Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Middle age is when you've met so many people that every new person you meet reminds you of someone else."
    More: Age quotes
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 4

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 4
    Previous Chapter
    During the following week Madame Deberle paid a return visit to Madame
    Grandjean, and displayed an affability that bordered on affection.

    "You know what you promised me," she said, on the threshold, as she
    was going off. "The first fine day we have, you must come down to the
    garden, and bring Jeanne with you. It is the doctor's strict
    injunction."

    "Very well," Helene answered, with a smile, "it is understood; we will
    avail ourselves of your kindness."

    Three days later, on a bright February afternoon, she accompanied her
    daughter down to the garden. The porter opened the door connecting the
    two houses. At the near end of the garden, in a kind of greenhouse
    built somewhat in the style of a Japanese pavilion, they found Madame
    Deberle and her sister Pauline, both idling away their time, for some
    embroidery, thrown on the little table, lay there neglected.

    "Oh, how good of you to come!" cried Juliette. "You must sit down
    here. Pauline, move that table away! It is still rather cool you know
    to sit out of doors, but from this pavilion we can keep a watch on the
    children. Now, little ones, run away and play; but take care not to
    fall!"

    The large door of the pavilion stood open, and on each side were
    portable mirrors, whose covers had been removed so that they allowed
    one to view the garden's expanse as from the threshold of a tent. The
    garden, with a green sward in the centre, flanked by beds of flowers,
    was separated from the Rue Vineuse by a plain iron railing, but
    against this grew a thick green hedge, which prevented the curious
    from gazing in. Ivy, clematis, and woodbine clung and wound around the
    railings, and behind this first curtain of foliage came a second one
    of lilacs and laburnums. Even in the winter the ivy leaves and the
    close network of branches sufficed to shut off the view. But the great
    charm of the garden lay in its having at the far end a few lofty
    trees, some magnificent elms, which concealed the grimy wall of a
    five-story house. Amidst all the neighboring houses these trees gave
    the spot the aspect of a nook in some park, and seemed to increase the
    dimensions of this little Parisian garden, which was swept like a
    drawing-room. Between two of the elms hung a swing, the seat of which
    was green with damp.

    Helene leaned forward the better to view the scene.

    "Oh, it is a hole!" exclaimed Madame Deberle carelessly. "Still, trees
    are so rare in Paris that one is happy in having half a dozen of one's
    own."

    "No, no, you have a very pleasant place," murmured Helene.

    The sun filled the pale atmosphere that day with a golden dust, its
    rays streaming slowly through the leafless branches of the trees.
    These assumed a ruddier tint, and you could see the delicate purple
    gems softening the cold grey of the bark. On the lawn and along the
    walks the grass and gravel glittered amidst the haze that seemed to
    ooze from the ground. No flower was in blossom; only the happy flush
    which the sunshine cast upon the soil revealed the approach of spring.

    "At this time of year it is rather dull," resumed Madame Deberle. "In
    June it is as cozy as a nest; the trees prevent any one from looking
    in, and we enjoy perfect privacy." At this point she paused to call:
    "Lucien, you must come away from that watertap!"

    The lad, who was doing the honors of the garden, had led Jeanne
    towards a tap under the steps. Here he had turned on the water, which
    he allowed to splash on the tips of his boots. It was a game that he
    delighted in. Jeanne, with grave face, looked on while he wetted his
    feet.

    "Wait a moment!" said Pauline, rising. "I'll go and stop his
    nonsense!"

    But Juliette held her back.

    "You'll do no such thing; you are even more of a madcap than he is.
    The other day both of you looked as if you had taken a bath. How is it
    that a big girl like you cannot remain two minutes seated? Lucien!"
    she continued directing her eyes on her son, "turn off the water at
    once!"

    The child, in his fright, made an effort to obey her. But instead of
    turning the tap off, he turned it on all the more, and the water
    gushed forth with a force and a noise that made him lose his head. He
    recoiled, splashed up to the shoulders.

