There came three soft knocks at the door, though she had heard no one come upstairs. She started violently, and made no answer; there was another knock, and then the door-handle was turned. She hid her head under the clothes as if a thief had got into her room, and then came a noise of boots on the boards, and all at once some one touched the bed. She started again, and gave a little cry; then, uncovering her head, she saw Julien standing beside the bed, looking at her with a smile.
"Oh, how you frightened me!" she said.
"Did you not expect me, then?" he asked.
She made no answer, feeling horribly ashamed of being seen in bed by this man, who looked so grave and correct in his evening-dress. They did not know what to say or do next; they hardly dared to look at one another, in this decisive hour, on which the intimate happiness of their life depended. Perhaps he vaguely felt what perfect self-possession, what affectionate stratagems are needed not to hurt the modesty, the extreme delicacy of a maiden's heart. He gently took her hand and kissed it; then, kneeling by the bed as he would before an altar, he murmured, in a voice soft as a sigh:
"Will you love me?"
She felt a little reassured, and raised her head, which was covered with a cloud of lace.
"I love you already, dear," she said, with a smile.
He took his wife's little slender fingers in his mouth, and, his voice changed by this living gag, he asked:
"Will you give me a proof of your love?"
The question frightened her again, and, only remembering her father's words, and not quite understanding what she said:
"I am yours, dear," she answered.
He covered her hand with humid kisses, and, slowly rising, he bent towards her face, which she again began to hide. Suddenly he threw one arm across the bed, winding it around his wife over the clothes, and slipped his other arm under the bolster, which he raised with her head upon it; then he asked, in a low whisper:
"Then you will make room for me beside you?"
She had an instinctive fear, and stammered out: "Oh, not yet, I entreat you."
He seemed disappointed and a little hurt; then he went on in a voice that was still pleading, but a little more abrupt:
"Why not now, since we have got to come to it sooner or later?"
She did not like him for saying that, but, perfectly resigned and submissive, she said, for the second time:
"I am yours, dear."
Then he went quickly into his dressing-room, and she could distinctly hear the rustling of his clothes as he took them off, the jingling of the money in his pockets, the noise his boots made as he let them drop on the floor. All at once he ran across the room in his drawers and socks to put his watch on the mantelpiece; then he returned to the other room, where he moved about a little while longer. Jeanne turned quickly over to the other side and shut her eyes when she heard him coming. She nearly started out of bed when she felt a cold, hairy leg slide against hers, and, distractedly hiding her face in her hands, she moved right to the edge of the bed, almost crying with fear and horror. He took her in his arms, although her back was turned to him, and eagerly kissed her neck, the lace of her nightcap, and the embroidered collar of her night-dress. Filled with a horrible dread, she did not move, and then she felt his strong hands caressing her. She gasped for breath at this brutal touch, and felt an intense longing to escape and hide herself somewhere out of this man's reach. Soon he lay still, and she could feel the warmth of his body against her back. She did not feel so frightened then, and all at once the thought flashed across her mind that she had only to turn round and her lips would touch his.
At last he seemed to get impatient, and, in a sorrowful voice, he said:
"Then you will not be my little wife?"
"Am I not your wife already?" she said, through her hands.
"Come now, my dear, don't try to make a fool of me," he answered, with a touch of bad temper in his voice.
She felt very sorry when she heard him speak like that, and with a sudden movement she turned towards him to ask his pardon. He passionately seized her in his arms and imprinted burning kisses all over her face and neck. She had taken her hands from her face and lay still, making no response to his efforts, her thoughts so confused that she could understand nothing, until suddenly she felt a sharp pain, and then she began to moan and writhe in his arms.
What happened next? She did not know, for her head was in a whirl. She was conscious of nothing more until she felt him raining grateful kisses on her lips. Then he spoke to her and she had to answer; then he made other attempts, which she repelled with horror, and as she struggled she felt against her chest the thick hair she had already felt against her leg, and she drew back in dismay. Tired at last of entreating her without effect, he lay still on his back; then she could think. She had expected something so different, and this destruction of her hopes, this shattering of her expectations of delight, filled her with despair, and she could only say to herself: "That, then, is what he calls being his wife; that is it, that is it."
For a long time she lay thus, feeling very miserable, her eyes wandering over the tapestry on the walls, with its tale of love. As Julien did not speak or move, she slowly turned her head towards him, and then she saw that he was asleep, with his mouth half opened and his face quite calm. Asleep! she could hardly believe it, and it made her feel more indignant, more outraged than his brutal passion had done. How could he sleep on such a night? There was no novelty for him, then, in what had passed between them? She would rather he had struck her, or bruised her with his odious caresses till she had lost consciousness, than that he should have slept. She leant on her elbow, and bent towards him to listen to the breath which sometimes sounded like a snore as it passed through his lips.
Daylight came, dim at first, then brighter, then pink, then radiant. Julien opened his eyes, yawned, stretched his arms, looked at his wife, smiled, and asked:
"Have you slept well, dear?"
She noticed with great surprise that he said "thou" to her now, and she replied:
"Oh, yes; have you?"
"I? Oh, very well indeed," he answered, turning and kissing her. Then he began to talk, telling her his plans, and using the word "economy" so often that Jeanne wondered. She listened to him without very well understanding what he said, and, as she looked at him, a thousand thoughts passed rapidly through her mind.
Eight o'clock struck.
"We must get up," he said; "we shall look stupid if we stay in bed late to-day;" and he got up first.
When he had finished dressing, he helped his wife in all the little details of her toilet, and would not hear of her calling Rosalie. As he was going out of the room, he stopped to say:
"You know, when we are by ourselves, we can call each other 'thee' and 'thou,' but we had better wait a little while before we talk like that before your parents. It will sound quite natural when we come back after our honeymoon." And then he went downstairs.
Jeanne did not go down till lunch-time; and the day passed exactly the same as usual, without anything extraordinary happening. There was only an extra man in the house.
* * * * *
Four days after the wedding, the berlin in which they were to travel to Marseilles arrived. After the anguish of that first night, Jeanne soon became accustomed to Julien's kisses and affectionate caresses, though their more intimate relations still revolted her. When they went away she had quite regained her gayety of heart, and the baroness was the only one who showed any emotion at the parting. Just as the carriage was going off, she put a heavy purse in her daughter's hand.
"That is for any little thing you may want to buy," she said.
Jeanne dropped it into her pocket and the carriage started.
"How much did your mother give you in that purse?" asked Julien in the evening.
Jeanne had forgotten all about it, so she turned it out on her knees, and found there were two thousand francs in gold.
"What a lot of things I shall be able to buy!" she cried, clapping her hands.
At the end of a week they arrived at Marseilles, where the heat was terrible, and the next day they embarked on the Roi Louis, the little packet-boat which calls at Ajaccio on its way to Naples, and started for Corsica. It seemed to Jeanne as if she were in a trance which yet left her the full possession of all her senses, and she could hardly believe she was really going to Corsica, the birthplace of Napoleon, with its wild undergrowth, its bandits, and its mountains. She and her husband stood side by side on the deck of the boat watching the cliffs of Provence fly past. Overhead was a bright blue sky, and the waves seemed to be getting thicker and firmer under the burning heat of the sun.
"Do you remember when we went to Etretat in old Lastique's boat?" asked Jeanne; and, instead of answering her, Julien dropped a kiss right on her ear.
The steamer's paddles churned up the sea, and behind the boat, as far as the eye could reach, lay a long foaming track where the troubled waves frothed like champagne. All at once an immense dolphin leapt out of the water a few fathoms ahead, and then dived in again head foremost. It startled Jeanne, and she threw herself in Julien's arms with a little cry of fear; then she laughed at her terror, and watched for the reappearance of the enormous fish. In a few seconds up it came again, like a huge mechanical toy; then it dived again, and again disappeared; then came two more, then three, then six, which gamboled round the boat, and seemed to be escorting their large wooden brother with the iron fins. Sometimes they were on the left of the boat, sometimes on the right, and, one following the other in a kind of game, they would leap into the air, describe a curve, and replunge into the sea one after the other. Jeanne clapped her hands, delighted at each reappearance of the big, pliant fish, and felt a childish enjoyment in watching them. Suddenly they disappeared, rose to the surface a long way out to sea, then disappeared for good, and Jeanne felt quite sorry when they went away.
