October had come. The wedding toilets ended one after the other, and there was nothing left but the white dress that had to be made at the last moment to keep it fresh.
It was Sandrine and Bulldogue who took care of this work. Madame Dalignac gave them white aprons that covered them up to the feet, and they settled for a moment at the end of the table.
Madame Doublé returned as had been predicted by Sandrine. She twirled the models on which the dresses were, and after penciling lines on a piece of paper, she left the studio as she had entered, without saying a word.
The voice of Bulldog rumbled behind her:
-She takes us for dogs.
At the same moment Duretour raised his nose to the ceiling and uttered a little fluty voice that said:
Now the boards were overflowing with stuffs and the laughter of the first days had stopped. The evening at the exit, we did not take the time to chat under the gate. Bulldog was spinning fast in the light of the gas beaks. Bergeounette, who was also in a hurry, was not always in the direction of his home, and Duretour, tightly pressed against his betrothed, quickly dragged him towards the Rue de la Gaite.
Sandrine lived on a street close to mine and we went up part of Maine Avenue together. Once, she had left me to run to meet her Jacques who came to meet her.
I had often heard Jacques talk to Sandrine, as Bergeounette called him. But when I saw him he made me think of something unfinished. He was much taller than Sandrine. However, when she took her arm to lean on hers, it seemed to me that she would have had no trouble wearing it like a little child.
Jacques and Sandrine were not fiancés, like little Duretour and her mechanic. They were lovers who had always loved each other.
Sandrine’s mother had fed them together and for a long time they thought they were brother and sister. Then Jacques’ parents had taken their son back to college. But every year they sent him back to spend his holidays in the little village. So when, at the age of twenty, Sandrine had come to Paris for work, she was already the mother of a little girl.
She had confessed it without shame or fear to Mme Dalignac. And immediately she had asked to take some work at night to increase the price of her day.
She knew his job thoroughly. She was sweet and cheerful. And from the first days Madame Dalignac had taken her in friendship.
Since then, another child had come to him, a little boy who was about three years old, and whom the grandmother was raising in the country with the little girl.
Jacques was a cashier in a big bank house. He lived with his mother, whom he was now living with as his father died, but he spent all his evenings with Sandrine making columns of figures that never ceased. The same table and the same lamp served them, and both worked bravely until midnight to earn something for their little ones.
For now, there was something changed in their intimacy. Jacques no longer came to meet Sandrine, and he left her alone to watch in the little room. Sandrine did not care. Jacques had told him that he was obliged to stay with his mother who was very ill and that explanation was enough for him. She was happy and calm, as if she had been Jacques’ legitimate wife, and she said with a smile full of confidence:
“I know that my Jacques will never marry me, but I know too well that nothing will separate us.
It was to her that I owed my entrance to Madame Dalignac’s house. Chance had brought us together on a Sunday on a bank of the boulevard. We had talked about sewing, and she had offered me the place of mechanic who was free in her workshop.
I too had taken a friendship immediately. I did not know if she felt herself drawn to me; for she seemed indifferent to everything that was not her Jacques or her children. But when she looked up at me, she always seemed to be offering me something.
On the day set for the young client’s wedding, Sandrine put the dress in the cardboard box, so that she could dress the bride herself and make sure no stitch had been forgotten. She liked doing this job and Mrs. Dalignac knew she was doing it perfectly. Also, she only told him how to dispose the veil to the new fashion. It was especially necessary that the crown of orange blossoms retain the folds of tulle very much behind.
-Hold, like this.
And Madame Dalignac draped a stiff muslin over Duretour’s hair, and she picked up at random a strip of linen, which she wrapped around her forehead as a crown.
Sandrine did not laugh like us at the revolted mines of Duretour. She followed attentively the gestures of Mme. Dalignac, and when she herself had rounded some fold under the band of linen, she left all light and full of confidence.
The activity was still slackening a bit when a major order was over. Bulldog took his time. The boss crossed his arms, and Bergeounette looked more than needed through the window.