    "Turn off the water at once!" again ordered his mother, whose cheeks
    were flushing with anger.

    Jeanne, hitherto silent, then slowly, and with the greatest caution,
    ventured near the tap; while Lucien burst into loud sobbing at sight
    of this cold stream, which terrified him, and which he was powerless
    to stop. Carefully drawing her skirt between her legs, Jeanne
    stretched out her bare hands so as not to wet her sleeves, and closed
    the tap without receiving a sprinkle. The flow instantly ceased.
    Lucien, astonished and inspired with respect, dried his tears and
    gazed with swollen eyes at the girl.

    "Oh, that child puts me beside myself!" exclaimed Madame Deberle, her
    complexion regaining its usual pallor, while she stretched herself
    out, as though wearied to death.

    Helene deemed it right to intervene. "Jeanne," she called, "take his
    hand, and amuse yourselves by walking up and down."

    Jeanne took hold of Lucien's hand, and both gravely paced the paths
    with little steps. She was much taller than her companion, who had to
    stretch his arm up towards her; but this solemn amusement, which
    consisted in a ceremonious circuit of the lawn, appeared to absorb
    them and invest them with a sense of great importance. Jeanne, like a
    genuine lady, gazed about, preoccupied with her own thoughts; Lucien
    every now and then would venture a glance at her; but not a word was
    said by either.

    "How droll they are!" said Madame Deberle, smiling, and again at her
    ease. "I must say that your Jeanne is a dear, good child. She is so
    obedient, so well behaved--"

    "Yes, when she is in the company of others," broke in Helene. "She is
    a great trouble at times. Still, she loves me, and does her best to be
    good so as not to vex me."

    Then they spoke of children; how girls were more precocious than boys;
    though it would be wrong to deduce too much from Lucien's
    unintelligent face. In another year he would doubtless lose all his
    gawkiness and become quite a gallant. Finally, Madame Deberle resumed
    her embroidery, making perhaps two stitches in a minute. Helene, who
    was only happy when busy, begged permission to bring her work the next
    time she came. She found her companions somewhat dull, and whiled away
    the time in examining the Japanese pavilion. The walls and ceiling
    were hidden by tapestry worked in gold, with designs showing bright
    cranes in full flight, butterflies, and flowers and views in which
    blue ships were tossing upon yellow rivers. Chairs, and ironwood
    flower-stands were scattered about; on the floor some fine mats were
    spread; while the lacquered furnishings were littered with trinkets,
    small bronzes and vases, and strange toys painted in all the hues of
    the rainbow. At the far end stood a grotesque idol in Dresden china,
    with bent legs and bare, protruding stomach, which at the least
    movement shook its head with a terrible and amusing look.

    "Isn't it horribly ugly?" asked Pauline, who had been watching Helene
    as she glanced round. "I say, sister, you know that all these
    purchases of yours are so much rubbish! Malignon calls your Japanese
    museum 'the sixpenny bazaar.' Oh, by the way, talking of him, I met
    him. He was with a lady, and such a lady--Florence, of the Varietes
    Theatre."

    "Where was it?" asked Juliette immediately. "How I shall tease him!"

    "On the boulevards. He's coming here to-day, is he not?"

    She was not vouchsafed any reply. The ladies had all at once become
    uneasy owing to the disappearance of the children, and called to them.
    However, two shrill voices immediately answered:

    "We are here!"

    Half hidden by a spindle tree, they were sitting on the grass in the
    middle of the lawn.

    "What are you about?"

    "We have put up at an inn," answered Lucien. "We are resting in our
    room."

    Greatly diverted, the women watched them for a time. Jeanne seemed
    quite contented with the game. She was cutting the grass around her,
    doubtless with the intention of preparing breakfast. A piece of wood,
    picked up among the shrubs, represented a trunk. And now they were
    talking. Jeanne, with great conviction in her tone, was declaring that
    they were in Switzerland, and that they would set out to see the
    glaciers, which rather astonished Lucien.

