Jeanne-Marie

Jeanne-Marie

By

Leila Macdonald

I

JEANNE-MARIE lived alone in the white cottage at the far end of
the village street.

It was a long narrow street of tall houses, stretching each side
of the white shining road, for two hundred yards or more. A
street that was cool and shadeful even in the shadeless summer
days, when the sun burned most hotly, when the broad roads
dazzled between their avenues of plane-tree and poplar, and the
mountains disappeared from the horizon in the blue haze of
heat.

From her little garden Jeanne-Marie liked to look at the
mountains each morning, and, when for two or three days follow-
ing they were not to be seen, she would shake her head reproach-
fully, as at the failing of old friends.

"My boys, Jeanne-Marie is only thirty-seven," Bourdet the
innkeeper said to his companions, as they sat, one May afternoon,
smoking under the chestnut-trees in front of the café. They all
looked up as he spoke, and watched Jeanne-Marie, as she walked
slowly past them to her cottage.

"Bourdet has been paying court," said Leguillon, the fat, red-

faced

216 Jeanne-Marie

faced butcher, with a chuckle, as he puffed at his long pipe.
"You see, he is anxious we should think her of an age suitable,
before he tells us the betrothals are arranged."

"For my part I should give many congratulations," said the
village postman and tobacconist, gruffly. "Jeanne-Marie is worth
any of our girls of the village, with their bright dresses and silly
giggles."

Bourdet laughed. "You shall come to the wedding, my
friends," he said, with a wink and a nod of the head to the
retreating figure ; "and since our friend Minaud there finds the
girls so distasteful, he shall wait till our babies are old enough, and
be betrothed to one of them."

The postmaster laughed with the rest. "But seriously," he
said, "Bourdet will pardon me if I tell him our Jeanne-Marie is a
good deal past the thirties."

Laurent, the good-looking young farmer, who stood leaning
against the tree round which their chairs were gathered, answered
him gravely. "Wait, beau-pѐre, till you see her on Sunday
coming from Mass on M. Bourdet's arm ; the cap that hides the
grey knot of hair at the back of the head is neat and bright—oh !
so bright—pink or blue for choice, and if M. Bourdet chances
to compliment the colour of the stockings—he is gay, you know,
always—the yellow face turns rosy and all the wrinkles go."
And laughing maliciously at Bourdet, the young fellow turned
away homewards.

Bourdet looked grave. "'Tis your son-in-law that speaks like
that, Minaud," he said, "otherwise I would say that in my day
the young fellows found it better to amuse themselves with the
young girls than to mock at the old ones."

"You are right, my friend," said Minaud. "Tis the regiment
that taught Laurent this, and many other things. But it is a

good

By Leila Macdonald 217

good boy, though with a sharp tongue. To these young ones it
seems all foolishness to be an old girl."

And the others nodded agreement.

So they sat, chatting, and drawing at their long pipes, while the
afternoon sun gleamed on the little gardens and on the closed
green shutters of the houses ; and the slow, large oxen lumbered
through the village street, their yoked heads pressed well down,
and their tails flicking unceasingly at the swarm of flies.

Jeanne-Marie stood in her garden, blinking thoughtfully at the
flowers, while she shaded her eyes with her hand. On her bare
head the sparse brown hair was parted severely and neatly to each
side, and the deep southern eyes looked steadily out of the tanned
and wrinkled face. Her light cotton bodice fell away from the
thin lines of her neck and shoulders, and her sabots clicked harshly
as she moved about the garden.

"At least the good God has given me a fine crab-apple bloom
this year," Jeanne-Marie said, as she looked at the masses of rich
blossom. On the wall the monthly roses were flowering thickly,
and the Guelder roses bent their heads under the weight of their
heavy bunches. " In six days I shall have the peonies, and the
white rose-bush in the corner is coming soon," said Jeanne-Marie
contentedly.

II

It was four and a half years ago that Jeanne-Marie had come to
the white cottage next to the mill, with the communal school
opposite. Till that autumn day, when a pair of stout oxen had
brought her goods to the door, she had lived with her brother, who
was métayer to M. François, the owner of the big villa a quarter

of

218 Jeanne-Marie

of a mile beyond the village. Her father had been métayer ; and
when he died, his son Firman—a fine-looking young man, not
long home from his service—had taken his place. So the change
at the métairie had very little affected Jeanne-Marie.

But she missed her father sorely every day at mid-day, when she
remembered that there was one less to cook for ; that the tall,
straight old figure would not come in at the door, and that the
black pudding might remain uncooked for all Firman's noticing ;
and Jeanne-Marie would put the bouillon by the fire, and sit down
and cry softly to herself.

They were very kind to her at the villa, and at night, when
Firman was at the café, she would take the stockings and the
linen and darn them in the kitchen, while she listened to the
servants' talk, and suppressed her patois as much as possible, for
they were from the North, and would not understand.

Two years after her father's death, Jeanne-Marie began to
notice that Firman went no more to the café in the evening,
and had always his shirt clean, and his best black smocked
cape for the market in the town on Mondays, and for Mass on
Sundays.

"It astonishes me," she had said, when she was helping
M. François' cook that day the château-folk had come to
déjeûner, unexpectedly—for Jeanne-Marie's cooking was very
good indeed— "because, you understand, that is not his way at
all. Now, if it were Paul Puyoo or the young André, it would
be quite ordinary ; but with Firman, I doubt with him it is a
different thing."

And Anna had nodded her black head sagely over the omelette
aux fines herbes
as she answered : "Jeanne-Marie, Firman wishes
to marry ; Jeanne-Marie, for my own part, I say it's that little
fat blue-eyed Suzanne from the métairie on the hill."

Suzanne

By Leila Macdonald 219

III

Suzanne looked very pretty the day she came home to Mr.
François' métairie, leaning on her husband's arm ; but Jeanne-Marie
was not there to see ; she was sitting in the large chair in the
kitchen of the white cottage, and she was sobbing with her head
in her hands. "And indeed the blessed Virgin herself must have
thought me crazy, to see me sitting sobbing there, with the house
in confusion, and not a thing to cook with in the kitchen," she
said, shamefacedly, to Marthe Legrand from the mill, when she
came in, later, to help her. "You should have remained," Marthe
answered, nodding at her pityingly. "You should have remained,
Jeanne-Marie ; the old house is the old house, and the good God
never meant the wedding of the young ones to drive away the old
ones from the door."

Jeanne-Marie drew in her breath at the words "old ones."
"But the book says I am only thirty-four!" she told herself;
and that night she looked in the old Mass-book, to be sure if it
could be true ; and there was the date set down very clearly, in
the handwriting of Dubois, her father's oldest friend ; for Jeanne-
Marie's father himself could neither read nor write—he was, as he
said with pride, of the old school, "that kissed our sweethearts,
and found that better than writing them long scribbles on white
paper, as the young ones do now ; and thought a chat with a
friend on Sundays and holidays worth more than sitting cramped
up, reading the murders and the adulteries in the newspapers."
So it was Dubois who wrote down the children's births in the old
Mass book. Yes, there they were. Catherine first of all ; poor
Catherine, who was so bright and pretty, and died that rainy

The Yellow Book—Vol. III. N

winter

220 Jeanne-Marie

winter when she was just twelve years old. Then "Jeanne-Marie,
née le 28 Novembre 1854, à minuit," and added, in the same hand-
writing, "On nous raconte qu'à cette heure-là nous étions en
train de gagner une grande bataille en Russie ! Que ça lui porte
bonheur !" Eight years later; "Jacques Firman, né le 12
Fѐvrier à midi." It all came back to Jeanne-Marie as she read ;
that scene of his birth, when she was just eight years old. She
was sitting alone in the kitchen, crying, for they had told her her
mother was very ill, and had been ill all the night, and just as the
big clock was striking twelve she heard the voice of the neighbour
who had spent the night there, calling to her ; "Jeanne-Marie,
viens vite, ta mere veut te voir" ; and she had gone, timid and
hesitating, into the darkened room. The first thing she noticed
was the large fire blazing on the open hearth—she had never
known her father and mother have a fire before—and she wondered
much whether it was being too cold that had made her mother ill,
as it had little Catherine. She looked towards the bed and saw
her mother lying there, her eyes closed, and very pale—so pale
that Jeanne-Marie was frightened and ran towards her father ; but
he was smiling where he stood by the bed, and the child was
reassured. She saw him stoop and kiss his wife on the forehead,
and call her his "bonne petite femme," and taking Jeanne-Marie
by the hand he showed her the sage-femme—the sage-femme who
had come the night before to make her mother well—sitting near
the fire with a white bundle in her arms, and thanked the good
God aloud that he had sent him a fine boy at last. Old Dubois
had come in gently, his béret in his hand, as Jeanne-Marie's father
was speaking, and turning to the bed had reiterated emphatically,
"Tu as bien fait, chѐre dame, tu as bien fait."

Jeanne-Marie sat silently going over it all in her mind. "Té,"
she murmured, "how quickly they all go ; the father, the mother,

old

By Leila Macdonald 221

old Dubois, even Jeanne the voisine, is gone. I alone am left,
and the good God knows if there will be any to cry for me when
my turn comes to go." She shut the old Mass-book, and put it
carefully back on the shelf, and she went to the old looking-glass
and the tanned wrinkled face met its reflection very calmly and
patiently. "I think it was the hard work in the fields when I
was young," she said; "certainly Marthe was right. It is the
face of an old woman, a face more worn than hers, though she is
beyond forty and has borne so many children."

IV

Firman had urged his sister to stay on at the métairie after his
marriage. "You should not go, it is not natural," he said one
evening a few weeks before his wedding, while they were piling
the small wood in the shed. "The old house will not be the old
house without you. Suzanne wishes it also. Parbleu ! Is it
the custom for the fathers to turn their sons out, when they marry ?
Then, why should I let the old sister go, now my time for
marrying has come ? Suzanne is a good girl and pretty ; and has
never even looked at any young fellow in the village—for I, as you
know, am particular, and I like not the manners in some villages,
where a girl's modesty is counted nothing—but blood is worth the
most, ma foi, as the old father used to say ; and badly must he
think of me to see the old sister making room even for the little
Suzanne."

