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´╗┐Title: An Interloper
Author: Peard, Frances
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 "An Interloper" ***

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An Interloper
By Frances Peard
Published by Harper and Brothers, New York.
This edition dated 1894.

An Interloper, by Frances Peard.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
AN INTERLOPER, BY FRANCES PEARD.

CHAPTER ONE.

MONSIEUR RAOUL.

Monsieur Raoul, in his carriage, was making the round of the estates.
To a certain extent, this was a frequent custom, but there were times
when it was attended by a more deliberate ceremony and purpose, and such
was the case this morning.  The carriage went slowly, as if on a tour of
inspection.  When it passed men, they gave a ready "Good-day."  Where
the white-capped women were not at work, they came smiling to their
doorways on hearing the familiar noise of wheels, sometimes holding up
their children that they, too, might look at M.  Raoul.  Evidently he
was a great personage, although you might not have guessed it.

As for the estate, to the eye it was all that could be desired.  The
land, it was true, was flat, but so rich and so highly cultivated that,
except the meadows, not a foot but appeared to grow crops.  Vineyards
caught the hot sun on ripening grapes; apple orchards surrounded
cottages; the beauty was glowing, tranquil, a little substantial.
Through the heart of the country flowed a broad river, offering
excellent fishing, and in places bordered with orderly poplars; on one
side was a high bank; the only hill was insignificant, and rose behind
the chateau.  It was possible to conceive an ugly air of desolation
abroad in winter, but in autumn, and autumn as yet untouched by decay,
there was a delightful fresh gaiety in the bounty of the land.  At one
spot where the carriage arrived in sight of the river, M.  Raoul craned
his neck forward, but made no remark.

The tour of the cottages accomplished, the carriage turned homeward.
When it reached a point where a narrow path broke away, M.  Raoul waved
his hand in that direction.

"There!" he said, determinedly.

The carriage came to a stand-still.  The driver turned doubtfully and
scratched his head.

"But, monsieur--" he remonstrated.

M.  Raoul interrupted him in a still more peremptory tone.

"There!"

"But monsieur remembers that Madame de Beaudrillart especially said--"

For the third time the one word shot out:

"There!"

Jean scratched his head again, looked round helplessly, and then stared
at the sky.  Finding no suggestion for extricating himself from the
dilemma, he ended by submitting to M.  Raoul's order, and, with a sigh
of perplexity, turned in the direction indicated.  He had lived long
enough at Poissy to have learned that it was often difficult to
reconcile opposing wills, and that, as they were strong, there was
always the risk of being crushed by them.  Moreover, he was not without
hope.  The way they had taken was scarcely wide enough for the
carriage--branches whipped their faces, and they were bumped
relentlessly over the rough ground.  Jean groaned loudly, and glanced
back at his master to see how he liked it.  But M.  Raoul showed no sign
of discomfiture; he sat erect, smiling, and now and then flourishing
something which he held tightly grasped in his hand.  Presently they
reached a grassy opening enclosed with trees.  The carriage halted, and
Jean advanced towards it, reins in hand.

"Monsieur sees for himself that we can go no farther."

M.  Raoul did not give him time to reach him.  Before Jean could realise
what he was doing, he had slipped out of the carriage on the opposite
side, and plunged into an undergrowth of bushes which clothed a steep
bank, and crept down to the river.  Jean made an ineffectual effort to
follow and stop him, but the small pony, excited by M.  Raoul's
triumphant cry, began to back and kick and show signs of bolting, so
that his driver was forced, to return to his head.  Jean was a person
slow to make up his mind, and with a strong objection to
responsibilities.  He had remarked that they generally brought one into
trouble.  If Mme. de Beaudrillart, or either of the young ladies,
madame's daughters, happened to be walking in the grounds, as was too
likely, and met the carriage and pony without a driver, it was
impossible to say what might not happen; and as it was out of the
question to keep both the carriage and M.  Raoul in view, and he had
unbounded confidence in M.  Raoul's capabilities, Jean resolved to stick
to the carriage.  But though occasionally stupid, he was not a fool, and
he recognised the need of letting some one know of M.  Raoul's vagaries.
He therefore pushed the pony as quickly as possible through the tangled
path, and when he found himself again in a wider road, set off at a fast
trot towards the chateau, hoping quickly to meet his father or another
of the gardeners.  Unfortunately, however, the first person he
encountered was the last to whom he would have desired to tell his
story.

