The marriage of Maitre Simon Lebrument with Mademoiselle Jeanne Cordier was a surprise to no one. Maitre Lebrument had bought out the practice of Maitre Papillon; naturally, he had to have money to pay for it; and Mademoiselle Jeanne Cordier had three hundred thousand francs clear in currency, and in bonds payable to bearer.
Maitre Lebrument was a handsome man. He was stylish, although in a provincial way; but, nevertheless, he was stylish—a rare thing at Boutigny-le-Rebours.
Mademoiselle Cordier was graceful and fresh-looking, although a trifle awkward; nevertheless, she was a handsome girl, and one to be desired.
The marriage ceremony turned all Boutigny topsy-turvy. Everybody admired the young couple, who quickly returned home to domestic felicity, having decided simply to take a short trip to Paris, after a few days of retirement.
This tete-a-tete was delightful, Maitre Lebrument having shown just the proper amount of delicacy. He had taken as his motto: “Everything comes to him who waits.” He knew how to be at the same time patient and energetic. His success was rapid and complete.
After four days, Madame Lebrument adored her husband. She could not get along without him. She would sit on his knees, and taking him by the ears she would say: “Open your mouth and shut your eyes.” He would open his mouth wide and partly close his eyes, and he would try to nip her fingers as she slipped some dainty between his teeth. Then she would give him a kiss, sweet and long, which would make chills run up and down his spine. And then, in his turn, he would not have enough caresses to please his wife from morning to night and from night to morning.
When the first week was over, he said to his young companion:
“If you wish, we will leave for Paris next Tuesday. We will be like two lovers, we will go to the restaurants, the theatres, the concert halls, everywhere, everywhere!”
She was ready to dance for joy.
“Oh! yes, yes. Let us go as soon as possible.”
“And then, as we must forget nothing, ask your father to have your dowry ready; I shall pay Maitre Papillon on this trip.”
“All right: I will tell him to-morrow morning.”
And he took her in his arms once more, to renew those sweet games of love which she had so enjoyed for the past week.
The following Tuesday, father-in-law and mother-in-law went to the station with their daughter and their son-in-law who were leaving for the capital.
The father-in-law said:
“I tell you it is very imprudent to carry so much money about in a pocketbook.” And the young lawyer smiled.
“Don’t worry; I am accustomed to such things. You understand that, in my profession, I sometimes have as much as a million about me. In this manner, at least we avoid a great amount of red tape and delay. You needn’t worry.”
The conductor was crying:
“All aboard for Paris!”
They scrambled into a car, where two old ladies were already seated.
Lebrument whispered into his wife’s ear:
“What a bother! I won’t be able to smoke.”
She answered in a low voice
“It annoys me too, but not an account of your cigar.”
The whistle blew and the train started. The trip lasted about an hour, during which time they did not say very much to each other, as the two old ladies did not go to sleep.
As soon as they were in front of the Saint-Lazare Station, Maitre Lebrument said to his wife:
“Dearie, let us first go over to the Boulevard and get something to eat; then we can quietly return and get our trunk and bring it to the hotel.”
She immediately assented.
“Oh! yes. Let’s eat at the restaurant. Is it far?”
“Yes, it’s quite a distance, but we will take the omnibus.”
She was surprised:
“Why don’t we take a cab?”
He began to scold her smilingly:
“Is that the way you save money? A cab for a five minutes’ ride at six cents a minute! You would deprive yourself of nothing.”
“That’s so,” she said, a little embarrassed.
A big omnibus was passing by, drawn by three big horses, which were trotting along. Lebrument called out:
The heavy carriage stopped. And the young lawyer, pushing his wife, said to her quickly:
“Go inside; I’m going up on top, so that I may smoke at least one cigarette before lunch.”
She had no time to answer. The conductor, who had seized her by the arm to help her up the step, pushed her inside, and she fell into a seat, bewildered, looking through the back window at the feet of her husband as he climbed up to the top of the vehicle.
And she sat there motionless, between a fat man who smelled of cheap tobacco and an old woman who smelled of garlic.
All the other passengers were lined up in silence—a grocer’s boy, a young girl, a soldier, a gentleman with gold-rimmed spectacles and a big silk hat, two ladies with a self-satisfied and crabbed look, which seemed to say: “We are riding in this thing, but we don’t have to,” two sisters of charity and an undertaker. They looked like a collection of caricatures.
