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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 24
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    When Madame Deberle was apprised of Jeanne's death she wept, and gave
    way to one of those outbursts of emotion that kept her in a flutter
    for eight-and-forty hours. Hers was a noisy and immoderate grief. She
    came and threw herself into Helene's arms. Then a phrase dropped in
    her hearing inspired her with the idea of imparting some affecting
    surroundings to the child's funeral, and soon wholly absorbed her. She
    offered her services, and declared her willingness to undertake every
    detail. The mother, worn out with weeping, sat overwhelmed in her
    chair; Monsieur Rambaud, who was acting in her name, was losing his
    head. So he accepted the offer with profuse expressions of gratitude.
    Helene merely roused herself for a moment to express the wish that
    there should be some flowers--an abundance of flowers.

    Without losing a minute, Madame Deberle set about her task. She spent
    the whole of the next day in running from one lady friend to another,
    bearing the woeful tidings. It was her idea to have a following of
    little girls all dressed in white. She needed at least thirty, and did
    not return till she had secured the full number. She had gone in
    person to the Funeral Administration, discussed the various styles,
    and chosen the necessary drapery. She would have the garden railings
    hung with white, and the body might be laid out under the lilac trees,
    whose twigs were already tipped with green. It would be charming.

    "If only it's a fine day to-morrow!" she giddily remarked in the
    evening when her scurrying to and fro had come to an end.

    The morning proved lovely; there was a blue sky and a flood of
    sunshine, the air was pure and invigorating as only the air of spring
    can be. The funeral was to take place at ten o'clock. By nine the
    drapery had been hung up. Juliette ran down to give the workmen her
    ideas of what should be done. She did not wish the trees to be
    altogether covered. The white cloth, fringed with silver, formed a
    kind of porch at the garden gate, which was thrown back against the
    lilac trees. However, Juliette soon returned to her drawing-room to
    receive her lady guests. They were to assemble there to prevent Madame
    Grandjean's two rooms from being filled to overflowing. Still she was
    greatly annoyed at her husband having had to go that morning to
    Versailles--for some consultation or other, he explained, which he
    could not well neglect. Thus she was left alone, and felt she would
    never be able to get through with it all. Madame Berthier was the
    first arrival, bringing her two daughters with her.

    "What do you think!" exclaimed Madame Deberle; "Henri has deserted me!
    Well, Lucien, why don't you say good-day?"

    Lucien was already dressed for the funeral, with his hands in black
    gloves. He seemed astonished to see Sophie and Blanche dressed as
    though they were about to take part in some church procession. A silk
    sash encircled the muslin gown of each, and their veils, which swept
    down to the floor, hid their little caps of transparent tulle. While
    the two mothers were busy chatting, the three children gazed at one
    another, bearing themselves somewhat stiffly in their new attire. At
    last Lucien broke the silence by saying: "Jeanne is dead."

    His heart was full, and yet his face wore a smile--a smile born of
    amazement. He had been very quiet since the evening before, dwelling
    on the thought that Jeanne was dead. As his mother was up to her ears
    in business, and took no notice of him, he had plied the servants with
    questions. Was it a fact, he wanted to know, that it was impossible to
    move when one was dead?"

    "She is dead, she is dead!" echoed the two sisters, who looked like
    rosebuds under their white veils. "Are we going to see her?"

    Lucien pondered for a time, and then, with dreamy eyes and opened
    mouth, seemingly striving to divine the nature of this problem which
    lay beyond his ken, he answered in a low tone:

    "We shall never see her again."

    However, several other little girls now entered the room. On a sign
    from his mother Lucien advanced to meet them. Marguerite Tissot, her
    muslin dress enveloping her like a cloud, seemed a child-Virgin; her
    fair hair, escaping from underneath her little cap, looked, through
    the snowy veil, like a tippet figured with gold. A quiet smile crept
    into every face when the five Levasseurs made their appearance; they
    were all dressed alike, and trooped along in boarding-school fashion,
    the eldest first, the youngest last; and their skirts stood out to
    such an extent that they quite filled one corner of the room. But on
    little Mademoiselle Guiraud's entry the whispering voices rose to a
    higher key; the others laughed and crowded round to see her and kiss
    her. She was like some white turtle-dove with its downy feathers
    ruffled. Wrapped in rustling gauze, she looked as round as a barrel,
    but still no heavier than a bird. Her mother even could not find her
    hands. By degrees the drawing-room seemed to be filling with a cloud
    of snowballs. Several boys, in their black coats, were like dark spots
    amidst the universal white. Lucien, now that his little wife was dead,
    desired to choose another. However, he displayed the greatest
    hesitation. He would have preferred a wife like Jeanne, taller than
    himself; but at last he settled on Marguerite, whose hair fascinated
    him, and to whom he attached himself for the day.

