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- The Flood - 5/5 -


at times. But he advanced, swimming with superhuman strength. I was no longer in doubt. He had traversed a third of the distance when he struck against something submerged. The shock was terrible. Both disappeared. Then I saw him reappear alone. The rope must have snapped. He plunged twice. At last, he came up with Veronique, whom he again took on his back. But without the rope to hold her, she weighed him down more than ever. Still, he advanced. A tremor shook me as I saw them approaching the church. Suddenly, I saw some beams bearing down upon them. A second shock separated them and the waters closed over them.

From this moment, I was stupefied. I had but the instinct of the animal looking out for its own safety. When the water advanced, I retreated. In that stupor, I heard someone laughing, without explaining to myself who it was. The dawn appeared, a great white daybreak. It was very fresh and very calm, as on the bank of a pond, the surface of which awakens before sunrise. But the laughter sounded continually.

Turning, I saw Marie, standing in her wet clothes. It was she who was laughing.

Ah! the poor, dear child! How sweet and pretty she was at that early hour! I saw her stoop, take up some water in the hollow of her hand, and wash her face. Then she coiled her beautiful blonde hair. Doubtless, she imagined she was in her little room, dressing while the church bell rang merrily. And she continued to laugh her childish laugh, her eyes bright and her face happy.

I, too, began to laugh, infected with her madness. Terror had destroyed her mind; and it was a mercy, so charmed did she appear with the beauty of the morning.

I let her hasten, not understanding, shaking my head tenderly. When she considered herself ready to go, she sang one of her canticles in her clear crystalline voice. But, interrupting herself, she cried, as if responding to someone who had called her:

"I am coming, I am coming!"

She took up the canticle again, went down the roof, and entered the water. It covered her softly, without a ripple. I had not ceased smiling. I looked with happiness upon the spot where she had just disappeared.

Then, I remembered nothing more. I was alone on the roof. The water had risen. A chimney was standing, and I must have clung to it with all my strength, like an animal that dreads death. Then, nothing, nothing, a black pit, oblivion.

VI.

Why am I still here? They tell me that people from Saintin came toward six o'clock, with boats, and that they found me lying on a chimney, unconscious. The water was cruel not to have carried me away to be with those who were dear to me.

All the others are gone! The babes in swaddling clothes, the girls to be married, the young married couples, the old married couples. And I, I live like a useless weed, coarse and dried, rooted in the rock. If I had the courage, I would say like Pierre:

"I have had enough! Good night!" And I would throw myself into the Garonne.

I have no child, my house is destroyed, my fields are devastated. Oh! the evenings when we were all at table, and the gaiety surrounded me and kept me young. Oh! the great days of harvest and vintage when we all worked, and when we returned to the house proud of our wealth! Oh! the handsome children and the fruitful vines, the beautiful girls and the golden grain, the joy of my old age, the living recompense of my entire life! Since all that is gone, why should I live?

There is no consolation. I do not want help. I will give my fields to the village people who still have their children. They will find the courage to clear the land of the flotsam and cultivate it anew. When one has no children, a corner is large enough to die in.

I had one desire, one only desire. I wished to recover the bodies of my family, to bury them beneath a slab, where I should soon rejoin them. It was said that, at Toulouse, a large number of bodies carried down the stream, had been taken from the water. I decided to make the trip.

What a terrible disaster! Nearly two thousand houses in ruins; seven hundred deaths; all the bridges carried away; a whole district razed, buried in the mud; atrocious tragedies; twenty thousand half-clad wretches starving to death; the city in a pestilential condition; mourning everywhere; the streets filled with funeral processions; financial aid powerless to heal the wounds! But I walked through it all without seeing anything. I had my ruins, I had my dead, to crush me.

I was told that many of the bodies had been buried in trenches in a corner of the cemetery. Only, they had had the forethought to photograph the unidentified. And it was among these lamentable photographs that I found Gaspard and Veronique. They had been clasped passionately in each other's arms, exchanging in death their bridal kiss. It had been necessary to break their arms in order to separate them. But, first, they had been photographed together; and they sleep together beneath the sod.

I have nothing but them, the image of those two handsome children; bloated by the water, disfigured, retaining upon their livid faces the heroism of their love. I look at them, and I weep.


The Flood - 5/5

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