself out; but she retraced her
steps, and pushing him in her turn toward the door, turned him out of
the room gasping:

“Go away, or I shall do you an injury!”

And she noisily pushed the bolt behind his back. For a moment he
listened and hesitated. Then he hastened to go down to the warehouse,
again seized with terror, as he beheld Saturnin’s eyes gleaming in the
shadow, the noise of the short struggle having brought him from the
kitchen.

Down-stairs, Octave, who was selling silk handkerchiefs to an old lady,
at once noticed his agitated appearance. The assistant looked at him out
of the corner of his eye as he feverishly paced up and down before the
counters. When the customer had gone, Auguste’s heart quite overflowed.
“My dear fellow, she’s going mad,” said he without naming his wife. “She
has shut herself in. You ought to oblige me by going up and speaking to
her. I fear an accident, on my word of honor, I do!”

The young man pretended to hesitate. It was such a delicate matter!
Finally, he agreed to do so out of pure devotion. Up-stairs, he found
Saturnin keeping guard before Berthe’s door. On hearing footsteps, the
madman uttered a menacing grunt. But when he recognized the assistant,
his face brightened.

“Ah! yes, you,” murmured he. “You’re all right. She mustn’t cry. Be
nice, say something to her. And you know, stop there. There’s no danger.
I’m here. If the servant tries to peep, I’ll settle her.”

And he squatted down on the floor, guarding the door. As he still held
one of his brother-in-law’s boots, he commenced to polish it, to pass
away the time.

Octave made up his mind to knock. No answer, not a sound.

Then he gave his name. The bolt was at once drawn. And, opening the
door slightly, Berthe begged him to enter. Then she closed and bolted it
again with a nervous hand.

“I don’t mind you,” said she; “but I won’t have him!”

She paced the room, carried away by passion, going from the bedstead
to the window, which still remained open. And she muttered disconnected
sentences: he might entertain her parents at dinner, if he liked; yes,
he could account to them for her absence, for she would not appear at
the table; she would sooner die! Besides, she preferred to go to bed.
With her feverish hands, she already began to tear off the quilt, shake
up the pillows, and turn down the sheet, forgetful of Octave’s presence
to the extent that she was about to unhook her dress. Then she jumped to
another idea.

“Just fancy! He beat me, beat me, beat me! And only because, ashamed of
always going about in rags, I asked him for five hundred francs!”

Octave, standing up in the middle of the room, tried to find some
conciliating words. She was wrong to allow it to upset her so much.
Everything would come right again. And he ended by timidly offering her
assistance.

“If you are worried about any bill, why not apply to your friends? I
should be so pleased! Oh! simply a loan. You could return it to me some
other time.”

She looked at him. After a pause, she replied:

“Never! it cannot be. What would people think, Monsieur Octave?”

Her refusal was so decided that there was no further question of money.
But her anger seemed to have left her. She breathed heavily, and bathed
her face; and she looked quite pale, very calm, rather wearied, with
large, resolute eyes. Standing before her, he felt himself overcome by
that timidity of love, which he held in such contempt. Never before
had he loved so ardently; the strength of his desire communicated an
awkwardness to his charms of a handsome assistant. Whilst continuing to
advise a reconciliation in vague phrases, he was reasoning clearly in
his own mind, asking himself if he ought not to take her in his arms;
but the fear of being again repulsed made him hesitate. She, without
uttering a word, continued to look at him with her decided air, her
forehead contracted by a faint wrinkle.

“Really!” he stammeringly continued, “you must be patient. Your husband
is not a bad fellow. If you only go the right way to work with him, he
will give you whatever you ask for.”

And beneath the emptiness of these words, they both felt the same
thought take possession of them. They were alone, free, safe from all
surprise, with the door bolted. This security, the close warmth of the
room, exercised its influence on them. Yet he did not dare; the feminine
side of his nature, his womanly feeling, refined him in that moment of
passion to the point of making him the woman in their encounter. Then,
as though recollecting one of her former lessons, Berthe dropped her
handkerchief.

“Oh! thank you,” said she to the young man, who picked it up. Their
fingers touched, they were drawn closer together by that momentary
contact. Now she smiled tenderly, and gave an easy suppleness to her
form, as she recollected that men detest sticks. It would never do to
act the simpleton, one must permit a little playfulness without seeming
to do so, if one would hook one’s fish.

“Night is coming on,” resumed she, going and pushing the window to.

He followed her, and there, in the shadow of the curtains, she allowed
him to take her hand. She laughed louder, bewildering him with her
ringing tones, enveloping him with her pretty gestures; and, as he at
length became bolder, she threw back her head, displaying her neck, her
young and delicate neck all quivering with her gayety. Distracted by the
sight, he kissed her under the chin.

“Oh! Monsieur Octave!” said she in confusion, making a pretense of
prettily putting him back into his place.

His moment of triumph had come, but it was no sooner over than all the
ferocious disdain of woman which was hidden beneath his air of wheedling
adoration, returned. And when Berthe rose up, without strength in her
wrists, and her face contracted by a pang, her utter contempt for man
was thrown into the dark glance which she cast upon him. The room was
wrapped in complete silence. One only heard Saturnin, on the other side
of the door, polishing her husband’s boot with a regular movement of the
brush.

Octave’s thoughts reverted to Valérie and Madame Hédouin. At last he
was something more than little Pichon’s lover! It seemed like a
rehabilitation in his own eyes. Then, encountering Berthe’s uneasy
glance, he experienced a slight sense of shame, and kissed her with
extreme gentleness. She was resuming her air of resolute recklessness,
and, with a gesture, seemed to say: “What’s done can’t be undone.”
 But she afterward experienced the necessity of giving expression to a
melancholy thought.

“Ah! If you had only married me!” murmured she.

He felt surprised, almost uneasy; but this did not prevent him from
replying, as he kissed her again:

“Oh! yes, how nice it would have been!”

That evening the dinner with the Josserands was most delightful, Berthe
had never shown herself so gentle. She did not say a word of the quarrel
to her parents, she received her husband with an air of submission. The
latter, delighted, took Octave aside to thank him; and he imparted so
much warmth into the proceeding, pressing his hands and displaying such
a lively gratitude, that the young man felt quite embarrassed. Moreover,
they one and all overwhelmed him with marks of their affection.
Saturnin, who behaved very well at table, looked at him with approving
eyes. Hortense on her part deigned to listen to him, whilst Madame
Josserand, full of maternal encouragement, kept filling his glass.

“Dear me! yes,” said Berthe at dessert, “I intend to resume my painting.
For a long time past I have been wanting to decorate a cup for Auguste.”

The latter was deeply moved at this loving conjugal thought. Ever since
the soup, Octave had kept his foot on the young woman’s under the
table; it was like a taking of possession in the midst of this little
middle-class gathering. Yet Berthe was not without a secret uneasiness
before Rachel, whose eyes she always found looking her through and
through. Was it, then, visible? The girl was decidedly one to be sent
away or else to be bought over.

Monsieur Josserand, who was near his daughter, finished soothing her by
passing her nineteen francs done up in paper under the tablecloth. He
bent down and whispered in her ear:

“You know, they come from my little work. If you owe anything, you must
pay it.”

Then, between her father, who nudged her knee, and her lover, who gently
rubbed her boot, she felt quite happy. Life would now be delightful. And
they united in throwing aside all reserve, enjoying the pleasure of a
family gathering unmarred by a single quarrel. In truth, it was hardly
natural, something must have brought them luck. Auguste, alone, had
his eyes half closed, suffering from a headache, which he had moreover
expected after so many emotions. Toward nine o’clock he was even obliged
to retire to bed.



CHAPTER XIII.

For some time past, Monsieur Gourd had been prowling about with an
uneasy and mysterious air. He was met gliding noiselessly along,
his eyes open, his ears pricked up, continually ascending the two
staircases, where lodgers had even encountered him going his rounds in
the dead of night. The morality of the house was certainly worrying
him; he felt a kind of breath of shameful things which troubled the cold
nakedness of the courtyard, the calm peacefulness of the vestibule, the
beautiful domestic virtues of the different stories.

One evening, Octave had found the doorkeeper standing motionless and
without a light at the end of his passage, close to the door which
opened onto the servants’ staircase. Greatly surprised, he questioned
him.

“I wish to ascertain something, Monsieur Mouret,” simply answered
Monsieur Gourd, deciding to go off to bed.

The young man was very much frightened. Did the doorkeeper suspect his
relations with Berthe? He was perhaps watching them. Their attachment
encountered continual obstacles in that house, where there was always
some one prying about and the inmates of which professed the most strict
principles.

It happened to be a Tuesday night when Octave discovered Monsieur Gourd
watching close to his room. This increased his uneasiness. For a week
past, he had been imploring Berthe to come up and join him in his
apartment, when all the house would be asleep. Had the doorkeeper
guessed this? Octave went back to his room dissatisfied, tormented with
fear and desire.

The night was a close one, and, overcome by the heat, Octave had dozed
off in an easy-chair, when toward midnight he was roused by a gentle
knocking.

“It’s I,” faintly whispered a woman’s voice.

It was Berthe. He opened the door and clasped her in his arms in the
obscurity. When he had lighted his candle, he saw that she was deeply
troubled about something. The day before, not having sufficient money in
his pocket, he had been unable to pay for the bonnet at the time: and
as in her delight she had so far forgotten herself as to give her name,
they had sent her the bill that evening. Then, trembling at the thought
that they might call on the morrow when her husband was there, she had
dared to come up, gathering courage from the great silence of the house,
and confident that Rachel was asleep.

“To-morrow morning, you will be sure to pay it to-morrow morning, won’t
you?” implored she, trying to escape.

But he again clasped her in his arms.

“Stay!”

She remained. The clock slowly struck the hours in the voluptuous warmth
of the room; and, at each sound of the bell, he begged her so tenderly
to stay, that her strength seemed to desert her and she yielded to
his entreaties. Then, toward four o’clock, just as she had at length
determined to go, they both dropped off to sleep locked in each other’s
arms. When they again opened their eyes, the bright daylight was
entering at the window, it was nine o’clock. Berthe uttered a cry.

“Good heavens! I’m lost!”

Then ensued a moment of confusion. With her eyes half closed with sleep
and fatigue, feeling vaguely about with her hands scarcely able to
distinguish anything, she gave vent to stifled exclamations of regret.
He, seized with a similar despair, had thrown himself before the door,
to prevent her from going out at such an hour. Was she mad? people might
meet her on the stairs, it was too risky; they must think the matter
over, and devise a way for her to go down without being noticed. But she
was obstinate, simply wishing to get away; and she again made for the
door, which he defended. Then he thought of the servants’ staircase.
Nothing could be more convenient; she could go quickly through her own
kitchen into her apartment. Only, as Mario Pichon was always in the
passage of a morning, Octave considered it prudent to divert her
attention, whilst the other young woman made her escape.

He went out in his ordinary quiet way, and was surprised to find
Saturnin making himself at home at Marie’s, and calmly watching her do
her housework. The madman loved thus to seek refuge beside her as in
former days, delighted with the manner in which she left him to himself,
and certain of not being jostled. Moreover, he was not in her way, and
she willingly tolerated him, though his conversational powers were not
great. It was company all the same, and she would still sing her ballad
in a low and expiring voice.

“Hallo! so you’re with your lover?” said Octave, maneuvering so as to
keep the door shut behind his back.

Marie turned crimson. Oh! that poor Monsieur Saturnin! Was it possible?
He who seemed to suffer even when any one touched his hand by accident!
And the madman also got angry. He would not be any one’s lover--never,
never! Whoever told his sister such a lie would have him to deal with.
Octave, amazed at his sudden irritation, felt it necessary to calm him.

Meanwhile Berthe made her way to the servants’ staircase. She had two
flights to descend. At the first step a shrill laugh, issuing from
Madame Juzeur’s kitchen below, caused her to stop; and she tremblingly
stood against the landing window, opened wide onto the narrow courtyard.

++++

Suddenly a voice exclaimed:

“Here’s master coming for his hot water!”

And windows were quickly closed, and doors slammed. The silence of death
ensued, yet Berthe did not at first dare to move. When she at length
went down, the thought came to her that Rachel was probably in the
kitchen, waiting for her. This caused her fresh anguish. She now dreaded
to enter, she would have preferred to reach the street and fly away in
the distance forever. She nevertheless pushed the door ajar, and felt
relieved on beholding that the servant was not there. Then, seized with
a childish joy on finding herself at home again and safe, she hurried
to her room. But there was Rachel standing before the bed, which had not
even been opened. She looked at the bed, and then at her mistress with
her expressionless face. In her first moment of fright, the young woman
lost her head to the point of trying to excuse herself, and talked of
an illness of her sister’s. She stammered out the words, and then,
frightened at the poorness of her lie, understanding that denial was
utterly useless, she suddenly burst into tears. Dropping onto a chair,
she continued crying.

This lasted a good while. Not a word was exchanged, sobs alone disturbed
the perfect quiet of the room. Rachel, exaggerating her habitual
discretion, maintaining her cold manner of a girl who knows everything,
but who says nothing, had turned her back, and was making a pretence of
beating up the pillows, as though she was just finishing arranging the
bed. At length, when madame, more and more upset by this silence, was
giving too loud a vent to her despair, the maid, who was then dusting,
said simply, in a respectful tone of voice:

“Madame is wrong to take on so, master is not so very pleasant.”

Berthe left off crying. She would pay the girl, that was all Without
waiting further she gave her twenty francs. Then, not thinking that
sufficient, and already feeling uneasy, having fancied she saw her curl
her lips disdainfully, she rejoined her in the kitchen, and brought her
back to make her a present of an almost new dress.

At the same moment, Octave, on his part, was again in a state of alarm,
on account of Monsieur Gourd. On leaving the Pichons’, he had found him
standing immovable, the same as the night before, listening behind the
door communicating with the servants’ staircase. He followed him without
even daring to speak to him. The doorkeeper gravely went back again down
the grand staircase. On the floor below he took a key from his pocket
and entered the room which was let to the distinguished individual, who
came there to work one night every week. And through the door, which
remained open for a moment, Octave obtained a clear view of that room
which was always kept as closely shut as a tomb. It was in a terrible
state of disorder that morning, the gentleman having no doubt worked
there the night before. A huge bed, with the sheets stripped off, a
wardrobe with a glass door, empty, save for the remnants of a lobster
and two partly filled bottles, two dirty hand-basins lying about, one
beside the bed and the other on a chair. Monsieur Gourd, with his calm
air of a retired judge, at once occupied himself with emptying and
rinsing out the basins.

As he hurried to the Passage de la Madeleine to pay for the bonnet, the
young man was tormented by a painful uncertainty. Finally, he determined
to engage the doorkeepers in conversation on his return. Madame Gourd,
reclining in her commodious armchair, was getting a breath of fresh
air between the two pots of flowers, at the open window of their room.
Standing up beside the door, old mother Pérou was waiting in a humble
and frightened manner.

“Have you a letter for me?” asked Octave, as a commencement.

Monsieur Gourd just then came down from the room on the third floor.
Seeing after that was the only work that he now condescended to do in
the house; and he showed himself highly flattered by the confidence of
the gentleman, who paid him well on condition that his basins should not
pass through any other hands.

“No, Monsieur Mouret, nothing at all,” answered he.

He had seen old mother Pérou perfectly well, but he pretended not to be
aware of her presence. The day before he had got into such a rage with
her for upsetting a pail of water in the middle of the vestibule, that
he had sent her about her business on the spot. And she had called for
her money, but the mere sight of him made her tremble, and she almost
sank into the ground with humility.

However, as Octave remained some time doing the amiable with Madame
Gourd, the doorkeeper roughly turned toward the poor old woman.

“So, you want to be paid. What’s owing to you?”

But Madame Gourd interrupted him.

“Look, darling, there’s that girl again with her horrible little beast.”

It was Lisa, who, a few days before, had found a spaniel in the street.
And this occasioned continual disputes with the doorkeepers. The
landlord would not allow any animals in the house. No, no animals, and
no women! The little dog was even forbidden to go into the courtyard;
the street was quite good enough for him. As it had been raining that
morning, and the little beast’s paws were sopping wet, Monsieur Gourd
rushed forward, exclaiming:

“I will not have him walk up the stairs, you hear me! Carry him in your
arms.”

“So that he shall make me all in a mess!” said Lisa, insolently. “What
a great misfortune it’ll be if he wets the servants’ staircase a bit! Up
you go, doggie.”

Monsieur Gourd tried to seize hold of her, and almost slipped, so he
fell to abusing those sluts of servants. He was always at war with them,
tormented with the rage of a former servant who wishes to be waited on
in his turn. But Lisa turned upon him, and with the verbosity of a girl
who had grown up in the gutters of Montmartre, she shouted out:

“Eh! just you leave me alone, you miserable old flunkey! Go and empty
the duke’s jerries!”

It was the only insult capable of silencing Monsieur Gourd, and the
servants all took advantage of it. He returned to his room quivering
with rage and mumbling to himself, saying that he was certainly very
proud of having been in service at the duke’s, and that she would not
have staid there two hours even, the baggage! Then he assailed mother
Pérou, who almost jumped out of her skin.

“Well! what is it you’re owed? Eh! you say twelve francs sixty-five
centimes. But it isn’t possible? Sixty-three hours at twenty centimes
the hour. Ah! you charge a quarter of an hour. Never! I warned you, I
only pay the hours that are completed.”

And he did not even give her her money then, he left her perfectly
terrified, and joined in the conversation between his wife and Octave.
The latter was cunningly alluding to all the worries that such a house
must cause them, hoping thus to get them to talk about the lodgers.
Such strange things must sometimes take place behind the doors! Then the
doorkeeper chimed in, as grave as ever:

“What concerns us, concerns us, Monsieur Mouret, and what doesn’t
concern us, doesn’t concern us. Over there, for instance, is something
which quite puts me beside myself. Look at it, look at it!”

And, stretching out his arm, he pointed to the boot-stitcher, that tall,
pale girl who had arrived at the house in the middle of the funeral.
She walked with difficulty; she was evidently in the family way, and her
condition was exaggerated by the sickly skinniness of her neck and legs.

“On my word of honor! sir, if this sort of thing was likely to continue,
we would prefer to retire to our home at Mort-la-Ville; would we not,
Madame Gourd? for, thank heaven! we have sufficient to live on, we are
dependent on no one. A house like this to be made the talk of the place
by such a creature! for so it is, sir!”

“She seems very ill,” said Octave, following her with his eyes, not
daring to pity her too much. “I always see her looking so sad, so pale,
so forlorn. But, of course, she has a lover.”

At this, Monsieur Gourd gave a violent start.

“Now we have it! Do you hear, Madame Gourd? Monsieur Mouret is also
of opinion that she has a lover. It’s clear, such things don’t come of
themselves. Well, sir! for two months past I’ve been on the watch, and
I’ve not yet seen the shadow of a man. How full of vice she must be! Ah!
if I only found her chap, how I would chuck him out! But I can’t find
him, and it’s that which worries me.”

“Perhaps no one comes,” Octave ventured to observe.

The doorkeeper looked at him with surprise.

“That would not be natural. Oh! I’m determined I’ll catch him. I’ve
still six weeks before me, for I got the landlord to give her notice to
quit in October. Just fancy her being confined here!” and, with his arm
still thrust out, he pointed to the young woman, who was painfully
wending her way up the servants’ staircase. Madame Gourd was obliged to
calm him: he took the respectability of the house too much to heart; he
would end by making himself ill. Then, mother Pérou having dared to
manifest her presence by a discreet cough, he returned to her, and
coolly deducted the sou she had charged for the odd quarter of an hour.
She was at length going off with her twelve francs sixty centimes, when
he offered to take her back, but at three sous an hour only. She burst
into tears, and accepted.

“I shall always be able to get some one,” said he. “You’re no longer
strong enough; you don’t even do two sous’ worth.”

Octave felt his mind relieved as he returned to his room for a minute.
On the third floor he caught up Madame Juzeur, who was also going to her
apartments. She was obliged now to run down every morning after Louise,
who loitered at the different shops.

“How proud you are becoming,” said she, with her sharp smile. “One can
see very well that you are being spoilt elsewhere.”

These words once more aroused all the young man’s anxiety. He followed
her into her drawing-room, pretending to joke with her the while. Only
one of the curtains was slightly drawn back, and the carpet and the
hangings before the doors subdued still more this alcove-like light; and
the noise of the street did not penetrate more than to the extent of
a faint buzz, in this room as soft as down. She made him seat himself
beside her on the low, wide sofa. But, as he did not take her hand and
kiss it, she asked him archly:

“Do you, then, no longer love me?”

He blushed, and protested that he adored her. Then she gave him her hand
of her own accord, with a little stifled laugh; and he was obliged to
raise it to his lips, so as to dispel her suspicions, if she had any.
But she almost immediately withdrew it again.

“No, no; though you pretend to excite yourself, it gives you no
pleasure. Oh, I feel it does not, and, besides, it is only natural!”
 What? what did she mean? He seized her round the waist, and pressed her
with questions, but she would not answer; she abandoned herself to his
embrace, and kept shaking her head. At length, to oblige her to speak,
he commenced tickling her.

“Well, you see,” she ended by murmuring, “you love another.” She named
Valérie, and reminded him of the evening at the Josserands when he
devoured her with his eyes. Then, as he declared that Valérie was
nothing to him, she retorted, with another laugh, that she knew that
very well, and had been only teasing him. Only, there was another, and
this time she named Madame Hédouin, laughing more than ever, and amused
at his protestations, which were very energetic. Who, then? Was it Marie
Pichon? Ah! he could not deny that one. Yet he did do so, but she shook
her head. She assured him that her little finger never told stories. And
to draw each of these women’s names from her, he was obliged to redouble
his caresses.

But she had not named Berthe. He was loosening his hold of her, when she
resumed:

“Now, there’s the last one.”

“What last one?” inquired he, anxiously.

Screwing up her mouth, she again obstinately refused to say anything
more, so long as he had not opened her lips with a kiss.

He continued to hold her reclining in his arms. She languishingly
alluded to the cruel being who had deserted her after having only been
married a week. A miserable woman like her knew too much of the tempests
of the heart! For a longtime past she had guessed what she styled
Octave’s “little games;” for not a kiss could be exchanged in the house
without her hearing it. And, in the depths of the wide sofa, they had
quite a cozy little chat, interrupted now and then with all sorts of
delightful caresses.

When Octave left her he felt more at ease. She had restored his good
humor, and she amused him with her complicated principles of virtue.
Down-stairs, directly he entered the warehouse, he reassured Berthe with
a sign, as her eyes questioned him with reference to the bonnet. Then
all the terrible adventure of the morning was forgotten. When Auguste
returned, a little before lunch-time, he found them both looking the
same as usual, Berthe very much bored at the pay-desk, and Octave
gallantly measuring off some silk for a lady.

But, after that day, the lovers’ private meetings became rarer still. As
a practical fellow, he ended by thinking it stupid to be always paying,
when she, on her side, only gave him her foot under the table. Paris had
decidedly brought him ill-luck; at first, repulses, and then this silly
passion, which was fast emptying his purse. He could certainly not be
accused of succeeding through women. He now found a certain honor in it
by way of consolation, in his secret rage at the failure of his plan so
clumsily carried out up till then.

Yet Auguste was not much in their way. Ever since the bad turn affairs
had taken at Lyons, he had suffered more than ever with his headaches.
On the first of the month, Berthe had experienced a sudden joy on seeing
him, in the evening, place three hundred francs under the bed-room
timepiece for her dress; and, in spite of the reduction on the amount
which she had demanded, as she had given up all hope of ever seeing a
sou of it, she threw herself into his arms, all warm with gratitude. On
this occasion the husband had a night of hugging such as the lover never
experienced.

September passed away in this manner, in the great calm of the house
emptied of its occupants by the summer months. The people of the second
floor had gone to the seaside in Spain, which caused Monsieur Gourd,
full of pity, to shrug his shoulders: what a fuss! as though the most
distinguished people were not satisfied with Trouville! The Duveyriers,
since the beginning of Gustave’s holidays, had been at their country
house at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. Even the Josserands went and spent
a fortnight at a friend’s, near Pontoise, spreading a rumor beforehand
that they were going to some watering-place.

This clearance, these deserted apartments, the staircase slumbering in a
greater silence than ever, seemed to Octave to offer less danger; and he
argued and so wearied Berthe that she at last received him in her room
one evening whilst Auguste was away at Lyons. But this meeting also
nearly took a bad turn. Madame Josserand, who had returned home two days
before, was seized with such an attack of indigestion after dining out,
that Hortense, filled with anxiety, went down-stairs for her sister.
Fortunately, Rachel was just finishing scouring her saucepans, and she
was able to let the young man out by the servants’ staircase. On the
following days, Berthe availed herself of that alarm to again refuse him
everything.

Besides, they were so foolish as not to reward the servant. She attended
to them in her cold way, and with her superior respect of a girl who
hears and sees nothing; only, as madame was forever crying after money,
and as Monsieur Octave already spent too much in presents, she curled
her lip more and more in that wretched establishment, where the
mistress’ lover did not even present her with ten sous when he stayed
there.

Meanwhile, Madame Juzeur wept with that lovesick darling who could only
gaze on his mistress from a distance; and she gave him the very best
advice. Octave’s passion reached such a pitch that he thought one day
of imploring her to lend him her apartment; no doubt she would not have
refused, but he feared rousing Berthe’s indignation by his indiscretion.
He also had the idea of utilizing Saturnin; perhaps the madman would
watch over them like a faithful dog in some out-of-the-way room; only,
he displayed such a fantastical humor, at one time overwhelming his
sister’s lover with the most awkward caresses, at another, sulking with
him and casting suspicious glances gleaming with a sudden hatred. One
could almost have thought him jealous, with the nervous and violent
jealousy of a woman.

Just as September was drawing to a close, and the lodgers were on the
point of returning home, a wild idea came to Octave in the midst of
his torment. Rachel had asked her permission to sleep out on one of the
Tuesdays that her master would be at Lyons, in order to enable her to
attend the wedding of one of her sisters in the country; and it was
merely a question of passing the night in the servant’s room, where no
one in the world would think of seeking them. Berthe, feeling deeply
hurt at the suggestion, at first displayed the greatest repugnance;
but he implored her with tears in his eyes; he talked of leaving Paris,
where he suffered too much; he confused and wearied her with such a
number of arguments, that, scarcely knowing what she did, she ended by
consenting. All was settled. The Tuesday evening, after dinner, they
took a cup of tea at the Josserands’, so as to dispel any suspicions.
Trublot, Gueulin, and uncle Bachelard were there; and, very late in
the evening, Duveyrier, who occasionally came to sleep at the Rue de
Choiseul, on account of business which he pretended he had to attend to
early in the morning, even put in an appearance. Octave made a show
of joining freely in the conversation of these gentlemen; then, when
midnight struck, he withdrew, and went and locked himself in Rachel’s
room, where Berthe was to join him an hour later when all the house was
asleep.

Upstairs, the arrangement of the room occupied him during the first
half-hour. He had provided himself with clean bed linen, and he
proceeded to remake the bed, awkwardly, and occupying a long while over
it, through fear of being overheard. Then, like Trublot, he sat down on
a box and tried to wait patiently. The servants came up to bed, one
by one; and through the thin partitions the sounds of women undressing
themselves could be heard. One o’clock struck, then the quarter, then
the half hour past. He began to feel anxious; why was Berthe so long
in coming? She must have left the Josserands’ about one o’clock at the
latest; and it could not take her more than ten minutes to go to her
rooms and come out again by the servants’ staircase. When two o’clock
struck, he imagined all sorts of catastrophes. At length, he heaved
a sigh of relief, on fancying he recognized her footstep. And he opened
the door, in order to light her. But surprise rooted him to the spot.
Opposite Adèle’s door, Trublot, bent almost double, was looking through
the key-hole, and jumped up, frightened by that sudden light.

