Whilst Deroulede and Juliette talked together Anne Mie cleared the supper-table, then came and sat on a low stool at madame’s feet. She took no part in the conversation, but every now and then Juliette felt the girl’s melancholy eyes fixed almost reproachfully upon her.
When Juliette had retired with Petronelle, Deroulede took Anne Mie’s hand in his.
“You will be kind to my guest, Anne Mie, won’t you? She seems very lonely, and has gone through a great deal.”
“Not more than I have,” murmured the young girl involuntarily.
“You are not happy, Anne Mie? I thought...”
“Is a wretched, deformed creature ever happy?” she said with sudden vehemence, as tears of mortification rushed to her eyes, in spite of herself.
“I did not think that you were wretched,” he replied with some sadness, “and neither in my eyes, nor in my mother’s, are you in any way deformed.”
Her mood changed at once. She clung to him, pressing his hand between her own.
“Forgive me! I—I don’t know what’s the matter with me to-night,” she said with a nervous little laugh. “Let me see, you asked me to be kind to Mademoiselle Marny, did you not?”
He nodded with a smile.
“Of course I’ll be kind to her. Isn’t every one kind to one who is young and beautiful, and has great, appealing eyes, and soft, curly hair? Ah me! how easy is the path in life for some people! What do you want me to do, Paul? Wait on her? Be her little maid? Soothe her nerves or what? I’ll do it all, though in her eyes I shall remain both wretched and deformed, a creature to pity, the harmless, necessary house-dog...”
She paused a moment: said “Good-night” to him, and turned to go, candle in hand, looking pathetic and fragile, with that ugly contour of shoulder, which Deroulede assured her he could not see.
The candle flickered in the draught, illumining the thin, pinched face, the large melancholy eyes of the faithful house-dog.
“Who can watch and bite!” she said half-audibly as she slipped out of the room. “For I do not trust you, my fine madam, and there was something about that comedy this afternoon, which somehow, I don’t quite understand.”
A day in the woods.
But whilst men and women set to work to make the towns of France hideous with their shrieks and their hootings, their mock-trials and bloody guillotines, they could not quite prevent Nature from working her sweet will with the country.
June, July, and August had received new names—they were now called Messidor, Thermidor, and Fructidor, but under these new names they continued to pour forth upon the earth the same old fruits, the same flowers, the same grass in the meadows and leaves upon the trees.
Messidor brought its quota of wild roses in the hedgerows, just as archaic June had done. Thermidor covered the barren cornfields with its flaming mantle of scarlet poppies, and Fructidor, though now called August, still tipped the wild sorrel with dots of crimson, and laid the first wash of tender colour on the pale cheeks of the ripening peaches.