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Title: Angelot - A Story of the First Empire
Author: Price, Eleanor C. (Eleanor Catherine)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Angelot - A Story of the First Empire" ***

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ANGELOT
A Story of the First Empire

By
ELEANOR C. PRICE

_Author of
"The Heiress of the Forest"_

NEW YORK
Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.
PUBLISHERS

_Copyright, 1902, by_ THOMAS Y. CROWELL & CO.

[Illustration: "YOU FORGET YOURSELF--YOU ARE MAD," SHE SAID HAUGHTILY.]



CONTENTS

  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

      I. In the Depths of Old France                                   1

     II. How the Owls hooted in the Daytime                           13

    III. "Je suis le Général Bim-Bam-Boum!"                           26

     IV. How the Breakfast cooked for Those was eaten by These        41

      V. How Angelot made an Enemy                                    59

     VI. How La Belle Hélène took an Evening Walk                     78

    VII. The Sleep of Mademoiselle Moineau                            95

   VIII. How Monsieur Joseph met with Many Annoyances                112

     IX. How Common Sense fought and triumphed                       129

      X. How Angelot refused what had not been offered               147

     XI. How Monsieur Urbain smoked a Cigar                          160

    XII. How the Prefect's Dog snapped at the General                173

   XIII. How Monsieur Simon showed himself a little too Clever       187

    XIV. In which Three Words contain a Good Deal of Information     202

     XV. How Henriette read History to Some Purpose                  223

    XVI. How Angelot played the Part of an Owl in an Ivy-bush        242

   XVII. How Two Soldiers came Home from Spain                       266

  XVIII. How Captain Georges paid a Visit of Ceremony                285

    XIX. The Treading of the Grapes                                  299

     XX. How Angelot climbed a Tree                                  309

    XXI. How Monsieur Joseph found himself Master of the Situation   324

   XXII. The Lighted Windows of Lancilly                             340

  XXIII. A Dance with General Ratoneau                               353

   XXIV. How Monsieur de Sainfoy found a Way Out                     369

    XXV. How the Curé acted against his Conscience                   385

   XXVI. How Angelot kept his Tryst                                  398

  XXVII. How Monsieur Joseph went out into the Dawn                  416

 XXVIII. How General Ratoneau met his Match                          437

   XXIX. The Disappointment of Monsieur Urbain                       456



ANGELOT

A Story of the First Empire



CHAPTER I

IN THE DEPTHS OF OLD FRANCE


"Drink, Monsieur Angelot," said the farmer.

His wife had brought a bottle of the sparkling white wine of the
country, and two tall old treasures of cut glass. The wine slipped out
in a merry foam. Angelot lifted his glass with a smile and bow to the
mistress.

"The best wine in the country," he said as he set it down.

The hard lines of her face, so dark, so worn with perpetual grief and
toil, softened suddenly as she looked at him, and the farmer from his
solemn height broke into a laugh.

"Martin's wine," he said. "That was before they took him, the last boy.
But it is still rather new, Monsieur Angelot, though you are so amiable.
Ah, but it is the last good wine I shall ever have here at La
Joubardière. I am growing old--see my white hair--I cannot work or make
other men work as the boys did. Our vintage used to be one of the sights
of the country--I needn't tell you, for you know--but now the vines
don't get half the care and labour they did ten years ago; and they feel
it, like children, they feel it. Still, there they remain, and give us
what fruit they can--but the real children, Monsieur Angelot, their
life-blood runs to waste in far-away lands. It does not enrich France.
Ah, the vines of Spain will grow the better for it, perhaps--"

"Hush, hush, master!" muttered the wife, for the old man was not
laughing now; his last words were half a sob, and tears ran suddenly
down. "I tell you always," she said, "Martin will come back. The good
God cannot let our five boys die, one after the other. Madame your
mother thinks so too," she said, nodding at Angelot. "I spoke to her
very plainly. I said, '_They_ cannot be unjust--and surely, to take all
the five children of a poor little farmer, and to leave not one, not
even the youngest, to do the work of the farm--come, what sort of
justice is that!' And she said: 'Listen, maîtresse: the good God will
bring your Martin back to you. He cannot be unjust, as you say. If my
Angelot had to go to the war--and I always fear it--I should expect him
back as surely as I expect my husband back from Lancilly at this
moment.'"

Angelot smiled at her. "Yes, yes, Martin will come back," he said. But
he shrugged his shoulders, for he could not himself see much comfort for
these poor people in his mother's argument. If you have lost four, it is
surely more logical to expect to lose a fifth. His father, a
philosopher, would not have said so much as this to the Joubards, but
would have gone on another tack altogether. He would have pointed out to
them that the glory of France depended on their sons; that this
conscription, which seemed to them so cruel, which now, in 1811, was
becoming really oppressive, was the means of making France, under her
brilliant leader, the most powerful and magnificent nation in the world.
He would have waved the tricolour before those sad eyes, would have
counted over lists of victories; and so catching was his enthusiasm that
Joubard's back would have straightened under it, and he would have gone
home--it happened more than once--feeling like a hero and the father of
heroes. But the old fellow's sudden flame of faith in his landlord and
Napoleon was not so lasting as his wife's faith in Madame and the
justice of God.

Angelot wished the maîtresse good-day, left a brace of birds on the
table, and stepped out from the grimy darkness of the farm kitchen into
the dazzling sunshine of that September morning. The old white farm,
with crumbling walls about it, remnants of attempts at fortification
long ago, looked fairly prosperous in its untidiness. The fresh stacks
of corn were golden still; poultry made a great clatter, a flock of
geese on their way out charging at the two men as they left the house.
An old peasant was hammering at barrels, in preparation for the vintage;
a wild girl with a stick and a savage-looking brindled dog was starting
off to fetch the cows in from their morning graze.

All the place was bathed in crystal air and golden light, fresh and
life-giving. It stood high on the edge of the moors, the ground falling
away to the south and east into a wild yet fertile valley; vineyards,
cornfields not long reaped, small woods, deep and narrow lanes, then
tall hedges studded with trees, green rich meadows by the streams far
below. On the slope, a mile or two away, there was a church spire with a
few grey roofs near it, and the larger roofs, half-hidden by trees, of
the old manor of La Marinière, Angelot's home. On the opposite slope of
the valley, rising from the stream, another spire, another and larger
village; and above it, commanding the whole country side, with great
towers and shining roofs, solid lengths of wall gleaming in newly
restored whiteness, lines of windows still gold in the morning sun,
stood the old château of Lancilly, backed by the dark screen of forest
that came up close about it and in old days had surrounded it
altogether. Twenty years of emptiness; twenty years, first of revolution
and emigration, then of efforts to restore an old family, which the
powerful aid of a faithful cousin and friend had made successful; and
now the Comte de Sainfoy and his family were at last able to live again
at Lancilly in their old position, though there was much yet to be done
by way of restoration and buying back lost bits of property. But all
this could not be in better hands than those of Urbain de la Marinière,
the cousin, the friend, somewhat despised among the old splendours of a
former régime, and thought the less of because of the opinions which
kept him safe and sound on French soil all through the Revolution,
enabling him both to save Lancilly for its rightful owners, and to keep
a place in the old and loved country for his own elder brother Joseph, a
far more consistent Royalist than Hervé de Sainfoy with all his grand
traditions. For the favour of the Emperor had been made one great step
to the restoration of these noble emigrants. Therefore in this small
square of Angevin earth there were great divisions of opinion: but
Monsieur Urbain, the unprejudiced, the lover of both liberty and of
glory, and of poetry and philosophy beyond either, who had passed on
with France herself from the Committee of Public Safety to the
Directory, and then into the arms of First Consul and Emperor--Monsieur
Urbain, the cousin, the brother, whose wife was an ardent Royalist and
devout Catholic, whose young son was the favourite companion of his
uncle Joseph, a more than suspected Chouan--Monsieur Urbain, Angelot's
father, was everybody's friend, everybody's protector, everybody's
adviser, and the one peacemaker among them all. And naturally, in such a
case, Monsieur Urbain's hardest task was the management of his own
wife--but of this more hereafter.

"Your father's work, Monsieur Angelot," said old Joubard, pointing
across the valley to Lancilly, there in the blaze of the sun.

Angelot lifted his sleepy eyelids, his long lashes like a girl's, and
the glance that shot from beneath them was half careless, half uneasy.

"We have done without them pretty well for twenty years," the farmer
went on, "but I suppose we must be glad to see them back. Is it true
that they are coming to-day?"

"I believe so."

"Your uncle Joseph won't be glad to see them. The Emperor's people: they
may disturb certain quiet little games at Les Chouettes."

"That is my uncle's affair, Maître Joubard."

"I know. Well, a still tongue is best for me. Monsieur Urbain is a good
landlord--and I've paid for my place in the Empire, _dame_, yes, five
times over. Yet, if I could choose my flag at this time of day, I should
not care for a variety of colours. Mind you, your father is a wise man
and knows best, I dare say. I am only a poor peasant. But taking men and
their opinions all round, Monsieur Angelot, and though some who think
themselves wise call him a fool,--with respect I say it,--your dear
little uncle is the man for me. Yes--I would back Monsieur Joseph
against all his brother's wisdom and his cousin's fine airs, and I am
sorry these Sainfoy people are coming back to trouble him and to spoil
his pretty little plots, which do no harm to any one."

Angelot laughed outright. "My uncle would not care to hear that," he
said.

"Nevertheless, you may tell him old Joubard said it. And what's more,
monsieur, your father thinks the same, or he would not let you live half
your life at Les Chouettes."

"He has other things to think of."

"Ah, I know--and Madame your mother to reckon with."

"You are too clever," said Angelot, laughing again. "Well, I must go,
for my uncle is expecting me to breakfast."

"Ah! and he has other guests. I saw them riding over from the south,
half an hour ago."

"You have a watch-tower here. You command the country."

"And my sight is a hawk's sight," said the old man. "Good-day, dear boy.
Give my duty to Monsieur Joseph."

Angelot started lightly on his way over the rough moorland road. The
high ridge of tableland extended far to the north; the _landes_, purple
and gold with the low heather and furze which covered them, unsheltered
by any tree, except where crossed in even lines by pollard oaks of
immense age, their great round heads so thick with leaves that a man
might well hide in them. These _truisses_, cut every few years, were
the peasants' store of firewood. Their long processions gave a curious
look of human life to the lonely moor, only inhabited by game, of which
Angelot saw plenty. But he did not shoot, his game-bag being already
stuffed with birds, but marched along with gun on shoulder and dog at
heel over the yellow sandy track, loudly whistling a country tune. There
was not a lighter heart than Angelot's in all his native province, nor a
handsomer face. He only wanted height to be a splendid fellow. His
daring mouth and chin seemed to contradict the lazy softness of his dark
eyes. With a clear, brown skin and straight figure, and dressed in brown
linen and heavy shooting boots, he was the picture of a healthy
sportsman.

A walk of a mile or two across the _landes_ brought him into a green
lane with tall wild hedges, full of enormous blackberries, behind which
were the vineyards, rather weedy as to soil, but loaded with the small
black and white grapes which made the good pure wine of the country.

Angelot turned in and looked at the grapes and ate a few; this was one
of his father's vineyards. The yellow grapes tasted of sunshine and the
south. Angelot went on eating them all the way down the lane; he was
thirsty, in spite of Joubard's sparkling wine, after tramping with dog
and gun since six o'clock in the morning. The green lane led to another,
very steep, rough, and stony. Corners of red and white rock stood out
in it; such a surface would have jolted a strong cart to pieces, but Les
Chouettes had no better approach on this side.

"I want no fine ladies to visit me," Monsieur Joseph would say, with his
sweet smile. "My friends will travel over any road."

Down plunged the lane, with a thick low wood on one side and a sloping
stubble field edged by woods on the other; here again stood a row of old
pollard oaks, like giant guards of the solitude. Then the deep barking
of many dogs, Monsieur Joseph's real protectors, and a group of Spanish
chestnuts sending their branches over the road, announced the strange
hermitage that its master called by the fanciful name of Les Chouettes.
There had indeed been a time, not long before, when owls had been its
chief inhabitants. Now, if report was to be believed, night-birds of a
different species were apt to congregate there.

The lane opened suddenly on Monsieur Joseph's out-buildings, with no
gates or barriers, things unknown in Anjou. Tall oaks and birches,
delicate and grey, leaned across the cream-coloured walls and the high
grey stone roofs where orange moss grew thickly. Low arched doorways
with a sandy court between them led into the kitchen on one side, the
stables on the other. Beyond these again, in the broad still sunshine,
standing squarely alone in a broad space of yellow sand, was Monsieur
Joseph's house, not very old, for the kitchens and stables had belonged
to a little château long since pulled down. It also was built of
cream-coloured stone, with a little tower to the west of it, with
playful ironwork and high mansard windows. An odd feature was that it
had no actual door. All the lower windows opened down to the ground,
with nothing but a stone step between them and the sandy soil, so that
the house could be entered or left at any point, through any room.

Two rough roads or country tracks, continuing the lane, passed the house
to the north and south, the northern road wandering away westward under
a wild avenue of old oaks on the edge of a wood into high fields beyond,
the southern crossing broad green slopes that descended gradually into
the valley towards Lancilly, past low copses and brimming streams,
leaving to the east the high moors and La Marinière with its small
village and spire.

Thus Les Chouettes had a view of its own to the west and south, but
could be seen far off from the south only; woods covering the upper
slope against the sunset. Woods and high land sheltered it again from
the north and east, and the only roads near it were little better than
cart-tracks.

There were long hours at Les Chouettes when no sound was to be heard but
the hooting of owls or screaming of curlews or the odd little squeak of
the squirrels as they darted up and down and about the oak trees.

"He mews like a cat, the little _fouquet_," Monsieur Joseph used to say;
and passionate sportsman as he was, he would never shoot the squirrels
or allow them to be shot by his man, who lamented loudly. Angelot had
caught his uncle's liking for that swift red spirit of the woods, and so
the squirrels had a fine time all over the lands of La Marinière.

Evidently there was a good deal going on at Les Chouettes, when Angelot
came down from the moors that morning. He was not surprised, after old
Joubard's report, to see his uncle's outdoor factotum, a bullet-headed
creature with scarcely anything on but his shirt, leading the last of
several horses into the shadowy depths of the stable. Opposite, the cook
looked out smiling from the kitchen, where she lived with her solemn
husband, the valet-de-chambre. He, in apron and sabots, was now in the
act of carrying the first dishes across to the dining-room window.

"Just in time, Monsieur Angelot!" cried the cook.

Four large black dogs came barking and leaping to meet the young man and
his dog, an intimate friend of theirs. Then a small slender figure, with
a cropped head and a clinging dark blue frock, flashed across from the
wood, ordered the dogs back in a voice that they obeyed, and clinging to
Angelot's arm, led him on towards the corner of the house.

"Ah, my Ange! I began to think you were not coming," she said. "There
are four of them in the salon with papa, and I was afraid to go in till
you came."

"What! Mademoiselle Riette afraid of anything on earth--and especially
of four old gentlemen!"

"They are not very old, and they look so fierce and secret this morning.
But come, come, you must put down your game-bag and wash your hands, and
then we will go in together."



CHAPTER II

HOW THE OWLS HOOTED IN THE DAYTIME


The sun poured into the little salon, all polished wood and gay-coloured
chintz, where Monsieur Joseph de la Marinière and his four friends were
talking at the top of their voices.

The four guests sat in more or less tired attitudes round the room; the
host stood poised on the hearth-rug, a dark, dandy little gentleman with
a brilliant smile. He had a way of balancing himself on one foot and
slightly extending both arms, as if he were going to fly off into space.
This, and his gentle, attractive manner, sometimes touched with
melancholy, gave him a sort of angelic, spiritual air. It was difficult
to imagine him either a soldier or a conspirator, yet he had been one
and was still the other. More than once, only a politic indulgence not
often extended by Napoleon's administrators, and the distinguished
merits of his younger brother, had saved Monsieur Joseph from sharing
the fate of some of his friends at Joux, Ham, or Vincennes.

These fortress prisons held even now many men of good family whom only
the Restoration was to set free. They, as well as plenty of inferior
prisoners, owed their captivity in most cases to a secret meeting
betrayed, a store of arms discovered, a discontented letter opened, or
even to an expression of opinion, such as that France had been better
off under the Bourbons. Napoleon kept France down with an iron hand,
while the young men and lads in hundreds of thousands shed their blood
for him, the women wept, and the old men sometimes raged: but yet France
as a whole submitted. The memory of the Terror made this milder tyranny
bearable. And genius commands, as long as it is victorious, and till
this year of the Spanish war, there had been no check to Napoleon. He
had not yet set out to extinguish the flame of his glory in Russian
snows.

The police all over France obeyed his orders only too well--"_Surveillez
tout le monde, excepté moi!_" To a great degree it was necessary, for
French society, high and low, was honeycombed with Royalist plots, some
of them hardly worthy of a cause which called itself religious as well
as royal. Leaders like Cadoudal and Frotté were long dead; some of their
successors in conspiracy were heroes rather of scandal than of loyalty,
and many a tragic legend lingers in French society concerning the men
and women of those days.

To a great extent, the old families of La Vendée, the La
Rochejacqueleins at their head, refrained from mixing themselves up in
the smaller plots against the Empire in which hundreds of Chouans,
noble and peasant, men and women, were constantly involved during these
years with probable loss of life and liberty. It was not till later that
the general feeling became intensified so that Napoleon had to weaken
his army, in the Waterloo campaign, by sending some thousands of men
against a new insurrection in the West, under Louis de la
Rochejaquelein, a second La Vendée war, only stopped by the final return
of the Bourbons.

Monsieur Joseph's gay little room looked like anything but a haunt of
conspirators; but his friends were earnestly discussing with him the
possibility of raising the country, arming the peasants, marching on the
chief town of the department, capturing the Prefect, as well as the
General in command of the division, and holding them as hostages while
the insurrection went on spreading through Anjou and the neighbouring
provinces.

The most eager, the most original of the plotters was the Baron d'Ombré,
a dark, square young man with frowning brows. He turned quite fiercely
on a milder-looking person, a Monsieur de Bourmont, a distant cousin of
the well-known leader of that name, who doubted whether the peasants
would rise as readily as César d'Ombré expected.

"I tell you," he said, "they hate, they detest the Empire. Look at their
desolate homes, their deserted fields! I tell you, the women of France
alone, if they had a leader, would drive the usurper out of the
country."

"There is your mission, then, dear César," said the Vicomte des Barres,
a delicate, sarcastic-looking man of middle age. "March on Paris with
your phalanx of Amazons."

"César is right, nevertheless, gentlemen," growled the Comte d'Ombré,
the young man's father, the oldest of the party. "It is energy, it is
courage, that our cause wants. And I go farther than my son goes. Take
the Prefect and the General by all means--excellent idea--"

"If you can catch them--" murmured Monsieur des Barres, and was frowned
upon furiously by César d'Ombré.

The Comte was rather deaf. "What? What?" he asked sharply, being aware
of the interruption.

"Nothing, monsieur, nothing!" cried their host, with one spring from the
fireplace to the old man's chair--"and what would you do, monsieur, with
the Prefect and the General? I am dying of curiosity."

Monsieur d'Ombré stared up into the sweet, birdlike face, which bent
over him with flashing eyes and a delighted smile.

"Do? I should shoot them on the spot," he said. "They are traitors: I
would treat all traitors the same. Yes, I know the Prefect is a friend
of your brother's--of your own, possibly. I know my son and I are your
guests, too. Never mind! Any other conduct would be cowardly and
abominable. No member of my family would ever be guilty of opportunism,
and remain in my family. Those two men have done more harm in this
province than Napoleon Buonaparte and all his laws and police. They
never tried to make his government popular. The Prefect, at least, has
done this--I know nothing about the General."

"A wooden image of his master," said Monsieur des Barres.

Monsieur Joseph returned, rather sobered, to his hearth rug. "Shoot
them, well, well!" he muttered. "A strong measure, but possibly politic.
It is what one would _like_ to do, of course, officially. Not
personally--no--though Monsieur d'Ombré may be right. It is a crime, no
doubt, to make the Empire popular. I am afraid my poor brother has tried
to do the same, and succeeded--yes, succeeded a little."

"My father is quite wrong," César d'Ombré muttered in the ear of
Monsieur de Bourmont, who listened with a superior smile. "Such mad
violence would ruin the cause altogether. Now as hostages, those two men
would be invaluable."

"Time enough to discuss that when you have got them," said Monsieur de
Bourmont. "To me, I must confess, this plan of a rising sounds premature
and unpractical. What we want first is money--money from England, and
stronger support, too--as well as a healthier public opinion all through
this part of the country."

"Ah! but none of your waiting games for me," cried the young Baron.
"_'De l'audace'_--you know--that is the motto for Frenchmen."

"Boldness and rashness need not be the same thing," said Monsieur de
Bourmont, drily. "And remember whom you are quoting, my dear César. A
dangerous person, to say the least."

A grim smile lightened d'Ombré's hard face. "It was the right thing to
say, if the devil said it," he answered.

The Vicomte des Barres rose from his chair and lounged into the middle
of the room.

"To be practical, friends," he said, "the feeling among the peasants is
the question. In this country side, Monsieur de la Marinière ought to
know pretty well what it is. And I fear he will tell us that a good deal
of exertion will be necessary, before they will take up their guns and
pikes, and march where they are led. It goes without saying that he,
himself, is the one man to lead them. I believe, though he chooses to
live like a hermit, he is the most popular man in Anjou."

"But no--no, dear Vicomte," said Monsieur Joseph, shaking his head
violently. "It is true there are some of them who love me--but their
interest, you see, is on the other side. My brother is more popular than
I am, and he deserves it, in spite of his lamentable opinions."

"Ah, monsieur, forgive me, but do you understand your peasants?" cried
César d'Ombré. "Are you doing them justice? Would they set a good farm
against their king, their religion, the salvation of their country?
Bleeding from the loss of their sons--will they think more of money and
corn-stacks and vintages than of that true peace and freedom which can
only be won by driving out tyranny? Nobody wants to put them back as
they were before 1789. The feudal ages are gone--we have given up our
rights, and there is an end of it--but we want our own kings again, and
we want peace for France, and time to breathe and to let her wounds
heal. We want to be rid of this accursed usurper who is draining her
life blood. That, I say, is what the peasants feel, most of them, as
strongly as we do. But they are of course uneducated. They need stirring
up, drilling, leading. And I can hardly believe, monsieur, that the
weight of one man in the other scale--even of your learned and
distinguished brother--would outweigh all the claims of faith and
affection and loyalty. No--delay and hesitation are useless. Trust the
peasants, I say."

"You may be right--I hope you are--" said Monsieur Joseph, more gravely
than usual. "But my brother will not now be alone in the left-hand
scale. Lancilly, under his care, has given the people work and wages for
years, remember. And now, with Hervé de Sainfoy's return--"

A howl from César d'Ombré, a groan from his father, a grimace of disgust
from Monsieur de Bourmont, who had reason, for his own cousin, once a
Chouan, was now an Imperial officer--a laugh from Monsieur des Barres;
all this greeted the name of the owner of Lancilly.

"Although that renegade is your cousin, monsieur," old d'Ombré growled,
"I hope the country side may soon be made too hot to hold him."

Monsieur Joseph shrugged his shoulders, smiled, looked on the floor. He
did not take up the old man's words; he could not very well have done
so. But there was something about him which reminded his guests that the
slender little boyish man was a dead shot and a perfect swordsman, and
that once, long ago, in old La Vendée days, he had challenged a man who
had said something insulting of his brother Urbain, and after one or two
swift passes had laid him dead at his feet.

There was a moment of rather awkward silence. Then Monsieur des Barres
took up the word again.

"To be practical, my friends," he repeated, "the first step to action,
it seems to me, is to sound and encourage the peasants. Each of us must
be responsible for his own neighbourhood."

"We will answer for ours," said César d'Ombré.

Monsieur de Bourmont, the most cautious of the party, murmured something
to the same effect, and Monsieur Joseph nodded gravely.

The Vicomte's eyes dwelt on him, a little anxiously. It seemed as if
that word "renegade," applied to his cousin and neighbour, might have a
tendency to stick in his throat. Des Barres, who admired and loved the
little gentleman, was sorry. He wanted to remind him how the old Comte
d'Ombré was universally known for bad manners, stupidity, and violence.
He would have liked to reason with him, too, on the subject of that
cousin, and to point out kindly, as a friend, how Monsieur de Sainfoy
had had absolutely no real and good excuse for going over to the
Emperor. Nothing but ambition and worldiness could have led him into the
course he had taken. Urbain de la Marinière, known even before 1789 as a
philosophical Republican, held a very different place in the estimation
of honest men.

"That farmer on the _landes_"--said the Vicomte, looking at his host--"a
good example of a superior peasant, is he not? We passed near his farm
this morning. What line does he take?"

"Joubard? He is a fine old fellow, that. His fifth son was taken by the
conscription a year ago. Four are dead. I think his heart is in the
right place. But he is my brother's best tenant. Yes--I don't know. Old
Joubard is made of good stuff, and he loves me."

"And probably he loved his sons, and their mother loved them too," said
César d'Ombré.

"Here are my children," said Monsieur Joseph, looking out of the window.
"Breakfast will be ready immediately. With your leave we will finish
our discussion afterwards."

All the faces lightened, except that of the Baron d'Ombré, whose soul
was too much in earnest to be glad of a bodily interruption. But the
ride had been long, over difficult roads and under a hot sun, and
breakfast was later than usual. The three elder conspirators were not
sorry to lay aside their plotting for an hour, and they knew by
experience that Monsieur Joseph's cook was an artist. On an occasion
such as this, dishes of the rarest distinction crossed the sandy court
from that quaint high-roofed kitchen.

The children, as Monsieur Joseph called them, came to the glass door and
opened it gently. They were Angelot and Henriette, first cousins, and
alike enough to be brother and sister, in spite of the ten years between
them.

The girl, with her fearless eyes, walked first; it seemed natural to
her. All the men rose and bowed as she came in. She made a formal
curtsey to each one separately, and smiled when Monsieur des Barres, the
man of the world, bent gracefully to kiss her hand as if she had been a
grown-up woman.

"Good morning, my dear uncle," said Angelot, and kissed Monsieur Joseph
on both cheeks; then bowed deeply to the company.

They looked upon him with not altogether friendly eyes; the Comte
d'Ombré even muttered something between his teeth, and hardly returned
the young fellow's salutation. The son of Urbain de la Marinière, a
notorious example of two odious things, republicanism and opportunism!
the mutual affection of him and his uncle Joseph only made him more of a
possible danger. To Monsieur d'Ombré Angelot seemed like a spy in the
camp. His son, however, knew better, and so did the other two. Angelot's
parentage was not in his favour, certainly, but they tried to take him
at his uncle's valuation, and that was a high one. And Monsieur Joseph's
judgment, though romantic, was seldom wrong.

Gigot, the dark-faced valet, having kicked off the sabots which covered
his felt shoes, but still wearing his large apron, set open the door
into the long narrow hall which ran through the back of the house,
widening in the middle where the tower and staircase branched from it.

"Monsieur est servi!"

The hungry guests marched willingly to the dining-room, their heavy
boots creaking, the noise of tread and voices echoing through the bare
boarded house.

"You do not join us, mademoiselle?" said Monsieur des Barres, seeing
that Henriette lingered behind in the drawing-room.

"No, monsieur," the child answered. "My father thinks I am too young to
listen. Besides, I am the _guetteuse_. It is our business to watch--the
dogs and I."

"Indeed! Is that how you spend your life? A curious employment for a
young lady!"

"When there is danger abroad, I am more to be trusted than any one
else."

"I quite believe it. You know, then, that our visit to-day is not
entirely one of pleasure? Monsieur your father has taken you so far into
his confidence, though you are too young to listen?"

"I know everything, monsieur," said Henriette.

"Then we may eat in peace. We are safe in your care. That is charming,
mademoiselle."

"Yes, monsieur. I will let you know at once, if Monsieur le Préfet and
his gendarmes are riding down the lane."

"Good heavens, what an idea! I have not the smallest wish to meet
Monsieur le Préfet. I believe that gentleman keeps a black book, in
which I am quite sure my name is written. Yes indeed, mademoiselle, if
he should happen to pass, send him a little farther. Tell him he will
find a nest of Chouans at Vaujour, or anywhere else your fancy
suggests."

Henriette laughed and nodded. "Trust me, monsieur," she said.

"Your little cousin is charming," said Monsieur des Barres to Angelot,
who was politely waiting for him in the hall.

The six men were soon sitting at Monsieur Joseph's hospitable round
table. As they dispatched their plates of steaming soup they saw the
slim blue figure of Henriette, with two dogs at her heels, flit past the
window in the direction of the steep lane down which Angelot had come
not very long before. This lane led not only to the _landes_, but by
other lanes to one of the rare high roads of the country, and on to the
chief town of the department. It was partly for this reason that
Monsieur Joseph, who valued privacy and independence, left it in its
present break-neck condition, more like the dry course of a torrent than
a civilised road.

A large dish of eggs followed the soup. But only half the guests had
been helped, when all the dogs about the place began to bark savagely.
And then, out of the shadow of the wood, darting down past the back of
the kitchen, Henriette came flying to the dining-room window, almost
upsetting Gigot and his dish as she sprang over the step.

"Papa, papa, there is a party riding down the lane. I believe it is
Monsieur le Préfet and an officer with him, and three servants. I ran up
the wood. They had only just turned into the lane, and they are coming
down very slowly; their horses don't like it."

Monsieur Joseph rapped out a tremendous oath, and looked round at his
guests, whose faces were a study.

"The Prefect and the General!" he said. "Now is your moment,
gentlemen!"



CHAPTER III

"JE SUIS LE GÉNÉRAL BIM-BAM-BOUM!"


All the men rose to their feet, except the elder d'Ombré, who had taken
a very long draught of his host's good wine, and now stared stupidly at
the others. César d'Ombré's eyes flamed with excitement. He seized the
arm of Angelot, who was next to him, in such a grip that the young
fellow flinched and frowned.

"It is our moment!" he cried. "Six to two"--then savagely, and
tightening his grasp--"unless we are betrayed--"

"What do you mean, sir?" cried Angelot, his uncle, and Monsieur de
Bourmont, all in a breath.

Monsieur des Barres laughed as he looked at Henriette.

"The idea is absurd," he said--"and yet," in a lower tone--"mademoiselle
has proved herself an amazingly true prophetess. However, it is
absurd--"

There was a moment or two of uproar. Angelot, having impatiently shaken
off the Baron's hand, was demanding that he should withdraw his words.
He, having apparently at once forgotten them, was insisting that now
indeed was the time to prove a man's loyalty, that they must stand all
together and dare all things, that the Prefect and the General, once at
Les Chouettes, must never leave it but as prisoners, that the Government
would be instantly demoralised, and the insurrection would catch and
flame like a fire in dry grass--

"And be put out as easily," shouted Monsieur de Bourmont. "Madness,
madness! Mere midsummer foolery. Go and hide yourself, firebrand!"

"Shoot them on the spot! Where are my pistols?" stammered the old Comte,
beginning to understand the situation.

Monsieur des Barres laughed till he held his sides. Henriette gave him
one or two angry and scornful glances, while Gigot, under her orders,
whisked glasses and plates and dishes into a cupboard, pushed back
chairs against the wall, took away every sign of the good meal just
begun. In the midst of all this clatter Monsieur Joseph said a few words
with eager nods and signs to Monsieur de Bourmont, and they two, taking
the old man by each arm, led him forcibly out towards the west side of
the house.

"Bring the others!" said Monsieur Joseph to his nephew, who was
listening as if fascinated to César d'Ombré's ravings.

The little uncle was angry, Angelot perceived. He stamped his foot, as
if he meant to be obeyed. Angelot had never seen him in such a state of
anxiety and excitement, or heard such words as his sincerely pious mouth
had let fall two minutes before--in Riette's presence, too! Old Joubard
was wrong: these plots were not exactly to be laughed at. Angelot,
realising that the Prefect and the General were really in danger of
their lives from men like the Messieurs d'Ombré, thought rather
seriously of his own father. At the same time, he longed to punish César
for what he had dared to say about betrayal. Yes, he was his father's
son; and so the sight of him was enough to make these wild Chouans
suspect far better Royalists than themselves. There was an account to
settle with Monsieur des Barres, too. His polite manners were all very
well, but his words to Henriette just now were insulting. Angelot was
angry with his uncle's guests, and not particularly inclined to help
them out of their present predicament. He stood gloomily, without
attempting to obey his uncle, till Henriette came up to him suddenly.

"Ange--the horses into the hiding-place! Do you hear--quick, quick!"

It might be possible to hesitate in obeying Uncle Joseph, but Cousin
Henriette was a far more autocratic person. And then her good sense
never failed, and was always convincing; she was never in doubt as to
her own right course or other people's: and Angelot, who had no
sisters, loved her like a little sister, and accepted her tyrannous
ways joyfully.

She had hardly spoken when he was out of the window, and with a few
strides across the sunshine had disappeared into the dark and cavernous
archway of the stables.

Henriette turned to the two remaining guests, César d'Ombré still
arguing in favour of instant action with Monsieur des Barres, who looked
serious enough now, and stood shrugging his shoulders.

"Follow me, gentlemen," said the child. "I know where my papa is waiting
for you."

"Mademoiselle, we are in your hands," said the Vicomte, bowing. "We have
never for an instant lost confidence in you."

She bent her head, with the air and smile of a woman who rather
scornfully accepts an apology. She went out of the dining-room and along
the hall, the two men following her. César d'Ombré lingered as far as he
dared, and grumbled between his teeth.

At that very moment the Prefect of the department, with the newly
appointed General in command of the troops stationed there, only
escorted by three men in the dress of gendarmes, rode slowly and gently
round the back of the kitchen into the sandy courtyard of Les Chouettes.

"Monsieur de la Marinière's hermitage," said the Prefect to his
companion.

"It looks like one, sapristi!" said the General.

Nothing could seem stiller, more fast asleep, than Les Chouettes in the
approaching noon of that hot September day. The dogs barked and growled,
it was true, but only one of them, the youngest, troubled himself to get
up from where he lay in the warm sand. No human creature was to be seen
about the house or buildings; the silence of the woods lay all around;
the dry air smelt delicately of wood smoke and fir trees; the shadows
were very deep, cutting across the broad belts of glowing sunshine.

"Every one is asleep," said the Prefect. "I am afraid breakfast is over;
we ought to have arrived an hour ago."

"Caught them napping!" chuckled the General.

The voices, and the clinking of bridles, as the little cavalcade passed
towards the house at a walking pace, brought the cook to the kitchen
door. She stared in consternation. She was a pretty woman, Gigot's wife,
with a pale complexion and black hair; her provincial cap was very
becoming. But she now turned as red as a turkey-cock and her jaw
dropped, as she stared after the horsemen. No one had warned her: there
had not been time or opportunity. She was just dishing up the roast meat
for the hungry appetites of Messieurs les Chouans, when behold, the
gendarmes! Who the gentlemen were, she did not know; but imperial
gendarmes were never a welcome sight to Monsieur Joseph's household.

"The place is like a city of the dead," said the Prefect, drawing rein
in front of the salon windows. "See if you can find any one, Simon, and
ask for Monsieur de la Marinière."

One of the gendarmes dismounted. Wearing the ordinary dress of these
civil soldiers, he yet differed in some indefinable way from his two
companions. He had the keen and wary look of a clever dog; his eyes were
everywhere.

"City of the dead, eh! Plenty of footprints of the living!" he muttered,
as he turned back towards the outbuildings and noticed the trampled
sand.

Marie Gigot saw him coming, and dived back into her kitchen.

"Ah! it is that demon!" she said to herself. "Holy Virgin, defend us! I
thought that wretch was gone. All of them in the dining-room--the stable
full of their horses, and no one there but that ignorant Tobie! We are
done for at last, that's sure. Eh! there's Monsieur Angelot talking to
him. But of course it is hopeless. That must be the Prefect. To be sure
they say he is better than the last--and it may be only a friendly
visit--and why should not my master have his friends to breakfast? But
then, again, what brings that Simon, that Chouan-catcher, as they call
him! Why, Gigot told me of half-a-dozen fellows who had sworn to shoot
him, and not a hundred miles from here."

She ran to the door again and looked out. Angelot, cool and quiet, had
come out of the stable and met the gendarme face to face, returning his
salutation with indifference.

"It is Monsieur le Préfet? Certainly, my uncle is at home," he said. "I
am not sure that he is in the house," and he walked on towards the group
of horsemen.

"Not in the house!" breathed the cook. "They are hiding, then! They must
have heard or seen them coming--ah, how stupid I am! I saw mademoiselle
run past the window."

Angelot came bareheaded, smiling, to represent his uncle in welcoming
the Prefect to Les Chouettes. He would not have been his father's son if
the droll side of the situation had not struck him. He thought it
exquisite, though he was sorry for his uncle's annoyance. The Chouan
guests had irritated him, and that they should lose their breakfast
seemed a happy retribution, though he would have done all he could to
save them from further penalties. Angelot looked up at the Prefect, his
handsome sleepy eyes alight with laughter.

"Do my uncle the pleasure of coming in, monsieur," he said. "He will be
here immediately; he has been out shooting. It is exactly breakfast
time."

"We shall be very grateful for your uncle's hospitality; we have had a
long ride in the heat," said the Prefect.

His eyes as they met Angelot's were very keen, as well as very kind and
gentle. He was a singularly good-looking man, and sat his horse
gracefully. His manners were those of the great world; he was one of the
noblest and most popular of the men of old family who had rallied to the
Empire, believing that Napoleon's genius and the glory of France were
one.

"Monsieur le Général," he said, turning to his companion, "let me
present Monsieur Ange de la Marinière, the son of Monsieur Urbain de la
Marinière, one of my truest friends in the department."

The rough and mocking voice that answered--"Happy to make his
acquaintance"--brought the colour into Angelot's face as he bowed.

The Prefect, who for reasons of his own watched the lad curiously, saw
the change, the cloud that darkened those frank looks suddenly, and
understood it pretty well. The new military commander, risen from the
ranks in every sense, had nothing to justify his position except
courage, a talent for commanding, and devotion to the Emperor. That he
was not now fighting in Spain was due partly to quarrels with other
generals, partly to wounds received in the last Austrian campaign, which
unfitted him for the time for active service. In sending him to this
Royalist province of the West, Napoleon might have aimed at providing
the Prefect with an effective foil to his own character and connections.
The great Emperor by no means despised the trick of setting his
servants to watch one another.

One personal peculiarity this General possessed, which had both helped
and hindered him in his career. As Monsieur des Barres said, he was
exceedingly like his master. A taller, heavier man, his face and head
were a coarse likeness of Napoleon's. There were the lines of beauty
without the sweetness, the strength without the genius, the ingrained
selfishness unveiled by any mask, even of policy. General Ratoneau was
repulsive where Napoleon was attractive. He had fought under Napoleon
from the beginning, and had risen by his own efforts, disliked by all
his superiors, even by the Emperor, to whom the strange likeness did not
recommend him. But it had a great effect on the men who fought under
him. Though he was a brutal leader, they were ready to follow him
anywhere, and had been known to call him _le gros caporal_, so strong
and obvious was this likeness. He was a splendid soldier, though
ill-tempered, cruel, and overbearing. He was a man to be reckoned with,
and so the amiable Prefect found. Having himself plenty of scruples,
plenty of humanity, and a horror of civil war, he found a colleague with
none of these difficult to manage. Nothing, for instance, was further
from the Prefect's wish than to spy upon his Royalist neighbours and to
drive them to desperation. The very word _Chouan_ represented to General
Ratoneau a wild beast to be trapped or hunted.

Angelot looked at this man, and from the first glance hated him. There
was something insolent in the stare of those bold dark eyes, which were
bloodshot, too, matching the redness and coarseness of the face;
something mocking, threatening, as much as to say: "Very fine, young
fellow, but I don't believe a word of it. I believe you, baby as you
are, and your father, and your uncle, and the whole boiling of you, are
a set of traitors to the Emperor and ought to be hanged in a row on
those trees of yours. So take care how you behave, young man!"

The Prefect read Angelot's looks, and saw what kind of instant
impression the General had made. No girl, at the moment, could have
shown her feelings more plainly. Angelot might have said aloud, "What
odious wretch is this!" such proud disgust was written on his face. But
he recovered himself instantly, and again laughter was very near the
surface as he begged these new guests to dismount. For the outwitting
and disappointing of such a horrible official was even a richer piece of
fun than the disturbance of the poor Chouans at their breakfast table.

Nothing could have been more agreeable than the manner in which Monsieur
Joseph received his unexpected visitors. They were hardly in the salon
when he came lightly along the hall, step and air those of a much
younger man. All smiles, he shook hands affectionately with the Prefect
and bowed ceremoniously to the General. They had done him the greatest
honour, caused him the keenest delight, by this friendly visit of
surprise. Only he must beg them to pardon the deficiencies of his
household. He really could not say what sort of breakfast they were
likely to find. Plenty, he hoped--for his nephew had come in from a long
morning's sport, half-an-hour ago, and the cook knew how to a measure a
young man's appetite. But as to quality--he could only throw himself on
the kind indulgence of his friends.

"As for me," said the General, "I am as hungry as a wolf, and I could
eat a lump of brown bread, and wash it down with a quart of sour wine."

"Ah, ah! a true soldier, monsieur!" said Monsieur Joseph, and clapped
his hands gently.

"My uncle's wine is not sour, as Monsieur le Général will find," said
Angelot.

The General replied, with a scowl and a shrug, "I don't suppose you mean
to compare your wine from this poor soil with the wine of the South, for
instance."

"Ah, pardon, but I do!" cried the boy. "This very morning, our farmer on
the _landes_ gave me a glass of wine, white sparkling wine, which you
would hardly match in France, except, of course, in the real champagne
country. And even as to that, our wine is purer. It tastes of sunshine
and of the white grapes of the vineyard. There is nothing better."

"Nothing better for children, I dare say," said General Ratoneau, with
a laugh. "Men like something stronger than sunshine and grapes. So will
you, one of these days."

Angelot looked hard at the man for a moment. He sat squarely, twisting
his whip in his hands, on one of Monsieur Joseph's old Louis Quinze
chairs, which seemed hardly fit to bear his weight. The delicate
atmosphere of old France was all about him. Angelot and his uncle were
incarnations of it, even in their plain shooting clothes; and the
Prefect, the Baron de Mauves, was worthy in looks and manners of the old
régime from which he sprang. The other man was a son of the Revolution
and of a butcher at Marseilles. With his glittering uniform, his look of
a coarse Roman, he was the very type of military tyranny at its worst,
without even the good manners of past days to soften the frank insolence
of a soldier.

"Voilà l'Empire! I wish my father could see him!" Angelot thought.

Monsieur Joseph looked at his nephew. His sweet smile had faded, a
sudden shadow of anxiety taking its place. How would Angelot bear with
this man? Would he remember that in spite of all provocation he must be
treated civilly? The Prefect also glanced up a little nervously at
Angelot as he stood. Had the handsome, attractive boy any share at all
of his father's wisdom and faultless temper?

Angelot was conscious of both these warnings. He answered the little
uncle's with a smile, and said easily--"It is possible--I cannot tell.
As to the wine--I will ask your opinion after breakfast, monsieur."

The Prefect's face cleared up suddenly. Angelot was a worthy son of his
father.

"It is quite unnecessary, my dear friend," he said to Monsieur Joseph,
"for you to attempt to alarm us about our breakfast. Your cook can work
miracles. This is not the first time, remember, that I have taken you by
surprise."

"And you are always welcome, my dear Baron," Monsieur Joseph answered
gently, but a little dreamily.

"I shall now have a fresh attraction in this country," the Prefect said.
"With your cousin, De Sainfoy, at Lancilly, your neighbourhood will
indeed leave nothing to be desired."

"Hervé is an agreeable man," said Monsieur Joseph. "I have not seen him
for many years; I do not know his wife and family. My brother is charmed
to welcome them all."

"Of course, and they must feel that they owe everything to him. Monsieur
your brother is a benefactor to his country and species," said the
Prefect, with a smile at Angelot. "Madame de Sainfoy is an exceedingly
pretty woman. She made quite a sensation at Court in the spring, and I
should think there will not be much difficulty in her getting the
appointment I understand she wishes--lady in waiting to the Empress.
Only they say that the Emperor does not quite trust De Sainfoy--finds
him a little half-hearted."

"That is possible," said Monsieur Joseph, gently.

"Well, it is a pity," said the Prefect. "If you accept the new régime at
all, you should do it loyally."

"My cousin has a son fighting in Spain. That ought to be placed to his
credit."

"And no doubt it is. His daughter, too, may do something. There is only
one grown up, and she has not been brought much into society--her
father's fault, they say; he has ideas of his own about marrying her.
But I am telling you what you know already?"

"Not at all, monsieur. I have heard nothing of it. When my cousins live
at Lancilly, the family councils may include me; so far they have not
done so. I did not even realise that Mademoiselle Hélène was old enough
to be married. And what match is arranged for her?"

"None that I know of. Her father's action has been negative, not
positive, I understand. He has simply refused to consider one or two
suggested marriages, either of which would have been good politically."

"Reasons of birth, I suppose," said Monsieur Joseph. "He has my cordial
sympathy."

The Prefect coughed; the General scraped his chair; Angelot nearly
laughed aloud.

"You will find it very agreeable to have your cousins at Lancilly," the
Prefect said, looking at him kindly.

"I don't know, monsieur," Angelot answered. "Young girls are hardly
companions for me."

"Indeed! As to that--" began the Prefect, still smiling as he looked at
the lad; but his remark was cut short and his attention pleasantly
distracted.

Gigot, with unshaken solemnity, set open the doors for the second time
that morning.

"Monsieur est servi!"



CHAPTER IV

HOW THE BREAKFAST COOKED FOR THOSE WAS EATEN BY THESE


The Prefect and the General enjoyed their breakfast thoroughly. They sat
over it long; so long that Angelot, his hunger satisfied, began to
suffer in his young limbs from a terrible restlessness. It was as much
as he could do to sit still, listening first to the Prefect's political
and society talk, then to stories of the General's campaigns. Under the
influence of the despised wine of Anjou, Monsieur de Mauves, whose
temper needed no sweetening, became a little sleepy, prosy, and
long-winded. General Ratoneau on his side was mightily cheered, and
showed quite a new animation: long before the meal ended, he was talking
more than the other three put together. It was he who had been the hero
of Eylau, of Friedland, of Wagram; the Emperor and the Marshals were
nowhere. All the great movements were in consequence of his advice. And
then his personal courage! The men he had killed with his own hand! As
to the adventures which had fallen to his lot in storming and plundering
towns, burning villages, quartering his men on country houses, these
often belonged so much to the very seamiest side of war that Monsieur
Joseph, soldier as he was, listened with a frown, and the Prefect
coughed and glanced more than once at Angelot. For some of these stories
were hardly suited to young and innocent ears, and Angelot looked, and
indeed was, younger than his age.

He was listening, not curiously, but with a kind of unwilling
impatience. The man seemed to impress him in spite of himself, in spite
of disgust at the stories and dislike of the teller. Once or twice he
laughed, and then General Ratoneau gave him a stare, as if just reminded
of his existence, and went on to some further piece of coarse bragging.

Monsieur Joseph became paler and graver, Angelot more restless, the
Prefect sleepier, as the rough voice talked on. Angelot thought
breakfast would never be over, and that this brute would never have done
boasting of his fine deeds, such as hanging up six brothers in a row
outside their own house, and threatening the mother and sisters with the
same fate unless they showed him the way to the cellar, where he knew
they had hidden plate and jewellery, as well as a quantity of good wine.

"You would not have done it, monsieur?" said Angelot, quickly.

The General assured him with oaths that he certainly would.

"And they knew it, and did as they were told," he said. "We did not hurt
them, as it happened. We stripped the house, and left them to bury their
men, if they chose. What had they to expect? Fortune of war, my boy!"

Angelot shrugged his shoulders.

"You should send that nephew of yours to learn a few things in the
army," the General said to Monsieur Joseph, when they at last rose and
left the dining-room. "He will grow up nothing but an ignorant, womanish
baby, if you keep him down here among your woods much longer."

"I am not his father," Monsieur Joseph answered with some dryness. "He
is a friend of the Prefect's; you can easily remonstrate with him,
Monsieur le Général. But you are mistaken about young Ange. He is
neither a girl nor a baby, but a very gallant young fellow, still humane
and innocent, of course--but your stories might pierce a thicker skin, I
fancy."

The General laughed aloud, as they strolled out at the back of the house
into the afternoon sunshine.

"Well, well, a soldier has the right to talk," he said. "I need not tell
a man who knows the world, like you, that I should never have hanged
those women--poor country rubbish though they were, and ugly too, I
remember. But the men had tried to resist, and martial law must be
obeyed."

Some reassurance of the same kind was given to Angelot by the Prefect,
who lingered behind with him.

"And our conscripts go for this, monsieur!" Angelot said.

"My dear boy," said Monsieur de Mauves, lazily, "you must take these
tales _cum grano_. For instance, if I know the Emperor, he would have
shot the man who hanged those women. And our friend Ratoneau knew it."

Les Chouettes seemed stiller than ever, the sun hotter, the atmosphere
more sleepy and peaceful. The dogs were lying in various directions at
full length on the sand. The sleeping forms of the Prefect's gendarmes
were also to be seen, stretched on the grass under the southern belt of
fir trees. One moving figure came slowly into sight on the edge of the
opposite wood, and strolled into the sunshine, stooping as she came to
pick the pale purple crocuses of which the grass was full--little
Henriette, a basket on her arm, her face shaded by a broad straw bonnet.

The General shaded his eyes with his hand, and stared at her.

"Who is that young girl, monsieur?" he asked.

The question itself seemed impertinent enough, but the insolence of the
tone and the manner sent a quiver through Monsieur Joseph's nerves. His
face twitched and his eyes flashed dangerously. At that moment he would
have forgiven any rashness on the part of his Chouan friends; he would
have liked to see Monsieur d'Ombré's pistol within a few inches of the
General's head, and if it had gone off, so much the better. He wondered
why he had not encouraged César d'Ombré's idea of making these men
prisoners. Perhaps he was right, after all; the boldest policy might
have been the best. Perhaps it was a splendid opportunity lost. Anyhow,
the imperial officials would have been none the worse for cooling their
heels and starving a little, the fate of the Royalists now. As to the
consequences, Monsieur Joseph in his present mood might have made short
work of them, had it not been for that young girl in the meadow.

"It is my daughter, Monsieur le Général."

A person with finer instincts could not have failed to notice the angry
shortness of the reply. But the General was in high good humour, for
him, and he coolly went on adding to his offences.

"Your daughter, is it! I did not know you were married. I understood
from Monsieur le Préfet that you were a lonely hermit. Is there a Madame
de la Marinière hidden away somewhere? and possibly a few more children?
This house is a kind of beehive, I dare say--" he walked on to the
grass, and turned to stare at the windows. "Was madame afraid to
entertain us? My stories would have been too strong for her, perhaps?
but I assure you, monsieur, I know how to behave to women!" and he
laughed.

"I hope so, monsieur, especially as you are not now in Germany," said
Monsieur Joseph, thinking very earnestly of his own sword and pistols,
ready for use in his own room.

He need only step in at that window, a few yards off. A fierce word, a
blow, would be a suitable beginning--and then--if only Riette were out
of sight, and the Prefect would not interfere--there could not be a
better ground than the sand here by the house. Must one wait for all the
formalities of a duel, with the Prefect and Angelot to see fair play?
However, he tried hard to restrain himself, at least for the moment.

"My wife is dead, monsieur, and I have but that one child," he said,
forcing the words out with difficulty: it was a triumph of the wise and
gentle Joseph over the fiery and passionate Joseph.

He thought of Urbain, when he wanted to conquer that side of himself;
Urbain, who by counsel and influence had made it safe for him to live
under the Empire, and who now, hating vulgarity and insolence as much as
he did himself, would have pointed out that General Ratoneau's military
brutality was not worth resenting; that there were greater things at
stake than a momentary annoyance; that the man's tongue had been
loosened, his lumbering spirit quickened, by draughts of sparkling wine
of Anjou, and that his horrible curiosity carried no intentional insult
with it. Indeed, as Monsieur Joseph perceived immediately, with a kind
of wonder, the man fancied that he was making himself agreeable to his
host.

"Ah, sapristi, I am sorry for you, monsieur, and for the young lady
too," he said. "I am not married myself--but the loss of wife and mother
must be a dreadful thing. Excuse a soldier's tongue, monsieur."

Monsieur Joseph accepted the apology with a quick movement of head and
hand, being as placable as he was passionate. The General continued to
stare at Henriette, who moved slowly, seeming to think of nothing, to
see nothing, but the wild flowers and the crowd of flitting butterflies
in the meadow.

During this little interlude, one of the gendarmes, who had seemed
asleep, got up and moved towards the Prefect, who turned to speak to
him, and after the first word walked with him a few yards, so as to be
out of hearing of the others. Angelot, who had been standing beside the
Prefect, glanced after them with a touch of anxiety. He did not like the
looks of that gendarme, though he had not, like Marie Gigot, recognised
him as specially dangerous. He walked forward a few steps and stood
beside his uncle. Suppose the meeting of that morning, risky if not
unlawful, were to come to the Prefect's knowledge; suppose his uncle's
dangerous friends were ferreted out of their hiding-place in the wood;
what then was he, his father's son, to do? His mother's son, though far
enough from sharing her enthusiasms, had an answer ready: whatever it
might cost, he must stand by the little uncle and Riette.

"Your daughter is still young,"--it was the General's hoarse voice--"too
young yet to be reported to the Emperor. Monsieur le Préfet must wait
three or four years. Then, when she is tall and pretty--"

Angelot's brow darkened. What was the creature saying?

"You were pleased to mean--" Monsieur Joseph was asking, with extreme
civility.

"Ah, bah, have you heard nothing of the new order? Well, as I say, it
will not affect you at present. But ask Monsieur le Préfet. He will
explain. It is rather a sore subject with him, I believe, he has the
prejudices of his class--of your class, I mean."

"You are talking in riddles, indeed, monsieur," said Monsieur Joseph.

They looked round at the Prefect. He had now finished his short talk
with the gendarme, and as he turned towards the other group, Angelot's
young eyes perceived a shadow on his kind face, a grave look of awakened
interest. Angelot was also aware that he beckoned to him. As soon as he
came up with him, the Prefect said, "That is mademoiselle your cousin,
is it not, gathering flowers in the meadow? I should like to pay her my
compliments, if she is coming this way."

"I will go and tell her so, Monsieur le Préfet," said Angelot.

"Do, my friend."

His eyes, anxious and thoughtful, followed the young man as he walked
across towards the distant edge of the wood, whose dark shadows opened
behind Riette and the crocuses. She looked up, startled, as her cousin
came near, and for a moment seemed to think of disappearing into the
wood; but a sign from him reassured her, and she came with a dancing
step to meet him.

"I have been rousing curiosity, Monsieur le Préfet," said the General,
smiling grimly, as the Prefect rejoined the other men. "I have been
telling Monsieur de la Marinière that one of these days you will report
his daughter to the Emperor."

The Prefect looked angry and annoyed. His handsome face flushed. With an
involuntary movement he laid his hand on Monsieur Joseph's shoulder;
their eyes met, and both men smiled.

"I sometimes think," said Monsieur de Mauves, "that His Majesty does not
yet quite know France. His ideas have great spirit and originality, but
they are not always very practical."

"They are generally put into practice," growled the General.

"Yes--but I do not think this one will go far. Certainly, it will have
died out long before Mademoiselle de la Marinière is grown up."

"But explain, my dear friend!" cried Monsieur Joseph. "Is the Emperor
going to raise a regiment of Amazons, to fight Russia? I am dying with
curiosity."

"Some people would find your idea less disagreeable than the fact," said
the Prefect, smiling, while the General shook with laughter.

"Amazons! ha! ha! capital! I should like to lead them."

It seemed that the Prefect, for once, was ashamed of his great master.
He went on to explain, in a hurried fashion, how he and his brother
Prefects had received this very singular command from the Emperor--that
they were to send him, not a mere list, but a _catalogue raisonné_, of
all the well-born girls in their several departments; their personal
appearance, their disposition, their dowries, their prospects in the
future; in short, every particular regarding them. And with what object?
to arrange marriages between these young women of the best blood in
France and his most favoured officers. It was one way, an original way,
of making society loyal to the Empire; but the plan savoured too much of
the treatment of a conquered country to please men like the Baron de
Mauves. He might speak of it with a certain outward respect, as coming
from the Emperor; and the presence of General Ratoneau was also a check
upon his real sentiments; but he was not surprised at Monsieur Joseph's
evident disgust, and not out of sympathy with it.

The reign of the soldier! They were heroes, perhaps, many of these men
whom Napoleon delighted to honour. It was not unnatural that he should
heap dukedoms and pensions and orders upon them. But it seemed a
dangerous step forward, to force such men as this Ratoneau, for
instance, into the best families of France. No doubt he, in spite of his
Napoleonic looks, was a bad specimen; but Monsieur Joseph might be
excused if he looked at him as he said: "My dear Baron, it is tyranny. I
speak frankly, gentlemen; it is a step on the road to ruin. Our old
families will not bear it. What have you done?"

"Nothing," said Monsieur de Mauves. "I think most of the Prefects agree
with me; it is an order which will have to be repeated."

On which the General turned round with a grin, and quoted to him his own
words--"Monsieur le Préfet--if you accept the new régime, you should
accept it loyally."

"Pardon--nothing of this before the children, I beg," exclaimed Monsieur
Joseph in haste, for Angelot and Henriette were coming across the
meadow.

The Prefect's delicate brows went up; he shrugged his shoulders, and
moved off with a somewhat absent air to meet the young people.

The sunshine, the flowery meadow, the motionless woods all about in the
still afternoon: no background could be more peaceful. Nor could any
unwelcome visitor with official power be more gentle and courteous than
the Prefect as he took off his hat and bowed low to the slim child in
her old clinging frock, who curtseyed with her hands full of crocuses
and a covered basket on her arm. But little Riette and her cousin
Angelot watched the amiable Prefect with anxious, suspicious eyes, and
she took his kind words and compliments with an ease of reply which was
not quite natural. She was a responsible person in her father's house at
all times; but the fates of men had never, perhaps, been hung round her
neck before. Why, the very fact of their concealment would be enough to
condemn the four in government eyes looking out for conspiracies. And
Monsieur des Barres, always lively, had said to Riette ten minutes ago:
"Now, mademoiselle, you have sheltered us, you have fed us; we depend on
you to keep all inconvenient persons out of the wood."

"Stay where you are till they are gone, and have no fear," the child
answered, and went back to meet the enemy.

And presently the Prefect said, "You have gathered some very pretty
flowers, mademoiselle."

"Pray take some, monsieur," said Riette.

The Prefect took two crocuses in his fingers, and cleverly slipped them
into a buttonhole, for which they were not very well suited. Then he
went on talking about flowers for a minute or two, but the subject was
soon exhausted, for his knowledge lay among garden flowers, and Riette
knew none but those that grew among her own woods and fields. Then
suddenly and without warning, those pointed fingers of his had lifted
the cover of the basket. It was done with a smile, as one might do it, a
little mischievously, to a child trying to hide something, and with the
words--"More flowers, mademoiselle?" At the bottom of the basket lay two
corks and a small roll of bread. St. Elizabeth's miracle was not
repeated for Henriette.

Angelot smiled and bit his lip; then looked at the faces of his two
companions. In the Prefect's there was plainly a question. Riette
flushed crimson; for a moment her dark eyes were cast down; then there
was something both roguish and pathetic in them, as she looked up at the
man on whom so much depended.

"Monsieur," said the sweet, childish voice, "I often eat my breakfast
out-of-doors--I did to-day."

The Prefect smiled, but gravely. Angelot hardly thought that he was
deceived.

"It is an agreeable thing to do, when one is young," the Prefect said.
"Young, and with a clear conscience. But most people, if they had the
choice, would prefer your father's hospitable dining-room."

He turned with a wave of his hand and walked towards the house.

"What have you done, child?" said Angelot, half laughing, half solemn.

"I did not tell a lie," said Riette. "Marie gave me something for myself
too: she and papa both said I must not have breakfast with you. Oh, they
were hungry, Angelot! They devoured what I took, especially the Baron
d'Ombré. I am sorry there was a bit of bread left, and I don't know how
the corks got there. But, my dear, he knows nothing!"

"Hush. I am not so sure. Now keep out of the way till they are gone."

This was a counsel of perfection, which Henriette did her best to
follow; but it was difficult, for the time was long. All the household
at Les Chouettes became very restless and impatient as the afternoon
wore on, but none of them dared show it. Poor Monsieur Joseph summoned
up all his powers of general conversation, which were a little rusty, to
entertain the Prefect, who went on talking politics and society as if
life, for him, had no more immediate and present interest. Angelot
marched about with an uneasy sense of keeping guard; knowing, too, that
his father was expecting him to help to receive the distinguished
cousins at Lancilly. He did not mind that much; the idea of the Sainfoy
family was not very attractive to him: he thought they might interfere
with the old freedom of the country-side; and even to please his father
he could not desert his little uncle in a difficulty. He poured out some
of his irritation on the Prefect's pet gendarme, whom he caught stealing
round by the wood where, hidden behind a pile of logs in an old stone
hovel, the four Royalist gentlemen were finding this official visit
considerably more than a joke.

"What are you doing on my uncle's land?" Angelot said sharply to the
man.

"Nothing, monsieur. Is it not allowed to take a little exercise?" said
Simon, the Chouan-catcher.

There was such a keen look in the man's eyes, such a veiled insolence in
his tone, that Angelot suddenly felt he must say no more. He muttered
something about disturbing the game, and passed on. Simon grinned as he
looked after him.

All this time the General was fast asleep, stretched on a sofa in the
salon. Angelot looked in upon him as he lay snoring. With his eyes shut,
he was more like the Emperor than ever; and as with Napoleon, there was
a sort of fascination in the brow, the chin, the shape of the head,
though here there was coarseness instead of refinement, the power of
will without the genius.

"He is a handsome beast, but I hate him!" the young man thought as he
looked through the window. "Now if our excellent Chouans were here, what
would they do? Probably nothing. And what can anybody do? Nothing. Fate
has brought the Empire, as my father says, and he does not agree with
Uncle Joseph that it does much more harm than good. For my part, I would
as soon live in peace--and it does not please me to be ruled by
overbearing soldiers and police spies. However, as long as they leave me
my dog and gun and the freedom of the woods, they may have their
politics to themselves for me.--Here I am, dear uncle."

He turned from the window with a shrug. Monsieur Joseph and the Prefect
had been strolling about the meadow, and the Prefect now expressed a
wish to walk round the woods, and to see the view of Lancilly from the
high ground beyond them.

Angelot went with the two men. They walked right through the wood. The
Prefect stopped and talked within twenty yards of the hovel where the
four conspirators lay hidden. It was a grand opportunity for old
Monsieur d'Ombré's pistol-shot; but not a movement, not a sound broke
the stillness of the wood. There was only the rustling of the leaves,
the squeak of the squirrels as they raced and scampered in the high
branches of the oaks.

The two La Marinières stood on each side of Monsieur de Mauves: they
were a guard to him, though he did not know it, as his eyes wandered
curiously, searchingly, down the glade in which he chose to linger.

A rough whitewashed corner of the hovel, the mass of its dark roof,
were actually visible beyond an undergrowth of briars.

"What have you there?" said the Prefect, so quietly that his companions
did not even suspect him of a suspicion.

"A shelter--an old hovel where wood is stored for the winter," Monsieur
Joseph answered truthfully; but his cheeks and eyes brightened a little,
as if prepared for something more.

"Ah!" the Prefect only said, looking rather fixedly that way. "And where
is this view of Lancilly?"

Both the uncle and nephew breathed more freely as they led him up the
hill, through higher slopes of wood, then under some great branching
oaks, here allowed to grow to their full size, and out into a rugged
lane, winding on through wild hedges festooned with blackberries. Here,
at the top, they looked straight across the valley to Lancilly, as it
lay in the sunshine. Its high roofs flashing, it looked indeed the
majestic centre of the country-side. Angelot gazed at it indifferently.
Again the Prefect turned to him with his kind smile.

"It will be charming for you to have your cousins there. They will
reconcile you to the powers that be."

Angelot answered: "I have no quarrel with the powers that be, monsieur,
as long as you represent them. As to life, I want no change. Give me a
gun and set me on a moor with my uncle. There we are!"

"If I thought your uncle was quite so easily satisfied!" the Prefect
said, and his look, as he turned to Monsieur Joseph, was a little
enigmatical.



CHAPTER V

HOW ANGELOT MADE AN ENEMY


The sun was near setting when the Prefect and his companions rode away
from Les Chouettes, their visit having resulted, as it seemed, in
nothing worse than annoyance and anxiety.

Joseph de la Marinière drew a long breath as he saw them go. The Prefect
looked back once or twice and saw him standing near his house, a small
black figure in the full blaze of the west. He seemed to be alone with
his dogs, though in fact Riette and the three servants were peeping
round the corner of the house beyond him, waiting for the final
disappearance of the visitors. He had asked Angelot to guide them
through the labyrinth of woods and lanes to a road leading to a town
which the Prefect wished to reach before nightfall. As Angelot was on
foot, their progress was slow; and it seemed an age to Monsieur Joseph
till they had crossed his broad meadow to the south, and instead of
going on towards Lancilly, had struck into a wood on the left through
which a narrow path ran.

When the last gendarme had passed from bright sunshine into shadows,
when the tramp of the last horse had died away, Monsieur Joseph made a
little joyful spring into the air and called, "Riette, my child, where
are you?"

"Here I am, papa!" cried the girl, darting forward. "Ah, what a day we
have had!"

"And what an evening we will have now!" said Monsieur Joseph.

He seized her two hands, and they danced round together. In the shadow
behind the house Gigot and Marie followed their example, while Tobie,
having no partner, jumped up and down with his arms akimbo. Mademoiselle
Riette, catching sight of him, laughed so exhaustingly that she could
dance no longer. Then the whole family laughed till the tears ran down
their faces, while the dogs sat round and wagged their tails.

"The good God has protected us," said Gigot, coming forward to his
master. "Does monsieur know that one of those gendarmes was Simon, the
police agent, the Chouan-catcher, they call him? When I saw him, my
heart died within me. But we were too clever for him. He went smelling
about, but he found nothing."

"He smelt something, though," growled Tobie the groom. "He would have
searched the stable and found the inner place if I had not stood in
front of him: luckily I was the biggest man of the two. It is not so
easy, do you see, to make a way past me."

"I gave them enough good food and wine to send them to sleep for the
afternoon," said Marie the cook. "It was a sad waste, but the only way
to keep such creatures quiet."

"What a terrible man, that General!" said Gigot. "How he slept and
snored and kicked the sofa! you can see the marks of his boots now. And
how he resembles the Emperor! I know, for I saw his Majesty once--"

"Stop your recollections, Gigot," said Monsieur Joseph; for Gigot, like
many solemn and silent people, was difficult to check when once set
talking. "We have something else to think of now. Make haste with
dinner, Marie. We must console our poor friends for their captivity.
Come, Riette, we will go and fetch them."

So that evening was a merry one at Les Chouettes, and the moon was high
before the second batch of guests climbed slowly to the moor on their
homeward way. The day's experience had not heightened their courage,
somehow, or advanced their plans for a rising. Even the Comte d'Ombré
agreed that the time was hardly ripe; that five or six men might throw
away their own lives or liberties, but could not make a new revolution;
that the peasants must be sounded, public opinion educated; and that the
Prefect's courteous moderation was an odious quality which made
everything more difficult.

And in the meanwhile, Monsieur de Mauves was justifying their
conclusions in a way that would have startled them.

Beyond the wood, Angelot led the party across stubble-fields, where blue
field flowers with grey dusty leaves clustered by the wayside, and
distant poplars, pointing high into the evening air, showed where his
home lay. Then they turned down into one of the hollow lanes of the
country, its banks scooped out by winter rains and treading of cattle,
so that it was almost like three sides of a cylinder, while the thick
pollard oaks, leaning over it, made twilight even in the lingering
sunshine.

The General was riding in front, the gendarmes some yards behind;
Angelot, with his dog and gun, kept close beside the Prefect, who talked
to him with his usual friendliness. Presently he said, "I love your
uncle, Angelot, much better than he loves me, and I am sorry that he
should run such useless risks."

"What risks, monsieur?" the young man said, glancing up quickly; and
somehow it was difficult to meet the Prefect's eyes.

"Ah, you know very well. Believe me, your father is right, and your
uncle is wrong. The old régime cannot be reëstablished. The path of
France is marked out for her; a star has arisen to guide her, and she is
foolish, suicidal, not to follow where it leads. I do not defend or
admire the Emperor in everything: but see what he has done for France.
She lay ruined, distracted. She took the mountain path of liberty, made
a few wrong turns, and was dashed over the precipice. See how the
Emperor has built her up into a great nation again; look at the laws and
the civilisation; look at the military glory which has cost much blood,
it is true, but has raised her so high in Europe that the nations who
were ready to devour her are mostly crouching at her feet. Would our
Bourbons have done all this for us, Angelot? Are they, after all, worth
the devotion of men like your uncle and--for instance--Monsieur des
Barres? Does not true patriotism lead a man to think of his country's
good and glory, not of the advantage of one special family? Your uncle
can hardly believe in that mediæval fiction of divine right, I suppose?"

Angelot smiled. "My uncle belongs to the days of Saint Louis," he said.

"But you do not," the Prefect replied. "I find it hard to forgive him.
He is free, of course, to put his own neck in danger. One of these days
he will drive me to extremities, and will find himself and his friends
in a state prison--lucky if nothing worse happens. But he has no right
to involve you in these treasonous tricks of his. It is selfish and
immoral. Your father should see to it. You ought not to have been there
to-day."

The Prefect spoke low and earnestly. It was impossible to misunderstand
him. Angelot felt something like a cold shiver running over him. But he
smiled and answered bravely.

"If my uncle has been foolish, so have I, and I will share the
consequences with him. But as to to-day, monsieur?"

"I know all," the Prefect said. "Your uncle had visitors this morning,
who were spirited away out of our sight. Their horses were hidden in an
inner stable; they themselves in a hovel in the wood--and if they have
waited there till we were gone, they must be tired of it. That famous
breakfast we enjoyed was not prepared on such miraculously short notice.
Your little cousin, poor child, was employed to carry food to the
fugitives hidden in the wood. With all my heart I pity her; a life of
political plots is not happiness. But if Monsieur de la Marinière does
not hesitate to sacrifice his daughter, it is no wonder that he lightly
runs his nephew into danger! You acted well, you and he. But I almost
think it might have been safer to carry on that first breakfast-party,
and not show its character by absurd attempts at concealment. You cannot
contradict a word I have been saying, Angelot. I do not ask you to tell
me the names of your uncle's guests."

"If you did, monsieur," the young fellow answered, "I should consider
that an uncomfortable day had punished them enough, and so I should
respectfully decline to answer you. I don't know how you made all these
wonderful discoveries."

The Prefect looked at him and laughed. "You take it lightly!"

"I am speaking to a friend," Angelot said.

"That is all very well. Yes--too good a friend, I fear, from the point
of view of duty. But I shall not repent, if you will be warned into
prudence yourself, and will warn your uncle."

"I am rather afraid, monsieur, that my father has all the prudence of
the family."

The Prefect would have argued further, but suddenly a sound like low
thunder, still distant, echoed down the lane.

"What is that?" he said, looking round.

"Cattle, monsieur. Pull right into the bank and give them room to pass,"
said Angelot.

The gendarmes, who knew the country, had already taken this precaution.
They were drawing up in single file by the side of the road, close under
the steep bank, pressing into it, in the dark shadow of the pollards.
But General Ratoneau, in advance, was riding stolidly forward, clanking
along at a quick foot's pace in the very middle of the narrow lane, with
all that swaggering air of a conqueror, which was better suited to
German fields than to the quiet woody ways of France. Angelot hurried
forward.

"Monsieur le Général!" he called out; but Ratoneau, though he must have
heard, did not turn his head or take any notice.

"Insolent animal! I might as well leave him to fight it out with the
cows," the young fellow muttered; but for the Prefect's sake he ran on,
his dog scampering after him, caught up the General, and stretched out
a hand to his bridle.

"What the devil do you want!" said the General, lifting his whip.

"There is a herd of cows coming," Angelot shouted, though the blood
rushed into his face at the man's involuntary movement. "You must get
out of their way, or they will knock you down and trample on you. This
is their way home. Draw up under the bank at once."

"I shall get out of nobody's way," roared the General. "But you had
better get out of mine, little ape of a Chouan, or--"

The whip quivered in the air; another moment would have brought it down
on Angelot's bare hand. He cried out, "Take care!" and in that moment
snatched the whip and threw it over the horse's head. It fell into a
mass of blackberry briars which made a red and green thicket under the
bank just here. The lane turned slightly and was very narrow at this
place, with a stony slope upwards. It was a little more than usual like
the dry bed of a torrent. Only under the right-hand bank there was a
yard of standing-room, where it was possible to draw aside while the
crowd of horned beasts rushed past. The thunder of their hoofs was
drawing near. The Prefect, fifty yards behind, called out advice to his
angry colleague, which fell on deaf ears. Angelot was pelted with some
choice specimens of a soldier's vocabulary, as he seized the bridle and
tried to pull the horse to the side of the road. But the rider's
violent resistance made this impossible. The horse plunged: the General,
swearing furiously, did his best to throw Angelot down under its feet.
For a minute the young fellow did his best to save the obstinate man in
spite of himself, but then he was obliged to let the bridle go, and
stepped to the shelter of the bank, while man and horse filled up the
roadway with prancing and swearing.

"Give me back my whip, you--" the various epithets which followed were
new to Angelot's country ears, but their tone made them serious.

Still, there was something so ridiculous in the General's fury that
Angelot could scarcely help laughing in his face as he called out in
answer, "When the cows are gone, monsieur, if you ask me civilly! I had
to take it, or you would have struck me, and that was out of the
question."

Even as he spoke, the cattle were coming. The lane was filled with a
solid mass of padding feet, panting hides, low heads, and long fierce
horns. An old bull of unfriendly aspect led the way, and one or two
younger bulls came pushing and lowing among the quieter cows. Behind the
large horned creatures came a few goats and sheep; then a dog, sharply
barking, and a woman, shouting and flourishing her stick. But in this
narrow space she had no control over the herd, which poured along like
water in a stream's bed, irresistible, unresisted. They knew their own
way home from pasture to the yards at La Marinière. This was their own
road, worn hollow by no trampling but theirs and that of their
ancestors. Anything or anybody they happened to meet always drew aside
to let them pass, and they were not as a rule ill-tempered.

General Ratoneau thought he could ride through them, and spurred his
restless horse, fresh from Monsieur Joseph's corn, straight at the
wedged heads and shoulders of the advancing herd. The horse plunged,
shied, tried to bolt; and there were a few moments of inextricable
confusion. Angelot shouted to the woman in charge of the cows; she
screamed to the dog, which dived among them, barking. Frightened, they
scrambled and crushed together so that Angelot was pressed up by their
broad sides against the bank, and only lifted himself out of their way
by climbing to the trunk of a tree. The sun was setting; the dazzling
light, in a sky all gold and red and purple, lay right across the lane:
the General's uniform, his horse's smart trappings, flashed and swayed
above the brown mass for a moment or two as it pushed down the slope.
Then the horse fell, either slipping on a stone or pushed over by the
cattle, but fortunately not under their feet. He and his master rolled
over together into the briars on the farther side of the lane, and there
lay struggling till the beasts had crowded by, hurrying on past the rest
of the party, drawn prudently aside in the shelter of the bank.

As soon as they were gone, the Prefect and the gendarmes rode up to help
Angelot, who had already pulled the General out of the briars, unhurt,
except by scratches. The horse had at once struggled to its feet, and
stood trembling in the road.

It was impossible for any one but the sufferer to take such an adventure
seriously. Two of the gendarmes were convulsed with laughter; it was
only Simon whose native cleverness and keen sense of his own advantage
kept his face grave and sympathising, as he handed the General his hat
and the other objects which his tumble had sent flying. The Prefect was
smiling as he asked anxiously whether any bones were broken. Angelot
trembled with hardly restrained laughter. It had seized him with an
overpowering force, when he saw the General's fat figure rise in the air
with a most undignified jerk, then being deposited in the thicket with a
fine pair of riding boots and shining spurs uppermost. This was so
exactly the accident that suited the man's swaggering airs of
superiority, Angelot felt that he could almost forgive him his insolent
words and looks, could almost bear the incomprehensible language of five
minutes ago, the threatened stroke with the whip--ah, by the by, here
lay the precious whip, with its silver handle, safely deposited in the
bushes out of the cows' way. Angelot magnanimously picked it up and
presented it to the General with a bow. He grunted a word meant for
thanks, but the eyes that met Angelot's flashed with a dark fury that
startled the careless boy and came back to his mind afterwards.

"Whose beasts were those?" the General asked hoarsely.

"They were my father's beasts, monsieur," Angelot answered. "They did
not realize, unfortunately--" He broke off under a warning look from the
Prefect, who went on with the sentence for him--"No one would regret
such a tiresome accident more than your father, I am sure."

"I was going to say so," Angelot murmured softly. "Now if they had been
my uncle's cattle--"

The General turned his back and mounted his horse. "The owner does not
signify," he growled. "He cannot be punished. But it was either
foolishness or malice that brought us along such a road."

"Come, come, General, that was my fault, after all!" the Prefect said
pleasantly. "And you must acknowledge that our young friend did his best
to save you. We all knew this country and its ways better than you
did--it is a pity, but there is no more to be said."

The General seemed to be of the same opinion, for he rode off without a
word. Angelot, looking after him, thought that one of these days there
might be a good deal more to be said.

But now the Prefect was asking a last direction as to the road, and
wishing Angelot good-night, for the sun was actually setting. His last
words were: "Adieu, my friend! Be prudent--and make my best compliments
to your parents. No doubt we shall meet soon at Lancilly."

"And perhaps without Monsieur le Général!" said Angelot, smiling.

"Possibly! We are not inseparable," the Prefect replied, and waved his
hand kindly as he rode away.

"How was it that I did not strike that reptile? he tried to strike me,"
Angelot reflected as he walked down the quiet lane. "Well! the Prefect
and my father would have been vexed, and he had his little punishment.
Some day we shall meet independently, and then we shall see, Monsieur
Ratoneau, we shall see! But what a somersault the creature made! If the
bushes had not broken his fall, he would have been hurt, or killed,
perhaps."

He laughed at the remembrance of the scene, and thought how he would
describe it to his mother. Then he became grave, remembering all that
had gone before. The Prefect was a friend, and a gentleman, neither of
which the General could ever be. But it was a serious thought that the
Prefect was at present by far the most dangerous person of the two.
Uncle Joseph's life and liberty were in his hands, at his mercy.
Angelot frowned and whistled as he strode along. How did the Prefect
find out all that? Why, of course, those men of his were not mere
gendarmes; they were police spies. Especially that one with the
villanous face who was lurking round the woods!

"We are all in their hands; they are the devil's own regiment," Angelot
said to himself. "How can Monsieur de Mauves bring himself to do such
work among his old friends, in his old country! It is inconceivable."

Another rough lane brought Angelot into the rough road that led past the
Manor of La Marinière to the church and village lying beneath it, and so
on into the valley and across the bridge to Lancilly.

The home of his family was one of those large homesteads, half farm,
half castle, which are entirely Angevin in character; and it had not yet
crumbled down into picturesque decay. Its white walls, once capable of
defence, covered a large space on the eastern slope of the valley; it
was much shaded all about by oak, beech, and fir trees, and a tall row
of poplars bordered the road between its gateway and the church spire.

The high white arch of the gateway, where a gate had once been, opened
on a paved road crossing the lower end of a farmyard, and up to the
right were lines of low buildings where the cows, General Ratoneau's
enemies, were now being safely housed for the night, and a dove-cote
tower, round which a few late pigeons were flapping. To the left another
archway led into a square garden with lines of tall box hedges, where
flowers and vegetables grew all together wildly, and straight on,
through yet a third gate, Angelot came into a stone court in front of
the house, white, tall, and very ancient, with a quaint porch opening
straight upon its wide staircase, which seemed a continuation of the
broad outside steps where Madame de la Marinière was now giving her
chickens their evening meal.

In spite of the large cap and apron that smothered her, it was plain to
see where Angelot got his singular beauty. His little mother, once upon
a time, had been the loveliest girl in Brittany. Her small, fine,
delicate features, clear dark skin, beautiful velvet eyes and cloud of
dusky hair that curled naturally,--all this still remained, though youth
and freshness and early happiness were gone. Her cheeks were thin, her
eyes and mouth were sad, and yet there was hardly a grey hair in that
soft mass which she covered and hid so puritanically. She had been
married as almost a child, and was still under forty. Her family, very
old but very poor, had married her to Urbain de la Marinière, quite
without consulting any wishes of hers. He was well off and well
connected, though his old name had never belonged exactly to the _grande
noblesse_. The Pontvieux were too anxious to dispose of their daughter
to consider his free opinions, which, after all, were the fashion in
France before 1789, though never in Brittany. And probably Madame de la
Marinière's life was saved by her marriage, for she was and remained
just as ardently Catholic and Royalist as her relations who died one by
one upon the scaffold.

She lived at La Marinière through the Revolution, in outward obedience
to a husband whose opinions she detested, and most of whose actions she
cordially disapproved, though it was impossible not to love him
personally. Gratitude, too, there might very well have been; for
Urbain's popularity had not only guarded his wife and son; it had
enabled her to keep the old Curé of the village safe at La Marinière
till some little liberty was restored to the Church and he was able to
return to his post without danger. When madame used hard words of the
Empire--and she was frank in her judgments--monsieur would point to the
Curé with a smile. And the old man, come back from mass to breakfast at
the manor, and resting in the chimney corner, would say, "Not so
bad--not so bad!" rubbing his thin hands gently.

"Little mother!" Angelot said, and stepped up into the porch among the
chickens.

His eyes, quick to read her face, saw a shadow on it, and he wondered
who had done wrong, himself or his father.

"Enfin, te voilà!" said Madame de la Marinière. "Have you brought us
any game? Ah, I am glad--" as he showed her his well-filled bag. "Your
father came home two hours ago; he expected to find you here; he wanted
you to do some service or other for these cousins."

"I am sorry," said Angelot. "I could not leave Uncle Joseph. I have a
hundred things to tell you. Some rather serious, and some will make you
die of laughing, as they did me."

"Mon Dieu! I should be glad to laugh," said his mother.

Angelot had taken the basket from her hand, and was throwing the
chickens their last grain. She stood on the highest step, with a little
sigh which might have been of fatigue or of disgust, and her eyes, as
she gazed across the valley, were half angry, half melancholy. The sun
had gone down behind the opposite hills, and the broad front of the
Château de Lancilly, in full view of La Marinière, looked grey and cold
against the woods, even in the warm twilight of that rosy evening.

"Strange, that it should be inhabited again!" Angelot had emptied the
basket, and stood beside his mother; the chickens bustled and scrambled
about the foot of the steps.

"Yes, and as I hear, by all the perfections," said Madame de la
Marinière. "Hervé de Sainfoy is more friendly than ever--and well he may
be--his wife is supremely pretty and agreeable, his younger girls are
most amiable, and as for Hélène, nothing so enchantingly beautiful has
ever set foot in Anjou. Take care, my poor Ange, I beseech you."

Angelot laughed. "Then I suppose my father's next duty will be to find a
husband for her. I hear she is difficult--or her parents for her,
perhaps."

"Who told you so?"

"Monsieur de Mauves."

"What? the Prefect?"

"Yes. He sent his respectful compliments to you. I have been spending
the day at Les Chouettes with him and the new General. He--oh, mon Dieu,
mon Dieu!"

Angelot burst into a violent fit of laughing, and leaned, almost
helpless, against a pillar of the porch.

"Are you mad?" said his mother.

"Ah--" he struggled to say--"if only you had seen the cows--our
cows--and the General in the air--oh!"

A faint smile dawned in the depths of her eyes. "You have certainly lost
your senses," she said, and slipped her hand into his arm. "Come down
into the garden: I like it in the twilight--and that pile of stones over
there will not weigh upon our eyes; the trees hide it. Come, my Ange:
tell me all your news, serious and laughable. I am glad you were helping
your uncle; but I do not like you to be away all day."

"I could not help it, mother," Angelot said. "Yes; I have indeed a great
deal to tell you."

They strolled down together into the garden, where the vivid after-glow
flushed all the flowers with rose. His mother leaned upon his arm, and
they paced along by the tall box hedges. The serious part of the story
was long, and interested her far more than the General's comic
adventure, at which Angelot could only make her smile, though the
telling of it sent him off into another fit of laughter.

"Poor Monsieur de Mauves, to go about with such a strange animal!" she
said. "As for you, my child, you grow more childish every day. When will
you be a man? Now be serious, for I hear your father coming."



CHAPTER VI

HOW LA BELLE HÉLÈNE TOOK AN EVENING WALK


Monsieur Urbain de la Marinière was always amiable and indulgent. He did
not reproach his son for his long absence or ask him to give any account
of himself; not, that is, till he had talked to his heart's content, all
through the evening meal, of the coming of the Sainfoys, their
adventures by the way, their impressions on arrival.

He was glad, on the whole, that he had not organised any public
reception. Hervé had decided against it, fearing some jarring notes
which might prejudice his wife against the place and the country. As it
was, she was fairly well pleased. A few old people in the village had
come out of their doors to wave a welcome as the carriages passed;
groups of children had thrown flowers; the servants, some sent on from
Paris, others hired by Urbain in the neighbourhood, had stood in lines
at the entrance. Urbain himself had met them at the door. The Sainfoys,
very tired, of course, after their many hours of rough driving, were
delighted to find themselves at last within the old walls, deserted
twenty years ago. Only the son, now fighting in Spain, had been born at
Lancilly; the three girls were children of emigration, of a foreign
land.

The excellent Urbain had indeed some charitable work to pride himself
upon. Even he himself hardly knew how it had all been managed: the
keeping of the château and its archives, the recovery of alienated
lands, so that the spending of money in repairing and beautifying was
all that was needed to set Lancilly in its place again as one of the
chief country houses of Anjou, a centre of society. Urbain had worked
for his cousin all these twenty years, quietly and perseveringly. To
look at his happy face now, it would seem that he had gained his heart's
desire, and that his cousin's gratitude would suffice him for the rest
of his life. His eyes were wet as he looked at his wife and said: "There
was only one thing lacking--I knew it would be so. If only you and
Joseph had gone with me to welcome them! I never felt so insignificant
as when I went out alone from that doorway to help my cousins out of the
coach. And I saw her look round--Adélaïde--she was surprised, I know, to
find me alone."

"Did she ask for me--or for Joseph?" said Madame de la Marinière, in her
dry little voice.

"Not at the moment--no--afterwards, of course. She has charming manners.
And she looks so young. It is really hard to believe that she has a son
of twenty-two. My dear old Hervé looks much older. His hair is grey. He
has quite left off powder; nearly everybody has, I suppose. I wish you
had been there! But you will go to-morrow, will you not?"

"Whenever you please," said Madame de la Marinière. "In my opinion,
allow me to say, it was much better that I should not be there to-day.
You had done everything; all the credit was yours. Madame de Sainfoy,
tired and nervous, no doubt,--what could she have done with an
unsympathetic old distant cousin, except wish heartily for her absence?
No, no, I did not love Adélaïde twenty years ago. I thought her worldly
and ambitious then--what should I think her now! I will be civil for
your sake, of course,--but my dear Urbain, what have I to do with
emigrants who have changed their flag, and have come back false to their
old convictions? No--my place is not at Lancilly. Nor is Joseph's--and I
hardly believe we should be welcome there."

"My dear, all this is politics!" cried Monsieur Urbain, flourishing his
hands in the air. "It is agreed, it is our convention, yours and mine,
that we never mention politics. It must be the same between you and our
cousins. What does it matter, after all? You live under the Empire, you
obey the laws as much as they do. Why should any of us spoil society by
waving our private opinions. It is not philosophical, really it is not."

"I did not suppose it was," she said. "I leave philosophy to you, my
dear friend."

She shrugged her shoulders and looked at Angelot, who was sitting in
silence, watching his father with the rather puzzled and qualified
admiration that he usually felt for him. This admiration was not unmixed
with fear, for Urbain, so sweet and so clever, could be very stern; it
was an iron will that had carried him through the past twenty years. Or
rather, perhaps, a will of the finest steel, a character that had a
marvellous faculty for bending without being broken.

"And you--" said Monsieur Urbain to his son--"you had a long day's sport
with the uncle. Did you get a good bag?"

Angelot told him. "But that was only by myself till breakfast time," he
said. "Since then I have been helping my uncle in other ways. I am
afraid you wanted me, monsieur, but it was an important matter, and I
could not leave him."

"Ah! Well, the other was not a very important matter--at least, I found
another messenger who did as well. It was to ride to Sonnay, to tell the
_coiffeur_ there to come to Lancilly early to-morrow. Madame de
Sainfoy's favourite maid was ill, and stayed behind in Paris. No one
else can dress her hair. It was she herself who remembered the old
hairdresser at Sonnay, a true artist of the old kind. I had a strong
impression that he--well, that he died unfortunately in those unhappy
days--you understand--but she thought he had even then a son growing up
to succeed him, and it seemed worth while to send to enquire."

Angelot smiled; his mother frowned. "I am glad you were not here!" she
murmured under her breath.

Later on they were sitting in the curious, gloomy old room which did
duty for salon and library at La Marinière. Nothing here of the simple,
cheerful, though old-time grace of Les Chouettes. Louis Quatorze chairs,
with old worked seats, stood in a solemn row on the smooth stone floor;
the walls were hung with ancient tapestry, utterly out of date and out
of fashion now. A large bookcase rose from the floor to the dark painted
beams of the ceiling, at one end of the room. It contained many books
which Madame de la Marinière would gladly have burnt on the broad
hearth, under her beautiful white stone chimney-piece--itself out of
date, old and monstrous in the eyes of the Empire. But Madame de la
Marinière was obliged to live with her husband's literary admirations,
as well as with his political opinions, so Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot,
Helvétius, with many earlier and healthier geniuses, such as Montaigne,
looked down in handsomely gilt bindings from the upper shelves. High up
they were: there was a concession. In the lower shelves lived Bousset,
and other Catholic writers; the modern spirit in religion being
represented by Chateaubriand's five volumes of _Le Géne du
Christianisme_ and two volumes of _Les Martyrs_. Corneille and Racine,
among poets, had the honour of accessibility. When Monsieur Urbain
wanted one of his own books, he had to fetch a little ladder from a
cupboard in the hall. Angelot, from a child, was forbidden to use that
ladder. The prohibition was hardly necessary. Angelot seldom opened a
book at all, or read for more than five minutes at a time. He followed
his uncle in this, as in so much else. The moors, the woods, the
riverside, were monsieur Joseph's library: as to literal books, he had
none but a few volumes on sport and on military history.

In this old room Madame de la Marinière would sit all the evening long,
working at her tapestry frame; Urbain would read, sometimes aloud;
Angelot would draw, or make flies and fishing tackle. On this special
evening the little lady sat down to her frame--she was making new seats
in cross-stitch for the old chairs against the wall. Two candles, which
lighted the room very dimly, and a tall glass full of late roses, stood
on a solid oak table close to her chair.

She made a charming picture as she sat there, seemingly absorbed in her
work, yet glancing up every instant to listen to the talk of the two
men. Angelot was giving his father an account of the day's adventures,
and Monsieur Urbain was as much annoyed as his easy-going temper would
allow.

"Is he not mad and bad, that brother of mine!" he cried. "But what was
it all about? What were they plotting and planning, these foolish men?
Why could he not have two more places laid at table and entertain the
whole party together? That would have been the clever thing to do. The
Prefect has nothing special against any of those gentlemen--or had not,
before this. What were they plotting, Angelot?"

Angelot knew nothing about that. He thought their consciences were bad,
from the readiness with which they scuttled off into the woods. And from
things they said as they went, he thought they and the imperial officers
were best apart. The Messieurs d'Ombré especially, from their talk,
would have been dangerous companions at table. Pistols, prisons, a
general insurrection and so forth.

"My poor brother will be punished enough," said Urbain, "if he has to
spend his time in Purgatory with these d'Ombrés."

He glanced at his wife, who did not like such allusions as this; but she
bent over her frame and said nothing.

"Go on, tell me all," he said to his son.

Angelot told him the whole story. He was an emotional person, with a
strong sense of humour. The Prefect's generosity brought tears into his
eyes; the General's adventure made him laugh heartily, but he was soon
grave again.

"I have not seen General Ratoneau," he said. "But I have heard that he
is a very revengeful man, and I am sorry you should have offended him,
my boy."

"He offended me!" said Angelot, laughing. "I tried to save him; he swore
at me and would not be saved. Then he tried to strike me and I would not
be struck. And it was I who pulled him out of the bushes, and a clumsy
lump he was, too. I assure you, father, the debt is on his side, not
mine. One of these days he shall pay it, if I live."

"Nonsense! forget all about it as soon as you can," said his father. "As
to his language, that was natural to a soldier. Another time, leave a
soldier to fight his own battles, even with a herd of cows. To run
between a soldier and his enemy is like interfering between husband and
wife, or putting your hand between the bark and the tree. Never do it
again."

"You do not practise what you preach," said Madame de la Marinière,
while Angelot looked a little crestfallen. "I wonder who has run between
more adversaries than yourself, in the last few years!"

"My dear friend, I never yet differed with an imperial officer, or
presumed to know better than my superiors, even on Angevin country
subjects," said her husband, smiling.

"Ah!" she sighed. Her brows wrinkled up a little, and there was a touch
of scorn in the pretty lines of her mouth. "Ah! Ange and I will never
reach your philosopher's level," she said.

"I wish--I wish--" Monsieur Urbain muttered, pacing up and down, "that
Joseph would grow a little wiser as he grows older. The Prefect is
excellent--if it were only the Prefect--but the fellows who were with
him--yes, it would be disagreeable to feel that there was a string round
Joseph's neck and that the police held the end of it. A secret meeting
to-day--at Joseph's house--and Joseph's and Angelot's the only names
known!"

"Ange was not at the meeting!" cried Madame de la Marinière.

"I know--but who will believe that?"

Angelot was a little impressed. He had very seldom seen his father, so
hopeful, so even-tempered, with a cloud of anxiety on his face. The very
rarity of such uneasiness made it catching. A sort of apprehensive chill
seemed to creep from the corners of the dark old room, steal along by
the shuttered windows, hover about the gaping cavern of the hearth. It
became an air, breathing through the room in the motionless September
night, so that the candle-flames on madame's table bent and flickered
suddenly.

Then the dogs out in the yard began to bark.

"They are barking at the moon," said Monsieur Urbain. "No, at somebody
passing by."

"Somebody is coming in, father," said Angelot, "I hear footsteps in the
court--they are on the steps--in the porch. Shall I see who it is?"

"Do, my boy."

The mother turned pale, half rose, as if to stop him. "Not the police!"
were the words on her lips; but her husband's calmness reassured her.

Angelot went out into the hall, and reached the house-door just as
somebody outside began to knock upon it. He opened it, and saw two
figures standing in the half-darkness: for the moon was not yet very
high, and while she bathed all the valley in golden light, making
Lancilly's walls and windows shine with a fairy beauty, the house at La
Marinière still cast a broad shadow. The figures were of a man and a
woman, strangers to Angelot; he, standing in the dark doorway, was
equally strange to them and only dimly visible. The stranger lifted his
hand courteously to his hat, and there was a touch of hesitation in his
very musical voice, as if--which was the fact--he did not know to whom
he was speaking.

"Madame de la Marinière is at home? She receives this evening?"

"Certainly, monsieur," said Angelot. "One moment, and I will fetch a
light--madame--" and he bowed low to the stranger's companion.

"What? Are you Angelot? Shake hands: there is light enough for that,"
said the visitor with sudden friendliness. "Let me present you to my
daughter Hélène--your cousin, in fact."

The slender, silent girl who stood by Monsieur de Sainfoy might have
been pretty or ugly--there was no light to show--but Angelot seemed to
know by instinct at once all that he was to discover afterwards. He
bowed again, and kissed Hélène's glove, and felt a most unreasonable
dizziness, a wildfire rushing through his young veins; all this for the
first time in his boyish life and from no greater apparent cause than
the sweetness of her voice when she said, "Bonjour, mon cousin!"

Then, before he could turn round, his father was there, carrying one of
the heavy candlesticks, and all the porch was full of light and of
cheerful voices.

"I am triumphant," cried the Comte de Sainfoy. "My wife said I could not
find my way. I felt sure I had not forgotten boyish days so completely,
and Hélène was ready to trust herself to me, and glad to wait upon
madame her cousin."

"She is most welcome--you are both most welcome," the beaming master of
the house assured him. "Come in, dear neighbours, I beg. What happiness!
What an end to all this weary time! If a few things in life were
different, I could say I had nothing left to wish for."

"A few things? Can we supply them, dear Urbain?" said the Comte,
affectionately.

"No, Hervé, no. They do not concern you, my beloved friend. On your side
all is perfection. But alas! you are not everybody, or everywhere. Never
mind! This is a joy, an honour, indeed, to make one forget one's
troubles."

Angelot had taken the candlestick from his father as they crossed the
hall. He carried it in before the party and set it down in its place,
then stepped back into the shadow while Monsieur Urbain brought them in,
and his mother, still pale, and a little shy or stiff in manner, went
forward to receive them.

"After twenty years!" The Comte de Sainfoy bowed low over the small hand
that lay in his, thin, delicate, if not so white and soft as a court
lady's hand. His lips touched it lightly; he straightened himself, and
looked smiling into her face. He had always admired Anne de Pontvieux.
He might himself have thought of marrying her, in those last days of old
France, from which so great a gulf now parted them, if her family had
been richer and more before the world. As a young man, he had been
surprised at Urbain's good fortune, and slightly envious of it.

"Utterly unchanged, belle cousine!" he said. "What does he mean, that
discontented man, by finding his lot anything short of perfection! Here
you have lived, you and he, in that quietest place that exists in the
very heart of the storm. Both of you have kept your youth, your
freshness, while as for me, wanderings and anxieties have turned me as
grey as a badger."

"Your wife is still young and beautiful, I hear," said Madame de la
Marinière. "And your hair, cousin, is the only thing that proves you
more than twenty. At any rate, you have not lost a young man's genius
for paying compliments."

"My compliments are simple truth, as they always were, even before I
lived in more plain-spoken countries than this," said the Comte. "And
now let me ask your kindness for this little eldest girl of mine--the
eldest child that I have here--you know Georges is with the army."

"I know," said Madame de la Marinière.

Her look had softened, though it was still grave and a little distant.
It was with a manner perfectly courteous, but not in the least
affectionate, that she drew Hélène towards her and kissed her on the
cheek. "She is more like you than her mother," she said. "I am charmed
to make your acquaintance, my dear."

Words, words! Angelot knew his mother, and knew that whatever pretty
speeches politeness might claim, she did not, and never could rejoice in
the return of the cousins to Lancilly. But it amused and astonished him
to notice the Comte's manner to his mother. Did it please her? he
wondered. Gratitude to his father was right and necessary, but did she
care for these airs of past and present devotion to herself, on the part
of a man who had outraged all her notions of loyalty? It began to dawn
on Angelot that he knew little of the world and its ways.

Standing in the background, he watched those four, and a more
interesting five minutes he had never yet known. These were shadows
become real: politics, family and national, turned into persons.

There stood his father beside the man to whose advantage he had devoted
his life; whom he had loved as that kind of friend who sticks closer
than a brother, almost with the adoration of a faithful dog, ever since
the boys of the castle and of the old manor played together about the
woods of La Marinière and Lancilly.

They were a contrast, those two. Urbain was short and broad, with quick
eyes, a clever brow, a strong, good-tempered mouth and chin. He was
ugly, and far from distinguished: Joseph had carried off the good looks
and left the brains for him. Hervé de Sainfoy was tall, slight, elegant;
his face was handsome, fair, and sleepy, the lower part weak and
irresolute. A beard, if fashion had allowed it, would have become him
well. His expression was amiable, his smile charming, with a shade of
conscious superiority.

But Angelot understood, when he remembered it, the Prefect's remark that
the Emperor found Monsieur de Sainfoy "a little half-hearted."

However, from that evening, Angelot ceased to think of Monsieur de
Sainfoy as the unknown cousin, his father's friend, the master of
Lancilly; he was Hélène's father, and thus to be, next to herself, the
most important personage in poor Angelot's world. For it is not to be
imagined that those few minutes, or even one of them, were spent in
noting the contrast between the cousins, or in considering the Comte's
manner to Madame de la Marinière, and hers to him. There in the light of
the candles, curtseying to the unknown cousin with a simple reverence,
accepting her kiss with a faint smile of pleasure, stood the loveliest
woman that young Angelot had ever seen, ever dreamed of--if his dreams
had been occupied with such matters at all! Hélène was taller than
French women generally; taller than his mother, very nearly as tall as
himself. She was like a lily, he thought; one of those white lilies that
grew in the broad border under the box hedge, and with which his mother
decked the Virgin's altar, not listening at all to the poor old Curé
when he complained that the scent made his head ache. Hélène had thrown
off the hooded cloak that covered her white gown; the lovely masses of
fair hair seemed almost too heavy for her small, bent head.

"No wonder they wanted a _coiffeur_! Oh, why was I not here to fetch
him!" thought Angelot.

The beauty of whiteness of skin and perfect regularity of feature is
sometimes a little cold; but Hélène was flushed with her walk in the
warm night, her lips were scarlet; and if her grey eyes were strangely
sad and wistful, they were also so beautiful in size, shape, and
expression that Angelot felt he could gaze for ever and desire no
change.

He started and blushed when his own name roused him from staring
breathlessly at Mademoiselle Hélène, who since the lights came had
given him one or two curious, half-veiled glances.

"And now let me congratulate you on this fine young man," said Monsieur
de Sainfoy in his pleasant voice. "The age of my Georges, is he not?
Yes, I remember his christening. His first name was Ange--I thought it a
little confiding, you know, but no doubt it is justified. I forgot the
rest--and I do not know why you have turned him into Angelot?"

Madame de la Marinière smiled; this was a way to her heart.

"Yes, it is justified," she said proudly. "Ange-Marie-Joseph-Urbain is
his name. As to the nickname, it is something literary. I refer you to
his father."

"It is a name to keep him true to his province," said Monsieur Urbain.
"Read Ronsard, my friend. It was the name he gave to Henry, Duc d'Anjou.
But I must fetch the book, and read you the pretty pastoral."

"My dear friend, you must excuse me. I am perfectly satisfied. A very
good name, Angelot! But to read or listen to that ancient poetry before
the flood--"

They all laughed. "What a wonderful man he is!" said the Comte to Madame
Urbain. "As poetical as he is practical."

It all seemed pleasant trifling, then and for the rest of the evening.
The young countryman of Ronsard's naming was rather silent and shy, and
the Comte's daughter had not much to say; the elders talked for the
whole party. This, they thought, was quite as it should be.

But the boy who had said that morning, "Young girls are hardly
companions for me," and had talked lightly of his father's finding a
husband for Mademoiselle de Sainfoy, lay down that night with a girl's
face reigning in his dreams; and went so far as to tell himself that it
was for good or evil, for time and for eternity.



CHAPTER VII

THE SLEEP OF MADEMOISELLE MOINEAU


"We must make the best of it," said Madame de Sainfoy. "To be practical
is the great thing. I know you agree with me."

She had a dazzling smile, utterly without sweetness. Madame de la
Marinière said it was like the flashing of sunbeams on ice; but it had a
much more warming and inspiring effect on Urbain.

"It is one of the few consolations in life," he said, "to meet with
supreme good sense like yours."

They were standing together in one of the deep windows of the Château de
Lancilly; a window which looked out to the garden front towards the
valley and La Marinière. A deep dry moat surrounded the great house on
all sides; here, as on the other front, where there were wings and a
courtyard, it was approached by a stiff avenue, a terrace, and a bridge.
But this ancient and gloomy state of things could not be allowed to
continue. An army of peasants was hard at work filling up the moat,
laying out winding paths in the park, making preparations for the
"English garden" of a thousand meaningless twists leading to nowhere,
which was the Empire's idea of beauty. Monsieur and Madame de Sainfoy
would have no rest till their stately old château was framed in this
kind of landscape gardening, utterly out of character with it. It was
only Monsieur Urbain's experience which had saved trees from being cut
down in full leaf, to let in points of view, and had delayed the
planting in hot September weather of a whole forest of shrubs on the
sloping bank, where the moat had once been.

The interior of the house, too, was undergoing a great reformation.
Madame de Sainfoy had sent down a quantity of modern furniture from
Paris, the arrangement of which had caused the worthy Urbain a good deal
of perplexity. He had prided himself on preserving many ancient
splendours of Louis XIV, XV, XVI, not from any love for these relics of
a former society, but because good taste and sentiment alike showed him
how entirely they belonged to these old rooms and halls, where the
ponderous, carved chimney-pieces rose from floor to painted ceiling,
blazoned with arms which not even the Revolution had cut away. But
Madame de Sainfoy's idea was to sweep everything off: the tapestries,
which she considered grotesque and hideous, from the walls; the rows of
solemn old chairs and sofas, the large screens and heavy oak tables, the
iron dogs from the fireplace, on which so many winter logs had flamed
and died down into a heap of grey ashes. All must go, and the old
saloon must be made into a modern drawing-room of the Empire.

Madame de la Marinière, being old-fashioned and prejudiced, resented
these changes, which seemed to her both monstrous and ungrateful. She
was angry with her husband for the angelic patience with which he bore
them, throwing himself with undimmed enthusiasm into the carrying out of
every wish, every new-fangled fancy, that Hervé and Adélaïde de Sainfoy
had brought from Paris with them. If he was disappointed at the bundling
off into garret and cellar of so much of Lancilly's old and hardly-kept
glory, he only showed it by a shrug and a smile.

"If one does not know, one must be content to learn," he said. "A modern
fish wants a modern shell, my dear Anne. I may have been foolish to
forget it. The atmosphere that you enjoy gives Adélaïde the blues. Come,
I will quote Scripture. 'New wine must be put into new bottles.'"

"Then, on the whole, it was a pity Lancilly was not burnt down," said
his wife.

"Ah, Lancilly! Lancilly will see a few more fashions yet," he said.

And now he stood, quite happy and serene, in the cold sunshine of
Adélaïde's smile, and together they watched the earthworks rising
outside, and he agreed with her as to the necessity of being modern in
everything, of marching with one's time, regretting nothing, using the
present and making the best of it. She was utterly materialist and
baldly practical. Her manners were frank and simple, she had suffered,
she had studied the world and knew it, and used it without a scruple for
her own advantage. The time and the court of Napoleon knew such women
well: they had the fearless dignity of high rank, holding their own, in
spite of all the Emperor's vulgarity; and the losses and struggles of
their lives had given them a hard eye for the main chance, scarcely to
be matched by any _bourgeois_ shopkeeper. And with all this they had a
real admiration for military glory. Success, in fact, was their God and
their King.

Far down below in the park, within sight of the windows, Monsieur de
Sainfoy was strolling about, watching the workmen, and talking to them
with the pleasant grace which always made him popular. With him was
young Angelot, who had walked across with his father on that and several
other mornings. It seemed as if Uncle Joseph and Les Chouettes had lost
a little of their attraction, since Lancilly was inhabited. Angelot
brought his gun, and Cousin Hervé, when he had time and energy, took
his, and they had an hour or two's sport round about the woods and
marshes and meadows of Lancilly. Once or twice Monsieur de Sainfoy
brought the young man in to breakfast; his father was often there, in
attendance on the Comtesse and her alterations. She took very little
notice of Angelot, beyond a smile when he kissed her hand. He was of no
particular use, and did not interest her; she was not fond of his
mother, and thought him like her; it was not worth while to be kind to
him for the sake of his father, whose devotion did not depend, she knew,
on any such attentions.

Angelot was rather awed by her coldness, though he said nothing about
it, even to his mother. And after all, he did not go to Lancilly to be
entertained by Madame de Sainfoy. He went for the sake of a look, a
possible word, or even a distant sight of the girl whose lovely face and
sad eyes troubled him sleeping and waking, whose presence drew him with
strong cords across the valley and made the smallest excuse a good
reason for following his father to Lancilly. But he never spoke to
Hélène, except formally and in public, till that day when he lingered
about with his cousin in the park, watching the men as they dug the
paths for the English garden, while Madame de Sainfoy and Monsieur
Urbain talked good sense high up in the window.

Presently two figures approached the new garden, crossing the park from
the old avenue, and Monsieur de Sainfoy went to meet them with an air of
cordial welcome.

"Who are those people?" said the Comtesse, putting up her eyeglass.

"It is my brother Joseph and his little daughter," Urbain answered. "He
has his gun, I see, as usual. I suppose he was shooting in this
direction."

"Does he take the child out shooting with him? He is certainly very
eccentric."

Urbain shrugged his shoulders. "Poor dear Joseph! A little, perhaps.
Yes, he is unlike other people. To tell you the truth, I am only too
glad when his odd fancies spend themselves on the management of
Henriette."

"Or mis-management! He will ruin the child. He brought her here the
other day, and she appeared to me quite savage."

"Really, madame! Poor Henriette! She is a sociable child and clever,
too. My wife and Angelot are very fond of her. I think she must have
been shy in your presence."

"Oh, not at all. She talked to Hervé like a grown-up woman. I was
amused. When I say 'savage,' I mean that she had evidently been in no
society, and had not the faintest idea how a young person of her age is
expected to behave. She was far more at her ease than Hélène, for
instance."

"Ah, dear madame! there is something pleasing, is there not, in such a
frank trust in human nature! The child is very like her father."

"Those manners may be pretty in a child of six," said Madame de Sainfoy,
"but they are quite out of place in a girl of her age--how old is she?"

"I don't exactly know. Twelve or thirteen, I think."

"Then there is still some hope for her. She may be polished into shape.
I shall suggest to your brother that she come here every day to take
lessons with Sophie and Lucie. I dare say she is very ignorant."

"I am afraid she is. What a charming idea! How like your kindness! My
brother will certainly accept your offer with enthusiasm. I shall insist
upon it."

"He will, if he is a wise man," said Madame de Sainfoy. They both
laughed: evidently the wisdom of Monsieur Joseph was not proverbial in
the family. "Mademoiselle Moineau is an excellent governess, though she
is growing old," she went on. "I have known her make civilised women out
of the most unpromising material. I shall tell your brother that I
consider it settled. It will be good for Sophie and Lucie, too, to have
the stimulus of a companion."

"You are not afraid that--You know my brother's very strong opinions?"

"Do you think a child of twelve is likely to make converts?" she said,
with an amused smile. "No, cousin. The influence will be the other way,
but your brother will not be foolish enough, I hope, to consider that a
danger."

Urbain shook his head gently: he would answer for nothing. He murmured,
"A charming plan! The best thing that could happen to the child."

"A pity, too," said Madame de Sainfoy, looking out of the window, "that
she should grow up without any young companions but your son. Where are
they going now?"

"I don't know," said Urbain.

For a moment they watched silently, while Angelot and Henriette left the
others in the garden, and walked away together, turning towards the
château, and then disappearing behind a clump of trees.

"I know," said the Comtesse. "I told Hervé something of this plan of
mine, and he approved highly: he has an old family affection for your
brother. He is sending the young people to find Sophie and Lucie; they
are out walking in the wood with Mademoiselle--Hélène is reading Italian
in her own room."

She seemed to add this as an after-thought, and the faintest smile
curled Monsieur Urbain's lips as he heard her. "No danger, dear
Comtesse," he felt inclined to say. "My boy's heart is in the woods and
fields--and he is discreet, too. You might even trust him for five
minutes with that beautiful, silent girl of yours."

Had Madame de Sainfoy made some miscalculation as to her daughter's
hours of study? or was it Hélène's own mistake? or had the sunshine and
the waving woods, the barking of dogs, the chattering of workmen, all
the flood of new life outside old Lancilly, made it impossible to sit
reading in a chilly, thick-walled room and tempted the girl irresistibly
to break her mother's strict rules. However it may have happened--when
Angelot and Riette, laughing and talking, entered the wood beyond the
château, not only square Sophie and tall Lucie and their fat little
governess, but Mademoiselle Hélène herself, were found wandering along
the soft path, through the glimmering maze of green flicked with gold.

Sophie and Lucie were good-natured girls, enchanted to see the new
little cousin. They admired her dark eyes, the delicate smallness of her
frame, a contrast with their own more solid fairness. In their family,
Hélène had taken all the beauty; there was not much left for them, but
they were honest girls and knew how to admire. Riette on her side,
untroubled with any shyness or self-consciousness, quite innocent of the
facts that her dress was old-fashioned and her education more than
defective, was delighted to improve her acquaintance with the new
cousins. She could tell them a thousand things they did not know. To
begin with, Lancilly itself, the woods, the walled gardens and courts,
even the staircases and galleries of the house--all was more familiar to
her than to them. She and Angelot had found Lancilly a splendid
playground, ever since she was old enough to walk so far; they had spent
many happy hours there in digging out rabbits, catching rats,
birds-nesting, playing _cache-cache_, and other charming employments.
She enlarged on these in the astonished ears of Sophie and Lucie,
walking between them with linked arms, pulling them on with a dancing
step, while they listened, fascinated, to the gay little spirit who led
them where she pleased. It did not seem so certain, to look at the three
young girls, that Madame de Sainfoy was right as to influence. But no
political talk, no party secrets, escaped from the loyal lips of Riette.
A word of warning from Angelot--a word which her father would not have
dreamed of saying--had closed her mouth on subjects such as these. She
could be friendly with her cousins, yet true to her father's friends.

"Let us go to the great garden," she said. "Have you seen the sundial,
and the fish-ponds? You don't know the way? Ah, my dear children, but
what discoveries you are going to make!"

"Sophie--Lucie--where are you going? Come back, come back!" cried
Mademoiselle Moineau, who was pacing slowly behind with Angelot and
Hélène.

But Sophie and Lucie could not stop if they wished it; an impetuous
little whirlwind was carrying them along.

"To the garden--to the garden!" they called out as they fled.
Mademoiselle Moineau was distracted. She was fat, she was no longer
young; she could not race after the rebellious children; and even if she
could, it was impossible to leave Hélène and Angelot alone in the wood.

"Where are they going?" she said helplessly to the young man.

He explained amiably that they were perfectly safe with his little
cousin, who knew every corner of the place, and while Mademoiselle
Moineau groaned, and begged that he would show her the way to the
garden, he ventured a look and smile at Hélène. A sudden brightness came
into her face, and she laughed softly. "Henriette might be your little
sister," she said. "You are all alike, I think--at least monsieur your
uncle, and madame your mother, and Henriette, and you--"

"Yes--I've often thought Uncle Joseph ought to be my mother's brother,
not my father's," said Angelot.

He dared not trust himself to look very hard at Hélène. He kept his
lightness of tone and manner, the friendly ease which was natural to
him, though his pulses were beating hard from her nearness, and though
her gentle air of intimacy gave him almost a pang of passionate joy. How
sweet she was, how simple, when for a moment she forgot the mysterious
sadness which seemed sometimes to veil her whole nature! Angelot knew
that she liked and trusted him, the strange young country cousin who
looked younger than he was. She thought him a friendly boy, perhaps. Her
eyes, when she looked at him, seemed to smile divinely; they were no
longer doubtful and questioning, as at first. He longed to kneel down on
the pine-needles and kiss the hem of her gown; he longed, he, the
careless sportsman, the philosopher's son, to lay his life at her feet,
to do what she pleased with. But Mademoiselle Moineau was there.

They walked on in the vast old precincts of Lancilly, following the
children. It was all deep shade, with occasional patches of sunshine;
great forest trees, wide-spreading, stretched their arms across sandy
tracks, once roads, that wandered away at the back of the château:
through the leaves they could see mountains of grey moss-stained roof
and the peaked top of the old _colombier_. All the yards and buildings
were now between them and the house itself. Along by a crumbling wall,
once white, and roofed with tiles, they came to the broken-down gate of
the garden. It was not much better than a wilderness; yet there were
loaded fruit-trees, peaches, plums, figs, vines weighed down with masses
of small sweet grapes, against the ancient trellis of the wall.
Everywhere a forest of weeds; the once regular paths covered with burnt
grass and stones and rubbish; the fountain choked and dry.

Mademoiselle Moineau groaned many times as she hobbled along; the
walking was rough, the way seemed endless, and the garden, when they
reached it, a sun-baked desert. Angelot guided them to the very middle,
where the old sundial was, and while he showed it to Hélène, the little
governess sat down on a stone bench that encircled a large mulberry
tree, the only shady place in the garden. They could hear the children's
voices not far off. Hélène sat down near Mademoiselle Moineau. Angelot
went away and came back with a leaf filled with fruit, to which Hélène
helped herself with a smile. As he was going to hand it to Mademoiselle
Moineau, she put out a hand to stop him.

"She is asleep," she whispered.

It was true. The warmth, the fatigue, the sudden rest and silence, had
been too much for the little lady, who was growing old. Her eyes were
shut, her hands were folded, her chin had sunk upon her chest; and even
as Angelot stared in unbelieving joy, a distinct snore set Hélène
suddenly laughing.

"I must wake her," she said softly. "We must go, we must find the
children."

"Oh no, no!" he murmured. "Let the poor thing rest--see how tired she
is! The children are safe--you can hear them. Do not be so cruel to
her--and to me."

"_I_ cruel?" said Hélène; and she added half to herself--"No--other
people are cruel--not I."

Angelot did not understand her. She looked up at him rather dreamily, as
he stood before her. Perhaps the gulf of impossibility between them kept
her, brought up and strictly sheltered as she had been, from realising
the meaning of the young man's face. It was very grave; Angelot had
never before felt so utterly in earnest. His eyes were no longer sleepy,
for all the strength of his nature, the new passion that possessed him,
was shining in them. It was a beautiful, daring face, so attractive that
Hélène gazed for a speechless moment or two before she understood that
the beauty and life and daring were all for her. Then the pale girl
flushed a little and dropped her eyes. She had had compliments enough in
Paris, had been told of her loveliness, but never with silent speech
such as this. This conquest, though only of a young cousin, had
something different, something new. Hélène, hopeless and tired at
nineteen, confessed to herself that this Angelot was adorable. With a
sort of desperation she gave herself up to the moment's enjoyment, and
said no more about waking Mademoiselle Moineau, who snored on
peacefully, or about finding the children. She allowed Angelot to sit
down on her other side, and listened to him with a sweet surprise as he
murmured in her ear--"Who is cruel, then, tell me! No, you are not, you
are an angel--but who are you thinking of?"

"No one in particular, I suppose," the girl answered. "Life itself is
cruel--cruel and sad. You do not find it so?"

"Life seems to me the most glorious happiness--at this moment,
certainly."

"Ah, you must not say those things. Let us wake Mademoiselle Moineau."

"No," Angelot said. "Not till you have told me why you find life sad."

"Because I do not see anything bright in it. Books tell one that youth
is so happy, so gay--and as for me, ever since I was a child, I have had
nothing but weariness. All that travelling about, that banishment from
one's own country--ill tempers, discontent, narrow ways, hard
lessons--straps and backboards because I was not strong--loneliness, not
a friend of my own age--and then this horrible Paris--and things that
might have happened there, if my father had not saved me--" She stopped,
with a little catch in her breath, and Angelot understood, remembering
the Prefect's talk at Les Chouettes, a few days before.

This was the girl they talked of sacrificing in a political marriage.

"But now that you are here--now that you have come home, you will be
happy?" he said, and his voice shook a little.

"Perhaps--I hope so. Oh, you must not take me too much in earnest,"
Hélène said, and there was an almost imploring look in her eyes. She
added quickly--"I hope I shall often see madame your mother. What a
beautiful face she has--and I am sure she is good and happy."

This was a fine subject for Angelot. He talked of his mother, her
religion, her charity, her heroism, while Hélène listened and asked
childish questions about the life at La Marinière, to which her evening
visit had attracted her strangely. And the minutes flew on, and these
two cousins forgot the outside world and all its considerations in each
other's eyes, and the shadows lengthened, till at last the children's
voices began to come nearer. Mademoiselle Moineau snored on, it is true,
but the enchanting time was coming to an end.

"Remember," Angelot said, "nothing sad or cruel can happen to you any
more. You are in your own country; your own people will take care of you
and love you--we are relations, remember--my father and mother and my
uncle and Riette--and I, Hélène!"

He ended in the lowest whisper, and suddenly his slight brown hands
closed on hers, and his dark face bent over her.

"Never--never be sad again! I adore you--my sweet, my beautiful--"

Very softly their lips met. Hélène, entirely carried out of herself, let
him hold her for a moment in his arms, then started up with flaming
cheeks in consternation, and began to hurry towards the gate.

At the same moment the three young girls came down the path towards the
sun-dial, and Mademoiselle Moineau, waking with a violent start, got up
and hobbled stiffly forward into the sunshine.

"Where are you, my children?" she cried. "Sophie, Lucie, it is quite
time to go back to your lessons--see, your sister is gone already. Say
good-by to your cousins, my dears--"

[Illustration: SUDDENLY HIS SLIGHT BROWN HANDS CLOSED ON HERS.]

"We may all go back to the château together, madame, may we not?"
said Angelot with dancing eyes, and he hurried the children on, all
chattering of the wonderful corners and treasures that Henriette had
shown them.

But Mademoiselle Hélène flew before like the wind, and was not to be
overtaken.

In the meanwhile, Madame de Sainfoy consulted Cousin Urbain about her
new silk hangings for the large drawing-room, and also as to a list of
names for a dinner, at which the chief guests were to be the Baron de
Mauves, the Prefect of the Department, and Monsieur le Général Ratoneau,
commanding the troops in that western district.

"And I suppose it is necessary to invite all these excellent cousins?"
Madame de Sainfoy asked her husband that evening, when the cousins were
gone.

"Entirely necessary, my dear Adélaïde!"



CHAPTER VIII

HOW MONSIEUR JOSEPH MET WITH MANY ANNOYANCES


Dark clouds were hanging over Les Chouettes. In the afternoon there had
been a thunderstorm, with heavy rain which had refreshed the burnt
slopes and filled the stream that wound through the meadows under the
lines of poplars and willows, and set great orange slugs crawling among
the wet grass. The storm had passed, but the air was heavy, electric,
and still. The sun had set gloriously, wildly, like a great fire behind
the woods, and now all the eastern sky was flaming red, as if from a
still more tremendous fire somewhere beyond the moors and hills.

Two men were sitting on a bench under Monsieur Joseph's south wall;
himself and white-haired Joubard, the farmer; before them was a table
with bottles and glasses. Joubard had been trying a wine that rivalled
his own. Monsieur Joseph had entertained him very kindly, as his way
was; but the shadow of the evening rested on Monsieur Joseph's face. He
was melancholy and abstracted; he frowned; he even ground his teeth with
restrained irritation. Joubard too looked grave. He had brought a
warning which had been lightly taken, he thought; yet looking sideways
at Monsieur Joseph, he could not help seeing that something, possibly
his words, was weighing on the little gentleman. There were plenty of
other things to talk about; the farm, the vintage, the war in Spain, the
chances of Martin's return, the works at Lancilly. Monsieur Joseph and
Joubard were both talkers; they were capable of chattering for hours
about nothing; but this evening conversation flagged, at least on
Monsieur Joseph's side. Perhaps it was the weather.

At last the old man was ready to go. He stood up, staring hard at
Monsieur Joseph in the twilight.

"Monsieur forgives me?" he said. "Perhaps I should have said nothing;
the police have their ways. They may ask questions without malice. And
yet one feels the difference between an honest man and a spy. Well, I
could have laughed, if I did not hate the fellow. As if the talk of a
few honest gentlemen could hurt the State!"

"Some day I hope it will," said Monsieur Joseph, coolly. "When the
rising comes, Joubard, you will be on the right side--if only to avenge
your sons, my good man!"

Joubard opened his eyes wider, hesitated, pushed his fingers through his
bushy hair.

"Me, monsieur! The rising! But, monsieur, I never said I was a Chouan! I
am afraid of some of them, though not of you, monsieur. They are people
who can be dangerous. A rising, you said! Then--"

"Don't talk of it now," said Monsieur Joseph, impatiently.

As he spoke, little Henriette came round the corner of the house with
some blue feathers in her hand. Tobie had been out shooting, making
havoc among the wild birds, large and small, and sparing the squirrels,
with regret, to please his master. Owls, kites, rooks, magpies, jays,
thrushes, finches; those that were eatable went into pies, and the
prettiest feathers were dressed and made into plumes for Mademoiselle
Henriette. She was fond of adorning her straw bonnet with jay's
feathers, which, as her uncle Urbain remarked, gave her the appearance
of one of Monsieur de Chateaubriand's squaws. "See, papa, what Tobie has
brought me," she cried. "Good evening, Maître Joubard! How are your
chickens? and when will the vintage begin?"

