Immortals Crowned by the French Academy: A Woodland Queen, Entire
by Andre Theuriet
CLAUDE-ADHEMAR-ANDRE THEURIET was born at Marly-le-Roi (Seine et
Oise), October 8,1833. His ancestors came from Lorraine. He was
educated at Bar-le-Duc and went to Paris in 1854 to study
jurisprudence. After finishing his courses he entered the Department
of the Treasury, and after an honorable career there, resigned as
chef-de-bureau. He is a poet, a dramatist, but, above all, a writer
of great fiction.
As early as 1857 the poems of Theuriet were printed in the 'Revue
de Paris' and the 'Revue des Deux Mondes'. His greatest novel, 'Reine
des Bois' (Woodland Queen), was crowned by the Academie Francaise in
1890. To the public in general he became first known in 1870 by his
'Nouvelles Intimes'. Since that time he has published a great many
volumes of poems, drama, and fiction. A great writer, he perhaps
meets the wishes of that large class of readers who seek in literature
agreeable rest and distraction, rather than excitement or aesthetic
gratification. He is one of the greatest spirits that survived the
bankruptcy of Romanticism. He excels in the description of country
nooks and corners; of that polite rusticity which knows nothing of the
delving laborers of 'La Terre', but only of graceful and learned
leisure, of solitude nursed in revery, and of passion that seems the
springtide of germinating nature. He possesses great originality and
the passionate spirit of a 'paysagiste': pictures of provincial life
and family-interiors seem to appeal to his most pronounced sympathies.
His taste is delicate, his style healthy and frank, and at the same
time limpid and animated.
After receiving, in 1890, the Prix Vitet for the ensemble of his
literary productions, he was elected to the Academy in 1896. To the
stage Theuriet has given 'Jean-Marie', drama in verses (Odeon,
February 11, 1871). It is yet kept on the repertoire together with
his 'Maison de deux Barbeaux (1865), Raymonde (1887), and Les Maugars
His novels, tales, and poems comprise a long list. 'Le Bleu et le
Noir' (1873) was also crowned by the Academy. Then followed, at short
intervals: 'Mademoiselle Guignon (1874.); Le Mariage de Gerard (1875);
La Fortune d'Angele (1876); Raymonde (1877),' a romance of modern
life, vastly esteemed by the reading public; 'Le Don Juan de Vireloup
(1877); Sous Bois, Impressions d'un Forestier (1878); Le Filleul d'un
Marquis (1878); Les Nids (1879); Le fils Maugars (1879); La Maison de
deux Barbeaux (1879); Toute seule (1880); Sauvageonne (1880), his most
realistic work; Les Enchantements de la Foret (1881); Le Livre de la
Payse (poetry, 1882); Madame Heurteloup (1882); Peche de Jeunesse
(1883); Le Journal de Tristan, mostly autobiographical; Bigarreau
(1885); Eusebe Lombard (1885); Les OEillets de Kerlatz (1885); Helene
(1886); Nos Oiseaux (beautiful verses, 1886); La Vie Rustique (1887);
Amour d'Automne (1888); Josette (1888); Deux Soeurs (1889); Contes
pour les Soirs d'Hiver (1890); Charme Dangereux (1891); La Ronde des
Saisons et des Mois (1889); La Charmeresse (1891); Fleur de Nice
(1896); Bois Fleury (1897); Refuge (1898); Villa Tranquille (1899);
Claudette (1900); La Petite Derniere (1901); Le Manuscrit du Chanoine
Besides this abundant production Andre Theuriet has also
contributed to various journals and magazines: 'Le Moniteur, Le Musee
Universal, L'Illustration, Le Figaro, Le Gaulois, La Republique
Francaise, etc.; he has lectured in Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland,
and has even found leisure to fill the post as Mayor of Bourg-la-Reine
(Seine et Oise), perhaps no onerous office (1882-1900). He has also
been an 'Officier de la Legion d'Honneur' since 1895.
MELCHIOR DE VOGUE
de l'Academie Francaise.
CHAPTER I. THE UNFINISHED WILL
Toward the middle of October, about the time of the beechnut
harvest, M. Eustache Destourbet, justice of the Peace of Auberive,
accompanied by his clerk, Etienne Seurrot, left his home at Abbatiale,
in order to repair to the Chateau of Vivey, where he was to take part
in removing the seals on some property whose owner had deceased.
At that period, 1857, the canton of Auberive, which stretches its
massive forests like a thick wall between the level plain of Langres
and the ancient Chatillonais, had but one main road of communication:
that from Langres to Bar-sur-Aube. The almost parallel adjacent
route, from Auberive to Vivey, was not then in existence; and in order
to reach this last commune, or hamlet, the traveller had to follow a
narrow grass- bordered path, leading through the forest up the hill of
Charboniere, from the summit of which was seen that intermingling of
narrow gorges and wooded heights which is so characteristic of this
mountainous region. On all sides were indented horizons of trees,
among which a few, of more dominant height, projected their sharp
outlines against the sky; in the distance were rocky steeps, with here
and there a clump of brambles, down which trickled slender rivulets;
still farther, like little islands, half submerged in a sea of
foliage, were pastures of tender green dotted with juniper bushes,
almost black in their density, and fields of rye struggling painfully
through the stony soil—the entire scene presenting a picture of
mingled wildness and cultivation, aridity and luxuriant freshness.
Justice Destourbet, having strong, wiry limbs, ascended cheerily
the steep mountain-path. His tall, spare figure, always in advance of
his companion, was visible through the tender green of the young oaks,
clothed in a brown coat, a black cravat, and a very high hat, which
the justice, who loved correctness in details, thought it his duty to
don whenever called upon to perform his judicial functions. The
clerk, Seurrot, more obese, and of maturer age, protuberant in front,
and somewhat curved in the back, dragged heavily behind, perspiring
and out of breath, trying to keep up with his patron, who, now and
then seized with compassion, would come to a halt and wait for his
"I trust," said Destourbet, after one of these intervals which
enabled the clerk to walk by his side, "I trust we shall find Maitre
Arbillot down there; we shall have need of his services in looking
over and filing the papers of the deceased."
"Yes, Monsieur," answered Seurrot, "the notary will meet us at the
chateau; he went to Praslay to find out from his associates whether
Monsieur de Buxieres had not left a will in his keeping. In my humble
opinion, that is hardly likely; for the deceased had great confidence
in Maitre Arbillot, and it seems strange that he should choose to
confide his testamentary intentions to a rival notary."
"Well," observed the justice, "perhaps when the seals are raised,
we may discover an autograph will in some corner of a drawer."
"It is to be hoped so, Monsieur," replied Seurrot; "I wish it with
all my heart, for the sake of Claudet Sejournant, for he is a good
fellow, although on the sinister bar of the escutcheon, and a right
"Yes; and a marvellous good shot," interrupted the justice. "I
recognize all that; but even if he had a hundred other good qualities,
the grand chasserot, as they call him here, will be on the wrong side
of the hedge if Monsieur de Buxieres has unfortunately died intestate.
In the eye of the law, as you are doubtless aware, a natural child,
who has not been acknowledged, is looked upon as a stranger."
"Monsieur de Buxieres always treated Claudet as his own son, and
every one knew that he so considered him."
"Possibly, but if the law were to keep count of all such cases,
there would be no end to their labors; especially in all questions of
the 'cujus'. Odouart de Buxieres was a terribly wild fellow, and they
say that these old beech-trees of Vivey forest could tell many a tale
of his exploits."
"He, he!" assented the clerk, laughing slyly, and showing his
toothless gums, "there is some truth in that. The deceased had the
devil in his boots. He could see neither a deer nor a pretty girl
without flying in pursuit. Ah, yes! Many a trick has he played
them—talk of your miracles, forsooth!—well, Claudet was his
favorite, and Monsieur de Buxieres has told me, over and over again,
that he would make him his heir, and I shall be very much astonished
if we do not find a will."
"Seurrot, my friend," replied the justice, calmly, "you are too
experienced not to know that our country folks dread nothing so much
as testifying to their last wishes—to make a will, to them, is to put
one foot into the grave. They will not call in the priest or the
notary until the very last moment, and very often they delay until it
is too late. Now, as the deceased was at heart a rustic, I fear
greatly that he did not carry his intentions into execution."
"That would be a pity—for the chateau, the lands, and the entire
fortune would go to an heir of whom Monsieur Odouart never had taken
account— to one of the younger branch of Buxieres, whom he had never
seen, having quarrelled with the family."
"A cousin, I believe," said the justice.
"Yes, a Monsieur Julien de Buxieres, who is employed by the
Government at Nancy."
"In fact, then, and until we receive more ample information, he is,
for us, the sole legitimate heir. Has he been notified?"
"Yes, Monsieur. He has even sent his power of attorney to Monsieur
"So much the better," said M. Destourbet, "in that case, we can
proceed regularly without delay."
While thus conversing, they had traversed the forest, and emerged
on the hill overlooking Vivey. From the border line where they stood,
they could discover, between the half-denuded branches of the line of
aspens, the sinuous, deepset gorge, in which the Aubette wound its
tortuous way, at the extremity of which the village lay embanked
against an almost upright wall of thicket and pointed rocks. On the
west this narrow defile was closed by a mill, standing like a sentinel
on guard, in its uniform of solid gray; on each side of the river a
verdant line of meadow led the eye gradually toward the clump of
ancient and lofty ash-trees, behind which rose the. Buxieres
domicile. This magnificent grove of trees, and a monumental fence of
cast-iron, were the only excuse for giving the title of chateau to a
very commonplace structure, of which the main body presented bare,
whitewashed walls, flanked by two small towers on turrets shaped like
extinguishers, and otherwise resembling very ordinary pigeon-houses.
This chateau, or rather country squire's residence, had belonged to
the Odouart de Buxieres for more than two centuries. Before the
Revolution, Christophe de Buxieres, grandfather of the last
proprietor, had owned a large portion of Vivey, besides several forges
in operation on the Aube and Aubette rivers. He had had three
children: one daughter, who had embraced religion as a vocation;
Claude Antoine, the elder son, to whom he left his entire fortune, and
Julien Abdon, the younger, officer in the regiment of Rohan Soubise,
with whom he was not on good terms. After emigrating and serving in
Conde's army, the younger Buxieres had returned to France during the
Restoration, had married, and been appointed special receiver in a
small town in southern France. But since his return, he had not
resumed relations with his elder brother, whom he accused of having
defrauded him of his rights. The older one had married also, one of
the Rochetaillee family; he had had but one son, Claude Odouart de
Buxieres, whose recent decease had brought about the visit of the
Justice of Auberive and his clerk.
Claude de Buxieres had lived all his life at Vivey. Inheriting
from his father and grandfather flourishing health and a robust
constitution, he had also from them strong love for his native
territory, a passion for the chase, and a horror of the constraint and
decorum exacted by worldly obligations. He was a spoiled child,
brought up by a weak-minded mother and a preceptor without authority,
who had succeeded in imparting to him only the most elementary amount
of instruction, and he had, from a very early age, taken his own
pleasure as his sole rule of life. He lived side by side with
peasants and poachers, and had himself become a regular country
yeoman, wearing a blouse, dining at the wine-shop, and taking more
pleasure in speaking the mountain patois than his own native French.
The untimely death of his father, killed by an awkward huntsman while
following the hounds, had emancipated him at the age of twenty years.
From this period he lived his life freely, as he understood it; always
in the open air, without hindrance of any sort, and entirely
Nothing was exaggerated in the stories told concerning him. He was
a handsome fellow, jovial and dashing in his ways, and lavish with his
money, so he met with few rebuffs. Married women, maids, widows, any
peasant girl of attractive form or feature, all had had to resist his
advances, and with more than one the resistance had been very slight.
It was no false report which affirmed that he had peopled the district
with his illegitimate progeny. He was not hard to please, either;
strawberry-pickers, shepherd-girls, wood-pilers, day-workers, all were
equally charming in his sight; he sought only youth, health, and a
Marriage would have been the only safeguard for him; but aside from
the fact that his reputation of reckless huntsman and general
scapegrace naturally kept aloof the daughters of the nobles, and even
the Langarian middle classes, he dreaded more than anything else in
the world the monotonous regularity of conjugal life. He did not care
to be restricted always to the same dishes—preferring, as he said,
his meat sometimes roast, sometimes boiled, or even fried, according
to his humor and his appetite.
Nevertheless, about the time that Claude de Buxieres attained his
thirty- sixth year, it was noticed that he had a more settled air, and
that his habits were becoming more sedentary. The chase was still his
favorite pastime, but he frequented less places of questionable
repute, seldom slept away from home, and seemed to take greater
pleasure in remaining under his own roof. The cause of this change
was ascribed by some to the advance of years creeping over him;
others, more perspicacious, verified a curious coincidence between the
entrance of a new servant in the chateau and the sudden good behavior
This girl, a native of Aprey, named Manette Sejournant, was not,
strictly speaking, a beauty, but she had magnificent blonde hair,
gray, caressing eyes, and a silvery, musical voice. Well built,
supple as an adder, modest and prudish in mien, she knew how to wait
upon and cosset her master, accustoming him by imperceptible degrees
to prefer the cuisine of the chateau to that of the wine-shops. After
a while, by dint of making her merits appreciated, and her presence
continually desired, she became the mistress of Odouart de Buxieres,
whom she managed to retain by proving herself immeasurably superior,
both in culinary skill and in sentiment, to the class of females from
whom he had hitherto been seeking his creature comforts.
Matters went on in this fashion for a year or so, until Manette
went on a three months' vacation. When she reappeared at the chateau,
she brought with her an infant, six weeks old, which she declared was
the child of a sister, lately deceased, but which bore a strange
likeness to Claude. However, nobody made remarks, especially as M. de
Buxieres, after he had been drinking a little, took no pains to hide
his paternity. He himself held the little fellow at the baptismal
font, and later, consigned him to the care of the Abbe Pernot, the
curate of Vivey, who prepared the little Claudet for his first
communion, at the same time that he instructed him in reading,
writing, and the first four rules of arithmetic. As soon as the lad
reached his fifteenth year, Claude put a gun into his hands, and took
him hunting with him. Under the teaching of M. de Buxieres, Claudet
did honor to his master, and soon became such an expert that he could
give points to all the huntsmen of the canton. None could equal him
in tracing a dog; he knew all the passes, by-paths, and enclosures of
the forest; swooped down upon the game with the keen scent and the
velocity of a bird of prey, and never was known to miss his mark.
Thus it was that the country people surnamed him the 'grand
chasserot', the term which we here apply to the sparrow-hawk. Besides
all these advantages, he was handsome, alert, straight, and well made,
dark-haired and olive- skinned, like all the Buxieres; he had his
mother's caressing glance, but also the overhanging eyelids and
somewhat stern expression of his father, from whom he inherited also a
passionate temperament, and a spirit averse to all kinds of restraint.
They were fond of him throughout the country, and M. de Buxieres, who
felt his youth renewed in him, was very proud of his adroitness and
his good looks. He would invite him to his pleasure parties, and make
him sit at his own table, and confided unhesitatingly all his secrets
to him. In short, Claudet, finding himself quite at home at the
chateau, naturally considered himself as one of the family. There was
but one formality wanting to that end: recognizance according to law.
At certain favorable times, Manette Sejournant would gently urge M. de
Buxieres to have the situation legally authorized, to which he would
invariably reply, from a natural dislike to taking legal advisers into
"Don't worry about anything; I have no direct heir, and Claudet
will have all my fortune; my will and testament will be worth more to
him than a legal acknowledgment."
He would refer so often and so decidedly to his settled intention
of making Claudet his sole heir, that Manette, who knew very little
about what was required in such cases, considered the matter already
secure. She continued in unsuspecting serenity until Claude de
Buxieres, in his sixty-second year, died suddenly from a stroke of
The will, which was to insure Claudet's future prospects, and to
which the deceased had so often alluded, did it really exist? Neither
Manette nor the grand chasserot had been able to obtain any certain
knowledge in the matter, the hasty search for it after the decease
having been suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the mayor of Vivey;
and by the proceedings of the justice of the peace. The seals being
once imposed, there was no means, in the absence of a verified will,
of ascertaining on whom the inheritance devolved, until the opening of
the inventory; and thus the Sejournants awaited with feverish anxiety
the return of the justice of the peace and his bailiff.
M. Destourbet and Stephen Seurrot pushed open a small door to the
right of the main gateway, passed rapidly under the arched canopy of
beeches, the leaves of which, just touched by the first frost, were
already falling from the branches, and, stamping their muddy feet on
the outer steps, advanced into the vestibule. The wide corridor,
flagged with black-and-white pavement, presented a cheerless aspect of
bare walls discolored by damp, and adorned alternately by stags' heads
and family portraits in a crumbling state of decay. The floor was
thus divided: on the right, the dining-room and the kitchen; on the
left, drawing-room and a billiard-hall. A stone staircase, built in
one of the turrets, led to the upper floors. Only one of these rooms,
the kitchen, which the justice and his bailiff entered, was occupied
by the household. A cold light, equally diffused in all directions,
and falling from a large window, facing north across the gardens,
allowed every detail of the apartment to be seen clearly; opposite the
door of entrance, the tall chimney-place, with its deep embrasure,
gave ample shelter to the notary, who installed himself upon a stool
and lighted his pipe at one of the embers, while his principal clerk
sat at the long table, itemizing the objects contained in the
In the opposite angle of the chimney-place, a lad of twenty-four
years, no other than Claudet, called by the friendly nickname of the
grand chasserot, kept company with the notary, while he toyed, in an
absent fashion, with the silky ears of a spaniel, whose fluffy little
head lay in his lap. Behind him, Manette Sejournant stood putting
away her shawl and prayerbook in a closet. A mass had been said in
the morning at the church, for the repose of the soul of the late
Claude de Buxieres, and mother and son had donned their Sunday
garments to assist at the ceremony.
Claudet appeared ill at ease in his black, tightly buttoned suit,
and kept his eyes with their heavy lids steadily bent upon the head of
the animal. To all the notary's questions, he replied only by
monosyllables, passing his fingers every now and then through his
bushy brown locks, and twining them in his forked beard, a sure
indication with him of preoccupation and bad humor.
Manette had acquired with years an amount of embonpoint which
detracted materially from the supple and undulating beauty which had
so captivated Claude de Buxieres. The imprisonment of a tight corset
caused undue development of the bust at the expense of her neck and
throat, which seemed disproportionately short and thick. Her cheeks
had lost their gracious curves and her double chin was more
pronounced. All that remained of her former attractions were the
caressing glance of her eye, tresses still golden and abundant,
especially as seen under the close cap of black net, white teeth, and
a voice that had lost nothing of its insinuating sweetness.
As the justice and his bailiff entered, Maitre Arbillot, and a
petulant little man with squirrel-like eyes and a small moustache,
"Good-morning, gentlemen," he cried. "I was anxiously expecting
you—if you are willing, we will begin our work at once, for at this
season night comes on quickly."
"At your orders, Maitre Arbillot," replied the justice, laying his
hat down carefully on the window-sill; "we shall draw out the formula
for raising the seals. By the way, has no will yet been found?"
"None to my knowledge. It is quite clear to me that the deceased
made no testament, none at least before a notary."
"But," objected M. Destourbet, "he may have executed a holograph
"It is certain, gentlemen," interrupted Manette, with her soft,
plaintive voice, "that our dear gentleman did not go without putting
his affairs in order. 'Manette,' said he, not more than two weeks
ago; 'I do not intend you shall be worried, neither you nor Claudet,
when I am no longer here. All shall be arranged to your satisfaction.'
Oh! he certainly must have put down his last wishes on paper. Look
well around, gentlemen; you will find a will in some drawer or other."
While she applied her handkerchief ostentatiously to her nose and
wiped her eyes, the justice exchanged glances with the notary.
"Maitre Arbillot, you think doubtless with me, that we ought to
begin operations by examining the furniture of the bedroom?"
The notary inclined his head, and notified his chief clerk to
remove his papers to the first floor.
"Show us the way, Madame," said the justice to the housekeeper; and
the quartet of men of the law followed Manette, carrying with them a
huge bunch of keys.
Claudet had risen from his seat when the justice arrived. As the
party moved onward, he followed hesitatingly, and then halted,
uncertain how to decide between the desire to assist in the search and
the fear of intruding. The notary, noticing his hesitation; called to
"Come, you also, Claudet, are not you one of the guardians of the
And they wended their silent way, up the winding staircase of the
turret. The high, dark silhouette of Manette headed the procession;
then followed the justice, carefully choosing his foothold on the
well-worn stairs, the asthmatic old bailiff, breathing short and hard,
the notary, beating his foot impatiently every time that Seurrot
stopped to take breath, and finally the principal clerk and Claudet.
Manette, opening noiselessly the door of the deceased's room,
entered, as if it were a church, the somewhat stifling apartment.
Then she threw open the shutters, and the afternoon sun revealed an
interior decorated and furnished in the style of the close of the
eighteenth century. An inlaid secretary, with white marble top and
copper fittings, stood near the bed, of which the coverings had been
removed, showing the mattresses piled up under a down bed covered with
As soon as the door was closed, the clerk settled himself at the
table with his packet of stamped paper, and began to run over, in a
low, rapid voice, the preliminaries of the inventory. In this
confused murmuring some fragments of phrases would occasionally strike
the ear: "Chateau of Vivey—deceased the eighth of October last—at
the requisition of Marie- Julien de Buxieres, comptroller of direct
contributions at Nancy—styling himself heir to Claude Odouart de
Buxieres, his cousin-german by blood—"
This last phrase elicited from Claudet a sudden movement of
"The inventory," explained Maitre Arbillot, "is drawn up at the
requisition of the only heir named, to whom we must make application,
if necessary, for the property left by the deceased."
There was a moment of silence, interrupted by a plaintive sigh from
Manette Sejournant and afterward by the tearing sound of the sealed
bands across the bureau, the drawers and pigeonholes of which were
promptly ransacked by the justice and his assistant.
Odouart de Buxieres had not been much of a scribe. A double Liege
almanac, a memorandum-book, in which he had entered the money received
from the sale of his wood and the dates of the payments made by his
farmers; a daybook, in which he had made careful note of the number of
head of game killed each day—that was all the bureau contained.
"Let us examine another piece of furniture," murmured the justice.
Manette and Claudet remained unmoved. They apparently knew the
reason why none but insignificant papers had been found in the
drawers, for their features expressed neither surprise nor
Another search through a high chest of drawers with large copper
handles was equally unprofitable. Then they attacked the secretary,
and after the key had been turned twice in the noisy lock, the lid
went slowly down. The countenances of both mother and son, hitherto
so unconcerned, underwent a slight but anxious change. The bailiff
continued his scrupulous search of each drawer under the watchful eye
of the justice, finding nothing but documents of mediocre importance;
old titles to property, bundles of letters, tradesmen's bills, etc.
Suddenly, at the opening of the last drawer, a significant "Ah!"
from Stephen Seurrot drew round him the heads of the justice and the
notary, and made Manette and Claudet, standing at the foot of the bed,
start with expectation. On the dark ground of a rosewood box lay a
sheet of white paper, on which was written:
"This is my testament."
With the compression of lip and significant shake of the head of a
physician about to take in hand a hopeless case of illness, the
justice made known to his two neighbors the text of the sheet of
paper, on which Claude Odouart de Buxieres had written, in his coarse,
ill-regulated hand, the following lines:
"Not knowing my collateral heirs, and caring nothing about them, I
give and bequeath all my goods and chattels—"
The testator had stopped there, either because he thought it
better, before going any further, to consult some legal authority more
experienced than himself, or because he had been interrupted in his
labor and had deferred completing this testifying of his last will
until some future opportunity.
M. Destourbet, after once more reading aloud this unfinished
"Monsieur de Buxieres did not finish—it is much to be regretted!"
"My God! is it possible?" interrupted the housekeeper; "you
think, then, Monsieur justice, that Claudet does not inherit
"According to my idea," replied he, "we have here only a scrap of
unimportant paper; the name of the legatee is not indicated, and even
were it indicated, the testament would still be without force, being
neither dated nor signed."
"But perhaps Monsieur de Buxieres made another?"
"I think not; I am more inclined to suppose that he did not have
time to complete the arrangements that he wished to make, and the
proof lies in the very existence of this incomplete document in the
only piece of furniture in which he kept his papers." Then, turning
toward the notary and the bailiff: "You are doubtless, gentlemen, of
the same opinion as myself; it will be wise, therefore, to defer
raising the remainder of the seals until the arrival of the legal
heir. Maitre Arbillot, Monsieur Julien de Buxieres must be notified,
and asked to be here in Vivey as soon as possible."
"I will write this evening," said the notary; "in the meanwhile,
the keeping of the seals will be continued by Claudet Sejournant."
The justice inclined his head to Manette, who was standing, pale
and motionless, at the foot of the bed; stunned by the unexpected
announcement; the bailiff and the chief clerk, after gathering up
their papers, shook hands sympathizingly with Claudet.
"I am grieved to the heart, my dear fellow," said the notary, in
his turn, "at what has happened! It is hard to swallow, but you will
always keep a courageous heart, and be able to rise to the top;
besides, even if, legally, you own nothing here, this unfinished
testament of Monsieur de Buxieres will constitute a moral title in
your favor, and I trust that the heir will have enough justice and
right feeling to treat you properly."
"I want nothing from him!" muttered Claudet, between his teeth;
then, leaving his mother to attend to the rest of the legal
fraternity, he went hastily to his room, next that of the deceased,
tore off his dress-coat, slipped on a hunting-coat, put on his
gaiters, donned his old felt hat, and descended to the kitchen, where
Manette was sitting, huddled up in front of the embers, weeping and
bewailing her fate.
Since she had become housekeeper and mistress of the Buxieres
household, she had adopted a more polished speech and a more purely
French mode of expression, but in this moment of discouragement and
despair the rude dialect of her native country rose to her lips, and
in her own patois she inveighed against the deceased:
"Ah! the bad man, the mean man! Didn't I tell him, time and again,
that he would leave us in trouble! Where can we seek our bread this
late in the day? We shall have to beg in the streets!"
"Hush! hush! mother," interrupted Claudet, sternly, placing his
hand on her shoulder, "it does not mend matters to give way like that.
Calm thyself—so long as I have hands on the ends of my arms, we
never shall be beggars. But I must go out—I need air."
And crossing the gardens rapidly, he soon reached the outskirts of
the brambly thicket.
This landscape, both rugged and smiling in its wildness, hardly
conveyed the idea of silence, but rather of profound meditation,
absolute calm; the calmness of solitude, the religious meditation
induced by spacious forest depths. The woods seemed asleep, and the
low murmurings, which from time to time escaped from their recesses,
seemed like the unconscious sighs exhaled by a dreamer. The very odor
peculiar to trees in autumn, the penetrating and spicy odor of the
dying leaves, had a delicate and subtle aroma harmonizing with this
quietude of fairyland.
Now and then, through the vaporous golden atmosphere of the late
autumn sunset, through the pensive stillness of the hushed woods, the
distant sound of feminine voices, calling to one another, echoed from
the hills, and beyond the hedges was heard the crackling of branches,
snapped by invisible hands, and the rattle of nuts dropping on the
earth. It was the noise made by the gatherers of beechnuts, for in
the years when the beech produces abundantly, this harvest, under the
sanction of the guardians of the forest, draws together the whole
population of women and children, who collect these triangular nuts,
from which an excellent species of oil is procured.
Wending his way along the copse, Claudet suddenly perceived,
through an opening in the trees, several large white sheets spread
under the beeches, and covered with brown heaps of the fallen fruit.
One or two familiar voices hailed him as he passed, but he was not
disposed to gossip, for the moment, and turned abruptly into the
bushwood, so as to avoid any encounter. The unexpected event which
had just taken place, and which was to change his present mode of
life, as well as his plans for the future, was of too recent
occurrence for him to view it with any degree of calmness.
He was like a man who has received a violent blow on the head, and
is for the moment stunned by it. He suffered vaguely, without seeking
to know from what cause; he had not been able as yet to realize the
extent of his misfortune; and every now and then a vague hope came
over him that all would come right.
So on he went, straight ahead, his eyes on the ground, and his
hands in his pockets, until he emerged upon one of the old forest
roads where the grass had begun to burst through the stony
interstices; and there, in the distance, under the light tracery of
weaving branches, a delicate female silhouette was outlined on the
dark background. A young woman, dressed in a petticoat of gray woolen
material, and a jacket of the same, close- fitting at the waist, her
arms bare to the elbows and supporting on her head a bag of nuts
enveloped in a white sheet, advanced toward him with a quick and
rhythmical step. The manner in which she carried her burden showed
the elegance of her form, the perfect grace of her chest and throat.
She was not very tall, but finely proportioned. As she approached,
the slanting rays of the setting sun shone on her heavy brown hair,
twisted into a thick coil at the back of her head, and revealed the
amber paleness of her clear skin, the long oval of her eyes, the firm
outline of her chin and somewhat full lips; and Claudet, roused from
his lethargic reverie by the sound of her rapid footsteps, raised his
eyes, and recognized the daughter of Pere Vincart, the proprietor of
At the same moment, the young girl, doubtless fatigued with the
weight of her bundle, had laid it down by the roadside while she
recovered her breath. In a few seconds Claudet was by her side.
"Good-evening, Reine," said he, in a voice singularly softened in
tone, "shall I give you a lift with that?"
"Good-evening, Claudet," replied she; "truly, now, that is not an
offer to be refused. The weight is greater than I thought."
"Have you come far thus laden?"
"No; our people are nutting in the Bois des Ronces; I came on
before, because I don't like to leave father alone for long at a time
and, as I was coming, I wished to bring my share with me."
"No one can reproach you with shirking work, Reine, nor of being
afraid to take hold of things. To see you all day trotting about the
farm, no one would think you had been to school in the city, like a
And Claudet's countenance became irradiated with a glow of innocent
and tender admiration. It was evident that his eyes looked with
delight into the dark limpid orbs of Reine, on her pure and rosy lips,
and on her partly uncovered neck, the whiteness of which two little
brown moles only served to enhance.
"How can it be helped?" replied she, smiling, "it must be done;
when there is no man in the house to give orders, the women must take
a hand themselves. My father was not very strong when my mother died,
and since he had that attack he has become quite helpless, and I have
had to take his place."
While she spoke, Claudet took hold of the bundle, and, lifting it
as if it had been a feather, threw it over his shoulder. They walked
on, side by side, in the direction of La Thuliere; the sun had set,
and a penetrating moisture, arising from the damp soil of the adjacent
pasture lands, encircled them in a bluish fog.
"So he is worse, your father, is he?" said Claudet, after a
"He can not move from his armchair, his mental faculties are
weakening, and I am obliged to amuse him like a child. But how is it
with yourself, Claudet?" she asked, turning her frank, cordial gaze
upon him. "You have had your share of trouble since we last met, and
great events have happened. Poor Monsieur de Buxieres was taken away
The close relationship that united Claudet with the deceased was a
secret to no one; Reine, as well as all the country people, knew and
admitted the fact, however irregular, as one sanctioned by time and
continuity. Therefore, in speaking to the young man, her voice had
that tone of affectionate interest usual in conversing with a bereaved
friend on a death that concerns him.
The countenance of the 'grand chasserot', which had cleared for a
time under her influence, became again clouded.
"Yes;" sighed he, "he was taken too soon!"
"And now, Claudet, you are sole master at the chateau?"
"Neither—master—nor even valet!" he returned, with such
bitterness that the young girl stood still with surprise.
"What do you mean?" she exclaimed, "was it not agreed with
Monsieur de Buxieres that you should inherit all his property?"
"Such was his intention, but he did not have time to put it in
execution; he died without leaving any will, and, as I am nothing in
the eye of the law, the patrimony will go to a distant relative, a de
Buxieres whom Monsieur Odouart did not even know."
Reine's dark eyes filled with tears.
"What a misfortune!" she exclaimed, "and who could have expected
such a thing? Oh! my poor Claudet!"
She was so moved, and spoke with such sincere compassion, that
Claudet was perhaps misled, and thought he read in her glistening eyes
a tenderer sentiment than pity; he trembled, took her hand, and held
it long in his.
"Thank you, Reine! Yes," he added, after a pause, "it is a rude
shock to wake up one morning without hearth or home, when one has been
in the habit of living on one's income."
"What do you intend to do?" inquired Reine, gravely.
Claudet shrugged his shoulders.
"To work for my bread—or, if I can find no suitable trade, enlist
in a regiment. I think I should not make a bad soldier. Everything
is going round and round in my head like a millwheel. The first thing
to do is to see about my mother, who is lamenting down there at the
house—I must find her a comfortable place to live."
The young girl had become very thoughtful.
"Claudet," replied she, "I know you are very proud, very sensitive,
and could not wish to hurt your feelings. Therefore, I pray you not
to take in ill part that which I am going to say-in short, if you
should get into any trouble, you will, I hope, remember that you have
friends at La Thuiliere, and that you will come to seek us."
The 'grand chasserot' reddened.
"I shall never take amiss what you may say to me, Reine!" faltered
he; "for I can not doubt your good heart—I have known it since the
time when we played together in the cure's garden, while waiting for
the time to repeat the catechism. But there is no hurry as yet; the
heir will not arrive for several weeks, and by that time, I trust, we
shall have had a chance to turn round."
They had reached the boundary of the forest where the fields of La
By the last fading light of day they could distinguish the black
outline of the ancient forge, now become a grange, and a light was
twinkling in one of the low windows of the farm.
"Here you are at home," continued Claudet, laying the bundle of
nuts on the flat stone wall which surrounded the farm buildings; "I
wish you good-night."
"Will you not come in and get warm?"
"No; I must go back," replied he.
"Good-night, then, Claudet; au revoir and good courage!"
He gazed at her for a moment in the deepening twilight, then,
abruptly pressing her hands:
"Thank you, Reine," murmured he in a choking voice, "you are a good
girl, and I love you very much!"
He left the young mistress of the farm precipitately, and plunged
again into the woods.
CHAPTER II. THE HEIR TO VIVEY
While these events were happening at Vivey, the person whose name
excited the curiosity and the conversational powers of the
villagers—Marie- Julien de Buxieres—ensconced in his unpretentious
apartment in the Rue Stanislaus, Nancy, still pondered over the
astonishing news contained in the Auberive notary's first letter. The
announcement of his inheritance, dropping from the skies, as it were,
had found him quite unprepared, and, at first, somewhat sceptical. He
remembered, it is true, hearing his father once speak of a cousin who
had remained a bachelor and who owned a fine piece of property in some
corner of the Haute Marne; but, as all intercourse had long been
broken off between the two families, M. de Buxieres the elder had
mentioned the subject only in relation to barely possible hopes which
had very little chance of being realized. Julien had never placed any
reliance on this chimerical inheritance, and he received almost with
indifference the official announcement of the death of Claude Odouart
By direct line from his late father, he became in fact the only
legitimate heir of the chateau and lands of Vivey; still, there was a
strong probability that Claude de Buxieres had made a will in favor of
some one more within his own circle. The second missive from Arbillot
the notary, announcing that the deceased had died intestate, and
requesting the legal heir to come to Vivey as soon as possible, put a
sudden end to the young man's doubts, which merged into a complex
feeling, less of joy than of stupefaction.
Up to the present time, Julien de Buxieres had not been spoiled by
Fortune's gifts. His parents, who had died prematurely, had left him
nothing. He lived in a very mediocre style on his slender salary as
comptroller of direct contributions, and, although twenty-seven years
old, was housed like a supernumerary in a small furnished room on the
second floor above the ground. At this time his physique was that of
a young man of medium height, slight, pale, and nervous, sensitive in
disposition, reserved and introspective in habit. His delicate
features, his intelligent forehead surmounted by soft chestnut hair,
his pathetic blue eyes, his curved, dissatisfied mouth, shaded by a
slight, dark moustache, indicated a melancholy, unquiet temperament
and precocious moral fatigue.
There are some men who never have had any childhood, or rather,
whose childhood never has had its happy time of laughter. Julien was
one of these. That which imparts to childhood its charm and enjoyment
is the warm and tender atmosphere of the home; the constant and
continued caressing of a mother; the gentle and intimate creations of
one's native country where, by degrees, the senses awaken to the
marvellous sights of the outer world; where the alternating seasons in
their course first arouse the student's ambition and cause the heart
of the adolescent youth to thrill with emotion; where every street
corner, every tree, every turn of the soil, has some history to
relate. Julien had had no experiences of this peaceful family life,
during which are stored up such treasures of childhood's
recollections. He was the son of a government official, who had been
trotted over all France at the caprice of the administration, and he
had never known, so to speak, any associations of the land in which he
was born, or the hearth on which he was raised. Chance had located his
birth in a small town among the Pyrenees, and when he was two years
old he had been transplanted to one of the industrial cities of
Artois. At the end of two years more came another removal to one of
the midland towns, and thus his tender childhood had been buffeted
about, from east to west, from north to south, taking root nowhere.
