‘It is all over now,’ faltered Albine, as she sank down amongst the broken brambles. ‘You will never love me enough again.’
She wept, while Serge stood rooted by the breach, straining his ears to catch the slightest sound that might be wafted from the village, waiting, as it were, for some voice that might fully awaken him. The bell in the church-tower had begun to sway, and slowly through the quiet evening air the three chimes of the Angelus floated up to the Paradou. It was a soft and silvery summons. The bell now seemed to be alive.
‘O God!’ cried Serge, falling on his knees, quite overcome by the emotion which the soft notes of the bell had excited in him.
He bent down towards the ground, and he felt the three peals of the Angelus pass over his neck and echo through his heart. The voice of the bell seemed to grow louder. It was raised again sternly, pitilessly, for a few moments which seemed to him to be years. It summoned up before him all his old life, his pious childhood, his happy days at the seminary, and his first Masses in that burning valley of Les Artaud, where he had dreamt of a solitary, saintly life. He had always heard it speaking to him as it was doing now. He recognised every inflection of that sacred voice, which had so constantly fallen upon his ears, like the grave and gentle voice of a mother. Why had he so long ceased to hear it? In former times it had promised him the coming of Mary. Had Mary come then and taken him and carried him off into those happy green fastnesses, which the sound of the bell could not reach? He would never have lapsed into forgetfulness if the bell had not ceased to ring. And as he bent his head still lower towards the earth, the contact of his beard with his hands made him start. He could not recognise his own self with that long silky beard. He twisted it and fumbled about in his hair seeking for the bare circle of the tonsure, but a heavy growth of curls now covered his whole head from his brow to the nape of his neck.
‘Ah! you were right,’ he said, casting a look of despair at Albine. ’It was forbidden. We have sinned, and we have merited some terrible punishment. . . . But I, indeed, I tried to reassure you, I did not hear the threats which sounded in your ears through the branches.’
Albine tried to clasp him in her arms again as she sobbed out, ’Get up, and let us escape together. Perhaps even yet there is time for us to love each other.’
’No, no; I haven’t the strength. I should stumble and fall over the smallest pebble in the path. Listen to me. I am afraid of myself. I know not what man dwells in me. I have murdered myself, and my hands are red with blood. If you took me away, you would never see aught in my eyes save tears.’
She kissed his wet eyes, as she answered passionately, ’No matter! Do you love me?’
He was too terrified to answer her. A heavy step set the pebbles rolling on the other side of the wall. A growl of anger seemed to draw nigh. Albine had not been mistaken. Some one was, indeed, there, disturbing the woodland quiet with jealous inquisition. Then both Albine and Serge, as if overwhelmed with shame, sought to bide themselves behind a bush. But Brother Archangias, standing in front of the breach, could already see them.