The calm, mild, radiant evening drew on; there was not a breath of air to cause the smallest ripple on the sea; the sun was slowly sinking towards that part of the horizon beyond which lay the land of burning heat, Africa, whose glow could almost be felt across the ocean; then, when the sun had quite disappeared, a cool breath of wind, so faint that it could not be called a breeze, came over the sea. There were all the horrible smells of a packet-boat in their cabin, so Jeanne and Julien wrapped themselves in their cloaks and lay down side by side on deck. Julien went to sleep directly, but Jeanne lay looking up at the host of stars which sparkled with so bright and clear a light in this soft Southern sky; then the monotonous noise of the engines made her drowsy, and at last she fell asleep. In the morning she was awakened by the voices of the sailors cleaning the boat, and she aroused her husband and got up. The sea was still all around them, but straight ahead something gray could be faintly seen in the dawn; it looked like a bank of strange-shaped clouds, pointed and jagged, lying on the waves. This vague outline gradually became more distinct, until, standing out against the brightening sky, a long line of mountain-peaks could be seen. It was Corsica, hidden behind a light veil of mist.
The sun rose, throwing black shadows around and below every prominence, and each peak had a crown of light, while all the rest of the island remained enveloped in mist.
The captain, a little elderly man, bronzed, withered, and toughened by the rough salt winds, came up on deck.
"Can you smell my lady over there?" he asked Jeanne, in a voice that thirty years of command, and shouting above the noise of the wind, had made hoarse.
She had indeed noticed a strong, peculiar odor of herbs and aromatic plants.
"It's Corsica that smells like that, madame," went on the captain. "She has a perfumed breath, just like a pretty woman. I am a Corsican, and I should know that smell five miles off, if I'd been away twenty years. Over there, at St. Helena, I hear he is always speaking of the perfume of his country; he belongs to my family."
And the captain took off his hat and saluted Corsica, and then, looking across the ocean, he saluted the great emperor who was a prisoner on that far-away isle, and Jeanne's heart was touched by this simple action. Then the sailor pointed towards the horizon.
"There are the Sanguinaires," he said.
Julien had his arm round his wife's waist, and they both strained their eyes to see what the captain was pointing out. As last they saw some pointed rocks that the boat rounded before entering a large, calm bay, surrounded by high mountains, whose steep sides looked as though they were covered with moss.
"That is the undergrowth," said the captain, pointing out this verdure.
The circle of mountains seemed to close in behind the boat as she slowly steamed across the azure water which was so transparent that in places the bottom could be seen. Ajaccio came in sight; it was a white town at the foot of the mountains, with a few small Italian boats lying at anchor in the harbor, and four or five row-boats came beside the Roi Louis to take off the passengers. Julien, who was looking after the luggage, asked his wife in a low tone:
"A franc is enough, isn't it, to give the steward?"
The whole week he had been constantly asking her this question which she hated.
"When you don't know what is enough, give too much," she answered, a little impatiently.
He haggled with every one, landlords and hotel-waiters, cabmen and shopmen, and when he had obtained the reduction he wanted, he would rub his hands, and say to Jeanne: "I don't like to be robbed." She trembled when the bills were brought, for she knew beforehand the remarks he would make on each item, and felt ashamed of his bargaining; and when she saw the scornful look of the servants as her husband left his small fee in their hands, she blushed to the roots of her hair. Of course he had a discussion with the boatmen who took them ashore.
The first tree she saw on landing was a palm, which delighted her. They went to a big empty hotel standing at the corner of a vast square, and ordered lunch. When they had finished dessert, Jeanne got up to go and wander about the town, but Julien, taking her in his arms, whispered tenderly in her ear:
"Shall we go upstairs for a little while, my pet?"
"Go upstairs?" she said, with surprise; "but I am not at all tired."
He pressed her to him: "Don't you understand? For two days—"
She blushed crimson.
"Oh, what would everyone say? what would they think? You could not ask for a bedroom in the middle of the day. Oh, Julien, don't say anything about it now, please don't."
"Do you think I care what the hotel-people say or think?" he interrupted. "You'll see what difference they make to me." And he rang the bell.
She did not say anything more, but sat with downcast eyes, disgusted at her husband's desires, to which she always submitted with a feeling of shame and degradation; her senses were not yet aroused, and her husband treated her as if she shared all his ardors. When the waiter answered the bell, Julien asked him to show them to their room; the waiter, a man of true Corsican type, bearded to the eyes, did not understand, and kept saying that the room would be quite ready by the evening. Julien got out of patience.
"Get it ready at once," he said. "The journey has tired us and we want to rest."
A slight smile crept over the waiter's face, and Jeanne would have liked to run away; when they came downstairs again, an hour later, she hardly dared pass the servants, feeling sure that they would whisper and laugh behind her back. She felt vexed with Julien for not understanding her feelings, and wondering at his want of delicacy; it raised a sort of barrier between them, and, for the first time, she understood that two people can never be in perfect sympathy; they may pass through life side by side, seemingly in perfect union, but neither quite understands the other, and every soul must of necessity be for ever lonely.
They stayed three days in the little town which was like a furnace, for every breath of wind was shut out by the mountains. Then they made out a plan of the places they should visit, and decided to hire some horses. They started one morning at daybreak on the two wiry little Corsican horses they had obtained, and accompanied by a guide mounted on a mule which also carried some provisions, for inns are unknown in this wild country. At first the road ran along the bay, but soon it turned into a shallow valley leading to the mountains. The uncultivated country seemed perfectly bare, and the sides of the hills were covered with tall weeds, turned sere and yellow by the burning heat; they often crossed ravines where only a narrow stream still ran with a gurgling sound, and occasionally they met a mountaineer, sometimes on foot, sometimes riding his little horse, or bestriding a donkey no bigger than a dog; these mountaineers always carried a loaded gun which might be old and rusty, but which became a very formidable weapon in their hands. The air was filled with the pungent smell of the aromatic plants with which the isle is covered, and the road sloped gradually upwards, winding round the mountains.
The peaks of blue and pink granite made the island look like a fairy palace, and, from the heights, the forests of immense chestnut trees on the lower parts of the hills looked like green thickets. Sometimes the guide would point to some steep height, and mention a name; Jeanne and Julien would look, at first seeing nothing, but at last discovering the summit of the mountain. It was a village, a little granite hamlet, hanging and clinging like a bird's nest to the vast mountain. Jeanne got tired of going at a walking pace for so long.
"Let us gallop a little," she said, whipping up her horse.
She could not hear her husband behind her, and, turning round to see where he was, she burst out laughing. Pale with fright, he was holding onto his horse's mane, almost jolted out of the saddle by the animal's motion. His awkwardness and fear were all the more funny, because he was such a grave, handsome man. Then they trotted gently along the road between two thickets formed of juniper trees, green oaks, arbutus trees, heaths, bay trees, myrtles, and box trees, whose branches were formed into a network by the climbing clematis, and between and around which grew big ferns, honeysuckles, rosemary, lavender, and briars, forming a perfectly impassable thicket, which covered the hill like a cloak. The travelers began to get hungry, and the guide rejoined them and took them to one of those springs so often met with in a mountainous country, with the icy water flowing from a little hole in the rock where some passer-by has left the big chestnut leaf which conveyed the water to his mouth. Jeanne felt so happy that she could hardly help shouting aloud; and they again remounted and began to descend, winding round the Gulf of Sagone.
As evening was drawing on they went through Cargese, the Greek village founded so long ago by fugitives driven from their country. Round a fountain was a group of tall, handsome and particularly graceful girls, with well formed hips, long hands, and slender waists; Julien cried "Good-night" to them, and they answered him in the musical tongue of their ancestors. When they got to Piana they had to ask for hospitality quite in the way of the middle ages, and Jeanne trembled with joy as they waited for the door to open in answer to Julien's knock. Oh, that was a journey! There they did indeed meet with adventures!
They had happened to appeal to a young couple who received them as the patriarch received the messenger of God, and they slept on a straw mattress in an old house whose woodwork was so full of worms that it seemed alive. At sunrise they started off again, and soon they stopped opposite a regular forest of crimson rocks; there were peaks, columns, and steeples, all marvelously sculptured by time and the sea. Thin, round, twisted, crooked, and fantastic, these wonderful rocks nine hundred feet high, looked like trees, plants, animals, monuments, men, monks in their cassocks, horned demons and huge birds, such as one sees in a nightmare, the whole forming a monstrous tribe which seemed to have been petrified by some eccentric god.
Jeanne could not speak, her heart was too full, but she took Julien's hand and pressed it, feeling that she must love something or some one before all this beauty; and then, leaving this confusion of forms, they came upon another bay surrounded by a wall of blood-red granite, which cast crimson reflections into the blue sea. Jeanne exclaimed, "Oh, Julien!" and that was all she could say; a great lump came in her throat and two tears ran down her cheeks. Julien looked at her in astonishment.
"What is it, my pet?" he asked.
She dried her eyes, smiled, and said in a voice that still trembled a little. "Oh, it's nothing, I suppose I am nervous. I am so happy that the least thing upsets me."
He could not understand this nervousness; he despised the hysterical excitement to which women give way and the joy or despair into which they are cast by a mere sensation, and he thought her tears absurd. He glanced at the bad road.
