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Title: The Sisters Rondoli,
       And Other Stories

Author: Guy de Maupassant

Translator: Ernest Augustus Boyd

Release Date: August 19, 2019 [EBook #60136]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


Produced by Laura Natal Rodrigues at Free Literature (Images
generously made available by Hathi Trust.)






Translated and Edited

By Ernest Boyd

New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1923





"No," said Pierre Jouvent, "I do not know Italy. I started to go there twice, but each time I was stopped at the frontier and could not manage to get any further. And yet my two attempts gave me charming ideas of the manners of that beautiful country. Some time or other I must visit its cities, as well as the museums and works of art with which it abounds. I shall make another attempt as soon as possible to cross that impregnable border.

"You don't understand me, so I will explain myself. In 1874 I was seized with desire to see Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples. I got this whim about the middle of June, then the powerful fever of spring stirs the desire for love and adventure. I am not, as you know, a great traveller; it appears to me a useless and tiresome business. Nights spent in a train, the disturbed slumbers of the railway carriage, with the attendant headache and stiffness in every limb, the sudden waking in that rolling box, the unwashed feeling, the flying dust and smuts that fill your eyes and hair, the taste of coal in your mouth, and the bad dinners in draughty refreshment rooms, are, in my opinion, a horrible way of beginning a pleasure trip.

"After this introduction by the express, we have the miseries of the hotel; of some great hotel full of people, and yet so empty; the strange room, and the dubious bed! I am most particular about my bed; it is the sanctuary of life. We intrust our nude and fatigued bodies to it that they may be refreshed and rested between soft sheets and feathers.

"There we spend the most delightful hours of our existence, the hours of love and of sleep. The bed is sacred, and should be respected, venerated, and loved by us as the best and most delightful of our earthly possessions.

"I cannot lift up the sheets of a hotel bed without a shiver of disgust. What took place there the night before? What dirty, odious people have slept in it! I begin, then, to think of all the horrible people with whom one rubs shoulders every day, hideous hunchbacks, people with flabby bodies, with dirty hands that make you wonder what their feet and the rest of their bodies are like. I think of those who exhale a smell of garlic and dirt that is loathsome. I think of the deformed and purulent, of the perspiration emanating from the sick, and of everything that is ugly in man. And all this, perhaps, in the bed in which I am going to sleep! The mere idea of it makes me feel ill as I get in.

"And then the hotel dinners—those dreary table d'hôte dinners in the midst of all sorts of extraordinary people, or else those terrible solitary dinners at a small table in a restaurant, feebly lighted up by a small, cheap candle under a shade.

"Again, those terribly dull evenings in some unknown town! Do you know anything more wretched than when it is getting dark on such an occasion? You go about as if in a dream, looking at faces which you have never seen before and will never see again; listening to people talking about matters which are either quite indifferent to you or in a language that perhaps you do not understand. You have a terrible feeling, almost as if you were lost, and you continue to walk on, so as to avoid returning to the hotel, where you would feel still more lost because you are at home, in a home which belongs to anyone who can pay for it. At last you fall into a chair at some well-lit café, whose gilding and lights overwhelm you a thousand times more than the shadows in the streets. Then you feel so abominably lonely sitting in front of the foaming bock which a hurrying waiter has brought, that a kind of madness seizes you, the longing to go somewhere or other, no matter where, as long as you need not remain in front of that marble table and in the dazzling brightness.

"And then, suddenly, you perceive that you are really alone in the world, always and everywhere; and that in places which we know the familiar jostlings give us the illusion only of human brotherhood. At such moments of self-abandonment and sombre isolation in distant cities you think broadly, clearly, and profoundly. Then one suddenly sees the whole of life outside the vision of eternal hope, outside the daily deceptions of daily habits and of the expectations of happiness, of which we always dream.

"It is only by going a long distance that we can fully understand how near, short-lived and empty everything is; only by searching for the unknown do we perceive how commonplace and evanescent everything is; only by wandering over the face of the earth can we understand how small the world is, and how very much alike everywhere.

"How well I know, and how I hate and fear more than anything else those haphazard walks through unknown streets. This was the reason why, as nothing would induce me to undertake a tour in Italy by myself, I induced my friend Paul Pavilly to accompany me.

"You know Paul, and how woman is everything, the world, life itself, to him. There are many men like him, to whom existence becomes poetical and idealised by the presence of women. The earth is habitable only because they are there; the sun shines and is warm because it lights them; the air is soft and balmy because it blows upon their skin and ruffles the short hair on their temples, and the moon is charming because it makes them dream, and imparts a languorous charm to love. Every act and action of Paul has woman for its motive; all his thoughts, all his efforts, and hopes are centred on them.

"A poet has branded that type of man:"

Je déteste surtout le barde à l'oeil humide
Qui regarde une étoile en murmurant un nom,
Et pour qui la nature immense serait vide
S'il ne portait en croupe ou Lisette ou Ninon.

Ces gens-là sont charmants qui se donnent la peine,
Afin qu'on s'intéresse à ce pauvre univers,
D'attacher des jupons aux arbres de la plaine
Et la cornette blanche au front des coteaux verts.

Certes ils n'ont pas compris tes musiques divines
Éternelle Nature aux frémissantes voix,
Ceux qui ne vont pas seuls par les creuses ravines
Et rêvent d'une femme au bruit que font les bois!

"When I mentioned Italy to Paul he at first absolutely refused to leave Paris. I, however, began to tell him of the adventures I had on my travels. I told him that Italian women are supposed to be charming, and I made him hope for the most refined society at Naples, thanks to certain letters of introduction which I had for a Signore Michel Amoroso whose acquaintances are very useful to travellers. So at last he allowed himself to be persuaded."


"We took the express one Thursday evening on the 26th of June. Hardly anyone goes south at that time of the year, so that we had the carriage to ourselves. Both of us were in a bad temper on leaving Paris, sorry for having yielded to the temptation of this journey, and regretting cool Marly, the beautiful Seine, and our lazy boating excursions, our delightful evenings spent on the banks of the river waiting for nightfall.

"As soon as the train started Paul settled himself comfortably into a corner, and said: 'It is most idiotic to go to this place.' As it was too late for him to change his mind then, I answered: 'Well, you should not have come.'

"He did not answer, and I felt very much inclined to laugh when I saw how furious he looked. He certainly looks like a squirrel, but then every one of us has retained the type of some animal or other as the mark of primal race. How many people have jaws like a bulldog, or heads like goats, rabbits, foxes, horses, or oxen. Paul was a squirrel turned into a man. He had its bright, quick eyes, its hair, its pointed nose, its small, fine, supple, active body, and a certain mysterious resemblance in his general bearing: in fact, a similarity of movements, of gestures, and of bearing which might almost be taken for an atavism.

"At last we both went to sleep—the noisy slumber of the railway carriage, which is broken by horrible cramps in the arms and neck, and by the sudden stopping of the train.

"We woke up as we were going along the Rhone. Soon the continuous noise of the grasshoppers came in through the window, a cry which seems to be the voice of the warm earth, the song of Provence. It seemed to instill into our looks, our breasts, and our souls the light and happy feeling of the south, the smell of the parched earth, of the stony and light soil of the olive tree with its grey-green foliage.

"When the train stopped again a porter ran along the train calling out 'Valence' in a sonorous voice, with an accent that again gave us that taste of Provence which the shrill note of the grasshoppers had already imparted to us.

"Nothing happened till we got to Marseilles, where we breakfasted, but when we returned to our carriage we found a woman installed there. Paul, with a delighted look at me, unconsciously gave his short moustache a twirl, and passed his fingers like a comb through his hair, which had become slightly disordered with the night's journey. Then he sat down opposite the newcomer.

"Whenever I happen to see a new face, either while travelling or in society, I become obsessed with the desire to find out what character, mind, and intellectual capacities are hidden beneath those features.

"She was a young and pretty woman, a native of the south of France certainly, with splendid eyes, beautiful, wavy black hair, which was so thick, long, and strong that it seemed almost too heavy for her head. She was dressed with a certain southern bad taste which made her look a little vulgar. Her regular features had none of the grace and finish of the refined races, of that slight delicacy which members of the aristocracy inherit from their birth, and which is the hereditary mark of blue blood.

"Her bracelets were too big to be of gold; she wore earrings with white stones too big to be diamonds, and she belonged unmistakably to the people. One would guess that she would talk too loud, and use exaggerated gestures.

"When the train started she remained motionless in her place, in the attitude of a woman who was in a rage. She had not even looked at us.

"Paul began to talk to me, evidently with an eye to effect, trying to attract her attention, as shopkeepers expose their choice wares to catch the notice of passers-by. She did not seem to hear.

"'Toulon! Ten minute's wait! Refreshment room!' the porter shouted.

"Paul motioned to me to get out, and, as soon as we were on the platform, he said:

"'I wonder who on earth she can be?'

"I began to laugh. 'I am sure I don't know, and I don't in the least care.'

"He was quite excited.

"'She is an uncommonly fresh and pretty girl. What eyes she has, and how cross she looks. She must be dreadfully worried, for she takes no notice of anything.'

"'You will have all your trouble for nothing,' I ventured.

"He began to lose his temper.

"'I am not taking any trouble, my dear fellow. I think her an extremely pretty woman, that is all. If one could only speak to her! But I don't know how to begin. Can't you give me an idea? Can't you guess who she is?'

"'Upon my word, I cannot. I rather think she is some actress who is going to rejoin her company after some love adventure.'

"He seemed quite upset, as if I had said something insulting.

"'What makes you think that? On the contrary, I think she looks most respectable.'

"'Just look at her bracelets,' I said, 'her earrings, and her whole dress. I should not be the least surprised if she were a dancer or a circus rider, but most likely a dancer. Her whole style smacks very much of the theatre.'

"He evidently did not like the idea.

"'She is much too young, I am sure; why, she is hardly twenty.'

"'Well,' I replied, 'there are many things which one can do before one is twenty; dancing and reciting are among them, without counting another business which is, perhaps, her sole occupation.'

"'Take your seats for Nice, Ventimiglia,' the guards and porters called out.

"We got in; our fellow-passenger was eating an orange. She certainly was not refined. She had spread her handkerchief on her knees, and the way in which she tore off the peel and opened her mouth to put in the pieces, and then spat the pips out of the window, showed that her education had been decidedly vulgar. She seemed more unapproachable than ever, and swallowed the fruit with an exceedingly comic air of rage.

"Paul devoured her with his eyes, and tried to attract her attention and excite her curiosity, but in spite of his talk and of the manner in which he brought in well-known names, she did not pay the least attention to him.

"After passing Fréjus and St. Raphael, the train passes through a veritable garden, a paradise of roses, of groves of oranges and lemons covered with fruit and flowers at the same time. That delightful coast from Marseilles to Genoa is a kingdom of perfumes in a land of flowers.

"June is the time to see it, when in every narrow valley and on every slope the most exquisite flowers are growing luxuriantly. And the roses! fields, hedges, groves of roses! They climb up the walls, blossom on the roofs, hang from the trees, peep out from among the bushes; they are white, red, yellow, large and small, ordinary and quiet, with a simple dress, or full in brilliant and heavy toilettes. Their powerful perfume makes the air heavy and relaxing, while the still more penetrating lasting odour of the orange blossoms sweetens the atmosphere, till it might almost be called a sugarplum for the olfactory nerve.

"The shore, with its brown rocks, was bathed by the motionless Mediterranean. The hot summer sun stretched like a fiery cloth over the mountains, over the long expanses of sand, and over the hard, set blue sea. The train went on, through the tunnels, along the slopes, above the water, on straight, wall-like viaducts, and a soft, vague, saltish smell came up, a smell of drying seaweed, mingled at times with the strong, heavy perfume of the flowers.

"But Paul neither saw, nor looked at, nor smelled anything, for our fellow-traveller engrossed all his attention.

"When we got to Cannes, as he wished to speak to me, he signed to me to get out again, and as soon as I had done so he took me by the arm.

"'Do you know she is really charming. Just look at her eyes; and I never saw anything like her hair.'

"'Don't excite yourself,' I replied. 'Tackle her, if you have any intentions that way. She does not look impregnable, I fancy, although she appears to be a little bit grumpy.'

"'Why don't you speak to her?' he said. 'I don't know what to say, for I am always terribly stupid at first; I can never make advances to a woman in the street. I follow them, go round and round them, quite close to them, but I never know what to say at first. I only once tried to enter into conversation with a woman in that way. As I clearly saw that she was waiting for me to make overtures, and as I felt bound to say something, I stammered out, "I hope you are quite well, Madame?" She laughed in my face, and I made my escape.'

"I promised Paul to do all I could to bring about a conversation, and when we had taken our places again, I politely asked our neighbour:

"'Have you any objection to the smell of tobacco, Madame?'

"She merely replied: 'Non capisco.'

"So she was an Italian! I felt an absurd inclination to laugh. As Paul did not understand a word of that language, I was obliged to act as his interpreter, so I said in Italian:

"'I asked you, Madame, whether you had any objection to tobacco smoke?'

"With an angry look, she replied, 'Che mi fa?'

"She had neither turned her head nor looked at me, and I really did not know whether to take this What does it matter to me, for an authorisation, a refusal, a real sign of indifference, or for a mere 'Leave me alone.'

"'Madame,' I replied, 'if you mind the smell of tobacco in the least—'

"She again said, 'mica,' in a tone of voice which seemed to mean, 'I wish to goodness you would leave me alone!' It was, however, a kind of permission, so I said to Paul:

"'You can smoke.'

"He looked at me in that curious sort of way that people have when they try to understand others who are talking in a strange language before them, and asked me:

"'What did you say to her?'

"'I asked if we might smoke, and she said we might do whatever we liked.'

"Whereupon I lighted my cigar.

"'Did not she say anything more?'

"'If you had counted her words you would have noticed that she used exactly six, two of which gave me to understand that she knew no French, so four remained, and a lot cannot be said in four words.'

"Paul seemed quite unhappy, disappointed, and at sea.

"But suddenly the Italian asked me, in that tone of discontent which seemed habitual to her, 'Do you know at what time we shall get to Genoa?'

"'At eleven o'clock,' I replied. Then after a moment I went on:

"'My friend and I are also going to Genoa, and if we can be of any service to you, we shall be very happy. As she did not answer, I insisted: 'You are alone and if we can be of service...' But she interrupted with such a 'mica,' that I did not venture on another word.

"'What did she say?' Paul asked.

"'She said that she thought you were charming.'

"But he was in no humour for joking, and begged me, dryly, not to make fun of him, so I translated her question and my polite offer, which had been so pertly rejected.

"Then he became as agitated as a squirrel in a cage.

"'If we only knew,' he said, 'what hotel she was going to, we would go to the same. Try and find out, so as to have another opportunity for making her speak.'

"It was not particularly easy, and I did not know what pretext to invent, anxious as I was to make the acquaintance of this unapproachable person.

"We passed Nice, Monaco, Mentone, and the train stopped at the frontier for the examination of luggage.

"Although I hate those badly brought-up people who breakfast and dine in railway-carriages, I went and bought a quantity of good things to make one last attack on her by their means. I felt sure that this girl must, ordinarily, be by no means inaccessible. Something had put her out and made her irritable, but very little would suffice, a mere word or some agreeable offer, make her unbend, to decide her and overcome her.

"We started again, and we three were still alone. I spread my eatables out on the seat. I cut up the fowl, put the slices of ham neatly on a piece of paper, and then carefully laid out our dessert, the strawberries, plums, cherries, and cakes, close to the girl.

"When she saw that we were going to eat she took a piece of chocolate and two small rolls out of her pocket and began to eat them with her beautiful sharp teeth.

"'Ask her to have some of ours,' Paul said in a whisper.

"'That is exactly what I want to do, but it is rather a difficult matter.'

"As she, however, glanced from time to time at our provisions, I felt sure that she would still be hungry when she had finished what she had. So as soon as her frugal meal was over, I said to her:

"'It would be very kind of you if you would take some of this fruit.'

"Again she said 'mica,' but less crossly than before.

"'Well, then,' I said, 'may I offer you a little wine? I see you have not drunk anything. It is Italian wine, and as we are now in your own country, we should be very pleased to see such a pretty Italian mouth accept the offer of its French neighbours.'

"She shook her head slightly, evidently wishing to refuse, but very desirous of accepting, and her 'mica' this time was almost polite. I took the bottle, which was covered with straw in the Italian fashion, and filling the glass I offered it to her.

"'Please drink it,' I said, 'to bid us welcome to your country.'

"She took the glass with her usual look, and emptied it at a draught, like a woman tormented with thirst, and then gave it back to me without even saying 'Thank you.'

"Then I offered her the cherries. 'Please take some,' I said; 'we shall be so pleased if you will.'

"Out of her corner she looked at all the fruit spread out beside her, and said so rapidly that I could scarcely follow her: 'A me non piacciono ne le ciliegie ne le susine; amo soltano le fragole.'

"'What does she say?' Paul asked.

"'That she does not care for cherries or plums, but only for strawberries.'

"I put a newspaper full of wild strawberries on her lap, and she ate them quickly, throwing them into her mouth from some distance in a coquettish and charming manner.

"When she had finished the little red heap which we had seen rapidly diminishing, melting and disappearing under the rapid action of her hands, I asked her:

"'What may I offer you now?'

"'I will take a little chicken,' she replied.

"She certainly devoured half of it, tearing it to pieces with the rapid movements of her jaws like some carnivorous animal. Then she made up her mind to have some cherries, which she 'did not like,' then some plums, then some little cakes. Then she said, 'I have had enough,' and sat back in her corner.

"I was much amused, and tried to make her eat more, pressing her, in fact, till she suddenly got in a rage again, and flung such a furious 'mica' at me, that I would no longer run the risk of spoiling her digestion.

"I turned to my friend. 'My poor Paul,' I said, 'I am afraid we have had our trouble for nothing.'

"Night was coming on, one of those hot summer nights which extend their warm shade over the burning and exhausted earth. Here and there, in the distance by the sea, over capes and promontories bright stars began to shine on the dark horizon, which I was, at times, almost inclined to confound with lighthouses.

"The scent of the orange-trees became more penetrating, and we breathed with delight, distending our lungs to inhale it more deeply. The balmy air was soft, delicious, almost divine.

"Suddenly I noticed something like a shower of stars under the dense shade of the trees along the line where it was quite dark. It might have been taken for drops of light, leaping, flying, playing and running among the leaves, or for small stars fallen from the skies in order to have an excursion on the earth; but they were only fireflies dancing a strange fiery ballet in the perfumed air.

"One of them happened to come into our carriage and shed its intermittent light, which seemed to be extinguished one moment and to be burning the next. I covered the carriage-lamp with its blue shade and watched the strange fly careering about in its fiery flight. Suddenly it settled on the dark hair of our neighbour, who was dozing after dinner. Paul seemed delighted, his eyes fixed on the bright, sparkling spot which looked like a living jewel on the forehead of the sleeping woman.

"The Italian awoke about eleven o'clock, with the bright insect still in her hair. When I saw her move, I said: 'We are just getting to Genoa, Madame,' and she murmured, without answering me, as if possessed by some obstinate and embarrassing thought:

"'What am I going to do, I wonder?'

"And then she suddenly asked:

"'Would you like me to come with you?'

"I was so taken aback that I really did not understand her.

"'With us? What do you mean?'

"She repeated, looking more and more furious:

"'Would you like me to go with you now, as soon as we get out of the train?'

"'I am quite willing; but where do you want to go to? Where shall I take you to?'

"She shrugged her shoulders with an air of supreme indifference.

"'Wherever you like; what does it matter to me?' She repeated her 'Che mi fa?' twice.

"'But we are going to the hotel.'

"'Very well, let us all go to the hotel,' she said, in a contemptuous voice.

"I turned to Paul, and said:

"'She wants to know if we should like her to come with us.'

"My friend's utter surprise restored my self-possession. He stammered:

"'With us? Where to? What for? How?'

"'I don't know, but she made this strange proposal to me in a most irritable voice. I told her that we were going to the hotel, and she said: 'Very well, let us all go there!' I suppose she is without a half-penny. She certainly has a very strange way of making acquaintances.'

"Paul, who was very much excited, exclaimed:

"'I am quite agreeable. Tell her that we will take her wherever she likes.' Then, after a moment's hesitation, he said uneasily:

"'We must know, however, with whom she wants to go,—with you or with me?'

"I turned to the Italian, who did not even seem to be listening to us, and said:

"'We shall be very happy to take you with us, but my friend wants to know whether you will take my arm or his?'

"She opened her black eyes wide with vague surprise, and said, 'Che mi fa?'

"I was obliged to explain myself. 'In Italy, I believe when a man looks after a woman, fulfills all her wishes, and satisfies all her caprices, he is called a patito. Which of us two will you take for your patito?'

"Without the slightest hesitation she replied:


"I turned to Paul. 'You see, my friend, she chooses me; you have no luck.'

"'All the better for you,' he replied, in a rage. Then, after thinking for a few moments, he went on:

"'Do you really care about taking this creature with you? She will spoil our journey. What are we to do with this woman, who looks like I don't know what? They will not take us in at any decent hotel.'

"I, however, was just beginning to find the Italian much nicer than I had thought her at first, and I was now very anxious to take her with us. The idea delighted me. I already felt those little shivers which the expectation of a night of love sends through the veins.

"I replied, 'My dear fellow, we have accepted, and it is too late to recede. You were the first to advise me to say 'Yes.'

"'It is very stupid,' he growled, 'but do as you please.'

"The train whistled, slackened speed, and we ran into the station.

"I got out of the carriage, and offered my new companion my hand. She jumped out lightly, and I gave her my arm, which she took with an air of seeming repugnance. As soon as we had claimed our luggage we started off into the town, Paul walking in complete silence, with a nervous step.

"'To what hotel shall we go?' I asked him. 'It may be difficult to get into the City of Paris Hotel with a woman, especially with this Italian.'

"Paul interrupted me: 'Yes, with an Italian who looks more like a strumpet than a duchess. However, that is no business of mine. Do just as you please.'

"I was in a state of perplexity. I had written to the City of Paris to reserve our rooms, and now I did not know what to do.

"Two commissionnaires followed us with our luggage. I continued: 'You might as well go first, and say that we are coming; and give the landlord to understand that I have a—a friend with me, so that we should like rooms quite by themselves for us three, so as not to be brought in contact with other travellers. He will understand, and we will decide according to his answer.'

"But Paul growled, 'Thank you; such commissions and such a rôle do not suit me by any means. I did not come here to get ready your apartments or to minister to your pleasures.'

"But I was insistent: 'Look here, don't, be angry. It is surely far better to go to a good hotel than to a bad one, and it is not difficult to ask the landlord for three separate bedrooms and a dining-room.'

"I put a stress on three, and that decided him.

"He went on first, and I saw him enter the great doorway of a fine hotel, while I remained on the other side of the street dragging along my Italian who did not say a word, and followed by the porters with the luggage.

"Paul came back at last, looking as dissatisfied as my companion.

"'That is settled,' he said, 'and they will take us in; but there are only two bedrooms. You must settle it as you can.'

"I followed him, rather ashamed of going in with such a strange companion.

"There were two bedrooms separated by a small sitting-room. I ordered a cold supper, and then I turned to the Italian with a perplexed look.

"'We have only been able to get two rooms, so you must choose which you like.'

"She replied with her eternal 'Che mi fa?' I thereupon took up her little black wooden box, just like those which servants use, and took it into the room on the right, which I had chosen for her—for us. A bit of paper was fastened on to the box, on which was written, 'Mademoiselle Francesca Rondoli, Genoa.'

"'Your name is Francesca?' I asked, and she nodded her head, without replying.

"'We shall have supper directly,' I continued. 'Meanwhile, I daresay you would like to freshen yourself up a bit!'

"She answered with a 'mica,' a phrase which she employed just as frequently as 'Che mi fa,' but I went on: 'It is always pleasant after a journey.'

"Then I suddenly remembered that she had not, perhaps, the necessary objects, for she appeared to me in a very singular position, as if she had just escaped from some disagreeable adventure, and I brought her my dressing-case.

"I put out all the little instruments for cleanliness and comfort which it contained: a nailbrush, a new toothbrush,—for I always carry a selection of them about with me,—my nail-scissors, a nail-file, and sponges. I uncorked a bottle of Eau de Cologne, one of lavender-water, and a little bottle of new-mown hay, so that she might have a choice. Then I opened my powder-box, and put out the powder-puff, put my fine towels over the water-jug, and placed a piece of new soap near the basin.

"She watched my movements with a vexed look in her wide-open eyes, without appearing either surprised or pleased by my forethought.

"Here is all that you require, I then said; 'I will tell you when supper is ready.'

"When I returned to the sitting-room I found that Paul had taken possession of the other room, and had shut himself in, so I sat down to wait.

"A waiter went back and forth, bringing plates and glasses. He laid the table slowly, then put a cold fowl on it, and told me that all was ready.

"I knocked gently at Mademoiselle Rondoli's door. 'Come in,' she said, and when I did so I was struck by a strong, heavy smell of perfumes, as if I were in a hairdresser's shop.

"The Italian was sitting on her box in an attitude either of thoughtful discontent or absent-mindedness. The towel was still folded over the water-jug, which was quite full, and the soap, untouched and dry, was lying beside the empty basin; but one would have thought that the young woman had drunk half of the bottles of scent. The Eau de Cologne, however, had been spared, as only about a third of it had gone; but to make up for that she had used a surprising amount of lavender-water and new-mown hay. A cloud of violet powder, a vague white mist, seemed still to be floating in the air, from the effects of her over-powdering her face and neck. It seemed to cover her eyelashes, eyebrows, and the hair on her temples like snow, while her cheeks were plastered with it, and layers of it covered her nostrils, the comers of her eyes, and her chin.

"When she got up she exhaled such a strong odour of scent that it almost made me feel faint.

"When we sat down to supper I found that Paul was in a most execrable temper, and I could get nothing out of him but words of blame and irritation, and disagreeable compliments.

"Mademoiselle Francesca ate like an ogre, and as soon as she had finished her meal she threw herself upon the sofa. As for me, I saw the decisive moment approaching for settling how we were to apportion the rooms. I determined to take the bull by the horns, and sitting down by the Italian I gallantly kissed her hand.

"She half opened her tired eyes looked at me, sleepy and discontented.

"'As we have only two bedrooms, will you allow me to share yours with you?'

"'Do just as you like,' she said. 'It is all the same to me. Che mi fa?'

"Her indifference vexed me.

"'But you are sure you do not mind my being in your room with you?' I said.

"'It is all the same to me; do just as you like.'

"'Should you like to go to bed at once?'

"'Yes; I am very sleepy.'

"She got up, yawned, gave Paul her hand, who took it with a furious look, and I lighted her into our room. A disquieting feeling haunted me. 'Here is all you want,' I said again.

"This time I took care to pour half the water into the basin, and to put a towel near the soap.

"Then I went back to Paul. As soon as I got into the room, he said, 'You have got a nice sort of a creature there!' and I answered, laughing, 'My dear friend, don't speak ill of sour grapes,' and he replied, ill-temperedly:

"'Just take care how this ends, my good fellow.'

"I almost trembled with that feeling of fear which assails us after some suspicious love escapade—that fear which spoils our pleasant meetings, our unexpected caresses, our chance kisses. However, I put a bold face on the matter. 'At any rate, the girl is no adventuress.'

"But the fellow had me in his power; he had seen the shadow of my anxiety on my face.

"'What do you know about her? You really astonish me. You pick up an Italian woman travelling alone in the train, and she volunteers, with most singular cynicism, to go and be your mistress in any old hotel. You take her with you, and then you declare that she is not a tart! And you persuade yourself that you are not running more risk than if you were to go and spend the night with a woman who had smallpox.'

"He laughed with an unpleasant and angry laugh. I sat down, a prey to uneasiness. What was I to do, for he was right after all? And a struggle began within me, between desire and fear.

"He went on: 'Do as you like, I have warned you, so do not complain of the consequences.'

"But I saw such ironical gaiety in his eyes, such a delight in his revenge; he made fun of me so good-naturedly, that I did not hesitate any longer. I gave him my hand, and said, 'Good night. You know the old saying: "A victory without peril is a triumph without glory," and upon my word, the victory is worth the danger.'

"And with a firm step I went into Francesca's room.

"I stopped short at the door in surprise and astonishment. She was already asleep, quite naked on the bed. Sleep had overcome her when she had finished undressing, and she was reposing in the charming attitude of one of Titian's women.

"It seemed as if she had lain down from sheer fatigue in order to take off her stockings, for they were lying on the bed. Then she had thought of something pleasant, no doubt, for she had waited to finish her reverie before moving, and then, closing her eyes, she had lost consciousness. A nightgown, embroidered about the neck such as one buys in cheap, ready-made shops, a beginner's luxury was lying on a chair.

"She was charming, young, firm, and fresh.

"What is prettier than a woman asleep? The body with its soft contours, whose every curve is a temptation, whose plump softness stirs the senses, seems to have been created for the repose of the bed. Only when it is lying upon the sheets does one get the full value of that undulating line which curves in at the waist, curves out at the hips and then runs down the charming outline of the leg, ending at the point of the foot. I was on the point of forgetting my friend's prudent counsels, but suddenly turning to the washstand I saw everything as I had left it, and I sat down, anxious, and a prey to irresolution.

"I remained thus for a long time, not able to make up my mind what to do. Retreat was impossible, and I must either pass the night on a chair, or go to bed myself at my own risk and peril.

"I had no thoughts of sleeping either here or there, for my head was too excited and my eyes too occupied.

"I stirred incessantly, feverish, uncomfortable, enervated. Then I began to reason with myself, certainly with a view to capitulation: 'If I lie down that does not bind me to anything, and I shall certainly be more comfortable on a mattress than on a chair.'

"I undressed slowly, and then, stepping over the sleeping girl, I stretched myself out against the wall, turning my back on temptation.

"In this position I remained for a long time without going to sleep, when suddenly my neighbour awoke. She opened her eyes, looked astonished, and still discontented; then seeing that she had nothing on, she got up and calmly put on her nightgown with as much indifference as if I had not been present.

"Then... I seized the opportunity, but this did not appear to disturb her at all. She immediately went quietly to sleep again, with her head resting on her right arm. And I began to meditate on the weakness and folly of human nature. Then I went to sleep also.

"She got up early, like a woman who is used to work in the morning. She woke me up by doing so, and I watched her through my half-closed eyelids.

"She came and went without hurrying herself, as if she were astonished at having nothing to do. At last she went to the washstand, and in a moment she emptied all the scent that remained in my bottles. She certainly also used some water, but very little.

"When she was quite dressed she sat down on her box again, and holding one knee between her hands, seemed to be thinking.

"Then I pretended to notice her, and said:

"'Good morning, Francesca.'

"Without seeming in at all a better temper than the previous night, she murmured, 'Good morning.'

"When I asked her whether she had slept well, she nodded 'Yes,' and jumping out of bed, I went and kissed her.

"She turned her face toward me like a child who is being kissed against its will; but I took her tenderly in my arms (the wine being poured out, I would have been very stupid not to drink any more of it). Gently I put my lips on her large eyes, which she closed with evident distaste under my kisses on her fresh cheeks and full lips, which she turned away.

"'You don't seem to like being kissed, I said to her.'

"'Mica' was her only answer.

"I sat down on the trunk by her side, and, passing my arm through hers, I said: 'Mica! mica! mica! in reply to everything. I shall call you Mademoiselle Mica, I think.'

"For the first time I fancied I saw the shadow of a smile on her lips, but it passed by so quickly that I may have been mistaken.

"'But if you never say anything but 'Mica' I shall not know what to do to try and please you. Let us see; what shall we do to-day?'

"She hesitated a moment as if some fancy had flitted through her bead, and then she said carelessly: 'It is all the same to me; whatever you like.'

"'Very well. Mademoiselle Mica, we will get a carriage and go for a drive.'

"'As you please, she said.'

"Paul was waiting for us in the dining-room, looking as bored as third parties generally do in love affairs. I assumed a delighted air, and shook hands with him with triumphant energy.

"'What are you thinking of doing?' he asked.

"'First of all we will go and see a little of the town, and then we might take a carriage, for a drive in the neighbourhood.'

"We breakfasted in silence and then started on foot to visit the museums. We went through the Spinola Palace, the Doria Palace, the Marcello Durazzo, the Red and White Palaces. Francesca either looked at nothing or merely just glanced carelessly at all the various masterpieces. Paul followed us, growling all sorts of disagreeable things. Then we all three took a silent drive into the country and returned to dinner.

"The next day it was the same thing and the next day again; so on the third Paul said to me: 'Look here, I am going to leave you; I am not going to stop here for three weeks watching you make love to this creature.'

"I was perplexed and annoyed, for to my great surprise I had become singularly attached to Francesca. A man is but weak and foolish, carried away by the merest trifle, and a coward every time that his senses are excited or mastered. I clung to this unknown girl, silent and dissatisfied as she always was. I liked her somewhat ill-tempered face, the dissatisfied droop of her mouth, the weariness of her look; I liked her fatigued movements, the contemptuous way in which she yielded to my wishes, the very indifference of her caresses. A secret bond, that mysterious bond of animal love, the secret attachment to a possession which does not satiate, bound me to her. I told Paul so, quite frankly. He treated me as if I had been a fool, and then said:

"'Very well, take her with you.'

"But she obstinately refused to leave Genoa, without giving any reason. I besought, I reasoned, I promised, but all was of no avail, and so I stayed on.

"Paul declared that he would go by himself, and went so far as to pack up his portmanteau; but he remained all the same.

"Thus a fortnight passed. Francesca was always silent and irritable, lived beside me rather than with me, responded to all my desires, all my demands, and all my propositions with her perpetual 'Che mi fa,' or with her no less perpetual 'Mica.'

"My friend got more and more furious, but my only answer was, 'You can go if you are tired of staying. I am not detaining you.'

"Then he called me names, overwhelmed me with reproaches, and exclaimed: 'Where do you think I can go to now? We had three weeks at our disposal, and here is a fortnight gone! I cannot continue my journey now; and, in any case, I am not going to Venice, Florence, and Rome all by myself. But you will pay for it, and more dearly than you think for, most likely. You are not going to bring a man all the way from Paris in order to shut him up at a hotel in Genoa with an Italian adventuress.'

"When I told him, very calmly, to return to Paris, he exclaimed that he was going to do so the very next day; but the next day he was still there, still in a rage and swearing.

"By this time we began to be known in the streets, through which we wandered from morning till night, those narrow streets without footpaths, which are like an immense stone labyrinth with tomb-like passages. We went through those windy gorges, narrowed between such high walls that the sky is hardly visible. Sometimes French people would turn round astonished at meeting their fellow-countrymen with this bored girl in her loud clothes, and who looked singularly out of place, not to say compromising, beside us.

"She used to walk along, leaning on my arm, without looking at anything. Why did she remain with me, with us, who seemed to give her so little pleasure? Who was she? Where did she come from? What was she doing? Had she any plan or idea? How did she live? As an adventuress, or by chance meetings? I tried in vain to find out and to explain it. The better I knew her the more enigmatical she became. She was not one of those who make a living by, and a profession of, venal love. She rather seemed to me to be a girl of poor family who had been seduced and taken away, and then cast aside and lost. What did she think was going to become of her, or for whom was she waiting? She certainly did not appear to be trying to make a conquest of me, or to get any profit out of me.

"I tried to question her, to speak to her of her childhood and family; but she never gave me an answer. I stayed with her, my heart unfettered and my senses enchained, never wearied of holding this proud and quarrelsome woman in my arms, captivated by my senses, or rather seduced, overcome, by the youthful, healthy, powerful charm which emanated from her sweet-smelling person and from the robust lines of her body.

