Part 3 out of 5
The house in which old Planus lived at Montrouge adjoined the one which
the Chebes had occupied for some time. There was the same ground floor
with three windows, and a single floor above, the same garden with its
latticework fence, the same borders of green box. There the old cashier
lived with his sister. He took the first omnibus that left the office in
the morning, returned at dinner-time, and on Sundays remained at home,
tending his flowers and his poultry. The old maid was his housekeeper
and did all the cooking and sewing. A happier couple never lived.
Celibates both, they were bound together by an equal hatred of marriage.
The sister abhorred all men, the brother looked upon all women with
suspicion; but they adored each other, each considering the other an
exception to the general perversity of the sex.
In speaking of him she always said: "Monsieur Planus, my brother!"--and
he, with the same affectionate solemnity, interspersed all his sentences
with "Mademoiselle Planus, my sister!" To those two retiring and
innocent creatures, Paris, of which they knew nothing, although they
visited it every day, was a den of monsters of two varieties, bent upon
doing one another the utmost possible injury; and whenever, amid the
gossip of the quarter, a conjugal drama came to their ears, each of them,
beset by his or her own idea, blamed a different culprit.
"It is the husband's fault," would be the verdict of "Mademoiselle
Planus, my sister."
"It is the wife's fault," "Monsieur Planus, my brother," would reply.
"Oh! the men--"
"Oh! the women--"
That was their one never-failing subject of discussion in those rare
hours of idleness which old Sigismond set aside in his busy day, which
was as carefully ruled off as his account-books. For some time past the
discussions between the brother and sister had been marked by
extraordinary animation. They were deeply interested in what was taking
place at the factory. The sister was full of pity for Madame Fromont and
considered her husband's conduct altogether outrageous; as for Sigismond,
he could find no words bitter enough for the unknown trollop who sent
bills for six-thousand-franc shawls to be paid from his cashbox. In his
eyes, the honor and fair fame of the old house he had served since his
youth were at stake.
"What will become of us?" he repeated again and again. "Oh! these
One day Mademoiselle Planus sat by the fire with her knitting, waiting
for her brother.
The table had been laid for half an hour, and the old lady was beginning
to be worried by such unheard-of tardiness, when Sigismond entered with a
most distressed face, and without a word, which was contrary to all his
He waited until the door was shut tight, then said in a low voice, in
response to his sister's disturbed and questioning expression:
"I have some news. I know who the woman is who is doing her best to ruin
Lowering his voice still more, after glancing about at the silent walls
of their little dining-room, he uttered a name so unexpected that
Mademoiselle Planus made him repeat it.
"Is it possible?"
"It is the truth."
And, despite his grief, he had almost a triumphant air.
His old sister could not believe it. Such a refined, polite person, who
had received her with so much cordiality!--How could any one imagine such
"I have proofs," said Sigismond Planus.
Thereupon he told her how Pere Achille had met Sidonie and Georges one
night at eleven o'clock, just as they entered a small furnished lodging-
house in the Montmartre quarter; and he was a man who never lied. They
had known him for a long while. Besides, others had met them. Nothing
else was talked about at the factory. Risler alone suspected nothing.
"But it is your duty to tell him," declared Mademoiselle Planus.
The cashier's face assumed a grave expression.
"It is a very delicate matter. In the first place, who knows whether he
would believe me? There are blind men so blind that--And then,
by interfering between the two partners, I risk the loss of my place.
Oh! the women--the women! When I think how happy Risler might have been.
When I sent for him to come to Paris with his brother, he hadn't a sou;
and to-day he is at the head of one of the first houses in Paris. Do you
suppose that he would be content with that? Oh! no, of course not!
Monsieur must marry. As if any one needed to marry! And, worse yet, he
marries a Parisian woman, one of those frowsy-haired chits that are the
ruin of an honest house, when he had at his hand a fine girl, of almost
his own age, a countrywoman, used to work, and well put together, as you
"Mademoiselle Planus, my sister," to whose physical structure he alluded,
had a magnificent opportunity to exclaim, "Oh! the men, the men!" but
she was silent. It was a very delicate question, and perhaps, if Risler
had chosen in time, he might have been the only one.
Old Sigismond continued:
"And this is what we have come to. For three months the leading wall-
paper factory in Paris has been tied to the petticoats of that good-for-
nothing. You should see how the money flies. All day long I do nothing
but open my wicket to meet Monsieur Georges's calls. He always applies
to me, because at his banker's too much notice would be taken of it,
whereas in our office money comes and goes, comes in and goes out. But
look out for the inventory! We shall have some pretty figures to show at
the end of the year. The worst part of the whole business is that Risler
won't listen to anything. I have warned him several times: 'Look out,
Monsieur Georges is making a fool of himself for some woman.' He either
turns away with a shrug, or else he tells me that it is none of his
business and that Fromont Jeune is the master. Upon my word, one would
almost think--one would almost think--"
The cashier did not finish his sentence; but his silence was pregnant
with unspoken thoughts.
The old maid was appalled; but, like most women under such circumstances,
instead of seeking a remedy for the evil, she wandered off into a maze of
regrets, conjectures, and retrospective lamentations. What a misfortune
that they had not known it sooner when they had the Chebes for neighbors.
Madame Chebe was such an honorable woman. They might have put the matter
before her so that she would keep an eye on Sidonie and talk seriously to
"Indeed, that's a good idea," Sigismond interrupted. "You must go to the
Rue du Mail and tell her parents. I thought at first of writing to
little Frantz. He always had a great deal of influence over his brother,
and he's the only person on earth who could say certain things to him.
But Frantz is so far away. And then it would be such a terrible thing to
do. I can't help pitying that unlucky Risler, though. No! the best way
is to tell Madame Chebe. Will you undertake to do it, sister?"
It was a dangerous commission. Mademoiselle Planus made some objections,
but she never had been able to resist her brother's wishes, and the
desire to be of service to their old friend Risler assisted materially in
Thanks to his son-in-law's kindness, M. Chebe had succeeded in gratifying
his latest whim. For three months past he had been living at his famous
warehouse on the Rue du Mail, and a great sensation was created in the
quarter by that shop without merchandise, the shutters of which were
taken down in the morning and put up again at night, as in wholesale
houses. Shelves had been placed all around the walls, there was a new
counter, a safe, a huge pair of scales. In a word, M. Chebe possessed
all the requisites of a business of some sort, but did not know as yet
just what business he would choose.
He pondered the subject all day as he walked to and fro across the shop,
encumbered with several large pieces of bedroom furniture which they had
been unable to get into the back room; he pondered it, too, as he stood
on his doorstep, with his pen behind his ear, and feasted his eyes
delightedly on the hurly-burly of Parisian commerce. The clerks who
passed with their packages of samples under their arms, the vans of the
express companies, the omnibuses, the porters, the wheelbarrows, the
great bales of merchandise at the neighboring doors, the packages of rich
stuffs and trimmings which were dragged in the mud before being consigned
to those underground regions, those dark holes stuffed with treasures,
where the fortune of business lies in embryo--all these things delighted
He amused himself guessing at the contents of the bales and was first
at the fray when some passer-by received a heavy package upon his feet,
or the horses attached to a dray, spirited and restive, made the long
vehicle standing across the street an obstacle to circulation. He had,
moreover, the thousand-and-one distractions of the petty tradesman
without customers, the heavy showers, the accidents, the thefts, the
At the end of the day M. Chebe, dazed, bewildered, worn out by the labor
of other people, would stretch himself out in his easy-chair and say to
his wife, as he wiped his forehead:
"That's the kind of life I need--an active life."
Madame Chebe would smile softly without replying. Accustomed as she was
to all her husband's whims, she had made herself as comfortable as
possible in a back room with an outlook upon a dark yard, consoling
herself with reflections on the former prosperity of her parents and her
daughter's wealth; and, being always neatly dressed, she had succeeded
already in acquiring the respect of neighbors and tradesmen.
She asked nothing more than not to be confounded with the wives of
workingmen, often less poor than herself, and to be allowed to retain, in
spite of everything, a petty bourgeois superiority. That was her
constant thought; and so the back room in which she lived, and where it
was dark at three in the afternoon, was resplendent with order and
cleanliness. During the day the bed became a couch, an old shawl did
duty as a tablecloth, the fireplace, hidden by a screen, served as a
pantry, and the meals were cooked in modest retirement on a stove no
larger than a foot-warmer. A tranquil life--that was the dream of the
poor woman, who was continually tormented by the whims of an uncongenial
In the early days of his tenancy, M. Chebe had caused these words to be
inscribed in letters a foot long on the fresh paint of his shop-front:
No specifications. His neighbors sold tulle, broadcloth, linen; he was
inclined to sell everything, but could not make up his mind just what.
With what arguments did his indecision lead him to favor Madame Chebe as
they sat together in the evening!
"I don't know anything about linen; but when you come to broadcloth, I
understand that. Only, if I go into broadcloths I must have a man to
travel; for the best kinds come from Sedan and Elbeuf. I say nothing
about calicoes; summer is the time for them. As for tulle, that's out of
the question; the season is too far advanced."
He usually brought his discourse to a close with the words:
"The night will bring counsel--let us go to bed."
And to bed he would go, to his wife's great relief.
After three or four months of this life, M. Chebe began to tire of it.
The pains in the head, the dizzy fits gradually returned. The quarter
was noisy and unhealthy: besides, business was at a standstill. Nothing
was to be done in any line, broadcloths, tissues, or anything else.
It was just at the period of this new crisis that "Mademoiselle Planus,
my sister," called to speak about Sidonie.
The old maid had said to herself on the way, "I must break it gently."
But, like all shy people, she relieved herself of her burden in the first
words she spoke after entering the house.
It was a stunning blow. When she heard the accusation made against her
daughter, Madame Chebe rose in indignation. No one could ever make her
believe such a thing. Her poor Sidonie was the victim of an infamous
M. Chebe, for his part, adopted a very lofty tone, with significant
phrases and motions of the head, taking everything to himself as was his
custom. How could any one suppose that his child, a Chebe, the daughter
of an honorable business man known for thirty years on the street, was
capable of Nonsense!
