Notwithstanding her thoroughly cheerful nature, Angelique liked solitude; and it was to her the greatest of recreations to be alone in her room, morning and evening. There she gave herself up to her thoughts; there she indulged to the full scope in her most joyous fancies. Sometimes even during the day, when she could go there for a moment, she was as happy as if, in full freedom, she had committed some childish prank.
The chamber was very large, taking in at least half of the upper story, the other half being the garret. It was whitewashed everywhere; not only the walls and the beams, but the joists, even to the visible copings of the mansard part of the roof; and in this bare whiteness, the old oaken furniture seemed almost as black as ebony. At the time of the decoration of the sleeping-room below, and the improvements made in the parlour, the ancient furniture, which had been bought at various epochs, had been carried upstairs. There was a great carved chest of the Renaissance period, a table and chairs which dated from the reign of Louis XIII, an enormous bedstead, style Louis XIV, and a very handsome wardrobe, Louis XV. In the middle of these venerable old things a white porcelain stove, and the little toilet-table, covered with a pretty oilcloth, seemed out of place and to mar the dull harmony. Curtained with an old-fashioned rose-coloured chintz, on which were bouquets of heather, so faded that the colour had become a scarcely perceptible pink, the enormous bedstead preserved above all the majesty of its great age.
But what pleased Angelique more than anything else was the little balcony on which the window opened. Of the two original windows, one of them, that at the left, had been closed by simply fastening it with nails, and the balcony, which formerly extended across the front of the building, was now only before the window at the right. As the lower beams were still strong, a new floor had been made, and above it an iron railing was firmly attached in place of the old worm-eaten wooden balustrade. This made a charming little corner, a quiet nook under the gable point, the leaden laths of which had been renewed at the beginning of the century. By bending over a little, the whole garden-front of the house could be seen in a very dilapidated state, with its sub-basement of little cut stones, its panels ornamented with imitation bricks, and its large bay window, which to-day had been made somewhat smaller. The roof of the great porch of the kitchen-door was covered with zinc. And above, the interduces of the top, which projected three feet or more, were strengthened by large, upright pieces of wood, the ends of which rested on the string-course of the first floor. All this gave to the balcony an appearance of being in a perfect vegetation of timber, as if in the midst of a forest of old wood, which was green with wallflowers and moss.
Since she occupied the chamber, Angelique had spent many hours there, leaning over the balustrade and simply looking. At first, directly under her was the garden, darkened by the eternal shade of the evergreen box-trees; in the corner nearest the church, a cluster of small lilac-bushes surrounded an old granite bench; while in the opposite corner, half hidden by a beautiful ivy which covered the whole wall at the end as if with a mantle, was a little door opening upon the Clos-Marie, a vast, uncultivated field. This Clos-Marie was the old orchard of the monks. A rivulet of purest spring-water crossed it, the Chevrotte, where the women who occupied the houses in the neighbourhood had the privilege of washing their linen; certain poor people sheltered themselves in the ruins of an old tumble-down mill; and no other persons inhabited this field, which was connected with the Rue Magloire simply by the narrow lane of the Guerdaches, which passed between the high walls of the Bishop’s Palace and those of the Hotel Voincourt. In summer, the centenarian elms of the two parks barred with their green-leaved tops the straight, limited horizon which in the centre was cut off by the gigantic brow of the Cathedral. Thus shut in on all sides, the Clos-Marie slept in the quiet peace of its abandonment, overrun with weeds and wild grass, planted with poplars and willows sown by the wind. Among the great pebbles the Chevrotte leaped, singing as it went, and making a continuous music as if of crystal.
Angelique was never weary of this out-of-the-way nook. Yet for seven years she had seen there each morning only what she had looked at on the previous evening. The trees in the little park of the Hotel Voincourt, whose front was on the Grand Rue, were so tufted and bushy that it was only in the winter she could occasionally catch a glimpse of the daughter of the Countess, Mademoiselle Claire, a young girl of her own age.