Joubard would gladly have entered on a lengthy gossip with Mademoiselle
Henriette, but Monsieur Joseph, with a shortness very unlike him,
brought the interview to an end.

"You must not keep Maître Joubard now," he said. "It is late, and he
must get back to the farm. Bonsoir, Joubard."

The farmer waved his large hat. "Bonsoir, la compagnie!" and with a
smile departed.

As he passed the stables, Tobie, still carrying his gun, slipped out and
joined him.

"Anything wrong with the master, Tobie?" said the old man, curiously.
"His tongue has an edge to it this evening; he is not like himself."

"I think I know," said Tobie, and they strolled together up the lane.

"Go to bed, my child," said Monsieur Joseph to his little daughter. "It
is too damp now for you to be out-of-doors. Yes, very pretty feathers.
Good night, mon petit chou!"

Riette flung herself upon him and hugged him like a young bear.

"Ah," he exclaimed, as soon as he could speak, "and is this the way to
behave to one's respected father? Do you suppose, now, that
Mesdemoiselles de Sainfoy crush their parents to death like this?"

"I dare say not," said Riette, with another hug and a shower of kisses.
"But their parents are grand people. They have not a little bijou of a
papa like mine. And as for their mamma, she is a cardboard sort of
woman."

"All that does not matter. Manners should be the same, whether people
are tall or short, great or humble. You know nothing about it, my poor
Riette."

"Nor do you!"

"It is becoming plain to me that you must be sent to learn manners."

"Where?"

"Go to bed at once. I must think about it. There, child--enough--I am
tired this evening."

"Ah, you have had so many visitors to-day, and that old Joubard is a
chatterbox."

"And he is not the only one in the world. Go--do you hear me?"

The child went. He heard her light feet scampering upstairs, clattering
merrily about on the boards overhead. He sat very still. The glow in the
east deepened, spreading a lurid glory over the dark velvety stillness
of the woods. Crickets sang and curlews cried in the meadow, and the
long ghostly hoot of an owl trembled through the motionless air. Joseph
de la Marinière leaned his elbows on the table, his chin resting on his
hands, and gazed up thus into the wild autumnal sky.

"What would become of her!" he said to himself.

He was not long alone. Angelot and his dog came lightly up through the
shadows, and while the dog strayed off to join his favourites among the
dark guards who lay round the house, the young man sat down beside his
uncle.

Though with a mind full of his own matters, Angelot was sympathetic
enough to feel and to wonder at the little uncle's depression. After a
word or two on indifferent things--the storm, the marvellous sky--he
said to him, "Has anything happened to worry you?"

Monsieur Joseph did not answer at once, and this was very unlike him.

"It is the thunder, perhaps?" said Angelot, cheerfully. "A tree was
struck near us. My mother is spending the evening in church."

"And your father?"

"He is at Lancilly, playing boston."

"Why are you not with him?"

"Why should I be? I--I prefer a talk with my dear uncle."

"Ah! you ask if anything worries me, Angelot. Three or four things.
First--I had a visit this morning from César d'Ombré. He had his
breakfast in peace this time, poor fellow."

Angelot smiled, rather absently. "What had he to say?"

"Nothing special. The time is not quite ripe--I think they realised that
the other day."

"I hope so," murmured Angelot.

"Hope what you please," said his uncle, with sudden irritation. "The
time will come in spite of you all, remember. I, for one, shall not long
be able to endure this abominable system of spying."

"What do you mean?" said Angelot, staring at him.

"This is what I mean. The instant d'Ombré was gone--while he was here,
in fact--that fellow, the Prefect's jackal, was prowling round the
stables and asking questions of Tobie. Some silly excuse--pretended he
had lost a strap the other day. Asked which of my friends was
here--asked if they often came, if they were generally expected.
Suggested that Les Chouettes was well provided with hiding-places, as
well for arms as for men. I don't think he made much out of Tobie; he is
as solid as an old oak, with a spark of wit in the middle of his thick
head. From his own account, he very nearly kicked him off the premises."

"What? that man Simon? I don't like him either, but was it not a little
dangerous to treat him so? He is more than a gendarme, I think; he is an
_agent de police_."

"I don't care what he is, nor does Tobie. He had better come to me with
his impertinent questions. And I am angry with De Mauves. I suppose the
rascal would not prowl about here without his orders. Of course it was
he who found out everything the other day. I did not notice or know him
at the time, but the servants tell me he is, as you say, a well-known
police spy. Well, after what De Mauves said to you, I should have
expected him to leave me in peace. I would rather have one thing or the
other--be arrested or let alone. I say, this spying system is
ungentlemanly, ungenerous, and utterly contemptible and abominable."

Monsieur Joseph rapped hard on the table, then took a pinch of snuff
with much energy, folded his arms, and looked fiercely into Angelot's
downcast face.

"I can hardly think the Prefect sent him," the young man said.

"Why should he act without his master's orders? In any case I shall have
it out with De Mauves. Well, well, other annoyances followed, and I had
half forgotten the rascal, your father being here, and the rain coming
in at the roof and running down the stairs, when behold Joubard, to tell
me the story over again!"

"What story?"

"Mille tonnerres! Angelot, you are very dull to-day. Why, the Simon
story, of course. The fellow paid Joubard a visit on his way to us, it
seems, and asked a thousand questions about me and my concerns--what
visitors of mine passed La Joubardière on their way here, and so forth.
He tried to make it all appear friendly gossip, so as to put Joubard off
his guard, though knowing very well that the old man knew who he was."

"Does Joubard think the Prefect sent him?"

"I did not consult Joubard on that point," said Monsieur Joseph with
dignity. "That is between De Mauves and myself."

"Oh, my little uncle," Angelot said with a low laugh, "you are a very
gem among conspirators."

"None of you take me in earnest, I know," said Monsieur Joseph, and he
smiled for the first time. "Your father scolds me, Joubard does not half
believe in me, Riette takes liberties with me, you laugh at me. It is
only that scoundrel of a Prefect who thinks me worth watching."

"I don't believe he does," said Angelot.

"Then pray tell me, what brought that police rascal here to-day?"

"Some devilry of his own. Don't you know, Uncle Joseph, these fellows
gain credit, and money too, by hunting out cases of disloyalty to the
Empire. It is dirty work; officials like the Prefect do not always care
to soil their hands with it. I have heard my father tell of cases where
whole families were put in prison, just on the evidence of some police
spy who wormed himself into their confidence and informed against them."

Monsieur Joseph sat in silence for a minute.

"Peste! France is not fit to live in," he said. "To change the
subject--your excellent father proposed to-day that I should send Riette
every morning to Lancilly, to learn lessons with Mesdemoiselles de
Sainfoy. It seems that Madame de Sainfoy herself proposed this obliging
plan. The governess, it seems, is a jewel of the first water. Is that
the lady I saw with the children the other day?"

"Yes; Mademoiselle Moineau."

Angelot's breath came a little short; his heart seemed to beat
unreasonably in his throat. How could he express with sufficient
restraint his opinion of that sleepy old angel, Mademoiselle Moineau!

He felt himself colouring crimson; but it was growing dark, the gorgeous
sunset had faded, the clouds hung blacker and heavier as the oppressive
night closed in.

"No doubt a charming lady and a very good woman," said Monsieur Joseph,
with his usual politeness, "but she has not the air of a genius. In any
case, even if I saw any advantage for Riette in the plan, which I do
not, I am too selfish to consent to it. Well, well, I have other
reasons; I will tell them to your mother one of these days. I am sorry
Madame de Sainfoy should have thought of it, as it seems ungracious to
refuse. But I was miserable enough without Riette last year, when she
spent those weeks at the Convent at Sonnay. By the by, the good nuns did
not find her so ignorant. She knows her religion, she can dance and
sing, she can make clothes for the poor, she understands the animals,
and has read a little history. Pray what more does a girl want?"

"Nothing, I dare say," said Angelot, dreamily. "I did not think you
would like it."

"I do not like it," said Monsieur Joseph. "Your father was astonished
when I told him so. We did not discuss it long; the storm interrupted
us. But how could I let my child be brought up in a household devoted to
the Empire! It is unreasonable."

Angelot started suddenly to his feet.

"Are you going? It will rain again soon," said Monsieur Joseph.

"No, I am not going yet," said Angelot.

He marched up and down two or three times in front of the bench.

"Uncle Joseph," he burst out, "I have something to say to you. I came
here to-night on purpose to consult you. You can help me, I think, if
anybody can."

"What, what? Are they sending you into the army?" Monsieur Joseph was
all interest, all affection. His own annoyances were forgotten. He
started up too, standing in his most inspired attitude, with a sweet
smile on his face. "Declare yourself, my boy!" he said. "Yes, I will
stand by you. You cannot fight for that bloodthirsty wretch. Escape,
dearest, if there is nothing else for it. Go and join the Princes. Your
mother will agree with me. I will lend you money for the journey."

"Ah, a thousand thanks, Uncle Joseph!" cried the young man. "But no, it
is not that at all." He lowered his voice suddenly. "I want to marry,"
he said.

"To marry! Angelot! You! In heaven's name, why?"

"Because I am in love."

"What a reason!"

Monsieur Joseph sat down again.

"This is serious," he said. "Sit down beside me on the bench, and tell
me all about it. It sounds like madness, and I always thought you were a
reasonable boy."

"It is madness in one way, I suppose," said Angelot. "And yet stranger
things have happened. In fact, of course, nothing else could happen."

Monsieur Joseph frowned and stared. His quick brain was running round
the neighbourhood and finding nobody; then it made an excursion at
lightning speed into the wilds of Brittany, where Angelot had sometimes
visited his mother's relations; but there again, as far as he knew, no
likely match was to be found. He was sure that Urbain and Anne had not
yet taken any steps to find a wife for Angelot; he also thought it was a
subject on which they were likely to disagree. And now the young rascal
had hit on somebody for himself. Might Heaven forbid that he had
followed modern theories and was ready to marry some woman of a rank
inferior to his own--some good-for-nothing who had attracted the
handsome, simple-hearted boy!

"No! He would not dare to tell me that," Monsieur Joseph said to
himself, and added aloud, "Who is the lady?"

There was a touch of severity in his tone; a foretaste, even from the
dear little uncle, of what was to be expected.

"But, dear uncle," Angelot said slowly, "it could only be one person."

"No--no, impossible!" said Monsieur Joseph, half to himself. "Angelot,
my boy--not--not there?" and he waved his hand in the direction of
Lancilly.

Angelot nodded. "You have seen her," he murmured; "you ought not to be
surprised. You have never seen any one half so beautiful."

Monsieur Joseph laughed outright. "Have I always lived at Les
Chouettes?" he said. "However, she is a pretty girl, fair, graceful,
distinguished. Riette had more to tell me about the younger ones; that
was only natural. Of course I have only exchanged a compliment with
Mademoiselle Hélène. She looked to me cold and rather haughty--or
melancholy, perhaps. When have you spoken to her, Angelot? or is it
merely the sight of her which has given you this wild idea?"

"Yes, she is melancholy," Angelot said, "but not cold or haughty at all.
She is sad; it is because she is alone, and her mother is hard and
stern, though her father is kind, and she has had no peace in life from
all their worldly ways. They wanted to marry her to people she
detested--her mother did, at least--"

"Yes, yes, I have heard something of that," said Monsieur Joseph. "They
expect a great deal from her. She is to make an advantageous
marriage--it is necessary for her family. It will happen one of these
days; it must. My dear little Angelot, you know nothing of the
world--how can you possibly imagine--Besides, I do not care for the
Sainfoys." Monsieur Joseph sighed. "I would rather you went to Brittany
for a wife, and so would your mother."

"But you will help me, Uncle Joseph?" said Angelot.

"Help you! How can I? Anyhow, you must tell me more. How did you find
out all this? When did those people give you an opportunity of speaking
to her? From their own point of view, they are certainly very imprudent.
But I suppose they think you harmless."

It is unpleasant to be thought harmless. Angelot blushed angrily.

"They may find themselves mistaken," he muttered. "I will tell you,
Uncle Joseph;" and he went on to give a slight sketch of what had
happened.

It seemed necessary to convince his uncle that he was not talking
nonsense, that the fates had really allowed him a few minutes' talk with
Hélène. He could only give half an explanation, after all; the old
mulberry tree had been the only witness of what was too sacred to be
told. He said that Mademoiselle Moineau's fortunate nap had given them
time to understand each other.

"And this is the fine governess to whom they expect me to confide my
Riette!" said Monsieur Joseph, laughing; but he became serious again
directly. "And in this interview under the tree, my poor Angelot," he
said very gravely, "you made up your mind to propose yourself as a
husband for Mademoiselle Hélène?"

"It sounds solemn, Uncle Joseph, when you say it. But yes, I suppose you
are right," said Angelot.

"It _is_ solemn. Most solemn and serious. Something more than a
flirtation, an amourette. For life, as I understand you. A real marriage
à l'Anglais," said Monsieur Joseph.

For answer, Angelot raved a little. His uncle listened indulgently, with
a charming smile, to all the pretty lunacies of the young man's first
love, poured into an ear and a heart that would never betray or
misunderstand him.

"And did you tell Mademoiselle Hélène all this? Did you ask her what she
thought of you?" Monsieur Joseph said at last.

"She knows enough, and so do I," said Angelot.

It seemed like sacrilege to say more; but as his uncle waited, he added
hastily--"She is sad, and I can make her happy. But I cannot live
without her--voila! Now will you help me?"

"It does not occur to you, then, that you are astonishingly
presumptuous?"

"No."

"Diable, my Angelot! It would occur to my cousins De Sainfoy!"

"We are not so poor. As to family, we have not a title, it is true, but
we are their cousins--and look at my mother's descent! They can show
nothing like it. And then see what they owe to my father. Without him,
what would have become of Lancilly? They can make imperialist marriages
for their two other daughters. You must help me, dear little uncle!"

"Do you suppose they would listen to me, an old Chouan? Where are your
wits, my poor boy? All flown in pursuit of Mademoiselle Hélène!"

"Not they, no; they are too stupid to appreciate you. But speak to my
father and mother for me. They love and honour you; they will listen.
Tell them all for me; ask them to arrange it all. I will do anything
they wish, live anywhere. Only let them give me Hélène."

Monsieur Joseph whistled, and took another large pinch of snuff. It was
almost too dark now to see each other's face, and the heavy clouds, with
a distant rolling of thunder, hung low over Les Chouettes.

Suddenly a child's voice from a window above broke the silence.

"Ah, forgive me, papa and Angelot, but I have heard all, every word you
have been saying. It was so interesting, I could not shut the window and
go to sleep. Well, little papa, what do you say to Angelot? Tell him you
will help him, we will both help him, to the last drop of our blood."

Angelot sprang from his seat with an exclamation, to look up at the
window. A small, white-clad figure stood there, a round dark head
against the dim light of the room. The voice had something pathetic as
well as comical.

"Mille tonnerres!" shouted Monsieur Joseph, very angry. "Go to bed this
instant, little imp, or I shall come upstairs with a birch rod. You will
gain nothing by your dishonourable listening. I shall send you to
Mademoiselle Moineau to-morrow, to learn lessons all day long."

"Ah, papa, if you do, I can talk to Hélène about Angelot," said
Henriette, and she hastily shut the window.

The two men looked at each other and laughed.

"Good night, dear uncle," said Angelot, gently. "I leave my cause in
your hands--and Riette's!"

"You are mad--we are all mad together. Go home and expect nothing," said
Monsieur Joseph.



CHAPTER IX

HOW COMMON SENSE FOUGHT AND TRIUMPHED


General Ratoneau found himself a hero at Madame de Sainfoy's dinner
party, and was gratified. A new-comer, he had hardly yet made his way
into provincial society, except by favour of the Prefect. Even the old
families who regarded the Prefect as partly one of themselves, and for
his birth and manners forgave his opinions, found a difficulty in
swallowing the General. The idea that he was unwelcome, when it
penetrated Ratoneau's brain, added to the insolence of his bearing. To
teach these ignorant provincial nobles a lesson, to show these poor and
proud people, returned from emigration, that they need not imagine the
France of 1811 to be the same country as the France of 1788, to make
them feel that they were subjects of the Emperor Napoleon and inferior
to his officers--all this seemed to General Ratoneau part of his mission
in Anjou. And at the same time it was the wish of his heart to be
received as a friend and an equal by the very people he pretended to
despise.

Lancilly enchanted him. Though the stately halls and staircases were
bare, the great rooms half-furnished and dark--for Madame de Sainfoy
had not yet carried out her plans of decoration--though there were few
servants, no great display of splendid plate, no extravagance in the
dinner itself, no magnificence in the ladies' dresses, for at this time
simplicity was the fashion--yet everything pleased him, because of the
perfections of his hostess. Madame de Sainfoy laid herself out to
flatter him, to put him in a good humour with himself. Rather to the
disgust of various old neighbours who had not dined at Lancilly for more
than twenty years, she placed the Prefect and the General on her right
and left at dinner, and while the Prefect made himself agreeable to an
old lady on his right, whose satin gown was faded and her ancient lace
in rags, she devoted all her powers of talk to the General.

In a way she admired the man. His extraordinary likeness to his master
attracted her, for she was a hearty worshipper of Napoleon. She talked
of Paris, the Empress, the Court; she talked of her son and his
campaigns, asking the General's opinion and advice, but cleverly leading
him off when he began to brag of his own doings; so cleverly that he had
no idea of her tactics. He was a little dazzled. She was a very handsome
woman; her commanding fairness, her wonderful smile, the movements of
her lovely hands and arms, the almost confidential charm of her manner;
she was worthy to be an Empress herself, Ratoneau thought, and his
admiration went on growing. He began to talk to her of his most private
affairs and wishes, and she listened more and more graciously.

It was a large party; many of the old provincial families were
represented there. All the company talked and laughed in the gayest
manner, though now and then eyes would light on the hostess' left-hand
neighbour with a kind of disgusted fascination, and somebody would be
silent for a minute or two, or murmur a private remark in a neighbour's
ear. One lady, an old friend and plain of speech, turned thus to Urbain
de la Marinière:--

"Why does Adélaïde exert herself to entertain that creature?"

"Because, madame," he answered, smiling, "Adélaïde is the most sensible
and practical woman of our acquaintance."

"Mon Dieu! But what does she expect to get by it?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

Angelot, the youngest man present, had been allowed to take his cousin
Hélène in to dinner. Two minutes of happiness; for the arrangement of
the table separated them by its whole length. But it had been enough to
bring a smile and a tinge of lovely colour to Hélène's face, and to give
her the rare feeling that happiness, after all, was a possibility. Then
she found herself next to a person who, after Angelot, seemed to her
the most delightful she had ever met; who asked her friendly questions,
told her stories, watched her, in the intervals of his talk with others,
with eyes full of admiration and a deep amusement which she did not
understand, but which set her heart beating oddly and pleasantly, as she
asked herself if Angelot could possibly have said anything to this dear
uncle of his.

Poor Angelot! he looked unhappy enough, there in the distance, sitting
in most unusual sulks and silence.

There was an opportunity for a word, as he led her back from the
dining-room, through the smaller salon, into the large lighted room
where all the guests had preceded them.

"I don't wonder that you love your uncle," she said to him.

"I don't love him, when I see him talking to you. I am too jealous."

"How absurd!"

"Besides, I am angry with him. He has not done something that I asked
him. Delay is dangerous, and I live in terror."

"What?" she asked, turning a little white.

"If you would give me the Empire, I could not tell you now."

They were in the salon. He put his heels together and bowed; she swept
him a curtsey.

"Help me to hand the coffee," she said under her breath.

So it came to pass, when the coffee-table was brought in, that they
walked up together to the new sofa, polished mahogany and yellow satin,
finished with winged Sphinxes in gilded bronze, where Madame de Sainfoy
and General Ratoneau were sitting side by side.

The Prefect, of course, had brought his hostess back from the
dining-room and had stood talking to her for a few minutes afterwards.
But the General, having deposited his lady, came clanking up almost
immediately to rejoin Madame de Sainfoy.

"Allow me, my dear Prefect," he said. "I have not finished an
interesting talk with Madame la Comtesse."

Monsieur de Mauves looked at him, then glanced at her with a questioning
smile.

"Yes, it is true. We had just touched on a subject of the very deepest
interest," she said.

Her look, her smile, seemed to glide over the Prefect's tall figure and
pleasant face, as if he was merely a not disagreeable obstacle, to rest
thoughtfully, with satisfaction, on Ratoneau in his gorgeous uniform.

"Listen! I will confide in you, and then you will understand," said the
General, seizing the Prefect's arm. "I am going to consult Madame la
Comtesse on the subject of a marriage."

He showed his teeth in a broad smile, staring into the Prefect's face,
which did not change in its expression of easy good-humour.

"Whose marriage, may I ask? Your own?"

"You have said it, monsieur. My own. Could I do better?"

"You could not have a better counsellor. I retire at once," said the
Prefect.

Then an idea crossed his mind, for just as he was met, with a friendly
greeting--"A word with you, Monsieur le Préfet"--from Joseph de la
Marinière, his eyes fell on Hélène de Sainfoy as she turned away from
Angelot at the door. He had already admired her at a distance, so far
the most beautiful thing at Lancilly, in spite of the oppressed and
weary air that suited so ill with her fresh girlhood.

"Mon Dieu, what a sacrilege! But no, impossible!" said the Prefect to
himself.

Several young people were carrying the coffee-cups about the room,
Sophie and Lucie in white frocks among them. It was generally the part
of the young girls; the men did not often help them, so that Madame de
Sainfoy looked at Angelot with surprise, and a shade of displeasure,
when he approached her with Hélène.

Angelot was perfectly grave and self-possessed. On his side, no one
would have known that he had ever met General Ratoneau before, certainly
not that he regarded him as an enemy. He hardly changed colour, even
when Ratoneau waved him aside with a scowl, and stretched across him,
without rising, to take his cup from Hélène.

"Come," he said, "I'll have my coffee from those pretty hands, or not at
all."

Hélène looked up startled, and met the man's bold eyes. Angelot turned
away instantly, and in a few seconds more she had joined him, and they
were attending to other guests. Angelot commanded himself nobly; his
time for punishing the General would come some day, but was not yet. As
he and his cousin walked together along the room, the Vicomte des
Barres, Monsieur Joseph's friend, pointed them out to Madame de la
Marinière.

"A pretty pair of cousins, madame!"

"Ah, yes," she said a little sadly. "I cannot always realise that Ange
is grown up. To see him, a man, in the salon at Lancilly, makes me feel
very old."

The Vicomte murmured smiling compliments, but they soon turned to talk
which was more serious, if not a little treasonable.

And in the meanwhile other eyes followed the two young people: Madame de
Sainfoy's, while she doubted whether it might be necessary to snub
Monsieur Ange de la Marinière; General Ratoneau's, with a long, steady,
considering gaze, at the end of which he turned to his hostess and said,
"You advise me to marry, madame! Give me your daughter."

For the moment, even the practical Madame de Sainfoy was both startled
and shocked; so much so that she lifted her fan to hide the change in
her face. But she collected herself instantly, and lowered it with a
smile.

"Indeed, Monsieur le Général, you do us great honour"--she began. "But
you were good enough to ask my advice, and I should not, I think--in
fact, my daughter is still rather young, rather unformed, for such a
position--and then--"

"She is nineteen, I know," said General Ratoneau. "Too young for me, you
think? Well, I am forty-two, the same age as the Emperor, and he married
a young wife last year."

"You wish to resemble His Majesty in every way," said Madame de Sainfoy,
smiling graciously; it was necessary to say something.

"I am like him, I know--sapristi, it is an advantage. But I am a better
match in one way, madame. I have never been married. I have no wife to
get rid of, before offering myself to Mademoiselle de Sainfoy. She looks
like a good girl, and she is devilish pretty. I dare say she will do
what she likes with me. Anyhow, it is a good marriage for her, and for
me. I am well off, I shall not expect much money."

In Adélaïde de Sainfoy's heart there was amazement at herself for having
listened even so long and so patiently. This was indeed a trial of her
theories. But after all, common sense was stronger than sentiment.

"We must live in our own times," she reminded herself. "These are the
people of the future; the past is dead."

Her eyes wandered round the room. Every man she saw there was a
gentleman, with ancestors, with manners, with traditions. Whether they
were returned emigrants or people who had by _force majeure_ accepted
the Revolution and the Empire, all bore the stamp of that old world
which they alone kept in memory. Differences of dress, a new simplicity,
ease and freedom, a revolt against formalities, these things made a
certain separation between the new country society and the old. But
gentlemen and ladies all her guests were, except the man who sat beside
her and asked for Hélène as coolly as if he were asking for one of her
dog's puppies.

Yet Madame de Sainfoy repeated to herself, "The past is dead!"

"You do us great honour," she repeated; for so strong-minded a person,
the tone and words were vague.

"That is precisely what you do not think, madame," said Ratoneau,
looking her straight in the face with a not unpleasant smile.

She was very conscious of the resolute will, the power to command, which
the man possessed in common with his master. Who could refuse Napoleon
anything? except a man or woman here and there with whom the repulsion
was stronger than the attraction. Adélaïde de Sainfoy was not one of
these.

"You are mistaken; I do," she said, and smiled back with all her
brilliancy.

"It is true," he said, "I am not yet a Duke, or a Marshal of France,
like the others. I have had enemies--envious people: my very wounds,
marks of honour, have come between me and glory. But next year, madame,
when I have swept the Chouans out of the West, you will see. I have a
friend at Court, now, besides. One of the Empress's equerries, Monsieur
Monge, is an old brother-in-arms of mine. The Emperor has ennobled him;
he is the Baron de Beauclair--a prettier name than Monge, n'est-ce pas?"

"But that is charming! Tell me more about this friend of yours," said
Madame de Sainfoy, rather eagerly.

This was a new view, a new possibility. Ratoneau knew what he was doing;
he had not forgotten the Prefect's remark at Les Chouettes, some days
before, as to Madame de Sainfoy's ambition of a place at Court for
herself, as lady-in-waiting to the Empress. For a minute or two he
swaggered on about his friend Monge; then suddenly turned again upon the
Comtesse.

"But my answer, madame! There, you must excuse me; I am a rough soldier;
I am not accustomed to wait for anything. When I want a thing, I ask for
it. When it is not given at once--"

"You take it, I suppose? Yes: the wonder is that you should ask at all!"
said Madame de Sainfoy.

Her look and smile seemed to turn the words, which might have been very
scornful, into an easy little jest; but none the less they were a
slight check on the airs of this conquering hero. He laughed.

"Well, madame, you are right, I withdraw the words. If you refuse my
request, I shall have to make my bow, I suppose. But you will not."

She leaned back with lowered eyelids, playing with her fan.

"At this moment," she said, "I can only give you a word of
advice--Patience, Monsieur le Général. For myself I will speak frankly.
I am entirely loyal to the Empire and the Army; they are the glory of
France. I think a brave soldier is worthy of any woman. Personally, this
sudden idea of yours does not at all displease me. But I am not the only
or the chief person concerned. Monsieur de Sainfoy, too, has his own
ideas, and among them is an extreme indulgence of his daughter's
fancies. You observe, I am speaking to you in the frankest confidence. I
treat you as you treat me--" she glanced up and smiled. "Only this year,
in Paris, plans of mine have been spoilt in this way."

"But fortunately for me, madame!" exclaimed Ratoneau. "We will not
regret those plans, if you please. Shall I speak to Monsieur de Sainfoy
this evening?"

"No, I beg! Say nothing at all. Leave the affair in my hands. I promise,
I will do my best for you."

She spoke low and hurriedly, for her husband was walking up to the
retired corner where she and the General were sitting, and she, knowing
his humours so well, could see that he was surprised and a little angry
at the confidences which had been going on.

It was one of Hervé's tiresome points, unworthy of a man of the world,
that he did not always let her go her own way without question, though
he ought to have learnt by this time to trust her in everything.

He now came up and asked General Ratoneau if he would play a game of
billiards. Most of the men had already left the salon. The General
grunted an assent, and rose stiffly to follow his host, with a grave bow
to Madame de Sainfoy. The Comte walked with him half across the room,
then suddenly turned back to meet his wife, whose preoccupation he had
noticed rather curiously.

"You have other guests, Adélaïde!" he said, so that she alone could
hear.

"I have," she answered. "And I must talk to you presently. I have
something to say."

He gazed an instant into her eyes, which were very blue and shining, but
he found no answer to the question in his own, and hurried at once away.
Without the Prefect's scrap of information or his wider knowledge of
men, he did not even guess what those two could have been talking about.
Something political, he supposed; Adélaïde loved politics, and could
throw herself into them with anybody, even such a lump of arrogant
vulgarity as this fellow Ratoneau. She thought it wise, no doubt, to
cultivate imperial officials. But in that case why did she not bestow
the lion's share of her smiles on the Prefect, a greater man and a
gentleman into the bargain? Why did she let him waste his pleasant talk
on the dowagers of Anjou, while she sat absorbed with that animal?

The guests, thirty or more, were scattered between the billiard-room,
the smaller drawing-room, where card-tables were set out, and the large
drawing-room, given up to conversation and presently to the acting of a
proverb by several of the younger people and Mademoiselle Moineau, who
played the part of a great-grandmother to perfection.

Angelot so distinguished himself as a jealous lover that Hélène could
hardly sit calmly to look on, and several people told him and his mother
that his right place was at the _Français_.

"It is part of our life at La Marinière," Anne said with a shade of
impatience to the Prefect, who was talking to her. "When we are not
singing or playing or dancing or shooting, we are acting. It does not
sound like a very responsible kind of life."

"Ah, madame," Monsieur de Mauves said softly, in his kind way, "we
French people know how to play and to work at the same time. All these
little amusements do not hinder people from conspiring against the
State."

A flush rose in her thin face; she threw herself eagerly forward.

"Are you speaking of my son, Monsieur le Préfet? Do not blame him for
loyalty to his uncle. He is not a conspirator. Sometimes--" she
laughed--"I think Ange has not character enough."

"Yes, he has character," the Prefect answered. "But you are right in one
way, madame; he does not yet care enough for one cause or the other.
Something will draw him--some stronger love than this for his uncle."

"Heaven forbid!" sighed Madame de la Marinière.

For her eyes followed his. They fell on Hélène near the door, white and
fair, her face lit up with some new and sweet feeling as she laughed
with the little old governess dressed up in ancient brocades from a
chest in the garret, the dowager Marquise of the proverb just played.
And a little further, in the shadow of the doorway, stood Angelot in
powdered wig, silk coat, and sword, looking like a handsome courtier
from a group by Watteau, and his eyes showed plainly enough what woman,
if not what cause, attracted him at the moment. As to causes, Monsieur
Joseph and the Vicomte des Barres were deep in talk close by; two
Chouans consulting in the very presence of the Prefect.

Monsieur de Mauves smiled, took a delicate pinch of snuff, and stroked
his chin.

"Sometimes I congratulate myself, madame," he said, "on having no young
people to marry. Yet, with a sense of duty, which, thank God, they
generally have, they are more manageable than their elders. Look, for
instance, at your dear and charming brother-in-law. There he is hatching
fresh plots, when I have just assured him that the police are not
supervising him by my orders, and never shall, if I can trust him to
behave like a peaceable citizen."

"Ah, you are very good, Monsieur le Préfet," said Madame de la
Marinière. She went on talking absently. "Whatever we may think of your
politics," she said, "it seems a crime to annoy or disappoint you.
Indeed you do much to reconcile us. But as to Ange--his father's son is
never likely--"

"It is a world of surprises, dear madame," said the Prefect, as she did
not finish her sentence. "I wish him all that is good--and so I wish
that you and Monsieur de la Marinière would send him into the army. He
should serve France--should make her his only mistress, at least for the
next ten years. Then let him marry, settle down amongst us here--turn
against the Emperor, if he chooses--but by that time there will be no
danger!"

Thus flattering himself and his master, the Prefect wished her an almost
affectionate good night.

In a few minutes more, nearly all the guests were gone. Angelot, still
in his quaint acting costume, went out to the court with Monsieur de
Sainfoy to see the ladies into their carriages. He then went to change
his clothes, his cousin returning to the salon. Hurrying back into the
long hall, now empty of servants, vast and rather ghostly with its rows
of family portraits dimly lighted, while caverns of darkness showed
where passages opened and bare stone staircases led up or down, he saw
Hélène, alone, coming swiftly towards him.

She flew up the stairs, the last landing of which he had just reached on
his way down, where it turned sharply under a high barred window.
Meeting Angelot suddenly, she almost screamed, but stopped herself in
time. He laughed joyfully; he was wildly excited.

"Ah, belle cousine!" he said softly. "Dear, we shall say good night here
better than in the salon!"

Never once, since that hour in the garden ten days ago, had these two
met without witnesses. Hélène, as a rule, was far too well guarded for
that. She tried even now, but not successfully, to keep her rather
presumptuous lover at a little distance, but in truth she was too much
enchanted to see him, her only friend, for this pretence of coldness to
last long. Standing with Angelot's arms round her, trembling from head
to foot with joy and fear, she tried between his kisses and tender
words to tell him how indeed he must not stop her, for in real prosaic
truth Madame de Sainfoy had sent her off to bed.

"But why, why, dear angel, before we were all gone! It was the best
thing that could happen--but why?"

"That is what I do not know, and it frightens me a little," said Hélène.

"Frightened here with me!"

"Yes, Angelot!" She tried to speak, but he would hardly let her. She
held him back with both hands, and went on hurriedly--"It was mamma's
look--she looked at me so strangely, she spoke severely, as if I had
done wrong, and indeed I have, mon Dieu! but she does not know it, and I
hope she never may. If she knew, I believe she would kill me. Let me go,
I must!"

"One moment, darling! Come away with me! I will fetch a horse and carry
you off. Then it won't matter what any one knows!"

"You are distracted!" Hélène began to laugh, though her eyes were full
of tears. "Listen, listen," she said. "Your father and mother and uncle
were just going, when mamma called them back. She said to papa and them
that she wished to consult the family. Oh, what is it all about? What
can it be?"

"That matters very little as long as they don't want us. Let them talk.
What are you afraid of, my sweet?"

"I can't tell you. I hardly know," murmured Hélène; and in the next
instant she had snatched herself from him and flown upstairs.

There were quick steps in the hall below, and Monsieur Joseph's voice
was calling "Angelot!"



CHAPTER X

HOW ANGELOT REFUSED WHAT HAD NOT BEEN OFFERED


Madame de Sainfoy herself hardly knew why she wished to consult the
family, there and then, on the fate proposed for Hélène. The truth was,
she relied on Urbain, and wanted his support against her husband, with
whom the subject was a difficult one. As to Anne de la Marinière, no
particular sympathy was to be expected from her, certainly; but one
could not detain Urbain at that hour without detaining her too. It was
the same with Joseph, in a less degree. Neither to him nor to Madame
Urbain did it matter in the least what marriage was arranged for Hélène
de Sainfoy; they had even no right to an opinion; they were neither aunt
nor uncle, they had no special place in the world, and the girl had
nothing to expect from them. But Madame de Sainfoy knew that her husband
took a different view of all this, that he made a certain fuss with
these old cousins, considered them as his family, and would not endure
that they should be in any way shut out or slighted.

"He likes to be surrounded by these country admirers," Madame de
Sainfoy would have said. "If I do not talk to them about this, he will;
and it will please him that I should consult them. Urbain is different,
of course. Urbain is a sensible man; he will be on my side."

So she put Madame Urbain, rather grave, indifferent, and tired, into a
chair on her right, smiled brilliantly upon her, and turned her
attention upon the two men standing before the fireplace, Hervé and
Urbain, one troubled and curious, for he knew her well, and her drift
puzzled him, the other gay, serene, and waiting her commands with ready
deference. Monsieur Joseph, not much interested, thinking of his talks
with the Prefect and Monsieur des Barres, impatient to hurry home and
say good night to Riette, sat a little in the background.

With all her eagerness, with all her ambition and policy, Adélaïde de
Sainfoy flushed and hesitated a little before she set forth her plan.

"My friends," she said, "this is a family council. Hervé and I are
fortunate, here at Lancilly. We need no longer decide family affairs by
our unassisted wits."

She smiled on Hervé's cousins, and Urbain bowed; he, at least,
recognised the honour that was done them.

"A proposal of marriage has been made to me for our daughter Hélène."

She spoke to the company, but looked at her husband; there was fear as
well as defiance in her eyes. He returned her gaze steadily, slightly
frowning. Urbain bowed again, and looked at the floor with an
inscrutable countenance. Anne shrugged her shoulders slightly, as if to
say, "How does that concern me?" Joseph jumped suddenly from his chair,
the colour rushing into his thin brown face, and stood like a point of
exclamation. Nobody spoke, not even Hélène's father.

"Let me announce to you," said Madame de Sainfoy, still looking at him,
"that the personage who has done us this honour is--Monsieur le Général
Ratoneau."

The moment of dead silence that followed this was broken by a short
laugh from the Comte.

"Was it worth while to consult a family council?" he said. "I should
have thought, my dear Adélaïde, that a word from you might have settled
that matter on the spot."

Monsieur Joseph said aside: "Honour! It is an insult!"

Anne opened her eyes wide with horror, and even Urbain was startled, but
he prudently said nothing.

"It might--it certainly might--" said Madame de Sainfoy, "if I could
have been sure that you would take my view, Hervé."

"I imagine that we could hardly differ on such a point!" he said,
shrugging his shoulders.

"What is your opinion, then? Think well before you speak."

"On my honour, no thought is necessary. To speak very mildly, a man of
that birth, manners, appearance, is not worth considering at all as a
husband for Hélène. Come, it is ridiculous! You cannot have encouraged
such an idea, Adélaïde! Was that the subject of all your long
conversation? Waste of time, truly!"

"Pardon, it is not ridiculous," said Madame de Sainfoy. "Your prejudices
will end by sending Hélène into a convent; this, I believe, is the
fourth good proposal that you have laughed at. Yes, a good
proposal--listen, Urbain, I know you will agree with me, for every
sensible man must. You talk of General Ratoneau's birth! All honour to
him, that his talents and courage have raised him above it. As to his
manners, they are those of a soldier; frank and rough, of course, but he
seems to me both intelligent and sincere. Manners! It is a little late
in the day to talk of them, when most of the Marshals of France and the
new nobility have none better. Do you fancy yourself back in the
eighteenth century, my poor Hervé?"

"Very well--but you would not like Georges to bring such manners home
from Spain!"

"If Georges distinguishes himself, and gains the Emperor's favour, he
may bring home what he likes," said Madame de Sainfoy, scornfully.
"However, there is no danger; he is our son."

"I should have thought that our son-in-law mattered at least as much."

"We are not responsible for him. By the bye, as to the General's
appearance, you can hardly object to that without bordering on treason.
For my part, I call him a handsome man."

"A handsome butcher!" said Anne de la Marinière, under her breath.

"He is--he is a butcher's son," cried Joseph, suddenly. "I know it--the
Prefect told me. His father is still alive--old Ratoneau--a wholesale
butcher at Marseilles. He was one of the foremost among the
Revolutionists there--a butcher, indeed. Oh, madame, Hervé is right! But
it is more than ridiculous--it is impossible. Why, the very name is
enough! Ratoneau!"

Madame de Sainfoy hardly seemed to hear him. She put him on one side
with the slightest movement of her hand.

"Next year, probably," she said, "General Ratoneau will be a Marshal of
France and ennobled. He will be the equal of all those other men who
have already married into our best families. At this moment a friend of
his, the Baron de Beauclair, formerly his equal, is an equerry to the
Empress. General Ratoneau has only to do the Emperor's work here, to--to
pacify and reconcile the West, and his turn will come."

She gave herself credit for not repeating Ratoneau's own words as to
sweeping out the Chouans. Joseph de la Marinière did not deserve such
consideration, but she wished to be careful and politic.

"After all, do you not see how inconsistent we are?" she said to the
company generally. "We take all the benefits of the Empire, we submit to
a successful soldier, accept a new régime for ourselves, and refuse it
for our children. Is it not unreasonable?"

"On the face of it, yes," said Urbain, speaking for the first time. "And
there is nothing, they say, that pleases the Emperor so much as the
marriage of his officers with young ladies of good family. I have no
doubt at all, if my friend Hervé could reconcile himself, that
Mademoiselle Hélène would further the fortunes of her family by such a
marriage as this. General Ratoneau is a fine soldier, I believe. I agree
with you, madame, he is handsome. He rubs our instincts a little the
wrong way, but after all, this is not the time to be sensitive. As to
Mademoiselle Hélène herself, I am sure she is most dutiful. I could
imagine marriages more obnoxious to her. She would soon reconcile
herself to a husband chosen for her by all the authorities."

"Poor Hélène!" sighed Madame de la Marinière.

"Come, Urbain, you friend of liberty!" exclaimed Joseph. "You advise
internal tyranny, it seems; what would you say to the external? If I
were in my cousin's place, I would wait for that before making such a
sacrifice."

"What do you mean, Joseph?" said his brother.

"I mean that our dear Prefect has the fates of all our young daughters
in his hands. He has only to report them to the Emperor, and a marriage
to please His Majesty will be at once arranged. Is not that enough
obedience? Cannot we wait for that necessity, instead of running
beforehand to give a beautiful girl to the first brutal soldier who asks
for her?"

And after that the argument waxed loud and strong. Monsieur Joseph was
called upon for his authority, for particulars as to this new power
given to the Prefects, which was hardly yet known, their own good
Prefect being heartily ashamed of it. Hervé de Sainfoy declared that it
was stupid and intolerable, but also impracticable, and in this he and
his Royalist cousin agreed. No one would bear it, they were sure; but
they were also convinced that De Mauves would never make use of it.
Urbain shrugged his shoulders, and was of a different opinion. He
thought the idea quite of a piece with many of Napoleon's other
administrative plans; it seemed to him far-reaching and clever, the
foundation of a new Imperialist nobility. Madame de Sainfoy, her cheeks
flushed, her blue eyes shining, applauded Urbain as he spoke. It seemed
to her, as to him, common sense put into practice. If the foolish old
families of France would not swallow and assimilate the new order of
things, it must be forced down their throats. The Emperor, and no one
else, had the power to do this. His resolute will had the task of making
a new society, and it was useless to complain of his means. But,
evidently, the way to the Emperor's favour was not to wait for coercion,
but to accept this fine opportunity of ranging one's family definitely
on his side. Georges an officer, Hélène married to an officer, herself a
lady-in-waiting to Marie Louise; thus everything would be arranged for
floating down the great river of the Empire into the ocean of a new
world. And immediate action seemed all the more advisable, if the
Prefect's false delicacy was likely to leave the Sainfoy family stranded
on a reef of old-fashioned manners.

At last, when every one had ceased to talk at once and the clamour was a
little stilled, Hervé de Sainfoy stepped forward and made his wife a low
bow.

"Madame," he said, "I have heard all your arguments, and my
old-fashioned prejudices remain the same. I have made some sacrifices to
keep our country and position, and may have to make more; but when you
ask me to give my eldest daughter to a man who is not even a poor
imitation of a gentleman, you ask too much. I will choose a husband for
Hélène myself, or she shall take the veil. That life, at least, has its
distinction. Aunts, great-aunts, cousins, have chosen it before her. One
of our best and most beautiful ancestors was a Carmelite nun."

Madame de la Marinière clapped her hands gently. Hervé smiled at her,
and Madame de Sainfoy frowned.

"A convent! No, no!" cried Urbain, while Joseph muttered breathlessly,
"But there is a better alternative, dear cousins!"

He flew out of the room. The rest of the council looked at each other,
puzzled and smiling, except Madame de Sainfoy, whose irritation
deepened. Who was this tiresome, old-fashioned little man, that he
should interfere in her plans! and what _lubies_ might possess him now!

The curtains at the door, flung back by Joseph, had hardly settled once
more into their places when he came back again, clutching Angelot by the
arm.

Coming from the darkness, from the presence of Hélène, Angelot was
dazzled and slightly out of breath when his uncle dragged him into the
salon. He had not had time to ask a question; he came utterly unprepared
into the presence of the family, and the faces that received him were
not encouraging. Three at least were flushed with anger or confusion;
his father's, his mother's, Madame de Sainfoy's. It was at her that he
looked most intently; and he had never seen anything more unfriendly
than the gleam of her eyes, the flash of her white teeth between lips
suddenly drawn back like those of a fierce animal, while her flush
faded, as Monsieur Joseph spoke, to a whiteness even more threatening.
He understood Hélène's words, "If she knew, she would kill me." No,
this woman would not have much mercy on anything that crossed her
will--and Hélène was in her power.

Monsieur Joseph's slight hands, like Angelot's, were strong. The young
fellow tried instinctively to wrench himself from his uncle's grasp on
his arm, but it only tightened.

"Here, dear friends, I bring you the alternative!" cried Monsieur
Joseph, in his joyfullest tone. "Why not marry Mademoiselle Hélène to
the best and handsomest boy in Anjou--in France, for that matter--a boy
we have all known from his cradle--who will have a good fortune, a
prudent father's only child--who would, no doubt, though I grieve to say
it, serve under any flag you please for such a prize. Yes, I am safe in
saying so, for--"

The romantic little gentleman was stopped in his wild career. Angelot,
his eyes blazing, with a white face and teeth set as furiously as Madame
de Sainfoy's own, turned round upon him, seized him with his free hand
by the other arm, and shook him with all his young strength, hissing
out: "Will you be quiet, Uncle Joseph! Will you hold your tongue, if you
please, and leave me to manage my own affairs."

"Come, come, what does all this mean?" cried Urbain, stepping forward.

"It means that my uncle is mad--mad--you know you are!" Angelot said in
a choked voice.

Still holding Monsieur Joseph with a dog's firm grip, he stared into his
eyes and shook his head violently.

"What, ungrateful--" the little uncle tried to say, but Angelot's face,
his totally unexpected rage, seemed to suggest such unknown mysteries
that the words died in his throat.

Suddenly released, he dropped into a chair and swore prodigiously under
his breath, quite forgetting the presence of ladies in the unnatural,
awful change that had come over his nephew. He stared at Angelot, who
was indeed the centre of all eyes; his mother sitting upright in
consternation; his father with angry brow and queerly smiling mouth;
Hervé de Sainfoy very grave, with elevated eyebrows; the Comtesse
leaning back in her chair, hard, fierce, watchful, yet a shade less
angry than before. If this was only a fancy of that ridiculous Joseph,
it might not signify--yet who knew? She was ready to suspect any one,
every one, even the young man's father. The name of La Marinière was
odious to her.

Angelot drew himself very upright, folded his arms, and turned to face
the family council.

"See what it is to have an uncle!" he said, and his voice, though clear
enough, was not quite so proud and convincing as his attitude. "He
treats me like a child crying for the moon. If he could, he would fetch
the moon out of the sky for me. But his kind pains are quite thrown
away, mesdames et messieurs, for--I do not want the moon, any more than
the moon wants me!"

He almost laughed; and only the quick change of colour in his young face
showed that any feeling lay behind the words which sounded--in Monsieur
Joseph's ears at least--heartlessly playful.

Angelot stepped up to Madame de Sainfoy and respectfully kissed her
hand. "Bonsoir, madame!"

"Bonsoir, Angelot."

She spoke coldly; she was still uneasy, still suspicious; she gave him a
keen look, and his eyelids were not lifted to meet it. In another moment
he was gone.

Then the others gathered round poor Monsieur Joseph, and tried to make
him explain his wild behaviour. At first he stared at them vaguely, then
in a few quick words took all the blame upon himself. Yes, it was an
idea that had suddenly seized him. His love for Angelot, the beauty and
sweetness of Hélène, a dream of happiness for them both! A pastoral
poem, in short! but it seemed that the young man was not worthy of his
place as its hero.

"It seems, after all, I am more poetical than you," he said rather
bitterly to Urbain.

"My dear," his brother said, "poetry at its best is the highest good
sense. Now your idea, as the boy himself let us know, is moonstruck
madness."

"Ah, moonstruck madness! Ah, the boy! Yes, yes," said Monsieur Joseph,
dreamily, and he also took his leave.

Monsieur Urbain and his wife followed immediately. Angelot had not
waited for them and the little hooded carriage, but had walked on across
the valley in the cool damp darkness. They talked very seriously as they
drove home, for once in entire agreement. When they reached the manor,
their son had shut himself into his own room, and they did not disturb
him.

"I hope you will soon keep your word, and find a suitable husband for
Hélène," Madame de Sainfoy said to her husband. "I am a little tired of
the business."

"I don't think there will be much difficulty. We must look further
afield. Plenty of men of our own rank have accepted the Empire, and
Hélène is a match for a Prince, though our little cousin refuses her! I
rather like that boy."

"Do you? I do not. Certainly he was candid--and he put an effectual stop
to his uncle's absurdities. He is really out of his mind, that man. I
wish the Chouans joy of him."

"Poor Joseph! After all, he is an excellent creature. In these days, it
is amusing to meet any one so wild and so romantic."

"I find it tiresome," said Adélaïde.



CHAPTER XI

HOW MONSIEUR URBAIN SMOKED A CIGAR


These days before the vintage were very peaceful at La Marinière.
Monsieur and Madame Urbain were practical people, and idleness, as a
rule, had a bad time of it with them; but September was a holiday month,
and there was little work going on, except the hammering of barrels in
the yard, and other preparations for busy October. September was usually
the month when Angelot could shoot and ramble to his heart's content,
when Urbain had leisure to sit down with a book at other times than
evening, when Anne, her poor people visited, nursed, comforted, her
household in quiet old-fashioned order, could spend long hours alone
praying and meditating in the little old church.

Lancilly had brought disturbance into September. It occupied Urbain's
thoughts and time, it seemed now to be throwing its net over Angelot.
Anne longed still more for peace and refuge under the low white arches
of the church, in her visits to _le bon Dieu;_ and even here her
thoughts distracted her.

She came back from early mass, the morning after the dinner party, to
find Angelot already gone out with his gun, and her husband just
starting for Lancilly.

"He is not gone that way, I hope?" she said quickly.

"No, no, he is gone across the fields towards Les Chouettes. I told him
to bring back some partridge and quail, and a hare or two, if possible.
I think he is gone to make his peace with Joseph."

"I should like to know the meaning of all that. I must talk to him when
he comes in."

"My dear Anne, do nothing of the sort. Let the boy alone. If he has a
fancy for his cousin, and if Joseph guessed it, which I suspect, it is
better for us to ignore it altogether."

"I am afraid he has, do you know. I did not think so till last
night--but then I saw something. So did Monsieur de Mauves. He said as
much. He advised sending Ange into the army--but you will never do that,
Urbain!"

A gold mist filled the valley, hiding Lancilly, and through it rose the
glittering points of the poplars. She walked with him to the garden
gate, past the trim box hedges, and then down the lane towards the
church. Apple-trees, heavy with red fruit, bent over the way, as safe on
that village road as in any fenced orchard.

"I do not want to send him into the army," Urbain said, and he looked at
her tenderly.

He had long doubted whether, to please her, he was not spoiling and
wasting the boy's life. He was sometimes angry with himself for his
weakness; then again philosophy came to his aid: he laughed and shrugged
his shoulders. It had always been so: on one side the bringing up of his
son according to his own mind; and on the other, domestic peace. For his
little Anne, with all her religion, perhaps because of it, was anything
but meek as a wife and mother. It was fortunate for all parties, he now
thought, that the present slight anxiety found her and himself on the
same side, though for different reasons.

"Hélène is an astonishingly pretty girl," he said, "and the sooner she
is married the better. Young men will be foolish."

"More than pretty--beautiful, I think. A little lifeless--I don't know
that I should fall in love with her. Yes--but a good marriage, poor
girl. Not to that monster! Adélaïde amazes me."

Urbain's ugly face curled up in a rather sardonic smile. He took his
wife's hand and kissed it.

"My little lady, Adélaïde is to be admired. You are to be adored. Go and
say your prayers for us all."

He disappeared into the morning mist, which just then moved and swept
away under a light wind, opening to view all the opposite slope and the
gorgeous, sun-bathed front of Lancilly.

"Ah, mon Dieu!" murmured Anne. "To lose both of them to Lancilly--come,
it is too much. You shall not have Ange, you horrible old walls--no!"

By this time Urbain had disappeared round the corner of the church, and
was hurrying down the hill. She slipped in at her own little door, to
her place near the altar, so lately left. All was silent now, the Curé
was gone; she knelt there alone and prayed for them all, as Urbain had
said. His words were mockery, she knew; but that only made her prayers
more earnest.

The misty autumn morning grew into a cloudless day. Urbain came home to
breakfast between ten and eleven, but Angelot did not appear. Urbain was
grave and full of business. A short talk with Hervé, who was going out
shooting, a much longer and more interesting talk with Adélaïde, had the
consequence of sending him off that very day to the town of
Sonnay-le-Loir, the Prefect's residence and General Ratoneau's
headquarters.

It was not exactly a pleasant errand, to convey Monsieur and Madame de
Sainfoy's refusal of his offer to a man like the General. It could have
been done quite as easily by the post, thus sparing trouble and
annoyance to the faithful cousin who had borne so much. But there were
complications; and a careful talking over of these with Adélaïde, after
Hervé was gone, had led Urbain to suggest going himself. He had a double
reason for wishing to soften the effect of his cousin's rather short and
haughty letter. It must go, of course, whatever his own and Madame de
Sainfoy's disapproval; but there were things that diplomacy might do,
without, as it seemed, any serious consequences to recoil on the
diplomatists. Madame de Sainfoy might gain imperial favour, Monsieur de
la Marinière might help her and save his foolish boy, and no one in the
family, except themselves, need know what they were doing.

It was not an uncommon thing for Urbain to drive over to Sonnay, though
he generally started much earlier. On this occasion he said nothing of
his real errand to his wife, only telling her when she mentioned
Hélène's marriage that Hervé continued in the same mind. Many things
wanted for the house and the farm had come conveniently to his memory.
He started with his groom at twelve o'clock, in the high, hooded
carriage, with a pair of strong horses, which made short work of the
rocky lanes about La Marinière. The high road towards Sonnay was smooth
compared with these, running between belts of dark forest, and along it
Monsieur Urbain drove at a good rattling pace of twelve miles an hour.

Sonnay-le-Loir was a beautiful and picturesque town, once strongly
defended, both by walls and a deep river which flowed round below them.
There was a good deal left of the old ramparts; the gates still stood,
the narrow streets of tall old white houses, each with its court and
carriage entrance and shady garden behind, went climbing up the hill to
the large square where the Cathedral towered on one side, the town-hall
and public offices filled up another, the Prefecture a third, and an old
hotel, now used as military quarters, the fourth.

Though it was not market-day, the white cobbled square was cheerful
enough; a few stalls of fruit and vegetables, sheltered by coloured
umbrellas from the strong sunshine, were lodged about the broad steps of
the Cathedral; peasants and townspeople were clattering about in their
sabots, soldiers were being drilled in front of the hotel. The bells
were chiming and clanging; high up into the blue air soared the tall
pinnacles of the Cathedral, delicate stone lacework still fresh and
young at five hundred years old, spared by the storm which twenty years
ago had wrecked so much down below that was beautiful. A crowd of
blue-grey pigeons flapped and cooed about the towers or strutted softly
on the stones in the square.

Monsieur Urbain put up his horses at an old posting hotel in the street
near the gateway, and walked up into the square. Finding that General
Ratoneau was at home, he left Monsieur de Sainfoy's letter with his own
card, and a message that he would have the honour of calling to see the
General, later in the afternoon. He then went away to do his
commissions. At the appointed time he returned to the hotel, and was at
once shown upstairs to a large room at the back, looking on a broad,
paved court surrounded by barracks.

Neither the room nor its inmate was attractive, and Urbain's humorous
face screwed itself into a grimace of disgust as he walked in; but he
did not, for that, renounce the errand with which Madame de Sainfoy had
entrusted him. The floor was dusty and strewn with papers, the walls
were stained, the furniture, handsome in itself, had been much ill-used,
and two or three chairs now lay flung where it was tolerably evident
that the General had kicked them. The western sun poured hotly in; the
atmosphere was of wine, tobacco, and boots; dirty packs of cards were
scattered on the table among bottles and glasses, pipes and cigars.
General Ratoneau lay stretched on a large sofa in undress uniform, with
a red face and a cigar in his mouth. Hervé de Sainfoy's letter, torn
across, lay on the floor beside him.

He got up and received his visitor with formal civility, though his
looks said plainly, "What the devil do you want here?"

Urbain was cool and self-possessed. He acted the _rôle_ of an ordinary
visitor, talking of the country and the news from Spain. The General,
though extremely grumpy, was still capable of ordinary conversation, and
his remarks, especially on the Spanish campaign, were those of an
intelligent soldier who knew his subject.

"If the Emperor would send me to Spain," he growled, "I would teach
those miserable Spaniards a lesson. As to the English, it is the desire
of my life to fight them. They are bull-dogs, they say--sapristi, I am
something of a bull-dog myself--when I lay hold, I don't often let go.
You don't know me yet, monsieur, but you will find that that is my way.
I am not easily thwarted, monsieur."

"A fine quality, Monsieur le Général!" said Urbain, calmly. "It is true,
I hardly know you. I had heard of you from my brother, Joseph de la
Marinière--"

"Your Chouan brother, ha, ha!"

"My Royalist brother, suppose we say. Every one has a right to his own
private opinions, Monsieur le Général."

"A dangerous doctrine, that!"

"As long as he keeps them to himself, and does not disturb the public
peace. I have acted successfully on that principle for the last thirty
years, and it has carried me comfortably through various changes."

"What are you, monsieur?"

"A philosopher. I take life as it comes. That way happiness lies."

The General laughed. "I think differently. My idea is to make life come
as I want it."

"That is a fine idea, too," Urbain said serenely. "Only it does not
always seem to be within the limits of the possible."

"Ah, there I agree with the Emperor. He will not have the word
'impossible' in the dictionary."

"The Emperor is a great man," said Urbain, with his inscrutable smile.

It was certainly on Ratoneau's tongue to answer, "So am I!" but he only
laughed again and muttered something about strength of will.

The dark, watchful eyes followed his visitor's to the floor, where
Monsieur de Sainfoy's letter lay; that letter which seemed to belie his
bull-dog boasting. Something he wanted in life had been refused him
point-blank; in ceremonious terms, but with uncompromising plainness.
The Comte de Sainfoy did not even trouble himself to find reasons for
declining the offer of marriage that General Ratoneau had done
Mademoiselle de Sainfoy the honour to make.

"We met last night at Lancilly, monsieur," said Ratoneau, "but I did not
expect the politeness of a visit from you--at any rate so soon. But I
understand that you are your cousin's messenger. You brought me that
letter--neither did I expect that so soon."

He pointed to the fragments on the floor. His manner was insolent, and
La Marinière felt it so; even to his seasoned cheek a little warmth
found its way. Something of him was on Hervé's side, while he was
prepared and resolved to serve Adélaïde in this matter.

"My own affairs brought me to Sonnay," he said. "My cousin wished you to
receive his letter as soon as might be. I therefore took charge of it."

"Do you know what it is about?"

To this abrupt question Urbain answered by a bow.

The General frowned angrily. "Then what brought you here, monsieur? Do
you want to report my disappointment to your aristocratic fool of a
cousin? Merci!" and he swore a few hearty oaths. "There are plenty more
pretty girls in France, and plenty of their fathers who would gladly be
linked with the Empire. Take that message back to your cousin, if you
please."

"But no, Monsieur le Général," said Urbain, smiling and shaking his
head. "If I were to repeat all you have just said, my cousin might send
me back to you with a challenge. And I am a man of peace, a philosopher,
as I tell you. No, I did not come to report your disappointment. And
indeed, to tell you the truth, my cousin did not know that I was going
to visit you at all. And I do not think he will ever be wiser."

Ratoneau stared at him. "May I be extinguished if I understand you!"

"However," said Urbain, rising from his chair, "I am glad, personally,
that you take the matter so well. As you say, the young ladies of
France, and their _fathers_, will not all be so shortsighted."

"Thousand thunders! Sit down again, monsieur. Take one of these
cigars--I had them from Spain--and try this Château Latour. Rather a
different sort of thing from the stuff that son of yours expected me to
enjoy at Les Chouettes, the other day. That's right. I like you,
monsieur. You are a man without prejudices; one can talk frankly with
you. Your health, monsieur!" and glasses were clinked together, for
Urbain did not refuse the soldier's hospitality.

"Now tell me all about it!" cried the General, in a much better humour.
"I understand your emphasis just now, sapristi! That was what puzzled
me, that Madame la Comtesse should seem to have played me false. Last
night, I assure you, she encouraged me to the utmost. At first, it's
true, she muttered something about her daughter being too young, but I
very soon convinced her what a foolish argument that was. I tell you,
monsieur, when I left her, I considered the promise as good as made. She
said her husband had a way of indulging his daughter's fancies--but
after all, I took her to be a woman who could turn husband and daughter
and everybody else round her little finger, if she chose. So this rag of
a letter came upon me like a thunderbolt. Is that it? Has the young girl
taken a dislike to me? Why, mille tonnerres, she has not even spoken to
me, nor I to her!"

"No, Monsieur le Général," said Urbain, "Mademoiselle de Sainfoy has not
been asked for her opinion. The decision comes from her father, and
from him alone. Madame de Sainfoy was loyal to you; she urged your
cause, but unsuccessfully. My cousin, I must say, much as I love him,
showed a certain narrowness and obstinacy. He would hear nothing in
favour of the marriage."

"Were you present when they discussed it?"

"I was. I am always on the advanced, the liberal side. I spoke in your
favour."

"I am obliged to you. Your glass, monsieur. How do you find that cigar?"

"Excellent."

"Now, monsieur, give me your advice, for I see you are a clever man.
First, is any other marriage on the tapis for Mademoiselle de Sainfoy?"

"Decidedly no, monsieur. None."

"Shall I then insist on seeing her, and pleading my cause for myself?"

"I should not advise that course," said Urbain, and there was something
in his discreet smile which made the General's red face redder with a
touch of mortification.

"Well, I should not eat her," he said. "Her mother found me agreeable
enough, and a shy young girl rather likes a man who takes her by storm."

"Nevertheless, I think that plan would not answer. For one thing, my
cousin would object: he considers his refusal final. In fact--after much
thought--for I agree with Madame de Sainfoy as to the probable
advantages of a connection with a distinguished man like yourself--in
fact, there is only one faint possibility that occurs to me."

"What is that, monsieur?"

Urbain hesitated. He sat looking out of the window, frowning slightly,
the tips of his fingers pressed together.

"I wonder," he said--something, perhaps conscience, made the words long
in coming--"I wonder if some day, in the course of the reports that he
is bound, I believe, to make to the Emperor, it might occur to Monsieur
le Préfet to mention--"

General Ratoneau stared blankly. "Monsieur le Préfet?"

