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The road she took me downstairs was lined with poplars that rustled endlessly in the warm air. By the side of the river flowed full and clear, and his whispering rose towards the trees and increased the merry noise.

Miss Herminie looked for a place to sit down again, and finding none, she leaned against one of the poplars. Her eyes wandered from one place to another and she said slowly:

-As everything is sad here!

I protested in spite of myself:

-Sad! this beautiful road and this pretty river are traveling together and seem to be laughing together all along the way.

I stopped talking in front of Miss Herminie’s astonished look, and I did not dare tell her that it was her own sadness that she was spreading over things. She had just made so much provision that she could not carry it any more and that she had to let some of it escape. The place made her bitter. It was in this same place that, after several years, chance had put her back in the presence of the man she loved. Also, in the song of foliage and water, her voice seemed sour while she said:

“It was in the spring, I was walking with my sister who proudly carried her beautiful child in her arms. He stopped short when he saw us, and the woman who accompanied him did the same. This one was also carrying a beautiful child in her arms, and she stared at me without saying anything. So I began to speak, I did not know what I was saying, but I spoke to no longer hear the silence.

Miss Herminie was silent for a moment. Then, her whole face was wrinkled with pain and her old hands came back to her ears all at once when she spoke quietly:

-Oh! this silence became so terrible that I became frightened and fled to the house running with all my strength.

Now we arrived at this little house. It was a little off the road and preceded by a garden full of pink roses.

Two young blond girls were sewing in the shade of a cradle trellis. They raised their heads as we approached and their hands stopped sewing.

Miss Herminie touched the latch of the barrier as if she wanted to enter the garden, but she did not, she said only in her ordinary voice:

-Nothing is changed.

She lowered her voice a little to add:

-The blonde, you see? the one who is thinner is me.

Yes, that was the way Mlle Herminie must have been. For a second I thought I saw her at twenty and I could not help but smile at the girl who watched us leave smiling too.

We were returning to the city, and already the river was darkening under the bridge which connected the two banks, when Mlle Herminie turned abruptly into a little alley, and came back by a detour behind the rose-rose house.

On this side the house seemed much smaller. A trellis covered all its width and left free a black door and two windows rounded from above. The rays of the setting sun only illuminated the roof and made the white chimneys look pink.

The kitchen garden extended to us. It was a huge, long garden where vines framed vegetables and where roses also found their place. The fruit trees grown at random were mostly peach trees. One of them, loaded with fruit, rested his branches on stakes in forks, and around him bees and wasps made a great concert of buzzing. On the highest branch, a robin chirped: “Tzille-Tzille, Terrruis-Tzille, Tzille-Tzille”. He fidgeted and hustled as if he had to finish his song before dark. It was the same color as the peaches and it seemed itself a fruit that the sun had blushed in places.

A little distance from the kitchen garden was a hut made of degraded bricks and planks. All around the hut was nothing but rubbish and rubble, but from the midst of this clutter came a fig tree so thick that it did not allow the people of the house to see what was going on behind it.

The sounds of the evening sounded clear in the distance. Transparent and thin fumes began to rise above the houses, and the few white spots that could be seen moving in the vineyard spread through the roads and paths.

The young guy we had seen on the shore passed by in front of us; he had left his wheelbarrow up there and was returning home with his hands free and a flower in his mouth. He took off his flower when he saw us, and he looked at us as if surprised to find us there, then he resumed his careless air and went away singing with a loud voice:

I led her to the clear fountain.
I led her to the clear fountain.
When she was there she would not drink,
It’s love that leads us,
Mademoiselle Herminie followed him with her eyes until the turn of the road.

The three elms closer to us seemed older and more deformed still. They were the only tall trees in the neighborhood, and the birds came from all sides to nest in their branches. We could hear them chirping all at once as if each of them were reporting what he had done that day. Furious cries were heard, and a whole troop flew away. Only a few returned to the branches, and soon the calm was restored.

The sun had gone away with its light, but before the darkness had come, another light rose in front of the sunset. A mysterious and veiled clarity that grew timidly like something forbidden. And suddenly the moon appeared at the top of the hill. She was huge and yellow, and her face, all smeared with black, seemed to be leaning cautiously to make sure nothing would come in her way during the night. The cool wind that accompanied it seemed to run before her; he jostled the thin foliage of the vines at the same time as he swept the light clouds that lingered in the sky. He stumbled against us before entering the kitchen garden where he went to shake cabbages and roses with the same roughness, and he entered the fig tree where he remained a long time to turn the broad leaves and to whistle through the holes of the hut.

