He looked at her with his paternal

The next day Denise had scarcely been downstairs half an hour, when
Madame Aurélie said to her in her sharp voice: “You are wanted at the
directorate, mademoiselle.”

The young girl found Mouret alone, in the large office hung with green
repp. He had suddenly remembered the “unkempt girl,” as Bourdoncle
called her; and he, who usually detested the part of fault-finder, had
had the idea of sending for her and waking her up a bit, if she were
still dressed in the style of a country wench. The previous day,
notwithstanding his pleasantry, he had experienced, in Madame
Desforges’s presence, a feeling of wounded vanity, on seeing the
elegance of one of his saleswomen discussed. He felt a confused
sentiment, a mixture of sympathy and anger.

“We have engaged you, mademoiselle,” commenced he, “out of regard for
your uncle, and you must not put us under the sad necessity—-”

But he stopped. Opposite him, on the other side of the desk, stood
Denise, upright, serious, and pale. Her silk dress was no longer too big
for her, but fitted tight round her pretty figure, displaying the
pure lines of her virgin shoulders; and if her hair, knotted in thick
tresses, still appeared untidy, she tried at least to keep it in order.
After having gone to sleep with her clothes on, her eyes red with
weeping, the young girl had felt ashamed of this attack of nervous
sensibility on waking up about four o’clock, and she had immediately
set about taking in her dress. She had spent an hour before the small
looking-glass, combing her hair, without being able to reduce it as she
would have liked to.

“Ah! thank heavens!” said Mouret, “you look better this morning. But
there’s still that dreadful hair!” He rose from his seat and went up to
her to try and smooth it down in the same familiar way Madame Aurélie
had attempted to do it the previous day. “There! just tuck that in
behind your ear. The chignon is too high.”

She did not speak, but let him continue to arrange her hair;
notwithstanding her vow to be strong, she had arrived at the office full
of misgivings, certain that she had been sent for to be informed of her
dismissal. And Mouret’s evident kindliness did not reassure her; she
still felt afraid of him, feeling when near him that uneasiness which
she attributed to a natural anxiety in the presence of a powerful man
on whom her fate depended. When he saw her so trembling under his
hands, which were grazing her neck, he was sorry for his movement of
good-nature, for he feared above all to lose his authority.

“In short, mademoiselle,” resumed he, once more placing the desk between
himself and her, “try and look to your appearance. You are no longer
at Valognes; study our Parisian young ladies. If your uncle’s name has
sufficed to gain your admittance to our house, I feel sure you will
carry out what your person seemed to promise to me. Unfortunately,
everybody here is not of my opinion. Let this be a warning to you. Don’t
make me tell a falsehood.”

He treated her like a child, with more pity than kindness, his curiosity
in matters feminine simply awakened by the troubling, womanly charm
which he felt springing up in this poor and awkward child. And she,
whilst he was lecturing her, having suddenly perceived Madame Hedouin’s
portrait–the handsome regular face smiling gravely in the gold
frame–felt herself shivering again, notwithstanding the encouraging
words he addressed to her. This was the dead lady, she whom people
accused him of having killed, in order to found the house with the blood
of her body.

Mouret was still speaking. “Now you may go,” said he at last, sitting
down and taking up his pen. She went away, heaving a deep sigh of
relief.

From that day forward, Denise displayed her great courage. Beneath these
rare attacks of sensitiveness, a strong sense of reason was constantly
working, quite a feeling of bravery at finding herself weak and alone, a
cheerful determination to carry out her self-imposed task. She made very
little noise, but went straight ahead to her goal, with an invincible
sweetness, overcoming all obstacles, and that simply and naturally, for
such was her real character.

At first she had to surmount the terrible fatigues of the department The
parcels of garments tired her arms, so much so that during the first
six weeks she cried with pain when she turned over at night, bent almost
double, her shoulders bruised. But she suffered still more from her
shoes, thick shoes brought from Valognes, want of money preventing her
replacing them with light boots. Always on her feet, trotting about
from morning to night, scolded if seen leaning for a moment against any
support, her feet became swollen, little feet, like those of a child,
which seemed ground up in these torturing bluchers; her heels throbbed
with fever, the soles were covered with blisters, the skin of which
chafed off and stuck to the stocking. She felt her entire frame
shattered, her limbs and organs contracted by the lassitude of her legs,
the certain sudden weaknesses incident to her sex betraying themselves
by the paleness of her flesh. And she, so thin, so frail, resisted
courageously, whilst a great many saleswomen around her were obliged
to quit the business, attacked with special maladies. Her good grace in
suffering, her valiant obstinacy maintained her, smiling and upright,
when she felt ready to give way, thoroughly worn out and exhausted by
work to which men would have succumbed.

Another torment was to have the whole department against her. To
the physical martyrdom there was added the secret persecution of her
comrades. Two months of patience and gentleness had not disarmed them.
She was constantly exposed to wounding remarks, cruel inventions,
a series of slights which cut her to the heart, in her longing for
affection. They had joked for a long time over her unfortunate first
appearance; the words “clogs” and “numbskull” circulated. Those who
missed a sale were sent to Valognes; she passed, in short, for the fool
of the place. Then, when she revealed herself later on as a remarkable
saleswoman, well up in the mechanism of the house, the young ladies
arranged together so as never to leave her a good customer. Marguerite
and Clara pursued her with an instinctive hatred, closing up the ranks
in order not to be swallowed up by this new comer, whom they really
feared in spite of their affectation of disdain. As for Madame Aurélie,
she was hurt by the proud reserve displayed by the young girl, who did
not hover round her skirts with an air of caressing admiration; she
therefore abandoned Denise to the rancour of her favourites, to the
favoured ones of her court, who were always on their knees, engaged in
feeding her with a continual flattery, which her large authoritative
person needed to make it blossom forth. For a while, the second-hand,
Madame Frédéric, appeared not to enter into the conspiracy, but this
must have been by inadvertence, for she showed herself equally harsh the
moment she saw to what annoyances her good-nature was likely to expose
her. Then the abandonment became complete, they all made a butt of the
“unkempt girl,” who lived in an hourly struggle, only managing by the
greatest courage to hold her own in the department.

Such was her life now. She had to smile, look brave and gracious in a
silk dress which did not belong to her, although dying with fatigue,
badly fed, badly treated, under the continual menace of a brutal
dismissal. Her room was her only refuge, the only place where she could
abandon herself to the luxury of a cry, when she had suffered too much
during the day. But a terrible coldness fell from the zinc roof, covered
with the December snow; she was obliged to nestle in her iron bedstead,
throw all her clothes over her, and weep under the counterpane to
prevent the frost chapping her face. Mouret never spoke to her now. When
she caught Bourdoncle’s severe looks during business hours she trembled,
for she felt in him a born enemy who would not forgive her the slightest
fault. And amidst this general hostility, Jouve the inspector’s strange
friendliness astonished her. If he met her in any out-of-the-way corner
he smiled at her, made some amiable remark; twice he had saved her from
being reprimanded without any show of gratitude on her part, for she was
more troubled than touched by his protection.

One evening, after dinner, as the young ladies were setting the
cupboards in order, Joseph came and informed Denise that a young man
wanted her below. She went down, feeling very anxious.

“Hullo!” said Clara, “the ‘unkempt girl’ has got a young man.”

“He must be hard up for a sweetheart,” declared Marguerite.

Downstairs, at the door, Denise found her brother Jean. She had formally
prohibited him from coming to the shop in this way, as it looked very
bad. But she did not dare to scold him, so excited did he appear,
bareheaded, out of breath through running from the Faubourg du Temple.

