“Listen—listen! Give it to me! I must not tell you! It is a secret. Listen to me!”
But he grew angry and turned pale.
“I want to know how this overcoat comes to be here? It does not belong to me.”
Then she almost screamed at him:
“Yes, it does; listen! Swear to me—well—you are decorated!”
She did not intend to joke at his expense.
He was so overcome that he let the overcoat fall and dropped into an armchair.
“I am—you say I am—decorated?”
“Yes, but it is a secret, a great secret.”
She had put the glorious garment into a cupboard, and came to her husband pale and trembling.
“Yes,” she continued, “it is a new overcoat that I have had made for you. But I swore that I would not tell you anything about it, as it will not be officially announced for a month or six weeks, and you were not to have known till your return from your business journey. M. Rosselin managed it for you.”
“Rosselin!” he contrived to utter in his joy. “He has obtained the decoration for me? He—Oh!”
And he was obliged to drink a glass of water.
A little piece of white paper fell to the floor out of the pocket of the overcoat. Caillard picked it up; it was a visiting card, and he read out:
“You see how it is,” said his wife.
He almost cried with joy, and, a week later, it was announced in the Journal Officiel that M. Caillard had been awarded the Legion of Honor on account of his exceptional services.
The Bondels were a happy family, and although they frequently quarrelled about trifles, they soon became friends again.
Bondel was a merchant who had retired from active business after saving enough to allow him to live quietly; he had rented a little house at Saint-Germain and lived there with his wife. He was a quiet man with very decided opinions; he had a certain degree of education and read serious newspapers; nevertheless, he appreciated the gaulois wit. Endowed with a logical mind, and that practical common sense which is the master quality of the industrial French bourgeois, he thought little, but clearly, and reached a decision only after careful consideration of the matter in hand. He was of medium size, with a distinguished look, and was beginning to turn gray.
His wife, who was full of serious qualities, had also several faults. She had a quick temper and a frankness that bordered upon violence. She bore a grudge a long time. She had once been pretty, but had now become too stout and too red; but in her neighborhood at Saint-Germain she still passed for a very beautiful woman, who exemplified health and an uncertain temper.
Their dissensions almost always began at breakfast, over some trivial matter, and they often continued all day and even until the following day. Their simple, common, limited life imparted seriousness to the most unimportant matters, and every topic of conversation became a subject of dispute. This had not been so in the days when business occupied their minds, drew their hearts together, and gave them common interests and occupation.