FLEUR, June 1.
I AM content. I do not know whether it is this tiny, tranquil village, with its red-tiled roofs and gray walls, dreaming here in the June sunshine on the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau, or whether it is Angéle.
It happened this way. I was coming down from Paris to paint in the forest. Evening was near when I reached the edge of the wood, but the town was still distant. By chance I wandered upon this wee village among the poppy fields. The sky was bright with the setting sun. The air was sweet with evening, and the perfume of roses, and the tinkling of sheep bells. “I will rest here for an hour,” said I. Mademoiselle Angéle came out on the balcony of her mother’s inn. “ I will rest here all night,” said I. Already I have stayed three days.
It was my first evening here. I was strolling in Madame Claire’s garden, among her roses and poppies and tangled vines. Mademoiselle Angéle appeared.
“ What wine do you drink, monsieur ? ” she asked in French. Her voice was gentle. Her eyes — yes, her eyes were brown, and her lips —
Mademoiselle spoke again. But I had quite forgotten my French. I could only stammer that I did not understand.
“ Monsieur does not comprehend ? ”
“ No, mademoiselle.”
“ Oh ! ” and she went within. But presently she came out again.
“ Supper ees readie! ” she cried, with the prettiest bravado in the world, and ran swiftly in again. Her cheeks were rosy, her eyes bright with the adventure of that one little English sentence. I followed her. “ I comprehend, mademoiselle ! ” I cried gayly, and she looked prettier still.
Angéle’s hair is like the night, and she has a way of wearing in its deepest shadows a cream-white rose. If one has come down from Paris with the intention of staying an hour, and has stayed five days, and if Angéle does not disapprove of one, why, then one may stop at the lattice when one comes down to one’s morning chocolate, and pluck the creamiest-white rose there. And when Angéle chances to pass in the vine-clad doorway . . . “ Bon jour, monsieur ”... “ Bon jour, mademoiselle. Permit me, if you please ” . . . and then one may tuck the white rose gently away in Angéle’s tresses, without fear of offense, so that Angéle will say softly, in a voice like a little French love song : —
“ Merci, monsieur. It is a pretty rose.”
And then one’s chocolate is delicious, and the whole day is the sweeter, and one looks at Angéle more and more, and wonders why girls at home do not wear white roses in their hair, until one suddenly remembers that at home the gardens are not likely to be full of roses, and so, no doubt, there are not likely to be Angéles.
Every morning now I twine a white rose in Angéle’s hair.
Angéle is just seventeen. It is a charming age, I think, — more charming even than sixteen.
Angéle asked me to-day when I would paint the forest. I declare I had forgotten the forest. I answered I did not know. Then she hummed a little song. Her voice is very sweet. I think I have said this before, but one is apt to repeat what one always remembers.
Out in the rose garden Angéle is teaching me la langue Française. We are using the conversation method. It is so much easier.
Sometimes we stroll through the roses, Angéle and I; then down the straggling path through the latticed arbor, hung with vines ; then under the cherry trees and through the lettuce and strawberries to the barley, with vagrant poppies nodding in the summer wind. Angéle tells me the names of the flowers, and I pronounce them after her, often lamely, just to hear her pronounce them again. We chat happily, — I in poor, broken sentences, now and then stopping to look for a word in my little red dictionnaire. Angéle looks over my shoulder eagerly. Her face is very near. Often it takes a long while to find the right word.
If it is very warm, we sit in the arbor, — Angéle with her knitting, I with my little red dictionnaire. Angéle is demure. I am in a summer ecstasy. Madame finds us there, her gray eyes twinkling beneath her prim white linen cap.
“ Only a lesson in French, madame,” I explain. But madame only shakes her finger slyly, doubtingly.
And Angéle ?
Angele says, nodding her pretty head while the needles fly in her lithe fingers : —
“Yes, mother dear. Only a lesson in French. The fifth lesson. Monsieur Hubert is a good schoolboy. He is learning fast.”
And madame goes away, laughing. When she is gone Angéle murmurs : —
“ And now, Monsieur Hubert, la leçon Française. You were saying ” —
What was I not saying ? Somehow, I had never known so many French words before. I had been telling Angéle that I was never in my life so happy as here in Fleur.
“Why?” she asks softly, innocently, bending a little lower over her needles.
And then I tell her how golden the sunshine is in Fleur, how red and white are the roses, and how peaceful and sweet it is to study la langue Franéaise in Madame Claire’s garden with Madame Claire’s Angéle.