In the garden of the Bishop was a still more dense thickness of branches, and she had often tried in vain to distinguish there the violet-coloured cassock of Monseigneur; and the old gate, with its Venetian slats above and at the sides, must have been fastened up for a very long time, for she never remembered to have seen it opened, not even for a gardener to pass through. Besides the washerwomen in the Clos, she always saw the same poor, ragged little children playing or sleeping in the grass.
The spring this year was unusually mild. She was just sixteen years of age, and until now she had been glad to welcome with her eyes alone the growing green again of the Clos-Marie under the April sunshine. The shooting out of the tender leaves, the transparency of the warm evenings, and all the reviving odours of the earth had simply amused her heretofore. But this year, at the first bud, her heart seemed to beat more quickly. As the grass grew higher and the wind brought to her all the strong perfumes of the fresh verdure, there was in her whole being an increasing agitation. Sudden inexplicable pain would at times seize her throat and almost choke her. One evening she threw herself, weeping, into Hubertine’s arms, having no cause whatever for grief, but, on the contrary, overwhelmed with so great, unknown a happiness, that her heart was too full for restraint. In the night her dreams were delightful. Shadows seemed to pass before her, and she fell into such an ecstatic state that on awakening she did not dare to recall them, so confused was she by the angelic visions of bliss. Sometimes, in the middle of her great bed, she would rouse herself suddenly, her two hands joined and pressed against her breast as if a heavy burden were weighing her down and almost suffocating her. She would then jump up, rush across the room in her bare feet, and, opening the window wide, would stand there, trembling slightly, until at last the pure fresh air calmed her. She was continually surprised at this great change in herself, as if the knowledge of joys and griefs hitherto unknown had been revealed to her in the enchantment of dreams, and that her eyes had been opened to natural beauties which surrounded her.
What — was it really true that the unseen lilacs and laburnums of the Bishop’s garden had so sweet an odour that she could no longer breathe it without a flush of colour mounting to her cheeks? Never before had she perceived this warmth of perfume which now touched her as if with a living breath.
And again, why had she never remarked in preceding years a great Japanese Paulownia in blossom, which looked like an immense violet bouquet as it appeared between two elm-trees in the garden of the Voincourts? This year, as soon as she looked at it, her eyes grew moist, so much was she affected by the delicate tints of the pale purple flowers. She also fancied that the Chevrotte had never chattered so gaily over the pebbles among the willows on its banks. The river certainly talked; she listened to its vague words, constantly repeated, which filled her heart with trouble. Was it, then, no longer the field of other days, that everything in it so astonished her and affected her senses in so unusual a way? Or, rather, was not she herself so changed that, for the first time, she appreciated the beauty of the coming into life of trees and plants?
But the Cathedral at her right, the enormous mass which obstructed the sky, surprised her yet more. Each morning she seemed to see it for the first time; she made constant discoveries in it, and was delighted to think that these old stones lived and had lived like herself. She did not reason at all on the subject, she had very little knowledge, but she gave herself up to the mystic flight of the giant, whose coming into existence had demanded three centuries of time, and where were placed one above the other the faith and the belief of generations. At the foundation, it was kneeling as if crushed by prayer, with the Romanesque chapels of the nave, and with the round arched windows, plain, unornamented, except by slender columns under the archivolts. Then it seemed to rise, lifting its face and hands towards heaven, with the pointed windows of its nave, built eighty years later; high, delicate windows, divided by mullions on which were broken bows and roses. Then again it sprung from the earth as if in ecstasy, erect, with the piers and flying buttresses of the choir finished and ornamented two centuries after in the fullest flamboyant Gothic, charged with its bell-turrets, spires, and pinnacles. A balustrade had been added, ornamented with trefoils, bordering the terrace on the chapels of the apse. Gargoyles at the foot of the flying buttresses carried off the water from the roofs. The top was also decorated with flowery emblems. The whole edifice seemed to burst into blossom in proportion as it approached the sky in a continual upward flight, as if, relieved at being delivered from the ancient sacerdotal terror, it was about to lose itself in the bosom of a God of pardon and of love. It seemed to have a physical sensation which permeated it, made it light and happy, like a sacred hymn it had just heard sung, very pure and holy, as it passed into the upper air.
