The Dream (Le Rêve), by Émile Zola

Chapter 11

That same evening, on returning from church, Angelique thought to herself, “I shall see him again very soon, for he will certainly be in the Clos-Marie, and I will go there to meet him.”

Without having exchanged a word with each other, they appeared to have silently arranged this interview. The family dined as usual in the kitchen, but it was eight o’clock before they were seated at the table. Hubert, quite excited by this day of recreation and of fete, was the only one who had anything to say. Hubertine, unusually quiet, scarcely replied to her husband, but kept her looks fixed upon the young girl, who ate heartily and with a good appetite, although she scarcely seemed to pay any attention to the food, or to know that she put her fork to her mouth, so absorbed was she by her fancies. And under this candid forehead, as under the crystal of the purest water, Hubertine read her thoughts clearly, and followed them as they formed themselves in her mind one by one.

At nine o’clock they were greatly surprised by a ringing of the door-bell. It proved to be the Abbe Cornille, who, notwithstanding his great fatigue, had come to tell them that Monseigneur the Bishop had greatly admired the three old panels of marvellous embroidery.

“Yes, indeed! And he spoke of them so enthusiastically to me that I was sure it would please you to know it.”

Angelique, who had roused up on hearing the name of Monseigneur, fell back again into her reveries as soon as the conversation turned to the procession. Then after a few minutes she got up.

“But where are you going, dear?” asked Hubertine.

The question startled her, as if she herself knew not why she had left her seat.

“I am going upstairs, mother, for I am very tired.”

In spite of this plausible excuse, Hubertine imagined the true reason that influenced her. It was the need of being by herself, the haste of communing alone with her great happiness.

When she held her in her arms pressed against her breast, she felt that she was trembling. She almost seemed to avoid her usual evening kiss. Looking anxiously in her face, Hubertine read in her eyes the feverish expectation connected with the hoped-for meeting. It was all so evident to her that she promised herself to keep a close watch.

“Be good, dear, and sleep well.”

But already, after a hurried good-night to Hubert and to the Abbe Cornille, Angelique was halfway up the stairs, quite disturbed, as she realised that her secret had almost escaped her. Had her mother held her against her heart one second longer, she would have told her everything. When she had shut herself in her own room, and doubly locked her door, the light troubled her, and she blew out her candle. The moon, which rose later and later, had not yet appeared above the horizon, and the night was very dark. Without undressing, she seated herself before the open window, looked out into the deep shade, and waited patiently for the hours to pass. The minutes went by rapidly, as she was fully occupied with the one idea that as soon as the clock struck for midnight she would go down to find Felicien. As it would be the most natural thing in the world to do, she traced out her way, step by step, and every movement she would make with the most perfect composure.

It was not very late when she heard the Abbe Cornille take his leave. Soon after, the Huberts, in their turn, came upstairs. Then it seemed to her as if someone came out of their chamber, and with furtive steps moved cautiously as far as the foot of the stairway, then stopped, as if listening for a moment before returning. Then the house soon sank, as if in the quiet of a deep sleep.

When the great church clock struck twelve, Angelique left her seat. “Now I must go, for he is waiting for me.” She unlocked the door, and, passing out, neglected closing it after her. Going down the first flight of stairs, she stopped as she approached the room of the Huberts, but heard nothing — nothing but the indefinable quivering of silence. Moreover, she was neither in a hurry, nor had she any fear, for being totally unconscious of any wrong intentions, she felt at perfect ease. It would have been quite impossible for her not to have gone down. An inward power directed and led her, and it all seemed so simple and right; she would have smiled at the idea of a hidden danger. Once in the lower rooms, she passed through the kitchen to go out into the garden, and again forgot to fasten the shutters. Then she walked rapidly towards the little gate of the Clos-Marie, which she also left wide open after her. Notwithstanding the obscurity and the dense shadows in the field, she did not hesitate an instant, but went direct to the little plank which served as a bridge to the Chevrotte, crossed it, guiding herself by feeling the way, as if in a familiar place, where every tree and bush were well known to her. Turning to the right, under a great willow-tree, she had only to put out her hands to have them earnestly grasped by Felicien, whom she knew would be there in waiting for her.

