They had reached the place where the large avenue unfolds its four rows of trees. They were following the stone parapet surmounted by a hedge of boxwood, which entirely hides the ugliness of the buildings on the quay. One felt the presence of the river by the milky atmosphere which in misty days seems to rest on the water. The sky was clear. The lights of the city were mingled with the stars. At the south shone the three golden nails of the Orion belt. Dechartre continued:
“Last year, at Venice, every morning as I went out of my house, I saw at her door, raised by three steps above the canal, a charming girl, with small head, neck round and strong, and graceful hips. She was there, in the sun and surrounded by vermin, as pure as an amphora, fragrant as a flower. She smiled. What a mouth! The richest jewel in the most beautiful light. I realized in time that this smile was addressed to a butcher standing behind me with his basket on his head.”
At the corner of the short street which goes to the quay, between two lines of small gardens, Madame Martin walked more slowly.
“It is true that at Venice,” she said, “all women are pretty.”
“They are almost all pretty, Madame. I speak of the common girls—the cigar-girls, the girls among the glass-workers. The others are commonplace enough.”
“By others you mean society women; and you don’t like these?”
“Society women? Oh, some of them are charming. As for loving them, that’s a different affair.”
“Do you think so?”
She extended her hand to him, and suddenly turned the corner.
A dinner ‘en Famille’
She dined that night alone with her husband. The narrow table had not the basket with golden eagles and winged Victorys. The candelabra did not light Oudry’s paintings. While he talked of the events of the day, she fell into a sad reverie. It seemed to her that she floated in a mist. It was a peaceful and almost sweet suffering. She saw vaguely through the clouds the little room of the Rue Spontini transported by angels to one of the summits of the Himalaya Mountains, and Robert Le Menil—in the quaking of a sort of world’s end—had disappeared while putting on his gloves. She felt her pulse to see whether she were feverish. A rattle of silverware on the table awoke her. She heard her husband saying:
“My dear friend Gavaut delivered to-day, in the Chamber, an excellent speech on the question of the reserve funds. It’s extraordinary how his ideas have become healthy and just. Oh, he has improved a great deal.”
She could not refrain from smiling.
“But Gavaut, my friend, is a poor devil who never thought of anything except escaping from the crowd of those who are dying of hunger. Gavaut never had any ideas except at his elbows. Does anybody take him seriously in the political world? You may be sure that he never gave an illusion to any woman, not even his wife. And yet to produce that sort of illusion a man does not need much.” She added, brusquely: