UNDER Le Berceau, upon her own terraced hill of vine and olive, lies the little mountain village of Castellar, nigh Menton. In the midst extends an open space about an elm; to the south and north stand houses, and their fretted stucco of many faint and blended colors, their green and blue shutters, dark windows, and mellow roofs mingle in a color harmony as proper to its environment of hills and orchards and crags as the nest of the bird to the lichened bough, or the coat of the sand-colored lion to his lair. A street opens out of the Place de la Mairie, and here shadows merge deliciously, and the little windows aloft stare into each other’s eyes. Sunshine breaks through and burns where some scarlet or yellow rag flutters from a casement. Dark stairways wind on either side. Sometimes they ascend and sometimes abruptly fall through arch on arch, until at the end, under low, dim halos of darkness, light and leaves appear, and the silver-gray of the eternal olives shines wanly and whispers like rain. The street seems marked with sharp parallel lines that drop abruptly from tiles to cobblestones. The walls are broken, and the plaster has fallen in patches upon which seeds have found foothold. Pellitory-of-the-wall prospers in every niche and breaks the lines of the buildings with bosses and traceries of dull green. Silence reigns here, and faint, evil scents haunt the gloom; but the end of the street lies open, shines full of light, and abounds with life and sound. A fountain spouts one glittering thread into a stone basin at this point, and the water purrs gently with a pleasant sound. Above the trough archways leap and carry sunshine across great shadows ; between the houses Le Berceau’s enormous bulk slopes upward and springs out of the terraced hills in planes of snow-capped stone. The sky is very blue, and far beneath rolls out, like watered silk, the sea.
Beside the fountain of Castellar there ascended a hot and pleasant smell of roasting coffee. Here sat a woman at her door, and cooked the fragrant berries, until their scent saturated the air and passers-by sniffed approval. The fire in a little brazier spluttered, and upon it Laure Vilhon twisted a metal globe that contained the coffee. She was a woman of sixty, with a brown face, firm mouth, and small black eyes that shone out from under a wrinkled forehead. She wore a white cap on her head and a purple shawl wrapped about her. The shawl made a beautiful patch of light at the end of the dark alley, and its color, modified into the gentler hue of remote mountains, was repeated mistily where the earth loomed and the hills rose far off through the screen of the trees.
The church clock rang out the hour, and Madame Vilhon rose from her stool, stamped her foot, and showed annoyance and impatience.
“It is too bad — lazy, worthless thing! If he come not instantly, I will refuse him the work and give it to another,” she said, in a high-pitched, unpleasing voice.
No visible person heard the remark, but it had fallen on small, quick ears. Honorine Vilhon came out of the house to answer her mother.
“He will surely come. It is far from Grimaldi, and he has to carry his brushes and paints.”
Madame Vilhon regarded her child without sympathy, yet Honorine softened most eyes that gazed upon her frail and flowerlike charms. She was very slight, and the beauty of her lips and eyes both haunted and saddened. Every-day folk said she must be delicate; understanding spirits admired and mourned; for the soul that looked out of this girl’s dainty, thin body was a hungry and a melancholy soul,a soul that dumbly asked and craved, a sort of soul that, seldom finds a mate, yet cannot live happily without one. Honorine wore black, and her hair, uncovered, rose in a dark aureole upon her head. In the midst was a tortoise-shell comb, silver-fretted.
“He is here! ” she cried suddenly; and as she spoke a man hastened down the street.
Hyacinthe Corbetta had come that he might renew a legend set forth on the wall of Laure Vilhon’s home. Time had defaced the information, and it became necessary to remind the world that here was a grocer’s shop.
“Bonjour! Bonjour, madame; bonjour, mademoiselle! I am late — I am always late; but you must forgive me. Last night I did not sleep for thinking of the best colors; and just at daylight I thought of them. They came with the sun out of the sea. Then I went to sleep. I shall paint in scarlet, like the pomegranate flower, and in black, — deep, shining black, like your eyes, Madame Vilhon!”
“A lot of fuss about nothing! I want none of your flourishes and nonsense,— just big letters, like it was before, that you can see from the end of the street; and be quick about it, too.”
Laure rose from her stool, shook the charcoal from her brazier into the gutter, and then entered the house, while the man prepared his colors and set about retracing certain letters upon the wall. Honorine stood and talked to him. Her face had changed since his arrival. The furtive sadness was gone; her sallow skin had flushed; she looked healthier, and her eyes shone. A curious likeness existed between Hyacinthe and the girl. He was half an Italian, and lived with his father at the village of Grimaldi over the border. Feebleness of disposition and love of beauty were his characteristics. He had a handsome face, with moist, mournful eyes. His beard was dressed into two little points that separated like the prongs of a hayfork, and he was very careful of it. Honorine called him an artist, and he claimed that proud name for himself. But few granted it to him. His business was painting of signs and the little wooden memorials of the dead. Sometimes he painted pictures, also. He had a great, untutored zest for color; but he could not draw, and futile sentimentality marked his efforts. Only his Italian mother had liked them, and he buried three of his best pictures in her coffin when she died.
If ever by blissful chance kindred souls were thrown together, it was when Hyacinthe found Honorine. Like the twin shoots of a bryony, they were built by nature to wind together and struggle on life’s brief journey, locked, linked, supported in each other’s arms.
Honorine loved the weak man with her whole heart, and thought him strong. He made sad little rhymes for her, and read them aloud. In secret they sat sometimes with their long, brown fingers laced together, and sighed tenderly at their beautiful world. He was very ill-informed, but he loved to talk, and she loved to listen. She believed in him, and nobody else did.
