Louise: An Episode in London Chambers

I AM beginning to think, since Louise came to our chambers, that not even in a circulating library are there greater possibilities of romance than in one’s kitchen. Not that I engaged her to supply me with romance. On the contrary, the one service I asked of her was to attend to my household work, and, as a rule, the more that is kept to plain prose, the better I am pleased.

Her coming at all was the merest chance. For the third time since we had moved into chambers, I happened to be servantless. My first experiment, with a young Englishwoman, had, in a month, very nearly finished in the police court; my second, with an elderly Englishwoman, had sent her in four years, poor soul! to the grave; and now I could not summon up courage to face for the third time the scorn which the simple request for a “general” meets in the English Registry Office. That was what sent me to try my luck at a French Bureau in Soho where, I was given to understand, it was possible to inquire for, and actually obtain, a good bonne àa tout Jaire and escape without insult. The result was Louise.

She was announced one dull November morning, a few days later. I found her waiting for me in our little hall, — a woman of about forty, short, plump, with black eyes and blacker hair and a smile that was a recommendation in itself. But after my experience with the young English “general,” the powder on her face, the sham diamonds in her ears, seemed to hang out danger signals, and my first impulse was to show her the door. It was something familiar in the face under the powder, above all in the voice when she spoke, that made me hesitate. “Provençale?” I asked. “ Yes, from Marseille,” she answered, and I showed her instead into my room.

I had often been “down there” where the sun shines and skies are blue, and her Provencal accent came like a breath from the south through the gloom of the London fog, bringing it all back to me, — the blinding white roads, the gray hills sweet with thyme and lavender, the towns with their “antiquities,” the little shining white villages, — M. Bernard’s at Martigues, and his diningroom, and the Marseillais who crowded it on a Sunday morning, and the gayety and the laughter, and Désiré in his white apron, and the great bowls of Bouillebaisse. ... It was she who recalled me to the business of the moment. Her name was Louise Sorel, she said ; she could clean, wash, play the lady’s maid, sew, market, cook — but cook ! au mouins, she would show Madame, and, as she said it, her smile was enchanting. I have never seen such perfect teeth in woman or child; you knew at a glance that she must have been a radiant beauty in her youth. A Provencal accent, an enchanting smile, and the remains of beauty, however, are not precisely what you engage a servant for, and, with a sudden access of common sense, I asked for references. Surely, Madame would not ask the impossible, she said reproachfully. She had but arrived in London, she had never gone as bonne anywhere; how then could she give references ? She needed the work and was willing to do it: was not that sufficient ? I got out of it meanly by telling her I would think it over. At that she smiled again, — really, her smile on a November day almost warranted the risk. I meant to take her; she knew; Madame was kind.

I did think it over, — while I interviewed frowsy English “generals” and stray Italian children, dropped upon me from Heaven knows where, while I darned the family stockings, while I ate the charwoman’s chops. I thought it over indeed, far more than I wanted to, until, in despair, I returned to the Soho Bureau to complain that I was still without a servant of any kind. The first person I saw was Louise, disconsolate, on a chair in the corner. She sprang up when she recognized me. “Had she not said Madame was kind ? ” she cried. “Madame had come for her.” I had done nothing of the sort. But there she was, this charming creature from the south ; at home was the charwoman, dingy and dreary as the November skies. To look back now is to wonder why I did not jump at the chance of having her. As it was, I did take her, — no references, powder, sham diamonds, and all. But I compromised. It was to be for a week. After that, we should see. An hour later she was in my kitchen.

A wonderful week followed. From the start we could not resist her charm, though to be on such terms with one’s servant as to know that she has charm, is no doubt the worst possible kind of bad form. Even William Penn, the fastidious, was her slave at first sight, — and it would have been rank ingratitude if he had not been, for, from the ordinary London tabby average people saw in him, he was at once transformed into the most superb, the most magnificent of cats! And we were all superb, we were all magnificent, down to the snuffy, tattered old Irish charwoman who came to make us untidy three times a week, and whom we had not the heart to turn out because we knew that if we did, there could be no one else foolish enough to take her in again.

