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Marie Famette and Her Lovers by Katharine S. Macquoid

I.

Marie Famette is the prettiest girl in the market-place of Aubette. Her eyes are of such a sweet, soft blue, deeply shaded by long black lashes: her eyebrows are not black, but they are of a much darker tint than her hair, which (so much of it as can be seen under her full white cap-border) is a golden yellow. But it is not her eyes and her hair that make Marie so attractive: she has charmed young and old alike ever since she came, a toddling damsel of two years, and took her place beside her mother in the market-place of Aubette.

Madame Famette's was the best fruit-stall of the market. No one else could show such baskets of peaches and hampers of pears; and as to the citrouilles and potirons, their reputation was so established that by ten o'clock there was little to be seen of them among the glowing vegetables which decked the stall. Such radishes were not to be seen elsewhere—white and purple, as thick as carrots; and the carrots themselves like lumps of red gold, lying nestling beneath their feathered tops or setting off the creamy whiteness of the cauliflowers ranged in a formal row in front of them.

But Marie had always eclipsed all other beauty in the stall, and now that she had grown too big to be patted on the cheek and kissed by grown-up admirers, she had a host of victims in the sturdy young countrymen who came in to Aubette—either to bring mothers and sisters with their produce or to purchase for themselves.

Madame Famette has weak health, and lately Marie comes often to the market by herself, and is able to flirt to her heart's content, unchecked by her mother's presence. She is so bright, so arch, so ready with a sparkling answer, that it is no wonder her stall is always thronged and that her fruit and her vegetables disappear so rapidly.

There is an extra buzz in the market to-day. It is September, the epoch of the Mascaret, for the dreaded flood-tide seldom visits the Seine more than twice a year, and always draws dwellers in the neighboring towns to see its autumn fury. There is an influx of strange faces in the little place beneath the richly-sculptured spire of Notre Dame—the cathedral of Aubette, as strangers call it, although it is only the parish church of the quaint little town—and a certain extra excitement is communicated to the settlers under the canvas-covered booths and to the humbler sellers of wares in baskets. Mademoiselle Lesage, a short, plump young woman dressed in black, flits in and out of the chattering crowd more busily than usual. Mademoiselle holds herself of a rank above the country-folk who bring in their poultry and garden produce to Aubette. In token of this she wears a round black mushroom-shaped hat, and a holland apron with two deep pockets in virtue of her office; for Mademoiselle Lesage has an enterprising spirit. She found herself at thirty years old left alone in the world with an ugly face and with an insufficient "dot." Mademoiselle Lesage is ambitious: she does not care to marry a very poor man, and she has managed to give the town council of Aubette such security that it allows her to farm the market yearly for some hundreds of francs. Watch her collecting her dues. She goes rapidly from stall to stall, jingling her pockets, laughing and chatting with the farmers' wives, all the time keeping a hawk's eye on the basket-carriers, not one of whom may presume to sell so much as an onion without the weekly toll of one sou. She darts in and out among them, and her pockets swell out in front as if they were stuffed with apples.

She has left Marie Famette's stall till the last. She crosses over to it now as quickly as she can go, but there is no means of darting in and out here, as there was just now among the basket-women. Old Floris Marceau has covered a good-sized space with his heap of green and yellow melons, and he stands behind these marchandéing, gesticulating, brandishing the knife with which he slices his citrouilles and inveighing against the folly of his customers. "Will mam'selle believe," he says, addressing her as she approaches, and wiping his knife on his often-patched blouse, "they come to buy fruit of a respectable vegetable-seller and they don't know the price of a melon? Ten sous for a cantaloupe like that!" His blue eyes gleamed furiously under his frowning gray eyebrows. "Ten sous! I told them to be off and buy chickens." He broke into a laugh, and pointed to a tall, bent old gentleman, who seemed covered with confusion at this public rebuke, and sidled his way out of the throng without attempting an answer.

