It was a great affair for the whole household when, every three months,
Hubertine prepared the "lye" for the wash. A woman was hired to aid
them, the Mother Gabet, as she was called, and for four days all
embroidery was laid aside, while Angelique took her part in the unusual
work, making of it a perfect amusement, as she soaped and rinsed the
clothes in the clean water of the Chevrotte. The linen when taken from
the ashes was wheeled to the Clos-Marie, through the little gate of
communication in the garden. There the days were spent in the open air
and the sunshine.
"I will do the washing this time, mother, for it is the greatest of
delights to me."
And gaily laughing, with her sleeves drawn up above her elbows,
flourishing the beetle, Angelique struck the clothes most heartily
in the pleasure of such healthy exercise. It was hard work, but she
thoroughly enjoyed it, and only stopped occasionally to say a few words
or to show her shiny face covered with foam.
"Look, mother! This makes my arms strong. It does me a world of good."
The Chevrotte crossed the field diagonally, at first drowsily, then its
stream became very rapid as it was thrown in great bubbles over a pebbly
descent. It came from the garden of the Bishop, through a species
of floodgate left at the foot of the wall, and at the other end it
disappeared under an arched vault at the corner of the Hotel Voincourt,
where it was swallowed up in the earth, to reappear two hundred yards
farther on, as it passed along the whole length of the Rue Basse to the
Ligneul, into which it emptied itself. Therefore it was very necessary
to watch the linen constantly, for, run as fast as possible, every piece
that was once let go was almost inevitably lost.
"Mother, wait, wait a little! I will put this heavy stone on the
napkins. We shall then see if the river can carry them away. The little
She placed the stone firmly, then returned to draw another from the old,
tumble-down mill, enchanted to move about and to fatigue herself; and,
although she severely bruised her finger, she merely moistened it a
little, saying, "Oh! that is nothing."
During the day the poor people who sheltered themselves in the ruins
went out to ask for charity from the passers-by on the highways. So the
Clos was quite deserted. It was a delicious, fresh solitude, with its
clusters of pale-green willows, its high poplar-trees, and especially
its verdure, its overflowing of deep-rooted wild herbs and grasses, so
high that they came up to one's shoulders. A quivering silence came from
the two neighbouring parks, whose great trees barred the horizon.
After three o'clock in the afternoon the shadow of the Cathedral
was lengthened out with a calm sweetness and a perfume of evaporated
Angelique continued to beat the linen harder still, with all the force
of her well-shaped white arms.
"Oh, mother dear! You can have no idea how hungry I shall be this
evening! . . . Ah! you know that you have promised to give me a good
On the day of the rinsing, Angelique was quite alone. The _mere_ Gabet,
suffering from a sudden, severe attack of sciatica, had not been able to
come as usual, and Hubertine was kept at home by other household cares.
Kneeling in her little box half filled with straw, the young girl took
the pieces one by one, shook them for a long time in the swiftly-rolling
stream, until the water was no longer dimmed, but had become as clear
as crystal. She did not hurry at all, for since the morning she had been
tormented by a great curiosity, having seen, to her astonishment, an old
workman in a white blouse, who was putting up a light scaffolding before
the window of the Chapel Hautecoeur. Could it be that they were about to
repair the stained-glass panes? There was, it must be confessed, great
need of doing so. Several pieces were wanting in the figure of Saint
George, and in other places, where in the course of centuries panes that
had been broken had been replaced by ordinary glass. Still, all this was
irritating to her. She was so accustomed to the gaps of the saint who
was piercing the dragon with his sword, and of the royal princess as she
led the conquered beast along with her scarf, that she already mourned
as if one had the intention of mutilating them. It was sacrilege to
think of changing such old, venerable things. But when she returned
to the field after her lunch, all her angry feelings passed away
immediately; for a second workman was upon the staging, a young man this
time, who also wore a white blouse. And she recognised him! It was he!
