To disguise her access of respect, she said abruptly, “It must be very noisy here from the steam-trams.”
“It is what I love, the bustle of life,” replied Madame Valiere, simply.
“Ah!” said Madame Depine, impressed beyond masking-point, “I suppose when one has had the habit of Courts—”
Madame Valiere shuddered unexpectedly. “Let us not speak of it. Take a fig.”
But Madame Depine persisted—though she took the fig. “Ah! those were brave days when we had still an Emperor and an Empress to drive to the Bois with their equipages and outriders. Ah, how pretty it was!”
“But the President has also”—a fit of coughing interrupted Madame Valiere—“has also outriders.”
“But he is so bourgeois—a mere man of the people,” said Madame Depine.
“They are the most decent sort of folk. But do you not feel cold? I will light a fire.” She bent towards the wood-box.
“No, no; do not trouble. I shall be going in a moment. I have a large fire blazing in my room.”
“Then suppose we go and sit there,” said poor Madame Valiere.
Poor Madame Depine was seized with a cough, more protracted than any of which she had complained.
“Provided it has not gone out in my absence,” she stammered at last. “I will go first and see if it is in good trim.”
“No, no; it is not worth the trouble of moving.” And Madame Valiere drew her street-cloak closer round her slim form. “But I have lived so long in Russia, I forget people call this cold.”
“Ah! the Princess travelled far?” said Madame Depine, eagerly.
“Too far,” replied Madame Valiere, with a flash of Gallic wit. “But who has told you of the Princess?”
“Madame la Proprietaire, naturally.”
“She talks too much—she and her wig!”
“If only she didn’t imagine herself a powdered marquise in it! To see her standing before the mirror in the salon!”
“The beautiful spectacle!” assented Madame Valiere.
“Ah! but I don’t forget—if she does—that her mother wheeled a fruit-barrow through the streets of Tonnerre!”
“Ah! yes, I knew you were from Tonnerre—dear Tonnerre!”
“How did you know?”
“Naturally, Madame la Proprietaire.”
“The old gossip!” cried Madame Depine—“though not so old as she feigns. But did she tell you of her mother, too, and the fruit-barrow?”
“I knew her mother—une brave femme.”
“I do not say not,” said Madame Depine, a whit disconcerted. “Nevertheless, when one’s mother is a merchant of the four seasons—”
“Provided she sold fruit as good as this! Take another fig, I beg of you.”
“Thank you. These are indeed excellent,” said Madame Depine. “She owed all her good fortune to a coup in the lottery.”
“Ah! the lottery!” Madame Valiere sighed. Before the eyes of both rose the vision of a lucky number and a grey wig.