“Then wait a moment and I will get it for thee.”
Good Madame Chalumeau climbed down from her chair with a generous display of fat, black woollen legs and unpinned her skirt.
“Bon! M. Bouillard sleeps the fat morning, but I can get in, and you will get a beating if you keep your excellent father waiting.”
Taking the carafe, she passed under the archway that separated her house from her neighbour’s, and, her broad figure actually touching the wall on either side, went to Bouillard’s side-door and entered the house.
When she came out, the carafe full, Bouillard himself, fat and rosy with sleep, was standing in his shop door. “Madame Bathilde, good day to you! So you have again saved me from a commercial loss!” Desire Bouillard had a witty way with him, his far shrewder neighbour thought—had thought for years.
And then, quite without consciousness or amusement, they enacted the little comedy that had been played by them every morning since poor Madame Bouillard died.
“And your morning coffee, M. Bouillard?”
“Tiens, mon cafe! Helas non, Madame Bathilde, I am but this moment awake—what time is it?”
Just inside the door of Madame Chalumeau’s shop, Au Gout Parisien, hung a clock.
“It is ten minutes to seven.”
“Eh, bien, au revoir, Madame Bathilde—I must go and set things going in my small household. Alas, poor Josephine!”
Madame Chalumeau shook her head with great gravity.
“A great loss, M. Bouillard; an irreparable loss. But—my coffee is nearly ready. Will you not let me give you a cup? There are also an Auvergnat” (a double twist of well-made bread) “and a Bourdon sent me by my cousin, Madame Decomplet, of the Rue d’Argentan——”
And ten minutes later the two gossips, as the pleasant old phrase runs, were seated in Madame Chalumeau’s little sitting-room behind her shop, breakfasting together.
Monsieur Bouillard’s Josephine had been dead for seven long years, and in her life she had tormented the good man full sore; even as the Church invariably defers canonisation until long after the death of the saint, so Desire’s appreciation of his wife’s splendour of character was a post-mortem tribute to be accepted without a murmur by all the faithful.
“I recall to myself every morning, Madame Bathilde,” he began, removing a large blob of honey from the dimple in his pink chin, “how that angel used to arise and prepare herself for her day’s work. And of an economy! Charcoal did for her four times what it will for me. And times are hard!”
Bathilde sighed sympathetically. “My faith, yes; she was a wonderful manager, pauvre ange. The milk is at your elbow, M. Desire——”
Outside in her tiny garden a bee boomed somnolently among the red and yellow flowers, and somewhere near at hand a church bell jerked its unmusical summons to prayer.