“Have you got ten francs?” stammered he. “Give me ten francs, or I’m a
lost man.”

The young rascal looked so comical, with his flowing locks and handsome
girlish face, launching out with this melodramatic phrase, that she
could have smiled had it not been for the anguish which this demand for
money caused her.

“What! ten francs?” she murmured. “Whatever’s the matter?”

He blushed, and explained that he had met a friend’s sister. Denise
stopped him, feeling embarrassed, not wishing to know any more about it.
Twice already had he rushed in to obtain similar loans, but the first
time it was only twenty-five sous, and the next thirty. He was always
getting mixed up with women.

“I can’t give you ten francs,” resumed she. “Pépé’s board isn’t paid
yet, and I’ve only just the money. I shall have hardly enough to buy a
pair of boots, which I want badly. You really are not reasonable, Jean.
It’s too bad of you.”

“Well, I’m lost,” repeated he, with a tragical gesture. “Just listen,
little sister; she’s a tall, dark girl; we went to the café with her
brother. I never thought the drinks—-”

She had to interrupt him again, and as tears were coming into his eyes,
she took out her purse and slipped a ten-franc piece into his hand. He
at once set up a laugh.

“I was sure–But my word of honour! never again! A fellow would have to
be a regular scamp.”

And he ran off, after having kissed his sister, like a madman. The
fellows in the shop seemed astonished.

That night Denise did not sleep much. Since her entry in The Ladies’
Paradise, money had been her cruel anxiety. She was still a probationer,
without salary; the young ladies in the department frequently prevented
her from selling, and she just managed to pay Pépé’s board and lodging,
thanks to the unimportant customers they were good enough to leave her.
It was a time of black misery–misery in a silk dress. She was often
obliged to spend the night repairing her small stack of clothes, darning
her linen, mending her chemises as if they had been lace; without
mentioning the patches she put on her boots, as cleverly as any
bootmaker could have done. She even risked washing things in her hand
basin. But her old woollen dress was an especial cause of anxiety to
her; she had no other, and was forced to put it on every evening when
she quitted the uniform silk, and this wore it terribly; a spot on
it gave her the fever, the least tear was a catastrophe. And she had
nothing, not a sou, not even enough to buy the trifling articles which
a woman always wants; she had been obliged to wait a fortnight to renew
her stock of needles and cotton. Thus it was a real disaster when Jean,
with his love affairs, dropped down all at once and pillaged her purse.
A franc-piece taken away caused a gulf which she did not know how
to fill up. As for finding ten francs on the morrow it was not to be
thought of for a moment. The whole night she slept an uncomfortable
sleep, haunted by the nightmare, in which she saw Pépé thrown into the
street, whilst she was turning over the flagstones with her bruised
fingers to see if there were not some money underneath.

It happened that the next day she had to play the part of the
well-dressed girl. Some well-known customers came in, and Madame Aurélie
called her several times in order that she should show off the new
styles. And whilst she was posing there, with the stiff graces of a
fashion-plate, she was thinking of Pépé’s board and lodging, which she
had promised to pay that evening. She could very well do without boots
for another month; but even on adding the thirty francs she had left to
the four francs which she had saved sou by sou, that would never make
more than thirty-four francs, and where was she to find six francs to
complete the sum? It was an anguish in which her heart failed her.

“You will notice the shoulders are free,” Madame Aurélie was saying.
“It’s very fashionable and very convenient. The young person can fold
her arms.”

“Oh! easily,” replied Denise, who continued to smile amiably. “One can’t
feel it. I am sure you will like it, madame.”

She now blamed herself for having gone to fetch Pépé from Madame Gras’s,
the previous Sunday, to take him for a walk in the Champs-Elysées. The
poor child so seldom went out with her! But she had had to buy some
gingerbread and a little spade, and then take him to see Punch and Judy,
and that had mounted at once to twenty-nine sous. Really Jean could
not think much about the little one, or he would not be so foolish.
Afterwards, everything fell upon her shoulders.

“Of course, if it does not suit you, madame–” resumed the first-hand.
“Just put this cloak on, mademoiselle, so that the lady may judge.”

And Denise walked slowly round, with the cloak on, saying: “This is
warmer. It’s this year’s fashion.”

And she continued to torture herself, behind her professional good
graces, until the evening, to know where she was to find this money. The
young ladies, who were very busy, had left her an important sale; but
it was only Tuesday, and she had four days to wait before drawing any
money. After dinner she decided to postpone her visit to Madame Gras
till the next day. She would excuse herself, say she had been detained,
and before then she would have the six francs, perhaps.

As Denise avoided the slightest expense, she went to bed early. What
could she do in the streets, with her unsociableness, still frightened
by the big city in which she only knew the streets near the shop? After
having ventured as far as the Palais-Royal, to get a little fresh air,
she would quickly return, lock herself in her room and set about sewing
or washing.

It was, along the corridor of the bed-rooms, a barrack-like
promiscuity–girls, who were often not very tidy, a gossiping over dirty
water and dirty linen, quite a disagreeable feeling, which manifested
itself in frequent quarrels and continual reconciliations. They were,
moreover, prohibited from going up to their rooms in the day-time; they
did not live there, but merely slept there at night, not going up till
the last minute, leaving again in the morning still half asleep, hardly
awakened by a rapid wash; and this gust of wind which was continually
sweeping through the corridor, the fatigue of the thirteen hours’ work
which threw them on their beds thoroughly worn out, changed this upper
part of the house into an inn traversed by the tired ill-temper of a
host of travellers. Denise had no friend. Of all the young ladies,
one alone, Pauline Cugnot, showed her a certain tenderness; and the
ready-made and under-clothing departments being close to one another,
and in open war, the sympathy between the two saleswomen had hitherto
been confined to a few rare words hastily exchanged. Pauline occupied
a neighbouring room, to the right of Denise’s; but as she disappeared
immediately after dinner and only returned at eleven o’clock, the latter
only heard her get into bed, without ever meeting her after business
hours.

This evening, Denise had made up her mind to play the part of bootmaker
once more. She was holding her shoes, turning them about, wondering how
she could make them last another month. At last she decided to take a
strong needle and sew on the soles, which were threatening to leave the
uppers. During this time a collar and a pair of cuffs were soaking in
the basin full of soapsuds.

Every evening she heard the same noises, the young ladies coming in
one by one, short whispered conversations, laughing, and sometimes a
dispute, which they stifled as much as possible. Then the beds creaked,
the tired occupants yawned, and fell into a heavy slumber. Denise’s left
hand neighbour often talked in her sleep, which frightened her very much
at first Perhaps others, like herself, stopped up to mend their things,
in spite of the rules; but if so they probably took the same precautions
as she did herself, keeping very quiet, avoiding the least shock, for a
shivering silence reigned in all the rooms.

It had struck eleven about ten minutes before when a sound of footsteps
made her raise her head. Another young lady late! And she recognised it
to be Pauline, by hearing the latter open the door next to her.

But she was astonished when Pauline returned quietly and knocked at her
door.

“Make haste, it’s me!”

The saleswomen not being allowed to visit each other in their rooms,
Denise quickly unlocked the door, so that her neighbour should not
be caught by Madame Cabin, who was supposed to see this rule strictly
carried out.

“Was she there?” asked Denise, closing the door.

“Who? Madame Cabin?” replied Pauline. “Oh, I’m not afraid of her, she’s
easily settled with a five-franc-piece!” Then she added: “I’ve wanted to
have a talk with you for a long time past. But it’s impossible to do so
downstairs. Besides, you looked so down-hearted to-night at table.”