All he could remember of these early years was an unpleasant
impression of hasty packing and removal, of long journeys by
diligence, and of uncomfortable resettling. His mother had died just
as he was entering upon his eighth year; his father, absorbed in
official work, and not caring to leave the child to the management of
servants, had placed him at that early age in a college directed by
priests. Julien thus passed his second term of childhood, and his
boyhood was spent behind these stern, gloomy walls, bending resignedly
under a discipline which, though gentle, was narrow and suspicious,
and allowed little scope for personal development. He obtained only
occasional glimpses of nature during the monotonous daily walks across
a flat, meaningless country. At very rare intervals, one of his
father's colleagues would take him visiting; but these stiff and
ceremonious calls only left a wearisome sensation of restraint and
dull fatigue. During the long vacation he used to rejoin his father,
whom he almost always found in a new residence. The poor man had
alighted there for a time, like a bird on a tree; and among these
continually shifting scenes, the lad had felt himself more than ever a
stranger among strangers; so that he experienced always a secret
though joyless satisfaction in returning to the cloisters of the St.
Hilaire college and submitting himself to the yoke of the paternal but
inflexible discipline of the Church.
He was naturally inclined, by the tenderness of his nature, toward
a devotional life, and accepted with blind confidence the religious
and moral teaching of the reverend fathers. A doctrine which preached
separation from profane things; the attractions of a meditative and
pious life, and mistrust of the world and its perilous pleasures,
harmonized with the shy and melancholy timidity of his nature. Human
beings, especially women, inspired him with secret aversion, which was
increased by consciousness of his awkwardness and remissness whenever
he found himself in the society of women or young girls.
The beauties of nature did not affect him; the flowers in the
springtime, the glories of the summer sun, the rich coloring of autumn
skies, having no connection in his mind with any joyous recollection,
left him cold and unmoved; he even professed an almost hostile
indifference to such purely material sights as disturbing and
dangerous to the inner life. He lived within himself and could not
His mind, imbued with a mystic idealism, delighted itself in
solitary reading or in meditations in the house of prayer. The only
emotion he ever betrayed was caused by the organ music accompanying
the hymnal plain-song, and by the pomp of religious ceremony.
At the age of eighteen, he left the St. Hilaire college in order to
prepare his baccalaureate, and his father, becoming alarmed at his
increasing moodiness and mysticism, endeavored to infuse into him the
tastes and habits of a man of the world by introducing him into the
society of his equals in the town where he lived; but the twig was
already bent, and the young man yielded with bad grace to the change
of regime; the amusements they offered were either wearisome or
repugnant to him. He would wander aimlessly through the salons where
they were playing whist, where the ladies played show pieces at the
piano, and where they spoke a language he did not understand. He was
quite aware of his worldly inaptitude, and that he was considered
awkward, dull, and ill-tempered, and the knowledge of this fact
paralyzed and frightened him still more. He could not disguise his
feeling of ennui sufficiently to prevent the provincial circles from
being greatly offended; they declared unanimously that young de
Buxieres was a bear, and decided to leave him alone. The death of his
father, which happened just as the youth was beginning his official
cares, put a sudden end to all this constraint. He took advantage of
his season of mourning to resume his old ways; and returned with a
sigh of relief to his solitude, his books, and his meditations.
According to the promise of the Imitation, he found unspeakable joys
in his retirement; he rose at break of day, assisted at early mass,
fulfilled, conscientiously, his administrative duties, took his
hurried meals in a boardinghouse, where he exchanged a few polite
remarks with his fellow inmates, then shut himself up in his room to
read Pascal or Bossuet until eleven o'clock.
He thus attained his twenty-seventh year, and it was into the calm
of this serious, cloister-like life, that the news fell of the death
of Claude de Buxieres and of the unexpected inheritance that had
accrued to him.
After entering into correspondence with the notary, M. Arbillot,
and becoming assured of the reality of his rights and of the necessity
of his presence at Vivey, he had obtained leave of absence from his
official duties, and set out for Haute Marne. On the way, he could
not help marvelling at the providential interposition which would
enable him to leave a career for which he felt he had no vocation, and
to pursue his independent life, according to his own tastes, and
secured from any fear of outside cares. According to the account
given by the notary, Claude de Buxieres's fortune might be valued at
two hundred thousand francs, in furniture and other movables, without
reckoning the chateau and the adjacent woods. This was a much larger
sum than had ever been dreamed of by Julien de Buxieres, whose
belongings did not amount in all to three thousand francs. He made up
his mind, therefore, that, as soon as he was installed at Vivey, he
would change his leave of absence to an unlimited furlough of freedom.
He contemplated with serene satisfaction this perspective view of
calm and solitary retirement in a chateau lost to view in the depths
of the forest, where he could in perfect security give himself up to
the studious contemplative life which he loved so much, far from all
worldly frivolities and restraint. He already imagined himself at
Vivey, shut up in his carefully selected library; he delighted in the
thought of having in future to deal only with the country people,
whose uncivilized ways would be like his own, and among whom his
timidity would not be remarked.
He arrived at Langres in the afternoon of a foggy October day, and
inquired immediately at the hotel how he could procure a carriage to
take him that evening to Vivey. They found him a driver, but, to his
surprise, the man refused to take the journey until the following
morning, on account of the dangerous state of the crossroads, where
vehicles might stick fast in the mire if they ventured there after
nightfall. Julien vainly endeavored to effect an arrangement with
him, and the discussion was prolonged in the courtyard of the hotel.
Just as the man was turning away, another, who had overheard the end
of the colloquy, came up to young de Buxieres, and offered to
undertake the journey for twenty francs.
"I have a good horse," said he to Julien; "I know the roads, and
will guarantee that we reach Vivey before nightfall."
The bargain was quickly made; and in half an hour, Julien de
Buxieres was rolling over the plain above Langres, in a shaky old
cabriolet, the muddy hood of which bobbed over at every turn of the
wheel, while the horse kept up a lively trot over the stones.
The clouds were low, and the road lay across bare and stony
prairies, the gray expanse of which became lost in the distant mist.
This depressing landscape would have made a disagreeable impression
on a less unobserving traveller, but, as we have said, Julien looked
only inward, and the phenomena of the exterior world influenced him
only unconsciously. Half closing his eyes, and mechanically affected
by the rhythmical tintinnabulation of the little bells, hanging around
the horse's neck, he had resumed his meditations, and considered how
he should arrange his life in this, to him, unknown country, which
would probably be his own for some time to come. Nevertheless, when,
at the end of the level plain, the road turned off into the wooded
region, the unusual aspect of the forest aroused his curiosity. The
tufted woods and lofty trees, in endless succession under the fading
light, impressed him by their profound solitude and their religious
silence. His loneliness was in sympathy with the forest, which seemed
contemporary with the Sleeping Beauty of the wood, the verdant walls
of which were to separate him forever from the world of cities.
Henceforth, he could be himself, could move freely, dress as he
wished, or give way to his dreaming, without fearing to encounter the
ironical looks of idle and wondering neighbors. For the first time
since his departure from his former home, he experienced a feeling of
joy and serenity; the influence of the surroundings, so much in
harmony with his wishes, unlocked his tongue, and made him
He made up his mind to speak to the guide, who was smoking at his
side and whipping his horse.
"Are we far from Vivey now?"
"That depends, Monsieur—as the crow flies, the distance is not
very great, and if we could go by the roads, we should be there in one
short hour. Unfortunately, on turning by the Allofroy farm, we shall
have to leave the highroad and take the cross path; and then—my
gracious! we shall plunge into the ditch down there, and into
"You told me that you were well acquainted with the roads!"
"I know them, and I do not know them. When it comes to these
crossroads, one is sure of nothing. They change every year, and each
new superintendent cuts a way out through the woods according to his
fancy. The devil himself could not find his way."
"Yet you have been to Vivey before?"
"Oh, yes; five or six years ago; I used often to take parties of
hunters to the chateau. Ah! Monsieur, what a beautiful country it is
for hunting; you can not take twenty steps along a trench without
seeing a stag or a deer."
"You have doubtless had the opportunity of meeting Monsieur Odouart
"Yes, indeed, Monsieur, more than once-ah! he is a jolly fellow
and a fine man—"
"He was," interrupted Julien, gravely, "for he is dead."
"Ah! excuse me—I did not know it. What! is he really dead? So
fine a man! What we must all come to. Careful, now!" added he,
pulling in the reins, "we are leaving the highroad, and must keep our
The twilight was already deepening, the driver lighted his lantern,
and the vehicle turned into a narrow lane, half mud, half stone, and
hedged in on both sides with wet brushwood, which flapped noisily
against the leathern hood. After fifteen minutes' riding, the paths
opened upon a pasture, dotted here and there with juniper bushes, and
thence divided into three lines, along which ran the deep track of
wagons, cutting the pasturage into small hillocks. After long
hesitation, the man cracked his whip and took the right-hand path.
Julien began to fear that the fellow had boasted too much when he
declared that he knew the best way. The ruts became deeper and
deeper; the road was descending into a hole; suddenly, the wheels
became embedded up to the hub in thick, sticky mire, and the horse
refused to move. The driver jumped to the ground, swearing furiously;
then he called Julien to help him to lift out the wheel. But the
young man, slender and frail as he was, and not accustomed to using
his muscles, was not able to render much assistance.
"Thunder and lightning!" cried the driver, "it is impossible to
get out of this—let go the wheel, Monsieur, you have no more strength
than a chicken, and, besides, you don't know how to go about it. What
a devil of a road! But we can't spend the night here!"
"If we were to call out," suggested Julien, somewhat mortified at
the inefficiency of his assistance, "some one would perhaps come to
They accordingly shouted with desperation; and after five or six
minutes, a voice hailed back. A woodcutter, from one of the
neighboring clearings, had heard the call, and was running toward
"This way!" cried the guide, "we are stuck fast in the mud. Give
us a lift."
The man came up and walked round the vehicle, shaking his head.
"You've got on to a blind road," said he, "and you'll have trouble
in getting out of it, seeing as how there's not light to go by. You
had better unharness the horse, and wait for daylight, if you want to
get your carriage out."
"And where shall we go for a bed?" growled the driver; "there
isn't even a house near in this accursed wild country of yours!"
"Excuse me-you are not far from La Thuiliere; the farm people will
not refuse you a bed, and to-morrow morning they will help you to get
your carriage out of the mud. Unharness, comrade; I will lead you as
far as the Plancheau-Vacher; and from there you will see the windows
of the farmhouse."
The driver, still grumbling, decided to take his advice. They
unharnessed the horse; took one of the lanterns of the carriage as a
beacon, and followed slowly the line of pasture-land, under the
woodchopper's guidance. At the end of about ten minutes, the forester
pointed out a light, twinkling at the extremity of a rustic path,
bordered with moss.
"You have only to go straight ahead," said he, "besides, the
barking of the dogs will guide you. Ask for Mamselle Vincart.
He turned on his heel, while Julien, bewildered, began to reproach
himself for not having thanked him enough. The conductor went along
with his lantern; young de Buxieres followed him with eyes downcast.
Thus they continued silently until they reached the termination of
the mossy path, where a furious barking saluted their ears.
"Here we are," growled the driver, "fortunately the dogs are not
yet let loose, or we should pass a bad quarter of an hour!"
They pushed open a side-wicket and, standing in the courtyard,
could see the house. With the exception of the luminous spot that
reddened one of the windows of the ground floor, the long, low facade
was dark, and, as it were, asleep. On the right, standing alone,
outlined against the sky, was the main building of the ancient forge,
now used for granaries and stables; inside, the frantic barking of the
watch-dogs mingled with the bleating of the frightened sheep, the
neighing of horses, and the clanking of wooden shoes worn by the farm
hands. At the same moment, the door of the house opened, and a
servant, attracted by the uproar, appeared on the threshold, a lantern
in her hand.
"Hallo! you people," she exclaimed sharply to the newcomers, who
were advancing toward her, "what do you want?"
The driver related, in a few words, the affair of the cabriolet,
and asked whether they would house him at the farm until the next
day— himself and the gentleman he was conducting to Vivey.
The girl raised the lantern above her head in order to scrutinize
the two strangers; doubtless their appearance and air of
respectability reassured her, for she replied, in a milder voice:
"Well, that does not depend on me—I am not the mistress here, but
come in, all the same—Mamselle Reine can not be long now, and she
will answer for herself."
As soon as the driver had fastened his horse to one of the outside
posts of the wicket-gate, the servant brought them into a large,
square hall, in which a lamp, covered with a shade, gave a moderate
light. She placed two chairs before the fire, which she drew together
with the poker.
"Warm yourselves while you are waiting," continued she, "it will
not be long, and you must excuse me—I must go and milk the cows—that
is work which will not wait."
She reached the courtyard, and shut the gate after her, while
Julien turned to examine the room into which they had been shown, and
felt a certain serenity creep over him at the clean and cheerful
aspect of this homely but comfortable interior. The room served as
both kitchen and dining-room. On the right of the flaring chimney,
one of the cast-iron arrangements called a cooking-stove was gently
humming; the saucepans, resting on the bars, exhaled various
appetizing odors. In the centre, the long, massive table of solid
beech was already spread with its coarse linen cloth, and the service
was laid. White muslin curtains fell in front of the large windows,
on the sills of which potted chrysanthemums spread their white, brown,
and red blossoms.
Round the walls a shining battery of boilers, kettles, basins, and
copper plates were hung in symmetrical order. On the dresser, near
the clock, was a complete service of old Aprey china, in bright and
varied colors, and not far from the chimney, which was ornamented with
a crucifix of yellow copper, was a set of shelves, attached to the
wall, containing three rows of books, in gray linen binding. Julien,
approaching, read, not without surprise, some of the titles: Paul and
Virginia, La Fontaine's Fables, Gessner's Idylls, Don Quixote, and
noticed several odd volumes of the Picturesque Magazine.
Hanging from the whitened ceiling were clusters of nuts, twisted
hemp, strings of yellow maize, and chaplets of golden pippins tied
with straw, all harmonizing in the dim light, and adding increased
fulness to the picture of thrift and abundance.
"It's jolly here!" said the driver, smacking his lips, "and the
smell which comes from that oven makes one hungry. I wish Mamselle
Reine would arrive!"
Just as he said this, a mysterious falsetto voice, which seemed to
come from behind the copper basins, repeated, in an acrid voice:
"What in the world is that?" exclaimed the driver, puzzled.
Both looked toward the beams; at the same moment there was a
rustling of wings, a light hop, and a black-and-white object flitted
by, resting, finally, on one of the shelves hanging from the joists.
"Ha, ha!" said the driver, laughing, "it is only a magpie!"
He had hardly said it, when, like a plaintive echo, another voice,
a human voice this time, childish and wavering, proceeding from a dark
corner, faltered: "Rei-eine—Rei-eine!"
"Hark!" murmured Julien," some one answered."
His companion seized the lamp, and advanced toward the portion of
the room left in shadow. Suddenly he stopped short, and stammered
some vague excuse.
Julien, who followed him, then perceived, with alarm, in a sort of
niche formed by two screens, entirely covered with illustrations from
Epinal, a strange-looking being stretched in an easy-chair, which was
covered with pillows and almost hidden under various woolen draperies.
He was dressed in a long coat of coarse, pale-blue cloth. He was
bareheaded, and his long, white hair formed a weird frame for a face
of bloodless hue and meagre proportions, from which two vacant eyes
stared fixedly. He sat immovable and his arms hung limply over his
"Monsieur," said Julien, bowing ceremoniously, "we are quite
ashamed at having disturbed you. Your servant forgot to inform us of
your presence, and we were waiting for Mademoiselle Reine, without
The old man continued immovable, not seeming to understand; he kept
repeating, in the same voice, like a frightened child:
The two bewildered travellers gazed at this sepulchral-looking
personage, then at each other interrogatively, and began to feel very
uncomfortable. The magpie, perched upon the hanging shelf, suddenly
flapped his wings, and repeated, in his turn, in falsetto:
"Reine, queen of the woods!"
"Here I am, papa, don't get uneasy!" said a clear, musical voice
The door had been suddenly opened, and Reine Vincart had entered.
She wore on her head a white cape or hood, and held in front of her
an enormous bouquet of glistening leaves, which seemed to have been
gathered as specimens of all the wild fruit-trees of the forest: the
brown beam- berries, the laburnums, and wild cherry, with their red,
transparent fruit, the bluish mulberry, the orange-clustered
mountain-ash. All this forest vegetation, mingling its black or
purple tints with the dark, moist leaves, brought out the whiteness of
the young girl's complexion, her limpid eyes, and her brown curls
escaping from her hood.
Julien de Buxieres and his companion had turned at the sound of
Reine's voice. As soon as she perceived them, she went briskly toward
"What are you doing here? Don't you see that you are frightening
Julien, humbled and mortified, murmured an excuse, and got confused
in trying to relate the incident of the carriage. She interrupted him
"The carriage, oh, yes—La Guitiote spoke to me about it. Well,
your carriage will be attended to! Go and sit down by the fire,
gentlemen; we will talk about it presently."
She had taken the light from the driver, and placed it on an
adjacent table with her plants. In the twinkling of an eye, she
removed her hood, unfastened her shawl, and then knelt down in front
of the sick man, after kissing him tenderly on the forehead. From the
corner where Julien had seated himself, he could hear her soothing
voice. Its caressing tones contrasted pleasantly with the harsh
accent of a few minutes before.
"You were longing for me, papa," said she, "but you see, I could
not leave before all the sacks of potatoes had been laid in the wagon.
Now everything has been brought in, and we can sleep in peace. I
thought of you on the way, and I have brought you a fine bouquet of
wild fruits. We shall enjoy looking them over tomorrow, by daylight.
Now, this is the time that you are to drink your bouillon like a good
papa, and then as soon as we have had our supper Guite and I will put
you to bed nice and warm, and I will sing you a song to send you to
She rose, took from the sideboard a bowl which she filled from a
saucepan simmering on the stove, and then, without taking any notice
of her visitors, she returned to the invalid. Slowly and with
delicate care she made him swallow the soup by spoonfuls. Julien,
notwithstanding the feeling of ill-humor caused by the untoward
happenings of the evening, could not help admiring the almost maternal
tenderness with which the young girl proceeded in this slow and
difficult operation. When the bowl was empty she returned to the
stove, and at last bethought herself of her guests.
"Excuse me, Monsieur, but I had to attend to my father first. If I
understood quite aright, you were going to Vivey."
"Yes, Mademoiselle, I had hoped to sleep there tonight."
"You have probably come," continued she, "on business connected
with the chateau. Is not the heir of Monsieur Odouart expected very
"I am that heir," replied Julien, coloring.
"You are Monsieur de Buxieres?" exclaimed Reine, in astonishment.
Then, embarrassed at having shown her surprise too openly, she
checked herself, colored in her turn, and finally gave a rapid glance
at her interlocutor. She never should have imagined this slender young
man, so melancholy in aspect, to be the new proprietor—he was so
unlike the late Odouart de Buxieres!
"Pardon me, Monsieur," continued she, "you must have thought my
first welcome somewhat unceremonious, but my first thought was for my
father. He is a great invalid, as you may have noticed, and for the
first moment I feared that he had been startled by strange faces."
"It is I, Mademoiselle," replied Julien, with embarrassment, "it is
I who ought to ask pardon for having caused all this disturbance. But
I do not intend to trouble you any longer. If you will kindly furnish
us with a guide who will direct us to the road to Vivey, we will
depart to-night and sleep at the chateau."
"No, indeed," protested Reine, very cordially. "You are my guests,
and I shall not allow you to leave us in that manner. Besides, you
would probably find the gates closed down there, for I do not think
they expected you so soon."
During this interview, the servant who had received the travellers
had returned with her milk-pail; behind her, the other farm-hands, men
and women, arranged themselves silently round the table.
"Guitiote," said Reine, "lay two more places at the table. The
horse belonging to these gentlemen has been taken care of, has he
"Yes, Mamselle, he is in the stable," replied one of the grooms.
"Good! Bernard, to-morrow you will take Fleuriot with you, and go
in search of their carriage which has been swamped in the
Planche-au-Vacher. That is settled. Now, Monsieur de Buxieres, will
you proceed to table— and your coachman also? Upon my word, I do not
know whether our supper will be to your liking. I can only offer you
a plate of soup, a chine of pork, and cheese made in the country; but
you must be hungry, and when one has a good appetite, one is not hard
Every one had been seated at the table; the servants at the lower
end, and Reine Vincart, near the fireplace, between M. de Buxieres and
the driver. La Guite helped the cabbage-soup all around; soon nothing
was heard but the clinking of spoons and smacking of lips. Julien,
scarcely recovered from his bewilderment, watched furtively the
pretty, robust young girl presiding at the supper, and keeping, at the
same time, a watchful eye over all the details of service. He thought
her strange; she upset all his ideas. His own imagination and his
theories pictured a woman, and more especially a young girl, as a
submissive, modest, shadowy creature, with downcast look, only raising
her eyes to consult her husband or her mother as to what is allowable
and what is forbidden. Now, Reine did not fulfil any of the
requirements of this ideal. She seemed to be hardly twenty-two years
old, and she acted with the initiative genius, the frankness and the
decision of a man, retaining all the while the tenderness and easy
grace of a woman. Although it was evident that she was accustomed to
govern and command, there was nothing in her look, gesture, or voice
which betrayed any assumption of masculinity. She remained a young
girl while in the very act of playing the virile part of head of the
house. But what astonished Julien quite as much was that she seemed
to have received a degree of education superior to that of people of
her condition, and he wondered at the amount of will-power by which a
nature highly cultivated, relatively speaking, could conform to the
unrefined, rough surroundings in which she was placed.
While Julien was immersed in these reflections, and continued
eating with an abstracted air, Reine Vincart was rapidly examining the
reserved, almost ungainly, young man, who did not dare address any
conversation to her, and who was equally stiff and constrained with
those sitting near him. She made a mental comparison of him with
Claudet, the bold huntsman, alert, resolute, full of dash and spirit,
and a feeling of charitable compassion arose in her heart at the
thought of the reception which the Sejournant family would give to
this new master, so timid and so little acquainted with the ways and
dispositions of country folk. Julien did not impress her as being able
to defend himself against the ill-will of persons who would consider
him an intruder, and would certainly endeavor to make him pay dearly
for the inheritance of which he had deprived them.
"You do not take your wine, Monsieur de Buxieres!" said she,
noticing that her guest's glass was still full.
"I am not much of a wine-drinker," replied he, "and besides, I
never take wine by itself—I should be obliged if you would have some
Reine smiled, and passed him the water-bottle.
"Indeed?" she said, "in that case, you have not fallen among
congenial spirits, for in these mountains they like good dinners, and
have a special weakness for Burgundy. You follow the chase, at any
"No, Mademoiselle, I do not know how to handle a gun!"
"I suppose it is not your intention to settle in Vivey?"
"Why not?" replied he; "on the contrary, I intend to inhabit the
chateau, and establish myself there definitely."
"What!" exclaimed Reine, laughing, "you neither drink nor hunt, and
you intend to live in our woods! Why, my poor Monsieur, you will die
"I shall have my books for companions; besides, solitude never has
had any terrors for me."
The young girl shook her head incredulously.
"I shouldn't wonder," she continued, "if you do not even play at
"Never; games of chance are repugnant to me."
"Take notice that I do not blame you," she replied, gayly, "but I
must give you one piece of advice: don't speak in these neighborhoods
of your dislike of hunting, cards, or good wine; our country folk
would feel pity for you, and that would destroy your prestige."
Julien gazed at her with astonishment. She turned away to give
directions to La Guite about the beds for her guests—then the supper
went on silently. As soon as they had swallowed their last mouthful,
the menservants repaired to their dormitory, situated in the buildings
of the ancient forge. Reine Vincart rose also.
"This is the time when I put my father to bed—I am obliged to take
leave of you, Monsieur de Buxieres. Guitiote will conduct you to your
room. For you, driver, I have had a bed made in a small room next to
the furnace; you will be nice and warm. Good-night, gentlemen, sleep
She turned away, and went to rejoin the paralytic sufferer, who, as
she approached, manifested his joy by a succession of inarticulate
The room to which Guitiote conducted Julien was on the first floor,
and had a cheerful, hospitable appearance. The walls were
whitewashed; the chairs, table, and bed were of polished oak; a good
fire of logs crackled in the fireplace, and between the opening of the
white window-curtains could be seen a slender silver crescent of moon
gliding among the flitting clouds. The young man went at once to his
bed; but notwithstanding the fatigues of the day, sleep did not come
to him. Through the partition he could hear the clear, sonorous voice
of Reine singing her father to sleep with one of the popular ballads
of the country, and while turning and twisting in the homespun linen
sheets, scented with orrisroot, he could not help thinking of this
young girl, so original in her ways, whose grace, energy, and
frankness fascinated and shocked him at the same time. At last he
dozed off; and when the morning stir awoke him, the sun was up and
struggling through the foggy atmosphere.
The sky had cleared during the night; there had been a frost, and
the meadows were powdered white. The leaves, just nipped with the
frost, were dropping softly to the ground, and formed little green
heaps at the base of the trees. Julien dressed himself hurriedly, and
descended to the courtyard, where the first thing he saw was the
cabriolet, which had been brought in the early morning and which one
of the farm-boys was in the act of sousing with water in the hope of
freeing the hood and wheels from the thick mud which covered them.
When he entered the diningroom, brightened by the rosy rays of the
morning sun, he found Reine Vincart there before him. She was dressed
in a yellow striped woolen skirt, and a jacket of white flannel
carelessly belted at the waist. Her dark chestnut hair, parted down
the middle and twisted into a loose knot behind, lay in ripples round
her smooth, open forehead.
"Good-morning, Monsieur de Buxieres," said she, in her cordial
tone, "did you sleep well? Yes? I am glad. You find me busy
attending to household matters. My father is still in bed, and I am
taking advantage of the fact to arrange his little corner. The doctor
said he must not be put near the fire, so I have made a place for him
here; he enjoys it immensely, and I arranged this nook to protect him
And she showed him how she had put the big easy chair, padded with
cushions, in the bright sunlight which streamed through the window,
and shielded by the screens, one on each side. She noticed that
Julien was examining, with some curiosity, the uncouth pictures from
Epinal, with which the screens were covered.
"This," she explained, "is my own invention. My father is a little
weak in the head, but he understands a good many things, although he
can not talk about them. He used to get weary of sitting still all
day in his chair, so I lined the screens with these pictures in order
that he might have something to amuse him. He is as pleased as a
child with the bright colors, and I explain the subjects to him. I
don't tell him much at a time, for fear of fatiguing him. We have got
now to Pyramus and Thisbe, so that we shall have plenty to occupy us
before we reach the end."
She caught a pitying look from her guest which seemed to say: "The
poor man may not last long enough to reach the end." Doubtless she
had the same fear, for her dark eyes suddenly glistened, she sighed,
and remained for some moments without speaking.
In the mean time the magpie, which Julien had seen the day before,
was hopping around its mistress, like a familiar spirit; it even had
the audacity to peck at her hair and then fly away, repeating, in its
"Reine, queen of the woods!"
"Why 'queen of the woods?"' asked Julien, coloring.
"Ah!" replied the young girl, "it is a nickname which the people
around here give me, because I am so fond of the trees. I spend all
the time I can in our woods, as much as I can spare from the work of
Margot has often heard my father call me by that name; she
remembers it, and is always repeating it."
"Do you like living in this wild country?"
"Very much. I was born here, and I like it."
"But you have not always lived here?"
"No; my mother, who had lived in the city, placed me at school in
her own country, in Dijon. I received there the education of a young
lady, though there is not much to show for it now. I stayed there six
years; then my mother died, my father fell ill, and I came home."
"And did you not suffer from so sudden a change?"
"Not at all. You see I am really by nature a country girl. I wish
you might not have more trouble than I had, in getting accustomed to
your new way of living, in the chateau at Vivey. But," she added,
going toward the fire, "I think they are harnessing the horse, and you
must be hungry. Your driver has already primed himself with some toast
and white wine. I will not offer you the same kind of breakfast. I
will get you some coffee and cream."
He bent his head in acquiescence, and she brought him the coffee
herself, helping him to milk and toasted bread. He drank rapidly the
contents of the cup, nibbled at a slice of toast, and then, turning to
his hostess, said, with a certain degree of embarrassment:
"There is nothing left for me to do, Mademoiselle, but to express
my most heartfelt thanks for your kind hospitality. It is a good omen
for me to meet with such cordiality on my arrival in an unknown part
of the country. May I ask you one more question?" he continued,
looking anxiously at her; "why do you think it will be so difficult
for me to get accustomed to the life they lead here?"
"Why?" replied she, shaking her head, "because, to speak frankly,
Monsieur, you do not give me the idea of having much feeling for the
country. You are not familiar with our ways; you will not be able to
speak to the people in their language, and they will not understand
yours—you will be, in their eyes, 'the city Monsieur,' whom they will
mistrust and will try to circumvent. I should like to find that I am
mistaken, but, at present, I have the idea that you will encounter
difficulties down there of which you do not seem to have any
She was intercepted by the entrance of the driver, who was becoming
impatient. The horse was in harness, and they were only waiting for
M. de Buxieres. Julien rose, and after awkwardly placing a piece of
silver in the hand of La Guite, took leave of Reine Vincart, who
accompanied him to the threshold.
"Thanks, once more, Mademoiselle," murmured he, "and au revoir,
since we shall be neighbors."
He held out his hand timidly and she took it with frank cordiality.
Julien got into the cabriolet beside the driver, who began at once to
belabor vigorously his mulish animal.
"Good journey and good luck, Monsieur," cried Reine after him, and
the vehicle sped joltingly away.
CHAPTER III. CONSCIENCE HIGHER THAN
On leaving La Thuiliere, the driver took the straight line toward
the pasturelands of the Planche-au-Vacher.
According to the directions they had received from the people of
the farm, they then followed a rocky road, which entailed considerable
jolting for the travellers, but which led them without other
difficulty to the bottom of a woody dell, where they were able to ford
the stream. As soon as they had, with difficulty, ascended the
opposite hill, the silvery fog that had surrounded them began to
dissipate, and they distinguished a road close by, which led a winding
course through the forest.
"Ah! now I see my way!" said the driver, "we have only to go
straight on, and in twenty minutes we shall be at Vivey. This devil
of a fog cuts into one's skin like a bunch of needles. With your
permission, Monsieur de Buxieres, and if it will not annoy you, I will
light my pipe to warm myself."
Now that he knew he was conducting the proprietor of the chateau,
he repented having treated him so cavalierly the day before; he became
obsequious, and endeavored to gain the good-will of his fare by
showing himself as loquacious as he had before been cross and sulky.
But Julien de Buxieres, too much occupied in observing the details of
the country, or in ruminating over the impressions he had received
during the morning, made but little response to his advances, and soon
allowed the conversation to drop.
The sun's rays had by this time penetrated the misty atmosphere,
and the white frost had changed to diamond drops, which hung
tremblingly on the leafless branches. A gleam of sunshine showed the
red tints of the beech-trees, and the bright golden hue of the
poplars, and the forest burst upon Julien in all the splendor of its
autumnal trappings. The pleasant remembrance of Reine Vincart's
hospitality doubtless predisposed him to enjoy the charm of this
sunshiny morning, for he became, perhaps for the first time in his
life, suddenly alive to the beauty of this woodland scenery. By
degrees, toward the left, the brushwood became less dense, and several
gray buildings appeared scattered over the glistening prairie. Soon
after appeared a park, surrounded by low, crumbling walls, then a
group of smoky roofs, and finally, surmounting a massive clump of
ash-trees, two round towers with tops shaped like extinguishers. The
coachman pointed them out to the young man with the end of his whip.
"There is Vivey," said he, "and here is your property, Monsieur de
Julien started, and, notwithstanding his alienation from worldly
things, he could not repress a feeling of satisfaction when he
reflected that, by legal right, he was about to become master of the
woods, the fields, and the old homestead of which the many-pointed
slate roofs gleamed in the distance. This satisfaction was mingled
with intense curiosity, but it was also somewhat shadowed by a dim
perspective of the technical details incumbent on his taking
possession. No doubt he should be obliged, in the beginning, to make
himself personally recognized, to show the workmen and servants of the
chateau that the new owner was equal to the situation. Now, Julien
was not, by nature, a man of action, and the delicately expressed
fears of Reine Vincart made him uneasy in his mind. When the carriage,
suddenly turning a corner, stopped in front of the gate of entrance,
and he beheld, through the cast-iron railing, the long avenue of
ash-trees, the grass-grown courtyard, the silent facade, his heart
began to beat more rapidly, and his natural timidity again took
possession of him.
"The gate is closed, and they don't seem to be expecting you,"
remarked the driver.
They dismounted. Noticing that the side door was half open, the
coachman gave a vigorous pull on the chain attached to the bell. At
the sound of the rusty clamor, a furious barking was heard from an
adjoining outhouse, but no one inside the house seemed to take notice
of the ringing.
"Come, let us get in all the same," said the coachman, giving
another pull, and stealing a furtive look at his companion's
He fastened his horse to the iron fence, and both passed through
the side gate to the avenue, the dogs all the while continuing their
uproar. Just as they reached the courtyard, the door opened and
Manette Sejournant appeared on the doorstep.
"Good-morning, gentlemen," said she, in a slow, drawling voice, "is
it you who are making all this noise?"
The sight of this tall, burly woman, whose glance betokened both
audacity and cunning, increased still more Julien's embarrassment. He
advanced awkwardly, raised his hat and replied, almost as if to excuse
"I beg pardon, Madame—I am the cousin and heir of the late Claude
de Buxieres. I have come to install myself in the chateau, and I had
sent word of my intention to Monsieur Arbillot, the notary—I am
surprised he did not notify you."
"Ah! it is you, Monsieur Julien de Buxieres!" exclaimed Madame
Sejournant, scrutinizing the newcomer with a mingling of curiosity
and scornful surprise which completed the young man's discomfiture.
"Monsieur Arbillot was here yesterday—he waited for you all day, and
as you did not come, he went away at nightfall."
"I presume you were in my cousin's service?" said Julien, amiably,
being desirous from the beginning to evince charitable consideration
with regard to his relative's domestic affairs.
"Yes, Monsieur," replied Manette, with dignified sadness; "I
attended poor Monsieur de Buxieres twenty-six years, and can truly say
I served him with devotion! But now I am only staying here in charge
of the seals—I and my son Claudet. We have decided to leave as soon
as the notary does not want us any more."
"I regret to hear it, Madame," replied Julien, who was beginning to
feel uncomfortable. "There must be other servants around—I should be
obliged if you would have our carriage brought into the yard. And
then, if you will kindly show us the way, we will go into the house,
for I am desirous to feel myself at home—and my driver would not
object to some refreshment."
"I will send the cowboy to open the gate," replied the housekeeper.
"If you will walk this way, gentlemen, I will take you into the only
room that can be used just now, on account of the seals on the
Passing in front of them, she directed her steps toward the
kitchen, and made way for them to pass into the smoky room, where a
small servant was making coffee over a clear charcoal fire. As the
travellers entered, the manly form of Claudet Sejournant was outlined
against the bright light of the window at his back.
"My son," said Manette, with a meaning side look, especially for
his benefit, "here is Monsieur de Buxieres, come to take possession of
The grand chasserot attempted a silent salutation, and then the
young men took a rapid survey of each other.
Julien de Buxieres was startled by the unexpected presence of so
handsome a young fellow, robust, intelligent, and full of energy,
whose large brown eyes gazed at him with a kind of surprised and
pitying compassion which was very hard for Julien to bear. He turned
uneasily away, making a lame excuse of ordering some wine for his
coachman; and while Manette, with an air of martyrdom, brought a glass
and a half-empty bottle, Claudet continued his surprised and inquiring
examination of the legal heir of Claude de Buxieres.
The pale, slight youth, buttoned up in a close-fitting, long
frock-coat, which gave him the look of a priest, looked so unlike any
of the Buxieres of the elder branch that it seemed quite excusable to
hesitate about the relationship. Claudet maliciously took advantage
of the fact, and began to interrogate his would-be deposer by
pretending to doubt his identity."