Mademoiselle Planus insisted. It was a painful thing to her to be
considered a gossip, a hawker of unsavory stories. But they had
incontestable proofs. It was no longer a secret to anybody.
"And even suppose it were true," cried M. Chebe, furious at her
persistence. "Is it for us to worry about it? Our daughter is married.
She lives a long way from her parents. It is for her husband, who is
much older than she, to advise and guide her. Does he so much as think
of doing it?"
Upon that the little man began to inveigh against his son-in-law, that
cold-blooded Swiss, who passed his life in his office devising machines,
refused to accompany his wife into society, and preferred his old-
bachelor habits, his pipe and his brewery, to everything else.
You should have seen the air of aristocratic disdain with which M. Chebe
pronounced the word "brewery!" And yet almost every evening he went
there to meet Risler, and overwhelmed him with reproaches if he once
failed to appear at the rendezvous.
Behind all this verbiage the merchant of the Rue du Mail--"Commission-
Exportation"--had a very definite idea. He wished to give up his shop,
to retire from business, and for some time he had been thinking of going
to see Sidonie, in order to interest her in his new schemes. That was
not the time, therefore, to make disagreeable scenes, to prate about
paternal authority and conjugal honor. As for Madame Chebe, being
somewhat less confident than before of her daughter's virtue, she took
refuge in the most profound silence. The poor woman wished that she were
deaf and blind--that she never had known Mademoiselle Planus.
Like all persons who have been very unhappy, she loved a benumbed
existence with a semblance of tranquillity, and ignorance seemed to her
preferable to everything. As if life were not sad enough, good heavens!
And then, after all, Sidonie had always been a good girl; why should she
not be a good woman?
Night was falling. M. Chebe rose gravely to close the shutters of the
shop and light a gas-jet which illumined the bare walls, the empty,
polished shelves, and the whole extraordinary place, which reminded one
strongly of the day following a failure. With his lips closed
disdainfully, in his determination to remain silent, he seemed to say to
the old lady, "Night has come--it is time for you to go home." And all
the while they could hear Madame Chebe sobbing in the back room, as she
went to and fro preparing supper.
Mademoiselle Planus got no further satisfaction from her visit.
"Well?" queried old Sigismond, who was impatiently awaiting her return.
"They wouldn't believe me, and politely showed me the door."
She had tears in her eyes at the thought of her humiliation.
The old man's face flushed, and he said in a grave voice, taking his
"Mademoiselle Planus, my sister, I ask your pardon for having made you
take this step; but the honor of the house of Fromont was at stake."
From that moment Sigismond became more and more depressed. His cash-box
no longer seemed to him safe or secure. Even when Fromont Jeune did not
ask him for money, he was afraid, and he summed up all his apprehensions
in four words which came continually to his lips when talking with his
"I ha no gonfidence," he would say, in his hoarse Swiss patois.
Thinking always of his cash-box, he dreamed sometimes that it had broken
apart at all the joints, and insisted on remaining open, no matter how
much he turned the key; or else that a high wind had scattered all the
papers, notes, cheques, and bills, and that he ran after them all over
the factory, tiring himself out in the attempt to pick them up.
In the daytime, as he sat behind his grating in the silence of his
office, he imagined that a little white mouse had eaten its way through
the bottom of the box and was gnawing and destroying all its contents,
growing plumper and prettier as the work of destruction went on.
So that, when Sidonie appeared on the steps about the middle of the
afternoon, in her pretty Parisian plumage, old Sigismond shuddered with
rage. In his eyes it was the ruin of the house that stood there, ruin in
a magnificent costume, with its little coupe at the door, and the placid
bearing of a happy coquette.
Madame Risler had no suspicion that, at that window on the ground floor,
sat an untiring foe who watched her slightest movements, the most trivial
details of her life, the going and coming of her music-teacher, the
arrival of the fashionable dressmaker in the morning, all the boxes that
were brought to the house, and the laced cap of the employe of the
Magasin du Louvre, whose heavy wagon stopped at the gate with a jingling
of bells, like a diligence drawn by stout horses which were dragging the
house of Fromont to bankruptcy at break-neck speed.
Sigismond counted the packages, weighed them with his eye as they passed,
and gazed inquisitively into Risler's apartments through the open
windows. The carpets that were shaken with a great noise, the
jardinieres that were brought into the sunlight filled with fragile,
unseasonable flowers, rare and expensive, the gorgeous hangings--none of
these things escaped his notice.
The new acquisitions of the household stared him in the face, reminding
him of some request for a large amount.
But the one thing that he studied more carefully than all else was
In his view that woman was in a fair way to change his friend, the best,
the most upright of men, into a shameless villain. There was no
possibility of doubt that Risler knew of his dishonor, and submitted to
it. He was paid to keep quiet.
Certainly there was something monstrous in such a supposition. But it is
the tendency of innocent natures, when they are made acquainted with evil
for the first time, to go at once too far, beyond reason. When he was
once convinced of the treachery of Georges and Sidonie, Risler's
degradation seemed to the cashier less impossible of comprehension. On
what other theory could his indifference, in the face of his partner's
heavy expenditures, be explained?
The excellent Sigismond, in his narrow, stereotyped honesty, could not
understand the delicacy of Risler's heart. At the same time, the
methodical bookkeeper's habit of thought and his clear-sightedness in
business were a thousand leagues from that absent-minded, flighty
character, half-artist, half-inventor. He judged him by himself, having
no conception of the condition of a man with the disease of invention,
absorbed by a fixed idea. Such men are somnambulists. They look, but do
not see, their eyes being turned within.
It was Sigismond's belief that Risler did see. That belief made the old
cashier very unhappy. He began by staring at his friend whenever he
entered the counting-room; then, discouraged by his immovable
indifference, which he believed to be wilful and premeditated, covering
his face like a mask, he adopted the plan of turning away and fumbling
among his papers to avoid those false glances, and keeping his eyes fixed
on the garden paths or the interlaced wires of the grating when he spoke
to him. Even his words were confused and distorted, like his glances.
No one could say positively to whom he was talking.
No more friendly smiles, no more reminiscences as they turned over the
leaves of the cash-book together.
"This was the year you came to the factory. Your first increase of pay.
Do you remember? We dined at Douix's that day. And then the Cafe des
Aveugles in the evening, eh? What a debauch!"
At last Risler noticed the strange coolness that had sprung up between
Sigismond and himself. He mentioned it to his wife.
For some time past she had felt that antipathy prowling about her.
Sometimes, as she crossed the courtyard, she was oppressed, as it were,
by malevolent glances which caused her to turn nervously toward the old
cashier's corner. This estrangement between the friends alarmed her,
and she very quickly determined to put her husband on his guard against
Planus's unpleasant remarks.
"Don't you see that he is jealous of you, of your position? A man who
was once his equal, now his superior, he can't stand that. But why
bother one's head about all these spiteful creatures? Why, I am
surrounded by them here."
Risler looked at her with wide-open eyes:--"You?"
"Why, yes, it is easy enough to see that all these people detest me.
They bear little Chebe a grudge because she has become Madame Risler
Aine. Heaven only knows all the outrageous things that are said about
me! And your cashier doesn't keep his tongue in his pocket, I assure
you. What a spiteful fellow he is!"
These few words had their effect. Risler, indignant, but too proud to
complain, met coldness with coldness. Those two honest men, each
intensely distrustful of the other, could no longer meet without a
painful sensation, so that, after a while, Risler ceased to go to the
counting-room at all. It was not difficult for him, as Fromont Jeune had
charge of all financial matters. His month's allowance was carried to
him on the thirtieth of each month. This arrangement afforded Sidonie
and Georges additional facilities, and opportunity for all sorts of
She thereupon turned her attention to the completion of her programme of
a life of luxury. She lacked a country house. In her heart she detested
the trees, the fields, the country roads that cover you with dust. "The
most dismal things on earth," she used to say. But Claire Fromont passed
the summer at Savigny. As soon as the first fine days arrived, the
trunks were packed and the curtains taken down on the floor below; and a
great furniture van, with the little girl's blue bassinet rocking on top,
set off for the grandfather's chateau. Then, one morning, the mother,
grandmother, child, and nurse, a medley of white gowns and light veils,
would drive away behind two fast horses toward the sunny lawns and the
pleasant shade of the avenues.
At that season Paris was ugly, depopulated; and although Sidonie loved it
even in the summer, which heats it like a furnace, it troubled her to
think that all the fashion and wealth of Paris were driving by the
seashore under their light umbrellas, and would make their outing an
excuse for a thousand new inventions, for original styles of the most
risque sort, which would permit one to show that one has a pretty ankle
and long, curly chestnut hair of one's own.
The seashore bathing resorts! She could not think of them; Risler could
not leave Paris.
How about buying a country house? They had not the means. To be sure,
there was the lover, who would have asked nothing better than to gratify
this latest whim; but a country house cannot be concealed like a bracelet
or a shawl. The husband must be induced to accept it. That was not an
easy matter; however, they might venture to try it with Risler.
To pave the way, she talked to him incessantly about a little nook in the
country, not too expensive, very near Paris. Risler listened with a
smile. He thought of the high grass, of the orchard filled with fine
fruit-trees, being already tormented by the longing to possess which
comes with wealth; but, as he was prudent, he said:
"We will see, we will see. Let us wait till the end of the year."
The end of the year, that is to say, the striking of the balance-sheet.
The balance-sheet! That is the magic word. All through the year we go
on and on in the eddying whirl of business. Money comes and goes,
circulates, attracts other money, vanishes; and the fortune of the firm,
like a slippery, gleaming snake, always in motion, expands, contracts,
diminishes, or increases, and it is impossible to know our condition
until there comes a moment of rest. Not until the inventory shall we
know the truth, and whether the year, which seems to have been
prosperous, has really been so.
The account of stock is usually taken late in December, between Christmas
and New Year's Day. As it requires much extra labor to prepare it,
everybody works far into the night. The whole establishment is alert.
The lamps remain lighted in the offices long after the doors are closed,
and seem to share in the festal atmosphere peculiar to that last week of
the year, when so many windows are illuminated for family gatherings.
