Seated near a pier table, on which a little kettle bubbled over a spirit-lamp, Albine intently watched the alcove curtains. She was gowned in white, her hair gathered up in an old lace kerchief, her hands drooping wearily, as she kept watch with the serious mien of youthful womanhood. A faint breathing, like that of a slumbering child, could be heard in the deep silence. But she grew restless after a few minutes, and could not restrain herself from stepping lightly towards the alcove and raising one of the curtains. On the edge of the big bed lay Serge, apparently asleep, with his head resting on his bent arm. During his illness his hair had lengthened, and his beard had grown. He looked very white, with sunken eyes and pallid lips.
Moved by the sight Albine was about to let the curtain fall again. But Serge faintly murmured, ‘I am not asleep.’
He lay perfectly still with his head on his arm, without stirring even a finger, as if overwhelmed by delightful weariness. His eyes had slowly opened, and his breath blew lightly on one of his hands, raising the golden down on his fair skin.
‘I heard you,’ he murmured again. ’You were walking very gently.’*
* From this point in the original Serge
and Albine thee and thou
one another; but although this tutoiement has some bearing on
the development of the story, it was impossible to preserve it
in an English translation.—ED.
His voice enchanted her. She went up to his bed and crouched beside it to bring her face on a level with his own. ‘How are you?’ she asked, and then continued: ’Oh! you are well now. Do you know, I used to cry the whole way home when I came back from over yonder with bad news of you. They told me you were delirious, and that if your dreadful fever did spare your life, it would destroy your reason. Oh, didn’t I kiss your uncle Pascal when he brought you here to recruit your health!’
Then she tucked in his bed-clothes like a young mother.
’Those burnt-up rocks over yonder, you see, were no good to you. You need trees, and coolness, and quiet. The doctor hasn’t even told a soul that he was hiding you away here. That’s a secret between himself and those who love you. He thought you were lost. Nobody will ever disturb you, you may be sure of that! Uncle Jeanbernat is smoking his pipe by his lettuce bed. The others will get news of you on the sly. Even the doctor isn’t coming back any more. I am to be your doctor now. You don’t want any more physic, it seems. What you now want is to be loved; do you see?’