Page:Stories by Foreign Authors (French III).djvu/107

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97
FATHER AND SON.

him, we were obliged, on Juliette's account, to go to the sea; the year after to Centeret on my wife's account, then again to the sea. Each time I wrote him a word to postpone our promised visit until the next year. I believed what I said, and so time passed. Our thoughts, moreover, were far from him. At long intervals we exchanged the short letters that one writes from a sense of duty without having much to say. At bottom he and I were but two strangers, united by only a fragile bond: I was trying to shape my life, absorbed by difficulties that my father had never known: he, on his part, was rounding out his life in his little home among the fields, preoccupied with cultivating his land, and battling against phylloxera, oïdium, and mildew; cared for by Josette and Joseph, his old servant and his gardener-coachman; and sometimes diverted by visits from his neighbors. Thus separated, we had no need of one another, and I was astonished by the profound sentiment which the telegram just received had aroused in my heart; the torture it had given me in that train of so slow a flight, to think that I should arrive perhaps too late, that the sight would have gone from his eyes, that the voice would have died on his lips, that he would pass away with strangers, by his bedside.

One moment this grievous death-scene would possess my mind, the next it would be dissipated in the darkness like a nightmare that is over and