"Buy a turkey, m'sieur?" A smiling, dark-eyed woman in a close-setting white cap went on with the joke and pointed to her basket, but the old gentleman had had enough: he hurried away with a rueful glance at the basket in which, divided only by the handle, sat two fat turkey poults and two chickens. One of the turkeys stirred and got a wing free, but it was remorselessly tucked in again and reduced to passive endurance, with "Keep quiet then, ne soyez pas bête."

Mademoiselle Lesage approaches Marie's stall at a leisurely pace: she wishes to see her ground before she speaks. By the extra sweetness of her smile one might suppose that mademoiselle loved the gay little beauty: "Bonjour, Marie. Madame Famette trusts you alone again, I see?"

Marie does exactly that which Mademoiselle Lesage intended to make her do: she starts violently and she looks annoyed.

Elise Lesage glances quickly from Marie to the two young men who stand beside her. One of these, tall, well-dressed, with a Jewish face, and a sparkling pin in his brilliant blue scarf, is Alphonse Poiseau, the son of Monsieur Poiseau of the large clockmaker's and jeweler's shop at the corner of the place next the church: the other is Nicolas Marais, a handsome, gypsy-looking fellow with no decided occupation. He is sometimes at work on his uncle's farm at Vatteville, and when he falls out with his uncle and tires of Vatteville he comes across the Seine and gets employed by Léon Roussel, the chief timber-merchant of Aubette.

People say that old Marais, the miser of Vatteville, means to make Nicolas his heir; but Nicolas takes no pains to please the old man: he goes here and there at his pleasure, a favorite wherever he shows his handsome dark eyes and his saucy smile. The men like him as much as the women do, he has such a ready, amusing tongue, and he never says a spiteful word; so that more than one of the keen, observant poultry-sellers standing beside their baskets near Marie's stall have commented on the scowl with which for full five minutes Léon Roussel has regarded Nicolas. Léon Roussel is a middle-sized, in no way remarkable-looking person, with honest brown eyes and a square, sensible face. His father, the wealthy timber-merchant on the Yvetôt road, died when he was a boy, and Léon is one of the most prosperous citizens of Aubette, and well thought of by all. Léon is ostensibly in consultation with Monsieur Houlard, tailor and town councillor, but as he stands at the worthy's shop-door he is raised above the level of the place, and is exactly opposite the stall of Marie Famette.

"Nicolas is out of favor with Monsieur Roussel: he has worked badly in the lumber-yard," says La Mère Robillard.

"Chut! chut!" says her gossip, Madelaine Manget, and she gives at the same time a pat to a refractory chicken. "Nicolas looks too hard at Marie Famette. Ma foi! there are men in the manger as well as dogs. If Monsieur Léon wants Marie to be for his eyes only, why does he not ask for her and marry her, the proud simpleton?"

"Ah, but look you, Madelaine, Léon is not proud: he never turns a poor man from his door without a morsel to quiet hunger, and he must be clever or his business would not prosper."

La Mère Manget shrugs her shoulders. "Will you then not buy turkeys at eleven francs the couple, ma belle dame?" she cries shrilly to a passer-by.

While Marie Famette recovers herself, Nicolas answers Mam'selle Lesage. "Pardon, Mam'selle Lesage, but Mam'selle Marie is not alone," he says, raising his hat with exquisite politeness—Alphonse Poiseau tries to follow suit, but his bow is stiff and pompous—"the whole market is her body-guard, and she permits Monsieur Poiseau and myself to act as sentinels." He throws an insinuating glance at Marie, which deepens the gloom on Léon Roussel's face.

Elise Lesage has taken in the whole situation, and she knows exactly where to look for the timber-merchant. An uneasy consciousness makes Marie follow her glance: she looks red and confused when she sees Léon's stern, disapproving face. His eyes are fixed on her as she looks across, but he withdraws them instantly and turns to Monsieur Houlard.

Marie bites her pretty red under-lip: she can hardly keep from crying: "If we were alone and he scolded me, I would not mind; but he has no right to frown at me before the whole town. It is enough to compromise me. It will be said presently that I am a bold girl, while I only amuse myself, and never move a step from my stall to speak to any one. It is too bad!"

