CHAPTER III: THE WEDDING
Patrice, on his wedding-day, was garbed in evening dress, with a white tie, by eight o'clock in the morning. As there was nothing more for him to do in his bedroom, he left it; but, on the landing, he found Gertrude, who very civilly begged him to go back to his room, as the master was coming to see him. Coriolis arrived soon after; and the first thing he did was to rail bitterly at Patrice' attire. He told him that he looked "like a village bridegroom" and asked him to put on a frock-coat or a jacket, unless he wanted to have the Paris street-boys "chi-iking" after him. He added that it was bad enough to have the stupid fashion that compelled girls in the twentieth century to dress up for the altar like virgins of antiquity going to the sacrifice. In short, he found a pretext for venting his temper, which had been execrable during the last forty-eight hours. The young man took off his dress-coat, but, like a good little solicitor's clerk from the Rue de l'Écu, kept on his white tie. He had resolved never again to be astonished at anything. He ascribed the odious snubbings which he was constantly receiving at the hands of his future father-in-law to Coriolis' excessive grief at the prospect of losing his daughter; and he explained in the same way all the curious mystery, all the incredible reticence which had hitherto surrounded the preparations for the ceremony." During the two days which Patrice had spent at his uncle's house previous to his wedding, he had not caught a glimpse of a ribbon, a parcel, a bandbox, a dress, a flower. A nosegay which he had brought home from one of his walks was seized, the moment he entered the hall, by the furious hands of Gertrude, who flung it into the dustbin without a word of explanation. He excused the old servant just as he excused the father: "I am robbing them of a pearl," he said to himself. "It is easy to understand that they can't forgive me." In reality, knowing that he was improving his advantage hour by hour, he took a secret and malicious pleasure in his humiliation and deliberately made himself smaller and more insignificant at the thought of his coming revenge. All the formalities were settled. Patrice had seen the family-solicitor, the mayor and the parish-priest. But he had seen very little of Madeleine, on the day before, and nothing of Mlle. Zoé or of the formidable law-student. But the absence of Zoé and Noël from meals did not trouble him unduly. He had gathered from a few sentences exchanged in a corner between Gertrude and Madeleine that M. Noël had taken the liberty of spending a whole night out and had not come home until ten o'clock in the morning, in such a state that he had to be carried to his room, where he had since been looked after like the prodigal son of the house. This little escapade did, not seem to vex Madeleine particularly; but Coriolis ,was like a bear with a sore head. The civil marriage was fixed for ten o'clock and it was now a quarter to ten. Patrice timidly mentioned the fact to his uncle, who was still in his indoor jacket. Lastly, on looking out of the window, the young man was astonished to see outside the door none of those extraordinary hired landaus in which the felicity of newly-married couples is usually paraded through the streets of the metropolis. "A carriage? " asked Conolis. "What do you want a carriage for?" Patrice turned pale: "Why, isn't it time to go to the town-hall?" "The town-hall's not so far as all that!" retorted his uncle. "We shall walk." The young man gave a start: was that how the old eccentric hoped to escape observation? By walking along the pavement, with his daughter, in white and orangeblossoms, on his arm? Feeling half-stifled, Patrice opened his mouth, if not to utter a sound, at least to breathe. Coriolis gave him a friendly push that sent him breathing out on the landing: "Come along," he said. "We're only waiting for you." Nevertheless, he stopped at the top of the stairs and Patrice saw him lean over the baluster to ask, in a hushed voice: "Can we come down?" Gertrude's voice replied, in the same key: "Yes, it's all right." Then they went down one flight and entered the drawing-room. Madeleine was there with Gertrude. Patrice stepped back in dismay: Madeleine was in black! He could not believe his eyes. There she stood before him, his young bride, wrapped in a dark cloak, with a hood to it, which she wore when she went shopping with Gertrude on rainy days. Having stepped back, Patrice stepped forward. This time, he was trembling with rage. He felt like tearing everything and everybody to pieces: the uncle, the niece and Gertrude. But, even as a ray of sunshine will suddenly appear in the darkest and stormiest of skies, so Madeleine's smile beamed from under the hood, while the cloak parted to reveal the