St. Michael's Night
THE next morning rose clear, almost unclouded. The gray twilight, hanging like a pale shadow over the dim expanse of sea, and the roofs and gables of the sleeping town, grows paler and paler, and the crescent moon and her one attendant star are fading to the westward in the growing light. The heavens are calm and fresh with the eternal beauty of morning. The wind has died away; and though the sea still swells and rolls sonorously up the beach, this is hut the unspent agitation of yesterday’s tumult, and each wave, as it comes to shore, is more languid than the last. In the town all is still; there is nothing to tell of the past storm but the washed look of the streets, a shutter off its hinges at the little Hôtel des Etrangers on the wharf, a few boughs and leaves torn from the great elm-trees of the Place St. Jacques. The little light of the Madonna, in the Rue St. Remi, twinkles feebly and more feebly as the daylight grows. Suddenly the topmost pinnacle of the Church of St. Jacques is touched with golden light, and almost at that sign the herald swallows slide from their high homes beneath the eaves, and dart with ringing cries across the place. Down towards the fountain, then upward again, past the closed windows of the houses, sounding their shrill alarums to the sleeping folk within, catching, as they fly, gleams of golden light on their delicate white breasts, they skim, and veer, and dart about the pinnacles and buttresses of the church, their pointed wings flashing blue like burnished steel.
It is early yet, but the day has begun in Dieppe. Shutters are beginning to be opened, stray people are about the streets, the sound of sabots is heard on the wharf, the great bell of the Seminaire is beginning to ring, and, already, old Deférs and his partner, Robbe, and Franҫois Milette are on their way down to the wharf to examine into the condition of La Sainte Perpetua. The result of this examination we may as well state in a few words. The boat was in much better condition than they had supposed she would be after her rough fight with the storm. A few hours’ work would be sufficient to put her into complete trim, and the journey down to Verangeville after the new rudder was consequently abandoned. Franҫois Milette blessed his good patron saint more than once for this pleasant turn of fortune, and sprang lightly up the ladder on the dock wall, as he thought of another day in Dieppe, and the expedition to the Citadelle, or to le Parc aux huîtres, that he would certainly take that evening with Marie Robbe.
Gabriel Ducrés did not start early this morning on his walk to Arques, as Jeanne had supposed. He followed Franҫois down to the dock, helped in the work on the boat, and, after that was done, went up to Jean Farge’s, ostensibly to make further inquiries about the road to Arques, but perhaps also with some uncertain hope of seeing or hearing something of his cousin. But if this were his object, he was disappointed. Jeanne had already started on her journey back to Verangeville, and Épiphanie had accompanied her as far as the end of the Rue de la Barre. Gabriel found Madame Farge entertaining company. On the long wooden bench that stood against the wall under the rows of shining tin and copper pans sat a fat little man, with sleek black hair, a high, bald forehead, and a somewhat pompous expression of countenance. He was dressed in a black coat, snuff-colored trousers, and a black satin waistcoat. He was further adorned with a pink cotton necktie, and wore two thick gold rings on his fat brown hands. By his side, her face flushed, and her black eyes sparkling with the keenest animation, sat Marie Robbe, twisting the folds of her heavy jupon in her restless fingers.
“ Gabriel,” said Madame Farge, “behold our neighbor Bouffle, and Marie Robbe, whom you know, to be sure. Monsieur,” (addressing the neighbor Bouffle.) “ this is my third cousin, Gabriel Ducrés, son of Marie Farge, who married the fermier Ducrés. It is he of whom you heard just now, and of whom I have been telling you.”
The little man bounded to his feet, and bowed with the utmost solemnity. “ Madame, I am delighted to make Monsieur your third cousin’s acquaintance,” said he.
“It is quite droll,” said Madame Farge; “Monsieur Bouffle was just saying he had heard of thee, Gabriel.”