"Are you certainly Monsieur Julien de Buxieres?" asked he,
surveying him suspiciously from head to foot.
"Do you take me for an impostor?" exclaimed the young man.
"I do not say that," returned Claudet, crossly, "but after all, you
do not carry your name written on your face, and, by Jove! as
guardian of the seals, I have some responsibility—I want information,
that is all!"
Angry at having to submit to these inquiries in the presence of the
coachman who had brought him from Langres, Julien completely lost
control of his temper.
"Do you require me to show my papers?" he inquired, in a haughty,
ironical tone of voice.
Manette, foreseeing a disturbance, hastened to interpose, in her
hypocritical, honeyed voice:
"Leave off, Claudet, let Monsieur alone. He would not be here,
would he, if he hadn't a right? As to asking him to prove his right,
that is not our business—it belongs to the justice and the notary.
You had better, my son, go over to Auberive, and ask the gentlemen to
come to-morrow to raise the seals."
At this moment, the cowboy, who had been sent to open the gate,
entered the kitchen.
"The carriage is in the courtyard," said he, "and Monsieur's boxes
are in the hall. Where shall I put them, Madame Sejoumant?"
Julien's eyes wandered from Manette to the young boy, with an
expression of intense annoyance and fatigue.
"Why, truly," said Manette, "as a matter of fact, there is only the
room of our deceased master, where the seals have been released.
Would Monsieur object to taking up his quarters there?"
"I am willing," muttered Julien; "have my luggage carried up there,
and give orders for it to be made ready immediately."
The housekeeper gave a sign, and the boy and the servant
"Madame," resumed Julien, turning toward Manette, "if I understand
you right, I can no longer reckon upon your services to take care of
my household. Could you send me some one to supply your place?"
"Oh! as to that matter," replied the housekeeper, still in her
wheedling voice, "a day or two more or less! I am not so very
particular, and I don't mind attending to the house as long as I
remain. At what hour would you wish to dine, Monsieur?"
"At the hour most convenient for you," responded Julien, quickly,
anxious to conciliate her; "you will serve my meals in my room."
As the driver had now finished his bottle, they left the room
As soon as the door was closed, Manette and her son exchanged
"He a Buxieres!" growled Claudet. "He looks like a student priest
"He is an 'ecrigneule'," returned Manette, shrugging her shoulders.
'Ecrigneule' is a word of the Langrois dialect, signifying a puny,
sickly, effeminate being. In the mouth of Madame Sejournant, this
picturesque expression acquired a significant amount of scornful
"And to think," sighed Claudet, twisting his hands angrily in his
bushy hair, "that such a slip of a fellow is going to be master here!"
"Master?" repeated Manette, shaking her head, "we'll see about
that! He does not know anything at all, and has not what is necessary
for ordering about. In spite of his fighting-cock airs, he hasn't two
farthings' worth of spunk—it would be easy enough to lead him by the
nose. Do you see, Claudet, if we were to manage properly, instead of
throwing the handle after the blade, we should be able before two
weeks are, over to have rain or sunshine here, just as we pleased. We
must only have a little more policy."
"What do you mean by policy, mother?"
"I mean—letting things drag quietly on—not breaking all the
windows at the first stroke. The lad is as dazed as a young bird that
has fallen from its nest. What we have to do is to help him to get
control of himself, and accustom him not to do without us. As soon as
we have made ourselves necessary to him, he will be at our feet."
"Would you wish me to become the servant of the man who has cheated
me out of my inheritance?" protested Claudet, indignantly.
"His servant—no, indeed! but his companion—why not? And it would
be so easy if you would only make up your mind to it, Claude. I tell
you again, he is not ill-natured-he looks like a man who is up to his
neck in devotion. When he once feels we are necessary to his comfort,
and that some reliable person, like the curate, for example, were to
whisper to him that you are the son of Claudet de Buxieres, he would
have scruples, and at last, half on his own account, and half for the
sake of religion, he would begin to treat you like a relative."
"No;" said Claudet, firmly, "these tricky ways do not suit me.
Monsieur Arbillot proposed yesterday that I should do what you
advise. He even offered to inform this gentleman of my relationship
to Claude de Buxieres. I refused, and forbade the notary to open his
mouth on the subject. What! should I play the part of a craven hound
before this younger son whom my father detested, and beg for a portion
of the inheritance? Thank you! I prefer to take myself out of the
way at once!"
"You prefer to have your mother beg her bread at strangers' doors!"
replied Manette, bitterly, shedding tears of rage.
"I have already told you, mother, that when one has a good pair of
arms, and the inclination to use them, one has no need to beg one's
bread. Enough said! I am going to Auberive to notify the justice and
While Claudet was striding across the woods, the boy carried the
luggage of the newly arrived traveller into the chamber on the first
floor, and Zelie, the small servant, put the sheets on the bed, dusted
the room, and lighted the fire. In a few minutes, Julien was alone in
his new domicile, and began to open his boxes and valises. The
chimney, which had not been used since the preceding winter, smoked
unpleasantly, and the damp logs only blackened instead of burning.
The boxes lay wide open, and the room of the deceased Claude de
Buxieres had the uncomfortable aspect of a place long uninhabited.
Julien had seated himself in one of the large armchairs, covered in
Utrecht velvet, and endeavored to rekindle the dying fire. He felt at
loose ends and discouraged, and had no longer the courage to arrange
his clothes in the open wardrobes, which stood open, emitting a strong
odor of decaying mold.
The slight breath of joyous and renewed life which had animated him
on leaving the Vincart farm, had suddenly evaporated. His
anticipations collapsed in the face of these bristling realities,
among which he felt his isolation more deeply than ever before. He
recalled the cordiality of Reine's reception, and how she had spoken
of the difficulties he should have to encounter. How little he had
thought that her forebodings would come true the very same day! The
recollection of the cheerful and hospitable interior of La Thuiliere
contrasted painfully with his cold, bare Vivey mansion, tenanted
solely by hostile domestics. Who were these people—this Manette
Sejournant with her treacherous smile, and this fellow Claudet, who
had, at the very first, subjected him to such offensive questioning?
Why did they seem so ill-disposed toward him? He felt as if he were
completely enveloped in an atmosphere of contradiction and ill-will.
He foresaw what an amount of quiet but steady opposition he should
have to encounter from these subordinates, and he became alarmed at
the prospect of having to display so much energy in order to establish
his authority in the chateau. He, who had pictured to himself a calm
and delightful solitude, wherein he could give himself up entirely to
his studious and contemplative tastes. What a contrast to the
Rousing himself at last, he proceeded mechanically to arrange his
belongings in the room, formerly inhabited by his cousin de Buxieres.
He had hardly finished when Zelie made her appearance with some plates
and a tablecloth, and began to lay the covers. Seeing the fire had
gone out, the little servant uttered an exclamation of dismay.
"Oh!" cried she, "so the wood didn't flare!"
He gazed at her as if she were talking Hebrew, and it was at least
a minute before he understood that by "flare" she meant kindle.
"Well, well!" she continued, "I'll go and fetch some splinters."
She returned in a few moments, with a basket filled with the large
splinters thrown off by the woodchoppers in straightening the logs:
she piled these up on the andirons, and then, applying her mouth
vigorously to a long hollow tin tube, open at both ends, which she
carried with her, soon succeeded in starting a steady flame.
"Look there!" said she, in a tone implying a certain degree of
contempt for the "city Monsieur" who did not even know how to keep up
a fire, "isn't that clever? Now I must lay the cloth."
While she went about her task, arranging the plates, the
water-bottle, and glasses symmetrically around the table, Julien tried
to engage her in conversation. But the little maiden, either because
she had been cautioned beforehand, or because she did not very well
comprehend M. de Buxieres's somewhat literary style of French, would
answer only in monosyllables, or else speak only in patois, so that
Julien had to give up the idea of getting any information out of her.
Certainly, Mademoiselle Vincart was right in saying that he did not
know the language of these people.
He ate without appetite the breakfast on which Manette had employed
all her culinary art, barely tasted the roast partridge, and to
Zelie's great astonishment, mingled the old Burgundy wine with a large
quantity of water.
"You will inform Madame Sejournant," said he to the girl, as he
folded his napkin, "that I am not a great eater, and that one dish
will suffice me in future."
He left her to clear away, and went out to look at the domain which
he was to call his own. It did not take him very long. The twenty or
thirty white houses, which constituted the village and lay sleeping in
the wooded hollow like eggs in a nest, formed a curious circular line
around the chateau. In a few minutes he had gone the whole length of
it, and the few people he met gave him only a passing glance, in which
curiosity seemed to have more share than any hospitable feeling. He
entered the narrow church under the patronage of Our Lady; the gray
light which entered through the moldy shutters showed a few scattered
benches of oak, and the painted wooden altar. He knelt down and
endeavored to collect his thoughts, but the rude surroundings of this
rustic sanctuary did not tend to comfort his troubled spirit, and he
became conscious of a sudden withering of all religious fervor. He
turned and left the place, taking a path that led through the forest.
It did not interest him more than the village; the woods spoke no
language which his heart could understand; he could not distinguish an
ash from an oak, and all the different plants were included by him
under one general term of "weeds"; but he needed bodily fatigue and
violent physical agitation to dissipate the overpowering feeling of
discouragement that weighed down his spirits. He walked for several
hours without seeing anything, nearly got lost, and did not reach home
till after dark. Once more the little servant appeared with his meal,
which he ate in an abstracted manner, without even asking whether he
were eating veal or mutton; then he went immediately to bed, and fell
into an uneasy sleep. And thus ended his first day.
The next morning, about nine o'clock, he was informed that the
justice of the peace, the notary, and the clerk, were waiting for him
below. He hastened down and found the three functionaries busy
conferring in a low voice with Manette and Claudet. The conversation
ceased suddenly upon his arrival, and during the embarrassing silence
that followed, all eyes were directed toward Julien, who saluted the
company and delivered to the justice the documents proving his
identity, begging him to proceed without delay to the legal breaking
of the seals. They accordingly began operations, and went through all
the house without interruption, accompanied by Claudet, who stood
stiff and sullen behind the justice, taking advantage of every little
opportunity to testify his dislike and ill-feeling toward the legal
heir of Claude de Buxieres. Toward eleven o'clock, the proceedings
came to an end, the papers were signed, and Julien was regularly
invested with his rights. But the tiresome formalities were not yet
over: he had to invite the three officials to breakfast. This event,
however, had been foreseen by Manette. Since early morning she had
been busy preparing a bountiful repast, and had even called Julien de
Buxieres aside in order to instruct him in the hospitable duties which
his position and the customs of society imposed upon him.
As they entered the dining-room, young de Buxieres noticed that
covers were laid for five people; he began to wonder who the fifth
guest could be, when an accidental remark of the clerk showed him that
the unknown was no other than Claudet. The fact was that Manette
could not bear the idea that her son, who had always sat at table with
the late Claude de Buxieres, should be consigned to the kitchen in
presence of these distinguished visitors from Auberive, and had
deliberately laid a place for him at the master's table, hoping that
the latter would not dare put any public affront upon Claudet. She
was not mistaken in her idea. Julien, anxious to show a conciliatory
spirit, and making an effort to quell his own repugnance, approached
the 'grand chasserot', who was standing at one side by himself, and
invited him to take his seat at the table.
"Thank you," replied Claudet, coldly, "I have breakfasted." So
saying, he turned his back on M. de Buxieres, who returned to the
hall, vexed and disconcerted.
The repast was abundant, and seemed of interminable length to
Julien. The three guests, whose appetites had been sharpened by their
morning exercise, did honor to Madame Sejournant's cooking; they took
their wine without water, and began gradually to thaw under the
influence of their host's good Burgundy; evincing their increased
liveliness by the exchange of heavy country witticisms, or relating
noisy and interminable stories of their hunting adventures. Their
conversation was very trying to Julien's nerves. Nevertheless, he
endeavored to fulfil his duties as master of the house, throwing in a
word now and then, so as to appear interested in their gossip, but he
ate hardly a mouthful. His features had a pinched expression, and
every now and then he caught himself trying to smother a yawn. His
companions at the table could not understand a young man of
twenty-eight years who drank nothing but water, scorned all enjoyment
in eating, and only laughed forcedly under compulsion. At last,
disturbed by the continued taciturnity of their host, they rose from
the table sooner than their wont, and prepared to take leave. Before
their departure, Arbillot the notary, passed his arm familiarly
through that of Julien and led him into an adjoining room, which
served as billiard-hall and library.
"Monsieur de Buxieres," said he, pointing to a pile of law papers
heaped upon the green cloth of the table; "see what I have prepared
for you; you will find there all the titles and papers relating to the
real estate, pictures, current notes, and various matters of your
inheritance. You had better keep them under lock and key, and study
them at your leisure. You will find them very interesting. I need
hardly say," he added, "that I am at your service for any necessary
advice or explanation. But, in respect to any minor details, you can
apply to Claudet Sejournant, who is very intelligent in such matters,
and a good man of business. And, by the way, Monsieur de Buxieres,
will you allow me to commend the young man especially to your kindly
But Julien interrupted him with an imperious gesture, and replied,
"If you please, Maitre Arbillot, we will not enter upon that
subject. I have already tried my best to show a kindly feeling toward
Monsieur Claudet, but I have been only here twenty-four hours, and he
has already found opportunities for affronting me twice. I beg you
not to speak of him again."
The notary, who was just lighting his pipe, stopped suddenly.
Moved by a feeling of good-fellowship for the 'grand chasserot', who
had, however, enjoined him to silence, he had it on the tip of his
tongue to inform Julien of the facts concerning the parentage of
Claudet de Buxieres; but, however much he wished to render Claudet a
service, he was still more desirous of respecting the feelings of his
client; so, between the hostility of one party and the backwardness of
the other, he chose the wise part of inaction.
"That is sufficient, Monsieur de Buxieres," replied he, "I will not
press the matter."
Thereupon he saluted his client, and went to rejoin the justice and
the clerk, and the three comrades wended their way to Auberive through
the woods, discussing the incidents of the breakfast, and the
peculiarities of the new proprietor.
"This de Buxieres," said M. Destourbet, "does not at all resemble
his deceased cousin Claude!"
"I can quite understand why the two families kept apart from each
other," observed the notary, jocosely.
"Poor 'chasserot'!" whined Seurrot the clerk, whom the wine had
rendered tender-hearted; "he will not have a penny. I pity him with
all my heart!"
As soon as the notary had departed, Julien came to the
determination of transforming into a study the hall where he had been
conferring with Maitre Arbillot, which was dignified with the title of
"library," although it contained at the most but a few hundred odd
volumes. The hall was spacious, and lighted by two large windows
opening on the garden; the floor was of oak, and there was a great
fireplace where the largest logs used in a country in which the wood
costs nothing could find ample room to blaze and crackle. It took the
young man several days to make the necessary changes, and during that
time he enjoyed a respite from the petty annoyances worked by the
steady hostility of Manette Sejournant and her son. To the great
indignation of the inhabitants of the chateau, he packed off the
massive billiard-table, on which Claude de Buxieres had so often
played in company with his chosen friends, to the garret; after which
the village carpenter was instructed to make the bookshelves ready for
the reception of Julien's own books, which were soon to arrive by
express. When he had got through with these labors, he turned his
attention to the documents placed in his hands by the notary,
endeavoring to find out by himself the nature of his revenues. He
thought this would be a very easy matter, but he soon found that it
was encumbered with inextricable difficulties.
A large part of the products of the domain consisted of lumber
ready for sale. Claude de Buxieres had been in the habit of
superintending, either personally or through his intermediate agents,
one half of the annual amount of lumber felled for market, the sale of
which was arranged with the neighboring forge owners by mutual
agreement; the other half was disposed of by notarial act. This
latter arrangement was clear and comprehensible; the price of sale and
the amounts falling due were both clearly indicated in the deed. But
it was quite different with the bargains made by the owner himself,
which were often credited by notes payable at sight, mostly worded in
confused terms, unintelligible to any but the original writer. Julien
became completely bewildered among these various documents, the
explanations in which were harder to understand than conundrums.
Although greatly averse to following the notary's advice as to
seeking Claudet's assistance, he found himself compelled to do so, but
was met by such laconic and surly answers that he concluded it would
be more dignified on his part to dispense with the services of one who
was so badly disposed toward him. He therefore resolved to have
recourse to the debtors themselves, whose names he found, after much
difficulty, in the books. These consisted mostly of peasants of the
neighborhood, who came to the chateau at his summons; but as soon as
they came into Julien's presence, they discovered, with that cautious
perception which is an instinct with rustic minds, that before them
stood a man completely ignorant of the customs of the country, and
very poorly informed on Claude de Buxieres's affairs. They made no
scruple of mystifying this "city gentleman," by means of ambiguous
statements and cunning reticence. The young man could get no
enlightenment from them; all he clearly understood was, that they were
making fun of him, and that he was not able to cope with these country
bumpkins, whose shrewdness would have done honor to the most
After a few days he became discouraged and disgusted. He could see
nothing but trouble ahead; he seemed surrounded by either open enemies
or people inclined to take advantage of him. It was plain that all
the population of the village looked upon him as an intruder, a
troublesome master, a stranger whom they would like to intimidate and
send about his business. Manette Sejournant, who was always talking
about going, still remained in the chateau, and was evidently exerting
her influence to keep her son also with her. The fawning duplicity of
this woman was unbearable to Julien; he had not the energy necessary
either to subdue her, or to send her away, and she appeared every
morning before him with a string of hypocritical grievances, and
opposing his orders with steady, irritating inertia. It seemed as if
she were endeavoring to render his life at Vivey hateful to him, so
that he would be compelled finally to beat a retreat.
One morning in November he had reached such a state of moral
fatigue and depression that, as he sat listlessly before the library
fire, the question arose in his mind whether it would not be better to
rent the chateau, place the property in the hands of a manager, and
take himself and his belongings back to Nancy, to his little room in
the Rue Stanislaus, where, at any rate, he could read, meditate, or
make plans for the future without being every moment tormented by
miserable, petty annoyances. His temper was becoming soured, his
nerves were unstrung, and his mind was so disturbed that he fancied he
had none but enemies around him. A cloudy melancholy seemed to invade
his brain; he was seized with a sudden fear that he was about to have
an attack of persecution-phobia, and began to feel his pulse and
interrogate his sensations to see whether he could detect any of the
While he was immersing himself in this unwholesome atmosphere of
hypochondria, the sound of a door opening and shutting made him start;
he turned quickly around, saw a young woman approaching and smiling at
him, and at last recognized Reine Vincart.
She wore the crimped linen cap and the monk's hood in use among the
peasants of the richer class. Her wavy, brown hair, simply parted in
front, fell in rebellious curls from under the border of her cap, of
which the only decoration was a bow of black ribbon; the end floating
gracefully over her shoulders. The sharp November air had imparted a
delicate rose tint to her pale complexion, and additional vivacity to
her luminous, dark eyes.
"Good-morning, Monsieur de Buxieres," said she, in her clear,
pleasantly modulated voice; "I think you may remember me? It is not
so long since we saw each other at the farm."
"Mademoiselle Vincart!" exclaimed Julien. "Why, certainly I
He drew a chair toward the fire, and offered it to her. This
charming apparition of his cordial hostess at La Thuiliere evoked the
one pleasant remembrance in his mind since his arrival in Vivey. It
shot, like a ray of sunlight, across the heavy fog of despair which
had enveloped the new master of the chateau. It was, therefore, with
real sincerity that he repeated:
"I both know you and am delighted to see you. I ought to have
called upon you before now, to thank you for your kind hospitality,
but I have had so much to do, and," his face clouding over, "so many
"Really?" said she, softly, gazing pityingly at him; "you must not
take offence, but, it is easy to see you have been worried! Your
features are drawn and you have an anxious look. Is it that the air
of Vivey does not agree with you?"
"It is not the air," replied Julien, in an irritated tone, "it is
the people who do not agree with me. And, indeed," sighed he, "I do
not think I agree any better with them. But I need not annoy other
persons merely because I am annoyed myself! Mademoiselle Vincart,
what can I do to be of service to you? Have you anything to ask me?"
"Not at all!" exclaimed Reine, with a frank smile; "I not only
have nothing to ask from you, but I have brought something for
you—six hundred francs for wood we had bought from the late Monsieur
de Buxieres, during the sale of the Ronces forest." She drew from
under her cloak a little bag of gray linen, containing gold,
five-franc pieces and bank- notes. "Will you be good enough to verify
the amount?" continued she, emptying the bag upon the table; "I think
it is correct. You must have somewhere a memorandum of the
transaction in writing."
Julien began to look through the papers, but he got bewildered with
the number of rough notes jotted down on various slips of paper, until
at last, in an impatient fit of vexation, he flung the whole bundle
away, scattering the loose sheets all over the floor.
"Who can find anything in such a chaos?" he exclaimed. "I can't
see my way through it, and when I try to get information from the
people here, they seem to have an understanding among themselves to
leave me under a wrong impression, or even to make my uncertainties
still greater! Ah! Mademoiselle Reine, you were right! I do not
understand the ways of your country folk. Every now and then I am
tempted to leave everything just as it stands, and get away from this
village, where the people mistrust me and treat me like an enemy!"
Reine gazed at him with a look of compassionate surprise. Stooping
quietly down, she picked up the scattered papers, and while putting
them in order on the table, she happened to see the one relating to
her own business.
"Here, Monsieur de Buxieres," said she, "here is the very note you
were looking for. You seem to be somewhat impatient. Our country
folk are not so bad as you think; only they do not yield easily to new
influences. The beginning is always difficult for them. I know
something about it myself. When I returned from Dijon to take charge
of the affairs at La Thuiliere, I had no more experience than you,
Monsieur, and I had great difficulty in accomplishing anything. Where
should we be now, if I had suffered myself to be discouraged, like
you, at the very outset?"
Julien raised his eyes toward the speaker, coloring with
embarrassment to hear himself lectured by this young peasant girl,
whose ideas, however, had much more virility than his own.
"You reason like a man, Mademoiselle Vincart," remarked he,
admiringly, "pray, how old are you?"
"Twenty-two years; and you, Monsieur de Buxieres?"
"I shall soon be twenty-eight."
"There is not much difference between us; still, you are the older,
and what I have done, you can do also."
"Oh!" sighed he, "you have a love of action. I have a love of
repose— I do not like to act."
"So much the worse!" replied Reine, very decidedly. "A man ought
to show more energy. Come now, Monsieur de Buxieres, will you allow
me to speak frankly to you? If you wish people to come to you, you
must first get out of yourself and go to seek them; if you expect your
neighbor to show confidence and good-will toward you, you must be open
and good- natured toward him."
"That plan has not yet succeeded with two persons around here,"
replied Julien, shaking his head.
"The Sejournants, mother and son. I tried to be pleasant with
Claudet, and received from both only rebuffs and insolence."
"Oh! as to Claudet," resumed she, impulsively, "he is excusable.
You can not expect he will be very gracious in his reception of the
person who has supplanted him—"
"Supplanted?—I do not understand."
"What!" exclaimed Reine, "have they not told you anything, then?
That is wrong. Well, at the risk of meddling in what does not concern
me, I think it is better to put you in possession of the facts: Your
deceased cousin never was married, but he had a child all the same—
Claudet is his son, and he intended that he should be his heir also.
Every one around the country knows that, for Monsieur de Buxieres made
no secret of it "
"Claudet, the son of Claude de Buxieres?" ejaculated Julien, with
"Yes; and if the deceased had had the time to make his will, you
would not be here now. But," added the young girl, coloring, "don't
tell Claudet I have spoken to you about it. I have been talking here
too long. Monsieur de Buxieres, will you have the goodness to reckon
up your money and give me a receipt?"
She had risen, and Julien gazed wonderingly at the pretty country
girl who had shown herself so sensible, so resolute, and so sincere.
He bent his head, collected the money on the table, scribbled hastily
a receipt and handed it to Reine.
"Thank you, Mademoiselle," said he, "you are the first person who
has been frank with me, and I am grateful to you for it."
"Au revoir, Monsieur de Buxieres."
She had already gained the door while he made an awkward attempt to
follow her. She turned toward him with a smile on her lips and in her
"Come, take courage!" she added, and then vanished.
Julien went back dreamily, and sat down again before the hearth.
The revelation made by Reine Vincart had completely astounded him.
Such was his happy inexperience of life, that he had not for a moment
suspected the real position of Manette and her son at the chateau.
And it was this young girl who had opened his eyes to the fact! He
experienced a certain degree of humiliation in having had so little
perception. Now that Reine's explanation enabled him to view the
matter from a different standpoint, he found Claudet's attitude toward
him both intelligible and excusable. In fact, the lad was acting in
accordance with a very legitimate feeling of mingled pride and anger.
After all, he really was Claude de Buxieres's son—a natural son,
certainly, but one who had been implicitly acknowledged both in
private and in public by his father. If the latter had had time to
draw up the incomplete will which had been found, he would, to all
appearances, have made Claudet his heir. Therefore, the fortune of
which Julien had become possessed, he owed to some unexpected
occurrence, a mere chance. Public opinion throughout the entire
village tacitly recognized and accepted the 'grand chasserot' as son
of the deceased, and if this recognition had been made legally, he
would have been rightful owner of half the property.
"Now that I have been made acquainted with this position of
affairs, what is my duty?" asked Julien of himself. Devout in
feeling and in practice, he was also very scrupulous in all matters of
conscience, and the reply was not long in coming: that both religion
and uprightness commanded him to indemnify Claudet for the wrong
caused to him by the carelessness of Claude de Buxieres. Reine had
simply told him the facts without attempting to give him any advice,
but it was evident that, according to her loyal and energetic way of
thinking, there was injustice to be repaired. Julien was conscious
that by acting to that effect he would certainly gain the esteem and
approbation of his amiable hostess of La Thuiliere, and he felt a
secret satisfaction in the idea. He rose suddenly, and, leaving the
library, went to the kitchen, where Manette Sejournant was busy
preparing the breakfast.
"Where is your son?" said he. "I wish to speak with him."
Manette looked inquiringly at him.
"My son," she replied, "is in the garden, fixing up a box to take
away his little belongings in—he doesn't want to stay any longer at
other peoples' expense. And, by the way, Monsieur de Buxieres, have
the goodness to provide yourself with a servant to take my place; we
shall not finish the week here."
Without making any reply, Julien went out by the door, leading to
the garden, and discovered Claudet really occupied in putting together
the sides of a packing-case. Although the latter saw the heir of the
de Buxieres family approaching, he continued driving in the nails
without appearing to notice his presence.
"Monsieur Claudet," said Julien, "can you spare me a few minutes?
I should like to talk to you."
Claudet raised his head, hesitated for a moment, then, throwing
away his hammer and putting on his loose jacket, muttered:
"I am at your service."
They left the outhouse together, and entered an avenue of leafy
lime- trees, which skirted the banks of the stream.
"Monsieur," said Julien, stopping in the middle of the walk,
"excuse me if I venture on a delicate subject—but I must do so—now
that I know all."
"Beg pardon—what do you know?" demanded Claudet, reddening.
"I know that you are the son of my cousin de Buxieres," replied the
young man with considerable emotion.
The 'grand chasserot' knitted his brows.
"Ah!" said he, bitterly, "my mother's tongue has been too long, or
else that blind magpie of a notary has been gossiping, notwithstanding
"No; neither your mother nor Maitre Arbillot has been speaking to
me. What I know I have learned from a stranger, and I know also that
you would be master here if Claude de Buxieres had taken the
precaution to write out his will. His negligence on that point has
been a wrong to you, which it is my duty to repair."
"What's that!" exclaimed Claudet. Then he muttered between his
teeth: "You owe me nothing. The law is on your side."
"I am not in the habit of consulting the law when it is a question
of duty. Besides, Monsieur de Buxieres treated you openly as his son;
if he had done what he ought, made a legal acknowledgment, you would
have the right, even in default of a will, to one half of his
patrimony. This half I come to offer to you, and beg of you to accept
Claudet was astonished, and opened his great, fierce brown eyes
with amazement. The proposal seemed so incredible that he thought he
must be dreaming, and mistrusted what he heard.
"What! You offer me half the inheritance?" faltered he.
"Yes; and I am ready to give you a certified deed of relinquishment
as soon as you wish—"
Claudet interrupted him with a violent shrug of the shoulders.
"I make but one condition," pursued Julien.
"What is it?" asked Claudet, still on the defensive.
"That you will continue to live here, with me, as in your father's
Claudet was nearly overcome by this last suggestion, but a
lingering feeling of doubt and a kind of innate pride prevented him
from giving way, and arrested the expression of gratitude upon his
"What you propose is very generous, Monsieur," said he, "but you
have not thought much about it, and later you might regret it. If I
were to stay here, I should be a restraint upon you—"
"On the contrary, you would be rendering me a service, for I feel
myself incapable of managing the property," replied Julien, earnestly.
Then, becoming more confidential as his conscience was relieved of
its burden, he continued, pleasantly: "You see I am not vain about
admitting the fact. Come, cousin, don't be more proud than I am.
Accept freely what I offer with hearty goodwill!"
As he concluded these words, he felt his hand seized, and
affectionately pressed in a strong, robust grip.
"You are a true de Buxieres!" exclaimed Claudet, choking with
emotion. "I accept—thanks—but, what have I to give you in
exchange?—nothing but my friendship; but that will be as firm as my
grip, and will last all my life."
CHAPTER IV. THE DAWN OF LOVE
Winter had come, and with it all the inclement accompaniments usual
in this bleak and bitter mountainous country: icy rains, which,
mingled with sleet, washed away whirlpools of withered leaves that the
swollen streams tossed noisily into the ravines; sharp, cutting winds
from the north, bleak frosts hardening the earth and vitrifying the
cascades; abundant falls of snow, lasting sometimes an entire week.
The roads had become impassable. A thick, white crust covered alike
the pasture-lands, the stony levels, and the wooded slopes, where the
branches creaked under the weight of their snowy burdens. A profound
silence encircled the village, which seemed buried under the
successive layers of snowdrifts. Only here and there, occasionally,
did a thin line of blue smoke, rising from one of the white roofs,
give evidence of any latent life among the inhabitants. The Chateau
de Buxieres stood in the midst of a vast carpet of snow on which the
sabots of the villagers had outlined a narrow path, leading from the
outer steps to the iron gate. Inside, fires blazed on all the
hearths, which, however, did not modify the frigid atmosphere of the
rudely-built upper rooms.
Julien de Buxieres was freezing, both physically and morally, in
his abode. His generous conduct toward Claudet had, in truth, gained
him the affection of the 'grand chasserot', made Manette as gentle as
a lamb, and caused a revulsion of feeling in his favor throughout the
village; but, although his material surroundings had become more
congenial, he still felt around him the chill of intellectual
solitude. The days also seemed longer since Claudet had taken upon
himself the management of all details. Julien found that re-reading
his favorite books was not sufficient occupation for the weary hours
that dragged slowly along between the rising and the setting of the
sun. The gossipings of Manette, the hunting stories of Claudet had no
interest for young de Buxieres, and the acquaintances he endeavored to
make outside left only a depressing feeling of ennui and
His first visit had been made to the cure of Vivey, where he hoped
to meet with some intellectual resources, and a tone of conversation
more in harmony with his tastes. In this expectation, also, he had
been disappointed. The Abbe Pernot was an amiable quinquagenarian,
and a 'bon vivant', whose mind inclined more naturally toward the
duties of daily life than toward meditation or contemplative studies.
The ideal did not worry him in the least; and when he had said his
mass, read his breviary, confessed the devout sinners and visited the
sick, he gave the rest of his time to profane but respectable
amusements. He was of robust temperament, with a tendency to
corpulency, which he fought against by taking considerable exercise;
his face was round and good-natured, his calm gray eyes reflected the
tranquillity and uprightness of his soul, and his genial nature was
shown in his full smiling mouth, his thick, wavy, gray hair, and his
quick and cordial gestures.
When Julien was ushered into the presbytery, he found the cure
installed in a small room, which he used for working in, and which was
littered up with articles bearing a very distant connection to his
pious calling: nets for catching larks, hoops and other nets for
fishing, stuffed birds, and a collection of coleopterx. At the other
end of the room stood a dusty bookcase, containing about a hundred
volumes, which seemed to have been seldom consulted. The Abbe,
sitting on a low chair in the chimney- corner, his cassock raised to
his knees, was busy melting glue in an old earthen pot.
"Aha, good-day! Monsieur de Buxieres," said he in his rich, jovial
voice, "you have caught me in an occupation not very canonical; but
what of it? As Saint James says: 'The bow can not be always bent.' I
am preparing some lime-twigs, which I shall place in the Bois des
Ronces as soon as the snow is melted. I am not only a fisher of
souls, but I endeavor also to catch birds in my net, not so much for
the purpose of varying my diet, as of enriching my collection!"
"You have a great deal of spare time on your hands, then?"
inquired Julien, with some surprise.
"Well, yes—yes—quite a good deal. The parish is not very
extensive, as you have doubtless noticed; my parishioners are in the
best possible health, thank God! and they live to be very old. I have
barely two or three marriages in a year, and as many burials, so that,
you see, one must fill up one's time somehow to escape the sin of
idleness. Every man must have a hobby. Mine is ornithology; and
yours, Monsieur de Buxieres?"
Julien was tempted to reply: "Mine, for the moment, is ennui." He
was just in the mood to unburden himself to the cure as to the mental
thirst that was drying up his faculties, but a certain instinct warned
him that the Abbe was not a man to comprehend the subtle complexities
of his psychological condition, so he contented himself with replying,
"I read a great deal. I have, over there in the chateau, a pretty
fair collection of historical and religious works, and they are at
your service, Monsieur le Cure!"
"A thousand thanks," replied the Abbe Pernot, making a slight
grimace; "I am not much of a reader, and my little stock is sufficient
for my needs. You remember what is said in the Imitation: 'Si scires
totam Bibliam exterius et omnium philosophorum dicta, quid totum
prodesset sine caritate Dei et gratia?' Besides, it gives me a
headache to read too steadily. I require exercise in the open air.
Do you hunt or fish, Monsieur de Buxieres?"
"Neither the one nor the other."
"So much the worse for you. You will find the time hang very
heavily on your hands in this country, where there are so few sources
of amusement. But never fear! You can not be always reading, and when
the fine weather comes you will yield to the temptation; all the more
likely because you have Claudet Sejournant with you. A jolly fellow
he is; there is not one like him for killing a snipe or sticking a
trout! Our trout here on the Aubette, Monsieur de Buxieres, are
excellent—of the salmon kind, and very meaty."
Then came an interval of silence. The Abbe began to suspect that
this conversation was not one of profound interest to his visitor, and
"Speaking of Claudet, Monsieur, allow me to offer you my
congratulations. You have acted in a most Christian-like and equitable
manner, in making amends for the inconceivable negligence of the
deceased Claude de Buxieres. Then, on the other hand, Claudet
deserves what you have done for him. He is a good fellow, a little
too quick-tempered and violent perhaps, but he has a heart of gold.
Ah! it would have been no use for the deceased to deny it—the blood
of de Buxieres runs in his veins!"
"If public rumor is to be believed," said Julien timidly, rising to
go, "my deceased cousin Claude was very much addicted to profane
"Yes, yes, indeed!" sighed the Abbe, "he was a devil
incarnate—but what a magnificent man! What a wonderful huntsman!
Notwithstanding his backslidings, there was a great deal of good in
him, and I am fain to believe that God has taken him under His
Julien took his leave, and returned to the chateau, very much
discouraged. "This priest," thought he to himself, "is a man of
expediency. He allows himself certain indulgences which are to be
regretted, and his mind is becoming clogged by continual association
with carnal-minded men. His thoughts are too much given to earthly
things, and I have no more faith in him than in the rest of them."
So he shut himself up again in his solitude, with one more illusion
destroyed. He asked himself, and his heart became heavy at the
thought, whether, in course of time, he also would undergo this
stultification, this moral depression, which ends by lowering us to
the level of the low- minded people among whom we live.
Among all the persons he had met since his arrival at Vivey, only
one had impressed him as being sympathetic and attractive: Reine
Vincart—and even her energy was directed toward matters that Julien
looked upon as secondary. And besides, Reine was a woman, and he was
afraid of women. He believed with Ecclesiastes the preacher, that
"they are more bitter than death . . . and whoso pleaseth God shall
escape from them." He had therefore no other refuge but in his books
or his own sullen reflections, and, consequently, his old enemy,
hypochondria, again made him its prey.
Toward the beginning of January, the snow in the valley had
somewhat melted, and a light frost made access to the woods possible.