Every one, even to the least important 'employe' of the firm, is
interested in the results of the inventory. The increases of salary, the
New Year's presents, depend upon those blessed figures. And so, while
the vast interests of a wealthy house are trembling in the balance, the
wives and children and aged parents of the clerks, in their fifth-floor
tenements or poor apartments in the suburbs, talk of nothing but the
inventory, the results of which will make themselves felt either by a
greatly increased need of economy or by some purchase, long postponed,
which the New Year's gift will make possible at last.
On the premises of Fromont Jeune and Risler Aine, Sigismond Planus is the
god of the establishment at that season, and his little office a
sanctuary where all the clerks perform their devotions. In the silence
of the sleeping factory, the heavy pages of the great books rustle as
they are turned, and names called aloud cause search to be made in other
books. Pens scratch. The old cashier, surrounded by his lieutenants,
has a businesslike, awe-inspiring air. From time to time Fromont Jeune,
on the point of going out in his carriage, looks in for a moment, with a
cigar in his mouth, neatly gloved and ready for the street. He walks
slowly, on tiptoe, puts his face to the grating:
"Well!--are you getting on all right?"
Sigismond gives a grunt, and the young master takes his leave, afraid to
ask any further questions. He knows from the cashier's expression that
the showing will be a bad one.
In truth, since the days of the Revolution, when there was fighting in
the very courtyard of the factory, so pitiable an inventory never had
been seen in the Fromont establishment. Receipts and expenditures
balanced each other. The general expense account had eaten up
everything, and, furthermore, Fromont Jeune was indebted to the firm in a
large sum. You should have seen old Planus's air of consternation when,
on the 31st of December, he went up to Georges's office to make report of
Georges took a very cheerful view of the matter. Everything would go
better next year. And to restore the cashier's good humor he gave him an
extraordinary bonus of a thousand francs, instead of the five hundred his
uncle used always to give. Everybody felt the effects of that generous
impulse, and, in the universal satisfaction, the deplorable results of
the yearly accounting were very soon forgotten. As for Risler, Georges
chose to take it upon himself to inform him as to the situation.
When he entered his partner's little closet, which was lighted from above
by a window in the ceiling, so that the light fell directly upon the
subject of the inventor's meditations, Fromont hesitated a moment, filled
with shame and remorse for what he was about to do.
The other, when he heard the door, turned joyfully toward his partner.
"Chorche, Chorche, my dear fellow--I have got it, our press. There are
still a few little things to think out. But no matter! I am sure now of
my invention: you will see--you will see! Ah! the Prochassons can
experiment all they choose. With the Risler Press we will crush all
"Bravo, my comrade!" replied Fromont Jeune. "So much for the future;
but you don't seem to think about the present. What about this
"Ah, yes! to be sure. I had forgotten all about it. It isn't very
satisfactory, is it?"
He said that because of the somewhat disturbed and embarrassed expression
on Georges's face.
"Why, yes, on the contrary, it is very satisfactory indeed," was the
reply. "We have every reason to be satisfied, especially as this is our
first year together. We have forty thousand francs each for our share of
the profits; and as I thought you might need a little money to give your
wife a New Year's present--"
Ashamed to meet the eyes of the honest man whose confidence he was
betraying, Fromont jeune placed a bundle of cheques and notes on the
Risler was deeply moved for a moment. So much money at one time for him!
His mind dwelt upon the generosity of these Fromonts, who had made him
what he was; then he thought of his little Sidonie, of the longing which
she had so often expressed and which he would now be able to gratify.
With tears in his eyes and a happy smile on his lips, he held out both
hands to his partner.
"I am very happy! I am very happy!"
That was his favorite phrase on great occasions. Then he pointed to the
bundles of bank notes spread out before him in the narrow bands which are
used to confine those fugitive documents, always ready to fly away.
"Do you know what that is?" he said to Georges, with an air of triumph.
"That is Sidonie's house in the country!"
"TO M. FRANTZ RISLER,
"Engineer of the Compagnie Francaise, "Ismailia, Egypt.
Frantz, my boy, it is old Sigismond who is writing to you. If I
knew better how to put my ideas on paper, I should have a very long
story to tell you. But this infernal French is too hard, and
Sigismond Planus is good for nothing away from his figures. So I
will come to the point at once.
"Affairs in your brother's house are not as they should be. That
woman is false to him with his partner. She has made her husband a
laughing-stock, and if this goes on she will cause him to be looked
upon as a rascal. Frantz, my boy, you must come home at once. You
are the only one who can speak to Risler and open his eyes about
that little Sidonie. He would not believe any of us. Ask leave of
absence at once, and come.
"I know that you have your bread to earn out there, and your future
to assure; but a man of honor should think more of the name his
parents gave him than of anything else. And I tell you that if you
do not come at once, a time will come when the name of Risler will
be so overwhelmed with shame that you will not dare to bear it.
Those persons who live always in doors, confined by work or infirmity to
a chair by the window, take a deep interest in the people who pass, just
as they make for themselves a horizon of the neighboring walls, roofs,
Nailed to their place, they live in the life of the streets; and the busy
men and women who pass within their range of vision, sometimes every day
at the same hour, do not suspect that they serve as the mainspring of
other lives, that interested eyes watch for their coming and miss them if
they happen to go to their destination by another road.
The Delobelles, left to themselves all day, indulged in this sort of
silent observation. Their window was narrow, and the mother, whose eyes
were beginning to weaken as the result of hard usage, sat near the light
against the drawn muslin curtain; her daughter's large armchair was a
little farther away. She announced the approach of their daily passers-
by. It was a diversion, a subject of conversation; and the long hours of
toil seemed shorter, marked off by the regular appearance of people who
were as busy as they. There were two little sisters, a gentleman in a
gray overcoat, a child who was taken to school and taken home again, and
an old government clerk with a wooden leg, whose step on the sidewalk had
a sinister sound.
They hardly ever saw him; he passed after dark, but they heard him, and
the sound always struck the little cripple's ears like a harsh echo of
her own mournful thoughts. All these street friends unconsciously
occupied a large place in the lives of the two women. If it rained, they
"They will get wet. I wonder whether the child got home before the
shower." And when the season changed, when the March sun inundated the
sidewalks or the December snow covered them with its white mantle and its
patches of black mud, the appearance of a new garment on one of their
friends caused the two recluses to say to themselves, "It is summer," or,
"winter has come."
Now, on a certain evening in May, one of those soft, luminous evenings
when life flows forth from the houses into the street through the open
windows, Desiree and her mother were busily at work with needles and
fingers, exhausting the daylight to its last ray, before lighting the
lamp. They could hear the shouts of children playing in the yards, the
muffled notes of pianos, and the voice of a street peddler, drawing his
half-empty wagon. One could smell the springtime in the air, a vague
odor of hyacinth and lilac.
Mamma Delobelle had laid aside her work, and, before closing the window,
leaned upon the sill listening to all these noises of a great toiling
city, taking delight in walking through the streets when its day's work
was ended. From time to time she spoke to her daughter, without turning
"Ah! there's Monsieur Sigismond. How early he leaves the factory to-
night! It may be because the days are lengthening so fast, but I don't
think it can be seven o'clock. Who can that man be with the old
cashier?--What a funny thing!--One would say--Why, yes!--One would say it
was Monsieur Frantz. But that isn't possible. Monsieur Frantz is a long
way from here at this moment; and then he had no beard. That man looks
like him all the same! Just look, my dear."
But "my dear" does not leave her chair; she does not even stir. With her
eyes staring into vacancy, her needle in the air, arrested in its pretty,
industrious movement, she has gone away to the blue country, that
wonderful country whither one may go at will, without thought of any
infirmity. The name "Frantz," uttered mechanically by her mother,
because of a chance resemblance, represented to her a whole lifetime of
illusions, of fervent hopes, ephemeral as the flush that rose to her
cheeks when, on returning home at night, he used to come and chat with
her a moment. How far away that was already! To think that he used to
live in the little room near hers, that they used to hear his step on the
stairs and the noise made by his table when he dragged it to the window
to draw! What sorrow and what happiness she used to feel when he talked
to her of Sidonie, sitting on the low chair at her knees, while she
mounted her birds and her insects.
As she worked, she used to cheer and comfort him, for Sidonie had caused
poor Frantz many little griefs before the last great one. His tone when
he spoke of Sidonie, the sparkle in his eyes when he thought of her,
fascinated Desiree in spite of everything, so that when he went away in
despair, he left behind him a love even greater than that he carried with
him--a love which the unchanging room, the sedentary, stagnant life, kept
intact with all its bitter perfume, whereas his would gradually fade away
and vanish in the fresh air of the outer world.
It grows darker and darker. A great wave of melancholy envelops the poor
girl with the falling darkness of that balmy evening. The blissful gleam
from the past dies away as the last glimmer of daylight vanishes in the
narrow recess of the window, where her mother still stands leaning on the
Suddenly the door opens. Some one is there whose features can not be
distinguished. Who can it be? The Delobelles never receive calls. The
mother, who has turned her head, thinks at first that some one has come
from the shop to get the week's work.
"My husband has just gone to your place, Monsieur. We have nothing here.
Monsieur Delobelle has taken everything."
The man comes forward without speaking, and as he approaches the window
his features can be distinguished. He is a tall, solidly built fellow
with a bronzed face, a thick, red beard, and a deep voice, and is a
little slow of speech.
"Ah! so you don't know me, Mamma Delobelle?"
"Oh! I knew you at once, Monsieur Frantz," said Desiree, very calmly, in
a cold, sedate tone.
"Merciful heavens! it's Monsieur Frantz."
Quickly Mamma Delobelle runs to the lamp, lights it, and closes the
"What! it is you, is it, my dear Frantz?" How coolly she says it, the
little rascal! "I knew you at once." Ah, the little iceberg! She will
always be the same.
A veritable little iceberg, in very truth. She is very pale, and her
hand as it lies in Frantz's is white and cold.
She seems to him improved, even more refined than before. He seems to
her superb, as always, with a melancholy, weary expression in the depths
of his eyes, which makes him more of a man than when he went away.
