Nevertheless, as he leant listening, his face was blanched.
The steps drew nearer.
" I know, of course, they go to the room on the other side; a moment more, and they will pass," he told himself, holding his breath.
But the steps halted, and a timid tap came.
" It is a child with a bill—the laundress's child. I know thoroughly it is the laundress's child—I do not hope ! " he lied, tearing the door open.
And Frisonnette stood there, asking to come in.
" I have run away," she quavered. Her teeth were chattering, and her fashionable coat was caked with snow. " I should have come long ago—only, I was ashamed".
" You are real? " said Floromond, touching her. " You are not a dream? "
" Every day I have longed to be back with you, and at last I could bear no more. Do you think you might forgive me if you tried ? "
" There is a tear on your cheek, and your dear little nose is pink with the cold, and the snow has taken your feathers out of curl," he answered, laughing and crying. " Let us pretend there are logs blazing up the chimney, and we will draw one chair to the hearth and tell each other how miserable we have been—or better than that, how happy we are ! "
But still she clung to him, shivering and condemning herself.
" And so," she repeated, " I ran away. It is a habit I am acquiring. Finot is furious; he has dismissed me; I have no job and no money. I have come back with nothing, my Floromond, but the clothes I stand up in. And—and why do I find you with an empty coal-scuttle? "
" Ma foi ! " he stammered, loath to deepen her distress, " as usual, that imbecile of a charbonnier has neglected to fulfil the order".
" He becomes intolerable," she faltered. " Is that why I notice that your tobacco-pouch is empty, too? "
" Oh, as for the tobacco-pouch," said the young man, " in this ferocious weather I have been reluctant to put on my hat".
" It is natural," murmured Frisonnette. But her eyes were frightened, and she investigated the cupboard. And when the cupboard was discovered to be as empty as the pouch and the coal-scuttle, she rushed to him in a panic.
" You are starving ! " she moaned. " You have starved here, while I- Mon Dieu, I have not come home too soon ! "
" Tut, tut," said Floromond ; " are you trying to pose me for a hero of romance? I have been an idle vagabond, that is all. The cat is out of the bag, though—you have come home, ma Frisonnette adorée, and I have nothing for your welcome but my embrace ! " And thinking of the want that lay before her, he broke down.
" I love you, I love you, Floromond," she wept.
" I love you," he sobbed, " I love you, Frisonnette".
Then, in the fading daylight, arose a plaintive cry—the wail of the itinerant wardrobe dealer : " Chand d'habits ! "
" Chand d'habits ! " she gasped, and darted to the window. " Chand d'habits ! " she screamed— and stripped the smart costume from her and stood triumphant in her petticoat. Before the dealer's aged legs had toiled up half the stairs, she was back in the little old frock that had been cast aside. " Hook me, my Floromond ! " And her eager arms were laden, and her frozen hands showered raiment on the floor: the peignoir, and tricot, and dresses—the pink, and the mauve, and the plaid. " We dine to-night! " she laughed. " Enter, Chand d'habits ! "
" And, word of honour," observed Floromond, when the clocks of Paris had sounded twelve, and the pair sat digesting their beef-steak, and toasting their toes, and she rolled another cigarette for him, " word of honour, you have never looked more captivating than you do now—that frock becomes you marvellously. At the same time, the fine clothes I have been gobbling lie somewhat heavy on my sensibilities, particularly the fascinating ribbons of the peignoir. If only I had kept my nose to the grindstone ! Ah, if only we had something better to expect than this hand-to-mouth existence ! Alas, on New Year's Day, I cannot give you even a bunch of flowers".
And, at that moment, hurrying feet approached the house—young and excited voices were heard below. And what should it prove to be-?
Well, what it should have proved to be was, that his " Ariadne " had, in some ingenious way, been purchased, for a large sum, without his knowledge, and that a contingent of the quarter had arrived to proclaim his affluence; but, as a matter of semi-sober fact, it was only a posse of exhilarated students, wishing everybody the compliments of the season, and playing Le Chemin de VAmour on a trombone.
Still, there was a beautiful morning, as we know, when Floromond and Frisonnette had flowers on their own balcony, and three rooms, and chairs that they had actually bought and paid for—to say nothing of the baby. The Moral of which is, that there are more New Year's Days than one and it's never too late to hope. So let us all hope now !