As they came out of the church they passed the cobbler’s shop. The good man was mending rustic shoes. Madame Martin asked the old man whether he was well, whether he had enough work for a living, whether he was happy. To all these questions he replied with the charming affirmative of Italy, the musical si, which sounded melodious even in his toothless mouth. She made him tell his sparrow’s story. The poor bird had once dipped its leg in burning wax.
“I have made for my little companion a wooden leg out of a match, and he hops upon my shoulder as formerly,” said the cobbler.
“It is this good old man,” said Miss Bell, “who teaches wisdom to Monsieur Choulette. There was at Athens a cobbler named Simon, who wrote books on philosophy, and who was the friend of Socrates. I have always thought that Monsieur Choulette resembled Socrates.”
Therese asked the cobbler to tell his name and his history. His name was Serafino Stoppini, and he was a native of Stia. He was old. He had had much trouble in his life.
He lifted his spectacles to his forehead, uncovering blue eyes, very soft, and almost extinguished under their red lids.
“I have had a wife and children; I have none now. I have known things which I know no more.”
Miss Bell and Madame Marmet went to look for a veil.
“He has nothing in the world,” thought Therese, “but his tools, a handful of nails, the tub wherein he dips his leather, and a pot of basilick, yet he is happy.”
She said to him:
“This plant is fragrant, and it will soon be in bloom.”
“If the poor little plant comes into bloom it will die.”
Therese, when she left him, placed a coin on the table.
Dechartre was near her. Gravely, almost severely, he said to her:
“You know . . . "
She looked at him and waited.
He finished his phrase:
" . . . that I love you?”
She continued to fix on him, silently, the gaze of her clear eyes, the lids of which were trembling. Then she made a motion with her head that meant Yes. And, without his trying to stop her, she rejoined Miss Bell and Madame Marmet, who were waiting for her at the corner.
THE MYSTERIOUS LETTER
Therese, after quitting Dechartre, took breakfast with her friend and Madame Marmet at the house of an old Florentine lady whom Victor Emmanuel had loved when he was Duke of Savoy. For thirty years she had not once gone out of her palace on the Arno, where, she painted, and wearing a wig, she played the guitar in her spacious white salon. She received the best society of Florence, and Miss Bell often called on her. At table this recluse, eighty-seven years of age, questioned the Countess Martin on the fashionable world of Paris, whose movement was familiar to her through the journals. Solitary, she retained respect and a sort of devotion for the world of pleasure.