"You had better look after your horse," he said.
They went down by a nearly impassable road, then turning to the right, proceeded along the gloomy valley of Ota. The path looked very dangerous, and Julien proposed that they should go up on foot. Jeanne was only too delighted to be alone with him after the emotion she had felt, so the guide went on with the mule and horses, and they walked slowly after him. The mountain seemed cleft from top to bottom, and the path ran between two tremendous walls of rock which looked nearly black. The air was icy cold, and the little bit of sky that could be seen looked quite strange, it seemed so far away. A sudden noise made Jeanne look up. A large bird flew out of a hole in the rock; it was an eagle, and its open wings seemed to touch the two sides of the chasm as it mounted towards the sky. Farther on, the mountain again divided, and the path wound between the two ravines, taking abrupt turns. Jeanne went first, walking lightly and easily, sending the pebbles rolling from under her feet and fearlessly looking down the precipices. Julien followed her, a little out of breath, and keeping his eyes on the ground so that he should not feel giddy and it seemed like coming out of Hades when they suddenly came into the full sunlight.
They were very thirsty, and, seeing a damp track, they followed it till they came to a tiny spring flowing into a hollow stick which some goat-herd had put there; all around the spring the ground was carpeted with moss, and Jeanne knelt down to drink. Julien followed her example, and as she was slowly enjoying the cool water, he put his arm around her and tried to take her place at the end of the wooden pipe. In the struggle between their lips they would in turns seize the small end of the tube and hold it in their mouths for a few seconds; then, as they left it, the stream flowed on again and splashed their faces and necks, their clothes and their hands. A few drops shone in their hair like pearls, and with the water flowed their kisses.
Then Jeanne had an inspiration of love. She filled her mouth with the clear liquid, and, her cheeks puffed out like bladders, she made Julien understand that he was to quench his thirst at her lips. He stretched his throat, his head thrown backwards and his arms open, and the deep draught he drank at this living spring enflamed him with desire. Jeanne leant on his shoulder with unusual affection, her heart throbbed, her bosom heaved, her eyes, filled with tears, looked softer, and she whispered:
"Julien, I love you!"
Then, drawing him to her, she threw herself down and hid her shame-stricken face in her hands. He threw himself down beside her, and pressed her passionately to him; she gasped for breath as she lay nervously waiting, and all at once she gave a loud cry as though thunderstruck by the sensation she had invited. It was a long time before they reached the top of the mountain, so fluttered and exhausted was Jeanne, and it was evening when they got to Evisa, and went to the house of Paoli Palabretti, a relation of the guide's. Paoli was a tall man with a slight cough, and the melancholy look of a consumptive; he showed them their room, a miserable-looking chamber built of stone, but which was handsome for this country, where no refinement is known. He was expressing in his Corsican patois (a mixture of French and Italian) his pleasure at receiving them, when a clear voice interrupted him, and a dark little woman, with big black eyes, a sun-kissed skin, and a slender waist, hurried forward, kissed Jeanne, shook Julien by the hand and said: "Good-day, madame; good-day, monsieur; are you quite well?" She took their hats and shawls and arranged everything with one hand, for her other arm was in a sling; then she turned them all out, saying to her husband: "Take them for a walk till dinner is ready."
M. Palabretti obeyed at once, and, walking between Jeanne and her husband, he took them round the village. His steps and his words both drawled, and he coughed frequently, saying at each fit, "The cold air has got on my lungs." He led them under some immense chestnut-trees, and, suddenly stopping, he said in his monotonous voice:
"It was here that Mathieu Lori killed my cousin Jean Rinaldi. I was standing near Jean, just there, when we saw Mathieu about three yards off. 'Jean,' he cried; 'don't go to Albertacce; don't you go, Jean, or I'll kill you:' I took Jean's arm. 'Don't go Jean,' I said, 'or he'll do it.' It was about a girl, Paulina Sinacoupi, that they were both after. Then Jean cried out, 'I shall go, Mathieu; and you won't stop me, either.' Then Mathieu raised his gun, and, before I could take aim, he fired. Jean leaped two feet from the ground, monsieur, and then fell right on me, and my gun dropped and rolled down to that chestnut there. Jean's mouth was wide open, but he didn't say a word; he was dead."
The young couple stared in astonishment at this calm witness of such a crime.
"What became of the murderer?" asked Jeanne.
Paoli coughed for some time, then he went on:
"He gained the mountain, and my brother killed him the next year. My brother, Philippi Palabretti, the bandit, you know."
Jeanne shuddered. "Is your brother a bandit?" she asked.
The placid Corsican's eye flashed proudly.
"Yes, madame, he was a celebrated bandit, he was; he put an end to six gendarmes. He died with Nicolas Morali after they had been surrounded for six days, and were almost starved to death."
Then they went in to dinner, and the little woman treated them as if she had known them twenty years. Jeanne was haunted by the fear that she would not again experience the strange shock she had felt in Julien's arms beside the fountain, and when they were alone in their room she was still afraid his kisses would again leave her insensible, but she was soon reassured, and that was her first night of love. The next day she could hardly bear to leave this humble abode, where a new happiness had come to her; she drew her host's little wife into her bedroom, and told her she did not mean it as a present in return for their hospitality, but she must absolutely insist on sending her a souvenir from Paris, and to this souvenir she seemed to attach a superstitious importance. For a long time the young Corsican woman refused to accept anything at all, but at last she said:
"Well, send me a little pistol, a very little one."
Jeanne opened her eyes in astonishment, and the woman added in her ear, as though she were confiding some sweet and tender secret to her:
"It's to kill my brother-in-law with."
And with a smile on her face, she quickly unbandaged the arm she could not use, and showed Jeanne the soft, white flesh which had been pierced right through with a stiletto, though the wound had nearly healed.
"If I had not been as strong as he is," she said, "he would have killed me. My husband is not jealous, for he understands me, and then he is ill, you see, so he is not so hot-blooded; besides, I am an honest woman, madame. But my brother-in-law believes everything that is told him about me, and he is jealous for my husband. I am sure he will make another attempt upon my life, but if I have a little pistol I shall feel safe, and I shall be sure of having my revenge."
Jeanne promised to send the weapon, affectionately kissed her new friend and said good-bye. The rest of her journey was a dream, an endless embrace, an intoxication of caresses; she no longer saw country or people or the places where they stopped, she had eyes only for Julien. When they got to Bastia the guide had to be paid; Julien felt in his pockets, and not finding what he wanted, he said to Jeanne:
"Since you don't use the two thousand francs your mother gave you, I might as well carry them; they will be safer in my pocket, and, besides, then I shan't have to change any notes."
They went to Leghorn, Florence, and Genoa, and, one windy morning, they found themselves again at Marseilles. It was then the fifteenth of October, and they had been away from Les Peuples two months. The cold wind, which seemed to blow from Normandy, chilled Jeanne and made her feel miserable. There had lately been a change in Julien's behavior towards her, he seemed tired, and indifferent, and she had a vague presentiment of evil. She persuaded him to stay at Marseilles four days longer, for she could not bear to leave these warm, sunny lands where she had been so happy, but at last they had to go. They intended to buy all the things they wanted for their housekeeping at Paris, and Jeanne was looking forward to buying all sorts of things for Les Peuples, thanks to her mother's present; but the very first thing she meant to purchase was the pistol she had promised to the young Corsican woman at Evisa.
The day after they reached Paris, she said to Julien:
"Will you give me mamma's money, dear? I want to buy some things."
He looked rather cross.
"How much do you want?" he asked.
"Oh—what you like," she answered in surprise.
"I will give you a hundred francs," he answered; "and whatever you do, don't waste it."
She did not know what to say, she felt so amazed and confused, but at last she said in a hesitating way:
"But—I gave you that money to—"
He interrupted her.
"Yes, exactly. What does it matter whether it's in your pocket or mine now that we share everything? I am not refusing you the money, am I? I am going to give you a hundred francs."
She took the five pieces of gold without another word; she did not dare ask for more, so she bought nothing but the pistol.
A week later they started for Les Peuples.
* * * * *
When the post-chaise drove up, the baron and baroness and all the servants were standing outside the white railings to give the travelers a hearty welcome home. The baroness cried, Jeanne quietly wiped away two tears, and her father walked backwards and forwards nervously. Then, while the luggage was being brought in, the whole journey was gone over again before the drawing-room fire. The eager words flowed from Jeanne's lips, and in half-an-hour she had related everything, except a few little details she forgot in her haste. Then she went to unpack, with Rosalie, who was in a state of great excitement, to help her; when she had finished and everything had been put away in its proper place Rosalie left her mistress, and Jeanne sat down, feeling a little tired. She wondered what she could do next, and she tried to think of some occupation for her mind, some task for her fingers. She did not want to go down to the drawing-room again to sit by her mother who was dozing, and she thought of going for a walk, but it was so miserable out of doors that only to glance out of the window made her feel melancholy.