As the hunting season seldom extended beyond the first days of
February, the huntsmen were all eager to take advantage of the few
remaining weeks to enjoy their favorite pastime. Every day the forest
resounded with the shouts of beaters-up and the barking of the hounds.
From Auberive, Praslay and Grancey, rendezvous were made in the woods
of Charbonniere or Maigrefontaine; nothing was thought of but the
exploits of certain marksmen, the number of pieces bagged, and the
joyous outdoor breakfasts which preceded each occasion. One evening,
as Julien, more moody than usual, stood yawning wearily and leaning on
the corner of the stove, Claudet noticed him, and was touched with
pity for this young fellow, who had so little idea how to employ his
time, his youth, or his money. He felt impelled, as a conscientious
duty, to draw him out of his unwholesome state of mind, and initiate
him into the pleasures of country life.
"You do not enjoy yourself with us, Monsieur Julien," said he,
kindly; "I can't bear to see you so downhearted. You are ruining
yourself with poring all day long over your books, and the worst of it
is, they do not take the frowns out of your face. Take my word for
it, you must change your way of living, or you will be ill. Come,
now, if you will trust in me, I will undertake to cure your ennui
before a week is over."
"And what is your remedy, Claudet?" demanded Julien, with a forced
"A very simple one: just let your books go, since they do not
succeed in interesting you, and live the life that every one else
leads. The de Buxieres, your ancestors, followed the same plan, and
had no fault to find with it. You are in a wolf country—well, you
must howl with the wolves!"
"My dear fellow," replied Julien, shaking his head, "one can not
remake one's self. The wolves themselves would discover that I howled
out of tune, and would send me back to my books."
"Nonsense! try, at any rate. You can not imagine what pleasure
there is in coursing through the woods, and suddenly, at a sharp turn,
catching sight of a deer in the distance, then galloping to the spot
where he must pass, and holding him with the end of your gun! You
have no idea what an appetite one gets with such exercise, nor how
jolly it is to breakfast afterward, all together, seated round some
favorite old beech-tree. Enjoy your youth while you have it. Time
enough to stay in your chimney- corner and spit in the ashes when
rheumatism has got hold of you. Perhaps you will say you never have
followed the hounds, and do not know how to handle a gun?"
"That is the exact truth."
"Possibly, but appetite comes with eating, and when once you have
tasted of the pleasures of the chase, you will want to imitate your
companions. Now, see here: we have organized a party at Charbonniere
to-morrow, for the gentlemen of Auberive; there will be some people
you know— Destourbet, justice of the Peace, the clerk Seurrot, Maitre
Arbillot and the tax-collector, Boucheseiche. Hutinet went over the
ground yesterday, and has appointed the meeting for ten o'clock at the
Belle-Etoile. Come with us; there will be good eating and merriment,
and also some fine shooting, I pledge you my word!"
Julien refused at first, but Claudet insisted, and showed him the
necessity of getting more intimately acquainted with the notables of
Auberive—people with whom he would be continually coming in contact
as representing the administration of justice and various affairs in
the canton. He urged so well that young de Buxieres ended by giving
his consent. Manette received immediate instructions to prepare
eatables for Hutinet, the keeper, to take at early dawn to the
Belle-Etoile, and it was decided that the company should start at
precisely eight o'clock.
The next morning, at the hour indicated, the 'grand chasserot' was
already in the courtyard with his two hounds, Charbonneau and
Montagnard, who were leaping and barking sonorously around him.
Julien, reminded of his promise by the unusual early uproar, dressed
himself with a bad grace, and went down to join Claudet, who was
bristling with impatience. They started. There had been a sharp frost
during the night; some hail had fallen, and the roads were thinly
coated with a white dust, called by the country people, in their
picturesque language, "a sugarfrost" of snow. A thick fog hung over
the forest, so that they had to guess their way; but Claudet knew
every turn and every sidepath, and thus he and his companion arrived
by the most direct line at the rendezvous. They soon began to hear
the barking of the dogs, to which Montagnard and Charbonneau replied
with emulative alacrity, and finally, through the mist, they
distinguished the group of huntsmen from Auberive.
The Belle-Etoile was a circular spot, surrounded by ancient
ash-trees, and formed the central point for six diverging alleys which
stretched out indefinitely into the forest. The monks of Auberive, at
the epoch when they were the lords and owners of the land, had made
this place a rendezvous for huntsmen, and had provided a table and
some stone benches, which, thirty years ago, were still in existence.
The enclosure, which had been chosen for the breakfast on the present
occasion, was irradiated by a huge log-fire; a very respectable
display of bottles, bread, and various eatables covered the stone
table, and the dogs, attached by couples to posts, pulled at their
leashes and barked in chorus, while their masters, grouped around the
fire, warmed their benumbed fingers over the flames, and tapped their
heels while waiting for the last-comers.
At sight of Julien and Claudet, there was a joyous hurrah of
welcome. Justice Destourbet exchanged a ceremonious hand-shake with
the new proprietor of the chateau. The scant costume and tight
gaiters of the huntsman's attire, displayed more than ever the height
and slimness of the country magistrate. By his side, the registrar
Seurrot, his legs encased in blue linen spatterdashes, his back bent,
his hands crossed comfortably over his "corporation," sat roasting
himself at the flame, while grumbling when the wind blew the smoke in
his eyes. Arbillot, the notary, as agile and restless as a lizard,
kept going from one to the other with an air of mysterious importance.
He came up to Claudet, drew him aside, and showed him a little figure
in a case.
"Look here!" whispered he, "we shall have some fun; as I passed by
the Abbe Pernot's this morning, I stole one of his stuffed squirrels."
He stooped down, and with an air of great mystery poured into his
ear the rest of the communication, at the close of which his small
black eyes twinkled maliciously, and he passed the end of his tongue
over his frozen moustache.
"Come with me," continued he; "it will be a good joke on the
He drew Claudet and Hutinet toward one of the trenches, where the
fog hid them from sight.
During this colloquy, Boucheseiche the collector, against whom they
were thus plotting, had seized upon Julien de Buxieres, and was
putting him through a course of hunting lore. Justin Boucheseiche was
a man of remarkable ugliness; big, bony, freckled, with red hair,
hairy hands, and a loud, rough voice.
He wore a perfectly new hunting costume, cap and gaiters of
leather, a havana-colored waistcoat, and had a complete assortment of
pockets of all sizes for the cartridges. He pretended to be a great
authority on all matters relating to the chase, although he was, in
fact, the worst shot in the whole canton; and when he had the good
luck to meet with a newcomer, he launched forth on the recital of his
imaginary prowess, without any pity for the hearer. So that, having
once got hold of Julien, he kept by his side when they sat down to
All these country huntsmen were blessed with healthy appetites.
They ate heartily, and drank in the same fashion, especially the
collector Boucheseiche, who justified his name by pouring out numerous
bumpers of white wine. During the first quarter of an hour nothing
could be heard but the noise of jaws masticating, glasses and forks
clinking; but when the savory pastries, the cold game and the hams had
disappeared, and had been replaced by goblets of hot Burgundy and
boiling coffee, then tongues became loosened. Julien, to his infinite
disgust, was forced again to be present at a conversation similar to
the one at the time of the raising of the seals, the coarseness of
which had so astonished and shocked him. After the anecdotes of the
chase were exhausted, the guests began to relate their experiences
among the fair sex, losing nothing of the point from the effect of the
numerous empty bottles around. All the scandalous cases in the courts
of justice, all the coarse jokes and adventures of the district, were
related over again. Each tried to surpass his neighbor. To hear
these men of position boast of their gallantries with all classes, one
would have thought that the entire canton underwent periodical changes
and became one vast Saturnalia, where rustic satyrs courted their
favorite nymphs. But nothing came of it, after all; once the feast
was digested, and they had returned to the conjugal abode, all these
terrible gay Lotharios became once more chaste and worthy fathers of
families. Nevertheless, Julien, who was unaccustomed to such bibulous
festivals and such unbridled license of language, took it all
literally, and reproached himself more than ever with having yielded
to Claudet's entreaties.
At last the table was deserted, and the marking of the limits of
the hunt began.
As they were following the course of the trenches, the notary
stopped suddenly at the foot of an ash-tree, and took the arm of the
collector, who was gently humming out of tune.
"Hush! Collector," he whispered, "do you see that fellow up there,
on the fork of the tree? He seems to be jeering at us."
At the same time he pointed out a squirrel, sitting perched upon a
branch, about halfway up the tree. The animal's tail stood up behind
like a plume, his ears were upright, and he had his front paws in his
mouth, as if cracking a nut.
"A squirrel!" cried the impetuous Boucheseiche, immediately
falling into the snare; "let no one touch him, gentlemen—I will
settle his account for him."
The rest of the hunters had drawn back in a circle, and were
exchanging sly glances. The collector loaded his gun, shouldered it,
covered the squirrel, and then let go.
"Hit!" exclaimed he, triumphantly, as soon as the smoke had
In fact, the animal had slid down the branch, head first, but,
somehow, he did not fall to the ground.
"He has caught hold of something," said the notary, facetiously.
"Ah! you will hold on, you rascal, will you?" shouted
Boucheseiche, beside himself with excitement, and the next moment he
sent a second shot, which sent the hair flying in all directions.
The creature remained in the same position. Then there was a
"He is quite obstinate!" remarked the clerk, slyly.
Boucheseiche, astonished, looked attentively at the tree, then at
the laughing crowd, and could not understand the situation.
"If I were in your place, Collector," said Claudet, in an
insinuating manner, "I should climb up there, to see—"
But Justin Boucheseiche was not a climber. He called a youngster,
who followed the hunt as beater-up.
"I will give you ten sous," said he; "to mount that tree and bring
me my squirrel!"
The young imp did not need to be told twice. In the twinkling of
an eye he threw his arms around the tree, and reached the fork. When
there, he uttered an exclamation.
"Well?" cried the collector; impatiently, "throw him down!"
"I can't, Monsieur," replied the boy, "the squirrel is fastened by
a wire." Then the laughter burst forth more boisterously than before.
"A wire, you young rascal! Are you making fun of me?" shouted
Boucheseiche, "come down this moment!"
"Here he is, Monsieur," replied the lad, throwing himself down with
the squirrel which he tossed at the collector's feet.
When Boucheseiche verified the fact that the squirrel was a stuffed
specimen, he gave a resounding oath.
"In the name of —-! who is the miscreant that has perpetrated
No one could reply for laughing. Then ironical cheers burst forth
from all sides.
"Brave Boucheseiche! That's a kind of game one doesn't often get
hold of !"
"We never shall see any more of that kind!"
"Let us carry Boucheseiche in triumph!"
And so they went on, marching around the tree. Arbillot seized a
slip of ivy and crowned Boucheseiche, while all the others clapped
their hands and capered in front of the collector, who, at last, being
a good fellow at heart, joined in the laugh at his own expense.
Julien de Buxieres alone could not share the general hilarity. The
uproar caused by this simple joke did not even chase the frown from
his brow. He was provoked at not being able to bring himself within
the diapason of this somewhat vulgar gayety: he was aware that his
melancholy countenance, his black clothes, his want of sympathy jarred
unpleasantly on the other jovial guests. He did not intend any longer
to play the part of a killjoy. Without saying anything to Claudet,
therefore, he waited until the huntsmen had scattered in the
brushwood, and then, diving into a trench, in an opposite direction,
he gave them all the slip, and turned in the direction of
As he walked slowly, treading under foot the dry frosty leaves, he
reflected how the monotonous crackling of this foliage, once so full
of life, now withered and rendered brittle by the frost, seemed to
represent his own deterioration of feeling. It was a sad and suitable
accompaniment of his own gloomy thoughts.
He was deeply mortified at the sorry figure he had presented at the
breakfast-table. He acknowledged sorrowfully to himself that, at
twenty- eight years of age, he was less young and less really alive
than all these country squires, although all, except Claudet, had
passed their fortieth year. Having missed his season of childhood,
was he also doomed to have no youth? Others found delight in the most
ordinary amusements, why, to him, did life seem so insipid and
Why was he so unfortunately constituted that all human joys lost
their sweetness as soon as he opened his heart to them? Nothing made
any powerful impression on him; everything that happened seemed to be
a perpetual reiteration, a song sung for the hundredth time, a story a
hundred times related.
He was like a new vase, cracked before it had served its use, and
he felt thoroughly ashamed of the weakness and infirmity of his inner
self. Thus pondering, he traversed much ground, hardly knowing where
he was going. The fog, which now filled the air and which almost hid
the trenches with its thin bluish veil, made it impossible to discover
his bearings. At last he reached the border of some pastureland,
which he crossed, and then he perceived, not many steps away, some
buildings with tiled roofs, which had something familiar to him in
their aspect. After he had gone a few feet farther he recognized the
court and facade of La Thuiliere; and, as he looked over the outer
wall, a sight altogether novel and unexpected presented itself.
Standing in the centre of the courtyard, her outline showing in
dark relief against the light "sugar-frosting," stood Reine Vincart,
her back turned to Julien. She held up a corner of her apron with one
hand, and with the other took out handfuls of grain, which she
scattered among the birds fluttering around her. At each moment the
little band was augmented by a new arrival. All these little
creatures were of species which do not emigrate, but pass the winter
in the shelter of the wooded dells. There were blackbirds with yellow
bills, who advanced boldly over the snow up to the very feet of the
distributing fairy; robin redbreasts, nearly as tame, hopping gayly
over the stones, bobbing their heads and puffing out their red
breasts; and tomtits, prudently watching awhile from the tops of
neighboring trees, then suddenly taking flight, and with quick, sharp
cries, seizing the grain on the wing. It was charming to see all
these little hungry creatures career around Reine's head, with a
joyous fluttering of wings. When the supply was exhausted, the young
girl shook her apron, turned around, and recognized Julien.
"Were you there, Monsieur de Buxieres?" she exclaimed; "come
inside the courtyard! Don't be afraid; they have finished their meal.
Those are my boarders," she added, pointing to the birds, which, one
by one, were taking their flight across the fields. "Ever since the
first fall of snow, I have been distributing grain to them once a day.
I think they must tell one another under the trees there, for every
day their number increases. But I don't complain of that. Just
think, these are not birds of passage; they do not leave us at the
first cold blast, to find a warmer climate; the least we can do is to
recompense them by feeding them when the weather is too severe!
Several know me already, and are very tame. There is a blackbird in
particular, and a blue tomtit, that are both extremely saucy!"
These remarks were of a nature to please Julien. They went
straight to the heart of the young mystic; they recalled to his mind
St. Francis of Assisi, preaching to the fish and conversing with the
birds, and he felt an increase of sympathy for this singular young
girl. He would have liked to find a pretext for remaining longer with
her, but his natural timidity in the presence of women paralyzed his
tongue, and, already, fearing he should be thought intruding, he had
raised his hat to take leave, when Reine addressed him:
"I do not ask you to come into the house, because I am obliged to
go to the sale of the Ronces woods, in order to speak to the men who
are cultivating the little lot that we have bought. I wager, Monsieur
de Buxieres, that you are not yet acquainted with our woods?"
"That is true," he replied, smiling.
"Very well, if you will accompany me, I will show you the canton
they are about to develop. It will not be time lost, for it will be a
good thing for the people who are working for you to know that you are
interested in their labors."
Julien replied that he should be happy to be under her guidance.
"In that case," said Reine, "wait for me here. I shall be back in
She reappeared a few minutes later, wearing a white hood with a
cape, and a knitted woolen shawl over her shoulders.
"This way!" said she, showing a path that led across the
They walked along silently at first. The sky was clear, the wind
had freshened. Suddenly, as if by enchantment, the fog, which had
hung over the forest, became converted into needles of ice. Each tree
was powdered over with frozen snow, and on the hillsides overshadowing
the valley the massive tufts of forest were veiled in a bluish-white
Never had Julien de Buxieres been so long in tete-a-tete with a
young woman. The extreme solitude, the surrounding silence, rendered
this dual promenade more intimate and also more embarrassing to a
young man who was alarmed at the very thought of a female countenance.
His ecclesiastical education had imbued Julien with very rigorous
ideas as to the careful and reserved behavior which should be
maintained between the sexes, and his intercourse with the world had
been too infrequent for the idea to have been modified in any
appreciable degree. It was natural, therefore, that this walk across
the fields in the company of Reine should assume an exaggerated
importance in his eyes. He felt himself troubled and yet happy in the
chance afforded him to become more closely acquainted with this young
girl, toward whom a secret sympathy drew him more and more. But he did
not know how to begin conversation, and the more he cudgelled his
brains to find a way of opening the attack, the more he found himself
at sea. Once more Reine came to his assistance.
"Well, Monsieur de Buxieres," said she, "do matters go more to your
liking now? You have acted most generously toward Claudet, and he
ought to be pleased."
"Has he spoken to you, then?"
"No; not himself, but good news, like bad, flies fast, and all the
villagers are singing your praises."
"I only did a very simple and just thing," replied Julien.
"Precisely, but those are the very things that are the hardest to
do. And according as they are done well or ill, so is the person that
does them judged by others."
"You have thought favorably of me then, Mademoiselle Vincart," he
ventured, with a timid smile.
"Yes; but my opinion is of little importance. You must be pleased
with yourself—that is more essential. I am sure that it must be
pleasanter now for you to live at Vivey?"
"Hm!—more bearable, certainly."
The conversation languished again. As they approached the confines
of the farm they heard distant barking, and then the voices of human
beings. Finally two gunshots broke on the air.
"Ha, ha!" exclaimed Reine, listening, "the Auberive Society is
following the hounds, and Claudet must be one of the party. How is it
you were not with them?"
"Claudet took me there, and I was at the breakfast—but,
Mademoiselle, I confess that that kind of amusement is not very
tempting to me. At the first opportunity I made my escape, and left
the party to themselves."
"Well, now, to be frank with you, you were wrong. Those gentlemen
will feel aggrieved, for they are very sensitive. You see, when one
has to live with people, one must yield to their customs, and not
pooh-pooh their amusements."
"You are saying exactly what Claudet said last night."
"Claudet was right."
"What am I to do? The chase has no meaning for me. I can not feel
any interest in the butchery of miserable animals that are afterward
sent back to their quarters."
"I can understand that you do not care for the chase for its own
sake; but the ride in the open air, in the open forest? Our forests
are so beautiful—look there, now! does not that sight appeal to you?"
From the height they had now gained, they could see all over the
valley, illuminated at intervals by the pale rays of the winter sun.
Wherever its light touched the brushwood, the frosty leaves quivered
like diamonds, while a milky cloud enveloped the parts left in shadow.
Now and then, a slight breeze stirred the branches, causing a shower
of sparkling atoms to rise in the air, like miniature rainbows. The
entire forest seemed clothed in the pure, fairy-like robes of a virgin
"Yes, that is beautiful," admitted Julien, hesitatingly; "I do not
think I ever saw anything similar: at any rate, it is you who have
caused me to notice it for the first time. But," continued he, "as
the sun rises higher, all this phantasmagoria will melt and vanish.
The beauty of created things lasts only a moment, and serves as a
warning for us not to set our hearts on things that perish."
Reine gazed at him with astonishment.
"Do you really think so?" exclaimed she: "that is very sad, and I
do not know enough to give an opinion. All I know is, that if God has
created such beautiful things it is in order that we may enjoy them.
And that is the reason why I worship these woods with all my heart.
Ah! if you could only see them in the month of June, when the foliage
is at its fulness. Flowers everywhere—yellow, blue, crimson! Music
also everywhere—the song of birds, the murmuring of waters, and the
balmy scents in the air. Then there are the lime-trees, the wild
cherry, and the hedges red with strawberries—it is intoxicating.
And, whatever you may say, Monsieur de Buxieres, I assure you that
the beauty of the forest is not a thing to be despised. Every season
it is renewed: in autumn, when the wild fruits and tinted leaves
contribute their wealth of color; in winter, with its vast carpets of
snow, from which the tall ash springs to such a stately height-look,
now! up there!"
They were in the depths of the forest. Before them were colonnades
of slim, graceful trees, rising in one unbroken line toward the skies,
their slender branches forming a dark network overhead, and their
lofty proportions lessening in the distance, until lost in the solemn
gloom beyond. A religious silence prevailed, broken only by the
occasional chirp of the wren, or the soft pattering of some smaller
"How beautiful!" exclaimed Reine, with animation; "one might
imagine one's self in a cathedral! Oh! how I love the forest; a
feeling of awe and devotion comes over me, and makes me want to kneel
down and pray!"
Julien looked at her with an uneasy kind of admiration. She was
walking slowly now, grave and thoughtful, as if in church. Her white
hood had fallen on her shoulders, and her hair, slightly stirred by
the wind, floated like a dark aureole around her pale face. Her
luminous eyes gleamed between the double fringes of her eyelids, and
her mobile nostrils quivered with suppressed emotion. As she passed
along, the brambles from the wayside, intermixed with ivy, and other
hardy plants, caught on the hem of her dress and formed a verdant
train, giving her the appearance of the high-priestess of some
mysterious temple of Nature. At this moment, she identified herself so
perfectly with her nickname, "queen of the woods," that Julien,
already powerfully affected by her peculiar and striking style of
beauty, began to experience a superstitious dread of her influence.
His Catholic scruples, or the remembrance of certain pious lectures
administered in his childhood, rendered him distrustful, and he
reproached himself for the interest he took in the conversation of
this seductive creature. He recalled the legends of temptations to
which the Evil One used to subject the anchorites of old, by causing
to appear before them the attractive but illusive forms of the heathen
deities. He wondered whether he were not becoming the sport of the
same baleful influence; if, like the Lamias and Dryads of antiquity,
this queen of the woods were not some spirit of the elements,
incarnated in human form and sent to him for the purpose of dragging
his soul down to perdition.
In this frame of mind he followed in her footsteps, cautiously, and
at a distance, when she suddenly turned, as if waiting for him to
rejoin her. He then perceived that they had reached the end of the
copse, and before them lay an open space, on which the cut lumber lay
in cords, forming dark heaps on the frosty ground. Here and there
were allotments of chosen trees and poles, among which a thin spiral
of smoke indicated the encampment of the cutters. Reine made straight
for them, and immediately presented the new owner of the chateau to
the workmen. They made their awkward obeisances, scrutinizing him in
the mistrustful manner customary with the peasants of mountainous
regions when they meet strangers. The master workman then turned to
Reine, replying to her remarks in a respectful but familiar tone:
"Make yourself easy, mamselle, we shall do our best and rush things
in order to get through with the work. Besides, if you will come this
way with me, you will see that there is no idling; we are just now
going to fell an oak, and before a quarter of an hour is over it will
be lying on the ground, cut off as neatly as if with a razor."
They drew near the spot where the first strokes of the axe were
already resounding. The giant tree did not seem affected by them, but
remained haughty and immovable. Then the blows redoubled until the
trunk began to tremble from the base to the summit, like a living
thing. The steel had made the bark, the sapwood, and even the core of
the tree, fly in shivers; but the oak had resumed its impassive
attitude, and bore stoically the assaults of the workmen. Looking
upward, as it reared its proud and stately head, one would have
affirmed that it never could fall. Suddenly the woodsmen fell back;
there was a moment of solemn and terrible suspense; then the enormous
trunk heaved and plunged down among the brushwood with an alarming
crash of breaking branches. A sound as of lamentation rumbled through
the icy forest, and then all was still.
The men, with unconscious emotion, stood contemplating the monarch
oak lying prostrate on the ground. Reine had turned pale; her dark
eyes glistened with tears.
"Let us go," murmured she to Julien; "this death of a tree affects
me as if it were that of a Christian."
They took leave of the woodsmen, and reentered the forest. Reine
kept silence and her companion was at a loss to resume the
conversation; so they journeyed along together quietly until they
reached a border line, whence they could perceive the smoke from the
roofs of Vivey.
"You have only to go straight down the hill to reach your home,"
said she, briefly; "au revoir, Monsieur de Buxieres."
Thus they quitted each other, and, looking back, he saw that she
slackened her speed and went dreamily on in the direction of
CHAPTER V. LOVE'S INDISCRETION
In the mountainous region of Langres, spring can hardly be said to
appear before the end of May. Until that time the cold weather holds
its own; the white frosts, and the sharp, sleety April showers, as
well as the sudden windstorms due to the malign influence of the
ice-gods, arrest vegetation, and only a few of the more hardy plants
venture to put forth their trembling shoots until later. But, as June
approaches and the earth becomes warmed through by the sun, a sudden
metamorphosis is effected. Sometimes a single night is sufficient for
the floral spring to burst forth in all its plenitude. The hedges are
alive with lilies and woodruffs; the blue columbines shake their
foolscap-like blossoms along the green side-paths; the milky spikes of
the Virgin plant rise slender and tall among the bizarre and
many-colored orchids. Mile after mile, the forest unwinds its fairy
show of changing scenes. Sometimes one comes upon a spot of perfect
verdure; at other times one wanders in almost complete darkness under
the thick interlacing boughs of the ashtrees, through which occasional
gleams of light fall on the dark soil or on the spreading ferns. Now
the wanderer emerges upon an open space so full of sunshine that the
strawberries are already ripening; near them are stacked the tender
young trees, ready for spacing, and the billets of wood piled up and
half covered with thistle and burdock leaves; and a little farther
away, half hidden by tall weeds, teeming with insects, rises the
peaked top of the woodsman's hut. Here one walks beside deep, grassy
trenches, which appear to continue without end, along the forest
level; farther, the wild mint and the centaurea perfume the shady
nooks, the oaks and lime-trees arch their spreading branches, and the
honeysuckle twines itself round the knotty shoots of the hornbeam,
whence the thrush gives forth her joyous, sonorous notes.
Not only in the forest, but also in the park belonging to the
chateau, and in the village orchards, spring had donned a holiday
costume. Through the open windows, between the massive bunches of
lilacs, hawthorn, and laburnum blossoms, Julien de Buxieres caught
glimpses of rolling meadows and softly tinted vistas. The gentle
twittering of the birds and the mysterious call of the cuckoo, mingled
with the perfume of flowers, stole into his study, and produced a
sense of enjoyment as novel to him as it was delightful. Having until
the present time lived a sedentary life in cities, he had had no
opportunity of experiencing this impression of nature in her awakening
and luxuriant aspect; never had he felt so completely under the
seductive influence of the goddess Maia than at this season when the
abundant sap exudes in a white foam from the trunk of the willow; when
between the plant world and ourselves a magnetic current seems to
exist, which seeks to wed their fraternizing emanations with our own
personality. He was oppressed by the vividness of the verdure,
intoxicated with the odor of vegetation, agitated by the confused
music of the birds, and in this May fever of excitement, his thoughts
wandered with secret delight to Reine Vincart, to this queen of the
woods, who was the personification of all the witchery of the forest.
Since their January promenade in the glades of Charbonniere, he had
seen her at a distance, sometimes on Sundays in the little church at
Vivey, sometimes like a fugitive apparition at the turn of a road.
They had also exchanged formal salutations, but had not spoken to
each other. More than once, after the night had fallen, Julien had
stopped in front of the courtyard of La Thuiliere, and watched the
lamps being lighted inside. But he had not ventured to knock at the
door of the house; a foolish timidity had prevented him; so he had
returned to the chateau, dissatisfied and reproaching himself for
allowing his awkward shyness to interpose, as it were, a wall of ice
between himself and the only person whose acquaintance seemed to him
At other times he would become alarmed at the large place a woman
occupied in his thoughts, and he congratulated himself on having
resisted the dangerous temptation of seeing Mademoiselle Vincart
again. He acknowledged that this singular girl had for him an
attraction against which he ought to be on his guard. Reine might be
said to live alone at La Thuiliere, for her father could hardly be
regarded seriously as a protector. Julien's visits might have
compromised her, and the young man's severe principles of rectitude
forbade him to cause scandal which he could not repair. He was not
thinking of marriage, and even had his thoughts inclined that way, the
proprieties and usages of society which he had always in some degree
respected, would not allow him to wed a peasant girl. It was evident,
therefore, that both prudence and uprightness would enjoin him to
carry on any future relations with Mademoiselle Vincart with the
greatest possible reserve.
Nevertheless, and in spite of these sage reflections, the
enchanting image of Reine haunted him more than was at all reasonable.
Often, during his hours of watchfulness, he would see her threading
the avenues of the forest, her dark hair half floating in the breeze,
and wearing her white hood and her skirt bordered with ivy. Since the
spring had returned, she had become associated in his mind with all
the magical effects of nature's renewal. He discovered the liquid
light of her dark eyes in the rippling darkness of the streams; the
lilies recalled the faintly tinted paleness of her cheeks; the silene
roses, scattered throughout the hedges, called forth the remembrance
of the young maiden's rosy lips, and the vernal odor of the leaves
appeared to him like an emanation of her graceful and wholesome
This state of feeling began to act like an obsession, a sort of
witchcraft, which alarmed him. What was she really, this strange
creature? A peasant indeed, apparently; but there was also something
more refined and cultivated about her, due, doubtless, to her having
received her education in a city school. She both felt and expressed
herself differently from ordinary country girls, although retaining
the frankness and untutored charm of rustic natures. She exercised an
uneasy fascination over Julien, and at times he returned to the
superstitious impression made upon him by Reine's behavior and
discourse in the forest. He again questioned with himself whether this
female form, in its untamed beauty, did not enfold some spirit of
temptation, some insidious fairy, similar to the Melusine, who
appeared to Count Raymond in the forest of Poitiers.
Most of the time he would himself laugh at this extravagant
supposition, but, while endeavoring to make light of his own
cowardice, the idea still haunted and tormented him. Sometimes, in
the effort to rid himself of the persistence of his own imagination,
he would try to exorcise the demon who had got hold of him, and this
exorcism consisted in despoiling the image of his temptress of the
veil of virginal purity with which his admiration had first invested
her. Who could assure him, after all, that this girl, with her
independent ways, living alone at her farm, running through the woods
at all hours, was as irreproachable as he had imagined? In the
village, certainly, she was respected by all; but people were very
tolerant—very easy, in fact—on the question of morals in this
district, where the gallantries of Claude de Buxieres were thought
quite natural, where the illegitimacy of Claudet offended no one's
sense of the proprieties, and where the after-dinner conversations,
among the class considered respectable, were such as Julien had
listened to with repugnance. Nevertheless, even in his most
suspicious moods, Julien had never dared broach the subject to
Every time that the name of Reine Vincart had come to his lips, a
feeling of bashfulness, in addition to his ordinary timidity, had
prevented him from interrogating Claudet concerning the character of
this mysterious queen of the woods. Like all novices in love-affairs
Julien dreaded that his feelings should be divined, at the mere
mention of the young girl's name. He preferred to remain isolated,
concentrating in himself his desires, his trouble and his doubts.
Yet, whatever efforts he made, and however firmly he adhered to his
resolution of silence, the hypochondria from which he suffered could
not escape the notice of the 'grand chasserot'. He was not
clear-sighted enough to discern the causes, but he could observe the
effects. It provoked him to find that all his efforts to enliven his
cousin had proved futile. He had cudgelled his brains to comprehend
whence came these fits of terrible melancholy, and, judging Julien by
himself, came to the conclusion that his ennui proceeded from an
excess of strictness and good behavior.
"Monsieur de Buxieres," said he, one evening when they were walking
silently, side by side, in the avenues of the park, which resounded
with the song of the nightingales, "there is one thing that troubles
me, and that is that you do not confide in me."
"What makes you think so, Claudet?" demanded Julien, with
"Paybleu! the way you act. You are, if I may say so, too
secretive. When you wanted to make amends for Claude de Buxieres's
negligence, and proposed that I should live here with you, I accepted
without any ceremony. I hoped that in giving me a place at your fire
and your table, you would also give me one in your affections, and
that you would allow me to share your sorrows, like a true brother
"I assure you, my dear fellow, that you are mistaken. If I had any
serious trouble on my mind, you should be the first to know it."
"Oh! that's all very well to say; but you are unhappy all the
same—one can see it in your mien, and shall I tell you the reason?
It is that you are too sedate, Monsieur de Buxieres; you have need of
a sweetheart to brighten up your days."
"Ho, ho!" replied Julien, coloring, "do you wish to have me
"Ah! that's another affair. No; but still I should like to see
you take some interest in a woman—some gay young person who would
rouse you up and make you have a good time. There is no lack of such
in the district, and you would only have the trouble of choosing."
M. de Buxieres's color deepened, and he was visibly annoyed.
"That is a singular proposition," exclaimed he, after awhile; "do
you take me for a libertine?"
"Don't get on your high horse, Monsieur de Buxieres! There would
be no one hurt. The girls I allude to are not so difficult to
"That has nothing to do with it, Claudet; I do not enjoy that kind
"It is the kind that young men of our age indulge in, all the same.
Perhaps you think there would be difficulties in the way. They would
not be insurmountable, I can assure you; those matters go smoothly
enough here. You slip your arm round her waist, give her a good,
sounding salute, and the acquaintance is begun. You have only to
"Enough of this," interrupted Julien, harshly, "we never can agree
on such topics!"
"As you please, Monsieur de Buxieres; since you do not like the
subject, we will not bring it up again. If I mentioned it at all, it
was that I saw you were not interested in either hunting or fishing,
and thought you might prefer some other kind of game. I do wish I
knew what to propose that would give you a little pleasure," continued
Claudet, who was profoundly mortified at the ill-success of his
overtures. "Now! I have it. Will you come with me to-morrow, to the
Ronces woods? The charcoal- dealers who are constructing their
furnaces for the sale, will complete their dwellings this evening and
expect to celebrate in the morning. They call it watering the bouquet,
and it is the occasion of a little festival, to which we, as well at
the presiding officials of the cutting, are invited. Naturally, the
guests pay their share in bottles of wine. You can hardly be excused
from showing yourself among these good people. It is one of the
customs of the country. I have promised to be there, and it is
certain that Reine Vincart, who has bought the Ronces property, will
not fail to be present at the ceremony."
Julien had already the words on his lips for declining Claudet's
offer, when the name of Reine Vincart produced an immediate change in
his resolution. It just crossed his mind that perhaps Claudet had
thrown out her name as a bait and an argument in favor of his theories
on the facility of love-affairs in the country. However that might
be, the allusion to the probable presence of Mademoiselle Vincart at
the coming fete, rendered young Buxieres more tractable, and he made
no further difficulties about accompanying his cousin.
The next morning, after partaking hastily of breakfast, they
started on their way toward the cutting. The charcoal-dealers had
located themselves on the border of the forest, not far from the spot
where, in the month of January, Reine and Julien had visited the wood
cutters. Under the sheltering branches of a great ash tree, the newly
erected but raised its peaked roof covered with clods of turf, and two
furnaces, just completed, occupied the ground lately prepared. One of
them, ready for use, was covered with the black earth called 'frazil',
which is extracted from the site of old charcoal works; the other, in
course of construction, showed the successive layers of logs ranged in
circles inside, ready for the fire. The workmen moved around, going
and coming; first, the head-man or patron, a man of middle age, of
hairy chest, embrowned visage, and small beady eyes under bushy
eyebrows; his wife, a little, shrivelled, elderly woman; their
daughter, a thin awkward girl of seventeen, with fluffy hair and a
cunning, hard expression; and finally, their three boys, robust young
fellows, serving their apprenticeship at the trade. This party was
reenforced by one or two more single men, and some of the daughters of
the woodchoppers, attracted by the prospect of a day of dancing and
These persons were sauntering in and out under the trees, waiting
for the dinner, which was to be furnished mainly by the guests, the
contribution of the charcoal-men being limited to a huge pot of
potatoes which the patroness was cooking over the fire, kindled in
front of the hut.
The arrival of Julien and Claudet, attended by the small cowboy,
puffing and blowing under a load of provisions, was hailed with
exclamations of gladness and welcome. While one of the assistants was
carefully unrolling the big loaves of white bread, the enormous meat
pastry, and the bottles encased in straw, Reine Vincart appeared
suddenly on the scene, accompanied by one of the farm-hands, who was
also tottering under the weight of a huge basket, from the corners of
which peeped the ends of bottles, and the brown knuckle of a smoked
ham. At sight of the young proprietress of La Thuiliere, the hurrahs
burst forth again, with redoubled and more sustained energy. As she
stood there smiling, under the greenish shadow cast by the ashtrees,
Reine appeared to Julien even more seductive than among the frosty
surroundings of the previous occasion. Her simple and rustic spring
costume was marvellously becoming: a short blue-and-yellow striped
skirt, a tight jacket of light- colored material, fitted closely to
the waist, a flat linen collar tied with a narrow blue ribbon, and a
bouquet of woodruff at her bosom. She wore stout leather boots, and a
large straw hat, which she threw carelessly down on entering the hut.