But Jeanne-Marie shook her head. "I cannot well explain it,
Firman," she said. "It's not that your Suzanne comes unwelcome
to me—no, the good God knows it's not that—but it would be

so

222 Jeanne-Marie

so strange. I should see the old mother's shadow, at the table
where you sat, and in the bed where you lay. I might get foolish,
and angry, Firman. So let me go, and, when the little ones come,
I shall be their grandmother, and Suzanne will forgive me."

That was four and a half years ago, and it was a very lonely
four and a half years at the white cottage. Even the cooking,
when it was for herself alone, became uninteresting, and the zest
went out of it. Jeanne-Marie, in her loneliness, hungered for the
animal life that had unconsciously formed a great part of her
existence at the métairie. Every springtime she would sit, some-
times for hours, in her garden, watching the flocks of callow geese,
as they wandered along the road in front of the mill, pecking at
the ground as they went, and uttering all the time their little
plaintive cries, that soothed her with its echo of the old home.
When the boys in their bérets, with their long poles and their loud
cries of "guà, guà," drove the cows and the oxen home from the
fields at sunset, Jeanne-Marie would come out of her cottage, and
watch the patient, sleek beasts, as they dawdled along. And she
would think longingly of the evenings at the métairie, when she
never missed going out to see the oxen, as they lay contentedly on
their prickly bedding, moving their heavy jaws slowly up
and down, too lazy even to look up as she entered.

Firman loved his oxen, for they were well trained and strong,
and did good work ; but Jeanne-Marie would have laughed in
those days, had she been told she loved the animals of the farm.
"I remember," she said to Marthe of the mill one day, "how I
said to the old father years ago : When the children of M.
François came to the métairie, it is—"Oh, Jeanne-Marie, you will
not kill that pretty little grey hen with the feathered legs," and "Oh !
Jeanne-Marie, you must not drown so many kittens this time" :
but I say to them always : "My children, the rich have their toys

and

By Leila Macdonald 223

and have the time and money to make toys of their animals ; but
to us poor folk they are the useful creatures God has given us
for food and work, and they are not playthings."' : So I said then ; but
now, ah, now Marthe, it is different. Do you remember how
old Dubois for ever quarrelled with young Baptiste, but when they
wrote from the regiment to tell him the boy was dead of fever,
during the great manoeuvres, do you remember how the old father
mourned, and lay on his bed for a whole day, fasting ? So it
always is, Marthe. The cow butts the calf with her horns, but
when the calf is gone, the mother moans for it all the day."

Firman was too busy with his farm and his new family ties to
come much to see his sister, or to notice how rarely she came
up to the métairie now. For Suzanne had never forgiven, and
that was why Jeanne-Marie walked up so seldom to M. François's
métairie.

Did not all the village say that it was Suzanne's doing that
Firman's sister left the farm on his marriage ? That Suzanne's
jealousy had driven Jeanne-Marie away ? And when this came
to the ears of Firman's wife, and the old folks shook their heads in
her presence over the strange doings of young couples now-a-
days, the relief that the dreaded division of supremacy with her
husband's sister was spared her, was lost in anger against Jeanne-
Marie, as the cause of this village scandal. The jealousy that she
had always felt for the "chѐre soeur," whom Firman loved and
respected, leapt up within her. "People say he loves his sister,
and that it is I who part them ; they shall see—yes, they shall
see."

And bit by bit, with all a woman's subtle diplomacy, she drew
her husband away from his sister's affection, until in a year or two
their close intimacy had weakened to a gradually slackening
friendship.

At

224 Jeanne-Marie

At night-time, when Firman's passionate southern nature lay
under the thrall of his wife's beauty, she would whisper to him in
her soft patois, "Love me well, my husband, for I have only you
to love ; others are jealous of my happiness, and even Jeanne-
Marie is envious of your wife, and of the babe that is to come."

And the hot Spanish blood, that his mother had given him,
would leap to Firman's face as he took her in his arms, and swore
that all he loved, loved her ; and those who angered her, he cared
not for.

In the first year of their marriage, when Jeanne-Marie came
almost every day, Suzanne would show her with pride all the
changes and alterations in the old house. "See here, my sister,"
she said to her one day, only six months after the wedding, when
she was taking her over the house, "this room that was yours, we
have dismantled for the time ; did it not seem a pity to keep an
unused room all furnished, for the sun to tarnish, and the damp to
spoil ?" And Jeanne-Marie, as she looked round on the bare
walls and the empty corners of the little room, where she and
Catherine had slept together in the old days, answered quietly,
"Quite true, Suzanne, quite true ; it would be a great pity."

That night when she and Marthe sat together in the kitchen
she told her of the incident.

"But, Jeanne-Marie," Marthe interrupted eagerly, "how was
it you had left your furniture there, since it was yours ?"

