The soup had just been served on the following Tuesday evening, when Helene, after listening attentively, exclaimed:
“What a downpour! Don’t you hear? My poor friends, you will get drenched to-night!”
“Oh, it’s only a few drops,” said the Abbe quietly, though his old cassock was already wet about the shoulders.
“I’ve got a good distance to go,” said Monsieur Rambaud. “But I shall return home on foot all the same; I like it. Besides, I have my umbrella.”
Jeanne was reflecting as she gazed gravely on her last spoonful of vermicelli; and at last her thoughts took shape in words: “Rosalie said you wouldn’t come because of the wretched weather; but mamma said you would come. You are very kind; you always come.”
A smile lit up all their faces. Helene addressed a nod of affectionate approval to the two brothers. Out of doors the rain was falling with a dull roar, and violent gusts of wind beat angrily against the window-shutters. Winter seemed to have returned. Rosalie had carefully drawn the red repp curtains; and the small, cosy dining-room, illumined by the steady light of the white hanging-lamp, looked, amidst the buffeting of the storm, a picture of pleasant, affectionate intimacy. On the mahogany sideboard some china reflected the quiet light; and amidst all this indoor peacefulness the four diners leisurely conversed, awaiting the good pleasure of the servant-maid, as they sat round the table, where all, if simple, was exquisitely clean.
“Oh! you are waiting; so much the worse!” said Rosalie familiarly, as she entered with a dish. “These are fillets of sole au gratin for Monsieur Rambaud; they require to be lifted just at the last moment.”
Monsieur Rambaud pretended to be a gourmand, in order to amuse Jeanne, and give pleasure to Rosalie, who was very proud of her accomplishments as a cook. He turned towards her with the question: “By the way, what have you got for us to-day? You are always bringing in some surprise or other when I am no longer hungry.”
“Oh,” said she in reply, “there are three dishes as usual, and no more. After the sole you will have a leg of mutton and then some Brussels sprouts. Yes, that’s the truth; there will be nothing else.”
From the corner of his eye Monsieur Rambaud glanced towards Jeanne. The child was boiling over with glee, her hands over her mouth to restrain her laughter, while she shook her head, as though to insinuate that the maid was deceiving them. Monsieur Rambaud thereupon clacked his tongue as though in doubt, and Rosalie pretended great indignation.
“You don’t believe me because Mademoiselle Jeanne laughs so,” said she. “Ah, very well! believe what you like. Stint yourself, and see if you won’t have a craving for food when you get home.”
When the maid had left the room, Jeanne, laughing yet more loudly, was seized with a longing to speak out.