The Dream (Le Rêve), by Émile Zola

Chapter 10

After the civilians, the clergy began to leave the church, the lower orders coming first. All, in surplices, covered their heads with their caps, under the porch; and each one held a large, lighted wax taper; those at the right in their right hand, and those at the left in their left hand, outside the rank, so there was a double row of flame, almost deadened by the brightness of the day. First were representatives from the great seminaries, the parishes, and then collegiate churches; then came the beneficed clergymen and clerks of the Cathedral, followed by the canons in white pluvials. In their midst were the choristers, in capes of red silk, who chanted the anthem in full voice, and to whom all the clergy replied in lower notes. The hymn, “Pange Lingua,” was grandly given. The street was now filled with a rustling of muslin from the flying winged sleeves of the surplices, which seemed pierced all over with tiny stars of pale gold from the flames of the candles.

“Oh!” at last Angelique half sighed, “there is Saint Agnes!”

She smiled at the saint, borne by four clerks in white surplices, on a platform of white velvet heavily ornamented with lace. Each year it was like a new surprise to her, as she saw her guardian angel thus brought out from the shadows where she had been growing old for centuries, quite like another person under the brilliant sunshine, as if she were timid and blushing in her robe of long, golden hair. She was really so old, yet still very young, with her small hands, her little slender feet, her delicate, girlish face, blackened by time.

But Monseigneur was to follow her. Already the swinging of the censers could be heard coming from the depths of the church.

There was a slight murmuring of voices as Angelique repeated:

“Monseigneur, Monseigneur,” and with her eyes still upon the saint who was going by, she recalled to mind at this moment the old histories. The noble Marquesses d’Hautecoeur delivering Beaumont from the plague, thanks to the intervention of Agnes, then Jean V and all those of his race coming to kneel before her image, to pay their devotions to the saint, and she seemed to see them all, the lords of the miracle, coming one by one like a line of princes.

A large space had been left empty. Then the chaplain charged with the care of the crozier advanced, holding it erect, the curved part being towards him. Afterward came two censer-bearers, who walked backwards and swung the censers gently from side to side, each one having near him an acolyte charged with the incense-box. There was a little difficulty before they succeeded in passing by one of the divisions of the door the great canopy of royal scarlet velvet, decorated with a heavy fringe of gold. But the delay was short, order was quickly re-established, and the designated officials took the supports in hand. Underneath, between his deacons of honour, Monseigneur walked, bareheaded, his shoulders covered with a white scarf, the two ends of which enveloped his hands, which bore the Holy Sacrament as high as possible, and without touching it.

Immediately the incense-bearers resumed their places, and the censers sent out in haste, fell back again in unison with the little silvery sound of their chains.

But Angelique started as she thought, where had she ever seen anyone who looked like Monseigneur? She certainly knew his face before, but had never been struck by it as to-day! All heads were bowed in solemn devotion. But she was so uneasy, she simply bent down and looked at him. He was tall, slight, and noble-looking; superb in his physical strength, notwithstanding his sixty years. His eyes were piercing as those of an eagle; his nose, a little prominent, only seemed to increase the sovereign authority of his face, which was somewhat softened by his white hair, that was thick and curly. She noticed the pallor of his complexion, and it seemed to her as if he suddenly flushed from some unknown reason. Perhaps, however, it was simply a reflection from the great golden-rayed sun which he carried in his covered hands, and which placed him in a radiance of mystic light.

Certainly, he to-day made her think of someone, but of whom? As soon as he left the church, Monseigneur had commenced a psalm, which he recited in a low voice, alternating the verses thereof with his deacons. And Angelique trembled when she saw him turn his eyes towards their window, for he seemed to her so severe, so haughty, and so cold, as if he were condemning the vanity of all earthly affection. He turned his face towards the three bands of ancient embroidery — Mary and the Angel, Mary at the foot of the Cross, Mary being borne to Heaven — and his face brightened. Then he lowered his eyes and fixed them upon her, but she was so disturbed she could not tell whether his glance was harsh or gentle; at all events it was only for a moment, for quickly regarding the Holy Sacrament, his expression was lost in the light which came from the great golden vessel. The censers still swung back and forth with a measured rhythm, while a little blue cloud mounted in the air.

