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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 2
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    Next day Helene thought it right and proper to pay a visit of thanks
    to Doctor Deberle. The abrupt fashion in which she had compelled him
    to follow her, and the remembrance of the whole night which he had
    spent with Jeanne, made her uneasy, for she realized that he had done
    more than is usually compassed within a doctor's visit. Still, for two
    days she hesitated to make her call, feeling a strange repugnance
    towards such a step. For this she could give herself no reasons. It
    was the doctor himself who inspired her with this hesitancy; one
    morning she met him, and shrunk from his notice as though she were a
    child. At this excess of timidity she was much annoyed. Her quiet,
    upright nature protested against the uneasiness which was taking
    possession of her. She decided, therefore, to go and thank the doctor
    that very day.

    Jeanne's attack had taken place during the small hours of Wednesday
    morning; it was now Saturday, and the child was quite well again.
    Doctor Bodin, whose fears concerning her had prompted him to make an
    early call, spoke of Doctor Deberle with the respect that an old
    doctor with a meagre income pays to another in the same district, who
    is young, rich, and already possessed of a reputation. He did not
    forget to add, however, with an artful smile, that the fortune had
    been bequeathed by the elder Deberle, a man whom all Passy held in
    veneration. The son had only been put to the trouble of inheriting
    fifteen hundred thousand francs, together with a splendid practice.
    "He is, though, a very smart fellow," Doctor Bodin hastened to add,
    "and I shall be honored by having a consultation with him about the
    precious health of my little friend Jeanne!"

    About three o'clock Helene made her way downstairs with her daughter,
    and had to take but a few steps along the Rue Vineuse before ringing
    at the next-door house. Both mother and daughter still wore deep
    mourning. A servant, in dress-coat and white tie, opened the door.
    Helene easily recognized the large entrance-hall, with its Oriental
    hangings; on each side of it, however, there were now flower-stands,
    brilliant with a profusion of blossoms. The servant having admitted
    them to a small drawing-room, the hangings and furniture of which were
    of a mignonette hue, stood awaiting their pleasure, and Helene gave
    her name--Madame Grandjean.

    Thereupon the footman pushed open the door of a drawing-room,
    furnished in yellow and black, of dazzling effect, and, moving aside,
    announced:

    "Madame Grandjean!"

    Helene, standing on the threshold, started back. She had just noticed
    at the other end of the room a young woman seated near the fireplace
    on a narrow couch which was completely covered by her ample skirts.
    Facing her sat an elderly person, who had retained her bonnet and
    shawl, and was evidently paying a visit.

    "I beg pardon," exclaimed Helene. "I wished to see Doctor Deberle."

    She had made the child enter the room before her, and now took her by
    the hand again. She was both astonished and embarrassed in meeting
    this young lady. Why had she not asked for the doctor? She well knew
    he was married.

    Madame Deberle was just finishing some story, in a quick and rather
    shrill voice.

    "Oh! it's marvellous, marvellous! She dies with wonderful realism. She
    clutches at her bosom like this, throws back her head, and her face
    turns green. I declare you ought to see her, Mademoiselle Aurelie!"

    Then, rising up, she sailed towards the doorway, rustling her skirts
    terribly.

    "Be so kind as to walk in, madame," she said with charming
    graciousness. "My husband is not at home, but I shall be delighted to
    receive you, I assure you. This must be the pretty little girl who was
    so ill a few nights ago. Sit down for a moment, I beg of you."

    Helene was forced to accept the invitation, while Jeanne timidly
    perched herself on the edge of another chair. Madame Deberle again
    sank down on her little sofa, exclaiming with a pretty laugh,

    "Yes, this is my day. I receive every Saturday, you see, and Pierre
    then announces all comers. A week or two ago he ushered in a colonel
    suffering from the gout."

    "How silly you are, my dear Juliette!" expostulated Mademoiselle
    Aurelie, the elderly lady, an old friend in straitened circumstances,
    who had seen her come into the world.

