“This is my birthday. Until this evening, I had cherished a foolish hope. Yesterday, I went down to Mrs. Baudoin’s, to dress a little wound she had on her leg. When I entered the room, Agricola was there. No doubt he was talking of me to his mother, for they stopped when I came in, and exchanged a meaning smile. In passing by the drawers, I saw a pasteboard box, with a pincushion-lid, and I felt myself blushing with joy, as I thought this little present was destined for me, but I pretended not to see it. While I was on my knees before his mother, Agricola went out. I remarked that he took the little box with him. Never has Mrs. Baudoin been more tender and motherly than she was that morning. It appeared to me that she went to bed earlier than usual. ’It is to send me away sooner,’ said I to myself, ’that I may enjoy the surprise Agricola has prepared for me.’ How my heart beat, as I ran fast, very fast, up to my closet! I stopped a moment before opening the door, that my happiness might last the longer. At last I entered the room, my eyes swimming with tears of joy. I looked upon my table, my chair, my bed—there was nothing. The little box was not to be found. My heart sank within me. Then I said to myself: ’It will be to-morrow—this is only the eve of my birthday.’ The day is gone. Evening is come. Nothing. The pretty box was not for me. It had a pincushion-cover. It was only suited for a woman. To whom has Agricola given it?
“I suffer a good deal just now. It was a childish idea that I connected with Agricola’s wishing me many happy returns of the day. I am ashamed to confess it; but it might have proved to me, that he has not forgotten I have another name besides that of Mother Bunch, which they always apply to me. My susceptibility on this head is unfortunately so stubborn, that I cannot help feeling a momentary pang of mingled shame and sorrow, every time that I am called by that fairy-tale name, and yet I have had no other from infancy. It is for that very reason that I should have been so happy if Agricola had taken this opportunity to call me for once by my own humble name—Magdalen. Happily, he will never know these wishes and regrets!”
Deeper and deeper touched by this page of simple grief, Florine turned over several leaves, and continued:
“I have just been to the funeral of poor little Victorine Herbin, our neighbor. Her father, a journeyman upholsterer, is gone to work by the month, far from Paris. She died at nineteen, without a relation near her. Her agony was not long. The good woman who attended her to the last, told us that she only pronounced these words: ‘At last, oh at last!’ and that with an air of satisfaction, added the nurse. Dear child! she had become so pitiful. At fifteen, she was a rosebud—so pretty, so fresh-looking, with her light hair as soft as silk; but she wasted away by degrees—her trade of renovating mattresses killed her. She was slowly poisoned by the emanations from the wool. They were all the worse, that she worked almost entirely for the poor, who have cheap stuff to lie upon.