On Horseback

The poor couple were living laboriously on the husband’s small salary. Two children had been born since their marriage, and the first pecuniary embarrassments had become one of those humble, veiled, shameful poverties, the poverty of a noble family which wants to keep up its rank all the same.

Hector de Gribelin had been brought up in the provinces, in his paternal manor-house, by an old priest who was his tutor. They were not rich, but they rubbed along and kept up appearances.

Then at twenty, they sought for a position for him, and he was entered as a clerk at fifteen thousand francs at the Navy Office. He had run aground on that reef as all those do who are not prepared early for the rough fight for life, all those who see existence through a cloud and are ignorant of contrivances and resistance, in whom there have not been developed since infancy special aptitudes, special faculties, a keen energy for the struggle, all those into whose hands an arm and a weapon have not been given.

His first three years in the office were horrible.

He had found several friends of his family, old people behind the times, and not blessed with much fortune either, who lived in the streets of the nobility, the mournful streets of the Faubourg Saint-Germain: and he had made a circle of acquaintances.

Strangers to modern life, humble and proud, these hard-up aristocrats inhabited the top floors in houses that seemed asleep. From top to bottom of those dwellings, the tenants were titled: but money seemed scarce on the first as on the sixth floor.

The everlasting prejudices, the preoccupation with their rank, the anxiety not to fall from it, haunted these families, formerly brilliant, and ruined by their men-folk’s inaction. Hector de Gribelin met in this society a young girl, noble and poor like himself, and married her.

They had two children in four years.

During four years more, this household, harassed by poverty, knew no other distractions than a walk in the Champs-Élysées on Sunday, and some evenings at the theatre, one or two a winter, thanks to free tickets offered by a colleague.

But it happened that, towards spring, a supplementary bit of work was entrusted to the clerk by his chief, and he got an extraordinary fee of three hundred francs.

When he brought home the money he said to his wife:

‘My dear Henrietta, we must treat ourselves to something, for example a pleasure trip for the children.’

And after a long discussion it was decided that they would go and have lunch in the country.

‘By Jove,’ cried Hector, ‘once isn’t a habit; we will have a carriage for you, the children, and the servant, and I will hire a horse at the riding school. That’ll do me good.’

And all the week they spoke of nothing but the projected excursion.

Every evening, when he came in from the office, Hector would seize his elder son, set him astraddle on his foot, and jogging him energetically up and down, he would say:

‘That’s how daddy will gallop next Sunday, on our trip!’

And the little chap, all day long, climbed astride of the chairs and dragged them round the dining-room, crying:

‘It’s daddy, riding his horsie.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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