The winter was gone, and the sun was coming back into the studio. But if the spring looked softer and loaded the chestnut trees of the avenue with flowers, he seemed to carry day by day all the freshness and gaiety of Gabielle. She herself understood nothing of the state of languor that made her work painful and deprived her of any desire to laugh. Her pink lips were now colorless and the shadow around her eyes made her cheeks look even paler.
Each of her companions believed that she knew the remedy that could ward off her withering, and that she did not lack advice:
“Drink on the sage and the little knapweed,” cried Felicite Damoure.
And then she enumerated so many plants to be attached to them, that the boss amused himself by making them repeat in the file, under the pretext of retaining the names. Bergeounette advised especially noise and movement. And Duretour, who did not like herbal teas, assured that only a fiancé could bring back the good health that Gabielle had lost.
“Paris is not good for you,” said Mme. Dalignac.
And she urged him to return to his country. The boss grumbled:
-If she leaves, you’ll lose your best mechanic.
Gabielle recognized that Paris was not good for her. In addition, she admitted that he scared her, but she was determined to stay there for another year. She was planning to work hard to raise a little money that would prove to her parents that she was able to live without their help and reasonable enough to marry to his liking. However, as her condition was not improving, Mme. Dalignac was anxious about her drawn features and obliged him to consult Mr. Bon, the day he came to visit the proprietor. As she left her machine to come to him, Mr. Bon looked at her from head to foot. He did not ask him questions, but he deftly untied the buttons that closed the bodice badly and he touched one after the other breasts that one guessed very full and which remained very high, under the shirt.
He smiled as he closed the bodice, then looked straight across Gabielle to say:
-The harm is not great, when a beautiful girl like you puts a child in the world.
He only inquired about his age and sent her back in a friendly tone:
-Go, beautiful youth.
And as Madame Dalignac was waiting with her scissors in the air, he added a little lower, turning to us:
“She’s five to six months old.
Gabielle had gone back to work right away.
But as soon as Mr. Bon was gone, she got up to ask Mrs. Dalignac:
-What did he say I had?
All the machines stopped as if they were waiting for the answer as well.
Madame Dalignac hesitated, then she blushed, replying:
-He said that you would soon have your child.
Gabielle narrowed her brow and listened as people who thought they had misunderstood; however she says between high and low:
-My child … What child?
-But, the one you wear … You must know that you are pregnant.
No, Gabielle did not know it, and everyone understood it with the expression of terror that spread over her already discolored features. She passed her hands around her waist several times and she sat down abruptly. Then her face colored and she stood up saying with a little anger:
-There are only dishonest girls who become pregnant, and I am not one of them.
Bergeounette rebelled as if she received the insult:
Leave the honesty alone! Your pregnancy only proves that you have a lover.
Gabielle’s gaze stopped for a moment on her, then her lips opened as if she were going to talk, but it was her laugh that came out first. He left full of splinters as we had always known him, and almost immediately words followed him. They were words full of laughter and challenge:
“No, she had no lovers. She was not so stupid. She knew too well that a girl who has a lover can have a child, and that a girl who has a child is a dishonest creature that everyone rejects.
“Her lover, she would choose him to marry like his mother and have one or two children, no more, because you first have to give them a good health, and then give them time to learn a good job, so that they in turn can continue to live honestly.
His laughter reappeared as he widened, and the words came back with laughter.
“The lovers could turn around her; they were wasting their time. She did not want to look like Marie Minard who lived in a bad cabin at the end of the country and whose child had become disabled for lack of care. She, too, was a seamstress once, but at the news of her pregnancy, her boss had driven her out of the studio, and since that time it was out of sheer charity that the locals employed her in the construction work. harder. ”
Gabielle’s laugh escaped again with great power as she turned on her heel to show the finesse of her waist.
She seemed so sure of herself, and her body kept such a perfect shape that everyone was forced to believe that Mr. Bon was mistaken. And while the machines were getting back to work, Bergeounette sang the song of earthly paradise ironically:
In this garden full of flowers
The snake met the beautiful,
And he spoke.
