Madame Chalumeau’s face, glossy and red-and-white like a Norman apple, wore an expression of anxious expectation. Moreover, she had put on a narrow lace collar and pinned it with a coral brooch. It was the fifth of the month.
M. Desire ate his way through the generously laid meal with comfort and deliberation, his small blue eyes, deeply embedded in pink flesh, twinkling with ease.
As the clock struck half-past seven he laid his knife down and wiped his beardless mouth.
“Bathilde,” he said, “you are very kind to a poor afflicted mourner.”
She was a woman of much sense, and she did not try to be coy.
“My heart, as you know, lies in the grave with my poor Josephine——”
“But of course, my dear friend——”
“But—man is not fit to live all alone. And I am convinced that if I could ask her, that angel would——” He paused and looked approvingly round the tidy, comfortable little room.
“Yes—Desire? She would——”
“I think she would—wish me to do the best I can for myself. And that, of course—I mean to say I imagine——”
Poor Bathilde’s hopes died suddenly.
“She was always so generous-minded,” she murmured, folding her plump hands.
He rose and walked to the shop door.
“Anything new to show me, chere Madame Chalumeau?” he asked briskly.
“Yes; some coloured tablecloths, very pretty, at one franc seventy-five—and—some other things. But, Desire, you were saying about living alone—that you thought Josephine would be glad——”
“I did not say she would be glad, Madame Chalumeau. My wife was never glad about anything. I said—in fact, I may as well be quite frank,” he continued, turning to her, “I am a lonely man, and I am—greatly attracted to you, dear friend. But as I have told you before, I—I cannot quite make up my mind as to whether I should be happier if I married you.”
“I could make you very comfortable, Desire, and I, too, am lonely. Besides, your accounts are very confused, and I could save you much money in that way.”
A shrewd woman, this, but greatly mistaken in her methods. A useless, lazy, coquettish woman would have married the man years before, but poor Bathilde’s very frankness was her undoing.
“Yes, yes,” he returned impatiently, “I know all that, and my affection for you is great. But as to marriage—I cannot yet make up my mind. And in the meantime I must leave you, dear friend, for it is late. A thousand thanks for the delicious breakfast——” and he was gone.
The tragedy of M. Bouillard’s indecision was very real to Madame Chalumeau, but it was also one to which the good woman was thoroughly accustomed. For over three years M. Bouillard had twice yearly, on the fifth of March and the fifth of September, tried to bring himself to make up his mind, but he had always failed, and after his attempts things had continued as before.