She tried to reason with him

For a moment Denise stood bewildered on the pavement, in the sun which
still shone fiercely at five o’clock. The July heat warmed the gutters,
Paris was blazing with that white chalky light of summer-time, whose
reverberations are so blinding. And the catastrophe had fallen on her
so suddenly, they had turned her out so roughly, that she stood there
turning her money over in her pocket in a mechanical way, while she
wondered where she could go, and what she could do.

A long line of cabs prevented her from quitting the pavement alongside
The Ladies’ Paradise. When she at last ventured amongst the wheels
she crossed the Place Gaillon, as if intending to take the Rue
Louis-le-Grand; then altering her mind, she walked towards the Rue
Saint-Roch. But she still had no plan, for she stopped at the corner
of the Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, into which she finally turned,
after looking around her with an undecided air. The Passage Choiseul
opening before her, she passed through it and found herself in the
Rue Monsigny, without knowing how, and ultimately came into the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin again. Her head was full of a fearful buzzing, she
thought of her box on seeing a commissionaire; but where could she have
it sent and why all this trouble, when but an hour ago she had still
had a bed in which to sleep that night?

Then with her eyes fixed on the houses, she began examining the
windows. There were any number of bills announcing, “Apartments to
Let.” But repeatedly overcome by the emotion which was agitating her
whole being she saw them confusedly. Was it possible? Thrown into
solitude so suddenly, lost in this immense city in which she was a
stranger, without support, without resources! She must contrive to
eat and sleep, however. The streets succeeded one another, after the
Rue des Moulins came the Rue Sainte-Anne. She wandered about the
neighbourhood, frequently retracing her steps, indeed always coming
back to the only spot she knew really well. And suddenly she felt quite
astonished for she was again standing before The Ladies’ Paradise.
To escape this obsession she hurried into the Rue de la Michodière.
Fortunately Baudu was not at his door. The Old Elbeuf appeared
lifeless, behind its murky windows. She would never have dared to show
herself at her uncle’s, for he now always pretended not to recognise
her, and she did not wish to become a burden to him, in the misfortune
which he had predicted to her. However, on the other side of the
street, a yellow bill attracted her attention. “Furnished room to let.”
It was the first that did not frighten her, so poor was the aspect
of the house. She soon recognised it, with its two low storeys, and
rusty-coloured front, squeezed between The Ladies’ Paradise and the old
Hôtel Duvillard. On the threshold of the umbrella shop, old Bourras,
hairy and bearded like a prophet, and with spectacles on his nose,
stood studying the ivory handle of a walking-stick. Tenanting the whole
house, he under-let the two upper floors furnished, in order to lighten
the rent.

“You have a room to let, sir?” said Denise, approaching him in
obedience to an instinctive impulse.

He raised his big bushy eyes, surprised to see her, for he knew all the
young persons at The Ladies’ Paradise. And after noticing her clean
little gown and respectable appearance, he replied: “It won’t suit you.”

“How much is it, then?” replied Denise.

“Fifteen francs a month.”

She asked to see it. Then on entering the narrow shop, and observing
that he still eyed her with an astonished air, she told him of her
departure from the Paradise and of her desire not to trouble her uncle.
The old man thereupon fetched a key from a shelf in the back-shop,
a small dark room, where he did his cooking and had his bed; beyond
it, through a dirty window, you could espy a back-yard about six feet
square.

“I’ll walk in front to prevent you from falling,” said Bourras,
entering the damp corridor on one side of the shop.

He stumbled against a stair, and then commenced the ascent, reiterating
his warning to be careful. The rail, said he, was close against the
wall, there was a hole at the corner, sometimes the lodgers left their
dust-boxes there. So complete was the obscurity that Denise could
distinguish nothing, but simply felt how chilly the old damp plaster
was. On the first floor, however, a small window overlooking the yard
enabled her to obtain a vague glimpse of the rotten staircase, the
walls black with dirt and the cracked, discoloured doors.

“If only one of these rooms were vacant,” resumed Bourras. “You would
be very comfortable there. But they are always occupied.”

On the second floor the light increased, illumining with a raw pallor
the distressful aspect of the house. A journeyman-baker occupied the
first room, and it was the other, the further one, that was vacant.
When Bourras had opened the door he was obliged to remain on the
landing in order that Denise might enter with ease. The bed, placed
in the corner nearest the door, left just sufficient room for one
person to pass. At the other end there was a small walnut-wood chest
of drawers, a deal table stained black, and two chairs. Such lodgers
as did any cooking were obliged to kneel before the fire-place, where
there was an earthenware stove.

“Oh! it’s not luxurious,” said the old man, “but the view from the
window is gay. You can see the people passing in the street.” And, as
Denise gazed with surprise at the ceiling just above the bed, where
a chance lady-lodger had written her name–Ernestine–by drawing the
flame of a candle over the plaster, he added with a smile: “If I did a
lot of repairs, I should never make both ends meet. There you are; it’s
all I have to offer.”

“I shall be very well here,” declared the young girl.

She paid a month in advance, asked for the linen–a pair of sheets
and two towels, and made her bed without delay, happy and relieved to
know where she would sleep that night. An hour later she had sent a
commissionaire to fetch her box, and was quite at home.

During the first two months she had a terribly hard time of it. Being
unable to pay for Pépé’s board, she had taken him away, and slept him
on an old couch lent by Bourras. She could not do with less than thirty
sous a day, including the rent, even by living on dry bread herself,
in order to procure a bit of meat for the little one. During the first
fortnight she got on fairly well, having begun her housekeeping with
about ten francs; and then too she was fortunate enough to find the
cravat-dealer, who paid her the eighteen francs six sous which were due
to her. But after that she became completely destitute. In vain did she
apply to the various large shops, the Place Clichy, the Bon Marché, and
the Louvre: the dead season had stopped business everywhere and she
was told to apply again in the autumn. More than five thousand drapery
employees, dismissed like herself, were wandering about Paris in want
of situations. She then tried to obtain work elsewhere; but in her
ignorance of Paris she did not know where to apply, and often accepted
most ungrateful tasks, sometimes not even getting paid. On certain
evenings she merely gave Pépé his dinner, a plate of soup, telling him
that she had dined out; and she would go to bed with her head in a
whirl, nourished by the fever which was burning her hands. When Jean
suddenly dropped into the midst of this poverty, he called himself a
scoundrel with such despairing violence that she was obliged to tell
some falsehood to reassure him; and she even occasionally found the
means to slip a two-franc piece into his hand, by way of proving that
she still had money. She never wept before the children. On Sundays,
when she was able to cook a piece of veal in the stove, on her knees
before the fire, the tiny room re-echoed with the gaiety of children,
careless about existence. Then, when Jean had returned to his master’s
and Pépé was asleep, she spent a frightful night, in anguish how to
provide for the coming day.

