Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1178
Adrienne Mesurat lives with her father, a retired writing master, and Germaine, her disabled older sister, in a small, ugly villa in the country town of La Tour l’Eveque. The routine of the household is simple, for Antoine Mesurat lives only to indulge his own quiet tastes. Three meals a...
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Adrienne Mesurat lives with her father, a retired writing master, and Germaine, her disabled older sister, in a small, ugly villa in the country town of La Tour l’Eveque. The routine of the household is simple, for Antoine Mesurat lives only to indulge his own quiet tastes. Three meals a day, his morning and evening walks, his favorite newspaper, an occasional game of trente-et-un—these are his pleasures. In his tranquilly stubborn manner, he is a complete domestic tyrant, and the idea that his daughters might be unhappy with their lot never crosses his mind.
There was a time when callers came to the villa, for the Mesurats owned enough property to attract young men of the district. Old Mesurat, however, considers his daughters superior to the sons of provincial tradesmen and lawyers and laughs complacently at their proposals of marriage. Finally, the visits cease. In the uneventful round of Adrienne’s days, the strange passerby in the street, the local gossip her father brings back from his walks, and the succession of tenants who each summer rent the Villa Louise on the corner become items for speculation and comment. Matters would have gone on indefinitely if Adrienne did not, in the summer of her seventeenth year, fall suddenly in love.
She is gathering flowers beside a country road when a carriage passes her. She sees in it a slight man of middle age, who half lifts his hat as the vehicle goes by. Adrienne recognizes him as Dr. Maurecourt, a recent arrival in the town. Because he notices her, a feeling of gratitude and adoration fills her. For the rest of the summer, she walks the same road every day, but the doctor never rides that way again.
At last, Adrienne hits upon another plan. Each night, after Germaine goes to her room and Mesurat settles in the parlor for his evening nap, she steals out of the house. From the corner on which the Villa Louise stands, she can see the front of the Maurecourt dwelling, and the sight of its lighted windows give her a deep feeling of happiness. Once she sees Maurecourt on the street. Later, she feels that she must see him again at any cost. One day, while cleaning, she discovers that she can also watch his house from the window of Germaine’s room. As often as possible, she goes there and sits, hoping to see him enter or leave by his front door.
Germaine, surprising Adrienne in her bedroom, becomes suspicious. That night, the older sister is awake when Adrienne returns quietly from her evening vigil. Mesurat, informed of what happened, orders Adrienne to play cards with him after dinner the next day. Under her father’s suspicious gaze, she plays badly. He becomes enraged and accuses her of stealing out nightly to meet a lover. From that time on, she is allowed to leave the house only when she goes walking with her father. Again she sees Maurecourt on the street. Thinking that if she were hurt he be called to attend her, she thrusts her arms through the windowpane. Her father and sister bandage her cuts, much to her despair.
Germaine’s sickness grows worse. Refusing to acknowledge her serious condition, Mesurat insists that she get up for her meals. One morning, after he berates her at breakfast, Germaine confides her intention of leaving home, and she borrows five hundred francs from Adrienne’s dower chest to pay her fare to a convent hospital. Adrienne is glad to see her sister go; she hopes to occupy the room from which she can watch Maurecourt’s house. Mesurat, surprised and furious, is puzzled about how Germaine arranged for her flight and where she secured money for her train fare.
In June, Madame Legras becomes the new tenant of Villa Louise. Adrienne and her father meet the summer visitor at a concert, and Madame Legras invites the young girl to visit. After Germaine’s departure, Adrienne goes to see her new neighbor. Madame Legras is affable but prying. Confused by questions about a possible lover, Adrienne has a strange attack of dizziness.
That night, Mesurat angrily orders her to produce her dower box. Seeing that five hundred francs are missing, he accuses her of plotting with Germaine to outwit him. While he stands reviling her from the head of the stairs, Adrienne runs against him in the dark. He falls into the hall below. Dazed and frightened by her deed, Adrienne goes to bed.
The cook stumbles upon Mesurat’s body the next morning, and Madame Legras, aroused by the disturbance, summons Maurecourt. Although there are some whispers that the old man’s end might not be all it seems, the verdict is one of accidental death. Germaine does not return for the funeral. Before long, Adrienne, to her dismay, finds herself lonelier than ever. A feeling of lethargy possesses her much of the time. When the prioress writes asking for money in Germaine’s name or lawyers send legal papers for her signature, she disregards them. Nothing seems to matter except the time she spent with Madame Legras, who assumed a protective attitude toward the young woman. At last, however, Adrienne begins to realize that Madame Legras suspects the truth about Mesurat’s death, and her sly looks and pointed remarks seemed intended to lead the young woman into a trap.
One day, Adrienne decides to go to Montfort. There, walking the streets, she imagines that people are staring at her. She spends the night in Dreux, where a young workman accosts her. Later, frightened because she does not remember why she went away, she returns to La Tour l’Eveque after sending Maurecourt a card telling him of her unhappiness.
Shortly after her return, she collapses and has to be put to bed at Villa Louise. While undressing her, Madame Legras finds a love letter, which she gives to the doctor when he comes in response to her summons. That night, Adrienne awakens and goes back to her own home. Maurecourt goes to see her there the next day. When she confesses her love, he tells her that he is sick and soon to die. Overcome by his visit, she is barely able to rouse herself when Madame Legras appears and demands an immediate loan to pay some pressing debts. While she looks on helplessly, the woman empties the dower chest of its gold coins. Then she removes the watch and chain Adrienne is wearing and drops them into her purse.
A short time later, when the cook brings word that Madame Legras left town very suddenly, Adrienne realizes that the servant also knows her guilt. Dazed, she sits vacant-eyed when Maurecourt’s sister calls to reproach her for her shameless behavior. At nightfall, she leaves the house and wanders toward the lighted square, where a party is in progress. Suddenly she turns and runs toward the dark countryside. Some peasants find her there a few hours later. She cannot tell them her name. She is mad.