Then the thought flashed across her mind that now there never would be anything for her to do. At the convent the future had always given her something to think about, and her dreams had filled the hours, so that their flight had passed unnoticed; but she had hardly left the convent when her love-dreams had been realized. In a few weeks she had met, loved, and married a man who had borne her away in his arms without giving her time to think of anything. But now the sweet reality of the first few weeks of married life was going to become a daily monotony, barring the way to all the hopes and delicious fears of an unknown future. There was nothing more to which she could look forward, nothing more for her to do, to-day, to-morrow, or ever. She felt all that with a vague sensation of disillusion and melancholy. She rose and went to lean her forehead against the cold window-pane, and, after looking for some time at the dull sky and heavy clouds, she made up her mind to go out.
Could it really be the same country, the same grass, the same trees as she had seen with such joy in May? What had become of the sun-bathed leaves, and the flaming dandelions, the blood-red poppies, the pure marguerites that had reared their heads amidst the green grass above which had fluttered innumerable yellow butterflies? They were all gone, and the very air seemed changed, for now it was no longer full of life, and fertilizing germs and intoxicating perfumes. The avenues were soaked by the autumn rains and covered with a thick carpet of dead leaves, and the thin branches of the poplars trembled in the wind which was shaking off the few leaves that still hung on them. All day long these last, golden leaves hovered and whirled in the air for a few seconds and then fell, in an incessant, melancholy rain.
Jeanne walked on down to the wood. It gave her the sad impression of being in the room of a dying man. The leafy walls which had separated the pretty winding paths no longer existed, the branches of the shrubs blew mournfully one against the other, the rustling of the fallen leaves, that the wind was blowing about and piling into heaps, sounded like a dying sigh, and the birds hopped from tree to tree with shivering little chirps, vainly seeking a shelter from the cold. Shielded by the elms which formed a sort of vanguard against the sea-wind, the linden and the plane-tree were still covered with leaves, and the one was clothed in a mantle of scarlet velvet, the other in a cloak of orange silk. Jeanne walked slowly along the baroness's avenue, by the side of Couillard's farm, beginning to realize what a dull, monotonous life lay before her; then she sat down on the slope where Julien had first told his love, too sad even to think and only feeling that she would like to go to bed and sleep, so that she might escape from this melancholy day. Looking up she saw a seagull blown along by a gust of wind, and she suddenly thought of the eagle she had seen in Corsica in the somber valley of Ota. As she sat there she could see again the island with its sun-ripened oranges, its strong perfumes, its pink-topped mountains, its azure bays, its ravines, with their rushing torrents, and it gave her a sharp pain to think of that happy time that was past and gone; and the damp, rugged country by which she was now surrounded, the mournful fall of the leaves, the gray clouds hurrying before the wind, made her feel so miserable that she went indoors, feeling that she should cry if she stayed out any longer. She found her mother, who was accustomed to these dull days, dozing over the fire. The baron and Julien had gone for a walk, and the night was drawing on filling the vast drawing-room with dark shadows which were sometimes dispersed by the fitful gleams of the fire; out of doors the gray sky and muddy fields could just be seen in the fading light.
The baron and Julien came in soon after Jeanne. As soon as he came into the gloomy room the baron rang the bell, exclaiming:
"How miserable you look in here! Let us have some lights."
He sat down before the fire, putting his feet near the flame, which made the mud drop off his steaming boots.
"I think it is going to freeze," he said, rubbing his hands together cheerfully. "The sky is clearing towards the north, and it's a full moon this evening. We shall have a hard frost to-night."
Then, turning towards his daughter:
"Well, my dear," he asked, "are you glad to get back to your own house and see the old people at home again?"
This simple question quite upset Jeanne. Her eyes filled with tears, and she threw herself into her father's arms, covering his face with kisses as though she would ask him to forgive her discontent. She had thought she should be so pleased to see her parents again, and now, instead of joy, she felt a coldness around her heart, and it seemed as if she could not regain all her former love for them until they had all dropped back into their ordinary ways again.
Dinner seemed very long that evening; no one spoke, and Julien did not pay the least attention to his wife. In the drawing-room after dinner, Jeanne dozed over the fire opposite the baroness who was quite asleep, and, when she was aroused for a moment by the voices of the two men, raised in argument over something, she wondered if she would ever become quite content with a pleasureless, listless life like her mother. The crackling fire burnt clear and bright, and threw sudden gleams on the faded tapestry chairs, on the fox and the stork, on the melancholy-looking heron, on the ant and the grasshopper. The baron came over to the fireplace, and held his hands to the blaze.
"The fire burns well to-night," he said; "there is a frost, I am sure."
He put his hands on Jeanne's shoulder, and, pointing to the fire:
"My child," he said, "the hearth with all one's family around it is the happiest spot on earth; there is no place like it. But don't you think we had better go to bed? You must both be quite worn out with fatigue."
Up in her bedroom Jeanne wondered how this second return to the place she loved so well could be so different from the first. "Why did she feel so miserable?" she asked herself; "why did the chateau, the fields, everything she had so loved, seem to-day so desolate?" Her eyes fell on the clock. The little bee was swinging from left to right and from right to left over the gilded flowers, with the same quick even movement as of old. She suddenly felt a glow of affection for this little piece of mechanism, which told her the hour in its silvery tones, and beat like a human heart, and the tears came into her eyes as she looked at it; she had not felt so moved when she had kissed her father and mother on her return, but the heart has no rules or logic, to guide it.
Julien had made his fatigue the pretext for not sharing his wife's chamber that night, so, for the first time since her marriage, she slept alone. It had been agreed that henceforth they should have separate rooms, but she was not yet accustomed to sleep alone, and, for a long time she lay awake while the moaning wind swept round the house. In the morning she was aroused by the blood-red light falling on her bed. Through the frozen window-panes it looked as if the whole sky were on fire. Throwing a big dressing-gown round her, Jeanne ran to the window and opened it, and in rushed an icy wind, stinging her skin and bringing the water to her eyes. In the midst of a crimson sky, the great red sun was rising behind the trees, and the white frost had made the ground so hard that it rang under the farm-servant's feet. In this one night all the branches of the poplars had been entirely stripped of their few remaining leaves, and, through the bare trees, beyond the plain, appeared the long, green line of the sea, covered with white-crested waves. The plane-tree and the linden were being rapidly stripped of their bright coverings by the cold wind, and showers of leaves fell to the ground as each gust swept by.
Jeanne dressed herself, and for want of something better to do, went to see the farmers. The Martins were very surprised to see her. Madame Martin kissed her on both cheeks, and she had to drink a little glass of noyau; then she went over to the other farm. The Couillards were also very surprised when she came in; the farmer's wife gave two pecks at her ears and insisted on her drinking a little glass of cassis; then she went in to breakfast. And that day passed like the previous one, only it was cold instead of damp, and the other days of the week were like the first two, and all the weeks of the month were like the first one.
Little by little, Jeanne's regrets for those happy, distant lands vanished; she began to get resigned to her life, to feel an interest in the many unimportant details of the days, and to perform her simple, regular occupations with care. A disenchantment of life, a sort of settled melancholy gradually took possession of her. What did she want? She did not know herself. She had no desire for society, no thirst for the excitement of the world, the pleasures she might have had possessed no attraction for her, but all her dreams and illusions had faded away, leaving her life as colorless as the old tapestry chairs in the chateau drawing-room.
Her relations with Julien had completely changed, for he became quite a different man when they settled down after their wedding tour, like an actor who becomes himself again as soon as he has finished playing his part. He hardly ever took any notice of his wife, or even spoke to her; all his love seemed to have suddenly disappeared, and it was very seldom that he accompanied her to her room of a night. He had taken the management of the estate and the household into his own hands, and he looked into all the accounts, saw that the peasants paid their arrears of rent, and cut down every expense. No longer the polished, elegant man who had won Jeanne's heart, he looked and dressed like a well-to-do farmer, neglecting his personal appearance with the carelessness of a man who no longer strives to fascinate. He always wore an old velvet shooting-jacket, covered all over with stains, which he had found one day as he was looking over his old clothes; then he left off shaving, and his long, untrimmed beard made him look quite plain, while his hands never received any attention.
After each meal, he drank four or five small glasses of brandy, and when Jeanne affectionately reproached him, he answered so roughly: "Leave me alone, can't you?" that she never tried to reason with him again.
She accepted all this in a calm way that astonished herself, but she looked upon him now as a stranger who was nothing whatever to her. She often thought of it all, and wondered how it was that after having loved and married each other in a delicious passion of affection they should suddenly awake from their dream of love as utter strangers, as if they had never lain in each other's arms. How was it his indifference did not hurt her more? Had they been mistaken in each other? Would she have been more pained if Julien had still been handsome, elegant and attractive?
