Often when Charles was out she took from the cupboard, between the folds of
the linen where she had left it, the green silk cigar case. She looked at it, opened
it, and even smelt the odour of the lining—a mixture of verbena and tobacco.
Whose was it? The Viscount's? Perhaps it was a present from his mistress. It
had been embroidered on some rosewood frame, a pretty little thing, hidden from
all eyes, that had occupied many hours, and over which had fallen the soft curls
of the pensive worker. A breath of love had passed over the stitches on the
canvas; each prick of the needle had fixed there a hope or a memory, and all
those interwoven threads of silk were but the continuity of the same silent
passion. And then one morning the Viscount had taken it away with him. Of what
had they spoken when it lay upon the wide-mantelled chimneys between flower-
vases and Pompadour clocks? She was at Tostes; he was at Paris now, far
away! What was this Paris like? What a vague name! She repeated it in a low
voice, for the mere pleasure of it; it rang in her ears like a great cathedral bell; it
shone before her eyes, even on the labels of her pomade-pots.
At night, when the carriers passed under her windows in their carts singing the
"Marjolaine," she awoke, and listened to the noise of the iron-bound wheels,
which, as they gained the country road, was soon deadened by the soil. "They
will be there to-morrow!" she said to herself.
And she followed them in thought up and down the hills, traversing villages,
gliding along the highroads by the light of the stars. At the end of some indefinite
distance there was always a confused spot, into which her dream died.
She bought a plan of Paris, and with the tip of her finger on the map she walked
about the capital. She went up the boulevards, stopping at every turning,
between the lines of the streets, in front of the white squares that represented the
houses. At last she would close the lids of her weary eyes, and see in the
darkness the gas jets flaring in the wind and the steps of carriages lowered with
much noise before the peristyles of theatres.
She took in "La Corbeille," a lady's journal, and the "Sylphe des Salons." She
devoured, without skipping a word, all the accounts of first nights, races, and
soirees, took interest in the debut of a singer, in the opening of a new shop. She
knew the latest fashions, the addresses of the best tailors, the days of the Bois
and the Opera. In Eugene Sue she studied descriptions of furniture; she read
Balzac and George Sand, seeking in them imaginary satisfaction for her own
desires. Even at table she had her book by her, and turned over the pages while
Charles ate and talked to her. The memory of the Viscount always returned as
she read. Between him and the imaginary personages she made comparisons.
But the circle of which he was the centre gradually widened round him, and the
aureole that he bore, fading from his form, broadened out beyond, lighting up her