“ Yes,” is Angéle’s reply, pensive, unquestioning.
“ It is now the sixth lesson, madame,” I explain.
“ La sixième leçon Française,” says Angéle.
“ Oh, oui. Je comprends,” says madame, and we laugh, all three.
It is now the twenty-third lesson, I think, but I am not quite sure ; possibly the twenty-fourth.
Last night I told Angéle that her eyes were comme les étoiles, — like the stars, which are very bright here in Fleur.
“ You are pleased that I think so, Angéle ? ”
“Yes, Monsieur Hubert.”
And Angéle’s eyes are very grave and wide. To-day she told madame what I had said, confidingly, happily, like a little child.
I am painting Angéle’s portrait here in the garden. She brings her knitting into the arbor, and I bring my easel and oils ; and while we chat, I paint, and while I paint, Angéle steals softly into my heart. I cannot imagine what I should do if she were to go away for a single day. I am sad when night comes. I am glad when it is morning. I am happy all day long.
Angéle’s profile is exquisite. Angéle’s mouth is a Cupid’s bow ; and when she smiles at me, I wait in ecstasy to feel the arrow deep in my heart.
Angéle wore a great straw hat to-day, and the sunshine, sifting down through its yellow brim, lit up her face with the gold of a summer sunset, while all around was the gathering twilight of her hair.
I never thought my name sweet before, but Angéle has a way of saying it — a way — I am afraid I am not myself to-day. The sunshine and roses in Madame Claire’s garden go to one’s head like wine.
When Angéle is near, there is never a moment I could wish her absent. When she is absent, there is never a moment I do not wish her near.
Angéle knows, and loves me. I told her this afternoon. To - night I have walked the garden. I cannot sleep. I was never so happy before.
We were in the garden at sunset. I was twining a fresh white rose in her hair. The garden was very still.
“ I am happy here, here among the roses, with you, Angéle.”
I listened eagerly for her answer. It was very low and sweet.
“ And I with you, Monsieur Hubert.”
“ Because I love you, Angéle.”
Angéle lifted her face. It was so happy that I knew.
The stars were out when we remembered again.
Madame says she knew it all the time. She is quite willing. Angéle and I shall be married in September, in the little gray church where they ring the Angelus.
I have told Angéle a dozen times that I am poor. She always answers : — “Yes. I know. But what of that, Monsieur Hubert ? ”
And for the life of me, I cannot tell.
The portrait is finished. I never did anything so well before. Angele says she would know that I loved her by just looking at it.
Already Angéle is planning her wedding gown. She told me of it to-day. It is to be all white, with I’ve forgotten what; but it is to be all white and beautiful, anyway. I was so busy watching her tell me of it that I did not hear a word she said.
Angéle says it is to be the prettiest ever seen in Fleur. I tell her that when she wears it, it will be the prettiest ever seen in France.
There are just two months and one week more until our wedding day. Angéle is marking each day off on a little calendar. She tells me there are just sixty-seven and one half more to wait.
Angéle is dead.
It happened suddenly, almost three weeks ago. Even now I could not bring myself to write one single word of this, but that Angéle said to me, leaning on my shoulder, as I wrote one day in the garden : —
“ This little book of yours, Hubert, — it is to be our love story.”
And there is only one little chapter left.
Angéle was beautiful as a dream. Every morning I brought her a creamwhite rose, and twined it in her hair.
“ Merci, Hubert,” she would murmur. “ It is a pretty rose.”
And on the last day of all, the rose I gave her was not whiter than her cheeks.
Evening was near, but the sun was still bright in the garden. Through the open window Angéle could hear the birds singing, and could see the flowers and the arbor and the little garden path where she had taught me the lessons in French. There was the seat where she had brought her knitting in the June afternoons, and I my little red dictionnaire. Her eyes wandered from the garden to me.
“ You were always a good schoolboy, Hubert.”
“ Was I, Angéle ? ”
“ And I loved you from the very first, though I never told you that.”
“ My dearest.”
“ It is a pretty word, that word ‘ dearest,’ Hubert. Has the English many words like that ? ”
“ Yes, Angéle.”
“ And you would have said them all to me ? ”
“ Every one of them, Angéle.”
Angéle smiled wistfully. Into the garden stole the shadow of the falling night. The roses trembled in the evening wind. Across the barley came the sound of bells. It was the Angelus.
Angéle’s lips stirred softly ; and in the English I had taught her, so faintly I could scarcely hear, though her lips were close to mine, —
“ Good-night . . . beloved.”
Roy Rolfe Gilson.