Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "But penance need not be paid in suffering...It can be paid in forward motion. Correcting the mistake is a positive move, a nurturing move."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 5

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    Both windows of the bedroom were wide open, and in the depths below
    the house, which was perched on the very summit of the hill, lay
    Paris, rolling away in a mighty flat expanse. Ten o'clock struck; the
    lovely February morning had all the sweetness and perfume of spring.

    Helene reclined in an invalid chair, reading in front of one of the
    windows, her knee still in bandages. She suffered no pain; but she had
    been confined to her room for a week past, unable even to take up her
    customary needlework. Not knowing what to do, she had opened a book
    which she had found on the table--she, who indulged in little or no
    reading at any time. This book was the one she used every night as a
    shade for the night-lamp, the only volume which she had taken within
    eighteen months from the small but irreproachable library selected by
    Monsieur Rambaud. Novels usually seemed to her false to life and
    puerile; and this one, Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe," had at first
    wearied her to death. However, a strange curiosity had grown upon her,
    and she was finishing it, at times affected to tears, and at times
    rather bored, when she would let it slip from her hand for long
    minutes and gaze fixedly at the far-stretching horizon.

    That morning Paris awoke from sleep with a smiling indolence. A mass
    of vapor, following the valley of the Seine, shrouded the two banks
    from view. This mist was light and milky, and the sun, gathering
    strength, was slowly tinging it with radiance. Nothing of the city was
    distinguishable through this floating muslin. In the hollows the haze
    thickened and assumed a bluish tint; while over certain broad expanses
    delicate transparencies appeared, a golden dust, beneath which you
    could divine the depths of the streets; and up above domes and
    steeples rent the mist, rearing grey outlines to which clung shreds of
    the haze which they had pierced. At times cloudlets of yellow smoke
    would, like giant birds, heavy of wing, slowly soar on high, and then
    mingle with the atmosphere which seemed to absorb them. And above all
    this immensity, this mass of cloud, hanging in slumber over Paris, a
    sky of extreme purity, of a faint and whitening blue, spread out its
    mighty vault. The sun was climbing the heavens, scattering a spray of
    soft rays; a pale golden light, akin in hue to the flaxen tresses of a
    child, was streaming down like rain, filling the atmosphere with the
    warm quiver of its sparkle. It was like a festival of the infinite,
    instinct with sovereign peacefulness and gentle gaiety, whilst the
    city, chequered with golden beams, still remained lazy and sleepy,
    unwilling to reveal itself by casting off its coverlet of lace.

    For eight days it had been Helene's diversion to gaze on that mighty
    expanse of Paris, and she never wearied of doing so. It was as
    unfathomable and varying as the ocean--fair in the morning, ruddy with
    fire at night, borrowing all the joys and sorrows of the heavens
    reflected in its depths. A flash of sunshine came, and it would roll
    in waves of gold; a cloud would darken it and raise a tempest. Its
    aspect was ever changing. A complete calm would fall, and all would
    assume an orange hue; gusts of wind would sweep by from time to time,
    and turn everything livid; in keen, bright weather there would be a
    shimmer of light on every housetop; whilst when showers fell, blurring
    both heaven and earth, all would be plunged in chaotic confusion. At
    her window Helene experienced all the hopes and sorrows that pertain
    to the open sea. As the keen wind blew in her face she imagined it
    wafted a saline fragrance; even the ceaseless noise of the city seemed
    to her like that of a surging tide beating against a rocky cliff.

    The book fell from her hands. She was dreaming, with a far-away look
    in her eyes. When she stopped reading thus it was from a desire to
    linger and understand what she had already perused. She took a delight
    in denying her curiosity immediate satisfaction. The tale filled her
    soul with a tempest of emotion. Paris that morning was displaying the
    same vague joy and sorrow as that which disturbed her heart. In this
    lay a great charm--to be ignorant, to guess things dimly, to yield to
    slow initiation, with the vague thought that her youth was beginning
    again.

