The French Church, properly the Church of Sainte–Agnes, stood upon a hill. The high, narrow, red-brick building, with its tall steeple and steep roof, could be seen for miles across the wheatfields, though the little town of Sainte–Agnes was completely hidden away at the foot of the hill. The church looked powerful and triumphant there on its eminence, so high above the rest of the landscape, with miles of warm color lying at its feet, and by its position and setting it reminded one of some of the churches built long ago in the wheat-lands of middle France.
Late one June afternoon Alexandra Bergson was driving along one of the many roads that led through the rich French farming country to the big church. The sunlight was shining directly in her face, and there was a blaze of light all about the red church on the hill. Beside Alexandra lounged a strikingly exotic figure in a tall Mexican hat, a silk sash, and a black velvet jacket sewn with silver buttons. Emil had returned only the night before, and his sister was so proud of him that she decided at once to take him up to the church supper, and to make him wear the Mexican costume he had brought home in his trunk. “All the girls who have stands are going to wear fancy costumes,” she argued, “and some of the boys. Marie is going to tell fortunes, and she sent to Omaha for a Bohemian dress her father brought back from a visit to the old country. If you wear those clothes, they will all be pleased. And you must take your guitar. Everybody ought to do what they can to help along, and we have never done much. We are not a talented family.”
The supper was to be at six o’clock, in the basement of the church, and afterward there would be a fair, with charades and an auction. Alexandra had set out from home early, leaving the house to Signa and Nelse Jensen, who were to be married next week. Signa had shyly asked to have the wedding put off until Emil came home.
Alexandra was well satisfied with her brother. As they drove through the rolling French country toward the westering sun and the stalwart church, she was thinking of that time long ago when she and Emil drove back from the river valley to the still unconquered Divide. Yes, she told herself, it had been worth while; both Emil and the country had become what she had hoped. Out of her father’s children there was one who was fit to cope with the world, who had not been tied to the plow, and who had a personality apart from the soil. And that, she reflected, was what she had worked for. She felt well satisfied with her life.
When they reached the church, a score of teams were hitched in front of the basement doors that opened from the hillside upon the sanded terrace, where the boys wrestled and had jumping-matches. Amedee Chevalier, a proud father of one week, rushed out and embraced Emil. Amedee was an only son, — hence he was a very rich young man, — but he meant to have twenty children himself, like his uncle Xavier. “Oh, Emil,” he cried, hugging his old friend rapturously, “why ain’t you been up to see my boy? You come tomorrow, sure? Emil, you wanna get a boy right off! It’s the greatest thing ever! No, no, no! Angel not sick at all. Everything just fine. That boy he come into this world laughin’, and he been laughin’ ever since. You come an’ see!” He pounded Emil’s ribs to emphasize each announcement.
Emil caught his arms. “Stop, Amedee. You’re knocking the wind out of me. I brought him cups and spoons and blankets and moccasins enough for an orphan asylum. I’m awful glad it’s a boy, sure enough!”
The young men crowded round Emil to admire his costume and to tell him in a breath everything that had happened since he went away. Emil had more friends up here in the French country than down on Norway Creek. The French and Bohemian boys were spirited and jolly, liked variety, and were as much predisposed to favor anything new as the Scandinavian boys were to reject it. The Norwegian and Swedish lads were much more self-centred, apt to be egotistical and jealous. They were cautious and reserved with Emil because he had been away to college, and were prepared to take him down if he should try to put on airs with them. The French boys liked a bit of swagger, and they were always delighted to hear about anything new: new clothes, new games, new songs, new dances. Now they carried Emil off to show him the club room they had just fitted up over the post-office, down in the village. They ran down the hill in a drove, all laughing and chattering at once, some in French, some in English.
Alexandra went into the cool, whitewashed basement where the women were setting the tables. Marie was standing on a chair, building a little tent of shawls where she was to tell fortunes. She sprang down and ran toward Alexandra, stopping short and looking at her in disappointment. Alexandra nodded to her encouragingly.
“Oh, he will be here, Marie. The boys have taken him off to show him something. You won’t know him. He is a man now, sure enough. I have no boy left. He smokes terrible-smelling Mexican cigarettes and talks Spanish. How pretty you look, child. Where did you get those beautiful earrings?”
“They belonged to father’s mother. He always promised them to me. He sent them with the dress and said I could keep them.”
Marie wore a short red skirt of stoutly woven cloth, a white bodice and kirtle, a yellow silk turban wound low over her brown curls, and long coral pendants in her ears. Her ears had been pierced against a piece of cork by her great-aunt when she was seven years old. In those germless days she had worn bits of broom-straw, plucked from the common sweeping-broom, in the lobes until the holes were healed and ready for little gold rings.
When Emil came back from the village, he lingered outside on the terrace with the boys. Marie could hear him talking and strumming on his guitar while Raoul Marcel sang falsetto. She was vexed with him for staying out there. It made her very nervous to hear him and not to see him; for, certainly, she told herself, she was not going out to look for him. When the supper bell rang and the boys came trooping in to get seats at the first table, she forgot all about her annoyance and ran to greet the tallest of the crowd, in his conspicuous attire. She didn’t mind showing her embarrassment at all. She blushed and laughed excitedly as she gave Emil her hand, and looked delightedly at the black velvet coat that brought out his fair skin and fine blond head. Marie was incapable of being lukewarm about anything that pleased her. She simply did not know how to give a half-hearted response. When she was delighted, she was as likely as not to stand on her tip-toes and clap her hands. If people laughed at her, she laughed with them.
“Do the men wear clothes like that every day, in the street?” She caught Emil by his sleeve and turned him about. “Oh, I wish I lived where people wore things like that! Are the buttons real silver? Put on the hat, please. What a heavy thing! How do you ever wear it? Why don’t you tell us about the bull-fights?”
She wanted to wring all his experiences from him at once, without waiting a moment. Emil smiled tolerantly and stood looking down at her with his old, brooding gaze, while the French girls fluttered about him in their white dresses and ribbons, and Alexandra watched the scene with pride. Several of the French girls, Marie knew, were hoping that Emil would take them to supper, and she was relieved when he took only his sister. Marie caught Frank’s arm and dragged him to the same table, managing to get seats opposite the Bergsons, so that she could hear what they were talking about. Alexandra made Emil tell Mrs. Xavier Chevalier, the mother of the twenty, about how he had seen a famous matador killed in the bull-ring. Marie listened to every word, only taking her eyes from Emil to watch Frank’s plate and keep it filled. When Emil finished his account, — bloody enough to satisfy Mrs. Xavier and to make her feel thankful that she was not a matador, — Marie broke out with a volley of questions. How did the women dress when they went to bull-fights? Did they wear mantillas? Did they never wear hats?
