The bright August sun had been climbing the horizon since five o'clock, and La Beauce displayed its ripe grain under the glowing sky. Since the last summer showers, the green, ever-growing expanse had little by little turned yellow. It was now a tawny sea of fire, that seemed to reflect the flaming atmosphere: a sea that gleamed and swelled at the least breath of wind. Nothing but corn; corn to infinity, without a glimpse of house or tree! Now and then in the heat of the day, a leaden calm enwrapped the ears, while a fruitful odour rose smoking from the soil. The period of gestation was finishing; it could be realised that the swelling seed was bursting from the womb in warm, heavy grain. At sight of this mighty plain, this giant harvest, one felt uneasy as to whether man, with his insect-like form, so small amid such immensity, would ever be able to get through it.
During the last week, at La Borderie, Hourdequin, having finished his barley, had been engaged upon his wheat. During the previous year his reaping-machine had got out of order; and, discouraged by his servants' hostility, and having himself grown doubtful as to the efficacy of machinery, he had had to provide himself with a staff of reapers since Ascension Day. According to custom, he had hired them at Mondoubleau, in Le Perche. There was the foreman, a tall, lean fellow, five other reapers, and six pickers-up, four of them women and two of them girls. A cart had brought them to Cloyes, where a conveyance from the farm had gone to fetch them. Everybody slept in the sheep-cot—empty at that time of year—the girls, women, and men being all huddled together pell-mell in the straw, half-undressed on account of the great heat.
This was the season when Jacqueline had the most trouble. The sunrise and sunset decided the work of the day or the morrow. They shook off their fleas at three in the morning, and returned to their straw at about ten at night. She always had to be up the first, for the four o'clock soup; just as she went to bed the last, after serving the heavy nine o'clock meal of bacon, beef, and cabbage. Between these two meals there were three others; bread and cheese at eight, soup again at twelve, a sop of milk by way of a snack in the afternoon. In all, five meals, copiously washed down with cider and wine, for the harvesters, who work hard, are exacting as regards their food. However, she merely laughed, as if stimulated by her duties. She was lithe like a cat, with sinews of iron, and her resistance to fatigue was all the more surprising, on account of her amours with that big lubber Tron, whose soft flesh whetted her appetites. She had made him her creature, and she took him into the barns, the hay-loft, and even the sheep-cot, now that the shepherd, whose espionage she feared, passed the night out-of-doors with his sheep. And withal she became more supple and active. Hourdequin neither saw nor heard anything. He was in his harvest fever, something out of the common, the great annual crisis of his passion for the soil. His brain became on fire, his heart beat fast, and his flesh quivered at sight of the ripe, falling grain.
The nights were so sultry that year, that sometimes Jean could not stay in the loft, where he slept, near the stable. He preferred to stretch himself, with all his clothes on, on the pavement of the yard. It was not merely the intolerable living heat of the horses, and the exhalations from their litter, that drove him outside; but sleeplessness, the ever-present image of Françoise, the constant idea of her coming, of his seizing her, and devouring her with his embraces. Now that Jacqueline, being busy elsewhere, left him to himself, his affection for the young girl turned into a madness of longing. Scores of times, while he suffered at night-time, in a state of semi-somnolence, he swore that he would go the next day and win her; but, on rising up, as soon as he had dipped his head into a bucket of cold water, he thought it disgusting: he was too old for her. And then the next night the torture began again. When the harvesters arrived, he recognised among them a woman, now married to one of the reapers, with whom he had been familiar two years before, while she was yet a girl. One evening he slipped into the sheep-cot, and pulled her by the feet as she lay between her husband and her brother, who were both snoring open-mouthed. She got up and came to him, and they lay silently together in the sultry darkness on the trodden soil which, although it had been raked over, still retained, from the winter sojourn of the sheep, so keen an ammoniacal odour as to bring tears into one's eyes. During the three weeks that the reapers were there, he came back to the sheep-cot every night.
