Part 6 out of 6
"And so, as soon as the curtain had fallen, without saying good
day or good evening, I had myself driven to the Moulin Rouge.
* * * * * * *
"Well," Florise d'Anglet exclaimed, "I shall never take mamma to
the theater with me again, for the men are really going crazy!"
A COUNTRY EXCURSION
For five months they had been talking of going to lunch at some
country restaurant in the neighborhood of Paris, on Madame
Dufour's birthday, and as they were looking forward very
impatiently to the outing, they had risen very early that
morning. Monsieur Dufour had borrowed the milkman's tilted cart,
and drove himself. It was a very neat, two wheeled conveyance,
with a hood, and in it Madame Dufour, resplendent in a wonderful,
sherry-colored silk dress, sat by the side of her husband.
The old grandmother and the daughter were accommodated with two
chairs, and a yellow-haired youth, of whom, however, nothing was
to be seen except his head, lay at the bottom of the trap.
When they got to the bridge of Neuilly, Monsieur Dufour said:
"Here we are in the country at last!" At that warning, his wife
grew sentimental about the beauties of nature. When they got to
the crossroads at Courbevoie, they were seized with admiration
for the tremendous view down there: on the right was the spire of
Argenteuil church, above it rose the hills of Sannois and the
mill of Orgemont, while on the left, the aqueduct of Marly stood
out against the clear morning sky. In the distance they could see
the terrace of Saint-Germain, and opposite to them, at the end of
a low chain of hills, the new fort of Cormeilles. Afar--a very
long way off, beyond the plains and villages--one could see the
somber green of the forests.
The sun was beginning to shine in their faces, the dust got into
their eyes, and on either side of the road there stretched an
interminable tract of bare, ugly country, which smelled
unpleasantly. You would have thought that it had been ravaged by
a pestilence which had even attacked the buildings, for skeletons
of dilapidated and deserted houses; or small cottages left in an
unfinished state, as if the contractors had not been paid, reared
their four roofless walls on each side.
Here and there tall factory-chimneys rose up from the barren
soil, the only vegetation on that putrid land, where the spring
breezes wafted an odor of petroleum and soot, mingled with
another smell that was even still less agreeable. At last,
however, they crossed the Seine a second time. It was delightful
on the bridge; the river sparkled in the sun, and they had a
feeling of quiet satisfaction and enjoyment in drinking in purer
air, not impregnated by the black smoke of factories, nor by the
miasma from the deposits of night-soil. A man whom they met told
them that the name of the place was Bezons; so Monsieur Dufour
pulled up, and read the attractive announcement outside an
"Restaurant Poulin, stews and fried fish, private rooms, arbors,
"Well! Madame Dufour, will this suit you? Will you make up your
mind at last?"
She read the announcement in her turn, and then looked at the
house for a time.
It was a white country inn, built by the road-side, and through
the open door she could see the bright zinc of the counter, at
which two workmen out for the day were sitting. At last she made
up her mind, and said:
"Yes, this will do; and, besides, there is a view."
So they drove into a large yard studded with trees, behind the
inn, which was only separated from the river by the towing-path,
and got out. The husband sprang out first, and held out his arms
for his wife. As the step was very high, Madame Dufour, in order
to reach him, had to show the lower part of her limbs, whose
former slenderness had disappeared in fat. Monsieur Dufour, who
was already getting excited by the country air, pinched her calf,
and then, taking her in his arms, set her on to the ground, as if
she had been some enormous bundle. She shook the dust out of the
silk dress, and then looked round, to see in what sort of a place
She was a stout woman, of about thirty-six, full-blown and
delightful to look at. She could hardly breathe, as she was laced
too tightly, which forced the heaving mass of her superabundant
bosom up to her double chin. Next, the girl put her hand on to
her father's shoulder, and jumped lightly down. The youth with
the yellow hair had got down by stepping on the wheel, and he
helped Monsieur Dufour to get the grandmother out. Then they
unharnessed the horse, which they tied up to a tree, and the
carriage fell back, with both shafts in the air. The man and boy
took off their coats, washed their hands in a pail of water, and
then joined the ladies, who had already taken possession of the
Mademoiselle Dufour was trying to swing herself standing up, but
she could not succeed in getting a start. She was a pretty girl
of about eighteen; one of those women who suddenly excite your
desire when you meet them in the street, and who leave you with a
vague feeling of uneasiness and of excited senses. She was tall,
had a small waist and large hips, with a dark skin, very large
eyes, and very black hair. Her dress clearly marked the outlines
of her firm, full figure, which was accentuated by the motion of
her hips as she tried to swing herself higher. Her arms were
stretched over her head to hold the rope, so that her bosom rose
at every movement she made. Her hat, which a gust of wind had
blown off, was hanging behind her, and as the swing gradually
rose higher and higher, she showed her delicate limbs up to the
knees each time, and the wind from the perfumed petticoats, more
heady than the fumes of wine, blew into the faces of her father
and friend, who were looking at her in admiration.