She gulps down a lump in her throat, and gives Nicolas Marais a smile that makes the clockmaker long to knock his rival's head against the gray buttress of the old church.

"Sentinels!" Elise Lesage laughs. "Is Marie afraid, then, that some one will steal her?"

"Marie is afraid of nothing, Mademoiselle Lesage." The little beauty is glad to be able to vent her vexation on some one. "What right has she to call me Marie?" she says to Nicolas in a very audible under-tone.

Mademoiselle's black eyes close till they look like lines: Marie does not see her face, but Nicolas Marais shivers, he hardly knows why.

A restraint has come over the merry trio, and Nicolas abhors restraint. "Tiens!" he says carelessly, "there is a fresh bevy of basket-women, Mam'selle Lesage."

Elise darts off like a greyhound, and Marie forgets her vexation and laughs out merrily at Nicolas's ruse: "She is such a busybody!" The girl glances across to see what has become of Léon: he is talking to Mademoiselle Lesage.

Alphonse Poiseau has kept silence, but he has observed. "I should not like to offend mam'selle," he says, "her eyes are so like a snake's."

II.

Market has come and gone again. Marie Famette was not happy as she went home last Saturday, but to-day her heart aches sorely as she goes along the dusty road to St. Gertrude. Last Saturday was the first market-day this year that Léon Roussel has not helped her into her cart and taken a friendly leave of her; but he disappeared before market was over, and to-day he was not there at all.

"And he might have walked home with me!" Tears are in poor little Marie's eyes. Léon Roussel has seemed her own special property, and he has not been to her mother's house for a fortnight. "And if he had been at market to-day, he would have been content with me: poor Nicolas must be ill indeed to stay away from market. Ma foi! I have been dull alone. Elise Lesage was civil, for a wonder: I hope she will give old Marais's note safely to his nephew. I wonder why she goes to see Nicolas?"

As she says the word a strange foreboding seizes Marie: she cannot tell what causes it, but her old dislike to Elise rises up, mingled with a kind of fear. "I ought to have given Nicolas the note myself; and yet—"

The road is very long and very dusty to-day: it is never an interesting way out of Aubette, except that being cut on the hillside it is raised high, the little river meandering through the osier meadows on the left, and also commands a fine view of the beautiful old church. But Marie does not turn back to look at the church: her heart is too heavy to take interest in anything out of herself. She has left the cart behind to bring out crockery and some new chairs which she has purchased for her mother, and she wishes she had stayed in Aubette till her cargo was packed. All at once a new thought comes, and her eyes brighten. A wood clothes the hilly side of the road, but on the left there is a steep descent into the valley, and the road is bordered either by scattered cottages or by an irregular hawthorn hedge. A little way on there is a gap in this hedge, and looking down there is a long steep flight of steps with wooden edges. At the foot stands a good-sized house divided now into several cottages. The walls are half-timbered with wood set crosswise in the plaster between two straight rows. Ladders, iron hoops and a bird-cage hang against the wall, and over the door is a wooden shelf with scarlet geraniums. There is a desolate garden divided into three by a criss-cross fence and a hedge, and over the last a huge orange citrouille has clambered and lies perched on the top.

Marie knows that Nicolas Marais sometimes lodges in one of the cottages, but she knows too that the property belongs to Léon Roussel, and that he lives close by. A blush comes to the girl's cheeks: she may see Léon there. She stops and looks down: Elise Lesage is coming out of the doorway, but she is talking over her shoulder to some one behind her. Marie sees her put her fingers into one of the brown holland pockets, pull out a note and give it to her companion.

Marie draws a deep breath: "How I wronged her! Ever since I gave her that note I have felt anxious and troubled. She seems so spiteful to me that I feared she might somehow get me into trouble with it, and yet I don't know how."

