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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 9
    Previous Chapter
    In the hall of the doctor's house stood Pierre, in dress coat and
    white cravat, throwing open the door as each carriage rolled up. Puffs
    of dank air rushed in; the afternoon was rainy, and a yellow light
    illumined the narrow hall, with its curtained doorways and array of
    green plants. It was only two o'clock, but the evening seemed as near
    at hand as on a dismal winter's day.

    However, as soon as the servant opened the door of the first
    drawing-room, a stream of light dazzled the guests. The shutters had
    been closed, and the curtains carefully drawn, and no gleam from the
    dull sky could gain admittance. The lamps standing here and there on
    the furniture, and the lighted candles of the chandelier and the
    crystal wall-brackets, gave the apartment somewhat the appearance of a
    brilliantly illuminated chapel. Beyond the smaller drawing-room, whose
    green hangings rather softened the glare of the light, was the large
    black-and-gold one, decorated as magnificently as for the ball which
    Madame Deberle gave every year in the month of January.

    The children were beginning to arrive, while Pauline gave her
    attention to the ranging of a number of chairs in front of the
    dining-room doorway, where the door had been removed from its
    hinges and replaced by a red curtain.

    "Papa," she cried, "just lend me a hand! We shall never be ready."

    Monsieur Letellier, who, with his arms behind his back, was gazing at
    the chandelier, hastened to give the required assistance. Pauline
    carried the chairs about herself. She had paid due deference to her
    sister's request, and was robed in white; only her dress opened
    squarely at the neck and displayed her bosom.

    "At last we are ready," she exclaimed: "they can come when they like.
    But what is Juliette dreaming about? She has been ever so long
    dressing Lucien!"

    Just at that moment Madame Deberle entered, leading the little
    marquis, and everybody present began raising admiring remarks. "Oh!
    what a love! What a darling he is!" His coat was of white satin
    embroidered with flowers, his long waistcoat was embroidered with
    gold, and his knee-breeches were of cherry-colored silk. Lace
    clustered round his chin, and delicate wrists. A sword, a mere toy
    with a great rose-red knot, rattled against his hip.

    "Now you must do the honors," his mother said to him, as she led him
    into the outer room.

    For eight days past he had been repeating his lesson, and struck a
    cavalier attitude with his little legs, his powdered head thrown
    slightly back, and his cocked hat tucked under his left arm. As each
    of his lady-guests was ushered into the room, he bowed low, offered
    his arm, exchanged courteous greetings, and returned to the threshold.
    Those near him laughed over his intense seriousness in which there was
    a dash of effrontery. This was the style in which he received
    Marguerite Tissot, a little lady five years old, dressed in a charming
    milkmaid costume, with a milk-can hanging at her side; so too did he
    greet the Berthier children, Blanche and Sophie, the one masquerading
    as Folly, the other dressed in soubrette style; and he had even the
    hardihood to tackle Valentine de Chermette, a tall young lady of some
    fourteen years, whom her mother always dressed in Spanish costume, and
    at her side his figure appeared so slight that she seemed to be
    carrying him along. However, he was profoundly embarrassed in the
    presence of the Levasseur family, which numbered five girls, who made
    their appearance in a row of increasing height, the youngest being
    scarcely two years old, while the eldest was ten. All five were
    arrayed in Red Riding-Hood costumes, their head-dresses and gowns
    being in poppy-colored satin with black velvet bands, with which their
    lace aprons strikingly contrasted. At last Lucien, making up his mind,
    bravely flung away his three-cornered hat, and led the two elder
    girls, one hanging on each arm, into the drawing-room, closely
    followed by the three others. There was a good deal of laughter at it,
    but the little man never lost his self-possession for a moment.

    In the meantime Madame Deberle was taking her sister to task in a

    "Good gracious! is it possible! what a fearfully low-necked dress you
    are wearing!"