Sitting in the other swing, Madame Dufour kept saying in a
"Cyprian, come and swing me; do come and swing me, Cyprian!"
At last he complied, and turning up his shirt-sleeves,
as if he intended to work very hard, with much difficulty he set
his wife in motion. She clutched the two ropes, and held her legs
out straight, so as not to touch the ground. She enjoyed feeling
giddy from the motion of the swing, and her whole figure shook
like a jelly on a dish, but as she went higher and higher, she
grew too giddy and got frightened. Every time she was coming
back, she uttered a shriek, which made all the little urchins
come round, and, down below, beneath the garden hedge, she
vaguely saw a row of mischievous heads, making various grimaces
as they laughed.
When a servant girl came out, they ordered lunch.
"Some fried fish, a stewed rabbit, salad, and dessert," Madame
Dufour said, with an important air.
"Bring two quarts of beer and a bottle of claret," her husband
"We will have lunch on the grass," the girl added.
The grandmother, who had an affection for cats, had been petting
one that belonged to the house, and had been bestowing the most
affectionate words on it, for the last ten minutes. The animal,
no doubt secretly pleased by her attentions, kept close to the
good woman, but just out of reach of her hand, and quietly walked
round the trees, against which she rubbed herself, with her tail
up, purring with pleasure.
"Hallo!" exclaimed the youth with the yellow hair, who was
ferreting about, "here are two swell boats!" They all went to
look at them, and saw two beautiful skiffs in a wooden boathouse,
which were as beautifully finished as if they had been objects of
luxury. They were moored side by side, like two tall, slender
girls, in their narrow shining length, and aroused in one a wish
to float in them on warm summer mornings and evenings, along
flower-covered banks of the river, where the trees dip their
branches into the water, where the rushes are continually
rustling in the breeze, and where the swift kingfishers dart
about like flashes of blue lightning.
The whole family looked at them with great respect.
"They are indeed two swell boats," Monsieur Dufour repeated
gravely, and he examined them closely, commenting on them like a
connoisseur. He had been in the habit of rowing in his younger
days, he said, and when he had that in his hands--and he went
through the action of pulling the oars--he did not care a fig for
anybody. He had beaten more than one Englishman formerly at the
Joinville regattas. He grew quite excited at last, and offered to
make a bet that in a boat like that he could row six miles an
hour, without exerting himself.
"Lunch is ready," said the waitress, appearing at the entrance to
the boathouse. They all hurried off, but two young men were
already lunching at the best place, which Madame Dufour had
chosen in her mind as her seat. No doubt they were the owners of
the skiffs, for they were dressed in boating costume. They were
stretched out, almost lying on chairs, and were sunburned, and
had on flannel trousers and thin cotton jerseys, with short
sleeves, which showed their bare arms, which were as strong as
blacksmiths'. They were two strong young fellows, who thought a
great deal of their vigor, and who showed in all their movements
that elasticity and grace of limb which can only be acquired by
exercise, and which is so different to the awkwardness with which
the same continual work stamps the mechanic.
They exchanged a rapid smile when they saw the mother, and then a
look on seeing the daughter.
"Let us give up our place," one of them said; "it will make us
acquainted with them."
The other got up immediately, and holding his black and red
boating-cap in his hand, he politely offered the ladies the only
shady place in the garden. With many excuses they accepted, and
so that it might be more rural, they sat on the grass, without
either tables or chairs.
The two young men took their plates, knives, forks, etc., to a
table a little way off, and began to eat again. Their bare arms,
which they showed continually, rather embarrassed the young girl,
who even pretended to turn her head aside, and not to see them.
But Madame Dufour, who was rather bolder, tempted by feminine
curiosity, looked at them every moment, and no doubt compared
them with the secret unsightliness of her husband. She had
squatted herself on the ground with her legs tucked under her,
after the manner of tailors, and kept wriggling about
continually, under the pretext that ants were crawling about her
somewhere. Monsieur Dufour, whom the politeness of the strangers
had put into rather a bad temper, was trying to find a
comfortable position, which he did not, however, succeed in
doing, while the youth with the yellow hair was eating as
silently as an ogre.
"It is lovely weather, Monsieur," the stout lady said to one of
the boating-men. She wished to be friendly, because they had
given up their place.
"It is, indeed, Madame," he replied; "do you often go into the
"Oh! Only once or twice a year, to get a little fresh air; and
"I come and sleep here every night."
"Oh! That must be very nice?"
