Part 2 out of 5
"I never will love any one but my husband."
Ah! she was a true woman already, was little Chebe.
HOW LITTLE CHEBE'S STORY ENDED
Meanwhil September arrived. The hunting season brought together a large,
noisy, vulgar party at the chateau. There were long dinners at which the
wealthy bourgeois lingered slothfully and wearily, prone to fall asleep
like peasants. They went in carriages to meet the returning hunters in
the cool air of the autumn evening. The mist arose from the fields, from
which the crops had been gathered; and while the frightened game flew
along the stubble with plaintive cries, the darkness seemed to emerge
from the forests whose dark masses increased in size, spreading out over
The carriage lamps were lighted, the hoods raised, and they drove quickly
homeward with the fresh air blowing in their faces. The dining-hall,
brilliantly illuminated, was filled with gayety and laughter.
Claire Fromont, embarrassed by the vulgarity of those about her, hardly
spoke at all. Sidonie was at her brightest. The drive had given
animation to her pale complexion and Parisian eyes. She knew how to
laugh, understood a little too much, perhaps, and seemed to the male
guests the only woman in the party. Her success completed Georges's
intoxication; but as his advances became more pronounced, she showed more
and more reserve. Thereupon he determined that she should be his wife.
He swore it to himself, with the exaggerated emphasis of weak characters,
who seem always to combat beforehand the difficulties to which they know
that they must yield some day.
It was the happiest moment of little Chebe's life. Even aside from any
ambitious project, her coquettish, false nature found a strange
fascination in this intrigue, carried on mysteriously amid banquets and
No one about them suspected anything. Claire was at that healthy and
delightful period of youth when the mind, only partly open, clings to the
things it knows with blind confidence, in complete ignorance of treachery
and falsehood. M. Fromont thought of nothing but his business. His wife
polished her jewels with frenzied energy. Only old Gardinois and his
little, gimlet-like eyes were to be feared; but Sidonie entertained him,
and even if he had discovered anything, he was not the man to interfere
with her future.
Her hour of triumph was near, when a sudden, unforeseen disaster blasted
One Sunday morning M. Fromont was brought back fatally wounded from a
hunting expedition. A bullet intended for a deer had pierced his temple.
The chateau was turned upside-down.
All the hunters, among them the unknown bungler that had fired the fatal
shot, started in haste for Paris. Claire, frantic with grief, entered
the room where her father lay on his deathbed, there to remain; and
Risler, being advised of the catastrophe, came to take Sidonie home.
On the night before her departure she had a final meeting with Georges at
The Phantom,--a farewell meeting, painful and stealthy, and made solemn
by the proximity of death. They vowed, however, to love each other
always; they agreed upon a method of writing to each other. Then they
It was a sad journey home.
Sidonie returned abruptly to her every-day life, escorted by the
despairing grief of Risler, to whom his dear master's death was an
irreparable loss. On her arrival, she was compelled to describe her
visit to the smallest detail; discuss the inmates of the chateau, the
guests, the entertainments, the dinners, and the final catastrophe.
What torture for her, when, absorbed as she was by a single, unchanging
thought, she had so much need of silence and solitude! But there was
something even more terrible than that.
On the first day after her return Frantz resumed his former place; and
the glances with which he followed her, the words he addressed to her
alone, seemed to her exasperating beyond endurance.
Despite all his shyness and distrust of himself, the poor fellow believed
that he had some rights as an accepted and impatient lover, and little
Chebe was obliged to emerge from her dreams to reply to that creditor,
and to postpone once more the maturity of his claim.
A day came, however, when indecision ceased to be possible. She had
promised to marry Frantz when he had obtained a good situation; and now
an engineer's berth in the South, at the smelting-furnaces of Grand
Combe, was offered to him. That was sufficient for the support of a
There was no way of avoiding the question. She must either keep her
promise or invent an excuse for breaking it. But what excuse could she
In that pressing emergency, she thought of Desiree. Although the lame
little girl had never confided in her, she knew of her great love for
Frantz. Long ago she had detected it, with her coquette's eyes, bright
and changing mirrors, which reflected all the thoughts of others without
betraying any of her own. It may be that the thought that another woman
loved her betrothed had made Frantz's love more endurable to her at
first; and, just as we place statues on tombstones to make them appear
less sad, Desiree's pretty, little, pale face at the threshold of that
uninviting future had made it seem less forbidding to her.
Now it provided--her with a simple and honorable pretext for freeing
herself from her promise.
"No! I tell you, mamma," she said to Madame Chebe one day, "I never will
consent to make a friend like her unhappy. I should suffer too much from
remorse,--poor Desiree! Haven't you noticed how badly she looks since I
came home; what a beseeching way she has of looking at me? No, I won't
cause her that sorrow; I won't take away her Frantz."
Even while she admired her daughter's generous spirit, Madame Chebe
looked upon that as a rather exaggerated sacrifice, and remonstrated with
"Take care, my child; we aren't rich. A husband like Frantz doesn't turn
up every day."
"Very well! then I won't marry at all," declared Sidonie flatly, and,
deeming her pretext an excellent one, she clung persistently to it.
Nothing could shake her determination, neither the tears shed by Frantz,
who was exasperated by her refusal to fulfil her promise, enveloped as it
was in vague reasons which she would not even explain to him, nor the
entreaties of Risler, in whose ear Madame Chebe had mysteriously mumbled
her daughter's reasons, and who in spite of everything could not but
admire such a sacrifice.
"Don't revile her, I tell you! She's an angel!" he said to his brother,
striving to soothe him.
"Ah! yes, she is an angel," assented Madame Chebe with a sigh, so that
the poor betrayed lover had not even the right to complain. Driven to
despair, he determined to leave Paris, and as Grand Combe seemed too near
in his frenzied longing for flight, he asked and obtained an appointment
as overseer on the Suez Canal at Ismailia. He went away without knowing,
or caring to know aught of, Desiree's love; and yet, when he went to bid
her farewell, the dear little cripple looked up into his face with her
shy, pretty eyes, in which were plainly written the words:
"I love you, if she does not."
But Frantz Risler did not know how to read what was written in those
Fortunately, hearts that are accustomed to suffer have an infinite store
of patience. When her friend had gone, the lame girl, with her charming
morsel of illusion, inherited from her father and refined by her feminine
nature, returned bravely to her work, saying to herself:
"I will wait for him."
And thereafter she spread the wings of her birds to their fullest extent,
as if they were all going, one after another, to Ismailia in Egypt. And
that was a long distance!
Before sailing from Marseilles, young Risler wrote Sidonie a farewell
letter, at once laughable and touching, wherein, mingling the most
technical details with the most heartrending adieux, the unhappy engineer
declared that he was about to set sail, with a broken heart, on the
transport Sahib, "a sailing-ship and steamship combined, with engines of
fifteen-hundred-horse power," as if he hoped that so considerable a
capacity would make an impression on his ungrateful betrothed, and cause
her ceaseless remorse. But Sidonie had very different matters on her
She was beginning to be disturbed by Georges's silence. Since she left
Savigny she had heard from him only once. All her letters were left
unanswered. To be sure, she knew through Risler that Georges was very
busy, and that his uncle's death had thrown the management of the factory
upon him, imposing upon him a responsibility that was beyond his
strength. But to abandon her without a word!
From the window on the landing, where she had resumed her silent
observations--for she had so arranged matters as not to return to
Mademoiselle Le Mire--little Chebe tried to distinguish her lover,
watched him as he went to and fro across the yards and among the
buildings; and in the afternoon, when it was time for the train to start
for Savigny, she saw him enter his carriage to go to his aunt and cousin,
who were passing the early months of their period of mourning at the
grandfather's chateau in the country.
All this excited and alarmed her; and the proximity of the factory
rendered Georges's avoidance of her even more apparent. To think that by
raising her voice a little she could make him turn toward the place where
she stood! To think that they were separated only by a wall! And yet,
at that moment they were very far apart.
Do you remember, little Chebe, that unhappy winter evening when the
excellent Risler rushed into your parents' room with an extraordinary
expression of countenance, exclaiming, "Great news!"?
Great news, indeed! Georges Fromont had just informed him that, in
accordance with his uncle's last wishes, he was to marry his cousin
Claire, and that, as he was certainly unequal to the task of carrying on
the business alone, he had resolved to take him, Risler, for a partner,
under the firm name of FROMONT JEUNE AND RISLER AINE.
How did you succeed, little Chebe, in maintaining your self-possession
when you learned that the factory had eluded your grasp and that another
woman had taken your place? What a terrible evening!--Madame Chebe sat
by the table mending; M. Chebe before the fire drying his clothes, which
were wet through by his having walked a long distance in the rain. Oh!
that miserable room, overflowing with gloom and ennui! The lamp gave a
dim light. The supper, hastily prepared, had left in the room the odor
of the poor man's kitchen. And Risler, intoxicated with joy, talking
with increasing animation, laid great plans!
All these things tore your heart, and made the treachery still more
horrible by the contrast between the riches that eluded your outstretched
hand and the ignoble mediocrity in which you were doomed to pass your
Sidonie was seriously ill for a long while. As she lay in bed, whenever
the window-panes rattled behind the curtains, the unhappy creature
fancied that Georges's wedding-coaches were driving through the street;
and she had paroxysms of nervous excitement, without words and
inexplicable, as if a fever of wrath were consuming her.
At last, time and youthful strength, her mother's care, and, more than
all, the attentions of Desiree, who now knew of the sacrifice her friend
had made for her, triumphed over the disease. But for a long while
Sidonie was very weak, oppressed by a deadly melancholy, by a constant
longing to weep, which played havoc with her nervous system.
Sometimes she talked of travelling, of leaving Paris. At other times she
insisted that she must enter a convent. Her friends were sorely
perplexed, and strove to discover the cause of that singular state of
mind, which was even more alarming than her illness; when she suddenly
confessed to her mother the secret of her melancholy.
She loved the elder Risler! She never had dared to whisper it; but it
was he whom she had always loved and not Frantz.
This news was a surprise to everybody, to Risler most of all; but little
Chebe was so pretty, her eyes were so soft when she glanced at him, that
the honest fellow instantly became as fond of her as a fool! Indeed, it
may be that love had lain in his heart for a long time without his
And that is how it happened that, on the evening of her wedding-day,
young Madame Risler, in her white wedding-dress, gazed with a smile of
triumph at the window on the landing which had been the narrow setting of
ten years of her life. That haughty smile, in which there was a touch of
profound pity and of scorn as well, such scorn as a parvenu feels for his
poor beginnings, was evidently addressed to the poor sickly child whom
she fancied she saw up at that window, in the depths of the past and the
darkness. It seemed to say to Claire, pointing at the factory:
"What do you say to this little Chebe? She is here at last, you see!"