After supper the young people played charades for the amusement of their elders, who sat gossiping between their guesses. All the shops in Sainte–Agnes were closed at eight o’clock that night, so that the merchants and their clerks could attend the fair. The auction was the liveliest part of the entertainment, for the French boys always lost their heads when they began to bid, satisfied that their extravagance was in a good cause. After all the pincushions and sofa pillows and embroidered slippers were sold, Emil precipitated a panic by taking out one of his turquoise shirt studs, which every one had been admiring, and handing it to the auctioneer. All the French girls clamored for it, and their sweethearts bid against each other recklessly. Marie wanted it, too, and she kept making signals to Frank, which he took a sour pleasure in disregarding. He didn’t see the use of making a fuss over a fellow just because he was dressed like a clown. When the turquoise went to Malvina Sauvage, the French banker’s daughter, Marie shrugged her shoulders and betook herself to her little tent of shawls, where she began to shuffle her cards by the light of a tallow candle, calling out, “Fortunes, fortunes!”
The young priest, Father Duchesne, went first to have his fortune read. Marie took his long white hand, looked at it, and then began to run off her cards. “I see a long journey across water for you, Father. You will go to a town all cut up by water; built on islands, it seems to be, with rivers and green fields all about. And you will visit an old lady with a white cap and gold hoops in her ears, and you will be very happy there.”
“Mais, oui,” said the priest, with a melancholy smile. “C’est L’Isle–Adam, chez ma mere. Vous etes tres savante, ma fille.” He patted her yellow turban, calling, “Venez donc, mes garcons! Il y a ici une veritable clairvoyante!”
Marie was clever at fortune-telling, indulging in a light irony that amused the crowd. She told old Brunot, the miser, that he would lose all his money, marry a girl of sixteen, and live happily on a crust. Sholte, the fat Russian boy, who lived for his stomach, was to be disappointed in love, grow thin, and shoot himself from despondency. Amedee was to have twenty children, and nineteen of them were to be girls. Amedee slapped Frank on the back and asked him why he didn’t see what the fortune-teller would promise him. But Frank shook off his friendly hand and grunted, “She tell my fortune long ago; bad enough!” Then he withdrew to a corner and sat glowering at his wife.
Frank’s case was all the more painful because he had no one in particular to fix his jealousy upon. Sometimes he could have thanked the man who would bring him evidence against his wife. He had discharged a good farm-boy, Jan Smirka, because he thought Marie was fond of him; but she had not seemed to miss Jan when he was gone, and she had been just as kind to the next boy. The farm-hands would always do anything for Marie; Frank couldn’t find one so surly that he would not make an effort to please her. At the bottom of his heart Frank knew well enough that if he could once give up his grudge, his wife would come back to him. But he could never in the world do that. The grudge was fundamental. Perhaps he could not have given it up if he had tried. Perhaps he got more satisfaction out of feeling himself abused than he would have got out of being loved. If he could once have made Marie thoroughly unhappy, he might have relented and raised her from the dust. But she had never humbled herself. In the first days of their love she had been his slave; she had admired him abandonedly. But the moment he began to bully her and to be unjust, she began to draw away; at first in tearful amazement, then in quiet, unspoken disgust. The distance between them had widened and hardened. It no longer contracted and brought them suddenly together. The spark of her life went somewhere else, and he was always watching to surprise it. He knew that somewhere she must get a feeling to live upon, for she was not a woman who could live without loving. He wanted to prove to himself the wrong he felt. What did she hide in her heart? Where did it go? Even Frank had his churlish delicacies; he never reminded her of how much she had once loved him. For that Marie was grateful to him.
While Marie was chattering to the French boys, Amedee called Emil to the back of the room and whispered to him that they were going to play a joke on the girls. At eleven o’clock, Amedee was to go up to the switchboard in the vestibule and turn off the electric lights, and every boy would have a chance to kiss his sweetheart before Father Duchesne could find his way up the stairs to turn the current on again. The only difficulty was the candle in Marie’s tent; perhaps, as Emil had no sweetheart, he would oblige the boys by blowing out the candle. Emil said he would undertake to do that.
At five minutes to eleven he sauntered up to Marie’s booth, and the French boys dispersed to find their girls. He leaned over the card-table and gave himself up to looking at her. “Do you think you could tell my fortune?” he murmured. It was the first word he had had alone with her for almost a year. “My luck hasn’t changed any. It’s just the same.”
Marie had often wondered whether there was anyone else who could look his thoughts to you as Emil could. To-night, when she met his steady, powerful eyes, it was impossible not to feel the sweetness of the dream he was dreaming; it reached her before she could shut it out, and hid itself in her heart. She began to shuffle her cards furiously. “I’m angry with you, Emil,” she broke out with petulance. “Why did you give them that lovely blue stone to sell? You might have known Frank wouldn’t buy it for me, and I wanted it awfully!”
Emil laughed shortly. “People who want such little things surely ought to have them,” he said dryly. He thrust his hand into the pocket of his velvet trousers and brought out a handful of uncut turquoises, as big as marbles. Leaning over the table he dropped them into her lap. “There, will those do? Be careful, don’t let any one see them. Now, I suppose you want me to go away and let you play with them?”
Marie was gazing in rapture at the soft blue color of the stones. “Oh, Emil! Is everything down there beautiful like these? How could you ever come away?”
At that instant Amedee laid hands on the switchboard. There was a shiver and a giggle, and every one looked toward the red blur that Marie’s candle made in the dark. Immediately that, too, was gone. Little shrieks and currents of soft laughter ran up and down the dark hall. Marie started up, — directly into Emil’s arms. In the same instant she felt his lips. The veil that had hung uncertainly between them for so long was dissolved. Before she knew what she was doing, she had committed herself to that kiss that was at once a boy’s and a man’s, as timid as it was tender; so like Emil and so unlike any one else in the world. Not until it was over did she realize what it meant. And Emil, who had so often imagined the shock of this first kiss, was surprised at its gentleness and naturalness. It was like a sigh which they had breathed together; almost sorrowful, as if each were afraid of wakening something in the other.
