The Dream (Le Rêve), by Émile Zola

Chapter 12

Then, in a low tone, Angelique began her story. She related in a flow of inexhaustible words all that had happened, calling up the most minute details, growing more and more excited at the recollection of them. She omitted nothing, but searched her memory as if it were for a confession. She was not at all embarrassed, although her cheeks grew very red and her eyes sparkled with flashes of pride; yet she did not raise her voice, but continued to talk earnestly in a half-whisper.

At length Hubertine interrupted her, speaking also very low:

“Ah, my dear! Now you are too excited. You have indeed to correct yourself, for you are carried away by your feelings, as if by a great wind. Ah, my vain, my headstrong child, you are always the same little girl who refused to wash up the kitchen floor, and who kissed her own hands.”

Angelique could not prevent herself from laughing.

“No, do not laugh. It may be that by-and-by you will not have tears enough to weep. My poor darling, this marriage can never take place.”

Again her gaiety burst out in a long musical laugh.

“But mother, mother, what are you saying? Do you wish to punish me by teasing me? It is a very simple matter. This evening Felicien is to talk of it with his father. To-morrow he will come to arrange everything with you.”

Could it be true that she believed all this? Hubertine was distressed, and knew not what to do. At last she concluded it was best to be pitiless and tell her; that it would be impossible for a little embroiderer without money and without name to marry Felicien d’Hautecoeur. A young man who was worth so many millions! The last descendant of one of the oldest families of France! No, that could never be.

But at each new obstacle Angelique tranquilly replied: “But why not?” It would be a real scandal, a marriage beyond all ordinary conditions of happiness. Did she hope, then, to contend against all the world? “But why not?” Monseigneur is called very strict and very haughty, proud of his name, and severe in his criticisms in regard to all marks of affection. Could she dare to expect to bend him?

“But why not?” And, unshakable in her faith, in her firm, ingenuous manner she said: “It is very odd, dear mother, that you should think people all so bad! Especially when I have just assured you that everything is well under way, and is sure to come out all right. Do you not recollect that only two months ago you scolded me, and ridiculed my plans? Yet I was right, and everything that I expected has come to pass.”

“But, unhappy child, wait for the end!”

Hubertine now thought of the past, and was angry with herself, as she now reflected, more bitterly than ever before, that Angelique had been brought up in such ignorance. Again she predicted to her the hard lessons of the reality of life, and she would have liked to have explained to her some of the cruelties and abominations of the world, but, greatly embarrassed, she could not find the necessary words. What a grief it would be to her if some day she were forced to accuse herself of having brought about the unhappiness of this child, who had been kept alone as a recluse, and allowed to dwell in the continued falsehood of imagination and dreams!

“Listen to me, dearest. You certainly would not wish to marry this young man against the wish of us all, and without the consent of his father?”

Angelique had grown very serious. She looked her mother in the face, and in a serious tone replied:

“Why should I not do so? I love him, and he loves me.”

With a pang of anguish, Hubertine took her again in her arms, clasped her tenderly, but convulsively, and looked at her earnestly, but without speaking. The pale moon had disappeared from sight behind the Cathedral, and the flying, misty clouds were now delicately coloured in the heavens by the approach of the dawn. They were both of them enveloped in this purity of the early morn, in the great fresh silence, which was alone disturbed by the little chirping of the just-awakening birds.

“But alas! my dear child, happiness is only found in obedience and in humility. For one little hour of passion, or of pride, we sometimes are obliged to suffer all our lives. If you wish to be contented on this earth, be submissive, be ready to renounce and give up everything.”

But feeling that she was still rebellious under her embrace, that which she had never said to anyone, that which she still hesitated to speak of, almost involuntarily escaped from her lips:

“Listen to me once more, my dear child. You think that we are happy, do you not, your father and I. We should indeed be so had not our lives been embittered by a great vexation.”

She lowered her voice still more, as she related with a trembling breath their history. The marriage without the consent of her mother, the death of their infant, and their vain desire to have another child, which was evidently the punishment of their fault. Still, they adored each other. They had lived by working, had wanted for nothing; but their regret for the child they had lost was so ever-present that they would have been wretchedly unhappy, would have quarrelled, and perhaps even have been separated, had it not been that her husband was so thoroughly good, while for herself she had always tried to be just and reasonable.

