When the young girls were left alone, they leaned two by two on the window-sills, chatting, craning out their heads, and talking from one window to the other.
They saw the young men emerge from the Café Bombarda arm in arm. The latter turned round, made signs to them, smiled, and disappeared in that dusty Sunday throng which makes a weekly invasion into the Champs-Élysées.
“Don’t be long!” cried Fantine.
“What are they going to bring us?” said Zéphine.
“It will certainly be something pretty,” said Dahlia.
“For my part,” said Favourite, “I want it to be of gold.”
Their attention was soon distracted by the movements on the shore of the lake, which they could see through the branches of the large trees, and which diverted them greatly.
It was the hour for the departure of the mail-coaches and diligences. Nearly all the stage-coaches for the south and west passed through the Champs-Élysées. The majority followed the quay and went through the Passy Barrier. From moment to moment, some huge vehicle, painted yellow and black, heavily loaded, noisily harnessed, rendered shapeless by trunks, tarpaulins, and valises, full of heads which immediately disappeared, rushed through the crowd with all the sparks of a forge, with dust for smoke, and an air of fury, grinding the pavements, changing all the paving-stones into steels. This uproar delighted the young girls. Favourite exclaimed:—
“What a row! One would say that it was a pile of chains flying away.”
It chanced that one of these vehicles, which they could only see with difficulty through the thick elms, halted for a moment, then set out again at a gallop. This surprised Fantine.
“That’s odd!” said she. “I thought the diligence never stopped.”
Favourite shrugged her shoulders.
“This Fantine is surprising. I am coming to take a look at her out of curiosity. She is dazzled by the simplest things. Suppose a case: I am a traveller; I say to the diligence, ‘I will go on in advance; you shall pick me up on the quay as you pass.’ The diligence passes, sees me, halts, and takes me. That is done every day. You do not know life, my dear.”
In this manner a certain time elapsed. All at once Favourite made a movement, like a person who is just waking up.
“Well,” said she, “and the surprise?”
“Yes, by the way,” joined in Dahlia, “the famous surprise?”
“They are a very long time about it!” said Fantine.
As Fantine concluded this sigh, the waiter who had served them at dinner entered. He held in his hand something which resembled a letter.
“What is that?” demanded Favourite.
The waiter replied:—
“It is a paper that those gentlemen left for these ladies.”
“Why did you not bring it at once?”
“Because,” said the waiter, “the gentlemen ordered me not to deliver it to the ladies for an hour.”
Favourite snatched the paper from the waiter’s hand. It was, in fact, a letter.
“Stop!” said she; “there is no address; but this is what is written on it—”
“THIS IS THE SURPRISE.”
She tore the letter open hastily, opened it, and read [she knew how to read]:—
“You must know that we have parents. Parents—you do not know much about such things. They are called fathers and mothers by the civil code, which is puerile and honest. Now, these parents groan, these old folks implore us, these good men and these good women call us prodigal sons; they desire our return, and offer to kill calves for us. Being virtuous, we obey them. At the hour when you read this, five fiery horses will be bearing us to our papas and mammas. We are pulling up our stakes, as Bossuet says. We are going; we are gone. We flee in the arms of Laffitte and on the wings of Caillard. The Toulouse diligence tears us from the abyss, and the abyss is you, O our little beauties! We return to society, to duty, to respectability, at full trot, at the rate of three leagues an hour. It is necessary for the good of the country that we should be, like the rest of the world, prefects, fathers of families, rural police, and councillors of state. Venerate us. We are sacrificing ourselves. Mourn for us in haste, and replace us with speed. If this letter lacerates you, do the same by it. Adieu.
“For the space of nearly two years we have made you happy. We bear you
no grudge for that. “Signed:
“Postscriptum. The dinner is paid for.”
The four young women looked at each other.
Favourite was the first to break the silence.
“Well!” she exclaimed, “it’s a very pretty farce, all the same.”
“It is very droll,” said Zéphine.
“That must have been Blachevelle’s idea,” resumed Favourite. “It makes me in love with him. No sooner is he gone than he is loved. This is an adventure, indeed.”
“No,” said Dahlia; “it was one of Tholomyès’ ideas. That is evident.
“In that case,” retorted Favourite, “death to Blachevelle, and long live Tholomyès!”
“Long live Tholomyès!” exclaimed Dahlia and Zéphine.
And they burst out laughing.
Fantine laughed with the rest.
An hour later, when she had returned to her room, she wept. It was her first love affair, as we have said; she had given herself to this Tholomyès as to a husband, and the poor girl had a child.