Mademoiselle Herminie spoke in a singing, thin voice, and, in spite of the wind blowing on her mouth, I heard:

The day he left, his kiss was no less tender than the day before, nor his hands less caressing. And when he had closed the garden gate on him, he turned around just as he did the other times to look at the threshold of the house that still held me back.

She stopped abruptly. One of the windows of the house had just lit up and two shadows were stirring in front of the light; they stirred for a long time and often met together; then the window opened wide and the light went out.

“We too would have left the window open on the garden,” whispered Mlle Herminie.

And once more she let go of her regrets, which flew off as light and discreet as the night birds that grazed us without anything telling us of their coming.

A very long time passed. The wind had left us to run farther, and the breeze that replaced it was so soft that the leaves did not move at its approach.

Around us a white vapor covered the earth like a fine carpet, while up there, in front of us, the now radiant and pure moon surpassed in brightness all that shone in the firmament.

Everything was at rest. The dogs had stopped barking in the distance. The nearby vines appeared like sleeping ponds, and the three elms, whitened with light at the top, seemed to have put on a cap for the night.

A sort of howl suddenly arose near me. It sounded like a young dog’s complaint, and it took me a moment to understand that it was Miss Herminie who was crying. Sitting on crumbling stones, with her hands abandoned and her head thrown back under the moon, she uttered a monotonous long cry as if she were launching into space an agreed appeal so that her pain would be gathered and nothing would was lost.

A leaf from the fig tree fell behind us, it fell heavily like an overripe fruit and its sound stopped the complaint. For a moment again Miss Herminie remained motionless, then she rose to cling to my arm:

“Let’s go, let’s go,” she said to me.

And instead of going back to the city she had longed to see again, she turned her back and dragged me to the station.

The workshop is still growing. The doors that communicated the rooms of the apartment were removed, and the furniture was packed against each other to make room for new machines. In spite of this, when November brought back the rain and the cold, the orders became so numerous that the workers of the workshop were not enough any more and that it was necessary to take a dozen outside.

The housewives in the neighborhood knew that Madame Dalignac’s work was better paid than anywhere else, and at any time of the day he went out to take some work with him. Many, moreover, returned disappointed when they saw the elegance of the manners. “Ah! Are you doing something beautiful? “they said. And without stopping to look at the model they added:

“I can only do the common thing.

And their black envelope, folded and folded, they went slowly.

We remained Bonne-Mère. She was a very young widow with five children; his two eldest, Marinette and Charlet, had already come to his aid. Marinette, who was not yet twelve, was sewing almost as well as her mother, and Charlet, who had just turned ten, was earning a few cents to sell flowers after school. The kid rarely went to the studio, he stayed below to watch his little brothers while selling his flowers. We could only hear his thin voice: “Blossom, ladies.”

Sometimes it was lemons he had in his basket. He would sometimes forget her and invite the ladies to bloom.

Then Bonne-Mère smiled and said to us:

-Listen the madman.

There came another which Bergeounette immediately called Madame Berdandan.

For the first time since the death of the boss, Mrs. Dalignac laughed heartily, so much did the sobriquet become the newcomer. She was so tall, so large, so heavy, that the floor was trembling as she passed, and she was so swaying in the step that one feared her to fall upon her.

But his character and his voice had no heaviness. She sang while talking and her mouth only opened to say good things or bring good news. “A real bell of happiness,” said Bergeounette.

And when Madame Berdandan left with her packet in her arms, Bergeounette never failed to imitate the slow, muffled sound of a huge bell that starts to move.

Very different was Miss Grance despite her fifty years passed. Her small, well-made body fitted perfectly with her naïve air and her childish voice, but her corsages were still short in length at the waist, while her skirts swept the ends of the threads and the pins that were hanging on the floor.

While Mrs. Dalignac checked her work and prepared for it, she tiptoed and mumbled briskly as she stared at the ceiling. Duretour approached her slyly to try to understand what she was saying, but she could not. And each time she asked him:

“Do you pray, Mademoiselle?

Every time Miss Grance lowered her eyes sharply, astonished at finding herself there. She smiled without answering, resumed her muttering and swaying. Then, the corners of her envelope tied like ribbon, she carried away her parcel and kept her secret.