"Another week passed, and the term of my holiday was drawing to a close, for I had to be back in Paris by July 11. By this time Paul had come to take his part in the adventure, though still grumbling at me, while I invented pleasures, distractions, and excursions to amuse my mistress and my friend; and in order to do this I gave myself a large amount of trouble.

"One day I proposed an excursion to Santa Margarita, a charming little town in the midst of gardens, hidden at the foot of a slope which stretches far into the sea. We all three were following the excellent road which goes along the foot of the mountain. Suddenly Francesca said to me: 'I shall not be able to go with you to-morrow; I must go and see some of my relatives.'

"That was all; I did not ask her any questions, as I was quite sure she would not answer me."

"The next morning she got up very early; then as I remained in bed, she sat down at the foot of it, and said in a constrained and hesitating voice:

"'If I do not come back to-night, will you come and fetch me?'

"'Most certainly I shall,' was my reply. 'Where must I come to?'

"Then she explained: 'You must go into Victor-Emmanuel Street, down the Passage Falcone, and Saint Raphael Street, and go into the furniture shop at the bottom, in a court, and there you must ask for Mme Rondoli. That's where it is.'

"And so she went away, leaving me rather astonished.

"When Paul saw that I was alone he stammered out: 'Where is Francesca?' And when I told him what had happened he exclaimed:

"'My dear fellow, we are in luck, let us bolt; as it is, our time is up. Two days, more or less, make no difference. Let us start at once; go and pack up your things. Off we go!'

"But I refused. I could not, as I told him, leave the girl in such a manner, after having lived with her for nearly three weeks. At any rate I ought to say good-bye to her, and make her accept a present; I certainly had no intention of behaving badly to her.

"But he would not listen; he pressed and worried me, but I would not give way.

"I remained indoors for several hours, expecting Francesca's return, but she did not come. At last, at dinner, Paul said with a triumphant air: 'She has thrown you over, my dear fellow; it is certainly very funny, very funny.'

"I must acknowledge that I was surprised and rather vexed. He laughed in my face, and made fun of me.

"'It is not exactly a bad way of getting rid of you, though rather primitive. "Just wait for me, I shall be back in a moment." How long are you going to wait? I should not wonder if you were foolish enough to go and look for her at the address she gave you. "Does Mme Rondoli live here, please?" I'll bet that you are longing to go there.'

"'Not in the least,' I protested, 'and I assure you that if she does not come back to-morrow morning I shall start by the express at eight o'clock. I shall have waited twenty-four hours, and that is enough; my conscience will be quite clear.'

"I spent an uneasy and unpleasant evening, for I really had at heart a very tender feeling for her. I went to bed at twelve o'clock, and hardly slept at all. I got up at six, called Paul, packed up my things, and two hours later we started for France together."


"The next year, at just about the same period, I was seized, just as one is with a periodical fever, with a new desire to go to Italy, and I immediately made up my mind to carry it into effect. There is no doubt that every really well-educated man ought to see Florence, Venice, and Rome. There is the additional advantage of providing many subjects of conversation in society, and of giving one an opportunity for bringing forward artistic generalities which appear profound. This time I went alone, and I arrived at Genoa at the same time as the year before, but without any adventure on the road. I went to the same hotel, and actually happened to have the same room.

"I was scarcely in bed when the recollection of Francesca which, since the evening before, had been floating vaguely through my mind, haunted me with strange persistency.

"Have you ever been obsessed by the thought of a woman, long afterwards, on returning to the place where you loved her and she gave herself to you? It is one of the most powerful and painful sensations I know. It seems as if one could see her enter, smiling and holding out her arms. Her features, elusive yet clear, are before your eyes. She passes, returns and disappears. She tortures you like a nightmare, holds you, fills your heart, and stirs your senses by her unreal presence. She is visible to the eye, her perfume haunts you, the taste of her kisses is on your lips, and the touch of her body caresses your skin. Yet, one knows one is alone, and one is strangely tortured by the phantom one has evoked. A heavy, heart-breaking melancholy invades you, as if you were abandoned for ever. Everything looks depressing, filling the heart with a horrible sense of isolation and abandonment. Never return to the house, the room, the woods, the garden, the seat, the town, where you have held in your arms a woman you loved.

"I thought of her nearly the whole night, and by degrees the wish to see her again seized me, a confused desire at first, which gradually grew stronger and more intense. At last I made up my mind to spend the next day in Genoa, to try and find her, and if I should not succeed to take the evening train.

"Early in the morning I set out on my search. I remembered the directions she had given me when she left me, perfectly—Victor-Emmanuel Street, the Passage Falcone, St. Raphael Street, house of the furniture-dealer, at the bottom of the yard in a court.

"I found it without the least difficulty, and I knocked at the door of a somewhat dilapidated-looking dwelling. A fat woman opened it, who must once have been very handsome, but who actually was only very dirty. Although she was too fat, she still bore the lines of majestic beauty; her untidy hair fell over her forehead and shoulders, and one fancied one could see her fat body floating about in an enormous dressing-gown covered with spots of dirt and grease. Round her neck she wore a great gilt necklace, and on her wrists were splendid bracelets of Genoa filigree work.

"In rather a hostile manner she asked me what I wanted, and I replied by requesting her to tell me whether Francesca Rondoli lived there.

"'What do you want with her?' she asked.

"'I had the pleasure of meeting her last year, and I should like to see her again.'

"The old woman looked at me suspiciously.

"'Where did you meet her?' she asked.

"'Why, here, in Genoa itself.'

"'What is your name?'

"I hesitated a moment, and then I told her. I had scarcely done so when the Italian raised her arms as if to embrace me. 'Oh! you are the Frenchman; how glad I am to see you! But what grief you caused the poor child. She waited for you a month; yes, a whole month. At first she thought you would come to fetch her. She wanted to see whether you loved her. If you only knew how she cried when she saw that you were not coming! She cried till she seemed to have no tears left. Then she went to the hotel, but you had gone. She thought that most likely you were travelling in Italy, and that you would return by Genoa to fetch her, as she would not go with you. And she waited more than a month. Monsieur; and she was so unhappy; so unhappy. I am her mother.'

"I really felt a little disconcerted, but I regained my self-possession, and asked: 'Is she here now?'

"'No, she has gone to Paris with a painter, a delightful man, who loves her very much, and who gives her everything that she wants. Just look at what she sent me; they are very pretty, are they not?'

"And she showed me, with quite southern animation, her heavy bracelets and necklace. 'I have also,' she continued, 'earrings with stones in them, a silk dress, and some rings; but I only wear them on grand occasions. Oh! she is very happy, sir, very happy. She will be so pleased when I tell her you have been here. But pray come in and sit down. You will take something or other, surely?'

"But I refused, as I now wished to get away by the first train; but she took me by the arm and pulled me in, saying:

"'Please, come in; I must tell her that you have been here.'

"I found myself in a small, rather dark room, furnished with only a table and a few chairs.

"She continued: 'Oh! She is very happy now, very happy. When you met her in the train she was very miserable, for her lover had just left her at Marseilles, and she was coming back, poor child. But she liked you at once, though she was still rather sad, you understand. Now she has all she wants, and she writes and tells me everything that she does. His name is Bellemin, and they say he is a great painter in your country. He met her in the street here, and fell in love with her immediately. But you will take a glass of syrup?—it is very good. Are you quite alone, this year?'

"'Yes, I said, quite alone.'

"I felt an increasing inclination to laugh, as my first disappointment was dispelled by what Mother Rondoli said. I was obliged, however, to drink a glass of her syrup.

"'So you are quite alone?' she continued. 'How sorry I am that Francesca is not here now; she would have been company for you all the time you stayed. It is not very amusing to go about all by oneself, and she will be very sorry also.'

"Then, as I was getting up to go, she exclaimed:

"'But would you not like Carlotta to go with you? She knows all the walks very well. She is my second daughter, sir.'

"No doubt she took my look of surprise for consent, for she opened the inner door and called out up the dark stairs which I could not see:

"'Carlotta! Carlotta! come down, quickly, my dear child.'

"I tried to protest, but she would not listen.

"'No; she will be very glad to go with you; she is very nice, and much more cheerful than her sister, and she is a good girl, a very good girl, whom I love very much.'

"I heard the clatter of slippers on the stairs, and a tall, slender, dark girl appeared, also with her hair hanging down, and whose youthful figure showed unmistakably beneath an old dress of her mother.

"The latter at once told her how matters stood.

"'This is Francesca's Frenchman, you know, the one whom she knew last year. He is quite alone, and has come to look for her, poor fellow; so I told him that you would go with him to keep him company.'

"The girl looked at me with her handsome dark eyes, and said, smiling:

"'I have no objection, if he wishes it.'

"I could not possibly refuse, and merely said:

"'Of course I shall be very glad of your company.'

"Her mother pushed her out. 'Go and get dressed directly; put on your blue dress and your hat with the flowers, and make haste.'

"—As soon as she had left the room the old woman explained herself: 'I have two others, but they are much younger. It costs a lot of money to bring up four children. Luckily the eldest is off my hands at present.'

"Then she told all about herself, about her husband, who had been an employee on the railway, but who was dead, and she expatiated on the good qualities of Carlotta, her second girl, who soon returned, dressed, as her sister had been, in a striking, peculiar manner.

"Her mother examined her from head to foot, and, after finding everything right, she said:

"'Now, my children, you can go.' Then, turning to the girl, she said: 'Be sure you are back by ten o'clock to-night; you know the door is locked then.'

"'All right, mamma; don't alarm yourself,' Carlotta replied.

"She took my arm, and we went wandering about the streets, just as I had done the previous year with her sister.

"We returned to the hotel for lunch, and then I took my new friend to Santa Margarita, just as I had done with her sister the year previously.

"During the whole fortnight which I had at my disposal I took Carlotta to all the places of interest in and about Genoa. She gave me no cause to regret the other.

"She cried when I left her, and the morning of my departure I gave her four bracelets for her mother, besides a substantial token of my affection for herself.

"One of these days I intend to return to Italy, and I cannot help remembering, with a certain amount of uneasiness, mingled with hope, that Mme Rondoli has two more daughters."


"At that time," said George Kervelen, "I was living in furnished lodgings in the Rue des Saints-Pères. When my parents decided that I should go to Paris to continue my law studies, there had been a long discussion about settling everything. My allowance had been fixed at first at two thousand five hundred francs, but my poor mother was so anxious, that she said to my father that if I spent my money rashly I might not have enough to eat, and then my health would suffer, and so it was settled that a comfortable boarding-house should be found for me, and that the amount should be paid to the proprietor himself, or herself, every month.

"I had never left Quimper. I wanted everything that one desires at that age and I was prepared to have a good time in every way.

"Some of our neighbours told us of a certain Mme Kergaran, a native of Brittany, who took in boarders, and so my father arranged matters by letter with this respectable person, at whose house I and my luggage arrived one evening.

"Mme Kergaran was a woman of about forty. She was very stout, had a voice like a drill-sergeant, and decided everything in a very abrupt and decisive manner. Her house was narrow, with only one window opening on to the street on each story, which rather gave it the appearance of a ladder of windows, or better, perhaps, of a slice of a house sandwiched in between two others.

"The landlady lived on the first floor with her servant, the kitchen and dining-room were on the second, and four boarders from Brittany lived on the third and fourth, and I had two rooms on the fifth.

"A little dark corkscrew staircase led up to these attics. All day long Mme Kergaran was up and down these stairs like a captain on board ship. Ten times a day she would go into each room, noisily superintending everything, seeing that the beds were properly made, the clothes well brushed, that the attendance was all that it should be; in a word, she looked after her boarders like a mother, and better than a mother.

"I soon made the acquaintance of my four fellow-countrymen. Two were medical and two were law students, but all impartially endured the landlady's despotic yoke. They were as frightened of her as a bey robbing an orchard is of a rural policeman.

"I, however, immediately felt that I wished to be independent; it is my nature to rebel. I declared at once that I meant to come in at whatever time I liked, for Mme Kergaran had fixed twelve o'clock at night as the limit. On hearing this she looked at me for a few moments, and then said:

"'It is quite impossible; I cannot have Annette called up at any hour of the night. You can have nothing to do out-of-doors at such a time.'

"I replied firmly that, according to the law, she was obliged to open the door for me at any time.

"'If you refuse,' I said, 'I shall get a policeman to witness the fact, and go and get a bed at some hotel, at your expense, in which I shall be fully justified. You will, therefore, be obliged either to open the door for me or to get rid of me. Do whatever you please.'

"I laughed in her face as I told her my conditions. She could not speak for a moment for surprise, then she tried to negotiate, but I was firm, and she was obliged to yield. It was agreed that I should have a latchkey, on my solemn undertaking that no one else should know it.

"My energy made such a wholesome impression on her that from that time she treated me with marked favour; she was most attentive, and even showed me a sort of rough tenderness which was not at all unpleasing. Sometimes when I was in a jovial mood I would kiss her by surprise, if only for the sake of getting the box on the ears which she gave me immediately afterward. When I managed to duck my head quickly enough, her hand would pass over me as swiftly as a ball, and I would run away laughing, while she would call after me:

"'Oh! you wretch, I will pay you out for that.'

"However, we soon became real friends.

"It was not long before I made the acquaintance of a girl who was employed in a shop, and whom I constantly met. You know what that sort of love affair is in Paris. One fine day, going to a lecture, you meet a girl going to work arm-in-arm with a friend. You look at her and feel that pleasant little shock which the eyes of some women give you. It is one of the charming things of life, those sudden physical attractions aroused by a chance meeting, that gentle seduction induced by contact with a woman born to please and to be loved. Whether she is greatly loved or not makes no difference. It is in her nature to respond to one's secret desire for love. The first time you see her face, her mouth, her hair, her smile, their charm penetrates you with a sweet joy, you are pervaded by a sense of well-being, and a tenderness, as yet undefined, impels you towards this woman whom you do not know. There seems to be in her some appeal which you answer, an attraction that draws you, as if you knew her for a long time, had already seen her, and knew what she is thinking. The next day at the same time, going through the same street, you meet her again, and the next, and the succeeding days. At last you speak, and the love affair follows its course just like an illness.

"Well, by the end of three weeks I was on that footing with Emma which precedes intimacy. The fall would indeed have taken place much sooner had I known where to bring it about. The girl lived at home, and utterly refused to go to an hotel. I did not know how to manage, but at last I made the desperate resolve to take her to my room some night at about eleven o'clock, under the pretence of giving her a cup of tea. Mme Kergaran always went to bed at ten, so that we could get in by means of my latchkey without exciting any attention, and go down again in an hour or two in the same way.

"After a good deal of entreaty on my part, Emma accepted my invitation.

"I did not spend a very pleasant day, for I was by no means easy in my mind. I was afraid of complications, of a catastrophe, of some scandal. At night I went into a café, and drank two cups of coffee and three or four glasses of cognac, to give me courage, and when I heard the clock strike half past ten, I went slowly to the place of meeting, where she was already waiting for me. She took my arm in a coaxing manner, and we set off slowly toward my lodgings. The nearer we got to the door the more nervous I got, and I thought to myself: 'If only Mme Kergaran is in bed already.'

"I said to Emma two or three times:

"'Above all things, don't make any noise on the stairs,' to which she replied, laughing:

"'Are you afraid of being heard?'

"'No,' I said, 'but I am afraid of waking the man who sleeps in the room next to me, who is not at all well.'

"When I got near the house I felt as frightened as a man does who is going to the dentist's. All the windows were dark, so no doubt everybody was asleep, and I breathed again. I opened the door as carefully as a thief, let my fair companion in, shut it behind me, and went upstairs on tiptoe, holding my breath, and striking wax-matches lest the girl should make a false step.

"As we passed the landlady's door I felt my heart beating very quickly. But we reached the second floor, then the third, and at last the fifth, and got into my room. Victory!

"However, I only dared to speak in a whisper, and took off my boots so as not to make any noise. The tea, which I made over a spirit-lamp, was soon drunk, and then I became pressing, till little by little, as if in play, I, one by one, took off my companion's garments. She yielded while resisting, blushing, confused.

"She had absolutely nothing on except a short white petticoat when my door suddenly opened, and Mme Kergaran appeared with a candle in her hand, in exactly the same costume as Emma.

"I jumped away from her and remained standing, looking at the two women, who were looking at each other. What was going to happen?

"My landlady said, in a lofty tone of voice which I had never heard from her before:

"'Monsieur Kervelen, I will not have prostitutes in my house.'

"'But, Madame Kergaran,' I stammered, 'the young lady is a friend of mine. She just came in to have a cup of tea.'

"'People don't take tea in their chemises. You will please make this person go directly.'

"Emma, in a natural state of consternation, began to cry, and hid her face in her petticoat, and I lost my head, not knowing what to do or say. My landlady added, with irresistible authority:

"'Help her to dress, and take her out at once.'

"It was certainly the only thing I could do, so I picked up her dress from the floor where it had collapsed in a heap like a deflated balloon, put it over her head, and began to fasten it as best I could. She helped me, crying all the time, hurrying and making all sorts of mistakes and unable to find either button-holes or laces, while Mme Kergaran stood by motionless, with the candle in her hand, looking at us with the severity of a judge.

"Emma now began to hurry feverishly, throwing her things on at random, tying, pinning, lacing and fastening in a frenzy, goaded on by the irresistible desire for flight, and without even stopping to button her boots, she rushed past the landlady and ran downstairs. I followed her in my slippers and half undressed, and kept repeating: 'Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle!'

"I felt that I ought to say something to her, but I could not find anything. I overtook her just by the street-door, and tried to take her into my arms, but she pushed me violently away, saying in a low, nervous voice:

"'Leave me alone, leave me alone!' and so ran out into the street, closing the door behind her.

"When I went upstairs again I found that Mme Kergaran was waiting on the first landing. I went up slowly, expecting, and ready for, anything.

"Her door was open, and she called me in, saying in severe voice:

"'I want to speak to you, M. Kervelen.'

"I went in, with my head bent. She put her candle on the mantlepiece, and then, folding her arms over her expansive bosom, which a fine white dressing-jacket hardly covered, she said:

"'So, Monsieur Kervelen, you think my house is a house of ill-fame?'

"I was not at all proud. I murmured:

"'Oh dear, no! But, Mme Kergaran, you must not be angry; you know what young men are.'

"'I know,' was her answer, 'that I will not have such creatures here, so you will understand that. I expect to have my house respected, and I will not have it lose its reputation, you understand me? I know—'

"She went on thus for at least twenty minutes, overwhelming me with the good name of her house, with reasons for her indignation, and loading me with severe reproofs.

"Men are curious creatures. Instead of listening to her, I was looking at her, and did not hear a word, not a word she said. She had a superb bosom, firm, white and plump, perhaps a little too plump, but tempting enough to send shivers down one's spine. I should never have dreamed that anything so charming was concealed beneath the woollen dress of my landlady. She looked ten years younger when undressed. I began to feel queer... shall I say... moved? I suddenly found myself picking up with her the threads of the situation she had disturbed fifteen minutes previously in my bedroom.

"Behind her, in the alcove, I could see her bed, with the sheets rolled down, tossed, showing a hollow place where her body had pressed. And I thought it must be very nice, very warm there, much warmer than in any other bed, no doubt because of the opulent charms that rested there.

"What could be more charming, more disturbing, than an unmade bed? This one, even from a distance, intoxicated me, and made my flesh tingle.

"She was still talking, but now more gently, like a gruff but well-meaning friend, who is willing to make up and be friends.

"'Madame Kergaran, 'I stammered, 'I... I...', and as she had stopped to hear my reply, I seized her in my arms and began to kiss her, to devour her, like a famished man who has been waiting for a long time.

"She struggled, turning away her head, but without becoming really angry, and repeated mechanically, as was her habit: 'Oh, the brute... the brute... the bru...

"She did not finish the word, for I had lifted her with an effort, and was carrying her clasped to my heart. Under certain circumstances, one acquires remarkable vigour!

"I stumbled against the edge of the bed, and I fell on it still holding her in my arms... It was nice and warm in her bed.

"An hour later, the candle having gone out, my landlady got up to light another. As she returned and slipped in by my side, her great, round leg crushing the sheets, she said in a coaxing, satisfied, perhaps grateful tone: 'Oh, the brute... the brute!...'"


Maître Chicot, the innkeeper, who lived at Épreville, pulled up his tilbury in front of Mother Magloire's farmhouse. He was a tall man of about forty, fat and with a red face, who was generally said to be very malicious.

He hitched his horse up to the gatepost and went in the yard. He owned some land adjoining that of the old woman. He had been coveting her plot for a long while, and had tried in vain to buy it a score of times, but she had always obstinately refused to part with it.

"I was born here, and here I mean to die," was all she said.

He found her peeling potatoes outside the farmhouse door. She was a woman of about seventy-two, very thin, shrivelled and wrinkled, almost dried-up, in fact, and much bent, but as active and untiring as a girl. Chicot patted her on the back in a very friendly fashion, and then sat down by her on a stool.

"Well, Mother, you are always pretty well and hearty, I am glad to see."

"Nothing to complain of, considering, thank you. And how are you, Maître Prosper?"

"Oh! pretty well, thank you, except a few rheumatic pains occasionally; otherwise, I should have nothing to complain of."

"Well, I am glad of that!"

And she said no more, while Chicot watched her going on with her work. Her crooked, knotty fingers, hard as a lobster's claws, seized the tubers, which were lying in a pail, as if they had been a pair of pincers, and peeled them rapidly, cutting off long strips of skin with an old knife which she held in the other hand, throwing the potatoes into the water as they were done. Three daring fowls jumped one after the other into her lap, seized a bit of peel, and then ran away as fast as their legs would carry them with it in their beaks.

Chicot seemed embarrassed, anxious, with something on the tip of his tongue which he could not get out. At last he said hurriedly:

"I say. Mother Magloire—"

"Well, what is it?"

"You are quite sure that you do not want to sell your farm?"

"Certainly not; you may make up your mind to that. What I have said, I have said, so don't bring it up again."

"Very well; only I fancy I have thought of an arrangement that might suit us both very well."

"What is it?"

"Here you are: You shall sell it to me, and keep it all the same. You don't understand? Very well, just listen to my idea."

The old woman left off peeling her potatoes, and her bright eyes looked at the innkeeper attentively from under her wrinkled eyelids, as he went on:

"Let me explain myself: Every month I will give you a hundred and fifty francs. You understand me, I suppose? Every month I will come and bring you thirty crowns, and it will not make the slightest difference in your life—not the very slightest. You will have your own home just as you have now, will not trouble yourself about me, and will owe me nothing; all you will have to do will be to take my money. Will that arrangement suit you?"

He looked at her good-humouredly, one might almost have said benevolently, and the old woman returned his looks distrustfully, as if she suspected a trap, and said:

"It seems all right, as far as I am concerned, but it will not give you the farm."

"Never mind about that," he said, "you will remain here as long as it pleases God Almighty to let you live; it will be your home. Only you will sign a deed before a lawyer making it over to me after your death. You have no children, only nephews and nieces for whom you don't care a straw. Will that suit you? You will keep everything during your life, and I will give you the thirty crowns a month. It is pure gain as far as you are concerned."

The old woman was surprised, rather uneasy, but, nevertheless, very much tempted to agree, and answered:

"I don't say that I will not agree to it, but I must think about it. Come back in a week and we will talk it over again, and I will then give you my definite answer."

And Maître Chicot went off, as happy as a king who had conquered an empire.

Mother Magloire was thoughtful, and did not sleep at all that night; in fact, for four days she was in a fever of hesitation. She felt instinctively, that there was something underneath the offer which was not to her advantage; but then the thought of thirty crowns a month, of all those coins chinking in her apron, falling to her, as it were, from the skies, without her doing anything for it, filled her with covetousness.

She went to the notary and told him about it. He advised her to accept Chicot's offer, but said she ought to ask for a monthly payment of fifty crowns instead of thirty, as her farm was worth sixty thousand francs at the lowest calculation.

"If you live for fifteen years longer," he said, "even then he will only have paid forty-five thousand francs for it."

The old woman trembled with joy at this prospect of getting fifty crowns a month; but she was still suspicious, fearing some trick, and she remained a long time with the lawyer asking questions without being able to make up her mind to go. At last she gave him instructions to draw up the deed, and returned home with her head in a whirl, just as if she had drunk four jugs of new cider.

When Chicot came again to receive her answer she took a lot of persuading, and declared that she could not make up her mind to agree to his proposal, though she was all the time on tenter-hooks lest he should not consent to give the fifty crowns. At last, when he grew urgent, she told him what she expected for her farm.

He looked surprised and disappointed, and refused.

Then, in order to convince him, she began to talk about the probable duration of her life.

"I am certainly not likely to live for more than five or six years longer. I am nearly seventy-three, and far from strong, even considering my age. The other evening I thought I was going to die, and I had to be carried to bed."

But Chicot was not going to be taken in.

"Come, come, old lady, you are as strong as the church tower, and will live till you are a hundred at least; you will be sure to see me put underground first."

The whole day was spent in discussing the money, and as the old woman would not give way, the landlord consented to give the fifty crowns, and she insisted upon having ten crowns over and above to strike the bargain.

Three years passed by, and the old dame did not seem to have grown a day older. Chicot was in despair. It seemed to him as if he had been paying that annuity for fifty years, that he had been taken in, outwitted, and ruined. From time to time he went to see his annuitant, just as one goes in July to see when the harvest is likely to begin. She always met him with a cunning look, and one would have thought that she was congratulating herself on the trick she had played him. Seeing how well and hearty she seemed, he very soon got into his tilbury again, growling to himself:

"Will you never die, you old brute?"

He did not know what to do, and felt inclined to strangle her when he saw her. He hated her with a ferocious, cunning hatred, the hatred of a peasant who has been robbed, and he began to cast about for means of getting rid of her.

One day he came to see her again, rubbing his hands as he did the first time when he proposed the bargain, and, after having chatted for a few minutes, he said:

"Why do you never come and have a bit of dinner at my place when you are in Épreville? The people are talking about it and saying that we are not on friendly terms, and that pains me. You know it will cost you nothing if you come, for I don't look at the price of a dinner. Come whenever you feel inclined; I shall be very glad to see you."

Old Mother Magloire did not need to be told twice, and the next day but one—she was going to the town in any case, it being market-day, in her gig, driven by her man—she, without any demur, put her trap up in Maître Chicot's stable, and went in search of her promised dinner.

The innkeeper was delighted, and treated her like a princess, giving her roast fowl, black pudding, leg of mutton, and bacon and cabbage. But she ate next to nothing. She had always been a small eater and had generally lived on a little soup and a crust of bread-and-butter.

Chicot was disappointed, and pressed her to eat more, but she refused. She would drink next to nothing either, and declined any coffee, so he asked her:

"But surely, you will take a little drop of brandy?"

"Well, as to that, I don't know that I will refuse." Whereupon he shouted out:

"Rosalie, bring the superfine brandy,—the special,—you know."

The servant appeared, carrying a long bottle ornamented with a paper vine-leaf, and he filled two liquor glasses.

"Just try that; you will find it first-rate."

The good woman drank it slowly in sips, so as to make the pleasure last all the longer, and when she had finished her glass, draining the last drops so as to make sure of all, she said:

"Yes, that is first-rate!"

Almost before she had said it, Chicot had poured her out another glassful. She wished to refuse, but it was too late, and she drank it very slowly, as she had done the first, and he asked her to have a third. She objected, but he persisted.

"It is as mild as milk, you know. I can drink ten or a dozen without any ill effect; it goes down like sugar, and leaves no headache behind; one would think that it evaporated on the tongue. It is the most wholesome thing you can drink."

She took it, for she really wanted it, but she left half the glass.

Then Chicot, in an excess of generosity, said:

"Look here, as it is so much to your taste, I will give you a small keg of it, just to show that you and I are still excellent friends." Then she took her leave, feeling slightly overcome by the effects of what she had drunk.

The next day the innkeeper drove into her yard, and took a little iron-hooped keg out of his gig. He insisted on her tasting the contents, to make sure it was the same delicious article, and, when they had each of them drunk three more glasses, he said, as he was going away:

"Well, you know, when it is all gone, there is more left; don't be modest, for I shall not mind. The sooner it is finished the better pleased I shall be."

Four days later he came again. The old woman was outside her door cutting up the bread for her soup.

He went up to her, and put his face close to hers, so that he might smell her breath; and when he smelled the alcohol he felt pleased.

"I suppose you will give me a glass of the special?" he said. And two or three times they drank each other's health.

Soon, however, it began to be whispered abroad that Mother Magloire was in the habit of getting drunk all by herself. She was picked up, sometimes in her kitchen, sometimes in her yard, sometimes on the roads in the neighbourhood, and was often brought home dead to the world.

Chicot did not go near her any more, and, when people spoke to him about her, he used to say, putting on a distressed look:

"It is a great pity that she should have taken to drink at her age; but when people get old there is no remedy. It will be the death of her in the long run."

And it certainly was the death of her. She died the next winter, about Christmas time, having fallen down drunk in the snow.

And when Maître Chicot inherited the farm he said:

"It was very stupid of her; if she had not taken to drink she might very well have lived for ten years longer."


The lawyer's house looked on to the Square. Behind it, there was a nice, well-kept garden, extending to the Passage des Piques, which was almost always deserted, and from which it was separated by a wall.

At the bottom of that garden Maître Moreau's wife had promised, for the first time, to meet Captain Sommerive, who had been making love to her for a long time.

Her husband had gone to Paris for a week, so she was quite free for the time being. The Captain had begged so hard, and had used such loving words; she was certain that he loved her so ardently, and she felt so isolated, so misunderstood, so neglected amid all the law business which seemed to be her husband's sole pleasure, that she had given away her heart without even asking herself whether she would give anything else some day.

Then, after some months of Platonic love, of pressing of hands, of quick kisses stolen behind a door, the Captain had declared that he would ask permission to exchange, and leave the town immediately, if she would not grant him a meeting, a real meeting in the shadow of the trees, during her husband's absence. So she had yielded to his importunity, as she had promised.

Just then she was waiting, close against the wall, with a beating heart, trembling at the slightest sound, and when she heard somebody climbing up the wall, she very nearly ran away.

Suppose it were not he, but a thief? But no; some one called out softly, "Mathilde!" and when she replied, "Étienne!" a man jumped on to the path with a crash.

It was he! What a kiss!

For a long time they remained in each other's arms, with united lips. But suddenly a fine rain began to fall, and the drops from the leaves fell on to her neck and made her start. Whereupon he said:

"Mathilde, my adored one, my darling, my angel, let us go indoors. It is twelve o'clock, we can have nothing to fear; please let us go in."

"No, dearest; I am too frightened. Who knows what might happen?"

But he held her in his arms, and whispered in her ear:

"Your servants sleep on the third floor, looking on to the Square, and your room, on the first, looks on to the garden, so nobody can hear us. I love you so that I wish to love you entirely, from head to foot." And he embraced her vehemently, maddening her with his kisses.

She resisted still, frightened and even ashamed. But he put his arms round her, lifted her up, and carried her off through the rain, which was by this time descending in torrents.

The door was open; they groped their way upstairs; and when they were in the room she bolted the door while he lit a match.

Then she fell, half fainting, into a chair, while he kneeled down beside her and slowly he undressed her, beginning with her shoes and stockings in order to kiss her feet.

At last, she said, panting:

"No! no! Étienne, please let me remain a virtuous woman; I should be too angry with you afterwards; and after all, it is so horrid, so common. Cannot we love each other with a spiritual love only? Oh! Étienne!"

With the skill of a lady's maid and the speed of a man in a hurry, he unbuttoned, untied, unhooked and unlaced without stopping, and when she tried to get up and run away, she suddenly emerged from her dress, her petticoat and her underclothes as naked as a hand thrust from a muff. In her fright she ran to the bed in order to hide herself behind the curtains; but it was a dangerous place of refuge, and he followed her. But in haste he took off his sword too quickly, and it fell on to the floor with a crash. And then a prolonged, shrill child's cry came from the next room, the door of which had remained open.

"You have awakened André," she whispered, "and he won't be able to go to sleep again."

Her son was only fifteen months old and slept in a room opening out of hers, so that she might be able to watch over him all the time.

The Captain exclaimed ardently:

"What does it matter, Mathilde? How I love you; you must come to me, Mathilde."

But she struggled and resisted in her fright.

"No! no! Just listen how he is crying; he will wake up the nurse, and what should we do if she were to come? We should be lost. Just listen to me, Étienne. When he screams at night his father always takes him into our bed, and he is quiet immediately; it is the only means of keeping him still. Do let me take him."

The child roared, uttering shrill screams, which pierced the thickest walls and could be heard by passers-by in the streets.

In his consternation the Captain got up, and Mathilde jumped out and took the child into her bed, when he was quiet at once.

Étienne sat astride on a chair, and rolled a cigarette, and in about five minutes André went to sleep again.

"I will take him back," his mother said; and she took him back very carefully to his cradle.

When she returned, the Captain was waiting for her with open arms, and put his arms round her in a transport of love, while she, embracing him more closely, said, stammering:

"Oh! Étienne, my darling, if you only knew how I love you; how—"

André began to cry again, and he, in a rage, exclaimed:

"Confound it all, won't the little brat be quiet?"

No, the little brat would not be quiet, but howled all the louder, on the contrary.

She thought she heard a noise downstairs; no doubt the nurse was coming, so she jumped up and took the child into bed, and he grew quiet directly.

Three times she put him back, and three times she had to fetch him again, and an hour before daybreak the Captain had to go, swearing like the proverbial trooper; and, to calm his impatience, Mathilde promised to receive him again the next night. Of course he came, more impatient and ardent than ever, excited by the delay.

He took care to lay his sword carefully on the arms of a chair, he took off his boots like a thief, and spoke so low that Mathilde could hardly hear him. At last, he was just going to be really happy when the floor, or some piece of furniture, or perhaps the bed itself, creaked; it sounded as if something had broken; and in a moment a cry, feeble at first, but which grew louder, every moment, made itself heard. André was awake again.

He yapped like a fox, and there was not the slightest doubt that if he went on like that the whole house would awake; so his mother, not knowing what to do, got up and brought him. The Captain was more furious than ever, but did not move, and very carefully he put out his hand, took a small piece of the child's flesh between his two fingers, no matter where it was, the thighs or elsewhere, and pinched it. The little one struggled and screamed in a deafening manner, but his tormentor pinched everywhere, furiously and more vigorously. He took a piece of flesh and twisted and turned it, and then let go, only to take hold of another piece, and then another and another.

The child screamed like a chicken having its throat cut, or a dog being mercilessly beaten. His mother caressed him, kissed him, and tried to stifle his cries by her tenderness; but André grew purple, as if he were going into convulsions, and kicked and struggled with his little arms and legs in an alarming manner.

The Captain said, softly:

"Try to take him back to his cradle; perhaps he will be quiet."

And Mathilde went into the other room with the child in her arms. As soon as he was out of his mother's bed he cried less loudly, and when he was in his own he was quiet, with the exception of a few broken sobs. The rest of the night was quiet and the Captain was happy.

The next night the Captain came again. As he happened to speak rather loudly, André awoke again and began to scream. His mother went and fetched him immediately, but the Captain pinched so hard and long that the child was nearly suffocated by its cries, its eyes turned in its head and it foamed at the mouth. As soon as it was back in its cradle it was quiet, and in four days André did not cry any more to come into his mother's bed.

On Saturday evening the lawyer returned, and took his place again at the domestic hearth and in the conjugal chamber. As he was tired with his journey he went to bed early; but he had not long lain down when he said to his wife:

"Why, how is it that André is not crying? Just go and fetch him, Mathilde; I like to feel that he is between us."