When the lights came on again, everybody was laughing and shouting, and all the French girls were rosy and shining with mirth. Only Marie, in her little tent of shawls, was pale and quiet. Under her yellow turban the red coral pendants swung against white cheeks. Frank was still staring at her, but he seemed to see nothing. Years ago, he himself had had the power to take the blood from her cheeks like that. Perhaps he did not remember — perhaps he had never noticed! Emil was already at the other end of the hall, walking about with the shoulder-motion he had acquired among the Mexicans, studying the floor with his intent, deep-set eyes. Marie began to take down and fold her shawls. She did not glance up again. The young people drifted to the other end of the hall where the guitar was sounding. In a moment she heard Emil and Raoul singing:—
“Across the Rio Grand-e There lies a sunny land-e, My bright-eyed Mexico!”
Alexandra Bergson came up to the card booth. “Let me help you, Marie. You look tired.”
She placed her hand on Marie’s arm and felt her shiver. Marie stiffened under that kind, calm hand. Alexandra drew back, perplexed and hurt.
There was about Alexandra something of the impervious calm of the fatalist, always disconcerting to very young people, who cannot feel that the heart lives at all unless it is still at the mercy of storms; unless its strings can scream to the touch of pain.
Signa’s wedding supper was over. The guests, and the tiresome little Norwegian preacher who had performed the marriage ceremony, were saying good-night. Old Ivar was hitching the horses to the wagon to take the wedding presents and the bride and groom up to their new home, on Alexandra’s north quarter. When Ivar drove up to the gate, Emil and Marie Shabata began to carry out the presents, and Alexandra went into her bedroom to bid Signa good-bye and to give her a few words of good counsel. She was surprised to find that the bride had changed her slippers for heavy shoes and was pinning up her skirts. At that moment Nelse appeared at the gate with the two milk cows that Alexandra had given Signa for a wedding present.
Alexandra began to laugh. “Why, Signa, you and Nelse are to ride home. I’ll send Ivar over with the cows in the morning.”
Signa hesitated and looked perplexed. When her husband called her, she pinned her hat on resolutely. “I ta-ank I better do yust like he say,” she murmured in confusion.
Alexandra and Marie accompanied Signa to the gate and saw the party set off, old Ivar driving ahead in the wagon and the bride and groom following on foot, each leading a cow. Emil burst into a laugh before they were out of hearing.
“Those two will get on,” said Alexandra as they turned back to the house. “They are not going to take any chances. They will feel safer with those cows in their own stable. Marie, I am going to send for an old woman next. As soon as I get the girls broken in, I marry them off.”
“I’ve no patience with Signa, marrying that grumpy fellow!” Marie declared. “I wanted her to marry that nice Smirka boy who worked for us last winter. I think she liked him, too.”
“Yes, I think she did,” Alexandra assented, “but I suppose she was too much afraid of Nelse to marry any one else. Now that I think of it, most of my girls have married men they were afraid of. I believe there is a good deal of the cow in most Swedish girls. You high-strung Bohemian can’t understand us. We’re a terribly practical people, and I guess we think a cross man makes a good manager.”
Marie shrugged her shoulders and turned to pin up a lock of hair that had fallen on her neck. Somehow Alexandra had irritated her of late. Everybody irritated her. She was tired of everybody. “I’m going home alone, Emil, so you needn’t get your hat,” she said as she wound her scarf quickly about her head. “Good-night, Alexandra,” she called back in a strained voice, running down the gravel walk.
Emil followed with long strides until he overtook her. Then she began to walk slowly. It was a night of warm wind and faint starlight, and the fireflies were glimmering over the wheat.
“Marie,” said Emil after they had walked for a while, “I wonder if you know how unhappy I am?”
Marie did not answer him. Her head, in its white scarf, drooped forward a little.
Emil kicked a clod from the path and went on:—
“I wonder whether you are really shallow-hearted, like you seem? Sometimes I think one boy does just as well as another for you. It never seems to make much difference whether it is me or Raoul Marcel or Jan Smirka. Are you really like that?”
“Perhaps I am. What do you want me to do? Sit round and cry all day? When I’ve cried until I can’t cry any more, then — then I must do something else.”
“Are you sorry for me?” he persisted.
“No, I’m not. If I were big and free like you, I wouldn’t let anything make me unhappy. As old Napoleon Brunot said at the fair, I wouldn’t go lovering after no woman. I’d take the first train and go off and have all the fun there is.”
“I tried that, but it didn’t do any good. Everything reminded me. The nicer the place was, the more I wanted you.” They had come to the stile and Emil pointed to it persuasively. “Sit down a moment, I want to ask you something.” Marie sat down on the top step and Emil drew nearer. “Would you tell me something that’s none of my business if you thought it would help me out? Well, then, tell me, PLEASE tell me, why you ran away with Frank Shabata!”
Marie drew back. “Because I was in love with him,” she said firmly.
“Really?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes, indeed. Very much in love with him. I think I was the one who suggested our running away. From the first it was more my fault than his.”
Emil turned away his face.
“And now,” Marie went on, “I’ve got to remember that. Frank is just the same now as he was then, only then I would see him as I wanted him to be. I would have my own way. And now I pay for it.”
“You don’t do all the paying.”
“That’s it. When one makes a mistake, there’s no telling where it will stop. But you can go away; you can leave all this behind you.”
“Not everything. I can’t leave you behind. Will you go away with me, Marie?”
Marie started up and stepped across the stile. “Emil! How wickedly you talk! I am not that kind of a girl, and you know it. But what am I going to do if you keep tormenting me like this!” she added plaintively.
“Marie, I won’t bother you any more if you will tell me just one thing. Stop a minute and look at me. No, nobody can see us. Everybody’s asleep. That was only a firefly. Marie, STOP and tell me!”
Emil overtook her and catching her by the shoulders shook her gently, as if he were trying to awaken a sleepwalker.
Marie hid her face on his arm. “Don’t ask me anything more. I don’t know anything except how miserable I am. And I thought it would be all right when you came back. Oh, Emil,” she clutched his sleeve and began to cry, “what am I to do if you don’t go away? I can’t go, and one of us must. Can’t you see?”
Emil stood looking down at her, holding his shoulders stiff and stiffening the arm to which she clung. Her white dress looked gray in the darkness. She seemed like a troubled spirit, like some shadow out of the earth, clinging to him and entreating him to give her peace. Behind her the fireflies were weaving in and out over the wheat. He put his hand on her bent head. “On my honor, Marie, if you will say you love me, I will go away.”
