Part 3 out of 5
account? Why should he judge Julien's conduct so severely when his own
had not been above blame?
The baroness, still struggling with her sobs, smiled faintly at the
recollection of her husband's escapades, for she belonged to the
sentimental class for whom love adventures are a part of existence.
Jeanne, exhausted, lay with wide-open eyes, absorbed in painful
reflection. Something Rosalie had said had wounded her as though an
arrow had pierced her heart: "As for me, I said nothing, because I
She had liked him also, and that was the only reason why she had given
herself, bound herself for life to him, why she had renounced
everything else, all her cherished plans, all the unknown future. She
had fallen into this marriage, into this hole without any edges by
which one could climb out, into this wretchedness, this sadness, this
despair, because, like Rosalie, she had liked him!
The door was pushed violently open and Julien appeared, with a furious
expression on his face. He had caught sight of Rosalie moaning on the
stairs, and suspected that something was up, that the maid had
probably told all. The sight of the priest riveted him to the spot.
"Why, what's the matter?" he asked in a trembling but quiet tone.
The baron, so violent a short while ago, did not venture to speak,
afraid of the priest's remarks, and of what his son-in-law might say
in the same strain. Little mother was weeping more copiously than
ever; but Jeanne had raised herself with her hands and looked,
breathing quickly, at the one who had caused her such cruel sorrow.
She stammered out: "The fact is, we know all, all your rascality
since--since the day you first entered this house--we know that the
child of this maid is your child, just as--as--mine is--they will be
brothers." Overcome with sorrow at this thought, she buried herself in
the sheets and wept bitterly.
Julien stood there gaping, not knowing what to say or do. The priest
came to the rescue.
"Come, come, do not give way like that, my dear young lady, be
sensible." He rose, approached the bed and placed his warm hand on the
despairing girl's forehead. This seemed to soothe her strangely. She
felt quieted, as if this strong peasant's hand, accustomed to the
gesture of absolution, to kindly consolations, had conveyed by its
touch some mysterious solace.
The good man, still standing, continued: "Madame, we must always
forgive. A great sorrow has come to you; but God in His mercy has
balanced it by a great happiness, since you will become a mother. This
child will be your comfort. In his name I implore you, I adjure you to
forgive M. Julien's error. It will be a new bond between you, a pledge
of his future fidelity. Can you remain apart in your heart from him
whose child you bear?"
She did not reply, crushed, mortified, exhausted as she was, without
even strength for anger or resentment. Her nerves seemed relaxed,
almost severed, she seemed to be scarcely alive.
The baroness, who seemed incapable of resentment, and whose mind was
unequal to prolonged effort, murmured: "Come, come, Jeanne."
Then the priest took the hand of the young man and leading him up to
the bed, he placed his hand in that of his wife, and gave it a little
tap as though to unite them more closely. Then laying aside his
professional tone and manner, he said with a satisfied air: "Well,
now, that's done. Believe me, that is the best thing to do." The two
hands, joined for a moment, separated immediately. Julien, not daring
to kiss Jeanne, kissed his mother-in-law on the forehead, turned on
his heel, took the arm of the baron, who acquiesced, happy at heart
that the thing had been settled thus, and they went out together to
smoke a cigar.
The patient, overcome, dozed off, while the priest and little mother
talked in a low tone.
The priest explained and propounded his ideas, to which the baroness
assented by nodding her head. He said in conclusion: "Well, then, that
is understood; you will give this girl the Barville farm, and I will
undertake to find her a husband, a good, steady fellow. Oh! with a
property worth twenty thousand francs we shall have no lack of
suitors. There will be more than enough to choose from."
The baroness was smiling now, quite happy, with the remains of two
tears that had dried on her cheeks.
She repeated: "That is settled. Barville is worth at least twenty
thousand francs, but it will be settled on the child, the parents
having the use of it during their lifetime."
The curé rose, shook little mother's hand, saying: "Do not disturb
yourself, Madame la Baronne, do not disturb yourself; I know what an
effort it is."
As he went out he met Aunt Lison coming to see her patient. She
noticed nothing; they told her nothing; and she knew nothing, as
* * * * *
Rosalie had left the house. Jeanne felt no joy at the thought of being
a mother, she had had so much sorrow. She awaited the advent of her
child without curiosity, still filled with the apprehension of unknown
A big woman, big as a house, had taken Rosalie's place and supported
the baroness in her monotonous walks along her avenue. The baron gave
his arm to Jeanne, who was now always ailing, while Aunt Lison,
uneasy, and busied about the approaching event, held her other hand,
bewildered at this mystery which she would never know.
They all walked along like this almost in silence for hours at a time,
while Julien was riding about the country on horseback, having
suddenly acquired this taste. Nothing ever came to disturb their
dreary life. The baron, his wife, and the vicomte paid a visit to the
Fourvilles, whom Julien seemed to be already well acquainted with,
without one knowing just how. Another ceremonious visit was exchanged
with the Brisevilles, who were still hidden in their manor house.
One afternoon, about four o'clock, two persons, a lady and gentleman
on horseback, rode up into the courtyard of the château. Julien,
greatly excited, ran up to Jeanne's room. "Quick, quick, come
downstairs; here are the Fourvilles. They have just come as neighbors,
knowing your condition. Tell them that I have gone out, but that I
will be back. I will just go and make myself presentable."
Jeanne, much surprised, went downstairs. A pale, pretty young woman
with a sad face, dreamy eyes, and lustreless, fair hair, looking as
though the sunlight had never kissed it, quietly introduced her
husband, a kind of giant, or ogre with a large red mustache. She
added: "We have several times had the pleasure of meeting M. de
Lamare. We heard from him how you were suffering, and we would not put
off coming to see you as neighbors, without any ceremony. You see that
we came on horseback. I also had the pleasure the other day of a visit
from madame, your mother, and the baron."
She spoke with perfect ease, familiar but refined. Jeanne was charmed,
and fell in love with her at once. "This is a friend," she thought.
The Comte de Fourville, on the contrary, seemed like a bear in the
drawing-room. As soon as he was seated, he placed his hat on the chair
next him, did not know what to do with his hands, placed them on his
knees, then on the arms of the chair, and finally crossed his fingers
as if in prayer.
Suddenly Julien entered the room. Jeanne was amazed and did not
recognize him. He was shaved. He looked handsome, elegant, and
attractive as on the day of their betrothal. He shook the comte's
hairy paw, kissed the hand of the comtesse, whose ivory cheeks colored
up slightly while her eyelids quivered.
He began to speak; he was charming as in former days. His large eyes,
the mirrors of love, had become tender again. And his hair, lately so
dull and unkempt, had regained its soft, glossy wave, with the use of
a hairbrush and perfumed oil.
At the moment that the Fourvilles were taking their leave the
comtesse, turning toward him, said: "Would you like to take a ride on
Thursday, dear vicomte?"
As he bowed and murmured, "Why, certainly, madame," she took Jeanne's
hand and said in a sympathetic and affectionate tone, with a cordial
smile: "Oh! when you are well, we will all three gallop about the
country. It will be delightful. What do you say?"
With an easy gesture she held up her riding skirt and then jumped into
the saddle with the lightness of a bird, while her husband, after
bowing awkwardly, mounted his big Norman steed. As they disappeared
outside the gate, Julien, who seemed charmed, exclaimed: "What
delightful people! those are friends who may be useful to us."
Jeanne, pleased also without knowing why, replied: "The little
comtesse is charming, I feel that I shall love her, but the husband
looks like a brute. Where did you meet them?"
He rubbed his hands together good humoredly. "I met them by chance at
the Brisevilles'. The husband seems a little rough. He cares for
nothing but hunting, but he is a real noble for all that."
The dinner was almost cheerful, as though some secret happiness had
come into the house.
Nothing new happened until the latter days of July, when Jeanne was
taken ill. As she seemed to grow worse, the doctor was sent for and at
the first glance recognized the symptoms of a premature confinement.
Her sufferings presently abated a little, but she was filled with a
terrible anguish, a despairing sinking, something like a presentiment,
the mysterious touch of death. It is in these moments when it comes so
near to us that its breath chills our hearts.
The room was full of people. Little mother, buried in an armchair, was
choking with grief. The baron, his hands trembling, ran hither and
thither, carrying things, consulting the doctor and losing his head.
Julien paced up and down, looking concerned, but perfectly calm, and
Widow Dentu stood at the foot of the bed with an appropriate
expression, the expression of a woman of experience whom nothing
astonishes. The cook, Ludivine, and Aunt Lison remained discreetly
concealed behind the door of the lobby.
Toward morning Jeanne became worse, and as her involuntary screams
escaped from between her closed teeth, she thought incessantly of
Rosalie, who had not suffered, who had hardly moaned, who had borne
her child without suffering and without difficulty, and in her
wretched and troubled mind she continually compared their conditions
and cursed God, whom she had formerly thought to be just. She rebelled
at the wicked partiality of fate and at the wicked lies of those who
preach justice and goodness.
At times her sufferings were so great that her mind was a blank. She
had neither strength, life nor knowledge for anything but suffering.
All at once her sufferings ceased. The nurse and the doctor leaned
over her and gave her all attention. Presently she heard a little cry
and, in spite of her weakness, she unconsciously held out her arms.
She was suddenly filled with joy, with a glimpse of a new-found
happiness which had just unfolded. Her child was born, she was
soothed, happy, happy as she never yet had been. Her heart and her
body revived; she was now a mother. She felt that she was saved,
secure from all despair, for she had here something to love.
From now on she had but one thought--her child. She was a fanatical
mother, all the more intense because she had been deceived in her
love, deceived in her hopes. She would sit whole days beside the
window, rocking the little cradle.
The baron and little mother smiled at this excess of tenderness, but
Julien, whose habitual routine had been interfered with and his
overweening importance diminished by the arrival of this noisy and
all-powerful tyrant, unconsciously jealous of this mite of a man who
had usurped his place in the house, kept on saying angrily and
impatiently: "How wearisome she is with her brat!"
She became so obsessed by this affection that she would pass the
entire night beside the cradle, watching the child asleep. As she was
becoming exhausted by this morbid life, taking no rest, growing weaker
and thinner and beginning to cough, the doctor ordered the child to be
taken from her. She got angry, wept, implored, but they were deaf to
her entreaties. His nurse took him every evening, and each night his
mother would rise, and in her bare feet go to the door, listen at the
keyhole to see if he was sleeping quietly, did not wake up and wanted
Julien found her here one night when he came home late, after dining
with the Fourvilles. After that they locked her in her room to oblige
her to stay in bed.