“Reflect, my daughter. Do not put any stumbling-block in your path which will make you suffer later on. Be humble, obey, check the impulse of your heart as much as possible.”

Subdued at last, Angelique restrained her tears, but grew very pale as she listened, and interrupted her by saying:

“Mother, you pain me terribly. I love him, and I am sure that he loves me.”

Then she allowed her tears to flow. She was quite overcome by all she had listened to, softened, and with an expression in her eyes as if deeply wounded by the glimpse given her of the probable truth of the case. Yet she could suffer, and would willingly die, if need be, for her love.

Then Hubertine decided to continue.

“I do not wish to pain you too deeply at once, yet it is absolutely necessary that you should know the whole truth. Last evening, after you had gone upstairs, I had quite a talk with the Abbe Cornille, and he explained to me why Monseigneur, after great hesitation, had at last decided to call his son to Beaumont. One of his greatest troubles was the impetuosity of the young man, the uncontrollable haste which he manifested to plunge into the excitement of life, without listening to the advice of his elders. After having with pain renounced all hope of making him a priest, his father found that he could not establish him in any occupation suitable to his rank and his fortune. He would never be anything but a headstrong fellow, restless, wandering, yielding to his artistic tastes when so inclined. He was alarmed at seeing in his son traits of character like those from which he himself had so cruelly suffered. At last, from fear that he might take some foolish step, and fall in love with someone beneath him in position, he wished to have him here, that he might be married at once.”

“Very well,” said Angelique, who did not yet understand.

“Such a marriage had been proposed even before his arrival, and all preliminaries were settled yesterday, so that the Abbe Cornille formally announced that in the autumn Felicien would wed Mademoiselle Claire de Voincourt. You know very well the Hotel de Voincourt there, close to the Bishop’s Palace. The family are very intimate with Monseigneur. On both sides, nothing better could be hoped for, either in the way of name or of fortune. The Abbe himself highly approves of the union.”

The young girl no longer listened to these reasons of the fitness of things. Suddenly an image appeared to come before her eyes — that of Claire. She saw her, as she had occasionally had a glimpse of her in the alleys of the Park during the winter, or as she had seen her on fete days in the Cathedral. A tall young lady, a brunette, very handsome, of a much more striking beauty than her own, and with a royal bearing and appearance. Notwithstanding her haughty air, she was said to be very good and kind.

“So he is to marry this elegant young lady, who is not only beautiful but very rich,” she murmured.

Then, as if suddenly pierced by a sharp agony, she exclaimed:

“He uttered a falsehood! He did not tell me this!”

She recollected now the momentary hesitation of Felicien, the rush of blood which had coloured his cheeks when she spoke to him of their marriage. The shock was so great that she turned deadly pale, and her head fell heavily on her mother’s shoulders.

“My darling, my dear darling! This is, indeed, a cruel thing; I know it well. But it would have been still worse had you waited. Take courage, then, and draw at once the knife from the wound. Repeat to yourself, whenever the thought of this young man comes to you, that never would Monseigneur, the terrible Jean XII, whose intractable pride, it appears, is still recollected by all the world, give his son, the last of his race, to a little embroiderer, found under a gateway and adopted by poor people like ourselves.”

In her weakness, Angelique heard all this without making any objection. What was it she felt pass over her face? A cold breath coming from a distance, from far above the roofs of the houses, seemed to freeze her blood. Was it true that her mother was telling her of this misery of the world, this sad reality, in the same way that parents relate the story of the wolf to unreasonable children? She would never forget the shock and the grief of this first experience of a bitter disappointment. Yet, however, she already excused Felicien. He had told no falsehood; he simply had been silent. Were his father to wish him to marry this young girl, no doubt he would refuse to do so. But as yet he had not dared to rebel. As he had not said anything to her of the matter, perhaps it was because he had just made up his mind as to what it was best for him to do. Before this sudden vanishing away of her air-castles, pale and weak from the rude touch of the actual life, she still kept her faith, and trusted, in spite of all, in the future realisation of her dream. Eventually the fair promises for the future would come to pass, even although now her pride was crushed and she sank down into a state of humiliation and resignation.

