For two days Angelique was conscience-smitten. As soon as she was alone, she sobbed as if she had done something wrong. And this question, which she could not answer, came constantly to her mind: Had she sinned in listening to this young man? Was she lost, like the dreadful women in the Legend, who, having been tempted, had yielded to the Devil? Was life to-day as it was centuries ago? The words, so softly uttered, “I love you,” still resounded with such a tumult in her ears, and she was confused, yet pleased by them to such a degree, that they must certainly have come from some terrible power hidden in the depth of the invisible. But she knew not — in fact, how could she have known anything in the ignorance and solitude in which she had grown up? Her anguish was redoubled by this mysterious and inexplicable struggle within her.
Had she sinned in making the acquaintance of Felicien, and then in keeping it a secret? She recalled to her mind, one by one, all the details of her daily experience during the past few weeks; she argued with her innocent scruples.
What was sin, in short? Was it simply to meet — to talk — and afterwards to tell a falsehood to one’s parents? But that could not be the extent of the evil. Then why was she so oppressed? Why, if not guilty, did she suddenly seem to have become quite another person — as agitated as if a new soul had been given her? Perhaps it was sin that had made her so weak and uncomfortable. Her heart was full of vague, undefined longings — so strange a medley of words, and also of acts, in the future, that she was frightened by them, without in the least understanding them. The blood mounted to her face, and exquisitely coloured her cheeks, as she heard again the sweet, yet appalling words, “I love you”; and she reasoned no longer, but sobbed again, doubting evident facts, fearing the commission of a fault in the beyond — in that which had neither name nor form.
But that which especially distressed her now was that she had not made a confidante of Hubertine. Could she only have asked her what she wished to know, no doubt the latter with a word would have explained the whole mystery to her. Then it seemed to her as if the mere fact of speaking to someone of her trouble would have cured her. But the secret had become too weighty; to reveal it would be more than she could bear, for the shame would be too great. She became quite artful for the moment, affected an air of calmness, when in the depths of her soul a tempest was raging. If asked why she was so pre-occupied, she lifted her eyes with a look of surprise as she replied that she was thinking of something. Seated before the working-frame, her hands mechanically drawing the needle back and forth, very quiet to all outward appearance, she was, from morning till evening, distracted by one thought. To be loved! To be loved! And for herself, on her side, was she in love? This was still an obscure question, to which, in her inexperience, she found no answer. She repeated it so constantly that at last it made her giddy, the words lost all their usual meaning, and everything seemed to be in a whirl, which carried her away. With an effort she recovered herself, and realised that, with needle in hand, she was still embroidering with her accustomed application, although mechanically, as if in a half-dream. Perhaps these strange symptoms were a sign that she was about to have a severe illness. One evening she had such an attack of shivering when she went to bed that she thought she would never be able to recover from it. That idea was at the same time both cruel and sweet. She suffered from it as if it were too great a joy. Even the next day her heart beat as if it would break, and her ears were filled with a singing sound, like the ringing of a distant bell. What could it mean? Was she in love, or was she about to die? Thinking thus, she smiled sweetly at Hubertine, who, in the act of waxing her thread, was looking at her anxiously.
Moreover, Angelique had made a vow that she would never again see Felicien. She no longer ran the risk of meeting him among the brambles and wild grasses in the Clos-Marie, and she had even given up her daily visits to the poor. Her fear was intense lest, were they to find themselves face to face, something terrible might come to pass. In her resolution there was mingled, besides a feeling of penitence, a wish to punish herself for some fault she might unintentionally have committed. So, in her days of rigid humiliation, she condemned herself not even to glance once through the window, so sure was she of seeing on the banks of the Chevrotte the one whom she dreaded. But, after a while, being sorely tempted, she looked out, and if it chanced that he were not there, she was sad and low-spirited until the following day.
One morning, when Hubert was arranging a dalmatic, a ring at the door-bell obliged him to go downstairs. It must be a customer; no doubt an order for some article, as Hubertine and Angelique heard the hum of voices which came through the doorway at the head of the stairs, which remained open. Then they looked up in great astonishment; for steps were mounting, and the embroiderer was bringing someone with him to the workroom, a most unusual occurrence. And the young girl was quite overcome as she recognised Felicien. He was dressed simply, like a journeyman artist, whose hands are white. Since she no longer went to him he had come to her, after days of vain expectation and of anxious uncertainty, during which he had constantly said to himself that she did not yet love him, since she remained hidden from him.