And Louise, though her southern imagination did such great things for us, had not overrated herself. She might be always laughing at everything, as they always do laugh “down there,” — at the English she could n’t understand, at “Mizé Boum,” the nearest she came to the charwoman’s name, at the fog she must have hated, at the dirt left for her to clean. But she worked harder than any servant I have ever had, and to better purpose. She adored the cleanliness and the order, it seemed, and was appalled at the dirt and slovenliness of the English, as every Frenchwoman is when she comes to the land that has not ceased to brag of its cleanliness since its own astonished discovery of the morning tub. Before Louise, the London blacks disappeared as if by magic. Our wardrobes were overhauled and set to rights. The linen was mended and put in place. And she could cook! Such risotto!—she had been in Italy — Such macaroni! Such bouillebaisse! Throughout that wonderful week, our chambers smelt as strong of ail as a Provencal kitchen.

In the face of all this, I do not see how I brought myself to find any fault. To do myself justice, I never did when it was a question of the usual domestic conventions. Louise was better than all the conventions — all the prim English maids in prim white caps — in the world. Just to hear her talk, just to have her call that disreputable old “Mizé Boum” ma belle, just to have her announce as La Dame de la Bouillebaisse a friend of ours who had been to Provence and had come to feast on her masterpiece and praised her for it, — just each and every one of her charming southern ways made up for the worst domestic crime she could have committed. I admit to a spasm of dismay when, for the first meal she served, she appeared in her petticoat, a dishcloth for apron, and her sleeves rolled up above her elbows. But I forgot it with her delightful laugh at herself when I explained that, absurdly it might be, we preferred a skirt, an apron, and sleeves fastened at the wrist. It seemed she adored the economy too, and she had wished to protect her dress and even her apron.

These things would horrify the model housewife; but then I am not a model housewife, and they amused me, especially as she was so quick to meet me, not only half, but the whole way. When, however, she took to running out at intervals on mysterious errands, I felt that I must object. Her first excuse was les affaires; her next, a friend; and, when neither of these would serve, she owned up to a husband who, apparently, spent his time waiting for her at the street corner; he was so lonely, le pauvre! I suggested that he should come and see her in the kitchen. She laughed outright. Why, he was of a shyness Madame could not figure to herself. He never would dare to mount the stairs and ring the front doorbell.

In the course of this wonderful week, there was sent to me, from the Soho Bureau, a paragon of a Swiss girl with as many references as a Colonial Dame has grandfathers. Even so, and despite the inconvenient husband, I might not have dismissed Louise, — it was so pleasant to live in an atmosphere of superlatives and ail. It was she who settled the matter with some vague story of a partnership in a restaurant and work waiting for her there. Perhaps we should have parted with an affectation of indifference had not J. unexpectedly interfered. Husbands have a trick of pretending superiority to details of housekeeping until you have had all the bother, and then upsetting everything by their interference. She had given us the sort of time we had n’t had since the old days in Provence, he argued; her smile alone was worth double the money agreed upon; therefore double the money was the least I could, in decency, offer her. His logic was irreproachable, but housekeeping on such principles would end in domestic bankruptcy. However, Louise got the money, and my reward was her face when she thanked me — she made giving sheer self-indulgence — and the risotto which, in the shock of gratitude, she insisted upon coming the next day to cook for us.

But, in the end, J’s indiscretion cost me dear. As Louise was determined to magnify all our geese not only into swans, but into the most superb, the most magnificent swans, the few extra shillings had multiplied so miraculously, by the time their fame reached the Quartier, that Madame of the Bureau saw in me a special Providence appointed to relieve her financial difficulties, and hurried to claim an immediate loan. Then, her claim being disregarded, she wrote to call my attention to the passing of the days and the miserable pettiness of the sum demanded, and to assure me of her consideration the most perfect. She got to be an intolerable nuisance before I saw the last of her.

