“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
“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
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.”
“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
“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
“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.