"Certainly it is, Madame." And he gave them such a practical
account of his daily life, that in the hearts of these
shopkeepers, who were deprived of the meadows, and who longed for
country walks, it roused that innate love of nature, which they
all felt so strongly the whole year round, behind the counter in
The girl raised her eyes and looked at the oarsman with
emotion, and Monsieur Dufour spoke for the first time.
"It is indeed a happy life," he said. And then he added: "A
little more rabbit, my dear?"
"No, thank you," she replied, and turning to the young men again,
and pointing to their arms, asked "Do you never feel cold like
They both laughed, and amazed the family by telling of the
enormous fatigue they could endure, of bathing while in a state
of tremendous perspiration, of rowing in the fog at night, and
they struck their chests violently, to show how they sounded.
"Ah! You look very strong," the husband said and he did not talk
any more of the time when he used to beat the English. The girl
was looking at them askance now, and the young fellow with the
yellow hair, as he had swallowed some wine the wrong way, and was
coughing violently, bespattered Madame Dufour's sherry-colored
silk dress. Madame got angry, and sent for some water to wash the
Meanwhile it had grown unbearably hot, the sparkling river looked
like a blaze of fire and the fumes of the wine were getting into
their heads. Monsieur Dufour, who had a violent hiccough, had
unbuttoned his waistcoat and the top of his trousers, while his
wife, who felt choking, was gradually unfastening her dress. The
youth was shaking his yellow wig in a happy frame of mind, and
kept helping himself to wine, and as the old grandmother felt
drunk, she endeavored to be very stiff and dignified. As for the
girl, she showed nothing except a peculiar brightness in her
eyes, while the brown skin on the cheeks became more rosy.
The coffee finished them off; they spoke of singing, and each of
them sang, or repeated a couplet, which the others repeated
enthusiastically. Then they got up with some difficulty, and
while the two women, who were rather dizzy, were getting some
fresh air, the two males, who were altogether drunk, were
performing gymnastic tricks. Heavy, limp, and with scarlet faces,
they hung awkwardly on to the iron rings, without being able to
raise themselves, while their shirts were continually threatening
to part company with their trousers, and to flap in the wind like
Meanwhile, the two boating-men had got their skiffs into the
water. They came back, and politely asked the ladies whether they
would like a row.
"Would you like one, Monsieur Dufour?" his wife exclaimed.
He merely gave her a drunken look, without understanding what she
said. Then one of the rowers came up, with two fishing-rods in
his hand; and the hope of catching a gudgeon, that great aim of
the Parisian shopkeeper, made Dufour's dull eyes gleam. He
politely allowed them to do whatever they liked, while he sat in
the shade, under the bridge, with his feet dangling over the
river, by the side of the young man with the yellow hair, who was
sleeping soundly close to him.
One of the boating-men made a martyr of himself, and took the
"Let us go to the little wood on the Ile aux Anglais!" he called
out, as he rowed off. The other skiff went slower, for the rower
was looking at his companion so intently, that he thought of
nothing else. His emotion paralyzed his strength, while the girl,
who was sitting on the steerer's seat, gave herself up to the
enjoyment of being on the water. She felt disinclined to think,
felt a lassitude in her limbs a complete self-relaxation, as if
she were intoxicated. She had become very flushed, and breathed
pantingly. The effect of the wine, increased by the extreme heat,
made all the trees on the bank seem to bow, as she passed. A
vague wish for enjoyment, a fermentation of her blood, seemed to
pervade her whole body, and she was also a little agitated by
this tete-a-tete on the water, in a place which seemed
depopulated by the heat, with this young man, who thought her so
pretty, whose looks seemed to caress her skin, and whose eyes
were as penetrating and exciting as the sun's rays.
Their inability to speak increased their emotion, and they looked
about them. At last he made an effort and asked her name,
"Henriette," she said.
"Why! My name is Henri," he replied. The sound of their voices
calmed them, and they looked at the banks. The other skiff had
gone ahead of them, and seemed to be waiting for them. The rower
"We will meet you in the wood; we are going as far as
Robinson's, because Madame Dufour is thirsty." Then he bent
over his oars again and rowed off so quickly that he was soon out
 A well-known restaurant on the banks of the Seine, much
frequented by the bourgeoisie.
Meanwhile, a continual roar, which they had heard for some time,
came nearer, and the river itself seemed to shiver, as if the
dull noise were rising from its depths.
"What is that noise?" she asked. It was the noise of the weir,
which cut the river in two, at the island. He was explaining it
to her, when above the noise of the waterfall they heard the song
of a bird, which seemed a long way off.
"Listen!" he said; "the nightingales are singing during the day,
so the females must be sitting."
A nightingale! She had never heard one before, and the idea of
listening to one roused visions of poetic tenderness in her
heart. A nightingale! That is to say, the invisible witness of
the lover's interview which Juliette invoked on her balcony;
that celestial music which is attuned to human kisses; that
eternal inspirer of all those languorous romances which open
idealized visions to the poor, tender, little hearts of sensitive
 "Romeo and Juliet," Act III., Scene V.