Moreover, the Cathedral was alive. Hundreds of swallows had constructed their nests under the borders of trefoil, and even in the hollows of the bell-turrets and the pinnacles, and they were continually brushing their wings against the flying buttresses and the piers which they inhabited. There were also the wood-pigeons of the elms in the Bishop’s garden, who held themselves up proudly on the borders of the terraces, going slowly, as if walking merely to show themselves off. Sometimes, half lost in the blue sky, looking scarcely larger than a fly, a crow alighted on the point of a spire to smooth its wings. The old stones themselves were animated by the quiet working of the roots of a whole flora of plants, the lichens and the grasses, which pushed themselves through the openings in the walls. On very stormy days the entire apse seemed to awake and to grumble under the noise of the rain as it beat against the leaden tiles of the roof, running off by the gutters of the cornices and rolling from story to story with the clamour of an overflowing torrent. Even the terrible winds of October and of March gave to it a soul, a double voice of anger and of supplication, as they whistled through its forests of gables and arcades of roseate ornaments and of little columns. The sun also filled it with life from the changing play of its rays; from the early morning, which rejuvenated it with a delicate gaiety, even to the evening, when, under the slightly lengthened-out shadows, it basked in the unknown.
And it had its interior existence. The ceremonies with which it was ever vibrating, the constant swinging of its bells, the music of the organ, and the chanting of the priests, all these were like the pulsation of its veins. There was always a living murmur in it: half-lost sounds, like the faint echo of a Low Mass; the rustling of the kneeling penitents, a slight, scarcely perceptible shivering, nothing but the devout ardour of a prayer said without words and with closed lips.
Now, as the days grew longer, Angelique passed more and more time in the morning and evening with her elbows on the balustrade of the balcony, side by side with her great friend, the Cathedral. She loved it the best at night, when she saw the enormous mass detach itself like a huge block on the starry skies. The form of the building was lost. It was with difficulty that she could even distinguish the flying buttresses, which were thrown like bridges into the empty space. It was, nevertheless, awake in the darkness, filled with a dream of seven centuries, made grand by the multitudes who had hoped or despaired before its altars. It was a continual watch, coming from the infinite of the past, going to the eternity of the future; the mysterious and terrifying wakefulness of a house where God Himself never sleeps. And in the dark, motionless, living mass, her looks were sure to seek the window of a chapel of the choir, on the level of the bushes of the Clos-Marie, the only one which was lighted up, and which seemed like an eye which was kept open all the night. Behind it, at the corner of a pillar, was an ever-burning altar-lamp. In fact, it was the same chapel which the abbots of old had given to Jean V d’Hautecoeur, and to his descendants, with the right of being buried there, in return for their liberality. Dedicated to Saint George, it had a stained-glass window of the twelfth century, on which was painted the legend of the saint. From the moment of the coming on of twilight, this historic representation came out from the shade, lighted up as if it were an apparition, and that was why Angelique was fascinated, and loved this particular point, as she gazed at it with her dreamy eyes.
The background of the window was blue and the edges red. Upon this sombre richness of colouring, the personages, whose flying draperies allowed their limbs to be seen, stood out in relief in clear light on the glass. Three scenes of the Legend, placed one above the other, filled the space quite to the upper arch. At the bottom, the daughter of the king, dressed in costly royal robes, on her way from the city to be eaten by the dreadful monster, meets Saint George near the pond, from which the head of the dragon already appears; and a streamer of silk bears these words: “Good Knight, do not run any danger for me, as you can neither help me nor deliver me, but will have to perish with me.” Then in the middle the combat takes place, and the saint, on horseback, cuts the beast through and through. This is explained by the following words: “George wielded so well his lance that he wounded the enemy and threw him upon the earth.” At last, at the top, the Princess is seen leading back into the city the conquered dragon: “George said, ‘Tie your scarf around his neck, and do not be afraid of anything, oh beautiful maiden, for when you have done so he will follow you like a well-trained dog.’”
