A YEAR later the first child born to Ambroise and Andree, a boy, little Leonce, was christened. The young people had been married very quietly six weeks after the death of Rose. And that christening was to be the first outing for Mathieu and Marianne, who had not yet fully recovered from the terrible shock of their eldest daughter’s death. Moreover, it was arranged that after the ceremony there should simply be a lunch at the parents’ home, and that one and all should afterwards be free to return to his or her avocations. It was impossible for the whole family to come, and, indeed, apart from the grandfather and grandmother, only the twins, Denis and Blaise, and the latter’s wife Charlotte, were expected, together with the godparents. Beauchene, the godfather, had selected Madame Seguin as his commere, for, since the death of Maurice, Constance shuddered at the bare thought of touching a child. At the same time she had promised to be present at the lunch, and thus there would be ten of them, sufficient to fill the little dining-room of the modest flat in the Rue de La Boetie, where the young couple resided pending fortune’s arrival.
It was a very pleasant morning. Although Mathieu and Marianne had been unwilling to set aside their black garments even for this rejoicing, they ended by evincing some gentle gayety before the cradle of that little grandson, whose advent brought them a renewal of hope. Early in the winter a fresh bereavement had fallen on the family; Blaise had lost his little Christophe, then two and a half years old, through an attack of croup. Charlotte, however, was already at that time again enceinte, and thus the grief of the first days had turned to expectancy fraught with emotion.
The little flat in the Rue de La Boetie seemed very bright and fragrant; it was perfumed by the fair grace of Andree and illumined by the victorious charm of Ambroise, that handsome loving couple who, arm in arm, had set out so bravely to conquer the world. During the lunch, too, there was the formidable appetite and jovial laughter of Beauchene, who gave the greatest attention to his commere Valentine, jesting and paying her the most extravagant court, which afforded her much amusement, prone as she still was to play a girlish part, though she was already forty-five and a grandmother like Marianne. Constance alone remained grave, scarce condescending to bend her thin lips into a faint smile, while a shadow of deep pain passed over her withered face every time that she glanced round that gay table, whence new strength, based on the invincible future, arose in spite of all the recent mourning.
At about three o’clock Blaise rose from the table, refusing to allow Beauchene to take any more Chartreuse.
“It’s true, he is right, my children,” Beauchene ended by exclaiming in a docile way. “We are very comfortable here, but it is absolutely necessary that we should return to the works. And we must deprive you of Denis, for we need his help over a big building affair. That’s how we are, we others, we don’t shirk duty.”