    "The corpse hasn't been brought down yet," Pauline muttered at this
    moment in Juliette's ear.

    Pauline was as flurried as though the preliminaries of a ball were in
    hand. It was with the greatest difficulty that her sister had
    prevented her from donning a white dress for the ceremony.

    "Good gracious!" exclaimed Juliette; "what are they dreaming about? I
    must run up. Stay with these ladies."

    She hastily left the room, where the mothers in their mourning attire
    sat chatting in whispers, while the children dared not make the least
    movement lest they should rumple their dresses. When she had reached
    the top of the staircase and entered the chamber where the body lay,
    Juliette's blood was chilled by the intense cold. Jeanne still lay on
    the bed, with clasped hands; and, like Marguerite and the Levasseur
    girls, she was arrayed in a white dress, white cap, and white shoes. A
    wreath of white roses crowned the cap, as though she were a little
    queen about to be honored by the crowd of guests who were waiting
    below. In front of the window, on two chairs, was the oak coffin lined
    with satin, looking like some huge jewel casket. The furniture was all
    in order; a wax taper was burning; the room seemed close and gloomy,
    with the damp smell and stillness of a vault which has been walled up
    for many years. Thus Juliette, fresh from the sunshine and smiling
    life of the outer world, came to a sudden halt, stricken dumb, without
    the courage to explain that they must needs hurry.

    "A great many people have come," she stammered at last. And then, as
    no answer was forthcoming, she added, just for the sake of saying
    something: "Henri has been forced to attend a consultation at
    Versailles; you will excuse him."

    Helene, who sat in front of the bed, gazed at her with vacant eyes.
    They were wholly unable to drag her from that room. For six-and-thirty
    hours she had lingered there, despite the prayers of Monsieur Rambaud
    and the Abbe Jouve, who kept watch with her. During the last two
    nights she had been weighed to the earth by immeasurable agony.
    Besides, she had accomplished the grievous task of dressing her
    daughter for the last time, of putting on those white silk shoes, for
    she would allow no other to touch the feet of the little angel who lay
    dead. And now she sat motionless, as though her strength were spent,
    and the intensity of her grief had lulled her into forgetfulness.

    "Have you got some flowers?" she exclaimed after an effort, her eyes
    still fixed on Madame Deberle.

    "Yes, yes, my dear," answered the latter. "Don't trouble yourself
    about that."

    Since her daughter had breathed her last, Helene had been consumed
    with one idea--there must be flowers, flowers, an overwhelming
    profusion of flowers. Each time she saw anybody, she grew uneasy,
    seemingly afraid that sufficient flowers would never be obtained.

    "Are there any roses?" she began again after a pause.

    "Yes. I assure you that you will be well pleased."

    She shook her head, and once more fell back into her stupor. In the
    meantime the undertaker's men were waiting on the landing. It must be
    got over now without delay. Monsieur Rambaud, who was himself affected
    to such a degree that he staggered like a drunken man, signed to
    Juliette to assist him in leading the poor woman from the room. Each
    slipped an arm gently beneath hers, and they raised her up and led her
    towards the dining-room. But the moment she divined their intention,
    she shook them from her in a last despairing outburst. The scene was
    heartrending. She threw herself on her knees at the bedside and clung
    passionately to the sheets, while the room re-echoed with her piteous
    shrieks. But still Jeanne lay there with her face of stone, stiff and
    icy-cold, wrapped round by the silence of eternity. She seemed to be
    frowning; there was a sour pursing of the lips, eloquent of a
    revengeful nature; and it was this gloomy, pitiless look, springing
    from jealousy and transforming her face, which drove Helene so
    frantic. During the preceding thirty-six hours she had not failed to
    notice how the old spiteful expression had grown more and more intense
    upon her daughter's face, how more and more sullen she looked the
    nearer she approached the grave. Oh, what a comfort it would have been
    if Jeanne could only have smiled on her for the last time!