She wanted to hear a nightingale.
"We must not make a noise," her companion said, "and then we can
go into the wood, and sit down close to it."
The skiff seemed to glide. They saw the trees on the island, the
banks of which were so low that they could look into the depths
of the thickets. They stopped, he made the boat fast, Henriette
took hold of Henri's arm, and they went beneath the trees.
"Stoop," he said, so she bent down, and they went into an
inextricable thicket of creepers, leaves, and reed-grass, which
formed an impenetrable retreat, and which the young man
laughingly called "his private room."
Just above their heads, perched in one of the trees which hid
them, the bird was still singing. He uttered shakes and roulades,
and then long, vibrating sounds that filled the air and seemed to
lose themselves in the distance, across the level country,
through that burning silence which hung low upon the whole
country round. They did not speak for fear of frightening the
bird away. They were sitting close together, and slowly Henri's
arm stole round the girl's waist and squeezed it gently. She took
that daring hand, but without anger, and kept removing it
whenever he put it round her; not, however, feeling at all
embarrassed by this caress, just as if it had been something
quite natural which she was resisting just as naturally.
She was listening to the bird in ecstasy. She felt an infinite
longing for happiness, for some sudden demonstration of
tenderness, for a revelation of divine poesy. She felt such a
softening at her heart, and such a relaxation of her nerves, that
she began to cry, without knowing why. The young man was now
straining her close to him, and she did not remove his arm; she
did not think of it. Suddenly the nightingale stopped, and a
voice called out in the distance:
"Do not reply," he said in a low voice, "you will drive the bird
But she had no idea of doing so, and they remained in the same
position for some time. Madame Dufour had sat down somewhere or
other, for from time to time they heard the stout lady break out
into little bursts of laughter.
The girl was still crying; she was filled with strange
sensations. Henri's head was on her shoulder, and suddenly he
kissed her on the lips. She was surprised and angry, and, to
avoid him, she stood up.
They were both very pale when they quitted their grassy retreat.
The blue sky looked dull to them, the ardent sun was clouded over
to their eyes, they perceived not the solitude and the silence.
They walked quickly side by side, without speaking or touching
each other, appearing to be irreconcilable enemies, as if disgust
had sprung up between them, and hatred between their souls. From
time to time Henriette called out: "Mamma!"
By and by they heard a noise in a thicket, and Madame Dufour
appeared, looking rather confused, and her companion's face was
wrinkled with smiles that he could not check.
Madame Dufour took his arm, and they returned to the boats. Henri
went on first, still without speaking, by the girl's side, and at
last they got back to Bezons. Monsieur Dufour, who had sobered
up, was waiting for them very impatiently, while the youth with
the yellow hair was having a mouthful of something to eat before
leaving the inn. The carriage was in the yard, with the horse in,
and the grandmother, who had already got in, was frightened at
the thought of being overtaken by night, before they got back to
Paris, the outskirts not being safe.
The young men shook hands with them, and the Dufour family drove
"Good-bye, until we meet again!" the oarsmen cried, and the
answers they got were a sigh and a tear.
* * * * * * *
Two months later, as Henri was going along the Rue des Martyrs,
he saw "Dufour, Ironmonger," over a door. So he went in, and saw
the stout lady sitting at the counter. They recognized each other
immediately, and after an interchange of polite greetings, he
inquired after them all.
"And how is Mademoiselle Henriette?" he inquired, specially.
"Very well, thank you; she is married."
"Ah!" Mastering his feelings, he added: "To whom was she
"To that young man who went with us, you know; he has joined us
"I remember him, perfectly."
He was going out, feeling unhappy, though scarcely knowing why,
when Madame called him back.
"And how is your friend?" she asked, rather shyly.
"He is very well, thank you."
"Please give him our compliments, and beg him to come and call
when he is in the neighborhood." She then added: "Tell him it
will give me great pleasure."
"I will be sure to do so. Adieu!"
"I will not say that; come again, very soon."
* * * * * * *
The next year, one very hot Sunday, all the details of that
memorable adventure suddenly came back to him so clearly that he
revisited the "private room" in the wood, and was overwhelmed
with astonishment when he went in. She was sitting on the grass,
looking very sad, while by her side, again in his shirt-sleeves,
the young man with the yellow hair was sleeping soundly, like
She grew so pale when she saw Henri, that at first he thought she
was going to faint; then, however, they began to talk quite
naturally. But when he told her that he was very fond of that
spot, and went there very often on Sundays, she looked into his
eyes for a long time. "I, too, often think of it," she replied.
"Come, my dear," her husband said, with a yawn; "I think it is
time for us to be going."