But Eustacie’s first view was a bright pleasure in the triumph of her skill; and when her considerate guardian endeavoured to impress on her that there was no necessity for vexing herself with the task, she turned round on him with the exclamation, ’Nay, dear father, do you not see it is my great satisfaction to be able to do something for our good hostess, so that my daughter and I be not a burden to her?’
‘Well spoken, my Lady,’ said the pastor; ’there is real nobility in that way of thinking. Yet, remember, Noemi is not without means; she feels not the burden. And the flock contribute enough for the shepherd’s support, and yours likewise.’
’Then let her give it to the poor creatures who so often come in begging, and saying they have been burned out of house and home by one party or the other,’ said Eustacie. ’Let me have my way, dear sir; Soeur Bernadine always said I should be a prime menagere. I like it so much.’
And Madame de Ribaumont mixed sugar and dough, and twisted quaint shapes, and felt important and almost light-hearted, and sang over her work and over her child songs that were not always Marot’s psalms; and that gave the more umbrage to Noemi, because she feared that Maitre Gardon actually like to hear them, though, should their echo reach the street, why it would be a peril, and still worse, a horrible scandal that out of that sober, afflicted household should proceed profane tunes such as court ladies sang.
By the day and night her sorrows fall
Where miscreant hands and rude
Have stained her pure, ethereal pall
With many a martyr’s blood.
And yearns not her maternal heart
To hear their secret sighs,
Upon whose doubting way apart
Bewildering shadows rise?—KEBLE
It was in the summer twilight that Eustacie, sitting on the doorstep between the two rooms, with her baby on her knees, was dreamily humming to her a tune, without even words, but one that she loved, because she had first learnt to sing it with Berenger and his friend Sidney to the lute of the latter; and its notes always brought before her eyes the woods of Montpipeau. Then it was that, low and soft as was the voice, that befell which Noemi had feared: a worn, ragged-looking young man, who had been bargaining at the door for a morsel of bread in exchange for a handkerchief, started at the sound, and moved so as to like into the house.
Noemi was at the moment not attending, being absorbed in the study of the handkerchief, which was of such fine, delicate texture that an idea of its having been stolen possessed her; and she sought the corner where, as she expected, a coat-of-arms was embroidered. Just as she was looking up to demand explanation, the stranger, with a sudden cry of ‘Good heavens, it is she!’ pushed past her into the house, and falling on his knee before Eustacie, exclaimed, ‘O Lady, Lady, is it thus that I see you?’