She lifted her face to his. “How could I help it? Didn’t you know?”
Emil was the one who trembled, through all his frame. After he left Marie at her gate, he wandered about the fields all night, till morning put out the fireflies and the stars.
One evening, a week after Signa’s wedding, Emil was kneeling before a box in the sitting-room, packing his books. From time to time he rose and wandered about the house, picking up stray volumes and bringing them listlessly back to his box. He was packing without enthusiasm. He was not very sanguine about his future. Alexandra sat sewing by the table. She had helped him pack his trunk in the afternoon. As Emil came and went by her chair with his books, he thought to himself that it had not been so hard to leave his sister since he first went away to school. He was going directly to Omaha, to read law in the office of a Swedish lawyer until October, when he would enter the law school at Ann Arbor. They had planned that Alexandra was to come to Michigan — a long journey for her — at Christmas time, and spend several weeks with him. Nevertheless, he felt that this leave-taking would be more final than his earlier ones had been; that it meant a definite break with his old home and the beginning of something new — he did not know what. His ideas about the future would not crystallize; the more he tried to think about it, the vaguer his conception of it became. But one thing was clear, he told himself; it was high time that he made good to Alexandra, and that ought to be incentive enough to begin with.
As he went about gathering up his books he felt as if he were uprooting things. At last he threw himself down on the old slat lounge where he had slept when he was little, and lay looking up at the familiar cracks in the ceiling.
“Tired, Emil?” his sister asked.
“Lazy,” he murmured, turning on his side and looking at her. He studied Alexandra’s face for a long time in the lamplight. It had never occurred to him that his sister was a handsome woman until Marie Shabata had told him so. Indeed, he had never thought of her as being a woman at all, only a sister. As he studied her bent head, he looked up at the picture of John Bergson above the lamp. “No,” he thought to himself, “she didn’t get it there. I suppose I am more like that.”
“Alexandra,” he said suddenly, “that old walnut secretary you use for a desk was father’s, wasn’t it?”
Alexandra went on stitching. “Yes. It was one of the first things he bought for the old log house. It was a great extravagance in those days. But he wrote a great many letters back to the old country. He had many friends there, and they wrote to him up to the time he died. No one ever blamed him for grandfather’s disgrace. I can see him now, sitting there on Sundays, in his white shirt, writing pages and pages, so carefully. He wrote a fine, regular hand, almost like engraving. Yours is something like his, when you take pains.”
“Grandfather was really crooked, was he?”
“He married an unscrupulous woman, and then — then I’m afraid he was really crooked. When we first came here father used to have dreams about making a great fortune and going back to Sweden to pay back to the poor sailors the money grandfather had lost.”
Emil stirred on the lounge. “I say, that would have been worth while, wouldn’t it? Father wasn’t a bit like Lou or Oscar, was he? I can’t remember much about him before he got sick.”
“Oh, not at all!” Alexandra dropped her sewing on her knee. “He had better opportunities; not to make money, but to make something of himself. He was a quiet man, but he was very intelligent. You would have been proud of him, Emil.”
Alexandra felt that he would like to know there had been a man of his kin whom he could admire. She knew that Emil was ashamed of Lou and Oscar, because they were bigoted and self-satisfied. He never said much about them, but she could feel his disgust. His brothers had shown their disapproval of him ever since he first went away to school. The only thing that would have satisfied them would have been his failure at the University. As it was, they resented every change in his speech, in his dress, in his point of view; though the latter they had to conjecture, for Emil avoided talking to them about any but family matters. All his interests they treated as affectations.
Alexandra took up her sewing again. “I can remember father when he was quite a young man. He belonged to some kind of a musical society, a male chorus, in Stockholm. I can remember going with mother to hear them sing. There must have been a hundred of them, and they all wore long black coats and white neckties. I was used to seeing father in a blue coat, a sort of jacket, and when I recognized him on the platform, I was very proud. Do you remember that Swedish song he taught you, about the ship boy?”
“Yes. I used to sing it to the Mexicans. They like anything different.” Emil paused. “Father had a hard fight here, didn’t he?” he added thoughtfully.
“Yes, and he died in a dark time. Still, he had hope. He believed in the land.”
“And in you, I guess,” Emil said to himself. There was another period of silence; that warm, friendly silence, full of perfect understanding, in which Emil and Alexandra had spent many of their happiest half-hours.
At last Emil said abruptly, “Lou and Oscar would be better off if they were poor, wouldn’t they?”
Alexandra smiled. “Maybe. But their children wouldn’t. I have great hopes of Milly.”
Emil shivered. “I don’t know. Seems to me it gets worse as it goes on. The worst of the Swedes is that they’re never willing to find out how much they don’t know. It was like that at the University. Always so pleased with themselves! There’s no getting behind that conceited Swedish grin. The Bohemians and Germans were so different.”
“Come, Emil, don’t go back on your own people. Father wasn’t conceited, Uncle Otto wasn’t. Even Lou and Oscar weren’t when they were boys.”
Emil looked incredulous, but he did not dispute the point. He turned on his back and lay still for a long time, his hands locked under his head, looking up at the ceiling. Alexandra knew that he was thinking of many things. She felt no anxiety about Emil. She had always believed in him, as she had believed in the land. He had been more like himself since he got back from Mexico; seemed glad to be at home, and talked to her as he used to do. She had no doubt that his wandering fit was over, and that he would soon be settled in life.
“Alexandra,” said Emil suddenly, “do you remember the wild duck we saw down on the river that time?”
His sister looked up. “I often think of her. It always seems to me she’s there still, just like we saw her.”
“I know. It’s queer what things one remembers and what things one forgets.” Emil yawned and sat up. “Well, it’s time to turn in.” He rose, and going over to Alexandra stooped down and kissed her lightly on the cheek. “Good-night, sister. I think you did pretty well by us.”
Emil took up his lamp and went upstairs. Alexandra sat finishing his new nightshirt, that must go in the top tray of his trunk.
The next morning Angelique, Amedee’s wife, was in the kitchen baking pies, assisted by old Mrs. Chevalier. Between the mixing-board and the stove stood the old cradle that had been Amedee’s, and in it was his black-eyed son. As Angelique, flushed and excited, with flour on her hands, stopped to smile at the baby, Emil Bergson rode up to the kitchen door on his mare and dismounted.