Gaily, without any embarrassment, Angelique resumed her place on her
knees on the straw of her box. Then, with her wrists bare, she put her
hands in the deep, clear water, and recommenced shaking the linen back
Yes, it was he--tall, slight, a blonde, with his fine beard and his hair
curled like that of a god, his complexion as fresh as when she had first
seen him under the white shadow of the moonlight. Since it was he, there
was nothing to be feared for the window; were he to touch it, he would
only embellish it. And it was no disappointment to her whatever to
find him in this blouse, a workman like herself, a painter on glass, no
doubt. On the contrary, this fact made her smile, so absolutely certain
was she of the eventual fulfillment of her dream of royal fortune. Now,
it was simply an appearance, a beginning. What good would it do her
to know who he was, from whence he came, or whither he was going? Some
morning he would prove to be that which she expected him to be. A shower
of gold would stream from the roof of the Cathedral, a triumphal march
would break forth in the distant rumblings of the organ, and all would
come true. She did not stay to ask herself how he could always be there,
day and night. Yet it was evident either that he must live in one of the
neighbouring houses, or he must pass by the lane des Guerdaches, which
ran by the side of the Bishop's park to the Rue Magloire.
Then a charming hour passed by. She bent forward, she rinsed her linen,
her face almost touching the fresh water; but each time she took a
different piece she raised her head, and cast towards the church a look,
in which from the agitation of her heart, was a little good-natured
malice. And he, upon the scaffolding, with an air of being closely
occupied in examining the state of the window, turned towards her,
glancing at her sideways, and evidently much disturbed whenever she
surprised him doing so. It was astonishing how quickly he blushed, how
dark red his face became. At the slightest emotion, whether of anger or
interest, all the blood in his veins seemed to mount to his face. He had
flashing eyes, which showed will; yet he was so diffident, that, when he
knew he was being criticised, he was embarrassed as a little child, did
not seem to know what to do with his hands, and stammered out his orders
to the old man who accompanied him.
As for Angelique, that which delighted her most, as she refreshed her
arms in this turbulent water, was to picture him innocent like herself,
ignorant of the world, and with an equally intense desire to have a
taste of life. There was no need of his telling to others who he was,
for had not invisible messengers and unseen lips made known to her that
he was to be her own? She looked once more, just as he was turning his
head; and so the minutes passed, and it was delicious.
Suddenly she saw that he jumped from the staging, then that he walked
backwards quite a distance through the grass, as if to take a certain
position from which he could examine the window more easily. But she
could not help smiling, so evident was it that he simply wished
to approach her. He had made a firm decision, like a man who risks
everything, and now it was touching as well as comical to see that he
remained standing a few steps from her, his back towards her, not daring
to move, fearing that he had been too hasty in coming as far as he
had done. For a moment she thought he would go back again to the
chapel-window as he had come from it, without paying any attention to
her. However, becoming desperate, at last he turned, and as at that
moment she was glancing in his direction, their eyes met, and they
remained gazing fixedly at each other. They were both deeply confused;
they lost their self-possession, and might never have been able to
regain it, had not a dramatic incident aroused them.
"Oh dear! Oh dear!" exclaimed the young girl, in distress.
In her excitement, a dressing-sacque, which she had been rinsing
unconsciously, had just escaped her, and the stream was fast bearing it
away. Yet another minute and it would disappear round the corner of the
wall of the Voincourt park, under the arched vault through which the
There were several seconds of anxious waiting. He saw at once what had
happened, and rushed forward. But the current, leaping over the pebbles,
carried this sacque, which seemed possessed, as it went along, much more
rapidly than he. He stooped, thinking he had caught it, but took up only
a handful of soapy foam. Twice he failed. The third time he almost fell.
Then, quite vexed, with a brave look as if doing something at the peril
of his life, he went into the water, and seized the garment just as it
was about being drawn under the ground.
Angelique, who until now had followed the rescue anxiously, quite upset,
as if threatened by a great misfortune, was so relieved that she had an
intense desire to laugh. This feeling was partly nervous, it is true,
but not entirely so. For was not this the adventure of which she had so
often dreamed? This meeting on the border of a lake; the terrible danger
from which she was to be saved by a young man, more beautiful than the
day? Saint George, the tribune, the warrior! These were simply united in
one, and he was this painter of stained glass, this young workman in
his white blouse! When she saw him coming back, his feet wet through
and through, as he held the dripping camisole awkwardly in his hand,
realising the ridiculous side of the energy he had employed in saving it
from the waves, she was obliged to bite her tongue to check the outburst
of gaiety which seemed almost to choke her.