Denise thanked her, and invited her to sit down, touched by her
good-natured air. But in the trouble caused by the sudden visit she had
not laid down the shoe she was mending, and Pauline’s eyes fell on it
at once. She shook her head, looked round and perceived the collar and
cuffs in the basin.

“My poor child, I thought as much,” resumed she. “Ah, I know what it is!
When I first came up from Chartres, and old Cugnot didn’t send me a sou,
I many a time washed my own chemises! Yes, yes, even my chemises! I had
two, and there was always one in soak.”

She sat down, still out of breath from running. Her large face,
with small bright eyes, and big tender mouth, had a certain grace,
notwithstanding the rather coarse features. And, without transition,
all of a sudden, she related her history; her childhood at the mill; old
Cugnot ruined by a lawsuit; her being sent to Paris to make her fortune
with twenty francs in her pocket; then her start as a shop-girl in a
shop at Batignolles, then at The Ladies’ Paradise–a terrible start, all
the sufferings and all the privations imaginable; she then spoke of
her present life, of the two hundred francs she earned a month, the
pleasures she indulged in, the carelessness in which she allowed her
days to glide away. Some jewellery, a brooch, a watch-chain, glistened
on her dark-blue cloth dress, coquettishly made to the figure; and she
wore a velvet hat, ornamented with a large grey feather.

Denise had turned very red, with her shoe. She began to stammer out an
explanation.

“But the same thing happened to me,” repeated Pauline.

“Come, come, I’m older than you, I’m over twenty-six, though I don’t
look it. Just tell me your little troubles.”

Denise yielded, conquered by this friendship so frankly offered. She
sat down in her petticoat, with an old shawl over her shoulders, near
Pauline in full dress; and an interesting gossip ensued.

It was freezing in the room, the cold seemed to run down the bare
prison-like walls; but they did not notice that their fingers were
almost frost-bitten, they were so fully taken up by their conversation.
Little by little, Denise opened her heart entirely, spoke of Jean and
Pépé, and how much the money question tortured her; which led them both
to abuse the young ladies in the dress department. Pauline relieved her
mind.

“Oh, the hussies! If they treated you properly and in a friendly manner,
you could make more than a hundred francs a month.”

“Everybody is down on me, and I’m sure I don’t know why,” said Denise,
beginning to cry. “Look at Monsieur Bourdoncle, he’s always watching me
for a chance of finding me in fault, as if I were in his way. Old Jouve
is about the only one—-”

The other interrupted her. “What, that old monkey of an inspector! Ah!
my dear, don’t you trust him. You know, men with big noses like his! He
may display his decoration as much as he likes, there’s a story about
something that happened to him in our department. But what a child you
are to grieve like this! What a misfortune it is to be so sensitive! Of
course, what is happening to you happens to every one; they are making
you pay your footing.”

She seized her hands and kissed her, carried away by her good heart The
money-question was a graver one. Certainly a poor girl could not support
her two brothers, pay the little one’s board and lodging, and regale the
big one’s mistresses with the few paltry sous picked up from the others’
cast-off customers; for it was to be feared that she would not get any
salary until business improved in March.

“Listen to me, it’s impossible for you to live in this way any longer.
If I were you—-” said Pauline.

But a noise in the corridor stopped her. It was probably Marguerite, who
was accused of prowling about at night to watch the others. Pauline,
who was still pressing her friend’s hand, looked at her for a moment in
silence, listening. Then she resumed in a very low tone, with an air of
tender conviction: “If I were you I should take some one.”

“How some one?” murmured Denise, not understanding at first.

When she understood, she withdrew her hands, looking very confused. This
advice made her feel awkward, like an idea which had never occurred to
her, and of which she could not see the advantage.

“Oh! no,” replied she simply.

“Then,” continued Pauline, “you’ll never manage, I tell you so, plainly.
Here are the figures: forty francs for the little one, a five franc
piece now and again for the big one; and then there’s yourself, you
can’t always go about dressed like a pauper, with boots that make the
other girls laugh at you; yes, really, your boots do you a deal of harm.
Take some one, it would be much better.”

“No,” repeated Denise.

“Well! you are very foolish. It’s inevitable, my dear, and so natural.
We all do it sooner or later. Look at me, I was a probationer, like you,
without a sou. We are boarded and lodged, it’s true; but there’s our
dress; besides, it’s impossible to go without a copper in one’s pocket,
shut up in one’s room, watching the flies. So you see girls forcibly
drift into it.”

She then spoke of her first lover, a lawyer’s clerk whom she had met at
a party at Meudon. After him, came a post-office clerk. And, finally,
ever since the autumn, she had been keeping company with a salesman at
the Bon Marche, a very nice tall fellow, with whom she spent all her
leisure time. Never more than one sweetheart at a time, however. She was
very respectable in her way, and became indignant when she heard talk of
those girls who yielded to the first-comer.

“I don’t tell you to misconduct yourself, you know!” said she quickly.
“For instance, I should not like to be seen with your Clara, for fear
people should say I was as bad as she. But when a girl stays quietly
with one lover, and has nothing to blame herself for–do you think that
wrong?”

“No,” replied Denise. “But I don’t care for it, that’s all.” There was
a fresh silence. In the small icy-cold room they were smiling to each
other, greatly affected by this whispered conversation. “Besides, one
must have some affection for some one before doing so,” resumed she, her
cheeks scarlet.

Pauline was astonished. She set up a laugh, and embraced her a second
time, saying: “But, my darling, when you meet and like each other! You
are funny! People won’t force you. Look here, would you like Bauge
to take us somewhere in the country on Sunday? He’ll bring one of his
friends.”

“No,” said Denise, in her gently obstinate way.

Pauline insisted no longer. Each one was free to act as she liked. What
she had said was out of pure kindness of heart, for she felt really
grieved to see a comrade so miserable. And as it was nearly midnight,
she got up to leave. But before doing so she forced Denise to accept the
six francs she wanted, begging her not to trouble about the matter, but
to repay the amount when she earned more.

“Now,” added she, “blow your candle out, so that they can’t see which
door opens; you can light it again immediately.”

The candle blown out, they shook hands; and Pauline ran off to her room,
without leaving any trace in the darkness but the vague rustling of her
petticoats amidst the deep slumber of the occupants of the other little
rooms.

Before going to bed Denise wanted to finish her boot and do her washing.
The cold became sharper still as the night advanced; but she did not
feel it, this conversation had stirred up her heart’s blood. She was not
shocked, it seemed to her that every one had a right to arrange her life
as she liked, when alone and free in the world. She had never given way
to such ideas; her sense of right and her healthy nature maintained her
naturally in the respectability in which she had always lived. About one
o’clock she at last went to bed. No, she did not love any one. So what
was the use of disarranging her life, of spoiling the maternal devotion
she had vowed for her two brothers? However, she did not sleep; a crowd
of indistinct forms passed before her closed eyes, vanishing in the
darkness.

