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Title: Autumn Glory - The Toilers of the Field
Author: Bazin, René, 1853-1932
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Autumn Glory - The Toilers of the Field" ***

Transcriber's note:

   Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

   Text enclosed by equal signs is in bold face (=bold=).


       *       *       *       *       *

    Jarrold & Sons'

    New Six-Shilling Fiction.


    _Halil the Pedlar._

    (The White Rose.)


    _Tales From Tolstoi._

    Translated from the Russian by R. NISBET
    BAIN, and with Biography of the Author.

    By the Author of "ANIMA VILIS."



    Translated from the Polish by COUNT STANISLAUS


    _Autumn Glory._

    Translated by MRS. ELLEN WAUGH.

    By the Author of


    _Ivy Cardew._



    _God's Rebel._


    _Memory Street._

    10 & 11, Warwick Lane,

    At the Libraries.
    And of all Booksellers.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: René Bazin]



The Toilers of the Field



Author of "A Blot of Ink," etc.

Translated by Mrs. Ellen Waugh

With Photogravure Portrait of the Author



Authorised Edition

Jarrold & Sons      All Rights Reserved
10 & 11, Warwick Lane, E.C.      1901

Translated from the French, "La Terre qui Meurt,"
by Mrs. Ellen Waugh.

London: Jarrold & Sons


    CHAPTER                                  PAGE

        I. LA FROMENTIÈRE                       7

       II. THE FAMILY LUMINEAU                 24

      III. THE DWARF ORCHARD                   48

       IV. THE MICHELONNES                     65

        V. PLOUGHING IN SEPTEMBER              77

       VI. THE APPEAL TO THE MASTER           102

      VII. DRIOT'S RETURN                     116

     VIII. IN THE PLACE DE L'EGLISE           133


        X. THE UPROOTED VINEYARD              158

       XI. THE DANCE AT LA SEULIÈRE           178

      XII. ROUSILLE'S LOVE DREAM              196

     XIII. THE AUCTION                        208

      XIV. DWELLERS IN TOWNS                  240

       XV. THE EMIGRANT                       255

      XVI. HER FATHER'S BIDDING               264

     XVII. A FEBRUARY NIGHT                   274

    XVIII. SPRINGTIDE                         289




"Quiet! Bas-Rouge, down! Don't you know folk born and bred here?"

The dog thus addressed, a mongrel in which some twenty breeds were
mixed, with grey long-haired coat changing to auburn silky fleece
about the paws, at once left off barking at the gate, trotted along
the grassy path bordering the field, and, content at having done his
duty, sat down at the extreme edge of the line of cabbages which the
farmer was trimming. Along the same path a man was approaching, clad
in gaiters and a suit of well-worn corduroys. His pace was the even
steady gait of a man accustomed to tramp the country. The face in its
setting of black beard was drawn and pale, the eyes, accustomed to
roam the hedges and rest nowhere, bore an expression of weariness and
mistrust, the contested authority of an agent. He was the head-keeper
and steward to the Marquis de la Fromentière.

He came to a halt behind Bas-Rouge, whose eyelids gave a furtive
quiver, though his ears made not the slightest movement.

"Good day, Lumineau."

"Good day."

"I have a word to say to you. M. le Marquis has written."

Probably he expected the farmer to leave his cabbages and come towards
him. Not a bit of it. The yeoman of the Marais bending double, a huge
bundle of green leaves in his arms, stood some thirty feet off,
looking askance at the keeper waiting motionless in the path. What did
he want of him? His well-fed cheeks broadened into a smile, his clear,
deep-set eyes lengthened. In order to show his independence, he bent
down and resumed his labours for a moment without reply. He felt
himself upon the ground that he looked upon as his own, which his race
had cultivated by virtue of a contract indefinitely renewed. Around
him, his cabbages formed an immense square, a billowy mass of superb
growth, firm and heavy, their colour comprising every imaginable shade
of green, blue, and violet, tinting in harmony with the hues of the
setting sun. Of huge stature though he was, the farmer plunged to his
middle, like a ship, in this compact sea of vegetation. All that was
to be seen above it was the short coat and round felt hat, set well
back on his head, from which hung velvet streamers, the headgear of La

When by this period of silence and labour he had sufficiently marked
the superiority of a tenant farmer over a hired labourer, Lumineau
straightening himself, said:

"You can talk on; there's no one here but me and my dog."

Nettled, the man replied,

"M. le Marquis is displeased that you did not pay your rent at
Midsummer. It will soon be three months in arrears."

"But he knows that I have lost two oxen this year; that the wheat is
poor; and that one must live, I and my sons, and the 'Creatures.'"

By "Creatures" the farmer meant, as is customary in the Marais, his
two daughters, Eléonore and Marie-Rose.

"Tut, tut," replied the keeper, "it is not reasons he wants from you,
my good man, it's the money."

The farmer shrugged his shoulders.

"Were he here at the Château the Marquis would not require it; I would
soon explain how things stand. He and I were friends, I may say, as
his father and mine were before us. I could show him what changes time
has brought about with me. He would understand. But now one only has
to do with paid agents, no longer the Master; he is no more to be
seen, and some folks say we shall never see him at La Fromentière any
more. It is a bad thing for us."

"Very likely," returned the keeper, "but it is not my place to discuss
orders. When will you pay?"

"It's easy to ask when will you pay, but it's another thing to find
the money."

"Well then, I am to answer, No."

"You will answer, Yes, as it must be. I will pay at Michaelmas, which
is not far off now."

The farmer was about to stoop to resume his work when the keeper

"You will do well, too, Lumineau, to look after your man. I found some
snares the other day in the preserves of La Cailleterie, which could
only have been laid by him."

"Had he written his name upon them?"

"No. But he is known to be the most desperate poacher in the country
round. You beware! The Marquis has written to me that you were to go
out, bag and baggage, if I caught any one of you poaching again."

The farmer let fall his armful of cabbage leaves, and extending his
two fists, cried:

"You liar! He cannot have said that. I know him better than you do,
and he knows me. And it's not to a fellow of your sort that he would
give any such instructions. M. le Marquis to turn me off his land, me,
his old Lumineau! It is false."

"Those were his written instructions."

"Liar!" repeated the farmer.

"All very well; we shall see," quoth the agent, turning to resume his
way. "You have been warned. That Jean Nesmy will pay you a bad turn
one of these days; without taking into account, that for a penniless
lad from the Bocage, he is rather too sweet on your daughter. People
are talking, you know."

Ramming his hat down on his head, with crimsoned face and inflated
chest, the farmer advanced a few steps, as though to fall upon the man
who had insulted him; but he, leaning on his stout thorn stick, had
already walked on, and his discontented face was seen outlined against
the hedge as he rapidly receded. He had a certain dread of the
colossal farmer whose strength was still formidable despite his years,
and, moreover, an uneasy sense of the past ill success of his threats,
a recollection of having been, more than once, disavowed by the
Marquis de la Fromentière, their joint master, whose leniency towards
the Lumineau family he never could understand.

The farmer stopped short, following with his eyes the head-keeper's
receding figure. He watched as it passed along the fence in the
opposite corner to the gate, scaled it, and disappeared to the left of
the farm buildings along the green path leading to the Château. When
he had watched the man finally out of sight:

"No," the farmer exclaimed aloud. "No, the Marquis did not say it!
Turn us out!"

For the moment the agent's evil insinuations against Marie-Rose, his
youngest daughter, were completely forgotten, his mind wholly absorbed
in the threat of being turned out. Slowly, with a harder look in them
than was their wont, he suffered his eyes to wander around, as if to
call all the familiar objects to witness that the man had lied; then,
stooping down, he resumed his labours.

The sun, already low in the heavens, had nearly reached the row of
young elms which bordered the field to the west, their lopped branches
that ended in tufts of leaves resembling huge marguerites were bending
to the strong sea breeze. It was the beginning of September, the time
of evening when a glow of heat seems to traverse the descending chills
of night. The farmer worked on as quickly and unremittingly as any
younger man; his outstretched hand snapped off the crisp leaves close
down to the stem of the cabbages with a noise as of breaking glass,
where they lay in heaps along the furrows beneath the over-arching
rows of plants. Hidden in the gloom, whence was emitted the warm,
moist smell of earth, he was lost amid the huge velvety leaves
intersected with their purple veins of colour. In truth he made one
with the vegetation, and it would have been difficult to discern which
was corduroy and which cabbage in the billowy expanse of the
blue-green field.

Withal, close to earth as was his bent body, his soul was agitated and
deep in thought; and as he worked, the farmer continued to ponder
many things. The irritation caused by the keeper's threats had
subsided; it only needed reflection to dismiss all fear of hard
treatment from the Marquis. Did they not both come of a good stock;
and did they not acknowledge it, one of the other? For the yeoman's
ancestor was a Lumineau who had fought in the great war; and although
now in these changed times he never mentioned past glories, neither
the nobles nor the peasants were ignorant that his ancestor, a giant,
surnamed Brin d'Amour, in the war of La Vendée, had taken the generals
of the insurrection across the marshes in his own punt, had fought
brilliantly, and had received a sword of honour, which now hung, eaten
with rust, behind one of the farm presses. The family was one of the
most widely connected in the country side. He claimed cousinship with
thirty farmers, spread over that district which formed the Marais,
extending from Saint Gilles to the Ile de Bouin. No one, himself
included, could tell at what period his forefathers had begun to till
the fields of La Fromentière. They had been there of right for
generations, the Marquis in his Castle, the Lumineaus in their farm,
united through long custom, each knowing the land and alike loving it;
drinking the vintage of the soil together when they met; never
dreaming that one or the other could ever forsake Château or farm
bearing one and the same name.

And, in truth, eight years ago, great had been the astonishment when
one Christmas morning, amid falling sleet, M. Henri, the present
Marquis, a man of forty, a greater hunter, harder drinker, and more
boorish mannered than any of his predecessors, had said to Toussaint
Lumineau, "My Toussaint, I am going to live in Paris. My wife cannot
accustom herself to this place; it is too dull and too cold for her.
But do not worry; I shall come back." He had never come back, save on
rare occasions for a day or two. But, of course, he had not forgotten
the past. He still remained the same uncouth, kindly master known of
old, and the keeper had lied when he talked of their being turned out.

No, the more Toussaint Lumineau thought of it the less did he believe
that a master so rich, so liberal, so good at heart, could have
written such words. Only the rent must be paid. Well, so it should.
The farmer himself did not possess two hundred francs ready-money in
the walnut wood chest beside his bed; but his children were rich,
having inherited over two thousand francs apiece from their mother, La
Luminette, dead now these three years past. So he would ask François,
his second son, to lend him the sum due to the master. François was
not a lad without heart, he would not let his old father be in
difficulties. Once again anxiety for the morrow would be dispelled,
good harvests would come, prosperous years which should make all
hearts light again.

Weary of his stooping posture, the farmer straightened himself, passed
his flannel shirt sleeve over his perspiring face, then turned his
eyes to the roof of La Fromentière with the expression of one gazing
on some well beloved object. To wipe his brow he had taken off his
hat; now, in the oblique ray of sunshine which no longer reached the
grass or the cabbages, in the soft declining light like that of a
happy old age, he raised his firm, square-cut face. His complexion,
unlike the cadaverous hue of peasants accustomed to scant living, was
clear and healthy; the full cheeks with their narrow line of black
whisker, straight nose, broad at the base, square jaw, in fact the
whole face and clear grey eyes--eyes that always looked a man full in
the face, betokened health, vigour, and the habit of command, while
the long lips, refined-looking despite the weather-beaten skin,
drooping at the corners, bespoke the ready fluency and somewhat
haughty spirit of a son of the Marshes, who looks down upon everyone
not belonging to that favoured spot. The perfectly white hair,
dishevelled and fine, formed a fitting setting to the head, and shone
with a silvery sheen.

Standing thus motionless with head uncovered in the waning light, the
farmer of La Fromentière presented an imposing appearance, making it
easy to understand the distinction of _la Seigneurie_ commonly given
him in the neighbourhood. He was called Lumineau l'Evêque, to single
him out from others of the name, Lumineau le Pauvre; Lumineau
Barbefine; Lumineau Tournevire.

He was looking at his beloved La Fromentière. Some hundred yards away
to the south, among the stems of elms, the pale red tiles stood out
like rough enamels. Borne on the evening wind there came the sound of
the lowing of cattle going home to their sheds, the smell of the
stables, the pungent aroma of camomile and fennel stored up in the
barn. Nor was that all that presented itself to the farmer's mind as
he gazed on his roof illuminated by the last rays of the declining
sun; he called to his mental vision the two sons and two daughters
living under that roof, Mathurin, François, Eléonore, and Marie-Rose,
the heavy burdens, yet mixed with how much sweetness of his life. The
eldest, his splendid eldest, doomed by a terrible misfortune to be a
cripple, only to see others work, never to share it himself; Eléonore,
who took the place of her dead mother; François, weak of nature, in
whom could be seen but the incomplete, uncertain future master of the
farm; Rousille, the youngest girl, just twenty.... Had the keeper lied
again when speaking of the farm-servant's love-making? Not unlikely.
How could a servant, the son of a poor widow in the Bocage, that
heavy, unproductive land, how could he dare to pay court to the
daughter of a farmer of the Marais? He might feel friendship and
respect for the pretty girl, whose smiling face attracted many a
remark on the way back from Mass on Sundays at Sallertaine; but
anything more?... Well, one must watch.... It was but for a moment
that Toussaint Lumineau pondered the man's insinuations; then with a
sense of tenderness and comfort his thoughts flew to the absent one,
the son next in age to Rousille, André, the Chasseur d'Afrique, now in
Algiers as orderly to his Colonel, a brother of the Marquis de la
Fromentière. But one month more and that youngest son would be home,
his time of service expired. They would see him again, the fair,
handsome young fellow, so tall, the living portrait of his father
grown young again, full of noble vigour and love for Sallertaine and
the farmstead. And all anxieties would be forgotten and merged in the
joy of having the son home again, who used to make the ladies of
Chalons turn as he passed, to say to each other: "That is a handsome
lad, Lumineau's youngest son!"

The farmer often remained thus, the day's work done, sunk in thought
before his farmstead. This time he remained longer than usual in the
midst of the swaying masses of leaves, now grown grey, indistinct
looking in the gathering darkness like some unfamiliar ground. The
trees themselves had become but vague outlines bordering the fields.
The large expanse of clear sky overhead, still bright with golden
glory, suffered but faint rays to fall to earth, making objects
visible but only dimly. Lumineau, putting both hands to his mouth to
carry the sound, turned towards the farm, and called out lustily:

"Ohé! Rousille?"

The first to respond to the call was the dog, Bas-Rouge, who, at the
sound of his master's voice, flew like an arrow from the far end of
the field. Then a young, clear voice was heard in the distance:

"Yes, father, I am coming."

The farmer stooped, took a cord, and bound a huge mass of leaves
together, loaded it on his shoulder, and staggering under its weight,
with arms raised to steady it, his head buried in the soft burden,
followed the furrow, turned, and proceeded down the trodden path. As
he reached the corner of the field a girl's slender form rose up
before a break in the hedge. With agile movement Rousille cleared the
fence; as she alighted her short petticoats revealed a pair of black
stockings and sabots turned up at the toes.

"Good evening, father."

He could not refrain from thinking of what the keeper had said, and
made no reply.

Marie-Rose, her two hands on her hips, nodding her little head as if
meditating something grave, watched him go. Then entering in among the
furrows she gathered together the remainder of the fallen leaves,
knotted them with the cord she had brought, and, as her father had
done, raised the green mass, and though bending beneath the weight,
proceeded with light step down the grassy path.

To go into the field, collect, and bind together the leaves must have
taken some ten minutes; her father should have reached the farm by
now. She neared the fence, when suddenly from the top of the slope,
the foot of which she was skirting, came a whistle like that of a
plover. She was not frightened. Now a man jumped over the brambles
into the field. Rousille threw down her burden. He approached no
nearer, and they began to talk in brief sentences.

"Oh, Rousille, what a heavy load you are carrying."

"I am strong enough. Have you seen my father?"

"No, I have only just come. Has he said anything against me?"

"He did not say a word. But he looked at me.... Believe me, Jean, he
mistrusts us. You ought not to stay out to-night, for he dislikes
poaching and you will be scolded."

"What can it matter to him if I shoot at night, so long as I am as
early next morning at my work as anyone else? Do I grumble over my
work? Rousille, I was told at La Seulière, and the miller of
Moque-Souris told me too, that plovers have been seen on the Marais.
It will be full moon to-night, I mean to go out, and you shall have
some to-morrow morning."

"Jean," she returned, "you ought not.... I assure you."

The young man was carrying a gun slung across his shoulder; over his
brown coat he wore a short blouse scarcely reaching to his waist-belt.
He was slim, about the same height as Rousille, dark, sinewy, pale,
with regular features, and a small moustache, slightly curled at the
corners of the mouth. The complexion alone served to show that he was
not a native of the Marais, where the mists soften and tint the skin,
but of a district where the soil is poor and chalky, and where small
holdings and penury abound. Withal, from his lean, self-possessed
countenance, straight-pencilled eyebrows, the fire and vivacity of the
eyes, one could discern a fund of indomitable energy, a tenacity of
purpose that would yield to no opposition.

Not for an instant did Rousille's fears move him. A little for love of
her, but far more for the pleasure of sport and of nocturnal marauding
so dear to the heart of primitive man, he had made up his mind to go
shooting that night on the Marais. That being the case, nothing would
have made him desist, not even the thought of displeasing Marie-Rose.

She looked but a child. Her girlish figure, her fresh young
complexion, the full oval of her face, the pure brow with its bands of
hair smoothly parted on either side, straight lips, which one never
knew were they about to part in a smile or to droop for tears, gave
her the appearance of a virgin in some sacred procession wearing a
broad band across the shoulders. Her eyes alone were those of a
woman, dark chestnut eyes the colour of the hair, wherein lay and
shone a tenderness youthful yet grave, noble and enduring.

Without having known it, she had been loved for a long time by her
father's farm-servant. For a year now they had been secretly engaged.
On Sundays, as she returned from Mass, wearing the flowered muslin
coif in the form of a pyramid, the coif of Sallertaine, many a
farmer's, or horse and cattle breeder's son, tried to attract her
gaze. But she paid no attention to them; had she not betrothed herself
to Jean Nesmy, the taciturn stranger, poor and friendless, who had no
place, no authority, no friendship save in her young heart? Already
she obeyed him. In her home they never spoke to each other.
Out-of-doors when they could meet their talk was always hurried on
account of her brothers' watchfulness, that of Mathurin especially,
the cripple, who was ever jealously prowling about. This time, too,
they must avoid being surprised.

Jean Nesmy, therefore, without stopping to consider Rousille's cause
for uneasiness, asked abruptly:

"Have you brought everything?"

Without further insistence she gave in.

"Yes," she answered; and producing from her pocket a bottle of wine
and slice of coarse bread, she held them out to him with a smile that
irradiated her whole face, despite the darkness. "Here, my Jean," she
said, "it was not easy; Lionore is always on the watch, and Mathurin
follows me about everywhere;" there was melody in her voice, as though
she was saying, "I love you."

"When will you be back?" she added.

"At dawn. I shall come by the dwarf orchard."

As he spoke, the youth raising his blouse had opened a linen ration
bag, brought back from his military service, and which he wore hung
round his neck. In it he stored the wine and bread.

Absorbed in the action, intent on the thing of the moment, he did not
notice that Rousille was bending forward listening to a sound from the
farm. When he had finished fastening the two buttons of the ration
bag, the girl was still listening.

"What am I to answer," she gravely said, "if father asks for you
presently? He is now shutting the door of the barn."

With a smile that displayed two rows of teeth white as milk, Jean
Nesmy, touching his hat, unadorned and wider than those worn in the
Marais, said:

"Good night, Rousille. Tell your father that I am going to be out all
night, and hope to bring back some plovers for my little sweetheart!"

He turned, sprang up the slope, jumped down into the neighbouring
field, and the next second the barrel of his gun caught the light as
it disappeared among the branches.

Rousille still stood before the break in the hedge, her heart had
gone forth with the wanderer. Then, for the second time, a noise broke
the stillness of evening. Now it was the sound of frightened fowls,
the flapping of wings, the noise of a key turning in the lock--the
sign that Eléonore, as always before supper, was locking the door of
the fowl-house; Marie-Rose would be late. Hurriedly she caught up her
load of leaves, cleared the fence, and hastened back to the farm. Soon
she had reached the uneven grassy path, which, coming from the high
lands, makes a bend ere, a little further on, it reaches the edge of
the Marais. Crossing it, she pushed open the side entrance of a large
gate, followed a half-fallen wall covered with creepers, and passing
through a ruined archway, whose gaping interstices had once formed the
imposing centre of the ancient walls, she entered a courtyard,
surrounded with farm buildings. The barn wherein was piled the green
forage stood to the left beside the stables. The girl threw in the
bundle of leaves she had brought, and shaking her damp dress, went
towards the long, low, tiled dwelling-house forming the end of the
courtyard. Arrived at the last door on the right, where light shone
through chinks and keyhole, she paused a little. A feeling of dread,
often experienced, had come over her. From inside could be heard the
sound of spoons clinking against the sides of plates; men's voices, a
dragging step along the floor. Softly as she could she opened the door
and slipped in.



The family was assembled in the large living-room, or "house-place" of
the farm. As the girl entered all eyes were turned upon her, but not a
word was spoken. Feeling isolated, she crept along beside the wall,
trying by lessening the noise of her sabots the sooner to escape
observation, and having reached the chimney-corner, stooped down and
held out her hands to the fire, as if she were cold.

Her sister Eléonore, a tall young woman with horse-like profile,
lifeless blue eyes, and heavy apathetic face, drew back either to make
way for her or to mark the ill-feeling existing between them, and
continued to eat her slice of bread and few scraps of meat standing,
the time-honoured custom among the women of La Vendée. The
chimney-corner, blackened with smoke, hid them from the rest of the
family as they stood one on either side; the dancing flames between
them lit up, from time to time, the inmates and contents of the big
house-place, built at a period when wood was plentiful, and houses
and furniture were intended to last; while overhead numberless rafters
discoloured with smoke and dust, joined the huge centre beam. The
fitful flames anon rested on the woodwork of two four-post beds that
stood against the wall, each with a walnut wood chest beside it, by
aid of which the occupants mounted to the heavy structures, two
wardrobes, some photographs, and a rosary hung round a copper crucifix
over the nearest bed.

The three men at the table in the centre of the room were seated on
the same bench in order of precedence; first, at the farthest end from
the door, the father, then Mathurin, then François. A small petroleum
lamp shed its light upon their bent heads, upon the soup-tureen, a
dish of cold bacon, and another of uncooked apples. They were not
eating from the tureen as do many peasant farmers, but each had his
plate, and beside it his metal spoon, fork, and knife, not a
pocket-knife but a proper table one, a luxury introduced by François
on his return from military service; from which the old farmer had
drawn his conclusion that the outside world was full of changes.

Toussaint Lumineau looked worried and kept silence. His calm, strong
face, though that of an old man, contrasted strangely with the
deformed features of his eldest son, Mathurin. Formerly they had been
alike; but since the misfortune of which they never spoke and which
yet haunted the memories of all at La Fromentière, the son was only
the grotesque suffering caricature of his father. The enormous head,
covered with a bush of tawny hair, was sunk between his high,
thickened shoulders. The width of chest, length of arms, and size of
hands denoted a man of gigantic stature; but when this giant,
supported by his crutches, stood up, one saw a poor twisted, thickened
torso, with contorted powerless legs dragging after it; a
prize-fighter's body terminating in two wasted limbs, capable at most
of supporting it for a few seconds, and from which even, powerless as
they now were, the life was gradually ebbing. Scarce thirty years of
age, the beard which grew almost to his cheek-bones was grey in
places. Above the muddy-veined cheek-bones, from out the tangled mass
of hair and beard which gave him the appearance of a wild animal,
shone a pair of deep blue eyes, small, sad-looking, whence would flash
all suddenly the wild exasperation of one condemned to a living death,
who counted each stage of his torture. It was as though one half of
him were assisting with impotent rage at the slow agony of the other.
His forehead was lined with wrinkles which made deep furrows between
the eyebrows.

"Our poor eldest son, the handsomest of them all, what a wreck he is!"
their mother used sorrowfully to say.

She had reason to pity him. Six years ago he had come home from his
military service as handsome a fellow as when he went. The three
years of barrack life had passed over his simple peasant nature, over
his dreams of ploughing the land and harvesting, over the tenets of
faith he held in common with his race, with scarce a trace of harm.
Innate contempt of the life led in towns had been his protection.
"Lumineau's eldest son is not like other lads; he is not a bit
changed," was the verdict of the neighbours.

One evening when he had taken a waggon-load of corn to the
flour-miller of Chalons, he came back with empty sacks, but beside
him, sitting upon a pile of them, was a laughing girl from
Sallertaine, Félicité Gauvrit, of La Seulière, whom he wished to take
for wife. The dusk of evening was over the roads, it was hard to
distinguish ruts from tufts of grass; but he, all absorbed in his
sweetheart, confident that his horse knew the way, was not even
holding the reins that had fallen and were dragging on the ground. And
suddenly, as they were descending a hill close to La Fromentière, the
horse, struck by a branch from a tree, started into a gallop. The
waggon jerked from side to side, was in danger of being upset; the
wheels were on the bank, the girl wanted to jump out.

"Don't be frightened, Félicité, I will manage him!" cried her lover.
And standing up he leant forward to seize the horse by the bit and
stop him. But whether the darkness, a jolt, or ill-luck deceived him,
he overbalanced and fell along the harness. There were two
simultaneous cries, one from the waggon, one from beneath it. The
wheel had gone over his limbs. When Félicité Gauvrit could get to her
lover's assistance, she found him trying in vain to struggle up from
the ground. For eight months Mathurin was groaning in agony; then his
groans ceased, his sufferings grew less acute; but first the feet
became paralyzed, then the knees, and gradually the slow death
mounted.... At the present time he could only drag his lower limbs
after him, crawling on his knees and wrists, grown to an enormous
size. He could still guide a punt upon the canals of the Marais, but
his strength was soon exhausted. In a hand-cart, such as farm children
use for a plaything, the father or brother would draw him to the more
distant fields whither the plough had preceded them; and thus, utterly
useless, the young man would look on at the work to which he was born,
and which he still loved so passionately. "Our poor eldest Lumineau,
the handsomest of them all!"

His gay spirits had flown; his character had become as changed and
warped as his body. He had grown hard, suspicious, cruel. His brothers
and sisters hid all their little concerns from the man who looked upon
the happiness of others as a personal wrong to himself; they feared
his skill at ferreting out any love-making; the treachery which would
prompt him to try and mar it. He, who never could hope now to inspire
love, could not brook that others should possess it. Above all, could
not brook that another should take the place which came to him by
right of birth, that of future master, of the father's successor to
the farm.

On that account he was jealous of François, and still more of André,
the handsome young Chasseur d'Afrique, their father's favourite. He
even was jealous of the farm-servant, who might become dangerous, did
he marry Rousille.

Sometimes Mathurin Lumineau said to himself:

"If only I could get well again! I believe I do feel better!" At other
times a kind of rage would take possession of him, and he would not
speak for days, would hide away in corners or in the stables, until a
flood of tears would melt his passion. At those times one man only
could go near him: his father. One thing alone softened the cripple's
churlishness, and that was to look on the home fields, to see the oxen
at work, the seed sown which should yield abundantly in its season,
and to gaze out on to the horizon where he had tasted of the fulness
of life.

For the whole six years in which the girl he had loved had deserted
him, he had never once been into the town of Sallertaine, even to
Easter Communion, which he no longer attended. Nor had he ever met
Félicité Gauvrit, of La Seulière, along the lanes.

He sometimes asked Eléonore:

"Do you ever hear any talk of her marrying? Is she still as handsome
as when she loved me?"

When Marie-Rose went into the supper-room that night, it was Mathurin
only whom she furtively glanced at, and his face seemed to her to wear
a malicious smile, as though he had seen, or guessed Jean's absence.

Near Mathurin sat François, a very different looking man from the
other, of middle height, stout, red faced, easy going. Of him,
Rousille had no fear.

He was more pleasure-loving than the rest of the family. No great
worker, extravagant, running off to all the fairs and markets, easy to
get on with because he needed the indulgence of others. Physically and
morally the counterpart of Eléonore, two years his senior, like her he
had a broad face, dull blue eyes, and the same apathetic nature which
so often called forth lectures from their father.

But while the girl in the protection of her home remained pure under
the influence of her good mother, now dead, who, like so many of the
simple peasant women of those parts, had lived a humble saint-like
life, François had been ruined by barrack life.

He had submitted to military discipline, but without understanding the
necessity for it; therefore without deriving the corresponding
benefit. He had been subject to his superiors, had received
punishment, had been sent hither and thither for three years; but he
had never made a friend, never felt himself encouraged in the few
halting intentions for good that he had taken with him from the home
life, never been treated as a man, who has a soul, and whom sacrifice,
however humble, can ennoble. On the other hand, he fell an easy prey
to all the evils of a soldier's life; the loose talk at mess, the
drinking habits of his companions, the constant endeavour to shirk
duty, the prejudices, in a word the hundred and one corruptions into
which young men can sink who are taken from their homes and sent out
into the world, new to the temptations of great cities, without a
guide at the very period when most they stand in need of one.

Neither better nor worse than the average of men home from military
training, he had brought back with him to La Fromentière a remembrance
of illicit pleasures that followed him everywhere; defiance of all
authority, a disgust for the hard, uncertain, often unproductive work
of farming, which he contrasted with vague notions about civil
employment of which the leisure and privileges had been vaunted to
him. How far off was he now from the simple son of the marshes, with
fearless eyes, the inseparable companion, model and protector of
André, who, twirling his tamarind stick, would make the round of the
canals to see if the cows had strayed from the meadows, or to search
for any ducks which might have wandered into the ditches! With
unwilling spirit, and because he had nothing better to do, he had
returned to the care of the animals and to follow the plough. The
proximity of Chalons, its wine shops and taverns was a temptation to
him; urged on by his companions, weak and passive, he suffered himself
to be led away. On Tuesdays, particularly, market day, the poor old
father too often saw his son of seven-and-twenty start off from the
farm under various pretexts before it was dawn, to come back late at
night, stupefied, insensible to reproaches. It was an ever abiding
grief to the father. François had made La Fromentière no longer the
sacred abode beloved by, defended by all, which no one had dreamed of
deserting. In that room where they were now assembled what a long line
of mothers and children, of grandsires and grandames, united or
resigned, had lived and died!

In those high beds ranged against the walls how many children had been
born, fed, and at last had slept their last sleep! There had been
sorrow and weeping there, but never ingratitude.

A whole forest might have been re-planted if all the wood burned in
that chimney, by those bearing the same name, could have re-taken
root. What was in store for his descendants hereafter?

The old farmer had noticed for months past that François and Eléonore
were plotting something; they received letters, one and the other, of
which they never spoke; they talked together in corners; sometimes of
a Sunday, Eléonore would write a letter on plain paper, not such as
she would use when writing to a friend. And the thought had come to
him that his two children, weary of rule and scoldings, were on the
look-out for a farm in some neighbouring parish, where they would be
their own masters--it was a thought he dared not dwell upon; he cast
it from him as unjust. Still it haunted his mind, for the future of La
Fromentière was his one chief care, and, since his eldest son's
misfortune, François was the heir. When work went well, the father
would think joyfully, "After all, the lad is buckling to again."

In truth, of the four young people assembled that September evening in
the farm house-place, one only personified intact all the
characteristics, all the energy of the race, and this was little
Rousille, who was eating the crust of bread given her by Eléonore; one
face alone expressed the joy of living, the health of body and soul,
the brave spirit of one who has not yet had to do battle but who bides
her time, and this was the face of the girl to whom no one, as yet,
had spoken a word, and who was standing erect in the chimney-corner.

"Now the soup is finished," said the farmer. "Come, Mathurin, try a
slice of bacon with me."

"No. It is always the same thing with us."

"Well, and so much the better," replied the father, "bacon is very
good fare; I like it."

But the cripple, shrugging his shoulders, pushed away the dish,

"I suppose other meat is too dear for us now, eh?"

Toussaint Lumineau's brows contracted at the mention of former
prosperity, but he replied, gently:

"You are right, my poor boy, it is a bad year, and expenses are
heavy," then, wishing to change the subject--"Has Jean not come in

Three voices, in succession, replied:

"I have not seen him!"

"Nor I."

"Nor I."

After a silence, during which all eyes were turned towards the

"It would be best to ask Rousille," exclaimed Eléonore, "she must

The girl half turning towards the table, her profile standing out in
the firelight, answered:

"Of course I do. I met him at the turn of the road by our swing gate;
he was going shooting."

"Again!" exclaimed the farmer. "Once for all this must be put a stop
to. To-night, when I was tying up my cabbages, the keeper of M. le
Marquis reprimanded me for that lad's poaching."

"But is he not free to shoot plovers?" asked Rousille. "Everyone

A simultaneous snort proceeding from Eléonore and François marked
their hostility to the _Boquin_, the alien, Rousille's friend.

The farmer, reassured by the reflection that the keeper would not
trouble himself about Nesmy's shooting in the neutral ground of the
Marais, where anyone was free to go after wild-fowl as much as he
pleased, resumed his supper.

François was already nodding, and ate no more.

The cripple drank slowly, his eyes fixed on space, perhaps he was
thinking of the time when he, too, loved shooting.

There was an interval of apparent peace.

The summer breeze came through the chinks of the door with a gentle
murmur, regular as the waves on a seashore.

The two girls sitting on either side of the chimney-corner, were each
giving all their attention to the peeling of an apple, the conclusion
of their supper. But the farmer's mind was unsettled by the keeper's
words, and by Mathurin's "Meat is too dear for us, now." The old man
was looking back to the long ago, when the four children before him
had been busied with their own childish experiences, and could only
take their little part in the parents' interests according to their
age. First he looked at Mathurin, then at François, as though to
appeal to their memory about the old days when as tiny boys they drove
the cattle, or fished for eels. Too moved longer to keep silence, he
ended by saying:

"Ah, the country side has changed greatly since M. le Marquis' time!
Do you remember him, Mathurin?"

"Yes," returned Mathurin's thick voice. "I remember him. A big fellow,
very red in the face, who used to call out when he came in, 'Good
evening, my lads! Has father another bottle of old wine in the cellar?
Go and ask him, Mathurin, or you, François.'"

"Yes, that was just him all over," said the good farmer, with an
affectionate smile.

"He knew how to drink; and you would never find noblemen so affable as
ours; they would tell you stories that made you die with laughing. And
rich, children! They never used to mind waiting for the rent if there
had been a bad harvest. They have even made me a loan, more than once,
to buy oxen or seed. They were hot-tempered, but not to those who knew
how to manage them; while these agents...." he made a violent gesture
as if to knock someone down.

"Yes," replied Mathurin, "they are a bad lot."

"And Mademoiselle Ambroisine! She used to come to play with you,
Eléonore, but particularly with Rousille, for she was between Eléonore
and Rousille for age. I should say she must be about twenty-five by
now. How pretty she used to look, with her lace frocks, her hair
dressed like one of the saints in a church, her pretty laughing nods
to everyone she met when she went into Sallertaine. Ah, what a pity
that they have gone away. There are people who do not regret them; but
I am not one of those!"

Mathurin shook his tawny head, and in a voice that rose at the
slightest contradiction, exclaimed:

"What else could they do? They are ruined."

"Oh, ruined! Not so bad as that."

"You only need to look at the Château, shut up these eight years like
a prison; only need to hear what people say. All their property is
mortgaged; the notary makes no secret about it. You will see before
long that La Fromentière is sold, and we with it!"

"No, Mathurin, that I shall not see, thank God, I shall be dead before
that. Besides, our nobles are not like us, my boy; they always have
property to come into when their own money runs a little short. I hope
better things than you. It is my idea that M. Henri will one day come
back to the Château, that he will stand just where you now are, and
with outstretched hand, say: 'Good day, Father Lumineau!' and
Mademoiselle Ambroisine too, who will be so delighted to kiss my two
girls on both cheeks, as we do in the Marais, and cry, 'How do you do,
Eléonore? How do you do, Marie-Rose?' Ah, it may all come about sooner
than you suppose."

With eyes raised to the mantel-piece, the old man seemed to be seeing
his master's daughter standing between his own two girls, while
something like a tear moistened his eyelids.

But Mathurin, striking the table with his fist, said, as he turned his
peevish face towards his father:

"Do you believe they are thinking of us? I tell you, no, unless it is
about Midsummer. I'll wager that the keeper just now asked you again
for the rent? The beggar only has that one word in his mouth."

Toussaint Lumineau leant back on the bench, thought for a moment, then
said in a low voice:

"You are right. Only one never can tell if the master really did order
him to speak as he did, Mathurin. He often invents words!"

"Yes, yes. And what did you answer?"

"That I would pay at Michaelmas."

"With what?"

A few minutes before the two girls had gone into the kitchen, to the
left of the house-place, and thence came in the sound of running water
and the washing of dishes. Every evening, at this hour, the men were
left to themselves; it was the time when they discussed matters of
interest. Already, in the previous year, the farmer had borrowed from
his eldest son the larger portion of the money that he had inherited
from his mother. He could therefore only hope for help from the
younger; but of that he had so little doubt that, speaking in a low
voice to avoid being overheard by his daughters, he said:

"I was thinking that François would help."

François, roused from his sleepiness by the foregoing talk, answered

"No, no. Do not count on me. It cannot be done...." He had not the
courage to look his father in the face as he spoke, but fixed his gaze
on the ground like a schoolboy.

His father was not angry, he only replied gently:

"I would have repaid you, François, as I shall repay your brother. One
year is not like another. Good times will come back to us." And he
waited, looking at the thick tawny hair and bull neck of his eldest
son that scarcely rose above the table. But François must have already
made up his mind, and that very decidedly, for in a half-smothered
voice he made answer:

"Father, I cannot; nor can Eléonore. Our money is our own, is it not?
and each of us is free to use it as he or she pleases? Ours is already
invested. What does it matter to us if the Marquis does have to wait a
year for his money? You say he is so rich."