“What! it’s you again!” murmured Octave, with annoyance.

Trublot began to laugh, without appearing the least surprised at finding
him there at such a time of night.

“Just fancy,” explained he, very softly, “that fool Adèle hasn’t given
me her key, and she has gone and joined Duveyrier in his room. Eh?
what’s the matter with you? Ah! you didn’t know Duveyrier slept with
her. It is so, my dear fellow. He really is reconciled with his wife,
who, however, only resigns herself to him now and then; so he falls back
upon Adèle. It’s convenient, whenever he comes to Paris.”

He interrupted himself, and stooped down again, then added, between his
clenched teeth.

“What a confounded brainless girl that Adèle is! If she had only given
me her key, I could have made myself comfortable here.”

Then he returned to the loft where he had been, previously waiting,
taking Octave with him, who, moreover, desired to question him
respecting the finish of the evening at the Josserands’. But, for some
time, Trublot would not allow him to open his mouth.

Octave was at length able to question him as to the wind-up of the
party. It seemed that Berthe had left her mother’s shortly after
midnight, looking very composed. No doubt, she was now in Rachel’s room.
But Trublot, delighted at the meeting, would not let him go.

“It’s idiotic, keeping me waiting so long,” continued he. “Besides,
I’m almost asleep as it is. My governor has put me into the liquidation
department, and I’m up all night three times a week, my dear fellow. If
Julie were only there, she would make room for me. But Duveyrier
only brings Hippolyte up from the country. And, by the way, you know
Hippolyte, that tall, ugly chap! Well! I just saw him going to join
Louise, that frightened brat of a foundling, whose soul Madame Juzeur
wished to save. Eh? it’s a fine success for Madame! ‘Anything you like
except that.’”

That night, Trublot, who was greatly bored, was full of philosophical
reflections. He added, almost in a whisper:

“Well, you know! like master, like man. When landlords set the example,
it’s scarcely surprising if the servants’ tastes are not exactly
refined. Ah! everything’s decidedly going to the dogs in France!”

“Good-bye,” said Octave; “I’m off.”

But Trublot still detained him, enumerating the servants’ rooms where
he might have slept, as the summer had emptied nearly the whole of them;
only the worst was that they all double-locked their doors, even when
they were merely going to the end of the passage, they had such a fear
of being robbed by each other.

At length Octave was able to get free. He was on the point of leaving
Trublot in the profound obscurity of the loft, when the latter suddenly
expressed his surprise.

“But you, what are you doing amongst the maids? Ah! rascal, you come
here too!”

And he laughed with delight, and promising to keep Octave’s secret, sent
him off, wishing him a pleasant night of it.

When Octave found himself back in Rachel’s room, he experienced a fresh
deception. Berthe was not there. Anger got the better of him now:
Berthe had humbugged him, she had promised him merely to get rid of his
importunities. Whilst he was chafing there, she was sleeping, happy at
being alone, occupying the whole breadth of the conjugal couch.
Then, instead of returning to his room and going to sleep himself, he
obstinately waited, throwing himself all dressed as he was on the bed,
and passing the night in forming projects of revenge. Three o’clock
chimed out in the distance. The snores of robust maid-servants arose on
his left; while on his right there was a continual wail, a woman moaning
with pain in the fever of a sleepless night. He ended by recognizing the
boot-stitcher’s voice. The wretched woman was lying suffering all alone
in one of those poverty-stricken closets next to the roof.

Just as day was breaking, Octave fell asleep. A profound silence
reigned; even the boot-stitcher no longer moaned, but lay like one dead.
The sun was peering through the narrow window, when the door opening
abruptly awoke the young man.

It was Berthe, who, urged by an irresistible desire, had come up to see
if he was still there; she had at first scouted the idea, then she had
furnished herself with pretexts, the need for going to the room and
putting everything straight, in case he had left it anyhow in his rage.
Moreover, she no longer expected to find him there. When she beheld him
rise from the little iron bedstead, ghastly pale and menacing, she stood
dumbfounded; and she listened with bowed head to his furious reproaches.
He pressed her to answer, to give him at least some explanation. At
length she murmured:

“At the last moment I could not do it. It was too indelicate. I love
you, oh! I swear it. But not here, not here!”

And, seeing him approach her, she drew back, afraid that he might wish
to take advantage of the opportunity. Eight o’clock was striking, the
servants had all gone down, even Trublot had departed. Then, as he tried
to take hold of her hands, saying that, when one loves a person, one
accepts everything, she complained that the closeness of the room made
her feel unwell, and she slightly opened the window. But he again tried
to draw her toward him, overpowering her with his importunities. At this
moment a turbid torrent of foul words ascended from the inner courtyard.

“Pig! slut! have you done? Your dish-cloth’s again fallen on my head.”

Berthe, turning ghastly pale, and quivering from head to foot, released
herself, murmuring:

“Do you hear those girls? They make me shiver all over. The other day, I
thought I should have been ill. No, leave me alone, and I promise to see
you, on Tuesday next, in your room.”

The two lovers, standing up and not daring to move, were compelled to
hear everything.

“Show yourself a moment,” continued Lisa, who was furious, “so that I
may shy it back in your ugly face!”

Then Adèle went and leant out of her kitchen window.

“There’s a fuss about a bit of rag! To begin with, I only used it for
washing up with yesterday. And then it fell out by accident.” They made
peace together, and Lisa asked her what they had had for dinner at her
place the day before. Another stew! What misers! She would have ordered
chops for herself, if she had been in such a hole! She was forever
inciting Adèle to sneak the sugar, the meat, the candles, just to show
that she could do as she liked; as for herself, never being hungry, she
left Victoire to rob the Cam-pardons, without even taking her share.

“Oh!” said Adèle, who was gradually becoming corrupted, “the other night
I hid some potatoes in my pocket. They quite burnt my leg. It was jolly,
it was jolly! And, you know, I like vinegar, I do. I don’t care, I drink
it out of the cruet now.”

Victoire came and leant out in her turn, as she finished drinking some
cassis mixed with brandy, which Lisa treated her to now and then of a
morning, to pay her for concealing her day and night escapades. And, as
Louise thrust out her tongue at them from the depths of Madame Juzeur’s
kitchen, Victoire was at once down upon her.

“Wait a bit! you street foundling; I’ll shove your tongue somewhere for
you!”

“Come along, then, old swiller!” retorted the little one. “I saw you
yesterday bringing it all up again in your plate.”

At this, the rush of foul words again rebounded from wall to wall of the
pestiferous hole. Adèle herself, who was mastering the Paris gift of the
gab, called Louise a filthy drab, whilst Lisa yelled out:

“I’ll make her shut up if she bothers us. Yes, yes, little strumpet,
I’ll tell Clémence. She’ll settle you. But, hush! here’s the man. He’s a
nice, dirty beast, he is!”

Hippolyte, just then appeared at the Duveyriers’ window, blacking his
master’s boots. The other servants, in spite of everything, were polite
to him, for he belonged to the aristocracy, and he despised Lisa, who,
in her turn, despised Adèle, with more haughtiness than rich masters
show to masters in difficulties. They asked him for news of Mademoiselle
Clémence and Mademoiselle Julie. Well! really, they were almost bored
to death there, but they were pretty well. Then, jumping to another
subject, he asked:

“Did you hear that girl last night, wriggling about with her
stomach-ache? Wasn’t it annoying? Luckily she’s going to leave soon. I
had half a mind to call out to her.”

This allusion to the boot-stitcher’s condition caused them to pass all
the ladies of the house in review.

At first they talked of Madame Campardon, who at least had nothing more
to fear; then of Madame Juzeur, who took her precautions; next of Madame
Duveyrier, who was disgusted with her husband; and of Madame Valérie,
who went and got her children away from home. And at each recital bursts
of laughter arose in blasts from the squalid hole.

Berthe had again turned pale. She waited, no longer even daring to leave
the room, her eyes cast down with shame, like one to whom violence was
being offered in Octave’s presence. He, exasperated with the servants,
felt that they were becoming too filthy, and that he could not again
take her in his arms; his desire was giving place to a weariness and
a great sadness. But suddenly the young woman started. Lisa had just
uttered her name.

“Talking of enjoying oneself, there’s one who seems to me to go in for a
rare dose of it! Eh! Adèle, isn’t it true that your Mademoiselle
Berthe was up to all manner of tricks at the time you used to wash her
petticoats?”

“And now,” said Victoire, “she gets her husband’s assistant to give her
a dusting!”

“Hush!” exclaimed Hippolyte softly.

“What for? Her jade of a servant isn’t there to-day. A sly hussy who’d
eat you, when one speaks of her mistress! You know she’s a Jewess, and
she murdered some one once. Perhaps the handsome Octave dusts her also,
in the corners. The governor must have engaged him just to increase the
family, the big ninny!”

Then Berthe, suffering indescribable anguish, raised her eyes to her
lover. And, cast down, imploring some aid, she stammered, in a painful
voice:

“My God! my God!”

Octave took her hand and squeezed it tightly; he was choking with
impotent rage. What was to be done? he could not show himself and force
those women to leave off. The foul words continued, words which the
young woman had never heard before, all the overflow of a sewer which
every morning found an outlet there, close to her, and of which she had
never had the least suspicion. Their love, so carefully hidden as they
thought, was now being dragged amidst the vegetable parings and the
kitchen slops. These women knew all, without any one having spoken. Lisa
related how Saturnin held the candle. Victoire was highly amused by
the husband’s headaches, and said that he would do well to get himself
another eye and have it placed somewhere; even Adèle had a fling at her
mistress’ young lady, whose ailments, private habits, and toilet secrets
she ruthlessly exposed. And a filthy chaff soiled all that remained that
was good and tender in their love.

“Look out below!” suddenly exclaimed Victoire; “here’s some of
yesterday’s carrots which stink enough to poison one! They’ll do for
that crapulous old Gourd!”

The servants, out of spite, threw all the filth they could into the
inner courtyard, so that the doorkeeper should have it to sweep up.

“And here’s a bit of moldy kidney!” said Adèle in her turn.

All the scrapings of the saucepans, all the muck from the washing-up
basins, found their way there, whilst Lisa continued to pull Berthe
and Octave to pieces. The pair remained standing, hand-in-hand, face to
face, unable to turn away their eyes; and their hands became as cold as
ice, and their looks acknowledged the impurity of their intimacy. This
was what their love had come to, this fornication beneath a downpour of
putrid meat and stale vegetables!

“And you know,” said Hippolyte, “the young gentleman doesn’t care for
the missis. He merely took her to help him along in the world. Oh! he’s
a miser at heart in spite of his airs, an unscrupulous fellow, who, with
his pretensions of loving women, is not above slapping them!”

Berthe, her eyes on Octave, saw him turn pale, his face so upset, so
changed, that he frightened her.

“On my word! the two make a nice pair,” resumed Lisa. “I wouldn’t give
much for her skin either. Badly brought up, with a heart as hard as a
stone, caring for nothing except her own pleasure, and sleeping with
fellows for the sake of their money, yes, for their money! for I know
the sort of woman.”

The tears streamed from Berthe’s eyes. Octave beheld her features all
distorted. It was as if they had been flayed before each other, laid
utterly bare, without any possibility of protesting. Then the young
woman, suffocated by this open cesspool which discharged its exhalations
full in her face, wished to fly. He did not detain her, for disgust with
themselves made their presence a torture, and they longed for the relief
of no longer seeing each other.

“You promise to come, next Tuesday, to my room?”

“Yes, yes.”

And she hurried away, quite distracted. Left alone, he walked about the
room, fumbling with his hands, putting the linen he had brought, into
a bundle. He was no longer listening to the servants, when their last
words attracted his attention.

“I tell you that Monsieur Hédouin died last night. If handsome Octave
had foreseen that, he would have continued to cultivate Madame Hédouin,
who’s worth a lot.”

This news, learnt there, amidst those surroundings, re-echoed in the
innermost recesses of his being. Monsieur Hédouin was dead! And he
was seized with an immense regret. He thought out loud, he could not
restrain himself from saying:

“Ah! yes, by Jove! I’ve been a fool!”

When Octave at length went down, with his bundle, he met Rachel coming
up to her room. Had she been a few minutes sooner, she would have caught
them there. Down-stairs, she had again found her mistress in tears; but,
this time, she had not got anything out of her, neither an avowal, nor a
sou. And furious, understanding that they took advantage of her absence
to see each other and thus to do her out of her little profits, she
stared at the young man with a look black with menace. A singular
schoolboy timidity prevented Octave from giving her ten francs; and,
desirous of displaying perfect ease of mind, he went in to joke with
Marie a while, when a grunt proceeding from a corner caused him to turn
round: it was Saturnin, who rose up saying, in one of his jealous fits:

“Take care! we’re mortal enemies!”

That morning was the 8th of October, and the boot-stitcher had to clear
out before noon. For a week past, Monsieur Gourd had been watching her
with a dread that increased hourly.

The boot-stitcher had implored the landlord to let her stay a few days
longer, so as to get over her confinement, but had met with an indignant
refusal. Pains were seizing her at every moment; during the last night,
she had fancied she would be brought to bed all alone. Then, toward nine
o’clock, she had begun her moving, helping the youngster whose little
truck was in the courtyard, leaning against the furniture or sitting
down on the stairs, whenever a formidable spasm doubled her up.

Monsieur Gourd, however, had discovered nothing. Not a man! He had been
regularly humbugged. So that, all the morning, he prowled about in a
cold rage. Octave, who met him, shuddered at the thought that he also
must know of their intimacy.

At a quarter to twelve, the work-girl appeared, with her wax-like face,
her perpetual sadness, her mournful despondency. She could scarcely move
along. Monsieur Gourd trembled until she was safe out in the street.
Just as she handed him her key, Duveyrier issued from the vestibule, so
heated by his night’s work that the red blotches on his forehead seemed
almost bleeding. He put on a haughty air, an implacable moral severity,
when the creature passed before him. Ashamed and resigned, she bowed
her head; and, following the little truck, she went off with the same
despairing step as she had come, the day when she had been engulfed by
the undertaker’s black hangings.

Then, only, did Monsieur Gourd triumph. As though this woman had carried
off with her all the uneasiness of the house, the disreputable things
with which the very walls shuddered, he called out to the landlord:

“A good riddance, sir! One will be able to breathe now, for, on my word
of honor! it was becoming disgusting. It has lifted a hundred weight
from off my chest. No, sir; you see, in a house which is to be
respected, there should be no single women, and especially none of those
women who work!”



CHAPTER XIV.

On the following Tuesday Berthe did not keep her promise to Octave.
This time she had warned him not to expect her, in a rapid explanation
they had had that evening, after the warehouse closed; and she sobbed;
she had been to confession the day before, feeling a want of religious
comfort, and was still quite upset by Abbé Manduit’s grievous
exhortations. Since her marriage she had thrown aside all religion, but,
after the foul words with which the servants had sullied her, she had
suddenly felt so sad, so abandoned, so unclean, that she had returned
for an hour to the belief of her childhood, inflamed with a hope of
purification and salvation. On her return, the priest having wept with
her, her sin quite horrified her. Octave, impotent and furious, shrugged
his shoulders.

Then, three days later, she again promised for the following Tuesday.
At a meeting with her lover, in the Passage des Panoramas, she had seen
some Chantilly lace shawls, and she was incessantly alluding to them,
whilst her eyes were filled with desire. So that, on the Monday morning,
the young man laughingly said to her, in order to soften the brutal
nature of the bargain, that, if she at last kept her word, she would
find a little surprise for herself up in his room. She understood him,
and again burst into tears. No! no! she would not go now; he had spoilt
all the pleasure she had anticipated from their being together. She had
spoken of the shawl thoughtlessly; she no longer wanted it; she would
throw it on the fire if he gave it her. However, on the morrow, they
made all their arrangements: she was to knock three times at his door
very softly half an hour after midnight.

That day, when Auguste started for Lyons, he struck Berthe as being
rather peculiar. She had caught him whispering with Rachel behind the
kitchen door; besides which, he was quite yellow, and shivering, with
one eye closed up; but, as he complained a good deal of his headache,
she thought he was ill, and told him that the journey would do him
good. Directly he had left, she returned to the kitchen, still feeling
slightly uneasy, and tried to sound the servant. The girl continued to
be discreet and respectful, and maintained the stiff attitude of
her early days. The young woman, however, felt that she was vaguely
dissatisfied, and she thought that she had been very foolish to give
her twenty francs and a dress, and then to stop all further gratuities,
although compelled to do so, for she was forever in want of a five franc
piece herself.

“My poor girl,” said she to her, “I have not been very generous, have I?
But it is not my fault. I have not forgotten you, and I shall recompense
you by-and-by.”

“Madame owes me nothing,” answered Rachel, in her cold way.

Then Berthe went and fetched two of her old chemises, wishing at least
to show her good nature. But the servant, on receiving them, observed
that they would do for rags for the kitchen.

“Thank you, madame; calico irritates my skin; I only wear linen.”

Berthe, however, found her so polite, that she became more easy. She
made herself very familiar with her, told her she was going to sleep
out, and even asked her to leave a lamp alight, in case she required
it. The door leading on to the grand staircase could be bolted, and she
would go out by way of the kitchen, the key of which she would take with
her. The servant received these instructions as coolly as if it had been
a question of cooking a piece of beef for the morrow’s dinner.

By a refinement of discretion, as his mistress was to dine with her
parents that evening, Octave accepted an invitation to the Campar-dons’.
He counted on staying there till ten o’clock, and then going and
shutting himself up in his room, and waiting for half-past twelve with
as much patience as possible.

The dinner at the Campardons’ was quite patriarchal. The architect,
seated between his wife and her cousin, lingered over the
dishes--regular family dishes--abundant and wholesome, as he described
them.

“Eat away,” cried the architect to Octave; “you may be eaten yourself
some day.”

Madame Campardon, bending toward the young man’s ear, was once more
congratulating herself on the happiness which the cousin had brought the
household; an economy of quite cent. per cent.; the servants made to be
respectful; Angèle looked after properly, and receiving good examples.

“In short,” murmured she, “Achille continues to be as happy as a fish
in water, and, as for me, I have absolutely nothing whatever left to do,
absolutely nothing. Listen! she even washes me now. I can live without
moving either arms or legs; she has taken all the cares of the household
on her own shoulders.”

Then the architect related how “he had settled those jokers of the
Ministry of Public Instruction.”

“Just fancy, my dear fellow, they made no end of a fuss about the work
I’ve done at Evreux, You see, I wished, above all, to please the bishop.
Only, the range for the new kitchens and the heating apparatus have come
to more than twenty thousand francs. No credit was voted for them,
and it is not easy to get twenty thousand francs out of the small sum
allowed for repairs.”

They laughed all round the table, without the least respect for the
Ministry, of which they spoke with disdain, their mouths full of rice.
Rose declared that it was best to be on the side of religion. Ever
since the works at Saint-Roch, Achille was overwhelmed with orders; the
greatest families would employ no one else; it was impossible for him to
attend to them all; he would have to work all night as well as all day.
God wished them well, most decidedly, and the family returned thanks to
Him, both night and morning.

They were having dessert, when Campardon exclaimed:

“By the way, my dear fellow, you know that Duveyrier has found --------”

He was about to name Clarisse. But he recollected that Angèle was
present, so, casting a side glance toward his daughter, he added:

“He has found his relative, you know.”

And, biting his lip and winking his eye, he at length made himself
understood by Octave, who at first did not in the least catch what he
meant.

“Yes, Trublot, whom I met, told me so. The day before yesterday, when it
was pouring in torrents, Duveyrier stood up inside a doorway, and who
do you think he saw there? why, his relative shaking out her umbrella.
Trublot had been seeking her for a week past, so as to restore her to
him.”

Angèle had modestly lowered her eyes onto her plate, and began
swallowing enormous mouthfuls. The family rigorously excluded all
indecent words from their conversation.

“Is she good looking?” asked Rose of Octave.

“That’s a matter of taste,” replied the latter. “Some people may think
so.”

“She had the andacity to come to the shop one day,” said Gasparine, who,
in spite of her own skinniness, detested thin people. “She was pointed
out to me. A regular bean-stalk.”

“All the same,” concluded the architect, “Duveyrier’s hooked again. His
poor wife------”

He intended saying that Clotilde was probably relieved and delighted.
Only, he remembered a second time that Angèle was present, and put on a
doleful air to declare:

“Relations do not always agree together. Yes! every family has its
worries.”

Lisa, on the other side of the table, with a napkin on her arm, looked
at Angèle, and the latter, seized with a mad fit of laughter, hastened
to take a long drink, and hide her face in her glass.

A little before ten o’clock, Octave pretended to be very fatigued, and
retired to his room. In spite of Rose’s affectionate ways, he was ill at
ease in that family circle, where he felt Gasparine’s hostility to him
to be ever on the increase. Yet, he had never done anything to her.
She detested him for being a handsome man, she suspected him of having
overcome all the women of the house, and that exasperated her, though
she did not desire him the least in the world, but merely yielded, at
the thought of his happiness, to the instinctive anger of a woman whose
beauty had faded too soon.

Directly he had left, the family talked of retiring for the night.
Before getting into bed, Rose spent an hour in her dressing-room every
evening. She proceeded to wash and scent herself all over, then did her
hair, examined her eyes, her mouth, her ears, and even placed a
tiny patch under her chin. At night-time, she replaced her luxury of
dressing-gowns by a luxury of night-caps and chemises.

On that occasion she selected a chemise and a cap trimmed with
Valenciennes lace. Gasparine had assisted her, handing her the basins,
wiping up the water she spilt, drying her with a soft towel, little
things which she did far better than Lisa.

“Ah! I do feel comfortable!” said Rose at length, stretched out in her
bed, whilst the cousin tucked in the sheets and raised the bolster.

And she laughed with delight, all alone in the middle of the big bed.
With her soft, delicate, and spotless body, reclining amidst the lace,
she looked like some beautiful creature awaiting the idol of her
heart. When she felt herself pretty, she slept better, she used to say.
Besides, it was the only pleasure left her.

“Is it all right?” asked Campardon, entering the room. “Well!
good-night, little duck.”

He pretended he had some work to do. He would have to sit up a little
longer. But she grew angry, she wished him to take some rest; it was
foolish to work himself to death like that!

“You hear me, now go to bed. Gasparine, promise me to make him go to
bed.”

The cousin, who had just placed a glass of sugar and water, and one of
Dickens’ novels on the night table, looked at her. Without answering,
she bent over and said:

“You are so nice, this evening!”

And she kissed her on both cheeks, with her dry lips and bitter mouth,
in the resigned manner of a poor and ugly relation. Campardon, his face
very red, and suffering from a difficult digestion, also looked at his
wife. His mustache quivered slightly as he kissed her in his turn.

“Good night, my little duck.”

“Good night, my darling. Now, mind you go to bed at once.”

“Never fear!” said Gasparine. “If he’s not in bed asleep at eleven
o’clock, I’ll get up and put his lamp out.”

Toward eleven o’clock, Campardon, who was yawning over a Swiss cottage,
the fancy of a tailor of the Rue Rameau, rose from his seat and
undressed himself slowly, thinking of Rose, so pretty and so clean;
then, after opening his bed, on account of the servants, he went
and joined Gasparine in hers. It was so narrow that they slept very
uncomfortably in it, and their elbows were constantly digging into
each other’s ribs. He especially always had one leg quite stiff in
the morning, through his efforts to balance himself on the edge of the
mattress.

At the same time, as Victoire had gone to her room, having finished her
washing up, Lisa came, in accordance with her usual custom, to see
if mademoiselle required anything more. Angèle was waiting for her
comfortably in her bed; and thus, every evening, unknown to the parents,
they had endless games at cards, on a corner of the counterpane, which
they spread out for the purpose. They played at beggar-my-neighbor,
while abusing cousin Gasparine, a dirty creature, whom the maid coarsely
pulled to pieces before the child. They both avenged themselves for
their hypocritical submission during the day, and Lisa took a low
delight in this corruption of Angèle, and in satisfying the curiosity
of this sickly girl, agitated by the crisis of her thirteen years. That
night they were furious with Gasparine, who, for two days past, had
taken to locking up the sugar, with which the maid filled her pockets,
to empty them afterward on the child’s bed. What a bear she was! now
they were not even able to get a lump of sugar to suck when going to
sleep!

“Yet, your papa gives her plenty of sugar!” said Lisa, with a sensual
laugh.

“Oh! yes!” murmured Angèle, laughing also.

“What does your papa do to her? Come, show me.”

Then the child caught the maid round the neck, pressed her in her bare
arms, and kissed her violently on the mouth, saying as she did so:

“See! like this. See! like this.”

Midnight struck. Campardon and Gasparine were moaning in their
over-narrow bed, whilst Rose, stretching herself out in the middle
of hers, and extending her limbs, was reading Dickens, with tears of
emotion. A profound silence followed; the chaste night cast its shadow
over the respectability of the family.

On going up to his room, Octave found that the Pichons had company.
Jules called him in, and persisted on his taking a glass of something.
Monsieur and Madame Vuillaume were there, having made it up with the
young people, on the occasion of Marie’s churching, she having been
confined in September. They had even agreed to come to dinner one
Tuesday, to celebrate the young woman’s recovery, which only fully dated
from the day before. Anxious to pacify her mother, whom the sight of the
child, another girl, annoyed, she had sent it out to nurse, not far from
Paris. Lilitte was sleeping on the table, overcome by a glass of pure
wine, which her parents had forced her to drink to her little sister’s
health.

“Well! two may still be put up with!” said Madame Vuillaume, after
clinking glasses with Octave. “Only, don’t do it again, son-in-law.”

The others all laughed. But the old woman remained perfectly grave.

“There is nothing laughable in that,” she continued. “We accept this
child, but I swear to you that if another were to come----”

“Oh! if another came,” finished Monsieur Vuillaume, “you would have
neither heart nor brains. Dash it all! one must be serious in life, one
should restrain oneself, when one has not got hundreds and thousands to
spend in pleasures.”

And, turning toward Octave, he added:

“You see, sir, I am decorated. Well! I may tell you that, so as not to
dirty too many ribbons, I don’t wear my decoration at home. Therefore,
if I deprive my wife and myself of the pleasure of being decorated
in our own home, our children can certainly deprive themselves of the
pleasure of having daughters. No, sir, there are no little economies.”

But the Pichons assured him of their obedience. They were not likely to
be caught at that game again!

“To suffer what I’ve suffered!” said Marie, still quite pale.

“I would sooner cut my leg off,” declared Jules.

The Vuillaumes nodded their heads with a satisfied air. They had their
word, so they forgave them that time. And, as ten was striking by the
clock, they tenderly embraced all round; and Jules put on his hat to see
them to the omnibus. This resumption of the old ways affected them so
much that they embraced a second time on the landing. When they had
taken their departure, Marie, who stood watching them go down, leaning
over the balustrade, beside Octave, took the latter back to the
dining-room, saying:

“Ah! mamma is not unkind, and she is quite right: children are no joke!”

She had shut the door, and was clearing the table of the glasses which
still lay about. The narrow room, with its smoky lamp, was quite warm
from the little family jollification. Lilitte continued to slumber on a
corner of the American cloth.

“I’m off to bed,” murmured Octave.

But he sat down, feeling very comfortable there.

“What! going to bed already!” resumed the young woman. “You don’t
often keep such good hours. Have you something to see to, then, early
to-morrow?”

