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 The Bondels were a happy family, and although they frequently quarrelled about trifles, they soon became friends again.  
Bondel was a merchant who had retired1 from active business after saving enough to allow him to live quietly; he had rented a little house at Saint-Germain and lived there with his wife. He was a quiet man with very decided2 opinions; he had a certain degree of education and read serious newspapers; nevertheless, he appreciated the gaulois wit. Endowed with a logical mind, and that practical common sense which is the master quality of the industrial French bourgeois3, he thought little, but clearly, and reached a decision only after careful consideration of the matter in hand. He was of medium size, with a distinguished5 look, and was beginning to turn gray.
His wife, who was full of serious qualities, had also several faults. She had a quick temper and a frankness that bordered upon violence. She bore a grudge6 a long time. She had once been pretty, but had now become too stout7 and too red; but in her neighborhood at Saint-Germain she still passed for a very beautiful woman, who exemplified health and an uncertain temper.
Their dissensions almost always began at breakfast, over some trivial matter, and they often continued all day and even until the following day. Their simple, common, limited life imparted seriousness to the most unimportant matters, and every topic of conversation became a subject of dispute. This had not been so in the days when business occupied their minds, drew their hearts together, and gave them common interests and occupation.
But at Saint-Germain they saw fewer people. It had been necessary to make new acquaintances, to create for themselves a new world among strangers, a new existence devoid8 of occupations. Then the monotony of loneliness had soured each of them a little; and the quiet happiness which they had hoped and waited for with the coming of riches did not appear.
One June morning, just as they were sitting down to breakfast, Bondel asked:
“Do you know the people who live in the little red cottage at the end of the Rue9 du Berceau?”
Madame Bondel was out of sorts. She answered:
“Yes and no; I am acquainted with them, but I do not care to know them.”
“Why not? They seem to be very nice.”
“This morning I met the husband on the terrace and we took a little walk together.”
Seeing that there was danger in the air, Bendel added: “It was he who spoke10 to me first.”
His wife looked at him in a displeased11 manner. She continued: “You would have done just as well to avoid him.”
“Because there are rumors12 about them.”
“What kind?”
“Oh! rumors such as one often hears!”
M. Bondel was, unfortunately, a little hasty. He exclaimed:
“My dear, you know that I abhor13 gossip. As for those people, I find them very pleasant.”
She asked testily14: “The wife also?”
“Why, yes; although I have barely seen her.”
The discussion gradually grew more heated, always on the same subject for lack of others. Madame Bondel obstinately15 refused to say what she had heard about these neighbors, allowing things to be understood without saying exactly what they were. Bendel would shrug16 his shoulders, grin, and exasperate17 his wife. She finally cried out: “Well! that gentleman is deceived by his wife, there!”
The husband answered quietly: “I can't see how that affects the honor of a man.”
She seemed dumfounded: “What! you don't see?—you don't see?—well, that's too much! You don't see!—why, it's a public scandal! he is disgraced!”
He answered: “Ah! by no means! Should a man be considered disgraced because he is deceived, because he is betrayed, robbed? No, indeed! I'll grant you that that may be the case for the wife, but as for him—”
She became furious, exclaiming: “For him as well as for her. They are both in disgrace; it's a public shame.”
Bondel, very calm, asked: “First of all, is it true? Who can assert such a thing as long as no one has been caught in the act?”
Madame Bondel was growing uneasy; she snapped: “What? Who can assert it? Why, everybody! everybody! it's as clear as the nose on your face. Everybody knows it and is talking about it. There is not the slightest doubt.”
He was grinning: “For a long time people thought that the sun revolved18 around the earth. This man loves his wife and speaks of her tenderly and reverently19. This whole business is nothing but lies!”
Stamping her foot, she stammered20: “Do you think that that fool, that idiot, knows anything about it?”
Bondel did not grow angry; he was reasoning clearly: “Excuse me. This gentleman is no fool. He seemed to me, on the contrary, to be very intelligent and shrewd; and you can't make me believe that a man with brains doesn't notice such a thing in his own house, when the neighbors, who are not there, are ignorant of no detail of this liaison—for I'll warrant that they know everything.”
Madame Bondel had a fit of angry mirth, which irritated her husband's nerves. She laughed: “Ha! ha! ha! they're all the same! There's not a man alive who could discover a thing like that unless his nose was stuck into it!”
The discussion was wandering to other topics now. She was exclaiming over the blindness of deceived husbands, a thing which he doubted and which she affirmed with such airs of personal contempt that he finally grew angry. Then the discussion became an angry quarrel, where she took the side of the women and he defended the men. He had the conceit21 to declare: “Well, I swear that if I had ever been deceived, I should have noticed it, and immediately, too. And I should have taken away your desire for such things in such a manner that it would have taken more than one doctor to set you on foot again!”
Boiling with anger, she cried out to him: “You! you! why, you're as big a fool as the others, do you hear!”
He still maintained: “I can swear to you that I am not!”
She laughed so impertinently that he felt his heart beat and a chill run down his back. For the third time he said:
“I should have seen it!”
She rose, still laughing in the same manner. She slammed the door and left the room, saying: “Well! if that isn't too much!”
Bondel remained alone, ill at ease. That insolent22, provoking laugh had touched him to the quick. He went outside, walked, dreamed. The realization23 of the loneliness of his new life made him sad and morbid24. The neighbor, whom he had met that morning, came to him with outstretched hands. They continued their walk together. After touching25 on various subjects they came to talk of their wives. Both seemed to have something to confide26, something inexpressible, vague, about these beings associated with their lives; their wives. The neighbor was saying:
“Really, at times, one might think that they bear some particular ill-will toward their husband, just because he is a husband. I love my wife—I love her very much; I appreciate and respect her; well! there are times when she seems to have more confidence and faith in our friends than in me.”
Bondel immediately thought: “There is no doubt; my wife was right!”
When he left this man he began to think things over again. He felt in his soul a strange confusion of contradictory27 ideas, a sort of interior burning; that mocking, impertinent laugh kept ringing in his ears and seemed to say: “Why; you are just the same as the others, you fool!” That was indeed bravado28, one of those pieces of impudence29 of which a woman makes use when she dares everything, risks everything, to wound and humiliate30 the man who has aroused her ire. This poor man must also be one of those deceived husbands, like so many others. He had said sadly: “There are times when she seems to have more confidence and faith in our friends than in me.” That is how a husband formulated31 his observations on the particular attentions of his wife for another man. That was all. He had se............
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