There were footsteps coming along the road, but Marie did not look round: in the quick revulsion of feeling toward Elise she was eager to make atonement. She leaned on the hand-rail that went down the steps, waiting for Mademoiselle Lesage: if she had listened she would have noticed that the footsteps had come nearer and had suddenly ceased.

Nicolas Marais came forward out of the cottage, and then Elise looked up and saw Marie. She smiled and nodded. "I am coming," she called up in her rasping voice; and she did seem in high haste to get to Marie Famette, but Marie saw that she looked beyond her at some one or something else. The girl looked over her shoulder, and there was Léon Roussel, but he did not care to look at her. His eyes were fixed sternly on Nicolas Marais, but Nicolas did not seem to care for his employer's anger: he was smiling rapturously up at Marie, and as she now looked at him he first kissed his hand and then put the note to his lips and kissed it twice.

Marie grew crimson. Elise, who had just reached the top of the steps, laughed, and Léon Roussel stood an instant pale and defiant, and then turned back toward Aubette.

"Stay, stay, Monsieur Léon!" Elise darted after him; then, stopping suddenly, she nodded back at Marie: "Stop and talk to Nicolas, mon enfant: I will make it all right for you with Monsieur Roussel;" and she hurried on in pursuit.

But Marie was too angry with Nicolas to give him even a moment: "How dare he kiss his hand to me? And oh, Léon will think that I wrote that note to him, and how can I ever tell him the truth? Will Elise Lesage tell him?"

She had just a faint hope; and then she reproached herself. Why should not Mademoiselle Lesage tell the truth? She was cross and spiteful, but then, poor thing! she was old and ugly. "And it may be," Marie thought, "that one is not half thankful enough for one's gifts, and that it is very irritating to be plain. It is Alphonse Poiseau who has made me think evil of Elise, and one should not cherish evil thoughts."

Marie went home happier and lighter-hearted: that little glimpse of Léon had quieted the sore longing at her heart, and at first the joy of having seen him made her dwell less on his stern looks and his avoidance of herself.

She came to the broad grassed turning that leads off the main road to St. Gertrude. A saddled donkey was grazing on one side, and on the other an old woman sat on a stone post. She jumped up when she saw Marie. She had looked tall as she sat: she was as broad as she was long now she stood erect in her dark striped gown and black jacket, and white cap with its plain border and lappets pinned together over her forehead.

"Well, well, well!" She spoke in a short bustling voice—a voice that would have been cheering if it had been less restless. "Hast thou then seen Léon Roussel, Marie? Hast thou learned the reason of his absence?"

Marie's tender, sweet look vanished: she tossed her pretty head and pouted: "Léon was not at the market, but I saw him as I came home; only he was not close to me, so we did not speak."

"Didst thou see that vaurien Nicolas?"

"Yes, I saw him."

Marie blushed, and her mother burst out into angry words: "Foolish, trifling child that thou art! thou lovest that black-eyed gypsy boy; and for him, the idle vagabond, thou hast flung away the best parti in Aubette. Ciel! what do I say? In Bolbec itself there is no one with better prospects than Léon Roussel." Madame Famette always failed in managing her daughter.

Marie smiled and kept down her indignation. "I hardly know that," she said: "old Marais will make Nicolas his heir, and there is no saying how rich a miser is." She crossed the road, caught the donkey by the bridle, and held him ready for her mother to mount.

Madame Famette went on grumbling, but Mouton the donkey soon drew her anger on himself; and by the time the three reached the triangle of gray, half-timbered cottages which surround the old church of St. Gertrude, the easy, sieve-like nature of the woman had recovered from its vexation.

"Holà, Jeanne, Jeanne! run there and take Mouton from Mam'selle Marie, who is tired with the market. Come, thou, mon cher, and tell me the news." Madame Famette rolled off her donkey, and then rolled on into the house.

III.

Marie Famette was ill—much too ill to go to market.

"I will go. Do not vex thyself, my child, and I will see our good doctor and bring thee back a tisane." The bustling woman, with her blue eyes and light eyelashes, bent down and kissed Marie's forehead, and then departed.