The baptism took place at the end of August. The baron was godfather
and Aunt Lison godmother. The child was named Pierre-Simon-Paul and
called Paul for short.
At the beginning of September Aunt Lison left without any commotion.
Her absence was as little felt as her presence.
One evening after dinner the priest appeared. He seemed embarrassed as
if he were burdened by some mystery, and after some idle remarks, he
asked the baroness and her husband to grant him a short interview in
They all three walked slowly down the long avenue, talking with
animation, while Julien, who was alone with Jeanne, was astonished,
disturbed and annoyed at this secret.
He accompanied the priest when he took his leave, and they went off
together toward the church where the Angelus was ringing.
As it was cool, almost cold, the others went into the drawing-room.
They were all dozing when Julien came in abruptly, his face red,
looking very indignant.
From the door he called out to his parents-in-law, without remembering
that Jeanne was there: "Are you crazy, for God's sake! to go and throw
away twenty thousand francs on that girl?"
No one replied, they were so astonished. He continued, bellowing with
rage: "How can one be so stupid as that? Do you wish to leave us
without a sou?"
The baron, who had recovered his composure, attempted to stop him:
"Keep still! Remember that you are speaking before your wife."
But Julien was trembling with excitement: "As if I cared; she knows
all about it, anyway. It is robbing her."
Jeanne, bewildered, looked at him without understanding. She faltered:
"What in the world is the matter?"
Julien then turned toward her, to try and get her on his side as a
partner who has been cheated out of an unexpected fortune. He
hurriedly told her about the conspiracy to marry off Rosalie and about
the gift of the Barville property, which was worth at least twenty
thousand francs. He said: "Your parents are crazy, my dear, crazy
enough to be shut up! Twenty thousand francs! twenty thousand francs!
Why, they have lost their heads! Twenty thousand francs for a
Jeanne listened without emotion and without anger, astonished at her
own calmness, indifferent now to everything but her own child.
The baron was raging, but could find nothing to say. He finally burst
forth and, stamping his foot, exclaimed: "Think of what you are
saying; it is disgusting. Whose fault was it if we had to give this
girl-mother a dowry? Whose child is it? You would like to abandon it
Julien, amazed at the baron's violence, looked at him fixedly. He then
resumed in a calmer tone: "But fifteen hundred francs would be quite
enough. They all have children before they are legally married. It
makes no difference whose child it is, in any case. Instead of giving
one of your farms, to the value of twenty thousand francs, in addition
to making the world aware of what has happened, you should, to say the
least, have had some regard for our name and our position."
He spoke in a severe tone like a man who stood on his rights and was
convinced of the logic of his argument. The baron, disturbed at this
unexpected discussion, stood there gaping at him. Julien then, seeing
his advantage, concluded: "Happily, nothing has yet been settled. I
know the young fellow who is going to marry her. He is an honest chap
and we can make a satisfactory arrangement with him. I will take
charge of the matter."
And he went out immediately, fearing no doubt to continue the
discussion, and pleased that he had had the last word, a proof, he
thought, that they acquiesced in his views.
As soon as he had left the room, however, the baron exclaimed: "Oh,
that is going too far, much too far!"
But Jeanne, happening to look up at her father's bewildered face,
began to laugh with her clear, ringing laugh of former days, when
anything amused her. She said: "Father, father, did you hear the tone
in which he said: 'Twenty thousand francs?'"
Little mother, whose mirth was as ready as her tears, as she recalled
her son-in-law's angry expression, his indignant exclamations and his
refusal to allow the girl whom he had led astray to be given money
that did not belong to him, delighted also at Jeanne's mirth, gave way
to little bursts of laughter till the tears came to her eyes. The
baron caught the contagion, and all three laughed to kill themselves
as they used to do in the good old days.
As soon as they quieted down a little Jeanne said: "How strange it is
that all this does not affect me. I look upon him now as a stranger. I
cannot believe that I am his wife. You see how I can laugh at
his--his--want of delicacy."
And without knowing why they all three embraced each other, smiling
Two days later, after breakfast, just as Julien had started away from
the house on horseback, a strapping young fellow from twenty-one to
twenty-five years old, clad in a brand-new blue blouse with wide
sleeves buttoning at the wrist, slyly jumped over the gate, as though
he had been there awaiting his opportunity all the morning, crept
along the Couillards' ditch, came round the château, and cautiously
approached the baron and his wife, who were still sitting under the
He took off his cap and advanced, bowing in an awkward manner. As soon
as he was close to them he said: "Your servant, Monsieur le Baron,
madame and the company." Then, as no one replied, he said: "It is I, I
am Desiré Lecocq."
As the name conveyed nothing to them, the baron asked, "What do you
Then, altogether upset at the necessity of explaining himself, the
young fellow stuttered out as he gazed alternately at his cap, which
he held in his hands, and at the roof of the château: "It was M'sieu
le Curé who said something to me about this matter----" And then he
stopped, fearing he might say too much and compromise his own
The other, lowering his voice, blurted out: "That matter of your
Jeanne, who had guessed what was coming, had risen and moved away with
her infant in her arms.
"Come nearer," said the baron, pointing to the chair his daughter had
just left. The peasant sat down, murmuring: "You are very good." Then
he waited as though he had no more to say. After a long silence, he
screwed up courage, and looking up at the sky, remarked: "There's fine
weather for the time of year. But the earth will be none the better
for it, as the seed is already sown." And then he was silent again.
The baron was growing impatient. He plunged right into the subject and
said drily: "Then it is you who are going to marry Rosalie?"
The man at once became uneasy, his Norman caution being on the alert.
He replied with more animation, but with a tinge of defiance: "That
depends; perhaps yes, perhaps no; it depends."
The baron, annoyed at this hedging, exclaimed angrily: "Answer
frankly, damn it! Was this what you came here for? Yes or no! Will you
marry her? Yes or no!"
The bewildered man looked steadfastly at his feet: "If it is as M'sieu
le Curé said, I will take her, but if it is as M'sieu Julien said, I
will not take her."
"What did M. Julien tell you?"
"M'sieu Julien told me fifteen hundred francs and M'sieu le Curé told
me that I should have twenty thousand. I will do it for twenty
thousand, but I will not do it for fifteen hundred."
The baroness, who was buried in her easy chair, began to giggle at the
anxious expression of the peasant, who, not understanding this
frivolity, glanced at her angrily out of the corner of his eye and
waited in silence.
The baron, who was embarrassed at this bargaining, cut it short by
saying: "I told M. le Curé that you should have the Barville farm
during your lifetime and that then it would revert to the child. It is
worth twenty thousand francs. I do not go back on my word. Is it
settled? Yes or no!"
The man smiled with a humble and satisfied expression, and suddenly
becoming loquacious, said: "Oh, in that case, I will not say no. That
was all that stood in my way. When M'sieu le Curé spoke to me, I was
ready at once, by gosh! and I was very pleased to accommodate the
baron who was giving me that. I said to myself, 'Is it not true that
when people are willing to do each other favors, they can always find
a way and can make it worth while?' But M'sieu Julien came to see me,
and it was only fifteen hundred francs. I said to myself: 'I must see
about that,' and so I came here. That is not to say that I did not
trust you, but I wanted to know. Short accounts make long friends. Is
not that true, M'sieu le Baron?"
The baron interrupted him by asking, "When do you wish to get
The man became timid again, very much embarrassed, and finally said,
hesitatingly: "I will not do it until I get a little paper."
This time the baron got angry: "Doggone it! you will have the marriage
contract. That is the best kind of paper."
But the peasant was stubborn: "Meanwhile I might take a little turn;
it will not be dark for a while."
The baron rose to make an end of the matter: "Answer yes or no at
once. If you do not wish her, say so; I have another suitor."
The fear of a rival terrified the crafty Norman. He suddenly made up
his mind and held out his hand, as after buying a cow, saying: "Put it
there, M'sieu le Baron; it is a bargain. Whoever draws back is a
The baron shook his hand, then called out: "Ludivine!" The cook
appeared at the window. "Bring us a bottle of wine." They clinked
glasses to seal the matter and the young peasant went off with a light
Nothing was said to Julien about this visit. The contract was drawn up
with all secrecy and as soon as the banns were published the wedding
took place one Monday morning.
A neighbor carried the child to church, walking behind the bride and
groom, as a sure sign of good luck. And no one in all the district was
surprised; they simply envied Desiré Lecocq. "He was born with a
caul," they said, with a sly smile into which there entered no
Julien was terribly angry and made such a scene that his parents-in-law
cut short their visit to the "Poplars." Jeanne was only moderately
sad at their departure, for little Paul had become for her an
inexhaustible source of happiness.
* * * * *
DEATH OF LA BARONNE
As Jeanne's health was quite restored, they determined to go and
return the Fourvilles' visit and also to call on the Marquis de
Julien had bought at a sale a new one-horse phaeton, so that they
could go out twice a month. They set out one fine December morning,
and after driving for two hours across the plains of Normandy, they
began to descend a little slope into a little valley, the sides of
which were wooded, while the valley itself was cultivated. After an
abrupt turn in the valley they saw the Château of Vrillette, a wooded
slope on one side of it and a large pond on the other, out of which
rose one of its walls and which was bounded by a wood of tall pine
trees that formed the other side of the valley.
Julien explained all the portions of the building to Jeanne, like one
who knows his subject thoroughly, and went into raptures over its
beauty, adding; "It is full of game, this country. The comte loves to
hunt here. This is a true seignorial residence."
The hall door was opened and the pale comtesse appeared, coming
forward to meet the visitors, all smiles, and wearing a long-trained
dress, like a chatelaine of olden times. She looked a fitting lady of
the lake, born to inhabit this fairy castle.
The comtesse took both Jeanne's hands, as if she had known her all her
life, and made her sit down beside her in a low chair, while Julien,
all of whose forgotten elegance seemed to have revived within the past
five months, chatted and smiled quietly and familiarly.
