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A Simple Heart
by [?]

Paul went up into the barn, caught birds, played ducks and drakes with stones on the pond, or with a stick hit the big casks that resounded like drums.

Virginia fed the rabbits, rushed to gather cornflowers, and the swift motion of her legs showed her little embroidered drawers.

One autumn evening they came back through the meadows.

The moon in its first quarter lit up a part of the sky, and a mist was floating like a veil on the windings of the River Toucques. Oxen, stretched amid the turf, tranquilly watched those four people pass. In the third meadow some of them rose, and formed a circle before them. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ said Felicity, and murmuring a sort of low song she patted the one who was nearest on the spine; he turned round, the others imitated him. But when the succeeding field was crossed a formidable bellowing arose. It was a bull that the fog had concealed. He advanced towards the two women. Madame Aubain was going to run. ‘No, no, not so quick!’ They quickened their steps all the same, and heard behind them a sonorous breathing coming nearer them. His hoofs, like hammers, beat the grass of the fields; there, he was galloping now! Felicity turned round and tore up with her two hands clods of earth which she threw in his eyes. He lowered his muzzle, shook his horns, and trembled with fury, bellowing horribly. Madame Aubain, at the end of the grass with her two children, was madly seeking how to get over the high bank. Felicity retired steadily before the bull, and continually flung bits of turf that blinded him, while she cried: ‘Hurry up, hurry up!’ Madame Aubain climbed over the ditch, pushed Virginia up, then Paul, fell several times in trying to climb over the slope, and by dint of courage succeeded.

The bull had driven Felicity into a corner against an opening in the hedge; his slaver sprayed on her face, a second more and he would have gored her. She had time to slip between two bars, and the big beast, quite surprised, stopped short.

This event for many years was a topic of conversation at Pont-l’Évêque. Felicity felt no pride about it, not even considering that she had done anything heroic.

Virginia took up all her time, for she suffered, as a result of her fright, from an affection of the nerves, and Monsieur Pourpart, the doctor, advised sea baths at Trouville.

In those days they were not crowded. Madame Aubain made inquiries, consulted Bourais, and made preparations as for a long journey.

Her luggage went off the night before in Liébard’s cart. The next day he brought two horses, one of which had a woman’s saddle fitted with a velvet backrest; and on the croup of the second a coat, rolled up, formed a sort of seat. Madame Aubain mounted there behind him. Felicity took charge of Virginia, and Paul straddled Monsieur Lechaptois’s donkey, lent on condition they would take great care of it.

The road was so bad that the eight kilometres took two hours. The horses sank up to the pasterns in the mud, and to free themselves made brusque movements with their haunches; or else they stumbled against the hedges; other times they had to jump over them. Liébard’s mare, at certain spots, stopped suddenly. Liébard waited patiently until she resumed her walk, and he talked about the people whose estates bordered the road, adding moral reflections to their story. Thus, in the middle of Toucques as they passed under windows surrounded by nasturtiums, he said with a shrug of his shoulders: ‘There’s a Madame Lehoussais lives there, who, instead of taking a young husband—’ Felicity did not hear the rest: the horses trotted, the donkey galloped; they all went in single file up a path; a gate swung round, two stable boys appeared, they got down beside the dung water on the very threshold of the door.