The clouds gradually lightened, a light mist began to envelop the island and the song of the sea began to sound more and more plaintive.
Mrs. Ramazeilhes had left the beach with Dominica. You can still hear the crack of the driver’s whip in the distance as a farewell. The evening bell could be heard from some distant church tower, and if Mrs. Miralez had not been there, Etienne would have most certainly knelt in prayer.
His follower was seated at the foot of the ruins, her gaze directed towards the edge of the sky.
— Will you forgive me, Monsieur Etienne? — he said gently and moved closer.
— I must apologize to you, Mrs. Miralez. I’m the only one to blame.
— So let’s forgive each other and make peace, — he said with a smile.
And he held out his white hand, which trembled a little.
They sat for a moment in silence. The wind died down. It didn’t feel cold yet and you could still make out the big stone blocks. Now the water had risen up to the waists of the old giants, and every Wave threw its foam on their shoulders. The first stars began to twinkle.
Rose-Marie shook her head.
— Let’s take the matter from a practical point of view, Mr. Etienne! — I think we have a meat pie in that lunch basket.
— One meat pie and a bottle of wine…
— Good! So let’s eat. I’m so hungry I could swallow rocks.
The meat pie was large, but they ate it with good appetite. In the end, there was only one slice left. They drew lots from it and it fell to Rose-Marie. But Etienne had to take the other side of it because he was forced into it.
Mrs. Miralez drank the wine first, turning her black eyes on Etienne, and despite her desire to chatter and laugh, to pretend to be happy and playful, she became more and more lost in her thoughts on this deserted island with the handsome young man.
Before long his thoughts shifted to Geneviève, from there to Miralez, and on to the young men who had courted him with their compliments in Paris, Spain, and wherever he had been.
It was already completely dark. The islands were no longer visible. The country of France could no longer be distinguished through the fog.
Rose-Mare looked helplessly at Etienne, not knowing what to say, and Geneviève’s suitor closed his eyes. He felt a wonderful dizziness and realized that Rose-Marie’s hand was resting on his. At this touch she opened her eyes and looked at him in pain.
— Help me get up! — he said. — This is not a good place.
And he quickly left as if he was afraid of something.
He went to the old ruins of the castle and did not appear again.
Etienne shivered. He looked at the walls behind which Rose-Marie had disappeared. He suddenly felt the urge to run away or throw himself into the sea to cool off, but he didn’t do it.
He followed Mrs. Miralez and found her in one of the vaults, where she had spread the ground on a bed, which must have been left there by some customs man or fisherman.
— You must be catching a cold? — he said quietly, sending his leg as if against his will his legs had taken him forward. — I’ll borrow my overcoat, which you can wrap around yourself. I will go to the other side of the wall to sleep until the water recedes.
– You’re right. Let’s sleep. Since you offer your overcoat, I will gratefully accept it as my warmth.
Etienne told her to get down on the bed and covered her with his coat.
— Are you comfortable now? — he asked.
— Quite nice.
— No more cold?
— A little. Would you like to pull the jacket a little higher! Exactly; now it’s fine. Good night! Give me your hand! You are so kind!
– Good night! — answered Etienne quickly.
And Rose-Marie saw him dash away, tripping over the stones of the old castle.
Rose-Marie got up on her arms and opened her eyes.
The moon showed its pale face through a gap in the cloud. The noise of the sea could be heard from all sides. No one was moving near him.
He felt like he was about to cry.
But he didn’t want that. She turned and swallowed her tears
— So how far can I go?
The tears came out despite all the efforts against it.
— It’s anger that makes me cry! — he thought. — And I really have reason to be angry! Have I become ugly yet? I can’t put that kid’s head on a bike anymore! I can’t get him to confess his love — I, Rose-Marie! No, that’s not possible. I just saw that he was as white as snow. If I hadn’t gone away, he would have thrown himself at my feet right then and there! … But why did he actually go?
He propped himself up on his elbows again and his eyes widened in the darkness.
He shook his head.
— No, no, it’s not like that, it can’t be like that. Ah, I’m out of my mind.
