This little episode coloured for Madame Depine the whole dreary period that remained. Life was never again so depressingly definite; though curiously enough the “Princess” mistook for gloom her steady earthward glance, as they sauntered about the sweltering city. With anxious solicitude Madame Valiere would direct her attention to sunsets, to clouds, to the rising moon; but heaven had ceased to have attraction, except as a place from which five-francs fell, and as soon as the “Princess’s” eye was off her, her own sought the ground again. But this imaginary need of cheering up Madame Depine kept Madame Valiere herself from collapsing. At last, when the first red leaves began to litter the Gardens and cover up possible coins, the francs in the stocking approached their century.
What a happy time was that! The privations were become second nature; the weather was still fine. The morning Gardens were a glow of pink and purple and dripping diamonds, and on some of the trees was the delicate green of a second blossoming, like hope in the heart of age. They could scarcely refrain from betraying their exultation to the Hotel des Tourterelles, from which they had concealed their sufferings. But the polyglot population seething round its malodorous stairs and tortuous corridors remained ignorant that anything was passing in the life of these faded old creatures, and even on the day of drawing lots for the Wig the exuberant hotel retained its imperturbable activity.
Not that they really drew lots. That was a figure of speech, difficult to translate into facts. They preferred to spin a coin. Madame Depine was to toss, the “Princess” to cry pile ou face. From the stocking Madame Depine drew, naturally enough, the solitary five-franc piece. It whirled in the air; the “Princess” cried face. The puff-puff of the steam-tram sounded like the panting of anxious Fate. The great coin fell, rolled, balanced itself between two destinies, then subsided, pile upwards. The poor “Princess’s” face grew even longer; but for the life of her Madame Depine could not make her own face other than a round red glow, like the sun in a fog. In fact, she looked so young at this supreme moment that the brown wig quite became her.
“I congratulate you,” said Madame Valiere, after the steam-tram had become a far-away rumble.
“Before next summer we shall have yours too,” the winner reminded her consolingly.
They had not waited till the hundred francs were actually in the stocking. The last few would accumulate while the wig was making. As they sat at their joyous breakfast the next morning, ere starting for the hairdresser’s, the casement open to the October sunshine, Jacques brought up a letter for Madame Valiere—an infrequent incident. Both old women paled with instinctive distrust of life. And as the “Princess” read her letter, all the sympathetic happiness died out of her face.