Among so many faces of a different type, all somewhat disfigured by
hardships of exposure, this lovely face with its olive complexion,
lustrous black eyes, and smiling red lips, framed in dark, soft, wavy
hair resting on her plump shoulders, seemed to spread a sunshiny glow
over the scene. It was a veritable portrayal of the "queen of the
woods," appearing triumphant among her rustic subjects. As an emblem
of her royal prerogative, she held in her hand an enormous bouquet of
flowers she had gathered on her way: honeysuckles, columbine, all
sorts of grasses with shivering spikelets, black alder blossoms with
their white centres, and a profusion of scarlet poppies. Each of
these exhaled its own salubrious springlike perfume, and a light cloud
of pollen, which covered the eyelashes and hair of the young girl with
a delicate white powder.
"Here, Pere Theotime," said she, handing her collection over to the
master charcoal-dealer, "I gathered these for you to ornament the roof
of your dwelling."
She then drew near to Claudet; gave him her hand in comrade
fashion, and saluted Julien:
"Good-morning, Monsieur de Buxieres, I am very glad to see you
here. Was it Claudet who brought you, or did you come of your own
While Julien, dazed and bewildered, was seeking a reply, she passed
quickly to the next group, going from one to another, and watching
with interest the placing of the bouquet on the summit of the hut.
One of the men brought a ladder and fastened the flowers to a spike.
When they were securely attached and began to nod in the air, he
waved his hat and shouted: "Hou, houp!" This was the signal for going
The food had been spread on the tablecloth under the shade of the
ash- trees, and all the guests sat around on sacks of charcoal; for
Reine and Julien alone they had reserved two stools, made by the
master, and thus they found themselves seated side by side. Soon a
profound, almost religious, silence indicated that the attack was
about to begin; after which, and when the first fury of their
appetites had been appeased, the tongues began to be loosened: jokes
and anecdotes, seasoned with loud bursts of laughter, were bandied to
and fro under the spreading branches, and presently the wine lent its
aid to raise the spirits of the company to an exuberant pitch. But
there was a certain degree of restraint observed by these country
folk. Was it owing to Reine's presence? Julien noticed that the
remarks of the working-people were in a very much better tone than
those of the Auberive gentry, with whom he had breakfasted; the gayety
of these children of the woods, although of a common kind, was always
kept within decent limits, and he never once had occasion to feel
ashamed. He felt more at ease among them than among the notables of
the borough, and he did not regret having accepted Claudet's
"I am glad I came," murmured he in Reine's ear, "and I never have
eaten with so much enjoyment!"
"Ah! I am glad of it," replied the young girl, gayly, "perhaps now
you will begin to like our woods."
When nothing was left on the table but bones and empty bottles,
Pere Theotime took a bottle of sealed wine, drew the cork, and filled
"Now," said he, "before christening our bouquet, we will drink to
Monsieur de Buxieres, who has brought us his good wine, and to our
sweet lady, Mademoiselle Vincart."
The glasses clinked, and the toasts were drunk with fervor.
"Mamselle Reine," resumed Pere Theotime, with a certain amount of
solemnity, "you can see, the hut is built; it will be occupied
to-night, and I trust good work will be done. You can perceive from
here our first furnace, all decorated and ready to be set alight.
But, in order that good luck shall attend us, you yourself must set
light to the fire. I ask you, therefore, to ascend to the top of the
chimney and throw in the first embers; may I ask this of your
"Why, certainly!" replied Reine, "come, Monsieur de Buxieres, you
must see how we light a charcoal furnace."
All the guests jumped from their seats; one of the men took the
ladder and leaned it against the sloping side of the furnace.
Meanwhile, Pere Theotime was bringing an earthen vase full of burning
embers. Reine skipped lightly up the steps, and when she reached the
top, stood erect near the orifice of the furnace.
Her graceful outline came out in strong relief against the clear
sky; one by one, she took the embers handed her by the
charcoal-dealer, and threw them into the opening in the middle of the
furnace. Soon there was a crackling inside, followed by a dull
rumbling; the chips and rubbish collected at the bottom had caught
fire, and the air-holes left at the base of the structure facilitated
the passage of the current, and hastened the kindling of the wood.
"Bravo; we've got it!" exclaimed Pere Theotime.
"Bravo!" repeated the young people, as much exhilarated with the
open air as with the two or three glasses of white wine they had
drunk. Lads and lasses joined hands and leaped impetuously around the
"A song, Reine! Sing us a song!" cried the young girls.
She stood at the foot of the ladder, and, without further
solicitation, intoned, in her clear and sympathetic voice, a popular
song, with a rhythmical refrain:
My father bid me
Go sell my wheat.
To the market we drove
"Good-morrow, my sweet!
How much, can you say,
Will its value prove?"
The embroidered rose
Lies on my glove.
"A hundred francs
Will its value prove."
"When you sell your wheat,
Do you sell your love?"
The embroidered rose
Lies on my glove!
"My heart, Monsieur,
Will never rove,
I have promised it
To my own true love."
The embroidered rose
Lies on my glove.
"For me he braves
The wind and the rain;
For me he weaves
A silver chain."
On my 'broidered glove.
Lies the rose again.
Repeating the refrain in chorus, boys and girls danced and leaped
in the sunlight. Julien leaned against the trunk of a tree, listening
to the sonorous voice of Reine, and could not take his eyes off the
singer. When she had ended her song, Reine turned in another
direction; but the dancers had got into the spirit of it and could not
stand still; one of the men came forward, and started another popular
air, which all the rest repeated in unison:
Up in the woods
Sleeps the fairy to-day:
The king, her lover,
Has strolled that way!
Will those who are young
Be married or nay?
Carried away by the rhythm, and the pleasure of treading the soft
grass under their feet, the dancers quickened their pace. The chain
of young folks disconnected for a moment, was reformed, and twisted in
and out among the trees; sometimes in light, sometimes in shadow,
until they disappeared, singing, into the very heart of the forest.
With the exception of Pere Theotime and his wife, who had gone to
superintend the furnace, all the guests, including Claudet, had joined
the gay throng. Reine and Julien, the only ones remaining behind,
stood in the shade near the borderline of the forest. It was high
noon, and the sun's rays, shooting perpendicularly down, made the
shade desirable. Reine proposed to her companion to enter the hut and
rest, while waiting for the return of the dancers. Julien accepted
readily; but not without being surprised that the young girl should be
the first to suggest a tete-a-tete in the obscurity of a remote hut.
Although more than ever fascinated by the unusual beauty of
Mademoiselle Vincart, he was astonished, and occasionally shocked, by
the audacity and openness of her action toward him. Once more the
spirit of doubt took possession of him, and he questioned whether this
freedom of manners was to be attributed to innocence or effrontery.
After the pleasant friendliness of the midday repast, and the
enlivening effect of the dance round the furnace, he was both glad and
troubled to find himself alone with Reine. He longed to let her know
what tender admiration she excited in his mind; but he did not know
how to set about it, nor in what style to address a girl of so strange
and unusual a disposition. So he contented himself with fixing an
enamored gaze upon her, while she stood leaning against one of the
inner posts, and twisted mechanically between her fingers a branch of
wild honeysuckle. Annoyed at his taciturnity, she at last broke the
"You are not saying anything, Monsieur de Buxieres; do you regret
having come to this fete?"
"Regret it, Mademoiselle?" returned he; "it is a long time since I
have had so pleasant a day, and I thank you, for it is to you I owe
"To me? You are joking. It is the good-humor of the people, the
spring sunshine, and the pure air of the forest that you must thank.
I have no part in it."
"You are everything in it, on the contrary," said he, tenderly.
"Before I knew you, I had met with country people, seen the sun and
trees, and so on, and nothing made any impression on me. But, just
now, when you were singing over there, I felt gladdened and inspired;
I felt the beauty of the woods, I sympathized with these good people,
and these grand trees, all these things among which you live so
happily. It is you who have worked this miracle. Ah! you are well
named. You are truly the fairy of the feast, the queen of the woods!"
Astonished at the enthusiasm of her companion, Reine looked at him
sidewise, half closing her eyes, and perceived that he was altogether
transformed. He appeared to have suddenly thawed. He was no longer
the awkward, sickly youth, whose every movement was paralyzed by
timidity, and whose words froze on his tongue; his slender frame had
become supple, his blue eyes enlarged and illuminated; his delicate
features expressed refinement, tenderness, and passion. The young
girl was moved and won by so much emotion, the first that Julien had
ever manifested toward her. Far from being offended at this species of
declaration, she replied, gayly:
"As to the queen of the woods working miracles, I know none so
powerful as these flowers."
She unfastened the bouquet of white starry woodruff from her
corsage, and handed them over to him in their envelope of green
"Do you know them?" said she; "see how sweet they smell! And the
odor increases as they wither."
Julien had carried the bouquet to his lips, and was inhaling slowly
the delicate perfume.
"Our woodsmen," she continued, "make with this plant a broth which
cures from ill effects of either cold or heat as if by enchantment;
they also infuse it into white wine, and convert it into a beverage
which they call May wine, and which is very intoxicating."
Julien was no longer listening to these details. He kept his eyes
steadily fixed on Mademoiselle Vincart, and continued to inhale
rapturously the bouquet, and to experience a kind of intoxication.
"Let me keep these flowers," he implored, in a choking voice.
"Certainly," replied she, gayly; "keep them, if it will give you
"Thank you," he murmured, hiding them in his bosom.
Reine was surprised at his attaching such exaggerated importance to
so slight a favor, and a sudden flush overspread her cheeks. She
almost repented having given him the flowers when she saw what a
tender reception he had given them, so she replied, suggestively:
"Do not thank me; the gift is not significant. Thousands of
similar flowers grow in the forest, and one has only to stoop and
He dared not reply that this bouquet, having been worn by her, was
worth much more to him than any other, but he thought it, and the
thought aroused in his mind a series of new ideas. As Reine had so
readily granted this first favor, was she not tacitly encouraging him
to ask for others? Was he dealing with a simple, innocent girl, or a
village coquette, accustomed to be courted? And on this last
supposition should he not pass for a simpleton in the eyes of this
experienced girl, if he kept himself at too great a distance. He
remembered the advice of Claudet concerning the method of conducting
love-affairs smoothly with certain women of the country. Whether she
was a coquette or not, Reine had bewitched him. The charm had worked
more powerfully still since he had been alone with her in this obscure
hut, where the cooing of the wild pigeons faintly reached their ears,
and the penetrating odors of the forest pervaded their nostrils.
Julien's gaze rested lovingly on Reine's wavy locks, falling heavily
over her neck, on her half-covered eyes with their luminous pupils
full of golden specks of light, on her red lips, on the two little
brown moles spotting her somewhat decollete neck. He thought her
adorable, and was dying to tell her so; but when he endeavored to
formulate his declaration, the words stuck fast in his throat, his
veins swelled, his throat became dry, his head swam. In this disorder
of his faculties he brought to mind the recommendation of Claudet:
"One arm round the waist, two sounding kisses, and the thing is done."
He rose abruptly, and went up to the young girl:
"Since you have given me these flowers," he began, in a husky
voice, "will you also, in sign of friendship, give me your hand, as
you gave it to Claudet?"
After a moment's hesitation, she held out her hand; but, hardly had
he touched it when he completely lost control of himself, and slipping
the arm which remained free around Reine's waist, he drew her toward
him and lightly touched with his lips her neck, the beauty of which
had so magnetized him.
The young girl was stronger than he; in the twinkling of an eye she
tore herself from his audacious clasp, threw him violently backward,
and with one bound reached the door of the hut. She stood there a
moment, pale, indignant, her eyes blazing, and then exclaimed, in a
"If you come a step nearer, I will call the charcoalmen!"
But Julien had no desire to renew the attack; already sobered,
cowed, and repentant, he had retreated to the most obscure corner of
"Are you mad?" she continued, with vehemence, "or has the wine got
into your head? It is rather early for you to be adopting the ways of
your deceased cousin! I give you notice that they will not succeed
with me! "And, at the same moment, tears of humiliation filled her
eyes. "I did not expect this of you, Monsieur de Buxieres!"
"Forgive me!" faltered Julien, whose heart smote him at the sight
of her tears; "I have behaved like a miserable sinner and a brute! It
was a moment of madness—forget it and forgive me!"
"Nobody ever treated me with disrespect before," returned the young
girl, in a suffocated voice; "I was wrong to allow you any
familiarity, that is all. It shall not happen to me again!"
Julien remained mute, overpowered with shame and remorse.
Suddenly, in the stillness around, rose the voices of the dancers
returning and singing the refrain of the rondelay:
I had a rose—
On my heart it lay
Will those who are young
Be married, or nay?
"There are our people," said Reine, softly, "I am going to them;
adieu— do not follow me!" She left the but and hastened toward the
furnace, while Julien, stunned with the rapidity with which this
unfortunate scene had been enacted, sat down on one of the benches, a
prey to confused feelings of shame and angry mortification. No,
certainly, he did not intend to follow her! He had no desire to show
himself in public with this young girl whom he had so stupidly
insulted, and in whose face he never should be able to look again.
Decidedly, he did not understand women, since he could not even tell
a virtuous girl from a frivolous coquette! Why had he not been able
to see that the good-natured, simple familiarity of Reine Vincart had
nothing in common with the enticing allurements of those who, to use
Claudet's words, had "thrown their caps over the wall." How was it
that he had not read, in those eyes, pure as the fountain's source,
the candor and uprightness of a maiden heart which had nothing to
conceal. This cruel evidence of his inability to conduct himself
properly in the affairs of life exasperated and humiliated him, and at
the same time that he felt his self-love most deeply wounded, he was
conscious of being more hopelessly enamored of Reine Vincart. Never
had she appeared so beautiful as during the indignant movement which
had separated her from him. Her look of mingled anger and sadness,
the expression of her firm, set lips, the quivering nostrils, the
heaving of her bosom, he recalled it all, and the image of her proud
beauty redoubled his grief and despair.
He remained a long time concealed in the shadow of the hut.
Finally, when he heard the voices dying away in different directions,
and was satisfied that the charcoal-men were attending to their
furnace work, he made up his mind to come out. But, as he did not
wish to meet any one, instead of crossing through the cutting he
plunged into the wood, taking no heed in what direction he went, and
being desirous of walking alone as long as possible, without meeting a
single human visage.
As he wandered aimlessly through the deepening shadows of the
forest, crossed here and there by golden bars of light from the
slanting rays of the setting sun, he pondered over the probable
results of his unfortunate behavior. Reine would certainly keep
silence on the affront she had received, but would she be indulgent
enough to forget or forgive the insult? The most evident result of
the affair would be that henceforth all friendly relations between
them must cease. She certainly would maintain a severe attitude
toward the person who had so grossly insulted her, but would she be
altogether pitiless in her anger? All through his dismal feelings of
self-reproach, a faint hope of reconciliation kept him from utter
despair. As he reviewed the details of the shameful occurrence, he
remembered that the expression of her countenance had been one more of
sorrow than of anger. The tone of melancholy reproach in which she
had uttered the words: "I did not expect this from you, Monsieur de
Buxieres!" seemed to convey the hope that he might, one day, be
forgiven. At the same time, the poignancy of his regret showed him
how much hold the young girl had taken upon his affections, and how
cheerless and insipid his life would be if he were obliged to continue
on unfriendly terms with the woodland queen.
He had come to this conclusion in his melancholy reflections, when
he reached the outskirts of the forest.
He stood above the calm, narrow valley of Vivey; on the right, over
the tall ash-trees, peeped the pointed turrets of the chateau; on the
left, and a little farther behind, was visible a whitish line,
contrasting with the surrounding verdure, the winding path to La
Thuiliere, through the meadow-land of Planche-au-Vacher. Suddenly,
the sound of voices reached his ears, and, looking more closely, he
perceived Reine and Claudet walking side by side down the narrow path.
The evening air softened the resonance of the voices, so that the
words themselves were not audible, but the intonation of the alternate
speakers, and their confidential and friendly gestures, evinced a very
animated, if not tender, exchange of sentiments. At times the
conversation was enlivened by Claudet's bursts of laughter, or an
amicable gesture from Reine. At one moment, Julien saw the young girl
lay her hand familiarly on the shoulder of the 'grand chssserot', and
immediately a pang of intense jealousy shot through his heart. At
last the young pair arrived at the banks of a stream, which traversed
the path and had become swollen by the recent heavy rains. Claudet
took Reine by the waist and lifted her in his vigorous arms, while he
picked his way across the stream; then they resumed their way toward
the bottom of the pass, and the tall brushwood hid their retreating
forms from Julien's eager gaze, although it was long before the
vibrations of their sonorous voices ceased echoing in his ears.
"Ah!" thought he, quite overcome by this new development, "she
stands less on ceremony with him than with me! How close they kept to
each other in that lonely path! With what animation they conversed!
with what abandon she allowed herself to be carried in his arms! All
that indicates an intimacy of long standing, and explains a good many
He recalled Reine's visit to the chateau, and how cleverly she had
managed to inform him of the parentage existing between Claudet and
the deceased Claude de Buxieres; how she had by her conversation
raised a feeling of pity in his mind for Claudet; and a desire to
repair the negligence of the deceased.
"How could I be so blind!" thought Julien, with secret scorn of
himself; "I did not see anything, I comprehended none of their
artifices! They love each other, that is sure, and I have been
playing throughout the part of a dupe. I do not blame him. He was in
love, and allowed himself to be persuaded. But she! whom I thought so
open, so true, so loyal! Ah! she is no better than others of her
class, and she was coquetting with me in order to insure her lover a
position! Well! one more illusion is destroyed. Ecclesiastes was
right. 'Inveni amarivrem morte mulierem', 'woman is more bitter than
Twilight had come, and it was already dark in the forest. Slowly
and reluctantly, Julien descended the slope leading to the chateau,
and the gloom of the woods entered his heart.
CHAPTER VI. LOVE BY PROXY
Jealousy is a maleficent deity of the harpy tribe; she embitters
everything she touches.
Ever since the evening that Julien had witnessed the crossing of
the brook by Reine and Claudet, a secret poison had run through his
veins, and embittered every moment of his life. Neither the glowing
sun of June, nor the glorious development of the woods had any charm
for him. In vain did the fields display their golden treasures of
ripening corn; in vain did the pale barley and the silvery oats wave
their luxuriant growth against the dark background of the woods; all
these fairylike effects of summer suggested only prosaic and
misanthropic reflections in Julien's mind. He thought of the tricks,
the envy and hatred that the possession of these little squares of
ground brought forth among their rapacious owners. The prolific
exuberance of forest vegetation was an exemplification of the fierce
and destructive activity of the blind forces of Nature. All the earth
was a hateful theatre for the continual enactment of bloody and
monotonous dramas; the worm consuming the plant; the bird mangling the
insect, the deer fighting among themselves, and man, in his turn,
pursuing all kinds of game. He identified nature with woman, both
possessing in his eyes an equally deceiving appearance, the same
beguiling beauty, and the same spirit of ambuscade and perfidy. The
people around him inspired him only with mistrust and suspicion. In
every peasant he met he recognized an enemy, prepared to cheat him
with wheedling words and hypocritical lamentations. Although during
the few months he had experienced the delightful influence of Reine
Vincart, he had been drawn out of his former prejudices, and had
imagined he was rising above the littleness of every-day worries; he
now fell back into hard reality; his feet were again embedded in the
muddy ground of village politics, and consequently village life was a
burden to him.
He never went out, fearing to meet Reine Vincart. He fancied that
the sight of her might aggravate the malady from which he suffered and
for which he eagerly sought a remedy.
But, notwithstanding the cloistered retirement to which he had
condemned himself, his wound remained open. Instead of solitude
having a healing effect, it seemed to make his sufferings greater.
When, in the evening, as he sat moodily at his window, he would hear
Claudet whistle to his dog, and hurry off in the direction of La
Thuiliere, he would say to himself: "He is going to keep an
appointment with Reine." Then a feeling of blind rage would overpower
him; he felt tempted to leave his room and follow his rival
secretly—a moment afterward he would be ashamed of his meanness. Was
it not enough that he had once, although involuntarily, played the
degrading part of a spy! What satisfaction could he derive from such
a course? Would he be much benefited when he returned home with rage
in his heart and senses, after watching a love-scene between the young
pair? This consideration kept him in his seat, but his imagination
ran riot instead; it went galloping at the heels of Claudet, and
accompanied him down the winding paths, moistened by the evening dew.
As the moon rose above the trees, illuminating the foliage with her
mild bluish rays, he pictured to himself the meeting of the two lovers
on the flowery turf bathed in the silvery light. His brain seemed on
fire. He saw Reine in white advancing like a moonbeam, and Claudet
passing his arm around the yielding waist of the maiden. He tried to
substitute himself in idea, and to imagine the delight of the first
words of welcome, and the ecstasy of the prolonged embrace. A shiver
ran through his whole body; a sharp pain transfixed his heart; his
throat closed convulsively; half fainting, he leaned against the
window-frame, his eyes closed, his ears stopped, to shut out all
sights or sounds, longing only for oblivion and complete torpor of
body and mind.
He did not realize his longing. The enchanting image of the
woodland queen, as he had beheld her in the dusky light of the
charcoal-man's hut, was ever before him. He put his hands over his
eyes. She was there still, with her deep, dark eyes and her enticing
cherry lips. Even the odor of the honeysuckle arising from the garden
assisted the reality of the vision, by recalling the sprig of the same
flower which Reine was twisting round her fingers at their last
interview. This sweet breath of flowers in the night seemed like an
emanation from the young girl herself, and was as fleeting and
intangible as the remembrance of vanished happiness. Again and again
did his morbid nature return to past events, and make his present
position more unbearable.
"Why," thought he, "did I ever entertain so wild a hope? This
wood- nymph, with her robust yet graceful figure, her
clear-headedness, her energy and will-power, could she ever have loved
a being so weak and unstable as myself? No, indeed; she needs a lover
full of life and vigor; a huntsman, with a strong arm, able to protect
her. What figure should I cut by the side of so hearty and
well-balanced a fellow?"
In these fits of jealousy, he was not so angry with Claudet for
being loved by Reine as for having so carefully concealed his
feelings. And yet, while inwardly blaming him for this want of
frankness, he did not realize that he himself was open to a similar
accusation, by hiding from Claudet what was troubling him so
Since the evening of the inauguration festival, he had become
sullen and taciturn. Like all timid persons, he took refuge in a
moody silence, which could not but irritate his cousin. They met
every day at the same table; to all appearance their intimacy was as
great as ever, but, in reality, there was no mutual exchange of
feeling. Julien's continued ill-humor was a source of anxiety to
Claudet, who turned his brain almost inside out in endeavoring to
discover its cause. He knew he had done nothing to provoke any
coolness; on the contrary, he had set his wits to work to show his
gratitude by all sorts of kindly offices.
By dint of thinking the matter over, Claudet came to the conclusion
that perhaps Julien was beginning to repent of his generosity, and
that possibly this coolness was a roundabout way of manifesting his
change of feeling. This seemed to be the only plausible solution of
his cousin's behavior. "He is probably tired," thought he, "of
keeping us here at the chateau, my mother and myself."
Claudet's pride and self-respect revolted at this idea. He did not
intend to be an incumbrance on any one, and became offended in his
turn at the mute reproach which he imagined he could read in his
cousin's troubled countenance. This misconception, confirmed by the
obstinate silence of both parties, and aggravated by its own
continuance, at last produced a crisis.
It happened one night, after they had taken supper together, and
Julien's ill-humor had been more evident than usual. Provoked at his
persistent taciturnity, and more than ever convinced that it was his
presence that young de Buxieres objected to, Claudet resolved to force
an explanation. Instead, therefore, of quitting the dining-room after
dessert, and whistling to his dog to accompany him in his habitual
promenade, the 'grand chasserot' remained seated, poured out a small
glass of brandy, and slowly filled his pipe. Surprised to see that he
was remaining at home, Julien rose and began to pace the floor,
wondering what could be the reason of this unexpected change. As
suspicious people are usually prone to attribute complicated motives
for the most simple actions, he imagined that Claudet, becoming aware
of the jealous feeling he had excited, had given up his promenade
solely to mislead and avert suspicion. This idea irritated him still
more, and halting suddenly in his walk, he went up to Claudet and
"You are not going out, then?"
"No;" replied Claudet, "if you will permit me, I will stay and keep
you company. Shall I annoy you?"
"Not in the least; only, as you are accustomed to walk every
evening, I should not wish you to inconvenience yourself on my
account. I am not afraid of being alone, and I am not selfish enough
to deprive you of society more agreeable than mine."
"What do you mean by that?" cried Claudet, pricking up his ears.
"Nothing," muttered Julien, between his set teeth, "except that
your fancied obligation of keeping me company ought not to prevent you
missing a pleasant engagement, or keeping a rendezvous."
"A rendezvous," replied his interlocutor, with a forced laugh, "so
you think, when I go out after supper, I go to seek amusement. A
rendezvous! And with whom, if you please?"
"With your mistress, of course," replied Julien, sarcastically,
"from what you said to me, there is no scarcity here of girls inclined
to be good-natured, and you have only the trouble of choosing among
them. I supposed you were courting some woodman's young daughter, or
some pretty farmer girl, like—like Reine Vincart."
"Refine Vincart!" repeated Claudet, sternly, "what business have
you to mix up her name with those creatures to whom you refer?
Mademoiselle Vincart," added he, "has nothing in common with that
class, and you have no right, Monsieur de Buxieres, to use her name so
The allusion to Reine Vincart had agitated Claudet to such a degree
that he did not notice that Julien, as he pronounced her name, was as
much moved as himself.
The vehemence with which Claudet resented the insinuation increased
young de Buxieres's irritation.
"Ha, ha!" said he, laughing scornfully, "Reine Vincart is an
exceedingly pretty girl!"
"She is not only pretty, she is good and virtuous, and deserves to
"How you uphold her! One can see that you are interested in her."
"I uphold her because you are unjust toward her. But I wish you to
understand that she has no need of any one standing up for her—her
good name is sufficient to protect her. Ask any one in the
village—there is but one voice on that question."
"Come," said Julien, huskily, "confess that you are in love with
"Well! suppose I am," said Claudet, angrily, "yes, I love her!
There, are you satisfied now?"
Although de Buxieres knew what he had to expect, he was not the
less affected by so open an avowal thrust at him, as it were. He
stood for a moment, silent; then, with a fresh burst of rage:
"You love her, do you? Why did you not tell me before? Why were
you not more frank with me?"
As he spoke, gesticulating furiously, in front of the open window,
the deep red glow of the setting sun, piercing through the boughs of
the ash- trees, threw its bright reflections on his blazing eyeballs
and convulsed features. His interlocutor, leaning against the
opposite corner of the window-frame, noticed, with some anxiety, the
extreme agitation of his behavior, and wondered what could be the
cause of such emotion.
"I? Not frank with you! Ah, that is a good joke, Monsieur de
Buxieres! Naturally, I should not go proclaiming on the housetops that
I have a tender feeling for Mademoiselle Vincart, but, all the same, I
should have told you had you asked me sooner. I am not reserved; but,
you must excuse my saying it, you are walled in like a subterranean
passage. One can not get at the color of your thoughts. I never for
a moment imagined that you were interested in Reine, and you never
have made me sufficiently at home to entertain the idea of confiding
in you on that subject."
Julien remained silent. He had reseated himself at the table,
where, leaning his head in his hands, he pondered over what Claudet
had said. He placed his hand so as to screen his eyes, and bit his
lips as if a painful struggle was going on within him. The splendors
of the setting sun had merged into the dusky twilight, and the last
piping notes of the birds sounded faintly among the sombre trees. A
fresh breeze had sprung up, and filled the darkening room with the
odor of honeysuckle.
Under the soothing influence of the falling night, Julien slowly
raised his head, and addressing Claudet in a low and measured voice
like a father confessor interrogating a penitent, said:
"Does Reine know that you love her?"
"I think she must suspect it," replied Claudet, "although I never
have ventured to declare myself squarely. But girls are very quick,
Reine especially. They soon begin to suspect there is some love at
bottom, when a young man begins to hang around them too frequently."
"You see her often, then?"
"Not as often as I should like. But, you know, when one lives in
the same district, one has opportunities of meeting—at the beech
harvest, in the woods, at the church door. And when you meet, you
talk but little, making the most of your time. Still, you must not
suppose, as I think you did, that we have rendezvous in the evening.
Reine respects herself too much to go about at night with a young man
as escort, and besides, she has other fish to fry. She has a great
deal to do at the farm, since her father has become an invalid."
"Well, do you think she loves you?" said Julien, with a movement
of nervous irritation.
"I can not tell," replied Claudet shrugging his shoulders, "she has
confidence in me, and shows me some marks of friendship, but I never
have ventured to ask her whether she feels anything more than
friendship for me. Look here, now. I have good reasons for keeping
back; she is rich and I am poor. You can understand that I would not,
for any consideration, allow her to think that I am courting her for
"Still, you desire to marry her, and you hope that she will not say
no— you acknowledge that!" cried Julien, vociferously.
Claudet, struck with the violence and bitterness of tone of his
companion, came up to him.
"How angrily you say that, Monsieur de Buxieres!" exclaimed he in
his turn; "upon my word, one might suppose the affair is very
displeasing to you. Will you let me tell you frankly an idea that has
already entered my head several times these last two or three days,
and which has come again now, while I have been listening to you? It
is that perhaps you, yourself, are also in love with Reine?"
"I!" protested Julien. He felt humiliated at Claudet's
perspicacity; but he had too much pride and selfrespect to let his
preferred rival know of his unfortunate passion. He waited a moment
to swallow something in his throat that seemed to be choking him, and
then, trying in vain to steady his voice, he added:
"You know that I have an aversion for women; and for that matter, I
think they return it with interest. But, at all events, I am not
foolish enough to expose myself to their rebuffs. Rest assured, I
shall not follow at your heels!"
Claudet shook his head incredulously.
"You doubt it," continued de Buxieres; "well, I will prove it to
you. You can not declare your wishes because Reine is rich and you are
poor? I will take charge of the whole matter."
"I—I do not understand you," faltered Claudet, bewildered at the
strange turn the conversation was taking.
"You will understand-soon," asserted Julien, with a gesture of both
decision and resignation.
The truth was, he had made one of those resolutions which seem
illogical and foolish at first sight, but are natural to minds at once
timid and exalted. The suffering caused by Claudet's revelations had
become so acute that he was alarmed. He recognized with dismay the
disastrous effects of this hopeless love, and determined to employ a
heroic remedy to arrest its further ravages. This was nothing less
than killing his love, by immediately getting Claudet married to Reine
Vincart. Sacrifices like this are easier to souls that have been
subjected since their infancy to Christian discipline, and accustomed
to consider the renunciation of mundane joys as a means of securing
eternal salvation. As soon as this idea had developed in Julien's
brain, he seized upon it with the precipitation of a drowning man, who
distractedly lays hold of the first object that seems to offer him a
means of safety, whether it be a dead branch or a reed.
"Listen," he resumed; "at the very first explanation that we had
together, I told you I did not intend to deprive you of your right to
a portion of your natural father's inheritance. Until now, you have
taken my word for it, and we have lived at the chateau like two
brothers. But now that a miserable question of money alone prevents
you from marrying the woman you love, it is important that you should
be legally provided for. We will go to-morrow to Monsieur Arbillot,
and ask him to draw up the deed, making over to you from me one half
of the fortune of Claude de Buxieres. You will then be, by law, and
in the eyes of all, one of the desirable matches of the canton, and
you can demand the hand of Mademoiselle Vincart, without any fear of
being thought presumptuous or mercenary."
Claudet, to whom this conclusion was wholly unexpected, was
thunderstruck. His emotion was so great that it prevented him from
speaking. In the obscurity of the room his deep-set eyes seemed
larger, and shone with the tears he could not repress.
"Monsieur Julien," said he, falteringly, "I can not find words to
thank you. I am like an idiot. And to think that only a little while
ago I suspected you of being tired of me, and regretting your benefits
toward me! What an animal I am! I measure others by myself. Well!
can you forgive me? If I do not express myself well, I feel deeply,
and all I can say is that you have made me very happy!" He sighed
heavily. "The question is now," continued he, "whether Reine will have
me! You may not believe me, Monsieur de Buxieres, but though I may
seem very bold and resolute, I feel like a wet hen when I get near
her. I have a dreadful panic that she will send me away as I came. I
don't know whether I can ever find courage to ask her."
"Why should she refuse you?" said Julien, sadly, "she knows that
you love her. Do you suppose she loves any one else?"
"That I don't know. Although Reine is very frank, she does not let
every one know what is passing in her mind, and with these young
girls, I tell you, one is never sure of anything. That is just what I
fear may be possible."
"If you fear the ordeal," said de Buxieres, with a visible effort,
"would you like me to present the matter for you?"
"I should be very glad. It would be doing me a great service. It
would be adding one more kindness to those I have already received,
and some day I hope to make it all up to you."
The next morning, according to agreement, Julien accompanied
Claudet to Auberive, where Maitre Arbillot drew up the deed of gift,
and had it at once signed and recorded. Afterward the young men
adjourned to breakfast at the inn. The meal was brief and silent.
Neither seemed to have any appetite. As soon as they had drunk their
coffee, they turned back on the Vivey road; but, when they had got as
far as the great limetree, standing at the entrance to the forest,
Julien touched Claudet lightly on the shoulder.
"Here," said he, "we must part company. You will return to Vivey,
and I shall go across the fields to La Thuiliere. I shall return as
soon as I have had an interview with Mademoiselle Vincart. Wait for
me at the chateau."
"The time will seem dreadfully long to me," sighed Claudet; "I
shall not know how to dispose of my body until you return."
"Your affair will be all settled within two or three hours from
now. Stay near the window of my room, and you will catch first sight
of me coming along in the distance. If I wave my hat, it will be a
sign that I bring a favorable answer."
Claudet pressed his hand; they separated, and Julien descended the
newly mown meadow, along which he walked under the shade of trees
scattered along the border line of the forest.
The heat of the midday sun was tempered by a breeze from the east,
which threw across the fields and woods the shadows of the white
fleecy clouds. The young man, pale and agitated, strode with feverish
haste over the short-cropped grass, while the little brooklet at his
side seemed to murmur a flute-like, soothing accompaniment to the
tumultuous beatings of his heart. He was both elated and depressed at
the prospect of submitting his already torn and lacerated feelings to
so severe a trial. The thought of beholding Reine again, and of
sounding her feelings, gave him a certain amount of cruel enjoyment.
He would speak to her of love— love for another, certainly—but he
would throw into the declaration he was making, in behalf of another,
some of his own tenderness; he would have the supreme and torturing
satisfaction of watching her countenance, of anticipating her blushes,
of gathering the faltering avowal from her lips. He would once more
drink of the intoxication of her beauty, and then he would go and shut
himself up at Vivey, after burying at La Thuiliere all his dreams and
profane desires. But, even while the courage of this immolation of
his youthful love was strong within him, he could not prevent a dim
feeling of hope from crossing his mind. Claudet was not certain that
he was beloved; and possibly Reine's answer would be a refusal. Then
he should have a free field.
By a very human, but very illogical impulse, Julien de Buxieres had
hardly concluded the arrangement with Claudet which was to strike the
fatal blow to his own happiness when he began to forestall the
possibilities which the future might have in store for him. The odor
of the wild mint and meadow-sweet, dotting the banks of the stream,
again awoke vague, happy anticipations. Longing to reach Reine
Vincart's presence, he hastened his steps, then stopped suddenly,
seized with an overpowering panic. He had not seen her since the
painful episode in the hut, and it must have left with her a very
sorry impression. What could he do, if she refused to receive him or
listen to him?
While revolting these conflicting thoughts in his mind, he came to
the fields leading directly to La Thuiliere, and just beyond, across a
waving mass of oats and rye, the shining tops of the farm-buildings
came in sight. A few minutes later, he pushed aside a gate and
entered the yard.
The shutters were closed, the outer gate was closed inside, and the
house seemed deserted. Julien began to think that the young girl he
was seeking had gone into the fields with the farm-hands, and stood
uncertain and disappointed in the middle of the courtyard. At this
sudden intrusion into their domain, a brood of chickens, who had been
clucking sedately around, and picking up nourishment at the same time,
scattered screaming in every direction, heads down, feet sprawling,
until by unanimous consent they made a beeline for a half-open door,
leading to the orchard. Through this manoeuvre, the young man's
attention was brought to the fact that through this opening he could
reach the rear facade of the building. He therefore entered a grassy
lane, winding round a group of stones draped with ivy; and leaving the
orchard on his left, he pushed on toward the garden itself—a real
country garden with square beds bordered by mossy clumps alternating
with currant-bushes, rows of raspberry-trees, lettuce and cabbage
beds, beans and runners climbing up their slender supports, and, here
and there, bunches of red carnations and peasant roses.