"Well, am I wrong? I heard something of an imperial order--a list of
young ladies--marriages arranged by His Majesty, without much consulting
of family prejudices--"

General Ratoneau brought down his heavy fist on the table, so that the
glasses jumped and clattered. His language was startling.

"Monsieur de la Marinière, you are the cleverest man in Anjou!" he
shouted. "And Madame la Comtesse would not be angry?"

"I think not. But a command from the Emperor--a command coming
independently from the highest quarter--would naturally carry all before
it," said Urbain.



CHAPTER XII

HOW THE PREFECT'S DOG SNAPPED AT THE GENERAL


The shadows were lengthening when Urbain de la Marinière at last left
the General's hotel, and walked thoughtfully across the square, past the
Prefecture, down the street to find his carriage.

He had resisted the temptation of dining with the officers and playing
cards afterwards, though he by no means disliked either a game of chance
or a good dinner. It seemed to him that he had done as much in Madame de
Sainfoy's interests as she could reasonably expect. Though there might
be worse men, General Ratoneau could not be called a pleasant companion.
His loud voice and swaggering manners could not be agreeable to a person
of Monsieur Urbain's measured mind and self-controlled ways. He was a
type, and in that way interesting. The strange likeness to his master
lent him a touch of character, almost of distinction, neither of which
really belonged to him; yet, somehow, by a certain appeal to the
imagination, it made him a just possible husband for a girl of good
family. Not a gentleman, or anything like one; yet not quite the
ordinary _bourgeois_. Considering the times, it appeared to Urbain that
his cousin de Sainfoy need not be actually ashamed of such a son-in-law.
Anyhow, he had done his best to further the matter, with an earnest
recommendation to the General to keep his name out of the affair.

"Why not?" said Ratoneau. "You only reminded me of what I knew before.
In fact, it was through me you heard of it. I startled your brother with
it; our dear Prefect would never have said a word on the subject--ha,
ha! So I owe you no gratitude, monsieur. You have done nothing."

"Ah, but just a little gratitude, if you please," said Urbain, smiling.
"Enough to shut your ears to any reports that may reach you about my
brother Joseph."

Ratoneau looked at him sharply, and frowned.

"I can make no bargains as to my duty, monsieur. Let your brother be
loyal."

"I do my utmost to make him so," said Urbain, still smiling, and they
parted.

"He is right--the man is right--and by heaven, I respect him!" Urbain
said to himself as he crossed the square.

Passing near the great gate of the Prefecture, he noticed a police
officer loitering on the pavement, whose dark, keen, discontented face
seemed not unknown to him.

As Urbain came nearer, this man raised his hand to his cap, and spoke
with an impudent grin.

"Monsieur de la Marinière has been making peace with Monsieur le Général
Ratoneau? It was a difficult matter, I bet! Monsieur has been
successful?"

Urbain looked at the man steadily. He was not easily made angry.

"Who are you, my friend? and what do you mean?" he said.

"I am Simon, the police agent, monsieur. The affair rather interested
me. I was there."

"What affair?"

"Your son's affair with the General. That droll adventure of the cattle
in the lane--your cattle, monsieur, and it was your son's fault that the
General was thrown. Monsieur heard of it, surely?"

"You are mistaken," Monsieur Urbain replied quietly. "It was an
accident; it was not my son's fault. Nobody has ever thought of it or
mentioned it since. It was nothing."

"General Ratoneau did not think it nothing. All we who were there, we
saw the droll side of it, but he did not. He swore he would have his
revenge on Monsieur Angelot, as they call him. He has not forgotten it,
monsieur. Only last night, his servant told me, when he came back from
dining at Lancilly, he was swearing about it again."

"Let him swear!" said Urbain, under his breath.

Then his eyes dwelt a moment on Simon, who looked the very incarnation
of malice and mischief, and he smiled benignly.

"Merci, Monsieur Simon," he said. "We are fortunate in having you to
watch over us. But do not let this anxiety trouble you. I have just been
spending some time with General Ratoneau, as you appear to know. We are
the best of friends, and if my son irritated him the other day, I think
he has forgotten it."

"So much the better," grinned Simon, "for Monsieur le Général would not
be a pleasant enemy." Then, as Urbain was walking on, he detained him.
"Everybody must respect Monsieur Urbain de la Marinière," he said. "He
has a difficult position. If certain eyes were not wilfully shut,
serious things might happen in his family. And we sometimes ask
ourselves, we of the police, whether closed eyes at headquarters ought
to mean a silent tongue all round. How does it strike you, monsieur?"

Urbain hesitated a moment. He had done a certain amount of bribery in
his day, for the sake of those he loved, but his native good sense and
obstinacy alike arose against being blackmailed by a police spy, a
subordinate official at best. The fellow could not do Joseph much harm,
he thought, the Prefect being friendly, and the General likely to be a
connection. And Joseph must in the future be loyal, as the General said.
No; he might as well keep his napoleons in his pocket.

"I really have no time to discuss the subject," he said. "The police,
like every one else, must do their duty according to their lights.
Good-day, Monsieur Simon."

He touched his hat and walked on. Simon looked after him, muttering
viciously.

After some minutes, a clash of arms from the opposite hotel archway drew
his attention. The sentries were saluting the General as he came out,
now in full uniform, and followed by two orderlies, while a third went
before to announce him at the Prefecture.

Ratoneau looked every inch a soldier, broad, sturdy, and swaggering, as
he clanked across the square. Simon noticed with surprise that his face
was bright with most unusual good-humour.

"Why, what can that grinning monkey have been saying to him?" Simon
asked himself. "Licking the dust off his boots somehow, for that is what
he likes, the parvenu! They are like cats, those La Marinières! they
always know how to please everybody, and to get their own way. It seems
to me they want a lesson."

He moved a little nearer to the great gates, and watched the General as
he walked in. The bell clanged, the sentries saluted, the gates were set
open ceremoniously. With all his frank, soldierly ways, Ratoneau was
extremely jealous of his position and the respect due to it. The
Prefect, on the contrary, aimed at simplicity and liked solitude. His
wife had died some years before, not surviving the death of her parents,
guillotined in the Terror. If she had lived, her influence being very
great, Monsieur de Mauves might never have held his present appointment;
for her royalism was quite as pronounced as that of Anne de la Marinière
and might have overpowered her husband's admiration for Napoleon. And
this would have been a pity, for no part of France, at this time, had a
wiser or more acceptable governor.

On that calm and sunny autumn afternoon, the Prefect was sitting in a
classically pillared summerhouse near the open windows of his library.
Late roses climbed and clustered above his amiable head; lines of orange
trees in square green boxes were set along the broad gravel terrace
outside, and there was a pleasant view down a walk to a playing fountain
with trees about it, beyond which some of the high grey roofs of Sonnay
shone in the sunlight.

The Prefect never smoked; his snuff-box and a book were enough for him.
Monsieur de Chateaubriand's _Itinéraire de Paris a Jérusalem_, just
published in three volumes, lay on a marble table beside him, and he was
enjoying an hour of unusual peace and quietness, his only companions two
little greyhounds sleeping at his feet.

[Illustration: "AN ORDER FROM THE EMPEROR!" HE REPEATED.]

It was with a touch of mental annoyance, therefore, that he received the
announcement of General Ratoneau's visit. But he was far too well
bred to show a sign of such feeling. He left that to the little dogs,
who barked their disapproval. He closed his book, went to meet the
General in the library, and invited him out to his favourite seat in the
summer-house. They were an odd contrast as they sat there together; the
quiet, graceful gentleman in ordinary morning dress of an easy
description, the soldier, impatient and rough in manner, flashing at
every point with gold lace and polished leather.

"Monsieur le Préfet, I have a favour to ask," Ratoneau began.

He did not often speak so civilly, and the Prefect felt relieved, for he
had had more than one bad quarter of an hour with this colleague of his.

"How can I oblige you, Monsieur le Général?" he asked, smiling.

"By doing your duty," said Ratoneau, with a grin.

The Prefect shrugged his shoulders slightly, raised his eyebrows and
looked at him.

"I ought not," he said, "to need the additional inducement of doing you
a favour. I was not aware of having neglected any duty. To what, pray,
do you refer?"

"I refer to an order from the Emperor which you have not obeyed."

"Indeed?"

The Prefect's smile had now quite faded. "An order from the Emperor!" he
repeated.

"Yes. His Majesty ordered you to report to him the names and
particulars of all young girls of good family in the department."

"And what of that, monsieur?"

"I am quite sure you have not done so."

Something in the General's tone was so displeasing to one of the
Prefect's little dogs, that it suddenly sprang up and snapped at him.
Its master just saved it from a kick by catching it up on his knee.

"A bas, Toutou!" he said, softly stroking it, and took a pinch of snuff,
regarding the General with a curiously patient expression.

"I know you have done nothing of the sort!" Ratoneau repeated.

"And how, may I ask, does the matter interest you?"

The Prefect spoke slowly and gently; yet something in his manner
irritated the General. He made an impatient movement and rattled his
sword.

"It does interest me," he said. "How can you disobey an order from the
Emperor?"

"As to that, my dear colleague, I am responsible. You know the view I
take of that order. I am not alone. Several of my brother Prefects agree
with me. It is impolitic, and worse, offensive. The Emperor is
reasonable, and does not expect a blind obedience which would really do
harm to the Empire."

"Do not make too sure of that, Monsieur le Préfet."

"If the old provincial families are to be brought round _en masse_ to
the Empire, it must be done by diplomacy, not by a tyrannical domestic
legislation."

"At that rate, Monsieur le Préfet, the work will take a hundred years.
They laugh at your diplomacy, these infernal old families. Propose a
soldier as a husband for one of their daughters, and you will see."

"I have not done so," the Prefect said very drily, and the glance that
shot from under his quiet eyelids might have made a thin-skinned person
uncomfortable.

"And nothing would make you do so, I suppose," sneered the General.
"Come, monsieur, you should forget your aristocracy now and then, and
remember that you are a servant of the Emperor. People will begin to say
that His Majesty might be better served."

Monsieur de Mauves shrugged his shoulders, and reflected that if the
Emperor had wished to punish him for some crime, he could not have done
it better than by giving him this person for a colleague. Fortunately he
had a splendid temper; Urbain de la Marinière himself was not endowed
with a larger share of sweet reasonableness. Most men would not have
endured the General's insolence for five minutes. The Prefect's love of
peace and sense of public duty, united with extreme fairness of mind,
helped him to make large allowances for his fellow-official. He knew
that Ratoneau's vapouring talk was oftener in coarse joke than in sober
earnest. He had, in truth, a very complete scorn of him, and hardly
thought him worthy of a gentleman's steel. As to veiled threats such as
that which had just fallen from his lips, the Prefect found them
altogether beneath serious notice.

"Let us arrive at understanding each other, General," he said coldly,
but very politely. "You began by asking me to do you a favour. Then you
branched off to a duty I had neglected. You now give me a friendly
warning. Is it, perhaps, because you fear to lose me as a colleague,
that you have become anxious about my reports to His Majesty?" he
smiled. "Or, how, I ask again, does the matter interest you?"

"In this way, Monsieur le Préfet," said Ratoneau. He pulled himself
together, keeping his bullying instincts in check. After all, he knew he
would be a fool to quarrel with the Prefect or to rouse his active
opposition. "No offence?" he said gruffly. "You know me--you know my
rough tongue."

The Prefect bowed courteously, and handed him his snuff-box.

"You saw last night at Lancilly," said Ratoneau, much more quietly,
"that I had a long talk with Madame la Comtesse."

"A charming woman," said Monsieur de Mauves. "Certainly--you told me the
subject of your talk, if you remember. Did you arrive then at any
conclusion? What was our hostess's advice on that interesting subject?
Did she suggest--the name of any lady, for instance?"

He noticed with a touch of amusement that the General looked slightly
confused.

"_I_ made a suggestion; and Madame de Sainfoy accepted it very kindly.
In fact, Monsieur le Préfet, I asked her for her daughter, Mademoiselle
Hélène."

Monsieur de Mauves knew that he ought to have been prepared for this
answer; yet, somehow, he was not. Fixing his eyes on the yellow marble
mosaic under his feet, he realised once more the frightful contrast that
had struck him a few hours before in the lighted salon at Lancilly. "La
belle Hélène," as everybody called her; the pale, beautiful girl with
the sad eyes and enchanting smile, walking through the long room with
her boy cousin, himself in his slender _élancé_ beauty a perfect match
for her, so that the eighteenth century might have painted them as two
young deities from the Court of Olympus, come down to earth to show
mortals a vision of the ideal! And General Ratoneau, the ponderous bully
in uniform, the incarnation of the Empire's worst side!

"Sacrilege!"

Last night, the Prefect had thought the same. But he had then added
"Impossible!" and now it seemed that the girl's mother did not agree
with him. Could ambition carry a woman through such a slough as this?
did she really mean to gain imperial favour by such a sacrifice?

For a moment or two the Prefect was lost in a dream; then he suddenly
recovered himself.

"Pardon--and you say that Madame de Sainfoy accepted--"

"She thanked me for the honour," said the General, a little stiffly.
"She expressed herself favourably. She only asked me to have patience
till she could consult her husband. Between ourselves, madame knows that
I could be of use to her at Court."

"Could you?"

"Certainly, Monsieur le Préfet. My friend, the Baron de Beauclair, is an
equerry to Her Majesty the Empress."

"Oh!" Evidently the Prefect knew and cared little about the Baron de
Beauclair. "But, Monsieur le Général," he said, with a puzzled frown, "I
am still at a loss to understand you. Your course is apparently smooth.
Why do you want the help of an imperial order which, if it did no other
harm, would almost certainly set Monsieur de Sainfoy against you?"

Ratoneau's dark face flushed crimson. "Mille tonnerres, Monsieur le
Préfet," he growled out, "Monsieur de Sainfoy is against me already,
confound him! This afternoon he sent me a letter, flatly declining my
proposal for his daughter."

"Is it possible!"

The Prefect had some difficulty in hiding the sincere, if inconsistent,
joy that this news gave him.

"Well done!" he thought. "I should have expected nothing less. Ah! I
see, I see," he said aloud. "Monsieur de Sainfoy does not quite share
his wife's ambitions. It is unfortunate for you, certainly. But if you
wish to marry into an old family, there are others--"

Ratoneau stared at him and laughed.

"What do you take me for? Am I beaten so easily? No, monsieur!
Mademoiselle de Sainfoy is the woman I mean to marry. I admire that
white skin, that perfect distinction. You will not put me off with some
ugly little brown toad out of Brittany, I assure you!"

The Prefect laughed.

"But what is to be done? Unless you can gain her father's consent--"

"That is the favour you will do me, Monsieur le Préfet. You will write
to headquarters, do you see, and an order will be sent down--yes, an
order which her father would not disobey if he were a dozen dukes rolled
into one, instead of being what he is, a poor emigrant count helped back
into France by wiser men than himself! Voilà, monsieur! Do you
understand me now?"

"Ah--yes, General, I understand you," said Monsieur de Mauves.

He leaned back in the corner of the marble seat, calm and deliberate,
gently stroking the little dog on his knee. Those long white fingers had
lifted the lid of Henriette's basket, those keen eyes, now thoughtfully
lowered, had seen the hiding-place of the Chouans in Monsieur Joseph's
wood; yet no harm had come to the Royalist conspirators. And now, when
an official of the Empire asked his help in a private matter, help
strictly legal, even within the limits of an imperial command, again
this blameworthy Prefect would not stir a finger. He was running himself
into greater danger than he knew, in the satisfaction of his gentle
instincts, when he glanced up into the bold, angry, eager face beside
him, and said with uncompromising clearness: "Do not deceive yourself,
monsieur. I shall not write to headquarters on any such subject, and no
such order will be sent down through any action or influence of mine.
The Comte de Sainfoy is my friend, remember."

Ratoneau was choking with rage.

"You defy me, monsieur!" he snarled.

"Why--if such a desperate course is necessary," the Prefect murmured.
"But I would rather reason with you."



CHAPTER XIII

HOW MONSIEUR SIMON SHOWED HIMSELF A LITTLE TOO CLEVER


General Ratoneau had gone into the Prefecture in a good humour; he came
out in a bad one. The change was not lost on the police agent, still
loitering under the shade of the high white wall.

Simon was a malcontent. He had talent, he wanted power. No one was
cleverer at hunting out the details of a case; he was a born detective.
It was hard on such a man, who intended to rise high in his profession,
and found the spying and chasing of state criminals an agreeable duty,
to be under the orders of so weak-kneed an official as the Baron de
Mauves. What was the use of giving in reports that were never acted on!
In other departments there were substantial money rewards to be had, if
a police spy, at his own risk, hunted out treason against the Empire. In
other departments a Prefect made it worth while, in every sense, for his
subordinates to do their duty. In this one, since the present Prefect
came into office, there was neither rising pay nor quick promotion. He
drove with a slack rein; his weapons were trust and kindness. He had to
be driven to extremities before he would treat anybody, even a proved
Chouan, with the rigour of the law. Simon tried to do a little
terrorising on his own account, and had made some money by blackmailing
less wide-awake men than Urbain de la Marinière; but, on the whole, he
earned more hatred than anything else in his prowlings round the
country.

Ratoneau, coming out with a sulky, scowling face from his interview with
the Prefect, happened to look up as he passed Simon, and the fellow's
expression struck him oddly. It was full of intelligence, and of a queer
kind of sympathy. He had noticed it before. Simon had made himself
useful to him in several underhand ways.

"What do you want?" he said, stopping suddenly.

Simon stepped up close to him, so that neither sentries nor passers-by
might hear.

"Me? I want nothing. I was only thinking that Monsieur le Général had
been annoyed. A thousand pardons! I was only wondering--well, I have my
provocations too, plenty of them!"

"I'll be bound you have, in such a service as yours," said the General,
staring at him. "Come to the hotel this evening, and I'll talk to you."

The officers who dined that day with their chief found his company less
attractive than ever. He was wrapped up in his own thoughts, and to
judge by his face, they were anything but agreeable. The whole mess was
glad to be relieved of his scowling presence unusually early. He had
drunk little, and went away unusually sober; but that was not always a
good sign with him. If he chose to keep a clear brain, it was generally
for his own ends, and they were seldom virtuous or desirable.

The General was scarcely in his own room when Simon presented himself,
sneaking upstairs with a light tread and slipping noiselessly through
the door, his dark face full of eager expectation. He had often wondered
whether there might not be some special dirty work to be done for the
General, and had taken pains to keep himself under his eye and in his
good looks. If the civil power chose to let the Chouans have it all
their own way, the military power might one of these days step in
effectively. But Simon was not particular. Whatever the work might be,
public or private, he was at the service of the authorities. If only the
authorities would take his view of their interest and duty!

It was a little difficult to stand unmoved under General Ratoneau's
bullying stare. Simon did so, however, his mouth only working a little
at the corners. How far might he go with this man? he was asking
himself. Ratoneau did not keep him long in suspense. He suddenly took
his cigar from his mouth, swore a tremendous oath, and kicked a chair
across the room.

"Are you to be trusted, fellow?" he said.

"I have kept a few secrets, monsieur," Simon answered discreetly.

"Then here is another for you. I wish that chair was Monsieur le Baron
de Mauves."

"Ah! Indeed! There has been some disagreement. I saw it, when Monsieur
le Général came out of the Prefecture this afternoon."

"You saw it, did you? No wonder! I try to hide nothing--why should I?
But tell me, I beseech you, why are we in this miserable department
cursed with a feather-bed for a governor?"

"If I might venture in this presence to say so," murmured Simon, "I have
often asked the same question. A feather-bed, yes--and it would be
softer and quieter to kick than that arrangement of wood and nails!" He
muttered the last sentence between his teeth with an amused grin, for
General Ratoneau, striding round the room in a whirlwind of kicks and
oaths, was making far too much noise to hear him.

At last, his wrath having exploded, the General flung himself back on
his sofa and said, "The Prefect is a fool, and I hate him."

"Tiens!" Simon whistled softly and long. "This is something new--and
serious!" he murmured.

The General turned upon him instantly, with a severe air.

"What is your grievance against the Prefect?"

"Ah--well, monsieur, when you come to grievances--a grievance is a
valuable thing--yes, sometimes a small fortune lies in a grievance."

"I believe you are a liar!"

"Pardon, monsieur--what lie have I told?"

"You said you had had provocations. You called Monsieur le Préfet a
feather-bed, meaning that he had smothered and stifled you. I don't
believe a word of it!"

"Oh! Monsieur le Général is very clever!" Simon ventured on a small
laugh.

"Come, don't play with me, you rascal. What complaint have you to make?"

"Monsieur le Général may have had a slight difference to-day with
Monsieur le Préfet, but they will be reconciled to-morrow. Why should I
give myself away and put myself in their power for nothing?"

"You are a fool! What complaint have you to make against Monsieur le
Préfet?"

"I am not a fool, monsieur. That is just it. Therefore, I will not tell
you--not yet, at least."

"Then why did you come here? What did you suppose I wanted you for?"

"To do some work, for which I might possibly be paid."

"Is it a question of pay?"

"Partly, monsieur. I made some valuable discoveries a week or two ago,
and they have turned out of no use whatever. Here am I still an ordinary
police officer, my work not acknowledged in any way, by praise, pay, or
promotion. I tried on my own account to verify my discoveries and to
find out more. This day, this very morning, I am warned to let the whole
thing alone, to say nothing, even to the commissary of police."

The General hesitated. He was grave and thoughtful enough now.

He took out five napoleons and pushed them across the table to Simon,
who picked them up quickly and greedily.

"Merci, Monsieur le Général!"

"Chouannerie?" said Ratoneau.

Simon grinned.

"Ah, monsieur, this is not enough to make me safe. I must have five
thousand francs at least, to carry me away out of the Prefect's reach,
if I tell his little secrets to Monsieur le Général."

"Five thousand devils! Do you think I am made of money? What do I want
with your miserable secrets? What are the Chouans to me? The Prefect may
be a Chouan himself, I dare say: stranger things have happened."

Simon shrugged his shoulders. His face was full of cunning and of secret
knowledge.

"If Monsieur le Général wants a real hold over Monsieur le Préfet," he
said, with his eyes fixed on Ratoneau's face--"why then, these secrets
of mine are worth the money. Of course, there is another thing for me to
do. I can go to Paris and lay the whole thing before the Minister of
Police or Monsieur le Comte Réal. I had thought of that. But--the
Government is generally ungrateful--and if there were any private
service to be done for Monsieur le Général, I should like it better.
Besides, it is just possible that I might be doing harm to some of your
friends, monsieur."

"My friends? How?"

"Ah! voilà! I can mention no names," said Simon.

The General took out his pocket-book and gave him a note for a thousand
francs.

"Out with it, fellow. I hate mysteries," he said.

"Pardon, Monsieur le Général! I said _five_ thousand."

"Well, there are two more. Not another penny till you have explained
yourself. And then, if I am not satisfied, I shall turn you over to my
guard to be flogged for theft and lying. And I doubt if they will leave
much in your pockets."

"You treat me like a Jew, monsieur!"

"You are a Jew. Go on. What are these grand discoveries that Monsieur le
Préfet will have nothing to do with?"

"A Chouan plot, monsieur. The conspirators have met, more than once, I
believe, at Monsieur de la Marinière's house, Les Chouettes. They were
there that day, when Monsieur le Préfet and Monsieur le Général
breakfasted with him. That day when we met a herd of cows in the
lane--"

"Hold your tongue, you scoundrel. You are telling me a pack of lies. The
place was quiet and empty, no one there but ourselves. Why, we strolled
about there the whole afternoon without seeing a single living creature
except a little girl gathering flowers in the meadow."

"Ah, monsieur! See what it is to be an agent de police. To have eyes and
ears, and to know how to use them! Worth a reward, is it not? I had not
been an hour at Les Chouettes before I knew everything."

And five minutes had not passed before General Ratoneau was in
possession of all that Simon knew or suspected. Every one was
implicated; master, servants, the four guests, whose voices he had
recognised as he prowled in the wood, Angelot, and even the child
Henriette.

"Gathering flowers in the meadow!" the spy laughed maliciously. "She
ought to be in prison at this moment with her father and her cousin."

"Sapristi! And the Prefect knew all this?" growled the General.

"I told him at the time, monsieur. As he was strolling about after
breakfast with Monsieur de la Marinière, I called him aside and told
him. Of course I expected an order to arrest the whole party. We were
armed, we could have done it very well, even then, though they
outnumbered us. Since then I have viewed the ground again, and caught
the Baron d'Ombré breakfasting there, the most desperate Chouan in these
parts. I questioned old Joubard the farmer, too, for his loyalty is
none too firm. Well, when I came to report this to Monsieur le Préfet,
he only told me again to be silent. And this very morning, after
conferring with some of these Chouan gentlemen last night at Lancilly,
as I happen to know, he told me to let the matter alone, to keep away
from Les Chouettes and leave Monsieur de la Marinière to do as he
pleased."

The General stared and grunted. Honestly, he was very much astonished.

"That afternoon! The devil! who would have thought it?" he muttered to
himself.

"It is not that Monsieur le Préfet is disloyal to the Empire," Simon
went on, "though he might easily be made to appear so. It is that he
thinks there is no policy like a merciful one. Also he is too
soft-hearted, and too kind to his friends."

"By heaven! those are fortunate who find him so."

"The old friends of the country, monsieur. It is amazing how they hang
together. Monsieur Joseph de la Marinière is brother of Monsieur Urbain,
Monsieur Ange is Monsieur Urbain's son, Monsieur le Comte de Sainfoy is
their cousin--and I heard the servants saying, only last night, how
beautiful the two young people looked, handing the coffee
together--though I should certainly have thought, myself, that Monsieur
le Comte would have made a better marriage than that for his daughter.
But they say the young gentleman's face--"

"Stop your fool's chatter!" cried the General, furiously.

"But that is just what I said, monsieur, to the Prefect's fellow who
told me. I said this young Angelot was a silly boy who cared for nothing
but practical jokes. Besides, if he is mixed up in Chouan conspiracies,
Monsieur de Sainfoy could hardly afford--and after all, cousins are
cousins. You may be very intimate with a cousin, but it does not
follow--does it, monsieur?"

"Once for all, put that foolery out of your head. Now listen. You have
told me your grievance against the Prefect. I will tell you mine."

And the police officer listened with all his ears, while General
Ratoneau told him his story of last night and to-day.

"Ah!" he said thoughtfully--"I see--I see very well. Monsieur le Comte
is a foolish gentleman, and Madame la Comtesse is a wise lady. Then
Monsieur Urbain de la Marinière--he is the friend of both--he visited
Monsieur le Général to-day."

This was a touch of curiosity, which the General did not satisfy, for he
saw no good to be gained, at present, by mixing up Urbain's name in the
business. He had made a good suggestion, which had failed. The General
was aware that in consulting Simon he might be entering on dark ways
where no gentleman would follow him. Simon's help might mean a good
deal. It might mean arrests rather too near Monsieur Urbain to be
pleasant. On one thing the General was resolved; by hook or by crook, by
fair means or foul, Hélène de Sainfoy should become his wife. With her
mother on his side, he suspected that any means would in the end be
forgiven. He was never likely again to have such an opportunity of
marrying into the old noblesse. Personally, Hélène attracted him; he had
been thinking of her a good deal that day.

"Monsieur de la Marinière--" he said rather gruffly--"Yes, he came to
see me. He is of Madame de Sainfoy's opinion--he is a sensible man. No
one would be more angry at your idiotic stories about his son. Now what
next? I come down on the Prefect with your information, and demand the
arrest of all these people, unless--hein?"

"There are objections to that plan, monsieur."

"What are they?"

"Well, to begin with, Monsieur le Préfet may not be managed so easily.
He is quite capable of going to Paris and laying the whole case before
the Emperor, who respects him. He might point out Monsieur Joseph de la
Marinière's close relationship with all these people who have rallied to
the Empire. He might make it appear like personal spite of yours,
monsieur, because Monsieur de Sainfoy had refused you his daughter. And
such a course would spoil your chance in another way, monsieur. It would
make all the family hate you. Even Madame la Comtesse could hardly be on
your side, if you had done that. And besides, it would kill at one blow
all my chances in this department. I think we must go to work more
quietly, monsieur. At least, I think we must keep threats and arrests
for a last resort, now that you have told me everything."

"Then you would say no more to the Prefect?"

"Not another word, monsieur. I would be silent. I would appear to accept
the Prefect's decision, and Monsieur de Sainfoy's answer. But after a
few days I would make some pretext for going to Paris. I am going there
myself next week; I have leave to visit my old father. Then, monsieur,
by spending a little money at the centre of things--well, a thunderbolt
out of a clear sky is very effective, monsieur, and that is what we will
try to manufacture."

Simon grinned and licked his lips.

"Then what have I paid you three thousand one hundred francs for,
rascal, if the information about all this Chouannerie is to be of no
use?"

"Well, of course, it is at Monsieur le Général's service. It gives him a
hold over Monsieur le Préfet, at any time. That was desired, I
understood. All I say is, I would not use it just yet. The circumstances
are delicate. When I sold the information, and dirt cheap too, I knew
nothing of all the interesting romance Monsieur le Général has told me.
An affair of marriage wants tender handling. This one, especially, wants
very clever management. If I, in Monsieur le Général's place, meant to
be the husband of Mademoiselle de Sainfoy, I would not begin by doing
anything to make myself still more odious in the eyes of her friends and
relations."

"Still more odious, fellow! What do you mean?"

"Pardon! I am only arguing from your own words, monsieur. You told me
what her father said, and what Monsieur le Préfet said. One makes one's
deductions, hein!"

"Ah! You had better not be impudent. I am not a person to be played
with, Monsieur Simon!"

"Heaven forbid! I have the deepest respect for Monsieur le Général. And
now let me explain my plan a little further."

"Hold your tongue with your infernal plans, and let me think," said
Ratoneau.

He got up and began pacing up and down the room with his head bent, in a
most unusually thoughtful state of mind. The dark, treacherous eyes of
Simon followed him as he walked. His brain was working too, much more
swiftly and sharply than the General's. This little affair was going to
bring him in considerably more than five thousand francs, or he would
know the reason why. Presently he spoke in a low, cautious voice.

"The person to approach is Monsieur le Duc de Frioul. A direct order
from His Majesty would be the quickest and most certain way of bringing
the marriage about. It is not a police question, that. Monsieur le
Général has certainly deserved the favour, and the Emperor does not very
often refuse officers in matters of this kind."

"Mille tonnerres, Simon, you talk like an ambassador," said Ratoneau,
with a laugh. "Yes, I know Duroc; but there was never any love lost
between us. However, I might get at him through Monge, and other people.
Sapristi, Monge will have enough to do for me!" He was thinking aloud.
But now he turned on his counsellor with sudden fierceness.

"And am I to leave this Chouan plot to go its own way under the
Prefect's protection?" he said. "A pretty idea, that!"

"Ah! when once Monsieur le Général has peacefully secured his prize,
_then_ he can do as he thinks right about public affairs," said Simon,
with a sneer.

"Then I can punish my enemies, hein?" said Ratoneau.

"You can indeed, monsieur. With my information, you might very probably
ruin Monsieur le Préfet, besides causing the arrest of Monsieur de la
Marinière, his nephew, Monsieur d'Ombré, and several other gentlemen
whom I shall be able to point out. You could make a clean sweep of
Chouannerie in Anjou, monsieur. It is very desirable. All I say is,
make sure of your wife first."

Still Ratoneau walked up and down the room. With arms folded and head
bent, he looked more _le gros caporal_ than ever.

Presently he stopped short and turned to Simon.

"Get along with you, fellow, and hold your tongue," he said. "I will
have nothing to do with your dirty tricks. I will settle the matter with
Monsieur le Préfet."

"But me, monsieur? What will become of me?"

"What do I care! A snake in the grass, like you, can look after
himself."

"But my other two thousand francs, Monsieur le Général?"

"You shall have them when the affair is settled. Do you hear me? Go--or
wait to be kicked. Which shall it be?"



CHAPTER XIV

IN WHICH THREE WORDS CONTAIN A GOOD DEAL OF INFORMATION


It was not so easy for Angelot to make his peace with Uncle Joseph, who
was more than a little angry with him.

"Yes, my boy, you were foolish, as well as ungrateful. It was a chance,
it was a moment, that will not occur again. It was better that the idea
should seem to come from me, not from you, and it seemed the only way to
save that pretty girl from some marriage she will hate. I thought you
would at least be ready to throw yourself at her feet--but you were not
even that, Angelot. You refused her--you refused Mademoiselle Hélène,
after all you had told me--and do you know what that mother of hers has
been planning for her? No? Don't look at me with such eyes; it is your
own doing. Madame de Sainfoy would arrange a marriage for her with
General Ratoneau, if Hervé would consent. He says he will not, he says a
convent would be better--"

"Ah!" Angelot gave a choked cry, and stamped violently in the sand. "Ah!
Ratoneau or a convent! Dieu! Not while I live!"

"Very fine to say so now!" said Monsieur Joseph, shaking his head.

He was ready to go out shooting in the fresh morning air. His gun leaned
against the bench where he was sitting, and his dog watched him with
eager eyes. His delicate face was dark with melancholy disgust as he
looked at the boy he loved, tramping restlessly up and down between him
and the fir trees.

"You don't listen to me, Uncle Joseph; you don't understand me!" Angelot
cried out passionately. "What do you take me for? It was for her sake
that I answered as I did. It was because she had told me, one minute
before, that her mother would kill her if she knew that she--that I--"

He sprang to the bench, threw himself down by Monsieur Joseph, flung his
arm around his shoulders.

"Ah, little uncle, voyons, tell me everything. You said you would help
me--"

"Help you! I am well repaid when I try to help you!" said Joseph, with a
short laugh.

"But that was not the way! Come, come!" and Angelot laid his head
against the little uncle's shoulder, coaxing and caressing him as he
might have done ten years before, as Riette would do now.

"Ah, diable! what would you have? I offered them you in the place of
Ratoneau or a convent, and you would not even wait to hear what they
said. Nonsense about her mother! Mothers do not kill their children in
these days. Mademoiselle is a little extravagant."

"I don't believe it. She knows her mother. I think Madame de Sainfoy
would stop at nothing--no ill-treatment--to force her own way. I saw it
in her face, I met her eyes when you dragged me into the room. Uncle
Joseph, I tell you she hates me already, and if she thinks I am an
obstacle to her plans, she will never let me see Hélène again."

"Where were you, then, when I called you, good-for-nothing?"

"I was on the stairs, talking to her. Her mother had sent her out of the
room--"

"On my word, you snatch your opportunities!"

"Of course! And when you were young--"

"There--no impertinence--"

"Dear uncle, I asked you days ago to talk to my father and mother. Why
did you never do it? Then I might have been beforehand with that man--as
to him, of course, he is an utter impossibility, and if Cousin Hervé
sees that, we are safe--but still--"

"Ah! there is a 'but' in the affair, I assure you. Madame would do
anything for a nearer connection with her beloved Empire--and Ratoneau
might be Napoleon's twin-brother, but that is a detail--and not only
madame, your father is on the same side."

"My father!"

"He thinks there could not be a more sensible marriage. The daughter of
the Comte de Sainfoy--a distinguished general of division; diable! what
can anybody want more? So my Angelot, I was not a false prophet, it
seems to me, when I felt very sure that what you asked me was hopeless.
Your father would have been against you, for the sake of the Sainfoys;
your mother, for opposite reasons. There was one chance, Hervé himself.
I saw that he was very angry at the Ratoneau proposal; I thought he
might snatch at an alternative. I still think he might have done so, if
you had not behaved like a maniac. It was the moment, Angelot; such
moments do not return. I was striking while the iron was hot--you, you
only, made my idea useless. You made me look even more mad and foolish
than yourself--not that I cared for that. As to danger from her mother,
why, after all, her father is the authority."

"Ah, but you are too romantic," sighed Angelot. "He would never have
accepted me. He would never really oppose his wife, if her mind was set
against him."

"He opposes her now. He plainly said that his daughter should marry a
gentleman, therefore not Ratoneau. And where have all your fine
presumptuous hopes flown to, my boy? The other day you found yourself
good enough for Mademoiselle Hélène."

"Perhaps I do still," Angelot said, and laughed. "But I did not then
quite understand the Comtesse. I know now that she detests me. Then,
too, she had not seen or thought of Ratoneau--Dieu! What profanation!
Was it quite new, the terrible idea? I saw the brute--pah! We were
handing the coffee--"

"Yes," said Monsieur Joseph. "As far as I know, the seed was sown, the
plant grew and flowered, all in that one evening, my poor Angelot.
Well--I hope all is safe now, but women are very clever, and there is
your father, too--he is very clever. If it is not this marriage, it will
be another--but you are not interested now; you have put yourself out of
the question."

"Don't say that, Uncle Joseph--and don't imagine that your troubles are
over. You will have to do a good deal more for me yet, and for Hélène."
He spoke slowly and dreamily, then added with a gesture of despair--"But
my father--how could he! Why, the very sight of the man--"

"Ah! Very poetical, your dear father, but not very sentimental. I told
him so. He said the best poetry was the highest good sense. I do not
quite understand him, I confess. Allons! I am afraid I do. He is a
philosopher. He also--well, well!"

"He also--what?"

"Nothing," said Monsieur Joseph, shortly. "What is to be done then, to
help you?"

"I am afraid--for her sake--I must not go quite so much to Lancilly. Not
for a few days, at least, till last night is forgotten. I cannot meet
her before all those people, with their eyes upon me. I believe Madame
de Sainfoy saw that I was lying, that I would give my life for what I
seemed to refuse."

"Do you think so? No, no, she laughed and teased and questioned me with
the others."

"Nevertheless, I think so. But I must know that Hélène is well and safe
and not tormented. Uncle Joseph, if you could go there a little
oftener--you might see her sometimes--"

"How often?"

"Every two days, for instance?"

Monsieur Joseph smiled sweetly.

"No, mon petit. What should take me to Lancilly every two days? I have
not much to say to Hervé; his ideas are not mine, either on sport or on
politics. And as to Madame Adélaïde--no--we do not love each other. She
is impatient of me--I distrust her. She has Urbain, and one in the
family is enough, I think. Voyons! Would your Mademoiselle Moineau do
any harm to Riette?"

"Ah! But no! I believe she is a most excellent woman."

"Only a little sleepy--hein? Well, I will change my mind about that
offer I refused. I will send Riette every day to learn needlework and
Italian with her cousins. She will teach more than she learns, by the
bye! Yes, our little _guetteuse_ shall watch for you, Angelot. But on
one condition--that she knows no more than she does already. You can ask
her what questions you please, of course--but no letters or messages,
mind; I trust to your honour. I will not have the child made a
go-between in my cousin's house, or mixed up with matters too old for
her. She knows enough already to do what you want, to tell you that
Mademoiselle Hélène is safe and well. I will have nothing more, you
understand. But I think you will be wise to keep away, and this plan may
make absence bearable."

He turned his anxious, smiling face to Angelot. And thus the entire
reconciliation was brought about; the two understood and loved each
other better than ever before, and Riette, as she had herself suggested,
was to take her part in helping Angelot.

Neither Monsieur Urbain, in his great discretion, nor his wife, in her
extreme dislike of Lancilly and all connected with it, chose to say a
word either to Angelot or his uncle about the strange little scene that
had closed the dinner-party. It was better forgotten, they thought. And
Angelot was too proud, too conscious of their opinion, to speak of it
himself.

So the three talked that night about Sonnay-le-Loir and the markets
there, and about the neighbours that Urbain had met, and about certain
defects in one of his horses, and then about the coming vintage and its
prospects.

Urbain fetched down a precious book, considerably out of date now, the
_Théâtre d'Agriculture_ of Olivier de Serres, Seigneur du Pradel, and
began studying, as he did every year, the practical advice of that
excellent writer on the management of vineyards. The experience of
Angelot, gained chiefly in wandering round the fields with old Joubard,
differed on some points from that of Monsieur de Serres. He argued with
his father, not at all in the fashion of a young man hopelessly in love;
but indeed, though Hélène was the centre of all his thoughts, he was far
from hopeless.

There was a bright spring of life in Angelot, a faith in the future,
which kept him above the most depressing circumstances. The waves might
seem overwhelming, the storm too furious; Angelot would ride on the
waves with an unreasoning certainty that they would finally toss him on
the shore of Paradise. Had not Hélène kissed him? Could he not still
feel the sweet touch of her lips, the velvet softness of that pale
cheek? Could his eyes lose the new dream in their sleepy dark depths,
the dream of waking smiles and light in hers, of bringing colour and joy
into that grey, mysterious world of sadness! No; whatever the future
might hold--and he did not fear it--Angelot could say to his fate:--

"To-morrow do thy worst, for I have lived to-day."

There was such a glory of happiness behind the present clouds that the
boy had never seemed to his mother more light-hearted. She listened to
his talk with his father, the smiling dispute as to what age of the moon
was the most lucky for beginning the vintage. Monsieur de Serres, with a
kindly word of indulgence for those who thought much of the moon,
contented himself with recommending fine weather and a convenient day.
Joubard, and Angelot with him, held to the old country superstition of
the waning moon.

This would throw the vintage later than Monsieur Urbain wished, and he
pointed out that De Serres was a sensible man and a philosopher. Silly
fancies, lunatical, astrological, were not much in his line.

"He is also a Calvinist," said Madame de la Marinière. "He has no
religion--no real religion. He believes in nothing but what he can see.
Take my advice, leave Olivier on the shelf, and stick to the old ways of
the country."

"Ah, bah! and do you know why my farming has always succeeded?" said her
husband, laughing. "Because I have been guided by the wisdom of De
Serres. He is a rare man. He has as little superstition as Montaigne
himself."

"And is as worthy of a bonfire!" said Anne, but she smiled.

She was sitting at her tapestry frame, beside her two wax candles, and
while her needle went industriously in and out, her eyes were
constantly lifted to where those two sat talking. Urbain turned over
the leaves of his fat, red-edged quarto, lingering lovingly on favourite
pages. Angelot laughed and chattered, leaning easily on the table. The
adventure of last night seemed to have left no impression upon him.

"How foolish that dear Joseph was!" his mother thought. "But oh, what a
contrast to that odious dinner-party! Now, this is peace, this is what I
have prayed for, to have them both happy at home, and free of Lancilly."

But when she kissed her boy that night, looking eagerly into his face,
something cold touched her heart. For his look was far away, and the
smile in his eyes was not for her at all.

"Urbain," she said, "are you sure that all is right with Ange?"

"All, my beloved, except a little superstition about the moon, of which
life will cure him," her husband answered with his queer smile.

"The moon! Yes, he talked last night about the moon," she said. "That is
what I mean, Urbain, not your moon for the vintage."

"Oh! la belle Hélène!" he said lightly. "Don't derange yourself. I did
not tell you--I found her mother this morning in a resolute state of
mind. She does not intend to have the young lady on her hands long. If
not one marriage, it will be another, you will see. Hervé will find he
must leave the matter to his wife. Ange! bah! children's fancies are not
worth a thought. If you lived more in the world, you would be happier,
my poor Anne."

"I don't think so," Anne said as she turned away.

The next morning Monsieur Urbain stayed indoors till breakfast time.
This was often enough a habit of his, but he was generally buried in his
books and did not care to be disturbed. To-day he wandered about the
house, took a turn into the porch, observed the clouds, looked at his
watch, and behaved generally with a restlessness that Anne would have
found unaccountable; but she was out with a sick woman in the village.
She came in soon after ten, followed by Angelot from his shooting.

They sat down to breakfast, that warm day, with doors and windows open.
The old, low room with its brick-paved floor was shady and pleasant,
opening on the stone court where the porch was; the polished table was
loaded with fruit. Angelot's dog lay stretched in a patch of sunshine;
he was ordered out several times, but always came back. When the heat
became too much he rose panting, and flung his long body into the shade;
then the chilly bricks drove him back into the sun again.

The three were rather silent. Urbain, who always led their talk, was a
little preoccupied that morning. After finishing his second large slice
of melon, he looked up at Angelot and said, "After breakfast I will go
with you to La Joubardière. We must settle with Joubard about the
vintage; it is time things were fixed. I say the first of October. As to
his moons, I cannot listen to such absurdities. He must arrange what
suits me and the weather and the vines. First of all, me."

"That is decided," said Angelot, smiling. "Joubard will shake his head,
but he will obey you. You are a tyrant in your way."

"Perhaps!" Urbain said, screwing up his mouth. "A benevolent despot.
Obedience is good for the soul--n'est-ce pas, madame? I give my commands
for the good of others, and pure reason lies behind them. What is it,
Négo?"

The dog lifted his black head and growled. There was a sharp clank of
footsteps on the stones outside.

"A bas, Négo!" cried Angelot, as a soldier, with a letter in his hand,
appeared at the window.

The dog sprang up, barking furiously, about to fly at him.

"See to your dog! Take him away!" Monsieur Urbain shouted to Angelot.

The young man threw himself on the dog and dragged him, snarling, out of
the room. Anne looked up with surprise at the soldier, who saluted,
standing outside the low window-sill. Urbain went to him, and took the
letter from his hand.

"It is Monsieur de la Marinière?" said the man. "At your service. From
Monsieur le Général. Is there an answer?"

"Wait a moment, my man," said Urbain.

He broke the large red seal, standing by the window. One glance showed
him the contents of the letter, for they were only three words and an
initial.

--"_Tout va bien. R._"--

But though the words were few, their significance was great, and it kept
the sturdy master of La Marinière standing motionless for a minute or
two in a dream, with the open letter in his hand, forgetful alike of the
messenger waiting outside, and of his wife behind him at the table. A
dark stain of colour stole up into his sunburnt face, his strong mouth
quivered, then set itself obstinately. So! this thing was to happen.
Treason to Hervé, was it? No, it was for his good, for everybody's good.
Sentiment was out of place in a political matter such as this. Sacrifice
of a girl? well, what was gained in the world without sacrifice? Let her
think herself Iphigenia, if she chose; but, after all, many girls as
noble and as pretty had shown her the way she was to go.

"All goes well!" he muttered between his teeth. "This gentleman is
impatient; he does not let the grass grow. Odd enough that we have to
thank our dear Joseph for suggesting it!" Then he woke to outside
things, among them the waiting soldier, standing there like a wooden
image in the blaze of sunshine.

"No answer, my friend," he said.

He took out a five-franc piece and gave it to the man, not without a
glance at the splendid Roman head upon it.

"He only needs a little idealising!" he said to himself; then aloud to
the soldier: "My best compliments to Monsieur le Général. Go to the
kitchen; they will give you something to eat and drink after your ride."

"Merci, monsieur!" the soldier saluted and went.

Urbain folded the letter, put it into his pocket, and returned silently
to his breakfast. Something about him warned his wife that it would be
better not to ask questions; but Anne seldom observed such warnings, for
she did not know what it was to be afraid of Urbain, though she was
often angry with him. With Angelot it was different; he had sometimes
reason to fear his father; but for Anne, the tenderness was always
greater than the severity.

They were alone for a few minutes, Angelot not having reappeared. While
Urbain hurriedly devoured his sorrel and eggs, his wife gazed at him
with anxious eyes across the table.

"You correspond with that odious General!" she said. "What about, my
dear friend? What can he have to say to you?"

"Ah, bah! the curiosity of women!" said Monsieur Urbain, bending over
his plate.

"Yes," Anne said, smiling faintly. "It exists, and therefore it must be
gratified. Is not that a doctrine after your own heart? What was that
letter about, tell me? You could not hide that it interested you
deeply."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Remember, we never talk politics, you and I. Not even the politics of
the department."

"It has something to do with the Chouans, then? With Joseph? Ah, but do
not trust that man, Urbain! he has a horrid face. Did you see him
yesterday? Did he say anything about Joseph--and about Ange? He has a
spite against Ange, I believe."

"Do not be uneasy," Monsieur Urbain replied. "I did see him yesterday,
if you must know, my dear Anne. He is friendly; well, you can see the
letter. I do not choose to explain it altogether, but it speaks for
itself."

He took out the letter, unfolded it, and handed it to her with a curious
smile.

"_Tout va bien!_" Anne read aloud. "What does he mean?"

"He means, I suppose, that my mind may be at rest. You see that he is in
a good temper."

"It looks like it, certainly. But that is strange, too. Had Hervé de
Sainfoy sent him an answer? When you saw him, did he know--"

"Yes, he knew."

"How did he bear it?"

"Like a man."

"Really! One dislikes him a little less for that. But still, Urbain,
why should you have anything to do with him? Is it not enough that the
Prefect is so friendly to us all? With his protection, Joseph and Ange
are not in any real danger."

"It is best to have two strings to one's bow," answered Urbain. "I
prefer Ratoneau a friend to Ratoneau an enemy."

"I should like best no Ratoneau at all," said Anne. She flicked the
letter back to him from the tips of her fingers, lightly and scornfully.
"How could Adélaïde talk to him for a whole evening!" she sighed.

"Adélaïde is a woman of the world, as we have decided before," said
Urbain. "Say no more; here is the boy. It is best that he should know
nothing of this--do you understand?"

Anne understood, or thought she did; and a nod and smile from her went a
long way towards reassuring Angelot, who had been a little puzzled by
the sudden appearance of the soldier. But he was not curious; his father
was by no means in the habit of telling him everything, making indeed a
thin cloud of wilful mystery about some of his doings. It had always
been so; and Angelot had grown up with a certain amount of blind trust
in the hand which had guided his mother and himself through the thorny
years of his childhood.

At this moment he was distracted by a very serious attack on Négo. The
dog would have to be shot, Monsieur Urbain said, if he received people
so savagely; and in defending Négo the rest of Angelot's breakfast-time
was spent.

Later on he was a little surprised by his father's telling him to go
alone to La Joubardière and arrange about the vintage. Urbain had
remembered business, he said, which called him to Lancilly. He turned
away and left the room without a word, without seeing, or perhaps
choosing to see, the sudden flame of irritation in Anne's dark eyes, the
light of another feeling in Angelot's.

The young fellow lingered a moment in the dining-room window, and
watched the sturdy figure walking away in linen clothes and a straw hat,
the shoulders slightly bent from study, the whole effect that of honest
strength and capacity, not at all of intrigue and ruse. Then he turned
round and met his mother's eyes. For a moment it seemed as if they must
read each other's soul. But Anne only said: "Do not delay, my boy. Go to
Joubard; arrange things to please your father. We must remember; he is
wiser than we are; he does the best for us all."

"Yes, my little mother," said Angelot. "Only--Négo shall not be shot.
Yes, I am going this instant."

He took her hand and kissed it. She pushed back his hair and kissed his
forehead.

"And what are you going to do?" he said. "Come with me to see the old
Joubards."

"No, no. I must go to the church," she said. "I was hurried this
morning."

As Urbain crossed the valley, going through the little hamlet, down the
white stony lane, between high hedges, then by field paths across to the
lower poplar-shaded road, then along by the slow, bright stream to the
bridge and the first white houses of Lancilly, he thought with some
amusement and satisfaction of that morning's diplomacy. He had not the
smallest intention of taking his dear and pretty Anne into his
confidence. The little plot, which Adélaïde and he had hatched so
cleverly, must remain between them and the General.

This power of suggesting was a wonderful thing, truly. A word had been
enough to set the whole machinery going. If he rightly understood that
_Tout va bien_, it meant that the Prefect was ready at once to do his
part. That seemed a little strange; but after all, De Mauves would not
have reached his present position without some cleverness to help him,
and no doubt he saw, as Urbain did, the excellence of this arrangement
for everybody all round. Hervé de Sainfoy was really foolish; his own
enemy: Urbain and Adélaïde were his friends; they knew how to make use
of the mammon of unrighteousness. The advantages of such a connection
with the Empire were really uncountable. Urbain was quite sure that he
was justified in plotting against Hervé for his good. Did he not love
him like a brother? Would he not have given him the last penny in his
purse, the last crust if they were starving? And as for misleading Anne
a little, that too seemed right to his conscience. It was only a case of
economising truth, after all. In the end, the Ratoneau connection would
be useful in saving Joseph and his friends, no doubt, from some of the
consequences of their foolishness.

It was with the serenity of success and conscious virtue, deepened and
brightened by the joy of pleasing the beautiful Adélaïde, that Urbain,
finding her alone, put the General's letter into her hand.

There was an almost vulture look in the fair face as she stooped over
it.

"Ah--and what does this mean?"

"It means," Urbain said, "that General Ratoneau has seen the Prefect,
and that that excellent man is ready to oblige him--and you, madame."

"Me?" Adélaïde looked up sharply, with a sudden flush. "I hope you gave
no message from me."

"How could I? you sent none. I am to be trusted, I assure you. I simply
hinted that if the affair could be managed from outside, you would not
be too much displeased."

"Nor would you," she said.

"No--no, I should not." He spoke rather slowly, stroking his face,
looking at her thoughtfully. This pale passion of eagerness was not
becoming, somehow, to his admired Adélaïde.

"Nor would you," she repeated. "Come, Urbain, be frank. You know it is
necessary, from your point of view, that Hélène should be married soon.
You know that silly boy of yours fancies himself in love with her."

"It would not be unnatural. All France might do the same. But pardon me,
I do not know it."

"You mean that he has not confided in you. Well, well, do not lay hold
of my words; you had eyes the night before last; you saw what I saw,
what every one must have seen. You confessed as much to me yesterday, so
do not contradict yourself now."

"Very well--yes!" Urbain smiled and bowed. "Let us agree that my poor
boy may have such a fancy. But what does it matter?"

"Of course it does not really matter, because such a marriage would be
absolutely impossible for Hélène. But it is better for a young man not
to have such wild ambitions in his head at all. You know I am right. You
agree with me. That is one reason why you are working with me now."

"It is true, madame. You are right. But did it not seem to you, the
other night, that Angelot himself saw the impossibility--"

"No, it did not," she said, and her eyes flashed. "He had to protect
himself from his uncle's madness--that was nothing. By the bye, that
wonderful brother of yours has changed his mind about Henriette. He
sent her here this morning with a letter to me, and she is now doing her
lessons with Sophie and Lucie."

"I am delighted to hear it," said Urbain, absently. "But now, to return
to our subject--the Ratoneau marriage--" he paused an instant, and
whatever his words and actions may have been, Madame de Sainfoy was a
little punished for her scorn of his son by the accent of utter disgust
with which he dwelt on the General's name.

For she felt it, and he had the small satisfaction of seeing that she
did. She had trodden on her worm a little too hard, in telling Ange de
la Marinière's father that he might as well dream of a princess as of
Hélène de Sainfoy.

"Yes, yes," she said hastily, and smiled brilliantly on Urbain as much
as to say, "Dear friend, I was joking. We understand each other.--Tell
me everything you did yesterday--what he said, and all about it," she
went on aloud. "Ah, Hervé!" as her husband sauntered into the room--"do
have the goodness to fetch me those patterns of silk hangings from the
library. This dear Urbain has come at the right moment to be consulted
about them."



CHAPTER XV

HOW HENRIETTE READ HISTORY TO SOME PURPOSE


The inside of the Château de Lancilly was a curious labyrinth of arched
stone passages paved with brick, cold on the hottest day, with short
flights of steps making unexpected changes of level; every wall so thick
as to hold deep cupboards, even small rooms, or private staircases
climbing steeply up or down. The old ghosts of the château, who slipped
in and out of these walls and flitted about the hidden steps, had lost a
good deal of their credit in the last twenty years. No self-respecting
ghost could show itself to Urbain de la Marinière, and few mortals
besides him haunted the remote passages while the great house stood
empty.

And now one may be sure that the ghosts were careful to hide themselves
from Madame de Sainfoy. No half-lights, no chilly shadows wavering on
the wall, no quick passing of a wind from nowhere, such hints and
vanishings as might send a shiver through ordinary bones, had any effect
on Adélaïde's cool dignity. The light of reason shone in her clear-cut
face; her voice, penetrating and decided, was enough to frighten any
foolish spirit who chose to sweep rushingly beside her through the wall
as she walked along the passages.

"Do you hear the rats?" she would say. "How can we catch them? These old
houses are infested with them."

She spoke so firmly that even the ghost itself believed it was a rat,
and scuttled away out of hearing.

To reach the north wing, where her three girls and their governess
lived, Madame de Sainfoy had to mount a short flight of steps from the
hall, then to go along a vaulted corridor lighted only by a small
lucarne window here and there, then down a staircase which brought her
to the level of the great salons and the dining-room at the opposite
end, which formerly, like this north wing, had hung over the moat, but
were now being brought nearer the ground by Monsieur de Sainfoy's
earthworks.

This old north wing had been less restored than any other part of the
château. The passage which ran through it, only lighted by a window at
the foot of the staircase, ended at the arched door of a silent,
deserted chapel with an altar on its east side, a quaint figure of Our
Lady in a carved niche, and a window half-darkened with ivy leaves,
overhanging the green and damp depths of the moat, now empty of water.

Before reaching the chapel--lonely and neglected, but not desecrated,
for by the care of Madame de la Marinière mass had been said in it once
a year--there were four doors, two on each side of the corridor. The
first on the left was that of the room where Sophie and Lucie both slept
and did their lessons, a large room looking out west to the gardens and
woods behind Lancilly; and opening from this, with a separate door into
the passage, was Mademoiselle Moineau's room. On the right the rooms
were smaller, the chapel cutting them off to the north, with a secret
staircase in the thickness of the wall by the altar. A maid slept in the
first; and the second, nearest the chapel, but with a wide, cheerful
view of its own across the valley to the east, was Hélène's room.

Madame de Sainfoy, after disposing of Hervé and hearing all that Urbain
had to tell her, with digressions to the almost equally interesting
subject of silk hangings, set off across the château to inspect the
young people at their lessons. She was an excellent mother. She did not,
like so many women, leave her children entirely to the consciences of
their teachers.

Her firm step, the sharp touch which lifted the heavy old latch,
straightened the backs of Sophie and Lucie as if by magic. Lucie looked
at her mother in terror. Too often her round shoulders caught that
unsparing eye, and the dreaded backboard was firmly strapped on before
Madame de Sainfoy left the room; for Lucie, growing tall and inclined
to stoop, was going through the period of torture which Hélène, for the
same reason, had endured before her.

They all got up, including Mademoiselle Moineau. The two girls went to
kiss their mother's hand; Henriette, more slowly, followed their
example.

"I hope your new pupil is obedient, mademoiselle," said Madame de
Sainfoy, as her cold glance met the child's fearless eyes.

Mademoiselle Moineau cocked her little arched nose--she was very like a
fluffy old bird--and smiled rather mischievously.

"We shall do very well, when Mademoiselle de la Marinière understands
us," she said. "I have no wish to complain, but at present she is a
little sure of herself, a little distrustful of me, and so--"

"Ignorance and ill-breeding," said the Comtesse, coolly. "Excuse
her--she will know better in time."

Riette's eyes fell, and she became crimson. The good-natured Sophie
caught her hand and squeezed it, thinking she was going to cry; but such
weakness was far from Riette; the red of her cheeks was a flame of pure
indignation. Ignorant! Ill-bred! She had been very much pleased when the
little papa decided suddenly on sending her to join Sophie and Lucie in
their lessons; she had been seized with a romantic admiration for
Hélène, independent of the interest she took in her for Angelot's sake,
and in other ways the Château de Lancilly was to her enchanted ground.
And now this fair, tall lady, whom she had disliked from the first,
talked of her ignorance and ill-breeding! She drew herself up, her lips
trembled; another such word and she would have walked out of the room,
fled down the corridor, escaped alone across the fields to Les
Chouettes. She knew every turn, every step in the château, every path in
the country, far better than these people did; they would not easily
overtake her.

But Madame de Sainfoy was not thinking of Henriette.

"What are you doing? Reading history?" she said to the others.
"Mademoiselle, I thought it was my wish that Hélène should read history
with her sisters. The other day, if you remember, she could not tell
Monsieur de Sainfoy the date of the marriage of Philippe Duc d'Orléans
with the Princess Henriette of England. It is necessary to know these
things. The Emperor expects a correct knowledge of the old Royal Family.
Where is Hélène?"

"She is in her own room, madame. Allow me an instant--"

The three children were left alone. Madame de Sainfoy walked quickly
into Mademoiselle Moineau's room, the little governess waddling after
her, and the door was shut.

Riette made a skip in the air and pirouetted on one foot. Then while
Sophie and Lucie stared open-mouthed, she was on a chair; then with a
wild spring, she was hanging by her hands to the top cornice of a great
walnut-wood press; then she was on her feet again, light as an
india-rubber ball.

"Ah, mon Dieu! sit down, Riette, or we shall all be beaten!" sighed the
trembling Lucie.

"Don't be frightened, children!" murmured Riette. "Where is our book?
Now, my angels, think, think of Henri Quatre and all his glory!"

In the meanwhile, Mademoiselle Moineau laid her complaint of Hélène
before the Comtesse. Something was certainly the matter with the girl;
she would not read, she would not talk, her tasks of needlework were
neglected, she did not care to go out, or to do anything but sit in her
window and gaze across the valley.

"Of course there has been no opportunity--they have never met, except in
public--but if it were not entirely out of the question--" Mademoiselle
Moineau stammered, blushing, conscious, though she would never confess
it, of having nodded one day for a few minutes under a certain mulberry
tree. "The other night, madame, at the dinner party, did it strike you
that a certain gentleman was a little forward, a little intimate--"

Madame de Sainfoy lifted her brows and shrugged her shoulders.

"You mean young La Marinière? Bah! nonsense, mademoiselle. Only a
little cousin, and a quite impossible one. We cannot keep him quite at
arm's length, because of his father, who has been so excellent. But if
you really think that Hélène has any such absurdity in her head--"

"Oh, madame, I do not say so. I have no positive reason for saying so.
She has told me nothing--"

"I should think not," said Madame de Sainfoy, shortly.

Mademoiselle Moineau was dismissed back to her pupils, whom she found,
under Henriette's surveillance, deep in the romance of French history.

Madame de Sainfoy crossed the passage and tried Hélène's door. It was
not fastened, as she had half expected. Opening it quickly and gently,
she found her daughter sitting in the window, as the governess had
described her, with both arms stretched out upon its broad sill, and
eyes fixed in a long wistful gaze on the small spire of the church at La
Marinière, and the screen of trees which partly hid the old manor
buildings from view.

"What are you doing, Hélène?" said Madame de Sainfoy.

Her voice, though low, was peremptory. The girl started up, turning her
white face and tired eyes from the window. Her mother walked across the
room and sat down in a high-backed chair close by.

"What a waste of time," she said, "to sit staring into vacancy! Why are
you not reading history with your sisters, as I wished?"

"Mamma--my head aches," said Hélène.

"Then bathe it with cold water. What is the matter with you, child? You
irritate me with your pale looks. Do you dislike Lancilly? Do you wish
yourself back in Paris?"

"No, mamma."