Noon. The Marais is breakfasting.
Sitting near the door, on a stone which once served as a horse-block
for equestrians, Risler watches with a smile the exit from the factory.
He never loses his enjoyment of the outspoken esteem of all these good
people whom he knew when he was insignificant and humble like themselves.
The "Good-day, Monsieur Risler," uttered by so many different voices, all
in the same affectionate tone, warms his heart. The children accost him
without fear, the long-bearded designers, half-workmen, half-artists,
shake hands with him as they pass, and address him familiarly as "thou."
Perhaps there is a little too much familiarity in all this, for the
worthy man has not yet begun to realize the prestige and authority of his
new station; and there was some one who considered this free-and-easy
manner very humiliating. But that some one can not see him at this
moment, and the master takes advantage of the fact to bestow a hearty
greeting upon the old bookkeeper, Sigismond, who comes out last of all,
erect and red-faced, imprisoned in a high collar and bareheaded--whatever
the weather--for fear of apoplexy.
He and Risler are fellow-countrymen. They have for each other a profound
esteem, dating from their first employment at the factory, from that
time, long, long ago, when they breakfasted together at the little
creamery on the corner, to which Sigismond Planus goes alone now and
selects his refreshment for the day from the slate hanging on the wall.
But stand aside! The carriage of Fromont Jeune drives through the
gateway. He has been out on business all the morning; and the partners,
as they walk toward the pretty little house in which they both live at
the end of the garden, discuss matters of business in a friendly way.
"I have been at Prochasson's," says Fromont. "They showed me some new
patterns, pretty ones too, I assure you. We must be on our guard. They
are dangerous rivals."
But Risler is not at all anxious. He is strong in his talent, his
experience; and then--but this is strictly confidential--he is on the
track of a wonderful invention, an improved printing-press, something
that--but we shall see. Still talking, they enter the garden, which is
as carefully kept as a public park, with round-topped acacias almost as
old as the buildings, and magnificent ivies that hide the high, black
Beside Fromont jeune, Risler Aine has the appearance of a clerk making
his report to his employer. At every step he stops to speak, for his
gait is heavy, his mind works slowly, and words have much difficulty in
finding their way to his lips. Oh, if he could see the little flushed
face up yonder, behind the window on the second floor, watching
everything so attentively!
Madame Risler is waiting for her husband to come to breakfast, and waxes
impatient over the good man's moderation. She motions to him with her
"Come, come!" but Risler does not notice it. His attention is engrossed
by the little Fromont, daughter of Claire and Georges, who is taking a
sun-bath, blooming like a flower amid her lace in her nurse's arms. How
pretty she is! "She is your very picture, Madame Chorche."
"Do you think so, my dear Risler? Why, everybody says she looks like her
"Yes, a little. But--"
And there they all stand, the father and mother, Risler and the nurse,
gravely seeking resemblances in that miniature model of a human being,
who stares at them out of her little eyes, blinking with the noise and
glare. Sidonie, at her open window, leans out to see what they are
doing, and why her husband does not come up.
At that moment Risler has taken the tiny creature in his arms, the whole
fascinating bundle of white draperies and light ribbons, and is trying to
make it laugh and crow with baby-talk and gestures worthy of a
grandfather. How old he looks, poor man! His tall body, which he
contorts for the child's amusement, his hoarse voice, which becomes a low
growl when he tries to soften it, are absurd and ridiculous.
Above, the wife taps the floor with her foot and mutters between her
At last, weary of waiting, she sends a servant to tell Monsieur that
breakfast is served; but the game is so far advanced that Monsieur does
not see how he can go away, how he can interrupt these explosions of
laughter and little bird-like cries. He succeeds at last, however, in
giving the child back to its nurse, and enters the hall, laughing
heartily. He is laughing still when he enters the dining-room; but a
glance from his wife stops him short.
Sidonie is seated at table before the chafing-dish, already filled. Her
martyr-like attitude suggests a determination to be cross.
"Oh! there you are. It's very lucky!"
Risler took his seat, a little ashamed.
"What would you have, my love? That child is so--"
"I have asked you before now not to speak to me in that way. It isn't
"What, not when we're alone?"
"Bah! you will never learn to adapt yourself to our new fortune. And
what is the result? No one in this place treats me with any respect.
Pere Achille hardly touches his hat to me when I pass his lodge. To be
sure, I'm not a Fromont, and I haven't a carriage."
"Come, come, little one, you know perfectly well that you can use Madame
Chorche's coupe. She always says it is at our disposal."
"How many times must I tell you that I don't choose to be under any
obligation to that woman?"
"Oh! yes, I know, it's all understood. Madame Fromont is the good Lord
himself. Every one is forbidden to touch her. And I must make up my
mind to be a nobody in my own house, to allow myself to be humiliated,
trampled under foot."
"Come, come, little one--"
Poor Risler tries to interpose, to say a word in favor of his dear Madame
"Chorche." But he has no tact. This is the worst possible method of
effecting a reconciliation; and Sidonie at once bursts forth:
"I tell you that that woman, with all her calm airs, is proud and
spiteful. In the first place, she detests me, I know that. So long as I
was poor little Sidonie and she could toss me her broken dolls and old
clothes, it was all right, but now that I am my own mistress as well as
she, it vexes her and humiliates her. Madame gives me advice with a
lofty air, and criticises what I do. I did wrong to have a maid. Of
course! Wasn't I in the habit of waiting on myself? She never loses a
chance to wound me. When I call on her on Wednesdays, you should hear
the tone in which she asks me, before everybody, how 'dear Madame Chebe'
is. Oh! yes. I'm a Chebe and she's a Fromont. One's as good as the
other, in my opinion. My grandfather was a druggist. What was hers?
A peasant who got rich by money-lending. I'll tell her so one of these
days, if she shows me too much of her pride; and I'll tell her, too, that
their little imp, although they don't suspect it, looks just like that
old Pere Gardinois, and heaven knows he isn't handsome."
"Oh!" exclaims Risler, unable to find words to reply.
"Oh! yes, of course! I advise you to admire their child. She's always
ill. She cries all night like a little cat. It keeps me awake. And
afterward, through the day, I have mamma's piano and her scales--tra, la
la la! If the music were only worth listening to!"
Risler has taken the wise course. He does not say a word until he sees
that she is beginning to calm down a little, when he completes the
soothing process with compliments.
"How pretty we are to-day! Are we going out soon to make some calls,
He resorts to this mode of address to avoid the more familiar form, which
is so offensive to her.
"No, I am not going to make calls," Sidonie replies with a certain pride.
"On the contrary, I expect to receive them. This is my day."
In response to her husband's astounded, bewildered expression she
"Why, yes, this is my day. Madame Fromont has one; I can have one also,
"Of course, of course," said honest Risler, looking about with some
little uneasiness. "So that's why I saw so many flowers everywhere, on
the landing and in the drawing-room."
"Yes, my maid went down to the garden this morning. Did I do wrong?
Oh! you don't say so, but I'm sure you think I did wrong. 'Dame'!
I thought the flowers in the garden belonged to us as much as to the
"Certainly they do--but you--it would have been better perhaps--"
"To ask leave? That's it-to humble myself again for a few paltry
chrysanthemums and two or three bits of green. Besides, I didn't make
any secret of taking the flowers; and when she comes up a little later--"
"Is she coming? Ah! that's very kind of her."
Sidonie turned upon him indignantly.
"What's that? Kind of her? Upon my word, if she doesn't come, it would
be the last straw. When I go every Wednesday to be bored to death in her
salon with a crowd of affected, simpering women!"
She did not say that those same Wednesdays of Madame Fromont's were very
useful to her, that they were like a weekly journal of fashion, one of
those composite little publications in which you are told how to enter
and to leave a room, how to bow, how to place flowers in a jardiniere and
cigars in a case, to say nothing of the engravings, the procession of
graceful, faultlessly attired men and women, and the names of the best
modistes. Nor did Sidonie add that she had entreated all those friends
of Claire's, of whom she spoke so scornfully, to come to see her on her
own day, and that the day was selected by them.
Will they come? Will Madame Fromont Jeune insult Madame Risler Aine by
absenting herself on her first Friday? The thought makes her almost
feverish with anxiety.
"For heaven's sake, hurry!" she says again and again. "Good heavens!
how long you are at your, breakfast!"
It is a fact that it is one of honest Risler's ways to eat slowly, and to
light his pipe at the table while he sips his coffee. To-day he must
renounce these cherished habits, must leave the pipe in its case because
of the smoke, and, as soon as he has swallowed the last mouthful, run
hastily and dress, for his wife insists that he must come up during the
afternoon and pay his respects to the ladies.
What a sensation in the factory when they see Risler Aine come in, on a
week-day, in a black frock-coat and white cravat!
"Are you going to a wedding, pray?" cries Sigismond, the cashier, behind
And Risler, not without a feeling of pride, replies:
"This is my wife's reception day!"
Soon everybody in the place knows that it is Sidonie's day; and Pere
Achille, who takes care of the garden, is not very well pleased to find
that the branches of the winter laurels by the gate are broken.
Before taking his seat at the table upon which he draws, in the bright
light from the tall windows, Risler has taken off his fine frock-coat,
which embarrasses him, and has turned up his clean shirt-sleeves; but the
idea that his wife is expecting company preoccupies and disturbs him; and
from time to time he puts on his coat and goes up to her.
"Has no one come?" he asks timidly.
"No, Monsieur, no one."
In the beautiful red drawing-room--for they have a drawing-room in red
damask, with a console between the windows and a pretty table in the
centre of the light-flowered carpet--Sidonie has established herself in
the attitude of a woman holding a reception, a circle of chairs of many
shapes around her. Here and there are books, reviews, a little work-
basket in the shape of a gamebag, with silk tassels, a bunch of violets
in a glass vase, and green plants in the jardinieres. Everything is
arranged exactly as in the Fromonts' apartments on the floor below; but
the taste, that invisible line which separates the distinguished from the
vulgar, is not yet refined. You would say it was a passable copy of a
pretty genre picture. The hostess's attire, even, is too new; she looks
more as if she were making a call than as if she were at home. In
Risler's eyes everything is superb, beyond reproach; he is preparing to
say so as he enters the salon, but, in face of his wife's wrathful
glance, he checks himself in terror.
"You see, it's four o'clock," she says, pointing to the clock with an
angry gesture. "No one will come. But I take it especially ill of
Claire not to come up. She is at home--I am sure of it--I can hear her."
Indeed, ever since noon, Sidonie has listened intently to the slightest
sounds on the floor below, the child's crying, the closing of doors.