    "No, no!" she shrieked. "I pray you, leave her for a moment. You
    cannot take her from me. I want to embrace her. Oh, only a moment,
    only a moment!"

    With trembling arms she clasped her child to her bosom, eager to
    dispute possession with the men who stood in the ante-room, with their
    backs turned towards her and impatient frowns on their faces. But her
    lips were powerless to breathe any warmth on the cold countenance; she
    became conscious that Jeanne's obstinacy was not to be overcome, that
    she refused forgiveness. And then she allowed herself to be dragged
    away, and fell upon a chair in the dining-room, with the one mournful
    cry, again and again repeated: "My God! My God!"

    Monsieur Rambaud and Madame Deberle were overcome by emotion. There
    was an interval of silence, but when the latter opened the door
    halfway it was all over. There had been no noise--scarcely a stir. The
    screws, oiled beforehand, now closed the lid for ever. The chamber was
    left empty, and a white sheet was thrown over the coffin.

    The bedroom door remained open, and no further restraint was put upon
    Helene. On re-entering the room she cast a dazed look on the furniture
    and round the walls. The men had borne away the corpse. Rosalie had

    drawn the coverlet over the bed to efface the slight hollow made by
    the form of the little one whom they had lost. Then opening her arms
    with a distracted gesture and stretching out her hands, Helene rushed
    towards the staircase. She wanted to go down, but Monsieur Rambaud
    held her back, while Madame Deberle explained to her that it was not
    the thing to do. But she vowed she would behave rationally, that she
    would not follow the funeral procession. Surely they could allow her
    to look on; she would remain quiet in the garden pavilion. Both wept
    as they heard her pleading. However, she had to be dressed. Juliette
    threw a black shawl round her to conceal her morning wrap. There was
    no bonnet to be found; but at last they came across one from which
    they tore a bunch of red vervain flowers. Monsieur Rambaud, who was
    chief mourner, took hold of Helene's arm.

    "Do not leave her," whispered Madame Deberle as they reached the
    garden. "I have so many things to look after!"

    And thereupon she hastened away. Helene meanwhile walked with
    difficulty, her eyes ever seeking something. As soon as she had found
    herself out of doors she had drawn a long sigh. Ah! what a lovely
    morning! Then she looked towards the iron gate, and caught sight of
    the little coffin under the white drapery. Monsieur Rambaud allowed
    her to take but two or three steps forward.

    "Now, be brave," he said to her, while a shudder ran through his own

    They gazed on the scene. The narrow coffin was bathed in sunshine. At
    the foot of it, on a lace cushion, was a silver crucifix. To the left
    the holy-water sprinkler lay in its font. The tall wax tapers were
    burning with almost invisible flames. Beneath the hangings, the
    branches of the trees with their purple shoots formed a kind of bower.
    It was a nook full of the beauty of spring, and over it streamed the
    golden sunshine irradiating the blossoms with which the coffin was
    covered. It seemed as if flowers had been raining down; there were
    clusters of white roses, white camellias, white lilac, white
    carnations, heaped in a snowy mass of petals; the coffin was hidden
    from sight, and from the pall some of the white blossoms were falling,
    the ground being strewn with periwinkles and hyacinths. The few
    persons passing along the Rue Vineuse paused with a smile of tender
    emotion before this sunny garden where the little body lay at peace
    amongst the flowers. There seemed to be a music stealing up from the
    snowy surroundings; in the glare of light the purity of the blossoms
    grew dazzling, and the sun flushed hangings, nosegays, and wreaths of
    flowers, with a very semblance of life. Over the roses a bee flew

    "Oh, the flowers! the flowers!" murmured Helene, powerless to say
    another word.

    She pressed her handkerchief to her lips, and her eyes filled with
    tears. Jeanne must be warm, she thought, and with this idea a wave of
    emotion rose in her bosom; she felt very grateful to those who had
    enveloped her child in flowers. She wished to go forward, and Monsieur
    Rambaud made no effort to hold her back. How sweet was the scene
    beneath the cloud of drapery! Perfumes were wafted upwards; the air
    was warm and still. Helene stooped down and chose one rose only, that
    she might place it in her bosom. But suddenly she commenced to
    tremble, and Monsieur Rambaud became uneasy.