“Is the mother out of earshot?” he asked presently, under his breath.
He proceeded with his work, and black letters began to stare crudely upon the rich tones of the wall.
“How horrid it looks!” he said; “but when I have lifted it up with scarlet behind you will like it better.”
“It is the things, not the words I hate,” she answered. “To live with the smell of food in the nostrils; the eternal scent of oil and wine, and tobacco and dried fish! ”
“ When you talk so, you want a holiday. To-morrow at the old tryst under Le Berceau? Say yes ; say yes ; and I will make a rhyme out of the noise of the men in the trees. They are hard at work now, knocking down the olives. Every tree rustles as though a giant sauterelle sat in it and made merry music.”
“What a poet you are! My mother goes to Menton to-morrow, and I must be in the shop.”
“On Friday, then?”
“Very well; on Friday.”
Hyacinthe soon made an end of his work when Honorine left him. Presently the full advertisement —
COMESTIBLES, VINS ET TABAC,
thrown up with scarlet paint, flamed upon the wall, and Madame Vilhon was invited to come out of the house and criticise.
She nodded ungraciously.
“You can read it,” she said. “Give Corbetta a drink of wine, Honorine, and let him go.”
After he had eaten and drunk, set some tall arundo stems before the fresh paint, to keep off passers-by, and whispered the word “Friday” to Honorine, Hyacinthe departed. He did not sing until out of earshot of Castellar; but as soon as he found himself on a mountain track, alone, Hyacinthe lifted up a fine voice and caroled a Neapolitan love song with many an operatic gesture and sentimental shake.
Hyacinthe and Honorine were mountain children both, and best they loved to meet on the high ground where olive and lemon yielded to a hardier vegetation; where the juniper flourished; where the oak and the Aleppo pine prospered, and lavender and lentiscus spread a fragrant mantle upon the middle slopes of the hills. Hither climbed Honorine to the familiar meeting-place, and sat with her back against a little empty sheep-fold that stood perched above the pine woods.
Dawn feasted on this scene, and twilight lingeringly left it. Far beneath, in gentle undulations like gray smoke, the olive orchards spread, and the lemons made a brighter green in the glades where they grew; but the terraces of the vine were still naked, and stretched bare in patches and streaks amid the evergreen trees. Winding roads threaded the orchards and forests; a red roof sometimes stood beside them above white walls; and the air bathed everything with sunny mist and softened detail, so that this vision of minor hills melted into itself. Though far nearer, it appeared less distinct and clearcut of outline than the mountains, that sprang and towered and jutted jaggedly in peaks and turrets of scorched stone above it to the sky.
Honorine’s sharp eyes could count the windows of Castellar far below, where the hamlet clustered at the apex of a cone of green. Then she turned to the shimmering sea, outspread like cloth of gold, and watched the wake of a steamer, and thought of those that traveled in the ship. Menton shrank to its just proportions and significance, thus seen. At least, so thought the girl. The town dazed and bewildered her when she sought it, passed through the streets and pleasure gardens, heard the blare of the music and the babble of strange languages. But from this uplifted spot, where she sat enthroned in myrtle and wild thyme, the place assumed an aspect very agreeable to her mind. Its stress and tribulation were hidden by distance; its noise was still; she could think of all the sorrow there without sighing; she could look at the cemetery — Menton’s crown of human graves — and feel that those tombs all scooped out of yellow sand were properly placed upon the very forehead of the town, since death is the end of grief and joy alike, and the inevitable terminus and goal of every earthly road.
“Hyacinthe,” said she, as he appeared and flung himself beside her, “here in this mountain nest I am like God, and look down at all things, and judge all, and forgive all. When God’s eye falls upon Menton, He must see the poor little graves first; so He forgives.”
“When you say these mournful things I feel — I feel; — but remember what I have told you. You must look up at the mountains, not down upon the graves. A grave is a small thing; a mountain is a big one. I get my beautiful thoughts from the blue shadows that fall off the shoulders of the hills after noon. See how they sweep along! — like a king passing, and his purple fluttering after him.”
“And the sea is bigger still,” she answered, “bigger still and more wonderful to me. In sunshine or mistral, when she shows her teeth, it is all one. When she is smooth I know she will be cruel again; and when she is wicked I say, ‘ to-morrow — to-morrow she will go to sleep and smile like a baby.’ ”
“All ours — all this great earth,” he said, “our very own to the last ray of sunlight.”
“ And love and contentment with it ? ”
“No,” he answered. “Love — not contentment. Not contentment while there is love and we are apart. What is all the world to me if you are not in my arms ? ”
Honorine was silent, and he spoke again.
“Why does your mother not like me ? ”
“Because you are a man. She hates them all. She was very unhappy. My father did not love her much.”
“No, — one can easily understand why he died young.”
“When I am up here, I am brave, and I say, ‘to-night she shall know.’ Then I go down the hill again, and the fire in my mother’s eyes soon withers up my poor heart, and I run before her like a mouse.”
“Shall I come and tell her?”
“That would be to kill the last hope.”
“Then do you. Carnival begins next week. You must ask to go with me, and tell her that we mean to be married.”
“ She will rage horribly. I cannot think what awful fury would fall upon her.”
“I am going in black, with orange stars splashed about me, and an orange mask. It will be a wonderful dress. My fat cousin, Giacinta, has made it for me.”
“ I had it on my lips to say that we were engaged when you went away last week; but I am a coward, Hyacinthe. I am horribly frightened of my mother.”
“And an orange hat with a black ball at the top. If I could but think of a dress for you!”