prettiest little bride that Patrice could have imagined in his fondest dreams. At the same time, a delicious smell of natural orange-blossoms — a present from Gertrude, who had crowned her young mistress brow with it — pervaded the whole room. Patrice fell on his knees before Madeleine and kissed her dear little feet, which, shod in white-satin slippers, were hidden in ugly rubber galoshes. The poor young man sobbed aloud: "Why," he asked, amid his tears, "why do you hurt me so? Will you ever tell me why?" Coriolis raised him and pressed him to his heart: "Madeleine will tell you, my boy," said the old man, whose agitation seemed to have reached its height. "Yes, Madeleine will tell you and you will forgive us. Come, kiss your wife, Patrice, and let us hurry to the mayor's. You are quite right, we are late. Let's get it over." "Yes, yes, I want it over," whispered Madeleine, herself moistening Patrice' kind cheeks with her tears. " I want it all over. . . ." "I quite agree with you," said Patrice, in all sincerity, blowing his nose. And he added, lyrically, "It would have been over quicker with a carriage!" But already Madeleine was dragging him to the staircase. She had taken his arm and, with a swift movement, wrapped herself once more in the folds of her ill-fitting cloak. His uncle slipped on an old, worn frock-coat which Gertrude handed him. The old servant was the only one who appeared dressed for the occasion. She had squeezed herself, with some difficulty, into a puce coloured silk which she had had specially made and which not even a furious display of anger on Coriolis' part had induced her to take off. The four of them were going down the stairs, when a door above their heads opened and Patrice heard hurried footsteps. He turned round and saw Mlle. Zoé standing behind them, looking paler than a wax statue. She hardly had the strength, in the excitement that fluttered her shapely breast, to utter words of which Patrice vainly strove to discover the full dramatic sense: "He is at the window!" Coriolis, on the other hand, the moment he heard them, cried: "Oh, dash it all, dash it all! Let's go by the back stairs." For the house had a servants' staircase leading to a little door that opened on an adjacent lane. Only, the doors of that staircase and the staircase itself had remained unused for years without number and the descent by this narrow and gloomy passage, as steep as a well, was a tragic enterprise. They had to battle not only with rusty bolts and hinges, but also with time honoured accumulations of dirt and dust. Fortunately, the antiquated lock that fastened the door on the lane was almost falling to pieces, but for which fact the wedding-party would never have emerged from that awful pit of darkness. When they were at last outside, they all looked at one another. The two men were horribly dirty, but the two women had passed through all that dust as by a miracle, without getting a speck of it on themselves. The uncle shook his nephew, not to brush the dust off him, but to make him hurry up. He took the lead and only turned to mutter: "Come along! Come along!" He walked with his back bent and hugged the wall as though he were trying to hide from observation. But the extraordinary thing was that Madeleine and Gertrude copied this curious attitude. The two women had gathered up their skirts and were hurrying along with hunched shoulders. Patrice in vain tried to obtain an explanation. It seemed that they had no time to answer him; and if he stopped for a single instant, the uncle, or Madeleine or Gertrude would pull him by the hand like a lazy child whom they were afraid of leaving behind. "What a funny wedding!" thought the young man." To look at us, people would say that we were a pack of suspects under the Terror, trying to avoid the agents of the Committee of Public Safety." At last, they reached the town-hall, by strangely circuitous roads. If Patrice had not taken care, on the previous day, to remember the mayor's poor, that functionary would certainly never have waited for him so long. The ceremony was rushed through, as they say, "in five secs." Coriolis had told Patrice not to trouble about witnesses: that was all arranged. And the cobbler, the porter and the commissionaire from the corner duly put in an appearance. As soon as they arrived, Madeleine threw off the dark outer garment that concealed her fresh and youthful charms; and Patrice might have thought that she had dressed only for those rapscallions, had he been capable of thinking of anything at so impressive a moment. To go from the town-hall to the church, they took a closed cab. Their ragamuffin friends followed in an open fly. Coriolis was beginning to do things handsomely. A low mass was quickly said; and, as soon as the register was signed in the sacristy, the