Part 3 out of 5
the curling-tongs in the fire.
Madame--But, my dear Silvani, my maid's name is not Lisette.
Silvani--You will understand, Madame, that if I had to remember the names
of all the lady's-maids who help me, I should need six clerks instead of
four. Lisette is a pretty name which suits all these young ladies very
well. Lisette, show me your mistress's dress. Good. Is the ball an
Madame--But dress my hair, Silvani.
Silvani--It is impossible for me to dress your hair, Madame, unless I
know the circle in which the coiffure will be worn. (To the husband,
seated in the corner.) May I beg you, Monsieur, to take another place?
I wish to be able to step back, the better to judge the effect.
Monsieur--Certainly, Monsieur Silvani, only too happy to be agreeable to
you. (He sits down on a chair.)
Madame--(hastily)--Not there, my dear, you will rumple my skirt. (The
husband gets up and looks for another seat.) Take care behind you, you
are stepping on my bustle.
Monsieur--(turning round angrily)--Her bustle! her bustle!
Madame--Now you go upsetting my pins.
Silvani--May I beg a moment of immobility, Madame?
Monsieur--Come, calm yourself, I will go into the drawing-room; is there
a fire there?
Madame--(inattentively)--But, my dear, how can you expect a fire to be in
Monsieur--I will go to my study, then.
Madame--There is none there, either. What do you want a fire in your
study for? What a singular idea! High up, you know, Silvani, and a dash
of disorder, it is all the rage.
Silvani--Would you allow a touch of brown under the eyes? That would
enable me to idealize the coiffure.
Monsieur--(impatiently)--Marie, give me my top-coat and my cap. I will
walk up and down in the anteroom. (Aside.) Madame de Lyr shall pay for
Silvani--(crimping)--I leave your ear uncovered, Madame; it would be a
sin to veil it. It is like that of the Princesse de K., whose hair I
dressed yesterday. Lisette, get the powder ready. Ears like yours,
Madame, are not numerous.
Madame--You were saying--
Silvani--Would your ear, Madame, be so modest as not to listen?
Madame's hair is at length dressed. Silvani sheds a light cloud of
scented powder over his work, on which he casts a lingering look of
satisfaction, then bows and retires.
In passing through the anteroom, he runs against Monsieur, who is walking
up and down.
Silvani--A thousand pardons, I have the honor to wish you good night.
Monsieur--(from the depths of his turned-up collar) Good-night.
A quarter of an hour later the sound of a carriage is heard. Madame is
ready, her coiffure suits her, she smiles at herself in the glass as she
slips the glove-stretchers into the twelve-button gloves.
Monsieur has made a failure of his necktie and broken off three buttons.
Traces of decided ill-humor are stamped on his features.
Monsieur--Come, let us go down, the carriage is waiting; it is a quarter
past eleven. (Aside.) Another sleepless night. Sharp, coachman; Rue de
la Pepiniere, number 224.
They reach the street in question. The Rue de la Pepiniere is in a
tumult. Policemen are hurriedly making way through the crowd. In the
distance, confused cries and a rapidly approaching, rumbling sound are
heard. Monsieur thrusts his head out of the window.
Monsieur--What is it, Jean?
Coachman--A fire, Monsieur; here come the firemen.
Monsieur--Go on all the same to number 224.
Coachman--We are there, Monsieur; the fire is at number 224.
Doorkeeper of the House--(quitting a group of people and approaching the
carriage)--You are, I presume, Monsieur, one of the guests of Madame de
Lyr? She is terror-stricken; the fire is in her rooms. She can not
receive any one.
Madame--(excitedly)--It is scandalous.
Monsieur--(humming)--Heart-breaking, heartbreaking! (To the coachman.)
Home again, quickly; I am all but asleep. (He stretches himself out and
turns up his collar.) ( Aside.) After all, I am the better for a well-
A FALSE ALARM
Every time I visit Paris, which, unhappily, is too often, it rains in
torrents. It makes no difference whether I change the time of starting
from that which I had fixed upon at first, stop on the way, travel at
night, resort, in short, to a thousand devices to deceive the barometer-
at ten leagues from Paris the clouds begin to pile up and I get out of
the train amidst a general deluge.
On the occasion of my last visit I found myself as usual in the street,
followed by a street porter carrying my luggage and addressing despairing
signals to all the cabs trotting quickly past amid the driving rain.
After ten minutes of futile efforts a driver, more sensible than the
others, and hidden in his triple cape, checks his horses. With a single
bound I am beside the cab, and opening, the door with a kind of frenzy,
Unfortunately, while I am accomplishing all this on one side, a
gentleman, similarly circumstanced, opens the other door and also jumps
in. It is easy to understand that there ensues a collision.
"Devil take you!" said my rival, apparently inclined to push still
I was about to answer him, and pretty sharply, too, for I hail from the
south of France and am rather hotheaded, when our eyes met. We looked
one another in the face like two lions over a single sheep, and suddenly
we both burst out laughing. This angry gentleman was Oscar V., that dear
good fellow Oscar, whom I had not seen for ten years, and who is a very
old friend of mine, a charming fellow whom I used to play with as a boy.
We embraced, and the driver, who was looking at us through the window,
shrugged his shoulders, unable to understand it all. The two porters,
dripping with water, stood, one at each door, with a trunk on his
shoulder. We had the luggage put on the cab and drove off to the Hotel
du Louvre, where Oscar insisted on dropping me.
"But you are travelling, too, then?" said I to my friend, after the
first moments of expansion. "Don't you live in Paris?"
"I live in it as little as possible and have just come up from Les
Roches, an old-fashioned little place I inherited from my father, at
which I pass a great deal of the year. Oh! it is not a chateau; it is
rustic, countrified, but I like it, and would not change anything about
it. The country around is fresh and green, a clear little river flows
past about forty yards from the house, amid the trees; there is a mill in
the background, a spreading valley, a steeple and its weather-cock on the
horizon, flowers under the windows, and happiness in the house. Can I
grumble? My wife makes exquisite pastry, which is very agreeable to me
and helps to whiten her hands. By the way, I did not tell you that I am
married. My dear fellow, I came across an angel, and I rightly thought
that if I let her slip I should not find her equal. I did wisely. But I
want to introduce you to my wife and to show you my little place. When
will you come and see me? It is three hours from Paris--time to smoke a
couple of cigars. It is settled, then--I am going back to-morrow morning
and I will have a room ready for you. Give me your card and I will write
down my address on it."
All this was said so cordially that I could not resist my friend's
invitation, and promised to visit him.
Three or four days later, Paris being empty and the recollection of my
old companion haunting me, I felt a strong desire to take a peep at his
conjugal felicity and to see with my own eyes this stream, this mill,
this steeple, beside all which he was so happy.
I reached Les Roches at about six in the evening and was charmed at the
very first glance. Oscar's residence was a little Louis Quinze chateau
buried in the trees; irregularly built, but charmingly picturesque. It
had been left unaltered for a century at least, and everything, from the
blackened mansard roofs with their rococo weather-cocks, to the bay
windows with their tiny squares of glass and the fantastic escutcheon
over the door, was in keeping. Over the thick tiles of the somewhat
sunken roof, the rough-barked old chestnuts lazily stretched their
branches. Creepers and climbing roses wantoned over the front, framing
the windows, peeping into the garrets, and clinging to the waterspouts,
laden with large bunches of flowers which swayed gently in the air. Amid
all these pointed roofs and this profusion of verdure and trees the blue
sky could only be caught a glimpse of here and there.
The first person I saw was Oscar, clad in white from head to foot, and
wearing a straw hat. He was seated on an enormous block of stone which
seemed part and parcel of the house, and appeared very much interested in
a fine melon which his gardener had just brought to him. No sooner had
he caught sight of me than he darted forward and grasped me by the hand
with such an expression of good-humor and affection that I said to
myself, "Yes, certainly he was not deceiving me, he is happy." I found
him just as I had known him in his youth, lively, rather wild, but kind
"Pierre," said he to the gardener, "take this gentleman's portmanteau to
the lower room," and, as the gardener bestirred himself slowly and with
an effort, Oscar seized the portmanteau and swung it, with a jerk, on to
the shoulders of the poor fellow, whose legs bent under the weight.
"Lazybones," said Oscar, laughing heartily. "Ah! now I must introduce
you to my little queen. My wife, where is my wife?"
He ran to the bell and pulled it twice. At once a fat cook with a red
face and tucked-up sleeves, and behind her a man-servant wiping a plate,
appeared at the ground-floor windows. Had they been chosen on purpose?
I do not know, but their faces and bearing harmonized so thoroughly with
the picture that I could not help smiling.
"Where is your mistress?" asked Oscar, and as they did not answer
quickly enough he exclaimed, "Marie, Marie, here is my friend George."
A young girl, fair as a lily, appeared at a narrow, little window, the
one most garlanded by, flowers, on the first floor. She was clad in a
white dressing-gown of some particular shape; I could not at first make
out. With one hand she gathered its folds about her, and with the other
restrained her flowing hair. Hardly had she seen me when she blushed,
somewhat ashamed, no doubt, at having been surprised in the midst of her
toilet, and, giving a most embarrassed yet charming bow; hurriedly
disappeared. This vision completed the charm; it seemed to me that I had
suddenly been transported into fairy-land. I had fancied when strapping
my portmanteau that I should find my friend Oscar installed in one of
those pretty, little, smart-looking houses, with green shutters and gilt
lightning-conductor, dear to the countrified Parisian, and here I found
myself amid an ideal blending of time-worn stones hidden in flowers,
ancient gables, and fanciful ironwork reddened by rust. I was right in
the midst of one of Morin's sketches, and, charmed and stupefied, I stood
for some moments with my eyes fixed on the narrow window at which the
fair girl had disappeared.
"I call her my little queen," said Oscar, taking my arm. "It is my wife.