The comtesse and he talked of their horseback rides. She was laughing
at his manner of mounting a horse and called him "Le Chevalier
Trébuche," and he smiled also, having nicknamed her "The Amazon
Queen." A gun fired beneath the windows caused Jeanne to give a little
scream. It was the comte, who had killed a teal.
His wife called to him. A sound of oars was heard, a boat grinding
against the stones, and he appeared, enormous, booted, followed by two
drenched dogs of a ruddy color like himself, who lay down on the mat
outside the door.
He seemed more at his ease in his own home, and was delighted to see
his visitors. He put some wood on the fire, sent for madeira and
biscuits and then exclaimed suddenly: "Why, you will take dinner with
us, of course."
Jeanne, whose child was never out of her thoughts, declined. He
insisted, and as she could not be persuaded, Julien made a gesture of
annoyance. She feared to arouse his ugly, quarrelsome temper, and
although she was very unhappy at the thought that she should not see
Paul until the next day, she consented to stay.
The afternoon was delightful. They first visited the springs which
bubbled up at the foot of a mossy rock and then took a row on the
pond. At one end of the boat Julien and the comtesse, wrapped in
shawls, were smiling happily like those who have nothing left to wish
A huge fire was blazing in the spacious reception room, which imparted
a sense of warmth and contentment. The comte seized his wife in his
arms and lifted her from the floor as though she had been a child and
gave her a hearty kiss on each cheek, like a man satisfied with the
Jeanne, smiling, looked at this good giant whom one would have thought
was an ogre at the very sight of his mustaches, and she thought: "How
one may be deceived each day about everybody." Then, almost
involuntarily, she glanced at Julien standing in the doorway, looking
horribly pale and with his eyes fixed on the comte. She approached him
and said in a low tone: "Are you ill? What is the matter with you?" He
answered her angrily: "Nothing. Let me alone! I was cold."
When they went into the dining-room the count asked if he might let
his dogs come in, and they settled themselves one on either side of
After dinner, as Jeanne and Julien were preparing to leave, M. de
Fourville kept them a little longer to look at some fishing by
torchlight. When they finally set out, wrapped up in their cloaks and
some rugs they had borrowed, Jeanne said almost involuntarily: "What a
fine man that giant is!" Julien, who was driving, replied: "Yes, but
he does not always restrain himself before company."
A week later they called on the Couteliers, who were supposed to be
the chief noble family in the province. Their property of Remenil
adjoined the large town of Cany. The new château built in the reign of
Louis XIV. was hidden in a magnificent park enclosed by walls. The
ruins of the old château could be seen on an eminence. They were
ushered into a stately reception room by men servants in livery. In
the middle of the room a sort of column held an immense bowl of Sèvres
ware and on the pedestal of the column an autograph letter from the
king, under glass, requested the Marquis Leopold-Hervé-Joseph-Germer
de Varneville de Rollebosc de Coutelier to receive this present from
Jeanne and Julien were looking at this royal gift when the marquis and
marquise entered the room.
They were very ceremonious people whose minds, sentiments and words
seemed always to be on stilts. They spoke without waiting for an
answer, smiling complacently, appearing always to be fulfilling the
duty imposed on them by their position, of showing civilities to the
inferior nobility of the region.
Jeanne and Julien, somewhat taken aback, endeavored to be agreeable,
but although they felt too embarrassed to remain any longer, they did
not know exactly how to take their leave. The marquise herself put an
end to the visit naturally and simply by bringing the conversation to
a close like a queen giving a dismissal.
On the way home Julien said: "If you like, we will make this our first
and last call; the Fourvilles are good enough for me." Jeanne was of
the same opinion. December passed slowly and the shut-in life began
again as in the previous year. But Jeanne did not find it wearisome,
as she was always taken up with Paul, whom Julien looked at askance,
uneasy and annoyed. Often when the mother held the child in her arms,
kissing it frantically as women do their children, she would hold it
up to its father, saying: "Give him a kiss; one would suppose you did
not love him." He would hardly touch with his lips the child's smooth
forehead, walking all round it, as though he did not wish to touch the
restless little fists. Then he would walk away abruptly as though from
The mayor, the doctor and the curé came to dinner occasionally, and
sometimes it was the Fourvilles, with whom they were becoming more and
more intimate. The comte appeared to worship Paul. He held him on his
knees during the whole visit and sometimes during the whole afternoon,
playing with him and amusing him and then kissing him tenderly as
mothers do. He always lamented that he had no children of his own.
Comtesse Gilberte again mentioned the rides they all four were going
to take together. Jeanne, a little weary of the monotonous days and
nights, was quite happy in anticipation of these plans, and for a week
amused herself making a riding habit.
They always set out two and two, the comtesse and Julien ahead, the
count and Jeanne a hundred feet behind them, talking quietly, like
good friends, for such they had become through the sympathy of their
straightforward minds and simple hearts. The others often spoke in a
low tone, sometimes bursting into laughter and looking quickly at each
other, as though their eyes were expressing what they dared not utter.
And they would suddenly set off at a gallop, impelled by a desire to
flee, to get away, far away.
Then Gilberte would seem to be growing irritable. Her sharp voice,
borne on the breeze, occasionally reached the ears of the loitering
couple. The comte would smile and say to Jeanne: "She does not always
get out of bed the right side, that wife of mine."
One evening as they were coming home the comtesse was teasing her
mount, spurring it and then checking it abruptly. They heard Julien
say several time: "Take care, take care; you will be thrown." "So much
the worse," she replied; "it is none of your business," in a hard
clear tone that resounded across the fields as though the words hung
in the air.
The animal reared, plunged and champed the bit. The comte, uneasy,
shouted: "Be careful, Gilberte!" Then, as if in defiance, with one of
those impulses of a woman whom nothing can stop, she struck her horse
brutally between the ears. The animal reared in anger, pawed the air
with his front feet and, landing again on his feet, gave a bound and
darted across the plain at full speed.
First it crossed the meadow, then plunging into a ploughed field
kicked up the damp rich earth behind it, going so fast that one could
hardly distinguish its rider. Julien remained transfixed with
astonishment, calling out in despair: "Madame, madame!" but the comte
was rather annoyed, and, bending forward on his heavy mount, he urged
it forward and started out at such a pace, spurring it on with his
voice, his gestures and the spur, that the huge horseman seemed to be
carrying the heavy beast between his legs and to be lifting it up as
if to fly. They went at incredible speed, straight ahead, and Jeanne
saw the outline of the wife and of the husband fleeing getting smaller
and disappearing in the distance, as if they were two birds pursuing
each other to the verge of the horizon.
Julien, approaching Jeanne slowly, murmured angrily: "I think she is
crazy to-day." And they set out together to follow their friends, who
were now hidden by the rising ground.
At the end of about a quarter of an hour they saw them returning and
presently joined them. The comte, perspiring, his face red, but
smiling, happy and triumphant, was holding his wife's trembling horse
in his iron grasp. Gilberte was pale, her face sad and drawn, and she
was leaning one hand on her husband's shoulder as if she were going to
faint. Jeanne understood now that the comte loved her madly.
After this the comtesse for some months seemed happier than she had
ever been. She came to the "Poplars" more frequently, laughed
continually and kissed Jeanne impulsively. One might have said that
some mysterious charm had come into her life. Her husband was also
quite happy and never took his eyes off her. He said to Jeanne one
evening: "We are very happy just now. Gilberte has never been so nice
as this. She never is out of humor, never gets angry. I feel that she
loves me; until now I was not sure of it."
Julien also seemed changed, no longer impatient, as though the
friendship between the two families had brought peace and happiness to
both. The spring was singularly early and mild. Everything seemed to
be coming to life beneath the quickening rays of the sun. Jeanne was
vaguely troubled at this awakening of nature. Memories came to her of
the early days of her love. Not that her love for Julien was renewed;
that was over, over forever. But all her being, caressed by the
breeze, filled with the fragrance of spring, was disturbed as though
in response to some invisible and tender appeal. She loved to be
alone, to give herself up in the sunlight to all kinds of vague and
calm enjoyment which did not necessitate thinking.
One morning as she was in a reverie a vision came to her, a swift
vision of the sunlit nook amid the dark foliage in the little wood
near Étretat. It was there that she had for the first time trembled,
when beside the young man who loved her then. It was there that he had
uttered for the first time the timid desire of his heart. It was there
that she thought that she had all at once reached the radiant future
of her hopes. She wished to see this wood again, to make a sort of
sentimental and superstitious pilgrimage, as though a return to this
spot might somehow change the current of her life. Julien had been
gone since daybreak, she knew not whither. She had the little white
horse, which she sometimes rode, saddled, and she set out. It was one
of those days when nothing seemed stirring, not a blade of grass, not
a leaf. All seemed wrapped in a golden mist beneath the blazing sun.
Jeanne walked her horse, soothed and happy.
She descended into the valley which leads to the sea, between the
great arches in the cliff that are called the "Gates" of Étretat, and
slowly reached the wood. The sunlight was streaming through the still
scanty foliage. She wandered about the little paths, looking for the
All at once, as she was going along one of the lower paths, she
perceived at the farther end of it two horses tied to a tree and
recognized them at once; they belonged to Gilberte and Julien. The
loneliness of the place was beginning to be irksome to her, and she
was pleased at this chance meeting, and whipped up her horse.
When she reached the two patient animals, who were probably accustomed
to these long halts, she called. There was no reply. A woman's glove
and two riding whips lay on the beaten-down grass. So they had no
doubt sat down there awhile and then walked away leaving their horses
She waited a quarter of an hour, twenty minutes, surprised, not
understanding what could be keeping them. She had dismounted. She sat
there, leaning against a tree trunk. Suddenly a thought came to her as
she glanced again at the glove, the whips and the two horses left tied
there, and she sprang to her saddle with an irresistible desire to
make her escape.
She started off at a gallop for the "Poplars." She was turning things
over in her mind, trying to reason, to put two and two together, to
compare facts. How was it that she had not suspected this sooner? How
was it that she had not noticed anything? How was it she had not
guessed the reason of Julien's frequent absences, the renewal of his
former attention to his appearance and the improvement in his temper?
She now recalled Gilberte's nervous abruptness, her exaggerated
affection and the kind of beaming happiness in which she seemed to
exist latterly and that so pleased the comte.
She reined in her horse, as she wanted to think, and the quick pace
disturbed her ideas.