Suddenly, at the end of a long avenue, he discovered Reine Vincart,
seated on the steps before an arched door, communicating with the
kitchen. A plum-tree, loaded with its violet fruit, spread its light
shadow over the young girl's head, as she sat shelling fresh-gathered
peas and piling the faint green heaps of color around her. The sound
of approaching steps on the grassy soil caused her to raise her head,
but she did not stir. In his intense emotion, Julien thought the
alley never would come to an end. He would fain have cleared it with
a single bound, so as to be at once in the presence of Mademoiselle
Vincart, whose immovable attitude rendered his approach still more
difficult. Nevertheless, he had to get over the ground somehow at a
reasonable pace, under penalty of making himself ridiculous, and he
therefore found plenty of time to examine Reine, who continued her
work with imperturbable gravity, throwing the peas as she shelled them
into an ash-wood pail at her feet.
She was bareheaded, and wore a striped skirt and a white jacket
fitted to her waist. The checkered shadows cast by the tree made
spots of light and darkness over her face and her uncovered neck, the
top button of her camisole being unfastened on account of the heat.
De Buxieres had been perfectly well recognized by her, but an
emotion, at least equal to that experienced by the young man, had
transfixed her to the spot, and a subtle feminine instinct had urged
her to continue her employment, in order to hide the sudden trembling
of her fingers. During the last month, ever since the adventure in
the hut, she had thought often of Julien; and the remembrance of the
audacious kiss which the young de Buxieres had so impetuously stolen
from her neck, invariably brought the flush of shame to her brow.
But, although she was very indignant at the fiery nature of his
caress, as implying a want of respect little in harmony with Julien's
habitual reserve, she was astonished at herself for not being still
more angry. At first, the affront put upon her had roused a feeling
of indignation, but now, when she thought of it, she felt only a
gentle embarrassment, and a soft beating of the heart. She began to
reflect that to have thus broken loose from all restraint before her,
this timid youth must have been carried away by an irresistible burst
of passion, and any woman, however high-minded she may be, will
forgive such violent homage rendered to the sovereign power of her
beauty. Besides his feeding of her vanity, another independent and
more powerful motive predisposed her to indulgence: she felt a tender
and secret attraction toward Monsieur de Buxieres. This healthy and
energetic girl had been fascinated by the delicate charm of a nature
so unlike her own in its sensitiveness and disposition to self-blame.
Julien's melancholy blue eyes had, unknown to himself, exerted a
magnetic influence on Reine's dark, liquid orbs, and, without
endeavoring to analyze the sympathy that drew her toward a nature
refined and tender even to weakness, without asking herself where this
unreflecting instinct might lead her, she was conscious of a growing
sentiment toward him, which was not very much unlike love itself.
Julien de Buxieres's mood was not sufficiently calm to observe
anything, or he would immediately have perceived the impression that
his sudden appearance had produced upon Reine Vincart. As soon as he
found himself within a few steps of the young girl, he saluted her
awkwardly, and she returned his bow with marked coldness. Extremely
disconcerted at this reception, he endeavored to excuse himself for
having invaded her dwelling in so unceremonious a manner.
"I am all the more troubled," added he, humbly, "that after what
has happened, my visit must appear to you indiscreet, if not
Reine, who had more quickly recovered her self-possession,
pretended not to understand the unwise allusion that had escaped the
lips of her visitor. She rose, pushed away with her foot the stalks
and pods, which encumbered the passage, and replied, very shortly:
"You are excused, Monsieur. There is no need of an introduction to
enter La Thuiliere. Besides, I suppose that the motive which has
brought you here can only be a proper one."
While thus speaking, she shook her skirt down, and without any
affectation buttoned up her camisole.
"Certainly, Mademoiselle," faltered Julien, "it is a most serious
and respectable motive that causes me to wish for an interview,
and—if—I do not disturb you—"
"Not in the least, Monsieur; but, if you wish to speak with me, it
is unnecessary for you to remain standing. Allow me to fetch you a
She went into the house, leaving the young man overwhelmed with the
coolness of his reception; a few minutes later she reappeared,
bringing a chair, which she placed under the tree. "Sit here, you
will be in the shade."
She seated herself on the same step as before, leaning her back
against the wall, and her head on her hand.
"I am ready to listen to you," she said.
Julien, much less under his own control than she, discovered that
his mission was more difficult than he had imagined it would be; he
experienced a singular amount of embarrassment in unfolding his
subject; and was obliged to have recourse to prolonged inquiries
concerning the health of Monsieur Vincart.
"He is still in the same condition," said Reine, "neither better
nor worse, and, with the illness which afflicts him, the best I can
hope for is that he may remain in that condition. But," continued
she, with a slight inflection of irony; "doubtless it is not for the
purpose of inquiring after my father's health that you have come all
the way from Vivey?"
"That is true, Mademoiselle," replied he, coloring. "What I have
to speak to you about is a very delicate matter. You will excuse me,
therefore, if I am somewhat embarrassed. I beg of you, Mademoiselle,
to listen to me with indulgence."
"What can he be coming to?" thought Reine, wondering why he made
so many preambles before beginning. And, at the same time, her heart
began to beat violently.
Julien took the course taken by all timid people after meditating
for a long while on the best way to prepare the young girl for the
communication he had taken upon himself to make—he lost his head and
"Mademoiselle Reine, do you not intend to marry?"
Reine started, and gazed at him with a frightened air.
"I!" exclaimed she, "Oh, I have time enough and I am not in a
hurry." Then, dropping her eyes: "Why do you ask that?"
"Because I know of some one who loves you and who would be glad to
She became very pale, took up one of the empty pods, twisted it
nervously around her finger without speaking.
"Some one belonging to our neighborhood?" she faltered, after a
few moments' silence.
"Yes; some one whom you know, and who is not a recent arrival here.
Some one who possesses, I believe, sterling qualities sufficient to
make a good husband, and means enough to do credit to the woman who
will wed him. Doubtless you have already guessed to whom I refer?"
She sat motionless, her lips tightly closed, her features rigid,
but the nervous twitching of her fingers as she bent the green stem
back and forth, betrayed her inward agitation.
"No; I can not tell," she replied at last, in an almost inaudible
"Truly?" he exclaimed, with an expression of astonishment, in
which was a certain amount of secret satisfaction; "you can not tell
whom I mean? You have never thought of the person of whom I am
speaking in that light?"
"No; who is that person?"
She had raised her eyes toward his, and they shone with a deep,
"It is Claudet Sejournant," replied Julien, very gently; and in an
The glow that had illumined the dark orbs of the young girl faded
away, her eyelids dropped, and her countenance became as rigid as
before; but Julien did not notice anything. The words he had just
uttered had cost him too much agony, and he dared not look at his
companion, lest he should behold her joyful surprise, and thereby
aggravate his suffering.
"Ah!" said Reine, coldly, "in that case, why did not Claudet come
himself and state his own case?"
"His courage failed him at the last moment—and so—"
"And so," continued she, with sarcastic bitterness of tone, "you
took upon yourself to speak for him?"
"Yes; I promised him I would plead his cause. I was sure,
moreover, that I should not have much difficulty in gaining the suit.
Claudet has loved you for a long time. He is good-hearted, and a
fine fellow to look at. And as to worldly advantages, his position is
now equal to your own. I have made over to him, by legal contract, the
half of his father's estate. What answer am I to take back?"
He spoke with difficulty in broken sentences, without turning his
eyes toward Mademoiselle Vincart. The silence that followed his last
question seemed to him unbearable, and the contrasting chirping of the
noisy grasshoppers, and the buzzing of the flies in the quiet sunny
garden, resounded unpleasantly in his ears.
Reine remained speechless. She was disconcerted and well-nigh
overpowered by the unexpected announcement, and her brain seemed
unable to bear the crowd of tumultuous and conflicting emotions which
presented themselves. Certainly, she had already suspected that
Claudet had a secret liking for her, but she never had thought of
encouraging the feeling. The avowal of his hopes neither surprised
nor hurt her; that which pained her was the intervention of Julien,
who had taken in hand the cause of his relative. Was it possible that
this same M. de Buxieres, who had made so audacious a display of his
tender feeling in the hut, could now come forward as Claudet's
advocate, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to
do? In that case, his astonishing behavior at the fete, which had
caused her so much pain, and which she had endeavored to excuse in her
own mind as the untutored outbreak of his pentup love, that fiery
caress, was only the insulting manifestation of a brutal caprice? The
transgressor thought so little of her, she was of such small
importance in his eyes, that he had no hesitation in proposing that
she marry Claudet? She beheld herself scorned, humiliated, insulted
by the only man in whom she ever had felt interested. In the excess
of her indignation she felt herself becoming hardhearted and violent;
a profound discouragement, a stony indifference to all things,
impelled her to extreme measures, and, not being able at the moment to
find any one on whom she could put them in operation, she was almost
tempted to lay violent hands on herself.
"What shall I say to Claudet?" repeated Julien, endeavoring to
conceal the suffering which was devouring his heart by an assumption
of outward frigidity.
She turned slowly round, fixed her searching eyes, which had become
as dark as waters reflecting a stormy sky, upon his face, and
demanded, in icy tones:
"What do you advise me to say?"
Now, if Julien had been less of a novice, he would have understood
that a girl who loves never addresses such a question; but the
feminine heart was a book in which he was a very poor speller. He
imagined that Reine was only asking him as a matter of form, and that
it was from a feeling of maidenly reserve that she adopted this
passive method of escaping from openly declaring her wishes. She no
doubt desired his friendly aid in the matter, and he felt as if he
ought to grant her that satisfaction.
"I have the conviction," stammered he, "that Claudet will make a
good husband, and you will do well to accept him."
Reine bit her lip, and her paleness increased so as to set off
still more the fervid lustre of her eyes. The two little brown moles
stood out more visibly on her white neck, and added to her
"So be it!" exclaimed she, "tell Claudet that I consent, and that
he will be welcome at La Thuiliere."
"I will tell him immediately." He bent gravely and sadly before
Reine, who remained standing and motionless against the door. "Adieu,
He turned away abruptly; plunged into the first avenue he came to,
lost his way twice and finally reached the courtyard, and thence
escaped at breakneck speed across the fields.
Reine maintained her statue-like pose as long as the young man's
footsteps resounded on the stony paths; but when they died gradually
away in the distance, when nothing could be heard save the monotonous
trill of the grasshoppers basking in the sun, she threw herself down
on the green heap of rubbish; she covered her face with her hands and
gave way to a passionate outburst of tears and sobs.
In the meanwhile, Julien de Buxieres, angry with himself, irritated
by the speedy success of his mission, was losing his way among the
pasturages, and getting entangled in the thickets. All the details of
the interview presented themselves before his mind with remorseless
clearness. He seemed more lonely, more unfortunate, more disgusted
with himself and with all else than he ever had been before. Ashamed
of the wretched part he had just been enacting, he felt almost
childish repugnance to returning to Vivey, and tried to pick out the
paths that would take him there by the longest way. But he was not
sufficiently accustomed to laying out a route for himself, and when he
thought he had a league farther to go, and had just leaped over an
intervening hedge, the pointed roofs of the chateau appeared before
him at a distance of not more than a hundred feet, and at one of the
windows on the first floor he could distinguish Claudet, leaning for
ward, as if to interrogate him.
He remembered then the promise he had made the young huntsman; and
faithful to his word, although with rage and bitterness in his heart,
he raised his hat, and with effort, waved it three times above his
head. At this signal, the forerunner of good news, Claudet replied by
a triumphant shout, and disappeared from the window. A moment later,
Julien heard the noise of furious galloping down the enclosures of the
park. It was the lover, hastening to learn the particulars of the
CHAPTER VII. THE STRANGE, DARK SECRET
Julien had once entertained the hope that Claudet's marriage with
Reine would act as a kind of heroic remedy for the cure of his
unfortunate passion, he very soon perceived that he had been wofully
mistaken. As soon as he had informed the grand chasserot of the
success of his undertaking, he became aware that his own burden was
considerably heavier. Certainly it had been easier for him to bear
uncertainty than the boisterous rapture evinced by his fortunate
rival. His jealousy rose against it, and that was all. Now that he
had torn from Reine the avowal of her love for Claudet, he was more
than ever oppressed by his hopeless passion, and plunged into a
condition of complete moral and physical disintegration. It mingled
with his blood, his nerves, his thoughts, and possessed him
altogether, dwelling within him like an adored and tyrannical
mistress. Reine appeared constantly before him as he had contemplated
her on the outside steps of the farmhouse, in her never-to-
be-forgotten negligee of the short skirt and the half-open bodice. He
again beheld the silken treasure of her tresses, gliding playfully
around her shoulders, the clear, honest look of her limpid eyes, the
expressive smile of her enchanting lips, and with a sudden revulsion
of feeling he reflected that perhaps before a month was over, all
these charms would belong to Claudct. Then, almost at the same
moment, like a swallow, which, with one rapid turn of its wing,
changes its course, his thoughts went in the opposite direction, and
he began to imagine what would have happened if, instead of replying
in the affirmative, Reine had objected to marrying Claudet. He could
picture himself kneeling before her as before the Madonna, and in a
low voice confessing his love. He would have taken her hands so
respectfully, and pleaded so eloquently, that she would have allowed
herself to be convinced. The little, hands would have remained
prisoners in his own; he would have lifted her tenderly, devotedly, in
his arms, and under the influence of this feverish dream, he fancied
he could feel the beating heart of the young girl against his own
bosom. Suddenly he would wake up out of his illusions, and bite his
lips with rage on finding himself in the dull reality of his own
One day he heard footsteps on the gravel; a sonorous and jovial
voice met his ear. It was Claudet, starting for La Thuiliere. Julien
bent forward to see him, and ground his teeth as he watched his joyous
departure. The sharp sting of jealousy entered his soul, and he
rebelled against the evident injustice of Fate. How had he deserved
that life should present so dismal and forbidding an aspect to him?
He had had none of the joys of infancy; his youth had been spent
wearily under the peevish discipline of a cloister; he had entered on
his young manhood with all the awkwardness and timidity of a
night-bird that is made to fly in the day. Up to the age of
twenty-seven years, he had known neither love nor friendship; his time
had been given entirely to earning his daily bread, and to the
cultivation of religious exercises, which consoled him in some measure
for his apparently useless way of living. Latterly, it is true,
Fortune had seemed to smile upon him, by giving him a little more
money and liberty, but this smile was a mere mockery, and a snare more
hurtful than the pettinesses and privations of his past life. The
fickle goddess, continuing her part of mystifier, had opened to his
enraptured sight a magic window through which she had shown him a
charming vision of possible happiness; but while he was still gazing,
she had closed it abruptly in his face, laughing scornfully at his
discomfiture. What sense was there in this perversion of justice,
this perpetual mockery of Fate? At times the influence of his early
education would resume its sway, and he would ask himself whether all
this apparent contradiction were not a secret admonition from on high,
warning him that he had not been created to enjoy the fleeting
pleasures of this world, and ought, therefore, to turn his attention
toward things eternal, and renounce the perishable delights of the
"If so," thought he, irreverently, "the warning comes rather late,
and it would have answered the purpose better had I been allowed to
continue in the narrow way of obscure poverty!" Now that the
enervating influence of a more prosperous atmosphere had weakened his
courage, and cooled the ardor of his piety, his faith began to totter
like an old wall. His religious beliefs seemed to have been wrecked
by the same storm which had destroyed his passionate hopes of love,
and left him stranded and forlorn without either haven or pilot, blown
hither and thither solely by the violence of his passion.
By degrees he took an aversion to his home, and would spend entire
days in the woods. Their secluded haunts, already colored by the
breath of autumn, became more attractive to him as other refuge failed
him. They were his consolation; his doubts, weakness, and amorous
regrets, found sympathy and indulgence under their silent shelter. He
felt less lonely, less humiliated, less prosaic among these great
forest depths, these lofty ash-trees, raising their verdant branches
to heaven. He found he could more easily evoke the seductive image of
Reine Vincart in these calm solitudes, where the recollections of the
previous springtime mingled with the phantoms of his heated
imagination and clothed themselves with almost living forms. He
seemed to see the young girl rising from the mists of the distant
valleys. The least fluttering of the leaves heralded her fancied
approach. At times the hallucination was so complete that he could
see, in the interlacing of the branches, the undulations of her supple
form, and the graceful outlines of her profile. Then he would be
seized by an insane desire to reach the fugitive and speak to her once
more, and would go tearing along the brushwood for that purpose. Now
and then, in the half light formed by the hanging boughs, he would see
rays of golden light, coming straight down to the ground, and resting
there lightly like diaphanous apparitions. Sometimes the rustling of
birds taking flight, would sound in his ears like the timid frou-frou
of a skirt, and Julien, fascinated by the mysterious charm of these
indefinite objects, and following the impulse of their mystical
suggestions, would fling himself impetuously into the jungle,
repeating to him self the words of the "Canticle of Canticles": "I
hear the voice of my beloved; behold! she cometh leaping upon the
mountains, skipping upon the hills." He would continue to press
forward in pursuit of the intangible apparition, until he sank with
exhaustion near some stream or fountain. Under the influence of the
fever, which was consuming his brain, he would imagine the trickling
water to be the song of a feminine voice. He would wind his arms
around the young saplings, he would tear the berries from the bushes,
pressing them against his thirsty lips, and imagining their
odoriferous sweetness to be a fond caress from the loved one.
He would return from these expeditions exhausted but not appeased.
Sometimes he would come across Claudet, also returning home from
paying his court to Reine Vincart; and the unhappy Julien would
scrutinize his rival's countenance, seeking eagerly for some trace of
the impressions he had received during the loving interview. His
curiosity was nearly always baffled; for Claudet seemed to have left
all his gayety and conversational powers at La Thuiliere. During
their tete-a-tete meals, he hardly spoke at all, maintaining a
reserved attitude and a taciturn countenance. Julien, provoked at
this unexpected sobriety, privately accused his cousin of
dissimulation, and of trying to conceal his happiness. His jealousy
so blinded him that he considered the silence of Claudet as pure
hypocrisy not recognizing that it was assumed for the purpose of
concealing some unpleasantness rather than satisfaction.
The fact was that Claudet, although rejoicing at the turn matters
had taken, was verifying the poet's saying: "Never is perfect
happiness our lot." When Julien brought him the good news, and he had
flown so joyfully to La Thuiliere, he had certainly been cordially
received by Reine, but, nevertheless, he had noticed with surprise an
absent and dreamy look in her eyes, which did not agree with his idea
of a first interview of lovers. When he wished to express his
affection in the vivacious and significant manner ordinarily employed
among the peasantry, that is to say, by vigorous embracing and
resounding kisses, he met with unexpected resistance.
"Keep quiet!" was the order, "and let us talk rationally!"
He obeyed, although not agreeing in her view of the reserve to be
maintained between lovers; but, he made up his mind to return to the
charge and triumph over her bashful scruples. In fact, he began again
the very next day, and his impetuous ardor encountered the same
refusal in the same firm, though affectionate manner. He ventured to
complain, telling Reine that she did not love him as she ought.
"If I did not feel friendly toward you," replied the young girl,
laconically, "should I have allowed you to talk to me of marriage?"
Then, seeing that he looked vexed and worried, and realizing that
she was perhaps treating him too roughly, she continued, more gently:
"Remember, Claudet, that I am living all alone at the farm. That
obliges me to have more reserve than a girl whose mother is with her.
So you must not be offended if I do not behave exactly as others
might, and rest assured that it will not prevent me from being a good
wife to you, when we are married."
"Well, now," thought Claudet, as he was returning despondently to
Vivey: "I can't help thinking that a little caress now and then
wouldn't hurt any one!"
Under these conditions it is not to be supposed he was in a mood to
relate any of the details of such meagre lovemaking. His self-love
was wounded by Reine's coldness. Having always been
"cock-of-the-walk," he could not understand why he had such poor
success with the only one about whom he was in earnest. He kept
quiet, therefore, hiding his anxiety under the mask of careless
indifference. Moreover, a certain primitive instinct of prudence made
him circumspect. In his innermost soul, he still entertained doubts
of Julien's sincerity. Sometimes he doubted whether his cousin's
conduct had not been dictated by the bitterness of rejected love,
rather than a generous impulse of affection, and he did not care to
reveal Reine's repulse to one whom he vaguely suspected of being a
former lover. His simple, ardent nature could not put up with
opposition, and he thought only of hastening the day when Reine would
belong to him altogether. But, when he broached this subject, he had
the mortification to find that she was less impatient than himself.
"There is no hurry," she replied, "our affairs are not in order,
our harvests are not housed, and it would be better to wait till the
In his first moments of joy and effervescence, Claudet had evinced
the desire to announce immediately the betrothal throughout the
village. This Reine had opposed; she thought they should avoid
awakening public curiosity so long beforehand, and she extracted from
Claudet a promise to say nothing until the date of the marriage should
be settled. He had unwillingly consented, and thus, during the last
month, the matter had been dragging on indefinitely:
With Julien de Buxieres, this interminable delay, these incessant
comings and goings from the chateau to the farm, as well as the
mysterious conduct of the bridegroom-elect, became a subject of
serious irritation, amounting almost to obsession. He would have
wished the affair hurried up, and the sacrifice consummated without
hindrance. He believed that when once the newly-married pair had
taken up their quarters at La Thuiliere, the very certainty that Reine
belonged in future to another would suffice to effect a radical cure
in him, and chase away the deceptive phantoms by which he was pursued.
One evening, as Claudet was returning home, more out of humor and
silent than usual, Julien asked him, abruptly:
"Well! how are you getting along? When is the wedding?"
"Nothing is decided yet," replied Claudet, "we have time enough!"
"You think so?" exclaimed de Buxieres, sarcastically; "you have
considerable patience for a lover!"
The remark and the tone provoked Claudet.
"The delay is not of my making," returned he.
"Ah!" replied the other, quickly, "then it comes from Mademoiselle
Vincart?" And a sudden gleam came into his eyes, as if Claudet's
assertion had kindled a spark of hope in his breast. The latter
noticed the momentary brightness in his cousin's usually stormy
countenance, and hastened to reply:
"Nay, nay; we both think it better to postpone the wedding until
the harvest is in."
"You are wrong. A wedding should not be postponed. Besides, this
prolonged love-making, these daily visits to the farm—all that is not
very proper. It is compromising for Mademoiselle Vincart!"
Julien shot out these remarks with a degree of fierceness and
violence that astonished Claudet.
"You think, then," said he, "that we ought to rush matters, and
have the wedding before winter?"
The next day, at La Thuiliere, the grand chasserot, as he stood in
the orchard, watching Reine spread linen on the grass, entered bravely
on the subject.
"Reine," said he, coaxingly, "I think we shall have to decide upon
a day for our wedding."
She set down the watering-pot with which she was wetting the linen,
and looked anxiously at her betrothed.
"I thought we had agreed to wait until the later season. Why do
you wish to change that arrangement?"
"That is true; I promised not to hurry you, Reine, but it is beyond
me to wait—you must not be vexed with me if I find the time long.
Besides, they know nothing, around the village, of our intentions,
and my coming here every day might cause gossip and make it unpleasant
for you. At any rate, that is the opinion of Monsieur de Buxieres,
with whom I was conferring only yesterday evening."
At the name of Julien, Reine frowned and bit her lip.
"Aha!" said she, "it is he who has been advising you?"
"Yes; he says the sooner we are married, the better it will be."
"Why does he interfere in what does not concern him?" said she,
angrily, turning her head away. She stood a moment in thought,
absently pushing forward the roll of linen with her foot. Then,
shrugging her shoulders and raising her head, she said slowly, while
still avoiding Claudet's eyes:
"Perhaps you are right—both of you. Well, let it be so! I
authorize you to go to Monsieur le Cure and arrange the day with him."
"Oh, thanks, Reine!" exclaimed Claudet, rapturously; "you make me
He pressed her hands in his, but though absorbed in his own joyful
feelings, he could not help remarking that the young girl was
trembling in his grasp. He even fancied that there was a suspicious,
tearful glitter in her brilliant eyes.
He left her, however, and repaired at once to the cure's house,
which stood near the chateau, a little behind the church.
The servant showed him into a small garden separated by a low wall
from the cemetery. He found the Abbe Pernot seated on a stone bench,
sheltered by a trellised vine. He was occupied in cutting up pieces
of hazel-nuts to make traps for small birds.
"Good-evening, Claudet!" said the cure, without moving from his
work; "you find me busy preparing my nets; if you will permit me, I
will continue, for I should like to have my two hundred traps finished
by this evening. The season is advancing, you know! The birds will
begin their migrations, and I should be greatly provoked if I were not
equipped in time for the opportune moment. And how is Monsieur de
Buxieres? I trust he will not be less good-natured than his deceased
cousin, and that he will allow me to spread my snares on the border
hedge of his woods. But," added he, as he noticed the flurried,
impatient countenance of his visitor, "I forgot to ask you, my dear
young fellow, to what happy chance I owe your visit? Excuse my
"Don't mention it, Monsieur le Cure. You have guessed rightly. It
is a very happy circumstance which brings me. I am about to marry."
"Aha!" laughed the Abbe, "I congratulate you, my dear young
friend. This is really delightful news. It is not good for man to be
alone, and I am glad to know you must give up the perilous life of a
bachelor. Well, tell me quickly the name of your betrothed. Do I know
"Of course you do, Monsieur le Cure; there are few you know so
well. It is Mademoiselle Vincart."
The Abbe flung away the pruning-knife and branch that he was
cutting, and gazed at Claudet with a stupefied air. At the same time,
his jovial face became shadowed, and his mouth assumed an expression
"Yes, indeed, Reine Vincart," repeated Claudet, somewhat vexed at
the startled manner of his reverence; "are you surprised at my
"Excuse me-and-is it all settled?" stammered the Abbe, with
bewilderment, "and—and do you really love each other?"
"Certainly; we agree on that point; and I have come here to arrange
with you about having the banns published."
"What! already?" murmured the cure, buttoning and unbuttoning the
top of his coat in his agitation, "you seem to be in a great hurry to
go to work. The union of the man and the woman—ahem—is a serious
matter, which ought not to be undertaken without due consideration.
That is the reason why the Church has instituted the sacrament of
marriage. Hast thou well considered, my son?"
"Why, certainly, I have reflected," exclaimed Claudet with some
irritation, " and my mind is quite made up. Once more, I ask you,
Monsieur le Cure, are you displeased with my choice, or have you
anything to say against Mademoiselle Vincart?"
"I? no, absolutely nothing. Reine is an exceedingly good girl."
"Well, my friend, I will go over to-morrow and see your fiancee,
and we will talk matters over. I shall act for the best, in the
interests of both of you, be assured of that. In the meantime, you
will both be united this evening in my prayers; but, for to-day, we
shall have to stop where we are. Good-evening, Claudet! I will see
With these enigmatic words, he dismissed the young lover, who
returned to the chateau, vexed and disturbed by his strange reception.
The moment the door of the presbytery had closed behind Claudet,
the Abbe Pernot, flinging to one side all his preparations, began to
pace nervously up and down the principal garden-walk. He appeared
completely unhinged. His features were drawn, through an unusual
tension of ideas forced upon him. He had hurriedly caught his
skullcap from his head, as if he feared the heat of his meditation
might cause a rush of blood to the head. He quickened his steps, then
stopped suddenly, folded his arms with great energy, then opened them
again abruptly to thrust his hands into the pockets of his gown,
searching through them with feverish anxiety, as if he expected to
find something which might solve obscure and embarrassing questions.
"Good Lord! Good Lord! What a dreadful piece of business; and
right in the bird season, too! But I can say nothing to Claudet. It
is a secret that does not belong to me. How can I get out of it?
Tutt! tutt! tutt!"
These monosyllabic ejaculations broke forth like the vexed clucking
of a frightened blackbird; after which relief, the Abbe resumed his
fitful striding up and down the box-bordered alley. This lasted until
the hour of twilight, when Augustine, the servant, as soon as the
Angelus had sounded, went to inform her master that they were waiting
prayers for him in the church. He obeyed the summons, although in a
somewhat absent mood, and hurried over the services in a manner which
did not contribute to the edification of the assistants. As soon as
he got home, he ate his Supper without appetite, mumbled his prayers,
and shut himself up in the room he used as a study and workshop. He
remained there until the night was far advanced, searching through his
scanty library to find two dusty volumes treating of "cases of
conscience," which he looked eagerly over by the feeble light of his
study lamp. During this laborious search he emitted frequent sighs,
and only left off reading occasionally in order to dose himself
plentifully with snuff. At last, as he felt that his eyes were
becoming inflamed, his ideas conflicting in his brain, and as his lamp
was getting low, he decided to go to bed. But he slept badly, turned
over at least twenty times, and was up with the first streak of day to
say his mass in the chapel. He officiated with more dignity and piety
than was his wont; and after reading the second gospel he remained for
a long while kneeling on one of the steps of the altar. After he had
returned to the sacristy, he divested himself quickly of his
sacerdotal robes, reached his room by a passage of communication,
breakfasted hurriedly, and putting on his three-cornered hat, and
seizing his knotty, cherry-wood cane, he shot out of doors as if he
had been summoned to a fire.
Augustine, amazed at his precipitate departure, went up to the
attic, and, from behind the shelter of the skylight, perceived her
master striding rapidly along the road to Planche-au-Vacher. There
she lost sight of him—the underwood was too thick. But, after a few
minutes, the gaze of the inquisitive woman was rewarded by the
appearance of a dark object emerging from the copse, and defining
itself on the bright pasture land beyond. "Monsieur le Cure is going
to La Thuiliere," thought she, and with this half-satisfaction she
descended to her daily occupations.
It was true, the Abbe Pernot was walking, as fast as he could, to
the Vincart farm, as unmindful of the dew that tarnished his
shoe-buckles as of the thorns which attacked his calves. He had that
within him which spurred him on, and rendered him unconscious of the
accidents on his path. Never, during his twenty-five years of
priestly office, had a more difficult question embarrassed his
conscience. The case was a grave one, and moreover, so urgent that
the Abbe was quite at a loss how to proceed. How was it that he never
had foreseen that such a combination of circumstances might occur? A
priest of a more fervent spirit, who had the salvation of his flock
more at heart, could not have been taken so unprepared. Yes; that was
surely the cause! The profane occupations in which he had allowed
himself to take so much enjoyment, had distracted his watchfulness and
obscured his perspicacity. Providence was now punishing him for his
lukewarmness, by interposing across his path this stumbling-block,
which was probably sent to him as a salutary warning, but which he saw
no way of getting over.
While he was thus meditating and reproaching himself, the thrushes
were calling to one another from the branches of their favorite trees;
whole flights of yellowhammers burst forth from the hedges red with
haws; but he took no heed of them and did not even give a single
thought to his neglected nests and snares.
He went straight on, stumbling over the juniper bushes, and
wondering what he should say when he reached the farm, and how he
should begin. Sometimes he addressed himself, thus: "Have I the right
to speak? What a revelation! And to a young girl! Oh, Lord, lead me
in the straight way of thy truth, and instruct me in the right path!"
As he continued piously repeating this verse of the Psalmist, in
order to gain spiritual strength, the gray roofs of La Thuiliere rose
before him; he could hear the crowing of the cocks and the lowing of
the cows in the stable. Five minutes after, he had pushed open the
door of the kitchen where La Guite was arranging the bowls for
"Good-morning, Guitiote," said he, in a choking voice; "is
Mademoiselle Vincart up?"
"Holy Virgin! Monsieur le Cure ! Why, certainly Mademoiselle is
up. She was on foot before any of us, and now she is trotting around
the orchard. I will go fetch her."
"No, do not stir. I know the way, and I will go and find her
She was in the orchard, was she? The Abbe preferred it should be
so; he thought the interview would be less painful, and that the
surrounding trees would give him ideas. He walked across the kitchen,
descended the steps leading from the ground floor to the garden, and
ascended the slope in search of Reine, whom he soon perceived in the
midst of a bower formed by clustering filbert-trees.
At sight of the cure, Reine turned pale; he had doubtless come to
tell her the result of his interview with Claudet, and what day had
been definitely chosen for the nuptial celebration. She had been
troubled all night by the reflection that her fate would soon be
irrevocably scaled; she had wept, and her eyes betrayed it. Only the
day before, she had looked upon this project of marriage, which she
had entertained in a moment of anger and injured feeling, as a vague
thing, a vaporous eventuality of which the realization was doubtful;
now, all was arranged, settled, cruelly certain; there was no way of
escaping from a promise which Claudet, alas! was bound to consider a
serious one. These thoughts traversed her mind, while the cure was
slowly approaching the filbert-trees; she felt her heart throb, and
her eyes again filled with tears. Yet her pride would not allow that
the Abbe should witness her irresolution and weeping; she made an
effort, overcame the momentary weakness, and addressed the priest in
an almost cheerful voice:
"Monsieur le Cure, I am sorry that they have made you come up this
hill to find me. Let us go back to the farm, and I will offer you a
cup of coffee."
"No, my child," replied the Abbe, motioning with his hand that she
should stay where she was, "no, thank you! I will not take anything.
Remain where you are.
I wish to talk to you, and we shall be less liable to be disturbed
There were two rustic seats under .the nut-trees; the cure took one
and asked Reine to take the other, opposite to him. There they were,
under the thick, verdant branches, hidden from indiscreet passers-by,
surrounded by silence, installed as in a confessional.
The morning quiet, the solitude, the half light, all invited
meditation and confidence; nevertheless the young girl and the priest
sat motionless; both agitated and embarrassed and watching each other
without uttering a sound. It was Reine who first broke the silence.
"You have seen Claudet, Monsieur le Cure?"
"Yes, yes!" replied the Abbe, sighing deeply.
"He—spoke to you of our-plans," continued the young girl, in a
quavering voice, "and you fixed the day?"
"No, my child, we settled nothing. I wanted to see you first, and
converse with you about something very important."
The Abbe hesitated, rubbed a spot of mud off his soutane, raised
his shoulders like a man lifting a heavy burden, then gave a deep
"My dear child," continued he at length, prudently dropping his
voice a tone lower, "I will begin by repeating to you what I said
yesterday to Claudet Sejournant: the marriage, that is to say, the
indissoluble union, of man and woman before God, is one of the most
solemn and serious acts of life. The Church has constituted it a
sacrament, which she administers only on certain formal conditions.
Before entering into this bond, one ought, as we are taught by Holy
Writ, to sound the heart, subject the very inmost of the soul to
searching examinations. I beg of you, therefore, answer my questions
freely, without false shame, just as if you were at the tribunal of
repentance. Do you love Claudet?"
Reine trembled. This appeal to her sincerity renewed all her
perplexities and scruples. She raised her full, glistening eyes to
the cure, and replied, after a slight hesitation:
"I have a sincere affection for Claudet-and-much esteem."
"I understand that," replied the priest, compressing his lips,
"but— excuse me if I press the matter—has the engagement you have
made with him been determined simply by considerations of affection
and suitableness, or by more interior and deeper feelings?"
"Pardon, Monsieur le Cure," returned Reine, coloring, "it seems to
me that a sentiment of friendship, joined to a firm determination to
prove a faithful and devoted wife, should be, in your eyes as they are
in mine, a sufficient assurance that—"
"Certainly, certainly, my dear child; and many husbands would be
contented with less. However, it is not only a question of Claudet's
happiness, but of yours also. Come now! let me ask you: is your
affection for young Sejournant so powerful that in the event of any
unforeseen circumstance happening, to break off the marriage, you
would be forever unhappy?"
"Ah!" replied Reine, more embarrassed than ever, "you ask too
grave a question, Monsieur le Cure! If it were broken off without my
having to reproach myself for it, it is probable that I should find
consolation in time."
"Very good! Consequently, you do not love Claudet, if I may take
the word love in the sense understood by people of the world. You
only like, you do not love him? Tell me. Answer frankly."
"Frankly, Monsieur le Cure, no!"
"Thanks be to God! We are saved!" exclaimed the Abbe, drawing a
long breath, while Reine, amazed, gazed at him with wondering eves.
"I do not understand you," faltered she; "what is it?"
"It is this: the marriage can not take place."
"Can not? why?"
"It is impossible, both in the eyes of the Church and in those of
The young girl looked at him with increasing amazement.
