“Ai, Debora!” cried a boy, “here’s the old man. Pass the plate, pass the plate!” To his amazement, though he could give no reason for the feeling, Ferval saw the girl go from group to group, her tambourine outstretched, begging for coppers. Once she struck an insulting youth across the face, but when she reached Ferval and met his inquiring look, she dropped her eyes and did not ask for alms. A red-headed Sibyl, he thought discontentedly, a street beggar, the daughter of an old ruffian. And as he walked away rapidly he remembered her glance, in which there lurked some touch of antique pride and wrath.
Rouen lay below him, a violet haze obscuring all but the pinnacles of its churches. The sinking sun had no longer power to pierce this misty gulf, at the bottom of which hummed the busy city; but Ferval saw through rents in the twirling, heat-laden atmosphere the dim shapes of bridges mirrored by the water beneath him; and once the two islands apparently swept toward him, a blur of green; while at the end of the valley, framed by hills, he seemed to discern the odd-looking Transbordeur spanning the Seine.
For twenty-four hours he had not ceased thinking of the girl with the tambourine, of her savage, sullen grace, her magnificent poise and strange glance. He had learned at his hotel that she was called “Debora la folle,” and that she was the daughter of the still crazier Baki. Was she some sort of a gypsy, or a Continental version of Salvation Army lass? No one knew. Each year, at the beginning of autumn, the pair wandered into Rouen, remained a few weeks, and disappeared. Where? Paris, perhaps, or Italy or—la bas! The shoulder-shrugging proved that Baki and his daughter were not highly regarded by reputable citizens of Rouen, though the street people followed their music and singing as long as it lasted. Singing? queried Ferval; does the woman sing?
He became more interested. His visits to the country where Pissarro painted and Flaubert wrote revealed other possibilities besides those purely artistic ones in which this amateur of fine shades and sensations delighted. He did not deny, on the esplanade where behind him stood Bonsecours and the monument of Jeanne d’Arc, that souvenirs of the girl had kept his eyelids from closing during the major portion of the night. To cool his brain after the midday breakfast he had climbed the white, dusty, and winding road leading to the Monumental Cemetery wherein, true Flaubertian, he had remained some moments uncovered at the tomb of the master. Now he rested, and the shade of the trees mellowed the slow dusk of a Rouen evening.