"How was it? But because little Catherine had slept in the
old bed, and sat in the old chairs, and how could I take them
away from the room ?"

"Better that than let Suzanne break them up for firewood,"
Marthe replied shortly.

When little Henri was born, a year after the marriage, Suzanne
would not let Jeanne-Marie be at the métairie, and she sent

Firman

By Leila Macdonald 225

Firman down beforehand to tell her that she feared the excitement
of her presence. Jeanne-Marie knew she was disliked and dis-
trusted ; but this blow fell very heavily : though she raised her
head proudly and looked her brother full in the face when he
stammered out his wife's wishes.

"For the sake of our name, and what they will say in the
village, I am sorry for this," she said ; and Firman went without a
word.

But when he was gone Jeanne-Marie's pride broke down, and
in the darkness of the evening she gathered her shawl round her,
and crept up to the métairie door.

Hour after hour she sat there, not heeding the cold or the damp,
her head buried in her hands, her body rocked backwards and
forwards. "I pray for Firman's child," she muttered without
ceasing. "O dear Virgin! O blessed Virgin! I pray for my
brother's child." And when at length an infant's feeble cry pierced
through the darkness, Jeanne-Marie rose and tottered home, saying
to herself contentedly, "The good God himself tells me that all is
well."

Perhaps the pangs of maternity quickened the capabilities for
compassion in Suzanne's peasant mind. She sent for Jeanne-
Marie two days later, and watched her with silent wonder, but
without a sneer, as she knelt weeping and trembling before the
small new bundle of humanity.

From that day little Henri was the idol of Jeanne-Marie's
heart. All the sane instincts of wifehood and motherhood, shut
up irrevocably within the prison of her maiden life, found vent in
her devotion to her brother's child. The natural impulses, so
long denied freedom, of whose existence and force she was not
even aware, avenged their long suppression in this worship of
Firman's boy.

To

226 Jeanne-Marie

To watch the growth of the childish being, the unveiling of
his physical comeliness, and the gradual awakening of his percep-
tions, became the interest and fascination of her life. Every
morning at eleven o'clock, when the cottage showed within the
open door all white and shining after her energetic scrubbings, she
would put on a clean bodice, and a fresh pink handkerchief for
the little coil of hair at the back of her head, and sit ready and
impatient, knitting away the time, till one o'clock struck, and she
could start for the farm.

She would always arrive at the same hour, when the métairie
dinner was finished, and Suzanne's fretful complaints: "Jeanne-
Marie, you are so proud, you will not come for the dinner or stay
for the supper," met only a smile and a deprecating shake of the
head.

On her arrival, if Suzanne were in a good temper, she would
surrender Henri to her, and Jeanne-Marie's hour of heaven
reached her. If it were cold, she would sit in the kitchen,
crooning snatches of old tunes, or chattering soft nothings in
patois to the sleeping child. If fine, she would wander round the
garden with him in her arms, sometimes as far as the road, where
a chance passer's exclamation of "Oh, le beau bébé !" would
flush her face with pleasure.

If Suzanne's temper chanced to be ruffled, if Firman had dis-
pleased her, or if the fitful jealousy that sprang up at times against
her belle-soeur, happened to be roused, she would insist that little
Henri was tired, and must not be moved ; and Jeanne-Marie would
sit for hours sadly watching the cot, in which the child lay, not
daring to touch him or comfort him, even when he moaned and
moved his arms restlessly in his sleep.

So her life went on till Henri was about a year old, when
Suzanne's gradually increasing exasperation reached an ungovern-

able

By Leila Macdonald 227

able pitch. To her jealous imagination it had seemed for some
time that the boy clung more to her sister than to her, and one
day things reached a climax.

Jeanne-Marie had arrived with a toy bought for three sous from
a travelling pedlar, and the child had screamed, and cried, because
his mother, alleging that he was tired, refused to allow Jeanne-
Marie to take him or show him the toy. The boy screamed
louder and louder, and Jeanne-Marie sat, silent and troubled, in her
corner. Even Firman, who was yoking his oxen in the yard,
came in hurriedly, hearing the noise, and finding nothing wrong,
pleaded with his wife. "Mais, voyons, Suzanne," he began,
persuasively, "if le petit wants to see his toy, la tante may show
it him, n'est ce pas ?" And Suzanne, unable to bear it any
longer, almost threw her child into Jeanne-Marie's lap, bursting
out, "Take him, then, and draw my baby's love from me, as you
please. I want no child who hates his mother." And sobbing
loudly, she rushed out. Firman followed her, his handsome face
puckered with perplexity, and Jeanne-Marie and the baby were
left alone. She bent low down over the deep Spanish eyes that
were so like her own, and, while her tears dropped on his face,
she held him to her feverishly. "Adieu," she whispered,
"adieu, petit Henri. La tante must not come to see him any
more, and Henri must be a good boy and love his mother."
And with one long look at the child's eyes fixed on her so
wonderingly, Jeanne-Marie rose softly and left the farm.

