I Will Repay
Chapter V. 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.
And Juliette--young, girlish, feminine and inconsequent--had sighed for country
and sunshine, had longed for a ramble in the woods, the music of the birds, the
sight of the meadows sugared with marguerites.
She had left the house early: accompanied by Pétronelle, she had been rowed
along the river as far as Suresnes. They had brought some bread and fresh
butter, a little wine and fruit in a basket, and from here she meant to wander
homewards through the woods.
It was all so peaceful, so remote: even the noise of shrieking, howling Paris did
not reach the leafy thickets of Suresnes.
It almost seemed as if this little old-world village had been forgotten by the
destroyers of France. It had never been a royal residence, the woods had never
been preserved for royal sport: there was no vengeance to be wreaked upon its
peaceful glades and sleepy, fragrant meadows.
Juliette spent a happy day; she loved the flowers, the trees, the birds, and
Pétronelle was silent and sympathetic. As the afternoon wore on, and it was time
to go home, Juliette turned townwards with a sigh.
You all know that road through the woods, which lies to the north-west of Paris:
so leafy, so secluded. No large, hundred-year-old trees, no fine oaks or antique
elms, but numberless delicate stems of hazel-nut and young ash, covered with
honeysuckle at this time of year, sweet-smelling and so peaceful after that awful
turmoil of the town.
Obedient to Madame Déroulède's suggestion, Juliette had tied a tricolour scarf
round her waist, and a Phrygian cap of crimson cloth, with the inevitable rosette
on one side, adorned her curly head.
She had gathered a huge bouquet of poppies, marguerites and blue lupin --
Nature's tribute to the national colours--and as she wandered through the sylvan
glades she looked like some quaint dweller of the woods--a sprite, mayhap--with
old mother Pétronelle trotting behind her, like an attendant witch.
Suddenly she paused, for in the near distance she had perceived the sound of
footsteps upon the leafy turf, and the next moment Paul Déroulède emerged from
out the thicket and came rapidly towards her.