He forgot himself as he looked at her. She was like a most adorable
child in this restrained mirth with which all her youth seemed to
vibrate. Splashed with water, her arms almost chilled by the stream,
she seemed to send forth from herself the purity and clearness of
these living springs which rushed from the mossy woods. She was an
impersonation of health, joy, and freshness, in the full sunlight. One
could easily fancy that she might be a careful housekeeper and a queen
withal as she was there, in her working dress, with her slender waist,
her regal neck, her oval face, such as one reads of in fairy-tales. And
he did not know how to give her back the linen, he found her exquisite,
so perfect a representation of the beauty of the art he loved. It
enraged him, in spite of himself, that he should have the air of an
idiot, as he plainly saw the effort she made not to laugh. But he was
forced to do something, so at last he gave her back the sacque.
Then Angelique realised that if she were to open her mouth and try to
thank him, she would shout. Poor fellow! She sympathised with him and
pitied him. But it was irresistible; she was happy, and needed to give
expression to it; she must yield to the gaiety with which her heart
overflowed. It was such lovely weather, and all life was so beautiful!
At last she thought she might speak, wishing simply to say: "Thank you,
But the wish to laugh had returned, and made her stammer, interrupting
her at each word. It was a loud, cheery laugh, a sonorous outpouring of
pearly notes, which sang sweetly to the crystalline accompaniment of the
The young man was so disconcerted that he could find nothing to say. His
usually pale face had become very red, the timid, childlike expression
of his eyes had changed into a fiery one, like that of an eagle, and he
moved away quickly. He disappeared with the old workman, and even then
she continued to laugh as she bent over the water, again splashing
herself as she shook the clothes hither and thither, rejoicing in the
brightness of the happy day.
On the morrow he came an hour earlier. But at five o'clock in the
morning the linen, which had been dripping all night, was spread out on
the grass. There was a brisk wind, which was excellent for drying. But
in order that the different articles need not be blown away, they were
kept in place by putting little pebbles on their four corners. The whole
wash was there, looking of a dazzling whiteness among the green herbage,
having a strong odour of plants about it, and making the meadow as if it
had suddenly blossomed out into a snowy covering of daisies.
When Angelique came to look at it after breakfast, she was distressed,
for so strong had become the gusts of wind that all threatened to be
carried away. Already a sheet had started, and several napkins had gone
to fasten themselves to the branches of a willow. She fortunately caught
them, but then the handkerchiefs began to fly. There was no one to help
her; she was so frightened that she lost all her presence of mind. When
she tried to spread out the sheet again, she had a regular battle,
for she was quite lost in it, as it covered her with a great crackling
Through all the noise of the wind she heard a voice saying,
"Mademoiselle, do you wish me to help you?"
It was he, and immediately she cried to him, with no other thought than
her pre-occupation as a good housewife:
"Of course I wish it. Come and help me, then. Take the end over there,
nearest to you. Hold it firm!"
The sheet, which they stretched out with their strong arms, flapped
backwards and forwards like a sail. At last they succeeded in putting it
on the ground, and then placed upon it much heavier stones than before.
And now that, quite conquered, it sank quietly down, neither of them
thought of leaving their places, but remained on their knees at the
opposite corners, separated by this great piece of pure white linen.
She smiled, but this time without malice. It was a silent message of
thanks. He became by degrees a little bolder.
"My name is Felicien."
"And mine is Angelique."
"I am a painter on glass, and have been charged to repair the
stained-glass window of the chapel here."
"I live over there with my father and mother, and I am an embroiderer of
The wind, which continued to be strong under the clear blue sky, carried
away their words, lashed them with its purifying breath in the midst of
the warm sunshine in which they were bathed.
They spoke of things which they already knew, as if simply for the
pleasure of talking.
"Is the window, then, to be replaced?"
"No! oh no! it will be so well repaired that the new part cannot be
distinguished from the old. I love it quite as much as you do."
"Oh! it is indeed true that I love it! I have already embroidered a
Saint George, but it was not so beautiful as this one."
"Oh, not so beautiful! How can you say that? I have seen it, if it is
the Saint George on the chasuble which the Abbot Cornille wore last
Sunday. It is a marvellous thing."
She blushed with pleasure, but quickly turned the conversation, as she
"Hurry and put another stone on the left corner of the sheet, or the
wind will carry it away from us again."