As soon as the first emotion was over she became almost calm, without
jealousy or hatred, but filled with contempt. She hardly gave Julien a
thought; nothing he might do could astonish her. But the double
treachery of the comtesse, her friend, disgusted her. Everyone, then,
was treacherous, untruthful and false. And tears came to her eyes. One
sometimes mourns lost illusions as deeply as one does the death of a
She resolved, however, to act as though she knew nothing, to close the
doors of her heart to all ordinary affection and to love no one but
Paul and her parents and to endure other people with an undisturbed
As soon as she got home she ran to her son, carried him up to her room
and kissed him passionately for an hour.
Julien came home to dinner, smiling and attentive, and appeared
interested as he asked: "Are not father and little mother coming this
She was so grateful to him for this little attention that she almost
forgave him for the discovery she had made in the wood, and she was
filled all of a sudden with an intense desire to see without delay the
two beings in the world whom she loved next to Paul, and passed the
whole evening writing to them to hasten their journey.
They promised to be there on the 20th of May and it was now the 7th.
She awaited their arrival with a growing impatience, as though she
felt, in addition to her filial affection, the need of opening her
heart to honest hearts, to talk with frankness to pure-minded people,
devoid of all infamy, all of whose life, actions and thoughts had been
upright at all times.
What she now felt was a sort of moral isolation, amid all this
immorality, and, although she had learned suddenly to disseminate,
although she received the comtesse with outstretched hand and smiling
lips, she felt this consciousness of hollowness, this contempt for
humanity increasing and enveloping her, and the petty gossip of the
district gave her a still greater disgust, a still lower opinion of
her fellow creatures.
The immorality of the peasants shocked her, and this warm spring
seemed to stir the sap in human beings as well as in plants. Jeanne
did not belong to the race of peasants who are dominated by their
lower instincts. Julien one day awakened her aversion anew by telling
her a coarse story that had been told to him and that he considered
When the travelling carriage stopped at the door and the happy face of
the baron appeared at the window Jeanne was stirred with so deep an
emotion, such a tumultuous feeling of affection as she had never
before experienced. But when she saw her mother she was shocked and
almost fainted. The baroness, in six months, had aged ten years. Her
heavy cheeks had grown flabby and purple, as though the blood were
congested; her eyes were dim and she could no longer move about unless
supported under each arm. Her breathing was difficult and wheezing and
affected those near her with a painful sensation.
When Jeanne had taken them to their room, she retired to her own in
order to have a good cry, as she was so upset. Then she went to look
for her father, and throwing herself into his arms, she exclaimed, her
eyes still full of tears: "Oh, how mother is changed! What is the
matter with her? Tell me, what is the matter?" He was much surprised
and replied: "Do you think so? What an idea! Why, no. I have never
been away from her. I assure you that I do not think she looks ill.
She always looks like that."
That evening Julien said to his wife: "Your mother is in a pretty bad
way. I think she will not last long." And as Jeanne burst out sobbing,
he became annoyed. "Come, I did not say there was no hope for her. You
always exaggerate everything. She is changed, that's all. She is no
The baroness was not able to walk any distance and only went out for
half an hour each day to take one turn in her avenue and then she
would sit on the bench. And when she felt unequal to walking to the
end of her avenue, she would say: "Let us stop; my hypertrophy is
breaking my legs today." She hardly ever laughed now as she did the
previous year at anything that amused her, but only smiled. As she
could see to read excellently, she passed hours reading "Corinne" or
Lamartine's "Meditations." Then she would ask for her drawer of
"souvenirs," and emptying her cherished letters on her lap, she would
place the drawer on a chair beside her and put back, one by one, her
"relics," after she had slowly gone over them. And when she was alone,
quite alone, she would kiss some of them, as one kisses in secret a
lock of hair of a loved one passed away.
Sometimes Jeanne, coming in abruptly, would find her weeping and would
exclaim: "What is the matter, little mother?" And the baroness,
sighing deeply, would reply: "It is my 'relics' that make me cry. They
stir remembrances that were so delightful and that are now past
forever, and one is reminded of persons whom one had forgotten and
recalls once more. You seem to see them, to hear them and it affects
you strangely. You will feel this later."
When the baron happened to come in at such times he would say gently:
"Jeanne, dearie, take my advice and burn your letters, all of
them--your mother's, mine, everyone's. There is nothing more dreadful,
when one is growing old, than to look back to one's youth." But Jeanne
also kept her letters, was preparing a chest of "relics" in obedience
to a sort of hereditary instinct of dreamy sentimentality, although
she differed from her mother in every other way.
The baron was obliged to leave them some days later, as he had some
business that called him away.
One afternoon Jeanne took Paul in her arms and went out for a walk.
She was sitting on a bank, gazing at the infant, whom she seemed to be
looking at for the first time. She could hardly imagine him grown up,
walking with a steady step, with a beard on his face and talking in a
big voice. She heard someone calling and raised her head. Marius came
running toward her.
"Madame, Madame la Baronne is very bad!"
A cold chill seemed to run down her back as she started up and walked
hurriedly toward the house.
As she approached she saw a number of persons grouped around the plane
tree. She darted forward and saw her mother lying on the ground with
two pillows under her head. Her face was black, her eyes closed and
her breathing, which had been difficult for twenty years, now quite
hushed. The nurse took the child out of Jeanne's arms and carried it
Jeanne, with drawn, anxious face, asked: "What happened? How did she
come to fall? Go for the doctor, somebody." Turning round, she saw the
old curé, who had heard of it in some way. He offered his services and
began rolling up the sleeves of his cassock. But vinegar, eau de
cologne and rubbing the invalid proved ineffectual.
"She should be undressed and put to bed," said the priest.
Joseph Couillard, the farmer, was there and old Simon and Ludivine.
With the assistance of Abbé Picot, they tried to lift the baroness,
but after an attempt were obliged to bring a large easy chair from the
drawing-room and place her in it. In this way they managed to get her
into the house and then upstairs, where they laid her on her bed.
Joseph Couillard set out in hot haste for the doctor. As the priest
was going to get the holy oil, the nurse, who had "scented a death,"
as the servants say, and was on the spot, whispered to him: "Do not
put yourself out, monsieur; she is dead. I know all about these
Jeanne, beside herself, entreated them to do something. The priest
thought it best to pronounce the absolution.
They watched for two hours beside this lifeless, discolored body.
Jeanne, on her knees, was sobbing in an agony of grief.
When the door opened and the doctor appeared, Jeanne darted toward
him, stammering out what she knew of the accident, but seeing the
nurse exchange a meaning glance with the doctor, she stopped to ask
him: "Is it serious? Do you think it is serious?"
He said presently: "I am afraid--I am afraid--it is all over. Be
brave, be brave."
Jeanne, extending her arms, threw herself on her mother's body. Julien
just then came in. He stood there amazed, visibly annoyed, without any
exclamation of sorrow, any appearance of grief, taken so unawares that
he had not time to prepare a suitable expression of countenance. He
muttered: "I was expecting it, I felt that the end was near." Then he
took out his handkerchief, wiped his eyes, knelt down, crossed
himself, and then rising to his feet, attempted to raise his wife. But
she was clasping the dead body and kissing it, and it became necessary
to carry her away. She appeared to be out of her mind.
At the end of an hour she was allowed to come back. There was no
longer any hope. The room was arranged as a death chamber. Julien and
the priest were talking in a low tone near the window. It was growing
dark. The priest came over to Jeanne and took her hands, trying to
console her. He spoke of the defunct, praised her in pious phrases and
offered to pass the night in prayer beside the body.
But Jeanne refused, amid convulsive sobs. She wished to be alone,
quite alone on this last night of farewell. Julien came forward: "But
you must not do it; we will stay together." She shook her head, unable
to speak. At last she said: "It is my mother, my mother. I wish to
watch beside her alone." The doctor murmured: "Let her do as she
pleases; the nurse can stay in the adjoining room."
The priest and Julien consented, more interested in their own rest.
Then Abbé Picot knelt down in his turn, and as he rose and left the
room, he said: "She was a saint" in the same tone as he said "Dominus
The vicomte in his ordinary tone then asked: "Are you not going to eat
something?" Jeanne did not reply, not knowing he was speaking to her,
and he repeated: "You had better eat something to keep up your
stomach." She replied in a bewildered manner: "Send at once for papa."
And he went out of the room to send someone on horseback to Rouen.
She remained plunged in a sort of motionless grief, seeing nothing,
feeling nothing, understanding nothing. She only wanted to be alone.
Julien came back. He had dined and he asked her again: "Won't you take
something?" She shook her head. He sat down with an air of resignation
rather than sadness, without speaking, and they both sat there silent,
till at length Julien arose, and approaching Jeanne, said: "Would you
like to stay alone now?" She took his hand impulsively and replied:
"Oh, yes! leave me!"
He kissed her forehead, murmuring: "I will come in and see you from
time to time." He went out with Widow Dentu, who rolled her easy chair
into the next room.
Jeanne shut the door and opened the windows wide. She felt the soft
breath from the mown hay that lay in the moonlight on the lawn. It
seemed to harrow her feelings like an ironical remark.
She went back to the bed, took one of the cold, inert hands and looked
at her mother earnestly. She seemed to be sleeping more peacefully
than she had ever done, and the pale flame of the tapers which
flickered at every breath made her face appear to be alive, as if she
had stirred. Jeanne remembered all the little incidents of her
childhood, the visits of little mother to the "parloir" of the
convent, the manner in which she handed her a little paper bag of
cakes, a multitude of little details, little acts, little caresses,
words, intonations, familiar gestures, the creases at the corner of
her eyes when she laughed, the big sigh she gave when she sat down.
And she stood there looking at her, repeating half mechanically: "She
is dead," and all the horror of the word became real to her. It was
mamma lying there--little mother--Mamma Adelaide who was dead. She
would never move about again, nor speak, nor laugh, nor sit at dinner
opposite little father. She would never again say: "Good-morning,
Jeannette." She was dead!
And she fell on her knees in a paroxysm of despair, her hands
clutching the sheet, her face buried in the covers as she cried in a
heartrending tone: "Oh, mamma, my poor mamma!" Then feeling that she
was losing her reason as she had done on the night when she fled
across the snow, she rose and ran to the window to drink in the fresh
air. The soothing calmness of the night entered her soul and she began
to weep quietly.
