He was afraid to face Miss Sartilly. Every time he heard her approach, he moved further away. Eight days passed in this way, during which time he pressed himself to the heaviest work and enjoyed only the most necessary food. He feared that he had lost the sympathy of his benefactor by so ridiculously displaying his useless skills and mentioning his ancient riches. What made him speak! Why did he blush at his poverty and shortcomings in front of that rich, fine, young girl? If he had dared, he would have apologized to her. He would have prayed to forget those blinks and to look at him again with his soft eyes, the color of which he didn’t really remember, but which he guessed to be gentle and lovely, like a night traveler guesses the glory of the rising sun, which he hasn’t seen yet.
One Sunday morning he went to mass in Montségur. When he came to the church, he put his right hand into the holy water and, before making the sign of the cross, turned to offer holy water to whoever came after him, according to the custom of the village. But he flinched. It was a young girl who came after him, young and sweet with fair skin and blue eyes. And he touched the fingers of Geneviève, who took the holy water from him. His gentle smile made such an impression that he neither saw the altar nor heard the mass, but was overcome by the shaking like a person condemned to death.
* * * * *
One sunny October evening in the following week, as the yellowed leaves fell silently on the grass, Lazare harnessed the two oxen, Jean and Martin, to the front of the wagon to lift the logs which he had cut in the forest the day before, by order of the countess. This forest was approx. 5-600 meters from the castle.
Lazare had barely driven out of the gate when he heard quick footsteps behind him. He turned and saw Miss Sartilly. She was dressed in a muslin dress, wearing a hat decorated with flowers.
— Good day, Mr. Lazare, said the lady. Are you going to the forest? I was going to go in the same direction. I’m going to pick up my aunt, who is visiting one of her friends. Can I ride in the carriage with you?
He had already grabbed the huge poles of the wagon with both hands and rolled himself up, revealing his other round arm.
Lazare was in love. He had thus forgiven her. You could tell by his gentle tone of voice and kindness. And the bulls also seemed to be in good spirits, for they went straight ahead, slowing down when they encountered a pothole in the road. Lazare would have driven to the edge of the world like that! He spoke little, enjoying his quiet happiness all the more.
The trees were withered and formed a suitable background for his mood. They came to a gurgling spring from which Geneviève wanted to drink. They stopped, and when he had drunk, he took the water in his hands, holding it out for Martin to drink. The other, Jean, got nothing. And Lazare felt flattered. The carriage, which Geneviève had entered again, started again. Not a single person was seen in the forest, not a single bird sang, not an insect buzzed. And this deep silence pleased the former monk beyond words.
But soon they had to stop. They came to an open place with dry bushes. Geneviève jumped down from the carriage and sat down on a tree stump.
The sun’s rays caressed her fair hair, which took on a golden glow, while the shadow fell on her pale yellow little shoes, which were half covered in the grass.
— Tell me something, Mr. Lazare! — said Miss Sartilly. — Tell me about the place where you were born, where your parents were, why you became a monk and everything else you want besides yourself.
And Etienne Hontarrède told about his childhood, his home region of Chalosse, where Adour and Luy make so many bends and bays. He told of his parents and their sad death, of their castle and mill, so terribly destroyed, of Martin’s rescue, and of his decision to atone for the neglect of his parents by going to a convent, concealing nothing from his delightful hearer, ending with that acquaintance which he silently believed to be the supreme achievement of his happiness, the meeting of which was due to previous stages late until here — Geneviève, whom he considered his best friend even though he hardly knew her yet.
Miss Sartilly listened to him attentively, and sometimes her eyes shone with understanding and her lips smiled. Then he spoke in turn about his parents, his childhood and Brittany, where his first days had been spent. He had become warmer, and Lazare was almost thankful that he wasn’t as cheerful as usual.
Time passed. The shadows of the oaks fell not only on Geneviève’s shoes, but much further. There was a moment of silence. Then the girl took the proverbial foot, which she stuck in Martin’s head. Lazare didn’t seem to notice.
— Lord God, there comes my aunt! — cried Geneviève suddenly and jumped up.
And he quickly got up from his seat and thanked me.
A few blinks later, he appeared at Countess Manzanil’s side. For they had to pass over an open area. But this time Geneviève didn’t look at Lazare. He was completely absorbed in explaining to his aunt that his clock must have been 25 minutes behind when he was late and hadn’t left on time.
Lazare was delighted with this explanation.
When night came, he couldn’t get a shred of sleep in his eyes.
Back in the day, he was very nervous. He couldn’t keep quiet. He had the most inexplicable desire to speak not only to Martin, but also to the flowers, the stones, the echo of the valley, and the circle of the sky. Only among people was he silent.
The property manager gave him instructions that he did not understand. He forgot to water his ox at dinner time. And when the time came for the events described above, he had an irresistible urge to go to that open place in the forest. Without giving the slightest explanation, he left about a dozen of his companions who were harvesting the wine and went into the forest.