witnesses paid and the young couple lawfully married in the sight of God and man, their thoughts turned to breakfast. Coriolis took his party to a celebrated little riverside restaurant which he used to visit in the days of his youth. The old servant had previously taken a bag there, containing an ordinary walking-dress for Madeleine. The trunks, it appeared, had been sent on to the station. The uncle asked for a private room, took Patrice by the arm and tried to lead him into the passage: "Let's leave the women," he said. "Madeleine is going to change her dress." But Patrice kicked at the suggestion: "Look here, uncle, you must admit that I have always done what you wanted; but let me look at my dear Madeleine in her bridal dress for a few minutes longer. It will be the brightest memory of my life." Coriolis grunted a few words which Patrice did not catch; but he dared not, thwart the young man; and Madeleine kept on her beautiful white dress and her wreath of orange-blossoms for the wedding-breakfast. Patrice sat beside his young wife: "She's so pretty, one could eat her, uncle!" he said. "Eat your radishes, in the meantime!" growled Coriolis to his lovelorn solicitor's clerk of a nephew, while Gertrude, who was in a melting mood, shed tears. An unspeakable feeling of peace, tranquillity and calm was shed by that deserted corner of the embankment and that out-of-date, neglected restaurant. After all the tribulations of that memorable morning, Patrice felt entitled to give a sigh of relief. He sighed with happiness over Madeleine's hand, which he raised to his lips, and he was beginning to express the delight which so sweet a moment gave him, when the waiter brought in "the shell-fish." While handing round the oysters, he informed the gentlemen that there was some one asking for them downstairs who seemed very eager to see them. Coriolis rose, looking very pale: "Who is it?" "Oh, I don't know!" said the waiter, with a gesture which obviously meant that the person's identity was a matter of supreme indifference to him. "But. . . but is it a man? A woman?" "It's a woman." "It's Zoé!" cried Madeleine, in a great state of excitement. "Send her up! Send her up at once!" said Coriolis. And, when the waiter had gone, the father and daughter exchanged anxious glances that worried Patrice more than he could say. "What can have happened since we went out? thought Gertrude, aloud. "She must have her reasons for coming." Then Zoé made her entrance. She was bare-headed; her hair had come undone; and she tried in vain, with a feverish movement, to twist and put it up again. Her face expressed the most intense anguish; the dark rims round her eyes told of some great sorrow; and the corners of- her mouth trembled. "Goodness gracious, what's the matter?" asked Coriolis, Madeleine and Gertrude, in one breath. "He's looking for you" "What!" "He's escaped! . . . He knows everything! . . . He ran out of the house like a madman! . . . Take care! . . . He is capable of anything! . . ." And Zoé, panting and exhausted, dropped intoGertrude's lap. "But who, who?" shouted Patrice, failing to understand the terror of those around him. "Who? Noël, if you want to know! Noël!" roared Coriolis, who was holding his head between his hands, as though he were afraid of its dropping off. "But perhaps he will come here," said Gertrude. "Let us fly." "But where, papa? Where are we to fly to ? " moaned Madeleine. "It would be. better not to go down to the street, if he is on our track." I "He has lost the track," gasped Zoé, who was stifling, but who dared not ask Gertrude to loosen her stays before Patrice. "Aha, he has lost the track! " cried Coriolis. "But hasn't he followed you? Are you quite sure of that?" " I followed him. . . . I took a cab. . . . Oh, it's awful, awful !'. . . He's quite mad! . . ." "But mad about what? " asked Patrice, whose irritation was reaching its height. "Mad on Madeleine, if you insist on knowing! . . . Yes, he is madly in love with your wife. . . . He writes poetry to her. . . . Now are you satisfied?" "And are you all in such a state because a gentleman chooses to write poetry to Madeleine? Let the fellow come here; and I'll talk to him: a pretty thing, indeed!" And Patrice showed his fists. Coriolis' shrugged his shoulders and Gertrude shook her sad and obstinate old pate: "Poor Noël, he will never get over it!" she said. Patrice could have torn her eyes from their sockets: "But what do we care about Noël? " he kept on exclaiming in his fury, bewildered by this inexplicable bomb which had burst in the midst of his new-born happiness. Alas, no one bothered about Patrice! Not knowing what decision to take, after cautiously closing the doors and windows, the others feverishly questioned Zoé, who, in short, abrupt sentences, broken by sobs, told so