“Look, my dear child, here is something which will be of particular interest to you,” explained Hubert. “Monsieur wishes to give orders for an exceptional piece of work. And, upon my word, that we might talk of it at our ease, I preferred that he should come up here at once. This is my daughter, sir, to whom you must show your drawing.”
Neither he nor Hubertine had the slightest suspicion that this was not the first time the young people had met. They approached them only from a sentiment of curiosity to see. But Felicien was, like Angelique, almost stifled with emotion and timidity. As he unrolled the design, his hands trembled, and he was obliged to speak very slowly to hide the change in his voice.
“It is to be a mitre for Monseigneur the Bishop. Yes, certain ladies in the city who wished to make him this present charged me with the drawing of the different parts, as well as with the superintendence of its execution. I am a painter of stained glass, but I also occupy myself a great deal with ancient art. You will see that I have simply reconstituted a Gothic mitre.”
Angelique bent over the great sheet of parchment which he had spread before her, and started slightly as she exclaimed:
“Oh! it is Saint Agnes.”
It was indeed the youthful martyr of but thirteen years of age; the naked virgin clothed with her hair, that had grown so long only her little hands and feet were seen from under it, just as she was upon the pillar at one of the doors of the cathedral; particularly, however, as one found her in the interior of the church, in an old wooden statue that formerly was painted, but was to-day a light fawn colour, all gilded by age. She occupied the entire front of the mitre, half floating, as she was carried towards heaven borne by the angels; which below her, stretched out into the distance, was a fine delicate landscape. The other sides and the lappets were enriched with lance-shaped ornaments of an exquisite style.
“These ladies,” continued Felicien, “wish to make the present on the occasion of the Procession of the Miracle, and naturally I thought it my duty to choose Saint Agnes.”
“The idea was a most excellent one,” interposed Hubert.
And Hubertine added, in her turn:
“Monseigneur will be deeply gratified.”
The so-called Procession of the Miracle, which takes place each year on July 28, dates from the time of Jean V d’Hautecoeur, who instituted it as a thanksgiving to God for the miraculous power He had given to him and to his race to save Beaumont from the plague. According to the legend, the Hautecoeurs are indebted for this remarkable gift to the intervention of Saint Agnes, of whom they were the greatest admirers; and since the most ancient time, it has been the custom on the anniversary of her fete to take down the old statue of the saint and carry it slowly in a solemn procession through the streets of the town, in the pious belief that she still continues to disperse and drive away all evils.
“Ah,” at last murmured Angelique, her eyes on the design, “the Procession of the Miracle. But that will come in a few days, and we shall not have time enough to finish it.”
The Huberts shook their heads. In truth, so delicate a piece of work required the most minute care and attention. Yet Hubertine turned towards her daughter as she said:
“I could help you, my dear. I might attend to the ornaments, and then you will only have the figure to do.”
Angelique continued to closely examine the figure of the saint, and was deeply troubled. She said to herself, “No, no.” She refused; she would not give herself the pleasure of accepting. It would be inexcusable on her part thus to be an accomplice in a plan, for it was evident that Felicien was keeping something back. She was perfectly sure that he was not poor, and that he wore a workman’s dress simply as a disguise; and this affected simplicity, all this history, told only that he might approach her, put her on her guard, amused and happy though she was, in reality, transfiguring him, seeing in him the royal prince that he should be; so thoroughly did she live in the absolute certainty of the entire realisation of her dream, sooner or later.
“No,” she repeated in a half-whisper, “we should not have the needed time.”
And without lifting her eyes she continued, as if speaking to herself:
“For the saint, we could use neither the close embroidery nor the lace openwork. It would not be worthy of her. It should be an embroidery in gold, shaded by silk.”
“Exactly,” said Felicien. “That is what I had already thought of, for I knew that Mademoiselle had re-found the secret of making it. There is still quite a pretty little fragment of it at the sacristy.”
Hubert was quite excited.