We had not realized the delight of having Louise to take care of us, until she was replaced by the paragon — an industrious, sober, well-trained woman, with all the Swiss stolidity and Swiss surliness, and as colorless as a self-respecting servant ought to be. I was immensely relieved when, after a fortnight, she found the work too much for her. It was just as she was on the point of going that Louise reappeared, her face still white with powder, the sham diamonds still glittering in her ears, but somehow changed, — I could not quite make out how. She had come, she explained, to present me with a ring of pearls and opals and of suipassing beauty, at the moment pawned for a mere trifle — here was the ticket; I had but to pay, add a smaller trifle for interest and commission, and it was mine. As I never have worn rings, much though I should have liked to oblige Louise, I did not care to begin the habit by gambling in pawn tickets. Her emotion when I refused seemed so out of proportion, and yet was so unmistakably genuine, that it bewildered me.

But she pulled herself together almost at once and began to talk of the restaurant which, I learned, was marching in a simply marvelous manner. It was only when, in answer to her question, I told her the Demoiselle Suisse was marching not at all and was about to leave me, that the truth came out. There was no restaurant, there never had been—except in the country of Tartarin’s lions; it was her delicate invention to spare me any self-reproach I might have felt for turning her adrift at the end of her week’s engagement. She had found no work since. She and her husband had pawned everything. Tiens, — and she emptied before me a pocketful of pawn tickets. They were without a sou. They had had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours. That was the change. I began to understand, — she was starving, literally starving, in the cold and gloom and damp of the London winter, she who was used to the warmth and sunshine, to the clear blue skies of Provence. If the aliens who drift to England, as to the Promised Land, could but know what awaited them!

Of course, I took her back. She might have added rouge to the powder, she might have glittered all over with diamonds, sham or real, and I would not have minded. J. welcomed her with joy. William Penn hung rapturously at her heels. We had a risotto, golden as the sun of the Midi, fragrant as its kitchens, for our dinner.

There was no question of a week now, — no question of time at all. It did not seem as if we ever could manage again, as if we ever could have managed, without Louise. And she, on her side, took possession of our chambers and, for a ridiculously small sum a week, worked her miracles for us. We positively shone with cleanliness, London grime no longer lurked, the skeleton in our cupboards. We never ate dinners and breakfasts more to our liking, never had I been so free from housekeeping, never had my weekly bills been so small. Eventually, she charged herself with the marketing, though she could not, and never could, learn to speak a word of English; but not even the London tradesman was proof against her smile. She kept the weekly accounts, though she could neither read nor write, — in her intelligence, an eloquent witness to the folly of general education. She was, in a word, the most capable and intelligent woman I have ever met, so that it was the more astounding she should also be the most charming.

Most astounding of all was the way, entirely, typically Provempale as she was, she could adapt herself to London and its life and people. Though she wore in the street an ordinary felt hat, and in the house the English apron, you could see that her hair was made for the pretty Provencal ribbon, and her broad shoulders for the Provencal fichu. , Vé, and au moxdns were as constantly in her mouth as in Tartarin’s. Provencal proverbs forever hovered on her lips. She sang Provencal songs at her work. She had ready a Provencal story for every occasion. Her very adjectives were Mistral’s, her very exaggerations Daudet’s. And yet she did everything as if she had been a “ general ” in London chambers all her life. Nothing came amiss to her. After her first startling appearance as waitress, it was no time before she was serving at table as if she had been born to it, and with such a grace of her own that every dish she offered seemed a personal tribute. Even people who had never seen her before would smile back involuntarily as they helped themselves. It was the same no matter what she did. She was always gay, however heavy her task. To her even London, with its fogs, was a galéjado, as they say “down there.” And she was so appreciative. We would make excuses to give her tilings for the pleasure of watching the warm glow spread over her face and the light leap to her eyes. We would send her to the theatre for the delight of having her come back and tell us about it. All the world, on and off the stage, was exalted and transfigured as she saw it.