After the second week in August, the work made progress. The reapers had started with the northern fields, and were working down towards those which bordered the valley of the Aigre. The immense stretch of corn fell sheaf by sheaf. Every cut of the scythe told, leaving a circular incision. The puny insects, seemingly lost amid their gigantic task, came forth from it in triumph. Behind them, as they slowly marched onward in line, the razed ground re-appeared, bristling with stubble, over which trampled the pickers-up, bending down It was the season when there was the most gaiety about the vast sad solitude of La Beauce, now full of people and animated by the constant motion of labourers, carts, and horses. As far as the eye could reach, there were parties advancing with the same slant progress, with the same swinging of their arms; some so near that the swish of the steel was audible, others extending in black streaks, like ants, as far as the edge of the sky. On all sides gaps were appearing, as though the plain were a piece of cloth wearing into holes all over. Shred by shred, amid the ant-like activity, La Beauce was stripped of her court mantle formed of cloth-of-gold, her sole summer adornment, the loss of which left her desolate and naked. During the last days of the harvest, the heat was overpowering, especially one day when Jean near the Buteaus' land, and, with his cart and pair, was removing some sheaves to a field of the farm where a large stack, six and twenty feet high, was to be built with some three thousand trusses. The stubble was splitting atwain with the drought, and the heat scorched the motionless wheat which was still standing. The latter seemed as if it were itself flaming with visible fire, in the quivering of the sun-rays. Not the shelter of a leaf; no shadow on the ground save the scanty ones of the toilers. Perspiring since the morning under this blazing sky, Jean had been loading and unloading his cart, without saying a word, simply glancing at each journey towards the field where Françoise, bending double, was slowly gathering behind the reaping Buteau.
Buteau had had to take Palmyre to help him; for Françoise did not suffice, and he could not rely on Lise, who had been in the family way for the last eight months. This had exasperated him. After all the precautions he had taken, how could it possibly have happened? He used to jostle his wife about, accusing her of having done it on purpose, and complaining lugubriously for hours together, as if some destitute wretch or stray animal were coming to eat him out of house and home. Although eight months had gone by, he never noticed Lise's condition without abusing it. Curse the thing! A goose was not so stupid! It was the ruin of the household!
That morning she had come to help in the gathering; but he had sent her back, furious with her heavy, clumsy movements. She was to return, however, with the four o'clock snack.
"Good God!" said Buteau, who was bent on finishing a bit of ground; "My back's baked, and my tongue's a perfect chip."
Then he straightened himself; his sockless feet were thrust into thick shoes, and he wore nothing but a shirt and canvas smock, the former hanging half out of the open smock and showing the hair of his sweating chest down to the navel.
"I must have another drink!" said he.
Then he took from under his jacket on the ground a quart bottle of cider, which he had sheltered there. At last, having swallowed two mouthfuls of the tepid drink, he thought of the girl.
"Aren't you thirsty?"
Françoise took a deep draught from the bottle without repugnance. While she bent backward, with her loins curved, and her rounded bust straining the thin material of her dress, he looked at her askance. She also was dripping with moisture, in a print dress half undone, the body being unhooked at the top and showing her white flesh. Under the blue handkerchief with which she had covered her head and neck, her eyes seemed very large in her quiet face, glowing with the heat.
Without another word Buteau, with his hips swinging, resumed his work, felling a swath with every stroke of his scythe, the swish of which kept time to his tread. Stooping down again, she followed him, carrying in her right hand her sickle, which she made use of to gather up each armful of corn from among the thistles. At every three steps she laid the wheat regularly in bundles. Whenever he straightened himself, just long enough to pass the back of his hand over his brow, and saw Françoise too far in the rear, stooping, with her head quite close to the ground, in the position of an expectant animal, he called out to her in a husky voice, his tongue seemingly getting drier than ever:
"Now, then, lazybones! You ought to know better than to fool away your time like that!"
In the adjacent field, where for three days the straw of the bundles had been drying, Palmyre was engaged in binding the sheaves. He did not watch her; for, contrary to the usual practice, he had arranged to pay her per hundred sheaves, on the pretext that she was old and worn out, and had lost her strength, so that he should lose if he paid her by time—at the rate of a franc and a-half per day, which was what the younger women earned. Even to secure this piecework she had had to implore him; and he had taken advantage of her position, assuming the resigned air of a Christian performing a work of charity. The poor creature collected three or four bundles—as many as her shrivelled arms could hold—and then tightly tied the sheaf with a band she had prepared. This work, so fatiguing that it is usually reserved for the men, was exhausting her. Her breast was crushed by the constant loads it had to sustain; her arms were strained by dint of embracing such massive bundles, and tugging at the bands of straw. She had brought with her in the morning a bottle, which she went and filled every hour or so at a neighbouring stagnant, poisonous pool; and she drank greedily of the water, in spite of the diarrhœa, which had torn her to pieces since the beginning of the hot weather, her health being already ruined by over-work.
