"Go on, my dear, go on; but see that you don't put any into my mouth."
At that moment I experienced a very strange feeling. My laughter died away all at once; I felt ashamed at seeing my husband at my feet and at thus amusing myself with him as if he were a doll.
I dropped the shaving-brush; I felt my eyes grow moist; and, suddenly, becoming more tender, I bent toward him and kissed him on the neck, which was the only spot left clear.
Yet his ear was so near that, in passing it, my lips moved almost in spite of myself, and I whispered:
"Don't be angry, dear," then, overcome by emotion and repentance, I added: "I love you, I do love you."
"My own pet!" he said, rising suddenly. His voice shook.
What delightful moments these were! Unfortunately, oh! yes, indeed, unfortunately, he could not press his lathered face to mine!
"Wait a little," he exclaimed, darting toward the washbasin, full of water, "wait an instant!"
But it seemed as if it took him a week to wash it off.
CHAPTER XV. MY WIFE GOES TO A DANCE
Madame—Ah! it is so nice of you to come home early! (Looking at the clock.) A quarter to six. But how cold you are! your hands are frozen; come and sit by the fire. (She puts a log on the fire.) I have been thinking of you all day. It is cruel to have to go out in such weather. Have you finished your doubts? are you satisfied?
Monsieur—Quite well satisfied, dear. (Aside.) But I have never known my wife to be so amiable. (Aloud, taking up the bellows.) Quite well satisfied, and I am very hungry. Has my darling been good?
Madame—You are hungry. Good! (Calling out.) Marie, call into the kitchen that your master wants to dine early. Let them look after everything—and send up a lemon.
Madame—Yes, Monsieur, I have a little surprise for you, and I fancy that it will delight you.
Monsieur—Well, what is the surprise?
Madame—Oh! it is a real surprise. How curious you look! your eyes are glittering already. Suppose I were not to tell you anything?
Monsieur—Then you would vex me very much.
Madame—There, I don't want to vex you. You are going to have some little green oysters and a partridge. Am I good?
Monsieur—Oysters and a partridge! You are an angel. (He kisses her.) An angel. (Aside.) What on earth is the matter with her? (Aloud.) Have you had visitors to-day?
Madame—I saw Ernestine this morning, but she only stayed a moment. She has just discharged her maid. Would you believe it, that girl was seen the night before last dressed up as a man, and in her master's clothes, too! That was going too far.
Monsieur—That comes of having confidential servants. And you just got a sight of Ernestine?
Madame—And that was quite enough, too. (With an exclamation.) How stupid I am! I forgot. I had a visit from Madame de Lyr as well.
Monsieur—God bless her! But does she still laugh on one side of her mouth to hide her black tooth?
Madame-How cruel you are! Yet, she likes you very well. Poor woman! I was really touched by her visit. She came to remind me that we—now you will be angry. (She kisses him and sits down beside him.)
Monsieur—Be angry! be angry! I'm not a Turk. Come, what is it?
Madame—Come, we shall go to dinner. You know that there are oysters and a partridge. I won't tell you—you are already in a bad temper. Besides, I all but told her that we are not going.
Monsieur—(raising his hands aloft)—I thought so. She and her evening may go to the dogs. What have I done to this woman that she should so pester me?
Madame—But she thinks she is affording you pleasure. She is a charming friend. As for me, I like her because she always speaks well of you. If you had been hidden in that cabinet during her visit, you could not have helped blushing. (He shrugs his shoulders.) "Your husband is so amiable," she said to me, "so cheery, so witty. Try to bring him; it is an honor to have him." I said, "Certainly," but without meaning it, you know. But I don't care about it at all. It is not so very amusing at Madame de Lyr's. She always invites such a number of serious people. No doubt they are influential people, and may prove useful, but what does that matter to me? Come to dinner. You know that there is a bottle left of that famous Pomard; I have kept it for your partridge. You can not imagine what pleasure I feel in seeing you eat a partridge. You eat it with such a gusto. You are a glutton, my dear. (She takes his arm.) Come, I can hear your rascal of a son getting impatient in the dining-room.
Monsieur—(with a preoccupied air)—Hum! and when is it?
Madame—When is what?
Monsieur—The party, of course.
Madame—Ah! you mean the ball—I was not thinking of it. Madame de Lyr's ball. Why do you ask me that, since we are not going? Let us make haste, dinner is getting cold.... This evening.
Monsieur—(stopping short)—What! this party is a ball, and this ball is for this evening. But, hang it! people don't invite you to a ball like that. They always give notice some time beforehand.
Madame—But she sent us an invitation a week ago, though I don't know what became of the card. I forgot to show it to you.
Monsieur—You forgot! you forgot!
Madame—Well, it is all for the best; I know you would have been sulky all the week after. Come to dinner.
They sat down to table. The cloth was white, the cutlery bright, the oysters fresh; the partridge, cooked to perfection, exhaled a delightful odor. Madame was charming, and laughed at everything. Monsieur unbent his brows and stretched himself on the chair.
Monsieur—This Pomard is very good. Won't you have some, little dear?
Madame—Yes, your little dear will. (She pushes forward her glass with a coquettish movement.)
Monsieur—Ah! you have put on your Louis Seize ring. It is a very pretty ring.
Madame—(putting her hand under her husband's nose)—Yes; but look—see, there is a little bit coming off.
Monsieur—(kissing his wife's hand)—Where is the little bit?
Madame—(smiling)—You jest at everything. I am speaking seriously. There—look—it is plain enough! (They draw near once another and bend their heads together to see it.) Don't you see it? (She points out a spot on the ring with a rosy and slender finger.) There! do you see now—there?
Monsieur—That little pearl which—What on earth have you been putting on your hair, my dear? It smells very nice—You must send it to the jeweller. The scent is exquisite. Curls don't become you badly.
Madame—Do you think so? (She adjusts her coiffure with her white hand.) I thought you would like that scent; now, if I were in your place I should—
Monsieur—What would you do in my place, dear?
Madame—I should—kiss my wife.
Monsieur—(kissing her)—Well, I must say you have very bright ideas sometimes. Give me a little bit more partridge, please. (With his mouth full.) How pretty these poor little creatures look when running among the corn. You know the cry they give when the sun sets?—A little gravy.—There are moments when the poetic side of country life appeals to one. And to think that there are barbarians who eat them with cabbage. But (filling his glass) have you a gown ready?
Madame—(with innocent astonishment.)—What for, dear?
Monsieur—Why, for Madame de Lyr's—
Madame—For the ball?—What a memory you have—There you are still thinking of it—No, I have not—ah! yes, I have my tarletan, you know; but then a woman needs so little to make up a ball-room toilette.
Monsieur—And the hairdresser, has he been sent for?
Madame—No, he has not been sent for; but I am not anxious to go to this ball. We will settle down by the fireside, read a little, and go to bed early. You remind me, however, that, on leaving, Madame de Lyr did say, "Your hairdresser is the same as mine, I will send him word." How stupid I am; I remember now that I did not answer her. But it is not far, I can send Marie to tell him not to come.
Monsieur—Since this blessed hairdresser has been told, let him come and we will go and—amuse ourselves a little at Madame de Lyr's. But on one condition only; that I find all my dress things laid out in readiness on my bed with my gloves, you know, and that you tie my necktie.
Madame—A bargain. (She kisses him.) You are a jewel of a husband. I am delighted, my poor dear, because I see you are imposing a sacrifice upon yourself in order to please me; since, as to the ball itself, I am quite indifferent about it. I did not care to go; really now I don't care to go.
Monsieur—Hum. Well, I will go and smoke a cigar so as not to be in your way, and at ten o'clock I will be back here. Your preparations will be over and in five minutes I shall be dressed. Adieu.
Monsieur, after reaching the street, lit his cigar and buttoned up his great-coat. Two hours to kill. It seems a trifle when one is busy, but when one has nothing to do it is quite another thing. The pavement is slippery, rain is beginning to fall—fortunately the Palais Royal is not far off. At the end of his fourteenth tour round the arcades, Monsieur looks at his watch. Five minutes to ten, he will be late. He rushes home.
In the courtyard the carriage is standing waiting.
In the bedroom two unshaded lamps shed floods of light. Mountains of muslin and ribbons are piled on the bed and the furniture. Dresses, skirts, petticoats, and underpetticoats, lace, scarfs, flowers, jewels, are mingled in a charming chaos. On the table there are pots of pomade, sticks of cosmetic, hairpins, combs and brushes, all carefully set out. Two artificial plaits stretch themselves languishingly upon a dark mass not unlike a large handful of horsehair. A golden hair net, combs of pale tortoise-shell and bright coral, clusters of roses, sprays of white lilac, bouquets of pale violets, await the choice of the artist or the caprice of the beauty. And yet, must I say it? amidst this luxury of wealth Madame's hair is undressed, Madame is uneasy, Madame is furious.
Monsieur—(looking at his watch)—Well, my dear, is your hair dressed?
Madame—(impatiently)—He asks me whether my hair is dressed? Don't you see that I have been waiting for the hairdresser for an hour and a half? Can't you see that I am furious, for he won't come, the horrid wretch?
Madame—Yes, the monster; and I would advise you not to joke about it.
There is a ring. The door opens and the lady's-maid exclaims, "It is he, Madame!"
Madame—It is he!
Monsieur—It is he!
The artist enters hurriedly and bows while turning his sleeves up.
Madame—My dear Silvani, this is unbearable.
Silvani—Very sorry, very, but could not come any sooner. I have been dressing hair since three o'clock in the afternoon. I have just left the Duchesse de W., who is going to the Ministry this evening. She sent me home in her brougham. Lisette, give me your mistress's combs, and put the curling-tongs in the fire.
Madame—But, my dear Silvani, my maid's name is not Lisette.
Silvani—You will understand, Madame, that if I had to remember the names of all the lady's-maids who help me, I should need six clerks instead of four. Lisette is a pretty name which suits all these young ladies very well. Lisette, show me your mistress's dress. Good. Is the ball an official one?
