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The Old Wives' Tale

III.6. The Siege
I
Madame Foucault came into Sophia's room one afternoon with a peculiar guilty
expression on her large face, and she held her peignoir close to her exuberant
body in folds consciously majestic, as though endeavouring to prove to Sophia
by her carriage that despite her shifting eyes she was the most righteous and
sincere woman that ever lived.
It was Saturday, the third of September, a beautiful day. Sophia, suffering from
an unimportant relapse, had remained in a state of inactivity, and had scarcely
gone out at all. She loathed the flat, but lacked the energy to leave it every day.
There was no sufficiently definite object in leaving it. She could not go out and
look for health as she might have looked for flowers. So she remained in the flat,
and stared at the courtyard and the continual mystery of lives hidden behind
curtains that occasionally moved. And the painted yellow walls of the house, and
the papered walls of her room pressed upon her and crushed her. For a few days
Chirac had called daily, animated by the most adorable solicitude. Then he had
ceased to call. She had tired of reading the journals; they lay unopened. The
relations between Madame Foucault and herself, and her status in the flat of
which she now legally owned the furniture,--these things were left unsettled. But
the question of her board was arranged on the terms that she halved the cost of
food and service with Madame Foucault; her expenses were thus reduced to the
lowest possible--about eighteen francs a week. An idea hung in the air--like a
scientific discovery on the point of being made by several independent
investigators simultaneously--that she and Madame Foucault should co-operate
in order to let furnished rooms at a remunerative profit. Sophia felt the nearness
of the idea and she wanted to be shocked at the notion of any avowed
association between herself and Madame Foucault; but she could not be.
"Here are a lady and a gentleman who want a bedroom," began Madame
Foucault, "a nice large bedroom, furnished."
"Oh!" said Sophia; "who are they?"
"They will pay a hundred and thirty francs a month, in advance, for the middle
bedroom."
"You've shown it to them already?" said Sophia. And her tone implied that
somehow she was conscious of a right to overlook the affair of Madame
Foucault.
"No," said the other. "I said to myself that first I would ask you for a counsel."
"Then will they pay all that for a room they haven't seen?"
"The fact is," said Madame Foucault, sheepishly. "The lady has seen the room
before. I know her a little. It is a former tenant. She lived here some weeks."
"In that room?"
"Oh no! She was poor enough then."
"Where are they?"
"In the corridor. She is very well, the lady. Naturally one must live, she like all the
world; but she is veritably well. Quite respectable! One would never say ... Then
there would be the meals. We could demand one franc for the cafe au lait, two
 
 
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