It was Madame who restarted the conversation. "Bécassine," she said, "Not only have I rented out Rose-sur-Loire, but, as I am at the end of the lease for my apartment in Paris, I'm going to quit it. It's too large and expensive. I have no need for more than a single establishment, very simple, very modest, at Versailles." On hearing that I was unable to prevent myself from crying, "Then, it's true Madame is ruined?" so loudly that the passers-by turned round.
"Contain yourself," said Madame, "I'm afraid of becoming a spectacle." She walked a while in silence, with me very contrite beside her, and presently she continued, "No, I'm not ruined, only embarrassed and obliged to cut down because, since the war began, my properties return next to nothing. First, I'll practice economy by having only one small apartment. That will permit me to keep only one maid. And, about that, Bécassine...." She stopped walking and speaking, as though hesitant to say the rest, and me listening, my heart pounding, because I foresaw what was coming.
But at that moment we heard from the roadway a voice that cried, "Madame! Eh! Madame!" We looked. It was our chauffeur calling. He laughed. He said, "That's it, I'm fixed. I saw your line of retreat and I've recaptured you. It bothered me to leave you stranded on the way home from delivering your officer, especially as the lady gave me such a good tip. Climb in, I'll take you home." Madame said it was no great matter, but he insisted and she got in so as not to be on the contrary.
Once we were in the taxi, I was so anxious to know what Madame was thinking about what we had discussed before that I blurted out, "Then, as she doesn't need more than one maid, and Maria is better, Madame will dismiss me."
As soon as that was out of my mouth it became too much for me and I began to sob. I cried, "Oh! là là! Oh! là là! To go among strangers, I who never left her family! I who love Aunt Madame, and Monsieur Bertrand, and the young Madame, and all the family! Oh! là là! Oh! là là!" Madame was overcome.
She took my hands, she consoled me and wiped my tears, and with her own handkerchief, her handkerchief with the crown of a marquise embroidered on the corner. She said, "It is not to dismiss you. I was thinking..."
"... to find you a good place in my vicinity. You would come see me often. But we won't talk more, since it makes you unhappy. I will arrange it." We were so unsettled that we didn't notice that the taxi had been stopped for a while. The chauffeur had to tell us we had arrived. We got out; Madame had trouble getting him to accept twenty sous; he considered himself well-paid with his tip from before. As I pass easily from one idea to another I had the reflection that I was wrong to speak ill of chauffeurs and that there are good people everywhere. I offered him my hand and, as a pleasantry, promised him that if I ever became rich it would be he who would drive my car.
That gave him a good laugh, and Madame too a little. She proceeded to her chamber where I followed her. While I was doing up her housecoat she told me again that I would remain with her, and to think no more of our conversation.
I said yes to be polite, but I thought differently. I ask you who know me: am I the sort to stay in a house where I am no use, to consume the money of a mistress who is as good as bread -- bread from before the war?
No, truly, I'm not the sort of girl to do that. Only, I could not become a maid in another household if it meant leaving a place where I had been almost one of the family. Then what should I do? After twirling my brain for more than an hour I decided to take counsel with Maria. She said to me that the way to solve everything was to find a job in Versailles, not as a maid, but in an office or a factory. Madame would certainly agree that I stay under her roof, and as I would be earning enough to pay for meals, it would cost her nothing. I thought this was an admirable idea. We took it to Madame, who said she liked it, that she was happy to continue to have me with her.
And me too, I was happy. I wanted to be in Versailles already and in my new job. Because, it must be said, though I love my mistress, I love changes and adventure too.
In the days that followed we prepared our move out of the Paris apartment. It was a lot of work! But think, Madame had lived there for more than ten years!
What it took to fill the trunks and baskets! And the breakable furniture had to be wrapped so as not to be damaged in transit. I especially swaddled the little chairs in rags, cotton wool and paper, because I did not have much confidence in the movers. Those guys, they don't know what's good, they have no respect for anything. It made me sorry to see how they swung my lady's furniture around, artistic furniture, one might even say historic, things going back to . . . I don't know, Jeanne d'Arc or Clodion le Chevelu.
We spent the week at that work. When it was done Madame one evening called us, Maria and I, to her little salon. It would make you weep to see it bare and disorderly, that room that had been so beautiful and neat.
Madame told us she was going to put up at a hotel in Versailles. She reminded us to oversee the loading of the trucks next morning and, as soon as it was done and the movers en route, to come rejoin her.
While she was speaking she put on her coat, latched her hand luggage, and was ready to leave, when fortunately Maria, who has a head on her shoulders, asked where we could find her. "In the park, near the Bassin de Cérès, you know, where I always go." "Yes, I know it, Madame." I should say that Maria had gone with Madame to Versailles the time she went to inspect the work of the upholsterers at the new apartment. And, when there was the time, they had walked together.
Then she was on her way. It astonished me a little to hear about some park, a bassin and this Cérès, but I didn't pay it a lot of attention at that moment because I was preoccupied with a mover who was handling the Chinese vases as if they were pots in the kitchen. I was just in time to get them out of his hands before they came to a sad end. While I was dealing with this vandal words passed between us. I was wrong, but to see such an example of carelessness made my blood turn.
The next day, all went according to plan. About six, we were at our train, Maria and I, at Invalides. By the way, our train was packed with soldiers. That surprised me and I remarked on it to the conductor while he was putting a hole in my ticket.