Days passed, and as Gabielle was no longer complaining, her companions no longer cared for her. But it was not the same with the boss, he followed her eyes insistently, and one evening, as she was going out, he stopped her:
-Eh! Tell me. Your belt will soon crack.
He added mischievously before Gabielle had found a single word to answer:
“It’s happening now.
It was true. Gabielle’s waist had become so thick that she was tugging on her skirt and forcing the fabric back in front.
Bergeounette, who was holding the door to go out too, came back quickly. She looked like a battle and seemed ready to defend someone, but at first sight on Gabielle, she only said to our address:
-She must not count to herself.
Gabielle had leaned against the cutting table, hiding her face in her arm, like a girl who fears blows.
– Do not be ashamed, go! All girls have lovers, Bergeounette told him.
And slowly she discovered his face.
Then Gabielle spoke in a sorry tone:
-I see it well, that I’m going to have a child, but I do not know how it can be done, since I do not have a lover.
-Has he abandoned you? asked Madame Dalignac.
-Is he dead? asked Bergeounette in turn.
“No,” replied Gabielle again.
Before our silence, she went on:
-Nobody will believe me, and yet I tell the truth. I never had a lover.
-How! You were alone to make this wonder?
“I do not know,” said Gabielle.
And she looked at us as if she expected us to clarify her condition.
Through very specific questions, Bergeounette continued her jokes. And always Gabielle answered with a look of lost dog:
-I do not know.
Then as the boss started to joke too, she started crying.
Madame Dalignac’s sweet face became full of pity:
“Try to torment her,” she said. You see she does not know anything.
She added, placing a hand on Gabielle’s smooth forehead:
-The truth will be self-evident.
The truth came to light the next day. Gabielle, who had taken the time to widen the waistband of her skirt, arrived late against his habit and he had to bother two of his companions to win his place. His swollen eyelids and his manner of passing between the machines with the fear of colliding with them quickly taught each one that Mr. Bon was not mistaken. There were exclamations and laughter among the news, and in the corner of the old, Buledogue listened attentively to what Bergeounette whispered to him.
At the end of the day Bulldog lingered to remind Gabielle of his absence from a whole day following the ball Sunday.
Gabielle did not seem to have forgotten her; for at the first words she became very red and said:
-Yes, I’m sure my misfortune comes from there.
And she told us what she had not dared to say yet, so much had she feared mockery.
She did not know at all how she had left the ball. She only remembered being very hot and drinking with her last dancer. Then, the next day, she woke up well in the afternoon in a room that was not hers. For a long time she had tried to understand, and, failing, she had called, but nobody had come. Then a frightful fear had made him dress in haste and flee the house without looking behind him. Where was this house? What was the street called? Gabielle did not know it, and she knew she would never find either one.
The voice of Bulldog growled:
“You did not have the dress of an honest girl at this ball, and I can say that it was a shame to see you hanging on the neck of your dancers.
“I had so much fun,” said Gabielle.
His innocent look was so natural that a slight laugh escaped the boss.
On the other hand, Buledogue taunted harshly and his sarcasm brought so much confusion to poor Gabielle, that Bergeounette took his defense and repaid Bulldogue:
“You who have your tongue so sure, by dint of going to the ball, you will one day be the same.
“No,” said Bulldogue dryly.
And she blew violently through the nose before adding:
“I go to the ball only to dance.
The work was still in full swing and Gabielle did not lessen her machine than in the past. He only stopped him a little abruptly to ask Bergeounette two questions:
-So! I will also have to give birth?
-Like a married woman?
-Lady yes! All the same, “said Bergeounette, mocking a little.
The machine left a train that took a long time to regain its equilibrium.
When she was in her eighth month, Gabielle was full of revolt. All her anger she did not know to whom to address fell on the unborn child.
“See how he suits me,” she said.
And she threw her arms back to accentuate her deformity.
It soon became impossible to imagine that she had been kind and laughing.