On the way, he looked intently at the mark that the bike had made on the road yesterday while driving. When he arrived at the gurgling spring, he closed his eyes better to remember the details and drank from the spring. Then he went to the place where Geneviève was sitting. And when he saw a couple of small shoe marks in the grass, he breathed a sigh of relief. So it was true. There he sat. It wasn’t a dream. There she sat motionless, picturing her figure to her eyes still to see. His eyes were fixed on her, and he came closer and closer. Lazare saw that she was wearing her suit from yesterday and her curls were shining in the sun. He came across the gap, right straight towards the off stump. But suddenly the vision disappeared.
— Or so, you are here, Mr. Lazare — he exclaimed in astonishment…
The former monk staggered up. What he saw was not imagination, but Miss Sartilly in person.
He was here, he spoke to him, and Lazare began to leave below.
The girl had to notice his restlessness. After all, he was sitting in the same place as the lady herself yesterday; and the young man turned pale as if he were about to faint. After all, he had been met by an obvious deed!
But Geneviève approached again.
— Sorry — he said. — I didn’t know… I was walking… I couldn’t have guessed…
Lazare dodged with unsteady steps.
But the maiden met him.
— Mister Lazare! — he said and his voice trembled — I regret coming if I have offended you. But I have something to tell you and I was so happy to see you.
Then he turned away with downcast eyes.
— You have been here for two months now and everyone is very satisfied with you. I would like, since I do not dare to offer you any place, to show you my gratitude. If I, through my acquaintances or directly, would do something for you, just tell me, it would be a pleasure for me…
— In that case, I’m asking you for just one thing — replied Lazare. — I’ve noticed lately that I love life too much. It meant so little to us in the monastery that we were content to dig our own graves. Now I do not know where I will find my death and I cannot dig my grave. That job would be healthier for me. Miss Sartilly, will you give me one of these little trees that grow here?
– What for? Will you cross me, Mr. Lazare? That can’t be completely true! What’s the point of talking about such things. It upsets me.
— God knows that I never want to cause you sorrow. But I don’t see anything wrong with thinking about death. After all, they say that when you feel perfect happiness, you think of a will against death.
Geneviève had become serious.
— Come, he said to Lazare.
He went into the forest, coming to a small stream. There stood a young poplar, straight trunk, quivering leaves. Miss Sartilly pointed to it and said:
— That tree was donated to your cross tree.
— May I beat it?
— Whenever you want.
— And the countess won’t say anything about it?
— No, that tree is doubly mine, because I planted it myself. Take it, Lazare!
Miss Sartilly had uttered these last words with a rare tone of voice. It was then that Lazare dared to look him directly in the eyes for the first time. But he immediately turned away, for he felt a wonderful faintness…
— Oh, you’re here! — suddenly shouted a bitter voice, which startled both of them. — You’re looking for mushrooms, that’s clear, — continued the voice sharply. — I haven’t found a single one. It’s ridiculous! There doesn’t seem to be a single fungus this year. Huh, when it starts to feel cold! Shall we not go inside, Geneviève.
Aunt was away a lot that week. When at last he returned, it was evening, and when he caught sight of Geneviève, he exclaimed:
— I have done a good job today! Lazare-raukka will probably be happy.
At the same time, the former monk passed by the barns, and Countess Manzanil called out to him:
— Come here, my friend! I have good news for you.
— I’ve got you a job in Bayonne, a good job with the chocolate manufacturer Nogaro. You will keep books and handle correspondence, and when you know several languages, you will get a good salary. Isn’t that lovely? I have succeeded in persuading Nogaro, who was a friend of my deceased husband. You are not treated there as a servant, but as a relative. And you won’t get bored there, I promise. All the beautiful girls of Biarritz pass by the office. Aren’t you happy, you? And there is no time to waste. Mr. Nogaro is waiting for you tomorrow night. I’m following you. It’s decided.
Geneviève said nothing. Lazare’s head drooped.
— I thanked you, Mrs. Countess! — he muttered after a moment of silence.
— Yes, you can do that! — exclaimed the Spaniard. — You don’t get a place like that every day. Nogaro is the largest chocolate manufacturer in these regions. You see, the reason I like you is that I won’t let you stay in farming all your life—with such knowledge and culture. It’s nice to plow fields and eat hard bread, but you can do better when you’ve been brought up like you. If you at Nogaro are thrifty, you can accumulate a small amount of capital in a few years. Secondly, that pleasant shopkeeper probably has a little money, and since he probably has sense, he can’t resist your dark eyes. Yeah, yeah, don’t know what could happen. Maybe you’ll end up as a candy maker in a nice shop, with a bunch of chocolate nibbling kids around you and a few railroad stocks in your portfolio!
— Of course, — answered the young lady without much doubt.
And he quickly went to his room, where he tuned one song after another in a voice that was somehow bright.