“‘Medee is out in the field, Emil,” Angelique called as she ran across the kitchen to the oven. “He begins to cut his wheat today; the first wheat ready to cut anywhere about here. He bought a new header, you know, because all the wheat’s so short this year. I hope he can rent it to the neighbors, it cost so much. He and his cousins bought a steam thresher on shares. You ought to go out and see that header work. I watched it an hour this morning, busy as I am with all the men to feed. He has a lot of hands, but he’s the only one that knows how to drive the header or how to run the engine, so he has to be everywhere at once. He’s sick, too, and ought to be in his bed.”
Emil bent over Hector Baptiste, trying to make him blink his round, bead-like black eyes. “Sick? What’s the matter with your daddy, kid? Been making him walk the floor with you?”
Angelique sniffed. “Not much! We don’t have that kind of babies. It was his father that kept Baptiste awake. All night I had to be getting up and making mustard plasters to put on his stomach. He had an awful colic. He said he felt better this morning, but I don’t think he ought to be out in the field, overheating himself.”
Angelique did not speak with much anxiety, not because she was indifferent, but because she felt so secure in their good fortune. Only good things could happen to a rich, energetic, handsome young man like Amedee, with a new baby in the cradle and a new header in the field.
Emil stroked the black fuzz on Baptiste’s head. “I say, Angelique, one of ‘Medee’s grandmothers, ‘way back, must have been a squaw. This kid looks exactly like the Indian babies.”
Angelique made a face at him, but old Mrs. Chevalier had been touched on a sore point, and she let out such a stream of fiery PATOIS that Emil fled from the kitchen and mounted his mare.
Opening the pasture gate from the saddle, Emil rode across the field to the clearing where the thresher stood, driven by a stationary engine and fed from the header boxes. As Amedee was not on the engine, Emil rode on to the wheatfield, where he recognized, on the header, the slight, wiry figure of his friend, coatless, his white shirt puffed out by the wind, his straw hat stuck jauntily on the side of his head. The six big work-horses that drew, or rather pushed, the header, went abreast at a rapid walk, and as they were still green at the work they required a good deal of management on Amedee’s part; especially when they turned the corners, where they divided, three and three, and then swung round into line again with a movement that looked as complicated as a wheel of artillery. Emil felt a new thrill of admiration for his friend, and with it the old pang of envy at the way in which Amedee could do with his might what his hand found to do, and feel that, whatever it was, it was the most important thing in the world. “I’ll have to bring Alexandra up to see this thing work,” Emil thought; “it’s splendid!”
When he saw Emil, Amedee waved to him and called to one of his twenty cousins to take the reins. Stepping off the header without stopping it, he ran up to Emil who had dismounted. “Come along,” he called. “I have to go over to the engine for a minute. I gotta green man running it, and I gotta to keep an eye on him.”
Emil thought the lad was unnaturally flushed and more excited than even the cares of managing a big farm at a critical time warranted. As they passed behind a last year’s stack, Amedee clutched at his right side and sank down for a moment on the straw.
“Ouch! I got an awful pain in me, Emil. Something’s the matter with my insides, for sure.”
Emil felt his fiery cheek. “You ought to go straight to bed, ‘Medee, and telephone for the doctor; that’s what you ought to do.”
Amedee staggered up with a gesture of despair. “How can I? I got no time to be sick. Three thousand dollars’ worth of new machinery to manage, and the wheat so ripe it will begin to shatter next week. My wheat’s short, but it’s gotta grand full berries. What’s he slowing down for? We haven’t got header boxes enough to feed the thresher, I guess.”
Amedee started hot-foot across the stubble, leaning a little to the right as he ran, and waved to the engineer not to stop the engine.
Emil saw that this was no time to talk about his own affairs. He mounted his mare and rode on to Sainte–Agnes, to bid his friends there good-bye. He went first to see Raoul Marcel, and found him innocently practising the “Gloria” for the big confirmation service on Sunday while he polished the mirrors of his father’s saloon.
As Emil rode homewards at three o’clock in the afternoon, he saw Amedee staggering out of the wheatfield, supported by two of his cousins. Emil stopped and helped them put the boy to bed.
When Frank Shabata came in from work at five o’clock that evening, old Moses Marcel, Raoul’s father, telephoned him that Amedee had had a seizure in the wheatfield, and that Doctor Paradis was going to operate on him as soon as the Hanover doctor got there to help. Frank dropped a word of this at the table, bolted his supper, and rode off to Sainte–Agnes, where there would be sympathetic discussion of Amedee’s case at Marcel’s saloon.
As soon as Frank was gone, Marie telephoned Alexandra. It was a comfort to hear her friend’s voice. Yes, Alexandra knew what there was to be known about Amedee. Emil had been there when they carried him out of the field, and had stayed with him until the doctors operated for appendicitis at five o’clock. They were afraid it was too late to do much good; it should have been done three days ago. Amedee was in a very bad way. Emil had just come home, worn out and sick himself. She had given him some brandy and put him to bed.
Marie hung up the receiver. Poor Amedee’s illness had taken on a new meaning to her, now that she knew Emil had been with him. And it might so easily have been the other way — Emil who was ill and Amedee who was sad! Marie looked about the dusky sitting-room. She had seldom felt so utterly lonely. If Emil was asleep, there was not even a chance of his coming; and she could not go to Alexandra for sympathy. She meant to tell Alexandra everything, as soon as Emil went away. Then whatever was left between them would be honest.
But she could not stay in the house this evening. Where should she go? She walked slowly down through the orchard, where the evening air was heavy with the smell of wild cotton. The fresh, salty scent of the wild roses had given way before this more powerful perfume of midsummer. Wherever those ashes-of-rose balls hung on their milky stalks, the air about them was saturated with their breath. The sky was still red in the west and the evening star hung directly over the Bergsons’ wind-mill. Marie crossed the fence at the wheatfield corner, and walked slowly along the path that led to Alexandra’s. She could not help feeling hurt that Emil had not come to tell her about Amedee. It seemed to her most unnatural that he should not have come. If she were in trouble, certainly he was the one person in the world she would want to see. Perhaps he wished her to understand that for her he was as good as gone already.
Marie stole slowly, flutteringly, along the path, like a white night-moth out of the fields. The years seemed to stretch before her like the land; spring, summer, autumn, winter, spring; always the same patient fields, the patient little trees, the patient lives; always the same yearning, the same pulling at the chain — until the instinct to live had torn itself and bled and weakened for the last time, until the chain secured a dead woman, who might cautiously be released. Marie walked on, her face lifted toward the remote, inaccessible evening star.