His weariness is due to his hurried journey, undertaken immediately on
his receipt of Sigismond's letter. Spurred on by the word dishonor, he
had started instantly, without awaiting his leave of absence, risking his
place and his future prospects; and, hurrying from steamships to
railways, he had not stopped until he reached Paris. Reason enough for
being weary, especially when one has travelled in eager haste to reach
one's destination, and when one's mind has been continually beset by
impatient thoughts, making the journey ten times over in incessant doubt
and fear and perplexity.
His melancholy began further back. It began on the day when the woman he
loved refused to marry him, to become, six months later, the wife of his
brother; two terrible blows in close succession, the second even more
painful than the first. It is true that, before entering into that
marriage, Risler had written to him to ask his permission to be happy,
and had written in such touching, affectionate terms that the violence of
the blow was somewhat diminished; and then, in due time, life in a
strange country, hard work, and long journeys had softened his grief.
Now only a vast background of melancholy remains; unless, indeed, the
hatred and wrath by which he is animated at this moment against the woman
who is dishonoring his brother may be a remnant of his former love.
But no! Frantz Risler thinks only of avenging the honor of the Rislers.
He comes not as a lover, but as a judge; and Sidonie may well look to
The judge had gone straight to the factory on leaving the train, relying
upon the surprise, the unexpectedness, of his arrival to disclose to him
at a glance what was taking place.
Unluckily he had found no one. The blinds of the little house at the
foot of the garden had been closed for two weeks. Pere Achille informed
him that the ladies were at their respective country seats where the
partners joined them every evening.
Fromont Jeune had left the factory very early; Risler Aine had just gone.
Frantz decided to speak to old Sigismond. But it was Saturday, the
regular pay-day, and he must needs wait until the long line of workmen,
extending from Achille's lodge to the cashier's grated window, had
Although very impatient and very depressed, the excellent youth, who had
lived the life of a Paris workingman from his childhood, felt a thrill of
pleasure at finding himself once more in the midst of the animated scenes
peculiar to that time and place. Upon all those faces, honest or
vicious, was an expression of satisfaction that the week was at an end.
You felt that, so far as they were concerned, Sunday began at seven
o'clock Saturday evening, in front of the cashier's little lamp.
One must have lived among workingmen to realize the full charm of that
one day's rest and its solemnity. Many of these poor creatures, bound
fast to unhealthful trades, await the coming of the blessed Sunday like a
puff of refreshing air, essential to their health and their life. What
an overflow of spirits, therefore, what a pressing need of noisy mirth!
It seems as if the oppression of the week's labor vanishes with the steam
from the machinery, as it escapes in a hissing cloud of vapor over the
One by one the workmen moved away from the grating, counting the money
that glistened in their black hands. There were disappointments,
mutterings, remonstrances, hours missed, money drawn in advance; and
above the tinkling of coins, Sigismond's voice could be heard, calm and
relentless, defending the interests of his employers with a zeal
amounting to ferocity.
Frantz was familiar with all the dramas of pay-day, the false accents and
the true. He knew that one man's wages were expended for his family, to
pay the baker and the druggist, or for his children's schooling.
Another wanted his money for the wine-shop or for something even worse.
And the melancholy, downcast shadows passing to and fro in front of the
factory gateway--he knew what they were waiting for--that they were all
on the watch for a father or a husband, to hurry him home with
complaining or coaxing words.
Oh! the barefooted children, the tiny creatures wrapped in old shawls,
the shabby women, whose tear-stained faces were as white as the linen
caps that surmounted them.
Oh! the lurking vice that prowls about on pay-day, the candles that are
lighted in the depths of dark alleys, the dirty windows of the wine-shops
where the thousand-and-one poisonous concoctions of alcohol display their
Frantz was familiar with all these forms of misery; but never had they
seemed to him so depressing, so harrowing as on that evening.
When the last man was paid, Sigismond came out of his office. The two
friends recognized each other and embraced; and in the silence of the
factory, at rest for twenty-four hours and deathly still in all its empty
buildings, the cashier explained to Frantz the state of affairs. He
described Sidonie's conduct, her mad extravagance, the total wreck of the
family honor. The Rislers had bought a country house at Asnieres,
formerly the property of an actress, and had set up a sumptuous
establishment there. They had horses and carriages, and led a luxurious,
gay life. The thing that especially disturbed honest Sigismond was the
self restraint of Fromont jeune. For some time he had drawn almost no
money from the strong-box, and yet Sidonie was spending more than ever.
"I haf no gonfidence!" said the unhappy cashier, shaking his head, "I haf
Lowering his voice he added:
"But your brother, my little Frantz, your brother? Who can explain his
actions? He goes about through it all with his eyes in the air, his
hands in his pockets, his mind on his famous invention, which
unfortunately doesn't move fast. Look here! do you want me to give you
my opinion?--He's either a knave or a fool."
They were walking up and down the little garden as they talked, stopping
for a moment, then resuming their walk. Frantz felt as if he were living
in a horrible dream. The rapid journey, the sudden change of scene and
climate, the ceaseless flow of Sigismond's words, the new idea that he
had to form of Risler and Sidonie--the same Sidonie he had loved so
dearly--all these things bewildered him and almost drove him mad.
It was late. Night was falling. Sigismond proposed to him to go to
Montrouge for the night; he declined on the plea of fatigue, and when he
was left alone in the Marais, at that dismal and uncertain hour when the
daylight has faded and the gas is still unlighted, he walked
instinctively toward his old quarters on the Rue de Braque.
At the hall door hung a placard: Bachelor's Chamber to let.
It was the same room in which he had lived so long with his brother. He
recognized the map fastened to the wall by four pins, the window on the
landing, and the Delobelles' little sign: 'Birds and Insects for
Their door was ajar; he had only to push it a little in order to enter
Certainly there was not in all Paris a surer refuge for him, a spot
better fitted to welcome and console his perturbed spirit, than that
hard-working familiar fireside. In his present agitation and perplexity
it was like the harbor with its smooth, deep water, the sunny, peaceful
quay, where the women work while awaiting their husbands and fathers,
though the wind howls and the sea rages. More than all else, although he
did not realize that it was so, it was a network of steadfast affection,
that miraculous love-kindness which makes another's love precious to us
even when we do not love that other.
That dear little iceberg of a Desiree loved him so dearly. Her eyes
sparkled so even when talking of the most indifferent things with him.
As objects dipped in phosphorus shine with equal splendor, so the most
trivial words she said illuminated her pretty, radiant face. What a
blissful rest it was for him after Sigismond's brutal disclosures!
They talked together with great animation while Mamma Delobelle was
setting the table.
"You will dine with us, won't you, Monsieur Frantz? Father has gone to
take back the work; but he will surely come home to dinner."
He will surely come home to dinner!
The good woman said it with a certain pride.
In fact, since the failure of his managerial scheme, the illustrious
Delobelle no longer took his meals abroad, even on the evenings when he
went to collect the weekly earnings. The unlucky manager had eaten so
many meals on credit at his restaurant that he dared not go there again.
By way of compensation, he never failed, on Saturday, to bring home with
him two or three unexpected, famished guests--"old comrades"--"unlucky
devils." So it happened that, on the evening in question, he appeared
upon the stage escorting a financier from the Metz theatre and a comique
from the theatre at Angers, both waiting for an engagement.
The comique, closely shaven, wrinkled, shrivelled by the heat from the
footlights, looked like an old street-arab; the financier wore cloth
shoes, and no linen, so far as could be seen.
"Frantz!--my Frantz!" cried the old strolling player in a melodramatic
voice, clutching the air convulsively with his hands. After a long and
energetic embrace he presented his guests to one another.
"Monsieur Robricart, of the theatre at Metz.
"Monsieur Chaudezon, of the theatre at Angers.
"Frantz Risler, engineer."
In Delobelle's mouth that word "engineer" assumed vast proportions!
Desiree pouted prettily when she saw her father's friends. It would have
been so nice to be by themselves on a day like to-day. But the great man
snapped his fingers at the thought. He had enough to do to unload his
pockets. First of all, he produced a superb pie "for the ladies," he
said, forgetting that he adored pie. A lobster next made its appearance,
then an Arles sausage, marrons glaces and cherries, the first of the
While the financier enthusiastically pulled up the collar of his
invisible shirt, while the comique exclaimed "gnouf! gnouf!" with a
gesture forgotten by Parisians for ten years, Desiree thought with dismay
of the enormous hole that impromptu banquet would make in the paltry
earnings of the week, and Mamma Delobelle, full of business, upset the
whole buffet in order to find a sufficient number of plates.
It was a very lively meal. The two actors ate voraciously, to the great
delight of Delobelle, who talked over with them old memories of their
days of strolling. Fancy a collection of odds and ends of scenery,
extinct lanterns, and mouldy, crumbling stage properties.
In a sort of vulgar, meaningless, familiar slang, they recalled their
innumerable triumphs; for all three of them, according to their own
stories, had been applauded, laden with laurel-wreaths, and carried in
triumph by whole cities.
While they talked they ate as actors usually eat, sitting with their
faces turned three-fourths toward the audience, with the unnatural haste
of stage guests at a pasteboard supper, alternating words and mouthfuls,
seeking to produce an effect by their manner of putting down a glass or
moving a chair, and expressing interest, amazement, joy, terror,
surprise, with the aid of a skilfully handled knife and fork. Madame
Delobelle listened to them with a smiling face.
One can not be an actor's wife for thirty years without becoming somewhat
accustomed to these peculiar mannerisms.
But one little corner of the table was separated from the rest of the
party as by a cloud which intercepted the absurd remarks, the hoarse
laughter, the boasting. Frantz and Desiree talked together in
undertones, hearing naught of what was said around them. Things that
happened in their childhood, anecdotes of the neighborhood, a whole ill-
defined past which derived its only value from the mutual memories
evoked, from the spark that glowed in the eyes of both-those were the
themes of their pleasant chat.
Suddenly the cloud was torn aside, and Delobelle's terrible voice
interrupted the dialogue.
"Have you not seen your brother?" he asked, in order to avoid the
appearance of neglecting him too much. "And you have not seen his wife,
either? Ah! you will find her a Madame. Such toilettes, my dear fellow,
and such chic! I assure you. They have a genuine chateau at Asnieres.
The Chebes are there also. Ah! my old friend, they have all left us
behind. They are rich, they look down on old friends. Never a word,
never a call. For my part, you understand, I snap my fingers at them,
but it really wounds these ladies."
"Oh, papa!" said Desiree hastily, "you know very well that we are too
fond of Sidonie to be offended with her."
The actor smote the table a violent blow with his fist.
"Why, then, you do wrong. You ought to be offended with people who seek
always to wound and humiliate you."
He still had upon his mind the refusal to furnish funds for his
theatrical project, and he made no secret of his wrath.
"If you knew," he said to Frantz, "if you knew how money is being
squandered over yonder! It is a great pity. And nothing substantial,
nothing sensible. I who speak to you, asked your brother for a paltry
sum to assure my future and himself a handsome profit. He flatly
refused. Parbleu! Madame requires too much. She rides, goes to the
races in her carriage, and drives her husband at the same rate as her
little phaeton on the quay at Asnieres. Between you and me, I don't
think that our good friend Risler is very happy. That woman makes him
believe black is white."
The ex-actor concluded his harangue with a wink at the comique and the
financier, and for a moment the three exchanged glances, conventional
grimaces, 'ha-has!' and 'hum-hums!' and all the usual pantomime
expressive of thoughts too deep for words.
Frantz was struck dumb. Do what he would, the horrible certainty
assailed him on all sides. Sigismond had spoken in accordance with his
nature, Delobelle with his. The result was the same.
Fortunately the dinner was drawing near its close. The three actors left
the table and betook themselves to the brewery on the Rue Blondel.
Frantz remained with the two women.
As he sat beside her, gentle and affectionate in manner, Desiree was
suddenly conscious of a great outflow of gratitude to Sidonie. She said
to herself that, after all, it was to her generosity that she owed this
semblance of happiness, and that thought gave her courage to defend her
"You see, Monsieur Frantz, you mustn't believe all my father told you
about your sister-in-law. Dear papa! he always exaggerates a little.
For my own part, I am very sure that Sidonie is incapable of all the evil
she is accused of. I am sure that her heart has remained the same; and
that she is still fond of her friends, although she does neglect them a
little. Such is life, you know. Friends drift apart without meaning to.
Isn't that true, Monsieur Frantz?"
Oh! how pretty she was in his eyes, while she talked in that strain. He
never had taken so much notice of the refined features, the aristocratic
pallor of her complexion; and when he left her that evening, deeply
touched by the warmth she had displayed in defending Sidonie, by all the
charming feminine excuses she put forward for her friend's silence and
neglect, Frantz Risler reflected, with a feeling of selfish and ingenuous
pleasure, that the child had loved him once, and that perhaps she loved
him still, and kept for him in the bottom of her heart that warm,
sheltered spot to which we turn as to the sanctuary when life has wounded
All night long in his old room, lulled by the imaginary movement of the
vessel, by the murmur of the waves and the howling of the wind which
follow long sea voyages, he dreamed of his youthful days, of little Chebe
and Desiree Delobelle, of their games, their labors, and of the Ecole
Centrale, whose great, gloomy buildings were sleeping near at hand, in
the dark streets of the Marais.
And when daylight came, and the sun shining in at his bare window vexed
his eyes and brought him back to a realization of the duty that lay
before him and to the anxieties of the day, he dreamed that it was time
to go to the School, and that his brother, before going down to the
factory, opened the door and called to him:
"Come, lazybones! Come!"
That dear, loving voice, too natural, too real for a dream, made him open
his eyes without more ado.
Risler was standing by his bed, watching his awakening with a charming
smile, not untinged by emotion; that it was Risler himself was evident
from the fact that, in his joy at seeing his brother Frantz once more, he
could find nothing better to say than, "I am very happy, I am very
Although it was Sunday, Risler, as was his custom, had come to the
factory to avail himself of the silence and solitude to work at his
press. Immediately on his arrival, Pere Achille had informed him that
his brother was in Paris and had gone to the old house on the Rue de
Braque, and he had hastened thither in joyful surprise, a little vexed
that he had not been forewarned, and especially that Frantz had defrauded
him of the first evening. His regret on that account came to the surface
every moment in his spasmodic attempts at conversation, in which
everything that he wanted to say was left unfinished, interrupted by
innumerable questions on all sorts of subjects and explosions of
affection and joy. Frantz excused himself on the plea of fatigue, and
the pleasure it had given him to be in their old room once more.
"All right, all right," said Risler, "but I sha'n't let you alone now--
you are coming to Asnieres at once. I give myself leave of absence
today. All thought of work is out of the question now that you have
come, you understand. Ah! won't the little one be surprised and glad!
We talk about you so often! What joy! what joy!"
The poor fellow fairly beamed with happiness; he, the silent man,
chattered like a magpie, gazed admiringly at his Frantz and remarked
upon his growth. The pupil of the Ecole Centrale had had a fine physique
when he went away, but his features had acquired greater firmness,
his shoulders were broader, and it was a far cry from the tall, studious-
looking boy who had left Paris two years before, for Ismailia, to this
handsome, bronzed corsair, with his serious yet winning face.
While Risler was gazing at him, Frantz, on his side, was closely
scrutinizing his brother, and, finding him the same as always, as
ingenuous, as loving, and as absent-minded as times, he said to himself:
"No! it is not possible--he has not ceased to be an honest man."
Thereupon, as he reflected upon what people had dared to imagine, all his
wrath turned against that hypocritical, vicious woman, who deceived her
husband so impudently and with such absolute impunity that she succeeded
in causing him to be considered her confederate. Oh! what a terrible
reckoning he proposed to have with her; how pitilessly he would talk to
"I forbid you, Madame--understand what I say--I forbid you to dishonor my
He was thinking of that all the way, as he watched the still leafless
trees glide along the embankment of the Saint-Germain railway. Sitting
opposite him, Risler chattered, chattered without pause. He talked about
the factory, about their business. They had gained forty thousand francs
each the last year; but it would be a different matter when the Press was
at work. "A rotary press, my little Frantz, rotary and dodecagonal,
capable of printing a pattern in twelve to fifteen colors at a single
turn of the wheel--red on pink, dark green on light green, without the
least running together or absorption, without a line lapping over its
neighbor, without any danger of one shade destroying or overshadowing
another. Do you understand that, little brother? A machine that is an
artist like a man. It means a revolution in the wallpaper trade."
"But," queried Frantz with some anxiety, "have you invented this Press of
yours yet, or are you still hunting for it?"
"Invented!--perfected! To-morrow I will show you all my plans. I have
also invented an automatic crane for hanging the paper on the rods in the
drying-room. Next week I intend to take up my quarters in the factory,
up in the garret, and have my first machine made there secretly, under my
own eyes. In three months the patents must be taken out and the Press
must be at work. You'll see, my little Frantz, it will make us all rich-
you can imagine how glad I shall be to be able to make up to these
Fromonts for a little of what they have done for me. Ah! upon my word,
the Lord has been too good to me."
Thereupon he began to enumerate all his blessings. Sidonie was the best
of women, a little love of a wife, who conferred much honor upon him.
They had a charming home. They went into society, very select society.
The little one sang like a nightingale, thanks to Madame Dobson's
expressive method. By the way, this Madame Dobson was another most
excellent creature. There was just one thing that disturbed poor Risler,
that was his incomprehensible misunderstanding with Sigismond. Perhaps
Frantz could help him to clear up that mystery.
"Oh! yes, I will help you, brother," replied Frantz through his clenched
teeth; and an angry flush rose to his brow at the idea that any one could
have suspected the open-heartedness, the loyalty, that were displayed
before him in all their artless spontaneity. Luckily he, the judge, had
arrived; and he proposed to restore everything to its proper place.
Meanwhile, they were drawing near the house at Asnieres. Frantz had
noticed at a distance a fanciful little turreted affair, glistening with
a new blue slate roof. It seemed to him to have been built expressly for
Sidonie, a fitting cage for that capricious, gaudy-plumaged bird.
It was a chalet with two stories, whose bright mirrors and pink-lined
curtains could be seen from the railway, shining resplendent at the far
end of a green lawn, where an enormous pewter ball was suspended.
The river was near at hand, still wearing its Parisian aspect, filled
with chains, bathing establishments, great barges, and multitudes of
little, skiffs, with a layer of coaldust on their pretentious, freshly-
painted names, tied to the pier and rocking to the slightest motion of
the water. From her windows Sidonie could see the restaurants on the
beach, silent through the week, but filled to overflowing on Sunday with
a motley, noisy crowd, whose shouts of laughter, mingled with the dull
splash of oars, came from both banks to meet in midstream in that current
of vague murmurs, shouts, calls, laughter, and singing that floats
without ceasing up and down the Seine on holidays for a distance of ten
During the week she saw shabbily-dressed idlers sauntering along the
shore, men in broad-brimmed straw hats and flannel shirts, women who sat
on the worn grass of the sloping bank, doing nothing, with the dreamy
eyes of a cow at pasture. All the peddlers, handorgans, harpists;
travelling jugglers, stopped there as at a quarantine station. The quay
was crowded with them, and as they approached, the windows in the little
houses near by were always thrown open, disclosing white dressing-
jackets, half-buttoned, heads of dishevelled hair, and an occasional
pipe, all watching these paltry strolling shows, as if with a sigh of
regret for Paris, so near at hand. It was a hideous and depressing
The grass, which had hardly begun to grow, was already turning yellow
beneath the feet of the crowd. The dust was black; and yet, every
Thursday, the cocotte aristocracy passed through on the way to the
Casino, with a great show of rickety carriages and borrowed postilions.
All these things gave pleasure to that fanatical Parisian, Sidonie; and
then, too, in her childhood, she had heard a great deal about Asnieres
from the illustrious Delobelle, who would have liked to have, like so
many of his profession, a little villa in those latitudes, a cozy nook in
the country to which to return by the midnight train, after the play is
All these dreams of little Chebe, Sidonie Risler had realized.
