There were other errands to be done, but at last they reached home, and in the passage Felicite paused and set down the basket.
“You will find my husband in his study,” she said, looking earnestly at Brigit. “Go to him, my dear, and be happy. Remember, he is nearly an old man, and loves you like his daughter. And remember, also, that because it is not fitting in any way, your love for him will change sooner or later, and become that of a daughter for her father. So don’t worry.”
Brigit stood looking after her for a moment, and then went slowly upstairs. Joyselle, in the crimson-velvet garment, was writing a letter as she entered; he looked ill and miserably unhappy.
“Victor,” she began without preamble, laying her arm across his shoulders and pressing her cheek to his hair. “Will you forgive me? I—I love you.”
Then she broke down and cried in an old-fashioned and weakly feminine way that she could not combat, although she quite realised its absolute inappropriateness to her character.
“How could you?” he whispered, holding her close with the greatest tenderness, the torturing formula of yesterday coming to his lips. “How could you?”
His eyes, too, were wet, but her breakdown had given him his strength back. “I thought you did not care.”
“But you said so,” he persisted, manlike.
“Victor—you don’t know how much I love you, and I don’t know how I can be such a brute as I am. But—it hurts me the worst. It—it kills me. Say you forgive me.”
“Dear child—I forget,” he answered, as gently as a father. And Felicite, on her way upstairs, heard him through the half-open door, and smiled.
Madame Bathilde Chalumeau, her black cotton frock tucked up round her plump figure over her scarlet-flannel petticoat, was dusting the windows of her shop in the Rue Dessous l’Arche.
It was only six o’clock and the air as yet was cool, but the trees leaning over the wall of Avocat Millot’s garden opposite were grey with dust and parched with the heat of an exceptionally warm September.
Madame Chalumeau, who was standing on a chair energetically flopping her feather-brush over the panes of her double shop-front, sighed as she looked up at the brilliant sky. “It is to be a heat of the devil,” she thought.
Next door to her, chez Bouillard, nothing was stirring. Poor Desire, being a widower, was apt to oversleep himself, and it was bad for his trade. Even now a small child in a black smock stood at his door, waiting to fill his carafe with the black wine that had stained its sides to such a beautiful violet hue.
“You want wine?”