Bergeounette was the oldest after Sandrine. She had taken her place in front of the window and had never wanted to give it to anyone.
The boss said she was making signs to a penguin that was passing on the sidewalk opposite, but Ms. Dalignac said it did not prevent him from sewing very fast and very well.
Nobody knew the real name of Bergeounette and no one was worried about it.
The first day she entered the shop, she refused to do the housework, claiming that her way was as good. The boss who did not like to be contradicted was carried away by shouting to her that she was as stubborn as a Briton.
She immediately stood up to answer with pride:
-I am one. I am a real Barzounette.
The boss had mocked:
-How do you say that?
But Bergeounette had taunted him:
-I say like that, sir. And you will not be able to repeat it, because the people of the South will never be able to pronounce that word.
The boss had laughed instead of getting angry, and he had yielded to the stubborn, calling him Bergeounette’s head.
She continued to show the same stubbornness for all that was not her idea.
The boss’s furious cries or the gentle remonstrances of his wife had no hold on her; and he had to give in at the end.
Apart from this defect, which often brought disputes, she was always ready to render service to others. Moreover, she was in the right mood and never sought quarrels. Her great joy was to be listened to, when she spoke of her Brittany, she said:
-The moor is gray, but the gorse is more yellow than the broom.
She spoke of the sea as a person she would have loved dearly.
-When I was little, she said, I ran on the rocks to see her better, and when she began to foam, I thought she was dressed in white for a party, and that all the waves the followed in procession.
In the windy days, Bergeounette felt a real anxiety and never failed to tell us:
There will be boats at the coast.
Sometimes she would open the window and look at the sky as if she were looking for the boats at risk. Then she stared at the clouds for a long time, and often, as she sat down again, she sang in a slow and distant voice:
Where do you come from, beautiful cloud,
Brought by the wind?
Do you come from this beach,
What do I see while dreaming?
Our gaiety faded abruptly after Sandrine’s return. She came back from the client’s house with a face so upset that everyone thought that something had happened to the dress.
The boss and his wife did not dare to question him. They were waiting for what she was going to say, but she walked past them without speaking, and instead of sitting down, she remained standing near her stool.
Her shoulders were tight and her eyes were so wide that they hurt to see. And suddenly, she turned against the wall to support her forehead.
Then the boss did not hold it anymore. He rushed out shouting in his ears:
-The dress? the dress?
Sandrine’s eyes passed on him and on us, and she spoke at once. She spoke vivaciously; and what she said was so confused that it seemed that no one would ever understand anything. However, when she stopped, everyone knew that the dress was fine, that the veil had been arranged in the new fashion, and that poor Sandrine had just learned that her Jacques was married to a rich girl for a long time. week already.
There was a terror that seemed to command silence. Then the boss lowered his head and drew back to his stool, while his wife walked slowly towards Sandrine, as if she were drawn against her will.
It was Bulldog who brought back the noise by launching injurious words to Jacques. Bergeounette shook her shoulders as if she wanted to get rid of an awkward cloak. Little Duretour began to cry aloud. And when at last I looked back at the sewing machine, I realized that I was tightly pressing the burette against my chest, and that the oil was dripping on my clothes.
It was at Jacques’ mother’s house that Sandrine had learned of her misery. As the old lady had always shown her friendship, she had not been able to resist the desire to go upstairs and get in touch with her. But there, instead of a patient, she had found a healthy and cheerful person who had told him right away:
-Jacques made a beautiful marriage.
And after giving many details about the happiness of her son and the beauty of his daughter-in-law, she had gently dismissed Sandrine, saying:
-Go quickly dress your bride.
All day Sandrine cried. She screamed like a little child, and her pain seemed so great that we could find nothing to say to her.
She stopped to repeat in an anguished tone:
-Why? but why?
Precisely, the day before, Jacques had spent a few moments in the small room, and he had left carrying a photograph of the children.