For a minute, without speaking, Angelique pressed Felicien’s hands in hers. They could not see each other, for the sky was covered with a misty cloud of heat, and the pale moon which had just risen, had not yet lighted it up. At length she spoke in the darkness, her heart filled to overflowing with her great happiness:

“Oh, my dear seigneur, how I love you, and how grateful I am to you!”

She laughed aloud at the realisation of the fact that at last she knew him; she thanked him for being younger, more beautiful, and richer even than she had expected him to be. Her gaiety was charming; it was a cry of astonishment and of gratitude before this present of love, this fulfillment of her dreams.

“You are the king. You are my master; and lo! here am I, your slave. I belong to you henceforth, and my only regret is that I am of so little worth. But I am proud of being yours; it is sufficient for you to love me, and that I may be in my turn a queen. It was indeed well that I knew you were to come, and so waited for you; my heart is overflowing with joy since finding that you are so great, so far above me. Ah! my dear seigneur, how I thank you, and how I love you.”

Gently he put his arm around her as he said:

“Come and see where I live.”

He made her cross the Clos-Marie, among the wild grass and herbs, and then she understood for the first time in what way he had come every night into the field from the park of the Bishop’s Palace. It was through an old gate, that had been unused for a long time, and which this evening he had left half open. Taking Angelique’s hand, he led her in that way into the great garden of the Monseigneur.

The rising moon was half-hidden in the sky, under a veil of warm mist, and its rays fell down upon them with a white, mysterious light. There were no stars visible, but the whole vault of heaven was filled with a dim lustre, which quietly penetrated everything in this serene night. Slowly they walked along on the borders of the Chevrotte, which crossed the park; but it was no longer the rapid rivulet rushing over a pebbly descent — it was a quiet, languid brook, gliding along through clumps of trees. Under this mass of luminous vapour, between the bushes which seemed to bathe and float therein, it was like an Elysian stream which unfolded itself before them.

Angelique soon resumed her gay chattering.

“I am so proud and so happy to be here on your arm.”

Felicien, touched by such artless, frank simplicity, listened with delight as she talked unrestrainedly, concealing nothing, but telling all her inmost thoughts, as she opened her heart to him. Why should she even think of keeping anything back? She had never harmed anyone, so she had only good things to say.

“Ah, my dear child, it is I who ought to be exceedingly grateful to you, inasmuch as you are willing to love me a little in so sweet a way. Tell me once more how much you love me. Tell me exactly what you thought when you found out at last who I really was.”

But with a pretty, impatient movement she interrupted him.

“No, no; let us talk of you, only of you. Am I really of any consequence? At all events, what matters it who I am or what I think! For the moment you are the only one of importance.”

And keeping as near him as possible, going more slowly along the sides of the enchanted river, she questioned him incessantly, wishing to learn everything about him, of his childhood, his youth, and the twenty years he had passed away from his father. “I already know that your mother died when you were an infant, and that you grew up under the care of an uncle who is a clergyman. I also know that Monseigneur refused to see you again.”

Then Felicien answered, speaking in a very low tone, with a voice that seemed as if it came from the far-away past.

“Yes, my father idolised my mother, and it seemed to him as if I were guilty, since my birth had cost her her life. My uncle brought me up in entire ignorance of my family, harshly too, as if I had been a poor child confided to his care. I had no idea of my true position until very recently. It is scarcely two years, in fact, since it was revealed to me. But I was not at all surprised in hearing the truth; it seemed as if I had always half-realised that a great fortune belonged to me. All regular work wearied me; I was good for nothing except to run about the fields and amuse myself. At last I took a great fancy for the painted windows of our little church.” Angelique interrupted him by laughing gaily, and he joined her in her mirth for a moment.

“I became a workman like yourself. I had fully decided to earn my living by painting on glass, and was studying for that purpose, when all this fortune poured down upon me. My father was intensely disappointed when my uncle wrote him that I was a good-for-nothing fellow, and that I would never consent to enter into the service of the Church. It had been his expressed wish that I should become a clergyman; perhaps he had an idea that in so doing I could atone for the death of my mother. He became, however, reconciled at last, and wished for me to be here and remain near him. Ah! how good it is to live, simply to live,” he exclaimed. “Yes, to live, to love, and to be loved in return.”