"I could excuse you if you did," said Madame de Sainfoy, with a smile.
"I find the country insupportable myself, but you see, as the fates have
preserved to us this rat-infested ruin, we must make the best of it. I
set you an example, Hélène. I interest myself in restoring and
decorating. If you were to help me, time would not seem so long."

She did not speak at all unkindly.

"I like the country. I like Lancilly much better than Paris," said
Hélène.

There was a moment's gleam of pity in Madame de Sainfoy's bright blue
eyes. Languid, sad, yet not rebellious or sulky, her beautiful girl
stood drooping like a white lily in the stern old frame of the window.
The mother believed in discipline, and Hélène's childhood and youth had
been spent in an atmosphere of cold severity. Punishments would have
been very frequent, if her father's rather spasmodic and inconsequent
kindness had not stepped in to save her. She owed a good deal to her
father, but these debts only hardened her mother against both of them.
Yet Madame de Sainfoy was not without a certain pride in the perfect
form and features, the delicate, exquisite grace and distinction, which
was one of these days to dazzle the Tuileries. On that, her resolution
was firm and unchanging. _Tout va bien!_ One of these days the Emperor's
command might be expected. With that confident certainty in the
background, she felt she need not trouble herself much about her
husband's objections or her daughter's fancies.

"You are a very difficult young woman, Hélène," she said, still not
unkindly, and her eyes travelled with slow consideration over every
detail as the girl stood there. "I do not like that gown of yours," she
said. "Don't wear it again. Give it to Jeanne--do you hear?"

"Must I? But it is not worn out, mamma. I would rather keep it," the
girl said quickly, stroking her soft blue folds, which were in truth a
little faded.

Then she flushed suddenly, for what reason could she give for loving the
old gown! Not, certainly, that she had worn it one day in the
garden--one day when Mademoiselle Moineau went to sleep!

"You will do as I tell you," said Madame de Sainfoy. Then she added with
a slight laugh--"You are so fond of your own way, that I wonder you
should object to being married. Do you think, perhaps, you would find a
husband still more tyrannical?"

The girl shook her head. "No," she murmured.

"Then what is your reason? for you evidently intend not to be married at
all."

"I do not say that," said Hélène; and Madame de Sainfoy was conscious,
with sudden anger, that once more the dreamy grey eyes travelled out of
the open window, far away to those lines of poplars and clipped elms
opposite.

"How different things were when I was young!" she said. "My marriage
with your father was arranged by our relations, without our meeting at
all. I never saw him till everything was concluded. If I had disliked
him, I could neither have said nor done anything."

"That was before the Revolution," said Hélène, with a faint smile.

"Indeed you are very much mistaken," her mother said quickly, "if you
think the Revolution has altered the manners of society. It may have
done good in some ways--I believe it did--but in teaching young people
that they could disobey their parents, it did nothing but harm. And it
deceived them, too. As long as our nation lasts, marriages will be
arranged by those who know best. In your case, but for your father's
absurd indulgence, you would have been married months ago. However,
these delays cannot last for ever. I think you will not refuse the next
marriage that is offered you."

The girl looked wonderingly at her mother, half in terror, half in
hope. She spoke meaningly, positively. What marriage could this be?

"What would you say to a distinguished soldier?" said Madame de Sainfoy,
watching her keenly. "Then, with some post about the Court and your
husband always away at the wars, you could lead a life as independent as
you chose. Now, pray do not think it necessary to throw yourself out of
the window. I make a suggestion, that is all. I am quite aware that
commands are thrown away on a young lady of your character."

"What do you mean, mamma?" the girl panted, with a quick drawing-in of
her breath. "Who is it? Not that man who dined here--that man who was
talking to you?"

Madame de Sainfoy flamed suddenly into one of those cold rages which had
an effectiveness all their own.

"Idiot!" she said between her teeth. "Contemptible little fool! And if
General Ratoneau, a handsome and distinguished man, did you the honour
of asking for your hand, would you expect me to tell him that you had
not taken a fancy to him?"

"Mon Dieu!" Hélène murmured. She turned away to the window for a moment,
clasping her hands upon her breast; then, white as death, came back and
stood before her mother.

"It is what I feared," she said. "It is what you were talking about; I
knew it at the time. That was why you sent me out of the room--you
wanted to talk it over. Have you settled it, then? What did papa say?"

Madame de Sainfoy hesitated. She had not at all intended to mention any
name, or to make Hélène aware to any extent of the true facts of the
case. Her sudden anger had carried her further than she meant to go. She
neither wished to frighten the girl into flying to her father, nor to
tell her that he had refused his consent.

"Really, Hélène, you are my despair," she said, and laughed, her eyes
fixed on the girl's lovely, changing face. "You leap to conclusions in
an utterly absurd way. If such a thing were already settled, or even
under serious consideration, would you not have been formally told of it
before now? Would your father have kept silence for two days, and would
you not have heard of another visit from General Ratoneau? You would not
be surprised, I suppose, to hear that he admires you--and by the bye, I
think your taste is bad if you do not return his admiration--but that is
absolutely all I have to tell you."

"Is it?" the girl sighed. "Ah, mamma, how you terrified me!"

Madame de Sainfoy shrugged her shoulders.

"I wonder," she said, "how I have deserved such a daughter as you! No
courage, no ambition for your family, no feeling of duty to them.
Nothing but--I am ashamed to say it, Hélène, and you can deny it if it
is not true--some silly sentimental fancy which carries your eyes and
thoughts to that old farm over there. Ah, I see I am right. When did
this preposterous nonsense begin? Why, the question is not worth asking,
for you have hardly even spoken to that cousin of yours, and I will do
him the justice to say that he, on his side, has no such ridiculous
idea. He does not sit staring at Lancilly as you do at La Marinière!
Yes, Hélène, I am ashamed of you."

Hélène stood crimson and like a culprit before her mother. She hardly
understood her words; she only knew that her mother had read her heart,
had known how to follow her thoughts as they escaped from this stony
prison away to sunshine and free air and waving trees and a happy,
homely life; away to Angelot. What was there to be ashamed of, after
all? She expected no one to be on her side; she dreaded their anger and
realised keenly what it might be; but as for shame!

Even as Madame de Sainfoy spoke, the thought of her young lover seemed
to surround Hélène with an atmosphere of joyful sweetness. Yes, he was
wonderful, her Angelot. Would he ever be afraid or ashamed to confess
his love for her? Why could she not find courage then to tell of hers
for him?

With a new and astonishing courage Hélène lifted her long lashes and
looked up into her mother's face. It was a timid glance at the best; the
furtive shadow lingered still in her eyes, result of a life of cold
repression.

"Why should I deny it, mamma?" she said. Her voice was distinct, though
it trembled. "It is true, and I am not ashamed of it. Angelot has been
kinder to me than any one in the world. Yes--I love him."

"Ah!" Madame de Sainfoy drew a long breath. "Ah! Voyons! And what next,
pray?"

"If you care at all to make me happy," the girl said, and she gained a
little hope, heaven knows why, as she went on, "you and papa will--will
give me to him. Yes, that is what I want. Mamma, see, I have no
ambition. I don't care to live in Paris or to go to Court--I hate it! I
want to live in the country--over there--at La Marinière."

A smile curled Madame de Sainfoy's pretty mouth. It was not an agreeable
one; but it frightened Hélène much less than an angry word would have
done. She came forward a step or two, knelt on her mother's footstool,
timidly rested a hand on her knee. Madame de Sainfoy sat immovable,
looking down and smiling.

"Speak, mamma," murmured the girl.

"Hélène, are you deaf?" said Madame de Sainfoy. "Did you hear what I
said just now?"

"You told me I had no courage or ambition. I suppose it is true."

"I told you something else, which you did not choose to hear. I told you
that this fancy of yours was not only foolish and low, but one-sided.
Trust me, Hélène. I know more of your precious cousin than you do, my
dear."

"Pardon! Ah no, mamma, impossible."

"It is true. The other night, as you guessed, I sent you away that I
might discuss your future with your father and his family. That very
absurd person, Cousin Joseph de la Marinière, chose to give his opinion
without being asked for it, and took upon himself to suggest a marriage
between you and that little nephew of his. Take your hand away. I
dislike being touched, as you know."

The girl's pale face was full of life and colour now, her melancholy
eyes of light. She snatched away her hand and rose quickly to her feet,
stepping back to her old place near the window.

"Dear Uncle Joseph!" she murmured under her breath.

"The young man was not grateful. He said in plain words that he did not
wish to marry you. Yes, look as bewildered as you please. Ask your
father, ask either of his cousins. I will say for young Ange that he has
more wits than you have; he does not waste his time craving for the
impossible. If it were not so, I should send you away to a convent. As
it is, I shall stop this little flirtation by taking care that you do
not meet him, except under supervision."

The girl looked stricken. She leaned against the wall, once more white
as a statue, once more terrified.

"Angelot said--but it is not possible!" she whispered very low.

"Angelot very sensibly said that he did not care for you. Under those
circumstances I think you are punished enough; and I will not insist on
knowing how you came to deceive yourself so far. But I advise you not to
spend any more time staring at that line of poplars," said Madame de
Sainfoy. "Learn not to take in earnest what other people mean in play;
your country cousin admires you, no doubt, but he knows more of the
world than you do, most idiotic and ill-behaved girl!"

As she said the last words she rose and crossed the room to the door,
throwing them scornfully over her shoulder. Then she passed out, and
Hélène, planted there, heard the key grind in the lock.

She was a prisoner in her room; but this did not greatly trouble her.
She went back to the window, leaned her arms on the sill, gazed once
more at La Marinière, its trees motionless in the afternoon sunlight,
thought of the old room as she had first seen it that moonlit evening
with its sweet air of peace and home, thought of the noble, delicate
face of Angelot's mother, thought of Angelot himself as the candle-light
fell upon him, of the first wonderful look, the electric current which
changed the world for herself and him. And then all that had happened
since, all that her mother did not and never must know. Was it really
possible, could it be believed that he meant nothing, that he did not
love her after all? No, it could not be believed. And yet how to be
sure, without seeing him again?

Ah, well, for some people life must be all sadness, and Héléne had long
believed herself one of these. Angelot's love seemed to have proved her
wrong, but now the leaf in her book was turned back again, and she found
herself at the old place. Not quite that either, for the old deadness
had been waked into an agony of pain. Angelot false! Hell must certainly
be worse to bear after a taste of Paradise.

She laid her fair head down on her arms at the open window, high in the
bare wall. An hour passed by, and still she sat there in a kind of
hopeless lethargy. She did not hear a gentle tapping at the door, nor
the trying of the latch by some one who could not get in. But a minute
later she started and exclaimed when a dark head was suddenly nestled
against hers, her cheek kissed by rosy lips, her name whispered
lovingly.

"Oh, little Riette!" she cried. "Where did you come from, child? Was the
key in the door?"

"No, there was no key," Riette whispered. "You are locked in, ma belle;
but never mind. I know my way about Lancilly. I am going home now, and I
wanted to see you. They will ask me how you are looking."

Hélène blushed and almost laughed. She looked eagerly into the child's
face.

"Who will ask you?"

"Papa, of course."

"Ah, yes, he is very kind. What will you say to him?"

Riette looked hard at her and shrugged her slight shoulders.

"I must go," she said. "Kiss me again, ma belle."

"Stop!" Hélène held her tight, with her hands on her shoulders. "Do you
often see--your cousin--Angelot?"

Riette's face rippled with laughter. "Every day--nearly every hour."

"Why do you laugh?"

"How can I tell? It is my fault, my own wickedness," said Riette,
penitently. "Why indeed should I laugh, when you look sad and ill? Can I
say any little word to Angelot, ma cousine?"

"Tell him I must see him--I must speak to him. Tell him to fix the place
and the hour."

"And you a prisoner?"

"Yes--but how did you get in? That way I can get out--Riette--Riette!"

"Precisely. Adieu! they are calling me."

The child was gone. Hélène, standing in the deep recess in the window,
now came forward and looked round wonderingly. The old tapestried walls
surrounded her; ancient scenes of hunting and dancing which at first
had troubled her sleep. There was no visible exit from the room, except
the locked door. But Riette was gone, and the message with her. Was she
a real child, or only a comforting dream?



CHAPTER XVI

HOW ANGELOT PLAYED THE PART OF AN OWL IN AN IVY-BUSH


That night, while Hélène sat alone and in disgrace, her lover was
dancing.

After dinner Riette persuaded her father to walk across with her to La
Marinière, where they found Monsieur Urbain, his wife and son, spending
the evening in their usual sober fashion; he, deep in vintage matters,
still studying his friend De Serres, and arguing various points with
Angelot whose day had been passed with Joubard in the vineyards; she,
working at her frame, where a very rococo shepherd and shepherdess under
a tree had almost reached perfection.

Madame de la Marinière had views of her own about little girls, and
considered Riette by no means a model. She had tried to impress her
ideas on Monsieur Joseph, but though he smiled and listened admiringly,
he spoiled Riette all the more. So her Aunt Anne reluctantly gave her
up. But still, in her rather severe way, she was kind to the child, and
Riette, though a little shy and on her good behaviour, was not afraid of
her. There was always a basket beside Aunt Anne, of clothes she was
making for the poor, for her tapestry was only an evening amusement. In
this basket there was a little white cap such as the peasant children
wore, partly embroidered in white thread. This was Riette's special
work, whenever she came to La Marinière. Sitting on a footstool beside
her aunt, she stitched away at "le bonnet de la petite Lise." At her
rate of progress, however, as her aunt pointed out with a melancholy
smile, Lise would be a grown-up woman before the cap was finished.

And on this special evening the stitches were both few and crooked.
Riette paid no attention to her work, but sat staring and smiling at
Angelot across the room, and he, instead of talking to his father and
uncle, watched her keenly under his eyelids. Presently he came and stood
near his mother's chair while she asked Riette a few questions about her
lessons that day. It appeared that all had been satisfactory.

"A good little woman, Mademoiselle Moineau," said Riette, softly,
smiling at Angelot, who felt the colour mounting to his hair. "I like
her very much. She pretends to scold, but there is no malice in it, you
know. I don't think she is very clever. Quite clever enough for Sophie
and Lucie, who are most amiable, poor dear children, but stupid--ah!"

"They are older than you, I believe, Henriette," said her aunt,
reprovingly.

"Yes, dear aunt, in years, but not in experience. I have lived, I know
life"--she nodded gently--"while those poor girls--Ah, how charming! May
I have a little dance with Ange, Aunt Anne?"

"I suppose so. Lise will not have her cap yet, it seems," said Madame de
la Marinière, smiling in spite of herself.

Monsieur Joseph had sat down to the piano and was playing a lively
polka. Angelot started up, seized his little cousin, and whirled her off
down the room. In a minute or two Urbain took off his spectacles, shut
the _Théâtre d'Agriculture_ with a sharp clap, walked up to Anne and
held out his hands with a smiling bow.

"I can't resist Joseph's music, if you can, my little lady!"

"It seems we must follow the children," she said. "Riette has just been
pointing out that she, at least, is wiser than her elders."

Angelot and his father jumped their light partners up and down with all
the merry energy of France and a new world. After a few turns, Angelot
waltzed Riette out into the hall, and they stood still for a few moments
under the porch, while she whispered Hélène's message into his ear.

"Mon Dieu! But how can she meet me? It must be at night, or they will
see us. And if she is locked into her room?"

"She can get out of her room, mon petit! She knows there is a way,
though I have not shown it to her. Then there is the secret staircase
in the chapel wall."

"You are right, glorious child that you are. She will find me in the
moat, close to the little door. Nothing can be safer, provided that no
one misses her."

"At what time?"

"Nine o'clock, when they are all playing cards."

"I will tell her," said Riette. "Oh, my Ange! she looked so sweet when
she talked of you. I think I love her as much as you do. Why don't you
bring her to Les Chouettes, that we may take care of her? There is an
idea. Take her to Monsieur le Curé to-morrow night. He will be gone to
bed, but no matter. Make him get up and marry you. Then come and live at
Les Chouettes, both of you. We have plenty of room, and little papa
would not be angry."

"Hush, child, what things you say!"

The very thoughts were maddening, there in the dim darkness under the
stairs, with glimmering points of distant earthly light from Lancilly on
the opposite hill. One of them might be Hélène's window, where she sat
and watched La Marinière.

The music in the old room behind went swinging on. Monsieur Joseph
played with immense spirit; Monsieur and Madame Urbain danced merrily up
and down.

"Allons! we must go back," Angelot whispered to his little cousin,
whose arms were round his neck. "And then you must dance with your
uncle, because my mother likes a turn with me."

One cold touch of reflection came to dim his happiness. He had promised
Uncle Joseph not to make Henriette a go-between. And it seemed no real
excuse that it was Hélène's doing, not his. Well, this once it could not
be helped. All the promises in the world would not make him disobey
Hélène or disappoint her.

For the present, it seemed as if the attraction between himself and
Hélène, a rapture to both of them, still meant very real misery to her.
She was in deep disgrace with Madame de Sainfoy. Although she was
allowed to come down to the meals, at which she sat statue-like and
silent, she was sent back at once to her room, and either her mother or
Mademoiselle Moineau locked her in.

Her father noticed these proceedings and shrugged his shoulders. He was
sorry for Hélène, but had learnt by experience not to interfere, except
on great and necessary occasions. No doubt girls were sometimes
troublesome, and he did not pretend to know how to manage them. Adélaïde
must bring up her children in her own way.

Another day of almost entire solitude, with a terrible doubt of Angelot
added to the longing for his presence, so that peace was no longer to be
found in the distant sight of La Marinière; another day had dragged its
length through the hot hours of the afternoon, when, as Hélène walked
restlessly up and down in her room, the blue-green depths of a grove on
her tapestried wall began to move, and out from the wall itself, as if
to join the dancing peasants beyond the grove, came the slender little
figure of Henriette. In an instant the panel of tapestry had closed
behind her and she had sprung into Hélène's arms. The girl clutched her
convulsively.

"What does he say?"

"To-night, at nine o'clock, he will be near the little door in the moat.
Meet him there."

"The little door in the moat!"

"You see this. Let me show you the spring"--she dragged her to the wall,
and opened the panel with a touch. Inside it there was a dark and narrow
passage, but opposite another panel stood slightly ajar.

"That is the way into the chapel," Riette whispered. "I came that way.
But you must turn to the right, and almost directly you will find the
stairs. The door is at the foot of them. He will be there."

"It is unlocked?"

"There is no key. I believe there has been none for centuries. Adieu, my
pretty angel. They will miss me; I must go. I told them I wanted to say
a little prayer to Our Lady in the chapel. She often helped me when I
used to play here."

"I hope she will help me, too!" murmured Hélène.

In another moment she was terrified at finding herself alone in the
dark; for the child was gone, softly closing the secret door into the
chapel. Hélène felt about for a minute or two before she could find the
spring behind the tapestry, and stepped back into her room, shivering
from the damp chill of the passage.

It seemed like an extraordinary fate that that night her mother kept her
downstairs at needlework later than usual. It was in truth a slight mark
of returning favour. Madame de Sainfoy was in a better temper, and
realised that it might be unwise to treat a tall girl of nineteen quite
like a disobedient child. So Hélène sat there stitching beside
Mademoiselle Moineau, who was sometimes called upon to take a hand at
cards. To-night this did not seem likely, for Urbain de la Marinière
came in after dinner, and the snuffy, sharp-faced little Curé of
Lancilly was there too. Madame de Sainfoy had asked him to dine that
day, partly to show herself superior to family prejudices; for this
little man, unlike the venerable Curé of La Marinière, was one of the
Constitutional priests of the Republic.

Flushing crimson, and feeling, as she well might, like a heroine of
romance, Hélène heard the new Paris clock strike nine. Its measured,
silvery tones had not died away, when she was by her mother's side at
the card-table, timidly asking leave to go to her room.

Madame de Sainfoy had just glanced at her hand and found it an excellent
one.

"Yes, my child, certainly," she said absently, and gave Hélène her free
hand.

The girl touched it with her lips, and then her mother's fingers lightly
patted her cheek.

"How feverish you are!" Adélaïde murmured, but took no further notice,
absorbed in her game.

"Like a little flame! but it is a hot night," said Hervé as his daughter
kissed him.

Mademoiselle Moineau was following Hélène from the room, when she was
called back.

"No, mademoiselle, you must stay; we cannot do without you. Monsieur le
Curé has to be home before ten o'clock."

The governess went back obediently to her corner. Hélène glanced back
from the door at the group round the table, deep in their calculations,
careless of what might be going on outside their circle of shaded
candle-light. Only her father lifted his head and looked after her for
an instant; her presence or absence was totally indifferent to the other
men, though the square-headed cousin Urbain was Angelot's father; and
her mother had forgotten her already.

Carrying her light, Hélène went with quick and trembling steps through
the house to the north wing. As she entered the last passage, she met
the maid who had been waiting on Sophie and Lucie, and who slept in the
room next her own.

"Mademoiselle wants me?" said Jeanne, a little disappointed; she had
hoped for half-an-hour's freedom.

"No, no, I do not want you," Hélène answered quickly. "I have things to
do--you can stay till Mademoiselle Moineau comes up."

Jeanne went on her way rejoicing.

Hélène, once in her own room, locked the door inside, took a large black
lace scarf and threw it over her head, hiding her white dress with it as
much as possible; then, still carrying her candle, touched the
mysterious tapestry door, that door which seemed to lead into old-time
woods, into happy, romantic worlds far away, and stepped through into
the passage in the thickness of the wall.

Almost instantly she came to the topmost step of the staircase. Black
with dust and cobwebs, damp, with slimy snail-tracks on the stones, it
went winding down to the lowest story of the old house. The steps were
worn and irregular. Long ago they had been built, for this was the most
ancient part of the château. In their first days the stairs had not
ended with the moat, then full of water, but had gone lower still,
leading to a passage under the moat that communicated with the open
country. There were many such underground ways in the war-worn old
province. But when Lancilly was restored and the moat drained, in the
seventeenth century, the lower stairs and passage were blocked up, and
the present door was made, opening on the green grass and bushes that
grew at the bottom of the old moat.

Hélène went down the steep and narrow stairs as quickly as her trembling
limbs would carry her. They seemed endless; but at last the light fell
on a low, heavy door, deep set in the immense foundation wall. She
seized the large rusty latch and lifted it without difficulty. Then she
pulled gently; no result; she pushed hard, thinking the door must open
outwards; it did not move. She set down her light on the stairs, and
tried again with both hands; but the door was immovable. As her brain
became a little steadier, and her eyes more accustomed to the dimness,
she saw that a heavy iron bar was fastened across the upper panels of
the door, and run into two enormous staples on the wall at each side.
She touched the bar, tried to move it, but found her hands absolutely
useless; it would have been a heavy task for a strong man. She stood and
looked at the door, shivering with terror and distress. After all, it
seemed, she was a real prisoner. She could not keep her appointment with
Angelot. She gave a stifled cry and threw herself against the door,
beating it with her fists and bruising them. Then a voice spoke outside,
low and quickly.

"Hélène!"

"Ah! you are there!" she said, and leaned her head against the door.

"Open then, dearest--don't be afraid. Lift the latch, and pull it
towards you. There is only a keyhole on this side--but it can't be
locked, for there is no key."

"I cannot," she said. "It is barred with a great iron bar. I cannot move
it. Oh, how unhappy I am! Why should I be so unfortunate, so miserable?"
she cried, and beat upon the door again.

"Ah, mon Dieu! My father's precautions! He went round the château six
weeks ago, to examine all the doors. I was not with him, or I should
have known it. Hélène! Will you do as I ask you?"

"Ah! there is nothing to be done. I had to speak to you--I cannot, with
this dreadful door between us, and--Ah, heavens, something has put out
my candle. I am in the dark! What shall I do!"

"Courage, courage!" he said, speaking close to the keyhole. "Go back up
the stairs; go to the chapel window!"

"But I cannot speak to you from the window!"

"Yes, you can--you shall."

"But I am in the dark!"

"You cannot miss your way. Go--go quickly--we have not much time--it is
late already."

"I could not help it," sighed Hélène.

She was almost angry with him, and for a moment she was sorry she had
sent him any message.

"What is the use? How can I speak to him from the window? it is too
high," she said to herself as she stumbled up the stairs, shuddering as
her fingers touched the damp wall. "It is my fate--I am never to be
happy. My mother knows she can do as she likes with me."

A sob rose in her throat, and burning tears blinded her. But she dashed
them away when she reached the level, and saw the thin line of light
which showed the entrance into her own room, where she had left a candle
burning. The opposite panel flew open as she touched it; she stooped and
crept into the chapel.

It was dark, cold, and lonely; no friendly red light in the seldom-used
little sanctuary; but the window in the north wall was unshuttered, and
let in the pale glimmer of a sky lit by stars. Hélène had no difficulty
in opening the window, though its rusty hinges groaned. There was a
quick, loud rustling in the ivy beneath. Hélène stepped back with a
slight scream as a hand shot suddenly up and caught the sill; in another
instant Angelot had climbed to the level of the window and dropped on
the brick floor. Hélène was almost in his arms, but she drew back and
motioned him away, remembering just in time that she was angry.

"What is it?" he said quickly. "Why--"

"How--how did you get here?" she stammered. "I thought you were down in
the moat."

"It is not the first time I have climbed the ivy, as the owls might
tell you," he said. "It is easy; the old trunk is as thick as my body,
and twists like a ladder. Hélène! You are angry with me! What have I
done?"

He tried to take her hand, but she drew it from him. He fell on his
knees and kissed the hem of her gown.

"Hélène!"

She stood motionless, unable to speak. But Angelot was not long to be
treated in this chilling fashion. It seemed that he had a good
conscience, and was not afraid to account for any of his actions. He
rose to his feet; no words passed between them; but Hélène resisted him
no longer. Her head was leaning on his breast; a long, happy sigh
escaped her; and it was between kisses that he asked her again, "Why are
you angry with me?"

"I am not--not now--I know it is not true," she murmured.

"What, my beloved?"

"You do care for me?"

Angelot laughed. Indeed it did not seem necessary to reassure her on
such a point.

"Because, if you give me up, I shall die," she said. "I should have
died, I think, if I had not seen you to-night. Now they may say and do
what they please."

"What have they been saying and doing? Ah, my sweet, how have they been
tormenting you? You are no happier than when I saw you first, though I
love you so. How you tremble! Sit down here--there, softly--you are
quite safe. What in God's name are we to do? Must I leave you again with
these people?"

For a few minutes they sat in a corner of an old carved bench under the
window, one of the family seats in those more religious days when
grandfathers and grandmothers came to the chapel to pray. Hélène leaned
against Angelot, clinging to him, and past his dark profile, dimly
visible in the twilight of stars, she could see the roughly carved and
painted figure of Our Lady, brought from a Spanish convent and much
venerated by that Mademoiselle de Sainfoy who became a Carmelite in the
early days of the order. Hélène had fancied, before now, that there was
something motherly in the smile of the statue, neglected so long. She
thought, even as her lover kissed her, that neither the Blessed Virgin,
nor St. Theresa, nor the ancestor who was her disciple, would have been
angry with her and Angelot. Only her own mother, and she for worldly
reasons alone, would find any sin in this sweet human love which wrapped
her round, which, if allowed to have its way, would shield her from all
the miseries of life and keep her in the rapturous peace she enjoyed in
this moment, this fleeting moment, which she could not spoil even by
telling her Angelot why she sent for him.

"Ah, how I wanted you!" she breathed in his ear.

"My love! But what--what are we to do!" he murmured passionately; her
feelings of rest and peace and safety were not for him.

"Your father is very good, and loves you," he said. "At least we know
that he will not have you sacrificed. I will ask him. If he
refuses--then, mille tonnerres, I will carry you off into the woods,
Hélène."

"It is no use asking him, dearest, none," she said. "Besides, you told
them all that you did not care for me."

She lifted her head, and tried to look into his face.

"Ah, did they tell you that? Was that why you were angry?" Angelot
cried.

"Yes," she said; "and now you had better ask to be forgiven."

Indeed, as they both knew too well, there were more serious things than
kisses and loving words to occupy that stolen half-hour. They had to
tell each other all--all they knew--and each became a little wiser.
Hélène knew that General Ratoneau had actually asked for her, and that
her father had refused to listen; thus realising that her mother was
deceiving her, and also that for some hidden reason the plan seemed to
Madame de Sainfoy still possible. Angelot, even as they sat there
together, realised vividly that he was living in a fool's paradise; that
his love's confession to her mother had made things incalculably worse,
justifying all the stern treatment, the violent means, which such a
mother might think necessary.

"She means to marry her to Ratoneau," he thought, "and she will do it,
unless Heaven interferes by a miracle. Uncle Joseph is my only friend,
and he cannot help me--at least--if I do not act at once, we are lost."

He lifted Hélène's fair head a little, and its pale beauty, in the dim
gleam from the open window, seemed to fill his whole being as he gazed.
He drew her towards him and kissed her again and again; it might have
been a last embrace, a last good-bye, but he did not mean it for that.

"Will you come with me now?" he said.

"Yes!" Hélène said faintly.

"Are you afraid?"

"No"--she hesitated--"not with you. I can be brave when I am with
you--but when you are not here--"

"They shall not part us again," Angelot said.

"But how are we to get out?"

Though her lover was there, still holding her, the girl trembled as she
asked the question.

"I can unbar the door," he said. "Come to the top of the stairs and wait
there till I whistle; then come down to me."

This seemed enough for the moment, and the wild fellow had no further
plan at all. To have her outside these prison walls, in the free air he
loved, under the trees in the starlight, to make a right to her, as he
vaguely thought, by running off with her in this fashion--that was all
that concerned him at the moment. Where was he to take her? Would Uncle
Joseph receive them? Such thoughts just flashed through the tumult of
his brain, but seemed of no present importance. Angelot was mad that
night, mad with love of his cousin, with the desperate necessity which
needed to be met by desperate daring.

Hélène followed him, trembling very much, to the top of the stairs.

"You have a candle there? Fetch it for me," he said.

She obeyed him, slipping through the tapestry into her own room. Once
there, she looked round with a wild wonder. Could this be
herself--Hélène de Sainfoy--about to escape into the wide world with her
lover--and empty-handed? She looked down vaguely at her white evening
gown and thin shoes, snatched up her watch and chain and a diamond ring,
which were lying on the table, and slipped them into her pocket. It was
the work of a moment, yet when she carried the candle to Angelot, he was
white as death, and stamping with impatience; the flame in his eyes
frightened her.

He took the candle without a word and disappeared down the first steep
winding of the stairs. His moving shadow danced gigantic on the wall,
then was gone. Hélène waited in the darkness. Even love and faith, with
hope added, were not strong enough to keep her brave and happy during
the terrible minutes of lonely waiting there. Her limbs trembled, her
heart thumped so that she had to lean for support against the cold damp
wall. She bent her head forward, eagerly listening. Why had she not gone
down with him? Somebody might hear him whistle. However, no whistle
came; only a dull sound of banging, which echoed strangely, alarmingly,
up the narrow staircase in the thickness of the wall.

It seemed to Hélène that she had waited long and was becoming stupefied
with anxiety, when a light flashed suddenly upon her eyes, and she
opened them wide; she had never lost the childish fear which made her
shut them in the dark. Angelot had leaped up the stairs again and was
standing beside her, white and frowning.

"It is impossible," he said, in a hurried whisper. "I cannot move the
bar without tools. Come back into the chapel."

He set down the candlestick on the altar step, walked distractedly to
the end of the low vaulted room, then back to where she stood gazing at
him with a pitiful terror in her eyes.

"What is to be done! Is there no other way!" he said, half to himself.
"Mon Dieu, Hélène, how beautiful you are! Ah, what is that? Listen!"

His ears, quicker than hers, had caught steps and a rustling sound in
the passage that ended at the chapel door.

"Dear--go back to your room," he said. "They must not find you here. We
shall meet again--Good-night, my own!"

He was gone. The bewildered girl looked after him silently, and he was
across the floor, on the window-sill, disappearing hand over head down
his ladder of old twisted ivy stems, before she realised anything. Then,
not the least aware that some one was knocking at her bedroom door in
the passage, shaking the latch, calling her name, she flew after him to
the window and leaned out, crying to him low and wildly, "Angelot, come
back, come back! Why did you go? Ah, don't leave me! Help me to climb
down, too,--please, please, darling!"

Angelot was out of sight, though not out of hearing. Forty feet of thick
ivy and knotted stems, shelter of generations of owls, stretched between
the chapel window and the moat's green floor; ivy two centuries old, the
happy hunting-ground of many a lad of Lancilly and La Marinière. But
that night, perhaps, the hospitable old tree reached the most romantic
point of its history.

Hélène stretched down eager hands among the thick leaves.

"Angelot! Angelot!"

She heard nothing but the rustling down below, saw nothing but the thick
leaves under the stars, though somebody had opened the chapel door, and
though her treacherous candle, throwing a square of light upon the dark
trees opposite, showed not only her own imploring shadow, but that of a
tall figure stepping up behind her. In another moment her arm was seized
in a grasp by no means gentle, and she turned round with a scream to
face Madame de Sainfoy.

Her cry might have stopped Angelot in his swift descent and brought him
to the window again, but as he neared the ground he saw that some one
was waiting for him, some one standing on the flat grass, under the
light of such stars as shone down into the moat, gazing with fixed
gravity at the window from which Hélène was leaning.

Angelot's light spring to the ground brought him within a couple of
yards of the motionless figure, and his white face flushed red when he
saw that it was Hélène's father. The few moments during which he faced
Comte Hervé silently were the worst his happy young life had ever known.
The elder man did not speak till Hélène, with that last little cry, had
disappeared from the window. Then he looked at Angelot.

"I am sorry, Ange," he said, "for I owe a good deal to your father. But
I will ask you to wait here while I fetch my pistols. It is best to
settle such a matter on the spot--though you hardly deserve to be so
well treated."

"Monsieur--" Angelot almost choked.

"Ah! Do not trouble yourself to hunt for excuses--there are none," said
the Comte.

He was moving off, but Angelot threw himself in his way.

"Bring one pistol," he said. "One will be enough, for I cannot fight
you--you know it. But you may kill me if it pleases you."

Hervé shrugged his shoulders.

"How long has this been going on? How many times have you met my
daughter clandestinely? Does it seem to you the behaviour of a
gentleman? On my soul, you deserve to be shot down like a dog, as you
say!"

"No, monsieur," Angelot said quickly, "I give you leave to do it, for I
see now that life must be misery. But I have done no such harm as to
deserve to be shot! No! I love and adore my cousin, and you must have
known it--every one knows it, I should think. Can I sit quietly at home
while her family gives her the choice between General Ratoneau and a
convent? No, I confess it is more than I can bear."

"And if her family had given her such a choice--which is false, by the
bye--what could you do? Is it likely that they would change their minds
and give her to you, as your uncle Joseph suggested? And would you
expect to gain their favour by this sort of thing?" He pointed to the
window. "No, young man; if you were not your father's son, my grooms
might whip you out of Lancilly, and I should feel justified in giving
the order."

Angelot broke into a short laugh. "A pistol-shot is not an insult," he
said. "But you are angry."

"And you are Urbain's son," the Comte said.

There was a world of reproach in the words, but little violent anger.
The two men stood and looked at each other; and it was not the least
strange part of the position that they were still, as they had been all
along, mutually attracted. Both natures were open, sweet-tempered, and
generous. A certain grace and charm about Hervé de Sainfoy drew Angelot,
as it had drawn his father. The touch of romance in Angelot, his beauty,
his bold, defiant air, took Hervé's fancy.

"You climb like a monkey or a sailor," he said. "But you tried another
exit, did you not? Was it you who was hammering at the door down there?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Tell me all."

The questions were severe, but Angelot answered them frankly and truly,
as far as he could do so and take the whole blame upon himself.

"It was I," he said; "I did the whole wrong, if it was wrong. Do not let
madame her mother be angry with her. But for God's sake do not make her
marry Ratoneau. She is timid, she is delicate--ah, monsieur--and we are
cousins, after all--"

There was a break in his voice, and the Comte almost smiled.

"You are a pair of very absurd and troublesome children," he said, much
more kindly. "But you are old enough to know better; it is ignorance of
the world to think that lives can be arranged to suit private
inclinations. I could not give you my daughter, even if I wished it; you
ought to see, as your father would, that you are not in a position to
expect such a wife. You are not even on my side in politics, though you
very well might be. If you were in the army, with even the prospect of
distinguishing yourself like General Ratoneau--and why not even now--"

It was a tremendous temptation, but only for a moment. Angelot thought
of his mother and of his uncle Joseph.

"I cannot go into the army," he said quickly.

"No--you are a Chouan at heart, I know," said Hervé.

He added presently, as the young man stood silent and doubtful before
him--"You will give me your word of honour, Angelot, that there is no
more of this--that you do not attempt to see my daughter again."

Angelot answered him, after a moment's pause, "I warn you that I shall
break my word, if I hear more of Ratoneau."

"The devil take Ratoneau!" replied his cousin. "You will give me your
word, and I will give you mine. I will never consent to such a marriage
as that for Hélène. Are you satisfied now?"

"You give me life and hope," said Angelot.

"Not at all. It is not for your sake, I assure you."

Angelot's poor love went to bed that night in a passion of tears. The
time came for her to know and confess that Angelot's father, when he
barred the postern door, might have had more than one guardian angel
behind him; but that time was not yet.



CHAPTER XVII

HOW TWO SOLDIERS CAME HOME FROM SPAIN


The family scandal was great. Angelot, if he had ever thought about such
possibilities at all, would never have imagined that his relations could
be so angry with him; and this without exception. Monsieur de Sainfoy,
the most entirely justified, was by far the gentlest. Madame de
Sainfoy's flame of furious wrath enveloped every one. She refused at
first even to see Monsieur Urbain; she vowed that she would leave
Lancilly at once, take Hélène back to Paris, let the odious old place
fall back into the ruin from which she wished it had never been rescued,
shake herself and her children free from the contact of these low,
insolent cousins who presumed so far on their position, on the gratitude
that might be supposed due to them. Urbain, however, having stuck to his
point and obtained a private interview with her, in which he promised
that his son should be sent away, or at least should annoy her no more,
her tone became a little milder and she did not insist on breaking up
the establishment. After all, Urbain pointed out, _Tout va bien!_ It was
to be expected that an imperial order would very soon decide Hélène's
future and check for ever young Angelot's ambition. Madame de Sainfoy
perceived that it was worth while to wait.

In the meantime, the philosopher's nature was stirred to its depths. If
it had not been for his wife's strong opposition, he would have insisted
on Angelot's accepting one of those commissions which Napoleon was
always ready to give to young men of good family, sometimes indeed, when
the family was known to be strongly Royalist, making them
sub-lieutenants in spite of themselves and throwing them into prison if
they refused to serve. Anne would not have it. She was as angry with
Angelot as any one. That he should not only have been taken captive,
soul and body, by Lancilly, but should have put himself so hopelessly in
the wrong, filled her with rage and grief. But she would not have
matters made worse by committing her boy to the Empire. She would
rather, as Monsieur Joseph suggested, pack him off across the frontier
to join the army of the Princes. But then, again, his father would never
consent to that.

"Why do they not send the girl away!" she cried. "Why not send her to a
Paris convent till they find a husband for her! We do not want her here,
with that pale face and those tragic eyes of hers, making havoc of our
young men. I respect Hervé for refusing that horrible General, but why
does he not take means to find some one else! They are beyond my
understanding, Hervé and Adélaïde. I wish they had never come back,
never brought that girl here to distract my Angelot. He was free and
happy till they came. Ah, mon Dieu! how they make me suffer, these
people!"

"Do not blame them for Angelot's dishonourable weakness," said her
husband, sternly. "If your son had possessed reason and self-control,
which I have tried in vain all my life to teach him, none of all this
need have happened. There is no excuse for him."

"I am making none. I am very angry with him. I am not blaming your dear
Sainfoys. I only say that if they had never come, or if Providence had
given them an ugly daughter, this could not have happened. You will not
try to deny that, I suppose!"

He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

"Your logic is faultless, my dear Anne. If you had not married me, there
would have been no handsome boy to fall in love with a pretty girl. And
if La Marinière had not been near Lancilly--"

"Are you ever serious?" she said, and swept out of the room.

His strong face was grave enough as he looked after her.

But in Angelot's presence there was no such philosophical trifling. He
was made to feel himself in deep disgrace with both his parents, and he
was young enough to feel it very keenly. After the first tremendous
scolding, they hardly spoke to him; he went in and out in a gloomy
silence most strange to the sunny life of La Marinière. And at Les
Chouettes it was no better.

In truth, Angelot found his uncle Joseph's deep displeasure harder to
bear than that of any one else. There was something clandestine about
the affair which touched the little gentleman's sense of honour; his
code of manners and good breeding was also offended. He knew life; his
own younger days had been stormy; and even now, though respecting
morality, he was not strict or narrow. But such adventures as this of
Angelot's seemed to him on a lower plane of society than belonged to
Lancilly or La Marinière. A secret meeting at night; climbing ivy like a
thief; making use of his familiarity with the old house to do what,
after all, was an injury as well as an offence to its owners,--all this
was matter of deep disgust to Monsieur Joseph.

"I thought Ange was a gentleman!" he said; and to Henriette, who with
bitter tears confessed to him her part in the story, he would not even
admire the daring spirit in which he and she had often rejoiced
together.

"Hélène's fault, you say, child? No, we will not make that excuse for
him. If the poor girl was unhappy, there were other ways--"

"But what could he have done, papa? Now you are very unkind. If she
asked him to come, could he have said no? Is that the way for a
gentleman to treat a lady?"

Riette had posed him, and she knew it. But she did not reap any personal
advantage.

"As to that," he said, "the whole thing was your fault. I did not send
you to Lancilly to carry messages, but to learn your lessons. What did
it matter to you if your cousin Hélène was unhappy? In this world we
must all be unhappy sometimes, as you will find. Go to bed at once.
Consider yourself in disgrace. You will stay in your room for two days
on bread and water, and you will not go to Lancilly again for a long
time, perhaps never. I am sorry I ever sent you there, but in future
Mademoiselle Hélène's affairs will be arranged without you."

Riette went obediently away, shaking her head. As she went upstairs she
heard her father calling to Marie Gigot, giving severe commands in a
nervous voice, and she smiled faintly through her tears.

"Nevertheless, little papa, we love our Ange, you and I!" she said.

Angelot wandered about solitary with his gun and Négo, avoiding the
Lancilly side of the country, and keeping to his father's and his
uncle's land, where game abounded. For the present his good spirits were
effectually crushed; and yet, even now, his native hopefulness rose and
comforted him. It was true every one was angry; it was true he had given
his word of honour not to attempt to see Hélène, and at any moment her
future might be decided without him; but on the other hand, her father
had promised that she should not marry Ratoneau; and he and she, they
were both young, they loved each other; somehow, some day, the future
could hardly fail to be theirs.

In the meantime, Angelot was better off among his woods and moorlands
than Hélène in her locked room, all the old labyrinths and secret ways
discovered and stopped. The vintage was very near, for the last days of
September had come. Again a young moon was rising over the country, for
the moon which lighted Hélène to La Marinière on her first evening in
Anjou had waned and gone. And the heather had faded, the woods and
copses began to be tinted with bronze, to droop after the long, hot
season, only broken by two or three thunderstorms. The evenings were
drawing in, the mornings began to be chilly; autumn, even lovelier than
summer in that climate which has the seasons of the poets, was giving a
new freshness to the air and a new colour to the landscape.

One day towards evening Angelot visited La Joubardière. He went to the
farm a good deal at this time, for it was pleasant to see faces that did
not frown upon him, but smiled a constant welcome, and there was always
the excuse of talking to Joubard about the vintage. And again, this
evening, the Maîtresse brought out a bottle of her best wine, and the
two old people talked of their son at the war; and all the time they
were very well aware that something was wrong with Monsieur Angelot,
whom they had known and loved from his cradle. The good wife's eyes
twinkled a little as she watched him, and if nothing had happened later
to distract her thoughts, she would have told her husband that the boy
was in love. Joubard put down the young master's strange looks to
anxiety, not unfounded, about his uncle Joseph and the Chouan gentlemen.
Since Simon's spying and questioning, Joubard had taken a more serious
view of these matters.

"Monsieur Angelot has been at Les Chouettes to-day?" he said. "No? Ah,
perhaps it is as well. There were two gentlemen shooting with Monsieur
Joseph--I think they were Monsieur des Barres and Monsieur César
d'Ombré. A little dangerous, such company. Monsieur Joseph perhaps
thinks a young man is better out of it."

Angelot did not answer, and turned the conversation back to the vintage.

"Yes, I believe it will be magnificent," said the farmer. "If Martin
were only here to help me! But it is hard for me, alone, to do my duty
by the vines. Hired labour is such a different thing. I believe in the
old rhyme:--

  'L'ombre du bon maître
  Fait la vigne croître!'

Monsieur your father explained to me the meaning of it, that there must
be no trees in or near the vineyard, no shadow but that of the master.
He found that in a book, he said. Surely, I thought, a man must have
plenty of time on his hands, to write a book to prove what every child
knows. Now I take its meaning to be deeper than that. There is a shadow
the vine needs and can't do without. You may talk as you please about
sun and air and showers; 'tis the master's eye and hand and shadow that
gives growth and health to the vines."

"Don't forget the good God," said Maîtresse Joubard. "All the shadows of
the best masters won't do much without Him."

"Did I say so?" Her husband turned upon her. "It is His will, I suppose,
that things are so. We must take His creation as we find it. All I say
is, He gives me too much to do, when He sets me on a farm with five sons
and leaves me there but takes them all away."

"Hush, hush, master; Martin will come back," his wife said.

Nearly a month ago she had said the same. Angelot, standing again in the
low dark kitchen with her slender old glass in his hand, remembered the
day vividly, for it had indeed been a marked day in his life. The
breakfast at Les Chouettes, the hidden Chouans, General Ratoneau and his
adventure in the lane, and then the wonderful moonlight evening, the
coming of Hélène, the dreams which all that night waited upon her and
had filled all the following days. Yes; it was on that glorious morning
that Maîtresse Joubard, poor soul, had talked with so much faith and
courage of her Martin's return. And Angelot, for his part, though he
would not for worlds have said so, saw no hope of it at all. The last
letter from Martin had come many months ago. The poor conscript, the
young Angevin peasant, tall like his father, with his mother's quiet,
dark face, was probably lying heaped and hidden among other dead
conscripts at the foot of some Spanish fortress wall.

Angelot set down his glass, took up his gun, looked vaguely out of the
door into the misty evening, bright with the spiritual brilliance of the
young moon.

"If Martin comes back, anything is possible," he was thinking. "I should
believe then that all would go well with me."

From the white, ruinous archway that opened on the lane, a figure
hobbled slowly forward across the gleams and shadows of the yard. The
great dog chained there began to yelp and cry; it was not the voice with
which he received a stranger; Négo growled at his master's feet.

Angelot's gaze became fixed and intent. The figure looked like one of
those wandering beggars, those _chemineaux_, who tramped the roads of
France with a bag to collect bones and crusts of bread, the scraps of
food which no good Christian refused them, who haunted the lonely farms
at night and to whom a stray lamb or kid or chicken never came amiss.
This figure was ragged like them; it stooped, and limped upon a wooden
leg and a stick; an empty sleeve was pinned across its breast. And the
rags were those of a soldier's uniform, and the dark, bent face was
tanned by hotter suns than the sun of Anjou.

Angelot turned to the old Joubards and tried to speak, but his voice
shook and was choked, and the tears blinded his eyes.

"My poor dear friends--" he was beginning, but Joubard started forward
suddenly.

"What steps are those in the yard? The dog speaks--ah!"

The old man rushed through the doorway with arms stretched out, wildly
sobbing, "Martin, Martin, my boy!"--and clasped the miserable figure in
a long embrace.

"Did I not say so, Monsieur Angelot?" the little mother cried; and the
young man, with a sudden instinct of joy and reverence, caught her rough
hand and kissed it as she went out of the door. "Tell madame she was
right," she said.

Angelot called Négo and walked silently away. As he went he heard their
cries of welcome, their sobs of grief, and then he heard a hoarse voice
ringing, echoed by the old walls all about, and it shouted--"Vive
l'Empereur!"

Angelot felt strangely exalted as he walked away. The heroism of the
crippled soldier touched him keenly; this was the Empire in a different
aspect from any that he yet knew; the opportunism of his father and of
Monsieur de Mauves, the bare worldliness of the Sainfoys, the military
brutality of Ratoneau. The voice of this poor soldier, wandering back, a
helpless, destitute wreck, to end his days in his old home, sounded like
the bugle-call of all that generous self-sacrifice, that pure enthusiasm
for glory, which rose to follow Napoleon and made his career possible.
Angelot felt as if he too could march in such an army. Then as he strode
down the moor he heard Hervé de Sainfoy's voice again: "And why not even
now?" and again he thought of those dearest ones now so angry with him,
whose loyalty to old France and her kings was a part of their religion,
and whom no present brilliancy of conquest and fame could dazzle or lead
astray.

Thinking of these things, Angelot came down from the moor into a narrow
lane which skirted it, part of the labyrinth of crossing ways which led
from the south to La Marinière and Lancilly. This lane was joined, some
way above, by the road which led across the moor from Les Chouettes. It
was not the usual road from the south to Lancilly, but turned out of
that a mile or two south, to wander westward round one or two lonely
farms like La Joubardière. It ran deep between banks of stones covered
with heather and ling and a wild mass of broom and blackberry bushes,
the great round heads of the pollard oaks rising at intervals, so that
there were patches of dark shadow, and the road itself was a succession
of formidable ruts and holes and enormous stones.

In this thoroughfare two carriages had met, one going down-hill from the
moorland road, the other, a heavy post-chaise and pair, climbing from
the south. It was impossible for either conveyance to pass the other,
and a noisy argument went on, first between the post-boy and the groom
who drove the private carriage, a hooded, four-wheeled conveyance of the
country, next between the travellers themselves.

Angelot came down from the steep footpath by which he had crossed the
moor, just as the occupant of the post-chaise, after shouting angrily
from the window, had got out to see the state of things for himself. He
was a stranger to Angelot; a tall and very handsome young man of his own
age, with a travelling cloak thrown over his showy uniform.

"What the devil is the matter? Why don't you drive on, you fool?" he
said to the post-boy, who only gesticulated and pointed hopelessly to
the obstacle in front of him.

"Well, but drive through them, or over them, or something," cried the
imperious young voice. "Are you going to stop here all night staring at
them? What is it? Some kind of _diligence_? Look here, fellow--you,
driver--get out of my way, can't you? Mille tonnerres, what a road! Get
down and take your horse out, do you hear? Lead him up the bank, and
then drag your machine out of the way. Any one with you? Here is a man;
he can help you. Service of the Emperor; no delay."

Apparently he took Angelot, in the dusk, for a country lad going home.
Before there was time to show him his mistake, a dark, angry face bent
forward from the hooded carriage, and Angelot recognised the Baron
d'Ombré, who gave his orders in a tone quite as peremptory, and much
haughtier.

"Post-boy! Back your carriage down the hill. You see very well that
there is no room to pass here. Pardon, monsieur!" with a slight salute
to the officer.

"Pardon!" he responded quickly. "Sorry to derange you, monsieur, but my
chaise will not be backed. Service of His Majesty."

"That is nothing to me, monsieur."

"The devil! Who are you then?"

"I will give you my card with pleasure."

César d'Ombré descended hastily from the carriage, while Monsieur des
Barres, who was with him, leaned forward rather anxiously.

"Explain the rule of the road to this gentleman," he said. "He is
evidently a stranger. I see he has two servants behind the carriage, who
can help in backing the horses. Explain that it is no intentional
discourtesy, but a simple necessity. The delay will be small."

The tall young stranger bowed in the direction of the voice.

"Merci, monsieur. Your rules of the road do not concern me. I give way
to no one--certainly not to your companion, who appears to be disloyal.
I had forgotten, for a moment, the character of this country. The dark
ages still flourish here, I believe."

The Baron d'Ombré presented his card with a low bow.

"Merci, monsieur. Permit me to return the compliment. But it is almost
too dark for you to see my name, which ought to be well known here. De
Sainfoy, Captain 13th Chasseurs, at your service. Will you oblige me--"

"It is not necessary at this moment, monsieur. You will not meet me at
the Château de Lancilly."

"But you may possibly meet me--Vicomte des Barres--for your father and I
sometimes put our old acquaintance before politics--" cried the voice
from the carriage. "You will be very welcome to your family. But this
arranges matters, Monsieur le Capitaine, for you are on the wrong road."

"Sapristi! The wrong road! Why, I picked up a wounded fellow and brought
him a few miles. He got down to take a short cut home, and told me the
next turn to the right would bring me to Lancilly. He was lying, then? A
fellow called Joubard, not of my regiment."

"What do you say?" said d'Ombré to Angelot, who had already greeted him,
lingering in the background to see the end of the dispute.

Georges de Sainfoy now first looked at the sportsman standing by the
roadside, and Angelot looked at him. Monsieur des Barres, a little stiff
from a long day's shooting--for he was not so lithe and active as his
host, and not so young as the Baron--now got down from the carriage and
joined the group.

"Bonjour, Monsieur Ange," he said kindly. "You have been shooting, I
see, but not with your uncle. Have you met before, you two?" He glanced
at Georges de Sainfoy, who stared haughtily. Even in the dim dusk
Angelot could see that he was wonderfully like his mother.

"No, monsieur," he answered. "Not since twenty years ago, at least, and
I think my cousin remembers that time as little as I do."

He spoke carelessly and lightly. De Sainfoy's fine blue eyes considered
him coldly, measured his height and breadth and found them wanting.

"Ah! You are a La Marinière, I suppose?" he said.

"Ange de la Marinière, at your service."

Georges held out his hand. It was with an oddly unwilling sensation that
Angelot gave his. Though the action might be friendly, there was
something slighting, something impatient, in the stranger's manner; and
the cousins already disliked each other, not yet knowing why.

"Are my family well? Do they expect me?" said Georges de Sainfoy.

"I believe they are very well. I do not know if they expect you,"
Angelot answered.

"Is it true that this is not the road to Lancilly?"

D'Ombré growled something about military insolence, and Monsieur des
Barres laughed.

"Pardon, gentlemen," said De Sainfoy. "I am impatient, I know. A soldier
on his way home does not expect to be stopped by etiquettes about
passing on the road. My cousin knows the country; I appeal to him, as
one of you did just now. Is this the way to Lancilly, or not?"

Angelot laughed. "Yes--and no," he said.

"What do you mean by that? Come, I am in no humour for joking."

Angelot looked at him and shrugged his shoulders.

"It is _a_ road, but not _the_ road," he said. "No one in his senses
would drive this way to Lancilly. This part of it is bad enough; further
on, where it goes down into the valley, it is much worse; I doubt if a
heavy carriage could pass. You turned to the right too soon. Martin
Joubard forgot this lane, perhaps. He would hardly have directed you
this way--unless--"

"Unless what?"

"Unless he wished to show you the nature of the country, in case you
should think of invading it in force."

The two Chouans laughed.

"Well said, Angelot!" muttered César d'Ombré.

Georges de Sainfoy, stiff and haughty, did not trouble himself about any
jest or earnest concealed under his cousin's speech and the way the
neighbours took it. He realised, perhaps, that in this wild west country
the name of Napoleon was not altogether one to conjure with, that he had
not left the enemies of the Empire behind him in Spain. But he realised,
too, that this was hardly the place or the time to assert his own
importance and his master's authority.

"Do you mean that this road is utterly impassable?" he said to Angelot.
"How then did these gentlemen--"

"They did not come from Lancilly. They drove across the moor from my
uncle's house, Les Chouettes, and turned into the lane a few hundred
yards higher up. As to impassable--I think your wheels will come off, if
you attempt it, and your horses' knees will suffer. Where the ruts are
not two feet deep, the bare rock is almost perpendicular."

"Still it is not impassable?"

"Not in a case of necessity. But you will not attempt it."

"And why not?"

"Because on this hill Monsieur des Barres and Monsieur d'Ombré cannot
back out of your way, and you can back out of theirs--and must."

"'Must' to me!" Georges de Sainfoy said between his teeth.

"Let us assure you, monsieur, that we regret the necessity--" Monsieur
des Barres interfered in his politest manner.

"Enough, monsieur."

De Sainfoy gave his orders. His servants sprang down and helped the
post-boy to back the horses to the foot of the hill. It was a long
business, with a great deal of kicking, struggling, scrambling, and
swearing. Monsieur des Barres' carriage followed slowly, he and Georges
de Sainfoy walking down together. The Baron d'Ombré lingered to say a
friendly good-night to Angelot, who was not disposed to wait on his
cousin any further. That night there was born a kind of sympathy, new
and strange, between the fierce young Chouan and the careless boy still
halting between two opinions.

"Old Joubard's son is come back, then?" César asked. "Will that attach
the old man to the Empire? Your uncle can never tell us on which side he
is likely to be."

"Dame! I should think not!" said Angelot. "Poor Martin--I saw him just
now. He has left a leg and an arm in Spain."

"Poor fellow! That flourishing cousin of yours is better off. On my
word, we are obliged to you, Monsieur des Barres and I. If you had not
been there to bring him to his senses--Come, Angelot, this country is
not a place for loyal men. Do you care to stay here and be bullied by
upstart soldiers? Start off with me to join the Princes; there is
nothing to be done here."

"Ah!" Angelot laughed, though rather sadly. "Indeed, you tempt me--it is
true, there is nothing here. But I have a father, and he has a vintage
coming on. After that--I will consider."

"Yes, consider--and say nothing. I see you are discontented; the first
step in the right way. Good-night, my friend."

If discontent had been despair, the army of the emigrants might have had
a lively recruit in those days. But Martin Joubard had come back, so
that anything seemed possible. Hope was not dead, and his native Anjou
still held the heart of Angelot.



CHAPTER XVIII

HOW CAPTAIN GEORGES PAID A VISIT OF CEREMONY


Georges de Sainfoy had always been his mother's image and idol. It was
not wonderful then that he should take her side strongly in this matter
of his sister's love affair and marriage.

Hélène, for him, was a poor pretty fool just out of the schoolroom, who
must learn her duty in life, and the sooner the better. Angelot was a
country boy, his pretensions below contempt, who yet deserved sharp
punishment for lifting his eyes so high, if not for the cool air of
equality with which he had ordered back his superior cousin's carriage.
General Ratoneau, in a soldier's eyes, was a distinguished man, a future
Marshal of France. Nothing more was needed to make him a desirable
brother-in-law. Georges was enthusiastic on that point.

Two things there were, which his mother impressed upon him earnestly and
with difficulty; one, that Ratoneau's probable triumph was a secret, and
must seem as great a surprise to herself and to him as it really would
be to Hélène and his father; the other, that for the sake of Urbain de
la Marinière, the valuable friend, he must pick no fresh quarrel with
Angelot, already deep in disgrace with all the family.

"It is as well that you told me, or I should have been tempted to try a
horse-whipping," said Captain Georges.

Two days after his arrival he rode off to Sonnay-le-Loir. It was the
right thing for an officer on leave to pay a visit of ceremony to the
General in command of the division, as well as to the Prefect of the
department, and this necessity came in very well at the moment.

Madame de Sainfoy spoke confidently, but she was in reality not quite
easy in her mind. She had seen and heard nothing of General Ratoneau
since the day when Urbain put his short letter into her hand. Sometimes,
impatient and anxious, worried by Hélène's pale face and the fear of
some soft-hearted weakness on Hervé's part, she found it difficult to
bear day after day of suspense and silence. Suppose the affair were
going ill, and not well! Suppose that, after all, the Prefect had
refused to gratify the General, and that no imperial command was coming
to break down Hervé's resistance, strong enough in that quarter! Georges
promised her, as he rode away, that the matter should be cleared up to
her satisfaction.

He found the town of Sonnay-le-Loir, and General Ratoneau himself, in a
state of considerable agitation. The excellent Prefect was very ill. He
was never a strong man physically, and the nervous irritation caused by
such a colleague as Ratoneau might have been partly the cause of his
present collapse. Sorely against his will he had listened to Ratoneau's
fresh argument, and had consented to stop a whole string of political
arrests by forwarding the marriage the General had set his heart upon.
His own personal danger, if he had defied the General, would have been
by no means small. Simon was right; Ratoneau could have represented his
mild measures in such a light as to ruin him, along with those Angevin
gentlemen whom he was trying by gentle means to reconcile with the
Empire. At that precise moment he could not even punish the man he
suspected of betraying him. Ratoneau had protected his tool so far as to
leave him nameless; but in any case, from the imperial point of view, a
man who denounced Chouans was doing his duty. As to the fact of sending
up Mademoiselle de Sainfoy's name to the Emperor and suggesting for her
the very husband whom her father had refused to accept--the chief sin,
in the eyes of that day, was the unfriendly action towards her father.

The whole system was odious; it appeared more or less so, according to
the degree of refinement in the officials who had to work it; yet it
came from the Emperor, and could not be entirely set aside; also every
marriage, in one way or another, was an arranged thing; it must suit
family politics, if not the interests of the Empire. Nothing strange
from the outside--and all the world would look at it so--in the marriage
of the Comte de Sainfoy's daughter with the local General of division.
The lady's unwillingness was a mere detail, of which the laws of society
would take no cognizance. The sentimental view which called such a
marriage sacrilege was absurd, after all, and the Prefect knew it.
Indeed, after the first, the thought of Hélène's face did not trouble
him so much as that of the _coup de patte_ in store for her father, the
stealthy blow to come from himself, the old, the trusted
fellow-countryman.

But the injury to Hervé de Sainfoy weighed lightly, after all, when
balanced with the arrest and ruin of Joseph de la Marinière and possibly
his young nephew, as well as of Monsieur des Barres, Monsieur de
Bourmont, the Messieurs d'Ombré, and other men more or less suspected of
conspiring against the Empire. Even if this, perhaps deserved, had been
all! but the Prefect knew very well that an enemy such as Ratoneau would
not be satisfied without his own degradation.

He had yet one resource, delay. There was the chance that Hervé de
Sainfoy might arrange some other marriage for his daughter; and the
Prefect went so far as to consider the possibility of sending him a word
of warning, but then thought it too dangerous, not quite trusting
Hervé's discretion, and gave up the idea. From day to day he put off
sending the necessary papers to Paris. From day to day, after the
eventful interview, he managed to avoid any private conversation with
Ratoneau. This was possible, as the General was occupied in reviewing
the troops in the neighbourhood, and was absent from Sonnay for several
days. Then a new ally stepped in on Hélène's side, and touched the
Prefect gently, but effectively. When General Ratoneau returned to
Sonnay, the very day before Georges de Sainfoy's visit, he was met by
the news that a slight stroke of paralysis had deprived Monsieur de
Mauves of his speech, and of the use of his right hand. Going at once to
the Prefecture, roughly demanding an interview with the Prefect, he
encountered a will stronger than his own in that of the Sonnay doctor,
who absolutely refused to let any one into the sickroom.