“ Exactly, Madame,” said the little man; “it is very droll. Mademoiselle and I, we make a little course this morning. I make her acquainted with some of the beauties of our town, — not all, I assure you, Mademoiselle, — by no means all,” — turning to Marie. “ We visit the Plage, the Faubourg de la Barre ; we meet a friend here, a friend there, who relates of this or that of the storm of yesterday, — two men drowned a little way down the coast, the bodies to be quite agreeably seen at the hospital. Also of a young man from the country, who saves a boat with courage and sagacity. And then, Mademoiselle and I, we call on Madame Farge to say un petit bon jour, and find there this young man, who is Madame’s third cousin. Voilà une circonstance particuliére ! ”
Gabriel changed color, and for a moment his heart beat more quickly as he thought of that adventure of the previous night, undertaken in such better heart, being the common talk of the streets to-day ; not that Gabriel cared more than others for the praise of men, but he had a foolish fancy that it might reach the ears of some one who had been all too deaf to his words, and had once, as we know, cruelly told him to spend his ill-humor on the sea.
“Gabriel,” said Madame Farge, “and where hast thou been this morning? I thought thou wast going to Arques, and I told Epiphanie Milette just now, when she came in, and was asking where thou wast, that thou hadst already started.”
“ What did Epiphanie want with me ? ” said Gabriel, with some eagerness.
“I know not, my son. Most likely to give thee a message from Jeanne or Uncle Defére ; nothing of consequence, I think, or she would have left the message with me to give to thee, without doubt. My cousin,” continued Madame Farge, addressing Bouffle, “ has come up about the sale of the lavender, grown on their farm, and takes a little pleasure while he is in town. It is well for a young man to see something of life from time to time.”
“ Precisely, Madame, precisely! That is just my argument. Exactly what I observed to Mademoiselle here, as we walked. ‘If’ I said to Mademoiselle, — ‘if one. is not to enjoy one’s self sometimes, if one is not to see a little of the world, of life, of society, of the town in fact, mais, mon Dieu ! one might as well be a good religieux at once ! Mademoiselle agrees with me, n’est ce pas ? ” — turning towards Marie.
“I—I detest the country ! ” replied Marie, glancing sidewise at her neighbor, whose expression of bland contentment deepened and broadened under the momentary flash.
“ You see a good deal of the world, yourself, Neighbor Bouffle,” said Madame Farge ; “ your bathing-houses give you great opportunity of seeing the gay people in the season.”
“ Madame is right,” said Monsieur Bouffle; “my little property on the Plage introduces me, I may say, to all the world. Indeed, what a life does one not have in the season ! With the bathers what trouble! When one has the confidence of the public, one is the slave of the public. I go down to the beach early in the morning, to find a crowd there already. The most beautifully dressed ladies are on every side, who call me, and gather round me to drive me to despair. ‘Have you a house for me, Monsieur Bouffle ? ’ ‘Monsieur Bouffle, you have not forgotten me!’ ‘ Dear Monsieur Bouffle, you must not refuse us a bathinghouse, they all cry. And I — I do my best, but I cannot serve all. Some must always be disappointed. Then in the balls one must do one’s possible to accommodate the public also. Mademoiselle knows not, perhaps, that I am the proprietor of two hundred and ten chairs, to let in the Etablissement where are held the balls ! ”
“Can you see the dancing?” said Marie, eagerly.
“Certainly! one can see admirably through the end-windows of the Etablissement, when one has interest, it must be understood, sufficient to get the places,” said Monsieur Bouffle, with impressive ’distinctness, — “when one has interest.”
Marie gave a sigh of mingled satisfaction and envy over the recital. “ Ce serait magnifique ! ” she said.
“ Bagatelles, Mademoiselle, bagatelles ! ” said Monsieur Bouffle. “ I will not say that Dieppe is the finest watering-place in France, but we do things very well here, I will not deny.”
“ I was here at the Fête of the Great Cross on the Plage,” said Marie ; “ but that was beautiful! ”
“ Hum ! ” said Monsieur Bouffle, in a tone of quiet tolerance, “a religious ceremony is very well, and I know the country people always come in to see it; but in what does it consist ? Monsieur le vicaire with the priests, the Religieuses from the Hêtel de Dieu, sixty jeunes gens tom the college communal, some young persons from the Seminaire, a few flowers, — violà tout! But when their Majesties, the Emperor and Empress, honor Dieppe with a visit, c’est une chose à voir ! Monsieur le prefet, Monsieur le maire, all the municipal council, are engaged to arrange the affair. We have then a ball at the Etablissement, or the Hêtel Royal, the cliffs illuminated with red and blue lights, fireworks, cannons firing at each instant; but, Mademoiselle,” says Monsieur Bouffle, impressively, “without being a resident in Dieppe, one can have no idea of it.”
