The acquaintanceship ripened. It was not only their common grievances against fate and Madame la Proprietaire: they were linked by the sheer physical fact that each was the only person to whom the other could talk without the morbid consciousness of an eye scrutinising the unseemly brown wig. It became quite natural, therefore, for Madame Depine to stroll into her “Princess’s” room, and they soon slid into dividing the cost of the fire. That was more than an economy, for neither could afford a fire alone. It was an easy transition to the discovery that coffee could be made more cheaply for two, and that the same candle would light two persons, provided they sat in the same room. And if they did not fall out of the habit of companionship even at the cremerie, though “two portions for one” were not served, their union at least kept the sexagenarians in countenance. Two brown wigs give each other a moral support, are on the way to a fashion.
But there was more than wigs and cheese-parings in their camaraderie. Madame Depine found a fathomless mine of edification in Madame Valiere’s reminiscences, which she skilfully extracted from her, finding the average ore rich with noble streaks, though the old tirewoman had an obstinate way of harking back to her girlhood, which made some delvings result in mere earth.
On the Day of the Dead Madame Depine emerged into importance, taking her friend with her to the Cemetery Montparnasse to see the glass flowers blooming immortally over the graves of her husband and children. Madame Depine paid the omnibus for both (inside places), and felt, for once, superior to the poor “Princess,” who had never known the realities of love and death.
Two months passed. Another of Madame Valiere’s teeth fell out. Madame Depine’s cheeks grew more pendulous. But their brown wigs remained as fadeless as the cemetery flowers.
One day they passed the hairdresser’s shop together. It was indeed next to the tobacconist’s, so not easy to avoid, whenever one wanted a stamp or a postcard. In the window, amid pendent plaits of divers hues, bloomed two wax busts of females—the one young and coquettish and golden-haired, the other aristocratic in a distinguished grey wig. Both wore diamond rosettes in their hair and ropes of pearls round their necks. The old ladies’ eyes met, then turned away.
“If one demanded the price!” said Madame Depine (who had already done so twice).
“It is an idea!” agreed Madame Valiere.
“The day will come when one’s nieces will be married.”
“But scarcely when New Year’s Day shall cease to be,” the “Princess” sighed.
“Still, one might win in the lottery!”
“Ah! true. Let us enter, then.”
“One will be enough. You go.” Madame Depine rather dreaded the coiffeur, whom intercourse with jocose students had made severe.