When the window was new it must have been surmounted in the middle of the arch by an ornamental design. But later, when the chapel belonged to the Hautecoeurs, they replaced the original work by their family coat of arms. And that was why, in the obscure nights, armorial bearings of a more recent date shown out above the painted legend. They were the old family arms of Hautecoeur, quartered with the well-known shield of Jerusalem; the latter being argent, a cross potencee, or, between four crosselettes of the same; and those of the family, azure, a castle, or, on it a shield, sable, charged with a human heart, argent, the whole between three fleurs-de-lys, or; the shield was supported on the dexter and sinister sides by two wyverns, or; and surmounted by the silver helmet with its blue feathers, embossed in gold, placed frontwise, and closed by eleven bars, which belongs only to Dukes, Marshals of France, titled Lords and heads of Sovereign Corporations. And for motto were these words: ”Si Dieu volt, ie vueil.”
Little by little, from having seen him piercing the monster with his lance, whilst the king’s daughter raised her clasped hands in supplication, Angelique became enamoured of Saint George. He was her hero. At the distance where she was she could not well distinguish the figures, and she looked at them as if in the aggrandisement of a dream; the young girl was slight, was a blonde, and, in short, had a face not unlike her own, while the saint was frank and noble looking, with the beauty of an archangel. It was as if she herself had just been saved, and she could have kissed his hands with gratitude. And to this adventure, of which she dreamed confusedly, of a meeting on the border of a lake and of being rescued from a great danger by a young man more beautiful than the day, was added the recollection of her excursion to the Chateau of Hautecoeur, and a calling up to view of the feudal donjon, in its original state, peopled with the noble lords of olden times.
The arms glistened like the stars on summer nights; she knew them well, she read them easily, with their sonorous words, for she was so in the habit of embroidering heraldic symbols. There was Jean V, who stopped from door to door in the town ravaged by the plague, and went in to kiss the lips of the dying, and cured them by saying, ”Si Dieu volt, ie vueil.” And Felician III, who, forewarned that a severe illness prevented Philippe le Bel from going to Palestine, went there in his place, barefooted and holding a candle in his hand, and for that he had the right of quartering the arms of Jerusalem with his own. Other and yet other histories came to her mind, especially those of the ladies of Hautecoeur, the “happy dead,” as they were called in the Legend. In that family the women die young, in the midst of some great happiness. Sometimes two or three generations would be spared, then suddenly Death would appear, smiling, as with gentle hands he carried away the daughter or the wife of a Hautecoeur, the oldest of them being scarcely twenty years of age, at the moment when they were at the height of earthly love and bliss. For instance, Laurette, daughter of Raoul I, on the evening of her betrothal to her cousin Richard, who lived in the castle, having seated herself at her window in the Tower of David, saw him at his window in the Tower of Charlemagne, and, thinking she heard him call her, as at that moment a ray of moonlight seemed to throw a bridge between them, she walked toward him. But when in the middle she made in her haste a false step and overpassed the ray, she fell, and was crushed at the foot of the tower. So since that day, each night when the moon is bright and clear, she can be seen walking in the air around the Chateau, which is bathed in white by the silent touch of her immense robe. Then Balbine, wife of Herve VII, thought for six months that her husband had been killed in the wars. But, unwilling to give up all hope, she watched for him daily from the top of the donjon, and when at last she saw him one morning on the highway, returning to his home, she ran down quickly to meet him, but was so overcome with joy, that she fell dead at the entrance of the castle. Even at this day, notwithstanding the ruins, as soon as twilight falls, it is said she still descends the steps, runs from story to story, glides through the corridors and the rooms, and passes like a phantom through the gaping windows which open into the desert void. All return. Isabeau, Gudule, Vonne, Austreberthe, all these “happy dead,” loved by the stern messenger, who spared them from the vicissitudes of life by taking them suddenly when, in early youth, they thought only of happiness. On certain nights this white-robed band fill the house as if with a flight of doves. To their number had lately been added the mother of the son of Monseigneur, who was found lifeless on the floor by the cradle of her infant, where, although ill, she dragged herself to die, in the fullness of her delight at embracing him. These had haunted the imagination of Angelique; she spoke of them as if they were facts of recent occurrence, which might have happened the day before. She had read the names of Laurette and of Balbine on old memorial tablets let into the walls of the chapel. Then why should not she also die young and very happy, as they had? The armouries would glisten as now, the saint would come down from his place in the stained-glass window, and she would be carried away to heaven on the sweet breath of a kiss. Why not?