    "Don't stay here," he said, as he drew her away. "You promised not to
    make yourself unwell."

    He was attempting to lead her into the pavilion when the door of the
    drawing-room was thrown open. Pauline was the first to appear. She had
    undertaken the duty of arranging the funeral procession. One by one,
    the little girls stepped into the garden. Their coming seemed like
    some sudden outburst of bloom, a miraculous flowering of May. In the
    open air the white skirts expanded, streaked moire-like by the
    sunshine with shades of the utmost delicacy. An apple-tree above was
    raining down its blossoms; gossamer-threads were floating to and fro;
    the dresses were instinct with all the purity of spring. And their
    number still increased; they already surrounded the lawn; they yet
    lightly descended the steps, sailing on like downy balls suddenly
    expanding beneath the open sky.

    The garden was now a snowy mass, and as Helene gazed on the crowd of
    little girls, a memory awoke within her. She remembered another joyous
    season, with its ball and the gay twinkling of tiny feet. She once
    more saw Marguerite in her milk-girl costume, with her can hanging
    from her waist; and Sophie, dressed as a waiting-maid, and revolving
    on the arm of her sister Blanche, whose trappings as Folly gave out a
    merry tinkle of bells. She thought, too, of the five Levasseur girls,
    and of the Red Riding-Hoods, whose number had seemed endless, with
    their ever-recurring cloaks of poppy-colored satin edged with black
    velvet; while little Mademoiselle Guiraud, with her Alsatian butterfly
    bow in her hair, danced as if demented opposite a Harlequin twice as
    tall as herself. To-day they were all arrayed in white. Jeanne, too,
    was in white, her head laid amongst white flowers on the white satin
    pillow. The delicate-faced Japanese maiden, with hair transfixed by
    long pins, and purple tunic embroidered with birds, was leaving them
    for ever in a gown of snowy white.

    "How tall they have all grown!" exclaimed Helene, as she burst into

    They were all there but her daughter; she alone was missing. Monsieur
    Rambaud led her to the pavilion; but she remained on the threshold,
    anxious to see the funeral procession start. Several of the ladies
    bowed to her quietly. The children looked at her, with some
    astonishment in their blue eyes. Meanwhile Pauline was hovering round,
    giving orders. She lowered her voice for the occasion, but at times
    forgot herself.

    "Now, be good children! Look, you little stupid, you are dirty
    already! I'll come for you in a minute; don't stir."

    The hearse drove up; it was time to start, but Madame Deberle
    appeared, exclaiming: "The bouquets have been forgotten! Quick,
    Pauline, the bouquets!"

    Some little confusion ensued. A bouquet of white roses had been
    prepared for each little girl; and these bouquets now had to be
    distributed. The children, in an ecstasy of delight, held the great
    clusters of flowers in front of them as though they had been wax
    tapers; Lucien, still at Marguerite's side, daintily inhaled the
    perfume of her blossoms as she held them to his face. All these little
    maidens, their hands filled with flowers, looked radiant with
    happiness in the golden light; but suddenly their faces grew grave as
    they perceived the men placing the coffin on the hearse.

    "Is she inside that thing?" asked Sophie in a whisper.

    Her sister Blanche nodded assent. Then, in her turn, she said: "For
    men it's as big as this!"

    She was referring to the coffin, and stretched out her arms to their
    widest extent. However, little Marguerite, whose nose was buried
    amongst her roses, was seized with a fit of laughter; it was the
    flowers, said she, which tickled her. Then the others in turn buried
    their noses in their bouquets to find out if it were so; but they were
    remonstrated with, and they all became grave once more.