She got up and brought the child, but as soon as he saw that he was in that bed, in which he had been so fond of sleeping a few days before, he wriggled and screamed so violently in his fright that she had to take him back to his cradle.

M. Moreau could not get over his surprise. "What a very funny thing! What is the matter with him this evening? I suppose he is sleepy?"

"He has been like that all the time that you were away; I have never been able to have him in bed with me once."

In the morning the child woke up and began to laugh and play with his toys.

The lawyer, who was an affectionate man, got up, kissed his offspring, and took him into his arms to carry him to their bed. André laughed, with that vacant laugh of little creatures whose ideas are still vague. He suddenly saw the bed and his mother in it, and his happy little face puckered up, till suddenly he began to scream furiously, and struggled as if he were going to be put to the torture.

In his astonishment his father said:

"There must be something the matter with the child," and mechanically he lifted up his little nightshirt.

He uttered a prolonged "O—o—h!" of astonishment. The child's calves, thighs, and buttocks were covered with blue spots as big as half-pennies.

"Just look, Mathilde!" the father exclaimed; "this is horrible!" And the mother rushed forward in a fright. It was horrible; no doubt the beginning of some sort of leprosy, of one of those strange affections of the skin which doctors are often at a loss to account for. The parents looked at one another in consternation.

"We must send for the doctor," the father said.

But Mathilde, pale as death, was looking at her child, who was spotted like a leopard. Then suddenly uttering a violent cry as if she had seen something that filled her with horror, she exclaimed:

"Oh! the wretch!"

M. Moreau, surprised asked: "What? Whom are you speaking about? What wretch?"

She reddened up to the roots of her hair and stammered: "Nothing... it is... you see, I guess... It must be... Don't let us get the doctor. It is surely that miserable nurse who pinches the little one to make him stop when he cries." The notary, very angry, went to the nurse and nearly beat her. She denied the charges, but was discharged. Her conduct was denounced to the municipal authorities, and she could never get another situation.


My dear friend, you can hardly believe it? I can see why. You think I have gone mad? It may be so, but not for the reasons which you suppose.

Yes, I am going to get married. That's true.

My ideas and my convictions have not changed at all. I look upon all legalized co-habitation as utterly stupid, for I am certain that nine husbands out of ten are cuckolds; and they get no more than their deserts for having been idiotic enough to fetter their lives and renounce their freedom in love, the only happy and good thing in the world, and for having clipped the wings of fancy which continually drives us on toward all women. You know what I mean. More than ever I feel that I am incapable of loving one woman alone, because I shall always adore all the others too much. I should like to have a thousand arms, a thousand mouths, and a thousand—temperaments, to be able to strain an army of these charming creatures in my embrace at the same moment.

And yet I am going to get married!

I may add that I know very little of the girl who is going to become my wife to-morrow; I have only seen her four or five times. I know that she is not distasteful to me, and that is enough for my purpose. She is small, fair, and stout; so of course the day after to-morrow I shall ardently wish for a tall, dark, thin, woman.

She is not rich, and belongs to the middle classes. She is a girl such as you may find by the gross, well adapted for matrimony, without any apparent faults, and with no particularly striking qualities. People say of her: "Mlle Lajolle is a very nice girl," and to-morrow they will say: "What a very nice woman Madame Raymon is." She belongs, in a word, to that immense number of girls who make very good wives for us till the moment comes when we discover that we happen to prefer all other women to that particular woman we have married.

"Well," you will say to me, "what on earth do you get married for?"

I hardly like to tell you the strange and seemingly improbable reason that urged me on to this mad action. I am getting married in order not to be alone.

I don't know how to tell you or to make you understand me, but my state of mind is so wretched that you will pity me and despise me.

I do not want to be alone any longer at night; I want to feel that there is some one close to me touching me, a being who can speak and say something, no matter what it be.

I wish to be able to awaken somebody by my side, so that I may be able to ask some sudden question, a stupid question even, if I feel inclined, so that I may hear a human voice, to have somebody living in my house and feel that there is some waking soul close to me, some one whose reason is at work—so that when I hastily light the candle I may see some human face by my side—because—because—I am ashamed to confess it—because when I am alone, I am afraid.

Oh! you don't understand me yet.

I am not afraid of any danger; if a man were to come into the room I should kill him without trembling. I am not afraid of ghosts, nor do I believe in the supernatural. I am not afraid of dead people, for I believe in the total annihilation of every being that disappears from the face of this earth.

Well,—yes, well, then... I am afraid of myself, afraid of that horrible sensation of incomprehensible fear, afraid of the spasms of my terrified mind.

You may laugh, if you like. It is terrible and incurable. I am afraid of the walls, of the furniture, of the familiar objects, which are animated, as far as I am concerned, by a kind of animal life. Above all, I am afraid of my own dreadful thoughts, of my reason, which seems as if it were about to leave me, driven away by a mysterious and invisible anguish.

At first I feel a vague uneasiness in my mind which causes a cold shiver to run all over me. I look round, and of course nothing is to be seen, and I wish there were something there, no matter what, as long as it were something tangible: I am frightened, merely because I cannot understand my own terror.

If I speak, I am afraid of my own voice. 'If I walk, I am afraid of I know not what, behind the door, behind the curtains, in the cupboard, or under my bed, and yet all the time I know there is nothing anywhere, and I turn round suddenly because I am afraid of what is behind me, although there is nothing there, and I know it.

I get agitated; I feel that my fear increases, and so I shut myself up in my own room, get into bed, and hide under the clothes, and there, cowering down, rolled into a ball, I close my eyes in despair and remain thus for a long time, remembering that my candle is alight on the table by my bedside, and that I ought to put it out, and yet—I dare not do it!

It is very terrible, is it not, to be like that?

Formerly I felt nothing of all that; I came home quite comfortably, and went up and down in my rooms without anything disturbing my calmness of mind. Had anyone told me that I should be attacked by a malady—for I can call it nothing else—of most improbable fear, such a stupid and terrible malady as it is, I should have laughed outright. I was certainly never afraid of opening the door in the dark; I used to go to bed slowly without locking it, and never got up in the middle of the night to make sure that everything was firmly closed.

It began last year in a very strange manner, on a damp autumn evening. When my servant had left the room, after I had dined, I asked myself what I was going to do. I walked up and down my room for some time, feeling tired without any reason for it, unable to work, and without enough energy to read. A fine rain was falling, and I felt unhappy, a prey to one of those fits of casual despondency which make us feel inclined to cry, or to talk, no matter to whom, so as to shake off our depressing thoughts.

I felt that I was alone and that my rooms seemed to me to be more empty that they had ever been before. I was surrounded by a sensation of infinite and overwhelming solitude. What was I to do? I sat down, but then a kind of nervous impatience seized my legs, so that I got up and began to walk about again. I was feverish, for I noticed my hands, which I had clasped behind me, as one often does when walking slowly, almost seemed to burn one another. Then suddenly a cold shiver ran down my back, and I thought the damp air might have penetrated into my room, so I lit the fire for the first time that year, and [sat down again and looked at the flames. But soon I felt that I could not possibly remain quiet. So I got up again and determined to go out, to pull myself together, and to seek a friend to bear me company. I went out. I looked up three friends who were not at home, then I went on to the boulevards to try and meet some acquaintance or other there.

It was wretched everywhere. The wet pavement glistened in the gaslight, and a moist warmth, that kind of warmth that chills you with sudden shivers, the oppressive heat of impalpable rain, lay heavily over the streets and seemed to obscure the light from the lamps.

I went on slowly, saying to myself, "I shall not find a soul to talk to."

I glanced into several cafés from the Madeleine as far as the Faubourg Poissonnière, and saw many unhappy-looking individuals sitting at the tables, who did not seem even to have enough energy left to finish the refreshments they had ordered.

For a long time I wandered aimlessly up and down, and about midnight I started off for home; I was very calm and very tired. My concierge, who goes to bed before eleven o'clock, opened the door at once, which was quite unusual for him, and I thought that another lodger had no doubt just come in.

When I go out I always turn the key twice. Now I found it merely closed, which surprised me; but I supposed that some letters had been brought up for me in the course of the evening.

I went in, and found my fire still burning so that it lighted up the room a little. I took up a candle to fight it at the fire when looking in front of me I noticed somebody sitting in my armchair by the fire, warming his feet, with his back toward me.

I was not in the slightest degree frightened. I thought very naturally that some friend or other had come to see me. No doubt the concierge, who knew I had gone out, had said I was coming back and had lend him his own key. In a moment I remembered all the circumstances of my return, how the street door had been opened immediately and that my own door was only latched and not locked.

I could see nothing of my friend but his head. He had evidently gone to sleep while waiting for me, so I went up to him to rouse him. I saw him quite clearly; his right arm was hanging down and his feet were crossed, while his head, which was somewhat inclined to the left of the armchair, seemed to indicate that he was asleep. "Who can it be?" I asked myself. I could not see clearly, as the room was rather dark, so I put out my hand to touch him on the shoulder, and it came in contact with the back of the chair. There was nobody there; the armchair was empty.

Merciful heaven, what a start I gave! For a moment I drew back as if some terrible danger had suddenly appeared in my way; then I turned round again feeling there was somebody behind me, then, impelled by some imperious desire to look at the armchair again, I turned round once more. I remained standing up panting with fear, so upset that I could not collect my thoughts, and ready to drop.

But I am naturally a cool man, and soon recovered myself. I thought: "It is a mere hallucination, that is all," and I immediately began to reflect about this phenomenon. Thoughts fly very quickly at such moments.

I had been suffering from a hallucination, that was an incontestable fact. My mind had been perfectly lucid and had acted regularly and logically, so there was nothing the matter with the brain. It was only my eyes that had been deceived; they had had a vision, one of those visions which lead simple folk to believe in miracles. It was a nervous accident to the optical apparatus, nothing more; the eyes were rather overwrought, perhaps.

I lit my candle, and when I stooped down to the fire in so doing, I noticed that I was trembling, and I raised myself up with a jump, as if somebody had touched me from behind.

I was not comfortable by any means.

I walked up and down a little, and hummed a tune or two. Then I double-locked my door, and felt rather reassured; now, at any rate, nobody could come in.

I sat down again, and thought over my adventure for a long time; then I went to bed, and put out my light.

For some minutes all went well; I lay quietly on my back. Then an irresistible desire seized me to look round the room, and I turned on to my side.

My fire was nearly out and the few glowing embers threw a faint light on to the floor by the chair, where I fancied I saw the man sitting again.

I quickly struck a match, but I had been mistaken, for there was nothing there; I got up, however, and hid the chair behind my bed, and tried to get to sleep as the room was now dark. But I had not been asleep for more than five minutes when in my dream I saw all the scene which I had witnessed as clearly as if it were reality. I woke up with a start, and, having lit the candle, sat up in bed, without venturing even to try and go to sleep again.

Twice, however, sleep overcame me for a few moments in spite of myself, and twice I saw the same thing again, till I fancied I was going mad. When day broke, however, I thought that I was cured, and slept peacefully till noon.

It was all past and gone. I had been feverish, had had nightmare; or something. I had been ill, in a word, but yet I thought that I was a great fool.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly that evening; I went and dined at a restaurant; afterward I went to the theatre, and then started home. But as I got near the house I was seized by a strange feeling of uneasiness once more; I was afraid of seeing him again. I was not afraid of him, not afraid of his presence, in which I did not believe; but I was afraid of being deceived again; I was afraid of some fresh hallucination, afraid lest fear should take possession of me.

For more than an hour I wandered up and down the pavement; then I thought that I was really too foolish, and returned home. I panted so that I could scarcely get upstairs, and remained standing on the landing outside my door for more than ten minutes; then suddenly I took courage and pulled myself together. I inserted my key into the lock, and went in with a candle in my hand. I kicked open my half-open bedroom door, and gave a frightened look toward the fireplace; there was nothing there. A—h!

What a relief and what a delight! What a deliverance! I walked up and down briskly and boldly, but I was not altogether reassured, and kept turning round with a jump; the very shadows in the corners disquieted me.

I slept badly, and was constantly disturbed by imaginary noises, but I did not see him; no, that was all over.

Since that time I have been afraid of being alone at night. I feel that the spectre is there, close to me, around me; but it has not appeared to me again. And supposing it did, what would it matter, since I do not believe in it and know that it is nothing?

It still worries me, however, because I am constantly thinking of it: his right arm hanging down and his head inclined to the left like a man who was asleep—Enough of that, in Heaven's name! I don't want to think about it!

Why, however, am I so persistently possessed with this idea? His feet were close to the fire!

He haunts me; it is very stupid, but so it is. Who and what is HE? I know that he does not exist except in my cowardly imagination, in my fears, and in my anguish! There—enough of that!

Yes, it is all very well for me to reason with myself, to brace myself up; I cannot remain alone at home, because I know he is there. I know I shall not see him again; he will not show himself again; that is all over. But he is there all the same in my thoughts. He remains invisible, but that does not prevent his being there. He is behind the doors, in the closed wardrobe, under the bed, in every dark corner. If I open the door or the wardrobe, if I take the candle to look under the bed and throw a fight on the dark places, he is there no longer, but I feel that he is behind me. I turn round, certain that I shall not see him, that I shall never see him again; but he is, none the less, behind me.

It is very stupid, it is dreadful; but what am I to do? I cannot help it.

But if there were two of us in the place, I feel certain that he would not be there any longer, for he is there just because I am alone, simply and solely because I am alone!


My uncle Sosthène was a freethinker, like many others, a freethinker from sheer stupidity. People are very often religious for the same reason. The mere sight of a priest threw him into a violent rage; he would shake his fist and grimace at him, and touch a piece of iron when the priest's back was turned, forgetting that the latter action showed a belief after all, the belief in the evil eye.

Now when beliefs are unreasonable, one should either have all or none at all. I myself am a freethinker; I revolt at all the dogmas which have invented the fear of death, but I feel no anger toward places of worship, be they Catholic Apostolic, Roman, Protestant, Greek, Russian, Buddhist, Jewish, or Mohammedan. I have a peculiar manner of looking at them and explaining them. A place of worship represents the homage paid by man to the unknown. The more extended our thoughts and our views become, the more the unknown diminishes, and the more places of worship will decay. I, however, instead of incense burners, would fit them up with telescopes, microscopes, and electrical machines; that is all.

My uncle and I differed on nearly every point. He was a patriot, while I was not—for, after all, patriotism is a kind of religion; it is the egg from which wars are hatched.

My uncle was a Freemason, and I used to declare that they are stupider than the pious old ladies. That is my opinion, and I maintain it; if we must have any religion at all, the old one is good enough for me.

Those imbeciles simply imitate priests. Their symbol is a triangle instead of a cross. They have chapels which they call lodges, and a whole lot of different sects: the Scottish rite, the French rite, the Grand Orient, a collection of balderdash that would make a cat laugh.

What is their object? Mutual help to be obtained by tickling the palms of each other's hands. I see no harm in it, for they put into practice the Christian precept: "Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you." The only difference consists in the tickling, but it does not seem worth while to make such a fuss about lending a poor devil five francs.

Convents whose duty and business it is to administer alms and help, put the letters "J.M.J." at the head of their communications. The Masons put three periods in a row after their signature. It is six of one and half a dozen of the other.

My uncle's reply used to be:

"We are raising up a religion against a religion; Free-thought will kill clericalism. Freemasonry is the headquarters of those who are demolishing all deities."

"Very well, my dear uncle," I would reply (in my heart I felt inclined to say, "You old idiot!"); "it is just that which I am blaming you for. Instead of destroying, you are organizing competition; it is only a case of lowering the prices. And then, if you only admitted freethinkers among you I could understand it, but you admit anybody. You have a number of Catholics among you, even the leaders of the party. Pius IX is said to have been one of you before he became Pope. If you call a society with such an organization a bulwark against clericalism, I think it is an extremely weak one."

"My dear boy," my uncle would reply, with a wink, "our most formidable actions are political; slowly and surely we are everywhere undermining the monarchical spirit."

Then I broke out: "Yes, you are very clever! If you tell me that freemasonry is an election-machine, I will grant it. I will never deny that it is used as a machine to control candidates of all shades; if you say that it is only used to hoodwink people, to drill them to go to the voting-urn as soldiers are sent under fire, I agree with you; if you declare that it is indispensable to all political ambitions because it changes all its members into electoral agents, I should say to you, 'That is as clear as daylight.' But when you tell me that it serves to undermine the monarchical spirit, I can only laugh in your face.

"Just consider that vast and democratic association which had Prince Napoleon for its Grand Master under the Empire; which has the Crown Prince for its Grand Master in Germany, the Czar's brother in Russia, and to which the Prince of Wales and King Humbert and nearly all the royalists of the globe belong."

"You are quite right," my uncle said; "but all these persons are serving our projects without knowing it."

"And vice versa, what?"

And I added, to myself, "pack of fools!"

It was, however, indeed a sight to see my uncle when he had a freemason to dinner.

On meeting they shook hands in a mysterious manner that was irresistibly funny; one could see that they were going through a series of secret mysterious pressures. When I wished to put my uncle in a rage, I had only to tell him that dogs also have a manner which savours very much of freemasonry, when they greet one another on meeting.

Then my uncle would take his friend into a corner to tell him something important, and at dinner they had a peculiar way of looking at each other, and of drinking to each other, in a manner as if to say: "We belong to it, don't we?"

And to think that there are millions on the face of the globe who are amused at such monkey tricks! I would sooner be a Jesuit.

Now in our town there really was an old Jesuit who was my uncle's pet aversion. Every time he met him, or if he only saw him at a distance, he used to say: "Dirty skunk!" And then, taking my arm, he would whisper to me:

"Look here, that fellow will play me a trick some day or other, I feel sure of it."

My uncle spoke quite truly, and this was how it happened, through my fault moreover.

It was close on Holy Week, and my uncle made up his mind to give a dinner on Good Friday, a real dinner with chitterlings and saveloy sausage. I resisted as much as I could, and said:

"I shall eat meat on that day, but at home, quite by myself. Your manifesto, as you call it, is an idiotic idea. Why should you manifest? What does it matter to you if people do not eat any meat?"

But my uncle would not be persuaded. He asked three of his friends to dine with him at one of the best restaurants in the town, and as he was going to pay the bill, I had certainly, after all, no scruples about manifesting.

At four o'clock we took a conspicuous place in the Café Pénélope, the most frequented restaurant in the town, and my uncle in a loud voice described the menu.

We sat down at six o'clock, and at ten o'clock we had not finished. Five of us had drunk eighteen bottles of fine wines, and four of champagne. Then my uncle proposed what he was in the habit of calling: "The archbishop's feat." Each man put six small glasses in front of him, each of them filled with a different liqueur, and then they had all to be emptied at one gulp, one after another, while one of the waiters counted twenty. It was very stupid, but my uncle thought it was very suitable to the occasion.

At eleven o'clock he was as drunk as a fiddler, so we had to take him home in a cab and put him to bed, and one could easily foresee that his anti-clerical demonstration would end in a terrible fit of indigestion.

As I was going back to my lodgings, being rather drunk myself, with a cheerful Machiavelian drunkenness which quite satisfied all my skeptical instincts, an idea struck me.

I arranged my necktie, put on a look of great distress, and went and rang loudly at the old Jesuit's door. As he was deaf he made me wait a longish while, but at length he appeared at his window in a cotton nightcap and asked what I wanted.

I shouted out at the top of my voice:

"Make haste, reverend father, and open the door; a poor, despairing, sick man is in need of your spiritual ministrations."

The good, kind man put on his trousers as quickly as he could and came down without his cassock. I told him in a breathless voice that my uncle, the freethinker, had been taken suddenly ill. Fearing it was going to be something serious he had been seized with a sudden fear of death, and wished to see a priest and talk to him; to have his advice and comfort, to make up with the Church, and to confess, so as to be able to cross the dreaded threshold at peace with himself; and I added in a mocking tone:

"At any rate, he wishes it, and if it does him no good it can do him no harm."

The old Jesuit, who was startled, delighted, and almost trembling, said to me:

"Wait a moment, my son, I will come with you."

But I replied: "Pardon me. Father, if I do not go with you; but my convictions will not allow me to do so. I even refused to come and fetch you, so I beg you not to say that you have seen me, but to declare that you had a presentiment—a sort of revelation of his illness."

The priest consented, and went off quickly, knocked at my uncle's door, was soon let in, and I saw the black cassock disappear within that stronghold of Free-thought.

I hid under a neighbouring gateway to wait for events. Had he been well, my uncle would have half murdered the Jesuit, but I knew that he would be unable to move an arm, and I asked myself, gleefully, what sort of a scene would take place between these antagonists—what fight, what explanation would be given, and what would be the issue of this situation, which my uncle's indignation would render more tragic still?

I laughed till I had to hold my sides, and said to myself, half aloud: "Oh! what a joke, what a joke!"

Meanwhile it was getting very cold. I noticed that the Jesuit stayed a long time, and thought: "They are having an explanation, I suppose."

One, two, three hours passed, and still the reverend Father did not come out. What had happened? Had my uncle died in a fit when he saw him, or had he killed the cassocked gentleman? Perhaps they had mutually devoured each other? This last supposition appeared very unlikely, for I fancied that my uncle was quite incapable of swallowing a grain more nourishment at that moment.

At last the day dawned. I was very uneasy, and not venturing to go into the house myself, I went to one of my friends who lived opposite. I roused him, explained matters to him, much to his amusement and astonishment, and took possession of his window.

At nine o'clock he relieved me and I got a little sleep. At two o'clock I, in my turn, replaced him. We were utterly astonished.

At six o'clock the Jesuit left, with a very happy and satisfied look on his face, and we saw him go away with a quiet step.

Then, timid and ashamed, I went and knocked at my uncle's door. When the servant opened it I did not dare to ask her any questions, but went upstairs without saying a word.

My uncle was lying pale, exhausted, with weary, sorrowful eyes and heavy arms, on his bed. A little religious picture was fastened to one of the bed-curtains with a pin.

"Why, uncle," I said, "you in bed still? Are you not well?"

He replied in a feeble voice:

"Oh! my dear boy, I have been very ill; nearly dead."

"How was that, uncle?"

"I don't know; it was most surprising. But what is stranger still, is that the Jesuit priest who has just left—you know, that excellent man whom I have made such fun of—had a divine revelation of my state, and came to see me."

I was seized with an almost uncontrollable desire to laugh, and with difficulty said: "Oh, really!"

"Yes, he came. He heard a Voice telling him to get up and come to me, because I was going to die. It was a revelation."

I pretended to sneeze, so as not to burst out laughing; I felt inclined to roll on the ground with amusement.

In about a minute I managed to say, indignantly: "And you received him, uncle, you? You, a freethinker, a freemason? You did not have him thrown out?"

He seemed confused, and stammered:

"Listen a moment, it is so astonishing—so astonishing and providential! He also spoke to me about my father; he knew him formerly."

"Your father, uncle? But that is no reason for receiving a Jesuit."

"I know that, but I was very ill, and he looked after me most devotedly all night long. He was perfect; no doubt he saved my life; those men are all more or less doctors."

"Oh! he looked after you all night? But you said just now that he had only been gone a very short time."

"That is quite true; I kept him to breakfast after all his kindness. He had it at a table by my bedside while I drank a cup of tea."

"And he ate meat?"

My uncle looked vexed, as if I had said something very much out of place, and then added:

"Don't joke, Gaston; such things are out of place at times. He has shown me more devotion than many a relation would have done and I expect you to respect his convictions."

This rather upset me, but I answered, nevertheless: "Very well, uncle; and what did you do after breakfast?"

"We played a game of bezique, and then he repeated his breviary while I read a little book which he happened to have in his pocket, and which was not by any means badly written."

"A religious book, uncle?"

"Yes, and no, or rather—no. It is the history of their missions in Central Africa, and is rather a book of travels and adventures. What these men have done is very good."

I began to feel that matters were going badly, so I got up. "Well, good-bye, uncle," I said, "I see you are going to leave freemasonry for religion; you are a renegade."

He was still rather confused, and stammered:

"Well, but religion is a sort of freemasonry."

"When is your Jesuit coming back?" I asked.

"I don't—I don't know exactly; to-morrow, perhaps; but it is not certain."

I went out, altogether overwhelmed.

My joke turned out very badly for me! My uncle became radically converted, and if that had been all I should not have cared so much. Clerical or freemason, to me it is all the same; six of one and half a dozen of the other; but the worst of it is that he has just made his will—yes, made his will—and has disinherited me in favor of that holy Jesuit!



Old Taille had three daughters: Anna, the eldest, who was scarcely ever mentioned in the family; Rose, the second girl, who was eighteen; and Clara, the youngest, who was a girl of fifteen.

Old Taille was a widower, and a foreman in M. Lebrument's button-factory. He was a very upright man, very well thought of, abstemious; in fact a sort of model workman. He lived at Havre, in the Rue d'Angoulême.

When Anna ran away the old man flew into a fearful rage. He threatened to kill the seducer, who was head of a department in a large draper's establishment in that town. Then when he was told by various people that she was keeping very steady and investing money in government securities, that she was no gadabout, but was kept by a Monsieur Dubois, who was a judge of the Tribunal of Commerce, the father was appeased.

He even showed some anxiety as to how she was faring, asked some of her old friends who had been to see her how she was getting on; and when told that she had her own furniture, and that her mantlepiece was covered with vases and the walls with pictures, that there were clocks and carpets everywhere, he gave a broad, contented smile. He had been working for thirty years to get together a wretched five or six thousand francs. His little girl was evidently no fool.

One fine morning the son of Touchard, the cooper at the other end of the street, came and asked him for the hand of Rose, the second girl. The old man's heart began to beat, for the Touchards were rich and in a good position. He was decidedly lucky with his girls.

The marriage was agreed upon. It was settled that it should be a grand affair, and the wedding dinner was to be held at Sainte-Adresse, at Mother Gusa's restaurant. It would cost a lot certainly; but never mind, it did not matter just for once in a way.

But one morning, just as the old man was going home to breakfast with his two daughters, the door opened suddenly and Anna appeared. She was loudly dressed, wore rings and a very dressy hat. She looked undeniably pretty and nice. She threw her arms round her father's neck before he could say a word, then fell into her sisters' arms with many tears, and then asked for a plate, so that she might share the family soup. Old Taille was moved to tears in his turn and said several times:

"That is right, dear; that is right."

Then she told them about herself. She did not wish Rose's wedding to take place at Sainte-Adresse,—certainly not. It should take place at her house, and would cost her father nothing. She had settled everything and arranged everything, so it was "no good to say any more about it,—there!"

"Very well, my dear! very well!" the old man said, "we will leave it so." But then he felt some doubt. Would the Touchards consent? But Rose, the bride-elect, was surprised, and asked, "Why should they object, I should like to know? Just leave that to me, I will talk to Philip about it."

She mentioned it to her intended the very same day, and he declared that it would suit him exactly. Father and Mother Touchard were naturally delighted at the idea of a good dinner which would cost them nothing and said:

"You may be quite sure that everything will be in first-rate style, as M. Dubois is made of money."

They asked to be allowed to bring a friend, Mme Florence, the cook on the first floor, and Anna agreed to everything. The wedding was fixed for the last Tuesday of the month.


After the civil formalities and the religious ceremony the wedding party went to Anna's house. Among those whom the Tailles had brought was a cousin of a certain age, a M. Sauvetanin, a man given to philosophical reflections, serious, and always very self-possessed, and Mme Lamondois, an old aunt.

M. Sauvetanin had been told off to give Anna his arm, as they were looked upon as the two most important and most distinguished persons in the company.

As soon as they had arrived at the door of Anna's house she let go her companion's arm, and ran on ahead, saying, "I will show you the way," while the invited guests followed more slowly. When they got upstairs, she stood on one side to let them pass, and they rolled their eyes and turned their heads in all directions to admire this mysterious and luxurious dwelling.

The table was laid in the drawing-room as the dining-room had been thought too small. Extra knives, forks, and spoons had been hired from a neighbouring restaurant, and decanters full of wine glittered under the rays of the sun, which shone in through the window.

The ladies went into the bedroom to take off their shawls and bonnets, and Old Touchard, who was standing at the door, squinted at the low, wide bed, and made funny signs to the men, with many a wink and nod. Old Taille, who thought a great deal of himself, looked with fatherly pride at his child's well-furnished rooms, and went from one to the other holding his hat in his-hand, making a mental inventory of everything, and walking like a verger in a church.

Anna went backward and forward, and ran about giving orders and hurrying on the wedding feast. Soon she appeared at the door of the dining-room, and cried: "Come here, all of you, for a moment," and when the twelve guests did as they were asked they saw twelve glasses of Madeira on a small table.

Rose and her husband had their arms round each other's waists, and were kissing each other in every corner. M. Sauvetanin never took his eyes off Anna; he no doubt felt that ardour, that sort of expectation which all men, even if they are old and ugly, feel for women of easy virtue, as if their trade, their professional duty compelled them to give a little of themselves to every male.

They sat down, and the wedding breakfast began; the relatives sitting at one end of the table and the young people at the other. Mme Touchard, the mother, presided on the right and the bride on the left. Anna looked after everybody, saw that the glasses were kept filled and the plates well supplied. The guests evidently felt a certain respectful embarrassment at the sight of the sumptuousness of the rooms and at the lavish manner in which they were treated. They all ate heartily of the good things provided, but there were no jokes such as are prevalent at weddings of that sort; it was all too grand, and it made them feel uncomfortable. Old Mme Touchard, who was fond of a bit of fun, tried to enliven matters a little, and at the beginning of the dessert she exclaimed: "I say, Philip, do sing us something." The neighbours in their street considered that he had the finest voice in all Havre.

The bridegroom got up, smiled, and turning to his sister-in-law, from politeness and gallantry, tried to think of something suitable for the occasion, something serious and correct, to harmonize with the seriousness of the repast.

Anna had a satisfied look on her face, and leaned back in her chair to listen, and all assumed looks of attention, though prepared to smile should smiles be called for.

The singer announced, "The Accursed Bread," and extending his right arm, which made his coat ruck up into his neck, he began.

Il est un pain béni qu'à la terre économe
Il nous faut arracher d'un bras victorieux.
C'est le pain du travail, celui que l'honnête homme.
Le soir, à ses enfants, apporte tout joyeux.
Mais il en est un autre, à mine tentatrice,
Pain maudit que l'enfer pour nous damner sema, (bis)
Enfant, n'y touchez pas car c'est le pain du vice!
Chers enfants, gardez vous de toucher ce pain-là. (bis)

They all applauded frantically. Old Touchard declared the sentiments excellent. The cook, who was one of the guests, twisted in her hands a crust at which she gazed tenderly. M. Sauvetanin murmured, "Bravo!" Aunt Lamondois had already begun to wipe away her tears with her napkin.

The bridegroom announced: "Second verse," and launched forth with renewed vigour:

Respect au malheureux qui, tout brisé par l'âge.
Nous implore en passant sur le bord du chemin.
Mais flétrissons celui qui, désertant l'ouvrage.
Alerte et bien portant, ose tendre la main.
Mendier sans besoin, c'est voler la vieillesse.
C'est voler l'ouvrier que le travail courba, (bis)
Honte à celui qui vit du pain de la paresse.
Chers enfants, gardez-vous de toucher ce pain-là. (bis)

They all yelled the refrain in chorus, even the two servants who were standing against the wall. The falsetto, piercing voices of the women put the deeper voices of the men out of tune.

The aunt and the bride wept outright. Old Taille blew his nose with the noise of a trombone, and old Touchard madly brandished a whole loaf over the centre of the table. The friendly cook dropped a few silent tears on the crust with which she was still fumbling.

Amid the general emotion M. Sauvetanin said:

"That is the right sort of song; very different from the usual smut."

Anna, who was visibly affected, kissed her hand to her sister and pointed to her husband with an affectionate nod, as if to congratulate her.

Intoxicated by his success, the young man continued:

Dans ton simple réduit, ouvrière gentille.
Tu sembles écouter la voix du tentateur.
Pauvre enfant, va, crois-moi, ne quitte pas l'aiguille.
Tes parents n'ont que toi, toi seule es leur bonheur.
Dans un luxe honteux trouveras-tu des charmes.
Lorsque, te maudissant, ton père expirera, (bis)
Le pain du déshonneur se pétrit dans les larmes
Chers enfants, gardez-vous de toucher ce pain-là. (bis)

No one took up the refrain about this bread, supposed to be eaten with tears, except old Touchard and the two servants. Anna had grown deadly pale and cast down her eyes, while the bridegroom looked from one to the other without understanding the reason for this sudden coldness, and the cook hastily dropped the crust as if it were poisoned.

M. Sauvetanin said solemnly, in order to save the situation: "That last couplet is not at all necessary;" and Old Taille, who had got red up to his ears, looked round the table fiercely.

Then Anna, with her eyes swimming in tears, told the servants, in the faltering voice of a woman trying to stifle her sobs, to bring the champagne.

All the guests were suddenly seized with exuberant joy, and their faces became radiant again. Old Touchard, who had seen, felt, and understood nothing of what was going on, was still brandishing his loaf, and singing to himself, as he showed it to the guests:

Chers enfants, gardez-vous de toucher ce pain-là.

The whole party, electrified by the sight of the bottles with their silver foil, loudly took up the refrain:

Chers enfants, gardez-vous de toucher ce pain-là.


The fat Justice of the Peace, with one eye closed and the other half-open, is listening with evident displeasure to the plaintiffs. Once in a while he gives a sort of grunt that foretells his opinion, and in a thin voice resembling that of a child, he interrupts them to ask questions. He has just rendered judgment in the case of Monsieur Joly against Monsieur Petitpas, the contestants having come to court on account of the boundary line of a field which had been accidentally displaced by Monsieur Petitpas's farmhand, while the latter was plowing.

Now he calls the case of Hippolyte Lacour, vestryman and ironmonger, against Madame Céleste Cesarine Luneau, widow of Anthime Isidore Luneau.

Hippolyte Lacour is forty-five years old; he is tall and gaunt, with a clean-shaven face like a priest, long hair, and he speaks in a slow, singsong voice.

Madame Luneau appears to be about forty years of age. She is built like a prize-fighter, and her narrow and clinging dress is stretched tightly over her portly form. Her enormous hips hold up her overflowing bosom in front, while in the back they support the great rolls of flesh that cover her shoulders. Her face, with strongly-cut features, rests on a short, fat neck, and her strong voice is pitched at a key that makes the windows and the eardrums of her auditors vibrate. She is about to become a mother and her huge form protrudes like a mountain.

The witnesses for the defense are waiting to be called.

The judge begins: Hippolyte Lacour, state your complaint.

The plaintiff speaks: Your Honour, it will be nine months on Saint-Michael's day since the defendant came to me one evening, after I had rung the Angelus, and began an explanation relating to her barrenness.

The Justice of the Peace: Kindly be more explicit.

Hippolyte: Very well, your Honour. Well, she wanted to have a child and desired my participation. I didn't raise any objection, and she promised to give me one hundred francs. The thing was all cut and dried, and now she refuses to acknowledge my claim, which I renew before your Honour.

The Justice: I don't understand in the least. You say that she wanted a child! What kind of child? Did she wish to adopt one?

Hippolyte: No, your Honour, she wanted a new one.

The Justice: What do you mean by a new one?

Hippolyte: I mean a newborn child, one that we were to beget as if we were man and wife.

The Justice: You astonish me. To what end did she make this abnormal proposition?