    How full of lies were novels! She was assuredly right in not reading
    them. They were mere fables, good for empty heads with no proper
    conception of life. Yet she remained entranced, dreaming unceasingly
    of the knight Ivanhoe, loved so passionately by two women--Rebecca,
    the beautiful Jewess, and the noble Lady Rowena. She herself thought
    she could have loved with the intensity and patient serenity of the
    latter maiden. To love! to love! She did not utter the words, but they
    thrilled her through and through in the very thought, astonishing her,
    and irradiating her face with a smile. In the distance some fleecy
    cloudlets, driven by the breeze, now floated over Paris like a flock
    of swans. Huge gaps were being cleft in the fog; a momentary glimpse
    was given of the left bank, indistinct and clouded, like a city of
    fairydom seen in a dream; but suddenly a thick curtain of mist swept
    down, and the fairy city was engulfed, as though by an inundation. And
    then the vapors, spreading equally over every district, formed, as it
    were, a beautiful lake, with milky, placid waters. There was but one
    denser streak, indicating the grey, curved course of the Seine. And
    slowly over those milky, placid waters shadows passed, like vessels
    with pink sails, which the young woman followed with a dreamy gaze. To
    love! to love! She smiled as her dream sailed on.

    However, she again took up her book. She had reached the chapter
    describing the attack on the castle, wherein Rebecca nurses the
    wounded Ivanhoe, and recounts to him the incidents of the fight, which
    she gazes at from a window. Helene felt that she was in the midst of a
    beautiful falsehood, but roamed through it as through some mythical
    garden, whose trees are laden with golden fruit, and where she imbibed
    all sorts of fancies. Then, at the conclusion of the scene, when
    Rebecca, wrapped in her veil, exhales her love beside the sleeping
    knight, Helene again allowed the book to slip from her hand; her heart
    was so brimful of emotion that she could read no further.

    Heavens! could all those things be true? she asked, as she lay back in
    her easy-chair, numbed by her enforced quiescence, and gazing on
    Paris, shrouded and mysterious, beneath the golden sun. The events of
    her life now arose before her, conjured up by the perusal of the
    novel. She saw herself a young girl in the house of her father,
    Mouret, a hatter at Marseilles. The Rue des Petites-Maries was black
    and dismal, and the house, with its vat of steaming water ready to the
    hand of the hatter, exhaled a rank odor of dampness, even in fine
    weather. She also saw her mother, who was ever an invalid, and who
    kissed her with pale lips, without speaking. No gleam of the sun
    penetrated into her little room. Hard work went on around her; only by
    dint of toil did her father gain a workingman's competency. That
    summed up her early life, and till her marriage nothing intervened to
    break the monotony of days ever the same. One morning, returning from
    market with her mother, a basketful of vegetables on her arm, she
    jostled against young Grandjean. Charles turned round and followed
    them. The love-romance of her life was in this incident. For three
    months she was always meeting him, while he, bashful and awkward,
    could not pluck up courage to speak to her. She was sixteen years of
    age, and a little proud of her lover, who, she knew, belonged to a
    wealthy family. But she deemed him bad-looking, and often laughed at
    him, and no thought of him disturbed her sleep in the large, gloomy,
    damp house. In the end they were married, and this marriage yet filled
    her with surprise. Charles worshipped her, and would fling himself on
    the floor to kiss her bare feet. She beamed on him, her smile full of
    kindness, as she rebuked him for such childishness. Then another dull
    life began. During twelve years no event of sufficient interest had
    occurred for her to bear in mind. She was very quiet and very happy,
    tormented by no fever either of body or heart; her whole attention
    being given to the daily cares of a poor household. Charles was still
    wont to kiss her fair white feet, while she showed herself indulgent
    and motherly towards him. But other feeling she had none. Then there
    abruptly came before her the room in the Hotel du Var, her husband in
    his coffin, and her widow's robe hanging over a chair. She had wept
    that day as on the winter's night when her mother died. Then once more
    the days glided on; for two months with her daughter she had again
    enjoyed peace and happiness. Heaven! did that sum up everything? What,
    then, did that book mean when it spoke of transcendent loves which
    illumine one's existence?