Risler attempts to go down again in order to avoid a renewal of the
conversation at breakfast; but his wife will not allow him to do so. The
very least he can do is to stay with her when everybody else abandons
her, and so he remains there, at a loss what to say, rooted to the spot,
like those people who dare not move during a storm for fear of attracting
the lightning. Sidonie moves excitedly about, going in and out of the
salon, changing the position of a chair, putting it back again, looking
at herself as she passes the mirror, and ringing for her maid to send her
to ask Pere Achille if no one has inquired for her. That Pere Achille is
such a spiteful creature! Perhaps when people have come, he has said
that she was out.
But no, the concierge has not seen any one.
Silence and consternation. Sidonie is standing at the window on the
left, Risler at the one on the right. From there they can see the little
garden, where the darkness is gathering, and the black smoke which the
chimney emits beneath the lowering clouds. Sigismond's window is the
first to show a light on the ground floor; the cashier trims his lamp
himself with painstaking care, and his tall shadow passes in front of the
flame and bends double behind the grating. Sidonie's wrath is diverted a
moment by these familiar details.
Suddenly a small coupe drives into the garden and stops in front of the
door. At last some one is coming. In that pretty whirl of silk and
flowers and jet and flounces and furs, as it runs quickly up the step,
Sidonie has recognized one of the most fashionable frequenters of the
Fromont salon, the wife of a wealthy dealer in bronzes. What an honor to
receive a call from such an one! Quick, quick! the family takes its
position, Monsieur in front of the hearth, Madame in an easychair,
carelessly turning the leaves of a magazine. Wasted pose! The fair
caller did not come to see Sidonie; she has stopped at the floor below.
Ah! if Madame Georges could hear what her neighbor says of her and her
At that moment the door opens and "Mademoiselle Planus" is announced.
She is the cashier's sister, a poor old maid, humble and modest, who has
made it her duty to make this call upon the wife of her brother's
employer, and who is amazed at the warm welcome she receives. She is
surrounded and made much of. "How kind of you to come! Draw up to the
fire." They overwhelm her with attentions and show great interest in her
slightest word. Honest Risler's smiles are as warm as his thanks.
Sidonie herself displays all her fascinations, overjoyed to exhibit
herself in her glory to one who was her equal in the old days, and to
reflect that the other, in the room below, must hear that she has had
callers. So she makes as much noise as possible, moving chairs, pushing
the table around; and when the lady takes her leave, dazzled, enchanted,
bewildered, she escorts her to the landing with a great rustling of
flounces, and calls to her in a very loud voice, leaning over the rail,
that she is at home every Friday. "You understand, every Friday."
Now it is dark. The two great lamps in the salon are lighted. In the
adjoining room they hear the servant laying the table. It is all over.
Madame Fromont Jeune will not come.
Sidonie is pale with rage.
"Just fancy, that minx can't come up eighteen steps! No doubt Madame
thinks we're not grand enough for her. Ah! but I'll have my revenge."
As she pours forth her wrath in unjust words, her voice becomes coarse,
takes on the intonations of the faubourg, an accent of the common people
which betrays the ex-apprentice of Mademoiselle Le Mire.
Risler is unlucky enough to make a remark.
"Who knows? Perhaps the child is ill."
She turns upon him in a fury, as if she would like to bite him.
"Will you hold your tongue about that brat? After all, it's your fault
that this has happened to me. You don't know how to make people treat me
And as she closed the door of her bedroom violently, making the globes on
the lamps tremble, as well as all the knick-knacks on the etageres,
Risler, left alone, stands motionless in the centre of the salon, looking
with an air of consternation at his white cuffs, his broad patent-leather
shoes, and mutters mechanically:
"My wife's reception day!"
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Affectation of indifference
Always smiling condescendingly
Convent of Saint Joseph, four shoes under the bed!
Deeming every sort of occupation beneath him
Dreams of wealth and the disasters that immediately followed
He fixed the time mentally when he would speak
Little feathers fluttering for an opportunity to fly away
No one has ever been able to find out what her thoughts were
Pass half the day in procuring two cakes, worth three sous
She was of those who disdain no compliment
Such artificial enjoyment, such idiotic laughter
Superiority of the man who does nothing over the man who works
Terrible revenge she would take hereafter for her sufferings
The groom isn't handsome, but the bride's as pretty as a picture
The poor must pay for all their enjoyments
FROMONT AND RISLER
By ALPHONSE DAUDET
THE TRUE PEARL AND THE FALSE
"What can be the matter? What have I done to her?" Claire Fromont very
often wondered when she thought of Sidonie.
She was entirely ignorant of what had formerly taken place between her
friend and Georges at Savigny. Her own life was so upright, her mind so
pure, that it was impossible for her to divine the jealous, mean-spirited
ambition that had grown up by her side within the past fifteen years.
And yet the enigmatical expression in that pretty face as it smiled upon
her gave her a vague feeling of uneasiness which she could not
understand. An affectation of politeness, strange enough between
friends, was suddenly succeeded by an ill-dissembled anger, a cold,
stinging tone, in presence of which Claire was as perplexed as by a
difficult problem. Sometimes, too, a singular presentiment, the ill-
defined intuition of a great misfortune, was mingled with her uneasiness;
for all women have in some degree a kind of second sight, and, even in
the most innocent, ignorance of evil is suddenly illumined by visions of
From time to time, as the result of a conversation somewhat longer than
usual, or of one of those unexpected meetings when faces taken by
surprise allow their real thoughts to be seen, Madame Fromont reflected
seriously concerning this strange little Sidonie; but the active, urgent
duties of life, with its accompaniment of affections and preoccupations,
left her no time for dwelling upon such trifles.
To all women comes a time when they encounter such sudden windings in the
road that their whole horizon changes and all their points of view become
Had Claire been a young girl, the falling away of that friendship bit by
bit, as if torn from her by an unkindly hand, would have been a source of
great regret to her. But she had lost her father, the object of her
greatest, her only youthful affection; then she had married. The child
had come, with its thrice welcome demands upon her every moment.
Moreover, she had with her her mother, almost in her dotage, still
stupefied by her husband's tragic death. In a life so fully occupied,
Sidonie's caprices received but little attention; and it had hardly
occurred to Claire Fromont to be surprised at her marriage to Risler.
He was clearly too old for her; but, after all, what difference did it
make, if they loved each other?
As for being vexed because little Chebe had attained that lofty position,
had become almost her equal, her superior nature was incapable of such
pettiness. On the contrary, she would have been glad with all her heart
to know that that young wife, whose home was so near her own, who lived
the same life, so to speak, and had been her playmate in childhood, was
happy and highly esteemed. Being most kindly disposed toward her, she
tried to teach her, to instruct her in the ways of society, as one might
instruct an attractive provincial, who fell but little short of being
Advice is not readily accepted by one pretty young woman from another.
When Madame Fromont gave a grand dinner-party, she took Madame Risler to
her bedroom, and said to her, smiling frankly in order not to vex her:
"You have put on too many jewels, my dear. And then, you know, with a
high dress one doesn't wear flowers in the hair." Sidonie blushed, and
thanked her friend, but wrote down an additional grievance against her in
the bottom of her heart.
In Claire's circle her welcome was decidedly cold. The Faubourg Saint-
Germain has its pretensions; but do not imagine that the Marais has none!
Those wives and daughters of mechanics, of wealthy manufacturers, knew
little Chebe's story; indeed, they would have guessed it simply by her
manner of making her appearance and by her demeanor among them.
Sidonie's efforts were unavailing. She retained the manners of a shop-
girl. Her slightly artificial amiability, sometimes too humble, was as
unpleasant as the spurious elegance of the shop; and her disdainful
attitudes recalled the superb airs of the head saleswomen in the great
dry-goods establishments, arrayed in black silk gowns, which they take
off in the dressing-room when they go away at night--who stare with an
imposing air, from the vantage-point of their mountains of curls, at the
poor creatures who venture to discuss prices.
She felt that she was being examined and criticised, and her modesty was
compelled to place itself upon a war footing. Of the names mentioned in
her presence, the amusements, the entertainments, the books of which they
talked to her, she knew nothing. Claire did her best to help her, to
keep her on the surface, with a friendly hand always outstretched; but
many of these ladies thought Sidonie pretty; that was enough to make them
bear her a grudge for seeking admission to their circle. Others, proud
of their husbands' standing and of their wealth, could not invent enough
unspoken affronts and patronizing phrases to humiliate the little
Sidonie included them all in a single phrase: "Claire's friends--that is
to say, my enemies!" But she was seriously incensed against but one.
The two partners had no suspicion of what was taking place between their
wives. Risler, continually engrossed in his press, sometimes remained at
his draughting-table until midnight. Fromont passed his days abroad,
lunched at his club, was almost never at the factory. He had his reasons
Sidonie's proximity disturbed him. His capricious passion for her, that
passion that he had sacrificed to his uncle's last wishes, recurred too
often to his memory with all the regret one feels for the irreparable;
and, conscious that he was weak, he fled. His was a pliable nature,
without sustaining purpose, intelligent enough to appreciate his
failings, too weak to guide itself. On the evening of Risler's wedding--
he had been married but a few months himself--he had experienced anew, in
that woman's presence, all the emotion of the stormy evening at Savigny.
Thereafter, without self-examination, he avoided seeing her again or
speaking with her. Unfortunately, as they lived in the same house, as
their wives saw each other ten times a day, chance sometimes brought them
together; and this strange thing happened--that the husband, wishing to
remain virtuous, deserted his home altogether and sought distraction
Claire was not astonished that it was so. She had become accustomed,
during her father's lifetime, to the constant comings and goings of a
business life; and during her husband's absences, zealously performing
her duties as wife and mother, she invented long tasks, occupations of
all sorts, walks for the child, prolonged, peaceful tarryings in the
sunlight, from which she would return home, overjoyed with the little
one's progress, deeply impressed with the gleeful enjoyment of all
infants in the fresh air, but with a touch of their radiance in the
depths of her serious eyes.
Sidonie also went out a great deal. It often happened, toward night,
that Georges's carriage, driving through the gateway, would compel Madame
Risler to step hastily aside as she was returning in a gorgeous costume
from a triumphal promenade. The boulevard, the shop-windows, the
purchases, made after long deliberation as if to enjoy to the full the
pleasure of purchasing, detained her very late. They would exchange a
bow, a cold glance at the foot of the staircase; and Georges would hurry
into his apartments, as into a place of refuge, concealing beneath a
flood of caresses, bestowed upon the child his wife held out to him, the
sudden emotion that had seized him.
Sidonie, for her part, seemed to have forgotten everything, and to have
retained no other feeling but contempt for that weak, cowardly creature.
Moreover, she had many other things to think about.