But Angelique’s heart now beat so rapidly she could scarcely keep still. Behind the canopy she had just seen a chaplain, his fingers covered with a scarf, who was carrying the mitre as devoutly as if it were a sacred object, Saint Agnes flying heavenward with the two angels, the work of her hands, and into each stitch of which she had put such deep love. Then, among the laymen who followed, in the midst of functionaries, of officers, of magistrates, she recognised Felicien in the front rank, slight and graceful, with his curly hair, his rather large but straight nose, and his black eyes, the expression of which was at the same time proud and gentle. She expected him; she was not at all surprised to find him transformed into a prince; her heart simply was overflowing with joy. To the anxious look which he gave her, as of imploring forgiveness for his falsehood, she replied by a lovely smile.

“But look!” exclaimed Hubertine, astonished at what she saw, “is not that the young man who came to our house about the mitre?”

She had also recognised him, and was much disturbed when, turning towards the young girl, she saw the latter transfigured, in ecstacy, avoiding a reply.

“Then he did not tell us the truth about himself? But why? Do you know the reason? Tell me, my dear, do you know who this young man is?”

Yes, perhaps in reality she did know. An inner voice answered all these questions. But she dared not speak; she was unwilling to ask herself anything. At the right time and at the proper place the truth would be made clear. She thought it was approaching, and felt an increase of pride of spirit, and of great love.

“But what is it? What has happened?” asked Hubert, as he bent forward and touched the shoulder of his wife.

He was never present at the moment of an occurrence, but always appeared to come from a reverie to the realisation of what passed about him. When the young man was pointed out to him, he did not recognise him at all.

“Is it he? I think not. No, you must be mistaken; it is not he.”

Then Hubertine acknowledged that she was not quite sure. At all events, it was as well to talk no more about it, but she would inform herself later on. But the procession, which had stopped again in order that Monseigneur might incense the Holy Sacrament, which was placed among the verdure of a temporary altar at the corner of the street, was now about to move on again; and Angelique, whose hands seemed lost in the basket on her lap, suddenly, in her delight and confusion, made a quick movement, and carelessly threw out a great quantity of the perfumed petals. At that instant Felicien approached. The leaves fell like a little shower, and at last two of them fluttered, balanced themselves, then quietly settled down on his hair.

It was over. The canopy had disappeared round the corner of the Grand Rue, the end of the cortege went by, leaving the pavements deserted, hushed as if quieted by a dreamy faith, in the rather strong exhalation of crushed roses. Yet one could still hear in the distance, growing weaker and weaker by degrees, the silvery sound of the little chains of the swinging censers.

“Oh mother!” said Angelique, pleadingly, “do let us go into the church, so as to see them all as they come back.”

Hubertine’s first impulse was to refuse. But she, for her own part, was very anxious to ascertain what she could about Felicien, so she replied:

“Yes, after a while, if you really wish to do so.”

But they must, of course, wait a little. Angelique, after going to her room for her hat, could not keep still. She returned every minute to the great window, which was still wide open. She looked to the end of the street inquiringly, then she lifted her eyes as if seeking something in space itself; and so nervous was she that she spoke aloud, as she mentally followed the procession step by step.

“Now they are going down the Rue Basse. Ah! see, they must be turning on the square before the Sous Prefecture. There is no end to all the long streets in Beaumont-la-Ville. What pleasure can they take in seeing Saint Agnes, I would like to know. All these petty tradesmen!”

Above them, in the heavens, was a delicately rose-tinted cloud, with a band of white and gold around it, and it seemed as if from it there came a devotional peace and a hush of religious expectation. In the immobility of the air one realised that all civil life was suspended, as if God had left His house, and everyone was awaiting His return before resuming their daily occupations. Opposite them the blue draperies of the silversmith, and the red curtains of the wax-chandler, still barred the interior of their shops and hid the contents from view. The streets seemed empty; there was no reverberation from one to the other, except that of the slow march of the clergy, whose progress could easily be realised from every corner of the town.

“Mother! mother! I assure you that now they are at the corner of the Rue Magloire. They will soon come up the hill.”

She was mistaken, for it was only half-past six, and the procession never came back before a quarter-past seven. She should have known well, had she not been over-impatient, that the canopy must be only at the lower wharf of the Ligneul. But she was too excited to think.

“Oh! mother dear! do hurry, or we may not find any places.”

“Come, make haste then, little one,” at last Hubertine said, smiling in spite of herself. “We shall certainly be obliged to wait a great while, but never mind.”

“As for me, I will remain at home,” said Hubert. “I can take down and put away the embroidered panels, and then I will set the table for dinner.”

The church seemed empty to them, as the Blessed Sacrament was no longer there. All the doors were wide open, like those of a house in complete disorder, where one is awaiting the return of the master. Very few persons came in; the great altar alone, a sarcophagus of severe Romanesque style, glittered as if burning at the end of the nave, covered as it was with stars from the flame of many candles; all the rest of the enormous building — the aisles, the chapels, and the arches — seemed filled with shadow under the coming-on of the evening darkness.

