ON the morrow, after a morning’s hard toil at his office at the works, Mathieu, having things well advanced, bethought himself of going to see Norine at Madame Bourdieu’s. He knew that she had given birth to a child a fortnight previously, and he wished to ascertain the exact state of affairs, in order to carry to an end the mission with which Beauchene had intrusted him. As the other, however, had never again spoken to him on the subject, he simply told him that he was going out in the afternoon, without indicating the motive of his absence. At the same time he knew what secret relief Beauchene would experience when he at last learnt that the whole business was at an end—the child cast adrift and the mother following her own course.
On reaching the Rue de Miromesnil, Mathieu had to go up to Norine’s room, for though she was to leave the house on the following Thursday, she still kept her bed. And at the foot of the bedstead, asleep in a cradle, he was surprised to see the infant, of which, he thought, she had already rid herself.
“Oh! is it you?” she joyously exclaimed. “I was about to write to you, for I wanted to see you before going away. My little sister here would have taken you the letter.”
Cecile Moineaud was indeed there, together with the younger girl, Irma. The mother, unable to absent herself from her household duties, had sent them to make inquiries, and give Norine three big oranges, which glistened on the table beside the bed. The little girls had made the journey on foot, greatly interested by all the sights of the streets and the displays in the shop-windows. And now they were enraptured with the fine house in which they found their big sister sojourning, and full of curiosity with respect to the baby which slept under the cradle’s muslin curtains.
Mathieu made the usual inquiries of Norine, who answered him gayly, but pouted somewhat at the prospect of having so soon to leave the house, where she had found herself so comfortable.