Other fears kept her awake. Two women lodging on the first floor
received visitors; and sometimes these visitors mistook the floor and
came banging at Denise’s door. Bourras having quietly told her not to
answer, she buried her face under her pillow to escape hearing their
oaths. Then, too, her neighbour, the baker, who never came home till
morning, had shown a disposition to annoy her. But she suffered still
more from the annoyances of the street, the continual persecution of
passers-by. She could not go downstairs to buy a candle, in those
streets swarming with debauchees, without feeling a man’s hot breath
behind her, and hearing crude, insulting remarks; and some individuals
pursued her to the very end of the dark passage, encouraged by the
sordid appearance of the house. Why had she no lover? It astonished
people and seemed ridiculous. She herself could not have explained why
she resisted, menaced as she was by hunger, and perturbed by all the
sexuality in the air around her.

One evening when Denise had not even any bread for Pépé’s soup, a
well-dressed man, wearing a decoration, commenced to follow her. On
reaching the passage he became brutal, and it was with loathing and
revolt that she banged the door in his face. Then, once more upstairs,
she sat down, with her hands trembling. The little one was sleeping.
What should she say if he woke up and asked her for bread? And yet had
she chosen her misery would have ceased, she could have had money,
dresses, and a fine room. It was very simple, every one came to that,
it was said; for a woman alone in Paris could not live by her labour.
But her whole being rose up in protest, against the disgrace of the
thing. She considered life a matter of logic, good conduct, and courage.

Denise frequently questioned herself in this way. An old love story
floated in her memory, the story of a sailor’s betrothed whom her
love guarded from all perils. At Valognes she had often hummed this
sentimental ballad whilst gazing into the deserted street. Had she
likewise some tender affection in her heart that she proved so brave?
She still thought of Hutin, full of uneasiness. Morning and evening she
saw him pass under her window. Now that he was second-hand he walked by
himself, saluted with respect by the mere salesmen. He never raised his
head, and she thought she suffered from his vanity. Still she watched
him without fear of being discovered; whereas, as soon as she saw
Mouret, who also passed every day, she began to tremble, and quickly
concealed herself, her bosom heaving. He had no need to know where she
was lodging. And then she would feel ashamed of the house, and suffer
at the idea of what he must think of her, although perhaps they would
never meet again.

Denise still lived amidst all the hubbub of The Ladies’ Paradise.
A mere wall separated her room from her old department; and, from
early morning, she lived her old days afresh, divining and hearing
the arrival of the crowd and the increasing bustle of business. The
slightest noise shook the old hovel which clung to the side of the
colossus, and shared in its pulsations. Moreover, she could not
avoid certain meetings. She twice had found herself face to face
with Pauline, who had offered her services, grieved to see her so
unfortunate; and she had even been obliged to tell a falsehood to avoid
receiving her friend or paying her a visit, one Sunday, at Baugé’s. But
it was more difficult still for her to defend herself against Deloche’s
desperate affection; aware of all her troubles, he watched her, waited
for her in the doorways. One day he wanted to lend her thirty francs, a
brother’s savings, he said, with a blush. And these meetings made her
regret the shop, and continually brought her back to thoughts of the
life the others led there, as if she herself had not quitted it.

No one had ever called upon her till one afternoon when she was
surprised by a knock. It was Colomban. She received him standing. For
his part he seemed greatly embarrassed and began stammering, asking how
she was getting on, and speaking of The Old Elbeuf. Perhaps, thought
she, it was Uncle Baudu who had sent him, regretting his rigour; for
he continued to pass her without taking any notice of her, although he
was well aware of her miserable position. However, when she plainly
questioned her visitor, he appeared more embarrassed than ever. No,
no, it was not the governor who had sent him; and he finished by
naming Clara–he simply wanted to talk about Clara. Then little by
little he grew bolder, and asked Denise’s advice, imagining no doubt
that she might be willing to play the part of a go-between. And it
was in vain that she tried to dishearten him, by reproaching him with
the pain he was causing Geneviève for such a heartless girl. He came
up another day, indeed got into the habit of coming to see her. This
seemed to suffice for his timid passion; he continually began the same
conversation afresh, unable to resist the impulse and trembling with
joy at finding himself with one who had approached Clara. And all this
caused Denise to live more than ever at The Ladies’ Paradise.

Towards the end of September the poor girl experienced the blackest
misery. Pépé had fallen ill, having caught a severe cold. He ought to
have had plenty of good broth, and she had not even a piece of bread to
give him. One evening, completely conquered, she was sobbing, in one of
those despairing straits which drive women on to the streets, or into
the Seine, when old Bourras gently knocked at the door. He had brought
with him a loaf, and a milk-can full of broth.

“There! there’s something for the youngster,” said he in his abrupt
way. “Don’t cry like that; it annoys my lodgers.” And as she thanked
him with a fresh outburst of tears, he resumed: “Do keep quiet! Come
and see me to-morrow. I’ve some work for you.”

Since the terrible blow which The Ladies’ Paradise had dealt him by
opening an umbrella department, Bourras had ceased to employ any
workwomen. In order to save expenses he did everything himself,
cleaning, mending, and sewing. His trade moreover was diminishing
to such a point that he sometimes remained without work. And so he
was obliged to invent some occupation on the following day when he
installed Denise in a corner of his shop. He felt, however, that he
could not allow any one to die of hunger in his house.

“You’ll have two francs a day,” said he. “When you find something
better, you can leave me.”

She was afraid of him, and did the work so quickly that he was
embarrassed to find her more. He had given her some silk to stitch,
some lace to repair. During the first few days she did not dare to
raise her head, uneasy at feeling him near her, with his lion-like
mane, hooked nose, and piercing eyes, shaded by bushy brows. His
voice was harsh, his gestures were extravagant, and the mothers of
the neighbourhood often frightened their youngsters by threatening to
send for him, as they would for a policeman. However, the boys never
passed his door without calling out some insulting words, which he did
not even seem to hear. All his maniacal anger was directed against the
scoundrels who dishonoured his trade by selling cheap trashy articles,
which dogs, said he, would not consent to use.