"A tisane!" The bright blue eyes were so dull and languid now, half closed by the heavy white eyelids. "I wonder if even Doctor Guéroult is wise enough to cure the heart when it aches like mine? Ah, Léon, I did not think you could be so hard, so cruel; and how could he know, how could he see into my heart, while I stood laughing so foolishly with Nicolas and Monsieur Poiseau? If Elise Lesage had not teased me about Léon, it might have been different, but I could not let her think I cared for him after what she said." She leaned back her head and cried bitterly.

Madame Famette was more serious than usual on her way to the market. Matters were getting tangled, she thought. Léon Roussel had begun to be a regular Sunday visitor at the cottage, and now three weeks and more had gone by and he had not come; and a gossip who had walked home from church with her overnight had told Madame Famette that Mam'selle Lesage was going to marry a Monsieur Roussel: whether it was Léon or a Monsieur Roussel of some other place than Aubette her gossip could not affirm; and in this uncertainty the mother's heart was troubled. She was very proud of Marie's beauty and graceful ways, and she had thought it a just tribute when the young timber-merchant had asked her permission to call at the cottage; and now, just when she had been expecting that his aunt, La Mère Thérèse, the superior of the Convent du Sacré Coeur in Aubette, would send for her in order that the demand for her daughter's hand and the preliminaries of the marriage might be settled, had come first Léon Roussel's strange absence and the visits of Nicolas Marais, and now the gossip about Elise Lesage.

"I will know the right of it to-day," Madame Famette thinks, and she lashes out at Mouton in an unusual fashion.

The first customer at her stall is Madame Houlard, the wife of the tailor and town councillor. "How is Marie?" she says: "the market does not seem itself without Marie Famette."

Madame Famette smiles, but she sighs too: "My poor little girl is ill;" and then her eyes rove round the market, and fix on Mademoiselle Lesage bustling in and out among her clients. "Have you then heard that Elise Lesage is to be married?" she says in a low, cautious voice.

Madame Houlard's flat, good-tempered face grows troubled: "Ah yes, I have heard some talk; and listen to that noisy fellow;" then she points to Floris Marceau, who is gesticulating and vehement as usual.

She is surprised to find her arm tightly grasped by the large hand of the fruit-seller: "Madame Houlard, tell me the truth: who is to marry with Elise Lesage?"

Madame Houlard leads a very tranquil life: her husband is the most placid man in Aubette, and she has never had any children to disturb the calm of existence. She is ruffled and shocked by Madame Famette's vehemence. She bridles and releases her plump arm: "Ma foi, my friend! what will you? Gossip comes, and gossip goes. I believe all I hear—that is but convenable—but then, look you, I am quite as willing to believe in the contradiction which so frequently follows. One should never excite one's self about anything: be sure of this, my friend, it is bad for the nerves. What is salsify a bundle to-day?"

Madame Famette, as has been said, has a sieve-like nature with regard to the passing away of wrath, but still her anger is easily roused. "It would be simpler to tell me what you have heard," she says in a very snappish accent. "When I want a lecture I can get it from monsieur le curé."

Madame Houlard had felt unwilling to tell her news, but this aggravating sentence goaded it out of her mouth: "It is to Monsieur Roussel, the timber-merchant, that Elise Lesage is to be married: see, he is talking to her now." There is a slight tone of satisfaction in Madame Houlard's smooth voice, and yet in her heart she is sorry for her friend's disappointment. All the market-place of Aubette had given Léon Roussel to the charming Marie.

"Léon Roussel! Why, she is as old as he is—older; and, ma foi! how ugly! and her parents—no one knows where they came from; and she—she is nothing but a money-grubber."

The day was tedious to Madame Famette. She tried to speak to Léon, but he avoided her with a distant bow. There was not even Alphonse Poiseau to help her: only little Pierre Trotin came and carried her baskets to the donkey-cart. She called at the doctor's house, but she could not see him. Madame Famette's heart had not been so heavy since her husband died. "It is that serpent"—she wiped her eyes on a huge blue-and-yellow pocket handkerchief—"who has done it all; and my poor unsuspecting child has flirted with Nicolas, and made the way easy. Ciel! what do I know? It is possible that Marie loves Nicolas, and is willing to throw herself away on a vaurien with a pair of dark eyes; and the news will not grieve her as it has grieved me."

