“You understand, Georges, she is my friend. She is coming to play with us Sundays. Mamma says she may.”
And, with the artless impulsiveness of a happy child, she kissed little Chebe with all her heart.
But the time came to go. For a long time, in the filthy street where the snow was melting, in the dark hall, in the silent room where her mother awaited her, the brilliant light of the salons continued to shine before her dazzled eyes.
“Was it very fine? Did you have a charming time?” queried Madame Chebe in a low tone, unfastening the buckles of the gorgeous costume, one by one.
And Sidonie, overcome with fatigue, made no reply, but fell asleep standing, beginning a lovely dream which was to last throughout her youth and cost her many tears.
Claire Fromont kept her word. Sidonie often went to play in the beautiful gravelled garden, and was able to see at close range the carved blinds and the dovecot with its threads of gold. She came to know all the corners and hiding-places in the great factory, and took part in many glorious games of hide-and-seek behind the printing-tables in the solitude of Sunday afternoon. On holidays a plate was laid for her at the children’s table.
Everybody loved her, although she never exhibited much affection for any one. So long as she was in the midst of that luxury, she was conscious of softer impulses, she was happy and felt that she was embellished by her surroundings; but when she returned to her parents, when she saw the factory through the dirty panes of the window on the landing, she had an inexplicable feeling of regret and anger.
And yet Claire Fromont treated her as a friend.
Sometimes they took her to the Bois, to the Tuileries, in the famous blue-lined carriage, or into the country, to pass a whole week at Grandfather Gardinois’s chateau, at Savigny-sur-Orge. Thanks to the munificence of Risler, who was very proud of his little one’s success, she was always presentable and well dressed. Madame Chebe made it a point of honor, and the pretty, lame girl was always at hand to place her treasures of unused coquetry at her little friend’s service.
But M. Chebe, who was always hostile to the Fromonts, looked frowningly upon this growing intimacy. The true reason was that he himself never was invited; but he gave other reasons, and would say to his wife:
“Don’t you see that your daughter’s heart is sad when she returns from that house, and that she passes whole hours dreaming at the window?”
But poor Madame Chebe, who had been so unhappy ever since her marriage, had become reckless. She declared that one should make the most of the present for fear of the future, should seize happiness as it passes, as one often has no other support and consolation in life than the memory of a happy childhood.
For once it happened that M. Chebe was right.