She had noticed with indignation that girls were solely brought up to be housekeepers for their future husbands. Therefore she had learnt a trade which would enable her to keep herself in all circumstances of life. She made artificial flowers.
He had noticed with regret that girls simply waited for a husband who should keep them; he resolved to marry a free and independent woman who could earn her own living; such a woman would be his equal and a companion for life, not a housekeeper.
Fate ordained that they should meet. He was an artist and she, as I already mentioned, made flowers; they were both living in Paris at the time when they conceived these ideas.
There was style in their marriage. They took three rooms at Passy. In the centre was the studio, to the right of it his room, to the left hers. This did away with the common bed-room and double bed, that abomination which has no counterpart in nature and is responsible for a great deal of dissipation and immorality. It moreover did away with the inconvenience of having to dress and undress in the same room. It was far better that each of them should have a separate room and that the studio should be a neutral, common meeting-place.
They required no servant; they were going to do the cooking themselves and employ an old charwoman in the mornings and evenings. It was all very well thought out and excellent in theory.
“But supposing you had children?” asked the sceptics.
“Nonsense, there won’t be any!”
It worked splendidly. He went to the market in the morning and did the catering. Then he made the coffee. She made the beds and put the rooms in order. And then they sat down and worked.
When they were tired of working they gossiped, gave one another good advice, laughed and were very jolly.
At twelve o’clock he lit the kitchen fire and she prepared the vegetables. He cooked the beef, while she ran across the street to the grocer’s; then she laid the table and he dished up the dinner.
Of course, they loved one another as husbands and wives do. They said good-night to each other and went into their own rooms, but there was no lock to keep him out when he knocked at her door; but the accommodation was small and the morning found them in their own quarters. Then he knocked at the wall:
“Good morning, little girlie, how are you to-day?”
“Very well, darling, and you?”
Their meeting at breakfast was always like a new experience which never grew stale.
They often went out together in the evening and frequently met their countrymen. She had no objection to the smell of tobacco, and was never in the way. Everybody said that it was an ideal marriage; no one had ever known a happier couple.
But the young wife’s parents, who lived a long way off, were always writing and asking all sorts of indelicate questions; they were longing to have a grandchild. Louisa ought to remember that the institution of marriage existed for the benefit of the children, not the parents. Louisa held that this view was an old-fashioned one. Mama asked her whether she did not think that the result of the new ideas would be the complete extirpation of mankind? Louisa had never looked at it in that light, and moreover the question did not interest her. Both she and her husband were happy; at last the spectacle of a happy married couple was presented to the world, and the world was envious.
Life was very pleasant. Neither of them was master and they shared expenses. Now he earned more, now she did, but in the end their contributions to the common fund amounted to the same figure.
Then she had a birthday! She was awakened in the morning by the entrance of the charwoman with a bunch of flowers and a letter painted all over with flowers, and containing the following words:
“To the lady flower-bud from her dauber, who wishes her many happy returns of the day and begs her to honour him with her company at an excellent little breakfast–at once.”
She knocked at his door–come in!
And they breakfasted, sitting on the bed–his bed; and the charwoman was kept the whole day to do all the work. It was a lovely birthday!
Their happiness never palled. It lasted two years. All the prophets had prophesied falsely.
It was a model marriage!
But when two years had passed, the young wife fell ill. She put it down to some poison contained in the wall-paper; he suggested germs of some sort. Yes, certainly, germs. But something was wrong. Something was not as it should be. She must have caught cold. Then she grew stout. Was she suffering from tumour? Yes, they were afraid she was.
She consulted a doctor–and came home crying. It was indeed a growth, but one which would one day see daylight, grow into a flower and bear fruit.
The husband did anything but cry. He found style in it, and then the wretch went to his club and boasted about it to his friends. But the wife still wept. What would her position be now? She would soon not be able to earn money with her work and then she would have to live on him. And they would have to have a servant! Ugh! those servants!
All their care, their caution, their wariness had been wrecked on the rock of the inevitable.
But the mother-in-law wrote enthusiastic letters and repeated over and over again that marriage was instituted by God for the protection of the children; the parents’ pleasure counted for very little.
Hugo implored her to forget the fact that she would not be able to earn anything in future. Didn’t she do her full share of the work by mothering the baby? Wasn’t that as good as money? Money was, rightly understood, nothing but work. Therefore she paid her share in full.
It took her a long time to get over the fact that he had to keep her. But when the baby came, she forgot all about it. She remained his wife and companion as before in addition to being the mother of his child, and he found that this was worth more than anything else.