Come this way, we shall meet my cousin who is fishing, and two other
friends who are strolling about in this direction, good fellows, only
they do not understand the country as I do--they have on silk stockings
and pumps, but it does not matter, does it? Would you like a pair of
slippers or a straw hat?
I hope you have brought some linen jackets. I won't offer you a glass of
Madeira--we shall dine at once. Ah! my dear fellow, you have turned up
at the right moment; we are going to taste the first melon of the year
"Unfortunately, I never eat melons, though I like to see others do so."
"Well, then, I will offer you consolation by seeking out a bottle of my
old Pomard for you. Between ourselves, I don't give it to every one; it
is a capital wine which my poor father recommended to me on his deathbed;
poor father, his eyes were closed, and his head stretched back on the
pillow. I was sitting beside his bed, my hand in his, when I felt it
feebly pressed. His eyes half opened, and I saw him smile. Then he said
in a weak, slow, and the quavering voice of an old man who is dying: 'The
Pomard at the farther end--on the left--you know, my boy--only for
friends.' He pressed my hand again, and, as if exhausted, closed his
eyes, though I could see by the imperceptible motion of his lips that he
was still smiling inwardly. Come with me to the cellar," continued
Oscar, after a brief silence, "at the farther end to the left, you shall
hold the lantern for me."
When we came up from the cellar, the bell was ringing furiously, and
flocks of startled birds were flying out of the chestnut-trees. It was
for dinner. All the guests were in the garden. Oscar introduced me in
his off-hand way, and I offered my arm to the mistress of the house to
conduct her to the dining-room.
On examining my friend's wife, I saw that my first impression had not
been erroneous--she was literally a little angel, and a little angel in
the shape of a woman, which is all the better. She was delicate, slender
as a young girl; her voice was as thrilling and harmonious as the
chaffinch, with an indefinable accent that smacked of no part of the
country in particular, but lent a charm to her slightest word. She had,
moreover, a way of speaking of her own, a childish and coquettish way of
modulating the ends of her sentences and turning her eyes toward her
husband, as if to seek for his approbation. She blushed every moment,
but at the same time her smile was so bewitching and her teeth so white
that she seemed to be laughing at herself. A charming little woman!
Add to this a strange yet tasteful toilette, rather daring, perhaps,
but suiting this little queen, so singular in herself. Her beautiful
fair hair, twisted up apparently at hazard, was fixed rather high up on
the head by a steel comb worn somewhat on one side; and her white muslin
dress trimmed with wide, flat ruches, cut square at the neck, short in
the skirt, and looped up all round, had a delicious eighteenth-century
appearance. The angel was certainly a trifle coquettish, but in her own
way, and yet her way was exquisite.
Hardly were we seated at table when Oscar threw toward his little queen
a rapid glance, but one so full of happiness and-why should I not say it?
--love that I experienced a kind of shiver, a thrill of envy,
astonishment, and admiration, perhaps. He took from the basket of
flowers on the table a red rose, scarcely opened, and, pushing it toward
her, said with a smile:
"For your hair, Madame."
The fair girl blushed deeply, took the flower, and, without hesitation,
quickly and dexterously stuck it in her hair, high up on the left, just
in the right spot, and, delightedly turning round to each of us, repeated
several times, amid bursts of laughter, "Is it right like that?"
Then she wafted a tiny kiss with the tips of her fingers to her husband,
as a child of twelve would have done, and gayly plunged her spoon into
the soup, turning up her little finger as she did so.
The other guests had nothing very remarkable about them; they laughed
very good-naturedly at these childish ways, but seemed somewhat out of
place amid all this charming freedom from restraint. The cousin, above
all, the angler, with his white waistcoat, his blue tie, his full beard,
and his almond eyes, especially displeased me. He rolled his r's like an
actor at a country theatre. He broke his bread into little bits and
nibbled them as he talked. I divined that the pleasure of showing off
a large ring he wore had something to do with this fancy for playing with
his bread. Once or twice I caught a glance of melancholy turned toward
the mistress of the house, but at first I did not take much notice of it,
my attention being attracted by the brilliant gayety of Oscar.
It seemed to me, however, at the end of a minute or so, that this young
man was striving in a thousand ways to engage the attention of the little
The latter, however, answered him in the most natural way in the world,
neither betraying constraint nor embarrassment. I was mistaken,
no doubt. Have you ever noticed, when you are suddenly brought into the
midst of a circle where you are unacquainted, how certain little details,
matters of indifference to every one else, assume importance in your
eyes? The first impression is based upon a number of trifles that catch
your attention at the outset. A stain in the ceiling, a nail in the
wall, a feature of your neighbor's countenance impresses itself upon your
mind, installs itself there, assumes importance, and, in spite of
yourself, all the other observations subsequently made by you group
around this spot, this nail, this grimace. Think over it, dear reader,
and you will see that every opinion you may have as to a fact, a person,
or an object has been sensibly influenced by the recollection of the
little trifle that caught your eye at the first glance. What young girl
victim of first impressions has not refused one or two husbands on
account of a waistcoat too loose, a cravat badly tied, an inopportune
sneeze, a foolish smile, or a boot too pointed at the toe?
One does not like admitting to one's self that such trifles can serve as
a base to the opinion one has of any one, and one must seek attentively
in order to discover within one's mind these unacknowledged germs.
I recollect quite well that the first time I had the honor of calling on
Madame de M., I noticed that one of her teeth, the first molar on the
right, was quite black. I only caught a glimpse of the little black
monster, such was the care taken to hide it, yet I could not get this
discovery out of my head. I soon noticed that Madame de M. made
frightful grimaces to hide her tooth, and that she took only the smallest
possible mouthfuls at table to spare the nervous susceptibilities of the
I arrived at the pitch of accounting for all the mental and physical
peculiarities of Madame de M. by the presence of this slight blemish,
and despite myself this black tooth personified the Countess so well that
even now, although it has been replaced by another magnificent one, twice
as big and as white as the bottom of a plate, even now, I say, Madame de
M. can not open her mouth without my looking naturally at it.
But to return to our subject. Amid all this conjugal happiness, so
delightfully surrounded, face to face with dear old Oscar, so good, so
confiding, so much in love with this little cherub in a Louis XV dress,
who carried grace and naivete to so strange a pitch, I had been struck by
the too well combed and foppish head of the cousin in the white
waistcoat. This head had attracted my attention like the stain on the
ceiling of which I spoke just now, like the Countess's black tooth, and
despite myself I did not take my eyes off the angler as he passed the
silver blade of his knife through a slice of that indigestible fruit
which I like to see on the plates of others, but can not tolerate on my
After dinner, which lasted a very long time, we went into the garden,
where coffee had been served, and stretched ourselves out beatifically,
cigar in mouth. All was calm and silent about us, the insects had ceased
their music, and in an opaline sky little violet clouds were sleeping.
Oscar, with a happy air, pointed out to me the famous mill, the quiet
valley, and farther on his loved stream, in which the sun, before
setting, was reflecting itself amid the reeds. Meanwhile the little
queen on her high heels flitted round the cups like a child playing at
party-giving, and with a thousand charming touches poured out the boiling
coffee, the odor of which blended deliciously with the perfume of the
flowers, the hay, and the woods.
When she had finished she sat down beside her husband, so close that her
skirt half hid my friend, and unceremoniously taking the cigar from his
lips, held it at a distance, with a little pout, that meant, "Oh, the
horrid thing!" and knocked off with her little finger the ash which fell
on the gravel. Then she broke into a laugh, and put the cigar back
between the lips of her husband held out to her.
It was charming. Oscar was no doubt accustomed to this, for he did not
seem astonished, but placed his hand on his wife's shoulder, as one would
upon a child's, and, kissing her on the forehead, said, "Thanks, my
"Yes, but you are only making fun of me," said the young wife, in a
whisper, leaning her head against her husband's arm.
I could not help smiling, there was so much coaxing childishness and
grace in this little whispered sentence. I do not know why I turned
toward the cousin who had remained a little apart, smoking in silence.
He seemed to me rather pale; he took three or four sudden puffs, rose
suddenly under the evident influence of some moral discomfort, and walked
away beneath the trees.
"What is the matter with cousin?" said Oscar, with some interest.
"What ails him?"
"I don't know," answered the little queen, in the most natural manner in
the world, "some idea about fishing, no doubt."
Night began to fall; we had remained as I have said a long time at table.
It was about nine o'clock. The cousin returned and took the seat he had
occupied before, but from this moment it seemed to me that a strange
constraint crept in among us, a singular coolness showed itself. The
talk, so lively at first, slackened gradually and, despite all my efforts
to impart a little life to it, dragged wretchedly. I myself did not feel
very bright; I was haunted by the most absurd notions in the world;
I thought I had detected in the sudden departure of the cousin, in his
pallor, in his embarrassed movements, the expression of some strong
feeling which he had been powerless to hide. But how was it that that
adorable little woman with such a keen intelligent look did not
understand all this, since I understood it myself? Had not Oscar,
however confiding he might be, noted that the departure of the cousin
exactly coincided with the kiss he had given his wife? Were these two
blind, or did they pretend not to see, or was I myself the victim of an
illusion? However, conversation had died away; the mistress of the
house, singular symptom, was silent and serious, and Oscar wriggled in
his chair, like a man who is not altogether at ease. What was passing in
Soon we heard the clock in the drawing-room strike ten, and Oscar,
suddenly rising, said: "My dear fellow, in the country it is Liberty
Hall, you know; so I will ask your permission to go in--I am rather tired
this evening. George," he added to me, "they will show you your room; it
is on the ground floor; I hope that you will be comfortable there."