    While she thus reflected prolonged quivers were darting over the
    sleeping lake of mist on the horizon. Suddenly it seemed to burst,
    gaps appeared, a rending sped from end to end, betokening a complete
    break-up. The sun, ascending higher and higher, scattering its rays in
    glorious triumph, was victoriously attacking the mist. Little by
    little the great lake seemed to dry up, as though some invisible
    sluice were draining the plain. The fog, so dense but a moment before,
    was losing its consistency and becoming transparent, showing all the
    bright hues of the rainbow. On the left bank of the Seine all was of a
    heavenly blue, deepening into violet over towards the Jardin des
    Plantes. Upon the right bank a pale pink, flesh-like tint suffused the
    Tuileries district; while away towards Montmartre there was a fiery
    glow, carmine flaming amid gold. Then, farther off, the working-men's
    quarters deepened to a dusty brick-color, changing more and more till
    all became a slatey, bluish grey. The eye could not yet distinguish
    the city, which quivered and receded like those subaqueous depths
    divined through the crystalline waves, depths with awful forests of
    huge plants, swarming with horrible things and monsters faintly
    espied. However, the watery mist was quickly falling. It became at
    last no more than a fine muslin drapery; and bit by bit this muslin
    vanished, and Paris took shape and emerged from dreamland.

    To love! to love! Why did these words ring in Helene's ears with such
    sweetness as the darkness of the fog gave way to light? Had she not
    loved her husband, whom she had tended like a child? But a bitter
    memory stirred within her--the memory of her dead father, who had hung
    himself three weeks after his wife's decease in a closet where her
    gowns still dangled from their hooks. There he had gasped out his last
    agony, his body rigid, and his face buried in a skirt, wrapped round
    by the clothes which breathed of her whom he had ever worshipped. Then
    Helene's reverie took a sudden leap. She began thinking of her own
    home-life, of the month's bills which she had checked with Rosalie
    that very morning; and she felt proud of the orderly way in which she
    regulated her household. During more than thirty years she had lived
    with self-respect and strength of mind. Uprightness alone impassioned
    her. When she questioned her past, not one hour revealed a sin; in her
    mind's eye she saw herself ever treading a straight and level path.
    Truly, the days might slip by; she would walk on peacefully as before,
    with no impediment in her way. The very thought of this made her
    stern, and her spirit rose in angry contempt against those lying lives
    whose apparent heroism disturbs the heart. The only true life was her
    own, following its course amidst such peacefulness. But over Paris
    there now only hung a thin smoke, a fine, quivering gauze, on the
    point of floating away; and emotion suddenly took possession of her.
    To love! to love! everything brought her back to that caressing phrase
    --even the pride born of her virtue. Her dreaming became so light, she
    no longer thought, but lay there, steeped in springtide, with moist
    eyes.

    At last, as she was about to resume her reading, Paris slowly came
    into view. Not a breath of wind had stirred; it was as if a magician
    had waved his wand. The last gauzy film detached itself, soared and
    vanished in the air; and the city spread out without a shadow, under
    the conquering sun. Helene, with her chin resting on her hand, gazed
    on this mighty awakening.

    A far-stretching valley appeared, with a myriad of buildings huddled
    together. Over the distant range of hills were scattered close-set
    roofs, and you could divine that the sea of houses rolled afar off
    behind the undulating ground, into the fields hidden from sight. It
    was as the ocean, with all the infinity and mystery of its waves.
    Paris spread out as vast as the heavens on high. Burnished with the
    sunshine that lovely morning, the city looked like a field of yellow
    corn; and the huge picture was all simplicity, compounded of two
    colors only, the pale blue of the sky, and the golden reflections of
    the housetops. The stream of light from the spring sun invested
    everything with the beauty of a new birth. So pure was the light that
    the minutest objects became visible. Paris, with its chaotic maze of
    stonework, shone as though under glass. From time to time, however, a
    breath of wind passed athwart this bright, quiescent serenity; and
    then the outlines of some districts grew faint, and quivered as if
    they were being viewed through an invisible flame.

