Israel Zangwill.

The grey wig; stories and novelettes online

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The Grey Wig

Stories and Novelettes


I. Zangwill

Author of

" The Mantle of Elijah "

" Children of the Ghetto "

etc., etc.



j&ll rights reserved

Copyright, 1902,

Copyright, 1903,

Set up and electrotyped February, 1903.

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J. S. Cushing & Co. — Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.




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This Volume embraces my newest and oldest
work, and includes — for the sake of uniformity of
edition — a couple of shilling novelettes that are
out of print.

I. Z.


February, 1903.



The Grey Wig i

Chasse-Croise 44

The Woman Beater 75

The Eternal Feminine 106

The Silent Sisters 127

The Big Bow Mystery 136

Merely Mary Ann 314

The Serio-comic Governess 446


They both styled themselves " Madame," but only
the younger of the old ladies had been married.
Madame Valiere was still a demoiselle, but as she
drew towards sixty it had seemed more convenable
to possess a mature label. Certainly Madame De-
pine had no visible matrimonial advantages over her
fellow-lodger at the Hotel des Tourterelles, though
in the symmetrical cemetery of Montparnasse (Sec-
tion 22) wreaths of glass beads testified to a copious
domesticity in the far past, and a newspaper picture
of a chasseur d'Afrique pinned over her bed recalled
— though only the uniform was the dead soldier's —
the son she had contributed to France's colonial
empire. Practically it was two old maids — or two
lone widows — whose boots turned pointed toes
towards each other in the dark cranny of the ram-
bling, fusty corridor of the sky-floor. Madame
Depine was round, and grew dumpier with age ;
" Madame " Valiere was long, and grew slimmer.
Otherwise their lives ran parallel. For the true
madame of the establishment you had to turn to
Madame la Proprietaire, with her buxom bookkeeper
of a daughter and her tame baggage-bearing hus-



band. This full-blooded, jovial creature, with her
swart moustache, represented the only Parisian suc-
cess of three provincial lives, and, in her good-
nature, had permitted her decayed townswomen —
at as low a rent as was compatible with prudence
— to shelter themselves under her roof and as near
it as possible. Her house being a profitable warren
of American art-students, tempered by native jour-
nalists and decadent poets, she could, moreover,
afford to let the old ladies off coffee and candles.
They were at liberty to prepare their own dejeuner in
winter or to buy it outside in summer; they could
burn their own candles or sit in the dark, as the
heart in them pleased ; and thus they were as cheaply
niched as any one in the gay city. Rentih'es after their
meticulous fashion, they drew a ridiculous but regular
amount from the mysterious coffers of the Credit

But though they met continuously in the musty
corridor, and even dined — when they did dine —
at the same cremerie, they never spoke to each
other. Madame la Proprietaire was the channel
through which they sucked each other's history, for
though they had both known her in their girlish
days at Tonnerre, in the department of Yonne,
they had not known each other. Madame Valiere
(Madame Depine learnt, and it seemed to explain
the frigidity of her neighbour's manner) still trailed
clouds of glory from the service of a Princess a


quarter of a century before. Her refusal to wink
at the Princess's goings-on, her austere, if provincial,
regard for the convenances, had cost her the place,
and from these purpureal heights she had fallen
lower and lower, till she struck the attic of the
Hotel des Tourterelles.

But even a haloed past does not give one a
licence to annoy one's neighbours, Madame Depine
felt resentfully, and she hated Madame Valiere as
a haughty minion of royalty, who kept a cough,
which barked loudest in the silence of the night.

" Why doesn't she go to the hospital, your Prin-
cess ? " she complained to Madame la Proprietaire.

" Since she is able to nurse herself at home,"
the opulent-bosomed hostess replied with a shrug.

"At the expense of other people," Madame De-
pine retorted bitterly. " I shall die of her cough,
I am sure of it."

Madame showed her white teeth sweetly. " Then
it is you who should go to the hospital."


