St. Michael's Night
THE service came to an end ; the many lights were extinguished, and the congregation streamed out into the darkness and the storm. Marie Robbe came pressing against the crowd as Jeanne and her companion reached the church door, and seized Jeanne by the arm. “O Jeanne!” she burst forth, “make haste ! make haste ! there’s a boat just off the bar, trying to get in ; maybe it’s thy father’s boat, — and some of them say she is badly hurt, and some that she is driving on shore. Come, Jeanne, make haste! Let us push our way to the side door. How the clumsy people push one to death ! Madame is a pagan cat to conduct herself with such haste in the church ! ” — this to a somewhat austere-looking divote, who was elbowing her way through the crowd, and who had pushed past Marie. “Why, indeed,” she continued, angrily, for Marie was one of those persons whose emotions, when excited above a certain degree, always take the form of ill-humor, — “why thy father should have chosen last night for going out, when any one might have supposed there would be a storm, I can’t tell ; but some people trust to their good luck always, and then draw others into their scrapes ! I wish my father had not been so foolish as to go ! ”
There was little to be made out of Marie’s incoherent words ; but Jeanne and her companion needed no urging, and the three women sped swiftly down towards the pier ; Marie half sobbing with excitement and anger, but still, with the instinct of physical well-being paramount in the midst of her terror, wrapping a corner of Épiphanie’s large cloak round her to protect her from the wind and rain.
As they reached the wharf they overtook a group of fishermen, some of whom, evidently but lately landed, were recounting the story of their day’s ill luck and the adventures of their coming in, to the others.
“Are there any boats out yet?” asked Jeanne, joining the men, who, like themselves, were going towards the pier.
“Yes, there is one out there,” replied the man; “and it’s a wonder if she gets in at all. We have just come ashore ourselves, and passed within fifty yards of her.”
“Was she damaged any way, do you think ? ” asked Jeanne.
“One couldn’t say. She seemed to be holding off from shore, as well as we could make out, and not making for the harbor at all.”
“ Come,” said Jeanne, quickening her pace, and followed by all the rest. “ Did you know the boat ? ”
“ One cannot see much such a night as this, though I suppose I know most of the craft on the coast for ten miles down. It was a well-sized sloop, and had an open row-boat in company. But one has as much to look after as one’s own two eyes can manage, coming into this maudit harbor in fair weather, let alone a night like this.”
“ I’m a Pourville man,” said another of the men, “and I’ve run down from Pourville to Dieppe these fourteen years, and I never saw blacker weather round the harbor’s mouth than tonight ! ”
“ There’s one thing I can affirm,” said the man Jeanne had at first addressed, “ for I heard his voice as he shouted to the men in the little craft,—that Francois Milette was aboard the fishing-boat.”
“ Mais, mon Dieu,” broke in Épiphanie, “c’est mon frère ! ”
“ Ei, your brother !” exclaimed the Pourville man. “ You are Épiphanio Coutelenq, I suppose ; I used to know your husband long ago. And Francois has had good luck as a fisherman ? ” “ Yes, grâce à Dieu,”said Épiphanie, "this is the worst night he has ever been out in.”
“For my part,” said the man, “I think they ’ll gel in well enough, if she’s a stout boat, and well managed.”
“ It’s my father’s boat, sure enough,” said Jeanne. “ Francois Milette went out with him last night; but what the row-boat was I cannot tell.” And she hurried on faster. The men broke into a jog-trot.
“ Come on,” said the man who had recognized Épiphanie, “ next to getting in one’s self, there’s nothing better than towing in a neighbor ! ”
So they all came clattering along over the stones of the Pollet pier, which was already dotted with groups of people eagerly watching the black object dimly discernible in the darkness, as it rose and fell among the white-capped billows.
The tide was rising fast; the sea rolled up in huge black waves, that struck from time to time like thunderbolts against the stout masonry of the pier, and then springing upwards from the shock, a majestic column, thirty feet high, fell in a shower of spray. Jean Farge and a company of Polletais stood at a certain spot on the pier to which tire rope was always thrown. The night was very dark. The wind roared fiercely round the end of the pier, the men held their caps tight on their heads, and the few women crouched under the shelter of the high parapet, as if fearing to be carried away bodily by the raging gusts of wind. All watched the light at the mast-head of the boat, as it swayed and rose and fell. The boat lay Scarcely two hundred yards from the end of the pier. The tide was running in, hurried and torn by the wind that was beating dead on shore. The boat approached very slowly, by short tacks, so as to keep her bow meeting the big waves, one of which, catching her broadside, was enough to founder her.
The great question was, whether she could safely pass the end of the Dieppe pier, throw her rope at the right moment, and sweep round into the narrow month of the harbor. It required a strong and dexterous arm to hurl the heavy coil from the distance, whence, on account of the eddy at the harbor’s mouth, it became necessary to steady the boat, and assist her by towing. This was a sufficiently nice matter in fair weather, but in the darkness, and with a wind and sea such as the present, the difficulties of entrance were tenfold. The news of the probability of its being Defére’s boat spread rapidly through the crowd. The men shouted again and again ; but the wind and the storm were too loud for their voices to reach the boat, and no reply came to either direction or inquiry. Jean Farge was talking to the Pourville fisherman who bore testimony to having heard Francois’s voice on board the boat, as he himself rode into harbor. They were joined by another man.
“There’s but a poor chance, I say,” said the last comer. “ I watched her for an hour before it grew dark, beating round, and trying to get into clear sea just off the Camp de César, but it was hard work.”
“ When the Newhaven steamer can't face the weather, but puts back into dock, there’s but poor chance for a fishing-boat,” said another.
“ Defére will save the old boat if any man can, be sure of that,” said Farge, who stood holding his hat down over his eyes, and peering through the darkness and driving rain at the unsteady light as it rose and fell. “See — see!” he called out suddenly, “ she’s coming on fast now — now she’s down — no, there she is again — yes—yes, she’s turned her bow — she’s riding up —she’s making straight for the harbor. Seven devils take this rain, but how it blinds one ! Here she comes, — she’s a boat after all ! But she’s wavering, — she’s tacking, — she ’ll lose the drift, she will
— she will! Heavenly saints!” he shrieked, wringing his hands wildly, “bring her in, bring her in.” Then with a voice like a trumpet, he bawled, “ The breakwater — look — out — for — the — breakwater ! ” Slowly, slowly, the dark form of the boat approached, struggling and staggering in the fierce sea, and now she certainly was tacking and holding off. What was the meaning of it ?
