Une Vie, by Guy de Maupassant

Chapter 9

Death of La Baronne

As Jeanne’s health was quite restored, they determined to go and return the Fourvilles’ visit and also to call on the Marquis de Coutelier.

Julien had bought at a sale a new one-horse phaeton, so that they could go out twice a month. They set out one fine December morning, and after driving for two hours across the plains of Normandy, they began to descend a little slope into a little valley, the sides of which were wooded, while the valley itself was cultivated. After an abrupt turn in the valley they saw the Château of Vrillette, a wooded slope on one side of it and a large pond on the other, out of which rose one of its walls and which was bounded by a wood of tall pine trees that formed the other side of the valley.

Julien explained all the portions of the building to Jeanne, like one who knows his subject thoroughly, and went into raptures over its beauty, adding; “It is full of game, this country. The comte loves to hunt here. This is a true seignorial residence.”

The hall door was opened and the pale comtesse appeared, coming forward to meet the visitors, all smiles, and wearing a long-trained dress, like a chatelaine of olden times. She looked a fitting lady of the lake, born to inhabit this fairy castle.

The comtesse took both Jeanne’s hands, as if she had known her all her life, and made her sit down beside her in a low chair, while Julien, all of whose forgotten elegance seemed to have revived within the past five months, chatted and smiled quietly and familiarly.

The comtesse and he talked of their horseback rides. She was laughing at his manner of mounting a horse and called him “Le Chevalier Trébuche,” and he smiled also, having nicknamed her “The Amazon Queen.” A gun fired beneath the windows caused Jeanne to give a little scream. It was the comte, who had killed a teal.

His wife called to him. A sound of oars was heard, a boat grinding against the stones, and he appeared, enormous, booted, followed by two drenched dogs of a ruddy color like himself, who lay down on the mat outside the door.

He seemed more at his ease in his own home, and was delighted to see his visitors. He put some wood on the fire, sent for madeira and biscuits and then exclaimed suddenly: “Why, you will take dinner with us, of course.”

Jeanne, whose child was never out of her thoughts, declined. He insisted, and as she could not be persuaded, Julien made a gesture of annoyance. She feared to arouse his ugly, quarrelsome temper, and although she was very unhappy at the thought that she should not see Paul until the next day, she consented to stay.

The afternoon was delightful. They first visited the springs which bubbled up at the foot of a mossy rock and then took a row on the pond. At one end of the boat Julien and the comtesse, wrapped in shawls, were smiling happily like those who have nothing left to wish for.

A huge fire was blazing in the spacious reception room, which imparted a sense of warmth and contentment. The comte seized his wife in his arms and lifted her from the floor as though she had been a child and gave her a hearty kiss on each cheek, like a man satisfied with the world.

Jeanne, smiling, looked at this good giant whom one would have thought was an ogre at the very sight of his mustaches, and she thought: “How one may be deceived each day about everybody.” Then, almost involuntarily, she glanced at Julien standing in the doorway, looking horribly pale and with his eyes fixed on the comte. She approached him and said in a low tone: “Are you ill? What is the matter with you?” He answered her angrily: “Nothing. Let me alone! I was cold.”

When they went into the dining-room the count asked if he might let his dogs come in, and they settled themselves one on either side of their master.

After dinner, as Jeanne and Julien were preparing to leave, M. de Fourville kept them a little longer to look at some fishing by torchlight. When they finally set out, wrapped up in their cloaks and some rugs they had borrowed, Jeanne said almost involuntarily: “What a fine man that giant is!” Julien, who was driving, replied: “Yes, but he does not always restrain himself before company.”

A week later they called on the Couteliers, who were supposed to be the chief noble family in the province. Their property of Remenil adjoined the large town of Cany. The new château built in the reign of Louis XIV. was hidden in a magnificent park enclosed by walls. The ruins of the old château could be seen on an eminence. They were ushered into a stately reception room by men servants in livery. In the middle of the room a sort of column held an immense bowl of Sèvres ware and on the pedestal of the column an autograph letter from the king, under glass, requested the Marquis Leopold-Hervé-Joseph-Germer de Varneville de Rollebosc de Coutelier to receive this present from his sovereign.

