Jardins du Luxembourg, Paris, January 1888
“Au cœur ou dans la tête, La tempête est venue. Est-ce bien la tempête?” Paul Verlaine, Amour, 1888.
Gabrielle sits with her mother on the iron bench under the guardian gaze of St. Geneviève. Gabrielle wears a warm burnet shawl with her Sunday Arlèse garments. Her damaged left arm is carefully bandaged, and firmly tucked in to her midriff. Her arms and stomach are implacably sore from this morning’s injections. She turns hollow at the thought of another ten inoculations. Then their sojourn would be over.
Yet she is enlivened by the cold clear air of the gardens. She has also relished her first stay in the Capital. Her young eye has taken in the austere angles of the enclosing buildings in the Vaugirard. She has also confronted the hard edges of humanity at street-level in the Rue Royer-Collard, and in their hostel, near to the Pasteur clinic where she receives her treatment.
She begins to notice a strange gentleman pacing along the fountain concourse from the direction of the Museum. His gait is staggered with short-short, then long strides. His teal overcoat is heavy on his shoulders, but his reddened ears and unruly rufous whiskers storm from beneath a smoke-grey felt hat. He blinks green embers through the smoke of his large black pipe. He carries a small easel and panoply of brushes and sticks. His large hands are tattooed with slate, turquoise and castory stains.
He stops next to the bench. He stares at the ladies in turn, before fixing his gaze on Gabrielle.
“Are you well, Mademoiselle?”
Her mother, perturbed, arises to help Gabrielle to her feet. Gabrielle holds his regard, intrigued.
“Well enough sir, and in no need of further assistance. Good day.”
“You are from Provençe!” He pronounces this in such a deep, guttural accent, and with such certainty, that she finds herself rising to a reply.
“I am, sir, Arlèsienne.”