fantastic a story that Patrice wondered if he was not dreaming that he had found his way into a lunatic asylum where the words which you hear spoken have no sense even to those who utter them. "I expect," sighed Zoé," that he was pretending to be dead-drunk for two days on purpose, so as to be left alone: he was up so quick this morning, suddenly, and so soon dressed. And the noise he made: bang, bang! A kick at the cupboard! A kick at the chest of drawers! Kicks everywhere! Bang, bang, bang! A kick at the door when I asked him, from outside, what the matter was. He answered that man-women disgusted him and that Patti Palang Kaing had forbidden him to marry a man-woman, but that the laws of the Forest of Bandong did not forbid M. Noël from attending so fine a ceremony, as long as his honour was not at stake! 'O rot, rot, rot!' was all he said. And that it was no use my dressing in Paris fashions, that I should never be as nice-looking as a female monkey in the huts on the swamps! However, the worst was that he kept on going to the window, while he dressed — I peeped through the key-hole and saw him moving about — as though he were watching for something in the street. . . . Oh, some one must have told him. . . and yet it seems hardly possible! . . . What comforted me was that you had already started. . . . He went back to the looking-glass and knotted his tie quite three times over, saying unpleasant things to me, all the while, through the door. . . .Then, when he wanted to put his boots on his shoe-hands, he was seized with a fury that made me shake on the landing where I stood. . . . I heard him gnash his teeth and fling his boots all over the room. . . . Oh, I was sorry that we did not follow our first plan! . . . But he deceived us by pretending to be dead-drunk. . . . Yes, I ought to have taken him at once to the Jardin d'Acclimation.1 He knows nobody and forgets everything when he is at the Jardin d'Acclimation. We would have lunched there quietly, he and I together, and I would have invited the giraffe." "I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon," said Patrice, venturing to interrupt, "but I don't quite under. . ." "Hold your tongue and listen! " shouted Coriolis. Coriolis was walking up and down the room, kicking the furniture as angrily as M. Noël had done. He turned to Zoé: "But, after all, what was the matter with him? He could not suspect. . . ." "Nonsense!" said Zoé. "If he had not suspected something, would he have made such a row? He threw a pair of boots into the street. I asked him what was the matter. He answered, in an awful voice, which I shall not forget, if I live to be a hundred, 'Don't you smell orange-blossom?' . . . I could have dropped! I smelt nothing on that storey. . . no one of the Race could have. . . and then it was long since Madeleine had run down, ever so fast, and gone out. . . . Well, he, with his nose from the Forest of Bandong, smelt the orange-blossom through the floors, the stairs, the doors and the walls! . . ." 1 The Jardin d'Acclimatation, which Zoé calls "the Jardin d'Acclimation," is the Zoological Garden on the north side of the Seine, in the Bois de Boulogne; the Jardin des Plantes is the Zoological Garden on the south side. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. "Excuse me, uncle," Patrice interrupted again, "excuse me if . . ." But Patrice was unable to continue. Coriolus had made a rush at Gertrude and was shaking the charms and trinkets which she wore round her neck, over her puce dress, until the young man and Madeleine had to interfere to save that old friend of the family from being nearly throttled. Uncle Coriolis could not forgive the servant for rousing M. Noël's scent with a flower which would not have smelt at all, if Gertrude had not taken it into her head to present Madeleine with a wreath of real blossoms. At last, Patrice triumphantly took Gertrude in his arms. She promptly renewed her expressions of pity for M. Noël; and the bridegroom as promptly dropped her in a chair, where she sat, a poor, moaning thing. No one had so much as touched the oysters. And, at Madeleine's request, while Coriolis continued to kick at the walls — without disturbing the neighbours, for that once famous, but now neglected little restaurant had no other customers but themselves — Zoé resumed her narrative in the face of the bewildered Patrice: "So he must have smelt the wreath of orange-blossoms through the door. Then he opened the door. I never saw him look so pale in my life. 