Jeanne and Julien were looking at this royal gift when the marquis and marquise entered the room.

They were very ceremonious people whose minds, sentiments and words seemed always to be on stilts. They spoke without waiting for an answer, smiling complacently, appearing always to be fulfilling the duty imposed on them by their position, of showing civilities to the inferior nobility of the region.

Jeanne and Julien, somewhat taken aback, endeavored to be agreeable, but although they felt too embarrassed to remain any longer, they did not know exactly how to take their leave. The marquise herself put an end to the visit naturally and simply by bringing the conversation to a close like a queen giving a dismissal.

On the way home Julien said: “If you like, we will make this our first and last call; the Fourvilles are good enough for me.” Jeanne was of the same opinion. December passed slowly and the shut-in life began again as in the previous year. But Jeanne did not find it wearisome, as she was always taken up with Paul, whom Julien looked at askance, uneasy and annoyed. Often when the mother held the child in her arms, kissing it frantically as women do their children, she would hold it up to its father, saying: “Give him a kiss; one would suppose you did not love him.” He would hardly touch with his lips the child’s smooth forehead, walking all round it, as though he did not wish to touch the restless little fists. Then he would walk away abruptly as though from something distasteful.

The mayor, the doctor and the curé came to dinner occasionally, and sometimes it was the Fourvilles, with whom they were becoming more and more intimate. The comte appeared to worship Paul. He held him on his knees during the whole visit and sometimes during the whole afternoon, playing with him and amusing him and then kissing him tenderly as mothers do. He always lamented that he had no children of his own.

Comtesse Gilberte again mentioned the rides they all four were going to take together. Jeanne, a little weary of the monotonous days and nights, was quite happy in anticipation of these plans, and for a week amused herself making a riding habit.

They always set out two and two, the comtesse and Julien ahead, the count and Jeanne a hundred feet behind them, talking quietly, like good friends, for such they had become through the sympathy of their straightforward minds and simple hearts. The others often spoke in a low tone, sometimes bursting into laughter and looking quickly at each other, as though their eyes were expressing what they dared not utter. And they would suddenly set off at a gallop, impelled by a desire to flee, to get away, far away.

Then Gilberte would seem to be growing irritable. Her sharp voice, borne on the breeze, occasionally reached the ears of the loitering couple. The comte would smile and say to Jeanne: “She does not always get out of bed the right side, that wife of mine.”

One evening as they were coming home the comtesse was teasing her mount, spurring it and then checking it abruptly. They heard Julien say several time: “Take care, take care; you will be thrown.” “So much the worse,” she replied; “it is none of your business,” in a hard clear tone that resounded across the fields as though the words hung in the air.

The animal reared, plunged and champed the bit. The comte, uneasy, shouted: “Be careful, Gilberte!” Then, as if in defiance, with one of those impulses of a woman whom nothing can stop, she struck her horse brutally between the ears. The animal reared in anger, pawed the air with his front feet and, landing again on his feet, gave a bound and darted across the plain at full speed.

First it crossed the meadow, then plunging into a ploughed field kicked up the damp rich earth behind it, going so fast that one could hardly distinguish its rider. Julien remained transfixed with astonishment, calling out in despair: “Madame, madame!” but the comte was rather annoyed, and, bending forward on his heavy mount, he urged it forward and started out at such a pace, spurring it on with his voice, his gestures and the spur, that the huge horseman seemed to be carrying the heavy beast between his legs and to be lifting it up as if to fly. They went at incredible speed, straight ahead, and Jeanne saw the outline of the wife and of the husband fleeing getting smaller and disappearing in the distance, as if they were two birds pursuing each other to the verge of the horizon.