“Mother, it is true I have done wrong, but I will never sin again. I promise you that I will be patient, and submit myself without a murmur of revolt to whatever Heaven wishes me to be.”

It was true grace which spoke within her. The trial was great, but she was able to conquer, from the effects of the education she had received and the excellent example of the home life in which she had grown up. Why should she doubt the morrow, when until this present moment everyone near her had been so generous and so tender towards her? She prayed that she might be able to have the wisdom of Catherine, the meekness of Elizabeth, the chastity of Agnes; and re-comforted by the aid of the saints, she was sure that they alone would help her to triumph over every trouble. Was it not true that her old friends the Cathedral, the Clos-Marie, and the Chevrotte, the little fresh house of the Huberts, the Huberts themselves, all who loved her, would defend her, without her being obliged to do anything, except to be obedient and good?

“Then, dear child, you promise me that you will never act contrary to our wishes, and above all against those of Monseigneur?”

“Yes, mother, I promise.”

“You also promise me not to see this young man again, and no longer to indulge in the foolish idea of marrying him?”

At this question her courage failed her. She almost felt the spirit of rebellion rise again within her, as she thought of the depth of her love. But in a moment she bowed her head and was definitely conquered.

“I promise to do nothing to bring about a meeting with him, and to take no steps towards our marriage.”

Hubertine, touched to the heart, pressed the young girl most affectionately in her arms as she thanked her for her obedience. Oh! what a dreadful thing it was, when wishing to do good to the child she so tenderly loved, she was forced to make her suffer so intensely. She was exhausted, and rose up hastily, surprised that daylight had come. The little cry of the birds had increased in every direction, although as yet none were to be seen in flight. In the sky the clouds, delicate as gauze, seemed to float away in the limpid blueness of the atmosphere.

Then Angelique, whose look had mechanically fallen upon her wild rose-bush, at last noticed it with its puny leaves. She smiled sadly as she said:

“You were right, mother dear; it will never be in blossom.”

At seven o’clock in the morning Angelique was at her work as usual. The days followed each other, and every forenoon found her seated before the chasuble she had left on the previous evening. Nothing appeared to be changed outwardly; she kept strictly her promise, shut herself up, and made no attempt whatever to see Felicien. This did not seem to depress her at all, but she kept her bright, youthful look, smiling sweetly at Hubertine when occasionally she saw her eyes fixed upon her as if astonished. However, in this enforced silence she thought only of him; he was always in her mind.

Her hope remained firm, and she was sure that in spite of all obstacles everything would come out all right in the end. In fact, it was this feeling of certainty that gave her such an air of courage, of haughty rectitude, and of justice.

Hubert from time to time scolded her.

“You are over-doing, my dear; you are really growing pale. I hope at least that you sleep well at night.”

“Oh yes, father! Like a log! Never in my life did I feel better than now.”

But Hubertine, becoming anxious in her turn, proposed that they should take a little vacation, and said:

“If you would like it, my child, we will shut up the house, and we will go, all three of us, to Paris for a while.”

“Oh! mother mine, of what are you thinking? What would become of all our orders for work? You know I am never in better health than when closely occupied.”

In reality, Angelique simply awaited a miracle, some manifestation of the Invisible which would give her to Felicien. In addition to the fact that she had promised to do nothing, what need was there of her striving, since in the beyond some unknown power was always working for her? So, in her voluntary inaction, while feigning indifference, she was continually on the watch, listening to the voices of all that quivered around her, and to the little familiar sounds of this circle in which she lived and which would assuredly help her. Something must eventually come from necessity. As she leaned over her embroidery-frame, not far from the open window, she lost not a trembling of the leaves, not a murmur of the Chevrotte. The slightest sighs from the Cathedral came to her, magnified tenfold by the eagerness of her attention; she even heard the slippers of the beadle as he walked round the altar when putting out the tapers. Again at her side she felt the light touch of mysterious wings; she knew that she was aided by the unknown, and at times she even turned suddenly, thinking that a phantom had whispered in her ear the way of gaining the hoped-for victory. But days passed and no change came.

