Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

“ The mother is not to tell Bobot any Victoire. Then indeed I should have more stories,” he laughs in a bright, saucy cause for sorrow, for the head of Victoire way, “ but she is to give place while Jac- is filled with thinking of the ducasse and ques fills the panniers. It is time we were fine clothes. She will never be a houseoff, friend Bobot. I expect there will be wife. Ah, there never was a mother so news to-day from the army."

blessed as I am !” The donkey understands. He flaps his At this point the old Eugénie-her ears impatiently, and takes a step forward. name is Eugénie Duclos-spies out her

“ Hola, Bobot! but thou art of a restless- Jacques and Bobot at the cross-road. ness"

They wait just an instant. Jacques waves The mother of Jacques breaks off her his cap in the air, and then the road turns sentence with a conciliatory pat, and, con- suddenly, and they are out of sight. sidering how the gnats are singing in his La mére Duclos comes down from the nostrils, Bobot's patience may be consid- mound much more quickly than you ered exemplary. He stands very still might expect from her stooping figure. while the panniers are filled with cabbages She gathers a few herbs for the pot-au-feu, and herbs and covered with heather. and goes into the house with them. There Jacques is not allowed to fill these unaided. is not much to be done there. Eugénie His mother trots backward and forward, Duclos rises early, and the cabbage is helping, and praising, and laughing, and already shredded and in the soup-pot, and finally she pats Bobot and then stands on cabbage soup and fish and a long loaf of tiptoe to receive the parting kisses of her dark-colored bread make up the daily fare much-beloved son. He leads Bobot on of the cottage. There will not be any fish round the cottage, out at the little gate in to-day, for Jacques has not been out these the stone fence. He stops here and kisses last nights, unless, indeed, he exchanges his hand to his mother, and then goes some of his cabbage with his friend Pierre quickly along the sandy road that leads the fisherman. to Trochu.

But the old woman has plenty to do; The mother of Jacques has not followed there are many broken loops in the net him to the gate. Her son will look back that is dry on the vine branches, and if for her when he reaches the cross-road, there were not these there would be stockand she can only command this point by ings to knit for Jacques, or fresh wood to standing on a little mound which Jacques add to the fagot stack from among the fir has made for her beside the plot of herbs. trees that make such a dark background She mounts this and stands waiting pa- to the stunted vineyard. tiently; one brown hand with its wedding- The hours pass away.

Jacques is usuring finger shades her eyes, the other is ally home again between three and four doubled into her waist by way of support o'clock, but the lengthening shadows tell She has to stand some minutes, for the his mother that her son is two hours late. line of yellow sand is longer to traverse “Ma foi, Eugénie !" She looks anxious than to look at, and she chatters to herself a moment, and then a smile brightens the about her boy :

wrinkled old face. “ Foolish old woman “My Jacques! and how good he is to that thou art, is not then thy Jacques to his mother! He takes no care but for make an acquaintance as his brothers did, her; and at his age he is so fine, so hand- and smoke a pipe with a friend, and chat some a youth, it would not be wonderful with a girl on his way home ?” She sighs if he was to think more of the pretty girls a little and looks sad, for the word “ broof Trochu than of his silly old mother

. thers” has conjured up a row of stalwart, There is Françoise Chenet; she thinks no well-grown men, who have been taken one sees, poor child, but I can see, how, as from their home one by one to serve in we come from mass, her eyes follow after the army of the empire. But these were my Jacques as he gives me his arm to all much older than Jacques, and all are lean on.

Well, well, she is a good girl — gone now-gone to the old father laid to not so pretty as some, but she likes work sleep in the cemetery of Trochu. better than fine clothes, and she will be A sudden tear rolls over the brown happier than Victoire and the rest. Ma cheek and falls on the twine with which foi ! it might have been that my Jacques she is threading her netting needle. was taken with the bold, black eyes of “ It is not for the boys,” she says hasti

war.

ly, and then she brushes the bright drop heavier still—“what has happened ? It away with her sharp knuckles; “ they must be a grievous trouble which has have gone to the good God; but some- come to my poor boy, if he will not tell it times it is very hard to me that I do not to his mother." know where so much as one of my

four She goes on musing. Can it be that boys lies. For my man it is different: Jacques cares for Françoise, as Eugénie every Sunday and every fête day I can go can see Françoise cares for him, and that and pray beside his grave, and keep the Jacques has discovered some obstacle in cross painted and the immortelles fresh; the way of his happiness? but I can never go to Italy or to Algeria “ But that is not to be thought of,” she -I can never pray beside my darlings, says, as she leads Bobot carefully into the and it is possible that no one else has garden. “ To begin with, Jacques is too prayed at their graves. Ah, but it is a young—he would not speak yet; and blessing that my Jacques has not been Françoise has only her old grandmother, taken for this new Monsieur le and the old woman owes the girl too much Curé has said they do not take the only to stand between her and my Jacques. son of a widow."