Julien, approaching Jeanne slowly, murmured angrily: “I think she is crazy to-day.” And they set out together to follow their friends, who were now hidden by the rising ground.

At the end of about a quarter of an hour they saw them returning and presently joined them. The comte, perspiring, his face red, but smiling, happy and triumphant, was holding his wife’s trembling horse in his iron grasp. Gilberte was pale, her face sad and drawn, and she was leaning one hand on her husband’s shoulder as if she were going to faint. Jeanne understood now that the comte loved her madly.

After this the comtesse for some months seemed happier than she had ever been. She came to the “Poplars” more frequently, laughed continually and kissed Jeanne impulsively. One might have said that some mysterious charm had come into her life. Her husband was also quite happy and never took his eyes off her. He said to Jeanne one evening: “We are very happy just now. Gilberte has never been so nice as this. She never is out of humor, never gets angry. I feel that she loves me; until now I was not sure of it.”

Julien also seemed changed, no longer impatient, as though the friendship between the two families had brought peace and happiness to both. The spring was singularly early and mild. Everything seemed to be coming to life beneath the quickening rays of the sun. Jeanne was vaguely troubled at this awakening of nature. Memories came to her of the early days of her love. Not that her love for Julien was renewed; that was over, over forever. But all her being, caressed by the breeze, filled with the fragrance of spring, was disturbed as though in response to some invisible and tender appeal. She loved to be alone, to give herself up in the sunlight to all kinds of vague and calm enjoyment which did not necessitate thinking.

One morning as she was in a reverie a vision came to her, a swift vision of the sunlit nook amid the dark foliage in the little wood near Étretat. It was there that she had for the first time trembled, when beside the young man who loved her then. It was there that he had uttered for the first time the timid desire of his heart. It was there that she thought that she had all at once reached the radiant future of her hopes. She wished to see this wood again, to make a sort of sentimental and superstitious pilgrimage, as though a return to this spot might somehow change the current of her life. Julien had been gone since daybreak, she knew not whither. She had the little white horse, which she sometimes rode, saddled, and she set out. It was one of those days when nothing seemed stirring, not a blade of grass, not a leaf. All seemed wrapped in a golden mist beneath the blazing sun. Jeanne walked her horse, soothed and happy.

She descended into the valley which leads to the sea, between the great arches in the cliff that are called the “Gates” of Étretat, and slowly reached the wood. The sunlight was streaming through the still scanty foliage. She wandered about the little paths, looking for the spot.

All at once, as she was going along one of the lower paths, she perceived at the farther end of it two horses tied to a tree and recognized them at once; they belonged to Gilberte and Julien. The loneliness of the place was beginning to be irksome to her, and she was pleased at this chance meeting, and whipped up her horse.

When she reached the two patient animals, who were probably accustomed to these long halts, she called. There was no reply. A woman’s glove and two riding whips lay on the beaten-down grass. So they had no doubt sat down there awhile and then walked away leaving their horses tied.

She waited a quarter of an hour, twenty minutes, surprised, not understanding what could be keeping them. She had dismounted. She sat there, leaning against a tree trunk. Suddenly a thought came to her as she glanced again at the glove, the whips and the two horses left tied there, and she sprang to her saddle with an irresistible desire to make her escape.

She started off at a gallop for the “Poplars.” She was turning things over in her mind, trying to reason, to put two and two together, to compare facts. How was it that she had not suspected this sooner? How was it that she had not noticed anything? How was it she had not guessed the reason of Julien’s frequent absences, the renewal of his former attention to his appearance and the improvement in his temper? She now recalled Gilberte’s nervous abruptness, her exaggerated affection and the kind of beaming happiness in which she seemed to exist latterly and that so pleased the comte.

She reined in her horse, as she wanted to think, and the quick pace disturbed her ideas.