But frank as she was in her admiration of ail the world, she remained curiously reticent about herself. “As my poor grandmother used to say, you must turn your tongue seven times in your mouth before speaking,”she observed to me once; and I used to fancy she gave hers a few extra twists when it came to talking of her own affairs. Some few facts I gathered,— that she had been, at one time, an ouvreuse in a Marseille theatre; at another, a tailoress, — how accomplished, the smart appearance of her husband in J’s old coats and trousers was to show us; and that, always, off and on, she had made a business of buying at the periodical sales of the Mont de Piété and selling at private sales of her own. I gathered also that they all knew her in Marseille; it was Louise here, Louise there, as she passed through the market, and everybody must have a word and a laugh with her. No wonder! You could n’t have a word and a laugh once with Louise and not long to repeat the experience. But to her life when the hours of work were over, she offered next to no clue.

Only two or three figures flitted, pale shadows, through her rare reminiscence. One was the old grandmother whose sayings were full of wisdom, but who seemed to have done little for her save give her, fortunately, no schooling at all, and a religious education that bore the most surprising fruit. Louise had made her first communion, she had walked in processions on feast days. J’adorais fa, she would tell me, as she recalled her long white veil and the taper in her hand. But she adored every bit as much going to the Salvation Army meetings, — the lassies would invite her in, and lend her a hymnbook, and she would sing as hard as ever she could, was her account. Her ideas on the subject of the Scriptures and the relations of the Holy Family left me gasping. But her creed had the merit of simplicity. The Boun Dion was intelligent, she maintained; il dime les gens honnetes. He would not ask her to hurry off to church and leave all in disorder at home, and waste her time. If she needed to pray, she knelt down where and as she was, and le Boun Diou was as well pleased. He was a man like us, was n’t he ? Well then. He understood.

There was also a sister. She occupied a modest apartment in Marseille when she first dawned upon our horizon, but so rapidly did it expand into a palatial house in town and a palatial villa by the sea, both with cellars of rare and exquisite vintages and stables full of horses and carriages, that we looked confidently to the fast-approaching day when we should find her installed in the Elysée at Paris. Only in one respect did she never vary by a hair’s breadth: this was her hatred of Louise’s husband.

Here, at all events, was a member of tlie family about whom we learned more than we cared to know. For if he did not show himself at first, that did not mean his willingness to let us ignore him. He persisted in wanting Louise to meet him at the corner, sometimes just when I most wanted her in the kitchen. He would have her come back to him at night; and to see her, after her day’s hard work, start out in the black sodden streets, seldom earlier than ten, often as late as midnight; to realize that she must start back long before the sun would have thought of coining up, if the sun ever did come up on a London winter morning, made us too uncomfortable. It was a question not of her physical well-being, but of our peace of mind. The husband, however, was not to be moved by our messages, — he was too shy to grant an interview; he would n’t hear of doing without her; he would rather starve; he could n’t get along without her. We did not blame him: we could n’t either. That was why, after several weeks of discomfort to all concerned, it occurred to us that we might invite him to make our home his; and we were charmed by his condescension when, at, last, conquering his shyness, he accepted our invitation. The threatened deadlock was thus settled, arid M. Auguste, as he introduced himself, came to us as a guest for as long as he chose to stay. There were friends — there always are — to warn us that what we were doing was sheer madness. What did we know about him, anyway ? Precious little, it was a fact, — that he was the husband of Louise, neither more nor less. We did not even know that, it was hinted. But if Louise had not asked for our marriage certificate, could we insist upon her producing hers ?

It may have been mad, but it worked excellently. M. Auguste as a guest was the pattern of discretion. I had never had so much as a glimpse of him until he came to visit us. Then I found him a good-looking man, evidently a few years younger than Louise, well-built, rather taller than the average Frenchman. Beyond this, it was weeks before I knew anything of him except the astonishing adroitness with which he kept out of our way in our small chambers. He quickly learned our hours and arranged his accordingly. After we had begun work in the morning, he would saunter down to the kitchen and have his coifee, the one person of leisure in the establishment. After that, and again in the afternoon, he would stroll out to attend to what I take were the not too arduous duties of a horse-dealer with neither horses nor capital, — for as a horse-dealer he described himself when he had got so far as to describe himself at all. At noon, and at dinner time, he would return from Tattersall’s, or wherever his not too exhausting business had called him, with a small paper parcel supposed to contain his breakfast or his dinner, our agreement being that he was to supply his own food. The evenings he spent with Louise. I could discover no vice in him except the, to us, disturbing excess of his devotion to her. You read of this sort of devotion in French novels and do not believe in it. But M, Auguste, in his exacting dependence on Louise, left the French novel far behind. As for Louise, — though she was no longer young, and beauty fades early in the south, I have never met, in or out of books, a woman who made me understand so well the reason of the selfishness some men call love.