    The funeral procession was now filing into the street. At the corner
    of the Rue Vineuse a woman without a cap, and with tattered shoes on
    her feet, wept and wiped her cheeks with the corner of her apron.
    People stood at many windows, and exclamations of pity ascended
    through the stillness of the street. Hung with white silver-fringed
    drapery the hearse rolled on without a sound; nothing fell on the ear
    save the measured tread of the two white horses, deadened by the solid
    earthen roadway. The bouquets and wreaths, borne on the funeral car,
    formed a very harvest of flowers; the coffin was hidden by them; every
    jolt tossed the heaped-up mass, and the hearse slowly sprinkled the
    street with lilac blossom. From each of the four corners streamed a
    long ribbon of white watered silk, held by four little girls--Sophie
    and Marguerite, one of the Levasseur family, and little Mademoiselle
    Guiraud, who was so small and so uncertain on her legs that her mother
    walked beside her. The others, in a close body, surrounded the hearse,
    each bearing her bouquet of roses. They walked slowly, their veils
    waved, and the wheels rolled on amidst all this muslin, as though
    borne along on a cloud, from which smiled the tender faces of cherubs.
    Then behind, following Monsieur Rambaud, who bowed his pale face, came
    several ladies and little boys, Rosalie, Zephyrin, and the servants of
    Madame Deberle. To these succeeded five empty mourning carriages. And
    as the hearse passed along the sunny street like a car symbolical of
    springtide, a number of white pigeons wheeled over the mourners'

    "Good heavens! how annoying!" exclaimed Madame Deberle when she saw
    the procession start off. "If only Henri had postponed that
    consultation! I told him how it would be!"

    She did not know what to do with Helene, who remained prostrate on a
    seat in the pavilion. Henri might have stayed with her and afforded
    her some consolation. His absence was a horrible nuisance. Luckily,
    Mademoiselle Aurelie was glad to offer her services; she had no liking
    for such solemn scenes, and while watching over Helene would be able
    to attend to the luncheon which had to be prepared ere the children's
    return. So Juliette hastened after the funeral, which was proceeding
    towards the church by way of the Rue de Passy.

    The garden was now deserted; a few workmen only were folding up the
    hangings. All that remained on the gravelled path over which Jeanne
    had been carried were the scattered petals of a camellia. And Helene,
    suddenly lapsing into loneliness and stillness, was thrilled once more
    with the anguish of this eternal separation. Once again--only once
    again!--to be at her darling's side! The never-fading thought that
    Jeanne was leaving her in anger, with a face that spoke solely of
    gloomy hatred, seared her heart like a red-hot iron. She well divined
    that Mademoiselle Aurelie was there to watch her, and cast about for
    some opportunity to escape and hasten to the cemetery.

    "Yes, it's a dreadful loss," began the old maid, comfortably seated in
    an easy-chair. "I myself should have worshipped children, and little
    girls in particular. Ah, well! when I think of it I am pleased that I
    never married. It saves a lot of grief!"

    It was thus she thought to divert the mother. She chatted away about
    one of her friends who had had six children; they were now all dead.
    Another lady had been left a widow with a big lad who struck her; he
    might die, and there would be no difficulty in comforting her. Helene
    appeared to be listening to all this; she did not stir, but her whole
    frame quivered with impatience.

    "You are calmer now," said Mademoiselle Aurelie, after a time. "Well,
    in the end we always have to get the better of our feelings."

    The dining-room communicated with the Japanese pavilion, and, rising
    up, the old maid opened the door and peered into the room. The table,
    she saw, was covered with pastry and cakes. Meantime, in an instant
    Helene sped through the garden; the gate was still open, the workmen
    were just carrying away their ladder.

    On the left the Rue Vineuse turns into the Rue des Reservoirs, from
    which the cemetery of Passy can be entered. On the Boulevard de la
    Muette a huge retaining wall has been reared, and the cemetery
    stretches like an immense terrace commanding the heights, the
    Trocadero, the avenues, and the whole expanse of Paris. In twenty
    steps Helene had reached the yawning gateway, and saw before her the
    lonely expanse of white gravestones and black crosses. She entered. At
    the corners of the first walk two large lilac trees were budding.
    There were but few burials here; weeds grew thickly, and a few cypress
    trees threw solemn shadows across the green. Helene hurried straight
    on; a troop of frightened sparrows flew off, and a grave-digger raised
    his head towards her after flinging aside a shovelful of earth. The
    procession had probably not yet arrived from the church; the cemetery
    seemed empty to her. She turned to the right, and advanced almost to
    the edge of the terrace parapet; but, on looking round, she saw behind
    a cluster of acacias the little girls in white upon their knees before
    the temporary vault into which Jeanne's remains had a moment before
    been lowered. Abbe Jouve, with outstretched hand, was giving the
    farewell benediction. She heard nothing but the dull thud with which
    the stone slab of the vault fell back into its place. All was over.

