" Next, please," said the fat woman, shrugging her shoulders.
" Madame," began Suzanne, vehemently, " I must ask you to find another femme-de-menage for me immediately, if you please—your Angélique that I settled with here has never turned up ! "
" There you are ! " cried Pariset. " Everybody says the same thing".
" Mais, monsieur ! " snorted the proprietress. " Your affair is finished—the business of mademoiselle does not concern you".
" Pardon, madame, my affair is not finished ; on the contrary, my need is dire. I have offspring who clamour for female ministrations, voyons. Mademoiselle will accept my apologies ? "
" They are superfluous, monsieur," said Suzanne, acknowledging his bow. " But, madame, my case is urgent ! I go into my new appartement in the morning, and there is nobody there yet to shake a mat or light a fire".
" And what a job it is to light a fire ! " put in Pariset, with fellow feeling.
" The life they lead us, these bonnes ! " responded Suzanne.
" Above all, mademoiselle, when one has two little children and is without experience. Figure yourself my confusion ! "
" Dreadful, monsieur ! I can imagine it".
" What do you expect me to say to you, you two ? " shouted the fat woman, banging the table. " I tell you that there is no bonne waiting just now. Am I le bon Dieu to create model domestics out of the dust on the office floor? "
And at this instant the door opened, and there entered briskly a comely wench, wearing an apron, and no hat.
" Ah ! " gasped Pariset and Suzanne together.
" Ah! " exclaimed the fat woman, jubilant. " Everything arranges itself! Now I know this one. I recommend her. You can take a place to-day, Marceline ? Good ! It is forty francs a month, as usual, and you sleep in, hein? "
" Fifty. And I sleep out—with my aunt," said Marceline, promptly, seizing the circumstances.
" I agree," announced the eager clients, in a duet.
" Mais, monsieur-" remonstrated Suzanne, dismayed.
M Mais, mademoiselle-" expostulated Pariset.
..." Enfin, take her ! I yield her to you. My children pine for her care, but we will suffer ! "
" I am averse from appearing selfish, monsieur-"
" Ah, chivalry forbids that I wrench this unique boon from your arms, mademoiselle".
" No ! She is for monsieur," said Suzanne, in a burst of magnanimity.
The proprietress picked up her pen. " Monsieur resides-? "
" No matter. I renounce my claim in favour of mademoiselle".
The proprietress dipped the pen in the inkpot: " Mademoiselle goes to the Maison Severin, n'est ce pas? "
" What ? " cried Pariset. " The Maison Severin ? It is at the Maison Severin you have taken a flat, mademoiselle ? Why, that is my address, too ! What storey are you on ? "
" The fourth".
" And I! Listen, an idea, a compromise. If you would be so generous, might you not lend her to me now and then? "
" But everything arranges itself," repeated the fat woman, joyously. " Mademoiselle and monsieur can share her to perfection. Marceline, you would render service in two little appartements on the same floor? "
" That is worth more money," said Marceline; and proceeded to estimate the suggestion at a monstrous figure.
However, her views were modified at last. The fat woman made entries in a tattered book. Suzanne heard the gentleman give his name as " monsieur Henri Pariset." Pariset did not hear the lady give her name, because the proprietress, of course, knew it already. Far from suspecting each other's identity, the Challenger and the Challenged exchanged cheerful smiles. Then Marceline was prevailed upon to fetch her box forthwith, and the elated journalist and the charming girl who thirsted for his blood bore their domestic gaily to the rue Baba together.
" How things happen ! " said Pariset, as they went along.
" N'est ce pas ? " said she. " All the same, my flat cannot be got ready by the morning now".
" I don't see why not; my own share of her this evening will be slight. Let her put my babies to bed at once, and then you can have all you want of her. As to my dinner, I will eat at a restaurant".
" Ah, mais non, if it is not your custom ! " said Suzanne. " She can manage your dinner all right —she will have no cooking to do for me. I am at a pension de famille till to-morrow".
And as they reached the house, the concierge remarked, by way of welcome : " It is not unfortunate that you have returned, monsieur. Your twins have been disturbing the whole district".
" But they are adorable, your twins ! " exclaimed Suzanne, with genuine admiration, for now they were tranquil and beamed. " I cannot pretend to know whether they are big or small for four years old, but they are darlings".
" Not bad," said Pariset, who thought the world of them himself. " Well, then, when Marceline has tucked them up she shall come to you straightway, and it is agreed that you are to monopolise her as long as you like".
Half an hour passed.
" Monsieur ! " cried Marceline, reappearing. " Eh, bien—you cannot find the children's nightgowns ? "
" Si, si. The little ones sleep. But the compliments of mademoiselle, and would monsieur be so amiable as to lend her the feather-brush from his broom-cupboard ? "
" Take all she wants. How goes it opposite? "
" There is enough for two persons to do ! "
" I don't doubt it," said Pariset. " Inquire of mademoiselle whether I can be of any assistance".
But on second thoughts he was prompted to put the question himself.
In a long blue apron, with her sleeves rolled up, she told him that he couldn't. And he took off his coat and got to work. What a sweeping and a polishing there was ! Nine o'clock had struck when - he began to hang the curtains, and the dinner at the pension de famille was a thing of the past.
" Evidently, mademoiselle," he said, from the top of a step-ladder, " you also will have to dine out this evening. What do you say to leaving Marceline to put the finishing touches now, and taking nourishment in my company? "