Denise trembled whenever he burst out thus: “Art is done for, I tell
you! There’s not a single respectable handle made nowadays. They make
sticks, but as for handles, it’s all up! Bring me a proper handle, and
I’ll give you twenty francs!”

He had a real artist’s pride; not a workman in Paris was capable of
turning out a handle like his, as light and as strong. He carved the
knobs with charming ingenuity, continually inventing fresh designs,
flowers, fruit, animals, and heads, all executed in a free and
life-like style. A little pocket-knife sufficed him and, with his
spectacles on his nose he would spend whole days in chipping bits of
boxwood and ebony.

“A pack of ignorant beggars,” said he, “who are satisfied with sticking
a certain quantity of silk on so much whalebone! They buy their handles
by the gross, handles ready-made. And they sell just what they like! I
tell you, art is done for!”

At last Denise began to feel easier. He had desired that Pépé should
come down into the shop to play, for he was wonderfully fond of
children. When the little one was crawling about on all-fours, neither
of them had room to move. She sat in her corner doing the mending, he
near the window, carving away with his little knife. Every day now
brought round the same work and the same conversation. Whilst working,
he would continually assail The Ladies’ Paradise; never weary of
explaining how affairs stood in the terrible duel between that bazaar
and himself. He had occupied his house since 1845, and had a thirty
years’ lease of it at a rent of eighteen hundred francs a year; and, as
he made a thousand francs out of his four furnished rooms, he only paid
eight hundred for the shop. It was a mere trifle, he had no expenses,
and could thus hold out for a long time still. To hear him, there was
no doubt about his eventual triumph; he would certainly swallow up the
monster. Then suddenly he would break off to ask:

“Have they got any dog’s heads like that?”

And he would blink his eyes behind his glasses, whilst judging the
dog’s head which he was carving, with its lip turned up and its fangs
displayed, in a life-like growl. Pépé delighted with the dog, would
thereupon get up, resting his two little arms on the old man’s knee.

“As long as I make both ends meet I don’t care a hang about the rest,”
the latter resumed, whilst delicately shaping the dog’s tongue with the
point of his knife. “The scoundrels have taken away my profits; but
if I’m making nothing I’m not losing anything yet, or at least only a
trifle. And, you see, I’m ready to sacrifice everything rather than
yield.”

Thereupon he would brandish his knife, and his white hair would blow
about in a storm of anger.

“But if they made you a reasonable offer,” Denise would mildly observe,
without raising her eyes from her needle, “it would be wiser to accept
it.”

This suggestion, however, only produced an outburst of ferocious
obstinacy. “Never! If my head were under the knife I should still say
no, by heavens I would! I’ve another ten years’ lease, and they shan’t
have the house before then, even if I should have to die of hunger
within the four bare walls. Twice already they’ve tried to get over me.
They offered me twelve thousand francs for my good-will, and eighteen
thousand francs for the last ten years of my lease; in all thirty
thousand. But no, no–not for fifty thousand even! I have them in my
power, and intend to see them licking the dust before me!”

“Thirty thousand francs! it’s a good sum,” thereupon resumed Denise.
“You could go and establish yourself elsewhere. And suppose they were
to buy the house?”

Bourras, now putting the finishing touches to his dog’s tongue,
appeared absorbed for a moment, a childish laugh pervading his
venerable, prophet’s face. Then he continued: “The house, no fear! They
spoke of buying it last year, and offered eighty thousand francs, twice
as much as it’s worth. But the landlord, a retired fruiterer, as big a
scoundrel as they, wanted to make them shell out more. Besides, they
are suspicious about me; they know I should then be even less inclined
to give way. No! no! here I am, and here I intend to stay. The emperor
with all his cannon could not turn me out.”

Denise did not dare to say any more, but went on with her work, whilst
the old man continued to vent short sentences, between two cuts of his
knife; now muttering something to the effect that the game had hardly
begun; and then that they would see wonderful things later on, for he
had certain plans which would sweep their umbrella counter away; and,
deeply blended with his obstinacy, you detected the personal revolt of
the skilled manufacturer against the growing invasion of commonplace
rubbish. Pépé, however, at last climbed on his knees, and impatiently
stretched out his hands towards the dog’s head.

“Give it me, sir.”

“Presently, youngster,” the old man replied in a voice that suddenly
became softer. “He hasn’t any eyes as yet; we must make his eyes now.”
And whilst carving the eyes he continued talking to Denise. “Do you
hear them? Isn’t there a roar next door? That’s what exasperates me
more than anything, my word of honour! to have them always on my back
like this with their infernal locomotive-like noise.”

It made his little table tremble, he asserted. The whole shop was
shaken, and he would spend the entire afternoon without a customer of
his own but amidst all the trepidation of the jostling multitude in The
Ladies’ Paradise. From morning to night this was a subject for eternal
grumbling. Another good day’s work; they were knocking against the
wall, the silk department must have cleared ten thousand francs; or
else he made merry, not a sound came from behind the wall, a showery
day had killed the receipts. And the slightest stir, the faintest
vibration, thus furnished him with matter for endless comment.

“Did you hear? some one has slipped down! Ah, if they could only all
fall and break their backs!–That, my dear, is a dispute between
some ladies. So much the better! So much the better!–Ah! you hear
the parcels falling into the basement? What a row they make. It’s
disgusting!”

It did not do for Denise to discuss his remarks, for he bitterly
retorted by reminding her of the shameful way in which she had been
dismissed. For the hundredth time she was obliged to relate her life
in the jacket and mantle department, the hardships she had at first
endured, the small unhealthy bedrooms, the bad food, and the continual
battle between the salesmen; and thus they would talk about the shop
from morning to night, absorbing it hourly in the very air they
breathed.

But with eager, outstretched hands Pépé repeated: “Give it me, sir,
give it me!”

The dog’s head was finished and Bourras held it at a distance, then
examined it closely with noisy glee. “Take care, it will bite you!” he
said, “there, go and play, and don’t break it, if you can help it.”
Then speedily reverting to his fixed idea, he shook his fist at the
wall. “You may do all you can to knock the house down,” he exclaimed.
“You shan’t have it, even if you invade the whole street!”

Denise now had something to eat each day, and she was extremely
grateful to the old umbrella-dealer, realizing that he had a good heart
beneath his strange, violent ways. Nevertheless she felt a strong
desire to find some work elsewhere, for she often saw him inventing
some trifle for her to do and fully understood that he did not require
a workwoman in the present collapse of his business, and was merely
employing her out of charity. Six months had passed thus, and the dull
winter season having again returned, she was despairing of finding a
situation before March, when, one evening in January, Deloche, who was
watching for her in a doorway, gave her a bit of advice. Why did she
not call on Robineau; perhaps he might want some one?