“I should love to wear it: only my mother would not let me go. She has no room for laughter or happiness in her days.”
“Happiness is the poetry of life. Your mother is all prose to her flat, ugly feet, and I hate her.”
“You must not hate her.”
“I love her for bringing you into the world. I forgive everything else for that. But we shall have to run away, Honorine. It will end so.”
She liked to hear him hint at such an adventure, but knew, as well as he knew himself, that Hyacinthe could no more run away with her than he could run away with the last granite pinnacle of Le Berceau.
“Brave lover!” she said.
“All the same, I wish you would tell your mother. You never know how a woman will take the matter of love.”
“You never know; but if you are a woman yourself, you always feel how she will. But she shall hear to-night.”
“Tell her that I am a man of iron, and will take no denial. Tell her that I shall fall into a terrible rage if I am denied. And pray about it with all your might. Break the news to your mother at six o’clock, and when you are telling her, think of me on my knees in our little church at Grimaldi. I will pray as I have never prayed before.”
She nodded through tears.
“ And you like the thought of my black and orange ? ”
She nodded again, and spoke.
“It will stand for death and gold,— the things that will part us; because I shall die if I may not marry you, and it is because you are so poor that my mother will say no.”
“An artist is never poor.”
“And never rich; but I promise that I will speak to-night at six o’clock.”
They made love then, and built castles higher than the clouds. He would some day paint such pictures as the world had seldom seen; she would inspire them, her spirit would make his painted seas bluer than the sapphire, and set his mountains and valleys and forests throbbing with the very pulse of nature and of life.
At last, after futile farewells, which only found them again and again in each other’s arms, Honorine set bravely off, ran down into the pine woods, and vanished. He sang to her while she went; then, when he knew that she was beyond sound of his voice, he ceased and turned along the hill terraces and passed eastward to Grimaldi.
Two hours later he knelt and prayed with his whole soul, and endured an ecstasy of devotion. But at Castellar, in the shop that smelt of comestibles mingled, Honorine, having confessed the truth, stared terrified at her parent’s wrath, and presently fled before it.
“That thing! That half-baked, forkbearded Italian! Go to the lunatic asylum for your husband! I would rather see you buried than married to Corbetta. Never — never — never mention his name again. If I catch him here, I will beat him! ”
“Oh, Mother of God, soften her woman’s heart; make it young again; teach her to remember the first kiss of her husband, so that she may understand and be kind to Honorine,” implored Hyacinthe. He prayed till he moved himself to tears; then he rose hopefully and went to his cottage.
Three days later Laure Vilhon saddled her mule and solemnly rode by a rocky path to Grimaldi. She arrived in time to meet Hyacinthe just setting forth for Carnival. He wore the black and orange,and walked up and down for a while in the tiny street, that his neighbors might ad - mire him before he started for Menton.
“Come into the house and drop this foolery for a few minutes,” said Laure. “Take off your mask and listen to me. If I see you in Castellar again, I shall set the men upon you.”
“On me — on me! What have I done ? Never have I hurt man, woman, or child. I am a harmless artist, Madame Vilhon. I am only busy with beautiful things.”
“You are busy with my daughter, and that is why I am angry.”
“Well, she is a beautiful thing, is she not?”
“You to dare! I have spoken,and the matter is ended. Honorine understands that you cannot marry her, because, first, you are as poor as a cricket, and because also you are an Italian.”
“You are very cruel to say these things to me.”
“I am a sensible woman. Do what your father wants you to do, and marry your cousin Giacinta.”
“Giacinta has no soul, Laure Vilhon.”
“So much the better for you — if it was so. A poor wife wants a strong body and patience — not soul.”
“ She is as round and as strong and as hard as a donkey.”
“A very good girl, and her sense may help to balance your nonsense. Now I promise you that Honorine is not for you — never. If she marries you, she will have not a penny. Therefore give her up for good. Here is your money for painting my sign. And here is a note for a hundred francs. I will give you that note if you will be a good man and promise faithfully to make no more love to Honorine.”
“ I implore you to let me marry Honorine, madaine!”
“I am a stone in the matter. It is enough that I will never consent.”
“You have told her so?”
“Does she resign herself to fate, madame ? ”
“She is obedient. She will not marry anybody, I hope. It is a vile state for a woman.”
“An artist ought to be married.”
“Will you take these hundred francs? You can forget this passing disappointment in the joy of making a good picture. Women are all alike, and one’s as good or bad as another.”
“You will never change?”
The sound of a brass band came up from below faintly.
“ They have started from the fountain. I shall have to run to overtake them. My heart will break.”
She held out the note, and he took it.
“My life is ruined, but I have my art,” he said. Then he leaped up, caught his hat and mask, and prepared to hurry down through the olive terraces to the road beneath.
Chance, however, changed his enterprise. Among the trees a woman crouched, and she was picking up the purple olivefruit with both hands as fast as she could do so.
Hyacinthe recognized his cousin, and she stood up and clapped her hands to see her work of black and orange flashing through the shadows and flaming as the sun touched it.
“You have come that I may see you before you go. How good of you! Who would have been so kind as that but you ? ” she asked.
Hyacinthe did not undeceive her. He stood before her, and looked at her with new eyes. Until that day she had been as a sister; now he regarded her as a possible wife, and the point of view was so novel that he felt quite shy.
Giacinta was a broad and deep-bosomed woman, with round cheeks, a pretty nose, and a big, laughing mouth. She was never angry, never weary, never unduly elated or cast down. She had a fine physical presence, and lacked much imagination.
