“It is not that,” he protested. “You ought to know it is not that.” (She did.) “It is solely that I cannot permit myself to——”
“Enough!” she cried peremptorily, stopping him. And then in a quieter tone, “And what about Carlier? Is he also in the ditch?”
“Ah! he has money,” said Chirac, with sad envy.
“You also, one day,” said she. “You stop—in any case until after Christmas, or we quarrel. Is it agreed?” Her accent had softened.
“You are too good!” he yielded. “I cannot quarrel with you. But it pains me to accept—”
“Oh!” she snapped, dropping into the vulgar idiom, “you make me sweat with your stupid pride. Is it that that you call friendship? Go away now. How do you wish that I should succeed with this cake while you station yourself there to distract me?”
But in three days’ Chirac, with amazing luck, fell into another situation, and on the Journal des Debats. It was the Prussians who had found him a place. The celebrated Payenneville, second greatest chroniqueur of his time, had caught a cold while doing his duty as a national guard, and had died of pneumonia. The weather was severe again; soldiers were being frozen to death at Aubervilliers. Payenneville’s position was taken by another man, whose post was offered to Chirac. He told Sophia of his good fortune with unconcealed vanity.
“You with your smile!” she said impatiently. “One can refuse you nothing!”
She behaved just as though Chirac had disgusted her. She humbled him. But with his fellow-lodgers his airs of importance as a member of the editorial staff of the Debats were comical in their ingenuousness. On the very same day Carlier gave notice to leave Sophia. He was comparatively rich; but the habits which had enabled him to arrive at independence in the uncertain vocation of a journalist would not allow him, while he was earning nothing, to spend a sou more than was absolutely necessary. He had decided to join forces with a widowed sister, who was accustomed to parsimony as parsimony is understood in France, and who was living on hoarded potatoes and wine.
“There!” said Sophia, “you have lost me a tenant!”
And she insisted, half jocularly and half seriously, that Carlier was leaving because he could not stand Chirac’s infantile conceit. The flat was full of acrimonious words.
On Christmas morning Chirac lay in bed rather late; the newspapers did not appear that day. Paris seemed to be in a sort of stupor. About eleven o’clock he came to the kitchen door.
“I must speak with you,” he said. His tone impressed Sophia.
“Enter,” said she.
He went in, and closed the door like a conspirator. “We must have a little fete,” he said. “You and I.”
“Fete!” she repeated. “What an idea! How can I leave?”
If the idea had not appealed to the secrecies of her heart, stirring desires and souvenirs upon which the dust of time lay thick, she would not have begun by suggesting difficulties; she would have begun by a flat refusal.