    "Dear, dear! what have I done now? Papa hasn't said a word," answered
    Pauline coolly. "If you're anxious, I'll put some flowers at my

    She plucked a handful of blossoms from a flower-stand where they were
    growing and allowed them to nestle in her bosom; while Madame Deberle
    was surrounded by several mammas in stylish visiting-dresses, who were
    already profuse in their compliments about her ball. As Lucien was
    passing them, his mother arranged a loose curl of his powdered hair,
    while he stood on tip-toe to whisper in her ear:

    "Where's Jeanne?"

    "She will be here immediately, my darling. Take good care not to fall.
    Run away, there comes little Mademoiselle Guiraud. Ah! she is wearing
    an Alsatian costume."

    The drawing-room was now filling rapidly; the rows of chairs fronting
    the red curtain were almost all occupied, and a hubbub of children's
    voices was rising. The boys were flocking into the room in groups.
    There were already three Harlequins, four Punches, a Figaro, some
    Tyrolese peasants, and a few Highlanders. Young Master Berthier was
    dressed as a page. Little Guiraud, a mere bantling of two-and-a-half
    summers, wore his clown's costume in so comical a style that every one
    as he passed lifted him up and kissed him.

    "Here comes Jeanne," exclaimed Madame Deberle, all at once. "Oh, she
    is lovely!"

    A murmur ran round the room; heads were bent forward, and every one
    gave vent to exclamations of admiration. Jeanne was standing on the
    threshold of the outer room, awaiting her mother, who was taking
    off her cloak in the hall. The child was robed in a Japanese dress
    of unusual splendor. The gown, embroidered with flowers and
    strange-looking birds, swept to her feet, which were hidden from view;
    while beneath her broad waist-ribbon the flaps, drawn aside, gave a
    glimpse of a green petticoat, watered with yellow. Nothing could be
    more strangely bewitching than her delicate features seen under the
    shadow of her hair, coiled above her head with long pins thrust
    through it, while her chin and oblique eyes, small and sparkling,
    pictured to the life a young lady of Yeddo, strolling amidst the
    perfume of tea and benzoin. And she lingered there hesitatingly,
    with all the sickly languor of a tropical flower pining for the land
    of its birth.

    Behind her, however, appeared Helene. Both, in thus suddenly passing
    from the dull daylight of the street into the brilliant glare of the
    wax candles, blinked their eyes as though blinded, while their faces
    were irradiated with smiles. The rush of warm air and the perfumes,
    the scent of violets rising above all else, almost stifled them, and
    brought a flush of red to their cheeks. Each guest, on passing the
    doorway, wore a similar air of surprise and hesitancy.

    "Why, Lucien! where are you?" exclaimed Madame Deberle.

    The boy had not caught sight of Jeanne. But now he rushed forward and
    seized her arm, forgetting to make his bow. And they were so dainty,
    so loving, the little marquis in his flowered coat, and the Japanese
    maiden in her purple embroidered gown, that they might have been taken
    for two statuettes of Dresden china, daintily gilded and painted, into
    which life had been suddenly infused.

    "You know, I was waiting for you," whispered Lucien. "Oh, it is so
    nasty to give everybody my arm! Of course, we'll keep beside each
    other, eh?"

    And he sat himself down with her in the first row of chairs, wholly
    oblivious of his duties as host.

    "Oh, I was so uneasy!" purred Juliette into Helene's ear. "I was
    beginning to fear that Jeanne had been taken ill."

    Helene proffered apology; dressing children, said she, meant endless
    labor. She was still standing in a corner of the drawing-room, one of
    a cluster of ladies, when her heart told her that the doctor was
    approaching behind her. He was making his way from behind the red
    curtain, beneath which he had dived to give some final instructions.
    But suddenly he came to a standstill. He, too, had divined her
    presence, though she had not yet turned her head. Attired in a dress
    of black grenadine, she had never appeared more queenly in her beauty;
    and a thrill passed through him as he breathed the cool air which she
    had brought with her from outside, and wafted from her shoulders and
    arms, gleaming white under their transparent covering.

    "Henri has no eyes for anybody," exclaimed Pauline, with a laugh. "Ah,
    good-day, Henri!"

    Thereupon he advanced towards the group of ladies, with a courteous
    greeting. Mademoiselle Aurelie, who was amongst them, engaged his
    attention for the moment to point out to him a nephew whom she had
    brought with her. He was all complaisance. Helene, without speaking,
    gave him her hand, encased in its black glove, but he dared not clasp
    it with marked force.