Madame—But dress my hair, Silvani.
Silvani—It is impossible for me to dress your hair, Madame, unless I know the circle in which the coiffure will be worn. (To the husband, seated in the corner.) May I beg you, Monsieur, to take another place? I wish to be able to step back, the better to judge the effect.
Monsieur—Certainly, Monsieur Silvani, only too happy to be agreeable to you. (He sits down on a chair.)
Madame—(hastily)—Not there, my dear, you will rumple my skirt. (The husband gets up and looks for another seat.) Take care behind you, you are stepping on my bustle.
Monsieur—(turning round angrily)—Her bustle! her bustle!
Madame—Now you go upsetting my pins.
Silvani—May I beg a moment of immobility, Madame?
Monsieur—Come, calm yourself, I will go into the drawing-room; is there a fire there?
Madame—(inattentively)—But, my dear, how can you expect a fire to be in the drawing-room?
Monsieur—I will go to my study, then.
Madame—There is none there, either. What do you want a fire in your study for? What a singular idea! High up, you know, Silvani, and a dash of disorder, it is all the rage.
Silvani—Would you allow a touch of brown under the eyes? That would enable me to idealize the coiffure.
Monsieur—(impatiently)—Marie, give me my top-coat and my cap. I will walk up and down in the anteroom. (Aside.) Madame de Lyr shall pay for this.
Silvani—(crimping)—I leave your ear uncovered, Madame; it would be a sin to veil it. It is like that of the Princesse de K., whose hair I dressed yesterday. Lisette, get the powder ready. Ears like yours, Madame, are not numerous.
Madame—You were saying—
Silvani—Would your ear, Madame, be so modest as not to listen?
Madame's hair is at length dressed. Silvani sheds a light cloud of scented powder over his work, on which he casts a lingering look of satisfaction, then bows and retires.
In passing through the anteroom, he runs against Monsieur, who is walking up and down.
Silvani—A thousand pardons, I have the honor to wish you good night.
Monsieur—(from the depths of his turned-up collar) Good-night.
A quarter of an hour later the sound of a carriage is heard. Madame is ready, her coiffure suits her, she smiles at herself in the glass as she slips the glove-stretchers into the twelve-button gloves.
Monsieur has made a failure of his necktie and broken off three buttons. Traces of decided ill-humor are stamped on his features.
Monsieur—Come, let us go down, the carriage is waiting; it is a quarter past eleven. (Aside.) Another sleepless night. Sharp, coachman; Rue de la Pepiniere, number 224.
They reach the street in question. The Rue de la Pepiniere is in a tumult. Policemen are hurriedly making way through the crowd. In the distance, confused cries and a rapidly approaching, rumbling sound are heard. Monsieur thrusts his head out of the window.
Monsieur—What is it, Jean?
Coachman—A fire, Monsieur; here come the firemen.
Monsieur—Go on all the same to number 224.
Coachman—We are there, Monsieur; the fire is at number 224.
Doorkeeper of the House—(quitting a group of people and approaching the carriage)—You are, I presume, Monsieur, one of the guests of Madame de Lyr? She is terror-stricken; the fire is in her rooms. She can not receive any one.
Madame—(excitedly)—It is scandalous.
Monsieur—(humming)—Heart-breaking, heartbreaking! (To the coachman.) Home again, quickly; I am all but asleep. (He stretches himself out and turns up his collar.) ( Aside.) After all, I am the better for a well-cooked partridge.
CHAPTER XVI. A FALSE ALARM
Every time I visit Paris, which, unhappily, is too often, it rains in torrents. It makes no difference whether I change the time of starting from that which I had fixed upon at first, stop on the way, travel at night, resort, in short, to a thousand devices to deceive the barometer-at ten leagues from Paris the clouds begin to pile up and I get out of the train amidst a general deluge.
On the occasion of my last visit I found myself as usual in the street, followed by a street porter carrying my luggage and addressing despairing signals to all the cabs trotting quickly past amid the driving rain. After ten minutes of futile efforts a driver, more sensible than the others, and hidden in his triple cape, checks his horses. With a single bound I am beside the cab, and opening, the door with a kind of frenzy, jump in.
Unfortunately, while I am accomplishing all this on one side, a gentleman, similarly circumstanced, opens the other door and also jumps in. It is easy to understand that there ensues a collision.
"Devil take you!" said my rival, apparently inclined to push still farther forward.
I was about to answer him, and pretty sharply, too, for I hail from the south of France and am rather hotheaded, when our eyes met. We looked one another in the face like two lions over a single sheep, and suddenly we both burst out laughing. This angry gentleman was Oscar V., that dear good fellow Oscar, whom I had not seen for ten years, and who is a very old friend of mine, a charming fellow whom I used to play with as a boy.
We embraced, and the driver, who was looking at us through the window, shrugged his shoulders, unable to understand it all. The two porters, dripping with water, stood, one at each door, with a trunk on his shoulder. We had the luggage put on the cab and drove off to the Hotel du Louvre, where Oscar insisted on dropping me.
"But you are travelling, too, then?" said I to my friend, after the first moments of expansion. "Don't you live in Paris?"
"I live in it as little as possible and have just come up from Les Roches, an old-fashioned little place I inherited from my father, at which I pass a great deal of the year. Oh! it is not a chateau; it is rustic, countrified, but I like it, and would not change anything about it. The country around is fresh and green, a clear little river flows past about forty yards from the house, amid the trees; there is a mill in the background, a spreading valley, a steeple and its weather-cock on the horizon, flowers under the windows, and happiness in the house. Can I grumble? My wife makes exquisite pastry, which is very agreeable to me and helps to whiten her hands. By the way, I did not tell you that I am married. My dear fellow, I came across an angel, and I rightly thought that if I let her slip I should not find her equal. I did wisely. But I want to introduce you to my wife and to show you my little place. When will you come and see me? It is three hours from Paris—time to smoke a couple of cigars. It is settled, then—I am going back to-morrow morning and I will have a room ready for you. Give me your card and I will write down my address on it."
All this was said so cordially that I could not resist my friend's invitation, and promised to visit him.
Three or four days later, Paris being empty and the recollection of my old companion haunting me, I felt a strong desire to take a peep at his conjugal felicity and to see with my own eyes this stream, this mill, this steeple, beside all which he was so happy.
I reached Les Roches at about six in the evening and was charmed at the very first glance. Oscar's residence was a little Louis Quinze chateau buried in the trees; irregularly built, but charmingly picturesque. It had been left unaltered for a century at least, and everything, from the blackened mansard roofs with their rococo weather-cocks, to the bay windows with their tiny squares of glass and the fantastic escutcheon over the door, was in keeping. Over the thick tiles of the somewhat sunken roof, the rough-barked old chestnuts lazily stretched their branches. Creepers and climbing roses wantoned over the front, framing the windows, peeping into the garrets, and clinging to the waterspouts, laden with large bunches of flowers which swayed gently in the air. Amid all these pointed roofs and this profusion of verdure and trees the blue sky could only be caught a glimpse of here and there.
The first person I saw was Oscar, clad in white from head to foot, and wearing a straw hat. He was seated on an enormous block of stone which seemed part and parcel of the house, and appeared very much interested in a fine melon which his gardener had just brought to him. No sooner had he caught sight of me than he darted forward and grasped me by the hand with such an expression of good-humor and affection that I said to myself, "Yes, certainly he was not deceiving me, he is happy." I found him just as I had known him in his youth, lively, rather wild, but kind and obliging.
"Pierre," said he to the gardener, "take this gentleman's portmanteau to the lower room," and, as the gardener bestirred himself slowly and with an effort, Oscar seized the portmanteau and swung it, with a jerk, on to the shoulders of the poor fellow, whose legs bent under the weight.
"Lazybones," said Oscar, laughing heartily. "Ah! now I must introduce you to my little queen. My wife, where is my wife?"
He ran to the bell and pulled it twice. At once a fat cook with a red face and tucked-up sleeves, and behind her a man-servant wiping a plate, appeared at the ground-floor windows. Had they been chosen on purpose? I do not know, but their faces and bearing harmonized so thoroughly with the picture that I could not help smiling.
"Where is your mistress?" asked Oscar, and as they did not answer quickly enough he exclaimed, "Marie, Marie, here is my friend George."
A young girl, fair as a lily, appeared at a narrow, little window, the one most garlanded by, flowers, on the first floor. She was clad in a white dressing-gown of some particular shape; I could not at first make out. With one hand she gathered its folds about her, and with the other restrained her flowing hair. Hardly had she seen me when she blushed, somewhat ashamed, no doubt, at having been surprised in the midst of her toilet, and, giving a most embarrassed yet charming bow; hurriedly disappeared. This vision completed the charm; it seemed to me that I had suddenly been transported into fairy-land. I had fancied when strapping my portmanteau that I should find my friend Oscar installed in one of those pretty, little, smart-looking houses, with green shutters and gilt lightning-conductor, dear to the countrified Parisian, and here I found myself amid an ideal blending of time-worn stones hidden in flowers, ancient gables, and fanciful ironwork reddened by rust. I was right in the midst of one of Morin's sketches, and, charmed and stupefied, I stood for some moments with my eyes fixed on the narrow window at which the fair girl had disappeared.
"I call her my little queen," said Oscar, taking my arm. "It is my wife. Come this way, we shall meet my cousin who is fishing, and two other friends who are strolling about in this direction, good fellows, only they do not understand the country as I do—they have on silk stockings and pumps, but it does not matter, does it? Would you like a pair of slippers or a straw hat?
"I hope you have brought some linen jackets. I won't offer you a glass of Madeira—we shall dine at once. Ah! my dear fellow, you have turned up at the right moment; we are going to taste the first melon of the year this evening."
"Unfortunately, I never eat melons, though I like to see others do so."