He made all possible haste, weighed down the linen, which had been in
great commotion, like the wings of a great wounded bird trying its best
to fly away. Finding that this time it would probably keep its place,
the two young people rose up, and now Angelique went through the narrow,
green paths between the pieces of linen, glancing at each one, while
he followed her with an equally busy look, as if preoccupied by the
possible loss of a dish-towel or an apron. All this seemed quite natural
to them both. So she continued to chatter away freely and artlessly, as
she told of her daily life and explained her tastes.
"For my part, I always wish that everything should be in its place. In
the morning I am always awakened at the same hour by the striking of
the cuckoo-clock in the workroom; and whether it is scarcely daylight or
not, I dress myself as quickly as possible; my shoes and stockings
are here, my soap and all articles of toilette there--a true mania for
order. Yet you may well believe that I was not born so! Oh no! On the
contrary, I was the most careless person possible. Mother was obliged to
repeat to me the same words over and over again, that I might not leave
my things in every corner of the house, for I found it easier to scatter
them about. And now, when I am at work from morning to evening, I can
never do anything right if my chair is not in the same place, directly
opposite the light, Fortunately, I am neither right nor left handed, but
can use both hands equally well at embroidering, which is a great help
to me, for it is not everyone who can do that. Then, I adore flowers,
but I cannot keep a bouquet near me without having a terrible headache.
Violets alone I can bear, and that is surprising. But their odour seems
to calm me, and at the least indisposition I have only need to smell
them and I am at once cured."
He was enraptured while listening to her prattle. He revelled in
the beautiful ring of her voice, which had an extremely penetrating,
prolonged charm; and he must have been peculiarly sensitive to this
human music, for the caressing inflection on certain words moistened his
Suddenly returning to her household cares she exclaimed:
"Oh, now the shirts will soon be dry!"
Then, in the unconscious and simple need of making herself known, she
continued her confidences:
"For colouring, the white is always beautiful, is it not? I tire at
times of blue, of red, and of all other shades; but white is a constant
joy, of which I am never weary. There is nothing in it to trouble you;
on the contrary, you would like to lose yourself in it. We had a white
cat, with yellow spots, which I painted white. It did very well for a
while, but it did not last long. Listen a minute. Mother does not know
it, but I keep all the waste bits of white silk, and have a drawer full
of them, for just nothing except the pleasure of looking at them, and
smoothing them over from time to time. And I have another secret, but
this is a very serious one! When I wake up, there is every morning near
my bed a great, white object, which gently flies away."
He did not smile, but appeared firmly to believe her. Was not all she
said, in her simple way, quite natural? A queen in the magnificence of
her courtly surroundings could not have conquered him so quickly. She
had, in the midst of this white linen on the green grass, a charming,
grand air, happy and supreme, which touched him to the heart, with an
ever-increasing power. He was completely subdued. She was everything to
him from this moment. He would follow her to the last day of his life,
in the worship of her light feet, her delicate hands, of her whole
being, adorable and perfect as a dream. She continued to walk before
him, with a short quick step, and he followed her closely, suffocated by
a thought of the happiness he scarcely dared hope might come to him.
But another sudden gust of wind came up, and there was a perfect flight
into the distance of cambric collars and cuffs, of neckerchiefs and
chemisettes of muslin, which, as they disappeared, seemed like a flock
of white birds knocked about by the tempest.
Angelique began to run.
"Oh dear! What shall I do? You will have to come again and help me. Oh
They both rushed forward. She caught a kerchief on the borders of the
Chevrotte. He had already saved two chemisettes which he found in the
midst of some high thistles. One by one the cuffs and the collars were
retaken. But in the course of their running at full speed, the flying
folds of her skirt had at several different times brushed against
him, and each time his face became suddenly red, and his heart beat
violently. In his turn, he touched her face accidentally, as she jumped
to recover the last fichu, which he had carelessly let go of. She was
startled and stood quietly, but breathing more quickly. She joked
no longer; her laugh sounded less clear, and she was not tempted to
ridicule this great awkward, but most attractive fellow. The feminine
nature so recently awakened in her softened her almost to tears, and
with the feeling of inexplicable tenderness, which overpowered her, was
mingled a half-fear.