Everybody got up silently, and, after bidding one another good-night in
a somewhat constrained manner, sought their respective rooms. I thought,
I must acknowledge, that they went to bed rather too early at my
friend's. I had no wish to sleep; I therefore examined my room, which
was charming. It was completely hung with an old figured tapestry framed
in gray wainscot. The bed, draped in dimity curtains, was turned down
and exhaled that odor of freshly washed linen which invites one to
stretch one's self in it. On the table, a little gem dating from the
beginning of the reign of Louis XVI, were four or five books, evidently
chosen by Oscar and placed there for me. These little attentions touch
one, and naturally my thoughts recurred to the dear fellow, to the
strange incident of the evening, to the vexations and tortures hidden,,
perhaps, by this apparent happiness. I was ridiculous that night--
I already pitied him, my poor friend.
I felt quite touched, and, full of melancholy, went and leaned against
the sill of the open window. The moon had just risen, the sky was
beautifully clear, whiffs of delicious perfumes assailed my nostrils.
I saw in the shadow of the trees glowworms sparkling on the grass, and,
in the masses of verdure lit up mysteriously by the moon, I traced
strange shapes of fantastic monsters. There was, above all, a little
pointed roof surmounted by a weathercock, buried in the trees at about
fifty paces from my window, which greatly interested me. I could not in
the obscurity make out either door or windows belonging to this singular
tower. Was it an old pigeon-house, a tomb, a deserted summer-house?
I could not tell, but its little pointed roof, with a round dormer
window, was extremely graceful. Was it chance or an artist lull of taste
that had covered this tower with creepers and flowers, and surrounded it
with foliage in such capricious fashion that it seemed to be hiding
itself in order to catch all glances? I was gazing at all this when I
heard a faint noise in the shrubbery. I looked in that direction and I
saw--really, it was an anxious moment--I saw a phantom clad in a white
robe and walking with mysterious and agitated rapidity. At a turning of
the path the moon shone on this phantom. Doubt was impossible; I had
before my eyes my friend's wife. Her gait no longer had that coquettish
ease which I had noticed, but clearly indicated the agitation due to some
I strove to banish the horrible suspicion which suddenly forced itself
into my mind. "No," I said to myself, "so much innocence and beauty can
not be capable of deception; no doubt she has forgotten her fan or her
embroidery, on one of the benches there." But instead of making her way
toward the benches I noticed on the right, the young wife turned to the
left, and soon disappeared in the shadow of the grove in which was hidden
the mysterious turret.
My heart ached. "Where is she going, the hapless woman?" I exclaimed to
myself. "At any rate, I will not let her imagine any one is watching
her." And I hurriedly blew out my candle. I wanted to close my window,
go to bed, and see nothing more, but an invincible curiosity took me back
to the window. I had only been there a few minutes when I plainly
distinguished halting and timid footsteps on the gravel. I could see no
one at first, but there was no doubt that the footsteps were those of a
man. I soon had a proof that I was not mistaken; the elongated outline
of the cousin showed up clearly against the dark mass of shrubbery.
I should have liked to have stopped him, the wretch, for his intention
was evident; he was making his way toward the thicket in which the little
queen had disappeared. I should have liked to shout to him, "You are a
villain; you shall go no farther." But had I really any right to act
thus? I was silent, but I coughed, however, loud enough to be heard by
He suddenly paused in his uneasy walk, looked round on all sides with
visible anxiety, then, seized by I know not what impulse, darted toward
the pavilion. I was overwhelmed. What ought I to do? Warn my friend,
my childhood's companion? Yes, no doubt, but I felt ashamed to pour
despair into the mind of this good fellow and to cause a horrible
exposure. "If he can be kept in ignorance," I said to myself, "and then
perhaps I am wrong--who knows? Perhaps this rendezvous is due to the
most natural motive possible."
I was seeking to deceive myself, to veil the evidence of my own eyes,
when suddenly one of the house doors opened noisily, and Oscar--Oscar
himself, in all the disorder of night attire, his hair rumpled, and his
dressing-gown floating loosely, passed before my window. He ran rather
than walked; but the anguish of his heart was too plainly revealed in the
strangeness of his movements. He knew all. I felt that a mishap was
inevitable. "Behold the outcome of all his happiness, behold the bitter
poison enclosed in so fair a vessel!" All these thoughts shot through my
mind like arrows. It was necessary above all to delay the explosion,
were it only for a moment, a second, and, beside myself, without giving
myself time to think of what I was going to say to him, I cried in a
sharp imperative tone:
"Oscar, come here; I want to speak to you."
He stopped as if petrified. He was ghastly pale, and, with an infernal
smile, replied, "I have no time-later on."
"Oscar, you must, I beg of you--you are mistaken."
At these words he broke into a fearful laugh.
And he ran toward the pavilion.
Seizing the skirt of his dressing-gown, I held him tightly, exclaiming:
"Don't go, my dear fellow, don't go; I beg of you on my knees not to go."
By way of reply he gave me a hard blow on the arm with his fist,
"What the devil is the matter with you?"
"I tell you that you can not go there, Oscar," I said, in a voice which
admitted of no contradiction.
"Then why did not you tell me at once."
And feverishly snatching his dressing-gown from my grasp, he began to
walk frantically up and down.
I SUP WITH MY WIFE
That evening, which chanced to be Christmas Eve, it was infernally cold.
The snow was falling in heavy flakes, and, driven by the wind, beat
furiously against the window panes. The distant chiming of the bells
could just be heard through this heavy and woolly atmosphere. Foot-
passengers, wrapped in their cloaks, slipped rapidly along, keeping close
to the house and bending their heads to the wintry blast.
Enveloped in my dressing-gown, and tapping with my fingers on the window-
panes, I was smiling at the half-frozen passers-by, the north wind, and
the snow, with the contented look of a man who is in a warm room and has
on his feet comfortable flannel-lined slippers, the soles of which are
buried in a thick carpet. At the fireside my wife was cutting out
something and smiling at me from time to time; a new book awaited me on
the mantelpiece, and the log on the hearth kept shooting out with a
hissing sound those little blue flames which invite one to poke it.
"There is nothing that looks more dismal than a man tramping through the
snow, is there?" said I to my wife.
"Hush," said she, lowering the scissors which she held in her hand; and,
after smoothing her chin with her fingers, slender, rosy, and plump at
their tips, she went on examining the pieces of stuff she had cut out.
"I say that it is ridiculous to go out in the cold when it is so easy to
remain at home at one's own fireside."
"But what are you doing that is so important?"
"I--I am cutting out a pair of braces for you," and she set to work
again. But, as in cutting out she kept her head bent, I noticed, on
passing behind her, her soft, white neck, which she had left bare that
evening by dressing her hair higher than usual. A number of little downy
hairs were curling there. This kind of down made me think of those ripe
peaches one bites so greedily. I drew near, the better to see, and I
kissed the back of my wife's neck.
"Monsieur!" said Louise, suddenly turning round.
"Madame," I replied, and we both burst out laughing.
"Christmas Eve," said I.
"Do you wish to excuse yourself and to go out?"
"Do you mean to complain?"
"Yes, I complain that you are not sufficiently impressed by the fact of
its being Christmas Eve. The ding-ding-dong of the bells of Notre Dame
fails to move you; and just now when the magic-lantern passed beneath the
window, I looked at you while pretending to work, and you were quite
"I remain calm when the magic-lantern is going by! Ah! my dear, you are
very severe on me, and really--"
"Yes, yes, jest about it, but it was none the less true that the
recollections of your childhood have failed."
"Now, my dear, do you want me to leave my boots out on the hearth this
evening on going to bed? Do you want me to call in the magic-lantern
man, and to look out a big sheet and a candle end for him, as my poor
mother used to do? I can still see her as she used to entrust her white
sheet to him. 'Don't make a hole in it, at least,' she would say. How
we used to clap our hands in the mysterious darkness! I can recall all
those joys, my dear, but you know so many other things have happened
since then. Other pleasures have effaced those."
"Yes, I can understand, your bachelor pleasures; and, there, I am sure
that this Christmas Eve is the first you have passed by your own
fireside, in your dressing-gown, without supper; for you used to sup on
"To sup, to sup."
"Yes, you supped; I will wager you did."
"I have supped two or three times, perhaps, with friends, you know; two
sous' worth of roasted chestnuts and--"
"A glass of sugar and water."
"Oh, pretty nearly so. It was all very simple; as far as I can
recollect. We chatted a little and went to bed."
"And he says that without a smile. You have never breathed a word to me
of all these simple pleasures."
"But, my dear, all that I am telling you is strictly true. I remember
that once, however, it was rather lively. It was at Ernest's, and we had
some music. Will you push that log toward me? But, never mind; it will
soon be midnight, and that is the hour when reasonable people--"
Louise, rising and throwing her arms around my neck, interrupted me with:
"Well, I don't want to be reasonable, I want to wipe out all your
memories of chestnuts and glasses of sugar and water."
Then pushing me into my dressing-room she locked the door.
"But, my dear, what is the matter with you?" said I through the keyhole.
"I want ten minutes, no more. Your newspaper is on the mantelpiece; you
have not read it this evening. There are some matches in the corner."
I heard a clatter of crockery, a rustling of silk my wife mad?
Louise soon came and opened the door.
"Don't scold me for having shut you up," she said, kissing me. "Look how
I have beautified myself? Do you recognize the coiffure you are so fond
of, the chignon high, and the neck bare? Only as my poor neck is
excessively timid, it would have never consented to show itself thus if
I had not encouraged it a little by wearing my dress low. And then one
must put on full uniform to sup with the authorities."
"Certainly, to sup with you; don't you see my illuminations and this
table covered with flowers and a heap of good things? I had got it all
ready in the alcove; but you understand that to roll the table up to the
fire and make a little toilette, I wanted to be alone. Come, Monsieur,
take your place at table. I am as hungry as a hunter. May I offer you a
wing of cold chicken?"