No one could say 'No' to Jacques; it is It was not the habit of Eugénie Duclos not love that is troubling my boy." to indulge herself, so she got up, and to Her housewifely instincts quiet her, shake off her unusual depression, began to anxiety. She takes Bobot to his shed get supper ready.

and then lights a little thin candle in a Jacques must come in soon now; and wooden candlestick and puts it on the yet, though each moment she expects to round table which she has got ready for hear the tinkle of Bobot's bells, the old supper. Two wooden bowls and spoons, woman's heart does not lighten. She two horn mugs, and a narrow roll of bread bustles about, and when the table is spread about three feet long, make the rest of her she put Bobot's supper of coarse grass preparations. ready for him under the shed.

In turn she takes each bowl to the The light has grown level, and shows stove, fills each from the soup-pot, and in dusky lines of red behind the pine wood; sets both on the table to cool. She has the straight stems and branches of the already brought in a dark red pitcher of trees panel it into spaces. It is dusk in water and placed it in the corner farthest front of the cottage when Eugénie once from the stove, but now she goes to a little more climbs up on her watch-tower. cupboard in one corner of the room and

She strains her eyes towards Trochu, brings out a black bottle. but no one is in sight. “No one," she “My good man used to say that wine sighs. Just then there comes the sudden was sent us to cheer the heavy-hearted, faint tinkle she had been listening for. not to make giddy those who are already

Something must have happened. Jac- joyful; my Jacques will eat his potage and ques has never been so late; the self-re- drink some wine, and then he will tell me straint in which she has kept herself gives what is grieving him.” way. She opens the little gate and hurries But though Jacques comes in and sits along the sandy road.

down at the table, he seems unable to eat. Her heart gives a great jump at the All at once he notices the wine bottle, and sight of Jacques. There is light enough he half fills his horn cup and drinks off the to see that his head is drooping instead of liquor greedily. being held erect. When his mother comes “Ma foi! But, Jacques, eat then at close up to him she sees that he looks least a bit of bread; the wine flies upward

if there is nothing to keep it down.” Mechanically she takes hold of Bobot's Jacques does not smile; his lips are so bridle and leads him toward the cottage firmly closed that he looks almost surly ; at a brisker pace, but Jacques does not his answer is to put his hand on the bottle walk beside her.

and pour out yet another draught. “ Ah ça, ma mère !” he says in answer This time Eugénie keeps silence; her to her greeting, and then he shrinks back anxiety has changed to alarm. She and and in a few minutes is almost hidden in her son are so very poor that of late wine the increasing darkness.

has been to them a rare luxury, instead of “Mon Dieu !"-Eugénie's heart grows the every-day drink that it is in some

very sad.

southern districts. What can have hap- bowed face, as if she would learn it off by pened !

heart, so that she might know him again He sits upright a few moments, the in heaven. She could not summon a ray sternness deepening round his mouth; of hope; had she not seen four sons depart then suddenly his head droops, he clasps on the same errand, and not

one had his hands quickly over his face and rests

come back ? his elbows on the table.

“Mother," (Jacques spoke out quickly His mother gets up; she puts her arms and gaily, as if he were resolved to rouse around his neck and kisses the strong her from her abstraction,) “thou must not brown hands that cover his face. They grieve for me. It is only because I think are wet with tears, and as her arm circles the winter will come before I am here round him as only a mother's arm can again, and that there will be no one to dig circle, a great shuddering sob shakes him or to fetch wood and water for thee, that from head to foot.

I lament; and this too is wrong. We “My darling, my good child, tell thy have not sought this, my mother; it is mother what it is, then—who is it, then, sent to us; and hast thou not always told my Jacques, who has so grieved thee?" me that, if we bear the crosses sent to us

Just the same caress, almost the same willingly, they are not hard to bear?" words she would have said to her boy ten He bent down and kissed her, and then years ago. She draws his head to her till she gave way. She hid her face on the it rests on her shoulder, but she asks no shoulder of her darling and sobbed and further questions. “My brave Jacques ! cried bitterly; but when this was over she my good boy!" and then she kisses him dried her eyes and tried to look cheerfully and waits till the full heart can speak in in his face. words.

