St. Michael's Night
THE storm of St. Michael’s Night had detained the Newhaven steamer, as we have seen ; but at ten o’clock the next morning she lay alongside the wharf, blowing off steam, and ready to take her departure. There was the usual bustle and hurry about the door of the Custom-house, and on the wharf. Cabs were driving down in hot haste, disgorging excited passengers and piles of luggage. There was the usual incongruous mass of people, whom strangely different interests are perpetually wafting to and fro across the Channel,— newly married people on their wedding tour, commercial travellers, French Jews, English tourists returning after the summer’s wanderings, detective police-officers, family parties with children, servants, carriages, and interminable succession of trunks, and dingylooking men with much jewelry and diminutive carpet-bags.
Porters were receiving emphatic directions in broken English and broken French ; here and there a gendarme, stoical and polite, stood like a light-house in the midst of the surging sea of confusion ; and, beyond the chain that ran along from the Custom-house to the landing-place of the steamers, a score or so of sailors and fishwomen idling and watching. The last bell rings, the passengers are all on board, the last porter staggers up the plank, execrated in English and French. The puffing of steam suddenly ceases. The gangway is withdrawn, the ropes loosened, and the “Alliance” steams slowly out of dock in the pleasant morning sunshine.
The mate of that admirable vessel, as he goes round closing the cabin windows, stands and waves his cap high over his head,—a parting signal to a pretty young woman with a child in her arms, who stands and watches the departure of the steamer. Her eyes look seaward long after the fishwomen have turned to their baskets again, and the sailors lounged off to more exciting scenes, and the great doors of the Custom-house have rolled to with a slam. Then she turns and walks thoughtfully away.
Early as it was, Epiphanie had already been up as far as the Faubourg de la Barre to speed Jeanne on her homeward journey, and had met Marie Robbe and Monsieur Bouffle on their way down to Madame Farge’s. After that, till he waved his signal, she had been with Pierre. But there was still that important purchase to make which had detained her in town. Before going up into the Grande Rue, however, she again crossed the dock bridge, and dropped in to say a neighborly “good day " to Madame Legros, and to inquire about Francois, whom she had not seen since the night before.
Could Madame Legros tell her where Francois and Gabriel Ducrés were, for to be sure they are together.
“ O yes, both went out a good two hours ago. Francois, when he found the boat need not return to Verangeville, had come in, and, after changing his jacket, had gone out, saying he had business in the Rue St. Remi. Gabriel Ducrés had gone to Arques; he had passed the door but a quarter of an hour ago, and said he was just on his way.”
“It is a long journey to Arques, no doubt ? ” said Épiphanie, who evidently had some interest in that young man’s movements also.
“ O, not so far, if you take the short way by the river, and through the fields. A good walker will do it in an hour and a half. He said something about being back again by two o’clock, as he had to start for home to-night.”
“ To Vallée d’Allon! ” said Épiphanie.
“ I don’t know ; he said simply ‘home,’ and I asked him no more questions : to speak the plain truth, I was tired of his eternal ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I have never seen a young man like him. Ma foi, chère amie ! when I have cooked a good meal I like a man to say his grace and eat it with an appetite, not push it away as if it were medicine. Père Defére I have known all my life ; a better man does not live; he greets one pleasantly, has always some little news to tell one, and takes an interest like a Christian in the little concerns of the neighbors that one has to relate. He doesn’t stare at one when one speaks to him, as if one was an image, or sit with his head bent down as if at the confessional, just like a purple cornpoppy in August, eating nothing, drinking nothing, saying nothing. But,” continued Madame Legros, whose pent-up irritation on the subject of her unsatisfactory visitor had found considerably relief in this little explosion, “ I packed him up a good dinner, — though I dare say he will not touch a morsel of it, and bring it all back, dried up and stale, — for, as I said to my husband just now, who knows but that being on the water so long yesterday has upset his stomach ; for a landsman is but a poor creature, after all.”