Hippolyte: Your Honour, at first I could not make out her reasons, and was taken a little aback. But as I don't do anything without thoroughly investigating beforehand, I called on her to explain matters to me, which she did. You see, her husband, Anthime Isidore, whom you knew as well as you know me, had died the week before, and his money reverted to his family. This greatly displeased her on account of the loss it meant, so she went to a lawyer who told her all about what might happen if a child should be born to her after ten months. I mean by this that if she gave birth to a child inside of the ten months following the death of Anthime Isidore, her offspring would be considered legitimate and would entitle her to the inheritance. She made up her mind at once to run the risk, and came to me after church, as I have already had the honour of telling you, seeing that I am the father of eight living children, the oldest of whom is a grocer in Caen, department of Calvados, and legitimately married to Victoire-Elisabeth Rabou—

The Justice: These details are superfluous. Go back to the subject.

Hippolyte: I am getting there, your Honour. So she said to me: "If you succeed, I'll give you one hundred francs as soon as I get the doctor's report." Well, your Honour, I made ready to give entire satisfaction, and after eight weeks or so I learned with pleasure that I had succeeded. But when I asked her for the hundred francs she refused to pay me. I renewed my demands several times, never getting so much as a pin. She even called me a liar and a weakling, a libel which can be destroyed by glancing at her.

The Justice: Defendant, what have you to say?

Madame Luneau: Your Honour, I say that this man is a liar.

The Justice: How can you prove this assertion?

Madame Luneau (red in the face, choking and stammering): How can I prove it? What proofs have I? I haven't a single real proof that the child isn't his. But, your Honour, it isn't his, I swear it on the head of my dead husband.

The Justice: Well, whose is it, then?

Madame Luneau (stammering with rage): How do I know? How do—do I know? Everybody's I suppose. Here are my witnesses, your Honour, they're all here, the six of them. Now make them testify, make them testify. They'll tell—

The Justice: Collect yourself, Madame Luneau, collect yourself and reply calmly to my questions. What reasons have you to doubt that this man is the father of the child you are carrying?

Madame Luneau: What reasons? I have a hundred to one, a hundred? No, two hundred, five hundred, ten thousand, a million and more reasons to believe he isn't. After the proposal I made to him, with the promise of one hundred francs, didn't I learn that he wasn't the father of his own children, your Honour, not the father of one of 'em?

Hippolyte (calmly): That's a lie.

Madame Luneau (exasperated): A lie! A lie, is it? I think his wife has been around with everybody around here. Call my witnesses, your Honour, and make them testify?

Hippolyte (calmly): It's a lie.

Madame Luneau: It's a lie, is it? How about the red-haired ones, then? I suppose they're yours, too?

The Justice: Kindly refrain from personal attacks, or I shall be obliged to call you to order.

Madame Luneau: Well, your Honour, I had my doubts about him, and said I to myself, two precautions are better than one, so I explained my position to Césaire Lepic, the witness who is present. Says he to me, "At your disposal, Madame Luneau," and he lent me his assistance in case Hippolyte should turn out to be unreliable. But as soon as the other witnesses heard that I wanted to make sure against any disappointment, I could have had more than a hundred, your Honour, if I had wanted them. That tall one over there, Lucas Chandelier, swore at the time that I oughn't to give Hippolyte Lacour a cent, for he hadn't done more than the rest of them who had obliged me for nothing.

Hippolyte: What did you promise for? I expected the money, your Honour. No mistake with me,—a promise given, a promise kept.

Madame Luneau (beside herself): One hundred francs! One hundred francs! One hundred francs for that, you liar! The others there didn't ask a red cent! Look at 'em, all six of 'em! Make them testify, your Honour, they'll tell you. (To Hippolyte.) Look at 'em, you liar! they're as good as you. They're only six, but I could have had one, two, three, five hundred of 'em for nothing, too, you robber!

Hippolyte: Well, even if you'd had a hundred thousand—

Madame Luneau: I could, if I'd wanted them.

Hippolyte: I did my duty, so it doesn't change our agreement.

Madame Luneau (slapping her protuberant form with both hands): Then prove that it's you that did it, prove it, you robber! I defy you to prove it!

Hippolyte (calmly): Maybe I didn't do any more than anybody else. But you promised me a hundred francs for it. What did you ask the others for, afterwards? You had no right to. I could have done it alone.

Madame Luneau: It is not true, robber! Call my witnesses, your Honour; they'll answer, for certain.

The Justice calls the witnesses in behalf of the defense. Six individuals appeared blushing, awkward looking, with their arms swinging at their sides.

The Justice: Lucas Chandelier, have you any reason to suppose that you are the father of the child Madame Luneau is carrying.

Lucas Chandelier: Yes, sir.

The Justice: Célestin-Pierre Sidoine, have you any reason to suppose that you are the father of the child Madame Luneau is carrying?

Celestin-Pierre Sidoine: Yes, sir.

The four other witnesses testified to the same effect.

The Justice, after having thought for a while pronounced judgment: Whereas the plaintiff has reasons to believe himself the father of the child which Madame Luneau desired, Lucas Chandelier, Celestin-Pierre Sidoine, and others, have similar, if not conclusive reasons to lay claim to the child.

But whereas Mme Luneau had previously asked the assistance of Hippolyte Lacour for a duly stated consideration of one hundred francs:

And whereas one may not question the absolute good faith of Hippolyte Lacour, though it is questionable whether he had a perfect right to enter into such an agreement, seeing that the plaintiff is married, and compelled by the law to remain faithful to his lawful spouse: Whereas, farther, etc., etc.

Therefore the Court condemns Madame Luneau to pay an indemnity of twenty-five francs to Hippolyte Lacour for loss of time and seduction.


Blérot had been my friend since childhood; we had no secrets from each other, and were united heart and soul by a brotherly intimacy and a boundless confidence in each other. He used to tell me his most intimate thoughts, even the smallest pangs of conscience that are very often kept hidden from our own selves. I did the same for him. I had been the confident of all his love affairs, as he had been with mine.

When he told me that he was going to get married I was hurt, as though by an act of treason. I felt that it must interfere with that cordial and absolute affection which had united us. His wife would come between us. The intimacy of the marriage-bed establishes a kind of complicity, a mysterious alliance between two persons, even when they have ceased to love each other. Man and wife are like two discreet partners who will not let anyone else into their secrets. But that close bond which the conjugal kiss fastens is broken quickly on the day on which the woman takes a lover.

I remember Blérot's wedding as if it were but yesterday. I would not be present at the signing of the marriage contract, as I have no particular liking for such ceremonies. I only went to the civil wedding and to the church.

His wife, whom I had never seen before, was a tall, slight girl, with pale hair, pale cheeks, pale hands, and eyes to match. She walked with a slightly undulating motion, as if she were on board a ship, and seemed to advance with a succession of long, graceful courtesies.

Blérot seemed very much in love with her. He looked at her constantly, and I felt a shiver of an immoderate desire for her pass through his frame.

I went to see him a few days later, and he said to me:

"You do not know how happy I am; I am madly in love with her; but then she is—she is—" He did not finish his sentence, but he put the tips of his fingers to his lips with a gesture which signified "divine! delicious! perfect!" and a good deal more besides.

I asked, laughing, "What! all that?"

"Everything that you can imagine," was his answer.

He introduced me to her. She was very pleasant, on easy terms with me, as was natural, and begged me to look upon their house as my own. But I felt that he, Blérot, did not belong to me any longer. Our intimacy was cut off definitely, and we hardly found a word to say to each other.

I soon took my leave, and shortly afterwards went to the East, returning by way of Russia, Germany, Sweden, and Holland, after an absence of eighteen months from Paris.

The morning after my arrival, as I was walking along the boulevards to feel the air of Paris once more, I saw a pale man with sunken cheeks coming toward me, who was as much like Blérot as it was possible for an emaciated tubercular man to resemble a strong, ruddy, rather stout man. I looked at him in surprise, and asked myself: "Can it possibly be he?" But he saw me, uttered a cry, and came toward me with outstretched arms. I opened mine and we embraced in the middle of the boulevard.

After we had gone up and down once or twice from the Rue Drouot to the Vaudeville Theatre, just as we were taking leave of each other,—for he already seemed quite done up with walking,—I said to him:

"You don't look at all well. Are you ill?"

"I do feel rather out of sorts," was all he said.

He looked like a man who was going to die, and I felt a flood of affection for my dear old friend, the only real one that I had ever had. I squeezed his hands.

"What is the matter with you? Are you in pain?"

"A little tired; but it is nothing."

"What does your doctor say?"

"He calls it anæmia, and has ordered me to eat no white meat and to take tincture of iron."

A suspicion flashed across me.

"Are you happy?" I asked him.

"Yes, very happy; my wife is charming, and I love her more than ever."

But I noticed that he grew rather red and seemed embarrassed, as if he was afraid of any further questions, so I took him by the arm and pushed him into a café, which was nearly empty at that time of day. I forced him to sit down, and looking him straight in the face, I said:

"Look here, old fellow, just tell me the exact truth."

"I have nothing to tell you," he stammered.

"That is not true," I replied, firmly. "You are ill, mentally perhaps, and you dare not reveal your secret to anyone. Something or other is doing you harm, and I mean you to tell me what it is. Come, I am waiting for you to begin."

Again he got very red, stammered, and turning his head away, he said:

"It is very idiotic—but I—I am done for!"

As he did not go on, I said:

"Just tell me what it is."

"Well, I have got a wife who is killing me, that is all," he said abruptly, almost desperately as if he had uttered a torturing thought, as yet unrealised.

I did not understand at first. "Does she make you unhappy? She makes you suffer, night and day? How? What is it?"

"No," he replied in a low voice, as if he were confessing some crime; "I love her too much, that is all."

I was thunderstruck at this unexpected avowal, and then I felt inclined to laugh, but at length I managed to reply:

"But surely, at least so it seems to me, you might manage to—to love her a little less."

He had got very pale again, but finally he made up his mind to speak to me openly, as he used to do formerly.

"No," he said, "that is impossible; and I am dying from it, I know; it is killing me, and I am really frightened. Some days, like to-day, I feel inclined to leave her, to go away altogether, to start for the other end of the world, so as to live for a long time; and then, when the evening comes, I return home in spite of myself, but slowly, and feeling uncomfortable. I go upstairs hesitatingly and ring, and when I go in I see her there sitting in her arm-chair, and she says, 'How late you are,' I kiss her, and we sit down to dinner. During the meal I think: 'I will go directly it is over, and take the train for somewhere, no matter where'; but when we get back to the drawing-room I am so tired that I have not the courage to get up out of my chair, and so I remain, and then—and then—I succumb again."

I could not help smiling again. He saw it, and said: "You may laugh, but I assure you it is very horrible."

"Why don't you tell your wife?" I asked him. "Unless she be a regular monster she would understand."

He shrugged his shoulders. "It is all very well for you to talk. I don't tell her because I know her nature. Have you ever heard it said of certain women, 'She has just married a third time?' Well, and that makes you laugh as you did just now, and yet it is true. What is to be done? It is neither her fault nor mine. She is so, because nature has made her so; I assure you, my dear old friend, she has the temperament of a Messalina. She does not know it, but I do; so much the worse for me. She is charming, gentle, tender, and thinks that our conjugal intercourse, which is wearing me out and killing me, is natural and quite moderate. She seems like an ignorant schoolgirl, and she really is ignorant, poor child.

"Every day I form energetic resolutions, for you must understand that I am dying. But one look of her eyes, one of those looks in which I can read the ardent desire of her lips, is enough for me, and I succumb at once, saying to myself: 'This is really the end; I will have no more of her death-giving kisses,' and then, when I have yielded again, like I have to-day, I go out and walk and walk, thinking of death, and saying to myself that I am lost, that all is over.

"I am mentally so ill that I went for a walk to Père Lachaise cemetery yesterday. I looked at all the graves, standing in a row like dominoes, and I thought to myself: 'I shall soon be there,' and then I returned home, quite determined to pretend to be ill, and so escape, but I could not.

"Oh! You don't know what it is. Ask a smoker who is poisoning himself with nicotine whether he can give up his delicious and deadly habit. He will tell you that he has tried a hundred times without success, and he will, perhaps, add: 'So much the worse, but I would rather die than go without tobacco.' That is just the case with me. When once one is in the clutches of such a passion or such a habit, one must give oneself up to it entirely."

He got up and held out his hand. I felt seized with a tumult of rage, and with hatred for this woman, this careless, charming, terrible woman; and as he was buttoning up his coat to go away I said to him, brutally perhaps:

"But, in God's name, why don't you let her have lovers rather than kill yourself like that?"

He shrugged his shoulders without replying, and went off.

For six months I did not see him. Every morning I expected a letter of invitation to his funeral, but I would not go to his house from a complicated feeling of anger against him and of contempt for that woman; for a thousand different reasons.

One lovely spring morning I was walking in the Champs-Elysées. It was one of those warm afternoons which make our eyes bright and stir in us a tumultuous feeling of happiness from the mere sense of existence. Some one tapped me on the shoulder, and turning round I saw my old friend, looking well, stout, and rosy.

He gave me both hands, beaming with pleasure, and exclaimed:

"Here you are, you erratic individual!"

I looked at him, utterly thunderstruck.

"Well, on my word—yes. By Jove! I congratulate you; you have indeed changed in the last six months!"

He flushed scarlet, and said, with an embarrassed laugh:

"One can but do one's best."

I looked at him so obstinately that he evidently felt uncomfortable, so I went on:

"So—now—you are—completely cured?"

He stammered, hastily:

"Yes, perfectly, thank you." Then changing his tone, "How lucky that I should have come across you, old fellow. I hope we shall see each other often now."

But I would not give up my idea; I wanted to know how matters really stood, so I asked:

"Don't you remember what you told me six months ago? I suppose—I—eh—suppose you resist now?"

"Please don't talk any more about it," he replied, uneasily; "forget that I mentioned it to you; leave me alone. But, you know, I have no intention of letting you go; you must come and dine at my house."

A sudden fancy took me to see for myself how matters stood, so that I might understand all about it, and I accepted. Two hours later he introduced me to his home.

His wife received me in a most charming manner, and she was, as a matter of fact, a most attractive woman. She looked guileless, distinguished and adorably naïve. Her long hands, her neck, and cheeks were beautifully white and delicate, and marked her breeding, and her walk was undulating and delightful, as if her leg gave slightly at each step.

René gave her a brotherly kiss on the forehead and said:

"Has not Lucien come yet?"

"Not yet," she replied, in a clear, soft voice; "you know he is almost always rather late."

At that moment the bell rang, and a tall man was shown in. He was dark, with a thick beard, and looked like a society Hercules. We were introduced to each other; his name was Lucien Delabarre.

René and he shook hands in a most friendly manner, and then we went to dinner.

It was a most enjoyable meal, without the least constraint. My old friend spoke with me constantly, in the old familiar cordial manner, just as he used to do. It was: "You know, old fellow!"—"I say, old fellow!"—"Just listen a moment, old fellow!" Suddenly he exclaimed:

"You don't know how glad I am to see you again; it takes me back to old times."

I looked at his wife and the other man. Their attitude was perfectly correct, though I fancied once or twice that they exchanged a rapid and furtive look.

As soon as dinner was over René turned to his wife, and said:

"My dear, I have just met Pierre again, and I am going to carry him off for a walk and a chat along the boulevards to remind us of old times. You will excuse this bachelor spree. I am leaving Mr. Delabarre with you."

The young woman smiled, and said to me, as she shook hands with me:

"Don't keep him too long."

As we went along, arm-in-arm, I could not help saying to him, for I was determined to know how matters stood:

"What has happened? Do tell me!"

He, however, interrupted me roughly, and answered like a man who has been disturbed without any reason.

"Just look here, old fellow; leave me alone with your questions."

Then he added, half aloud, as if talking to himself:

"After all, it would have been too stupid to have let oneself go to perdition like that."

I did not press him. We walked on quickly and began to talk. All of a sudden he whispered in my ear:

"I say, suppose we go and see the girls! Eh?"

I could not help laughing heartily.

"Just as you like; come along, old man."


Madame Oreille was a very economical woman; she thoroughly knew the value of a half-penny, and possessed a whole store-house of strict principles with regard to the multiplication of money, so that her servant found the greatest difficulty in making what servants call their "market-penny," while her husband had great difficulty in getting any pocket-money at all. They were, however, very comfortably off, and had no children. It really pained. Mme Oreille to see any money spent; it was like tearing at her heartstrings when she had to take any of those silver pieces out of her pocket; and whenever she had to spend anything, no matter how necessary it was, she slept badly the next night.

Oreille was continually saying to his wife:

"You really might be more liberal, as we have no children and never spend our income."

"You don't know what may happen," she used to reply. "It is better to have too much than too little."

She was a little woman of about forty, very active, rather hasty, wrinkled, very neat and tidy, and with a very short temper. Her husband very often used to complain of all the privations she made him endure; some of them were particularly painful to him, as they touched his vanity.

He was one of the upper clerks in the War Office, and only stayed there in obedience to his wife's wish, so as to increase their income, which they did not nearly spend.

For two years he had always come to the office with the same old patched umbrella, to the great amusement of his fellow-clerks. At last he got tired of their jokes, and insisted upon his wife buying him a new one. She bought one for eight francs and a-half, one of those cheap things which big stores sell as an advertisement. When the others in the office saw the article, which was being sold in Paris by the thousand, they began their jokes again, and Oreille had a dreadful time of it with them. The umbrella was no good. In three months it was done for and at the office everybody laughed. They even made a song about it, which he heard from morning till night all over the immense building.

Oreille was very angry, and peremptorily told his wife to get him a new one, a good silk one, for twenty francs, and to bring him the bill, so that he might see that it was all right.

She bought him one for eighteen francs, and said, getting red with anger as she gave it to her husband:

"This will last you for five years at least."

Oreille felt quite triumphant, and obtained a small ovation at the office with his new acquisition. When he went home in the evening, his wife said to him, looking at the umbrella uneasily:

"You should not leave it fastened up with the elastic; it will very likely cut the silk. You must take care of it, for I shall not buy you a new one in a hurry."

She took it, unfastened it, and then remained dumfounded, with astonishment and rage. In the middle of the silk there was a hole as big as a six-penny-piece, as if made with the end of a cigar.

"What is that?" she screamed.

Her husband replied quietly, without looking at it:

"What is it? What do you mean?"

She was choking with rage and could hardly get out a word.

"You—you—have burned—your umbrella! Why—you must be—mad! Do you wish to ruin us outright?"

He turned round hastily, turning pale.

"What are you talking about?"

"I say that you have burned your umbrella. Just look here—"

And rushing at him, as if she were going to beat him, she violently thrust the little circular burned hole under his nose.

He was so utterly struck dumb at the sight of it that he could only stammer out:

"What—what is it? How should I know? I have done nothing, I will swear. I don't know what is the matter with the umbrella."

"You have been playing tricks with it at the office; you have been playing the fool and opening it, to show it off!" she screamed.

"I only opened it once, to let them see what a nice one it was, that is all, I declare."

But she shook with rage, and got up one of those conjugal scenes which make a peaceable man dread the domestic hearth more than a battlefield where bullets are raining.

She mended it with a piece of silk cut out of the old umbrella, which was of a different color, and the next day Oreille went off very humbly with the mended article in his hand. He put it into a cupboard, and thought no more of it than of some unpleasant recollection.

But he had scarcely got home that evening when his wife took the umbrella from him, opened it, and nearly had a fit when she saw what had befallen it, for the disaster was now irreparable. It was covered with small holes, which evidently, proceeded from burns, just as if some one had emptied the ashes from a lighted pipe on to it. It was done for, utterly, irreparably.

She looked at it without a word, in too great a passion to be able to say anything. He also, when he saw the damage, remained almost dumb, in a state of frightened consternation.

They looked at each other; then he looked on to the floor. The next moment she threw the useless article at his head, screaming out in a transport of the most violent rage, for she had now recovered her voice:

"Oh! you brute! you brute! You did it on purpose, but I will pay you out for it. You shall not have another."

And then the scene began again. After the storm had raged for an hour, he, at last, was able to explain himself. He declared that he could not understand it at all, and that it could only proceed from malice or from vengeance.

A ring at the bell saved him; it was a friend whom they were expecting to dinner.

Mme Oreille submitted the case to him. As for buying a new umbrella, that was out of the question; her husband should not have another. The friend very sensibly said that in that case his clothes would be spoiled, and they were certainly worth more than the umbrella. But the little woman, who was still in a rage, replied:

"Very well, then, when it rains he may have the kitchen umbrella, for I will not give him a new silk one."

Oreille utterly rebelled at such an idea.

"All right," he said; "then I shall resign my post. I am not going to the office with the kitchen umbrella."

The friend interposed:

"Have this one re-covered; it will not cost much."

But Mme Oreille, being in the temper that she was, said:

"It will cost at least eight francs to re-cover it. Eight and eighteen are twenty-six. Just fancy, twenty-six francs for an umbrella! It is utter madness!"

The friend, who was only a poor man of the middle classes, had an inspiration:

"Make your fire insurance pay for it. The companies pay for all articles that are burned, as long as the damage has been done in your own house."

On hearing this advice the little woman calmed down immediately, and then, after a moment's reflection, she said to her husband:

"To-morrow, before going to your office, you will go to the Maternelle Insurance Company, show them the state your umbrella is in, and make them pay for the damage."

M. Oreille fairly jumped, he was so startled at the proposal.

"I would not do it for my life! It is eighteen francs lost, that is all. It will not ruin us."

The next morning he took a walking-stick when he went out, for, luckily, it was a fine day.

Left at home alone, Mme Oreille could not get over the loss of her eighteen francs by any means. She had put the umbrella on the dining-room table, and she looked at it without being able to come to any determination.

Every moment she thought of the insurance company, but she did not dare to encounter the quizzical looks of the gentlemen who might receive her, for she was very, timid before people, and grew red at a mere nothing, feeling embarrassed when she had to speak to strangers.

But regret at the loss of the eighteen francs pained her as if she had been wounded. She tried not to think of it any more, and yet every moment the recollection of the loss struck her painfully. What was she to do, however? Time went on, and she could not decide; but suddenly, like all cowards, she made up her mind.

"I will go, and we will see what will happen."

But first of all she was obliged to prepare the umbrella so that the disaster might be complete, and the reason of it quite evident. She took a match from the mantelpiece, and between the ribs she burned a hole as big as the palm of her hand. Then she rolled it up carefully, fastened it with the elastic band, put on her bonnet and shawl, and went quickly toward the Rue de Rivoli, where the insurance office was.

But the nearer she got the slower she walked. What was she going to say, and what reply would she get?

She looked at the numbers of the houses; there were still twenty-eight. That was all right, she had time to consider, and she walked slower and slower. Suddenly she saw a door on which was a large brass plate with "La Maternelle Fire Insurance Office" engraved on it. Already! She waited for a moment, for she felt nervous and almost ashamed; then she went past, came back, went past again, and came back again.

At last she said to herself:

"I must go in, however, so I may as well do it now as later."

She could not help noticing, however, how her heart beat as she entered. She went into an enormous room with grated wicket openings all round, and a man behind each of them, and as a gentleman, carrying a number of papers, passed her, she stopped him and said, timidly:

"I beg your pardon, Monsieur, but can you tell me where I must apply for payment for anything that has been accidentally burned?"

He replied in a sonorous voice:

"The first door on the left; that is the department you want."

This frightened her still more, and she felt inclined to run away, to make no claim, to sacrifice her eighteen francs. But the idea of that sum revived her courage, and she went upstairs, out of breath, stopping at almost every other step.

She knocked at a door which she saw on the first landing, and a clear voice said, in answer:

"Come in!"

She obeyed mechanically, and found herself in a large room where three solemn gentlemen, each with a decoration in his buttonhole, were standing talking.

One of them asked her: "What do you want, Madame?"

She could hardly get out her words, but stammered: "I have come—I have come on account of an accident, something—"

He very politely pointed out a seat to her.

"If you will kindly sit down I will attend to you in a moment."

And, returning to the other two, he went on with the conversation.

"The company, gentlemen, does not consider that it is under any obligation to you for more than four hundred thousand francs, and we can pay no attention to your claim to the further sum of a hundred thousand, which you wish to make us pay. Besides that, the surveyor's valuation—"

One of the others interrupted him:

"That is quite enough, Monsieur; the law-courts will decide between us, and we have nothing further to do than to take our leave." And they went out after mutual ceremonious bows.

Oh! if she could only have gone away with them, how gladly she would have done it; she would have run away and given up everything. But it was too late, for the gentleman came back, and said, bowing:

"What can I do for you, Madame?"

She could scarcely speak, but at last she managed to say:

"I have come—for this."

The manager looked at the object which she held out to him in mute astonishment. With trembling fingers she tried to undo the elastic, and succeeded, after several attempts, and hastily opened the damaged remains of the umbrella.

"It looks to me to be in a very bad state of health," he said, compassionately.

"It cost me twenty francs," she said, with some hesitation.

He seemed astonished. "Really! As much as that?"

"Yes, it was a capital article, and I wanted you to see the state it is in."

"Very well, I see; very well. But I really do not understand what it can have to do with me."

She began to feel uncomfortable; perhaps this company did not pay for such small articles, and she said:

"But—it is burned."

He could not deny it.

"I see that very well," he replied.

She remained open-mouthed, not knowing what to say next; then suddenly forgetting that she had left out the main thing, she said hastily:

"I am Mme Oreille; we are assured in La Maternelle, and I have come to claim the value of this damage. I only want you to have it re-covered," she added quickly, fearing a positive refusal.

The manager was rather embarrassed, and said:

"But, really, Madame, we do not sell umbrellas; we cannot undertake such kinds of repairs."

The little woman felt her courage reviving; she was not going to give up without a struggle; she was not even afraid now, so she said:

"I only want you to pay me the cost of repairing it; I can quite well get it done myself."

The gentleman seemed rather confused.

"Really, Madame, it is such a very small matter! We are never asked to give compensation for such trivial losses. You must allow that we cannot make good pocket-handkerchiefs, gloves, brooms, slippers, all the small articles which are every day exposed to the chances of being burned."

She got red, and felt inclined to fly into a rage.

"But Monsieur, last December one of our chimneys caught fire, and caused at least five hundred francs' damage. M. Oreille made no claim on the company, and so it is only just that it should pay for my umbrella now."

The manager, guessing that she was telling a lie, said, with a smile:

"You must acknowledge, Madame, that it is very surprising that M. Oreille should have asked no compensation for damages amounting to five hundred francs, and should now claim five or six francs for mending an umbrella."

She was not the least put out, and replied:

"I beg your pardon, Monsieur, the five hundred francs affected M. Oreille's pocket, whereas this damage, amounting to eighteen francs, concerns Mme Oreille's pocket only, which is a totally different matter."

As he saw that he had no chance of getting rid of her, and that he would only be wasting his time, he said, resignedly:

"Will you kindly tell me how the damage was done?"

She felt that she had won the victory, and said:

"This is how it happened. Monsieur: In our hall there is a bronze stick and umbrella-stand, and the other day, when I came in, I put my umbrella into it. I must tell you that just above there is a shelf for the candlesticks and matches. I put out my hand, took three or four matches, and struck one, but it missed fire, so I struck another, which ignited, but went out immediately, and a third did the same."

The manager interrupted her, to make a joke.

"I suppose they were Government matches, then?"

She did not understand him, and went on:

"Very likely. At any rate, the fourth caught fire, and I lit my candle, and went into my room to go to bed; but in a quarter-of-an-hour I fancied that I smelled something burning, and I have always been terribly afraid of fire. If ever we have an accident it will not be my fault, I assure you. I am terribly nervous since our chimney was on fire, as I told you; so I got up, and hunted about everywhere, sniffing like a dog after game, and at last I noticed that my umbrella was burning. Most likely a match had fallen between the folds and burned it. You can see how it has damaged it."

The manager had taken his clue, and asked her:

"What do you estimate the damage at?"

She did not know what to say, as she was not certain what amount to put on it, but at last she replied:

"Perhaps you had better get it done yourself. I will leave it to you."

He, however, naturally refused.

"No, Madame, I cannot do that. Tell me the amount of your claim, that is all I want to know."

"Well!—I think that—Look here. Monsieur, I do not want to make any money out of you, so I will tell you what we will do. I will take my umbrella to the maker, who will re-cover it in good, durable silk, and I will bring the bill to you. Will that suit you, Monsieur?"

"Perfectly, Madame; we will settle it on that basis. Here is a note for the cashier, who will repay you whatever it costs you."

He gave Mme Oreille a slip of paper. She took it, got up, and went out, thanking him, for she was in a hurry to escape lest he should change his mind.

She went briskly through the streets, looking out for a really good umbrella-maker, and when she found a shop which appeared to be a first-class one, she went in, and said, confidently:

"I want this umbrella re-covered in silk, good silk. Use the very best and strongest you have; I don't mind what it costs."


It was all an accident, a pure accident. Tired of standing, Baron d'Étraille went—as all the Princess's rooms were open on that particular evening—into an empty bedroom, which appeared almost dark after coming-out of the brilliantly-lighted drawing-rooms.

He looked round for a chair in which to doze, as he was sure his wife would not go away before daylight. As soon as he got inside the door he saw the big bed with its azure-and-gold hangings, in the middle of the great room, looking like a catafalque in which love was buried, for the Princess was no longer young. Behind it, a large bright spot looked like a lake seen at a distance from a window. It was a big looking-glass, discreetly covered with dark draperies that were sometimes let down, and often opened up, and it seemed to look at the bed, which was its accomplice. One might almost fancy that it felt regrets, and that one was going to see in it the charming shapes of the thighs of women and the gentle movement of arms about to embrace them.

The Baron stood still for a moment, smiling and rather moved, on the threshold of this chamber dedicated to love. But suddenly something appeared in the looking-glass, as if the phantoms which he had evoked had come up before him. A man and a woman who had been sitting on a low couch hidden in the shade had risen, and the polished surface, reflecting their figures, showed that they were kissing each other before separating.

The Baron recognised his wife and the Marquis de Cervigné. He turned and went away like a man fully master of himself, and waited till it was day before taking away the Baronne. But he had no longer any thoughts of sleeping.

As soon as they were alone, he said:

"Madame, I saw you just now in the Princess de Raynes's room. I need say no more, for I am not fond either of reproaches, acts of violence, or of ridicule. As I wish to avoid all such things, we shall separate without any scandal. Our lawyers will settle your position according to my orders. You will be free to live as you please when you are no longer under my roof; but, as you will continue to bear my name, I must warn you that should any scandal arise, I shall show myself inflexible."

She tried to speak, but he stopped her, bowed, and left the room.

He was more astonished and sad than unhappy. He had loved her dearly during the first period of their married life; but his ardour had cooled, and now he often had a caprice, either in a theatre or in society, though he always preserved a certain liking for the Baronne.

She was very young, hardly four-and-twenty, small, thin,—too thin,—and very fair. She was a true Parisian doll: clever, spoiled, elegant, coquettish, witty, with more charm than real beauty. He used to say familiarly to his brother, when speaking of her:

"My wife is charming, attractive, but—there is nothing to lay hold of. She is like a glass of champagne that is all froth—when you have got to the wine it is very good, but there is too little of it, unfortunately."

He walked up and down the room in great agitation, thinking of a thousand things. At one moment he felt in a great rage, and felt inclined to give the Marquis a good thrashing, to horsewhip him publicly, in the club. But he thought that would not do, it would not be the thing; be would be laughed at, and not the other, and he felt that his anger proceeded more from wounded vanity than from a broken heart. So he went to bed, but could not get to sleep.

A few days afterward it was known in Paris that the Baron and Baronne d'Étraille had agreed to an amicable separation on account of incompatibility of temper. Nobody suspected anything, nobody laughed, and nobody was astonished.

The Baron, however, to avoid meeting her, travelled for a year; then he spent the summer at the seaside, and the autumn in shooting, returning to Paris for the winter. He did not meet his wife once.

He did not even know what people said about her. At any rate, she took care to save appearances, and that was all he asked for.

He got dreadfully bored, travelled again, restored his old castle of Villebosc—which took him two years; then for over a year he received relays of friends there, till at last, tired of all these commonplace, so-called pleasures, he returned to his mansion in the Rue de Lilles, just six years after their separation.

He was then forty-five, with a good crop of gray hair, rather stout, and with that melancholy look of people who have been handsome, sought after, much liked, and are deteriorating daily.

A month after his return to Paris he took cold on coming out of his club, and had a bad cough, so his doctor ordered him to Nice for the rest of the winter.

He started by the express on Monday evening. He was late, got to the station only a very short time before the departure of the train, and had barely time to get into a carriage, with only one other occupant, who was sitting in a corner so wrapped in furs and cloaks that he could not even make out whether it were a man or a woman, as nothing of the figure could be seen. When he perceived that he could not find out, he put on his travelling-cap, rolled himself up in his rugs, and stretched himself out comfortably to sleep.

He did not wake up till the day was breaking, and looked immediately at his fellow-traveller. He had not stirred all night, and seemed still to be sound asleep.

M. d'Étraille made use of the opportunity to brush his hair and his beard, and to try and freshen himself up a little generally, for a night's travelling changes one's looks very much when one has attained a certain age.

A great poet has said:

Quand on est jeune, on a des matins triomphants!

Then we wake up with a cool skin, a bright eye, and glossy hair. When one grows older one wakes up in a very different state. Dull eyes, red, swollen cheeks, dry lips, the hair and beard all disarranged, impart an old, fatigued, worn-out look to the face.

The Baron opened his travelling dressing-case, made himself as tidy as he could, and then waited.

The engine whistled and the train stopped, and his neighbour moved. No doubt he was awake. They started off again, and then an oblique ray of the sun shone into the carriage just on to the sleeper, who moved again, shook himself, and then calmly showed his face.

It was a young, fair, pretty, stout woman, and the Baron looked at her in amazement. He did not know what to believe. He could really have sworn that it was his wife—but wonderfully changed for the better: stouter—why, she had grown as stout as he was—only it suited her much better than it did him.

She looked at him quietly, did not seem to recognise him, and then slowly laid aside her wraps. She had that calm assurance of a woman who is sure of herself, the insolent audacity of a first awaking, knowing and feeling that she was in her full beauty and freshness.

The Baron really lost his head. Was it his wife, or somebody else who was as like her as any sister could be? As he had not seen her for six years he might be mistaken.

She yawned, and he knew her by the gesture. She turned and looked at him again, calmly, indifferently, as if she scarcely saw him, and then looked out at the country again.

He was upset and dreadfully perplexed, and waited, looking at her sideways, steadfastly.

Yes; it was certainly his wife. How could he possibly have doubted? There could certainly not be two noses like that, and a thousand recollections flashed through him, slight details of her body, a beauty-spot on one of her limbs and another on her back. How often he had kissed them! He felt the old feeling of the intoxication of love stealing over him, and he called to mind the sweet odour of her skin, her smile when she put her arms on to his shoulders, the soft intonations of her voice, all her graceful, coaxing ways.

But how she had changed and improved! It was she and yet not she. He thought her riper, more developed, more of a woman, more seductive, more desirable, adorably desirable.

And this strange, unknown woman, whom he had accidentally met in a railway-carriage belonged to him; he had only to say to her:

"I insist upon it."

He had formerly slept in her arms, existed only in her love, and now he had found her again certainly, but so changed that he scarcely knew her. It was another, and yet she at the same time. It was another who had been born, formed, and grown since he had left her. It was she, indeed; she whom he had possessed but whom he found with her manners modified, her features more formed, her smile less affected, her gestures surer. There were two women in one, mingling a great deal of what was new and unknown with many sweet recollections of the past. There was something extraordinary, disturbing, exciting about it—a kind of mystery of love in which there floated a delicious confusion. It was his wife in a new body and in new flesh which his lips had never pressed.