Marie laughed coquettishly, and gave her head a little toss. Madame Farge lifted her bright old face. “Ah, ha! Marie,” she said to herself; “ so that is the way it is going,—is it? Voisin Bouffle has long been looking out for a wife, they say. Hum, hum, hum! Well, I wish him well with his bargain ! But they do not make a bad pair after all.” But aloud she simply said, being a wise woman, “ And when are you going home, Marie ? ”
“ I don’t know,”said Marie ; “ I have not made up my mind yet. " And for some reason her eyes wandered, over to Gabriel. He had taken no part in the conversation, being busy enough with his own thoughts. He sat in the window, with one arm spread on the window-sill, and his eyes wandering continually to the scene on the wharf outside.
Marie Robbe was something more than a mere coquette ; she was shrewd and discerning as far as her own interests were concerned, and far from being carried away by impetuous feeling either in speech or action. She usually had, at least, two meanings in everything she said or did. She had a natural dislike of truth, as some people have of cold water. She was afraid of a clear statement of facts. It might get her into trouble, it might lead to such unforeseen circumstances, “ As long as you represent things in your own way,” she argued, “ you have a hold on them, as it were, and they cannot get the better of you. And then, without positively lying (which has its drawbacks, it must be owned), think how many natural means of getting out of scrapes, and of managing things to suit your purposes, a kind Providence has given you! Can you not shake your head, or open your eyes wide, or laugh in the right place, or shrug your shoulders, when hearing or telling things, and then let ignorant people take the responsibility of believing what they like ? ”
That was Marie’s logic, and one, it must be owned, calculated to produce great serenity of character and assured self-trust. It is true, in emergencies, she usually committed her affairs to the care of the saints, and had a general belief that they helped her as well as they could. In case of her schemes failing, however, she did not hesitate to lay the blame where she considered it due, and limited the number of her votive offerings at their shrines, and probably, had she been sufficiently enlightened, might have turned Protestant out of pure spite !
While Monsieur Bouffle was descanting on the glories of Dieppe, and the privilege of being a resident in that favored centre of worldly splendor, Marie was turning over one or two questions in her judicious mind. Why was Gabriel Ducrés still in Dieppe when his uncle and Jeanne had both left? Perhaps he did not care to go with Jeanne after all ; one does not care for people one has in the house wUh one all day; and there was so little variety about Jeanne Defére. She wondered what Gabriel’s plans were. She wished he would ask her to go back to Verangeville with him now, while Monsieur Bouffie was by. Not that she had any intention of leaving Dieppe for several days to come.
“ I don’t know when I shall go,” repeated Marie, getting up, and slowly crossing the room towards the little mirror that hung between the two windows. “ Some of the Verangeville folk are going back to-morrow, and two or three have asked me to go with them.”
“But I suppose thou wilt prefer to stay in town,” said Madame Farge. “ Eh ? ”
“ That depends,” said Marie, “ whether I find town as pleasant as they say it is ” ; and she flung a glance towards the bench and Monsieur Bouffle. “ I am not in such a hurry to run away as some are,” she continued, looking at herself first over one shoulder and then over the other. “ This detestable wind blows one all to pieces ! I met Jeanne Defére this morning,” — looking down at Gabriel, who leaned his elbow on the little table below the looking-glass, and watched her somewhat listlessly ; “she was mounted upon her donkey, and looked as solemn as Mid-lent; and when I said, quite pleasantly, ' I suppose you have got some great business on hand, Jeanne, that you are in such a hurry to leave Dieppe,’ she turns quite sharply, and says, ' Yes ; I am going to look after my own business, and I advise you to do the same by yours.’ Mais, grâce â Dieu! ” continued Marie, devoutly, “ I have no business to occupy me for a week or more ! ”
“ Neighbor bouffle will, without doubt, do what he can to amuse thee while thou art here, Marie,” said Madame Farge.
“ Most certainly,” replied the loquacious Bouffle; “and there is always amusement here for those who understand how to arrive at it. People come here from the country ; they walk up and down the streets. What is that ? Nothing at all. They wander here, they wander there. ' Where is the Citadelle ? ’ they inquire ; they are informed. They walk, walk, walk. Behold them tired, in despair, arrive at the steep ascent of the Citadelle at the wrong side ! On the contrary, one who knows makes a charming little course down the Grande Rue, sees the handsomest shops where one may buy this or that by the way, then along the Plage to see the new fort and the Emperor, the Hôtel Royal, and the new residences. A little review of the troops takes place while we are there ; bien ! we see that. And then, a little cup of coffee, a morsel of sucre de pomme, and we are refreshed. We ascend, we arrive at the Citadelle with a heart gay — content.”
During this speech Marie continued to smooth and plume herself with quick, ungraceful movements. She twisted the chain about her throat; she retied the ribbons of her bodice and pulled out the bows ; then, bending towards the glass as if to examine them more closely, but with her black eyes bent full on Gabriel, she said, “And when are you going to Verangeville, Gabriel Ducrés ? Are you going alone ? ”
“I don’t know,” said Gabriel; “ I am going to Arques to-day,—or may be I shall not go till to-morrow, — and that will keep me a day longer in Dieppe, and I shall go on Sunday to Verangeville.”
“ Perhaps I may go then,” she said. “ I have not made up my mind altogether.”
Monsieur Bouffle was by this time beginning to show signs of uneasiness at the low-toned conversation at the window, and every moment that foolish Marie lingered there a cloud was drawing nearer and nearer that threatened to bring a tempest into the peaceful kitchen of Madame Farge. She stood still, leaning awkwardly against the table, and said : —
“You are going to Arques ! And that was the reason you stayed after the others. Eh, Gabriel Ducrés ? ”
“ Yes,” said Gabriel, with provoking dulness of apprehension. “ But there will still be several going then. Was any one going with Jeanne, Marie ? ”
“ How should I know ? ” said Marie, sharply. “ Yes, there was,” she added, with an instinctive flash of feeling that it might be disagreeable news to Gabriel. “When I saw her she had with her Epiphanie Milette and Pierre Lennet !” and she flung herself from him, and was turning to go to her place on the bench by Monsieur Bouffle, when she was stopped half-way.
There was a sound of feet on the steps, a brisk knock at the door, and, before Madame Farge had time to say “ Entrez,” the door opened, and Franҫois Milette burst in. In his haste he tripped his foot in the doorway, and. stumbled forward towards Marie, who jumped back with a little scream. The rest of the company thought she was afraid of being jostled by the clumsy young man who plunged in so unceremoniously ; but the fact is, that Franҫois Milette, appearing in any way at that moment, would have wrung a cry of impatience from Marie Robbe ; and his awkwardness in this case was the only thing she had to thank him for, inasmuch as it furnished a cause for her sudden dismay at the sight of him. Franҫois’s face flushed as he caught sight of Marie ; and it must be confessed her cheeks glowed with a deeper color as the young man, regaining his balance, quickly said, with a pleasant laugh, “ Here thou art, after all!”
But it was no honest emotion that tinged her cheeks, as we know. She, for some reason best known to herself, became suddenly cross. She pouted, hardly looked at Franҫois, and sauntered back to her place on the bench by Monsieur Bouffle.
“Ah, Franҫois,” said the old woman, after the first greetings were over, “ thou art not in luck to stumble at the threshold ! Where hast thou been ? ”
But Franҫois stood dumbfoundered by Marie’s manner, and looked with much perplexity and discomfiture at her and little fat Monsieur Bouffle byturns.
“ I have been looking for Marie Robbe,” he said. “ I went up to thy uncle’s, Marie,” he continued, turning to her with a smile, — he was beginning to persuade himself that he was mistaken already, and that Marie’s pouting meant nothing after all, — “but they could tell me nothing of thee but that thou hadst gone out. Where in the world hast thou been all the morning? ” and he went towards her.
There was no room on the bench, and no seat near ; so Franҫois, totally unconscious of the indignant glances of Monsieur Bouffle, seated himself on the arm of the settle by Marie, leaning towards her as he rested his hand on the back.
“ We found it was not necessary to go down to Verangeville,” said Franҫois in a cheerful tone, “so I have another day in Dieppe after all.”
“ O,” replied Marie.
“What made you come down here, Marie?” said Franҫois, lowering his voice; “and who is that?” he said, indicating the scowling Bouffle with his thumb, but without looking at him.
Marie tilted her shoulder away from Franҫois, and listened attentively to Madame Farge, who was discussing the wholesomeness of some dish with Monsieur Bouffle.
“What is the matter, Marie ?” said Franҫois. “ What ails thee ? Art thou angry with me ? ”
“ Marie, what have I done to vex thee.?” he said, gently. Marie laughed vivaciously at a remark of Bouffle, but took no notice of Franҫois.
“ Dianlre, Marie ! Must I stay here like a donkey outside the stable-door ? ” said Franҫois in an angry whisper.
“Just as you please,” she said, with a quick glance, — the first she had vouchsafed him. If he had been cool enough to read its meaning, he would have seen little in it to flatter the heart of a lover. The black eyes were bright, cold, and hard as flint stones.
“ Thou art treating me badly,” said he. “ I cannot bear it! ”
No answer, except as much as is conveyed in a one-sided shrug of the shoulder nearest to him.
Franҫois’s impatience rose. “Betise! ” he said. “ Who is that fat man, Marie ? He looks like a porpoise. Is it because of him that thou art so little amiable towards me ? ”
“ Little amiable ! ” said Marie, regarding him with a cold stare. “ Indeed, Franҫois Milette, you are polite, — very polite and very obliging ! ”
“ So is thy new friend, I observe; very polite and very obliging, and thou also, but only towards one side, I perceive,” said Franҫois. “ Dost thou do this merely to torment me, or not ? ” he continued, with a sudden gust of impatience and anger.
Marie looked up at him again. Tears of vexation had sprung to her eyes, for the unsubdued tone in which Franҫois had made this last remark, and the uncontrollable state upon which it showe ! him to be verging, was most exasperating, and filled her with dismay. Fortunately, tears do not always betray the exact emotions from which they spring; and Marie’s tears, trembling in her upturned eyes, only gave a softened and supplicating expression to her face, and Franҫois, though by no means satisfied, was entirely disarmed by this tearful glance.
Madame Farge was now talking earnestly to Bouffle, who turned his head, first to one side and then to the other, anxious to catch the first pause in the old woman’s talk, that he might take the lead in the conversation himself, and at the same time tormented by the desire to listen to the whispered remarks passing between Marie and this audacious young man, who sat down on the arm of the bench in such an unconcerned manner, behaving as if Marie belonged to him entirely, and as if he, Bouffle, proprietor of bathing-machines, two hundred and ten chairs to let, and an interest in the Etablissement, existed no more !
Marie sat now with her eyes cast down, and tapping her foot impatiently on the floor. She longed to be gone. She wished she had never come to Madame Farge’s to get herself into this detestable trap. It was Monsieur Boufffle’s fault. Did he not insist upon coming? And Gabriel Ducrés, — a stupid, awkward fellow without sense, who could not say a word to occupy Monsieur Bouffle or divert Franҫois ! Why could not Madame Farge listen with civility to Bouffle, and mind her spinning, instead of keeping her sharp old eyes so constantly on her and Franҫois ? And what right had Franҫois to come down there just at this time, to upset all one’s plans, instead of keeping his word of going to Verangeville ? Liar !
In Marie, feelings of animosity towards each person in the company were rapidly rising, as you see. She had reasons for disliking them all. Gabriel, because he was a fool; Madame Farge, because she was not a fool ; and Franҫois, — any one can see that she had reason enough for regarding him somewhat malevolently, it being always hard to feel,humanely towards those whom we have wronged.
Franҫois sat for several minutes, swinging his foot listlessly, and whistling softly to himself (that unfailing sign of a troubled spirit in man). He had had some uneasy suspicions as to Marie’s constancy, but never before of her temper. If she had seemed to him occasionally too amiable towards others, she had never been anything but honeyed sweetness to himself. He was troubled and perplexed and angry; sickening misgivings were creeping into his heart, which he tried manfully to smother with sophisms.
Marie was angry, without doubt; she was vexed at him for something he had done, or not done, and she was simply using that obnoxious fat man as a means of punishment. He could not have done so by her, he said to himself, but then people are different, and she herself had said she did not take things so “exactly” as he did. In what could it be that he had offended her ? Could it be anything he had said last night ? Could it be, — but no ! that was impossible. She could not have said “ Good night” so pleasantly, as she turned into the house, if she had been offended at that ! She looked troubled at this moment, and there were tears in her eyes when she looked up just now, pauvre petite !
So he went on, deluding himself with what he half knew were delusions; for, without doubt, he loved the little black head with its shining hair, turned so obstinately away from him and towards the loquacious Bouffle, and, at this moment of insanity, would have given any good thing he possessed to have had the little faithless face turned towards him, and the black eyes looking up to him, and Marie, with all her smiles and deceitful blushes, and glances, his own once more, spite of her crossness, spite of his doubts of her good faith and all his suspicions. So, instead of going out and thinking it over like a sensible fellow, he leaned down towards her once more, and said softly and gently: —
“If I have offended thee, Marie, I ask thy pardon. Make it up now, and say thou wilt go to. the Citadelle with me this evening. Eh, Marie?” And he tried to catch a glimpse of her face. But she turned farther away from him, and unfortunately Monsieur Bouffle was just beyond, and naturally and fatally Franҫois’s eager gaze fell upon that portly form, and a very singular change took place in the expression of his face as it did so. His eyes expanded, his lips opened ; it was as if he saw a ghost.
“ Diantre ! ” shouted Franҫois, springing to his feet, — an expression which made the company generally start and look at each other, and the young man, who, on his part, seemed to care very little what the direction of their eyes might be. FI is own were fixed, strange to say, not upon the face of the amazed and gasping Bouffle, but upon his black satin waistcoat! He even took a step towards the object of his scrutiny, as if uncertain of the testimony of his own eyes at the distance of two yards. Then he turned upon Marie : “ I admire your economy, — your good economy in making gifts to your friend, Marie Robbe ! Take this also, and use it in the same way ; it will probably do to be worn on Sunday when you go to Arques ! I have no further use for it.” And he tore from his button-hole a little knot of ribbon that the faithless Marie had tied there herself, and flung it at her feet.
“ Mais ma foi! what is this ? Voilà un beau venez-y-voir! ” said the astonished Bouffle. “ Is Monsieur in his right senses, or is he mad ? ”
“ Less mad than he has been for some time,” said Franҫois, looking straight at Marie, with a laugh which seemed ready to end in something else, poor fellow ! Marie had turned pale, and sat trembling before this outburst ; but at these last words of Franҫois she looked up at him, and certainly the expression of her countenance contained as much anger as fear, and was unsoftened by even a gleam of pity.
“ Never fear,” said Franq.ois,“ that I will disturb such pleasant company further. I am going.” And he rushed out, and Gabriel jumped up and ran after him.
“ Méchant ! ” said Marie, in a burst of tears, holding her apron to her eyes.
“ This is very extraordinary,” said Monsieur Bouffle, shaking his head, — “ very extraordinary! I must beg of Mademoiselle to give me some explanation of this.”
“ I hate him!” was Marie’s not very satisfactory reply.
“I should have imagined that he hated you, Mademoiselle, from his manner, and me also,” said Monsieur Bouffle.
“ Gamin ! ” sobbed Marie, behind her apron.
“ His manner of regarding my person was most extraordinary. It made my blood run cold ! What an expression ! An eye of savage, a laugh of devils ! ”
“ What was it that made him angry ? ” said Madame Farge.
“ Because I would not go to the Citadelle with him, and was tired of— of his foo-foo-lish talk,” sobbed Marie.
“ Hadst thou promised to go with him ? ” said shrewd Madame Farge.
“ Promised ! ” said Marie, quickly, and snatching her apron from her face, “he always thinks I promise him things; and Monsieur knows I am going with him to take supper with Mesdemoiselles his sis-sis-sisters, and when he heard that, he began to — to call Monsieur names, and — ”
“ Started up and rushed towards me,” burst in the little man, — “ me, who sat here tranquil, without offence to any one ; shouts like a madman ; regards my person,” says Monsieur Bouffle, striking his black satin waistcoat with a dignified violence, “as if I were something very astounding. Ma foi, Madame ! and this impertinent is one whom you cherish, whom you load with favors ! ” fumed Monsieur Bouffle, who somehow concluded that Madame Farge was in sympathy, if not in league, with Franҫois.
The old woman nodded her head with some vivacity. “ He is a good lad,”she said, and her eyes flashed threateningly under her bushy eyebrows,— “a good lad, and may be he has had good cause to be angry ! ”
Monsieur Bouffle wiped his brow, and looked with a distracted countenance first at Madame Farge and then at Marie, in the hope of receiving some explanation. Marie knew it was wisest not to array herself against Madame Farge, so she merely continued to cry, which was simply a defensive measure, calculated to ward off attacks and afford a reason for silence. But if it did anything to conciliate the old woman, this mode of defence had quite a contrary effect on Monsieur Bouffle. He was in the dark. What did it all mean ? There was something going on which he could not understand. Marie certainly knew all about it, and Madame Farge showed by her remarks that she had some ideas on the subject, and, as Monsieur Bouffle had not, he naturally felt impatient.
“ Voilà les femmes,” said Monsieur Bouffle, in the depths of his harassed spirit, “ elles se fâchent toujours de rien. If Mademoiselle would but say something, — give some explanation,” he continued aloud, “ to let one know what all this stamping, shouting, calling of names, and —crying (Monsieur Bouffle, like a person of delicacy, hesitated a moment before the word crying, but he said it at last, though it might sound a little severe)—and crying is about.”
“ I don’t know at all,” said Marie, looking up over her apron.
“ But who is this young man ? that is what I demand, Mademoiselle,” said Monsieur Bouffle, with some heat and categorical distinctness.
“ Franҫois Milette ; he is a neighbor of ours at Verangeville. He knows my father, and comes sometimes to outhouse. But why he was so enraged just now I know not. I simply wanted to listen to what you, Monsieur, were saying, when he begins to talk at the same time, and when I do not answer him,— one cannot listen to two at the same time,” says Marie, looking up with an expression of innocent appeal, —“ he becomes at once enraged.”
“ Ah ! ” said Monsieur Bouffle, thoughtfully.
“Makes himself a lion to devour me when I say I prefer to go with Monsieur.”
“ C’est ҫa, — c’est ҫa ! I divine the meaning of this little affair. When one has a little penetration it is no longer mysterious,” said Monsieur Bouffle to himself, nodding his head, while something like a relenting smile softened the severity of his countenance.
“When I said I tired myself of his bétise, he began to call Monsieur names — to — ”
“ I comprehend — I comprehend calm yourself, my friend,” said the little man, laying his hand on her shoulder, “ dry your tears, and we will continue our way.”
And Monsieur Bouffle positively proffered the use of his red cotton pockethandkerchief to his friend, who accepted this singular token of good-will, and after wiping her eyes, and generally smoothing her ruffled plumes, folded it neatly into a square, and returned it to him again. After this little scene of mutual regard and confidence, the pair went out together.
Now, though Marie’s explanation of Franҫois’s violent behavior was entirely satisfactory to Monsieur Bouffle, we know that it was not her refusal to go to the Citadelle with him that had caused this outbreak on Franҫois’s part. And however angry her bad treatment of him during this interview might have made him, it need not have caused a breach impassable by the bridge of reconciliation. There was probably much combustible matter in the way of suspicion and misgiving already filling his mind, but that sudden explosion was caused by something more positive, a red-hot flash of conviction and of pain that set him in a blaze, and burst from his lips in that mad “ Diantre ! ” that had startled the company, as we have seen.
Two months before, one pleasant summer evening, Franҫois gave Marie a chain which he had carved for her out of the smooth, hard shells of hazel-nuts. The work was delicate and pretty, and Marie was pleased enough with it, and wore it constantly for a time. After one of her recent visits to Dieppe, however, she had returned with a silver chain, — a gift from her well-to-do uncle, no doubt, who had no children of his own, and always made much of his pretty niece, and frequently gave her presents. After this, Franҫois saw no more of his chain ; and though he was too proud to ask Marie anything about it, he felt a little sore in observing that even on working days, when the gayer ornament was laid by, his poor little gift was still slighted. Now, as he sat on the end of the settle by Marie, and made a last attempt to get a friendly glance or word from her, his eyes fell upon Monsieur Bouffle. In that moment down toppled all poor Franҫois’s simple fabric of faith and happiness in one heap of ruin; for there across the black satin waistcoat, attached to a big silver watch, was his own little nutshell chain, — identical, unmistakable, — hopelessly convincing of treachery ! And now we know why it was that he made such a scene, and behaved so badly ; and perhaps we may forgive him, and feel some sympathy with him, even though, like those farsighted moralists who are always able to find some consoling lesson in the misfortunes of their friends, we can easily see that this painful opening of poor Franҫois’s eyes was “all for his good.”