Her husband had just had a piano placed in her red salon, between the
After long hesitation she had decided to learn to sing, thinking that it
was rather late to begin to play the piano; and twice a week Madame
Dobson, a pretty, sentimental blonde, came to give her lessons from
twelve o'clock to one. In the silence of the neighborhood the a-a-a and
o-oo, persistently prolonged, repeated again and again, with windows
open, gave the factory the atmosphere of a boarding-school.
And it was in reality a schoolgirl who was practising these exercises,
an inexperienced, wavering little soul, full of unconfessed longings,
with everything to learn and to find out in order to become a real woman.
But her ambition confined itself to a superficial aspect of things.
"Claire Fromont plays the piano; I will sing. She is considered a
refined and distinguished woman, and I intend that people shall say the
same of me."
Without a thought of improving her education, Sidonie passed her life
running about among milliners and dressmakers. "What are people going to
wear this winter?" was her cry. She was attracted by the gorgeous
displays in the shop-windows, by everything that caught the eye of the
The one thing that Sidonie envied Claire more than all else was the
child, the luxurious plaything, beribboned from the curtains of its
cradle to its nurse's cap. She did not think of the sweet, maternal
duties, demanding patience and self-abnegation, of the long rockings when
sleep would not come, of the laughing awakenings sparkling with fresh
water. No! she saw in the child naught but the daily walk. It is such
a pretty sight, the little bundle of finery, with floating ribbons and
long feathers, that follows young mothers through the crowded streets.
When she wanted company she had only her parents or her husband. She
preferred to go out alone. The excellent Risler had such an absurd way
of showing his love for her, playing with her as if she were a doll,
pinching her chin and her cheek, capering about her, crying, "Hou! hou!"
or staring at her with his great, soft eyes like an affectionate and
grateful dog. That senseless love, which made of her a toy, a mantel
ornament, made her ashamed. As for her parents, they were an
embarrassment to her in presence of the people she wished to know, and
immediately after her marriage she almost got rid of them by hiring a
little house for them at Montrouge. That step had cut short the frequent
invasions of Monsieur Chebe and his long frock-coat, and the endless
visits of good Madame Chebe, in whom the return of comfortable
circumstances had revived former habits of gossip and of indolence.
Sidonie would have been very glad to rid herself of the Delobelles in the
same way, for their proximity annoyed her. But the Marais was a central
location for the old actor, because the boulevard theatres were so near;
then, too, Desiree, like all sedentary persons, clung to the familiar
outlook, and her gloomy courtyard, dark at four o'clock in winter, seemed
to her like a friend, like a familiar face which the sun lighted up at
times as if it were smiling at her. As she was unable to get rid of
them, Sidonie had adopted the course of ceasing to visit them.
In truth, her life would have been lonely and depressing enough, had it
not been for the distractions which Claire Fromont procured for her.
Each time added fuel to her wrath. She would say to herself:
"Must everything come to me through her?"
And when, just at dinner-time, a box at the theatre or an invitation for
the evening was sent to her from the floor below, while she was dressing,
overjoyed at the opportunity to exhibit herself, she thought of nothing
but crushing her rival. But such opportunities became more rare as
Claire's time was more and more engrossed by her child. When Grandfather
Gardinois came to Paris, however, he never failed to bring the two
families together. The old peasant's gayety, for its freer expansion,
needed little Sidonie, who did not take alarm at his jests. He would
take them all four to dine at Philippe's, his favorite restaurant, where
he knew all the patrons, the waiters and the steward, would spend a lot
of money, and then take them to a reserved box at the Opera-Comique or
At the theatre he laughed uproariously, talked familiarly with the box-
openers, as he did with the waiters at Philippe's, loudly demanded
footstools for the ladies, and when the performance was over insisted on
having the topcoats and fur wraps of his party first of all, as if he
were the only three-million parvenu in the audience.
For these somewhat vulgar entertainments, from which her husband usually
excused himself, Claire, with her usual tact, dressed very plainly and
attracted no attention. Sidonie, on the contrary, in all her finery, in
full view of the boxes, laughed with all her heart at the grandfather's
anecdotes, happy to have descended from the second or third gallery, her
usual place in the old days, to that lovely proscenium box, adorned with
mirrors, with a velvet rail that seemed made expressly for her light
gloves, her ivory opera-glass, and her spangled fan. The tawdry glitter
of the theatre, the red and gold of the hangings, were genuine splendor
to her. She bloomed among them like a pretty paper flower in a filigree
One evening, at the performance of a successful play at the Palais-Royal,
among all the noted women who were present, painted celebrities wearing
microscopic hats and armed with huge fans, their rouge-besmeared faces
standing out from the shadow of the boxes in the gaudy setting of their
gowns, Sidonie's behavior, her toilette, the peculiarities of her laugh
and her expression attracted much attention. All the opera-glasses in
the hall, guided by the magnetic current that is so powerful under the
great chandeliers, were turned one by one upon the box in which she sat.
Claire soon became embarrassed, and modestly insisted upon changing
places with her husband, who, unluckily, had accompanied them that
Georges, youthful and elegant, sitting beside Sidonie, seemed her natural
companion, while Risler Allle, always so placid and self-effacing, seemed
in his proper place beside Claire Fromont, who in her dark clothes
suggested the respectable woman incog. at the Bal de l'Opera.
Upon leaving the theatre each of the partners offered his arm to his
neighbor. A box-opener, speaking to Sidonie, referred to Georges as
"your husband," and the little woman beamed with delight.
That simple phrase was enough to upset her and set in motion a multitude
of evil currents in the depths of her heart. As they passed through the
corridors and the foyer, she watched Risler and Madame "Chorche" walking
in front of them. Claire's refinement of manner seemed to her to be
vulgarized and annihilated by Risler's shuffling gait. "How ugly he must
make me look when we are walking together!" she said to herself. And
her heart beat fast as she thought what a charming, happy, admired couple
they would have made, she and this Georges Fromont, whose arm was
trembling beneath her own.
Thereupon, when the blue-lined carriage drove up to the door of the
theatre, she began to reflect, for the first time, that, when all was
said, Claire had stolen her place and that she would be justified in
trying to recover it.
THE BREWERY ON THE RUE BLONDEL
After his marriage Risler had given up the brewery. Sidonie would have
been glad to have him leave the house in the evening for a fashionable
club, a resort of wealthy, well-dressed men; but the idea of his
returning, amid clouds of pipe-smoke, to his friends of earlier days,
Sigismond, Delobelle, and her own father, humiliated her and made her
unhappy. So he ceased to frequent the place; and that was something of a
sacrifice. It was almost a glimpse of his native country, that brewery
situated in a remote corner of Paris. The infrequent carriages, the
high, barred windows of the ground floors, the odor of fresh drugs, of
pharmaceutical preparations, imparted to that narrow little Rue Blondel a
vague resemblance to certain streets in Basle or Zurich.
The brewery was managed by a Swiss and crowded with men of that
nationality. When the door was opened, through the smoke-laden
atmosphere, dense with the accents of the North, one had a vision of a
vast, low room with hams hanging from the rafters, casks of beer standing
in a row, the floor ankle-deep with sawdust, and on the counter great
salad-bowls filled with potatoes as red as chestnuts, and baskets of
pretzels fresh from the oven, their golden knots sprinkled with white
For twenty years Risler had had his pipe there, a long pipe marked with
his name in the rack reserved for the regular customers. He had also his
table, at which he was always joined by several discreet, quiet
compatriots, who listened admiringly, but without comprehending them,
to the endless harangues of Chebe and Delobelle. When Risler ceased his
visits to the brewery, the two last-named worthies likewise turned their
backs upon it, for several excellent reasons. In the first place, M.
Chebe now lived a considerable distance away. Thanks to the generosity
of his children, the dream of his whole life was realized at last.
"When I am rich," the little man used to say in his cheerless rooms in
the Marais, "I will have a house of my own, at the gates of Paris, almost
in the country, a little garden which I will plant and water myself.
That will be better for my health than all the excitement of the
Well, he had his house now, but he did not enjoy himself in it. It was
at Montrouge, on the road that runs around the city. "A small chalet,
with garden," said the advertisement, printed on a placard which gave an
almost exact idea of the dimensions of the property. The papers were new
and of rustic design, the paint perfectly fresh; a water-butt planted
beside a vine-clad arbor played the part of a pond. In addition to all
these advantages, only a hedge separated this paradise from another
"chalet with garden" of precisely the same description, occupied by
Sigismond Planus the cashier, and his sister. To Madame Chebe that was a
most precious circumstance. When the good woman was bored, she would
take a stock of knitting and darning and go and sit in the old maid's
arbor, dazzling her with the tale of her past splendors. Unluckily, her
husband had not the same source of distraction.
However, everything went well at first. It was midsummer, and M. Chebe,
always in his shirt-sleeves, was busily employed in getting settled.
Each nail to be driven in the house was the subject of leisurely
reflections, of endless discussions. It was the same with the garden.
He had determined at first to make an English garden of it, lawns always
green, winding paths shaded by shrubbery. But the trouble of it was that
it took so long for the shrubbery to grow.
"I have a mind to make an orchard of it," said the impatient little man.
And thenceforth he dreamed of nothing but vegetables, long lines of
beans, and peach-trees against the wall. He dug for whole mornings,
knitting his brows in a preoccupied way and wiping his forehead
ostentatiously before his wife, so that she would say:
"For heaven's sake, do rest a bit--you're killing yourself."
The result was that the garden was a mixture: flowers and fruit, park and
kitchen garden; and whenever he went into Paris M. Chebe was careful to
decorate his buttonhole with a rose from his rose-bushes.
While the fine weather lasted, the good people did not weary of admiring
the sunsets behind the fortifications, the long days, the bracing country
air. Sometimes, in the evening, when the windows were open, they sang
duets; and in presence of the stars in heaven, which began to twinkle
simultaneously with the lanterns on the railway around the city,
Ferdinand would become poetical. But when the rain came and he could not
go out, what misery! Madame Chebe, a thorough Parisian, sighed for the
narrow streets of the Marais, her expeditions to the market of Blancs-
Manteaux, and to the shops of the quarter.
As she sat by the window, her usual place for sewing and observation,
she would gaze at the damp little garden, where the volubilis and the
nasturtiums, stripped of their blossoms, were dropping away from the
lattices with an air of exhaustion, at the long, straight line of the
grassy slope of the fortifications, still fresh and green, and, a little
farther on, at the corner of a street, the office of the Paris omnibuses,
with all the points of their route inscribed in enticing letters on the
green walls. Whenever one of the omnibuses lumbered away on its journey,
she followed it with her eyes, as a government clerk at Cayenne or Noumea
gazes after the steamer about to return to France; she made the trip with
it, knew just where it would stop, at what point it would lurch around a
corner, grazing the shop-windows with its wheels.