    "Ha, here he is!" suddenly exclaimed Pauline.

    Madame Deberle turned, and caught sight of Malignon descending the
    steps. He had scarcely time to make his bow and sit down before she
    attacked him.

    "Oh," she said, "it is nice of you to go about everywhere saying that
    I have nothing but rubbishy ornaments about me!"

    "You mean this little saloon of yours? Oh yes," said he, quite at his
    ease. "You haven't anything worth looking at here!"

    "What! not my china figure?" she asked, quite hurt.

    "No, no, everything is quite _bourgeois_. It is necessary for a person
    to have some taste. You wouldn't allow me to select the things--"

    "Your taste, forsooth! just talk about your taste!" she retorted,
    flushing crimson and feeling quite angry. "You have been seen with a
    lady--"

    "What lady?" he asked, surprised by the violence of the attack.

    "A fine choice, indeed! I compliment you on it. A girl whom the whole
    of Paris knows--"

    She suddenly paused, remembering Pauline's presence.

    "Pauline," she said, "go into the garden for a minute."

    "Oh no," retorted the girl indignantly. "It's so tiresome; I'm always
    being sent out of the way."

    "Go into the garden," repeated Juliette, with increased severity in
    her tone.

    The girl stalked off with a sullen look, but stopped all at once, to
    exclaim: "Well, then, be quick over your talk!"

    As soon as she was gone, Madame Deberle returned to the charge. "How
    can you, a gentleman, show yourself in public with that actress
    Florence? She is at least forty. She is ugly enough to frighten one,
    and all the gentlemen in the stalls thee and thou her on first
    nights."

    "Have you finished?" called out Pauline, who was strolling sulkily
    under the trees. "I'm not amusing myself here, you know."

    Malignon, however, defended himself. He had no knowledge of this girl
    Florence; he had never in his life spoken a word to her. They had
    possibly seen him with a lady: he was sometimes in the company of the
    wife of a friend of his. Besides, who had seen him? He wanted proofs,
    witnesses.

    "Pauline," hastily asked Madame Deberle, raising her voice, "did you
    not meet him with Florence?"

    "Yes, certainly," replied her sister. "I met them on the boulevards
    opposite Bignon's."

    Thereupon, glorying in her victory over Malignon, whose face wore an
    embarrassed smile, Madame Deberle called out: "You can come back,
    Pauline; I have finished."

    Malignon, who had a box at the Folies-Dramatiques for the following
    night, now gallantly placed it at Madame Deberle's service, apparently
    not feeling the slightest ill-will towards her; moreover, they were
    always quarreling. Pauline wished to know if she might go to see the
    play that was running, and as Malignon laughed and shook his head, she
    declared it was very silly; authors ought to write plays fit for girls
    to see. She was only allowed such entertainments as _La Dame Blanche_
    and the classic drama could offer.

    Meantime, the ladies had ceased watching the children, and all at once
    Lucien began to raise terrible shrieks.

    "What have you done to him, Jeanne?" asked Helene.

    "I have done nothing, mamma," answered the little girl. "He has thrown
    himself on the ground."

    The truth was, the children had just set out for the famous glaciers.
    As Jeanne pretended that they were reaching the mountains, they had
    lifted their feet very high, as though to step over the rocks. Lucien,
    however, quite out of breath with his exertions, at last made a false
    step, and fell sprawling in the middle of an imaginary ice-field.
    Disgusted, and furious with child-like rage, he no sooner found
    himself on the ground than he burst into tears.

    "Lift him up," called Helene.

    "He won't let me, mamma. He is rolling about."

    And so saying, Jeanne drew back, as though exasperated and annoyed by
    such a display of bad breeding. He did not know how to play; he would
    certainly cover her with dirt. Her mouth curled, as though she were a
    duchess compromising herself by such companionship. Thereupon Madame
    Deberle, irritated by Lucien's continued wailing, requested her sister
    to pick him up and coax him into silence. Nothing loth, Pauline ran,
    cast herself down beside the child, and for a moment rolled on the
    ground with him. He struggled with her, unwilling to be lifted, but
    she at last took him up by the arms, and to appease him, said, "Stop
    crying, you noisy fellow; we'll have a swing!"

