Four Short Stories
Count Muffat, accompanied by his wife and daughter, had arrived overnight at Les
Fondettes, where Mme Hugon, who was staying there with only her son Georges, had
invited them to come and spend a week. The house, which had been built at the end of the
eighteenth century, stood in the middle of a huge square enclosure. It was perfectly
unadorned, but the garden possessed magnificent shady trees and a chain of tanks fed by
running spring water. It stood at the side of the road which leads from Orleans to Paris
and with its rich verdure and high-embowered trees broke the monotony of that flat
countryside, where fields stretched to the horizon's verge.
At eleven o'clock, when the second lunch bell had called the whole household together,
Mme Hugon, smiling in her kindly maternal way, gave Sabine two great kisses, one on
each cheek, and said as she did so:
"You know it's my custom in the country. Oh, seeing you here makes me feel twenty
years younger. Did you sleep well in your old room?"
Then without waiting for her reply she turned to Estelle:
"And this little one, has she had a nap too? Give me a kiss, my child."
They had taken their seats in the vast dining room, the windows of which looked out on
the park. But they only occupied one end of the long table, where they sat somewhat
crowded together for company's sake. Sabine, in high good spirits, dwelt on various
childish memories which had been stirred up within her—memories of months passed at
Les Fondettes, of long walks, of a tumble into one of the tanks on a summer evening, of
an old romance of chivalry discovered by her on the top of a cupboard and read during
the winter before fires made of vine branches. And Georges, who had not seen the
countess for some months, thought there was something curious about her. Her face
seemed changed, somehow, while, on the other hand, that stick of an Estelle seemed
more insignificant and dumb and awkward than ever.
While such simple fare as cutlets and boiled eggs was being discussed by the company,
Mme Hugon, as became a good housekeeper, launched out into complaints. The butchers,
she said, were becoming impossible. She bought everything at Orleans, and yet they
never brought her the pieces she asked for. Yet, alas, if her guests had nothing worth
eating it was their own fault: they had come too late in the season.
"There's no sense in it," she said. "I've been expecting you since June, and now we're half
through September. You see, it doesn't look pretty."