“Yes, yes! it was made in the fifteenth century, and the work was done by one of my far-off ancestresses. . . . Shaded gold! Ah, Monsieur, there was never anything equal to that in the whole world. But, unfortunately, it took too much time, it cost altogether too dear, and, in addition, only a real artist ever succeeded in it. Think of it; it is more than two hundred years since anyone has ever attempted such embroidery. And if my daughter refuses, you will be obliged to give it up entirely, for she is the only person who is qualified to undertake it. I do not know of anyone else who has the delicacy of fingers and the clearness of eye necessary for it.”
Hubertine, who, since they had spoken of the style of the work, realised what a great undertaking it was, said, in a quiet, decided tone:
“It would be utterly impossible to do it in a fortnight. It would need the patience and skill of a fairy to accomplish it.”
But Angelique, who had not ceased studying all the features of the beautiful martyr, had ended by making a discovery which delighted her beyond expression. Agnes resembled her. In designing from the old statue, Felicien certainly thought of her, and this idea — that she was in his mind, always present with him, that he saw her everywhere — softened her resolution to avoid him. At last she looked up; she noticed how eager he was, and his eyes glistened with so earnest a supplication that she was conquered. Still, with the intuitive half-malice, the love of tormenting, this natural science which comes to all young girls, even when they are entirely ignorant of life, she did not wish to have the appearance of yielding too readily.
“It is impossible,” she repeated. “I could not do it for anyone.”
Felicien was in despair. He was sure he understood the hidden meaning in her words. It was he whom she had refused, as well as the work. As he was about to go out of the room, he said to Hubert:
“As for the pay, you could have asked any price you wished. These ladies gave me leave to offer as much as three thousand francs.”
The household of the Huberts was in no way a selfish one; yet so great a sum startled each member of it. The husband and wife looked at each other inquiringly. Was it not a pity to lose so advantageous an offer?
“Three thousand francs,” repeated Angelique, with her gentle voice; “did you say three thousand francs, Monsieur?”
And she, to whom money was nothing, since she had never known its value, kept back a smile, a mocking smile, which scarcely drew the corners of her mouth, rejoicing that she need not seem to yield to the pleasure of seeing him, and glad to give him a false opinion of herself.
“Oh, Monsieur, if you can give three thousand francs for it, then I accept. I would not do it for everyone, but from the moment that one is willing to pay so well, why, that is different. If it is necessary, I can work on it at night, as well as during the day.”
Hubert and Hubertine then objected, wishing to refuse in their turn, for fear the fatigue might be too great for her.
“No,” she replied. “It is never wise to send away money that is brought to you. You can depend upon me, Monsieur. Your mitre will be ready the evening before the procession.”
Felicien left the design and bade them good-day, for he was greatly disappointed, and he had no longer the courage to give any new explanations in regard to the work, as an excuse for stopping longer. What would he gain by doing so? It was certainly true that she did not like him, for she had pretended not to recognise him, and had treated him as she would any ordinary customer, whose money alone is good to take. At first he was angry, as he accused her of being mean-spirited and grasping. So much the better! It was ended between them, this unspoken romance, and he would never think of her again. Then, as he always did think of her, he at last excused her, for was she not dependent upon her work to live, and ought she not to gain her bread?
Two days later he was very unhappy, and he began to wander around the house, distressed that he could not see her. She no longer went out to walk. She did not even go to the balcony, or to the window, as before. He was forced to acknowledge that if she cared not for him, if in reality she was mercenary, in spite of all, his love for her increased daily, as one loves when only twenty years of age, without reasoning, following merely the drawing of one’s heart, simply for the joy and the grief of loving.
One morning he caught a glimpse of her for a moment, and realised that he could not give her up. Now she was his chosen one and no other. Whatever she might be, bad or good, ugly or pretty, poor or rich, he would give up his life rather than not be able to claim her.
The third day his sufferings were so great that, notwithstanding all his wise resolves, he returned to the house of the embroiderers.
After having rung the bell, he was received as before, downstairs by Hubert, who, on account of the want of clearness in his explanations in regard to his visit, concluded the best thing to be done was to allow him to go upstairs again.
“My daughter, Monsieur, wishes to speak to you on certain points of the work that I do not quite understand.”
Then Felicien stammered, “If it would not disturb Mademoiselle too much, I would like to see how far — These ladies advised me to personally superintend the work — that is, if by doing so I should not be in anyone’s way.”