"Well, then, I will offer you consolation by seeking out a bottle of my old Pomard for you. Between ourselves, I don't give it to every one; it is a capital wine which my poor father recommended to me on his deathbed; poor father, his eyes were closed, and his head stretched back on the pillow. I was sitting beside his bed, my hand in his, when I felt it feebly pressed. His eyes half opened, and I saw him smile. Then he said in a weak, slow, and the quavering voice of an old man who is dying: 'The Pomard at the farther end—on the left—you know, my boy—only for friends.' He pressed my hand again, and, as if exhausted, closed his eyes, though I could see by the imperceptible motion of his lips that he was still smiling inwardly. Come with me to the cellar," continued Oscar, after a brief silence, "at the farther end to the left, you shall hold the lantern for me."
When we came up from the cellar, the bell was ringing furiously, and flocks of startled birds were flying out of the chestnut-trees. It was for dinner. All the guests were in the garden. Oscar introduced me in his off-hand way, and I offered my arm to the mistress of the house to conduct her to the dining-room.
On examining my friend's wife, I saw that my first impression had not been erroneous—she was literally a little angel, and a little angel in the shape of a woman, which is all the better. She was delicate, slender as a young girl; her voice was as thrilling and harmonious as the chaffinch, with an indefinable accent that smacked of no part of the country in particular, but lent a charm to her slightest word. She had, moreover, a way of speaking of her own, a childish and coquettish way of modulating the ends of her sentences and turning her eyes toward her husband, as if to seek for his approbation. She blushed every moment, but at the same time her smile was so bewitching and her teeth so white that she seemed to be laughing at herself. A charming little woman! Add to this a strange yet tasteful toilette, rather daring, perhaps, but suiting this little queen, so singular in herself. Her beautiful fair hair, twisted up apparently at hazard, was fixed rather high up on the head by a steel comb worn somewhat on one side; and her white muslin dress trimmed with wide, flat ruches, cut square at the neck, short in the skirt, and looped up all round, had a delicious eighteenth-century appearance. The angel was certainly a trifle coquettish, but in her own way, and yet her way was exquisite.
Hardly were we seated at table when Oscar threw toward his little queen a rapid glance, but one so full of happiness and-why should I not say it?—love that I experienced a kind of shiver, a thrill of envy, astonishment, and admiration, perhaps. He took from the basket of flowers on the table a red rose, scarcely opened, and, pushing it toward her, said with a smile:
"For your hair, Madame."
The fair girl blushed deeply, took the flower, and, without hesitation, quickly and dexterously stuck it in her hair, high up on the left, just in the right spot, and, delightedly turning round to each of us, repeated several times, amid bursts of laughter, "Is it right like that?"
Then she wafted a tiny kiss with the tips of her fingers to her husband, as a child of twelve would have done, and gayly plunged her spoon into the soup, turning up her little finger as she did so.
The other guests had nothing very remarkable about them; they laughed very good-naturedly at these childish ways, but seemed somewhat out of place amid all this charming freedom from restraint. The cousin, above all, the angler, with his white waistcoat, his blue tie, his full beard, and his almond eyes, especially displeased me. He rolled his r's like an actor at a country theatre. He broke his bread into little bits and nibbled them as he talked. I divined that the pleasure of showing off a large ring he wore had something to do with this fancy for playing with his bread. Once or twice I caught a glance of melancholy turned toward the mistress of the house, but at first I did not take much notice of it, my attention being attracted by the brilliant gayety of Oscar.
It seemed to me, however, at the end of a minute or so, that this young man was striving in a thousand ways to engage the attention of the little queen.
The latter, however, answered him in the most natural way in the world, neither betraying constraint nor embarrassment. I was mistaken, no doubt. Have you ever noticed, when you are suddenly brought into the midst of a circle where you are unacquainted, how certain little details, matters of indifference to every one else, assume importance in your eyes? The first impression is based upon a number of trifles that catch your attention at the outset. A stain in the ceiling, a nail in the wall, a feature of your neighbor's countenance impresses itself upon your mind, installs itself there, assumes importance, and, in spite of yourself, all the other observations subsequently made by you group around this spot, this nail, this grimace. Think over it, dear reader, and you will see that every opinion you may have as to a fact, a person, or an object has been sensibly influenced by the recollection of the little trifle that caught your eye at the first glance. What young girl victim of first impressions has not refused one or two husbands on account of a waistcoat too loose, a cravat badly tied, an inopportune sneeze, a foolish smile, or a boot too pointed at the toe?
One does not like admitting to one's self that such trifles can serve as a base to the opinion one has of any one, and one must seek attentively in order to discover within one's mind these unacknowledged germs.
I recollect quite well that the first time I had the honor of calling on Madame de M., I noticed that one of her teeth, the first molar on the right, was quite black. I only caught a glimpse of the little black monster, such was the care taken to hide it, yet I could not get this discovery out of my head. I soon noticed that Madame de M. made frightful grimaces to hide her tooth, and that she took only the smallest possible mouthfuls at table to spare the nervous susceptibilities of the little monster.
I arrived at the pitch of accounting for all the mental and physical peculiarities of Madame de M. by the presence of this slight blemish, and despite myself this black tooth personified the Countess so well that even now, although it has been replaced by another magnificent one, twice as big and as white as the bottom of a plate, even now, I say, Madame de M. can not open her mouth without my looking naturally at it.
But to return to our subject. Amid all this conjugal happiness, so delightfully surrounded, face to face with dear old Oscar, so good, so confiding, so much in love with this little cherub in a Louis XV dress, who carried grace and naivete to so strange a pitch, I had been struck by the too well combed and foppish head of the cousin in the white waistcoat. This head had attracted my attention like the stain on the ceiling of which I spoke just now, like the Countess's black tooth, and despite myself I did not take my eyes off the angler as he passed the silver blade of his knife through a slice of that indigestible fruit which I like to see on the plates of others, but can not tolerate on my own.
After dinner, which lasted a very long time, we went into the garden, where coffee had been served, and stretched ourselves out beatifically, cigar in mouth. All was calm and silent about us, the insects had ceased their music, and in an opaline sky little violet clouds were sleeping.
Oscar, with a happy air, pointed out to me the famous mill, the quiet valley, and farther on his loved stream, in which the sun, before setting, was reflecting itself amid the reeds. Meanwhile the little queen on her high heels flitted round the cups like a child playing at party-giving, and with a thousand charming touches poured out the boiling coffee, the odor of which blended deliciously with the perfume of the flowers, the hay, and the woods.
When she had finished she sat down beside her husband, so close that her skirt half hid my friend, and unceremoniously taking the cigar from his lips, held it at a distance, with a little pout, that meant, "Oh, the horrid thing!" and knocked off with her little finger the ash which fell on the gravel. Then she broke into a laugh, and put the cigar back between the lips of her husband held out to her.
It was charming. Oscar was no doubt accustomed to this, for he did not seem astonished, but placed his hand on his wife's shoulder, as one would upon a child's, and, kissing her on the forehead, said, "Thanks, my dear."
"Yes, but you are only making fun of me," said the young wife, in a whisper, leaning her head against her husband's arm.
I could not help smiling, there was so much coaxing childishness and grace in this little whispered sentence. I do not know why I turned toward the cousin who had remained a little apart, smoking in silence. He seemed to me rather pale; he took three or four sudden puffs, rose suddenly under the evident influence of some moral discomfort, and walked away beneath the trees.
"What is the matter with cousin?" said Oscar, with some interest. "What ails him?"
"I don't know," answered the little queen, in the most natural manner in the world, "some idea about fishing, no doubt."
Night began to fall; we had remained as I have said a long time at table. It was about nine o'clock. The cousin returned and took the seat he had occupied before, but from this moment it seemed to me that a strange constraint crept in among us, a singular coolness showed itself. The talk, so lively at first, slackened gradually and, despite all my efforts to impart a little life to it, dragged wretchedly. I myself did not feel very bright; I was haunted by the most absurd notions in the world; I thought I had detected in the sudden departure of the cousin, in his pallor, in his embarrassed movements, the expression of some strong feeling which he had been powerless to hide. But how was it that that adorable little woman with such a keen intelligent look did not understand all this, since I understood it myself? Had not Oscar, however confiding he might be, noted that the departure of the cousin exactly coincided with the kiss he had given his wife? Were these two blind, or did they pretend not to see, or was I myself the victim of an illusion? However, conversation had died away; the mistress of the house, singular symptom, was silent and serious, and Oscar wriggled in his chair, like a man who is not altogether at ease. What was passing in their minds?
Soon we heard the clock in the drawing-room strike ten, and Oscar, suddenly rising, said: "My dear fellow, in the country it is Liberty Hall, you know; so I will ask your permission to go in—I am rather tired this evening. George," he added to me, "they will show you your room; it is on the ground floor; I hope that you will be comfortable there."
Everybody got up silently, and, after bidding one another good-night in a somewhat constrained manner, sought their respective rooms. I thought, I must acknowledge, that they went to bed rather too early at my friend's. I had no wish to sleep; I therefore examined my room, which was charming. It was completely hung with an old figured tapestry framed in gray wainscot. The bed, draped in dimity curtains, was turned down and exhaled that odor of freshly washed linen which invites one to stretch one's self in it. On the table, a little gem dating from the beginning of the reign of Louis XVI, were four or five books, evidently chosen by Oscar and placed there for me. These little attentions touch one, and naturally my thoughts recurred to the dear fellow, to the strange incident of the evening, to the vexations and tortures hidden, perhaps, by this apparent happiness. I was ridiculous that night—I already pitied him, my poor friend.