From that day started the great conflict between her love and
her pride. Though, to her simple nature, the jealousy of a woman
who seemed to her to have in abundance everything that made life
worth living, was utterly incomprehensible, she said to herself
over and over as she went home, that such a scene as that should
never happen again. And as she lay in her narrow bed that night,

and

228 Jeanne-Marie

and made her resolution for the future, she seemed to feel the very
fibres of her heart break within her.

Firman came down next day to beg his sister to behave as if
nothing had happened. "You are pale and your face is all drawn,
chѐre soeur," he told her reproachfully ; "but you must not take
the things like that. If poor Suzanne were herself and well, she
would never have spoken as she did." But Jeanne-Marie smiled
at him.

"If I am pale, Firman, it is not for worrying over Suzanne.
Tell her from me, I have been selfish all this time. I will not be
so again. When she can spare the little Henri, she shall send him
to play here with me, by Anna." Anna was Suzanne's sixteen-
year-old sister, who lived almost entirely at the métairie since her
sister's marriage. "And every Sunday afternoon I will come up,
and will sit with him in the garden as I used to do. Tell this to
Suzanne, with my love."

And Firman told her ; and mingled with the relief that
Suzanne felt, that the face and figure which had become like a
nightmare to her strained nerves, would appear only once a week
at the farm, was gratitude that her sister had taken things so well.
"Anna shall take him every other day," she observed to Firman,
"she shall see I am not jealous; it was the pain that took me
suddenly yesterday, while you were speaking. For that matter,
in the afternoon there is always much for me to do, and little
Henri can very well go with Anna to the cottage."

And no doubt she meant to keep her promise, but she was
occupied mind and body with other things. The second baby
would be born in a month, and in the afternoons, when she sat,
languid and tired, she liked to have her sister Anna by her, and
Henri playing by her side.

And after little Catherine was born, there was much for Anna

to

By Leila Macdonald 229

to do. "I could not well spare her if I would," Suzanne would
say to herself; "what with two babies and me so long in getting
on my feet this time."

And Jeanne-Marie put on the clean white bodice every day
before her dinner, and sat in the little garden with her eyes fixed
on the turning in the white road that led to M. François's métairie,
but it was not more than one day a week that Anna would come
in sight, with little Henri in her arms. The other days Jeanne-
Marie would sit, shading her eyes and watching, till long after the
hour when she could expect them to appear.

At first, after the quarrel, she had believed in Suzanne's reiterated
assurances that "Anna would come every other day or so," and
many were the wasted afternoons of disappointment that she courted
in her little garden. Sometimes she would rise to her feet, and a
sudden impulse to go up to the farm, not a mile away, if only to
kiss le petit and come home again, laid hold of her ; but the memory
of Suzanne's cold looks of surprise, and the "Is anything wrong,
Jeanne-Marie ?" that would meet her, was sufficient to force her
into her chair again with a little hopeless sigh. "When the calf
is gone, the mother mourns for it all the day," Marthe said grimly,
when she surprised her one day watching the white turning.
But Jeanne-Marie answered her miserably: "Ah, but I never
butt at my calf, and they have taken it from me all the
same."

There was great rejoicing in the cottage the day that Anna's
white blouse and large green umbrella came in sight, and the three
sat in the kitchen together : Anna eating smilingly the cakes and
biscuits that grateful Jeanne-Marie made specially for her, and
Henri crawling happily on the floor. "He said 'Maman' to
Suzanne yesterday," Anna would announce, as Jeanne-Marie
hurried to meet her at the gate ; or, "Firman says he heard

him

230 Jeanne-Marie

him say 'Menou,' when the white cat ran across the yard this
morning." And many were the attempts to induce Henri to
make these utterances again. "Je t'aime, je t'aime," Jeanne-
Marie would murmur to him, as she kissed him again and again,
and the little boy would look up at her with his dark eyes, and
smile encouragingly.

All too quickly the time would go, and all too soon would come
Anna's glance at the clock, and the dreaded words : "Suzanne
will make herself angry ; we must go."

And as Jeanne-Marie watched them disappear along the white
road, the clouds of her loneliness would gather round her again.

The Sunday afternoons at the farm were looked forward to
through all the week. There was little Catherine to admire,
and in the summer days there was the orchard, where
Henri loved to play, and where he and his aunt would sit
together all the afternoon. If Suzanne were in a good temper,
she would bring Catherine out in her arms, and the children would
tumble about together in the long grass.

And so the time wore on, and as Henri grew in mind and
body, and was able to prattle and run about the fields, Jeanne-
Marie hungered for him with a love more absorbing than
ever.

Two years had passed since Catherine's birth, and for the last
year Anna would often bring her, when she came down to Jeanne-
Marie's cottage. The one day a week had dropped gradually to
every ten days ; it was sometimes only every fortnight that one
or both children would appear, and the days that little Henri came
were marked white days on the simple calendar of Jeanne-Marie's
heart.

