The Eyes of Innocence/VII
A New Friend
|The Eyes of Innocence by , translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos
Gilberte's Two Friends
GILBERTE'S TWO FRIENDS
Gilberte did not go to the summer-house again. A feeling of delicacy kept her away. Nevertheless, each day, at the accustomed hour, something like a light cloud passed over her mind; and she was not far from accusing herself of ingratitude.
What was but a vague remorse towards a friend whom she had never known took a more definite shape, in another sense, with regard to him whom she now saw almost daily. She would so much have liked to offer him a brand-new friendship and to feel the excitement of it for the first time! True, there was no struggle between two sentiments, since one was so far-off and vague, the other so vivid and distinct. And yet . . .
There are childish conflicts which would not even ripple the most scrupulous soul, but which form the mighty storms of peaceful and innocent consciences such as Gilberte's.
But all this took place deep down within herself, unconsciously, so to speak, and could not diminish her magical delight in living. For magic it was, something that approached a miracle, when she compared the gloom of the past with the dazzling life of the present. Whence did she derive the joy with which she thrilled at her awakening; the enthusiasm that swept her at the sight of a flower, of a landscape, of any spectacle a hundred times witnessed and never fully seen; that exaltation of thought, those sudden blushes, that inexplicable torpor of her whole being and, at the same time, that unchangeable serenity which doubled the uncertainty of her life with strength, faith, patience and certainty?
There was no allusion to the incident in the Forest of Andaine. But, from that time onward, Mme. de la Vaudraye looked upon her son in a different fashion; and, in the same way, in her conduct towards Gilberte, there was something that had hitherto been lacking: a touch of respect.
Guillaume said to Gilberte:
"You are a regular fairy, no, more than a fairy, for you exercise your power without knowing or trying. To do good, to disarm hatred, to heal wounds, to make others want to be indulgent and kind, you have no need even to wish. You have only to be as you are; and everything around you grows nobler and better."
She listened and smiled. From him she accepted praise without blushing. He could have praised her beauty and enumerated all her charms without causing her to lower her eyes. He could not wound her maidenly modesty.
One morning, following upon a day when Gilberte had not been to Mme. de la Vaudraye's, Adèle came back from the town all out of breath:
"Oh, ma'am, here's a nice to do! Yesterday, at Mme. de la Vaudraye's evening, young M. Simare . . ."
"I thought he was away," said Gilberte, interrupting her.
"He is back; and, last evening, he and M. Guillaume, during the duet from Mireille, had some words in a corner . . . they were heard quarrelling. . . . It seems that the elder M. Simare told a story that wasn't quite proper and M. Guillaume went for the son about it."
"Oh, it's all my fault!" said Gilberte to herself, feeling certain that Guillaume had taken the first opportunity to bring about a rupture.
And she asked:
"Is that all?"
"Yes. Mme. Duval saw two officers ringing at the Simares' house just now and she says that M. Guillaume has ordered the landau from the hotel for presently . . . but that has nothing to do with it."
Though she did not foresee the possible consequences of an altercation between the two young men, Gilberte was convinced that no interference on her part would settle things, as it had done with M. le Hourteulx and M. Beaufrelant. Guillaume would not consent to have M. Simare admitted to the house again. The father would side with his son. Mme. de la Vaudraye would be furious at losing two of her regular visitors. In short, it meant a whole series of bothers and quarrels, of which Gilberte would have been the real cause.
She was very low-spirited at lunch. A presentiment of danger depressed her, but she could not have said of what sort it was nor whom it threatened.
Her suffering must have been genuine to induce her to rise suddenly, go out and turn her steps towards the La Vaudrayes' house.
But what she was doing must also have seemed to her very useless and very serious to make her stop suddenly, with frightened hesitation. How was she to act? Whom was she to influence? What events was she to avert?
The church was near and she went in. But she was unable to pray; and her anxiety became all the more painful inasmuch as she did not know its reason. Then, rather than return to the Logis, where inactivity would have been intolerable, she went along the high-road to the bottom of the valley, followed the Varenne for a short distance and then climbed up towards the Haute-Chapelle.
At three o'clock, feeling a little tired, she made for the shade on the skirt of a little wood and sat down. She had hardly left the road when the hotel landau passed and turned down the forest-lane. Was Guillaume in it?
A sound of harness-bells, the crack of a whip told her that another carriage was on its way. A break came dashing along, carrying Simare and a couple of officers, and disappeared down the same lane.
For a second, Gilberte stood breathless at a horrible thought. She would not, no, she would not have it! Then, suddenly, she began to run at full speed. A cross-roads brought her to a stop forthwith. Which of the three roads should she take?
She chose the one on the right, but, after running fifty yards, went back to the middle one and then to the one on the left. After that, she roamed at random, beating the copses, hunting on the grass for the marks of carriage-wheels, flinging herself among the ferns, listening and looking with all her nerves on edge. . . .
A shot . . . and a second, at almost the same moment . . . close by. . . .
She gave a scream and fell to the ground.
A few minutes passed. As though in a dream, she saw, through the branches, the two carriages driving by. Then voices sounded:
"I assure you, doctor, I am not mistaken. It was a woman screaming."
She had not the strength to raise her eyelids or speak; but she felt that two men were coming towards her. One of them bent over her and took her hand:
"It's nothing. She has only fainted."
"In that case, doctor, don't wait," said the other voice. "I will see her home."
The mist in which she was struggling lifted slowly. She perceived the smell of the earth on which she lay. She made an effort to throw off the feeling of sleep that numbed her and she opened her eyes. Guillaume was standing before her.
"You, you?" she whispered. "Oh, how glad I am! And M. Simare?"
"He's not hurt either."
"That's a good thing."
