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The Happy Foreigner by Enid Bagnold

Part 5 out of 5

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secret, then of his absorption.

"I've not seen it yet. I've not been able to get away. And the Paris
factories have held me every minute. But now I'm here, I'm--I'm
wondering--You see that dot beyond, standing separate?"


"That's where I sleep to-night. That's the house."

"But can you sleep there?" she asked, still shocked that she had not
realised what this journey was to him.

"Can I?"

"I mean is the house ruined?"

"Oh, the house is in bad order," he said. "Not ruined. 'Looted,' my old
_concierge_ writes. She was my nurse a hundred years ago. She has been
there through the occupation. I wrote to her, and she expects me
to-night. To-night it will be too dark, but to-morrow before I leave I
shall see what they have done to the factories."

"Don't you know at all how bad they are?"

"I've had letters. The agent went on ahead five days ago and he has
settled there already. But letters don't tell one enough. There are
little things in the factories--things I put in myself--" He broke off
and drew her to another side of the plateau. "See down there! That
unfortunate railway crosses two more bridges. I can't see now, but
they're blown up, since all the others are. And such a time for
business! It hurts me to think of the things I can't set going till that
railway works. Every one is crying out for the things that I can
make here."

On and on he talked in his excitement, absorbed and planning, leading
her from one point of view on the plateau to another. Her eyes followed
his pointing hands from crest to crest of the mountains their neighbours,
till the valleys were full of creeping shadows. Even when the shades
filmed his eager hand he held it out to point here and there as though
the whole landscape of the mountains was printed in immortal daylight on
his mind.

"I can't see," she said. "It's so dark down there. I can't see it," as
he pointed to the spot where the Brussels railway once ran.

"Well, it's there," he said, staring at the spot with eyes that knew.

The blue night deepened in the sky; from east, west, north, south,
sprang the stars.

"Fanny, look! There's a light in my house!"

Fathoms of shade piled over the village and in the heart of it a light
had appeared. "Marie has lit the lamp on the steps. I mustn't be too
late for her--I must soon go down."

"What, you walk? Is there a footpath down?"

"I shall go down this mountain path below. It's a path I know, shooting
hares. Soon I shall be back again. Brussels one week; then Paris; then
here again. I'll see what builders can be spared from the Paris
factories. They can walk out here from Charleville. Ten miles, that's
nothing! Then we'll get the stone cut ready in the quarries. Do you
know, during the war, I thought (when I thought of it), 'If the Revins
factories are destroyed it won't be I who'll start them again. I won't
take up that hard mountain life any more. If they're destroyed, it's too
discouraging, so let them lie!' But now I don't feel discouraged at
all. I've new ideas, bigger ones. I'm older, I'm going to be richer. And
then, since they're partly knocked down I'll rebuild them in a better
way. And it's not only that--See!" He was carried away by his resolves,
shaken by excitement, and pulling out his note-book he tilted it this
way and that under the starlight, but he could not read it, and all the
stars in that sky were no use to him. He struck a match and held the
feeble flame under that heavenly magnificence, and a puff of wind
blew it out.

"But I don't need to see!" he exclaimed, and pointing into the night he
continued to unfold his plans, to build in the unmeaning darkness,
which, to his eyes, was mountain valleys where new factories arose,
mountain slopes whose sides were to be quarried for their stony ribs,
rivers to move power-stations, railways to Paris and to Brussels. As she
followed his finger her eyes lit upon the stars instead, and now he
said, "There, there!" pointing to Orion, and now "Here, here!" lighting
upon Aldebrande.

As she followed his finger her thoughts were on their own paths,
thinking, "This is Julien as he will be, not as I have known him." The
soldier had been a wanderer like herself, a half-fantastic being. But
here beside her in the darkness stood the civilian, the Julien-to-come,
the solid man, the builder, plotting to capture the future.

For him, too, she could no longer remain as she had been. Here, below
her was the face, the mountain face, of her rival. Unless she became one
with his plans and lived in the same blazing light with them, she would
be a separate landscape, a strain upon his focus.

Then she saw him looking at her. Her face, silver-bright in the
starlight, was as unreadable as his own note-book.