From this moment Denise took an interest in the love-stories of the
department. During the slack moments they were constantly occupied
by their affairs with the men. Gossiping tales flew about, stories of
adventures amused the girls for a week. Clara was a scandal; she had
three lovers, without counting a string of chance admirers whom she had
in tow; and, if she did not leave the shop, where she did the least work
possible, disdaining the money which she could easily and more agreeably
earn elsewhere, it was to shield herself from her family; for she was
mortally afraid of old Prunaire, who threatened to come to Paris and
break her arms and legs with his clogs. Marguerite, on the contrary,
behaved very well, and was not known to have any lover; this caused
some surprise, for all knew of her adventure–her coming to Paris to be
confined in secret; how had she come to have the child, if she were so
virtuous? And there were some who hinted at an accident, adding that she
was now reserving herself for her cousin at Grenoble. The young ladies
also joked about Madame Frédéric, declaring that she was discreetly
connected with certain great personages; the truth was that they knew
nothing of her love-affairs; for she disappeared every evening, stiff
as starch in her widow’s ill-temper, evidently in a great hurry, though
nobody knew where she was running off to so eagerly. As to Madame
Aurélie’s passions, her pretended larks with obedient young men, they
were certainly false; mere inventions, spread abroad by discontented
saleswomen just for fun. Perhaps she had formerly displayed rather too
much motherly feeling for one of her son’s friends, but she now occupied
too high a place in the drapery business to allow her to amuse herself
with such childish matters. Then there was the crowd leaving in the
evening, nine girls out of every ten having young men waiting for them
at the door; in the Place Gaillon, along the Rue de la Michodière, and
the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, there was always quite a troop of men
standing motionless, watching for the girls coming out; and, when they
came, each one gave his arm to his lady and disappeared, talking with a
marital tranquillity.

But what troubled Denise most was to have discovered Colomban’s secret.
He was continually to be seen on the other side of the street, at the
door of The Old Elbeuf, his eyes raised, and never quitting the young
ladies in the readymade department. When he felt Denise was watching him
he blushed and turned away his head, as if afraid she might betray him
to Geneviève, although there had been no further connection between the
Baudus and their niece since her engagement at The Ladies’ Paradise.
At first she had thought he was in love with Marguerite, on seeing his
despairing looks, for Marguerite, being very quiet, and sleeping in the
building, was not very easy to get at. But what was her astonishment to
find that Colomban’s ardent glances were intended for Clara. He had been
like that for months, devoured by passion on the opposite side of the
way, without finding the courage to declare himself; and that for a girl
who was perfectly free, who lived in the Rue Louis-le-Grand, and whom he
could have spoken to any evening before she walked off on the arm of a
fresh fellow! Clara herself appeared to have no idea of her conquest.
Denise’s discovery filled her with a painful emotion. Was love, then,
such a stupid thing as that? What! this fellow, who had real
happiness within his reach, was ruining his life, enraptured with this
good-for-nothing girl as if she were a saint! From that day she was
seized with a feeling of grief every time she saw Geneviève’s pale and
suffering face behind the green panes of The Old Elbeuf.

In the evening, Denise could not help thinking a great deal, on seeing
the young ladies march off with their sweethearts Those who did not
sleep at The Ladies’ Paradise, disappeared until the next day, bringing
back into their departments an outside odour, a sort of troubling,
unknown impression. The young girl was sometimes obliged to reply with
a smile to a friendly nod from Pauline, whom Bauge waited for every
evening regularly at half-past eight, at the corner of the fountain
in the Place Gaillon. Then, after having gone out the last and taken
a furtive walk, always alone, she was invariably the first in, going
upstairs to work, or to bed, her head filled with dreams, full of
curiosity about this outdoor life, of which she knew nothing. She
certainly did not envy the young ladies, she was happy in her solitude,
in that unsociableness to which her timidity condemned her, as to a
refuge; but her imagination carried her away, she tried to guess things,
evoking the pleasures constantly described before her, the cafés, the
restaurants, the theatres, the Sundays spent on the water and in the
country taverns. This filled her with a mental weakness, a desire
mingled with lassitude; and she seemed to be already tired of those
amusements which she had never tasted.

However, there was but little room for these dangerous dreams in her
daily working life. During the thirteen hours’ hard work in the shop,
there was no time for any display of tenderness between the salesmen and
the saleswomen. If the continual fight for money had not abolished the
sexes, the unceasing press of business which occupied their minds and
fatigued their bodies would have sufficed to kill all desire. But
very few love-affairs had been known in the establishment amidst the
hostilities and friendships between the men and the women, the constant
elbowings from department to department. They were all nothing but
the wheels, turned round by the immense machine, abdicating their
personalities, simply contributing their strength to this commonplace,
powerful total. It was only outside that they resumed their individual
lives, with the abrupt flame of awakening passions.

Denise, however, one day saw Albert Lhomme slipping a note into the hand
of a young lady in the underclothing department, after having several
times passed through with an air of indifference. The dead season, which
lasts from December to February was commencing; and she had periods of
rest, hours spent on her feet, her eyes wandering all over the
shop, waiting for customers. The young ladies of her department were
especially friendly with the salesmen who served the lace, but their
intimacy never went any further than some rather risky jokes, exchanged
in whispers. In the lace department there was a second-hand, a gay youth
who pursued Clara with all sorts of abominable stories, simply for a
joke–so careless at heart that he made no effort to meet her outside;
and thus it was from counter to counter, between the gentlemen and the
young ladies, a series of winks, nods, and remarks, which they alone
understood. At times they indulged in some sly gossip with their
backs half turned and with a dreamy air, in order to put the terrible
Bourdoncle off the scent As for Deloche, for a long time he contented
him self with smiling at Denise when he met her; but, getting bolder,
he occasionally murmured a friendly word. The day she had noticed
Madame Aurélie’s son giving a note to the young lady in the under-linen
department, Deloche was asking her if she had enjoyed her lunch, feeling
to want to say something, and unable to find anything more amiable.
He also saw the white paper; and looking at the young girl, they both
blushed at this intrigue carried on before them.

But under these rumours which gradually awoke the woman in her, Denise
still retained her infantine peace of mind. The one thing that stirred
her heart was meeting with Hutin. But even that was only gratitude
in her eyes; she simply thought herself touched by the young man’s
politeness. He could not bring a customer to the department without her
feeling quite confused. Several times, on returning from a pay-desk, she
found herself making a _détour_, uselessly passing the silk counter,
her bosom heaving with emotion. One afternoon she met Mouret there, who
seemed to follow her with a smile. He paid no more attention to her now,
only addressing a few words to her from time to time, to give her a few
hints about her toilet, and to joke with her, as an impossible girl, a
little savage almost like a boy, of whom he would never make a coquette,
notwithstanding all his knowledge of women; sometimes he even ventured
to laugh at and tease her, without wishing to acknowledge to himself
the charm which this little saleswoman inspired in him, with her comical
head of hair. Before this mute smile, Denise trembled, as if she were
in fault Did he know why she was going through the silk department, when
she could not herself have explained what made her make such a _détour?_

Hutin, moreover, did not seem to be aware in any way of the young
girl’s grateful looks. The shop-girls were not his style, he affected to
despise them, boasting more than ever of extraordinary adventures with
the lady customers; a baroness had been struck with him at his counter,
and the wife of an architect had fallen into his arms one day when he
went to her house about an error in measuring he had made. Beneath
this Norman boasting he simply concealed girls picked up in cafés and
music-halls. Like all young gentlemen in the drapery line, he had a
mania for spending, fighting in his department the whole week with a
miser’s greediness, with the sole wish to squander his money on Sunday
on the racecourses, in the restaurants, and dancing-saloons; never
thinking of saving a penny, spending his salary as soon as he drew it,
absolutely indifferent about the future. Favier did not join him in
these parties. Hutin and he, so friendly in the shop, bowed to each
other at the door, where all further intercourse ceased. A great many of
the shopmen, in continual contact indoors, became strangers, ignorant of
each other’s lives, as soon as they set foot in the streets. But Liénard
was Hutin’s intimate friend. Both lived in the same lodging-house,
the Hôtel de Smyrne, in the Rue Sainte-Anne, a murky building entirely
inhabited by shop assistants. In the morning they arrived together;
then, in the evening, the first one free, after the folding was done,
waited for the other at the Cafe Saint-Roch, in the Rue Saint-Roch, a
little café where the employees of The Ladies’ Paradise usually met,
brawling, drinking, and playing cards amidst the smoke of their pipes.
They often stopped there till one in the morning, until the tired
landlord turned them out. For the last month they had been spending
three evenings a week at a free-and-easy at Montmartre; and they took
their friends with them, creating a success for Mademoiselle Laure, a
music-hall singer. Hutin’s latest conquest, whose talent they applauded
with such violent blows and such a clamour that the police had been
obliged to interfere on two occasions.