The jolting of the wagon made them wag their heads and the shaking of the wheels seemed to stupefy them—they all looked as though they were asleep.
The young woman remained motionless.
“Why didn’t he come inside with me?” she was saying to herself. An unaccountable sadness seemed to be hanging over her. He really need not have acted so.
The sisters motioned to the conductor to stop, and they got off one after the other, leaving in their wake the pungent smell of camphor. The bus started tip and soon stopped again. And in got a cook, red-faced and out of breath. She sat down and placed her basket of provisions on her knees. A strong odor of dish-water filled the vehicle.
“It’s further than I imagined,” thought Jeanne.
The undertaker went out, and was replaced by a coachman who seemed to bring the atmosphere of the stable with him. The young girl had as a successor a messenger, the odor of whose feet showed that he was continually walking.
The lawyer’s wife began to feel ill at ease, nauseated, ready to cry without knowing why.
Other persons left and others entered. The stage went on through interminable streets, stopping at stations and starting again.
“How far it is!” thought Jeanne. “I hope he hasn’t gone to sleep! He has been so tired the last few days.”
Little by little all the passengers left. She was left alone, all alone. The conductor cried:
Seeing that she did not move, he repeated:
She looked at him, understanding that he was speaking to her, as there was no one else there. For the third time the man said:
Then she asked:
“Where are we?”
He answered gruffly:
“We’re at Vaugirard, of course! I have been yelling it for the last half hour!”
“Is it far from the Boulevard?” she said.
“The Boulevard des Italiens.”
“We passed that a long time ago!”
“Would you mind telling my husband?”
“Your husband! Where is he?”
“On the top of the bus.”
“On the top! There hasn’t been anybody there for a long time.”
She started, terrified.
“What? That’s impossible! He got on with me. Look well! He must be there.”
The conductor was becoming uncivil:
“Come on, little one, you’ve talked enough! You can find ten men for every one that you lose. Now run along. You’ll find another one somewhere.”
Tears were coming to her eyes. She insisted:
“But, monsieur, you are mistaken; I assure you that you must be mistaken. He had a big portfolio under his arm.”
The man began to laugh:
“A big portfolio! Oh, yes! He got off at the Madeleine. He got rid of you, all right! Ha! ha! ha!”
The stage had stopped. She got out and, in spite of herself, she looked up instinctively to the roof of the bus. It was absolutely deserted.
Then she began to cry, and, without thinking that anybody was listening or watching her, she said out loud:
“What is going to become of me?”
An inspector approached:
“What’s the matter?”
The conductor answered, in a bantering tone of voice:
“It’s a lady who got left by her husband during the trip.”
The other continued:
“Oh! that’s nothing. You go about your business.”
Then he turned on his heels and walked away.
She began to walk straight ahead, too bewildered, too crazed even to understand what had happened to her. Where was she to go? What could she do? What could have happened to him? How could he have made such a mistake? How could he have been so forgetful?
She had two francs in her pocket. To whom could she go? Suddenly she remembered her cousin Barral, one of the assistants in the offices of the Ministry of the Navy.
She had just enough to pay for a cab. She drove to his house. He met her just as he was leaving for his office. He was carrying a large portfolio under his arm, just like Lebrument.
She jumped out of the carriage.
“Henry!” she cried.
He stopped, astonished:
“Jeanne! Here—all alone! What are you doing? Where have you come from?”
Her eyes full of tears, she stammered:
“My husband has just got lost!”
“On an omnibus.”
“On an omnibus?”
Weeping, she told him her whole adventure.
He listened, thought, and then asked:
“Was his mind clear this morning?”
“Good. Did he have much money with him?”
“Yes, he was carrying my dowry.”
“Your dowry! The whole of it?”
“The whole of it—in order to pay for the practice which he bought.”
“Well, my dear cousin, by this time your husband must be well on his way to Belgium.”
She could not understand. She kept repeating:
“My husband—you say—”
“I say that he has disappeared with your—your capital—that’s all!”
She stood there, a prey to conflicting emotions, sobbing.
“Then he is—he is—he is a villain!”
And, faint from excitement, she leaned her head on her cousin’s shoulder and wept.
As people were stopping to look at them, he pushed her gently into the vestibule of his house, and, supporting her with his arm around her waist, he led her up the stairs, and as his astonished servant opened the door, he ordered:
“Sophie, run to the restaurant and get a luncheon for two. I am not going to the office to-day.”