As a prisoner, M. Chebe became a terrible trial. He could not work in
the garden. On Sundays the fortifications were deserted; he could no
longer strut about among the workingmen's families dining on the grass,
and pass from group to group in a neighborly way, his feet encased in
embroidered slippers, with the authoritative demeanor of a wealthy
landowner of the vicinity. This he missed more than anything else,
consumed as he was by the desire to make people think about him.
So that, having nothing to do, having no one to pose before, no one to
listen to his schemes, his stories, the anecdote of the accident to the
Duc d'Orleans--a similar accident had happened to him in his youth, you
remember--the unfortunate Ferdinand overwhelmed his wife with reproaches.
"Your daughter banishes us--your daughter is ashamed of us!"
She heard nothing but that "Your daughter--your daughter--your daughter!"
For, in his anger with Sidonie, he denied her, throwing upon his wife the
whole responsibility for that monstrous and unnatural child. It was a
genuine relief for poor Madame Chebe when her husband took an omnibus at
the office to go and hunt up Delobelle--whose hours for lounging were
always at his disposal--and pour into his bosom all his rancor against
his son-in-law and his daughter.
The illustrious Delobelle also bore Risler a grudge, and freely said of
him: "He is a dastard."
The great man had hoped to form an integral part of the new household, to
be the organizer of festivities, the 'arbiter elegantiarum'. Instead of
which, Sidonie received him very coldly, and Risler no longer even took
him to the brewery. However, the actor did not complain too loud, and
whenever he met his friend he overwhelmed him with attentions and
flattery; for he had need of him.
Weary of awaiting the discerning manager, seeing that the engagement he
had longed for so many years did not come, it had occurred to Delobelle
to purchase a theatre and manage it himself. He counted upon Risler for
the funds. Opportunely enough, a small theatre on the boulevard happened
to be for sale, as a result of the failure of its manager. Delobelle
mentioned it to Risler, at first very vaguely, in a wholly hypothetical
form--"There would be a good chance to make a fine stroke." Risler
listened with his usual phlegm, saying, "Indeed, it would be a good thing
for you." And to a more direct suggestion, not daring to answer, "No,"
he took refuge behind such phrases as "I will see"--"Perhaps later"--
"I don't say no"--and finally uttered the unlucky words "I must see the
For a whole week the actor had delved away at plans and figures, seated
between his wife and daughter, who watched him in admiration, and
intoxicated themselves with this latest dream. The people in the house
said, "Monsieur Delobelle is going to buy a theatre." On the boulevard,
in the actors' cafes, nothing was talked of but this transaction.
Delobelle did not conceal the fact that he had found some one to advance
the funds; the result being that he was surrounded by a crowd of
unemployed actors, old comrades who tapped him familiarly on the shoulder
and recalled themselves to his recollection--" You know, old boy." He
promised engagements, breakfasted at the cafe, wrote letters there,
greeted those who entered with the tips of his fingers, held very
animated conversations in corners; and already two threadbare authors had
read to him a drama in seven tableaux, which was "exactly what he wanted"
for his opening piece. He talked about "my theatre!" and his letters
were addressed, "Monsieur Delobelle, Manager."
When he had composed his prospectus and made his estimates, he went to
the factory to see Risler, who, being very busy, made an appointment to
meet him in the Rue Blondel; and that same evening, Delobelle, being the
first to arrive at the brewery, established himself at their old table,
ordered a pitcher of beer and two glasses, and waited. He waited a long
while, with his eye on the door, trembling with impatience. Whenever any
one entered, the actor turned his head. He had spread his papers on the
table, and pretended to be reading them, with animated gestures and
movements of the head and lips.
It was a magnificent opportunity, unique in its way. He already fancied
himself acting--for that was the main point--acting, in a theatre of his
own, roles written expressly for him, to suit his talents, in which he
would produce all the effect of--
Suddenly the door opened, and M. Chebe made his appearance amid the pipe-
smoke. He was as surprised and annoyed to find Delobelle there as
Delobelle himself was by his coming. He had written to his son-in-law
that morning that he wished to speak with him on a matter of very serious
importance, and that he would meet him at the brewery. It was an affair
of honor, entirely between themselves, from man to man. The real fact
concerning this affair of honor was that M. Chebe had given notice of his
intention to leave the little house at Montrouge, and had hired a shop
with an entresol in the Rue du Mail, in the midst of a business district.
A shop? Yes, indeed! And now he was a little alarmed regarding his
hasty step, anxious to know how his son-in-law would take it, especially
as the shop cost much more than the Montrouge house, and there were some
repairs to be made at the outset. As he had long been acquainted with
his son-in-law's kindness of heart, M. Chebe had determined to appeal to
him at once, hoping to lead him into his game and throw upon him the
responsibility for this domestic change. Instead of Risler he found
They looked askance at each other, with an unfriendly eye, like two dogs
meeting beside the same dish. Each divined for whom the other was
waiting, and they did not try to deceive each other.
"Isn't my son-in-law here?" asked M. Chebe, eying the documents spread
over the table, and emphasizing the words "my son-in-law," to indicate
that Risler belonged to him and to nobody else.
"I am waiting for him," Delobelle replied, gathering up his papers.
He pressed his lips together, as he added with a dignified, mysterious,
but always theatrical air:
"It is a matter of very great importance."
"So is mine," declared M. Chebe, his three hairs standing erect like a
As he spoke, he took his seat on the bench beside Delobelle, ordered a
pitcher and two glasses as the former had done, then sat erect with his
hands in his pockets and his back against the wall, waiting in his turn.
The two empty glasses in front of them, intended for the same absentee,
seemed to be hurling defiance at each other.
But Risler did not come.
The two men, drinking in silence, lost their patience and fidgeted about
on the bench, each hoping that the other would tire of waiting.
At last their ill-humor overflowed, and naturally poor Risler received
the whole flood.
"What an outrage to keep a man of my years waiting so long!" began M.
Chebe, who never mentioned his great age except upon such occasions.
"I believe, on my word, that he is making sport of us," replied M.
And the other:
"No doubt Monsieur had company to dinner."
"And such company!" scornfully exclaimed the illustrious actor, in whose
mind bitter memories were awakened.
"The fact is--" continued M. Chebe.
They drew closer to each other and talked. The hearts of both were full
in respect to Sidonie and Risler. They opened the flood-gates. That
Risler, with all his good-nature, was an egotist pure and simple, a
parvenu. They laughed at his accent and his bearing, they mimicked
certain of his peculiarities. Then they talked about his household, and,
lowering their voices, they became confidential, laughed familiarly
together, were friends once more.
M. Chebe went very far: "Let him beware! he has been foolish enough to
send the father and mother away from their daughter; if anything happens
to her, he can't blame us. A girl who hasn't her parents' example before
her eyes, you understand--"
"Certainly--certainly," said Delobelle; "especially as Sidonie has become
a great flirt. However, what can you expect? He will get no more than
he deserves. No man of his age ought to--Hush! here he is!"
Risler had entered the room, and was walking toward them, distributing
hand-shakes all along the benches.
There was a moment of embarrassment between the three friends. Risler
excused himself as well as he could. He had been detained at home;
Sidonie had company--Delobelle touched M. Chebe's foot under the table--
and, as he spoke, the poor man, decidedly perplexed by the two empty
glasses that awaited him, wondered in front of which of the two he ought
to take his seat.
Delobelle was generous.
"You have business together, Messieurs; do not let me disturb you."
He added in a low tone, winking at Risler:
"I have the papers."
"The papers?" echoed Risler, in a bewildered tone.
"The estimates," whispered the actor.
Thereupon, with a great show of discretion, he withdrew within himself,
and resumed the reading of his documents, his head in his hands and his
fingers in his ears.
The two others conversed by his side, first in undertones, then louder,
for M. Chebe's shrill, piercing voice could not long be subdued.--He
wasn't old enough to be buried, deuce take it!--He should have died of
ennui at Montrouge.--What he must have was the bustle and life of the Rue
de Mail or the Rue du Sentier--of the business districts.
"Yes, but a shop? Why a shop?" Risler timidly ventured to ask.
"Why a shop?--why a shop?" repeated M. Chebe, red as an Easter egg, and
raising his voice to its highest pitch. "Why, because I'm a merchant,
Monsieur Risler, a merchant and son of a merchant. Oh! I see what
you're coming at. I have no business. But whose fault is it? If the
people who shut me up at Montrouge, at the gates of Bicetre, like a
paralytic, had had the good sense to furnish me with the money to start
At that point Risler succeeded in silencing him, and thereafter only
snatches of the conversation could be heard: "a more convenient shop--
high ceilings--better air--future plans--enormous business--I will speak
when the time comes--many people will be astonished."
As he caught these fragments of sentences, Delobelle became more and more
absorbed in his estimates, presenting the eloquent back of the man who is
not listening. Risler, sorely perplexed, slowly sipped his beer from
time to time to keep himself, in countenance.
At last, when M. Chebe had grown calm, and with good reason, his son-in-
law turned with a smile to the illustrious Delobelle, and met the stern,
impassive glance which seemed to say, "Well! what of me?"
"Ah! Mon Dieu!--that is true," thought the poor fellow.
Changing at once his chair and his glass, he took his seat opposite the
actor. But M. Chebe had not Delobelle's courtesy. Instead of discreetly
moving away, he took his glass and joined the others, so that the great
man, unwilling to speak before him, solemnly replaced his documents in
his pocket a second time, saying to Risler:
"We will talk this over later."
Very much later, in truth, for M. Chebe had reflected:
"My son-in-law is so good-natured! If I leave him with this swindler,
who knows what he may get out of him?"
And he remained on guard. The actor was furious. It was impossible to
postpone the matter to some other day, for Risler told them that he was
going the next day to spend the next month at Savigny.
"A month at Savigny!" exclaimed M. Chebe, incensed at the thought of his
son-in-law escaping him. "How about business?"
"Oh! I shall come to Paris every day with Georges. Monsieur Gardinois
is very anxious to see his little Sidonie."
M. Chebe shook his head. He considered it very imprudent. Business is
business. A man ought to be on the spot, always on the spot, in the
breach. Who could say?--the factory might take fire in the night. And
he repeated sententiously: "The eye of the master, my dear fellow, the
eye of the master," while the actor--who was little better pleased by
this intended departure--opened his great eyes; giving them an expression
at once cunning and authoritative, the veritable expression of the eye of
At last, about midnight, the last Montrouge omnibus bore away the
tyrannical father-in-law, and Delobelle was able to speak.