Time wrote wrinkles enough on the brows of the
two old ladies, but his frosty finger never touched
their glossy brown hair, for both wore wigs of nearly
the same shade. These wigs were almost symbolic
of the evenness of their existence, which had got
beyond the reach of happenings. The Church
calendar, so richly dyed with figures of saints and


martyrs, filled life with colour enough, and fast-days
were almost as welcome as feast-days, for if the
latter warmed the general air, the former cloaked
economy with dignity. As for Mardi Gras, that
shook you up for weeks, even though you did not
venture out of your apartment; the gay serpentine
streamers remained round one's soul as round the

At intervals, indeed, secular excitements broke the
even tenor. A country cousin would call upon the
important Parisian relative, and be received, not in
the little bedroom, but in state in the mustily mag-
nificent salon of the hotel — all gold mirrors and
mouldiness — which the poor country mouse vaguely
accepted as part of the glories of Paris and success.
Madame Depine would don her ponderous gold
brooch, sole salvage of her bourgeois prosperity;
while, if the visitor were for Madame Valiere, that
grande dame would hang from her yellow, shrivelled
neck the long gold chain and the old-fashioned watch,
whose hands still seemed to point to regal hours.

Another break in the monotony was the day on
which the lottery was drawn — the day of the pagan
god of Luck. What delicious hopes of wealth flamed
in these withered breasts, only to turn grey and cold
when the blank was theirs again, but not the less to
soar up again, with each fresh investment, towards
the heaven of the hundred thousand francs ! But if
ever Madame Depine stumbled on Madame Valiere


buying a section of a billet at the lottery agent's, she
insisted on having her own slice cut from another
number. Fortune itself would be robbed of its sweet
if the " Princess " should share it. Even their com-
mon failure to win a sou did not draw them from
their freezing depths of silence, from which every
passing year made it more difficult to emerge. Some
greater conjuncture was needed for that.

It came when Madame la Proprietaire made her
debat one fine morning in a grey wig.


Hitherto that portly lady's hair had been black.
But now, as suddenly as darkness vanishes in a tropic
dawn, it was become light. No gradual approach of
the grey, for the black had been equally artificial.
The wig is the region without twilight. Only in the
swart moustache had the grey crept on, so that per-
haps the growing incongruity had necessitated the
sudden surrender to age.

To both Madame Depine and Madame Valiere the
grey wig came like a blow on the heart.

It was a grisly embodiment of their secret griefs,
a tantalising vision of the unattainable. To glide
reputably into a grey wig had been for years their
dearest desire. As each saw herself getting older
and older, saw her complexion fade and the crow's-
feet gather, and her eyes grow hollow, and her
teeth fall out and her cheeks fall in, so did the impro-


priety of her brown wig strike more and more humili-
atingly to her soul. But how should a poor old
woman ever accumulate enough for a new wig ?
One might as well cry for the moon — or a set of
false teeth. Unless, indeed, the lottery — ?

And so, when Madame Depine received a sister-in-
law from Tonnerre, or Madame Valiere's nephew
came up by the excursion train from that same quiet
and incongruously christened townlet, the Parisian
personage would receive the visitor in the darkest
corner of the salon, with her back to the light, and a
big bonnet on her head — an imposing figure repeated
duskily in the gold mirrors. These visits, instead of
a relief, became a terror. Even a provincial knows
it is not convenable for an old woman to wear a brown
wig. And Tonnerre kept strict record of birthdays.

Tears of shame and misery had wetted the old
ladies' hired pillows, as under the threat of a provin-
cial visitation they had tossed sleepless in similar
solicitude, and their wigs, had they not been wigs,
would have turned grey of themselves. Their only
consolation had been that neither outdid the other,
and so long as each saw the other's brown wig, they
had refrained from facing the dread possibility of
having to sell off their jewellery in a desperate effort
of emulation. Gradually Madame Depine had grown
to wear her wig with vindictive endurance, and Madame
Vali£re to wear hers with gentle resignation. And
now, here was Madame la Proprietaire, a woman five


years younger and ten years better preserved, putting
them both to the public blush, drawing the hotel's
attention to what the hotel might have overlooked, in
its long habituation to their surmounting brownness.
More morbidly conscious than ever of a young
head on old shoulders, the old ladies no longer
paused at the bureau to exchange the news with
Madame or even with her black-haired bookkeeping
daughter. No more lounging against the newel un-
der the carved torch-bearer, while the journalist of
the fourth floor spat at the Dreyfusites, and the poet
of the entresol threw versified vitriol at perfidious
Albion. For the first time, too — losing their chan-
nel of communication — they grew out of touch with
each other's microscopic affairs, and their mutual
detestation increased with their resentful ignorance.
And so, shrinking and silent, and protected as far as
possible by their big bonnets, the squat Madame
Depine and the skinny Madame Valiere toiled up
and down the dark, fusty stairs of the Hotel des
Tourterelles, often brushing against each other, yet
sundered by icy infinities. And the endurance on
Madame Depine's round face became more vindic-
tive, and gentler grew the resignation on the angular
visage of Madame Valiere.


