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   Chapter 6 No.6

A Chambermaid's Diary By Octave Mirbeau Characters: 13643

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

October 1.

Poor Monsieur! I believe that I was too sharp with him the other day, in the garden. Perhaps I went further than I should. He is such a simpleton that he imagines that he has given me serious offence, and that my virtue is impregnable. Oh! his humiliated, imploring looks, which never cease to ask my pardon!

Although I have become more teasing and agreeable, he says no more to me about the matter, and cannot make up his mind to try a new direct attack,-not even the classic device of a button to be sewed on a pair of pantaloons. A clumsy device, but one that does not often fail of its effect. My God! how many such buttons have I sewed on!

And yet it is plain that he desires me,-that he is dying of desire, more and more. The least of his words betrays a confession, an indirect confession of his desire; and what a confession! But he is also more and more timid; he is afraid to come to a decision. He fears that it might bring about a definite rupture, and he no longer trusts in my encouraging looks.

On one occasion, approaching me with a strange expression, with a sort of haggard look in his eyes, he said to me:

"Célestine ... you ... you ... black ... my shoes ... very well ... very ... very ... well ... Never ... have ... my ... shoes ... been blacked ... like that."

Then I expected the button trick. But no! Monsieur gasped and slobbered as if he had eaten a pear that was too big and juicy.

Then he whistled for his dog, and started off.

But here is something stronger.

Yesterday Madame had gone to market,-for she does her own marketing. Monsieur had been out since dawn, with his gun and his dog. He came back early, having killed three thrushes, and immediately went up to his dressing-room to take a tub and dress, as usual. Oh, for that matter, Monsieur is very clean, and he is not afraid of water. I thought it a favorable opportunity to try something that might at last put him at his ease with me. Leaving my work, I started for the dressing-room, and for a few seconds I stood there listening, with my ear glued to the door. Monsieur was walking back and forth in his room. He was whistling and singing:

Et allez donc, Mam'zelle Suzon!...

Et ron, ronron ... petit patapon ...

A habit that he has of mingling a number of refrains when singing.

I heard chairs moving about, cupboards opening and closing, and then the water streaming into the tub, and the "Ahs" and "Ohs" and "Fuuiis" and "Brrrs" which the shock of the cold water wrung from Monsieur. Then, suddenly, I opened the door.

Monsieur stood facing me, shivering, with wet skin, and the sponge in his hands running like a fountain. Oh! his head, his eyes! he seemed to stand transfixed. I think I never saw a man so astounded. Having nothing with which to cover his body, with a gesture instinctively modest and comical he used the sponge as a fig-leaf. It required great strength of will on my part to suppress the laugh which this spectacle loosened within me. I noticed that Monsieur had thick tufts of hair on his shoulders, and that his chest was like a bear's. But my! he is a fine man, all the same.

Naturally, I uttered a cry of alarmed modesty, as was proper, and closed the door again violently. But, once outside the door, I said to myself: "Surely he will call me back; and what is going to happen then?" I waited some minutes. Not a sound,-except the crystalline sound of a drop of water falling, from time to time, into the tub. "He is reflecting," thought I; "he does not dare to come to a decision; but he will call me back." In vain. Soon the water streamed again. Then I heard Monsieur wiping and rubbing himself, and clearing his throat; old slippers dragged over the floor; chairs moved about, and cupboards opened and closed. Finally Monsieur began again to sing:

Et allez donc, Mam'zelle Suzon!...

Et ron, ronron ... petit patapon ...

"No, really, he is too stupid!" I murmured, in a low voice, furiously spiteful.

And I went back to the linen-room, firmly resolved to take no further pity on him.

In the afternoon Monsieur kept revolving around me, in an absent-minded way. He joined me in the yard, whither I had gone to throw some refuse on the muck-heap. And as I, for the sake of laughing a little at his embarrassment, apologized for what had happened in the morning, he whispered:

"That is nothing, that is nothing; on the contrary."