"What matter to us, François?" Then, and not till then, the father's
voice rose and became authoritative. He did not put himself into a
passion, he rather felt hurt as though not recognising his own flesh
and blood; it was as if, all suddenly, there had dawned upon him
without his understanding it the wide gulf that existed between the
feelings of the present generation and the past, and he said:

"What you say is not to my taste, François Lumineau. For my part, I
consider it a duty to pay what I owe--the family at the Château have
never done me a wrong. I and your mother, and Mathurin, who have known
them better than you, have always respected them; do you understand?
They are perfectly justified in spending their wealth as it seems them
best; that is a matter that does not concern us.... Not pay? And do
you know that they could turn us out of La Fromentière?"

"Bah!" returned François. "And what does it matter whether we are here
or elsewhere? as far as farming goes, it does not pay so mighty well

Treacherously, without seeing the old man's pallor, struck to the
heart, he thus seceded from La Fromentière. The sound of washing of
dishes was heard no more in the adjacent kitchen, the girls were

The farmer made no reply; but, rising, he drew himself up to his full
height, passed before his son, his intimidated son, who watched him
from the corner of his eye, and flung open the door that led into the
courtyard. A rush of air, the scent of leaves, the breath of green
fields, came into the heated room redolent of food. François,
hastening to make off, sidled along the wall, passed through the
kitchen, exchanging a few words with Eléonore as he went, and going
through the girls' bedchamber went out into the night.

It was the farmer's custom every night to cross his threshold and
breathe the fresh air before going to rest; to-night as usual he
walked out to the middle of the courtyard to judge of the weather for
the morrow. Some light clouds were gliding away towards the west,
rear-guard of a bank of more extended clouds deep down in the horizon.
Swept on by the wind to the neighbouring coast they formed themselves
into transparent islands, separating abysses of deep-blue sky studded
with stars. With the leisurely movement of a laden vessel the wind
bore on towards the ever-changing sea the kiss of earth, the scent and
thrill of vegetation, the scattered seeds, the germs entangled in the
dust failing hither and thither in mysterious rain-showers, the voice
of innumerable insects that sing in the grasses, and have no other
witness than the winds.

There was a sense of content, a series of waves, as it were, of calm
and fecundity following one upon the other, which should spread abroad
in many a sea-solitude the scent of the harvests of France.

And the farmer, drinking in the air wherein floated the essence of his
beloved Vendée, felt that love-thrill within him which, unable to
express, he experienced for it to the very marrow of his bones.

"How is it with these young people," he thought, "that they can he
indifferent to the farmstead? I have been young in my day, but it
would have taken a good deal to make me leave La Fromentière. Perhaps
they find it dull; the house is not like it was in my dear wife's
time; I do not know how to keep them together as she did." And he
thought of la mère Lumineau, the good, saving housewife, haughty
towards strangers, loving to her own, who, with a word in the right
place, could always so quietly influence and control her boys, and
check the rivalry of her girls. Around him the stables, the barns, the
huge hayrick glistened in the moonlight.

A distant shot resounded from the Marais. Toussaint heard it, and his
thoughts turned at once to the man shooting. At the same instant a
voice behind him exclaimed:

"There's another plover down for Rousille!"

"That's enough, Mathurin!" said his father, who, without looking back,
had recognised the speaker. "Do not be telling tales, which you know
irritate me, against your sister. I am troubled to-night, my boy,
troubled enough about François."

The crutches striking on the gravel came nearer, and the farmer felt
the shaggy head touch his shoulder as the cripple straightened

"I am only speaking the truth, father," he said in a low voice, "these
are no tales. It makes my blood boil to see this _Boquin_ making love
to my sister in order to get hold of our money, and play the master
here. A fellow who has not a halfpenny to bless himself with! There is
no time to be lost, if he is to be brought to his senses."

"Do you really believe," asked the father, bending down a little to
him, "that a girl like Rousille would listen to my hired labourer?
Does she care anything for him, Mathurin?"

It was a weakness of Toussaint Lumineau to lend too ready ear to the
judgment and strictures of his eldest son. Even now that all hope had
been abandoned of seeing him his successor; after all the many proofs
experienced of the violence and malevolence of the cripple, he still
retained predominant influence over the father.

"Father, they are lovers!" As a whispered breath the words came to the
father's ear.

Rage at the happiness of others had distorted the younger man's
features. Toussaint Lumineau looked down at the face raised to his, so
white in the moonlight, and was struck by the air of suffering it

"If you watched them as I do," continued his son, "you would see that
though they never speak to each other indoors, outside they always
contrive to meet. I have often caught them talking and laughing
together like acknowledged lovers. You do not know that Jean Nesmy; he
is audacity itself. He lets you think that he likes shooting, and I do
not say but what he may, but he does not carry his love for it to
that extent, I'll be bound. Is it only for his own pleasure that he
is off to the far end of the Marais to shoot plovers; only for his own
pleasure that he risks malarial fever fishing for eels; that he spends
whole nights out after being hard at work all day? No, I tell you, it
is for Rousille, for Rousille, for Rousille!" His voice had risen, it
could be heard from within the house.

"I will be on the watch, my boy," returned his father soothingly, "do
not you worry yourself."

"Ah, if I were you, I would go at dawn to-morrow along the road to the
Marais, and if I caught them together...."

"Enough!" exclaimed his father, "you do yourself no good by so much
talking, Mathurin. Here is Eléonore coming to help you in."

Eléonore had come, as usual, to help Mathurin up the steps, and unlace
his boots. No sooner did she touch his arm than turning, he went in
with her. The sound of crutches and of footsteps died away; the father
was alone again.

"Come," he thought aloud, "if this be true, I will not suffer the
laugh to last long against me in the Marais!" He drew in a deep breath
of pure air, as though it were a bumper of wine, then to make sure
that Rousille had not gone out again, he entered the house by the door
in the middle, which was that of his daughter's bedchamber. All was
dark within; a ray of moonlight fell across the well-waxed wardrobes
furnishing the sides of the room--wardrobes always kept in perfect
order by Eléonore and Rousille. The farmer felt his way round the huge
walnut wood one which had formed his mother's dowry, had crossed the
room, and was making his way out into the kitchen communicating with
the large living-room where he and Mathurin slept, when behind him, in
the angle of a bed, a shadowy form arose:


He stopped.

"Is it you, Rousille? Are you not in bed?"

"No, I was waiting for you. I wanted to say something to you." They
were separated by the length of the room; the darkness was too great
for them to see each other. "As François cannot give you his money, I
have been thinking that I will give you mine."

"You are not afraid then that I shall not repay you?" the farmer asked

The girlish voice, as if discouraged by this reception, and checked in
its enthusiasm, replied timidly:

"I will go to-morrow to fetch it ... the Michelonne's nephew has
it.... I will, indeed, and you shall have it the day after to-morrow."

If a tear rolled down his cheeks, the farmer was unaware of it; he
passed on into his own room.

Some minutes later, when Eléonore came into the room, a lighted candle
in her hand, Marie-Rose was no longer beside her bed, but was standing
before the open windows looking out on to the courtyard.

The farmhouse stood upon an eminence, and from this window there was a
view over the low wall, and through the arched gateway to the slopes
beyond, and even across the sedge-covered Marais.

The sisters often undressed without exchanging a word. Rousille was
gazing straight before her into the clear moonlight; her accustomed
eye could distinguish objects by it almost as accurately as by the
light of day. Immediately beyond the wall came a group of elms, under
shelter of which stood carts and ploughs, then a stretch of land lying
fallow, and beyond that again the broad flat expanse of marshland,
across which on most nights would come now faintly, now loudly, the
sound of the roll of the ocean, as of some far-off chariot that never
stopped. The immense grassy plain looked blue in the darkness; here
and there the water of a dyke shone in the moonlight. A few distant
lights, a window lit up, pierced the veil of mist that spread over the
meadows. Unerringly Rousille could name each farmstead to herself by
its beacon light, similar to that on the mast-head of a ship riding at
anchor; La Pinçonnière, La Parée du Mont, both near; further away, Les
Levrelles; then so distant that their lights were only visible at
intervals, like tiny stars, La Terre-Aymont, La Seulière, Malabrit,
and the flour-mill of Moque-Souris. By a group of starry points on the
right, she could discern the town of Sallertaine standing out on an
invisible mound in the middle of the Marais. Somewhere about there
Jean Nesmy was wading among the reeds, for love of Rousille. So she
continued to think of him; she seemed to see him so far, so very far
away, amid the dreamy shadows, and her lips pressed together, then
parted in a long, silent kiss.

There was a sudden swish of wings over the tiles of La Fromentière.

"Do shut the window, Rousille," said Eléonore, waking up. "It is the
turn of the night, and blows in cold."

The sky was clear, the clouds had dispersed. The lights of
Moque-Souris were extinguished; those of Sallertaine had gradually
diminished like a bunch of currants pecked by birds.

"Until to-morrow, my Jean, in the dwarf orchard," murmured Rousille.
And slowly, musingly, the girl began unfastening her dress by the
light reflected from her white sheet, her young heart filled with
dreams of youth.



Towards four o'clock the stars began to fade in the sky, the first
signs of daybreak to appear. A cock crowed. It was the same
golden-feathered cock, with fiery eyes under his red crest, that
crowed every morning. Marie-Rose had reared him. Now hearing it she
thought, "Thank you, little cock!" Then began to dress quietly, for
fear of rousing Eléonore, who still slept soundly.

She was quickly ready, and crossing the courtyard, turned to the left
past the ruined wall by a grassy path on the farm property, strewn
with fallen branches, which led down to the Marais. About some hundred
yards from La Fromentière all vegetation abruptly ceased, and one came
upon a low wall grown with lichen and moss, surrounding an orchard of
about an acre in extent. Rousille, pushing open a gate in the middle
of the wall, entered.

It was a curious sight, this dwarf orchard. The cider apple and pear
trees with which it was planted had never been able to grow higher
than the top of the wall on account of the strong winds that blew
from the sea. Their stems were thick and gnarled, their branches all
bent and driven towards the east; leafless above, they met and
over-arched beneath. Looking at it from outside one simply saw a
billowy mass of bare branches; but on making one's way down the
central path, one found oneself in a leafy shade some four feet high,
safe from inquisitive eyes, from rain and heat, and from the gales
which sweep over the Marais. It was a sailor's folly, such as might be
found in far-off isles. As a child, it had been Rousille's playground;
now grown up, it was here she had come to meet her betrothed.

Entering, she stooped and made a path for herself towards the western
wall, then sitting upon the forked branch of an apple-tree, hidden
among them like a partridge in a corn-field, she gazed out upon the
vast plain along which Jean Nesmy must come.

At this early hour the Marais was covered with mists which did not
rise, but parted ever and anon, undulating in the breeze. The solitude
was unbroken, the atmosphere light, sensitive, nervous, carrying the
faintest sound without diminution. The bark of a dog at Sallertaine
came to her ears as if it were beside her. Great square corn-fields
that looked like patches of grey fur stitched together faded away into
nothing in the distance. Here and there canals, cutting each other at
right angles, looked like tarnished mirrors, the mist curling in smoke
above them. Then vaguely from out the fog darker outlines began to
appear, like oases in the desert; they were farmhouses built on the
low-lying ground of the marshland, with their outbuildings and groups
of poplars to lend shade. Now the undulating veil of mist began to
rise, rays of light touched the grasses, sheets of water sparkled like
windows in a setting sun. For many a league, from the bay of Bourgneuf
to Saint Gilles, the Marais of La Vendée had awakened to the light of
a fresh day.

Rousille rejoiced in it. She loved her native soil, faithful, true,
generous soil, ever yielding its increase whether in rain or sunshine;
where one would sleep one's last sleep to the sighing of the wind,
under the shelter of the Cross. She loved nothing better than that
horizon where every tiniest road was familiar to her, from the fence
that ran along the first meadow of La Fromentière close at hand, to
the paths on the embankment which must be traversed pole in hand to
jump the dykes.

"Four o'clock," she said to herself, "and he has not come back yet!
What will father say?" She was beginning to grow uneasy, when, as she
was gazing into the distance towards the pointed clock tower of
Sallertaine, a voice startled her with:

"Rousille!" On the rising path, the marshland behind him, standing
looking at her in the light of the early morning, was Jean Nesmy.

"I did not see you come," she said.

He laughed, and with a proud air raised above his head a bundle of
feathers, four plovers and a teal tied together. The next moment,
resting the gun he carried against the inside of the wall, and
flinging over the birds, he dropped down beside Rousille.

"Rousille," he said, taking her hand under the arching apple-trees, "I
have had luck! Four plovers and such fine ones! I had a couple of
hours' sleep in the barn at La Pinçonnière, and if the farmer had not
dragged me out this morning, I should have been late, I was so sound
asleep. And you?"

"I," replied Marie-Rose, as he sat opposite to her, "I am afraid.
Father spoke to me so angrily last night--he had been talking to
Mathurin in the courtyard--they must know."

"Well, and if they do? I am doing nothing to anger them. I mean to win
you by my work, to ask your father for your hand, and take you home as
my wife."

She looked at him, happy, despite her fears, at the determination she
read in the lad's face. And reserving her thought which answered yes,
she said without direct reply:

"What is it like in your home?"

"In my home," replied Jean Nesmy, contracting his eyes as if to fix
the picture thus evoked, and looking over Rousille's head--"in my home
is my mother, who is old and poor. The house she lives in is called
the Château, as I have told you before, in the parish of Châtelliers;
but it is not by any means a castle, Rousille, only two rooms, in
which live six little Nesmys besides myself, who am the eldest ... it
was, as you know, on account of our poverty and the number of children
that I could only serve one year in the army."

"Oh, yes, I remember," she answered, laughing, "that year seemed to me
longer than any other."

"I am the eldest; then come two girls, who are growing up. They are
not dressed altogether like you, for instance...."

An idea seized him, and with his hand quite near yet without touching
Rousille, he sketched about the young girl's shoulders and waist, the
little shawl and the long velvet ribbons encircling the bust. "All
round there two rows of velvet; rich girls have even three. You would
be charming, Rousille, in the costume of the Châtelliers and La
Flocellière, for they dress in the same manner, the villages are quite

She laughed, as if caressed by the hand which never touched her,
following its action with half-closed eyes.

"As you may suppose," he continued, "they only dress like that on
Sundays! There would not be bread in the house every day if I did not
send home the wages that your father gives me. Then I have two
brothers who have finished their schooling, and look after cows and
begin to do little odd jobs. The farmer who hires them gives them
each one row of potatoes to dig up for their own. It is a great help!"

"So I should think!" returned Rousille, with an air of conviction

"But above all," continued the lad, "our air is superb. We have plenty
of rain, indeed it rains without ceasing when the wind blows from
Saint Michael, a place about one league from us. But immediately after
we are in full sunshine; and as we have plenty of trees and moss and
ferns about us, the air is a very joy to breathe, quite different from
here; for our country is not at all like that of the Marais; it is all
hills, here, there, and everywhere, big and little; there is no
getting away from them. From any height it looks a perfect paradise.
Ah, Rousille, if you only knew Le Bocage, and the moors of Nouzillac,
you would never want to leave them!"

"And is the land tilled like this?"

"Very nearly, but much deeper. It takes strong oxen, sometimes six or
eight to plough."

"Father uses as many, when it pleases him."

"Yes, for the honour of it, Rousille, because your father is a rich
man. But down there, believe me, the soil has more granite and is
harder to turn."

She hesitated a little, the smile left her face as she asked:

"Do the women work in the fields?"

"Oh, no, of course not," answered the lad warmly. "We respect and
care for them as much as men do here in your Marais. Even my mother,
who goes gleaning at harvest-time and when the chestnuts are gathered,
is never seen working in the fields like a man. No, you may depend on
it, our women are more indoors spinning, than doing out-of-door work."

Recalled to the stern conditions of his daily life, the young man grew
grave, and added slowly:

"Rest assured, I will never slacken in my work. I am known for more
than two leagues round Châtelliers as a lad who has no fear of hard
work. We will have our own little house to ourselves, and if only I
have your love, Rousille, like my father and mother, I will never
complain of any hardships."

He had scarcely ended his speech of humble love-making when a voice
from the road called:


"We are betrayed!" she said, turning pale. "It is father."

They both remained motionless, with beating hearts, thinking only of
the voice that would call again.

And, in truth, it was now heard nearer.


She did not resist. Signing to Jean Nesmy to remain under cover of the
trees, and bending half double, she made her way out to the path that
divided the orchard. There straightening herself, she saw her father
standing before her in the road. He looked at his daughter for a
moment, as she presented herself, pale, breathless, dishevelled by the
branches, then said:

"What were you doing there?"

She would not lie; she felt herself lost. In her trouble involuntarily
she turned her head as if to invoke the protection of him in hiding,
and there just behind, erect, quite close to her, Rousille saw her
lover, who had come to her aid in the moment of danger. With an air of
defiance he drew himself up, and strode in front of her. Then the girl
ventured to look again at her father. He was no longer occupied with
her, nor had he the angry aspect she expected to see; his expression
was grave and sad, and he looked steadily at Jean Nesmy, who, pressing
forward on the grassy walk, had stopped at the opening, within three
feet of him:

"You here, my farm-servant!" he said.

Jean Nesmy made answer:

"Yes, I am here."

"You have been with Rousille, then?"

"And what is the harm?" inquired the lad, with a slight tremor, which
he could not control, not of fear, but of the hot blood of youth.

There was no anger in the farmer's voice. With head bent on his
breast, as of a master whose kindness has been abused, and who is
sorrowing, he said with a sigh:

"Come you here, at once, with me."

Not a word to Marie-Rose, not one look. It was a matter to be settled
among men first; the daughter did not count at present.

The farmer was already retracing his steps, walking with leisurely
stride towards La Fromentière; Jean Nesmy followed at a short
distance, his gun slung on his back, swinging the birds he had shot in
one hand. Far behind them came Rousille in sore distress, sometimes
looking at Jean Nesmy, sometimes at the master who was to decide his

When the two men had gone into the courtyard, she did not dare to
follow them in, but leaning against a pillar of the ruined gateway,
half hidden behind it, her head on her arm, she waited to see what
would happen.

Her father and his man, crossing the yard, proceeded to Jean Nesmy's
room, which was to the left beyond the stables. There was no sound but
the noise of wooden shoes on the gravel; but Rousille had seen the
cripple crouching down in the first rays of the sun, beyond the
stables; he was nodding his head with an air of satisfaction, his
malicious eyes never leaving the stranger he had denounced, who,
yesterday so happy, was now the culprit.

Not far off, François, on a ladder, was cutting out a wedge of hay
from a rick, firm and compact as a wall; he, too, was watching slyly
from under the brim of his hat, but there was no malice upon his
phlegmatic countenance, nothing more than a mild curiosity broadening
his lips into a half smile under the heavy yellow moustache. He did
his work as slowly as possible so as to be able to remain there and
see the end of it.

Toussaint Lumineau and his man had soon reached the shed piled with
empty casks, baskets, spades, and pickaxes, that had for many a year
served as sleeping-place for the farm-servants. The master sat down on
the foot of the bed. The look on his face had not changed; it was
still the dignified paternal look of one who regrets parting from a
good servant, and yet is resolutely determined to suffer no
encroachment upon his authority, no disrespect to his position.
Leaning his elbow upon an old cask showing marks of tallow, on which
Jean Nesmy used to rest his candle at night, he slowly raised his
head, and in the daylight that streamed in at the open door, he at
length addressed the young man, who was standing bare-headed in the
middle of the shed.

"I hired you for forty pistoles," he said. "You received your wages at
Midsummer; how much is now owing to you?"

The lad, absorbed, began counting and recounting with his fingers on
his blouse, the veins of his forehead swelling with the effort; his
eyes were fixed on the ground, and not another thought disturbed the
complicated operation of the countryman calculating the price of his
labour. During this time, the farmer mentally went over the brief
history of his connection with the lad, who, come by chance to the
Marais in search of burnt cow-dung, used by the Vendéens for manure,
had been then and there hired by him, and had quickly fallen into the
ways of his new master. The farmer thought of the three years that the
stranger lad had lived under the roof of La Fromentière, one before
his military training, two since; years of hard, thorough work, of
good conduct, without having once given cause for serious reproof, of
astonishing gentleness and submission despite his sons' hostility,
which, manifested on the very first day, had never lessened.

"It should make ninety-five francs," said Jean Nesmy.

"That is what I make it," said the farmer. "Here is the money. Count
and see if it is right." From his coat pocket where he had already
placed them, Toussaint Lumineau drew out a number of silver pieces
which he threw on the top of the cask. "Take it, lad."

Without touching the money Jean Nesmy had drawn back.

"You will not have me any longer at La Fromentière?"

"No, my lad, you are going." The old man's voice faltered, and he
continued: "I am not sending you away because you are idle, nor even,
though it did annoy me, because you are too fond of shooting
wild-fowl. You have served me well. But my daughter is my own, Jean
Nesmy, and I have not given my consent to your courting her."

"If she likes me, and I like her, Maître Lumineau?"

"You are not one of us, my poor boy. That a _Boquin_ should marry a
girl like Rousille is an impossibility, as you know. You should have
thought of it before."

For the first time Jean Nesmy's face grew a shade paler, he half
closed his eyes, the corners of his mouth drooped as though he were
about to burst into tears. In a low voice he said:

"I will wait for her as long as you think fit. She is young, and so am
I. Only say how long it must be, and I will submit."

But the farmer answered:

"No, it cannot be. You must go."

The young man quivered from head to foot. He hesitated for a moment,
with knitted brows, his eyes fixed on the ground, then decided not to
speak his thought: I will not give her up. I will come back. She shall
be mine. True to the taciturn race from which he sprang, he said
nothing, took up the money, counted it, dropping the pieces one by one
into his pocket as he did so. Then without another word, as though the
farmer were not in existence, he began to collect his clothes and
belongings. The blue blouse that he knotted by the sleeves to the
barrel of his gun held them all, save a pair of boots that he slung
on to a piece of string. When he had finished, he raised his hat, and
went out.

It was broad sunshine. Jean Nesmy walked slowly; the strong will that
dominated the slight youth made him hold his head high, and his eyes
scanned the windows of the house seeking Rousille. She was nowhere to
be seen. Then in the middle of the great courtyard, he, the hired
servant, who had been dismissed, who had but another moment to tread
the ground of La Fromentière, called:


A pointed coif appeared at the angle of the gateway; Rousille came
forth from her shelter and ran to him, tears streaming down her face.
But almost at the same moment she stopped, intimidated by the sight of
her father on the threshold of the shed, and stricken with terror at a
cry which, rising from that side of the courtyard, some fifty paces
off, had caused Nesmy to turn his head:


A monstrous apparition came out from the stables. The cripple,
bare-headed, with eyes bloodshot, inspired by impotent rage, had
rushed out, with arms rigid on his crutches, his huge body shaking
with the effort. Roaring like some wild beast with wide-open mouth he
hurled the old cry of hatred at the stranger, the cry with which the
children of the Marais greet the despised dwellers of the Bocage.

"_Dannion! Dannion Sarraillon_--look to yourself!"

Rushing with a speed that betokened the violence and strength of the
man, he neared Nesmy. The rage in his heart, the jealousy that
tortured him, the agony caused by the effort he was making, rendered
the convulsed face terrible to behold, as it was projected forward by
jerks; while onlookers could not but think, with a shudder, what a
powerful man this deformed, unearthly looking creature had once been.

Seeing him come close up to the farm-servant, Rousille was terrified
for the man she loved. She ran to Jean Nesmy, put her two hands on his
arms, and drew him backward towards the road.

And, on her account, Jean Nesmy began to draw back, slowly, step by
step, while the cripple, growing still more furious, shouted

"Let go of my sister, _Dannion_!"

The farmer's loud voice interposed from the depths of the courtyard:

"Stop where you are, Mathurin; and you, Nesmy, loose your hold of my

And he advanced to them, without haste, as a man not desiring to
compromise his dignity. The cripple stopped short, let go of his
crutches, and sank exhausted to the ground.

But Jean Nesmy continued to retreat. He had placed his hand in
Rousille's; and soon they were within the portal of the gateway,
framed in sunshine. There lay the road. The young man bent towards
Rousille and kissed her cheek.

"Farewell, my Rousille," he said.

And she, running across the courtyard without looking back, her hands
to her face, wept bitterly.

Having watched her disappear round the corner of the house by the
barn, Nesmy called out:

"Mathurin Lumineau, I shall come back!"

"Only try!" retorted the cripple.

The whilom farm-servant of La Fromentière began to mount the hill
beside the farm; clad in his russet work-day clothes he walked with
difficulty as if worn out with fatigue. His whole wardrobe, slung on
to his gun, consisted of but one coat, a blouse, three shirts, a
couple of boxwood bird calls for quails that clapped together as he
walked, and yet the load seemed heavy. A feeling of dismay at having
to go back to the daily seeking of employment had come over him while
making up the modest bundle. He was already thinking of his mother's
alarm at this sudden return. Every step was a wrench from some loved
object, for he had lived three years in this Fromentière. His heart
was heavy with memories; he walked on slowly, looking at nothing yet
seeing every stick and stone. The trees he brushed past had all been
pruned by him, or flicked by his whip; every inch of ground had been
ploughed and reaped by him; he knew how every furrow was to be sown on
the morrow.

Having reached the back of the farm, at the rise of the road where
formerly four mills had been busily grinding corn and now only two
were at work, he turned to look back that he might increase the pain
of parting.

Below him, bathed in sunlight, lay the plain of the Marais, where
rushes, taking on their autumn array, formed golden circles round the
meadows; there were farms distinguishable by their groups of poplars,
inhabited islands in the desert of marshland, where he was leaving
good friends, and the recollection of happy hours that come back in
sorrow; his eyes scanned the crowded houses of Sallertaine and its
church dominating them all, recalling bygone Sundays. Then, with his
soul in his eyes, he bent them upon La Fromentière, as a bird would
hover with wide extended wings.

From the height on which he stood the lad could discern the whole of
the farm, even to its slightest details. One by one he counted the
windows, the doors and gates, the paths round the fields along which
every evening, for the last two years especially, he had never failed
to sing as he drove the cattle homewards. When his eyes lighted on the
dwarf orchard, so distant that it looked no larger than a pea-pod, he
quickly turned away; as he did so, his foot struck against something
in the path, it was a dog lying down, quite still.

"What, you, Bas-Rouge?" said Jean. "My poor doggie, you cannot follow
me where I am going;" and, walking on, he stroked the dog's head
between his ears, in the place where Rousille loved to fondle him.
After some twenty paces, he said again:

"You must go back, Bas-Rouge. I do not belong to you any more."

Bas-Rouge trotted on a little further with his friend; but when they
had reached the last hedge of La Fromentière, he stopped, and turned
slowly homewards.



"Rousille," said her father, as shortly before noon she went into the
house to help her sister prepare dinner, "you will not take your meals
with us either to-day, or for some days to come. A girl like Eléonore,
who respects herself, would be ashamed to eat her food beside a young
woman who could allow a penniless _Boquin_ to make love to her. A
pretty kind of lover! A fellow from I don't know where, who would not
even have a wardrobe to furnish his house with! All very well for a
serving-maid, such as they are in those parts; but the whole kit of
them are not worth their salt in the Marais, those _dannions_! I am
cured of taking them into my service. There must have been some fine
tales going the round at my expense. And now, Rousille, mind that you
conduct yourself properly; and take yourself out of my sight!"

So the farmer spoke, far more harshly than he felt, because Mathurin
had been talking to him a long time after Nesmy had gone, and had
inspired him with some of his resentment.

Marie-Rose made no reply, shed no tear, but withdrew to her room. She
had no thought of dinner, either with or without them; but began to
dress herself in her best, as for Sunday, taking by turns from the
wardrobe a black skirt, raised from the ground by a broad tuck,
showing the pretty feet beneath; her most dainty coif and embroidered
pyramid of muslin kept in shape by silver paper that rested on her
hair; open-work stockings; sabots, like the prow of a ship, so much
did they turn up. A blue silk kerchief filled in the low bodice, as
was the custom in the Marais; there only remained to smooth the bands
of chestnut hair with a little water, to bathe her red eyes, then
going out into the courtyard she turned off on the road to

For the first time in her life she had a feeling of standing alone in
the world. Mathurin did not love her; François did not understand her.
André himself, the soldier brother so soon coming home, who had always
been kind, only treated her as a child to be teased and petted. And
she felt herself a woman--a woman who was learning to know sorrow, and
one who needed to pour out her trouble to sympathetic ears.

Hitherto, if they were unkind, if they neglected her, she had never
felt the need of telling her troubles to anyone; the thought of Jean
Nesmy had been enough to make her forget them all. But now that he
whom she loved had had to go, and that his going was the sorrow, her
soul cried out for aid--sought some safe place wherein to rest. In her
distress she thought of the sisters Michelonne. Rousille passed close
beside the dwarf orchard; Rousille skirted the edge of the Marais
whence can be seen Sallertaine upon its eminence. No, she had no other
hope save in those two dear old friends; no other regret than that she
had not before been to that little house in the town. The old sisters'
warmth of heart seemed to her just now a thing of priceless worth,
which, hitherto, had not been valued half enough. The mere thought of
their round faces, withered and smiling, was a goal to her. It seemed
as if only to see the Michelonnes, even if she might not speak one
word of her trouble, would be a consolation, because of their kind
hearts, and because, old maids though they were, they were not the
people to gossip about a young girl's red eyes. What excuse could she
make for going to them? Oh, it was very simple. She had promised to
draw out her money and lend it to her father to pay the rent. She had
only to say, "I have come for my money; father needs it." Then if they
guessed the slightest thing, she would tell all, all her trouble, all
the grief she could not endure alone.

It was close upon one o'clock. A mist of heat quivered over the
meadows. Rousille walked fast. Now she had reached the Grand Canal,
smooth as a mirror; there was the bridge across it, the winding road
flanked on either side by the white-washed houses of the outskirts of
Sallertaine, their orchards at the back looking towards the Marais.
Rousille walks faster. She is afraid of being hailed and stopped, for
the Lumineaus are known to everyone in the district. But the good
folks are either taking their noonday sleep, or else without quitting
their shady corners they call to her, "Good day, little one! How fast
you are walking!" "Yes, I am in a hurry. Sometimes one is." "Yes,
indeed," they reply, and on she goes. She has reached the long open
Place that narrows as it reaches the church. Now she has only eyes for
the humble dwelling which stands at the extreme end where the street
is narrowest, facing the side door of the church by which the faithful
enter on Sundays. It is a very little house, one window looks on to
the Place, the other on to a steep lane, the three steps to the
entrance are at the corner; it is also very old, and built under the
shadow of the clock tower, beneath the peal of bells, thus nearer to

The sisters Michelonne have lived there all their lives. Rousille can
picture them within the walls; a half smile, a ray of hope crosses her
sad face. She ascends the three steps, and pauses to regain breath.

When Rousille presses down the iron latch, the door opens to the
tinkle of so tiny a bell that it would need the ears of a cat to hear

But they were true cats, ever on the watch, these two old sisters,
cloak-makers to the whole of Sallertaine. Scarcely did they divine a
visitor from the shadow cast through the glass door, than with
simultaneous movement their chairs, always close together, were pushed
back, their heads turned towards the door, and their busy hands sunk
on their laps. The two sisters were very much alike; the same deep,
arched wrinkles in the rosy faces, round the toothless mouths, round
the short noses, round the blue, childlike eyes that had a light in
them as of a perpetual laugh, and was the reflection of their sixty
years of work, of sisterly affection, and their good consciences.
There was also a twinkle in their eyes of fun without malice; a
something as of the flame of youth economised in the course of their
lives, and leaving a fund for their old age. Poverty had not been
wanting, but it had always been borne by them together. From
childhood's day they had worked side by side in the light of the same
window, day rising and setting on their busy needles never at rest.
There was no one in all Sallertaine, nor in Perrier, nor Saint Gervais
who could cut and make cloaks as skilfully as they could; and they
were general favourites. As soon as the weather was mild enough for
them to stand a pot of ivy geranium on the sill and to sit by the open
window, there was not a person coming down the lane, whether
fisherman, sportsman, drover, or horse-breeder, who did not call in as
he passed "Good day and good luck, _les Michelonnes_." To which they
would make some kind reply in soft voices, so alike that it was
impossible to distinguish one from the other. They were asked to St.
Sylvester gatherings because they had an inexhaustible store of songs,
when young folks had long come to the end of all they knew.

The Curé said of them: "The flower of my flock; it is a pity they have
no successors."

When Rose-Marie entered, they did not get up, but said both together,
Adelaide at the window, Véronique a little away:

"It is you, little Lumineau! Good day, pretty one!"

"Sit down, child," said Adelaide, "you are quite out of breath."

"But not ill?" asked Véronique. "Your eyes are as bright as if you had

"Thank you, aunts," answered Marie-Rose. She called them aunts on
account of a distant relationship difficult to establish, but
principally on account of the old ladies' kindness. "I have been
walking quickly, and I do feel a little tired. I have come for some of
my money."

The sisters exchanged a side-look, laughing already at the thought of
the coming marriage, and the eldest, Adelaide, drawing her needle
across her lips as if to smooth out the wrinkles, asked:

"You are about to marry, then?"

"Oh, indeed no!" returned Marie-Rose, "I shall be married like you, my
aunts, to my seat in church and my rosary. It is for father, who has
not money to pay the rent of the farm; he is in arrears."

And as, while speaking, she did not look into her old friends' faces,
but into the shade of the room, somewhere towards the two beds ranged
along the side of the wall, the sisters Michelonne shook their heads
as though to communicate the impression that, all the same, some
disturbing element had entered into Rousille's life. But the sisters
were more instinctively polite than curious. They reserved their
thought for the long hours of chat together, and Adelaide, throwing
down her half-finished work, clasping her white bony hands, and
bending forward her thin body, said gaily:

"Well, my pretty one, you have come just at the right time! I had lent
your money on interest to my nephew, who, you know, breeds foals, and
very good ones, on the Marais. He is a sharp fellow, that François.
Would you believe it, yesterday he actually sold his dappled grey
filly--that flies like a plover, and was the envy of all the breeders
and dannions that went by the meadow--and for such a big price that he
would not even tell us the amount. So, you see, it will be quite easy
for him to pay back a good part of the loan. How much will you want?"

"A hundred and twenty pistoles."

"You shall have them. Are they wanted at once?"

"Yes, Aunt Adelaide. I promised them by to-morrow."

"Then, Véronique, my girl, suppose you were to go to our nephew? The
cloak can well wait an hour."

The younger sister rose at once; she was so short standing, that she
did not reach above the head of Marie-Rose sitting. Rapidly shaking
off the threads of cotton from her black apron, she kissed the girl on
both cheeks:

"Good-bye, Rousille. To-morrow the money will be here, and you will
only have to come and fetch it."

In the quiet of the sleepy town, Véronique's gliding steps could be
heard as they went down the lane. No sooner had she gone than Adelaide
went up to Marie-Rose and fixing upon the girl her clear kind eyes,
her eyelids quivering with uneasiness:

"Child," she said hurriedly, "you are in trouble; you have been
crying. Why, you are crying now!" The wrinkled hand seized the girl's
pink palm. "What is it, my Rousille? Tell me, as you would tell your
own mother. I love you as she would do."

Marie-Rose repressed her tears. She would not cry when she could
speak. Trembling at the contact of the hand which touched her own, her
eyes like diamonds, her face set, as though she were addressing those
enemies before whom her tongue had been tied:

"They have sent away Jean Nesmy," she said rising.

"He, my dear? Such a good worker? And why?"

"Because I love him, Aunt Michelonne. They turned him out this
morning. And they think that all is over between us because I shall
not see him again. They little know the girls of these parts."

"Well said, _Maraîchine_," exclaimed the old aunt.

"I will give them all my money, yes, readily; but my love--where I
have placed it there I will leave it. It is as sacred as my baptismal
vows. I have no fear of poverty; no fear that he will forget me. The
day he comes back, for he has promised to come back, I will go to meet
him, and no one shall prevent me--had I to cross the Marais, were
there snow and ice, and all the girls of the town to mock at me, did
my father and my brothers forbid me to go, still I would do it!"

Erect, passionate, she made the walls of the little room unused to
loud voices ring with the voice of love and bitterness. It was to
herself, herself only, that she spoke, because she suffered. She was
looking straight before her, vaguely, apparently unaware of the
Michelonne's presence.

Adelaide, however, had risen, and was listening, agitated and excited,
so struck by Rousille's words, so carried out of the restricted circle
of everyday thought, that all the calm had vanished from her face, and
the quiet old maid, oppressed by the small cares of life, seemed
transformed into a woman--a woman who remembered and had regained her
youth to suffer with the other.

"You are right, dear child. I thoroughly approve. Love him truly!"

At these words Rousille, looking down at the old lady, had the
revelation of a being hitherto unknown to her. There was a light in
her face; the poor arms, helpless from rheumatism, were held out
towards Rousille trembling with emotion.

"Yes, love him truly. Your happiness is with him. Leave it to time,
but do not yield, my Rousille, for I know others who in their youth
refused to marry to please their fathers, and who had such difficulty
afterwards to kill their hearts! Do not live alone, it is worse than
death! Your Nesmy, I know him--your Nesmy and you are true lovers of
the soil, such as the land can boast but few nowadays, and if old Aunt
Adelaide can help you, defend you, give you what is wanted to enable
you to marry, come to me, my child, at any time, come!"

She was holding Rousille now in close embrace, the girl bending over
the little black-robed figure and suffering her tears to flow on the
friendly shoulder, now that she had unburdened her heart.

For a moment the room was as silent as was the town slumbering in the
mid-day sun. Then the Michelonne, gently disengaging herself from the
girl's arms, went towards the window, standing where she could not be
seen from outside. Between the roofs of two adjoining houses, looking
westwards, was set, as in a frame, a corner of the Marais, its
reddish-brown rushes finally fading away on the horizon.