As soon as the first emotion was over she became almost calm, without jealousy or hatred, but filled with contempt. She hardly gave Julien a thought; nothing he might do could astonish her. But the double treachery of the comtesse, her friend, disgusted her. Everyone, then, was treacherous, untruthful and false. And tears came to her eyes. One sometimes mourns lost illusions as deeply as one does the death of a friend.

She resolved, however, to act as though she knew nothing, to close the doors of her heart to all ordinary affection and to love no one but Paul and her parents and to endure other people with an undisturbed countenance.

As soon as she got home she ran to her son, carried him up to her room and kissed him passionately for an hour.

Julien came home to dinner, smiling and attentive, and appeared interested as he asked: “Are not father and little mother coming this year?”

She was so grateful to him for this little attention that she almost forgave him for the discovery she had made in the wood, and she was filled all of a sudden with an intense desire to see without delay the two beings in the world whom she loved next to Paul, and passed the whole evening writing to them to hasten their journey.

They promised to be there on the 20th of May and it was now the 7th.

She awaited their arrival with a growing impatience, as though she felt, in addition to her filial affection, the need of opening her heart to honest hearts, to talk with frankness to pure-minded people, devoid of all infamy, all of whose life, actions and thoughts had been upright at all times.

What she now felt was a sort of moral isolation, amid all this immorality, and, although she had learned suddenly to disseminate, although she received the comtesse with outstretched hand and smiling lips, she felt this consciousness of hollowness, this contempt for humanity increasing and enveloping her, and the petty gossip of the district gave her a still greater disgust, a still lower opinion of her fellow creatures.

The immorality of the peasants shocked her, and this warm spring seemed to stir the sap in human beings as well as in plants. Jeanne did not belong to the race of peasants who are dominated by their lower instincts. Julien one day awakened her aversion anew by telling her a coarse story that had been told to him and that he considered very amusing.

When the travelling carriage stopped at the door and the happy face of the baron appeared at the window Jeanne was stirred with so deep an emotion, such a tumultuous feeling of affection as she had never before experienced. But when she saw her mother she was shocked and almost fainted. The baroness, in six months, had aged ten years. Her heavy cheeks had grown flabby and purple, as though the blood were congested; her eyes were dim and she could no longer move about unless supported under each arm. Her breathing was difficult and wheezing and affected those near her with a painful sensation.

When Jeanne had taken them to their room, she retired to her own in order to have a good cry, as she was so upset. Then she went to look for her father, and throwing herself into his arms, she exclaimed, her eyes still full of tears: “Oh, how mother is changed! What is the matter with her? Tell me, what is the matter?” He was much surprised and replied: “Do you think so? What an idea! Why, no. I have never been away from her. I assure you that I do not think she looks ill. She always looks like that.”

That evening Julien said to his wife: “Your mother is in a pretty bad way. I think she will not last long.” And as Jeanne burst out sobbing, he became annoyed. “Come, I did not say there was no hope for her. You always exaggerate everything. She is changed, that’s all. She is no longer young.”

The baroness was not able to walk any distance and only went out for half an hour each day to take one turn in her avenue and then she would sit on the bench. And when she felt unequal to walking to the end of her avenue, she would say: “Let us stop; my hypertrophy is breaking my legs today.” She hardly ever laughed now as she did the previous year at anything that amused her, but only smiled. As she could see to read excellently, she passed hours reading “Corinne” or Lamartine’s “Meditations.” Then she would ask for her drawer of “souvenirs,” and emptying her cherished letters on her lap, she would place the drawer on a chair beside her and put back, one by one, her “relics,” after she had slowly gone over them. And when she was alone, quite alone, she would kiss some of them, as one kisses in secret a lock of hair of a loved one passed away.

Sometimes Jeanne, coming in abruptly, would find her weeping and would exclaim: “What is the matter, little mother?” And the baroness, sighing deeply, would reply: “It is my ‘relics’ that make me cry. They stir remembrances that were so delightful and that are now past forever, and one is reminded of persons whom one had forgotten and recalls once more. You seem to see them, to hear them and it affects you strangely. You will feel this later.”