He tried to detain me, stammering I know not what. But I dropped him then and there, in the middle of the phrase in which he was floundering; and, in a cutting voice, I said these words:

"I ask Monsieur's pardon. I have no time to talk to Monsieur. Madame is waiting for me."

"Sapristi! Célestine, listen to me a moment."

"No, Monsieur."

When I turned the corner of the path leading to the house, I could see Monsieur. He had not stirred from the spot. With head lowered, and irresolute legs, he was still looking at the muck-heap, scratching his neck.

* * *

After dinner, in the salon, Monsieur and Madame had a hot quarrel.

Madame said:

"I tell you that you are paying attention to this girl."

Monsieur answered:

"I? Well, indeed, that's an idea! Come, my pet; such a loose creature,-a dirty thing, and possibly diseased. Oh! really, that is too much."

Madame resumed:

"Do you think, then, that I don't know your conduct and your tastes?"

"Permit me; oh! permit me."

"And all the dirty creatures whom you meet in the fields!"

I heard the floor creak under Monsieur's feet, as he walked back and forth in the salon, with feverish animation.

"I? Well, indeed, such ideas as you have! Where did you find them all, my pet?"

Madame was obstinate:

"And the little Jézureau? And only fifteen years old, you wretch! And on whose account I had to pay five hundred francs! But for which, to-day you perhaps would be in prison, like your thief of a father."

Monsieur stopped walking. He sank into a chair. He became silent.

The discussion ended with these words from Madame:

"However, it is all one to me. I am not jealous. You can behave as you like with this Célestine. But it must not cost me any money."

Oh, no! Now I have them both.

* * *

This evening we remained longer than usual in the kitchen. I helped Marianne to make up her accounts. She did not succeed in getting them straight. I have noticed that, like all trusted persons, she pinches here, and steals there, all that she can. She even has tricks that astonish me; but she has to make her accounts square with them. Sometimes she gets lost in her figures, which embarrasses her greatly with Madame, who is very quick to find out anything wrong in them. Joseph is becoming a little more human with us. Now, from time to time, he condescends to speak to me. This even

ing, for instance, he did not go as usual to see the sacristan, his intimate friend. And, while Marianne and I were working, he read the "Libre Parole." That is his newspaper. He does not admit that any other is fit to read. I have noticed that several times, while reading, he looked at me with a new expression in his eyes.

The reading finished, Joseph saw fit to tell me what his political opinions are. He is weary of the republic, which is ruining and disgracing him. He wants a sword.

"As long as we do not have a sword, and a very red one, there will be nothing done," said he.

He is for religion ... because ... in short ... well ... he is for religion.

"Until religion shall have been restored in France, as we used to have it; until everybody is obliged to go to mass and to confession,-there will be nothing done, my God!"

He has hung up in his harness-room portraits of the pope and of Drumont; in his chamber, that of Déroulède; in the little seed-room those of Guérin and General Mercier,-terrible fellows, patriots, real Frenchmen! He preciously collects all the anti-Jewish songs, all the colored portraits of the generals, all the caricatures of the circumcised. For Joseph is violently anti-Semitic. He belongs to all the religious, military, and patriotic societies of the department. He is a member of the "Anti-Semitic Youth" of Rouen, a member of the "Anti-Jewish Old Age" of Louviers, and a member also of an infinite number of groups and sub-groups, such as the "National Cudgel," the "Norman Alarm-Bell," the "Bayados du Vexin," etc. When he speaks of the Jews, there are sinister gleams in his eyes, and his gestures show bloodthirsty ferocity. And he never goes to town without a club.

"As long as there is a Jew left in France, there is nothing done."

And he adds:

"Ah! my God! if I were in Paris, I would kill and burn and gut these cursed sheenies. There is no danger that the traitors will come to live at Mesnil-Roy. They know very well what they are about, these mercenaries!"