And he remembered that in six or seven years everything changes in us, only outlines can be recognised, and sometimes even they disappear.

The blood, the hair, the skin, all change, and are reconstituted, and when people have not seen each other for a long time they find, when they meet, another totally different being, although it be the same and bear the same name.

And the heart also can change. Ideas may be modified and renewed, so that in forty years of life we may, by gradual and constant transformations, become four or five totally new and different beings.

He dwelt on this thought till it troubled him; it had first taken possession of him when he surprised her in the Princess's room. He was not the least angry; it was not the same woman that he was looking at—that thin, excitable little doll of those days.

What was he to do? How should he address her? and what could he say to her? Had she recognised him?

The train stopped again. He got up, bowed, and said: "Berthe, do you want anything I can bring you?"

She looked at him from head to foot, and answered, without showing the slightest surprise or confusion or anger, but with the most perfect indifference:

"I do not want anything—thank you."

He got out and walked up and down the platform a little in order to think, and, as it were, to recover his senses after a fall. What should he do now? If he got into another carriage it would look as if he were running away. Should he be gallant? That would look as if he were asking for forgiveness. Should he speak as if he were her master? He would look like a cad, and besides, he really had no right to do so.

He got in again and took his place.

During his absence she had hastily arranged her dress and hair, and was now lying stretched out on the seat, radiant, but without showing any emotion.

He turned to her, and said: "My dear Berthe, since this singular chance has brought us together after a separation of six years—a quite friendly separation—are we to continue to look upon each other as irreconcilable enemies? We are shut up together, tête-à-tête, which is so much the better or so much the worse. I am not going to get into another carriage, so don't you think it is preferable to talk as friends till the end of our journey?"

She answered quite calmly again:

"Just as you please."

Then he suddenly stopped, really not knowing what to say; but as he had plenty of assurance, he sat down on the middle seat, and said:

"Well, I see I must court you; so much the better. It is, however, really a pleasure, for you are charming. You cannot imagine how you have improved in the last six years. I do not know any woman who could give me that delightful sensation which I experienced just now when you emerged from your wraps. I could really have thought such a change impossible."

Without moving her head or looking at him, she said: "I cannot say the same with regard to you; you have certainly deteriorated a great deal."

He got red and confused, and then, with a smile of resignation, he said:

"You are rather hard."

"Why?" was her reply. "I am only stating facts. I don't suppose you intend to offer me your love? It must, therefore, be a matter of perfect indifference to you what I think about you. But I see it is a painful subject, so let us talk of something else. What have you been doing since I last saw you?"

He felt rather out of countenance, and stammered:

"I? I have travelled, hunted, and grown old, as you see. And you?"

She said, quite calmly: "I have always kept up appearances, as you ordered me."

He was very nearly saying something brutal, but he checked himself, and kissed his wife's hand:

"And I thank you," he said.

She was surprised. He was indeed strong and always master of himself.

He went on: "As you have acceded to my first request, shall we now talk without any bitterness?"

She made a little gesture of disdain.

"Bitterness! I don't feel any; you are a complete stranger to me; I am only trying to keep up a difficult conversation."

He was still looking at her, carried away in spite of her harshness, and he felt seized with a brutal desire, the desire of the master.

Perceiving that she had hurt his feelings, she said:

"How old are you now? I thought you were younger than you look."

He grew rather pale:

"I am forty-five;" and then he added: "I forgot to ask after Princess de Raynes. Are you still intimate with her?"

She looked at him as if she hated him:

"Yes, certainly I am. She is very well, thank you."

They remained sitting side by side, agitated and irritated. Suddenly he said:

"My dear Berthe, I have changed my mind. You are my wife, and I expect you to come with me to-day. You have, I think, improved both morally and physically, and I am going to take you back again. I am your husband and it is my right to do so."

She was quite taken aback, and looked at him, trying to divine his thoughts; but his face was resolute and impenetrable.

"I am very sorry," she said, "but I have made other engagements."

"So much the worse for you," was his reply. "The law gives me the power, and I mean to use it."

They were getting to Marseilles, and the train whistled and slackened speed. The Baronne got up, carefully rolled up her wraps, and then turning to her husband, she said:

"My dear Raymond, do not make a bad use of the tête-à-tête which I had carefully prepared. I wished to take precautions, according to your advice, so that I might have nothing to fear from you or from other people, whatever might happen. You are going to Nice, are you not?"

"I shall go wherever you go."

"Not at all; just listen to me, and I am sure that you will leave me in peace. In a few moments, when we get to the station, you will see the Princess de Raynes and the Comtesse Henriot waiting for me with their husbands. I wished them to see us, and to know that we had spent the night together in the railway-carriage. Don't be alarmed; they will tell it everywhere as a most surprising fact.

"I told you just now that I had most carefully followed your advice and saved appearances. Anything else does not matter, does it? Well, in order to do so, I wished to be seen with you. You told me carefully to avoid any scandal, and I am avoiding it, for, I am afraid—I am afraid—"

She waited till the train had quite stopped, and as her friends ran up to open the carriage door, she said:

"I am afraid that I am enceinte."

The Princess stretched out her arms to embrace her, and the Baronne said, pointing to the Baron, who was dumb with astonishment, and trying to get at the truth:

"You do not recognise Raymond? He has certainly changed a good deal, and he agreed to come with me so that I might not travel alone. We take little trips like this occasionally, like good friends who cannot live together. We are going to separate here; he has had enough of me already."

She put out her hand, which he took mechanically, and then she jumped out on to the platform among her friends, who were waiting for her.

The Baron hastily shut the carriage door, for he was too much disturbed to say a word or come to any determination. He heard his wife's voice, and their merry laughter as they went away.

He never saw her again, nor did he ever discover whether she had told him a lie or was speaking the truth.


Some people are born with a predominant instinct, with some vocation or some desire aroused, from the very moment they begin to speak or to think.

Ever since he was a child Monsieur Sacrement had only had one idea in his head—to be decorated. When he was still quite a small boy he used to wear a zinc Cross of the Legion of Honour just as other children wear a soldier's cap, and he took his mother's hand in the street with a proud look, sticking out his little chest with its red ribbon and metal star so that it might show to advantage.

His studies were not a success, and he failed in his examination for Bachelor of Arts; so, not knowing what to do, he married a pretty girl, for he had plenty of money of his own.

They lived in Paris, like many rich middle-class people do, mixing with their own particular set, without going among other people, proud of knowing a Deputy, who might perhaps be a Minister some day, while two heads of government departments were among their friends.

But Monsieur Sacrement could not get rid of his one absorbing idea, and he was very unhappy because he had not the right to wear a little bit of coloured ribbon in his buttonhole.

When he met any men who were decorated on the Boulevards, he looked at them askance, with intense jealousy. Sometimes, when he had nothing to do in the afternoon, he would count them, and say to himself: "Just let me see how many I shall meet between the Madeleine and the Rue Drouot."

Then he would walk slowly, looking at every coat, with a practiced eye, for the little bit of red ribbon, and when he had got to the end of his walk he always said the numbers out loud. "Eight officers and seventeen knights. As many as that! It is stupid to sow the Cross broadcast in that fashion. I wonder how many I shall meet going back?"

And he returned slowly, unhappy when the crowd of passers-by interfered with his seeing them.

He knew the places where most of them were to be found. They swarmed in the Palais Royal. Fewer were seen in the Avenue de l'Opéra than in the Rue de la Paix, while the right side of the Boulevard was more frequented by them than the left.

They also seemed to prefer certain cafés and theatres. Whenever he saw a group of white-haired old gentlemen standing together in the middle of the pavement, interfering with the traffic, he used to say to himself: "They are officers of the Legion of Honour," and he felt inclined to take off his hat to them.

He had often remarked that the officers had a different bearing from mere knights. They carried their heads higher, and you felt that they enjoyed greater official consideration, and a more widely-extended importance.

Sometimes M. Sacrement would be seized with a furious hatred for everyone who was decorated; he felt like a Socialist towards them. Then, when he got home, excited at meeting so many Crosses,—just like a poor hungry wretch is on passing some dainty provision-shop,—he used to ask in a loud voice:

"When shall we get rid of this wretched government?" And his wife would be surprised, and ask:

"What is the matter with you to-day?"

"I am indignant," he would reply, "at the injustice I see going on around us. Oh! the Communards were certainly right!"

After dinner he would go out again and look at the shops where all the decorations were sold, and examine all the emblems of various shapes and colours. He would have liked to possess them all, and to have walked gravely at the head of a procession with his opera-hat under his arm and his breast covered with decorations, radiant as a star, amid a buzz of admiring whispers and a hum of respect. But, alas! he had no right to wear any decoration whatever.

He used to say to himself: "It is really too difficult for any man to obtain the Legion of Honour unless he is some public functionary. Suppose I try to get appointed an officer of the Academy!"

But he did not know how to set about it, and spoke to his wife on the subject, who was stupefied.

"Officer of the Academy! What have you done to deserve it?"

He got angry. "I know what I am talking about; I only want to know how to set about it. You are quite stupid at times."

She smiled. "You are quite right; I don't understand anything about it."

An idea struck him: "Suppose you were to speak to M. Rosselin, the Deputy, he might be able to advise me. You understand I cannot broach the subject to him directly. It is rather difficult and delicate, but coming from you it might seem quite natural."

Mme Sacrement did what he asked her, and M. Rosselin promised to speak to the Minister about it. Then Sacrement began to worry him, till the Deputy told him he must make a formal application and put forward his claims.

"What were his claims?" he said. "He was not even a Bachelor of Arts."

However, he set to work and produced a pamphlet, with the title, "The People's Right to Instruction," but he could not finish it for want of ideas.

He sought for easier subjects, and began several in succession. The first was, "The Instruction of Children by Means of the Eye." He wanted gratuitous theatres to be established in every poor quarter of Paris for little children. Their parents were to take them there when they were quite young, and, by means of a magic-lantern, all the notions of human knowledge were to be imparted to them. There were to be regular courses. The sight would educate the mind, while the pictures would remain impressed on the brain, and thus science would, so to say, be made visible. What could be more simple than to teach universal history, natural history, geography, botany, zoölogy, anatomy, etc., etc., thus?

He had his ideas printed in tract form, and sent a copy to each Deputy, ten to each Minister, fifty to the President of the Republic, ten to each Parisian, and five to each provincial newspaper.

Then he wrote on "Street Lending-Libraries." His idea was to have little carts full of books drawn about the streets, like orange-carts are. Every householder or lodger would have a right to ten volumes a month by means of a half-penny subscription.

"The people," M. Sacrement said, "will only disturb itself for the sake of its pleasures, and since it will not go to instruction, instruction must come to it," etc., etc.

His essays attracted no attention, but he sent in his application, and he got the usual formal official reply. He thought himself sure of success, but nothing came of it.

Then he made up his mind to apply personally. He begged for an interview with the Minister of Public Instruction, and he was received by a young subordinate, already very grave and important, who kept touching the buttons of electric-bells to summon ushers, and footmen, and officials inferior to himself. He declared to the applicant that his case was going on quite favourably, and advised him to continue his remarkable labours. So M. Sacrement set at it again.

M. Rosselin, the Deputy, seemed now to take a great interest in his success, and gave him a lot of excellent, practical advice. Rosselin was decorated, although nobody knew exactly what he had done to deserve such a distinction.

He told Sacrement what new studies he ought to undertake; he introduced him to learned Societies which took up particularly obscure points of science, in the hope of gaining credit and honours thereby; and he even took him under his wing at the Ministry.

One day, when he came to lunch with his friend (for several months past he had constantly taken his meals there), he said to him in a whisper as he shook hands: "I have just obtained a great favour for you. The Committee on Historical Works is going to intrust you with a commission. There are some researches to be made in various libraries in France."

Sacrement was so delighted that he could scarcely eat or drink, and a week later he set out. He went from town to town, studying catalogues, rummaging in lofts full of dusty volumes, and was a bore to all the librarians.

One day, happening to be at Rouen, he thought he should like to embrace his wife, whom he had not seen for more than a week, so he took the nine o'clock train, which would land him at home by twelve at night.

He had his latchkey, so he went in without making any noise, delighted at the idea of the surprise he was going to give her. She had locked herself in. How tiresome! However, he cried out through the door:

"Jeanne, it is I."

She must have been very frightened, for he heard her jump out of bed and speak to herself, as if she were in a dream. Then she went to her dressing-room, opened and closed the door, and went quickly up and down her room barefoot two or three times, shaking the furniture till the vases and glasses sounded. Then at last she asked:

"Is it you, Alexander?"

"Yes, yes," he replied; "make haste and open the door."

As soon as she had done so she threw herself into his arms, exclaiming:

"Oh! what a fright! What a surprise! What a pleasure!"

He began to undress himself methodically, as he did everything, and from a chair he took his overcoat, which he was in the habit of hanging up in the hall. But, suddenly, he remained motionless, struck dumb with astonishment—there was a red ribbon in the buttonhole!

"Why," he stammered, "this—this—this overcoat has got the rosette in it!"

In a second his wife threw herself on him, and, taking it from his hands, she said:

"No! you have made a mistake—give it to me."

But he still held it by one of the sleeves, without letting it go, repeating, in a half-dazed manner:

"Oh! Why? Just explain. Whose overcoat is it? It is not mine, as it has the Legion of Honour on it."

She tried to take it from him, terrified, and hardly able to say:

"Listen—listen—give it to me—I must not tell you—it is a secret—listen to me."

But he grew angry, and turned pale:

"I want to know how this overcoat comes to be here? It does not belong to me."

Then she almost screamed at him:

"Yes it does; listen—swear to me—well—you are decorated."

She did not intend to joke at his expense.

He was so overcome that he let the overcoat fall, and dropped into an armchair.

"I am—you say I am—decorated?"

"Yes, but it is a secret, a great secret."

She had put the glorious garment into a cupboard, and came to her husband pale and trembling.

"Yes," she continued, "it is a new overcoat that I have had made for you. But I swore that I would not tell you anything about it, as it will not be officially announced for a month or six weeks, and you were not to have known till your return from your business journey. M. Rosselin managed it for you."

"Rosselin!" he contrived to utter in his joy; "he has obtained the decoration for me? He—Oh!"

And he was obliged to drink a glass of water.

A little piece of white paper had fallen to the floor out of the pocket of the overcoat. Sacrement picked it up; it was a visiting-card, and he read out:


"You see how it is," said his wife.

He wept with joy, and, a week later, it was announced in the "Journal Officiel" that M. Sacrement had been awarded the Legion of Honour on account of his exceptional services.


Admiral de la Vallée, who seemed to be half asleep in his armchair, said in a voice which sounded like an old woman's:

"I had a very singular little love adventure once; would you like to hear it?"

He spoke from the depths of his great armchair, with that everlasting dry, wrinkled smile on his lips, that Voltairian smile which made people take him for a terrible sceptic.


"I was thirty years of age and a first lieutenant in the navy, when I was intrusted with an astronomical expedition to Central India. The English Government provided me with all the necessary means for carrying out my enterprise, and I was soon busied with a few followers in that vast, strange, surprising country.

"It would take me twenty volumes to relate that journey. I went through wonderfully magnificent regions, was received by strangely handsome princes, and was entertained with incredible magnificence. For two months it seemed to me as if I were walking in a poem, that I was going about in a fairy kingdom, on the back of imaginary elephants. In the midst of wild forests I discovered extraordinary ruins, delicate and chiseled like jewels, fine as lace and enormous as mountains, those fabulous, divine monuments which are so graceful that one falls in love with their form as with a woman, feeling a physical and sensual pleasure in looking at them. As Victor Hugo says, 'Whilst wide-awake, I was walking in a dream.'

"Toward the end of my journey I reached Ganhara, which was formerly one of the most prosperous towns in Central India, but is now much decayed. It is governed by a wealthy, arbitrary, violent, generous, and cruel prince. His name is Rajah Maddan, a true Oriental potentate, delicate and barbarous, affable and sanguinary, combining feminine grace with pitiless ferocity.

"The city lies at the bottom of a valley, on the banks of a little lake surrounded by pagodas, which bathe their walls in the water. At a distance the city looks like a white spot, which grows larger as one approaches it, and by degrees you discover the domes and spires, the slender and graceful summits of Indian monuments.

"At about an hour's distance from the gates, I met a superbly caparisoned elephant, surrounded by a guard of honour which the sovereign had sent me, and I was conducted to the palace with great ceremony.

"I should have liked to have taken the time to put on my gala uniform, but royal impatience would not permit me to do it. He was anxious to make my acquaintance, to know what he might expect from me.

"I was ushered into a great hall surrounded by galleries, in the midst of bronze-coloured soldiers in splendid uniforms, while all about were standing men dressed in striking robes, studded with precious stones.

"On a bench like our garden benches, without a back; I saw a shining mass, a kind of setting sun reposing; it was the rajah who was waiting for me, motionless, in a robe of the purest canary colour. He had some ten or fifteen million francs' worth of diamonds on him, and by itself, on his forehead, glistened the famous star of Delhi, which has always belonged to the illustrious dynasty of the Pariharas of Mundore, from whom my host was descended.

"He was a man of about five-and-twenty, who seemed to have some negro blood in his veins, although he belonged to the purest Hindoo race. He had large, almost motionless, rather vague eyes, fat lips, a curly beard, low forehead, and dazzling sharp white teeth, which he frequently showed with a mechanical smile. He got up and gave me his hand in the English fashion, and then made me sit down beside him on a bench which was so high that my feet hardly touched the ground, and on which I was very uncomfortable.

"He immediately proposed a tiger hunt for the next day; war and hunting were his chief occupations, and he could hardly understand how one could care for anything else. He was evidently fully persuaded that I had only come all that distance to amuse him a little, and to be the companion of his pleasures.

"As I stood greatly in need of his assistance, I tried to flatter his tastes, and he was so pleased with me that he immediately wished to show me how his trained boxers fought, and led the way into a kind of arena situated within the palace.

"At his command two naked men appeared, their hands covered with steel claws. They immediately began to attack each other, trying to strike one another with these sharp weapons, which left long cuts, from which the blood flowed freely down their dark skins.

"It lasted for a long time, till their bodies were a mass of wounds, and the combatants were tearing each other's flesh with these pointed blades. One of them had his jaw smashed, while the ear of the other was split into three pieces.

"The prince looked on with ferocious pleasure, uttered grunts of delight, and imitated all their movements with careless gestures, crying out constantly:

"'Strike, strike hard!'

"One fell down unconscious and had to be carried out of the arena, covered with blood, while the rajah uttered a sigh of regret because it was over so soon.

"He turned to me to know my opinion; I was indignant, but I congratulated him loudly. He then gave orders that I was to be conducted to Couch-Mahal (the palace of pleasure), where I was to be lodged.

"This palace, this jewel, was situated at the extremity of the royal park, and one of its walls was built into the sacred lake of Vihara. It was square, its four sides showing rows of galleries with colonnades of most beautiful workmanship. At each angle there were light, lofty, or low towers, standing either singly or in pairs: no two were alike, and they looked like flowers growing out of that graceful plant of Oriental architecture. All were surmounted by fantastic roofs, like coquettish ladies' caps.

"In the middle of the edifice a large dome raised its round cupola, like a woman's bosom, up to a lovely slender belfry open to the sky.

"The whole building was covered with sculpture from top to bottom, with exquisite arabesques which delighted the eye, motionless processions of delicate figures whose attitudes and gestures in stone told the story of Indian manners and customs.

"The rooms were lighted by windows with dentelated arches, looking on to the gardens. On the marble floor were designs of graceful bouquets in onyx, lapis-lazuli, and agate.

"I had scarcely had time to finish my toilette when Haribadada, a court dignitary who was specially charged to communicate between the prince and me, announced his sovereign's visit.

"The saffron-coloured rajah appeared, again shook hands with me, and began to tell me a thousand different things, constantly asking me for my opinion, which I had great difficulty in giving him. Then he wished to show me the ruins of the former palace at the other extremity of the gardens.

"It was a real forest of stones inhabited by a large tribe of apes. On our approach the males began to run along the walls, making the most hideous faces at us, while the females ran away, carrying off their young in their arms. The rajah shouted with laughter and pinched my shoulder to draw my attention, and to testify his own delight, and sat down in the midst of the ruins, while around us, squatting on the top of the walls, perching on every eminence, a number of animals with white whiskers put out their tongues and shook their fists at us.

"When he had seen enough of this, the yellow rajah rose and began to walk sedately on, keeping me always at his side, happy at having shown me such things on the very day of my arrival, and reminding me that a grand tiger hunt was to take place the next day, in my honour.

"I was present at it, at a second, a third, at ten, twenty in succession. We hunted all the animals which the country produces in turn: the panther, the bear, elephant, antelope, the hippopotamus, and the crocodile—half the beasts in creation I should say. I was disgusted at seeing so much blood flow, and tired of this monotonous pleasure.

"At length the prince's ardour abated and, at my urgent request, he left me a little leisure for work, contenting himself by loading me with costly presents. He sent me jewels, magnificent stuffs, and well-broken animals of all sorts, which Haribadada presented to me with apparently as grave respect as if I had been the sun himself, although he heartily despised me at the bottom of his heart.

"Every day a procession of servants brought me, in covered dishes, a portion of each course that was served at the royal table. Every day he seemed to take an extreme pleasure in getting up some new entertainment for me—dances by the bayaderes, jugglers, reviews of the troops, and I was obliged to pretend to be most delighted with it, so as not to hurt his feelings when he wished to show me his wonderful country in all its charm and splendour.

"As soon as I was left alone for a few moments I either worked or went to see the monkeys, whose company pleased me a great deal better than that of their royal master.

"One evening, however, on coming back from a walk, I found Haribadada outside the gate of my palace. He told me in mysterious tones that a gift from the king was waiting for me in my abode, and he said that his master begged me to excuse him for not having sooner thought of offering me that of which I had been deprived for such a long time.

"After these obscure remarks the ambassador bowed and withdrew.

"When I went in I saw six little girls standing against the wall, motionless, side-by-side, like smelts on a skewer. The eldest was perhaps ten and the youngest eight years old. For the first moment I could not understand why this girls' school had taken up its abode in my rooms; then, however, I divined the prince's delicate attention: he had made me a present of a harem, and had chosen it very young from an excess of generosity. There, the more unripe the fruit is, in the higher estimation it is held.

"For some time I remained confused, embarrassed, and ashamed in the presence of these children, who looked at me with great grave eyes which seemed already to divine what I might want of them.

"I did not know what to say to them; I felt inclined to send them back; but I could not return the presents of a prince; it would have been a mortal insult. I was obliged, therefore, to install this troop of children in my palace.

"They stood motionless, looking at me, waiting for my orders, trying to read my thoughts in my eyes. Confound such a present! How absurdly it was in my way. At last, thinking that I must be looking rather ridiculous, I asked the eldest her name.

"'Châli,' she replied.

"This little creature, with her beautiful skin, which was lightly yellow, like old ivory, was a marvel, a perfect statue, with her face and its long and severe lines.

"I then asked, in order to see what she would reply, and also, perhaps, to embarrass her:

"'What have you come here for?'

"She replied in her soft, harmonious voice: 'I have come to do whatever my Lord wishes.' She was evidently quite resigned.

"I put the same question to the youngest, who answered immediately in her shrill voice:

"'I am here to do whatever you ask me, my master.'

"This one was like a little mouse, and was very taking, just as they all were, so I took her in my arms and kissed her. The others made a movement to go away, thinking, no doubt, that I had made my choice; but I ordered them to stay, and sitting down in the Indian fashion, I made them all sit round me and began to tell them fairy-tales, for I spoke their language tolerably well.

"They listened very attentively, and trembled, wringing their hands in agony. Poor little things, they were not thinking any longer of the reason why they were sent to me.

"When I had finished my story, I called Latchmân, my confidential servant, and made him bring sweetmeats and cakes, of which they ate enough to make themselves ill. Then, as I began to find the adventure rather funny, I organized games to amuse my wives.

"One of these diversions had an enormous success. I made a bridge of my legs and the six children ran underneath, the smallest beginning and the tallest always knocking against them a little, because she did not stoop enough. It made them shout with laughter, and these young voices sounding through the low vaults of my sumptuous palace seemed to wake it up and to people it with childlike gaiety and life.

"Next I took great interest in seeing to the sleeping apartments of my innocent concubines, and in the end I saw them safely locked up under the surveillance of four female servants, whom the prince had sent me at the same time in order to take care of my sultanas.

"For a week I took the greatest pleasure in acting the part of a father toward these living dolls. We had capital games of hide-and-seek and puss-in-the-corner, which gave them the greatest pleasure. Every day I taught them a new game, to their intense delight.

"My house now seemed to be one class room, and my little friends, dressed in beautiful silk stuffs, and in materials embroidered with gold and silver, ran up and down the long galleries and the quiet rooms feebly lighted by the day coming in through the arched windows, like little human animals.

"Then one evening, I know not how, the eldest, who was called Châli, and who looked like an old ivory statuette, really became my wife. She was an adorable little creature, timid and gentle, who soon got to love me ardently and whom I loved strongly with some degree of shame, with hesitation as if afraid of European morality, with reserve and scruples, and yet with passionate tenderness. I cherished her as if I had been her father and I caressed her like a lover."

Excuse me ladies, I am going a little bit too far.

"The others continued to play in the palace like a lot of happy kittens, but Châli never left me except when I went to the prince.

"We passed delicious hours together in the ruins of the old castle, among the monkeys, who had become our friends.

"She used to lie on my knees, and remain there, turning all sorts of things over in her little sphinx's head, or perhaps not thinking of anything, retaining that beautiful, charming, hereditary pose of that noble and dreamy people, the hieratic pose of the sacred statues.

"In a large brass dish I had one day brought provisions, cakes, fruits. The apes came nearer and nearer, followed by their young ones, who were more timid; at last they sat down round us in a circle, without daring to come any nearer, waiting for me to distribute my delicacies. Then, almost invariably, a male more daring than the rest would come to me with outstretched hand, like a beggar, and I would give him something, which he would take to his wife. All the others immediately began to utter furious cries, cries of rage and jealousy; and I could not make the terrible racket cease except by throwing each one his share.

"As I was very comfortable in the ruins I had my instruments brought there, so that I might be able to work. As soon, however, as they saw the copper fittings on my scientific instruments, the monkeys, no doubt taking them for some deadly engines, fled on all sides, uttering the most piercing cries.

"I often spent my evenings with Châli on one of the outside galleries that looked on to the lake of Vihara. One night in silence we were looking at the bright moon gliding over the sky, throwing a mantle of trembling silver over the water, and, on the further shore, upon the row of small pagodas like carved mushrooms with their stalks in the water. Taking the thoughtful face of my little mistress between my hands, I printed a long, soft kiss on her polished brow, on her great eyes, which were full of the secret of that ancient and fabulous land, and on her calm lips which opened to my caress. I felt a confused, powerful, above all a poetical, sensation, the sensation that I possessed a whole race in this little girl, that mysterious race from which all the others seem to have taken their origin.

"The prince, however, continued to load me with presents. One day he sent me a very unexpected object, which excited a passionate admiration in Châli. It was merely one of those cardboard boxes covered with shells stuck on outside. In France it would have been worth forty cents, at the most. But there it was a jewel beyond price, and no doubt was the first that had found its way into the kingdom. I put it on a table and left it there, wondering at the value which was set upon this trumpery article out of a bazaar.

"But Châli never got tired of looking at it, of admiring it ecstatically. From time to time she would say to me, 'May I touch it?' And when I had given her permission she raised the lid, closed it again with the greatest precaution, touched the shells very gently, and the contact seemed to give her real physical pleasure.

"However, I had finished my scientific work, and it was time for me to return. I was a long time in making up my mind, held by my tenderness for my little friend, but at last I was obliged to fix the day of my departure.

"The prince got up fresh hunting excursions and fresh wrestling matches, and after a fortnight of these pleasures I declared that I could stay no longer, and he gave me my liberty.

"My farewell from Châli was heartrending. She wept, lying beside me, with her head on my breast, shaken with sobs. I did not know how to console her; my kisses were no good.

"All at once an idea struck me, and getting up I went and got the shell-box, and putting it into her hands, I said, ‘That is for you; it is yours.'

"Then I saw her smile at first. Her whole face was lighted up with internal joy, with that profound joy which comes when impossible dreams are suddenly realized, and she embraced me ardently.

"All the same, she wept bitterly when I bade her a last farewell.

"I gave fatherly kisses and cakes to all the rest of my wives, and then I left for home."


"Two years had passed when the chance of my duties again called me to Bombay. Because I knew the country and the language well, I was left there to undertake another mission, by a sequence of unforeseen circumstances.

"I finished what I had to do as quickly as possible, and as I had a considerable amount of spare time on my hands I determined to go and see my friend Rajah Maddan and my dear little Châli once more, though I expected to find her much changed.

"The rajah received me with every demonstration of pleasure, and hardly left me for a moment during the first day of my visit. At night, however, when I was alone, I sent for Haribadada, and after several misleading questions I said to him:

"'Do you know what has become of little Châli, whom the rajah gave me?'

"He immediately assumed a sad and troubled look, and said, in evident embarrassment:

"'We had better not speak of her.'

"'Why? She was a dear little woman.'

"'She turned out badly, sir.'

"'What—Châli? What has become of her? Where is she?'

"'I mean to say that she came to a bad end.'

"'A bad end! Is she dead?'

"'Yes. She committed a very dreadful action.'

"I was very much distressed. I felt my heart beat; my breast was oppressed with grief, and I insisted on knowing what she had done and what had happened to her.

"The man became more and more embarrassed, and murmured: 'You had better not ask about it.'

"'But I want to know.'

"'She stole—'

"'Who—Châli? What did she steal?'

"'Something that belonged to you.'

"'To me? What do you mean?'

"'The day you left she stole that little box which the prince had given you; it was found in her hands.'

"'What box are you talking about?'

"'The box covered with shells.'

"'But I gave it to her.'

"The Hindoo looked at me with stupefaction, and then replied: 'Well, she declared with the most sacred oaths that you had given it to her, but nobody could believe that you could have given a king's present to a slave, and so the rajah had her punished.'

"'How was she punished? What was done to her?'

"'She was tied up in a sack and thrown into the lake from this window, from the window of the room in which we are, where she had committed the theft.'

"I felt the most terrible grief that I ever experienced, and made a sign to Haribadad to go away so that he might not see my tears. I spent the night on the gallery which looked on to the lake, on the gallery where I had so often held the poor child on my knees, and pictured to myself her pretty little body lying decomposed in a sack in the dark waters beneath me.

"The next day I left again, in spite of the rajah's entreaties and evident vexation; and I now still feel as if I had never loved any woman but Châli."



Although it was not yet ten o'clock, the employees were pouring in like waves through the great doorway of the Ministry of Marine, having come in haste from every corner of Paris, for the first of the year was approaching, the time for renewed zeal—and for promotions. A noise of hurrying footsteps filled the vast building, which was as tortuous as a labyrinth, and honeycombed with inextricable passages, pierced by innumerable doors opening into the various offices.

Each one entered his particular room, pressed the hands of his colleagues who had already arrived, threw off his coat, put on his office jacket, and seated himself before the table, where a pile of papers awaited him. Then they went for news into the neighbouring offices. They asked whether their chief had arrived, if he was in an agreeable humour, and if the day's mail was a heavy one.

The clerk in charge of "general matter," M. César Cachelin, an old non-commissioned officer of the marine infantry, who had become chief-clerk by priority of office, registered in a big book all the documents as they were brought in by the messenger. Opposite him the copying-clerk, old father Savon, a stupid old fellow, celebrated throughout the whole ministry for his conjugal misfortunes, copied in a slow hand a dispatch from the chief, sitting with his body held sidewise and his eyes askew, in the stiff attitude of the careful copyist.

M. Cachelin, a big man, whose short, white hair stood up like a brush on his head, talked all the time while performing his daily work: "Thirty-two dispatches from Toulon. That port gives us as much as any four others put together."

Then he asked the old man Savon the question he put to him every morning:

"Well, father Savon, how is Madame?"

The old man, without stopping his work, replied: "You know very well. Monsieur Cachelin, that subject is a most painful one to me."

Then the chief clerk laughed as he laughed every day at hearing the same phrase.

The door opened and M. Maze entered. He was a handsome, dark young fellow dressed with an exaggerated elegance, who thought his position beneath his dignity, and his person and manners above his position. He wore large rings, a heavy gold watch chain, a monocle (which he discarded while at work), and he made a frequent movement of his wrists in order to bring into view his cuffs ornamented with great shining buttons.

At the door he asked: "Much work to-day?" M. Cachelin replied: "It is always Toulon which keeps sending in. One can easily see that the first of the year is at hand, from the way they are hustling down there."

But another employee, a great joker, always in high spirits, appeared in his turn and said laughing:

"We are not hustling at all, are we?" Then taking out his watch he added: "Seven minutes to ten and every man at his post! By George, what do you think of that? and I'll wager anything that his Dignity M. Lesable arrived at nine o'clock—at the same hour as our illustrious chief."

The chief-clerk ceased writing, put his pen behind his ear, and leaning his elbow on the desk said: "Oh! there is a man for you! If he does not succeed, it will not be for want of trying."

M. Pitolet, seating himself on the corner of the table and swinging his leg, replied:

"But he will succeed, papa Cachelin; he will succeed, you may be sure. I will bet you twenty francs to a sou that he will be chief within ten years."

M. Maze, who rolled a cigarette while warming his calves before the fire, said:

"Pshaw! for my part I would rather remain all my life on a salary of twenty-four hundred francs than wear myself to a skeleton the way he is doing."

Pitolet turned on his heels and said in a bantering tone: "But that does not prevent you, my dear fellow, from being here on this twentieth of December before ten o'clock."

The other shrugged his shoulders with an air of indifference. "Hang it all! I do not want everybody to walk over my head, either! Since you come here to see the sun rise, I am going to do it, too, however much I may deplore your officiousness. From doing that to calling the chief 'dear master,' as Lesable does, and staying until half past six and then carrying work home with you is a long way. Besides, I am in society and I have other demands upon my time."

M. Cachelin had ceased his registering and begun to dream, his eyes fixed on vacancy. At last he asked: "Do you believe that he will get an increase again this year?"

Pitolet cried: "I will bet you ten to one he gets it. He is not wearing himself out for nothing."

And so they talked of the eternal question of promotion which for a month had excited the whole hive of clerks from the ground floor to the roof.

They calculated chances, computed figures, compared their various claims to promotion, and waxed indignant over former injustices. These discussions lasted from morning until evening, and the next day were begun all over again, with the same reasons, the same arguments, the same words.

A new clerk entered, a little, pale, sick-looking man, M. Boissel, who lived as in a romance of Alexandre Dumas, père. Everything with him was an extraordinary adventure, and he recounted every morning to his friend Pitolet his strange encounters of the previous evening, imaginary scenes enacted in his house, strange cries uttered in the street which caused him to open his window at half past three in the morning. Every day he had separated combatants, stopped runaway horses, rescued women from danger; and although of a deplorably weak constitution he talked unceasingly, in a slow and satisfied tone, of exploits accomplished by his strong arm.

As soon as he understood that they were talking of Lesable he declared: "Some day I will give that little pup his deserts; and if he ever walks over my head. I'll give him something that will prevent him from trying again."

Maze, continuing to smoke, sneered: "You would do well, then, to begin at once, for I hear on good authority that you are to be set aside this year for Lesable."