"Let us first look at the prospectus," he said, preferring not to attack
the question of figures at once; and with his eyeglasses on his nose, he
began, in a declamatory tone, always upon the stage: "When one considers
coolly the decrepitude which dramatic art has reached in France, when one
measures the distance that separates the stage of Moliere--"
There were several pages like that. Risler listened, puffing at his
pipe, afraid to stir, for the reader looked at him every moment over his
eyeglasses, to watch the effect of his phrases. Unfortunately, right in
the middle of the prospectus, the cafe closed. The lights were
extinguished; they must go.--And the estimates?--It was agreed that they
should read them as they walked along. They stopped at every gaslight.
The actor displayed his figures. So much for the hall, so much for the
lighting, so much for poor-rates, so much for the actors. On that
question of the actors he was firm.
"The best point about the affair," he said, "is that we shall have no
leading man to pay. Our leading man will be Bibi." (When Delobelle
mentioned himself, he commonly called himself Bibi.) "A leading man is
paid twenty thousand francs, and as we have none to pay, it's just as if
you put twenty thousand francs in your pocket. Tell me, isn't that
Risler did not reply. He had the constrained manner, the wandering eyes
of the man whose thoughts are elsewhere. The reading of the estimates
being concluded, Delobelle, dismayed to find that they were drawing near
the corner of the Rue des Vieilles-Haudriettes, put the question
squarely. Would Risler advance the money, yes or no?
"Well!--no," said Risler, inspired by heroic courage, which he owed
principally to the proximity of the factory and to the thought that the
welfare of his family was at stake.
Delobelle was astounded. He had believed that the business was as good
as done, and he stared at his companion, intensely agitated, his eyes as
big as saucers, and rolling his papers in his hand.
"No," Risler continued, "I can't do what you ask, for this reason."
Thereupon the worthy man, slowly, with his usual heaviness of speech,
explained that he was not rich. Although a partner in a wealthy house,
he had no available funds. Georges and he drew a certain sum from the
concern each month; then, when they struck a balance at the end of the
year they divided the profits. It had cost him a good deal to begin
housekeeping: all his savings. It was still four months before the
inventory. Where was he to obtain the 30,000 francs to be paid down at
once for the theatre? And then, beyond all that, the affair could not be
"Why, it must succeed. Bibi will be there!" As he spoke, poor Bibi drew
himself up to his full height; but Risler was determined, and all Bibi's
arguments met the same refusal--"Later, in two or three years, I don't
say something may not be done."
The actor fought for a long time, yielding his ground inch by inch.
He proposed revising his estimates. The thing might be done cheaper.
"It would still be too dear for me," Risler interrupted. "My name
doesn't belong to me. It is a part of the firm. I have no right to
pledge it. Imagine my going into bankruptcy!" His voice trembled as he
uttered the word.
"But if everything is in my name," said Delobelle, who had no
superstition. He tried everything, invoked the sacred interests of art,
went so far as to mention the fascinating actresses whose alluring
glances--Risler laughed aloud.
"Come, come, you rascal! What's that you're saying? You forget that
we're both married men, and that it is very late and our wives are
expecting us. No ill-will, eh?--This is not a refusal, you understand.
--By the way, come and see me after the inventory. We will talk it over
again. Ah! there's Pere Achille putting out his gas.--I must go in.
It was after one o'clock when the actor returned home. The two women
were waiting for him, working as usual, but with a sort of feverish
activity which was strange to them. Every moment the great scissors that
Mamma Delobelle used to cut the brass wire were seized with strange fits
of trembling, and Desiree's little fingers, as she mounted an insect,
moved so fast that it made one dizzy to watch them. Even the long
feathers of the little birds scattered about on the table before her
seemed more brilliant, more richly colored, than on other days. It was
because a lovely visitor named Hope had called upon them that evening.
She had made the tremendous effort required to climb five dark flights of
stairs, and had opened the door of the little room to cast a luminous
glance therein. However much you may have been deceived in life, those
magic gleams always dazzle you.
"Oh! if your father could only succeed!" said Mamma Delobelle from time
to time, as if to sum up a whole world of happy thoughts to which her
reverie abandoned itself.
"He will succeed, mamma, never fear. Monsieur Risler is so kind, I will
answer for him. And Sidonie is very fond of us, too, although since she
was married she does seem to neglect her old friends a little. But we
must make allowance for the difference in our positions. Besides,
I never shall forget what she did for me."
And, at the thought of what Sidonie had done for her, the little cripple
applied herself with even more feverish energy to her work. Her
electrified fingers moved with redoubled swiftness. You would have said
that they were running after some fleeing, elusive thing, like happiness,
for example, or the love of some one who loves you not.
"What was it that she did for you?" her mother would naturally have
asked her; but at that moment she was only slightly interested in what
her daughter said. She was thinking exclusively of her great man.
"No! do you think so, my dear? Just suppose your father should have a
theatre of his own and act again as in former days. You don't remember;
you were too small then. But he had tremendous success, no end of
recalls. One night, at Alencon, the subscribers to the theatre gave him
a gold wreath. Ah! he was a brilliant man in those days, so
lighthearted, so glad to be alive. Those who see him now don't know him,
poor man, misfortune has changed him so. Oh, well! I feel sure that all
that's necessary is a little success to make him young and happy again.
And then there's money to be made managing theatres. The manager at
Nantes had a carriage. Can you imagine us with a carriage? Can you
imagine it, I say? That's what would be good for you. You could go out,
leave your armchair once in a while. Your father would take us into the
country. You would see the water and the trees you have had such a
longing to see."
"Oh! the trees," murmured the pale little recluse, trembling from head
At that moment the street door of the house was closed violently, and M.
Delobelle's measured step echoed in the vestibule. There was a moment of
speechless, breathless anguish. The women dared not look at each other,
and mamma's great scissors trembled so that they cut the wire crooked.
The poor devil had unquestionably received a terrible blow. His
illusions crushed, the humiliation of a refusal, the jests of his
comrades, the bill at the cafe where he had breakfasted on credit during
the whole period of his managership, a bill which must be paid--all these
things occurred to him in the silence and gloom of the five flights he
had to climb. His heart was torn. Even so, the actor's nature was so
strong in him that he deemed it his duty to envelop his distress, genuine
as it was, in a conventional tragic mask.
As he entered, he paused, cast an ominous glance around the work-room,
at the table covered with work, his little supper waiting for him in a
corner, and the two dear, anxious faces looking up at him with glistening
eyes. He stood a full minute without speaking--and you know how long a
minute's silence seems on the stage; then he took three steps forward,
sank upon a low chair beside the table, and exclaimed in a hissing voice:
"Ah! I am accursed!"
At the same time he dealt the table such a terrible blow with his fist
that the "birds and insects for ornament" flew to the four corners of the
room. His terrified wife rose and timidly approached him, while Desiree
half rose in her armchair with an expression of nervous agony that
distorted all her features.
Lolling in his chair, his arms hanging despondently by his sides, his
head on his chest, the actor soliloquized--a fragmentary soliloquy,
interrupted by sighs and dramatic hiccoughs, overflowing with
imprecations against the pitiless, selfish bourgeois, those monsters to
whom the artist gives his flesh and blood for food and drink.
Then he reviewed his whole theatrical life, his early triumphs, the
golden wreath from the subscribers at Alencon, his marriage to this
"sainted woman," and he pointed to the poor creature who stood by his
side, with tears streaming from her eyes, and trembling lips, nodding her
head dotingly at every word her husband said.
In very truth, a person who never had heard of the illustrious Delobelle
could have told his history in detail after that long monologue. He
recalled his arrival in Paris, his humiliations, his privations. Alas!
he was not the one who had known privation. One had but to look at his
full, rotund face beside the thin, drawn faces of the two women. But the
actor did not look so closely.
"Oh!" he said, continuing to intoxicate himself with declamatory
phrases, "oh! to have struggled so long. For ten years, fifteen years,
have I struggled on, supported by these devoted creatures, fed by them."
"Papa, papa, hush," cried Desiree, clasping her hands.
"Yes, fed by them, I say--and I do not blush for it. For I accept all
this devotion in the name of sacred art. But this is too much. Too much
has been put upon me. I renounce the stage!"
"Oh! my dear, what is that you say?" cried Mamma Delobelle, rushing to
"No, leave me. I have reached the end of my strength. They have slain
the artist in me. It is all over. I renounce the stage."
If you had seen the two women throw their arms about him then, implore
him to struggle on, prove to him that he had no right to give up, you
could not have restrained your tears. But Delobelle resisted.
He yielded at last, however, and promised to continue the fight a little
while, since it was their wish; but it required many an entreaty and
caress to carry the point.
It was a great misfortune, that sojourn of the two families at Savigny
for a month.
After an interval of two years Georges and Sidonie found themselves side
by side once more on the old estate, too old not to be always like
itself, where the stones, the ponds, the trees, always the same, seemed
to cast derision upon all that changes and passes away. A renewal of
intercourse under such circumstances must have been disastrous to two
natures that were not of a very different stamp, and far more virtuous
than those two.
As for Claire, she never had been so happy; Savigny never had seemed so
lovely to her. What joy to walk with her child over the greensward where
she herself had walked as a child; to sit, a young mother, upon the
shaded seats from which her own mother had looked on at her childish
games years before; to go, leaning on Georges's arm, to seek out the
nooks where they had played together. She felt a tranquil contentment,
the overflowing happiness of placid lives which enjoy their bliss in
silence; and all day long her skirts swept along the paths, guided by the
tiny footsteps of the child, her cries and her demands upon her mother's
Sidonie seldom took part in these maternal promenades. She said that the
chatter of children tired her, and therein she agreed with old Gardinois,
who seized upon any pretext to annoy his granddaughter. He believed that
he accomplished that object by devoting himself exclusively to Sidonie,
and arranging even more entertainments for her than on her former visit.
The carriages that had been shut up in the carriage-house for two years,
and were dusted once a week because the spiders spun their webs on the
silk cushions, were placed at her disposal. The horses were harnessed
three times a day, and the gate was continually turning on its hinges.
Everybody in the house followed this impulse of worldliness. The
gardener paid more attention to his flowers because Madame Risler
selected the finest ones to wear in her hair at dinner. And then there
were calls to be made. Luncheon parties were given, gatherings at which
Madame Fromont Jeune presided, but at which Sidonie, with her lively
manners, shone supreme. Indeed, Claire often left her a clear field.
The child had its hours for sleeping and riding out, with which no
amusements could interfere. The mother was compelled to remain away, and
it often happened that she was unable to go with Sidonie to meet the
partners when they came from Paris at night.
"You will make my excuses," she would say, as the went up to her room.
Madame Risler was triumphant. A picture of elegant indolence, she would
drive away behind the galloping horses, unconscious of the swiftness of
their pace, without a thought in her mind.
Other carriages were always waiting at the station. Two or three times
she heard some one near her whisper, "That is Madame Fromont Jeune," and,
indeed, it was a simple matter for people to make the mistake, seeing the
three return together from the station, Sidonie sitting beside Georges on
the back seat, laughing and talking with him, and Risler facing them,
smiling contentedly with his broad hands spread flat upon his knees,
but evidently feeling a little out of place in that fine carriage.