During the previous September, Robineau, though fearing to jeopardize
his wife’s sixty thousand francs, had made up his mind to buy Vinçard’s
silk-business. He had paid forty thousand for the good-will and stock,
and was starting with the remaining twenty thousand. It was not much,
but he had Gaujean behind him to back him up with any amount of credit.
Gaujean ever since his quarrel with The Ladies’ Paradise had been
longing to stir up competitors against the colossus; and he thought
victory certain, by creating special shops in the neighbourhood, where
the public would find a large and varied choice of articles. Only the
very rich Lyons manufacturers, such as Dumonteil, could accept the
big shops’ terms, satisfied to keep their looms going with them, and
seeking their profits in their sales to less important establishments.
But Gaujean was far from having the solidity and staying power
possessed by Dumonteil. For a long time a mere commission agent, it
was only during the last five or six years that he had possessed looms
of his own, and he still had a lot of his work done by piece-workers,
furnishing them with the raw material and paying them by the yard. It
was precisely this system which, increasing his manufacturing expenses,
had prevented him from competing with Dumonteil for the supply of the
Paris Delight. This had filled him with rancour, and he saw in Robineau
the instrument of a decisive battle with those drapery bazaars which he
accused of ruining French manufactures.

When Denise called she found Madame Robineau alone. Daughter of an
overseer in the Highways and Bridges Service, entirely ignorant
of business matters, the young wife still retained the charming
awkwardness of a girl educated in a convent. She was dark, very pretty,
with a gentle, cheerful manner, which made her extremely charming.
Moreover she adored her husband, living solely by his love. Just as
Denise was about to leave her name Robineau himself came in, and at
once engaged her, one of his two saleswomen having left him on the
previous day to go to The Ladies’ Paradise.

“They don’t leave us a single good hand,” said he. “However, I shall
feel quite easy with you, for you are like me, you can’t be very fond
of them. Come to-morrow.”

In the evening Denise hardly knew how to announce her departure to
Bourras. In fact, he called her an ungrateful girl, and lost his
temper. And when, with tears in her eyes, she tried to defend herself
by intimating that she could see through his charitable conduct, he
softened down, stammered that he had plenty of work, that she was
leaving him indeed just as he was about to bring out a new umbrella of
his invention.

“And Pépé?” he asked.

This was Denise’s great trouble; she dared not take him back to Madame
Gras, and could not leave him alone in the bedroom, shut up from
morning to night.

“Very good, I’ll keep him,” said the old man; “he’ll be all right in
my shop. We’ll do the cooking together.” And then as she refused the
offer fearing that it might inconvenience him, he thundered out: “Great
heavens! have you no confidence in me? I shan’t eat your child!”

Denise was much happier at Robineau’s. He only paid her sixty francs
a month, with her board, without giving her any commission on the
sales, that not being the rule in the old-fashioned houses; but she
was treated with great kindness, especially by Madame Robineau who was
always smiling at her counter. He, nervous and worried, was sometimes
rather abrupt. At the expiration of the first month, Denise had
become quite one of the family, like the other saleswoman, a silent,
consumptive, little body. The Robineaus were not at all particular
before them, but freely talked of the business whilst at table in the
back-shop, which looked on to a large yard. And it was there they
decided one evening to start the campaign against The Ladies’ Paradise.
Gaujean had come to dinner and, after the roast leg of mutton, had
broached the subject in his Lyonese voice, thickened by the Rhône fogs.

“It’s getting unbearable,” said he. “They go to Dumonteil, purchase the
sole right to a design, and take three hundred pieces straight off,
insisting on a reduction of half a franc a yard; and, as they pay ready
money, they also secure the profit of eighteen per cent. discount. Very
often Dumonteil barely makes four sous a yard out of it. He simply
works to keep his looms going, for a loom that stands still is a dead
loss. Under these circumstances how can you expect that we, with our
limited plant, and our piece-workers, can keep up the struggle?”

Robineau, pensive, forgot his dinner. “Three hundred pieces!” he
murmured. “I tremble when I take a dozen, and at ninety days too.
They can sell at a franc or two francs cheaper than we can. I have
calculated that their catalogued articles are offered at fifteen per
cent. less than our own prices. That’s what kills the small Houses.”

He was passing through a period of discouragement. His wife, full of
anxiety, looked at him with a loving air. She understood very little
about the business, all these figures confused her; she could not
understand why people worried over things so much, when it was so easy
to be gay and love one another. However, it sufficed that her husband
desired to conquer, and she became as impassioned as he himself, and
would have stood to her counter till death.

“But why don’t all the manufacturers come to an understanding
together?” resumed Robineau, violently. “They could then lay down the
law, instead of submitting to it.”

Gaujean, who had asked for another slice of mutton, was slowly chewing.
“Ah! why, why? The looms must be kept going, I tell you. When you have
weavers a little bit everywhere, in the neighbourhood of Lyons, in the
Gard, in the Isère, you can’t stand still a day without an enormous
loss. Then we who sometimes employ piece-workers with ten or fifteen
looms of their own are better able to control our output, whereas the
big manufacturers are obliged to have continual outlets, the quickest
and most extensive possible. And so they are on their knees before the
big shops. I know three or four who out-bid each other, and who would
sooner work at a loss than not obtain the orders. But they make up for
it with the small establishments like yours. Yes, if they manage to
live through the big places, they make their profit out of you little
fellows. Heaven knows how the crisis will end!”

“It’s odious!” exclaimed Robineau, relieved by this cry of anger.

Denise was quietly listening. With her instinctive love of logic and
life she was secretly in favour of the big shops.

They had relapsed into silence, and were eating some preserved French
beans, when at last she ventured to remark in a cheerful tone: “The
public does not complain.”

At this Madame Robineau could not restrain a little laugh, which
annoyed both her husband and Gaujean. No doubt the customer was
satisfied, for, in the end, it was the customer who profited by
the fall in prices. But everybody must live; where would they all
be if, under the pretext of conducing to the general welfare, the
consumer was fattened at the expense of the producer? And then began
a long discussion. Denise affected to be joking, though all the
while producing solid arguments. By the new system the middle-men
disappeared, and this greatly contributed to cheapen the articles;
besides, the manufacturers could no longer live without the big
shops, for as soon as one of them lost their custom, failure became a
certainty; in short, it was a natural commercial evolution. It would
be impossible to prevent things from going on as they ought to, when
everybody was working towards that result, whether they liked it or not.