M. Auguste’s manners to us were irreproachable. We could only admire the consideration he showed in so persistently effacing himself. J. never would have seen him, if on feast days — Christmas, New Year’s, the 14th of July — M. Auguste had not, with great ceremony, entered the dining-room at the hour of morning coffee, to shake hands and wish J. the compliments of the season. With me, his relations grew less formal, for he was not slow to discover that we had one pleasant weakness in common. Though the modest proportions of that brown paper parcel might not suggest it, M. Auguste knew ami liked what was good to eat; so did I. Almost before I realized it, he had fallen into the habit of preparing some special dish for me, or of making my coffee, when I chanced to be alone for lunch or for dinner. I can still see the gleam in his eyes as he brought me in my cup and assured me that he, not Louise, was the artist, and that it was something of extra — but of extra! — as it always was. Nor was it long before he was installed chef in our kitchen on the occasion of any little breakfast or dinner we might be giving. The first time I caught him in shirtsleeves, with Louise’s apron flapping about his legs and the bib drawn over his waistcoat, he was inclined to be apologetic. But he soon gave up apology. It was evident there were few things he enjoyed more than cooking a good dinner, — unless it was eating it, — and his apron was put on early in the day. In the end, I never asked any one to breakfast or dinner without consulting him, and his menus strengthened the friendliness of our relations.

After a while he ran my errands and helped Louise to market. I found that he spoke and wrote very good English, and was a man of some education. I have preserved his daily accounts, written in an unusually neat handwriting, always beginning “Mussy: 1 penny;” and this reminds me that not least in his favor was his success in ingratiating himself with William Penn, — or “Mussy” in Louise’s one heroic attempt to cope with the English. M. Auguste, moreover, was quiet and reserved to a degree that would not have discredited the traditional Englishman. Only now and then did the Midi show itself in him, — in the gleam of his eye over his gastronomic masterpieces; in his pose as horsedealer and the scale on which the business he never did was schemed, — Mademoiselle, the French dressmaker from Versailles, who counted in tens and thought herself rich, was dazzled by the way M. Auguste reckoned by thousands, — and once, luckily only once, in a frenzied outbreak of passion.

He was called to Paris, I never understood why. When the day came he was seized with such despair as I had never seen before, as I trust I may never have to see again. He could not leave Louise, he would not. No! No! No! He raved, he swore, he wept. I was terrified, but Louise, when I called her aside to consult her, shrugged her shoulders. “We play the comedy in the kitchen,” she laughed, but I noticed that her laughter was low.

I fancy when you played the comedy with M. Auguste, tragedy was only just round the corner. With the help of Mademoiselle she got him to the station; he had wanted to throw himself from the train as it started, was her report. And in three days, not a penny the richer for the journey, he had returned to his life of ease in our chambers.

Thus we came to know M. Auguste’s virtues and something of his temper, but never M. Auguste himself. The months passed, and we were still conscious of mystery. I did not inspire him with the healthy fear he entertained for J., but I cannot say he ever took me into his confidence. What he was when not in our chambers; what he had been before he moved into them; what turn of Fate had stranded him, penniless, in London with Louise, to make us the richer for his coming; why he, a man of education, was married to a woman of none; why he was M. Auguste while Louise was Louise Sorel — I knew as little the day he left us as the day he arrived. J. instinctively distrusted him, convinced that he had committed some monstrous crime and was in hiding. This was also the opinion of the French Quarter, as I learned afterwards. It seems the Quartier held its breath when it heard he was our guest, and waited for the worst, only uncertain what form that worst would take, — whether we should be assassinated in our beds, or a bonfire made of our chambers. M. Auguste, however, spared us and disappointed the Quartier. His crime, to the end, remained as baffling as the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask, or the secret of Kaspar Hauser.