"But he must have written to Paris--he must--he promised me that he
would," Ratoneau assured Georges de Sainfoy, who stood before him
frowning doubtfully. "He dared not disappoint me. I have him under my
thumb, I tell you--like that--" he crushed a fly on the table.

"I see--but why all this delay?" said the young man.

Ratoneau drummed with his fist and whistled. "Delay, yes--" he said. "I
meant Monsieur le Préfet to give an account of himself yesterday--I
suppose I am as impatient as you are--" he grinned. "After all,
monsieur, this official business takes time. It is only a fortnight
since I brought the good man to his marrow-bones. Ah, I wish you had
seen him! the grimaces he made! When I went first he defied me, as bold
as you please. Your father was his friend, he would do nothing to annoy
your father. Then, when I went back with a little more information, he
began to see all his beloved Chouans in prison, as well as himself. I
had him then. He began to see, perhaps, that a man in my position was
not such an impossible husband for a young girl of good family. Ha, ha!"

"A fortnight seems to me quite long enough to write to Paris and get an
answer," said Georges.

He was a little sorry for himself. He wished he had seen Ratoneau for
the first time on horseback, a smart, correct officer, reviewing his
troops. Then it would have been easy enough to accept him as a
brother-in-law. But this red-faced, slovenly creature in careless
undress, made even more repulsive by his uncanny likeness to
Napoleon--vulgar in manners, bragging in talk! De Sainfoy had met
strange varieties of men among his brother officers, but never anything
quite so forbidding as this. He did not give his sister a thought of
pity; it was not in him; but he had a moment of sympathy with his
father, of surprise at his mother. However, he was not the man to be
conquered by prejudice. If the affair was disagreeable, all the more
reason to push it through quickly, to reach any advantages it might
bring. His smooth young brow had a new line across it; that was all.

"You talk of the Prefect's 'beloved Chouans,' Monsieur le Général," he
said. "It seems to me that in any case he is not fit for his position.
It sounds like treason, what you say."

"Ah! that is another question," said Ratoneau. "That need not concern us
just now, you and me. He must do what we want, first of all; later on we
shall see. Remember, Monsieur le Vicomte, any active measures against
the Chouans would touch your family--your connections, at least. Very
complicated, the state of society in this province. I wish for nothing
better than to sweep out all these tiresome people, but it behoves me to
move gently."

Georges could not help smiling. "That must be against your principles
and your inclinations, Monsieur le Général."

"It is against my interests," Ratoneau said, drily enough.
"Inclinations--well, yes. I should be sorry to annoy Monsieur Urbain de
la Marinière, who is on my side in these affairs. He is a sensible man.
His brother's right place is in a state prison. As to that son of
his--well, he wants a sharp lesson, and one of these days he will have
it. He is an impudent young scoundrel, that little La Marinière."

Ratoneau lifted his dark eyes and looked straight at Georges, who
flushed under his gaze.

"But perhaps you think better of your cousin?" the General said.

"No--I dislike him. He is a presumptuous fellow."

"Presumptuous in what way?"

Georges shrugged his shoulders. There were limits to the complaisance he
found due to this future relation; the family secrets, the family
confidences, though they might indirectly concern him, should at least
be kept from him for the present. Georges knew all his sister's story,
as far as her mother knew it. The story was safe, though out of no
kindness to Hélène.

"He thinks too much of himself," said Georges, and laughed rather
awkwardly. "He orders his betters about as if he were the chief
landowner of the country, instead of a farmer's son. This happened to me
the other night, Monsieur le Général."

He went on to describe his adventure in the steep lane, and how Angelot
had ordered his men to back the horses. The General listened with some
impatience.

"Sapristi! he is a hero of the lanes, this Angelot. I have had my
experience, too," but he did not describe it. "He will make himself
plenty of enemies, that cousin of yours. However, let him swagger as he
likes among horses and cows, till he finds himself between four walls
with his friends the Chouans. I should like to be assured that his airs
will carry him no further. To speak plainly, Monsieur le Vicomte, when I
saw them together at Lancilly, I fancied that he and mademoiselle your
sister--I see by your face that I was right!"

The General started up with an oath. Georges faced him, cool and
dignified.

"My sister is safe in my mother's care, Monsieur le Général. Do not
disturb yourself."

"But do you know, monsieur, that the servants thought the same as I
did?"

"What can that signify to you or to me, monsieur?"

Ratoneau flung himself back into his chair with an angry laugh. The
proud disgust of the young captain's tone had a certain effect upon him;
yet he was not altogether reassured.

"Will you tell me on your honour," he growled, "that you know nothing of
any love affair between that young cub and your sister? I swear, sir, I
distrust you all. It is your mother's interest to marry her to me,
but--"

"The imperial order has not yet been sent down," said Georges, his blue
eyes flashing like steel.

He would have said more; he did not know what he might have said, for at
that moment his sympathy with his father was growing by leaps and
bounds, and his mother's plan began to seem incomprehensible. However,
to do her justice, she had never seen General Ratoneau as he saw him.

"What do you mean by that?" said Ratoneau, sharply, and Georges found
himself already repenting.

For the thing had to be carried through, and he knew it.

Further argument was stopped, at that moment, by a gentle tap at the
door.

"Come in!" roared the General. "What the devil have you got there,
Simon?"

The police agent stepped lightly across the room. He laid a folded paper
on the table, and drew out from between its pages an unsealed letter. He
spread this out with the signature uppermost, "_De Mauves, Préfet du
Loir._"

Georges de Sainfoy, a silent looker-on, stood by the chimneypiece while
General Ratoneau eagerly seized the papers. He first read the letter,
which seemed to give him satisfaction, for he laughed aloud; then he
snatched up the larger document, which looked like a government report
of some kind. Simon, in his gendarme's dress, stood grinning in the
background.

"But--but in the name of thunder what does all this mean?" Ratoneau's
looks had changed to sudden fury. "Are these copies or originals? Simon,
you ass, do you mean to tell me--"

Simon shrugged his shoulders and showed his teeth.

"Sorry, Monsieur le Général, but no fault of mine! I made sure they had
gone to Paris by the last courier, if not before. The originals,
undoubtedly."

"You make sure in a queer sort of way," said Ratoneau. "You told me the
Prefect's secretary was in your hands, that you had access to his
bureaux at any time. You lied, then?"

"No, Monsieur le Général," Simon answered, gently and readily. "Or how
should I have got hold of the papers? We have nothing to do now but to
get them dispatched at once to the Minister of Police, who will pass
them on to Monsieur le Duc de Frioul."

"Go downstairs, and wait till I send for you."

Simon went, not without a side-glance at the silent young officer,
standing tall, fair, and stiff as if on parade, no feeling of any sort
showing itself through the correctness of his bearing.

"Is that her brother? Curious!" the spy muttered as he slipped away.

General Ratoneau ran his eye once more over the paper in his hand, then
looked at Georges and held it out to him.

"The delay is vexatious," he said, "and my friend the Prefect shall pay
for it, one of these days. But at any rate, the thing is now in our own
hands, and there can be no cheating. Report and letter are what they
should be--I might have guessed that the old villain would put off
sending them--hoping for some loophole, I suppose. However, you can tell
Madame la Comtesse that you have seen the documents, and that they
start for Paris to-night."

Georges de Sainfoy read the document, truly a strange one, and it was a
strange sort of man who had the effrontery to put it into his hand. Like
a flash of blinding light, it showed the revolutionary, the tyrannical
side of the Empire which had fascinated him on its side of military
glory.

This paper gave a full description, as officially demanded, of
Mademoiselle Hélène de Sainfoy, aged nineteen. It mentioned her personal
attractions, her _éducation distinguée_, her probable dowry, the names
and position of her parents, the extent and situation of her
property--in short, every particular likely to be useful in arranging a
marriage for Mademoiselle de Sainfoy. It was all highly complimentary,
and it was supposed to be a confidential communication from the Prefect
to Savary, Duc de Rovigo, the Minister of Police. But it was not
pleasant reading for Mademoiselle de Sainfoy's brother, however
devotedly imperialist he might be.

He stepped forward and laid it on the table without a remark. Ratoneau,
watching him keenly, smiled, and held out the letter.

"A private letter from Monsieur le Préfet? I do not read it," said
Georges, shortly.

"As you please, my friend," said Ratoneau. "I only show you these things
for the satisfaction of Madame la Comtesse. Monsieur Urbain de la
Marinière may be interested, too. The letter mentions my distinguished
claims on His Majesty, and suggests me as a husband for mademoiselle.
That is all. I think it will be effectual. But now, monsieur, you have
not answered my little question about your cousin Angelot. He is in love
with your sister, n'est-ce pas?"

"As you put it so, monsieur, I think it is not unlikely," said Georges.
"But what does that signify? Every one knows it is an impossibility,
even himself, ambitious fool as he may be."

"And the young lady?" said Ratoneau, his face darkening.

"My mother answers for her," Georges answered coldly, and bowed himself
out.

He had information enough to carry back to his mother.

He was not too comfortable in his mind, having ideas of honour, at the
unscrupulous doings by which Hélène's future husband was protecting his
own interests and bringing his marriage about. He rather wished, though
he worshipped power, that this powerful General had been a different
sort of man.

"Still he may make her a good husband," he thought. "He is jealous
already."

He rode across the square, gay and stately in his Chasseur uniform, and
dismounted at the Prefecture to leave his card and to enquire for
Monsieur de Mauves.

Ratoneau watched him from the window with a dissatisfied frown, then
rang sharply for Simon.

"That young fellow would turn against me on small provocation," he said.
"Now--as to the seal for these papers--you can procure that, I suppose?"

"Leave that to me, monsieur."

"Another thing: this means further delay, and I am not sure that you
were entirely wrong about young La Marinière. Listen. He would be better
out of the way until this affair is settled. He has been met in company
with known Chouans. A word to the wise, Simon. Devise something, or go
to the devil, for I've done with you."

"But there is nothing easier, monsieur! Nothing in the world!" Simon
cried joyfully.



CHAPTER XIX

THE TREADING OF THE GRAPES


The weather for the vintage was splendid. A slight frost in the morning
curled and yellowed the vine-leaves, giving, as it does in these
provinces, the last touch of ripeness to the grapes, so that they begin
to burst their thin skins and to drop from the bunches. This is the
perfect moment. Crickets sing; the land is alive with springing
grasshoppers; harmless snakes rustle through the grass and bask in the
warm sand. The sun shines through an air so light, so crystal clear,
that men and beasts hardly know fatigue, though they work under his
beams all day long. The evening closes early with hovering mists in the
low places, the sudden chill of a country still wild and
half-cultivated. This was the moment, in an older France, chosen for the
Seigneur's vintage; the peasants had to deal with their own little
vineyards either earlier or later, and thus their wine was never so good
as his.

The laws of the vintage were old; they were handed down through
centuries, from the days of the Romans, but the Revolution swept them
and their obligations away. Napoleon's code knew nothing of them. Yet
private individuals, when they were clever men like Urbain de la
Marinière, were sure by hook or by crook to arrange the vintage at the
time that suited their private arrangements. The ancient connection,
once of lord and vassal, now of landlord and tenant, between La
Marinière and La Joubardière, had been hardly at all disturbed by the
Revolution. Joubard was not the man to turn against the old friends of
his family. Besides, he believed in the waning moon. So when Monsieur
Urbain hit on the precise moment for his own vintage, and summoned him
and his people, as well as Monsieur Joseph's people, to help at La
Marinière and to let their own vineyards wait a week or two, he made no
grievance of it.

"The weather will last," he said, when Martin grumbled, "and the moon
will be better. Besides, those slopes are always forwarder than ours.
And we shall lose nothing by helping the master. But if we did, I would
rather spoil my own wine than disappoint Monsieur Angelot."

"You and the mother are in love with his pretty face," growled the
soldier. "Why doesn't he go to the war, and fight for his country, and
come home a fine man like his cousin? Ah, you think there are different
ways of coming home, do you? Well, if you ask me, I am prouder of my
lost limbs than the young captain is of his rank and his uniform."

"And Monsieur Angelot honours you, poor Martin, more than he does his
smart cousin," said Joubard. "Allons! Our vintage will not suffer, now
that you are at home to see to it. And they will not take you away
again, my son!"

So, in those first days of October, the vintage was in full swing at La
Marinière. All the peasants came to help, men and women, old and young.
Dark, grave faces that matched oddly with a babel of voices and gay
laughter; broad straw hats as sunburnt as their owners, white caps, blue
shoulders, bobbing among the long rows of bronzed vines loaded with
fruit. The vintagers cut off the bunches with sharp knives and dropped
them into wooden pails; these were emptied into great _hottes_ on men's
backs, and carried to the carts, full of barrels, waiting in the lane.
Slowly the patient white horses tramped down to the yard of La
Marinière. There, in its own whitewashed building with the wide-arched
door, the stone wine-press was ready; the grapes were thrown in in
heaps, the barefooted men, splashed red to their waists, trod and
crushed with a swishing sound; the red juice ran down in a stream,
foaming into the vault beneath, into the vats where it was to ferment
and become wine.

Angelot worked in the vineyard like anybody else, sometimes cutting
grapes, sometimes leading the carts up and down, and feeding the horses
with bunches of grapes, which they munched contentedly. So did the dogs
who waited on the vintagers, not daring to venture in among the vines,
but sitting outside with eager eyes and wagging tails till their portion
of fruit was thrown to them. And the workers themselves, and the little
bullet-headed boys and white-capped girls who played about the vineyard,
all ate grapes to their satisfaction; for the crop was splendid, and
there was no need to stint anybody.

A festal spirit reigned over all. Though most of these people were good
Christians, ready to thank God for His gifts without any intention of
misusing them, there was something of the old pagan feeling about.
Purely a country feeling, a natural religion much older than
Christianity, as Urbain remarked to the old Curé, who agreed with Madame
Urbain in not quite caring for this way of looking at it. But he was
accustomed to such views from Urbain, who never, for instance, let the
Rogation processions pass singing through the fields without pointing
out their descent from something ancient, pagan, devilish.

"But if you have cast out the devil, dear Curé, what does it matter?"
said Urbain. "The beauty alone is left. And all true beauty is good by
nature; and what is not beautiful is not good. You want nothing more, it
seems to me."

"Ah, your philosophies!" sighed the old man.

However, in different ways, the vintage attracted everybody. Monsieur
Joseph and Henriette were there, very busy among the vines; these people
would help them another day. A party strolled across from Lancilly;
Monsieur and Madame de Sainfoy, idly admiring the pretty scene; Captain
Georges, casting superior glances, Sophie and Lucie hanging on their
splendid brother's looks and words. They were allowed to walk with him,
and were very happy, Mademoiselle Moineau having been left behind in
charge of Hélène. The La Marinière vineyards were not considered safe
ground for that young culprit. She had to be contented with a distant
view, and could see from her window the white horses crawling up and
down the steep hill.

Some patronising notice was bestowed by the people from the château on
Martin Joubard, who moved slowly about among the old neighbours, a hero
to them all, whatever their political opinions might be. For, after all,
he went to the wars against his will; and when there he had done his
duty; and his enthusiasm for the Emperor was a new spirit in that
country, which roused curiosity, if nothing more. No one could fail to
rejoice with old Joubard and his wife. Whatever they themselves thought,
and hardly dared to say, was said for them by their neighbours. Few
indeed had come back, of the conscript lads of Anjou. How much better,
people said, to have Martin maimed than not at all. What was a wooden
leg? a very useful appendage, on which Martin might limp actively about
the farms; and the loss of an arm did not matter so much, for, by his
father's account, he could do everything but hold and fire a gun with
the one left to him. His mother had dressed him in clean country
clothes, laying aside his tattered old uniform in a chest, for he would
not have it destroyed. All the girls in the two villages were running
after Martin, who had always been popular; all the men wanted to hear
his tales of the war. He was certainly the hero of Monsieur Urbain's
vintage, the centre figure of that sunny day.

Angelot felt himself drawn to the soldier, whose return home had touched
him with so strange a thrill. There was a spark of the heroic in this
young fellow. Angelot found himself watching him, listening to him,
perhaps as a kind of refuge from the cold looks of his relations; for
even Riette dared not run after him as of old.

When purple shadows began to lie long in the yellow evening glow, and
the crickets sang louder than ever, and sweet scents came out of the
warm ground--when the day's work was nearly done, Angelot walked away
with Martin from the vineyard. He wanted some of those stirring stories
to himself, it seemed. If one must go away and fight, if the old Angevin
life became once for all impossible, then might it not be better under
the eagles, as his wise father thought, than with that army and on that
side for which, in spite of his mother and his uncle, he could not rouse
in himself any enthusiasm? True, he liked little he knew of the Empire
and its men, except this poor lamed conscript; but always in his
whirling thoughts there was that will-o'-the-wisp, that wavering star
of hope that Hélène's father had seemed to offer him. Could he forsake,
for any other reason, the sight of the forbidden walls that held her!

He and Martin went away up the lane together, and climbed along the side
of the moor towards La Joubardière, Martin telling wild stories of
battles and sieges, of long marching and privation, Angelot listening
fascinated, as he helped the crippled soldier over the rough ground.

Martin had been wounded under Suchet at the siege of Tortosa, so that he
had seen little of the more recent events of the war, but his personal
adventures, before and since, had been exciting; and not the least
wonderful part of the story was his wandering life, a wounded beggar on
his way back across the Pyrenees into his own country. As Angelot
listened, the politics of French parties faded away, and he only
realised that this was a Frenchman, fighting the enemies of France and
giving his young life for her without a word of regret. Napoleon might
have conquered the world, it seemed, with such conscript soldiers as
this. These, not men like Ratoneau or Georges de Sainfoy, were the
heroes of the war.

The sun had set, and swift darkness was coming down, before the young
men reached La Joubardière. The lane, the same in which the two
carriages had met, ran in a hollow between high banks studded with oaks
like gigantic toadstools, adding to the deepness of the shadow.

"There are people following us," said Angelot.

He interrupted Martin in the midst of one of his stories; the soldier
was standing still, leaning on his stick, and laughed with a touch of
annoyance, for he was growing vain of his skill as a story-teller.

"My father and mother," he said. "And here I am forgetting their soup,
which I promised to have ready."

"It is not--I know Maître Joubard's step," said Angelot.

"Some of the vintagers--" Martin was beginning, when he and Angelot were
surrounded suddenly in the dusk by several men, two of whom seized
Angelot by the shoulders.

"I arrest you, in the Emperor's name," said a third man.

Angelot struggled to free himself, and Martin lifted his stick
threateningly.

"What is this, rascals? Do you know what you are saying? This is the son
of Monsieur de la Marinière."

"It is some mistake. You have no business to arrest me. You will answer
for this, police! You will answer it to Monsieur le Préfet. He is ill,
and cannot have given the order. Show me your authority."

"Never mind our authority," said the chief. "We don't want Monsieur de
la Marinière, but we do want his son. Are you coming quietly, young
gentleman, or must we put on handcuffs? Get out of the way with your
stick, you one-legged fellow, or I shall have to punish you."

"Keep back, Martin; you can do nothing. Go and tell my father," said
Angelot. He shook off the men's hands, and stood still and upright in
the midst of them.

"Why do you arrest me?" he said. "Where are you going to take me?"

"Ah, that you will see," said the police officer.

The snarling malice in his voice seemed suddenly familiar to Angelot.

"Why, I know you--you are--"

"Never mind who I am. It is my business to keep down Chouans."

"But I am not a Chouan!"

"A man is known by his company. Now then--quick march--away!"

"Adieu, Martin! This is all nonsense--I shall soon come back," Angelot
cried, as they hustled him on.

A few moments, and the very tramp of their feet was lost in the dusk,
for they had dragged their prisoner out of the lane and were crossing
the open moor. Martin, in much tribulation, made the best of his way
back to meet his father and mother, and with them carried the news to La
Marinière.

Half an hour later, Monsieur Urbain, whistling gaily, came back from a
pleasant stroll home with his Sainfoy cousins. Everything seemed
satisfactory; Adélaïde had been kind, the vintage was splendid. If only
Angelot were a sensible boy, there would be nothing left to wish for.

The moon was up, flooding the old yards that were now empty and still.
As he came near, he saw Anne waiting for him in the porch, and supposed
that the moonlight made her so strangely pale.

"My dearest," he said, as he came up, "there is to be a ball this month
at Lancilly, in honour of Georges. But I do not know whether that
foolish son of yours will be invited."

Anne looked him in the face; no, it was not the moonlight that made her
so pale.

"They have arrested Ange as a Chouan," she said.



CHAPTER XX

HOW ANGELOT CLIMBED A TREE


The police had caught Angelot; but they did not keep him long.

They had to do with a young man who knew every yard of that wild country
far better than they did, and was almost as much a part of it as the
birds and beasts that haunted it.

"Where are you taking me?" he said, as they walked across the high
expanse of the _landes_, dimly lighted by the last glimmer of day. "This
is a very roundabout way to Sonnay-le-Loir."

"It is not the way at all," said the officer who took the lead, "and we
know that as well as you."

"But I demand to be taken to Sonnay," Angelot said, and stopped. "The
warrant for my arrest, if you have such a thing, must be from the
Prefect. Take me to him, and I will soon convince him that there is some
mistake."

"Monsieur le Préfet is ill, as you know. Walk on, if you please."

"Then take me to the sous-Préfet, or whoever is in his place."

"You are going to a higher authority, monsieur, not a lower one."

"What do you mean by that?"

"You are going to Paris. Monsieur le Comte Réal, the head of our branch
of the police, will decide what is to be done with you."

"Mon Dieu! The old Jacobin! He nearly had my uncle in his fangs once,"
said Angelot, half to himself. "But what do they accuse me of?
Chouannerie? But I am not a Chouan, and you know enough of our affairs
to know that, Monsieur Simon!"

The Chouan-catcher laughed sourly.

"I believe this is some private devilry," the prisoner went on, with
careless daring. "The Prefect has nothing to do with it. It is spite
against my uncle--but you are a little afraid of touching him. Don't
imagine, though, that you will annoy him particularly by carrying me
off. We are not on good terms just now, my uncle and I. In truth, I have
offended all my relations, and nobody will be sorry to have me away for
a time."

"Tant mieux, monsieur!" said Simon. "Then you won't object to giving the
Minister of Police a little information about your uncle and the other
Chouan gentlemen, his friends."

"Ah! that is quite another story! That is the idea, is it? Monsieur le
Duc de Rovigo, and Monsieur le Comte Réal, flatter themselves that they
have got hold of a traitor?"

"Pardon, monsieur! It is the Chouans who are traitors."

"I think I could find a few others in our poor France this very night.
But I am not one of them. Again, whose authority have you for arresting
me? Is it Monsieur Réal who has stretched his long arm so far?"

"The authority is sufficient, and you are my prisoner," Simon answered
coolly.

"I suspect you have no authority but your own!"

"They will enlighten you in Paris, possibly."

"Come, tell me, how much are they paying you for this little trick?"

One of the other men laughed suddenly, and Simon became angry.

"Hold your tongue, prisoner, or I shall have you gagged. You need not
speak again till the authorities in Paris take means to make you. Yes, I
assure you, they can persuade rather strongly when they like. Now, quick
march--we have a post-chaise waiting in the road over there."

Angelot saw that his wisest course was to say no more. He was unarmed;
they had taken away the knife he had used for cutting grapes; his
faithful fowling-piece was hanging in the hall at La Marinière. He was
guarded by five men, all armed, all taller and bigger than himself. He
walked along in silence, apparently resigned to his fate, but thinking
hard all the while.

His thoughts, busy and curious as they were, did not hit on the right
origin of his very disagreeable adventure. Knowing a good deal of Simon
by repute, and a little by experience, and having heard legends of such
police exploits in the West within the last ten years, though not since
Monsieur de Mauves took office, he felt almost sure that the spy was
taking advantage of the Prefect's illness to gain a little money and
credit on his own account. And of course his own arrest, a young and
unimportant man, was more easily managed and less likely to have
consequences than that of his uncle, for instance, or Monsieur des
Barres. He did not believe that the Paris authorities knew anything of
it, yet; but he did believe that Simon knew what he was doing; that
Réal, the well-known head of the police in the western _arrondissement_,
trained under Fouché in suspicion, cunning and mercilessness, would make
unscrupulous use of any means of knowing the present state of Royalist
opinion in Anjou. He would be all the more severe, probably, because the
mildness of the Prefect of the Loir had more than once irritated him. So
Angelot thought he saw that Simon might easily drag his chosen victim
into a dangerous place, from which it would be hard to escape with
honour.

They reached the north-east edge of the moor just as the moon was
rising. At first the low light made all things strangely confused,
marching armies of shadows over the wild ground. Every bush might hide
a man, and the ranks of low oaks stood like giants guarding the hollow
black paths that wound between them. Les Chouettes, the only habitation
near, lay a mile away below the vineyards. The high-road to Paris might
be reached by one of the narrow roads that crossed the heath not far
away.

When they came to the edge of the open ground, near a grove of oaks
plunged in bracken, with a few crumbling walls beyond it where a farm
had once stood, Simon halted his party and whistled. He seemed to expect
a reply, but got none. After waiting a few minutes, whistling again,
exclaiming impatiently, he beckoned one of the other men and they walked
away together towards the road.

"Something wrong with the chaise?" said Angelot to the three who were
left. "What will you do if it is not there? You will have to carry me to
Paris, for I promise you I don't mean to walk."

"Monsieur will not be very heavy," one of the men answered,
good-humouredly; the same who had laughed before.

"Lift me then, and see!" said Angelot. "All right, my good fellow, I'll
ride on your shoulders. Voyons! you can carry me down the road."

They were standing in a patch of moonlight, just outside the shadow of
the oaks. The two other men stepped back for an instant, while their
comrade stooped, laughing, to lift Angelot. He was met by a
lightning-like blow worthy of an English training, and tumbled over
into the bracken. One of the two others fell flat in the opposite
direction, and the prisoner vanished into the shadows of the grove. The
third man dashed after him, but came into violent contact, in the
darkness, with the trunk of a tree, and fell down stunned at the foot of
it.

By this time the chaise had slowly climbed the hill from a village in
the further valley, where the post-boy had been refreshing himself and
his horses. Simon stopped to scold him, then left his companion to keep
guard over him, and himself mounted again the precipitous bit of stony
lane which had once been the approach to the farm, and now opened on the
wild moor. He whistled shrilly as he came, and then called in a subdued
voice: "All right, men! Bring him down."

There was no answer. He quickened his pace, and coming up under the oaks
found the two fellows sitting on the ground rubbing their heads, staring
vacantly round with eyes before which all the moonshiny world was
swimming.

Simon swore at them furiously. "What has happened, you fools? Where's
Alexandre? Where is the prisoner? name of all that's--"

"Devil knows, I don't," said the fellow who had paid dear for his
good-humour. "That little gentleman is cleverer than you or me, Master
Simon, and stronger too. He knocked us down like ninepins. Where is he?
Nearly back at La Marinière, I should think, and with Alexandre chasing
after him!"

"Not so far off as that, I suspect," said Simon. "Up with you. He is
hidden in this cover, and you have got to beat it till you find him. How
did you come to let him escape, pair of idiots? You are not fit for your
work."

He went back a few yards, while the men scrambled to their feet, and
whistled sharply for the one he had left in charge of the post-boy. Then
he lighted a lantern, and they pushed at various points into the wood.
The first discovery was that of Alexandre, lying senseless; they dragged
him into the road and left him there to come to himself. Then they
unearthed a wild boar, which rushed out furiously from the depths of the
bracken and charged at the light, then bolted off across the moor.
Smaller animals fled from them in all directions; large birds rustled
and cried, disturbed in the thick foliage of the oaks, impenetrable
masses of shade.

"If we were to shoot into the trees? He may be hidden in one of them."

The suggestion came from Angelot's friend, whose frivolity had given him
his chance, and whose anxiety to put himself on the right side by
catching him again, dead or alive, very nearly brought his young life to
a speedy end. For foolish François was wise this time, so wise, had he
only known it, that Angelot was sitting in the very tree he touched
with his hand as he spoke, a couple of yards above his head.

The boy had courage enough and to spare; but his heart seemed to stop at
that moment, and he felt himself turning white in the darkness. The men
could hardly shoot into the trees without hitting him, though he had
slipped down as far as he could into the hollow trunk. He would be
horribly wounded, if not killed. It was a hard fate, to be shot as a
poacher might shoot a pheasant roosting on a bough. An unsportsmanlike
sort of death, Uncle Joseph would say. He held his breath. Should he
await it, or give himself back to the police by jumping down amongst
them?

The moment of danger passed. Angelot smiled as the men moved on, and hid
himself a little more completely.

"No," Simon said. "No shooting till you are obliged. His uncle lives
only a mile off, and he will come out if he hears a gun."

"So he would, the blessed little man!" muttered Angelot.

The men went on searching the wood, but with such stealthy movements, so
little noise, even so little perseverance, as it seemed to him, that he
was confirmed in his idea of Simon's sole responsibility. These men were
police, supposed to be all-powerful; but somehow they did not act or
talk as if Savary and the Emperor, or even Réal, were behind them.

Angelot watched the light as it glimmered here and there, and listened
to the rustling in the bracken. Presently, when they were far off on the
other side of the little grove, he climbed out of the trunk and slipped
down from his tree. Simon might change his mind about shooting; in any
case it seemed safer to change one's position. Being close to the edge
of the _landes_, Angelot's first thought was to take to his heels and
run; then again that seemed risky, and a shot in the back was
undesirable. He dived in among the bracken, which was taller than
himself, and grew thick on the ground like a small forest. Half
crawling, half walking, stopping dead still to watch the wandering
gleams of light and to hear the steps and voices of the men, then
pushing gently on again, Angelot reached a hiding-place on the other
side of the grove. Here the bracken, taller and thicker than ever, grew
against and partly over the ruined walls of the old farm. In the very
middle of it, where the wall made a sudden turn, there was a hollow,
half sheltered by stones, and a black yawning hole below, the old well
of the homestead. All the top of it was in ruins; a fox had made its
hole halfway down; there was still water at the bottom of the well.
Here, plunged in the darkness, Angelot sat on the edge of the well and
waited. There were odd little sounds about him, the squeaking of young
animals, the sleepy chirp of easily disturbed birds; a frog dived with a
splash into the well, and then in a few unearthly croaks told his story
to his mates down there. The bracken smelt warm and dry; it was not a
bad place to spend a summer night in, for any one who knew wild nature
and loved it.

All was so still that Angelot, after listening intently for a time,
leaned his head against the white stones, fell asleep, and dreamed of
Hélène. If he had carried her off that night, mad fellow as he was, some
such shelter might have been all he had to offer her.

He woke with a start, and saw by the light that he must have been asleep
at least two hours, for the moon was high in the sky. He got up
cautiously, and crept through the bracken to the edge of the grove
towards Les Chouettes.

It was fortunate that he took the precaution to move noiselessly, as if
he were stalking game, for he had hardly reached the edge of the wood
when he saw Simon standing in the moonlight. Evidently he had been
sitting or lying on the bank and had just risen to his feet, for one of
his comrades lay there still.

"He is hidden here. He must be here," said Simon, in a low, decided
voice. "I will not go away without him. Hungry and thirsty--yes, I dare
say you are. You deserve it, for letting him escape."

"I tell you, he is not here," said the other man. "We have been all
round this bit of country; all through it. And look at the moonlight. A
mouse couldn't get away without our seeing it. What's that? a rabbit?"

"I shall walk round again," said Simon. "Those other fellows may be
asleep, if they are as drowsy and discontented as you. Look sharp now,
while I am away."

Simon tramped down the lane. The other police officer stretched himself
and stared after him.

"I'll eat my cap," he muttered, "if the young gentleman's in the wood
still. He deserves to be caught, if he is."

At that moment Angelot was standing under an oak two yards away. In the
broad, deep shadow he was invisible. A longing seized him to knock the
man's cap off his head and tell him to keep his word and eat it. But
Simon was too near, and it was madness to risk the chase that must
follow. Angelot laughed to himself as he slipped from that shadow to the
next, the officer yawning desperately the while.

There was something unearthly about Les Chouettes in the moonlight. It
seemed to float like a fairy dwelling, with its slim tower and high
windows, on a snowy ocean of sand. The woods, dark guarding phalanxes of
tall oaks and firs, seemed marshalled on the slopes for its defence.
Angelot came down upon it by the old steep lane, having slipped across
from the ruined farm to a vineyard, along by a tall hedge into another
wood of low scrub and bracken, then into the road a hundred yards above
the house. Before he reached it he heard the horses kicking in the
stable, then a low bark from the nearest dog which he answered by softly
whistling a familiar tune.

In consequence of this all the dogs about the place came running to meet
him, softly patting over the sand, and it was on this group, standing
under her window in the midnight stillness, that Riette looked out a few
minutes later.

Something woke her, she did not know what, but this little watcher's
sleep was always of the lightest, and she had not long fallen asleep,
her eyelashes still wet with tears for Angelot. The window creaked as
she opened it, leaning out into the moonlight.

"Is it you, my Ange? But they said--"

"I have escaped," said Angelot. "Quick, let me in! They may be following
me."

"But go round to papa's window, dearest! And what business have the dogs
there? Ah--do you hear, you wicked things? Go back to your places."

The dogs looked up, dropped their ears and tails, slunk away each to his
corner. Only the dog who guarded Riette's end of the house remained; he
stretched himself on the sand, slapped it with his tail, lolled out his
tongue as if laughing.

"Don't you think my uncle will shoot me before he looks at me, if I
attack his window?" said Angelot. "And in any case, I dare hardly ask
him to take me in. He has not forgiven me. But you could hide me,
Riette! or at least you could give me something to eat before I take to
the woods again."

"My boy!" the odd little figure in the flannel gown leaned farther out,
and the dark cropped head was turned one way and the other, listening.
"Go round into the north wood and wait as near papa's window as you can.
I will go down to him. I think he cannot be asleep; he must be thinking
of you."

"Merci!" said Angelot, and walked away.

But he did not go into the wood. He stole round very gently to where, in
spite of the moon, he saw a light shining in Monsieur Joseph's
uncurtained window. The guardian dog rubbed himself against his legs as
he stood there.

Monsieur Joseph's room was panelled and furnished with the plainest
wood. His bed was in the alcove at the back; the only ornament was the
portrait of his wife, a dark, Italian-looking woman, which hung
surrounded by guns, pistols, and swords, over the low stone mantelpiece.
It was just midnight, but Monsieur Joseph was not in bed. He looked a
quaint figure, in a dressing-gown and a tasselled night-cap, and he sat
at the table writing a long letter. He started when Riette touched the
door, and Angelot saw that his hand moved mechanically towards a pair of
pistols that lay beside him. Monsieur Joseph did not trust entirely to
his dogs for defence.

In she came, with bare white feet stepping lightly over the polished
floor. Angelot moved back a pace or two that he might not hear what they
said to each other. When Monsieur Joseph hastily opened the window,
Riette had been sent back summarily to her room, and Angelot was waiting
halfway to the wood.

"Come in, Ange! why do you stand there?" the little uncle exclaimed
under his breath. "Sapristi, how do you know that you are not watched?"

"I think not, Uncle Joseph. And I fancy the fellows who caught me will
hardly follow me here," said Angelot, stepping into the room. "You will
forgive me for coming?"

"Where could you go? Come, come, tell me everything. Why--what did those
devils of police want with you? Shut the window and draw the
curtain--there, now we are safe. I was just writing to César d'Ombré. Do
you know--here is a secret--he means to get away to England, and from
there to the Princes. He is right; there is not much to be done here.
You shall go with him!"

"Shall I?" said Angelot, vaguely. "Well, Uncle Joseph--it does not much
matter where I go."

Joseph de la Marinière swore his biggest oath.

"What are you staying here for?" he said. "To be caught on one side by a
young lady, on the other by the police!"

"Give me something to eat, Uncle Joseph, or I shall die of hunger
between you all," said Angelot, smiling at him.

The little gentleman shook his head. Angelot was not forgiven, not at
all; even Riette had hardly been restored to favour, to ordinary meals
in polite society.

"I will give you something to eat if I can find anything without calling
Gigot," he said. "Riette thinks there is a pie in the pantry. Come into
the gun-room; the light will not be seen there. And tell me what you
have done to get yourself arrested, troublesome fellow! Not even a real
honest bit of _Chouannerie_, I am afraid."



CHAPTER XXI

HOW MONSIEUR JOSEPH FOUND HIMSELF MASTER OF THE SITUATION


In the old labyrinth of rooms at Les Chouettes, Monsieur Joseph's
gun-room was the best hidden from the outside. It had solid shutters,
always kept closed and barred; the daylight only made its way in through
their chinks, or through the doors, one of which opened into Monsieur
Joseph's bedroom, the other into a little anteroom between that and the
hall. Both doors were generally locked, and the keys safely stowed away.

The gun-room was not meant for ordinary visitors; Angelot himself, as a
rule, was the only person admitted there. For the amount of arms and
ammunition kept there, some of it in cupboards cleverly hidden in the
panelling, some in a dry cellar entered by a trap-door in the floor, was
very different, both in kind and quality, from anything the most
energetic sportsman could require.

In this storehouse the amiable conspirator shut up his nephew, and
Angelot spent the next few days there, well employed in cleaning and
polishing wood and steel. He slept at night on a sofa in the anteroom,
but was allowed to go no farther. Monsieur Joseph had reasons of his
own.

He was a very authoritative person, when once he took a matter into his
own hands, and his influence with Angelot was great. He took a far more
serious view of the arrest than Angelot himself did. He was sure that
his nephew had been kidnapped by special orders from Paris--probably
from Réal, whom he knew of old--in order to gain information as to any
existing Chouan plots in Anjou. Thus the authorities meant to protect
themselves from any consequences of the Prefect's indulgent character.
It was even possible that some suspicion of the mission to England, only
lately discussed by himself and his friends, might have filtered through
to Paris; and in that case several persons were in serious danger.

Monsieur Joseph was confirmed in these ideas by the fact that his
brother started off to Sonnay to demand of the authorities there the
reason of his son's arrest, and found that absolutely nothing was known
of it. Coming back in a state of rage and anxiety, which quite drove his
philosophy out of the field, Urbain attacked his brother in words that
Joseph found a little hard to bear, accusing him of having ruined
Angelot's life with his foolish fancies, and of being the actual cause
of this catastrophe which might bring the fate of a Chouan on the
innocent fellow who cared for no politics at all.

"And what a life, to care for no cause at all!" cried Joseph, with
eloquently waving hands. "But--you say you are going to Paris, to get to
the bottom of this? Well, my friend, go! And I promise you, if Ange is
in danger, I will follow and take his place. You and Anne may rely upon
it, he shall not be punished for my sins."

"Come with me now, then! I start this very night," said Urbain.

"No, no! I will not accuse myself before it is necessary," said Joseph,
shaking his head and smiling.

Urbain flung away in angry disgust. Joseph had a moment of profound
sadness as he looked after him--they were standing in the courtyard of
La Marinière--then stole away home through the lanes, carefully avoiding
a sight of his sister-in-law.

"I let him go! I let him go, poor Urbain! and his boy safe at Les
Chouettes all the time. Why do I do it? because the house is watched day
and night; because neither I, nor Gigot, nor Tobie, can go into the
woods without seeing the glitter of a police carbine through the leaves;
because the dogs growl at night, and there is no safe place for Angelot
outside Les Chouettes, till he is out of France altogether--and that I
shall have to manage carefully. Because, if his father knew he had
escaped from the police, all the world would know. Et puis,--I shall
make a good Royalist of you in the end, my little Angelot. Your mother
will not blame me for cutting you off from the Empire, and your father
must comfort himself with his philosophy. And that hopeless passion for
Mademoiselle Hélène--what can be kinder than to end it--and by the great
cure of all--time, absence, impossibility! Yes; the matter is in my
hands, and I shall carry it through, God helping me."

It was not a light burden that he had to carry, the little uncle. Never,
since his brother's intervention brought him back to France and placed
him where he and his old friends could amuse themselves with
conspiracies which, as Joubard said, did little harm to any one, had he
been in a position of such real difficulty. Riette did not at all
realise what she was bringing upon her father, when she slipped into his
room that night with the news that Angelot had escaped from the police.
He had to keep his nephew quietly imprisoned till he could get him away
safely; it required all his arguments, all his influence and strength of
will, to do that; for Angelot was not an easy person to keep within four
narrow walls, and only love and gratitude restrained him from obeying
his own instincts, going out into the woods, risking a second
arrest--hardly to be followed by a second escape--venturing over to La
Marinière to see his mother. It distressed him far more to think of her,
terribly anxious, ignorant of his safety, than of his father on the way
to Paris. He, at any rate, though he would not find him, might come to
the bottom of the mysterious business.

Monsieur Joseph danced in the air, shrugged his shoulders, waved his
hands. If Angelot chose to go, let him! His recapture would probably
mean the arrest and ruin of the whole family. A little patience, and he
could disappear for the time. What else did he expect to be able to do?
Would a man on whom the police had once laid their hands be allowed to
rescue himself and to live peaceably in his own country? What did he
take them for, the police? were they children at play? or were their
proceedings grim and real earnest? Had those men behind, who pulled the
strings of the puppet-show, no other object in view than an hour's
amusement? Did Angelot know that the woods were patrolled by the police,
the roads watched? The only surprising thing was, that no domiciliary
visit had yet been made, either at Les Chouettes or La Marinière.

"However, they know I am a good marksman," said Monsieur Joseph, with
his sweetest smile. "And even Tobie, with my authority, might think a
gendarme fair game."

"I don't believe it is fear of you that keeps them away, Uncle Joseph,"
said Angelot. "As to that, I too can hit a tree by daylight. But these
stealthy ways of theirs seem to tell me what I have thought all along,
that it is a private enterprise of our friend Simon's own, without any
authority whatever. The fellows with him were not gendarmes; they were
not in uniform. Monsieur le Préfet being laid up, the good man thinks it
the moment to do a little hunting on his own account with his own dogs,
and to curry favour by taking his game to Paris. But he is not quite
sure of himself; he has no warrant to search houses without a better
reason than any he can give. He will catch me again if he can, no doubt;
but as you say, Uncle Joseph, as long as I stay here in your cupboard, I
am safe."

"So safe," laughed his uncle, "that I am going to begin my vintage
to-morrow under their very noses, leaving Riette and the dogs to guard
you, mon petit. But you are wrong, you are quite wrong. No police spy
would dare to make such an arrest without a special order. If they have
no warrant for searching, they will soon get one as soon as they are
sure you are here. But at present you have vanished into the bowels of
the earth. They can see that your father knows nothing of you; they have
no reason to think that I am any wiser."

So passed those weary days, those long, mysterious nights at Les
Chouettes.

Outside, with great care to keep themselves out of sight, Simon's
scratch band searched the woods and lanes. Simon was mystified, as well
as furious. He hardly dared return and report to his employer, who
supposed that Angelot had been conveyed safely off to the mock prison
where he meant to have him kept for a few weeks; then, when the affair
of the marriage was arranged, to let him escape from it. Simon was
himself too well known in the neighbourhood to make any enquiries; but
one of his men found out at Lancilly that the family supposed young Ange
to have been carried off to Paris, whither his father had followed him.
Martin Joubard, the only witness of the arrest, had made the most of his
story. He did not know the police officer by sight, but Monsieur Ange
had seemed to do so. This had made them all think that the order for the
arrest had come from Sonnay. But no! And as to any escape, this man was
assured that the young gentleman had not been seen by any one but Martin
Joubard, since he left his father's vineyard in the twilight of that
fatal evening.

At Les Chouettes all went on outwardly in its usual fashion. Monsieur
Joseph strolled out with his gun, directed the beginnings of his
vintage; his servants, trustworthy indeed, showed no sign of any special
watchfulness; Mademoiselle Henriette ordered the dogs about and sang her
songs as usual. If Monsieur Joseph was grave and preoccupied, no wonder;
every one knew he loved his nephew. But Simon, in truth, had met his
match. He was almost convinced that no fugitive from justice, real or
pretended, was hidden in or about Monsieur Joseph's habitation; and he
gradually made his cordon wider, still watching the house, but keeping
his men in cover by day, and searching the woods by night with less
exact caution. His only satisfaction was being aware of two visits paid
to Les Chouettes by the Baron d'Ombré, who came over the moor in the
evening and slept there. The mission to England was as yet beyond police
dreams, at least on this side of the country; but Simon kept his
knowledge for future use.

It might naturally be imagined that Angelot would have found a refuge in
some of the wild old precincts of La Marinière; but Simon soon convinced
himself that this was not the case. No mother whose son was hidden about
her home would have spent her time as Anne did, wandering restlessly
about, expecting nothing but her husband's return, or spending long
hours before the altar in the church, praying for her son's safety.
Simon began to suspect that his prisoner had got away to the west, into
Brittany, among the Chouans who were there so numerous that it was
better to leave them alone.

"Bien! his absence in any way will suit Monsieur le Général," Simon
reflected. "As to that, it does not much matter. But I and my fellows
will not get our promised pay, and that signifies a great deal. I, who
have given up my furlough to serve that animal!"

So he gnawed his nails in distraction, and still watched with a sort of
fascination the little square of country where he felt more and more
afraid that Master Angelot was no longer to be found.

The sympathy that Anne de la Marinière, in her lonely sorrow, might
have expected from the cousins at Lancilly who owed Urbain so much, she
neither asked nor found. Once or twice, Hervé de Sainfoy came himself to
the manor to ask if she had any news; but his manner was a little stiff
and awkward; and Adélaïde never came; and the messages he brought from
her were too evidently made by his politeness on the spur of the moment.
Was it not possible, Anne thought, to be too worldly, too unforgiving?
Had not her beautiful boy been punished enough for his presumption in
falling in love with their daughter, and behaving like a lover of the
olden time? They were even partly responsible for the arrest, she
thought, for it was to escape them that Ange had walked away with Martin
up the hill that evening.

Looking over at the great castle on the opposite hill, she accused it
bitterly of having robbed her not only of Urbain, but of Angelot.

The October days brought wilder autumn weather; the winds began to blow
in the woods, to howl at night in the wide old chimneys of La Marinière;
sometimes the cry of a wolf, in distant depths of forest, made sportsmen
and farmers talk of the hunts of which Lancilly used long ago to be the
centre. Those days would return again, they hoped, though Count Hervé
had not the energy or the country training of his ancestors. But his
son, when the war was over, seemed likely to vie with any seigneur of
them all. In the meanwhile, this young man's leave was shortened by an
express from the army--a fact which seemed at first unlikely to have any
influence on the fate of his cousin Angelot--but life has turns and
twists that baffle the wisest calculations. Neither Georges nor his
mother had been displeased at the arrest of Angelot; though they had the
decency to keep their congratulations for each other. As for Hélène, the
news had been allowed to reach her through the servants and Mademoiselle
Moineau. She dared not cry any more; her mother had scolded her enough
for spoiling her eyes and complexion. Pale and silent, she took this new
trouble as one more proof that she was never meant to be happy. Her
fairy prince was a dream; yet, whatever the poets may say, she found a
little joy and comfort, warmth and peace, in dreaming her dream again,
and even in this worst time, by some strange instinct of love, Angelot
seemed never far away from her.

One evening, when it was blowing and raining outside, a wood fire was
flaming in the salon at La Marinière. For herself, Anne would not have
cared for it; but the old Curé sat and warmed his hands after dining
with her and playing a game of tric-trac. Not indeed to please and
distract her, but himself; for he had long been accustomed to depend on
her for comfort in all his troubles. After the game was over he had told
her a piece of news; nothing that mattered very much, or that was very
surprising, characters and circumstances considered; but Anne took it
hardly.

"I cannot believe it," she said at first. "Who told you, do you say?"

"My brother at Lancilly told me," said the Curé. "You do not think him
worthy of much confidence, madame--and it may not be true--he had heard
the report in the village."

She shrugged her shoulders, with a little contempt for the Curé of
Lancilly. Her old friend watched her face, pathetically changed since
all this new sorrow came upon her; thinner, paler, its delicate beauty
hardened, purple shadows under the still lovely eyes, and a look of
bitter resentment that hurt him to see. He gazed at her imploringly.

"But, madame," he murmured--"it is nothing--Monsieur de la Marinière
would say it was nothing--"

"I hope, Monsieur le Curé," Anne said, "that after such cruel hardness
of heart he will waste his affection there no longer. Ah! who is that?"

There were quick steps outside. Somebody had come in, and might be heard
shaking himself in the hall; then Monsieur Joseph walked lightly into
the room, bringing a rush of outside air, a smell of wet leaves, and
that atmosphere of life which in his saddest moments never left him.

Madame Urbain received him a little coldly; she was cold to every one in
these days; but in truth his conscience told him that he might have
visited her more since Urbain went away. But then--how keep the secret
from Angelot's mother? No, impossible; and so he made his vintage an
excuse for avoiding La Marinière. To-night, however, he had a mission to
fulfil.

It was horribly difficult. He sat down between her and the Curé, looked
from one to the other, drank the coffee she offered him, and blushed
like a girl as he said, "No news from Urbain, I suppose?"

Anne's brows rose in a scornful arch; her lips pouted.

"News! How should there be any?" she said, as if Urbain had gone to
Paris to amuse himself. "And your vintage, Joseph?"

"I finished it to-day. It was difficult--the weather was not very
good--and--I have had distractions," said Monsieur Joseph, and waved
away the subject. "My dear Anne," he went on, rushing headlong into
another, "I have had a visitor to-day, who charged me to explain to you
a certain matter--which vexes him profoundly, by the bye,--Hervé de
Sainfoy, who for family reasons--"

"Oh, mon Dieu!" Anne cried, and burst out laughing. "You really mean
that Hervé de Sainfoy has sent you as his ambassador--see our injustice,
Monsieur le Curé, yours and mine--to announce to me that he is going to
give a ball while my son is in prison, in danger of his life, or
already dead, for all I know! Really, that is magnificent! What
politeness, what feeling for Urbain, n'est-ce pas? He did not wish me to
hear such interesting news through the gossip of the village--do you
hear, Monsieur le Curé? You brought it too soon. And my invitation?" she
held out her hand. "Did he give you a card for me, or will Madame la
Comtesse take the trouble to send it herself?"

"Ah, bah!" cried Joseph, springing from his chair and pirouetting before
the fire; "but you are a little too severe on poor Hervé, my dear
sister! I assure you, I showed him what I thought. But I perceived that
his vexation is real--real and sincere. The circumstances--he explained
them all in the most amiable manner--"

Anne interrupted him, laughing again. "I see the facts--the one
fact--what are the circumstances to me?"

"They are a great deal to Hervé," Monsieur Joseph persisted.

"Hervé, Hervé!" she cried. "But Joseph--mon Dieu, how can you take his
wretched excuses! I thought you loved Ange! I thought the boy--"

She broke off with a sob, turning white as death. The two men stared at
her, Monsieur Joseph with wild eyes and trembling lips. Would this be
more than he could bear?

He took refuge in talking. He talked so fast that he hardly knew what he
was saying. He poured out Hervé's explanations, his regrets, his
trouble of mind. Georges was bent upon this ball; it had been proposed
long before his return; the first invitations had been sent out directly
he came. He wished to make acquaintance with all the neighbours, old and
new, official, or friends of the family; he wished to pay a special
compliment to the officers at Sonnay, his brothers in arms. A formal
invitation had been sent to General Ratoneau, who had actually accepted
it, to Hervé's great surprise. He had laughed and said that the dog
wanted another thrashing. But let him come, if he chose to humble
himself! He might see even more clearly that Hélène was not for him. In
Adélaïde's opinion, no private prejudices must have anything to do with
this ball. It was given chiefly as a matter of politics, under imperial
colours; it was for the interest of Georges that his family should thus
definitely range itself with the Empire.

"Poor Hervé said that he had already, more than once, spoilt his wife's
calculations and failed to support her views. She and Georges, whatever
private feeling might be, thought it impossible to put off this ball
because of the misfortune that happened to Angelot. They would be
understood to show sympathy with the Chouans. Then he abused me well,
poor Hervé," said Monsieur Joseph, amiably. "He said, as Urbain did,
that I had ruined Angelot's life, and it was no one's fault but mine.
'Well, dear cousin,' I said to him, 'I will punish myself by not
appearing at this fine ball of yours. Not that my dancing days are over,
but for me, Ange's absence would spoil all.' 'You love that fellow!'
says Hervé, looking at me. 'Love him!' says I. 'I would cut off my right
hand to serve him, and that is a good deal for a sportsman.' Hervé
laughed as I said it. I do not dislike that poor Hervé, though his wife
rules him. Listen to me, you two. I believe if Ange had been reasonable
and honest, Hervé might have given him his daughter."

"Heaven forbid!" cried Anne. "But if you love Ange, do not blame him. He
was young, he was mad, the girl was beautiful--and, after all, Joseph,
you had something to do with putting that into his head. Ah, we are all
to blame! We have all been cruel, blind, selfish. You and I thought of
the King, Urbain thought of his cousins, they thought of themselves. We
left my boy to find his own way in a time like this, and your Chouan
friends were as dangerous for him as Hélène de Sainfoy. Ah! and you
excuse yourself with a laugh from dancing on his grave!"

She wrung her hands, threw herself back in her chair with a passionate
sigh.

"Madame," said the Curé, suddenly;--his dim but watchful eyes had been
fixed on Joseph; "Madame, Monsieur Joseph could tell you, if he would,
what has become of Angelot. He is not dead; I doubt if he is even in
prison. Ah, monsieur, you do not dissimulate well!" as Joseph made him
an eager sign to be silent.

But it was too late, for Anne was holding his two hands, and in the
light of her eyes all his secret doings lay open.

"Why did I come!" he said to himself, in the intervals of a very
difficult explanation. "There is some magic in those walls of Lancilly,
which attracts and ruins us all. If we live through this, thousand
thunders, Hervé de Sainfoy may make his own excuses to our dear little
Anne in future!"



CHAPTER XXII

THE LIGHTED WINDOWS OF LANCILLY


There was no way out of it, without telling all. Fortunately Joseph knew
that his secrets were safe with these two, whose hearts were absolutely
Royalist, though circumstances held them bound to inactivity. Presently
Anne rose and left the room.

"Thank God! that is over," Joseph said, half to himself. "I must be
going. Monsieur le Curé, I leave her to you. Do not let her be too
anxious. D'Ombré is rough, but a good fellow; he will take care of our
Angelot."

The old Curé was plunged in gloom. Tall and slight in his long black
garment, he stood under the high chimneypiece, and leaned forward
shivering, to warm his fingers at the blaze.

"Ah, monsieur!" he murmured. "Have you thought what you are doing? Can
you expect good to come out of evil? Your brother, who has done
everything for us all, how are you treating him? If madame does not see
it, I do. You are taking Ange, making him a conspirator and a Chouan. If
you save him from one danger, you plunge him into a greater, for if he
and Monsieur d'Ombré are caught on this mission, they will certainly
pay for it with their lives. You are doing all this without his father's
knowledge--"

"Ah, my dear Curé, I know the police better than you do," Monsieur
Joseph said hastily. "These young fellows will not be the first who have
escaped to England; and Ange cannot stay here with their eyes and claws
upon him. Even his father would not wish that. Leave it to me. What is
it, Anne? what are you thinking of?"

His sister-in-law had come back into the room, wrapped in a cloak, with
a hood drawn over her face.

"I am going with you to see Ange," she said.

The wind was howling, the rain was pattering outside. But Monsieur
Joseph had all the trouble in the world to make her give up this idea.
At last, after many arguments and prayers, he persuaded her that she
must not come to Les Chouettes but must absolutely trust Ange to him. He
promised solemnly that the young man should not start without her
knowing it, that, if possible, she should see her boy again.

"And if Urbain comes back before they are gone?" she said, looking
whitely into his face. "I tell you positively, Joseph, I shall not
dare--"

"My dear friend, owing to Monsieur le Curé's unfortunate second-sight,
your son's life is in your hands. If Urbain comes back, tell him all, if
you will. His presence did not save Ange from being arrested before, it
will not save him from being retaken. My fault, perhaps, as Urbain
said--all my fault--" He struck his breast as if in church, with his
fine smile. "But then it is my place to save him, and I will do it, if
you will let me--in my own way."

They were both trembling, and large tears ran down the old Curé's thin
cheeks. Joseph, still smiling, bent to kiss her hand. He held it for a
moment, then looked up with dark imploring eyes.

"Adieu, chère Anne! and think of me with all your charity!" he said.

A minute later he had slipped noiselessly out, and plunged alone into
the wet, howling darkness.

Through those days of suspense, while Angelot was hidden at Les
Chouettes, while master and servants alike acted on the supposition that
the house was watched by gendarmes with all the power of the Ministry of
Police behind them--through these days, one person alone was happy; it
was Henriette. She adored her cousin; it was joy to watch over him, to
scold him, to amuse him, to keep him, a difficult matter, within the
bounds prescribed by his uncle. Every day Angelot said it was
impossible; he must be ill, he must die, if he could not stretch his
legs and breathe the open air. Every day Henriette, when her father was
out, allowed him to race up and down the stairs, played at hide-and-seek
with him in the passages, let him dance her round and round the lower
rooms. Or else she played games with him, cards, chess, tric-trac; or
he lay and listened to her while she told him fairy tales; listened with
a dreamy half-understanding, with a certainty, underlying all his
impatience, that there was nothing to live for now. What did it matter,
after all? One moment, life and hope and youth made him thrill and
tremble in every limb; the next, his fate weighed upon him like a
millstone; he laid his head down on the broad pillow of the sofa, and
while Henriette chattered his eyelashes were sometimes wet. All was
settled now. He must be banished to England, to Germany, banished in a
cause he did not care for, in which he was involved against his will.
Never again should he walk with his gun and Négo, light-hearted, over
his own old country. Never again, more certainly, should he see Hélène,
feel the maddening sweetness of her touch, her kiss. There was to be a
ball. Henriette told him all about it; he heard of his cousin Hervé's
visit, and was half amused, half miserable. Hélène would dance; white
and slender, her eyes full of sadness. She would dance with other men,
thinking, he knew, of her lost friend, her Angelot. In time, one of them
would be presented to her as her husband. Not Ratoneau; Angelot had her
father's word for that, and he drew a long breath when he thought of it.
But some one else; that was inevitable. Ah! as life must pass, why
cannot it pass more quickly? Why must every day have such an endless
number of hours and minutes? What torture is there greater than this of
waiting, stifled and idle, for a fate arranged in spite of one's self?

Henriette flitted in and out, eager and earnest like her father. After
Monsieur Joseph's visit to La Marinière, he sent her there one day with
Marie, and she was embraced by her aunt Anne with a quite new passion of
tenderness, and trusted with a letter and a huge parcel of necessaries
for Angelot's journey. Monsieur Joseph laughed a little angrily over
these.

"Tiens, mon petit! your mother thinks you are going to drive to the
coast in a chaise and four," he said; but Angelot bent his head very
gravely over the coats and the shirts that those little thin hands had
folded together for him.

"You must give me fair notice, Uncle Joseph," he said. "Police or no
police, I do not go without wishing her good-bye."

Everything came at once, as fate would have it. It was after dark, a
wild, windy evening, stars looking through the hurrying clouds, no
moonrise till early morning. With every precaution, Monsieur Joseph
now allowed his nephew to dine in the dining-room, taking care to place
him where he could not be seen from outside when Gigot came in through
the shutters from the kitchen. Angelot had now been kept in hiding for
ten days, and the police seemed to have disappeared from the woods, so
that Monsieur Joseph's mind was easier.

Suddenly, as they sat at dinner that evening, all the dogs began to
bark.

"Go into your den!" said the little uncle, starting up.

"No, dear uncle, this game pie is too good," Angelot said coolly. "I
heard a horse coming down the lane. It is Monsieur d'Ombré's messenger."

"If it is--very true, you had better eat your dinner," said his uncle.

And to be sure, in a few minutes, Gigot came in with a letter, Angelot's
marching orders. At five o'clock the next morning César d'Ombré would
wait for him at the Étang des Morts, a lonely, legend-haunted pool in
the woods where four roads met, about two leagues beyond the _landes_ by
way of La Joubardière.

"Very well; you will start at three o'clock," said Monsieur Joseph.
"Give the man something to eat and send him back, Gigot, to meet his
master."

"Three o'clock! I shall be asleep!" said Angelot. "Surely an hour will
be enough to take me to the Étang des Morts--a cheerful rendezvous!"

He laughed and looked at Riette. She was very pale and grave, her dark
eyes wide open.

"The good dead--they will watch over you, mon petit!" she murmured. "We
must not be afraid of them."

"This is not a time for talking nonsense, children," said Monsieur
Joseph; he looked at them severely, his mouth trembling. "Half-past
three at latest; the boy might lose his way in the dark."

Riette got up suddenly and flung her arms round Angelot's neck.

"Mon petit, mon petit!" she repeated, burying her face on his shoulder.

"What are you doing?" he cried. "How am I to finish my dinner? You come
between me and the best pie that Marie ever made! Get along with you,
little good-for-nothing!"

He laughed; then Marie's pie seemed to choke him; he pushed back his
chair, lifted Riette lightly and carried her out of the room.

"Now I am in prison no longer," he said. "I am going to run across to La
Marinière; will you come too, little cousin?"

But Monsieur Joseph had something to say to that. He would not let
Angelot go without sermons so long that the boy could hardly listen to
them, on the care he was to take that no servant or dog at La Marinière
saw him, on the things he might and might not say to his mother.

At last Angelot said aside to Henriette: "There is only one thing I
regret--that I did not go straight home at first to my father and
mother. That will bring misfortune on us all, if anything does--my uncle
is absolutely too much of a conspirator."

"Hush, you are ungrateful," said Riette, gravely.

"Ah! It seems to me that I am nothing good or fortunate--everything bad
and unlucky! My relations and their politics toss me like a ball,"
Angelot sighed impatiently. "I wish this night were over and we were on
our way, I and that excellent grumpy César. And the farther I go, the
more I shall want to come back. Tiens! Riette, I am miserable!"

The child gazed at him with her great eyes, full of the love and
understanding of a woman.

"Courage!" she said. "You will come back--with the King."

"The King!" Angelot repeated bitterly. "Ask Martin Joubard about that.
Hear him talk of the Emperor."

"A peasant! a common soldier! What does he know?" said the girl,
scornfully. "I think my papa knows better."

"Ah, well! Believe in him; you are right," said Angelot.