Slowly, in order to gain a little patience, Angelique and Hubertine walked round the edifice. Low down, it seemed as if crushed, thickset columns supported the semicircular arches of the side-aisles. They walked the whole length of the dark chapels, which were buried almost as if they were crypts. Then, when they crossed over, before the great entrance portal, under the triforium of the organ, they had a feeling of deliverance as they raised their eyes towards the high, Gothic windows of the nave, which shot up so gracefully above the heavy Romanesque coursed work. But they continued by the southern side-aisle, and the feeling of suffocation returned again. At the cross of the transept four enormous pillars made the four corners, and rose to a great height, then struck off to support the roof. There was still to be found a delicate purple-tinted light, the farewell of the day, through the rose windows of the side fronts. They had crossed the three steps which led to the choir, then they turned by the circumference of the apse, which was the very oldest part of the building, and seemed most sepulchral. They stopped one moment and leaned against the ancient grating, which entirely surrounded the choir, and which was most elaborately wrought, that they might look at the flaming altar, where each separate light was reflected in the old polished oak of the stalls, most marvellous stalls, covered with rare sculptures. So at last they came back to the point from which they started, lifting up their heads as if they breathed more freely from the heights of the nave, which the growing shades at night drove farther away, and enlarged the old walls, on which were faint remains of paintings and of gold.

“I know perfectly well that we are altogether too early,” said Hubertine.

Angelique, without replying, said, as if to herself:

“How grand it is!”

It really seemed to her as if she had never known the church before, but that she had just seen it for the first time. Her eyes wandered over the motionless sea of chairs, then went to the depth of the chapels, where she could only imagine were tombs and old funereal stones, on account of the increased darkness therein. But she saw at last the Chapel Hautecoeur, where she recognised the window that had been repaired, with its Saint George, that now looked vague as a dream, in the dusk. She was unusually happy.

At last there was a gentle shaking through the whole building, and the great clock struck. Then the bell began to ring.

“Ah! now,” she said, “look, for they are really coming up the Rue Magloire.”

This time it was indeed so. A crowd invaded the church, the aisles were soon filled, and one realised that each minute the procession approached nearer and nearer. The noise increased with the pealing of the bells, with a certain rushing movement of air by the great entrance, the portal of which was wide open.

Angelique, leaning on Hubertine’s shoulder, made herself as tall as possible by standing upon the points of her feet, as she looked towards this arched open space, the roundness of whose top was perfectly defined in the pale twilight of the Place du Cloitre. The first to appear was, of course, the bearer of the Cross, accompanied by his two acolytes with their candelabra; and behind them the Master of the Ceremonies hurried along — the good Abbe Cornille, who now seemed quite out of breath and overcome by fatigue. At the threshold of the door, the silhouette of each new arrival was thrown out for a second, clear and strong, then passed quickly away in the darkness of the interior. There were the laymen, the schools, the associations, the fraternities, whose banners, like sails, wavered for an instant, then suddenly vanished in the shade. One saw again the pale “daughters of Mary,” who, as they entered, still sang with their voices like those of seraphim.

The Cathedral had room for all. The nave was slowly filled, the men being at the right and the women at the left. But night had come. The whole place outside was dotted with bright points, hundreds of moving lights, and soon it was the turn for the clergy, the tapers that were held outside the ranks making a double yellow cord as they passed through the door. The tapers seemed endless as they succeeded each other and multiplied themselves; the great seminary, the parishes, and the Cathedral; the choristers still singing the anthem, and the canons in their white pluvials. Then little by little the church became lighted up, seemed inhabited, illuminated, overpowered by hundreds of stars, like a summer sky.

Two chairs being unoccupied, Angelique stood upon one of them.

“Get down, my dear,” whispered Hubertine, “for that is forbidden.”

But she tranquilly remained there, and did not move.

“Why is it forbidden? I must see, at all events. Oh! how exquisite all this is!”

At last she prevailed upon her mother to get upon the other chair.

Now the whole Cathedral was glowing with a reddish yellow light. This billow of candles which crossed it illuminated the lower arches of the side-aisles, the depth of the chapels, and glittered upon the glass of some shrine or upon the gold of some tabernacle. The rays even penetrated into the apse, and the sepulchral crypts were brightened up by them. The choir was a mass of flame, with its altar on fire, its glistening stalls, and its old railing, whose ornamentation stood out boldly. And the flight of the nave was stronger marked than ever, with the heavy curved pillars below, supporting the round arches, while above, the numbers of little columns grew smaller and smaller as they burst forth among the broken arches of the ogives, like an inexpressible declaration of faith and love which seemed to come from the lights. In the centre, under the roof, along the ribs of the nave, there was a yellow cloud, a thick colour of wax, from the multitude of little tapers.