“No,” answered he. “I feel sleepy, that is all. Oh! I can very well stay
another ten minutes or so.”

He just then thought of Berthe. She would not be coming up till
half-past twelve: he had plenty of time. And this thought, the hope of
having her with him for a whole night, which had been consuming him for
weeks past, no longer had the same effect on him. The fever of the day,
the torment of his desire counting the minutes, evoking the continual
image of approaching bliss, gave way beneath the fatigue of waiting.

“Will you have another small glass of brandy?” asked Marie.

“Well! yes, I don’t mind.”

He thought that it would set him up a bit. When she had taken the glass
from him, he caught hold of her hands, and held them in his, whilst
she smiled, without the least alarm. He thought her charming, with her
paleness of a woman who had recently gone through a deal of suffering.
All the hidden tenderness with which he felt himself again invaded,
ascended with sudden violence to his throat, and to his lips. He had one
evening restored her to her husband, after placing a father’s kiss upon
her brow, and now he felt a necessity to take her back again, an acute
and immediate longing, in which all desire for Berthe vanished, like
something too distant to dwell upon.

“You are not afraid, then, to-day?” asked he, squeezing her hands
tighter.

“No, since it has now become impossible. Oh! we shall always be good
friends!”

And she gave him to understand that she knew everything. Saturnin must
have spoken. Moreover, she always noticed when Octave received a certain
person in his room. As he turned pale with anxiety, she hastened to ease
his mind: she would never say a word to any one, she was not angry, on
the contrary she wished him much happiness.

“Come,” repeated she, “I’m married, so I can’t bear you any ill will.”

He took her on his knees, and exclaimed:

“But it’s you who I love!”

[Illustration: 0325]

And he spoke truly. At that moment he loved her and only her, and with
an absolute and infinite passion. All his new intrigue, the two months
spent in pursuing another, were as naught. He again beheld himself in
that narrow room, coming and kissing Marie on the neck, behind Jule’s
back, ever finding her willing, with her passive gentleness. This was
true happiness, how was it that he had disdained it? Regret almost broke
his heart. He still wished for her, and he felt that, if he had her no
more, he would be eternally miserable.

“Let me be,” murmured she, trying to release herself. “You are not
reasonable, you will end by grieving me. Now that you love another, what
is the use of continuing to torment me?”

She defended herself thus, in her gentle and irresolute way, merely
feeling a certain repugnance for what did not amuse her much. But he was
getting crazy, he squeezed her tighter, he kissed her throat through the
coarse material of her woolen dress.

“It’s you who I love, you cannot understand--Listen! on what I hold most
sacred, I swear to you I do not lie. Tear my heart open and see. Oh! I
implore you, be kind!”

Marie, paralyzed by the will of this man, made a movement as though to
take slumbering Lilitte into the next apartment; but he prevented her,
fearing that she would awaken the child. The peacefulness of the house,
at that hour of the night, filled the little room with a sort of buzzing
silence. Suddenly the lamp went down, and they were about to find
themselves in the dark, when Marie, rising, was just in time to wind it
up again.

Tears filled her eyes, and she remained sad, though still without anger.
When he left her, he felt dissatisfied, he would have liked to have gone
to sleep. But the other one would be there shortly, he must wait for
her, and this thought weighed terribly on him; after having spent
feverish nights in concocting extravagant plans for getting her to visit
him in his room, he longed for something to happen which would prevent
her from coming up. Perhaps she would once again fail to keep her word.
It was a hope with which he scarcely dared delude himself.

Midnight struck. Octave, quite tired out, stood listening, fearing to
hear the rustling of her skirts along the narrow passage. At half past
twelve, he was seized with real anxiety; at one o’clock, he thought
himself saved, but a secret irritation mingled with his relief, the
annoyance of a man made a fool of by a woman. But, just as he made up
his mind to undress himself, yawning for want of sleep, there came
three gentle taps at the door. It was Berthe. He felt both annoyed and
flattered, and advanced to meet her with open arms, when she motioned
him aside, and stood trembling and listening against the door, which she
had hastily shut after her.

“What is the matter?” asked he, in a low voice.

“I don’t know, I was frightened,” stammered she. “It is so dark on the
stairs, I thought that somebody was following me. Dear me! how stupid
all this is! Some harm is sure to happen to us.”

This chilled them both. They did not even kiss each other.

“I am going back,” said she, without leaving her chair.

“What, you are going?”

“Do you think I sell myself? You are always hurting my feelings; you
have again spoilt all my pleasure to-night. Why did you buy it, when I
forbade you to do so?”

She got up, and at length consented to look at it. But, when she opened
the box, she experienced such a disappointment, that she could not
restrain this indignant exclamation:

“What! it is not Chantilly at all, it is llama!”

Octave, who was reducing his presents, had yielded to a miserly idea. He
tried to explain to her that there was some superb llama, quite equal
to Chantilly; and he praised up the article, just as though he had been
behind his counter, making her feel the lace, and swearing that it would
last her forever. But she shook her head, and silenced him by observing
contemptuously.

“The long and short of it is, this costs one hundred francs, whereas the
other would have cost three hundred.”

And, seeing him turn pale, she added, so as to soften her words: “You
are very kind all the same, and I am much obliged to you. It is not the
value which makes the present, when one’s intention is good.”

She sat down again, and a pause ensued. She was still quite upset by
her silly fright on the stairs! And she returned to her misgivings with
respect to Rachel, relating how she had found Auguste whispering with
the maid behind the door. Yet, it would have been so easy to have bought
the girl over by giving her a five franc piece from time to time. But to
do this, it was necessary to have some five franc pieces; she never had
one, she had nothing. Her voice became harsh, the llama shawl, which she
no longer alluded to, was working her up to such a pitch of rancor and
despair, that she ended by picking the quarrel with her lover which had
already existed so long between her and her husband.

“Come, now, is it a life worth living? never a sou, always at any one’s
mercy for the least thing! Oh! I’ve had enough of it, I’ve had enough of
it!”

Octave, who was pacing the room, stopped short to ask her:

“But why do you tell me all this?”

“Eh? sir, why? But there are things which delicacy alone ought to tell
you, without my being made to blush by having to discuss such matters
with you. Ought you not, long ere now, and without having to be told, to
have made me easy by bringing this girl to our feet?”

She paused, then she added, in a tone of disdainful irony:

“It would not have ruined you.”

There was another silence. The young man, who was again pacing the room,
at length replied:

“I am not rich, and I regret it for your sake.”

Then matters went from bad to worse, the quarrel assumed quite conjugal
violence.

“Say that I love you for your money!” cried she, with all the bluntness
of her mother, whose very words seemed to come to her lips. “I am a
money-loving woman, am I not? Well! yes, I am a money-loving woman,
because I am a sensible woman. It is no use pretending the contrary;
money will ever be money in spite of everything. As for me, whenever I
have had twenty sous, I have always pretended that I had forty, for it
is better to create envy than pity.”

He interrupted her to say, in a weary voice, like a man who only desires
peace.

“Listen, if it annoys you so much that it’s a llama shawl, I will give
you one in Chantilly.”

“Your shawl!” continued she, in a regular fury, “why, I’ve already
forgotten all about your shawl! The other things are what exasperate me,
understand! Oh! moreover, you’re just like my husband. You wouldn’t care
a bit if I hadn’t a pair of boots to go out in. Yet, when one loves a
woman, good nature alone should prompt one to feed and dress her. But
no man will ever understand that. Why, between the two of you, you would
soon let me go out with nothing on but my chemise, if I was agreeable!”

Octave, tired out by this domestic squabble, decided not to answer,
having noticed that Auguste sometimes got rid of her in that way. He let
pass the flow of words, and thought of the ill-luck of his amours. Yet,
he had ardently desired this one, even to the point of upsetting all his
calculations; and, now that she was in his room, it was to quarrel with
him, to make him pass a sleepless night, as though they had already left
six months of married life behind them.

And full of conciliation, without desire, but polite, he tried to kiss
her. She pushed him away, and burst into tears.

“Go on, reproach me also with my outings,” stammered she in the midst
of her sobs. “Accuse me of being too great an expense to you. Oh! I see
clearly now; it’s all on account of that wretched present. If you could
shut me up in a box, you would do so. I have lady friends; I go to call
on them; that is no crime. And as for mamma----”

“For heaven’s sake leave your mamma alone,” interrupted Octave; “and
allow me to tell you that she has given you a precious bad temper.”

She mechanically commenced to undress herself, and becoming more and
more excited, she raised her voice.

“Mamma has always done her duty. It’s not for you to speak of her here.
I forbid you to mention her name. It only remained for you to attack my
family!”

Finding a difficulty in undoing the string of her petticoat, she broke
it. Then, seating herself on the edge of the bed, her bosom heaving
with anger in the midst of the surrounding lace of her chemise, she
continued:

“Ah! how I regret my weakness, sir! how one would reflect, if one could
only foresee everything!”

Octave, who had made a show of lying with his face to the wall, suddenly
bounced round, exclaiming:

“What! you regret having loved me?”

“Most certainly, a man incapable of understanding a woman’s heart!”

And they looked at each other close together, with hardened faces, quite
devoid of love.

“Ah! good heavens! if it were only to come over again!” added she.

“You would take another, wouldn’t you?” said he, brutally and in a very
low voice.

She was about to answer fin the same exasperated tone, when there came a
sudden hammering at the door. Not understanding at first what it meant,
they remained immovable, and their blood seemed to freeze in their
veins. A hollow voice said:

“Open the door, I can hear you at your dirty tricks. Open, or I will
burst it in!”

It was the husband’s voice. Still the lovers did not move, their heads
were filled with such a buzzing that they could think of nothing; and
they felt very cold, just like corpses. Berthe at length jumped from the
bed, with an instinctive desire to fly from her lover, whilst, on the
other side of the door, Auguste repeated:

“Open! open, I say!”

Then ensued a terrible confusion, an inexpressible anguish. Berthe
turned about the room in a state of distraction, seeking for some
outlet, with a fear of death which made her turn ghastly pale. Octave,
whose heart jumped to his mouth at each blow, had gone and mechanically
leant against the door, as though to strengthen it. The noise was
becoming unbearable, the fool would wake the whole house up, he would
have to open the door. But, when she understood his determination, she
hung onto his arms, imploring him with terrified eyes; no, no, mercy!
the other would rush upon them with a pistol or a knife. He, as pale as
herself, and partly overcome by her fright, slipped on his trousers, and
beseeched her to dress herself. Still bewildered, she only managed to
put on her stockings. All this time the husband continued his uproar.

“You won’t; you don’t answer. Very well, you’ll see.”

Every since he had last paid his rent, Octave had been asking his
landlord for some slight repairs--two new screws in the staple of his
lock, which scarcely held to the wood. Suddenly the door cracked, the
staple yielded, and Auguste, unable to stop himself, rolled into the
middle of the room.

“Damnation!” swore he.

He simply held a key in his hand, which was bleeding through becoming
grazed in his fall. When he got up, livid, and filled with rage and
shame at the thought of his ridiculous entry, he hit out into space,
and wished to spring upon Octave. But the latter, in spite of the
awkwardness of being barefooted and having his trousers all awry, seized
him by the wrists, and, being the stronger of the two, mastered him, at
the same time exclaiming:

“Sir, you are violating my domicile. It is disgraceful; you should act
like a gentleman.”

And he almost beat him. During their short struggle, Berthe had made off
in her chemise by the door which had remained wide open; she fancied she
beheld a kitchen knife in her husband’s bleeding fist, and she seemed to
feel the cold steel between her shoulders. As she rushed along the dark
passage, she thought she heard the sound of blows, without being able to
make out who had dealt them, or who received them. Voices, which she no
longer recognized, were saying:

“I am at your service whenever you please.”

“Very well, you will hear from me.”

With a bound she gained the servants’ staircase. But when she had
rushed down the two flights, as though there had been the flames of
a conflagration behind her, she found the kitchen door locked,
and remembered she had left the key up-stairs in the pocket of her
dressing-gown. Moreover, there was no lamp; not the least glimmer of a
light beneath the door; it was evidently the servant who had sold them.
Without stopping to take breath, she tore up-stairs again, passing once
more before the passage leading to Octave’s room, where the two men’s
voices still continued in violent altercation.

[Illustration: 0333]

They were going on abusing each other; she would have time, perhaps.
And she rapidly descended the grand staircase, with the hope that her
husband had left their outer door open. She would bolt herself in
her room, and open to nobody. But there, for the second time, she
encountered a locked door. Then, shut out from her home, with scarcely
a covering to her body, she lost her head, and scampered from floor to
floor, like some hunted animal which knows not where to take earth.
She would never have the courage to knock at her parents’ door. At one
moment she thought of taking refuge with the doorkeepers, but shame
drove her up-stairs again. She listened, raised her head, bent over the
hand-rail, her ears deafened by the beating of her heart in the profound
silence, her eyes blinded by lights which seemed to shoot out from the
dense obscurity. And it was always the knife, the knife in Auguste’s
bleeding fist, the icy cold point of which was about to pierce her.
Suddenly there was a noise; she fancied he was coming, and she shivered
to her very marrow; and, as she was opposite Campardons’ door, she rang
desperately, furiously, almost breaking the bell.

“Good heavens! is the house on fire?” asked an agitated voice inside.

The door opened at once. It was Lisa, who was only then leaving
mademoiselle, walking softly, and with a candlestick in her hand. The
mad ringing of the bell had made her start, just as she was crossing
the ante-room. When she caught sight of Berthe in her chemise, she stood
rooted to the spot.

“What’s the matter?” asked she.

The young woman had entered, violently slamming the door behind her;
and, panting and leaning against the wall, she stammered out:

“Hush! keep quiet! He wants to kill me.”

Lisa was trying to get a sensible explanation from her, when Campardon
appeared, looking very anxious. This incomprehensible uproar had
disturbed Gasparine and him in their narrow bed. He had simply
slipped on his trousers, and his fat face was swollen and covered with
perspiration, whilst his yellow beard was quite flaccid and full of the
white down of the pillow. He was all out of breath, and endeavoring to
assume the assurance of a husband who sleeps alone.

“Is that you, Lisa?” called he from the drawing-room. “It’s absurd! How
is it you’re not up-stairs?”

“I was afraid I had not fastened the door properly, sir; I could
not sleep for thinking of it, so I came down to make sure. But it’s
madame----”

The architect, seeing Berthe leaning against the wall of his anteroom
with nothing but her chemise on, stood lost in amazement also. Berthe
forgot how scantily she was clad.

“Oh! sir, keep me here,” repeated she. “He wants to kill me.”

“Who does?” asked he.

“My husband.”

The cousin now put in an appearance behind the architect. She had taken
time to don a dress, and, her hair untidy and also full of down,
her breast flat and hanging, her bones almost protruding through her
garment, she brought with her the rancor arising from her interrupted
repose. The sight of the young woman, of her plump and delicate nudity,
only increased her ill-humor.

“Whatever have you done, then, to your husband?” she asked.

At this simple question Berthe was overcome by a great shame. She
remembered she was half-naked, and blushed from head to foot. In this
long thrill of shame, she crossed her arms over her bosom, as though to
escape the glances directed at her. And she stammered out:

“He found me--he caught me----”

The two others understood, and looked at each other with indignation in
their eyes. Lisa, whose candle lighted up the scene, pretended to share
her master’s reprehension. At this moment, however, the explanation was
interrupted by Angèle also hastening to the spot; and she pretended to
have just woke up, rubbing her eyes heavy with sleep. The sight of
the lady with nothing on her but a chemise suddenly brought her to a
standstill, with a jerk, a quivering of her precocious young girl’s
slender body.

“Oh!” she simply exclaimed.

“It’s nothing; go back to bed!” cried her father.

Then, understanding that some sort of story was necessary, he related
the first that came into his head, but it was really too ludicrous.

“Madame sprained her ankle coming down-stairs, so she’s come here for
assistance. Go back to bed; you’ll catch cold!”

Lisa choked back a laugh on encountering Angele’s wide-open eyes, as the
latter returned to her bed, all rosy, and quite delighted at having seen
such a sight. For some minutes past Madame Campardon had been calling
from her room. She had not put her light out, being so interested in her
Dickens, and she wished to know what had happened. What did it all mean?
who was there? why did not some one come to set her mind at rest?

“Come, madame,” said the architect, taking Berthe with him. “And you,
Lisa, wait a minute.”

In the bed-room, Rose was still spread out in the middle of the big
bed. She throned there with her queenly luxury, her quiet serenity of an
idol. She was deeply affected by what she had read, and she had placed
the book on her breast, with the heavings of which it gently rose and
fell. When the cousin in a few words had made her acquainted with what
had taken place, she also appeared to be scandalized. How could one go
with a man who was not one’s husband? and she was filled with disgust
for that which was denied to her. But the architect now cast confused
glances at the young woman, and this ended by making Gasparine blush.

“It is shocking!” cried she. “Cover yourself up, madame, for it is
really shocking! Pray cover yourself up!”

And she herself threw a shawl of Rose’s over Berthe’s shoulders, a large
knitted woolen shawl which was lying about. It did not reach to her
knees, however, and in spite of himself the architect’s eyes wandered
over the young woman’s person.

Berthe was still trembling. Though she was in safety, she kept starting
and looking toward the door. Her eyes were full of tears, and she
beseeched this lady, who seemed so calm and comfortable as she lay in
bed:

“Oh! madame, keep me, save me. He wants to kill me.”

A pause ensued. The three were consulting one another with their eyes,
without hiding their disapproval of such culpable conduct. Besides, it
was not proper to come in a state of nudity and wake people up after
midnight, and perhaps put them to great inconvenience. No, such a thing
was not right; it showed a want of discretion, besides placing them in a
very awkward position.

“We have a young girl here,” said Gasparine at length. “Think of our
responsibility, madame.”

“You would be better with your parents,” insinuated the architect, “and
if you will allow me to see you to their door----”

Berthe was again seized with terror.

“No, no! He is on the stairs; he would kill me.”

And she implored him to let her remain: a chair was all she needed to
wait on till morning; on the morrow, she would go quietly away. The
architect and his wife would have consented; he won over by such tender
charms; she interested by the drama of this surprise in the middle of
the night. But Gasparine remained inflexible. Yet she had her curiosity
to satisfy, and she ended by asking:

“Wherever were you?”

“Up-stairs, in the room at the end of the passage, you know.”

At this, Campardon held up his arms and exclaimed:

“What! with Octave! it isn’t possible!”

With Octave, with that bean-stalk, such a pretty, plump little woman! He
was annoyed. Rose, also, felt vexed, and was now inclined to be severe.
As for Gasparine, she was quite beside herself, stung to the heart by
her instinctive hatred of the young man. He again! she knew very well
that he had them all; but she was certainly not going to be so stupid as
to keep them warm for him in her home.

“Put yourself in our place,” resumed she, harshly. “I tell you again we
have a young girl here.”

“Besides,” said Campardon, in his turn, “there is the house to be
considered; there is your husband, with whom I have always been on the
best of terms. He would have a right to be surprised. It will never do
for us to appear to publicly approve your conduct, madame, oh! a conduct
which I do not permit myself to judge, but which is rather--what shall I
say?--rather indiscreet, is it not?”

“We are certainly not going to cast stones at you,” continued Rose.
“Only, the world is so wicked! People will say that you had your
meetings here. And, you know, my husband works for some very
strait-laced people. At the least stain on his morality, he would lose
everything. But, allow me to ask you, madame, how is it you were not
restrained by religion? The Abbé Manduit was talking to us of you quite
paternally, only the day before yesterday.”

Berthe turned her head about between the three of them, looking at the
one who spoke, in a bewildered sort of way. In the midst of her fright,
she was beginning to understand; she felt surprised at being there.
Why had she rang; what was she doing amongst these people whom she
disturbed? She saw them clearly now--the wife occupying the whole width
of the bed, the husband in his drawers, and the cousin in a thin skirt,
the pair of them white with the feathers of the same pillow. They were
right; it was not proper to tumble amongst people in that way. And,
as the architect pushed her gently toward the ante-room, she went off
without even answering Rose’s religious regrets.

“Shall I accompany you as far as your parents’ door?” asked Campardon.
“Your place is with them.”

She refused, with a terrified gesture.

“Then, wait a moment; I will take a look up and down the stairs, for I
should deeply regret if the least harm happened to you.”

Lisa had remained in the middle of the ante-room, with her candle. He
took it, went out onto the landing, and returned almost immediately.

“I assure you there is no one. Run up quick.”

Then Berthe, who had not again opened her lips, hastily took off the
woolen shawl, and threw it on the floor, saying:

“Here! this is yours. It’s no use keeping it, as he’s going to kill me!”

And she went out into the darkness, with nothing on but her chemise,
the same as when she came. Campardon double locked the door in a fury,
murmuring the while:

“Eh! go and get tumbled elsewhere!”

Then, as Lisa burst out laughing behind him, he added:

“It’s true, they’d be coming every night, if one received them. Every
one for himself. I would have given her a hundred francs: but my
reputation! no, by Jove!”

In the bed-room, Rose and Gasparine were recovering themselves. Had any
one ever seen such a shameless creature? to walk about the staircase
with nothing on! Really! there were women who respected nothing, at
certain times! But it was close upon two o’clock; they must get to
sleep. And they embraced again: good night, my darling--good night,
my duck. Eh! was it not nice to love each other, and to always agree
together, when one beheld such catastrophes occurring in other families?
Rose again took up her Dickens; he supplied all her requirements; she
would read a few more pages, then let the book slip into the bed, the
same as she did every night, and fall off asleep, weary with emotion.
Campardon followed Gasparine, made her get into bed first, and then laid
himself down beside her. They both grumbled; the sheets had become cold
again; they were not at all comfortable; it would take them another
half-hour to get warm.

And Lisa, who, before going up-stairs, had returned to Angèle’s room,
was saying to her:

“The lady has sprained her ankle. Come, show me how she sprained it.”

“Why! like this!” replied the child, throwing herself on the maid’s
neck, and kissing her on her lips.

Berthe was on the stairs shivering. It was cold, the heating apparatus
was not lighted till the beginning of November. Her fright had at length
abated. She had gone down and listened at her door: nothing, not a
sound. Then she had gone up, not daring to venture as far as Octave’s
room, but listening from a distance: there was a death-like silence,
unbroken by a murmur.

Suddenly, a noise affrighted her, causing her to jump up, and she was
about to hammer with both her fists on her mother’s door, when some one
calling out stopped her.

It was a voice almost as faint as a zephyr.

“Madame--madame--”

She looked down-stairs, but saw nothing.

“Madame--madame--it’s I.”

And Marie showed herself in her chemise also. She had heard all the
disturbance, and had slipped out of bed, leaving Jules asleep, whilst
she remained listening in her little dining-room without a light.

“Come in. You are in trouble. I am a friend.”

She gently reassured her, and told her all that had taken place. The men
had not hurt each other: he had cursed and swore, and pushed the chest
of drawers up against his door, to shut himself in; whilst the other
had gone down-stairs with a bundle in his hand, the things she had
left behind, her shoes and petticoat, which he must have rolled up
mechanically in her dressing-gown, on seeing them lying about. In short,
it was all over. It would be easy enough to prevent them fighting on the
morrow.

But Berthe remained standing on the threshold with a remnant of fear and
shame at thus entering the abode of a lady whom she did not habitually
frequent. Marie was obliged to lead her in by the hand.

“You will sleep there, on that sofa. I will lend you a shawl, and I will
go and see your mother. Good heavens! what a misfortune! When one is in
love, one does not stop to think.”

“Ah! for the little pleasure we had!” said Berthe, with a sigh, which
was full of the cruelty and stupidity of her unprofitable night. “He
does right to swear. If he’s like me, he’s had more than enough of it!”

They were on the point of speaking of Octave. They said nothing further,
but suddenly fell sobbing into each other’s arms in the dark. Their
limbs clasped with a convulsive passion, their bosoms, hot with tears,
were pressed close together beneath their crumpled chemises. It was a
final weariness, an immense sadness, the end of everything. They did not
say another word, whilst their tears flowed, flowed without ceasing, in
the midst of the darkness and of the profound slumber of that house so
full of decency.



CHAPTER XV.

That morning the house awoke with a great middle-class dignity. Nothing
of the staircase preserved a trace of the scandals of the night, neither
the imitation marble which had reflected that gallop of a woman in
her chemise, nor the Wilton carpet from which all the odor of her
semi-nudity had evaporated. Monsieur Gourd alone, when he went up-stairs
toward seven o’clock to give his look round, sniffed at the walls;
but what did not concern him, did not concern him; and as, on going
down-stairs again, he saw two of the servants in the courtyard, Lisa
and Julie, who were no doubt discussing the catastrophe, for they
seemed deeply interested, he stared at them so fixedly that they at once
separated. Then he went outside to make sure of the tranquillity of the
street. It was calm. Only, the servants must already have been talking,
for some of the neighbors’ wives stopped, tradespeople came to their
shop doors, looking up in the air, examining and searching the different
floors, in the gaping way in which the crowd scrutinizes houses where a
crime has been committed. In the presence of the rich frontage, however,
people held their tongues and politely passed on.

At half-past seven, Madame Juzeur appeared in a dressing-gown, to look
after Louise, she said. Her eyes sparkled, and her hands were feverishly
hot. She stopped Marie, who was going up with her milk, and endeavored
to get her to talk; but she could draw nothing out of her, and did not
even learn how the mother had received her guilty daughter. Then,
under the pretense of waiting a minute for the postman, she entered the
Gourds’ room, and ended by asking why Monsieur Octave did not come
down; perhaps he was ill. The doorkeeper replied that he did not know;
moreover, Monsieur Octave never came down before ten minutes past eight.
At this moment, the other Madame Campardon, pale and erect, passed
by; every one bowed to her. And Madame Juzeur, obliged to go up-stairs
again, had the luck, on reaching the landing, to meet the architect just
starting off and putting on his gloves. At first they both looked at
each other in a dejected sort of way; then he shrugged his shoulders.

“Poor things!” murmured she.

“No, no, it serves them right!” said he ferociously. “An example must
be made of them. A fellow whom I introduce into a respectable house,
beseeching him not to bring any women there, and who, to humbug me, goes
and sleeps with the landlord’s sister-in-law! I look like a fool in it
all!”

No more was said. Madame Juzeur entered her apartments, whilst Campardon
continued on his way down-stairs in such a state of fury that he tore
one of his gloves.

Just as eight o’clock was striking, Auguste, looking very dejected, his
features contracted by an atrocious headache, crossed the courtyard to
go to his warehouse. Filled with shame, and dreading to meet any one, he
had come down by way of the servants’ staircase. However, he could not
leave his business to take care of itself. When in the midst of his
counters, and before the pay-desk where Berthe usually sat, his emotion
almost choked him. The porter was taking down the shutters, and Auguste
was giving the orders for the day, when the abrupt appearance of
Saturnin coming up from the basement gave him an awful fright. The
madman’s eyes were like flames of fire, his white teeth resembled a
famished wolf’s. He went straight up to the husband, clenching his
fists.

“Where is she? If you touch her, I’ll bleed you to death like a pig!”

Auguste drew back, exasperated.

“Here’s this one, now!”

“Shut up, or I’ll bleed you!” repeated Saturnin, making a rush at him.

Then the husband preferred to beat a retreat. He had a horror of madmen;
one could not reason with such people. But, as he went out into the
porch, calling to the porter to shut Saturnin up in the basement, he
found himself face to face with Valérie and Théophile. The latter, who
had caught a frightful cold, was wrapped up in a big red comforter,
and coughed and moaned. They must both have known everything, for they
stopped before Auguste with an air of condolence. Since the quarrel
about the inheritance, the two couples had been sworn enemies, and were
no longer on speaking terms.