This trembling cry, which resounded in the clear night air, vibrated with the earnest feeling of his healthy youth. It was full of passion, of sympathy for his dead mother, and of the intense ardour he had thrown into this, his first love, born of mystery. It filled all his spirit, his beauty, his loyalty, his ignorance, and his earnest desire of life.

“Like you,” he continued, “I was, indeed, expecting the unknown, and the evening when you first appeared at the window I also recognised you at once. Tell me all that you have ever thought, and what you were in the habit of doing in the days that have passed.” But again she refused, saying gently:

“No; speak only of yourself. I am eager to know every petty incident of your life, so please keep nothing back. In that way I shall realise that you belong to me, and that I love you in the past as well as in the present.”

She never would have been fatigued in listening to him as he talked of his life, but was in a state of joyous ecstasy in thus becoming thoroughly acquainted with him, adoring him like a little child at the feet of some saint. Neither of them wearied of repeating the same things: how much they loved each other and how dearly they were beloved in return. The same words returned constantly to their lips, but they always seemed new, as they assumed unforeseen, immeasurable depths of meaning. Their happiness increased as they thus made known the secrets of their hearts, and lingered over the music of the words that passed their lips. He confessed to her the charm her voice had always been to him, so much so that as soon as he heard it he became at once her devoted slave. She acknowledged the delicious fear she always had at seeing his pale face flush at the slightest anger or displeasure.

They had now left the misty banks of the Chevrotte, and arm-in-arm they entered under the shadows of the great elm-trees.

“Oh! this beautiful garden,” whispered Angelique, happy to breathe in the freshness which fell from the trees. “For years I have wished to enter it; and now I am here with you — yes, I am here.”

It did not occur to her to ask him where he was leading her, but she gave herself up to his guidance, under the darkness of these centenarian trees. The ground was soft under their feet; the archway of leaves above them was high, like the vaulted ceiling of a church. There was neither sound nor breath, only the beating of their own hearts.

At length he pushed open the door of a little pavilion, and said to her: “Go in; this is my home.”

It was there that his father had seen fit to install him all by himself, in this distant corner of the park. On the first floor there was a hall, and one very large room, which was now lighted by a great lamp. Above was a complete little apartment.

“You can see for yourself,” he continued smilingly, “that you are at the house of an artisan. This is my shop.”

It was a working-room indeed; the caprice of a wealthy young man, who amused himself in his leisure hours by painting on glass. He had re-found the ancient methods of the thirteenth century, so that he could fancy himself as being one of the primitive glass-workers, producing masterpieces with the poor, unfinished means of the older time. An ancient table answered all his purposes. It was coated with moist, powdered chalk, upon which he drew his designs in red, and where he cut the panes with heated irons, disdaining the modern use of a diamond point. The muffle, a little furnace made after the fashion of an old model, was just now quite heated; the baking of some picture was going on, which was to be used in repairing another stained window in the Cathedral; and in cases on every side were glasses of all colours which he had ordered to be made expressly for him, in blue, yellow, green, and red, in many lighter tints, marbled, smoked, shaded, pearl-coloured, and black. But the walls of the room were hung with admirable stuffs, and the working materials disappeared in the midst of a marvellous luxury of furniture. In one corner, on an old tabernacle which served as a pedestal, a great gilded statue of the Blessed Virgin seemed to smile upon them.

“So you can work — you really can work,” repeated Angelique with childish joy.

She was very much amused with the little furnace, and insisted upon it that he should explain to her everything connected with his labour. Why he contented himself with the examples of the old masters, who used glass coloured in the making, which he shaded simply with black; the reason he limited himself to little, distinct figures, to the gestures and draperies of which he gave a decided character; his ideas upon the art of the glass-workers, which in reality declined as soon as they began to design better, to paint, and to enamel it; and his final opinion that a stained-glass window should be simply a transparent mosaic, in which the brightest colours should be arranged in the most harmonious order, so as to make a delicate, shaded bouquet. But at this moment little did she care for the art in itself. These things had but one interest for her now — that they were connected with him, that they seemed to bring her nearer to him and to strengthen the tie between them.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, “how happy we shall be together. You will paint, while I embroider.”