The brothers went to the gate opening on the quay, in which the key was
usually left. They entered, making their way among trees and shrubs of
recent growth. Here and there the billiard-room, the gardener's lodge, a
little greenhouse, made their appearance, like the pieces of one of the
Swiss chalets we give to children to play with; all very light and
fragile, hardly more than resting on the ground, as if ready to fly away
at the slightest breath of bankruptcy or caprice: the villa of a cocotte
or a pawnbroker.
Frantz looked about in some bewilderment. In the distance, opening on a
porch surrounded by vases of flowers, was the salon with its long blinds
raised. An American easy-chair, folding-chairs, a small table from which
the coffee had not been removed, could be seen near the door. Within
they heard a succession of loud chords on the piano and the murmur of low
"I tell you Sidonie will be surprised," said honest Risler, walking
softly on the gravel; "she doesn't expect me until tonight. She and
Madame Dobson are practising together at this moment."
Pushing the door open suddenly, he cried from the threshold in his loud,
"Guess whom I've brought."
Madame Dobson, who was sitting alone at the piano, jumped up from her
stool, and at the farther end of the grand salon Georges and Sidonie rose
hastily behind the exotic plants that reared their heads above a table,
of whose delicate, slender lines they seemed a prolongation.
"Ah! how you frightened me!" said Sidonie, running to meet Risler.
The flounces of her white peignoir, through which blue ribbons were
drawn, like little patches of blue sky among the clouds, rolled in
billows over the carpet, and, having already recovered from her
embarrassment, she stood very straight, with an affable expression and
her everlasting little smile, as she kissed her husband and offered her
forehead to Frantz, saying:
"Good morning, brother."
Risler left them confronting each other, and went up to Fromont Jeune,
whom he was greatly surprised to find there.
"What, Chorche, you here? I supposed you were at Savigny."
"Yes, to be sure, but--I came--I thought you stayed at Asnieres Sundays.
I wanted to speak to you on a matter of business."
Thereupon, entangling himself in his words, he began to talk hurriedly of
an important order. Sidonie had disappeared after exchanging a few
unmeaning words with the impassive Frantz. Madame Dobson continued her
tremolos on the soft pedal, like those which accompany critical
situations at the theatre.
In very truth, the situation at that moment was decidedly strained.
But Risler's good-humor banished all constraint. He apologized to his
partner for not being at home, and insisted upon showing Frantz the
house. They went from the salon to the stable, from the stable to the
carriage-house, the servants' quarters, and the conservatory. Everything
was new, brilliant, gleaming, too small, and inconvenient.
"But," said Risler, with a certain pride, "it cost a heap of money!"
He persisted in compelling admiration of Sidonie's purchase even to its
smallest details, exhibited the gas and water fixtures on every floor,
the improved system of bells, the garden seats, the English billiard-
table, the hydropathic arrangements, and accompanied his exposition with
outbursts of gratitude to Fromont Jeune, who, by taking him into
partnership, had literally placed a fortune in his hands.
At each new effusion on Risler's part, Georges Fromont shrank visibly,
ashamed and embarrassed by the strange expression on Frantz's face.
The breakfast was lacking in gayety.
Madame Dobson talked almost without interruption, overjoyed to be
swimming in the shallows of a romantic love-affair. Knowing, or rather
believing that she knew her friend's story from beginning to end, she
understood the lowering wrath of Frantz, a former lover furious at
finding his place filled, and the anxiety of Georges, due to the
appearance of a rival; and she encouraged one with a glance, consoled the
other with a smile, admired Sidonie's tranquil demeanor, and reserved all
her contempt for that abominable Risler, the vulgar, uncivilized tyrant.
She made an effort to prevent any of those horrible periods of silence,
when the clashing knives and forks mark time in such an absurd and
As soon as breakfast was at an end Fromont Jeune announced that he must
return to Savigny. Risler did not venture to detain him, thinking that
his dear Madame Chorche would pass her Sunday all alone; and so, without
an opportunity to say a word to his mistress, the lover went away in the
bright sunlight to take an afternoon train, still attended by the
husband, who insisted upon escorting him to the station.
Madame Dobson sat for a moment with Frantz and Sidonie under a little
arbor which a climbing vine studded with pink buds; then, realizing that
she was in the way, she returned to the salon, and as before, while
Georges was there, began to play and sing softly and with expression.
In the silent garden, that muffled music, gliding between the branches,
seemed like the cooing of birds before the storm.
At last they were alone. Under the lattice of the arbor, still bare and
leafless, the May sun shone too bright. Sidonie shaded her eyes with her
hand as she watched the people passing on the quay. Frantz likewise
looked out, but in another direction; and both of them, affecting to be
entirely independent of each other, turned at the same instant with the
same gesture and moved by the same thought.
"I have something to say to you," he said, just as she opened her mouth.
"And I to you," she replied gravely; "but come in here; we shall be more
And they entered together a little summer-house at the foot of the
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Charm of that one day's rest and its solemnity
Clashing knives and forks mark time
Faces taken by surprise allow their real thoughts to be seen
Make for themselves a horizon of the neighboring walls and roofs
Wiping his forehead ostentatiously
FROMONT AND RISLER
By ALPHONSE DAUDET
By slow degrees Sidonie sank to her former level, yes, even lower. From
the rich, well-considered bourgeoise to which her marriage had raised
her, she descended the ladder to the rank of a mere toy. By dint of
travelling in railway carriages with fantastically dressed courtesans,
with their hair worn over their eyes like a terrier's, or falling over
the back 'a la Genevieve de Brabant', she came at last to resemble them.
She transformed herself into a blonde for two months, to the unbounded
amazement of Rizer, who could not understand how his doll was so changed.
As for Georges, all these eccentricities amused him; it seemed to him
that he had ten women in one. He was the real husband, the master of the
To divert Sidonie's thoughts, he had provided a simulacrum of society for
her--his bachelor friends, a few fast tradesmen, almost no women, women
have too sharp eyes. Madame Dobson was the only friend of Sidonie's sex.
They organized grand dinner-parties, excursions on the water, fireworks.
From day to day Risler's position became more absurd, more distressing.
When he came home in the evening, tired out, shabbily dressed, he must
hurry up to his room to dress.
"We have some people to dinner," his wife would say. "Make haste."
And he would be the last to take his place at the table, after shaking
hands all around with his guests, friends of Fromont Jeune, whom he
hardly knew by name. Strange to say, the affairs of the factory were
often discussed at that table, to which Georges brought his acquaintances
from the club with the tranquil self-assurance of the gentleman who pays.
"Business breakfasts and dinners!" To Risler's mind that phrase
explained everything: his partner's constant presence, his choice of
guests, and the marvellous gowns worn by Sidonie, who beautified herself
in the interests of the firm. This coquetry on his mistress's part drove
Fromont Jeune to despair. Day after day he came unexpectedly to take her
by surprise, uneasy, suspicious, afraid to leave that perverse and
deceitful character to its own devices for long.
"What in the deuce has become of your husband?"
Pere Gardinois would ask his grand-daughter with a cunning leer. "Why
doesn't he come here oftener?"
Claire apologized for Georges, but his continual neglect began to disturb
her. She wept now when she received the little notes, the despatches
which arrived daily at the dinner-hour: "Don't expect me to-night, dear
love. I shall not be able to come to Savigny until to-morrow or the day
after by the night-train."
She ate her dinner sadly, opposite an empty chair, and although she did
not know that she was betrayed, she felt that her husband was becoming
accustomed to living away from her. He was so absent-minded when a
family gathering or some other unavoidable duty detained him at the
chateau, so silent concerning what was in his mind. Claire, having now
only the most distant relations with Sidonie, knew nothing of what was
taking place at Asnieres: but when Georges left her, apparently eager to
be gone, and with smiling face, she tormented her loneliness with
unavowed suspicions, and, like all those who anticipate a great sorrow,
she suddenly became conscious of a great void in her heart, a place made
ready for disasters to come.
Her husband was hardly happier than she. That cruel Sidonie seemed to
take pleasure in tormenting him. She allowed everybody to pay court to
her. At that moment a certain Cazabon, alias Cazaboni, an Italian tenor
from Toulouse, introduced by Madame Dobson, came every day to sing
disturbing duets. Georges, jealous beyond words, hurried to Asnieres in
the afternoon, neglecting everything, and was already beginning to think
that Risler did not watch his wife closely enough. He would have liked
him to be blind only so far as he was concerned.
Ah! if he had been her husband, what a tight rein he would have kept on
her! But he had no power over her and she was not at all backward about
telling him so. Sometimes, too, with the invincible logic that often
occurs to the greatest fools, he reflected that, as he was deceiving his
friend, perhaps he deserved to be deceived. In short, his was a wretched
life. He passed his time running about to jewellers and dry-goods
dealers, inventing gifts and surprises. Ah! he knew her well. He knew
that he could pacify her with trinkets, yet not retain his hold upon her,
and that, when the day came that she was bored--
But Sidonie was not bored as yet. She was living the life that she
longed to live; she had all the happiness she could hope to attain.
There was nothing passionate or romantic about her feeling for Georges.
He was like a second husband to her, younger and, above all, richer than
the other. To complete the vulgarization of their liaison, she had
summoned her parents to Asnieres, lodged them in a little house in the
country, and made of that vain and wilfully blind father and that
affectionate, still bewildered mother a halo of respectability of which
she felt the necessity as she sank lower and lower.
Everything was shrewdly planned in that perverse little brain, which
reflected coolly upon vice; and it seemed to her as if she might continue
to live thus in peace, when Frantz Risler suddenly arrived.
Simply from seeing him enter the room, she had realized that her repose
was threatened, that an interview of the gravest importance was to take
place between them.
Her plan was formed on the instant. She must at once put it into
The summer-house that they entered contained one large, circular room
with four windows, each looking out upon a different landscape; it was
furnished for the purposes of summer siestas, for the hot hours when one
seeks shelter from the sunlight and the noises of the garden. A broad,
very low divan ran all around the wall. A small lacquered table, also
very low, stood in the middle of the room, covered with odd numbers of
The hangings were new, and the Persian pattern-birds flying among bluish
reeds--produced the effect of a dream in summer, ethereal figures
floating before one's languid eyes. The lowered blinds, the matting on
the floor, the Virginia jasmine clinging to the trellis-work outside,
produced a refreshing coolness which was enhanced by the splashing in the
river near by, and the lapping of its wavelets on the shore.