“You still have a brother,” said Théophile, shaking him by the hand,
when he had finished coughing. “I wish you to remember it in your
misfortune.”

“Yes,” added Valérie, “this ought to avenge me, for she said some filthy
things to me, did she not? But we pity you all the same, for we are not
quite heartless.”

Auguste, deeply touched by their kind manner, led them to the end of
his warehouse, keeping an eye on Saturnin, who was prowling about.
And, there, their reconciliation became complete. Berthe’s name was
not mentioned; only, Valérie allowed it to be understood that all
the unpleasantness arose from that woman, for there never had been a
disagreeable word said in the family till she had entered it to dishonor
them. Auguste, his eyes cast on the ground, listened and nodded his
head approvingly. And a certain gayety gleamed beneath Théophile’s
commiseration, for he was delighted at no longer being the only one, and
he examined his brother’s face to see how a person looks when in that
awkward position.

“Now, what have you decided to do?” inquired he.

“To challenge him, of course!” firmly replied the husband.

Théophile’s joy was spoilt. His wife and he became cooler, in the
presence of Auguste’s courage. The latter related to them the frightful
scene of the night--how, having been foolish enough to hesitate
purchasing a pistol, he had been forced to content himself with merely
slapping the gentleman’s face; and to tell the truth, the gentleman had
done the same to him, but that did not prevent his having received a
pretty good hiding! A scoundrel who had been making a fool of him for
six months past by pretending to take his part against his wife, and
whose impudence had gone as far as making reports respecting her on
the days she went out! As for her, the creature, as she had gone to her
parents, she could remain with them; he would never take her back.

“Would you believe that last month I allowed her three hundred francs
for her dress!” cried he. “I who am so kind, so tolerant, who had
decided to put up with everything sooner than make myself ill! But one
cannot put up with that--no! no! one cannot!”

Théophile was thinking of death. He trembled feverishly, and almost
choked as he said:

“It’s absurd, you will get spitted. I would not fight.”

And, as Valérie looked at him, he added, in an embarrassed manner:

“If such a thing happened to me.”

“Ah! the wretched woman!” then murmured his wife, “when one thinks that
two men are going to kill each other on account of her! In her place I
could never sleep again.”

Auguste remained firm. He would fight. Moreover, his plans were settled.
As he particularly wished Duveyrier to be second, he was going up to
inform him of what had taken place, and to send him at once to Octave.
Valérie, who was most obliging to Auguste, ended by offering to attend
at the pay-desk, to give him time to find a suitable person.

“Only,” added she, “I must take Camille to the Tuileries gardens toward
two o’clock.”

“Oh! it does not matter for once in a way!” said her husband. “It’s
raining, too.”

“No, no, the child wants air. I must go out.”

At length the two brothers went up to the Duveyriers’. But an abominable
fit of coughing obliged Théophile to stop on the very first stair. He
held on the hand-rail, and, when he was able to speak, though still with
a slight rattle in his throat, he stammered:

“You know, I’m very happy now; I’m quite sure of her, No; I’ve not the
least thing to reproach her with, and she has given me proofs.”

Auguste stared at him without comprehending, and saw how yellow and
half dead he looked, with the scanty hairs of his beard drying up in his
flabby flesh. The look completed Théophile’s annoyance, whilst he felt
quite embarrassed by his brother’s valor.

“I am speaking of my wife,” he resumed. “Ah! poor old fellow, I pity you
with all my heart! You recollect my stupidity on your wedding day. But
with you there can be no mistake, as you saw them.”

“Bah!” said Auguste, doing the brave, “I’ll spit him like a lark. On my
word, I shouldn’t care a hang if I hadn’t such a headache!”

Just as they rang at the Duveyriers’ door, Théophile suddenly thought
that very likely the counselor would not be in, for since the day he had
found Clarisse, he had been drifting into bad habits, and had now even
got to the point of sleeping out. Hippolyte, who opened the door to
them, avoided answering with respect to his master; but he said that the
gentlemen would find madame playing her scales. They entered. Clotilde,
tightly laced up from the moment she got out of bed, was seated at her
piano, practicing with a regular and continuous movement of her hands;
and, as she went in for this kind of exercise for two hours every day,
so as not to lose the lightness of her touch, she occupied her mind in
another way, by reading the “Revue des deux Mondes,” which stood open
on the piano before her, without the agility of her fingers being in any
way hampered.

“Why! it’s you!” said she, when her brothers had drawn her from the
volley of notes, which isolated and enveloped her like a storm of hail.

And she did not even show her surprise when she caught sight of
Théophile. The latter, moreover, kept himself very stiff, like a man who
had come on another’s account. Auguste, filled with shame at the thought
of telling his sister of his misfortune, and afraid of terrifying her
with his duel, had a story all ready. But she did not give him time to
lie, she questioned him in her quiet way, after looking at him intently.

“What do you intend doing now?”

He started and blushed. So every one knew it, then? and he answered in
the brave tone which had already closed Théophile’s mouth:

“Why, fight, of course!”

“Ah!” said she, greatly surprised this time.

However, she did not disapprove. It would increase the scandal, but yet
honor had to be satisfied. She contented herself with recalling that she
had at first opposed the marriage. One could expect nothing of a young
girl who appeared to be ignorant of all a woman’s duties. Then, as
Auguste asked her where her husband was:

“He is traveling,” answered she, without the least hesitation.

Then he was quite distressed, for he did not wish to do anything before
consulting Duveyrier. She listened to him, without mentioning the new
address, unwilling to acquaint her family with her home troubles.
At length she hit on an expedient: she advised him to go to Monsieur
Bachelard, in the Rue d’Enghien; perhaps he would be able to tell him
something. And she returned to her piano.

“It’s Auguste who asked me to come up,” Théophile, who had not spoken
until then, thought it necessary to declare. “Will you let me kiss you,
Clotilde? We are all in trouble.”

She presented her cold cheek, and said:

“My poor fellow, only those are in trouble who choose to be. As for me,
I forgive every one. And take care of yourself, you seem to me to have a
very had cough.”

Then, calling to Auguste, she added:

“If the matter does not get settled, let me know, for I shall then be
very anxious.”

The storm of notes recommenced, enveloping and drowning her; and,
whilst her nimble fingers practiced the scales in every key, she gravely
resumed her reading of the “Revue dex deux Mondes,” in the midst of it
all.

Down-stairs, Auguste for a moment discussed the question whether he
should go to Bachelard’s or not. How could he say to him: “Your niece
has deceived me?” At length, he decided to obtain Duveyrier’s address
from the uncle, and to tell him nothing. Everything was settled: Valérie
would look after the warehouse, whilst Théophile would watch the home,
until his brother’s return. The latter had sent for a cab, and he was
just going off, when Saturnin, who had disappeared a moment before,
came up from the basement with a big kitchen knife, which he flourished
about, as he cried:

“I’ll bleed him! I’ll bleed him!”

This created another scare. Auguste, turning very pale, jumped
precipitately into the cab, and pulled the door to, saying:

“He’s got another knife! Wherever does he find all those knives? I
beseech you, Théophile, send him away, try and arrange that he shall
no longer be here when I come back. As though what has already happened
were not bad enough for me!”

The porter had hold of the madman by his shoulders. Valérie told the
driver the address. But he, a fat and filthy looking man, with a face
the color of bullock’s blood, and still drunk from the night before,
did not hurry himself, but took his time to gather up the reins and make
himself comfortable on the box.

“By distance, governor?” asked he, in a hoarse voice.

“No, by the hour, and quickly please. There will be something handsome
for yourself.”

In the Rue d’Enghein, he met with another vexation. To begin with, the
commission agent’s doorway was so blocked up with vans that he almost
got crushed; then he found himself in the courtyard with the glass roof,
amidst a crowd of packers all violently nailing up cases, and not one of
whom could tell him where Bachelard was. The hammering seemed to split
his skull. He was, however, making up his mind to wait for the uncle,
when an apprentice, pitying his suffering look, came and whispered an
address in his ear: Mademoiselle Fifi, Rue Saint-Marc, third floor. Old
Bachelard was most likely there.

“Where do you say?” asked the driver, who had fallen asleep.

“Rue Saint-Marc, and a little faster, if it’s possible.”

The cab resumed its funereal crawl. On the boulevards, the wheel caught
in an omnibus. The panels cracked, the springs uttered plaintive cries,
a gloomy melancholy more and more overcame the husband in his search of
his second. However, they at last reached the Rue Saint-Marc.

On the third floor, the door was opened by a little old woman, plump and
white. She seemed suffering from some strong emotion, and she admitted
Auguste directly he asked for Monsieur Bachelard.

“Ah! sir, you are one of his friends, surely. Pray try to calm him.
Something happened to vex him a little while ago, the poor dear man. You
know me, no doubt, he must have spoken to you of me: I am Mademoiselle
Menu.”

Auguste, feeling quite scared, found himself in a narrow room
overlooking the courtyard, and as clean and peaceful as a country home.
One could almost detect the odor of order and work, the purity of the
happy existence of people in a quiet way. Seated before an embroidery
frame, on which a priest’s stole was stretched, a fair young girl,
pretty and having a candid air, was weeping bitterly; whilst uncle
Bachelard, standing up, his nose inflamed, his eyes bloodshot, was
driveling with rage and despair. He was so upset that Auguste’s entry
did not appear to surprise him in the least. He immediately called upon
him to bear witness, and the scene continued.

“Come now, Monsieur Vabre, who are an honest man, what would you say
in my place? I arrived here this morning a little earlier than usual. I
entered her room with the sugar from the café and three four-sou pieces,
just for a surprise for her, and I find her with that pig Gueulin! No,
there, frankly what would you say?”

Auguste, greatly embarrassed, turned very red. He at first thought that
the uncle knew of his misfortune and was making a fool of him. But the
other added, without even waiting for a reply:

“Ah! listen, mademoiselle, you don’t know what it is you have done! I
who was becoming young again, who felt so delighted at having found a
nice quiet little nook, where I was once more beginning to believe in
happiness! Yes, you were an angel, a flower, in short something fresh
which helped me to forget a lot of dirty women.”

A genuine emotion contracted his throat, his voice choked in accents of
profound suffering. Everything was crumbling away, and he wept for the
loss of the ideal, with the hiccoughs of a remnant of drunkenness.

“I did not know uncle,” stammered Fifi, whose sobs redoubled in presence
of this pitiful spectacle; “no, I did not know it would cause you so
much grief.”

And indeed she did not look as if she did know. She retained her
ingenuous eyes, her odor of chastity, the naivete of a little girl
unable as yet to distinguish a gentleman from a lady. Aunt Menu,
moreover, swore that at heart she was innocent.

“Do be calm, Monsieur Narcisse. She loves you well all the same. I felt
that it would not be very agreeable to you. I said to her: ‘If Monsieur
Narcisse learns this, he will be annoyed.’ But she has scarcely lived as
yet, has she? She does not know what pleases, nor what does not please.
Do not weep any more, as her heart is always for you.”

As neither the child nor the uncle listened to her, she turned toward
Auguste, she told him how much more anxious such an adventure made her
feel for her niece’s future.

“Perhaps you know Villeneuve, near Lille?” said she in conclusion. “I
come from there. It is a pretty large town------”

But Auguste’s patience was at an end. He shook himself free of the aunt,
and turned toward Bachelard, whose noisy despair was calming down.

“I came to ask you for Duveyrier’s new address. I suppose you know it.”

“Duveyrier’s address, Duveyrier’s address,” stammered the uncle. “You
mean Clarisse’s address. Wait a moment.”

And he went and opened the door of Fifi’s bed-room. Auguste was greatly
surprised on seeing Gueulin, whom the old man had locked in, come forth.
He had wished to give him time to dress himself, and also to detain him,
so as to decide afterward what he would do with him. The sight of the
young man looking all upset, his hair still unbrushed, revived his
anger.

“What! wretch! it’s you, my nephew, who dishonors me! You soil your
family, you drag my white hairs in the mire! Ah! you’ll end badly, we
shall see you one of these days in the dock of the assize-court!”

Gueulin listened with bowed head, feeling at once both embarrassed and
furious.

“I say, uncle, you’re going too far,” murmured he. “There’s a limit to
everything. I don’t think it funny either. Why did you bring me to see
mademoiselle? I never asked you. You dragged me here. You drag everybody
here.”

But Bachelard, again overcome with tears, continued:

“You’ve taken everything from me; I had only her left. You’ll be the
cause of my death, and I won’t leave you a sou, not a sou!”

Then Gueulin, quite beside himself, burst out:

“Go to the deuce! I’ve had enough of it! Ah! it’s as I’ve always told
you! here they come, here they come, the annoyances of the morrow! See
how it succeeds with me, when for once in a way I’ve been fool enough
to take advantage of an opportunity. Of course! the night was very
pleasant; but, afterward, go to blazes! one will be blubbering like a
calf for the rest of one’s life.”

“I am in a great hurry,” Auguste ventured to observe. “Please give
me the address, just the name of the street and the number, I require
nothing further.”

“The address,” said the uncle, “wait a bit, directly.”

And, carried away by his feelings, which were overflowing, he caught
hold of Gueulin’s hands.

“You ungrateful fellow, I was keeping her for you, on my word of honor!
I said to myself: If he’s good, I’ll give her to him. Oh! in a proper
manner, with a dowry of fifty thousand francs. And, you dirty beast! you
can’t wait, you go and take her like that, all on a sudden!”

“No, let me be!” said Gueulin, affected by the old chap’s kindness of
heart. “I see very well that the annoyances are going to continue.”

But Bachelard dragged him before the young girl and asked her:

“Come now, Fifi, look at him, would you have loved him?”

“If it would have pleased you, uncle,” answered she.

This kind reply quite broke his heart. He wiped his eyes, blew his nose,
and almost choked. Well! he would see. He had always wished to make her
happy. And he suddenly sent Gueulin off about his business.

“Be off. I will think about it.”

Just as Gueulin was leaving, Bachelard called him back.

“Kiss her on the forehead; I permit it.”

++++

And then he went himself and put him outside the door, after which he
returned to Auguste, and, placing his hand on his heart, he said:

“It’s no joke; I give you my word of honor that I intended giving her to
him, later on.”

“And the address?” asked the other, losing all patience.

The uncle appeared surprised, as though he had answered him before.

“Eh? what? Clarisse’s address? Why, I don’t know it.”

Auguste made an angry gesture. Everything was going wrong: there seemed
to be a regular plot to render him ridiculous! Seeing him so upset,
Bachelard made a suggestion. No doubt, Trublot knew the address, and
they might find him at his employer’s--the stockbroker, Desmarquay. And
the uncle, with the obliging manner of one accustomed to knock about,
offered to accompany his young friend. The latter accepted.

“Listen!” said the uncle to Fifi, after kissing her in his turn on
the forehead: “here’s the sugar from the café, all the same, and
three four-sou bits for your money-box. Behave well whilst awaiting my
orders.”

The young girl, looking very modest, continued drawing her needle with
exemplary application. A ray of sunshine, coming from over a neighboring
roof, enlivened the little room, gilded this nook of innocence, into
which the noise of the passing vehicles did not even penetrate. All the
poetry of Bachelard’s nature was stirred.

“May God bless you, Monsieur Narcisse!” said aunt Menu to him as she saw
him to the door. “I am more easy now. Only listen to the dictates of
your heart, for it will inspire you.”

The driver had again fallen asleep, and he grumbled when the uncle gave
him Monsieur Desmarquay’s address in the Rue Saint-Lazare. No doubt the
horse was asleep also, for it required quite a hail of blows to get him
to move. At length the cab rolled painfully along.

“It’s hard all the same,” resumed the uncle, after a pause. “You can’t
imagine the effect it had on me when I saw Gueulin in his shirt. No; one
must have gone through such a thing to understand it.”

And he went on, entering into every detail, without noticing Auguste’s
increasing uneasiness. At length the latter, feeling his position
becoming falser and falser, told him why he was in such a hurry to find
Duveyrier.

“Berthe with that counter-jumper!” cried the uncle. “You astonish me,
sir!”

And it seemed that his astonishment was especially on account of his
niece’s choice. However, after a little reflection, he became very
indignant. His sister Eléonore had a great deal to reproach herself
with. He would have nothing more to do with the family. Of course, he
was not going to mix himself up with the duel; but he considered it
indispensable.

“Thus, just now, when I saw Fifi with a man, my first thought was to
murder every one. If the same thing should ever happen to you-----”

A painful start of Auguste’s caused him to interrupt himself.

“Ah! true, I was forgetting. My story does not interest you.”

Another pause ensued, whilst the cab swayed in a melancholy fashion.

“I told you Rue Saint-Lazare,” called out the uncle to the driver. “It
isn’t at Chaillot. Turn to the left.”

At length the cab stopped. Out of prudence they sent up for Trublot, who
came down bareheaded to talk to them in the doorway.

“You know Clarisse’s address?” asked Bachelard.

“Clarisse’s address?”

“Why, of course! Rue d’Assas.”

They thanked him, and were about to re-enter their cab, when Auguste
asked in his turn:

“What’s the number?”

“The number! Ah! I don’t know the number.”

At this, the husband declared that he preferred to give up seeing
Duveyrier altogether. Trublot did all he could to try and remember. He
had dined there once, it was just behind the Luxembourg; but he could
not recollect whether it was at the end of the street, or on the right
or the left, But he knew the door well; oh! he could have said at once,
“That’s it.” Then the uncle had another idea; he begged him to accompany
them in spite of Auguste’s protestations, and his talking of returning
home and not wishing to disturb any one any further. Trublot, however,
refused in a constrained manner. No, he would not trust himself in that
hole again.

“Well, I’m off, as Monsieur Trublot can’t come,” said Auguste, whose
worries were increased by all these stories.

But Trublot then declared that he would accompany them all the same;
only, he would not go up; he would merely show them the door. And, after
fetching his hat, and giving a pretext for going out, he joined them
in the cab. “Rue d’Assas,” said he to the driver. “Straight down the
street; I’ll tell you when to stop.”

The driver swore. Rue d’Assas, by Jove! there were people who liked
going about. However, they would get there when they did get there. The
big white horse steamed away without making hardly any progress, his
neck dislocated in a painful bow at every step.

Bachelard was already relating his misfortune to Trublot. Such things
always made him talkative. Yes, with that pig Gueulin, a most delicious
little thing! But at this point of his story he recollected Auguste,
who, gloomy and doleful, was sitting in a heap in a corner of the cab.

“Ah! true; I beg your pardon!” murmured he; “I keep forgetting.”

And, addressing Trublot, he added:

“Our friend has met with a misfortune in his home also, and that is why
we are trying to find Duveyrier. Yes, he found his wife last night--”

He finished with a gesture, then added simply:

“Octave, you know.”

Trublot, always plain-spoken, was about to say that it did not surprise
him. Only, he caught back his words, and replaced them by others, full
of disdainful anger, and the explanation of which the husband did not
dare to ask him for:

“What an idiot that Octave is!” said he.

At this appreciation of adultery there ensued another pause. Each of the
three men was buried in his own reflections. The cab scarcely moved
at all. It seemed to have been rolling for hours over a bridge, when
Trublot, who was the first to emerge from his thoughts, ventured on
making this judicious remark:

“This cab doesn’t get along very fast.”

But nothing could increase the horse’s pace. It was eleven o’clock
when they reached the Rue d’Assas. And there they wasted nearly another
quarter of an hour, for, in spite of Trublot’s boasts, he could not find
the door. At first he allowed the driver to go along the street to the
very end without stopping him; then he made him drive up and down three
times over. And, on his precise indications, Auguste kept entering every
tenth house; but the doorkeepers all answered that they knew no one of
the name. At length a green-grocer pointed out the door to him. He went
in with Bachelard, leaving Trublot in the cab.

It was the big rascal of a brother who admitted them. He had a cigarette
stuck between his lips, and blew the smoke into their faces as he showed
them into the drawing-room. When they asked for Monsieur Duveyrier, he
stood looking at them in a jocular manner without answering. Then he
disappeared, perhaps to fetch him. In the middle of the blue satin
drawing-room, all luxuriously new, yet already stained with grease, one
of the sisters, the youngest, was seated on the carpet scouring out a
saucepan which she had brought from the kitchen; whilst the other, the
eldest, was hammering with her clenched fists on a magnificent piano,
the key of which she had just found. On seeing the gentlemen enter, they
had both raised their heads; neither, however, left off her occupation,
but continued on the contrary hammering and scouring more energetically
than ever. Five minutes passed, yet no one came. The visitors, feeling
almost deafened, stood looking at each, when some yells, issuing from
a neighboring room, completely terrified them; it was the invalid aunt
being washed.

At length an old woman, Madame Bocquet, Clarisse’s mother, passed her
head through a partly opened door, not daring to show any more of her
person, because of the filthy dress she had on.

“What do you gentlemen desire?” asked she.

“Why, Monsieur Duveyrier!” exclaimed the uncle, losing patience. “We
have already told the servant. Let him know that Monsieur Auguste Vabre
and Monsieur Narcisse Bachelard wish to see him.”

Madame Bocquet shut the door again. The eldest of the sisters was now
mounted on the music stool, and was hammering with her elbows, whilst
the youngest was scraping the saucepan with an iron fork, so as to get
all she could out of it. Another five minutes passed by. Then, in the
midst of the uproar, which did not seem to disturb her in the least,
Clarisse appeared.

“Ah! it’s you!” said she to Bachelard, without even looking at Auguste.

“You know, my old fellow,” added she, “if you’ve come to tipple, you may
as well get out at once. The old life’s done with. I now intend to be
respected.”

“We haven’t called on your account,” replied Bachelard, recovering
himself, used as he was to the lively receptions of such ladies. “We
must speak to Duveyrier.”

Then Clarisse looked ar the other gentleman. She took him for a bailiff,
knowing that Alphonse was already in a mess.

“Oh! after all, I don’t care,” said she. “You can take him and keep him
if you like. It’s not so very pleasant to have to dress his pimples!”

She no longer even took the trouble to conceal her disgust, certain,
moreover, that all her cruelties only attached him to her the more.

And opening a door, she added:

“Here! come along, as these gentlemen persist in seeing you.”

Duveyrier, who seemed to have been waiting behind the door, entered and
shook their hands, trying to conjure up a smile. He no longer had the
youthful air of bygone days, when he used to spend the evening at her
rooms in the Rue de la Cerisaie; he looked overcome with weariness, he
was mournful and much thinner, starting at every moment, as though he
were uneasy about something behind him.

Clarisse remained to listen. Bachelard, who did not intend to speak
before her, invited the counselor to lunch.

“Now, do accept, Monsieur Vabre wants you. Madame will be kind enough to
excuse----”

But the latter had at length caught sight of her sister hammering on the
piano, and she slapped her and turned her out of the room, taking
the same opportunity to cuff and drive away the little one with her
saucepan. There was a most infernal uproar. The invalid aunt in the next
room again started off yelling, thinking they were coming to beat her.

“Do you hear, my darling?” murmured Duveyrier, “these gentlemen have
invited me to lunch.”

But she was not listening to him, she was trying the instrument with
frightened tenderness. For a month past, she had been learning to
play the piano. It was the secret dream of her whole life, a far-away
ambition the realization of which could alone stamp her a woman of
society. Having satisfied herself that there was nothing broken, she was
about to prevent her lover from going, simply to annoy him, when Madame
Bocquet once more bobbed her head in at the door, again hiding her
skirt.

“Your music-master,” said she.

At this Clarisse changed her mind, and called to Duveyrier:

“That’s it, be off! I’ll lunch with Théodore. We don’t want you.”

After kissing her on the hair, he discreetly withdrew, leaving her with
Théodore. In the ante-room, the big rascal of a brother asked him in
his jocular way for a franc for tobacco. Then, as they wont down-stairs,
Bachelard expressed surprise at his conversion to the charms of the
piano, and he swore he had never disliked it; he talked of the ideal,
saying how much Clarisse’s simple scales stirred his soul, yielding to
his continual mania for having a bright side to his coarse masculine
appetites.

Down below, Trublot had given the driver a cigar, and was listening to
his history with the liveliest interest. The uncle insisted on lunching
at Foyot’s; it was the proper time, and they could talk better whilst
eating. Then, when the cab had managed to start off again, he told
everything to Duveyrier, who became very grave.

Auguste’s uneasiness seemed to have increased at Clarisse’s, where he
had not opened his mouth; and now, worn out by this interminable drive,
his head entirely a prey to a violent aching, he abandoned himself.

When the counselor questioned him as to what he intended doing, he
opened his eyes, and remained a moment filled with anguish; then he
repeated his former phrase:

“Why, fight, of course!”

Only, his voice was weaker, and he added, as he closed his eyes, as
though to ask to be left alone:

“Unless you have anything else to suggest.”

Then the gentlemen held a grand council in the midst of the laborious
jolts of the vehicle. Duveyrier, the same as Bachelard, considered the
duel indispensable; and he was deeply affected by it, on account of
the blood likely to be spilt, a long black stream of which he pictured
soiling the stairs of his property; but honor demanded it, and one
cannot compound with honor. Trublot had broader views: it was too stupid
to place one’s honor in what out of decency he termed a woman’s frailty.
And Auguste approved what he said by a weary blink of his eyelids,
thoroughly incensed at last by the bellicose rage of the two others,
whose duty it was on the contrary to have been conciliatory. In spite of
his fatigue, he was obliged to relate once more the scene of the night
before, the blow he had given and the blow he had received; and soon the
fact of the adultery was lost sight of, the discussion bore solely
upon these two blows: they were commented upon, and analyzed, as a
satisfactory solution was sought for.

“What refinement!” Trublot ended by contemptuously saying. “If they hit
each other, well! they’re quits.”

Duveyrier and Bachelard looked at one another, evidently shaken in their
opinions. But just then they arrived at the restaurant, and the uncle
declared that they would first of all have a good lunch. It would help
to clear their ideas. He stood treat, ordering a copious meal, with
costly dishes and wines, which kept them three hours in a private room.
The duel was not even once mentioned. From the very beginning, the
conversation had necessarily turned on the question of women; Fifi and
Clarisse were during the whole time explained, turned inside out, and
pulled to pieces. Bachelard now admitted himself to have been in the
wrong, so as not to appear to the counselor as having been vilely
chucked over; whilst the latter, taking his revenge for the evening when
the uncle had seen him weep in the middle of the empty rooms in the Rue
de la Cerisaie, lied about his happiness, to the point of believing
in it and being affected by it himself. Seated before them, Auguste,
prevented by his neuralgia both from eating and drinking, appeared to
be listening, an elbow on the table, and a confused look in his eyes. At
dessert, Trublot recollected the driver, who had been forgotten outside:
and, full of sympathy, he sent him the remnants of the dishes and what
was left in the bottles; for, said he, from certain things he had let
drop, he had a suspicion the man was an ex-priest. Three o’clock struck.
Duveyrier complained of being assessor at the next sitting of the
assizes; Bachelard, who was now very drunk, spat sideways onto Trublot’s
trousers, without the latter noticing it; and the day would have been
finished there, amidst the liquors, if Auguste had not suddenly roused
himself with a start.

“Well, what’s going to be done?” asked he.

“Well! young’un,” replied the uncle, speaking most familiarly, “if you
like, we’ll settle matters nicely for you. It’s stupid to fight.”

No one appeared surprised at this conclusion. Duveyrier signified his
approval with a nod of the head. The uncle continued:

“I’ll go with Monsieur Duveyrier and see the fellow, and he shall
apologize, or my name isn’t Bachelard. The mere sight of me will make
him cave in, just because I shall have no business there. I don’t care a
hang for anyone!”