'It's a scent,' he said, 'which people wear on their wedding-day. I have read that in men's books. Is anyone in the house being married to-day?' I must have been very much upset, for he stared at me with a sad smile and said, 'Poor Zoé, you're looking none too well yourself!' And he went downstairs, pushing me gently out of his way and lifting his nose in the air to sniff the orange-blossom. He went straight to the drawing-room, where Madeleine had sat waiting for Patrice. When he came out again, his face was terrible to see. He had the strength to ask me a few questions with his trembling lips: where was Madeleine? I said that she had gone out. Then he wanted to know about M. Patrice and you, sir. I did not know what to answer and was making up a story, saying you would all be home soon, when he put on his terrible Bandong gong-voice: 'The scent of orange-blossoms is what people wear at monsieur le maire's!' he said. And, with that; he rushed down the stairs and into the street and I after him. . . . At first, he was rather at a loss. He hunted for the scent, without finding it. It was not on the pavement. He sniffed the air in every direction. At last, he walked round the house, went up the lane and picked up the scent near the side-door. . . . He took no notice of me at all, did not hear a word I said to him. . . . He was soon out of the lane and I had the greatest difficulty in following him. He went along at a mad rate, with his nose still in the air, pushing against the people, the horses, the carriages and even stopping the omnibuses. . . . I saw him, from the distance, go into the town-hall and come out again almost at once. . . . Knowing that you were going to take a cab at the town-hall, I said to myself, 'Perhaps he'll lose the scent-because of the cab. . . .' " "I beg your pardon," Patrice broke in once more, "I beg your pardon. I know the smell of orange-blossom is very strong, but I can't understand . . ." "That'll do!" shouted his uncle. " You will never understand anything. . . . Go on, Zoé.. . . He left the town-hall . . ." "Yes, he left the town-hall and, still with his nose in the air, still knocking up against the people in the street, he went to the church. . . . From there, he took the road that seemed to lead here. . . . This time, I caught him up and tried to speak to him. He threw me at the foot of a wall, like a bundle of washing, and started running, running, running. . . . I jumped into a cab, meaning to come and warn you in time, if I could, when I saw him, at the corner of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, go straight ahead, instead of turning down the street that leads to this place. . . . I thought I must find out where he was going. . . . He ran along the boulevard, ran on, with his nose in the air, jostling people aside, and, without a moment's hesitation, walked into a very 'swagger' lunching place, the Restaurant de Mouilly, I believe. . . . 'What does he mean to do there?' said I to myself. . . . Suddenly, I understood: there was a whole row of landaus, with a wedding brougham, drawn up along the pavement! . . . On leaving the town-hall and the church Noël had smelt another wreath of orange-blossoms, had pitched upon another weddingparty! . . . What he did to them I do not know. . . . I heard them screaming like mad. . . . I saw people rush to the windows and shout for help as if the house was on fire. . . . And that's all I can tell you. . . . I came on here. . . . You are safe, for the moment. . . . But the poor fellow is out of his senses. . . . I never saw him like it before. . . trembling from head to foot and rolling his eyes. . . . Oh, how they must have 'caught it' at the other wedding!" Thus spoke pretty little Zoé, in her despair; and, when she had done, she gave free play to her tears. "If only nothing happens to him. . . at that wedding party!" muttered Coriolis, stopping his perambulations for a minute. Patrice bent over Madeleine, who appeared to be sadly and silently pursuing some distant thought: "What are you thinking of?" "I think as papa does: if only nothing happens to him at that wedding-party!" And so there was no thought, no care, in that room, for anyone except the wild lunatic who had crossed the path of Patrice' happiness like a dangerous beast! "It's too bad!" he protested. Zoé interrupted him: "I don't think you need fear anything on that score; you know it's impossible to catch him. . . . He comes. and goes and disappears as he pleases! . . . No, I am much more afraid that, when he discovers his mistake, he will go back to the town-hall and the church and find the real scent. If he keeps cool, he can do anything with his nose!" "What do you mean, he can do anything with his nose?" yelled Patrice, struggling against the state of stupefaction into which Zoé's queer speeches were beginning to plunge him. Zoé stared at him in amazement: why, didn't he know yet? Patrice read both grief and mischief in her eyes. "Ah," she said, without replying to his astonished outburst, "we none of us look like people at a wedding, considering that this is a wedding-day! . . . The