"It was Mathurin, was it not, who denounced you?" she asked in a low

"Yes, he was always watching me."

"He is jealous, you see. He has a grudge against you."

"For what, poor creature!"

"Your youth, my poor child. He is jealous of all who take the place
that should have been his; jealous of François, of André, of you. He
is like a lost soul when he hears that anyone but himself is to manage
your father's farm. Shall I tell you all?"

Her frail hand uplifted, she pointed to the distant Marais, where the
poplars, tiny as grains of oats, were standing out against the sky.

"Well, he still thinks of Félicité."

"Poor brother!" exclaimed Rousille, nodding her head. "If he is still
thinking of her, she is only making fun of him."

"Innocent," returned the old woman in a whisper, "I know what I know.
Beware of Mathurin, he has drunk too deeply of love to forget. Beware
of Félicité Gauvrit, because she is furious that being an heiress, no
suitors come to her."

Rousille was about to reply. Adelaide made her a sign to keep silence;
she had heard a footstep in the lane. Hastily drying her eyes, the old
lady re-seated herself and picked up her work, like a child surprised
in some fault by her mother. A pair of sabots was heard at the foot of
the wall, they passed the doorsteps, and went on down the Place. It
was not Véronique. Marie-Rose had drawn back; she was looking at her
one friend, so old, so worn, so timid, yet whose heart was so young.
And she thought no more of what she had been about to reply; she only
said simply:

"Good-bye, Aunt Michelonne. If I need help I shall know where to

"Good-bye, dear child. Beware of Mathurin. Beware of the girl out

They said no more in words, only their eyes were fixed on each
other's, Rousille looking back until she had reached the door; then
the latch was lifted, fell back into its socket, and there only
remained in the silent chamber a little old woman stooping down over
her black work, but who could not see her needle for the mist of tears
in her eyes.



It was Monday, the third day after Rousille had seen the Michelonnes.
On the previous day, from morn till eve, storm clouds, rising out of
the sea, had discharged their contents on the arid earth, as pockets
full of corn are scattered by the sower. Showers of leaves, mostly
from the topmost branches, had fallen; others, heavy with moisture,
hung pendant. An aroma of damp earth rose up to the calm, milky sky;
there was not a breath stirring, the birds were silenced, the land
seemed intent upon the last drops of rain formed during the night,
that came crashing down at the foot of the trees with a ring as of
falling glass. Something in Nature seemed to have died with the last
breath of summer, and the whole earth to be conscious of its loss.

And in truth, on the hills of Chalons, the most distant area of La
Fromentière, the far-off grinding of a plough, and the calls of the
man to his oxen, proclaimed that Autumn labour had begun.

In the farm bakery, left of the building, and dividing their room from
that of François, Eléonore and Marie-Rose were engaged heating the
oven. From the semicircular opening flames were shooting up, now in
heavy wreaths, now in groups of red petals set on upright stems.
Eléonore standing before it, in a print gown, was feeding the oven
with faggots of bramble, thrusting them with an iron fork into the
furnace. Marie-Rose was busily going backwards and forwards bringing
in the baskets of dough. They did not speak; for a long time there had
been a coolness between the sisters. But as for the tenth time
Eléonore looked towards the door, as if expecting to see some person
or thing in the courtyard, Rousille asked:

"What are you expecting, Eléonore?"

"Nothing," was the cross reply. "I am hot. My eyes smart." And she
busied herself with separating the burning embers, arranging them in
layers at the sides of the oven; this finished:

"Help me to fill the oven," she said.

One by one the loaves of leavened dough were placed by Rousille upon a
large flat shovel, which Eléonore slid over the burning bricks, and
drew out again with a sharp jerk. Twenty loaves there were of twelve
pound each; enough wherewith to feed all at La Fromentière, and to
give to the poor of Monday for a fortnight. The last having been
placed, Eléonore closed the mouth of the oven with an iron plate; the
sisters had wiped their hot cheeks with their sleeves, the smell of
new bread was beginning to be perceptible through the chinks of the
oven, when a loud laughing voice called in from the yard:

"M François Lumineau. Is he at home?" and the postman, a visitor who
had been seen fairly often at La Fromentière for some months past,
held out a letter with printed heading on it. He added jocosely, for
something to say:

"Another letter from the State Railways, Mam'selle Eléonore. Any of
you got friends there?"

"Thank you," returned Eléonore, hastily taking the letter and putting
it into the pocket of her apron, "I will give it to my brother. Fine
weather to-day for your round?"

"Aye, that it is. Better than for heating the oven I should say by the
look of you." The man made a half-turn on his well-worn shoes, and
went his way in the steady jog-trot of seven leagues a day at thirty

Eléonore, leaning against the doorpost, paid no further attention to
him; she was gazing, as if hypnotized, on the corner of white paper
that protruded from her pocket. She seemed strangely agitated, her
eyelids swelled, her breast heaved beneath the calico bodice all
streaked with flour and soot.

"There is some secret, I am sure," exclaimed Marie-Rose from behind
her. "I do not ask what it is, I am accustomed at home to be left to
myself. But still I cannot help seeing what is going on; only
yesterday, after mass, you and François went off by yourselves to
read some paper in the lane by the Michelonnes, I was there to fetch
my money, and saw you gesticulating.... And now you are crying. It is
hard, Eléonore, to see one's sister cry and not to know the
reason--not to be able to say one word to comfort her."

To Rousille's intense surprise, Eléonore, without turning, held out a
trembling hand towards her, and drew her younger sister tumultuously
to her beating heart; and for the first time for many years, overcome
with emotion, she leant her cheek on Rousille's, then suddenly broke
out into sobs.

"Yes," she sobbed, "there is a secret, my poor Rousille, such a secret
that I can never have the like again in all my life. I cannot tell it
to you ... it is there in the letter ... but François must read it
first, and then father--Heavens! what an unhappy girl I am!"

Tenderly Rousille pressed her face against her sister's all bathed in

"But the secret, Eléonore, it only concerns François, does it?"

"No, me too; me too! Oh, when you hear it, Rousille.... It was
François who persuaded me, he talked until I yielded ... and then I
signed ... and now it is all done. Still, were it not for him, I feel
that even now I could not do it; I would break the agreement--I would

"You are going, Eléonore?" cried the girl, drawing back.

Her sister's white face was the only answer.

"You are going?" she repeated. "Oh, where? Oh, do not leave us."

Eléonore, stupefied for the moment, now gave way to a feeling of
anger, and repulsed the girl whom the instant before she had drawn to

"Hold your tongue!" she said roughly. "Do not talk like that. Are you
going to tell tales of us?"

"I have no wish to do so."

"They are coming. You heard them. You said it aloud for them to hear,
you sneak!"

"Indeed, I did not."

"They are coming. Hark!"

The distant footsteps of the men, one following the other, were
audible. They were returning for the mid-day meal.

Eléonore, in terror, almost suppliant, her voice shaken with emotion,

"Mathurin is coming first--if only he did not hear what you were
saying, Rousille. If he catches sight of me, he will guess
everything.... I dare not go back into the house with such red eyes.
You take my place. Go and pour out the soup, I will be with you in a

The men went into the house, walking in their usual leisurely manner;
François alone had a presentiment of the news awaiting them. The hot
sun had dried the moisture on grass and leaves, a soft haze lay all
around, the air was mild and balmy; linnets, innumerable, had settled
on the waggon-ruts, where lay thistles trodden down by the oxen. An
aroma of hot bread pervaded the farmyard, and cheered by the wholesome
smell the fine old farmer entered the house-place, whither Mathurin
had preceded him.

As soon as they had disappeared within the house, Eléonore, who had
been watching at the door of the bakery, crossed the yard to the
stable where François, having deposited his load of maize, was coiling
up the rope by which he had carried it.

"François," she exclaimed, "they want you. Your letter has been
burning me like fire." And still quite pale, Eléonore held out the
letter, watching it pass from her hands to those of her brother with a
nervous dread of the unknown future.

"When is it?" she asked. "Be quick!"

Without showing any emotion François tried to smile, as though to mark
masculine superiority over the weaker sex, as he proceeded
deliberately to open the envelope with his thick, moist fingers. He
read, reflected for a moment, then answered:

"Humph! to-morrow."


"Yes, I have to be at La Roche at noon, to begin work on the railway."

Eléonore covered her face with both hands.

"Oh, I say, don't you go and leave me now," he continued. "Do you want

"No, François, but to go to-morrow--to-morrow!"

"Not to-morrow, to-night--at once. You ought to have expected it. Why,
you engaged with the owner of the coffee shop in Rue Neuve two months
ago. Did you sign the lease or not?"


"Did you promise to keep house for me?"

"Yes, François."

"When you bothered me to find you a good place at La Roche, did I not
trouble myself about you on the condition that you would keep house
for me? Yes or no? Of course, I want someone, and now you are not
willing to go?"

"I do not say...."

"Oh, well. I shall tell father presently what you promised. Stay
behind, if you like; but I warn you they will lead you a pretty life
at La Fromentière when I am gone; without mentioning the action the
landlord at La Roche will bring against you at once, do you
understand? at once, if you refuse to take the shop you have rented.
Stay, if you like. I am going!"

She raised her arms above her head and always under the impression of
the moment, said:

"I will go; whatever time you like, I will be ready. Only I cannot
hear you tell father. Do not speak to him when I am there." She
hurriedly left the stable and went into the house to serve the
dinner, whilst François proceeded to give the oxen their forage,
taking as much time over it as he could.

Toussaint Lumineau was quietly talking with Mathurin. Sitting side by
side at the table, they watched their steaming plates of soup cool as
they discussed the new farm-servant whom it was necessary to engage

"I will hire him at Chalons fair," said the father.

"That will be too late."

"We must do our best till then, my boy. I will look out for a strong
fellow, a lad from these parts."

"Yes, no _Boquin_, above all things! We know what they are!"

Toussaint Lumineau shook his head as he replied gently:

"Do not wrong the lad, Mathurin. I sent Jean Nesmy away, and for a
reason. But as regards work, I have nothing but good to say of him; he
worked well, and he loved farming, whilst others...." Little Rousille
was listening with eyes lowered, standing like a statue by the window.
François entered. "Whilst others," continued the farmer, slightly
raising his voice, "do not show as much energy as they might. Eh, my

The fair, ruddy-cheeked youth shrugged his shoulders as he took his

"The work is too hard," he said. "Since I came back I have felt that I
cannot accustom myself to that kind of thing."

"Oh, you half of a man," cried Mathurin. "Are you not ashamed of
yourself? If I could but walk, our father would have no need to hire
anyone. Look at these arms," and he held them out, the muscles showing
under his coat sleeves like knots of an oak-tree imprisoned within the
bark, while his face was suffused with crimson, the veins of his
forehead swelled, and his eyes were bloodshot.

"My poor boy!" said his father, touching his hand to calm him. "My
poor boy, I well know your misfortune has cost La Fromentière dear."
Then after a short silence, he added: "Still we will get through some
good work, children, with François and Driot, who will soon be home,
and the man I am about to hire. I have a mind to start to-day on the
field of La Cailleterie, that has lain fallow there two years. The
rain we have had must have softened the ground, the plough will bite."

Eléonore, who had just then pushed open the inner door, stopped
tremblingly, seeing François in the act of moving his lips as if to
speak and tell their secret. But no word escaped the young man's lips
during the remainder of the meal. Towards the end, as they were rising
from table, Mathurin, looking at the sky through the smoke-begrimed
windows, said:

"Father, will you take me up there in the cart?"

"Of course I will. Go fetch the cart, Eléonore, and you, François,
yoke the oxen."

The farmer was well-nigh gay; the young people thought his mind was
dwelling upon Driot, whose name was now so constantly upon his lips.
But it was nothing but the first tillage of the season that made him
so content.

A quarter of an hour later the farmer passed round his body the strap
fixed to the box on wheels in which the cripple was seated and began
dragging it as one tows a boat; the oxen, led by François, going on in
front. They took the same road which Jean Nesmy had taken the morning
of his dismissal; his footprints were still visible in the dust. There
were four superb oxen, preceded by a grey mare, Noblet, Cavalier,
Paladin, and Matelot, all with tawny coats, widespread horns, high
backs, and slow supple gait. With perfect ease they drew the plough,
the share raised, up the steep ascent; and when a trail of bramble
across their path tempted them, they would simultaneously slacken
speed, and the iron chain that linked the foremost couple to the beam
would clank on the ground. François walked gloomily beside them, deep
in thought on matters not connected with the day's work.

Those following him, the farmer and his crippled son, were equally
silent, but their thoughts were centred on the soil over which they
were passing; and with the like sense of peaceful content their eyes
roamed over gates, ditches, fields, their minds filled with the same
simple interests. With them meditation was a sign of their calling,
the mark of the noble vocation of those by whose labours the world is
fed. Arrived at the top of the knoll in the field of La Cailleterie,
his father helped Mathurin out of the little cart to the foot of an
ash-tree, whose branches threw a light shadow over the slope. Before
them the fallow land, covered with weeds and ferns, fell away in an
even descent, surrounded by hedges on the four sides. Looking down the
slope and over the lower hedge could be seen the Marais fading away in
the distance like a blue plain.

And now the farmer, having loosened the pin that held the share,
himself guided the plough to the extreme left of the field, and put it
in place.

"You stay there in the sun," he said to Mathurin. "And you, François,
lead your oxen straight. This is a grand day for ploughing. Ohé!
Noblet, Cavalier, Paladin, Matelot!"

A cut of the whip sent the mare off, the four oxen lowered their horns
and extended their hocks, the ploughshare cut into the earth with the
noise of a scythe being whetted; the earth parted in brown clods that
formed high ridges on either side, falling back in powdery masses upon
themselves like water divided by the bow of a ship. The well-trained
oxen went straight and steadily. Their muscles under the supple skin
moved regularly and without more apparent effort than if they had been
drawing an empty cart upon an even road. Weeds lay uprooted in the
ruts; trefoil, wild oats, plantains, pimpernels, broom, its yellow
blossoms already mixed with brown pods, brakes folded back on their
long stems like young oaks cut down. A haze ascended from the upturned
earth exposed to the heat of the sun; in front the dust raised by the
feet of the oxen caused the team to proceed in a ruddy aureole,
through which numberless gnats and flies were darting.

Mathurin, in the shade of the mountain ash, looked on with envy as the
team descended the slope of the hill, and the forms of his father and
brother, the oxen and mare, grew smaller in the distance.

"François," exclaimed his father, enjoying the feeling of the shaft
under his hand, "François, see to Noblet, he is slackening. Touch up
Matelot! The mare is drawing to the left. Brisk up, my boy, you look
half asleep!"

And, in truth, François was taking no interest in guiding the plough.
He was feeling that the time had come for him to speak, and the
difficulty of beginning made him walk with head downcast. At the far
end of the field they turned and began the ascent, the plough marking
a second line of furrows beside the first. From where Mathurin sat he
had lost sight of them on the low ground; now the horns of the oxen
and his brother's goad came into view, and, to greet the return of the
plough, he began with stentorian voice to chant the slow refrain which
can be varied or ended at pleasure. The notes were flung far and wide
from his powerful chest, embellished with _fioriture_ ancient as the
art of ploughing itself. The oxen knew the rhythm, and stepped in time
to it; the cadence accompanied the groan of the wheels on their axes;
borne on the air, it was wafted afar o'er the hedges, telling other
labourers in fields that the plough was at work on the fallow land of
La Cailleterie. The cadence rejoiced the farmer's heart. But François
remained gloomy. As the plough neared the shade of the ash-tree,
Mathurin, whose thoughts were always busied with the future of La
Fromentière, said:

"Father, it would be a good thing to re-plant our vineyard that is
dying off. As soon as Driot is home we should do it; what think you?"

The farmer stayed his oxen, lifted his hat to cool his hot head, and
smiled, well pleased.

"You are always thinking of something to the point, Mathurin. If the
wheat comes up well in La Cailleterie, faith of a Lumineau! I will lay
in a stock of vines. I am hopeful of our work to-day. Come on,
youngster, straighten the harness. Look to your mare, she is hot; coax
her a bit, walk beside her, that she may see you and go more quietly."

The team moved off again; a mist of heat enveloped men and beasts; the
air was thick with flies; turtle-doves, gorged with seed, took shelter
in the ash-trees from the burning heat of the stubble fields. The
cripple had ceased his song, and the farmer, as they got to the middle
of the field, said:

"It is your turn to tune up now, François. Sing, boy, it will gladden
your heart!"

The young man went on a few paces, then began: "Oh! oh! my men, oh!
oh! oh!" His voice, of higher register than Mathurin's, made the oxen
prick up their ears as it faltered past them; then, all suddenly, it
came to a dead stop, rendered mute by the fear that mastered the
singer. He pulled himself together, raised his head, and, looking
towards the Marais, made a fresh effort; a few more notes faltered
out, then a sob choked them, and, crimson with shame, the young man
resumed his way in silence, his face turned towards the fallow land,
walking in front of his father, who looked at him across the croup of
the oxen. No word was said by either until the farmer had finished the
furrow; then, at the end of the field, Toussaint Lumineau, troubled to
the very depths of his soul, said:

"You have news for me, François, what is it?"

They were some three feet apart, the father standing level with the
hedge, his son on the far side of the plough at the head of the oxen.

"That I am going away, father."

"What, François? The heat has turned your head, my boy. Are you
feeling ill?" But from the expression of his son's eyes he quickly saw
that this was a very different thing from some passing illness; that
misfortune was coming.

François had made up his mind to speak. With one hand resting on
Noblet's back, as if to support himself, trembling and nervous, yet
with hard, insolent look, he cried:

"I have had enough of this. I shall cut it."

"Enough of what, my lad?"

"Enough of digging the ground, enough of looking after the cattle,
enough of drudgery at seven-and-twenty to make money that all goes to
pay the rent of the farm. I mean to be my own master, and make money
for myself. I have got a situation on the railway, and I begin
to-morrow--to-morrow, do you hear?" His voice rose in a kind of

"I am accepted; there is nothing more to be said. The thing is done. I
am taking Eléonore to La Roche to keep house for me. She, too, has had
enough of this. She has found a good place, a shop where she will make
more than with you; at any rate, she will have a chance of
marrying.... And I don't see that we have acted badly towards you in
what we have done. Don't say that we have! And don't make that rueful
face about it! We have served our time with you, father, have waited
patiently for André's return. Now that he is coming home, let him help
you. It is his turn."

The unexpected blow had stupefied the farmer; he had grown very white.
With set teeth, one arm resting on the plough, he remained speechless,
his eyes fixed upon François as if demented. Slowly the full force of
the situation, with all its pain, filtered into his soul.

"But, François, what you tell me cannot be true; Eléonore never
complained of her work."

"Oh yes, she has; not to you."

"As for you, you have always had plenty of help. If I have sometimes
reproached you for idleness, it has been because times are hard for
everyone. But now that I am going to take on a farm-servant, now that
another fortnight will see Driot home, we shall be four of us,
counting myself, who am still of some use. You will not go, François?"


"Where will you do better than at home? Have you been short of food?"


"Have I ever refused you clothes, or even money for your tobacco?"


"François, it must be that military service has changed your heart
towards us."

"That may be."

"But say that you will not leave us?"

The young man put his hand into his coat pocket, and held out the

"I have to be there at noon to-morrow," he said. "If you don't believe
me, read for yourself."

The father stretched out his hand across the team for the letter,
trembling so much that he could scarcely take it. Once in his hands,
without opening it, in a sudden access of indignation he crumpled and
tore it into atoms, then crushed the pieces under his sabots into the
soft earth.

"There," he cried, "is an end to the letter. Now are you going?"

"That alters nothing," returned François.

He would have passed his father, but a powerful hand was laid upon his
shoulders, a voice commanded:

"Stay here!"

And the son was constrained to stay.

"Who engaged you, François?"

"The head of the office."

"No; who advised you? You did not do this thing by yourself, you had
the help of some gentleman. Who was it?"

The young man hesitated for a moment, then, feeling himself a
prisoner, stammered out:

"M. Meffray."

With one thrust the farmer sent him flying.

"Run; harness La Rousse to the dog-cart. Quick! I am going myself to
M. Meffray."

So he shouted in his rage. But when he saw his son obey him and take
the path towards the farm--when he found himself alone in the far end
of his field, he was seized with anguish. So far he had ever found
help in the difficulties of his life; this time, taken unawares by
danger in the full swing of work, he turned him slowly round as if
moved by habit, and searched the landscape as far as his eyes would
carry, for a helper, a support, someone who should defend his cause
and advise with him. His oxen standing still, looked at him out of
their large soft eyes. The first object he saw, in among the trees,
was the belfry of Sallertaine. He shook his head. No, the Curé, the
good old friend he consulted so willingly, could do nothing. Toussaint
Lumineau knew him to be powerless against town officials and
authorities, all the great unknown outside the parish. His gaze left
the church, passed over the farm without stopping, but rested awhile
on the pointed roofs of La Fromentière. Ah! were the Marquis but
there! He feared nothing: neither uniforms, nor titles, nor long words
that poor uncultured people could not understand. And expense was
nothing to him. He would have made the journey from Paris to prevent a
_Maraîchin_ from leaving the soil. Alas! the Château was empty. No
longer the Master to appeal to.... The old farmer's eyes fell upon the
two newly made furrows rising before him to the ash-tree on the hill;
then it struck him that Mathurin was waiting and wondering, and that
he must say something to prevent his growing uneasy.

"Ohé!" cried he, "Lumineau!"

Over the curve of the hill, through the still air, a voice replied:

"Here I am. You are not coming up again?"

"No; the chain has snapped. I must take back the team."

"All right."

"Do not mind waiting a bit; Rousille will come to fetch you. I am
going round by the slope of the meadow."

At the foot of the field, filled in with bundles of thorn, was a gap
in the hedge leading on to a narrow slip of meadow, and thence to the
farm. To avoid having to answer Mathurin's questions, the farmer
touched up his oxen and took this way back. In the middle of the
courtyard he perceived the dog-cart already harnessed, François
standing beside it in his Sunday clothes.

"Fasten up the oxen," he said roughly. Then, passing in front of him,
he opened the house door and called:


There was no answer. Going through the house-place he passed into the
kitchen, where he met Rousille.

"Where is your sister?"

"She was talking to François in the courtyard just now. Shall I look
for her?"

"No, that will do. I will see her later on. Rousille, we have some
business at Chalons, François and I. We shall be back before supper.
Go to Mathurin, who will be tired of waiting so long at La
Cailleterie, and bring him back."

Without another word, the farmer returned to the yard, where François
awaited him. Getting into the cart, he signed to his son to take the
place beside him, and with a cut of the whip sent the mare,
unaccustomed to such harsh usage, off at a gallop.

"Where are they going at such speed?" thought the few spectators whom
they passed on their way--spectators whom nothing escapes: innkeepers
standing at their doors, tramps on the highway, peasants lopping the
trees. "What has come to them? Old Lumineau is lashing La Rousse, and
jerking the reins like a groom afraid of his master, and not a word
does he say to his lad."

In fact the farmer's wrath was growing as he meditated his wrongs; he
muttered between his teeth what he would say to that Meffray, while
his stalwart arms, eager for strife and vengeance, lashed into the
mare. François, on the contrary, exhausted by the effort he had made,
had relapsed into his usual apathy, and suffered himself to be carried
on towards his fate, looking at the hedges with vacant stare.

It was he, who on arrival at the Place by the Halles-Neuves of
Chalons, jumped down and tied the mare to a ring attached to one of
the pillars; then followed his father who turned up one of the streets
on the left, and stopped before a modern, narrow, red-brick building.
An iron plate, under the door bell, was inscribed, "Jules Meffray,
Ex-Sheriff's Officer, Town Councillor."

The farmer pulled the bell vigorously.

"Is your master in?" he asked the servant who opened the door.

The girl examined the peasant who inquired for her master in a tone
and look not of the pleasantest, and who presented himself in work-day
clothes soiled with mud, and replied:

"I think he is. What may be your business?"

"Tell him that Toussaint Lumineau, of La Fromentière, wants to speak
to him; and let him be quick, I am in a hurry."

Astonished, not daring to show Lumineau into the dining-room where M.
Meffray was wont to receive his clients, the maid left the farmer and
his son standing in the shabby passage at the foot of the stairs. So
taken aback was she, that she did not see the shamefaced François
hidden in the background, but only the stalwart old peasant, whose
broad shoulders almost blocked the way as he stood erect, hat on head,
under the ill-kept hall lamp that was never lighted.

A few seconds later the garden door opened, and a tall, stout man came
in, dressed in a white flannel suit, a cap of the same material on his
head; his face was clean-shaven, his small eyes blinking, probably
with the sudden change from the outer glare. This was M. Meffray,
member for Chalons, an ambitious small tradesman, who, originally one
of them, was possessed by a secret animosity towards the peasant
class; and who, living amongst them, had only learnt to know their
defects of which he made use.

Informed of the manner in which Lumineau had presented himself,
dreading some violence, he stopped short at the foot of the staircase,
rested his elbow on the banisters, and touching the brim of his cap
with three fingers, said carelessly:

"They should have shown you in, farmer. But as it seems that you are
in haste, we can talk just as well here. I have done your son a
service, is that your reason for coming?"

"Just so," returned Lumineau.

"Can I do anything more for you?"

"I want to keep my boy, M. Meffray."

"Keep him? What do you mean?"

"Yes; that you should undo what you have done."

"But that depends upon him. Have you had your summons, François?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, my friend, if you do not want to take the post, there is no
lack of candidates to fill your place, as you know. I have now ten
other applications which I have far more reason to support than I had
yours. For after all, you Lumineaus, you do not vote with us in the
elections. So do you wish to give up the place?"

"No, sir."

"It is I who will not have him go," broke in Toussaint Lumineau, "I
want him at La Fromentière."

"But he is of age, farmer!"

"He is my son, M. Meffray. It is his part to work for me. Put
yourself in my place, I who am an old man. I had counted on leaving my
farm to him, as my father left it to me. He goes away, and takes my
daughter with him. So I lose two children, and through your fault."

"Excuse me; I did not seek him; he came to me."

"But without you he would not be going, nor Eléonore either! They had
to have recommendations. You call that doing a service, M. Meffray?
Did you even know what would be best for François--had you ever seen
him in his home to know if he was unhappy there? Monsieur Meffray, you
must give him back to me."

"Settle it with your son. It does not concern me."

"You will not speak to those who have entrapped my son, and annul the
agreement?" Advancing a step, and pointing at him with extended arm,
Toussaint Lumineau said in a loud voice: "Then you have done my son
more harm in one single day than I in all my life."

M. Meffray's heavy face crimsoned.

"Be off, old hound!" he shouted. "Be off, take your son! Manage your
own affairs. Ah! these peasants! Such are the thanks one gets for
troubling about them!"

The farmer seemed not to have heard; he remained motionless. But there
was a strange fire in his eyes; from the depths of his tortured
heart, from the depths of the faith taught to his race for generations
past, the words came to his lips:

"You shall answer for them," he said.

"How so?"

"There where they are going they will both be lost, M. Meffray. You
shall answer for their eternal perdition."

As though stupefied by a speech so unlike any he had ever heard, the
town councillor made no reply; it needed time for him to take in an
idea so different from those usually filling his mind; then throwing a
contemptuous glance at the huge peasant standing erect before him, he
turned on his heel, and moved to the garden door, with a muttered:


Toussaint Lumineau and his son went out into the street, walking
silently side by side until they reached the Place. There the father,
unfastening the mare, said as he was about to put his foot on the step
of the cart:

"Get up, François. We will go home."

But the young man drew back.

"No," he said, "the thing is done; you will not make me alter it.
Besides, I arranged with Eléonore, who must have left La Fromentière
by now. You will not find her there when you go back." He had taken
off his hat in farewell, and was looking uneasily at his old father,
who, leaning against the shaft with half-closed eyes, seemed about to
swoon. Under the colonnade of the Halles there was not a soul; a few
women in their shops round the Place were carelessly looking at the
two men. After a moment, François drew a little nearer and held out
his hand, doubtless to clasp that of his father for the last time; but
seeing him approach the old man revived, motioned his son away, sprang
into the cart, and lashing up La Rousse, drove off at a gallop.



Eléonore had suffered herself to be persuaded. She had left her home.
Weak, and easily led, she had for months past listened too readily to
the promptings of vanity and laziness, which, censured by her father
at La Fromentière, could be yielded to at will in the town. To have no
more baking to do, no more cows to milk, to be in some sort a lady, to
wear a hat trimmed with ribbons--such were the reasons for which she
went out into the unknown, with only her brother, who would be away
all day, for protector. Eléonore had yielded from force of example,
and in complete ignorance of the step she was taking. Thus she cast
herself adrift, and exposed herself to life in a suburb, to the
familiarities of frequenters of the café, without dreaming of its
dangers, with the utter ignorance of the peasant who knows nothing
beyond the troubles incidental to life in the country.

The separation was accomplished. At the moment that the farmer drove
away, intent upon the hope of still recovering his children, Eléonore
had hurriedly left the shelter of the barn where she had been hiding,
and, despite the entreaties of Marie-Rose and even of Mathurin, going
from room to room she had hurriedly collected the little store of
personal clothing and trinkets belonging to her. To all Rousille's
pleading, as to the calmer adjurations of Mathurin, she had replied:

"It is François' wish, my dears! I cannot tell if I shall be happy;
but it is too late now. My promise is given."

She was so greatly in fear of seeing her father come back that she was
almost frenzied with haste. Quickly she made up her bundle, went out
from La Fromentière, and reached the hollow road, where, crouching
beneath the hedge, she waited for the steam tram that runs between
Fromentière and Chalons. There some hours later François was to rejoin

Meanwhile the farmer, driving La Rousse at her greatest speed, had
returned home.

"Eléonore!" he had cried.

"Gone," Mathurin had answered.

Then, half-mad with grief, the old man had flung the reins across the
steaming beast, and without a word of explanation had stridden away in
the direction of Sallertaine. Had he been actuated by a last hope and
idea? Or did his deserted house inspire him with dread?

Night was falling. He had not yet returned. A damp, encircling mist,
silent as death, enveloped all around. In the living-room of La
Fromentière, beside the fire that no one tended, beside the simmering
pot that murmured as if in low plaint, the two remaining inmates of
the farm sat watching, but how differently! Rousille, nervous, burning
with fever, could not keep still; she was for ever rising from her
chair, clasping her hands, and murmuring: "My God, my God!" then going
to the open door to look out, shivering, into the dark, thick night.

"Listen!" she said.

The cripple listened, then said:

"It is the goatherd of Malabrit taking home his flock."

"Listen again!"

A distant sound of barking, borne on the silent air, died away in the

"That is not Bas-Rouge's bark," returned Mathurin.

So from hour to hour, and minute to minute, a step, a cry, the rolling
of a vehicle, would keep their senses on the alert.

What were they expecting? Their father, who came not. But Rousille,
younger, more credulous, was expecting the others too, or if not both,
at least one, either François or Eléonore, who, repentant--was it too
much to hope--had come back. Oh, what joy it would be, what rapture to
see one of them! It seemed as if the other would have the right to go
if one came back to take his place in the home. The young girl felt
raised out of herself as a vague sense of duty came over her; she, the
only woman, the only one to act in her deserted home.

Mathurin sat in a stooping posture by the hearth, his feet wrapped in
a rug, the glow of the fire reddening the beard crushed beneath his
chin. For hours he had sat so, never moving, speaking as little as
possible; from time to time tears rolled down his cheeks; at other
times Rousille, looking at him, was astonished to see the shadow of a
smile cross his face--a smile she could in nowise understand.

Nine o'clock struck.

"Mathurin," exclaimed the girl, "I am afraid that some misfortune has
befallen father."

"He may be talking over his trouble with the Curé, or the Mayor."

"So I tell myself; yet, all the same, I am frightened."

"That's because you are not accustomed to wait as I am. What do you
want to do?"

"To go towards Sallertaine to meet him."

"Go, if you like."

Rousille ran to her room to get her black cloak. When she came back,
looking like a little nun, she found that Mathurin had thrown off the
rug, and was standing up. His crutches were lying on the ground, and
by an effort of will he stood nearly upright, resting one hand on the
table, the other on the back of his chair. He looked at his sister
with an air of pride and of suppressed pain, perspiration standing on
his forehead.

"Rousille," he said, "what should you do if father did not come back?"

"Oh, don't say such things," she exclaimed, covering her eyes with her
hand. "And do not exert yourself to stand like that; you make me feel
quite ill!"

"Well, I," continued Mathurin gravely, "should take the management
here. I feel strong enough. I feel that I am recovering."

"Sit down; sit down, I beg of you. You will fall."

But he remained standing until she reached the door. Scarce had she
crossed the threshold before she heard the human mass sink together
with a groan. She turned back, saw that he was in a sitting posture on
the chair, pressing both hands to his side, doubtless to still his
fast-beating heart; then noiselessly, timid as a fawn rising out of
the bracken, she ran into the courtyard, and out on to the road.

The rising moon had lessened the mist, already one could see a
considerable distance; in another hour it would be clear moonlight.
Avoiding the shade of the hedges, Marie-Rose followed the middle of
the path that, leading past the dwarf orchard, skirted the meadows;
she was frightened, almost running, nor did she slacken speed until
she reached the edge of the Marais, where the road suddenly widening
like a river that falls into the sea, mingled its grasses with those
of the marshland. Then, reassured by the moonlight, she stood still
and listened. Where could her father be?

She hoped to hear footsteps on the road, or even Bas-Rouge's bark. But
no; in the dream-like mist that incessantly formed and dispersed about
her, amid the dim moving lights and shadows around, there was but one
sound, that of the distant roll of the sea against the shores of La
Vendée. She was about to turn, follow the dyke to reach the bridge of
Sallertaine and its familiar houses, when a well-known whistle, like
that of a plover, met her ear. Could it be possible?

The young girl's blood rushed to her heart; she stopped short in
rapture and astonishment, without strength to look behind her.
Motionless she stood, listening to the coming of one her heart had
recognised. He came by the road she had come, from the thickets of La
Fromentière. Erect, trembling, she stood on the grass-grown road, felt
two hands placed on her shoulders, then a rush of air that moved the
right side of her cloak, and a man had lightly sprung in front of her,
with the words:

"It is I, Rousille. I have not frightened you?"

There he was in his brown coat, stick in hand, looking well pleased at
his piece of audacity.

Notwithstanding her distress, Rousille could not repress a cry of joy.
A smile rose to her face like an air bubble on troubled waters that
none can hinder, and that widens as it goes.

"Oh how happy I am!" she said. But then quickly resumed: "No, I am
wrong to speak like that. You do not know of our trouble at home.
François has gone, Eléonore has gone; I am all alone there, and I have
come out to find father, who has not come home. I have no time to
spare for you, Jean Nesmy. It would be wrong!"

He watched the smile fade from her face in the moonlight; and as she
drew her cloak about her to resume her way, he said hurriedly:

"I know all, Rousille. For the last three days I have been at Chalons
trying to find a situation as near here as possible. I have not found
one. But this evening I heard of François' going; it is the talk of
the town in one way and another. I ran at once to La Fromentière,
keeping out of sight. I watched you in the garden, in the barn. Since
sundown I have heard you crying; but the farmer was the only one I saw
go out."

"Where is he--at Sallertaine?"

"No; he went, but came back. I was in hiding about here. He passed
just where we are now standing, and he was gesticulating and talking
to himself as if he were demented."

Terrified, she asked:

"Was that long ago?"

"A quarter of an hour."

"Which way did he go?"

Jean Nesmy pointed in the direction of the mainland, and to the
wooden heights further away.

"To the grounds of the Château, I believe. He jumped the fence some
hundred yards from here."

"Thanks and good-bye, Jean. I must go."

But he, taking her hand, grew very grave in his turn.

"Yes," he replied, "I know quite well--but myself--soon you will have
me no longer. To-morrow I am going home to the Bocage; and I came back
to ask you one thing, Rousille. What shall I say to my mother
to-morrow when she asks me, 'Is it really true that she loves you?
What word of plighted troth did she give you when you parted? My poor
Jean, when true-hearted girls see their sweethearts going away from
them they say some word that is as binding as a betrothal ring,
something to comfort him in absence. What did she of La Fromentière
say to you?' If you have said no word, she will not believe me!"

The dim solitude enveloping them threw their shadows faintly on the
grey grass. Rousille, her sweetheart's glowing eyes fixed upon her,
answered sadly:

"Do not come back until Driot is well settled at home. Some months
hence, in mid-winter, if our neighbours who frequent your markets tell
you that he is working like a true farmer, that he is to be seen at
fairs and gatherings, above all, that he is courting a girl at
Sallertaine, then come back and speak to father. My father will not
hear of a _Boquin_ for son-in-law; but if I will have no other husband
than you--if André speaks for me, who can tell? Father spoke well of
you after you went."

"Really, Rousille? What did he say?"

"No, not now. I must be going. Good-bye."

He raised his hat with a natural courtesy that sat well upon him; nor
did he seek to detain her longer.

Already Rousille, turning her back upon Sallertaine, was running
across the meadow; she had reached the last bushes that border the
Marais, her cloak fluttering in the mist. For more than a minute after
she had disappeared beyond the fence Jean Nesmy remained motionless,
on the same spot, where the words she had spoken were still ringing in
his ears. Then slowly, as one learning by heart who looks not about
him, he took his way towards Sallertaine and on from thence to
Chalons. His heart sang with joy as he repeated to himself: "In
mid-winter, if our neighbours who frequent your markets tell you that
he is working like a true farmer, come back...."

The one thing he saw on the road to Chalons was that the topmost
leaves of the willows were already turning yellow, and that the
branches were growing leafless.

