And while Claire was thinking that such an excellent man deserved a better companion in life, Risler, watching the calm and lovely face turned toward him, the intelligent, kindly eyes, asked himself who the hussy could be for whom Georges Fromont neglected such an adorable woman.
The house in which old Planus lived at Montrouge adjoined the one which the Chebes had occupied for some time. There was the same ground floor with three windows, and a single floor above, the same garden with its latticework fence, the same borders of green box. There the old cashier lived with his sister. He took the first omnibus that left the office in the morning, returned at dinner-time, and on Sundays remained at home, tending his flowers and his poultry. The old maid was his housekeeper and did all the cooking and sewing. A happier couple never lived.
Celibates both, they were bound together by an equal hatred of marriage. The sister abhorred all men, the brother looked upon all women with suspicion; but they adored each other, each considering the other an exception to the general perversity of the sex.
In speaking of him she always said: “Monsieur Planus, my brother!”—and he, with the same affectionate solemnity, interspersed all his sentences with “Mademoiselle Planus, my sister!” To those two retiring and innocent creatures, Paris, of which they knew nothing, although they visited it every day, was a den of monsters of two varieties, bent upon doing one another the utmost possible injury; and whenever, amid the gossip of the quarter, a conjugal drama came to their ears, each of them, beset by his or her own idea, blamed a different culprit.
“It is the husband’s fault,” would be the verdict of “Mademoiselle Planus, my sister.”
“It is the wife’s fault,” “Monsieur Planus, my brother,” would reply.
“Oh! the men—”
“Oh! the women—”
That was their one never-failing subject of discussion in those rare hours of idleness which old Sigismond set aside in his busy day, which was as carefully ruled off as his account-books. For some time past the discussions between the brother and sister had been marked by extraordinary animation. They were deeply interested in what was taking place at the factory. The sister was full of pity for Madame Fromont and considered her husband’s conduct altogether outrageous; as for Sigismond, he could find no words bitter enough for the unknown trollop who sent bills for six-thousand-franc shawls to be paid from his cashbox. In his eyes, the honor and fair fame of the old house he had served since his youth were at stake.
“What will become of us?” he repeated again and again. “Oh! these women—”
One day Mademoiselle Planus sat by the fire with her knitting, waiting for her brother.
The table had been laid for half an hour, and the old lady was beginning to be worried by such unheard-of tardiness, when Sigismond entered with a most distressed face, and without a word, which was contrary to all his habits.