“I answered in a firm voice
“‘I gave ten cents as a tip.’
“My mother started, and, staring at me, she exclaimed:
“‘You must be crazy! Give ten cents to that man, to that vagabond—’
“She stopped at a look from my father, who was pointing at his son-in-law. Then everybody was silent.
“Before us, on the distant horizon, a purple shadow seemed to rise out of the sea. It was Jersey.
“As we approached the breakwater a violent desire seized me once more to see my Uncle Jules, to be near him, to say to him something consoling, something tender. But as no one was eating any more oysters, he had disappeared, having probably gone below to the dirty hold which was the home of the poor wretch.”
Curving like a crescent moon, the little town of Etretat, with its white cliffs, its white, shingly beach and its blue sea, lay in the sunlight at high noon one July day. At either extremity of this crescent its two “gates,” the smaller to the right, the larger one at the left, stretched forth—one a dwarf and the other a colossal limb—into the water, and the bell tower, almost as tall as the cliff, wide below, narrowing at the top, raised its pointed summit to the sky.
On the sands beside the water a crowd was seated watching the bathers. On the terrace of, the Casino another crowd, seated or walking, displayed beneath the brilliant sky a perfect flower patch of bright costumes, with red and blue parasols embroidered with large flowers in silk.
On the walk at the end of the terrace, other persons, the restful, quiet ones, were walking slowly, far from the dressy throng.
A young man, well known and celebrated as a painter, Jean Sumner, was walking with a dejected air beside a wheeled chair in which sat a young woman, his wife. A manservant was gently pushing the chair, and the crippled woman was gazing sadly at the brightness of the sky, the gladness of the day, and the happiness of others.
They did not speak. They did not look at each other.
“Let us stop a while,” said the young woman.
They stopped, and the painter sat down on a camp stool that the servant handed him.
Those who were passing behind the silent and motionless couple looked at them compassionately. A whole legend of devotion was attached to them. He had married her in spite of her infirmity, touched by her affection for him, it was said.
Not far from there, two young men were chatting, seated on a bench and looking out into the horizon.
“No, it is not true; I tell you that I am well acquainted with Jean Sumner.”
“But then, why did he marry her? For she was a cripple when she married, was she not?”
“Just so. He married her—he married her—just as every one marries, parbleu! because he was an idiot!”