Now,

By Leila Macdonald 231

V

Now, as Jeanne-Marie stood in her garden this hot May after-
noon, and shaded her eyes, as she gazed at the broad white road, her
face was troubled, and there was a drawn line of apprehension round
the corners of her mouth. For lately Suzanne's jealous temper
had flamed up again, and this alert jealousy boded evil days for
Jeanne-Marie.

Several times within the last two months, little Henri—now
going on for four years old—had come toddling down to the
cottage by himself, to his aunt's unbounded amazement and delight.
"Maman is at market," he explained with dignity the first time,
in answer to the wondering queries. "Papa yoked the oxen to
the big cart after dinner, and they went ; Anna is talking all the
afternoon to Pierre Puyoo in the road ; and Henri was alone. So
Henri came ; Henri loves his aunt, and would like some biscuits."
Great was the content of that hour in the cottage, when Jeanne-
Marie sat in the big arm-chair, and the boy prattled and ate his
biscuits on her knee. Anna's hard young smile, that scorned
emotion, was always a gêne to this harmony of old and young ;
also, there was no need to glance anxiously at the clock ;
for the oxen take two hours to get home from the market, and
who leaves the town till late in the afternoon ? "Anna will miss
le petit," Jeanne-Marie suggested the first time ; but he answered
proudly : "She will think le petit takes care of the geese in
the meadow ; do I not have charge of all the geese many
afternoons ? And when I am six years old, papa has pro-
mised I may guard the cows, and bring them home to milk
at sundown, as André Puyoo and Georges Vidal do, each

day.

232 Jeanne-Marie

day. Also, why cannot Henri come to see la tante when he
likes ?"

But nevertheless, the second and third occasions of these happy
visits, always on market-days, Jeanne-Marie became uneasy. Did
Suzanne know of the boy's absences ? Were those fitful jealousies
she now displayed almost every Sunday, the result of her know-
ledge ? And if she did not know, would there not be a burst of
rage when she heard ? Should Jeanne-Marie risk this joy by
telling her of its existence, and asking her permission for its con-
tinuance ? How well the hard tones of Suzanne's voice, framing
each plausible objection, came to her mind, as she thought. No,
she could not do it. Let the child come, and go on coming every
market-day, for as long as he could. She would say no word to
encourage his keeping it secret from his mother ; he would tell her
one day, if he had not told her already, and then, if anger there
was, surely the simple words, "May not your child visit his aunt
alone ?" must bring peace again.

So Jeanne-Marie reasoned away her fears. But now, as she
stood in her garden, her lips were trembling with anxiety.

Last Sunday she had been too ill to go up to the farm. A
sudden agonising breathlessness, together with great dizziness,
had forced her to bed, and Marthe's boy had gone up with the
message. But neither that day nor the next, which was market-
day, nor any following day, had Suzanne, or Anna, or little Henri
come to see her. And to-day was Saturday. And she realised
wearily that to-morrow she could not get to the farm ; she felt too
ill and feeble. "My heart aches," she said to Marthe each day,
"my heart aches."

The afternoon waned slowly, and the little group at the café
increased in numbers, as the men sauntered through the village at
sundown. The women stood at their doors, laughing and chatting

with

By Leila Macdonald 233

with one another. M. le Curé passed down the street, smiling at
the children. From the meadows came the cows and oxen, driven
slowly along, their bells beating low harmonies as they went.
The festive air of evening after a hot day touched all the tiny
town. And Jeanne-Marie stood in her garden, waiting.

Suddenly, while she watched, her heart bounded within her,
and a spasm of sudden pain drove the colour from her face, for she
recognised the figure that was passing from the white turning
into the broad road. Suzanne—Suzanne, who had not been near
her cottage for a year—Suzanne, alone. She pressed her two hands
under her left breast, and moved forward to the gate. She felt
now she had known it for long. All the suspense of many days
had given way to a dull certainty : little Henri was ill, was
dying perhaps, and Suzanne had come with the news.

Jeanne-Marie had her hand on the latch to let her through ;
but she stood outside the gate, and said hoarsely, "I will not come
in." Her face was flushed, there was no cap over her coil of
brown hair, and she had on the dark dress she never wore except
at the farm. All this Jeanne-Marie noticed mechanically, while
that suffocating hurry at her heart seemed to eat away her energy
and her power of speech.

But Suzanne was going to speak. The colour flamed into her
face, and her teeth ground together, as if to force down the violence
of her feeling, and then she spoke : "Jeanne-Marie, you have
done your work well. We knew you loved our boy. You were
careful always to show us how far greater was your love for him
than ours. And as you could not well turn him against me
before my eyes, you waited—ma foi, how well you did it !—you
waited till I was well away, and then, you taught him to sneak
down to see you, and sneak home again before my return. Mon
Dieu
! it was a worthy son to us you wished to make of him.

But

234 Jeanne-Marie

But it could not be, Jeanne-Marie. Your good God, you love
so well, would not have it and so ;"—there came a sob in her voice
that she choked down, and Jeanne-Marie's face went a shade greyer
as she listened—"it happened that I was long at the market last
week, and you, knowing this would be so, because it was a big
market, brought him home late, when the fever was springing
from the marshes—it was Marguerite Vallée saw him and came
and told me—and now these four days he has lain with fever, and
the officier de santé tells us there grows something in his throat
that may kill him in four days."