The winter passed in this way, and Denise at last obtained three hundred
francs a-year fixed salary. It was quite time, for her shoes were
completely worn out. For the last month she had avoided going out, for
fear of bursting them entirely.

“What a noise you make with your shoes, mademoiselle!” Madame Aurélie
very often remarked, with an irritated look. “It’s intolerable. What’s
the matter with your feet?”

The day Denise appeared with a pair of cloth boots, for which she had
given five francs, Marguerite and Clara expressed their astonishment in
a kind of half whisper, so as to be heard.

“Hullo! the ‘unkempt girl’ has given up her goloshes,” said the one.

“Ah,” retorted the other, “she must have cried over them. They were her
mother’s.”

In point of fact, there was a general uprising against Denise. The girls
of her department had found out her friendship with Pauline, and thought
they saw a certain bravado in this affection displayed for a saleswoman
of a rival counter. They spoke of treason, accused her of going and
repeating their slightest words. The war between the two departments
became more violent than ever, it had never waxed so warm; hard words
were exchanged like cannon-balls, and there was even a slap given one
evening behind some boxes of chemises. Perhaps this remote quarrel arose
from the fact that the young ladies in the under-linen department wore
woollen dresses, whilst those in the ready-made one wore silk. In any
case, the former spoke of their neighbours with the shocked air of
respectable girls; and facts proved that they were right, for it had
been remarked that the silk dresses appeared to have a certain influence
on the dissolute habits of the young ladies who wore them. Clara was
taunted with her troop of lovers, even Marguerite had, so to say, had
her child thrown in her face, whilst Madame Frédéric was accused of
all sorts of concealed passions. And this was solely on account of that
Denise!

“Now, young ladies, no ugly words; behave yourselves!” Madame Aurélie
would say with her imperial air, amidst the rising passions of her
little kingdom. “Show who you are.”

At heart she preferred to remain neutral. As she confessed one day, when
talking to Mouret, these girls were all about the same, one was as good
as the other. But she suddenly became impassioned when she learnt from
Bourdoncle that he had just caught her son downstairs kissing a young
girl belonging to the under-linen department, the saleswoman to whom he
had passed several letters. It was abominable, and she roundly accused
the under-linen department of having laid a trap for Albert. Yes, it was
a got-up affair against herself, they were trying to dishonour her by
ruining a child without experience, after seeing that it was impossible
to attack her department. Her only object in making such a noise was to
complicate the business, for she knew what her son was, fully aware
that he was capable of doing all sorts of stupid things. For a time the
matter assumed a grave aspect, Mignot, the glove salesman, was mixed up
in it. He was a great friend of Albert’s, and the rumour got circulated
that he favoured the mistresses Albert sent him, girls with big
chignons, who rummaged in the boxes for hours together; and there was
also a story about some Swedish kid gloves given to the girl of the
under-linen department which was never properly cleared up. At last
the scandal was hushed up out of regard for Madame Aurélie, whom Mouret
himself treated with deference. Bourdoncle contented himself a week
after with dismissing, for some slight offence, the girl who allowed
herself to be kissed. If they shut their eyes to the terrible doings
of their employees outdoors, the managers did not tolerate the least
nonsense in the house.

And it was Denise who suffered for all this. Madame Aurélie, although
perfectly well aware of what was going on, nourished a secret rancour
against her; she saw her laughing one evening with Pauline, and took
it for bravado, concluding that they were gossiping over her son’s
love-affairs. And she caused the young girl to be isolated more than
ever in the department. For some time she had been thinking of inviting
the young ladies to spend a Sunday near Rambouillet, at Rigolles, where
she had bought a country house with the first hundred thousand francs
she had saved; and she suddenly decided to do so; it would be a means
of punishing Denise, of putting her openly on one side. She was the only
one not invited. For a fortnight in advance, nothing was talked of but
this party; the girls kept their eyes on the sky, and had already
mapped out the whole day, looking forward to all sorts of pleasures:
donkey-riding, milk and brown bread. And they were to be all women,
which was more amusing still! As a rule, Madame Aurélie killed her
holidays in this way, going out with her lady friends; for she was so
little accustomed to being at home, she always felt so uncomfortable, so
strange, during the rare occasions she could dine with her husband and
son, that she preferred to throw up even those occasions, and go and
dine at a restaurant. Lhomme went his own way, enraptured to resume
his bachelor existence, and Albert, greatly relieved, went off with
his beauties; so that, unaccustomed to being at home, feeling in each
other’s way, and wearying each other when together on a Sunday, they
paid nothing more than a flying visit to the house, as to some common
hôtel where people take a bed for the night. Regarding the excursion
to Rambouillet, Madame Aurélie simply declared that propriety prevented
Albert joining them, and that the father himself would display great
tact by refusing to come; a declaration which enchanted the two men.
However, the happy day was drawing near, and the young girls chattered
more than ever, relating their preparations in the way of dress, as if
they were going on a six months’ tour, whilst Denise had to listen to
them, pale and silent in her abandonment.

“Ah, they make you wild, don’t they?” said Pauline to her one morning.
“If I were you I would just catch them nicely! They are going to enjoy
themselves. I would enjoy myself too. Come with us on Sunday, Bauge is
going to take me to Joinville.”

“No, thanks,” said the young girl with her quiet obstinacy.

“But why not? Are you still afraid of being taken by force?”

And Pauline, laughed heartily. Denise also smiled. She knew how such
things came about; it was always during some similar excursions that the
young ladies had made the acquaintance of their first lovers, brought by
chance by a friend; and she did not want to.

“Come,” resumed Pauline, “I assure you that Bauge won’t bring any one.
We shall be all by ourselves. As you don’t want to, I won’t go and marry
you off, of course.”

Denise hesitated, tormented by such a strong desire to go that the blood
flew to her cheeks. Since the girls had been talking about their country
pleasures she had felt stifled, overcome by a longing for fresh air,
dreaming of the tall grass into which she could sink down up to the
neck, of the giant trees the shadows of which should flow over her like
so much cooling water. Her childhood, spent in the rich verdure of the
Cotentin, was awakening with a regret for sun and air.

“Well! yes,” said she at last.

Everything was soon arranged. Bauge was to come and fetch them at eight
o’clock, in the Place Gaillon; from there they would take a cab to the
Vincennes Station. Denise, whose twenty-five francs a month was quickly
swallowed up by the children, had only been able to do up her old black
woollen dress, by trimming it with strips of check poplin; and she had
also made herself a bonnet, a shape covered with silk and ornamented
with a simple blue ribbon. In this simple attire she looked very
young, like an overgrown girl, exceedingly clean, rather shamefaced and
embarrassed by her luxuriant hair, which appeared through the nakedness
of her bonnet.

Pauline, on the contrary, displayed a pretty violet and white striped
silk dress, a hat richly trimmed and laden with feathers, jewels round
her neck and rings on her fingers, which gave her the appearance of a
well-to-do tradesman’s wife. It was like a Sunday revenge on the woollen
dress she was obliged to wear all the week in the shop; whilst Denise,
who wore her uniform silk from Monday to Saturday, resumed, on Sunday,
her thin woollen dress of misery.

