The Dream (Le Rêve), by Émile Zola

Chapter 9

Felicien was at her feet. Until now he had kept his place in the remote corner of the balcony. But in the intense happiness she gave him in thus unfolding the innermost secrets of her soul he had drawn himself on his knees towards her, as he approached the window. This great, illimitable joy was so unlooked for, that he yielded to it in all the infinitude of its hopes of the future.

He half whispered:

“Ah, dear soul, pure, kind, and beautiful, your wonderful goodness has cured me as with a breath! I know not now if I have ever suffered. And, in your turn, you will now have to pardon me, for I have an acknowledgment to make to you. I must tell you who I am.”

He was troubled at the thought he could no longer disguise himself or his position, since she had confided so freely and entirely in him. It would be disloyal in the highest degree to do so. Yet he hesitated, lest he might, after all, lose her, were she to be anxious about the future when at last she knew the facts.

And she waited for him to speak again, a little malicious in spite of herself.

In a very low voice he continued:

“I have told a falsehood to your parents.”

“Yes, I know it,” she said as she smiled.

“No, you do not know it; you could not possibly know it, for all that happened too long ago. I only paint on glass for my own pleasure, and as a simple amusement; you really ought to be told of that.”

Then, with a quick movement, she put her hand on his mouth, as if she wished to prevent this explanation.

“I do not care to hear any more. I have been expecting you. I knew that sooner or later you would come, and you have done so. That is all-sufficient.”

They talked no longer for a while. That little hand over his lips seemed almost too great a happiness for him.

“When the right time comes, then I shall know all. Yet I assure you that I am ignorant of nothing connected with you, for everything had been revealed to me before our first meeting. You were to be, and can be, only the handsomest, the richest, and the most noble of men, the one above all others; for that has ever been my dream, and in the sure certainty of its full accomplishment I wait calmly. You are the chosen hero who it was ordained should come, and I am yours.”

A second time she interrupted herself in the tremor of the words she pronounced. She did not appear to say them by herself alone; they came to her as if sent by the beautiful night from the great white heavens, from the old trees, and the aged stones sleeping outside and dreaming aloud the fancies of the young girl. From behind her voices also whispered them to her, the voices of her friends in the “Golden Legend,” with whom she had peopled the air and the space around her. In this atmosphere she had ever lived — mysticism, in which she revelled until it seemed fact on one side, and the daily work of life on the other. Nothing seemed strange to her.

Now but one word remained to be said — that which would express all the long waiting, the slow creation of affection, the constantly increasing fever of restlessness. It escaped from her lips like a cry from a distance, from the white flight of a bird mounting upward in the light of the early dawn, in the pure whiteness of the chamber behind her.

“I love you.”

Angelique, her two hands spread out, bent forward towards Felicien. And he recalled to himself the evening when she ran barefooted through the grass, making so adorable a picture that he pursued her in order to stammer in her ear these same words: “I love you.” He knew that now she was simply replying to him with the same cry of affection, the eternal cry, which at last came from her freely-opened heart.

“Yes, I love you. I am yours. Lead the way, and I will follow you wherever it may be.”

In this surrender of her soul she gave herself to him fully and entirely. It was the hereditary flame relighted within her — the pride and the passion she thought had been conquered, but which awoke at the wish of her beloved. He trembled before this innocence, so ardent and so ingenuous. He took her hands gently, and crossed them upon her breast. For a moment he looked at her, radiant with the intense happiness her confession had given him, unwilling to wound her delicacy in the slightest degree, and not thinking of yielding to the temptation of even kissing her hair.

“You love me, and you know that I love you! Ah! what bliss there is in such knowledge.”

But they were suddenly drawn from their ecstatic state by a change about them. What did it all mean? They realised that now they were looking at each other under a great white light. It seemed to them as if the brightness of the moon had been increased, and was as resplendent as that of the sun. It was in reality the daybreak, a slight shade of which already tinged with purple the tops of the elm-trees in the neighbouring gardens. What? It could not be possible that the dawn had come? They were astonished by it, for they did not realise so long a time had passed since they began to talk together on the balcony. She had as yet told him nothing, and he had so many things he wished to say!

“Oh, stay one minute more, only one minute!” he exclaimed.

The daylight advanced still faster — the smiling morning, already warm, of what was to be a hot day in summer. One by one the stars were extinguished, and with them fled the wandering visions, and all the host of invisible friends seemed to mount upward and to glide away on the moon’s rays.