He joins in one and the same hatred Protestants, Free Masons, freethinkers, all the brigands who never set foot in the churches, and who are, moreover, nothing but Jews in disguise. But he does not belong to the Clerical party; he is for religion, that's all!

As for the ignoble Dreyfus, he had better not think of coming back to France from Devil's Island. Oh, no! And Joseph strongly advises the unclean Zola not to come to Louviers to give a lecture, as it is reported that he intends to do. His hash would be settled, and Joseph himself would settle it. This miserable traitor of a Zola, who, for six hundred thousand francs, has delivered the entire French army, and also the entire Russian army, to the Germans and the English? And this is no humbug, no gossip, no lightly-spoken word; no, Joseph is sure of it. Joseph has it from the sacristan, who has it from the priest, who has it from the bishop, who has it from the pope, who has it from Drumont. Ah! the Jews may visit the Priory. They will find, written by Joseph, in the cellar, in the attic, in the stable, in the coach-house, under the lining of the harnesses, and even on the broom-handles, and everywhere, these words: "Long Live the Army! Death to the Jews!"

From time to time Marianne approves these violent remarks with nods of her head and silent gestures. She, too, undoubtedly is being ruined and disgraced by the republic. She, too, is for the sword, for the priests, and against the Jews,-about whom she knows nothing, by the way, except that they are lacking something somewhere.

And certainly I, too, am for the army, for the country, for religion, and against the Jews. Who, then, among us house-servants, from the lowest to the highest, does not profess these nickel-plated doctrines? Say what you will of the domestics,-it is possible that they have many faults,-but it cannot be denied that they are patriots. Take myself, for instance; politics is not in my line, and it bores me. But, a week before I started for this place, I squarely refused to serve as chambermaid in the house of Labori; and all the comrades who were at the employment-bureau that day refused also.

"Work for that dirty creature? Oh, no, indeed! Never!"

Yet, when I seriously question myself, I do not know why I am against the Jews, for I used to serve in their houses in the days when one could still do so with dignity. I find that at bottom the Jews and the Catholics are very much alike. They are equally vicious, have equally vile characters, equally ugly souls. They all belong to the same world, you see, and the difference in religion counts for nothing. Perhaps the Jews make more show, more noise; perhaps they make a greater display of the money that they spend. But, in spite of what you hear about their management and their avarice, I maintain that it is not bad to be in their houses, where there is even more leakage than in Catholic houses.

But Joseph will hear nothing of all this. He reproached me with being a bogus patriot and a bad Frenchwoman, and, with prophecies of massacre on his lips, and with bloody visions of broken heads and gashed bellies before his eyes, he went off to bed.

Straightway Marianne took the bottle of brandy from the sideboard. We needed to recover ourselves, and we talked of something else. Marianne, who every day becomes more confiding, told me of her childhood, of the hard time that she had in her youth, and how, when in the employ, as a servant, of a woman who kept a tobacco-shop at Caen, she was seduced by a hospital-surgeon,-a delicate, slender, blonde young fellow, who had blue eyes and a pointed, short, and silky beard,-oh! how silky! She became pregnant, and the tobacco merchant, who herself was intimate with any number of people, including all the sub-officers of the garrison, turned her out. So young, on the pavements of a great city, and carrying a child! Ah! the poverty that she experienced, her friend having no money. And surely she would have died of hunger, if the surgeon had not found her a queer place in the medical school.

"My God! yes," she said, "at the Boratory I killed rabbits and guinea-pigs. It was very nice."

And the recollection brought to Marianne's thick lips a smile that seemed to me strangely melancholy.

After a silence, I asked her:

"And the kid! What became of it?"

Marianne made a vague and far-away gesture,-a gesture that seemed to pull aside the heavy veils from the limbos where her child was sleeping. She answered in that harsh voice which alcohol produces:

"Oh! well, you can imagine. What should I have done with it, my God!"

"Like the little guinea-pigs, then?"

"That's it."

And she poured herself out a drink.

We went up to our rooms somewhat intoxicated.

* * *

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