“There’s Bauge,” said Pauline, pointing to a tall fellow standing near
the fountain.




She introduced her lover, and Denise felt at her ease at once, he seemed
such a nice fellow. Bauge, big, strong as an ox, had a long Flemish
face, in which his expressionless eyes twinkled with an infantine
puerility. Born at Dunkerque, the younger son of a grocer, he had come
to Paris, almost turned out by his father and brother, who thought him
a fearful dunce. However, he made three thousand five hundred francs a
year at the Bon Marche. He was rather stupid, but a very good hand in
the linen department. The women thought him nice.

“And the cab?” asked Pauline.

They had to go as far as the Boulevard. It was already rather warm
in the sun, the glorious May morning seemed to laugh on the street
pavement. There was not a cloud in the sky; quite a gaiety floated in
the blue air, transparent as crystal. An involuntary smile played on
Denise’s lips; she breathed freely; it seemed to her that her bosom was
throwing off the stifling sensation of six months. At last she no
longer felt the stuffy air and the heavy stones of The Ladies’ Paradise
weighing her down! She had then the prospect of a long day in the
country before her! and it was like a new lease of life, an endless joy,
into which she entered with all the glee of a little child. However,
when in the cab, she turned her eyes away, feeling very awkward as
Pauline bent over to kiss her lover.

“Oh, look!” said she, her head still at the window, “there’s Monsieur
Lhomme. How he does walk!”

“He’s got his French horn,” added Pauline, leaning out. “What an old
stupid! One would think he was running to meet his girl!”

Lhomme, with his instrument under his arm, was spinning along past
the Gymnase Theatre, his nose in the air, laughing with delight at the
thought of the treat in store for him. He was going to spend the day at
a friend’s, a flautist at a small theatre, where a few amateurs indulged
in a little chamber music on Sundays as soon as breakfast was over.

“At eight o’clock! what a madman!” resumed Pauline. “And you know that
Madame Aurélie and all her clique must have taken the Rambouillet train
that left at half-past six. It’s very certain the husband and wife won’t
come across each other.”

Both then commenced talking of the Rambouillet excursion. They did not
wish it to be rainy for the others, because they themselves would be
obliged to suffer as well; but if a cloud could burst over there without
extending to Joinville, it would be funny all the same. Then they
attacked Clara, a dirty slut, who hardly knew how to spend the money
her men gave her: hadn’t she bought three pairs of boots all at the same
time, which she threw away the next day, after having cut them with her
scissors, on account of her feet, which were covered with bunions. In
fact, the young ladies were just as bad as the fellows, they squandered
everything, never saving a son, wasting two or three hundred francs a
month on dress and dainties.

“But he’s only got one arm,” said Bauge all of a sudden. “How does he
manage to play the French horn?”

He had kept his eyes on Lhomme. Pauline, who sometimes amused herself by
playing on his stupidity, told him the cashier kept the instrument up
by placing it against a wall. He thoroughly believed her, and thought it
very ingenious. Then, when stricken with remorse, she explained to him
in what way Lhomme had adapted to his stump a system of keys which he
made use of as a hand, he shook his head, full of suspicion, declaring
that they wouldn’t make him swallow that.

“You are ready too stupid!” she retorted, laughingly. “Never mind, I love
you all the same.”

They reached the Vincennes Station just in time for a train. Bauge paid;
but Denise had previously declared that she washed to pay her share
of the expenses; they would settle up in the evening. They took
second-class tickets, and found the train full of a gay noisy throng.
At Nogent, a wedding-party got out, amidst a storm of laughter. At last
they arrived at Joinville and went straight to the island to order
lunch; and they stopped there, lingering on the banks of the Marne,
under the tall poplars. It was rather cold in the shade, a sharp breese
was blowing in the sunshine, extending far into the distance, on the
other side of the river, the limpid parity of a plain dotted with
cultivated fields. Denise lingered behind Pauline and her lover, who
were walking with their arms round each others waists. She had picked
a handful of buttercups, and was watching the view of the river, happy,
her heart beating, her head drooping, each time Baugé leant over to kiss
his mistress. Her eyes filled with tears. And yet she was not suffering.
What was the matter with her that she had this feeling of suffocation?
and why did this vast landscape, where she had looked forward to having
so much enjoyment, fill her with a vague regret she could not explain?
Then, at lunch, Pauline’s noisy laugh bewildered her. That young lady,
who loved the suburbs with the passion of an actress living in the
gas-light, in the thick air of a crowd, wanted to lunch in an arbour,
notwithstanding the sharp wind. She was delighted with the sudden gusts
which blew up the table-cloth, she thought the arbour very funny in its
nudity, with the freshly-painted trelliswork, the lozenges of which cast
a reflection on the cloth. She ate ravenously, devouring everything with
the voracity of a girl badly fed at the shop, making up for it outside
by giving herself an indigestion with the things she liked; this was her
vice, she spent most of her money in cakes and indigestible dainties
of all kinds, favourite dishes stowed away in her leisure moments. As
Denise seemed to have had enough of the eggs, fried fish, and stewed
chicken, she restrained herself, not daring to order any strawberries, a
luxury still very dear, for fear of running the bill up too high.

“Now, what are we going to do?” asked Baugé when the coffee was served.

As a rule Pauline and he returned to Paris to dine, and finish their
day in some theatre. But at Denise’s request, they decided to stay at
Joinville all day; they would be able to have their fill of the country.
So they stopped and wandered about the fields all the afternoon. They
spoke for a moment of going for a row, but abandoned the idea; Baugé was
not a good waterman. But they found themselves walking along the banks
of the Marne, all the same, and were greatly interested by the life on
the river, the squadrons of yawls and other boats, and the young men
who formed the crews. The sun was going down, they were returning to
Joinville, when they saw two boats coming down stream at a racing
speed, exchanging volleys of insults, in which the repeated cries of
“Sawbones!” and “Counter-jumpers!” dominated.

“Hallo!” said Pauline, “it’s Monsieur Hutin.”

“Yes,” said Baugé, shading his face with his hand, “I recognise his
mahogany boat. The other one is manned by students, no doubt.”

And he explained the deadly hatred existing between the young students
and the shopmen. Denise, on hearing Hutin’s name mentioned, suddenly
stopped, and followed, with fixed eyes, the frail skiff spinning along
like an arrow. She tried to distinguish the young man among the rowers,
but could only manage to make out the white dresses of two women, one of
whom, who was steering, wore a red hat. Their voices were drowned by the
rapid flow of the river.

“Pitch ‘em in, the sawbones!”

“Duck ‘em, the counter-jumpers!”

In the evening they returned to the restaurant on the island. But it had
turned too chilly, they were obliged to dine in one of the closed rooms,
where the table-cloths were still damp from the humidity of the winter.
After six o’clock the tables were all occupied, yet the excursionists
still hurried in, looking for a corner; and the waiters continued to
bring in more chairs and forms, putting the plates closer together, and
crowding the people up. It was stifling, they had to open the windows.
Outdoors, the day was waning, a greenish twilight fell from the poplars
so quickly that the proprietor, unprepared for these meals under cover,
and having no lamps, was obliged to put a wax candle on each table. The
uproar became deafening with laughing, calling out, and the clacking of
the table utensils; the candles flared and melted in the draught from
the windows, whilst moths fluttered about in the air, warmed by the
odour of the food, and traversed by sudden gusts of cold wind.

“What fun they’re having, eh?” said Pauline, very busy with a plate
of matelote, which she declared extraordinary. She leant over to add:
“Didn’t you see Monsieur Albert over there?”

