She was one of those pretty and charming girls who are sometimes, as if by a mistake of destiny, born in a family of clerks. She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved,...
She was one of those pretty and charming girls who are sometimes, as if
by a mistake of destiny, born in a family of clerks. She had no dowry,
no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, wedded, by
any rich and distinguished man; and she let herself be married to a
little clerk at the Ministry of Public Instruction.
She dressed plainly because she could not dress well, but she was as
unhappy as though she had really fallen from her proper station; since
with women there is neither caste nor rank; and beauty, grace, and
charm act instead of family and birth. Natural fineness, instinct for
what is elegant, suppleness of wit, are the sole hierarchy, and make
from women of the people the equals of the very greatest ladies.
She suffered ceaselessly, feeling herself born for all the delicacies
and all the luxuries. She suffered from the poverty of her dwelling,
from the wretched look of the walls, from the worn-out chairs, from the
ugliness of the curtains. All those things, of which another woman of
her rank would never even have been conscious, tortured her and made
her angry. The sight of the little Breton peasant who did her humble
housework aroused in her regrets which were despairing, and distracted
dreams. She thought of the silent antechambers hung with Oriental
tapestry, lit by tall bronze candelabra, and of the two great footmen
in knee breeches who sleep in the big armchairs, made drowsy by the
heavy warmth of the hot-air stove. She thought of the long
_salons_ fatted up with ancient silk, of the delicate furniture
carrying priceless curiosities, and of the coquettish perfumed boudoirs
made for talks at five o'clock with intimate friends, with men famous
and sought after, whom all women envy and whose attention they all
When she sat down to dinner, before the round table covered with a
tablecloth three days old, opposite her husband, who uncovered the soup
tureen and declared with an enchanted air, "Ah, the good
_pot-au-feu_! I don't know anything better than that," she thought
of dainty dinners, of shining silverware, of tapestry which peopled the
walls with ancient personages and with strange birds flying in the
midst of a fairy forest; and she thought of delicious dishes served on
marvelous plates, and of the whispered gallantries which you listen to
with a sphinx-like smile, while you are eating the pink flesh of a
trout or the wings of a quail.
She had no dresses, no jewels, nothing. And she loved nothing but that;
she felt made for that. She would so have liked to please, to be
envied, to be charming, to be sought after.
She had a friend, a former schoolmate at the convent, who was rich, and
whom she did not like to go and see any more, because she suffered so
much when she came back.
But, one evening, her husband returned home with a triumphant air, and
holding a large envelope in his hand.