Rousille, through a gap in the fence, had made her way into a stubble
field, thence through a narrow belt of wood. Then finding that she was
in the gravel walk of an avenue, she paused, terrified by the
solitude, and seized by the instinctive respect for the seigniorial
domain, where even then her people ventured but rarely, from fear of
displeasing the Marquis. She was in the outskirts of the park. On all
sides, lit by the peaceful light of the moon, were sloping lawns,
broken now by groups of forest-trees forming islands of black shade,
now disappearing in the blue mist of distance. Sometimes in light,
sometimes in shadow, Rousille followed the path, her eyes on the
watch, her heart beating wildly. She was seeking marks of footsteps on
the gravel; straining to see objects amid the dense thickets. Was that
her father over there, that dark form through the wood? No, it was but
the pile of a fence overgrown with brambles. Everywhere thorn-bushes,
roots, dead branches impeded the moss-grown paths. How neglect had
grown with years! The master absent, all was deserted, gone to waste.
As she pursued her way, Rousille began to realise more keenly her
sorrow at her brother's and sister's flight. They too, perhaps, would
never come back to their home; fear in her gave place to grief.

Suddenly, the path winding round a clump of cedars, she found herself
in front of the Château, with its huge main building flanked by towers
and pointed roofs, on which the weather-cocks that once told the
direction of the wind were now motionless with rust. Night owls were
silently chasing each other round the gables; the windows were shut,
the ground-floor secured with shutters strongly battened.

Anxious as she was, the young girl could not but stop for a moment to
look at the melancholy pile, stained by winter rains, already as grey
as any ruin; and as she stood there on the broad carriage-drive, her
ear detected a distant murmur of words.

"It is father," she thought without a moment's hesitation.

He was sitting some hundred yards away from the Château, on a bench
that Rousille knew well, placed in the half-bend of a group of
birches, and called by the country people the bench of the Marquise.
Bent double, his head resting on his hands, the old man was looking at
the Château and down the avenues that sloped towards the Marais. Under
the shadow of the birches Rousille drew nearer to him, and as she came
closer, she began to distinguish the words he was saying, like a
refrain: "Monsieur le Marquis! Monsieur le Marquis!" And as she
hastened over the soft turf which deadened her footsteps, Rousille had
the horrible dread that her father was mad. No, it was not that, but
grief, fatigue, and hunger, of which he was unconscious, had excited
his brain. Finding neither help nor support anywhere, in his despair
instinct and habit had brought him to the door of the Château, where
so often before he had come in sure hope of relief. He had lost all
knowledge of time, and only continued to address his lament,
"Monsieur le Marquis! Monsieur le Marquis!" to the ears of the master
too distant to pay heed. The girl, throwing back the hood of her
cloak, said softly so as not to startle him:

"Father, it is Rousille. I have been looking for you for an hour.
Father, it is late--come!"

The old farmer shuddered, looking at her with absent eyes that saw not
present objects.

"Only think," he said, "the Marquis is not here, Rousille. My house is
going to ruin, and he is not here to defend me. He should come back
when I am in trouble, should he not?"

"Of course, father, but he does not know of it; he is far away, in

"The others, the people of Sallertaine, they can do nothing for us
because they are humble folks like ourselves, who have no authority
beyond their farms. I have been to the Mayor, to Guerineau, to de la
Pinçonnière, le Glorieux, de la Terre-Aymont. They sent me away with
empty words. But the Marquis, Rousille, when he comes back--when he
knows all! Perhaps to-morrow?"


"Then he will not leave me alone in my grief. He will help me; he will
give me back François--eh, child? will he not give me back François?"

His voice was raised; the shrill words struck against the walls of the
Château, that sent them echoing back in softened accents to the
avenues, the lawns, until they were lost in the forest. The still,
pure night listened as they died away, as it listened to the rustle of
insects in the thickets.

Rousille, seeing her father in so great distress, sat down beside him,
and talked to him for a while, trying to inspire a hope which she did
not feel. And, possibly, a calming influence, a consoling power
emanated from her, for when she said: "There is Mathurin at home,
father, waiting for you," of his own accord he rose, and took his
daughter's arm. For a long while he looked into the face of his pretty
little Rousille, so pale with emotion and fatigue.

"True," he replied, "there is Mathurin. We must go."

And together they passed in front of the Château, turned into the
avenue leading towards the servants' offices, and thence into the
fields belonging to the farm. As they neared La Fromentière, Rousille
felt that the farmer was gradually recovering his self-control, and
when they were in the courtyard, with a rush of pity for the cripple,
Rousille said:

"Father, Mathurin is very unhappy too. Do not talk much to him of your

Hereupon the farmer, whose courage and clear reasoning had revived,
passed his hand over his eyes, and preceding Rousille, pushed open the
door of the house-place, where his crippled son lay stretched deep in
thought, beside the nearly burnt-out candle.

"Mathurin, my son," he said, "do not worry overmuch ... they have
gone, but our Driot will soon be home again!"



"Our Driot is coming." For a fortnight La Fromentière lived on these
words. Work had been resumed the day after the trouble. A
farm-labourer, hired by Lumineau at Saint Jean-de-Mont, a tall, lean
man, with thighs as flat as his cheeks, replaced Jean Nesmy, and slept
in the room beyond the stable. Marie-Rose did, single-handed, the work
before shared by both sisters: housekeeping, cooking, dairy-work, and
bread-making. She rose earlier and went to bed later. Under her coif
she ever had some wise idea in her little head which prevented her
from thinking of the past; and in all her movements was displayed that
silent activity that the farmer had loved in his old Luminette.

Mathurin had of himself offered to look after the "birds," that is to
say, the stock of half-wild turkeys and geese bred at La Fromentière.
Carrying a sack fastened across his shoulders, he would drag himself
down every morning to the edge of the first canal of the Marais,
where, at a part that widened out, were fastened the two boats
belonging to La Fromentière. In the shallow water he would scatter his
supply of corn or buck-wheat, and from across the meadows drakes with
blue-tinted wings, ducks, grey, with a double notch cut on the right
side of their beaks to mark them as belonging to Lumineau, would hurry
and dive for their food. For hours Mathurin would find amusement in
watching them, then, lowering himself gently into one of the boats,
seated or kneeling, would try to recover the sure and rapid stroke
which at one time had made him famous among the puntsmen of the

Toussaint Lumineau delighted to see him managing his boat near the
farm, thus distracting his mind, as he thought, from the ever present
regret. He would say: "The lad is regaining his old pleasure in
punting. It can but be good for him and for us all." But to Mathurin,
to Rousille, to his man, to the passers-by, sometimes even to his
oxen, often when alone to himself, he would talk of the son so soon to
be home again among them. Help was coming; youth and joy were
returning to sorrow-stricken La Fromentière. At table nothing else was
talked about:

"Only twelve days; only ten; only seven. I will drive to Chalons to
meet him," said Lumineau.

"And I will make him some porridge," said Rousille, "he used to be so
fond of it before he joined his regiment."

"And I" said Mathurin, "will go in the punt with him the first time
he looks up his friends."

"How much there will be to hear!" exclaimed Rousille. "When he was
home on furlough he had an endless store of tales to tell. As for me,
I shall have no time to listen to them. I shall have to send him to
you, Mathurin. And what a change it will make in the house to have a
chatterbox among us." Then she added, with the grave air of one
entrusted with the household purse: "One change we must make, father,
and that will be to buy a paper on Sunday. He will not like to go
without one; our André is sure to want to know the news."

"He is young," said the father, as if to excuse him.

And all André's predilections, every recollection connected with him,
all the hopes that centred in his return were incessantly
recapitulated by one and the other in the living-room of La
Fromentière, where the caress of such discourses must have ascended
more than once to the smoke-stained rafters.

Meanwhile the son thus occupying all their thoughts had not been told
by any of them of the going of François and Eléonore. Partly from
dislike to letter-writing, but principally to spare him pain, and to
avoid giving him bad news on the eve of his homecoming, the blow which
had so diminished the number of those he was to rejoin had been
withheld from him. For they could not tell how he would take the
absence of his favourite brother, his childhood's companion; it would
be better to break the news to him gently, when he should have come
back to France, back to his home. Soon a letter came, bearing the
Algiers postmark, giving from day to day the itinerary of the journey;
and under the elms of La Fromentière would be heard, every successive
four-and-twenty hours, announced by one of the family lovingly,
meditated over by the others, "Now Driot must be leaving Algiers."
"Now Driot is on the sea." "Now Driot is in the train for Marseilles."
"Children, he has reached the soil of France."

So one morning, which chanced to be the last Saturday in September,
Toussaint Lumineau gave La Rousse a double feed of oats, and drew out
from the coach-house a tilbury, the body and wheels of which were
painted red. This tilbury was a relic of former prosperity, and as
well known in all the country side as were the round head, white hair,
and clear eyes of Toussaint Lumineau himself. He, harnessing the mare,
looked so joyous and happy, that Rousille, who had not heard him laugh
for many a day, as she watched him from the doorway, felt her eyes
fill with tears, she knew not wherefore, as though it were the return
of spring. The last strap buckled, the old farmer put on his best coat
with upright collar, fastened the broad blue Sunday belt round his
waist, and slipped two cigars at a halfpenny each into his coat
pocket, a luxury he never indulged in nowadays. Then swinging himself
up into the tilbury with a cheery, "Ohé, La Rousse!" he was off.

The mare started at such a pace that an instant later her headstall,
ornamented with a rosette, looked like a poppy swept along the hedges
by the wind. Bas-Rouge tore along after them. His master had called
out on starting, "Driot is coming, Bas-Rouge! Come to meet him!" and
the dog, all excitement, had dashed after La Rousse in ungainly
gallop. Soon they had reached Chalons. Without slackening speed, the
farmer drove through the streets, responding to the greeting of the
landlord of the Hotel des Voyageurs, and nicely marking by the angle
at which he raised his hat his sense of a tenant farmer's superiority
over shopkeepers as he returned their salutations, then proudly erect
upon the box-seat, tightening the reins, he turned in the direction of
the railway station, some two miles beyond the town.

People looking after him, said:

"He has gone to meet his lad, that's certain. Well, poor fellow, he
has had plenty of trouble, now he is having his share of good luck!"

La Rousse being restive, Lumineau alighted in the railway yard, and
stood at the head of the mare. Thence could be seen the perspective of
lines going towards La Roche--the lines by which one son had left, and
the other was so soon to return to La Fromentière. He had not long to
wait. The train dashed into the station with a whistle; the farmer was
still quieting the mare, terrified by the noise, when the passengers
came thronging out: townspeople, men-of-war's men on leave,
fishmongers from Saint Gilles or Sables, and lastly a smart Chasseur
d'Afrique, slight and tall, his képi well balanced, fair moustaches
waxed to a point, his knapsack full to bursting, who, after looking
eagerly round the yard, smiled and ran out with widespread arms:

"Father! Ah! what luck, it's father!"

The bystanders, indifferently looking on, saw the two men embrace each
other with a strong, almost suffocating pressure.

"My Driot!" exclaimed the old man. "How happy I am!"

"And I too, father!"

"No, not so happy as I am! If you only knew!"

"What, then?"

"I will tell you. Oh, my Driot, the joy of seeing you again!"

They disengaged themselves from each other's arms. The young soldier
adjusted his collar, and restored the equilibrium of his képi on the
point of falling.

"Ah, I expect you will have no end of things to tell me, after all
this long time? Important, perhaps? You will tell me by degrees at La
Fromentière, while we are at work. Ever so much better than letters,
eh?" And he threw back his fair head with a merry laugh.

His father could only respond with a faint smile; then, going towards
the tilbury, one on either side, they swung themselves up with the
elasticity of two men of the same age.

"Shall I drive?" asked André, and taking up the reins he gave a click
with his tongue. La Rousse pricked up her ears, reared playfully to
show that she recognised her young master, and with arched neck and
eyes aflame, she soon left far behind the two empty hotel omnibuses,
which were in the habit of racing each other on their way back from
the station. Those who had exchanged greetings with the farmer on his
way to the train, and many others, watched to see the two men pass by;
clear-starchers looking out as they ironed; the little dressmaker from
Nantes who came at the beginning of each season to take orders from
her ladies at Chalons; shopkeepers standing at their doors; peasants
at their dinners in inn parlours; all attracted by the sight of a
soldier, or gratified to have a sign of recognition from the two
Lumineaus. La Rousse trotted at such speed that the old man had not
time to resume his hat between his salutations. Remarks followed the
tilbury in the vacuum of air made by its rapid course.

"That's the son from Africa. A handsome lad! How well his blue tunic
suits him. And the old man, how happy he looks!"

The farmer sat close to his recovered son. Halfway down the last
street, bordered by an elm hedge shedding its leaves on the road, the
old man plunged his big hand into his pocket and nudged Driot's elbow
to call attention to the two choice cigars he held between finger and

"With pleasure," responded the young man, and taking one he lit it,
somewhat slackening the mare's pace as he did so, then, after a few
puffs, as the gorse-covered slopes, golden with blossom, the stony
fields, the crown-topped elms, came in sight, bringing with them the
sweetness of old familiar scenes, Driot, hitherto somewhat silent and
abashed by the attention they had excited, began:

"And all the home-folks, father, how are they?"

A deep furrow lined the farmer's brow. Toussaint Lumineau turned a
little in his seat and looked away towards the landscape, distressed
at having to tell the trouble, and still more by the fear of what his
handsome Driot would think about it.

"My poor boy," he said, "we have only Mathurin and Rousille at home

"And François, where is he?"

"Only fancy! Ah! you little think what I am going to tell you. A
fortnight ago yesterday he left La Fromentière to work on the railway
at La Roche. Eléonore went with him. It seems that she was to keep a
coffee shop. Can you believe it?"

"You sent them away from home?" asked the young man, removing the
cigar from his mouth and looking straight at his father. "They are not
such fools as to have left you for any other reason!"

The words gave the old father a thrill of joy. His Driot understood
him; his Driot was at one with him. Returning the frank gaze, he

"No; they are a couple of idlers, who want to make money without doing
anything for it ... ungrateful, both of them, leaving their old father
... and then you know that François loves pleasure. Since he served
his time he has always had a hankering after town life."

"I know; and I know that town has its attractions," returned André,
touching up La Rousse with the point of the whip; "but to grease the
wheels of a railway carriage, or serve out drink! Well, everyone goes
his own way in this world. All the better for them if they succeed.
But I cannot tell you what the fact of François' going is to me. I was
so looking forward to our farm-life together."

He remained bending forward awhile as if only intent on the twitching
of the mare's delicate ears, then asked in his caressing voice:

"Things are going badly with us then, father?"

"They have been somewhat, my boy. But they won't now that you are

André made no direct reply, nor did he say anything at all just then.
He was scanning the horizon for a slate-covered clock tower and
certain tree-tops not yet distinguishable in the distance; his heart
was already in the old home.

"At any rate," said he, "Rousille is left to us. She had grown a
pretty girl when I was last home on leave, very taking, and with a
will of her own! You cannot imagine how often I used to think of her
when I was out in Africa, and try to sketch her portrait from memory.
Is she as jolly as ever?"

"She is not bad," replied the farmer.

"And a good girl, I hope? She is not the sort to turn herself into a

"No, certainly not."

The good-looking young soldier slackened the mare's pace, partly
because they had reached a turn in the road where there was a steep
descent, partly that he might the better see, at the foot of the
sloping ground, the Marais of La Vendée opening out like a gulf. He
had only been home once before in his three years of service; with
growing emotion he gazed upon the groups of poplars and tiny red roofs
standing out from the waste of marshland; his eyes roved from one to
the other; his lips trembled as he named the farms one by one; all
other emotion was silenced in that of coming home again.

"Parée-du-Mont!" he exclaimed. "What has become of the eldest Ertus?"

"Nothing much; he is in the Customs."

"And Guerineau of la Pinçonnière, who was in the 32nd line regiment?"

"Oh, he went off like François; is conductor on the tramway to

"And Dominique Perrocheau of Levrelles?"

The farmer shrugged his shoulders with annoyance, for, in
truth, it was aggravating to be obliged constantly to answer
"Gone--left--deserted the Marais." However he had to say:

"You heard, doubtless, that he gained his gold stripes at the end of
his first leave; then he obtained further promotion, and was given
some post, I don't know where, as Government clerk. A set of stupid
fellows, all of them--not worth much, my Driot!"

"Ah, now I see Terre d'Aymont," cried Driot. "It seems nearer than it
used to be; I can distinguish their wind-mill. Tell me, father, there
were two of my playfellows there, sons of Massonneau le Glorieux, one
older, the other younger than me. What are they doing?"

Radiant, Toussaint Lumineau made reply:

"Both on the farm. The eldest exempted his brother. They are fine
fellows who do not mind hard work; you will see them to-morrow at mass
in Sallertaine."

With a light, happy laugh the young soldier said:

"Ah, by-the-bye, one must get into the way of attending mass again, I
suppose. In the army devotion did not trouble us much. Sundays were
rather a favourite day for our chiefs to hold reviews ... they don't
look at things as you do. But you see, father, I will soon accustom
myself to going to mass again--even to high mass--it is not that that
will be the difficulty."

"What then, my lad?"

They were both silent for a moment. Another turn in the road had
revealed La Fromentière on their left. With a simultaneous movement
father and son had risen and were standing almost upright, one hand on
the front of the carriage, contemplating the property, La Rousse
trotting along, unheeded by the driver.

A great, tender rush of feeling, cruel withal, paled André's face. The
land was welcoming a son of its soil; all the scattered recollections
of his childhood awoke and called aloud to him; there was not a
hillock that did not greet him, not a furze-bush, not a lopped elm but
had a friendly look for him. But one and all, too, recalled the
brother and sister he would find there no more.

Without turning his eyes from La Fromentière Driot replied, after a
silence, and without naming those of whom he was thinking:

"I will go and see them at La Roche ... of course I will ... but
brotherhood is not altogether the same when one has broken from the
old place...."

An instant later he was holding Rousille, who had run out into the
courtyard to meet him, high in his arms, looking her full in the face,
into the very depth of her eyes, with the gaze of a brother whose
military experience has made him somewhat suspicious of maidenly
virtue; but seeing that her eyes met his in all frankness, but with
something of a sad expression, he kissed her, and set her down on
terra firma again.

"Always the same, little sister! That's good; but a little sorry at
having lost Lionore, eh?"

"You can see that?"

"Ah well! But I have come now. We will try to get on without them,
won't we?"

"And I?" put in a thick voice.

The soldier left Rousille, and hastened to Mathurin who was coming
towards them; dragging his limbs after him.

"Do not hurry, old man! I must do the running for both; I have sound

Stooping over his crutches, and stroking his elder brother's tawny
head, André could find no words of comfort. Coming fresh from a
military centre where all was young, active, alert, he could not hide
the distress and a certain feeling of horror with which Mathurin's
infirmity inspired him. However, compelled by the other's anxious
look, which seemed to ask, "What do you think of me?--you who come
back, judge--can I live?" he hastened to say:

"My poor old man, I am so glad to find you like this. So you have not
got any worse?"

With a shrug of the shoulders, the cripple angrily pushed him away.

"I am much better," he returned. "You will see. I walk more easily. I
can stand as firmly as I did three years ago, when I thought I was
getting well ... and, for a beginning, I am going with you to mass at
Sallertaine to-morrow."

To avoid answering, the young soldier turned to meet his father, who,
having unharnessed La Rousse, was coming towards them, with happy,
smiling face, having eyes only for his Driot come home to him again.
The men, one following the other, turned towards the house, and went
in; but on this happy day it was the farmer who held back, and the
returned son who went first. Alert, interested as on a first visit,
rejoiced to be made the object of the eyes and ears of the others, he
did not sit down but wandered from room to room, the blue and red
uniform an unfamiliar sight in this home of the toilers of the field.

To amuse his auditors he made the old walls ring again with words of
command; knocked up against corners to feel the strength of the
massive stones; opened the cupboard, cut himself a slice of bread, and
tasted it, with a, "Better than the bread of Algiers, my friends. This
is Rousille's baking, eh? It is excellent; we shall have a good
farmer's wife in her."

Followed everywhere by his father, Mathurin, and Marie-Rose, he went
from the house into the stables and barns.

"I do not know these oxen," said he.

"No, my boy, I bought them last winter at Beauvoir fair."

"Well, I'll bet that I can tell their names from their faces. This
dun-coloured one, that does not look great shakes, is Noblet, and his
companion, the little tawny one, is Matelot?"

"Right," answered his father.

"As for the others, our old ones, they have not changed much, save to
put on more horn and muscle. The plough ought to work well drawn by
them. Good day, Paladin; good day, Cavalier!"

The good creatures lying in the straw, hearing the young voice that
called to them, thrust out their heads, and with their thoughtful eyes
followed the young master.

A little further, stooping down, he took up a handful of green forage.

"Fine maize for the time of year," he said. "This must have come from
our high land; from La Cailleterie?"


"From Jobinière then, where not a grain is lost. Here's a good

The father was ready to join in praise of his oxen, his fields,
everything, so happy was he that the last of his sons, after three
years' absence, still loved the ground.

But the handsome young soldier laughed more than he felt inclined to
do, to hide the sad thoughts that would come during his round, and
when in the shed affected not to see the traps for blackbirds, made by
François the preceding winter. In the threshing floor, seeing a bundle
of faded grass lying on the neatly made hayrick, he bent towards
Rousille, and murmured:

"Did François gather that? Ah, it pains me more than I could have
believed, Rousille, not to find François here. It quite changes La
Fromentière for me."

But the father heard nothing of this. He only saw that his son was
home again, and the future of La Fromentière assured. When they had
re-entered the general sitting-room, Lumineau passed his hand over the
blue tunic of the Chasseur d'Afrique, saying:

"I like you in this, but I bet anything that you will not be sorry to
lay aside your soldier's toggery."

"All right, father," returned André, laughing at the unwitting affront
to his uniform, and his father's indirect mode of inviting him to
change to civilian dress. "I am not got up in Sallertaine guise; I'll
go and change."

From the bottom of the chest in the end room, beside the bed where he
was to sleep, André took the carefully folded work-day suit, laid
there by him the day he left. He took great pains with the waxing of
his moustache, and adjusting the brim of his hat, adorned his
button-hole with a sprig of jasmine; then going the length of the
house, opened the kitchen door, and there, framed against the old
walls, his slim figure clad in cloth suit, was seen the handsomest
young Vendéen of the Marais. Bronzed and fair-haired, his joyous face
reflected the happiness of the others.

"Ah, Driot," exclaimed the farmer merrily, "now you are quite yourself
again! You were my son before, but not so completely my very own as
now," then added: "Now come, and we will drink to your health, and
that you may stay at La Fromentière; for I am ageing fast, and you
shall take my place."

Mathurin, sitting at table beside his father, became very gloomy. When
the glasses were filled, he raised his with the others, but did not
clink it against that of André.



The bells rang out the close of High Mass; choir boys chanted the _Deo

As in its early days, when in the last years of the twelfth century it
was erected on the summit of the Isle of Sallertaine, the little
church, now yellow with age and growth of lichen and wild-flower,
witnessed the crowd of worshippers, dressed in the same fashions as
then, pour out from the same doors in the same order and collect in
the same groups in the same Place.

The first to be seen were the farm-labourers and farmers' sons, who
came out by the east door from the transept where they had heard mass,
and who, passing round the choir, grouped themselves on the other
side, where the young girls would presently emerge. Two by two they
appeared between the pillars of the west porch with eyes lowered to
the tips of their sabots. They were well aware that their rosy cheeks,
smoothly braided hair beneath the pyramid of muslin, the embroidered
stockings peeping under the short petticoat, the manner in which they
walked with hands demurely crossed over the moiré aprons, made them
the cynosure of all eyes. This retired bearing only lasted for some
twenty paces; soon the girls had formed themselves into a group close
by the Michelonnes' house, at a short distance from that of the
younger men. And now in their turn they waited. Eyes grey, blue,
brown, very much on the alert; eyes sparkling with life; eyes in which
lived a remembrance. Laughing lips, telling of the mere joy of living;
the chirping as of a flock of birds greeting one another. Following
them came the farmers and their wives; widows, distinguishable by the
band of velvet in front of their coifs; older men, men of position;
these all issuing from the nave, among them many a grave face still
under the influence of devotion, in which like walking saints they
seemed wholly absorbed. Many tall, finely set up men there were, with
calm, fresh complexioned faces closely shaven, save for a thin line of
whisker. All wore the same costume of black cloth coat with straight
collar, trousers with flaps, raised on the ankle by a fold in the
cloth, blue or green belt extending half way up the waistcoat, round
felt hat bound with velvet. They joined the younger men, swelling the
groups that shouldered each other, forming by this time a dark swaying
mass reaching to the last buttress of the choir.

The matrons, on the contrary, making a passage for themselves through
the crowd, went their way, looking in their plaited skirts like
ornamental round towers. From their calm eyes, and the brief smile
with which they exchanged greetings with a town acquaintance, it was
plain to see that, having outgrown the follies and illusions of youth,
each had settled down to her store of domestic happiness, joy, or
sorrow that a green patch in the Marais had reserved for her. They
talked with other farmers' wives, were joined by one or other for the
homeward way, and thus accompanied, dignified and worthy, they
directed their steps towards the plain, or to the various boating

Despite their departure, the gathering in the Place grew denser and
denser. It was the place of Sunday meeting where for centuries past
the dwellers of the marshes, prisoners of the canal-bound land, had
been wont to assemble. To them attendance at mass was alike a
religious duty and an occasion of social gathering. Before wending
their way back to their farms, not a man, even the gravest and most
considered among them, would have failed to pass an hour in a wine
shop chatting with his friends over a bottle of muscadet and a game of
cards, _luette_ particularly, a game imported from Spain in ancient
times. Already innkeepers were standing at their doors at the foot of
the Place, sounds of merriment and laughter were to be heard from
within, and the stock-phrases of _luette_ players, "Your turn." "My
turn." "I play a horse." "I take merienne."

Meanwhile there was more than ordinary animation among the girls
stationed behind the groups of men. They were scanning all the church
doors, whence were now issuing good women, tellers of rosaries, who
had lingered long over their devotions.

"He is coming out," exclaimed tall Aimée Massonneau, the daughter of
farmer Glorieux, of Terre-Aymont. "Did you see him, that poor Mathurin
Lumineau? He insisted upon coming to mass. I am sure he might have got

"Yes," returned the little auburn-haired daughter of Malabrit, "it is
six years since he came to Sallertaine."

"Six years--really?"

"Yes, I remember. It was the year my sister was married."

"And why do you think he came?" asked Victoire Guerineau, of La
Pinçonnière, a sharp-tongued pretty girl, with a complexion like a
wild rose. "For he must have shown some spirit to manage it."

"To stand by his father," said a voice; "the old man had been so
saddened by the going of Eléonore and François."

"To show himself with his brother André," put in another. "He's a
good-looking fellow is André Lumineau! I should not mind----"

Victoire Guerineau and the others broke into a peal of laughter.

"You are quite out of it. It's for Félicité Gauvrit he came!"

"Oh, oh!" exclaimed those in front.

"How ill-natured you are! If she were to hear you."

And several turned towards the Michelonnes' doorstep, near to which,
amid a little throng, stood Mathurin's former fiancée.

Suddenly a murmur ran through the crowd.

"There he is. Poor fellow! How difficult it is for him to walk."

And under the pointed arch of a low doorway, one half of which only
was open, a deformed figure was seen struggling to force a passage
through the narrow aperture, one hand holding a crutch clutched hold
of a pillar outside, by which the poor man strove to drag himself
through, but he had only succeeded in freeing one shoulder. With head
thrown back, there was an expression of agony upon the face which
attested the violence of the effort, and the strength of will that
would not give in. Mathurin Lumineau seemed on the point of
suffocation; he looked at no one in the throng of people whose gaze
was riveted upon him; his eyes on a higher level than those of the
spectators were fixed upon the blue vault of heaven with an expression
of anguish that re-acted upon them.

Conversation was interrupted; voices began to murmur,

"Oh, help him! He is suffocating!"

Some of the men made a movement to go to his assistance; at that
moment, from the gloom of the interior, his father asked:

"Shall I help you out, Mathurin? You cannot squeeze through there. Let
me help you."

In a low voice, inaudible to those without, but with terrible energy,
Mathurin answered:

"Don't touch me. Confound it! Don't touch me. I will get out by

At length the man forced his huge bust through the door, and with a
tremendous effort steadied himself, stroked his tawny beard and
settled his hat on his head. Then with the aid of his crutches,
standing as upright as he could, Mathurin looked straight before him,
and advanced towards the group of men, which opened out silently at
his approach. No one ventured to address him, it was so long since he
had been among them, the old habit of familiarity seemed lost; but the
attention of all was concentrated upon their former comrade, and no
one noticed that his old father with André and Marie-Rose were
following close behind him.

The cripple had soon reached the spot where the girls were standing.
They fell apart even more quickly than the men had done, for they
guessed his intention; a lane opened between them reaching up to the
houses. At the far end of this living avenue, clad in black dresses
and white coifs, standing erect, quite alone, was seen Félicité
Gauvrit. She was the one he sought. She knew it; she had foreseen her
triumph. No sooner had she observed Mathurin Lumineau sitting on the
family bench in church, then she had said to herself: "He has come for
me. I will hide away by the Michelonnes' house, and he will follow
me." For she was gratified to have it seen that he still loved her,
the girl to whom, handsome though she was, no suitors came. The women
with whom she had been talking had prudently moved away; she stood
alone, under the Michelonnes' window, looking like a lay figure from
some museum in her costume of heavy stiff material, the braids of her
lustrous brown hair shining under the small coif, her dazzlingly white
complexion and uncovered throat. Erect, with arms pendant on either
side of the moiré apron, she watched her former lover coming towards
her between the double row of inquisitive lookers-on. The many faces
bent upon the girl in nowise intimidated her. Perhaps in the suit and
cravat Mathurin was wearing she recognised the very ones he had worn
at the time of the accident; any way, she remained calm and unabashed,
her face even wore a slight smile. He drew nearer, leaning on his
crutches, his eyes fixed, not on the path, but on Félicité Gauvrit.
What the poor fellow wanted was to see her once again; to make her
understand that health was returning, that hope was awakening out of
his misery, that the heart of Mathurin Lumineau had never wavered.
All this his sad eyes told her as he drew near, offering in piteous
pleading the bodily and mental suffering he had endured to her who had
been their cause. But his strength was unequal to the effort, he grew
deadly white; and when the insolent beauty, the first to speak, said
calmly before all the throng:

"Good day, Mathurin," he could not answer. To have seen the smile on
those rosy lips, to be so near to her, and to hear her address him in
the same easy tones as if they had but parted the day before, was more
than he could bear.

He grew faint, leant heavily on his crutches, and slightly turned his
tawny head to Driot, who was behind him, as if to say: "Take me away,"
and the younger brother understanding the appeal, passed the suffering
man's arm under his and led him away, saying as he did so, to divert
the attention of the crowd:

"Good day to yourself, Félicité. It is an age since I have seen you.
You are not a bit altered."

"Nor are you," she retorted.

A few laughed; but among those assembled there were many who were
deeply touched, even disposed to tears. Some of the girls of
Sallertaine pitied the poor fellow so exhausted and confused, led away
on his brother's arm; they sorrowed that he could never enjoy that
love which each, in the recesses of her heart, hoped some day to share
with the yet unknown swain. One of them murmured:

"It is not only in body that he is afflicted, his mind, too, seems
gone, poor fellow!"

Many women, mothers going home with their children, walked more
sedately as they saw the group on the way to Chalons: old farmer
Toussaint, André and Mathurin, with Marie-Rose bringing up the rear.
They recalled with a shudder what a magnificent youth the poor cripple
once had been, and thought: Heaven send that no such calamity befall
our boys when they grow up!

Félicité Gauvrit began to be affected in her turn, but in a different
manner. The departure of the Lumineaus had turned attention away from
her. Some of the men surrounded the district crier, who was calling
out the list of lost articles and farms to be let; others repaired to
the inns. The girls collected in little companies to seek the homeward
way. Every minute five or six white coifs were to be seen bowing and
bending in farewell salute, separating from the others, and going off
to the right hand or the left. Félicité, left alone for some minutes,
joined one of the groups going west of Sallertaine, towards the high
Marais; she was received with some embarrassment, as one whom they did
not want to fall out with, yet who was somewhat compromising, and
whose company their mothers did not desire for them.

Young men drinking together in the inns called after her the slighting
remarks men make on girls for whom they have little respect. She did
not answer them back, but with her companions descended the hilly
road bordered with houses, and thence on to the open Marais in the
direction of Perrier.

At that time of the year, before autumn rains had set in, many of the
farms could be reached on foot without the aid of boats. A raised
path, rough and ill-kept, flanked by dykes on either side, led across
the meadows; grey-green grass covered the level plain until the
uniform tint dissolved in brownish hue in the distant horizon. Horses
grazing, stretched out their necks, and looked at the little group
clad in black and white, breaking the continuity of grey-green plain.
Ducks, at the sound of their footsteps, ran in among the rushes that
trembled on the edge. From time to time a shelving embankment branched
off the path, and one of the girls, separating from the group, would
make her way by it to some distant house, only marked by the customary
cluster of poplar-trees; and Félicité Gauvrit, roused for a moment
from her abstraction, would say "Good-bye," and then walk on silently
as before.

Soon she was left alone on the path that stretches to the sea. Then
slackening her pace, she gave herself up without restraint to her
thoughts. She was not happy at home. At sixty-five her father had
married again a woman of thirty of loose character, whom he had met at
Barre-de-Mont, and to whom in virtue of her youth he had made over the
most realisable part of his property. The young stepmother was not
kind to Félicité. One reproached the other with extravagance and
ruining the home. The eldest brother, in the Customs at Sables
d'Olonne, a gambler and hard drinker, was perpetually threatening the
old man with a summons for falsified accounts, and by thus
intimidating him drained still further the diminished capital of the
Gauvrits. The old family, once so respected in the Marais, was rapidly
declining, and this Félicité knew too well. The young men of
Sallertaine and the neighbouring parishes came readily enough to
dances at La Seulière; they danced, drank, joked with her, but not one
of them offered to marry her. The impending ruin, the family
divisions, kept suitors away.

Yet another reason, more real, and one that appealed more strongly to
sentiment than any other, held back the sons of farmers, and even
farm-labourers from asking the hand of Félicité Gauvrit in marriage;
and this was the tie, binding only in honour, the debt of fidelity,
rendered even more sacred by misfortune, which public opinion
obstinately maintained as still existing between La Seulière and La
Fromentière. In everybody's opinion Félicité Gauvrit remained one of
the Lumineau household; a girl who had not the right to withdraw her
betrothal promise, and who was not to be sought in marriage by any
other while Mathurin was living. Some men even had a superstitious
dread of her; they would have been afraid to set up housekeeping with
a girl whose first love had met so unhappy a fate. All the advances
she had made had come to nought. Soured and embittered, in her rage
she had gone so far as to regret that the cripple had not been killed
on the spot. Had the poor wretch, who was scarcely to be called
living, died then and there, she would have recovered her liberty, the
past would have been quickly forgotten; while now, it was kept in
everyone's memory by the sight of the maimed man on crutches, hanging
about the farmstead of which he should have been master. She had found
that Death is sometimes long in claiming its victims. Then courage had
returned; in her astuteness Félicité had recognised that public
opinion holding her as belonging to the Lumineau family, by them only
could she realise her ambition: to go away from La Seulière, escape
the domination of her stepmother, and become the mistress of a large
farm, with more means and freedom than ever she had possessed at home.
Never having loved her former betrothed, actuated only by vanity, as
is sometimes the case in country surroundings, she had said to

"I will bide my time. I will make them long the more for me by not
going to La Fromentière. One day Mathurin will come to me, or will
call me to him. I am positive that he has not forgotten me. Stupid of
him; but it will help my ends. Thanks to him, I shall see them all
again; the old man who mistrusts me, the young men who will admire me
for my beauty. And I shall marry either François or André, and shall
be the mistress of a farm as I ought to be, and of the richest farm
in the whole parish."

Now François, whom she had tried to captivate, had gone away. But, on
the other hand, Mathurin had come to her; at the cost of terrible
fatigue and suffering he had dragged himself to Sallertaine to greet
her publicly; while André, before all the girls, had said: "It is an
age since I saw you. You are not a bit altered."

Félicité had gathered one of the yellow irises that grew so profusely
on the Marais. Half laughing she thought over her recent triumph, the
iris lightly held between her lips; her arms swinging as she walked
caused the full sleeves to rustle against the moiré of her apron; her
smiling gaze was directed to the distant meadows. She was thinking
that André would make a handsome husband, better looking than ever
Mathurin had been; that, after all, he was one year younger than
herself, that he had engaging manners, and had not been wanting in
audacity either to have said: "You have not altered." And she went on
to think: "The first opportunity that offers, I will invite them to a
dance at home. I am sure that André will come."

Slowly she walked along the raised path in the burning rays of the
mid-day sun. Grasshoppers were chirping; every now and again the acrid
scent of fading rushes was in the air. Wholly absorbed in her
daydream, Félicité Gauvrit did not perceive that she had nearly
reached home. The white buildings of La Seulière, standing out in the
meadow, came as an unwelcome surprise. At the same moment a doubt
crossed her mind, disturbing, unbidden ending to her dream. Suppose
André too were to go away? Or that Mathurin, elated as he was sure to
be by the least sign of remembrance, and made thereby more eager, more
jealous, were to guess what was in the wind?

Félicité had stopped in the middle of the bridge that led from the
path to the farm. The tall, supple young woman raised her arms above
her head, scowled impatiently, and snapped the stem of the yellow
iris, which fell prone into the dyke, then following it with her eyes
for a second, she looked at her own reflection in the water, and
smiled again. "I shall succeed," she said. And descending the slope of
the bridge she reached La Seulière by the cross road.