    "Oh! here you are!" said Madame Deberle, as she appeared beside them.
    "I have been looking for you everywhere. It is nearly three o'clock;
    they had better begin."

    "Certainly; at once," was his reply.

    The drawing-room was now crowded. All round it, in the brilliant glare
    thrown from the chandelier, sat the fathers and mothers, their walking
    costumes serving to fringe the circle with less vivid colors. Some
    ladies, drawing their chairs together, formed groups; men standing
    motionless along the walls filled up the gaps; while in the doorway
    leading to the next room a cluster of frock-coated guests could be
    seen crowding together and peering over each other's shoulders. The
    light fell wholly on the little folks, noisy in their glee, as they
    rustled about in their seats in the centre of the large room. There
    were almost a hundred children packed together; in an endless variety
    of gay costumes, bright with blue and red. It was like a sea of fair
    heads, varying from pale yellow to ruddy gold, with here and there
    bows and flowers gleaming vividly--or like a field of ripe grain,
    spangled with poppies and cornflowers, and waving to and fro as though
    stirred by a breeze. At times, amidst this confusion of ribbons and
    lace, of silk and velvet, a face was turned round--a pink nose, a pair
    of blue eyes, a smiling or pouting little mouth. There were some, no
    higher than one's boots, who were buried out of sight between big lads
    of ten years of age, and whom their mothers sought from a distance,
    but in vain. A few of the boys looked bored and foolish by the side of
    girls who were busy spreading out their skirts. Some, however, were
    already very venturesome, jogging the elbows of their fair neighbors
    with whom they were unacquainted, and laughing in their faces. But the
    royalty of the gathering remained with the girls, some of whom,
    clustering in groups, stirred about in such a way as to threaten
    destruction to their chairs, and chattered so loudly that the grown-up
    folks could no longer hear one another speaking. And all eyes were
    intently gazing at the red curtain.

    Slowly was it drawn aside, and in the recess of the doorway appeared a
    puppet-show. There was a hushed silence. Then all at once Punch sprang
    in, with so ferocious a yell that baby Guiraud could not restrain a
    responsive cry of terror and delight. It was one of those bloodthirsty
    dramas in which Punch, having administered a sound beating to the
    magistrate, murders the policeman, and tramples with ferocious glee on
    every law, human and divine. At every cudgelling bestowed on the
    wooden heads the pitiless audience went into shrieks of laughter; and
    the sharp thrusts delivered by the puppets at each other's breasts,
    the duels in which they beat a tattoo on one another's skulls as
    though they were empty pumpkins, the awful havoc of legs and arms,
    reducing the characters to a jelly, served to increase the roars of
    laughter which rang out from all sides. But the climax of enjoyment
    was reached when Punch sawed off the policeman's head on the edge of
    the stage; an operation provocative of such hysterical mirth that the
    rows of juveniles were plunged into confusion, swaying to and fro with
    glee till they all but fell on one another. One tiny girl, but four
    years old, all pink and white, considered the spectacle so entrancing
    that she pressed her little hands devoutly to her heart. Others burst
    into applause, while the boys laughed, with mouths agape, their deeper
    voices mingling with the shrill peals from the girls.

    "How amused they are!" whispered the doctor. He had returned to his
    place near Helene. She was in high spirits like the children. Behind
    her, he sat inhaling the intoxicating perfume which came from her
    hair. And as one puppet on the stage dealt another an exceptionally
    hard knock she turned to him and exclaimed: "Do you know, it is
    awfully funny!"

    The youngsters, crazy with excitement, were now interfering with the
    action of the drama. They were giving answers to the various
    characters. One young lady, who must have been well up in the plot,
    was busy explaining what would next happen.

    "He'll beat his wife to death in a minute! Now they are going to hang

    The youngest of the Levasseur girls, who was two years old, shrieked
    out all at once:

    "Mamma, mamma, will they put him on bread and water?"