Now, in the full, clear light, the room behind them had only its ordinary whiteness of walls and ceiling, and seemed quite empty with its old-fashioned furniture of dark oak. The velvet hangings were no longer there, and the bedstead had resumed its original shape, as it stood half hidden by the falling of one of its curtains.

“Do stay! Let me be near you only one minute more!”

Angelique, having risen, refused, and begged Felicien to leave immediately. Since the day had come, she had grown confused and anxious. The reality was now here. At her right hand, she seemed to hear a delicate movement of wings, whilst her hair was gently blown, although there was not the slightest breath of wind. Was it not Saint Agnes, who, having remained until the last, was now forced to leave, driven away by the sun?

“No, leave me, I beg of you. I am unwilling you should stay longer.”

Then Felicien, obedient, withdrew.

To know that he was beloved was enough for him, and satisfied him. Still, before leaving the balcony, he turned, and looked at her again fixedly, as if he wished to carry away with him an indelible remembrance of her. They both smiled at each other as they stood thus, bathed with light, in this long caressing look.

At last he said:

“I love you.”

And she gently replied:

“I love you.”

That was all, and he had in a moment, with the agility of a bird, gone down the woodwork of the corner of the building, while she, remaining on the balcony, leaned on the balustrade and watched him, with her tender, beautiful eyes. She had taken the bouquet of violets and breathed the perfume to cool her feverishness. When, in crossing the Clos-Marie, he lifted his head, he saw that she was kissing the flowers.

Scarcely had Felicien disappeared behind the willows, when Angelique was disturbed by hearing below the opening of the house-door. Four o’clock had just struck, and no one was in the habit of getting up until two hours later. Her surprise increased when she recognised Hubertine, as it was always Hubert who went down the first. She saw her follow slowly the walks of the narrow garden, her arms hanging listlessly at her sides, as if, after a restless, sleepless night, a feeling of suffocating, a need of breathing the fresh air, had made her leave her room so early. And Hubertine was really very beautiful, with her clothes so hastily put on; and she seemed very weary — happy, but in the deepest grief.

The morning of the next day, on waking from a sound sleep of eight hours, one of those sweet, deep, refreshing sleeps that come after some great happiness, Angelique ran to her window. The sky was clear, the air pure, and the fine weather had returned after a heavy shower of the previous evening. Delighted, she called out joyously to Hubert, who was just opening the blinds below her:

“Father! Father! Do look at the beautiful sunlight. Oh, how glad I am, for the procession will be superb!”

Dressing herself as quickly as possible, she hurried to go downstairs. It was on that day, July 28, that the Procession of the Miracle would pass through the streets of the upper town. Every summer at this date it was also a festival for the embroiderers; all work was put aside, no needles were threaded, but the day was passed in ornamenting the house, after a traditional arrangement that had been transmitted from mother to daughter for four hundred years.

All the while that she was taking her coffee, Angelique talked of the hangings.

“Mother, we must look at them at once, to see if they are in good order.”

“We have plenty of time before us, my dear,” replied Hubertine, in her quiet way. “We shall not put them up until afternoon.”

The decorations in question consisted of three large panels of the most admirable ancient embroidery, which the Huberts guarded with the greatest care as a sacred family relic, and which they brought out once a year on the occasion of the passing of this special procession.

The previous evening, according to a time-honoured custom, the Master of the Ceremonies, the good Abbe Cornille, had gone from door to door to notify the inhabitants of the route which would be taken by the bearers of the statue of Saint Agnes, accompanied by Monseigneur the Bishop, carrying the Holy Sacrament. For more than five centuries this route had been the same. The departure was made from the portal of Saint Agnes, then by the Rue des Orfevres to the Grand Rue, to the Rue Basse, and after having gone through the whole of the lower town, it returned by the Rue Magloire and the Place du Cloitre, to reappear again at the great front entrance of the Church. And the dwellers on all these streets, vying with each other in their zeal, decorated their windows, hung upon their walls their richest possessions in silks, satins, velvets, or tapestry, and strewed the pavements with flowers, particularly with the leaves of roses and carnations.

Angelique was very impatient until permission had been given her to take from the drawers, where they had been quietly resting for the past twelve months, the three pieces of embroidery.

“They are in perfect order, mother. Nothing has happened to them,” she said, as she looked at them, enraptured.