She was now a hard-faced, disenchanted woman who carried her pregnancy like a horrible and unbearable disease. During the day, in the deafening noise of the workshop, she sometimes seemed to forget her condition, but in the evening after the departure of the others, she let all her rancor escape the child.
-I do not want it. He is not mine, she repeated forcefully.
And it spread in imprecations and threats so violent against the innocent that the boss was offended and spoke to silence her.
His wife stopped him:
-Let her say! All her resentment will go away in words, and when her child is there, she will love him.
In the hope of appeasing him, Bergeounette tried to divert his thoughts by telling him about his parents. But it was worse, because the regrets mingled and came to increase the anger of Gabielle.
Since her ball adventure, when she did not foresee the consequences, she had thought every day of her return to the Ardennes. How many times she had seen herself arriving at her parents’ house, dressed in a pretty dress won and sewed with her hands, and how then she had felt her courage doubled, thinking of all the tenderness that awaited her in her house. Now she knew she would not go back to the country. She did not even hope to see her parents again one day; for she was certain that her mother would deny her:
– Until this beautiful lover I refused! she said, and who would pick up stones with both hands and throw them away.
And at the thought of so much contempt for her, Gabielle was carried away to fury or cried endlessly.
Another torment came to afflict him still more.
In the street she could not bear the gaze of the passers-by, although Mme. Dalignac had made her a cloak which covered her to the feet. It was soon the same in the workshop where she attracted the rebuffs of her companions.
Mrs. Dalignac urged everyone to be patient, and constantly affirmed that a pregnancy had never made anyone ill. Sometimes even with very soft gestures she ran her hands over the huge balloon Gabielle was moving forward, and with a pretty smile she said:
“As for me, I know nothing more beautiful than a pregnant woman.
The boss did not fail to say like his wife, and to put an end to Duretour’s mute laugh, he called out to him aloud:
-Is it not true?
And Duretour, his nose on his packages, was clamoring like a kid at school:
Jacques was returning as before to the cutter’s room. The old neighbor of Sandrine had told us a lot about the poor boy’s torments.
His first divorce, which his wife had easily got against him, and at the same time, the great illness that had killed his mother. Then, when he had missed everything in Paris, he had gone to Sandrine’s country to his two little ones and their grandmother, whom he had not known for months. But then again he had missed everything. Sandrine’s mother could not bear her grief, and she had to be driven to the cemetery too. And for the misfortune to be complete, as the children did not bear the name of their father, and there remained no relatives for them, they had been placed in the public welfare as little abandoned. Now Jacques shut himself up every evening with his pain in Sandrine’s little room where he had settled down. His neighbor, who took him in great pity, called us to his aid:
-If no one reaches out to him, he will die too.
And she added with an air of fear:
-There are nights when he cries like crazy.
Jacques’s first visit lasted only a quarter of an hour, and he had left more dead than when he arrived. However, he had returned after a week, and now his visits were more regular. Sometimes he would walk on the opposite side of the street without daring to go up, but the boss who loved him was watching him and making signs to him. It amused him, and he laughed to say, “I’m doing like Bergeounette with his penguin.”
Jacques did not get the signs repeated and soon after his big body appeared in the door. As the days unfolded, he became more expansive, and soon he was able to speak of the past without his voice fading too abruptly.
Mrs. Dalignac imagined a thousand means that would allow her to take back her children, but none was possible. It would have been above all a woman to Jacques.
“Of course,” she said. There is no lack of widowed men who get out of trouble with two children. But Jacques …
And his arm raised very high remained as if suspended.
She naturally came to think of Gabielle who was honest and courageous.
She believed that a marriage between her and Jacques was a reasonable thing that could restore tranquility to both of them and bring them some happiness in the future.
She said to Jacques:
-You will have three children as soon as you enter the household. That is all.
Jacques immediately thought of marrying Gabielle. He found her more to be pitied than he, and all that Madame Dalignac said seemed right to her.
It was not so easy to talk to Gabielle, she was so indifferent to Jacques’ person. He did not count more for her than a sewing machine or the cutting table against which she leaned in her moments of despair, and she had never been worried about her presence, when she displayed her rage or let her tears flow.