    All sorts of exclamations and reflections followed. Meanwhile Helene,
    gazing into the crowd of children, remarked: "I cannot see Jeanne. Is
    she enjoying herself?"

    Then the doctor bent forward, with head perilously near her own, and
    whispered: "There she is, between that harlequin and the Norman
    peasant maiden! You can see the pins gleaming in her hair. She is
    laughing very heartily."

    He still leaned towards her, her cool breath playing on his cheek.
    Till now no confession had escaped them; preserving silence, their
    intimacy had only been marred for a few days past by a vague sensation
    of discomfort. But amidst these bursts of happy laughter, gazing upon
    the little folks before her, Helene became once more, in sooth, a very
    child, surrendering herself to her feelings, while Henri's breath beat
    warm upon her neck. The whacks from the cudgel, now louder than ever,
    filled her with a quiver which inflated her bosom, and she turned
    towards him with sparkling eyes.

    "Good heavens! what nonsense it all is!" she said each time. "See how
    they hit one another!"

    "Oh! their heads are hard enough!" he replied, trembling.

    This was all his heart could find to say. Their minds were fast
    lapsing into childhood once more. Punch's unedifying life was
    fostering languor within their breasts. When the drama drew to its
    close with the appearance of the devil, and the final fight and
    general massacre ensued, Helene in leaning back pressed against
    Henri's hand, which was resting on the back of her arm-chair; while
    the juvenile audience, shouting and clapping their hands, made the
    very chairs creak with their enthusiasm.

    The red curtain dropped again, and the uproar was at its height when
    Malignon's presence was announced by Pauline, in her customary style:
    "Ah! here's the handsome Malignon!"

    He made his way into the room, shoving the chairs aside, quite out of

    "Dear me! what a funny idea to close the shutters!" he exclaimed,
    surprised and hesitating. "People might imagine that somebody in the
    house was dead." Then, turning towards Madame Deberle, who was
    approaching him, he continued: "Well, you can boast of having made me
    run about! Ever since the morning I have been hunting for Perdiguet;
    you know whom I mean, my singer fellow. But I haven't been able to lay
    my hands on him, and I have brought you the great Morizot instead."

    The great Morizot was an amateur who entertained drawing-rooms by
    conjuring with juggler-balls. A gipsy table was assigned to him, and
    on this he accomplished his most wonderful tricks; but it all passed
    off without the spectators evincing the slightest interest. The poor
    little darlings were pulling serious faces; some of the tinier mites
    fell fast asleep, sucking their thumbs. The older children turned
    their heads and smiled towards their parents, who were themselves
    yawning behind their hands. There was thus a general feeling of relief
    when the great Morizot decided to take his table away.

    "Oh! he's awfully clever," whispered Malignon into Madame Deberle's

    But the red curtain was drawn aside once again, and an entrancing
    spectacle brought all the little folks to their feet.

    Along the whole extent of the dining-room stretched the table, laid
    and bedecked as for a grand dinner, and illumined by the bright
    radiance of the central lamp and a pair of large candelabra. There
    were fifty covers laid; in the middle and at either end were shallow
    baskets, full of flowers; between these towered tall _epergnes_,
    filled to overflowing with crackers in gilded and colored paper. Then
    there were mountains of decorated cakes, pyramids of iced fruits,
    piles of sandwiches, and, less prominent, a whole host of
    symmetrically disposed plates, bearing sweetmeats and pastry: buns,
    cream puffs, and _brioches_ alternating with dry biscuits, cracknals,
    and fancy almond cakes. Jellies were quivering in their glass dishes.
    Whipped creams waited in porcelain bowls. And round the table sparkled
    the silver helmets of champagne bottles, no higher than one's hand,
    made specially to suit the little guests. It all looked like one of
    those gigantic feasts which children conjure up in dreamland--a feast
    served with the solemnity that attends a repast of grown-up folks--a
    fairy transformation of the table to which their own parents sat down,
    and on which the horns of plenty of innumerable pastry-cooks and toy
    dealers had been emptied.

    "Come, come, give the ladies your arms!" said Madame Deberle, her face
    covered with smiles as she watched the delight of the children.