When the baron happened to come in at such times he would say gently: “Jeanne, dearie, take my advice and burn your letters, all of them — your mother’s, mine, everyone’s. There is nothing more dreadful, when one is growing old, than to look back to one’s youth.” But Jeanne also kept her letters, was preparing a chest of “relics” in obedience to a sort of hereditary instinct of dreamy sentimentality, although she differed from her mother in every other way.

The baron was obliged to leave them some days later, as he had some business that called him away.

One afternoon Jeanne took Paul in her arms and went out for a walk. She was sitting on a bank, gazing at the infant, whom she seemed to be looking at for the first time. She could hardly imagine him grown up, walking with a steady step, with a beard on his face and talking in a big voice. She heard someone calling and raised her head. Marius came running toward her.

“Madame, Madame la Baronne is very bad!”

A cold chill seemed to run down her back as she started up and walked hurriedly toward the house.

As she approached she saw a number of persons grouped around the plane tree. She darted forward and saw her mother lying on the ground with two pillows under her head. Her face was black, her eyes closed and her breathing, which had been difficult for twenty years, now quite hushed. The nurse took the child out of Jeanne’s arms and carried it off.

Jeanne, with drawn, anxious face, asked: “What happened? How did she come to fall? Go for the doctor, somebody.” Turning round, she saw the old curé, who had heard of it in some way. He offered his services and began rolling up the sleeves of his cassock. But vinegar, eau de cologne and rubbing the invalid proved ineffectual.

“She should be undressed and put to bed,” said the priest.

Joseph Couillard, the farmer, was there and old Simon and Ludivine. With the assistance of Abbé Picot, they tried to lift the baroness, but after an attempt were obliged to bring a large easy chair from the drawing-room and place her in it. In this way they managed to get her into the house and then upstairs, where they laid her on her bed.

Joseph Couillard set out in hot haste for the doctor. As the priest was going to get the holy oil, the nurse, who had “scented a death,” as the servants say, and was on the spot, whispered to him: “Do not put yourself out, monsieur; she is dead. I know all about these things.”

Jeanne, beside herself, entreated them to do something. The priest thought it best to pronounce the absolution.

They watched for two hours beside this lifeless, discolored body. Jeanne, on her knees, was sobbing in an agony of grief.

When the door opened and the doctor appeared, Jeanne darted toward him, stammering out what she knew of the accident, but seeing the nurse exchange a meaning glance with the doctor, she stopped to ask him: “Is it serious? Do you think it is serious?”

He said presently: “I am afraid — I am afraid — it is all over. Be brave, be brave.”

Jeanne, extending her arms, threw herself on her mother’s body. Julien just then came in. He stood there amazed, visibly annoyed, without any exclamation of sorrow, any appearance of grief, taken so unawares that he had not time to prepare a suitable expression of countenance. He muttered: “I was expecting it, I felt that the end was near.” Then he took out his handkerchief, wiped his eyes, knelt down, crossed himself, and then rising to his feet, attempted to raise his wife. But she was clasping the dead body and kissing it, and it became necessary to carry her away. She appeared to be out of her mind.

At the end of an hour she was allowed to come back. There was no longer any hope. The room was arranged as a death chamber. Julien and the priest were talking in a low tone near the window. It was growing dark. The priest came over to Jeanne and took her hands, trying to console her. He spoke of the defunct, praised her in pious phrases and offered to pass the night in prayer beside the body.

But Jeanne refused, amid convulsive sobs. She wished to be alone, quite alone on this last night of farewell. Julien came forward: “But you must not do it; we will stay together.” She shook her head, unable to speak. At last she said: “It is my mother, my mother. I wish to watch beside her alone.” The doctor murmured: “Let her do as she pleases; the nurse can stay in the adjoining room.”

The priest and Julien consented, more interested in their own rest. Then Abbé Picot knelt down in his turn, and as he rose and left the room, he said: “She was a saint” in the same tone as he said “Dominus vobiscum.”