Boissel raised his hand. "I swear that if—" The door opened once more, and a dapper little man wearing the side-whiskers of an officer of marine or lawyer, and a high, stiff collar, who spoke his words rapidly as though he could not take the time to finish what he had to say, entered quickly with a preoccupied manner. He shook hands all around with the air of a man who had no leisure for dallying, and approaching the chief-clerk said: "My dear Cachelin, will you give me the Chapelou papers, rope yarn, Toulon A. T. V., 1875?"

The clerk rose, reached for a portfolio above his head, took out a package of sealed documents wrapped in blue linen, and presenting them said: "There, M. Lesable; you remember the chief took three dispatches from their package yesterday."

"Yes, I have them. Thanks," and the young man went out hurriedly.

Hardly had he gone when Maze ejaculated:

"Well! what an air! One would swear he was already chief."

And Pitolet replied: "Patience, patience; he will be before any of us."

M. Cachelin had not resumed his writing. A fixed thought seemed to have taken possession of him. At last he said: "He has a fine future, that boy!"

But Maze murmured in a disdainful tone: "For those who think the ministry is a career—yes. For the others it is a little—"

Pitolet interrupted him: "Perhaps you intend to become ambassador?"

The other made an impatient gesture. "It is not a question of me. I can take care of myself. That has nothing to do with the fact that the position of the head of a department will never be anything very much."

Father Savon, the copyist, had never ceased his work. But for some little time he had been dipping his pen in the inkstand, then wiping it vigorously on the sponge which stood in a little glass of water on his desk, without being able to trace a letter. The black liquid slipped along the point of the metal and fell in round spots on the paper. The good man, driven to despair as sheet after sheet of paper was thus spoiled, said in a deep and sorrowful voice:

"Here is more adulterated ink!"

A shout of laughter came from every mouth. Cachelin shook the table with his stomach. Maze bent double, as though he were going up the chimney backward. Pitolet stamped and roared and waved his hands in the air, and even Boissel was almost suffocated, although he generally looked at these things on the tragic rather than the comic side.

But father Savon, wiping his pen on the tail of his overcoat, said: "There is nothing to laugh at. I have to go over my whole work two or three times."

He took from his box another sheet of paper, laid his wax sheet over it, and commenced again at the beginning: "Monsieur le Ministre and dear Colleague—" The pen now held the ink and traced the letters neatly. The old man settled down into his oblique posture and continued his copy.

The others had not stopped laughing. They were fairly choking. For six months they had played the same game on the poor old fellow, who had never detected it. It consisted in pouring several drops of oil on the damp sponge used for wiping pens. The metal, thus becoming coated with liquid grease, would not take the ink, and the perplexed copying-clerk would pass hours in using boxes of pens and bottles of ink, and finally declare that the supplies of the department were becoming perfectly worthless.

Then the jokers would torment the old man in other ways. They put gunpowder in his tobacco, pour drugs into his drinking water, and made him believe that, since the Commune, the majority of articles for general use had been adulterated by the socialists, to put the government in the wrong and bring about a revolution. He had conceived a terrible hatred against the anarchists, whom he believed to be concealed everywhere, and had a mysterious fear of an unknown woman—veiled and formidable.

A sharp ring of the bell sounded in the corridor. They well knew the emphatic ring of their chief, M. Torchebeuf, and each one sprang toward the door that he might regain his own compartment.

Cachelin returned to his work. Then he laid down his pen again, and took his head in his hands and began to think.

He turned over in his mind an idea which had tormented him for some time. An old non-commissioned officer of the marine infantry, retired after receiving three wounds, one at Senegal and two at Cochin China, who had been given a position in the ministry as an exceptional favour, he had had to endure many miseries, many hardships, and many griefs in his long career as an insignificant subordinate. He considered authority, official authority, as the finest thing in the world. The head of a Department seemed to him an exceptional being, living in a higher sphere; and the employee of whom he heard it said: "He is a sharp one; he will get there yet," appeared to him of another race, another nature, than himself.

He had therefore for his colleague Lesable a high respect which approached veneration, and he cherished the secret desire, which was never absent from his mind, to have him marry his daughter.

She would be rich one day, very rich. This was known throughout the entire ministry, for his sister. Mlle Cachelin, possessed a million, a clear, cool million, acquired through love, they said, but purified by belated piety.

This ancient spinster, who had led a gay life in her youth, had retired with five hundred thousand francs, which she had more than doubled in eighteen years, thanks to her ferocious economy and more than frugal habits. She had lived for a long time with her brother, who was a widower with one daughter, Coralie; but she did not contribute in the slightest degree to the expenses of the house, guarding and accumulating her gold, and always repeating to Cachelin: "It makes no difference, since it is all for your daughter; but marry her quickly, for I want to see my little nephews around me. It is she who will give me the joy of embracing a child of our blood."

This was well understood at the office, and suitors were not lacking for Coralie's hand. It was said that Maze himself, the handsome Maze, the lion of the bureau, hovered around father Cachelin with a palpable intent. But the former sergeant, who had roamed through all latitudes, wanted a young man with a future, a young man who would be chief, and who would be able to make some return to him, the old clerk. Lesable suited him to a nicety, and he cast about in his mind for a means of attaching him to himself.

All of a sudden he sat upright, striking his hands together. He had found it. He well understood the weakness of each one of his colleagues. Lesable could be approached only through his vanity, his professional vanity. He would go to him and demand his protection as one goes to a senator or a deputy—as one goes to a high personage.

Not having had any promotion for five years, Cachelin considered himself as certain to obtain one this year. He would make it appear then that he owed it to Lesable, and would invite him to dinner as a means of thanking him.

As soon as his project was conceived he began to put it into execution. He took off his office jacket, put on his coat, and, gathering up all the registered papers which concerned the services of his colleague, he betook himself to the office which Lesable occupied all alone, by special favour, because of his zeal and the importance of his functions.

The young man was writing at a great table, covered with bundles of documents and loose papers numbered with red or blue figures.

As soon as he saw the chief-clerk enter, he said in a familiar tone, which also betokened consideration: "Well, my dear fellow, do you bring me a lot of business?"

"Yes, a good deal. And then I want to speak to you."

"Sit down, my friend; I am listening."

Cachelin seated himself, coughed, put on a troubled look, and finally said in a despondent tone:

"This is what brings me here, Monsieur Lesable. I will not beat about the bush. I will be frank like an old soldier. I have come to demand a service of you."

"What is it?"

"In few words, I wish very much to be promoted this year. I have nobody to help me, and I have thought of you."

Lesable reddened somewhat. He was surprised, flattered, and filled with a pleased confusion. However, he replied:

"But I am nobody here, my friend. I am much less than you, who are going to be principal clerk. I can do nothing. Believe me that if—"

Cachelin cut him short with respectful brusqueness: "Oh, nonsense. You have the ear of the chief, and if you speak a word for me I shall get it. Remember that in eighteen months I shall have the right to retire, and I shall be just five hundred francs to the bad if I obtain nothing on the first of January. I know very well that they say: 'Cachelin is all right; his sister has a million.' It is true enough that my sister has a million, but she doesn't give any of it away. It is also true that her fortune is for my daughter, but my daughter and I are two different persons. I shall be in a nice fix if, when my daughter and my son-in-law are rolling in their carriage, I have nothing to eat. You see my position, do you not?"

Lesable agreed. "It is true—what you say is very true. Your son-in-law may not be well disposed toward you. Besides, one is always more at ease when owing nothing to anybody. Well, I promise you I shall do my best; I shall speak to the chief, place the case before him, and shall insist if it be necessary. Count on me!"

Cachelin rose, took the hands of his colleague, and pressing them hard while he shook them in military fashion, stammered: "Thank you, thank you; believe me, if ever I have the opportunity—if I can ever—" He stopped, not being able to finish what he had begun, and went away making the corridor resound with the rhythmical tread of an old trooper.

But he heard from afar the sharp ring of a bell and he began to run. He knew that ring. It was the chief, M. Torchebeuf, who wanted him.

Eight days later Cachelin found one morning on his desk a sealed letter, which contained the following:

"My dear Colleague: I am happy to announce to you that the minister, at the instance of our director and our chief, yesterday signed your nomination to the position of principal clerk. You will receive tomorrow your official notification. Until then you know nothing, you understand?

Yours ever,


César ran at once to the office of his young colleague, thanked him, excused himself, offered his everlasting devotion, overwhelmed him with his gratitude.

It was known on the morrow that MM. Lesable and Cachelin had each been promoted. The other employees must wait another year, receiving by way of compensation a gratuity which varied from one hundred and fifty to three hundred francs.

M. Boissel declared that he would lie in wait for Lesable at the corner of the street at midnight some night and give him a drubbing which would leave its mark. The other clerks kept silent.

The following Monday, on his arrival, Cachelin went to the office of his protector, entered with solemnity, and in a ceremonious tone said: "I hope that you will do me the honour to dine with us during the New Year holidays. You may choose the day yourself."

The young man, somewhat surprised, raised his head and looked his colleague full in the face. Then he replied without removing his eyes, that he might read the thoughts of the other: "But, my dear fellow you see—all my evenings are promised here for some time to come."

Cachelin insisted in a good-humoured tone: "Oh, but, I say, you will not disappoint us by refusing, after the service that you have rendered me. I beg you in the name of my family and in mine."

Lesable hesitated, perplexed. He had understood well enough, but he did not know what to reply, not having had time to reflect and to weigh the pros and the cons. At last he thought: "I commit myself to nothing by going to dinner," and he accepted with a satisfied air, choosing the Saturday following. He added, smiling: "So that I shall not have to get up too soon the next morning."


M. Cachelin lived in a small apartment on the fifth floor of a house at the upper end of the Rue Rochechouart. There was a balcony from which one could see all Paris, and three rooms, one for his sister, one for his daughter, and one for himself. The dining-room served also for a parlour.

He occupied himself during the whole week in preparing for this dinner. The menu was discussed at great length, in order that they might have a repast which should be at the same time home-like and elegant. The following was finally decided upon: A consommé with eggs, shrimps and sausage for hors d'œuvre, a lobster, a fine chicken, preserved peas, a pâté de joie gras, a salad, an ice, and dessert.

The foie gras was ordered from a neighbouring pork butcher with the injunction to furnish the best quality. The pot alone cost three francs and a half.

For the wine, Cachelin applied to the wine merchant at the corner who supplied him with the red beverage with which he ordinarily quenched his thirst. He did not want to go to a big dealer reasoning thus: "The small dealers find few occasions to sell their best brands. On this account they keep them a long time in their cellars, and they are therefore better."

He came home at the earliest possible hour on Saturday to assure himself that all was ready. The maid who opened the door for him was red as a tomato, for she had lighted her fire at midday through fear of not being ready in time, and had roasted her face at it all day. Emotion also excited her. He entered the dining-room to inspect everything. In the middle of the little room the round table made a great white spot under the bright light of a lamp covered with a green shade.

The four plates were almost concealed by napkins folded in the form of an archbishop's miter by Mlle Cachelin, the aunt, and were flanked by knives and forks of white metal. In front of each stood two glasses, one large and one small. César found this insufficient at a glance, and he called: "Charlotte!"

The door at the left opened and a little old woman appeared. Older than her brother by ten years, she had a narrow face framed with white ringlets. She did these up in papers every night.

Her thin voice seemed too weak for her little bent body, and she moved with a slightly dragging step and tired gestures.

They had said of her when she was young: "What a dear little creature!"

She was now a shrivelled up old woman, very clean because of her early training, headstrong, spoiled, narrow-minded, fastidious, and easily irritated. Having become very devout, she seemed to have totally forgotten the adventures of her past.

She asked: "What do you want?"

He replied: "I find that two glasses do not make much of a show. If we could have champagne—it would not cost me more than three or four francs; we have the glasses already, and it would entirely change the aspect of the table."

Mlle Charlotte replied: "I do not see the use of going to that expense. But you are paying; it does not concern me."

He hesitated, seeking to convince himself:

"I assure you it would be much better. And then, with the cake it would make things more lively." This decided him. He took his hat and went downstairs, returning in five minutes with a bottle under his arm which bore on a large white label, ornamented with an enormous coat of arms, the words: "Grand vin mousseux de Champagne du Comte de Chatel-Rénovau."

Cachelin declared: "It cost only three francs, and the man says it is delicious."

He took the champagne glasses from the cupboard and placed them before each place.

The door at the right opened. His daughter entered. She was a tall girl with firm, rosy flesh—a handsome daughter of a strong race. She had chestnut hair and blue eyes. A simple gown outlined her round and supple figure; her voice was strong, almost the voice of a man, with those deep notes which make the nerves vibrate. She cried: "Heavens! Champagne! What luck!" clapping her hands like a child.

Her father said to her: "I wish you to be particularly nice to this gentleman; he has done such a lot for me."

She began to laugh—a sonorous laugh, which said: "I know."

The bell in the vestibule rang. The doors opened and closed and Lesable appeared.

He wore a black coat, a white cravat, and white gloves. He created a stir. Cachelin sprang forward, embarrassed and delighted: "But, my dear fellow, this is among ourselves. See me—I am in ordinary dress."

The young man replied: "I know, you told me so; but I never go out in the evening without my dress-coat." He saluted, his opera-hat under his arm, a flower in his buttonhole. César presented him: "My sister, Mlle Charlotte; my daughter Coralie, whom at home we call Cora."

Everybody bowed. Cachelin continued: "We have no salon. It is rather troublesome, but one gets used to it."

Lesable replied: "It is charming."

Then he was relieved of his hat, which he wished to hang up, and he began immediately to draw off his gloves.

They sat down and looked at one another across the table, and no one said anything more until Cachelin asked: "Did the chief remain late to-night? I left very early to help the ladies."

Lesable replied in a careless tone: "No, we went away together, because we were obliged to discuss the matter of the payment for the canvasses at Brest. It is a very complicated affair, which will give us a great deal of trouble."

Cachelin believed he ought to bring his sister into the conversation, and turning to her said: "It is M. Lesable who decides all the difficult questions at the office. One might say that he was the deputy chief." The old spinster bowed politely, saying: "Oh, I know that Monsieur has great capabilities."

The maid entered, pushing open the door with her knee, and holding aloft with both hands a great soup tureen. Then the master of the house cried: "Come—dinner! Sit there, M. Lesable, between my sister and my daughter. I hope you are not afraid of the ladies," and the dinner began.

Lesable made himself agreeable, with a little air of self-sufficiency, almost of condescension, and he glanced now and then at the young girl, astonished at her freshness, at her beautiful, appetising health. Mlle Charlotte showed her best side, knowing the intentions of her brother, and she took part in the conversation so long as it was confined to commonplace topics. Cachelin was radiant; he talked and joked in a loud voice while he poured out the wine bought an hour previous at the store on the corner: "A glass of this little Burgundy, M. Lesable. I do not say that it is anything remarkable, but it is good; it is from the cellar and it is pure—I can say that much. We get it from some friends down there."

The young girl said nothing; a little red, a little shy, she was awed by the presence of this man, whose thoughts she suspected.

When the lobster appeared, César declared: "Here comes a personage whose acquaintance I shall be glad to make."

Lesable, smiling, told a story of a writer who had called the lobster "the cardinal of the seas," not knowing that before being cooked the animal was a dark greenish black. Cachelin laughed with all his might, repeating: "Ha, ha, ha! that is first rate!" But Mlle Charlotte, becoming serious, said sharply:

"I do not see anything amusing in that. That gentleman was an improper person. I understand all kinds of pleasantries, but I am opposed to anything which casts ridicule on the clergy in my presence."

The young man, who wished to please the old maid, profited by this occasion to make a profession of the Catholic faith. He spoke of the bad taste of those who treated great truths with lightness. And in conclusion he said: "For myself I respect and venerate the religion of my fathers; I have been brought up in it, and I will remain in it till my death."

Cachelin laughed no longer. He rolled little crumbs of bread between his finger and thumb while he murmured: "That's right, that's right." Then he changed the conversation, and, with an impulse natural to those who follow the same routine every day, he said: "Our handsome Maze—must have been furious at not having been promoted?"

Lesable smiled. "Well, why not? To everyone according to his deserts." And they continued talking about the ministry, which interested everybody, for the two women knew the employees almost as well as Cachelin himself, through hearing them spoken of every day.

Mlle Charlotte was particularly pleased to hear about Boissel, on account of his romantic spirit, and the adventures he was always telling about, while Cora was secretly interested in the handsome Maze. They had never seen either of the men, however.

Lesable talked about them with a superior air, as a minister might have done in speaking of his staff.

"Maze is not lacking in a certain kind of merit, but when one wishes to accomplish anything it is necessary to work harder than he does. He is fond of society and of pleasure. All that distracts the mind; he will never advance much on this account. He will be an Assistant Secretary, perhaps, thanks to the influence he commands, but nothing more. As for Pitolet, he is a good clerk, I must say. He has a superficial elegance which cannot be gainsaid, but nothing deep. There is a young man whom one could never put at the head of an important bureau, but who can always be utilised by an intelligent chief who would lay out his work for him."

"And M. Boissel?" asked Mlle Charlotte.

Lesable shrugged his shoulders: "A poor chap, a poor chap. He can see nothing in its proper proportions, and is continually imagining wonderful stories while half asleep. To us he is of no earthly use."

Cachelin began to laugh. "But the best of all," he declared, "is old father Savon."

Then everybody laughed.

After that they talked of the theatres and the different plays of the year. Lesable judged the dramatic literature of the day with the same authority, concisely classifying the authors, determining the strength and weakness of each, with the assurance of a man who believes himself to be infallible and universal.

They had finished the roast. César now uncovered the pot of foie gras with the most delicate precautions, which made one imagine the contents to be something wonderful. He said: "I do not know if this one will be a success, but generally they are perfect. We get them from a cousin who lives in Strasburg."

With respectful deliberation each one ate the butcher's pâté in its little yellow pot.

But disaster came with the ice. It was a sauce, a soup, a clear liquid which floated in the dish. The little maid had begged the pastry cook's boy, who brought the ice at seven o'clock, to take it out of the mold himself, fearing that she would not know how.

Cachelin, in despair, wished to make her carry it back again; then he calmed himself at the thought of the Twelfth Night cake, which he divided with great mystery as though it contained a prime secret. All fixed their gaze on the symbolic cake, then Mlle Charlotte directed that each one close his eyes while taking a piece.

Who would be the king? A childish, expectant smile was on the lips of everyone. M. Lesable uttered a little "ah" of astonishment, and showed between his thumb and forefinger a great white bean still covered with pastry. Cachelin began to applaud, then cried: "Choose the queen! choose the queen!"

The king hesitated an instant only. Would it not be a politic act to choose Mlle Charlotte? She would be flattered, brought over, his friend ever after! Then he reflected that it was really Mlle Cora for whom he had been invited, and that he would seem like a ninny in choosing the aunt. He turned toward his youthful neighbor, and handing her the royal bean said: "Mademoiselle, will you permit me to offer it to you?" And they looked one another in the face for the first time.

She replied: "Thank you. Monsieur," and received the gage of sovereignty.

He thought: "She is enormously pretty, this girl. Her eyes are superb. She is gay, too, if I am not mistaken!"

A sharp detonation made the two women jump. Cachelin had just opened the champagne, which escaped from the bottle and ran over the table-cloth. Then the glasses were filled with the frothy stuff and the host declared: "It is of good quality, one can see that." But as Lesable was about to drink to prevent his glass from running over, César cried: "The king drinks! the king drinks! the king drinks!" And Mlle Charlotte, also excited, squeaked in her thin voice: "The king drinks! the king drinks!"

Lesable emptied his glass with composure, and replacing it on the table said: "You see I am not lacking in assurance." Then turning toward Mlle Cora he said: "It is yours, Mademoiselle!"

She wished to drink, but everybody having cried: "The queen drinks! the queen drinks!" she blushed, began to laugh, and put the glass down again.

The end of the dinner was full of gaiety; the king showed himself most attentive and gallant toward the queen. Then when they had finished the liqueurs, Cachelin announced:

"We will have the table cleared away now to give us more room. If it is not raining, we can go to the balcony for a few minutes." He wanted Lesable to see the view, although it was night.

The glass door was thrown open. A moist, warm breeze entered. It was mild outdoors as in the month of April. They all mounted the step which separated the dining-room from the large balcony. They could see nothing but a vague glimmer hovering over the great city, like the gilt halos which they put on the heads of the saints. In some spots this light seemed more brilliant, and Cachelin began to explain:

"See, that is the Eden blazing down there. Look at the line of the boulevards. Isn't it wonderful, how you can distinguish them! In the daytime it is splendid, this view. You would have to travel a long way before you saw anything finer!"

Lesable was leaning on the iron balustrade, by the side of Cora, who gazed into the void, silent, distraught, seized of a sudden with one of those melancholy languors which sometimes oppress the soul. Mlle Charlotte returned to the room, fearing the damp. Cachelin continued to speak, his outstretched hand indicating the places where they would find the Invalides, the Trocadéro, the Arc de Triomphe.

Lesable in a low voice asked: "And you, Mlle Cora, do you like to look at Paris from this height?"

She gave a little shiver, as though she had been dreaming and answered: "I? Yes, especially at night. I think of all the things which are happening there in front of us. How many happy people and how many who are unhappy in all these houses! If one could see everything, how many things one might learn!"

He came a little nearer, until their elbows and their shoulders touched:

"By moonlight this should be like fairyland."

She murmured: "Ah, yes, indeed. One would say it was an engraving by Gustave Doré. What a pleasure it would be to take a long walk on these roofs."

Then he questioned her regarding her tastes, her dreams, her pleasures. And she replied without embarrassment, after the manner of an intelligent, sensible girl—one who was not more imaginative than was necessary.

He found her full of good sense, and he said to himself that it would be wonderfully sweet to put his arm about that firm, round figure, and to press a score of little slow kisses, as one drinks in little sips of excellent brandy, on that fresh cheek, near the ear, just where a ray from the lamp fell upon it. He felt himself attracted, moved by the sensation of the proximity of a beautiful woman, by the thirst for her ripe and virginal flesh and by that delicate seductive influence a young girl possesses. It seemed to him he could remain there for hours, nights, weeks, forever, leaning towards her, feeling her near to him, thrilled by the charm of that contact. And something like a poetic sentiment stirred his heart in the face of that great Paris, spread out before him, brilliant in her nocturnal life, her life of pleasure and debauchery. It seemed to him that he dominated the enormous city, that he hovered over it; and he thought how delicious it would be to recline every evening on such a balcony beside a woman, to love her and be loved by her, to press her to his breast, far above the vast city, and all the earthly loves it contained, above all the vulgar satisfactions and common desires, near to the stars.

There are nights when even the least exalted souls begin to dream, and Lesable felt as though he were spreading his wings for the first time. Perhaps he was a little tipsy.

Cachelin went inside to get his pipe, and came back lighting it. "I know," he said, "that you do not smoke or I would offer you a cigarette. There is nothing more delightful than to smoke here. If I had to live on the ground floor I should die. We could do it if we wanted to, for the house belongs to my sister, as well as the two neighbouring ones—the one on the right and the one on the left. She has a nice little revenue from these alone. They did not cost a great deal, either, when she bought them." And turning toward the window he cried: "How much did you pay for the ground here, Charlotte?"

Then the thin voice of the old spinster was heard speaking. Lesable could only hear broken fragments of the sentences: "In eighteen hundred and sixty-three—thirty-five francs—built afterward—the three houses—a banker—sold for at least five hundred thousand francs—"

She talked of her fortune with the complacency of an old soldier who reels off stories of his campaigns. She enumerated her purchases, the high offers she had since had, the rise in values, etc.

Lesable, immediately interested, turned about, resting now his back against the balustrade of the balcony. But as he still caught only tantalizing scraps of what the old woman said, he brusquely left his young companion and went within where he might hear everything; and seating himself beside Mademoiselle Charlotte conversed with her for a long time on the probable increase in rents and what income should accrue from money well placed in stocks and bonds. He left toward midnight, promising to return.

A month later there was nothing talked about in the whole office but the marriage of Jacques Léopold Lesable with Mademoiselle Céleste Coralie, Cachelin.


The young people began housekeeping on the same floor with Cachelin and Mlle Charlotte, in an apartment similar to theirs from which the tenant was expelled.

A certain uneasiness, however, disturbed the mind of Lesable: the aunt had not wished to assure her heritage to Cora by any definitive act. She had, however, consented to swear "before God" that her will was made and deposited with Maître Belhomme, the notary. She had promised, moreover, that her entire fortune should revert to her niece on one sole condition. Being pressed to reveal this condition she refused to explain herself, but averred with a little amiable smile that it was very easy of fulfillment.

Notwithstanding these explanations and the stubbornness of the pious old woman, Lesable thought he ought to have further assurance; but, as the young woman pleased him greatly, his desire triumphed over his incertitude, and he yielded to the determined efforts of Cachelin.

Now he was happy, notwithstanding that he was always tormented by a doubt, and he loved his wife, who had in nowise disappointed his expectations. His life flowed along, tranquil and monotonous. He became, in several weeks, perfectly inured to his new position of married man, and he continued to be the same faithful and accomplished employee as formerly.

A year rolled away. The first of the year came round again. He did not receive, to his great surprise, the promotion on which he had counted. Maze and Pitolet alone passed to the grade above, and Boissel declared confidentially to Cachelin that he had promised himself to give his two fellow-clerks a good thrashing at the main entrance before everybody. But he did nothing.

For a whole week Lesable did not sleep a wink because of the anguish he felt at not having been promoted, despite his zeal. He had been working like a dog; he had filled the place of the assistant-chief, M. Rabot, who had been in the hospital of Val-de-Grâce for nine months; he had been coming to the office at half past eight every morning, remaining until half past six in the evening. What more could they ask? If they could not appreciate such faithful service he would do like the others, that was all. To everyone according to his deserts. How could M. Torchebeuf, who had always treated him like a son, have sacrificed him thus? He wanted to get at the bottom of the thing. He would go to the chief and have an explanation with him.

On Monday morning, therefore, before the arrival of his comrades, he knocked at the door of that potentate.

A sharp voice cried: "Come in!" He entered.

Seated before a great table strewn with papers, his little body bent over a writing-pad which his big head almost touched, M. Torchebeuf was busily writing. On seeing his favorite employee he said cheerfully: "Good morning, Lesable; you are well?"

The young man replied: "Good morning, dear master, I am very well; and you?"

The chief ceased writing and turned about in his revolving chair. His frail, slender body, clad in a black surtout of severe cut, seemed ridiculously disproportioned to the great leather-covered chair. The brilliant rosette of an officer of the Legion of Honour, a hundred times too large for the small body which it decorated, burned like a live coal upon his narrow chest. His skull was of considerable size, as though the entire development of the individual had been at the top, after the manner of mushrooms.

His chin was pointed, his cheeks hollow, his eyes protruding, and his great bulging forehead was surmounted with white hair which he wore thrown backward.

M. Torchebeuf said: "Sit down, my friend, and tell me what brings you here."

Toward all the other clerks he displayed a military brusqueness, considering himself to be their captain, for the ministry was to him as a great vessel, the flag-ship of all the French fleet.

Lesable, somewhat moved, a little pale, stammered: "Dear master, I come to ask you if I have been lacking in any way."

"Certainly not, my dear fellow; why do you ask me such a question?"

"Because I was a little surprised at not receiving my promotion this year, as in former years. Allow me to finish my explanation, dear master, and pardon my audacity. I know that I have obtained from you exceptional favours and unlooked-for advantages. I know that promotions are only made, as a general thing, every two or three years; but permit me to remind you that I furnish the bureau with nearly four times the amount of work of an ordinary employee, and at least twice as much time. If, then, you put in the balance the result of labor and the renumeration, you will certainly find the one far outweighs the other."

He had carefully prepared this speech, which he judged to be excellent.

M. Torchebeuf, surprised, hesitated before replying. At length he said in a rather cool tone: "Although it is not admissible, on principle, that these subjects should be discussed between chief and employee, I am willing to reply for this once to your question regarding your very meritorious services.

"I proposed your name for promotion as in preceding years. The chief, however, crossed out your name on the ground that by your marriage your fortune was assured. You are to come into an inheritance such as your modest colleagues can never hope to possess. Is it not, therefore, just to take into consideration the condition of each one? You will be rich, very rich. Three hundred francs more per year will be as nothing to you, whereas this little increase will count for a great deal in the pockets of the others. There, my friend, you have the reason why you remain stationary this year."

Lesable, irritated and covered with confusion, retired.

That evening at dinner he was disagreeable to his wife. She, however, was gay and pleasant as usual. Although she was of an even temper, she was headstrong, and when she desired anything greatly she never yielded her point. She possessed no longer for him the sensual charm of the early days, and although he still looked upon her with the eye of desire, for she was fresh and charming, he experienced at times that disillusion so near to estrangement which soon comes to two beings who live a common life. The thousand trivial or grotesque details of existence, the loose toilettes of the morning, the common linen robe-de-chambre, the faded peignoir, for they were not rich, and all the necessary home duties which are seen too near at hand in a poor household—all these things took the glamour from marriage and withered the flower of poetry which, from a distance, is so attractive to lovers.

Aunt Charlotte also rendered herself as disagreeable as possible. She never went out, but stayed indoors and busied herself in everything which concerned the two young people. She wished everything conducted in accordance with her notions, made observations on everything, and as they had a horrible fear of offending her, they bore it all with resignation, but also with a suppressed and ever-increasing exasperation.

She went through their apartment with her slow, dragging step, constantly saying in her sharp, nasal voice: "You ought to do this; you certainly ought to do that."

When the husband and wife found themselves alone together, Lesable, who was a perfect bundle of nerves, would cry out: "Your aunt is growing intolerable. I won't stand her here any longer, do you hear? I won't stand it!" And Cora would reply tranquilly: "What do you want me to do?" Then flying into a passion he would say: "It is dreadful to have such a family!"

And she, still calm, would reply: "Yes, the family is dreadful, but the inheritance is good, isn't it? Now don't be an imbecile. You have as much interest as I in managing Aunt Charlotte."

Then he would be silent, not knowing what to say.

The aunt now harried them unceasingly on the subject of a child. She pushed Lesable into corners and hissed in his face: "My nephew, I intend that you shall be a father before I die. I want to see my little heir. You cannot make me believe that Cora was not made to be a mother. It is only necessary to look at her. When one gets married, my nephew, it is to have a family—to send out little branches. Our holy mother, the Church, forbids sterile marriages. I know very well that you are not rich, and that a child causes extra expense. But after me you will want for nothing. I want a little Lesable, do you understand? I want him."

When, after fifteen months of marriage, her desire was not yet realized, she began to have doubts and became very urgent; and she gave Cora in private advice—practical advice, that of a woman who has known many things in her time, and who has still the recollection of them on occasion.

But one morning she was not able to rise from her bed, feeling very unwell. As she had never been ill before, Cachelin ran in great agitation to the door of his son-in-law: "Run quickly for Dr. Barbette," he said, "and you will tell the chief, won't you, that I shall not be at the office to-day."

Lesable passed an agonizing day, incapable of working himself, or of giving directions to the other clerks. M. Torchebeuf, surprised, remarked: "You are somewhat distraught to-day, M. Lesable." And Lesable answered nervously: "I am greatly fatigued, dear master; I have passed the entire night at the bedside of our aunt, whose condition is very serious."

The chief replied coldly: "As M. Cachelin is with her I think that should suffice. I cannot allow my bureau to be disorganized for the personal reasons of my employees."

Lesable had placed his watch on the table before him, and he waited for five o'clock with feverish impatience. As soon as the big clock in the grand court struck he hurried away, quitting the office, for the first time, at the regular hour.

He even took a cab to return home, so great was his anxiety, and he mounted the staircase at a run. The nurse opened the door; he stammered: "How is she?"

"The doctor says that she is very low."

His heart began to beat rapidly. He was greatly agitated. "Ah, indeed!"

Could she, by any chance, be going to die?

He did not dare to go into the sick woman's chamber now, and he asked that Cachelin, who was watching by her side, be called.

His father-in-law appeared immediately, opening the door with precaution. He had on his dressing-gown and skullcap, as on the pleasant evenings which he passed in the corner by the fire; and he murmured in a low voice: "It's very bad, very bad. She has been unconscious since four o'clock. She even received the viaticum this afternoon."

Then Lesable felt a weakness descending into his legs, and he sat down.

"Where is my wife?"

"She is at the bedside."

"What is it the doctor says? Tell me exactly."

"He says it is a stroke. She may come out of it, but she may also die to-night."

"Do you need me? If not, I would rather not go in. It would be very painful to me to see her in this state."

"No, go to your own apartment. If there is anything new I will call you at once."

Lesable went to his own quarters. The apartment seemed to him changed—it was larger, clearer. But, as he could not keep still, he went out onto the balcony.

They were then in the last days of July, and the great sun, on the point of disappearing behind the two towers of the Trocadéro, rained fire on the immense conglomeration of roofs.

The sky, a brilliant shining red at the horizon, took on, higher up, tints of pale gold, then of yellow, then of green—a delicate green flecked with light; then it became blue—a pure and fresh blue overhead.

The swallows passed like flashes, scarcely visible, painting against the vermilion sky the curved and flying profile of their wings. And above the infinite number of houses, above the far-off country, floated a rose-tinted cloud, a vapour of fire toward which ascended, as in an apotheosis, the points of the church-steeples and all the slender pinnacles of the monuments. The Arc de Triomphe appeared enormous and black against the conflagration on the horizon, and the dome of the Invalides seemed another sun fallen from the firmament upon the roof of a building.

Lesable held with his two hands to the iron railing, drinking in the air as one drinks of wine, feeling a desire to leap, to cry out, to make violent gestures, so completely was he given over to a profound and triumphant joy. Life seemed to him radiant, the future full of richness! What would he do? And he began to dream.

A noise behind him made him tremble. It was his wife. Her eyes were red, her cheeks slightly swollen: she looked tired. She bent down her forehead for him to kiss; then she said: "We are going to dine with papa so that we may be near her. The nurse will not leave her while we are eating."

He followed her into the next apartment.

Cachelin was already at table awaiting his daughter and his son-in-law. A cold chicken, a potato salad, and a compote of strawberries were on the buffet, and the soup was smoking in the plates.

They sat down at table. Cachelin said: "These are days that I wouldn't like to see often. They are not gay." He said this with a tone of indifference and a sort of satisfaction in his face. He set himself to eat with the appetite of a hungry man, finding the chicken excellent and the potato salad most refreshing.

But Lesable felt his stomach oppressed and his mind ill at ease. He hardly ate at all, keeping his ear strained toward the next room, which was as still as though no one was within it. Nor was Cora hungry, but silent and tearful she wiped her eyes from time to time with the corner of her napkin. Cachelin asked: "What did the chief say?" and Lesable gave the details, which his father-in-law insisted on having to the last particular, making him repeat everything as though he had been absent from the ministry for a year.

"It must have made a sensation there when it became known that she was sick." And he began to dream of his glorious re-entry when she should be dead, at the head of all the other clerks. He said, however, as though in reply to a secret remorse: "It is not that I desire any evil to the dear woman. God knows I would have her preserved for many years yet, but it will have that effect all the same. Father Savon will even forget the Commune on account of it."

They were commencing to eat their strawberries, when the door of the sick-room opened. The commotion among the diners was such that with a common impulse all three of them sprang to their feet, terrified. The little nurse appeared, still preserving her calm, stupid manner, and said tranquilly:

"She has stopped breathing."