That he was honest, I would wager my own reputation for honesty, even if it was curious, the way his fingers gradually covered themselves with rings, a watchchain dangled from his waistcoat pocket, a pin was stuck jauntily in his necktie. Her last purchases at the Mont de Piété, pawned during those first weeks of stain - ing in London, and gradually redeemed, was Louise’s explanation; and wh\ should we have suspected M. Auguste o’ coining by them unlawfully when he never attempted to rob us, though we gave him every opportunity ? He knew where I kept my money and my keys. He was alone with Louise in our chambers, not only many a day and evening, but ouce for a long summer.

We had to cycle down into Italy, and William Penn could not be left to care for himself, nor could we board him out without risking the individuality of a cat who had never seen the world except from the top of a four-story house. Louise and M. Auguste, therefore, were retained to look after him, which, I should add, they did in a manner as satisfactory to William as to ourselves. Every week I received a report of his health and appetite from M. Auguste, in whom I discovered a new and delightful talent as correspondent. “Depuis votre départ,” said the first, “cette pauvre bete a miaulé après vous tous les jours, et il est constamment à la porte pour voir si vous ne venez pas. Il ne commence vraiment a en prendre son parti que depuis bier. Mais tous ces soucis de chat [for that charming phrase what would one not have forgiven M. Auguste ?] mais tous ces soucis de chat ne l’empêchent pas de bien boire son lait le matin et manger sa viande deux fois par jour.” Nor was it all color of rose to be in charge of William. “Figurez-vous,” the next report ran, “que Mussy a dévoré et abîmé complètement une paire de bas tout neufs que Louise s’était achetée bier. C’est unvrai petit diable, mais il est si gentil qu’on ne pent vraiment pas le gronder pourcela.” It was consoling to hear eventually that William had returned to normal pursuits. “Mussy est bien sage, il a attrapé une sonris hier dans la cuisine — je crois bien que Madame ne trouvera jamais un aussi gentil Mussy.” And so the journal of William’s movements was continued throughout our absence. When, leaving J. in Italy, I returned to London, — met at midnight at the station by M. Auguste with flattering enthusiasm, — Mussy’s condition and behavior corroborated the weekly bulletins. And not only this. Our chambers were as clean as the proverbial new pin; everything was in its place: not so much as a scrap of paper was missing. The only thing that had disappeared was the sprinkling of gray in Louise’s hair, and for this M. Auguste had volubly prepared me during our walk from the station: she had dyed it with almost unforeseen success, he told me. so triumphantly that I put down the bottle of dye to his extravagance.

If I know M. Auguste was not a thief, I do not think he was a murderer. How could I see blood on the hands of the man who presided so joyously over my pots and pans? If he were a forger, my trust in him never led to abuse of my cheque book; if a deserter, how came he to be possessed of his livret militaire, duly signed, as my own eyes are the witness; how could he venture back to France, as I know he did, for I received from him letters with the Paris postmark ? An anarchist, J. was inclined to believe. But I could not imagine him dabbling in bombs and fuses. To be a horse-dealer, without horses or money, was much more in his line.

Only of one thing were we sure: however hideous or horrible the evil M. Auguste had worked “down there,” under the hot sun of Provence. Louise had no part in it. She knew, — it was the reason of her curious reticences, of her sacrifice of herself to him in That he loved her was inevitable. Who could help loving her? She was so intelligent, so capable, so graceful, so gay. But that she should love M. Auguste would have been incomprehensible, were it not in the nature of woman to love the man who is most selfish in his dependence upon her. She did all the work, and he had all the pleasure of it. He was always decently dressed, there was always money in his pocket, though she, who earned it, never had a penny to spend on herself. No matter how busy and hurried she might be, she had always the leisure to talk to him, to amuse him when he came in, always the courage to laugh, like the little Fleurance in the story. What would you ? She was made like that. She had always laughed, when she was sad as when she was gay. And while she was making life delightful for him, she was doing for us what three Englishwomen combined eould not have done so well, and with a charm that all the Englishwomen in the world could not have mustered among them.