But now, above the sound of feet and the moving of chairs, one heard again the falling of the chains of the censers. Then the organ pealed forth majestically, a glorious burst of music that filled to overflowing the highest arches as if with the rumbling of thunder. It was at this instant that Monseigneur arrived on the Place du Cloitre. The statue of Saint Agnes had reached the apse, still borne by the surpliced clerks, and her face looked very calm under the light, as if she were more than happy to return to her dreams of four centuries. At last, preceded by the crosier, and followed by the mitre, Monseigneur entered with his deacons under the canopy, still having his two hands covered with a white scarf, and holding the Blessed Sacrament in the same position as at first. The canopy, which was borne down the central aisle, was stopped at the railing of the choir, and there, on account of a certain unavoidable confusion, the Bishop was for a moment made to approach the persons who formed his suite. Since Felicien had reappeared, Angelique had looked at him constantly. It so happened that on account of the pressure he was placed a little at the right of the canopy, and at that moment she saw very near together the white head of Monseigneur and the blonde head of the young man. That glance was a revelation; a sudden light came to her eyes; she joined her hands together as she said aloud:

“Oh! Monseigneur, the son of Monseigneur!”

Her secret escaped her. It was an involuntary cry, the certainty which revealed itself in this sudden fact of their resemblance. Perhaps, in the depths of her mind, she already knew it, but she would never have dared to have said so; whilst now it was self-evident, a fact of which there could be no denial. From everything around her, from her own soul, from inanimate objects, from past recollections, her cry seemed repeated.

Hubertine, quite overcome, said in a whisper, “This young man is the son of Monseigneur?”

Around these two the crowd had gradually accumulated. They were well known and were greatly admired; the mother still adorable in her simple toilette of linen, the daughter with the angelic grace of a cherubim, in her gown of white foulard, as light as a feather. They were so handsome and in such full view, as they stood upon their chairs, that from every direction eyes were turned towards them, and admiring glances given them.

“But yes, indeed, my good lady,” said the mere Lemballeuse, who chanced to be in the group; “but yes, he is the son of Monseigneur. But how does it happen that you have not already heard of it? And not only that, but he is a wonderfully handsome young man, and so rich! Rich! Yes indeed, he could buy the whole town if he wished to do so. He has millions and millions!”

Hubertine turned very pale as she listened.

“You must have heard his history spoken of?” continued the beggar-woman. “His mother died soon after his birth, and it was on that account that Monseigneur concluded to become a clergyman. Now, however, after all these years, he sent for his son to join him. He is, in fact, Felicien VII d’Hautecoeur, with a title as if he were a real prince.”

Then Hubertine was intensely grieved. But Angelique beamed with joy before the commencement of the realisation of her dream. She was not in the slightest degree astonished, for she had always known that he would be the richest, the noblest, and the handsomest of men. So her joy was intense and perfect, without the slightest anxiety for the future, or suspicion of any obstacle that could possibly come between them. In short, he would in his turn now make himself known, and would tell everything. As she had fancied, gold would stream down with the little flickering flames of the candles. The organs would send forth their most glorious music on the occasion of their betrothal. The line of the Hautecoeurs would continue royally from the beginning of the legend — Norbert I, Jean V, Felicien III, Jean XII, then the last, Felicien VII, who just turned towards her his noble face. He was the descendant of the cousins of the Virgin, the master, the superb son, showing himself in all his beauty at the side of his father.

Just then Felicien smiled sweetly at her, and she did not see the angry look of Monseigneur, who had remarked her standing on the chair, above the crowd, blushing in her pride and love.

“Oh, my poor dear child!” sighed Hubertine.

But the chaplain and the acolytes were ranged on the right and the left, and the first deacon having taken the Holy Sacrament from the hands of Monseigneur, he placed it on the altar. It was the final Benediction — the Tantum ergo sung loudly by the choristers, the incenses of the boxes burning in the censers, the strange, brusque silence during the prayer — and in the midst of the lighted church, overflowing with clergy and with people, under the high, springing arches, Monseigneur remounted to the altar, took again in his two hands the great golden sun, which he waved back and forth in the air three times, with a slow sign of the Cross.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02