When she reached the stile she sat down and waited. How terrible it was to love people when you could not really share their lives!
Yes, in so far as she was concerned, Emil was already gone. They couldn’t meet any more. There was nothing for them to say. They had spent the last penny of their small change; there was nothing left but gold. The day of love-tokens was past. They had now only their hearts to give each other. And Emil being gone, what was her life to be like? In some ways, it would be easier. She would not, at least, live in perpetual fear. If Emil were once away and settled at work, she would not have the feeling that she was spoiling his life. With the memory he left her, she could be as rash as she chose. Nobody could be the worse for it but herself; and that, surely, did not matter. Her own case was clear. When a girl had loved one man, and then loved another while that man was still alive, everybody knew what to think of her. What happened to her was of little consequence, so long as she did not drag other people down with her. Emil once away, she could let everything else go and live a new life of perfect love.
Marie left the stile reluctantly. She had, after all, thought he might come. And how glad she ought to be, she told herself, that he was asleep. She left the path and went across the pasture. The moon was almost full. An owl was hooting somewhere in the fields. She had scarcely thought about where she was going when the pond glittered before her, where Emil had shot the ducks. She stopped and looked at it. Yes, there would be a dirty way out of life, if one chose to take it. But she did not want to die. She wanted to live and dream — a hundred years, forever! As long as this sweetness welled up in her heart, as long as her breast could hold this treasure of pain! She felt as the pond must feel when it held the moon like that; when it encircled and swelled with that image of gold.
In the morning, when Emil came down-stairs, Alexandra met him in the sitting-room and put her hands on his shoulders. “Emil, I went to your room as soon as it was light, but you were sleeping so sound I hated to wake you. There was nothing you could do, so I let you sleep. They telephoned from Sainte–Agnes that Amedee died at three o’clock this morning.”
The Church has always held that life is for the living. On Saturday, while half the village of Sainte–Agnes was mourning for Amedee and preparing the funeral black for his burial on Monday, the other half was busy with white dresses and white veils for the great confirmation service tomorrow, when the bishop was to confirm a class of one hundred boys and girls. Father Duchesne divided his time between the living and the dead. All day Saturday the church was a scene of bustling activity, a little hushed by the thought of Amedee. The choir were busy rehearsing a mass of Rossini, which they had studied and practised for this occasion. The women were trimming the altar, the boys and girls were bringing flowers.
On Sunday morning the bishop was to drive overland to Sainte–Agnes from Hanover, and Emil Bergson had been asked to take the place of one of Amedee’s cousins in the cavalcade of forty French boys who were to ride across country to meet the bishop’s carriage. At six o’clock on Sunday morning the boys met at the church. As they stood holding their horses by the bridle, they talked in low tones of their dead comrade. They kept repeating that Amedee had always been a good boy, glancing toward the red brick church which had played so large a part in Amedee’s life, had been the scene of his most serious moments and of his happiest hours. He had played and wrestled and sung and courted under its shadow. Only three weeks ago he had proudly carried his baby there to be christened. They could not doubt that that invisible arm was still about Amedee; that through the church on earth he had passed to the church triumphant, the goal of the hopes and faith of so many hundred years.
When the word was given to mount, the young men rode at a walk out of the village; but once out among the wheatfields in the morning sun, their horses and their own youth got the better of them. A wave of zeal and fiery enthusiasm swept over them. They longed for a Jerusalem to deliver. The thud of their galloping hoofs interrupted many a country breakfast and brought many a woman and child to the door of the farmhouses as they passed. Five miles east of Sainte–Agnes they met the bishop in his open carriage, attended by two priests. Like one man the boys swung off their hats in a broad salute, and bowed their heads as the handsome old man lifted his two fingers in the episcopal blessing. The horsemen closed about the carriage like a guard, and whenever a restless horse broke from control and shot down the road ahead of the body, the bishop laughed and rubbed his plump hands together. “What fine boys!” he said to his priests. “The Church still has her cavalry.”
As the troop swept past the graveyard half a mile east of the town, — the first frame church of the parish had stood there, — old Pierre Seguin was already out with his pick and spade, digging Amedee’s grave. He knelt and uncovered as the bishop passed. The boys with one accord looked away from old Pierre to the red church on the hill, with the gold cross flaming on its steeple.
Mass was at eleven. While the church was filling, Emil Bergson waited outside, watching the wagons and buggies drive up the hill. After the bell began to ring, he saw Frank Shabata ride up on horseback and tie his horse to the hitch-bar. Marie, then, was not coming. Emil turned and went into the church. Amedee’s was the only empty pew, and he sat down in it. Some of Amedee’s cousins were there, dressed in black and weeping. When all the pews were full, the old men and boys packed the open space at the back of the church, kneeling on the floor. There was scarcely a family in town that was not represented in the confirmation class, by a cousin, at least. The new communicants, with their clear, reverent faces, were beautiful to look upon as they entered in a body and took the front benches reserved for them. Even before the Mass began, the air was charged with feeling. The choir had never sung so well and Raoul Marcel, in the “Gloria,” drew even the bishop’s eyes to the organ loft. For the offertory he sang Gounod’s “Ave Maria,” — always spoken of in Sainte–Agnes as “the Ave Maria.”
Emil began to torture himself with questions about Marie. Was she ill? Had she quarreled with her husband? Was she too unhappy to find comfort even here? Had she, perhaps, thought that he would come to her? Was she waiting for him? Overtaxed by excitement and sorrow as he was, the rapture of the service took hold upon his body and mind. As he listened to Raoul, he seemed to emerge from the conflicting emotions which had been whirling him about and sucking him under. He felt as if a clear light broke upon his mind, and with it a conviction that good was, after all, stronger than evil, and that good was possible to men. He seemed to discover that there was a kind of rapture in which he could love forever without faltering and without sin. He looked across the heads of the people at Frank Shabata with calmness. That rapture was for those who could feel it; for people who could not, it was non-existent. He coveted nothing that was Frank Shabata’s. The spirit he had met in music was his own. Frank Shabata had never found it; would never find it if he lived beside it a thousand years; would have destroyed it if he had found it, as Herod slew the innocents, as Rome slew the martyrs.
SAN— CTA MARI-I-I-A,
wailed Raoul from the organ loft;
O— RA PRO NO-O-BIS!