What was the matter with her that she was less gay, and that she was so
overcome by this delicious pang? When he held out the kerchief to her,
their hands, by chance, touched for a moment. They trembled, as they
looked at each other inquiringly. Then she drew back quickly, and
for several seconds seemed not to know what she should do under the
extraordinary circumstances which had just occurred. At last she
started. Gathering up all the smaller articles of linen in her arms, and
leaving the rest, she turned towards her home.
Felicien then wished to speak . . . "Oh, I beg your pardon. . . . I pray
But the wind, which had greatly increased, cut off his words. In despair
he looked at her as she flew along, as if carried away by the blast. She
ran and ran, in and out, among the white sheets and tablecloths, under
the oblique, pale golden rays of the sun. Already the shadow of the
Cathedral seemed to envelop her, and she was on the point of entering
her own garden by the little gate which separated it from the Clos,
without having once glanced behind her. But on the threshold she turned
quickly, as if seized with a kind impulse, not wishing that he should
think she was angry, and confused, but smiling, she called out:
"Thank you. Thank you very much."
Did she wish to say that she was grateful to him for having helped her
in recovering the linen? Or was it for something else? She disappeared,
and the gate was shut after her.
And he remained alone in the middle of the field, under the great
regular gusts, which continued to rage, although the sky was still clear
and pure. The elms in the Bishop's garden rustled with a long, billowy
sound, and a loud voice seemed to clamour through the terraces and the
flying buttresses of the Cathedral. But he heard only the light flapping
of a little morning cap, tied to a branch of a lilac bush, as if it were
a bouquet, and which belonged to her.
From that date, each time that Angelique opened her window she saw
Felicien over there in the Clos-Marie. He passed days in the field,
having the chapel window as an excuse for doing so, on which, however,
the work did not advance the least in the world. For hours he would
forget himself behind a cluster of bushes, where, stretched out on
the grass, he watched through the leaves. And it was the greatest of
pleasures to smile at each other every morning and evening. She was
so happy that she asked for nothing more. There would not be another
general washing for three months, so, until then, the little garden-gate
would seldom be open. But three months would pass very quickly, and
if they could see each other daily, was not that bliss enough? What,
indeed, could be more charming than to live in this way, thinking during
the day of the evening look, and during the night of the glance of the
early morrow? She existed only in the hope of that desired moment; its
joy filled her life. Moreover, what good would there be in approaching
each other and in talking together? Were they not constantly becoming
better acquainted without meeting? Although at a distance, they
understood each other perfectly; each penetrated into the other's
innermost thoughts with the closest intimacy. At last, they became so
filled one with the other that they could not close their eyes without
seeing before them, with an astonishing clearness of detail, the image
of their new friend; so, in reality, they were never separated.
It was a constant surprise to Angelique that she had unbosomed herself
at once to Felicien. At their first meeting she had confided in him,
had told him everything about her habits, her tastes, and the deepest
secrets of her heart. He, more silent, was called Felicien, and that was
all she knew. Perhaps it was quite right that it should be so; the woman
giving everything, and the man holding himself back as a stranger. She
had no premature curiosity. She continued to smile at the thought of
things which would certainly be realised. So for her, that of which she
was ignorant counted for nothing. The only important fact in her mind
was the intimacy between them, which united them, little by little,
apart from the world. She knew nothing about him, yet she was so well
acquainted with his nature that she could read his thoughts in a simple
look or smile. He, her hero, had come as she always said he would. She
had at once recognised him, and they loved each other.
So they enjoyed most thoroughly this true possession from a distance.
They were certainly encouraged by the new discoveries they made. She had
long, slender hands, roughened a little at the ends of the fingers by
her constant use of the needle, but he adored them. She noticed that
his feet were small, and was proud of the fact. Everything about him
flattered her; she was grateful to him for being so handsome; and she
was overcome with joy the evening that she found his beard to be of a
lighter shade than his hair, which fact gave a greater softness to his
smile. He went away transported when, one morning, as she leaned over
the balcony, he saw a little red spot on her pretty neck. Their hearts
being thus laid open, new treasures were daily found. Certainly the
proud and frank manner in which she opened her window showed that, even
in her ignorance as a little embroiderer, she had the royal bearing of
a princess. In the same way she knew that he was good, from seeing
how lightly he walked over the herbs and the grass. Around them was a
radiance of virtues and graces from the first hour of their meeting.
