The roads should blossom, the roads should bloom,
So fair a bride shall leave her home!
Should blossom and bloom with garlands gay,
So fair a bride shall pass to-day!

It is Baptiste, and his affianced maiden,
With garlands for the bridal laden!

The sky was blue; without one cloud of gloom,
The sun of March was shining brightly,
And to the air the freshening wind gave lightly
Its breathings of perfume.

– The Blind Girl of Castèl Cuillè
Jacques Jasmin, translated by Henry Longfellow

It’s amazing how being blind suddenly makes you deaf and stupid as well.

Or at least, that’s how it seems to Margaret. She is, as it happens, neither deaf nor lacking in wits, but ever since her illness, she might as well have been. People – kind, well-meaning people, the same ones who bring casseroles to the house so that she does not have to risk injury by trying to cook for herself, or who walk with her to the village, so that she will not stumble on the hill and fall – talk about her as though she isn’t there.

It’s as though they think she can’t hear them – and when they do speak to her directly, they speak slowly, and use simple words, as though she lost her understanding with her sight.

She has tried to point this out to them, of course, gently and politely, because she is grateful for their help, but they pat her hands kindly, and agree with her, and sometimes they even remember for the rest of the visit, but they return to their old habits soon enough.

It’s exhausting. And infuriating.

But occasionally it’s useful. Apparently, because nobody has told her directly, she cannot possibly be aware of the festival in the village – even though she can hear the music all the way up the hill.

And because nobody has told her directly, she could not possibly know that Baptiste has returned at last. She doesn’t mind that part so much. They want it to be a surprise, no doubt.

Margaret feels a giddy smile spreading across her face, but if she cannot smile now, then when could she? Her own true love has come back to her, and though she will never again see his face, or bask in gaze of his summer-blue eyes, she will soon hold him in her arms, and it will be enough.

Meanwhile, whence comes it that among
These youthful maidens fresh and fair,
So joyous, with such laughing air,
Baptiste stands sighing, with silent tongue?
And yet the bride is fair and young!
It is, that, half-way up the hill,
In yon cottage, by whose walls
Stand the cart-house and the stalls,
Dwelleth the blind orphan still,
Daughter of a veteran old;
And you must know, one year ago,
That Margaret, the young and tender,
Was the village pride and splendor,
And Baptiste her lover bold.
Love, the deceiver, them ensnared;
For them the altar was prepared;
But alas! the summer’s blight,
The dread disease that none can stay,
The pestilence that walks by night,
Took the young bride’s sight away.

All at the father’s stern command was changed;
Their peace was gone, but not their love estranged.
Wearied at home, erelong the lover fled;
Returned but three short days ago,
The golden chain they round him throw,
He is enticed, and onward led
To marry Angela, and yet
Is thinking ever of Margaret.

The sun is warm on Margaret’s face as she walks into the garden that once belonged to her mother. When she was a little girl, her mother would take her out to the centre of the garden on sunny days and cover her eyes with her hands. On such days, the air of the garden would be heavy with the scents of blossoms and herbs, their oils made volatile by the heat of the day.

“How many flowers can you smell, Daisy my love?” her mother would ask her, and Margaret would count them out – lavender, geranium, rosemary, roses, mint – until her mother laughed and let her go.

Marguerite does not need to close her eyes now, but she covers them nonetheless, greeting her garden as she has always done. The scent of jasmine fills the air today, but beneath it she can smell lemon balm and the last of the pear blossoms. The linden tree is humming with bees, and a blackbird is singing in the apple tree. (In all probability, it is eating the green apples, but right now there isn’t a lot Margaret can do about that.)

When she first became blind, Margaret feared that gardening was another thing she had lost, and she had grieved for this nearly as deeply as she had for Baptiste’s departure. And with the grief came fear. Margaret’s father was dead in the wars, and her brother, Paul, was still too young to earn a living. Her garden, along with the eggs from Paul’s chickens, was their livelihood. Without it, they would be poor indeed.

But then Jane had come to visit – old, crippled Jane with her withered leg, who told fortunes in the market. Sometimes, her fortunes even came true. Margaret had always been a little frightened of Jane, and the girls in the village whispered that she was a witch, though she went to church every Sunday, and took communion with the rest of the villagers. But Jane had been kind to Margaret, taking her around the garden again and again until she had memorised the number of steps between beds, and, once Margaret was strong enough to attempt weeding, teaching her to recognise the shapes of weeds with her fingers.

And so Margaret learned her garden a second time, this time by touch and by number, and it became once again her kingdom – a place where she can be independent, and useful, and happy.

Today, though, with the sounds of music in the distance, Margaret’s mind is not on her weeding. She has pulled up at least a dozen radishes with the dandelions that have somehow seeded themselves among them, and will need to re-plant them. It is probably a good thing she doesn’t really like radishes. The crop is not going to be improved by any of this.

The creak of the garden gate makes her jump, and Margaret comes to her feet, her heart beating wildly with anticipation.

But some one comes! Though blind, my heart can see!
And that deceives me not! ’t is he! ’t is he!”
And the door ajar is set,
And poor, confiding Margaret
Rises, with outstretched arms, but sightless eyes;
’T is only Paul, her brother, who thus cries:—
“Angela the bride has passed!
I saw the wedding guests go by;
Tell me, my sister, why were we not asked?
For all are there but you and I!”

“Angela married! and not sent
To tell her secret unto me!
Oh, speak! who may the bridegroom be?”
“My sister, ’t is Baptiste, thy friend!”

A cry the blind girl gave, but nothing said;
A milky whiteness spreads upon her cheeks;
An icy hand, as heavy as lead,
Descending, as her brother speaks,
Upon her heart, that has ceased to beat,
Suspends awhile its life and heat.
She stands beside the boy, now sore distressed,
A wax Madonna as a peasant dressed.
At length, the bridal song again
Brings her back to her sorrow and pain.

You are Margaret. What is your reaction?

Baptiste is the only man I will ever love, and Angela is my friend – I cannot believe they would marry without telling me. I need to talk to them, and find out what is going on.

Baptiste is the only man I will ever love, and he has betrayed me. I cannot live in a world where he marries another. If I cannot prevent him, I will surely die.



Michel-Ange – Auteuil fleur9left Jasmin fleur9right Ranelagh

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