Part II: Neighboring Fields - Chapter IX
ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON, a month after Carl Linstrum's arrival, he rode with Emil up into the French country to attend a Catholic fair. He sat for most of the afternoon in the basement of the church, where the fair was held, talking to Marie Shabata, or strolled about the gravel terrace, thrown up on the hillside in front of the basement doors, where the French boys were jumping and wrestling and throwing the discus. Some of the boys were in their white baseball suits; they had just come up from a Sunday practice game down in the ballgrounds. Amédée, the newly married, Emil's best friend, was their pitcher, renowned among the country towns for his dash and skill. Amédée was a little fellow, a year younger than Emil and much more boyish in appearance; very lithe and active and neatly made, with a clear brown and white skin, and flashing white teeth. The Sainte-Agnes boys were to play the Hastings nine in a fortnight, and Amédée's lightning balls were the hope of his team. The little Frenchman seemed to get every ounce there was in him behind the ball as it left his hand.
“You'd have made the battery at the University for sure, 'Médée,” Emil said as they were walking from the ball-grounds back to the church on the hill. “You're pitching better than you did in the spring.”
Amédée grinned. “Sure! A married man don't lose his head no more.” He slapped Emil on the back as he caught step with him. “Oh, Emil, you wanna get married right off quick! It's the greatest thing ever!”
Emil laughed. “How am I going to get married without any girl?”
Amédée took his arm. “Pooh! There are plenty girls will have you. You wanna get some nice French girl, now. She treat you well; always be jolly. See,”—he began checking off on his fingers,—“there is Sévérine, and Alphosen, and Joséphine, and Hectorine, and Louise, and Malvina—why, I could love any of them girls! Why don't you get after them? Are you stuck up, Emil, or is anything the matter with you? I never did know a boy twenty-two years old before that didn't have no girl. You wanna be a priest, maybe? Not-a for me!” Amédée swaggered. “I bring many good Catholics into this world, I hope, and that's a way I help the Church.”
Emil looked down and patted him on the shoulder. “Now you're windy, 'Médée. You Frenchies like to brag.”
But Amédée had the zeal of the newly married, and he was not to be lightly shaken off. “Honest and true, Emil, don't you want any girl? Maybe there's some young lady in Lincoln, now, very grand,”—Amédée waved his hand languidly before his face to denote the fan of heartless beauty,—“and you lost your heart up there. Is that it?”
“Maybe,” said Emil.
But Amédée saw no appropriate glow in his friend's face. “Bah!” he exclaimed in disgust. “I tell all the French girls to keep 'way from you. You gotta rock in there,” thumping Emil on the ribs.
When they reached the terrace at the side of the church, Amédée, who was excited by his success on the ball-grounds, challenged Emil to a jumping-match, though he knew he would be beaten. They belted themselves up, and Raoul Marcel, the choir tenor and Father Duchesne's pet, and Jean Bordelau, held the string over which they vaulted. All the French boys stood round, cheering and humping themselves up when Emil or Amédée went over the wire, as if they were helping in the lift. Emil stopped at five-feet-five, declaring that he would spoil his appetite for supper if he jumped any more.
Angélique, Amédée's pretty bride, as blonde and fair as her name, who had come out to watch the match, tossed her head at Emil and said:—
“'Médée could jump much higher than you if he were as tall. And anyhow, he is much more graceful. He goes over like a bird, and you have to hump yourself all up.”
“Oh, I do, do I?” Emil caught her and kissed her saucy mouth squarely, while she laughed and struggled and called, “'Médée! 'Médée!”
“There, you see your 'Médée isn't even big enough to get you away from me. I could run away with you right now and he could only sit down and cry about it. I'll show you whether I have to hump myself!” Laughing and panting, he picked Angélique up in his arms and began running about the rectangle with her. Not until he saw Marie Shabata's tiger eyes flashing from the gloom of the basement doorway did he hand the disheveled bride over to her husband. “There, go to your graceful; I haven't the heart to take you away from him.”
Angélique clung to her husband and made faces at Emil over the white shoulder of Amédée's ball-shirt. Emil was greatly amused at her air of proprietorship and at Amédée's shameless submission to it. He was delighted with his friend's good fortune. He liked to see and to think about Amédée's sunny, natural, happy love.
He and Amédée had ridden and wrestled and larked together since they were lads of twelve. On Sundays and holidays they were always arm in arm. It seemed strange that now he should have to hide the thing that Amédée was so proud of, that the feeling which gave one of them such happiness should bring the other such despair. It was like that when Alexandra tested her seed-corn in the spring, he mused. From two ears that had grown side by side, the grains of one shot up joyfully into the light, projecting themselves into the future, and the grains from the other lay still in the earth and rotted; and nobody knew why.