Presently she turned back into the room and sat down again beside
her mother. Other remembrances came to her: those of her own
life--Rosalie, Gilberte, the bitter disillusions of her heart.
Everything, then, was only misery, grief, unhappiness and death.
Everyone tried to deceive, everyone lied, everyone made you suffer and
weep. Where could one find a little rest and happiness? In another
existence no doubt, when the soul is freed from the trials of earth.
And she began to ponder on this insoluble mystery.
A tender and curious thought came to her mind. It was to read over in
this last watch, as though they were a litany, the old letters that
her mother loved. It seemed to her that she was about to perform a
delicate and sacred duty which would give pleasure to little mother in
the other world.
She rose, opened the writing desk and took from the lower drawer ten
little packages of yellow letters, tied and arranged in order, side by
side. She placed them all on the bed over her mother's heart from a
sort of sentiment and began to read them. They were old letters that
savored of a former century. The first began, "My dear little
granddaughter," then again "My dear little girl," "My darling," "My
dearest daughter," then "My dear child," "My dear Adelaide," "My dear
daughter," according to the periods--childhood, youth or young
womanhood. They were all full of little insignificant details and
tender words, about a thousand little matters, those simple but
important events of home life, so petty to outsiders: "Father has the
grip; poor Hortense burnt her finger; the cat, 'Croquerat,' is dead;
they have cut down the pine tree to the right of the gate; mother lost
her prayerbook on the way home from church, she thinks it was stolen."
All these details affected her. They seemed like revelations, as
though she had suddenly entered the past secret heart life of little
mother. She looked at her lying there and suddenly began to read
aloud, to read to the dead, as though to distract, to console her.
And the dead woman appeared to be pleased.
Jeanne tossed the letters as she read them to the foot of the bed. She
untied another package. It was a new handwriting. She read: "I cannot
do without your caresses. I love you so that I am almost crazy."
That was all; no signature.
She put back the letter without understanding its meaning. The address
was certainly "Madame la Baronne Le Perthuis des Vauds."
Then she opened another: "Come this evening as soon as he goes out; we
shall have an hour together. I worship you." In another: "I passed the
night longing in vain for you, longing to look into your eyes, to
press my lips to yours, and I am insane enough to throw myself from
the window at the thought that you are another's...."
Jeanne was perfectly bewildered. What did that mean? To whom, for
whom, from whom were these words of love?
She went on reading, coming across fresh impassioned declarations,
appointments with warnings as to prudence, and always at the end the
six words: "Be sure to burn this letter!"
At last she opened an ordinary note, accepting an invitation to
dinner, but in the same handwriting and signed: "Paul d'Ennemare,"
whom the baron called, whenever he spoke of him, "My poor old Paul,"
and whose wife had been the baroness' dearest friend.
Then a suspicion, which immediately became a certainty, flashed across
Jeanne's mind: He had been her mother's lover.
And, almost beside herself, she suddenly threw aside these infamous
letters as she would have thrown off some venomous reptile and ran to
the window and began to cry piteously. Then, collapsing, she sank down
beside the wall, and hiding her face in the curtain so that no one
should hear her, she sobbed bitterly as if in hopeless despair.
She would have remained thus probably all night, if she had not heard
a noise in the adjoining room that made her start to her feet. It
might be her father. And all the letters were lying on the floor! He
would have to open only one of them to know all! Her father!
She darted into the other room and seizing the letters in handfuls,
she threw them all into the fireplace, those of her grandparents as
well as those of the lover; some that she had not looked at and some
that had remained tied up in the drawers of the desk. She then took
one of the tapers that burned beside the bed and set fire to this pile
of letters. When they were reduced to ashes she went back to the open
window, as though she no longer dared to sit beside the dead, and
began to cry again with her face in her hands: "Oh, my poor mamma! oh,
my poor mamma!"
The stars were paling. It was the cool hour that precedes the dawn.
The moon was sinking on the horizon and turning the sea to mother of
pearl. The recollection of the night she passed at the window when she
first came to the "Poplars" came to Jeanne's mind. How far away it
seemed, how everything was changed, how different the future now
The sky was becoming pink, a joyous, love-inspiring, enchanting pink.
She looked at it in surprise, as at some phenomenon, this radiant
break of day, and asked herself if it were possible that, on a planet
where such dawns were found, there should be neither joy nor
A noise at the door made her start. It was Julien. "Well," he said,
"are you not very tired?"
She murmured, "No," happy at being no longer alone. "Go and rest now,"
he said. She kissed her mother a long, sad kiss; then she went to her
The next day passed in the usual attentions to the dead. The baron
arrived toward evening. He wept for some time.
The funeral took place the following day. After pressing a last kiss
on her mother's icy forehead and seeing the coffin nailed down, Jeanne
left the room. The invited guests would soon arrive.
Gilberte was the first to come, and she threw herself sobbing on her
friend's shoulder. Women in black presently entered the room one after
another, people whom Jeanne did not know. The Marquise de Coutelier
and the Vicomtesse de Briseville embraced her. She suddenly saw Aunt
Lison gliding in behind her. She turned round and kissed her tenderly.
Julien came in, dressed all in black, elegant, very important, pleased
at seeing so many people. He asked his wife some question in a low
tone and added confidentially: "All the nobility are here; it will be
a fine affair." And he walked away, gravely bowing to the ladies. Aunt
Lison and Comtesse Gilberte alone remained with Jeanne during the
service for the dead. The comtesse kissed her repeatedly, exclaiming:
"My poor dear, my poor dear!"
When Comte de Fourville came to fetch his wife he was also crying as
though it were for his own mother.
* * * * *
The following days were very sad and dreary, as they always are when
there has been a death in the house. And, in addition, Jeanne was
crushed at the thought of what she had discovered; her last shred of
confidence had been destroyed with the destruction of her faith.
Little father, after a short stay, went away to try and distract his
thoughts from his grief, and the large house, whose former masters
were leaving it from time to time, resumed its usual calm and
Then Paul fell ill, and Jeanne was almost beside herself, not sleeping
for ten days, and scarcely tasting food. He recovered, but she was
haunted by the idea that he might die. Then what should she do? What
would become of her? And there gradually stole into her heart the hope
that she might have another child. She dreamed of it, became obsessed
with the idea. She longed to realize her old dream of seeing two
little children around her; a boy and a girl.
But since the affair of Rosalie she and Julien had lived apart. A
reconciliation seemed impossible in their present situation. Julien
loved some one else, she knew it; and the very thought of suffering
his approach filled her with repugnance. She had no one left whom she
could consult. She resolved to go and see Abbé Picot and tell him,
under the seal of confession, all that weighed upon her mind in this
He was reading from his breviary in his little garden planted with
fruit trees when she arrived.
After a few minutes' conversation on indifferent matters, she
faltered, her color rising: "I want to confess, Monsieur l'Abbé."
He looked at her in astonishment, as he pushed his spectacles back on
his forehead; then he began to laugh. "You surely have no great sins
on your conscience." This embarrassed her greatly, and she replied:
"No, but I want to ask your advice on a subject that is so--so--so
painful that I dare not mention it casually."
He at once laid aside his jovial manner and assumed his priestly
attitude. "Well, my child, I will listen to you in the confessional;
But she held back, undecided, restrained by a kind of scruple at
speaking of these matters, of which she was half ashamed, in the
seclusion of an empty church.
"Or else, no--Monsieur le Curé--I might--I might--if you wish, tell
you now what brings me here. Let us go and sit over there, in your
They walked toward it, and Jeanne tried to think how she could begin.
They sat down in the arbor, and then, as if she were confessing
herself, she said: "Father----" then hesitated, and repeated:
"Father----" and was silent from emotion.
He waited, his hands crossed over his paunch. Seeing her
embarrassment, he sought to encourage her: "Why, my daughter, one
would suppose you were afraid; come, take courage."
She plucked up courage, like a coward who plunges headlong into
danger. "Father, I should like to have another child." He did not
reply, as he did not understand her. Then she explained, timid and
unable to express herself clearly:
"I am all alone in life now; my father and my husband do not get along
together; my mother is dead; and--and----" she added with a shudder,
"the other day I nearly lost my son! What would have become of me
She was silent. The priest, bewildered, was gazing at her. "Come, get
to the point of your subject."
"I want to have another child," she said. Then he smiled, accustomed
to the coarse jokes of the peasants, who were not embarrassed in his
presence, and he replied, with a sly motion of his head:
"Well, it seems to me that it depends only on yourself."
She raised her candid eyes to his face, and said, hesitating with
confusion: "But--but--you understand that since--since--what you know
about--about that maid--my husband and I have lived--have lived quite
Accustomed to the promiscuity and undignified relations of the
peasants, he was astonished at the revelation. All at once he thought
he guessed at the young woman's real desire, and looking at her out of
the corner of his eye, with a heart full of benevolence and of
sympathy for her distress, he said: "Oh, I understand perfectly. I
know that your widowhood must be irksome to you. You are young and in
good health. It is natural, quite natural."
He smiled, bearing out his easy-going character of a country priest,
and tapping Jeanne lightly on the hand, he said: "That is permissible,
very permissible indeed, according to the commandments. You are
married, are you not? Well, then, what is the harm?"
She, in her turn, had not understood his hidden meaning; but as soon
as she saw through it, she blushed scarlet, shocked, and with tears in
her eyes exclaimed: "Oh, Monsieur le Curé, what are you saying? What
are you thinking of? I swear to you--I swear to you----" And sobs
choked her words.
He was surprised and sought to console her: "Come, I did not mean to
hurt your feelings. I was only joking a little; there is no harm in
that when one is decent. But you may rely on me, you may rely on me. I
will see M. Julien."
She did not know what to say. She now wished to decline this
intervention, which she thought clumsy and dangerous, but she did not
dare to do so, and she went away hurriedly, faltering: "I am grateful
to you, Monsieur le Curé."
A week passed. One day at dinner Julien looked at her with a peculiar
expression, a certain smiling curve of the lips that she had noticed
when he was teasing her. He was even almost ironically gallant toward
her, and as they were walking after dinner in little mother's avenue,
he said in a low tone: "We seem to have made up again."
She did not reply, but continued to look on the ground at a sort of
track that was almost effaced now that the grass was sprouting anew.
They were the footprints of the baroness, which were vanishing as does
a memory. And Jeanne was plunged in sadness; she felt herself lost in
life, far away from everyone.