She had with the greatest care removed the mass of silk paper that protected them from the dust, and they now appeared in all their beauty. The three were consecrated to Mary. The Blessed Virgin receiving the visit of the Angel of the Annunciation; the Virgin Mother at the foot of the Cross; and the Assumption of the Virgin. They were made in the fifteenth century, of brightly coloured silks wrought on a golden background, and were wonderfully well preserved. The family had always refused to sell them, although very large sums had been offered by different churches, and they were justly proud of their possessions.

“Mother, dear, may I not hang them up to-day?”

All these preparations required a great deal of time. Hubert was occupied the whole forenoon in cleaning the front of the old building. He fastened a broom to the end of a long stick, that he might dust all the wooden panels decorated with bricks, as far as the framework of the roof; then with a sponge he washed all the sub-basement of stone, and all the parts of the stairway tower that he could reach. When that was finished, the three superb pieces of embroidery were put in their places. Angelique attached them, by their rings, to venerable nails that were in the walls; the Annunciation below the window at the left, the Assumption below the window at the right, while for the Calvary, the nails for that were above the great window of the first story, and she was obliged to use a step-ladder that she might hang it there in its turn. She had already embellished the window with flowers, so that the ancient dwelling seemed to have gone back to the far-away time of its youth, with its embroideries of gold and of silk glistening in the beautiful sunshine of this festive day.

After the noon breakfast the activity increased in every direction, and the whole Rue des Orfevres was now in excitement. To avoid the great heat, the procession would not move until five o’clock, but after twelve the town began to be decorated. Opposite the Huberts’, the silversmith dressed his shop with draperies of an exquisite light blue, bordered with a silver fringe; while the wax-chandler, who was next to him, made use of his window-curtains of red cotton, which looked more brilliant than ever in the broad light of day. At each house there were different colours; a prodigality of stuffs, everything that people owned, even to rugs of all descriptions, were blowing about in the weary air of this hot summer afternoon. The street now seemed clothed, sparkling, and almost trembling with gaiety, as if changed into a gallery of fete open to the sky. All its inhabitants were rushing to and fro, pushing against each other; speaking loud, as if in their own homes; some of them carrying their arms full of objects, others climbing, driving nails, and calling vociferously. In addition to all this was the reposoir, or altar, that was being prepared at the corner of the Grand Rue, the arrangements for which called for the services of all the women of the neighbourhood, who eagerly offered their vases and candlesticks.

Angelique ran down to carry the two candelabra, of the style of the Empire, which they had on the mantel-shelf of their parlour. She had not taken a moment’s rest since the early morning, but had shown no signs of fatigue, being, on the contrary, supported and carried above herself by her great inward happiness. And as she came back from her errand, her hair blown all about her face by the wind, Hubert began to tease her as she seated herself to strip off the leaves of the roses, and to put them in a great basket.

“You could not do any more than you have done were it your wedding-day, my dear. Is it, then, that you are really to be married now?”

“But yes! oh, yes! Why not?” she answered gaily.

Hubertine smiled in her turn.

“While waiting, my daughter, since the house is so satisfactorily arranged, the best thing for us to do is to go upstairs and dress.”

“In a minute, mother. Look at my full basket.”

She had finished taking the leaves from the roses which she had reserved to throw before Monseigneur. The petals rained from her slender fingers; the basket was running over with its light, perfumed contents. Then, as she disappeared on the narrow stairway of the tower, she said, while laughing heartily:

“We will be quick. I will make myself beautiful as a star!”

The afternoon advanced. Now the feverish movement in Beaumont-l’Eglise was calmed; a peculiar air of expectation seemed to fill the streets, which were all ready, and where everyone spoke softly, in hushed, whispering voices. The heat had diminished, as the sun’s rays grew oblique, and between the houses, so closely pressed the one against the others, there fell from the pale sky only a warm, fine shadow of a gentle, serene nature. The air of meditation was profound, as if the old town had become simply a continuation of the Cathedral; the only sound of carriages that could be heard came up from Beaumont-la-Ville, the new town on the banks of the Ligneul, where many of the factories were not closed, as the proprietors disdained taking part in this ancient religious ceremony.

