Fromont and Risler, by Alphonse Daudet

Chapter 15

Poor Little Mam’zelle Zizi.

Oh, how happy Desiree was!

Frantz came every day and sat at her feet on the little low chair, as in the good old days, and he no longer came to talk of Sidonie.

As soon as she began to work in the morning, she would see the door open softly. “Good morning, Mam’zelle Zizi.” He always called her now by the name she had borne as a child; and if you could know how prettily he said it: “Good morning, Mam’zelle Zizi.”

In the evening they waited for “the father” together, and while she worked he made her shudder with the story of his adventures.

“What is the matter with you? You’re not the same as you used to be,” Mamma Delobelle would say, surprised to see her in such high spirits and above all so active. For instead of remaining always buried in her easy-chair, with the self-renunciation of a young grandmother, the little creature was continually jumping up and running to the window as lightly as if she were putting out wings; and she practised standing erect, asking her mother in a whisper:

“Do you notice IT when I am not walking?”

From her graceful little head, upon which she had previously concentrated all her energies in the arrangement of her hair, her coquetry extended over her whole person, as did her fine, waving tresses when she unloosed them. Yes, she was very, very coquettish now; and everybody noticed it. Even the “birds and insects for ornament” assumed a knowing little air.

Ah, yes! Desiree Delobelle was happy. For some days M. Frantz had been talking of their all going into the country together; and as the father, kind and generous as always, graciously consented to allow the ladies to take a day’s rest, all four set out one Sunday morning.

Oh! the lovely drive, the lovely country, the lovely river, the lovely trees!

Do not ask her where they went; Desiree never knew. But she will tell you that the sun was brighter there than anywhere else, the birds more joyous, the woods denser; and she will not lie.

The bouquet that the little cripple brought back from that beautiful excursion made her room fragrant for a week. Among the hyacinths, the violets, the white-thorn, was a multitude of nameless little flowers, those flowers of the lowly which grow from nomadic seed scattered everywhere along the roads.

Gazing at the slender, pale blue and bright pink blossoms, with all the delicate shades that flowers invented before colorists, many and many a time during that week Desiree took her excursion again. The violets reminded her of the little moss-covered mound on which she had picked them, seeking them under the leaves, her fingers touching Frantz’s . They had found these great water-lilies on the edge of a ditch, still damp from the winter rains, and, in order to reach them, she had leaned very heavily on Frantz’s arm. All these memories occurred to her as she worked. Meanwhile the sun, shining in at the open window, made the feathers of the hummingbirds glisten. The springtime, youth, the songs of the birds, the fragrance of the flowers, transfigured that dismal fifth-floor workroom, and Desiree said in all seriousness to Mamma Delobelle, putting her nose to her friend’s bouquet:

“Have you noticed how sweet the flowers smell this year, mamma?”

And Frantz, too, began to fall under the charm. Little by little Mam’zelle Zizi took possession of his heart and banished from it even the memory of Sidonie. To be sure, the poor judge did all that he could to accomplish that result. At every hour in the day he was by Desiree’s side, and clung to her like a child. Not once did he venture to return to Asnieres. He feared the other too much.

“Pray come and see us once in a while; Sidonie keeps asking for you,” Risler said to him from time to time, when his brother came to the factory to see him. But Frantz held firm, alleging all sorts of business engagements as pretexts for postponing his visit to the next day. It was easy to satisfy Risler, who was more engrossed than ever with his press, which they had just begun to build.

Whenever Frantz came down from his brother’s closet, old Sigismond was sure to be watching for him, and would walk a few steps with him in his long, lute-string sleeves, quill and knife in hand. He kept the young man informed concerning matters at the factory. For some time past, things seemed to have changed for the better. Monsieur Georges came to his office regularly, and returned to Savigny every night. No more bills were presented at the counting-room. It seemed, too, that Madame over yonder was keeping more within bounds.

The cashier was triumphant.

“You see, my boy, whether I did well to write to you. Your arrival was all that was needed to straighten everything out. And yet,” the good man would add by force of habit, “and yet I haf no gonfidence.”

“Never fear, Monsieur Sigismond, I am here,” the judge would reply.

“You’re not going away yet, are you, my dear Frantz?”

“No, no — not yet. I have an important matter to finish up first.”

“Ah! so much the better.”

The important matter to which Frantz referred was his marriage to Desiree Delobelle. He had not yet mentioned it to any one, not even to her; but Mam’zelle Zizi must have suspected something, for she became prettier and more lighthearted from day to day, as if she foresaw that the day would soon come when she would need all her gayety and all her beauty.

They were alone in the workroom one Sunday afternoon. Mamma Delobelle had gone out, proud enough to show herself for once in public with her great man, and leaving friend Frantz with her daughter to keep her company. Carefully dressed, his whole person denoting a holiday air, Frantz had a singular expression on his face that day, an expression at once timid and resolute, emotional and solemn, and simply from the way in which the little low chair took its place beside the great easy-chair, the easy-chair understood that a very serious communication was about to be made to it in confidence, and it had some little suspicion as to what it might be.

The conversation began with divers unimportant remarks, interspersed with long and frequent pauses, just as, on a journey, we stop at every baiting-place to take breath, to enable us to reach our destination.

“It is a fine day to-day.”

“Oh! yes, beautiful.”

“Our flowers still smell sweet.”

“Oh! very sweet.”

And even as they uttered those trivial sentences, their voices trembled at the thought of what was about to be said.

At last the little low chair moved a little nearer the great easy-chair; their eyes met, their fingers were intertwined, and the two, in low tones, slowly called each other by their names.

“Desiree!”

“Frantz!”

At that moment there was a knock at the door.

It was the soft little tap of a daintily gloved hand which fears to soil itself by the slightest touch.

“Come in!” said Desiree, with a slight gesture of impatience; and Sidonie appeared, lovely, coquettish, and affable. She had come to see her little Zizi, to embrace her as she was passing by. She had been meaning to come for so long.

Frantz’s presence seemed to surprise her greatly, and, being engrossed by her delight in talking with her former friend, she hardly looked at him. After the effusive greetings and caresses, after a pleasant chat over old times, she expressed a wish to see the window on the landing and the room formerly occupied by the Rislers. It pleased her thus to live all her youth over again.

“Do you remember, Frantz, when the Princess Hummingbird entered your room, holding her little head very straight under a diadem of birds’ feathers?”

Frantz did not reply. He was too deeply moved to reply. Something warned him that it was on his account, solely on his account, that the woman had come, that she was determined to see him again, to prevent him from giving himself to another, and the poor wretch realized with dismay that she would not have to exert herself overmuch to accomplish her object. When he saw her enter the room, his whole heart had been caught in her net once more.

Desiree suspected nothing, not she! Sidonie’s manner was so frank and friendly. And then, they were brother and sister now. Love was no longer possible between them.

But the little cripple had a vague presentiment of woe when Sidonie, standing in the doorway and ready to go, turned carelessly to her brother-in-law and said:

“By the way, Frantz, Risler told me to be sure to bring you back to dine with us to-night. The carriage is below. We will pick him up as we pass the factory.”

Then she added, with the prettiest smile imaginable:

“You will let us have him, won’t you, Ziree? Don’t be afraid; we will send him back.”

And he had the courage to go, the ungrateful wretch!

He went without hesitation, without once turning back, whirled away by his passion as by a raging sea, and neither on that day nor the next nor ever after could Mam’zelle Zizi’s great easy-chair learn what the interesting communication was that the little low chair had to make to it.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/daudet/alphonse/fromont-and-risler/chapter15.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:53