    Helene took interest at first in gazing on the large expanse spread
    under her windows, the slope of the Trocadero, and the far-stretching
    quays. She had to lean out to distinguish the deserted square of the
    Champ-de-Mars, barred at the farther end by the sombre Military
    School. Down below, on thoroughfare and pavement on each side of the
    Seine, she could see the passers-by--a busy cluster of black dots,
    moving like a swarm of ants. A yellow omnibus shone out like a spark
    of fire; drays and cabs crossed the bridge, mere child's toys in the
    distance, with miniature horses like pieces of mechanism; and amongst
    others traversing the grassy slopes was a servant girl, with a white
    apron which set a bright spot in all the greenery. Then Helene raised
    her eyes; but the crowd scattered and passed out of sight, and even
    the vehicles looked like mere grains of sand; there remained naught
    but the gigantic carcass of the city, seemingly untenanted and
    abandoned, its life limited to the dull trepidation by which it was
    agitated. There, in the foreground to the left, some red roofs were
    shining, and the tall chimneys of the Army Bakehouse slowly poured out
    their smoke; while, on the other side of the river, between the
    Esplanade and the Champ-de-Mars, a grove of lofty elms clustered, like
    some patch of a park, with bare branches, rounded tops, and young buds
    already bursting forth, quite clear to the eye. In the centre of the
    picture, the Seine spread out and reigned between its grey banks, to
    which rows of casks, steam cranes, and carts drawn up in line, gave a
    seaport kind of aspect. Helene's eyes were always turning towards this
    shining river, on which boats passed to and fro like birds with inky
    plumage. Her looks involuntarily followed the water's stately course,
    which, like a silver band, cut Paris atwain. That morning the stream
    rolled liquid sunlight; no greater resplendency could be seen on the
    horizon. And the young woman's glance encountered first the Pont des
    Invalides, next the Pont de la Concorde, and then the Pont Royal.
    Bridge followed bridge, they appeared to get closer, to rise one above
    the other like viaducts forming a flight of steps, and pierced with
    all kinds of arches; while the river, wending its way beneath these
    airy structures, showed here and there small patches of its blue robe,
    patches which became narrower and narrower, more and more indistinct.
    And again did Helene raise her eyes, and over yonder the stream forked
    amidst a jumble of houses; the bridges on either side of the island of
    La Cite were like mere films stretching from one bank to the other;
    while the golden towers of Notre-Dame sprang up like boundary-marks of
    the horizon, beyond which river, buildings, and clumps of trees became
    naught but sparkling sunshine. Then Helene, dazzled, withdrew her gaze
    from this the triumphant heart of Paris, where the whole glory of the
    city appeared to blaze.

    On the right bank, amongst the clustering trees of the Champs-Elysees
    she saw the crystal buildings of the Palace of Industry glittering
    with a snowy sheen; farther away, behind the roof of the Madeleine,
    which looked like a tombstone, towered the vast mass of the Opera
    House; then there were other edifices, cupolas and towers, the
    Vendome Column, the church of Saint-Vincent de Paul, the tower of
    Saint-Jacques; and nearer in, the massive cube-like pavilions of the
    new Louvre and the Tuileries, half-hidden by a wood of chestnut trees.
    On the left bank the dome of the Invalides shone with gilding; beyond
    it the two irregular towers of Saint-Sulpice paled in the bright
    light; and yet farther in the rear, to the right of the new spires
    of Sainte-Clotilde, the bluish Pantheon, erect on a height, its fine
    colonnade showing against the sky, overlooked the city, poised in the
    air, as it were, motionless, with the silken hues of a captive balloon.

    Helene's gaze wandered all over Paris. There were hollows, as could be
    divined by the lines of roofs; the Butte des Moulins surged upward,
    with waves of old slates, while the line of the principal boulevards
    dipped downward like a gutter, ending in a jumble of houses whose
    tiles even could no longer be seen. At this early hour the oblique sun
    did not light up the house-fronts looking towards the Trocadero; not a
    window-pane of these threw back its rays. The skylights on some roofs
    alone sparkled with the glittering reflex of mica amidst the red of
    the adjacent chimney-pots. The houses were mostly of a sombre grey,
    warmed by reflected beams; still rays of light were transpiercing
    certain districts, and long streets, stretching in front of Helene,
    set streaks of sunshine amidst the shade. It was only on the left that
    the far-spreading horizon, almost perfect in its circular sweep, was
    broken by the heights of Montmartre and Pere-Lachaise. The details so
    clearly defined in the foreground, the innumerable denticles of the
    chimneys, the little black specks of the thousands of windows, grew
    less and less distinct as you gazed farther and farther away, till
    everything became mingled in confusion--the pell-mell of an endless
    city, whose faubourgs, afar off, looked like shingly beaches, steeped
    in a violet haze under the bright, streaming, vibrating light that
    fell from the heavens.

