“Plon is an ass,” said Jean gruffly, for he did not like any one to find a flaw in the wife whom he often scolded himself.
“Perhaps,” said Marie happily. “But now, find me something horribly delightful to-night, something to make me shudder.”
“Capture of a wolf in Auvergne.”
“Of a wolf! Is it possible!” demanded Madame Didier, much interested. “And how many people did he eat?”
“Only one! What a stupid wolf! Go on, my friend.”
“Suicide of a husband.”
“Not that, I do not like anything so sad,” she said in a changed voice. “And where was his wife all the time, that she could not prevent it, I should like to know? No, let me hear a little more about this robbery, and then we will have our dinner.”
The hours passed, the light faded in the little garret where Marie’s busy fingers toiled day after day to add to the little hoard so slowly accumulating, and Marie’s cheerful heart brought out greater treasures of unselfish devotion, if her husband had only known it. Perhaps he did know it—in a fashion. Through the night, when it came, she thought often uneasily of Perine out in the heart of the great wicked city. But Perine had a haunt or two of her own, and Marie said prayers for her, and slept, hoping the girl would be safe.
She got up early the next morning while Jean was yet asleep, and cheered herself as she looked at her scanty supply of poor coffee with the thought that she would be paid for her work in the course of the day. Meanwhile the breakfast would not be a very rich affair, and she was pondering whether she could be so extravagant as to run to a cremerie near at hand for two sous-worth of milk, when an unexpected sound filled her with dismay. It was Perine’s shuffling steps upon the stairs, and she was by no means sure how Jean would receive such an early visitor. Moreover, she did not care that he should be disturbed, and she went hastily to the door to moderate the noise of the girl’s awkward entry. For a wonder no word or look of hers could do this. Perine, who generally was obedient to her smallest sign, was in a state of uncontrollable excitement; she fled to Marie’s arms, buried her rough head there, sobbed her loudest, and presently, in the thick of incoherent lamentations, pulled down her dress, and showed a heavy bruise on her shoulder. Then she sobbed again, and implored Madame Didier not to let them beat her.
“Come, come, come!” said Marie reassuringly, “tell me a little more about this, and don’t be a baby, Perine. Remember that you are a big girl. No one will come here to beat you; if they did, good M. Plon would not let them come up the stairs. Tell me who did it?”
She sat down on the stool as she spoke, and let the poor clumsy creature rest on her knee.
“The man, the bad man!” howled Perine.