“So you are for those who turned you out into the street?” thereupon
asked Gaujean.

Denise became very red. She herself was surprised at the vivacity of
her defence. What had she at heart, that such a flame should have risen
in her breast?

“Dear me, no!” she replied. “Perhaps I’m wrong, for you are more
competent to judge than I. I simply express my opinion. The prices,
instead of being settled by fifty houses as they formerly used to be,
are now fixed by four or five, which have lowered them, thanks to the
power of their capital, and the strength of their immense custom. So
much the better for the public, that’s all!”

Robineau was not angry, but had become grave, and had fixed his eyes
on the table-cloth. He had often felt the force of the new style of
business, the evolution which the young girl spoke about; and in his
clear, quiet moments he would ask himself why he should try to resist
such a powerful current, which must carry everything before it. Madame
Robineau herself, on seeing her husband deep in thought, glanced with
approval at Denise, who had modestly resumed her silent attitude.

“Come,” resumed Gaujean, to cut short the argument, “all that is simply
theory. Let’s talk of our matter.”

After the cheese, the servant brought in some jam and some pears. He
took some jam, and ate it with a spoon, with the unconscious greediness
of a big man very fond sweet things.

“This is it,” he resumed, “you must attack their Paris Delight, which
has been their success of the year. I have come to an understanding
with several of my brother manufacturers at Lyons, and have brought you
an exceptional offer–a black silk, a faille which you can sell at five
francs fifty centimes a mêtre. They sell theirs at five francs sixty,
don’t they? Well! this will be two sous cheaper, and that will suffice
to upset them.”

At this Robineau’s eyes lighted up again. In his continual nervous
torment, he often skipped like this from despair to hope. “Have you
got a sample?” he asked. And when Gaujean drew from his pocket-book a
little square of silk, he went into raptures, exclaiming: “Why, this
is a handsomer silk than the Paris Delight! At all events it produces
a better effect, the grain is coarser. You are right, we must make the
attempt. Ah! I’ll bring them to my feet or give up for good!”

Madame Robineau, sharing the enthusiasm, declared the silk superb,
and even Denise herself thought they might succeed. The latter part
of the dinner thus proved very gay. They talked in a loud tone; it
seemed as if The Ladies’ Paradise was at its last gasp. Gaujean, who
was finishing the pot of jam, explained what enormous sacrifices he
and his colleagues would be obliged to make to deliver an article of
such quality at so low a price; but they would ruin themselves rather
than yield; they had sworn to kill the big shops. As the coffee came in
the gaiety was still further increased by the arrival of Vinçard who
called, on his way past, just to see how his successor was getting on.




“Famous!” he cried, feeling the silk. “You’ll floor them, I stake my
life! Ah! you owe me a rare good thing; I told you that this was a
golden affair!”

He had just taken a restaurant at Vincennes. It was an old, cherished
idea of his, slyly nurtured while he was struggling with his silk
business, trembling with fear lest he should not sell it before the
crash came, and vowing that he would afterwards put his money into
some undertaking where he could rob folks at his ease. The idea of a
restaurant had struck him at the wedding of a cousin, who had been
made to pay ten francs for a tureen of dish water, in which floated
some Italian paste. And, in presence of the Robineaus, the joy he felt
at having saddled them with an unremunerative business, which he had
despaired of getting rid of, made his face with its round eyes and
large loyal-looking mouth, a face beaming with health, expand as it had
never done before.

“And your pains?” asked Madame Robineau, good-naturedly.

“My pains?” he murmured, in astonishment.

“Yes, those rheumatic pains which tormented you so much when you were
here.”

He then recollected the fibs he had told and slightly coloured. “Oh!
I suffer from them still!” said he. “But the country air, you know,
has done me a deal of good. Never mind, on your side you’ve done a
good stroke of business. Had it not been for my rheumatics, I could
soon have retired with ten thousand francs a year. Yes, on my word of
honour!”

A fortnight later, the battle between Robineau and The Ladies’ Paradise
began. It became celebrated, and for a time occupied the whole Parisian
market. Robineau, using his adversary’s weapons, had advertised
extensively in the newspapers. Besides that, he made a fine display,
piling huge bales of the famous silk in his windows and displaying
immense white tickets, on which the price, five francs and a half per
mêtre, appeared in gigantic figures. It was this price that caused a
revolution among the women; it was two sous less than that charged at
The Ladies’ Paradise, and the silk appeared more substantial. From the
first day a crowd of customers flocked in. Madame Marty bought a dress
she did not need, pretending it to be a bargain; Madame Bourdelais
also thought the silk very fine, but preferred waiting, guessing
no doubt what would happen. And, indeed during the following week,
Mouret boldly reduced the price of The Paris Delight by four sous,
after a lively discussion with Bourdoncle and the other managers,
in which he had succeeded in convincing them that they must accept
the challenge, even at a sacrifice; for these four sous represented
a dead loss, the silk being already sold at strict cost price. It
was a heavy blow to Robineau, who had not imagined that his rival
would lower his price; for this suicidal style of competition, this
practice of selling at a loss, was then unknown. However, the tide
of customers, attracted by Mouret’s cheapness, had immediately flown
back towards the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, whilst the shop in the Rue
Neuve-des-Petits-Champs gradually emptied.

Gaujean then hastened from Lyons; there were hurried confabulations,
and they finished by coming to a heroic resolution; the silk should
be lowered in price, they would sell it at five francs six sous, and
lower than that no one could go, without acting madly. But the next
day Mouret marked his material at five francs four sous. Then the
struggle became rageful. Robineau replied by five francs three sous,
whereupon Mouret at once ticketed The Paris Delight at five francs and
two sous. Neither lowered more than a sou at a time now, for both lost
considerable sums as often as they made this present to the public.
The customers laughed, delighted with this duel, quite stirred by the
terrible thrusts which the rivals dealt one another in order to please
them. At last Mouret ventured as low as five francs; and his staff
paled and shuddered at such a challenge to fortune. Robineau, utterly
beaten, out of breath, also stopped at five francs, not having the
courage to go any lower. And thus they rested on their positions, face
to face, with the massacre of their goods around them.

But if honour was saved on both sides, the situation was becoming
fatal for Robineau. The Ladies’ Paradise had money at its disposal
and a patronage which enabled it to balance its profits; whereas he,
sustained by Gaujean alone, unable to recoup his losses by gaining on
other articles, found himself nearing the end of his tether, slipping
further and further down the slope toward bankruptcy. He was dying from
his hardihood, despite the numerous customers whom the hazards of the
struggle had brought him. One of his secret worries was to see these
customers slowly quitting him, returning to The Ladies’ Paradise, after
all the money he had lost in the efforts he had made to secure them.