Each interview had its special charm. It seemed to them as if their
felicity in seeing each other could never be exhausted.
Nevertheless, Felicien soon showed certain signs of impatience, and he
no longer remained for hours concealed behind a bush in the immobility
of an absolute happiness. As soon as Angelique appeared at her window,
he was restless, and tried to approach her as he glided from willow to
willow. At length she was a little disturbed, fearing that someone might
see him. One day there was almost a quarrel, for he came even to the
wall of the house, so she was obliged to leave the balcony. It was a
great shock to him that she should be offended, and he showed in the
expression of his face so mute a prayer of submission that the next day
she pardoned him, and opened her window at the usual hour.
But although expectation was delightful, it was not sufficient for him,
and he began again. Now he seemed to be everywhere at once: he filled
the Clos-Marie with his restlessness; he came out from behind every
tree; he appeared above every bunch of brambles. Like the wood-pigeons
of the great elms in the Bishop's garden, he seemed to have his
habitation between two branches in the environs. The Chevrotte was an
excuse for his passing entire days there, on its willowy banks, bending
over the stream, in which he seemed to be watching the floating of the
One day she saw that he had climbed up on the ruins of the old mill,
and was standing on the framework of a shed, looking happy to have thus
approached her a little, in his regret at not being able to fly even so
far as her shoulder.
Another day she stifled a slight scream as she saw him far above her,
leaning on an ornamented balustrade of the Cathedral, on the roof of the
chapels of the choir, which formed a terrace. In what way could he have
reached this gallery, the door of which was always fastened, and whose
key no one had a right to touch but the beadle? Then again, a little
later on, how was it that she should find him up in the air among the
flying buttresses of the nave and the pinnacles of the piers? From these
heights he could look into every part of her chamber, as the swallows
who, flying from point to point among the spires, saw everything that
was therein, without her having the idea of hiding herself from them.
But a human eye was different, and from that day she shut herself up
more, and an ever-increasing trouble came to her at the thought that her
privacy was being intruded upon, and that she was no longer alone in
the atmosphere of adoration that surrounded her. If she were really not
impatient, why was it that her heart beat so strongly, like the bell of
the clock-tower on great festivals?
Three days passed without Angelique showing herself, so alarmed was she
by the increasing boldness of Felicien. She vowed in her mind that she
would never see him again, and wound herself up to such a degree of
resentment, that she thought she hated him. But he had given her his
feverishness. She could not keep still, and the slightest pretext was
enough for an excuse to leave the chasuble upon which she was at work.
So, having heard that _mere_ Gabet was ill in bed, in the most profound
poverty, she went to see her every morning. Her room was on the Rue des
Orfevres, only three doors away from the Huberts. She would take her
tea, sugar, and soup, then, when necessary, go to buy her medicine at
the druggist's on the Grand Rue. One day, as she returned with her hands
full of the little phials, she started at seeing Felicien at the bedside
of the old sick woman. He turned very red, and slipped away awkwardly,
after leaving a charitable offering. The next day he came in as she was
leaving, and she gave him her place, very much displeased. Did he really
intend to prevent her from visiting the poor?
In fact, she had been taken with one of her fits of charity, which made
her give all she owned that she might overwhelm those who had nothing.
At the idea of suffering, her whole soul melted into a pitiful
fraternity. She went often to the _pere_ Mascart's, a blind paralytic
on the Rue Basse, whom she was obliged to feed herself the broth she
carried him; then to the Chouteaux, a man and his wife, each one over
ninety years of age, who lived in a little hut on the Rue Magloire,
which she had furnished for them with articles taken from the attic of
her parents. Then there were others and others still whom she saw among
the wretched populace of the quarter, and whom she helped to support
from things that were about her, happy in being able to surprise them
and to see them brighten up for a little while. But now, strange to say,
wherever she went she encountered Felicien! Never before had she seen
so much of him; she who had avoided going to her window for fear that he
might be near. Her trouble increased, and at last she was very angry.
But the worst of all in this matter was that Angelique soon despaired of
her charity. This young man spoilt all her pleasure of giving. In other
days he might perhaps have been equally generous, but it was not among
the same people, not her own particular poor, of that she was sure. And
he must have watched her and followed her very closely to know them all
and to take them so regularly one after the other.