"As for me, I ask nothing better. I was afraid of displeasing you,"
The sun was going down, the air was mild. A longing to weep came over
Jeanne, one of those needs of unbosoming oneself to a kindred spirit,
of unbending and telling one's griefs. A sob rose in her throat; she
opened her arms and fell on Julien's breast, and wept. He glanced down
in surprise at her head, for he could not see her face which was
hidden on his shoulder. He supposed that she still loved him, and
placed a condescending kiss on the back of her head.
They entered the house and he followed her to her room. And thus they
resumed their former relations, he, as a not unpleasant duty, and she,
merely tolerating him.
She soon noticed, however, that his manner had changed, and one day
with her lips to his, she murmured: "Why are you not the same as you
used to be?"
"Because I do not want any more children," he said jokingly.
She started. "Why not?"
He appeared greatly surprised. "Eh, what's that you say? Are you
crazy? No, indeed! One is enough, always crying and bothering
everyone. Another baby! No, thank you!"
At the end of a month she told the news to everyone, far and wide,
with the exception of Comtesse Gilberte, from reasons of modesty and
What the priest had foreseen finally came to pass. She became
enceinte. Then, filled with an unspeakable happiness, she locked her
door every night when she retired, vowing herself from henceforth to
eternal chastity, in gratitude to the vague divinity she adored.
She was now almost quite happy again. Her children would grow up and
love her; she would grow old quietly, happy and contented, without
troubling herself about her husband.
Toward the end of September, Abbé Picot called on a visit of ceremony
to introduce his successor, a young priest, very thin, very short,
with an emphatic way of talking, and with dark circles round his
The old abbé had been appointed Dean of Goderville.
Jeanne was really sorry to lose the old man, who had been associated
with all her recollections as a young woman. He had married her,
baptized Paul, and buried the baroness. She could not imagine Étouvent
without Abbé Picot and his paunch passing along by the farms, and she
loved him because he was cheerful and natural.
But he did not seem very cheerful at the thought of his promotion. "It
is a wrench, it is a wrench, madame la comtesse. I have been here for
eighteen years. Oh, the place does not bring in much, and is not
wealthy. The men have no more religion than they need, and the women,
look you, the women have no morals. But nevertheless, I loved it."
The new curé appeared impatient, and said abruptly: "When I am here
all that will have to be changed." He looked like an angry boy, thin
and frail in his somewhat worn, though clean cassock.
Abbé Picot looked at him sideways, as he did when he was in a joking
mood, and said: "You see, abbé, in order to prevent those happenings,
you will have to chain up your parishioners; and even that would not
be of much use." The little priest replied sharply: "We shall see."
And the older man smiled as he took a pinch of snuff, and said: "Age
will calm you down, abbé, and experience also. You will drive away
from the church the remaining faithful ones, and that is all the good
it will do. In this district they are religious, but pig-headed; be
careful. Faith, when I see a girl come to confess who looks rather
stout, I say to myself: 'She is bringing me a new parishioner,' and I
try to get her married. You cannot prevent them from making mistakes;
but you can go and look for the man, and prevent him from deserting
the mother. Get them married, abbé, get them married, and do not
trouble yourself about anything else."
"We think differently," said the young priest rudely; "it is useless
to insist." And Abbé Picot once more began to regret his village, the
sea which he saw from his parsonage, the little valleys where he
walked while repeating his breviary, glancing up at the boats as they
As the two priests took their leave, the old man kissed Jeanne, who
was on the verge of tears.
A week later Abbé Tolbiac called again. He spoke of reforms which he
intended to accomplish, as a prince might have done on taking
possession of a kingdom. Then he requested the vicomtesse not to miss
the service on Sunday, and to communicate a all the festivals. "You
and I," he said, "we are at the head of the district; we must rule it
and always set them an example to follow. We must be of one accord so
that we may be powerful and respected. The church and the château in
joining forces will make the peasants obey and fear us."
Jeanne's religion was all sentiment; she had all a woman's dream
faith, and if she attended at all to her religious duties, it was from
a habit acquired at the convent, the baron's advanced ideas having
long since overthrown her convictions. Abbé Picot contented himself
with what observances she gave him, and never blamed her. But his
successor, not seeing her at mass the preceding Sunday, had come to
call, uneasy and stern.
She did not wish to break with the parsonage, and promised, making up
her mind to be assiduous in attendance the first few weeks, out of
Little by little, however, she got into the habit of going to church,
and came under the influence of this delicate, upright and dictatorial
abbé. A mystic, he appealed to her in his enthusiasm and zeal. He set
in vibration in her soul the chord of religious poetry that all women
possess. His unyielding austerity, his disgust for ordinary human
interests, his love of God, his youthful and untutored inexperience,
his harsh words, and his inflexible will, gave Jeanne an idea of the
stuff martyrs were made of; and she let herself be carried away, all
disillusioned as she was, by the fanaticism of this child, the
minister of God.
He led her to Christ, the consoler, showing her how the joy of
religion will calm all sorrow; and she knelt at the confessional,
humbling herself, feeling herself small and weak in presence of this
priest, who appeared to be about fifteen.
He was, however, very soon detested in all the countryside. Inflexibly
severe toward himself, he was implacably intolerant toward others, and
the one thing that especially roused his wrath and indignation was
love. The young men and girls looked at each other slyly across the
church, and the old peasants who liked to joke about such things
disapproved his severity. All the parish was in a ferment. Soon the
young men all stopped going to church.
The curé dined at the château every Thursday, and often came during
the week to chat with his penitent. She became enthusiastic like
himself, talked about spiritual matters, handling all the antique and
complicated arsenal of religious controversy.
They walked together along the baroness' avenue, talking of Christ and
the apostles, the Virgin Mary and the Fathers of the Church as though
they were personally acquainted with them.
Julien treated the new priest with great respect, saying constantly:
"That priest suits me, he does not back down." And he went to
confession and communion, setting a fine example. He now went to the
Fourvilles' nearly every day, gunning with the husband, who was never
happy without him, and riding with the comtesse, in spite of rain and
storm. The comte said: "They are crazy about riding, but it does my
The baron returned to the château about the middle of November. He was
changed, aged, faded, filled with a deep sadness. And his love for his
daughter seemed to have gained in strength, as if these few months of
dreary solitude had aggravated his need of affection, confidence and
tenderness. Jeanne did not tell him about her new ideas, and her
friendship for the Abbé Tolbiac. The first time he saw the priest he
conceived a great aversion to him. And when Jeanne asked him that
evening how he liked him, he replied: "That man is an inquisitor! He
must be very dangerous."
When he learned from the peasants, whose friend he was, of the
harshness and violence of the young priest, of the kind of persecution
which he carried on against all human and natural instincts, he
developed a hatred toward him. He, himself, was one of the old race of
natural philosophers who bowed the knee to a sort of pantheistic
Divinity, and shrank from the catholic conception of a God with
bourgeois instincts, Jesuitical wrath, and tyrannical revenge. To him
reproduction was the great law of nature, and he began from farm to
farm an ardent campaign against this intolerant priest, the persecutor
Jeanne, very much worried, prayed to the Lord, entreated her father;
but he always replied: "We must fight such men as that, it is our duty
and our right. They are not human."
And he repeated, shaking his long white locks: "They are not human;
they understand nothing, nothing, nothing. They are moving in a morbid
dream; they are anti-physical." And he pronounced the word
"anti-physical" as though it were a malediction.
The priest knew who his enemy was, but as he wished to remain ruler of
the château and of Jeanne, he temporized, sure of final victory. He
was also haunted by a fixed idea. He had discovered by chance the
amours of Julien and Gilberte, and he desired to put a stop to them at
He came to see Jeanne one day and, after a long conversation on
spiritual matters, he asked her to give her aid in helping him to
fight, to put an end to the evil in her own family, in order to save
two souls that were in danger.
She did not understand, and did not wish to know. He replied: "The
hour has not arrived. I shall see you some other time." And he left
The winter was coming to a close, a rotten winter, as they say in the
country, damp and mild. The abbé called again some days later and
hinted mysteriously at one of those shameless intrigues between
persons whose conduct should be irreproachable. It was the duty, he
said, of those who were aware of the facts to use every means to bring
it to an end. He took Jeanne's hand and adjured her to open her eyes
and understand and lend him her aid.
This time she understood, but she was silent, terrified at the thought
of all that might result in the house that was now peaceful, and she
pretended not to understand. Then he spoke out clearly.
She faltered: "What do you wish me to do, Monsieur l'Abbé?"
"Anything, rather than permit this infamy. Anything, I say. Leave him.
Flee from this impure house!"
"But I have no money; and then I have no longer any courage; and,
besides, how can I go without any proof? I have not the right to do
The priest arose trembling: "That is cowardice, madame; I am mistaken
in you. You are unworthy of God's mercy!"
She fell on her knees: "Oh, I pray you not to leave me, tell me what
"Open M. de Fourville's eyes," he said abruptly. "It is his place to
break up this intrigue."
This idea filled her with terror. "Why, he would kill them, Monsieur
l'Abbé! And I should be guilty of denouncing them! Oh, never that,
He raised his hand as if to curse her in his fury: "Remain in your
shame and your crime; for you are more guilty than they are. You are
the complaisant wife! There is nothing more for me to do here." And he
went off so furious that he trembled all over.
She followed him, distracted and ready to do as he suggested. But he
strode along rapidly, shaking his large blue umbrella in his rage. He
perceived Julien standing outside the gate superintending the lopping
of the trees, so he turned to the left to go across the Couillard
farm, and he said: "Leave me alone, madame, I have nothing further to
say to you."
Jeanne was entreating him to give her a few days for reflection, and
then if he came back to the château she would tell him what she had
done, and they could take counsel together.
Right in his road, in the middle of the farmyard, a group of children,
those of the house and some neighbor's children, were standing around
the kennel of Mirza, the dog, looking curiously at something with
silent and concentrated attention. In the midst of them stood the
baron, his hands behind his back, also looking on with curiosity. One
would have taken him for a schoolmaster. When he saw the priest
approaching, he moved away so as not to have to meet him and speak to
The priest did not call again; but the following Sunday from the
pulpit he hurled imprecations, curses and threats against the château,
anathematizing the baron, and making veiled allusions, but timidly, to
Julien's latest intrigue. The vicomte was furious, but the dread of a
shocking scandal kept him silent. At each service thereafter the
priest declared his indignation, predicting the approach of the hour
when God would smite all his enemies.