The hard tones left her voice in the last phrase. A shadow
of the love she persuaded herself she felt for Henri sprang up, and
choked her anger. She forgot Jeanne-Marie for the moment, and
saw only the little figure tossing with fever and delirium, and
pity for her own sorrow filled her eyes with tears. She was
surprised at the calm cruelty of her own words. Looking up
curiously to see how her sister would take it, she started, for
Jeanne-Marie's face seemed suddenly to have grown old and grey.
She was struggling breathlessly to speak, and when her voice
came, it sounded far off, and weak like the voice of a sick child :

"You know well that in your anger you have lied to me.
Henri may be ill—and dying ; it is not I who have made him so.
You shall listen to me now, though I will not keep you here
long ; for the hand that struck my mother suddenly through
the heart, struck me while you were speaking. You have kept
me all these days in suspense, and now you have given the
blow. Be satisfied, Suzanne."

She paused, and the sound of her heavy breathing struck
Suzanne's frightened senses like the knell of a doom.

"Listen to me. Henri came to me of his own will, and
never did I persuade him or suggest to him to come. Never

did

By Leila Macdonald 235

did he go home later than four o'clock; there was nothing done in
secret ; neither I, nor any in the village, thought it a crime he
came to visit me. Often I have seen him keeping the geese in
the long grass of the meadows at six, at seven o'clock. Seek
the fever there—not on the village road before the sunset. As
the good God hears me, never have I stood between that boy
and his mother. Gradually you took from me every privilege
my affection knew ; but I said nothing. Ah, I loved him
dearly ; I was content to wait. But all that is over. If God
grants me life—but He is good, and I think He knows my
suffering all these years—I swear before Him your house shall be
to me a house of strangers, Henri the child of strangers, and my
brother's face unknown to me. Never shall my father's daughter
hear again what I have heard from you to-day. All these years
you have played upon my heart. You have watched the suffering;
you have known how each word seemed so innocent, but stabbed
so deep. You have seen your child wind himself round my
heart, and every day, every hour, you have struggled to pluck
him from me. Now, I tell you I tear your children from my
heart ; you have killed not only my body, but my love. Go,
and leave me for ever, or by my father, I will curse you where
you stand."

She tottered forward, and with one horrified look at the agony of
her menacing face, Suzanne turned and ran.

And Jeanne-Marie fell all her length on the garden soil.

The Yellow Book—Vol. III. o

The

236 Jeanne-Marie

VI

The miller's boy saw her there, when he came past a few
minutes later, and not daring to touch her, ran to the mill
for help. Marthe and her husband came immediately and carried
her into the cottage. At first, they thought she was dead, her
face was so grey and sunken ; but she came to herself, as they
laid her on the bed, and shook her head faintly when Marthe
suggested fetching the officier de santé.

As soon as she could speak she whispered : "No, Marthe, it
is the illness of the heart that killed my mother. The doctor
told her she might have lived to be old, with much care, and if
no great trouble or excitement had come to her ; but, you see, I
was much troubled just now, and so it has come earlier. Do
not send for any doctor ; he could but call it by the long name
they called it when my mother died, and trouble one with vain
touches and questions."

So Marthe helped her to undress, and to get to bed quickly.
The breathlessness and the pain had gone for a time, though she
was very feeble, and could scarcely stand on her feet. But it was
the grey look of her face that frightened Marthe, and her strained
quietness. No questions could get out of her the story of the
afternoon.

"Suzanne came to tell me little Henri was ill," was all she
would say ; but Marthe only shook her head, and made her own
deductions.

Jeanne-Marie would not hear of her staying with her for the
night, and leaving her young children alone, and so it was settled
the miller's boy should sleep below in the kitchen, and if Jeanne-

Marie

By Leila Macdonald 237

Marie felt ill in the night, she would call to him, and he would
fetch Marthe immediately.

Also, Marthe promised to call at the house of M. le Curé on
her way home. He would be out late, since he had started only an
hour ago to take the Host to old Goupé, who lay dying four
kilometres away ; but she would leave a message, and certainly,
when he returned, however late, he would come round. It was
nine o'clock before Marthe would leave, and even then she
stopped reluctantly at the door, with a last look at the thin figure
propped up on her pillows. "Let me stay, Jeanne-Marie," she
said ; "you are so pale, and yet your eyes burn. I do not like to
think of the long night and you sitting here."

"It is easier than when I lie down, which brings the breathless-
ness. Do not worry yourself, Marthe, I shall sleep perhaps, and
if I need anything, I have but to call to Jean below. Good-night,
and thank you, Marthe."

The little house was very quiet. Jean had been asleep on his
chair this hour past, and not a sound came from the slumbering
village. There was no blind to the window of the bedroom, and
Jeanne-Marie watched the moon, as it escaped slowly from the
unwilling clouds, and threw its light on to the foot of the narrow bed.