"You alarm me!" cried she. "What has happened? What reasons
hinder me from marrying Claudet?"
"Very powerful reasons, my dear child. I do not feel at liberty to
reveal them to you, but you must know that I am not speaking without
authority, and that you may rely on the statement I have made."
Reine remained thoughtful, her brows knit, her countenance
"I have every confidence in you, Monsieur le Cure, but—"
"But you hesitate about believing me," interrupted the Abbe, piqued
at not finding in one of his flock the blind obedience on which he had
reckoned. "You must know, nevertheless, that your pastor has no
interest in deceiving you, and that when he seeks to influence you, he
has in view only your well-being in this world and in the next."
"I do not doubt your good intentions," replied Reine, with
firmness, "but a promise can not be annulled without sufficient cause.
I have given my word to Claudet, and I am too loyal at heart to break
faith with him without letting him know the reason."
"You will find some pretext."
"And supposing that Claudet would be content with such a pretext,
my own conscience would not be," objected the young girl, raising her
clear, honest glance toward the priest; "your words have entered my
soul, they are troubling me now, and it will be worse when I begin to
think this matter over again. I can not bear uncertainty. I must see
my way clearly before me. I entreat you then, Monsieur le Cure, not
to do things by halves. You have thought it your duty to tell me I
can not wed with Claudet; now tell me why not?"
"Why not? why not?" repeated the Abbe, angrily. "I distress
myself in telling you that I am not authorized to satisfy your unwise
curiosity! You must humble your intelligence and believe without
"In matters of faith, that may be possible," urged Reine,
obstinately, "but my marriage has nothing to do with discussing the
truths of our holy religion. I therefore respectfully ask to be
enlightened, Monsieur le Cure; otherwise—"
"Otherwise?" repeated the Abby Pernot, inquiringly, rolling his
"Otherwise, I shall keep my word respectably, and I shall marry
"You will not do that?" said he, imploringly, joining his hands as
if in supplication; "after being openly warned by me, you dare not
burden your soul with such a terrible responsibility. Come, my child,
does not the possibility of committing a mortal sin alarm your
conscience as a Christian?"
"I can not sin if I am in ignorance, and as to my conscience,
Monsieur le Cure, do you think it is acting like a Christian to alarm
"Is that your last word?" inquired the Abbe, completely aghast.
"It is my last word," she replied, vehemently, moved both by a
feeling of self-respect, and a desire to force the hand of her
"You are a proud, obstinate girl!" exclaimed the Abbe, rising
abruptly, "you wish to compel me to reveal this secret! Well, have
your way! I will tell you. May the harm which may result from it fall
lightly upon you, and do not hereafter reproach me for the pain I am
about to inflict upon you."
He checked himself for a moment, again joined his hands, and
raising his eyes toward heaven ejaculated fervently, as if repeating
his devotions in the oratory: "O Lord, thou knowest I would have
spared her this bitter cup, but, between two evils, I have avoided the
greater. If I forfeit my solemn promise, consider, O Lord, I pray
thee, that I do it to avoid disgrace and exposure for her, and deign
to forgive thy servant!"
He seated himself again, placed one of his hands before his eyes,
and began, in a hollow voice, Reine, all the while gazing nervously at
"My child, you are forcing me to violate a secret which has been
solemnly confided to me. It concerns a matter not usually talked
about before young girls, but you are, I believe, already a woman in
heart and understanding, and you will hear resignedly what I have to
tell you, however much the recital may trouble you. I have already
informed you that your marriage with Claudet is impossible. I now
declare that it would be criminal, for the reason that incest is an
"Incest!" repeated Reine, pale and trembling, "what do you mean?"
I mean," sighed the cure, "that you are Claudet's sister, not
having the same mother, but the same father: Claude-Odouart de
"Oh! you are mistaken! that cannot be!"
"I am stating facts. It grieves me to the heart, my dear child,
that in speaking of your deceased mother, I should have to reveal an
error over which she lamented, like David, with tears of blood. She
confessed her sin, not to the priest, but to a friend, a few days
before her death. In justice to her memory, I ought to add that, like
most of the unfortunates seduced by this untamable de Buxieres, she
succumbed to his wily misrepresentations. She was a victim rather
than an accomplice. The man himself acknowledged as much in a note
entrusted to my care, which I have here."
And the Abbe' drew from his pocket an old, worn letter, the writing
yellow with age, and placed it before Reine. In this letter, written
in Claude de Buxieres's coarse, sprawling hand, doubtless in reply to
a reproachful appeal from his mistress, he endeavored to offer some
kind of honorable amends for the violence he had used, and to calm
Madame Vincart's remorse by promising, as was his custom, to watch
over the future of the child which should be born to her.
"That child was yourself, my poor girl," continued the Abbe,
picking up the letter which Reine had thrown down, after reading it,
with a gesture of sickened disgust.
She appeared not to hear him. She had buried her face in her
hands, to hide the flushing of her cheeks, and sat motionless,
altogether crushed beneath the shameful revelation; convulsive sobs
and tremblings occasionally agitating her frame.
"You can now understand," continued the priest, "how the
announcement of this projected marriage stunned and terrified me. I
could not confide to Claudet the reason for my stupefaction, and I
should have been thankful if you could have understood so that I could
have spared you this cruel mortification, but you would not take any
intimation from me. And now, forgive me for inflicting this cross
upon you, and bear it with courage, with Christian fortitude."
"You have acted as was your duty," murmured Reine, sadly, "and I
thank you, Monsieur le Cure!"
"And will you promise me to dismiss Claudet at once—today?"
"I promise you."
The Abbe Pernot advanced to take her hand, and administer some
words of consolation; but she evaded, with a stern gesture, the good
man's pious sympathy, and escaped toward the dwelling.
The spacious kitchen was empty when she entered. The shutters had
been closed against the sun, and it had become cool and pleasant.
Here and there, among the copper utensils, and wherever a chance ray
made a gleam of light, the magpie was hopping about, uttering short,
piercing cries. In the recess of the niche containing the colored
prints, sat the old man Vincart, dozing, in his usual supine attitude,
his hands spread out, his eyelids drooping, his mouth half open. At
the sound of the door, his eyes opened wide. He rather guessed at,
than saw, the entrance of the young girl, and his pallid lips began
their accustomed refrain: "Reine! Rei-eine!"
Reine flew impetuously toward the paralytic old man, threw herself
on her knees before him, sobbing bitterly, and covered his hands with
kisses. Her caresses were given in a more respectful, humble, contrite
manner than ever before.
"Oh! father—father!" faltered she; "I loved you always, I shall
love you now with all my heart and soul!"
CHAPTER VIII. LOVE'S SAD ENDING
The kitchen was bright with sunshine, and the industrious bees were
buzzing around the flowers on the window-sills, while Reine was
listlessly attending to culinary duties, and preparing her father's
meal. The humiliating disclosures made by the Abbe Pernot weighed
heavily upon her mind. She foresaw that Claudet would shortly be at
La Thuiliere in order to hear the result of the cure's visit; but she
did not feel sufficiently mistress of herself to have a decisive
interview with him at such short notice, and resolved to gain at least
one day by absenting herself from the farm. It seemed to her
necessary that she should have that length of time to arrange her
ideas, and evolve some way of separating Claudet and herself without
his suspecting the real motive of rupture. So, telling La Guite to
say that unexpected business had called her away, she set out for the
woods of Maigrefontaine.
Whenever she had felt the need of taking counsel with herself
before deciding on any important matter, the forest had been her
refuge and her inspiration. The refreshing solitude of the valleys,
watered by living streams, acted as a strengthening balm to her
irresolute will; her soul inhaled the profound peace of these leafy
retreats. By the time she had reached the inmost shade of the forest
her mind had become calmer, and better able to unravel the confusion
of thoughts that surged like troubled waters through her brain. The
dominant idea was, that her self- respect had been wounded; the shock
to her maidenly modesty, and the shame attendant upon the fact,
affected her physically, as if she had been belittled and degraded by
a personal stain; and this downfall caused her deep humiliation. By
slow degrees, however, and notwithstanding this state of abject
despair, she felt, cropping up somewhere in her heart, a faint germ of
gladness, and, by close examination, discovered its origin: she was
now loosed from her obligations toward Claudet, and the prospect of
being once more free afforded her immediate consolation.
She had so much regretted, during the last few weeks, the feeling
of outraged pride which had incited her to consent to this marriage;
her loyal, sincere nature had revolted at the constraint she had
imposed upon herself; her nerves had been so severely taxed by having
to receive her fiance with sufficient warmth to satisfy his
expectations, and yet not afford any encouragement to his
demonstrative tendencies, that the certainty of her newly acquired
freedom created a sensation of relief and well-being. But, hardly had
she analyzed and acknowledged this sensation when she reproached
herself for harboring it when she was about to cause Claudet such
Poor Claudet! what a cruel blow was in store for him! He was so
guilelessly in love, and had ,such unbounded confidence in the success
of his projects! Reine was overcome by tender reminiscences. She had
always experienced, as if divining by instinct the natural bonds which
united them, a sisterly affection for Claudet. Since their earliest
infancy, at the age when they learned their catechism under the church
porch, they had been united in a bond of friendly fellowship. With
Reine, this tender feeling had always remained one of friendship, but,
with Claudet, it had ripened into love; and now, after allowing the
poor young fellow to believe that his love was reciprocated, she was
forced to disabuse him. It was useless for her to try to find some
way of softening the blow; there was none. Claudet was too much in
love to remain satisfied with empty words; he would require solid
reasons; and the only conclusive one which would convince him, without
wounding his self-love, was exactly the one which the young girl could
not give him. She was, therefore, doomed to send Claudet away with the
impression that he had been jilted by a heartless and unprincipled
coquette. And yet something must be done. The grand chasserot had
been too long already in the toils; there was something barbarously
cruel in not freeing him from his illusions.
In this troubled state of mind, Reine gazed appealingly at the
silent witnesses of her distress. She heard a voice within her saying
to the tall, vaulted ash, "Inspire me!" to the little rose-colored
centaurea of the wayside, "Teach me a charm to cure the harm I have
done!" But the woods, which in former days had been her advisers and
instructors, remained deaf to her invocation. For the first time, she
felt herself isolated and abandoned to her own resources, even in the
midst of her beloved forest.
It is when we experience these violent mental crises, that we
become suddenly conscious of Nature's cold indifference to our
sufferings. She really is nothing more than the reflex of our own
sensations, and can only give us back what we lend her. Beautiful but
selfish, she allows herself to be courted by novices, but presents a
freezing, emotionless aspect to those who have outlived their
Reine did not reach home until the day had begun to wane. La Guite
informed her that Claudet had waited for her during part of the
afternoon, and that he would come again the next day at nine o'clock.
Notwithstanding her bodily fatigue, she slept uneasily, and her sleep
was troubled by feverish dreams. Every time she closed her eyes, she
fancied herself conversing with Claudet, and woke with a start at the
sound of his angry voice.
She arose at dawn, descended at once to the lower floor, to get
through her morning tasks, and as soon as the big kitchen clock struck
nine, she left the house and took the path by which Claudet would
come. A feeling of delicate consideration toward her lover had
impelled her to choose for her explanation any other place than the
one where she had first received his declaration of love, and
consented to the marriage. Very soon he came in sight, his stalwart
figure outlined against the gray landscape. He was walking rapidly;
her heart smote her, her hands became like ice, but she summoned all
her fortitude, and went bravely forward to meet him.
When he came within forty or fifty feet, he recognized Reine, and
took a short cut across the stubble studded with cobwebs glistening
"Aha! my Reine, my queen, good-morning!" cried he, joyously, "it
is sweet of you to come to meet me!"
"Good-morning, Claudet. I came to meet you because I wish to speak
with you on matters of importance, and I preferred not to have the
conversation take place in our house. Shall we walk as far as the
He stopped short, astonished at the proposal and also at the sad
and resolute attitude of his betrothed. He examined her more closely,
noticed her deep-set eyes, her cheeks, whiter than usual.
"Why, what is the matter, Reine?" he inquired; "you are not
yourself; do you not feel well?"
"Yes, and no. I have passed a bad night, thinking over matters
that are troubling me, and I think that has produced some fever."
"What matters? Any that concern us?"
"Yes;" replied she, laconically.
Claudet opened his eyes. The young girl's continued gravity began
to alarm him; but, seeing that she walked quickly forward, with an
absent air, her face lowered, her brows bent, her mouth compressed, he
lost courage and refrained from asking her any questions. They walked
on thus in silence, until they came to the open level covered with
juniper- bushes, from which solitary place, surrounded by hawthorn
hedges, they could trace the narrow defile leading to Vivey, and the
faint mist beyond.
"Let us stop here," said Reine, seating herself on a flat, mossy
stone, "we can talk here without fear of being disturbed."
"No fear of that," remarked Claudet, with a forced smile, "with the
exception of the shepherd of Vivey, who comes here sometimes with his
cattle, we shall not see many passers-by. It must be a secret that
you have to tell me, Reine?" he added.
"No;" she returned, "but I foresee that my words will give you
pain, my poor Claudet, and I prefer you should hear them without being
annoyed by the farm-people passing to and fro."
"Explain yourself!" he exclaimed, impetuously. "For heaven's
sake, don't keep me in suspense!"
"Listen, Claudet. When you asked my hand in marriage, I answered
yes, without taking time to reflect. But, since I have been thinking
over our plans, I have had scruples. My father is becoming every day
more of an invalid, and in his present state I really have no right to
live for any one but him. One would think he was aware of our
intentions, for since you have been visiting at the farm, he is more
agitated and suffers more. I think that any change in his way of
living would bring on a stroke, and I never should forgive myself if I
thought I had shortened his life. That is the reason why, as long as I
have him with me, I do not see that it will be possible for me to
dispose of myself. On the other hand, I do not wish to abuse your
patience. I therefore ask you to take back your liberty and give me
back my promise."
"That is to say, you won't have me!" he exclaimed.
"No; my poor friend, it means only that I shall not marry so long
as my father is living, and that I can not ask you to wait until I am
perfectly free. Forgive me for having entered into the engagement too
carelessly, and do not on that account take your friendship from me."
"Reine," interrupted Claudet, angrily, "don't turn your brain
inside out to make me believe that night is broad day. I am not a
child, and I see very well that your father's health is only a
pretext. You don't want me, that's all, and, with all due respect,
you have changed your mind very quickly! Only the day before
yesterday you authorized me to arrange about the day for the ceremony
with the Abbe Pernot. Now that you have had a visit from the cure,
you want to put the affair off until the week when two Sundays come
together! I am a little curious to know what that confounded old abbe
has been babbling about me, to turn you inside out like a glove in
such a short time."
Claudet's conscience reminded him of several rare frolics, chance
love- affairs, meetings in the woods, and so on, and he feared the
priest might have told Reine some unfavorable stories about him.
"Ah!" he continued, clenching his fists, "if this old poacher in a
cassock has done me an ill turn with you, he will not have much of a
chance for paradise!"
"Undeceive yourself," said Reine, quickly, "Monsieur le Cure is
your friend, like myself; he esteems you highly, and never has said
anything but good of you."
"Oh, indeed!" sneered the young man, "as you are both so fond of
me, how does it happen that you have given me my dismissal the very
day after your interview with the cure?"
Reine, knowing Claudet's violent disposition, and wishing to avoid
trouble for the cure, thought it advisable to have recourse to
"Monsieur le Cure," said she, "has had no part in my decision. He
has not spoken against you, and deserves no reproaches from you."
"In that case, why do you send me away?"
"I repeat again, the comfort and peace of my father are paramount
with me, and I do not intend to marry so long as he may have need of
"Well," said Claudet, persistently, "I love you, and I will wait."
"It can not be."
"Because," replied she, sharply, "because it would be kind neither
to you, nor to my father, nor to me. Because marriages that drag
along in that way are never good for anything!"
"Those are bad reasons!" he muttered, gloomily.
"Good or bad," replied the young girl, "they appear valid to me,
and I hold to them."
"Reine," said he, drawing near to her and looking straight into her
eyes, "can you swear, by the head of your father, that you have given
me the true reason for your rejecting me?"
She became embarrassed, and remained silent.
"See!" he exclaimed, "you dare not take the oath!"
"My word should suffice," she faltered.
"No; it does not suffice. But your silence says a great deal, I
tell you! You are too frank, Reine, and you don't know how to lie. I
read it in your eyes, I do. The true reason is that you do not love
She shrugged her shoulders and turned away her head.
"No, you do not love me. If you had any love for me, instead of
discouraging me, you would hold out some hope to me, and advise me to
have patience. You never have loved me, confess now!"
By dint of this persistence, Reine by degrees lost her
self-confidence. She could realize how much Claudet was suffering, and
she reproached herself for the torture she was inflicting upon him.
Driven into a corner, and recognizing that the avowal he was asking
for was the only one that would drive him away, she hesitated no
"Alas!" she murmured, lowering her eyes, "since you force me to
tell you some truths that I would rather have kept from you, I confess
you have guessed. I have a sincere friendship for you, but that is
all. I have concluded that to marry a person one ought to love him
differently, more than everything else in the world, and I feel that
my heart is not turned altogether toward you."
"No," said Claudet, bitterly, "it is turned elsewhere."
"What do you mean? I do not understand you."
"I mean that you love some one else."
"That is not true," she protested.
"You are blushing—a proof that I have hit the nail!"
"Enough of this!" cried she, imperiously.
"You are right. Now that you have said you don't want me any
longer, I have no right to ask anything further. Adieu!"
He turned quickly on his heel. Reine was conscious of having been
too hard with him, and not wishing him to go away with such a grief in
his heart, she sought to retain him by placing her hand upon his arm.
"Come, Claudet," said she, entreatingly, "do not let us part in
anger. It pains me to see you suffer, and I am sorry if I have said
anything unkind to you. Give me your hand in good fellowship, will
But Claudet drew back with a fierce gesture, and glancing angrily
at Reine, he replied, rudely:
"Thanks for your regrets and your pity; I have no use for them."
She understood that he was deeply hurt; gave up entreating, and
turned away with eyes full of tears.
He remained motionless, his arms crossed, in the middle of the
road. After some minutes, he turned his head. Reine was already
nothing more than a dark speck against the gray of the increasing fog.
Then he went off, haphazard, across the pasture-lands. The fog was
rising slowly, and the sun, shorn of its beams, showed its pale face
faintly through it. To the right and the left, the woods were half
hidden by moving white billows, and Claudet walked between fluid walls
of vapor. This hidden sky, these veiled surroundings, harmonized with
his mental condition. It was easier for him to hide his chagrin.
"Some one else! Yes; that's it. She loves some other fellow! how
was it I did not find that out the very first day?" Then he recalled
how Reine shrank from him when he solicited a caress; how she insisted
on their betrothal being kept secret, and how many times she had
postponed the date of the wedding. It was evident that she had
received him only in self-defence, and on the pleading of Julien de
Buxieres. Julien! the name threw a gleam of light across his brain,
hitherto as foggy as the country around him. Might not Julien be the
fortunate rival on whom Reine's affections were so obstinately set?
Still, if she had always loved Monsieur de Buxieres, in what spirit of
perversity or thoughtlessness had she suffered the advances of another
Reine was no coquette, and such a course of action would be
repugnant to her frank, open nature. It was a profound enigma, which
Claudet, who had plenty of good common sense, but not much insight,
was unable to solve. But grief has, among its other advantages, the
power of rendering our perceptions more acute; and by dint of
revolving the question in his mind, Claudet at last became
enlightened. Had not Reine simply followed the impulse of her wounded
feelings? She was very proud, and when the man whom she secretly
loved had come coolly forward to plead the cause of one who was
indifferent to her, would not her self-respect be lowered, and would
she not, in a spirit of bravado, accept the proposition, in order that
he might never guess the sufferings of her spurned affections? There
was no doubt, that, later, recognizing that the task was beyond her
strength, she had felt ashamed of deceiving Claudet any longer, and,
acting on the advice of the Abbe Pernot, had made up her mind to break
off a union that was repugnant to her.
"Yes;" he repeated, mournfully to himself, "that must have been the
way it happened." And with this kind of explanation of Reine's
actions, his irritation seemed to lessen. Not that his grief was less
poignant, but the first burst of rage had spent itself like a great
wind-storm, which becomes lulled after a heavy fall of rain; the
bitterness was toned down, and he was enabled to reason more clearly.
Julien—well, what was the part of Julien in all this disturbance?
"If what I imagine is true," thought he, "Monsieur de Buxieres knows
that Reine loves him, but has he any reciprocal feeling for her? With
a man as mysterious as my cousin, it is not easy to find out what is
going on in his heart. Anyhow, I have no right to complain of him; as
soon as he discovered my love for Reine, did he not, besides ignoring
his own claim, offer spontaneously to take my message? Still, there
is something queer at the bottom of it all, and whatever it costs me,
I am going to find it out."
At this moment, through the misty air, he heard faintly the village
clock strike eleven. "Already so late! how the time flies, even when
one is suffering!" He bent his course toward the chateau, and,
breathless and excited, without replying to Manette's inquiries, he
burst into the hall where his cousin was pacing up and down, waiting
for breakfast. At this sudden intrusion Julien started, and noted
Claudet's quick breathing and disordered state.
"Ho, ho!" exclaimed he, in his usual, sarcastic tone, "what a
hurry you are in! I suppose you have come to say the wedding-day is
fixed at last?"
"No!" replied Claudet, briefly, "there will be no wedding."
Julien tottered, and turned to face his cousin.
"What's that? Are you joking?"
"I am in no mood for joking. Reine will not have me; she has taken
back her promise."
While pronouncing these words, he scrutinized attentively his
cousin's countenance, full in the light from the opposite window. He
saw his features relax, and his eyes glow with the same expression
which he had noticed a few days previous, when he had referred to the
fact that Reine had again postponed the marriage.
"Whence comes this singular change?" stammered de Buxieres,
visibly agitated; "what reasons does Mademoiselle Vincart give in
"Idle words: her father's health, disinclination to leave him. You
may suppose I take such excuses for what they are worth. The real
cause of her refusal is more serious and more mortifying."
"You know it, then?" exclaimed Julien, eagerly.
"I know it, because I forced Reine to confess it."
"And the reason is?"
"That she does not love me."
"Reine—does not love you!"
Again a gleam of light irradiated the young man's large, blue eyes.
Claudet was leaning against the table, in front of his cousin; he
continued slowly, looking him steadily in the face:
"That is not all. Not only does Reine not love me, but she loves
some one else."
Julien changed color; the blood coursed over his cheeks, his
forehead, his ears; he drooped his head.
"Did she tell you so?" he murmured, at last, feebly.
"She did not, but I guessed it. Her heart is won, and I think I
know by whom."
Claudet had uttered these last words slowly and with a painful
effort, at the same time studying Julien's countenance with renewed
inquiry. The latter became more and more troubled, and his
physiognomy expressed both anxiety and embarrassment.
"Whom do you suspect?" he stammered.
"Oh!" replied Claudet, employing a simple artifice to sound the
obscure depth of his cousin's heart, "it is useless to name the
person; you do not know him."
Julien's countenance had again changed. His hands were twitching
nervously, his lips compressed, and his dilated pupils were blazing
with anger, instead of triumph, as before.
"Yes; a stranger, a clerk in the iron-works at Grancey, I think."
"You think!—you think!" cried Julien, fiercely, "why don't you
have more definite information before you accuse Mademoiselle Vincart
of such treachery?"
He resumed pacing the hall, while his interlocutor, motionless,
remained silent, and kept his eyes steadily upon him.
"It is not possible," resumed Julien, "Reine can not have played us
such a trick! When I spoke to her for you, it was so easy to say she
was already betrothed!"
"Perhaps," objected Claudet, shaking his head, "she had reasons for
not letting you know all that was in her mind."
"She doubtless believed at that time that the man she preferred did
not care for her. There are some people who, when they are vexed, act
in direct contradiction to their own wishes. I have the idea that
Reine accepted me only for want of some one better, and afterward,
being too openhearted to dissimulate for any length of time, she
thought better of it, and sent me about my business."
"And you," interrupted Julien, sarcastically, "you, who had been
accepted as her betrothed, did not know better how to defend your
rights than to suffer yourself to be ejected by a rival, whose
intentions, even, you have not clearly ascertained!"
"By Jove! how could I help it? A fellow that takes an unwilling
bride is playing for too high stakes. The moment I found there was
another she preferred, I had but one course before me—to take myself
"And you call that loving!" shouted de Buxieres, "you call that
losing your heart! God in heaven! if I had been in your place, how
differently I should have acted! Instead of leaving, with piteous
protestations, I should have stayed near Reine, I should have
surrounded her with tenderness. I should have expressed my passion
with so much force that its flame should pass from my burning soul to
hers, and she would have been forced to love me! Ah! If I had only
thought! if I had dared! how different it would have been!"
He jerked out his sentences with unrestrained frenzy. He seemed
hardly to know what he was saying, or that he had a listener. Claudet
stood contemplating him in sullen silence: "Aha!" thought he, with
bitter resignation; "I have sounded you at last. I know what is in
the bottom of your heart."
Manette, bringing in the breakfast, interrupted their colloquy, and
both assumed an air of indifference, according to a tacit
understanding that a prudent amount of caution should be observed in
her presence. They ate hurriedly, and as soon as the cloth was
removed, and they were again alone, Julien, glancing with an
indefinable expression at Claudet, muttered savagely:
"Well! what do you decide?"
"I will tell you later," responded the other, briefly.
He quitted the room abruptly, told Manette that he would not be
home until late, and strode out across the fields, his dog following.
He had taken his gun as a blind, but it was useless for Montagnard to
raise his bark; Claudet allowed the hares to scamper away with out
sending a single shot after them. He was busy inwardly recalling the
details of the conversation he had had with his cousin. The situation
now was simplified Julien was in love with Reine, and was vainly
combating his overpowering passion. What reason had he for concealing
his love? What motive or reasoning had induced him, when he was
already secretly enamored of the girl, to push Claudet in front and
interfere to procure her acceptance of him as a fianc‚? This point
alone remained obscure. Was Julien carrying out certain theories of
the respect due his position in society, and did he fear to contract a
misalliance by marrying a mere farmer's daughter? Or did he, with his
usual timidity and distrust of himself, dread being refused by Reine,
and, half through pride, half through backward ness, keep away for
fear of a humiliating rejection? With de Buxieres's proud and
suspicious nature, each of these suppositions was equally likely. The
conclusion most undeniable was, that notwithstanding his set ideas and
his moral cowardice, Julien had an ardent and over powering love for
Mademoiselle Vincart. As to Reine herself, Claudet was more than ever
convinced that she had a secret inclination toward somebody, although
she had denied the charge. But for whom was her preference? Claudet
knew the neighborhood too well to believe the existence of any rival
worth talking about, other than his cousin de Buxieres. None of the
boys of the village or the surrounding towns had ever come courting
old Father Vincart's daughter, and de Buxieres himself possessed
sufficient qualities to attract Reine. Certainly, if he were a girl,
he never should fix upon Julien for a lover; but women often have
tastes that men can not comprehend, and Julien's refinement of nature,
his bashfulness, and even his reserve, might easily have fascinated a
girl of such strong will and somewhat peculiar notions. It was
probable, therefore, that she liked him, and perhaps had done so for a
long time; but, being clear-sighted and impartial, she could see that
he never would marry her, because her condition in life was not equal
to his own. Afterward, when the man she loved had flaunted his
indifference so far as to plead the cause of another, her pride had
revolted, and in the blind agony of her wounded feelings, she had
thrown herself into the arms of the first comer, as if to punish
herself for entertaining loving thoughts of a man who could so disdain
So, by means of that lucid intuition which the heart alone can
furnish, Claudet at last succeeded in evolving the naked truth. But
the fatiguing labor of so much thinking, to which his brain was little
accustomed, and the sadness which continued to oppress him, overcame
him to such an extent that he was obliged to sit down and rest on a
clump of brushwood. He gazed over the woods and the clearings, which
he had so often traversed light of heart and of foot, and felt
mortally unhappy. These sheltering lanes and growing thickets, where
he had so frequently encountered Reine, the beautiful hunting-grounds
in which he had taken such delight, only awakened painful sensations,
and he felt as if he should grow to hate them all if he were obliged
to pass the rest of his days in their midst. As the day waned, the
sinuosities of the forest became more blended; the depth of the
valleys was lost in thick vapors. The wind had risen. The first
falling leaves of the season rose and fell like wounded birds; heavy
clouds gathered in the sky, and the night was coming on apace.
Claudet was grateful for the sudden darkness, which would blot out a
view now so distasteful to him. Shortly, on the Auberive side, along
the winding Aubette, feeble lights became visible, as if inviting the
young man to profit by their guidance. He arose, took the path
indicated, and went to supper, or rather, to a pretence of supper, in
the same inn where he had breakfasted with Julien, whence the latter
had gone on his mission to Reine. This remembrance alone would have
sufficed to destroy his appetite.
He did not remain long at table; he could not, in fact, stay many
minutes in one place, and so, notwithstanding the urgent insistence of
the hostess, he started on the way back to Vivey, feeling his way
through the profound darkness. When he reached the chateau, every one
was in bed. Noiselessly, his dog creeping after him, he slipped into
his room, and, overcome with fatigue, fell into a heavy slumber.
The next morning his first visit was to Julien. He found him in a
nervous and feverish condition, having passed a sleepless night.
Claudet's revelations had entirely upset his intentions, and planted
fresh thorns of jealousy in his heart. On first hearing that the
marriage was broken off, his heart had leaped for joy, and hope had
revived within him; but the subsequent information that Mademoiselle
Vincart was probably interested in some lover, as yet unknown, had
grievously sobered him. He was indignant at Reine's duplicity, and
Claudet's cowardly resignation. The agony caused by Claudet's
betrothal was a matter of course, but this love-for-a-stranger episode
was an unexpected and mortal wound. He was seized with violent fits
of rage; he was sometimes tempted to go and reproach the young girl
with what he called her breach of faith, and then go and throw himself
at her feet and avow his own passion.
But the mistrust he had of himself, and his incurable bashfulness,
invariably prevented these heroic resolutions from being carried out.
He had so long cultivated a habit of minute, fatiguing criticism upon
every inward emotion that he had almost incapacitated himself for
He was in this condition when Claudet came in upon him. At the
noise of the opening door, Julien raised his head, and looked
dolefully at his cousin.
"Well?" said he, languidly.
"Well!" retorted Claudet, bravely, "on thinking over what has been
happening during the last month, I have made sure of one thing of
which I was doubtful."
"Of what were you doubtful?" returned de Buxieres, quite ready to
take offence at the answer.
"I am about to tell you. Do you remember the first conversation we
had together concerning Reine? You spoke of her with so much
earnestness that I then suspected you of being in love with her."
"I—I—hardly remember," faltered Julien, coloring.
"In that case, my memory is better than yours, Monsieur de
Buxieres. To-day, my suspicions have become certainties. You are in
love with Reine Vincart!"
"I?" faintly protested his cousin.
"Don't deny it, but rather, give me your confidence; you will not
be sorry for it. You love Reine, and have loved her for a long while.
You have succeeded in hiding it from me because it is hard for you to
unbosom yourself; but, yesterday, I saw it quite plainly. You dare
not affirm the contrary!"
Julien, greatly agitated, had hidden his face in his hands. After
a moment's silence, he replied, defiantly: "Well, and supposing it is
so? What is the use of talking about it, since Reine's affections are
"Oh! that's another matter. Reine has declined to have me, and I
really think she has some other affair in her head. Yet, to confess
the truth, the clerk at the iron-works was a lover of my own
imagining; she never thought of him."
"Then why did you tell such a lie?" cried Julien, impetuously.
"Because I thought I would plead the lie to get at the truth.
Forgive me for having made use of this old trick to put you on the
right track. It wasn't such a bad idea, for I succeeded in finding out
what you took so much pains to hide from me."
"To hide from you? Yes, I did wish to hide it from you. Wasn't
that right, since I was convinced that Reine loved you?" exclaimed
Julien, in an almost stifled voice, as if the avowal were choking him.
"I have always thought it idle to parade one's feelings before those
who do not care about them."
"You were wrong," returned poor Claudet, sighing deeply, "if you
had spoken for yourself, I have an idea you would have been better
received, and you would have spared me a terrible heart-breaking."
He said it with such profound sadness that Julien, notwithstanding
the absorbing nature of his own thoughts, was quite overcome, and
almost on the point of confessing, openly, the intensity of his
feeling toward Reine Vincart. But, accustomed as he was, by long
habit, to concentrate every emotion within himself, he found it
impossible to become, all at once, communicative; he felt an
invincible and almost maidenly bashfulness at the idea of revealing
the secret sentiments of his soul, and contented himself with saying,
in a low voice:
"Do you not love her any more, then?"
"I? oh, yes, indeed! But to be refused by the only girl I ever
wished to marry takes all the spirit out of me. I am so discouraged,
I feel like leaving the country. If I were to go, it would perhaps be
doing you a service, and that would comfort me a little. You have
treated me as a friend, and that is a thing one doesn't forget. I
have not the means to pay you back for your kindness, but I think I
should be less sorry to go if my departure would leave the way more
free for you to return to La Thuiliere."
"You surely would not leave on my account?" exclaimed Julien, in
"Not solely on your account, rest assured. If Reine had loved me,
it never would have entered my head to make such a sacrifice for you,
but she will not have me. I am good for nothing here. I am only in
"But that is a wild idea! Where would you go?"
"Oh! there would be no difficulty about that. One plan would be
to go as a soldier. Why not? I am hardy, a good walker, a good shot,
can stand fatigue; I have everything needed for military life. It is
an occupation that I should like, and I could earn my epaulets as well
as my neighbor. So that perhaps, Monsieur de Buxieres, matters might
in that way be arranged to suit everybody."
"Claudet!" stammered Julien, his voice thick with sobs, "you are a
better man than I! Yes; you are a better man than I!"
And, for the first time, yielding to an imperious longing for
expansion, he sprang toward the grand chasserot, clasped him in his
arms, and embraced him fraternally.
"I will not let you expatriate yourself on my account," he
continued; "do not act rashly, I entreat!"
"Don't worry," replied Claudet, laconically, "if I so decide, it
will not be without deliberation."
In fact, during the whole of the ensuing week, he debated in his
mind this question of going away. Each day his position at Vivey
seemed more unbearable. Without informing any one, he had been to
Langres and consulted an officer of his acquaintance on the subject of
the formalities required previous to enrolment.
At last, one morning he resolved to go over to the military
division and sign his engagement. But he was not willing to
consummate this sacrifice without seeing Reine Vincart for the last
time. He was nursing, down in the bottom of his heart, a vague hope,
which, frail and slender as the filament of a plant, was yet strong
enough to keep him on his native soil. Instead of taking the path to
Vivey, he made a turn in the direction of La Thuiliere, and soon
reached the open elevation whence the roofs of the farm-buildings and
the turrets of the chateau could both alike be seen. There he
faltered, with a piteous sinking of the heart. Only a few steps
between himself and the house, yet he hesitated about entering; not
that he feared a want of welcome, but because he dreaded lest the
reawakening of his tenderness should cause him to lose a portion of
the courage he should need to enable him to leave. He leaned against
the trunk of an old pear-tree and surveyed the forest site on which
the farm was built.
The landscape retained its usual placidity. In the distance, over
the waste lands, the shepherd Tringuesse was following his flock of
sheep, which occasionally scattered over the fields, and then, under
the dog's harassing watchfulness, reformed in a compact group,
previous to descending the narrow hill-slope. One thing struck
Claudet: the pastures and the woods bore exactly the same aspect,
presented the same play of light and shade as on that afternoon of the
preceding year, when he had met Reine in the Ronces woods, a few days
before the arrival of Julien. The same bright yet tender tint reddened
the crab-apple and the wild- cherry; the tomtits and the robins
chirped as before, among the bushes, and, as in the previous year, one
heard the sound of the beechnuts and acorns dropping on the rocky
paths. Autumn went through her tranquil rites and familiar
operations, always with the same punctual regularity; and all this
would go on just the same when Claudet was no longer there. There
would only be one lad the less in the village streets, one hunter
failing to answer the call when they were surrounding the woods of
Charbonniere. This dim perception of how small a space man occupies
on the earth, and of the ease with which he is forgotten, aided
Claudet unconsciously in his effort to be resigned, and he determined
to enter the house. As he opened the gate of the courtyard, he found
himself face to face with Reine, who was coming out.