Now, go when she might with a little basket of provisions to the
Chouteaux, there was always money on the table. One day, when she
went to _pere_ Mascart, who was constantly complaining that he had no
tobacco, she found him very rich, with a shining new louis d'or on his
table. Strangest of all, once when visiting _mere_ Gabet, the latter
gave her a hundred franc note to change, and with it she was enabled to
buy some high-priced medicines, of which the poor woman had long been
in need, but which she never hoped to obtain, for where could she find
money to pay for them?
Angelique herself could not distribute much money, as she had none. It
was heart-breaking to her to realise her powerlessness, when he could so
easily empty his purse. She was, of course, happy that such a windfall
had come to the poor, but she felt as if she were greatly diminished
in her former self-estimation. She no longer had the same happiness in
giving, but was disturbed and sad that she had so little to distribute,
while he had so much.
The young man, not understanding her feelings, thinking to conquer her
esteem by an increase of gifts, redoubled his charity, and thus daily
made hers seem less.
Was not it exasperating to run against this fellow everywhere; to see
him give an ox wherever she offered an egg? In addition to all this, she
was obliged to hear his praises sung by all the needy whom he visited:
"a young man so good, so kind, and so well brought up." She was a mere
nothing now. They talked only of him, spreading out his gifts as if to
shame hers. Notwithstanding her firm determination to forget him, she
could not refrain from questioning them about him. What had he left?
What had he said? He was very handsome, was he not? Tender and diffident
as a woman! Perhaps he might even have spoken of her! Ah, yes indeed!
That was true, for he always talked of her. Then she was very angry;
yes, she certainly hated him, for at last she realised that he weighed
on her breast too heavily.
But matters could not continue in this way for ever, a change must take
place; and one May evening, at a wondrously beautiful nightfall, it
came. It was at the home of the Lemballeuse, the family who lived in
the ruins of the mill. There were only women there; the old grandmother,
seamed with wrinkles but still active, her daughter, and her
grandchildren. Of the latter, Tiennette, the elder, was a large,
wild-looking girl, twenty years of age, and her two little sisters, Rose
and Jeanne, had already bold, fearless eyes, under their unkempt mops
of red hair. They all begged during the day on the highway and along the
moat, coming back at night, their feet worn out from fatigue in their
old shoes fastened with bits of string. Indeed, that very evening
Tiennette had been obliged to leave hers among the stones, and had
returned wounded and with bleeding ankles. Seated before their door, in
the midst of the high grass of the Clos-Marie, she drew out the thorns
from her flesh, whilst her mother and the two children surrounded her
and uttered lamentations.
Just then Angelique arrived, hiding under her apron the bread which she
had brought them, as she did once every week. She had entered the field
by the little garden-gate, which she had left open behind her, as she
intended to go back as quickly as possible. But she stopped on seeing
all the family in tears.
"What is the matter? Why are you in such distress?"
"Ah, my good lady!" whined the mother Lemballeuse, "do not you see in
what a terrible state this great foolish girl has put herself? To-morrow
she will not be able to walk, so that will be a whole day lost. She must
have some shoes!"
Rose and Jeanne, with their eyes snapping from under their tangled hair,
redoubled their sobs, as they cried out loudly--
"Yes, yes! She must have some shoes! She must have some shoes!"
Tiennette, half lifting up her thin, dark face, looked round furtively.
Then, fiercely, without a word, she made one of her feet bleed still
more, maddened over a long splinter which she had just drawn out by the
aid of a pin, and which must have pained her intensely.
Angelique, quite touched by the scene, offered her the gift.
"See! Here at least is some bread."
"Oh, bread!" said the mother. "No doubt it is necessary to eat. But
it is not with bread that she will be able to walk again, of that I am
certain! And we were to go to the fair at Bligny, a fair where, every
year, she makes at least two francs. Oh, good heavens! What will become
of us if she cannot go there?"
Pity and embarrassment rendered Angelique mute. She had exactly five
sous in her pocket. It surely was not with five sous that one could buy
a pair of shoes, even at an auction sale. As it had often done before,
her want of money now paralysed her. And that which exasperated her
still more and made her lose her self-control was that at this moment,
as she looked behind her, she saw Felicien, standing a few feet from her
in the darkening shadow. Without doubt he had heard all that had been
said; perhaps even he had been there for a great while, for he always
appeared to her in this way when least expected without her ever knowing
whence he came or whither he was going.
