Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- Mademoiselle Fifi - 6/13 -
weapons, according to his own expression. Mrs. Carré-Lamadon, considerably younger than her husband, remained the consolation of Officers belonging to good families who had been quartered in Rouen.
She was sitting opposite her husband, pretty, slender, graceful, curled in her furs, and gazed mournfully at the lamentable interior of the coach.
Her neighbors, Count and Countess Hubert de Bréville, bore one of the most ancient and noble names of Normandy. the Count, an old nobleman of aristocratic bearing, endeavored to accentuate by the artifices of his toilette his natural resemblance to King Henry IV, who, according to a legend, in which the family gloried, had caused the maternity of a de Bréville lady whose husband, on account of his royal connection, had been made a Count and Governor of a Province.
A Colleague of Carré-Lamadon in the General Council, Count Hubert represented the Orleanist party in his Department. The story of his marriage with the daughter of a small ship-owner of Nantes had always remained mysterious. But as the Countess had a grand air, entertained better than any other hostess, and was credited with having been the Dulcinea of one of Louis Philippe's sons, the whole nobility showed her the greatest consideration, and her salon remained the most exclusive in the locality, the only one where old gallantry was conserved and admission to which was not easy.
The wealth of the de Brévilles, all invested in real estate, was estimated to yield an annual income of five hundred thousand francs.
These six persons occupied the rear of the coach, the side of wealthy, serene and solid Society, authoritative, honest people who have religion and principles.
By a strange hazard, all the women were seated on the same side; and the Countess further had for neighbors two saintly nuns who fingered long rosaries and mumbled Paters and Aves. One of them was old and had a face so deeply pitted with smallpox, that she looked as if she had been shot full in the face by a rapid-firing gun. The other, very frail, had a pretty and sickly head on a narrow consumptive chest eaten up by that devouring faith which makes martyrs and visionaries. Seated opposite the nuns, a man and a woman attracted the eyes of all the other passengers.
The man, a well known character, was Cornudet the democrat, the terror of respectable people. Since twenty years he had been dipping his large red beard in the bocks of all the democratic Cafés. He had spent, with the help of his brethren and friends, a good sized fortune inherited from his father, a retired Confectioner, and he was impatiently waiting for the advent of the Republic to secure a political position deserved by so many revolutionary libations. On the fourth of September, possibly as a result of a practical joke, he had thought that he had been appointed Prefect, but when he wanted to take up his duties, the clerk, who had remained in charge of the office, refused to recognize him, which compelled him to retire. A very good natured chap, and moreover inoffensive and serviable, he had worked with an incomparable energy to organize the defense of the City. He had had trenches dug in the plains, all the young trees in the neighboring forests cut down, traps set on all the roads, and at the approach of the enemy, satisfied with his preparations, he had hurriedly returned to town. He thought now that he would be more useful in Havre where new trenches were going to be needed.
The woman, one of those called gallant, was famous for her precocious embonpoint which had earned her the nickname of "Boule de Suif" (ball of tallow). Short and rotund all over, fat enough to supply lard, with puffed fingers constricted at the joints and looking like strings of small sausages, a shiny and tight skin, an enormous bust which protruded from under her gown, she was yet attractive and much coveted, her fresh appearance being pleasant to look at. Her face was like a red apple, a peony bud, ready to bloom forth; and in the upper part of her face, two magnificent black eyes, shaded by large thick lashes which cast a shadow into them; in the lower part, a charming mouth, narrow, moist, ripe for kisses, and furnished with white and microscopic teeth.
Moreover she was said to be full of invaluable qualities.
As soon as she was recognized, whispers circulated among the respectable women and the words: "hussy", "public scandal" were spoken so loud that she raised her head. Then she turned on her neighbors such a challenging and haughty look, that a great silence fell on the company and they all lowered their eyes except Loiseau, who kept on watching her with an exhilarated air.
But soon the conversation was resumed between the three ladies, whom the presence of this girl had suddenly made friends, almost intimates. It seemed to them that they should form a sort of "fasces" of their conjugal dignities in the presence of this shameless mercenary; for legalized love always looks down on its free brother.