That afternoon, when Jean Farge had gone out, and old Madame Farge sat spinning by the fire, Epiphanie took her work and seated herself in the sunny little window overlooking the wharf. The child was mounted on a chair at the window-sill, playing with great contentment with three or four pebbles, a spoon, a small tin cup, and his mother’s thimble. From time to time his delight in his play burst forth in shouts of “ Voie dà ! voie dà ! ” accompanied by a pattering dance of the pudgy little feet, as he leaned on the back of the chair with his hands. He was answered in all his demands for sympathy by a ready smile from his mother, who sat knitting, the flickering shadows of the geraniums that stood on the windowsill dancing over her as she rocked herself gently to and fro. Epiphanie, though shy, was not unsociable. Her mind and character in the general warmth of kindness and companionship bloomed out into a sort of pungent sweetness, and her talk had certain touches of wisdom that pleased the older woman, and made her feel a quiet satisfaction in the presence of the young widow such as people usually feel only with those whom they have long known and loved, and learned to trust.
So the two women sat and chatted together over their work, the humming of the spinning-wheel and the ticking of the clock on the wall filing the pauses in their talk, — a subdued and pleasant refrain.
“ Marie Robbe was here this morning,”said Madame Farge, after a few minutes’ silence. “ She came here to make me a visit. She is a coquette, I m afraid.”
Epiphanie sighed. “ Perhaps so,” she said. “ But she is young, and has been spoiled by her father ever since she was a child. She has never helped much in the work at home, and that has made her think of gay clothes and pleasure-making more than she should, perhaps. Poor child ! Her father has always encouraged her in it.”
“Her mother works hard enough for the two, I suppose,” said Madame Farge, dryly.
“ It must be confessed so,” said Epiphanie, reluctantly.
“ A bad daughter makes a bad wife,” said Madame Farge. “Thy brother knows her also, it seems.”
Épipbanie’s eyelids trembled a moment, but she did not look up. Madame Farge surely knew, then, that Marie would probably be her sister-inlaw. She did not reply to the implied question, but said : “ I try to think the best of Marie. If she has won the heart of a good, honest youth, there must surely be something of good in her, which we cannot see, perhaps, but which notre bon Dieu who created her knows, and has revealed alone to this man who loves her.”
Madame Farge shrugged her shoulders. “ My child, a man is blind who is in love, and he cannot distinguish between faults and virtues ; and it is well for him to have those that see clearly to look after him and prevent him from making a fool of himself. If my son wants to marry a girl, and I see he loves her truly, be she poor or a stranger, if she have nothing but the clothes on her back, but there be an honest, simple heart inside them, I say, with all my heart, Bien venue, ma fille! But if his heart is set on one like Mademoiselle Marie, who will bring him grief and trouble, I have one word alone for him, — simply no, and always no ! ”
Epiphanie shook her head. “But yet it is God who joins people’s hearts together; and it is a fearful thing to part those who love each other, because we think one is not wisely chosen.”
Madame Farge crossed herself. “My dear, if the Holy Church has blessed them, and they are man and wife, I nave notning to say. I may cry in my own pocket, but I hold my tongue. But before this, when there is still time to stop such mischief, one must do what one can to stop it. One does not give a sick child all he cries for.”
“Sometimes the sick know better what is good for them than the doctors,” said Epiphanie, smiling.
“ I don’t know,” she went on ; “perhaps you are right. It is hard to see one whom one loves choosing sorrow for himself, and yet, if le bon Dieu makes a man love one woman alone of all those in the world, He knows best, and perhaps He yokes unequally sometimes the had and the good, the weak and the strong, that the bad may be made better, and the weak may be made stronger.”
“ No,” continued Epiphanie, with increasing earnestness, “ it is best not to oppose, but to pray night and day for such, that the good saints would watch and guard them, and that God would sunder them or join them according to his pleasure ! ”
Madame Farge remained silent. “Thou art a good girl,” she said to herself, “and hast learned much from thy troubles, and art wiser, perhaps, than an old woman who has had an easy life. One must be prudent, however. As for Marie Robbe,” she said aloud, “ in her case, there is no one to be sorry for, I suppose, — a stupid, hotheaded man like Voisin Bouffle is not thrown away upon her at least.”
“Bouffle!” cried Epiphanie, “who is he ? And what has he to do with Marie ? ”
Madame Farge then briefly related the scene of the morning. As we have witnessed it ourselves, and know what Madame Farge’s conclusions on the subject were, wc will not repeat her story, nor the conversation which followed.
AFTER sitting silently for a while, Epiphanie, still occupied with her own grievous thoughts, rose, rolled up her knitting, and lifted the child from his chair.
“ I will go and seek Francois,” she said ; and, taking the child in her arms, she went out. She went down first to Voisin Legros’s, but could get no tidings of François there. After pondering for a few moments at the Legros threshold, she turned and walked briskly along the wharf, and, passing out of the Pollet, continued her way by the path that runs along the river-side. The pathway winds along, following the course of the stream, through low meadows and copses, the shortest and pleasantest way to Arques. There was at that time, just beyond the last houses of the Pollet, a disused ropewalk, raised above the river and the footpath, and shaded by fine old trees. The grass grew thick over the nearly obliterated walks, and “ crimson-tipped ” daisies by the hundred raised their heads among the fallen leaves. The afternoon sunlight, warm and still, glinted through the trees, that, russet and yellow, glowed with the dusky splendor of the Norman autumn.
Épiphanie set the child down, and walked on slowly, when she reached the ropewalk, while the little lellow toddled beside her or tumbled on the dry leaves. Every now and then she raised her eyes and looked down the pathway by the river’s edge, as if in expectation. And thus for half an hour she watched and walked and lingered. Many people passed, — country people, townsfolk, and sailors ; but Epiphanie still looked wistfully down the road. Her attention is caught for a moment by a group of English tourists with Alpine sticks, sketch-books slung over their shoulders, plaids, and umbrellas, — a young girl and two young men with blue ribbons on their straw hats, and an elderly lady mounted on a donkey. “ O mamma,” cries the young lady, “look at that picturesque creature under the trees, and that pretty child playing among the leaves!”
“Jolly bit of color, isn’t it?” says one of the Cantabs, looking admiringly through a one-eyed lorgnette. “My dear mother, how would you like to see the rural female population of our parts going about the country in a dress like that ? I give you my filial word of honor I will subscribe to your petticoat club, I will come to your next village tea-drinking, if you will banish those brown bombazines, and introduce an 'effect’ like that! ”
“My dear!” replies the venerable rider of the donkey, with some severity of tone, “ I consider such a dress for "young woman in that station of life absolutely wrong. A scarlet petticoat, and that frightful cap and all that gilt finery! My cousin Gresham — she ’s very good-natured, but full of fantastic ideas, and very revolutionary, I fear — sent me two pieces of scarlet flannel to make shirts and Garibaldi bodies —she actually proposed Garibaldi bodies herself—for my rheumatic old men and women ! My dear, I did not even make petticoats of the stuff, I was so afraid of some of those foolish girls getting them and converting them into cloaks, and then coming to church in them under my very eyes, that I positively put it by, and shall have it dyed brown for next winter.”
The young man drops his eye-glass from his eye with a comical smile, and they pass on. Epiphanie’s eyes follow them after the sound of their voices has died away, little thinking that she is serving as a text to their discourse. When they reach the turn in the road, they stop and speak to a man, who points with his hand, raises his cap, and then comes on at a steady swinging pace, with a stick and basket slung over his shoulder. Epiphanie’s eye brightens. She recognizes the young countryman, who is none other than Gabriel Ducrés returning from Arques the nearest way, along the river’s bank. But he is alone ! There is no Francois with him ! Still, they went out from Madame Fargo’s in company. Gabriel can certainly tell her where Frangois is, if any one can. So, taking the child’s hand, Epiphanie goes slowly forward to meet him.
“ Bon jour, Gabriel Ducrés ! " she said, as she approached him. Gabriel looked up quickly, returned her greeting, and made as though he would have passed on, seeming in no humor for talking.
“Ah, Gabriel Duerés, wait a moment,”said Épiphanie. “ I would ask the something.”
“Gabriel let his stick slide from his shoulder. "Well, Epiphanie!" he said with a sigh.
Épiphanie was disconcerted for a moment by his ungraciousness, and her color rose slightly. “Are you in haste ?" she said gently.
“ No, no, I am in no haste ; I will do anything to serve thee willingly, Epiphanie.”
“It is only to tell me where is my brother; I want much to speak with him, and in this strange place I know not where to seek him.”
Gabriel looked at her anxious face, and turned away his eyes. “ I cannot tell thee. I do not know where he is.”
But Epiphanie still questioned. “ Thou wast with him this morning, — wast thou not ? At Madame Fargo’s, — you went out together?”
“ But we parted company soon after we left the house.”
“Did he speak of going home, — of Verangeville ? O Gabriel Ducrés ! if thou canst, tell me something of him ! ”
“In good truth, I cannot tell thee. Francois said but a few words, and broke from me, and was gone.”
“And thou knowest not where he went?” said Epiphanie, mournfully.
“ No, Thou needst not seek him in the Rue St. Remi, however.”
“Alas ! my poor Frangois! It is even so then,” sighed put Epiphanie.
“ Mademoiselle Marie has cheated him, — voilà tout! It is no great matter. It is often done, it seems. ”
There was such a tender, pitiful look in the woman’s eyes, as they encountered his, that Gabriel stopped.
“ It is the will of God,” said Epiphanie, “and for his soul’s good: but he will have many a sad day for all this ; sleep and work, meat and drink, are spoiled to one who has a heavy heart. But I will not hold thee longer here, Gabriel Ducrés; thou art doubtless in haste, and I go but slowly with the child.”
“ No, no, Epiphanie, I am in no haste ; let me walk by thy side. I will help thee to find Francois; he is probably somewhere about die docks.”
“ Ah ! ’’ said Epiphanie, starting quick-. ly, “ dost thou think he may run away to sea ? ”
“It would not be strange,” said Gabriel, “with twenty ships lying in harbor ready to take fresh sailors, that he should offer himself.”
“ Bon Dieu! that might easily be, just now while his anger and misery are heavy and hot within him.”
“ Why should he not go?”
“ It would break his mother’s heart to lose him. He is the beginning and end of all things to her. She would think of him in those far-away countries, and fret night and day, fancying him sick or dying where she could never, never reach him. O,” said Épiphanie with a shudder, “it is a terrible thing to have the sea between us and some one who is dear to us!”
“All ships don’t go to the distant countries though,” suggested Gabriel. “There are ships that go to England, vessels that run to Bordeaux, to — ” but Gabriel was suddenly checked in the midst of his propositions by Épiphanie, who cried suddenly, eagerly, “Ah, if I could but find him ! yes, certainly I could persuade him ! I could show him how excellent it would be. He would not be at the old work and at home exactly, and yet he never would be far away, and if he were sick he could always come back to his mother and me.”
“ Ah ! ” said Gabriel, somewhat blankly, not having the clearest view in the world of her meaning.
“I — I think — that is to say, I have just thought that he might get a place on the Newhaven steamer.”
“ That would be excellent, certainly,” said Gabriel ; “ but it cannot be easy to get such places.”
“ I heard last night that one of the first places on board the new steamer will be vacant soon, — indeed quite soon.”
“ Ma foi ! ” said Gabriel, who was already becoming excited about the success of the plan, “ this is a stroke of good fortune. If this — dost thou know the sailor’s name, Epiphanie ? ”
“ O,” said Épiphanie, “ he is the first mate.”
“Well,” continued Gabriel, “if this first mate leaves in good-will with the captain, no doubt but he may be able to say a good word for a friend, and get Francois the situation. This man has not been discharged, has he ? ”
“ O no,” said Epiphanie ; “ he leaves of his own free will. He was tired, — that is to say, he wanted to start in the fishing business.”
“ Thou know’st him then ? ” said Gabriel, with business-like precision.
“ Yes, I know him.”
“ So much the better! Then thou canst go to him and speak to him at once, and I will go and seek Francois. Such a piece of good luck shall not slip through one’s fingers. I will say what I can to him against his going to sea, if I find his mind bent on that, and tell him how well it will be for him to take this situation, and then I will conduct him to thee ; or, perhaps, he may as well go and see this man himself. But stay,” continued Gabriel, who had already shouldered his stick to start on his search for Francois, “ I had best know the man’s name, that I may tell Francois.”
Epiphanie hesitated a moment. It is difficult sometimes to bring to the lips a name that runs forever in the thoughts. “It is — it is Pierre Lennet.”
“ Diable ! ” was the polite response, after which there was a pause. “ C’est ça; I comprehend at last,” said Gabriel. “ So it is Pierre Lennet that is the man ! that was the reason you could not tell me his name, I suppose. He it is that is going to give up his place, and take to the fishing business, and marry, no doubt. Seven devils ! ” burst out Gabriel afresh, “ make your own business among yourselves ; I will never go ! ” And he threw his stick and basket down on the ground, and crammed his hands down into his breeches pockets.
Épiphanie was silent from pure amazement; Gabriel, who a moment before was all kindness and good-will, to storm in this way! And simply at the name of Pierre too. Had Pierre angered him ? Her mind ran rapidly over the events of the night before, and then she remembered suddenly how Gabriel had refused to come up to supper when Pierre called him. Poor Gabriel! he was angry and vexed about Jeanne last night, — for had they not quarrelled just before? — and had taken Pierre’s joke amiss, and could not forget it even now. “ He has a good heart, — this cousin Gabriel; but one can’t say he has no temper,” thought Epiphanie. Still her heart was pitiful, and she longed — without betraying Jeanne — to say some word of peace, to drop some balm into the wound that she knew caused this testiness in her companion.
“ I know not why thou shouldst feel so hardly towards Pierre Lennet,” said she, after a pause, during which they both walked on in silence ; “he speaks nothing but praise of thee.”
“ I do not want his praise,” said Gabriel, sulkily.
“It was only this morning,” continued Épiphanie, “ that he was telling Jeanne and me of your going out in the bad weather together last night to take out the rope, and he said that thou hadst a strong arm and a brave heart, and that without thee the boat could not have been saved. And Jeanne, when he said that, held out her hand in gratitude to Pierre for his good words of—her cousin.”
Gabriel bent his head, but said nothing. “Jeanne speaks her mind out boldly, if one does not please her; but from others she will hear nothing but the praises of those she loves,” continued Epiphanie.
But Gabriel seemed hardly to hear her. He walked on absorbed in his own thoughts. Suddenly he stopped and turned upon her.
“Thou thinkest well of—of this Pierre Lennet ? ” he said.
“ Ye-es, " said Epiphanie, startled, and with heightening color.
“ That he is brave, good, religious,” continued Gabriel, speaking quickly and shortly like one who suffers, but controls, a sharp internal pain. “ Such as a woman would think well of— could easily love—could be happy with — having him for a husband?”
“ Happy ? yes,” repeated Epiphanie, amazed and fluttered. “ Why dost thou ask me this ? ”
“ Thou believest this truly ? ” said Gabriel, paying no heed to her question.
“ In the bottom of my heart.”
“I believe it, too!” he said with a groan. “ It is enough. Forgive me, Epiphanie, for my hard words. A dog that is wounded bites more from pain than ill-will. I will seek Francois, and say what I can to make him follow thy counsel. Adieu ! ” And he turned to go. Epiphanie was in despair. What did he mean by asking her all these questions about Pierre ? What had she said to draw forth all this ? She who would have spoken the words of peace and comfort had seemed but to make the matter worse. Gabriel in leaving her now was more unhappy than half an hour ago, when they met. In another moment he would be gone, — passed beyond her reach, — and Jeanne’s dismal prophecy of estrangement, and general confusion, and misery might come true, after all. She made three hasty steps, and gained his side.
“ Thou art going to Verangeville tonight,” she cried.
“To Verangeville, no. It is — too late to start this evening.”
“ But to-morrow morning ? ”
“ I shall go home,”
“To Vallée d'Allon ? ”
“ Thou wilt go to Verangeville on thy way ; stay the night at the cottage, and then go on the next day, and so break the journey. Surely thou wilt do this, Gabriel?”
“ I have wasted too much time there already. I shall go straight home.”
“Thou wilt at least say good-by to Jeanne thyself. It would be ill-mannerly not to do that.”
“She has other things to think of than my manners. Say good-by to her for me, though, and tell her—no, tell her nothing. I have no more to say to her.”
“ You will repent it all your life, perhaps, if you do not go to Verangeville,” pleaded Epiphanie. “ Do not let the last words be words of anger between those who — who are relations. Jeanne will watch for thee, will wait for thy coming, I know, to-night! ”
“I will not go to Verangeville ! ” burst out Gabriel. “ Do not tempt me ! let me be! I am going home ; and I will never see Dieppe nor Verangeville nor her again as long as I live
“Stay,” said Epiphanie, constraining him to stop with pleading tones and hands that clasped his. “Thou shalt not go, still feeling anger towards Jeanne. It is an error. Thou hast seen things wrongly. Thou hast misjudged her. She is not solt and smiling always, but I know her heart. O, I was alone in the world but for Jeanne ; she is true, she is warm ; her heart is deep, and her love never dies ! ”
“Mon Dieu ! ” said Gabriel, fiercely. “ Why do you say this to me? Don’t I know this already ? O, I am a fool, a fool ! ” he groaned. “ She must love where she loves, I know that. I have no quarrel with her, I have no quarrel even with her Pierre, though he has stolen her from me ! O, I try to curse her with my lips sometimes, but my heart rises up to bless her. And this will last to the end ! ”. He dropped his head on his breast, and ground the dry leaves under his heel in very bitterness of spirit.
Épiphanie had listened to the outburst of the young man with dilating eyes. She dropped her knitting into the large pocket of her apron, and moved a step nearer to him, laying her hand on the post against which he leaned. Her soft eyes were full of light as she looked up into his face ; she trembled, but her voice was low and clear.
“ You think —you think — ” then, as her color rose and fell, she said, “It is I who love Pierre Lennet, and I am going to be his wife.”
Gabriel sprang erect, and stared her in the face. The blood rushed to his cheeks.
“Thou—thou,” he repeated, as if bewildered by the sudden revelation. “Did she know this? — does Jeanne know this ? ” Tell me, — tell me quickly, Epiphanie! ”
“ But for her I should not have been so happy,” she replied.
And after that Madame Epiphanie would say little more to satisfy the impatient young man, naturally thinking she had done quite enough for him in the way of consolation, and might now safely leave him to the guidance of his own instincts. She was discreet and honorable, and her reticence, and the doubts and misgivings which she refused to allay, seasoned her balms with a wholesome bitter of uncertainty. She said enough and left enough unsaid to make her companion happy, but to leave him penitent, with a general sense of having been a fool, which as an occasional conviction, it must be owned, is good for all of us.
“ Épiphanie,” said Gabriel, at last, “I go at once to Verangeville to —to explain — at least to say good-by before I go to Vallée d’Allon ; I can, as thou hast suggested, stop there on my way homewards.”
“To-night?” said Épiphanie, smiling; “you said it was too late to start half an hour ago.”
But Gabriel had swung his bundle over his shoulder, and, catching up the child, set him on the other, with a laugh.
“ Stop, stop ! what will become of your turkey-eggs at that rate, — I saw them through the lid of the basket just now,” said Epiphanie, and she stood on tiptoe, and reached to his shoulder, and unhooked the basket from his stick. The child screamed and shouted with delight, as the young man strode on through the leaves. The sun shone through the boy’s tossing yellow curls, and glowed on his rosy cheeks, as, riding like a king, he turned and laughed and shouted to his mother, who walked more slowly behind.
When they reached the wharf-side, Gabriel joined Épiphanie, and walked by her side. At the foot of the steps at the Farges he turned to her, the color deepening in his cheeks, “ I was a blockhead, was I not?”
“ Ah ?” replied Épiphanie, interrogatively and dubiously.
“I have seen all things wrong: but dost thou think, — dost thou think?"—
and he looked with eyes full of passionate wistfulness into her face.
Épiphanie raised her eyebrows. “ Give me the child ,” she said. “ Ah, mon petit! mon roitelet!” and she stretched up her arms to take him from his high perch.
But Gabriel held himself at his full height, that she should not reach the child. “ Give me an answer,” he said, “ or thou shalt not have him.”
“ Méchant! ” said she, half pouting. “ Well, what is your question ? ”
“ If thou thinkest that —that — ”
The child, who had already testified his growing impatience at being withheld from his mother’s arms by sundry slaps and kicks, here made a sudden spring towards her, and was caught to her bosom, laughing in triumph.
“ And thy question, Gabriel,” said Éipiphanie, demurely, as she turned to enter the house, “ thou must ask that of Jeanne, I think! ”
GABRIEL was as good as his word ; he spent one precious hour of the short autumn afternoon in his search for François; and when he found the poor fellow, and had given him the words of good counsel proposed by Epiphanie, he sent him to his sister. As he passed along the Dieppe side of the dock he waved his cap to Epiphanie, and saw Francois seated by her side in the doorway of Jean Farge’s house. This duty accomplished, he started on his journey with a light heart. He strode on at an unusually good pace, but still his eager mind ran on before him, and reached Verangeville a score of times before he got there.
“Remember the Fairy way,” had been Épiphanie’s last words as they parted. “ The highway over the cliff is but a short two miles farther, and within the octave of St. Michael the Fairy walks. Beware, Gabriel, and take the highway.”
But Gabriel laughed aloud at her warning. What cared he for the Fairy and all her greetings to-night? Would he lengthen his walk by a single mile to-night ? By the most holy St. Gabriel,— no! Who would put another long mile between himself and rest when he is weary, or distance by an hour the spring when he is parched with thirst ? Gabriel was happy ; and when one is happy one fears no evil. Superstitious fancies can have no room while the thoughts and the imagination are glowing with the warmth and vitality of positive emotions of delight. How can Fear spread her dark wings in a heart where Hope and Joy have taken, up their dwelling, where the Imagination is building its fairy palace, and spreading out its bright pictures, and there are lights and singing and feasting within? No; she waits till these guests are departed, till Joy and Love have gone out together, and Hope, after lingering awhile, has shivered off into the darkness; when the music is silent, and the lights are all put out, then Fear can have her day. Then it is that she enters with a crowd of hideous attendants, and runs riot with a thousand horrors, and converts every faculty and sense into a means of torture.
Gabriel trolled out a song, and, as he thought again of Épiphanie’s warning, he caught up a stone, worn flat and smooth by the tide, and hurled it far up in air; not watching to see how it swept over the beach in a long curve, and dipped with a sudden light into the sea. He strode gayly onward over the shingles, that rung beneath his hasty footsteps. The twilight was gathering over the fields and the sea, and it was almost dusk when he reached the narrow steps cut in the cliff-side that led upward to the Fairy pathway. It was nightfall, and the last day of September, but he neither halted nor listened for the soft, fatal footfall. He sprang lightly up the steps, and gained the narrow ledge ; and, as he passed upward, he looked down upon the rising tide, that already lapped the foot of the cliff below.
How still the sea lay! — as still as the quiet heavens, with its host of stars above. Where was the storm of yesterday, the rage, and the tumult ? The stormy winds had fulfilled the word of the Great Ruler, and were once more withdrawn to their secret dwellingplaces ; and now behold, — peace,— a new heaven and a new earth, fresh and pure as in the beginning, when they were pronounced good. And those storms within, those tempests of grief and passion, with their vain longings and frantic tears, — these also have their day ; the storm dies away, the clouds unroll, and if the sun has already set, and it is too late to hope for sunshine, there are at least the stars, and rest and the silence of a quiet night.
Gabriel looked out to sea, and then upward to the beetling summit of the cliff. A few steps more and the sandy lane would be reached, and his heart gave a bound as he thought of the open doorway, the flickering firelight, and the woman’s figure by the hearth. Hush ! a footstep above, light and firm, approaching swiftly ! He drew himself instinctively against the cliff-side, and held his breath, as a figure emerged from the darkness, and for a moment seemed to float between him and the sky.
Once more face to face, and on the narrow, dizzy edge of the precipice.
“ Gabriel ! ” she sighed out.
“Yes, it is I. O Jeanne, I have come ! ” he burst out. “ I could not stay one moment in Dieppe! I have spoken, I have acted, like a fool during these weeks. I come to confess it. Ah ! Thou wilt forgive me, my cousin : it was because I loved thee,—loved thee so well.”
He caught her hands, and sought to draw her against his bosom as he spoke; but she suddenly and swiftly freed them from his grasp, and wound them about his neck, and clung to him, laying her head upon his breast.
“Let be — let be!” she said, in a broken voice ; “it is I who have been wrong, and I thought I had lost thee, Gabriel, — lost thee — ”
An hour later, and they still stood leaning against the cliff-side, with the night gathering like a purple veil over the sea. The tide was at the full, and boomed below against the shelving cliff. There was so much for these two to talk of, with the untried future lying so full of promise before them ; there was still more that silence alone could express, in the first blissful peace of perfect reconciliation.
“ Thou wilt marry a farmer after all,” said Gabriel, after a while. “ I wish I had been born by the sea for thy sake. But perhaps, when thou comest to know country life better, thou wilt like it better also, Jeanne. One should net make up one’s mind to dislike this or that without reason, I thought very ill of all sailors once, till very lately. I—indeed I hated the very name ‘marin ’ with all my heart, I assure thee, and now I confess that I was wrong. I find them brave, true-hearted,—in short, all that good Christians should be.”
“ Ah ! ” said Jeanne, “ it is Pierre Lennet who has made thee think better of sailors, for he is all these. Eh, Gabriel ? ”
“ Yes,”said Gabriel, with a laugh. “ But, if the truth must be spoken, it was also he that made me detest the very name of ‘ marin ’ at one time. I confess it.”
“ I have been thinking,” said Jeanne, thoughtfully, “ how it was that I was so angry that night, and told thee I would marry none but a sailor. I think it was because thou wast not a sailor, and I feared I should marry thee. Now I no longer dislike the thought of a farmer’s life at all, and it is because thou art a farmer, and I know I am to be thy wife. It is strange,” said Jeanne, with a little sigh, “ comme on change d’avis ! — n’est ce pas, Gabriel ? ”
Then they talked of the Vallée d’Allon, and Gabriel pictured the joy of that day when he should bring Jeanne home to the old farm-house. He knew how his mother loved Jeanne, and how long her heart had yearned towards her young kinswoman as towards a daughter. And Jeanne’s eyes brimmed over with happy tears in the darkness, as she thought of receiving a mother’s kiss and benediction from Madame Ducrés. Uncle Defére, urged Gabriel with his usual impetuosity, must leave his fishing-nets now, and come to the farm also, and take care of his rheumatism, and spend the rest of his days at ease, and telling stories of the coast and his fishing days to the neighbors, as they sit round the fire on winter’s evenings. Then how pleasant it was to go back to the old days when they were children together, — the joyous times of the lavender harvest; the nut-pickings in the old beech-wood beyond the farm ; the walks together by the streamside, or as they came up hand in hand in the twilight, through the dewy meadows, driving the cows back to pasture after evening milking. So the future and the past greeted each other joyously in the present; and time stood still for these happy people, as it does for us all once or twice in a lifetime.
At last Jeanne said, “ Come, Gabriel, I must go home ; I want to see my father. He went out to set some nets after supper, but he will have come in by this time ; for, see, it is late ; the stars are all out, and the tide is at its height”
“Where wast thou going, Jeanne,” said Gabriel, detaining her, “ when I met thee ? ”
“ O, I was going down the beach to meet Épiphanie. She told me she was coming back this evening with Nannette Planch c. I was with Veuve Milette most of the afternoon, keeping her company while frpiphanie was away, and as I was coming home, I met Nannette, who said she and Marie Bignard had left Dieppe earlier than she had said the night before, and had seen nothing of Épiphanie. Then I thought Epiphanie must have missed them, and would be coming home alone ; and after supper, when father went out to his nets, I started out to meet her. The child is heavy to carry, and Épiphanie is timorous, and does not like to be alone after nightfall.”
“And thou camest down the Fairy way, Jeanne, and thou wast not afraid ? ”
“Yes, I was afraid, I will not deny; but I thought I could run so swiftly down here, and climb, by a way I know, to the cliffs again, and so miss all the long round one takes by the highway, and have so much more chance of meeting Épiphanie, that, after I considered a moment at the churchyard wall, I repeated a pater-noster, and ran down, and met thee.”
“ Ah, Jeanne ! ” after a pause, he said, “dost thou know what I thought as I came up the path and heard thy footstep ? ”
“ Quoi donc,” said Jeanne, — “that it was I ? ”
“ Not at all. I heard a step, and saw a gown fluttering, and I thought it is the Fairy of Fallaise who approaches, to give me an evil greeting perhaps. I confess to thee my heart stood still in my body for fear ! ”
Jeanne laughed. “ Grand lâche ! ” she said, “thou shouldst have shouted at the bottom of the steps to have cleared the way, and I should have heard thee, and waited till thou hadst reached the top of the cliff. That is the custom here. One must always call before one comes up the Fairy way, so that anyone going down may wait till the one below has ascended, for the ledge is too narrow for two to pass each other without danger.”
“ But if one does not call, or if one does not hear the shout, and meets a traveller in the middle, as thou and I — what then ? ”
“ I know not,” said she. “ I suppose they must then arrange it between themselves, and one must turn back again.”
“ In this case,” said Gabriel, drawing her towards himself, “thou goest with me. Eh, my Jeannette ? ”
“Yes,” said Jeanne, “with thee!”