* * * * *
It was understood that at the new year the baron and baroness were to spend a few months in their Rouen house, leaving Les Peuples to the young people who would become settled that winter, and so get accustomed to the place where they were to pass their lives. Julien wanted to present his wife to the Brisevilles, the Couteliers and the Fourvilles, but they could not pay these visits yet because they had not been able to get the painter to change the coat-of-arms on the carriage; for nothing in the world would have persuaded Julien to go to the neighboring chateau in the old family carriage, which the baron had given up to him, until the arms of the De Lamares had been quartered on it with those of the Leperthius des Vauds. Now there was only one man in the whole province who made a speciality of coats-of-arms, a painter from Bolbec, named Bataille, who was naturally in great request among all the Normandy aristocracy; so Julien had to wait for some time before he could secure his services.
At last, one December morning just as they were finishing lunch at Les Peuples, they saw a man, with a box on his back, open the gate and come up the path; it was Bataille. He was shown into the dining-room, and lunch was served to him just as if he had been a gentleman, for his constant intercourse with the provincial aristocracy, his knowledge of the coats-of-arms, their mottoes and signification, made him a sort of herald with whom no gentleman need be ashamed to shake hands.
Pencils and paper were brought, and while Bataille ate his lunch, the baron and Julien made sketches of their escutcheons with all the quarters. The baroness, always delighted when anything of this sort was discussed, gave her advice, and even Jeanne took part in the conversation, as if it aroused some interest in her. Bataille, without interrupting his lunch, occasionally gave an opinion, took the pencil to make a sketch of his idea, quoted examples, described all the aristocratic carriages in Normandy, and seemed to scatter an atmosphere of nobility all around him. He was a little man with thin gray hair and paint-daubed hands which smelt of oil. It was said that he had once committed a grave offense against public morality, but the esteem in which he was held by all the titled families had long ago effaced this stain on his character.
As soon as the painter had finished his coffee, he was taken to the coach-house and the carriage was uncovered. Bataille looked at it, gave an idea of the size he thought the shield ought to be, and then, after the others had again given their opinions, he began his work. In spite of the cold the baroness ordered a chair and a foot-warmer to be brought out for her that she might sit and watch the painter. Soon she began to talk to him, asking him about the marriages and births and deaths of which she had not yet heard, and adding these fresh details to the genealogical trees which she already knew by heart. Beside her, astride a chair, sat Julien, smoking a pipe and occasionally spitting on the ground as he watched the growth of the colored certificate of his nobility. Soon old Simon on his way to the kitchen garden stopped, with his spade on his shoulder, to look at the painting, and the news of Bataille's arrival having reached the two farms the farmers' wives came hurrying up also. Standing on either side of the baroness, they went into ecstasies over the drawing and kept repeating: "He must be clever to paint like that."
The shields on both carriage-doors were finished the next morning about eleven o'clock. Everyone came to look at the work now it was done, and the carriage was drawn out of the coach-house that they might the better judge of the effect. The design was pronounced perfect, and Bataille received a great many compliments before he strapped his box on his back and went off again; the baron, his wife, Jeanne and Julien all agreed that the painter was a man of great talent, and would, no doubt, have become an artist, if circumstances had permitted.
For the sake of economy, Julien had accomplished some reforms which brought with them the need of fresh arrangements. The old coachman now performed the duties of gardener, the vicomte himself undertaking to drive, and as he was obliged to have someone to hold the horses when the family went to make a visit, he had made a groom of a young cowherd named Marius. The horses had been sold to do away with the expense of their keep, so he had introduced a clause in Couillard's and Martin's leases by which the two farmers bound themselves to each provide a horse once a month, on whatever day the vicomte chose.
When the day came the Couillards produced a big, raw-boned, yellowish horse, and the Martins a little, white, long-haired nag; the two horses were harnessed, and Marius, buried in an old livery of Simon's, brought the carriage round to the door. Julien, who was in his best clothes, would have looked a little like his old, elegant self, if his long beard had not made him look common. He inspected the horses, the carriage, and the little groom, and thought they looked very well, the only thing of any importance in his eyes being the new coat-of-arms. The baroness came downstairs on her husband's arm, got in, and had some cushions put behind her back; then came Jeanne. She laughed first at the strange pair of horses, and her laughter increased when she saw Marius with his face buried under his cockaded hat (which his nose alone prevented from slipping down to his chin), and his hands lost in his ample sleeves, and the skirts of his coat coming right down to his feet, which were encased in enormous boots; but when she saw him obliged to throw his head right back before he could see anything, and raise his knee at each step as though he were going to take a river in his stride, and move like a blind man when he had an order given him, she gave a shout of laughter. The baron turned round, looked for a moment at the little fellow who stood looking so confused in his big clothes, and then he too was overcome with laughter, and, hardly able to speak, called out to his wife:
"Lo-lo-look at Ma-Marius! Does-doesn't he look fun-funny?"
The baroness leaned out of the carriage-window, and, catching sight of Marius, she was shaken by such a fit of laughter that the carriage moved up and down on its springs as if it were jolting over some deep ruts.
"What on earth is there to laugh at like that?" said Julien, his face pale with anger. "You must be perfect idiots, all of you."
Jeanne sat down on the steps, holding her sides and quite unable to contain herself; the baron followed her example, and, inside the carriage, convulsive sneezes and a sort of continual clucking intimated that the baroness was suffocating with laughter. At last Marius' coat began to shake; no doubt, he understood the cause of all this mirth, and he giggled himself, beneath his big hat. Julien rushed towards him in a rage; he gave him a box on the ear which knocked the boy's hat off and sent it rolling onto the grass; then, turning to the baron, he said, in a voice that trembled with anger:
"I think you ought to be the last one to laugh. Whose fault is it that you are ruined? We should not be like this if you had not squandered your fortune and thrown away your money right and left."
All the laughter stopped abruptly, but no one spoke. Jeanne, ready to cry now, quietly took her place beside her mother. The baron, without a word, sat down opposite, and Julien got up on the box, after lifting up the crying boy whose cheek was beginning to swell. The long drive was performed in silence, for they all felt awkward and unable to converse on ordinary topics. They could only think of the incident that had just happened, and, rather than broach such a painful subject, they preferred to sit in dull silence.
They went past a great many farm-houses startling the black fowls and sending them to the hedges for refuge, and sometimes a yelping dog followed for a little while and then ran back to his kennel with bristling hair, turning round every now and then to send another bark after the carriage. A lad in muddy sabots, was slouching along with his hands in his pockets, his blouse blown out by the wind and his long lazy legs dragging one after the other, and as he stood on one side for the carriage to pass, he awkwardly pulled off his cap. Between each farm lay meadows with other farms dotted here and there in the distance, and it seemed a long while before they turned up an avenue of firs which bordered the road. Here the carriage leant on one side as it passed over the deep ruts, and the baroness felt frightened and began to give little screams. At the end of the avenue there was a white gate which Marius jumped down to open, and then they drove round an immense lawn and drew up before a high, gloomy-looking house which had all its shutters closed.
The hall-door opened, and an old, semi-paralyzed servant (in a red and black striped waistcoat, over which was tied an apron) limped sideways down the steps; after asking the visitors' names he showed them into a large drawing-room, and drew up the closed Venetian blinds. The furniture was all covered up, and the clock and candelabra were enveloped in white cloths; the room smelt moldy, and its damp, cold atmosphere seemed to chill one to the very heart. The visitors sat down and waited. Footsteps could be heard on the floor above, hurrying along in an unusual bustle, for the lady of the house had been taken unawares and was changing her dress as quickly as possible; a bell rang several times and then they could hear more footsteps on the stairs. The baroness, feeling thoroughly cold, began to sneeze frequently; Julien walked up and down the room, Jeanne sat by her mother, and the baron stood with his back against the marble mantelpiece.
At last a door opened, and the Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Briseville appeared. They were a little, thin couple of an uncertain age, both very formal and rather embarrassed. The vicomtesse wore a flowered silk gown and a cap trimmed with ribbons, and when she spoke it was in a sharp, quick voice. Her husband was in a tight frock-coat; his hair looked as if it had been waxed, and his nose, his eyes, his long teeth and his coat, which was evidently his best one, all shone as if they had been polished with the greatest care. He returned his visitors' bow with a bend of the knees.
When the ordinary complimentary phrases had been exchanged no one knew what to say next, so they all politely expressed their pleasure at making this new acquaintance and hoped it would be a lasting one; for, living as they did in the country all the year round, an occasional visit made an agreable change. The icy air of the drawing-room froze the very marrow of their bones, and the baroness was seized by a fit of coughing, interrupted at intervals by a sneeze. The baron rose to go.