* * * * *
The next day the sky was bright and clear… October was coming to an end, but the plane trees hadn’t dropped their leaves yet. Only the acacias and poplars shook their yellowed leaves in the park.
It had been decided that Lazare and the Countess would leave Bontucq at 2 o’clock to board a train at Puyov to go to Bayonne. However, before leaving for the trip, Lazare had to get his entire suit renewed in order to be suitable as a clerk in a large office.
Early at 8 o’clock Geneviève went to the park to take her walk, but when there was a heavy dew, she took a book and crouched under a spruce whose top had been cut in the shape of a parasol and raised its crown far above the other neighboring trees.
Countess Manzanil had gone to mass. Lazare had taken a pair of scissors and started to cut a tree. But Geneviève didn’t seem to hear Lazare’s scissors. He only stopped his reading now and then to sing a song.
Lazare had never felt so sad before.
The night before, he had put his clothes in a travel bag that the countess had lent him. There he had also fitted the rosary he had received from the seminary school, the piece of bread that had been put in his pocket from the monastery and the word foot that Miss Sartilly had fitted to Martin’s head a few days ago.
Why did he carry this proverbial paper, when its giver, on the very day he was to leave Bontucq, sang a few paces away, in spite of him, a little more of separation than any other servant, whose names were soon forgotten after their departure.
The clock struck 9 in the Montségur church tower, and from the north there was a rustle from the valley. It was the Bayonne train. But Geneviève was still singing.
Lazare heard the words of the song and knew the tune. It was moving and the words were:
Cueillez, cueillez des roses,
Mon Gentil cavalier!
What memories that song brought back! Without it, Lazare would still be in the monastery. He would have continued his ascetic life and his heart would have belonged exclusively to heaven.
Cueillez, cueillez des roses.
Et me les apporter!
Lazare stopped by his bringer. He could no longer work. His head dropped and he sighed heavily. Soon he noticed an apple tree with red apples between him and the girl. And like the night he dug his own grave, he took the apple and gave it to the young singing girl.
Geneviève looked at him. He had become very pale.
— So it was you? — he said quietly. – I knew it.
He let his gaze fall and opened his book again. He was breathing heavily.
And without looking up, he crooned:
— So you travel?
— No, not now! — replied Lazare. — Let me stay! If you are not exceedingly displeased with me, miss, let me remain in the castle! If only you knew… ah, if you only knew!…
He fell silent suddenly. He felt that the most glowing words wanted to flow from his lips, but he was not allowed to speak. He held out his hand to Geneviève. But she closed her eyes, slowly shook her graceful head.
— No, — he said.
And his lips became completely colorless.
— No, it’s better that you go! … I am of course very pleased with you, but… You have been a good servant… and everyone here will miss you… But my aunt is right that you cannot remain a farmer any longer. Farewell, Lazare!
And he ran away.
When the former monk could no longer see him, he put his shears down, went to Martin’s stable, sat down on its clean straw and burst into tears.
Here Countess Manzanil finally found him.
— What does it want to say? — he shouted — you were here and didn’t say anything. The crowd has been looking for you for a quarter of an hour. Now we must go; I’ve been ready for 5 minutes already. So, hurry up now. Otherwise, we will arrive at the train too late.
But Lazare didn’t seem to understand. The countess saw her reddened eyes and guessed that she had been crying.
— Ah… or tears? You’re not going to take your bull to the chocolate factory, are you? No, it won’t work, but we can send it to you as a roast if you want, because that’s why the old thing is no longer good. Under no circumstances should it follow us to the train.
Lazare looked up and felt almost happy at this silly talk. The Countess therefore believed that her tears were for Martin, so the position was saved.
And when he came to the yard and saw Miss Sartiliy getting on the horse, he could no longer stop his tears from flowing again.
— Sangre de Dios! — exclaimed the countess. — That’s the man!
And he went straight before Lazare.
— Do you want to come with me or not? — he asked.
— Lady countess, you know I couldn’t stay in the convent without Martin, — she replied, — I think I can’t live without it at the chocolate maker’s. Excuse me, but it is impossible for me to go to Bayonne! Do whatever you want with me and my bull!
The old woman’s eyes flashed
— Your ox and bait must be slaughtered as soon as it has become fat enough! he shouted frantically. — And as for you yourselves, you will come as soon as possible to be sent to the stone quarries in Bidache. That’s why you can bring scissors and immediately…!
The Countess reinforced her words with a few more Spanish swear words and shouted to her niece, who had mounted her horse:
— Geneviève, go to the post office in Montségur and telegraph Mr.
Nogaro that he doesn’t have to wait for us.
— Yes aunty — answered the young lady from afar.
— And immediately a horse was heard galloping out of the sycamore park.
When the countess had gone her way, Lazare put her arm around Martin’s neck:
— Thank you, my dear Martini! — he whispered.