She had been with us about a year when I began to notice that, at moments, her face was clouded and her smile less ready. At first, I put it down to her endless comedy with M. Auguste. But, after a bit, it looked as if the trouble were more serious even than his histrionics. It was nothing,she laughed when I spoke to her; it. would pass. And she went on amusing and providing for M. Auguste and working for us. But by the time the dark days of November set in, we were more worried about her than ever. The crisis came with Christmas.

On Christmas Day, friends were to dine with us, and we invited Mademoiselle, the French dressmaker, to eat her Christmas dinner with Louise and M. Auguste. We were very staid in the dining-room, — it turned out rather a dull affair. But in the kitchen, it was an uproarious feast. Though she lived some distance away, though on Christmas night London omnibuses are few and far between, Mademoiselle could hardly be persuaded to go home, so much was she enjoying herself. Louise was all laughter. “You have been amused?” I asked, when Mademoiselle, finally and reluctantly, had been bundled off by J. in a hansom.

“Mais oui, mais oui,” M. Auguste cried,-pleasure in his voice. “Cette pauvre Mademoiselle! Her life, it is so sad, she is so alone. It is good for her to be amused. We have told her many stories, — et des histoires un tout petit pen salees, n’est-ce pas ? pour egaver cette pauvre Mademoiselle ?”

It was the day after the feast that Louise had to give in. She confessed she had been in torture while she served our dinner and Mademoiselle was there. She could hardly eat or drink. But why make it sad for all the world because she was in pain? and she had laughed, she had laughed!

We scolded her first. Then we sent her to a good doctor. It was worse than we feared. The trouble was grave, there must be an operation without delay. The big tears rolled down her cheeks as she said it. She looked old and broken. Why, she moaned, should this sorrow come to her? She had never done any harm to any one: why should she have to suffer ? — Why indeed ? Her mistake had been to do too little harm, too much good to others, — to think too little of herself. Now, she had to pay up for it as one almost always does pay up for one’s good deeds. She worried far less over the pain she must bear than over the inconvenience to M. Auguste when she could no longer earn money for him.

We wanted her to go into one of the London hospitals. We offered to take a room for her where she could stay after the operation until she got back her strength. But — we must not think her ungrateful — the mere idea of a hospital made her desperate. And what would she do in a room avec un homme cumme ça? Besides, there was the sister in Marseille,— and, in the hour of her distress, her sister’s horses and carriages multiplied like the miraculous loaves and fishes, the vintages in the cellar doubled in age and strength. And she was going to die; it was queer, but one knew those things; and she longed to die là-bcis, where there was a sun and the sky was blue, — where she was at home. We knew she had not a penny for the journey. M, Auguste had seen to that. Naturally, J. gave her the money. He would not have had a moment’s comfort if he had not,— the drain upon your own emotions is part of the penalty you pay for having a human being and not a machine to work for you,— and he added a little more to keep her from want on her arrival in Marseille, in case the sister had vanished or the sister’s fortunes had dwindled to their original proportions. He exacted but one condition: M. Auguste was not to know there was more than enough for the journey.

Louise’s last days with us were passed in tears, — poor Louise! who until now had laughed at Fate. It was at this juncture that M. Auguste came out strong. I could not have believed he had it in him. He no longer spent his time dodging J. and dealing in visionary horses. He took Louise’s place boldly. He made the beds, cooked all our meals, waited on us, dusted, opened the door, while Louise sat, melancholy and forlorn, in front of the kitchen fire. On the last day of all — she was not to start until the afternoon Continental train’—she drew me mysteriously into the dining-room, she shut the door with every precaution, she showed me where she had sewed the extra sovereigns in her stays. M. Auguste should never know. “ Je pars pour mon long voyage,” she repeated. “J’ai mes pressentiments.” And she was going to ask them to let her wrear a black skirt I had given her, and an old coat of J.’s she had turned into a bodice, when the time came to lay her in her coffin. Thus something of ours would go with her on the long journey. How could she forget us? How could we forget her? she might better have asked. I made a thousand excuses to leave her; Louise playing “the comedy” had never been so tragic as Louise in tears. But she would have me back again and again, and again, to tell me how happy she had been with us.