“You are a very kind and nice girl, Giacinta,” said Hyacinthe. “I have come to you to pity me. Madame Vilhon has been here, and she will not let me marry her daughter. She is made of iron.”
“The French do not care for us to marry their daughters, or theirsonseither. Besides, you are dreadfully poor, Hyacinthe. If you were rich, Madame Vilhon might have felt differently.”
“ My heart, of course, is broken. I have only my art. I am going to paint a great picture. It will be painted with my life’s blood. And Honorine will suffer, too. I know that.”
He sat down and began to pick up the olives and put them into her basket.
“Don’t!” she said. “I don’t like to see you. It is woman’s work.”
“An artist is man, woman, and child, rolled up in one skin.”
“Then he doesn’t want a wife and children so much as other men, perhaps ? ”
“More — more. He must have them. They are necessary to him — part of his education. Come and sit here and let me hold your hand, Giacinta. How shall I live without her — Honorine?”
“There are other women.”
“ What do you think of me, Giacinta ? ”
“You are a wonderful man, Hyacinthe. I lookup to you, and am proud to be your relation.”
“I am wonderful, as you say, but an artist never knows how wonderful he is.”
“Your pictures are so splendid! They dazzle people with their brightness.”
“ I believe they are splendid, Giacinta.”
“You know very well they are, Hyacinthe.”
“I cannot tell. A butterfly never sees its own wings. Yet I ’m glad you like my pictures. You may have a sleeping soul, Giacinta.”
“We all have souls, Hyacinthe.”
“Yes, but the immortal spark is often no more than a red-hot cinder that never breaks into flame. Your soul smoulders; it is nothing. Honorine’s spirit burnt with a clear and radiant light.”
“I am not clever—only a lump of a girl, I have no ideas like Honorine.”
“I knew something was going to happen to me to-day,” he said gloomily. “There was a thunderstorm last night. Le Berceau cradled the lightning. Poets are born at such moments. Giacinta, I can only bring you a broken heart, but such as it is — Will you marry me, Giacinta ? I am not a common man. I may be rather a bore sometimes when I am rapt in thoughts. But such as I am” —
“ You are far, far too good for me, Hyacinthe. Such a thing is better than any dream I ever dreamt. But I might help in the house, and take care of your money, and feed you well.”
“My money will not give you much anxiety, Giacinta.” He kissed her and stroked her plump shoulder, and noticed that there existed much more of Giacinta to put his arm round than there was of Honorine. He was rather glad that Giacinta wept at this sudden and amazing fortune.
“I cannot forget her — I never shall. Our souls burned into one beautiful pure blaze as often as we met,” he said. “ But she will only be a memory, Giacinta — a poem — the smell of flowers — the moon on the sea — you understand.”
“ I only understand you want to marry me, Hyacinthe. I don’t want to understand anything else.”
“I will not go to the Carnival. I will come home with you and talk to your mother. I may make some verses to-night. I feel them coming. Your lips are good, Giacinta.”
“It is too much happiness. It has got into my head like wine,” she said. “ I am quite drunk.”
“Take it calmly, Giacinta, as I do. Don’t cry, my poor girl. These are times when it is good to live. But they soon pass by. Happiness does n’t last like misery. We shall be old and aching in a few years. To-morrow is always a failure. Still there is to-day. I must tell Honorine myself. Nobody else shall tell her. Lent is a very proper time. We shall mingle our tears. You cannot understand all this, because you are not an artist; but you must try to understand presently. I should like to kill Laure Vilhon slowly with torments. ”
“If you love me, it is enough for me, Hyacinthe.”
“I hope it always will be, dear Giacinta. Your eyes are like the olive berries that are bright and have had their bloom rubbed off. But the bloom will not be rubbed off our love. Whatever happens, I shall continue to love you — so long as you love me.”
“And that will be always,” she said.
Twice Hyacinthe tried to see Honorine, and failed to do so. Then, upon the last day of Carnival, he donned his black and orange once more, and took Giacinta to the procession and confetti battle. She tortured him by appearing in a light green domino trimmed with dark purple. It was exceedingly ugly, and spoiled his pleasure. As soon as possible he made her return home with friends from Grimaldi, and himself sought the wine-shops. He sang and drank and played games all night; and dawn found him in Garavan Bay, still singing. A whim now took him to seek the familiar tryst above the Aleppo pines.
“I can climb higher than the olives or lemons can climb,” he said to himself, and laughed at the thought. He passed up beside the cemetery, and nodded to the tombs that peeped over the walls.
“Good-morning, good-morning to you all! ” he said. “ But don’t wake up — you are better as you are. The Last Day has not come yet. I wish it had!”
Dawn rested upon the hills, and the olive orchards blushed with the soft and rosy gray of a dove’s bosom. As Hyacinthe climbed upward the trees thinned about sharp bluffs and sandy scapes that broke and jutted through the green. There was a waving and whispering of the giant reed where waters ran. Already the unnumbered rivulets that stole out of the hills to the sea shone with a purple stain; for the wheels of the olive mills were rolling busily. Oaks, with russet foliage still clinging hung here against the cliff faces; the ravines deepened, and pines began to fledge the great wings of the mountains. Panting now, Hyacinthe struggled on; then he reached the empty sheepcote and saw the morning radiance of remote snows. Completely exhausted, he crept into the hut, flung himself down, and almost instantly fell into sleep.
Three hours later, Honorine found him there, and they met again. Some instinct brought her, for in her heart had wakened an assurance that he would come. She had endured much since their last meeting. Laure’s description of her conversation with the sign-painter was merely true, but Honorine refused to believe it. She had now given him up, but she wanted to tell him so and hear him comfort her. Sometimes she thought that he was playing a part and would tell her of a romantic plot presently to bring them together forever. Of Giacinta she had heard nothing. She was thinner than ever now, and her face seemed to be all eyes.
