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Chapter 2

  • Like every other woman, she had had an affair of the heart. Her father, wh_as a mason, was killed by falling from a scaffolding. Then her mother die_nd her sisters went their different ways; a farmer took her in, and while sh_as quite small, let her keep cows in the fields. She was clad in miserabl_ags, beaten for the slightest offence and finally dismissed for a theft o_hirty sous which she did not commit. She took service on another farm wher_he tended the poultry; and as she was well thought of by her master, he_ellow-workers soon grew jealous.
  • One evening in August (she was then eighteen years old), they persuaded her t_ccompany them to the fair at Colleville. She was immediately dazzled by th_oise, the lights in the trees, the brightness of the dresses, the laces an_old crosses, and the crowd of people all hopping at the same time. She wa_tanding modestly at a distance, when presently a young man of well-to-d_ppearance, who had been leaning on the pole of a wagon and smoking his pipe, approached her, and asked her for a dance. He treated her to cider and cake, bought her a silk shawl, and then, thinking she had guessed his purpose, offered to see her home. When they came to the end of a field he threw he_own brutally. But she grew frightened and screamed, and he walked off.
  • One evening, on the road leading to Beaumont, she came upon a wagon loade_ith hay, and when she overtook it, she recognised Theodore. He greeted he_almly, and asked her to forget what had happened between them, as it "was al_he fault of the drink."
  • She did not know what to reply and wished to run away.
  • Presently he began to speak of the harvest and of the notables of the village; his father had left Colleville and bought the farm of Les Ecots, so that no_hey would be neighbours. "Ah!" she exclaimed. He then added that his parent_ere looking around for a wife for him, but that he, himself, was not s_nxious and preferred to wait for a girl who suited him. She hung her head. H_hen asked her whether she had ever thought of marrying. She replied, smilingly, that it was wrong of him to make fun of her. "Oh! no, I am i_arnest," he said, and put his left arm around her waist while they sauntere_long. The air was soft, the stars were bright, and the huge load of ha_scillated in front of them, drawn by four horses whose ponderous hoofs raise_louds of dust. Without a word from their driver they turned to the right. H_issed her again and she went home. The following week, Theodore obtaine_eetings.
  • They met in yards, behind walls or under isolated trees. She was not ignorant, as girls of well-to-do families are—for the animals had instructed her;—bu_er reason and her instinct of honour kept her from falling. Her resistanc_xasperated Theodore's love and so in order to satisfy it (or perchanc_ngenuously), he offered to marry her. She would not believe him at first, s_e made solemn promises. But, in a short time he mentioned a difficulty; th_revious year, his parents had purchased a substitute for him; but any day h_ight be drafted and the prospect of serving in the army alarmed him greatly.
  • To Felicite his cowardice appeared a proof of his love for her, and he_evotion to him grew stronger. When she met him, he would torture her with hi_ears and his entreaties. At last, he announced that he was going to th_refect himself for information, and would let her know everything on th_ollowing Sunday, between eleven o'clock and midnight.
  • When the time grew near, she ran to meet her lover.
  • But instead of Theodore, one of his friends was at the meeting-place.
  • He informed her that she would never see her sweetheart again; for, in orde_o escape the conscription, he had married a rich old woman, Madam_ehoussais, of Toucques.
  • The poor girl's sorrow was frightful. She threw herself on the ground, sh_ried and called on the Lord, and wandered around desolately until sunrise.
  • Then she went back to the farm, declared her intention of leaving, and at th_nd of the month, after she had received her wages, she packed all he_elongings in a handkerchief and started for Pont-l'Eveque.
  • In front of the inn, she met a woman wearing widow's weeds, and upo_uestioning her, learned that she was looking for a cook. The girl did no_now very much, but appeared so willing and so modest in her requirements, that Madame Aubain finally said:
  • "Very well, I will give you a trial."
  • And half an hour later Felicite was installed in her house.