Auguste shook him by the hand; but he did not seem to feel relieved,
the pain in his head had become so unbearable. At length they left the
private room. Down in the street, the driver was still at lunch, inside
the cab; and, completely intoxicated, he had to shake the crumbs out,
digging Trublot fraternally in the stomach. Only the horse, which had
had nothing at all, refused to walk, with a despairing wag of the head.
They pushed him, and he ended by going down the Rue de Tournon, as
though he were rolling along. Four o’clock had struck, when the animal
at length stopped in the Rue de Choiseul. Auguste had had the cab
seven hours. Trublot, who remained inside, engaged it for himself,
and declared that he would wait there for Bachelard, whom he wished to
invite to dinner.

“Well! you have been a time,” said Théophile to his brother, as he
hastened to meet him. “I thought you were dead.”

And directly the gentlemen had entered the warehouse, he related how the
day had passed. He had been watching the house ever since nine o’clock.
But nothing particular had occurred. At two o’clock, Valérie had gone
to the Tuileries gardens with their son Camille. Then, toward half past
three, he had seen Octave go out. And that was all. Nothing moved, not
even at the Josserands’. Saturnin, who had been seeking his sister under
the furniture, having gone up to ask for her, Madame Josserand had shut
the door in his face, doubtless to get rid of him, saying that Berthe
was not there. Since then, the madman had been prowling about with
clenched teeth.

“Very well,” said Bachelard, “we’ll wait for the gentleman. We shall see
him come in from here.”

Auguste, whose head was in a whirl, was making great efforts to keep on
his legs. Then Duveyrier advised him to go to bed. There was no other
cure for headache.

“Go up now, we no longer require you. We will inform you of the result.
My dear fellow, you know you should avoid all emotions.”

And the husband went up to lie down.

At five o’clock, the two others were still waiting for Octave. The
latter, without any definite object, simply desirous of having some
fresh air and of forgetting the events of the night, had at first passed
before “The Ladies’ Paradise,” where he had stopped to wish Madame
Hédouin good-day, as she stood in the doorway, dressed in deep mourning;
and as he informed her of his having left the Vabres’, she had quietly
asked him why he did not return to her.

Opposite to him, Valérie was taking leave of a bearded gentleman, at
the door of a low lodging-house in the darkest corner. She blushed and
hastened away, pushing open the padded door of the church; then, seeing
that the young man was following her and smiling, she preferred to await
him under the porch, where they conversed together very cordially.

“You run away from me,” said he. “Are you, then, angry with me?”

“Angry?” repeated she, “why should I be angry? Ah! they may quarrel and
eat each other up if they like, it doesn’t matter to me!”

She was speaking of her relations. And she at once gave vent to her old
rancor against Berthe, making at first simply allusions so as to
sound the young man; then, when she felt he was secretly weary of his
mistress, being still exasperated with the night’s proceedings, she no
longer restrained herself, but poured out her heart. To think that that
woman had accused her of selling herself--she, who never accepted a sou,
not even a present! Yes, though, a few flowers at times, some bunches
of violets. And now everybody knew which of the two was the one to sell
herself. She had prophesied that one day it would be known how much she
could be bought for.

“It cost you more than a bunch of violets, did it not?” asked she.

“Yes, yes,” murmured he basely.

In his turn he let out some disagreeable things about Berthe, saying
that she was spiteful, and even making her out to be too fat, as though
seeking to avenge himself for the worry she was causing him. He had been
waiting all day for her husband’s seconds, and he was then returning
home to see if any one had called. It was a most stupid adventure;
she might very well have prevented this duel taking place. He ended
by relating all that had occurred at their ridiculous meeting--their
quarrel, then Auguste’s arrival on the scene, before they had even
exchanged a caress.

“On all I hold most sacred,” said he, “I had not even touched her.”

Valérie laughed, and was getting quite excited. She gradually yielded to
the tender intimacy of this exchange of confidences, drawing nearer to
Octave as though to some female friend who knew all. At times, a devotee
coming from the church disturbed them; then the door generally closed to
again, and they once more found themselves alone in the drum, hung with
green baize, as though in the innermost recesses of some discreet and
religious asylum.

“I scarcely know why I live with such people,” resumed she, returning to
the subject of her relations. “Oh! no doubt, I am not free from reproach
on my side. But, frankly, I cannot feel any remorse, they affect me so
little. And yet if I were to tell you how much love bores me!”

“Come now, not so much as all that!” said Octave gayly. “People are not
always as silly as we were yesterday. There are blissful moments.”

Then she confessed herself. It was not entirely the hatred she felt for
her husband, the continual fever which shook his frame, his impotence,
nor yet his perpetual blubbering like a little boy, which had caused her
to misbehave herself six months after her marriage; no, she often did it
involuntarily, solely because her head got filled with things of which
she was unable to explain the why and the wherefore. Everything gave
way; she became quite ill, and could almost kill herself. Then, as
there was nothing to restrain her, she might as well take that leap as
another.

“But really now, do you never have a nice time of it?” again asked
Octave.

“Well, never like people describe,” replied she.

He looked at her full of a pitying sympathy. All for nothing, and
without the least pleasure. It was certainly not worth the trouble she
gave herself, in her continual fear of being caught. And he especially
felt a certain relief to his pride, for he had always suffered a little
at heart from her old disdain. He recalled the circumstance to her.

“You remember, after one of your attacks?”

“Oh! yes, I remember. Still, I did not dislike you; but listen! it is
far better as it is, we should be detesting each other now.”

She gave him her little gloved hand. He squeezed it, as he repeated:

“You are right; it is better as it is. Really, one only cares for the
women one has had nothing to do with.”

It was quite a blissful moment. They stood for a while hand in hand,
deeply affected. Then, without another word, they pushed open the padded
door of the church, inside which she had left her son Camille in care of
the woman who let out the chairs. The child had fallen asleep. She made
him kneel down, and did the same herself for a minute, burying her face
in her hands, as though in the midst of a fervent prayer. And she
was rising to her feet when Abbé Manduit, who was coming from a
confessional, greeted her with a paternal smile.

Octave had simply passed through the church. When he returned home every
one was on the alert. In the doorway, as Octave passed, Lisa, who was
gossiping with Adèle, had to content herself with merely staring at him;
and both resumed their complaints of the dear price of poultry beneath
the stern look of Monsieur Gourd, who bowed to the young man. As the
latter was going up to his room, Madame Juzeur, who had been on the
watch ever since the morning, slightly opened her door, and, seizing
hold of his hands, drew him into her ante-room, where she kissed him on
the forehead and murmured:

“Poor child! There, I won’t keep you. Come back and talk with me when
it’s all over.”

And he had scarcely reached his own apartment when Duveyrier and
Bachelard called. At first, amazed at seeing the uncle, he wished to
give them the names of two of his friends. But these gentlemen,
without answering, spoke of their age, and preached him a sermon on
his misconduct. Then, as in the course of conversation he announced his
intention of leaving the house at the earliest possible moment, they
both solemnly declared that that proof of his discretion was quite
sufficient. There had been more than enough scandal; the time had
come when respectable people had the right to expect them to make the
sacrifice of their passions. Duveyrier accepted Octave’s notice to quit
on the spot, and withdrew, whilst, behind his back, Bachelard invited
the young man to dine with him that evening.

“Mind, I count upon you. We’re on the spree; Trublot is waiting below. I
don’t care a button for Eléonore. But I don’t wish to see her, and I’ll
go down first, so that no one shall meet us together.”

He took his departure, and, five minutes later, Octave, delighted with
the issue of affairs, joined him below. He slipped into the cab, and the
melancholy horse, which had been dragging the husband about for seven
hours, limped along with them to a restaurant near the Halles, where
some marvelous tripe was to be obtained.

Duveyrier had gone back to Théophile in the warehouse. Valérie also had
just come in, and all three were talking together when Clotilde herself
returned from a concert. She had gone there, moreover, with a mind
perfectly at ease, certain, said she, that some arrangement satisfactory
to every one would be arrived at. Then ensued a pause, a momentary
embarrassment between the two families. Théophile, seized with an
abominable fit of coughing, was almost spitting his teeth out. As it
was to their mutual interest to be reconciled, they ended by taking
advantage of the emotion into which the new family troubles had plunged
them. The two women embraced; Duveyrier swore to Théophile that the
Vabre inheritance was ruining him, yet he promised to indemnify him by
remitting his rent for three years.

“I must go and tranquilize poor Auguste,” at length observed the
counselor.

He was ascending the stairs, when some terrible cries, resembling those
of an animal being butchered, issued from the bed-room. It was Saturnin,
who, armed with his kitchen knife, had noiselessly crept as far as the
alcove; and there, his eyes as red as flaming coals, his mouth covered
with foam, he had rushed upon Auguste.

“Tell me! where have you put her?” cried he. “Give her back to me, or
I’ll bleed you like a pig!”

The husband, suddenly roused from his painful slumber, tried to fly. But
the madman, with the strength of his fixed idea, had caught him by the
tail of his shirt, and, pushing him back on the mattress, placing his
neck on the edge of the bed, over a basin which happened to be there, he
held him in the position of an animal at the slaughter-house.

[Illustration: 0365]

“Ah! it’s all right this time. I’m going to bleed you--I’m going to
bleed you like a pig!”

Fortunately, the others arrived and were able to release the victim. But
Saturnin, who was raving mad, had to be shut up: and, two hours later,
the commissary of police having been sent for, he was taken for the
second time to the Asile des Moulineaux, with the consent of the family.
Poor Auguste lay trembling. He said to Duveyrier, who informed him of
the arrangement that had been come to with Octave:

“No, I should have preferred to have fought the duel. One cannot defend
oneself against a madman. Why has he such a mania for wishing to bleed
me, the brigand? because his sister has made a cuckold of me? Ah!
I’ve had enough of it, my friend, I’ve had enough of it, on my word of
honor!”



CHAPTER XVI.

On the Wednesday morning, when Marie brought Berthe to Madame
Josserand, the latter, bursting with anger at the thought of an
adventure which she felt was a sad blow to her pride, became quite pale
and unable to utter a word.

She caught hold of her daughter’s hand with the roughness of a teacher
dragging a refractory scholar to the black-hole, and, leading her to
Hortense’s room, she pushed her inside, saying at length:

“Hide yourself, never show yourself again. You will kill your father if
you do.”

“What’s up? Whatever have you done?” asked her sister, whose
astonishment increased on seeing her wrapped in an old shawl which Marie
had lent her. “Has poor Auguste fallen ill at Lyons?”

But Berthe would not answer. No, later on; there were things she could
not speak about; and she beseeched Hortense to go away, to let her have
the room to herself, so that she could at least weep there in peace. The
day passed thus. Monsieur Josserand had gone off to his office, without
having the faintest idea of what had occurred; then, when he returned
home in the evening, Berthe still remained in hiding. As she had refused
all food, she ended by ravenously devouring the little dinner which
Adèle brought to her in secret. The maid remained watching her, and, in
presence of her appetite, said:

“Don’t worry yourself so much, pick up your strength. The house is quite
quiet. And as for any one being killed or wounded, there’s nobody hurt
at all.”

“Ah!” said the young woman.

She questioned Adèle, who gave her a long account of how the day had
passed; the duel which had not come off; what Monsieur Auguste had said,
and what the Duveyriers and the Vabres had done. She listened to her,
and seemed to live again, gobbling everything up, and asking for more
bread. In all truth it was foolish of her to take the matter so much to
heart when the others seemed to be already consoled!

“So you won’t tell me?” asked Hortense again.

“But, my darling,” answered Berthe, “you’re not married. I really can’t.
It’s a quarrel I’ve had with Auguste. He came back, you know----”

And as she interrupted herself, her sister resumed, impatiently:

“Get along with you! What a fuss! Good heavens! at my age, I’m quite old
enough to know!”

Then Berthe confessed herself, at first choosing her words, then letting
out everything, talking of Octave and talking of Auguste. Hortense
listened as she lay on her back in the dark, and merely uttered a few
words to question her sister or to give an opinion: “What did he say
to you then? And you, how did you feel? Well, that’s funny; I shouldn’t
like that! Ah! really! so that’s the way!” Midnight, one o’clock, then
two struck; still they went on with the story, their limbs little
by little irritated by the sheets, and themselves gradually becoming
drowsy.

“Oh! as for me, with Verdier, it will be very simple,” declared
Hortense, abruptly. “I shall do just as he wishes.”

At the mention of Verdier’s name Berthe gave a movement of surprise. She
thought the marriage was broken off, for the woman with whom he had been
living for fifteen years past had just had a child, at the very moment
that he intended leaving her.

“Do you, then, expect to marry him all the same?” asked she. “Well land
why not? I was stupid enough to wait too long. But the child will die.
It’s a girl, and all scrofulous.”

“Poor woman!” Berthe was unable to help exclaiming.

“How, poor woman!” cried Hortense, sourly. “It’s easy to see that you
also have things to reproach yourself with!”

She at once regretted her cruelty, and, taking her sister in her arms,
kissed her, and swore that she did not mean it. Then they were silent.
But still they could not sleep, so continued the story, their eyes wide
open in the darkness.

The next morning, Monsieur Josserand did not feel very well. Up till two
o’clock, he had persisted in addressing wrappers, in spite of a lowness
of spirits, and of a gradual loss of strength, of which he had been
complaining for some time. He got up, however, and dressed himself; but,
when he was on the point of starting for his office, he felt so feeble
that he sent a messenger with a letter to inform the brothers Bernheim
of his indisposition.

The family were about to have their breakfast. On seeing her husband
remain, Madame Josserand decided not to hide Berthe any longer; she
was already sick of all the mystery, and was, moreover, expecting every
minute to see Auguste come up and create a disturbance.

“What! you’re going to breakfast with us! whatever is the matter?” asked
the father in great surprise, on beholding his daughter, her eyes
heavy with sleep, her bosom half-bursting through Hortense’s too tight
dressing-gown.

“My husband has written to say that he is obliged to stay at Lyons,”
 answered she, “so I thought of spending the day with you.”

“Is it really true? You are not hiding anything from me?” murmured he.

“What an idea! why should I hide anything from you?”

Madame Josserand merely allowed herself to shrug her shoulders. What was
the use of all those precautions? to gain an hour, perhaps; it was not
worth while; the father would always have to receive the blow in the
end. The breakfast, however, passed off most pleasantly.

But a regrettable scene spoilt the end of the breakfast. All on a
sudden, Madame Josserand addressed the servant:

“Whatever are you eating?”

For some little while past she had been watching her. Adèle, dragging
her shoes after her, turned clumsily round the table.

“Nothing, madame,” replied she.

“How! nothing! You’re chewing; I’m not blind. See! you’ve got your mouth
full of it. Oh! it’s no use drawing in your cheeks; it’s easy to see in
spite of that. And you’ve got some in your pocket, haven’t you?”

Adèle became confused, and tried to draw back. But Madame Josserand
caught hold of her by the skirt.

“For a quarter of an hour past, I’ve been watching you take something
out of there and thrust it under your nose, after hiding it in your
hand. It must be something very good. Let me see what it is.”

She dived into the pocket in her turn, and withdrew a handful of cooked
prunes. The juice was still trickling from them.

“What is this?” cried she furiously.

“Prunes, madame,” said the servant, who, seeing herself caught, became
insolent.

“Ah! you eat my prunes! So that’s why they go so quickly and never again
appear on the table! I could never have believed it possible; prunes! in
a pocket!”

And she also accused her of drinking her vinegar. Everything
disappeared; one could not even have a potato about without being
certain of never seeing it again.

“You’re a regular gulf, my girl.”

“Give me sufficient to eat,” retorted Adèle boldly, “and then I won’t
touch your potatoes.”

This was too much. Madame Josserand rose from her seat, majestic and
terrible.

“Hold your tongue, and don’t answer me! Oh! I know, it’s the other
servants who’ve spoilt you. Directly a simpleton arrives in a house
from the country, all the hussies in the place at once put her up to all
sorts of horrors. You no longer go to mass, and now you steal!”

Adèle, who had indeed been worked up by Lisa and Julie, did not yield.

“When I was a simpleton, as you say, you should not have taken advantage
of me. It’s ended now.”

“Leave the room, I discharge you!” cried Madame Josserand, pointing to
the door with a tragical gesture.

She sat down quite shaken, whilst the maid, without hurrying herself,
dragged her shoes after her, and swallowed another prune before
returning to the kitchen.

The breakfast, however, finished in the most affectionate intimacy.
Monsieur Josserand, deeply moved, spoke of poor Saturnin, who had had
to be taken away the day before during his absence from home; and, as he
believed, in a sudden fit of raving madness, with which his son had been
seized in the middle of the shop, for such was the story that had been
told him.

“How is the marriage getting on?” asked Monsieur Josserand, discreetly.

At first the mother replied in well-chosen phrases, on account of
Hortense. Now, she was at the feet of her son, a young fellow who was
sure to succeed; and she would even throw his name in the father’s face
at times, saying that, thank goodness! he took after her, and would
never leave his wife without a pair of shoes. She little by little
warmed with her subject.

“In short, he’s had enough of it! It was all very well for a while,
and did him no harm. But, if the aunt doesn’t give him the niece, good
night! he’ll cut off all supplies. I think he is quite right.”

Hortense, out of decency, sipped her coffee, making a show of
obliterating herself behind the cup; whilst Berthe, who for the future
might hear anything, gave a slight pout of repugnance at her brother’s
successes. The family were about to rise from table, and Monsieur
Josserand, who was more cheerful and feeling much better, was talking
of going to his office all the same, when Adèle brought in a card. The
person was waiting in the drawingroom.

“What, it’s her! and at this hour of the morning!” exclaimed Madame
Josserand. “And I who haven’t got my stays on! So much the worse! it’s
time I gave her a piece of my mind!”

The visitor was Madame Dambreville. The father and his two daughters
remained talking in the dining-room, whilst the mother directed her
steps to the drawing-room. But she stopped at the door before opening
it, and anxiously examined her old green silk dress, trying to button it
up, picking off the threads gathered from the floors, and driving in her
immense bosom with a tap.

“Excuse me, dear madame,” said the visitor, with a smile. “I was
passing, so could not resist calling to see how you were.”

She was all laced up, and had her hair done in the most correct style,
while she conversed in the easy way of an amiable woman who had just
come up to wish a friend good-day. Only, her smile, trembled, and behind
her society graces one could detect a frightful anguish, with which
her whole frame quivered. She at first talked of all sorts of things,
avoiding any mention of Léon’s name, but at length she took from her
pocket a letter which she had just received from him.

“Oh! such a letter, such a letter,” murmured she, in an altered voice,
half-broken with sobs. “Whatever is it he has to complain of, dear
madame? He says he will never come to our house again!”

And her feverish hand held out the letter, which quite shook as she
offered it to Madame Josserand. The latter read it coldly. It was
a breaking off of the acquaintance in three lines of most cruel
conciseness.

“Really!” said she, as she returned the letter, “Léon is not perhaps
altogether wrong----”

But Madame Dambreville at once began to praise up the widow--a woman
scarcely thirty-five years old, most accomplished and sufficiently rich,
who would make a Minister of her husband, she was so active. In short,
she had kept her promises, she had found a fine match for Léon; whatever
had he to be angry about? And, without waiting for a reply, making up
her mind with a nervous start, she named Raymonde, her niece. Really,
now, was it possible? a chit of sixteen, a young savage who knew nothing
of life!

“Why not?” Madame Josserand kept repeating at each interrogation, “why
not, if he loves her?”

No! no! he did not love her--he could not love her! Madame Dambreville
struggled, and gradually abandoned herself.

“Come,” cried she, “I only ask him for a little gratitude. It’s I who
have made him, it’s thanks to me that he is an auditor, and he will
receive a higher appointment on his wedding day. Madame, I implore you,
tell him to return to me, tell him to do me that pleasure. I appeal to
his heart, to your motherly heart, yes, to all that is noble in your
nature----”

She clasped her hands, her words became inarticulate. A pause ensued,
during which they were standing face to face. Then suddenly she burst
out into the most bitter sobs, vanquished, and no longer mistress of
herself.

“Not with Raymonde,” stuttered she, “oh! no, not with Raymonde!”

“Keep quiet, my dear, you make me quite ashamed,” replied Madame
Josserand, angrily. “I have daughters who might hear you. I know
nothing, and I don’t wish to know anything. If you have affairs with
my son, you must settle them together. I will never place myself in a
questionable position.”

Yet she loaded her with advice. At her age, one should resign oneself to
the inevitable.

“Just think, dear friend, he is not yet thirty. I should be grieved to
appear unkind, but you might be his mother. Oh, he knows what he owes
you, and I myself am filled with gratitude. You will remain his guardian
angel. Only, when a thing is ended, it is ended. You could not possibly
have hoped to have kept him always!”

And as the wretched woman refused to listen to reason, wishing simply to
have him back, and at once, the mother grew quite angry.

“Do have done, madâme! It is kind on my part to be so obliging. The
boy will have no more of it! it is easily to be understood. Look at
yourself, pray! It is I now who would call him back to his duty, if he
submitted again to your exactions; for, I ask you, what good can there
be in it for both of you in future? It so happens that he is coming
here, and if you have counted on me----”

Of all these words, Madame Dambreville only heard the last phrase. For
a week past she had been running about after Léon, without succeeding in
seeing him. Her face brightened up; she uttered this cry from her heart:

“As he is coming, I shall stay!”

From that moment she made herself at home, seating herself like a heavy
mass in an arm-chair, her eyes fixed on vacancy, declining any further
questioning with the obstinacy of an animal which will not yield, even
when beaten. Madame Josserand, bitterly regretting having said too much,
exasperated with this sort of mile-stone which had become a fixture in
her drawing-room, yet not daring to turn her out, ended by leaving her
to herself. Moreover, some sounds coming from the dining-room made her
feel uneasy. She fancied she recognized Auguste’s voice.

“On my word of honor! madame, one never heard of such a thing before!”
 said she, violently slamming the door. “It is most indiscreet!”

It was indeed Auguste, who had come up to have the explanation with
his wife’s parents which he had been meditating since the day before.
Monsieur Josserand, feeling jollier still, and more inclined for a
little enjoyment than for office duties, was proposing a walk to his
daughters, when Adèle came and announced Madame Berthe’s husband. It
created quite a scare. The young woman turned pale.

“What! your husband?” said the father. “But he was at Lyons! Ah! you
were not speaking the truth. There is some misfortune; for two days past
I have seemed to feel it.”

And, as she rose from her seat, he detained her.

“Tell me, have you been quarreling again? about money, is it not? Eh?
perhaps because of the dowry, of the ten thousand francs we have not
paid him?”

“Yes, yes, that’s it,” stammered Berthe, who released herself and fled.

Hortense also had risen. She ran after her sister, and both took refuge
in her room.

“Come in, come in, my dear Auguste,” said he, in a choking tone of
voice. “Berthe has just told me of your quarrel. I’m not very well, and
they’ve been spoiling me. I regret immensely not being able to give you
that money. I did wrong in promising, I know--”

“Yes, sir, I know all. You completely took me in with your lies. I don’t
mind so much not having the money; but it’s the hypocrisy of the thing
which exasperates me! Why all that nonsense about an assurance which did
not exist? Why give yourself such airs of tenderness and affection,
by offering to advance sums which, according to you, you would not
be entitled to receive till three years later? And you were not even
blessed with a sou! Such behavior has only one name in every country.”

Monsieur Josserand opened his mouth to exclaim: “It is not I; it is
them!” But he was ashamed to accuse the family; he bowed his head,
thus accepting the responsibility of the disgraceful action. Auguste
continued:

“Moreover, every one was against me, even that Duveyrier behaved like
a rascal, with his scoundrel of a notary; for I asked to have the
assurance mentioned in the contract, as a guarantee, and I was made
to shut up. Had I insisted, though, you would have been guilty of
swindling. Yes, sir, swindling!”

At this accusation, the father, who was very pale, rose to his feet, and
he was about to answer, to offer his labor, to purchase his daughter’s
happiness with all of his existence that remained to him, when Madame
Josserand, quite beside herself through Madame Dambreville’s obstinacy,
no longer thinking of her old green silk dress, now splitting, through
the heaving of her angry bosom, entered like a blast of wind.

“Eh? what?” cried she; “who talks of swindling? Is it you, sir? You
would do better, sir, to go first to Père-Lachaise cemetery to see if
it’s your father’s pay-day!”

Auguste had expected this, but he was all the same horribly annoyed. She
went on, with head erect, and quite crushing in her audacity:

“We’ve got them, your ten thousand francs. Yes, they’re there in a
drawer. But we will only give them to you when Monsieur Vabre returns
to give you the others. What a family! a gambler of a father who lets
us all in, and a thief of a brother-in-law who pops the inheritance into
his own pocket!”

“Thief! thief!” stammered Auguste, unable to contain himself any longer;
“the thieves are here, madame!”

They both stood with heated countenances in front of each other.
Monsieur Josserand, quite upset by all this wrangling, separated them.
He beseeched them to be calm; and, trembling all over, he was obliged to
sit down again.

“Anyhow,” resumed the son-in-law, after a pause, “I won’t have any
strumpet in my house. Keep your money and keep your daughter That is
what I came up to tell you.”

“You are changing the subject,” quietly observed the mother. “Very well,
we will discuss the fresh one.”

“I told you she would deceive me!” cried Auguste, with an air of
indignant triumph.

“And I answered that you were doing everything to lead to such a
result!” declared Madame Josserand, victoriously. “Oh! I do not pretend
that Berthe is right; what she has done is simply idiotic; and she won’t
lose anything by waiting. I shall let her know what I think of it. But,
however, as she is not present, I can state the fact--you alone are
guilty.”

“What! I guilty?”

“Undoubtedly, my dear fellow. You don’t know how to deal with women.
Here’s an instance! Do you even deign to come to my Tuesday receptions?
No; you perhaps put in an appearance three times during the season, and
then only stay half-an-hour Though one may have headaches, one should be
polite. Oh! of course, it’s no great crime; anyhow, it judges you; you
don’t know how to live.”

Her voice hissed with a slowly gathered rancor; for, on marrying her
daughter, she had above all counted on her son-in-law to fill her
drawing-room. And he brought no one; he did not even come himself; it
was the end of one of her dreams; she would never be able to struggle
against the Duveyriers’ choruses.

“However,” added she, ironically. “I force no one to come and amuse
himself in my home.”

“The truth is, it is not very amusing there,” replied he, out of all
patience.

This threw her into a towering rage.

“That’s it, insult away! Learn, sir, that I might have all the high life
of Paris if I wished, and that I was not looking to you to help me to
keep my rank in society!”

There was no longer any question of Berthe; the adultery had disappeared
before this personal quarrel. Monsieur Josserand continued to listen to
them, as though he were tossing about in the midst of some nightmare. It
was not possible; his daughter could not have caused him this grief;
and he ended by painfully rising again from his seat and going, without
saying a word, in search of Berthe. Directly she was there, she
would throw herself into Auguste’s arms, and then everything would be
explained and forgotten. He found her in the midst of a quarrel with
Hortense, who was urging her to implore her husband’s forgiveness,
having already had enough of her, and being unwilling to share her room
any longer. The young woman resisted, yet she ended by following her
father. As they returned to the dining-room, where the breakfast cups
were still scattered over the table, Madame Josserand was exclaiming:

“No, on my word of honor! I don’t pity you.”

On catching sight of Berthe she stopped speaking, and again retired into
her stern majesty. When his wife appeared before him, Auguste made a
gesture of protest, as though to remove her from his path.

