Finally Monjardin arose and unfolded a manuscript, asking permission to declaim the verses which he had composed in honor of Maria-José, the central figure of the occasion. The guests greeted his remarks with noisy and enthusiastic approbation. "Hear! Hear!" Engracigna and her daughters leaned over and cast malicious glances in the direction of Maria-José, but she was paying no attention to them.
And at such times Engracigna and her daughters would say to her with a vehemence whose effect they little guessed, "Why, Zézé! Buy something and be done with it!... How silly! Do you want to dress like a widow? What a notion!" And at bottom they meant it. None of them saw Maria-José as she really was. Living with her day by day had served to efface the actual appearance of the faded old maid.
Engracigna had rushed to her side in alarm; everyone rose, seeking the reason for the outburst; they surrounded the poor creature, whose head had sunk upon the table, in the midst of the rose petals, the fruits and the glasses which were strewn in charming confusion. "What is the trouble?..." A nervous attack, perhaps?... Confusion produced in her by the touching poem?...
So, when they would go to the theatre, and the box held only five Engracigna, her husband, Fabio, and the three young ladies, Maria-José knew beforehand that her sister, snugly wrapped in her opera-cloak, would come to her and say gently, in that purring voice of hers: "You'll stay at home with the children tonight, won't you, Zézé?