  • At first she lived in a constant anxiety that was caused by "the style of th_ousehold" and the memory of "Monsieur," that hovered over everything. Pau_nd Virginia, the one aged seven, and the other barely four, seemed made o_ome precious material; she carried them pig-a-back, and was greatly mortifie_hen Madame Aubain forbade her to kiss them every other minute.
  • But in spite of all this, she was happy. The comfort of her new surrounding_ad obliterated her sadness.
  • Every Thursday, friends of Madame Aubain dropped in for a game of cards, an_t was Felicite's duty to prepare the table and heat the foot-warmers. The_rrived at exactly eight o'clock and departed before eleven.
  • Every Monday morning, the dealer in second-hand goods, who lived under th_lley-way, spread out his wares on the sidewalk. Then the city would be fille_ith a buzzing of voices in which the neighing of horses, the bleating o_ambs, the grunting of pigs, could be distinguished, mingled with the shar_ound of wheels on the cobble-stones. About twelve o'clock, when the marke_as in full swing, there appeared at the front door a tall, middle-age_easant, with a hooked nose and a cap on the back of his head; it was Robelin, the farmer of Geffosses. Shortly afterwards came Liebard, the farmer o_oucques, short, rotund and ruddy, wearing a grey jacket and spurred boots.
  • Both men brought their landlady either chickens or cheese. Felicite woul_nvariably thwart their ruses and they held her in great respect.
  • At various times, Madame Aubain received a visit from the Marquis d_remanville, one of her uncles, who was ruined and lived at Falaise on th_emainder of his estates. He always came at dinner-time and brought an ugl_oodle with him, whose paws soiled their furniture. In spite of his efforts t_ppear a man of breeding (he even went so far as to raise his hat every tim_e said "My deceased father"), his habits got the better of him, and he woul_ill his glass a little too often and relate broad stories. Felicite woul_how him out very politely and say: "You have had enough for this time, Monsieur de Gremanville! Hoping to see you again!" and would close the door.
  • She opened it gladly for Monsieur Bourais, a retired lawyer. His bald head an_hite cravat, the ruffling of his shirt, his flowing brown coat, the manner i_hich he took snuff, his whole person, in fact, produced in her the kind o_we which we feel when we see extraordinary persons. As he managed Madame'_states, he spent hours with her in Monsieur's study; he was in constant fea_f being compromised, had a great regard for the magistracy and som_retensions to learning.
  • In order to facilitate the children's studies, he presented them with a_ngraved geography which represented various scenes of the world; cannibal_ith feather head-dresses, a gorilla kidnapping a young girl, Arabs in th_esert, a whale being harpooned, etc.
  • Paul explained the pictures to Felicite. And, in fact, this was her onl_iterary education.
  • The children's studies were under the direction of a poor devil employed a_he town-hall, who sharpened his pocket-knife on his boots and was famous fo_is penmanship.
  • When the weather was fine, they went to Geffosses. The house was built in th_entre of the sloping yard; and the sea looked like a grey spot in th_istance. Felicite would take slices of cold meat from the lunch basket an_hey would sit down and eat in a room next to the dairy. This room was al_hat remained of a cottage that had been torn down. The dilapidated wall-pape_rembled in the drafts. Madame Aubain, overwhelmed by recollections, woul_ang her head, while the children were afraid to open their mouths. Then, "Wh_on't you go and play?" their mother would say; and they would scamper off.
  • Paul would go to the old barn, catch birds, throw stones into the pond, o_ound the trunks of the trees with a stick till they resounded like drums.
  • Virginia would feed the rabbits and run to pick the wild flowers in th_ields, and her flying legs would disclose her little embroidered pantalettes.
  • One autumn evening, they struck out for home through the meadows. The new moo_llumined part of the sky and a mist hovered like a veil over the sinuositie_f the river. Oxen, lying in the pastures, gazed mildly at the passin_ersons. In the third field, however, several of them got up and surrounde_hem. "Don't be afraid," cried Felicite; and murmuring a sort of lament sh_assed her hand over the back of the nearest ox; he turned away and the other_ollowed. But when they came to the next pasture, they heard frightfu_ellowing.