The young girl immediately supposed he had come to make a last
assault, in the hope of inducing her to yield to his wishes. She
feared a renewal of the painful scene which had closed their last
interview, and her first impulse was to put herself on her guard. Her
countenance darkened, and she fixed a cold, questioning gaze upon
Claudet, as if to keep him at a distance. But, when she noted the
sadness of her young relative's expression, she was seized with pity.
Making an effort, however, to disguise her emotion, she pretended to
accost him with the calm and cordial friendship of former times.
"Why, good-morning, Claudet," said she, "you come just in time. A
quarter of an hour later you would not have found me. Will you come
in and rest a moment?"
"Thanks, Reine," said he, "I will not hinder you in your work. But
I wanted to say, I am sorry I got angry the other day; you were right,
we must not leave each other with ill-feeling, and, as I am going away
for a long time, I desire first to take your hand in friendship."
"You are going away?"
"Yes; I am going now to Langres to enroll myself as a soldier. And
true it is, one knows when one goes away, but it is hard to know when
one will come back. That is why I wanted to say good-by to you, and
make peace, so as not to go away with too great a load on my heart."
All Reine's coldness melted away. This young fellow, who was
leaving his country on her account, was the companion of her infancy,
more than that, her nearest relative. Her throat swelled, her eyes
filled with tears. She turned away her head, that he might not
perceive her emotion, and opened the kitchen-door.
"Come in, Claudet," said she, "we shall be more comfortable in the
dining-room. We can talk there, and you will have some refreshment
before you go, will you not?"
He obeyed, and followed her into the house. She went herself into
the cellar, to seek a bottle of old wine, brought two glasses, and
filled them with a trembling hand.
"Shall you remain long in the service?" asked she.
"I shall engage for seven years."
"It is a hard life that you are choosing."
"What am I to do?" replied he, "I could not stay here doing
Reine went in and out of the room in a bewildered fashion.
Claudet, too much excited to perceive that the young girl's
impassiveness was only on the surface, said to himself: "It is all
over; she accepts my departure as an event perfectly natural; she
treats me as she would Theotime, the coal-dealer, or the tax-collector
Boucheseiche. A glass of wine, two or three unimportant questions,
and then, good-by-a pleasant journey, and take care of yourself!"
Then he made a show of taking an airy, insouciant tone.
"Oh, well!" he exclaimed, "I've always been drawn toward that kind
of life. A musket will be a little heavier than a gun, that's all;
then I shall see different countries, and that will change my ideas."
He tried to appear facetious, poking around the kitchen, and teasing
the magpie, which was following his footsteps with inquisitive
anxiety. Finally, he went up to the old man Vincart, who was lying
stretched out in his picture-lined niche. He took the flabby hand of
the paralytic old man, pressed it gently and endeavored to get up a
little conversation with him, but he had it all to himself, the
invalid staring at him all the time with uneasy, wide-open eyes.
Returning to Reine, he lifted his glass.
"To your health, Reine!" said he, with forced gayety, "next time
we clink glasses together, I shall be an experienced soldier—you'll
But, when he put the glass to his lips, several big tears fell in,
and he had to swallow them with his wine.
"Well!" he sighed, turning away while he passed the back of his
hand across his eyes, "it must be time to go."
She accompanied him to the threshold.
"Adieu!" she murmured, faintly.
She stretched out both hands, overcome with pity and remorse. He
perceived her emotion, and thinking that she perhaps still loved him a
little, and repented having rejected him, threw his arms impetuously
around her. He pressed her against his bosom, and imprinted kisses,
wet with tears, upon her cheek. He could not leave her, and redoubled
his caresses with passionate ardor, with the ecstasy of a lover who
suddenly meets with a burst of tenderness on the part of the woman he
has tenderly loved, and whom he expects never to fold again in his
arms. He completely lost his self-control. His embrace became so
ardent that Reine, alarmed at the sudden outburst, was overcome with
shame and terror, notwithstanding the thought that the man, who was
clasping her in his arms with such passion, was her own brother.
She tore herself away from him and pushed him violently back.
"Adieu!" she cried, retreating to the kitchen, of which she
hastily shut the door.
Claudet stood one moment, dumfounded, before the door so pitilessly
shut in his face, then, falling suddenly from his happy state of
illusion to the dead level of reality, departed precipitately down the
When he turned to give a parting glance, the farm buildings were no
longer visible, and the waste lands of the forest border, gray, stony,
and barren, stretched their mute expanse before him.
"No!" exclaimed he, between his set teeth, "she never loved me.
She thinks only of the other man! I have nothing more to do but go
away and never return!"
CHAPTER IX. LOVE HEALS THE BROKEN
In arriving at Langres, Claudet enrolled in the seventeenth
battalion of light infantry. Five days later, paying no attention to
the lamentations of Manette, he left Vivey, going, by way of Lyon, to
the camp at Lathonay, where his battalion was stationed. Julien was
thus left alone at the chateau to recover as best he might from the
dazed feeling caused by the startling events of the last few weeks.
After Claudet's departure, he felt an uneasy sensation of discomfort,
and as if he himself had lessened in value. He had never before
realized how little space he occupied in his own dwelling, and how
much living heat Claudet had infused into the house which was now so
cold and empty. He felt poor and diminished in spirit, and was
ashamed of being so useless to himself and to others. He had before
him a prospect of new duties, which frightened him. The management of
the district, which Claudet had undertaken for him, would now fall
entirely on his shoulders, and just at the time of the timber sales
and the renewal of the fences. Besides all this, he had Manette on
his conscience, thinking he ought to try to soften her grief at her
son's unexpected departure. The ancient housekeeper was like Rachel,
she refused to be comforted, and her temper was not improved by her
recent trials. She filled the air with lamentations, and seemed to
consider Julien responsible for her troubles. The latter treated her
with wonderful patience and indulgence, and exhausted his ingenuity to
make her time pass more pleasantly. This was the first real effort he
had made to subdue his dislikes and his passive tendencies, and it had
the good effect of preparing him, by degrees, to face more serious
trials, and to take the initiative in matters of greater importance.
He discovered that the energy he expended in conquering a first
difficulty gave him more ability to conquer the second, and from that
result he decided that the will is like a muscle, which shrivels in
inaction and is developed by exercise; and he made up his mind to
attack courageously the work before him, although it had formerly
appeared beyond his capabilities.
He now rose always at daybreak. Gaitered like a huntsman, and
escorted by Montagnard, who had taken a great liking to him, he would
proceed to the forest, visit the cuttings, hire fresh workmen,
familiarize himself with the woodsmen, interest himself in their
labors, their joys and their sorrows; then, when evening came, he was
quite astonished to find himself less weary, less isolated, and eating
with considerable appetite the supper prepared for him by Manette.
Since he had been traversing the forest, not as a stranger or a
person of leisure, but with the predetermination to accomplish some
useful work, he had learned to appreciate its beauties. The charms of
nature and the living creatures around no longer inspired him with the
defiant scorn which he had imbibed from his early solitary life and
his priestly education; he now viewed them with pleasure and interest.
In proportion, as his sympathies expanded and his mind became more
virile, the exterior world presented a more attractive appearance to
While this work of transformation was going on within him, he was
aided and sustained by the ever dear and ever present image of Reine
Vincart. The trenches, filled with dead leaves, the rows of
beech-trees, stripped of their foliage by the rude breath of winter,
the odor peculiar to underwood during the dead season, all recalled to
his mind the impressions he had received while in company with the
woodland queen. Now that, he could better understand the young girl's
adoration of the marvellous forest world, he sought out, with loving
interest, the sites where she had gone into ecstasy, the details of
the landscape which she had pointed out to him the year before, and
had made him admire. The beauty of the scene was associated in his
thoughts with Reine's love, and he could not think of either
separately. But, notwithstanding the steadfastness and force of his
love, he had not yet made any effort to see Mademoiselle Vincart. At
first, the increase of occupation caused by Claudet's departure, the
new duties devolving upon him, together with his inexperience, had
prevented Julien from entertaining the possibility of renewing
relations that had been so violently sundered. Little by little,
however; as he reviewed the situation of affairs, which his cousin's
generous sacrifice had engendered, he began to consider how he could
benefit thereby. Claudet's departure had left the field free, but
Julien felt no more confidence in himself than before. The fact that
Reine had so unaccountably refused to marry the grand chasserot did
not seem to him sufficient encouragement. Her motive was a secret,
and therefore, of doubtful interpretation. Besides, even if she were
entirely heart-whole, was that a reason why she should give Julien a
favorable reception? Could she forget the cruel insult to which he
had subjected her? And immediately after that outrageous behavior of
his, he had had the stupidity to make a proposal for Claudet. That
was the kind of affront, thought he, that a woman does not easily
forgive, and the very idea of presenting himself before her made his
heart sink. He had seen her only at a distance, at the Sunday mass,
and every time he had endeavored to catch her eye she had turned away
her head. She also avoided, in every way, any intercourse with the
chateau. Whenever a question arose, such as the apportionment of
lands, or the allotment of cuttings, which would necessitate her
having recourse to M. de Buxieres, she would abstain from writing
herself, and correspond only through the notary, Arbillot. Claudet's
heroic departure, therefore, had really accomplished nothing;
everything was exactly at the same point as the day after Julien's
unlucky visit to La Thuiliere, and the same futile doubts and fears
agitated him now as then. It also occurred to him, that while he was
thus debating and keeping silence, days, weeks, and months were
slipping away; that Reine would soon reach her twenty-third year, and
that she would be thinking of marriage. It was well known that she
had some fortune, and suitors were not lacking. Even allowing that
she had no afterthought in renouncing Claudet, she could not always
live alone at the farm, and some day she would be compelled to accept
a marriage of convenience, if not of love.
"And to think," he would say to himself, "that she is there, only a
few steps away, that I am consumed with longing, that I have only to
traverse those pastures, to throw myself at her feet, and that I
positively dare not! Miserable wretch that I am, it was last spring,
while we were in that but together, that I should have spoken of my
love, instead of terrifying her with my brutal caresses! Now it is
too late! I have wounded and humiliated her; I have driven away
Claudet, who would at any rate have made her a stalwart lover, and I
have made two beings unhappy, without counting myself. So much for my
miserable shufflings and evasion! Ah! if one could only begin life
While thus lamenting his fate, the march of time went steadily on,
with its pitiless dropping out of seconds, minutes, and hours. The
worst part of winter was over; the March gales had dried up the
forests; April was tingeing the woods with its tender green; the song
of the cuckoo was already heard in the tufted bowers, and the festival
of St. George had passed.
Taking advantage of an unusually clear day, Julien went to visit a
farm, belonging to him, in the plain of Anjeures, on the border of the
forest of Maigrefontaine. After breakfasting with the farmer, he took
the way home through the woods, so that he might enjoy the first
varied effects of the season.
The forest of Maigrefontaine, situated on the slope of a hill, was
full of rocky, broken ground, interspersed with deep ravines, along
which narrow but rapid streams ran to swell the fishpond of La
Thuiliere. Julien had wandered away from the road, into the thick of
the forest where the budding vegetation was at its height, where the
lilies multiply and the early spring flowers disclose their
umbelshaped clusters, full of tiny, white stars. The sight of these
blossoms, which had such a tender meaning for him, since he had
identified the name with that of Reine, brought vividly before him the
beloved image of the young girl. He walked slowly and languidly on,
heated by his feverish recollections and desires, tormented by useless
self-reproach, and physically intoxicated by the balmy atmosphere and
the odor of the flowering shrubs at his feet. Arriving at the edge of
a somewhat deep pit, he tried to leap across with a single bound, but,
whether he made a false start, or that he was weakened and dizzy with
the conflicting emotions with which he had been battling, he missed
his footing and fell, twisting his ankle, on the side of the
embankment. He rose with an effort and put his foot to the ground,
but a sharp pain obliged him to lean against the trunk of a
neighboring ash-tree. His foot felt as heavy as lead, and every time
he tried to straighten it his sufferings were intolerable. All he
could do was to drag himself along from one tree to another until he
reached the path.
Exhausted by this effort; he sat down on the grass, unbuttoned his
gaiter, and carefully unlaced his boot. His foot had swollen
considerably. He began to fear he had sprained it badly, and wondered
how he could get back to Vivey. Should he have to wait on this lonely
road until some woodcutter passed, who would take him home?
Montagnard, his faithful companion, had seated himself in front of
him, and contemplated him with moist, troubled eyes, at the same time
emitting short, sharp whines, which seemed to say:
"What is the matter?" and, "How are we going to get out of this?"
Suddenly he heard footsteps approaching. He perceived a flutter of
white skirts behind the copse, and just at the moment he was blessing
the lucky chance that had sent some one in that direction, his eyes
were gladdened with a sight of the fair visage of Reine.
She was accompanied by a little girl of the village, carrying a
basket full of primroses and freshly gathered ground ivy. Reine was
quite familiar with all the medicinal herbs of the country, and
gathered them in their season, in order to administer them as required
to the people of the farm. When she was within a few feet of Julien,
she recognized him, and her brow clouded over; but almost immediately
she noticed his altered features and that one of his feet was
shoeless, and divined that something unusual had happened. Going
straight up to him, she said:
"You seem to be suffering, Monsieur de Buxieres. What is the
"A—a foolish accident," replied he, putting on a careless manner.
"I fell and sprained my ankle."
The young girl knit her brows with an anxious expression; then,
after a moment's hesitation; she said:
"Will you let me see your foot? My mother understood about
bone-setting, and I have been told that I inherit her gift of curing
She drew from the basket an empty bottle and a handkerchief.
"Zelie," said she to the little damsel, who was standing astonished
at the colloquy, "go quickly down to the stream, and fill this
While she was speaking, Julien, greatly embarrassed, obeyed her
suggestions, and uncovered his foot. Reine, without any prudery or
nonsense, raised the wounded limb, and felt around cautiously.
"I think," said she at last, "that the muscles are somewhat
Without another word, she tore the handkerchief into narrow strips,
and poured the contents of the bottle, which Zelie had filled, slowly
over the injure member, holding her hand high for that purpose. Then,
with a soft yet firm touch, she pressed the injured muscles into their
places, while Julien bit his lips and did his very utmost to prevent
her seeing how much he was suffering. After this massage treatment,
the young girl bandaged the ankle tightly with the linen bands, and
fastened them securely with pins.
"There," said she, "now try to put on your shoe and stocking; they
will give support to the muscles. Now you, Zelie, run, fit to break
your neck, to the farm, make them harness the wagon, and tell them to
bring it here, as close to the path as possible."
The girl picked up her basket and started on a trot.
"Monsieur de Buxieres;" said Reine, "do you think you can walk as
far as the carriage road, by leaning on my arm?"
"Yes;" he replied, with a grateful glance which greatly embarrassed
Mademoiselle Vincart, "you have relieved me as if by a miracle. I
feel much better and as if I could go anywhere you might lead, while
leaning on your arm!"
She helped him to rise, and he took a few steps with her aid.
"Why, it feels really better," sighed he.
He was so happy in feeling himself thus tenderly supported by
Reine, that he altogether forgot his pain.
"Let us walk slowly," continued she, "and do not be afraid to lean
on me. All you have to think of is reaching the carriage."
"How good you are," stammered he, "and how ashamed I am!"
"Ashamed of what?" returned Reine, hastily. "I have done nothing
extraordinary; anyone else would have acted in the same manner."
"I entreat you," replied he, earnestly, "not to spoil my happiness.
I know very well that the first person who happened to pass would have
rendered me some charitable assistance; but the thought that it is
you— you alone—who have helped me, fills me with delight, at: the
same time that it increases my remorse. I so little deserve that you
should interest yourself in my behalf!"
He waited, hoping perhaps that she would ask for an explanation,
but, seeing that she did not appear to understand, he added:
"I have offended you. I have misunderstood you, and I have been
cruelly punished for my mistake. But what avails my tardy regret in
healing the injuries I have inflicted! Ah! if one could only go
backward, and efface, with a single stroke, the hours in which one has
been blind and headstrong!"
"Let us not speak of that!" replied she, shortly, but in a
singularly softened tone.
In spite of herself, she was touched by this expression of
repentance, so naively acknowledged in broken, disconnected sentences,
vibrating with the ring of true sincerity. In proportion as he abased
himself, her anger diminished, and she recognized that she loved him
just the same, notwithstanding his defects, his weakness, and his want
of tact and polish. She was also profoundly touched by his revealing
to her, for the first time, a portion of his hidden feelings.
They had become silent again, but they felt nearer to each other
than ever before; their secret thoughts seemed to be transmitted to
each other; a mute understanding was established between them. She
lent him the support of her arm with more freedom, and the young man
seemed to experience fresh delight in her firm and sympathetic
Progressing slowly, although more quickly than they would have
chosen themselves, they reached the foot of the path, and perceived
the wagon waiting on the beaten road. Julien mounted therein with the
aid of Reine and the driver. When he was stretched on the straw,
which had been spread for him on the bottom of the wagon, he leaned
forward on the side, and his eyes met those of Reine. For a few
moments their gaze seemed riveted upon each other, and their mutual
understanding was complete. These few, brief moments contained a whole
confession of love; avowals mingled with repentance, promises of
pardon, tender reconciliation!
"Thanks!" he sighed at last, "will you give me your hand?"
She gave it, and while he held it in his own, Reine turned toward
the driver on the seat.
"Felix," said she, warningly, "drive slowly and avoid the ruts.
Good- night, Monsieur de Buxieres, send for the doctor as soon as you
get in, and all will be well. I will send to inquire how you are
She turned and went pensively down the road to La Thuiliere, while
the carriage followed slowly the direction to Vivey.
The doctor, being sent for immediately on Julien's arrival,
pronounced it a simple sprain, and declared that the preliminary
treatment had been very skilfully applied, that the patient had now
only to keep perfectly still. Two days later came La Guite from
Reine, to inquire after M. de Buxieres's health. She brought a large
bunch of lilies which Mademoiselle Vincart had sent to the patient, to
console him for not being able to go in the woods, which Julien kept
for several days close by his side.
This accident, happening at Maigrefontaine, and providentially
attended to by Reine Vincart, the return to the chateau in the vehicle
belonging to La Thuiliere, the sending of the lilies, were all a
source of great mystification to Manette. She suspected some amorous
mystery in all these events, commented somewhat uncharitably on every
minor detail, and took care to carry her comments all over the
village. Very soon the entire parish, from the most insignificant
woodchopper to the Abbe Pernot himself, were made aware that there was
something going on between M. de Buxieres and the daughter of old M.
In the mean time, Julien, quite unconscious that his love for Reine
was providing conversation for all the gossips of the country, was
cursing the untoward event that kept him stretched in his
invalid-chair. At last, one day, he discovered he could put his foot
down and walk a little with the assistance of his cane; a few days
after, the doctor gave him permission to go out of doors. His first
visit was to La Thuiliere.
He went there in the afternoon and found Reine in the kitchen,
seated by the side of her paralytic father, who was asleep. She was
reading a newspaper, which she retained in her hand, while rising to
receive her visitor. After she had congratulated him on his recovery,
and he had expressed his cordial thanks for her timely aid, she showed
him the paper.
"You find me in a state of disturbance," said she, with a slight
degree of embarrassment, "it seems that we are going to have war and
that our troops have entered Italy. Have you any news of Claudet?"
Julien started. This was the last remark he could have expected.
Claudet's name had not been once mentioned in their interview at
Maigrefontaine, and he had nursed the hope that Reine thought no
longer about him.
All his mistrust returned in a moment on hearing this name come
from the young girl's lips the moment he entered the house, and seeing
the emotion which the news in the paper had caused her.
"He wrote me a few days ago," replied he.
"Where is he?"
"In Italy, with his battalion, which is a part of the first army
corps. His last letter is dated from Alexandria."
Reine's eyes suddenly filled with tears, and she gazed absently at
the distant wooded horizon.
"Poor Claudet!" murmured she, sighing, "what is he doing just now,
"Ah!" thought Julien, his visage darkening, "perhaps she loves him
Poor Claudet! At the very time they are thus talking about him at
the farm, he is camping with his battalion near Voghera, on the banks
of one of the obscure tributaries of the river Po, in a country rich
in waving corn, interspersed with bounteous orchards and hardy vines
climbing up to the very tops of the mulberry-trees. His battalion
forms the extreme end of the advance guard, and at the approach of
night, Claudet is on duty on the banks of the stream. It is a lovely
May night, irradiated by millions of stars, which, under the limpid
Italian sky, appear larger and nearer to the watcher than they
appeared in the vaporous atmosphere of the Haute-Marne.
Nightingales are calling to one another among the trees of the
orchard, and the entire landscape seems imbued with their amorous
music. What ecstasy to listen to them! What serenity their liquid
harmonies spread over the smiling landscape, faintly revealing its
beauties in the mild starlight.
Who would think that preparations for deadly combat were going on
through the serenity of such a night? Occasionally a sharp exchange
of musketry with the advanced post of the enemy bursts upon the ear,
and all the nightingales keep silence. Then, when quiet is restored
in the upper air, the chorus of spring songsters begins again.
Claudet leans on his gun, and remembers that at this same hour the
nightingales in the park at Vivey, and in the garden of La Thuiliere,
are pouring forth the same melodies. He recalls the bright vision of
Reine: he sees her leaning at her window, listening to the same
amorous song issuing from the coppice woods of Maigrefontaine. His
heart swells within him, and an over- powering homesickness takes
possession of him. But the next moment he is ashamed of his weakness,
he remembers his responsibility, primes his ear, and begins
investigating the dark hollows and rising hillocks where an enemy
The next morning, May 2oth, he is awakened by a general hubbub and
noise of fighting. The battalion to which he belongs has made an
attack upon Montebello, and is sending its sharpshooters among the
cornfields and vineyards. Some of the regiments invade the
rice-fields, climb the walls of the vineyards, and charge the enemy's
column-ranks. The sullen roar of the cannon alternates with the sharp
report of guns, and whole showers of grape-shot beat the air with
their piercing whistle. All through the uproar of guns and thunder of
the artillery, you can distinguish the guttural hurrahs of the
Austrians, and the broken oaths of the French troopers. The trenches
are piled with dead bodies, the trumpets sound the attack, the
survivors, obeying an irresistible impulse, spring to the front. The
ridges are crested with human masses swaying to and fro, and the first
red uniform is seen in the streets of Montebello, in relief against
the chalky facades bristling with Austrian guns, pouring forth their
ammunition on the enemy below. The soldiers burst into the houses,
the courtyards, the enclosures; every instant you hear the breaking
open of doors, the crashing of windows, and the scuffling of the
terrified inmates. The white uniforms retire in disorder. The
village belongs to the French! Not just yet, though. From the last
houses on the street, to the entrance of the cemetery, is rising
ground, and just behind stands a small hillock. The enemy has
retrenched itself there, and, from its cannons ranged in battery, is
raining a terrible shower on the village just evacuated.
The assailants hesitate, and draw back before this hailstorm of
iron; suddenly a general appears from under the walls of a building
already crumbling under the continuous fire, spurs his horse forward,
and shouts: "Come, boys, let us carry the fort!"
Among the first to rally to this call, one rifleman in particular,
a fine, broad-shouldered active fellow, with a brown moustache and
olive complexion, darts forward to the point indicated. It is
Claudet. Others are behind him, and soon more than a hundred men, with
their bayonets, are hurling themselves along the cemetery road; the
grand chasserot leaps across the fields, as he used formerly in
pursuit of the game in the Charbonniere forest. The soldiers are
falling right and left of him, but he hardly sees them; he continues
pressing forward, breathless, excited, scarcely stopping to think. As
he is crossing one of the meadows, however, he notices the profusion
of scarlet gladiolus and also observes that the rye and barley grow
somewhat sturdier here than in his country; these are the only
definite ideas that detach themselves clearly from his seething brain.
The wall of the cemetery is scaled; they are fighting now in the
ditches, killing one another on the side of the hill; at last, the
fort is taken and they begin routing the enemy. But, at this moment,
Claudet stoops to pick up a cartridge, a ball strikes him in the
forehead, and, without a sound, he drops to the ground, among the
noisome fennels which flourish in graveyards—he drops, thinking of
the clock of his native village.
"I have sad news for you," said Julien to Reine, as he entered the
garden of La Thuiliere, one June afternoon.
He had received official notice the evening before, through the
mayor, of the decease of "Germain-Claudet Sejournant, volunteer in the
seventeenth battalion of light infantry, killed in an engagement with
the enemy, May 20, 1859."
Reine was standing between two hedges of large peasant-roses. At
the first words that fell from M. de Buxieres's lips, she felt a
presentiment of misfortune.
"Claudet?" murmured she.
"He is dead," replied Julien, almost inaudibly, "he fought bravely
and was killed at Montebello."
The young girl remained motionless, and for a moment de Buxieres
thought she would be able to bear, with some degree of composure, this
announcement of the death in a foreign country of a man whom she had
refused as a husband. Suddenly she turned aside, took two or three
steps, then leaning her head and folded arms on the trunk of an
adjacent tree, she burst into a passion of tears. The convulsive
movement of her shoulders and stifled sobs denoted the violence of her
emotion. M. de Buxieres, alarmed at this outbreak, which he thought
exaggerated, felt a return of his old misgivings. He was jealous now
of the dead man whom she was so openly lamenting. Her continued
weeping annoyed him; he tried to arrest her tears by addressing some
consolatory remarks to her; but, at the very first word, she turned
away, mounted precipitately the kitchen-stairs, and disappeared,
closing the door behind her. Some minutes after, La Guite brought a
message to de Buxieres that Reine wished to be alone, and begged him
to excuse her.
He took his departure, disconcerted, downhearted, and ready to weep
himself, over the crumbling of his hopes. As he was nearing the first
outlying houses of the village, he came across the Abbe Pernot, who
was striding along at a great rate, toward the chateau.
"Ah!" exclaimed the priest, "how are you, Monsieur de Buxieres, I
was just going over to see you. Is it true that you have received bad
Julien nodded his head affirmatively, and informed the cure of the
sad notice he had received. The Abbe's countenance lengthened, his
mouth took on a saddened expression, and during the next few minutes
he maintained an attitude of condolence.
"Poor fellow!" he sighed, with a slight nasal intonation, "he did
not have a fair chance! To have to leave us at twenty-six years of
age, and in full health, it is very hard. And such a jolly companion;
such a clever shot!"
Finally, not being naturally of a melancholy turn of mind, nor able
to remain long in a mournful mood, he consoled himself with one of the
pious commonplaces which he was in the habit of using for the benefit
of others: "The Lord is just in all His dealings, and holy in all His
works; He reckons the hairs of our heads, and our destinies are in His
hands. We shall celebrate a fine high mass for the repose of Claudet's
He coughed, and raised his eyes toward Julien.
"I wished," continued he, "to see you for two reasons, Monsieur de
Buxieres: first of all, to hear about Claudet, and secondly, to speak
to you on a matter—a very delicate matter—which concerns you, but
which also affects the safety of another person and the dignity of the
Julien was gazing at him with a bewildered air. The cure pushed
open the little park gate, and passing through, added:
"Let us go into your place; we shall be better able to talk over
When they were underneath the trees, the Abbe resumed:
"Monsieur de Buxieres, do you know that you are at this present
time giving occasion for the tongues of my parishioners to wag more
than is at all reasonable? Oh!" continued he, replying to a
remonstrating gesture of his companion, "it is unpremeditated on your
part, I am sure, but, all the same, they talk about you—and about
"About Mademoiselle Vincart?" exclaimed Julien, indignantly, "what
can they say about her?"
"A great many things which are displeasing to me. They speak of
your having sprained your ankle while in the company of Reine Vincart;
of your return home in her wagon; of your frequent visits to La
Thuiliere, and I don't know what besides. And as mankind, especially
the female portion, is more disposed to discover evil than good, they
say you are compromising this young person. Now, Reine is living, as
one may say, alone and unprotected. It behooves me, therefore, as her
pastor, to defend her against her own weakness. That is the reason
why I have taken upon myself to beg you to be more circumspect, and
not trifle with her reputation."
"Her reputation?" repeated Julien, with irritation. "I do not
understand you, Monsieur le Cure!"
"You don't, hey! Why, I explain my meaning pretty clearly. Human
beings are weak; it is easy to injure a girl's reputation, when you
try to make yourself agreeable, knowing you can not marry her."
"And why could I not marry her?" inquired Julien, coloring deeply.
"Because she is not in your own class, and you would not love her
enough to overlook the disparity, if marriage became necessary."
"What do you know about it?" returned Julien, with violence. "I
have no such foolish prejudices, and the obstacles would not come from
my side. But, rest easy, Monsieur," continued he, bitterly, "the
danger exists only in the imagination of your parishioners. Reine has
never cared for me! It was Claudet she loved!"
"Hm, hm!" interjected the cure, dubiously.
"You would not doubt it," insisted de Buxieres, provoked at the
Abbe's incredulous movements of his head, "if you had seen her, as I
saw her, melt into tears when I told her of Sejournant's death. She
did not even wait until I had turned my back before she broke out in
her lamentations. My presence was of very small account. Ah! she has
but too cruelly made me feel how little she cares for me!"
"You love her very much, then?" demanded the Abbe, slyly, an
almost imperceptible smile curving his lips.
"Oh, yes! I love her," exclaimed he, impetuously; then coloring
and drooping his head. "But it is very foolish of me to betray
myself, since Reine cares nothing at all for me!"
There was a moment of silence, during which the curb took a pinch
of snuff from a tiny box of cherry wood.
"Monsieur de Buxieres;" said he, With a particularly oracular air,
"Claudet is dead, and the dead, like the absent, are always in the
wrong. But who is to say whether you are not mistaken concerning the
nature of Reine's unhappiness? I will have that cleared up this very
day. Good- night; keep quiet and behave properly."
Thereupon he took his departure, but, instead of returning to the
parsonage, he directed his steps hurriedly toward La Thuiliere.
Notwithstanding a vigorous opposition from La Guite, he made use of
his pastoral authority to penetrate into Reine's apartment, where he
shut himself up with her. What he said to her never was divulged
outside the small chamber where the interview took place. He must,
however, have found words sufficiently eloquent to soften her grief,
for when he had gone away the young girl descended to the garden with
a soothed although still melancholy mien. She remained a long time in
meditation in the thicket of roses, but her meditations had evidently
no bitterness in them, and a miraculous serenity seemed to have spread
itself over her heart like a beneficent balm.
A few days afterward, during the unpleasant coolness of one of
those mornings, white with dew, which are the peculiar privilege of
the mountain-gorges in Langres, the bells of Vivey tolled for the
dead, announcing the celebration of a mass in memory of Claudet. The
grand chasserot having been a universal favorite with every one in the
neighborhood, the church was crowded. The steep descent from the high
plain overlooked the village. They came thronging in through the
wooded glens of Praslay; by the Auberive road and the forests of
Charbonniere; companions in hunting and social amusements, foresters
and wearers of sabots, campers in the woods, inmates of the farms
embedded in the forests—none failed to answer the call. The rustic,
white-walled nave was too narrow to contain them all, and the surplus
flowed into the street. Arbeltier, the village carpenter, had erected
a rudimentary catafalque, which was draped in black and bordered with
wax tapers, and placed in front of the altar steps. On the pall,
embroidered with silver tears, were arranged large bunches of wild
flowers, sent from La Thuiliere, and spreading an aromatic odor of
fresh verdure around. The Abbe Pernot, wearing his insignia of
mourning, officiated. Through the side windows were seen portions of
the blue sky; the barking of the dogs and singing of birds were heard
in the distance; and even while listening to the 'Dies irae', the curb
could not help thinking of the robust and bright young fellow who,
only the year previous, had been so joyously traversing the woods,
escorted by Charbonneau and Montagnard, and who was now lying in a
foreign land, in the common pit of the little cemetery of Montebello.
As each verse of the funeral service was intoned, Manette
Sejournant, prostrate on her prie-dieu, interrupted the monotonous
chant with tumultuous sobs. Her grief was noisy and unrestrained, but
those present sympathized more with the quiet though profound sorrow
of Reine Vincart. The black dress of the young girl contrasted
painfully with the dead pallor of her complexion. She emitted no
sighs, but, now and then, a contraction of the lips, a trembling of
the hands testified to the inward struggle, and a single tear rolled
slowly down her cheek.
From the corner where he had chosen to stand alone, Julien de
Buxieres observed, with pain, the mute eloquence of her profound
grief, and became once more a prey to the fiercest jealousy. He could
not help envying the fate of this deceased, who was mourned in so
tender a fashion. Again the mystery of an attachment so evident and
so tenacious, followed by so strange a rupture, tormented his uneasy
soul. "She must have loved Claudet, since she is in mourning for
him," he kept repeating to himself, "and if she loved him, why this
rupture, which she herself provoked, and which drove the unhappy man
At the close of the absolution, all the assistants defiled close
beside Julien, who was now standing in front of the catafalque. When
it came to Reine Vincart's turn, she reached out her hand to M. de
Buxieres; at the same time, she gazed at him with such friendly
sadness, and infused into the clasp of her hand something so cordial
and intimate that the young man's ideas were again completely upset.
He seemed to feel as if it were an encouragement to speak. When the
men and women had dispersed, and a surging of the crowd brought him
nearer to Reine, he resolved to follow her, without regard to the
question of what people would say, or the curious eyes that might be
A happy chance came in his way. Reine Vincart had gone home by the
path along the outskirts of the wood and the park enclosure. Julien
went hastily back to the chateau, crossed the gardens, and followed an
interior avenue, parallel to the exterior one, from which he was
separated only by a curtain of linden and nut trees. He could just
distinguish, between the leafy branches, Reine's black gown, as she
walked rapidly along under the ashtrees. At the end of the enclosure,
he pushed open a little gate, and came abruptly out on the forest
On beholding him standing in advance of her, the young girl
appeared more surprised than displeased. After a momentary
hesitation, she walked quietly toward him.
"Mademoiselle Reine," said he then, gently, "will you allow me to
accompany you as far as La Thuiliere?"
"Certainly," she replied, briefly.
She felt a presentiment that something decisive was about to take
place between her and Julien, and her voice trembled as she replied.
Profiting by the tacit permission, de Buxieres walked beside Reine;
the path was so narrow that their garments rustled against each other,
yet he did not seem in haste to speak, and the silence was interrupted
only by the occasional flight of a bird, or the crackling of some
"Reine," said Julien, suddenly, "you have so often and so kindly
extended to me the hand of friendship, that I have decided to speak
frankly, and open my heart to you. I love you, Reine, and have loved
you for a long time. But I have been so accustomed to hide what I
think, I know so little how to conduct myself in the varying
circumstances of life, and I have so much mistrust of myself, that I
never have dared to tell you before now. This will explain to you my
stupid behavior. I am suffering the penalty to-day, for while I was
hesitating, another took my place; although he is dead, his shadow
stands between us, and I know that you love him still."
She listened to him with bent head and half-closed eyes, and her
heart began to beat violently.
"I never have loved him in the way you suppose," she replied,
A gleam of light shot through Julien's melancholy blue eyes. Both
remained silent. The green pasture-lands, bathed in the full noonday
sun, were lying before them. The grasshoppers were chirping in the
bushes, and the skylarks were soaring aloft with their joyous songs.
Julien was endeavoring to extract the exact meaning from the reply he
had just heard. He was partly reassured, but some points had still to
be cleared up.
"But still," said he, "you are lamenting his loss."
A melancholy smile flitted for an instant over Reine's pure, rosy
"Are you jealous of my tears?" said she, softly.
"Oh, yes!" he exclaimed, with sudden exultation, "I love you so
entirely that I can not help envying Claudet his share in your
affections! If his death causes you such poignant regret, he must
have been nearer and dearer to you than those that survive."
"You might reasonably suppose otherwise," replied she, almost in a
whisper, "since I refused to marry him."
He shook his head, seemingly unable to accept that positive
Then Reine began to reflect that a man of his distrustful and
despondent temperament would, unless the whole truth were revealed to
him, be forevermore tormented by morbid and injurious misgivings. She
knew he loved her, and she wished him to love her in entire faith and
security. She recalled the last injunctions she had received from the
Abbe Pernot, and, leaning toward Julien, with tearful eyes and cheeks
burning with shame, she whispered in his ear the secret of her close
relationship to Claudet.
This painful and agitating confidence was made in so low a voice as
to be scarcely distinguished from the soft humming of the insects, or
the gentle twittering of the birds.
The sun was shining everywhere; the woods were as full of verdure
and blossoms as on the day when the young man had manifested his
passion with such savage violence. Hardly had the last words of her
avowal expired on Reine's lips, when Julien de Buxieres threw his arms
around her and fondly kissed away the tears from her eyes.
This time he was not repelled.