"Your idea is charming, but, dear, really I am ashamed; I am in my
"Take off your dressing-gown if it incommodes you, Monsieur, but don't
leave this chicken wing on my hands. I want to serve you myself." And,
rising, she turned her sleeves up to the elbow, and placed her table
napkin on her arm.
"It is thus that the waiters at the restaurant do it, is it not?"
"Exactly; but, waiter, allow me at least to kiss your hand."
"I have no time," said she, laughing, sticking the corkscrew into the
neck of the bottle. "Chambertin--it is a pretty name; and then do you
remember that before our marriage (how hard this cork is!) you told me
that you liked it on account of a poem by Alfred de Musset? which, by
the way, you have not let me read yet. Do you see the two little
Bohemian glasses which I bought expressly for this evening? We will
drink each other's health in them."
"And his, too, eh?"
"The heir's, poor dear love of an heir! I should think so. And then I
will put away the two glasses against this time next year; they shall be
our Christmas Eve glasses? Every year we will sup like this together,
however old we may get."
"But, my dear, how about the time when we have no longer any teeth?"
"Well, we will sup on good strong soups; it will be very nice, all the
same. Another piece, please, with some of the jelly. Thanks."
As she held out her plate I noticed her arm, the outline of which was
lost in lace.
"Why are you looking up my sleeve instead of eating?"
"I am looking at your arm, dear. You are charming, let me tell you, this
evening. That coiffure suits you so well, and that dress which I was
"Well, when one seeks to make a conquest--"
"How pretty you look, pet!"
"Is it true that you think me charming, pretty, and a pet this evening?
Well, then," lowering her eyes and smiling at her bracelets, "in that
case I do not see why--"
"What is it you do not see, dear?"
"I do not see any reason why you should not come and give me just a
And as the kiss was prolonged, she said to me, amid bursts of laughter,
her head thrown back, and showing the double row of her white teeth:
"I should like some pie; yes, some brie! You will break my Bohemian
glass, the result of my economy. You always cause some mishap when you
want to kiss me. Do you recollect at Madame de Brill's ball, two days
before our marriage, how you tore my skirt while waltzing in the little
"Because it is difficult to do two things at once-to keep step and to
kiss one's partner."
"I recollect, too, when mamma asked how my skirt had got torn, I felt
that I was blushing up to my ears. And Madame D., that old jaundiced
fairy, who said to me with her Lenten smile, 'How flushed you are
tonight, my dear child!' I could have strangled her! I said it was the
key of the door that had caught it. I looked at you out of the corner of
my eye; you were pulling your moustache and seemed greatly annoyed--you
are keeping all the truffles for yourself; that is kind--not that one;
I want the big black one there in the corner-it was very wrong all the
same, for--oh! not quite full--I do not want to be tipsy--for, after all,
if we had not been married--and that might have happened, for you know
they say that marriages only depend on a thread. Well, if the thread had
not been strong enough, I should have remained a maid with a kiss on my
shoulder, and a nice thing that would have been."
"Bah! it does not stain."
"Yes, Monsieur, it does, I beg your pardon. It stains so much that there
are husbands, I believe, who even shed their blood to wash out such
"But I was joking, dear. Hang it!--don't you think--yes, certainly, hang
"Ah! that's right, I like to see you angry. You are a trifle jealous,
dear--oh! that is too bad; I asked you for the big black one, and you
have gone and eaten it."
"I am sorry, dear; I quite forgot about it."
"It was the same at the Town Hall, where I was obliged to jog your elbow
to make you answer 'Yes' to the Mayor's kind words."
"Yes, kind. I thought him charming. No one could have been more
graceful than he was in addressing me. 'Mademoiselle, will you consent
to accept for your husband that great, ugly fellow standing beside you?'"
(Laughing, with her mouth full.) "I wanted to say to him, 'Let us come to
an understanding, Mr. Mayor; there is something to be said on either
side.' I am choking!"--she bursts out laughing-- "I was wrong not to
impose restrictions. Your health, dear! I am teasing you; it is very
stupid. I said 'Yes' with all my heart, I can assure you, dear, and I
thought the word too weak a one. When I think that all women, even the
worst, say that word, I feel ashamed not to have found another." Holding
out her glass: "To our golden wedding--will you touch glasses?"
"And to his baptism, little mamma."
In a low voice: "Tell me--are you sorry you married me?"
Laughing, "Yes." Kissing her on the shoulder, "I think I have found the
stain again; it was just there."
"It is two in the morning, the fire is out, and I am a little--you won't
laugh now? Well, I am a little dizzy."
"A capital pie, eh?"
"A capital pie! We shall have a cup of tea for breakfast tomorrow, shall
FROM ONE THING TO ANOTHER
SCENE.--The country in autumn--The wind is blowing without--MADAME,
seated by the fireside in a large armchair, is engaged in needlework
--MONSIEUR, seated in front of her, is watching the flames of the
fire--A long silence.
Monsieur--Will you pass me the poker, my dear?
Madame--(humming to herself)--"And yet despite so many fears." (Spoken.)
Here is the poker. (Humming.) "Despite the painful----"
Monsieur--That is by Mehul, is it not, my dear? Ah! that is music--I saw
Delaunay Riquier in Joseph. (He hums as he makes up the fire.) "Holy
pains." (Spoken.) One wonders why it does not burn, and, by Jove! it
turns out to be green wood. Only he was a little too robust--Riquier.
A charming voice, but he is too stout.
Madame--(holding her needlework at a distance, the better to judge of the
effect)--Tell me, George, would you have this square red or black? You
see, the square near the point. Tell me frankly.
Monsieur--(singing) "If you can repent." (Spoken without turning his
head.) Red, my dear; red. I should not hesitate; I hate black.
Madame--Yes, but if I make that red it will lead me to-- (She reflects.)
Monsieur--Well, my dear, if it leads you away, you must hold fast to
something to save yourself.
Madame--Come, George, I am speaking seriously. You know that if this
little square is red, the point can not remain violet, and I would not
change that for anything.
Monsieur--(slowly and seriously)--My dear, will you follow the advice of
an irreproachable individual, to whose existence you have linked your
fate? Well, make that square pea-green, and so no more about it. Just
look whether a coal fire ever looked like that.
Madame--I should only be too well pleased to use up my pea-green wool; I
have a quantity of it.
Monsieur--Then where lies the difficulty?
Madame--The difficulty is that pea-green is not sufficiently religious.
Monsieur--Hum! (Humming.) Holy pains! (Spoken.) Will you be kind enough
to pass the bellows? Would it be indiscreet to ask why the poor pea-
green, which does not look very guilty, has such an evil reputation? You
are going in for religious needlework, then, my dear?
Madame--Oh, George! I beg of you to spare me your fun. I have been
familiar with it for a long time, you know, and it is horribly
disagreeable to me. I am simply making a little mat for the
confessional-box of the vicar. There! are you satisfied? You know what
it is for, and you must understand that under the present circumstances
pea-green would be altogether out of place.
Monsieur--Not the least in the world. I can swear to you that I could
just as well confess with pea-green under my feet. It is true that I am
naturally of a resolute disposition. Use up your wool; I can assure you
that the vicar will accept it all the same. He does not know how to
refuse. (He plies the bellows briskly.)
Madame--You are pleased, are you not?
Monsieur--Pleased at what, dear?
Madame--Pleased at having vented your sarcasm, at having passed a jest on
one who is absent. Well, I tell you that you are a bad man, seeing that
you seek to shake the faith of those about you. My beliefs had need be
very fervent, principles strong, and have real virtue, to resist these
incessant attacks. Well, why are you looking at me like that?
Monsieur--I want to be converted, my little apostle. You are so pretty
when you speak out; your eyes glisten, your voice rings, your gestures--
I am sure that you could speak like that for a long time, eh? (He kisses
her hand, and takes two of her curls and ties them under hey chin.) You
are looking pretty, my pet.
Madame--Oh! you think you have reduced me to silence because you have
interrupted me. Ah! there, you have tangled my hair. How provoking you
are! It will take me an hour to put it right. You are not satisfied
with being a prodigy of impiety, but you must also tangle my hair. Come,
hold out your hands and take this skein of wool.
Monsieur--(sitting down on a stool, which he draws as closely as possible
to Madame, and holding up his hands) My little Saint John!
Madame--Not so close, George; not so close. (She smiles despite
herself.) How silly you are! Please be careful; you will break my wool.
Monsieur--Your religious wool.
Madame--Yes, my religious wool. (She gives him a little pat on the
cheek.) Why do you part your hair so much on one side, George? It would
suit you much better in the middle, here. Yes, you may kiss me, but
Monsieur--Can you guess what I am thinking of?
Madame--How do you imagine I could guess that?
Monsieur--Well, I am thinking of the barometer which is falling and of
the thermometer which is falling too.
Madame--You see, cold weather is coming on and my mat will never be
finished. Come, let us make haste.
Monsieur--I was thinking of the thermometer which is falling and of my
room which faces due north.
Madame--Did you not choose it yourself? My wool! Good gracious! my
wool! Oh! the wicked wretch!
Monsieur--In summer my room with the northern aspect is, no doubt, very
pleasant; but when autumn comes, when the wind creeps in, when the rain
trickles down the windowpanes, when the fields, the country, seem hidden
under a huge veil of sadness, when the spoils of our woodlands strew the
earth, when the groves have lost their mystery and the nightingale her
voice--oh! then the room with the northern aspect has a very northern
Madame--(continuing to wind her wool)--What nonsense you are talking!
Monsieur--I protest against autumns, that is all. God's sun is hidden
and I seek another. Is not that natural, my little fairhaired saint, my
little mystic lamb, my little blessed palmbranch? This new sun I find in
you, pet--in your look, in the sweet odor of your person, in the rustling
of your skirt, in the down on your neck which one notices by the lamp-
light when you bend over the vicar's mat, in your nostril which expands
when my lips approach yours--
Madame--Will you be quiet, George? It is Friday, and Ember week.
