Thereupon the bride, hitherto motionless and like one asleep, seemed to wake suddenly, and if all the lights in the vast buildings, workshops or storehouses, which surrounded the courtyard, had not been extinguished, Risler might have seen that pretty, enigmatical face suddenly lighted by a smile of triumph. The wheels revolved less noisily on the fine gravel of a garden, and soon stopped before the stoop of a small house of two floors. It was there that the young Fromonts lived, and Risler and his wife were to take up their abode on the floor above. The house had an aristocratic air. Flourishing commerce avenged itself therein for the dismal street and the out-of-the-way quarter. There was a carpet on the stairway leading to their apartment, and on all sides shone the gleaming whiteness of marble, the reflection of mirrors and of polished copper.
While Risler was parading his delight through all the rooms of the new apartment, Sidonie remained alone in her bedroom. By the light of the little blue lamp hanging from the ceiling, she glanced first of all at the mirror, which gave back her reflection from head to foot, at all her luxurious surroundings, so unfamiliar to her; then, instead of going to bed, she opened the window and stood leaning against the sill, motionless as a statue.
The night was clear and warm. She could see distinctly the whole factory, its innumerable unshaded windows, its glistening panes, its tall chimney losing itself in the depths of the sky, and nearer at hand the lovely little garden against the ancient wall of the former mansion. All about were gloomy, miserable roofs and squalid streets. Suddenly she started. Yonder, in the darkest, the ugliest of all those attics crowding so closely together, leaning against one another, as if overweighted with misery, a fifth-floor window stood wide open, showing only darkness within. She recognized it at once. It was the window of the landing on which her parents lived.
The window on the landing!
How many things the mere name recalled! How many hours, how many days she had passed there, leaning on that damp sill, without rail or balcony, looking toward the factory. At that moment she fancied that she could see up yonder little Chebe’s ragged person, and in the frame made by that poor window, her whole child life, her deplorable youth as a Parisian street arab, passed before her eyes.
LITTLE CHEBE’S STORY
In Paris the common landing is like an additional room, an enlargement of their abodes, to poor families confined in their too small apartments. They go there to get a breath of air in summer, and there the women talk and the children play.
When little Chebe made too much noise in the house, her mother would say to her: “There there! you bother me, go and play on the landing.” And the child would go quickly enough.