He had just retaken her hands, in the centre of this great room, in the luxury of which she was quite at her ease, as it seemed to be her natural surrounding, where her grace would be fully developed. Both of them remained silent for a moment. Then she was, as usual, the first to speak.

“Now everything is decided upon, is it not?”

“What?” he smilingly asked, “what do you mean?”

“Our marriage.”

He hesitated an instant. His face, which had been very pale, flushed quickly. She was disturbed at such a change.

“Have I made you angry in any way?”

But he had already conquered himself, and pressed her hands tenderly, with a grasp that seemed to cover everything.

“Yes, it is decided upon, and it is sufficient for you to wish for a thing that it should be done, no matter how many obstacles may oppose it. Henceforward my one great desire in life will be to obey you.”

Then her face beamed with perfect happiness and delight.

She did not have a single doubt. All seemed to her quite natural, to be so well-arranged that it could be finished on the morrow with the same ease as in many of the miracles of the “Golden Legend.” The idea never occurred to her that there should be the slightest hindrance or the least delay. Since they really loved each other, why should they be any longer separated? It was the most simple thing in the world for two persons who loved each other to be married. She was so secure in her happiness that she was perfectly calm.

“Since it is agreed upon,” she said jokingly, “give me your hand.”

He took her little hand and kissed it, as he said:

“It is all arranged.”

She then hastened to go away, in the fear of being surprised by the dawn, and also impatient to relieve her mind of her secret. He wished to accompany her.

“No, no,” she replied. “We should not get back before daylight. I can easily find the way. Good-bye until to-morrow.”

“Until to-morrow, then.”

Felicien obeyed, and watched Angelique as she ran, first under the shady elms, then along the banks of the Chevrotte, which were now bathed in light. Soon she closed the gate of the park, then darted across the Clos-Marie, through the high grass. While on her way, she thought it would be impossible to wait until sunrise, but that she would rap at the door of the Huberts’ room as soon as she reached home, that she might wake them up and tell them everything. She was in such an expansion of happiness, such a turmoil of sincerity, that she realised that she was incapable of keeping five minutes longer this great secret which had been hers for so long a time. She entered into their garden and closed the gate.

And there, near the Cathedral, Angelique saw Hubertine, who waited for her in the night, seated upon the stone bench, which was surrounded by a small cluster of lilac-bushes. Awakened, warned by some inexpressible feeling, she had gone upstairs, then down again, and on finding all the doors open, that of the chamber as well as that of the house, she had understood what had happened. So, uncertain what it was best to do, or where to go, in the fear lest she might aggravate matters, she sat down anxiously.

Angelique immediately ran to her, without embarrassment, kissed her repeatedly, her heart beating with joy as she laughed merrily at the thought that she had no longer need of hiding anything from her.

“Oh, mother mine, everything is arranged! We are to be married very soon, and I am so happy.”

Before replying, Hubertine examined her closely. But her fears vanished instantly before the limpid eyes and the pure lips of this exquisite young girl. Yet she was deeply troubled, and great tears rolled down her cheeks.

“My poor, dear child,” she whispered, as she had done the previous evening in church.

Astonished to see her in such a way, she who was always so equable, who never wept, Angelique exclaimed:

“But what is the matter, mother? It is, indeed, true that I have not done right, inasmuch as I have not made you my confidante. But you would pardon me if you knew how much I have suffered from it, and how keen my remorse has been. Since at first I did not speak, later on I did not dare to break the silence. Will you forgive me?”

She had seated herself near her mother, and had placed her arm caressingly around her waist. The old bench seemed almost hidden in this moss-covered corner of the Cathedral. Above their heads the lilacs made a little shade, while near them was the bush of eglantine which the young girl had set out in the hope that it might bear roses; but, having been neglected for some time, it simply vegetated, and had returned to its natural state.

“Mother, let me tell you everything now. Come, listen to me, please.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 15:06