The afternoon of that autumn Sunday was marked by a deeper
peacefulness than usual. The air was warm, the light veiled, the wind,
which, rising with the tide, had outstripped it, sweeping over the
vast grassy plain, brought no sound of work in its train, no creak of
plough, no ring of hammer, spade, or axe. The bells alone were heard
answering each other from Sallertaine, Perrier, Saint Gervais, Chalons
with its new church, vast as a cathedral, and Seullans hidden among
the trees on the hill. Chimes for High Mass, ringing for Angelus, the
three strokes for vespers left the bells but little rest; far and near
they told out the familiar tones, understood for centuries past.
Adoration of the Holy One; forgetfulness of earth; pardon for sin;
union in prayer; equality of all men in the light of eternal promises.
The tones rang out into space and interlocked with a vibration, and
were as garlands flung from one belfry to another. Among the toilers
of the fields, cattle drivers, sowers, there were but few who did not
obey the summons. Along roads deserted all the week were to be seen
families hastening, passing and repassing one another, of those who
lived at the remotest portions of the parish; while those who lived
nearer took it more leisurely. On the canal, which, broadening at the
foot of the church, forms the quay of Sallertaine, boats were
constantly moving hither and thither.

Towards evening the bells had ceased; the frequenters of inn parlours
too had betaken themselves to their farms, lying peacefully in the
light of the setting sun. Universal silence reigned over the land.
Quiet as it was on working-days, at the close of the week it seemed
sunk in meditation and silence; dominical truce that had its great
significance, when weary souls refresh themselves, and whole families
unite in calm and meditation to review their living and their dead.

But to-day the quiet was to be of short duration.

Mathurin and André were lying under the shade of the elms that
afforded provisional shelter to the harrows and ploughs close by the
old stonework gateway. The cripple, leaning against the cross-bars of
a harrow, was resting after the fatigue and excitement of the morning.
André, from concern for him, had not gone into town again with his
father, but lying at full-length on the grass was reading the paper
aloud, pausing every now and then to make his comments on the news,
and, as a travelled man, to explain the whereabouts of places and
countries--Clermont Ferrand, India, Japan, the while twirling his
little fair moustache, a very youthful and ingenuous self-sufficiency
showing itself in his frank, merry face. At about four o'clock, to the
left of Sallertaine, was heard the sound of a bugle, coming apparently
from the open marsh between the parishes of Lumineau and Seullans.
Mathurin roused from the torpor into which he had sunk, looked at
André, who at the first sound of the bugle had let fall the paper, and
with uplifted face and straining ears was listening to the call.

"It is the cadets," said his brother, "they are out this afternoon.
Soon they will be leaving."

"They are playing the call of the 'Chasseurs d'Afrique,'" returned
André, a light in his eyes. "I recognise it. Is there anyone of our
old regiment in the Marais?"

"Yes, the son of a gooseherd in Fief; he served his time with the

They were silent, both men listening to the bugling of the ex-Zouave,
their thoughts very different. André with eyes fixed on the distant
marshland was seeing in imagination a white town, with narrow streets,
and a troop of horsemen emerging from a crenulated gateway, its arches
echoing with the ring of their horses' hoofs.

Mathurin, watching the expression on his brother's face, thought: "His
heart is still with the regiment." For an instant his features
distended, his eyes dilated as those of a wild beast detecting its
prey, then he returned to his one idea.

"Driot," he exclaimed after a while, "you like that music?"

"I should think so."

"Do you regret the regiment?"

"No, that I don't. No one does."

"Then what was the attraction out there?"

The young man looked inquiringly into his brother's face as though to
say, why should he want to know, then answered:

"The country----Hark! that's the reveille now."

The sounds of the bugle, sharp, incisive, stopped. Now five or six
strong untrained voices struck up "Le chant du départ." Occasional
words reached the listeners where they lay. "Mourir pour la patrie ...
le plus beau ... d'envie." The rest was lost in space.

Meanwhile the sounds were approaching; the two brothers motionless
under the elms, each pursuing the train of thought evoked by the first
notes of the bugle, could hear the conscripts of Sallertaine coming up
the hill towards them.

Toussaint Lumineau, on his way home from vespers with his friend
Massonneau, heard them also. Massonneau, an old tenant farmer, tall
and thin, with skin as dark as a ripe ear of corn, the cartilages of
his neck standing out like the breast-bone of a fowl, had acquired his
name of "Le Glorieux" from a nervous twitch he had, which caused his
chin to jerk upwards at every instant; Lumineau and he were discussing
the latest events of La Fromentière. The two men represented the age
and wisdom of the Marais; moreover, they could tell the names and
nicknames of every living soul at Sallertaine, their history and
parentage. As they reached the last houses of the town, both
simultaneously stopped and turned their faces windward.

"Do you hear, Glorieux?" exclaimed Lumineau. "They are bugling and
singing, poor boys! But the parents of those who are going may well

"Yes," returned Massonneau, with a twitch of the chin, "the parents
are to be pitied."

"I could name them, everyone, from only hearing their lad's voices,"
continued Lumineau. "You, good people of La Bounellerie, and you, of
Grand Paiement; you, of Juch-Pie; you, of Linotteries; and you, of
Belle-Blanche, I recognise your boys' voices. May it not do the same
work for them that it did for my François! They are going to the place
that changed my boy's heart--to the town that robbed me of him."

"As it robbed La Pinçonnière," said his companion.

"And Leverells."

"And Parée-du-Mont."

The litany might have been prolonged; Massonneau hearing the voices at
the edge of the Marais broke in with:

"They are singing again," he said, "they are going up the hill to you,

And in truth the young conscripts had begun the ascent towards La
Fromentière; soon the bugle call, soon their voices, resounded over
the silent Marais, carried afar by the wind, like grains of seed
falling everywhere. And everywhere, without apparent reason, emotions
were stirred, old sorrows awoke, and the humble occupants of isolated
farms or remote villages listened with a tightening of the heart to
the tramp of the conscripts of Sallertaine.

As they reached the meadow-land of La Fromentière, Mathurin, who had
been following the sounds, and with his marvellous sense of
observation had marked every step of their way, said to André:

"They have already halted at three farms. I think they must be
collecting for their class. You did not do that? For the last two
years they have started calling at all the houses where there is a
young girl of their own age, to ask her for a fowl as compensation for
having to serve. Rousille is drawn among the other girls. You should
catch a fowl to give them when they come."

"So I will," returned André, laughing and springing up with a bound.
"I'm off. What do they do with all the fowls?"

"Eat them. They get three or four farewell dinners out of them. Be
quick! they are coming!"

André disappeared within the courtyard. Soon could be heard his merry
laugh, and a rush in the direction of the barn, then the terrified
cries of the fowl he had evidently caught; and soon he reappeared
holding his prize by the legs, its round spotted wings, grey and
white, rising and falling on the grass as he walked. At the same
moment a blast on the bugle was heard at the foot of the dwarf
orchard; Mathurin half-raised himself upon the harrow, his hands
clasping the cross-bars, his arms extended, his shaggy head bent
forward, awaited the arrival of the troop, André standing beside him.
Opposite them, just at the opening of the road leading down to the
Marais, the setting sun, an enormous ball tinted orange by the mist,
filled the entire space between the two treeless banks.

In this sun-bathed glory three girls advanced, arm-in-arm, up the
ascent, the tallest in the middle; all were dressed in black with lace
coifs; the jet on their velvet kerchiefs sparkling in the light. As
they walked they rhythmically swayed their heads; they were girls from
Sallertaine, but the light was behind them, and only Mathurin could
recognise in the centre one Félicité Gauvrit. A few paces in the rear
came the bugler, a standard-bearer, and five young men walking
abreast, carrying either in their arms or suspended from a hempen cord
the fowls collected from the farmhouses. The procession advanced some
hundred yards along the road, then pulled up between the elms and the
ruined wall of La Fromentière.

"Good day, brothers Lumineau!" said a voice.

There was a burst of laughter from the band, excited by their march
and the muscadet they had drunk on the way. The cripple's hands gave
way, he glanced up at André.

Félicité Gauvrit, without leaving hold of her companions, had advanced
slightly in front of them, and was gazing with a pleased expression at
the youngest Lumineau, who held out the grey fowl to her.

"You guessed then, André?" she said. "Ah, that's what it is to have to
do with intelligent boys. Here, Sosthene Pageot, come and take
Rousille's fowl."

A sturdy lad with ruddy face, and the stupefied air of one beginning
to feel the effects of drink, stepped out from among the others and
took the fowl. But from the mocking attitude of André, and his studied
silence, Félicité guessed that he was surprised to see a girl of her
position in such company, therefore she added carelessly:

"You may be satisfied that I do not range the Marais every day with
conscripts. My doing it to-day is out of kindness. My two friends
here, who belong to the class, were called upon to go the round to
collect; they are shy and dared not go alone, and so it must have been
given up, had I not come to the rescue." She expressed herself well,
with a certain refinement that came with the habit of reading.

"That would have been a pity!" said the young man coldly.

"Yes, would it not? The more so, that I am not often seen in your part
of the world."

She turned her head towards the windows of La Fromentière, the
stables, the hayricks, sighed, then immediately remarked in a playful

"You will come to one of our dances, will you not, André? The
Maraîchines hope so."

At this there were signs of approval to the right and left of her.

"Perhaps," replied André. "It is so long since I was at a dance in
Sallertaine; inclination may return."

She thanked him with a knowing wink; then for the first time seemed to
be aware of the presence of Mathurin, who was looking at her with an
air of mingled passion and grief.

A look of pity and embarrassment, not altogether feigned, came into
her face as she said:

"You understand, Mathurin, what I say to one I say to all in your
house.... If it were not too fatiguing for you?... I was glad to see
you at mass again this morning ... it shows that you are feeling

The cripple, only able to express himself clearly when he had time to
think over his words, stammered out:

"Thank you, Félicité ... you are very kind, Félicité," and he uttered
her name with a kind of adoration that seemed to touch two or three of
the conscripts, stupefied as they were.

"What was your regiment, Mathurin?" asked the standard-bearer.

"The third Cuirassiers."

"Bugler, a _fanfare_ of the Cuirassiers in honour of Mathurin
Lumineau! Forward, march!"

The three girls, the bugler, the standard-bearer, and the five young
men bringing up the rear, left the shade of the elms, and went on
their way towards Quatre-Moulins, raising clouds of dust crossed by
the slanting rays of the sun. The _fanfare_ shook the walls of the old

When the last lace coif had disappeared among the furze-bushes and
willows that bordered the road, Mathurin said to his brother, who had
taken up the paper again and was absently reading:

"Would you believe it, Driot, this is the first time for six years
that she has been here!"

André replied, too abruptly:

"She did for you once, old man. Better take care that she does not do
it a second time."

With muttered words of anger Mathurin Lumineau picked up his crutches,
and moving away to a little distance, leant up against a tree. The two
brothers spoke no more to each other; both were absently gazing out
over the marshland, where the daylight was dying away. The sun was
rapidly sinking in the lowland, only a red crescent broken by shadows
remained of the fiery globe, against which some dark object in the
horizon, a willow, or a group of rushes, stood out like a crown of
thorns. It faded away; a fresh breeze rose on the hills; the sounds of
the bugle and of voices were no longer heard. Profound silence was
over the country, here and there in the grey distance was the glimmer
of a fire. Peace had returned; sorrows, one by one, were ending in
sleep or in prayer.

Old Lumineau coming back from the town saw his two sons standing
motionless among the trees wrapt in contemplation of the quiet scene,
and not knowing their thoughts, said brightly:

"A fine sight, our Marais, eh, boys? Now let us go in together; supper
will be waiting." Then as, in the darkness, André came first, he

"How glad I am to have you home again from the regiment, my Driot!"



Winter had come. La Fromentière seemed peaceful and happy. Anyone
going over the fields and watching the men at work, would have had no
fear for the future of the farmstead. The new farm-hand did not excite
himself, as Toussaint Lumineau said, that is to say, he worked his
fourteen hours a day regularly, without uttering fourteen words. As
for André, he was the joy and pride of his father, who, on his part,
did not spare himself. Good labourer, good sower, an early riser,
careful of the animals and of everything else that came to his hand,
the young man seemed to prove that he had found his vocation, and was
determined to remain a farmer all his life.

And yet at the bottom of his affectionate, restless heart, there was a
growing sore. André could not accustom himself to François' absence.
He missed the friend of his young life, the companion without whom La
Fromentière had never presented itself to his mind.

The week after his return home, André had gone to see François and
Eléonore at La Roche-sur-Yon. He had found them settled in a house in
the outskirts, already somewhat discontented: one inveighing against
the hardness of his employers; the other that customers did not come;
without any regrets, however, for what they had done, and quite
decided as to the advantages of living in a town, and being their own
masters. He had gone back without the least wish to follow their
example--more severe even than before against the renegades from the
old home life; but possessed of a fixed idea, he sought François in
everything. La Fromentière that knew François no longer was to him
empty and void. It became a thing of which he could not shake himself
free; a suffering of which he never spoke, but that everyone
unwittingly renewed.

The farmer, whose anger had abated, more particularly since he knew
that the position of his two absent children at La Roche was none too
brilliant, began voluntarily to speak of François as if to secretly
encourage the others to remember him, and to do their best to bring
him home again. It would be: "To-day we will sow La Cailleterie, where
François ploughed the first two furrows," or, "let us have some
chestnuts roasted in the embers to-night, Rousille, François used to
like them." He thought to do well by so speaking, to re-unite, as it
were, in some degree those whom misfortune had parted. And Rousille
did the same. Still oftener did everyday objects speak of, and recall
the absent one. Now it was a fork he had been wont to use; a basket
woven by him; the rope twisted round a rafter of the stables by a hand
no longer there; or even a nook or corner of a road or field to which
some memory clung; the stump of a tree; a furze-bush; in fact, the
whole Marais, where for years two boys of almost the same age,
brothers inseparable, had driven the cows, jumped dykes, and gone
birds'-nesting together.

Poor François, lazy, spendthrift, pleasure-loving as he was in
reality, legendary virtues were already gathering round him at La
Fromentière. His place in the diminished family was reserved to him
with tender, affectionate regret, a regret that even magnified what
had been his place there. André, disheartened, and disappointed in the
joy of home coming, had not the same love for the new La Fromentière
that he had had for the old one. It was all so changed! He had known
it bright with the noise and bustle of a large, united family under
the control of a man who, despite his years, was cheery and vigorous,
and with more willing hands than were needed to get through the day's
work--a home as passionately loved and defended as any nest from which
the fledgelings have not yet flown. He found it unrecognisable. Two
had gone, leaving the house desolate, the old father inconsolable, the
work too heavy for those left behind. Rousille was wearing herself
out. André saw clearly that he alone would not suffice to keep La
Fromentière in a state of good cultivation, certainly not to improve
it, as he had so often meditated through the hot, sleepless nights in
Africa, thinking of the elm-trees at home. For this two strong young
pair of arms were needed, without counting the help of a farm-servant:
François should have been there with André! He struggled against the
discouragement that oppressed him, for he was a brave lad. Every
morning he went out into the fields with the determination to work so
hard that there should be no room for thought; and he worked and
ploughed, sowed seed or dug ditches, planted apple-trees with all zest
and energy, not taking a moment's rest. But the recollection of
François followed him everywhere; in everything he saw the decline of
the farmstead. Working alone made the days long; longer still were
they in the company of the new farm-hand, who went about his work
stolidly, interested neither in the projects nor regrets of the
farmer's son.

In the evening when André returned from work in whom should he
confide, or who was there to comfort him? His mother was dead; his
father had need of all his own hope and buoyancy of spirit that he
might not break down himself; Mathurin was so uncertain and so soured
that pity might well go out to him, but not real brotherly love. There
remained Rousille, possibly. But Rousille was seventeen when André
had left home, and he continued to treat her as a child, and told her
nothing. Besides she was scarcely ever to be seen, poor girl, always
on the run and hurried. The house was dull, and the young man felt it
the more that regimental life, hard enough in all conscience, was yet
full of go and movement.

Weeks went by, and there was no break in the sadness. Weary of being
thus thrown upon himself, little by little André suffered his thoughts
to go out from the mournful surroundings amid which he, in vain, tried
to recognise the home of his youth. Like all peasants of the coast, he
was one of those taciturn labourers who look over the sand-hills
towards the sea, and who dream dreams when the wind blows. Sad and
dejected he fell back upon the fatal knowledge he had acquired in
absence: that life was possible in other places than at La Fromentière
on the borders of the Marais of La Vendée.

The temptation grew stronger. Two months after having re-taken
possession of the room that the two brothers had formerly shared
together, one night, when the other inmates of the farm were sound
asleep, André began a letter to a comrade in the foreign legion, whom
he had known in Africa. "I find it too dull here. My brother and
sister have left home. If you happen to know of any good investment in
land in Algiers, or elsewhere, let me know. I have not come to any
decision, but I am thinking of going away. I am, as it were, alone
here." And answers soon came. To the great astonishment of Toussaint
Lumineau the postman began bringing pamphlets, papers, and
prospectuses to La Fromentière, over which André did not make merry as
did Rousille and Mathurin. Laughingly his father, who had no suspicion
of André, said:

"There has never been such a supply of paper at La Fromentière, Driot,
as in the few weeks since you have been home. I don't grudge it you,
reading is such a hobby of yours! As for me, I should be tired to
death with all the printed stuff."

Only on Sundays the old father suffered a little from his son's
passion for reading and writing. On that day after vespers it was his
habit to bring back some old friend, either Le Glorieux de la
Terre-Aymont, or Pipet de la Pinçonnière to pay a visit of inspection
round the farm fields. Up hill and down dale they would go in single
file, examining everything, expressing approval or disapproval by
uplifted eye or shrug of the shoulder, exchanging an occasional word
that had always the same object: the harvest, present or future, good
or indifferent, threatened or gathered in. In this winter season it
was the fields, the young wheat, and patches of lucerne that were
under consideration; and Toussaint Lumineau, who had not succeeded in
getting André to accompany them, would confide to his neighbour of La
Terre-Aymont, or La Pinçonnière as they stopped where the slanting
rays of the sun fell on the corner of a field:

"My son André is quite different from anyone I have ever known, and
not a bit like we used to be. Not that he despises the land, on the
contrary, he loves it, and I have no fault to find with his work all
the week. But since he came home from the regiment, his one idea on
Sunday is reading."

Rousille, too, was sometimes surprised. She had too much to do indoors
to occupy herself with the work or amusements of the others. Busy with
housekeeping, and the thousand and one duties of the farmyard, she
never saw André save at meal-times, and in presence of the others. At
those times, whether by an effort of will, or that youth obtained the
mastery over depression, André was usually in gay and careless
spirits, bantering Rousille and trying to make her laugh. But as a
woman and one who had suffered, Rousille had learned to discern the
sorrows of others; and from many a little sign, eyes fixed on the
upper window, words dropped that might bear some other meaning, her
loving heart had divined that André was not altogether happy; without
knowing more, she felt sorry for him. But even she was far from
guessing the crisis through which her brother was passing, or the
project he was meditating.

One solitary member of the family had penetrated the designs of André,
and that was Mathurin. He had observed his brother's increasing
sadness; the useless efforts he was making to regain his former
equability of temper; his calm fortitude in daily labour. Sometimes
he would follow him into the fields, then watch for the arrival of the
postman and take charge of the letters and papers addressed to André.
The smallest details remained engraven on his brooding memory; and one
day, under the guise of indifference, with a skilfully put question
his brooding took shape. He was aware that the greater number of the
letters received by André bore the stamp either of Algiers or Antwerp,
and the latter place conveying nothing to Mathurin, André had

"It is a large port in Belgium, larger than Nantes that you once
passed through."

"How do you come to know anyone living so far from here and far from

"It's very simple," replied his brother. "My best friend in Algiers is
a Belgian in the foreign legion, whose family live in Antwerp.
Sometimes I hear from Demolder, sometimes from his people, who write
to give me the information I want."

"News of old comrades, then?"

"No, things that interest me in the matter of voyages, other
countries.... One of the sons has settled across the sea, in America.
He has a farm as large as this whole parish."

"Was he rich?"

"No. He is now."

Mathurin did not further press the subject, but he continued to
observe, to add indication on indication. If André chanced to leave a
pamphlet on emigration lying about, or an advertisement of land to be
let or sold, taking it up Mathurin would seek to discover the places
over which his brother's brows had met in a frown, or where something
like a smile, a wish, a desire had lighted up his eyes.

By proof on proof he had arrived at the conviction that Driot was
thinking of leaving La Fromentière. When? For what remote land where
money was easily made? Those were the problems. Thus in the month of
December, when opportunities for confidential chat are more frequent
by reason of days of snow and rain and squall, when alone with André
in the stables or the house, he would say treacherously:

"Tell me about Africa, Driot. Tell me some yarns of men who have made
money out there. I like to hear such things." Or at other times he
would say: "La Fromentière must seem small and insignificant to a
fellow like you who read so much. It certainly is not as productive as
it used to be."

Mathurin had settled coming events in his mind, while Driot was still
in doubt.

So the year drew to a close, and the new year began. It was a wet
winter, with hard frost at nights; every morning spiders' webs covered
with frozen mist would wave in the breeze like white wings, the damp
earth would steam in the mid-day sun, and the white wings turn grey.
The main work of the fields was suspended; the owners of land on high
ground felled trees, or re-made fences; those on the Marais were
perforce reduced to idleness; it was holiday-time with them; dykes
and ditches were overflowing. The greater number of the farms
surrounded by water, and, as it were, floating above it, were cut off
from all communication with the neighbouring towns or each other save
by boats steered over the inundated meadows. It was the time for
dancing and shooting.

The ground, however, was not too hard to work upon, and, following
Mathurin's advice, Toussaint Lumineau resolved to dig up his vineyard
attacked by phylloxera.

So one morning the farmer and André made their way up to the little
field lying well exposed to the south on the high ground which cuts
the road between Chalons and La Fromentière. Before them they saw
nothing but seven rows of vine enclosed by furze hedges, stony ground,
and the revolving sails of two wind-mills.

"You begin on one row," said the farmer, "I will take the next," and
pulling off their coats, despite the cold, for it meant hard work,
they began on their task. Coming up the hill they had talked cheerily
to each other; but no sooner did they begin to dig than their spirits
sank, and they grew silent, not wanting to impart the thoughts that
the work of destruction engendered. If a root, perchance, made very
tough resistance, the father once or twice attempted to joke, saying
playfully: "It felt quite comfortable there, and did not want to be
turned out," or something else to that effect. But he soon gave up the
attempt. He could not succeed in banishing from his mind, nor from
that of the son working beside him, sad thoughts of the time when the
vine prospered, and yielded abundantly the white foaming wine they had
drunk so merrily in the old happy days of fêtes and gatherings. The
contrast of his former prosperity with present hard times fretted him;
and as far as he could see, it weighed still more upon the spirits of
his Driot.

Thus, in silence, they plied their huge, old-fashioned pickaxes, made
to be wielded by giants. The earth flew in showers; the trunks
trembled; some few shrivelled leaves left upon the branches fell, and
were blown about in the wind with a noise as of broken glass; now the
stem was disclosed, vigorous but warped, covered with green moss, the
effects of many a summer dew and rain, and tapering off to the size of
a tendril. The marks of pruning made by successive vinedressers were
not to be numbered; no one could tell the age of the vineyard. Every
year since he could remember anything, Driot had pruned it, dressed
it, gathered its grapes, drunk of its juice. And now it was dying.
Each time that he gave the final blow to a root he felt a pang; each
time that, seizing a portion of the lifeless fibres he threw it on the
heap of dead uprooted stems, he shrugged his shoulders with mingled
sorrow and rage. Dead those veins through which the red, joyous sap
was wont to rise. Dead the fertile branches once bending under the
weight of bunches of grapes, until they rested a golden glory on the
ground! Never again would the flowerets, pale stars with drops of
honey in each centre, attract the summer gnats, nor diffuse their
mignonette-like perfume far over the fields, even to La Fromentière.
Never again would the children of the farmstead push eager hands
through the gaps in the hedge to clutch the bunches within reach!
Never again would the women carry away basketfuls at vintage time. For
many a long day wine would be scarce at the farm, and would be no more
of "our own growing." Something belonging to the family, an hereditary
and sacred possession seemed to perish with the vineyard, old and
faithful servant of the Lumineaus. Father and son were both so
intensely penetrated by the sense of their loss, that, as night
descended, and the father raised his pickaxe for a final stroke, he
could not help exclaiming:

"It's a hateful work, Driot, we have done to-day."

All the same, there was a difference between the sadness of father and
son. Toussaint Lumineau, as he rooted up the vines, was already
thinking of the day when he would plant fresh ones, and in his silent
musings had seen his successor gathering in the vintage and drinking
the muscadet of the new vineyard. He possessed that love, strong and
tried, which rises hopefully after every stroke of misfortune. With
André hope did not speak, because with him love had waxed feeble.

The two men, their figures indistinct in the darkening day, turned to
skirt the grassy edge of the vineyard, then descended the sloping
fields that led towards the farm. With weary, stooping frame,
shouldering their heavy implements, they looked across the Marais to
the crimson horizon, and at the clouds driven by the wind towards the
setting sun. It was a melancholy evening; all around them were
furze-bushes, ground uncultivated, hedges devastated, leafless trees,
the gloom and chill of autumn. Thus they had gone some two hundred
yards before the son could make up his mind to speak, as though
feeling that his reply would be too hard for the father, who lived on
in the same old groove.

"Yes," he said, "the day of the vine is at an end in our land, but it
flourishes elsewhere."

"Where, my Driot?"

In the half dark the son extended his disengaged hand above La
Fromentière, sunk below in the shadows; and the action extended so
far, away over the Marais and over La Vendée, that through his stout
woollen garments Toussaint Lumineau felt the keen blast of the wind.

"What do other countries matter to us, my Driot," said he, "seeing
that we are living in our own?"

Did the son understand the anxious tenderness of the words? He

"Because in ours it becomes more and more difficult to live."

Toussaint Lumineau remembered words, almost similar, spoken by
François and was silent, trying to explain to himself how it was that
André, who was neither lazy nor a frequenter of town pleasures, could
have fallen upon the very same way of thought. As the men, skirting
the brown fields, came nearer home, La Fromentière with its masses of
trees rose like a dome of denser darkness, above which the winter
night was lighting its first stars. The farmer never entered the
beloved precincts of his home without emotion; to-night, more than
ever, he experienced its sweetness, dear to him as any bridal promise.

Rousille, hearing their approaching footsteps, opened the door, and
raised the lamp high in air, like a signal.

"You are late to-night," she said.

Before they could make reply, the long-drawn sound of a horn was heard
coming from the depths of the Marais, beyond Sallertaine.

"It is the horn of La Seulière," cried the voice of Mathurin from
within. The two men, followed by Rousille, entered the warm room with
its blazing hearth.

Mathurin resumed:

"There's a dance at La Seulière to-night. Will you come, Driot?"

The cripple, half-rising, supporting himself by his arms against the
table with a nervous movement, his eyes glaring with long-suppressed
desire, was alike painful to see, and fear-inspiring, as one whose
reason was tottering.

"I am not much in the mood for dancing," returned André carelessly,
"but it may do me good to-night."

Silently the farmer pressed his hand on the shoulder of his afflicted
eldest son, and the fevered eyes relaxed their stare, the body obeyed,
and fell back upon the bench like a sack of wheat that expands as it
touches the ground. The men ate their supper hurriedly; towards the
end of the meal Toussaint Lumineau, whose mind had reverted to André's
words, wishing to take those of his children to witness whose hearts
had never swerved in their loyal love to La Fromentière, said:

"Would you believe, Mathurin, what foolish stuff this Driot was
talking to-night? He declares that vines have had their day with us;
that they flourish better elsewhere. But when one plants a vine, one
expects it to die some day, does one not?"

"Many enough have died before ours," responded the cripple roughly.
"We are not more unlucky than our neighbours."

"That is just what I say," put in André, and he raised his head. His
eyes were lit by a spirit of contradiction, and his silky moustache
quivered as he spoke. "It is not our vineyard alone that is played
out, it is the soil; ours, our neighbours', that of the whole
country, as far and further than you have ever been. One must have new
land to produce good results."

"New land?" returned his father. "I know none about here. It is all

"Ah, but there is in many a country." He hesitated an instant, then
enumerated hurriedly: "In America, the Cape, Australia, British
possessions--everything flourishes in those countries. There the earth
is prolific; while here----"

"Don't speak ill of it, Driot; it is worth the very best!"

"Used up; too dear!"

"Too dear, yes, somewhat. But feed it well, and you will see!"

"Feed it then. You have nothing to buy the stuff with."

"Only come a good year, not too dry, not too wet, and we shall have
money enough!"

The farmer had drawn himself up, as if under a personal insult, and
now awaited Driot's answer.

He, carried away by passion, rose. Everyone looked at him, even the
farm-servant, who, with chin sunk in his horny hand, was trying to
understand the situation. And there was something in the fluency of
words, ease of gesture that made all vaguely feel that André was no
longer like one of themselves.

"Yes," said the youth, proud of an audience, "there might still be
some work to be done here, in the old country; but we are taught
nothing of such things in our schools; that would be too practical.
Then taxes are too heavy, and rents too high; and all the time that we
are leading a miserable existence, they out yonder are having
magnificent harvests. That I hear every day. Our vineyards are ruined,
and they have wine. Wheat grows without their having to dress the
land, and they export it to us in shiploads as full as, from what you
say, the granaries of the old Château used to be----"

"Cock and bull stories! You have read them in books."

"Some of them; but I have seen ships in port, and sacks of wheat being
unloaded like the water of a dyke overflowing its banks. If you were
to read the papers, you would know that everything now comes to us
from abroad far cheaper than we can produce it ourselves: corn, oats,
horses, oxen; and that we have competing with us Americans,
Australians, and soon we shall have Japanese, Chinese----" he was
intoxicated with words; he was but the echo of the few pamphlets he
had read, or of what he had heard from others. La Fromentière heard
him with stupor. China, Japan, America, the names circled round the
room like some unknown variety of bird, brought by the tempest from
far-off regions. The farmhouse walls had heard many uncouth peasant
sounds, but never had they resounded under the shock of these foreign

Astonishment was marked upon the faces that, in the light of the lamp,
were turned upon Driot, who continued:

"I have learnt things, I can assure you! I learn more every day. And,
look you, when one comes home as I have done to-night, from rooting up
a vineyard, it makes one savage to think that there are parts of
America, and I could give you the names, where one can settle without
opening one's purse----"

"You be off!" quoth the ploughman.

"Yes! Government gives the agriculturist his passage free; keeps him
when he first lands; and gives him a ranch of seventy-four acres of

This time the farmer shook his head, scandalised at the enormity of
his son's statement, and said in a tone of disapprobation:

"You are telling up a parcel of lies, my boy. Seventy-four acres, that
makes two hundred and ninety-six roods. I am not much of a reader, it
is true, but I do not let myself be crammed with all the stuff you
believe in like the Gospel. Two hundred and ninety-six roods.
Governments would soon be ruined if they made a present like that to
everyone who wanted it.... Hold your tongue.... It vexes me to hear
our native land talked ill of. Since you want to cultivate it with me,
Driot, do as we do, and don't talk ill of it.... It has always
supported us."

There ensued an embarrassed silence, of which the farm-servant took
advantage to get up, and betake himself to bed.

The call from La Seulière sounded out again in the still night.
Mathurin said no word, but looked at his brother; he, ill at ease,
excited by the recent discussion, understood the mute question, and
answered promptly, in a manner that should show that he was free to do
as he chose:

"Very well. Yes, I am going."

"I will go with you as far as the boat," responded the cripple.

Toussaint Lumineau foresaw danger.

"It is bad enough that your brother should be going to La Seulière,"
said he. "But for you, my poor boy, on no account would it do to go to
their dance. It is cold out of doors. Do not go further than the duck
meadow, and come back quickly." He followed with his eyes the cripple,
who, in great haste, with the unnatural energy given him by emotion,
raised himself on his crutches, hobbled the length of the table, down
the steps, and following André, was lost in the night.

His sons had gone; an icy wind blew in at the wide open door. Alas!
how difficult it had become to govern the household! Sitting on the
bench, his head on his arm, looking out into the dark farmyard, the
old man pondered the things he had heard that night, and his
powerlessness, despite his great love and long experience, to make
himself obeyed, now that interest was lessening in the work of the old

But it was not long before he called to his daughter, busy at her work
of washing up; the least word was such a relief in the empty rooms!

The girl opened the connecting door, and came, drying the plate in her
hands without looking at him.

"I am afraid that Mathurin may go back to see her----"

"Oh, father, he would not do that. Besides, he cannot have his shoes,
and he dare not appear at La Seulière" ... stooping, she searched
under Mathurin's bed, then in the chest, then said as she rose:

"Yes. He has taken them ... he must have put them on beforehand ...
the first sound of the horn came at six o'clock."

The old father began pacing the room with great strides, stopping
uneasily from minute to minute to listen for the sound of crutches on
the gravel that should announce Mathurin's return.



Toussaint Lumineau's uneasiness was well founded. His two sons had
gone down to the meadow, where the dyke, widening, served as a
drinking place for the animals on the farm, and as a harbour for the
two punts belonging to it.

There André had offered no resistance when Mathurin had said:

"Take me. I want to see Félicité." Venturesome, imprudent in things
concerning himself, soldier of but yesterday, still impregnated with
barrack maxims, he had merely said:

"There's not a shadow of sense in it; but if it amuses you!"

And he had chosen the best of the boats, and helped the cripple to
stretch himself in the prow; then, standing on the raised part in the
stern, and taking up the pole, had begun to punt, now pressing the
iron point into the bed of the dyke, now into the bank on either side.

Soon they were far out in the middle of the Marais, the night
intensely cold with no moon. Clouds were chasing each other towards
the sea; and yet it was not one unbroken darkness; up above in the
grey firmament were lighter trails, clear patches constantly broken
and effaced by shifting clouds reflected in their passage on the
surface of the waters, not only of the dykes, but of the submerged
meadows which had been changed into a series of lakes by winter rains,
and above which the sloping embankments were scarcely perceptible.
Every light was multiplied. The darkness had eddies of light, which
enabled André to keep a right course.

The punt followed the canals, cut at right angles; progress was slow,
impeded by ice needles, that formed by the cold clustered on the
sedges of the bank. Did the wind not rise, the whole Marais would be
one sheet of ice before morning; André knew this, and tried to reach
La Seulière as quickly as possible. He began to realise the imprudence
he had committed in taking Mathurin with him on such a night and so
far. The cripple neither moved nor spoke, anxious not to attract his
brother's attention to himself, lest he should straightway turn back.
But when he saw that they were more than two thousand yards from La
Fromentière, sure of reaching their destination, he broke the silence.
Lying on his back, his face hidden by the side of the boat, he asked:

"Driot, when you were speaking to-night of land being given to
agricultural emigrants, you were not joking?"

"Of course not."

"Have they proposed to give you some?"

Noiselessly, he had raised his head, and was watching with eyes and
ears for André's answer. No reply came. In the vast extent of
inundated meadows there was heard no sound but the swish of the water
parted by the punt and washing up as the tide rose against the hard
mud of the shore with little sharp gurgles. Mathurin resumed:

"You miss François, do you not? The house seems different to you with
only me there?"

The young man standing so erect in the stern, his profile scarcely
defined in the darkness, stooped precipitately:

"Look out!" he cried, "lie back, Mathurin!" Perfect darkness was
around them; they were passing under one of the single-arched stone
bridges that intersect the Marais here and there. When they had passed
through Mathurin noticed that the boat was going more slowly, as
though the propeller were absorbed in thought. Encouraged by this,
resolved to be put in possession of the secret that concerned the
future of La Fromentière, the cripple resumed persuasively:

"We are quite by ourselves here, André; why not tell me all you are
pondering? You would like to cultivate newer soil than ours; you, too,
want to go away, but further than François, and for another purpose?"

Then the younger brother ceased to punt. He still stood erect on the
raised stern of the boat, and suffered the pole to float aimlessly
behind him.

"As you have discovered it, Mathurin," he said, "keep my secret. It is
true that proposals have been made to me.... With my two thousand
francs I might have, on the other side of the Atlantic, a whole farm
of my own and a brood of horses.... Some friends of mine are looking
into the matter for me ... but I have not made up my mind. I have not
yet consented."

"You are afraid of father?"

"I am afraid of leaving him in difficulties. If I were to go, who
would carry on La Fromentière? There is certainly Rousille, she might

"Not that _Boquin_ fellow! That would not do for us at all! But my
father has said No; and he is not the man to go back on his word."

"Then I do not see who is to carry on the farm?"

In a hard, imperious voice, which betrayed the intensity of his
feelings, the cripple cried:

"Then I count for nothing?"

"My poor Mathurin...."

"I am better, I shall recover," continued Mathurin, in the same tone.
"When it comes to be my turn to rule, no one but myself will manage La
Fromentière, do you understand?"

Not to exasperate him, André replied:

"Your recovery would be a happy thing for us all, old man. I, for one,
heartily wish it may come about."

But the cripple's wrath was not to be appeased so easily nor so
quickly. Rising from his recumbent position with an effort which
threatened to capsize the punt, he dragged himself on hands and knees
to the stern, where shouting, "Give me your place, boy, you shall see
me punt," he struggled for possession of the pole; and seating himself
in the stern, began propelling the boat with astonishing force and
steadiness, keeping it clear of the banks, and with a rapidity,
despite ice splinters and sedges, which André could not have
accomplished. His huge frame took up the whole width of the boat; his
powerful chest bent and raised itself with all the ease of robust
health. As he went on arms and punt pole worked ever more vigorously;
the banks flew by on either side. Soon he turned off into a canal on
the right for some hundred yards. Now rays of light appeared on the
surface of the water, rendering them more dazzling. They proceeded
from the door of La Seulière. The farm buildings rose up indistinctly
from out the darkness; sounds of voices singing broke the stillness,
mingled with the noise of footsteps on the paved court. With a couple
of strokes, Mathurin brought up the boat into line with some ten other
punts lying side by side; and before André had thought of going to his
help, had rolled with his crutches on to the slope before the house
where he got up unaided.

"Well punted, Mathurin," cried his younger brother, jumping on shore.
He, crimsoned, breathless, pleased as if with a victory won, looked

"Then don't worry yourself!" he said. "A man who can punt a boat as I
do, is capable of managing a farm," and with a blow of his shoulder he
shook the house door. A voice from within called out:

"Gently there! Who wants to break the door in?"

