“Well, really,” Chasseval said, standing with his back to the fire, “could any of those respectable shop-keepers and wine growers have possibly believed that that pretty little Parisian woman, with her soft innocent eyes, like those of a Madonna, with such smiling lips and golden hair, and who always dressed so simple, was their candidate’s mistress?”
She was a wonderful help to him, and accompanied him even to the most outlying farms; went to the meetings in the small village cafés and had a pleasant and suitable word for every one, and did not recoil at a glass of mulled wine or a grip of the hand, and was always ready to join in farandole.1 She seemed to be so in love with Eliénne Rulhiére, to trust him so entirely, to be so proud of forming half of his life, and of belonging to him, gave him such looks full of pleasure and of hope, and listened to all he said so intently, that voters who might have hesitated, allowed themselves by degrees to be talked over and persuaded; and promised their votes to the young doctor, whose name they never heard mentioned in the district before.
1 A dance in Provence in which the dancers form a chain, and the movements are directed by the leader. — TRANSLATOR.]
That electoral campaign had been like a truant’s escapade for Jane Dardenne; it was a delightful and unexpected holiday, and as she was an actress at heart, she played her part seriously, and threw herself into her character, and enjoyed herself more than she ever enjoyed herself in her most adventurous outings.
And then there came in the pleasure of being taken for a woman of the world, of being flattered, respected and envied, and of getting out of the usual groove for a time, and also the dream that this journey of a few weeks would have the sequence, that her lover would not separate from her on their return, but would sacrifice the woman whom he no longer loved, and whom he ironically used to call his Cinderella, to her.
At night, when they had laid aside all pretense, and when they were alone in their room in the hotel, she coaxed him and flattered him, spurred his ambition on, threw her quivering arms around him, and amidst her kisses, whispered those words to him, which make a man proud and warm his heart, and give him strength, like a stout dram of alcohol.
The two between them captured the district, and won the election easily, and in spite of his youth, Eliénne Rulhiére was chosen by a majority of five thousand. Then, of course, there were more fetes and banquets, at which Jane was present, and where she was received with enthusiastic shouts; there were fireworks, when she was obliged to set light to the first rocket, and balls at which she astonished those worthy people by her affability. And when they left, three little girls dressed in white, as if they were going to be confirmed, came onto the platform and recited some complimentary verses to her while the band played the Marseillaise, the women waved their pocket-handkerchiefs, and the men their hats, and leaning out of the carriage window, looking charming in her traveling costume, with a smile on her lips, and with moist eyes, as was fitting at such a pathetic leave-taking, actress as she was, with a sudden and childlike gesture, she blew kisses to them from the tips of her fingers, and said:
“Good-bye, my friends, good-bye, only for the present; I shall never forget you!”
The deputy, who was also very effusive, had invited his principal supporters to come and see him in Paris as there were plenty of excursion trains. They all took him at his word, and Rulhière was obliged to invite them all to dinner.
In order to avoid any possible mishaps, he gave his wife a foretaste of their guests. He told her that they were rather noisy, talkative, and unpolished, and that they would, no doubt, astonish her by their manners and their accent, but that, as they had great influence, and were excellent men, they deserved a good reception. It was a very useful precaution, for when they came into the drawing-room in their new clothes, expanding with pleasure, and with their hair pomatumed as if they had been going to a country wedding, they felt inclined to fall down before the new Madame Rulhière to whom the deputy introduced them, and who seemed to be perfectly at home there.
At first they were embarrassed, felt uncomfortable and out of place, did not know what to say, and had to seek their words; they buttoned and unbuttoned their gloves, answered her questions at random, and racked their brains to discover the solution of the enigma. Captain Mouredus looked at the fire, with the fixed gaze of a somnambulist, Marius Barbaste scratched his fingers mechanically, while the three others, the factory manager, Casemajel, Roquetton, the lawyer, and Dustugue, the hotel proprietor, looked at Rulhière anxiously.
The lawyer was the first to recover himself. He got up from his arm chair laughing heartily, dug the deputy in the ribs with his elbow, and said:
“I understand it all, I understand it; you thought that people do not come to Paris to be bored, eh? Madame is delightful, and I congratulate you, Monsieur.”
He gave a wink, and made signs behind his back to his friends, and then the captain had his turn.
“We are not boobies, and that fellow Roquetton is the most knowing of the lot of us. . . . Ah! Monsieur Rulhière, without any exaggeration, you are the cream of good fellows.”
And with a flushed face, and expanding his chest, he said sonorously:
“They certainly turn them out very pretty in your part of the country, my little lady!”
Madame Rulhière, who did not know what to say, had gone up to her husband for protection; but she felt much inclined to go to her own room under some pretext or other, in order to escape from her intolerable task. She kept her ground, however, during the whole of dinner, which was a noisy, jovial meal, during which the five electors, with their elbows on the table, and their waistcoats unbuttoned, and half drunk, told coarse stories, and swore like troopers. But as the coffee and the liquors were served in the smoking room, she took leave of her guests in an impatient voice, and went to her own room with the hasty step of an escaped prisoner, who is afraid of being retaken.
The electors sat staring after her with gaping mouths, and Mouredus lit a cigar, and said:
“Just listen to me, Monsieur Rulhiére; it was very kind of you to invite us here, to your little quiet establishment, but to speak to you frankly, I should not, in your place, wrong my lawful wife for such a stuck-up piece of goods as this one is.”
“The captain is quite right,” Roquetton the notary opined; “Madame Rulhiére, the lawful Madame Rulhiére, is much more amiable, and altogether nicer. You are a scoundrel to deceive her; but when may we hope to see her?”
And with a paternal grimace, he added:
“But do not be uneasy; we will all hold our tongue; it would be too sad if she were to find it out.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53