    But the filing off in couples proved a lure. Lucien, who had
    triumphantly taken Jeanne's arm, went first. But the others following
    behind fell somewhat into confusion, and the mothers were forced to
    come and assign them places, remaining close at hand, especially
    behind the babies, whom they watched lest any mischance should befall
    them. Truth to tell, the guests at first seemed rather uncomfortable;
    they looked at one another, felt afraid to lay hands on the good
    things, and were vaguely disquieted by this new social organization in
    which everything appeared to be topsy-turvy, the children seated at
    table while their parents remained standing. At length the older ones
    gained confidence and commenced the attack. And when the mothers
    entered into the fray, and cut up the large cakes, helping those in
    their vicinity, the feast speedily became very animated and noisy. The
    exquisite symmetry of the table was destroyed as though by a tempest.
    The two Berthier girls, Blanche and Sophie, laughed at the sight of
    their plates, which had been filled with something of everything--jam,
    custard, cake, and fruit. The five young ladies of the Levasseur
    family took sole possession of a corner laden with dainties, while
    Valentine, proud of her fourteen years, acted the lady's part, and
    looked after the comfort of her little neighbors. Lucien, however,
    impatient to display his politeness, uncorked a bottle of champagne,
    but in so clumsy a way that the whole contents spurted over his cherry
    silk breeches. There was quite a to-do about it.

    "Kindly leave the bottles alone! I am to uncork the champagne,"
    shouted Pauline.

    She bustled about in an extraordinary fashion, purely for her own
    amusement. On the entry of a servant with the chocolate pot, she
    seized it and filled the cups with the greatest glee, as active in the
    performance as any restaurant waiter. Next she took round some ices
    and glasses of syrup and water, set them down for a moment to stuff a
    little baby-girl who had been overlooked, and then went off again,
    asking every one questions.

    "What is it you wish, my pet? Eh? A cake? Yes, my darling, wait a
    moment; I am going to pass you the oranges. Now eat away, you little
    stupids, you shall play afterwards."

    Madame Deberle, calm and dignified, declared that they ought to be
    left alone, and would acquit themselves very well.

    At one end of the room sat Helene and some other ladies laughing at
    the scene which the table presented; all the rosy mouths were eating
    with the full strength of their beautiful white teeth. And nothing
    could eclipse in drollery the occasional lapses from the polished
    behavior of well-bred children to the outrageous freaks of young
    savages. With both hands gripping their glasses, they drank to the
    very dregs, smeared their faces, and stained their dresses. The clamor
    grew worse. The last of the dishes were plundered. Jeanne herself
    began dancing on her chair as she heard the strains of a quadrille
    coming from the drawing-room; and on her mother approaching to upbraid
    her with having eaten too much, she replied: "Oh! mamma, I feel so
    happy to-day!"

    But now the other children were rising as they heard the music. Slowly
    the table thinned, until there only remained a fat, chubby infant
    right in the middle. He seemingly cared little for the attractions of
    the piano; with a napkin round his neck, and his chin resting on the
    tablecloth--for he was a mere chit--he opened his big eyes, and
    protruded his lips each time that his mamma offered him a spoonful of
    chocolate. The contents of the cup vanished, and he licked his lips as
    the last mouthful went down his throat, with eyes more agape than

    "By Jove! my lad, you eat heartily!" exclaimed Malignon, who was
    watching him with a thoughtful air.

    Now came the division of the "surprise" packets. Each child, on
    leaving the table, bore away one of the large gilt paper twists, the
    coverings of which were hastily torn off and from them poured forth a
    host of toys, grotesque hats made of tissue paper, birds and
    butterflies. But the joy of joys was the possession of a cracker.
    Every "surprise" packet had its cracker; and these the lads pulled at
    gallantly, delighted with the noise, while the girls shut their eyes,
    making many tries before the explosion took place. For a time the
    sharp crackling of all this musketry alone could be heard; and the
    uproar was still lasting when the children returned to the
    drawing-room, where lively quadrille music resounded from the piano.