best thing you could do would be to take the first train and not to wait until the evening. That's my advice to you!" "But why, why, why? I want something to eat!" protested Patrice, "I want to eat in peace and quiet! Don't you want to eat in peace and quiet, Madeleine? It's no reason, because a maniac. . ." He did not finish his sentence. "There he is!" cried Zoé, who was leaning out of the window. Oh, what a flight! . . . Coriolis dragged or rather carried in his arms the fainting Madeleine. Gertrude hustled Patrice, pushing him in front of her, digging at him with her fists. At the corner of a little staircase which Coriolis seemed to know of old, he turned and, tearing the fatal wreath of orange-blossoms from Madeleine's forehead, in spite of Patrice' yapping expostulations, flung it to Zoé: "Here, stay here, you, and stop him! Lock him in!" And, roughly thrusting Zoé back, he shoved the rest of the band down the well of the little staircase. Meanwhile, M. Noël, with quivering nostrils, was climbing the main staircase of the once-famous little restaurant. Patrice and Madeleine, accompanied by Coriolis and Gertrude, arrived at the Gare d'Austerlitz in time to see the Auvergne express steam out of the station. The next was a slow train, stopping at every suburb on the line. Patrice declared that his wife and he would go by it. He was eager to leave Paris, to be alone with Madeleine and question her and get rid of all the horrible thoughts that oppressed his heart. Then, suddenly, Madeleine, who had not spoken a word since their headlong departure from the restaurant, closed her eyes and fell in a dead faint on the platform. An indescribable confusion and excitement ensued. Madeleine was still wearing her wedding-dress. The sight of this bride swooning at a railway-station attracted all the passengers and emptied the trains that stood waiting to start. The guards and stokers left their posts, the porters dropped their loads, the waiters came running out of the refreshment-room. Above the stir of the crowd rose Gertrude's yells and the angry shouts of Coriolis, who distributed kicks all round. Soon the rumour ran that a girl had been married against her will and poisoned herself, there, before everybody, on the railway-platform, rather than accompany her husband. Men glared at Patrice, who, in his white tie, was obviously the bridegroom, as though they could have murdered him. Fortunately, Madeleine opened her eyes and gazed at the young man with a look of fond affection which con tained as it were an entreaty that he would pardon her for the outrageous wedding-day which they had given him. And Madeleine's lips also parted to emit a word that gave poor Patrice the shudders: "Home!" "Yes," growled Coriolis, who was as red in the face as his daughter was pale and who seemed threatened with an apoplectic stroke, "let's go home: I can't let you leave in this state of weakness." "My poor young lady!. My poor young lady!" whined Gertrude. "It'll be the death of her. . . . Indeed it'll be the death of her. . . and of him too!" At these words, Patrice, who knew to whom that cry of pity referred, lost control of himself and, going up to Gertrude from behind, bit with all his teeth and all his might through the sleeve of puce-coloured silk that covered the tough arm of the old friend of the family. Gertrude howled with pain. Patrice assumed an air of innocence and begged her to moderate her grief. As far as he was concerned, he said, he objected to Madeleine's returning home. Thereupon, the crowd all went for him, threatened to do for him, treated him as a savage and loudly pitied the young and charming girl who had been "sacrificed to such a brute!" A lady gave Madeleine her smelling-salts; a gentleman who declared himself to be a doctor stooped down to unlace her stays. Patrice made up his mind to die like a hero. Snatching his wife in his arms, he rushed through the crowd and out of the station. He had the luck to find a taxi and put Madeleine into it amid a chorus of execrations. "Where to?" asked the driver. "Down the Auvergne Road!" shouted Patrice. But Coriolis, running up, ordered: "Rue de Jussieu!" And he called Patrice' attention to Madeleine, who had closed her eyes again. Gertrude, before taking her seat, gave a last word of warning: "Rue de Jussieu? . . . But suppose he's there, sir?" To which Coriolis replied: "If he is, you know there's no one like Madeleine to bring him to his senses." And Madeleine's lips opened once more: "Yes, he will listen to me." The taxi moved off. The crowd began to thin. Someone observed: "They had much better drive to the nearest chemist! Marriages like that ought not to be allowed!" Patrice was fool enough to show his face at the window and was greeted with boos and jeers: "Ugh! . . . Bluebeard! Bluebeard!"