At that moment Rodolphe instructed the driver, who had passed the village of Sarcelles, to take the first road on the right, cross Villiers-le-Bel, and then turn left, heading straight. Turning to La Goualeuse, he said “Now that you’re satisfied with me, we can amuse ourselves with building castles in Spain. It doesn’t cost much, so you can’t reproach me for the expense.”
“No, I can’t. So, let’s build your castle in Spain.”
“Yours first, Fleur-de-Marie.”
“Let’s see if you can guess what I would like, Monsieur.”
“I’ll try. I guess that this road here . . . I mention it because this is where we happen to be.”
“That’s right, you don’t have to look very far.”
“I assume the road will lead us to a charming village, a long way from the main thoroughfare.”
“Yes, it’s much quieter.”
“It’s built halfway down the hillside and there are lots of trees.”
“There’s a stream nearby.”
“Exactly . . . a stream. At the end of the village you can make out a pretty farm; on one side of the house is an orchard, on the other a lovely garden filled with flowers.”
“I can see it from here, Monsieur Rodolphe!”
“On the ground floor is a large kitchen for the farm hands, and a dining room for the farmer.”
“The house has green shutters. It’s very cheerful, isn’t it?”
“Green shutters. I agree. There’s nothing more cheerful than green shutters. Naturally, the farmer’s wife is your aunt.”
“Naturally. And she will be a fine woman indeed.”
“Excellent. And she’ll love you like a daughter.”
“Such a wonderful aunt. How good it must feel to be loved.”
“And will you love her in return?”
“Oh!” exclaimed Fleur-de-Marie, joining her hands together and lifting her eyes with an expression of indescribable joy, “Oh, yes, most certainly. I would help her with her chores. I’d help her sew, wash the laundry and store it away, can fruits for the winter, anything that needed to be done in the house. She would have no reason to complain about me being lazy, I can tell you! And in the morning . . .”
“Not so fast, you’re very impatient. Let me finish describing the house.”
“Go ahead, mister painter, I can see you’re accustomed to putting pretty landscapes on your fans,” said La Goualeuse laughing.
“You little chatterbox, let me finish my house.”
“It’s true, I like to chatter, but it’s so much fun! I’m listening, Monsieur Rodolphe; finish the farmer’s house.”
“Your bedroom is on the first floor.”
“My bedroom! How lovely! What does my bedroom look like? Tell me.”
And the young woman pressed against Rodolphe, her big eyes open wide, all curiosity.
“Your room has two windows that look out onto the flower garden and a field at the bottom of which the stream flows. On the other side of the stream is a hillside planted with old chestnut trees, in the center of which you can make out a church steeple.”
“How lovely, how lovely, Monsieur Rodolphe. I want to be there already.”
“Three or four fine cows are grazing in the meadow, which is separated from the garden by a hawthorn bush.”
“And do I see the cows from my window?”
“And one will be my favorite, isn’t that so, Monsieur Rodolphe? I’ll make her a handsome collar with a bell and I’ll teach her to eat out of my hand.”
“Which she’ll do. She’s all white, very young, and her name is Musette.”
“Oh, what a pretty name! Poor Musette, I love her already.”
“Let’s finish your room, Fleur-de-Marie. The room is hung with a pretty chintz fabric, with matching curtains. A large rose bush and an enormous honeysuckle cover the walls of the house on that side and surround your windows so that, each morning, you have only to reach your hand out to gather a beautiful bouquet of flowers.”
“Oh, Monsieur, what a fine painter you are!”
“Now, let’s see how you spend your day.”
“Your aunt wakes you in the morning with a tender kiss on your forehead. She brings you a bowl of milk, very hot, because you have a weak stomach, poor child! You rise; take a walk around the farm, check on Musette, the chickens, your friends the pigeons, the flowers in the garden. At nine your writing teacher arrives.”
“You understand that you must learn to read, write, and count so you can help your aunt keep the books for the farm.”
“That’s true, Monsieur Rodolphe, I hadn’t thought of it. I really must learn to read so I can help my aunt,” she said in all seriousness, being so fully absorbed in the cheerful description of that peaceful existence, that she believed it was real.
“After your lesson, you’ll help with the laundry or you’ll embroider a handsome, rustic bonnet. Around two you’ll practice your writing and then you’ll go for a long walk with your aunt to see the reapers in summer, the laborers in the fall. You’ll be good and tired and you’ll bring back a handful of wild herbs, which you’ve selected for your dear Musette.”
“We’ll return through the field, isn’t that so, Monsieur Rodolphe?”
“Certainly. There’s a wooden bridge over the stream. When you return, it’s already six or seven o’clock; because of the weather, a roaring fire has been burning in the large kitchen. You stand alongside to warm yourself and chat a moment with the farm hands, who are eating after the day’s work. Then you dine with your aunt. Sometimes the curé or an old friend of the family joins you. After dinner, you read or work while your aunt plays cards. At ten o’clock she kisses you on the forehead and you go up to your room. And the next morning, you begin anew.”
“One could live a hundred years like that, without thinking of getting bored a single moment.”
“But that’s nothing. What about Sundays and holidays!”
“What happens then, Monsieur Rodolphe?”
“You get all dressed up. You put on a pretty country dress and a charming round bonnet that suits you to perfection. You climb into a wicker cart with your aunt and Jacques, the farm boy, to attend mass in the village. After mass, in the summertime, you and your aunt attend all the holiday celebrations in the neighboring parishes. You are so kind, so sweet, such a good housekeeper, your aunt loves you so dearly and the curé speaks so highly of you, that all the young farmers in the vicinity ask you to dance, because that’s how marriages always start. And, little by little, you notice someone and . . .”
Rodolphe, surprised by La Goualeuse’s silence, turned to look at her. The unfortunate young woman was having difficulty trying to stifle her sobs. For a moment, captivated by Rodolphe’s words, she had forgotten the present, and the contrast of her present life with the dream of a cheerful and happy existence brought her back to the horror of her situation.
“Fleur-de-Marie, what’s wrong?”
“Oh, Monsieur Rodolphe, I know you didn’t want to, but you’ve made me so unhappy. For a moment, I believed in that paradise.”
“But, poor child, that paradise exists. Look, look over there. Driver, stop!”
The carriage stopped. La Goualeuse raised her head mechanically. She found herself on top of a small hill. What was her astonishment, her shock! The pretty village on the hillside, the farm, the field, the fine cows, the stream, the chestnut trees, the church in the distance, the picture was there before her. Nothing was missing, including Musette, the beautiful white calf, La Goualeuse’s future favorite. This pleasant landscape was lit by a bright November sun. The chestnut trees were still covered with yellow and purple leaves, which stood out against the blue of the sky.
“Well, what do you say? Am I a good painter?” asked Rodolphe, smiling.
The young woman looked at him with a mixture of surprise and concern. The scene seemed almost supernatural to her.
“How did this happen, Monsieur Rodolphe? Good heavens, is this a dream? It makes me a little afraid. How could it be? Just as you told me.”
“Nothing could be simpler, my child. The farm woman is my wet nurse; I was raised here. I wrote to her early this morning to tell her I would be coming to visit. I painted according to nature.”
“Yes, that’s true, Monsieur Rodolphe,” said La Goualeuse with a deep sigh.
This work received support from the French Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States through their publishing assistance program.