Monsieur--And your dispensation? (He kisses her.) Don't you see that
your hand shakes, that you blush, that your heart is beating?
Madame--George, will you have done, sir? (She pulls away her hand,
throws herself back in the chair, and avoids her husband's glance.)
Monsieur--Your poor little heart beats, and it is right, dear; it knows
that autumn is the time for confidential chats and evening caresses, the
time for kisses. And you know it too, for you defend yourself poorly,
and I defy you to look me in the face. Come! look me in the face.
Madame--(she suddenly leans toward hey husband, the ball of wool rolling
into the fireplace, the pious task falling to the ground. She takes his
head between her hands)--Oh, what a dear, charming husband you would be
if you had--
Monsieur--If I had what? Tell me quickly.
Madame--If you had a little religion. I should only ask for such a
little at the beginning. It is not very difficult, I can assure you.
While, now, you are really too--
Madame--Yes, pea-green, you great goose. (She laughs frankly.)
Monsieur--(lifting his hands in the air)--Sound trumpets! Madame has
laughed; Madame is disarmed. Well, my snowwhite lamb, I am going to
finish my story; listen properly, there, like that--your hands here, my
head so. Hush! don't laugh. I am speaking seriously. As I was saying
to you, the north room is large but cold, poetic but gloomy, and I will
add that two are not too many in this wintry season to contend against
the rigors of the night. I will further remark that if the sacred ties
of marriage have a profoundly social significance, it is--do not
interrupt me--at that hour of one's existence when one shivers on one's
Madame--You can not be serious.
Monsieur--Well, seriously, I should like the vicar's mat piously spread
upon your bed, to keep us both warm together, this very evening. I wish
to return as speedily as possible to the intimacy of conjugal life. Do
you hear how the wind blows and whistles through the doors? The fire
splutters, and your feet are frozen. (He takes her foot in his hands.)
Madame--But you are taking off my slipper, George.
Monsieur--Do you think, my white lamb, that I am going to leave your poor
little foot in that state? Let it stay in my hand to be warmed. Nothing
is so cold as silk. What! openwork stockings? My dear, you are rather
dainty about your foot-gear for a Friday. Do you know, pet, you can not
imagine how gay I wake up when the morning sun shines into my room. You
shall see. I am no longer a man; I am a chaffinch; all the joys of
spring recur to me. I laugh, I sing, I speechify, I tell tales to make
one die of laughter. Sometimes I even dance.
Madame--Come now! I who in the morning like neither noise nor broad
daylight--how little all that suits!
Monsieur--(suddenly changing his tone)--Did I say that I liked all that?
The morning sun? Never in autumn, my sweet dove, never. I awake, on the
contrary full of languor and poesy; I was like that in my very cradle.
We will prolong the night, and behind the drawn curtain, behind the
closed shutter, we will remain asleep without sleeping. Buried in
silence and shadow, delightfully stretched beneath your warm eider-down
coverlets, we will slowly enjoy the happiness of being together, and we
will wish one another good-morning only on the stroke of noon. You do
not like noise, dear. I will not say a word. Not a murmur to disturb
your unfinished dream and warn you that you are no longer sleeping; not a
breath to recall you to reality; not a movement to rustle the coverings.
I will be silent as a shade, motionless as a statue; and if I kiss you--
for, after all, I have my weaknesses--it will be done with a thousand
precautions, my lips will scarcely brush your sleeping shoulder; and if
you quiver with pleasure as you stretch out your arms, if your eye half
uncloses at the murmur of my kiss, if your lips smile at me, if I kiss
you, it would be because you would like me to, and I shall have nothing
to reproach myself with.
Madame--(her eyes half closed, leaning back in hey armchair, her head
bent with emotion, she places her hands before his mouth. In a low
voice)--Hush, hush! Don't say that, dear; not another word! If you knew
how wrong it was!
Monsieur--Wrong! What is there that is wrong? Is your heart of marble
or adamant, that you do not see that I love you, you naughty child? That
I hold out my arms to you, that I long to clasp you to my heart, and to
fall asleep in your hair? What is there more sacred in the world than to
love one's wife or love one's husband? (Midnight strikes.)
Madame--(she suddenly changes hey expression at the sound, throws her
arms round her husband, and hurriedly kisses him thrice)--You thought I
did not love you, eh, dear? Oh, yes! I love you. Great baby! not to
see that I was waiting the time.
Monsieur--What time, dear?
Madame--The time. It has struck twelve, see. (She blushes crimson.)
Friday is over. (She holds out her hand for him to kiss.)
Monsieur--Are you sure the clock is not five minutes fast, love?
A LITTLE CHAT
MADAME F----- MADAME H------
(These ladies are seated at needlework as they talk.)
Madame F--For myself, you know, my dear, I fulfil my duties tolerably,
still I am not what would be called a devotee. By no means. Pass me
your scissors. Thanks.
Madame H--You are quite welcome, dear. What a time those little squares
of lace must take. I am like yourself in respect of religion; in the
first place, I think that nothing should be overdone. Have you ever-
I have never spoken to any one on the subject, but I see your ideas are
so in accordance with my own that--
Madame F--Come, speak out, dear; you trust me a little, I hope.
Madame H--Well, then, have you--tell me truly--ever had any doubts?
Madame F--(after reflecting for a moment)--Doubts! No. And you?
Madame H--I have had doubts, which has been a real grief to me. Heavens!
how I have wept.
Madame F--I should think so, my poor dear. For my own part, my faith is
very strong. These doubts must have made you very unhappy.
Madame H--Terribly so. You know, it seems as if everything failed you;
there is a vacancy all about you--I have never spoken about it to my
husband, of course--Leon is a jewel of a man, but he will not listen to
anything of that kind. I can still see him, the day after our marriage;
I was smoothing my hair--broad bands were then worn, you know.
Madame F--Yes, yes; they were charming. You will see that we shall go
back to them.
Madame H--I should not be surprised; fashion is a wheel that turns.
Leon, then, said to me the day after our wedding: "My dear child, I shall
not hinder you going to church, but I beg you, for mercy's sake, never to
say a word to me about it."
Madame F--Really, Monsieur H. said that to you?
Madame H--Upon my honor. Oh! my husband is all that is most--or, if you
prefer it, all that is least--
Madame F--Yes, yes, I understand. That is a grief, you know. Mine is
only indifferent. From time to time he says some disagreeable things to
me on the question, but I am sure he could be very easily brought back to
the right. At the first illness he has, you shall see. When he has only
a cold in the head, I notice the change. You have not seen my thimble?
Madame H--Here it is. Do not be too sure of that, dear; men are not to
be brought back by going "chk, chk" to them, like little chickens. And
then, though I certainly greatly admire the men who observe religious
practices, you know me well enough not to doubt that--I think, as I told
you, that nothing should be exaggerated. And yourself, pet, should you
like to see your husband walking before the banner with a great wax taper
in his right hand and a bouquet of flowers in his left?
Madame F--Oh! no, indeed. Why not ask me at once whether I should like
to see Leon in a black silk skull cap, with cotton in his ears and a holy
water sprinkler in his hand? One has no need to go whining about a
church with one's nose buried in a book to be a pious person; there is a
more elevated form of religion, which is that of--of refined people, you
Madame H--Ah! when you speak like that, I am of your opinion. I think,
for instance, that there is nothing looks finer than a man while the host
is being elevated. Arms crossed, no book, head slightly bowed, grave
look, frock coat buttoned up. Have you seen Monsieur de P. at mass?
How well he looks!
Madame F--He is such a fine man, and, then, he dresses so well. Have you
seen him on horseback? Ah! so you have doubts; but tell me what they
are, seeing we are indulging in confidences.
Madame H--I can hardly tell you. Doubts, in short; about hell, for
instance, I have had horrible doubts. Oh! but do not let us speak about
that; I believe it is wrong even to think of it.
Madame F--I have very broad views on that point; I never think about it.
Besides, my late confessor helped me. "Do not seek too much," he always
said to me, "do not try to understand that which is unfathomable." You
did not know Father Gideon? He was a jewel of a confessor; I was
extremely pleased with him. Not too tedious, always discreet, and, above
all, well-bred. He turned monk from a romantic cause--a penitent was
madly in love with him.
Madame F--Yes, really. What! did you not know about it? The success of
the monastery was due to that accident. Before the coming of Father
Gideon it vegetated, but on his coming the ladies soon flocked there in
crowds. They organized a little guild, entitled "The Ladies of the
Agony." They prayed for the Chinese who had died without confession,
and wore little death's heads in aluminum as sleeve-links. It became
very fashionable, as you are aware, and the good fathers organized, in
turn, a registry for men servants; and the result is that, from one thing
leading to another, the community has become extremely wealthy. I have
even heard that one of the most important railway stations in Paris is
shortly to be moved, so that the size of their garden can be increased,
which is rather restricted at present.
Madame H--As to that, it is natural enough that men should want a place
to walk in at home; but what I do not understand is that a woman, however
pious she may be, should fall in love with a priest. It is all very
well, but that is no longer piety; it is--fanaticism. I venerate
priests, I can say so truly, but after all I can not imagine myself--you
will laugh at me--ha, ha, ha!
Madame F--Not at all. Ha, ha, ha! what a child you are!
Madame H--(working with great briskness)--Well, I can not imagine that
they are men--like the others.
Madame F--(resuming work with equal ardor)--And yet, my dear, people say
Madame H--There are so many false reports set afloat. (A long silence.)
Madame F--(in a discreet tone of voice)--After all, there are priests who
have beards--the Capuchins, for instance.
Madame H--Madame de V. has a beard right up to her eyes, so that counts
for nothing, dear.
Madame F--That counts for nothing. I do not think so. In the first
place, Madame de V.'s beard is not a perennial beard; her niece told me
that she sheds her moustaches every autumn. What can a beard be that can
not stand the winter? A mere trifle.