And it did not occur to Emil that any one had ever reasoned thus before, that music had ever before given a man this equivocal revelation.
The confirmation service followed the Mass. When it was over, the congregation thronged about the newly confirmed. The girls, and even the boys, were kissed and embraced and wept over. All the aunts and grandmothers wept with joy. The housewives had much ado to tear themselves away from the general rejoicing and hurry back to their kitchens. The country parishioners were staying in town for dinner, and nearly every house in Sainte–Agnes entertained visitors that day. Father Duchesne, the bishop, and the visiting priests dined with Fabien Sauvage, the banker. Emil and Frank Shabata were both guests of old Moise Marcel. After dinner Frank and old Moise retired to the rear room of the saloon to play California Jack and drink their cognac, and Emil went over to the banker’s with Raoul, who had been asked to sing for the bishop.
At three o’clock, Emil felt that he could stand it no longer. He slipped out under cover of “The Holy City,” followed by Malvina’s wistful eye, and went to the stable for his mare. He was at that height of excitement from which everything is foreshortened, from which life seems short and simple, death very near, and the soul seems to soar like an eagle. As he rode past the graveyard he looked at the brown hole in the earth where Amedee was to lie, and felt no horror. That, too, was beautiful, that simple doorway into forgetfulness. The heart, when it is too much alive, aches for that brown earth, and ecstasy has no fear of death. It is the old and the poor and the maimed who shrink from that brown hole; its wooers are found among the young, the passionate, the gallant-hearted. It was not until he had passed the graveyard that Emil realized where he was going. It was the hour for saying good-bye. It might be the last time that he would see her alone, and today he could leave her without rancor, without bitterness.
Everywhere the grain stood ripe and the hot afternoon was full of the smell of the ripe wheat, like the smell of bread baking in an oven. The breath of the wheat and the sweet clover passed him like pleasant things in a dream. He could feel nothing but the sense of diminishing distance. It seemed to him that his mare was flying, or running on wheels, like a railway train. The sunlight, flashing on the window-glass of the big red barns, drove him wild with joy. He was like an arrow shot from the bow. His life poured itself out along the road before him as he rode to the Shabata farm.
When Emil alighted at the Shabatas’ gate, his horse was in a lather. He tied her in the stable and hurried to the house. It was empty. She might be at Mrs. Hiller’s or with Alexandra. But anything that reminded him of her would be enough, the orchard, the mulberry tree . . . When he reached the orchard the sun was hanging low over the wheatfield. Long fingers of light reached through the apple branches as through a net; the orchard was riddled and shot with gold; light was the reality, the trees were merely interferences that reflected and refracted light. Emil went softly down between the cherry trees toward the wheatfield. When he came to the corner, he stopped short and put his hand over his mouth. Marie was lying on her side under the white mulberry tree, her face half hidden in the grass, her eyes closed, her hands lying limply where they had happened to fall. She had lived a day of her new life of perfect love, and it had left her like this. Her breast rose and fell faintly, as if she were asleep. Emil threw himself down beside her and took her in his arms. The blood came back to her cheeks, her amber eyes opened slowly, and in them Emil saw his own face and the orchard and the sun. “I was dreaming this,” she whispered, hiding her face against him, “don’t take my dream away!”
When Frank Shabata got home that night, he found Emil’s mare in his stable. Such an impertinence amazed him. Like everybody else, Frank had had an exciting day. Since noon he had been drinking too much, and he was in a bad temper. He talked bitterly to himself while he put his own horse away, and as he went up the path and saw that the house was dark he felt an added sense of injury. He approached quietly and listened on the doorstep. Hearing nothing, he opened the kitchen door and went softly from one room to another. Then he went through the house again, upstairs and down, with no better result. He sat down on the bottom step of the box stairway and tried to get his wits together. In that unnatural quiet there was no sound but his own heavy breathing. Suddenly an owl began to hoot out in the fields. Frank lifted his head. An idea flashed into his mind, and his sense of injury and outrage grew. He went into his bedroom and took his murderous 405 Winchester from the closet.
When Frank took up his gun and walked out of the house, he had not the faintest purpose of doing anything with it. He did not believe that he had any real grievance. But it gratified him to feel like a desperate man. He had got into the habit of seeing himself always in desperate straits. His unhappy temperament was like a cage; he could never get out of it; and he felt that other people, his wife in particular, must have put him there. It had never more than dimly occurred to Frank that he made his own unhappiness. Though he took up his gun with dark projects in his mind, he would have been paralyzed with fright had he known that there was the slightest probability of his ever carrying any of them out.
Frank went slowly down to the orchard gate, stopped and stood for a moment lost in thought. He retraced his steps and looked through the barn and the hayloft. Then he went out to the road, where he took the foot-path along the outside of the orchard hedge. The hedge was twice as tall as Frank himself, and so dense that one could see through it only by peering closely between the leaves. He could see the empty path a long way in the moonlight. His mind traveled ahead to the stile, which he always thought of as haunted by Emil Bergson. But why had he left his horse?
At the wheatfield corner, where the orchard hedge ended and the path led across the pasture to the Bergsons’, Frank stopped. In the warm, breathless night air he heard a murmuring sound, perfectly inarticulate, as low as the sound of water coming from a spring, where there is no fall, and where there are no stones to fret it. Frank strained his ears. It ceased. He held his breath and began to tremble. Resting the butt of his gun on the ground, he parted the mulberry leaves softly with his fingers and peered through the hedge at the dark figures on the grass, in the shadow of the mulberry tree. It seemed to him that they must feel his eyes, that they must hear him breathing. But they did not. Frank, who had always wanted to see things blacker than they were, for once wanted to believe less than he saw. The woman lying in the shadow might so easily be one of the Bergsons’ farm-girls. . . . Again the murmur, like water welling out of the ground. This time he heard it more distinctly, and his blood was quicker than his brain. He began to act, just as a man who falls into the fire begins to act. The gun sprang to his shoulder, he sighted mechanically and fired three times without stopping, stopped without knowing why. Either he shut his eyes or he had vertigo. He did not see anything while he was firing. He thought he heard a cry simultaneous with the second report, but he was not sure. He peered again through the hedge, at the two dark figures under the tree. They had fallen a little apart from each other, and were perfectly still — No, not quite; in a white patch of light, where the moon shone through the branches, a man’s hand was plucking spasmodically at the grass.