Mlle.  Claire de Beaudrillart was the younger of the two sisters who
lived with their mother, her son and his wife, at the chateau.  Both
sisters were some years older than their brother, and Mlle.  Claire
would never again see her thirty-seventh birthday.  Not so handsome as
her mother, she was still a striking-looking woman, tall, thin, and
carrying herself well.  Like all the Beaudrillarts, she was dark; like
them, too, her chin was strongly moulded, her nose straight.  Once when
there were tableaux at Poissy, and old dresses had been drawn from a
great armoire, it might have been supposed that the very Claire of two
centuries back had stepped out of her frame in the picture-gallery.  She
was invariably exquisitely neat even in the house, and if her temper was
quick, it seldom placed her at a disadvantage.  Yet, when Jean caught
sight of her, he looked from side to side with helpless longing to
escape, and finding it impossible, an ugly, sullen expression gathered
in his face, which up to this point had only displayed embarrassment.
Mlle.  Claire detected the look in a moment, and stopped, him by a sign.

"Where have you been, Jean?"

She used the "you" contemptuously.

"Round the estate, mademoiselle."

"Alone?"

He brought out M.  Raoul's name.

"You should have said so at once.  And where is Monsieur Raoul?"

This was exactly the question which Jean would have been glad to answer
to himself; but his face only became more stolid as he replied:

"Mademoiselle must know that he has gone down to the river."

"To the river!  With Monsieur de Beaudrillart?"

He hung his head.

"With Madame Leon!  No!  With whom, then?"  As he remained silent, she
added, quickly, "You do not tell me that he is alone?"

Jean burst out with "Mademoiselle--" and stopped helplessly.

"Well?"

"Mademoiselle will comprehend that when monsieur says he _will_ go--"

She looked at him from head to foot, and said in a low voice, perfectly
modulated, yet which cut like a whip:

"I have always maintained that you, Jean Charpentier, were
untrustworthy, and now I am absolutely convinced of it.  It was your
duty not to let Monsieur Raoul out of your sight, and you have suffered
him to go alone to the river--to the river!  It is a case of gross
neglect, and I shall consult with Monsieur de Beaudrillart about your
dismissal."

The boy stood staring at her, open-mouthed, water beginning to gather in
his round eyes.  He, whose family for generations past had lived and
died at Poissy; he, whose pride was to continue in the service, and whom
the other lads regarded with envy--he to be condemned as untrustworthy,
and threatened with dismissal!  And he had done his best.  It was not
his fault if he could not carry out the impossible.  All this was slowly
heaving in his mind, when a second unwelcome personage came along the
path.

She was a young lady of some four or five and twenty, tall, fair, and
almost childlike in the soft lines of her face.  Her hair was
reddish-brown, the colour which painters love; her eyes clear, hazel,
frank, steady, and true; her mouth firm, but a little large; her throat
delicately white.  She looked healthy, and carried a hat in her hand, as
if she courted sun and air, and she was walking quickly; but on seeing
Mlle.  Claire, hesitated, fearful of interrupting.  The next moment
another impulse brought her to her side, and she, too, cried eagerly to
Jean:

"But where is Monsieur Raoul?"

He was silent, and Claire answered:

"I have told Jean that, since he is not to be trusted, I shall take care
that he is not permitted to drive Monsieur Raoul any more."

"Not to be trusted!"  The new-comer had grown pale, her eyes wandered
questioningly from one face to the other, and when she repeated her
question it was in a faltering voice.  "But where is he?"

"Apparently he has gone to the river."

"To the river!  Not alone?"

Mlle.  Claire said, frigidly:

"Yes, it is inexcusable; but you may leave me to arrange matters.  Take
the carriage to the stables, Jean, without loitering by the way, and
wait there until you are sent for.  Come, Nathalie, we will go and look
for him."

Young Mme. de Beaudrillart, who had stood motionless for a moment,
raised her hand and checked Jean as he was moving off.

"Pardon, Claire, that is not the best plan; for neither you nor I know
anything.  If you will be good enough to take charge of the carriage,
the boy shall go with me and point out exactly where he lost sight of
him.  Come, Jean, at once."  And before her sister-in-law had time to
recover from the amazement into which this unusual self-assertion had
thrown her, she had walked rapidly away, followed by the reluctant Jean.
He, too, was bewildered.  In the storm of difficulty and reproach which
he foresaw, the last person by whom he wished to find himself was Mme.
Leon.  If she were even disposed to befriend him, she would be
ineffective.  He had always been tacitly encouraged to disregard her
orders, and under other circumstances would not have hesitated to do so
now.  But something strangely imperative in her tone, something so
unexpected that it had discomfited even Mlle.  Claire, completed his
degradation, and compelled him against his will to follow.  He wept, as
much for shame as fear, as he stumbled along behind the quick, firm
steps of his young mistress, and more than once when she flung him a
question as to M.  Raoul's disappearance answered so helplessly that she
turned upon him at last with sharp impatience.