    There was a short silence, and Helene gazed round at the luxury of the
    apartment, with its curtains and chairs in black and gold, glittering
    like constellations. Flowers decorated mantel-shelf, piano, and tables
    alike, and the clear light streamed through the windows from the
    garden, in which could be seen the leafless trees and bare soil. The
    room had almost a hot-house temperature; in the fireplace one large
    log was glowing with intense heat. After another glance Helene
    recognized that the gaudy colors had a happy effect. Madame Deberle's
    hair was inky-black, and her skin of a milky whiteness. She was short,
    plump, slow in her movements, and withal graceful. Amidst all the
    golden decorations, her white face assumed a vermeil tint under her
    heavy, sombre tresses. Helene really admired her.

    "Convulsions are so terrible," broke in Madame Deberle. "My Lucien had
    them when a mere baby. How uneasy you must have been, madame! However,
    the dear little thing appears to be quite well now."

    As she drawled out these words she kept her eyes on Helene, whose
    superb beauty amazed and delighted her. Never had she seen a woman
    with so queenly an air in the black garments which draped the widow's
    commanding figure. Her admiration found vent in an involuntary smile,
    while she exchanged glances with Mademoiselle Aurelie. Their
    admiration was so ingenuously and charmingly expressed, that a faint
    smile also rippled over Helene's face.

    Then Madame Deberle stretched herself on the sofa. "You were not at
    the first night at the Vaudeville yesterday, madame?" she asked, as
    she played with the fan that hung from her waist.

    "I never go to the theatre," was Helene's reply.

    "Oh! little Noemi was simply marvellous! Her death scene is so
    realistic! She clutches her bosom like this, throws back her head, and
    her face turns green. Oh! the effect is prodigious."

    Thereupon she entered into a minute criticism of the actress's
    playing, which she upheld against the world; and then she passed to
    the other topics of the day--a fine art exhibition, at which she had
    seen some most remarkable paintings; a stupid novel about which too
    much fuss was being made; a society intrigue which she spoke of to
    Mademoiselle Aurelie in veiled language. And so she went on from one
    subject to another, without wearying, her tongue ever ready, as though
    this social atmosphere were peculiarly her own. Helene, a stranger to
    such society, was content to listen, merely interjecting a remark or
    brief reply every now and then.

    At last the door was again thrown open and the footman announced:
    "Madame de Chermette! Madame Tissot!"

    Two ladies entered, magnificently dressed. Madame Deberle rose eagerly
    to meet them, and the train of her black silk gown, heavily decked
    with trimmings, trailed so far behind her that she had to kick it out
    of her way whenever she happened to turn round. A confused babel of
    greetings in shrill voices arose.

    "Oh! how kind of you! I declare I never see you!"

    "You know we come about that lottery."

    "Yes: I know, I know."

    "Oh! we cannot sit down. We have to call at twenty houses yet."

    "Come now, you are not going to run away at once!"

    And then the visitors finished by sitting down on the edge of a couch;
    the chatter beginning again, shriller than ever.

    "Well! what do you think of yesterday at the Vaudeville?"

    "Oh! it was splendid!"

    "You know she unfastens her dress and lets down her hair. All the
    effect springs from that."

    "People say that she swallows something to make her green."

    "No, no, every action is premeditated; but she had to invent and study
    them all, in the first place."

    "It's wonderful."

    The two ladies rose and made their exit, and the room regained its
    tranquil peacefulness. From some hyacinths on the mantel-shelf was
    wafted an all-pervading perfume. For a time one could hear the noisy
    twittering of some sparrows quarrelling on the lawn. Before resuming
    her seat, Madame Deberle proceeded to draw down the embroidered tulle
    blind of a window facing her, and then returned to her sofa in the
    mellowed, golden light of the room.

    "I beg pardon," she now said. "We have had quite an invasion."

    Then, in an affectionate way, she entered into conversation with
    Helene. She seemed to know some details of her history, doubtless from
    the gossip of her servants. With a boldness that was yet full of tact,
    and appeared instinct with much friendliness, she spoke to Helene of
    her husband, and of his sad death at the Hotel du Var, in the Rue de
    Richelieu.

    "And you had just arrived, hadn't you? You had never been in Paris
    before. It must be awful to be plunged into mourning, in a strange
    room, the day after a long journey, and when one doesn't know a single
    place to go to."

    Helene assented with a slow nod. Yes, she had spent some very bitter
    hours. The disease which carried off her husband had abruptly declared
    itself on the day after their arrival, just as they were going out
    together. She knew none of the streets, and was wholly unaware what
    district she was in. For eight days she had remained at the bedside of
    the dying man, hearing the rumble of Paris beneath her window, feeling
    she was alone, deserted, lost, as though plunged in the depths of an
    abyss. When she stepped out on the pavement for the first time, she
    was a widow. The mere recalling of that bare room, with its rows of
    medicine bottles, and with the travelling trunks standing about
    unpacked, still made her shudder.

