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Celestine: The Diary of a Chambermaid $1.00

Author: Octave Mirbeau (translated by Alan Durst).

About: Mirbeau's elegant satire of French society in the wake of the Drefus affair. The story of Celestine, originally an innocent girl who loses her father to a boating accident and, over time, her dignity to the wealthy men who employ her. Still she soldiers on, obtaining at times a measure of revenge on the wealthy and powerful.

By the author of Torture Garden.

Excerpt:

“Celestine!” he exclaimed. “Celestine? The devil! It is a pretty name,—that I do not deny,—but too long, my child, much too long. I will call you Marie, if you are willing. That is a very nice name, too, and it is short. And besides, I have called all my chambermaids Marie. It is a habit which it would distress me to abandon. I would rather abandon the person,”

They all have this queer mania of never calling you by your real name. I was not too much astonished, having already borne all the names of all the saints in the calendar. He persisted:

“So it will not displease you if I call you Marie? That is agreed, is it?”

“Why, certainly, Monsieur.”

“A pretty girl; good character; very well, very well.”

He had said all this to me in a sprightly and extremely respectful way, and without staring at me, without seeming to undress me with his eyes, after the fashion of men generally. Scarcely had he looked at me. From the moment that he entered the room, his eyes had remained obstinately fixed upon my shoes.

“You have others?” he asked, after a short silence, during which it seemed to me that his eyes became strangely brilliant.

“Other names, Monsieur?”

“No, my child, other shoes.”

And with a slender tongue he licked his lips, after the manner of cats.

I did not answer at once. This word shoes, reminding me of the coachman's salacious joke, had astounded me. Then that had a meaning? On a more pressing interrogation I finally answered, but in a voice somewhat hoarse and thick, as if I were confessing a sin of gallantry:

“Yes, Monsieur, I have others.”

“Glazed?”

“Yes, Monsieur.”

“Highly, highly glazed?”

“Why, yes, Monsieur.”

“Good, good. And of yellow leather?”

“I have none of that kind, Monsieur.”

“You will have to have some; I will give you some.”

“Thank you, Monsieur.”

“Good, good! Be still!”

I was frightened, for dull gleams had just passed over his eyes, and drops of sweat were rolling down his forehead. Thinking that he was about to faint, I was on the point of shouting, of calling for help. But the crisis quieted down, and, after a few minutes, he continued in a calmer voice, though a little saliva still foamed at the corner of his lips.

“It is nothing. It is over. Understand me, my child. I am a little of a maniac. At my age that is allowed, is it not? For instance, I do not think it proper that a woman should black her own shoes, much less mine. I have a great respect for women, Marie, and cannot endure that. So I will black your shoes, your little shoes, your dear little shoes. I will take care of them. Listen to me. Every evening, before going to bed, you will carry your shoes into my room; you will place them near the bed, on a little table, and every morning, on coming to open my windows, you will take them away again.”

And, as I manifested a prodigious astonishment, he added:

“Oh! now, it is nothing enormous that I ask of you; it is a very natural thing, after all. And if you are very nice”...

Quickly he took from his pocket two louis, which he handed to me.

“If you are very nice, very obedient, I will often make you little presents. The governess will pay you your wages every month. But between ourselves, Marie, I shall often make you little presents. And what is it that I ask of you? Come, now, it is not extraordinary. Is it, then, indeed, so extraordinary?”

Monsieur was getting excited again. As he spoke his eyelids rapidly rose and fell, like leaves in a tempest.

“Why do you say nothing, Marie? Say something. Why do you not walk? Walk a little, that I may see them move, that I may see them live,—your little shoes.”

He knelt down, kissed my shoes, kneaded them with his feverish and caressing fingers, unlaced them. And, while kissing, kneading, and caressing them, he said, in a supplicating voice, in the voice of a weeping child.

“Oh! Marie, Marie, your little shoes; give them to me directly, directly, directly. I want them directly. Give them to me.”

I was powerless. Astonishment had paralyzed me. I did not know whether I was really living or dreaming. On Monsieur's eyes I saw nothing but two little white globes streaked with red. And his mouth was all daubed with a sort of soapy foam.

At last he took my shoes away and shut himself up with them in his room for two hours.

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