    Lucien at once closed his lips, while Jeanne's solemn looks vanished,
    and a gleam of ardent delight illumined her face. All three ran
    towards the swing, but it was Pauline who took possession of the seat.

    "Push, push!" she urged the children; and they pushed with all the
    force of their tiny hands; but she was heavy, and they could scarcely
    stir the swing.

    "Push!" she urged again. "Oh, the big sillies, they can't!"

    In the pavilion, Madame Deberle had just felt a slight chill. Despite
    the bright sunshine she thought it rather cold, and she requested
    Malignon to hand her a white cashmere burnous that was hanging from
    the handle of a window fastening. Malignon rose to wrap the burnous
    round her shoulders, and they began chatting familiarly on matters
    which had little interest for Helene. Feeling fidgety, fearing that
    Pauline might unwittingly knock the children down, she therefore
    stepped into the garden, leaving Juliette and the young man to wrangle
    over some new fashion in bonnets which apparently deeply interested
    them.

    Jeanne no sooner saw her mother than she ran towards her with a
    wheedling smile, and entreaty in every gesture. "Oh, mamma, mamma!"
    she implored. "Oh, mamma!"

    "No, no, you mustn't!" replied Helene, who understood her meaning very
    well. "You know you have been forbidden."

    Swinging was Jeanne's greatest delight. She would say that she
    believed herself a bird; the breeze blowing in her face, the lively
    rush through the air, the continued swaying to and fro in a motion as
    rythmic as the beating of a bird's wings, thrilled her with an
    exquisite pleasure; in her ascent towards cloudland she imagined
    herself on her way to heaven. But it always ended in some mishap. On
    one occasion she had been found clinging to the ropes of the swing in
    a swoon, her large eyes wide open, fixed in a vacant stare; at another
    time she had fallen to the ground, stiff, like a swallow struck by a
    shot.

    "Oh, mamma!" she implored again. "Only a little, a very, very little!"

    In the end her mother, in order to win peace, placed her on the seat.
    The child's face lit up with an angelic smile, and her bare wrists
    quivered with joyous expectancy. Helene swayed her very gently.

    "Higher, mamma, higher!" she murmured.

    But Helene paid no heed to her prayer, and retained firm hold of the
    rope. She herself was glowing all over, her cheeks flushed, and she
    thrilled with excitement at every push she gave to the swing. Her
    wonted sedateness vanished as she thus became her daughter's playmate.

    "That will do," she declared after a time, taking Jeanne in her arms.

    "Oh, mamma, you must swing now!" the child whispered, as she clung to
    her neck.

    She took a keen delight in seeing her mother flying through the air;
    as she said, her pleasure was still more intense in gazing at her than
    in having a swing herself. Helene, however, asked her laughingly who
    would push her; when she went in for swinging, it was a serious
    matter; why, she went higher than the treetops! While she was speaking
    it happened that Monsieur Rambaud made his appearance under the
    guidance of the doorkeeper. He had met Madame Deberle in Helene's
    rooms, and thought he would not be deemed presuming in presenting
    himself here when unable to find her. Madame Deberle proved very
    gracious, pleased as she was with the good-natured air of the worthy
    man; however, she soon returned to a lively discussion with Malignon.

    "_Bon ami_[*] will push you, mamma! _Bon ami_ will push you!" Jeanne
    called out, as she danced round her mother.

    [*] Literally "good friend;" but there is no proper equivalent for the
    expression in English.

    "Be quiet! We are not at home!" said her mother with mock gravity.

    "Bless me! if it will please you, I am at your disposal," exclaimed
    Monsieur Rambaud. "When people are in the country--"

    Helene let herself be persuaded. When a girl she had been accustomed
    to swing for hours, and the memory of those vanished pleasures created
    a secret craving to taste them once more. Moreover, Pauline, who had
    sat down with Lucien at the edge of the lawn, intervened with the
    boldness of a girl freed from the trammels of childhood.