" Tiens ! Madame Depine, one never sees you
now." Madame la Proprietaire was blocking the


threshold, preventing her exit. " I was almost think-
ing you had veritably died of Madame Valiere's

"One has received my rent, the Monday," the lit-
tle old lady replied frigidly.

" Oh ! la ! la /" Madame waved her plump hands.
"And La Valiere, too, makes herself invisible. What
has then happened to both of you ? Is it that you
are doing a penance together ? "

" Hist ! " said Madame Depine, flushing.

For at this moment Madame Valiere appeared on
the pavement outside bearing a long French roll and
a bag of figs, which made an excellent lunch at low
water. Madame la Proprietaire, dominatingly be-
striding her doorstep, was sandwiched between the
two old ladies, her wig aggressively grey between
the two browns. Madame Valiere halted awkwardly,
a bronze blush mounting to match her wig. To be
seen by Madame Depine carrying in her meagre
provisions was humiliation enough ; to be juxta-
posited with a grey wig was unbearable.

" Maman, maman, the English monsieur will not
pay two francs for his dinner ! " And the distressed
bookkeeper, bill in hand, shattered the trio.

" And why will he not pay ? " Fire leapt into the
black eyes.

" He says you told him the night he came that by
arrangement he could have his dinners for one franc


Madame la Proprietaire made two strides towards
the refractory English monsieur. " / told you one
franc fifty ? For dejeuner, yes, as many luncheons
as you can eat. But for dinner ? You eat with us
as one of the family, and vin compris and cafe like-
wise, and it should be all for one franc fifty ! Mon
Dieu ! it is to ruin oneself. Come here." And she
seized the surprised Anglo-Saxon by the wrist and
dragged him towards a painted tablet of prices that
hung in a dark niche of the hall. " I have kept this
hotel for twenty years, I have grown grey in the ser-
vice of artists and students, and this is the first time
one has demanded dinner for one franc fifty ! ' :

" She has grown grey ! " contemptuously muttered
Madame Valiere.

" Grey ? She ! " repeated Madame Depine, with
no less bitterness. " It is only to give herself the air
of a grande dame ! "

Then both started, and coloured to the roots of
their wigs. Simultaneously they realised that they
had spoken to each other.


As they went up the stairs together — for Madame
Depine had quite forgotten she was going out — an
immense relief enlarged their souls. Merely to men-
tion the grey wig had been a vent for all this morbid
brooding; to abuse Madame la Proprietaire into the


bargain was to pass from the long isolation into a
subtle sympathy.

" I wonder if she did say one franc fifty," observed
Madame Valiere, reflectively.

"Without doubt," Madame Depine replied vi-
ciously. " And fifty centimes a day soon mount up
to a grey wig."

" Not so soon," sighed Madame Valiere.

" But then it is not only one client that she cheats."

" Ah ! at that rate wigs fall from the skies," ad-
mitted Madame Valiere.

" Especially if one has not to give dowries to one's
nieces," said Madame Depine, boldly.

" And if one is mean on New Year's Day," re-
turned Madame Valiere, with a shade less of

They inhaled the immemorial airlessness of the
staircase as if they were breathing the free air of
the forests depicted on its dirty-brown wall-paper. It
was the new atmosphere of self-respect that they were
really absorbing. Each had at last explained herself
and her brown wig to the other. An immaculate hon-
esty (that would scorn to overcharge fifty centimes
even to un Anglais), complicated with unwedded
nieces in one case, with a royal shower of New
Year's gifts in the other, had kept them from sel-
fish, if seemly, hoary-headedness.

" Ah ! here is my floor," panted Madame Valiere
at length, with an air of indicating it to a thorough


stranger. " Will you not come into my room and eat
a fig? They are very healthy between meals."