She thought to herself, "He will give the shoes."
Indeed, he had already come forward. The first stars were appearing in
the pale sky. A sweet, gentle quiet seemed to fall down from on high,
soothing to sleep the Clos-Marie, whose willows were lost in the dusk.
The Cathedral itself was only a great black bar in the West.
"Yes, certainly, now he will offer to give the shoes."
And at this probability she was really quite discouraged. Was he always,
then, to give everything? Could she never, even once, conquer him?
Never! Her heart beat so rapidly that it pained her. She wished that she
might be very rich, to show him that she, too, could make others happy.
But the Lemballeuse had seen the good gentleman. The mother had rushed
forward; the two little sisters moaned as they held out their hands for
alms, whilst the elder one, letting go of her wounded ankles, looked at
the new-comer inquiringly with her wild eyes.
"Listen, my noisy children," said Felicien. Then, addressing the mother,
he continued, "You may go to the Grand Rue, at the corner of the Rue
Angelique had understood immediately, for the shoemaker had his shop
there. She interrupted him quickly, and was so agitated that she
stammered her words at random.
"But that is a useless thing to do! What would be the good of it? It is
much more simple--"
Yet she could not find in her own mind the more simple thing she
desired. What could she do? What could she invent, so to be before him
in giving her charity? Never had it seemed to her possible she could
detest him as she did now.
"You will say from me, that it is I who have sent you," continued
Felicien. "You will ask--"
Again she interrupted him. The contest lasted a moment longer. She
repeated in an anxious way:
"It is, indeed, much more simple; it is much easier--"
Suddenly she was calm. She seated herself upon a stone, thoughtfully
examined her shoes, took them off, and then drew off her stockings,
"Look! This is the best thing to do, after all! Why should you have any
trouble about the matter?"
"Oh, my good young lady! God will reward you!" exclaimed the mother
Lemballeuse, as she turned over the shoes and found they were not only
excellent and strong, but almost new. "I will cut them a trifle on the
top, to make them a little larger--Tiennette, why do you not thank her,
Tiennette snatched from the hands of Rose and Jeanne the stockings they
were coveting. She did not open her lips; she only gave one long, fixed,
But now Angelique realised that her feet were bare, and that Felicien
saw them. She blushed deeply, and knew not what to do. She dared not
move, for, were she to rise to get up, he would only see them all the
more. Then, frightened, she rose quickly, and without realising what she
was doing, began to run. In the grass her flying feet were very white
and small. The darkness of the evening had increased, and the Clos-Marie
was a lake of shadow between the great trees on one side and the
Cathedral on the other. And on the ground the only visible light came
from those same little feet, white and satiny as the wing of a dove.
Startled and afraid of the water, Angelique followed the bank of the
Chevrotte, that she might cross it on a plank which served as a bridge.
But Felicien had gone a shorter way through the brambles and brushwood.
Until now he had always been overcome by his timidity, and he had turned
redder than she as he saw her bare feet, pure and chaste as herself.
Now, in the overflow of his ignorant youth, passionately fond of beauty
and desirous for love, he was impatient to cry out and tell her of the
feeling which had entirely taken possession of him since he had first
seen her. But yet, when she brushed by him in her flight, he could only
stammer, with a trembling voice, the acknowledgment so long delayed and
which burnt his lips:
"I love you."
She stopped in surprise. For an instant she stood still, and, slightly
trembling, looked at him. Her anger and the hate she thought she had for
him all vanished at once, and melted into a most delicious sentiment
of astonishment. What had he said, what was the word he had just
pronounced, that she should be so overcome by it? She knew that he loved
her; yet when he said so, the sound of it in her ear overwhelmed her
with an inexplicable joy. It resounded so deeply through her whole
being, that her fears came back and were enlarged. She never would dare
reply to him; it was really more than she could bear; she was oppressed.
He, grown more bold, his heart touched and drawn nearer to hers by their
united deeds of charity, repeated:
"I love you."
And she, fearing the lover, began to run. That was surely the only way
to escape such a danger; yet it was also a happiness, it was all so
strange. The Chevrotte was gaily singing, and she plunged into it like a
startled fawn. Among its pebbles her feet still ran on, under the chill
of icy water. The garden-gate was at last reached, it closed, and she