Sidonie sat down as soon as she entered the room, pushing aside her long
white skirt, which sank like a mass of snow at the foot of the divan; and
with sparkling eyes and a smile playing about her lips, bending her
little head slightly, its saucy coquettishness heightened by the bow of
ribbon on the side, she waited.
Frantz, pale as death, remained standing, looking about the room. After
a moment he began:
"I congratulate you, Madame; you understand how to make yourself
And in the next breath, as if he were afraid that the conversation,
beginning at such a distance, would not arrive quickly enough at the
point to which he intended to lead it, he added brutally:
"To whom do you owe this magnificence, to your lover or your husband?"
Without moving from the divan, without even raising her eyes to his, she
He was a little disconcerted by such self-possession.
"Then you confess that that man is your lover?"
Frantz gazed at her a moment without speaking. She, too, had turned
pale, notwithstanding her calmness, and the eternal little smile no
longer quivered at the corners of her mouth.
"Listen to me, Sidonie! My brother's name, the name he gave his wife,
is mine as well. Since Risler is so foolish, so blind as to allow the
name to be dishonored by you, it is my place to defend it against your
attacks. I beg you, therefore, to inform Monsieur Georges Fromont that
he must change mistresses as soon as possible, and go elsewhere to ruin
himself. If not--"
"If not?" queried Sidonie, who had not ceased to play with her rings
while he was speaking.
"If not, I shall tell my brother what is going on in his house, and you
will be surprised at the Risler whose acquaintance you will make then--
a man as violent and ungovernable as he usually is inoffensive. My
disclosure will kill him perhaps, but you can be sure that he will kill
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Very well! let him kill me. What do I care for that?"
This was said with such a heartbroken, despondent air that Frantz, in
spite of himself, felt a little pity for that beautiful, fortunate young
creature, who talked of dying with such self-abandonment.
"Do you love him so dearly?" he said, in an indefinably milder tone.
"Do you love this Fromont so dearly that you prefer to die rather than
She drew herself up hastily.
"I? Love that fop, that doll, that silly girl in men's clothes?
Nonsense!--I took him as I would have taken any other man."
"Because I couldn't help it, because I was mad, because I had and still
have in my heart a criminal love, which I am determined to tear out, no
matter at what cost."
She had risen and was speaking with her eyes in his, her lips near his,
trembling from head to foot.
A criminal love?--Whom did she love, in God's name?
Frantz was afraid to question her.
Although suspecting nothing as yet, he had a feeling that that glance,
that breath, leaning toward him, were about to make some horrible
But his office of judge made it necessary for him to know all.
"Who is it?" he asked.
She replied in a stifled voice:
"You know very well that it is you."
She was his brother's wife.
For two years he had not thought of her except as a sister. In his eyes
his brother's wife in no way resembled his former fiancee, and it would
have been a crime to recognize in a single feature of her face the woman
to whom he had formerly so often said, "I love you."
And now it was she who said that she loved him.
The unhappy judge was thunderstruck, dazed, could find no words in which
She, standing before him, waited.
It was one of those spring days, full of heat and light, to which the
moisture of recent rains imparts a strange softness and melancholy. The
air was warm, perfumed by fresh flowers which, on that first day of heat,
gave forth their fragrance eagerly, like violets hidden in a muff.
Through its long, open windows the room in which they were inhaled all
those intoxicating odors. Outside, they could hear the Sunday organs,
distant shouts on the river, and nearer at hand, in the garden, Madame
Dobson's amorous, languishing voice, sighing:
"On dit que tu te maries;
Tu sais que j'en puis mouri-i-i-r!"
"Yes, Frantz, I have always loved you," said Sidonie. "That love which
I renounced long ago because I was a young girl--and young girls do not
know what they are doing--that love nothing has ever succeeded in
destroying or lessening. When I learned that Desiree also loved you,
the unfortunate, penniless child, in a great outburst of generosity I
determined to assure her happiness for life by sacrificing my own, and I
at once turned you away, so that you should go to her. Ah! as soon as
you had gone, I realized that the sacrifice was beyond my strength. Poor
little Desiree! How I cursed her in the bottom of my heart! Will you
believe it? Since that time I have avoided seeing her, meeting her. The
sight of her caused me too much pain."
"But if you loved me," asked Frantz, in a low voice, "if you loved me,
why did you marry my brother?"
She did not waver.
"To marry Risler was to bring myself nearer to you. I said to myself:
'I could not be his wife. Very well, I will be his sister. At all
events, in that way it will still be allowable for me to love him, and we
shall not pass our whole lives as strangers.' Alas! those are the
innocent dreams a girl has at twenty, dreams of which she very soon
learns the impossibility. I could not love you as a sister, Frantz; I
could not forget you, either; my marriage prevented that. With another
husband I might perhaps have succeeded, but with Risler it was terrible.
He was forever talking about you and your success and your future--Frantz
said this; Frantz did that--He loves you so well, poor fellow! And then
the most cruel thing to me is that your brother looks like you. There is
a sort of family resemblance in your features, in your gait, in your
voices especially, for I have often closed my eyes under his caresses,
saying to myself, 'It is he, it is Frantz.' When I saw that that wicked
thought was becoming a source of torment to me, something that I could
not escape, I tried to find distraction, I consented to listen to this
Georges, who had been pestering me for a long time, to transform my life
to one of noise and excitement. But I swear to you, Frantz, that in that
whirlpool of pleasure into which I then plunged, I never have ceased to
think of you, and if any one had a right to come here and call me to
account for my conduct, you certainly are not the one, for you,
unintentionally, have made me what I am."
She paused. Frantz dared not raise his eyes to her face. For a moment
past she had seemed to him too lovely, too alluring. She was his
Nor did he dare speak. The unfortunate youth felt that the old passion
was despotically taking possession of his heart once more, and that at
that moment glances, words, everything that burst forth from it would be
And she was his brother's wife!
"Ah! wretched, wretched creatures that we are!" exclaimed the poor
judge, dropping upon the divan beside her.
Those few words were in themselves an act of cowardice, a beginning of
surrender, as if destiny, by showing itself so pitiless, had deprived him
of the strength to defend himself. Sidonie had placed her hand on his.
"Frantz--Frantz!" she said; and they remained there side by side, silent
and burning with emotion, soothed by Madame Dobson's romance, which
reached their ears by snatches through the shrubbery:
"Ton amour, c'est ma folie.
Helas! je n'en puis guei-i-i-r."
Suddenly Risler's tall figure appeared in the doorway.
"This way, Chebe, this way. They are in the summerhouse."
As he spoke the husband entered, escorting his father-in-law and mother-
in-law, whom he had gone to fetch.
There was a moment of effusive greetings and innumerable embraces. You
should have seen the patronizing air with which M. Chebe scrutinized the
young man, who was head and shoulders taller than he.
"Well, my boy, does the Suez Canal progress as you would wish?"
Madame Chebe, in whose thoughts Frantz had never ceased to be her future
son-in-law, threw her arms around him, while Risler, tactless as usual in
his gayety and his enthusiasm, waved his arms, talked of killing several
fatted calves to celebrate the return of the prodigal son, and roared to
the singing-mistress in a voice that echoed through the neighboring
"Madame Dobson, Madame Dobson--if you'll allow me, it's a pity for you
to be singing there. To the devil with sadness for to-day! Play us
something lively, a good waltz, so that I can take a turn with Madame
"Risler, Risler, are you crazy, my son-in-law?"
"Come, come, mamma! We must dance."
And up and down the paths, to the strains of an automatic six-step waltz-
a genuine valse de Vaucanson--he dragged his breathless mamma-in-law, who
stopped at every step to restore to their usual orderliness the dangling
ribbons of her hat and the lace trimming of her shawl, her lovely shawl
bought for Sidonie's wedding.
Poor Risler was intoxicated with joy.
To Frantz that was an endless, indelible day of agony. Driving, rowing
on the river, lunch on the grass on the Ile des Ravageurs--he was spared
none of the charms of Asnieres; and all the time, in the dazzling
sunlight of the roads, in the glare reflected by the water, he must laugh
and chatter, describe his journey, talk of the Isthmus of Suez and the
great work undertaken there, listen to the whispered complaints of M.
Chebe, who was still incensed with his children, and to his brother's
description of the Press. "Rotary, my dear Frantz, rotary and
dodecagonal!" Sidonie left the gentlemen to their conversation and
seemed absorbed in deep thought. From time to time she said a word or
two to Madame Dobson, or smiled sadly at her, and Frantz, not daring to
look at her, followed the motions of her blue-lined parasol and of the
white flounces of her skirt.
How she had changed in two years! How lovely she had grown!
Then horrible thoughts came to his mind. There were races at Longchamps
that day. Carriages passed theirs, rubbed against it, driven by women
with painted faces, closely veiled. Sitting motionless on the box, they
held their long whips straight in the air, with doll-like gestures, and
nothing about them seemed alive except their blackened eyes, fixed on the
horses' heads. As they passed, people turned to look. Every eye
followed them, as if drawn by the wind caused by their rapid motion.
Sidonie resembled those creatures. She might herself have driven
Georges' carriage; for Frantz was in Georges' carriage. He had drunk
Georges' wine. All the luxurious enjoyment of that family party came
It was shameful, revolting! He would have liked to shout the whole story
to his brother. Indeed, it was his duty, as he had come there for that
express purpose. But he no longer felt the courage to do it. Ah! the
That evening after dinner, in the salon open to the fresh breeze from the
river, Risler begged his wife to sing. He wished her to exhibit all her
newly acquired accomplishments to Frantz.
Sidonie, leaning on the piano, objected with a melancholy air, while
Madame Dobson ran her fingers over the keys, shaking her long curls.
"But I don't know anything. What do you wish me to sing?"
She ended, however, by being persuaded. Pale, disenchanted, with her
mind upon other things, in the flickering light of the candles which
seemed to be burning incense, the air was so heavy with the odor of the
hyacinths and lilacs in the garden, she began a Creole ballad very
popular in Louisiana, which Madame Dobson herself had arranged for the
voice and piano:
"Pauv' pitit Mam'zelle Zizi,
C'est l'amou, l'amou qui tourne la tete a li."