“It is I who am a selfish old woman," she The struggle is soon over; Jacques said. “What do I know, my Jacques ? pounds his knuckles into his eyes and looks Thou wilt come back to me, perhaps, a ashamed, yet smiling.

corporal—who can say ?-for thou art “ It is not for myself

, my mother; it is brave, my boy, and thou wilt make a good for thee. There is a levy of fresh troops, soldier. Allons! I must think of thy and—and I am taken, my mother.” linen. How soon ?" Here she broke off

It was very sad to see the sudden pale- abruptly and turned away. ness of the cheery old face—to see the “ In two days, my mother,” said Jacques light fade from those dark bright eyes so simply; but he was glad that she went widely opened on her son. Jacques sat an away and left him; he felt that they were instant spelled by the change in his mother's only prolonging a common misery by this face, then rose up and placed her in the show of courage towards each other. chair in which he had been sitting. He They kissed each other much as usual felt that she was trembling and her hands when they said good-night, but Eugénie were quite cold.

could not sleep. She was up with the sun “ It is like this, my mother: thou —and it rose early then—and after she knowest that we have heard the empire had set her son's breakfast she trudged off has been insulted by these Prussians, and to the little church just this side of Trochu, that our Emperor will avenge the insult the church of Notre Dame de la Grâce. and carry fire and sword to the homes of But for the altar lights the church would these invaders. This is well, and no doubt have been in darkness; there were only a it will be done; but what then, my mother ? few other worshippers, and when mass Meantime these Prussian brigands have was said it seemed to Eugénie that one of terrible guns, and mow down our brave these was lingering, like herself, to speak hearts like grass. It is no longer possible to monsieur le curé. to make exemptions. I have spoken to Eugénie went out of the church and M. le Maire; he came up just as my name stood waiting in the road. The sky was was being taken, but he only sighed and overcast, and the cool grey haze seemed looked

sorry. 'Make the best of it, in keeping with the intense stillness. It Jacques,' he said.

was a bare, treeless spot, and not even the Jacques paused here, but his mother chirp of a bird or the whirr of an insect did not speak. She made no complaint; broke the quiet. There came a footstep, she only sat still, her eyes fixed on her son's and Eugénie started and recognized a girl

her cap.

with a lilac kerchief drawn forward over times a week between the town of D

and the village of 0-has been ready “ Ma foi, Françoise! Who would have to start for an hour; but as no passengers thought of seeing you so far from home at have appeared, the said voiture—a cross this hour, and it is neither Sunday nor a between an old-fashioned diligence and a fête day.

wooden omnibus—is disinclined to start La mère Duclos looked searchingly for empty. The horses stamp and shake their an instant, but then the downcast blush- rope harness; the driver stands just within ing face answered all questions. When the entrance of the Hôtel de l'Univers monsieur le curé came out of the sacristy smoking his pipe; while the conducteur he found Eugénie kissing Françoise as if chats and smiles with Malle. Sophie, the she were her own child.

fille de boutique at the confectioner's in The good priest walked part of the way zhe street over the way. The street itself home with Eugénie, and then she went in is narrow and the houses are high; there is, alone and spent this last sorrowful day therefore, shadow in it, but this shadow with her son.

brings out the glare of the little place yet They had not many words for each more strongly; for though the Hôtel de other; now and then Jacques, as he l'Univers is the smallest inn in D— it passed where she sat stitching, stooped has a place of its own, and the voiture down and kissed his mother. In the stands therein. afternoon he had to go to Trochu, and The driver stands in shadow, but he feels this absence was almost a relief; for the for his horses; the poor animals' tails are brave old woman struggled hard to keep tied up with scarlet, and they can only from tears, and the very sight of the loved stamp when the flies give a sharper bite face made her eyes swim as she bent over than usual; the last stamp has been so her work.

vigorous that it has nearly upset the Then came the sad good-night, and at voiture. last the dreaded moment of parting. It “ Diable!"—the driver takes his pipe had been so long in coming through those out of his mouth—“it cannot well be hours of su ppressed sorrow, and yet now hotter, and it is not yet mid-day.” it seemed to Eugénie that the day had The place is a triangle; the shady street made a bound from morning to afternoon. is at its apex, and at each of the other All was ready-Jacques and his bundle; angles is an opening, both leading away his mother too was ready to go with him; into the country and both with houses only Bobot was left hehind.

only on one side. Down the steepest of The men were all to be marched to the these two roads comes a moving object nearest railway station, their destination towards the place. It is hard to say at being Orleans; but Jacques had got his first what it is; it may be mother to promise she would leave him woman; or it may be a small cow.

It is before he fairly started.

dark, and if it moves on two legs it is “What use,” he said, “ to stand and be bent double, it seems to roll forward like a pushed aside in a crowd, and yet not to be ball. able, perhaps, to see me ?"