Julien wrote a firm, but respectful letter to the archbishop; the abbé
was threatened with suspension. He was silent thereafter.
Gilberte and Julien now frequently met him during their rides reading
his breviary, but they turned aside so as not to pass him by. Spring
had come and reawakened their love. As the foliage was still sparse
and the grass damp, they used to meet in a shepherd's movable hut that
had been deserted since autumn. But one day when they were leaving it,
they saw the Abbé Tolbiac, almost hidden in the sea rushes on the
"We must leave our horses in the ravine," said Julien, "as they can be
seen from a distance and would betray us." One evening as they were
coming home together to La Vrillette, where they were to dine with the
comte, they met the curé of Étouvent coming out of the château. He
stepped to the side of the road to let them pass, and bowed without
their eyes meeting. They were uneasy for a few moments, but soon
One afternoon, Jeanne was reading beside the fire while a storm of
wind was raging outside, when she suddenly perceived Comte Fourville
coming on foot at such a pace that she thought some misfortune had
She ran downstairs to meet him, and when she saw him she thought he
must be crazy. He wore a large quilted cap that he wore only at home,
his hunting jacket, and looked so pale that his red mustache, usually
the color of his skin, now seemed like a flame. His eyes were haggard,
rolling as though his mind were vacant.
He stammered: "My wife is here, is she not?" Jeanne, losing her
presence of mind, replied: "Why, no, I have not seen her to-day."
He sat down as if his legs had given way. He then took off his cap and
wiped his forehead with his handkerchief mechanically several times.
Then starting up suddenly, he approached Jeanne, his hands stretched
out, his mouth open, as if to speak, to confide some great sorrow to
her. Then he stopped, looked at her fixedly and said as though he were
wandering: "But it is your husband--you also----" And he fled, going
toward the sea.
Jeanne ran after him, calling him, imploring him to stop, her heart
beating with apprehension as she thought: "He knows all! What will he
do? Oh, if he only does not find them!"
But she could not come up to him, and he disregarded her appeals. He
went straight ahead without hesitation, straight to his goal. He
crossed the ditch, then, stalking through the sea rushes like a giant,
he reached the cliff.
Jeanne, standing on the mound covered with trees, followed him with
her eyes until he was out of sight. Then she went into the house,
distracted with grief.
He had turned to the right and started to run. Threatening waves
overspread the sea, big black clouds were scudding along madly,
passing on and followed by others, each of them coming down in a
furious downpour. The wind whistled, moaned, laid the grass and the
young crops low and carried away big white birds that looked like
specks of foam and bore them far into the land.
The hail which followed beat in the comte's face, filling his ears
with noise and his heart with tumult.
Down yonder before him was the deep gorge of the Val de Vaucotte.
There was nothing before him but a shepherd's hut beside a deserted
sheep pasture. Two horses were tied to the shafts of the hut on
wheels. What might not happen to one in such a tempest as this?
As soon as he saw them the comte crouched on the ground and crawled
along on his hands and knees as far as the lonely hut and hid himself
beneath the hut that he might not be seen through the cracks. The
horses on seeing him became restive. He slowly cut their reins with
the knife which he held open in his hand, and a sudden squall coming
up, the animals fled, frightened at the hail which rattled on the
sloping roof of the wooden hut and made it shake on its wheels.
The comte then kneeling upright, put his eye to the bottom of the door
and looked inside. He did not stir; he seemed to be waiting.
A little time elapsed and then he suddenly rose to his feet, covered
with mud from head to foot. He frantically pushed back the bolt which
closed the hut on the outside, and seizing the shafts, he began to
shake the hut as though he would break it to pieces. Then all at once
he got between the shafts, bending his huge frame, and with a
desperate effort dragged it along like an ox, panting as he went. He
dragged it, with whoever was in it, toward the steep incline.
Those inside screamed and banged with their fists on the door, not
understanding what was going on.
When he reached the top of the cliff he let go the fragile dwelling,
which began to roll down the incline, going ever faster and faster,
plunging, stumbling like an animal and striking the ground with its
An old beggar hidden in a ditch saw it flying over his head and heard
frightful screams coming from the wooden box.
All at once a wheel was wrenched off and it fell on its side and began
to roll like a ball, as a house torn from its foundations might roll
from the summit of a mountain. Then, reaching the ledge of the last
ravine, it described a circle, and, falling to the bottom, burst open
as an egg might do. It was no sooner smashed on the stones than the
old beggar, who had seen it going past, went down toward it slowly
amid the rushes, and with the customary caution of a peasant, not
daring to go directly to the shattered hut, he went to the nearest
farm to tell of the accident.
They all ran to look at it and raised the wreck of the hut. They found
two bodies, bruised, crushed and bleeding. The man's forehead was
split open and his whole face crushed; the woman's jaw was hanging,
dislocated in one of the jolts, and their shattered limbs were soft as
"What were they doing in that shanty?" said a woman.
The old beggar then said that they had apparently taken refuge in it
to get out of the storm and that a furious squall must have blown the
hut over the cliff. He said he had intended to take shelter there
himself, when he saw the horses tied to it, and understood that some
one else must be inside. "But for that," he added in a satisfied tone,
"I might have rolled down in it." Some one remarked: "Would not that
have been a good thing?"
The old man, in a furious rage, said: "Why would it have been a good
thing? Because I am poor and they are rich! Look at them now." And
trembling, ragged and dripping with rain, he pointed to the two dead
bodies with his hooked stick and exclaimed: "We are all alike when we
get to this."
The comte, as soon as he saw the hut rolling down the steep slope, ran
off at full speed through the blinding storm. He ran in this way for
several hours, taking short cuts, leaping across ditches, breaking
through the hedges, and thus got back home at dusk, not knowing how
The frightened servants were awaiting his return and told him that the
two horses had returned riderless some little time before, that of
Julien following the other one.
Then M. de Fourville reeled and in a choked voice said: "Something
must have happened to them in this dreadful weather. Let every one
help to look for them."
He started off himself, but he was no sooner out of sight than he
concealed himself in a clump of bushes, watching the road along which
she whom he even still loved with an almost savage passion was to
return dead, dying or maybe crippled and disfigured forever.
And soon a carriole passed by carrying a strange burden.
It stopped at the château and passed through the gate. It was that, it
was she. But a fearful anguish nailed him to the spot, a fear to know
the worst, a dread of the truth, and he did not stir, hiding as a
hare, starting at the least sound.
He waited thus an hour, two hours perhaps. The buggy did not come out.
He concluded that his wife was expiring, and the thought of seeing
her, of meeting her gaze filled him with so much horror that he
suddenly feared to be discovered in his hiding place and of being
compelled to return and be present at this agony, and he then fled
into the thick of the wood. Then all of a sudden it occurred to him
that she perhaps might be needing his care, that no one probably could
properly attend to her. Then he returned on his tracks, running
On entering the château he met the gardener and called out to him,
"Well?" The man did not dare answer him. Then M. de Fourville almost
roared at him: "Is she dead?" and the servant stammered: "Yes, M. le
He experienced a feeling of immense relief. His blood seemed to cool
and his nerves relax somewhat of their extreme tension, and he walked
firmly up the steps of his great hallway.
The other wagon had reached "The Poplars." Jeanne saw it from afar.
She descried the mattress; she guessed that a human form was lying
upon it, and understood all. Her emotion was so vivid that she swooned
and fell prostrate.
When she regained consciousness her father was holding her head and
bathing her temples with vinegar. He said hesitatingly: "Do you know?"
She murmured: "Yes, father." But when she attempted to rise she found
herself unable to do so, so intense was her agony.
That very night she gave birth to a stillborn infant, a girl.
Jeanne saw nothing of the funeral of Julien; she knew nothing of it.
She merely noticed at the end of a day or two that Aunt Lison was
back, and in her feverish dreams which haunted her she persistently
sought to recall when the old maiden lady had left "The Poplars," at
what period and under what circumstances. She could not make this out,
even in her lucid moments, but she was certain of having seen her
subsequent to the death of "little mother."
* * * * *
THE DEVELOPMENT OF PAUL
Jeanne did not leave her room for three months and was so wan and pale
that no one thought she would recover. But she picked up by degrees.
Little father and Aunt Lison never left her; they had both taken up
their abode at "The Poplars." The shock of Julien's death had left her
with a nervous malady. The slightest sound made her faint and she had
long swoons from the most insignificant causes.
She had never asked the details of Julien's death. What did it matter
to her? Did she not know enough already? Every one thought it was an
accident, but she knew better, and she kept to herself this secret
which tortured her: the knowledge of his infidelity and the
remembrance of the abrupt and terrible visit of the comte on the day
of the catastrophe.
And now she was filled with tender, sweet and melancholy recollections
of the brief evidences of love shown her by her husband. She
constantly thrilled at unexpected memories of him, and she seemed to
see him as he was when they were betrothed and as she had known him in
the hours passed beneath the sunlight in Corsica. All his faults
diminished, all his harshness vanished, his very infidelities appeared
less glaring in the widening separation of the closed tomb. And
Jeanne, pervaded by a sort of posthumous gratitude for this man who
had held her in his arms, forgave all the suffering he had caused her,
to remember only moments of happiness they had passed together. Then,
as time went on and month followed month, covering all her grief and
reminiscences with forgetfulness, she devoted herself entirely to her
He became the idol, the one thought of the three beings who surrounded
him, and he ruled as a despot. A kind of jealousy even arose among his
slaves. Jeanne watched with anxiety the great kisses he gave his
grandfather after a ride on his knee, and Aunt Lison, neglected by him
as she had been by every one else and treated often like a servant by
this little tyrant who could scarcely speak as yet, would go to her
room and weep as she compared the slight affection he showed her with
the kisses he gave his mother and the baron.
Two years passed quietly, and at the beginning of the third winter it
was decided that they should go to Rouen to live until spring, and the
whole family set out. But on their arrival in the old damp house, that
had been shut up for some time, Paul had such a severe attack of
bronchitis that his three relatives in despair declared that he could
not do without the air of "The Poplars." They took him back there and
he got well.