The three men, also drawn closer by an instinct of conservation at the sight of Cornudet, spoke of money matters with an expression of contempt for the poor. Count Hubert related the damage done to his property by the Prussians, the losses that would result from their stealing of a tenfold millionaire grand Seigneur whom such reverses would hardly incommodate for one year. Mr. Carré-Lamadon, who had suffered serious losses in his cotton business, had taken the precaution of sending six hundred thousand francs to England, a provision for rainy days which would enable him to meet emergencies. As to Loiseau, he had found a way of selling to the French Quartermaster's Office all the low grade wines he had in stock, so that the Government owed him a tremendous sum, which he expected to cash in time at Havre.
And all three cast at each other quick and friendly glances. Although belonging to different social sets, they felt united in the brotherhood of money, the great freemasonry of those who possess, who jingle gold when they put their hands in the pockets of their trousers.
The coach was making such slow headway that at ten o'clock A. M. they had traveled only four leagues. The men got off three times and walked up the hills. They began to feel uneasy, because they expected to have luncheon in Tôtes and now there was hardly any possibility of getting there before night. Each was watching to find an inn on the road, when the coach foundered in a snow-drift, and it took two hours to extricate it.
Appetites grew and spirits fell; no road-house, no wine dealer could be discovered, the approach of the Prussians and the passage of the starving French troops having frightened away all the trades-people.
The men went to the farmhouses by the roadside to look for food but they did not even find bread, for the suspicious peasants had hidden away their reserve of provisions for fear of being pillaged by the soldiers who, having nothing to eat, were taking forcibly what they discovered.
Toward one o'clock in the afternoon Loiseau announced that positively he felt a big hollow in his stomach. All of them had been suffering like him for a long time, and the violent craving for food, growing steadily had killed off the conversations.
From time to time one of them yawned, another imitated him instantly; and each, in turn, according to his character, manners and social position, opened his mouth noisily or modestly holding his hand before the gaping hole from which breath steamed out.
Boule de Suif stooped several times as if looking for something under her petticoats. She hesitated a second, looked at her neighbors and the straightened herself up quietly. Faces were pale and drawn. Loiseau said that he would pay one thousand francs for a knuckle of ham. His wife made a gesture as if to protest, then she became calm. She always suffered when she heard of money being squandered, and did not even understand jokes on that subject. "As a matter of fact, I don't feel well, said the Count; why did I not think of taking provisions with me?"--Every one was reproaching himself with the same omission.
Cornudet, however, had a pocket bottle of rum; he offered some to his companions; they refused coldly. Loiseau alone accepted a few drops, and when he returned the bottle, he thanked: "It is good, all the same! it warms you up and it cheats the appetite."--The drink put him in good humor and he proposed that they should do as on the small boat in the song: "eat the fattest of the passengers." This indirect allusion to Boule de Suif shocked the well-bred passengers. There was no response. Cornudet alone smiled. The two good Sisters had ceased to mumble their rosary, and with their hands thrust down in their wide sleeves, they held themselves motionless, obstinately lowering their eyes and doubtless offering up as a sacrifice to God the suffering He had sent them.
At last, at three o'clock, as they were still in the middle of an interminable plain, without any village in sight, Boule de Suif bent down quickly and from under her seat pulled out a large basket covered with a white napkin.
She drew out first a small earthen plate, a fine silver drinking cup, then a large pot in which two whole chickens, carved in pieces, had stewed in their own gravy; and one could further see in the basket other good things wrapped up, pastry, fruit, delicacies, provisions prepared for a three days' trip, so that the traveler would not have to touch the food in the inns. The neck of four bottles emerged from among the food packages. She took the wing of a chicken and, began to eat it delicately with one of those small rolls which in Normandy are called "Régence."
All the eyes were attracted in her direction. Then the appetizing smell filled the coach, making the nostrils dilate and mouths water, while the jaws under the ears contracted painfully. The contempt of the ladies for this girl was becoming ferocious, developing into a desire to kill her or throw her, with her drinking cup, her basket and her provisions, out of the coach on the snow.
All the while, Loiseau had been devouring with his eyes the pot of chicken. He said:--"Well, well, the lady has been more provident than all of us! There are persons who always manage to think of everything."--She raised her head towards him:--"Would you like some, Sir?" "It is hard to fast since morning--" And looking around him he added:--"In moments like this, one is glad to find obliging people."
He had a newspaper which he unfolded on his knees in order not to soil his trousers, and with the point of a knife, which he always carried in his pocket, he picked a leg thoroughly varnished with jelly, bit it off and chewed it with such evident relish, that there arose in the coach a heavy sigh of distress.
Previous Page Next Page
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything