It was a regular dramatic performance every first of the month in the little cottage of the old General and Madame B——.
It began with the waking up of the General by his wife, standing at the bedside with a cup of black coffee.
“He! Ah! Oh, Honorine! Yes; the first of the month, and affairs—affairs to be transacted.”
On those mornings when affairs were to be transacted there was not much leisure for the household; and it was Honorine who constituted the household. Not the old dressing-gown and slippers, the old, old trousers, and the antediluvian neck-foulard of other days! Far from it. It was a case of warm water (with even a fling of cologne in it), of the trimming of beard and mustache by Honorine, and the black broadcloth suit, and the brown satin stock, and that je ne sais quoi de degage which no one could possess or assume like the old General. Whether he possessed or assumed it is an uncertainty which hung over the fine manners of all the gentlemen of his day, who were kept through their youth in Paris to cultivate bon ton and an education.
It was also something of a gala-day for Madame la Generale too, as it must be a gala-day for all old wives to see their husbands pranked in the manners and graces that had conquered their maidenhood, and exhaling once more that ambrosial fragrance which once so well incensed their compelling presence.
Ah, to the end a woman loves to celebrate her conquest! It is the last touch of misfortune with her to lose in the old, the ugly, and the commonplace her youthful lord and master. If one could look under the gray hairs and wrinkles with which time thatches old women, one would be surprised to see the flutterings, the quiverings, the thrills, the emotions, the coals of the heart-fires which death alone extinguishes, when he commands the tenant to vacate.
Honorine’s hands chilled with the ice of sixteen as she approached scissors to the white mustache and beard. When her finger-tips brushed those lips, still well formed and roseate, she felt it, strange to say, on her lips. When she asperged the warm water with cologne,—it was her secret delight and greatest effort of economy to buy this cologne,—she always had one little moment of what she called faintness—that faintness which had veiled her eyes, and chained her hands, and stilled her throbbing bosom, when as a bride she came from the church with him. It was then she noticed the faint fragrance of the cologne bath. Her lips would open as they did then, and she would stand for a moment and think thoughts to which, it must be confessed, she looked forward from month to month. What a man he had been! In truth he belonged to a period that would accept nothing less from Nature than physical beauty; and Nature is ever subservient to the period. If it is to-day all small men, and to-morrow gnomes and dwarfs, we may know that the period is demanding them from Nature.