  • It was a bull which was hidden from them by the fog. He advanced towards th_wo women, and Madame Aubain prepared to flee for her life. "No, no! not s_ast," warned Felicite. Still they hurried on, for they could hear the nois_reathing of the bull behind them. His hoofs pounded the grass like hammers, and presently he began to gallop! Felicite turned around and threw patches o_rass in his eyes. He hung his head, shook his horns and bellowed with fury.
  • Madame Aubain and the children, huddled at the end of the field, were tryin_o jump over the ditch. Felicite continued to back before the bull, blindin_im with dirt, while she shouted to them to make haste.
  • Madame Aubain finally slid into the ditch, after shoving first Virginia an_hen Paul into it, and though she stumbled several times she managed, by din_f courage, to climb the other side of it.
  • The bull had driven Felicite up against a fence; the foam from his muzzle fle_n her face and in another minute he would have disembowelled her. She ha_ust time to slip between two bars and the huge animal, thwarted, paused.
  • For years, this occurrence was a topic of conversation in Pont-l'Eveque. Bu_elicite took no credit to herself, and probably never knew that she had bee_eroic.
  • Virginia occupied her thoughts solely, for the shock she had sustained gav_er a nervous affection, and the physician, M. Poupart, prescribed the salt- water bathing at Trouville. In those days, Trouville was not greatl_atronised. Madame Aubain gathered information, consulted Bourais, and mad_reparations as if they were going on an extended trip.
  • The baggage was sent the day before on Liebard's cart. On the followin_orning, he brought around two horses, one of which had a woman's saddle wit_ velveteen back to it, while on the crupper of the other was a rolled shaw_hat was to be used for a seat. Madame Aubain mounted the second horse, behin_iebard. Felicite took charge of the little girl, and Paul rode M. Lechaptois'
  • donkey, which had been lent for the occasion on the condition that they shoul_e careful of it.
  • The road was so bad that it took two hours to cover the eight miles. The tw_orses sank knee-deep into the mud and stumbled into ditches; sometimes the_ad to jump over them. In certain places, Liebard's mare stopped abruptly. H_aited patiently till she started again, and talked of the people whos_states bordered the road, adding his own moral reflections to the outline o_heir histories. Thus, when they were passing through Toucques, and came t_ome windows draped with nasturtiums, he shrugged his shoulders and said:
  • "There's a woman, Madame Lehoussais, who, instead of taking a young man—"
  • Felicite could not catch what followed; the horses began to trot, the donke_o gallop, and they turned into a lane; then a gate swung open, two farm-hand_ppeared and they all dismounted at the very threshold of the farm-house.
  • Mother Liebard, when she caught sight of her mistress, was lavish with joyfu_emonstrations. She got up a lunch which comprised a leg of mutton, tripe, sausages, a chicken fricassee, sweet cider, a fruit tart and some preserve_runes; then to all this the good woman added polite remarks about Madame, wh_ppeared to be in better health, Mademoiselle, who had grown to be "superb,"
  • and Paul, who had become singularly sturdy; she spoke also of their decease_randparents, whom the Liebards had known, for they had been in the service o_he family for several generations.
  • Like its owners, the farm had an ancient appearance. The beams of the ceilin_ere mouldy, the walls black with smoke and the windows grey with dust. Th_ak sideboard was filled with all sorts of utensils, plates, pitchers, ti_owls, wolf-traps. The children laughed when they saw a huge syringe. Ther_as not a tree in the yard that did not have mushrooms growing around it_oot, or a bunch of mistletoe hanging in its branches. Several of the tree_ad been blown down, but they had started to grow in the middle and all wer_aden with quantities of apples. The thatched roofs, which were of unequa_hickness, looked like brown velvet and could resist the fiercest gales. Bu_he wagon-shed was fast crumbling to ruins. Madame Aubain said that she woul_ttend to it, and then gave orders to have the horses saddled.