I felt quite touched, and, full of melancholy, went and leaned against the sill of the open window. The moon had just risen, the sky was beautifully clear, whiffs of delicious perfumes assailed my nostrils. I saw in the shadow of the trees glowworms sparkling on the grass, and, in the masses of verdure lit up mysteriously by the moon, I traced strange shapes of fantastic monsters. There was, above all, a little pointed roof surmounted by a weathercock, buried in the trees at about fifty paces from my window, which greatly interested me. I could not in the obscurity make out either door or windows belonging to this singular tower. Was it an old pigeon-house, a tomb, a deserted summer-house? I could not tell, but its little pointed roof, with a round dormer window, was extremely graceful. Was it chance or an artist lull of taste that had covered this tower with creepers and flowers, and surrounded it with foliage in such capricious fashion that it seemed to be hiding itself in order to catch all glances? I was gazing at all this when I heard a faint noise in the shrubbery. I looked in that direction and I saw—really, it was an anxious moment—I saw a phantom clad in a white robe and walking with mysterious and agitated rapidity. At a turning of the path the moon shone on this phantom. Doubt was impossible; I had before my eyes my friend's wife. Her gait no longer had that coquettish ease which I had noticed, but clearly indicated the agitation due to some strong emotion.
I strove to banish the horrible suspicion which suddenly forced itself into my mind. "No," I said to myself, "so much innocence and beauty can not be capable of deception; no doubt she has forgotten her fan or her embroidery, on one of the benches there." But instead of making her way toward the benches I noticed on the right, the young wife turned to the left, and soon disappeared in the shadow of the grove in which was hidden the mysterious turret.
My heart ached. "Where is she going, the hapless woman?" I exclaimed to myself. "At any rate, I will not let her imagine any one is watching her." And I hurriedly blew out my candle. I wanted to close my window, go to bed, and see nothing more, but an invincible curiosity took me back to the window. I had only been there a few minutes when I plainly distinguished halting and timid footsteps on the gravel. I could see no one at first, but there was no doubt that the footsteps were those of a man. I soon had a proof that I was not mistaken; the elongated outline of the cousin showed up clearly against the dark mass of shrubbery. I should have liked to have stopped him, the wretch, for his intention was evident; he was making his way toward the thicket in which the little queen had disappeared. I should have liked to shout to him, "You are a villain; you shall go no farther." But had I really any right to act thus? I was silent, but I coughed, however, loud enough to be heard by him.
He suddenly paused in his uneasy walk, looked round on all sides with visible anxiety, then, seized by I know not what impulse, darted toward the pavilion. I was overwhelmed. What ought I to do? Warn my friend, my childhood's companion? Yes, no doubt, but I felt ashamed to pour despair into the mind of this good fellow and to cause a horrible exposure. "If he can be kept in ignorance," I said to myself, "and then perhaps I am wrong—who knows? Perhaps this rendezvous is due to the most natural motive possible."
I was seeking to deceive myself, to veil the evidence of my own eyes, when suddenly one of the house doors opened noisily, and Oscar—Oscar himself, in all the disorder of night attire, his hair rumpled, and his dressing-gown floating loosely, passed before my window. He ran rather than walked; but the anguish of his heart was too plainly revealed in the strangeness of his movements. He knew all. I felt that a mishap was inevitable. "Behold the outcome of all his happiness, behold the bitter poison enclosed in so fair a vessel!" All these thoughts shot through my mind like arrows. It was necessary above all to delay the explosion, were it only for a moment, a second, and, beside myself, without giving myself time to think of what I was going to say to him, I cried in a sharp imperative tone:
"Oscar, come here; I want to speak to you."
He stopped as if petrified. He was ghastly pale, and, with an infernal smile, replied, "I have no time-later on."
"Oscar, you must, I beg of you—you are mistaken."
At these words he broke into a fearful laugh.
And he ran toward the pavilion.
Seizing the skirt of his dressing-gown, I held him tightly, exclaiming:
"Don't go, my dear fellow, don't go; I beg of you on my knees not to go."
By way of reply he gave me a hard blow on the arm with his fist, exclaiming:
"What the devil is the matter with you?"
"I tell you that you can not go there, Oscar," I said, in a voice which admitted of no contradiction.
"Then why did not you tell me at once."
And feverishly snatching his dressing-gown from my grasp, he began to walk frantically up and down.
CHAPTER XVII. I SUP WITH MY WIFE
That evening, which chanced to be Christmas Eve, it was infernally cold. The snow was falling in heavy flakes, and, driven by the wind, beat furiously against the window panes. The distant chiming of the bells could just be heard through this heavy and woolly atmosphere. Foot-passengers, wrapped in their cloaks, slipped rapidly along, keeping close to the house and bending their heads to the wintry blast.
Enveloped in my dressing-gown, and tapping with my fingers on the window-panes, I was smiling at the half-frozen passers-by, the north wind, and the snow, with the contented look of a man who is in a warm room and has on his feet comfortable flannel-lined slippers, the soles of which are buried in a thick carpet. At the fireside my wife was cutting out something and smiling at me from time to time; a new book awaited me on the mantelpiece, and the log on the hearth kept shooting out with a hissing sound those little blue flames which invite one to poke it.
"There is nothing that looks more dismal than a man tramping through the snow, is there?" said I to my wife.
"Hush," said she, lowering the scissors which she held in her hand; and, after smoothing her chin with her fingers, slender, rosy, and plump at their tips, she went on examining the pieces of stuff she had cut out.
"I say that it is ridiculous to go out in the cold when it is so easy to remain at home at one's own fireside."
"But what are you doing that is so important?"
"I—I am cutting out a pair of braces for you," and she set to work again. But, as in cutting out she kept her head bent, I noticed, on passing behind her, her soft, white neck, which she had left bare that evening by dressing her hair higher than usual. A number of little downy hairs were curling there. This kind of down made me think of those ripe peaches one bites so greedily. I drew near, the better to see, and I kissed the back of my wife's neck.
"Monsieur!" said Louise, suddenly turning round.
"Madame," I replied, and we both burst out laughing.
"Christmas Eve," said I.
"Do you wish to excuse yourself and to go out?"
"Do you mean to complain?"
"Yes, I complain that you are not sufficiently impressed by the fact of its being Christmas Eve. The ding-ding-dong of the bells of Notre Dame fails to move you; and just now when the magic-lantern passed beneath the window, I looked at you while pretending to work, and you were quite calm."
"I remain calm when the magic-lantern is going by! Ah! my dear, you are very severe on me, and really—"
"Yes, yes, jest about it, but it was none the less true that the recollections of your childhood have failed."
"Now, my dear, do you want me to leave my boots out on the hearth this evening on going to bed? Do you want me to call in the magic-lantern man, and to look out a big sheet and a candle end for him, as my poor mother used to do? I can still see her as she used to entrust her white sheet to him. 'Don't make a hole in it, at least,' she would say. How we used to clap our hands in the mysterious darkness! I can recall all those joys, my dear, but you know so many other things have happened since then. Other pleasures have effaced those."
"Yes, I can understand, your bachelor pleasures; and, there, I am sure that this Christmas Eve is the first you have passed by your own fireside, in your dressing-gown, without supper; for you used to sup on Christmas Eve."
"To sup, to sup."
"Yes, you supped; I will wager you did."
"I have supped two or three times, perhaps, with friends, you know; two sous' worth of roasted chestnuts and—"
"A glass of sugar and water."
"Oh, pretty nearly so. It was all very simple; as far as I can recollect. We chatted a little and went to bed."
"And he says that without a smile. You have never breathed a word to me of all these simple pleasures."
"But, my dear, all that I am telling you is strictly true. I remember that once, however, it was rather lively. It was at Ernest's, and we had some music. Will you push that log toward me? But, never mind; it will soon be midnight, and that is the hour when reasonable people—"
Louise, rising and throwing her arms around my neck, interrupted me with: "Well, I don't want to be reasonable, I want to wipe out all your memories of chestnuts and glasses of sugar and water."
Then pushing me into my dressing-room she locked the door.
"But, my dear, what is the matter with you?" said I through the keyhole.
"I want ten minutes, no more. Your newspaper is on the mantelpiece; you have not read it this evening. There are some matches in the corner."
I heard a clatter of crockery, a rustling of silk my wife mad?
Louise soon came and opened the door.
"Don't scold me for having shut you up," she said, kissing me. "Look how I have beautified myself? Do you recognize the coiffure you are so fond of, the chignon high, and the neck bare? Only as my poor neck is excessively timid, it would have never consented to show itself thus if I had not encouraged it a little by wearing my dress low. And then one must put on full uniform to sup with the authorities."
"Certainly, to sup with you; don't you see my illuminations and this table covered with flowers and a heap of good things? I had got it all ready in the alcove; but you understand that to roll the table up to the fire and make a little toilette, I wanted to be alone. Come, Monsieur, take your place at table. I am as hungry as a hunter. May I offer you a wing of cold chicken?"
"Your idea is charming, but, dear, really I am ashamed; I am in my dressing-gown."
"Take off your dressing-gown if it incommodes you, Monsieur, but don't leave this chicken wing on my hands. I want to serve you myself." And, rising, she turned her sleeves up to the elbow, and placed her table napkin on her arm.
"It is thus that the waiters at the restaurant do it, is it not?"
"Exactly; but, waiter, allow me at least to kiss your hand."
"I have no time," said she, laughing, sticking the corkscrew into the neck of the bottle. "Chambertin—it is a pretty name; and then do you remember that before our marriage (how hard this cork is!) you told me that you liked it on account of a poem by Alfred de Musset? which, by the way, you have not let me read yet. Do you see the two little Bohemian glasses which I bought expressly for this evening? We will drink each other's health in them."
"And his, too, eh?"
"The heir's, poor dear love of an heir! I should think so. And then I will put away the two glasses against this time next year; they shall be our Christmas Eve glasses? Every year we will sup like this together, however old we may get."
"But, my dear, how about the time when we have no longer any teeth?"
"Well, we will sup on good strong soups; it will be very nice, all the same. Another piece, please, with some of the jelly. Thanks."
As she held out her plate I noticed her arm, the outline of which was lost in lace.
"Why are you looking up my sleeve instead of eating?"
"I am looking at your arm, dear. You are charming, let me tell you, this evening. That coiffure suits you so well, and that dress which I was unacquainted with."
"Well, when one seeks to make a conquest—"
"How pretty you look, pet!"
"Is it true that you think me charming, pretty, and a pet this evening? Well, then," lowering her eyes and smiling at her bracelets, "in that case I do not see why—"
"What is it you do not see, dear?"