Honorine stood and watched Hyacinthe asleep. Then she plucked mastic and lavender to make him a pillow, for he slept uneasily. She guessed at his weariness, and waited an hour before she woke him. When the man came to his senses and sat up, he saw her and uttered a cry of joy. He was going to embrace her; then memory suddenly arrested him.
“I must not — it would be wicked; I am going to marry my cousin, Giacinta Corbetta.”
She gasped and drew away from him.
“Is it news to you ? What could I do ? Don’t look at me so, Honorine. Do you think that you are the only one who has suffered? I am in hell.”
“My mother ” —
“ Janicot1 fly away with your mother! She has crushed two hearts — like the press crushes the olives. All that was good in me is killed. I shall do nothing now but just live till I die — like a pig.”
“ I had dreamed dreams — I had half hoped you might ” —
“An artist cannot do such things. I am not a brigand. I am thin and weak of body, — all spirit and soul. I cannot take you from her and speed away into the mountains. Such tricks belong to plays on the stage. They want capital. Even artists cannot live like birds, on berries. And I am going to marry Giacinta. I will not fight a coarse woman like your mother. This is the most terrible Ash Wednesday of my life. If it were not that I am what I am, I should leap off a precipice and kill myself. Then they would find my black and orange all spattered with red.”
“I cannot live any more, Hyacinthe. You were made for me. I cannot live without you. I shall be a vine without a trellis.”
“I know how you feel. I have grown old thinking about you and your grief. I may yet kill myself. There is only one thing that stands between me and death.”
“ Giacinta ? ”
“No. Giacinta is a good enough girl, — a very useful, skillful thing, and warmhearted and kind, and most religious. She has cushions all round — like a billiard table. But I live for one picture: a masterpiece, Honorine!”
“My price, Hyacinthe, — the hundred francs you took ? I fainted away when I heard it.”
“And well you might, Honorine. I have never understood my own action. The soul is a great mystery, even to itself. Something said, ‘Take it; you must paint — it is your destiny.’ So I took it. The picture will be painted with my life’s blood, — and perhaps yours, too, Honorine, —with the very colors of our united souls.”
“I may see it some day. What is it ?”
“A figure — a single figure.”
“ Mine, Hyacinthe ?”
“No, Honorine. As a matter of fact, it is mine,— mine in my black and orange. Giacinta lent me her looking-glass. 1 have painted my own eyes very wonderfully. I am standing looking out of the picture — thinking of you. If the right people see it, some notice will be taken.”
“You were never very good at figures, Hyacinthe.”
“I have succeeded this time. I shall always feel kindly to this Carnival, since it has produced my masterpiece. And now I must go home and get out of my black and orange for the last time. It is so sad, Honorine, to do anything for the last time.”
“Everything we do is done for the lasL time, Hyacinthe.”
“No, no — we eat breakfast; we say our prayers.”
“Each for the last time. Each breakfast is one less; each prayer is one fewer. Every time that you kissed me, there was one less kiss for me. If I had known that the last was the last ” —
“How horribly sad; you break my heart; you kill me anew. Oh, if I was different, — but then you would not love me. After all, there is heaven coming, Honorine. It is only a question of years. We shall kiss forever then.”
“No, we shall not, Hyacinthe. There is no kissing in heaven. Only men and women understand that. Angels are cold, sexless things, — like pretty caterpillars. It is wrong to say that butterflies are a picture of the soul. They know how to love. Souls are caterpillars that never turn into anything else.”
“Giacinta never says things like that, and never will.”
“I must see Giacinta, Hyacinthe. I ought to hate her; I ought to hunger to stab her and kill her. But I am like you, — I cannot hate anybody, or fight anybody. My heart pants to struggle for you and win you; my lonely soul yearns for you; but” —
“We must do what we must, Honorine. It will very likely kill us both; but we must go on.”
“You have got your pictures; I have got nothing.”
He did not answer.
Beside them where they sat grew a trailing branch of rough smilax with scarlet berries. Now the man picked it and wove a wreath of it.
“There — that is my fate — a crown of thorns,” he said.
“Give it to me rather. The thorns are mine; the loveliness and the red berries shall be yours. I will try to live still. I have thoughts. I must see Giacinta. She shall be my friend, not my enemy. My heart was strong to love; but it is weak to bate.”
“We are not haters. If I was a hater, it would be a grander thing. But I only hate your mother.”
A little longer with fine futility they prattled; then, upon the understanding that they must often meet in pure friendship, they prepared to part.
“ If we had been two little mice,” said Honorine, “we should have been happy; but now we shall never know how happy live things can be.”
“Only how miserable they can be,” answered Hyacinthe.
Then he went homeward, and she watched the loosely built, grotesque figure swing away until his orange and black were swallowed up amid the tawny colors of the terraces below. Still she could not believe that he had really gone out of her life, and had given her up for a hundred francs.
Honorine reclined in the sun and waited for Giacinta. Hyacinthe, with some fear, arranged that they should meet by the olive mill under Grimaldi, and here Laure Vilhon’s daughter sat on a day in February. She was silent and motionless as the lizards that basked upon the wall beside her. Over the terraces hung sprays loaded with ripe lemons. The sun warmed them and they made a delicate pale golden light against the deep shadows that spread beneath the trees. At the points of the branches sprouted little purple buds, where a feast of flowers would soon open again. White pigeons fluttered in the glittering haze of the olivetrees, and close at hand a water-wheel turned slowly. Here great honey-colored mounds of crushed olive stones dried in the sun, and from the side of the mill spouted a wine-red stream that sank away amid wild flowers and vanished down the hillside.