"You are not going to leave us already? Pray, stay a little longer," said the Brisevilles.
But Jeanne followed her father's example in spite of all the signs made her by Julien, who thought they were leaving too soon. The vicomtesse would have rung to order the baron's carriage, but the bell was out of order, so the vicomte went to find a servant. He soon returned, to say that the horses had been taken out, and the carriage would not be ready for some minutes. Everyone tried to find some subject of conversation; the rainy winter was discussed, and Jeanne, who could not prevent herself shivering, try as she would, asked if their hosts did not find it very dull living alone all the year round. Such a question astounded the Brisevilles. Their time was always fully occupied, what with writing long letters to their numerous aristocratic relations and pompously discussing the most trivial matters, for in all their useless, petty occupations, they were as formally polite to each other as they would have been to utter strangers. At last the carriage, with its two ill-matched steeds, drew up before the door, but Marius was nowhere to be seen; he had gone for a walk in the fields, thinking he would not be wanted again until the evening. Julien, in a great rage, left word for him to be sent after them on foot, and, after a great many bows and compliments, they started for Les Peuples again.
As soon as they were fairly off, Jeanne and the baron, in spite of the uncomfortable feeling that Julien's ill-temper had caused, began to laugh and joke about the Brisevilles' ways and tones. The baron imitated the husband and Jeanne the wife, and the baroness, feeling a little hurt in her reverence for the aristocracy, said to them:
"You should not joke in that way. I'm sure the Brisevilles are very well-bred people, and they belong to excellent families."
They stopped laughing for a time, out of respect for the baroness's feelings, but every now and then Jeanne would catch her father's eye, and then they began again. The baron would make a very stiff bow, and say in a solemn voice:
"Your chateau at Les Peuples must be very cold, madame, with the sea-breeze blowing on it all day long."
Then Jeanne put on a very prim look, and said with a smirk, moving her head all the time like a duck on the water:
"Oh, monsieur, I have plenty to fill up my time. You see we have so many relations to whom letters must be written, and M. de Briseville leaves all correspondence to me, as his time is taken up with the religious history of Normandy that he is writing in collaboration with the Abbe Pelle."
The baroness could not help smiling, but she repeated, in a half-vexed, half-amused tone:
"It isn't right to laugh at people of our own rank like that."
All at once the carriage came to a standstill, and Julien called out to someone on the road behind; Jeanne and the baron leant out of the windows, and saw some singular creature rolling, rather than running, towards them. Hindered by the floating skirts of his coat, unable to see for his hat, which kept slipping over his eyes, his sleeves waving like the sails of a windmill, splashing through the puddles, stumbling over every large stone in his way, hastening, jumping, covered with mud, Marius was running after the carriage as fast as his legs could carry him. As soon as he came up Julien leant down, caught hold of him by the coat collar, and lifted him up on the box seat; then, dropping the reins, he began to pommel the boy's hat, which at once slipped down to his shoulders. Inside the hat, which sounded as if it had been a drum, Marius yelled at the top of his voice, but it was in vain that he struggled and tried to jump down, for his master held him firmly with one hand while he beat him with the other.
"Papa! oh, papa!" gasped Jeanne; and the baroness, filled with indignation, seized her husband's arm, and exclaimed: "Stop him, Jacques, stop him!" The baron suddenly let down the front window, and, catching hold of the vicomte's sleeve:
"Are you going to stop beating that child?" he said in a voice that trembled with anger.
Julien turned round in astonishment.
"But don't you see what a state the little wretch has got his livery into?"
"What does that matter to me?" exclaimed the baron, with his head between the two. "You sha'n't be so rough with him."
Julien got angry.
"Kindly leave me alone," he said; "it's nothing to do with you;" and he raised his hand to strike the lad again. The baron caught hold of his son-in-law's wrist, and flung his uplifted hand heavily down against the woodwork of the seat, crying:
"If you don't stop that, I'll get out and soon make you."
He spoke in so determined a tone that the vicomte's rage suddenly vanished, and, shrugging his shoulders, he whipped up the horses, and the carriage moved on again. All this time Jeanne and her mother had sat still, pale with fright, and the beating of the baroness's heart could be distinctly heard. At dinner that evening Julien was more agreeable than usual, and behaved as if nothing had happened. Jeanne, her father, and Madame Adelaide easily forgave, and, touched by his good temper, they joined in his gayety with a feeling of relief. When Jeanne mentioned the Brisevilles, her husband even made a joke about them, though he quickly added:
"But one can see directly that they are gentlepeople."
No more visits were paid, as everyone dreaded any reference to Marius, but they were going to send cards to their neighbors on New Year's day, and then wait to call on them until spring came, and the weather was warmer.
On Christmas day and New Year's day, the cure, the mayor, and his wife dined at Les Peuples, and their two visits formed the only break in the monotonous days. The baron and baroness were to leave the chateau on the ninth of January; Jeanne wanted them to stay longer, but Julien did not second her invitation, so the baron ordered the post-chaise to be sent from Rouen. The evening before they went away was clear and frosty, so Jeanne and her father walked down to Yport, for they had not been there since Jeanne's return from Corsica.
They went across the wood where she had walked on her wedding-day with him whose companion she was henceforth to be, where she had received his first kiss, and had caught her first glimpse of that sensual love which was not fully revealed to her till that day in the valley of Ota when she had drunk her husband's kisses with the water.
There were no leaves, no climbing plants, in the copse now, only the rustling of the branches, and that dry, crackling noise that seems to fill every wood in winter.
They reached the little village and went along the empty, silent streets, which smelt of fish and of seaweed. The big brown nets were hanging before the doors, or stretched out on the beach as of old; towards Fecamp the green rocks at the foot of the cliff could be seen, for the tide was going out, and all along the beach the big boats lay on their sides looking like huge fish.
As night drew on, the fishermen, walking heavily in their big sea-boots, began to come down on the shingle in groups, their necks well wrapped up with woolen scarfs, and carrying a liter of brandy in one hand, and the boat-lantern in the other. They busied themselves round the boats, putting on board, with true Normandy slowness, their nets, their buoys, a big loaf, a jar of butter, and the bottle of brandy and a glass. Then they pushed off the boats, which went down the beach with a harsh noise, then rushed through the surf, balanced themselves on the crest of a wave for a few seconds, and spread their brown wings and disappeared into the night, with their little lights shining at the bottom of the masts. The sailors' wives, their big, bony frames shown off by their thin dresses, stayed until the last fisherman had gone off, and then went back to the hushed village, where their noisy voices roused the sleeping echoes of the gloomy streets.
The baron and Jeanne stood watching these men go off into the darkness, as they went off every night, risking their lives to keep themselves from starving, and yet gaining so little that they could never afford to eat meat.
"What a terrible, beautiful thing is the ocean!" said the baron. "How many lives are at this very moment in danger on it, and yet how exquisite it looks now, with the shadows falling over it! Doesn't it, Jeannette?"
"This is not so pretty as the Mediterranean," she answered with a watery smile.
"The Mediterranean!" exclaimed the baron scornfully. "Why, the Mediterranean's nothing but oil or sugared water, while this sea is terrific with its crests of foam and its wild waves. And think of those men who have just gone off on it, and who are already out of sight."
Jeanne gave in.
"Yes, perhaps you are right," she said with a sigh, for the word "Mediterranean" had sent a pang through her heart, and turned her thoughts to those far-away countries where all her dreams lay buried.
They did not go back through the wood, but walked along the road; they walked in silence, for both were saddened by the thought of the morrow's parting. As they passed the farmhouses, they could smell the crushed apples—that scent of new cider which pervades all Normandy at this time of the year—or the strong odor of cows and the healthy, warm smell of a dunghill. The dwelling houses could be distinguished by their little lighted windows, and these tiny lights, scattered over the country, made Jeanne think of the loneliness of human creatures, and how everything tends to separate and tear them away from those they love, and her heart seemed to grow bigger and more capable of understanding the mysteries of existence.
"Life is not always gay," she said in tones of resignation.
The baron sighed.
"That is true, my child," he replied; "but we cannot help it."
The next day the baron and baroness went away, leaving Jeanne and Julien alone.
* * * * *
The young couple got into the habit of playing cards; every day after lunch Jeanne played several games of bezique with her husband, while he smoked his pipe and drank six or eight glasses of brandy. When they had finished playing, Jeanne went upstairs to her bedroom, and, sitting by the window, worked at a petticoat flounce she was embroidering, while the wind and rain beat against the panes. When her eyes ached she looked out at the foamy, restless sea, gazed at it for a few minutes, and then took up her work again.
