Page:Stories by Foreign Authors (French III).djvu/118

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I do not know if it is a rare plant, but I have never seen it elsewhere; my father used to tend it with restless care; how much concern it has given him, and how many precautions he has taken to preserve it, through the terrible winters when the frost seared its poor stems and sought out even its roots under the earth. One year, indeed, it nearly perished. We were almost a house of mourning. But it recovered, and my father rejoiced as if some mysterious sign had promised him the continuance, after a crisis, of his race in vigorous life.

The blinds were opened wide to the balmy breezes of the morning, a ray of sunlight fell on the old roof, wrapping it in an atmosphere of luminous cheerfulness. Behind the wall of the inclosure rose the crests of apple trees in blossom—of fine old apple trees with regular branches, like bouquets arranged by a skilful hand. And the flight of birds streaked the air vibrating with their reiterated calls. How could one believe that near by, at that very moment, the last act of the drama of life was passing? how was it possible that death could hover amid the sweetness and joy pervading everything?

With a trembling heart, but still a little reassured by the smiling aspect of the place, I pulled the bell at the doorway. I waited for a long time. Heavy steps creaked on the gravel, and old Josette appeared, wrinkled as a blighted