“Whist!” said the Pourville man, “ they ’re calling, what is it ? ” All bent over the low parapet, and strained their hearing to catch the words. A clear voice from the boat rang out something; but the roar of the wind and waters howled above it, and the sound conveyed no meaning. “What was it? Listen again! Where’s a trumpet? Diantre ! They’ll be too late if they don’t come in a minute! Are they all mad ? ” shouted a dozen voices at once. But a sudden silence fell upon the crowd like a shock, for across the darkness of their perplexity and dismay a new intelligence shot like a meteor.
Jeanne had been during the last few minutes leaning with her elbows on the parapet, motionless and silent. When the cry from the boat reached her ears, buffeted by the storm as it was, so that the words to all others had lost their meaning, she suddenly sprang to her feet, cast off the encumbering arm of Épiphanie wound about her, and caught up a lantern from a sheltered corner where it had been placed for safety.
“Quick!” she cried, “to the end of the pier! ” With a bound she was on the low parapet, and, running swiftly to the higher wall at the extreme end of the pier, she sprang upon that dizzy height above the surging sea, and, holding the lantern high above her head, she sent a cry over the water, shrill, clear, and vibrating, such as no wind on earth could whistle down, “ A — la — lumière ! ” How it rang out, — that long-sustained cry! Despair, exultation, and passionate hope were the strength of it, and the very wind seemed to pause to listen !
A breathless pause, in which the girl’s figure, blown by the tempestuous winds and drenched in spray, stood motionless with the light above her head, and then “ whir ! ” and, like a dark snake, and hissing as it sped, the rope came just above the lantern, showing how true had been the aim. With a shout it was caught by a hundred eager hands before it touched the ground. Shout after shout went up as the rope stretched and strained, and the long double line clattered along, chattering and laughing, some weeping in the wild excitement, some bawling congratulations to the men in the boat far below in the darkness, which they could not hear, and all pulling at the rope with a will.
Jeanne slipped down from the parapet, and joined the rest, taking her place at the rope. Épiphanie, laughing and weeping by turns, ran by her side.
“ O Jeanne, dear Jeanne ! They are in ! They are in ! Thou hast saved them ! Marie bienfaisante, but it was well done ! ” And then, sobbing with joy and excitement, she fell to hushing the baby, who had awakened in this Babel, as was only natural he should. Jeanne said nothing. She felt as if she could have drawn the boat in, unaided by another hand. The wet straining rope was pressed against her warm beating heart; and she grasped it in her strong hands, and could have kissed it in tender ecstasy as Épiphanie did her baby.
“ Who held the light ?” shouted some one far down the line.
“Jeanne Defére, Jeanne Defére!” bawled a dozen voices in reply; but Jeanne hardly heard them. Everybody talked at once.
“ The rope was too short,” said one. “ They could not reach the ‘ middle point,’ and wanted us to meet them lower down the pier.”
“ Yes, yes, of course, that was what they were shouting about, ” said another man. “ I knew how it was in a minute.”
“ Eh, neighbor ! ” called out a somewhat shrill-voiced Polletaise, “ if you knew so well, why did n’t you speak ? You men always know where the rat lives, I observe, after you see the eat at the hole ! ”
“ And the women know more about it than the cat herself, I believe,” replied the man with a laugh. “Why did n’t I speak ? Because a woman spoke before me. That was not strange however, — eh, Voisine Legros ? ”
“You are right,” said the undaunted Polletaise. “ It is not I who will contradict you when you say the men are slow. Le bon Dieu gave the men the stronger arm to make up for the want of wit,”
“Many words and much wit do not always run together,” replied the Dieppois, who, finding it difficult satisfactorily to refute this theory of compensative justice, betook himself prudently to another view of the question. “You women, I observe, my good friend, will talk for a good hour over a thing I would not waste my breath on ! ”
“ And you men, I observe, my good friend,” returned the Polletaise, “are always bragging about being able to hold your tongues. And well it is, if some of you can be silent, and not show all the folly that is in you ! Waste your breath ! Ha, ha ! you ’re the man, perhaps, that would not waste his breath on a candle, and burnt his fingers in snuffing it out! Hein ! ”
“ He, he, he! ” laughed the trebles in the crowd.
“With a Polletaise it is one’s ears more than one’s breath that one tears to lose,” said another man, coming to the rescue of his fellow,
“ Ho, ho, ho ! ” from the basses. “And no great loss to you either, I should think,” said the Polletaise, who, spurred by the derisive laughter of her opponents, and exhilarated by a fine inbred consciousness of her own resources, was becoming pleasantly excited in the contest, — “no great loss to you, while there is still a woman left to see and speak in your place, — as to-night, for example ! ”
“Ya-ho-ha-hu!” shouted the men from the boat below. That shout proclaimed that they were within the dockwaters, and the rope slackened gradually as the boat ran alongside the wharf. “ Throw up the rope ! Bring her up gently! Welcome to the old boat! ” And the crowd dosed round the top of the perpendicular ladder which ran up the side of the dock wall from the boat below, and up which Defére and his companions were coming. One by one, they emerged from the darkness, and began to ascend, coming as they approached the top, into the light of the lantern held by Jean Farge.
“ Here we are ! ” bawled Père Robbe, coming up in a crab-like fashion, sidewise. “ The old boat has had a nice night of it, — eh? The last boat in, are we ? Well, the good saints have learned what La Sainte Pcrpetua is made of, and that she has good luck is an understood thing ! ” Pere Robbe was followed more slowly by old Defére, with his waterproof hat tied down like a nightcap ; then Francois Milette, and still two stood below. Another began to mount. Good saints ! Pierre Lennet; and close behind him a dark head without covering, the hair drenched with water, —Gabriel! Jeanne bowed her head, but her heart was lifted up ; not in exultation that to her quick senses and vigorous will they owed their lives, but that the cry of her heart, piercing the deeper gloom and storm of doubt and despair, had reached the Ruler of all storms and the Giver of all peace.