She had nothing else to do, for Julien had taken the entire management of the house into his hands, that he might thoroughly satisfy his longing for authority and his mania for economy. He was exceedingly stingy; he never gave the servants anything beyond their exact wages, never allowed any food that was not strictly necessary. Every morning, ever since she had been at Les Peuples, the baker had made Jeanne a little Normandy cake, but Julien cut off this expense, and Jeanne had to content herself with toast.
Wishing to avoid all arguments and quarrels, she never made any remark, but each fresh proof of her husband's avarice hurt her like the prick of a needle. It seemed so petty, so odious to her, brought up as she had been in a family where money was never thought of any importance. How often she had heard her mother say: "Money is made to be spent"; but now Julien kept saying to her: "Will you never be cured of throwing money away?" Whenever he could manage to reduce a salary or a bill by a few pence he would slip the money into his pocket, saying, with a pleased smile:
"Little streams make big rivers."
Jeanne would sometimes find herself dreaming as she used to do before she was married. She would gradually stop working, and with her hands lying idle in her lap and her eyes fixed on space, she built castles in the air as if she were a young girl again. But the voice of Julien, giving an order to old Simon, would call her back to the realities of life, and she would take up her work, thinking, "Ah, that is all over and done with now," and a tear would fall on her fingers as they pushed the needle through the stuff.
Rosalie, who used to be so gay and lively, always singing snatches of songs as she went about her work, gradually changed also. Her plump round cheeks had fallen in and lost their brightened color, and her skin was muddy and dark. Jeanne often asked her if she were ill, but the little maid always answered with a faint blush, "No, madame," and got away as quickly as she could. Instead of tripping along as she had always done, she now dragged herself painfully from room to room, and seemed not even to care how she looked, for the peddlers in vain spread out their ribbons and corsets and bottles of scent before her; she never bought anything from them now.
At the end of January, the heavy clouds came across the sea from the north, and there was a heavy fall of snow. In one night the whole plain was whitened, and, in the morning the trees looked as if a mantle of frozen foam had been cast over them.
Julien put on his high boots, and passed his time in the ditch between the wood and the plain, watching for the migrating birds. Every now and then his shots would break the frozen silence of the fields, and hordes of black crows flew from the trees in terror. Jeanne, tired of staying indoors, would go out on the steps of the house, where, in the stillness of this snow-covered world, she could hear the bustle of the farms, or the far-away murmur of the waves and the soft continual rustle of the falling snow.
On one of these cold, white mornings she was sitting by her bedroom fire, while Rosalie, who looked worse and worse every day, was slowly making the bed. All at once Jeanne heard a sigh of pain behind her. Without turning her head, she asked:
"What is the matter with you, Rosalie?"
The maid answered as she always did:
"Nothing, madame," but her voice seemed to die away as she spoke.
Jeanne had left off thinking about her, when she suddenly noticed that she could not hear the girl moving. She called: "Rosalie."
There was no answer. Then she thought that the maid must have gone quietly out of the room without her hearing her, and she cried in a louder tone: "Rosalie!" Again she received no answer, and she was just stretching out her hand to ring the bell, when she heard a low moan close beside her. She started up in terror.
Rosalie was sitting on the floor with her back against the bed, her legs stretched stiffly out, her face livid, and her eyes staring straight before her. Jeanne rushed to her side.
"Oh, Rosalie! What is the matter? what is it?" she asked in affright.
The maid did not answer a word, but fixed her wild eyes on her mistress and gasped for breath, as if tortured by some excruciating pain. Then, stiffening every muscle in her body, and stifling a cry of anguish between her clenched teeth, she slipped down on her back, and all at once, something stirred underneath her dress, which clung tightly round her legs. Jeanne heard a strange, gushing noise, something like the death-rattle of someone who is suffocating, and then came a long low wail of pain; it was the first cry of suffering of a child entering the world.
The sound came as a revelation to her, and, suddenly losing her head, she rushed to the top of the stairs, crying:
"What do you want?" he answered, from below.
She gasped out, "It's Rosalie who—who—" but before she could say any more Julien was rushing up the stairs two at a time; he dashed into the bedroom, raised the girl's clothes, and there lay a creased, shriveled, hideous, little atom of humanity, feebly whining and trying to move its limbs. He got up with an evil look on his face, and pushed his distracted wife out of the room, saying:
"This is no place for you. Go away and send me Ludivine and old Simon."
Jeanne went down to the kitchen trembling all over, to deliver her husband's message, and then afraid to go upstairs again, she went into the drawing-room, where a fire was never lighted, now her parents were away. Soon she saw Simon run out of the house, and come back five minutes after with Widow Dentu, the village midwife. Next she heard a noise on the stairs which sounded as if they were carrying a body, then Julien came to tell her that she could go back to her room. She went upstairs and sat down again before her bedroom fire, trembling as if she had just witnessed some terrible accident.
"How is she?" she asked.
Julien, apparently in a great rage, was walking about the room in a preoccupied, nervous way. He did not answer his wife for some moments, but at last he asked, stopping in his walk:
"Well, what do you mean to do with this girl?"
Jeanne looked at her husband as if she did not understand his question.
"What do you mean?" she said. "I don't know; how should I?"
"Well, anyhow, we can't keep that child in the house," he cried, angrily.
Jeanne looked very perplexed, and sat in silence for some time. At last she said:
"But, my dear, we could put it out to nurse somewhere?"
He hardly let her finish her sentence.
"And who'll pay for it? Will you?"
"But surely the father will take care of it," she said, after another long silence. "And if he marries Rosalie, everything will be all right."
"The father!" answered Julien, roughly; "the father! Do you know who is the father? Of course you don't. Very well, then!"
Jeanne began to get troubled: "But he certainly will not forsake the girl; it would be such a cowardly thing to do. We will ask her his name, and go and see him and force him to give some account of himself."
Julien had become calmer, and was again walking about the room.
"My dear girl," he replied, "I don't believe she will tell you the man's name, or me either. Besides, suppose he wouldn't marry her? You must see that we can't keep a girl and her illegitimate child in our house."
But Jeanne would only repeat, doggedly:
"Then the man must be a villain; but we will find out who he is, and then he will have us to deal with instead of that poor girl."
Julien got very red.
"But until we know who he is?" he asked.
She did not know what to propose, so she asked Julien what he thought was the best thing to do. He gave his opinion very promptly.
"Oh, I should give her some money, and let her and her brat go to the devil."
That made Jeanne very indignant.
"That shall never be done," she declared; "Rosalie is my foster-sister, and we have grown up together. She has erred, it is true, but I will never turn her out-of-doors for that, and, if there is no other way out of the difficulty, I will bring up the child myself."
"And we should have a nice reputation, shouldn't we, with our name and connections?" burst out Julien. "People would say that we encouraged vice, and sheltered prostitutes, and respectable people would never come near us. Why, what can you be thinking of? You must be mad!"
"I will never have Rosalie turned out," she repeated, quietly. "If you will not keep her here, my mother will take her back again. But we are sure to find out the name of the father."
At that, he went out of the room, too angry to talk to her any longer, and as he banged the door after him he cried:
"Women are fools with their absurd notions!"
In the afternoon Jeanne went up to see the invalid. She was lying in bed, wide awake, and the Widow Dentu was rocking the child in her arms. As soon as she saw her mistress Rosalie began to sob violently, and when Jeanne wanted to kiss her, she turned away and hid her face under the bed-clothes. The nurse interfered and drew down the sheet, and then Rosalie made no further resistance, though the tears still ran down her cheeks.
The room was very cold, for there was only a small fire in the grate, and the child was crying. Jeanne did not dare make any reference to the little one, for fear of causing another burst of tears, but she held Rosalie's hand and kept repeating mechanically:
"It won't matter; it won't matter."
The poor girl glanced shyly at the nurse from time to time; the child's cries seemed to pierce her heart, and sobs still escaped from her occasionally, though she forced herself to swallow her tears. Jeanne kissed her again, and whispered in her ear: "We'll take good care of it, you may be sure of that," and then ran quickly out of the room, for Rosalie's tears were beginning to flow again.
After that, Jeanne went up every day to see the invalid, and every day Rosalie burst into tears when her mistress came into the room. The child was put out to nurse, and Julien would hardly speak to his wife, for he could not forgive her for refusing to dismiss the maid. One day he returned to the subject, but Jeanne drew out a letter from her mother in which the baroness said that if they would not keep Rosalie at Les Peuples she was to be sent on to Rouen directly.
"Your mother's as great a fool as you are," cried Julien; but he did not say anything more about sending Rosalie away, and a fortnight later the maid was able to get up and perform her duties again.
One morning Jeanne made her sit down, and holding both her hands in hers;
"Now, then, Rosalie, tell me all about it," she said, looking her straight in the face.
Rosalie began to tremble.
"All about what, madame?" she said, timidly.
"Who is the father of your child?" asked Jeanne.
A look of despair came over the maid's face, and she struggled to disengage her hands from her mistress's grasp, but Jeanne kissed her, in spite of her struggles, and tried to console her.