    "I could enjoy a cake," murmured Mademoiselle Aurelie, as she sat

    At the table, which was now deserted, but covered with all the litter
    of the huge feast, a few ladies--some dozen or so, who had preferred
    to wait till the children had retired--now sat down. As no servant
    could be found, Malignon bustled hither and thither in attendance. He
    poured out all that remained in the chocolate pot, shook up the dregs
    of the bottles, and was even successful in discovering some ices. But
    amidst all these gallant doings of his, he could not quit one idea,
    and that was--why had they decided on closing the shutters?

    "You know," he asserted, "the place looks like a cellar."

    Helene had remained standing, engaged in conversation with Madame
    Deberle. As the latter directed her steps towards the drawing-room,
    her companion prepared to follow, when she felt a gentle touch. Behind
    her was the doctor, smiling; he was ever near her.

    "Are you not going to take anything?" he asked. And the trivial
    question cloaked so earnest an entreaty that her heart was filled with
    profound emotion. She knew well enough that each of his words was
    eloquent of another thing. The excitement springing from the gaiety
    which pulsed around her was slowly gaining on her. Some of the fever
    of all these little folks, now dancing and shouting, coursed in her
    own veins. With flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, she at first

    "No, thank you, nothing at all."

    But he pressed her, and in the end, ill at ease and anxious to get rid
    of him, she yielded. "Well, then, a cup of tea."

    He hurried off and returned with the cup, his hands trembling as he
    handed it to her. While she was sipping the tea he drew nearer to her,
    his lips quivering nervously with the confession springing from his
    heart. She in her turn drew back from him, and, returning him the
    empty cup, made her escape while he was placing it on a sideboard,
    thus leaving him alone in the dining-room with Mademoiselle Aurelie,
    who was slowly masticating, and subjecting each dish in succession to
    a close scrutiny.

    Within the drawing-room the piano was sending forth its loudest
    strains, and from end to end of the floor swept the ball with its
    charming drolleries. A circle of onlookers had gathered round the
    quadrille party with which Lucien and Jeanne were dancing. The little
    marquis became rather mixed over the figures; he only got on well when
    he had occasion to take hold of Jeanne; and then he gripped her by the
    waist and whirled around. Jeanne preserved her equilibrium, somewhat
    vexed by his rumpling her dress; but the delights of the dance taking
    full possession of her, she caught hold of him in her turn and lifted
    him off his feet. The white satin coat embroidered with nosegays
    mingled with the folds of the gown woven with flowers and strange
    birds, and the two little figures of old Dresden ware assumed all the
    grace and novelty of some whatnot ornaments. The quadrille over,
    Helene summoned Jeanne to her side, in order to rearrange her dress.

    "It is his fault, mamma," was the little one's excuse. "He rubs
    against me--he's a dreadful nuisance."

    Around the drawing-room the faces of the parents were wreathed with
    smiles. As soon as the music began again all the little ones were once
    more in motion. Seeing, however, that they were observed they felt
    distrustful, remained grave, and checked their leaps in order to keep
    up appearances. Some of them knew how to dance; but the majority were
    ignorant of the steps, and their limbs were evidently a source of
    embarrassment to them. But Pauline interposed: "I must see to them!
    Oh, you little stupids!"

    She threw herself into the midst of the quadrille, caught hold of two
    of them, one grasping her right hand the other her left, and managed
    to infuse such life into the dance that the wooden flooring creaked
    beneath them. The only sounds now audible rose from the hurrying
    hither and thither of tiny feet beating wholly out of time, the piano
    alone keeping to the dance measure. Some more of the older people
    joined in the fun. Helene and Madame Deberle, noticing some little
    maids who were too bashful to venture forth, dragged them into the
    thickest of the throng. It was they who led the figures, pushed the
    lads forward, and arranged the dancing in rings; and the mothers
    passed them the youngest of the babies, so that they might make them
    skip about for a moment, holding them the while by both hands. The
    ball was now at its height. The dancers enjoyed themselves to their
    hearts' content, laughing and pushing each other about like some
    boarding school mad with glee over the absence of the teacher.
    Nothing, truly, could surpass in unalloyed gaiety this carnival of
    youngsters, this assemblage of miniature men and women--akin to a
    veritable microcosm, wherein the fashions of every people mingled with
    the fantastic creations of romance and drama. The ruddy lips and blue
    eyes, the faces breathing love, invested the dresses with the fresh
    purity of childhood. The scene realized to the mind the merrymaking of
    a fairy-tale to which trooped Cupids in disguise to honor the
    betrothal of some Prince Charming.

