“Then we’ll buy a grocer’s shop! Oh! what luck! we’ll buy a grocer’s shop. Not on a big scale, of course; with five thousand francs one does not go far.”
He was shocked at the suggestion.
“No, I can’t be a grocer. I am—I am—too well known: I only know Latin, that is all I know.”
But she poured a glass of champagne down his throat. He drank it and was silent.
We got back into the boat. The night was dark, very dark. I saw clearly, however, that he had caught her by the waist, and that they were hugging each other again and again.
It was a frightful catastrophe. Our escapade was discovered, with the result that Pere Piquedent was dismissed. And my father, in a fit of anger, sent me to finish my course of philosophy at Ribaudet’s school.
Six months later I took my degree of Bachelor of Arts. Then I went to study law in Paris, and did not return to my native town till two years later.
At the corner of the Rue de Serpent a shop caught my eye. Over the door were the words: “Colonial Products—Piquedent”; then underneath, so as to enlighten the most ignorant: “Grocery.”
“‘Quantum mutatus ab illo!’”
Piquedent raised his head, left his female customer, and rushed toward me with outstretched hands.
“Ah! my young friend, my young friend, here you are! What luck! what luck!”
A beautiful woman, very plump, abruptly left the cashier’s desk and flung herself on my breast. I had some difficulty in recognizing her, she had grown so stout.
“So then you’re doing well?”
Piquedent had gone back to weigh the groceries.
“Oh! very well, very well, very well. I have made three thousand francs clear this year!”
“And what about Latin, Monsieur Piquedent?”
“Oh, good heavens! Latin, Latin, Latin—you see it does not keep the pot boiling!”
It was nothing but an accident, an accident pure and simple. On that particular evening the princess’ rooms were open, and as they appeared dark after the brilliantly lighted parlors, Baron d’Etraille, who was tired of standing, inadvertently wandered into an empty bedroom.
He looked round for a chair in which to have a doze, as he was sure his wife would not leave before daylight. As soon as he became accustomed to the light of the room he distinguished the big bed with its azure-and-gold hangings, in the middle of the great room, looking like a catafalque in which love was buried, for the princess was no longer young. Behind it, a large bright surface looked like a lake seen at a distance. It was a large mirror, discreetly covered with dark drapery, that was very rarely let down, and seemed to look at the bed, which was its accomplice. One might almost fancy that it had reminiscences, and that one might see in it charming female forms and the gentle movement of loving arms.