It was flung noisily open, revealing Mathurin standing in the full
glare of the lamplight. The appearance of a ghost could not have
produced greater effect. The noise ceased abruptly, the girls,
frightened, ran away or clustered in groups against the walls. In
their astonishment, many of the lads took off their hats, which they
had kept on while dancing; farmers' wives half rose from the chairs on
which they were sitting. Scarcely did they recognise the new-comer at
such an hour and place.

Tired and crimsoned from his exertions, affected by the hot air of the
room, but proud of the stupefaction he was causing, Mathurin stood
erect on his crutches, and, laughing in his tawny beard, called out in
a stentorian voice:

"How do you do, all of you!"

Then, addressing the group of girls who were retreating to the other
end of the room:

"Who will dance a round with me, my beauties? Why do you look at me
like that? I am not a ghost. I have brought my brother, handsome
Driot, to dance _vis-à-vis_ with me." And they saw him approach,
followed by the youngest son of La Fromentière, tall and slim, his
hand at his forehead in military salute. Then the room resounded with
merry laughter, questions, and greetings; the girls ran towards them
as precipitately as they had before retreated; men's hands were
extended on all sides. Old Gauvrit's loud voice drowned all others,
as, already somewhat heated with wine, he called out from an inner

"The handsomest girl to dance with Mathurin! the handsomest! Let her
show herself!"

It was not in obedience to her father that Félicité Gauvrit came
forward. But, though for an instant disconcerted by this abrupt entry
before all these men and women, she realised that she must put a bold
face on it, and going up to Mathurin Lumineau, her black eyes looking
into his, she threw her arms round his neck and embraced him.

"I embrace him," she said, "because he has more courage than most of
the lads in the parish. It was I who invited him!"

Stupefied, intoxicated by the memories awakened in him, Mathurin once
more shrank away. They saw him grow livid, and, turning on his
crutches, force a path through the group of men on his left, with:

"Make way, make way, lads. I want to sit down!"

He found a place in the second room, beside some of the elder men, old
Gauvrit among them; who rising, poured him out a bumper of the white
wine of Sallertaine, in token of welcome. Still quite pale, Mathurin
lifted the glass with the customary formula, "I drink to you all with
cordiality and love!"

Soon he appeared to be forgotten, and dancing was resumed.

The farmstead where the gathering was held was a fairly modern
building, the usual large house-place being divided into two rooms of
unequal size. In the smaller of these the elder men, with the master
of the house, were drinking and playing luette. In the larger, that by
which the two Lumineaus had entered, dancing was going on. The tables
had been pushed along the walls beside the beds, the curtains of which
had been spread over the counterpanes to save them from being torn.
Some half-dozen matrons, who had accompanied their daughters, had
collected round the hearth before a fire of dried cow-dung, the fuel
of that treeless district, each having on the mantel-piece her cup of
coffee, with a dash of brandy in it, from which she took an occasional

Petroleum lamps placed along the wall lighted the narrow space
reserved for dancing. A smoky, heated, vinous atmosphere pervaded the
house. The icy air from without drew in under the door, sometimes
making the young Maraîchines, despite their stout woollen gowns,
shiver with cold. But no one minded. The room was filled with
laughter, chatter, and movement. Youths and maidens from isolated
farmhouses, cut off from one another by periodical inundations, they
were tired of solitude and repose. Escaped from their tedium and
restored for a brief space of social intercourse, they seemed
possessed by feverish excitement. Soon all the gay dancers would be
dispersed again over the mute, trembling sheet of water. They knew it;
and made the most of the short reprieve.

So dancing recommenced.

First the Maraîchine, a dance for four, a kind of ancient _bourrée_,
which the lookers-on accompanied by a rhythmic humming; then _rondes_
sung by a male or female voice, taken up by the others in chorus to
the accompaniment of an accordeon played by a sickly, deformed boy of
twelve; or there were modern dances, polkas and quadrilles, danced to
one and the same tune, the time only made to vary. The girls, for the
most part, danced well, some with a keen sense of rhythm and grace.
Round their waists the most dainty had knotted a white handkerchief,
to preserve their dresses when, after each refrain, their partner
seized his lady round the waist and jumped her as high as possible, to
demonstrate the lightness of the Maraîchines and the strength of the
Maraîchins. Known to each other, these young people from the same
parish, often neighbours, resumed the flirtations of the preceding
winter; they made love; appointed meetings at Chalons fair, or at
some coming dance at another farm; new-comers were gladly welcomed.
Among these latter André Lumineau was the most sought after, the most
cheery, most fertile at inventing nonsense and talking it.

Time passed. Twice Père Gauvrit had gone through the two rooms, opened
the house door, and said:

"The moon is rising and will soon be visible; the wind is getting up
and it freezes hard," then had gone back to resume his place at the
card-table where the players awaited him. Mathurin Lumineau had taken
a hand, but was playing absently, attending far less to his cards than
to every movement, look, and word of Félicité. Already the artful
beauty had several times contrived to bring her partner to a halt in
the inner room, that she might exchange a few words with Mathurin. She
was radiant with pride; on the bold, regular features that towered
above the greater number of tulle coifs could be read triumphant joy,
that after six whole years, the mad love she had inspired still
endured, and had brought back to her the young men of La Fromentière.

It was ten o'clock. A little Maraîchine, her complexion russet as a
thrush, started the first notes of a _ronde_:

    "When as a little child I played,
      Light-hearted, never dull;
    Down to the spring one day I strayed
      The cresses fresh to cull."

Twenty lads and as many girls took up the chorus:

    "The ducks, the ducks, the ducklings, oh!
    To the Marais forth they go!"

And the _ronde_ invaded both rooms. At the same time Félicité Gauvrit,
who had refused to take her place in the chain of dancers, drew near
the table where Mathurin was sitting. He at once rose, throwing down
his cards to the man sitting next him.

"Stay where you are, Mathurin," she exclaimed. "Do not trouble about
me. I have come to watch the dancers."

But she drew a chair into a corner of the room, assisted Mathurin to
it, and then sat down beside him. Neither spoke. They were sitting in
the half shade of a projecting piece of furniture; the cripple was not
looking at Félicité, nor she at him. Side by side they sat in the
shade of the cherry wood wardrobe, apparently engrossed in watching
the dancers as they passed in and out of the room. But what they
really saw was something very different; one saw the past love
meetings, the plighted troth, the return that night in the waggon, the
awful suffering stretching out through years, the desertion--now at
this very moment--at an end. The other saw the possible, perhaps, near
future; the farmstead of La Fromentière where she would reign; the
bench in church where she would sit; the greetings that would be hers
from the proudest girls round about; and the husband she would
have--André Lumineau--who was now dancing the _ronde_ with the little
girl of fifteen, the singer of the couplets.

Mathurin began speaking in a low voice, words broken by long periods
of silence; he was very pale and in fear that this brief happiness
would too soon come to an end.

Grave and reserved, her hands crossed upon her apron, the daughter of
La Seulière spoke without haste words heard by none but themselves.
Many eyes were turned upon this strange pair of once betrothed lovers.

The dance went on, the refrain echoed from the walls.

The clear, laughing voice of the little Maraîchine sang:

    "The spring was deep, alas, alas,
      Therein I needs must fall.
    Along the road just then did pass
      Three barons valiant all.

    "'What will you give us, maiden fair,
      If to your help we press?'
    'An' you do that,' I did declare,
      'My gift you'll never guess.'

    "Now when the little maid was freed
      And home again that day,
    Straight to the window she did speed
      And sang a merry lay.

    "'Not that we ask, oh, maiden fair,
      'Tis hard to treat us so,
    But tresses of your golden hair,
      Or tokens ere we go.'"

The dance grew faster and more furious. The big Maraîchins seized
their partners and sprang them so high that their muslin coifs touched
the ceiling. The mothers drank a final cup of coffee. The card-players
watched the _sarabande_ through the dusty atmosphere by the uneven
light of the smoking lamps. Mathurin and Félicité, sitting closer
together, still talked on. But the daughter of La Seulière had
suffered one of her hands to be taken between those of the cripple,
and it was the huge hairy hands that trembled, and the little white
hand that seemed not to understand, or to be unwilling to respond.

The _ronde_ came to an end:

    "'Ah, tokens give I none,' said she,
      'To barons gay like you,
    For chosen I am proud to be
      By Pierre, who serves us true.'"

For the first time Félicité, looking at Mathurin said confidentially,
with a laugh:

"That song is Rousille's story."

"Do you know what she wanted?" returned Mathurin hotly, "to marry our
farm-servant; to become mistress of La Fromentière! But I was on the
watch. I had that fellow Jean Nesmy turned out, and I swear to you it
will be long before he dare show his face there again. And now...."

Here he lowered his voice and bent forward until the tawny hair
touched the outer rim of the muslin coif, which did not draw
back--"And now, if you will still have me, Félicité, it is you who
shall be the mistress of La Fromentière." She had not time to answer.
She had risen, the last refrain of the _ronde_ had ended in a murmur
of surprise. A man, whose white head towered above those of the
assembled guests, had abruptly entered and advanced into the middle of
the first room, without removing the hat he wore on his entrance, or
making any salutation. His clothes were coated with ice; on his left
arm he carried an old brown cloak that swept the ground as he walked.
Severe of countenance, with eyes half closed from coming suddenly into
the glare of light, he was evidently seeking someone.

All made way for the farmer of La Fromentière, "Are my lads here?" he

"Yes, of course," returned a voice behind him. "Here I am, father."

"That's right, Driot," said the old man without looking back, "I am
not afraid for you, though this is not the place for my sons. But it
is freezing so hard that it seems likely that the whole Marais will be
frozen before sunrise; and it may be the death of Mathurin, crippled
as he is. Why did you bring him?"

In the general silence the farmer's eyes swept the larger room; a
movement of some of those present showed him Mathurin sitting in the
inner one; and the father saw his crippled son, and beside him the
girl who had been the cause of so much suffering and sorrow.

"That girl!" he muttered, "lying in wait for him again!" With
imperious gesture he forced a passage through the dancers, shouldering
them to right and left. "Gauvrit," he exclaimed, nodding to the host,
who had risen and was staggering towards him, "Gauvrit, I have no wish
to offend you; but I must take away my lads. The Marais is a deathtrap
in weather such as this."

"I couldn't prevent your sons coming," stammered Gauvrit. "I assure
you, Toussaint Lumineau...."

Without heeding him, the farmer raised his voice:

"Out of this, Mathurin!" said he. "Take the wrap I have brought you,"
and he threw the shabby old cloak over the cripple's shoulders, who
rising, meek as a child, followed his father without a word. The
guests looked on, some mockingly, others with emotion, at the sight of
the fine old man who had come that bitter night across the Marais to
rescue his son from the wiles of La Seulière. Some of the girls said
to each other, "He had not a word for Félicité." Others, "How handsome
he must have been as a young man." And one voice murmured, and it was
that of the young girl who had sung the _ronde_, "André is the image
of his father."

Toussaint Lumineau and his sons heard nothing of this. The door of La
Seulière had shut behind them, and they were out in the darkness and
the icy wind.

The clouds were very high; as they scudded along in huge irregular
bodies they formed a succession of black patches, their edges silvered
by the moon. The cold was so intense it seemed to pierce through the
stoutest clothing, and chill to the very marrow of the bones. It was
indeed death to any but the strongest. The farmer, who knew the
danger, hurriedly untied the two punts, and getting into the first
motioned Mathurin to lie down in the bottom of the boat, then pushed
out into the middle of the canal. Again the cripple obeyed, curling
himself up on the boards; wrapped in his brown cloak, motionless, he
looked like a mass of sea-wrack. But, unnoticed by the others, he had
lain down with his face turned towards La Seulière, and raising his
cloak with one finger, was looking back towards the farm. As long as
distance and the canal banks allowed him to distinguish the light
proceeding from the chinks of the door, he remained with eyes fixed
upon the paling ray that recalled to him a new hope. Then the cloak
fell back into its place, covering the radiant, tearful face of the
crippled man.

André followed in the second punt. By the same dykes, past the same
meadows they returned, struggling against the strong gusts of wind
that blew. The storm that had burst had prevented the sheet of ice
from covering the water. The farmer, unaccustomed to punting, did not
make rapid progress. From time to time he would ask:

"You are not too cold, Mathurin?"

Then in a louder voice:

"Are you following, André?"

And in their wake a cheery voice would reply:

"I am all right."

The strain was tremendous, but with it was mingled the joy of taking
back his two sons.

Although there was no apparent reason, and he had not thought of her
for weeks, the farmer's thoughts flew to his dead wife: "She would be
pleased with me," he mused, "for taking Mathurin away from La
Seulière." And at times in the turn of a canal he would seem to see a
pair of blue eyes like those of his old wife smiling upon him, which
gradually sank until they rested among the reeds under the punt. And
he would dry his eyelids with his sleeve, shake himself free from the
overmastering drowsiness, and say again to his youngest son:

"Are you following?"

The younger son was not dreaming. He was thinking over what he had
seen and heard: Mathurin's senseless infatuation, his violence, which,
when their father should be no more, would make life very difficult
to the head at La Fromentière. The events of that evening had
increased the temptation of pastures new to this disturbed mind. In
course of time both punts had reached the duck meadow.



Sunday afternoon had become Rousille's hour for solitude. She could
only go to vespers when the farm-servant was left in charge of the
house; and he had stipulated that he should go once a fortnight to
Saint Jean-de-Mont to his sister, a deaf-mute. Mathurin, who formerly
had not left La Fromentière, now never missed attending High Mass at
Sallertaine, where he met Félicité Gauvrit, greeted her for the most
part without speaking, in order not to vex his father, watched her as
she moved about the Place, then sat down at one of the inn tables to
luette. As for André, he seemed just now to like to be away from La
Fromentière as much as possible, and on Sundays would be off as early
as he could to the villages on the sea coast, where he sought out old
sailors and travellers who could tell him of the countries where
fortunes were to be made.

Rousille knew nothing of the attraction that led her brother so far
afield. One day she affectionately reproached him with leaving her so
much alone. At first he had laughed, then suddenly had grown serious
and said:

"Don't reproach me with leaving you so much alone, Rousille. Perhaps
you will reap the benefit of my tramps one of these days; I am acting
in your interests."

Thus on the fourth Sunday in January La Fromentière was in charge of
Rousille. But Rousille did not find time hang heavy on her hands; she
had taken refuge in the threshing-floor at the back of the farm, and
was sitting at the foot of a great heap of straw, her face turned
towards the Marais, visible through a break in the hedge. She would
have been frozen in the north wind that was blowing, had not the straw
all about her kept in the warmth like a nest. Leaning her head back
against it, she had buried her elbows in the soft depths of some loose
straw that had been forked out from the compact mass and not yet taken

The air was so clear that she could see away to the clock tower of
Perrier, to the most remote farmsteads of the Marais, and even to the
ruddy streaks, but rarely visible, of the pine-grown downs that
bordered the sea more than three leagues distant. She was looking
before her, but her mind was travelling beyond her father's meadows,
beyond the great Marais, beyond the horizon--for Jean Nesmy had
written to her. Rousille had the letter in her pocket--was feeling it
with the tips of her fingers. Since morning she had known it by
heart, had said it over to herself many a time, that letter of Jean
Nesmy; the smile it called forth did not leave her lips, save to light
up her eyes. All care was driven away, forgotten. Little Rousille was
still loved by someone; the letter testified to it. It said:

   "Le Château, Parish des Châtelliers,
     "January 25th.


   "We are all in good health, and I hope it is the same with you,
   though one is never sure when so far away. I have hired myself as
   labourer in a farm on the back of a hill as you leave the moor of
   Nouzillac, about which I have told you. In fine weather one can
   see six clock towers round about, and I think that but for the
   Mount of Saint Michel one might see the trees of the Marais where
   you are. Despite that, I see you always before my eyes. On
   Saturdays I generally go home to La Mère Nesmy, and so does my
   brother next in age to myself, who also has hired himself to one
   of the farmers of La Flocellière. We talk of you at mother's, and
   I often say that I am not as happy as I was before I knew you, or
   as I should be if they all at home knew you. At any rate, they
   know your name! My sister Noémi and the little ones, when they
   come along the road to meet me on Saturday evenings, always call
   out to make me laugh: 'Any news of Rousille?' But Mother Nesmy
   will not believe that you care for me, because we are too poor.
   If only she saw you, she would understand that it is for life.
   And I spend my time on Sundays telling her all about La

   "Rousille, it is now four months since I have seen you, according
   to your desire. It was only at the fair at Pouzanges that,
   through a man from the Marais who came to buy wood, I heard that
   your brother André had come home, and that he was working on the
   land as the master of La Fromentière likes those about him to
   work; so it will not be very long before I come back to see you.
   Some evening I shall come, when the men are still out in the
   fields, and you, perhaps, are thinking of me as you boil the soup
   in the big room. I shall come round by the barn, and when you
   hear or see me, open the window, Rousille, and tell me with one
   of your little smiles, tell me that you still care for me. Then
   La Mère Nesmy will make the journey in the proper manner, and
   will ask your hand from your father, and if he says, Yes, by my
   baptism! I swear to you that I will bring you home to be my wife.
   You are my one thought and desire; there is no one but you that I
   cherish in my heart of hearts. Take care of yourself. I greet you
   with my whole heart.


One by one, like the beads of a rosary being told, and that pass
between the fingers of the devotee, the sentences of the letter
passed through the mind of Marie-Rose, and her eyes gazing intently on
the landscape, saw only the image of Jean Nesmy. The young girl saw
him in his coat with the horn buttons, his high cheek-bones, his eager
eyes that only laughed for her and for good work done, when at the
close of day, his scythe slung on to his bare arm, he scanned the corn
he had cut, and the sheaves he had tied standing upright in the

"Father no longer talks against him," thought she. "He even defended
him once to Mathurin. As for me, he has never found me complain, nor
refuse to do the work I had to do, and I think he is pleased with me
for having done my best. If André were to settle down now, and to
bring a wife to La Fromentière, perhaps father would not refuse to let
me marry. And I begin to think that Master André has his reasons for
absenting himself on Sundays, and going off to Saint Jean, Perrier,
and Saint Gervais, as he does...."

She smiled. Her eyes had taken the colour of the fresh straw that
surrounded her. Far away, on the road to the meadows, she saw a fine
strapping youth walking with swaying movement, carrying over one
shoulder a pole to jump the dykes with.

"Driot," she murmured. "I will tease him about his Sunday walks."

Soon she saw André come up the hill, skirt the dwarf orchard, then
pass between the leafless hedges in the road. When he was at a little
distance, she coughed to attract his attention. He looked up. His face
which had worn an anxious expression cleared; instead of continuing
his way to the courtyard of La Fromentière, he jumped over into a
small field that ran beside it, passed the row of hives where the bees
were sleeping their winter sleep, and stopped beside Rousille in the
threshing-floor, leaning on his pole. As he did so, he endeavoured to
assume the half-bantering, half-protecting air he usually adopted
towards his sister, thinking himself obliged to laugh with her as with
a child.

"I was looking for you," he said.

"Oh, you were looking for me very badly then. Your head was bent down.
I believe you were thinking of someone else than me."


"Yes. Where do you come from with your pole, you roamer? Not from

"No, from Saint Jean. The water is grand, and jolly cold. On the other
side of Le Perrier there are inundations on both sides of the road."

"You have been calling at the farms, I suppose. Did you stop at La

"You do not know me one bit; do you think I should go against...."

He was about to say "against the intrigues of Mathurin, who has
returned to his former infatuation," but he stopped short.

So happy herself that she did not notice his reticence, she resumed:

"To the Levrelles? No? Then to the mill of Moque-Souris, where there
is that pretty little Marie Dieu-donnée, the prettiest miller's
daughter between here and Beauvoir?"

"Still wrong."

Trying to be grave, but without succeeding in hiding the joy that
pervaded her whole soul, she resumed:

"You see, I want you so much to marry, André. And such a dear boy as
you are, I think it would be easy. Indeed, you have no idea how
greatly I wish it!"

André's face grew careworn again as before, and he said:

"On the contrary I know very well...."

"No. You always think of me as a child. But I am twenty, Driot. I know
when others are unhappy. You, for instance, are grieving over our
François; you miss him even more than father does. If you were to
marry, you would forget your sorrow a little. Settled down at La
Fromentière, married to a girl you love, your thoughts would no longer
be brooding over the past as now."

"And above all," put in André, "there would be a housekeeper here, and
little Rousille could marry her faithful swain."

Pressing herself back against the rick with a girlish movement of
shoulders, head, and arms, Rousille raised herself and knelt forward
the better to reach her pocket. Bending over the aperture hidden
amongst the innumerable folds of her dress, she extracted the letter
and gently held up the square of paper to her brother, raising it to
the level of her head and following it with her eyes as she did so.

"I would show it to no one but you, André ... read my letter ... I
want to prove that I have confidence in you. And then you will
understand how light it makes one's heart to receive such a dear
letter, so light that one feels like air. It will make you want to
receive such an one yourself."

André took the letter without showing the slightest impatience, and
without a word of thanks. But as he read, he grew moved, not with
jealousy of such love, but with pity for the girl, who was dreaming
her dream of happiness between two misfortunes.

For he had definitely decided to leave the farmstead and La Vendée.
Some tidings, in a measure foreseen, dreaded for some time past, very
serious for La Fromentière, had caused him to come to a decision that
very afternoon. He had returned home, sorrow stricken, weighing all
the pain he was about to cause; and now coming upon this joy, this
hope of Rousille's, those eyes that persisted in smiling at life, that
flower of the ruined farmstead, the feeling came over him that he must
spare the child, at least, that one evening, and not tell her at once
all he knew.

Having read the letter he slowly folded it, and gave it back to
Rousille, who, impatient for an appreciative comment, her whole soul
in her eyes, her lips breaking into a smile, asked:

"Do you think that father would consent, if you were to marry, and if
you spoke for my Jean?"

"Would you go to live in the Bocage, Rousille?"

"I should have to on account of Mathurin, who would never suffer us
near him."

She was surprised at the manner in which André looked at her, so
gravely and so tenderly. Taking her hand in both of his, her hand
which still held the letter, he said:

"No, little Rousille, I will not speak for you. But I will shortly do
something else, of which I cannot tell you now, and which will avail
you. The day I do it, your marriage will be assured, unless father
breaks up everything.... And it will not be at the Bocage that you
will make your home, but at La Fromentière, in our mother's place--the
dear mother with whom we were so happy in the days of our childhood.
Put your faith in what I say, and do not worry about Mathurin."

Letting go her hand, which fell to her side, he added:

"I have an idea that you, at least, will be happy, Rousille."

She opened her lips to speak; he made her a sign that he would say no
more. All the same Rousille asked hurriedly, seeing him move away:

"One thing only, André, tell me only one thing. Promise me that you
will always till the ground, for father would be so grieved...."

And he answered:

"I promise you, I will."

Rousille watched him as he went round the corner, and on into the
courtyard. What was the matter with him? What meant those mysterious
words? Why had he spoken the last so sadly? For a moment she wondered;
but the trouble was evanescent. Scarce had solitude returned about
her, than Rousille heard again the words of her love-letter singing
their soft refrain to her. They came into her heart, one by one, like
transparent waves, each opening out in its turn and covering the
shore. "It cannot be a very important secret," thought she, "since
Driot will continue to till the ground, that will make father happy,
and I shall be happy too."

She recalled the smile that had passed over her brother's face, and
thought: "It is nothing," and peace, entire, unquestioning, returned
to her.

In the twilight of that winter afternoon on the borders of the Marais
of Sallertaine, for one short hour there was a girl who smiled at
life, and deemed that bad times were past and gone. She was still
smiling, still sheltered in her retreat amid the straw, when André
accosted his father, coming in from the Sunday tour of inspection,

"Everything is certainly going to the bad, father."

The farmer, his head full of the promise of hay and wheat harvests he
had just been examining, answered contentedly:

"No, everything is coming up well. The spring crop of oats is
promising; what is going to the bad?"

"I heard at Saint Jean-de-Mont that there is to be a sale of the
furniture at the Château, father!"

For a moment Toussaint Lumineau could not take it in.

"Yes, all the furniture," repeated André. "It is advertised in the
papers. See, if you don't believe me, here's the list. Everything is
to be sold."

He drew a paper from his pocket, and pointed with his finger to an
advertisement, from which the old farmer laboriously read:

"On Sunday, February 20th, Maître Oulry, notary at Chalons, will
proceed to sell the furniture of the Château de la Fromentière. There
will be sold: the entire drawing-room and dining-room furniture, old
tapestries, oak chests, pictures, beds, tables, china and glass,
wines, guns, contents of the library, wardrobes, etc."

"Well?" exclaimed André.

"Oh," returned his father, "who would have foretold this eight years
ago? Have they become poor, then, in Paris?" He fell into silence, not
willing to judge his master too hardly.

"It is ruin," said André. "After the furniture, they will be for
selling the land, and us with it!"

The head of La Fromentière, the successor of so many farmers under the
same masters, was standing in the middle of the room; he raised his
weary eyes until they rested upon the little copper crucifix hanging
at the head of his bed, then let them fall again in sign of

"It will be a great misfortune," he said, "but it will not hinder our

And he went out, perhaps to shed tears.



In the ensuing week the coming sale at the Château was the frequent
subject of discussion among the men of La Fromentière. André openly
attacked the masters.

"They are ruined," he said. "All the nobles go the same road, because
they do nothing. So much the worse for them!"

"So much the worse for the farmers," replied his father; "they do not
often gain much by changing masters."

Toussaint Lumineau was painfully hit by the coming event, not only in
his sincere and lifelong affection for the master's family, but in his
honest pride as a peasant.

It was a humiliation to hear people talk of the downfall of the family
to whom the Lumineaus were allied by traditions of generations; he
took his share of the blame, his share of the disgrace; he felt he had
lost stability, that in future he must be exposed to chances and
changes, like so many another; and even found himself envying those
whose farms belonged to wealthy proprietors, clear of mortgage.

"No," he resumed, "you do wrong to speak as you do, Driot. Our masters
may have their reasons for this, of which we know nothing. Perhaps M.
le Marquis is about to marry his daughter, and is in want of ready
money. Rich and poor alike find it an expensive business to settle
their children."

"If that is their only means to obtain money, they must be at a pretty
low ebb!" rejoined André. "To think that even family portraits are to
be sold. I remember seeing them one day when I went with you to pay
the rent."

"Bah! Perhaps they were not good likenesses. Besides, the Marquis
probably has others. How are people in our station in life to know all
that families like theirs possess?"

"And personal clothing? Is that usually sold? It is not very
creditable in them to let everything go in a public sale, as if they
were bankrupts."

"I tell you what, André, I do not believe that half the things will be
sold that are down in the catalogue; it is merely to draw people." But
all the same, in his heart of hearts, the farmer well knew how poor
were the reasons which respect for the family led him to urge.

Rising from the table, under pretext of having work to do, he
shortened the meal.

André's aggressiveness did not lessen, indeed his irritation seemed
to increase as the day fixed for the sale approached. The poor lad
needed to anger himself against something or somebody to gain courage.
February 20th was the date on which he had secretly planned to leave
La Fromentière, four days before the departure of an emigrant ship
that he was to join at Antwerp. His anger was inspired not by temper,
but by the ever-increasing grief within him. He forced himself to
speak ill of La Fromentière because he still loved it, and was about
to desert it.

Thus Sunday, the 20th of February, arrived. On that day the silence
that had reigned over La Fromentière vanished, but to give place to
what noises--what clatter! Visitors were again seen within its walls,
but what visitors! People had come from afar, curiosity dealers from
Nantes, from La Rochelle, even from Paris. Before eight in the morning
they had gathered in groups beside the two flights of steps leading to
the portico. Men, short, stout, red-faced; some with auburn beards,
others with bird-like noses, talking together in subdued voices,
sitting on chairs--to be sold--that had been ranged in rows on the
broad carriage drive, laid with the red gravel that used to crunch so
pleasantly beneath the roll of carriage wheels. On the topmost of the
entrance steps, now converted into an auctioneer's rostrum, were the
notary, Maître Oulry, his eyes displaying discreet satisfaction behind
his spectacles, the public crier, indifferent as any stone-breaker to
the relics of which he was about to announce the dispersion, and the
furniture removers standing in their shirt-sleeves despite the intense
cold. The two flights of stone steps, stained with mud even to half
way up the balustrades, testified to the crowds admitted on the
previous two days to see the interior of the Château. Some had gone
from curiosity, taking advantage of their first opportunity to go over
a seigniorial dwelling; but all within was in disorder, faded, covered
with dust. The battens, which for years had secured the windows of the
rooms on the ground-floor, had been unnailed on one side, and hung
down beside the open _persiennes_. In the dining-hall, and the two
drawing-rooms _en suite_, had been piled the greater part of the
bedroom furniture, cooking utensils, and crockery. Pictures, turned
with their faces to the wall, formed a dado in front of couches and
easy-chairs; there were four clocks on one mantel-piece, candelabras
standing in fireplaces, fire-dogs on occasional tables, book shelves
on the billiard table, baskets of choice wine standing in the boudoir
of the dowager Marquise, hung with its dainty cherry-coloured satin;
silk draperies trailing on a kitchen table. Broken bell-ropes and
strips of torn paper hung from the walls. Everywhere was disorder and
desolation as complete as is produced by Death in the human frame.

Pushing their way through the narrow passages left by all these piles
of costly objects were to be seen coarse men accustomed to the
handling of rags and rubbish, discharged servants, dealers in old
clothes, coffee-house keepers covetously fingering carved oak chests,
scratching the gold off picture frames to see how deep it was laid;
opening cupboards and drawers, and bursting into rude loud laughter
if, perchance, they lighted upon some private token, such as
photographs, letters, missals, rosaries, relics of departed souls thus
exposed to, and profaned by vulgar eyes.

On the upper floors boys in their sabots had perched themselves on the
window-sills with legs hanging out, or were trying the mattresses
still left on their wooden bedsteads. Gradually as the late February
day dispersed the fog, and it was drifted by the wind in heavy masses
over the woods, vehicles of all descriptions--cabriolets, victorias,
tilburys, closed carriages formerly graced with armorial bearings, now
let out on hire, mixed with some few well-appointed turn-outs--drove
into the park. These were unharnessed, the carriages standing upon the
lawns, some of the horses tied to the trees with nosebags of hay;
while others, their feet clogged, were left to graze where they would.
A row of carts stood on the border of a neighbouring copse, their
shafts raised diagonally.

All round the Château was like a fair; the stables and coach-houses
had been appropriated; plough horses were to be seen in the loose
boxes; coachmen and stable-boys from inns, in their straw hats, gazed
admiringly at the vast proportions of the stables and dependencies,
or stood hypnotized before the copper appointments of the stalls, the
nickel locks, the iron bars separating one from the other.

"It was a fine place after all," they said to themselves.

The sight of all the careful appointments seemed to give them a vague
insight into the ancient splendours of the domain, while at the same
time it came across them with stupefying force: how could a man have
lost such a fortune? how could there be ruin, with a rental of
hundreds of thousands of pounds? And, as a natural consequence, they
gave the family credit for vices which had but a very small share in
the disaster, for, spitting on the cemented floors, they exclaimed: "A
pleasure-loving set!"

In front of the entrance the crowd increased rapidly, some impelled by
the desire to buy, others by curiosity. Three hundred people, seated
on chairs and benches, formed a compact, immovable, semicircular mass;
outside them was perpetual movement of coming and going. Dealers in
antiquities, sellers of old clothes, occupied the first row; after
them came a number of shopkeepers, former purveyors to the Marquis,
householders of Chalons with their wives, country dames dressed up as
if for Easter Day, with bright eyes and loud voices, wearing little
bunches of spring flowers in their bodices which they themselves had
cut from the hot-houses of La Fromentière, given up this day to
pillage. They commented derisively to each other on the ill-kept
state of the apartments in the Château, the dirty windows, the
grass-grown avenues, the bogs in the cross roads of the park. "We keep
things very differently," said they. "Thank goodness, we know better
what is fitting than your ruined Marquises do!" And with an air of
"knowing all about it," they called up memories of bygone fêtes.
Behind them, again, were to be seen peasants of Saint Gervais, of
Soullans, of Saint Urbian, but men only. Very few had come from the
parish itself. The auction was not for them; what should take them
there? To many who had known the family, it had seemed as if it would
have been an insult to assist at the humiliating spectacle. At the
most some ten of the old inhabitants of Sallertaine were there, and
they not the most important, keeping well at the back, not daring to
sit down. Shamefaced, as though the lord of the Château were there
before them and sorrowful, they had followed the crowd, having nothing
else to do in their Sunday leisure, and now exchanged recollections of
kind words spoken by "Monsieur Henri," of greetings and girlish smiles
given by Mademoiselle Ambroisine. Alas! after all the money so
lavishly spent, so many a kindly action, so much cordiality and
urbanity shown for centuries past by successive Marquises of La
Fromentière--after eight years there only remained that slight
expression of regret to be seen in the sad faces of a handful of

Still fewer in number were the neighbouring gentry. Hidden among the
throng was the Baron de la Houvelle, whose mania for collecting led
him to forget what was due to his rank; the Comte de Bouart, coarse
and red-faced, attracted by the wine cellar, and young d'Escaron,
whose object was to secure a breeding mare.

But the notary had many commissions to buy; for earlier in the week,
before the day on which the Château had been on view to the invasion
of plebeians, châtelaines, young and old, friends of the family, had
driven over and, shown round by the game-keeper, might have been seen
in private apartments and reception rooms, examining old tapestries
and household linen with many an exclamation and regret.

Only one member of the Lumineau family was present at the auction, and
that was Mathurin, to whom every event, even of a painful character,
was a grateful change to his sufferings and weariness. When he had
announced "I shall go," his father had said:

"I could not; it would irritate me too much. Go if you like; and when
they come to selling personal things, send me word, Mathurin, for I
want some little thing as a remembrance of M. le Marquis."

At some distance from the circle of buyers, to the left of the
entrance, Mathurin Lumineau had found a seat under a group of trees.
Wrapped in his brown cloak, more taciturn and brooding than ever, he
had gradually pushed back his chair until he was almost hidden
between the branches of two fir-trees, thence, as if lying in ambush,
he listened to all that was going on, and his blue eyes, ever and anon
lit up with sudden anger, scanned the front of the Château, now the
buyers, now the passers-by.

At half-past eight the auction began. The auctioneer, a small
bloodless man, endowed with a strong voice, announced from the top of
the entrance steps to the crowd assembled, to brute nature, to the
forests left for the past eight years to solitude and silence:

"The reception-room furniture of M. le Marquis, comprising six
_fauteuils_, a couch, four ebony chairs upholstered in old gold satin,
Louis XV. style, with gilt nails, for fifteen hundred francs; the
covers will be thrown in. Going at fifteen hundred francs! Fifteen
hundred and twenty; fifteen hundred and fifty; sixteen hundred." He
rolled his eyes as the price augmented.

At sixteen hundred francs, the old gold satin _suite_ was knocked
down; and while the notary was putting the curtains up for auction,
Mathurin's eyes followed the _fauteuils_, couch, and chairs he had
only seen once before and that by chance on a quarter-day, now being
carted away by the furniture removers who fell at once on these the
first spoils. After the contents of the reception rooms followed
tables, wardrobes, beds, these latter especially coveted; crockery,
covered with dust and displayed to view on the steps, clocks, the
billiard table.

The sale lasted the whole day, save a short interval at half-past ten.
The auctioneer's voice was untiring. As people went, their places were
taken by new-comers; the pale rays of the February sun lighted up
clouds of dust issuing from the open windows; the rooms were thronged.
Many of the purchasers were carrying away their lots themselves;
others, who were only later to come into possession of their
acquisitions, were writing their names in chalk on old oak chests, or
pieces of furniture, covered for the time being with heaps of
incongruous articles. Costly hangings, partly unnailed, hung from the
cornices, and streaming over step-ladders, trailed on the dusty

Towards four o'clock, the number of spectators had diminished;
tethered horses had been taken from under sheltering trees; vehicles
of all kinds and descriptions were on the homeward way to town and
outskirts. Mathurin had not left his nook under the shade of the
fir-trees. An uneasy suspicion was agitating him violently. Twice, at
some distance in the direction of the offices, he had thought to
recognise the eager face of Jean Nesmy. The young man, clad in brown,
his hat drawn over his eyes, who only stealthily advanced, but who had
been seen by Mathurin now here, now there in the copse on the other
side of the lawn, could be no other than the dismissed farm-servant,
Rousille's lover.

Mathurin sat and waited for his father, to whom he had despatched a
village lad, telling him of the approaching close of the sale. In the
bluish mist, to right of the Château, Farmer Lumineau appeared, and
with him Marie-Rose. Despite the growing dusk, both were somewhat
shamefaced. Rousille did not go far, at a hundred paces from the front
of the Château she stopped, and sitting on the bench of _la Marquise_,
looked on with startled eyes at the scene of devastation, while her
father went up closer to make his purchase. Among the two hundred
people still grouped round the granite steps, women predominated. They
had stayed to see the "wearing apparel and toilet appurtenances,"
given out by the notary as being the next lot. And now the auctioneer
lifted above his head a soft, clinging, pale violet material, that
unfolded and fluttered in the wind.

"A young lady's dress of mauve silk with muslin collarette--ten
francs!" he called.

"Show it!" cried the women's voices.

And Rousille saw the object lowered on to the stone steps, the little
silken gown left behind, forgotten, that still retained something of
the supple grace of its wearer, Mademoiselle Ambroisine de la
Fromentière. And coarse words and low jests reached her, made by the
brokers as they handled the dainty relics of refinement and purity.

"Can they put up that for sale!" she murmured; she shrank from the
profanation, and would gladly have gone away.

But at that moment two sudden emotions, two surprises nailed her to
her seat. Across the lawn, facing her, in front of a group of
fir-trees, she had seen Mathurin, who had left the protection of the
branches, and was looking over at the bench of _la Marquise_, shaking
his fist; while, quite close behind her, she heard a voice from out
the flowering laurels, say:

"My Rousille, Jean Nesmy has come!"