Angelique’s heart beat violently when she saw him come in. She almost choked, but, making a great effort, she controlled herself. The blood did not even mount her cheeks, and with an appearance of calm indifference, she replied:
“Oh, nothing ever disturbs me, Monsieur. I can work equally well before anyone. As the design is yours, it is quite natural that you should wish to follow the execution of it.”
Quite discountenanced by this reception, Felicien would not have dared to have taken a seat, had not Hubertine welcomed him cordially, as she smiled in her sweet, quiet way at this excellent customer. Almost immediately she resumed her work, bending over the frame where she was embroidering on the sides of the mitre the Gothic ornaments in guipure, or open lacework.
On his side, Hubert had just taken down from the wall a banner which was finished, had been stiffened, and for two days past had been hung up to dry, and which now he wished to relax. No one spoke; the three workers kept at their tasks as if no other person had been in the room with them.
In the midst of this charming quiet, the young man little by little grew calmer. When the clock struck three, the shadow of the Cathedral was already very long, and a delicate half-light entered by the window, which was wide open. It was almost like the twilight hour, which commenced early in the afternoon for this little house, so fresh and green from all the verdure that was about it, as it stood by the side of the colossal church. A slight sound of steps was heard on the pavement outside; it was a school of young girls being taken to Confession.
In the workroom, the tools, the time-stained walls, everything which remained there immovable, seemed to sleep in the repose of the centuries, and from every corner came freshness and rest. A great square of white light, smooth and pure, fell upon the frame over which Hubertine and Angelique were bending, with their delicate profiles in the fawn-coloured reflection of the gold.
“Mademoiselle,” began Felicien, feeling very awkward, as he realised that he must give some reason for his visit —“I wish to say, Mademoiselle, that for the hair it seems to me it would be better to employ gold rather than silk.”
She raised her head, and the laughing expression of her eyes clearly signified that he need not have taken the trouble of coming if he had no other recommendation to make. And she looked down again as she replied, in a half-mocking tone:
“There is no doubt about that, Monsieur.”
He was indeed ridiculous, for he remarked then for the first time that it was exactly what she was doing. Before her was the design he had made, but tinted with water-colours, touched up with gold, with all the delicacy of an old miniature, a little softened, like what one sees in some prayer books of the fifteenth century. And she copied this image with the patience and the skill of an artist working with a magnifying glass. After having reproduced it with rather heavy strokes upon the white silk, tightly stretched and lined with heavy linen, she covered this silk with threads of gold carried from the bottom to the top, fastened simply at the two ends, so that they were left free and close to each other. When using the same threads as a woof, she separated them with the point of her needle to find the design below. She followed this same drawing, recovered the gold threads with stitches of silk across, which she assorted according to the colours of the model. In the shaded parts the silk completely hid the gold; in the half-lights the stitches of silk were farther and farther apart, while the real lights were made by gold alone, entirely uncovered. It was thus the shaded gold, that most beautiful of all work, the foundation being modified by the silks, making a picture of mellow colours as if warmed from beneath by a glory and a mystic light.
“Oh!” suddenly said Hubert, who began to stretch out the banner by separating with his fingers the cords of the trellis, “the masterpiece of a woman who embroidered in the olden time was always in this difficult work. To become a member of the Corporation she had to make, as it is written in the statutes, a figure by itself in shaded gold, a sixth part as tall as if life-size. You would have been received, my Angelique.”
Again there was an unbroken silence. Felicien watched her constantly, as she stooped forward, absorbed in her task, quite as if she were entirely alone. For the hair of the saint, contrary to the general rule, she had had the same idea as he; that was, to use no silk, but to re-cover gold with gold, and she kept ten needles at work with this brilliant thread of all shades, from the dark red of dying embers, to the pale, delicate yellow tint of the leaves of the forest trees in the autumn. Agnes was thus covered from her neck to her ankles with a stream of golden hair. It began at the back of her head, covered her body with a thick mantle, flowed in front of her from the shoulders in two waves which united under the chin, and fell down to her feet in one wavy sheet. It was, indeed, the miraculous hair, a fabulous fleece, with heavy twists and curls, a glorious, starry efflorescence, the warm and living robe of a saint, perfumed with its pure nudity.
