The Dream (Le Rêve), by Émile Zola

Chapter 8

On the evening of this same day, immediately after leaving the dinner-table, Angelique complained of not being at all well, and went up at once to her room. The agitation and excitement of the morning, her struggles against her true self, had quite exhausted her. She made haste to go to bed, and covering her head with the sheet, with a desperate feeling of disappearing for ever if she could, again the tears came to her relief.

The hours passed slowly, and soon it was night — a warm July night, the heavy, oppressive quiet of which entered through the window, which had been left wide open. In the dark heavens glistened a multitude of stars. It must have been nearly eleven o’clock, and the moon, already grown quite thin in its last quarter, would not rise until midnight.

And in the obscure chamber, Angelique still wept nervously a flow of inexhaustible tears, seemingly without reason, when a slight noise at her door caused her to lift up her head.

There was a short silence, when a voice called her tenderly.

“Angelique! Angelique! My darling child!”

She recognised the voice of Hubertine. Without doubt the latter, in her room with her husband, had just heard the distant sound of sobbing, and anxious, half-undressed, she had come upstairs to find out what was the matter with her daughter.

“Angelique, are you ill, my dear?”

Retaining her breath, the young girl made no answer. She did not wish to be unkind, but her one absorbing idea at this moment was of solitude. To be alone was the only possible alleviation of her trouble. A word of consolation, a caress, even from her mother, would have distressed her. She imagined that she saw her standing at the other side of the door, and from the delicacy of the rustling movement on the tiled floor she thought she must be barefooted. Two or three minutes passed, and she knew the kind watcher had not left her place, but that, stooping, and holding with her beautiful hands the clothing so carelessly thrown over her, she still listened at the keyhole.

Hubertine, hearing nothing more, not even a sigh, did not like to call again. She was very sure that she had heard sobs; but if the child had at last been able to sleep, what good would it do to awaken her? She waited, however, another moment, troubled by the thought of a grief which her daughter hid from her, confusedly imagining what it might be from the tender emotion with which her heart seemed filled from sympathy. At last she concluded to go down as she had come up, quietly, her hands being so familiar with every turning that she needed no candle, and leaving behind her no other sound than the soft, light touch of her bare feet.

Then, sitting up in bed, Angelique in her turn listened. So profound was the outward silence that she could clearly distinguish the slight pressure of the heel on the edge of each step of the stairway. At the foot, the door of the chamber was opened, then closed again; afterward, she heard a scarcely-distinct murmur, an affectionate, yet sad blending of voices in a half-whisper. No doubt it was what her father and mother were saying of her; the fears and the hopes they had in regard to her. For a long time that continued, although they must have put out their light and gone to bed.

Never before had any night sounds in this old house mounted in this way to her ears. Ordinarily, she slept the heavy, tranquil sleep of youth; she heard nothing whatever after placing her head upon her pillow; whilst now, in the wakefulness caused by the inner combat against an almost overpowering sentiment of affection which she was determined to conquer, it seemed to her as if the whole house were in unison with her, that it was also in love, and mourned like herself. Were not the Huberts, too, sad, as they stilled their tears and thought of the child they had lost long ago, whose place, alas! had never been filled? She knew nothing of this in reality, but she had a sensation in this warm night of the watch of her parents below her, and of the disappointment in their lives, which they could not forget, notwithstanding their great love for each other, which was always as fresh as when they were young.

