Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 43

The Cats and the Dolls

The water used for drinking in our house, for making tea, and for lesser washing purposes, is kept in large white china tubs, decorated with paintings representing blue fish borne along by a swift current through distorted rushes. In order to keep them cool, the tubs are kept out of doors on Madame Prune’s roof, at a place where we can, from the top of our projecting balcony, easily reach them by stretching out an arm. A real godsend for all the thirsty cats in the neighborhood, on warm summer nights, is this corner of the roof with our gayly painted tubs, and it proves a delightful trysting-place for them, after all their caterwauling and long solitary rambles on the tops of the walls.

I had thought it my duty to warn Yves the first time he wished to drink this water.

“Oh!” he replied, rather surprised, “cats, do you say? But they are not dirty!”

On this point Chrysanthème and I agree with him: we do not consider cats unclean animals, and we do not object to drink after them.

Yves considers Chrysanthème much in the same light. “She is not dirty, either,” he says; and he willingly drinks after her, out of the same cup, putting her in the same category with the cats.

These china tubs are one of the daily preoccupations of our household: in the evening, when we return from our walk, after the clamber up, which makes us thirsty, and Madame L’Heure’s waffles, which we have been eating to beguile the way, we always find them empty. It seems impossible for Madame Prune, or Mademoiselle Oyouki, or their young servant, Mademoiselle Dede — [Dede-San means “Miss Young Girl,” a very common name.]— to have forethought enough to fill them while it is still daylight. And when we are late in returning home, these three ladies are asleep, so we are obliged to attend to the business ourselves.

We must therefore open all the closed doors, put on our boots, and go down into the garden to draw water.

As Chrysanthème would die of fright all alone in the dark, in the midst of the trees and buzzing of insects, I am obliged to accompany her to the well. For this expedition we require a light, and must seek among the quantity of lanterns purchased at Madame Tres-Propre’s booth, which have been thrown night after night into the bottom of one of our little paper closets; but alas, all the candles are burned down! I thought as much! Well, we must resolutely take the first lantern to hand, and stick a fresh candle on the iron point at the bottom; Chrysanthème puts forth all her strength, the candle splits, breaks; the mousme pricks her fingers, pouts and whimpers. Such is the inevitable scene that takes place every evening, and delays our retiring to rest under the dark-blue gauze net for a good quarter of an hour; while the cicalas on the roof seem to mock us with their ceaseless song.

All this, which I should find amusing in any one else — any one I loved — irritates me in her.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57