One day he quite lost patience. A customer, Madame de Boves, had
called at his shop for some mantles, for he had added a ready-made
department to his business. She would not come to a decision, however,
but complained of the quality of the material, and at last exclaimed:
“Their Paris Delight is a great deal stronger.”

Robineau restrained himself, assuring her that she was mistaken with a
tradesman’s politeness, all the more respectful, moreover, as he feared
to reveal his inward revolt.

“But just look at the silk of this cloak!” she resumed, “one would
really take it for so much cobweb. You may say what you like, sir, but
their silk at five francs is like leather compared with this.”

He did not reply; with the blood rushing to his face, he kept his lips
tightly closed. In point of fact he had ingeniously thought of buying
some of his rival’s silk for these mantles; so that it was Mouret, not
he, who lost on the material. And to conceal his practice he simply cut
off the selvage.

“Really,” he murmured at last, “you think the Paris Delight thicker?”

“Oh! a hundred times!” said Madame de Boves. “There’s no comparison.”

This injustice on her part, this fixed determination to run down the
goods in spite of all evidence filled him with indignation. And, as she
was still turning the mantle over with a disgusted air, a little bit of
the blue and silver selvage, which through carelessness had not been
cut off, appeared under the lining. Thereupon he could not restrain
himself any longer; but confessed the truth at all hazards.

“Well, madame, this is Paris Delight. I bought it myself! Look at the
selvage.”

Madame de Boves went away greatly annoyed, and a number of customers
quitted him, for the affair became known. And he, amid this ruin, when
fear for the future came upon him, only trembled for his wife, who had
been brought up in a happy, peaceful home, and would never be able to
endure a life of poverty. What would become of her if a catastrophe
should throw them into the street, with a load of debts? It was his
fault, he ought never to have touched her money. She was obliged to
comfort him. Wasn’t the money as much his as hers? He loved her dearly,
and she wanted nothing more; she gave him everything, her heart and her
life. They could be heard embracing one another in the back shop. Then,
little by little, the affairs of the house got into a regular groove;
each month the losses increased, but with a slowness which postponed
the fatal issue. A tenacious hope sustained them, and they still
predicted the approaching discomfiture of The Ladies’ Paradise.

“Pooh!” he would say, “we are young yet. The future is ours.”

“And besides, what matters, if you have done what you wanted to do?”
she resumed. “As long as you are satisfied, I am as well, darling.”

Denise’s affection for them increased on seeing their tenderness.
She trembled, divining their inevitable fall; however, she dared not
interfere. And it was here that she ended by fully understanding the
power of the new system of business, and became impassioned for this
force which was transforming Paris. Her ideas were ripening, a woman’s
grace was being evolved from the wildness of a child freshly arrived
from Valognes. Her life too was a pretty pleasant one, notwithstanding
its fatigue and the little money she earned. When she had spent all
the day on her feet, she had to go straight home, and look after Pépé,
whom old Bourras fortunately insisted on feeding; but there was still
a lot to do; a shirt to wash, a blouse to mend; without mentioning the
noise made by the youngster, which made her head ache fit to split.
She never went to bed before midnight. Sunday was her hardest day: for
she then cleaned her room, and mended her own things, so busy that it
was often five o’clock before she could comb her hair. However, she
sometimes went out for health’s sake, taking the little one for a long
walk, out towards Neuilly; and their treat over there was to drink a
cup of milk at a dairyman’s, who allowed them to sit down in his yard.
Jean disdained these excursions; he put in an appearance now and again
on week-day evenings and then disappeared, pretending he had other
visits to pay. He asked for no more money, but he arrived with such a
melancholy countenance, that his anxious sister always managed to keep
a five-franc piece for him. That was her sole luxury.

“Five francs!” he would exclaim each time. “My stars! you’re too good!
It just happens, there’s the—-”

“Not another word,” Denise would say; “I don’t want to know.”

Three months passed away, spring was coming back. However Denise
refused to return to Joinville with Pauline and Baugé. She sometimes
met them in the Rue Saint-Roch, on leaving the shop in the evening.
Pauline, on one occasion when she was alone, confided to her that she
was perhaps going to marry her lover; it was she who was hesitating,
for they did not care for married saleswomen at The Ladies’ Paradise.
This idea of marriage surprised Denise and she did not dare to advise
her friend. Then one day, just as Colomban had stopped her near the
fountain to talk about Clara, the latter tripped across the road; and
Denise was obliged to run away, for he implored her to ask her old
comrade if she would marry him. What was the matter with them all? why
were they tormenting themselves like this? She thought herself very
fortunate not to be in love with anybody.

“You’ve heard the news?” the umbrella dealer said to her one evening on
her return from business.

“No, Monsieur Bourras.”

“Well! the scoundrels have bought the Hôtel Duvillard. I’m hemmed in on
all sides!” He was waving his long arms about, in a burst of fury which
made his white mane stand up on end. “A regular underhand affair,”
he resumed. “But it seems that the hotel belonged to the Crédit
Immobilier, whose president, Baron Hartmann, has just sold it to our
famous Mouret. And now they’ve got me on the right, on the left, and at
the back, just in the way that I’m holding the knob of this stick in my
hand!”

It was true, the sale must have been concluded on the previous day.
Bourras’s small house, hemmed in between The Ladies’ Paradise and the
Hôtel Duvillard, clinging there like a swallow’s nest in a crack of
a wall, seemed certain to be crushed, as soon as the shop galleries
should invade the hôtel. And the time had now arrived, the colossus had
outflanked the feeble obstacle, and was investing it with its piles of
goods, threatening to swallow it up, absorb it by the sole force of
its giant aspiratory powers. Bourras could well feel the close embrace
which was making his shop creak. He thought he could see the place
getting smaller; he was afraid of being absorbed himself, of being
carried off into kingdom come with his sticks and umbrellas, so loudly
was the terrible machine now roaring.

“Do you hear them?” he asked. “One would think they were eating the
very walls! And in my cellar and in the attic, everywhere, there’s the
same noise–like that of a saw cutting through the plaster. But never
mind! They won’t flatten me as easily as they might a sheet of paper. I
shall stick here, even if they blow up my roof, and the rain falls in
bucketfuls on my bed!”