  • It took another thirty minutes to reach Trouville. The little carava_ismounted in order to pass Les Ecores, a cliff that overhangs the bay, and _ew minutes later, at the end of the dock, they entered the yard of the Golde_amb, an inn kept by Mother David.
  • During the first few days, Virginia felt stronger, owing to the change of ai_nd the action of the sea-baths. She took them in her little chemise, as sh_ad no bathing suit, and afterwards her nurse dressed her in the cabin of _ustoms officer, which was used for that purpose by other bathers.
  • In the afternoon, they would take the donkey and go to the Roches-Noires, nea_ennequeville. The path led at first through undulating grounds, and thence t_ plateau, where pastures and tilled fields alternated. At the edge of th_oad, mingling with the brambles, grew holly bushes, and here and there stoo_arge dead trees whose branches traced zigzags upon the blue sky.
  • Ordinarily, they rested in a field facing the ocean, with Deauville on thei_eft, and Havre on their right. The sea glittered brightly in the sun and wa_s smooth as a mirror, and so calm that they could scarcely distinguish it_urmur; sparrows chirped joyfully and the immense canopy of heaven spread ove_t all. Madame Aubain brought out her sewing, and Virginia amused herself b_raiding reeds; Felicite wove lavender blossoms, while Paul was bored an_ished to go home.
  • Sometimes they crossed the Toucques in a boat, and started to hunt for sea- shells. The outgoing tide exposed star-fish and sea-urchins, and the childre_ried to catch the flakes of foam which the wind blew away. The sleepy wave_apping the sand unfurled themselves along the shore that extended as far a_he eye could see, but where land began, it was limited by the downs whic_eparated it from the "Swamp," a large meadow shaped like a hippodrome. Whe_hey went home that way, Trouville, on the slope of a hill below, grew large_nd larger as they advanced, and, with all its houses of unequal height, seemed to spread out before them in a sort of giddy confusion.
  • When the heat was too oppressive, they remained in their rooms. The dazzlin_unlight cast bars of light between the shutters. Not a sound in the village, not a soul on the sidewalk. This silence intensified the tranquility o_verything. In the distance, the hammers of some calkers pounded the hull of _hip, and the sultry breeze brought them an odour of tar.
  • The principal diversion consisted in watching the return of the fishing- smacks. As soon as they passed the beacons, they began to ply to windward. Th_ails were lowered to one third of the masts, and with their fore-sail_welled up like balloons they glided over the waves and anchored in the middl_f the harbour. Then they crept up alongside of the dock and the sailors thre_he quivering fish over the side of the boat; a line of carts was waiting fo_hem, and women with white caps sprang forward to receive the baskets an_mbrace their men-folk.
  • One day, one of them spoke to Felicite, who, after a little while, returned t_he house gleefully. She had found one of her sisters, and presently Nastasi_arette, wife of Leroux, made her appearance, holding an infant in her arms, another child by the hand, while on her left was a little cabin-boy with hi_ands in his pockets and his cap on his ear.
  • At the end of fifteen minutes, Madame Aubain bade her go.
  • They always hung around the kitchen, or approached Felicite when she and th_hildren were out walking. The husband, however, did not show himself.
  • Felicite developed a great fondness for them; she bought them a stove, som_hirts and a blanket; it was evident that they exploited her. Her foolishnes_nnoyed Madame Aubain, who, moreover did not like the nephew's familiarity, for he called her son "thou";—and, as Virginia began to cough and the seaso_as over, she decided to return to Pont-l'Eveque.
  • Monsieur Bourais assisted her in the choice of a college. The one at Caen wa_onsidered the best. So Paul was sent away and bravely said good-bye to the_ll, for he was glad to go to live in a house where he would have bo_ompanions.
  • Madame Aubain resigned herself to the separation from her son because it wa_navoidable. Virginia brooded less and less over it. Felicite regretted th_oise he made, but soon a new occupation diverted her mind; beginning fro_hristmas, she accompanied the little girl to her catechism lesson every day.