Whilst she was seated in this way, listening in the house that trembled and sighed, Angelique lost all self-control, and again the tears rolled down her face, silently, but warm and living, as if they were her life’s blood. One question above all others had troubled her since the early morning, and had grieved her deeply. Was she right in having sent away Felicien in despair, stabbed to the heart by her coldness, and with the thought that she did not love him? She knew that she did love him, yet she had willingly caused him to suffer, and now in her turn she was suffering intensely. Why should there be so much pain connected with love? Did the saints wish for tears? Could it be that Agnes, her guardian angel, was angry in the knowledge that she was happy? Now, for the first time, she was distracted by a doubt. Before this, whenever she thought of the hero she awaited, and who must come sooner or later, she had arranged everything much more satisfactorily. When the right time arrived he was to enter her very room, where she would immediately recognise and welcome him, when they would both go away together, to be united for evermore. But how different was the reality! He had come, and, instead of what she had foreseen, their meeting was most unsatisfactory; they were equally unhappy, and were eternally separated. To what purpose? Why had this result come to pass? Who had exacted from her so strange a vow, that, although he might be very dear to her, she was never to let him know it?

But, yet again, Angelique was especially grieved from the fear that she might have been bad and done some very wrong thing. Perhaps the original sin that was in her had manifested itself again as when she was a little girl! She thought over all her acts of pretended indifference: the mocking air with which she had received Felicien, and the malicious pleasure she took in giving him a false idea of herself. And the astonishment at what she had done, added to a cutting remorse for her cruelty, increased her distress. Now, her whole heart was filled with a deep infinite pity for the suffering she had caused him without really meaning to do so.

She saw him constantly before her, as he was when he left the house in the morning: the despairing expression of his face, his troubled eyes, his trembling lips; and in imagination she followed him through the streets, as he went home, pale, utterly desolate, and wounded to the heart’s core by her. Where was he now? Perhaps at this hour he was really ill!

She wrung her hands in agony, distressed that she could not at once repair the evil she had done. Ah! how she revolted at the idea of having made another suffer, for she had always wished to be good, and to render those about her as happy as possible.

Twelve o’clock would ere long ring out from the old church-tower; the great elms of the garden of the Bishop’s palace hid the moon, which was just appearing above the horizon, and the chamber was still dark. Then, letting her head fall back upon the pillow, Angelique dwelt no longer upon these disturbing questions, as she wished to go to sleep. But this she could not do; although she kept her eyes closed, her mind was still active; she thought of the flowers which every night during the last fortnight she had found when she went upstairs upon the balcony before her window. Each evening it was a lovely bouquet of violets, which Felicien had certainly thrown there from the Clos-Marie. She recollected having told him that flowers generally gave her a sick headache, whilst violets alone had the singular virtue of calming her, and so he had sent her quiet nights, a perfumed sleep refreshed by pleasant dreams. This evening she had placed the bouquet by her bedside. All at once she had the happy thought of taking it into her bed with her, putting it near her cheek, and, little by little, being soothed with its sweet breath. The purple blossoms did indeed do her good. Not that she slept, however; but she lay there with closed eyes, penetrated by the refreshing odour that came from his gift; happy to await events, in a repose and confident abandonment of her whole being.

But suddenly she started. It was past midnight. She opened her eyes, and was astonished to find her chamber filled with a clear bright light. Above the great elms the moon rose slowly, dimming the stars in the pale sky. Through the window she saw the apse of the cathedral, almost white, and it seemed to her as if it were the reflection of this whiteness which entered her room, like the light of the dawn, fresh and pure. The whitewashed walls and beams, all this blank nudity was increased by it, enlarged, and moved back as if it were unreal as a dream.

She still recognised, however, the old, dark, oaken furniture — the wardrobe, the chest and the chairs, with the shining edges of their elaborate carvings. The bedstead alone — this great square, royal couch — seemed new to her, as if she saw it for the first time, with its high columns supporting its canopy of old-fashioned, rose-tinted cretonne, now bathed with such a sheet of deep moonlight that she half thought she was on a cloud in the midst of the heavens, borne along by a flight of silent, invisible wings. For a moment she felt the full swinging of it; it did not seem at all strange or unnatural to her. But her sight soon grew accustomed to the reality; her bed was again in its usual corner, and she was in it, not moving her head, her eyes alone turning from side to side, as she lay in the midst of this lake of beaming rays, with the bouquet of violets upon her lips.