The azure of the sky had grown pale, as if it were whitened by the heat; and burning coals seemed to fall from the sun, now glowing more fiercely than ever. It was the oppressive noontide hour of the siesta. Delhomme and his party, who had been stacking some sheaves near by—four below, and one to roof the others in with—had already disappeared, and were all lying down in some hollow. For an instant longer old Fouan could be seen, still standing up. He had sold his house a fortnight previously, since when he had been living with his son-in-law, following the harvest-work with all the feverishness of yore. In his turn, he soon felt obliged to lie down, and also disappeared from view. There was nothing remaining against the blank horizon, or the blazing background of the stubble, save the withered figure of La Grande, who was examining a tall stack which her people had begun to erect among a little tribe of smaller ones already partially pulled to pieces. She seemed like a tree hardened by age, with nothing to fear from the sun, as, without a drop of perspiration on her, she stood there bolt upright, feeling sternly indignant with the sleepers.
"Pish! My skin's absolutely crackling," said Buteau at last.
And, turning to Françoise:
"Let's sleep a bit!"
He looked round him for a little shade, but found none. The sun was beating down perpendicularly, and there was not so much as a bush to shelter them. At last he noticed that at the end of the field, in a sort of little ditch, some wheat which was still standing threw a brown streak of shadow.
"Hullo there, Palmyre!" cried he. "Don't you follow our example?"
She was fifty paces off, and replied in a stifled voice, which reached them like a whisper:
"No, no! I haven't time."
She was now the only worker left in all the glowing plain. If she didn't take her franc-and-a-half home with her at night-time, Hilarion would beat her; for he no longer confined himself to his accustomed ill-usage, but robbed her as well, that he might have money to buy brandy with. However, her strength was now forsaking her. Her flat figure, planed straight like a plank by sheer hard work, creaked as if it were about to snap at every fresh sheaf she picked up and bound. With ashen face, worn like some old copper coin, seemingly sixty years of age though actually but thirty-five, she let the burning sun drink up her life-blood in the despairing efforts she made, like a beast of burden about to fall and perish.
Buteau and Françoise had stretched themselves side by side. They were steaming with sweat, now that they had ceased to move about, and they lay in silence with closed eyes. A leaden slumber instantly weighed them down; they slept for an hour; and the perspiration poured unceasingly from their limbs in the motionless, heavy, furnace-like atmosphere. When Françoise opened her eyes again, she saw Buteau lying on his side, watching her with the jaundiced look that had disturbed her for some time past. She re-closed her eyelids, and pretended to go to sleep again. Without his having yet spoken to her, she knew well enough that he desired her, now that she had grown up, and was quite a woman. The idea maddened her. Would he dare, the swine! he whom she heard rioting with her sister every night? Never before had his lustful manner so exasperated her. Would he dare? And she awaited his addresses, unconsciously wishing for them, but resolved, if he touched her, to strangle him.
As she closed her eyes Buteau suddenly seized hold of her.
"You swine! you swine!" she stammered, repulsing him.
He chuckled with a wild look, and whispered:
"Stupid! Keep still! I tell you they're asleep; no one is looking."
At that moment, Palmyre's wan and agonised face appeared above the corn. She had turned round at the noise. But she didn't count, any more than if a cow had lifted up its muzzle. And, indeed, she returned, with indifference, to her sheaves. The cracking of her loins was again heard at each effort she made.
"Stupid," said Buteau. "Lise won't know."
At the mention of her sister, Françoise, who was on the eve of giving way, nerved herself for renewed resistance. From that moment she remained firm, beating him with her fists and kicking him with her bare legs. Was he hers, this fellow? Did he think she wanted some one else's leavings?
"Go and find my sister, you pig!" she exclaimed. And then she gave him such a kick in a tender part that he was forced to let her go, pushing her away so brutally that she had to stifle a cry of pain.
It was high time that the scene should finish, for Buteau, when he got up, perceived Lise returning with the snack. He walked on to meet her, and engaged her in talk, so as to allow Françoise the time to tidy her dress. The idea that she was going to tell everything made him regret not having stunned her with a kick. However, she said nothing, but sat down amid the bundles of wheat with a stubborn and insolent air. He had resumed his reaping, but she still stayed there idly, like a princess.
"What is it?" asked Lise, tired with her journey, and sitting down as well: "you're not working?"
"No, it bores me," replied Françoise, savagely.