That day Felicien could do nothing but watch Angelique as she embroidered the curls, following the exact direction of their rolling with her little pointed stitches, and he never wearied of seeing the hair grow and radiate under her magic needle. Its weight, and the great quivering with which it seemed to be unrolled at one turn, disturbed him.
Hubertine, occupied in sewing on spangles, hiding the thread with which each one was attached with a tiny round of gold twist, lifted up her head from time to time and gave him a calm motherly look, whenever she was obliged to throw into the waste-basket a spangle that was not well made.
Hubert, who had just taken away the side pieces of wood, that he might unstitch the banner from the frame, was about folding it up carefully. And at last, Felicien, whose embarrassment was greatly increased by this unbroken silence, realised that it was best for him to take leave, since as yet he had not been able to think of any of the suggestions which he had said he intended to make.
He rose, blushed, and stammered:
“I will return another day. I find that I have so badly succeeded in reproducing the charming design of the head of the saint that you may perhaps have need of some explanations from me.”
Angelique looked him fully in the face with her sweet, great eyes.
“Oh, not at all. But come again, Monsieur. Do not hesitate to do so, if you are in the least anxious about the execution of the work.”
He went away, happy from the permission given him, but chilled by the coldness of manner of the young girl. Yes, he realised that she did not now, and never would, love him. That being the case, what use was there in seeing her? Yet on the morrow, as well as on the following days, he did not fail to go to the little house on the Rue des Orfevres. The hours which he could not pass there were sad enough, tortured as he was by his uncertainties, distressed by his mental struggles. He was never calm, except when he was near her as she sat at her frame. Provided that she was by his side, it seemed to him that he could resign himself to the acceptance of the fact that he was disagreeable to her.
Every morning he arrived at an early hour, spoke of the work, then seated himself as if his presence there were absolutely necessary. Then he was in a state of enchantment simply to look at her, with her finely cut features, her motionless profile, which seemed bathed in the liquid golden tints of her hair; and he watched in ecstasy the skilful play of her flexible hands, as she moved them up and down in the midst of the needlefuls of gold or silk. She had become so habituated to his presence that she was quite at her ease, and treated him as a comrade. Nevertheless, he always felt that there was between them something unexpressed which grieved him to the heart, he knew not why. Occasionally she looked up, regarding him with an amused, half-mocking air, and with an inquiring, impatient expression in her face. Then, finding he was intensely embarrassed she at once became very cold and distant.
But Felicien had discovered one way in which he could rouse her, and he took advantage of it. It was this — to talk to her of her art, of the ancient masterpieces of embroidery he had seen, either preserved among the treasures of cathedrals, or copies of which were engraved in books. For instance, there were the superb copes: that of Charlemagne, in red silk, with the great eagles with unfurled wings; and the cope of Sion, which is decorated with a multitude of saintly figures. Then the dalmatic, which is said to be the most beautiful piece of embroidery in the whole world; the Imperial dalmatic, on which is celebrated the glory of Jesus Christ upon the earth and in heaven, the Transfiguration, and the Last Judgment, in which the different personages are embroidered in silks of various colours, and in silver and gold. Also, there is a wonderful tree of Jesse, an orfrey of silk upon satin, which is so perfect it seems as if it were detached from a window of the fifteenth century; Abraham at the foot, then David, Solomon, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and at the very top the Saviour.
Among the admirable chasubles he had seen, one in particular was touching in its simplicity. It represented Christ on the Cross, and the drops of blood from His side and His feet were made by little splashes of red silk on the cloth of gold, while in the foreground was Mary, tenderly supported by Saint John.
On another one, which is called the chasuble of Naintre, the Virgin is seated in majesty, with richly-wrought sandals on her feet, and holding the Infant Jesus on her knees. Others, and still others of marvelous workmanship were alluded to, venerable not only from their great age and the beautiful faith that they expressed, but from a richness unknown in our time, preserving the odour of the incense of tabernacles and the mystic light which seemed to come from the slightly-faded gold.
“Ah,” sighed Angelique, “all those exquisite things are finished now. We can only find certain tones to remind us of their perfection.”