Jacques modestly confessed:
-I think she never looked at me.
To attract Gabielle’s attention he offered her several times his arm in the street. She accepted, quite happy to look like a married woman in the eyes of passers-by; but when she reached her door, she pulled her arm away, saying, “Thank you,” with a distracted air, as if someone had simply lent her a cane to help her take a difficult step.
It had to be decided to tell him about this marriage. She answered neither yes nor no. She only allowed excessive surprise. But from that day, she often looked at Jacques and refused his arm to walk in the street.
The month of June arrived with its flowers and its heat. The chestnut trees of the avenue raised their branches to the workshop, and from morning to evening the sun entered through the open windows. Despite this, the boss’s forces were declining and his thinness was increasing.
“He misses the air of the Pyrenees,” said Mr. Bon at each visit. Mrs. Dalignac thought so too. But nothing, no one, could decide the patient to leave Paris. Laying crooked on his deck chair, attentive to all the movements of his wife, he remained to watch without getting tired.
“At least,” begged Monsieur Bon, “do not stay in this dust of tissues, go and breathe outside.
And he pointed out the neighboring avenues, and the Luxembourg Gardens where one could walk or rest at ease.
-Yes, yes, answered the boss, I’ll go out tomorrow.
And the next day he remained as the day before to follow his wife who, without ever getting tired either, lifted the heavy pieces of cloth to the full, to unroll them on the table and cut several clothes at once.
With the good weather the envy of the balcony opposite resumed. He grumbled against those who were fortunate enough to possess him and who did not enjoy it. Indeed, no one ever came to this balcony, as predicted by Bouledogue. It was only used to beat carpets, and already large gray spots appeared on its turned bars and on the whiteness of its stones.
To decide the boss to go out, Mrs. Dalignac decided to send me every day to Luxembourg with him. He was in a bad mood all along the way, and we had not yet arrived at the garden that he was already reminding me of the time of return. He did not believe in his healing and he blamed me for obeying his wife. So, having placed his chair near the exit, he affected to forget my presence, and quickly unfolded his diary, which he put between us. However, he hardly read it, he looked especially at the beautiful walkers, and when one of them offered some resemblance to Mme. Dalignac he again became amiable with me by drawing my attention:
“Say, little Marie Claire, look at this one a little. She looks like him, huh! But all the same, it is not so well done.
It was true, almost always, because it was difficult to be as well done as Mrs. Dalignac.
After a week of grunts and revolts, he took a liking to the garden.
The terrace, all hot with heat, attracted him more than the shade and the coolness of the trees, and when he met a stone bench placed in full sun, he sat down and touched it with his hands as if to take it. all the lukewarmness.
The nursery and the wood had changed a lot since Christmas. The pigeons, all dressed in nine, were now walking two by two, and the sparrows, all occupied with their nests, forgot to quarrel with each other to fly to all the flounces that passed through the air.
Gabielle who could no longer do her full day sometimes came to join us. She turned her back on the passers-by and stood stiffly on the bench, as if she wanted to hide her pregnancy from the blackbirds who ran all worried across the lawn.
Jacques also came to join us. Against Gabielle, he stood on the bench like a hunchback, and did not even try to quell the nervous tremor that abruptly pushed his elbows away from the body and shook him deeply.
To the right and left of us, young mothers, with a peaceful face, watched at a glance their toddlers already big or swing with one hand the small car that served as a cradle to their newborn.
Jacques avoided looking at the children and the mothers, and Gabielle, with her shoulders straight and her eyes closed, cried and lamented in a low voice.
It took less than a week for me to take a taste of the Luxembourg Gardens. I lived there in a kind of enchantment that made me forget the boss and his sulking.
I imagined that the garden was sailing in space, and that its gills with golden spears were only there to maintain the edges.
High among the trees, the queens, all white on their pedestals, made me think of angels ready to fly. And in the distance the towers of Saint-Sulpice, whose only ridge was visible, seemed to be placed in the sky like reefs.