    "Of course he will push you, and he will swing me after you. Won't
    you, sir?"

    This determined Helene. The youth which dwelt within her, in spite of
    the cold demureness of her great beauty, displayed itself in a
    charming, ingenuous fashion. She became a thorough school-girl,
    unaffected and gay. There was no prudishness about her. She laughingly
    declared that she must not expose her legs, and asked for some cord to
    tie her skirts securely round her ankles. That done, she stood upright
    on the swing, her arms extended and clinging to the ropes.

    "Now, push, Monsieur Rambaud," she exclaimed delightedly. "But gently
    at first!"

    Monsieur Rambaud had hung his hat on the branch of a tree. His broad,
    kindly face beamed with a fatherly smile. First he tested the strength
    of the ropes, and, giving a look at the trees, determined to give a
    slight push. That day Helene had for the first time abandoned her
    widow's weeds; she was wearing a grey dress set off with mauve bows.
    Standing upright, she began to swing, almost touching the ground, and
    as if rocking herself to sleep.

    "Quicker! quicker!" she exclaimed.

    Monsieur Rambaud, with his hands ready, caught the seat as it came
    back to him, and gave it a more vigorous push. Helene went higher,
    each ascent taking her farther. However, despite the motion, she did
    not lose her sedateness; she retained almost an austre demeanor; her
    eyes shone very brightly in her beautiful, impassive face; her
    nostrils only were inflated, as though to drink in the air.

    Not a fold of her skirts was out of place, but a plait of her hair
    slipped down.

    "Quicker! quicker!" she called.

    An energetic push gave her increased impetus. Up in the sunshine she
    flew, even higher and higher. A breeze sprung up with her motion, and
    blew through the garden; her flight was so swift that they could
    scarcely distinguish her figure aright. Her face was now all smiles,
    and flushed with a rosy red, while her eyes sparkled here, then there,
    like shooting stars. The loosened plait of hair rustled against her
    neck. Despite the cords which bound them, her skirts now waved about,
    and you could divine that she was at her ease, her bosom heaving in
    its free enjoyment as though the air were indeed her natural place.

    "Quicker! quicker!"

    Monsieur Rambaud, his face red and bedewed with perspiration, exerted
    all his strength. A cry rang out. Helene went still higher.

    "Oh, mamma! Oh, mamma!" repeated Jeanne in her ecstasy.

    She was sitting on the lawn gazing at her mother, her little hands
    clasped on her bosom, looking as though she herself had drunk in all
    the air that was stirring. Her breath failed her; with a rythmical
    movement of the shoulders she kept time with the long strokes of the
    swing. And she cried, "Quicker! quicker!" while her mother still went
    higher, her feet grazing the lofty branches of the trees.

    "Higher, mamma! oh, higher, mamma!"

    But Helene was already in the very heavens. The trees bent and cracked
    as beneath a gale. Her skirts, which were all they could see, flapped
    with a tempestuous sound. When she came back with arms stretched out
    and bosom distended she lowered her head slightly and for a moment
    hovered; but then she rose again and sank backwards, her head tilted,
    her eyes closed, as though she had swooned. These ascensions and
    descents which made her giddy were delightful. In her flight she
    entered into the sunshine--the pale yellow February sunshine that
    rained down like golden dust. Her chestnut hair gleamed with amber
    tints; and a flame seemed to have leaped up around her, as the mauve
    bows on her whitening dress flashed like burning flowers. Around her
    the springtide was maturing into birth, and the purple-tinted gems of
    the trees showed like delicate lacquer against the blue sky.

    Jeanne clasped her hands. Her mother seemed to her a saint with a
    golden glory round her head, winging her way to paradise, and she
    again stammered: "Oh, mamma! oh! mamma!"