They talked as they stood outside the house in the dim starlight,
waiting a few moments for Monsieur Joseph: he chose to go part of the
way with Angelot, and consented unwillingly to take Riette with him. The
dead silence of the woods and fields was only broken by the moan of the
wind; a sadness that struck to the heart brooded over the depths of
lonely land; far down in the valley cold mists were creeping, and even
on the lower slopes of Monsieur Joseph's meadow a chilly damp rose from
the undrained ground. As far as one could tell, not a human being moved
in the woods; the feet of Monsieur d'Ombré's messenger had passed up the
lane out of hearing; all was solitary and silent about the quaint
turreted house with its many shuttered windows and dark guards lying
silent, stretched on the sand. Only one of these rose and shook himself
and followed his master.

But the loneliness was not so great as it seemed. Behind a large tree to
leeward of the house, Simon was lurking alone. He had sent his men away
for the night, and he ground his teeth with rage when he saw his victim,
out of reach for the time. For he had not the courage, with no law or
right on his side, to face the uncle and nephew, armed and together.

Avoiding the open starlit slope, those three with the dog passed at once
into the shadow of the woods, thus taking the safest, though not the
shortest way to La Marinière. Simon stole after them at a safe distance.
They came presently to a high corner in a lane, where, over the bank on
which the pollard oaks stood in line, they could look across to the
other side of the valley. As a rule, the Château de Lancilly was hardly
to be seen after sunset, facing east, and its own woods shadowing it on
three sides; but to-night its long front shone and glowed and flashed
with light; every window seemed to be open and illuminated; the effect
was so festal, so dazzling, that Riette cried out in admiration.
Monsieur Joseph exclaimed angrily, and Angelot gazed in silence.

"Ah, papa! It is the ball! How beautiful! How I wish I could be there!"
cried the child.

"No doubt!" said Monsieur Joseph. "Exactly! You would like to dance till
to-morrow morning, while Ange is escaping. Well, shall I take you across
there now? One of your pretty cousins would lend you a ball-dress!"

Riette's blushes could not be seen in the dark, but she said no more.
Monsieur Joseph walked on a few paces and stopped.

"Ange will go quicker without us," he said. "Go, my boy, and God bless
and protect you. We have given those rascals of police the slip, I
think, or they have decided that you are not to be caught here. For the
last day or two Tobie has seen nothing of them. But remember you are not
safe; go cautiously and come back quickly. Do not let your mother keep
you long. I believe I am doing very wrong in letting you go to her at
all!"

"As to that, Uncle Joseph, it is certain that I won't leave the country
without seeing her," said Angelot.

"Go, then, and don't be long, don't be rash; remember that I am dying
with impatience. You have the pistols I gave you?"

"Yes."

"Don't shoot a gendarme if you can help it. It might make things more
serious. Away with you! Come, Riette."

As the two walked back along the lane, Simon scrambled out of their way,
like Angelot out of his, into the thick mass of one of the old
_truisses_. The dog looked up at the tree and growled as they passed.
Monsieur Joseph glanced sharply that way, but saw nothing, and called
the dog to follow him, walking on a little more quickly.

"He will go straight to La Marinière," he was saying to Riette, "stay
twenty minutes or so with his mother, and be back at Les Chouettes in
less than an hour"--a piece of information not lost on Simon, who
climbed down carefully from his tree, looked to his carbine, and
chuckled as he walked slowly on towards La Marinière.

"Nothing in the world like patience," he said to himself. "Monsieur le
Général ought to double my reward for this. I was right from the
beginning; that old devil of a Chouan had the boy hidden in that
robber's den of his. The fellows thought I was wasting my time and
theirs. They didn't like being half starved and catching cold in the
woods. I have had all the trouble in the world to hold them down to it.
But what does it matter, so that we catch our game after all! I must
choose a good place to drop on the youngster--lucky for me that he
couldn't live without seeing his mother. Is he armed? Never mind! I must
be fit to die of old age if I can't give an account of a boy like that.
His mother, eh? Why did his father go to Paris, if they knew he was
here? Perhaps they thought it wiser to keep the good news from Monsieur
Urbain; these things divide families. They let him go off on a
wild-goose chase after a pardon or something. Well, so that I catch him,
tie him up out of the General's way, get my money, start off to Paris to
see my father, and--perhaps--never come back--for this affair may make
another department pleasanter--"

So ruminated Simon, as he strolled through the lanes in the starlight,
following, as he supposed, in the footsteps of Angelot, and preparing to
lie in wait for him at some convenient corner on his return.

But when his uncle and cousin left him, disappearing into the shadows,
Angelot leaped up on the bank and stood for a minute or two gazing
across at Lancilly. To watch till her shadow passed by one of those
lighted windows--if not to climb to some point where he might see her,
herself, without breaking his word to her father and attempting to speak
to her--it might cost an extra half-hour and Uncle Joseph's displeasure,
perhaps. But after all, what was leaving all the rest of the world
compared with leaving her, Hélène, and practically for ever? His gentle,
frightened love, to whom he had promised all the strength and protection
he had to give, to whom invisible cords drew him across the valley!

"No, I cannot!" Angelot said to himself. He waited for no second
thoughts, but jumped down into the field beyond the bank, and did not
even trouble himself to keep in the shadow while with long light
strides he ran towards Lancilly.

Two hours later Monsieur Joseph was pacing up and down, wildly
impatient, in front of his house. Over his head, Riette listened behind
closed shutters, and heard nothing but his quick tramp, and an angry
exclamation now and then against Angelot. At last Monsieur Joseph
stopped short and listened. The dogs barked, but he silenced them; then
came a swinging light and two figures hurrying along the shadowy
footpath from La Marinière. Another instant, and Urbain's strong voice
rang through the night that brooded over Les Chouettes.

"Joseph, you incorrigible old Chouan! what have you done with my boy?"



CHAPTER XXIII

A DANCE WITH GENERAL RATONEAU


All this time, and lately with her son's energetic help, Madame de
Sainfoy had been arranging her rooms in the most approved fashion of the
day. The new furniture was far less beautiful than the old, and far less
suited to the character of the house; still, like everything belonging
to the Empire, it had a severe magnificence. The materials were mahogany
and gilded bronze; the forms were classical, lyres, urns, winged
sphinxes everywhere. In the large salon the walls were hung with yellow
silk instead of the old, despised, but precious tapestries, the long
curtains that swept the floor were yellow silk, with broad bands of red
and yellow and a heavy fringe of red and yellow balls. These fashions
were repeated in each room in different colours, green, blue, red; a
smaller salon, Madame de Sainfoy's favourite, was hung with a peculiar
green flecked with gold; and for the chairs in this room she, Hélène,
Mademoiselle Moineau, and the young girls were working a special
tapestry with wreaths of grapes or asters, lyres, Roman heads which
suggested Napoleon. Certain unaccountable stains on this fine work
brought a smile long years afterwards into the lovely eyes of Hélène.

Paper and paint, innovations at Lancilly, had much to do in beautifying
the old place. Dark rooms were well lit up by a white paper with a broad
border of red and yellow twisted ribbons. Old stone chimneypieces,
window-sills, great solid shutters, were covered thick with yellow
paint.

The ideas of Captain Georges were still more modern than those of
Urbain, and suited his mother better. She was angry with Urbain for
forsaking her business and hurrying off to Paris in search of his
worthless son; she was especially angry that he went without giving her
notice, or offering to do any of the thousand commissions she could
gladly have given him. However, these faults in Urbain only made Georges
more valuable; and it was with something not far short of fury that she
refused to listen to her husband when he suggested that the ball might
be put off because of the trouble and sorrow that hung over his cousins
at La Marinière.

The ball was stately and splendid. At the dinner-party a few weeks
before, only a certain number of notables had been present, and chiefly
old friends of the family. To the ball came everybody of any pretension
whatever, within a radius of many miles. Lancilly stood in Anjou, but
near the borders of Touraine and Maine; all these old provinces were
well represented. Many of the guests were returned emigrants: old
sentiment connected with the names of Sainfoy and Lancilly brought them.
Many more were new people of the Empire; mushroom families, on whom the
older ones looked curiously and scornfully. There was a brilliant and
dashing body of officers from Sonnay-le-Loir, with General Ratoneau at
their head. There were a number of civil officials of the Empire, though
the Prefect himself was not there.

Ratoneau was in a strange state of mind. In his full-dress uniform, his
gold lace and plumes, he looked his best, a manly and handsome soldier.
Every one turned to look at him, struck by the likeness to Napoleon,
stronger than ever that night, for he was graver, quieter, more
dignified than usual. He was not at his ease, and oddly enough, the
false position suited him. There could not be anything but extreme
coolness and stiffness in the greeting between him and his host. Hervé
de Sainfoy had refused the man his daughter, and heartily despised him
for accepting the formal invitation to this ball. Ratoneau knew that he
was going to be forced as a son-in-law on this coldly courteous
gentleman, but let no sign of his coming triumph escape him. Not, at
least, to Hélène's father; her mother was a different story. As the
General drew himself upright again, after bending stiffly to kiss her
hand, he met his hostess's eyes with such a bold look of confident
understanding that she flushed a little and almost felt displeased. He
was not discreet, she thought. He had no business so to take her
sympathy for granted. Other people might have caught that glance and
misunderstood it.

She stood for a moment, frowning a little, the graceful lines of her
satin and lace, her head crowned with curls, making a perfect picture of
what she meant to be, a great lady of the Empire. Then her look softened
suddenly, as Georges came up to her.

"Listen to me a moment, mamma. General Ratoneau wishes to dance with
Hélène. She told me this afternoon that she would not dance with him. I
say she must. What do you say?"

Madame de Sainfoy twirled her fan impatiently.

"Where is she?"

"There."

A quadrille was just beginning; the dancers were arranging themselves.
The Vicomte des Barres, one of the most strongly declared Royalists
present, was leading Mademoiselle de Sainfoy forward.

He was familiar with the details of the mission to England, on which the
Baron d'Ombré was to start that very night; but not even to him had been
confided Angelot's escape and Monsieur Joseph's further plans. He was
one of the many guests who had been struck by the heartlessness of the
Sainfoys in giving a ball at this moment, but who came to it for reasons
of their own. He came with the object of hoodwinking the local police,
who were watching him and his friends, of scattering the Chouan party
and giving César d'Ombré more chance of a safe and quiet start.

The manners, the looks, the talk of Des Barres were all of the old
régime. He had its charm, its sympathetic grace; and it was with a
feeling of relief and safety that Hélène gave her hand to him for the
dance, rather than to one of the young Empire heroes whose eyes were
eagerly following her.

"Your sister is a fool," said Madame de Sainfoy, very low.

"That is my impression," said Georges; and they both gazed for an
instant at the couple as they advanced.

Hélène's loveliness that night was extraordinary. The music, the lights,
the wonderful beauty of the scene in those gorgeous rooms, the
light-hearted talk and laughter all about her, had lifted the heavy
sadness that lay on her brow and eyes. When every one seemed so gay,
could life be quite hopeless, after all? The tender pink in her cheeks
that night was not due to her mother's rouge-box, with which she had
often been threatened. She was smiling at some pretty old-world
compliment from Monsieur des Barres. He, for his part, asked himself
what the grief could be which lay behind that smile of hers, and found
it easy enough to have his question answered. In a few minutes, in the
intervals of the dance, they were talking of her cousin Angelot, his
mysterious arrest, the possible reasons for it. Hélène's story was
plainly to be read in the passion of her low voice, her darkening eyes,
the quick changes of her colour. Monsieur des Barres was startled, yet
hardly surprised; it seemed as natural that two such young creatures
should be attracted to each other, as that their love should be a
hopeless fancy; for no reasonable person could dream that Monsieur de
Sainfoy would give his daughter to a cousin neither rich nor fortunate.
He did his best to cheer the girl, without showing that he guessed her
secret. It must be some mistake, he assured her; the government could
have no good reason for detaining her cousin, who--"unfortunately," said
Monsieur des Barres, with a smile--"was not a Royalist conspirator at
all." He had the satisfaction of gaining a look and a smile from Hélène
which must have brought a young man to her feet, and which even made his
well-trained heart beat a little quicker.

Georges de Sainfoy was resolved that his sister should not insult her
family again by dancing with a known Chouan. For the next dance, Hélène
found herself in the possession of General Ratoneau, clattering sword,
creaking boots, and all. Monsieur des Barres, looking back as he
withdrew, saw a cold statue, with white eyelids lowered, making a deep
curtsey to the General under her brother's stern eyes.

"Poor little thing!" the Vicomte said to himself. "Poor children! The
pretty boy is impossible, of course. These cousins are the devil. But it
is a pity!"

General Ratoneau danced very badly, and did not care to dance much. He
had no intention of making himself agreeable in this way to any lady but
the daughter of the house, whom in his own mind he already regarded as
betrothed to him. He had satisfactory letters from his friends in Paris,
assuring him that the imperial order to the Comte de Sainfoy would be
sent off immediately. It was difficult for him not to boast among his
comrades of his coming marriage, but he had just decency enough to hold
his tongue. According to his calculations, the order might have arrived
at Lancilly to-day; it could scarcely be delayed beyond to-morrow.

Hélène endured him as a partner, and was a little proud of herself for
it. She found him repulsive; disliked meeting the bold admiration of his
eyes. But as no one had mentioned him to her during the last few weeks,
Madame de Sainfoy and Georges prudently restraining themselves, and as
he had not appeared at Lancilly since the dinner-party, she had ceased
to have any immediate fear of him. And all the brilliancy of that
evening, the triumphant swing of the music, the consciousness of her own
beauty, delicately heightened by her first partner's looks and words,
and last, not least, the comfort he had given her about Angelot, had
raised her drooping spirits so that she found it not impossible to
smile and speak graciously, even with General Ratoneau.

After dancing, he led her round the newly decorated rooms, and all the
new fashions in furniture, in dress, in manners, made a subject for talk
which helped her wonderfully. Ratoneau listened with a smiling stare,
asked questions, and laughed now and then.

On the surface, his manner was not offensive; he was behaving
beautifully, according to his standard; probably no young woman had ever
been so politely treated by him before. In truth, Hélène's fair beauty
and stateliness, the white dignity of a creature so far above his
experience, awed him a little. But with a man of his kind, no such
feeling was likely to last long. Any strange touch of shyness which
protected the lovely girl by his side was passing off as he swore to
himself: "I have risked something, God knows, but she's worth it all. I
am a lucky man--I shall be proud of my wife."

They were in the farther salon, not many people near. He turned upon her
suddenly, with a look which brought the colour to her face, "Do you
know, mademoiselle, you are the most beautiful woman in the world!"

Hélène shook her head, a faint smile struggling with instant disgust and
alarm. She looked round, but saw no one who could release her from this
rough admirer. She was obliged to turn to him again, and listened to him
with lowered eyes, a recollection of her mother's words weighing now
upon her brain.

"The first time I saw you, mademoiselle," said Ratoneau, "was in this
room. You were handing coffee with that cousin of yours--young La
Marinière."

He saw the girl's face quiver and grow pale. His own changed, and his
smile became unpleasant. He had not meant to mention that fellow, now
shut up safely somewhere--it was strange, by the bye, that Simon had
never come back to report himself and take his money! However, as he had
let Angelot's name fall, there might be some advantage to be had out of
it.

"I see his father is not here to-night," he said. "Sensible man, his
father."

"How should he be here!" said Hélène, turning her head away. "He is gone
to Paris to find him. How could he be here, dancing and laughing--I ask
myself, how can anybody--"

She spoke half aside, breaking off suddenly.

"Yourself, for instance?" said Ratoneau, staring at her. "And why should
you shut yourself up and make the whole world miserable, because your
cousin is a fool? But you have not done so."

"Because it is impossible, I am not free."

"What would you be doing now, if you were free?"

Hélène shrugged her shoulders. Ratoneau laughed.

"Does Monsieur de la Marinière expect to bring his son back with him?"
he asked.

His tone was sneering, but Hélène did not notice it.

"I do not know, monsieur," she said. "But my cousin will come back. He
has done nothing. He has been in no plots. The Emperor cannot punish an
innocent man."

She looked up suddenly, cheered by repeating what Monsieur des Barres
had told her. Her pathetic eyes met Ratoneau's for a moment; surely no
one could be cruel enough to deny such facts as these. In the General's
full gaze there was plenty of what was odious to her, but no real
kindness or pity. She blushed as she thought: "How dares this man look
at me so? He is nothing but the merest acquaintance. He is
insupportable."

"If we were to go back into the ball-room, monsieur," she said gravely,
beginning to move away. "My mother will be looking for me."

"No, mademoiselle," said Ratoneau, coolly, "I think not. Madame la
Comtesse saw me take you this way."

He sat down on a sofa, spreading his broad left hand over the gilded
sphinx of its arm. With his right hand he pointed to the place beside
him.

"Sit down there," he said.

Hélène frowned with astonishment, caught her breath and looked round.
There were two or three people at the other end of the room, but all
strangers to her, and all passing out gradually; no one coming towards
her, no one to rescue her from the extraordinary manners of this man.

The glance she gave him was as withering as her gentle eyes could make
it; then she turned her back upon him and began to glide away, alone,
down the room.

"Mademoiselle--" said Ratoneau; his voice grated on her ears.

Was he laughing? was he angry? in any case she was resolved not to speak
to the insolent creature again.

"Listen, mademoiselle," said Ratoneau, more loudly, and without rising.
"Listen! I will bring your cousin back."

She wavered, paused, then turned and looked at him. He gazed at her
gravely, intently; his look and manner were a little less offensive now.

"Yes--I am not an ogre," he said. "I don't eat boys and girls. But I
assure you there are people in the Empire who do. And you are quite
wrong if you think that an innocent man is never punished. The police
may have their reasons--bang--there go the big gates of Vincennes, and
the stronger reason that opens them again is hard to find. Innocent or
guilty--after all, that pretty cousin of yours has touched a good deal
of pitch in the way of _chouannerie_, mademoiselle."

"You said--" Hélène waited and stammered.

"I said I would bring him back. You want to understand me? Sit down
beside me here."

The girl hesitated. "Courage! for Angelot!" she said to herself.

She did not believe in the man; she dreaded him; shrank from him; but
the name she loved was even more powerful than Ratoneau had expected.

"Ah, but we will send that little cousin to the wars, or to America," he
thought, as she came slowly back and let herself sink down, pale and
cold, in the opposite corner of the sofa.

"Where is my cousin, monsieur?" she said under her breath.

"I suppose, as the police arrested him, that he is in their hands," said
Ratoneau. "Where he is at this moment I know no more than you do."

"But you said--"

"Yes--I will do it. You can believe, can you not, that I have more
influence at headquarters than poor Monsieur de la Marinière--a little
country squire who has saved himself by licking the dust before each man
in power?"

"It is not right for you to speak so of my father's cousin, who has been
so excellent for us all," Hélène said quickly; then she blushed at her
own boldness. "But if you can really do this--I shall be grateful,
monsieur."

The words were coldly, impatiently said; she might have been throwing a
bone to a begging dog. Ratoneau bent forward, devouring her with his
eyes. The delicate line of her profile was partly turned away from him;
the eyelids drooped so low that the long lashes almost rested on the
cheek. All about her brow and ears, creeping down to her white neck, the
fair curls clustered. Soft and narrow folds of white muslin, lace, and
fine embroidery, clothed her slender figure with an exaggerated
simplicity. Her foot, just advanced beyond the frills of the gown, her
white long fingers clasping her fan; every feature, every touch, every
detail, was as finely beautiful as art and nature could make it; Hélène
was the perfection of dainty aristocracy in the exquisite freshness of
its youth.

"I will do it--I will do it--for love of you," Ratoneau said, and his
voice became suddenly hoarse. "You are beautiful--and you are
mine--mine."

The girl shuddered from head to foot.

"No!" she said violently.

She did not look at Ratoneau. As to him, he did not speak, but laughed
and bent nearer. She rose to her feet suddenly.

"You forget yourself--you are mad, Monsieur le Général," she said
haughtily. "If that is the condition--no! Pray do not concern yourself
about my cousin's affairs, you have nothing to do with them."

Ratoneau rose too, a little unsteadily.

"Listen one moment, mademoiselle," he said. "If I am mad, you are
foolish, let me tell you. I said nothing about conditions, I stated
facts. You will be my wife--therefore you are mine, you belong to me,
and therefore there is nothing I will not do for love of you. My wife is
the most beautiful woman in France, and she stands here."

"Never, never!" murmured Hélène. "It has come!" she said to herself.

Her mother had threatened her with this; and now, apparently, all had
been settled without a word to her. Even her father, once on her side,
must be against her now. He had been angry with her; not without reason,
she knew. Yes, this horrible thing had been arranged by her father, her
mother, Georges, while she was kept a prisoner upstairs. If they had
been kinder to her in the last few days, it was only that they wished to
bring their victim smiling to the sacrifice. No wonder Georges had
insisted on her dancing with General Ratoneau. No wonder her mother had
taken pains to dress her beautifully for this ball, which she hated and
dreaded so much.

These thoughts, with a wild desire to escape, rushed through Hélène's
mind as she stood breathless before this man who laid such a daring
claim to her. He was smiling, though his lips were white. It is not
pleasant to be treated as horrible scum of the earth by the woman you
have arranged to marry; to see scorn, disgust, hatred in a girl's face,
answering to your finest compliments.

"This young lady has a character--she has a temper--" he muttered
between his teeth. "But you will be tamed, ma belle. Who would have
thought with those pale cheeks of yours--well, the Emperor's command
will bring you to reason. Pity I spoke, perhaps--but a man cannot keep
cool always. That command--Ah, thousand thunders! what do I see?"

The last words were spoken aloud. As Hélène stood before him, silent,
rooted with horror to the ground, he watching her with folded arms in a
favourite imperial attitude, several sets of people strolled across the
lower end of the room, for this was one of a suite of salons. Suddenly
came the master of the house alone, walking slowly, his eyes fixed on a
letter in his hand, his face deathly white in the glimmer of the many
wax candles. Hélène did not see her father at first, for her back was
turned to him, but at the General's words she turned quickly, and was
just aware of him as he passed into the next room. Without another word
or look she left her partner standing there, and fled away in pursuit of
him. Ratoneau watched the white figure vanishing, laughed aloud, and
swore heartily.

"This is dramatic," he said. "Fortunate that I have a friend at Court in
Madame la Comtesse! Suppose I go and join her."

Hélène searched for her father in vain. By the time she reached the
other room, he had quite unaccountably vanished. As she flew on rather
distractedly among the guests, hurrying back to the ball-room, her
brother's peremptory hand was laid upon her arm.

"What is the matter, Hélène? Where are you running? Are you dancing with
no one, and why do you look so wild?"

Hélène answered none of these questions.

"Find me a partner, if you please," she said, with a sudden effort at
collecting herself. "But, Georges--no more of your officers."

Georges looked at her with a queer smile, but only said--

"And no more of your Chouans!"



CHAPTER XXIV

HOW MONSIEUR DE SAINFOY FOUND A WAY OUT


If Angelot expected to find the usual woodland stillness, that night,
about the approaches to the Château de Lancilly, he was mistaken. The
old place was surrounded; numbers of servants, ranks of carriages, a few
gendarmes and soldiers. Half the villages were there, too, crowding
about the courts, under the walls, and pressing especially round the
chief entrance on the west, where a bridge over the old moat led into a
court surrounded with high-piled buildings, one stately roof rising
above another. Monsieur de Sainfoy kept up the old friendly fashion, and
no gates shut off his neighbours from his domain.

Angelot came through the wood, which almost touched the house and
shadowed the moat on the north side. He had meant to go in at some door,
to pass through one of the halls, perhaps, and catch a glimpse of the
dancing. All this now seemed more difficult; he could not go among the
people without being recognised, and though, as far as himself was
concerned, he would have dared anything for a sight of Hélène, loyalty
to his uncle stood in the way of foolhardiness.

He walked cautiously towards the steps leading down into the moat. This
corner, far from any entrance, was dark and solitary. The little door in
the moat was probably still blocked; but in any case the ivy was there,
and the chapel window--heaven send it open, or at least unbarred!

"I shall do no harm to-night, Cousin Hervé. I shall see her dancing with
some happy fellow. If I don't know Lancilly well enough to spend ten
minutes in the old gallery--nobody will be there--well, then--"

"Monsieur Angelot!" said a deep voice out of the darkness.

"Not an inch nearer, or I fire!" Angelot replied, and his pistol was
ready.

"Tiens! Don't kill me, for I am desperately glad to see you," and Martin
Joubard limped forward. "You got away from those ragamuffins, then? I
thought as much, when I heard they had been watching the woods. But
where are you hiding, and what are you doing here? Take care, there are
a lot of police and gendarmes about. Are you safe?"

"No, I'm not safe--at least my uncle says so. Did you think I would stay
with those rascals long?" Angelot laughed. "I'm going out of the country
to-night. Hold your tongue, Martin. Wait here. I will come back this
way, and you can warn me if there is any one on the track."

"Going out of the country without seeing madame, and she breaking her
heart?" said Martin, disapproving.

"No, I am on my way. Pst! I hear footsteps," and Angelot dropped into
the moat, while the soldier stepped back into the shadow of the trees.

"On his way to La Marinière--from his uncle's! Rather roundabout,
Monsieur Angelot. Ah, but to have all one's limbs!" sighed Martin,
smiling, for plenty of gossip had reached him; and he listened to the
gay music which made the air dance, and to the voices and laughter, till
he forgot everything else in the thrilling knowledge that somebody was
scrambling up through the ivy on the opposite wall. There was a slight
clank and crash among the thick depth of leaves; then silence.

"He ought to be one of us, that boy!" thought Martin. "I'll wait for
him. I like a spark of the devil. My father says Monsieur Joseph was a
thorough _polisson_, and almost as pretty as his nephew. He's a pious
little gentleman now. They are a curious family!"

Angelot slipped through the dark empty chapel, and the wind howled
behind him. He ran down the passage between rooms that were empty and
dark, for Mademoiselle Moineau and her pupils had been allowed to go
down to the ball. He went through stone-vaulted corridors, unlighted,
cold and lonely, across half the length of the great house. He had to
watch his moment for passing the head of the chief staircase, for there
were people going up and down, servants trying to see what they could of
the gay doings below. Waves of warm and scented air rolled up against
his face as he darted past, keeping close to the wall, one moving shadow
more. Music, laughing, talking, filled old Lancilly like a flood, ebbing
and flowing so; and every now and then the tramping of feet on the
ball-room floor echoed loudest.

Angelot knew of a little gallery room with narrow slits in the
stonework, opening out of the further passage that led to Monsieur and
Madame de Sainfoy's rooms. It used to be empty or filled with lumber; it
now held several large wardrobes, but the perforated wall remained. He
found the door open; it was not quite dark, for gleams of light made
their way in from the chandeliers in the ball-room, one end of which it
overlooked. There were also a couple of lights in the passage outside.

From this high point Angelot looked down upon the ball. And first it was
nothing but a whirling confusion of sound and colour and light; the
flying dresses, the uniforms, jewels, gold lace, glittering necklaces,
flashing sword hilts. Then--that fair head, that white figure alone.

He could hear nothing of what was said; but he saw her brother come up
with General Ratoneau, he watched the dance--and if those slits in the
solid wall had been wider, there might have been danger of a young man's
daring to drop down by his hands, trusting to fate to land him safely
on the floor below. For he saw his love walk away with her partner down
the ball-room, out of his sight, and then he waited in unbearable
impatience, but saw her no more for what seemed a long time. He began to
think that he must go, carrying with him the agony of leaving her in
familiar talk with Ratoneau, when suddenly he saw her again, and forgot
his mother, his uncle, César d'Ombré, and all the obligations of life.
She came back alone; her brother was speaking to her; she looked
troubled, there was something strange about it all, but Ratoneau was not
there. That, at least, was well; and how divinely beautiful she looked!

Angelot gazed for a minute or two, holding his breath; then a sudden
step and a voice in the corridor close by startled him violently. He had
left the door half open, standing where he could not be seen through it.
He now turned his head to see who was passing. It was the step of one
person only, a quick and agitated step. Was this person then speaking to
him? No, it was his cousin Hervé de Sainfoy, and he was talking to
himself. He was repeating the same words over and over again: "But who
can save us? What shall I do? What shall I do? Who can save us? A way
out, he says? My God, there is none."

When his cousin had passed the door, Angelot stepped forward and looked
after him. It was impossible not to do so. The Comte was like a man who
had received some terrible blow. His face was white and drawn, and his
whole frame trembled as he walked. He carried an open letter shaking and
rustling in his hand, glanced at it now and then, flung his clenched
fists out on each side of him.

Then he said aloud, "My God, it is her doing!"

Angelot forgot all caution and stepped out into the corridor. His cousin
seemed to be walking on to his own room at the end; but before he
reached it he turned suddenly round and came hurrying back. Angelot
stood and faced him.

He, too, was pale from his imprisonment and the excitement of the night,
but as he met Hervé de Sainfoy's astonished gaze the colour flooded his
young face and his brave bright eyes fell.

"_You_ here, Angelot?" said the Comte.

He spoke absently, gently, with no great surprise and no anger at all.
Angelot knew that he loved him, and felt the strangest desire to kneel
and kiss his hand.

"Pardon, monsieur"--he began quickly--"I was looking at the ball--I
leave France to-morrow, and--Can I help you, Uncle Hervé?" For he saw
that the Comte was listening to no explanations of his. He stared
straight before him, frowning, biting his lips, shaking the letter in
his hand.

"It is some diabolical intrigue," he said. "How can you help, my poor
boy? No! but I would rather see her dead at my feet--for her own
sake--and the insult to me!"

"But tell me what it all means? Let me do something!" cried Angelot; for
the words thrilled him with a new terror.

He almost snatched the letter from his cousin's hand.

"Yes, yes, read it. Oh, mon Dieu, mon Dieu!" Hervé groaned, and stamped
his feet.

The letter was written in very shaky characters, and Angelot had to hold
it under one of the candle sconces on the wall.

     "My dear Comte:--

     "You will receive to-morrow, I have reason to think, an Imperial
     recommendation--which means a command--to give Mademoiselle your
     daughter in marriage to General Ratoneau. If you see any way out of
     this dilemma, I need hardly advise you to take it. You would have
     been warned earlier of the danger, but circumstances have been too
     strong for me. My part in the affair I hope to explain. In the
     meanwhile believe in my sincere friendship, and burn this letter.

                                                       "_De Mauves_."

Angelot drew in his breath sharply. "Ah! The Prefect is good," he said.

While he read the letter, his cousin was staring at him. Slowly,
intently, yet with a sort of vague distraction, his eyes travelled over
Angelot; the plain shooting clothes, so odd a contrast in that gay
house, at that time of night, to his own elegant evening dress; the
handsome, clear-cut, eager face, the young lips set with a man's
firmness and energy.

"I thought you were in prison," said Hervé.

"I escaped from the police."

"Why did they arrest you?"

"I do not know. I believe it was a private scheme of that rascal
Simon's--such things have happened."

"Tell me all--and quickly."

Angelot began to obey him, but after a few words broke off suddenly.

"Uncle Hervé, what is the use of talking about me? What are you going to
do? Let us think--yes, I have a plan. If you were to call my cousin
Hélène quietly out of the ball-room to change her dress, I would have
horses ready in the north wood, and I would ride with you at least part
of the way to Le Mans. There you could get a post-chaise and drive to
Paris. Place her safely in a convent, and go yourself to the Emperor--"

"And do you suppose, Angelot, that I have enough influence with the
Emperor to make him withdraw an order already given--and do you not know
that this is a favourite amusement of his, this disgusting plan of
giving our daughters to any butcher and son of a butcher who has
slaughtered enough men to please him? Your uncle Joseph told us all
about it. He said it was in the Prefect's hands--I can hardly believe
that our Prefect would have treated me so. There is some intrigue
behind all this. I suspect--ah, I will teach them to play their tricks
on me! A convent--my poor boy, do you expect they would leave her there?
Even a hundred years ago they would have dragged her out for a political
marriage--how much more now!"

For a moment there was dead silence; they looked hard at each other, but
if Angelot read anything in his cousin's eyes, it was something too
extraordinary to be believed. He flushed again suddenly as he said, "You
can never consent to such a marriage, for you gave me your word of
honour that you would not."

"Will they ask my consent? I have refused it once already," said Hervé
de Sainfoy.

He walked a few steps, and turned back; he was much calmer now, and his
face was full of grave thought and resolution.

"Angelot," he said, "you are your father's son, as well as your uncle's
nephew. Tell me, have you actually done anything to bring you under
imperial justice?"

"Nothing," Angelot answered. "The police may pretend to think so. Uncle
Joseph says I am in danger. But I have done nothing."

"Did you say you were leaving the country to-morrow? Alone?"

"With some of Uncle Joseph's friends."

"Ah! And your father?"

"I shall come back some day. Life is too difficult," said Angelot.

"You want an anchor," Hervé said, thoughtfully. "Now--will you do
everything I tell you?"

"In honour."

"Tiens! Honour! Was it honour that brought you into my house to-night?"

"No--but not dishonour."

"Well, there is no time for arguing. I suppose you are not bound in
honour to this wild-goose chase of your uncle's--or his friends'?"

"I don't know," Angelot said; and indeed he did not, but he knew that
César d'Ombré looked upon him as an addition to his troubles, and had
only accepted his company to please Monsieur Joseph.

And now the same power that had dragged Angelot out of his way to
Lancilly was holding him fast, heart and brain, and was saying to him,
"You cannot go"; the strongest power in the world. He was trembling from
head to foot with a wilder, stranger madness than any he had ever known;
the great decisive hour of his life was upon him, and he felt it, hard
as it was to realise or understand anything in those dark, confused
moments.

What wonderful words had Hervé de Sainfoy said? by what way had he
brought him, and set him clear of the château? he hardly knew. He found
himself out in the dark on the south, the village side; he had to skirt
round the backs of the houses and then slip up the river bank till he
came to the bridge between the long rows of whispering, rustling
poplars. After that a short cut across the fields, where he knew every
bush and every rabbit hole, brought him up under the shadow of the
church at La Marinière.

The Curé lived with his old housekeeper in a low white house above the
church, on the way to the manor. She was always asleep early; but the
old man, being very studious and too nervous to sleep much, often sat up
reading till long after midnight. Angelot therefore counted on finding a
light in his window, and was not disappointed. He cut his old friend's
eager welcome very short.

"Monsieur le Curé, come with me at once to the château, if you please.
Monsieur de Sainfoy wishes to see you."

"At this hour of the night! What can he want with me? I understood the
whole world was dancing."

"So it is--but he wants you, he wants you. Quick, where is your hat?"

"How wild you look, Angelot! Is any one dying?"

"No, no!"

"Why does he not send for his own priest?"

"Because he wants a discreet man. He wants you."

The Curé began to hurry about the room.

"By the bye, take your vestments," said Angelot in a lower tone. "He
wants you to say mass in the chapel. Take everything you ought to have.
I will carry it all for you."

"The chapel is not in a fit state--and who will serve at the mass?"

"I will--or he will find somebody. Oh, trust me, Monsieur le Curé, and
come, or I shall have to carry you."

"But _you_, Ange--I thought--"

"Don't think! All your thoughts are wrong."

"My dear boy, have you seen your father?"

"No! Has he come back?"

"Two hours ago. He has gone to Les Chouettes with your mother, to find
you."

"Oh, mon Dieu!" cried Angelot, and laughed loudly.

The good old Curé was seriously frightened. He thought that this
charming boy, whom he had known from his birth, was either crazy or
drunk with strong wine. Yet, as he really could not be afraid to trust
himself to Angelot, he did as he was told, collected all he wanted,
asking questions all the time which the young man did not or could not
answer, and started off with him into the dim and chilly dampness of the
night.

Angelot nearly died of impatience. He had run all the way to La
Marinière, he had to walk all the way back, and slowly. For the Curé was
feeble, and his sight was not good, and the lanes and fields were
terribly uneven. Angelot had prudence enough not to take a light, which
would have been seen a mile off, moving on those slopes in the
darkness. This precaution also helped to save him from Simon, who, after
waiting about for some time between Les Chouettes and La Marinière, had
seen Monsieur and Madame Urbain coming out with their lantern and had
tracked them half the way, hearing enough of their talk to understand
that he must lay hands on Angelot that night, or not at all. For it
sounded as if the young man's protectors were more powerful than General
Ratoneau, his enemy.

Simon was very uneasy, as he stole back, and turned towards Lancilly,
shrewdly guessing that those bright windows had attracted Angelot. He
crept through the lanes like a wolf in winter, searching for some lonely
colt or sheep to devour. Furious and bewildered, worn out with his long
watching, he almost resolved that young La Marinière should have short
shrift if he met him. This, it seemed now, was the only way to remove
him out of the General's path. None of his relations knew exactly where
he was that night. If he were found dead in a ditch, the hand that
struck him would never be known. For his own sake, General Ratoneau
would never betray the suspicions he might have. At the same time, Simon
was not such a devil incarnate as to think of cold-blooded murder
without a certain horror and sickness; and he found it in his heart to
wish that he had never seen Ratoneau.

He heard footsteps in a deep lane he was approaching, and lying down,
peered over the bank and saw that two men had already passed him,
walking cautiously between the ruts of the road. They carried no light,
and it was so dark in the lane that he could hardly distinguish them.
One seemed taller than the other, and walked more feebly. There was
nothing to suggest the idea that one of these men might be Angelot. All
pointed to the contrary. He would be coming towards La Marinière, not
going from it towards Lancilly. He would certainly be alone; and then
his air and pace would be different from that of this shorter figure,
who, carefully guiding his companion, was also carrying some bundle or
load. There was a low murmur of talk which the police spy could not
distinguish, and thus, his game within shooting distance, he allowed him
to walk away unharmed. He followed the two men slowly, however, till he
lost them on the edge of the park at Lancilly. There Angelot took the
Curé by a way of his own into the wood, and led him up by a path soft
with dead leaves to the north side of the château.

"Monsieur Angelot!"

It was once more Martin Joubard's voice. He was much astonished, not
having seen Angelot leave the château. He stared at the Curé and took
off his hat.

"All's well, Martin; you are a good sentry--but hold your tongue a
little longer," said Angelot.

"Ah! but take care, Monsieur Angelot," said the soldier, pointing with
his stick to the dark, tremendous walls which towered beyond the moat.
"I don't know what is going on there, but don't venture too far. There's
a light in the chapel window, do you see? and just now I heard them
hammering at the little door down there in the moat. It may be a trap
for you. Listen, though, seriously. I don't know what sport you may be
after, but you ought not to run Monsieur le Curé into it, and so I tell
you. It is not right."

The good fellow's voice shook with anxiety. He did not pretend to be
extra religious, but his father and mother reverenced the Curé, and he
had known him ever since he was born.

Angelot laughed impatiently.

"Come, Monsieur le Curé," he said. "We are going down into the moat, but
the steps are uneven, so give me your hand."

"Do not be anxious, Martin," said the old man. "All is well, Monsieur de
Sainfoy has sent for me."

The crippled sentry waited. In the deep shadows he could see no more,
but he heard their steps as they climbed down and crossed the moat, and
then he heard the creaking hinges of that door far below. It was
cautiously closed. All was dark and still in the moat, but shadows
crossed the lighted chapel window.

The wind was rising, the clouds were flying, and the stars shining out.
Waves of music flowed from the south side of the long mass of building,
and sobbed away into the rustling woods. An enchanting valse was being
played. Georges de Sainfoy was dancing with the richest heiress in
Touraine, and his mother was so engrossed with a new ambition for him
that she forgot Hélène for the moment, and her more certain future as
the wife of General Ratoneau.

Madame de Sainfoy had not seen her husband since he received the
Prefect's letter, and was not aware of his disappearance from the ball,
now at the height of its success and splendour.



CHAPTER XXV

HOW THE CURÉ ACTED AGAINST HIS CONSCIENCE


If the old priest had come in faith at Monsieur de Sainfoy's call, not
knowing, not even suspecting what was wanted of him, Angelot, who knew
all, yet found it impossible to believe. Therefore he could not bring
himself to give the Curé any explanation, or even to mention Hélène's
name. Her father, for whom he now felt a passionate, enthusiastic
reverence and love, had trusted him in the matter. He had said, resting
his hand on his shoulder: "Tell Monsieur le Curé what you please. Or
leave it to me to tell him all;" and Angelot had felt that the Curé must
be brought in ignorance. Afterwards he knew that there were other
reasons for this, besides the vagueness in his own mind. The Curé had a
great sense of the fitness of things. Also, next to God and his Bishop,
he felt bound to love and serve Urbain and Anne de la Marinière.

When Angelot opened the little door, which he found ajar, there was a
flickering light on the damp narrow stairs that wound up in the
thickness of the wall. There stood Hervé de Sainfoy, tall, pale, very
calm now, with a look of resolution quite new to his pleasant features.

"You are welcome, Monsieur le Curé," he said. "Follow me."

The old man obeyed silently, and the two passed on before Angelot. When
they reached the topmost winding of the staircase, Hervé led the Curé
round into the corridor, still carrying his light, and saying, "A word
alone with you." At the same time he motioned to Angelot to go forward
into the chapel.

The altar was partly arranged for service, the candles were lighted, and
one white figure, its face hidden, was kneeling there. Angelot stood and
looked for a moment, with dazzled eyes. The wind moaned, the distant
valse flowed on. Here in the old neglected chapel, under the kind eyes
of the Virgin's statue, he had left Hélène that night, weeks ago. He had
never seen her since, except in the ball-room this very evening, lovely
as a dream; but she was lovelier than any dream now.

He went up softly beside her, stooped on one knee and kissed the fingers
that rested on the old worm-eaten bench. She looked up suddenly,
blushing scarlet, and they both rose to their feet and stood quite
still, looking into each other's eyes. They did not speak; there was
nothing to say, except "I love you," and words were not necessary for
that. At first there was terror and bewilderment, rather than
happiness, in Hélène's face, and her hands trembled as Angelot held
them; but soon under his gaze and his touch a smile was born. All those
weeks of desolate loneliness were over, her one and only friend stood
beside her once again, to leave her no more. The horrors of that very
night, the terrible ball-room full of glittering uniforms and clanking
swords, the odious face and voice of Ratoneau;--her father had beckoned
her away, had taken her from it all for ever. He had told her in a few
words of the Prefect's letter and his resolution, without even taking
the trouble to ask her if she would consent to marry her cousin. "It is
the only thing to be done," he said. Neither of them had even mentioned
her mother. The suspicion that his wife had had something to do with
this imperial order made Hervé even more furious than the order itself,
and more resolved to settle the affair in his own way.

"Now I understand," he thought, "why Adélaïde invited the brute to this
ball. I wager that she knew what was coming. It is time I showed them
all who is the master of this house!"

And now, when everything was arranged, when the bridegroom and the bride
were actually waiting in the chapel, when every minute was of importance
and might bring some fatal interruption--now, here was the excellent old
Curé full of curious questions and narrow-minded objections.

"Monsieur le Comte, impossible!" he cried in the corridor. "Marry
mademoiselle your daughter to Ange de la Marinière--and without any
proper notice, without witnesses, at midnight, unknown to his parents!
Do you take me for a constitutional priest, may I ask?"

"No, Monsieur le Curé, and that is why I demand this service of you.
You, an old friend of both families, I send for you rather than for my
own Curé of Lancilly."

"Ah, I dare say! But do I understand that you are disobeying an order
from the Emperor? Am I to ruin myself, by aiding and abetting you?
Besides--"

"No, Monsieur le Curé, you understand nothing of the kind. I explain
nothing. You run yourself into no danger--but if you did, I should ask
you all the more. A man like you, who held firm to his post through the
Revolution--"

"Pardon--I did not hold firm. Monsieur de la Marinière protected me."

"And now I will protect you. Listen. I have had no order from the
Emperor. I have heard, by means of a friend, that such an order is on
its way. It would compel me to marry my daughter to a man she hates, a
degrading connection for me. There is only one way of saving her. You
know that she and young Ange love each other--they have suffered for
it--we will legalise this love of theirs. When the order reaches me, my
Hélène will be already married. The Emperor can say nothing. His
General must seek a wife elsewhere. Now, Monsieur le Curé, are you
satisfied? The children are waiting."

"No, monsieur, no, I am not satisfied. I think there is more risk than
you tell me, but I do not mind that. I will not, I cannot, marry young
Ange to your daughter without his father's knowledge. Your cousin--God
bless him!--is not a religious man, but I owe him a debt I can never
repay."

Count Hervé laughed angrily. "You know very well," he said, "that if
Urbain is displeased at this marriage, it will be for our sake, not his
own. How could he hope for such a match for Angelot?"

"His love for you is wonderful, Monsieur le Comte. But I am not talking
of his likings or dislikings. I say that I will not marry these young
people without his consent."

"And I say you will. Understand, I mean it. Listen; my cousin Joseph was
sending Ange to England to-night with some of his friends out of the way
of the police. I will dress Hélène up as a boy, and send her with him,
trusting to a marriage when they land. I will do anything to get her off
my hands to-night, and Angelot will not fail me. The responsibility is
yours, Monsieur le Curé."

The old man wrung his hands. "Monsieur le Comte, you are mad!" he said.

But these threats were effectual, as no fear of personal suffering
would have been, and the Curé, though solemnly protesting, submitted.

The delay he caused was not yet over, however. No angry frowns and
impatient words would induce him to begin the service before the two
young people had separately made their confession to him. Luckily, both
were ready to do this, and neither was very long; when at last the Curé,
properly vested, began with solemn deliberation the words of the
service, his eyes were full of tears, not altogether unhappy.

"Two white souls, madame," he told Anne afterwards. "Your son and your
daughter--you may love them freely, and trust their love for you and for
each other. Never did I join the hands of two such innocent children as
our dear Ange and his Hélène."

He had, in fact, just joined their hands for the first time, when he
looked round anxiously at Monsieur de Sainfoy and murmured, "There is no
one you can trust, monsieur--no other possible witness?"

"None," the Comte answered shortly; and even as he spoke they all heard
a sharp knocking in the corridor, and the opening and shutting of doors.

"Go on, go on! This comes of all your delay," he muttered, and Angelot
looked round, alarmed, while Hélène turned white with fear.

Then the person in the corridor, whoever this might be, evidently saw a
light through some chink in the chapel door, for the latch was lifted,
and a small but impatient voice cried out, "Hélène--are you there?"

It was not the voice of Adélaïde. Angelot looked at Hélène and smiled;
the Curé hesitated. Monsieur de Sainfoy walked frowning to the door,
which he had locked, and flung it open.

"Come in, mademoiselle," he said. "Here is your witness, Monsieur le
Curé."

Mademoiselle Moineau, flushed, agitated, in her best gown, stood on the
threshold with hands uplifted.

"What--what is all this?" she stammered; and the scene that met her eyes
was certainly strange enough to bewilder a respectable governess.

It had occurred to Madame de Sainfoy to miss her daughter from the
ball-room. Suspecting that the stupid girl had escaped to her own room,
she had told Mademoiselle Moineau to fetch her at once, to insist on her
coming down and dancing. And even now, in spite of this amazing,
horrifying spectacle, in spite of the Comte's presence, and his voice
repeating, "Come in, mademoiselle!" the little woman was brave enough to
protest.

"What is happening?" she said, and hurried a few steps forward. "Hélène,
I am astonished. This must be stopped at once. Good heavens, what will
Madame la Comtesse say!"

"Let me beg you to be silent, mademoiselle," said Hervé de Sainfoy.

He had already closed and locked the door. He now bent forward with an
almost savage look; his pleasant face was utterly transformed by strong
feeling.

"Sit down," he said peremptorily. "You see me; I am here. My authority
is sufficient, remember--Monsieur le Curé, have the goodness to
proceed."

Mademoiselle Moineau sank down on a bench and groaned. Her shocked,
staring eyes took in every detail of the scene; the banished lover, the
supposed prisoner, in his country clothes, with that dark woodland look
of his; the white girl in her ball-dress, standing with bent head, and
not moving or looking up, even at her mother's name. The joined hands,
white and brown; the young, low voices, plighting their troth one to the
other; then the trembling tones of the old priest alone in solemn Latin
words, "_Ego conjungo vos in matrimonium_...."

The service went on; and now no one, not even Monsieur de Sainfoy, took
any notice of the unwilling spectator. She was a witness in spite of
herself. She sank on her knees and sobbed in a corner, partly from real
distress at a marriage she thought most foolish and unsuitable, partly
from fear of what Madame de Sainfoy might say or do. Her rage must
certainly find some victim. She would never believe that Mademoiselle
Moineau could not have escaped and called her in time to interrupt this
frantic ceremony. As for Monsieur de Sainfoy, his brain must certainly
have given way. The poor governess hoped little from him, though he
showed some method in his madness by leaving her locked up in the chapel
when they all went away and telling her to wait there in silence till he
came back. At least that was better than being forced to go down alone
to announce this catastrophe to Hélène's mother. The Comtesse would have
been capable of turning her out into midnight darkness after the first
dozen words.

Hélène, her dearest wish and wildest dream fulfilled in this strange
fashion, seemed to be walking in her sleep. She obeyed her father's
orders without a word to him or to Angelot, threw on a cloak, and
followed them and the Curé down the steep blackness of the winding
stairs. At the door her father put out his light, and it was his hand
that guided her through the long grass and bushes in the moat, while
Angelot gave all his care to the old priest. At the top of the steps, as
the four hastily crossed into the deeper shadows of the wood, the tall
and strange figure of Martin Joubard appeared out of the gloom. A few
hurried words to him, and he readily undertook to see the Curé safely
home. The sight of Monsieur de Sainfoy impressed him amazingly; it was
evident that Monsieur Angelot had not been acting without authority.
Martin stared with all his eyes at the cloaked woman's figure in the
background, but promised himself to have all details from the Curé on
their way through the lanes.

Hervé de Sainfoy again gave his arm to his daughter, leading her down
into the darkness of the wood. Angelot, more familiar with the ways,
walked a yard or two in front of them. Several times--his sporting
instinct not dulled by the wonderful thing that had happened--he was
aware of a slight rustling in the bushes on the right, between the path
where they were and the open ground of the park beyond the wood. He
listened to this with one ear, while the other was attentive to his
father-in-law. It did not strike Monsieur de Sainfoy, once away from the
house, that caution and silence might be necessary; he talked out of the
relief and gladness of his heart, while affectionately pressing Hélène's
hand in his arm.

"Make my compliments to your uncle, Angelot. Ask him to forgive me for
taking his nephew and sending him back a niece. He will see that your
duty lies in France now. As to that dear father of yours, I shall soon
make my peace with him."

"Papa!" Hélène spoke for the first time, and Angelot forgot the rustling
in the bushes. "Cannot we--may not we go to La Marinière?"

"Not at first," said Hervé, more gravely. "Ange must make sure of a
welcome there--and he knows his uncle Joseph."

"There is another reason," Angelot said eagerly. "My uncle is expecting
me. He has made arrangements for me--this very night--I must come to an
understanding with him. You know--" he said, looking at Hélène, "my
uncle has risked much for me. To-morrow--or to-day, is it? my mother
shall welcome you. You are not displeased?"

"No, no. Take me anywhere--I will go anywhere you like," Hélène answered
a little faintly; the thought of Angelot's mother, slightly as she knew
her, had been sweet and comforting.

For she was a timid girl, and these wild doings frightened her, though
she loved Angelot and trusted him with all her heart.

Her father laughed.

"Certainly, my poor girl," he said, "no daughter of Lancilly was ever
before married and smuggled away in such a fashion."

"I am satisfied, papa," said Hélène; and they passed on through the wood
and came to the crossing of the roads, where he kissed her, and once
more laid her hand in Angelot's.

"Take care of your wife," he said to him; and he stood a minute in the
road, watching the two young figures, very close together, as they
turned into a hollow lane that wound up into the fields and so on
towards Les Chouettes.

The Curé and Martin Joubard started away from the château by a path that
crossed the park and reached the bridge without going through the
village. They were not yet clear of the park, walking slowly, when a man
came out of the shadows of the wood to the north, and crossed their
path, going towards the south side of the château. He passed at some
yards' distance in the confusing darkness of the low ground, where mists
were rising; but Martin Joubard had the eyes of a hawk, and knew him.

"Pardon, Monsieur le Curé!" he said, dropped the bundle he was carrying
at the Curé's feet, and sped away at his wooden leg's best pace after
the man.

"_Hé_, police!" he said, as he came up with him, "what are you spying
about here? Looking after the Emperor's enemies?"

"You are not far wrong," said Simon. "And you--what are you doing here,
soldier?"

"My fighting days are done. I look out for amusement now. Did you see
some people just now, going down through the wood? A young gentleman you
want--who gave you the slip--was he there?"

"I saw and heard enough to interest me," Simon answered drily. "It is
time to finish off this business. I can't quite see what is going on,
but I shall find out at the château. I have been following that young
man all night, but I shall catch him up now."

"I might help you with a little information," Martin said.

The police agent looked at him suspiciously. "Tell me no lies," he said,
"or"--he pointed to his carbine.

"Oh, if that is your game--" Martin said.

His heavy-headed stick swung in the air. "Crack!" it came down on the
side of Simon's head and laid him flat on the turf. Martin stood and
looked at him.

"Now the saints grant I have not killed him," he said piously, "though I
think he might very well be spared. But he won't go and catch Monsieur
Angelot just at present."

He left Simon lying there, and went quietly back to join the Curé.



CHAPTER XXVI

HOW ANGELOT KEPT HIS TRYST


For Hélène, the next wonder in that autumn night's dream was the arrival
at Les Chouettes, the mysterious house which bore the character of a den
of Chouans, but the thought of which had always pleased her, as the home
of Angelot's most attractive uncle.

Angelot hurried her through the lanes, almost in silence. At last he
stopped under a tall poplar, which gleamed grey in the starlight among
the other lower trees. It was close to the spot where, coming from Les
Chouettes in the evening, he had been irresistibly drawn by the lights
of Lancilly. Here he took Hélène in his arms and kissed her for the
first time since the Curé had joined their hands.

"Mine!" he said. "My love, Hélène! you are not unhappy, you are not
afraid, my own?"

"I am with you," the girl said, very low.

"Ah! if only--anyhow, I am the happiest man in the world. Come,
dearest!"

Hélène wondered at him a little. He was changed, somehow, her gay,
talkative, light-hearted, single-minded Angelot. He had become grave.
She longed to ask him many things--how had he escaped or been released
from prison?--was it his father's doing?--would his father and mother be
displeased at his marriage?--but in spite of the rapture of knowing that
they belonged to each other, she felt strangely shy of him. In that
silent, hurried walk she dimly realised that her boy friend and lover
had grown suddenly into a man. There was keen anxiety as well as joy in
the quick, passionate embrace he allowed himself before bringing her to
his uncle's hands.

They walked up to the house, over the grass and the spreading sand. All
was silent and dark, except a gleam of light from Monsieur Joseph's
window. A dog came up and jumped on Angelot, with a little whine of
welcome; another pressed up to Hélène and licked her hand. She was
standing between the dog and Angelot when Monsieur Joseph, hearing
footsteps, suddenly opened the window and stepped out with his gun.

He stared a moment in astonished silence--then: "It is you, Anne! He has
been home, then, the good-for-nothing! You have seen your father, Ange?
Well, I told him, and I tell you, that you must go all the same--yes, my
nephew does not break promises, or fail to keep appointments--but come
in, Anne! What is the use of racing about the country all night? How did
you miss him, the worthless fellow?"

"This is not my mother, Uncle Joseph," Angelot said, laughter struggling
with earnestness, while his arm slid round Hélène. "Let me present you
to my wife."

"What are you saying?" cried Monsieur Joseph, very sharply and sternly,
coming a step nearer. "I see now--but who is this lady? None of your
insolent jokes--who is it? Dieu! What have you done!"

"I have been to the ball at Lancilly," said Angelot. "You see, this is
my cousin Hélène. She preferred a walk with me to a dance with other
people. And Uncle Hervé thought--"

"Be silent," said Monsieur Joseph. He walked forward, pushed his nephew
aside--a touch was enough for Angelot--and gently taking Hélène's hand,
drew her into the light that streamed from his window. "Mademoiselle,"
he said, "my nephew is distracted. What truth is there in all this? Are
you here with your father's knowledge. Something extraordinary must have
happened, it seems to me."

"It is true, monsieur," Hélène said, blushing scarlet. "It was my
father's doing. He sent for the Curé, and we were married in the chapel,
not an hour ago. Do not be angry with us, I beg of you, monsieur. He
said he must bring me to you first--and he loves you. My father did it
to save me. Ange will explain. My father sent his compliments to
you--and he said--he said you will see that your nephew's duty lies in
France now."

Hélène was astonished at her own eloquent boldness. Angelot watched
her, smiling, enchanted. Monsieur Joseph listened very gravely, his eyes
upon her troubled face. When she paused, he bent and kissed her hand.

"I do not understand the mystery," he said. "I only see that my nephew
is the most fortunate man in France. But I repeat, that he may hear
me--honour comes before happiness. Go round to the salon, my friends. I
will bring a light and open the door."

"Is it really myself--or am I dreaming?--yes, it must be all a dream!"
Hélène murmured, as she sat alone in Monsieur Joseph's salon, beside a
flaming wood fire that he had lighted with his own hands.

His first shock once over, the little uncle treated his nephew's wife
like a princess. He made her sit in his largest chair, he put a cushion
behind her, a footstool under her feet. With gentle hands he lifted the
cloak that had slipped from her slight shoulders, advising her to keep
it on till the room had grown warm, for she was shivering, though hardly
conscious of it. He went himself to fetch wine and cakes, set them on a
table beside her, tried unsuccessfully to make her eat and drink. Then
he glanced at his watch and turned in his quick way to Angelot, who had
been looking on at these attentions with a smile, almost jealous of the
little uncle, yet happy that he should thus accept the new situation and
take Hélène to his affectionate heart.

"Come with me, Angelot," said Monsieur Joseph. "Excuse us for a few
minutes, my dear niece,"--he bowed to Hélène. "Affairs of state"--he
smiled, dancing on tiptoe with his most birdlike air.

But as Angelot followed him out of the room, his look became as stern
and secret as that of any fierce Chouan among them all.

Hélène waited; the time seemed long; and her situation almost too
strange to be realised. Those small hours of the morning, dark and
weird, brought their own special chill and shiver, both physical and
spiritual; the thought began to trouble her that Angelot's father and
mother would be very angry, perhaps--would not receive them,
possibly--and that Uncle Joseph, in his lonely house, might be their
only refuge; the thought of her own mother's indignation became a
thought of terror, now that Angelot's dear presence was not there to
send it away; all these ghosts crowded alarmingly upon her solitude,
almost driving before them the one great certainty and wonder of the
night. She looked round the shadowy, firelit room; she noticed with
curious attention the quaint coverings of the furniture, the
bright-coloured churches, windmills, farms, peasants at their work, all
on a clear white ground, the ancient _perse_ that had been bought and
arranged by Angelot's grandmother. She thought it much prettier than
anything at Lancilly. It distracted her a little, as the minutes went
on; but surely these affairs took a long time to settle; and the wind
rose higher, and howled in the chimney and whistled in the shutters, and
she saw herself, white and solitary, in a great glass at the end of the
room.

When Angelot at last opened the door, she sprang from the chair and ran
to meet him; the only safe place was in his arms.

"Don't leave me again," she whispered, as soon as it was possible to
speak.

Angelot was very pale, his eyes were burning. With broken words and
passionate kisses he put her back into the chair, and kneeling down
beside her, struggled for calmness to explain.

He was in honour bound to go; he must ride away; the horse was already
saddled, and he had only a few minutes in which to say good-bye. He must
leave her in Uncle Joseph's care till he came back. Uncle Joseph said it
was his duty to go. That very morning he was to have started for
England; his companion would be waiting for him and running a thousand
risks; he must meet him at the appointed place and send him on his way
alone. He did not tell her that Uncle Joseph, after all his chivalrous
kindness to her, had cordially wished women, love affairs, and marriages
at the devil, even when perfectly well aware that it was not only
Hélène, with her soft hands, who was holding his nephew back and keeping
him in Anjou.

"You know my father went to Paris, sweet?" said Angelot. "He has come
back--he has been here this very night, looking for me. He would have
found me at home, if you had not called me across the fields to see you
dancing, you know! He saw all the authorities, even the Emperor himself.
Nobody knew anything about that arrest of mine, and I think a certain
Simon may get into hot water for it--though that is too much to expect,
perhaps. Anyhow, they say it was a mistake."

"Monsieur des Barres told me so. He said he was sure of it," said the
girl.

"Hélène--how beautiful you are!"

She had laid her hand on his head, and was looking down at him, smiling,
though her eyes were wet. He took her hand and held it against his lips.

"How I adore you!" he whispered.

"Then you are free--free to be happy," she said.

"As far as I know--unless that clever father of mine has asked the
Emperor for a commission for me--but I think, for my mother's sake, he
would not do that. He has not told Uncle Joseph so, at any rate; the
dear uncle would not have received an officer of Napoleon's so nicely."

Hélène shuddered; the very word "officer" brought Ratoneau to her mind.
But she felt safe at least, safe for ever now, from _him_.

"I hate soldiers," she said. "Must every one fight and kill?"

Her bridegroom was still kneeling at her feet when Monsieur Joseph came
back, bringing Henriette with him. The child's dark eyes were full of
sleep, her cropped hair stood on end, her small figure was wrapped in
her little flannel gown; she looked a strange and pathetic creature,
roused out of sleep, brought down to take her part in these realities.
But she was equal to the occasion. Riette never failed in the duties of
love; she was never called upon in vain. She went round to the back of
Hélène's chair, took her face in her two small hands, leaned forward and
kissed her forehead under the curls.

"Go, mon petit!" she said to Angelot. "I will keep her safe till you are
back in the morning."

She spoke slowly, sleepily.

"Riette is always my friend," said Angelot.

"I told you long ago," said the child, "that papa and I would help you
to the last drop of our blood."

"Ah! we have not reached that point yet," said Monsieur Joseph, laughing
softly. "Now, my children, say good-bye. After all--for a few hours--it
is not a tragedy."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Lancilly ball was the most brilliant, the most beautiful, for many
hours the most successful, that had taken place in that country-side
since before the Revolution. Many people arriving late, the crowd of
guests went on increasing, and they danced with so much energy, the
music was so beautiful, the whole affair went with such a swing,
strangely mixed as the company was from a political point of view, that
Madame de Sainfoy in the midst of her duties as hostess had no time to
give more than an occasional thought to her own family. She watched
Georges and his proceedings with satisfaction, but after missing Hélène
and sending Mademoiselle Moineau to look for her, she forgot her again;
and she did not miss her husband till he failed to be in his place at
supper-time, to lead the oldest lady into the dining-room. When time
went on, and he did not appear, she began to be puzzled and anxious,
while exerting herself to the full, in order that no one should be aware
of his absence.

She was passing through the inner salon, alone for the moment, on her
way to find a servant that she might send in search of Monsieur de
Sainfoy, when General Ratoneau, having made his bow to the lady he had
brought back from supper, and who was heartily glad to be rid of him,
came to meet her with a swaggering air, partly owing to champagne.