And Sandrine’s brow wrinkled, and her eyes seemed to turn inside as if to search her memory:
-Why? but why?
She fell asleep against the wall and the sound of the stools did not wake her, leaving the workers.
I stayed to wait for her wake up to accompany her home. For her part, Madame Dalignac was talking about pulling the cage-bed from her corner, to extend it into the workshop.
Sandrine awoke to the sound of the doorbell.
It was Jacques who came to the news. He was frightened, and he had neither hat nor overcoat, despite the wet and cold weather.
Sandrine shook her whole body when he saw him, and he, advancing, seemed to implore his pity:
And Sandrine, holding out both her hands as if to protect him, replied at once:
They stood for a long moment looking at each other.
Jacques’s face expressed so deep a tenderness that it occurred to me that nothing had changed between them. But it faded quickly, for both began to cry miserably.
Sandrine made no reproach. She only says through her tears:
-How will I do to raise the children?
Jacques wanted to speak too, but the words he had to say came out of his mouth with difficulty.
His voice remained deep in his throat, and he pressed his friend’s hands more, as if that were enough to make him understand. Then he began to pull on the back of a chair whose feet were held by the cross of the table. He pulled hard, and when he managed to pull the chair out, he breathed with satisfaction as if he had done something absolutely necessary. Shortly after, he looked fearful again, and he looked towards the door with a movement that made him stretch his back.
Sandrine did not try to hold him back, but just as he was leaving her to join his new wife, she polished with his fingertips the plastron of his shirt, the folds of which were breaking.
The next day, no one saw her crying.
However, she kept a tick that pulled her mouth hard. And at any moment his gaze went around the studio as in search of a lost object.
We were getting close to All Saints’ Day, and all the customers were asking for their clothes for that day. An activity full of apprehension filled the workshop. Madame Dalignac distributed the work to us with a worried forehead, and the indications which she gave absently were not always understood. Bergeounette, who no longer took the time to look out the window, was ill-advised to observe, and Duretour, who could no longer laugh, began to cry at the slightest reproach. Bulldog grumbled and said we were doing the work of two days in one. Nobody answered him, but the nervous movements increased. A coil rolled under the table, or a pair of scissors fell noisily on the floor.
Bulldog never arrived late for the workshop, but she never gave a minute more than she needed to. At midday, or at seven o’clock sharp, she would get up from her stool, and if one of us lingered to finish a few points, she would look at her crookedly and say:
– A day’s work is enough.
Now she was constantly in a bad mood and was roughing everyone up.
Madame Dalignac tried to calm her down:
-Allons, Bulldog, still a little courage, soon we will be less in a hurry.
But Bulldog, instead of calming himself, stood up and answered very loudly:
-If you did not always say yes to your clients, they would be forced to wait for their dresses to be made.
She sat down a little shaking, and she added:
-I also, I would like a new dress for All Saints. Still, I’ll have to do without it.
The boss did not know how to restrain himself either. He threw himself on Bulldog and shouted at him in the face:
– My wife is a saint! Do you hear?
And Bulldogue, who was not yet appeased, answered by nudging him with his elbow:
-I know it well.
When Bulldog was angry, her voice seemed to rise from deep within herself. It rang out loudly, and sounded like a knock on an oak tree.
The boss remained intimidated, and Bergeounette, who feared nothing and no one, was silent in those moments.
The day after that day, Sandrine did not come. Madame Dalignac noticed at once that she was out of place. And since none of us knew the cause of her absence, she spoke of sending someone to her home, fearing that she would be ill.
The tall Bergeounette was already putting on her apron; but the boss pressed him strongly on the shoulder to keep her quiet.
“That Bergeounette! he said. She always has a foot in the air to run outside.
He thought that Sandrine was only late, and that she would arrive from one moment to the next.
The fear that Sandrine was ill came to me too. For the last two days she had had a severe cold, and the evening before, on her way back into the rain, she had had a hard time coming up the avenue with her bundle of work, which was not heavy, however.
