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   Chapter 17 I SUP WITH MY WIFE

Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe -- C By Gustave Droz Characters: 10859

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


That evening, which chanced to be Christmas Eve, it was infernally cold. The snow was falling in heavy flakes, and, driven by the wind, beat furiously against the window panes. The distant chiming of the bells could just be heard through this heavy and woolly atmosphere. Foot-passengers, wrapped in their cloaks, slipped rapidly along, keeping close to the house and bending their heads to the wintry blast.

Enveloped in my dressing-gown, and tapping with my fingers on the window-panes, I was smiling at the half-frozen passers-by, the north wind, and the snow, with the contented look of a man who is in a warm room and has on his feet comfortable flannel-lined slippers, the soles of which are buried in a thick carpet. At the fireside my wife was cutting out something and smiling at me from time to time; a new book awaited me on the mantelpiece, and the log on the hearth kept shooting out with a hissing sound those little blue flames which invite one to poke it.

"There is nothing that looks more dismal than a man tramping through the snow, is there?" said I to my wife.

"Hush," said she, lowering the scissors which she held in her hand; and, after smoothing her chin with her fingers, slender, rosy, and plump at their tips, she went on examining the pieces of stuff she had cut out.

"I say that it is ridiculous to go out in the cold when it is so easy to remain at home at one's own fireside."

"Hush."

"But what are you doing that is so important?"

"I-I am cutting out a pair of braces for you," and she set to work again. But, as in cutting out she kept her head bent, I noticed, on passing behind her, her soft, white neck, which she had left bare that evening by dressing her hair higher than usual. A number of little downy hairs were curling there. This kind of down made me think of those ripe peaches one bites so greedily. I drew near, the better to see, and I kissed the back of my wife's neck.

"Monsieur!" said Louise, suddenly turning round.

"Madame," I replied, and we both burst out laughing.

"Christmas Eve," said I.

"Do you wish to excuse yourself and to go out?"

"Do you mean to complain?"

"Yes, I complain that you are not sufficiently impressed by the fact of its being Christmas Eve. The ding-ding-dong of the bells of Notre Dame fails to move you; and just now when the magic-lantern passed beneath the window, I looked at you while pretending to work, and you were quite calm."

"I remain calm when the magic-lantern is going by! Ah! my dear, you are very severe on me, and really-"

"Yes, yes, jest about it, but it was none the less true that the recollections of your childhood have failed."

"Now, my dear, do you want me to leave my boots out on the hearth this evening on going to bed? Do you want me to call in the magic-lantern man, and to look out a big sheet and a candle end for him, as my poor mother used to do? I can still see her as she used to entrust her white sheet to him. 'Don't make a hole in it, at least,' she would say. How we used to clap our hands in the mysterious darkness! I can recall all those joys, my dear, but you know so many other things have happened since then. Other pleasures have effaced those."

"Yes, I can understand, your bachelor pleasures; and, there, I am sure that this Christmas Eve is the first you have passed by your own fireside, in your dressing-gown, without supper; for you used to sup on Christmas Eve."

"To sup, to sup."

"Yes, you supped; I will wager you did."

"I have supped two or three times, perhaps, with friends, you know; two sous' worth of roasted chestnuts and-"

"A glass of sugar and water."

"Oh, pretty nearly so. It was all very simple; as far as I can recollect. We chatted a little and went to bed."

"And he says that without a smile. You have never breathed a word to me of all these simple pleasures."

"But, my dear, all that I am telling you is strictly true. I remember that once, however, it was rather lively. It was at Ernest's, and we had some music. Will you push that log toward me? But, never mind; it will soon be midnight, and that is the hour when reasonable people-"

Louise, rising and throwing her arms around my neck, interrupted me with: "Well, I don't want to be reasonable, I want to wipe out all your memories of chestnuts and glasses of sugar and water."

Then pushing me into my dressing-room she locked the door.

"But, my dear, what is the matter with you?" said I through the keyhole.

"I want ten minutes, no more. Your newspaper is on the mantelpiece; you have not read it this evening. There are some matches in the corner."

I heard a clatter of crockery, a rustling of silk my wife mad?

Louise soon came and opened the door.

"Don't scold me for having shut you up," she said, kissing me. "Look how I have beautified myself? Do you recognize the coiffure you are so fond of, the chignon high, and the neck bare? Only as my poor neck is excessively timid, it would have never consented to show itself thus if I had not encouraged it a little by wearing my dress low. And then one must put on full uniform to sup with the authorities."

"To sup?"

"Certainly, to sup with you; don't you see my illuminations and this table covered with flowers and a heap of good things? I had got it all ready in the alcove; but you understand that to roll the table up to the fire and make a little toilette, I wanted t

o be alone. Come, Monsieur, take your place at table. I am as hungry as a hunter. May I offer you a wing of cold chicken?"