The vicomte in his ordinary tone then asked: “Are you not going to eat something?” Jeanne did not reply, not knowing he was speaking to her, and he repeated: “You had better eat something to keep up your stomach.” She replied in a bewildered manner: “Send at once for papa.” And he went out of the room to send someone on horseback to Rouen.

She remained plunged in a sort of motionless grief, seeing nothing, feeling nothing, understanding nothing. She only wanted to be alone. Julien came back. He had dined and he asked her again: “Won’t you take something?” She shook her head. He sat down with an air of resignation rather than sadness, without speaking, and they both sat there silent, till at length Julien arose, and approaching Jeanne, said: “Would you like to stay alone now?” She took his hand impulsively and replied: “Oh, yes! leave me!”

He kissed her forehead, murmuring: “I will come in and see you from time to time.” He went out with Widow Dentu, who rolled her easy chair into the next room.

Jeanne shut the door and opened the windows wide. She felt the soft breath from the mown hay that lay in the moonlight on the lawn. It seemed to harrow her feelings like an ironical remark.

She went back to the bed, took one of the cold, inert hands and looked at her mother earnestly. She seemed to be sleeping more peacefully than she had ever done, and the pale flame of the tapers which flickered at every breath made her face appear to be alive, as if she had stirred. Jeanne remembered all the little incidents of her childhood, the visits of little mother to the “parloir” of the convent, the manner in which she handed her a little paper bag of cakes, a multitude of little details, little acts, little caresses, words, intonations, familiar gestures, the creases at the corner of her eyes when she laughed, the big sigh she gave when she sat down.

And she stood there looking at her, repeating half mechanically: “She is dead,” and all the horror of the word became real to her. It was mamma lying there — little mother — Mamma Adelaide who was dead. She would never move about again, nor speak, nor laugh, nor sit at dinner opposite little father. She would never again say: “Good-morning, Jeannette.” She was dead!

And she fell on her knees in a paroxysm of despair, her hands clutching the sheet, her face buried in the covers as she cried in a heartrending tone: “Oh, mamma, my poor mamma!” Then feeling that she was losing her reason as she had done on the night when she fled across the snow, she rose and ran to the window to drink in the fresh air. The soothing calmness of the night entered her soul and she began to weep quietly.

Presently she turned back into the room and sat down again beside her mother. Other remembrances came to her: those of her own life — Rosalie, Gilberte, the bitter disillusions of her heart. Everything, then, was only misery, grief, unhappiness and death. Everyone tried to deceive, everyone lied, everyone made you suffer and weep. Where could one find a little rest and happiness? In another existence no doubt, when the soul is freed from the trials of earth. And she began to ponder on this insoluble mystery.

A tender and curious thought came to her mind. It was to read over in this last watch, as though they were a litany, the old letters that her mother loved. It seemed to her that she was about to perform a delicate and sacred duty which would give pleasure to little mother in the other world.

She rose, opened the writing desk and took from the lower drawer ten little packages of yellow letters, tied and arranged in order, side by side. She placed them all on the bed over her mother’s heart from a sort of sentiment and began to read them. They were old letters that savored of a former century. The first began, “My dear little granddaughter,” then again “My dear little girl,” “My darling,” “My dearest daughter,” then “My dear child,” “My dear Adelaide,” “My dear daughter,” according to the periods — childhood, youth or young womanhood. They were all full of little insignificant details and tender words, about a thousand little matters, those simple but important events of home life, so petty to outsiders: “Father has the grip; poor Hortense burnt her finger; the cat, ‘Croquerat,’ is dead; they have cut down the pine tree to the right of the gate; mother lost her prayerbook on the way home from church, she thinks it was stolen.”

All these details affected her. They seemed like revelations, as though she had suddenly entered the past secret heart life of little mother. She looked at her lying there and suddenly began to read aloud, to read to the dead, as though to distract, to console her.