    Madame Deberle and Malignon had now grown interested, and had stepped
    under the trees. Malignon declared the lady to be very bold.

    "I should faint, I'm sure," said Madame Deberle, with a frightened
    air.

    Helene heard them, for she dropped these words from among the
    branches: "Oh, my heart is all right! Give a stronger push, Monsieur
    Rambaud!"

    And indeed her voice betrayed no emotion. She seemed to take no heed
    of the two men who were onlookers. They were doubtless nothing to her.
    Her tress of hair had become entangled, and the cord that confined her
    skirts must have given way, for the drapery flapped in the wind like a
    flag. She was going still higher.

    All at once, however, the exclamation rang out:

    "Enough, Monsieur Rambaud, enough!"

    Doctor Deberle had just appeared on the house steps. He came forward,
    embraced his wife tenderly, took up Lucien and kissed his brow. Then
    he gazed at Helene with a smile.

    "Enough, enough!" she still continued exclaiming.

    "Why?" asked he. "Do I disturb you?"

    She made no answer; a look of gravity had suddenly come over her face.
    The swing, still continuing its rapid flights, owing to the impetus
    given to it, would not stop, but swayed to and fro with a regular
    motion which still bore Helene to a great height. The doctor,
    surprised and charmed, beheld her with admiration; she looked so
    superb, so tall and strong, with the pure figure of an antique statue
    whilst swinging thus gently amid the spring sunshine. But she seemed
    annoyed, and all at once leaped down.

    "Stop! stop!" they all cried out.

    From Helene's lips came a dull moan; she had fallen upon the gravel of
    a pathway, and her efforts to rise were fruitless.

    "Good heavens!" exclaimed the doctor, his face turning very pale. "How
    imprudent!"

    They all crowded round her. Jeanne began weeping so bitterly that
    Monsieur Rambaud, with his heart in his mouth, was compelled to take
    her in his arms. The doctor, meanwhile, eagerly questioned Helene.

    "Is it the right leg you fell on? Cannot you stand upright?" And as
    she remained dazed, without answering, he asked: "Do you suffer?"

    "Yes, here at the knee; a dull pain," she answered, with difficulty.

    He at once sent his wife for his medicine case and some bandages, and
    repeated:

    "I must see, I must see. No doubt it is a mere nothing."

    He knelt down on the gravel and Helene let him do so; but all at once
    she struggled to her feet and said: "No, no!"

    "But I must examine the place," he said.

    A slight quiver stole over her, and she answered in a yet lower tone:

    "It is not necessary. It is nothing at all."

    He looked at her, at first astounded. Her neck was flushing red; for a
    moment their eyes met, and seemed to read each other's soul; he was
    disconcerted, and slowly rose, remaining near her, but without
    pressing her further.

    Helene had signed to Monsieur Rambaud. "Fetch Doctor Bodin," she
    whispered in his ear, "and tell him what has happened to me."

    Ten minutes later, when Doctor Bodin made his appearance, she, with
    superhuman courage, regained her feet, and leaning on him and Monsieur
    Rambaud, contrived to return home. Jeanne followed, quivering with
    sobs.

    "I shall wait," said Doctor Deberle to his brother physician. "Come
    down and remove our fears."

    In the garden a lively colloquy ensued. Malignon was of opinion that
    women had queer ideas. Why on earth had that lady been so foolish as
    to jump down? Pauline, excessively provoked at this accident, which
    deprived her of a pleasure, declared it was silly to swing so high. On
    his side Doctor Deberle did not say a word, but seemed anxious.

    "It is nothing serious," said Doctor Bodin, as he came down again
    --"only a sprain. Still, she will have to keep to an easy-chair for at
    least a fortnight."

    Thereupon Monsieur Deberle gave a friendly slap on Malignon's
    shoulder. He wished his wife to go in, as it was really becoming too
    cold. For his own part, taking Lucien in his arms, he carried him into
    the house, covering him with kisses the while.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 4
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Emile Zola essay and need some advice, post your Emile Zola essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?