Then Buteau, afraid to storm at her, fell foul of his wife. What was she up to, stretched out there like a sow, warming her belly in the sun? And a sweet thing, indeed, it was. A fine pumpkin to set out to ripen. At that phrase she began to laugh with all her old buxom gaiety. Maybe it was true that the warmth ripened the little one and brought it on; and so, under the flaming heavens, she rounded her huge figure, which seemed like the protuberance of some germ rising from the fruitful soil. But he did not laugh. He brutally made her get up, and insisted on her helping him. Inconvenienced by her condition, she was fain to kneel down, picking up the ears of corn with a side-long movement, and panting as she laboured on.
"As you're doing nothing," she said to her sister, "you might at least go back home and make the soup."
Françoise went off without a word. Although the heat was still stifling La Beauce had again assumed an aspect of activity. The little black specks of harvesters re-appeared, swarming to infinity. Delhomme was once more reaping with his two men, while La Grande, watching the growth of her stack, was leaning on her stick, quite prepared to bring it across the face of any idler. Fouan also went to have a look at the stack; next he again became absorbed in his son-in-law's work; and then he wandered retrospectively and regretfully to and fro, with heavy gait. Françoise, with her head still dizzy from the shock she had experienced, was going along the new road, when a voice called to her:
"Come along. This way!"
It was Jean, half hidden behind the sheaves which he had been carting from the neighbouring fields since the morning. He had just unloaded his waggon once more; and the two horses were waiting motionless in the sunshine. The erection of the large stack would not be begun till the morrow, and he had merely piled up some heaps, three walls which enclosed, as it were, a room; a deep snug nest of straw.
"Come along!" he said. "It's me!"
Françoise mechanically complied with the request. She did not even think of glancing back. Had she turned round, she would have noticed Buteau craning forward, surprised to see her leaving the road.
Jean now began jestingly:
"It's proud you're getting, to go by without giving a good-day to your friends!"
"Why, you're so hidden," she replied, "that you can't be seen."
Then he complained of the cold shoulder that the Buteaus now always turned upon him. But she was not composed enough to talk of that; she remained silent, or only let a brief word fall now and then. She had spontaneously dropped upon the straw, at the far end of the nook, as though she were thoroughly tired out. Her head was full of one thing, the attack of that man over yonder at the edge of the field; his hot hands, of which she still felt the powerful grip; his masculine approach, that she still seemed to expect, breathing short, in an anguish of desire, against which she struggled. She closed her eyes, choking.
Then Jean spoke no more. Seeing her thus, supine and yielding, the blood pulsed strongly through his veins. He had not calculated on this encounter, and he still held back, thinking that it would be a shame to take advantage of such a child. But the loud beating of his heart upset him. He had so long desired her! A vision of possession drove him frantic, as during his feverish nights. He lay down near her, contenting himself first with one of her hands, and then with both hands; which he crushed between his own, without so much as venturing to raise them to his lips. She did not draw them away, but re-opened her dreamy, heavy-lidded eyes, and looked at him without a smile, without any sign of shame, her face nervously strained. It was this mute, almost painful look of hers that all at once urged him to brutality. He made a dash, and seized her like the other.
"No, no," she faltered; "I entreat you."
But she made no defence. She only gave a cry of pain. It seemed as if the ground were giving way beneath her, and in her dizziness consciousness failed her.
When she re-opened her eyes, without saying a word, without making a movement, after remaining for a moment in a state of stupor, the thought of the other one came back to her. Jean, on his side, was displeased. Why had she yielded? She could not love a veteran like him! And he also remained motionless, aghast. Finally, with a discontented gesture, he tried to think of something to say, and failed. Embarrassed still further, he resolved to kiss her; but she at once recoiled, unwilling that he should touch her again.
"I must go," he muttered. "You stay here."
She made no answer, but stared vaguely up at the sky.
"Won't you? Come, wait five minutes, so that you mayn't be seen coming away at the same time as me."
Then she decided to open her lips.
"All right, be off!"
That was all. He smacked his whip, swore at his horses, and with his head bent trudged away by the side of his cart.
Meanwhile, Buteau's astonishment at Françoise's disappearance behind the sheaves continued; and when he saw Jean make off, he had a suspicion of the truth. Without confiding in Lise, he crept off like a wary hunter, and finally leapt full into the midst of the nook of straw. Françoise had not stirred, in the torpor that benumbed her; she was still gazing vaguely upwards.
"Oh, you strumpet! So that vagabond's your lover, and I'm only good to be kicked! Great God! We'll soon see about that."