“Jeanne, Jeanne, my daughter, where art thou ? ” cried old Defére, peering amongst the crowd. Jeanne embraced her father, her heart aching with bliss, but said not a word.
“ Here, here ! lend a hand with these things,” shouted Père Robbe, who had again descended to the boat after the first greetings were over, and who was now busy gathering together an incongruous heap, — baskets containing the provision for the fishing expedition, a lantern, nets, stone water-bottles, and what not. “Pierre! Francois! Diantre! are the men all deaf? Here, Gabriel Ducrés, lend a hand with this lantern and the tackle, and I ’ll bring up the baskets.” And Gabriel began reluctantly to descend the ladder once more.
“ Yes, here we are,” said Pierre Lennet, giving his burly person a shake, as a water-dog does on reaching shore, — “ here we are, and a nice night we 've had of it, — eh, Neighbor Defére? And who was the lass that held the lantern ? We knew it was a woman ; I aimed straight at her white cap; but, Madonna ! it was the saving of us.”
“Jeanne Defére! Jeanne Defére!” cried many voices. And then came a confusion of questions and answers and exclamations, and Pierre’s loud voice sounding above all, recounting his adventures.
“ But how came you there at all, Pierre Lennet? — and Gabriel Ducrés, too ! — the good saints must have dropped them from the clouds.”
“ I don’t know rightly yet how they came together,” said old Defére. “We have n’t had much time for talking ; but if it had been the holy St. Jacques and his brother, I should n’t have been more glad to see them than when they came alongside with that rope.”
“Rope!” exclaimed several voices at once, “how was that?”
“Well, you see,” said old Defére, “ we ran out very well last night, and lay off about two miles from shore, but scarce a herring could we touch. They ran before us just as if the Devil were at their tails. The wind had got up a bit by that time, but the fish had given us the slip so often that we thought we would make another trial farther down the coast, and so drop into Treport if the weather grew worse. But little enough of Treport did we see. We knocked about for three hours, and found we could not make head against the wind, and so turned about and rode before it towards Dieppe. Such a wind ! and to come up without a bit of warning! Behold us there as the day wears away. The sea washes over us every minute. After each wave I look up to see whether Francois and Jacques are not gone; but no, there we all are ! A great wave comes that throws me on my face, the boat veers as the helm flies loose, and we catch a broadside from the sea that makes the old boat shiver and crack again, and I say to myself, as the water goes over me, ‘Here is an end to thy fishing. Père Defére, and thy days altogether. La Sainte Perpetua won’t reach harbor; but at least thou wilt not have to leave the oldboat,’ — for I held on to the helm through all. But up we come again ; the water sweeps off, and the boat rights herself. Francois and Jacques are both there, but the rope is gone. Eh, bien ! where is our chance for getting into Dieppe to-night ? So there we lie and beat about, and wait to see what the bon Dieu will do next, for our best is done. After an hour or more, we signal the men on shore, and they come out to us, bringing the rope ; and who are they but Pierre and Gabriel! Madonna ! how they worked ! Cousin Gabriel there, he is no sailor, but he is of the right stuff to make one. A strong arm is a strong arm, and a stout heart is a stout heart, whether it’s in a blouse or a sailor’s jacket! ”
“ Ei,” broke in Pierre Lennet, “thou wouldst not make a bad sailor, friend Gabriel! He worked like a skipper, to be sure, and has a voice for a long shout ! It was his voice brought out the light, any way. Mais, bon patron, could not you hear us before ? I gave a shout enough to reach Dover, and you no more answered than so many herrings.”
The crowd pressed still round Defére, discussing eagerly the further story of his adventures. Pierre looked round through the crowd, dimly seen by the light of the lanterns. “ La voilà. ! ” he said, and made his way towards Jeanne, who stood a little apart from the rest.
She was standing near a pile of cordage, upon which some one had set a lantern, and by its light was busily engaged in wringing out the water from her father’s seaman’s coat, and the nets which had been brought up from the boat-hold. Épiphanie had seated herself on this heap of cordage, but, while the light of the lantern fell full upon Jeanne, Épiphanie’s figure was entirely lost in shadow, the dark side being turned towards her. Jeanne did not look up from her work till Pierre laid his heavy hand upon her shoulder. "Bon soir, Jeanne ; is thy cap any the worse for the rope ? ” he said.
“ 'T was a good aim,” said Jeanne, smiling, and holding out her hand. "Didst thou know it was our boat, Pierre, when you two went out with the rope ? ”
“Not I,” said Pierre. “I had gone up to the Établissement des Bains, just below the Camp de César, with two of our men (for after the steamer put back we had nothing to do), and we were standing in the shed there with half a dozen people who had collected watching the sloop. She was n’t an eighth of a league from shore then.”
“ Did they signal? ” asked Jeanne.
“ Of course ; and we soon found out it was the rope they had lost, and thy cousin Ducrés there and I went out.”
“ How came Gabriel to go with thee,” asked Jeanne, stooping again towards the pile of wet nets, "when there were sailors there ?”
“Because they would n’t, les grands lâches! When I ran to haul down a boat (there are always safety - boats there for the bathers in the summer, and plenty of tackle) the man who owns the place cursed me for a fool, and said I should not have the boat, and talked and blasphemed so about the danger, that not a man of them would stir to help me. Suddenly, a young man comes forward, and says : ‘ I ’m only a landsman, but I can row well enough, and I’m ready to go if you choose to take me, Pierre Lennet’ (he knew me, it seemed, though I didn’t know him).
‘ One can but be drowned at the worst,’ he says. 'Come on,’ said I, and we hauled the boat down gayly between us. Monsieur le Baigneur I knew dare n’t prevent us taking it. A man gets no good character who refuses to help a boat in distress. C’est un garcon d’un cœur hardi, ton cousin ! ” continued Pierre, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb towards the direction of the boat; "and I never knew who it was till I heard thy father call him by his name.”
