This was said by Rodin with so much apparent kindness, that Rose-Pompon felt the tears well up to her eyes, and answered with much emotion: “Sir, Cephyse and me are only poor girls; there are many more virtuous in the world; but I venture to say, we have good hearts. Now, if ever you should be ill, only send for us; there are no Sisters of Charity that will take better care of you. It is all that we can offer you, without reckoning Philemon, who shall go through fire and water for you, I give you my word for it—and Cephyse, I am sure, will answer for Jacques also, that he will be yours in life and death.”
“You see, my dear child, that I was right in saying—a fitful head and a good heart. Adieu, till we meet again.”
Thereupon Rodin, taking up the basket, which he had placed on the ground by the side of his umbrella, prepared to descend the stairs.
“First of all, you must give me this basket; it will be in your way going down,” said Rose-Pompon, taking the basket from the hands of Rodin, notwithstanding his resistance. Then she added: “Lean upon my arm. The stairs are so dark. You might slip.”
“I will accept your offer, my dear child, for I am not very courageous.” Leaning paternally on the right arm of Rose-Pompon, who held the basket in her left hand, Rodin descended the stairs, and crossed the court-yard.
“Up there, on the third story, do you see that big face close to the window-frame?” said Rose-Pompon suddenly to Rodin, stopping in the centre of the little court. “That is my Ninny Moulin. Do you know him? Is he the same as yours?”
“The same as mine,” said Rodin, raising his head, and waving his hand very affectionately to Jacques Dumoulin, who, stupefied thereat, retired abruptly from the window.
“The poor fellow! I am sure he is afraid of me since his foolish joke,” said Rodin, smiling. “He is very wrong.”
And he accompanied these last words with a sinister nipping of the lips, not perceived by Rose-Pompon.
“And now, my dear child,” said he, as they both entered the passage, “I no longer need you assistance; return to your friend, and tell her the good news you have heard.”
“Yes, sir, you are right. I burn with impatience to tell her what a good man you are.” And Rose-Pompon sprung towards the stairs.
“Stop, stop! how about my basket that the little madcap carries off with her?” said Rodin.
“Oh true! I beg your pardon, sir. Poor Cephyse! how pleased she will be. Adieu, sir!” And Rose-Pompon’s pretty figure disappeared in the darkness of the staircase, which she mounted with an alert and impatient step.
Rodin issued from the entry. “Here is your basket, my good lady,” said he, stopping at the threshold of Mother Arsene’s shop. “I give you my humble thanks for your kindness.”
“For nothing, my dear sir, for nothing. It is all at your service. Well, was the radish good?”