“ Diable,” the driver says again. It is Eugénie cannot thwart his slightest perhaps a favorite expression, or it may be wish. They are close to Trochu now, and he is too hot to seek another. Jacques stops.

“Joseph !" The conducteur nods to Good-bye, my mother!" He takes Malle. Sophie, and comes forward at the her in his arms, almost lifting her off the summons of his chief, for the driver is also ground, and she feels the sobs he cannot the proprietor of the voiture. “ Lookout, keep back now.

vagabond that thou art, and tell what this “God bless thee, my Jacques !" and it is that comes along the road from Merly.”

He hurries away so fast that “ That”—Joseph gasps as he comes when he turns back to kiss his hand the into the blaze of sunshine, and wipes his small bent figure seems far off as it stands big brown face with a red handkerchiefgazing after him.

“ that is an old woman. Hast thou then II.

never seen one before, my friend ?” It is a hot afternoon in the hot August The driver looks sulky; he puts his of 1870. The voiture which runs three broad hand up to screen his eyes and takes

man or

is over.

[ocr errors]

a long look at the strangely moving ob- ed in the last battle. What do I know? ject.

there has been perhaps another battle “Ma foi, it is then a woman who has since. I have travelled for four days, the nature of a crab; she walks with one m'sieur, from Trochu, for I have no money side only.”

to spend on voitures; but I have this, “When does this voiture start for m'sieur, if it will pay for my journey to 0-?” says a voice.

0- She holds up a half-franc piece. The driver starts and takes off his straw The driver scratches his head. hat to an unmistakable Englishman; he “One franc for the intérieur, a franc has spoken those few words with very and a half for the coupé, ma mère.” little accent, it is true, but then there is no Here he pauses and looks at the bent mistaking the English aspect of his face, mother of Jacques; she looks up at him. his figure, and the baggage which a gamin Her face is still red. The blaze on it has is wheeling up in a barrow from the shady been scorched thereon by miles of toil street opposite.

along the barren high road. She cannot “Immediately, m'sieur-at the service turn pale. She does not cry or sob, but a of m'sieur.” Here the driver pulls off his sudden droop spreads over the whole hat again.

countenance; the cheery life

that lay The Englishman is a pleasant-looking sparkling in those dark old eyes has deman about thirty years old, with a mas- parted. sive and yet high forehead, a severe The Englishman listens attentively. straight nose, and earnest deep-set blue Being a man, he listens to the end. eyes; it does not signify about the shape But, my good mother," says the drivof the mouth when one wears such a long er, "you may not think it to look at me, tawny beard as this Mr. Martin does. but I too have à son fighting those acFor his name is Martin-Martin on his cursed Prussians, and for my son's sake portmanteau, Martin on his writing-box, you shall ride part of the way to 0%" and Martin on another clamped box so He opens the door of the intérieur. heavy that it surely holds either books or “Cocher," the Englishman touches him plate.

on the shoulder, “I take the coupé for He stands and sees his baggage dis- myself

, and this good woman can travel posed of with quiet determination; he with me. I prefer her company." does not worry or fidget, but he checks This last in answer to a shrug of deprethe reckless handling of the gamin and cation from the driver. the leisurely dawdling of the conducteur. The conducteur opens the door of the

The driver meantime gives a last look coupé. The Englishman takes off his hat to his horses, and then before he mounts to the courtesying old woman, and waits his high perch he glances up the road to till she takes her place. Then he gets in ; see what has become of the old woman. the driver mounts the box. The conBehold her! very red in face—as much ducteur waves his hand toward the shopface as can be seen under a yellow ker- window of Malle. Sophie. The voiture chief—panting and gasping for breath, lurches, creaks, and with much noise of but with a cheery smile of gladness round rattling over the round stones of the place, her parted lips, courtesying close beside and an occasional crack of the driver's him.

whip mingling with his sharp adjurations “What is it then, my mother ?”

to his horses, the vehicle moves off along It is as the driver has said; the old the second of the two country roads. woman moves her right side nearer to him, “Has your son been long in the army?” and draws the other side after it with an The Englishman has settled himself comeffort.

fortably in his corner, and there is plenty “ Bonjour, m'sieur. You go to O of room for the mother of Jacques to folis it not so ?"

low his example, but she sits on the edge “But yes, my mother, the letters are of the cushioned seat as if she were unpainted large enough.” He points to the used to luxuries. It may be that her inscription in flaming scarlet letters on the heart is too full to be able to think of comblack body of the voiture.

fort, or aught relating to self. “ M'sieur, I am the mother of Jacques, She turns round and looks at her quesour Jacques-who has been badly wound- tioner; her eyes glisten while she speaks:

« AnteriorContinuar »