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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Their Last Excursion
By Gustave Droz (1832–1895)
From ‘Making an Omelette’: Translation of Agnes Irwin

IN this strange, rude interior, how refined and delicate Louise looked, with all her dainty appointments of long undressed kid gloves, jaunty boots, and looped-up petticoat! While I talked to the wood-cutters she shielded her face from the fire with her hands, and kept her eye on the butter beginning to sing in the pan.  1
  Suddenly she rose, and taking the pan-handle from the old woman, said, “Let me help you make the omelette, will you?” The good woman let go with a smile, and Louise found herself alone, in the attitude of a fisherman who has just had a nibble. She stood in the full light of the fire, her eyes fixed on the melted butter, her arms tense with effort; she was biting her lips, probably in order to increase her strength.  2
  “It’s rather hard on madame’s little hands,” said the old man. “I bet it’s the first time you ever made an omelette in a wood-cutter’s hut—isn’t it, my young lady?”  3
  Louise nodded yes, without turning her eyes from the omelette.  4
  “The eggs! the eggs!” she suddenly exclaimed, with such a look of uneasiness that we all burst out laughing—“hurry with the eggs! The butter is all puffing up! Be quick—or I can’t answer for the consequences.”  5
  The old woman beat the eggs energetically.  6
  “The herbs!” cried the old man. “The lard and salt!” cried the young ones. And they all set to work chopping, cutting, piling up, while Louise, stamping with excitement, called out, “Make haste! make haste!” Then there was a tremendous bubbling in the pan, and the great work began. We were all round the fire, gazing with an anxious interest inspired by our all having had a finger in the pie.  7
  The old woman, on her knees beside a large dish, slipped a knife under the edge of the omelette, which was turning a fine brown. “Now, madame, you’ve only got to turn it over,” she said.  8
  “Just one little quick blow,” suggested the old man.  9
  “Mustn’t be violent,” counseled the young one.  10
  “All at once; up with it, dear!” I said.  11
  “If you all talk at once—”  12
  “Make haste, madame!”  13
  “If you all talk at once I never shall manage it. It is too awfully heavy.”  14
  “One quick little blow.”  15
  “But I can’t; it’s going over. Oh gracious!”  16
  In the heat of action, her hood had fallen off. Her cheeks were like a peach, her eyes shone, and though she lamented her fate, she burst into peals of laughter. At last by a supreme effort the pan moved, and the omelette rolled over, somewhat heavily, I confess, into the large dish which the old woman was holding. Never did an omelette look better!  17
  “I am sure the young lady’s arms must be tired,” said the old man, as he began cutting a round loaf into enormous slices.  18
  “Oh no, not so very,” my wife answered with a merry laugh; “only I am crazy to taste my—our omelette.”  19
  We had seated ourselves round the table. When we had eaten and drunk with the good souls, we rose and made ready to go home. The sun had set, and the whole family came out of the cabin to see us off and say good-night.  20
  “Don’t you want my son to go with you?” the old woman called after us.  21
  It was growing dark and chilly under the trees, and we gradually quickened our pace. “Those are happy people,” said Louise. “We will come some morning and breakfast with them,—shan’t we? We can put the baby in one of the donkey panniers, and in the other a large pasty and a bottle of wine.—You are not afraid of losing your way, George?”  22
  “No, dear; no fear of that.”  23
  “A pasty and a bottle of wine— What is that?”  24
  “Nothing; the stump of a tree.”  25
  “The stump of a tree—the stump of a tree,” she muttered. “Don’t you hear something behind us?”  26
  “It is only the wind in the leaves, or the breaking of a dead branch.”  27
  He is fortunate who at night, in the heart of a forest, feels as calm as at his own fireside. You do not tremble, but you feel the silence. Involuntarily you look for eyes peering out of the darkness, and you try to define the confused forms appearing and changing every minute. Something breaks and sounds beneath your tread, and if you stop you hear the distant melancholy howl of your watch-dog, the scream of an owl, and other noises, far and near, not so easily explained. A sense of strangeness surrounds you and weighs you down. If you are alone, you walk faster; if there are two of you, you draw close to your companion. My wife clung to my arm.  28
  “Let us turn wood-cutters. We could build a pretty little hut, simple, but nice enough. I would have curtains to the windows, and a carpet, and put my piano in one corner.” She spoke very low, and occasionally I felt my hand tremble on her arm.  29
  “You would soon get enough of that, dearest.”  30
  “It isn’t fair to say so.” And in another minute she went on:—“You think I don’t love you, you and our boy? Oh yes, dear, I love you. Yes, yes, yes! The happiness that comes every day can’t be expressed: we live on it, so we don’t think of it. Like our daily bread—who thinks of that? But when you are thinking of yourself, when you put your head down, and really think, then you say, ‘I am ungrateful, for I am happy, and I give no thanks for it.’ Or when we are alone together, and walking arm-in-arm, now, at this very moment,—not that I mean only this moment,—I love you, I love you.” She put her head down on my arm and pressed it earnestly. “Oh,” she said, “if I were to lose you!” She spoke very low, as if afraid. What had frightened her? The darkness and the forest, or her own words?  31
  She went on:—“I have often and often dreamed that I was saying good-by to you. You both cried, and I pressed you so close to my heart that there was only one of us. It was a nightmare, you know, but I don’t mind it, for it showed me that my life was in your lives, dear. What is that cracking noise? Didn’t you see something just in front of us?”  32
  I answered her by taking her in my arms and folding her to my heart. We walked on, but it was impossible to go on talking. Every now and then she would stop and say, “Hush! hark! No, it is nothing.”  33
  At last we saw ahead of us a little light, now visible, now hidden by a tree. It was the lamp set for us in our parlor window. We crossed the stile and were at home. It was high time, for we were wet through.  34
  I brought a huge log, and when the fire had blazed up we sat down in the great chimney-place. The poor girl was shivering. I took off her boots and held her feet to the fire, screening them with my hands.  35
  “Thanks, dear George, thanks!” she said, leaning on my shoulder and looking at me so tenderly that I felt almost ready to cry.  36
  “What were you saying to me in that horrid wood, my darling?” I asked her, when she was better.  37
  “You are thinking about that? I was frightened, that is all, and when you are frightened you see ghosts.”  38
  “We shall be wood-cutters, shan’t we?”  39
  And kissing me, with a laugh, she replied: “It is bedtime, Jean of the Woods.”  40
  I well remember that walk, for it was our last. Often and often since, at sunset on a dark day, I have been over the same ground; often and often I have stopped where she stood, and stooped and pulled aside the fern, seeking to find, poor fool that I am! the traces of her vanished footsteps. And I have often halted in the clearing under the birches which rained down on us, and there in the shadow I have fancied I caught the flutter of her dress; I have thought I heard her startled note of fright. And on my way home at night, at every step I have found a recollection of her in the distant barking and the breaking branches, as in the trembling of her hand on my arm and the kiss which I gave her.  41
  Once I went into the wood-hut. I saw it all as before,—the family, the smoky interior, the little bench on which we sat,—and I asked for something to drink, that I might see the glass her lips had touched.  42
  “The little lady who makes such good omelettes, she isn’t sick, for sure?” asked the old woman.  43
  Probably she saw the tears in my eyes, for she said no more, and I came away.  44
  And so it is that except in my heart, where she lives and is, all that was my darling grows faint and dark and dim.  45
  It is the law of life, but it is a cruel law. Even my poor child is learning to forget, and when I say to him most unwillingly, “Baby dear, do you remember how your mother did this or that?” he answers “Yes”; but I see, alas! that he too is ceasing to remember.  46

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