Madame Depine accepted the invitation, and enter-
ing her own corner of the corridor with a responsive
air of foreign exploration, passed behind the door
through whose keyhole she had so often peered.
Ah ! no wonder she had detected nothing abnormal.
The room was a facsimile of her own — the same
bed with the same quilt over it and the same crucifix
above it, the same little table with the same books of
devotion, the same washstand with the same tiny jug
and basin, the same rusted, fireless grate. The ward-
robe, like her own, was merely a pair of moth-eaten
tartan curtains, concealing both pegs and garments
from her curiosity. The only sense of difference
came subtly from the folding windows, below whose
railed balcony showed another view of the quarter,
with steam-trams — diminished to toy trains — puff-
ing past to the suburbs. But as Madame Depine's
eyes roved from these to the mantelpiece, she caught
sight of an oval miniature of an elegant young
woman, who was jewelled in many places, and cor-
responded exactly with her idea of a Princess !

To disguise her access of respect, she said ab-
ruptly, " It must be very noisy here from the steam-

" It is what I love, the bustle of life," replied
Madame Valiere, simply.

Ah ! " said Madame Depine, impressed beyond



masking-point, " I suppose when one has had the
habit of Courts — "

Madame Valiere shuddered unexpectedly. " Let
us not speak of it. Take a fig."

But Madame Depine persisted — though she took
the fig. " Ah ! those were brave days when we had
still an Emperor and an Empress to drive to the Bois
with their equipages and outriders. Ah, how pretty
it was ! "

" But the President has also " — a fit of cough-
ing interrupted Madame Valiere — " has also out-

" But he is so bourgeois — a mere man of the peo-
ple," said Madame Depine.

" They are the most decent sort of folk. But do
you not feel cold ? I will light a fire." She bent
towards the wood-box.

" No, no ; do not trouble. I shall be going in
a moment. I have a large fire blazing in my

" Then suppose we go and sit there," said poor
Madame Valiere.

Poor Madame Depine was seized with a cough,
more protracted than any of which she had com-

" Provided it has not gone out in my absence,"
she stammered at last. " I will go first and see if it
is in good trim."

" No, no ; it is not worth the trouble of moving."


And Madame Valiere drew her street-cloak closer
round her slim form. " But I have lived so long in
Russia, I forget people call this cold."

" Ah ! the Princess travelled far ? " said Madame
Depine, eagerly.

" Too far," replied Madame Valiere, with a flash
of Gallic wit. " But who has told you of the
Princess ? "

" Madame la Proprietaire, naturally."

" She talks too much — she and her wig ! "

" If only she didn't imagine herself a powdered
marquise in it ! To see her standing before the mir-
ror in the salon ! "

" The beautiful spectacle ! " assented Madame

"Ah! but I don't forget — if she does — that her
mother wheeled a fruit-barrow through the streets of
Tonnerre ! "

" Ah ! yes, I knew you were from Tonnerre — dear
Tonnerre ! "

" How did you know ? "

"Naturally, Madame la Proprietaire."

" The old gossip ! " cried Madame Depine —
" though not so old as she feigns. But did she tell
you of her mother, too, and the fruit-barrow ? "

" I knew her mother — une brave femme"

" I do not say not," said Madame Depine, a whit
disconcerted. " Nevertheless, when one's mother is
a merchant of the four seasons — "


" Provided she sold fruit as good as this ! Take
another fig, I beg of you."

"Thank you. These are indeed excellent," said
Madame Depine. " She owed all her good fortune
to a coup in the lottery."

" Ah ! the lottery ! " Madame Valiere sighed.
Before the eyes of both rose the vision of a lucky
number and a grey wig.


The acquaintanceship ripened. It was not only
their common grievances against fate and Madame
la Proprietaire : they were linked by the sheer physi-
cal fact that each was the only person to whom the
other could talk without the moibid consciousness of
an eye scrutinising the unseemly brown wig. It be-
came quite natural, therefore, for Madame Depine to
stroll into her " Princess's " room, and they soon slid
into dividing the cost of the fire. That was more
than an economy, for neither could afford a fire
alone. It was an easy transition to the discovery
that coffee could be made more cheaply for two, and
that the same candle would light two persons, pro-
vided they sat in the same room. And if they
did not fall out of the habit of companionship even
at the cremerie, though " two portions for one " were
not served, their union at least kept the sexagenari-
ans in countenance. Two brown wigs give each
other a moral support, are on the way to a fashion.