Madame H--A mere trifle that is horribly ugly, my dear.
Madame F--Oh! if Madame de V. had only moustaches to frighten away
people, one might still look upon her without sorrow, but--
Madame H--I grant all that. Let us allow that the Countess's moustache
and imperial are a nameless species of growth. I do not attach much
importance to the point, you understand. She has a chin of heartbreaking
fertility, that is all.
Madame F--To return to what we were saying, how is it that the men who
are strongest, most courageous, most manly--soldiers, in fact--are
precisely those who have most beard?
Madame H--That is nonsense, for then the pioneers would be braver than
the Generals; and, in any case, there is not in France, I am sure, a
General with as much beard as a Capuchin. You have never looked at a
Madame F--Oh, yes! I have looked at one quite close. It is a rather
funny story. Fancy Clementine's cook having a brother a Capuchin--an
ex-jeweller, a very decent man. In consequence of misfortunes in
business--it was in 1848, business was at a stand-still--in short,
he lost his senses--no, he did not lose his senses, but he threw himself
into the arms of Heaven.
Madame H--Oh! I never knew that! When? Clementine--
Madame F--I was like you, I would not believe it, but one day Clementine
said to me: "Since you will not believe in my Capuchin, come and see me
tomorrow about three o'clock; he will be paying a visit to his sister.
Don't have lunch first; we will lunch together." Very good. I went the
next day with Louise, who absolutely insisted upon accompanying me, and I
found at Clementine's five or six ladies installed in the drawing-room
and laughing like madcaps. They had all come to see the Capuchin.
"Well," said I, as I went in, when they all began to make signs to me and
whisper, "Hush, hush!" He was in the kitchen.
Madame H--And what was he like?
Madame F--Oh! very nice, except his feet; you know how it always gives
one a chill to look at their feet; but, in short, he was very amiable.
He was sent for into the drawing-room, but he would not take anything
except a little biscuit and a glass of water, which took away our
appetites. He was very lively; told us that we were coquettes with our
little bonnets and our full skirts. He was very funny, always a little
bit of the jeweller at the bottom, but with plenty of good nature and
frankness. He imitated the buzzing of a fly for us; it was wonderful.
He also wanted to show us a little conjuring trick, but he needed two
corks for it, and unfortunately his sister could only find one.
Madame H--No matter, I can not understand Clementine engaging a servant
Madame F--Why? The brother is a guarantee.
Madame H--Of morality, I don't say no; but it seems to me that a girl
like that can not be very discreet in her ways.
Madame F--How do you make that out?
Madame H--I don't know, I can not reason the matter out, but it seems to
me that it must be so, that is all, . . . besides, I should not like
to see a monk in my kitchen, close to the soup. Oh, mercy! no!
Madame F--What a child you are!
Madame H--That has nothing to do with religious feelings, my dear; I do
not attack any dogma. Ah! if I were to say, for instance--come now, if I
were to say, what now?
Madame F--In point of fact, what really is dogma?
Madame H--Well, it is what can not be attacked. Thus, for instance,
a thing that is evident, you understand me, is unassailable, . . . or
else it should be assailed, . . in short, it can not be attacked. That
is why it is monstrous to allow the Jewish religion and the Protestant
religion in France, because these religions can be assailed, for they
have no dogma. I give you this briefly, but in your prayer-book you will
find the list of dogmas. I am a rod of iron as regards dogmas. My
husband, who, as I said, has succeeded in inspiring me with doubts on
many matters--without imagining it, for he has never required anything of
me; I must do him that justice--but who, at any rate, has succeeded in
making me neglect many things belonging to religion, such as fasting,
vespers, sermons, . . . confession.
Madame F--Confession! Oh! my dear, I should never have believed that.
Madame H--It is in confidence, dear pet, that I tell you this. You will
swear never to speak of it?
Madame F--Confession! Oh! yes, I swear it. Come here, and let me kiss
Madame H--You pity me, do you not?
Madame F--I can not pity you too much, for I am absolutely in the same
Madame H--You, too! Good heavens! how I love you. What can one do, eh?
Must one not introduce some plan of conciliation into the household,
sacrifice one's belief a little to that of one's husband?
Madame F--No doubt. For instance, how would you have me go to high mass,
which is celebrated at my parish church at eleven o'clock exactly? That
is just our breakfast time. Can I let my husband breakfast alone? He
would never hinder me from going to high mass, he has said so a thousand
times, only he has always added, "When you want to go to mass during
breakfast time, I only ask one thing--it is to give me notice the day
before, so that I may invite some friends to keep me company."
Madame H--But only fancy, pet, our two husbands could not be more alike
if they were brothers. Leon has always said, "My dear little chicken--"
Madame F--Ha! ha! ha!
Madame H--Yes, that is his name for me; you know how lively he is. He
has always said to me, then, "My dear little chicken, I am not a man to
do violence to your opinions, but in return give way to me as regards
some of your pious practices." I only give you the mere gist of it; it
was said with a thousand delicacies, which I suppress. And I have agreed
by degrees, . . . so that, while only paying very little attention to
the outward observances of religion, I have remained, as I told you, a
bar of iron as regards dogmas. Oh! as to that, I would not give way an
inch, a hair-breadth, and Leon is the first to tell me that I am right.
After all, dogma is everything; practice, well, what would you? If I
could bring Leon round, it would be quite another thing. How glad I am
to have spoken to you about all this.
Madame F--Have we not been chattering? But it is half-past five, and I
must go and take my cinchona bark. Thirty minutes before meals, it is a
sacred duty. Will you come, pet?
Madame H--Stop a moment, I have lost my thimble again and must find it.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
But she thinks she is affording you pleasure
Do not seek too much
First impression is based upon a number of trifles
Sometimes like to deck the future in the garments of the past
The heart requires gradual changes
MONSIEUR, MADAME AND BEBE
By GUSTAVE DROZ
THE HOT-WATER BOTTLE
When midnight strikes, when the embers die away into ashes, when the lamp
burns more feebly and your eyes close in spite of yourself, the best
thing to do, dear Madame, is to go to bed.
Get up from your armchair, take off your bracelets, light your
rosecolored taper, and proceed slowly, to the soft accompaniment of your
trailing skirt, rustling across the carpet, to your dressing-room, that
perfumed sanctuary in which your beauty, knowing itself to be alone,
raises its veils, indulges in self-examination, revels in itself and
reckons up its treasures as a miser does his wealth.
Before the muslin-framed mirror, which reveals all that it sees so well,
you pause carelessly and with a smile give one long satisfied look, then
with two fingers you withdraw the pin that kept up your hair, and its
long, fair tresses unroll and fall in waves, veiling your bare shoulders.
With a coquettish hand, the little finger of which is turned up, you
caress, as you gather them together, the golden flood of your abundant
locks, while with the other you pass through them the tortoiseshell comb
that buries itself in the depths of this fair forest and bends with the
Your tresses are so abundant that your little hand can scarcely grasp
them. They are so long that your outstretched arm scarcely reaches their
extremity. Hence it is not without difficulty that you manage to twist
them up and imprison them in your embroidered night-cap.
This first duty accomplished, you turn the silver tap, and the pure and
limpid water pours into a large bowl of enamelled porcelain. You throw
in a few drops of that fluid which perfumes and softens the skin, and
like a nymph in the depths of a quiet wood preparing for the toilet, you
remove the drapery that might encumber you.
But what, Madame, you frown? Have I said too much or not enough? Is it
not well known that you love cold water; and do you think it is not
guessed that at the contact of the dripping sponge you quiver from head
But what matters it, your toilette for the night is completed, you are
fresh, restored, and white as a nun in your embroidered dressing-gown,
you dart your bare feet into satin slippers and reenter your bedroom,
shivering slightly. To see you walking thus with hurried steps, wrapped
tightly in your dressing-gown, and with your pretty head hidden in its
nightcap, you might be taken for a little girl leaving the confessional
after confessing some terrible sin.
Gaining the bedside, Madame lays aside her slippers, and lightly and
without effort, bounds into the depths of the alcove.
However, Monsieur, who was already asleep with his nose on the Moniteur,
suddenly wakes up at the movement imparted to the bed.
"I thought that you were in bed already, dear," he murmurs, falling off
to sleep again. "Good-night."
"If I had been in bed you would have noticed it." Madame stretches out
her feet and moves them about; she seems to be in quest of something. "I
am not in such a hurry to go to sleep as you are, thank goodness."
Monsieur, suddenly and evidently annoyed, says: "But what is the matter,
my dear? You fidget and fidget--I want to sleep." He turns over as he
"I fidget! I am simply feeling for my hot-water bottle; you are
"Your hot-water bottle?" is Monsieur's reply, with a grunt.
"Certainly, my hot-water bottle, my feet are frozen." She goes on
feeling for it. "You are really very amiable this evening; you began by
dozing over the 'Revue des Deux Mondes', and I find you snoring over the
'Moniteur'. In your place I should vary my literature. I am sure you
have taken my hot-water bottle."
"I have been doing wrong. I will subscribe to the 'Tintamarre' in
future. Come, good-night, my dear." He turns over. "Hello, your hot-
water bottle is right at the bottom of the bed; I can feel it with the
tips of my toes."
"Well, push it up; do you think that I can dive down there after it?"
"Shall I ring for your maid to help you?" He makes a movement of ill-
temper, pulls the clothes up to his chin, and buries his head in the
pillow. "Goodnight, my dear."
Madame, somewhat vexed, says: "Good-night, goodnight."
The respiration of Monsieur grows smooth, and even his brows relax, his
forehead becomes calm, he is on the point of losing all consciousness of
the realities of this life.
Madame taps lightly on her husband's shoulder.
"Hum," growls Monsieur.
Madame taps again.
"Well, what is it?"
Madame, in an angelic tone of voice, "My dear, would you put out the
Monsieur, without opening his eyes, "The hot-water bottle, the candle,
the candle, the hot-water bottle."