Cachelin, throwing his napkin among the dishes, sprang forward like a madman; Cora followed him, her heart beating; but Lesable remained standing near the door, spying from a distance the white spot of the bed, scarcely visible by the light of the dying day. He saw the back of his father-in-law as he stooped over the couch, examining but disturbing nothing; and suddenly he heard his voice, which seemed to him to come from afar—from very far off—the other end of the world, one of those voices which pass through our dreams and which tell us astonishing things. Cachelin said: "It is all over. She is dead." He saw his wife fall upon her knees and bury her face in the bedclothes, sobbing. Then he decided to go in, and, as Cachelin straightened himself up, the young man saw on the whiteness of the pillow the face of Aunt Charlotte, so hollow, so rigid, so pale, that with its closed eyes it looked like the face of waxen figure.

He asked in a tone of anguish: "Is it over?"

Cachelin, who was gazing at his sister, too, turned towards Lesable, and the two men looked at each other.

"Yes," replied the elder, wishing to force his face into an expression of sorrow, but the two understood one another at a glance, and without knowing why, instinctively, they shook hands, as though each would thank the other for a service rendered.

Then, without losing any time, they quickly occupied themselves with the offices required by the dead.

Lesable undertook to fetch the doctor, and to discharge as quickly as possible the most urgent errands.

He took his hat and ran down the staircase, in haste to be in the street, to be alone, to breathe, to think, to rejoice in solitude over his good fortune.

When he had attended to his errands, instead of returning he went across to the boulevard, possessed with a desire to see the crowds, to mingle in the movement of the happy life of the evening. He felt like crying out to the passers-by: "I have fifty thousand francs a year," and he walked along, his hands in his pockets, stopping before the show-windows, examining the rich stuffs, the jewels, the artistic furniture, with this joyous thought: "I can buy these for myself now."

Suddenly he stopped in front of a mourning store and the startling thought came into his mind: "What if she is not dead? What if they are mistaken?"

And he quickly turned homeward with this doubt troubling his mind.

On entering he demanded: "Has the doctor come?"

Cachelin replied: "Yes, he has confirmed the death, and is now writing the certificate."

They re-entered the death-chamber. Cora was still weeping, seated in an armchair. She wept very gently, without noise, almost without grief now, with that facility for tears which women have.

As soon as they were all three alone in the room Cachelin said in a low voice: "Now that the nurse has gone to bed, we might look around to see if anything is concealed in the furniture."

The two men set about the work. They emptied the drawers, rummaged through the pockets, unfolded every scrap of paper. By midnight they had found nothing of interest. Cora had fallen asleep, and she snored a little, in a regular fashion. César said: "Are we going to stay here until daybreak?" Lesable, perplexed, thought it was the proper thing. Then the father-in-law said: "In that case let us bring in armchairs;" and they went out to get the two big, soft easy-chairs which furnished the room of the young married couple.

An hour later the three relatives slept, with uneven snorings, before the corpse, icy in its eternal immobility.

They awakened when, at daybreak, the little nurse entered the chamber. Cachelin immediately said, rubbing his eyes: "I have been a little drowsy for the last half hour."

Lesable, who was now sitting very upright, declared: "Yes, I noticed it very plainly. As for me, I have not lost consciousness for a second; I just closed my eyes to rest them."

Cora went to her own room.

Then Lesable asked with apparent indifference:

"When do you think we should go to the notary's to find out about the will?"

"Why—this morning if you wish."

"Is it necessary that Cora should accompany us?"

"That would be better, perhaps, since she is in fact the heir."

"In that case I shall go and tell her to get ready."

Lesable went out with a quick step.

The office of Maître Belhomme was just opening its doors when Cachelin, Lesable and his wife presented themselves in deep mourning, with faces full of woe.

The notary at once appeared and, greeting them, bade them sit down. Cachelin spoke up: "Monsieur, you remember me: I am the brother of Mlle Charlotte Cachelin. These are my daughter and my son-in-law. My poor sister died yesterday; we will bury her to-morrow. As you are the depositary of her will, we come to ask you if she has not formulated some request relative to her inhumation, or if you have not some communication to make to us."

The notary opened a drawer, took out an envelope from which he drew a paper, and said:

"Here, Monsieur, is a duplicate of the will, the contents of which I will make you acquainted with immediately. The other document, exactly similar to this, is to remain in my hands." And he read:

"I, the undersigned, Victorine-Charlotte Cachelin, here express my last wishes:

"I leave my entire fortune, amounting to about one million one hundred and twenty thousand francs, to the children who will be born of the marriage of my niece Céleste-Coralie Cachelin, the possession of the income to go to the parents until the majority of the eldest of their descendants.

"The provisions which follow regulate the share which shall fall to each child, and the share remaining to the parents until their death.

"In the event of my death before my niece has an heir, all my fortune is to remain in the hands of my notary, for the term of three years, for my wish above expressed to be complied with if a child is born during that time.

"But in the case of Coralie's not obtaining from Heaven a descendant during the three years following my death, my fortune is to be distributed, by the hands of my notary, among the poor and the benevolent institutions contained in the following list."

There followed an interminable series of names of communities, of societies, of orders, and of instructions.

Then Maître Belhomme politely placed the paper in the hands of Cachelin, who stood speechless with astonishment.

The notary thought he ought to add something by way of explanation to his visitors.

"Mlle Cachelin," said he, "when she did me the honour to speak to me for the first time of her project of making her will according to this plan, expressed to me the great desire which she had to see an heir of her race. She replied to all my reasoning by a more and more positive expression of her wishes, which were based, moreover, on a religious sentiment, she holding every sterile union to be the sign of divine malediction. I have not been able to modify her intentions in the least. Believe me, I regret this fact exceedingly." Then he added, smiling at Coralie: "But I do not doubt that the desideratum of the deceased will be quickly realized."

And the three relatives went away, too bewildered to think of anything.

Side by side they walked home, without speaking, ashamed and furious, as though they had robbed each other. All of Cora's grief, even, had suddenly disappeared, the ingratitude of her aunt driving away all disposition to weep.

At last Lesable, whose pale lips were drawn with rage, said to his father-in-law:

"Pass me that paper, that I may read it with my own eyes." Cachelin handed him the document and the young man began to read. He had stopped on the footpath and, jostled by the passers-by, he stood there scanning the words with his piercing and practical eye. The two others waited a few steps in front, still silent.

Then he handed back the paper, saying:

"There is nothing to be done. She has tricked us beautifully."

Cachelin, who was irritated by the failure of his hopes, replied:

"It was for you to have a child, damn it! You knew well enough that she wanted it long ago."

Lesable shrugged his shoulders without answering.

On entering they found a crowd of people awaiting them, those whose calling brings them where a corpse is. Lesable went to his room, not wishing to be bothered, and César spoke roughly to all of them, crying out to them to leave him in peace, demanding that they get through with it as quickly as possible, thinking that they were very long in relieving him of the dead.

Cora, shut up in her room, made no sound, but after an hour Cachelin came and rapped on the door of his son-in-law.

"I come, my dear Léopold," said he, "to submit some reflections to you, for it is necessary to come to some understanding. My opinion is that we should give her a befitting funeral in order to give no hint at the Ministry of what has happened. We will arrange about the expense. Besides, nothing is lost. You have not been married very long, and it would be too great a misfortune if you had no children. You must set about it, that's all. And now to business. Will you drop in at the Ministry after a while? I am going to address the envelopes for the death announcements."

Lesable grudgingly agreed that his father-in-law was right, and they sat down face to face, each at an end of a long table, to fill in the black-bordered cards.

Then they lunched. Cora reappeared, indifferent as though nothing of what had passed concerned her, and she ate a good deal, having fasted the evening before.

As soon as the meal was finished she returned to her room. Lesable left to go to the Ministry, and Cachelin installed himself on the balcony, his chair tilted back, in order to enjoy a pipe.

The broad sun of a summer day fell perpendicularly upon the multitude of roofs, some of which were pierced with windows which blazed as with fire and threw back the dazzling rays which the sight could not sustain.

And Cachelin, in his shirt-sleeves, looked, with his eyes blinking under this stream of light, upon the green hillocks far, far away beyond the great city, beyond the dusty suburbs. He thought of how the Seine flowed there, broad, calm, and fresh, at the foot of hills which had trees on their slopes, and how much better it would be to be lying on one's stomach in that greenery on the bank of the river, gazing into the water, than to be sitting on the burning lead of his balcony. And an uneasiness oppressed him, the tormenting thought, the grievous sensation of their disaster, of that unfortunate, unexpected thing, so much more bitter and brutal because the hope had been so ardent and so long-lived; and he said aloud, as people do in time of great trouble of mind, in the uprooting of a fixed idea: "Damned old witch!"

Behind him in the bedroom he heard the movements of those who were busying themselves with the preparations for the funeral, and the continuous noise of the hammer which nailed up the coffin. He had not looked at his sister since his visit to the lawyer.

But little by little the warmth, the gaiety, the clear charm of this beautiful day penetrated to his mind and his soul, and he thought that things were not so desperate. Why should his daughter not have a child? She had not been married two years yet! His son-in-law appeared vigorous, well built, and in good health, although small. They would have a child, and then besides, by Jupiter, they had to!

Lesable furtively entered the Ministry and slunk to his room. He found on the table a paper bearing these words: "The chief wants you." He made a gesture of impatience. He felt a revolt against this yoke which had again fallen on his back; then a sudden and violent desire to succeed seized him. He would be chief in his turn, and soon; he would then go higher still. Without removing his frock-coat he went at once to M. Torchebeuf. He presented himself with one of those solemn faces which one assumes on sad occasions. But there was something more—an expression of sincere and profound sorrow, that involuntary dejection which a deep disappointment leaves upon the features.

The head of the chief was bent over his papers. He raised it suddenly, and said in a sharp tone: "I have needed you all morning. Why have you not come?"

Lesable replied: "Dear master, we have had the misfortune to lose my aunt. Mademoiselle Cachelin, and I have just come to ask you to attend the funeral, which will take place to-morrow."

The frown on the brow of M. Torchebeuf immediately disappeared, and he replied with a touch of consideration: "That alters the case, my dear friend. I thank you and give you the day, for you must have a great deal to attend to."

But Lesable, desiring to show his zeal, said:

"Thanks, dear master, everything is finished, and I expected to remain here until the regular hour for closing."

And he returned to his desk.

The news soon spread, and his fellows came from all the departments to bring him their congratulation rather than their condolences, and also to see how he bore himself. He endured their speeches and their looks with the resigned appearance of an actor, and also with a tact which astonished them.

"He conducts himself very well," said some.

"Well he may," added others; "he ought to be content—lucky dog!"

Maze, more audacious than any of them, asked with the careless air of a man of the world: "Do you know exactly the amount of the fortune?"

Lesable replied in a perfectly disinterested tone: "No, not precisely. The will says about twelve hundred thousand francs. I know that, as the notary was obliged to make us acquainted immediately with certain clauses relative to the funeral."

It was the general opinion that Lesable would not remain in the Ministry. With an income of sixty thousand francs one does not remain a quill-driver. One is somebody and can be something according to one's inclination.

Some thought that he was aiming at the Cabinet; others believed that he thought of the Chamber of Deputies. The chief was expecting to receive his resignation to transmit to the head of the department.

The entire Ministry came to the funeral, which was thought to be very meagre. But the word was around: "It is Mlle Cachelin herself who wished it so. It was in the will."

On the very next day Cachelin was at his post, and Lesable, after a week of indisposition, also returned, a little pale but assiduous and zealous as formerly. One would have said that nothing unlooked-for had happened to them. It was only remarked that they ostentatiously smoked very large cigars, that they talked of consols, railways, of stocks and shares, like men who have scrip in their pockets, and it became known, in a short time, that they had rented a country-house in the neighbourhood of Paris, in which to spend the summer season.

"They are miserly like the old woman," they said. "It runs in the family. Birds of a feather flock together. But it doesn't look well to retain a clerkship with such a fortune."

In a short time the matter was forgotten. They were rated and judged.


After the burial of Aunt Charlotte, Lesable thought again of the million, and, tormented by a rage all the more violent because it must be kept secret, he hated all the world on account of his deplorable ill-luck. "Why, having been married two years, have I not had a child?" he asked himself, and the fear of seeing his household remain sterile made his heart sink. Then, as an urchin who sees from afar the shining prize at the end of the goal, and swears to himself to attain it, and exerts all the vigour and tenacity necessary to reach it, so Lesable took the desperate resolution to become a parent. So many others had, why might not he also? Perhaps he had been negligent, careless, ignorant of something, the consequence of complete indifference. Never having felt a violent desire for an heir, he had never directed all his energies to obtaining this result. He determined to concentrate all his efforts; he would neglect nothing, and he must succeed because he so much desired to. But when he returned home, he felt ill enough to take to his bed. The disappointment had been too bitter and he bowed himself to the blow.

This nervous strain brought him to such a state that the physician judged his condition serious enough to prescribe absolute rest as well as an interminable course of treatment. They feared brain fever. In eight days, however, he was about again and resumed his work at the office. But he dare not yet, he believed, approach the conjugal bed. He hesitated and trembled as a general who is going to give battle, a battle on which depends his future. Each evening he awaited the next day, hoping for an access of virility and energy, a happy moment in which he might accomplish his desire. He felt his pulse every minute, and if it was too feeble or too rapid, he took a tonic, ate raw meat, and strengthened himself in every possible way. As his improvement was not very rapid, Lesable determined to pass the hot months in the country. He persuaded himself that the country air would be a sovereign balm for his weakness, and he assured himself of the accomplishment of the hoped-for success. He said to his father-in-law, in a confidential tone: "When we are once in the country my health will improve, and all will go well." That one word "country" seemed to carry for him a mysterious significance.

They rented a small house in the village of Bezons, and the whole family took up their residence there. The two men started out on foot every morning for the station of Colombes, returning in the evening.

Cora, enchanted at living thus on the banks of the peaceful river, would seat herself on the sward, gather flowers, and bring home great bunches of delicate, trembling ferns.

Every evening they all three walked along the river as far as the tollgate of Morue, and, entering, drank a bottle of beer at the Restaurant des Tilleuls. The river, retarded by the long file of stakes, poured between them and leaped, bubbled, and foamed for the distance of a hundred feet. The roaring of the falls made the ground tremble, while a fine mist of vapour floated in the air, rising from the cascade like a light smoke, throwing on the surroundings a delightful odour of spray and a savour of wet earth. As night fell, a great light below and in front indicated Paris, and Cachelin exclaimed every evening: "What a city, after all!"

From time to time, a train, passing on the iron bridge which crossed the end of the island, made a rolling as of thunder and suddenly disappeared, sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right, toward Paris or toward the sea. They returned home slowly, seating themselves on the bank, watching the moon rise and pour on the river her soft and yellow light, which seemed to fuse with the water, and the wrinkles of the current moved like waves of fire. The toads uttered their short and metallic cries. The calls of the night birds rang out on the air, and sometimes a large, mute shadow glided on the river, troubling her calm and luminous course. It was a band of freebooters who, throwing in suddenly their net, drew it back without noise into their boat, dragging in its vast and sombre mesh a shoal of shining and trembling gudgeons, like a treasure drawn from the bottom of the sea, a living treasure of silver fish.

Cora, deeply moved, leaned tenderly upon the arm of her husband, whose design she suspected, although nothing of it had been spoken between them. It was for them like a new betrothal, a second expectation of the kiss of love. Sometimes he would bestow a furtive caress behind her ear, on that charming spot of tender flesh where curls the first hair. She responded by a pressure of the hand, and they attracted while refusing each other, incited and held back by a will more energetic, by the phantom of the million. Cachelin, appeased by the hope which he felt around him, was happy. He drank deeply and ate much, feeling, born in him at twilight, the hour of poetry, that foolish tenderness which comes to the dullest persons in certain aspects of nature: a rain of light through the branches, a sunset behind the distant hills, with purple reflections on the water. He declared: "As for me, in the presence of such things I believe in God. It touches me here," and he indicated the pit of his stomach. "I feel myself turned upside down. I feel queer. It seems to me I have been steeped in a bath which makes me want to cry."

As for Lesable, his health rapidly improved. He was seized with sudden ardours, which he did not understand, and he felt a desire to run like a young colt, to roll in the grass and neigh with delight.

He thought the favoured time was approaching. It was a true wedding night. Then they had a new-honeymoon full of caresses and hopes. Later they perceived that their experiments were fruitless and their confidence was in vain.

But in the midst of despair Lesable did not lose courage; he continued to make the most superhuman efforts. His wife, moved by the same desire and trembling with the same fear, more robust too than he, encouraged him in his attempts and stimulated his flagging ardour. They returned to Paris in the early days of October.

Life became hard for them again. Unkind words fell from their lips, and Cachelin, who scented the situation, harassed them with the coarse and venomous epigrams of an old trooper.

And one incessant thought pursued them, tortured them, and sharpened their mutual rancour—that of the unattainable legacy. Cora now carried a sharp tongue, and lashed her husband. She treated him like a little boy, a mere brat, a man of no importance. Cachelin at every meal repeated: "If I were rich, I should have children in plenty; when one is poor it is necessary to be reasonable." Then turning to his daughter he added: "You must be like me; but there—" and he looked at his son-in-law significantly, accompanying the look with a movement of the shoulders full of contempt.

Lesable made no reply. He felt himself to be a superior man allied to a family of boors.

At the Ministry they noticed the alteration in his manner, and even the chief one day asked him: "Are you not ill? You appear to me to be somewhat changed."

Lesable replied: "Not at all, my dear sir. I am a little tired, perhaps, having worked very constantly, as you may have seen."

He counted very surely on his promotion at the end of the year, and he had resumed, in this hope, the laborious life of a model employee. But among the meagre bonuses that were distributed Lesable's was the smallest of all, and Cachelin received nothing. Struck to the heart, Lesable sought the chief, whom, for the first time, he addressed as "Monsieur."

"Of what use is it, Monsieur, to work as I do, if I do not reap any reward?"

The head of Monsieur Torchebeuf appeared to bristle.

"I have already told you. Monsieur Lesable, that I will admit of no discussion of this nature between us. I repeat to you again that your claim is unreasonable, your actual fortune being so great as compared to the poverty of your colleagues—"

Lesable could not contain himself. "But I have nothing, Monsieur. Our aunt has left her fortune to the first child which shall be born of our marriage. We live, my father-in-law and I, on our salaries."

The chief was greatly surprised. "If you have no fortune to-day, you will be rich, in any case, at some future day. It amounts to the same thing."

Lesable withdrew, more cast down by his failure than by the uncertainty of Aunt Charlotte's million.

As Cachelin came to his desk some days later the handsome Maze entered with a smile on his lips; next Pitolet appeared, his eyes shining; then Boissel opened the door, and advanced with an excited air, tittering and exchanging meaning looks with the others. Old Savon continued his copying, his clay pipe in the corner of his mouth, seated on his high chair, his feet twisted about the rounds after the fashion of little boys. Nobody spoke. They seemed to be waiting for something, and Cachelin continued to register his papers, announcing in a loud voice according to his custom: "Toulon: Furniture for the officers of the Richelieu. Lorient: Diving apparatus for the Desaix. Brest: Samples of sails of English manufacture."

Lesable entered. He came now every morning for information in regard to the affairs which concerned him, his father-in-law no longer taking the trouble to send him instructions by the office boy.

While he was looking amongst the papers spread out on the table of the chief-clerk, Maze watched him from his corner, rubbing his hands, and Pitolet, who was rolling a cigarette, seemed full of mirth he could not control. He turned toward the copying-clerk:

"Say now, papa Savon, you have learned many things in your time, haven't you?"

The old man, knowing they meant to tease him and to speak to him of his wife, did not reply.

Pitolet began: "You must have discovered the secret of begetting children, since you have had several."

The old clerk raised his head. "You know, M. Pitolet, that I do like any joking on this subject. I have had the misfortune to marry an unworthy woman, and when I became convinced of her faithlessness I separated from her."

Maze asked in an indifferent tone: "You have had several proofs of her infidelity, have you not?"

And the old man gravely replied: "I have."

Pitolet put in again: "That has not prevented you from becoming the father of three or four children, I am told."

The poor old man, growing very red, stammered: "You are trying to wound me. Monsieur Pitolet; but you will not succeed. My wife has had, in fact, three children. I have reason to believe that the first born is mine, but I deny the two others."

Pitolet continued: "Everybody says, in truth, that the first one is yours. That is sufficient. It is very gratifying to have a child, very gratifying and very delightful. I wager Lesable there would be enchanted to have one—only one, like you."

Cachelin had stopped writing. He did not laugh, although old Savon was his butt ordinarily, and he had poured out his stock of cruel jokes on the subject of the old clerk's conjugal sorrows.

Lesable had collected his papers; but feeling himself attacked he wished to remain, held back by pride, confused and irritated, and wishing to know who had betrayed his secret.

Then the recollection of the confidence he had made to his chief came back to him, and he at once understood it was necessary to express his indignation if he did not wish to become the butt of the whole Ministry.

Boissel marched up and down the room, all the time tittering. He imitated the hoarse voices of the street criers, and bellowed: "The secret of begetting children, for ten centimes—two sous! Buy the secret of begetting children—revealed by Monsieur Savon, with many horrible details." Everybody began to laugh except Lesable and his father-in-law, and Pitolet, turning toward the order-clerk, said: "What is the matter with you, Cachelin? You seem to have lost your habitual gaiety. One would think that you do not find it amusing to believe that old Savon could have had a child by his wife. I think it very funny. Everybody cannot do as much."

Lesable pretended to be deeply absorbed in his papers and to hear nothing of what was going on about him, but he was as white as a ghost.

Boissel took up the strain in the same mocking voice: "The utility of heirs for getting an inheritance, ten centimes, two sous; who will buy?"

Then Maze, who thought this was very poor sort of wit, and who personally was enraged at Lesable having robbed him of the hope of a fortune which he had secretly cherished, said pointedly: "What is the matter with you, Lesable? You are very pale."

Lesable raised his head and looked his colleague full in the face. He hesitated a second, while his lip trembled as he tried to formulate a bitter reply, but, unable to find the phrase he sought, he responded: "There is nothing the matter with me. I am only astonished that you display so much delicacy."

Maze, who stood with his back to the fire and his hands under his coat-tails, replied, laughing: "One does the best one can, old man. We are like you, we do not always succeed—"

An explosion of laughter interrupted his words. Old Savon, who now vaguely comprehended that the clerks no longer addressed their railleries to him, looked around with his mouth gaping and his pen suspended in the air. And Cachelin waited, ready to come to blows with the first person who came in his way.

Lesable stammered: "I do not understand. In what have I not succeeded?"

The handsome Maze dropped the tails of his coat, and began to stroke his mustache. "I know that you ordinarily succeed in all that you undertake. I have done wrong to speak of you. Besides, we were speaking of old Savon's children, and not of yours, as you haven't any. Now since you succeed in all your enterprises, it is evident that, if you do not have children, it is because you do not want them."

"What business is it of yours?" demanded Lesable sharply.

At this provoking tone Maze in his turn raised his voice: "Hold on! what do you take me for? Try to be polite, or I'll settle you!"

Lesable trembled with anger, and losing all self-control, replied: "Monsieur Maze, I am not, like you, a great booby, or a great coxcomb. And I forbid you ever to speak to me again. I care neither for you nor your kind." And he threw a look of defiance at Pitolet and Boissel.

Maze suddenly understood that true force is in calmness and irony, but wounded in his most vulnerable part—his vanity—he wished to strike his enemy to the very heart, and replied in the protecting tone of a benevolent well-wisher, but with rage in his eyes: "My dear Lesable, you pass all bounds. But I understand your vexation. It is pitiful to lose a fortune, and to lose it for so little, for a thing so easy, so simple. If you wish, I will do you this service myself, for nothing, out of pure friendship. It is only an affair of five minutes—"

He was still speaking when Lesable hurled the inkstand of old Savon full at his head.

A flood of ink covered his face and metamorphosed him into a negro with surprising rapidity. He sprang forward, rolling the whites of his eyes, with his hands raised ready to strike. But Cachelin covered his son-in-law, and grasping Maze by the arms pushed him aside, and, after pounding him well, dashed him against the wall. Maze disengaged himself with a violent effort, and rushed through the door, crying to the two men: "You shall soon hear from me!" Pitolet and Boissel followed him.

Boissel explained his moderation by declaring he should have killed some one if he had taken part in the struggle.

As soon as he entered his room Maze endeavoured to remove the stain, but without success. The ink was violet, and was indelible and ineffaceable. He stood before his glass furious and disconsolate, rubbing savagely at his face with a napkin rolled in a knot. He obtained only a richer black, mixed with red, the blood coming to the surface with the friction.

Boissel and Pitolet strove to advise and console him. One suggested the application of pure olive oil, the other prescribed a bath of ammonia. The office boy was sent to ask the advice of a chemist. He brought back a yellow liquid and pumice stone, which was used with no result.

Maze, disheartened, sank into a chair and declared: "Now it only remains to settle the question of honour. Will you act as seconds for me, and demand of Monsieur Lesable a sufficient apology, or the reparation by arms?"

They both at once consented, and began to discuss the steps to be taken. They had no idea about affairs of this kind, but not wishing to betray their ignorance, and desiring to appear correct, their advice were timorous and conflicting. It was finally decided that they should consult a sea captain who was attached to the Ministry to look after the coal distribution. But he was as ignorant as they were. After some moments of reflection, however, he advised them to go and see Lesable and ask to be put in touch with two of his friends.

As they proceeded to the office of their colleague, Boissel suddenly stopped. "Is it not imperative that we should have gloves?" he asked.

Pitolet hesitated an instant. "Perhaps it is," he replied seriously. But in order to procure the gloves it would have been necessary to go out, and the chief was rather severe.

They sent the office boy to bring an assortment from the nearest glove-store.

To decide upon the colour was a question of time. Boissel preferred black. Pitolet thought that shade out of place in the circumstances. At last they chose violet.

Seeing the two men enter gloved and solemn, Lesable raised his head and brusquely demanded: "What do you want?"

Pitolet replied: "Monsieur, we are charged by our friend. Monsieur Maze, to ask of you an apology, or a reparation by arms for the insult you have inflicted on him."

Lesable, still greatly exasperated, cried: "What, he insults me, and sends you to provoke me? Tell him that I despise him—that I despise all he can say or do."

Boissel advanced with a tragic air. "You will force us. Monsieur, to publish in the papers an official report, which will be very disagreeable to you."

Pitolet maliciously added: "And which will gravely injure your honour, and your future advancement."

Lesable, overwhelmed, looked at them. What should he do? He sought to gain time. "Will you wait a moment in the office of Monsieur Pitolet? You shall have my answer in ten minutes."

When at last alone he looked around him, seeking for some counsel, some protection.

A duel! He was going to fight a duel!

He sat terrified, with a beating heart. He, a peaceful man, who had never dreamed of such a possibility, who was not prepared for the risk, whose courage was not equal to such a formidable event. He rose from his chair and sat down again, his heart wildly beating, his legs sinking under him. His anger and his strength had totally deserted him.

But the thought of the opinion of the Ministry, the gossip the story would make among his acquaintances, aroused his failing pride, and, not knowing what to decide, he sought his chief to ask his advice. M. Torchebeuf was surprised and perplexed. An armed encounter seemed to him unnecessary, and he thought a duel would demoralise the service. He replied: "I can give you no advice. It is a question of honour, which does not concern me. Do you wish that I should give you a note to Commandant Bouc? He is a competent man in such matters, and will be able to advise you."

Lesable accepted the offer, and saw the commandant, who even consented to be his second; he took an under-chief for another.

Boissel and Pitolet waited with their gloves on. They had borrowed two chairs from another office, in order to have four seats.

They saluted gravely and took their places, while Pitolet explained the situation. The commandant, having listened attentively, replied: "The case is serious, but it does not appear to me to be irreparable. Everything depends on the intention." He was a sly old sailor, who was enjoying himself.

A long discussion began regarding the reciprocal apologies the principals should make. M. Maze acknowledging not to have had the intention to offend, M. Lesable should hasten to avow himself in the wrong in throwing the inkstand at the head of M. Maze, and pray to be excused for his inconsiderate violence.

The four proxies returned to their clients.

Maze, seated before his table, was agitated by the dread of the possible duel, although expecting to see his adversary retreat, and regarded his face attentively in one of those little, round tin mirrors which the employees concealed in a drawer for the purpose of adjusting their hair and ties before leaving in the evening. He read the letter of apology which had been prepared by the seconds of both parties, and declared with evident satisfaction: "That appears to me to be very honourable; I am willing to sign it."

Lesable, for his part, accepted without discussion the arrangement of his seconds, and declared: "As this is the result of your mutual consultation, I can but acquiesce."

The four plenipotentiaries assembled. The letters were exchanged, they saluted gravely, and so the affair terminated. An extraordinary excitement reigned in the Ministry. The employees, carrying the news, passed from one door to the other, and lingered to gossip about in the lobbies. When they heard how the affair had ended, there was general disappointment. Some one said: "Still, that will not get Lesable a baby." And the saying took. One employee made a rhyme upon it.

But at the moment when everything seemed adjusted, a difficulty suggested itself to Boissel: "What would be the attitude of the two adversaries when they found themselves face to face? Would they speak, or would they ignore each other?" It was decided that they should meet, as if by chance, in the office of the chief, and exchange, in the presence of M. Torchebeuf, some words of politeness.

This ceremony was accordingly accomplished, and Maze, having sent for a carriage, returned home, to try to remove the stain from his face.

Lesable and Cachelin drove home together without speaking, mutually exasperated, each blaming the other for the disgraceful affair.

The moment he entered the house, Lesable threw his hat violently on the table and cried to his wife: "I have had enough of it! I have a duel on your account now!" She looked at him in angry surprise.

"A duel? How is that?"

"Because Maze has insulted me on your account."

She approached him. "On my account? How?"

He threw himself passionately into an armchair and exclaimed: "He has insulted me—no need to say any more about it."

But she would know. "You must repeat to me the words he used about me."

Lesable blushed, and then stammered: "He told me—he told me—it was in regard to your sterility."

She gave a start; then recoiling in fury, the paternal rudeness showing through the woman's nature, she burst out:

"I! I am sterile, am I? What does that clown know about it? Sterile with you, yes; because you are not a man. But if I had married another, no matter who, do you hear? I should have had children. Ah, you had better talk! It has cost me dear to have married a softy like you! And what did you reply to this good-for-nothing?"

Lesable, frightened before this storm, stuttered: "I—I slapped his face."

She looked at him in astonishment.

"And what did he do?"

"He sent me a challenge; that was all."

She was instantly interested, attracted, like all women, by the dramatic element, and she asked, immediately softened, and suddenly seized with a sort of esteem for this man who was going to risk his life for her sake:

"When are you going to fight him?"

He replied tranquilly: "We are not going to fight: the matter has been arranged by our seconds. Maze has sent me an apology."

Transported with rage, she boxed his ears. "Ah, he insults me in your presence, and you permit it, and refuse to fight him! It needed but this to make you a coward."

Enraged at this he cried: "I command you to hold your tongue. I know better than you do how to protect my honour. To convince you, here is the letter of M. Maze; take it and read it, and see for yourself."

She took the letter, ran her eye over it, and divining the whole truth, sneered: "You wrote him a letter also? You are afraid of each other. What cowards men are! If we were in your place, we women—after all, it is I who have been insulted, your wife, and you are willing to let it pass. That need not astonish me, for you are not man enough to beget a child. That explains everything. You are as impotent before women as you are cowardly among men. Ah, I have married a nice worm!"

She had suddenly assumed the voice and gestures of her father, the coarse and vulgar manners of an old trooper, and the intonations of a man.

Standing before him, her hands on her hips, tall, strong, vigorous, her chest protruding, her cheeks flushed, her voice deep and vibrant, she looked at this little man seated in front of her, a trifle bald, clean shaven except for the short side-whiskers of the lawyer, and she felt a desire to crush, to strangle him.

She continued: "You are capable of nothing—of nothing whatever! You allow everybody at the Ministry, even, to be promoted over your head!"

The door opened, and Cachelin entered, attracted by the sound of their voices, and demanded to know what was the matter. "I told the truth to that worm!" answered Cora.

Lesable raised his eyes, and for the first time noticed the resemblance between father and daughter. It seemed to him that a veil was lifted and the pair were revealed in their true colours—the same coarse nature was common to both; and he, a ruined man, was condemned to live between the two forever.

Cachelin exclaimed: "If you only could get a divorce! It is not very satisfactory to have married a capon."

At that word, trembling and blazing with fury, Lesable sprang up with a bound. He rushed at his father-in-law shouting: "Get out of here! Begone! You are in my house—do you understand?—and I order you to leave it." He seized from the table a bottle of sedative water and brandished it like a club.

Cachelin, intimidated, backed out of the room, muttering: "What will he do next, I wonder?"

But Lesable was too angry to be easily appeased. He turned upon his wife, who regarded this outburst in astonishment, and placing the bottle on the table cried: "As for you—as for you—" But as words failed him to express his rage, he was choked into silence, and stood glaring at her with a distorted visage.

She began to laugh.

This mocking laughter put him beside himself, and springing upon her he seized her by the throat with his left hand, while he boxed her ears furiously with the right. She recoiled, terrified and suffocating, and fell backward on the bed, while he continued to strike her. Suddenly he raised himself, out of breath, exhausted and heartily ashamed of his brutality; he stammered: "There—there—there—that will do!"

But she did not move; it seemed as if he had killed her. She lay on her back, on the side of the bed, her face concealed by her hands.

He approached her in alarm, wondering what had happened, and expecting her to uncover her face and look at him. She made no sign, and suspense becoming intolerable he murmured: "Cora, Cora, speak!" But she did not move or reply.

What was the matter with her? What was she going to do?

His rage had passed—fallen as suddenly as it had been aroused. He felt that his conduct was odious, almost criminal. He had beaten his wife, his own wife—he who was circumspect, cold, and courteous. And in the softness his remorse awakened, he would ask her forgiveness. He threw himself on his knees at her side and covered with kisses the cheek he had just smitten. He softly touched the end of a finger of the hand that covered her face. She seemed to feel nothing. He coaxed her, caressing her as one caresses a beaten dog. She took no notice of him. "Cora, listen: I have done wrong! Cora, hear me!" She seemed as one dead. Then he tried to take her hand from her face. It obeyed his effort passively, and he saw an open eye, which stared at him with a fixed and alarming gaze.

He continued: "Listen, Cora, I was transported with fury. It was your father who drove me to do this shameful thing. A man cannot take such an insult as that." She made no reply, as if she heard nothing. He did not know what to say, or what to do. He kissed her under the ear, and raising himself he saw a tear in the corner of her eye, a great tear which rolled slowly down her cheek, and her eyelids fluttered and closed convulsively. He was seized with shame, deeply moved, and opening his arms he threw himself on his wife; he removed the other hand from her face and covered it with kisses, crying: "My poor Cora, forgive me! forgive me!"

Still she wept, without a sound, without a sob, as one weeps from the deepest grief. He held her pressed closely against him, caressing her and whispering in her ear all the tender words he could command. But she remained insensible. However, she ceased to weep. They continued thus a long time locked in each other's arms.

The night fell, folding in its sombre shadow the little room; and when it was entirely dark he was emboldened to solicit her pardon in a manner that was calculated to revive their hopes.

When they had risen he resumed his ordinary voice and manner, as if nothing had happened. She appeared, on the contrary, softened, and spoke in a gentler tone than usual, regarding her husband with submissive, almost caressing eyes, as if this unexpected correction had relaxed her nerves and softened her heart.

Lesable said quietly: "Your father must be tired of being alone so long. It will soon be dinner-time; go and fetch him."

She obeyed him.

It was seven o'clock indeed, and the little maid announced dinner, as Cachelin, serene and smiling, appeared with his daughter. They seated themselves at table and talked on this evening with more cordiality than they had done for a long time, as if something agreeable had happened to everybody.