"For Heaven's sake, Jean, don't be a fool!  Show me the path, and cry
when there is nothing else to be done.  Was it here?"

"No, madame," murmured Jean, astonished into obedience; "the next."

She quickened her steps almost to a run.

"And how could you allow him to go alone?  You knew, did you not, that
he was put into your charge?"

He hesitated.

"Madame sees that when Monsieur Raoul jumped out there was the pony and
the carriage to see to; and the pony began to be wicked, as he sometimes
is.  Madame de Beaudrillart would have been very much displeased if
anything had happened to the pony, and I was going as fast as I could to
fetch some one when I met Mademoiselle Claire, who stopped me to
inquire, and would hear it all--"

"Yes, I understand," said Nathalie, curbing her anguish by an effort,
though still hastening along.  "I understand perfectly, and I do not
think you were to blame."  But under her breath Jean heard her cry, "Oh,
Raoul, Raoul!"

The boy had a sudden impulse.

"If I were madame," he said, shyly, "I should have no fear.  Monsieur
Raoul is so clever, he will find his way."

He would not have ventured to offer consolation to any other of the
family, but no one stood upon ceremony with Mme.  Leon, and his
momentary awe was subsiding.  She was no longer angry, but she did not
answer, and he made no further remark until he indicated a spot on their
right.

"It was there that Monsieur Raoul went down."

Where he pointed, the shrubs, which all along grew wildly and untrimmed,
presented a still more tangled mass of underwood, so thickly matted
together that Mme.  Leon had to thrust the branches aside with her
strong young hands, pushing them to right and left, as she plunged into
their midst, Jean clipping down after her.  A soft rush of sound, which
for some time had been in their ears, resolved itself now into the cool
flow of running water, and the ground, still densely wooded, fell
precipitously, evidently forming the high bank of the stream.  Nathalie
was active and light in movement; she scarcely hesitated, though often
forced to swing by the help of flexible branches, or to scramble, as
best she could, down sandy slopes.  At the foot of the bank ran a narrow
grassy strip, fringed with a thick growth of water-plants and broad
burdock leave beyond which raced a broad river, broken here and there by
pebbly shoals, but in other places flowing deep and strong.  The first
breath of autumn was carried in the air; it was all fresh, vigorous, and
a little keen, but the beauty passed unnoticed by Mme.  Leon.  She stood
still, and, shading her eyes with her hand, looked eagerly on either
side.  Jean clambered to a little height.  "Do you see him?" she called,
anxiously.

"No, madame.  But madame will recollect that monsieur was going that
way"--pointing to his right--"to fish.  Possibly he may be there."

She thought for a moment.

"I will take that direction, and do you ran towards the bridge.  Only
make haste, and if you find him, do not leave him again, but bring him
back at once; and call as you go."

"If it were any one but Monsieur Raoul, now," the boy said to himself as
he went off, "she would not have ventured to give an order.
Mademoiselle Claire stared finely when she found herself told to take
care of the carriage.  It was good!  Madame Leon is twenty times better
than Mademoiselle Claire, who speaks as if one were a pig; but, then,
Mademoiselle Claire is one of the old Beaudrillarts, and has the right,
while Madame Leon is bourgeoise.  There's the difference.  Nobody would
mind if she _did_ speak.  Monsieur Raoul!  Hi, Monsieur Raoul!"

Nathalie, meanwhile, was walking swiftly in the opposite direction, her
eyes devouring the bank and the unfeeling river, which gave her at all
times an unconquerable dread.  The ground was rough and broken, and she
often stumbled where the long grass hid cracks and dips.  A small
out-jutting promontory for some time hid a bend of the river from her
sight.  It was covered with thin straggling bushes, which had the
appearance of hurrying helter-skelter to dip their green branches in the
water.  It was necessary to push her way through them, and her dress
would have been torn had not an unconscious instinct led her, even at
this absorbed moment, to wrap it carefully round her, and avoid the
jagged wood-splinters.  When she had crossed these obstacles, she called
to a fisherman at work some couple of hundred feet away.  "Leon, Leon!"
she cried, breathlessly.