With feverish hands and sparkling eyes she stopped working when Felicien related to her the history of the most noted men and women who were embroiderers in the olden time — Simonne de Gaules, Colin Jolye, and others whose names have come down to us through the ages. Then, after a few moments, she took up her needles again, and made them fly vigorously, as she appeared transfigured, and guarded on her face the traces of the delight her artist nature had received in listening to all these accounts. Never had she seemed to him more beautiful, so enthusiastic was she, so maidenly and so pure, seated there in the brighter surroundings of so many coloured silks, applying herself with unfailing exactitude to her work, into the slightest details of which she put her whole soul. When he had left off speaking he looked at her earnestly, until roused by the silence, she realised the excited state into which all these histories had thrown her, and became as embarrassed as if she had done something wrong.
“Oh, dear, look; all my silks are entangled again! Mother, please not to move about so much.”
Hubertine, who had not stirred at all, was amused, but simply smiled without saying anything. At first she had been rather disturbed by the constant attentions of the young man, and had talked the matter over thoroughly with Hubert one evening in their room. But they could not help being drawn towards him, and as in every respect his appearance was good and his manners perfectly respectful, they concluded it was not necessary to object to interviews from which Angelique derived so much happiness. So matters were allowed to take their way, and she watched over the young people with a loving air of protection.
Moreover, she herself for many days had been oppressed by the lamenting caresses of her husband, who seemed never to weary of asking her if he had been forgiven. This month was the anniversary of the time when they had lost their child, and each year at this date they had the same regrets and the same longings; he, trembling at her feet, happy to realise that he was pardoned; she, loving and distressed, blaming herself for everything, and despairing that Fate had been inexorable to all their prayers. They spoke of all this to no one, were the same to outsiders in every way, but this increase of tenderness between them came from their room like a silent perfume, disengaged itself from their persons at the least movement, by each word, and by their way of looking at each other, when it seemed as if for the moment they almost exchanged souls. All this was like the grave accompaniment, the deep continuous bass, upon which sang in clear notes the two hearts of the young couple.
One week had passed, and the work on the mitre advanced. These daily meetings had assumed a great and sweet familiarity.
“The forehead should be very high, should it not? Without any trace of eyebrows?”
“Yes, very high, and not the slightest shade. Quite like an old miniature.”
“Will you pass me the white silk?”
“Wait a minute, that I may thread it.”
He helped her, and this union of work put them at their ease. It made the occupation of each day seem perfectly natural to them both, and without a word of love ever having been spoken, without their hands having once met by a voluntary touch, the bond between them grew stronger each hour, and they were henceforth eternally united one to the other. It was sufficient for them to have lived until now.
“Father, what are you doing that we no longer hear you?”
She turned and saw Hubert, who was occupied in winding a long spool, as his eyes were fixed abstractedly on his wife.
“I am preparing some gold thread for your mother.”
And from the reel taken to his wife, from the mute thanks of Hubertine, from the constant little attentions her husband gave her, there was a warm, caressing breath which surrounded and enveloped Angelique and Felicien as they both bent again over the frame. The workroom itself, this ancient hall, as it might almost be called, with its old tools and its peace of other ages, was an unconscious accomplice in this work of union. It seemed so far away from the noise of the street, remote as if in dreamy depths, in this country of good, simple souls, where miracles reign, the easy realisation of all joys.
In five days the mitre was to be finished; and Angelique, now sure that it would be ready to be delivered, and that she would even have twenty-four hours to spare, took a long breath of satisfaction, and seemed suddenly astonished at finding Felicien so near her, with his elbows on the trestle. Had they really become such intimate friends? She no longer attempted to struggle against what she realised was his conquering power; her half-malicious smiles ceased at what he tried to keep back, and which she so well understood, in spite of his subterfuges. What was it, then, that had made her as if asleep, in her late restless waiting? And the eternal question returned, the question that she asked herself every evening when she went to her room. Did she love him? For hours, in the middle of her great bed, she had turned over again and again these words, seeking for meanings she could not find, and thinking she was too ignorant to explain them. But that night, all at once, she felt her heart was softened by some inexplicable happiness. She cried nervously, without reason, and hid her head in her pillow that no one might hear her.
Yes, now she loved him; she loved him enough to be willing to die for him. But why? But how? She could not tell, she never would know; simply from her whole heart came the cry that she did indeed love him. The light had come to her at last; this new, overpowering joy overwhelmed her like the most ardent rays of the sun.