Giacinta came shyly and nervously, and Honorine rose and kissed her.
They talked long together until the Italian girl gained confidence. Then she expressed her gratitude.
“You are very wonderful. I thought you would never forgive me for taking him away,” she said.
“You did not take him away from me, Giacinta. My mother took him away. You must understand. He cannot marry me because God has not willed it and has not made him to be a savage lover. He cannot fight and do desperate things. He is an artist. There is no room in his beautiful life for plots and quarrels and intrigues. He is a flower that must open according to nature, and make his own color and scent, and be lovely and ripen sweet fruit.”
“ He is too good for me — I know that,” confessed Giacinta.
“He is; but you must not be afraid. Let the great thought of being his wife make you very wise and brave. He has no time to be wise and brave, so you must be that for him. You must learn how to please him, and be very gentle with him, and never interfere if he is silent and full of thoughts. Tf you destroy an artist’s thoughts, it may be worse than shattering a beautiful vase or destroying a picture. You break something that can never be mended, perhaps.”
“Yes; he told me that. I try not to anger him, but it is not always easy, because I am a very simple girl and don’t understand. We go to Monte Bellinda sometimes to make our holidays.”
Honorine nodded. She knew that Hyacinthe would never take Giacinta to the old trysts. They were sacred to her.
“And we looked into the huge scene spread out there, — mountains, forests, and farms, and the Roya River just peeping behind the hills. Far away under the sky was the snow scattered all along, and Hyacinthe said to me, ‘What is that like, Giacinta?’ And I said, ‘Like washing spread out to dry.’ He was very angry then. He leapt up and cried out harsh words, and stamped his foot in a great passion, and said that a mule would have had a prettier thought. Then he told me that if I had said such a vile thing three weeks ago, he would not have married me. And at last he went off and cried out, ‘I will not see you again to-day! I will leave you to weep for that! ’ But I did not weep. I only thought that it will be difficult sometimes when we marry.”
Honorine was much interested.
“That is very like him. I hear him speaking. He told me once that we can judge people by their power of making likenesses. Some people who have lovely hearts make lovely likenesses; and people with coarse hearts make coarse likenesses; and artists find likenesses that make you draw your breath with a sudden gasp and stare and wonder, because they are so perfect.”
“ It was like washing, all the same; but I’m a very homely girl, who has never been taught anything; and I never had great thoughts, or any other thoughts, except how to keep myself honest and not too hungry.”
“ You will soon learn from Hyacinthe.”
“Yes; he is never tired of teaching me. He is very patient as a rule. How I wish I had something to bring him, — some money or some little bit of ground! I am so poor. I have nothing, — even my clothes are wretched. I long to be married; then I can give him myself. I am a fine girl out of my rags.”
“You have no beautiful things to put on?”
“None. But I have a soft skin, and good teeth and black eyes.”
Honorine nodded thoughtfully.
“Yes,” she said. “You are a very fine girl, and your eyes are very bright, and your skin is soft. But you must look pretty for him. That is very important with an artist like Hyacinthe. He must have only beautiful things about him. Your feet are spoiled by your shoes.”
Giacinta looked uneasy.
“I have some better things for feast days; but they are not very much better,” she confessed.
“You must look pretty for him. It can easily be done. No ugly girl can be made pretty; but a pretty girl can be made prettier. I will make you some pretty things. It will be good for me to do it. Meet me here again next week on Sunday.”
“Why should you love me? You are worth a thousand girls like me. You are lovely and clever both; your eyes blaze. I should like to give him up to you, for you deserve him better than I do.”
“No, he will not come back. He loves you and you must fight for him, and make him a good wife, and be both gentle and strong for him. Come on Sunday, then. How dark you are; there is down on your lip —as if a tiny stain of wine had dried there.”
“My lips are red; but my hair is not as thick as yours, and it has no lovely blue at the edge of the plait where the sun falls, like yours, Honorine.”
“I wish I could give you mine, Giacinta. It is no use to me now. But you shall be pretty and perfect for him, all the same. You are rounder than I am. It is good to be round. Now go and let me think a little by myself.”
“I will bless you as long as I live, Honorine Vilhon.”
“Nay, bless me as long as I live, Giacinta, and pray for my soul afterwards. That will be better.”
The Italian girl climbed homeward and Honorine sat on with her eyes upon the Mediterranean. In shape like a Cupid’s bow, the blue sea beat deliciously upon Menton’s shores, and out of it rose the glittering town. Upward the houses scattered and shone singly out of the green, like pearls upon a field of chrysoprase. The bright foliage of the orange and the aigrettes of shore-loving palms fretted the streets; church towers arose and faint bells murmured from them. Above, to the blue pallor of heaven, towered the mountains, and mighty shadows already rested upon their northern faces as the sun sank westerly in a golden haze toward the Esterels.
“She must have a nightgown with pink bows upon it,” thought Honorine.
Unknown to her mother, Honorine saw much of Giacinta,and was as skillful as a lover in making clever excuses for meeting with her. The French girl took a lively interest in Hyacinthe’s bride and wrought many pretty things in secret for her. But at times her feeble spirit rebelled, and she suffered burning tortures through sleepless nights.
Hyacinthe finished his masterpiece and took it to Menton. There certain artdealers gazed coldly upon it and refused even to exhibit the painting in their windows ; so the artist took his rejected work back to Grimaldi and said that he was glad, after all, that it had not left Italy. Once he thought of giving it to Honorine, who had seen it in private on the mountains. But when the time came to bring the picture to her, Hyacinthe found that he could not part from it.