Jeanne looked up, a sudden grateful radiance shining in her gray eyes. "Thou hast done my father a good service, Pierre, — and me too. The good saints reward thee ! ”
“Thou hast done me some good turns too, Jeanne Defére,” said Pierre, laying his hand upon the girl’s shoulder, and looking kindly into her face. “ But for thee, I should have been at the other end of the world, or perhaps at the bottom of the sea. But perhaps,” he added, with an uneasy laugh, pushing his hand somewhat disconsolately through his hair, “it would have been better to have gone than stayed when one feels one’s self always growing older, but no happier.”
“Whist! ” said Jeanne, giving him a smart rap with the back of her hand on the lips, “thou art always a fool, Pierre ! Here is Épiphanie close to thee ! ” And, without waiting to see his surprise and confusion, she turned her back on him, and, in turning, came full upon Gabriel, standing with the lantern in his hand, and regarding her with eyes full of the bitterest rage and dismay. He was near enough to have seen all that passed between her and Pierre, though not to have heard what they had said.
“ Cousin Gabriel! ” said Jeanne, with the sudden conviction of what was in his mind, and of the force which the scene of the last few minutes must have lent to his suspicions, — "Gabriel ! ” and then she stopped. She had no wit to dissemble, and, finding herself suddenly with all the appearance of guilt upon her, she felt for the moment as if she were guilty, and stood powerless to say a word. She had thought to meet him so differently too !
But Gabriel knew nothing of this ; he clutched the lantern till it rattled in his hard grip, and turned away. Jeanne sprang forward, and caught his arm; he looked at her for a moment, and then, shaking himself loose from her appealing hand, he strode on.
“Gamin ! ” said Jeanne, her perplexity and discomfiture suddenly blazing forth into red-hot anger at this exasperating dismissal of her overtures of conciliation; and she turned on her heel. “ Comme ils sont bâtes,— les hommes !" she said with a contemptuous stamp of her sabot. But her heart was sore and heavy, in spite of her anger, and the hot tears fell on her father’s rough seaman’s coat as she took it up. She had even forgotten Épiphanie. Throwing the coat over her arm, and obeying the call of her father, who stood ready to go, she took his hand in hers, and went on with the rest of the company into the town.
“ SOME must meet and some must part, so runs the world away”; and when Jeanne turned and met Gabriel,— an encounter destined to increase the bitterness of their last parting by further strife, Pierre Lennet drew near to Épiphanie; and Épiphanie, who had heard Pierre’s last words with Jeanne, shrunk half timidly into her corner, with a sure knowledge that this encounter between her and Pierre would be either a meeting or a parting for their lives.
Pierre, leaning up against the cordage, cast her into still deeper shade as he brought his broad shoulders between her and the light. Into this friendly shadow Épiphanie leaned with gathering confidence. She listened, with her head bent down towards the baby that lay sleeping in her arms, as Pierre, resting on his elbows, and stroking his tawny beard thoughtfully as he spoke, looked up into her face. It was not long that Pierre spoke, and Épiphanic listened ; but when Jeanne took her father’s hand, and the little knot of people began to move off, Épiphanie slid down from her high seat, and stood for a moment, as Pierre, taking her to his faithful heart, bent and kissed her on the lips. Then, with a laugh, he took the child from her arms, and walked on by her side, her sabots keeping up a merry and harmonious clack, as she endeavored to keep step with the rolling gait of her companion.
THE men stood consulting, before they separated for the night, about the next day. It was agreed that some one of them must run a boat down to Verangeville in the morning, if the storm had by that time abated, to fetch from thence a rudder that old Defére had lying at home, for his disabled fishing-boat, and so save the expense of getting a new one in Dieppe. Every day is of importance in the fishing-season, and every hour that La Sainte Perpetua lay by was so much lost to him in the profits for the year. Jean Farge offered the use of his boat for this purpose, on condition that she should start early in the morning and be back the next night. This was agreed to, and then came the question, who was to go, and who stay behind. Old Robbe had business to keep him in Dieppe all day, so it naturally fell to old Defére and Francois Milette, though he probably would have liked better to stay another day in Dieppe, in the company of Marie Robbe, who was to remain for several days longer at her uncle’s, the ivorycarver. The rest of the company, including Jeanne, Épiphanie, and, possibly, Pierre, were to return by land, the next day. Gabriel Ducrés declared his intention of going to Arques on the morrow, to buy seed for the farm, — a journey he had put off from day to day, during the past week at Verangeville.
After these various plans were arranged, the whole company trooped along together; some dropping off at different points on the way, where were their lodgings for the night.
Épiphanie Milette and Jeanne and her father were to stay at the Farges in the Pollet, and Francois and Gabriel were to sleep at the house of a neighbor.
Francois left the others, at the end of the drawbridge that crosses the dock, to accompany Marie Robbe to the Rue de St. Remi, where lived her uncle, and where she was staying.
The rest of the company continued their way across the bridge, and along the side of the dock. The wind blew hard in their faces, as they walked. Jean Farge went first, carrying the lantern, and talking to old Defére, who, with Jeanne, walked just behind.
Most of the houses, that run along the wharf-side in the Pollet, were closed for the night, but a light twinkled in the window of the Farge cottage, which, as I said, stood on the cliffside, raised above the other houses.
“ The old woman is waiting for us,” said Jean Farge. “Ha—hoi!” he shouted, as they turned and approached the steps worn in the cliffside. The light moved suddenly, the door opened, letting out a pleasant stream of hospitable light on the wet and weary company standing below.
“ Here we are, mother,” said Jean, “safe and sound, and hungry as gulls.”
“ Die'u merci! ” said the old woman, “supper has been ready this hour or more. I kept the meat half cooked, though, not knowing when you’d come ! ”
Madame Farge had stood on those steps many a stormy night before, and looked out into the darkness at the sound of approaching footsteps ; but each time Jean’s voice, ringing out, just as It did to-night, had assured her that all was well, and set her anxious heart at rest.