The thought that she was taken for Madame Fromont made her very proud,
and she became a little more accustomed to it every day. On their
arrival at the chateau, the two families separated until dinner; but,
in the presence of his wife sitting tranquilly beside the sleeping child,
Georges Fromont, too young to be absorbed by the joys of domesticity, was
continually thinking of the brilliant Sidonie, whose voice he could hear
pouring forth triumphant roulades under the trees in the garden.
While the whole chateau was thus transformed in obedience to the whims of
a young woman, old Gardinois continued to lead the narrow life of a
discontented, idle, impotent 'parvenu'. The most successful means of
distraction he had discovered was espionage. The goings and comings of
his servants, the remarks that were made about him in the kitchen, the
basket of fruit and vegetables brought every morning from the kitchen-
garden to the pantry, were objects of continual investigation.
For the purposes of this constant spying upon his household, he made use
of a stone bench set in the gravel behind an enormous Paulownia. He
would sit there whole days at a time, neither reading nor thinking,
simply watching to see who went in or out. For the night he had invented
something different. In the great vestibule at the main entrance, which
opened upon the front steps with their array of bright flowers, he had
caused an opening to be made leading to his bedroom on the floor above.
An acoustic tube of an improved type was supposed to convey to his ears
every sound on the ground floor, even to the conversation of the servants
taking the air on the steps.
Unluckily, the instrument was so powerful that it exaggerated all the
noises, confused them and prolonged them, and the powerful, regular
ticking of a great clock, the cries of a paroquet kept in one of the
lower rooms, the clucking of a hen in search of a lost kernel of corn,
were all Monsieur Gardinois could hear when he applied his ear to the
tube. As for voices, they reached him in the form of a confused buzzing,
like the muttering of a crowd, in which it was impossible to distinguish
anything. He had nothing to show for the expense of the apparatus, and
he concealed his wonderful tube in a fold of his bed-curtains.
One night Gardinois, who had fallen asleep, was awakened suddenly by the
creaking of a door. It was an extraordinary thing at that hour. The
whole house hold was asleep. Nothing could be heard save the footsteps
of the watch-dogs on the sand, or their scratching at the foot of a tree
in which an owl was screeching. An excellent opportunity to use his
listening-tube! Upon putting it to his ear, M. Gardinois was assured
that he had made no mistake. The sounds continued. One door was opened,
then another. The bolt of the front door was thrown back with an effort.
But neither Pyramus nor Thisbe, not even Kiss, the formidable
Newfoundland, had made a sign. He rose softly to see who those strange
burglars could be, who were leaving the house instead of entering it;
and this is what he saw through the slats of his blind:
A tall, slender young man, with Georges's figure and carriage, arm-in-arm
with a woman in a lace mantilla. They stopped first at the bench by the
Paulownia, which was in full bloom.
It was a superb moonlight night. The moon, silvering the treetops, made
numberless flakes of light amid the dense foliage. The terraces, white
with moonbeams, where the Newfoundlands in their curly coats went to and
fro, watching the night butterflies, the smooth, deep waters of the
ponds, all shone with a mute, calm brilliance, as if reflected in a
silver mirror. Here and there glow-worms twinkled on the edges of the
The two promenaders remained for a moment beneath the shade of the
Paulownia, sitting silent on the bench, lost in the dense darkness which
the moon makes where its rays do not reach. Suddenly they appeared in
the bright light, wrapped in a languishing embrace; then walked slowly
across the main avenue, and disappeared among the trees.
"I was sure of it!" said old Gardinois, recognizing them. Indeed, what
need had he to recognize them? Did not the silence of the dogs, the
aspect of the sleeping house, tell him more clearly than anything else
could, what species of impudent crime, unknown and unpunished, haunted
the avenues in his park by night? Be that as it may, the old peasant was
overjoyed by his discovery. He returned to bed without a light,
chuckling to himself, and in the little cabinet filled with hunting-
implements, whence he had watched them, thinking at first that he had to
do with burglars, the moon's rays shone upon naught save the fowling-
pieces hanging on the wall and the boxes of cartridges of all sizes.
Sidonie and Georges had taken up the thread of their love at the corner
of the same avenue. The year that had passed, marked by hesitation, by
vague struggles, by fruitless resistance, seemed to have been only a
preparation for their meeting. And it must be said that, when once the
fatal step was taken, they were surprised at nothing so much as the fact
that they had postponed it so long. Georges Fromont especially was
seized by a mad passion. He was false to his wife, his best friend; he
was false to Risler, his partner, the faithful companion of his every
He felt a constant renewal, a sort of overflow of remorse, wherein his
passion was intensified by the magnitude of his sin. Sidonie became his
one engrossing thought, and he discovered that until then he had not
lived. As for her, her love was made up of vanity and spite. The thing
that she relished above all else was Claire's degradation in her eyes.
Ah! if she could only have said to her, "Your husband loves me--he is
false to you with me," her pleasure would have been even greater. As for
Risler, in her view he richly deserved what had happened to him. In her
old apprentice's jargon, in which she still thought, even if she did not
speak it, the poor man was only "an old fool," whom she had taken as a
stepping-stone to fortune. "An old fool" is made to be deceived!
During the day Savigny belonged to Claire, to the child who ran about
upon the gravel, laughing at the birds and the clouds, and who grew
apace. The mother and child had for their own the daylight, the paths
filled with sunbeams. But the blue nights were given over to sin, to
that sin firmly installed in the chateau, which spoke in undertones,
crept noiselessly behind the closed blinds, and in face of which the
sleeping house became dumb and blind, and resumed its stony
impassibility, as if it were ashamed to see and hear.
SIGISMOND PLANUS TREMBLES FOR HIS CASH-BOX
"Carriage, my dear Chorche?--I--have a carriage? What for?"
"I assure you, my dear Risler, that it is quite essential for you. Our
business, our relations, are extending every day; the coupe is no longer
enough for us. Besides, it doesn't look well to see one of the partners
always in his carriage and the other on foot. Believe me, it is a
necessary outlay, and of course it will go into the general expenses of
the firm. Come, resign yourself to the inevitable."
It was genuine resignation. It seemed to Risler as if he were stealing
something in taking the money for such an unheard-of luxury as a
carriage; however, he ended by yielding to Georges's persistent
representations, thinking as he did so:
"This will make Sidonie very happy!"
The poor fellow had no suspicion that Sidonie herself, a month before,
had selected at Binder's the coupe which Georges insisted upon giving
her, and which was to be charged to expense account in order not to alarm
Honest Risler was so plainly created to be deceived. His inborn
uprightness, the implicit confidence in men and things, which was the
foundation of his transparent nature, had been intensified of late by
preoccupation resulting from his pursuit of the Risler Press, an
invention destined to revolutionize the wall-paper industry and
representing in his eyes his contribution to the partnership assets.
When he laid aside his drawings and left his little work-room on the
first floor, his face invariably wore the absorbed look of the man who
has his life on one side, his anxieties on another. What a delight it
was to him, therefore, to find his home always tranquil, his wife always
in good humor, becomingly dressed and smiling.
Without undertaking to explain the change to himself, he recognized that
for some time past the "little one" had not been as before in her
treatment of him. She allowed him to resume his old habits: the pipe at
dessert, the little nap after dinner, the appointments at the brewery
with Chebe and Delobelle. Their apartments also were transformed,
A grand piano by a famous maker made its appearance in the salon in place
of the old one, and Madame Dobson, the singing-teacher, came no longer
twice a week, but every day, music-roll in hand.
Of a curious type was that young woman of American extraction, with hair
of an acid blond, like lemon-pulp, over a bold forehead and metallic blue
eyes. As her husband would not allow her to go on the stage, she gave
lessons, and sang in some bourgeois salons. As a result of living in the
artificial world of compositions for voice and piano, she had contracted
a species of sentimental frenzy.
She was romance itself. In her mouth the words "love" and "passion"
seemed to have eighty syllables, she uttered them with so much
expression. Oh, expression! That was what Mistress Dobson placed before
everything, and what she tried, and tried in vain, to impart to her
'Ay Chiquita,' upon which Paris fed for several seasons, was then at the
height of its popularity. Sidonie studied it conscientiously, and all
the morning she could be heard singing:
"On dit que tu te maries,
Tu sais que j'en puis mourir."
[They say that thou'rt to marry
Thou know'st that I may die.]
"Mouri-i-i-i-i-r!" the expressive Madame Dobson would interpose, while
her hands wandered feebly over the piano-keys; and die she would, raising
her light blue eyes to the ceiling and wildly throwing back her head.
Sidonie never could accomplish it. Her mischievous eyes, her lips,
crimson with fulness of life, were not made for such AEolian-harp
sentimentalities. The refrains of Offenbach or Herve, interspersed with
unexpected notes, in which one resorts to expressive gestures for aid, to
a motion of the head or the body, would have suited her better; but she
dared not admit it to her sentimental instructress. By the way, although
she had been made to sing a great deal at Mademoiselle Le Mire's, her
voice was still fresh and not unpleasing.
Having no social connections, she came gradually to make a friend of her
singing-mistress. She would keep her to breakfast, take her to drive in
the new coupe and to assist in her purchases of gowns and jewels. Madame
Dobson's sentimental and sympathetic tone led one to repose confidence in
her. Her continual repinings seemed too long to attract other repinings.
Sidonie told her of Georges, of their relations, attempting to palliate
her offence by blaming the cruelty of her parents in marrying her by
force to a man much older than herself. Madame Dobson at once showed a
disposition to assist them; not that the little woman was venal, but she
had a passion for passion, a taste for romantic intrigue. As she was
unhappy in her own home, married to a dentist who beat her, all husbands
were monsters in her eyes, and poor Risler especially seemed to her a
horrible tyrant whom his wife was quite justified in hating and
She was an active confidant and a very useful one. Two or three times a
week she would bring tickets for a box at the Opera or the Italiens, or
some one of the little theatres which enjoy a temporary vogue, and cause
all Paris to go from one end of Paris to the other for a season. In
Risler's eyes the tickets came from Madame Dobson; she had as many as she
chose to the theatres where operas were given. The poor wretch had no
suspicion that one of those boxes for an important "first night" had
often cost his partner ten or fifteen Louis.
In the evening, when his wife went away, always splendidly attired, he
would gaze admiringly at her, having no suspicion of the cost of her
costumes, certainly none of the man who paid for them, and would await
her return at his table by the fire, busy with his drawings, free from
care, and happy to be able to say to himself, "What a good time she is
On the floor below, at the Fromonts', the same comedy was being played,
but with a transposition of parts. There it was the young wife who sat
by the fire. Every evening, half an hour after Sidonie's departure, the
great gate swung open to give passage to the Fromont coupe conveying
Monsieur to his club. What would you have? Business has its demands.