“Come,” said Monsieur Josserand, in his gentle and trembling voice,
“what is the matter with you all? I can’t make it out; you will drive
me mad with all your quarreling. Your husband is mistaken, is he not,
my child? You will explain things to him. You must have a little
consideration for your old parents. Embrace each other; now, come, do it
for my sake.”

Berthe, who would all the same have kissed Auguste, stood there
awkwardly, and half-choked by her dressing-gown, on seeing him draw back
with an air of tragical repugnance.

“What! you refuse to, my darling?” continued the father. “You should
take the first step, and you, my dear boy, encourage her; be indulgent.”

The husband at length gave free vent to his anger.

“Encourage her, not if I know it! I found her in her chemise, sir! and
with that man! Do you take me for a fool, that you wish me to kiss her!
In her chemise, sir!”

Monsieur Josserand stood lost in amazement. Then he caught hold of
Berthe’s arm.

“You say nothing; can it be true? On your knees, then!”

But Auguste had reached the door. He was hastening away. “Your comedies
are useless! they don’t take me in! Don’t try to shove her on my
shoulders again; I’ve had her once too often. You hear me; never again!
I would sooner go to law about it. Pass her on to some one else, if
she’s in your way. And, besides, you’re no better than she is!”

He waited till he was in the ante-room, and then further relieved
himself by shouting out these last words:

“Yes, when one makes a strumpet of one’s daughter, one should not push
her into a respectable man’s arms!”

The outer door banged, and a profound silence ensued. Berthe had
mechanically gone back to her seat at the table, lowering her eyes, and
looking at the coffee dregs in the bottom of her cup; whilst her
mother sharply walked about, carried away by the tempest of her violent
emotions. The father, utterly worn out, and with a face as white as that
of a corpse, had sat down all by himself at the other end of the room,
against the wall. An odor of rancid butter--butter of inferior quality
purposely bought at the Halles--quite infected the apartment.

“Now that that vulgar person has gone,” said Madame Josserand, “one may
be able to hear oneself speak. Ah! sir, these are the results of your
incapacity. Do you at length acknowledge your errors? think you that
such quarrels would be picked with either of the brothers Bernheim, with
one of the owners of the Saint-Joseph glass works?”

Monsieur Josserand, with a lifeless look in his eyes, had not even
stirred. She had stopped before him, with an enraged desire for a row;
then, seeing he did not move, she continued to pace the room.

“Yes, yes, be disdainful. You know it will not affect me much. And we
will see if you will again dare to speak ill of my relations after all
that yours have done. Uncle Bachelard is quite a star! my sister is most
polite! Listen; do you wish to know my opinion? Well! it is that if my
father had not died, you would have killed him. As for your father----”

Monsieur Josserand’s face became whiter than ever as he remarked:

“I beseech you, Eléonore. I abandon my father to you, and also all my
relations. Only, I beseech you, let me be. I do not feel well.”

Berthe, taking pity on him, raised her head.

“Do leave him alone, mamma,” said she.

So, turning toward her daughter, Madame Josserand resumed more violently
than ever:

“I’ve been keeping you for the last; you won’t lose by waiting! Yes,
ever since yesterday I’ve been bottling it up. But, I warn you, I can no
longer keep it in--I can no longer keep it in. With that counter-jumper;
I can scarcely believe it! Have you, then, lost all pride? I thought
that you were making use of him, that you were just sufficiently amiable
to cause him to interest himself in the business down-stairs; and I
assisted you, I encouraged him. In short, tell me what advantage you saw
in it all?”

“None whatever,” stammered the young woman.

“Then, why did you take up with him? It was even more stupid than
wicked.”

“How absurd you are, mamma: one can never explain such things.”

Madame Josserand was again walking about.

“Ah! you can’t explain! Well! but you ought to be able to! There is not
the slightest shadow of sense in misbehaving oneself like that, and
it is this which exasperates me! Did I ever tell you to deceive your
husband? did I ever deceive your father? He is here; ask him. Let him
say if he ever caught me with any other man.”

Her pace slackened and became quite majestic, and she slapped herself on
her green bodice, driving her breasts back under her arms.

“Nothing; not a fault, not the least forgetfulness, even in thought. My
life has been a chaste one. Yet God knows what I have had to put up with
from your father! I have had every excuse; many women would have avenged
themselves. But I had some sense, and that saved me. Before heaven!”
 said she, “I swear I would have restrained myself, even if the Emperor
had pestered me! One loses too much.”

She took a few steps in silence, apparently reflecting, and then added:

“Moreover, it is the greatest possible shame.”

Monsieur Josserand looked at her, looked at his daughter, and his lips
moved, though no sound came from them; and his whole suffering being
conjured them to put an end to this cruel explanation. But Berthe, who
bent before violence, was wounded by her mother’s lesson. She at length
rebelled, for she was quite unconscious of her fault, thanks to the old
education which she had received when a girl in search of a husband.

“Well!” said she, boldly planting her elbows on the table, “you should
not have made me marry a man I did not love. Now I hate him, and I have
taken another.”

“In short, he bores me, and I bore him,” declared she. “It’s not my
fault, we don’t understand one another. As early as the morrow of our
wedding-day, he looked as though he thought we had taken him in; yes,
he was cold and put out, just like when he has a bad day’s sale. For
my part, I did not amuse myself particularly with him. Really! I don’t
think much of marriage if it offers no more pleasure than that! And
that’s how it all began. So much the worse! it was bound to come; I’m
not the most guilty.”

She left off speaking, but shortly added, with an air of profound
conviction:

“Ah! mamma, how well I understand you now! You remember, when you told
us you had had more than enough of it.”

Madame Josserand, standing up before her, had been listening for a
minute with indignant amazement.

“Eh? I said that!” cried she.

But Berthe, warming with her subject, would not stop.

“You have said so twenty times. And, besides, I should have liked to
have seen you in my place. Auguste is not kind like papa. You would have
been fighting together about money matters before a week had passed. He
would precious soon have made you say that men are only good to be taken
in!”

“Eh? I said that!” repeated the mother, quite beside herself.

She advanced so menacingly toward her daughter, that the father held out
his hands in a suppliant gesture imploring mercy. The sounds of the two
women’s voices struck him to the heart unceasingly; and, at each shock,
he felt the wound extend. Tears gushed from his eyes as he stammered:

“Do leave off, spare me.”

“No, it is dreadful!” resumed Madame Josserand, in louder tones than
ever. “This wretched creature now pretends I am the cause of her
shamelessness! You will see she will soon make out that it is I who have
deceived her husband. So, it’s my fault! for that is what you seem to
mean. It’s my fault!”

Berthe remained with her elbows on the table, very pale, but resolute.

“It’s very certain that, if you had brought me up differently----”

She did not finish. Her mother gave her a clout with all her might, and
such a hard one that it hanged Berthe’s head down onto the table-cover.
Her hand had been itching to give it, ever since the day before; it had
been making her fingers tingle, the same as in those far-off days when
the child used to oversleep herself.

“There!” cried she, “that’s for your education! Your husband ought to
have beaten you to a jelly.”

The young woman did not rise, but sat there sobbing, her cheek pressed
against her arm. She forgot her twenty-four years, this clout brought
her back to the slaps of other times, to a whole past of timorous
hypocrisy. All her resolution of an emancipated grownup person melted
away in the great sorrow of a little girl.

But, on hearing her weep so bitterly, the father was seized with a
terrible emotion. He at length got up, quite distracted, and he pushed
the mother away, saying:

“You wish, then, to kill me between you? Tell me, must I go on my knees
to you?”

Madame Josserand, having relieved her feelings, and having nothing
to add, was withdrawing in a royal silence, when she found Hortense
listening behind the door as she suddenly opened it. This caused a fresh
outburst.

“Ah! so you were listening to all this filth? The one does the most
horrible things, and the other takes a delight in hearing about them;
the two make the pair. But, good heavens! whoever was it that brought
you up?”

Hortense, without being in the least moved, entered the room.

“It was not necessary to listen, one can even hear you in the kitchen.
The servant is wriggling with laughter. Besides, I’m old enough to be
married; there is no harm in my knowing.”

“Verdier, eh?” resumed the mother bitterly. “That’s all the satisfaction
you give me. Now, you are waiting for the death of a brat. You may wait,
she’s big and plump, so I’ve been told. It serves you right.”

A rush of bile gave a yellow hue to the young girl’s skinny countenance.
And, with clenched teeth, she replied:

“Though she’s big and plump, Verdier can leave her. And I will make him
leave her sooner than you think, just to spite you all. Yes, yes, I will
get married without any one else’s assistance. They’re far too solid,
the marriages you put together!”

Then, as her mother was advancing toward her, she added:

“Ah! you know, I don’t intend to be slapped! Take care.” They looked
each other straight in the eyes, and Madame Josserand was the first to
yield, hiding her retreat beneath an air of scornful domination. But the
father thought the battle was going to begin again. In the midst of his
sobs, he kept repeating:

“I can bear it no longer--I can bear it no longer--”

The dining-room became once more wrapped in silence. Berthe, her cheek
on her arm, and still heaving long, nervous sighs, was growing calmer.
Hortense had quietly seated herself at the other end of the table, and
was buttering the remainder of a roll, so as to pull herself together
again. Well! butter at twenty-two sous could only be poison. And, as
it left a stinking deposit at the bottom of the saucepans, Adèle was
explaining that it was not even economical, when a dull thud, a distant
shake of the floor, suddenly caused them to listen intently.

Berthe, all anxiety, at length raised her head.

“What’s that!” asked she.

“It’s perhaps madame and the other lady, in the drawing-room,” said
Adèle.

Madame Josserand had started with surprise, as she crossed the
drawing-room. A woman was there all alone.

“What? you again?” cried she, when she had recognized Madame
Dambreville, whom she had forgotten.

The latter did not stir. The family quarrels, the noisy voices, the
slamming of doors, seemed to have passed over her without her having
felt the least breath of them. She remained immovable, looking into
vacancy, buried in a heap in her love-sick mania. But there was
something at work within her, the advice of Léon’s mother had upset her,
and was deciding her to dearly purchase a few remnants of happiness.

“Come,” resumed Madame Josserand, roughly, “you can’t, you know, sleep
here. I have had a note from my son, he is not coming.”

Then Madame Dambreville spoke, her mouth all clammy from her long
silence, as though she were just waking up.

“I am going, pray excuse me. And tell him from me that I have reflected.
I consent. Yes, I will reflect still further, and perhaps I may help him
to marry that girl, as he insists upon it. But it is I who give her to
him, and I wish him to ask me for her, me alone, you understand! Oh! he
must come back, he must come back!”

Her ardent voice became quite beseeching. She added, in a lower tone, in
the obstinate way of a woman who, after sacrificing everything, clings
to a last satisfaction.

“He shall marry her, but he must live with us. Otherwise nothing will be
done. I would sooner lose him.”

And she went off. Madame Josserand was most charming again. In the
ante-room, she said all sorts of consoling things, she promised to send
her son submissive and tender, that very evening, affirming that he
would be delighted to live at his aunt-in-law’s. Then, when she had
shut the door behind Madame Dambreville’s back, filled with a pitying
tenderness, she thought:

“Poor boy! what a price she will make him pay for it!”

But, at this moment, she also heard the dull thud, which caused the
boards to tremble. Well? what was it? was the servant smashing all
the crockery, now? She hastened to the dining-room, and questioned her
daughters.

“What is it? Is the sugar-basin broken?”

“No, mamma. We don’t know.”

She turned round, looking for Adèle, when she beheld her listening at
the door of the bed-room.

“Whatever are you doing?” cried she. “Everything is being smashed in
your kitchen, and your’re there spying on your master. Yes, yes, one
begins with prunes, and one ends with something else. For some time
past, you have had a way about you which greatly displeases me; you
smell of men, my girl-----”

The servant stood looking at her with wide-open eyes. At length she
interrupted her.

“That’s not what’s the matter. I think master has fallen down in there.”

“Good heavens! she’s right,” said Berthe, turning pale, “it was just like
some one falling.”

They entered the room. Monsieur Josserand, seized with a fainting fit,
was lying on the floor before the bed; his head had come in contact with
a chair, and a little stream of blood was issuing from the right ear.
The mother, the two daughters and the servant surrounded and examined
him. Berthe, alone, wept, again seized with the bitter sobs which the
blow had called forth. And, when the four of them raised him to place
him on the bed, they heard him murmur:

“It’s all over. They’ve killed me.”



CHAPTER XVII.

Months passed by, and spring had come again. At the house in the Rue
de Choiseul, every one was talking of the approaching marriage of Octave
and Madame Hédouin.

Matters, however, were not so far advanced. Octave was again in his old
place at “The Ladies’ Paradise,” the business of which developed daily.
Since her husband’s death, Madame Hédouin was unable to attend properly
to the incessantly growing concern by herself. Her uncle, old Deleuze,
nailed to his easy-chair by rheumatism, troubled himself about nothing;
and, naturally, the young man, who was very active and a constant prey
to the mania for doing business on a large scale, had in a little while
reached a position of decisive importance in the house.

From this moment their relations became most intimate. They would shut
themselves for hours together in the small room right at the back. In
former days, when he had sworn to himself to seduce her, he had pursued
certain tactics there, trying to take advantage of her commercial
emotions, whispering figures close to her neck, watching for the days
of heavy takings to profit by her enthusiasm. Now, he was simply
good-natured, having no other aim but to push the business. He no longer
even desired her, though he retained the recollection of her gentle
quiver when waltzing with him on Berthe’s wedding night. Perhaps she
had loved. In any case it was best to remain as they were; for, as she
justly said, the business demanded a great amount of order, and it would
be impolitic to wish for things which would disturb them from morning
till night.

Seated together at the narrow desk, they would often forget themselves,
after going through the books and settling the orders. He would then
return to his dreams of enlargement. He had sounded the owner of the
next house, and had found him willing to sell. They would give notice
to the second-hand dealer and to the umbrella man, and then establish a
special department for silk. She, very grave, would listen, not daring
to venture yet.

At length, as they sat side by side one evening examining some invoices
beneath the scorching flame of a gas-jet, she said slowly:

“I have spoken to my uncle, Monsieur Octave. He consents, so we will buy
the house. Only----”

He interrupted her joyfully to exclaim:

“Then, the Vabres are done for!”

She smiled, and murmured reproachfully:

“Do you detest them, then? It is not proper on your part; you are the
last who should wish them ill.”

She had never spoken to him of his relations with Berthe. This sudden
allusion embarrassed him immensely, without his exactly knowing why. He
blushed and tried to stammer out some explanation.

“No, no, it does not concern me,” resumed she, still smiling and very
calm. “Excuse me, it quite escaped me; I never intended to speak to
you on the subject. You are young. So much the worse for those who are
willing, is it not so? It is the place of the husbands to guard their
wives when the latter are unable to guard themselves.”

He experienced a sensation of relief, on understanding she was not
angry. He had often dreaded a coldness on her part if she came to know
of his former connection.

“You interrupted me, Monsieur Octave,” resumed she, gravely. “I was
about to add that if I purchase the next house, and thus double the
importance of my business, it will be impossible for me to remain
single. I shall be obliged to marry again.”

Octave sat lost in astonishment. What! she already had a husband in
view, and he was in ignorance of it! He at once felt that his position
there was compromised.

“My uncle,” continued she, “told me so himself. Oh, there is no hurry
just yet. I have only been eight months in mourning; I shall wait till
the autumn. Only, in trade one must put one’s heart on one side, and
consider the necessities of the situation. A man is absolutely necessary
here.”

She discussed all this calmly, like a matter of business, and he gazed
on her regular and healthy beauty, on her pure complexion beneath her
neatly arranged black hair. Then he regretted not having, since her
widowhood, renewed the effort to become her lover.

“It is always a very serious matter,” stammered he; “it requires
reflection.”

No doubt, she was quite of that opinion. And she spoke of her age.

“I am already old; I am five years older than you, Monsieur Octave--”

Deeply agitated, yet thinking he understood, he interrupted her, and
seizing hold of her hands, he repeated:

“Oh, madame! oh, madame!”

But she rose from her seat and released herself. Then she turned down
the gas.

“No, that’s enough for to-day. You have some very good ideas, and it
is natural I should think of you to put them into execution. Only there
will be a deal of worry; we must thoroughly study the project. I know
that at heart you are very serious. Think the matter over on your side,
and I will think it over on mine. That is why I have named it to you. We
can talk about it again later on.”

And things remained thus for weeks. The establishment continued just the
same as usual. As Madame Hédouin always maintained her smiling serenity
when in Octave’s company, without an allusion to the slightest tender
feeling, he affected on his side a similar peace of mind, and he ended
by becoming like her, healthfully happy, placing his confidence in the
logic of things. She often repeated that sensible things always happened
of themselves. Therefore she was never in a hurry. The gossip which
commenced to circulate respecting her intimacy with the young man did
not in the least affect her. They waited.

In the Rue de Choiseul, therefore, the entire house vowed that the
marriage was as good as accomplished. Octave had given up his room to
lodge in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, near “The Ladies’ Paradise.” He
no longer visited any one--neither the Campar-dons nor the Duveyriers,
who were quite shocked at the scandal of his amours. Monsieur Gourd
himself, whenever he saw him, pretended not to recognize him, so as to
avoid having to bow. Only Marie and Madame Juzuer, on the mornings
when they met him in the neighborhood, went and stood a moment in
some doorway to have a chat with him. Madame Juzeur, who passionately
questioned him respecting Madame Hédouin, tried to persuade him to call
upon her, so as to be able to talk the matter over nicely; and Marie,
who was greatly distressed, complaining of again being in the family
way, and who told him of Jules’ amazement and of her parents’ terrible
anger. Then, when the rumor of his marriage became more persistent,
Octave was surprised to receive a low bow from Monsieur Gourd.
Campardon, without exactly making friends again, gave him a cordial nod
across the street, whilst Duveyrier, calling one evening to buy some
gloves, showed himself most amiable. The entire house was beginning to
pardon him.

However, the uneasiness caused by the adulterous act was still there,
imperceptible to uneducated people, but most disagreeable to those of
refined morals. Auguste obstinately persisted in not taking his wife
back, and, so long as Berthe lived with her parents, the scandal would
not be effaced--there would ever linger a material vestige of it.

It was Duveyrier especially who, as landlord, carried the burden of this
persistent and unmerited misfortune. For some time past Clarisse had
been torturing him to such a pitch that he would at times come home to
his wife to weep. But the scandal of the adultery had struck him to
the heart; he saw, said he, the passer-by look at his house from top
to bottom--that house which his father-in-law and he had striven to
decorate with every domestic virtue; and, as this sort of thing could
not be allowed to last, he talked of purifying the building for his
personal honor. Therefore he urged Auguste, in the name of public
decency, to become reconciled with his wife. Unfortunately, Auguste
resisted, backed up in his rage by Théophile and Valérie, who had
definitely installed themselves at the pay-desk, and who were delighted
with the existing discord. Then, as matters were going badly at Lyons,
and the silk warehouse was in jeopardy for want of capital, Duveyrier
conceived a practical idea. The Josserands were probably longing to get
rid of their daughter; the thing to do was to offer to take her back,
but only on condition that they paid the dowry of fifty thousand francs.
Perhaps uncle Bachelard would yield to their entreaties and give the
money. At first, Auguste violently refused to be a party to any such
arrangement; even were the sum a hundred thousand francs, he would not
think it sufficient. Then, becoming very anxious as his April payments
drew near, he had given in to the counselor’s arguments, as the latter
pleaded the cause of morality and spoke merely of a good action to be
done.

When they were agreed, Clotilde selected the Abbé Manduit for
negotiator. It was a delicate matter; only a priest could interfere in
it without compromising himself. It so happened that the reverend man
was deeply grieved by the deplorable catastrophes which had befallen
one of the most interesting households of his parish; and he had already
offered his advice, his experience and his authority to put an end to
a scandal at which the enemies of religion might take delight. However,
when Clotilde spoke to him of the dowry, asking him to be the bearer
of Auguste’s conditions to the Josserands, he bowed his head, and
maintained a painful silence.

“It is money due that my brother asks for,” repeated she. “It is no
bargain, understand. Moreover, my brother insists upon it.”

“It is necessary, and I will go,” said the priest, at length.

The Josserands had been expecting the proposal for days. Valérie must
have spoken of it, all the tenants were discussing the affair: were they
so hard up as to be forced to keep their daughter? would they be able to
obtain the fifty thousand francs to get rid of her? Since the question
had reached this point, Madame Josserand had been in a constant rage.
What! after having had such trouble to marry Berthe at first, she now
had to marry her a second time! Everything was upset, the dowry was
again demanded, all the money worries were going to commence afresh!
Never before had a mother had such a task to go through twice over. And
all owing to the fault of that silly fool, whose stupidity went so far
as to make her forget her duty.

The house was becoming a hell upon earth; Berthe suffered a continual
torture, for even her sister Hortense, furious at no longer sleeping
alone, never uttered a sentence without introducing some insulting
allusion into it. She was even reproached with the food she ate. When
one had a husband somewhere, it was all the same very funny that
one should go and share one’s parents’ meals, which were already
too sparing. Then the young woman, in despair, would sob in corners,
accusing herself of being a coward, but unable to pick up sufficient
courage to go down-stairs and throw herself at Auguste’s feet, and say:

“Here! beat me, I cannot be more unhappy than I am.”

Monsieur Josserand alone showed some affection for his child. But that
child’s faults and tears were killing him; he was dying through the
cruelties of the family, with an unlimited holiday from business,
spent mostly in bed. Doctor Juillerat, who attended him, talked of a
decomposition of the blood: it was a dissolution of the entire system,
during which each organ was attacked, one after the other.

“When you have made your father die of grief, perhaps you will be
satisfied!” cried the mother.

And Berthe scarcely dared enter the invalid’s room. Directly the father
and daughter met, they wept together, and did each other a great deal of
harm.

At length, Madame Josserand came to a grand decision: she invited uncle
Bachelard, resolved to humiliate herself once more. She would have given
the fifty thousand francs out of her own pocket, if she had possessed
them, so as not to have to keep that big married girl, whose presence
dishonored her Tuesday receptions. But she had learnt some shocking
things about the uncle, and, if he did not do as she wished, she
intended, once for all, to give him a bit of her mind.

During dinner, Bachelard behaved in a most abominable manner. He had
arrived in an advanced state of intoxication; for, since he had left
Fifi, he had fallen into the lowest depths of vice.

“Narcisse,” said Madame Josserand, “the situation is a grave one----”

And, slowly and solemnly, she explained this situation, her daughter’s
regrettable misfortune, the husband’s revolting venality, the painful
resolution she had been obliged to come to of giving the fifty thousand
francs, so as to put a stop to the scandal which covered the family with
shame. Then she severely continued:

“Remember what you promised, Narcisse. On the evening of the signing
of the marriage contract, you again slapped your chest and swore
that Berthe might rely on her uncle’s affections. Well! where is this
affection? the moment has arrived to display it. Monsieur Josserand,
join me in showing him his duty, if your weak state of health will allow
you to do so.”

In spite of his great repugnance, the father murmured, out of love for
his daughter:

“It is true; you promised, Bachelard. Come, before I leave you forever,
do me the pleasure of behaving as you should.”

But Berthe and Hortense, in the hope of working upon the uncle’s
feelings, had filled his glass once too often. He was in such a fuddled
condition, that one could not even take advantage of him.

“Eh? what?” stuttered he, without having the least necessity for
exaggerating his intoxication. “Never promise--Don’t understand--Tell
me again, Eléonore.”

The latter recommenced her story, made weeping Berthe embrace him,
besought him for the sake of her husband’s health, and proved to him
that in giving the fifty thousand francs, he would be fulfilling a
sacred duty. Then, as he began to doze off again, without appearing to
be in the least affected by the sight of the invalid or of the chamber
of sickness, she abruptly broke out into the most violent language.

“Listen! Narcisse, this sort of thing has been lasting too long--you’re
a scoundrel! I know of all your beastly goings-on. You’ve just married
your mistress to Gueulin, and you’ve given them fifty thousand francs,
the very amount you promised us. Ah! it’s decent; little Gueulin plays
a pretty part in it all! And you, you’re worse still, you take the bread
from our mouth, you prostitute your fortune, yes! you prostitute it, by
robbing us of money which was ours for the sake of that harlot!”

Never before had she relieved her feelings to such an extent. Hortense
busied herself with her father’s medicine, so as not to show her
embarrassment. Monsieur Josserand, who was made far worse by this scene,
tossed about on his pillow, and murmured in a trembling voice:

“I beseech you, Eléonore, do be quiet; he will give nothing. If you wish
to say such things to him, take him away that I may not hear you.”

Berthe, on her side, sobbed louder than ever, and joined her father in
his entreaties.

“Enough, mamma, do as papa asks. Good heavens! how miserable I am to be
the cause of all these quarrels! I would sooner leave you all, and go
and die somewhere.”

Then Madame Josserand deliberately put the question to the uncle.

“Will you, yes or no, give the fifty thousand francs, so that your niece
may hold her head up?”

Regularly scared, he tried to go into explanations.

“Listen a moment. I found Gueulin and Fifi together. What could I do? I
was obliged to marry them. It wasn’t my fault.”

“Will you, yes or no, give the dowry you promised?” repeated she
furiously.

He wavered, his intoxication increased to such a pitch that he could
scarcely find words to utter:

“Can’t, word of honor!--Completely ruined. Otherwise, at once--Candidly
you know----”

She interrupted him with a terrible gesture, and declared:

“Good, then I shall call a family council and have you declared
incapable of managing your affairs. When uncles become driveling, it’s
time to send them to an asylum.”

At this, the uncle was seized with intense emotion. He glanced about
him, and found the room had a sinister aspect with its feeble light; he
looked at the dying man, who, held up by his daughters, was swallowing a
spoonful of some black liquid; and his heart overflowed, he sobbed as he
accused his sister of never having under stood him. Yet, he had already
been made unhappy enough by Gueulin’s treachery. They knew he was very
sensitive, and they did wrong to invite him to dinner, to make him sad
afterward. In short, in place of the fifty thousand francs, he offered
all the blood in his veins.

Madame Josserand, who was quite worn out, had decided to leave him
to himself, when the servant announced Doctor Juillerat and the Abbé
Manduit. They had met on the landing, and entered together. The doctor
found Monsieur Josserand much worse, he was still suffering from the
shock occasioned by the scene in which he had been forced to play a
part. When, on his side, the priest wished to take Madame Josserand into
the drawing-room, having, he said, a communication to make to her, the
latter guessed on what subject he had called, and answered majestically
that she was with her family and prepared to hear everything there;
the doctor himself would not be in the way, for a physician was also a
confessor.

“Madame,” then said the priest, with slightly embarrassed gentleness,
“you behold in the step I am taking an ardent desire to reconcile two
families----”

“My dear Abbé Manduit, allow me to interrupt you,” said Madame
Josserand. “We are deeply moved by your efforts. But never, you
understand me! never will we traffic in our daughter’s honor. People who
have already become reconciled over this child’s back! Oh! I know all;
they were at daggers drawn, and now they are inseparable, reviling us
from morning till night. No; such a bargain would be a disgrace---”

“It seems to me, though, madame--” ventured the priest.

But she drowned his voice, as she superbly continued:

“See! my brother is here. You can question him. He was again saying
to me only a little while ago: ‘Here are the fifty thousand francs,
Eléonore; settle this miserable matter!’ Well! ask him what reply I
made. Get up, Narcisse. Tell the truth.” The uncle had already again
fallen asleep in an arm-chair, at the end of the room. He moved, and
uttered a few disconnected words. Then, as his sister insisted, he
placed his hand on his heart, and stammered:

“When duty speaks, one must obey. The family comes before everything.”