“ Come in, come in,” said the old woman ; “ so you’ve had a bad night of it, eh, Neighbor Defére ? Jeanne, ma fille, and Épiphanie Milette, blessed saints ! how wet you are! Come to the fire, children, and warm yourselves. Pierre Lennet with the baby ! Ah, the sweet child, how he sleeps ! And Épiphanie trusted thee with him, Pierre ! Why, she would not leave him with me, for all I could say ! Take him up, Épiphanie, my child, and lay him in bed, and, if he wakes, I have a cup of warm milk ready for him at the fire. Pauvre petit! I’ve had my bowl of batter ready this half-hour, but not agalette have I made; for, of galettes, I say, unless they are as fresh as a six-o’clock daisy, they ’re not worth the eating.”
“Have you room for me also?” said Pierre.
“ Eh! always for good company, Pierre ; here’s a place for thee, between Jeanne and Épiphanie,” said the old woman. “And Gabriel Ducrés, where is he?’’she continued; “has he not come up with you ? ”
“Good night!” called Gabriel, out of the darkness, where he stood, at the foot of the steps.
“ Come up, Gabriel, come in ! ” shouted several voices together. “ Here ’s supper ready, come up ! ”
“No, I’m going to Neighbor Legros’s. Francois and I sleep there tonight. I don’t want any supper.”
“ O, conic in, Gabriel,” said Pierre. “We are a merrier company here than at Neighbor Legros’s”; and he took Gabriel by the arm, as if to compel him to come in. “ Thou and I have been comrades all day, and I count this the best night of my life, and thou must share it with me. Come in! ”
But Pierre’s words had anything but a persuasive effect upon Gabriel, who wrenched himself loose, and stalked off into the darkness.
“ Ma foi! he must be sleepy, indeed, if he is in such a hurry to go supperless to bed ! ” said Pierre, with a laugh. “ Eh bien! Gabriel,” he bawled after the receding figure, “Jeanne and I will drink thy share of cider, to thy good dreams! ”
“It is because he does not want to keep them up at Neighbor Legros’s, that he would not come in,” said Épiphanie.
“Yes, yes,” chimed in old Defére, “he is always careful and good-natured, that boy there ! ”
“ And stout-hearted, too,” added Pierre.
“ In his disposition he resembles his blessed grandmother,” said Madame Farge, with the melancholy cadence of one who speaks of the virtues of the departed.
“ Well, well,” said Jean Farge, to whom a regretful state of mind was not natural, “let us sit down to supper now, and not waste any more time in talking. Here’s a supper for you ! — beefsteaks, and potatoes roasted in their jackets, and soup of crabs in which one might drown one’s self from pure joy, and hot cakes, and a stew of onions to season all! A good supper, I say, for men who have seen nothing better than an uncooked herring all day ! ”
So they took their places round the table, and for a moment all heads bent reverently, as, with uplifted hands, the words of thanksgiving were said, and — shall we doubt it? — the Blessed blessed the meal.
The talk flowed on merrily, above the clatter of the knives and forks. Jean Farge, in the intervals between his mouthfuls of food, gave an account of the events of the night to his wife, who sat on a stool by the wide open fireplace baking the cakes that were placed smoking hot before the hungry guests every few minutes. The tins on the wall gleamed, and the little oil lamp hanging under the crucifix faded to a mere spark in the ruddy glow of the firelight that lit up the whole room. Jeanne helped the old woman with her cooking, set the cakes upon the table, cut slices from the big brown loaf, arranged them neatly on a dish, and served the table with a tact and forethought that, had she been de Fére, instead of Defére, and found herself in the circle of the system to which this apparently trifling change would have given her a right, would have made her a queen of social entertainment. With her brisk activity, her natural cheerfulness returned; she moved about the room with a quick, firm tread, attending to the wants of all with impartial zeal. She had the hot plate always ready for the old woman the moment the cakes were baked, and talked pleasantly to those at the table, as she stood by the fire filling the pitchers with hot cider from the kettle that stood on the hob, and whence issued an odorous steam, like the breath of sunny orchards in September.
“You must drink first, Jeanne, to sweeten the drink,” said Pierre, whose glass she was filling with the warm and fragrant cider; and he held it towards her.
“To your good appetite, Pierre Lennet,” she said, raising the cup to her lips, and drinking its contents to the last drop. “ So much for your empty gallantry,” and she turned to fill the cup of old Robbe. Pierre burst into a loud laugh, and in the midst of his stentorian, “ Ho, ho ! ” a tiny peal of infantine laughter sounded from above. Épiphanie, at the first note, sprang to her feet, and mounted the steep stairs that led from the room in which they sat to the one above. Pierre looked dismayed.
“ Thou hast wakened the child, Pierre, with thy laughing,” said Jean Farge, “and Épiphanie will scold for that. She’s a different woman, when the child is concerned, for all she seems so quiet and timid. I believe” (lowering his voice solemnly and crossing himself as he spoke), — “ I believe, she would walk alone over the cliffs to Pourville wood, on All-Souls’ night, if it would do that child any good.”
“ Yes, yes,” said Robbe, “ that’s just the way with some women. They are just like the gulls, that shriek, and seem as if they’d drop all their feathers through sheer fright, if you go near them in open sea, but who ’ll fly in your face, and fight till they ’re caught, if you trouble their nests.”
In another moment, Éplphanie’s was heard above, laughing and chattering with the child, who had evidently wakened in high good-humor, and ready for general entertainment. There was a sound of kissing and coaxing, and to every remonstrance a shrill reply of “En bas, en bas!” And presently Epiphanie’s voice said somewhat apologetically at the top of the stairs.
“He wants to come down; and he is so quite, quite awake ! ”
“Bring him down, bring him down,” cried several voices at once.
Then she appeared, carrying the little fellow wrapped in her cloak, his cheeks rosy with sleep, his curling hair about his eyes, which blinked, partly before the blazing light and partly before the strange faces.
“ Pauvre gars! It was my roaring that waked him,”said Pierre, throwing himself back on his stool towards Épiphanie, as she passed behind him to the fire.