    "Was your husband, as I've been told, nearly twice your age?" asked
    Madame Deberle with an appearance of profound interest, while
    Mademoiselle Aurelie cocked her ears so as not to lose a syllable of
    the conversation.

    "Oh, no!" replied Helene. "He was scarcely six years older."

    Then she ventured to enter into the story of her marriage, telling in
    a few brief sentences how her husband had fallen deeply in love with
    her while she was living with her father, Monsieur Mouret, a hatter in
    the Rue des Petites-Maries, at Marseilles; how the Grandjean family,
    who were rich sugar-refiners, were bitterly opposed to the match, on
    account of her poverty. She spoke, too, of the ill-omened and secret
    wedding after the usual legal formalities, and of their hand-to-mouth
    existence, till the day an uncle on dying left them some ten thousand
    francs a year. It was then that Grandjean, within whom an intense
    hatred of Marseilles was growing, had decided on coming to Paris, to
    live there for good.

    "And how old were you when you were married?" was Madame Deberle's
    next question.

    "Seventeen."

    "You must have been very beautiful."

    The conversation suddenly ceased, for Helene had not seemed to hear
    the remark.

    "Madame Manguelin!" announced the footman.

    A young, retiring woman, evidently ill at ease, was ushered in. Madame
    Deberle scarcely rose. It was one of her dependents, who had called to
    thank her for some service performed. The visitor only remained for a
    few minutes, and left the room with a courtesy.

    Madame Deberle then resumed the conversation, and spoke of Abbe Jouve,
    with whom both were acquainted. The Abbe was a meek officiating priest
    at Notre-Dame-de-Grace, the parish church of Passy; however, his
    charity was such that he was more beloved and more respectfully
    hearkened to than any other priest in the district.

    "Oh, he has such pious eloquence!" exclaimed Madame Deberle, with a
    sanctimonious look.

    "He has been very kind to us," said Helene. "My husband had formerly
    known him at Marseilles. The moment he heard of my misfortune he took
    charge of everything. To him we owe our settling in Passy."

    "He has a brother, hasn't he?" questioned Juliette.

    "Yes, a step-brother, for his mother married again. Monsieur Rambaud
    was also acquainted with my husband. He has started a large business
    in the Rue de Rambuteau, where he sells oils and other Southern
    produce. I believe he makes a large amount of money by it." And she
    added, with a laugh: "The Abbe and his brother make up my court."

    Jeanne, sitting on the edge of her chair, and wearied to death, now
    cast an impatient look at her mother. Her long, delicate, lamb-like
    face wore a pained expression, as if she disliked all this
    conversation; and she appeared at times to sniff the heavy, oppressive
    odors floating in the room, while casting suspicious side-glances at
    the furniture, as though her own exquisite sensibility warned her of
    some undefined dangers. Finally, however, she turned a look of
    tyrannical worship on her mother.

    Madame Deberle noticed the child's uneasiness.

    "Here's a little girl," she said, "who feels tired at being serious,
    like a grown-up person. There are some picture-books on the table,
    dear; they will amuse you."

    Jeanne took up an album, but her eyes strayed from it to glance
    imploringly at her mother. Helene, charmed by her hostess's excessive
    kindness, did not move; there was nothing of the fidget in her, and
    she would of her own accord remain seated for hours. However, as the
    servant announced three ladies in succession--Madame Berthier, Madame
    de Guiraud, and Madame Levasseur--she thought she ought to rise.

    "Oh! pray stop," exclaimed Madame Deberle; "I must show you my son."

    The semi-circle round the fireplace was increasing in size. The ladies
    were all gossiping at the same time. One of them declared that she was
    completely broken down, as for five days she had not gone to bed till
    four o'clock in the morning. Another indulged in a diatribe against
    wet nurses; she could no longer find one who was honest. Next the
    conversation fell on dressmakers. Madame Deberle affirmed no woman
    tailor could fit you properly; a man was requisite. Two of the ladies,
    however, were mumbling something under their breath, and, a silence
    intervening, two or three words became audible. Every one then broke
    into a laugh, while languidly waving their fans.