Suddenly the woman stirred and uttered a cry, then another, and another. She was living! She was dragging herself toward the hedge! Frank dropped his gun and ran back along the path, shaking, stumbling, gasping. He had never imagined such horror. The cries followed him. They grew fainter and thicker, as if she were choking. He dropped on his knees beside the hedge and crouched like a rabbit, listening; fainter, fainter; a sound like a whine; again — a moan — another — silence. Frank scrambled to his feet and ran on, groaning and praying. From habit he went toward the house, where he was used to being soothed when he had worked himself into a frenzy, but at the sight of the black, open door, he started back. He knew that he had murdered somebody, that a woman was bleeding and moaning in the orchard, but he had not realized before that it was his wife. The gate stared him in the face. He threw his hands over his head. Which way to turn? He lifted his tormented face and looked at the sky. “Holy Mother of God, not to suffer! She was a good girl — not to suffer!”
Frank had been wont to see himself in dramatic situations; but now, when he stood by the windmill, in the bright space between the barn and the house, facing his own black doorway, he did not see himself at all. He stood like the hare when the dogs are approaching from all sides. And he ran like a hare, back and forth about that moonlit space, before he could make up his mind to go into the dark stable for a horse. The thought of going into a doorway was terrible to him. He caught Emil’s horse by the bit and led it out. He could not have buckled a bridle on his own. After two or three attempts, he lifted himself into the saddle and started for Hanover. If he could catch the one o’clock train, he had money enough to get as far as Omaha.
While he was thinking dully of this in some less sensitized part of his brain, his acuter faculties were going over and over the cries he had heard in the orchard. Terror was the only thing that kept him from going back to her, terror that she might still be she, that she might still be suffering. A woman, mutilated and bleeding in his orchard — it was because it was a woman that he was so afraid. It was inconceivable that he should have hurt a woman. He would rather be eaten by wild beasts than see her move on the ground as she had moved in the orchard. Why had she been so careless? She knew he was like a crazy man when he was angry. She had more than once taken that gun away from him and held it, when he was angry with other people. Once it had gone off while they were struggling over it. She was never afraid. But, when she knew him, why hadn’t she been more careful? Didn’t she have all summer before her to love Emil Bergson in, without taking such chances? Probably she had met the Smirka boy, too, down there in the orchard. He didn’t care. She could have met all the men on the Divide there, and welcome, if only she hadn’t brought this horror on him.
There was a wrench in Frank’s mind. He did not honestly believe that of her. He knew that he was doing her wrong. He stopped his horse to admit this to himself the more directly, to think it out the more clearly. He knew that he was to blame. For three years he had been trying to break her spirit. She had a way of making the best of things that seemed to him a sentimental affectation. He wanted his wife to resent that he was wasting his best years among these stupid and unappreciative people; but she had seemed to find the people quite good enough. If he ever got rich he meant to buy her pretty clothes and take her to California in a Pullman car, and treat her like a lady; but in the mean time he wanted her to feel that life was as ugly and as unjust as he felt it. He had tried to make her life ugly. He had refused to share any of the little pleasures she was so plucky about making for herself. She could be gay about the least thing in the world; but she must be gay! When she first came to him, her faith in him, her adoration — Frank struck the mare with his fist. Why had Marie made him do this thing; why had she brought this upon him? He was overwhelmed by sickening misfortune. All at once he heard her cries again — he had forgotten for a moment. “Maria,” he sobbed aloud, “Maria!”
When Frank was halfway to Hanover, the motion of his horse brought on a violent attack of nausea. After it had passed, he rode on again, but he could think of nothing except his physical weakness and his desire to be comforted by his wife. He wanted to get into his own bed. Had his wife been at home, he would have turned and gone back to her meekly enough.
When old Ivar climbed down from his loft at four o’clock the next morning, he came upon Emil’s mare, jaded and lather-stained, her bridle broken, chewing the scattered tufts of hay outside the stable door. The old man was thrown into a fright at once. He put the mare in her stall, threw her a measure of oats, and then set out as fast as his bow-legs could carry him on the path to the nearest neighbor.
“Something is wrong with that boy. Some misfortune has come upon us. He would never have used her so, in his right senses. It is not his way to abuse his mare,” the old man kept muttering, as he scuttled through the short, wet pasture grass on his bare feet.
While Ivar was hurrying across the fields, the first long rays of the sun were reaching down between the orchard boughs to those two dew-drenched figures. The story of what had happened was written plainly on the orchard grass, and on the white mulberries that had fallen in the night and were covered with dark stain. For Emil the chapter had been short. He was shot in the heart, and had rolled over on his back and died. His face was turned up to the sky and his brows were drawn in a frown, as if he had realized that something had befallen him. But for Marie Shabata it had not been so easy. One ball had torn through her right lung, another had shattered the carotid artery. She must have started up and gone toward the hedge, leaving a trail of blood. There she had fallen and bled. From that spot there was another trail, heavier than the first, where she must have dragged herself back to Emil’s body. Once there, she seemed not to have struggled any more. She had lifted her head to her lover’s breast, taken his hand in both her own, and bled quietly to death. She was lying on her right side in an easy and natural position, her cheek on Emil’s shoulder. On her face there was a look of ineffable content. Her lips were parted a little; her eyes were lightly closed, as if in a day-dream or a light slumber. After she lay down there, she seemed not to have moved an eyelash. The hand she held was covered with dark stains, where she had kissed it.
But the stained, slippery grass, the darkened mulberries, told only half the story. Above Marie and Emil, two white butterflies from Frank’s alfalfa-field were fluttering in and out among the interlacing shadows; diving and soaring, now close together, now far apart; and in the long grass by the fence the last wild roses of the year opened their pink hearts to die.
When Ivar reached the path by the hedge, he saw Shabata’s rifle lying in the way. He turned and peered through the branches, falling upon his knees as if his legs had been mowed from under him. “Merciful God!” he groaned.
Alexandra, too, had risen early that morning, because of her anxiety about Emil. She was in Emil’s room upstairs when, from the window, she saw Ivar coming along the path that led from the Shabatas’. He was running like a spent man, tottering and lurching from side to side. Ivar never drank, and Alexandra thought at once that one of his spells had come upon him, and that he must be in a very bad way indeed. She ran downstairs and hurried out to meet him, to hide his infirmity from the eyes of her household. The old man fell in the road at her feet and caught her hand, over which he bowed his shaggy head. “Mistress, mistress,” he sobbed, “it has fallen! Sin and death for the young ones! God have mercy upon us!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52