Madame Depine’s sister-in-law’s visit by the June excursion train was a not unexpected catastrophe. It only lasted a day, but it put back the Grey Wig by a week, for Madame Choucrou had to be fed at Duval’s, and Madame Valiere magnanimously insisted on being of the party: whether to run parallel with her friend, or to carry off the brown wig, she alone knew. Fortunately, Madame Choucrou was both short-sighted and colour-blind. On the other hand, she liked a petit verre with her coffee, and both at a separate restaurant. But never had Madame Valiere appeared to Madame Depine’s eyes more like the “Princess,” more gay and polished and debonair, than at this little round table on the sunlit Boulevard. Little trills of laughter came from the half-toothless gums; long gloved fingers toyed with the liqueur glass or drew out the old-fashioned watch to see that Madame Choucrou did not miss her train; she spent her sou royally on a hawked journal. When they had seen Madame Choucrou off, she proposed to dock meat entirely for a fortnight so as to regain the week. Madame Depine accepted in the same heroic spirit, and even suggested the elimination of the figs: one could lunch quite well on bread and milk, now the sunshine was here. But Madame Valiere only agreed to a week’s trial of this, for she had a sweet tooth among the few in her gums.
The very next morning, as they walked in the Luxembourg Gardens, Madame Depine’s foot kicked against something. She stooped and saw a shining glory—a five-franc piece!
“What is it?” said Madame Valiere.
“Nothing,” said Madame Depine, covering the coin with her foot. “My bootlace.” And she bent down—to pick up the coin, to fumble at her bootlace, and to cover her furious blush. It was not that she wished to keep the godsend to herself,—one saw on the instant that le bon Dieu was paying for Madame Choucrou,—it was an instantaneous dread of the “Princess’s” quixotic code of honour. La Valiere was capable of flying in the face of Providence, of taking the windfall to a bureau de police. As if the inspector wouldn’t stick to it himself! A purse—yes. But a five-franc piece, one of a flock of sheep!
The treasure-trove was added to the heap of which her stocking was guardian, and thus honestly divided. The trouble, however, was that, as she dared not inform the “Princess,” she could not decently back out of the meatless fortnight. Providence, as it turned out, was making them gain a week. As to the figs, however, she confessed on the third day that she hungered sore for them, and Madame Valiere readily agreed to make this concession to her weakness.