"I do not see any reason why you should not come and give me just a little kiss."
And as the kiss was prolonged, she said to me, amid bursts of laughter, her head thrown back, and showing the double row of her white teeth: "I should like some pie; yes, some brie! You will break my Bohemian glass, the result of my economy. You always cause some mishap when you want to kiss me. Do you recollect at Madame de Brill's ball, two days before our marriage, how you tore my skirt while waltzing in the little drawing-room?"
"Because it is difficult to do two things at once-to keep step and to kiss one's partner."
"I recollect, too, when mamma asked how my skirt had got torn, I felt that I was blushing up to my ears. And Madame D., that old jaundiced fairy, who said to me with her Lenten smile, 'How flushed you are tonight, my dear child!' I could have strangled her! I said it was the key of the door that had caught it. I looked at you out of the corner of my eye; you were pulling your moustache and seemed greatly annoyed—you are keeping all the truffles for yourself; that is kind—not that one; I want the big black one there in the corner-it was very wrong all the same, for—oh! not quite full—I do not want to be tipsy—for, after all, if we had not been married—and that might have happened, for you know they say that marriages only depend on a thread. Well, if the thread had not been strong enough, I should have remained a maid with a kiss on my shoulder, and a nice thing that would have been."
"Bah! it does not stain."
"Yes, Monsieur, it does, I beg your pardon. It stains so much that there are husbands, I believe, who even shed their blood to wash out such little stains."
"But I was joking, dear. Hang it!—don't you think—yes, certainly, hang it!"
"Ah! that's right, I like to see you angry. You are a trifle jealous, dear—oh! that is too bad; I asked you for the big black one, and you have gone and eaten it."
"I am sorry, dear; I quite forgot about it."
"It was the same at the Town Hall, where I was obliged to jog your elbow to make you answer 'Yes' to the Mayor's kind words."
"Yes, kind. I thought him charming. No one could have been more graceful than he was in addressing me. 'Mademoiselle, will you consent to accept for your husband that great, ugly fellow standing beside you?'" (Laughing, with her mouth full.) "I wanted to say to him, 'Let us come to an understanding, Mr. Mayor; there is something to be said on either side.' I am choking!"—she bursts out laughing—"I was wrong not to impose restrictions. Your health, dear! I am teasing you; it is very stupid. I said 'Yes' with all my heart, I can assure you, dear, and I thought the word too weak a one. When I think that all women, even the worst, say that word, I feel ashamed not to have found another." Holding out her glass: "To our golden wedding—will you touch glasses?"
"And to his baptism, little mamma."
In a low voice: "Tell me—are you sorry you married me?"
Laughing, "Yes." Kissing her on the shoulder, "I think I have found the stain again; it was just there."
"It is two in the morning, the fire is out, and I am a little—you won't laugh now? Well, I am a little dizzy."
"A capital pie, eh?"
"A capital pie! We shall have a cup of tea for breakfast tomorrow, shall we not?"
CHAPTER XVIII. FROM ONE THING TO ANOTHER
SCENE.—The country in autumn—The wind is blowing without—MADAME, seated by the fireside in a large armchair, is engaged in needlework —MONSIEUR, seated in front of her, is watching the flames of the fire—A long silence.
Monsieur—Will you pass me the poker, my dear?
Madame—(humming to herself)—"And yet despite so many fears." (Spoken.) Here is the poker. (Humming.) "Despite the painful——"
Monsieur—That is by Mehul, is it not, my dear? Ah! that is music—I saw Delaunay Riquier in Joseph. (He hums as he makes up the fire.) "Holy pains." (Spoken.) One wonders why it does not burn, and, by Jove! it turns out to be green wood. Only he was a little too robust—Riquier. A charming voice, but he is too stout.
Madame—(holding her needlework at a distance, the better to judge of the effect)—Tell me, George, would you have this square red or black? You see, the square near the point. Tell me frankly.
Monsieur—(singing) "If you can repent." (Spoken without turning his head.) Red, my dear; red. I should not hesitate; I hate black.
Madame—Yes, but if I make that red it will lead me to—(She reflects.)
Monsieur—Well, my dear, if it leads you away, you must hold fast to something to save yourself.
Madame—Come, George, I am speaking seriously. You know that if this little square is red, the point can not remain violet, and I would not change that for anything.
Monsieur—(slowly and seriously)—My dear, will you follow the advice of an irreproachable individual, to whose existence you have linked your fate? Well, make that square pea-green, and so no more about it. Just look whether a coal fire ever looked like that.
Madame—I should only be too well pleased to use up my pea-green wool; I have a quantity of it.
Monsieur—Then where lies the difficulty?
Madame—The difficulty is that pea-green is not sufficiently religious.
Monsieur—Hum! (Humming.) Holy pains! (Spoken.) Will you be kind enough to pass the bellows? Would it be indiscreet to ask why the poor pea-green, which does not look very guilty, has such an evil reputation? You are going in for religious needlework, then, my dear?
Madame—Oh, George! I beg of you to spare me your fun. I have been familiar with it for a long time, you know, and it is horribly disagreeable to me. I am simply making a little mat for the confessional-box of the vicar. There! are you satisfied? You know what it is for, and you must understand that under the present circumstances pea-green would be altogether out of place.
Monsieur—Not the least in the world. I can swear to you that I could just as well confess with pea-green under my feet. It is true that I am naturally of a resolute disposition. Use up your wool; I can assure you that the vicar will accept it all the same. He does not know how to refuse. (He plies the bellows briskly.)
Madame—You are pleased, are you not?
Monsieur—Pleased at what, dear?
Madame—Pleased at having vented your sarcasm, at having passed a jest on one who is absent. Well, I tell you that you are a bad man, seeing that you seek to shake the faith of those about you. My beliefs had need be very fervent, principles strong, and have real virtue, to resist these incessant attacks. Well, why are you looking at me like that?
Monsieur—I want to be converted, my little apostle. You are so pretty when you speak out; your eyes glisten, your voice rings, your gestures—I am sure that you could speak like that for a long time, eh? (He kisses her hand, and takes two of her curls and ties them under hey chin.) You are looking pretty, my pet.
Madame—Oh! you think you have reduced me to silence because you have interrupted me. Ah! there, you have tangled my hair. How provoking you are! It will take me an hour to put it right. You are not satisfied with being a prodigy of impiety, but you must also tangle my hair. Come, hold out your hands and take this skein of wool.
Monsieur—(sitting down on a stool, which he draws as closely as possible to Madame, and holding up his hands) My little Saint John!
Madame—Not so close, George; not so close. (She smiles despite herself.) How silly you are! Please be careful; you will break my wool.
Monsieur—Your religious wool.
Madame—Yes, my religious wool. (She gives him a little pat on the cheek.) Why do you part your hair so much on one side, George? It would suit you much better in the middle, here. Yes, you may kiss me, but gently.
Monsieur—Can you guess what I am thinking of?
Madame—How do you imagine I could guess that?
Monsieur—Well, I am thinking of the barometer which is falling and of the thermometer which is falling too.
Madame—You see, cold weather is coming on and my mat will never be finished. Come, let us make haste.
Monsieur—I was thinking of the thermometer which is falling and of my room which faces due north.
Madame—Did you not choose it yourself? My wool! Good gracious! my wool! Oh! the wicked wretch!
Monsieur—In summer my room with the northern aspect is, no doubt, very pleasant; but when autumn comes, when the wind creeps in, when the rain trickles down the windowpanes, when the fields, the country, seem hidden under a huge veil of sadness, when the spoils of our woodlands strew the earth, when the groves have lost their mystery and the nightingale her voice—oh! then the room with the northern aspect has a very northern aspect, and—
Madame—(continuing to wind her wool)—What nonsense you are talking!
Monsieur—I protest against autumns, that is all. God's sun is hidden and I seek another. Is not that natural, my little fairhaired saint, my little mystic lamb, my little blessed palmbranch? This new sun I find in you, pet—in your look, in the sweet odor of your person, in the rustling of your skirt, in the down on your neck which one notices by the lamp-light when you bend over the vicar's mat, in your nostril which expands when my lips approach yours—
Madame—Will you be quiet, George? It is Friday, and Ember week.
Monsieur—And your dispensation? (He kisses her.) Don't you see that your hand shakes, that you blush, that your heart is beating?
Madame—George, will you have done, sir? (She pulls away her hand, throws herself back in the chair, and avoids her husband's glance.)
Monsieur—Your poor little heart beats, and it is right, dear; it knows that autumn is the time for confidential chats and evening caresses, the time for kisses. And you know it too, for you defend yourself poorly, and I defy you to look me in the face. Come! look me in the face.
Madame—(she suddenly leans toward hey husband, the ball of wool rolling into the fireplace, the pious task falling to the ground. She takes his head between her hands)—Oh, what a dear, charming husband you would be if you had—
Monsieur—If I had what? Tell me quickly.
Madame—If you had a little religion. I should only ask for such a little at the beginning. It is not very difficult, I can assure you. While, now, you are really too—
Madame—Yes, pea-green, you great goose. (She laughs frankly.)
Monsieur—(lifting his hands in the air)—Sound trumpets! Madame has laughed; Madame is disarmed. Well, my snow-white lamb, I am going to finish my story; listen properly, there, like that—your hands here, my head so. Hush! don't laugh. I am speaking seriously. As I was saying to you, the north room is large but cold, poetic but gloomy, and I will add that two are not too many in this wintry season to contend against the rigors of the night. I will further remark that if the sacred ties of marriage have a profoundly social significance, it is—do not interrupt me—at that hour of one's existence when one shivers on one's solitary couch.
Madame—You can not be serious.
Monsieur—Well, seriously, I should like the vicar's mat piously spread upon your bed, to keep us both warm together, this very evening. I wish to return as speedily as possible to the intimacy of conjugal life. Do you hear how the wind blows and whistles through the doors? The fire splutters, and your feet are frozen. (He takes her foot in his hands.)
Madame—But you are taking off my slipper, George.