For a long time her tears flowed, but not from sorrow. On the contrary, she was filled with an inexplicable confusion of happiness that was indefinable, regretting now, more deeply than ever, that she had not made a confidante of Hubertine. To-day her secret burdened her, and she made an earnest vow to herself that henceforth she would be as cold as an icicle towards Felicien, and would suffer everything rather than allow him to see her tenderness. He should never know it. To love him, merely to love him, without even acknowledging it, that was the punishment, the trial she must undergo to pardon her fault. It would be to her in reality a delicious suffering. She thought of the martyrs of whom she had read in the “Golden Legend,” and it seemed to her that she was their sister in torturing herself in this way, and that her guardian angel, Agnes, would look at her henceforward with sadder, sweeter eyes than ever.
The following day Angelique finished the mitre. She had embroidered with split silk, light as gossamer, the little hands and feet, which were the only points of white, naked flesh that came out from the royal mantle of golden hair. She perfected the face with all the delicacy of the purest lily, wherein the gold seemed like the blood in the veins under the delicate, silken skin. And this face, radiant as the sun, was turned heavenward, as the youthful saint was borne upward by the angels toward the distant horizon of the blue plain.
When Felicien entered that day, he exclaimed with admiration:
“Oh! how exactly she looks like you.”
It was an involuntary expression; an acknowledgment of the resemblance he had purposely put in the design. He realised the fact after he had spoken, and blushed deeply.
“That is indeed true, my little one; she has the same beautiful eyes that you have,” said Hubert, who had come forward to examine the work.
Hubertine merely smiled now, having made a similar remark many days before, and she was surprised and grieved when she heard Angelique reply in a harsh, disagreeable tone of voice, like that she sometimes had in her fits of obstinacy years ago:
“My beautiful eyes! Why will you make fun of me in that way? I know as well as you do that I am very ugly.”
Then, getting up, she shook out her dress, overacting her assumed character of a harsh, avaricious girl.
“Ah, at last! It is really finished! I am thankful, for it was too much of a task, too heavy a burden on my shoulders. Do you know, I would never undertake to make another one for the same price?”
Felicien listened to her in amazement. Could it be that after all she still cared only for money? Had he been mistaken when he thought at times she was so exquisitely tender, and so passionately devoted to her artistic work? Did she in reality wish for the pay her labour brought her? And was she so indifferent that she rejoiced at the completion of her task, wishing neither to see nor to hear of it again? For several days he had been discouraged as he sought in vain for some pretext of continuing, later on, visits that gave him such pleasure. But, alas! it was plain that she did not care for him in the least, and that she never would love him. His suffering was so great that he grew very pale and could scarcely speak.
“But, Mademoiselle, will you not make up the mitre?”
“No, mother can do it so much better than I can. I am too happy at the thought that I have nothing more to do with it.”
“But do you not like the work which you do so well?”
“I? I do not like anything in the world.”
Hubertine was obliged to speak to her sternly, and tell her to be quiet. She then begged Felicien to be so good as to pardon her nervous child, who was a little weary from her long-continued application. She added that the mitre would be at his disposal at an early hour on the following morning. It was the same as if she had asked him to go away, but he could not leave. He stood and looked around him in this old workroom, filled with shade and with peace, and it seemed to him as if he were being driven from Paradise. He had spent so many sweet hours there in the illusion of his brightest fancies, that it was like tearing his very heart-strings to think all this was at an end. What troubled him the worst was his inability to explain matters, and that he could only take with him such a fearful uncertainty. At last he said good-day, resolved to risk everything at the first opportunity rather than not to know the truth.
Scarcely had he closed the door when Hubert asked:
“What is the matter with you, my dear child? Are you ill?”
“No, indeed. It is simply that I am tired of having that young man here. I do not wish to see him again.”
Then Hubertine added: “Very well; you will not see him again. But nothing should ever prevent one from being polite.”
Angelique, making some trivial excuse, hurried up to her room as quickly as possible. Then she gave free course to her tears. Ah, how intensely happy she was, yet how she suffered! Her poor, dear beloved; he was sad enough when he found he must leave her! But she must not forget that she had made a vow to the saints, that although she loved him better than life, he should never know it.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:56