He had already got hold of her; and she plainly realised by his heated look that he intended to take advantage of the opportunity. As soon as she again felt his burning hands, she once more resisted. Now that he was there, she no longer regretted or wanted him. Her whole nature revolted rancorously and jealously against him, albeit she was herself unconscious of the freaks of her will.
"Will you let me go, you swine!" she said. "I'll bite you!"
For the second time he had to leave go of her. He spluttered with fury, enraged at the thought that she yielded to another.
"Oh, I had a notion that there was something between you two," he said. "I ought to have kicked him out a long time ago, you hussy!"
Then he gave vent to a flood of filth. She, although maddened on her own side, remained stiff and pale, affecting perfect calmness, and replying curtly to all his dirty speeches:
"What's it got to do with you? Can't I do what I like?"
"Very well. Then I shall turn you out of the house immediately we get back! I shall tell Lise how I found you, and you may go and do as you like elsewhere."
He was now pushing her in front of him towards the field where his wife was waiting.
"Tell Lise!" said Françoise. "What do I care? I shall go away if I choose."
"If you choose! Oh, indeed! We shall see about that. You'll be kicked out, neck and crop!"
By way of taking a short cut, he was driving her across the field which had hitherto belonged in common to her sister and herself, and the partition of which he had always postponed. Suddenly he was seized with consternation. A new idea had just flashed like lightning through his mind. It had occurred to him that if he turned her away this field would be cut in two, and that she would take half of it, and perhaps give it to her gallant. The thought froze him, and both nipped his lust and wrath. No; that would be folly. He must not let everything go because a girl had baulked him for once. There was plenty of sport to be had any day; but if a fellow once got hold of some land, the thing was to stick to it.
He said nothing more, but slackened his pace, feeling puzzled as to how he might recall his violent words before he reached his wife. At length he made up his mind.
"Well, I'm not fond of making mischief," he said; "it's your seeming disgust of me that annoys me so. Otherwise, I hardly care to vex Lise, situated as she is."
She fancied that he, too, was afraid of being exposed.
"You may be sure of one thing," she answered; "if you speak, I shall do the same."
"Oh, I'm not afraid of that," he resumed, coolly and quietly. "I shall say you are lying, in revenge, because I caught you." Then, as they were getting near, he concluded, quickly: "So it sha'n't go any further. We must both of us talk it over some other time."
Lise, however, was beginning to feel surprised, unable to understand why Françoise was coming back with Buteau like that. He was explaining that the lazy thing had been sulking behind a hay-stack, down yonder, when suddenly a harsh cry interrupted him, and the matter was forgotten.
"What's that? Who screamed?"
It was a weird cry, a long screaming sigh, like the death-gasp of an animal having its throat cut. It rose up and died away amid the pitiless glare of the sun.
"Eh? What is it? A horse surely, with its bones broken!"
They turned round, and saw Palmyre still standing in the next field, amid the bundles of wheat. With her failing arms, she was pressing against her shrivelled bosom one last sheaf, which she was striving to bind. But, raising a fresh cry of agony, and letting the whole lot fall, she spun round and fell prone among the corn, struck down by the sun that had been scorching her for the last twelve hours.
Lise and Françoise ran up, Buteau following at a more careless pace; while everybody from the surrounding fields came forward: the Delhommes, Fouan, who was strolling about there, and La Grande, who was scattering the stones with the ferule of her stick.
"What's the matter?"
"Palmyre in a fit."
"I saw her fall from over there."
All of them stood round and watched her, not venturing too near, however, for they were struck with that mysterious awe which disease always inspires in the peasantry. She was stretched, face upwards, on the ground, with her arms extended as if she had been crucified on that earth, which, by the hard toil it exacted, had worn her out so soon, and was now killing her. Some vessel must have broken, for a streamlet of blood flowed from her mouth. Still, she was dying more from exhaustion, brought on by toil such as would have over-tasked a beast. A withered, shrunken thing she looked among the stubble, a mere fleshless, sexless bit of frippery, exhaling a last faint gasp amid the rich, fertile harvest.
La Grande, the grandmother who had renounced her and never spoke to her, at last came forward, saying:
"I really think she's dead." Then she prodded her with her stick. The body, with its eyes glaring vacantly in the brilliant light, and its mouth gaping as if to inhale boundless breezes, did not stir. On the chin the thread of blood was clotting. Then the grandmother added:
"Sure enough she's dead; better so, than to live at the expense of others."
They all stood motionless and aghast. Could anybody venture to touch her, without summoning the mayor? At first they spoke in whispers; then they began to shout again, to make themselves heard.