It was just at this moment that Mouret caused fresh proposals to
be made to Bourras; they would increase the figure of their offer,
they would give him fifty thousand francs for his good-will and the
remainder of his lease. But this offer redoubled the old man’s anger;
he refused in an insulting manner. How those scoundrels must rob people
to be able to pay fifty thousand francs for a thing which wasn’t worth
ten thousand! And he defended his shop as a young girl defends her
virtue, for honour’s sake.

Denise noticed that Bourras was pre-occupied during the next fortnight.
He wandered about in a feverish manner, measuring the walls of his
house, surveying it from the middle of the street with the air of
an architect. Then one morning some workmen arrived. This was the
decisive blow. He had conceived the bold idea of beating The Ladies’
Paradise on its own ground by making certain concessions to modern
luxury. Customers, who had often reproached him for the darkness of
his shop, would certainly come back to it again, when they saw it
all bright and new. In the first place, the workmen stopped up the
crevices and whitewashed the frontage, then they painted the woodwork
a light green, and even carried the splendour so far as to gild the
sign-board. A sum of three thousand francs, held in reserve by Bourras
as a last resource, was swallowed up in this way. Moreover, the whole
neighbourhood was revolutionized by it all, people came to look at
him losing his head amid all these riches, and no longer able to find
the things he was accustomed to. He did not seem to be at home in
that bright frame, that tender setting; he looked quite scared, with
his long beard and white hair. On the opposite side of the street
passers-by lingered in astonishment at seeing him waving his arms
about while he carved his handles. And he was in a state of fever,
perpetually afraid of dirtying his shop, more and more at sea amidst
this luxury which he did not at all understand.

Meantime, as at Robineau’s, so at Bourras’s was the campaign against
The Ladies’ Paradise carried on. Bourras had just brought out his
invention, the automatic umbrella, which later on was to become
popular. But The Paradise people immediately improved on the invention,
and a struggle of prices began. Bourras had an article at one franc
and nineteen sous, in zanella, with a steel mounting, an everlasting
article said the ticket. But he was especially anxious to vanquish his
competitors with his handles of bamboo, dogwood, olive, myrtle, rattan,
indeed every imaginable sort of handle. The Paradise people, less
artistic, paid more attention to the material, extolling their alpacas
and mohairs, twills and sarcenets. And they came out victorious.
Bourras, in despair, repeated that art was done for, that he was
reduced to carving his handles for the pleasure of doing so, without
any hope of selling them.

“It’s my fault!” he cried to Denise. “I never ought to have kept a lot
of rotten articles, at one franc nineteen sous! That’s where these new
notions lead one to. I wanted to follow the example of those brigands;
so much the better if I’m ruined by it!”

The month of July proved very warm, and Denise suffered greatly in her
tiny room under the roof. So, after leaving the shop, she sometimes
went to fetch Pépé, and instead of going up-stairs at once, took a
stroll in the Tuileries Gardens until the gates closed. One evening
as she was walking towards the chestnut-trees she suddenly stopped
short with surprise: for a few yards off, coming straight towards her,
she fancied she recognised Hutin. But her heart commenced to beat
violently. It was Mouret, who had dined on the other side of the river
and was hurrying along on foot to call on Madame Desforges. At the
abrupt movement which she made to escape him, he caught sight of her.
The night was coming on, but still he recognised her clearly.

“Ah, it’s you, mademoiselle!” he said.

She did not reply, astonished that he should deign to stop. He,
smiling, concealed his constraint beneath an air of amiable protection.
“You are still in Paris?” he inquired.

“Yes, sir,” said she at last.

She was slowly drawing back, desirous of making a bow and continuing
her walk. But he abruptly turned and followed her under the dark
shadows of the chestnut-trees. The air was getting cooler, some
children were laughing in the distance, while trundling their hoops.

“This is your brother, is it not?” he resumed, looking at Pépé.

The little boy, frightened by the unusual presence of a gentleman, was
walking gravely by his sister’s side, holding her tightly by the hand.

“Yes, sir,” she replied once more; and as she did so she blushed,
thinking of the abominable inventions circulated by Marguerite and
Clara.

No doubt Mouret understood why she was blushing, for he quickly added:
“Listen, mademoiselle, I have to apologize to you. Yes, I should
have been happy to have told you sooner how much I regret the error
that was made. You were accused too lightly of a fault. However, the
evil is done. I simply wanted to assure you that every one in our
establishment now knows of your affection for your brothers.” Then he
went on speaking with a respectful politeness to which the saleswomen
of The Ladies’ Paradise were little accustomed. Denise’s confusion had
increased; but her heart was full of joy. He knew, then, that she had
ever remained virtuous! Both remained silent; he still lingered beside
her, regulating his walk to the child’s short steps; and the distant
murmurs of the city died away under the black shadows of the spreading
chestnut-trees. “I have only one reparation to offer you,” he resumed.
“Naturally, if you would like to come back to us—-”

But she interrupted him, refusing his offer with a feverish haste.
“No, sir, I cannot. Thank you all the same, but I have found another
situation.”

He knew it, they had informed him she was with Robineau; and leisurely,
putting himself on a footing of amiable equality, he spoke of the
latter, rendering him full justice. He was a very intelligent fellow,
no doubt, but too nervous. He would certainly come to grief: Gaujean
had burdened him with a very heavy business, in which they would both
suffer. Thereupon Denise, subjugated by this familiarity, opened her
mind further, and allowed it to be seen that she was on the side of
the big shops in the war between them and the small traders. She grew
animated, citing examples, showing herself well up in the question
and even expressing new and enlightened ideas. He, quite charmed,
listened to her in surprise; and turned round, trying to distinguish
her features in the growing darkness. She appeared to be still the
same with her simple dress and sweet face; but from amidst her modest
bashfulness, there seemed to ascend a penetrating perfume, of which he
felt the powerful influence. Doubtless this little girl had got used to
the atmosphere of Paris, she was becoming quite a woman, and was really
perturbing, with her sound common-sense and her beautiful sweet-scented
hair.

“As you are on our side,” said he, laughing, “why do you stay with our
adversaries? I was told too that you lodged with Bourras.”

“A very worthy man,” she murmured. “No, not a bit of it! he’s an old
idiot, a madman who will force me to ruin him, though I should be
glad to get rid of him with a fortune! Besides, your place is not in
his house, which has a bad reputation. He lets to certain women—-”
But realizing that the young girl was confused, he hastened to add:
“Oh! one can be respectable anywhere, and there’s even more merit in
remaining so when one is so poor.”