Why was it that she was thus in a state of waiting? Why could she not sleep? She was sure that she expected someone. That she had grown quite calm was a sign that her hero was about to appear. This consoling light, which put to flight the darkness of all bad dreams, announced his arrival. He was on his way, and the moon, whose brightness almost equalled that of the sun, was simply his forerunner. She must be ready to greet him.

The chamber was as if hung with white velvet now, so they could see each other well. Then she got up, dressed herself thoroughly, putting on a simple white gown of foulard, the same she had worn the day of their excursion to the ruins of Hautecoeur. She did not braid her hair, but let it hang over her shoulders. She put a pair of slippers upon her bare feet, and drawing an armchair in front of the window, seated herself, and waited in patience.

Angelique did not pretend to know how he would appear. Without doubt, he would not come up the stairs, and it might be that she would simply see him over the Clos-Marie, while she leaned from the balcony. Still, she kept her place on the threshold of the window, as it seemed to her useless to go and watch for him just yet. So vague was her idea of real life, so mystic was love, that she did not understand in her imaginative nature why he might not pass through the walls, like the saints in the legends. Why should not miracles come now, as in the olden days, for had not all this been ordained from the beginning?

Not for a moment did she think she was alone to receive him. No, indeed! She felt as if she were surrounded by the crowd of virgins who had always been near her, since her early youth. They entered on the rays of the moonlight, they came from the great dark trees with their blue-green tops in the Bishop’s garden, from the most intricate corners of the entanglement of the stone front of the Cathedral. From all the familiar and beloved horizon of the Chevrotte, from the willows, the grasses, and bushes, the young girl heard the dreams which came back to her, the hopes, the desires, the visions, all that which she had put of herself into inanimate objects as she saw them daily, and which they now returned to her. Never had the voices of the Invisible unknown spoken so clearly. She listened to them as they came from afar, recognising particularly in this warm, beautiful night, so calm that there was not the slightest movement in the air, the delicate sound which she was wont to call the fluttering of the robe of Agnes, when her dear guardian angel came to her side. She laughed quietly to know that she was now by her, and waiting with the others who were near her.

Time passed, but it did not seem long to Angelique. She was quite conscious of what was passing around her. It appeared to her perfectly natural, and exactly as it had been foretold, when at last she saw Felicien striding over the balustrade of the balcony.

His tall figure came out in full relief before the background of the white sky; he did not approach the open window, but remained in its luminous shadow.

“Do not be afraid. It is I. I have come to see you.”

She was not in the slightest way alarmed; she simply thought that he was exact to the hour of meeting, and said calmly:

“You mounted by the timber framework, did you not?”

“Yes, by the framework.”

The idea of this way made her laugh, and he himself was amused by it. He had in fact pulled himself up by the pent-house shed; then, climbing along the principal rafters from there, whose ends were supported by the string-course of the first story, he had without difficulty reached the balcony.

“I was expecting you. Will you not come nearer me?”

Felicien, who had arrived in a state of anger, not knowing how he had dared to come, but with many wild ideas in his head, did not move, so surprised and delighted was he by this unexpected reception. As he had come at last, Angelique was now certain that the saints did not prohibit her from loving, for she heard them welcoming him with her by a laugh as delicate as a breath of the night. Where in the world had she ever found so ridiculous an idea as to think that Agnes would be angry with her! On the contrary, Agnes was radiant with a joy that she felt as it descended on her shoulders and enveloped her like a caress from two great wings. All those who had died for love showed great compassion for youthful troubles, and only returned to earth on summer nights, that, although invisible, they might watch those young hearts who were sorrowful from affection.

“But why do you not come to me? I was waiting for you.”

Then, hesitatingly, Felicien approached. He had been so excited, so carried away by anger at her indifference, that he had said she should be made to love him, and that, were it necessary, he would carry her away even against her will. And lo! now finding her so gentle as he penetrated almost to the entrance of this chamber, so pure and white, he became subdued at once, and as gentle and submissive as a child.