Duretour now did not have a minute to lose. It was by full cars that she brought the stuffs and carried the clothes. The cab drivers knew her well, her pretty demeanor and cheerfulness made the most grumpy, and all were happy to drive her despite her bulky packs.

In the workshop, she had no time to tell the fine parts of Sunday or to enumerate quantities of food unknown to us. And when, on Monday, Bergeounette asked him as before:

-What did you eat good yesterday?

She always answered as if to go faster:

– A chicken in a casserole.

But if she did not take the time to chat, she would catch up on the coffee-concert chorus. And while sewing the labels on the collar of the clothes she was singing in tremolo:

Paris, Paris,
Paradise of the woman …
Madame Dalignac only went to Quibu’s house to present her models and set the price. She took me to be more assertive, but my presence did not prevent the merchant from reducing the prices of a quarter, when it was not half, and Mrs. Dalignac, unable to defend her interests more than five minutes, was submitting, ready to cry helplessly. She envied the other women entrepreneurs who were fighting, screaming and going away almost always getting what they wanted. One of them, above all, was bitterly discussing with words beside the subject. And red, out of breath, always ended by saying to the merchant:

-You are only worth selling here.

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During the hours of waiting the women entrepreneurs were talking to each other. The boldest denigrated Quibu’s house and advised him to stand up to him, while the timid ones spoke only of being firm with the workers.

A girl with a soft air, who made models in series and whose prices did not vary much, says in turn:

“In the past, I was content to take fifty centimes per garment from my work-girls, but since I have a child I have taken the double, and my work is done all the same.

And as Mrs. Dalignac asked her if her workers earned their living, she replied:

-Of course not; but I must win mine.

All did not think so; but all were astonished that Mme. Dalignac was not a great seamstress instead of an entrepreneur for fine models.

Clement, too, was surprised to see his aunt continue this job. As soon as he returned from military service, he was interested in the affairs of the workshop, and Mme. Dalignac had hoped to see him take the place of the patron; but, at the first word on this subject, Clement had shaken his head:

-No, I want to be the master in my house.

And a few days later he had entered as a workman at an upholsterer on the grand boulevards. On Sunday morning, while we were doing the workshop clean, he tidied the books. He did it quickly and much better than us, and when he had cleared the very confused accounts of the house Quibu, he asked his aunt:

Where is your benefit?

“He will come,” replied Madame Dalignac.

-And your rent is late?

-I will pay it soon.

-And the machines of this Jew on which you only gave installments?

“Do not be afraid, I will not make him lose anything.

She made all these answers in a quiet tone, as if they were insignificant and easy to understand. However the proprietor appeared more and more often to claim his due, and the Jew came every Saturday before the pay of the workers to be sure to carry a small sum.

Mrs. Dalignac did not seem to care about their demands, she only talked about creating models, in order to employ a lot of workers. Nothing annoyed her more than to see a worker leave with her empty envelope. To those of the workshop she said:

-If you are embarrassed for anything, do not be afraid to talk to me.

And she demonstrated and explained with tireless patience.

Her gentleness and goodness did not protect her from insults. A sick-looking worker who showed up one morning took him high for no reason. She seemed to have come in with the insult to her mouth and at the first words she shouted:

“It’s because you live so well that I die.

Her eyes were frightening in her thin face, and she was overcome before she was angry.

Madame Dalignac remained as nailed in her place. But she lifted a finger, and said to me,

-Give him a glass of sweet water.

The patient drank slowly, with choking gasps, then spat the last sip at Madame Dalignac’s feet, saying in a hateful tone:

“Here, bad woman, here is your glass of sweet water.

And as she turned too abruptly to leave, Madame Dalignac stretched out her arm to preserve her from the corner of the table.

Madame Doublé was no less surprised than Clement to see her sister-in-law remain confectioner. For a long time now, she had offered Ms. Dalignac an association which, according to her, would ensure both a large clientele and a very comfortable life.

Madame Dalignac would be there to create the models and make the fittings, and Madame Doublé would keep the accounts and take care of the workers.

Immediately after the death of the proprietor, she had become our neighbor, Madame Double, and on her door, which opened next to ours, could be read in letters of gold these two mated names: Doublé-Dalignac. This neighborhood allowed him repeated visits.