“ No, no,”she said, "his feet were cold with being out so long, and that made him restless. I' ll just warm them, and give him a cupful of milk, and he ’ll soon sleep.”
Pierre took the little soft white feet in his large brown hand. The warmth was pleasant, and the little fellow smiled upon him, half shy, half pleased. A tender light came into the mother’s eyes. Her hand touched Pierre’s lightly with a sudden caress, and, for a moment, he held the little foot and her hand in his strong grasp. Then Épiphanie, smiling, and with a happy blush on her cheek, went to the fire, and, seating herself on a low wooden stool, laid the child on her lap and fed him, while he, basking and smiling, spread his toes in the warm firelight, and gradually fell asleep.
“ Come, Jeanne, eat your supper! you eat nothing; and those who serve have double fare, they say,”said Jean Farge to Jeanne, who had pushed her plate away from her, and was sitting with her arms folded on the table before her.
“I 'm not hungry,” she said. “ I've had a hard day, and I shall not eat till I have slept, I think.”And she rose from the table.
When Pierre and old Robbe had gone, Jeanne persuaded Épiphanie to take the child up stairs, and go to bed herself, promising to come up directly after she had helped the old woman to put all in order after the supper. Jean Farge and his wife occupied a little room adjoining the kitchen, and old Defére slept on a shelf placed within a recess in the kitchen wall, after the fashion of a berth on shipboard.
The two young women were to share the little room above. When Jeanne went up the creaking stairs, creeping softly so as not to awaken the sleepers, she found Épiphanie sleeping, and turned towards the child that nestled beside her, with a face not much less peaceful and innocent than his.
JEANNE set the candle on the shelf below the little looking-glass, and, seating herself on a low stool, began to unwind the long braids of her hair, still damp from the spray and rain.
She was tired, body and mind; not healthily tired, but wearied with excitement, and sudden revulsions, and storms within. Her whole past life was changing, slipping out of her grasp ; the thoughts of yesterday were no longer hers. She had embarked on a wild stream that bore her she knew not whither. The excitement of her anger towards Gabriel was over ; anger was past, and love remained. The clear light that had risen out of the anguish of her despair, as she stood on the pier, had faded and gone, and left her in darkness, with the chill of disappointment, and with clouds of perplexity gathering about her. To have quarrelled, to have met again and parted in anger, after he had helped to save her father’s boat! But she would see Gabriel, she would thank him, she would be at peace with him at least! And yet, if she met him again, they would probably quarrel. Ah ! perhaps that was to be her fate, — that Gabriel and she could never more be at peace ; but she would love him all her life !
She pushed her hair back from her cheeks, and, resting her chin on her two hands, looked straight before her, her eyes full of despondency. The tears gathered silently, and flowed over her cheeks faster and faster till the storm burst, and she bowed her head down on her knees, and tried to stifle the sobs that shook her whole body.
The sound, subdued as it was, disturbed Épiphanie in her light and happy slumber. She put out her hand instinctively over the child, and murmured some soft tones of love and soothing. In another moment her eyes opened wide, and, rising hastily, she crossed the room before Jeanne could look up, and slid down on the floor beside her.
“ O Jeanne, Jeanne, what ails thee ? what is it ? ” she cried in a low voice, and wound her soft arms about her, and pressed her cheek to hers.
“Je suis malheureuse— malheureuse, to the bottom of my heart! ” said Jeanne, shaking her head. Épiphanie was puzzled. Her own heart, quickened by its blissful contentment, responded acutely to the suffering of her friend ; but she said nothing, only wound her arms closer, and whispered: “Jeannette, my Jeannette ! ” and waited with patient sympathy till Jeanne had exhausted the relief of tears, —that mute confession of a troubled heart, —and should seek the further relief of words. After a while the violence of her weeping subsided, and she raised her head.
“ I have quarrelled with Gabriel, and we shall never be at peace again, — never, never, never!” she said, in a tone of vehement despair.
Épiphanie had not been Jeanne’s friend all her life, and learned her thoughts and ways, without having had her own convictions on the subject of Gabriel Ducrés ; but concerning him there had been no confidence between them, probably because there was none on the part of Jeanne to give. She talked continually of him without reserve, and with perfect simplicity and candor. Jeanne was different from the other village girls, each of whom had usually some special adherent among the young men,—-a sort of temporary lover or permanent partner, whichever term may describe the dubious position best, — with whom she danced, walked home from vespers, and exchanged little gifts and tokens of regard. A liaison of this kind occasionally developed into a betrothal, but more frequently lasted only a few months, and was then dissolved, — one or both of the contracting parties desiring a change, or becoming tired of each other; and this without the slightest reproach on the score of inconstancy.
Jeanne, as Epiphanie knew, had never admitted any of the village youths to this privileged position towards herself. She danced at all the merry-makings, treating the young men with equal favor; and, whatever might have been the thoughts or desires of the youths themselves, not one amongst them had ever been able to establish any tenderer relation than that of a bonne amitié between himself and Jeanne. But about Gabriel Ducrés Épiphanie felt there was something very different ; he held an exceptional place in Jeanne’s mind. She had known him all her life ; she loved his mother with the full warmth of her heart; she was always happy and contented when with him, and always seemed to connect him insensibly with her own affairs. In short, he was convenable, and Épiphanie felt that there was something inevitable about Gabriel Ducrés when she pondered as to whom Jeanne would marry. So when Jeanne said, simply, that she was miserable, and had quarrelled with Gabriel, Épiphanie was not surprised, and merely said : “ But how was it, Jeanne ? ”
“We quarrelled last night,” said Jeanne, “because —he asked me to marry him, and I was all confused and disturbed, and said, — I know not what, — I thought we were so happy as we were,— and I said I meant always to marry a sailor. And at that he grew suddenly fierce and angry, and I was angry too, — and left him, and when I came back again he was gone. And that was the way that he came into Dieppe last night, instead of waiting till this morning, and coming with us.”