She met her servant Jeanne at the entrance of the road, and gave up the donkey-cart to her care. Then she went on sorrowfully and silently to find Marie. The door stood ajar, just as she had left it. She went in more quietly than usual, but Marie heard her. The girl sat just where her mother had left her: the loaf of bread lay untouched. It was plain that Marie had gone without breakfast. Her face was very pale, and her eyes fixed strainingly on her mother, but she did not speak.

Madame Famette's vexation had made her cross, and Marie's pale face increased her trouble: "How naughty thou art then, Marie! I set thee a knife and a plate: thou hadst but to stretch out thy hand. Ciel! but the market tires!" She cut a slice of bread for her daughter, and then she seated herself.

"Mother"—Marie bent forward and shaded her eyes with her hand—"didst thou see Léon Roussel?"

Madame's shoulders went up to her ears in a heave of disgust: "Thou mayest as well know it, Marie: Léon Roussel is promised to Elise Lesage, and they were together in the market. See what thy folly has caused!"

But Marie scarcely heard her mother's reproaches. The blood flew up to her face, and then it left her paler than before. She bent lower—lower yet, until she overbalanced and fell like a crushed lily at her mother's feet.

IV.

"How is Marie Famette?" Monsieur Houlard the tailor asks of Monsieur Guéroult the doctor of Aubette, as he meets him hurrying through the Rue de la Boucherie.

"She is better, the poor child! but she must be careful this winter." Then, seeing Houlard look anxious, the good doctor says, "But she is so far better that I have discontinued my visits: I have given Marie leave to come to Aubette."

"That is good news," says Houlard as the doctor shoots past him, and the tailor tells the next person he meets that Marie Famette is as well as ever, and is coming to market as usual.

It is Léon Roussel to whom he tells this, and Monsieur Houlard is pained at the young man's want of interest.

"One would have thought," he says to his wife when he reaches his shop, "that Roussel was displeased with Marie for recovering her health."

"Perhaps he thinks she will make a fool of herself, now she is well again, by marrying Nicolas Marais: I hear they are lovers."

"It is a pity," says the dutiful husband. "Girls should not choose for themselves. You did not, my dear, and that is why our life has gone so easily."

But Marie is not really as strong as the doctor pronounces her to be: her cheeks are hollow, and the color on them is feverish and uncertain. If she could get away from home she would have more chance of mending. Madame Famette's sorrow at her daughter's changed looks expands itself in querulous remonstrance on the folly of flirting and on the good-for-nothing qualities of Nicolas Marais. Nicolas has come to inquire for Marie, but Madame Famette has received him so uncourteously that the poor fellow contents himself with hovering about on the chance of meeting Marie alone. But he never sees her, although the rumor grows strong in St. Gertrude, and is wafted on to Aubette, that Nicolas and Marie will be married as soon as she gets well enough to see about wedding-clothes.

It is the beginning of October, a bright clear morning. The red and yellow leaves come swiftly to the ground with a sudden snap from the twigs that held them: the rabbits move about briskly, and a couple of field-mice in search of winter stores run across the road nearly under Marie's feet. Marie's cheeks are rosy with the fresh, crisp air, but she does not look gay or happy. Life seems to have got into a hard knot which the poor little girl finds no power to untie. Market-day used to be a fête to Marie, but to-day she considers it a penance to be sent in to Aubette. She is not going to hold her stall—ah no, she is not nearly strong enough for such a task—but Madame Famette has a severe attack of rheumatism, and Jeanne cannot be trusted to buy the weekly provision of groceries. Marie shrinks as she goes along at the thought of meeting Léon Roussel. There is another thought, which she will not face—that it is possible Léon and Elise Lesage will be together in the market-place. "I need not go into the Grande Place at all," the poor child says. "I can get all I want in the Rue des Bons Enfants;" and she goes there when she reaches Aubette.