    "Monsieur Malignon!" announced the servant.

    A tall young man, dressed in good style, was ushered in. Some
    exclamations greeted him. Madame Deberle, not taking the trouble to
    rise, stretched out her hand and inquired: "Well! what of yesterday at
    the Vaudeville?"

    "Vile!" was his reply.

    "What! vile! She's marvellous when she clutches her bosom and throws
    back her head--"

    "Stop! stop! The whole thing is loathsome in its realism."

    And then quite a dispute commenced. It was easy to talk of realism,
    but the young man would have no realism at all.

    "I would not have it in anything, you hear!" said he, raising his
    voice. "No, not in anything! it degrades art."

    People would soon be seeing some fine things on the stage, indeed! Why
    didn't Noemi follow out her actions to their logical conclusion? And
    he illustrated his remark with a gesture which quite scandalized the
    ladies. Oh, how horrible! However, when Madame Deberle had declared
    that the actress produced a great effect, and Madame Levasseur had
    related how a lady had fainted in the balcony, everybody agreed that
    the affair was a great success; and with this the discussion stopped
    short.

    The young man sat in an arm-chair, with his legs stretched out among
    the ladies' flowing skirts. He seemed to be quite at home in the
    doctor's house. He had mechanically plucked a flower from a vase, and
    was tearing it to pieces with his teeth. Madame Deberle interrupted
    him:

    "Have you read that novel which--"

    He did not allow her to finish, but replied, with a superior air, that
    he only read two novels in the year.

    As for the exhibition of paintings at the Art Club, it was not worth
    troubling about; and then, every topic being exhausted, he rose and
    leaned over Juliette's little sofa, conversing with her in a low
    voice, while the other ladies continued chatting together in an
    animated manner.

    At length: "Dear me! he's gone," exclaimed Madame Berthier turning
    round. "I met him only an hour ago in Madame Robinot's drawing-room."

    "Yes, and he is now going to visit Madame Lecomte," said Madame
    Deberle. "He goes about more than any other man in Paris." She turned
    to Helene, who had been following the scene, and added: "A very
    distinguished young fellow he is, and we like him very much. He has
    some interest in a stockbroking business; he's very rich besides, and
    well posted in everything."

    The other ladies, however, were now going off.

    "Good-bye, dear madame. I rely upon you for Wednesday."

    "Yes, to be sure; Wednesday."

    "Oh, by the way, will you be at that evening party? One doesn't know
    whom one may meet. If you go, I'll go."

    "Ah, well! I'll go, I promise you. Give my best regards to Monsieur de
    Guiraud."

    When Madame Deberle returned she found Helene standing in the middle
    of the drawing-room. Jeanne had drawn close to her mother, whose hands
    she firmly grasped; and thus clinging to her caressingly and almost
    convulsively, she was drawing her little by little towards the
    doorway.

    "Ah, I was forgetting!" exclaimed the lady of the house; and ringing
    the bell for the servant, she said to him: "Pierre, tell Miss Smithson
    to bring Lucien here."

    During the short interval of waiting that ensued the door was again
    opened, but this time in a familiar fashion and without any formal
    announcement. A good-looking girl of some sixteen years of age entered
    in company with an old man, short of stature but with a rubicund,
    chubby face.

    "Good-day, sister," was the girl's greeting, as she kissed Madame
    Deberle.

    "Good-day, Pauline! good-day, father!" replied the doctor's wife.

    Mademoiselle Aurelie, who had not stirred from her seat beside the
    fire, rose to exchange greetings with Monsieur Letellier. He owned an
    extensive silk warehouse on the Boulevard des Capucines. Since his
    wife's death he had been taking his younger daughter about everywhere,
    in search of a rich husband for her.

    "Were you at the Vaudeville last night?" asked Pauline.

    "Oh, it was simply marvellous!" repeated Juliette in parrot-fashion,
    as, standing before a mirror, she rearranged a rebellious curl.

    "It is annoying to be so young; one can't go to anything!" said
    Pauline, pouting like a spoiled child. "I went with papa to the
    theatre-door at midnight, to find out how the piece had taken."

    "Yes, and we tumbled upon Malignon," said the father.

    "He was extremely pleased with it."