All the great deals are arranged at the club, around the bouillotte
table, and a man must go there or suffer the penalty of seeing his
business fall off. Claire innocently believed it all. When her husband
had gone, she felt sad for a moment. She would have liked so much to
keep him with her or to go out leaning on his arm, to seek enjoyment with
him. But the sight of the child, cooing in front of the fire and kicking
her little pink feet while she was being undressed, speedily soothed the
mother. Then the eloquent word "business," the merchant's reason of
state, was always at hand to help her to resign herself.
Georges and Sidonie met at the theatre. Their feeling at first when they
were together was one of satisfied vanity. People stared at them a great
deal. She was really pretty now, and her irregular but attractive
features, which required the aid of all the eccentricities of the
prevailing style in order to produce their full effect, adapted
themselves to them so perfectly that you would have said they were
invented expressly for her. In a few moments they went away, and Madame
Dobson was left alone in the box. They had hired a small suite on the
Avenue Gabriel, near the 'rond-point' of the Champs Elysees--the dream of
the young women at the Le Mire establishment--two luxuriously furnished,
quiet rooms, where the silence of the wealthy quarter, disturbed only by
passing carriages, formed a blissful surrounding for their love.
Little by little, when she had become accustomed to her sin, she
conceived the most audacious whims. From her old working-days she had
retained in the depths of her memory the names of public balls, of famous
restaurants, where she was eager to go now, just as she took pleasure in
causing the doors to be thrown open for her at the establishments of the
great dressmakers, whose signs only she had known in her earlier days.
For what she sought above all else in this liaison was revenge for the
sorrows and humiliations of her youth. Nothing delighted her so much,
for example, when returning from an evening drive in the Bois, as a
supper at the Cafe Anglais with the sounds of luxurious vice around her.
From these repeated excursions she brought back peculiarities of speech
and behavior, equivocal songs, and a style of dress that imported into
the bourgeois atmosphere of the old commercial house an accurate
reproduction of the most advanced type of the Paris cocotte of that
At the factory they began to suspect something. The women of the people,
even the poorest, are so quick at picking a costume to pieces! When
Madame Risler went out, about three o'clock, fifty pairs of sharp,
envious eyes, lying in ambush at the windows of the polishing-shop,
watched her pass, penetrating to the lowest depths of her guilty
conscience through her black velvet dolman and her cuirass of sparkling
Although she did not suspect it, all the secrets of that mad brain were
flying about her like the ribbons that played upon her bare neck; and her
daintily-shod feet, in their bronzed boots with ten buttons, told the
story of all sorts of clandestine expeditions, of the carpeted stairways
they ascended at night on their way to supper, and the warm fur robes in
which they were wrapped when the coupe made the circuit of the lake in
the darkness dotted with lanterns.
The work-women laughed sneeringly and whispered:
"Just look at that Tata Bebelle! A fine way to dress to go out. She
don't rig herself up like that to go to mass, that's sure! To think that
it ain't three years since she used to start for the shop every morning
in an old waterproof, and two sous' worth of roasted chestnuts in her
pockets to keep her fingers warm. Now she rides in her carriage."
And amid the talc dust and the roaring of the stoves, red-hot in winter
and summer alike, more than one poor girl reflected on the caprice of
chance in absolutely transforming a woman's existence, and began to dream
vaguely of a magnificent future which might perhaps be in store for
herself without her suspecting it.
In everybody's opinion Risler was a dishonored husband. Two assistants
in the printing-room--faithful patrons of the Folies Dramatiques--
declared that they had seen Madame Risler several times at their theatre,
accompanied by some escort who kept out of sight at the rear of the box.
Pere Achille, too, told of amazing things. That Sidonie had a lover,
that she had several lovers, in fact, no one entertained a doubt. But no
one had as yet thought of Fromont jeune.
And yet she showed no prudence whatever in her relations with him. On
the contrary, she seemed to make a parade of them; it may be that that
was what saved them. How many times she accosted him boldly on the steps
to agree upon a rendezvous for the evening! How many times she had
amused herself in making him shudder by looking into his eyes before
every one! When the first confusion had passed, Georges was grateful to
her for these exhibitions of audacity, which he attributed to the
intensity of her passion. He was mistaken.
What she would have liked, although she did not admit it to herself,
would have been to have Claire see them, to have her draw aside the
curtain at her window, to have her conceive a suspicion of what was
passing. She needed that in order to be perfectly happy: that her rival
should be unhappy. But her wish was ungratified; Claire Fromont noticed
nothing and lived, as did Risler, in imperturbable serenity.
Only Sigismond, the old cashier, was really ill at ease. And yet he was
not thinking of Sidonie when, with his pen behind his ear, he paused a
moment in his work and gazed fixedly through his grating at the drenched
soil of the little garden. He was thinking solely of his master, of
Monsieur "Chorche," who was drawing a great deal of money now for his
current expenses and sowing confusion in all his books. Every time it
was some new excuse. He would come to the little wicket with an
"Have you a little money, my good Planus? I was worsted again at
bouillotte last night, and I don't want to send to the bank for such a
Sigismond Planus would open his cash-box, with an air of regret, to get
the sum requested, and he would remember with terror a certain day when
Monsieur Georges, then only twenty years old, had confessed to his uncle
that he owed several thousand francs in gambling debts. The elder man
thereupon conceived a violent antipathy for the club and contempt for all
its members. A rich tradesman who was a member happened to come to the
factory one day, and Sigismond said to him with brutal frankness:
"The devil take your 'Cercle du Chateau d'Eau!' Monsieur Georges has
left more than thirty thousand francs there in two months."
The other began to laugh.
"Why, you're greatly mistaken, Pere Planus--it's at least three months
since we have seen your master."
The cashier did not pursue the conversation; but a terrible thought took
up its abode in his mind, and he turned it over and over all day long.
If Georges did not go to the club, where did he pass his evenings? Where
did he spend so much money?
There was evidently a woman at the bottom of the affair.
As soon as that idea occurred to him, Sigismond Planus began to tremble
seriously for his cash-box. That old bear from the canton of Berne, a
confirmed bachelor, had a terrible dread of women in general and Parisian
women in particular. He deemed it his duty, first of all, in order to
set his conscience at rest, to warn Risler. He did it at first in rather
a vague way.
"Monsieur Georges is spending a great deal of money," he said to him one
Risler exhibited no surprise.
"What do you expect me to do, my old Sigismond? It is his right."
And the honest fellow meant what he said. In his eyes Fromont jeune was
the absolute master of the establishment. It would have been a fine
thing, and no mistake, for him, an ex-draughtsman, to venture to make any
comments. The cashier dared say no more until the day when a messenger
came from a great shawl-house with a bill for six thousand francs for a
He went to Georges in his office.
"Shall I pay it, Monsieur?"
Georges Fromont was a little annoyed. Sidonie had forgotten to tell him
of this latest purchase; she used no ceremony with him now.
"Pay it, pay it, Pere Planus," he said, with a shade of embarrassment,
and added: "Charge it to the account of Fromont jeune. It is a
commission intrusted to me by a friend."
That evening, as Sigismond was lighting his little lamp, he saw Risler
crossing the garden, and tapped on the window to call him.
"It's a woman," he said, under his breath. "I have the proof of it now."
As he uttered the awful words "a woman" his voice shook with alarm and
was drowned in the great uproar of the factory. The sounds of the work
in progress had a sinister meaning to the unhappy cashier at that moment.
It seemed to him as if all the whirring machinery, the great chimney
pouring forth its clouds of smoke, the noise of the workmen at their
different tasks--as if all this tumult and bustle and fatigue were for
the benefit of a mysterious little being, dressed in velvet and adorned
Risler laughed at him and refused to believe him. He had long been
acquainted with his compatriot's mania for detecting in everything the
pernicious influence of woman. And yet Planus's words sometimes recurred
to his thoughts, especially in the evening when Sidonie, after all the
commotion attendant upon the completion of her toilette, went away to the
theatre with Madame Dobson, leaving the apartment empty as soon as her
long train had swept across the threshold. Candles burning in front of
the mirrors, divers little toilette articles scattered about and thrown
aside, told of extravagant caprices and a reckless expenditure of money.
Risler thought nothing of all that; but, when he heard Georges's carriage
rolling through the courtyard, he had a feeling of discomfort at the
thought of Madame Fromont passing her evenings entirely alone. Poor
woman! Suppose what Planus said were true!
Suppose Georges really had a second establishment! Oh, it would be
Thereupon, instead of beginning to work, he would go softly downstairs
and ask if Madame were visible, deeming it his duty to keep her company.
The little girl was always in bed, but the little cap, the blue shoes,
were still lying in front of the fire. Claire was either reading or
working, with her silent mother beside her, always rubbing or dusting
with feverish energy, exhausting herself by blowing on the case of her
watch, and nervously taking the same thing up and putting it down again
ten times in succession, with the obstinate persistence of mania. Nor
was honest Risler a very entertaining companion; but that did not prevent
the young woman from welcoming him kindly. She knew all that was said
about Sidonie in the factory; and although she did not believe half of
it, the sight of the poor man, whom his wife left alone so often, moved
her heart to pity. Mutual compassion formed the basis of that placid
friendship, and nothing could be more touching than these two deserted
ones, one pitying the other and each trying to divert the other's
Seated at the small, brightly lighted table in the centre of the salon,
Risler would gradually yield to the influence of the warmth of the fire
and the harmony of his surroundings. He found there articles of
furniture with which he had been familiar for twenty years, the portrait
of his former employer; and his dear Madame Chorche, bending over some
little piece of needle work at his side, seemed to him even younger and
more lovable among all those old souvenirs. From time to time she would
rise to go and look at the child sleeping in the adjoining room, whose
soft breathing they could hear in the intervals of silence. Without
fully realizing it, Risler felt more comfortable and warmer there than in
his own apartment; for on certain days those attractive rooms, where the
doors were forever being thrown open for hurried exits or returns, gave
him the impression of a hall without doors or windows, open to the four
winds. His rooms were a camping-ground; this was a home. A care-taking
hand caused order and refinement to reign everywhere. The chairs seemed
to be talking together in undertones, the fire burned with a delightful
sound, and Mademoiselle Fromont's little cap retained in every bow of its
blue ribbons suggestions of sweet smiles and baby glances.
And while Claire was thinking that such an excellent man deserved a
better companion in life, Risler, watching the calm and lovely face
turned toward him, the intelligent, kindly eyes, asked himself who the
hussy could be for whom Georges Fromont neglected such an adorable woman.