They took a few steps in silence. Pépé seemed to be listening with
the attentive air of a precocious child. Now and again he raised his
eyes to his sister, whose burning hand, quivering with sudden starts,
astonished him.

“Look here!” resumed Mouret, gaily, “will you be my ambassador? I
intended increasing my offer to-morrow–of proposing eighty thousand
francs to Bourras. Will you speak to him first about it? Tell him he’s
cutting his own throat. Perhaps he’ll listen to you, as he has a liking
for you, and you’ll be doing him a real service.”

“Very well!” said Denise, smiling also, “I will deliver your message,
but I am afraid I shall not succeed.”

Then a fresh silence ensued, neither of them having anything more
to say. For a moment he attempted to talk of her uncle Baudu; but
had to give it up on seeing how uncomfortable this made the girl.
Nevertheless, they continued walking side by side, and at last found
themselves near the Rue de Rivoli, in a path where it was still light.
On emerging from the darkness of the trees this was like a sudden
awakening. He understood that he could not detain her any longer.

“Good night, mademoiselle,” he said.

“Good night, sir.”

Nevertheless he did not go away. On raising his eyes he had perceived
in front of him, at the corner of the Rue d’Alger, the lighted windows
of Madame Desforges’s flat whither he was bound. And looking at Denise,
whom he could now see, in the pale twilight, she appeared to him very
puny compared to Henriette. Why was it then that she touched his heart
in this manner? It was a stupid caprice.

“This little man is getting tired,” he resumed, by way of saying
something. “Remember, mind, that our house will always be open to you;
you’ve only to knock, and I’ll give you every compensation possible.
Good night, mademoiselle.”

“Good night, sir.”

When Mouret had quitted her, Denise went back under the chestnut-trees,
into the black gloom. For a long time she walked on at random, between
the huge trunks, her face burning, her head in a whirl of confused
ideas. Pépé still held her hand and was stretching out his short legs
to keep pace with her. She had forgotten him. But at last he said: “You
go too quick, little mother.”

At this she sat down on a bench; and as he was tired, the child went to
sleep on her lap. She held him there, pressing him to her virgin bosom,
her eyes wandering far away into the darkness. When, an hour later,
they slowly returned to the Rue de la Michodière, she had regained her
usual quiet, sensible expression.

“Hell and thunder!” shouted Bourras, when he saw her coming, “the
blow is struck. That rascal of a Mouret has just bought my house.” He
was half mad, and was striking himself in the middle of the shop with
such outrageous gestures that he almost broke the windows. “Ah! the
scoundrel! It’s the fruiterer who’s written to tell me of it. And how
much do you think the rogue, has got for the house? One hundred and
fifty thousand francs, four times its value! There’s another thief,
if you like! Just fancy, he has taken advantage of my embellishments,
making capital out of the fact that the house has been done up. How
much longer are they going to make a fool of me?”

The thought that his money spent on paint and whitewash had brought
the fruiterer a profit exasperated him. And now Mouret would be his
landlord; he would have to pay him! It was beneath this detested
competitor’s roof that he must in future live! Such a thought raised
his fury to the highest pitch.

“Ah! I could hear them digging a hole through the wall. At this moment,
they are here, eating out of my very plate, so to say!”

And the shop shook under his heavy fist as he banged it on the counter,
making the umbrellas and the parasols dance again.

Denise, bewildered, could not get in a word. She stood there,
motionless, waiting for the end of this fit; whilst Pépé, very tired,
fell asleep again, this time on a chair. At last, when Bourras became
a little calmer, she resolved to deliver Mouret’s message. No doubt
the old man was irritated, but the excess even of his anger, the blind
alley, as it were, in which he found himself, might determine an abrupt
acceptance on his part.

“I’ve just met some one,” she commenced. “Yes, a person from The
Paradise, who is very well informed. It appears that they are going to
offer you eighty thousand francs to-morrow.”

“Eighty thousand francs!” he interrupted, in a terrible voice; “eighty
thousand francs! Not for a million now!”

She tried to reason with him. But at that moment the shop door opened,
and she suddenly drew back, pale and silent. It was her uncle Baudu,
with his yellow face and aged look. Bourras caught his neighbour by the
buttonhole, and without allowing him to say a word, as if goaded on
by his presence, roared in his face: “What do you think they have the
cheek to offer me? Eighty thousand francs! They’ve got to that point,
the brigands! they think I’m going to sell myself like a prostitute.
Ah! they’ve bought the house, and think they’ve got me now! Well! it’s
all over, they shan’t have it! I might have given way, perhaps; but now
it belongs to them, let them try to take it!”

“So the news is true?” said Baudu, in his slow voice. “I had heard of
it, and came over to know if it was so.”

“Eighty thousand francs!” repeated Bourras. “Why not a hundred thousand
at once? It’s this immense sum of money that makes me so indignant. Do
they think they can make me commit a knavish trick with their money!
They shan’t have it, by heavens! Never, never, you hear me?”

Then Denise broke her silence to remark, in her calm, quiet way:
“They’ll have it in nine years’ time, when your lease expires.”

And, notwithstanding her uncle’s presence, she begged the old man to
accept. The struggle was becoming impossible, he was fighting against a
superior force; it would be madness to refuse the fortune offered him.
But he still replied no. In nine years’ time he hoped to be dead, so as
not to see it.

“You hear, Monsieur Baudu,” he resumed, “your niece is on their side,
it’s she whom they have commissioned to corrupt me. She’s with the
brigands, my word of honour!”

Baudu, who had so far appeared not to notice Denise, now raised his
head, with the surly movement that he affected when standing at his
shop door, every time she passed. But, slowly, he turned round and
looked at her, and his thick lips trembled.

“I know it,” he replied in an undertone, and he continued looking at
her.

Denise, affected almost to tears, thought him greatly changed by worry.
Perhaps too he was stricken with remorse at not having assisted her
during the time of misery through which she had lately passed. Then
the sight of Pépé sleeping on the chair, amidst the hubbub of the
discussion, seemed to suddenly inspire him with compassion.

“Denise,” said he simply, “come to-morrow and have dinner with us, and
bring the little one. My wife and Geneviève asked me to invite you if I
met you.”

She turned very red, went up to him and kissed him. And as he was going
away, Bourras, delighted at this reconciliation, again cried out to
him: “Just give her a lecture, she isn’t a bad sort. As for me, the
house may fall, I shall be found in the ruins.”

“Our houses are already falling, neighbour,” said Baudu with a gloomy
air. “We shall all of us be crushed under them.”