Smiling, he told her with an oath that her daughter was confoundedly
pretty, the prettiest girl in Anjou, and the wildest and most
unmanageable; that she would not listen to a word of compliment, and had
run away from him when he told her, in plain soldier fashion--"as I
always speak, madame"--that she was to be his wife.

"Ah, Monsieur le Général--you are so certain of that?" murmured
Adélaïde, considering him with her blue eyes a little coldly.

"Certain, madame? I suppose it will not occur to you or to Monsieur de
Sainfoy to disobey the Emperor! Why, the order might have arrived
to-day--it certainly will to-morrow--ah, I mean yesterday or to-day, for
midnight is long passed. Yes, but she is a detestable mixture, that
daughter of yours, Madame la Comtesse, and it would take all my courage
to venture on such a wife, without your encouragement. Cold as ice, as
stately as an old queen of France--upon my soul, it needs a brave man to
face the possibilities of such a ménage. But I suppose she is timid with
it all--eh? I must be firm with her, I must show resolution, n'est-ce
pas?"

"Apparently your compliments frightened her. Yes, she is timid enough,"
said Madame de Sainfoy. "She not only ran away from you, but from the
ball. I understand her now. She is a mere child, Monsieur le Général,
unaccustomed to--to--" Adélaïde broke off, a little absently. "I sent a
person to find her. I will send again, but--if you will forgive me--"
with a dazzling smile--"I would advise you not to say much more to
Hélène till the affair is really decided beyond all question--yes, what
is it?"

A servant came up to her, hesitating, glancing at the General, who said
quickly, his face darkening, "I consider it decided now."

"So do I--so it is, of course," she said quickly. "Well?" to the
servant.

"Monsieur de la Marinière asks if he can see Madame la Comtesse for five
minutes."

"Ask him to wait--" she was beginning, coldly, when Monsieur Urbain came
hurrying impatiently across the room.

"Ah--my very good friend, Monsieur de la Marinière," Ratoneau said with
a grin.

He did not move away. Urbain came up and kissed Adélaïde's hand and
looked at her with an extraordinary expression. He was plainly dressed
for travelling, a strange-looking guest in those rooms. His square face
was drawn into hard lines, his mouth was set, his eyes were staring. She
gazed at him, fascinated, and her lips formed the words, "What is it,
Urbain?" Then she suddenly said, turning white, "Something has happened
to Hervé!"

"To Hervé? I don't know. Yes, he seems to have gone mad," said Urbain.
"You know nothing of it? I thought as much--but I have come straight to
you. Where is Hervé? He is here now, surely? I must speak to him."

"What are you talking about? Are you sure it is not _you_ who have gone
mad? As to Hervé, I have not seen him for the last hour. I was looking
for him."

"He looked devilish queer when I saw him last," muttered the General.
"Mademoiselle ran after him; they are a pretty pair."

Urbain and Adélaïde both looked at him vaguely; then again at each
other.

"Where is he now? Do you know?" she said.

"He left the château, madame, with your daughter and her husband,"
Urbain said, slowly and indistinctly, grinding his teeth as he spoke.

"Urbain!" she cried.

"_What_ are you saying, monsieur?" growled the General, with his hand on
his sword.

"Peace, peace, Monsieur le Général, you will know all presently," Urbain
said more calmly. "Some one has betrayed our plans," he went on, looking
at Adélaïde, who was white and speechless. "These are my adventures. I
went to Paris in search of my son, to find out where he was, and why he
had been arrested. I could hear nothing of him. I saw the Préfet de la
Police, I saw the Duc de Rovigo, I saw Réal and a dozen more officials.
No one knew anything. Finally I saw Duroc, an old acquaintance, and he
introduced me to the Emperor. His Majesty was gracious. He gave me a
free pardon for Angelot, in case he had been mixed up against his will
with any Chouan conspiracies. I pledged my honour for him in the future.
But still the mystery remained--I could not find him."

Adélaïde seemed turned to stone. These two gazed at each other,
speechless, and did not now give a look or a thought to the third person
present. He stood transfixed, listening; the angry blood rushed into his
face, then ebbed as suddenly, leaving him a livid, deathlike yellow.

"But mon Dieu, why all this story?" Adélaïde burst out with almost a
scream. "What is he to me, your silly Angelot? What did you say just
now? My daughter and--I must have heard you wrongly."

Urbain gave a short, crackling laugh. "Nevertheless, I shall go on with
my story. I came home a few hours ago. My wife told me that Angelot was
safe with his uncle at Les Chouettes." The General started violently,
but neither of them noticed him. "We went there together, and found that
the boy was gone to La Marinière, to see his mother--Joseph had planned
to pack him off out of the way of the police--with his usual
discretion--but enough of that."

"Urbain, you will madden me! What do I care for all this?"

Adélaïde made a few steps and let herself fall into a chair.

"Patience!" he said; and there was something solemn, almost awful, in
the way he stretched out his right hand to her. "We hastened back to La
Marinière, and found no Angelot there. Then I began to think that
Joseph's fears of the police might not be exaggerated--Angelot escaped
from them on the very day he was arrested--the man who arrested him,
why, I cannot discover, was that fellow Simon, the spy, and according to
Joseph he has been watching the woods ever since. I went out, for I
could not rest indoors, and as I walked down the road I met Monsieur le
Curé and Martin Joubard, coming from Lancilly. I turned back with the
old man, and he told me his story."

He stopped and drew a long breath.

"I hardly listened to the details," he said. "But by some means Hervé
had heard of the expected order--and--distrusting all the world, it
seems, even you, his wife, he sent for the Curé at midnight and forced
him to celebrate the marriage. Ah, Monsieur le Général, you may well
take it hardly; yet I do not believe you are more angry than I am."

"As to that, monsieur," said Ratoneau, glaring at him with savage fury,
"I believe you have played me false and arranged the whole affair. Your
scamp of a son has escaped the prison he richly deserved, and you have
plotted to marry him to your cousin's daughter. I always thought you as
clever as the devil, monsieur. But look here--and you too, madame,
listen to me. I will ruin the whole set of you--and as to that boy of
yours, let him beware how he meets me. I swear I will be his death."

Urbain shrugged his shoulders and turned from him to Adélaïde, who was
beckoning feebly and could hardly find voice to speak.

"I am very stupid, I suppose," she said. "I cannot understand clearly.
My husband has forced on Hélène's marriage with some one. Who is it,
Urbain? Did the Curé tell you? Do not be afraid to tell me--I can bear
it--you were always my friend."

There was something so unnatural in her manner, so terrible and stony in
her look, that Urbain turned pale and hesitated.

"Mon Dieu!" he murmured. "You do not understand!"

"Mille tonnerres, Madame la Comtesse," roared the General, striding up
to her chair--"they have married this man's son to your daughter. My
congratulations on the splendid match. Ange de la Marinière and Hélène
de Sainfoy--a pretty couple--but by all that's sacred their happiness
shall not last long!"

"Hush, hush! Go away, for God's sake," cried Urbain. "You brute, you are
killing her."

Adélaïde's eyelids had dropped, and she lay back unconscious.

There were people in the room, a confusion of voices, of wondering
exclamations. Then, through the thickening crowd, Hervé de Sainfoy and
Georges pushed their way, white and excited, followed by Mademoiselle
Moineau, whose trembling limbs could hardly carry her.

The Comte de Sainfoy and General Ratoneau met face to face, and
exchanged a few low words as Ratoneau walked out.

"You are a pretty host, Monsieur le Comte!"

"I have taught you a lesson, I hope, Monsieur le Général. I shall have
no more interference with my family affairs."

"Sapristi! it is a new thing for you, is it not, to pose as the head of
your own family? How did His Majesty's intention come to your knowledge?
I am curious to know that."

"Let me ask you to leave my house. You shall hear from me. We will
settle our affairs another day."

"Ah! You had better consult Madame la Comtesse. She is not pleased with
you."

Ratoneau went out, snarling. Scarcely knowing which way he turned, he
found himself in an outer vestibule at the foot of the great staircase.
The autumn wind was blowing in, fresh and cool across the valley; grey
light was beginning to glimmer, a shiver of dawn to pass over the world
outside. A group of men were standing in the doorway, and Ratoneau found
himself surrounded by them. One of them was Simon, with his head bound
up; the others were some of the police employed to watch Chouan
proceedings in the province generally.

"What, fool!" the General began furiously to Simon. "And all this time
you--" he checked himself, remembering the presence of the others, who
were looking at him curiously.

"We have something to report to Monsieur le Général," Simon said
hurriedly, with an eager sign of caution. "To save time--as Monsieur le
Préfet is not here. A new conspiracy has been hatched at Les
Chouettes--_Les Chouettes_, monsieur! Some of the gentlemen are probably
there now. Some are to meet at the Étang des Morts, to start for England
this very morning. They will be caught easily. But Les Chouettes should
be searched, monsieur--important arrests can be made there."

He came forward, almost pushing the General back against the stairs.

"There are enough of us," he said, "but not enough authority. If
Monsieur le Général would go himself"--he came up closer and muttered in
Ratoneau's ear--"I know all--they are there--we can at least arrest the
men--safe this time--the police have real evidence, and I have seen
nightly visitors to Monsieur de la Marinière. But _they are there_,
monsieur--I saw them on their way--I met the priest going back. And on
my word, Monsieur le Comte managed it neatly."

"Did he give you that broken head, fool? And why did you not come to me
sooner?"

"That was a gentleman with a wooden leg. Yes, he delayed me half an
hour."

"More fool you! Come, we must have these Chouans. Say nothing. Get me a
horse--one that will carry double, mind you. Four of you fellows go on
and watch the house. I and Simon will overtake you."

He swore between his teeth as he turned away, "I will be the death of
him, and I will have her yet!"



CHAPTER XXVII

HOW MONSIEUR JOSEPH WENT OUT INTO THE DAWN


At Les Chouettes, in those early hours of the morning, they were waiting
for Angelot's return. Monsieur Joseph, the softest-hearted, most
open-natured man who ever posed as a dark and hard conspirator, could
not now forgive himself for having sent the boy away. "Why did I not go
myself?" he muttered. Faithfulness to the cause, honour towards César
d'Ombré, a touch of severity, really born of love, towards Angelot's
light-hearted indifference; these had led him into something like
cruelty towards the girl who had been thrown with such wild and
passionate haste into Angelot's arms. Monsieur Joseph regarded Hervé de
Sainfoy's sudden action as a great embarrassment for the family, though
he himself had once suggested such a marriage, out of indulgence for his
nephew. He saw that the situation would be terribly awkward for Urbain
and Anne, that they would hardly welcome such a daughter-in-law; yet,
though he said sharp words about women to Angelot, he was heartily sorry
for Hélène.

"Pauvre petite!" he said to himself. "No, it was not right of Hervé.
Ange is too young for such responsibility; there might have been other
ways of saving her. But in the meanwhile, she is dreadfully frightened
and lonely, and I have sent her little lover away. God grant he fall
into no traps--but the police may be anywhere. Well, Riette must do her
best--the woman-child--she seemed to me just now older than Angelot's
wife--Angelot's wife--what an absurdity!"

The child had led the girl away to her own room above; the house was
still. Monsieur Joseph went back to his room, walked up and down its
length, from the west to the east window and back again; rather
nervously examined his arms, and laid a sword and a pair of pistols on
the table. He knew of no special danger; but for the last fortnight he
had been living in a state of watchfulness which had sharpened all his
senses and kept him unusually sleepless. Now he longed for the night to
be over; for his present charge weighed upon him heavily. It was certain
that in sending Angelot away to keep the tryst with César he had made
himself responsible for Hélène. He thought over all the foolish little
love-story, in which at first he had had some part, though nobody was
more angry with Angelot when he took things into his own hands and
climbed the old ivy-tree to visit his love.

"And now--is the fellow rewarded or punished? we shall see!" he
thought. "In any case, I must stand by him now. He has not always been
grateful or wise--but there, he is young, and I love the boy. Riette
talks of 'the last drop of our blood.' Verily, I believe she would give
it for Angelot--and I--well, I told Hervé and his mother that I would
cut off my right hand for him. That was saying something! But Anne knew
I meant it--and God knows the same."

Monsieur Joseph glanced up at the Crucifix hanging over his bed, and,
presently, seeing a glimmer of dawn through the shutters, knelt down and
said his morning prayers.

He had scarcely finished when all the dogs began to bark, and there was
a frightful growling and snarling outside his window. He opened it, and
pushed back the shutters. The woods were grey and misty in a pale,
unearthly dawn, and the house threw a shadow from the waning moon, which
had risen behind the buildings and trees to the east. The howling wind
of the night had gone down; the air was cold and still.

Monsieur Joseph saw a man with his head tied up, armed with a police
carbine, making a short cut over the grass from the western wood. It was
this man, Simon, whom the dogs were welcoming after their manner.
Monsieur Joseph's voice silenced them. He stepped out, unarmed as he
was, and met Simon in the sandy square.

"Ah no, no, my friend!" he said. "Your tricks are over, your work is
done."

"Pardon, monsieur!" said Simon, respectfully enough.

"Do you understand me? Come, now, what authority had you for arresting
my nephew? You are going to find it was a serious mistake. Be off with
you, and let him alone in the future."

"I know all about that, monsieur," Simon answered coolly. "Your nephew
is lucky enough to have a loyal father, who can pull him out of his
scrapes. Your nephew has plenty of friends--but even his connections
won't save him, I think, if he is mixed up in this new plot of yours. I
must search your house at once, if you please."

"What do you mean, you scoundrel? You will not search my house," said
Monsieur Joseph, fiercely.

"By order, monsieur."

"Whose order? The Prefect's? Show it me."

"Pardon! There has not been time to apply to Monsieur le Préfet. We have
intelligence of a plot, hatched here in your house, a plan for a rising.
We know that certain gentlemen are starting this very morning on a
mission to England, to bring back arms and men. They will be caught--are
caught already, no doubt--at their rendezvous. There was not time to go
to Sonnay for orders and warrants; we had to strike while the iron was
hot. We applied to General Ratoneau, who was at the ball at Lancilly. He
not only gave us authority to search your house for arms and
conspirators--he accompanied us himself. He is there, beyond the wood,
with enough men to enter your house by force, if you refuse to let us
enter peaceably."

For a moment Monsieur Joseph said nothing. Simon grinned as well as his
stiff and aching head would let him, as he watched the little
gentleman's expressive face.

"We have got them, Monsieur le Général!" he said to himself. He added
aloud and insolently: "An unpleasant experience for the young gentleman,
so soon after his wedding, but a final warning, I imagine. If he comes
free and happy out of this, he will have done with Chouannerie!"

"Silence!" said Monsieur Joseph. "If you want conspirators, there is one
here, and that is myself. I will go to Sonnay with you--though your
accusations are ridiculous, and there is no plan for a rising. But I
will not allow you to search my house, if there were ten generals and an
army behind the wood there. I will shoot down any one who attempts it."

"So much the worse for you, monsieur," said Simon.

"Go back to General Ratoneau and tell him what I say," said Monsieur
Joseph. "He will not doubt my word. Wait. I will speak to him myself.
Tell him I will meet him in ten minutes under the old oaks up there. I
wish for a private word with him."

"Ten minutes, monsieur,"--Simon hesitated.

"Do as you are told," said Monsieur Joseph; and he stepped back into his
room, pulled the shutters sharply to, and shut the window.

Simon lingered a minute or two, looking round the house, giving the
growling dogs a wide berth, then went back with his message to the wood,
and took the precaution of sending a man to watch the lanes on the other
side. He did not, of course, for a moment suppose that there was any one
there, except, most probably, Ange de la Marinière and his bride; but it
would not do to let him once again escape the General. What his plans
might be, Simon only half guessed; but he knew they were desperate, and
he knew that the man who balked him would repent it. And besides all
this, he had not yet received a sou for all the dirty work he had lately
done. But in the bitter depths of his discontented mind, Simon began to
suspect that he had made a mistake in committing himself, body and soul,
to General Ratoneau.

Monsieur Joseph took a small pistol from a cabinet, loaded it, then ran
lightly upstairs and called Riette, who came flying to meet him. He took
her in his arms and kissed her shaggy pate.

"Your hair wants brushing, mademoiselle," he said. "You are a contrast
to your beautiful cousin."

"Oh, papa, isn't it glorious to think that Hélène has married Angelot?
They do love each other so. She has been telling me that if only he
were back safe from the Étang des Morts, she would be the very happiest
woman in the world."

"I hope she will be, and soon," said Monsieur Joseph. But he trembled as
he spoke, for if Simon was right, Angelot and César might be even now in
the hands of the police.

"Listen, Riette," he said. "There are some men outside, police and
officials--General Ratoneau is with them. Once again there are fancies
in these people's heads about me and my friends. They want to search the
house. There is no reason for it, and I will not have it done. I am
going out now to speak to the General. Look at the clock. If I am not
back in ten minutes, go out at the back with your cousin, take the path
behind the stables, and make all the haste you can to La Marinière. It
will be light, you cannot lose your way. Only keep in the shelter of the
trees, that those people over in the wood may not see you."

Riette gazed at him with dark large eyes which seemed to read something
behind his words.

"Why do you think you will not come back, papa? Because General Ratoneau
is a wicked man?"

"Because Imperial justice may carry me to Sonnay. But the Prefect is my
friend," said Monsieur Joseph, gravely. "Go back, and do as I tell you.
Remember, Angelot's wife is in your care. Take this pistol, and defend
her if necessary."

He left her without another word and ran downstairs. In the ground-floor
rooms he found the servants waiting, the two men armed, Marie wildly
excited, all talking at once, for they had heard from an upper window
their master's conversation with Simon.

Before he could give them any orders, two tall shadows came across the
white sand in that unearthly light of moon and dawn, and old Joubard and
his son, pushing at the window, were immediately let in by Gigot. They
explained that Monsieur Angelot, on his way to the Étang des Morts, had
stopped at La Joubardière. He had found Martin, not long returned from
Lancilly, busy telling his father the events of the night. He had begged
them both to go down to Les Chouettes, to watch quietly about there till
his return. They understood very well that his greatest treasure in life
was there, and they had started off, Joubard with his gun, not intending
to go to the house or disturb Monsieur Joseph. But coming down they
found the man Simon had just sent to keep the eastern road, who told
them the place was besieged by police and the house to be searched
immediately. They took the liberty of depriving him of his carbine,
tying him to a tree, and setting a dog to watch him there. Old Joubard
explained this to Monsieur Joseph with an air of apology.

"Thank you. You could not have done better, Joubard. Listen, I am going
out to speak to General Ratoneau. I have told Mademoiselle Henriette, if
I am not back in ten minutes, to take Madame Ange to La Marinière. If
the General insists on my going off to Sonnay, this will not be a place
for ladies. Perhaps, Marie, you had better go with them. The police will
try to insist on searching the house. I will not have it searched,
without a warrant from Monsieur le Préfet. You four men, I leave it in
your care. Defend the house, as you know I should defend it."

Tobie chuckled. "Spoil their beauty, eh!" and went on loading his gun.
Old Joubard's face had lengthened slightly. "Anything within the law,"
he muttered. "But I am not a Chouan, dear little monsieur, nor is
Martin--no!"

"Chouan or not, you are my friends, all of you," said Monsieur Joseph;
and he turned and left them.

He went back to his room, wrote a short letter to his brother Urbain,
and left it on the table. Then he took his sword, crossed himself, and
went out into the slowly lightening day.

Ratoneau was waiting for him under the trees, just out of sight of the
house, and they were practically alone. A groom held the General's horse
at some little distance; Simon waited in the background, skulking behind
the trees, and the other men were watching the house from various
points. The road which passed Les Chouettes on the north crept on
westward, and skirted that same wood of tall oaks, chestnuts, and firs
where Monsieur Joseph's Chouan friends had been hidden from the Prefect
and the General. The wood, with little undergrowth, but thickly carpeted
with dead leaves, sloped down to the south; on its highest edge a line
of old oaks, hollow and enormous, stood like grim sentinels. It was
under one of these, hidden from the house by a corner of the wood, that
Monsieur Joseph met the General.

Ratoneau was considerably cooler than when he had left Lancilly. His
manner was less violent, but even more insolent than usual. He looked at
his watch as Monsieur Joseph came up, walking over the rough grass with
the light step of a boy.

"What do you mean, monsieur, by keeping an Imperial officer waiting?" he
said. "Ten minutes? I have been standing here twenty, and you had no
right to ask for one. You forget who you are, monsieur, and who I am."

"Kindly enlighten me on these points, Monsieur le Général," said
Monsieur Joseph, smiling cheerfully.

"I will enlighten you so far--that you are twice a traitor, and the
worst of a whole band of traitors."

"Et puis, monsieur? Once--it is possible from your point of view, but
how twice?" said Monsieur Joseph, with that air of happy curiosity
which had often, in earlier years, misled his enemies to their undoing.

Ratoneau stared at him, muttered an oath, and stammered out: "Not
content with plotting against His Majesty's government--why you--you,
monsieur--are aiding and abetting that nephew of yours in this
scandalous affair of his marriage. Sapristi! you look as innocent as a
new-born child! You laugh, monsieur! Do you suppose the Emperor will not
learn the truth about this marriage? Yes, I can tell you, you will
bitterly repent this night's work--Monsieur de Sainfoy and all of you.
And to begin with, that accursed nephew of yours will spend his
honeymoon in prison. I have not yet seen my way through the ins and outs
of the affair--I do not know how Monsieur de Sainfoy heard of the
Emperor's intention--but at least I can have my revenge on your nephew
and I will--I will!"

"Ah!" Monsieur Joseph laughed slightly. "I would not be too sure,
monsieur. You can prove nothing against Ange. His father, let me tell
you, has set him right with the Emperor. He is in no danger at all,
unless from your personal malice. The prize you intended to have has
been given to him. It is no doing of his family. I do not believe the
Emperor will punish him or them. And--unless he values your services
more highly than I should think probable, I fancy he will see excuses
for Monsieur de Sainfoy!"

"No doing of his family! The intrigue has been going on for weeks,"
cried Ratoneau. "When have I not seen that odious boy pushing himself at
Lancilly? Detestable little hound! as insolent as yourself, and far more
of a fool. I have always hated him--always--since the day I first saw
him in your house, the day when we met a herd of cattle in the lane, and
he dared to laugh at my horse's misbehaviour. Little scum of the earth!
if I had him under my heel--What are we losing time for? What do you
want to say to me? It is my duty to arrest you, and to search your house
for conspirators and arms, in the name of the Emperor."

"Yes; I know all that," said Monsieur Joseph, gently, with his head a
little on one side.

He was wondering, as he wondered on first acquaintance with this man,
for how long he would be able to refrain from striking him in the face.
He was afraid that it would not, at this juncture, be a wise thing to
do. The two girls in the house were much on his mind; perhaps a
presentiment of something of this sort had made him arrange for their
escape.

"I told that police fellow," he went on very mildly, "that I was ready
to go with you to Sonnay, where the Prefect, of course, is the right
person to deal with any suspected conspiracy. I also told him, and I
tell you, that I will not have my house searched without the Prefect's
warrant."

"And pray, how are you going to prevent it?" said Ratoneau, staring at
him.

"Try it, and you will see," said Monsieur Joseph.

"Your nephew is shut up there, I know. He is taking care of his bride,
and is afraid to come out and face me," said Ratoneau, with a frightful
grin. "He will not dare to resist by force--miserable little coward!"

"All this shall be paid for by and by," Monsieur Joseph said to himself,
consolingly. Aloud he said, "It happens that my nephew is not there,
Monsieur le Général."

"Not there! where are they gone then? I believe that is a lie."

Monsieur Joseph bowed politely, with his hand on his sword.

"Allow me to remark, Monsieur le Général Ratoneau, that you are a cheat
and a coward."

Ratoneau turned purple, and almost choked.

"Monsieur! You dare to use such words to me! I shall call my men up,
and--"

"Call the whole of the usurper's army," said Monsieur Joseph, with
unearthly coolness. "As they follow him they may follow you, his
pasteboard image. But I am quite of your opinion, my words need
explanation. I see through you, Monsieur le Général. You tried to cheat
the Comte de Sainfoy out of his daughter, whom he had refused you. And I
am sure now, that my nephew's arrest the other day was a scoundrelly
piece of cheating, a satisfaction of your private spite, a means of
getting him out of your way. Yes, I see through you now. A fine specimen
of an Imperial officer, bribing police spies to carry out his private
malice. Coward and cheat! Defend yourself!"

Both swords were out, and the fight began instantly. The steel clashed
and darted lightly, flashing back the rising day. It was no ordinary
duel, no mere satisfaction of honour, though each might have had the
right to demand this of the other. It was a quarrel of life and death,
personal hatred that must slay or be slain.

Monsieur Joseph, with all his grace and amiability, had the passionate
nature of old France; his instincts were primitive and simple; he
longed, and his longing had become irresistible, to send a villain out
of the world. Perhaps, too, in Ratoneau's overbearing swagger, he saw
and felt an incarnation of that Empire which had crushed his native
country under its iron feet. But all mixed motives were fused together
and flamed up in the fighting rage that drew that slight hand to the
sword-hilt, and darted like lightning along the living blade.

Monsieur Joseph was a splendid swordsman. But Ratoneau, too, had perfect
command of his weapon; and besides this, he was a taller and heavier
man. And the fury of disappointment, of revenge, the dread of being
found out, of probable disgrace, if Joseph de la Marinière could prove
his keen suspicions true; all this added to his caution, while he never
lacked the bull-dog courage of a fighting soldier. Though foaming with
rage, he was at that moment the cooler, the more self-possessed of the
two.

Simon tried at first to interfere. He stepped out from among the trees,
exclaiming, "Messieurs--messieurs!" but then withdrew again, for the
very sight of the two men's faces, the sound of their breath, the quick
clash of the swords, showed that this was a quarrel past mending. Simon
watched. He was conscious, in the depths of his mind, of a knowledge
that he would not mourn very deeply if General Ratoneau should be the
one to fall. He hastily made his own plans. In that case he would slip
away behind the trees, take the horse from the groom without a word, and
ride away to Paris, trusting that he might never be called to account
for any dark doings in Anjou. For there was not only the false arrest of
Angelot; there were also certain dealings with the Prefect's secretary;
there were tamperings with papers and seals, all to set forward that
marriage affair that had failed so dismally, he hardly understood how.
But he had hoped that the Prefect would die, and the news of his rapid
recovery seemed strangely inopportune. It appeared to Simon that General
Ratoneau's star was on the wane; and so, for those entangled in his
rascally deeds, a lucky thrust of Monsieur de la Marinière's swiftly
flashing sword--Ah, no! the fortune of war was on the wrong side that
morning. A few passes; a fight three or four minutes long; a low cry,
then silence, and the slipping down of a light body on the grass.
General Ratoneau had run his adversary through the heart, had withdrawn
his sword and stood, white but unmoved, looking at him as he lay.

[Illustration: "MONSIEUR LE GÉNÉRAL, YOU HAVE KILLED HIM!"]

Monsieur Joseph turned himself once, and stretched his slight limbs, as
if composing himself to sleep. His face was towards his house and the
rising dawn, and he gazed that way with dark eyes wide open. His lips
moved, but no one heard what he said. All the fighting fury was gone
from his face, and as a thin thread of blood trickled down from his side
and began to redden the grass beneath, his look, at first startled and
painful, became every moment more peaceful, more satisfied. His eyelids
slowly drooped and fell; he died smiling, his whole attitude and
expression so lifelike that the two witnesses, Ratoneau and Simon, could
scarcely believe that he was dead.

The General stood immovable. Simon, after a minute, knelt down and felt
the pulse and examined the wound. It had been almost instantly fatal,
the pulse was still.

"Mon Dieu, Monsieur le Général, you have killed him!" Simon said, under
his breath.

Ratoneau glared at him for a moment before he spoke.

"He tried to kill me," he said. "You were there, you can bear witness,
he challenged and attacked me, the little fighting-cock. I wish it had
been his nephew. But now for him! Come, leave the body there; the
servants will fetch it in presently."

He started to walk towards the house, carrying his drawn sword in his
hand. In the middle of the slope he turned round with a furious look to
his follower.

"Those who insult me, and stand in my way--you see the lessons I teach
them!" he said hoarsely, and walked on.

The western front of Les Chouettes, the tower rising into the slowly
lightening sky, presented a lifeless face to the woods where its master
lay. All the windows were closed and shuttered; dead silence reigned.
When the General shouted an order to open, beating with his sword-hilt
at a window, he was only answered by the growling and barking of the
dogs, whom the defenders had called in. He walked round by the south to
the east front; the same chorus accompanied him, but of human voices
there were none. He whistled up the rest of the gendarmes, and ordered
them to force the dining-room window. Then the shutters of a window
above it were pushed open, and a white-haired man looked out into the
court.

"Now, old Chouan, do you hear me?" shouted Ratoneau, in his most
overbearing tones. "Come down and open some of these windows."

"Pardon, monsieur," old Joubard answered quietly. "I have Monsieur de
la Marinière's orders to keep them shut."

"Have you, indeed? Well, it makes no difference to him whether they are
shut or open. Tell his nephew, Monsieur Ange, with my compliments, to
come down and speak to me. Tell him I want to see his pretty wife, and
to congratulate him on his marriage. Tell him to bring a sword, if he
knows how to use one, and to revenge his uncle."

There was a dead pause. The two Joubards and the servants, all together
in that upper room, looked strangely at each other.

"Tiens, Maître Joubard, let me come to the window and I'll shoot that
man dead!" groaned Tobie in the background.

"No, you fool, Tobie," Joubard said angrily. "Do you want us all to be
massacred? Anyhow, let us first know what he means."

"I wonder where the master is!" said Gigot, and his teeth chattered.

"He has killed him," Martin whispered, looking at his father.

"This will be the ruin of us all," said old Joubard aside to him. "You,
at least, keep out of the way. Those men have carbines. You have not
come home from Spain to be shot by mistake for a Chouan. I will try to
speak civilly. Monsieur le Général," he said, leaning out of the window,
"your worship is mistaken. There are no Chouans here, and no ladies. And
Monsieur Angelot is not here. Only we, a few harmless servants and
neighbours, taking care of the house, left in charge while Monsieur de
la Marinière went to speak to you, waiting till he comes back. We can do
nothing without his orders, Monsieur le Général."

"Then you will do nothing till doomsday," said Ratoneau. "Don't you
understand that he is dead, old fool, whoever you may be?"

"Dead! Impossible!" old Joubard stammered. "Monsieur Joseph
dead--murdered! And the gendarmes on your side, monsieur! Why, he was
here giving us our orders, a quarter of an hour ago."

In the horrified look he turned on Martin, there was yet the shadow of a
smile. For Martin's eager persuasions had sent Hélène and Riette away
with Marie Gigot through the woods to La Marinière, almost before
Monsieur Joseph's appointed time.

Joubard leaned again out of the window, his rugged face in the full
light of the morning.

"This is a bad business, Monsieur le Général," he said. "If it is true
that you have killed Monsieur Joseph, you have done enough for one day.
Take my advice, draw your men off and go away. Justice will follow you;
and you have no right here. I am not a Chouan. I am Joubard, of La
Joubardière, Monsieur Urbain de la Marinière's best tenant, and my only
son lost his limbs fighting for the Emperor."

Simon drew near, with his bandaged head, and looked up at the window.
"Ah! He has limbs enough left to do some mischief," he growled savagely.
"Is he there, your precious cripple of a son? I shall have something to
say to him, one of these days."

"Begone with you all," cried old Joubard, "for a pack of thieves and
murderers! You are a disgrace to the Emperor, his police and his army!"

"Silence, old fool!" shouted Ratoneau. "What do you say about murder,
you idiot? Did you never hear of a man being killed in a duel? Come
down, some of you, I say, or I force my way in."

He would have done so, and easily, but for a sudden interruption.

There was a wild howl of pain from among the trees beyond the kitchen,
where one of Monsieur Joseph's faithful dogs followed him to the land
where all faithfulness is perhaps rewarded; and then the gendarme whom
Joubard had tied to a tree came running down to the house with the
comrade who had freed him and killed his guard. He was eager to tell the
General what he had seen while every one but himself was away in the
western wood. He had seen two women and a child escape from the house,
and hurry away by the footpath under the trees towards La Marinière. One
of the women was dressed in white; he could see it under her cloak; she
spoke, and it was a lady's voice; they had passed quite near him. How
long ago? Well, perhaps a quarter of an hour. General Ratoneau stamped
his foot and ground his teeth.

"Bring my horse!" he said; and then he looked up again at the window, at
old Joubard's stern face watching him.

"Monsieur Ange de la Marinière!" he shouted in tones of thunder. "Come
out of your hole, little coward, if you are there. I will teach you to
marry against the Emperor's commands! You shall meet me before you see
your wife again. I will give account of you, and I will have what is my
own. What! you dare not come out? Then follow me to Sonnay, monsieur, by
way of La Marinière."

He flung himself into the saddle and rode off at a furious pace, turning
round to shout back to Simon, "I shall overtake her! Go on--shoot them
all--burn the house, if you must."

His horse plunged down into the shadows of the narrow lane, and they
heard the heavy thud of its hoofs as it galloped away.



CHAPTER XXVIII

HOW GENERAL RATONEAU MET HIS MATCH


Within and without Les Chouettes the men all listened till those sounds
died away. Then Simon turned to the little group of gendarmes and said:
"Come along, fellows, make a rush for that window. If there are any
Chouan gentlemen here, we must not let them escape."

Then the oldest of the gendarmes, a man well accustomed to hunting this
sort of game, hung back and looked at him queerly.

"There are none--I'll answer for that," he said. "Certainly not Monsieur
Ange de la Marinière, or he would have been out long ago--and none of us
ever felt sure that he was mixed up in Chouannerie--"

"What are you talking about?" cried Simon. "Hold your tongue, and do
your duty. The General ordered us to break into the house and search it.
Why, you know yourself that it is the headquarters of this plot."

"If so, if I hear rightly, the master of it has paid for his Chouannerie
with his life," said the man gravely, still holding back, and watching
Simon with a dogged steadiness. "Our mates have caught the other
gentlemen--they could not fail--and as for me, Monsieur Simon, I don't
feel inclined to take any more orders from that General of yours. To me,
he seems like a madman. There's private malice behind all this. It is
not the sort of justice that suits me--to kill a gentleman and shoot his
servants and burn his house down. I tell you, fellows, I don't like
it--there are limits to what the police ought to do, and we shall find
ourselves in the wrong box, if we go further without the Prefect's
warrant."

"Obey your orders, or you'll pay for it!" shouted Simon. "Come on, men!"
and he ran towards the house.

"Be off, or we fire!" cried a voice from the window above.

"All right, Maître Joubard, don't fire; we know you are a loyal man,"
said the spokesman of the gendarmes. "I am going straight back to
Sonnay, to see what Monsieur le Préfet says to all this. Do you agree?"
he turned to his comrades, who had drawn up behind him, and who
answered, even the man who had been tied to the tree, by a quick murmur
of assent. "Come, Monsieur Simon, I advise you to cast in your lot with
us; you have had too much to do with that madman. Everybody hates him.
They sent him down here because they could not stand him in the army."

As Simon turned his back and walked sulkily away, the gendarme added:
"Come down, some of you, and look for your master. He may be still
alive."

The men in the room above looked at each other. They could not and did
not believe that Monsieur Joseph was dead. To his old servants, it was
one of those shocks too heavy for the brain to bear; the thought stunned
them. Large tears were rolling down old Joubard's cheeks, but his brain
and Martin's were active enough.

"What do you think?" he said to his son. "Are they safe at La
Marinière?"

"I'll wager my wooden leg they are," Martin said cheerfully. "They had a
good start, and that lumbering brute with his big horse would not know
the shortest path. And once with Monsieur Urbain--"

"Ah, poor man! Well, let us go down and look for him, the little uncle.
Ah, Martin, all the pretty girls in the world will take long to comfort
Monsieur Angelot--and as to Mademoiselle Henriette!"

"The gendarme said he might be still alive," said Martin. "See, they are
gone round to him."

"He is dead," said Joubard. "Come, Gigot, you and I must carry him in.
As to you, Tobie, just keep watch on this side with your gun--that
poisonous snake of a Simon is prowling about there. Don't shoot, of
course, but keep him off; don't let him get into the house."

Martin lingered a moment behind his father. "Tobie," he said, "that
Simon has been Monsieur Angelot's enemy all through. I thought I had
finished him with my stick, two or three hours ago, but--"

"I know--I have my master's orders," said Tobie. He smiled, and lifted
his gun to his shoulder.

The sun was rising when they found Monsieur Joseph on his bed of soft
grass and leaves, at the foot of his own old oak just bronzed by the sun
of August and September. Up above the squirrels were playing; they did
not disturb his sleep, though they scampered along the boughs and
squeaked and peeped down curiously. The birds cried and chirped about
him in the opening day; and one long ray of yellow sunshine pierced the
eastern screen of trees, creeping all along up the broad slope where the
autumn crocuses grew, till it laid itself softly and caressingly on the
smiling face turned to meet it once more. The sportsman had gone out for
the last time into his loved fields and woods; and perhaps he would have
chosen to die there, rather than in a curtained room with fresh air and
daylight shut out. No doubt the manner of his death had been terrible;
but the pain was momentary, and he had gone to meet it in his highest
mood, all one flame of indignation against evil, and ready, generous
self-sacrifice. He had died for Angelot, fighting his enemy; he had
carried out his little daughter's words, and the last drop of that good
heart's blood was for Angelot, though indeed his dear boy's enemy was
also the enemy of the cause he loved, to which his life had been given.
No more conspiracies now for the little Royalist gentleman.

They all came and stood about him, Joubard, Martin, Gigot, and the party
of gendarmes. At first they hardly liked to touch him; he lay so
peacefully asleep under the tree, his thin right hand pressed over his
heart, where the sword had wounded him, such a look of perfect content
on the face that death had marked for its own. His sword lay on the
grass beside him, where it had fallen from his dying hand. Martin picked
it up, saying in a low voice, "This will be for Monsieur Angelot."

Sturdy Gigot, choking with sobs, turned upon him fiercely.

"It belongs to mademoiselle."

They lifted Monsieur Joseph--old Joubard at his head, Gigot at his
feet--and carried their light burden down to his house, in at his own
bedroom window. They laid him on his bed in the alcove, and then were
afraid to touch him any more. All the group of strong men stood and
looked at him, Gigot weeping loudly, Joubard silently; even the eyes of
the gendarmes were wet.

"We must have women here," said Joubard.

Turning round, he saw Monsieur Joseph's letter to his brother lying on
the table; he took it up and gave it to Gigot.

"Take this letter to La Marinière," he said, "and tell Monsieur Urbain
what has happened. And you," to the gendarmes, "be off to Sonnay, and
make your report at once to Monsieur le Préfet. I doubt if he will
justify all that is done in his name."

"We will do as you say, Maître Joubard," said the gendarme.

A few minutes later the only one of the General's party left at Les
Chouettes was Simon. He skulked round behind the buildings, but could
not persuade himself to go away. It seemed to him that there was a good
deal of danger in escaping on foot; that the country people, enraged by
Monsieur Joseph's death, delighted, as they probably would be, by
Monsieur Angelot's marriage, would all be his enemies. He was half
terrified by General Ratoneau's desperation. Suppose he had overtaken
Angelot's young bride and her companions! suppose he had swung her up on
his horse and carried her away, forgetting that he was not campaigning
in a foreign country, but living peaceably in France, where the law
protected people from such violent doings. It might be very
inconvenient, in such a case, to appear at Sonnay as a friend and
follower of General Ratoneau. Any credit he still had with the Prefect,
for instance, would be lost for ever. And yet, if he deserted the
General entirely, washed his hands, as far as possible, of him and his
doings, what chance was there of receiving the large sums of money so
grudgingly promised him!

"A hard master, the devil!" Simon muttered to himself.

He peeped cautiously round the corner of the kitchen wall, where the
silver birches had scattered their golden leaves in the wind of the
night. He watched the little band of gendarmes as they started down the
road towards Sonnay. It struck him that his best plan would be to slip
away across the _landes_ towards the Étang des Morts, and to put himself
right with the authorities by helping to capture a few Chouan gentlemen
and conveying them to prison.

But first--how still all the place was! The men were busy, he supposed,
with their dead master. Surely those windows were not so firmly fastened
but that he could make his way in, and perhaps find some evidence to
prove Monsieur Joseph's complicity in the plots of the moment. He walked
lightly across the sand. A dog barked in the house, and Martin Joubard
looked out from an upper window.

All the evil passions of his nature rose in Simon then. That was the man
who knew he had arrested Angelot; that was the man who had knocked him
down in the park and lost him half an hour of valuable time. As Angelot
himself, in some mysterious way, was out of reach, here was this man on
whom he might revenge himself. Both for his own sake and the General's,
this man would be better out of the way; Simon raised his loaded carbine
and fired.

Martin stepped back at the instant, and he missed him. The shot grazed
Tobie's cheek as he knelt inside the room, resting his long gun-barrel
on the low window-sill.

"Ah, Chouan-catcher, your time is come!" muttered Tobie, and his gun
went off almost of itself.

Simon flung up his arms in the air, and dropped upon the sand.

       *       *       *       *       *

While these things were happening at Les Chouettes, Angelot was hurrying
back from his mission to the Étang des Morts. He was full of wild
happiness, a joy that could not be believed in, till he saw and touched
Hélène again. His heart was as light as the air of that glorious
morning, so keen, clear, and still on the high moorlands as he crossed
them.

He had done all and more than the little uncle expected of him. In the
darkness before dawn, as he rode through the deep lanes beyond La
Joubardière, he had met a friendly peasant who warned him that a party
of police and gendarmes was watching the country a little farther south,
towards the Étang des Morts. He therefore left his horse in a shed, took
to the fields and woods, and intercepted César d'Ombré on his way to the
rendezvous. Explanations were not altogether easy, for César cared
little for the private affairs of young La Marinière. He had never
expected much from the son of Urbain. He took his warning, and gave up
his companionship easily enough. Striking off across country, avoiding
all roads likely to be patrolled by the police, he made his way alone to
Brittany and the coast, while Angelot returned by the way he had come.

For the sake of taking the very shortest cut across the _landes_, he
brought his horse up to La Joubardière and left him there. For no horse
could carry him through the lanes, rocky as they were, at the pace that
he could run and walk across country, and it was only because Uncle
Joseph insisted on it that he had taken a horse at all.

The golden light of sunrise spread over the moor as he ran. He took long
leaps through the heather, and coveys of birds scuttled out of his way;
but their lives were safe that morning, though his eyes followed them
eagerly. Far beyond the purple _landes_, the woods of Lancilly lay
heaped against the western sky, a billowy dark green sea of velvet
touched with the bright gold of autumn and of sunrise; and the château
itself shone out broad in its glittering whiteness. The guests were all
gone now; the music was still; and for Angelot the place was empty, a
mere shell, a pile of stones. Other roofs covered the joy of his life
now.

This shortest cut from La Joubardière did not bring him to Les
Chouettes by the usual road, but by a sharp slope of moorland, all
stones and bushes and no path at all, and then across one or two small
fields into a narrow lane, a bridle-path between high straggling hedges,
one way from Les Chouettes to La Marinière. The poplars by the manor
gate, a shining row, lifted their tall heads, always softly rustling, a
quarter of a mile farther on.

Angelot ran across the fields, jumped a ditch, reached the lane at a
sharp corner, and was turning to the right towards Les Chouettes,
thinking in his joyful gladness that he would be back before even Hélène
expected him, when something struck his ear and brought him to a sudden
stand. It was a woman's scream.

"Help, help!" a voice cried; and then again there was a piteous shriek
of pain or extreme terror.

For one moment Angelot hesitated. Who or what could this be? Some one
was in trouble, some woman, and probably a woman he knew. Or could it be
a child, hurt by some animal? One of the bulls at La Marinière was very
fierce; there had been trouble with him before now. Ah! he must turn his
back on Hélène and see what it meant, this cursed interruption. What
were they doing to let that beast roam about alone? And even as he
turned the shriek tore the air again, and now he could hear a man's
voice, rough and furious, a confusion of voices, the stamping of a
horse, the creaking of harness. No! Bellot the bull was not the
aggressor here.

Angelot loosened his hunting knife as he ran along the lane. It turned
sharply once or twice between its banks, dipping into the hollow, then
climbing again to La Marinière. At its lowest point it touched the elbow
of a stream, winding away under willows to join the river near Lancilly,
and overflowing the lane in winter and stormy weather. Now, however, the
passage was dry, and at that very point a group of figures was
struggling. Angelot had the eyes of a hawk, and at that distance knew
them all.

General Ratoneau was on horseback; his gold lace flashed in the
sunlight. Before him on the horse's neck lay a girl's white figure,
flung across the front of the saddle, struggling, shrieking, held down
by his bridle hand which also clutched her dress, while with the
butt-end of a pistol he threatened Marie Gigot, who screamed for help as
she hung to the horse's head. He, good creature, not being one of the
General's own chargers, but a harmless beast borrowed without leave from
the Lancilly stables, backed from Marie instead of pushing and trampling
her down in obedience to his desperate rider. Little Henriette did her
best by clinging tightly to the white folds of her cousin's gown as they
fell over the horse's shoulder, and was in great danger of being either
pushed down or kicked away by Ratoneau, as soon as he should have
disposed of Marie.

"Let go, woman!" he shouted, with frightful oaths. "Let go, or I'll kill
you! Do you see this pistol? A moment more, and I'll dash your brains
out--send you after your master, do you hear?--Ah, bah! keep still,
beauty!" as Hélène almost struggled away from him. "I don't want to hurt
you, but I will have what is my own. Get away, child, we don't want you.
Morbleau! what's that?"

It was a sound of quick running, and Riette's keen ears had heard it
already. It had, indeed, saved Ratoneau from being shot dead on the
spot, for the child had let go her hold on her cousin's dress with one
hand and had clutched the tiny, beautiful pistol with which her father
had trusted her, and which she had hidden inside her frock. True, she
was shaking with the terrible excitement of the moment, she was nearly
dragged off her feet by the horse's plunging backwards, and a correct
aim seemed almost impossible--but her father had told her to defend
Angelot's wife, and Riette was very sure that this wicked man should not
carry away Hélène, as long as she had life and a weapon to prevent it.
And if she could have understood those words to Marie,--"send you after
your master"--there would have been no hesitation at all.

At the same moment, she and the General turned their heads and looked up
the lane. Something wild and lithe, bright and splendid, came flying
straight down from the east, from the heart of the sunrise. The
swiftness with which Angelot darted upon them was almost supernatural.
He might have been a young god of the Greeks, flashing from heaven to
rescue his earthly love from an earthly ravisher.

Ratoneau was not prepared for such a sudden and fiery onslaught. It was
easy, the work he expected--to tear Hélène from the company of a woman
and child, to carry her off to Sonnay. He considered her his own
property, given to him by the Emperor, stolen from him by her father and
Angelot. It would be easy, he told himself, to have the absurd midnight
ceremony declared illegal; or if not, he would soon find means to put
Angelot out of his way. By fair means or by foul, he meant to have the
girl and to marry her. If his method was that of the ancient
Gauls--well, she would forgive him in time! Women love a hero, however
roughly he may treat them. He thought he had learnt that from
experience; and if Hélène de Sainfoy thought herself too good for him,
she must find her level. The man swore to himself that he loved her, and
would be good to her, when once she was his own. As he lifted her on the
horse he knew he loved her with all the violent instincts of a coarse
and unrestrained nature.

And now came vengeance, darting upon him like a bolt from the shining
sky. Before his slower senses even knew what was happening, before,
encumbered with his prey, he could fire a pistol or draw his sword,
Hélène had been snatched from him into Angelot's arms. No leave asked of
Ratoneau; a spring and a clutch; it might have been a tiger leaping at
the horse's neck and carrying off its victim. The girl screamed again
and again, as Angelot set her on the ground, and trembled so that she
could not stand alone. As her lover supported her for an instant, saying
to Marie Gigot, who ran forward from the horse's head, "Take her--take
her home!" Ratoneau fired his pistol straight at the two young heads so
near together. The bullet passed actually between them, touching
Hélène's curls. Then the sturdy peasant woman threw a strong arm round
her, and dragged her away towards La Marinière.

Angelot, with a flushed face and blazing eyes, turned to the General,
who sat and glared in speechless fury. Then the young fellow smiled,
lifted his hat, and set it jauntily on again. He had not drawn his
hunting knife, and stood empty-handed, though this and a pair of pistols
were in his belt.

"And now, Monsieur le Général!" he said, a little breathlessly.

Ratoneau stared at him, struck, even at that moment, by his
extraordinary likeness to his uncle. There was the same easy grace, the
same light gaiety, the same joy in battle and fearless confidence, with
more outward dash and daring. Ah, well! as the other insolent life had
ended, so in a few minutes this should end. It would be easy--a slip of
a boy--it was fortunate indeed, that it happened so.

"Mille tonnerres! you can be buried together!" said Ratoneau.

"Merci, monsieur, I hope so--a hundred years hence," Angelot answered
with a laugh.

"You are mistaken--I am not talking of your wife," growled Ratoneau.
"She will be a widow in ten minutes, and married to me in a month. I
mean that you and your precious uncle can be buried together."

"Indeed! Is my uncle going to die?" Angelot said carelessly; but he
looked at the madman a little more steadily, with the sudden idea that
he was really and literally mad.

"He is dead already. I have killed him," said Ratoneau.

Angelot turned pale, and stepped back a pace, watching him cautiously.

"When? Where? I don't believe it," he said.

"We had a disagreement," said Ratoneau. "It was about you that we
quarrelled, a worthless cause. He chose to take your part, and to insult
me. I ran him through the body."

Saying this, he slowly dismounted and drew his sword. Angelot stood
motionless, looking at him. The words had stunned him; his heart and
brain seemed to be gripped by icy hands, crushing out all sensation.
Henriette, who had not followed the others, came up and stood beside
him, her great dark eyes, full of horror, fixed upon General Ratoneau.
She was motionless and dumb; under the folds of her frock, her fingers
gripped the little pistol. As long as she remained silent, neither of
the men saw that she was there.

"Look!" said Ratoneau. He held out his sword, red and still wet, as he
had thrust it back into the scabbard after killing Monsieur Joseph.
"Give up the girl to me or you follow your uncle," he said, after a
moment's frightful pause.

Henriette came a step nearer, came quite close and looked at the sword.
Every drop of her own blood had forsaken her small face, always delicate
and pale. Suddenly she stretched out her hand and touched the sword,
saying in a low voice, "That was why he did not come back!"

"Oh, good God! Go away, child!" cried Angelot, suddenly waking from his
trance of horror, and pushing her violently back.

Then he drew his knife and sprang furiously upon the General.

"Villain! murderer!" he shouted as he closed with him; for this was no
formal fight with swords.

"Keep off, little devil, or I'll tear you to pieces!" shrieked Ratoneau.
"What! You will have it? Come on then, plague upon you, cursed wild
cat!"

It was an unequal struggle; for Angelot, though strong, was slender and
small, and Ratoneau had height and width of chest, besides great
muscular power. And he hated Angelot with all the intensity of his
violent nature. It was a case in which strength told, and Angelot had
been unwise in trusting to his own. A duel with pistols, as he had no
sword, would have been better for him. Still, at first, his furious
attack brought him some advantage. He wrenched Ratoneau's sword from his
hand and flung it into the stream. Twice he wounded him slightly with
his knife, but Ratoneau, hugging him like a bear, made it difficult to
strike, and the fight became a tremendous wrestling match, in which the
two men struggled and panted and slipped and lurched from side to side,
from the grassy bank to the willows by the water, each vainly trying to
throw the other.

The issue of such a combat could not long be doubtful. Courage and
energy being equal, the taller and heavier man was sure to have the
better of it. Several times Angelot tried to trip his enemy up, but
failed, for his wrestling skill, as well as his strength, was not equal
to Ratoneau's. The General was more successful. A twist of his leg, and
both men were dashed violently down upon the stones, Angelot underneath.

His knife had already dropped from his hand. Ratoneau snatched it up,
and knelt over him, one knee on his chest, one hand on his throat, the
knife in the other. Looking up into the dark, furious eyes bent upon
him, watching the evil smile that broadened round the handsome, cruel
mouth, Angelot felt that his last moment was come. That face leaning
over him was the face of death itself. The little uncle would not be
long alone in the unknown country to which this same hand had sent him.

"How about your pretty wife now, Monsieur Angelot?" the snarling voice
said, and the sharp knife trembled and flashed in the sunshine.

Angelot set his teeth, and closed his eyes that he might not see it.
Ratoneau went on saying something, but he did not hear, for in those few
moments he dreamed a dream. Hélène's face was bending over his, her soft
hair falling upon him, her lips touching his. Was death already over,
and was this Paradise?

He came back to life with a violent start, at the discharge of a pistol
close by; and then the weight on his chest became suddenly unbearable,
and the knife dropped from his enemy's hand, and the cruel face fell
aside, changing into something still more dreadful. In another minute he
had dragged himself out from under Ratoneau's dead body, and staring
wildly round, saw Riette holding a pistol.

"Ah! do not look at me so!" she cried, as she met her cousin's horrified
eyes. "I had to save you! Papa will not be angry."

"He is avenged. You are a heroine, Riette!" he said, and held out his
arms to her; but the child flung away her little weapon which had done
so great a deed, and threw herself upon the ground in a passionate agony
of tears.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF MONSIEUR URBAIN


It was an afternoon late in November. A wild wind was blowing, and
shadows were flying across the country and the leafless woods which
rushed and cried like the sea. A great full moon shone in the sky,
chased over and constantly obscured by thin racing clouds, silver and
copper-coloured on the blue-black depths of air.

Madame de la Marinière was alone in her old room. The candles were
lighted on her work-table, her embroidery frame stood beside it, the
needle carelessly stuck in; a fire of logs was flaming up the wide black
chimney. Anne was not working, but wandering restlessly up and down the
room. Once she went to a window and dragged it open; the moonlight
flowed in, and with it a soft rough blast that blew the candles about
wildly and made smoke and flames fly out from the fire. Anne hastily,
with some difficulty, closed the window and fastened it again.

She had not waited very long when slow heavy feet came tramping through
the stone court, the house door opened and shut with a clang, and
Monsieur Urbain came into the room. As he took Anne's hand and kissed
it in the old pretty fashion, she looked anxiously into his face, a very
sad face in these days. Urbain's philosophy had been hardly tried of
late. And his wife was not mistaken in fancying that something new had
happened that day to deepen the hollows round his eyes, the lines on his
rugged brow. She would not, even dared not ask, for reasons of her own.
It might well be that his grief and her joy should run on the same
lines. Anne had been praying for something; she was half afraid, though
she fully expected, to hear that her prayer was granted.

Urbain sat down by the fire, and stretched out his feet and hands to the
blaze.

"Where are the children?" he said.

Anne smiled very sweetly. "Out somewhere in the moonlight. Ange thinks
there is nothing for Hélène like fresh air."

"From her looks, he is right."

"It is not only the fresh air--" Anne broke off, then went on again.
"Well, my friend, you went to Sonnay--you took the child to the
convent?"

"Yes--she will be very safe there for a time--the reverend mothers
received her excellently. I do not care for convents, as you know, but I
am not sure that Henriette, even at this early age, has not found her
vocation. Till to-day, I do not think I had seen the child smile
since--"

"Ah, yes--" Anne murmured something under her breath. "Did you see
Monsieur de Mauves?"

"For a few minutes. I talked so long with the Prioress that it was late
before I reached the Prefecture. He had been to Paris. He explained all
that tissue of rascality to the Emperor, so that no blame might fall on
the wrong shoulders. Luckily His Majesty disliked Ratoneau; the man
smoked and swore too much to please him."

"But after all," Anne said thoughtfully, "the Prefect drew up those
papers himself, if he did not send them. And you, Urbain--"

He waved his hand sadly, impatiently. "No more of me, I am punished
enough," he said. "I thought I was acting for everybody's good--but
alas!--Yes, De Mauves drew up the papers, and then repented. He threw
them into a drawer, and determined at least to delay sending them till
circumstances and Ratoneau should force his hand further. Then came his
illness; recovering, he believed the papers to be safe in his bureau,
and left this affair, with many others, to arrange itself later. In the
meanwhile, the rascal Simon had corrupted his foolish young secretary
and stolen the papers--you know the rest. I suppose we should be glad
that he found out in time--"

"Can any one be otherwise than glad?" Anne said gravely.

"Yes, my dear, there are those who are very sorry. And--before you blame
them too hardly, remember that Angelot's marriage was the immediate
cause of Joseph's death."

"The wickedness of a wicked man is alone to be blamed for that," said
Anne. "Hélène's marriage with such an unspeakable wretch would have been
a worse thing still."

Urbain sighed, and did not answer. Presently, gazing into the fire,
while Anne watched him with intent, questioning eyes, he said, "It
appears that the Emperor is a little angry with Hervé for his hurried
action, though he does not object to its consequence, being good enough
to say that he values me and my influence in this country. But he does
not like to be treated as a tyrant. De Mauves thinks that Adélaïde will
not have the post of lady-in-waiting. It is a pity; she had set her
heart on it."

Anne shrugged her shoulders slightly; it was beyond her power, being a
truthful woman, to express any sympathy with Adélaïde. It was her
coldest little voice that said, "Have you been to Lancilly to-day?"

"Yes," her husband answered.

"Did you see Adélaïde?"

"No."

A bitter smile curled Anne's still beautiful mouth as she stood near his
chair and looked at him. Was it only or chiefly Adélaïde's unforgiving
anger that weighed on his broad shoulders, bent his clever brow, drove
the old contented smile from his face? True, Joseph's death might well
have done all this; but she knew Urbain, and he was not the man to cower
under the inevitable. It was his way to meet the blows of fate with a
brave front, if not a gay one; he was a Frenchman, and had lived and
laughed through the great Revolution. And yet Anne was puzzled; for she
respected Urbain too much to acknowledge that Adélaïde's anger could
have so great an effect upon him.

After a short silence he spoke, and told her all; told her of the
disappointment of his dearest hopes, the failure of the schemes and
struggles of a lifetime. And as he talked, Anne came gradually nearer,
till at last, with a most unusual demonstrativeness, her arm was round
his neck, and her cheek pressed against his whitening hair. Large tears
ran down the man's face and dropped across his wife's hand and splashed
on the tapestried arm of the chair.

The Sainfoys were about to leave Lancilly, and probably for ever.
Adélaïde could not endure it; since her daughter's marriage it had
become odious to her. Neither did Georges like it; and before going back
to the army he had become engaged to the heiress with whom he had danced
so much at the ball, who had a castle and large estates of her own in
Touraine, and who considered Lancilly far too wild and old-fashioned to
be inhabited, except perhaps for a month in the shooting season. Thus it
was not unlikely that Lancilly would be sold; and for the present it
was to be dismantled and shut up; once more the deserted place, the
preservation of which, the restoring to its right inhabitants, had been
the dream and ambition of Urbain de la Marinière's life. For his cousin
Hervé he had spent all his energies and a considerable part of his
fortune; and to no purpose and worse than none. Even Hervé's love and
gratitude failed him now; the knowledge that Hervé could never quite
forget or forgive his plotting with Adélaïde and Ratoneau, was the
sharpest sting of all; worse even, as his wife felt with a throb of
rapturous joy, than the fact that Adélaïde would smile on him no more.

"My poor Urbain!" she murmured.

Her sympathy was tender and real, though she felt that her prayer had
been answered, that she and her house had been delivered from the
crushing weight of Lancilly, that the great castle on the hill would
henceforth be a harmless pile of stones, to be viewed without the old
dislike and jealousy. It seemed to her now that she had not known a
happy day since the Sainfoys came back, or even for long before, while
Urbain's whole soul was wrapped up in preparing for them. Yet she was
very sorry for Urbain.

"All for nothing, and worse than nothing," he sighed; and she found no
words to comfort him.

The fire crackled and blazed; outside, the wind rolled in great
thundering blasts over the country. It roared so loudly in the chimneys
that nothing else was to be heard. Urbain went on talking, so low that
his wife, stooping over his chair, could hardly hear him; but she knew
that all he said had the one refrain--"I have worked for twenty years,
and this is the end of it all. I might have left poor Joseph in exile. I
might have allowed Lancilly to tumble into ruins. What has come of it
all! Nothing, nothing but disappointment and failure. Is it not enough
to break a man's heart, to give the best of his whole life, and to
fail!"

The wind went on roaring. Absorbed in his own thoughts, he did not hear
the house door open and shut, then the door of the room, then the light
steps of Angelot and Hélène across the floor.

"Look up, Urbain!" his wife said with a sudden inspiration. "_There_ is
your success, dear friend!"

There was a bright pink colour in Hélène's cheeks; her eyes and lips,
once so sad, were smiling in perfect content; her fair curls were blown
about her face; she was gloriously beautiful. Angelot held her hand, and
his dark eyes glowed as he looked at her.

"We have been fighting the elements," he said.

Urbain and Anne gazed at them, these two splendid young creatures for
whom life was beginning. The philosopher's brow and eyes lightened
suddenly, and he smiled.

"And by your triumphant looks, you have conquered them!" he said. "Is
that my doing, Anne? Is that my success, my victory?" he added after a
moment in her ear. "Yes, dearest, you are right. Embrace me, my
children!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Les Chouettes was shut up for seven years, and the country people were
shy of passing it in the dusk, for they said that under the old oaks you
might meet Monsieur Joseph with his gun and dog as of old, coming back
from a day's shooting. When old Joubard heard that, he said--and his
wife crossed herself at the saying--that he would rather meet Monsieur
Joseph, dead, than any living gentleman of Anjou.

But there came a time when young life took possession again of Les
Chouettes, and lovely little children played in the sandy court and
picked wild flowers and ran after butterflies in the meadow; when Madame
Ange de la Marinière wandered out in the soft twilight, without fear of
ghosts or men, to meet her husband as he walked down the rugged lane
from the _landes_ after a long day's shooting.

And there were no plots now in Anjou, and neither Chouans nor police
haunted the woods; for Napoleon was at St. Helena, and France could
breathe throughout her provinces, for the iron bands were taken off her
heart, and the young generation might grow up without being cut down in
its flower.

It was at this time that Henriette de la Marinière decided to give Les
Chouettes to her cousin Angelot, and finally to enter the convent where
she had spent much time since her father's death, and where she died as
Prioress late in the nineteenth century, having seen in France three
Kings, a second Empire, and a Republic.

She remained through all, of course, a consistent Royalist like her
father. But to some minds, such an ebb and flow may seem to justify the
philosophy of Urbain, and even more, perhaps, the light and happy
indifference of Angelot.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's note:

There is some inconsistency in placing of accents, all are as in the
original.





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software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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