He turned, nodded, and began deliberately to reel his line.  Before he
had finished his wife was by his side.

"Leon--Raoul!  Have you seen Raoul!"

"I?  No.  Why should I have seen him?"

"Because he got out of the carriage and made his way down to the river--
to the river--alone!  Oh, Leon!"

"He will be all right; he has sense enough," said her husband, easily.
"What was that little imbecile Jean about?"

"Dear, I can't blame him.  What was he to do?  He has been ordered never
to leave the carriage."

"Do?  He might have done something.  It is ridiculous to suppose that he
could not have prevented it.  Who gave him those orders?"

"Your mother."

"Oh, well, of course it wouldn't do for the pony to run wild.  However,
don't worry yourself; depend upon it, it's all right."  He began to hum
an air.  "I believe, after all, I will go with you, if only to keep you
quiet.  And besides the pleasure of seeing you, I am not sorry that you
have come.  Fishing is horribly stupid work all by one's self.  I was
beginning to think I was sick of it, and from the relief I feel, I am
sure.  Stop!  Where are you going?"

"Dear Leon, I am so uneasy!  You can follow."

"Heartless woman!  But I don't let you off so quietly.  Haven't I told
you that my own society fatigues me? haven't I welcomed your coming? and
yet you have the unkindness to propose to leave me!  Come, be
reasonable.  Help me with this detestable rod, which your fingers can
manage twice as well as mine, and then we go together."

But to his amazement his wife only turned her head.

"I cannot stay, Leon; I am too anxious.  Come as quickly as you can."

He stared after her as she hastened away, his face losing some of its
easy expression.  Dark, like the De Beaudrillarts, his features were
small, and their lines rounded.  He was of medium height, and broadly
made about the shoulders; his eyes were brown, and the eyebrows
straight.  He laughed readily, yet occasionally a certain haggard look,
curiously at variance with the roundness of his cheek, crept over his
face and aged it.  Now, after a momentary hesitation, he flung his rod
and basket on the ground and ran after his wife.

"Women must always have their own way at once, of course," he said, with
a touch of petulance like a child's.  "You might have waited a minute."

"Ah, forgive me, Leon!  If it had been any other time!"

The ruffle had already passed.  He smiled gayly.

"Yes, yes, that is what you all say.  However, I will own that it is not
often you are so unreasonable."

She flung him a grateful look, and asked, with an effort:

"Have you caught many fish?"

"Only three, and those I gave to old Antoine as he went by.  No one can
be expected to fish with such a sun shining on the water.  Just look at
it!"

She looked and shuddered.  By way of saying something, she remarked:

"Claire persists that old Antoine is a vaurien."

"Probably.  From what my mother remembers, I suspect his family has been
worthless for so many generations as to deserve a reward for
consistency, if for nothing else.  Claire is dreadfully down upon poor
sinners.  Must we walk as if a mad dog were at our heels!  These bushes
scratch.  They might as well be trimmed.  Do you agree?  But you are not
attending."

"Yes, indeed, Leon, I think with you.  And with your rod--but where is
your rod?"

"Left with my basket.  Your fault--you would not wait."

She half paused.

"Oh, but I am sorry, very sorry!  Your new rod!  Will it not be hurt?"

"It is extremely probable that old Antoine will find an excellent
opportunity for exercising his hereditary inclinations."

She slipped her hand in his and repeated, regretfully: "I am very sorry!
It was so good of you to let everything go that you might come with me,
for I am terribly frightened.  Where can he have hidden himself?"

"My dear child, you are becoming fussy; and if you don't check yourself,
you will develop lines in your pretty face which I should find
unendurable.  Raoul is perfectly safe."

"Do you think so!  But--the river?"

"The river--bah!"

M. de Beaudrillart was too sweet-tempered to be annoyed with his wife
for her fears, but he was conscious of a failure in the perfect sympathy
to which he was accustomed.  When his fishing happened to be
unsuccessful, Nathalie was alert to discover the reasons for failure,
and never by awkward slip set it down to want of skill.  If such a
thought knocked at his own mind, her tender touch managed to shut the
door upon the unwelcome intruder.  No matter what other affairs occupied
her, they were laid aside to give him her undivided attention, and--what
was more--to be grateful to him for asking it.  Perhaps he chose to be
unaware of the isolated position she occupied in the household, since it
had this advantage for him, that with one other he absorbed the warm
affections which were strong enough to flow far and wide, could they
have found space.  He liked the concentration.  Now, however, he felt
she had not so much as listened; for, when he had finished his relation
of a trout which had been so ill-behaved as to get away, instead of her
usual commiseration, Nathalie did not even utter a remark.  Her eyes
were fixed painfully upon the river, which raced along--iron-grey in
colour, except where the shallows broke it into bubbles--with its fringe
of broad-leaved grasses, burdocks, and flags, a vivid green line in the
midst of a somewhat dried-up country.  He would have preferred a more
leisurely stroll, but his wife's impatience kept her a pace or two in
advance, so that he was forced to exert himself in order to keep up with
her light and swift steps.  His annoyance took refuge in silence, which
she in her anxious absorption did not notice.