    "Really!" exclaimed Juliette. "He was here a minute ago, and declared
    it vile. One never knows how to take him."

    "Have you had many visitors to-day?" asked Pauline, rushing off to
    another subject.

    "Oh, several ladies; quite a crowd! The room was never once empty. I'm
    dead-beat--"

    Here she abruptly broke off, remembering she had a formal introduction
    to make

    "My father, my sister--Madame Grandjean."

    The conversation was turning on children and the ailments which give
    mothers so much worry when Miss Smithson, an English governess,
    appeared with a little boy clinging to her hand. Madame Deberle
    scolded her in English for having kept them waiting.

    "Ah! here's my little Lucien!" exclaimed Pauline as she dropped on her
    knees before the child, with a great rustling of skirts.

    "Now, now, leave him alone!" said Juliette. "Come here, Lucien; come
    and say good-day to this little lady."

    The boy came forward very sheepishly. He was no more than seven years
    old, fat and dumpy, and dressed as coquettishly as a doll. As he saw
    that they were all looking at him with smiles, he stopped short, and
    surveyed Jeanne, his blue eyes wide open with astonishment.

    "Go on!" urged his mother.

    He turned his eyes questioningly on her and advanced a step, evincing
    all the sullenness peculiar to lads of his age, his head lowered, his
    thick lips pouting, and his eyebrows bent into a growing frown. Jeanne
    must have frightened him with the serious look she wore standing there
    in her black dress. She had not ceased holding her mother's hand, and
    was nervously pressing her fingers on the bare part of the arm between
    the sleeve and glove. With head lowered she awaited Lucien's approach
    uneasily, like a young and timid savage, ready to fly from his caress.
    But a gentle push from her mother prompted her to step forward.

    "Little lady, you will have to kiss him first," Madame Deberle said
    laughingly. "Ladies always have to begin with him. Oh! the little
    stupid."

    "Kiss him, Jeanne," urged Helene.

    The child looked up at her mother; and then, as if conquered by the
    bashful looks of the little noodle, seized with sudden pity as she
    gazed on his good-natured face, so dreadfully confused--she smiled
    divinely. A sudden wave of hidden tenderness rose within her and
    brightened her features, and she whispered: "Willingly, mamma!"

    Then, taking Lucien under the armpits, almost lifting him from the
    ground, she gave him a hearty kiss on each cheek. He had no further
    hesitation in embracing her.

    "Bravo! capital!" exclaimed the onlookers.

    With a bow Helene turned to leave, accompanied to the door by Madame
    Deberle.

    "I beg you, madame," said she, "to present my heartiest thanks to the
    doctor. He relieved me of such dreadful anxiety the other night."

    "Is Henri not at home?" broke in Monsieur Letellier.

    "No, he will be away some time yet," was Juliette's reply. "But you're
    not going away; you'll dine with us," she continued, addressing
    Mademoiselle Aurelie, who had risen as if to leave with Madame
    Grandjean.

    The old maid with each Saturday expected a similar invitation, then
    decided to relieve herself of shawl and bonnet. The heat in the
    drawing-room was intense, and Monsieur Letellier hastened to open a
    window, at which he remained standing, struck by the sight of a lilac
    bush which was already budding. Pauline, meantime, had begun playfully
    running after Lucien behind the chairs and couches, left in confusion
    by the visitors.

    On the threshold Madame Deberle held out her hand to Helene with a
    frank and friendly movement.

    "You will allow me," said she. "My husband spoke to me about you, and
    I felt drawn to you. Your bereavement, your lonely life--in short, I
    am very glad to have seen you, and you must not be long in coming
    back."

    "I give you my promise, and I am obliged to you," said Helene, moved
    by these tokens of affection from a woman whom she had imagined rather
    flighty. They clasped hands, and each looked into the other's face
    with a happy smile. Juliette's avowal of her sudden friendship was
    given with a caressing air. "You are too lovely not to be loved!" she
    said.

    Helene broke into a merry laugh, for her beauty never engaged her
    thoughts, and she called Jeanne, whose eyes were busy watching the
    pranks of Lucien and Pauline. But Madame Deberle detained the girl for
    a moment longer.

    "You are good friends henceforth," she said; "you must just say _au
    revoir_."

    Thereupon the two children blew one another a kiss with their
    finger-tips.
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    Chapter 2
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