With perfect self-control she did not turn her head, made no movement;
feeling herself to be spied upon, she had all the courage of her
ancestors whom peril had ever found ready. Scarce opening her lips as
if only breathing to calm her beating heart, she said to him who had
rustled the leaves behind her:

"Beware! Mathurin is watching us."

"I know, he has already seen me."

"Then, go quickly! Come back later."


"To-night, in the barn; when I put my candlestick on the window-sill."

Mathurin was hurrying across with the aid of his crutches to satisfy
himself that he had seen a man's figure among the shadows of trees in
that opposite group. Jean Nesmy meanwhile slipped away amid the
undergrowth, and through the lonely copses. Round the steps, already
in darkness, loud talking and laughing rose from the diminished crowd.

"I will have it. That's what I want," was heard in Lumineau's strong
voice. The auctioneer was offering a walking-stick, with horn handle
bound with a gold ring.

"That depends, my good man," was the reply, amid the jibes of the
townspeople of Chalons, "that depends! To say 'I will have it' in an
auction is not enough. What price do you put on it?"

"Two francs," said a broker.

"Five francs!" cried the farmer. Now no one laughed; the bid was an
unusual one. Toussaint Lumineau had made it greatly to prevent
competition, but also, as he would have said, from a spirit of bravado
to prove that the tenant was not ruined like his master. Mounting the
lower steps he reached up a crown piece, seized the cane, and, not
venturing to lean upon it, tucked it under his arm, and slouched away
from the remaining group of bargainers who were greedily snapping up
odd remnants of the furniture of La Fromentière, hastily priced, given
for next to nothing. Skirting the excited cluster of buyers, he went
towards the group of trees where Mathurin had again taken up his post.

"Let us go," he said, "I have made my purchase. M. Henri's

"You paid too much for it," said the cripple.

"My poor lad," returned the farmer reproachfully, "he would have
given it to me had he been there. I paid that price that no one should
dispute it with me.... All those fellows would have made game of me,
had I not!--"

And with a movement of the shoulder he signified the notary, the
auctioneer, the invisible agents of the law, who to his excited fancy
had had a hand in the proceedings now coming to an end. Moderating his
pace so as not to hurry Mathurin, whose crutches struck against the
mole-hills on the lawn, the farmer crossed the broad expanse where the
blue mist thickened. They could hear the cracking of whips; see the
red light of lanterns passing along the leafless woods, the frightened
wood-pigeons circling over head. Rousille saw her father coming. She
had remained in the same place sitting on the bench, joyous at heart,
but with somewhat too much of love's dream in her eyes, for her father
asked severely:

"What is it, child? This is no day for laughter."

"Nothing," she answered, rising.

"Then walk on in front," put in Mathurin. "You might be meeting

And she went down the avenues, then along the path by the leafless
hedges in front as she had been hidden. Her white coif turned neither
to the right nor to the left; but proud as one enduring for her love,
she walked on with elastic step down the hill towards the elm-trees of
the farmstead, and her eyes gazing fixedly into the gathering
night--those eyes which none could read, gazing at everything, seeing
nothing, were filled with tender musings. She entered her domain, and
began to pour over the bread the soup which had been simmering in her
absence. The men stayed without, talking. When they came in she felt
sure that she had been again betrayed by Mathurin, and that her father
was angry with her. André came in last, at about eight o'clock. The
farmer had proposed waiting supper until his return, and he and
Mathurin had sat in the chimney-corner warming themselves, by turns
taking and trying the cane of M. Henri as they talked over the sad
events of the day: the men who had come from Sallertaine to bid, how
they had heard the battens nailed up again across the lower windows as
they came away; the lights they had seen wandering along the corridors
of the upper floor as in the good old days when the great white house
was full of guests.

"Our masters will never come back now," said Toussaint Lumineau. "And
I, who always believed in them! This is the end!"

"The end!" repeated André, as he came in at the door from the outer
darkness. "I am glad not to have seen it."

The good-looking young Maraîchin seemed tired and troubled; his eyes
were brilliant as if about to shed tears. Toussaint Lumineau thought
that the shame of this public auction, so painful to him, had
affected his son in like manner, and had been the sole cause of his
long absence.

"Sit down, Driot," he said, "you must be hungry. The soup is ready."

"No, I am not hungry," replied André.

"Nor am I," returned his father.

Mathurin alone, dragging himself to the table, ladled out a plate of
soup; while his father remained sitting beside the fire, and Driot
stood leaning against the projecting chimney-corner, looking
alternately at his father and brother.

"Where did you go?" asked the farmer.

André made a sweeping gesture:

"From one to the other. To your friend Guerineau, of La Pinçonnière;
to the miller of Moque-Souris; the Levrelles; the Massonneau...."

"A good fellow, le Glorieux," interrupted the farmer; "worthy family

"I saw the Ricolleaus of Malabrit too."

"What, you went as far as that?"

"The Ertus of La Parée du Mont----"

Toussaint Lumineau looked straight into his son's clear eyes, trying
to understand.

"What led you to go and see all these people, my boy?"

"An idea"--no longer able to endure his father's inquiring look, his
eyes sought the dark corner wherein stood the bed--"an idea. Well
then, going along, I thought I would go as far as La Roche and see

"François?" murmured the farmer. "You are like me then, dear lad, your
thoughts are often with him?"

Slowly the young man nodded his head, as he answered:

"Yes, this evening especially; this evening, more than any evening of
my whole life, I would have liked to have him beside me."

André's words were spoken with such strong emotion, with so mournful a
solemnity, that Mathurin, who had not known the date of André's
departure, understood that the time had come, and that his brother had
not many more minutes to remain in La Fromentière.

The blood rushed to his head, his lips half opened, a violent fit of
trembling seized him, while his eyes stared fixedly at André. There
was an unwonted animation in those eyes of his, for, while they
expressed triumphant pride, there was also, in that supreme hour,
something of pity and affection, perhaps of remorse. André knew that
they bade him farewell. The father, meanwhile, had drawn up his chair
to the table, and raising the cane horizontally to the level of the
lamp, that André might the better see it, was caressing the gold ring
with his fingers, none too clean from the day's toil. He imagined that
his son's thoughts were again with the present, or like his own, were
embracing the same future.

"See," said he, "what I bought as a souvenir of M. Henri. How often
he has knocked against my door with the point of this cane, tap! tap!
tap! 'Are you there, my old Lumineau?' André, when you are the master
of La Fromentière----"

At these words the young man, who was standing behind the farmer, felt
all his courage give way. Unable to restrain his tears, and fearing
lest his father should turn towards him, he retreated silently towards
the door.

Toussaint Lumineau had noticed nothing; he continued: "When you are
the master at La Fromentière, you will see no more of the family. I do
not believe that the farmstead will be sold. I greatly hope not, but
our Marquises will not come amongst us again. My lad, the new times
you will be living in will not be like those I used to know!"

Now Driot's tears fell fast as he looked at the old walls worn with
the shoulders of many a Lumineau past and gone.

"Do not distress yourself, dear boy. If the masters go, the land
remains." Driot's tears fell fast as he looked on the rosary of Mère
Lumineau, hanging at the head of the bed.

"The land is good, though you have spoken ill of it, and so you will
find out."

Driot's tears fell as he looked at Mathurin.

"You will do your best for it; and it will do its best for you!"

Driot's tears fell fast as he looked at his father, still fondling
the light wood cane. He gazed for some time by the light of the lamp
on the tired hands, the horny hands, seamed with scars gained working
for his family for their support and education--the hands that had
never known discouragement, and, impelled by respect and grief, he did
a thing unknown at La Fromentière, now that the sons were grown up and
the mother dead; he came close in the shadow behind his father, leant
over him, and kissed the old man's wrinkled brow.

"Dear boy!" said Toussaint Lumineau, kissing him in return.

"I will be off to bed," murmured André. "I am done up."

He seized Mathurin's hand in a warm, hurried clasp. But he took some
time to go the ten paces which separated him from the door leading
into the kitchen where Rousille was washing up her dishes. As he shut
the door he looked back once more into the room. Then he was heard
talking to his sister. Then he was heard no more.

Deep night enveloped the farmstead, the last on which the roof of La
Fromentière would shelter Driot. An hour after, any late wanderers
along the road, seeing the mass of buildings standing out from the
trees, darker even than the enveloping fog and as silent, would surely
have thought that all within were sleeping soundly. But, save the
farm-servant, all within were wide-awake.

Mathurin, greatly excited, had not ceased talking and turning
restlessly. The light extinguished, talking still continued between
father and son, whose beds were ranged, near each other, beside the
wall. Not daring to speak of André's flight, the idea of which was
ever present with him like a persistent nightmare, the cripple turned
feverishly from one subject to another, and his father found it
impossible to calm him.

"I assure you I did see the _Boquin_. I was some distance from him,
but I detest him too much to make any mistake about the fellow; he has
a sly way of running about like a ferret. He wore a brown suit, and
had something tawny in his hat, like oak leaves."

"Go to sleep, Mathurin, you must be mistaken."

"Yes, of course they were oak leaves. When he was here he used to
stick them in his hat every now and then out of bombast, to show that
his province was richer and more wooded than ours. Ah, the _dannion_!
If I could but have run!"

"You would not have found him, my poor boy! He is at home in his
Bocage. What should have brought him to the Marquis' sale?"

"To see my sister, of course! He may even have spoken to her for all I
know, for it was too dark for me to see Rousille plainly."

The father, lying in his large canopied bed, sighed, and said:

"Always your sister! You worry yourself too much about her. Go to
sleep, Mathurin. They would not dare to speak to each other; they know
I should not allow it."

The cripple was silent for a few seconds, then his mind reverted to
the events of the day; he enumerated the neighbours who had spoken to
him, and what they had said about the probable sale of La Fromentière;
then, impelled by the one master-thought, he recapitulated the things
to be done for the improvement of the farmstead, the conditions of the
fresh lease to be arranged for with the owners, and added:

"You do think me better, don't you? My back is straighter. I am not so
short of breath. Did yoo notice, as we came home to-night, how at
every step I used my legs without needing my crutches?"

Several times in the middle of a sentence he had stopped short to
listen, seeming to hear that which in imagination he never ceased to
see; Driot for the last time leaving the room at the end of the house;
Driot going stealthily through the courtyard that his footsteps might
not be heard on the gravel; Driot passing the door close by, and going
away for ever.

Towards eleven o'clock, Bas-Rouge, who had growled at times earlier in
the night, began to bark violently to the right of the yard.

"What is the matter with him?" exclaimed Toussaint Lumineau; "one
would think there were people moving about in our lane."

Mathurin, growing cold, silently raised himself on his elbows. After a
minute the farmer resumed:

"Do you hear how our dog is barking? There certainly must be someone

"Father," returned Mathurin, "he is as mad as a March hare at this
time of year. I think he sees bernacles flying in the air." The
barking sounded nearer, not angry but joyous, as of a dog being taken
for a walk. Then a footstep was distinctly heard, and the animal began
to howl.

"They are throwing stones at Bas-Rouge," exclaimed the farmer. "I must

"No; do not go. I will not have you go! Stay, father, stay!"

"Why?" asked Toussaint Lumineau. "I have done it scores of times
before, and have taken no harm."

Sitting on the side of his bed, the old peasant listened yet for a few
seconds, before hastily putting on his breeches and running to the
door. A thought flashed through Mathurin's mind:

"It is André. I have but to say one word, and my father will be with
him in time. Shall I?" Six years of suffering and of being in
subordinate position to the younger ones, answered: "No!" and letting
himself fall back on his pillow, he said, as if reassured:

"It is not worth the trouble. The sounds are already further off."

And, in truth, Bas-Rouge must have run out into the lane towards the
main road. His barks were more faintly heard and at intervals; he
evidently was seeing the intruder off the premises.

The farmer lay down again, and no longer hearing Mathurin move, fell
asleep. It was a little past midnight.

At that hour Rousille was still at work in her room, with doors bolted
and window shut, waiting for him who had promised to come. The thought
of seeing her lover once more, of what she should say to him, and the
idea that there might be some danger to Jean Nesmy, were he surprised
by her father, had occupied the long hours during which the murmur of
voices from the adjoining room had not ceased to reach her. "What can
they have to say to each other?" she thought. On the side towards the
barn she had carefully closed the shutter of a narrow little window,
cut in the thickness of the wall, breast high, and protected by an
iron bar. Sitting on the chest at the foot of the bed, she was hemming
some coarse kitchen aprons. The candle standing near lit up the bowed
head of the young girl and the more distant panels of the five
wardrobes, the polished pillars of the bedsteads, and the sides of the
chests, each of which gave a different softened reflection; there was
the violet of wild cherry wood, the dark-red of the cherry-tree, the
golden-brown of walnut and oak, and finally the ghostly reflection of
one, made for a somewhat eccentric great grandmother, of the finest
ash wood; and in the same room and atmosphere that had surrounded her
ancestresses, industrious as was their descendant, now sat Rousille,
the last daughter of the Lumineaus, with eyes modestly bent upon her

Rousille was never idle. However, in this self-imposed night-watch, it
sometimes happened that she would pause with thread outstretched, or
would rise and go with slippered feet to listen at the door of the
room nearest to the house-place whence voices were still audible.

When nothing more was heard, neither the barking of the dog, nor the
vague sound of voices, she still listened, but she had ceased to ply
her needle. Looking round the room with the eye of a housekeeper, she

"Will he find it in good order, and as he would like his house to be
kept?" Rousille tied the kerchief she wore as protection from the cold
more closely; then a little shudder of fear ran through her at the
thought that her father might suddenly appear; and her face grew grave
and stern, as before, when she had had to do battle for Jean Nesmy;
then, rising, she placed her candlestick on the deep window-sill,
which by reason of the thickness of the wall was triangular, like the
loophole of a fortress. After that she opened back the shutter on its
hinges. A breath of icy fog enveloped the flame, nearly extinguishing
it; almost on tip-toe, with both hands shading her eyes, Rousille
endeavoured to distinguish objects from out the darkness. Was he
there? She only saw the bare branches of two gooseberry-bushes trained
against the wall. There was no sound of footsteps; no sign of anyone;
she only heard the dull thud of mist-drops falling from the slates on
to the turf beneath. A minute passed.

Suddenly the branches were pushed aside, a dark head emerging from the
total darkness was framed in the window between the wall and the iron
bar. The face was pale, but the eyes laughing, half-closed, dazzled by
the candle-flame.

"I thought," said Jean Nesmy, "that you were not coming. I was chilled
to the bone. I was going!" He looked so radiant as he said it, his
eyes gradually opening, revealing the rapture of perfect delight.

Rousille, more grave, for she had within her the recollection of her
past meditations, said:

"We must talk quickly. Father has only just fallen asleep. If he were
to awake! If he were to come upon us!"

But Jean Nesmy seemed in nowise to share her fears. Nor did he look
about the room to see if all was in order. He only looked at Rousille,
so agitated under her little coif. The light placed between them
illuminated their eyes to the very depths.

"You are as pretty as ever," replied the lad. "One might well walk
miles to catch a sight of you! Mother Nesmy did not want me to come
on account of the expense; but I said to her: 'I would rather go
without my bread,' and it was true, my Rousille."

She could not help smiling.

"You always know how to pay compliments, Jean Nesmy; and really I see
no change in you."

"There is none," he returned, showing his white teeth.

And now she forgot all her previous uneasiness, and it seemed to them
both, as though they had never been apart, so natural was the
interchange of ideas; the candle quivered under the mutual stream of
question and answer.

"Tell me, Rousille, how are things going? Are you happy?"

"Not very. At La Fromentière we have more sorrow than happiness. Now,
as you know, our master the Marquis has had all his furniture sold.
Such a pity!"

"Our nobles of Le Bocage would not have done such a thing," said the
_Boquin_, throwing back his head.

"Besides," resumed Rousille, "since François left us nothing goes
right. Driot is inconsolable at his absence."

"Even now?"

"Even now. We thought him so lively when he first came home. Well,
this evening he actually cried. Why could it have been? Was it fear
that the farm would be sold over our heads? Was it anything else?
With him one never knows."

"Perhaps he is thinking of a sweetheart about here?"

"I wish indeed it were so, Jean, for his sake and ours, because his
marriage would be the signal for our own. You see, all our hope is in
André. I have thought many a time, indeed why not tell you--every day
since the one on which you went: If André does not marry, my poor
Jean, I shall be quite white-haired before our banns are published in
your church and mine. Father will not let me go unless there is a
housekeeper here to take my place. And as for our coming to live here
with Mathurin--he hates us both too much. There would be bad blood at
La Fromentière. Father would never put us on the farm with Mathurin."

"Does he ever speak of me when he is ploughing?" asked Jean.

"I never go into the fields," replied Rousille. "But one evening I
heard him say to my eldest brother, 'Do not speak ill of the _Boquin_,
Lumineau! I refused him my daughter, and in that I did well; but he
was a good worker, he had a love for soil.'"

Behind the iron bar the face of the former farm-hand coloured with

"It is true that I loved everything about the place for your sake,
Rousille. And so André will not marry?"

"I do not say that. He is still in such low spirits; but time will
cure that. We shall have him on our side, that good André; he spoke so
kindly to me the day of the letter. He promised to help me; but did
not explain in what way."

"Did he mean soon?"

"I think so," said Rousille, "for his manner was very decided, and he
was very sure about the step he was going to take."

Suddenly she lowered her voice--"Did you hear that?" she asked.

"No, nothing."

"Something moved in the bakery."

"Look at me, Rousille. Nothing moved," returned Jean.

Obedient, victorious over all fear for love of him, she bent once more
towards the window, even began to laugh as she said:

"It is easy to see that you have no fear of anything. Where were you
hidden, just now, before I opened the shutter?"

"Among the layers of straw. The wind was as keen as on one of my worst
wild-fowl expeditions; it stupefied me, and seeing no light I must
have fallen asleep for a while."

"Really? and what woke you?"

"Bas-Rouge, going after your farm-servant."

"Going after the farm-servant?" exclaimed Rousille in astonishment. "I
heard the dog bark, but I thought he was after a tramp, there are so
many about on these roads; or that he had recognised you----"

"You know very well, Rousille, that he never barks at me, since I used
to take him out with me when I went shooting. No, I am certain that it
was the farm-servant.... I heard the latch fall, and the distinct
sound of footsteps on the gravel at the back of the house. I tell you
it was the servant, or else your brother.... I am convinced that a man
went out from here."

She blanched a little and then drew herself up:

"No!" she replied, "André does not go out shooting like you; nor does
he go off to Chalons as François did! Can Mathurin have got up to spy
upon us while father was asleep? Oh, do take care of yourself, Jean
Nesmy! Listen!"

Seizing the candlestick from the window-sill, she held it out at
arm's-length towards the other end of the room, the light shining on
the polished furniture as she moved it.

"You are right, someone is moving about in the bakery," said Jean
Nesmy. Now the door was gently pushed from the outer side, and the
bolt shaken in its socket. Rousille grew white. But she had brave
blood in her veins, and still holding the light as far forward as
possible, she noiselessly crossed the room, cautiously slid back the
bolt, and flung open the door.

A shadow moving about in the room sprang towards Rousille, and she saw
it was Bas-Rouge. "What are you doing here--where do you come from?"
she said.

A rush of air came whistling in from the adjoining room. Had the outer
door not been fastened? The girl glanced towards the window, and saw
Jean Nesmy still there; then she went into the bakery: the straw
baskets, the kneading trough, the ladder reaching to the hayloft, the
faggots for next baking day, all was there; but the door leading into
the furthermost room, André's, was wide open. Rousille went on, the
wind nearly extinguishing the light which she was obliged to shade
with her hand. It blew in unimpeded from the courtyard. Yes, André had
gone out.... She ran to the bed; it was untouched.... A doubt seized
her that, at first, she repelled. She thought of François; of André's
tears that evening--his agitation....

"Oh, my God," she murmured.

Rapidly she stooped and lowered the candle to see under the bed where
André kept his boots and shoes; they had gone. She opened his trunk,
it was empty. Going back into the bakery, she clambered up into the
loft. There to the right, beside a heap of wheat, she ought to find a
little black portmanteau he had brought home from Africa. She lifted
the candle, the portmanteau was not there.

Everything pointed to the one fact. There was no manner of doubt
concerning the misfortune that had befallen them. Terrified, she
hastily descended the ladder, and unable to keep the secret, she


A voice, muffled by the intervening walls, replied:

"What is it?"

"Driot has gone!" she cried, as she ran through the rooms. Outside the
barred window, her eyes seeking him, she thought she discerned a

"Farewell, Jean Nesmy," she called, without stopping. "Never come back
any more. All is lost to us," and she disappeared into the kitchen, to
the door of her father's room.

Toussaint had sprung out of bed, and now came, barefoot, hurriedly
buttoning his work-day clothes over his night-shirt. Startled out of
his first sleep, only half understanding the purport of her words,
stern of countenance, he came forth into the light shed by his
daughter's candle.

"What are you screaming about?" he said. "He cannot be far off."

Then seeing her terrified face he, too, thought of François, and
trembling, followed her.

They traversed the whole length of the house, and on into André's
room; there Rousille made way for her father to enter first. He did
not go far into the room; he looked at the undisturbed bed, and that
sufficed to make him understand.

For a moment he remained motionless, tears blinding him; then,
staggering, turned towards the courtyard, on the threshold, clinging
to the doorposts for support, he took a long breath, as if to call
into the night, but only a stifled, scarce audible sound escaped him:

"My Driot!"

And the noble old man, struck by the bitter cold, fell backwards in a

At that instant from the other end of the house Mathurin, swearing,
and striking head and crutches against the walls and furniture, came
struggling along.

"Lend me a hand, Rousille," he cried, "I must see what is going on!"
Rousille was kneeling beside her father, kissing him amid her tears.
The farm-servant, roused by the noise, came through the yard with a



The farmer soon recovered consciousness. Sitting up, he looked about
him, and hearing Mathurin moaning and saying: "He is dead!" answered:
"No, my boy, I am all right," then with the aid of the farm-servant he
went back to his bed.

At dawn next morning, he started for a tour round the farms to try and
learn particulars of his son. It seemed that neither Mathurin nor the
man had had the least suspicion of André's flight; they had neither
seen nor heard the slightest thing.

Thus Toussaint Lumineau went to make inquiries among the old and new
friends frequented by André during the last few months, sons of
farmers, gooseherds, or sailors. For three whole days he scoured the
Marais from Saint Gervais to Fromentière, from Sallertaine to Saint
Gilles. Those he asked knew but little, or were unwilling to betray
confidence. All agreed in stating that André had often talked of
making his fortune across the sea where the land was new and fertile.
The best informed went on to say:

"Last Sunday he said good-bye to several of us, myself among the
number. He told me he was off to South America, where, for a mere
nothing, he would get a farm of seventy-four acres of virgin soil; but
I do not remember the name of the place where he was going."

On the evening of the third day, when, having had this information,
the farmer returned home, he found the cripple sitting by the

"Mathurin," he said, "you ought still to have some of those books
where countries are sketched out, you know what I mean?"

"Geography books? Yes, there must be some left from old schooldays.

"I want to look at America," replied the old man. "It is there that
your brother is going they all say."

Dragging himself to the chest, from under the clothes at the bottom
the cripple brought forth a handful of school books, which had
belonged to one or other of them as boys, and came back with a little
elementary atlas, on the cover of which was written in a beginner's
large handwriting: "This book belongs to Lumineau André, son of
Lumineau Toussaint, of La Fromentière, Commune of Sallertaine,
Vendée." The father stroked his hand over the writing, as if to caress

"It was his," he said.

Mathurin opened the atlas. It was all to pieces; the maps were rounded
at the corners from wear, crumpled or torn, the edges frayed. The
cripple's fingers turned the pages gingerly, and stopped at a map
covered with ink-blots in which the two Americas, united by their
isthmus, in deep orange colour, looked like a pair of huge spectacles.
The two men bent over it. "This is South America," said Mathurin. "And
here is the sea."

The farmer pondered for a considerable time over Mathurin's words,
endeavouring to harmonise them with the inky map, then shook his head.

"I cannot picture to myself where he is," he said sadly, "but I see
that there is sea, and that he is lost to us...."

Mathurin slowly shut his book and said:

"They were both bad sons; they have forsaken you."

The farmer did not seem to have heard him; turning to Rousille, he
said gently, far more gently than was his wont: "Rousille, have a
cup of coffee ready for me the first thing to-morrow morning. I
will go and find out François." And accordingly at ten o'clock the
next morning, the fourth day after Driot's departure, the farmer
of La Fromentière alighted from the train at the station of La
Roche-sur-Yon. The moment he set foot on the platform, he began
looking for his son amongst the porters engaged in shutting the
carriage doors, or taking the luggage from the van. Taller by a head
than most of the passengers who were hurrying hither and thither, he
would stop every ten paces to follow with his eyes some porter with
young, full face like François. He wanted to see his son again, but
was nervous at meeting him in so public a place. He, clad in his black
cloth suit, with blue waistband, his new hat bound with velvet set
well at the back of his head, free to come and go at his own time--he,
the master of his working and leisure hours, felt a kind of shame at
the thought that among that group of paid servants, hustled about by
their superiors, clad in a uniform they had no right to exchange for
ordinary clothes, was a Lumineau of La Fromentière.

Not finding François on the platform, he was proceeding to a part of
the line where carriages were uncoupled, and was watching a gang of
men push a loaded truck along with their shoulders, thinking the
while, "Why, they are doing the work of our oxen at home," when a
voice called out:

"Hey! Where are you going?"

"To find my boy."

"Who is he?"

"You may perhaps know him," replied the farmer, touching the brim of
his hat. "He is employed on the line; his name is François Lumineau."

The inspector said carelessly:

"Lumineau? Ah, yes, one of the men on the line. Been here four

"Five," returned the father.

"Maybe. A stout, red-faced fellow, somewhat lazy. Do you want to speak
to him?"


"Very well. If you know where he lives, go to him there. You can do
your business with him when he goes home to his dinner. Foot
passengers are not allowed on the lines, my good man." And as he went
away, the inspector grumbled: "These peasants think they have the
right to go anywhere, as if they were in their own fields."

The farmer controlling himself on François' account, made no reply. He
left the railway station and began wandering among the broad, deserted
streets with their rows of low-built houses on either side; rain had
been falling since early morning. The people he stopped to inquire of
did not know Café la Faucille, the name of which he had learned from
the Maraîchins who came to the fairs of La Roche. At length, by means
of the sign-board, he found it out for himself, in the outskirts of
the town. Like the others in the street it was a little one-storied
house, with one window. Pushing open the door, Toussaint Lumineau
found himself in a coffee shop, furnished with deal tables, cane
stools, and a glass cupboard, wherein were displayed bottles of wine
and spirits, and on a counter at the foot were a few plates of cold
meat, between two boxes of sweet biscuits. Nobody was there. Lumineau
took his stand in the middle of the shop; the bell, set ringing by the
farmer's entrance, continued to sound more and more feebly. Before it
had altogether ceased, an inner door opposite opened, emitting a
whiff of cookery, and a woman, without cap, her hair very much
dressed, came forward in a mincing manner.

Although he stood with his back to the light she at once recognised
the new-comer, coloured vividly, let fall the corner of her apron she
was holding in both hands, and stopped short.

"Oh," she said, "it is you, father! What a surprise! How long it is
since we have seen you!"

"Yes, true. A very long time."

She hesitated, glad to see her father, and not daring to say so, not
knowing his object in coming, and whether she ought to ask him to sit
down, to kiss him, or to keep her distance as one who may not hope to
be forgiven.

Her eyes were fixed on him. However, the words, not hard, the gentle
tones and voice that trembled, reassured her; and she asked:

"May I kiss you, father, despite all?"

He suffered her embrace, but did not return the kiss. Then sitting on
a stool, while Eléonore went to the other side of the table, he looked
at his daughter with melancholy curiosity to see in what way she had
changed. Eléonore, standing near the wall, embarrassed by the
penetrating gaze, began fastening the collar of her grey woollen
dress, drawing down the sleeves over her bare arms, then twisted a
ring she was wearing on her right hand.

"I did not expect," she stammered, casting down her eyes.... "It has
quite startled me to see you again! François will be astonished too.
He comes in at eleven every day, sometimes half-past. Father, you will
have something to eat?"

He made a negative gesture.

"A glass of wine? You will not refuse that?"

For all answer, Toussaint Lumineau said:

"Do you know what has happened at home, Eléonore?"

Suddenly the slight amount of self-possession she had assumed left
her. She drew back still further. Her light blue eyes assumed an
expression of fear, while she glanced towards the street as if,
perchance, the expected help were coming from that direction. Then,
obliged to speak, leaning her head against the wall, with eyes

"Yes," she said. "He came to La Roche. He wanted to see François."

"What!" exclaimed Toussaint Lumineau, rising and pushing back the
stool. "André? You have spoken to André?"

"Very early on Monday he came. His face had a look on it that is
always coming back to me when I am alone. Oh! a look as of a world of
sorrow. He pushed open the door, like you did, and said: 'François, I
am going away from La Fromentière, because you are not there!' I am
sure, father, it is a blow to you ... but do not be angry, for we said
nothing to induce him to go. We were even sorry on your account."

She had put out her hand as if to ward the old man off; but she saw at
once that there was nothing to fear, and the outstretched hand fell
beside the dingy plastered wall. For Toussaint Lumineau was crying as
he looked at her. The tears were coursing down his face, wrinkled by
suffering. He wanted to know everything, and asked:

"Did he speak of me?"


"Did he speak of La Fromentière?"


"Did he at last say where he was going?"

"He would neither sit down nor stay. He kissed us both; but words
neither came to him nor to us. François asked him: 'Where are you
going, Driot?' and he answered: 'To Buenos Ayres, in America. I mean
to try and make money. When I am a rich man you shall all hear of me.
Good-bye, Lionore. Good-bye, François,' and he was gone."

"Gone," repeated Lumineau; "my last one gone!"

Eléonore's feelings were touched in sympathy, the corners of her eyes
grew moist; but they still turned towards the street, while her father
shut his.

"Father," she said, "will you mind coming into the kitchen with me?
François will soon be coming in, and if he does not find his dinner
ready, you know what it will be! He is not always easy to get on
with." She went into the inner room, followed by her father. It was
but a shed built on, quite dark even in broad daylight, whose only
window looked on to a narrow yard built up on all sides. An iron
stove, at present alight, three chairs, and a table took up nearly all
the space. The farmer, taking a chair, sat down between the window and
the open door, that he might see François when he came in. Eléonore
busied herself with cookery, laid the table for two, went backwards
and forwards from one room to the other, always in a hurry, never
getting on much with what she had in hand. Toussaint Lumineau was
silent. She felt it necessary to sigh as she passed him, and say:

"Things have gone sadly against you. And how melancholy it must be at
La Fromentière now! Poor father, I am sorry for you!"

He, listening, took her empty words as words of pity.

"Lionore," he said, after a while, as she stooping was cutting the
bread for the soup, "Lionore, you have given up the coif of La

"Yes, they ironed them so badly here at La Roche, and it cost so much.
Besides, no one wears caps here."

"Humph! Well, since you have given up dressing as did your mother and
grandmother, and all the women of the family I have ever known, are
you any the happier? Are you content in your new circumstances?"

She went on cutting the bread into thin slices, and answered:

"It is not the same kind of work, but I cannot say but that I have as
much to do as I had at home. There are the rooms to keep in order,
marketing to do, my stones to wash every other day when it rains, as
to-day, or snows; cooking at all times of the day, and that for people
who are not always very civil, I assure you. Sometimes there are
complaints that there are so few customers, for there was too high a
price paid for the café--much too high. And then when men passing come
in for a drink, I am often afraid of them. Indeed, if I had not

"And your brother, is he content?" interrupted the farmer.

"Half and half. The pay is so poor, you see. Two francs at La
Fromentière go farther than three here."

The father hesitated a little. Then asked, lowering his voice:

"Tell me, perhaps he regrets what he has done? I have no son with me
now, Lionore; I am wretched. Do you think that François would come
back to his home?"

He forgave all, forgot all; he craved help from the children who had
wronged him.

Eléonore's face changed abruptly. Drying her eyes with a corner of her
handkerchief, she shook her pointed chignon, and replied drily:

"I do not think so, father. I would rather tell you so out straight.
You will be seeing my brother--will talk it over with him, but I do
not think----" And as if deeply hurt she turned abruptly away to the

The half-hour had struck, the door of the café opened noisily, a man
came in. Without looking up, or moving from her place, the girl said:

"Here he is."

Despite the railway uniform and cap he was wearing, the farmer, in the
semi-darkness of the shop, had already recognised his son by the
downcast head, slouching gait, and habit of holding his arms out from
his body. Soon François stood before him in the doorway of the
kitchen, and a glance revealed the same heavy features as of
old--russet-red complexion, drooping moustache, and look of stolid

On seeing his father a shade of emotion passed over his face.

"Good day, father," said he, holding out his hand. "So things are not
going well by what I see?"

The farmer made a sign of acquiescence.

"You are in trouble. Yes, I understand. So should I be if I were you.
André ought not to have done it; he was the last, he ought to have

Toussaint Lumineau had seized François' hand, and was pressing it
between both of his with a tenderness that spoke volumes, and his
eyes, which sought the eyes of his son, uttered the same entreaty. In
measure, however, that his father's mute pleading entered his soul,
François quickly recovered from his surprise, hardening himself
against the momentary feeling of compassion. Presently, drawing back
his hand, he retreated a step, saying with the air of a man defiant
and on the defensive.

"I understand. You are not wanting to engage another servant, but
would rather have Lionore and me back at Sallertaine?"

"If you could, François. I have no one else to look to."

A half-satisfied smile at the correctness of his surmise passed over
François' face as he rejoined:

"Yet you see that the other has gone too; and that there is nothing
more to be done with the land."

"You are mistaken. He has gone to cultivate it elsewhere, in America!
It was because he missed you so sorely, François, that he lost heart
at home."

"Yes," said François, drawing up a chair for himself and sitting down
to the table. "It seems to be a wonderful country, America! But here
with us it's too hard."

The farmer did not take up the words which had angered him before.

"Well!" he said, "I will give you help. I have no other son now, for
you know that Mathurin is of no account in the management of a farm.
You will soon be the master; the next lease shall be drawn up in your
name, and there will still be a Lumineau at La Fromentière. Will you
come back?"

François made a gesture of annoyance and gave no reply.

"You are making nothing," resumed the farmer, "by what Eléonore tells

"No, the pay is poor enough."

"The café has not many customers?"

"No; but we paid too much for it. We are not sure that it will
answer." He turned to his sister who was listening passive and
tearful. "But we scrape along, eh, Lionore? In time I may get a rise,
so the sub-inspector tells me. Then I shall be better off. I don't
want more. We have got to know people already; on Sundays I have my
half-day off."

"You had the whole day at La Fromentière!"

"I don't say that I hadn't. But what you ask, father, can't be done."

A man, whose entrance they had not perceived, now called out from the
adjoining room:

"Is no one here? Is there no dinner to be had?"

Eléonore, glad of the interruption, passed between her brother and
father, and they heard her laugh to appease the customer. François
drew the soup-tureen towards him, and put in the ladle.

"You must not mind my helping myself," he said to his father, who
remained sitting at the window behind him, "I have only got a quarter
of an hour; it's a long way to the station. I shall be fined," and
between the mouthfuls of soup he asked in a softened voice: "You have
not given me news of Rousille. Is she quite well? And Mathurin, does
he still imagine that he will be all right again? He who always was so
keen on being master at La Fromentière did nothing to keep André back,
I suppose?"

Toussaint Lumineau rose abruptly, unable longer to control his anger.

"You are a couple of ungrateful children, both of you!" he exclaimed
in a loud voice. "Stay in your town!" and going out of the kitchen, he
crossed the café before the eyes of the sickly-looking mechanic, and
of Eléonore, who, terrified, leant forward:

"I told you so, poor father. I told you he would not! I knew it.
Still, _au revoir_."

Then to François who was following him:

"You are going with him to the station."

He shook his head.

"Yes, go! It would look better; he would not then be able to say that
we had not treated him kindly."

The farmer had opened the door into the street.

"I will go with you to the station, if you like," said François

"I did not ask you to go with me to the station, ungrateful son; I
asked you to come back and save us all from ruin, and you have
refused!" was the reply. They saw him stride down the street erect,
his fine figure making two of the puny town mechanics, his silvery
hair shining through the mist of rain. The door shut behind him.

"No easy customer, the old papa," said the man who was dining.

"Don't talk of it," exclaimed Eléonore; "I am quite ill."

"What was it he wanted?"

With a coarse laugh François said as he went back to the kitchen:

"Wanted me to go back and dig for him."

The mechanic, shrugging his shoulders, said with a self-satisfied air:

"A fine idea! The old gentleman was a bit unreasonable, I think."



It was late afternoon when Toussaint Lumineau returned to La
Fromentière. It had rained heavily all day. On the hearth in the
house-place the largest pot was boiling full of potatoes for the men's
supper, and to give food for the pigs. Sitting by the fireside
Mathurin and the farm-servant, kept indoors by the inclement weather,
were warming themselves and waiting for news. The cripple who had been
very gloomy, and in a state of nervous excitement since André's
departure, had not spoken a word the whole afternoon. Rousille could
be heard folding linen and arranging it in piles in the cupboard of
the adjacent room.

The farmer ascended the house steps and opened the door.
Simultaneously the thought came into the minds of the three awaiting
him: "What did they say? Will they come back? Did they let you go away
without even a promise to return?" But no one dared to ask him.

With a curt greeting to his household the farmer went straight to his
bedside, and began silently changing his Sunday garb for his working
clothes. The best coat, new hat, shoes, were all laid away. The answer
must have been unsatisfactory. An awkward silence reigned in the room;
as the minutes went on Mathurin's irritation increased. Bent almost
double in the chimney-corner, his face drawn, he, the eldest son, felt
hurt at being treated like a servant or a woman. Why not have taken
him apart? A sign would have sufficed. Why not have given it him?

