Mathieu sat near the bed listening to Norine and feeling icy cold. Good God! that poor, unfortunate Madame Angelin! He could picture her in her younger days, so gay and bright over yonder at Janville, roaming the woods there in the company of her husband, the pair of them losing themselves among the deserted paths, and lingering in the discreet shade of the pollard willows beside the Yeuse, where their love kisses sounded beneath the branches like the twittering of song birds. And he could picture her at a later date, already too severely punished for her lack of foresight, in despair at remaining childless, and bowed down with grief as by slow degrees her husband became blind, and night fell upon the little happiness yet left to them. And all at once Mathieu also pictured that wretched blind man, on the evening when he vainly awaited the return of his wife, in order that she might feed him and put him to bed, old child that he was, now motherless, forsaken, forever alone in his dark night, in which he could only see the bloody spectre of his murdered helpmate. Ah! to think of it, so bright a promise of radiant life, followed by such destiny, such death!
“We did right,” muttered Mathieu, as his thoughts turned to Constance, “we did right to keep that ruffian in ignorance of his father’s name. What a terrible thing! We must bury the secret as deeply as possible within us.”
Norine shuddered once more.
“Oh! have no fear,” she answered, “I would die rather than speak.”
Months, years, flowed by; and never did the police discover the murderers of the lady with the little bag. For years, too, Norine shuddered every time that anybody knocked too roughly at her door. But Alexandre did not reappear there. He doubtless feared that corner of the Rue de la Federation, and remained as it were submerged in the dim unsoundable depths of the ocean of Paris.
DURING the ten years which followed, the vigorous sprouting of the Froments, suggestive of some healthy vegetation of joy and strength, continued in and around the ever and ever richer domain of Chantebled. As the sons and the daughters grew up there came fresh marriages, and more and more children, all the promised crop, all the promised swarming of a race of conquerors.