["Poor little Mam'zelle Zizi,
'Tis love, 'tis love that turns her head."]
And as she told the story of the ill-fated little Zizi, who was driven
mad by passion, Sidonie had the appearance of a love-sick woman. With
what heartrending expression, with the cry of a wounded dove, did she
repeat that refrain, so melancholy and so sweet, in the childlike patois
of the colonies:
"C'est l'amou, l'amou qui tourne la tete...."
It was enough to drive the unlucky judge mad as well.
But no! The siren had been unfortunate in her choice of a ballad. For,
at the mere name of Mam'zelle Zizi, Frantz was suddenly transported to a
gloomy chamber in the Marais, a long way from Sidonie's salon, and his
compassionate heart evoked the image of little Desiree Delobelle, who had
loved him so long. Until she was fifteen, she never had been called
anything but Ziree or Zizi, and she was the pauv' pitit of the Creole
ballad to the life, the ever-neglected, ever-faithful lover. In vain now
did the other sing. Frantz no longer heard her or saw her. He was in
that poor room, beside the great armchair, on the little low chair on
which he had sat so often awaiting the father's return. Yes, there, and
there only, was his salvation. He must take refuge in that child's love,
throw himself at her feet, say to her, "Take me, save me!" And who
knows? She loved him so dearly. Perhaps she would save him, would cure
him of his guilty passion.
"Where are you going?" asked Risler, seeing that his brother rose
hurriedly as soon as the last flourish was at an end.
"I am going back. It is late."
"What? You are not going to sleep here? Why your room is ready for
"It is all ready," added Sidonie, with a meaning glance.
He refused resolutely. His presence in Paris was necessary for the
fulfilment of certain very important commissions intrusted to him by the
Company. They continued their efforts to detain him when he was in the
vestibule, when he was crossing the garden in the moonlight and running
to the station, amid all the divers noises of Asnieres.
When he had gone, Risler went up to his room, leaving Sidonie and Madame
Dobson at the windows of the salon. The music from the neighboring
Casino reached their ears, with the "Yo-ho!" of the boatmen and the
footsteps of the dancers like a rhythmical, muffled drumming on the
"There's a kill-joy for you!" observed Madame Dobson.
"Oh, I have checkmated him," replied Sidonie; "only I must be careful.
I shall be closely watched now. He is so jealous. I am going to write
to Cazaboni not to come again for some time, and you must tell Georges
to-morrow morning to go to Savigny for a fortnight."
POOR LITTLE MAM'ZELLE ZIZI
Oh, how happy Desiree was!
Frantz came every day and sat at her feet on the little low chair, as in
the good old days, and he no longer came to talk of Sidonie.
As soon as she began to work in the morning, she would see the door open
softly. "Good morning, Mam'zelle Zizi." He always called her now by the
name she had borne as a child; and if you could know how prettily he said
it: "Good morning, Mam'zelle Zizi."
In the evening they waited for "the father" together, and while she
worked he made her shudder with the story of his adventures.
"What is the matter with you? You're not the same as you used to be,"
Mamma Delobelle would say, surprised to see her in such high spirits and
above all so active. For instead of remaining always buried in her easy-
chair, with the self-renunciation of a young grandmother, the little
creature was continually jumping up and running to the window as lightly
as if she were putting out wings; and she practised standing erect,
asking her mother in a whisper:
"Do you notice IT when I am not walking?"
From her graceful little head, upon which she had previously concentrated
all her energies in the arrangement of her hair, her coquetry extended
over her whole person, as did her fine, waving tresses when she unloosed
them. Yes, she was very, very coquettish now; and everybody noticed it.
Even the "birds and insects for ornament" assumed a knowing little air.
Ah, yes! Desiree Delobelle was happy. For some days M. Frantz had been
talking of their all going into the country together; and as the father,
kind and generous as always, graciously consented to allow the ladies to
take a day's rest, all four set out one Sunday morning.
Oh! the lovely drive, the lovely country, the lovely river, the lovely
Do not ask her where they went; Desiree never knew. But she will tell
you that the sun was brighter there than anywhere else, the birds more
joyous, the woods denser; and she will not lie.
The bouquet that the little cripple brought back from that beautiful
excursion made her room fragrant for a week. Among the hyacinths, the
violets, the white-thorn, was a multitude of nameless little flowers,
those flowers of the lowly which grow from nomadic seed scattered
everywhere along the roads.
Gazing at the slender, pale blue and bright pink blossoms, with all the
delicate shades that flowers invented before colorists, many and many a
time during that week Desiree took her excursion again. The violets
reminded her of the little moss-covered mound on which she had picked
them, seeking them under the leaves, her fingers touching Frantz's.
They had found these great water-lilies on the edge of a ditch, still
damp from the winter rains, and, in order to reach them, she had leaned
very heavily on Frantz's arm. All these memories occurred to her as she
worked. Meanwhile the sun, shining in at the open window, made the
feathers of the hummingbirds glisten. The springtime, youth, the songs
of the birds, the fragrance of the flowers, transfigured that dismal
fifth-floor workroom, and Desiree said in all seriousness to Mamma
Delobelle, putting her nose to her friend's bouquet:
"Have you noticed how sweet the flowers smell this year, mamma?"
And Frantz, too, began to fall under the charm. Little by little
Mam'zelle Zizi took possession of his heart and banished from it even the
memory of Sidonie. To be sure, the poor judge did all that he could to
accomplish that result. At every hour in the day he was by Desiree's
side, and clung to her like a child. Not once did he venture to return
to Asnieres. He feared the other too much.
"Pray come and see us once in a while; Sidonie keeps asking for you,"
Risler said to him from time to time, when his brother came to the
factory to see him. But Frantz held firm, alleging all sorts of business
engagements as pretexts for postponing his visit to the next day. It was
easy to satisfy Risler, who was more engrossed than ever with his press,
which they had just begun to build.
Whenever Frantz came down from his brother's closet, old Sigismond was
sure to be watching for him, and would walk a few steps with him in his
long, lute-string sleeves, quill and knife in hand. He kept the young
man informed concerning matters at the factory. For some time past,
things seemed to have changed for the better. Monsieur Georges came to
his office regularly, and returned to Savigny every night. No more bills
were presented at the counting-room. It seemed, too, that Madame over
yonder was keeping more within bounds.
The cashier was triumphant.
"You see, my boy, whether I did well to write to you. Your arrival was
all that was needed to straighten everything out. And yet," the good man
would add by force of habit, "and yet I haf no gonfidence."
"Never fear, Monsieur Sigismond, I am here," the judge would reply.
"You're not going away yet, are you, my dear Frantz?"
"No, no--not yet. I have an important matter to finish up first."
"Ah! so much the better."
The important matter to which Frantz referred was his marriage to Desiree
Delobelle. He had not yet mentioned it to any one, not even to her; but
Mam'zelle Zizi must have suspected something, for she became prettier and
more lighthearted from day to day, as if she foresaw that the day would
soon come when she would need all her gayety and all her beauty.
They were alone in the workroom one Sunday afternoon. Mamma Delobelle
had gone out, proud enough to show herself for once in public with her
great man, and leaving friend Frantz with her daughter to keep her
company. Carefully dressed, his whole person denoting a holiday air,
Frantz had a singular expression on his face that day, an expression at
once timid and resolute, emotional and solemn, and simply from the way
in which the little low chair took its place beside the great easy-chair,
the easy-chair understood that a very serious communication was about to
be made to it in confidence, and it had some little suspicion as to what
it might be.
The conversation began with divers unimportant remarks, interspersed with
long and frequent pauses, just as, on a journey, we stop at every
baiting-place to take breath, to enable us to reach our destination.
"It is a fine day to-day."
"Oh! yes, beautiful."
"Our flowers still smell sweet."
"Oh! very sweet."
And even as they uttered those trivial sentences, their voices trembled
at the thought of what was about to be said.
At last the little low chair moved a little nearer the great easy-chair;
their eyes met, their fingers were intertwined, and the two, in low
tones, slowly called each other by their names.
At that moment there was a knock at the door.
It was the soft little tap of a daintily gloved hand which fears to soil
itself by the slightest touch.
"Come in!" said Desiree, with a slight gesture of impatience; and
Sidonie appeared, lovely, coquettish, and affable. She had come to see
her little Zizi, to embrace her as she was passing by. She had been
meaning to come for so long.
Frantz's presence seemed to surprise her greatly, and, being engrossed by
her delight in talking with her former friend, she hardly looked at him.
After the effusive greetings and caresses, after a pleasant chat over old
times, she expressed a wish to see the window on the landing and the room
formerly occupied by the Rislers. It pleased her thus to live all her
youth over again.
"Do you remember, Frantz, when the Princess Hummingbird entered your
room, holding her little head very straight under a diadem of birds'
Frantz did not reply. He was too deeply moved to reply. Something
warned him that it was on his account, solely on his account, that the
woman had come, that she was determined to see him again, to prevent him
from giving himself to another, and the poor wretch realized with dismay
that she would not have to exert herself overmuch to accomplish her
object. When he saw her enter the room, his whole heart had been caught
in her net once more.
Desiree suspected nothing, not she! Sidonie's manner was so frank and
friendly. And then, they were brother and sister now. Love was no
longer possible between them.
But the little cripple had a vague presentiment of woe when Sidonie,
standing in the doorway and ready to go, turned carelessly to her
brother-in-law and said:
"By the way, Frantz, Risler told me to be sure to bring you back to dine
with us to-night. The carriage is below. We will pick him up as we pass
Then she added, with the prettiest smile imaginable:
"You will let us have him, won't you, Ziree? Don't be afraid; we will
send him back."
And he had the courage to go, the ungrateful wretch!
He went without hesitation, without once turning back, whirled away by
his passion as by a raging sea, and neither on that day nor the next nor
ever after could Mam'zelle Zizi's great easy-chair learn what the
interesting communication was that the little low chair had to make to
"Well, yes, I love you, I love you, more than ever and for ever!