And the dead woman appeared to be pleased.

Jeanne tossed the letters as she read them to the foot of the bed. She untied another package. It was a new handwriting. She read: “I cannot do without your caresses. I love you so that I am almost crazy.”

That was all; no signature.

She put back the letter without understanding its meaning. The address was certainly “Madame la Baronne Le Perthuis des Vauds.”

Then she opened another: “Come this evening as soon as he goes out; we shall have an hour together. I worship you.” In another: “I passed the night longing in vain for you, longing to look into your eyes, to press my lips to yours, and I am insane enough to throw myself from the window at the thought that you are another’s. . . . ”

Jeanne was perfectly bewildered. What did that mean? To whom, for whom, from whom were these words of love?

She went on reading, coming across fresh impassioned declarations, appointments with warnings as to prudence, and always at the end the six words: “Be sure to burn this letter!”

At last she opened an ordinary note, accepting an invitation to dinner, but in the same handwriting and signed: “Paul d’Ennemare,” whom the baron called, whenever he spoke of him, “My poor old Paul,” and whose wife had been the baroness’ dearest friend.

Then a suspicion, which immediately became a certainty, flashed across Jeanne’s mind: He had been her mother’s lover.

And, almost beside herself, she suddenly threw aside these infamous letters as she would have thrown off some venomous reptile and ran to the window and began to cry piteously. Then, collapsing, she sank down beside the wall, and hiding her face in the curtain so that no one should hear her, she sobbed bitterly as if in hopeless despair.

She would have remained thus probably all night, if she had not heard a noise in the adjoining room that made her start to her feet. It might be her father. And all the letters were lying on the floor! He would have to open only one of them to know all! Her father!

She darted into the other room and seizing the letters in handfuls, she threw them all into the fireplace, those of her grandparents as well as those of the lover; some that she had not looked at and some that had remained tied up in the drawers of the desk. She then took one of the tapers that burned beside the bed and set fire to this pile of letters. When they were reduced to ashes she went back to the open window, as though she no longer dared to sit beside the dead, and began to cry again with her face in her hands: “Oh, my poor mamma! oh, my poor mamma!”

The stars were paling. It was the cool hour that precedes the dawn. The moon was sinking on the horizon and turning the sea to mother of pearl. The recollection of the night she passed at the window when she first came to the “Poplars” came to Jeanne’s mind. How far away it seemed, how everything was changed, how different the future now seemed!

The sky was becoming pink, a joyous, love-inspiring, enchanting pink. She looked at it in surprise, as at some phenomenon, this radiant break of day, and asked herself if it were possible that, on a planet where such dawns were found, there should be neither joy nor happiness.

A noise at the door made her start. It was Julien. “Well,” he said, “are you not very tired?”

She murmured, “No,” happy at being no longer alone. “Go and rest now,” he said. She kissed her mother a long, sad kiss; then she went to her room.

The next day passed in the usual attentions to the dead. The baron arrived toward evening. He wept for some time.

The funeral took place the following day. After pressing a last kiss on her mother’s icy forehead and seeing the coffin nailed down, Jeanne left the room. The invited guests would soon arrive.

Gilberte was the first to come, and she threw herself sobbing on her friend’s shoulder. Women in black presently entered the room one after another, people whom Jeanne did not know. The Marquise de Coutelier and the Vicomtesse de Briseville embraced her. She suddenly saw Aunt Lison gliding in behind her. She turned round and kissed her tenderly.

Julien came in, dressed all in black, elegant, very important, pleased at seeing so many people. He asked his wife some question in a low tone and added confidentially: “All the nobility are here; it will be a fine affair.” And he walked away, gravely bowing to the ladies. Aunt Lison and Comtesse Gilberte alone remained with Jeanne during the service for the dead. The comtesse kissed her repeatedly, exclaiming: “My poor dear, my poor dear!”

When Comte de Fourville came to fetch his wife he was also crying as though it were for his own mother.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09