Monsieur—Do you think, my white lamb, that I am going to leave your poor little foot in that state? Let it stay in my hand to be warmed. Nothing is so cold as silk. What! openwork stockings? My dear, you are rather dainty about your foot-gear for a Friday. Do you know, pet, you can not imagine how gay I wake up when the morning sun shines into my room. You shall see. I am no longer a man; I am a chaffinch; all the joys of spring recur to me. I laugh, I sing, I speechify, I tell tales to make one die of laughter. Sometimes I even dance.
Madame—Come now! I who in the morning like neither noise nor broad daylight—how little all that suits!
Monsieur—(suddenly changing his tone)—Did I say that I liked all that? The morning sun? Never in autumn, my sweet dove, never. I awake, on the contrary full of languor and poesy; I was like that in my very cradle. We will prolong the night, and behind the drawn curtain, behind the closed shutter, we will remain asleep without sleeping. Buried in silence and shadow, delightfully stretched beneath your warm eider-down coverlets, we will slowly enjoy the happiness of being together, and we will wish one another good-morning only on the stroke of noon. You do not like noise, dear. I will not say a word. Not a murmur to disturb your unfinished dream and warn you that you are no longer sleeping; not a breath to recall you to reality; not a movement to rustle the coverings. I will be silent as a shade, motionless as a statue; and if I kiss you—for, after all, I have my weaknesses—it will be done with a thousand precautions, my lips will scarcely brush your sleeping shoulder; and if you quiver with pleasure as you stretch out your arms, if your eye half uncloses at the murmur of my kiss, if your lips smile at me, if I kiss you, it would be because you would like me to, and I shall have nothing to reproach myself with.
Madame—(her eyes half closed, leaning back in hey armchair, her head bent with emotion, she places her hands before his mouth. In a low voice)—Hush, hush! Don't say that, dear; not another word! If you knew how wrong it was!
Monsieur—Wrong! What is there that is wrong? Is your heart of marble or adamant, that you do not see that I love you, you naughty child? That I hold out my arms to you, that I long to clasp you to my heart, and to fall asleep in your hair? What is there more sacred in the world than to love one's wife or love one's husband? (Midnight strikes.)
Madame—(she suddenly changes hey expression at the sound, throws her arms round her husband, and hurriedly kisses him thrice)—You thought I did not love you, eh, dear? Oh, yes! I love you. Great baby! not to see that I was waiting the time.
Monsieur—What time, dear?
Madame—The time. It has struck twelve, see. (She blushes crimson.) Friday is over. (She holds out her hand for him to kiss.)
Monsieur—Are you sure the clock is not five minutes fast, love?
CHAPTER XIX. A LITTLE CHAT
MADAME F——-MADAME H———
(These ladies are seated at needlework as they talk.)
Madame F—For myself, you know, my dear, I fulfil my duties tolerably, still I am not what would be called a devotee. By no means. Pass me your scissors. Thanks.
Madame H—You are quite welcome, dear. What a time those little squares of lace must take. I am like yourself in respect of religion; in the first place, I think that nothing should be overdone. Have you ever-I have never spoken to any one on the subject, but I see your ideas are so in accordance with my own that—
Madame F—Come, speak out, dear; you trust me a little, I hope.
Madame H—Well, then, have you—tell me truly—ever had any doubts?
Madame F—(after reflecting for a moment)—Doubts! No. And you?
Madame H—I have had doubts, which has been a real grief to me. Heavens! how I have wept.
Madame F—I should think so, my poor dear. For my own part, my faith is very strong. These doubts must have made you very unhappy.
Madame H—Terribly so. You know, it seems as if everything failed you; there is a vacancy all about you—I have never spoken about it to my husband, of course—Leon is a jewel of a man, but he will not listen to anything of that kind. I can still see him, the day after our marriage; I was smoothing my hair—broad bands were then worn, you know.
Madame F—Yes, yes; they were charming. You will see that we shall go back to them.
Madame H—I should not be surprised; fashion is a wheel that turns. Leon, then, said to me the day after our wedding: "My dear child, I shall not hinder you going to church, but I beg you, for mercy's sake, never to say a word to me about it."
Madame F—Really, Monsieur H. said that to you?
Madame H—Upon my honor. Oh! my husband is all that is most—or, if you prefer it, all that is least—
Madame F—Yes, yes, I understand. That is a grief, you know. Mine is only indifferent. From time to time he says some disagreeable things to me on the question, but I am sure he could be very easily brought back to the right. At the first illness he has, you shall see. When he has only a cold in the head, I notice the change. You have not seen my thimble?
Madame H—Here it is. Do not be too sure of that, dear; men are not to be brought back by going "chk, chk" to them, like little chickens. And then, though I certainly greatly admire the men who observe religious practices, you know me well enough not to doubt that—I think, as I told you, that nothing should be exaggerated. And yourself, pet, should you like to see your husband walking before the banner with a great wax taper in his right hand and a bouquet of flowers in his left?
Madame F—Oh! no, indeed. Why not ask me at once whether I should like to see Leon in a black silk skull cap, with cotton in his ears and a holy water sprinkler in his hand? One has no need to go whining about a church with one's nose buried in a book to be a pious person; there is a more elevated form of religion, which is that of—of refined people, you know.
Madame H—Ah! when you speak like that, I am of your opinion. I think, for instance, that there is nothing looks finer than a man while the host is being elevated. Arms crossed, no book, head slightly bowed, grave look, frock coat buttoned up. Have you seen Monsieur de P. at mass? How well he looks!
Madame F—He is such a fine man, and, then, he dresses so well. Have you seen him on horseback? Ah! so you have doubts; but tell me what they are, seeing we are indulging in confidences.
Madame H—I can hardly tell you. Doubts, in short; about hell, for instance, I have had horrible doubts. Oh! but do not let us speak about that; I believe it is wrong even to think of it.
Madame F—I have very broad views on that point; I never think about it. Besides, my late confessor helped me. "Do not seek too much," he always said to me, "do not try to understand that which is unfathomable." You did not know Father Gideon? He was a jewel of a confessor; I was extremely pleased with him. Not too tedious, always discreet, and, above all, well-bred. He turned monk from a romantic cause—a penitent was madly in love with him.
Madame F—Yes, really. What! did you not know about it? The success of the monastery was due to that accident. Before the coming of Father Gideon it vegetated, but on his coming the ladies soon flocked there in crowds. They organized a little guild, entitled "The Ladies of the Agony." They prayed for the Chinese who had died without confession, and wore little death's heads in aluminum as sleeve-links. It became very fashionable, as you are aware, and the good fathers organized, in turn, a registry for men servants; and the result is that, from one thing leading to another, the community has become extremely wealthy. I have even heard that one of the most important railway stations in Paris is shortly to be moved, so that the size of their garden can be increased, which is rather restricted at present.
Madame H—As to that, it is natural enough that men should want a place to walk in at home; but what I do not understand is that a woman, however pious she may be, should fall in love with a priest. It is all very well, but that is no longer piety; it is—fanaticism. I venerate priests, I can say so truly, but after all I can not imagine myself—you will laugh at me—ha, ha, ha!
Madame F—Not at all. Ha, ha, ha! what a child you are!
Madame H—(working with great briskness)—Well, I can not imagine that they are men—like the others.
Madame F—(resuming work with equal ardor)—And yet, my dear, people say they are.
Madame H—There are so many false reports set afloat. (A long silence.)
Madame F—(in a discreet tone of voice)—After all, there are priests who have beards—the Capuchins, for instance.
Madame H—Madame de V. has a beard right up to her eyes, so that counts for nothing, dear.
Madame F—That counts for nothing. I do not think so. In the first place, Madame de V.'s beard is not a perennial beard; her niece told me that she sheds her moustaches every autumn. What can a beard be that can not stand the winter? A mere trifle.
Madame H—A mere trifle that is horribly ugly, my dear.
Madame F—Oh! if Madame de V. had only moustaches to frighten away people, one might still look upon her without sorrow, but—
Madame H—I grant all that. Let us allow that the Countess's moustache and imperial are a nameless species of growth. I do not attach much importance to the point, you understand. She has a chin of heartbreaking fertility, that is all.
Madame F—To return to what we were saying, how is it that the men who are strongest, most courageous, most manly—soldiers, in fact—are precisely those who have most beard?
Madame H—That is nonsense, for then the pioneers would be braver than the Generals; and, in any case, there is not in France, I am sure, a General with as much beard as a Capuchin. You have never looked at a Capuchin then?
Madame F—Oh, yes! I have looked at one quite close. It is a rather funny story. Fancy Clementine's cook having a brother a Capuchin—an ex-jeweller, a very decent man. In consequence of misfortunes in business—it was in 1848, business was at a stand-still—in short, he lost his senses—no, he did not lose his senses, but he threw himself into the arms of Heaven.
Madame H—Oh! I never knew that! When? Clementine—
Madame F—I was like you, I would not believe it, but one day Clementine said to me: "Since you will not believe in my Capuchin, come and see me tomorrow about three o'clock; he will be paying a visit to his sister. Don't have lunch first; we will lunch together." Very good. I went the next day with Louise, who absolutely insisted upon accompanying me, and I found at Clementine's five or six ladies installed in the drawing-room and laughing like madcaps. They had all come to see the Capuchin. "Well," said I, as I went in, when they all began to make signs to me and whisper, "Hush, hush!" He was in the kitchen.
Madame H—And what was he like?
Madame F—Oh! very nice, except his feet; you know how it always gives one a chill to look at their feet; but, in short, he was very amiable. He was sent for into the drawing-room, but he would not take anything except a little biscuit and a glass of water, which took away our appetites. He was very lively; told us that we were coquettes with our little bonnets and our full skirts. He was very funny, always a little bit of the jeweller at the bottom, but with plenty of good nature and frankness. He imitated the buzzing of a fly for us; it was wonderful. He also wanted to show us a little conjuring trick, but he needed two corks for it, and unfortunately his sister could only find one.