“Why, I was at home,” she said, her surprise not yet out-worn. “ J’etais chez moi et j’étais si tranquille. I went. I came. Monsieur entered. He called me. ‘Louise.’ —‘Oui, monsieur.’ — ‘Voulezvous faire ceci ou cela?’ — ‘Mais oui, monsieur, de suite;’ and I would do it and Monsieur would say,‘Merci, Louise,’ and he would go olf.—And me, I would run quick to the kitchen or upstairs to finish my work. J’étais si tranquille!” The simplicity of the memories she treasured made her story of them pitiful as I listened. How little peace had fallen to her lot that she should prize the quiet and homeliness of her duties in our chambers.

At last it was time to go. She kissed me on both cheeks. She gave J. one look, — then she flung herself into his arms and kissed him too on both cheeks. She almost strangled William Penn. She sobbed so, she could n’t speak. She clutched and kissed us again. She ran out of the door and we heard her sobbing down the three flights of stairs into the street. J. hurried into his workroom. I went back to my desk. I don’t think we could have spoken eilher.

Two days afterwards, a letter from M. Auguste came to our chambers so empty and forlorn without Louise. They were in Paris. They had had a dreadful crossing, — he hardly thought Louise would arrive at Boulogne alive. She was better, but must rest a day or two before starting for the Midi. She begged us to see that Mussy ate his meals bien régufièrement, and that he “made the dead” from time to time,as she had taught him; and, would we write ? The address was “Mr. August, Horse-dealer, Hôtel du ChevalBlanc, Rue Chat qui pèche àa la Ligne, Paris.”

Horse-dealer ! Louise might be at death’s door, but M. Auguste had his position to maintain. Then, after ten long days, came a post-card, also from Paris: Louise was in Marseille, he was on the point of going, once there he would write. Then — nothing. Had he gone ? Could he go ?

If I were writing a romance, it would, with dramatic fitness, end here. But if I keep to facts, I must add that, in about eight months, Louise and M. Auguste reappeared, that both were in the best of health and spirits, M. Auguste a mass of jewelry; that all the sunshine of Provence seemed let loose in the warmth of their greeting; that horse-dealing for the moment prospered too splendidly for Louise to want to return to us, — or was this a new invention, I have always wondered, because she found in her place another Frenchwoman who wept at the prospect of being dismissed to make room for her?

Well, anyway for a while, things, according to Louise, continued to prosper. She would pay me friendly visits and ask for sewing, — her afternoons were so long, — and tell me of M. Auguste’s success, and of Provence, though little enough of her recent visit there; there were the old reticences. By degrees, a shadow fell over the gayety. I fancied that “ the comedy” was being played faster than ever in the Soho lodgings. And, of a sudden, the fabric of prosperity collapsed like a house of cards. She was ill again, and again an operation was necessary.

There was not a penny in her pockets nor in M. Auguste’s. What happened? Louise had only to smile, and we were her slaves. But this time, for us at least, the end had really come. We heard nothing more from either of them. No letters reached us from Paris, no postcards. Did she use the money to go back to Marseille ? Did she ever leave London ? Did M. Auguste’s fate overtake him when they crossed the Channel ? Were the Soho lodgings the scene of some tremendous crime passionel? For weeks I searched the police reports in my morning paper. But neither then nor to this day have I had a trace of the woman who, for over a year, gave to life in our chambers the comfort and the charm of her presence there. She vanished.

I am certain, though, that wherever she may be,she is mothering M. Auguste, squandering upon him all the wealth of her industry, her gayety. her unselfishness. She could n’t help herself, she was made that way. And the worst, the real tragedy of it, is that she would rather endure every possible wrong with M. Auguste than, without him, enjoy all the rights women not. made that way would give her if they could. She has convinced me of the truth I already more than suspected:— it is upon the M. Augustes of the world that the Woman Question will eventually be wrecked.