It was really young Lhomme, in the middle of three questionable women,
a vulgar-looking old lady in a yellow bonnet, suspiciously like a
procuress, and two young girls of thirteen or fourteen, forward and
painfully impudent creatures. He, already intoxicated, was knocking his
glass on the table, and talking of drubbing the waiter if he did not
bring some “liqueurs” immediately.

“Well!” resumed Pauline, “there’s a family, if you like! the mother at
Rambouillet, the father in Paris; and the son at Joinville; they won’t
tread on one another’s toes!”

Denise, who detested noise, smiled, however, and tasted the joy of
ceasing to think, amid such uproar. But all at once they heard a noise
in the other room, a burst of voices which drowned the others. They
were yelling, and must have come to blows, for one could hear a scuffle,
chairs falling down, quite a struggle, amid which the river-cries again
resounded:

“Duck ‘em, the counter-jumpers!”

“Pitch ‘em in, the sawbones!”

And when the hotel-keeper’s loud voice had calmed this tempest, Hutin
suddenly made his appearance, wearing a red jersey, and a little cap
at the back of his head; he had on his arm the tall, fair girl, who had
been steering, and who, in order to wear the boat’s colours, had planted
a bunch of poppies behind her ear. They were greeted on entering by a
storm of applause; and his face beamed with pride, he swelled out his
chest, assuming a nautical rolling gait, showing off a blow which had
blackened his cheek, puffed up with joy at being noticed. Behind them
followed the crew. They took a table by storm, and the uproar became
something fearful.

“It appears,” explained Bauge, after having listened to the conversation
behind him, “it appears that the students have recognised the woman
with Hutin as an old friend from their neighbourhood, who now sings in
a music-hall at Montmartre. So they were kicking up a row for her. These
students never pay their women.”

“In any case,” said Pauline, stiffly, “she’s jolly ugly, with her
carroty hair. Really, I don’t know where Monsieur Hutin picks them up,
but they’re an ugly, dirty lot.”

Denise had turned pale, and felt an icy coldness, as if her heart’s
blood were flowing away, drop by drop. She had already, on seeing the
boats from the bank, felt a shiver; but now she no longer had any doubt,
this girl was certainly with Hutin. With trembling hands, and a choking
sensation in her throat, she ceased eating.

“What’s the matter?” asked her friend.

“Nothing,” stammered she; “it’s rather warm here.”

But Hutin’s table was close to theirs, and when he perceived Bauge,
whom he knew, he commenced a conversation in a shrill voice, in order to
attract further attention.

“I say,” cried he, “are you as virtuous as ever at the Bon Marche?”

“Not so much as all that,” replied Bauge, turning very red.

“That won’t do! You know they only take virgins there, and there’s a
confessional box permanently fixed for the salesmen who venture to look
at them. A house where they marry you–no, thanks!”

The other fellows began to laugh. Liénard, who belonged to the crew,
added: “It isn’t like the Louvre. There they have a midwife attached to
the ready-made department. My word of honour!”

The gaiety increased; Pauline herself burst out, the idea of the midwife
seemed so funny. But Baugé was annoyed by the jokes about the innocence
of his house. He launched out all at once: “Oh, you’re not too well off
at The Ladies’ Paradise. Sacked for the slightest thing! And a governor
who seems to tout for his lady customers.”

Hutin no longer listened to him, but commenced to praise the house in
the Place Clichÿ. He knew a young girl there so excessively aristocratic
that the customers dared not speak to her for fear of humiliating her.
Then, drawing up closer, he related that he had made a hundred and
fifteen francs that week; oh! a capital week. Favier left behind with
fifty-two francs, the whole lot floored. And it was visible he was
bursting with money, he would not go to bed till he had liquidated the
hundred and fifteen francs. Then, as he gradually became intoxicated,
he attacked Robineau, that fool of a second-hand who affected to keep
himself apart, going so far as to refuse to walk in the street with one
of his salesmen.

“Shut up,” said Liénard; “you talk too much, old man.”

The heat had increased, the candles were guttering down on to the
table-cloths stained with wine; and through the open windows, when the
noise within ceased for an instant, there entered a distant prolonged
voice, the voice of the river, and of the tall poplars sleeping in the
calm night. Baugé had just called for the bill, seeing that Denise was
now quite white, her throat choked by the tears she withheld; but the
waiter did not appear, and she had to submit to Hutin’s loud talk. He
was now boasting of being more superior to Liénard, because Liénard
cared for nothing, simply squandering his father’s money, whilst he,
Hutin, was spending his own earnings, the fruit of his intelligence. At
last Baugé paid, and the two girls went out.

“There’s one from the Louvre,” murmured Pauline in the outer room,
looking at a tall thin girl putting on her mantle.

“You don’t know her. You can’t tell,” said the young man.

“Oh, can’t I? They’ve got a way of draping themselves. She belongs to
the midwife’s department! If she heard, she must be pleased.”

They got outside at last, and Denise heaved a sigh of relief. For a
moment she had thought she was going to die in that suffocating heat,
amidst all those cries; and she still attributed her faintness to the
want of air. Now she breathed freely in the freshness of the starry
night As the two young girls were leaving the garden of the restaurant,
a timid voice murmured in the shade: “Good evening, ladies.”

It was Deloche. They had not seen him at the further end of the front
room, where he was dining alone, after having come from Paris on foot,
for the pleasure of the walk. On recognising this friendly voice,
Denise, suffering, yielded mechanically to the want of some support.

“Monsieur Deloche, come back with us,” said she. “Give me your arm.”

Pauline and Baugé had already gone on in front. They were astonished,
never thinking it would turn out like this, and with this fellow above
all. However, as there was still an hour before the train started,
they went to the end of the island, following the bank, under the tall
poplars; and, from time to time, they turned round, murmuring: “But
where are they? Ah, there they are. It’s rather funny, all the same.”

At first Denise and Deloche remained silent The noise from the
restaurant was slowly dying away, changing into a musical sweetness in
the calmness of the night; and they went further in amongst the cool of
the trees, still feverish from that furnace, the lights of which were
disappearing one by one behind the foliage. Opposite them there was a
sort of shadowy wall, a mass of shade in which the trunks and branches
buried themselves so compact that they could not even distinguish any
trace of the path. However, they went forward quietly, without fear.
Then, their eyes getting more accustomed to the darkness, they saw on
the right the trunks of the poplars, resembling sombre columns upholding
the domes of their branches, pierced with stars; whilst on the right the
water assumed occasionally in the darkness the brightness of a mirror.
The wind was subsiding, they no longer heard anything but the flowing of
the river.

“I am very pleased to have met you,” stammered Deloche at last, making
up his mind to speak first. “You can’t think how happy you render me in
consenting to walk with me.”

And, aided by the darkness, after many awkward attempts, he ventured to
tell her he loved her. He had long wanted to write to her and tell her
so; and perhaps she would never have known it had it not been for this
lovely night coming to his assistance, this water that murmured so
softly, and these trees which screened them with their shade. But she
did not reply; she continued to walk by his side with the same suffering
air. And he was trying to look into her face, when he heard a sob.

“Oh! good heavens!” he exclaimed, “you are crying, mademoiselle, you are
crying! Have I offended you?”

“No, no,” she murmured.

She tried to keep back her tears, but she could not. Even when at table,
she had thought her heart was about to burst. She abandoned herself in
the darkness entirely, stifled by her sobs, thinking that if Hutin had
been in Deloche’s place and said such tender things to her, she would
have been unable to resist. This confession made to herself filled her
with confusion. A feeling of shame burnt her face, as if she had already
fallen into the arms of that Hutin, who was disporting himself with
those girls.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” continued Deloche, almost crying also.