The day for the marriage was decided, and Honorine’s mother had accepted an invitation to be present with her daughter.
But upon the night before the wedding evil chance put a period to the existence of Laure Vilhon. One moment she was a woman of sixty— tough, busy, bustling, prosperous. Then she turned out of the Place de la Mairie upon a flight of dark steps, “where small doors opened and archways yawned. While descending, her iron-shod shoe slipped upon half a lemon, and she fell down eight stone steps and broke her neck. They brought the rags and bones to Honorine; and then they wept and wailed for her, because she could neither weep nor wail for herself.
Upon the following morning she had already arranged to meet Hyacinthe at the old tryst by the sheepcote, and scarcely mistress of herself when the next day dawned, she rose, left neighbors to tend the candles that stood and burnt where lay her mother’s corpse, and went up into the hills alone.
But Hyacinthe found much to do on the day before his nuptials. He did not forget his appointment, but he did not keep it.
“I shall see her at the wedding tomorrow,” he remembered, “and it will be good for her to dwell to-day in the hills.”
So Honorine kept vigil with her thoughts, and for once the woman in her cried and wrestled mightily. Here was life offered at last. The obstacle had been removed in time. Her mother had vanished. Nothing stood between her and her twin soul any longer. She waited and believed that each movement on the hillside was Hyacinthe coming to her. At last she determined to go on to Grimaldi; and then the memory of Giacinta made her stay. But she felt no fear or remorse concerning Giacinta.
“I need not reproach myself with dreams of her,” reflected Honorine. “I have been a loving and a true friend. Now it is different. Giacinta many men might love and understand; none will ever love or understand me but Hyacinthe. And yet — and yet. To think that I send her back to loneliness and black bread and dandelions—and no love. For her — for any woman — to lose him — I know what that means. Shall another suffer as I have suffered ? ”
Purple night rolled up out of the sea while she struggled with herself. The stars shone in heaven, and the fireflies danced among the lemon trees on earth. She grew very faint and hungry. There was a cottage where a goatherd lived not very far away, and Honorine went and begged for bread and fruit and a drink of milk there. Then, refreshed by these things, she returned to the sheepcote.
Her mother’s death hardly touched her, excepting in the light of its immense significance as another name for liberty. She remembered that the news of it could not have reached Grimaldi, and again she determined to go there. She argued that it was only just to Hyacinthe that he should know. Hers was the power to make or mar his life. Then she told herself that Giacinta might, after all, serve him better than she could. She thought of the future and of her money. She pictured herself again and again as a friend to both. She saw herself teaching their children to read and pray. She spent her francs for them and was their good angel. Then her blood cried out against that frosty picture. She was no angel, but a woman created to make a man happy — fashioned, above all other women, to make this man happy. And she was free for him; her future depended upon him; without him now there was nothing to live for but a grocer’s shop. Giacinta’s future depended upon no union with Hyacinthe. A dozen fine fellows would be proud to marry her. And Giacinta loved Honorine so well, that she would give up Hyacinthe to her without a murmur. She had offered to do so. Giacinta had even feared sometimes that she would not be wholly happy with Hyacinthe. Very likely that impression was justified.
Honorine began to suspect that the earthly happiness of three people depended entirely upon her action.
Night hid her frenzy and spread a mantle of dew upon the hills. Until dawn she could do nothing, for the way to Grimaldi was difficult under darkness. She trembled to be doing while yet the mood held. Her infirmity of disposition was not hidden from her. The fight between natural longing of heart and natural feebleness of spirit raged under darkness. She lay where Hyacinthe had lain after the Carnival. The mastic and rosemary that he had pulled to make a couch were long since dead, but they crackled fragrantly beneath her as she tossed and turned.
Honorine could not sleep. She was physically cold, and her head ached with much battle and torment and turmoil of thought. At earliest dawn she found herself moving toward Grimaldi. Then, after a fierce fight, she turned her back upon it and went down swiftly into the pine woods homeward. But her feet lagged; she went slower; she stood still. When the sun rose he found her on her knees praying with many tears to be guided rightly. No answering message throbbed into her heart; but she sat and looked long to heaven for it and waited very patiently. Then nature spoke, and wholesome, sane, and sweet desire fired Honorine to fight again. Asa bird for her mate, as the bud for the rain, as the hart for the water-brook, she longed.
Now she struggled steadily toward Grimaldi, and the thin sweetness of a little bell already pulsed up where a twinkle of white wall and red roof peeped over the olives. Hot, trembling, and weary, she stopped again. Her heart shouted to her to hasten and stand at the door; her soul said, “Too late; you cannot part them now.”
At that moment Honorine’s spiritual essence rose strong in the hour of physical weakness; she shrunk away among the olive-trees and peeped and watched a little company of bright-clad folk creep into the church. Then the bell stopped. Eternity rolled by, yet she knew that only a few moments had passed. She leaped up and hurried into the sunny place before the church door. A tortoise-shell cat sat all alone there. It chattered and snapped at the flies that came and settled upon it. Down in the woods a donkey brayed.
Honorine went to the door, lifted her hand to the latch, stood a moment, then reeled like a woman suddenly caught in the wind, and fainted away.
Hyacinthe came out first with Giacinta on his arm, and found her there. In a moment he released himself from his wife and knelt down and shouted for water. The wedding party crowded round about and expressed pity and concern. But soon Honorine recovered and stood up among them. She saw Giacinta wearing the pretty things that she had made; and she took her to her breast and kissed her.
