Friday, November 02, 2007

All Souls' Day

While he was enjoying his lunch, he was thinking of certain holidays he had spent alone in Paris, when he was living at Versailles, with the Thieraults, as tutor to their boys. There was one All Souls' Day when he had gone into Paris by an early train and had a magnificent breakfast on the Rue de Vaugirard—not at Foyot's, he hadn't enough money in those days to put his nose in the place. After breakfast he went out to walk in the soft rainfall. The sky was of such an intense silvery grey that all the grey stone buildings along the Rue St. Jacques and the Rue Sufflot came out in that silver shine stronger than in sunlight. The shop windows were shut; on the bleak ascent to the Pantheon there was not a spot of colour, nothing but wet, shiny, quick—silvery grey, ,accented by black crevices, and weather worn bosses white as wood-ash. All at once, from somewhere behind the Pantheon itself, a man and woman, pushing a hand-cart, came into the empty street. The cart was full of pink dahlias, all exactly the same colour. The young man was fair and slight, with a pale face; the woman carried a baby. Both they and the wheels of their barrow were splashed with mud. They must have come from a good way into the country, and were a weary, anxious-looking pair. They stopped at the corner before the Pantheon and fearfully scanned the bleak, silvery, deserted streets. The man went into a bakery, and his wife began to spread out the flowers, which were done up in large bouquets with fresh green chestnut-leaves. Young St. Peter approached and asked the price.

"Deux francs cinquante, Monseiur ," she said with a kind of desperate courage. He took a bunch and handed her a five-franc note. She had no change. Her husband, watching from the bakery, came running across with a loaf of bread under his arm.

"Deux francs cinquante," she called to him as he came up. He put his hand into his pocket and fumbled.

"Deux francs cinquante," she repeated with painful tension. The price agreed upon had probably been a franc or a franc fifty. The man counted out the change to the student and looked at his wife with admiration. St. Peter was so pleased with his flowers that it hadn't occurred to him to get more; but all his life he had regretted that he didn't buy two bunches, and push their fortunes a little further. He had never gain found dahlias of such a beautiful colour, or so charmingly arranged with bright chestnut-leaves.

A moment later he was strolling down the hill, wondering to whom he could give his bouquet….

--from The Professor's House by Willa Cather


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