He took three steps forward. But he was afraid, and not daring to go farther, he fell on his knees at the end of the balcony.

“Could you but know,” he said, “the abominable tortures I have passed through. I have never imagined a worse suffering. Really, the only true grief is to think that you are not beloved by the person to whom you have given your affection. I would willingly give up all else; would consent to be poor, dying from hunger, or racked by pain; but I will not pass another day with this terrible doubt gnawing at my heart, of thinking that you do not love me. Be good, I pray you, and pity me.”

She listened to him, silent, overcome with compassion, yet very happy withal.

“This morning you sent me away in such a dreadful manner! I had fancied to myself that you had changed your feelings towards me, and that, appreciating my affection, you liked me better. But, alas! I found you exactly as you had been on the first day, cold, indifferent, treating me as you would have done any other simple customer who passed, recalling me harshly to the commonplaces of life. On the stairway I staggered. Once outside, I ran, and was afraid I might scream aloud. Then, the moment I reached home, it seemed to me I should stifle were I to enter the house. So I rushed out into the fields, walking by chance first on one side of the road and then on another. Evening came, and I was still wandering up and down. But the torment of spirit moved faster than ever and devoured me. When one is hopelessly in love, it is impossible to escape from the pains accompanying one’s affection. Listen!” he said, and he touched his breast; “it is here that you stabbed me, and the point of the knife still continues to penetrate deeper and deeper.”

He gave a long sigh at the keen recollection of his torture.

“I found myself at last in a thicket, overcome by my distress, like a tree that has been drawn up by the roots. To me, the only thing that existed in life, in the future, was you. The thought that you might never be mine was more than I could bear. Already my feet were so weary that they would no longer support me. I felt that my hands were growing icy cold, and my head was filled with the strangest fancies. And that is why I am here. I do not know at all how I came, or where I found the necessary strength to bring me to you. You must try to forgive me; but had I been forced to do so, I would have broken open doors with my fists, I would have clambered up to this balcony in broad daylight, for my will was no longer under my control, and I was quite wild. Now, will you not pardon me?”

She was a little in the shadow, and he, on his knees in the full moonlight, could not see that she had grown very pale in her tender repentance, and was too touched by his story to be able to speak. He thought that she was still insensible to his pleadings, and he joined his hands together most beseechingly.

“All my interest in you commenced long ago. It was one night when I saw you for the first time, here at your window. You were only a vague, white shadow; I could scarcely distinguish one of your features, yet I saw you and imagined you just as you are in reality. But I was timid and afraid, so for several days I wandered about here, never daring to try to meet you in the open day. And, in addition, since this is a confession, I must tell you everything; you pleased me particularly in this half mystery; it would have disturbed me to have you come out from it, for my great happiness was to dream of you as if you were an apparition, or an unknown something to be worshipped from afar, without ever hoping to become acquainted with you. Later on, I knew who you were, for after all it is difficult to resist the temptation to know what may be the realisation of one’s dream. It was then that my restlessness commenced. It has increased at each meeting. Do you recollect the first time that we spoke to each other in the field near by, on that forenoon when I was examining the painted window? Never in my life did I feel so awkward as then, and it was not strange that you ridiculed me so. Afterwards I frightened you, and realised that I continued to be very unfortunate in following you, even in the visits you made to the poor people. Already I ceased to be master of my own actions, and did things that astonished me beyond measure, and which, under usual circumstances, I would not have dared attempt. For instance, when I presented myself here with the order for a mitre, I was pushed forward by an involuntary force, as, personally, I dared not do it, knowing that I might make you angry. But at present I cannot regain my old self, I can only obey my impulses. I know that you do not like me, and yet, as you see, in spite of it all I have come back to you, that I may hear you tell me so. If you would but try to understand how miserable I am. Do not love me if it is not in your heart to do so. I must accept my fate. But at least allow me to love you. Be as cold as you please, be hateful if you will — I shall adore you whatever you may choose to be. I only ask to be able to see you, even without any hope; merely for the joy of living thus at your feet.”