“You hear him?” cried Madame Josserand, with a triumphant air. “No
money; it’s disgraceful! Tell those people from us that we don’t die to
avoid having to pay. The dowry is here; we would have given it; but, now
that it’s exacted as the price of our daughter, the matter becomes too
disgusting. Let Auguste take Berthe back first, and then we will see
later on.”

She had raised her voice, and the doctor, who was examining his patient,
was obliged to make her leave off.

“Speak lower, madame!” said he; “your husband suffers.”

Then the Abbé Manduit, whose embarrassment had increased, went up to the
bedside, and found some kind words to say. And he afterward withdrew,
without again referring to the matter, hiding the confusion of having
failed beneath his amiable smile, with a curl of grief and disgust on
his lips. As the doctor went off in his turn, he roughly informed
Madame Josserand that there was no hope for the invalid: the greatest
precautions must be taken, for the least emotion might carry him off.
She was thunderstruck, and returned to the dining-room, where her
two daughters and their uncle had already withdrawn, to let Monsieur
Josserand rest, as he seemed disposed to go to sleep.

“Berthe,” murmured she, “you have killed your father. The doctor has
just said so.”

And they all three, seated round the table, gave way to their grief,
whilst Uncle Bachelard, also in tears, mixed himself a glass of grog.

When Auguste learned the Josserands’ answer, his rage against his wife
knew no bounds, and he swore he would kick her away the day she came
to ask for forgiveness. Yet, in reality, he wanted her; there was a
voidness in his life; he seemed to be out of his element, amidst the new
worries of his abandonment, quite as grave as those of his married life.

Besides all this, another more serious anxiety bothered him: “The
Ladies’ Paradise” was prospering, and already menaced his business,
which decreased daily. He certainly did not regret that miserable
Octave, yet he was just, and recognized that the fellow possessed very
great abilities. How swimmingly everything would have gone had they
only got on better together! He was seized with the most tender regrets;
there were hours when, sick of his loneliness, feeling life giving way
beneath him, he felt inclined to go up to the Josserands and ask them to
give Berthe back to him for nothing.

Duveyrier, too, moreover, did not yield, and, more and more cut up by
the moral disfavor into which such an affair threw his building, he was
forever urging his brother-in-law to a reconciliation.

Each day life became more and more cruel for Duveyrier at this
mistress’, where he encountered all the worries of his own home again,
but this time in the midst of a regular hell. The whole tribe of
hawkers--the mother, the big blackguard of a brother, the two little
sisters, even the invalid aunt--impudently robbed him, lived on him
openly, to the point of emptying his pockets during the nights he slept
there. His position was also becoming a serious one in another respect;
he had got to the end of his money; he trembled at the thought of being
compromised on his judicial bench; he could certainly not be removed,
only, the young barristers were beginning to look at him in a saucy kind
of way, which made it awkward for him to administer justice. And, when
driven away by the filth and the uproar, seized with disgust of himself,
he flew from the Rue d’Assas and sought refuge in the Rue de Choiseul,
his wife’s malignant coldness completed the crushing of him. Then he
would lose his head; he would look at the Seine on his way to the court,
with thoughts of jumping in some evening when a final suffering should
impart to him the requisite courage.

Clotilde had noticed her husband’s emotion, and felt anxious and
irritated with that mistress of his who did not even make a man happy
in his misconduct. But, for her part, she was greatly annoyed by a most
deplorable adventure, the consequences of which quite revolutionized the
house. On going up-stairs one morning for a handkerchief, Clémence had
caught Hippolyte with Louise, and, since then, she had taken to
slapping him in the kitchen for the least thing, which of course greatly
interfered with the attendance. The worst was that madame could no
longer close her eyes to the illicit connection existing between her
maid and her footman; the other servants laughed, the scandal was
reported amongst the tradespeople; it was absolutely necessary to oblige
them to get married if she wished to retain them, and, as she continued
to be very well satisfied with Clémence, she thought of nothing but this
marriage.

To negotiate between lovers who were forever fighting with each other
seemed such a delicate affair that she decided on employing the Abbé
Manduit, whose moralizing character seemed specially suited to the
occasion. Her servants, moreover, had been causing her a great deal of
trouble for some time past. When down in the country, she had noticed
the intimacy of her big, hobbledehoy Gustave with Julie; she had at
one moment thought of sending the latter about her business, though
regretfully, for she liked her cooking; then, after sound reflection,
she had decided to keep her, preferring that the youngster should have a
mistress at home, a clean girl who would never be any trouble. There
is no knowing what a youth may get hold of outside, when he begins too
young. She was watching them, therefore, without saying a word, and now
the other two must needs worry her with their affair.

It so happened that, one morning, as Madame Duveyrier was preparing to
call on the priest, Clémence came, and announced that the Abbé Manduit
was taking the extreme unction up to Monsieur Josserand. After meeting
him on the staircase, the maid had returned to the kitchen, exclaiming:

“I said that he would come again this year!”

And, alluding to the catastrophes which had befallen the house, she
added:

“It has brought ill-luck to every one.”

This time the priest did not arrive too late, and that was an excellent
sign for the future. Madame Duveyrier hastened to Saint-Roch, where she
awaited the Abbé Manduit’s return. He listened to her, and for a while
maintained a sad silence; then he was unable to refuse to enlighten the
maid and the footman on the immorality of their position. Moreover,
the other matter would have obliged him to return shortly to the Rue de
Choiseul, for poor Monsieur Josserand would certainly not last through
the night; and he mentioned that he saw in this circumstance a cruel but
happy opportunity for reconciling Auguste and Berthe. He would try and
arrange the two affairs simultaneously. It was high time that Heaven
consented to bless their efforts.

“I have prayed, madame,” said the priest. “The Almighty will triumph.”

And, indeed, that evening, at seven o’clock, Monsieur Josserand’s death
agony began. The entire family was there, excepting uncle Bachelard,
who had been sought for in vain in all the cafés, and Saturnin, who was
still confined at the Asile des Moulineaux. Léon, whose marriage was
most unfortunately postponed through his father’s illness, displayed
a dignified grief. Madame Josserand and Hortense showed some courage.
Berthe alone sobbed so loudly that, so as not to affect the invalid,
she had gone and stowed herself away in the kitchen, where Adèle, taking
advantage of the general confusion, was drinking some mulled wine.
Monsieur Josserand expired in the quietest fashion; it was his honesty
which finished him. He had passed a useless life, and he went off like a
worthy man tired of the wicked things of the world, heart-broken by
the quiet indifference of the only beings he had ever loved. At eight
o’clock he stammered out Saturnin’s name, turned his face to the wall,
and expired. No one thought him dead, for all had dreaded a terrible
agony. They sat patiently for some time, letting him, as they thought,
sleep. When they found he was already becoming cold, Madame Josserand,
in the midst of the general wailing, flew into a passion with Hortense,
whom she had instructed to fetch Auguste, counting on restoring Berthe
to the latter’s arms amidst the great grief of her husband’s last
moments.

“You think of nothing!” said she, wiping her eyes.

“But, mamma,” replied the girl, in tears, “no one thought papa would go
off so suddenly! You told me not to go for Auguste till nine o’clock, so
as to be sure of keeping him till the end.”

The sorely afflicted family found some distraction in this quarrel.

It was another matter gone wrong; they never succeeded in anything.
Fortunately, there was still the funeral to take advantage of to bring
the husband and wife together.

The funeral was a pretty decent one, though it was not so grand as
Monsieur Vabre’s. Moreover, it did not give rise to nearly the same
excitement in the house and the neighborhood, for the deceased was not
a landlord; he was merely a quiet-going body, whose demise did not even
disturb Madame Juzeur’s slumbers.

Madame Josserand and her daughters had to be supported to their coach.
Léon, assisted by uncle Bachelard, was most attentive, whilst Auguste
followed behind in an embarrassed way. He got into another coach with
Duveyrier and Théophile. Clotilde detained the Abbé Manduit, who had not
officiated, but who had gone to the cemetery, wishing to give the family
a proof of his sympathy. The horses started on the homeward journey
more gayly, and she at once asked the priest to return to the house with
them, for she felt that the time was favorable. He consented.

The three mourning coaches silently drew up in the Rue de Choiseul with
the relations. Théophile at once rejoined Valérie, who had remained
behind to superintend a general cleaning, the warehouse being closed.

“You may pack up!” cried he, furiously. “They’re all at him. I bet he’ll
end by begging her pardon.”

They all, indeed, felt a pressing necessity for putting an end to
the unpleasantness. Misfortune should at least be good for something.
Auguste, in the midst of them, understood very well what they wanted;
and he was alone, without strength to resist, and filled with shame.
The relations slowly walked in under the porch hung with black. No one
spoke. On the stairs, the silence continued--a silence full of deep
thought--whilst the crape skirts, soft and sad, ascended higher and
higher. Auguste, seized with a final feeling of revolt, had taken the
lead, with the intention of quickly shutting himself up in his own
apartments; but, as he opened, the door, Clotilde and the priest, who
had followed close behind, stopped him. Directly after them, Berthe,
dressed in deep mourning, appeared on the landing, accompanied by her
mother and her sister. They all three had red eyes; Madame Josserand,
especially, was quite painful to behold.

“Come, my friend,” simply said the priest, overcome by tears.

And that was sufficient. Auguste gave in at once, seeing that it was
better to make his peace at that honorable opportunity. His wife wept,
and he wept also, as he stammered:

“Come in. We will try not to do it again.”

Then the relations kissed all around. Clotilde congratulated her
brother; she had had full confidence in his heart. Madame Josserand
showed a broken-hearted satisfaction, like a widow who is no longer the
least affected by the most unhoped-for happiness. She associated her
poor husband with the general joy.

“You are doing your duty, my dear son-in-law. He who is now in Heaven
thanks you.”

“Come in,” repeated Auguste, quite upset.

But Rachel, attracted by the noise, now appeared in the anteroom; and
Berthe hesitated a moment in presence of the speechless exasperation
which caused the maid to turn ghastly pale. Then she sternly entered,
and disappeared with her black mourning in the shadow of the apartment.
Auguste followed her, and the door closed behind them.

A deep sigh of relief ascended the staircase, and filled the house with
joy. The ladies pressed the hands of the priest, whose prayers had been
granted. Just as Clotilde was taking him off to settle the other matter,
Duveyrier, who had lagged behind with Léon and Bachelard, arrived,
walking painfully. The happy result had all to be explained to him;
but he, who had been desiring it for months past, scarcely seemed to
understand, a strange expression overspreading his face, and his mind
a prey to a fixed idea, the torture of which quite absorbed him. Whilst
the Josserands regained their apartments, he returned to his own, behind
his wife and the priest. And they had just reached the ante-room, when
some stifled cries caused them to start.

“Do not be uneasy, madame. It is the little lady up-stairs in labor,”
 Hippolyte complacently explained. “I saw Dr. Juillerat run up just now.”

Then, when he was alone, he added philosophically:

“One goes, another comes.”

Clotilde made the Abbé Manduit comfortable in the drawingroom, saying
that she would first of all send him Clémence; and, to help him to while
away the time, she gave him the “Revue des Deux Mondes,” which contained
some really charming verses. She wished to prepare her maid for the
interview. But, on entering her dressing-room, she found her husband
seated on a chair.

Ever since the morning, Duveyrier had been in a state of agony. For the
third time he had caught Clarisse with Théodore; and, as he complained,
the whole family of hawkers, the mother, the brother, the sisters, had
fallen upon him, and driven him down-stairs with kicks and blows;
whilst Clarisse had called him a poverty-stricken wretch, and furiously
threatened him with the police if he ever dared to show himself there
again. It was all over; down below the doorkeeper had told him that
for a week past a very rich old fellow had been anxious to provide for
madame. Then, driven away, and no longer having a warm nook to nestle
in, Duveyrier, after wandering about the streets, had entered an
out-of-the-way shop and purchased a pocket revolver. Life was becoming
too sad; he could at least put an end to it, as soon as he had found
a suitable place for doing so. This selection of a quiet corner was
occupying his mind, as he mechanically returned to the Rue de Choiseul
to assist at Monsieur Josserand’s funeral. Then, when following the
corpse, he had had a sudden idea of killing himself at the cemetery; he
would go to the furthest end and hide behind a tombstone. This flattered
his taste for the romantic, the necessity for a tender ideal, which was
wrecking his life, beneath his rigid middle-class attitude. But, as the
coffin was being lowered into the grave, he began to tremble, seized
with an earthly chill. The spot would decidedly not do; he would have
to seek elsewhere. And, having returned in a worse state than ever,
entirely a prey to this one idea, he sat thinking on a chair in the
dressing-room, trying to decide which was the most suitable place in the
house--perhaps the bed-room, beside the bed, or simply just where he
was, without moving.

“Will you have the kindness to leave me to myself?” said Clotilde to
him.

He already had his hand on the revolver in his pocket.

“Why?” asked he, with an effort.

“Because I wish to be alone.”

He thought that she wanted to change her dress, and that she would not
even let him see her bare arms, so repugnant he felt was he to her. For
an instant he looked at her with his dim eyes, and beheld her so tall,
so beautiful, with a complexion clear as marble, her hair gathered up
in deep, golden tresses. Ah! if she had only consented, how everything
might have been arranged! He rose stumblingly from his chair, and,
opening his arms, tried to take hold of her.

“What, now?” murmured she, greatly surprised. “What’s the matter with
you? Not here, surely. Have you the other one no longer, then? It is
going to begin again, that abomination?”

And she exhibited such utter disgust, that he drew back. Without a word,
he left her, stopping in the ante-room as he hesitated for a moment;
then, as there was a door facing him, the door of the closet, he pushed
it open; and, without the slightest hurry, he sat down. It was a quiet
spot, no one would come and disturb him there. He placed the barrel of
the little revolver in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

Meanwhile, Clotilde, who had been struck since the morning by his
strange manner, had listened to ascertain if he were obliging her
by returning to Clarisse. On learning where he had gone, by a creak
peculiar to that door, she no longer bothered herself about him, and was
at length in the act of ringing for Clémence, when the dull report of
a fire-arm filled her with surprise. Whatever was it? it was just, like
the noise a saloon rifle would make. She hastened to the ante-room, not
daring at first to question him; then, as a strange sound issued from
where he was, she called him, and, on receiving no answer, opened the
door. The bolt had not even been fastened. Duveyrier, stunned by fright
more than by the injury he had received, remained squatting, in a most
lugubrious posture, his eyes wide open, and his face streaming with
blood. He had missed his object. After grazing his jaw, the bullet
had passed out again through the left cheek. And he no longer had the
courage to fire a second time.

“What! that is what you come to do here?” cried Clotilde quite beside
herself. “Just go and kill yourself outside!”

She was most indignant. Instead of softening her, this spectacle threw
her into a supreme exasperation. She bullied him, and raised him up
without the least precaution, wishing to carry him away so that no one
should see him in such a place. In that closet! and to miss killing
himself too! It was too much.

Then, whilst she supported him to lead him to the bed-room, Duveyrier,
who had his throat filled with blood, and whose teeth were dropping out,
stuttered between two rattles:

“You never loved me!”

[Illustration: 0407]

And he burst into sobs, he bewailed the death of poetry, that little
blue flower which it had been denied him to pluck. When Clotilde had put
him to bed, she at length became softened, seized with a nervous
emotion in the midst of her anger. The worst of it was that Clémence and
Hippolyte were coming in answer to the bell. She at first talked to
them of an accident; their master had fallen on his chin: then she was
obliged to abandon this fable, for, on going to wipe up the blood, the
footman had found the revolver. The wounded man was still losing a great
deal of blood, when the maid remembered that Dr. Juillerat was up-stairs
attending to Madame Pichon, and she hastened to him, meeting him on the
staircase, on his way home, after a most successful delivery. The doctor
immediately reassured Clotilde; perhaps the jaw would be slightly out
of its place, but her husband’s life was not in the least danger. He was
proceeding to dress the wound, in the midst of basins of water and
red stained rags, when the Abbé Manduit, uneasy at all this commotion,
ventured to enter the room.

“Whatever has happened?” asked he.

This question completed upsetting Madame Duveyrier. She burst into tears
at the first words of explanation. The priest, fully aware of the hidden
miseries of his flock, had moreover quite understood matters. Already,
whilst waiting in the drawing-room, he had been taken with a feeling
of uneasiness, and almost regretted the success which had attended his
efforts, that wretched young woman whom he had once more united to her
husband without her showing the slightest remorse. He was filled with
a terrible doubt, perhaps God was not with him. And his anguish still
further increased as he beheld the counselor’s fractured jaw. He went up
to him, bent upon energetically condemning suicide. But the doctor, who
was very busy, thrust him aside.

“After me, my dear Abbé Manduit. By-and-by. You can see very well that
he has fainted.”

And indeed, directly the doctor touched him, Duveyrier had lost
consciousness. Then Clotilde, to get rid of the servants who were
no longer needed, and whose staring eyes embarrassed her very much,
murmured, as she wiped her eyes:

“Go into the drawing-room. Abbé Manduit has something to say to you.”

The priest was obliged to take them there. It was another unpleasant
piece of business. Hippolyte and Clémence followed him in profound
surprise. When they were alone together, he began preaching them a
rather confused sermon: Heaven rewarded good behavior, whereas a single
sin led one to hell; moreover, it was time to put a stop to scandal and
to think of one’s salvation. Whilst he spoke thus, their surprise turned
to bewilderment; with their hands hanging down beside them, she with her
slender limbs and tiny mouth, he with his flat face and his big bones
like a gendarme, they exchanged anxious glances! Had madame found some
of her napkins up-stairs in a trunk? or was it because of the bottle of
wine they took up with them every evening?

“My children,” the priest ended by saying, “you set a bad example. The
greatest of crimes is to pervert one’s neighbor, and to bring the house
where one lives into disrepute. Yes, you live in a disorderly way,
whieh, unfortunately, is no longer a secret to any one, for you have
been fighting together for a week past.”

He blushed; a modest hesitation caused him to choose his words.

Meanwhile the two servants had sighed with relief. They smiled now and
strutted about in quite a happy manner. It was only that! really, there
was no occasion to be so frightened!

“But it’s all over, sir,” declared Clémence, glancing at Hippolyte in
the fondest manner. “We have made it up. Yes, he explained everything to
me.”

The priest in his turn exhibited an astonishment full of sadness.

“You do not understand me, my children. You cannot continue to live
together; you sin against God and man. You must get married.”

At this, their amazement returned. Get married! whatever for?

“I don’t want to,” said Clémence. “I’ve quite another idea.”

Then the Abbé Manduit tried to convince Hippolyte.

“Come, my fine fellow, you who are a man, use your influence with her,
talk to her of her honor. It will change nothing in your mode of living.
Be married.”

The footman grinned in a jocular and embarrassed manner. At length he
declared, as he looked down at the toes of his boots:

“I daresay, I don’t say the contrary; but I’m already married.”

This answer put a stop to all the priest’s moral preaching. Without
adding a word, he folded up his arguments, and put religion, now become
useless, back into his pocket, deeply regretting ever having risked it
in such a disgraceful matter. Clotilde, who rejoined him at this moment,
had heard everything; and she gave vent to her indignation in a furious
gesture. At her order, the footman and the maid left the room, one
behind the other, looking very serious, but in reality feeling highly
amused. After a short pause, Abbé Manduit complained bitterly: why
expose him in that manner? why stir up things it was far better to let
rest? The condition of affairs had now become most disgraceful. But
Clotilde repeated her gesture: so much the worse! she had far greater
worries. Moreover, she would certainly not send the servants away, for
fear the whole neighborhood learnt the story of the attempted suicide
that very evening. She would decide what to do later on.

“You will not forget, will you? the most complete repose,” urged the
doctor, coming from the bed-room. “He will get over it perfectly, but
all fatigue must be avoided. Take courage, madame.”

And, turning toward the priest, he added:

“You can preach him a sermon later on, my dear friend. I do not give him
up to you yet. If you are returning to Saint-Roch, I will accompany you;
we can walk together.”

Then they left the house, and slowly followed the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin. As they raised their heads, on arriving at the end
of the street, they beheld Madame Hédouin smiling at them, at the
door of “The Ladies’ Paradise.” Standing behind her was Octave, also
laughing. That very morning they had settled on their marriage, after
a serious conversation. They would wait till the autumn. And they were
both full of joy at having at length arranged the matter.

“Good day, my dear Abbé Manduit!” said Madame Hédouin, gayly. “And you,
doctor, always paying visits?”

And, as the latter congratulated her on her good looks, she added:

“Oh! if there were only me, you might give up business at once.”
 They stood conversing a moment. The doctor having mentioned Marie’s
confinement, Octave seemed delighted to hear of his former neighbor’s
happy delivery. But, when he learnt that it was a third daughter, he
exclaimed:

“Can’t her husband manage a boy, then? She thought she might still get
Monsieur and Madame Vuillaume to put up with a boy; but they’ll never
stomach another girl.”

“I should think not,” said the doctor. “They have both taken to their
bed, the news of their daughter’s pregnancy upset them so much. And
they sent for a notary, so that their son-in-law should not even inherit
their furniture.”

There was a little chaff. The priest alone remained silent, with his
eyes cast on the ground. Madame Hédouin asked him if he was unwell. Yes,
he felt very tired, he was going to take a little rest. And, after a
cordial exchange of good wishes, he went down the Rue Saint-Roch, still
accompanied by the doctor. On arriving before the church, the latter
abruptly said:

“A bad customer, eh?”

“Who is?” asked the priest in surprise.

“That lady who sells linen. She does not care a pin for either of us. No
need for religion, nor for medicine. All the same, when one is always so
well, it is no longer interesting.”

And he went on his way, whilst the priest entered the church. Abbé
Manduit intended to go up to his room. But a great agitation, a violent
necessity, had forced him to enter the church and kept him there. It
seemed to him that God was calling him, with a confused and far-off
voice, the orders proceeding from which he was unable to catch. He
slowly crossed the church, and was trying to read within himself, to
quiet his alarms, when, suddenly, as he passed behind the choir, a
superhuman spectacle shook his entire frame.

It was beyond the marble chapel of the Virgin, as white as a lily,
beyond the gold and silver plate of the chapel of the Adoration, with
its seven golden lamps, its golden candelabra, and its golden altar
shining in the tawny shadow of the aureate stained windows; it was in
the depths of this mysterious night, past this tabernacle background, a
tragical apparition, a simple yet harrowing drama: Christ nailed to the
cross, between the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalen, weeping at his feet;
and the white statues, which an invisible light coming from above caused
to stand out from against the bare wall, seemed to advance and increase
in size, making the bleeding humanity of this death, and these tears,
the divine symbol of eternal woe.

The priest, thoroughly distracted, fell on his knees. He had whitened
that plaster, arranged that mode of lighting, prepared that phenomenon;
and, now that the boarding was removed, the architect and the workmen
gone, he was the first to be thunderstruck at the sight. From the
terrible severity of the Calvary came a breath which overpowered him.
He fancied the Almighty passing over him; he bent beneath this breath,
filled with misgivings, tortured by the thought that he was perhaps a
bad priest.



CHAPTER XVIII.

In December, the eighth month of her morning, Madame Josserand for
the first time accepted an invitation to dine out. It was merely at the
Duveyriers’, almost a family gathering, with which Clotilde opened her
Saturday receptions of the new winter. The day before, Adèle had been
told that she would have to help Julie with the washing-up. The ladies
were in the habit of thus lending their servants to each other on the
days when they gave parties.

“And above all, try and put a little more go into yourself,” said Madame
Josserand to her maid-of-all-work. “I don’t know what you’ve got in your
body now, you’re as limp as rags. Yet you’re fat and plump.”

Adèle was simply nine months gone in the family way. For a long time she
had thought she was merely growing stouter, which greatly surprised her
however; and she would get into a perfect rage, with her ever hungry
empty stomach, on the days when madame triumphantly showed her to her
guests; ah, well! those who accused her of weighing her servant’s bread
might come and look at that great glutton, it was not likely she got so
fat by merely licking the walls! When, in her stupidity, Adèle at length
became aware of her misfortune, she restrained herself twenty times from
telling the truth to her mistress, who was really taking advantage of
her condition to make the neighborhood think that she was at length
feeding her.

But, from this moment, terror stultified her entirely. Her village
ideas once more took possession of her obtuse skull. She thought herself
damned, she fancied that the gendarmes would come and take her, if she
admitted her pregnancy. Then all her low cunning was made use of to hide
it. She concealed the feelings of sickness, twice she thought she would
drop down dead before her kitchen fire, whilst stirring some sauces. The
pain that she had endured for the two last months with the obstinacy of
an heroic silence was indeed frightful.

Adèle went up to bed that night about eleven o’clock. The thought of
to-morrow evening terrified her; more drudgery, more bullying by Julie!
and she could scarcely move about.

During the night she was seized with labor pains, and a desire came over
her to move about, so as to walk them off. She therefore lighted
the candle and began to wander round the room, her tongue dried up,
tormented with a burning thirst, and her cheeks on fire. Hours passed in
this cruel wandering, without her daring to put on her shoes, for fear
of making a noise, whilst she was only protected against the cold by an
old shawl thrown across her shoulders. Two o’clock struck, then three
o’clock.

Not a soul stirred in the adjoining rooms, every one was snoring; she
could hear Julie’s sonorous hum, whilst Lisa made a kind of hissing
noise like the shrill notes of a fife. Four o’clock had just struck,
when, seized with a violent pain, she felt that the end was approaching,
and could not restrain uttering a loud cry.

At this the occupants of the other rooms began to rouse up. Voices thick
with sleep were heard saying: “Well! what? who’s being murdered?--Some
one’s being taken by force!--Don’t dream out loud like that!” Dreadfully
frightened, she drew the bedclothes over the new-born child, which was
uttering plaintive cries like a little kitten. But she soon heard Julie
snoring again, after turning over; whilst Lisa, once more asleep, no
longer uttered a sound. Then she experienced an immense relief, an
infinite comfort of calm and repose, and lay as one dead.

She must have dozed thus for the best part of an hour. When six o’clock
struck, the consciousness of her position awoke her again. Time was
flying, she rose up painfully, and did whatever things came into her
head, without deciding on them beforehand. A frosty moon shone full into
the room. After dressing herself, she wrapped the infant up in some old
rags, and then folded a couple of newspapers around it. It uttered no
cry now, yet its little heart was beating.

Not one of the servants was about as yet, and, after getting slumbering
Monsieur Gourd to unfasten the door from his room, she was able to go
out and lay her bundle in the Passage Choiseul, the gates of which had
just been opened, and then quietly returned up-stairs. She met no one.
For once in her lifetime, luck was on her side!

She immediately set about tidying her room, after which, utterly worn
out, and as white as wax, she again lay down. It was thus that Madame
Josserand found her, when she had made up her mind to go up-stairs
toward nine o’clock, greatly surprised at not seeing Adèle come down.
The servant having complained of a violent attack of diarrhoea which had
kept her awake all night, madame exclaimed:

“Of course! you must have eaten too much again! You think of nothing
else but stuffing yourself.”

The girl’s paleness, however, made her uneasy, and she talked of sending
for the doctor; but she was glad to save the three francs, when Adèle
vowed that she merely needed rest. Since her husband’s death, Madame
Josserand had been living with her daughter Hor-tense, on an allowance
made her by the brothers Bernheim, but which did not prevent her from
bitterly alluding to them as persons who lived on the brains of others;
and she spent less than ever on food, so as not to descend to a lower
level of society by quitting her apartments and giving up her Tuesday
receptions.

“That’s right; sleep,” said she. “There is some cold beef left which
will do for this morning, and to-night we dine out. If you cannot come
down to help Julie, she will have to do without you.”