I wanted to say that to Mrs. Dalignac, but little Duretour said she almost missed it too, because her fiance had wanted to leave her.
His voice was full of laughter, and the boss had a pitying mockery forcing his accent:
“At least, little boy! did you remember him, this man?
“He is as stubborn as I am,” said Duretour. He wanted to walk on the Avenue du Maine, and I wanted to go on the boulevard Montparnasse. So he got angry. He pulled his arm off my waist and he strode off.
-And did you run behind him like a little dog? said the boss again.
-Oh! no, replied Duretour. When I saw that he was leaving for real, I lost my head and shouted, “Thief!”
Nobody wanted to laugh. We thought of Sandrine and the hard work, and Duretour did not dare to say the end of his story.
Sandrine arrived at the moment when everyone had stopped thinking about her.
She came to ask permission to rest all day. She apologized saying that she had a fever and that it was impossible for her to work.
His eyes were bright and his lips red, but his face looked very dim.
Almost immediately she had a coughing fit.
It seemed as if she had something cracked in her throat, and Duretour shouted to her:
“Stop, then, you cough like an old man.
Sandrine began to laugh through her cough, then she said striking her chest with her clenched fist:
-It’s the first time a cold hurts so much.
As soon as she left, Mrs. Dalignac seemed to worry about him and the boss grumbled:
-It would only be missing that she was sick.
The next day she missed again, and Duretour, who had gone on the news, reported that the fever had increased, and that Sandrine was unable to rise.
Madame Dalignac’s gaze settled for a long moment on the half-made dresses that were spread everywhere. And the boss was already talking about taking a new worker to replace Sandrine.
His wife prevented him from further agitation by saying:
-I will work every night until midnight. That is all.
She added with a slightly embarrassed look, turning to us:
-If one of you wants to do the same, we will take care together.
Nobody answered. But in the evening, as nine o’clock struck, Bergeounette arrived at the same time as me. And almost immediately, Bulldog entered in his turn.
The boss was greatly surprised when she saw her. He could not believe she wanted to watch too.
-Oh! it’s for Sandrine, “replied Bulldog, with his ungraceful air.
And each one began to work in silence.
The boss had taken a corner of the table. He drew an embroidery trim for a coat, and though his charcoal was often broken in his fingers, he was not impatient as usual.
The following vigils were more animated.
Bulldog and the boss bickered, or Bergeounette complained of the unbearable life she was leading in her household.
Bergeounette’s complaints were always so comical that no one took pity on her. Even the morning she arrived with a bruised eye and a bleeding cheek, everyone laughed at seeing him look sadly sad to say:
-If my husband did not beat me, I would be the happiest of women.
To sew quietly under the lamp, she ended up forgetting her troubles, and the vigils did not end without her talking at length about the sea and her Brittany.
She often repeated the same things, but we never tired of hearing them, and it was as if she had started a very beautiful song again, when she said:
-The sea is like a blind and deaf person whose power and strength would have no limits. She screams, she knocks, she grinds, and her waves, thrown like mad riders along the ribs, tear them apart and crumble them endlessly.
dizziness and sickness feeling
Bulldog growled with a little fear:
– It’s a bad beast that the sea.
But Bergeounette quickly resumed:
There are days when she is so peaceful and so soft that you want to lie down on her to sleep a long time.
Then, without anyone knowing why, she suddenly starts dancing under the sun. It looks like she is swinging the folds of her dress. And the waves full of foam make him like a multitude of white petticoats.
We listened to it, and no one would have dared to interrupt it, when she recited like a litany the names of the boats and fishermen of the little port where she was born:
“Our Lady of Suffering” at Locmael.
“The Volante”, to the Turbe guy.
“The Forban”, to old Guiscrif.
The night she spoke of the fishing nets that were drying at the end of the masts, and which floated finer and lighter than a bridal veil, she firmly assured:
-There are some who are blue like the dress of the Virgin Mary in the days of May.