“ Ah ! ” said Epiphanie. “ Thou saidst no, then ! ”
“Yes,” said Jeanne ; “ I said what I felt then, and that was anger. But it is a long time since last night. Epiphanie, — it seems like a week to me, — and he has helped to save my father’s boat too, — and— But to-night,” she continued, with increasing energy, “ when I would have thanked him, he was full of anger still, and turned from me. And Iso we have quarrelled again, and he will go back to the Vallee d’Allon, and maybe marry some girl for anger; and God would punish such wickedness, and he would be miserable, and I should never have another happy day! ”
“Our good God has many ways to bring things about,” said Épiphanie, softly, but with great earnestness. Gabriel would not be so false-hearted as to ask any girl to marry him, when his heart was away from it; and God will not forsake thee, Jeanne, even as thou hast not forsaken me !” she continued, her voice trembling, not with weakness, but with the strength and passion of conviction. Jeanne looked at her, wondering whence came this sudden illumination. She was suddenly abashed before the earnest, radiant face. A great light was shining full on Épiphanie, and Jeanne felt it in a reflected glow upon her own heart. And is it not a great day for the wisest or the simplest, when, after years of sorrowful waiting, the power of renunciation having grown from the mere habit of disappointment, we find the sacrifice accepted, and, instead of resignation, as the fruit of our tears and prayers, behold the joy that we have striven to resign laid before our feet, with the very blessing of Heaven resting upon it ?
So Jeanne, feeling dimly something of all this, opened her heart to her friend, and rehearsed the matter from the beginning, telling her about her last interviews with her cousin. When she came to the scene between herself and Gabriel, after she had parted with Pierre in the garden, and when Gabriel had made those surly remarks, and she had left him to eat his supper alone, Épiphanie asked : “ But why wast thou angry when he asked about Pierre ?”
“ Because it was a secret. Pierre confided in me as a friend, and I was not going to talk of any one’s affairs to another. And then Gabriel asked me questions that I did not know how to answer, without telling all. I cannot open my eyes wide, and say, 'Voilà tout,’ like Marie Robbe, and make people think they knew everything when they know nothing. I was vexed that Gabriel should be so curious, and — I could not help being angry.”
“ But he was angry only because he loves thee so well. Thou shouldst not have been so hasty, my Jeannette ! ” said Épiphanie.
“When is Gabriel going back to Verangeville ? ” asked she, after a pause.
“The day after to-morrow, I suppose,” replied Jeanne. "He is going to Arques to-morrow morning to get the seed for the farm. He will start early in the morning, I know, for it is a long walk to Arques.”
“And thou art going back to Verangeville to-morrow morning, Jeanne ?”
Yes,” said Jeanne, with a sigh. “ I am going with the rest. Thou art going also, Épiphanie, n'est-ce pas ? ”
“I — I don’t know,” said Épiphanie, hesitating. “ About the coat I meant to get for the child, Jeanne: the storm today put everything out of my head, — I never stopped to see any stuffs, or to ask the prices in any oF the shops. I thought would not get it till Tons Saints ; but I do not see why I should not get it now, if things are cheaper, as Madame Farge says they are. One can get a piece of stuff of last year, she says, for two thirds the price it would be later, when the cold weather sets in, and everybody is buying. Madame Farge has asked me to stay over to-morrow, and I thought — at least I think — it would be as well, Jeanne, not to go till to-morrow evening. I heard Nanette Blanche say she and the new maid they have got at The Giraffe were going back to-morrow evening, and I can go with them,” continued Épiphanie, looking at Jeanne, with her head turned thoughtfully to one side, as if she were weighing the question in all its lights.
“Yes, perhaps so,” said Jeanne, “it may be best for thee to do so.” She was a little disconcerted by this unlooked-for defection on the part of her friend, but tried not to show it. “I dare say thou art right. But let us get to bed now, for it must be late.” Épiphanie had meant to tell Jeanne, when they came to be together in their room at night, of her momentous talk with Pierre on the heap of cordage ; but, as we have seen, Jeanne stayed down stairs awhile, and Epiphanie, wearied by her long day of fatigue and excitement, fell into a light slumber. The slight sound of Jeanne coming up the stairs had in part roused her, but she lay with closed eyes dreaming the pleasant dream that belongs to gradual awakening, till the sound of distress startled her into full consciousness. Then came their talk and a revelation of her friend’s grief. A delicate sense made Épiphanie forbear to tell of her own happiness just when her joy would clash in such hard contrast with Jeanne’s troubles.
“In the morning I will tell her,” she said; “or, better still, I will wait till all these troubles are made straight. Marie de Bon Secours. help me ! ”
So Épiphanie lay awake for very happiness, busy making plans for the disentangling of her friend’s difficulties, long after Jeanne had fallen into the dull and dreamless sleep of a heavy heart.
FRANCOIS MILETTE missed his supper on this eventful evening, and the way in which it happened was this. You must remember that he parted with the rest of the company at the end of the drawbridge, on his way up with Marie Robbe to her uncle’s house. He came back to the Neighbor Legros’s, where he and Gabriel were to stay the night, so late that he found the house closed, and all the household abed with the exception of Gabriel, who let him into the little, loft-like room at the back of the house, which was reached by an outside staircase, and which they were to share for their night’s quarters.
They had waited supper a long while, Gabriel said, and at last concluded that Francois had gone up to Jean Farge’s and joined the others, and, thinking he could come in at what hour he pleased and reach his room by the outside staircase, Neighbor Legros had locked up the house, and all had gone to bed.
Francois laughed, and said he did not care for supper, threw himself down on the bed, and was soon asleep.
Now, if you will go back to the Rue St. Remi, and see what was happening there half an hour or so earlier, you will see how it came about that Francois was so late.
The Rue St. Remi is a narrow street that leads from the Grande Rue to the Plage. For a short distance it is a tolerable street, narrow, and paved with cobble-stones, it is true, but, for a side street that makes no pretensions, not so bad after all. But farther on comes the great flank of the church of St. Remi backing down upon it, and, the secular buildings following the lead of the church, the street is reduced to little more than an alley. For the Rue St. Remi. like a poor relation, in sharing the honors of a great name, has naturally to put up with many slights, not to say positive ill treatment, from its great connections.