Madame H—No matter, I can not understand Clementine engaging a servant like that.
Madame F—Why? The brother is a guarantee.
Madame H—Of morality, I don't say no; but it seems to me that a girl like that can not be very discreet in her ways.
Madame F—How do you make that out?
Madame H—I don't know, I can not reason the matter out, but it seems to me that it must be so, that is all,... besides, I should not like to see a monk in my kitchen, close to the soup. Oh, mercy! no!
Madame F—What a child you are!
Madame H—That has nothing to do with religious feelings, my dear; I do not attack any dogma. Ah! if I were to say, for instance—come now, if I were to say, what now?
Madame F—In point of fact, what really is dogma?
Madame H—Well, it is what can not be attacked. Thus, for instance, a thing that is evident, you understand me, is unassailable,... or else it should be assailed,... in short, it can not be attacked. That is why it is monstrous to allow the Jewish religion and the Protestant religion in France, because these religions can be assailed, for they have no dogma. I give you this briefly, but in your prayer-book you will find the list of dogmas. I am a rod of iron as regards dogmas. My husband, who, as I said, has succeeded in inspiring me with doubts on many matters—without imagining it, for he has never required anything of me; I must do him that justice—but who, at any rate, has succeeded in making me neglect many things belonging to religion, such as fasting, vespers, sermons,... confession.
Madame F—Confession! Oh! my dear, I should never have believed that.
Madame H—It is in confidence, dear pet, that I tell you this. You will swear never to speak of it?
Madame F—Confession! Oh! yes, I swear it. Come here, and let me kiss you.
Madame H—You pity me, do you not?
Madame F—I can not pity you too much, for I am absolutely in the same position.
Madame H—You, too! Good heavens! how I love you. What can one do, eh? Must one not introduce some plan of conciliation into the household, sacrifice one's belief a little to that of one's husband?
Madame F—No doubt. For instance, how would you have me go to high mass, which is celebrated at my parish church at eleven o'clock exactly? That is just our breakfast time. Can I let my husband breakfast alone? He would never hinder me from going to high mass, he has said so a thousand times, only he has always added, "When you want to go to mass during breakfast time, I only ask one thing—it is to give me notice the day before, so that I may invite some friends to keep me company."
Madame H—But only fancy, pet, our two husbands could not be more alike if they were brothers. Leon has always said, "My dear little chicken—"
Madame F—Ha! ha! ha!
Madame H—Yes, that is his name for me; you know how lively he is. He has always said to me, then, "My dear little chicken, I am not a man to do violence to your opinions, but in return give way to me as regards some of your pious practices." I only give you the mere gist of it; it was said with a thousand delicacies, which I suppress. And I have agreed by degrees,... so that, while only paying very little attention to the outward observances of religion, I have remained, as I told you, a bar of iron as regards dogmas. Oh! as to that, I would not give way an inch, a hair-breadth, and Leon is the first to tell me that I am right. After all, dogma is everything; practice, well, what would you? If I could bring Leon round, it would be quite another thing. How glad I am to have spoken to you about all this.
Madame F—Have we not been chattering? But it is half-past five, and I must go and take my cinchona bark. Thirty minutes before meals, it is a sacred duty. Will you come, pet?
Madame H—Stop a moment, I have lost my thimble again and must find it.
CHAPTER XX. THE HOT-WATER BOTTLE
When midnight strikes, when the embers die away into ashes, when the lamp burns more feebly and your eyes close in spite of yourself, the best thing to do, dear Madame, is to go to bed.
Get up from your armchair, take off your bracelets, light your rosecolored taper, and proceed slowly, to the soft accompaniment of your trailing skirt, rustling across the carpet, to your dressing-room, that perfumed sanctuary in which your beauty, knowing itself to be alone, raises its veils, indulges in self-examination, revels in itself and reckons up its treasures as a miser does his wealth.
Before the muslin-framed mirror, which reveals all that it sees so well, you pause carelessly and with a smile give one long satisfied look, then with two fingers you withdraw the pin that kept up your hair, and its long, fair tresses unroll and fall in waves, veiling your bare shoulders. With a coquettish hand, the little finger of which is turned up, you caress, as you gather them together, the golden flood of your abundant locks, while with the other you pass through them the tortoiseshell comb that buries itself in the depths of this fair forest and bends with the effort.
Your tresses are so abundant that your little hand can scarcely grasp them. They are so long that your outstretched arm scarcely reaches their extremity. Hence it is not without difficulty that you manage to twist them up and imprison them in your embroidered night-cap.
This first duty accomplished, you turn the silver tap, and the pure and limpid water pours into a large bowl of enamelled porcelain. You throw in a few drops of that fluid which perfumes and softens the skin, and like a nymph in the depths of a quiet wood preparing for the toilet, you remove the drapery that might encumber you.
But what, Madame, you frown? Have I said too much or not enough? Is it not well known that you love cold water; and do you think it is not guessed that at the contact of the dripping sponge you quiver from head to foot?
But what matters it, your toilette for the night is completed, you are fresh, restored, and white as a nun in your embroidered dressing-gown, you dart your bare feet into satin slippers and reenter your bedroom, shivering slightly. To see you walking thus with hurried steps, wrapped tightly in your dressing-gown, and with your pretty head hidden in its nightcap, you might be taken for a little girl leaving the confessional after confessing some terrible sin.
Gaining the bedside, Madame lays aside her slippers, and lightly and without effort, bounds into the depths of the alcove.
However, Monsieur, who was already asleep with his nose on the Moniteur, suddenly wakes up at the movement imparted to the bed.
"I thought that you were in bed already, dear," he murmurs, falling off to sleep again. "Good-night."
"If I had been in bed you would have noticed it." Madame stretches out her feet and moves them about; she seems to be in quest of something. "I am not in such a hurry to go to sleep as you are, thank goodness."
Monsieur, suddenly and evidently annoyed, says: "But what is the matter, my dear? You fidget and fidget—I want to sleep." He turns over as he speaks.
"I fidget! I am simply feeling for my hot-water bottle; you are irritating."
"Your hot-water bottle?" is Monsieur's reply, with a grunt.
"Certainly, my hot-water bottle, my feet are frozen." She goes on feeling for it. "You are really very amiable this evening; you began by dozing over the 'Revue des Deux Mondes', and I find you snoring over the 'Moniteur'. In your place I should vary my literature. I am sure you have taken my hot-water bottle."
"I have been doing wrong. I will subscribe to the 'Tintamarre' in future. Come, good-night, my dear." He turns over. "Hello, your hot-water bottle is right at the bottom of the bed; I can feel it with the tips of my toes."
"Well, push it up; do you think that I can dive down there after it?"
"Shall I ring for your maid to help you?" He makes a movement of ill-temper, pulls the clothes up to his chin, and buries his head in the pillow. "Goodnight, my dear."
Madame, somewhat vexed, says: "Good-night, goodnight."
The respiration of Monsieur grows smooth, and even his brows relax, his forehead becomes calm, he is on the point of losing all consciousness of the realities of this life.
Madame taps lightly on her husband's shoulder.
"Hum," growls Monsieur.
Madame taps again.
"Well, what is it?"
Madame, in an angelic tone of voice, "My dear, would you put out the candle?"
Monsieur, without opening his eyes, "The hot-water bottle, the candle, the candle, the hot-water bottle."
"Good heavens! how irritable you are, Oscar. I will put it out myself. Don't trouble yourself. You really have a very bad temper, my dear; you are angry, and if you were goaded a little, you would, in five minutes, be capable of anything."
Monsieur, his voice smothered in the pillow, "No, not at all; I am sleepy, dear, that is all. Good-night, my dear."
Madame, briskly, "You forget that in domestic life good feeling has for its basis reciprocal consideration."
"I was wrong—come, good-night." He raises himself up a little. "Would you like me to kiss you?"
"I don't want you to, but I permit." She puts her face toward that of her husband, who kisses her on the forehead. "You are really too good, you have kissed my nightcap."
Monsieur, smiling, "Your hair smells very nice... You see I am so sleepy. Ah! you have it in little plaits, you are going to wave it to-morrow."
"To wave it. You were the first to find that that way of dressing it became me, besides, it is the fashion, and tomorrow is my reception day. Come, you irritable man, embrace me once for all and snore at your ease, you are dying to do so."
She holds her neck toward her husband.
Monsieur, laughing, "In the first place, I never snore. I never joke." He kisses his wife's neck, and rests his head on her shoulder.
"Well, what are you doing there?" is her remark.
"I am digesting my kiss."
Madame affects the lackadaisical, and looks sidewise at her husband with an eye half disarmed. Monsieur sniffs the loved perfume with open nostrils.
After a period of silence he whispers in his wife's ear, "I am not at all sleepy now, dear. Are your feet still cold? I will find the hot-water bottle."
"Oh, thanks, put out the light and let us go to sleep; I am quite tired out."
She turns round by resting her arm on his face.
"No, no, I won't have you go to sleep with your feet chilled; there is nothing worse. There, there is the hot-water bottle, warm your poor little feet... there... like that."
"Thanks, I am very comfortable. Good-night, dear, let us go to sleep."
"Good-night, my dear."
After a long silence Monsieur turns first on one side and then on the other, and ends by tapping lightly on his wife's shoulder.
Madame, startled, "What is the matter? Good heavens! how you startled me!"
Monsieur, smiling, "Would you be kind enough to put out the candle?"
"What! is it for that you wake me up in the middle of my sleep? I shall not be able to doze again. You are unbearable."
"You find me unbearable?" He comes quite close to his wife; "Come, let me explain my idea to you."
Madame turns round—her eye meets the eye... full of softness.. of her husband. "Dear me," she says, "you are a perfect tiger."
Then, putting her mouth to his ear, she murmurs with a smile, "Come, explain your idea, for the sake of peace and quiet."
Madame, after a very long silence, and half asleep, "Oscar!"
Monsieur, his eyes closed, in a faint voice, "My dear."
"How about the candle? it is still alight."