“No, but listen,” said she, her voice still trembling; “I am not at all
angry with you. But never speak to me again as you have just done. What
you ask is impossible. Oh! you’re a good fellow, and I’m quite willing
to be your friend, but nothing more. You understand–your friend.”

He shuddered. After a few steps taken in silence, he stammered: “In
fact, you don’t love me?”

And as she spared him the pain of a brutal “no,” he resumed in a soft,
heart-broken voice: “Oh, I was prepared for it I have never had any
luck, I know I can never be happy. At home, they used to beat me. In
Paris, I’ve always been a drudge. You see, when one does not know how
to rob other fellows of their mistresses, and when one is too awkward to
earn as much as the others, why the best thing is to go into some corner
and die. Never fear, I sha’n’t torment you any more. As for loving you,
you can’t prevent me, can you? I shall love you for nothing, like a dog.
There, everything escapes me, that’s my luck in life.”

And he, too, burst into tears. She tried to console him, and in their
friendly effusion they found they belonged to the same department–she
to Valognes, he to Briquebec, eight miles from each other, and this was
a fresh tie. His father, a poor, needy bailiff, and sickly jealous, used
to drub him, calling him a bastard, exasperated with his long pale face
and tow-like hair, which, said he, did not belong to the family. And
they got talking about the vast pastures, surrounded with quick-set
hedges, of the shady paths winding beneath the elm trees, and of the
grass grown roads, like the alleys in a park.

Around them night was getting darker, but they could still distinguish
the rushes on the banks, and the interlaced foliage, black beneath the
twinkling stars; and a peacefulness came over them, they forgot their
troubles, brought nearer by their ill-luck, in a closer feeling of
friendship.

“Well?” asked Pauline of Denise, taking her aside when they arrived at
the station.

The young girl understood by the smile and the stare of tender
curiosity; she turned very red and replied: “But–never, my dear! I told
you I did not wish to! He belongs to my part of the country. We were
talking about Valognes.”

Pauline and Bauge were perplexed, put out in their ideas, not knowing
what to think. Deloche left them in the Place de la Bastille; like all
young probationers, he slept at the house, where he had to be in by
eleven o’clock. Not wishing to go in with him, Denise, who had got
permission to go to the theatre, accepted Baugé’s invitation to
accompany Pauline to his home–he, in order to be nearer his mistress,
had moved into the Rue Saint-Roch. They took a cab, and Denise was
stupefied on learning on the way that her friend was going to stay all
night with the young man–nothing was easier, they only had to give
Madame Cabin five francs, all the young ladies did it. Bauge did the
honours of his room, which was furnished with old Empire furniture,
given him by his father. He got angry when Denise spoke of settling up,
but at last accepted the fifteen francs twelve sous which she had laid
on the chest of drawers; but he insisted on making her a cup of tea, and
he struggled with a spirit-lamp and saucepan, and then was obliged to go
and fetch some sugar. Midnight struck as he was pouring out the tea.

“I must be off,” said Denise.

“Presently,” replied Pauline. “The theatres don’t close so early.”

Denise felt uncomfortable in this bachelor’s room. She had seen her
friend take off her things, turn down the bed, open it, and pat the
pillows with her naked arms; and these preparations for a night of
love-making carried on before her, troubled her, and made her feel
ashamed, awakening once in her wounded heart the recollection of Hutin.
Such ideas were not very salutary. At last she left them, at a quarter
past twelve. But she went away confused, when in reply to her innocent
“good night,” Pauline cried out, thoughtlessly; “Thanks, we are sure to
have a good one!”

The private door leading to Mouret’s apartments and to the employees’
bedrooms was in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin. Madame Cabin opened the
door and gave a glance in order to mark the return. A night-light
was burning dimly in the hall, and Denise, finding herself in this
uncertain light, hesitated, and was seized with fear, for on turning the
corner of the street, she had seen the door close on the vague shadow of
a man. It must have been the governor coming home from a party,
and the idea that he was there in the dark waiting for her perhaps,
caused her one of those strange fears with which he still inspired her,
without any reasonable cause. Some one moved on the first-floor, a boot
creaked, and losing her head entirely, she pushed open a door which led
into the shop, and which was always left open for the night-watch. She
was in the printed cotton department.

“Good heavens! what shall I do?” she stammered, in her emotion.

The idea occurred to her that there was another door upstairs leading
to the bedrooms; but she would have to go right across the shop. She
preferred this, notwithstanding the darkness reigning in the galleries.
Not a gas-jet was burning, there were only a few oil-lamps hung here and
there on the branches of the lustres; and these scattered lights, like
yellow patches, their rays lost in the gloom, resembled the lanterns
hung up in a mine. Big shadows loomed in the air; one could hardly
distinguish the piles of goods, which assumed alarming profiles: fallen
columns, squatting beasts, and lurking thieves. The heavy silence,
broken by distant respirations, increased still more the darkness.
However, she saw where she was. The linen department on her left formed
a dead colour, like the blueiness of houses in the street under a summer
sky; then she wished to cross the hall immediately, but running up
against some piles of printed calico, she thought it safer to follow the
hosiery department, and then the woollen one. There she was frightened
by a loud noise of snoring. It was Joseph, the messenger, sleeping
behind some articles of mourning. She quickly ran into the hall, now
illuminated by the skylight, with a sort of crepuscular light which
made it appear larger, full of a nocturnal church-like terror, with the
immobility of its shelves, and the shadows of its yard-measures which
described reversed crosses. She now fairly ran away. In the mercery and
glove departments she nearly walked over some more messengers, and only
felt safe when she at last found herself on the staircase. But upstairs,
before the ready-made department, she was seized with fear on perceiving
a lantern moving forward, twinkling in the darkness. It was the watch,
two firemen marking their passage on the faces of the indicators. She
stood a moment unable to understand it, watched them passing from
the shawl to the furniture department, then to the under-linen,
terrified by their strange manouvres, by the grinding of the key, and
by the closing of the iron doors which made a murderous noise. When they
approached, she took refuge in the lace department, but a sound of
talking made her hastily depart, and run off to the outer door. She had
recognised Deloche’s voice. He slept in his department, on a little iron
bedstead which he set up himself every evening; and he was not asleep
yet, recalling the pleasant hours he had just spent.

“What! it’s you, mademoiselle?” said Mouret, whom Denise found before
her on the staircase, a small pocket-candlestick in his hand.

She stammered, and tried to explain that she had come to look for
something. But he was not angry. He looked at her with his paternal, and
at the same time curious, air.

“You had permission to go to the theatre, then?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And have you enjoyed yourself? What theatre did you go to?”

“I have been in the country, sir.”

That made him laugh. Then he asked, laying a certain stress on his
question: “All alone?”

“No, sir; with a lady friend,” replied she, her cheeks burning, shocked
at the idea which he no doubt entertained.

He said no more; but he was still looking at her in her simple black
dress and hat trimmed with a single blue ribbon. Was this little savage
going to turn out a pretty girl? She looked all the better for her
day in the open air, charming with her splendid hair falling over her
forehead. And he, who during the last six months had treated her like
a child, some times giving her advice, yielding to a desire to gain
experience, to a wicked wish to know how a woman sprung up and lost
herself in Paris, no longer laughed, experiencing a feeling of
surprise and fear mingled with tenderness. No doubt it was a lover who
embellished her like this. At this thought he felt as if stung to the
quick by a favourite bird, with which he was playing.

“Good night, sir,” murmured Denise, continuing her way without waiting.

He did not answer, but stood watching her till she dis appeared. Then he
entered his own apartments.