The “Golden Legend” had taught her this: Was not it true that the miracle is really the common law, and follows the natural course of events? It exists, is active, works with an extreme facility on every occasion, multiplies itself, spreads itself out, overflows even uselessly, as if for the pleasure of contradicting the self-evident rules of Nature. Its power seems to be on the same plane as that of the Creator. Albrigan, King of Edeese, writes to Jesus, who replies to him. Ignatius receives letters from the Blessed Virgin. In all places the Mother and the Son appear, disguise themselves, and talk with an air of smiling good-nature. When Stephen meets them they are very familiar with him. All the virgins are wed to Jesus, and the martyrs mount to heaven, where they are to be united to Mary. And as for the angels and saints, they are the ordinary companions of men. They come, they go, they pass through walls, they appear in dreams, they speak from the height of clouds, they assist at births and deaths, they support those who are tortured, they deliver those who are in prison, and they go on dangerous missions. Following in their footsteps is an inexhaustible efflorescence of prodigies. Sylvester binds the mouth of a dragon with a thread. The earth rises to make a seat for Hilary, whose companions wished to humiliate him. A precious stone falls into the chalice of Saint Loup. A tree crushes the enemies of Saint Martin; a dog lets loose a hare, and a great fire ceases to burn at his command. Mary the Egyptian walks upon the sea; honey-bees fly from the mouth of Ambrosius at his birth. Continually saints cure diseases of the eye, withered limbs, paralysis, leprosy, and especially the plague. There is no disease that resists the sign of the Cross. In a crowd, the suffering and the feeble are placed together, that they may be cured in a mass, as if by a thunderbolt. Death itself is conquered, and resurrections are so frequent that they become quite an everyday affair. And when the saints themselves are dead the wonders do not cease, but are redoubled, and are like perennial flowers which spring from their tombs. It is said that from the head and the feet of Nicholas flowed two fountains of oil which cured every ill. When the tomb of Saint Cecilia was opened an odour of roses came up from her coffin. That of Dorothea was filled with manna. All the bones of virgins and of martyrs performed marvels: they confounded liars, they forced robbers to give back their stolen goods, they granted the prayers of childless wives, they brought the dying back to life. Nothing was impossible for them; in fact the Invisible reigned, and the only law was the caprice of the supernatural. In the temples the sorcerers mix themselves up with the popular idea, and scythes cut the grass without being held, brass serpents move, and one hears bronze statues laugh and wolves sing. Immediately the saints reply and overwhelm them. The Host is changed into living food, sacred Christian images shed drops of blood, sticks set upright in the ground blossom into flower, springs of pure water appear in dry places, warm loaves of bread multiply themselves at the feet of the needy, a tree bows down before some holy person, and so on. Then, again, decapitated heads speak, broken chalices mend themselves, the rain turns aside from a church to submerge a neighbouring palace, the robes of hermits never wear out, but renew themselves at each season like the skin of a beast. In Armenia at one time the persecutors threw into the sea the leaden coffins of five martyrs, and the one containing the body of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle took the lead, and the four others accompanied it as a guard of honour. So, all together, in regular order, like a fine squadron, they floated slowly along, urged by the breeze, through the whole length of the sea, until they reached the shores of Sicily.