At night, that she need not break her word, Angelique at first did not go out upon the balcony, for fear of being tempted to rejoin Felicien, were she to see him below her. She remained quietly waiting in her chamber. Then, as the leaves even scarcely stirred, but seemed to sleep, she ventured out, and began to question the dark shadows as before.

From whence would the miracle come? Without doubt, in the Bishop’s garden would be seen a flaming hand, which would beckon to her to approach.

Or, perhaps, the sign would appear in the Cathedral, the great organs of which would peal forth, and would call her to the altar.

Nothing would have surprised her: neither the doves of the “Golden Legend” bringing the words of benediction, nor the intervention of saints, who would enter through the walls, to tell her that Monseigneur wished to see her. The only thing at which she wondered was the slowness of the working of the marvel. Like the day, the nights succeeded nights, yet nothing, nothing manifested itself.

At the close of the second week, that which astonished Angelique above all was that she had not seen Felicien. She, it was true, had pledged herself to take no steps towards meeting him, yet, without having said so to anyone, she thought he would do all in his power to find her. But the Clos-Marie remained deserted, and he no longer walked among the wild grasses therein. Not once during the past fortnight had she had a glimpse of him by day, or even seen his shadow in the evening. Still her faith remained unshaken; that he did not come was simply that he was occupied in making his preparations to rejoin her. However, as her surprise increased there was at length mingled with it a beginning of anxiety.

At last, one evening the dinner was sad at the embroiderer’s, and as soon as it was over Hubert went out, under the pretext of having an important commission to attend to, so Hubertine remained alone with Angelique in the kitchen. She looked at her for a long time with moistened eyes, touched by such courage. During the past fortnight not one word had been exchanged between them in reference to those things with which their hearts were full, and she was deeply moved by the strength of character and loyalty her daughter displayed in thus keeping her promise. A sudden feeling of deep tenderness made her open her arms, and the young girl threw herself upon her breast, and in silence they clasped each other in a loving embrace.

Then, when Hubertine was able to speak, she said:

“Ah! my poor child, I have been impatient to be alone with you, for you must know that now all is at an end; yes, quite at an end.”

Startled, Angelique rose quickly, exclaiming:

“What! Is Felicien dead?”

“No! oh no!”

“If he will never come again, it is only that he is dead.”

So Hubertine was obliged to explain to her that the day after the procession she had been to see him, and had made him also promise that he would keep way from them until he had the full authorisation of Monseigneur to do otherwise. It was thus a definite leave-taking, for she knew a marriage would be utterly impossible. She had made him almost distracted as she explained to him how wrongly he had done in thus compromising a young, ignorant, confiding child, whom he would not be allowed to make his wife; and then he had assured her, that if he could not see her again, he would die from grief, rather than be disloyal.

That same evening he confessed everything to his father.

“You see, my dear,” continued Hubertine, “you are so courageous that I can repeat to you all I know without hesitation. Oh! if you realised, my darling, how I pity you, and what admiration I have for you since I have found you so strong, so brave in keeping silent and in appearing gay when your heart was heavily burdened. But you will have need of even more firmness; yes, much more, my dear. This afternoon I have seen the Abbe Cornille, and he gives me no encouragement whatever. Monseigneur refuses to listen to the subject, so there is no more hope.”

She expected a flood of fears, and she was astonished to see her daughter reseat herself tranquilly, although she had turned very pale. The old oaken table had been cleared, and a lamp lighted up this ancient servants’ hall, the quiet of which was only disturbed by the humming of the boiler.

“Mother, dear, the end has not yet come. Tell me everything, I beg of you. Have I not a right to know all, since I am the one above all others most deeply interested in the matter?”

And she listened attentively to what Hubertine thought best to tell her of what she had learned from the Abbe, keeping back only certain details of the life which was as yet an unknown thing to this innocent child.

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