inSerial: part six
The Mysteries of Paris
The farm to which Rodolphe led Fleur-de-Marie was located just outside and at the end of the village of Bouqueval, a small solitary parish, unnoticed, buried deep in the countryside, and roughly two leagues from Écouen. The carriage, following Rodolphe's directions, descended a steep road and entered a long avenue bordered with cherry and apple trees. The carriage traveled noiselessly on the carpet of fine, close–cropped grass that covered most of the roads in the vicinity. In spite of her efforts, Fleur-de-Marie, silent and sad, remained under the spell of her earlier sensation of sorrow, one Rodolphe reproached himself for having caused. After a few minutes the carriage passed before the large entranceway to the farm's courtyard, continued along a dense hedge of hornbeam, and stopped opposite a handsome porch of rustic wood half concealed beneath a sturdy grape vine whose leaves had darkened with the autumn weather.
"Here we are, Fleur-de-Marie," said Rodolphe. "Are you pleased?"
"Yes, Monsieur. But now I'm going to feel ashamed when I meet the farmwife. I could never look her in the face."
"Why is that, my child?"
"You were right, Monsieur, she doesn't know me." And La Goualeuse stifled a sigh.
The arrival of Rodolphe's carriage had obviously been expected. The coachman opened the door as a woman of about fifty, dressed in a manner similar to that of the wealthy farmers on the outskirts of Paris, appeared beneath the porch and approached Rodolphe with respectful haste. Her physiognomy was both sorrowful and gentle. La Goualeuse turned beet red and stepped down from the carriage after a moment's hesitation.
"Bonjour, my good Madame Georges," Rodolphe said to the woman, "here she is. You see, I'm right on time."
Then, turning to the coachman and placing some money in his hand, "You can return to Paris."
The coachman was a small, stocky fellow who wore his hat pulled low over his eyes, his face being almost entirely hidden by the fur-lined collar of his carrick. He pocketed the money, said nothing, climbed back onto the seat, cracked his whip, and soon disappeared through the green valley. Rodolphe assumed that after such a long ride, the silent coachman was in a hurry to leave, although it was only two o'clock. He must be eager to return to Paris early so he can have the rest of the day to himself, he thought. Rodolphe attached no importance to his initial observation.
Fleur-de-Marie approached him, looking uneasy, troubled, almost alarmed, and said to him softly, so she could not be overheard by Madame Georges: "My goodness, Monsieur, excuse me, but, you've sent back the carriage. What about the Abbess? I have to get back this evening, otherwise, she'll think I've stolen her clothes, and I am still in her debt."
"Calm yourself, child, I'm the one who should be begging your pardon."
"For not telling you sooner that you no longer owe anything to the Abbess, and you can exchange those dreadful clothes for others that my good Madame Georges is going to provide you. She's about your size; she'd be happy to lend you something to wear. You see, she's already beginning to play her role as an aunt."
Fleur-de-Marie thought she was dreaming. She looked back and forth between Madame Georges and Rodolphe, unable to believe what she was hearing.
"What do you mean," she said, her voice breaking with emotion, "I'm not going back to Paris? I can remain here? Will Madame allow me? Could it be real, that castle in Spain?"
"It was this farm—it's here."
"No, no, that would be too lovely, too wonderful."
"One can never have too much happiness, Fleur-de-Marie."
"Please, Monsieur Rodolphe, don't tease me, it would hurt too much."
"My dear child, believe me," said Rodolphe, affectionately, but with an air of dignity that Fleur-de-Marie had not seen before. "Yes, you may, if you wish, remain with Madame Georges and lead the kind of peaceful existence that so enchanted you earlier. Though Madame Georges is not your aunt, once you get to know her, you will appreciate her tender devotion to you. You will be presented to the farm hands as her niece. This little deception will simplify things. So you can, if you wish, make this afternoon's dream come true. Once you are dressed as a young farm hand," he added with a smile, "we'll take you to see your future favorite, Musette, a pretty white calf missing only the collar you promised her. Then we'll visit the pigeons and the dairy, the entire farm. I intend to keep
Fleur-de-Marie clasped her hands together. Surprise, joy, gratitude, and respect flashed across her handsome face; her eyes were bathed in tears, and she exclaimed: "Monsieur Rodolphe, you're an angel of the Lord. You assist the unfortunate though they are unknown to you and release them from their shame and poverty!"
"My poor child," replied Rodolphe with a smile of profound melancholy and ineffable generosity, "although still young, I've suffered a great deal in my life. That should explain my compassion for those who suffer. Fleur-de-Marie or, rather, Marie, go with Madame Georges. Yes, you shall be Marie from now on, a name as soft and sweet as you. I'd like to have a few words with you before I return. I'll leave here with the satisfaction of knowing you are happy."
Fleur-de-Marie said nothing. She approached Rodolphe, bent her knees slightly and took his hand, which she brought respectfully to her lips in a gesture filled with grace and modesty. She rose and followed Madame Georges, who had observed her with the most profound interest.