But there was more than wigs and cheese-parings
in their camaraderie. Madame Depine found a
fathomless mine of edification in Madame Valiere's
reminiscences, which she skilfully extracted from
her, finding the average ore rich with noble streaks,
though the old tirewoman had an obstinate way of
harking back to her girlhood, which made some
delvings result in mere earth.

On the Day of the Dead Madame Depine emerged
into importance, taking her friend with her to the
Cemetery Montparnasse to see the glass flowers
blooming immortally over the graves of her husband
and children. Madame Depine paid the omnibus
for both (inside places), and felt, for once, superior
to the poor " Princess," who had never known the
realities of love and death.


Two months passed. Another of Madame Valiere's
teeth fell out. Madame Depine's cheeks grew more
pendulous. But their brown wigs remained as fade-
less as the cemetery flowers.

One day they passed the hairdresser's shop to-
gether. It was indeed next to the tobacconist's, so
not easy to avoid, whenever one wanted a stamp or
a postcard. In the window, amid pendent plaits of
divers hues, bloomed two wax busts of females —
the one young and coquettish and golden-haired, the


other aristocratic in a distinguished grey wig. Both
wore diamond rosettes in their hair and ropes of
pearls round their necks. The old ladies' eyes met,
then turned away.

" If one demanded the price ! " said Madame
Depine (who had already done so twice).

" It is an idea ! " agreed Madame Valiere.

"The day will come when one's nieces will be

" But scarcely when New Year's Day shall cease
to be," the "Princess" sighed.

" Still, one might win in the lottery ! "

"Ah! true. Let us enter, then."

"One will be enough. You go." Madame De-
pine rather dreaded the coiffeur, whom intercourse
with jocose students had made severe.

But Madame Valiere shrank back shyly. " No,
let us both go." She added, with a smile to cover
her timidity, "Two heads are better than one."

"You are right. He will name a lower price in
the hope of two orders." And, pushing the " Prin-
cess " before her like a turret of defence, Madame
Depine wheeled her into the ladies' department.

The coiffeur, who was washing the head of an
American girl, looked up ungraciously. As he per-
ceived the outer circumference of Madame Depine
projecting on either side of her turret, he emitted a
glacial " Bon jour, me s dames."

"Those grey wigs — " faltered Madame Valiere.


" I have already told your friend." He rubbed
the American head viciously.

Madame Depine coloured. "But — but we are
two. Is there no reduction on taking a quantity ? "

" And why then ? A wig is a wig. Twice a
hundred francs are two hundred francs."

" One hundred francs for a wig ! " said Madame
Valiere, paling. " I did not pay that for the one I

" I well believe it, madame. A grey wig is not
a brown wig."

" But you just said a wig is a wig."

The coiffeur gave angry rubs at the head, in time
with his explosive phrases. "You want real hair,
I presume — and to your measure — and to look
natural — and convenable!" (Both old ladies shud-
dered at the word.) "Of course, if you want it
merely for private theatricals — "

" Private theatricals ! " repeated Madame Depine,

"A comedienne's wig I can sell you for a bagatelle.
That passes at a distance."

Madame Valiere ignored the suggestion. " But
why should a grey wig cost more than any other?"

The coiffeur shrugged his shoulders. "Since there
are less grey hairs in the world — "

" Comment /" repeated Madame Valiere, in amaze-

" It stands to reason," said the coiffeur. " Since


most persons do not live to be old — or only live to
be bald." He grew animated, professorial almost,
seeing the weight his words carried to unthinking
bosoms. " And since one must provide a fine hair-
net for a groundwork, to imitate the flesh-tint of the
scalp, and since each hair of the parting must be
treated separately, and since the natural wave of the
hair must be reproduced, and since you will also
need a block for it to stand on at nights to guard
its shape — "

" But since one has already blocks," interposed
Madame Depine.

" But since a conscientious artist cannot trust
another's block ! Represent to yourself also that
the shape of the head does not remain as fixed as
the dome of the Invalides, and that — "

"Eh Hen, we will think," interrupted Madame
Valiere, with dignity.


They walked slowly towards the Hotel des Tour-

" If one could share a wig ! " Madame Depine
exclaimed suddenly.

" It is an idea," replied Madame Valiere. And
then each stared involuntarily at the other's head.

Online LibraryIsrael ZangwillThe grey wig; stories and novelettes → online text (page 1 of 32)