As always, she took the opportunity to criticize what was happening at home, and when she could not find anything to say about the work, she went straight to Mrs. Dalignac. She made her responsible for the loss of her clients who were walking away one by one, failing to find at her home the varied models of the past. And one day when she was even more snarling than usual, she reproached Madame Dalignac for her lack of coquetry and made her ashamed of her worn-out smocks.

“I will buy others,” said Madame Dalignac, calmly.

Out of herself, Madame Doublé shouted:

-With what? good Lord! with what?

And Madame Dalignac, absent-minded, replied:

-But with money.

Madame Doublé went out like a madwoman, leaving the door open behind her.

Gabielle was still the best. She had a way of doing things that others imitated without being able to match her.

She had returned to her barely convalescent machine; but for a long time now she had resumed her beautiful round cheeks and her gaiety. It was only noticed that her bodice remained firmly stapled and that her waist was tightly fastened in a leather belt.

Jacques always hoped to see her become his wife, but if she did not move away from him as before, she did not seem more determined to marry her. She thought only of working hard to earn enough to buy the furniture that would allow her to stay in the hotel.

He was often with us, the unfortunate Jacques, as Madame Dalignac called him, and he continued to cry the distance of his children without doing anything to get near it.

To find him so often at home, Clément had ended up taking him in friendship and he brought him from here useful information in search of the little ones. Jacques thanked him affectionately, then he looked towards Gabielle and said:

-If she was my wife, she would be good at dealing with these things.

Clement also thought that a marriage would be good between Gabielle and Jacques. He spoke to me like this:

-She would command, he would obey, and everything would be fine.

However, as this marriage seemed less and less possible, Mrs. Dalignac advised Jacques especially to take steps that would return her children as soon as possible:

-Bravery! Come on, she said to him one day.

Jacques had a movement of all his body to push back no one knows what, and his two arms thrown forward made me think of the little mouse raising both her feet towards the monster who was about to devour her.

-Bravery! he said, sitting down heavily.

And he began to cry.

Clement laughed in a contemptuous and cruel way, but Madame Dalignac said words of sweetness and hope.

Bulldog did not know how Gabielle found the right ideas, but her delicate fingers deftly pushed the fabrics under the needle of the machine, and her seams never deviated from a thread. She did not growl anymore as in the days of the clients. She only took a lot of space around her, without worrying if there were any left for her neighbors. And when her machine broke, she cursed at him and hit her hard.

Bergeounette had left her husband. She was so bruised from their last battle that her wounds took more than a month to heal. To feel free, an exuberant joy lifted her. She moved her elbows like wings and raised her feet for no reason.

Her husband, all repentant, was waiting for her at the end of the workshop, hoping to bring her home. But she did not let herself down. At the hours when he should have been at work, he was sitting on a bench in the avenue facing our windows.

Gabielle, who did not like to see men doing nothing, said:

-What is he doing here to kill time?

“Time will kill him too,” laughed Bergeounette. And at the thought of seeing her husband carried to the ground she was singing gaily:

We will ring the bells
With broken pots.
Roberte, who did not lose the habit of crooked words, said of Bergeounette:

-It’s gay like a finch in the water.

Roberte’s stupid words always made others laugh at her expense, but she did not mind. She took a pretentious pose to place a new crazy phrase, and all was said.

On the other hand Felicite Damoure did not support the imitation of her accent, and her unpleasant remarks kept up the chicane in her entourage. She could not stand the idea of ​​a workshop where no one was governing and where every worker had a different way of carrying out her work. In the hustle and bustle of the delivery, she remained as stupefied, and it was always in calm calm that she uttered an angry voice:

Where there is no commendemengue, there is only disorder.

She regretted the boss who knew how to order and put everyone in his place and he sometimes wanted to imitate him; but the aftershocks were not long in coming. Bergeounette did not spare him taunts:

“One order from you, beautiful Damoure, and discord comes at a gallop.

And as Felicite Damoure did not know how to answer Bergeounette, she laughed at the others, and said:

-It’s always the same thing. When you think you’re doing a girl, you’re just a boy.

Among these women, too close to one another, arguments were not lacking; they broke out without anyone knowing how, and the worker who shouted the loudest was not always entitled to it.

Madame Dalignac stopped the noise just by appearing in the doorway.

Leaning with both hands on the door frame, she was so tall, so calm and so grave, that the cries were immediately changed into murmurs.

When everything was calm, she said slowly:

So try to like yourself a little between you.