The duchess's head-woman conducted Modeste and her father to their apartment, where Francoise Cochet had already put everything in order, and the choice elegance of which astounded the colonel, more especially after he heard from Francoise that there were thirty other apartments in the chateau decorated with the same taste. "This is what I call a proper country-house," said Modeste.
As soon as I was seated, the head-woman told one of the men to knock down some cocoa-nuts from the trees close by, and after cutting off the ends she offered us a drink of the fresh cool milk, which was all the sweeter and better for the fact that the nuts were not nearly ripe.
"Madame," said Rosalie, returning to the door of the salon, "his Excellency has ordered dinner for eight, and wants it served at six o'clock. What are we to do?" During Estelle's conference with her head-woman the two artists and Oscar looked at each other in consternation; their glances were expressive of terrible apprehension. "His Excellency! who is he?" said Joseph Bridau.
He would never take a mouthful of food until he had helped her; and if a famine came to Florence, and there was but a piece of bread between Luigi and La Mamma, he would make her eat it, I know. Si, signora, we all live together now; La Mamma takes care of our little boy, and Flavia is head-woman in Madama Castagna's workroom, while I go out by the day, as I always did.
Here we were met by the women and children, who, likewise, all went through the ceremony of shaking hands with us, after which the head-woman, who was very good-looking, and was dressed in a cherry-coloured calico gown, with two long plaits of black hair hanging down her back, spread a mat for me to sit upon just outside the hut.
This was the head-woman of the village, but seldom tyrannical, unless ill-treated, Widow Precious, tall and square, and of no mean capacity. "Young mon," with a deep voice she said, "what is tha' deein' wi' aw that clatter?" "Alas, my dear madam, I am not a young man; and therefore time is more precious to me. I have lived out half my allotted span, and shall never complete it unless I get food."