"Good heavens! how irritable you are, Oscar. I will put it out myself.
Don't trouble yourself. You really have a very bad temper, my dear; you
are angry, and if you were goaded a little, you would, in five minutes,
be capable of anything."
Monsieur, his voice smothered in the pillow, "No, not at all; I am
sleepy, dear, that is all. Good-night, my dear."
Madame, briskly, "You forget that in domestic life good feeling has for
its basis reciprocal consideration."
"I was wrong--come, good-night." He raises himself up a little. "Would
you like me to kiss you?"
"I don't want you to, but I permit." She puts her face toward that of
her husband, who kisses her on the forehead. "You are really too good,
you have kissed my nightcap."
Monsieur, smiling, "Your hair smells very nice . . . You see I am so
sleepy. Ah! you have it in little plaits, you are going to wave it
"To wave it. You were the first to find that that way of dressing it
became me, besides, it is the fashion, and tomorrow is my reception day.
Come, you irritable man, embrace me once for all and snore at your ease,
you are dying to do so."
She holds her neck toward her husband.
Monsieur, laughing, "In the first place, I never snore. I never joke."
He kisses his wife's neck, and rests his head on her shoulder.
"Well, what are you doing there?" is her remark.
"I am digesting my kiss."
Madame affects the lackadaisical, and looks sidewise at her husband with
an eye half disarmed. Monsieur sniffs the loved perfume with open
After a period of silence he whispers in his wife's ear, "I am not at all
sleepy now, dear. Are your feet still cold? I will find the hot-water
"Oh, thanks, put out the light and let us go to sleep; I am quite tired
She turns round by resting her arm on his face.
"No, no, I won't have you go to sleep with your feet chilled; there is
nothing worse. There, there is the hot-water bottle, warm your poor
little feet . . . there . . . like that."
"Thanks, I am very comfortable. Good-night, dear, let us go to sleep."
"Good-night, my dear."
After a long silence Monsieur turns first on one side and then on the
other, and ends by tapping lightly on his wife's shoulder.
Madame, startled, "What is the matter? Good heavens! how you startled
Monsieur, smiling, "Would you be kind enough to put out the candle?"
"What! is it for that you wake me up in the middle of my sleep? I shall
not be able to doze again. You are unbearable."
"You find me unbearable?" He comes quite close to his wife; "Come, let
me explain my idea to you."
Madame turns round--her eye meets the eye . . . full of softness . .
of her husband. "Dear me," she says, "you are a perfect tiger."
Then, putting her mouth to his ear, she murmurs with a smile, "Come,
explain your idea, for the sake of peace and quiet."
Madame, after a very long silence, and half asleep, "Oscar!"
Monsieur, his eyes closed, in a faint voice, "My dear."
"How about the candle? it is still alight."
"Ah! the candle. I will put it out. If you were very nice you would
give me a share of your hot-water bottle; one of my feet is frozen.
They clasp hands and fall asleep.
MONSIEUR and MADAME are quietly sitting together--The clock has just
struck ten--MONSIEUR is in his dressing-gown and slippers, is
leaning back in an armchair and reading the newspaper--MADAME is
carelessly working squares of laces.
Madame--Such things have taken place, have they not, dear?
Monsieur--(without raising his eyes)--Yes, my dear.
Madame--There, well I should never have believed it. But they are
monstrous, are they not?
Monsieur--(without raising his eyes)--Yes, my dear.
Madame--Well, and yet, see how strange it is, Louise acknowledged it to
me last month, you know; the evening she called for me to go to the
perpetual Adoration, and our hour of adoration, as it turned out, by the
way, was from six to seven; impossible, too, to change our turn; none of
the ladies caring to adore during dinner-time, as is natural enough.
Good heavens, what a rage we were in! How good God must be to have
forgiven you. Do you remember?
Monsieur--(continuing to read)--Yes, dear.
Madame--Ah! you remember that you said, 'I don't care a . . .' Oh!
but I won't repeat what you said, it is too naughty. How angry you were!
'I will go and dine at the restaurant, confound it!' But you did not say
confound, ha! ha! ha! Well, I loved you just the same at that moment;
it vexed me to see you in a rage on God's account, but for my own part I
was pleased; I like to see you in a fury; your nostrils expand, and then
your moustache bristles, you put me in mind of a lion, and I have always
liked lions. When I was quite a child at the Zoological Gardens they
could not get me away from them; I threw all my sous into their cage for
them to buy gingerbread with; it was quite a passion. Well, to continue
my story. (She looks toward her husband who is still reading, and after
a pause,) Is it interesting-that which you are reading?
Monsieur--(like a man waking up)--What is it, my dear child? What I am
reading? Oh, it would scarcely interest you. (With a grimace.) There
are Latin phrases, you know, and, besides, I am hoarse. But I am
listening, go, on. (He resumes his newspaper.)
Madame--Well, to return to the perpetual Adoration, Louise confided to
me, under the pledge of secrecy, that she was like me.
Monsieur--Like you? What do you mean?
Madame--Like me; that is plain enough.
Monsieur--You are talking nonsense, my little angel, follies as great as
your chignon. You women will end by putting pillows into your chignons.
Madame--(resting her elbows on her husband's knees)--But, after all, the
instincts, the resemblances we have, must certainly be attributed to
something. Can any one imagine, for instance, that God made your cousin
as stupid as he is, and with a head like a pear?
Monsieur--My cousin! my cousin! Ferdinand is only a cousin by marriage.
I grant, however, that he is not very bright.
Madame--Well, I am sure that his mother must have had a longing, or
Monsieur--What can I do to help it, my angel?
Madame--Nothing at all; but it clearly shows that such things are not to
be laughed at; and if I were to tell you that I had a longing--
Monsieur--(letting fall his newspaper)--The devil! a longing for what?
Madame--Ah! there your nostrils are dilating; you are going to resemble a
lion again, and I never shall dare to tell you. It is so extraordinary,
and yet my mother had exactly the same longing.
Monsieur--Come, tell it me, you see that I am patient. If it is possible
to gratify it, you know that I love you, my . . . Don't kiss me on the
neck; you will make me jump up to the ceiling, my darling.
Madame--Repeat those two little words. I am your darling, then?
Monsieur--Ha! ha! ha! She has little fingers which --ha! ha!--
go into your neck--ha! ha!--you will make me break something, nervous as I
Madame--Well, break something. If one may not touch one's husband, one
may as well go into a convent at once. (She puts her lips to MONSIEUR'S
ear and coquettishly pulls the end of his moustache.) I shall not be
happy till I have what I am longing for, and then it would be so kind of
you to do it.
Monsieur--Kind to do what? Come, dear, explain yourself.
Madame--You must first of all take off that great, ugly dressing-gown,
pull on your boots, put on your hat and go. Oh, don't make any faces;
if you grumble in the least all the merit of your devotedness will
disappear . . . and go to the grocer's at the corner of the street,
a very respectable shop.
Monsieur--To the grocer's at ten o'clock at night! Are you mad? I will
ring for John; it is his business.
Madame (staying his hand) You indiscreet man. These are our own private
affairs; we must not take any one into our confidence. I will go into
your dressing-room to get your things, and you will put your boots on
before the fire comfortably . . . to please me, Alfred, my love, my
life. I would give my little finger to have . . .
Monsieur--To have what, hang it all, what, what, what?
Madame--(her face alight and fixing her eyes on him)--I want a sou's
worth of paste. Had not you guessed it?
Monsieur--But it is madness, delirium, fol--
Madame--I said paste, dearest; only a sou's worth, wrapped in strong
Monsieur--No, no. I am kind-hearted, but I should reproach myself--
Madame--(closing his mouth with her little hands)--Oh, not a word; you
are going to utter something naughty. But when I tell you that I have a
mad longing for it, that I love you as I have never loved you yet, that
my mother had the same desire--Oh! my poor mother (she weeps in her
hands), if she could only know, if she were not at the other end of
France. You have never cared for my parents; I saw that very well on our
wedding-day, and (she sobs) it will be the sorrow of my whole life.
Monsieur--(freeing himself and suddenly rising)--Give me my boots.
Madame--(with effusion)--Oh, thanks, Alfred, my love, you are good, yes,
you are good. Will you have your walking-stick, dear?
Monsieur--I don't care. How much do you want of that abomination--a
franc's worth, thirty sous' worth, a louis' worth?
Madame--You know very well that I would not make an abuse of it-only a
sou's worth. I have some sous for mass; here, take one. Adieu, Alfred;
be quick; be quick!
Left alone, Madame wafts a kiss in her most tender fashion toward the
door Monsieur has just closed behind him, then goes toward the glass and
smiles at herself with pleasure. Then she lights the wax candle in a
little candlestick, and quietly makes her way to the kitchen, noiselessly
opens a press, takes out three little dessert plates, bordered with gold
and ornamented with her initials, next takes from a box lined with white
leather, two silver spoons, and, somewhat embarrassed by all this
luggage, returns to her bedroom.
Then she pokes the fire, draws a little buhl table close up to the
hearth, spreads a white cloth, sets out the plates, puts the spoons by
them, and enchanted, impatient, with flushed complexion, leans back in an
armchair. Her little foot rapidly taps the floor, she smiles, pouts--
she is waiting.
At last, after an interval of some minutes, the outer door is heard to
close, rapid steps cross the drawingroom, Madame claps her hands and
Monsieur comes in. He does not look very pleased, as he advances holding
awkwardly in his left hand a flattened parcel, the contents of which may
Madame--(touching a gold-bordered plate and holding it out to her
husband)--Relieve yourself of it, dear. Could you not have been quicker?
Madame--Oh! I am not angry with you, that is not meant for a reproach,
you are an angel; but it seems to me a century since you started.