Soon after four o’clock the great bell of the northern tower, the one whose swinging stirred the house of the Huberts, began to ring; and it was at that very moment that Hubertine and Angelique reappeared. The former had put on a dress of pale buff linen, trimmed with a simple thread lace, but her figure was so slight and youthful in its delicate roundness that she looked as if she were the sister of her adopted daughter. Angelique wore her dress of white foulard, with its soft ruchings at the neck and wrists, and nothing else; neither earrings nor bracelets, only her bare wrists and throat, soft in their satiny whiteness as they came out from the delicate material, light as the opening of a flower. An invisible comb, put in place hastily, scarcely held the curls of her golden hair, which was carelessly dressed. She was artless and proud, of a most touching simplicity, and, indeed, “beautiful as a star.”

“Ah!” she said, “the bell! That is to show that Monseigneur has left his palace.”

The bell continued to sound loud and clear in the great purity of the atmosphere. The Huberts installed themselves at the wide-opened window of the first story, the mother and daughter being in front, with their elbows resting on the bar of support, and the husband and father standing behind them. These were their accustomed places; they could not possibly have found better, as they would be the very first to see the procession as it came from the farther end of the church, without missing even a single candle of the marching-past.

“Where is my basket?” asked Angelique.

Hubert was obliged to take and pass to her the basket of rose-leaves, which she held between her arms, pressed against her breast.

“Oh, that bell!” she at last murmured; “it seems as if it would lull us to sleep!”

And still the waiting continued in the little vibrating house, sonorous with the musical movement; the street and the great square waited, subdued by this great trembling, whist the hangings on every side blew about more quietly in the air of the coming evening. The perfume of roses was very sweet.

Another half-hour passed. Then at the same moment the two halves of the portal of Saint Agnes were opened, and they perceived the very depths of the church, dark in reality, but dotted with little bright spots from the tapers. First the bearer of the Cross appeared, a sub-deacon in a tunic, accompanied by the acolytes, each one of whom held a lighted candle in his hand. Behind them hurried along the Master of the Ceremonies, the good Abbe Cornille, who after having assured himself that everything was in perfect order in the street, stopped under the porch, and assisted a moment at the passing out, in order to be sure that the places assigned to each section had been rightly taken. The various societies of laymen opened the march: the charitable associations, schools, by rank of seniority, and numerous public organisations. There were a great many children: little girls all in white, like brides, and little bareheaded boys, with curly hair, dressed in their best, like princes, already looking in every direction to find where their mothers were. A splendid fellow, nine years of age, walked by himself in the middle, clad like Saint John the Baptist, with a sheepskin over his thin, bare shoulders. Four little girls, covered with pink ribbons, bore a shield on which was a sheaf of ripe wheat. Then there were young girls grouped around a banner of the Blessed Virgin; ladies in black, who also had their special banner of crimson silk, on which was embroidered a portrait of Saint Joseph. There were other and still other banners, in velvet or in satin, balanced at the end of gilded batons. The brotherhoods of men were no less numerous; penitents of all colours, but especially the grey penitents in dark linen suits, wearing cowls, and whose emblems made a great sensation — a large cross, with a wheel, to which were attached the instruments of the Passion.

Angelique exclaimed with tenderness when the children came by:

“Oh, the blessed darlings! Do look at them all!”

One, no higher than a boot, scarcely three years of age, proudly tottered along on his little feet, and looked so comical that she plunged her hands into her basket and literally covered him with flowers. He quite disappeared under them for an instant; he had roses in his hair and on his shoulders. The exquisite little laughing shout he uttered was enjoyed on every side, and flowers rained down from all the windows as the cherub passed. In the humming silence of the street one could now only hear the deafened sound of the regular movement of feet in the procession, while flowers by the handful still continued to fall silently upon the pavement. Very soon there were heaps of them.

But now, reassured upon the good order of the laymen, the Abbe Cornille grew impatient and disturbed, inasmuch as the procession had been stationary for nearly two minutes, and he walked quickly towards the head of it, bowing and smiling at the Huberts as he passed.

“What has happened? What can prevent them from continuing?” said Angelique, all feverish from excitement, as if she were waiting for some expected happiness that was to come to her from the other end that was still in the church.

Hubertine answered her gently, as usual:

“There is no reason why they should run.”

“There is some obstruction evidently; perhaps it is a reposoir that is still unfinished,” Hubert added.

The young girls of the Society of the Blessed Virgin, the “daughters of Mary,” as they are called, had already commenced singing a canticle, and their clear voices rose in the air, pure as crystal. Nearer and nearer the double ranks caught the movement and recommenced their march.

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