The dinner that evening at the Duveyriers’ was a very cordial one. All
the family was there: the two Vabres and their wives, Madame Josserand,
Hortense, Léon, and even uncle Bachelard, who behaved well. Moreover,
they had invited Trublot to fill a vacant place, and Madame Dambreville,
so as not to separate her from Léon. The latter, after his marriage
with the niece, had once again fallen into the arms of the aunt, who
was still necessary to him. They were seen to arrive together in all the
drawing-rooms, and they would apologize for the young wife, whom a cold
or a feeling of idleness, said they, kept at home. That evening the
whole table complained of scarce knowing her: they loved her so much,
she was so beautiful! Then they talked of the chorus which Clotilde was
to give at the end of the evening; it was the “Blessing of the
Daggers” again, but this time with five tenors, something complete and
magisterial. For two months past, Duveyrier himself, who had become
quite charming, had been looking up the friends of the house, and saying
to every one he met: “You are quite a stranger, come and see us; my
wife is going to give her choruses again.” Therefore, half through the
dinner, they talked of nothing but music. The happiest good-nature and
the most free-hearted gayety prevailed throughout.

Then, after the coffee, and whilst the ladies sat round the drawing-room
fire, the gentlemen formed a group in the parlor and began to exchange
some grave ideas. The other guests were now arriving. And among the
earliest were Campardon, Abbé Manduit, and Doctor Juillerat, without
including the diners, with the exception of Trublot, who had disappeared
on leaving the table. They almost immediately commenced talking
politics. The debates in the Chamber deeply interested the gentlemen,
and they had not yet given over discussing the success of the opposition
candidates for Paris, all of whom had been returned at the May
elections. This triumph of the dissatisfied portion of the middle
classes made them feel anxious at heart, in spite of their apparent
delight.

“Dear me!” declared Léon, “Monsieur Thiers is certainly a most talented
man. But he puts so much acrimony into his speeches on the Mexican
expedition that he quite spoils their effect.”

He had just been named to a higher appointment, through Madame
Dambreville’s influence, and had at once joined the government party.
The only thing that remained in him of the famished demagogue, was an
unbearable intolerance of all doctrines.

“Not long ago you were accusing the government of every sin,” said the
doctor, smiling. “I hope you at least voted for Monsieur Thiers.”

The young man avoided answering. Théophile, whose stomach was no longer
able to digest his food, and who was worried with fresh doubts as to his
wife’s constancy, exclaimed:

“I voted for him. When men refuse to live as brothers, so much the worse
for them!”

“And so much the worse for you, as well, eh?” remarked Duvey-rier, who,
speaking but little, uttered some very profound observations.

Théophile, greatly scared, looked at him. Auguste no longer dared admit
that he had also voted for Monsieur Thiers. Then every one was very
much surprised to hear uncle Bachelard utter a legitimist profession of
faith: he thought it the most genteel. Cam-pardon seconded him warmly;
he had abstained from voting himself, because the official candidate,
Monsieur Dewinck, did not offer sufficient guarantees as regards
religion; and he furiously declaimed against Renan’s “Life of Jesus,”
 which had recently made its appearance.

“It is not the book that should be burnt; it is the author,” repeated
he.

“You are, perhaps, too radical, my friend,” interrupted the priest, in
a conciliatory tone. “But, indeed, the symptoms are becoming terrible.
There is some talk of driving away the pope, the revolution has invaded
parliament. We are walking on the edge of a precipice.”

“So much the better!” said Doctor Juillerat, simply.

Then the others all protested. He renewed his attacks against the middle
classes, prophesying that there would be a clean sweep the day when
the masses wished to enjoy power in their turn; and the others loudly
interrupted him, exclaiming that the middle classes represented the
virtue, the industry, and the thrift of the nation. Duveyrier was at
length able to make himself heard. He owned it before all: he had voted
for Monsieur Dewinck, not that Monsieur Dewinck exactly represented his
opinions, but because he was the symbol of order. Yes, the saturnalia
of the Reign of Terror might one day return. Monsieur Rouher, that
remarkable statesman who had just succeeded Monsieur Billault, had
formally prophesied it in the Chamber. He concluded with these striking
words:

“The triumph of the opposition is the preliminary subsidence of the
structure. Take care that it does not crush you in falling!”

The other gentlemen held their peace, with the unavowed fear of having
allowed themselves to be carried away even to compromising their
personal safety. They beheld workmen begrimed with powder and blood,
entering their homes, violating their maidservants and drinking their
wine. No doubt, the Emperor deserved a lesson; only, they were beginning
to regret having given him so severe a one.

“Be easy!” concluded the doctor, scoffingly. “We will manage to save you
from the bullets.”

But he was going too far, they set him down as an original. It was,
moreover, thanks to this reputation for originality, that he did not
lose his connection. He continued, by resuming with Abbé Manduit their
eternal quarrel respecting the approaching downfall of the Church. Léon
now sided with the priest: he talked of Providence, and, on Sundays,
accompanied Madame Dambreville to nine o’clock mass.

Meanwhile, the guests continued to arrive, the drawing-room was becoming
quite filled with ladies. Valérie and Berthe were exchanging little
secrets, like two good friends. The other Madame Cam-pardon, whom the
architect had brought no doubt in place of poor Rose, who was already
in bed up-stairs and reading Dickens, was giving Madame Josserand an
economical recipe for washing clothes without soap; whilst Hortense,
seated all by herself and expecting Verdier, did not take her eyes
off the door. But suddenly Clotilde, while conversing with Madame
Dambreville, rose up and held out her hands. Her friend, Madame Octave
Mouret, had just entered the room. The marriage had taken place early in
November, at the end of her mourning.

“And your husband?” asked the hostess. “He is not going to disappoint
me, I hope?”

“No, no,” answered Caroline, with a smile. “He will be here directly;
something detained him at the last moment.”

There was some whispering, glances full of curiosity were directed
toward her, so calm and so lovely, ever the same, with the pleasant
assurance of a woman who succeeds in everything she undertakes. Madame
Josserand pressed her hand, as though she were delighted to see her
again. Berthe and Valérie left off talking and examined her at their
ease, studying her costume, a straw-color dress covered with lace. But,
in the midst of this quiet forgetfulness of the past, Auguste, whom the
political discussion had left quite cool, was giving signs of indignant
amazement as he stood near the parlor door. What! his sister was going
to receive the family of his wife’s former lover! And, in his marital
rancor, there was a touch of the jealous anger of the tradesman ruined
by a triumphant competition; for “The Ladies’ Paradise,” by extending
its business and creating a special department for silk, had so drained
his resources that he had been obliged to take a partner. He drew near,
and, whilst every one was making much of Madame Mouret, he whispered to
Clotilde:

“You know, I will never put up with it.”

“Put up with what?” asked she, greatly surprised.

“I do not mind the wife so much, she has not done me any harm. But if
the husband comes, I shall take hold of Berthe by the arm, and leave the
room in the presence of everybody.”

She looked at him, and then shrugged her shoulders. Caroline was her
oldest friend, she was certainly not going to give up seeing her, just
to satisfy his caprices. As though any one even recollected the matter.
He would do far better not to rake up things forgotten by everybody
but himself. And as, deeply affected, he looked to Berthe for support,
expecting that she would get up and follow him at once, she calmed him
with a frown; was he mad? did he wish to make himself more ridiculous
than he had ever been before?

“But it is in order that I may not appear ridiculous!” replied he, in
despair.

Then Madame Josserand inclined toward him, and, said in a severe tone of
voice:

“It is becoming quite indecent; every one is looking at you. Do behave
yourself for once in a way.”

He held his tongue, but without submitting. From this moment a certain
uneasiness existed among the ladies. The only one who preserved her
smiling tranquillity was Madame Mouret, now sitting beside Clotilde and
opposite Berthe. They watched Auguste, who had retired to the window
recess where his marriage had been decided, not so very long before.
His anger was bringing on a headache, and he now and again pressed his
forehead against the icy-cold panes.

Octave did not arrive till very late. As he reached the landing, he
met Madame Juzeur, who had just come down, wrapped in a shawl. She
complained of her chest, and had got up on purpose not to disappoint the
Duveyriers. Her languid state did not prevent her falling into the young
man’s arms, as she congratulated him on his marriage.

“How delighted I am with such a splendid result, my friend! Really!
I was quite in despair about you, I never thought you would have
succeeded. Tell me, you rascal, how did you manage to get over her?”

Octave smiled and kissed her fingers. But some one who was bounding
up-stairs with the agility of a goat, disturbed them; and, greatly
surprised, they fancied they recognized Saturnin. It was indeed
Saturnin, who a week before had left the Asile des Moulineaux, where
for a second time Doctor Chassagne declined to detain him any longer,
still considering him not sufficiently mad. No doubt he was going to
spend the evening with Marie Pichon, just as in former days, when his
parents had company. And those bygone times were suddenly evoked. Octave
could hear an expiring voice coming from above, singing the ballad
with which Marie whiled away her vacant hours; he beheld her once
more eternally alone, beside the crib in which Lilitte slumbered, and
awaiting Jules’ return with all the complacency of a gentle and useless
woman.

“I wish you every happiness with your wife,” repeated Madame Juzeur,
tenderly squeezing Octave’s hands.

In order not to enter the drawing-room with her, he was purposely
occupying some time in removing his overcoat, when Trublot, in his dress
clothes, bareheaded, and looking quite upset, came from the passage
leading to the kitchen.

“You know she’s not at all well!” murmured he, whilst Hippo-lyte
announced Madame Juzeur.

“Who isn’t?” asked Octave.

“Why Adèle, the servant up-stairs.”

Hearing there was something the matter with her, he had gone up quite
paternally, on leaving the dinner-table. It must have been a very severe
attack of cholerine; a good glass of mulled wine was what she ought to
have, and she had not even a lump of sugar. Then, as he noticed that his
friend smiled in an indifferent sort of way, he added:

“Hallo! I forgot you’re married, you joker! This sort of thing no longer
interests you. I never thought of that when I found you with madame.
Anything you like except that!”

They entered together. The ladies were just then speaking of their
servants, and were taking such interest in the conversation, that they
did not notice them at first. All were complacently approving Madame
Duveyrier, who was trying to explain, in an embarrassed way, why she
continued to keep Clémence and Hippo-lyte: he was rough, but she
dressed her so well that one could not help shutting one’s eyes to other
matters. Neither Valérie nor Berthe could succeed in securing a decent
girl; they had given it up in despair, after trying every registry
office, the good-for-nothing servants from which had done no more than
pass through their kitchens. Madame Josserand violently abused Adèle,
of whom she related some fresh abominable and stupid doings of
extraordinary character; and yet she did not send her about her
business. As for the other Madame Campardon, she was quite enthusiastic
in her praises of Lisa: a pearl, not a thing to reproach her with; in
short, one of those deserving domestics to whom one gives prizes.

“She is quite one of the family now,” said she. “Our little Angèle is
attending some lectures at the Hôtel de Ville, and Lisa accompanies her.
Oh! they might remain out together for days; we should not be in the
least anxious.”

It was at this moment that the ladies caught sight of Octave. He was
advancing to wish Clotilde good-evening. Berthe looked at him; then,
without the least affectation, she resumed her conversation with
Valérie, who had exchanged with him the affectionate glance of
disinterested friendship. The others--Madame Josserand, Madame
Dambreville--without throwing themselves at him, surveyed him with
sympathetic interest.

“So here you are at last!” said Clotilde, who was most amiable. “I was
beginning to tremble for the chorus.”

And, as Madame Mouret gently scolded her husband for being so late, he
made some excuses.

“But, my dear, I was unable to come sooner. I am most sorry, madame.
However, I am now entirely at your disposal.” Meanwhile, the ladies were
anxiously watching the window recess into which Auguste had retired.
They received a momentary fright when they beheld him turn round at
the sound of Octave’s voice. His headache was no doubt worse; he had a
restless look about the eyes, which seemed full of the darkness of the
street. He at length appeared to make up his mind, and, returning to his
former position beside his sister’s chair, he said.

“Send them away, or else we will leave.”

Clotilde again shrugged her shoulders. Then Auguste seemed disposed
to give her time to consider: he would wait a few minutes longer, more
especially as Trublot had taken Octave into the parlor. The other ladies
were still uneasy, for they had heard the husband whisper in his wife’s
ear:

“If he comes back here, you must get up and follow me. Otherwise, you
may return to your mother’s.”

In the parlor, the gentlemen greeted Octave quite as cordially. If Léon
made a point of showing a little coolness, Uncle Bachelard, and even
Théophile, seemed to declare, as they held out their hands to Octave,
that the family forgot everything. He congratulated Campardon, who,
decorated two days previously, now wore a broad red ribbon; and the
beaming architect scolded him for never calling now and then to pass
an hour with his wife: though one got married, it was scarcely nice to
forget friends of fifteen years’ standing. But the young man felt quite
surprised and anxious as he stood before Duveyrier. He had not seen him
since his recovery. He looked uneasily at his jaw, all out of place,
dropping too much on the left side, and which now gave a horrid
squinting expression to his countenance. Then, when the counselor spoke,
he had another surprise: his voice had lowered two tones; it had become
quite sepulchral.

“Don’t you think him much better thus?” said Trublot to Octave, as they
returned to the drawing-room door. “It positively gives him a certain
majestic air. I saw him presiding at the assizes, the day before
yesterday--Listen! they are talking of it.”

And indeed the gentlemen had abandoned politics to take up morality.
They were listening to Duveyrier as he gave some details of an affair in
which his attitude had been particularly noticed. He was even about
to be named a president and an officer of the Legion of Honor. It was
respecting an infanticide already a year old. The unnatural mother, a
regular savage, as he said, happened to be the boot-stitcher, his former
tenant, that tall, pale and friendless girl, whose pregnant condition
had roused Monsieur Gourd’s indignation so much. And besides that, she
was altogether stupid! for, without reflecting that her appearance would
betray her, she had gone and cut her child in two and kept it at
the bottom of a bonnet-box. She had naturally told the jury quite a
ridiculous romance: a seducer who had deserted her; misery, hunger, and
then a fit of mad despair on seeing herself unable to supply the
little one’s wants: in a word, the same story they all told. But it was
necessary to make an example. Duveyrier congratulated himself on having
summed up with that lucidity which often decided a jury’s verdict.

“And what was your sentence?” asked the doctor.

“Five years,” replied the counselor in his new voice, which seemed both
hoarse and sepulchral. “It is time to oppose a dyke to the debauchery
which threatens to submerge Paris.”

Trublot nudged Octave’s elbow; they were both acquainted with the facts
of the attempt at suicide.

“Eh? you hear him?” murmured he. “Without joking, it improves his voice:
it stirs one more, does it not? it goes straight to the heart now. Ah!
if you had only seen him, standing up, draped in his long red robes,
with his mug all askew! On my word! he quite frightened me; he was
extraordinary; oh! you know! a style in his majesty enough to make your
flesh creep!”

But he left off speaking, and listened to the ladies in the drawingroom,
who were again on the subject of servants. That very morning, Madame
Duveyrier had given Julio a week’s notice; she had nothing certainly
to say against the girl’s cooking; only, good behavior came before
everything in her eyes. The truth was that, warned by Doctor Juillerat,
and anxious for the health of her son, whose little goings-on she
tolerated at home, so as to keep them under control, she had had an
explanation with Julie, who had been unwell for some time past; and the
latter, like a genteel cook, whose style was not to quarrel with her
employers, had accepted her week’s notice. Madame Josserand at once
shared Clotilde’s indignation; yes, one should be very strict on the
question of morality; for instance, if she kept that slut Adèle in
spite of her dirty ways, and her stupidity, it was because the girl was
virtuous. Oh! on that point, she had nothing whatever to reproach her
with!

“Poor Adèle! when one only thinks!” murmured Trublot, again affected at
the thought of the wretched creature, half frozen upstairs beneath her
thin blanket.

Then, bending toward Octave’s ear, he added with a chuckle:

“I say, Duveyrier might at least take her up a bottle of claret!”

“Yes, gentlemen,” the counselor was continuing, “statistics will bear
me out, the crime of infanticide is increasing in the most frightful
proportions. Sentiment prevails to too great an extent in the present
day, and far too much consideration is shown to science, to your
pretended physiology, all of which will end by there soon being neither
good nor evil. One cannot cure debauchery; the thing is to destroy it at
its root.”

This refutation was addressed above all to Doctor Juillerat, who had
wished to give a medical explanation of the boot-stitcher’s case.

The other gentlemen also exhibited great severity and disgust. Campardou
could not understand vice, uncle Bachelard defended infancy, Théophile
demanded an inquiry, Léon discussed the question of prostitution in its
relations with the state; whilst Trublot, in answer to an inquiry of
Octave’s, talked of Duveyrier’s new mistress, who was a decent sort of
a woman this time, rather mature, but romantic, with a soul expanded
by that ideal which the counselor required to purify love; in short, a
worthy person who gave him a peaceful home, imposing upon him as much as
she liked and sleeping with his friends, without making any unnecessary
fuss. And the Abbé Manduit alone remained silent, his eyes fixed on the
ground, his mind sorely troubled, and full of an infinite sadness.

They were now about to sing the “Blessing of the Daggers.” The
drawing-room had filled up, a flood of rich dresses was crushing in the
brilliant light from the chandelier and the lamps, whilst gay bursts of
laughter ran along the rows of chairs; and, in the midst of the buzz,
Clotilde in a low voice roughly chided Auguste, who, on seeing Octave
enter with the other gentlemen of the chorus, had caught hold of
Berthe’s arm to make her leave her seat. But he was already beginning to
yield, feeling more and more embarrassed in the presence of the ladies’
dumb disapproval, whilst his head had become entirely the prey of
triumphant neuralgia. Madame Dambreville’s stern looks quite drove him
to despair, and even the other Madame Campardon was against him. It was
reserved to Madame Josserand to finish him off. She abruptly interfered,
threatening to take back her daughter and never to pay him the fifty
thousand francs dowry; for she was always promising this dowry with
the greatest coolness imaginable. Then, turning toward uncle Bachelard,
seated behind her, and next to Madame Juzeur, she made him renew his
promises. The uncle placed his hand on his heart; he knew his duty,
the family before everything! Auguste, repulsed on all sides, beat a
retreat, and again sought refuge in the window recess, where he once
more pressed his burning forehead against the icy-cold panes.

Then Octave experienced a singular sensation as though his Paris life
was beginning over again. It was as though the two years he had lived
in the Rue de Choiseul had been a blank. His wife was there, smiling at
him, and yet nothing seemed to have passed in his existence; to-day
was the same as yesterday, there was neither pause nor ending. Trublot
showed him the new partner standing beside Berthe, a little fair fellow
very neat in his ways, who gave her, it was said, no end of presents.
Uncle Bachelard, who was now going in for poetry, was revealing himself
in a sentimental light to Madame Juzeur, whom he quite affected with
some intimate details respecting Fifi and Gueulin. Théophile, devoured
by doubts, doubled up by violent fits of coughing, was imploring Doctor
Juillerat in an out-of-the-way corner to give his wife something to
quiet her. Campardon, his eyes fixed on cousin Gasparine, was talking of
the diocese of Evreux, and jumping from that to the great works of the
new Rue du Dix Décembre, defending God and art, sending the world about
its business, for at heart he did not care a hang for it, he was an
artist! And behind a flower-stand there could even be seen the back of
a gentleman, whom all the marriageable girls contemplated with an air of
profound curiosity; it was Verdier, who was talking with Hortense, the
pair of them having an acrimonious explanation, again putting off their
marriage till the spring, so as not to turn the woman and her child into
the street in the depth of winter.

Then the chorus was sung afresh. The architect, with his mouth wide
open, gave out the first line. Clotilde struck a chord, and uttered her
cry. And the other voices burst forth, the uproar increased little by
little, and spread with a violence that scared the candles and caused
the ladies to turn pale. Trublot, having been found wanting among the
basses, was being tried a second time as a baritone. The five tenors
were much noticed, Octave especially, to whom Clotilde regretted being
unable to give a solo. When the voices fell, and she had applied the
soft pedal, imitating the cadenced and distant footsteps of a departing
patrol, the applause was deafening, and she, together with the
gentlemen, had every praise showered upon them. And at the farthest
eud of the adjoining room, right behind a triple row of men in evening
dress, one beheld Duveyrier clenching his teeth so as not to cry
aloud with anguish, with his mouth all on one side, and his festering
eruptions almost bleeding.

The tea coming next, unrolled the same procession, distributed the
same cups and the same sandwiches. For a moment, the Abbé Manduit fouud
himself once more in the middle of the deserted drawing-room. He looked
through the wide-open door, on the crush of guests; and, vanquished,
he smiled, he again cast the mantle of religion over this corrupt
middle-class society, like a master in the ceremonies draping the
canker, to stave off the final decomposition. He must save the Church,
as Heaven had not answered his cry of misery and despair.

At length, the same as on every Saturday, when midnight struck, the
guests began to withdraw. Campardon was among the first to leave, with
the other Madame Campardon. Léon and Madame Dambreville were not long in
maritally following them. Verdier’s back had long ago disappeared,
when Madame Josserand went off with Hortense, bullying her for what
she called her romantic obstinacy. Uncle Bachelard, very drunk from the
punch he had taken, detained Madame Juzeur a moment at the door, finding
her advice full of experience quite refreshing. Trublot, who had stolen
some sugar for Adèle, was making for the passage leading to the kitchen,
when the presence of Berthe and Auguste in the anteroom embarrassed him,
and he pretended to be looking for his hat.

But, just at this minute, Octave and his wife, escorted by Clotilde,
also came out and asked for their wraps. There ensued a few seconds of
embarrassment, The ante-room was not large, Berthe and Madame Mouret
were pressed against each other, whilst Hippolyte was searching for
their things. They both smiled. Then, when the door was opened, the
two men, Octave and Auguste, brought face to face, did the polite, each
stepping aside. At length, Berthe consented to pass out first, after
an exchange of bows. And Valérie, who was leaving in her turn with
Théophile, again looked at Octave in the affectionate way of a
disinterested friend. He and she alone might have told each other
everything.

“Good-bye,” repeated Clotilde graciously to the two families, before
returning to the drawing-room.

Octave stopped short. He had just caught sight on the next floor of
the partner, the neat little fair fellow, taking his departure like the
rest, and whose hands Saturnin, who had just left Marie, was pressing
in an outburst of savage tenderness, stuttering the while:
“Friend--friend--friend--” A singular feeling of jealousy at first
darted through him. Then he smiled. It was the past; and he again
recalled his amours, all his campaign of Paris, the complacencies of
that good little Pichon, the repulse he received from Valérie, of whom
he preserved a pleasant recollection, his stupid connection with Berthe,
which he regretted as pure waste of time. Now he had transacted his
business, Paris was conquered; and he gallantly followed her whom in his
heart he still styled Madame Hédouin, every now and then stooping to see
that the train of her dress did not catch in the stair-rods.

The house had once more resumed its grand air of middle-class dignity.
He fancied he could hear Marie’s distant and expiring ballad. Beneath
the porch he met Jules coming in: Madame Vuillaume was at death’s door,
and refused to see her daughter. Then, that was all, the doctor and
the priest retired last and still arguing; Trublot had shyly gone up to
Adèle to attend to her; and the deserted staircase slumbered in a heavy
warmth with its chaste doors inclosing respectable alcoves. One o’clock
was striking, when Monsieur Gourd, whom Madame Gourd was snugly awaiting
In bed, turned out the gas. Then the whole house lapsed into silent
darkness, as though annihilated by the decency of its sleep. Nothing
remained, life resumed its level of indifference and stupidity.

On the following morning, Adèle dragged herself down to her kitchen,
so as to allay suspicion. A thaw had set in during the night, and
she opened the window, feeling stifled, when Hippolyte’s voice rose
furiously from the depths of the narrow courtyard.

“You dirty hussies! Who has been emptying her slops out of the window
again? Madame’s dress is quite spoilt!”

He had hung out one of Madame Duveyrier’s dresses given him to brush,
and he fouud it all spattered with sour broth. Then, from the top to the
bottom, the servants appeared at their windows and violently exculpated
themselves. The sluice was open and a rush of the most abominable words
flowed from the foul spot. In times of thaw, the walls were steeped
with humidity, and quite a pestilence ascended from the obscure little
courtyard, all the hidden corruptions of the different floors seeming to
melt and ooze out by this common sewer of the house.

“It wasn’t me,” said Adèle, leaning out. “I’ve only just come.” Lisa
abruptly raised her head.

“Hallo! so you’re on your legs again. Well, what was the matter? Is it
true that you almost croaked?”

“Oh! yes, I had such colics, and not at all funny, I can tell you!”
 This put a stop to the quarrel. Valérie and Berthe’s new servants, a
big camel and a little jade, as they were termed, looked curiously
at Adèle’s pale face. Victoire and Julie also wished to see her, and
stretched their necks, and leant their heads back. They all had an idea
that there was something wrong, for it was unnatural to have such gripes
and yell out as she did.

“Perhaps you’ve had something which didn’t agree with you,” said Lisa.

The others burst out laughing, another rush of foul language overflowed,
whilst the wretched creature, awfully frightened, stammered:

“Hold your tongues, with your nasty words! I’m quite ill enough as it
is. You don’t want to finish me off, do you?”

No, of course not. She was as stupid as stupid could be, and dirty
enough to disgust a whole neighborhood; but they all held too closely
together to bring her into any trouble. And they naturally turned to
abusing their masters and mistresses; they criticised the party of the
previous evening with looks of profound repugnance.

“So they’ve all made it up again now?” asked Victoire as she sipped her
glass of syrup and brandy.

Hippolyte, who was wiping madame’s dress, replied:

“They’ve no more heart than my shoes. When they’ve spat in one another’s
faces, they wash themselves with it, to make one believe they’re clean.”

“They must manage to agree somehow or other,” said Lisa.

“Otherwise it wouldn’t take long before our turn came.”

But there was a moment of panic. A door opened, and the servants were
already diving back into their kitchens, when Lisa announced that
it ‘was only little Angèle: there was nothing to fear with her, she
understood. And, from the foul spout, there again arose all the rancor
of the domestics, in the midst of the poisonous stench caused by the
thaw. There was a grand spreading out of all the dirty linen of the last
two years. It was quite consoling not to be ladies and gentlemen, when
one beheld the masters and mistresses living in the midst of it all,
and apparently enjoying it, as they were preparing to go through it all
again.

“Eh! I say, you, up there!” suddenly shouted Victoire, “was it with
Mug-askew that you had what didn’t agree with you?”

At this, a ferocious yell of delight quite shook the stinking cesspool.
Hippolyte actually tore madame’s dress; but he did not care, it was far
too good for her as it was! The big camel and the little jade were
bent over the hand-rails of their windows, wriggling in a mad burst of
laughter. Adèle, however, who was quite scared, and who was half asleep
through weakness, started, and she retorted in the midst of the jeers:

“You’re all of you heartless things. When you’re dying, I’ll come and
dance at your bedsides.”

“Ah! mademoiselle,” resumed Lisa, leaning out to speak to Julie, “how
happy you must feel at leaving such a wretched house in a week! On my
word, one becomes wicked here in spite of oneself. I wish you a better
home in your next place.”

Julie, her arms bare, and dripping with the blood from a turbot she had
been just cleaning for that evening’s dinner, returned to the window
beside the footman. She shrugged her shoulders, and concluded with this
philosophical reply:

“Dear me! mademoiselle, here or there, they’re all alike. In the present
day, whoever has been in the one has been in the other. It’s all Filth
and Company.”


THE END.





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