    "I'm stifling!" exclaimed Malignon. "I'm off to inhale some fresh

    As he left the drawing-room he threw the door wide open. The daylight
    from the street then entered in a lurid stream, bedimming the glare of
    lamps and candles. In this fashion every quarter of an hour Malignon
    opened the door to let in some fresh air.

    Still there was no cessation of the piano-playing. Little Guiraud, in
    her Alsatian costume, with a butterfly of black ribbon in her golden
    hair, swung round in the dance with a harlequin twice her height. A
    Highlander whirled Marguerite Tissot round so madly that she lost her
    milk-pail. The two Berthier girls, Blanche and Sophie, who were
    inseparables, were dancing together; the soubrette in the arms of
    Folly, whose bells were jingling merrily. A glance could not be thrown
    over the assemblage without one of the Levasseur girls coming into
    view; the Red Riding-Hoods seemed to increase in number; caps and
    gowns of gleaming red satin slashed with black velvet everywhere
    leaped into sight. Meanwhile some of the older boys and girls had
    found refuge in the adjacent saloon, where they could dance more at
    their ease. Valentine de Chermette, cloaked in the mantilla of a
    Spanish senorita, was executing some marvellous steps in front of a
    young gentleman who had donned evening dress. Suddenly there was a
    burst of laughter which drew every one to the sight; behind a door in
    a corner, baby Guiraud, the two-year-old clown, and a mite of a girl
    of his own age, in peasant costume, were holding one another in a
    tight embrace for fear of tumbling, and gyrating round and round like
    a pair of slyboots, with cheek pressed to cheek.

    "I'm quite done up," remarked Helene, as she leaned against the
    dining-room door.

    She fanned her face, flushed with her exertions in the dance. Her
    bosom rose and fell beneath the transparent grenadine of her bodice.
    And she was still conscious of Henri's breath beating on her
    shoulders; he was still close to her--ever behind her. Now it flashed
    on her that he would speak, yet she had no strength to flee from his
    avowal. He came nearer and whispered, breathing on her hair: "I love
    you! oh, how I love you!"

    She tingled from head to foot, as though a gust of flame had beaten on
    her. O God! he had spoken; she could no longer feign the pleasurable
    quietude of ignorance. She hid behind her fan, her face purple with
    blushes. The children, whirling madly in the last of the quadrilles,
    were making the floor ring with the beating of their feet. There were
    silvery peals of laughter, and bird-like voices gave vent to
    exclamations of pleasure. A freshness arose from all that band of
    innocents galloping round and round like little demons.

    "I love you! oh, how I love you!"

    She shuddered again; she would listen no further. With dizzy brain she
    fled into the dining-room, but it was deserted, save that Monsieur
    Letellier sat on a chair, peacefully sleeping. Henri had followed her,
    and had the hardihood to seize her wrists even at the risk of a
    scandal, his face convulsed with such passion that she trembled before
    him. And he still repeated the words:

    "I love you! I love you!"

    "Leave me," she murmured faintly. "You are mad--"

    And, close by, the dancing still went on, with the trampling of tiny
    feet. Blanche Berthier's bells could be heard ringing in unison with
    the softer notes of the piano; Madame Deberle and Pauline were
    clapping their hands, by way of beating time. It was a polka, and
    Helene caught a glimpse of Jeanne and Lucien, as they passed by
    smiling, with arms clasped round each other.

    But with a sudden jerk she freed herself and fled to an adjacent room
    --a pantry into which streamed the daylight. That sudden brightness
    blinded her. She was terror-stricken--she dared not return to the
    drawing-room with the tale of passion written so legibly on her face.
    So, hastily crossing the garden, she climbed to her own home, the
    noises of the ball-room still ringing in her ears.
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    Chapter 9
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