Then began a series of quiet, monotonous years. Always around the
little one, they went into raptures at everything he did. His mother
called him Poulet, and as he could not pronounce the word, he said
"Pol," which amused them immensely, and the nickname of "Poulet" stuck
The favorite occupation of his "three mothers," as the baron called
his relatives, was to see how much he had grown, and for this purpose
they made little notches in the casing of the drawing-room door,
showing his progress from month to month. This ladder was called
"Poulet's ladder," and was an important affair.
A new individual began to play a part in the affairs of the
household--the dog "Massacre," who became Paul's inseparable
Rare visits were exchanged with the Brisevilles and the Couteliers.
The mayor and the doctor alone were regular visitors. Since the
episode of the mother dog and the suspicion Jeanne had entertained of
the priest on the occasion of the terrible death of the comtesse and
Julien, Jeanne had not entered the church, angry with a divinity that
could tolerate such ministers.
The church was deserted and the priest came to be looked on as a
sorcerer because he had, so they said, driven out an evil spirit from
a woman who was possessed, and although fearing him the peasants came
to respect him for this occult power as well as for the unimpeachable
austerity of his life.
When he met Jeanne he never spoke. This condition of affairs
distressed Aunt Lison, and when she was alone, quite alone with Paul,
she talked to him about God, telling him the wonderful stories of the
early history of the world. But when she told him that he must love
Him very much, the child would say: "Where is He, auntie?" "Up there,"
she would say, pointing to the sky; "up there, Poulet, but do not say
so." She was afraid of the baron.
One day, however, Poulet said to her: "God is everywhere, but He is
not in church." He had told his grandfather of his aunt's wonderful
When Paul was twelve years old a great difficulty arose on the subject
of his first communion.
Lison came to Jeanne one morning and told her that the little fellow
should no longer be kept without religious instruction and from his
religious duties. His mother, troubled and undecided, hesitated,
saying that there was time enough. But a month later, as she was
returning a call at the Brisevilles', the comtesse asked her casually
if Paul was going to make his first communion that year. Jeanne,
unprepared for this, answered, "Yes," and this simple word decided
her, and without saying a word to her father, she asked Aunt Lison to
take the boy to the catechism class.
All went well for a month, but one day Paul came home with a
hoarseness and the following day he coughed. On inquiry his mother
learned that the priest had sent him to wait till the lesson was over
at the door of the church, where there was a draught, because he had
misbehaved. So she kept him at home and taught him herself. But the
Abbé Tobiac, despite Aunt Lison's entreaties, refused to admit him as
a communicant on the ground that he was not thoroughly taught.
The same thing occurred the following year, and the baron angrily
swore that the child did not need to believe all that tomfoolery, so
it was decided that he should be brought up as a Christian, but not as
an active Catholic, and when he came of age he could believe as he
The Brisevilles ceased to call on her and Jeanne was surprised,
knowing the punctiliousness of these neighbors in returning calls, but
the Marquise de Coutelier haughtily told her the reason. Considering
herself, in virtue of her husband's rank and fortune, a sort of queen
of the Norman nobility, the marquise ruled as a queen, said what she
thought, was gracious or the reverse as occasion demanded,
admonishing, restoring to favor, congratulating whenever she saw fit.
So when Jeanne came to see her, this lady, after a few chilling
remarks, said drily: "Society is divided into two classes: those who
believe in God and those who do not believe in Him. The former, even
the humblest, are our friends, our equals; the latter are nothing to
Jeanne, perceiving the insinuation, replied: "But may one not believe
in God without going to church?"
"No, madame," answered the marquise. "The faithful go to worship God
in His church, just as one goes to see people in their homes."
Jeanne, hurt, replied: "God is everywhere, madame. As for me, who
believes from the bottom of my heart in His goodness, I no longer feel
His presence when certain priests come between Him and me."
The marquise rose. "The priest is the standard bearer of the Church,
madame. Whoever does not follow the standard is opposed to Him and
opposed to us."
Jeanne had risen in her turn and said, trembling: "You believe,
madame, in a partisan God. I believe in the God of upright people."
She bowed and took her leave.
The peasants also blamed her among themselves for not having let
Poulet make his first communion. They themselves never attended
service or took the sacrament unless it might be at Easter, according
to the rule ordained by the Church; but for boys it was quite another
thing, and they would have all shrunk in horror at the audacity of
bringing up a child outside this recognized law, for religion is
She saw how they felt and was indignant at heart at all these
discriminations, all these compromises with conscience, this general
fear of everything, the real cowardice of all hearts and the mask of
respectability assumed in public.
The baron took charge of Paul's studies and made him study Latin, his
mother merely saying: "Above all things, do not get over tired."
As soon as the boy was at liberty he went down to work in the garden
with his mother and his aunt.
He now loved to dig in the ground, and all three planted young trees
in the spring, sowed seed and watched it growing with the deepest
interest, pruned branches and cut flowers for bouquets.
Poulet was almost fifteen, but was a mere child in intelligence,
ignorant, silly, suppressed between petticoat government and this kind
old man who belonged to another century.
One evening the baron spoke of college, and Jeanne at once began to
sob. Aunt Lison timidly remained in a dark corner.
"Why does he need to know so much?" asked his mother. "We will make a
gentleman farmer of him. He can cultivate his land, as many of the
nobility do. He will live and grow old happily in this house, where we
have lived before him and where we shall die. What more can one do?"
But the baron shook his head. "What would you say to him if he should
say to you when he is twenty-five: 'I amount to nothing, I know
nothing, all through your fault, the fault of your maternal
selfishness. I feel that I am incapable of working, of making
something of myself, and yet I was not intended for a secluded, simple
life, lonely enough to kill one, to which I have been condemned by
your shortsighted affection.'"
She was weeping and said entreatingly: "Tell me, Poulet, you will not
reproach me for having loved you too well?" And the big boy, in
surprise, promised that he never would. "Swear it," she said. "Yes,
mamma." "You want to stay here, don't you?" "Yes, mamma."
Then the baron spoke up loud and decidedly: "Jeanne, you have no right
to make disposition of this life. What you are doing is cowardly and
almost criminal; you are sacrificing your child to your own private
She hid her face in her hands, sobbing convulsively, and stammered out
amid her tears: "I have been so unhappy--so unhappy! Now, just as I am
living peacefully with him, they want to take him away from me. What
will become of me now--all by myself?" Her father rose and, sitting
down beside her, put his arms round her. "And how about me, Jeanne?"
She put her arms suddenly round his neck, gave him a hearty kiss and
with her voice full of tears, she said: "Yes, you are right perhaps,
little father. I was foolish, but I have suffered so much. I am quite
willing he should go to college."
And without knowing exactly what they were going to do with him,
Poulet in his turn began to weep.
Then the three mothers began to kiss him and pet him and encourage
him. When they retired to their rooms it was with a weight at their
hearts, and they all wept, even the baron, who had restrained himself
up to that.
It was decided that when the term began to put the young boy to school
at Havre, and during the summer he was petted more than ever; his
mother sighed often as she thought of the separation. She prepared his
wardrobe as if he were going to undertake a ten years' voyage. One
October morning, after a sleepless night, the two women and the baron
got into the carriage with him and set out on their journey.
They had previously selected his place in the dormitory and his desk
in the school room. Jeanne, aided by Aunt Lison, spent the whole day
in arranging his clothes in his little wardrobe. As it did not hold a
quarter of what they had brought, she went to look for the
superintendent to ask for another. The treasurer was called, but he
pointed out that all that amount of clothing would only be in the way
and would never be needed, and he refused, on behalf of the directors,
to let her have another chest of drawers. Jeanne, much annoyed,
decided to hire a room in a small neighboring hotel, begging the
proprietor to go himself and take Poulet whatever he required as soon
as the boy asked for it.
They then took a walk on the pier to look at the ships coming and
going. They went into a restaurant to dine, but they were none of them
able to eat, and looked at one another with moistened eyes as the
dishes were brought on and taken away almost untouched.
They now returned slowly toward the school. Boys of all ages were
arriving from all quarters, accompanied by their families or by
servants. Many of them were crying.
Jeanne held Poulet in a long embrace, while Aunt Lison remained in the
background, her face hidden in her handkerchief. The baron, however,
who was becoming affected, cut short the adieus by dragging his
daughter away. They got into the carriage and went back through the
darkness to "The Poplars," the silence being broken by an occasional
Jeanne wept all the following day and on the day after drove to Havre
in the phaeton. Poulet seemed to have become reconciled to the
separation. For the first time in his life he now had playmates, and
in his anxiety to join them he could scarcely sit still on his chair
when his mother called. She continued her visits to him every other
day and called to take him home on Sundays. Not knowing what to do
with herself while school was in session until recreation time, she
would remain sitting in the reception room, not having the strength or
the courage to go very far from the school. The superintendent sent to
ask her to come to his office and begged her not to come so
frequently. She paid no attention to his request. He therefore
informed her that if she continued to prevent her son from taking his
recreation at the usual hours, obliging him to work without a change
of occupation, they would be forced to send him back home again, and
the baron was also notified to the same effect. She was consequently
watched like a prisoner at "The Poplars."
She became restless and worried and would ramble about for whole days
in the country, accompanied only by Massacre, dreaming as she walked
along. Sometimes she would remain seated for a whole afternoon,
looking out at the sea from the top of the cliff; at other times she
would go down to Yport through the wood, going over the ground of her
former walks, the memory of which haunted her. How long ago--how long
ago it was--the time when she had gone over these same paths as a
young girl, carried away by her dreams.
Poulet was not very industrious at school; he was kept two years in
the fourth form. The third year's work was only tolerable and he had
to begin the second over again, so that he was in rhetoric when he was
He was now a big, fair young man, with downy whiskers and a faint sign
of a mustache. He now came home to "The Poplars" every Sunday, riding
over in a couple of hours, his mother, Aunt Lison and the baron
starting out early to go and meet him.
Although he was a head taller than his mother, she always treated him
as though he were a child, and when he returned to school in the
evening she would charge him anxiously not to go too fast and to think
of his poor mother, who would break her heart if anything happened to
One Saturday morning she received a letter from Paul, saying that he
would not be home on the following day because some friends had
arranged an excursion and had invited him. She was tormented with
anxiety all day Sunday, as though she dreaded some misfortune, and on
Thursday, as she could endure it no longer, she set out for Havre.