"It is true you have been weak," she said, "but you are not the first to whom such a misfortune has happened, and, if only the father of the child marries you, no one will think anything more about it; we would employ him, and he could live here with you."
Rosalie moaned as if she were being tortured, and tried to get her hands free that she might run away.
"I can quite understand how ashamed you feel," went on Jeanne, "but you see that I am not angry, and that I speak kindly to you. I wish to know this man's name for your own good, for I fear, from your grief, that he means to abandon you, and I want to prevent that. Julien will see him, and we will make him marry you, and we shall employ you both; we will see that he makes you happy."
This time Rosalie made so vigorous an effort that she succeeded in wrenching her hands away from her mistress, and she rushed from the room as if she were mad.
"I have tried to make Rosalie tell me her seducer's name," said Jeanne to her husband at dinner that evening, "but I did not succeed in doing so. Try and see if she will tell you, that we may force the wretch to marry her."
"There, don't let me hear any more about all that," he said, angrily. "You wanted to keep this girl, and you have done so, but don't bother me about her."
He seemed still more irritable since Rosalie's confinement than he had been before. He had got into the habit of shouting at his wife, whenever he spoke to her, as if he were always angry, while she, on the contrary, spoke softly, and did everything to avoid a quarrel; but she often cried when she was alone in her room at night. In spite of his bad temper, Julien had resumed the marital duties he had so neglected since his wedding tour, and it was seldom now that he let three nights pass without accompanying his wife to her room.
Rosalie soon got quite well again, and with better health came better spirits, but she always seemed frightened and haunted by some strange dread. Jeanne tried twice more to make her name her seducer, but each time she ran away, without saying anything. Julien suddenly became better tempered, and his young wife began to cherish vague hopes, and to regain a little of her former gayety; but she often felt very unwell, though she never said anything about it.
For five weeks the crisp, shining snow had lain on the frozen ground; in the daytime there was not a cloud to be seen, and at night the sky was strewn with stars. Standing alone in their square courtyards, behind the great frosted trees, the farms seemed dead beneath their snowy shrouds. Neither men nor cattle could go out, and the only sign of life about the homesteads and cottages was the smoke that went straight up from the chimneys into the frosty air.
The grass, the hedges and the wall of elms seemed killed by the cold. From time to time the trees cracked, as if the fibers of their branches were separating beneath the bark, and sometimes a big branch would break off and fall to the ground, its sap frozen and dried up by the intense cold.
Jeanne thought the severe weather was the cause of her ill-health, and she longed for the warm spring breezes. Sometimes the very idea of food disgusted her, and she could eat nothing; at other times she vomited after every meal, unable to digest the little she did eat. She had violent palpitations of the heart, and she lived in a constant and intolerable state of nervous excitement.
One evening, when the thermometer was sinking still lower, Julien shivered as he left the dinner table (for the dining-room was never sufficiently heated, so careful was he over the wood), and rubbing his hands together:
"It's too cold to sleep alone to-night, isn't it, darling?" he whispered to his wife, with one of his old good-tempered laughs.
Jeanne threw her arms round his neck, but she felt so ill, so nervous, and she had such aching pains that evening, that, with her lips close to his, she begged him to let her sleep alone.
"I feel so ill to-night," she said, "but I am sure to be better to-morrow."
"Just as you please, my dear," he answered. "If you are ill, you must take care of yourself." And he began to talk of something else.
Jeanne went to bed early. Julien, for a wonder, ordered a fire to be lighted in his own room; and when the servant came to tell him that "the fire had burnt up," he kissed his wife on the forehead and said good-night.
The very walls seemed to feel the cold, and made little cracking noises as if they were shivering. Jeanne lay shaking with cold; twice she got up to put more logs on the fire, and to pile her petticoats and dresses on the bed, but nothing seemed to make her any warmer. There were nervous twitchings in her legs, which made her toss and turn restlessly from side to side. Her feet were numbed, her teeth chattered, her hands trembled, her heart beat so slowly that sometimes it seemed to stop altogether; and she gasped for breath as if she could not draw the air into her lungs.
As the cold crept higher and higher up her limbs, she was seized with a terrible fear. She had never felt like this before; life seemed to be gradually slipping away from her, and she thought each breath she drew would be her last.
"I am going to die! I am going to die!" she thought; and, in her terror, she jumped out of bed, and rang for Rosalie.
No one came; she rang again, and again waited for an answer, shuddering and half-frozen; but she waited in vain. Perhaps the maid was sleeping too heavily for the bell to arouse her, and, almost beside herself with fear, Jeanne rushed out onto the landing without putting anything around her, and with bare feet. She went noiselessly up the dark stairs, felt for Rosalie's door, opened it, and called "Rosalie!" then went into the room, stumbled against the bed, passed her hands over it, and found it empty and quite cold, as if no one had slept in it that night.
"Surely she cannot have gone out in such weather as this," she thought.
Her heart began to beat so violently that it almost suffocated her, and she went downstairs to rouse Julien, her legs giving way under her as she walked. She burst open her husband's door, and hurried across the room, spurred on by the idea that she was going to die and the fear that she would become unconscious before she could see him again.
Suddenly she stopped with a shriek, for by the light of the dying fire she saw Rosalie's head on the pillow beside her husband's. At her cry they both started up, but she had already recovered from the first shock of her discovery, and fled to her room, while Julien called after her, "Jeanne! Jeanne!" She felt she could not see him or listen to his excuses and his lies, and again rushing out of her room she ran downstairs. The staircase was in total darkness, but filled with the desire of flight, of getting away without seeing or hearing any more, she never stayed to think that she might fall and break her limbs on the stone stairs.
On the last step she sat down, unable to think, unable to reason, her head in a whirl. Julien had jumped out of bed, and was hastily dressing himself. She heard him moving about, and she started up to escape from him. He came downstairs, crying: "Jeanne, do listen to me!"
No, she would not listen; he should not degrade her by his touch. She dashed into the dining-room as if a murderer were pursuing her, looked round for a hiding-place or some dark corner where she might conceal herself, and then crouched down under the table. The door opened, and Julien came in with a light in his hand, still calling, "Jeanne! Jeanne!" She started off again like a hunted hare, tore into the kitchen, round which she ran twice like some wild animal at bay, then, as he was getting nearer and nearer to her, she suddenly flung open the garden door, and rushed out into the night.
Her bare legs sank into the snow up to her knees, and this icy contact gave her new strength. Although she had nothing on but her chemise she did not feel the bitter cold; her mental anguish was too great for the consciousness of any mere bodily pain to reach her brain, and she ran on and on, looking as white as the snow-covered earth. She did not stop once to take breath, but rushed on across wood and plain without knowing or thinking of what she was doing. Suddenly she found herself at the edge of the cliff. She instinctively stopped short, and then crouched down in the snow and lay there with her mind as powerless to think as her body to move.
All at once she began to tremble, as does a sail when caught by the wind. Her arms, her hands, her feet, shook and twitched convulsively, and consciousness returned to her. Things that had happened a long time before came back to her memory; the sail in Lastique's boat with him, their conversation, the dawn of their love; the christening of the boat; then her thoughts went still farther back till they reached the night of her arrival from the convent—the night she had spent in happy dreams. And now, now! Her life was ruined; she had had all her pleasure; there were no joys, no happiness, in store for her; and she could see the terrible future with all its tortures, its deceptions, and despair. Surely it would be better to die now, at once.
She heard a voice in the distance crying:
"This way! this way! Here are her footmarks!" It was Julien looking for her.
Oh! she could not, she would not, see him again! Never again! From the abyss before her came the faint sound of the waves as they broke on the rocks. She stood up to throw herself over the cliff, and in a despairing farewell to life, she moaned out that last cry of the dying—the word that the soldier gasps out as he lies wounded to death on the battlefield—"Mother!"
Then the thought of how her mother would sob when she heard of her daughter's death, and how her father would kneel in agony beside her mangled corpse, flashed across her mind, and in that one second she realized all the bitterness of their grief. She fell feebly back on the snow, and Julien and old Simon came up, with Marius behind them holding a lantern. They drew her back before they dared attempt to raise her, so near the edge of the cliff was she; and they did with her what they liked, for she could not move a muscle. She knew that they carried her indoors, that she was put to bed, and rubbed with hot flannels, and then she was conscious of nothing more.
A nightmare—but was it a nightmare?—haunted her. She thought she was in bed in her own room; it was broad daylight, but she could not get up, though she did not know why she could not. She heard a noise on the boards—a scratching, rustling noise—and all at once a little gray mouse ran over the sheet. Then another one appeared, and another which came running towards her chest. Jeanne was not frightened; she wanted to take hold of the little animal, and put out her hand towards it, but she could not catch it.