But Marie has miscalculated her strength. She grows suddenly so white that Monsieur le Blanc, the épicier of the Rue des Bons Enfants, takes her into his daughter's room and makes her lie down on the little sofa. Marie lies there with widely-opened eyes, wondering how she shall get back to St. Gertrude.

"You are to lie still till Thérèse comes back from market," the old man says, "and then she will arrange about your going home."

Marie lies gazing dreamily at the blue-papered ceiling. "I used to think Thérèse le Blanc a cross old maid," she ponders: "shall I be a cross old maid too?" And then the pale, stricken girl holds up her thin hand and sighs: "I shall not be old: I shall die soon. Poor mother! she will forgive Nicolas when I am gone away."

There is a bustle in the shop, but Marie does not heed it. She smiles when Thérèse comes in, but she is too weak to talk—too weak to make any objection when she hears that a farmer who lives some miles beyond St. Gertrude has undertaken to convey her in his huge green-hooded wagon as far as the cross-road.

Thérèse stands over her while she eats a piece of bread and drinks a glass of wine, and then the farmer, a stout old Norman in a gray blouse, helps her into the back of the wagon, and makes a resting-place for her on some of the hay still left unsold, under the lofty arched roof.

V.

"Get up my friend, get up: you will reach Yvetôt sooner if I give you a lift than if you wait. The diligence does not leave Aubette till six o'clock, remember, and my old horses get over the ground surely if not quickly."

Marie rouses from a sort of doze, but she cannot see the farmer or the wayfarer to whom he speaks: a pile of new fruit-baskets fills up the middle of the huge vehicle, and makes a wall between Marie and the driving-seat.

"Well, mon gars, it is a long time since I saw you, and the town-gossip of Aubette tells me more of your affairs than you ever condescend to inform your cousin of. Your mother was different, Léon. Dame! I could never pass her door after your father died but she would stop my wagon and ask me for just five minutes' counsel. But you young ones are all alike: the world has got a new pivot, it seems, for this generation, and it will move round more easily when we graybeards are all kicked out."

"I don't think so, for one." Marie had known she must hear Léon Roussel's voice, and yet her heart throbbed at his first words. "But, my cousin, what is the news that thou hast learned about me in Aubette?"

"Well, the news varies: sometimes I hear thee coupled with one girl, and then again with another, till I do not know what to think, Léon. I am afraid thou art fickle."

There was a pause. Marie raised herself on one elbow and listened breathlessly: it never came to her mind that she was listening to talk not intended for her ears.

"Well, man"—the farmer seemed nettled—"why not speak out and say thou art promised to old Lesage's daughter?"

"Because I am not promised to her."

Marie stifled a sob. It seemed as if her heart could not much longer hold in its agitation, she longed so intensely for the farmer's next question and for Léon's answer.

"Art thou promised to the beauty of the market, the little Marie?"

There was no pause this time. Léon's words came out rapidly with bitter emphasis: "Marie Famette is going to marry Marais of Vatteville."

"Marry! Ma foi! I hear the girl is very ill. I forget—there is a sick girl in the wagon now."

It seemed to the listener that Léon spoke heedless of the farmer's last words: "Once again the town-gossip has deceived you, Michel. I heard a week ago, and Houlard had just learned it from the Doctor Guéroult, that Marie Famette is as well and gay as ever. I believe she has come back to the market."

No reply. The silence that followed oppressed Marie: a sense of guilt stole over her. It was not likely that old Michel Roussel knew who she was when he helped her into the wagon: she remembered now that Léon had told her of his rich cousin at Yvetôt; she knew she must get out soon, and then Léon would see her and know that she had heard him. She felt sick with shame. Would it not have been more honest to have betrayed her presence? It was too late now. "And I could not—I have not the courage." Marie crouched closer under the wall of baskets.