And Rose-Marie fell into her thoughts again.
— What a lovely night! The moon has probably never shone so clearly before. Ah, the hum of the sea — surely it never was before such a song. If I were in Paris, I would definitely find my admirer! … No, I wouldn’t tolerate a single one of them around me!
He tossed here and there on the bed, clenching his hands together tightly.
A church bell could be heard in the distance.
Rose-Marie rose suddenly.
— What was it? Something moved near him.
He took Etienne’s overcoat and went out of the vault. With faltering steps, he led his way in the moonlight to a kind of corridor vault.
— Are you no longer sleeping, Mrs. Miralez? — he heard Etienne ask.
He cried out in fright.
The young man had gotten up.
— Do you sleep here? — asked the lady.
— Yes. I found another bed wreck here in the corner and it was nice to sleep in! I was going to suggest to you that we switch beds, but I was afraid I would scare you.
— Ah, I haven’t been able to sleep. There might be all kinds of animals in that vault. I heard them moving and I started to get scared.
— Do you want to stay here?
— With pleasure. But don’t go away, at least not until I’ve slept. I get scared so easily.
He took Etienne’s place and tried to turn his back on him, but he couldn’t stand that position.
Etienne leaned himself against the wall, remaining motionless.
The moon shone from above. It might have been midnight. Mrs. Miralez turned the whistle several times, making a clatter, but Etienne sat motionless. He could sleep.
The moonlight illuminated his beautiful face, and Rose-Marie saw his high forehead, his pale face, his fine moustache, and thought:
— Yes, Geneviève can be happy!
Her eyes filled with tears again and she sighed heavily.
It wasn’t just hurt, it was love, she felt it now. She had wanted to conquer this man to play with him, but he had already taken her heart. He himself was clinging to the pole that he had tuned for the other. He loved Etienne: he loved madly, he loved like he had never loved a single person before. Perhaps he loved her precisely because he had not sought and prayed for her favor like others. That coldness had conquered him now. There he slept quite peacefully while she, Rose-Marie, shed tears and trembled in pain… And they were both 25 years old!
Rose-Marie got up. He was still looking at the young man. Not a muscle in his face moved; his eyes were closed.
— Etienne? — he whispered quietly. — Etienne!
And he seemed to put his whole soul into this word.
The young man did not move. He seemed to be sleeping soundly.
Then Rose-Marie quietly leaned over him and lightly kissed the corner of his eye.
— Ah, you didn’t even sleep! — he exclaimed when he saw him open his eyes. — Sorry, forgive me!
And he no longer had the strength to hold back his tears, but burst into tears.
Etienne had risen. Rose-Marie heard him breathing heavily, as if trying to hold back the words that were trying to come out. But he said nothing; her lips remained closed. He stood stiff and motionless like a statue in front of the young woman.
And Rose-Marie’s sobs continued.
— I am so unhappy! he said. I love you and you despise me!
She covered her face with her hands and wanted to run away, but Etienne stopped her.
— Rose-Marie! — he said sadly — live, I’m going away! I suffer and I am happy; I don’t know what I feel and I’m afraid I’m losing my mind. Stay here!
— So you love me, Etienne, do you? So it’s not a dream. Oh, I’ve never felt such happiness!
But the former monk interrupted him, and in a sorrowful voice he answered:
— I do not love you, Mrs. Miralez. I can’t love you! I could imagine it in my mind for a few blinks, but it must not happen again. You are beautiful and enchant anyone who comes near you, and for a few minutes I was afraid that I would not be able to avoid their fate. You could blind the angels themselves if they took human form. But if you are beautiful, I am strong, I do not want to fall! I have felt the most painful or the sweetest moments by your side tonight, I don’t know which. And now let’s never talk about love again!
— Etienne! — sobbed Rose-Marie.
He approached slowly and took the young man’s hand. — Etienne!
She pushed him away, saying:
— Remember that you are married. You are not free.
He looked at the young man with tears in his eyes.
And Etienne left quickly, going past the moonlit ruins down to the shore.