Angelique was a firm believer in miracles. In her ignorance she lived surrounded by wonders. The rising of the stars, or the opening of a violet; each fact was a surprise to her. It would have appeared to her simply ridiculous to have imagined the world so mechanical as to be governed by fixed laws. There were so many things far beyond her comprehension, she felt herself so weak and helpless in the midst of forces whose power it was impossible to measure, that she would not even have suspected they existed, had it not been for the great questioning breath which at times passed over her face. So, trusting, and as thoroughly Christian as if belonging to the primitive Church, spiritually fed by her readings from the “Golden Legend,” she gave herself up entirely into the hands of God, with only the spot of original sin to be cleansed from her soul. She had no liberty of action or freedom of will; God alone could secure her salvation by giving her the gift of His grace. That grace had been already manifested by bringing her to the hospitable roof of the Huberts, where, under the shadow of the Cathedral, she could lead a life of submission, of purity, and of faith. She often heard within her soul the grumblings of heredity tendency to evil, and asked herself what would have become of her had she been left on her native soil. Without doubt she would have been bad; while here, in this blessed corner of the earth, she had grown up free from temptation, strong and healthy. Was it not grace that had given her this home, where she was surrounded by such charming histories she had so easily committed to memory, where she had learned such perfect faith in the present and hope in the future, and where the invisible and unknown, or the miracles of ages, seemed natural to her, and quite on a level with her daily life? It had armed her for all combats, as heretofore it had armed the martyrs. And she created an imaginary experience for herself almost unknowingly. It was, in fact, the inevitable result of a mind overcharged and excited by fables; it was increased by her ignorance of the life within and about her, as well as from her loneliness. She had not had many companions, so all desires went from her only to return to her.
Sometimes she was in such a peculiar state that she would put her hands over her face, as if doubting her own identity. Was she herself only an illusion, and would she suddenly disappear some day and vanish into nothingness? Who would tell her the truth?
One evening in the following May, on this same balcony where she had spent so much time in vague dreams, she suddenly broke into tears. She was not low-spirited in the least, but it seemed to her as if her anxiety arose from a vain expectation of a visit from someone. Yet who was there to come? It was very dark; the Clos-Marie marked itself out like a great black spot under the sky filled with stars, and she could but vaguely distinguish the heavy masses of the old elm-trees of the Bishop’s garden, and of the park of the Hotel Voincourt. Alone the window of the chapel sent out a little light. If no one were to come, why did her heart beat so rapidly? It was nothing new, this feeling of waiting, or of hope, but it was dated from the long ago, from her early youth; it was like a desire, a looking forward for something which had grown with her growth, and ended in this feverish anxiety of her seventeen years. Nothing would have surprised her, as for weeks she had heard the sound of voices in this mysterious corner, peopled by her imagination. The “Golden Legend” had left there its supernatural world of saints and martyrs, and the miracle was all ready to appear there. She understood well that everything was animated, that the voices came from objects hitherto silent; that the leaves of the trees, the waters of the Chevrotte, and the stones of the Cathedral spoke to her. But what was it that all these whisperings from the Invisible wished to explain? What did these unknown forces above and around her wish to do with her as they floated in the air? She kept her eyes fixed upon the darkness, as if she were at an appointed meeting with she knew not whom, and she waited, still waited, until she was overcome with sleep, whilst it seemed to her as if some supernatural power were deciding her destiny, irrespective of her will or wish.