"Are you sure," he was saying, "that you won't be blamed about the car?"

"Sure, quite sure. The men have all gone home."

"But to-morrow morning? When they see it has been out?"

"Not--to-morrow morning. No, they won't say anything to-morrow morning.
Oh, dear Julien--"


"I think, I hope you are going to have a great success here. And don't
forget--me--when you--"

"--When I come back in a week!"

"But your weeks--are so long."

"Yet you will be happy without me," he said suddenly.

"What makes you say that?"

"You've some solace, some treasure of your own." He nodded. "In a way,"
he said, "I've sometimes thought you half out of reach of pain."

She caught her breath, and the starry sky whirled over her head.

"You're a happy foreigner!" he finished. "Did you know? Dormans called
you that after the first dance. He said to me: 'I wonder if they are all
so happy in England! I must go and see.'"

"You too, you too!" she said, eagerly, and she wanted him to admit it.
"See how happy, how busy, how full of the affairs of life you soon will
be! Difficulties of every sort, and hard work and triumph--"

"And you'll see, you'll see, I'll do it," he said, catching fire again.
"I'll grow rich on these bony mountains--it isn't only the riches, mind
you, but they are the proof--I'll wring it out in triumph, not in water,
but in gold--from the rock!"

He stood at the edge of the path, a little above her, blotting out the
sky with his darker shape, then turning, kissed her.

"For the little time!" he said, and disappeared.

The noise of his footsteps descended in the night below. Ten minutes
passed, and as each step trod innocently away from her for ever she
continued motionless and silent to listen from her rock. The noises all
but faded, yet, loth to put an end to the soft rustle, she listened
while it grew fainter and less human to her ear, till it mingled at last
with the rustle of nature, with the whine of the wind and the pit-pat of
a little creature close at hand.

She stirred at last, and turned; and found herself alone with that
flock of enormous companions, the hog-backed mountains, like cattle
feeding about her. Above, uniting craggy horn to horn, was an
architrave of stars.

"Good-bye"--to the light in the valley, and starting the car she began
the descent on Charleville. There are moments when the roll of the world
is perceptible to the extravagant senses. There are moments when the
glamour of man thins away into oblivion before the magic of night, when
his face fades and his voice is silenced before that wind of excited
perception that blows out of nowhere to shake the soul.

In such a mood, in such a giddy hour, seated in person upon her car, in
spirit upon her imagination, Fanny rode down the mountain into the night.

She was invincible, inattentive to the voice of absent man, a hard,
hollow goddess, a flute for the piping of heaven--composing and chanting
unmusical songs, her inner ear fastened upon another melody. And heaven,
protecting a creature at that moment so estranged from earth, led her
down the wild road, held back the threatening forest branches, brought
her, all but standing up at the wheel like a lunatic, safely to the foot
of the last hill.

Recalled to earth by the light of Charleville she drove slowly up the
main street, replaced the car in the garage, and returned to her house
in the Rue de Clèves.

"It is true," she whispered, as she entered the room, "that I am half
out of reach of pain--" and long, in plans for the future, she hung over
the embers.

The gradual sinking of the light before her reminded her of the present.
"The last night that the fire burns for me!" She heaped on all her logs.

"Little pannikin of chocolate, little companion!" Hunger, too, awoke,
and she dropped two sticks of chocolate into the water. "The fire dies
down to-night. To-morrow I shall be gone." A petal from the apple
blossom on the mantelpiece fell against her hand.

"To-morrow I shall be gone. The apple blossom is spread to large wax
flowers, and the flowers will fall and never breed apples. They will
sweep this room, and Philippe's mother will come and sit in it and make
it sad. So many things happen in the evening. So many unripe thoughts
ripen before the fire. Turk, Bulgar, German--Me. Never to return. When
she comes into this room the apple flowers will stare at her across the
desert of _my_ absence, and wonder who _she_ is! I wonder if I can teach
her anything. Will she keep the grid on the wood fire? And the blue
birds flying on the bed? It is like going out of life--tenderly leaving
one's little arrangements to the next comer--"

And drawing her chair up to the table, she lit the lamp, and sat down to
write her letter.


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