Monsieur--The man was just going to shut his shop up. My gloves are
covered with it . . . it's sticky . . . it's horrid, pah! the
abomination! At last I shall have peace and quietness.
Madame--Oh! no harsh words, they hurt me so. But look at this pretty
little table, do you remember how we supped by the fireside? Ah! you
have forgotten it, a man's heart has no memory.
Monsieur--Are you so mad as to imagine that I am going to touch it? Oh!
indeed! that is carrying--
Madame--(sadly)--See what a state you get in over a little favor I ask of
you. If in order to please me you were to overcome a slight repugnance,
if you were just to touch this nice, white jelly with you lips, where
would be the harm?
Monsieur--The harm! the harm! it would be ridiculous. Never.
Madame--That is the reason? "It would be absurd." It is not from
disgust, for there is nothing disgusting there, it is flour and water,
nothing more. It is not then from a dislike, but out of pride that you
Monsieur--(shrugging his shoulders)--What you say is childish, puerile,
silly. I do not care to answer it.
Madame--And what you say is neither generous nor worthy of you, since you
abuse your superiority. You see me at your feet pleading for an
insignificant thing, puerile, childish, foolish, perhaps, but one which
would give me pleasure, and you think it heroic not to yield. Do you
want me to speak out, well? then, you men are unfeeling.
Madame--Why, you admitted it to me yourself one night, on the Pont des
Arts, as we were walking home from the theatre.
Monsieur--After all, there is no great harm in that.
Madame--(sadly)--I am not angry with you, this sternness is part of your
nature, you are a rod of iron.
Monsieur--I have some energy when it is needed, I grant you, but I have
not the absurd pride you imagine, and there (he dips his finger in the
paste and carries it to his lips), is the proof, you spoilt child. Are
you satisfied? It has no taste, it is insipid.
Madame--You were pretending.
Monsieur--I swear to you . . .
Madame (taking a little soon, filling it with her precious paste and
holding it to her husband's lips)--I want to see the face you will make,
Monsieur--(Puts out his lips, buries his two front teeth, with marked
disgust, in the paste, makes a horrible face and spits into the
Madame--(still holding the spoon and with much interest) Well?
Monsieur--Well! it is awful! oh! awful! taste it.
Madame--(dreamily stirring the paste with the spoon, her little finger in
the air)--I should never have believed that it was so nasty.
Monsieur--You will soon see for yourself, taste it, taste it.
Madame--I am in no hurry, I have plenty of time.
Monsieur--To see what it is like. Taste a little, come.
Madame--(pushing away the plate with a look of horror)--Oh! how you
worry me. Be quiet, do; for a trifle I could hate you. It is
disgusting, this paste of yours!
It was the evening of the 15th of February. It was dreadfully cold. The
snow drove against the windows and the wind whistled furiously under the
doors. My two aunts, seated at a table in one corner of the drawing-
room, gave vent from time to time to deep sighs, and, wriggling in their
armchairs, kept casting uneasy glances toward the bedroom door. One of
them had taken from a little leather bag placed on the table her blessed
rosary and was repeating her prayers, while her sister was reading a
volume of Voltaire's correspondence which she held at a distance from her
eyes, her lips moving as she perused it.
For my own part, I was striding up and down the room, gnawing my
moustache, a bad habit I have never been able to get rid of, and halting
from time to time in front of Dr. C., an old friend of mine, who was
quietly reading the paper in the most comfortable of the armchairs.
I dared not disturb him, so absorbed did he seem in what he was reading,
but in my heart I was furious to see him so quiet when I myself was so
Suddenly he tossed the paper on to the couch and, passing his hand across
his bald and shining head, said:
"Ah! if I were a minister, it would not take long, no, it would not be
very long . . . . You have read that article on Algerian cotton. One
of two things, either irrigation . . . . But you are not listening to
me, and yet it is a more serious matter than you think."
He rose, and with his hands in his pocket, walked across the room humming
an old medical student's song. I followed him closely.
"Jacques," said I, as he turned round, "tell me frankly, are you
"Yes, yes, I am satisfied . . . observe my untroubled look," and he
broke into his hearty and somewhat noisy laugh.
"You are not hiding anything from me, my dear fellow?"
"What a donkey you are, old fellow. I tell you that everything is going
And he resumed his song, jingling the money in his pockets.
"All is going on well, but it will take some time," he went on. "Let me
have one of your dressing-gowns. I shall be more comfortable for the
night, and these ladies will excuse me, will they not?"
"Excuse you, I should think so, you, the doctor, and my friend!" I felt
devotedly attached to him that evening.
"Well, then, if they will excuse me, you can very well let me have a pair
At this moment a cry came from the next room and we distinctly heard
these words in a stifled voice:
"Doctor . . . oh! mon Dieu! . . . doctor!"
"It is frightful," murmured my aunts.
"My dear friend," I exclaimed, seizing the doctor's arm," you are quite
sure you are not concealing anything from me?"
"If you have a very loose pair they will suit me best; I have not the
foot of a young girl . . . . I am not concealing anything, I am not
concealing anything . . . . What do you think I should hide from you?
It is all going on very well, only as I said it will take time-- By the
way, tell Joseph to get me one of your smokingcaps; once in dressing-gown
and slippers a smokingcap is not out of the way, and I am getting bald,
my dear Captain. How infernally cold it is here! These windows face the
north, and there are no sand-bags. Mademoiselle de V.," he added,
turning to my aunt, "you will catch cold."
Then as other sounds were heard, he said: "Let us go and see the little
"Come here," said my wife, who had caught sight of me, in a low voice,
"come here and shake hands with me." Then she drew me toward her and
whispered in my ear: "You will be pleased to kiss the little darling,
won't you?" Her voice was so faint and so tender as she said this, and
she added: "Do not take your hand away, it gives me courage."
I remained beside her, therefore, while the doctor, who had put on my
dressing-gown, vainly strove to button it.
From time to time my poor little wife squeezed my hand violently, closing
her eyes, but not uttering a cry. The fire sparkled on the hearth. The
pendulum of the clock went on with its monotonous ticking, but it seemed
to me that all this calm was only apparent, that everything about me must
be in a state of expectation like myself and sharing my emotion. In the
bedroom beyond, the door of which was ajar, I could see the end of the
cradle and the shadow of the nurse who was dozing while she waited.
What I felt was something strange. I felt a new sentiment springing up
in my heart, I seemed to have some foreign body within my breast, and
this sweet sensation was so new to me that I was, as it were, alarmed at
it. I felt the little creature, who was there without yet being there,
clinging to me; his whole life unrolled itself before me. I saw him at
the same time a child and a grown-up man; it seemed to me that my own
life was about to be renewed in his and I felt from time to time an
irresistible need of giving him something of myself.
Toward half-past eleven, the doctor, like a captain consulting his
compass, pulled out his watch, muttered something and drew near the bed.
"Come, my dear lady," said he to my wife, "courage, we are all round you
and all is going well; within five minutes you will hear him cry out."
My mother-in-law, almost beside herself, was biting her lips and each
pang of the sufferer was reflected upon her face. Her cap had got
disarranged in such a singular fashion that, under any other
circumstances, I should have burst out laughing. At that moment I heard
the drawing-room door open and saw the heads of my aunts, one above the
other, and behind them that of my father, who was twisting his heavy
white moustache with a grimace that was customary to him.
"Shut the door," cried the doctor, angrily, "don't bother me."
And with the greatest coolness in the world he turned to my mother-in-law
and added, "I ask a thousand pardons."
But just then there was something else to think of than my old friend's
"Is everything ready to receive him?" he continued, growling.
"Yes, my dear doctor," replied my mother-in-law.
At length, the doctor lifted into the air a little object which almost
immediately uttered a cry as piercing as a needle. I shall never forget
the impression produced on me by this poor little thing, making its
appearance thus, all of a sudden, in the middle of the family. We had
thought and dreamed of it; I had seen him in my mind's eye, my darling
child, playing with a hoop, pulling my moustache, trying to walk, or
gorging himself with milk in his nurse's arms like a gluttonous little
kitten; but I had never pictured him to myself, inanimate, almost
lifeless, quite tiny, wrinkled, hairless, grinning, and yet, charming,
adorable, and be loved in spite of all-poor, ugly, little thing. It was
a strange impression, and so singular that it is impossible to understand
it, without having experienced it.
"What luck you have!" said the doctor, holding the child toward me; "it
is a boy."
"And a fine one."
"Really, a boy!"
That was a matter of indifference to me now. What was causing me
indescribable emotion was the living proof of paternity, this little
being who was my own. I felt stupefied in presence of the great mystery
of childbirth. My wife was there, fainting, overcame, and the little
living creature, my own flesh, my own blood, was squalling and
gesticulating in the hands of Jacques. I was overwhelmed, like a workman
who had unconsciously produced a masterpiece. I felt myself quite small
in presence of this quivering piece of my own handiwork, and, frankly, a
little bit ashamed of having made it so well almost without troubling
about it. I can not undertake to explain all this, I merely relate my
My mother-in-law held out her apron and the doctor placed the child on
his grandmother's knees, saying: "Come, little savage, try not to be any
worse than your rascal of a father. Now for five minutes of emotion.
Come, Captain, embrace me."
We did so heartily. The doctor's little black eyes twinkled more
brightly than usual; I saw very well that he was moved.
"Did it make you feel queer, Captain? I mean the cry? Ah! I know it,
it is like a needle through the heart . . . . Where is the nurse?
Ah! here she is. No matter, he is a fine boy, your little lancer.
Open the door for the prisoners in the drawing-room."
I opened the door. Every one was listening on the other side of it. My
father, my two aunts, still holding in their hands, one her rosary and
the other her Voltaire, my own nurse, poor old woman, who had come in a
"Well," they exclaimed anxiously, "well?"
"It is all over, it is a boy; go in, he is there."
You can not imagine how happy I was to see on all their faces the