For four evenings Angelique was nervous, and wept a great deal in the darkness. She remained in her usual place and was patient. The atmosphere seemed to envelope her, and as it increased in density it oppressed her more and more, as if the horizon itself had become smaller and was shutting her in. Everything weighed upon her heart. Now there was a dull murmuring of voices in her brain; yet she was not able to hear them clearly, or to distinguish their meaning. It was as if Nature itself had taken possession of her, and the earth, with the vast heavens above it, had penetrated into her being. At the least sound her hands burned and her eyes tried to pierce the darkness. Was the wonderful event about to take place, the prodigy she awaited? No, there was nothing yet. It was probably merely the beating of the wings of a night bird. And she listened again, attentively, until she could distinguish the difference of sound between the leaves of the elms and the willows. At least twenty times she trembled violently when a little stone rolled in the rivulet, or a prowling animal jumped over the wall. She leaned forward; but there was nothing — still nothing.
At last, after some days, when at night a warmer darkness fell from the sky where no moon was visible, a change began. She felt it, but it was so slight, so almost imperceptible, she feared that she might have been mistaken in the little sound she heard, which seemed unlike the usual noises she knew so well. She held her breath, as the sound seemed very long in returning. At last it came again, louder than before, but equally confused. She would have said it came from a great distance, that it was a scarcely-defined step, and that the trembling of the air announced the approach of something out of sight and out of hearing. That which she was expecting came slowly from the invisible slight movement of what surrounded her. Little by little it disengaged itself from her dream, like a realisation of the vague longings of her youth. Was it the Saint George of the chapel window, who had come down from his place and was walking on the grass in silence towards her? Just then, by chance, the altar-light was dimmed, so that she could not distinguish the faintest outline of the figures on the painted glass, but all seemed like a blue cloud of vapoury mist. That was all she heard or learned at that time of the mystery.
But on the morrow, at the same hour, by a like obscurity, the noise increased and approached a little nearer. It was certainly the sound of steps, of real steps, which walked upon the earth. They would stop for a moment, then recommence here and there, moving up and down, without her being able to say precisely where they were. Perhaps they came from the garden of the Voincourts, where some night pedestrian was lingering under the trees. Or it might be, rather, that they were in the tufted masses of the great lilac-bushes of the park of the Bishop, whose strong perfume made her almost ill. She might do her best to try to penetrate the darkness, it was only by her hearing that she was forewarned of the coming events, aided a little by her sense of smell, as the perfume of the flowers was increased as if a breath were mingled with it. And so for several nights the steps resounded under the balcony, and she listened as they came nearer, until they reached the walls under her feet. There they stopped, and a long silence followed, until she seemed almost to lose consciousness in this slow embrace of something of which she was ignorant.
Not long after, she saw one evening the little crescent of the new moon appear among the stars. But it soon disappeared behind the brow of the Cathedral, like a bright, living eye that the lid re-covers. She followed it with regret, and at each nightfall she awaited its appearance, watched its growth, and was impatient for this torch which would ere long light up the invisible. In fact, little by little, the Clos-Marie came out from the obscurity, with the ruins of its old mill, its clusters of trees, and its rapid little river. And then, in the light, creation continued. That which came from a vision ended in being embodied. For at first she only perceived that a dim shadow was moving under the moonlight. What was it, then? A branch moved to and fro by the wind? Or was it a large bat in constant motion? There were moments when everything disappeared, and the field slept in so deathly a stillness that she thought her eyes had deceived her. Soon there was no longer any doubt possible, for a dark object had certainly just crossed the open space and had glided from one willow-tree to another. It appeared, then disappeared, without her being able exactly to define it.
One evening she thought she distinguished the dim outline of two shoulders, and at once she turned her eyes towards the chapel window. It had a greyish tint, as if empty, for the moon shining directly upon it had deadened the light within. At that moment she noticed that the living shadow grew larger, as it approached continually nearer and nearer, walking in the grass at the side of the church. In proportion as she realised it was a fact that someone was there, she was overcome by an indefinable sensation, a nervous feeling that one has on being looked at by mysterious unseen eyes.
Certainly someone was there under the trees who was regarding her fixedly. She had on her hands and face, as it were, a physical impression of those long, ardent, yet timid looks; but she did not withdraw herself from them, because she knew they were pure, and came from the enchanted world of which she had read in the “Golden Legend”; and, in the certainty of a promised happiness, her first anxiety was quickly changed into a delicious tranquillity.