For a long while she lay there, without moving, while through
all her troubled, confused thoughts ran like an under-current the
dull pain that wrenched at her heart. It seemed to take the
coherency from her thinking, and to be the one unquiet factor in
the calm that had come over her. She was surprised, herself, at
this strange fatigue that had swept away even her suffering.
She thought of little Henri and his illness without a pang. He
seemed like some far-off person she had read about, or heard of,
long ago.

She

238 Jeanne-Marie

She thought to herself, vaguely, that she must be dying, since
she seemed to have lost all feeling.

Bit by bit, various little scenes between her and Henri came to
her mind, with an extraordinary vividness. He was sitting on her
knee in the cottage, and his clear child's voice rang like a bell in
the silent room—so clearly, that Jeanne-Marie started, and
wondered if she were light-headed or had been dreaming. Then
the voice faded away, and she saw the cool, high grass of the
orchard, and there was Henri laughing at her, and rolling among
the flowers. How cool and fresh it looked ; and Henri was
asking her to come and play : "Tante Jeanne-Marie, viens jouer
avec ton petit. Tante Jeanne-Marie, tante Jeanne-Marie !" She
must throw herself on the grass with him—on the cool, waving
grass. And she bent forward with outstretched arms ; but the
movement brought her to herself, and as she lay back on her
pillows, suddenly the reality of suffering rushed back upon her,
with the agonising sense of separation and of loss. Little Henri
was dying ; was dead perhaps ; never to hear his voice, or feel his
warm little arms round her neck. She could do nothing for him ;
he must die without her. "Tante Jeanne-Marie ! Tante Jeanne-
Marie !" Was he calling her, from his feverish little bed ? If he
called, she must go to him, she could not lie here, this suffering
was choking her. She must have air, and space to breathe in; this
room was suffocating her. She must go to Henri. With a
desperate effort she struggled to her feet, and stood supporting
herself by the bed-post. The moon, that had hidden itself in the
clouds, struggled out, the long, old-fashioned glass hanging on the
wall opposite the bed became one streak of light, and Jeanne-
Marie, gazing at herself, met the reflection of her own face, and
knew that no power on earth could make her reach the farm where
little Henri lay.

She

By Leila Macdonald 239

She stood, as if spell-bound, marking the sunken look of the
eyes, the grey-blue colour of the cheeks, the face that was the face
of an old woman.

A sudden, fierce revolt against her starved life swept through
her at the sight, and conquered even the physical pain raging at
her heart. Still struggling for breath, she threw up her arms and
tore the cotton nightgown from her shoulders, and stood there
beating her breast with her hands.

"Oh, good God ! good God ! see here what I am. How old
and shrunken before my time ! Cursed be these breasts, that no
child has ever suckled ; cursed be this withered body, that no man
has ever embraced. I could have loved, and lived long, and been
made beautiful by happiness. Ah, why am I accursed ? I die,
unloved and neglected by my own people. No children's tears,
no husband to close my eyes ; old, worn out, before my time. A
woman only in name—not wife, not mother. Despised and
hideous before God and men—God and men."

Her voice died away in a moan, her head fell forward on her
breast, and she stumbled against the bed. For a long time she
lay crouched there, insensible from mere exhaustion, until, just
as the clocks were striking midnight, the door opened gently,
and Marthe and M. le Curé came in. Jean, awakened by the
sounds overhead, had run quickly for Marthe, and coming back
together, they had met M. le Curé on his way.

They raised her gently, and laid her on the bed, and finding
she still breathed, Marthe ran to fetch brandy, and the Curé knelt
by the bed in prayer.

Presently, the eyes opened quietly, and M. le Curé saw her
lips move. He bent over her, and whispered : "You are troubled,
Jeanne-Marie ; you wish for the absolution ?"

But her voice came back to her, and she said clearly :

"To

240 Jeanne-Marie

"To die unloved, unmourned ; a woman, but no wife ; no
mother."

She closed her eyes again. There were noises singing in her
head, louder and louder ; but the pain at her heart had ceased,
She was conscious only of a great loneliness, as if a curtain had
risen, and shut her off from the room ; and again the words came,
whispered from her lips : "A woman, accursed and wasted ; no
mother and no wife."

But some one was speaking, speaking so loudly that the sounds
in her head seemed to die away. She opened her eyes, and saw
M. le Curé, where he knelt, with his eyes shining on her face, and
heard his voice saying : "And God said, 'Blessed be the virgins
above all women ; give unto them the holy places ; let them be
exalted and praised by My church, before all men, and before Me.
Worthy are they to sit at My feet—worthy are they above all
women.'"

A smile of infinite happiness and of supreme relief lit up Jeanne-
Marie's face.

"Above all women," she whispered : "above all women."

And Jeanne-Marie bowed her head, and died.





MLA citation: Macdonald, Leila. "Jeanne-Marie." The Yellow Book 3 (Oct. 1894): 215-40. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. [Date of access]. http://www.1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YBV3_macdonald_jeanne.html