In spite of her income of eighteen thousand francs from landed property, a very considerable fortune in the provinces, she lived on a footing with families who were less rich. When she went to her country-place at Prebaudet, she drove there in an old wicker carriole, hung on two straps of white leather, drawn by a wheezy mare, and scarcely protected by two leather curtains rusty with age. This carriole, known to all the town, was cared for by Jacquelin as though it were the finest coupe in all Paris. Mademoiselle valued it; she had used it for twelve years,—a fact to which she called attention with the triumphant joy of happy avarice. Most of the inhabitants of the town were grateful to Mademoiselle Cormon for not humiliating them by the luxury she could have displayed; we may even believe that had she imported a caleche from Paris they would have gossiped more about that than about her various matrimonial failures. The most brilliant equipage would, after all, have only taken her, like the old carriole, to Prebaudet. Now the provinces, which look solely to results, care little about the beauty or elegance of the means, provided they are efficient.
An old maid’s household
To complete the picture of the internal habits and ways of this house, it is necessary to group around Mademoiselle Cormon and the Abbe de Sponde Jacquelin, Josette, and Mariette, the cook, who employed themselves in providing for the comfort of uncle and niece.
Jacquelin, a man of forty, short, fat, ruddy, and brown, with a face like a Breton sailor, had been in the service of the house for twenty-two years. He waited at table, groomed the mare, gardened, blacked the abbe’s boots, went on errands, chopped the wood, drove the carriole, and fetched the oats, straw, and hay from Prebaudet. He sat in the antechamber during the evening, where he slept like a dormouse. He was in love with Josette, a girl of thirty, whom Mademoiselle would have dismissed had she married him. So the poor fond pair laid by their wages, and loved each other silently, waiting, hoping for mademoiselle’s own marriage, as the Jews are waiting for the Messiah. Josette, born between Alencon and Mortagne, was short and plump; her face, which looked like a dirty apricot, was not wanting in sense and character; it was said that she ruled her mistress. Josette and Jacquelin, sure of results, endeavored to hide an inward satisfaction which allows it to be supposed that, as lovers, they had discounted the future. Mariette, the cook, who had been fifteen years in the household, knew how to make all the dishes held in most honor in Alencon.
Perhaps we ought to count for much the fat old Norman brown-bay mare, which drew Mademoiselle Cormon to her country-seat at Prebaudet; for the five inhabitants of the house bore to this animal a maniacal affection. She was called Penelope, and had served the family for eighteen years; but she was kept so carefully and fed with such regularity that mademoiselle and Jacquelin both hoped to use her for ten years longer. This beast was the subject of perpetual talk and occupation; it seemed as if poor Mademoiselle Cormon, having no children on whom her repressed motherly feelings could expend themselves, had turned those sentiments wholly on this most fortunate animal.