One night, suddenly, on the ground whitened by the moon’s rays, the shadow designed itself plainly and clearly. It was indeed that of a man whom she could not see, as he was hidden by the willows. As he did not move, she was able to look for a long time at his shadow.
From that moment Angelique had a secret. Her bare, whitewashed chamber was filled with it. She remained there for hours lying on her great bed — where she seemed lost, she was so little — her eyes closed, but not asleep, and seeing continually before her, in her waking dreams, this motionless shadow upon the earth. When she re-opened her eyes at dawn, her looks wandered from the enormous wardrobe to the odd carved chest, from the porcelain stove to the little toilet-table, as if surprised at not seeing there the mysterious silhouette, which she could have so easily and precisely traced from memory. In her sleep she had seen it gliding among the pale heather-blossoms on her curtains. In her dreams, as in her waking hours, her mind was filled with it. It was a companion shadow to her own. She had thus a double being, although she was alone with her fancies.
This secret she confided to no one, not even to Hubertine, to whom, until now, she had always told even her thoughts. When the latter, surprised at her gaiety, questioned her, she blushed deeply as she replied that the early spring had made her very happy. From morning to evening she hummed little snatches of song, like a bee intoxicated by the heat of the sun’s rays. Never before had the chasubles she embroidered been so resplendent with silk and gold. The Huberts smiled as they watched her, thinking simply that this exuberance of spirits came from her state of perfect health. As the day waned she grew more excited, she sang at the rising of the moon, and as soon as the hour arrived she hurried to her balcony, and waited for the shadow to appear. During all the first quarters of the moon she found it exact at each rendezvous, erect and silent. But that was all. What was the cause of it? Why was it there? Was it, indeed, only a shadow? Was not it, perhaps, the saint who had left his window, or the angel who had formerly loved Saint Cecilia, and who had now come to love her in her turn? Although she was not vain, these thoughts made her proud, and were as sweet to her as an invisible caress. Then she grew impatient to know more, and her watching recommenced.
The moon, at its full, lighted up the Clos-Marie. When it was at its zenith, the trees, under the white rays which fell straight upon them in perpendicular lines, cast no more shadows, but were like running fountains of silent brightness. The whole garden was bathed and filled with a luminous wave as limpid as crystal, and the brilliancy of it was so penetrating that everything was clearly seen, even to the fine cutting of the willow-leaves. The slightest possible trembling of air seemed to wrinkle this lake of rays, sleeping in the universal peace among the grand elm-trees of the neighbouring garden and the gigantic brow of the Cathedral.
Two more evenings had passed like this, when, on the third night, as Angelique was leaning on her elbows and looking out, her heart seemed to receive a sudden shock. There, in the clear light, she saw him standing before her and looking at her. His shadow, like that of the trees, had disappeared under his feet, and he alone was there, distinctly seen. At this distance she saw — as if it were full day — that he was tall, slight, a blonde, and apparently about twenty years of age. He resembled either a Saint George or a superb picture of Christ, with his curly hair, his thin beard, his straight nose, rather large, and his proudly-smiling black eyes. And she recognised him perfectly; never had she seen another like him; it was he, her hero, and he was exactly as she expected to find him. The wonder was at last accomplished; the slow creation of the invisible had perfected itself in this living apparition, and he came out from the unknown, from the movement of things, from murmuring voices, from the action of the night, from all that had enveloped her, until she almost fainted into unconsciousness. She also saw him as if he were lifted above the earth, so supernatural appeared to be his coming, whilst the miraculous seemed to surround him on every side as it floated over the mysterious moon-lake. He had as his escort the entire people of the Legend — the saints whose staffs blossomed, the virgins whose wounds shed milk — and the stars seemed to pale before this white group of perfection.
Angelique continued to look at him. He raised his arms, and held them out, wide open. She was not at all afraid, but smiled sweetly.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02