"Ah! the candle. I will put it out. If you were very nice you would give me a share of your hot-water bottle; one of my feet is frozen. Good-night."
They clasp hands and fall asleep.
CHAPTER XXI. A LONGING
MONSIEUR and MADAME are quietly sitting together—The clock has just struck ten—MONSIEUR is in his dressing-gown and slippers, is leaning back in an armchair and reading the newspaper—MADAME is carelessly working squares of laces.
Madame—Such things have taken place, have they not, dear?
Monsieur—(without raising his eyes)—Yes, my dear.
Madame—There, well I should never have believed it. But they are monstrous, are they not?
Monsieur—(without raising his eyes)—Yes, my dear.
Madame—Well, and yet, see how strange it is, Louise acknowledged it to me last month, you know; the evening she called for me to go to the perpetual Adoration, and our hour of adoration, as it turned out, by the way, was from six to seven; impossible, too, to change our turn; none of the ladies caring to adore during dinner-time, as is natural enough. Good heavens, what a rage we were in! How good God must be to have forgiven you. Do you remember?
Monsieur—(continuing to read)—Yes, dear.
Madame—Ah! you remember that you said, 'I don't care a...' Oh! but I won't repeat what you said, it is too naughty. How angry you were! 'I will go and dine at the restaurant, confound it!' But you did not say confound, ha! ha! ha! Well, I loved you just the same at that moment; it vexed me to see you in a rage on God's account, but for my own part I was pleased; I like to see you in a fury; your nostrils expand, and then your moustache bristles, you put me in mind of a lion, and I have always liked lions. When I was quite a child at the Zoological Gardens they could not get me away from them; I threw all my sous into their cage for them to buy gingerbread with; it was quite a passion. Well, to continue my story. (She looks toward her husband who is still reading, and after a pause,) Is it interesting-that which you are reading?
Monsieur—(like a man waking up)—What is it, my dear child? What I am reading? Oh, it would scarcely interest you. (With a grimace.) There are Latin phrases, you know, and, besides, I am hoarse. But I am listening, go, on. (He resumes his newspaper.)
Madame—Well, to return to the perpetual Adoration, Louise confided to me, under the pledge of secrecy, that she was like me.
Monsieur—Like you? What do you mean?
Madame—Like me; that is plain enough.
Monsieur—You are talking nonsense, my little angel, follies as great as your chignon. You women will end by putting pillows into your chignons.
Madame—(resting her elbows on her husband's knees)—But, after all, the instincts, the resemblances we have, must certainly be attributed to something. Can any one imagine, for instance, that God made your cousin as stupid as he is, and with a head like a pear?
Monsieur—My cousin! my cousin! Ferdinand is only a cousin by marriage. I grant, however, that he is not very bright.
Madame—Well, I am sure that his mother must have had a longing, or something.
Monsieur—What can I do to help it, my angel?
Madame—Nothing at all; but it clearly shows that such things are not to be laughed at; and if I were to tell you that I had a longing—
Monsieur—(letting fall his newspaper)—The devil! a longing for what?
Madame—Ah! there your nostrils are dilating; you are going to resemble a lion again, and I never shall dare to tell you. It is so extraordinary, and yet my mother had exactly the same longing.
Monsieur—Come, tell it me, you see that I am patient. If it is possible to gratify it, you know that I love you, my... Don't kiss me on the neck; you will make me jump up to the ceiling, my darling.
Madame—Repeat those two little words. I am your darling, then?
Monsieur—Ha! ha! ha! She has little fingers which—ha! ha!—go into your neck—ha! ha!—you will make me break something, nervous as I am.
Madame—Well, break something. If one may not touch one's husband, one may as well go into a convent at once. (She puts her lips to MONSIEUR'S ear and coquettishly pulls the end of his moustache.) I shall not be happy till I have what I am longing for, and then it would be so kind of you to do it.
Monsieur—Kind to do what? Come, dear, explain yourself.
Madame—You must first of all take off that great, ugly dressing-gown, pull on your boots, put on your hat and go. Oh, don't make any faces; if you grumble in the least all the merit of your devotedness will disappear ... and go to the grocer's at the corner of the street, a very respectable shop.
Monsieur—To the grocer's at ten o'clock at night! Are you mad? I will ring for John; it is his business.
Madame (staying his hand) You indiscreet man. These are our own private affairs; we must not take any one into our confidence. I will go into your dressing-room to get your things, and you will put your boots on before the fire comfortably... to please me, Alfred, my love, my life. I would give my little finger to have...
Monsieur—To have what, hang it all, what, what, what?
Madame—(her face alight and fixing her eyes on him)—I want a sou's worth of paste. Had not you guessed it?
Monsieur—But it is madness, delirium, fol—
Madame—I said paste, dearest; only a sou's worth, wrapped in strong paper.
Monsieur—No, no. I am kind-hearted, but I should reproach myself—
Madame—(closing his mouth with her little hands)—Oh, not a word; you are going to utter something naughty. But when I tell you that I have a mad longing for it, that I love you as I have never loved you yet, that my mother had the same desire—Oh! my poor mother (she weeps in her hands), if she could only know, if she were not at the other end of France. You have never cared for my parents; I saw that very well on our wedding-day, and (she sobs) it will be the sorrow of my whole life.
Monsieur—(freeing himself and suddenly rising)—Give me my boots.
Madame—(with effusion)—Oh, thanks, Alfred, my love, you are good, yes, you are good. Will you have your walking-stick, dear?
Monsieur—I don't care. How much do you want of that abomination—a franc's worth, thirty sous' worth, a louis' worth?
Madame—You know very well that I would not make an abuse of it-only a sou's worth. I have some sous for mass; here, take one. Adieu, Alfred; be quick; be quick!
Left alone, Madame wafts a kiss in her most tender fashion toward the door Monsieur has just closed behind him, then goes toward the glass and smiles at herself with pleasure. Then she lights the wax candle in a little candlestick, and quietly makes her way to the kitchen, noiselessly opens a press, takes out three little dessert plates, bordered with gold and ornamented with her initials, next takes from a box lined with white leather, two silver spoons, and, somewhat embarrassed by all this luggage, returns to her bedroom.
Then she pokes the fire, draws a little buhl table close up to the hearth, spreads a white cloth, sets out the plates, puts the spoons by them, and enchanted, impatient, with flushed complexion, leans back in an armchair. Her little foot rapidly taps the floor, she smiles, pouts—she is waiting.
At last, after an interval of some minutes, the outer door is heard to close, rapid steps cross the drawingroom, Madame claps her hands and Monsieur comes in. He does not look very pleased, as he advances holding awkwardly in his left hand a flattened parcel, the contents of which may be guessed.
Madame—(touching a gold-bordered plate and holding it out to her husband)—Relieve yourself of it, dear. Could you not have been quicker?
Madame—Oh! I am not angry with you, that is not meant for a reproach, you are an angel; but it seems to me a century since you started.
Monsieur—The man was just going to shut his shop up. My gloves are covered with it... it's sticky... it's horrid, pah! the abomination! At last I shall have peace and quietness.
Madame—Oh! no harsh words, they hurt me so. But look at this pretty little table, do you remember how we supped by the fireside? Ah! you have forgotten it, a man's heart has no memory.
Monsieur—Are you so mad as to imagine that I am going to touch it? Oh! indeed! that is carrying—
Madame—(sadly)—See what a state you get in over a little favor I ask of you. If in order to please me you were to overcome a slight repugnance, if you were just to touch this nice, white jelly with you lips, where would be the harm?
Monsieur—The harm! the harm! it would be ridiculous. Never.
Madame—That is the reason? "It would be absurd." It is not from disgust, for there is nothing disgusting there, it is flour and water, nothing more. It is not then from a dislike, but out of pride that you refuse?
Monsieur—(shrugging his shoulders)—What you say is childish, puerile, silly. I do not care to answer it.
Madame—And what you say is neither generous nor worthy of you, since you abuse your superiority. You see me at your feet pleading for an insignificant thing, puerile, childish, foolish, perhaps, but one which would give me pleasure, and you think it heroic not to yield. Do you want me to speak out, well? then, you men are unfeeling.
Madame—Why, you admitted it to me yourself one night, on the Pont des Arts, as we were walking home from the theatre.
Monsieur—After all, there is no great harm in that.
Madame—(sadly)—I am not angry with you, this sternness is part of your nature, you are a rod of iron.
Monsieur—I have some energy when it is needed, I grant you, but I have not the absurd pride you imagine, and there (he dips his finger in the paste and carries it to his lips), is the proof, you spoilt child. Are you satisfied? It has no taste, it is insipid.
Madame—You were pretending.
Monsieur—I swear to you...
Madame (taking a little soon, filling it with her precious paste and holding it to her husband's lips)—I want to see the face you will make, love.
Monsieur—(Puts out his lips, buries his two front teeth, with marked disgust, in the paste, makes a horrible face and spits into the fireplace)—Eugh.
Madame—(still holding the spoon and with much interest) Well?
Monsieur—Well! it is awful! oh! awful! taste it.
Madame—(dreamily stirring the paste with the spoon, her little finger in the air)—I should never have believed that it was so nasty.
Monsieur—You will soon see for yourself, taste it, taste it.
Madame—I am in no hurry, I have plenty of time.
Monsieur—To see what it is like. Taste a little, come.
Madame—(pushing away the plate with a look of horror)—Oh! how you worry me. Be quiet, do; for a trifle I could hate you. It is disgusting, this paste of yours!
CHAPTER XXII. FAMILY LIFE
It was the evening of the 15th of February. It was dreadfully cold. The snow drove against the windows and the wind whistled furiously under the doors. My two aunts, seated at a table in one corner of the drawing-room, gave vent from time to time to deep sighs, and, wriggling in their armchairs, kept casting uneasy glances toward the bedroom door. One of them had taken from a little leather bag placed on the table her blessed rosary and was repeating her prayers, while her sister was reading a volume of Voltaire's correspondence which she held at a distance from her eyes, her lips moving as she perused it.