“ What is it ? What has happened ? We waited until we dared not wait longer. Where is madame?” asked Hyacinthe.
“She is dead, — my mother is dead.”
“ Dead — Laure Vilhon dead! ”
He screamed the words, and gripped Honorine’s arm so hard that she saw the mark at night.
“She fell down the steps and killed herself yesterday.”
The man stared slowly round and round him. Then his gaze fell upon Honorine. Nobody spoke, but Giacinta made an inarticulate sound and pulled Hyacinthe’s sleeve. Suddenly and passionately he cursed the world, and the sky, and the things behind the sky. He swore and gesticulated for a full minute; then he gave his arm to Giacinta and hastened away, stumbling over the uneven pavement of the street. The folk chattered and waved their hands and shook their heads. The relations of the bride and bridegroom followed them, while others stopped and ministered to Honorine.
Later in the day, before the evening feast and revel, Hyacinthe borrowed a mule and a saddle and took Honorine home. Her mother’s sister had arrived from Sospel, and Hyacinthe soon left the girl with her aunt and returned to his wife.
At the bridge of St. Louis he stood and looked into the gulf below and thought of leaping down. But soon he hurried on again.
“Art is above God in future,” he said to himself.
Summer’s fire and glare scorched the hills again, and the thousand growing things that nature has blessed with hairy leaves and down and silver-white foliage, fought once more for life against the terrific heat. By day they lingered and languished and parched; by night they drank the dew and so made shift to live.
Honorine Vilhon still dwelt at Castellar,and her old aunt came to live with her and tend the shop and watch her niece slowly pass out of life. Like a flower, she faded gradually, and her days narrowed to the thought of Hyacinthe and his home.
Often the sign-writer and his wife came to see her; sometimes, when she felt strong enough, she rode to see them. Giacinta made a very good partner, and her husband had sense to perceive it.
The fact that he was to be a father in springtime interested him enormously. He felt in his heart that he was the sort of man who must produce works of genius in some shape, if only in the shape of offspring.
Honorine’s heart centred upon the coming child also. She was to be its godmother. Passion died in her as her fire of life waned away. She could think of Hyacinthe now without any quickening of pulse. He always kissed her when they met, and he knew as well as she did that she must presently pass from him.
There came a day when spring rain had cooled the air suddenly. Rain upon an olive-tree alters the color of the young wood that bears the leaves and fruit. Each twig takes a tone of delicate amber and adds a new and fleeting loveliness of contrast to the gray-green foliage, until sunshine dries all again.
From his cottage door Hyacinthe noted this circumstance, and smiled approval upon himself for such observation.
“Nobody else in Italy has ever seen that, perhaps,” he thought.
Suddenly his wife’s voice called him. There was fear and pain in it. He rushed indoors to find Giacinta bent and shivering. Her hand was pressed into her side.
“It has come,” she said.
The man hurried out and bawled with all his might down the street.
“ My wife, good people, — anybody — everybody! Run for her mother and for the doctor as quick as you can! Fly — fly instantly!”
A few lazy loafers, sunning themselves after the rain, rose up to do his bidding; then Hyacinthe returned indoors and piled great ruddy fir-cones upon the hearth. Upon these he placed wood, but the mass would not kindle and the iron screen to draw it into a blaze stuck fast and refused to act. There was nothing in the room to serve his purpose and he stared about him wildly and used strong words.
Giacinta shivered and rocked and moaned to the Virgin, Suddenly he saw his masterpiece and dragged it down off the wall. The crude irony of the circumstance much impressed him as he drew up the fire with his picture.
“I had thought to make a furore of a different sort with this,” he said to Giacinta. “But you are going to bring my child into the world. It is important. Some day this may be told again in history.”
Next morning Hyacinthe sent a friend to Castellar with the intelligence that all was well, and that Honorine would be the godmother of a fine baby called Honorine.
The boy who took the good news returned with bad. Honorine Vilhon had become much worse suddenly, and it was feared that she could not live. But Hyacinthe visited her thrice more before she died, and she heard all about the baby though she never saw it.
The end came by night, and next day Hyacinthe was sitting by his wife when the news arrived. They wept together, and she mourned bitterly until he feared for her. Then when she grew calmer, he went into the hills, and Giacinta cried alone and talked gently to her child. The little thing wroke and wailed, and she lifted it to her flowing breast.
“Hush, tiny Honorine; you must beas good as your godmother, who has gone back to God. Happy little Honorine, to have a godmother to watch and love you in heaven. A guardian angel and godmother both.”
Hyacinthe rambled hither and thither. Then he came home to his workshop and drew out one of the boards he often painted for the graves of the humbler dead. Honorine would have a white stone cross presently: she was rich; but this might do for the present.
He worked very carefully, and told her name,and how that she was nineteen,and the day whereon she died. Then he wrote Priez pour elle; and there was still space. So he added Regrets eternels. Next he took his best gold and painted the semblance of tears that had fallen here and there irregularly.
Habit ruled his mind as he made an end. He always called for Honorine to judge the things he fashioned. Now, forgetting, he found himself considering what she would think of this.
Presently, as night darkened, he went out into a lonely place above the cliffs. The moon arose from behind Italy, and Sirius ascended out of the sea. Beneath there rolled great waves, that murmured as they bent to the contour of the land and advanced upon the shore in silvery semicircles of light and foam.
The glitter of the water made Hyacinthe think of his golden tears. He sighed and wondered at himself that he could weep no more. Then he went home to his wife and his baby.
- Janicot, the devil.↩