Felicien stopped, disheartened, losing all courage as he thought he would never find any way of touching her heart. And he did not see that Angelique smiled, half hidden as she was by the open window-sash. It was an invincible smile, that, little by little, spread over her whole face. Ah! the dear fellow! How simple and trusting he was as he outpoured the prayer of his heart, filled with new longings and love, in bowing before her, as before the highest ideal of all his youthful dreams.

To think that she had ever been so foolish as at first to try to avoid all meetings with him, and then, later on, had determined that although she could not help loving him, he should never know it! Such folly on her part was quite inexplicable. Since love is right, and is the fate of all, what good could be gained by making martyrs of them both?

A complete silence ensued, and in her enthusiastic, imaginative, nervous state, she heard, louder than ever, in the quiet of the warm night, the voices of the saints about her, who said love was never forbidden when it was so ardent and true as this. Behind her back a bright flash of light had suddenly appeared; scarcely a breath, but a delicate wave from the moon upon the chamber floor. An invisible finger, no doubt that of her guardian angel, was placed upon her mouth, as if to unseal her lips and relieve her from her vow. Henceforth she could freely unburden herself and tell the truth. All that which was powerful and tender in her surroundings now whispered to her words which seemed to come from the infinite unknown.

Then, at last, Angelique spoke.

“Ah! yes, I recollect — I recollect it all.”

And Felicien was at once carried away with delight by the music of this voice, whose extreme charm was so great over him that his love seemed to increase simply from listening to it.

“Yes, I remember well when you came in the night. You were so far away those first evenings that the little sound you made in walking left me in quite an uncertain state. At last I realised perfectly that it was you who approached me, and a little later I recognised your shadow. At length, one evening you showed yourself boldly, on a beautiful, bright night like this, in the full white light of the moon. You came out so slowly from the inanimate objects near you, like a creation from all the mysteries that surrounded me, exactly as I had expected to see you for a long time, and punctual to the meeting.

“I have never forgotten the great desire to laugh, which I kept back, but which broke forth in spite of me, when you saved the linen that was being carried away by the Chevrotte. I recollect my anger when you robbed me of my poor people, by giving them so much money, and thus making me appear as a miser. I can still recall my fear on the evening when you forced me to run so fast through the grass with my bare feet. Oh, yes, I have not forgotten anything — not the slightest thing.”

At this last sentence her voice, pure and crystalline, was a little broken by the thought of those magic words of the young man, the power of which she felt so deeply when he said, “I love you,” and a deep blush passed over her face. And he — he listened to her with delight.

“It is indeed true that I did wrong to tease you. When one is ignorant, one is often so foolish. One does many things which seem necessary, simply from the fear of being found fault with if following the impulses of the heart. But my remorse for all this was deep, and my sufferings, in consequence, were as great as yours. Were I to try to explain all this to you, it would be quite impossible for me to do so. When you came to us with your drawing of Saint Agnes, oh! I could have cried out, ‘Thank you, thank you!’ I was perfectly enchanted to work for you, as I thought you would certainly make us a daily visit. And yet, think of it! I pretended to be indifferent, as if I had taken upon myself the task of doing all in my power to drive you from the house. Has one ever the need of being willfully unhappy? Whilst in reality I longed to welcome you and to receive you with open hands, there seemed to be in the depths of my nature another woman than myself, who revolted, who was afraid of and mistrusted you — whose delight it was to torture you with uncertainty, in the vague idea of setting up a quarrel, the cause of which, in a time long passed, had been quite forgotten. I am not always good; often in my soul things seem to creep up that I cannot explain or account for. The worst of it was that I dared to speak to you of money. Fancy it, then! Of money! I, who have never thought of it, who would accept chariots of it, only for the pleasure of making it rain down as I wished, among the needy! What a malicious amusement I gave myself in this calumniating my character. Will you ever forgive me?”

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