Over the narrow archway of an entry that opens into the narrowest part of the Rue St. Remi stands a diamondshaped case not unlike a coffin, containing the usual figure of the Madonna with her pink cheeks, large blue eyes gazing pensively at the pavement, and a string of yellow beads about her throat. At her feet hangs a rusty oil lamp. She is somewhat worn and weather-beaten, for there she has stood, summer and winter, rain and shine, for many a year, lighting up this dingy corner by night, and looking down upon the children playing in the street below, and the crowd that struggle out by the small side door of the church after service, with the same passive smile.
A strange object for reverence, this painted doll in coffin-like case ! And yet there is something forever touching in the sight of this figure as one meets it in Catholic countries,—at the turn of a quiet country road, in the solitude of a mountain pathway, at the rushing waters of a ford, and perhaps beyond all, when raised above the shoulders of the crowd in the noise and squalor of a city street, — this type of something innocent and pure and tender, set up to receive the passing homage of human hearts.
Just at this corner, where it is difficult to decide whether the Rue St. Remi is street or alley, lived Marie Robbe’s uncle, the ivory-carver. The little black-framed bow-window, in which the ivory wares were exposed for sale, bulged itself out over the narrow sidewalk so that the passer was obliged to take three steps in the gutter, or to balance himself for that distance on the curbstone. Other windows in the street protrude themselves in the same aggressive manner; and for that reason I suppose it is that people usually walk down the middle of the Rue St. Remi on the big paving-stones, worn clean from the droppings of the overhanging runnels and spouts of the church.
About eleven o’clock on this eventful night of the storm, though the rain had ceased, the water was dropping from every point and spout and gable-end in Rue St. Remi. The Madonna’s light burned brightly in its sheltered corner, lighting up a few feet of the pavement below, a sombre buttress of the old church, and also the figure of Francois Milette, leaning with his elbow on one knee as he rested his foot on the top step of the ivory-carver’s house. On the top of the steps stood Marie Robbe, lounging against the door-post. They had been talking for some time, when Francois said: “If I have to go down to Verangeville to-morrow with the boat, there is one thing I can still do. I will come into Dieppe on Sunday, and take thee round to see the sights, — eh, Marie?”
“No, no, that won’t do,” saief Marie, with some hesitation. “ Most likely we shall all go to Arques on Sunday, and you might have your journey for nothing.” “Dame!” 1 said Francois, “and you won’t be at home till next week. There ’s one thing I know, Marie, if I don’t go into Dieppe on Sunday, I will go to Pourville to see my cousin and the children; it’s better than staying at home.”
“ I would n’t be in your place to walk home by the shore at nightfall,” said she ; “ the fairy of Fallaise is out these nights.”
“Eh bien ! she may give me a fair greeting and a pleasant promise,” said Francois ; “she does n’t like those who fear her, they say. And — ” seeing Marie made no response — “I must do something on Sunday. I shall not care to go to the dancing after Vespers.”
“ And why not, indeed ? ” said Marie, with affected carelessness.
“Dost thou not know?” said Francois, taking the girl’s hand that hung listlessly at her side; “if thou art not there, Marie, it gives me little pleasure ta go to the dance.”
“There are plenty of girls left.”
“To be sure there are,” said Francois, “ and if I go with the others I shall have to dance. I could not stand and just look on, and take no part.”
“ Vraiment! ” said Marie, with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Why, all the girls would laugh at me, and say, ‘ There stands Francois Milette so lovesick that he cannot dance, because his own girl is away.’ And there is no use in looking like a fool when it gives one no pleasure. But I can tell thee one thing, Marie ; one goes through the dances as a ceremony when she is not there whom one alone desires to talk to and to be with. Eh, Marie, is it not so ? ” said Francois, earnestly, and looking wistfully up into her face.
“ O, I don’t take things in that way!” said Marie, with an impatient shake of the head; “one must not be so exact, but please one’s self wherever one is.”
“ Certainly,” rejoined Francois, “that is all true; but when one cannot please one’s self it is a different thing. If one has everything, — everything in the world except what one wants, — ma foi ! what is that? And then to have to watch others amusing themselves when one has no pleasure one’s self, is still worse! Now I shall be thinking all Sunday of thee, of what thou art doing, and who thou art with.”
Marie showed signs of uneasiness as Francois said this. “ Hush ! ” she said ; "that is Aunt Madelon’s voice ; she is coming down stairs.”
“ Stop one moment,” said Francois ; "thou knowest, Marie, after dancing, every lad has the right to kiss his partner, following the custom of good manners. I shall kiss no girl next Sunday after the dance, but thou must give me the kiss now.”
Marie laughed, and raised her hand to the little brass knocker. Francois sprang on to the steps, and caught her hand. “ Don’t knock, Marie, wait a moment! ” But in the encounter of hands the knocker slipped, and fell softly, making a faint sound.
“Give me the kiss,” said Francois, still holding her hand, “and I shall not then feel so discontented on Sunday; thou hast no right to refuse, because, as I said, it is only according to custom.”
“Aunt Madelon is coming; she has heard that knock,” cried Marie, in evident trepidation, not wishing, for some reason, to be caught gossiping with Francois. “Let me go, Francois, let me go !” But Francois still persisted. “Then because we are parting, and I shall not see thee for so many days, — for adieu, Marie, at least for adieu !
“Well, then, for adieu” said Marie, hastily, and holding up her cheek somewhat ungraciously. Aunt Madelon was already unbarring the door ; at the same moment that she opened it Francois Milette sprang down the steps, and Marie turned.
“ Here I am, Aunt Madelon,” she said ; “my father is going to stay down in the Pollet to-night. A neighbor brought me up, on his way home. Good night, Francois Milette, I thank you for your civility.” And she turned into the house.
So Francois walked back along the deserted streets, whistling as he went, and thinking with a lighter heart on the journey of the morrow, and even of the joyless Sunday, since he had placed that little seal of amity upon the cheek of Marie, though it might be only “ for adieu.”
- For the sake of Francois’s reputation as a young man of good feeling, I may venture to remind the reader that this word is much more harmless than its sound at first suggests, —that it may properly be translated by our own “marry ” or “forsooth.”↩