But their hopes, always sustained, always renewed, ended in nothing. From month to month their expectations declined, in spite of the persistence of Lesable and the co-operation of his wife. They were consumed with anxiety. Each without ceasing reproached the other for their want of success, and the husband in despair, emaciated, fatigued, had to suffer all the vulgarity of Cachelin, who in their domestic warfare called him "M. Lecoq," in remembrance, no doubt, of the day that he missed receiving a bottle in his face for having called his son-in-law a capon.

He and his daughter, whose interests were in league, enraged by the constant thought of this great fortune so near, and yet impossible to seize, racked their invention to humiliate and torture this impotent man, who was the cause of all their misfortune.

As they sat at table, Cora repeated each day: "There is very little for dinner. If we were rich, it would be otherwise. It is not my fault."

When Lesable set out for his office, she called from her room: "Do not forget your umbrella or you will come back as muddy as an omnibus wheel. It's not my fault that you are still obliged to follow the trade of a quill-driver."

When she went out herself, she never failed to cry: "If I had married another man, I should have a carriage of my own."

Every hour and on every occasion she harped on this subject. She pricked her husband with reproaches, lashed him with insult, held him alone guilty, and made him responsible for the loss of the fortune that should have been hers.

At last, one evening, losing all patience, Lesable exclaimed: "In the dog's name, can't you hold your tongue? From first to last it is your fault, and yours alone, do you hear, if we have not a child, because I have already had one."

He lied, preferring anything to this eternal reproach, to this shame of appearing impotent. She looked at him, astonished at first, seeking the truth in his eyes; at last comprehending, and full of disdain, she cried: "You have a child, have you?"

He replied with effrontery: "Yes, an illegitimate child, that I am bringing up at Asnières."

She answered quietly: "We will go and see it tomorrow, so that I may find out how what he is like."

He only blushed to the ears and stammered: "Just as you please."

She rose the next morning at seven o'clock, very much to her husband's astonishment.

"Are we not going to see your child? You promised me yesterday evening. Perhaps you haven't got it any more to-day."

He sprang from the bed hastily. "It is not my child we are going to see, but a physician, who will give us his opinion on your case."

She replied in the tone of a woman who was sure of herself: "I shall ask nothing better."

Cachelin was instructed to inform the chief that his son-in-law was ill, and Lesable and his wife advised by a neighbouring chemist, rang at one o'clock exactly the office-bell of Dr. Lefilleul, author of several works on the hygiene of generation.

They were shown into a salon decorated in white and gold, but scantily furnished in spite of the number of chairs and sofas. They seated themselves and waited. Lesable was excited, trembling, and also ashamed. Their turn came at last, and they were shown into a sort of office, where they were received by a short, stout man of dignified and ceremonious demeanour.

He waited till they should explain their case, but Lesable had not courage to utter a word, and blushed up to the roots of his hair. It therefore devolved on his wife to speak, and with a resolute manner and in a tranquil voice, she made known their errand.

"Monsieur, we have come to discover the reason why we cannot have children. A large fortune depends upon this for us."

The consultation was long, minute, and painful. Cora alone seemed unembarrassed, and submitted to the critical examination of the medical expert, sustained by the great interest she had at stake.

After having studied for nearly two hours the constitutions of the married pair, the practitioner said: "I discover nothing either abnormal or special. Your case is by no means an uncommon one. There is as much divergence in constitutions as in characters. When we see so many households out of joint through incompatibility of temper, it is not astonishing to see others sterile through incompatibility of physique. Madame appears to be particularly well fitted for the offices of motherhood. Monsieur, on his side, although presenting no conformation outside of the general rule, seems to me enfeebled, perhaps the consequence of his ardent desire to become a parent. Will you permit me to make an auscultation?"

Lesable, greatly disturbed, removed his waistcoat, and the doctor glued his ear to the thorax, and then to the back of his patient, tapping him continuously from the throat to the stomach, and from the loins to the nape of his neck. He discovered a slight irregularity in the action of the heart, and even a menace to the right lung. "—It is necessary for you to be very careful, Monsieur, very careful. This is anaemia, and comes from exhaustion—nothing else. These conditions, although now insignificant, may in a short time become incurable."

Lesable turned pale with anguish and begged for a prescription.

The doctor ordered a complicated régime consisting of iron, raw meat, and soup, combined with exercise, rest, and a sojourn in the country during the hot weather. He indicated, moreover, the symptoms that proclaimed the desired fecundity, and initiated them into the secrets which were usually practised with success in such cases.

The consultation cost forty francs.

When they were in the street, Cora burst out full of wrath:

"I have discovered what my fate is to be!"

Lesable made no reply. He was tormented by anxiety, he was recalling and weighing each word of the physician. Had the doctor made a mistake, or had he judged truly? He thought no more of the inheritance now, or the desired offspring; it was a question of life or death. He seemed to hear a whistling in his lungs, and his heart sounded as though it were beating in his ears. In crossing the garden of the Tuileries he was overcome with faintness and had to sit down to recover himself. His wife, as though to humiliate him by her superior strength, remained standing in front of him, regarding him from head to foot with pitying contempt. He breathed heavily, exaggerating the effort by his fears, and with the fingers of his left hand on his right wrist he counted the pulsations of the artery.

Cora, who was stamping with impatience, cried: "When will you be ready? It's time to stop this nonsense!" He arose with the air of a martyr, and went on his way without uttering a word.

When Cachelin was informed of the result of the consultation, his fury knew no bounds. He bawled out: "We know now whose fault it is to a certainty. Ah, well!" And he looked at his son-in-law with his ferocious eyes as though he would devour him.

Lesable neither listened nor heard, being totally absorbed in thoughts of his health and the menace to his existence. Father and daughter might say what they pleased. They were not in his skin, and as for him he meant to preserve his skin at all hazards. He had the various prescriptions of the physician filled, and at each meal he produced an array of bottles with the contents of which he dosed himself regardless of the sneers of his wife and her father. He looked at himself in the glass every instant, placed his hand on his heart each moment to study its action, and removed his bed to a dark room which was used as a clothes closet to put himself beyond the reach of carnal temptation.

He conceived for his wife a hatred mingled with contempt and disgust. All women, moreover, appeared to him to be monsters, dangerous beasts, whose mission it was to destroy men; and he thought no more of the will of Aunt Charlotte, except as one recalls a past accident which might have been fatal.

Some months passed. There remained but one year before the fatal term.

Cachelin had suspended in the dining-room an enormous calendar, from which he effaced a day each morning, raging at the impotence of his son-in-law, who was allowing this great fortune to escape week by week. And the thought that he would have to drudge at the office all his life, and limit his expenses to the pitiful sum of two thousand francs a year, filled him with a passion of anger that found vent in the most violent abuse. He could not look at Lesable without shaking with rage, with a brutal desire to beat, to crush, to trample on him. He hated him with an inordinate hatred. Every time he saw him open the door and enter the room, it seemed to him that a robber had broken into the house and robbed him of a sacred inheritance. He hated him more than his most mortal enemy, and he despised him at the same time for his weakness, and above all for the baseness which caused him to sacrifice their common hope of posterity to the fear of his health. Lesable, in fact, lived as completely apart from his wife as if no tie united them. He never approached or touched her; he avoided even looking at her, as much through shame as through fear.

Cachelin, every morning asked his daughter: "Well, how about your husband? Has he made up his mind?"

And she would reply: "No, papa."

Each evening saw the most painful scenes take place at table. Cachelin continually reiterated: "When a man is not a man, he had better get out and yield his place to another."

And Cora added: "The fact is, there are some men who are both useless and wearisome. I do not know why they are permitted to live only to become a burden to everyone."

Lesable dosed himself and made no reply. At last one day his father-in-law cried: "Say, you, if you do not change your manners now that your health is improving, do you know what my daughter means to do?"

The son-in-law raised his eyes, foreseeing a new outrage. Cachelin continued: "She will take somebody else, confound you! You may consider yourself lucky if she hasn't done so already. When a girl has married a weakling like you, she is entitled to do anything."

Lesable, turning livid with wrath, replied: "It is not I who prevents her from following your good counsel."

Cora: lowered her eyes, and Cachelin, knowing that he had said an outrageous thing, remained silent and confused.


At the office the two men seemed to live on good enough terms. A sort of tacit pact was entered into between them to conceal from their colleagues their internal warfare. They addressed each other as "my dear Cachelin, my dear Lesable;" they even feigned to laugh and talk together as men who were satisfied and happy in their domestic relations.

Lesable and Maze, for their part, comported themselves in the presence of each other with the ceremonious politeness of adversaries who had met in battle.

The duel they had escaped, but whose shadow had chilled them, exacted of them an exaggerated courtesy, a more marked consideration, and perhaps a secret desire for reconciliation, born of the vague fear of a new complication. Their attitude was recognised and approved as that of men of the world, who had had an affair of honour. They saluted each other from a distance with severe gravity, and with a flourish of hats that was graceful and dignified. They did not speak, their pride preventing either from making the first advances. But one day, Lesable, whom the Chief demanded to see immediately, to show his zeal, started with a great rush through the lobby and ran right into the stomach of an employee. It was Maze. They recoiled before each other, and Lesable exclaimed with eager politeness: "I hope I have not hurt you. Monsieur?"

Maze responded: "Not at all, sir."

From this moment they thought it expedient to exchange some phrases when they met. Then, in the interchange of courtesies, there were little attentions they paid each other from which arose in a short time certain familiarities, then an intimacy tempered with reserve and restrained by a certain hesitation; then on the strength of their increasing goodwill and visits made to the room of each other, a comradeship was established. They often gossiped together now of the news that found its way into the bureau. Lesable laid aside his air of superiority, and Maze no longer paraded his social successes. Cachelin often joined in the conversation and watched with interest their growing friendship. Sometimes as the handsome Maze left the apartment with head erect and square shoulders, he turned to his son-in-law and hissed: "There goes a fine man!" One morning when they were all four together, for old Savon never left his copying, the chair of the old clerk, having been tampered with no doubt by some practical joker, collapsed under him, and the good man rolled on the floor uttering cries of affright. The three others flew to his assistance. The order-clerk attributed this machination to the communists, and Maze earnestly desired to see the wounded part. Cachelin and he even essayed to take off the poor old fellow's clothes to dress the injury, they said, but he resisted desperately, crying that he was not hurt.

When the fun was over, Cachelin suddenly exclaimed: "I say, M. Maze, now that we are all together, can you not do us the honour of dining with us next Sunday? It will give pleasure to all three of us, myself, my son-in-law, and my daughter, who has often heard your name when we speak of the office. Shall it be yes?"

Lesable added his entreaty, but more coldly than his father-in-law:

"Pray come," he said; "it will give us great pleasure."

Maze hesitated, embarrassed and smiling at the remembrance of past events.

Cachelin urged him: "Come, say we may expect you!"

"Very well, then, I accept."

Cachelin said on entering the house: "Cora, do you know that M. Maze is coming here to dinner next Sunday?"

Cora, surprised at first, stammered: "M. Maze? Really!" She blushed up to her hair without knowing why. She had so often heard him spoken of, his manners, his successes, for he was looked upon at the office as a man who was irresistible with women, that she had long felt a desire to know him.

Cachelin continued rubbing his hands: "You will see that he is a real man, and a fine fellow. He is as tall as a carbineer; he does not resemble your husband there."

She did not reply, confused as if they had divined her dreams of him.

They prepared this dinner with as much solicitude as the one to which Lesable had been formerly invited. Cachelin discussed the dishes, wishing to have everything served in perfection; and as though a confidence unavowed and still undetermined had risen up in his heart, he seemed more gay, tranquilised by some secret and sure prevision.

Through all that Sunday he watched the preparations with the utmost solicitude, while Lesable was doing some urgent work, brought the evening before from the office.

It was the first week of November, and the new year was at hand.

At seven o'clock Maze arrived, in high good humour. He entered as though he felt very much at home, with a compliment and a great bouquet of roses for Cora. He added, as he presented them, in the familiar tone of a man of the world: "It seems to me, Madame, I know you already, and that I have known you from your childhood, for many years your father has spoken to me of you."

Cachelin, seeing the flowers, cried: "Ah they are charming!" and his daughter recalled that Lesable had not brought her a bouquet the day he was introduced. The handsome clerk seemed enchanted, laughing and bestowing on Cora the most delicate flatteries, which brought the colour to her cheeks.

He found her very attractive. She thought him charming and seductive. When he had gone, Cachelin exclaimed: "Isn't he a fine fellow? What havoc he creates! They say he can wheedle any woman!"

Cora, less demonstrative, avowed, however, that she thought him very agreeable, and not so much of a poseur as she had believed.

Lesable, who seemed less sad and weary than usual, acknowledged that he had underrated Maze on his first acquaintance.

Maze returned at intervals, which gradually grew shorter. He delighted everybody. They petted and coddled him. Cora prepared for him the dishes he liked, and the intimacy of the three men soon became so great that they were seldom seen apart.

The new friend took the whole family to the theatre in boxes procured through the press. They returned on foot, through the streets thronged with people, to the door of Lesable's apartments, Maze and Cora walking before, keeping step, hip to hip, swinging with the same movement, the same rhythm, like two beings created to walk side by side through life. They spoke to each other in a low tone, laughing softly together, and seemed to understand each other instinctively: sometimes the young woman would turn her head and throw behind her a glance at her husband and father.

Cachelin followed them with a look of benevolent regard, and often, forgetting that he spoke to his son-in-law, he declared: "They have the same physique exactly. It is a pleasure to see them together."

Lesable replied quietly: "Yes, they are about the same figure." He was happy now in the consciousness that his heart was beating more vigorously, that his lungs acted more freely, and that his health had improved in every respect; his rancour against his father-in-law, whose cruel taunts had now entirely ceased, vanished little by little.

The first day of January he was promoted to the chief clerkship. His joy was so excessive over his happy event that on returning home he embraced his wife for the first time in six months. She appeared embarrassed, as if he had done something improper, and she looked at Maze, who had called to present to her his devotion and respect on the first day of the year. He also had an embarrassed air, and turned toward the window like a man who does not wish to see.

But Cachelin very soon resumed his brutalities, and began to harass his son-in-law with his coarse jests.

Sometimes he even attacked Maze, as though he blamed him also for the catastrophe suspended over them—the inevitable date of which approached nearer every minute.

Cora alone appeared composed, entirely happy and radiant. She had forgotten, it seemed, the threatening nearness of the term.

March had come. AH hope seemed lost, for it would be three years on the twentieth of July since Aunt Charlotte's death.

An early spring had advanced the vegetation, and Maze proposed to his friends one Sunday to make an excursion to the banks of the Seine, to gather the violets in the shady places. They set out by a morning train and got off at Maisons-Laffitte. A breath of winter still lingered among the bare branches, but the turf was green and lustrous, flecked with flowers of white and blue, and the fruit-trees on the hillsides seemed garlanded with roses as their bare branches showed through the clustering blossoms. The Seine, thick and muddy from the late rains, flowed slowly between its banks gnawed by the frosts of winter; and all the country, steeped in vapour, exhaled a savour of sweet humidity under the warmth of the first days of spring.

They wandered in the park. Cachelin, more glum than usual, tapped his cane on the gravelled walk, thinking bitterly of their misfortune, so soon to be irremediable Lesable, morose also, feared to wet his feet in the grass, while his wife and Maze were gathering flowers to make a bouquet. Cora for several days had seemed suffering, and looked weary and pale. She was soon tired and wished to return for luncheon. They came upon a little restaurant near an old ruined mill, and the traditional repast of a Parisian picnic party was soon served under a green arbour, on a little table covered with two napkins, and quite near the banks of the river. They had fried gudgeons, roast beef cooked with potatoes, and they had come to the salad of fresh green lettuce, when Cora rose brusquely and ran toward the river, pressing her napkin with both hands to her mouth.

Lesable, uneasy, wondered what could be the matter. Maze disconcerted, blushed, and stammered, "I do not know—she was well a moment since."

Cachelin appeared frightened, and remained seated, with his fork in the air, a leaf of salad suspended at the end. Then he rose, trying to see his daughter. Bending forward, he perceived her leaning against a tree and seeming very ill. A swift suspicion flashed through his mind, and he fell back into his seat and regarded with an embarrassed air the two men, both of whom seemed now equally confused. He looked at them with anxious eyes, no longer daring to speak, wild with anguish and hope.

A quarter of an hour passed in utter silence. Then Cora reappeared, a little pale and walking slowly. No one questioned her; each seemed to divine a happy event, difficult to speak of. They burned to know, but feared also to hear, the truth. Cachelin alone had the courage to ask: "You are better now?" And she replied: "Yes, thank you; there is not much the matter; but we will return early, as I have a light headache." When they set out she took the arm of her husband as if to signify something mysterious she had not yet dared to avow.

They separated at the station of Saint-Lazare. Maze, making a pretext of some business affair which he had just remembered, bade them adieu, after having shaken hands with all of them. As soon as Cachelin was alone with his daughter and his son-in-law, he asked: "What was the matter with you at breakfast?"

But Cora, did not reply at first; after hesitating for a moment she said: "It was nothing much; a little sickness of the stomach was all." She walked with a languid step, but with a smile on her lips.

Lesable was ill at ease, his mind distracted; haunted with confused and contradictory ideas, angry, feeling an unavowable shame, cherishing a cowardly jealousy, he was like those sleepers who close their eyes in the morning that they may not see the ray of light which glides between the curtains and strikes the bed like a brilliant shaft.

As soon as he entered the house, he shut himself in his own room, pretending to be occupied with some unfinished work. Then Cachelin, placing his hands on his daughter's shoulders, exclaimed: "You are pregnant, aren't you?"

She stammered: "Yes, I think so. Two months."

Before she had finished speaking, he bounded with joy, then began to dance the cancan around her, an old recollection of his garrison days. He lifted his leg and leaped like a young kid in spite of his great paunch, and made the whole apartment shake with his gambols. The furniture jostled, the glasses on the buffet rattled, and the chandelier oscillated like the lamp of a ship.

He took his beloved daughter in his arms and embraced her frantically. Then tapping her lightly on the shoulder he cried: "Ah, it is done, then, at last! Have you told your husband?"

She murmured, suddenly intimidated: "No,—not yet—I—I—was waiting—"

But Cachelin exclaimed: "Good, very good. You find it awkward. I will run and tell him myself." And he rushed to the apartment of his son-in-law. On seeing him enter, Lesable, who was doing nothing, rose and looked inquiringly at Cachelin, who left him no time for conjecture, but cried: "Do you know your wife is in the family way?"

The husband was stricken speechless, his countenance changed, and the blood surged to the roots of his hair: "What? How? Cora? you say—" he faltered when he recovered his voice.

"I say that she is pregnant; do you understand? Now is our chance!"

In his joy he took Lesable's hands and pressed and shook them, as if to felicitate him, to thank him, and cried: "Ah, at last it is true, it is true! it is true! Think of the fortune we shall have!" and unable to contain himself longer, he caught his son-in-law in his arms and embraced him, crying: "More than a million! think of it! more than a million!" and he began to dance more violently than ever.

"But come, she is waiting for you, come and embrace her, at least," and taking him by the shoulders he pushed Lesable before him, and threw him like a ball into the apartment where Cora stood anxiously waiting and listening.

The moment she saw her husband, she recoiled, stifled with a sudden emotion. He stood before her, pale and severe. He had the air of a judge, and she of a culprit. At last he said: "It seems that you are pregnant."

She stammered in a trembling voice: "Yes, that seems to be the case."

But Cachelin seized each of them by the neck, and, bringing them face to face, cried: "Now kiss each other, by George! It is a fitting occasion."

And after releasing them, he capered about like a schoolboy, shouting: "Victory, victory, we have won our case! I say, Léopold, we must purchase a country house; there, at least, you will certainly recover your health." At this idea Lesable trembled. His father-in-law continued: "We will invite M. Torchebeuf and his wife to visit us, and as the under-chief is at the end of his term you may take his place. That is the way to bring it about."

Lesable was now beginning to regard things from Cachelin's standpoint, and he saw himself receiving his chief at a beautiful country place on the banks of the river, dressed in coat of white twill, with a Panama hat on his head.

Something sweet entered into his heart with this hope, something warm and good seemed to melt within him, rendering him light of heart and healthier in feeling. He smiled, still without speaking.

Cachelin, intoxicated with joy, transported at the thought of his fine prospects, continued:

"Who knows, we may gain some political influence. Perhaps you will be deputy. At all events, we can see the society of the neighbourhood, and enjoy some luxuries. And you shall have a little pony to convey you every morning to the station."

These images of luxury, of elegance and prosperity aroused the drooping spirits of Lesable. The thought that he could be driven in his own carriage, like the rich people he had so often envied, filled him with satisfaction, and he could not refrain from exclaiming: "Ah, that will be delightful indeed."

Cora, seeing him won over, smiled tenderly and gratefully, and Cachelin, who saw no obstacles now in the way of indulgence, declared: "We will dine at the restaurant, to celebrate the happy event."

When they reached home, the two men were a little tipsy, and Lesable, who saw double and whose ideas were all topsy-turvy, could not find his bedroom. He made his way by mistake, or forgetfulness, into the long vacant bed of his wife. And all night long it seemed to him that the bed oscillated like a boat, rolling and pitching as though it would upset. He was even a little seasick.

He was surprised on awaking to find Cora in his arms. She opened her eyes with a smile and kissed him with a sudden effusion of gratitude and affection. Then she said to him, in that caressing voice which women employ in their cajoleries: "If you wish to be very nice, you will not go to your office to-day. There is no need to be so punctual now that we are going to be rich, and we will make a little visit to the country, all by ourselves."

Lesable was content to remain quiet, with the feeling for self-indulgence which follows an evening of excess, and the warmth of the bed was grateful. He felt the drowsy wish to lie a long time, to do nothing more but to live in tranquil idleness. An unusual sloth paralyzed his soul and subdued his body, and one vague, happy, and continuous thought never left him—"He was going to be rich, independent."

But suddenly a fear seized him, and he whispered softly, as if he thought the walls might hear him: "Are you very sure you are pregnant, after all?"

She reassured him at once. "Oh, yes! I am certain of it. I could not be mistaken."

And, as if still doubting, he traced the outline of her figure with his hand, and feeling convinced declared: "Yes, it is true—but you will not be brought to bed before the date. They will contest our right on that account, perhaps."

At this supposition she grew angry.

"Oh, no indeed, they are not going to trick us now after so much misery, so much trouble, and so many efforts. Oh, no, indeed!" She was overwhelmed with indignation. "Let us go at once to the notary," she said.

But his advice was to get a physician's certificate first, and they presented themselves again to Dr. Lefilleul.

He recognized them immediately, and exclaimed:

"Ah well, have you succeeded?"

They both blushed up to their ears, and Cora a little shamefacedly stammered: "I believe we have, doctor."

The doctor rubbed his hands, crying: "I expected it, I expected it. The means I recommended to you never fail; at least, only from some radical incapacity of one of the parties."

When he had made an examination of the young wife, he declared: "It is true, bravo!" and he wrote on a sheet of paper:

"I, the undersigned, doctor of medicine, of the Faculty of Paris, certify that Madame Léopold Lesable, née Cachelin, presents all the symptoms of pregnancy, dating from over three months."

Then, turning toward Lesable: "And you," he said, "how is that chest and that heart?" and having made an auscultation, he declared that the patient was entirely cured. They set out happy and joyous, arm in arm, with elastic steps. But on the route Léopold had an idea. "We had better go home before we see the lawyer, and rearrange your dress; you'll put two or three towels under your belt it will draw attention to it and that will be better; he will not believe then that we are trying to gain time."

They returned home, and he himself undressed his wife in order to adjust the deception. Ten consecutive times Lesable changed the position of the towels, and stepped back some paces to get the proper effect, wishing to obtain an absolutely perfect resemblance. Satisfied with the result at last, they set out again, and walked proudly through the streets, Lesable carrying himself with the air of one whose virility was established and patent to all the world.

The notary received them kindly. Then he listened to their explanation, ran his eye over the certificate, and, as Lesable insisted, "For the rest, Monsieur, it is only necessary to glance for a second," he threw a convinced look on the tell-tale figure of the young woman.

There was a moment of anxious suspense, when the man of law declared: "Assuredly, whether the infant is born or to be born, it exists, it lives; so we will suspend the execution of the testament till the confinement of Madame."

After leaving the office of the notary, they embraced each other on the stairway, so exuberant was their joy.


From the moment of this happy discovery, the three relatives lived in the most perfect accord. They were good-humoured, reasonable, and kind. Cachelin had recovered all his old gaiety, and Cora loaded her husband with attentions. Lesable also seemed like another man, and more gay than he had ever been in his life. Maze came less often, and seemed ill at ease in the family circle; they received him kindly, but with less warmth than formerly, for happiness is egotistical and excludes strangers.

Cachelin himself seemed to feel a certain secret hostility against the handsome clerk whom some months before he had introduced so eagerly into his household. It was he who announced to this friend the pregnancy of Cora. He said to him brusquely: "You know my daughter is pregnant!"

Maze, feigning surprise, replied: "Ah, indeed! you ought to be very happy."

Cachelin responded with a "Humph!" for he perceived that his colleague, on the contrary, did not appear to be delighted. Men care but little to see in this state (whether or not the cause lies with them) women in whom they are interested.

Every Sunday, however, Maze continued to dine with the family, but it was no longer pleasant to spend the evenings with them, albeit no serious difference had arisen; and this strange embarrassment increased from week to week. One evening, just after Maze had gone, Cachelin cried with an air of annoyance: "That fellow is beginning to weary me to death!"

Lesable replied: "The fact is, he does not improve on acquaintance." Cora lowered her eyes. She did not give her opinion. She always seemed embarrassed in the presence of the handsome Maze, who, on his side, appeared almost ashamed when he found himself near her. He no longer smiled on looking at her as formerly, no longer asked her and her husband to accompany him to the theatre, and the intimacy, which till lately had been so cordial, seemed to have become but an irksome burden.

One Thursday, when her husband came home to dinner, Cora kissed him with more coquetry than usual and whispered in his ear:

"Perhaps you are going to scold me now?"

"Why should I?" he inquired.

"Well, because—M. Maze came to see me a little while ago, and, as I do not wish to be gossiped about on his account, I begged him never to come when you were not at home. He seemed a little hurt."

Lesable, very much surprised, demanded:

"Very well, what did he say to that?"

"Oh! he did not say much, but it did not please me all the same, and then I asked him to cease his visits entirely. You know very well that it is you and papa who brought him here—I was not consulted at all about it—and I feared you would be displeased because I had dismissed him."

A grateful joy beamed from the face of her husband.

"You did right, perfectly right, and I even thank you for it."

She went on, in order to establish the understanding between the two men, which she had arranged in advance: "At the office you must conduct yourself as though nothing had happened, and speak to him as you have been in the habit of doing; but he is not to come here any more."

Taking his wife tenderly in his arms, Lesable impressed long kisses on her eyelids and on her cheeks. "You are an angel! You are an angel!" he repeated, and he felt pressing against his stomach the already lusty child.


Nothing of importance happened up to the date of Cora's confinement, which occurred on the last day of September. The child, being a daughter, was called Désirée. As they wished to make the christening an imposing event, it was decided to postpone the ceremony until they were settled in the new country house which they were going to buy.

They chose a beautiful estate at Asnières, on the hills that overlook the Seine. Great changes had taken place during the winter. As soon as the legacy was secured, Cachelin asked for his pension, which was granted, and he left the office. He employed his leisure moments in cutting, with the aid of a little scroll-saw, the covers of cigar-boxes. He made clocks, caskets, jardinières, and all sorts of odd little pieces of furniture. He had a passion for this work, the taste for which had come to him on seeing a peripatetic merchant working thus with sheets of wood on the Avenue de l'Opéra; and each day he obliged everybody to admire some new design both complicated and puerile. He was amazed at his own work, and kept on saying: "It is astonishing what one can accomplish!"

The assistant-chief, M. Rabot, being dead at last, Lesable fulfilled the duties of his place, although he did not receive the title, for sufficient time had not elapsed since his last promotion.

Cora had become a wholly different woman, more refined, more elegant, instinctively divining all the transformations that wealth imposes. On New Year's Day she made a visit to the wife of her husband's chief, a commonplace person, who remained a provincial, notwithstanding a residence of thirty-five years in Paris, and she put so much grace and seductiveness into her prayer that Mme Torchebeuf should stand godmother to her child that the good woman consented. Grandpapa Cachelin was the godfather.

The ceremony took place on a brilliant Sunday in June. All the employees of the office were invited to witness it, except the handsome Maze, who was seen no more in the Cachelin circle.

At nine o'clock Lesable waited at the railway station for the train from Paris, while a groom, in livery covered with great gilt buttons, held by the bridle a plump pony hitched to a brand-new phaeton.

The engine whistled, then appeared, dragging its train of cars, which soon discharged their freight of passengers.

M. Torchebeuf descended from a first-class carriage with his wife, in a magnificent toilette, while Pitolet and Boissel got out of a second-class carriage. They had not dared to invite old Savon, but it was understood that they were to meet him by chance in the afternoon and bring him to dinner with the consent of the chief.

Lesable hurried to meet his superior, who advanced slowly, the lapel of his frock-coat ornamented with a decoration that resembled a full-blown red rose. His enormous head, surmounted by a large hat that seemed to crush his small body, gave him the appearance of a phenomenon, and his wife, if she had stood on tiptoe, could have looked over his head without any trouble.

Léopold, radiant, bowed and thanked his guests. He seated them in the phaeton, then running toward his two colleagues, who were walking modestly behind, he pressed their hands, regretting that his phaeton was too small to accommodate them also. "Follow the quay," he directed, "and you will reach my door—'Villa Désirée,' the fourth one after the turn. Make haste!"

And mounting the phaeton, he took the reins and drove off, while the groom leaped lightly to the little seat behind.

The ceremony was very brilliant, and afterwards they returned for luncheon. Each one found under his napkin a present proportioned to his station. The godmother received a bracelet of solid gold, her husband a scarf-pin of rubies, Boissel a pocket book of Russian leather, and Pitolet a superb meerschaum pipe. "It was Désirée," they said, "who offered these presents to her new friends."

Mme Torchebeuf, blushing with confusion and pleasure, placed on her fat arm the brilliant circle, and, as the chief wore a narrow black cravat, which would not receive the pin, he stuck the jewel in the lapel of his frock-coat, under the Legion of Honour, as if it had been another decoration of an inferior order.

Outside the window the shining band of the river was seen, curving toward Suresnes, its banks shaded with trees. The sun fell in a rain on the water, making it seems a river of fire. The beginning of the repast was rather solemn, being made formal by the presence of M. and Mme Torchebeuf. After a while, however, things began to go better. Cachelin threw out some heavy jokes, which he felt would be permitted him since he was rich, and everyone laughed at them. If Pitolet or Boissel had uttered them, the guests would certainly have been shocked.

At dessert, the infant was brought in and received a kiss from each of the company. Smothered in a cloud of snowy lace, the baby looked at the guests with its blue eyes void of intelligence or expression, and rolled its bald head from side to side with an air of newly awakened interest.

Pitolet, amid the confusion of voices, whispered in the ear of Boissel: "It looks like a little Mazette."

The joke went round the Ministry next day.

At two o'clock the health of the newly christened baby was drunk, and Cachelin proposed to show his guests over the property, and then to take them for a walk on the banks of the Seine.

They moved in a slow procession from room to room, from the cellar to the garret; then they examined the garden tree by tree, plant by plant; after which, separating into two parties, they set out for a walk.

Cachelin, who did not feel at home in the company of ladies, drew Boissel and Pitolet into a café on the bank of the river, while Mesdames Torchebeuf and Lesable, with their husbands, walked in the opposite direction, these refined ladies not being able to mingle with the common Sunday herd.

They walked slowly along the path, followed by the two men, who talked gravely of the affairs of the office. On the river the boats were continually passing, propelled by long strokes of the oars in the hands of jolly fellows, the muscles of whose bare arms rolled under the sunburned skin. Women, reclining on black or white fur rugs, managed the tillers, drowsing under the hot sun, holding open over their heads, like enormous flowers floating on the surface of the water, umbrellas of red, yellow, and blue silk. Cries from one boat to the other, calls, and shouts, and a remote murmur of human voices lower down, confused and continuous, indicated where the swarming crowds were enjoying a holiday.

Long files of fishermen stood motionless all along the river, while the swimmers, almost naked, standing in heavy fishing boats, plunged in headforemost, climbed back upon the boats and leaped into the water again.

Mme Torchebeuf looked on in surprise.

Cora said to her: "It is like this every Sunday; it spoils this charming country for me."

A canoe moved softly by. Two women rowed, while two men were stretched in the bottom of the boat. One of the women, turning her head towards the shore, cried:

"Hello! hello! you respectable women! I have a man for sale, very cheap! Do you want him?"

Cora turned away contemptuously and taking the arm of her companion said: "We cannot remain here; let us go. What infamous creatures!"

They moved away as M. Torchebeuf was saying to Lesable: "It is settled for the first of January. The head of the Department has positively promised me."

"I don't know how to thank you, dear master," Lesable replied.

When they reached home they found Cachelin, Pitolet, and Boissel laughing immoderately and almost carrying old Savon, whom they jokingly declared they had found on the beach in the company of a girl.

The frightened old man was crying: "It is not true, no, it is not true. It is not right to say that, M. Cachelin, it is not kind."

And Cachelin, choking with laughter, cried: "Ah, you old rogue, did you not call her your 'sweet goose quill'? We caught you, you rascal!"

Then the ladies, too, began to laugh at the dismay of the poor old man.

Cachelin continued: "With M. Torchebeuf's permission, we will keep him prisoner as a punishment and make him dine with us."

The chief good-humouredly consented, and they continued to laugh about the lady abandoned by the old man, who protested all the time, annoyed at this mischievous farce.

The subject was the occasion of inexhaustible wit throughout the evening, which sometimes even bordered on the obscene.

Cora and Mme Torchebeuf, seated under a tent on the lawn, watched the reflections of the setting sun, which threw upon the leaves a purple glow.

Not a breath stirred the branches, a serene and infinite peace fell from the calm and flaming heavens.

Some boats still passed, more slowly, drifting with the tide.

Cora remarked: "It appears that poor M. Savon married a bad woman."

Mme Torchebeuf, who was familiar with everything of the office, replied:

"Yes, she was an orphan, very much too young for him, and deceived him with a worthless fellow, and she ended in running away with him."

Then the fat lady added: "I say he was a worthless fellow, but I know nothing about it. It is reported that they loved one another very much. In any case, old Savon is not very seductive."

Mme Lesable replied gravely:

"That is no excuse; the poor man is much to be pitied. Our next door neighbour, M. Barbou, has had the same experience. His wife fell in love with a sort of painter who passed his summers here, and she has gone abroad with him. I do not understand how women can fall so low. To my mind it seems a special chastisement should be meted out to those wicked creatures who bring shame upon their families."

At the end of the alley the nurse appeared, carrying the little Désirée wrapped in her laces. The child, all rosy in the red gold of the evening light, was coming towards the two women. She stared at the fiery sky with the same pale and astonished eyes with which she regarded their faces.

All the men who were talking at a distance drew near, and Cachelin, seizing his little granddaughter, tossed her aloft in his arms as if he would carry her to the skies. Her figure was outlined against the brilliant line of the horizon, while her long white robe almost touched the ground; and the grand-father cried: "Look! isn't this the best thing in the world, after all, father Savon?"

But the old man made no reply, having nothing to say, or perhaps thinking too many things.

A servant opened the door and announced: "Madame is served!"

End of Project Gutenberg's The Sisters Rondoli,, by Guy de Maupassant


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