Suddenly, Léon spoke. "Well, Michel, I will get out here," he said.

The wagon stopped. Marie heard farewells exchanged, and then on they jogged again to St. Gertrude.

Marie's heart was suddenly stilled: its painful throbbing and fluttering had subsided—it sank like lead. Léon was gone, and she had flung away her only chance of telling him that Nicolas Marais never had been—never could be—more to her than a friend.

"Oh what a fool I am! I may often see him, but how can I say this? And just now the way was open!"

When Farmer Roussel stopped the wagon again, and came round to the back to help Marie out, he found her sobbing bitterly.

"Here we are at St. Gertrude, but—Ma foi! but this is childish, ma belle," he said kindly, "to go spoiling your pretty eyes because you feel ill. Courage! you will soon be well if you eat and drink and keep a light heart." He helped her down tenderly, and shook both her hands in his before he let her go. "Well," he said as he rolled up on to the seat, "I wonder I had not asked for a kiss. She is rarely pretty, poor child!"

Marie stood still just where she had found her mother seated on that evening which it seemed to the girl had begun all her misery; but till now through all there had been hope—the hope given by disbelief in Léon's engagement to Elise Lesage. Now there was the sad, terrible certainty that Léon believed her false. Marie knew that though she had never pledged faith, still her eyes had shown Léon feelings which no other man had seen in them. For a moment she felt nerved to a kind of desperation: she would go and seek Léon, and tell him the truth that some one had set on foot this false report of her promise to Nicolas Marais. She turned again toward the high-road, and then her heart sank. How could she seek Léon? He did not love her, and if she made this confession would it not be a tacit owning of love for himself? The weight at her heart seemed to burden her limbs: she dragged on toward home wearily and slowly.

The road turns suddenly into St. Gertrude, and takes a breathing-space at a sharp angle with a breadth of grass, bordered by a clump of nut trees. Before Marie reached the nut trees she saw Léon Roussel standing beside them. She stopped, but he had been waiting for her coming: he came forward to meet her.

When he saw her face he looked grieved, but he spoke very coldly: "I have been to your cottage to inquire for you"—he raised his hat, but he made no effort to take her hand—"and then I heard you were expected home from Aubette. I did not know how ill you had been till to-day, Marie: I had been told you were quite recovered."

His cold, hard manner wounded her: "Oh, I am better, thank you;" but as she spoke her sight grew dizzy: she would have fallen if Léon had not caught her in his arms. She felt that he clasped her closely for an instant, and then he loosed his hold.

"Thank you!" She freed herself. "I am better. I will go home now, Monsieur Roussel."

He took off his hat mechanically, and Marie turned toward St. Gertrude.

But she did not move: she had no power to go forward. An impulse stronger than her will was holding her. She looked round: Léon had not moved—he stood with his eyes fixed on the ground.

"I must tell you something," she said. Léon started: he had never heard Marie speak in such a humble tone. "I was in the wagon just now, and I listened to your talk with Monsieur Michel." Her cheeks grew crimson. "But, Monsieur Roussel, you are in error about me. Nicolas Marais is my friend"—Léon's face grew so stern that her eyes drooped and her voice faltered—"but he will never be more to me. He has always been my friend."

Léon came close to her and took her hand: "Marie"—his voice was so harsh and severe that she shrunk from him—"you must tell the truth, and you must not be angry if I doubt you. My child, did I not see Nicolas kiss the letter you sent him, and look at you as he kissed it?"

"Did Elise Lesage tell you I wrote that letter?" But Marie's fear had left her. She smiled up at her lover, once more his own arch, bright Marie: "How dared you believe her, Léon? I have a great mind not to tell you the truth."

But Léon Roussel was satisfied, for while she spoke his arm had folded round her again, and he was much too happy to trouble himself about Nicolas Marais.


Léon and Marie are to be married in November, and Mam'selle Lesage has been so indisposed that for two consecutive Saturdays she has sent a deputy to collect sous in the market of Aubette.

Katharine S. Macquoid.