41. Faubourg Clotilde
Must I, ere I close, render some account of that Freedom and Renovation which I won on
the fête night? Must I tell how I and the two stalwart companions I brought home from
the illuminated park bore the test of intimate acquaintance?
I tried them the very next day. They had boasted their strength loudly when they
reclaimed me from love and its bondage, but upon my demanding deeds, not words, some
evidence of better comfort, some experience of a relieved life -- Freedom excused
himself, as for the present, impoverished and disabled to assist; and Renovation never
spoke; he had died in the night suddenly.
I had nothing left for it then but to trust secretly that conjecture might have hurried me
too fast and too far, to sustain the oppressive hour by reminders of the distorting and
discolouring magic of jealousy. After a short and vain struggle, I found myself brought
back captive to the old rack of suspense, tied down and strained anew.
Shall I yet see him before he goes? Will he bear me in mind? Does he purpose to come?
Will this day -- will the next hour bring him? or must I again assay that corroding pain of
long attent -- that rude agony of rupture at the close, that mute, mortal wrench, which, in
at once uprooting hope and doubt, shakes life; while the hand that does the violence
cannot be caressed to pity, because absence interposes her barrier!
It was the Feast of the Assumption; no school was held. The boarders and teachers, after
attending mass in the morning, were gone a long walk into the country to take their
goûter, or afternoon meal, at some farm-house. I did not go with them, for now but two
days remained ere the Paul et Virginie must sail, and I was clinging to my last chance, as
the living waif of a wreck clings to his last raft or cable.
There was some joiners' work to do in the first classe, some bench or desk to repair;
holidays were often turned to account for the performance of these operations, which
could not be executed when the rooms were filled with pupils. As I sat solitary, purposing
to adjourn to the garden and leave the coast clear, but too listless to fulfil my own intent, I
heard the workmen coming.
Foreign artisans and servants do everything by couples: I believe it would take two
Labassecourien carpenters to drive a nail. While tying on my bonnet, which had hitherto
hung by its ribbons from my idle hand; I vaguely and momentarily wondered to hear the
step of but one 'ouvrier.' I noted too -- as captives in dungeons find sometimes dreary
leisure to note the merest trifles -- that this man wore shoes, and not sabots: I concluded
that it must be the master carpenter, coming to inspect, before he sent his journeymen. I
threw round me my scarf. He advanced; he opened the door; my back was towards it; I
felt a little thrill -- a curious sensation, too quick and transient to be analysed. I turned, I
stood in the supposed master artisan's presence: looking towards the doorway, I saw it
filled with a figure, and my eyes printed upon my brain the picture of M. Paul.