His ill temper broke forth when his father, having changed his
clothes, said peremptorily:

"Rousille, you will come with me and the man into the barn to make
baskets. You, Mathurin, for once will take your sister's place, and
watch the pot."

"So you think me of no use at all?" said the cripple.

Contrary to his usual habit, which was to give reasons and modify
orders, the farmer, raising his voice, made answer:

"I am sole master here. Come, Rousille!" Followed by his daughter and
the man, he crossed the yard in the front of the house, went into the
barn, and threw open the double doors that separated it from the cart
shed. There was the wine press, the red tilbury; and ranged against
the walls were wheelbarrows, hen-coops, ladders, rafters, and poles;
in the middle of the circle formed by this medley was a sandy space,
where the fowls came to scratch and cover themselves with sand. The
farmer sat down upon a joist beside a vat in which a bundle of osiers
were steeping, his face turned towards the farmhouse. Rousille
kneeling close to him, her back to the light, drew the twigs from the
water one by one, peeled them with her pocket-knife and handed them to
her father. He, taking the white stems, twisted them round the already
prepared framework of the baskets. In a corner the man was chopping
poles of chestnut wood with a hedge-bill. The rain came down faster
than ever, the air grew colder and more penetrating, spreading a veil
of mist between the barn and the house. A fantastic twilight, coming
from one knew not whither, uncertain as the rain and driven by the
wind, cast a faint glimmer upon the workers. The ducks were quacking
merrily in the Marais; sparrows were chirping in the gutters of the
roof. Not a word passed between the father, his daughter, and the man.
Toussaint Lumineau was looking at Rousille--looking at her more often
and attentively than was his wont; his thought was: "She is all that
is left to me." At times he stopped plaiting, the white osier remained
motionless, and his hand sank nerveless to his side. Then it was that
the remembrance of his other children was passing, like the rain, in a
torrent over his soul. In the depths of his heart the father would
cry, "François! André!" He tried to picture South America as he had
seen it on map. Where was his youngest son now in the great wide
world? Was he in a town, or wandering along unknown roads, or on the
great ocean that sucks in so many victims? Toussaint Lumineau strove
to get to him, but the effort was vain. All the scenes his imagination
could picture were lost in the unknown.

At that same hour, far away, the heart of a young man was recalling
with all the faithfulness of familiar scenes, La Fromentière and its
elms, his father, Rousille, Mathurin, the meadows of the Marais and
all the country round. It was the son of whom the old man was thinking
with such poignant regret; he, whom all three in the barn were vainly
trying to follow in their inexperience of travel.

Tired after a night passed in the train, and in going from one agent's
office to the other, a stranger and unknown, André was sitting on a
bundle of sheep-skins in the docks of a great seaport, awaiting the
hour of embarkation in a steamer that was to bear him away to the new
country. In front of him the waters of the River Scheldt dashed up
against the quay; emerging from the fog on one side they formed a kind
of half circle, to be lost in deeper fog on the other, their broad
expanse covered with shipping. André's weary eyes followed the moving
panorama of sailing vessels, steamers, coasting and fishing boats all
standing out grey in the fog and the fading light of day, now massed
together, now disentangling and gliding away each to its own

More often he looked beyond to the low-lying land round which the
river curved, meadows half under water, deserted, immeasurable,
seeming to float on the pale waters. How they reminded him of the
province he had left! How they spoke to him! Neither the rolling of
trucks, nor the whistle of commanding officers, nor the voices of the
thousands of men of all nations unloading their ships round about him
could draw away his thoughts. Nor did he feel any interest in the
great city that extended behind him, and whence at times, amid the
noise and bustle of the quay, came the sound of peals of bells such as
he had never yet heard. But the time was drawing near. He knew this by
the increasing agitation within him. The tramp of an approaching body
of people made him turn his head; they were emigrants coming out of
the sheds where they had been penned in by the agents, forming a long
grey stream, seen through the mist. They come nearer, the foremost
making their way through the casks and piles of sacks heaped upon the
quay, and crossing the muddy gangway, hasten to secure the best places
between decks; others follow, a confused mass of men, women, and
children. Young and old are hard to distinguish; like tears, all look
alike; all have the same sad look in their eyes; all are wearing
their oldest clothes for the voyage: shapeless coats, jerseys, old
mantles, kerchiefs over the women's heads, patched petticoats, odd
garments in which they have worked and toiled many a day. They rub
against André Lumineau, sitting on the bundle of skins, and pay no
heed to him. They do not speak to one another, but in their hurried
progress families form into distinct groups; mothers holding their
children by the hand and shielding them from the wind, fathers with
elbows extended protecting them from the pressure. All are carrying
something: a bundle of clothing, a loaf of bread, a handbag tied
together with string. All have made the same pause at the same place.
As they turn in from the streets through the dock gates, they
straighten themselves and stretch out their necks to look across, ever
in the same direction, to the plains of the Scheldt, where a golden
shimmer through the fog denotes the quarter of the setting sun; and,
as though it were their own, they gaze upon a solitary little clock
tower which rises out of the misty distance. Then they turn into the
docks, find which is their boat, the steam already up, the windlass at
work, the bridge black with emigrants. And their courage fails, they
are afraid; many among them would fain turn back. But for them there
is no turning back, they must embark, their tickets tremble in their
shaking hands. In spirit only they return to the old country, to the
poverty they have anathematized and now regret; to the deserted
rooms, the suburbs, the factories, the country sides where once was
"home." Pale and nerveless the living stream suffers itself to be
swept on, and embarks.

For a long time André Lumineau looked on without joining the crowd. He
was seeking a fellow-countryman. Seeing none, he at last put himself
in line with the others; he was wearing his military cloak, the
buttons of which had been changed, and was carrying the black
portmanteau that five days ago reposed in the hayloft of Fromentière.
His neighbours glanced at him with indifference, accepting him without

Among them he crossed the quay, mounted the gangway, and stepped on
board, the ship already swaying with the motion of the river. Then
while others in the throng who had friends or relations with them were
walking the decks in groups, or examining the machinery, or inspecting
the cabins, he leaned over the side of the boat at the stern trying to
distinguish the river and the grey meadow land, for memories were
rushing thickly upon him, and his courage was nigh to deserting him.
But doubtless the fog had deepened, for he saw nothing.

Beside him, hunched up upon the seat, was an old woman with still
fresh complexion, wrapped in a black cloak with a cape to it, her coif
fastened with a pair of gold pins, and rocking a child in her arms.

André took no notice of her. But she, unable to fix her eyes anywhere
in the bustle and confusion of a ship on the point of departure,
raised them every now and then to the stranger standing beside her,
who so surely was thinking of the home he was leaving. Perhaps she had
a son of the same age. The feeling of pity grew in her and albeit,
well knowing that her neighbour would not understand her language, the
old woman said:

"U heeft pyn."

After she had repeated it several times he understood by the word
"pain" and the intonation with which it was said, that the woman
asked, "You are in sorrow?" and answered:

"Yes, madame."

The old mother took Driot's hand in her soft shrivelled one, all cold
and damp with the fog, and stroked it tenderly, and the young Vendéen
broke down utterly and wept, thinking of bygone caresses from his old
mother, who, too, had worn a white coif and gold pins on grand

       *       *       *       *       *

Mist and fog were sweeping over the Marais of La Vendée, as over the
plains of the Scheldt, driven by gusts of wind.

At times an expression of anguish crossed the face of Toussaint
Lumineau as he followed with his eyes the quivering points of the
osiers Rousille held out to him, as though they had been the masts of
ships labouring in the ocean. At other times he would look long and
lingeringly at his one remaining child, and Rousille knew that she was
fair to look upon. A violent squall struck the elm-trees, stripping
them clear of leaves, and beating their branches against the roof of
La Fromentière. The rainspouts, the tiles, the rafters and walls, the
very lizards in the barn groaned and creaked together--and the
storm-cry groaned, wildly and madly, over the Marais.

Three hundred leagues away the melancholy whistle of a sirene awoke
the echoes, the screw of a huge steamer parted the waters of the river
and drew away slowly from shore, as though yet half inert and
drifting. No sooner did the emigrants, outcasts of the old world, poor
and hopelessly miserable, feel themselves afloat, than they were
terrified. The thoughts of all on board flew back to their deserted
homes. It was in the darkness of night that André Lumineau went forth.

       *       *       *       *       *

The farmer threw back a handful of osiers into the vat, saying:

"Let us go in. My old hands can work no longer."

But he did not stir. The man, alone, ceased chopping the poles of
chestnut wood, and left the barn. Rousille, seeing that her father
made no movement to rise, stayed where she was.



Evening had come, the evening of a February day, which casts its
shadow so soon. Through the door of the barn came only a deceptive
gleam, like that of a smouldering cinder, blotting out all form.
Toussaint Lumineau's arms had sunk on either side of his body; still
sitting on the joist, his face uplifted in the dusk, he waited till
the man should have crossed the yard. When he had seen the door of the
house-place, where Mathurin was watching, open and shut, he lowered
his eyes to his daughter.

"Rousille," he said, "are you still of the same mind concerning Jean

The girl, kneeling on the ground, her profile indistinct in the
darkness, slowly raised her head and stooped forward as though better
to see him who spoke in so unexpected a manner. But she had nothing to
conceal, she was not one of those who are timid and fearful; she only
quieted her beating heart, which could have cried aloud with joy, and
said, with apparent calm:

"Always, father. I have given him my love, and shall never withdraw
it. Now that André is gone, I quite understand that I cannot leave you
to go and live in the Bocage. But I shall never marry; I will stay
with you and serve you."

"Then you will not forsake me as they have done?"

"No, father, never."

Her father rested his hand upon her shoulder, and the girl felt
herself enveloped in a tenderness hitherto unknown. A hymn of
thanksgiving passed from soul to soul. Around them the wind and rain
were raging.

"Rousille," resumed the farmer, "I have no longer a son to lean upon.
André was the last to betray me. François has refused to come back.
And yet La Fromentière must continue ours."

A firm, sweet voice answered:

"It must."

"Then, little one," continued her father, "your wedding bells must

Rousille dared not understand. Still on her knees she drew a little
closer so as to touch her father. She longed that daylight would come
back to reveal the expression of the eyes fixed upon her. But the
darkness was impenetrable.

"I had always hoped," continued the farmer, "that there would be one
of my name to carry on the farm after me. God has refused me my
desire. As for you, Rousille, I should have liked to have given you
to a Maraîchin like ourselves; one in like position, and from our
part. Perhaps it was pride. Things have not turned out according to my
wishes. Do you think that Jean Nesmy will consent to come back to La

"I am certain of it! I can answer for him. He will come back!"

"And his mother will not seek to offer us any affront?"

"No, no. She loves her son too well for that; she knows everything.
But Mathurin!" and she stretched out her arm towards the house lying
hidden in the darkness. "Mathurin would not have it. He hates us! He
would make life so hard for us that we could not stay here."

"But I am still here, dear child, and I mean to gather the three of
you about me."

Had Rousille heard aright? Had her father really in so many words
given his consent to her marriage? Yes, for he was now standing
upright, and in rising he had raised his daughter, and was holding her
in close embrace, his tears falling so fast that he could not speak.
But contact with her youthful happiness seemed to have lent him fresh

"Do not fear Mathurin," he said, "I will reason with him, and he must
obey. It was I who dismissed Jean Nesmy; it is now my will that he
comes back to be my son and helper, and the master here when I am

The girl listened in the darkness.

"It is my wish that he should come back as quickly as possible, for a
place does not prosper in hired hands however good they may be. I have
thought it all out for you, Rousille. You will go from here where we
now are, straight to the Michelonnes."

"Yes, father."

"That will give me the time to speak to your brother. You will
therefore go to them and say: 'My father cannot leave La Fromentière
and Mathurin, who has not been well these last few days. He asks you
to go for him to the Bocage, and to beg the mother of Jean Nesmy to
let her son come back to be my husband. The sooner you start the
better for us.'"

Now Rousille's tears were falling fast. Toussaint Lumineau continued:

"Go, my Rousille. Greet the Michelonnes from me ... tell them it is to
save La Fromentière."

A whisper answered:

"Yes," and a pair of young arms were thrown round the old farmer's
neck, and his face drawn down for a long, loving kiss. Then, going a
little away from him, across the darkness through which they could not
see each other, Rousille said: "I am happy, father. I will go at once
to the Michelonnes ... but, oh! how much better it would have been if
we could have had all our people at my wedding!"

And she ran out into the night. Her father stood for a moment, proud
and happy. She had said "our people," this little Rousille; she spoke
like her ancestresses who had ruled in La Fromentière. She was a true
descendant of the great-grandmothers she had never known, thorough
housewives, who from the very day they were brought home as wives,
staid and happy, seemed to bring with them as reading in an ever open
book the sense of family cares and joys.

Rousille ran along the road, unheeding the stoniness of the way. Rain
fell heavily, but she did not feel it. Sometimes she pressed her hand
to her heart, to calm its beating. She thought, "I am happy," and with
that she wept.

The windows of all the houses in Sallertaine were lighted when she
reached the long street. The timid sisters Michelonne had already shut
their shutters, and drawn their bolts.

"Aunts Michelonne!" she cried, knocking with her hand on the door,
"please let me in quickly."

It was the work of a moment for Véronique to draw the bolt, open the
door, and shut it behind the new-comer.

"How wet you are, Rousille!" she exclaimed, "and without cloak or
kerchief in such weather! It has struck seven. What brings you out at
such an hour?"

At the far end of the room, on a chest beside the bed nearest to the
fireplace, Adelaide had stood the solitary tallow candle, its long
smoky wick burnt to a thick glowing knob. By its dim light she was
beginning to undress, and had already taken off her apron. A corner of
the sheet turned back upon the coverlet showed a patch of whiteness;
the rest of the shop was in gloom--chairs, spinning wheels, the table,
the other bedstead, and the clock beside it calmly ticking.

"Do not let me disturb you, Aunt Adelaide," said the girl going
towards her; "I have news."

The eldest of the sisters taking the candlestick, held it up to
Rousille's face, and seeing traces of tears upon it, said:

"Sad news, again, dear child?"

"No, aunts, glad news."

"Then let us sit down, and tell it quickly."

The old sisters sat on the oak chest and made Rousille take a chair
facing them, close up that they might see her happy face, and each
taking a hand in hers prepared to listen. The three faces were close
together; the candle gave just light enough to reveal lip or eyes
irradiated with a smile.

"My news is," said Rousille, "that my father, having no longer a son
to help him, wishes Jean Nesmy to come back."

"What, Rousille, your sweetheart?"

"Aunt Michelonne, it is to save La Fromentière."

"Then you are going to be married, pet; you are going to be married?"
exclaimed Aunt Adelaide enthusiastically, half rising; while her
sister, on the contrary, bent lower to hide her emotion.

"Yes, father has said so. If you will help me."

"If! You know I will; you are my daughter. You have only to ask for
what you want--but tell me, is it money?"

"No, aunt."

"A trousseau that we will both set about making?"

"Something far more difficult," said Rousille. "To make a journey--a
long one."

"I, a journey?"

"You, or Aunt Véronique. As far as the Bocage. Father cannot leave
home; you are to go in his stead to see Jean Nesmy's mother, and
persuade her to let her son come away. Will you do it?"

Véronique sat upright. "You go to the Bocage, Adelaide, you are more
active than I am."

"Is that any reason? So great a pleasure; to do Rousille so great a
service, why should you not have the privilege?"

"Sister, you are the elder; you take the place of the mother."

"You are right," said Adelaide simply.

She was silent for a short time; in the agitation of the news and her
decision, the pretty pink cheeks had paled. Then she said:

"You see, it is forty years since I have been beyond the town of
Chalons. I never thought to make any journey again. Where is Jean
Nesmy's country?"

With a pretty smile on her face at the recollections it evoked,
Rousille touched Aunt Michelonne's black dress three times with the
tip of her finger.

"Here," she said, "is the farm of Nouzillac, where he is employed;
there, a parish called La Flocellière; and there Les Châtelliers,
where is his house, called La Château."

"I do not know any of those names, pet."

"There are hills in all directions, some small, some large, and a
great many trees. When the wind blows from Saint Michel it rains
without ceasing. Pouzanges is not far."

"I have heard speak of Saint Michel and Pouzanges when I was quite a
child by _Boquins_, who used in those days to come to our part to seek
for fuel. And when must I go?"

Lowering her soft eyes, Rousille answered:

"Father is hard pressed. He said the sooner the better."

"Holy Virgin! But I cannot start to-night. Still, look at the clock,
Véronique, your eyes are better than mine."

The younger sister rising, trotted to the foot of the tall clock
which stood between the beds, and with difficulty read the time from
the copper-clock face.

"Too late, sister. The last tramway for Chalons has just passed."

"Then," said Adelaide, "I will start to-morrow morning. I have good
legs to carry me to Quatre-Moulins, and a good tongue to ask my way
later from the shopkeepers at Chalons. I will go. All the way I shall
be thinking of you, Rousille, and when I see La Mère Nesmy--you will
say I am conceited--but I shall not be a bit embarrassed, I will tell
her of you, and I shall have plenty to tell. Why are you getting up,
little one?"

"To go home, Aunt Michelonne."

The two old sisters laughing, cried simultaneously:

"No, that you are not indeed! You have told us nothing. What did your
father say when he gave you permission? And what about François? And
what does Mathurin think of it all? Stay, dearie, and tell us all
about everything; and what is to be the message for Jean Nesmy?"

As when night falls over the fields partridges cluster together in a
furrow, feather to feather, so the three women again grouped
themselves, in close vicinity, in the corner of the shop. Words,
looks, smiles, gestures, sometimes tears, all that bespeaks deep
feeling, found utterance, and was re-echoed by the two auditors. A
joyous murmur floated through the dwelling of the two old maids.
Adelaide was slightly fevered; Véronique, without wishing to confess
it, was already nervous at the idea of being left alone. Time went on.
The neighbours, as they extinguished their lamps said: "Mademoiselles
Michelonne are sitting up late to-night! Work seems plentiful in their

The town was sunk in darkness and silence under an icy rain when
Rousille left her aunt's doorstep. On both sides the same words served
for their parting. Adelaide said it first; Rousille repeated it. In
one case it was a promise; in the other an expression of thanks.

"To-morrow morning!"

"To-morrow morning!"



When Rousille had crossed the courtyard and taken the road to
Sallertaine, the farmer, having taken the pot off the fire, left the
barn. He found the man sitting in the chimney-corner, pushing together
the half-dead twigs that had fallen from the fire-dogs with the points
of his sabots. At the far end of the room, Mathurin was moving
restlessly about on his crutches, with crimsoned face, utterly unable
to keep his nerves under control. He did not speak to his father, did
not appear to have heard him enter. But after a minute, as the farmer,
bending down, was speaking in a low voice to the man, he exclaimed

"And Rousille, what had you to say to her that kept you so long in the

Before replying, Toussaint Lumineau followed with his eyes the
movements of the unhappy young man, a prey to a species of madness
produced by rage and pain, such as was too well known at La
Fromentière--since André's departure the paroxysms had become more
frequent--and the father was moved to pity. Ignoring the insolence of
the question, he said simply:

"Your sister will come back later, Mathurin. Where she has gone I have
sent her."

"I am not to know where she is, then?" cried the cripple still more
violently. "Everything is hidden from me here, and she is told all!"

At a sign from the farmer the man took out a couple of potatoes with
his knife from the saucepan, slipped them into his coat pocket, cut a
slice of bread from the loaf on the table, and carrying off his
supper, went out into the yard.

The father and son were alone. Toussaint Lumineau, standing erect in
the firelight, said:

"On the contrary, you are going to know all, Mathurin. Your brother
François refuses to come home to us."

"I thought so."

The cripple had drawn back into a dark corner between the two beds,
out of the range of the lamplight; there, as though on the watch for
the words spoken, he listened; his trembling hands resting on the
crutches shook the bed-curtains.

"La Fromentière cannot go on as it is now," resumed the farmer. "I
have bidden Rousille take a message to the Michelonnes. One or the
other of the sisters, whether it be Adelaide or Véronique matters not,
is to go to the Bocage to bring back Jean Nesmy."

"Ah! you are marrying Rousille?"

"Yes, my friend."

"To a dismissed farm-servant!"

"I am taking him back."

"A _Boquin_! A man not of these parts!"

"A good worker, Mathurin, and one who always loved our soil."

"And he is to live at La Fromentière?"

"Of course. I need help. I need a son to stand by me."

Mathurin's tawny head was thrust out from darkness.

"And me," he cried, "what are you going to do with me?"

In his look was a concentrated reproach, all pent-up suffering and
wrath of years.

"So I, the eldest, the rightful heir, am only to bear my suffering and
submit to the will of others?"

"My son," replied his father gently, "you will continue to live with
us as now; you will do what you can, and no one will expect more. No
work will be undertaken here without your having first been consulted,
that I promise you. The farmstead will be your home after my death as

"No. I will not be ordered about by a man who does not bear my name. A
Lumineau, and a Lumineau only, must be master here!"

"It is the sorrow of my life, Mathurin, that this cannot be."

"I could have borne with François, even with André," continued the
cripple, with equal vehemence, "but Rousille and her _Boquin_ shall
never be the masters here. It is my home, and, I tell you, it is my

"But, my poor boy, you cannot take the management."

The serge curtains shook, and the unhappy man, suffocating with rage,
made a few uncertain steps forward.

"I cannot tell what is good ploughing?" he gasped.


"I cannot buy a pair of oxen?"


"I cannot have myself drawn about in a cart, or punt a boat? Answer,
if you please."

"Yes, my son."

"Then what further do I need for the management of a farm? Labourers I
can hire. A wife?"

His father dared not say Yes.

"I will bring one!" Mathurin had reached the corner of the table and
was now leaning upon it, the upper part of his body swaying and
struggling to maintain its equilibrium. "One who has more heart than
all of you put together! She knows that I shall get well. She has
almost given me her promise to marry me as I am ... when I shall have
persuaded her."

"Do not trust to what the girls tell you, my poor lad. It is only
fathers and mothers who love and cherish those afflicted as you
are.... You are ill this evening. See, your limbs are failing you.
Come to bed, I will help you."

The cripple did not try to answer. His eyes closed, his head sank on
to his shoulder; the crutches slipped from under the arms that
stretched out as those of a drowning man seeking help. He would have
fallen to the ground had not the farmer rushed forward to support him.

The giddiness did not last long. It was a sharp but short attack.
Hardly had his father got him into a recumbent position on the chest
at the foot his bed than Mathurin opened his eyes. He looked at his
father, raised himself unaided, and putting hand to the back of his
neck, said:

"You see, it is nothing. The pain you caused did it.... I am not ill."

All trace of anger had disappeared, but the misery in his face was the
same, mingled with that kind of horror men experience when they have
been at the very verge of death.

"Would you like me to help you?" asked his father.

With a shrug of the shoulders the cripple began to undress himself,
and taking off his coat, folded it, and laid it on the chest.

"No. I will get to bed by myself. I want to be left in peace." His
voice trembled as much as his hands. "You had better go to meet
Rousille. She will have her news to tell you--and, moreover, it is
pitch dark, the roads are not too safe----"

Toussaint Lumineau, who knew the danger of opposing his son in such an
attack, made no demur.

"I will go as far as the road, Mathurin, and will tell the man to be
at hand in the bakery in case you need him."

He did not go even as far as the road. He was too uneasy. He went some
hundred yards along the wall of La Fromentière in the rain, turned
back, and then not wishing to go in too soon as to allow Mathurin time
to calm down, he went into the stables to look to the animals, and see
that none had broken loose.

But, all unsuspected, Mathurin had slipped out after him. The farmer
had not gone ten paces beyond the gate ere the cripple had come out
into the courtyard, cautiously shut the outer door, and was making his
way towards the threshing-floor in order to reach the meadow by the
short cut.

His marvellous energy, and the diseased state of nervous excitability
he was in, sustained him. A mad fancy, born of all his misery and all
his dreams, forced him out on that cruel night to his doom. He would
seek his lost love; would appeal by all the slights, all the
suffering, all the affronts he had endured, to her who had been and
still was the arbitress of his life; would say to her: "All forsake
me; I have only you. Tell me that you love me, and they will scorn me
no more. Save me, Félicité Gauvrit!"

Despite the dark night, the slippery ground, the two fences he had to
climb, he went quickly along the track which bordered the park. Like a
naughty child fearing pursuit, he turned his head every now and then
to listen. Many a sound came to him, but it was only the whistling of
the wind among the elms; the rain crashing down upon the slates; the
roll of a distant train, probably on the way to Chalons. Mathurin
descended the sloping meadow; the darkness was so dense that he had to
turn back twice before he found the landing-stage. Feeling for a punt
with his crutch he threw himself into the first one, and with a stroke
of the pole pushed it out, not into the canal which led direct to Le
Perrier and La Seulière, but to the left into a dyke rarely made use
of by the occupants of the farm.

The bottom of the boat was full of water; at each movement it washed
over the limbs of the cowering man, but he heeded it not. What
mattered the wet boat, the icy rain that was falling, the pitch
darkness, the weeds that checked his progress many a time, the length
of the way, the fatigue. He must reach her, did he strain his last
nerve and die in the effort.

The darkness was so great that Mathurin could scarce see the bow of
his boat. Since sundown the wind had been driving the fog into the
Marais; in its length and breadth it was full of it, covering whole
spaces with its swaying mass; it lay over the inundated meadows, the
embankments, and islets, shrouding them all in its malarial folds. It
dripped in poisonous drops down poplars and willows, from the thatched
roofs of hovels on the edge of the great sea shore where men,
condemned to live in them, drank in fever without the power of
struggling against it.

On such a deadly night was it that Mathurin, already a prey to the
malady hanging over him, the blood surging to his head, found his
strength ebbing away. In vain he threw himself from side to side of
the punt, unable to distinguish which way to go. Sometimes his breath
failed, he grew unconscious, and the puntsman would sit leaning
forward motionless in the boat; then the cold would restore him, and
with a shake he would continue his course.

As he went on further into the wildest part of the Marais, the shades
of night grew peopled with forms. Birds, more and more numerous, rose
as he brushed past the quivering willows. It was the time of their
flight. Plovers, wild duck, bernacles, snipe, flew up, uttering their
shrill or plaintive cry, soaring in invisible flocks, now high up in
the icy fog, now close down to the sides of the boat. At each flight
the cripple shuddered: "Why do you cry thus at me, ye birds of
ill-omen?" he thought. "Leave me in peace, I am going to Félicité--she
will consent--we shall make preparation again for our wedding--we
will live at La Fromentière."

But his strength was exhausted. Little by little the torpor increased.
His efforts relaxed; his sight failed. He continued touching the banks
with the punt pole but fitfully, and not knowing where it struck. All
suddenly the boat, which drifted across an embankment into the middle
of a submerged meadow, stopped. Water was all around. Mathurin's hands
relaxed their hold of the pole, his eyes opened wide with terror; he
felt Death creeping up from limbs to brain. Raising himself, he cried
out into the night with a loud voice: "Félicité! Father!" Then his
body swayed backwards and forwards, his hand made the sign of the
cross, and with mouth still open he sank lifeless to the bottom of the

Through the labyrinth of dykes another punt was being rapidly
propelled; at its bow a lantern was slung, just clearing the water,
its tiny flame swaying with a rapid movement, and shaken by the wind.
The farmer had discovered Mathurin's flight, and was seeking him.

Around him, too, coveys of birds arose. White wings fluttered in the
light of the lantern.

"Ye birds," murmured the farmer, "tell me where to find him!"

Did the thousands of voices make answer?

At each crossway of the canals the father stood in the stern of his
boat, and turning successively to the four winds of heaven, he called
out with all his strength the name of his son. Twice men returning to
their island homes from wild duck shooting, or belated farmers, had
opened their windows to cry in the darkness:

"What do you want?"

"My son."

The voices had given no reply. The third time Toussaint Lumineau
thought he distinguished a feeble cry, very distant, coming through
the icy fog, and leaving the canal which runs straight to Perrier, he
turned off to the left. From time to time he called again, but hearing
no further sound, and fearing to have taken a wrong direction, he
unfastened the lantern, and drew up to the side to see if there were
traces of a punt pole. Some hundred yards further on he detected by
newly-made marks in the mud that the bank had been grazed; a punt had
certainly passed that way. Was it Mathurin's? He followed it. The punt
had made the circuit of a meadow, but on which side had it gone out?
In vain the farmer, forcing his way through the rushes, tried the
different canals that cut it at right angles, each time he came back
baffled; all traces had disappeared. He was about to turn back when,
by the light of his lantern, he caught sight of a piece of floating
wood. He stooped to catch it; a presentiment of the truth flashed
across him; it was one of the Fromentière punt poles, drifting,
carried by the wind towards the spot where the banks under water had
converted meadow and dyke into one great lake.

The farmer thought his son's boat had upset.

"Hold on, Mathurin!" he cried. "I am coming. Hold on!" and with a
stroke of the pole he pushed on into the channel. "Where are you,

In the chopping waves of the open water he had made some thirty yards,
when he was suddenly thrown forward. Stooping over the side, he felt
about, and caught hold of another boat, which he drew alongside his
own. Then turning the lantern upon it, he saw at the bottom of the
punt his son, lying motionless. Toussaint Lumineau threw himself on
his knees, nearly sending the boat under water; he felt his son's
temples, there was no pulsation; his hands, they were icy cold; he put
his mouth to the dead man's ear, and twice called him by name.

"Answer me, my son," he implored. "Answer! Move but a finger to show
me you are still living."

But his son's fingers did not move; the lips clothed by the tawny
beard remained motionless, open as when the last cry proceeded from

"My God!" groaned Lumineau, still kneeling. "Grant that he may not be
called away before his Easter Communion. Grant that he be not dead!"
And taking off his coat he covered his son in it, like a bed, and
leaving his own punt he got into the one where Mathurin lay, and
pushed off. A shade of hope sustained him, giving renewed vigour to
his old arms. He must find help. Standing upright, endeavouring to
find out where he was in the pitch darkness, the father had punted on
some distance before he detected the light of a farmhouse. Then, to
the right, a ray of light pierced through the fog. The punt glided on
more rapidly through the dyke, it neared the building, and Toussaint
could make out that it was a farm from the shape of the doors and the
lighted windows. Alas! it was La Seulière, and a dance was going in.
The noise of laughter, songs, the muffled notes of an accordeon
plainly audible within, died away in the wind without.

The farmer went on past the brown hillock, but even while he punted
with all speed he watched to see if the great dark shade cast by
Mathurin had not stirred; then seeing it motionless, thought to
himself: "My son is dead!"

Some five hundred yards away on the other side of the canal, he knew
now that there was another house, and he made all haste to reach it.
For this time it was Terre-Aymont, the farm of Massonneau le Glorieux,
his friend. And soon the farmer, throwing his boat-chain round a
willow, had sprung to land, and going to the farmhouse door, was
crying: "Glorieux! Glorieux! Help!"

Soon lights were moving along the muddy slopes between the farm and
the willow to which the boat had been attached, and men and women
were hurrying to and fro with tears, laments, and low-voiced prayers.
The whole sleeping household had been quickly roused, and were
assembled on the bank. Massonneau would have had Mathurin carried into
the house-place of La Terre-Aymont and have sent to fetch the doctor
of Chalons, but Toussaint Lumineau, having once more examined and felt
over his son's body, said:

"No, Glorieux. His sufferings are at an end. I will take him back to
La Fromentière."

Then the farmer of La Terre-Aymont turned to two young lads standing
in the background, who with arms round each other's necks, their brown
heads touching, seemed to be looking on death for the first time.

"My lads," he said, "go and fetch our large punt."

Disappearing in the fog, they ran to fetch the boat which was kept in
a meadow close by La Seulière, and as they passed they told the
merrymakers what had happened.

It was nearly ten at night when the body of Mathurin Lumineau was
reverently placed by friendly hands in the great punt used for
carrying forage, and which had so often been seen returning from the
meadows laden with hay, one of the Terre-Aymont children perched on
the top, singing.

The body was laid in the middle of the boat, covered with a white
sheet by the hands of Mère Massonneau; on it she placed a copper

Toussaint Lumineau took his place in the stern at his son's head.
Standing in the bow with their punt poles were the two sons of
Glorieux de la Terre-Aymont, two lanterns at their feet to light them
on their way.

The boat left the bank amid the laments of those present, and
proceeded slowly down the Grand Canal, the wind driving the mists of
the Marais towards it as it advanced.

When at a short distance from La Seulière, a voice from land

"There it is! I hear the punt poles; I see the lights!"

The doors of both rooms were thrown open; the lamplight shone out,
illuminating the hillock on which the house stood; the stunted trees
on the edge of the dyke looked silvery out of the darkness. Now all
those present at the dance, young men and maidens, came forth in long
procession down to the bank to greet the mournful convoy. In their
gala dresses they knelt on the muddy bank, their coifs and aprons
blown about in the wind. Silently they watched the approach of the
white shroud covering the remains of the cripple, their senior by so
few years, and the poor old father sitting bent double in the stern,
his head almost touching his knees, motionless as the dead son he was

Behind the others knelt a tall girl supported by two of her companions
kneeling on either side of her, the blue kerchief and gold chain she
wore conspicuous in the light that streamed from the house. All were
silent. All followed with their eyes the boat as it slowly glided away
again into the darkness. The sound of the punt poles, as they dipped
the water, gradually died away; the ripples left on the smooth surface
of the water subsided. The white shroud had passed away into the
ever-deepening fog. There remained only a glimmer of light, the faint
reflection of the lanterns passing across the meadows; soon nothing
could be distinguished from out the enveloping darkness into which the
punt had disappeared.

"Poor eldest Lumineau! the handsomest of us all!"

In the solitude of the Marais, whither the pity of his fellow
creatures could not accompany him, the old father wept as he looked on
the burden at his feet; he wept, too, when lifting up his head his
eyes lighted on the stalwart lads plying the punt poles, who, faithful
to their home and soil, were keeping on the straight course.



The second week of April was extremely mild throughout the Marais of
La Vendée; Spring was at hand. The first to announce its coming were
the blackthorns and willows; they were not yet in blossom but in bud.
And those buds which precede the blossoms have a perfume of their
own--the whole country side was permeated with it. In the low-lying
meadows, from which the water had retired, flowering moss was sending
up its slender heads amid the fresh blades of grass. The plover was
making its nest. Horses, turned out to grass, were enjoying their
gallops on sunny banks, once more dry and firm. Pools were blue as the
clouds were white, because Spring was coming.

On an afternoon of that happy week when all life was young again,
Toussaint Lumineau, standing at his gate, was awaiting the return of
the eldest Michelonne, whom, a week ago, he had sent on a mission to
the town of Châtelliers. For she had written him that her quest had
been successful, and that she was bringing back from the Bocage the
humble labourer who was to be Rousille's husband, the mainstay and
eventually the master of La Fromentière. That morning Véronique had
come to fetch Rousille to go and meet the travellers, and now the time
was approaching when the tilted cart drawn by La Rousse should have
rounded the corner and appeared at the foot of the hill between the
two corn-fields swaying in the breeze.

The farmer stood waiting on his own domain, leaning on the gate which,
alas! had opened to let forth, without return, all the sons of La
Fromentière, and which he, himself, would now open to let in the
new-comers. Truly his heart was sad. Life had treated him hardly; the
future was not reassuring. Would not the land soon be sold and left to
chance? At the very moment that he was about to welcome those who
should succeed him, could Toussaint Lumineau chase away the thought
that the long traditions of bygone generations were coming to an end,
and that, inseparable for centuries, his family name and that of the
farm would no longer be one and the same? However, he was too old, and
came of too good a stock to surrender hope. The blood that coursed in
his veins contained, like wheat, something of eternal youth. It might
be deemed dead, it sprang to life again.

A dull, rapid thud, like the sound of men threshing, smote on the
balmy air. Toussaint Lumineau recognised his mare's pace. She was
coming at a gallop, as when returning from fairs, or fêtes, or

He raised his head. Once more he felt within him the courage to live
on, and turning towards the road where the old trees were putting on
their fresh glad verdure, knowing that beyond them joy was hastening
to him, he took off his hat, and with outstretched arms said:

"Come, my Rousille, with your Jean Nesmy."


_Jarrold and Sons, The Empire Press, Norwich and London._

    =Selections from
    Jarrold & Sons'
    List of Fiction=

     =Maurus Jókai's Famous Novels.=

  _Authorised Editions. Crown 8vo, Art Linen, 6/- each._

=Black Diamonds.= (_Fifth Edition._)

   By MAURUS JÓKAI, Author of "The Green Book," "Poor Plutocrats,"
   etc. Translated by Frances Gerard. With Special Preface by the

   "Full of vigour ... his touches of humour are
   excellent."--_Morning Post._
   "An interesting story."--_Times._

=The Green Book.= (FREEDOM UNDER THE SNOW.) (_Sixth Edition._)

   By MAURUS JÓKAI. Translated by Mrs. Waugh. With a finely engraved
   Portrait of Dr. Jókai.

   "Brilliantly drawn ... a book to be read."--_Daily Chronicle._
   "Thoroughly calculated to charm the novel-reading public by its
   ceaseless excitement ... from first to last the interest never
   flags. A work of the most exciting interests and superb

=Pretty Michal.= (_Fourth Edition._)

   By MAURUS JÓKAI. Translated by R. Nisbet Bain. With a specially
   engraved Photogravure Portrait of Dr. Jókai.

   "A fascinating novel."--_The Speaker._
   "His workmanship is admirable, and he possesses a degree of
   sympathetic imagination not surpassed by any living novelist. The
   action of his stories is life-like, and full of movement and
   interest."--_Westminster Gazette._

=A Hungarian Nabob.= (_Fifth Edition._)

    By MAURUS JÓKAI. Translated by R. Nisbet Bain.
    With a fine Photogravure Portrait of Dr. Jókai.

    "Full of exciting incidents and masterly studies of
    character."--_Court Circular._
    "The work of a genius."--_Pall Mall Gazette._

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Autumn Glory - The Toilers of the Field" ***

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