"I'll go and fetch my ladder from over yonder against the stack," said Delhomme eventually. "It'll serve as a stretcher. It's a bad thing to leave a corpse on the ground."
When he came back with the ladder, and they wanted to take some sheaves to make a bed for the body, Buteau grumbled.
"You shall have your corn back," they said.
"I should just hope so, indeed!" he answered.
Lise, a little ashamed of this meanness, added two bundles as a pillow, and Palmyre was laid upon the ladder, while Françoise, in a sort of dream, bewildered by this death, which had occurred so soon after her own adventure, could not take her eyes off the corpse. At sight of it she felt saddened, and, above all, she was astonished that that thing could ever have been a woman. She remained on guard with Fouan, pending the removal; and the old man said nothing either, though he seemed to think that those who died were very fortunate.
At sunset, when they all went home, two men came and took the stretcher away. The burden was not a heavy one, and there was hardly need of a relay. However, some others were in attendance, and quite a procession was formed. They cut across the field, to avoid a bend in the road. The corpse was stiffening on the sheaves, and some ears fell down behind the head, and swayed to and fro at each jolt of the bearers' measured tread.
In the sky above there now only remained the heat that had accumulated during the day, a ruddy heat that weighed heavily in the blue air. On the horizon, on the other side of the Loir valley, the sun, steeped in vapour, now cast over La Beauce a sheet of yellow rays on a level with the ground. Everything seemed tinged with the fine golden glow of the fair harvest evening. Such corn as was still standing displayed egrets of rosy flame, the stubble ends bristled with a ruddy gleam, and afar, projecting in all directions above the level, tawny sea, the stacks rose up one behind the other, apparently growing preposterously large. On the one side they seemed to be in flames, while on the other they were already black, casting shadows that stretched from end to end of the vast plain.
A solemn stillness fell, broken only by the song of a lark far aloft. None of the worn-out toilers spoke; they followed the corpse with bent heads, as resignedly as a flock of sheep. And there was no sound save a slight creaking of the ladder as the dead woman rocked to and fro on the way back through the ripe corn.
That night, Hourdequin paid off his harvesters, who had finished the work they had bargained to do. The men went away with a hundred and twenty francs a-piece, the women with sixty, for their month's work. It had been a good season; not too much corn blown down, to jag the scythe, nor a single storm during the cutting. Accordingly, it was amid loud acclamations that the foreman, at the head of his party of men, presented the harvest-home sheaf, with its ears woven cross-wise, to Jacqueline, who was looked upon as mistress of the household. The "Ripane," the traditional farewell meal, was very merry. Three legs of mutton and five rabbits were eaten, and the liquor circulated till so late into the night that they all went to bed more or less tipsy. Jacqueline, herself intoxicated, all but let herself be caught by Hourdequin while she was hanging round Tron's neck. Jean, quite dazed, had flung himself on the straw in his garret. Despite his fatigue, he could not sleep, for the image of Françoise had returned and tormented him. This surprised—in fact, it almost angered—him. He had had such little pleasure with the girl, after spending so many nights longing for her! He had subsequently felt so forlorn, that he had been inclined to vow that he would have nothing more to do with her. And yet now, scarcely was he lying down, when, evoked by carnal lust, she again uprose before his mind, and he again yearned for her as before. What had transpired had only whetted his fleshly appetite. How could he manage to see her again? Where could he clasp her on the morrow, during the following days, for ever? Suddenly a rustling made him start. A woman was nestling near him; it was the picker-up from Le Perche, who was astonished that he had not joined her on this last night. At first he repulsed her; but, finally, he stifled her with his embraces; and it seemed to him that she was that other one whom he would have crushed likewise, clinging, clinging, till they swooned.
At the same moment, Françoise, starting from her slumber, got up, and, longing for air, opened the dormer-window of her room. She had just dreamed of fellows fighting, and of dogs tearing down the door below. When the air had cooled her a little, her mind again ran upon the two men—the one who wanted her, and the other who had taken her. This was the limit of her reflections: the thought simply revolved in her mind, without her giving it any consideration or coming to any decision. Something at last caught her ear. It had not been a dream, then? A dog was howling, afar off, on the banks of the Aigre. Then she remembered: it was Hilarion, who, since night-fall, had been howling over Palmyre's corpse. They had tried to drive him away, but he had clung and bitten, refusing to leave the remains of his sister, his wife, his all in all; and he howled endlessly, with a howling that filled the night.
For a long time Françoise listened, shuddering.