For these somewhat vulgar entertainments, from which her husband usually excused himself, Claire, with her usual tact, dressed very plainly and attracted no attention. Sidonie, on the contrary, in all her finery, in full view of the boxes, laughed with all her heart at the grandfather’s anecdotes, happy to have descended from the second or third gallery, her usual place in the old days, to that lovely proscenium box, adorned with mirrors, with a velvet rail that seemed made expressly for her light gloves, her ivory opera-glass, and her spangled fan. The tawdry glitter of the theatre, the red and gold of the hangings, were genuine splendor to her. She bloomed among them like a pretty paper flower in a filigree jardiniere.
One evening, at the performance of a successful play at the Palais-Royal, among all the noted women who were present, painted celebrities wearing microscopic hats and armed with huge fans, their rouge-besmeared faces standing out from the shadow of the boxes in the gaudy setting of their gowns, Sidonie’s behavior, her toilette, the peculiarities of her laugh and her expression attracted much attention. All the opera-glasses in the hall, guided by the magnetic current that is so powerful under the great chandeliers, were turned one by one upon the box in which she sat. Claire soon became embarrassed, and modestly insisted upon changing places with her husband, who, unluckily, had accompanied them that evening.
Georges, youthful and elegant, sitting beside Sidonie, seemed her natural companion, while Risler Allle, always so placid and self-effacing, seemed in his proper place beside Claire Fromont, who in her dark clothes suggested the respectable woman incog. at the Bal de l’Opera.
Upon leaving the theatre each of the partners offered his arm to his neighbor. A box-opener, speaking to Sidonie, referred to Georges as “your husband,” and the little woman beamed with delight.
That simple phrase was enough to upset her and set in motion a multitude of evil currents in the depths of her heart. As they passed through the corridors and the foyer, she watched Risler and Madame “Chorche” walking in front of them. Claire’s refinement of manner seemed to her to be vulgarized and annihilated by Risler’s shuffling gait. “How ugly he must make me look when we are walking together!” she said to herself. And her heart beat fast as she thought what a charming, happy, admired couple they would have made, she and this Georges Fromont, whose arm was trembling beneath her own.
Thereupon, when the blue-lined carriage drove up to the door of the theatre, she began to reflect, for the first time, that, when all was said, Claire had stolen her place and that she would be justified in trying to recover it.
THE BREWERY ON THE RUE BLONDEL