    Meanwhile, however, Pauline had observed her and pointed her out to
    Madame Deberle, who almost gave way to anger. "What!" she exclaimed;
    "she has come. But it isn't at all proper; it's very bad taste!"[*]

    [*] In France, among the aristocracy and the upper _bourgeoisie_--to
    which Madame Deberle belonged--mothers seldom, if ever, attend the
    funerals of their children, or widows those of the husbands they
    have lost. They are supposed to be so prostrated by grief as to be
    unable to appear in public. This explanation was necessary, as
    otherwise the reader might not understand the force of Madame
    Deberle's remarks.

    So saying she stepped forward, showing Helene by the expression of her
    face that she disapproved of her presence. Some other ladies also
    followed with inquisitive looks. Monsieur Rambaud, however, had
    already rejoined the bereaved mother, and stood silent by her side.
    She was leaning against one of the acacias, feeling faint, and weary
    with the sight of all those mourners. She nodded her head in
    recognition of their sympathetic words, but all the while she was
    stifling with the thought that she had come too late; for she had
    heard the noise of the stone falling back into its place. Her eyes
    ever turned towards the vault, the step of which a cemetery keeper was

    "Pauline, see to the children," said Madame Deberle.

    The little girls rose from their knees looking like a flock of white
    sparrows. A few of the tinier ones, lost among their petticoats, had
    seated themselves on the ground, and had to be picked up. While Jeanne
    was being lowered down, the older girls had leaned forward to see the
    bottom of the cavity. It was so dark they had shuddered and turned
    pale. Sophie assured her companions in a whisper that one remained
    there for years and years. "At nighttime too?" asked one of the little
    Levasseur girls. "Of course--at night too--always!" Oh, the night!
    Blanche was nearly dead with the idea. And they all looked at one
    another with dilated eyes, as if they had just heard some story about
    robbers. However, when they had regained their feet, and stood grouped
    around the vault, released from their mourning duties, their cheeks
    became pink again; it must all be untrue, those stories could only
    have been told for fun. The spot seemed pleasant, so pretty with its
    long grass; what capital games they might have had at hide-and-seek
    behind all the tombstones! Their little feet were already itching to
    dance away, and their white dresses fluttered like wings. Amidst the
    graveyard stillness the warm sunshine lazily streamed down, flushing
    their faces. Lucien had thrust his hand beneath Marguerite's veil, and
    was feeling her hair and asking if she put anything on it, to make it
    so yellow. The little one drew herself up, and he told her that they
    would marry each other some day. To this Marguerite had no objection,
    but she was afraid that he might pull her hair. His hands were still
    wandering over it; it seemed to him as soft as highly-glazed

    "Don't go so far away," called Pauline.

    "Well, we'll leave now," said Madame Deberle. "There's nothing more to
    be done, and the children must be hungry."

    The little girls, who had scattered like some boarding-school at play,
    had to be marshalled together once more. They were counted, and baby
    Guiraud was missing; but she was at last seen in the distance, gravely
    toddling along a path with her mother's parasol. The ladies then
    turned towards the gateway, driving the stream of white dresses before
    them. Madame Berthier congratulated Pauline on her marriage, which was
    to take place during the following month. Madame Deberle informed them
    that she was setting out in three days' time for Naples, with her
    husband and Lucien. The crowd now quickly disappeared; Zephyrin and
    Rosalie were the last to remain. Then in their turn they went off,
    linked together, arm-in-arm, delighted with their outing, although
    their hearts were heavy with grief. Their pace was slow, and for a
    moment longer they could be seen at the end of the path, with the
    sunshine dancing over them.

    "Come," murmured Monsieur Rambaud to Helene.

    With a gesture she entreated him to wait. She was alone, and to her it
    seemed as though a page had been torn from the book of her life. As
    soon as the last of the mourners had disappeared, she knelt before the
    tomb with a painful effort. Abbe Jouve, robed in his surplice, had not
    yet risen to his feet. Both prayed for a long time. Then, without
    speaking, but with a glowing glance of loving-kindness and pardon, the
    priest assisted her to rise.

    "Give her your arm," he said to Monsieur Rambaud.

    Towards the horizon stretched Paris, all golden in the radiance of
    that spring morning. In the cemetery a chaffinch was singing.
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