    Helene was watching the scene with grave interest when Jeanne burst
    gleefully into the room.

    "Oh, mamma! look here!"

    The child had a big bunch of wall-flowers in her hand. She told, with
    some laughter, how she had waylaid Rosalie on her return from market
    to peep into her basket of provisions. To rummage in this basket was a
    great delight to her.

    "Look at it, mamma! It lay at the very bottom. Just smell it; what a
    lovely perfume!"

    From the tawny flowers, speckled with purple, there came a penetrating
    odor which scented the whole room. Then Helene, with a passionate
    movement, drew Jeanne to her breast, while the nosegay fell on her
    lap. To love! to love! Truly, she loved her child. Was not that
    intense love which had pervaded her life till now sufficient for her
    wants? It ought to satisfy her; it was so gentle, so tranquil; no
    lassitude could put an end to its continuance. Again she pressed her
    daughter to her, as though to conjure away thoughts which threatened
    to separate them. In the meantime Jeanne surrendered herself to the
    shower of kisses. Her eyes moist with tears, she turned her delicate
    neck upwards with a coaxing gesture, and pressed her face against her
    mother's shoulder. Then she slipped an arm round her waist and thus
    remained, very demure, her cheek resting on Helene's bosom. The
    perfume of the wall-flowers ascended between them.

    For a long time they did not speak; but at length, without moving,
    Jeanne asked in a whisper:

    "Mamma, you see that rosy-colored dome down there, close to the river;
    what is it?"

    It was the dome of the Institute, and Helene looked towards it for a
    moment as though trying to recall the name.

    "I don't know, my love," she answered gently.

    The child appeared content with this reply, and silence again fell.
    But soon she asked a second question.

    "And there, quite near, what beautiful trees are those?" she said,
    pointing with her finger towards a corner of the Tuileries garden.

    "Those beautiful trees!" said her mother. "On the left, do you mean? I
    don't know, my love."

    "Ah!" exclaimed Jeanne; and after musing for a little while she added
    with a pout: "We know nothing!"

    Indeed they knew nothing of Paris. During eighteen months it had lain
    beneath their gaze every hour of the day, yet they knew not a stone of
    it. Three times only had they gone down into the city; but on
    returning home, suffering from terrible headaches born of all the
    agitation they had witnessed, they could find in their minds no
    distinct memory of anything in all that huge maze of streets.

    However, Jeanne at times proved obstinate. "Ah! you can tell me this!"
    said she: "What is that glass building which glitters there? It is so
    big you must know it."

    She was referring to the Palais de l'Industrie. Helene, however,
    hesitated.

    "It's a railway station," said she. "No, I'm wrong, I think it is a
    theatre."

    Then she smiled and kissed Jeanne's hair, at last confessing as
    before: "I do not know what it is, my love."

    So they continued to gaze on Paris, troubling no further to identify
    any part of it. It was very delightful to have it there before them,
    and yet to know nothing of it; it remained the vast and the unknown.
    It was as though they had halted on the threshold of a world which
    ever unrolled its panorama before them, but into which they were
    unwilling to descend. Paris often made them anxious when it wafted
    them a hot, disturbing atmosphere; but that morning it seemed gay and
    innocent, like a child, and from its mysterious depths only a breath
    of tenderness rose gently to their faces.

    Helene took up her book again while Jeanne, clinging to her, still
    gazed upon the scene. In the dazzling, tranquil sky no breeze was
    stirring. The smoke from the Army Bakehouse ascended perpendicularly
    in light cloudlets which vanished far aloft. On a level with the
    houses passed vibrating waves of life, waves of all the life pent up
    there. The loud voices of the streets softened amidst the sunshine
    into a languid murmur. But all at once a flutter attracted Jeanne's
    notice. A flock of white pigeons, freed from some adjacent dovecot,
    sped through the air in front of the window; with spreading wings like
    falling snow, the birds barred the line of view, hiding the immensity
    of Paris.

    With eyes again dreamily gazing upward, Helene remained plunged in
    reverie. She was the Lady Rowena; she loved with the serenity and
    intensity of a noble mind. That spring morning, that great, gentle
    city, those early wall-flowers shedding their perfume on her lap, had
    little by little filled her heart with tenderness.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Emile Zola essay and need some advice, post your Emile Zola essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?