"Your idea is charming, but, dear, really I am ashamed; I am in my dressing-gown."

"Take off your dressing-gown if it incommodes you, Monsieur, but don't leave this chicken wing on my hands. I want to serve you myself." And, rising, she turned her sleeves up to the elbow, and placed her table napkin on her arm.

"It is thus that the waiters at the restaurant do it, is it not?"

"Exactly; but, waiter, allow me at least to kiss your hand."

"I have no time," said she, laughing, sticking the corkscrew into the neck of the bottle. "Chambertin-it is a pretty name; and then do you remember that before our marriage (how hard this cork is!) you told me that you liked it on account of a poem by Alfred de Musset? which, by the way, you have not let me read yet. Do you see the two little Bohemian glasses which I bought expressly for this evening? We will drink each other's health in them."

"And his, too, eh?"

"The heir's, poor dear love of an heir! I should think so. And then I will put away the two glasses against this time next year; they shall be our Christmas Eve glasses? Every year we will sup like this together, however old we may get."

"But, my dear, how about the time when we have no longer any teeth?"

"Well, we will sup on good strong soups; it will be very nice, all the same. Another piece, please, with some of the jelly. Thanks."

As she held out her plate I noticed her arm, the outline of which was lost in lace.

"Why are you looking up my sleeve instead of eating?"

"I am looking at your arm, dear. You are charming, let me tell you, this evening. That coiffure suits you so well, and that dress which I was unacquainted with."

"Well, when one seeks to make a conquest-"

"How pretty you look, pet!"

"Is it true that you think me charming, pretty, and a pet this evening? Well, then," lowering her eyes and smiling at her bracelets, "in that case I do not see why-"

"What is it you do not see, dear?"

"I do not see any reason why you should not come and give me just a little kiss."

And as the kiss was prolonged, she said to me, amid bursts of laughter, her head thrown back, and showing the double row of her white teeth: "I should like some pie; yes, some brie! You will break my Bohemian glass, the result of my economy. You always cause some mishap when you want to kiss me. Do you recollect at Madame de Brill's ball, two days before our marriage, how you tore my skirt while waltzing in the little drawing-room?"

"Because it is difficult to do two things at once-to keep step and to kiss one's partner."

"I recollect, too, when mamma asked how my skirt had got torn, I felt that I was blushing up to my ears. And Madame D., that old jaundiced fairy, who said to me with her Lenten smile, 'How flushed you are tonight, my dear child!' I could have strangled her! I said it was the key of the door that had caught it. I looked at you out of the corner of my eye; you were pulling your moustache and seemed greatly annoyed-you are keeping all the truffles for yourself; that is kind-not that one; I want the big black one there in the corner-it was very wrong all the same, for-oh! not quite full-I do not want to be tipsy-for, after all, if we had not been married-and that might have happened, for you know they say that marriages only depend on a thread. Well, if the thread had not been strong enough, I should have remained a maid with a kiss on my shoulder, and a nice thing that would have been."

"Bah! it does not stain."

"Yes, Monsieur, it does, I beg your pardon. It stains so much that there are husbands, I believe, who even shed their blood to wash out such little stains."

"But I was joking, dear. Hang it!-don't you think-yes, certainly, hang it!"

"Ah! that's right, I like to see you angry. You are a trifle jealous, dear-oh! that is too bad; I asked you for the big black one, and you have gone and eaten it."

"I am sorry, dear; I quite forgot about it."

"It was the same at the Town Hall, where I was obliged to jog your elbow to make you answer 'Yes' to the Mayor's kind words."

"Kind!"

"Yes, kind. I thought him charming. No one could have been more graceful than he was in addressing me. 'Mademoiselle, will you consent to accept for your husband that great, ugly fellow standing beside you?'" (Laughing, with her mouth full.) "I wanted to say to him, 'Let us come to an understanding, Mr. Mayor; there is something to be said on either side.' I am choking!"-she bursts out laughing-"I was wrong not to impose restrictions. Your health, dear! I am teasing you; it is very stupid. I said 'Yes' with all my heart, I can assure you, dear, and I thought the word too weak a one. When I think that all women, even the worst, say that word, I feel ashamed not to have found another." Holding out her glass: "To our golden wedding-will you touch glasses?"

"And to his baptism, little mamma."

In a low voice: "Tell me-are you sorry you married me?"

Laughing, "Yes." Kissing her on the shoulder, "I think I have found the stain again; it was just there."

"It is two in the morning, the fire is out, and I am a little-you won't laugh now? Well, I am a little dizzy."

"A capital pie, eh?"

"A capital pie! We shall have a cup of tea for breakfast tomorrow, shall we not?"

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