There was a pause; and then she asked:
"Why did you do it? It was not right."
"I lost my head, when he spoke to me last night, and I yielded to an irresistible impulse of hatred. I did not know what I was doing."
"But your mother?"
"I have managed to hide the truth from her so far. One of my seconds said that he would tell her."
"Go to her, run as fast as you can. . . . She will be so anxious until she sees you. . . . Go at once. . . ."
He was so firm that she despaired of persuading him. And yet she wanted him to go. Then she looked at him and smiled:
"To please me," she said.
"Very well," he said, "but you must come too."
She at once summoned her pluck and rose to her feet; and, when she expressed her wish to get back without delay he led her through the short cuts where there was hardly room to walk side by side. But their pace slackened at once; and they stopped three times to rest on the road. Gilberte no longer displayed any hurry. What did they say? Nothing but insignificant words, which they did not remember afterwards. Nevertheless, when uttering them, they felt that they had never been interested in weightier matters. What importance could suddenly have attached, in the course of a walk, to the sight of two initials interlaced on the bark of a tree, or to the flight of a bird, or to a stone rolling down a slope! Whereas, to them, these were so many astounding incidents that deserved a stop and the interchange of a few ecstatic words.
A contest between some insect and a squad of five ants that were trying to drag it away kept them for quite a long time. Who would be the victor? Gilberte took pity on the insect and saved it when it was on the point of falling in the fray. Guillaume exclaimed, in accents of profound conviction:
"You are the most generous-hearted creature I have ever met."
Guillaume compared the moss at the foot of an oak to velvet; and Gilberte became aware that all the poetry in the world was summed up in her companion.
Having exhausted their original reflexions, their brilliant remarks and their mutual admiration, they were silent until they emerged from the wood. A lane of appletrees led them past furze and rocks. At the foot of the slope ran the Varenne. After they had taken a turn, Gilberte cried:
"Look, that might be my garden, on the other side. . . . Why, so it is! . . . There's the Logis. . . . Where are we?"
She walked on. They came to a cluster of small fir-trees. When they had passed them, they were just opposite the ruined summer-house, with only the width of the valley in between.
Gilberte gave a start. That spur of the hill, that circle of red rocks surrounding it, that cluster of firs: was this not the spot where the unknown stranger, for months . . .?
A flood of contradictory feelings welled up within her: feelings of gratitude towards the invisible friend, feelings of confusion towards the actual friend, memories of the dear past and visions of the present. How she wished that she had not come to this place with Guillaume! She felt inclined to exclaim:
"Go away! Go away!"
But, on turning her head, she was stupefied at the sight of his pallor and the change in his face:
"What's the matter? Why don't you say something? Speak to me!"
She broke off. A sudden thought struck her, an improbable, but madly delightful idea. She fixed her eyes on his, looked down into his very soul; and the truth appeared to her so clearly that, leaning against the side of the rock, she gasped:
"It was you all the time! . . . It was you! . . ."
Not for a moment did the shadow of a fear that she was mistaken, cross her. Holding her head between her hands and closing her eyes, she took refuge in her happiness as in an inaccessible dwelling from which not even he could have driven her.
He was speaking now, kneeling before her; and it seemed to Gilberte as though two voices were joined in that one voice of entreaty, as though the unknown friend were joining his prayer to Guillaume's, blending his image with Guillaume's, mingling with him and beseeching her with the same hands, adoring her with the same heart:
"Gilberte, it was the day on which you arrived at Domfront. You were in the public gardens, near the ruins, and I saw you raise your mourning-veil. Since that day, my life has been wrapped up in yours. When you went over the Logis with my mother, I was there, hiding behind a curtain. You stopped close by me, I was able to take you in my eyes, to lock you in my breast like a treasure; I heard your voice, I breathed your fragrance and I lived on that memory for weeks, seeking you, calling you, hovering round the Logis, hoping for a chance meeting. Oh, the delight of it when I saw you from here, one afternoon, and when you came back next day and every day, everyday! I was not sure, but it appeared to me that you saw me . . . and then . . . that it was just a little because of me that you came back."
"I saw you, yes, I saw you," said Gilberte, without removing her clasped hands from her face.
"Are you crying?"
"I am so happy!"
"Yes, happy because it was you."
"Gilberte," he begged, "I would give worlds to see your tears."
She showed her dear face all wet with tears, all smiling with tears. He whispered:
"I love you."
She seemed surprised and repeated, gravely:
"You love me . . . you love me . . ."
He watched her anxiously. But the bright features lit up anew and she said to Guillaume, gaily and blithely, as though she had made the most wonderful and unexpected of discoveries:
"But, you know, Guillaume, I love you too."
She had the look of a delighted child. She could have clapped her hands, so great was the enchantment of that magnificent vision of love, so sweet was it to know that she loved and was loved.
She leant over to him prettily:
"Then you are the one I was loving all the time and it is you that I love, Guillaume?"
"Gilberte . . . please . . ." "What do you want? Tell me what you want, Guillaume."
"Your eyes, Gilberte, to kiss your innocent eyes, your eyes which are like the eyes of a little girl."
Closing the lids, she offered her eyes, as though it were a quite natural thing. He took her in his arms and drew her to him. But a shiver passed through her at once. She made an instinctive movement of resistance and moaned:
"No . . . no . . . oh, please don't! . . ."
She was not laughing now. A blush covered her cheeks and forehead. She no longer dared look at him; and Guillaume's eyes almost hurt her. This time, it was the real, perturbing, mysterious revelation of love. Shaken with emotion, she faltered:
"Go away . . . please go away . . ."
He kissed the hem of her skirt, picked some leaves, some blades of grass that Gilberte's feet had trodden and went away.