Presently, however, she cried: "Oh, Leon, there is the bridge!"

"Did you expect to see it anywhere else?"

Generally she was quick to detect the smallest cloud of displeasure, but
now she said only: "He might have been on it."

Leon shrugged his shoulders.

"We must cross," she said, decidedly.  "I cannot help hoping that he has
gone off to the village."

"I could have told you so much long ago.  He has gone off to the
village, and is as safe as if he were in the chateau."

"You don't know--you only think.  And if he has found him, why has not
Jean brought him back?"

"Jean is a fool.  It is all his fault," grumbled the young master.

The bridge was a slight wooden structure, flung across the broad river
for the convenience of the Beaudrillarts.  On the other side lay the
scattered cottages of a little hamlet, the apple orchards and vineyards
already spoken of; while higher up a stone bridge spanned the river,
available, as this was not, for carts and carriages.  Beyond, you saw a
white church.  The people were poor, but could hardly be miserably so in
a part of France where both soil and climate were gracious; ignorant and
uneducated, but frugal and industrious.  Most of the families had lived
in their homes longer than the longest memories stretched back, and,
with many, service with the Beaudrillarts still remained an hereditary
custom.

Nathalie, when she reached the bridge, involuntarily slackened her
steps.  Any one who watched her closely would have seen that the hand
which grasped the rail trembled, and that her eyes fastened themselves
fearfully upon the swift-flowing river beneath.  Once she cried out, and
stopped.  "Eh?  What is it?" asked Leon, advancing, startled.

"That!"  She pointed below.

"A white stone."

"Is it really a stone?  I thought it moved."

"Foolish child!  You are in a state in which you fancy anything.  You
would shock my mother."

She did not even hear him.  She moved forward step by step, her
questioning eyes still trying to pierce the secrets of the river.
Suddenly she stopped again, lifted her head, and stood motionless, her
whole face transformed by a radiant smile.

On the opposite side of the stream the path rose very slightly, and
passed before a large walnut-tree until an angle hid it from view.
Round this corner trooped a joyous procession of some eight or ten
children of all sizes, singing and shouting, headed by a little boy of
perhaps five years old, who marched in front, blowing a shrill trumpet
with much fire and precision.  When he spied Mme.  Leon he blew yet
louder, and marched more triumphantly, but before he reached her forgot
his dignity, and began to run, crying out, "Mamma, mamma!"  She opened
her arms, and he rushed into them.

For a moment she could not speak.  The dim, shadowy terrors which the
clasp of his little hands had driven out had been fuller of anguish than
she knew.  They were gone, but they left her, strong and healthy woman
as she was, shaken and trembling.  Raoul, recovering from his attack of
sentiment, struggled to get free.  The children hung shyly back, and
Jean, who had been commanded to defend the rear, pushed forward to
speak.

"Madame, he was outside Pere Robert's, beating the rappel."

Then all the other boys and girls began to laugh and whisper.

"Tiens! he said we were his soldiers."

"We were to march I don't know where.  Oh, out of France!" with a broad
sweep of arms, expressive of immensity.

"Big Lonlon was corporal."

"And he made us call him general."

They saw regretfully that the game was over, since monsieur and madame
had appeared, and scattered like a flock of sparrows, Raoul, finding
struggling of no use, watching them gravely with a small air of dignity.
His mother's heart began to beat more steadily.

"Raoul," she remonstrated, softly, "how could you run away?"

He turned his dark eyes upon her.

"Because Jean was so dull, and the river was much nicer."

"But you made poor father and mother so frightened!"

Leon interposed.

"Don't scold the child, m'amie.  It was natural enough, and just what I
used to do at his age.  I believe he has my very same old trumpet.  Yes,
yes, here's the notch which I made one day when I banged Pierre's head."

He blew a blast, at which Raoul clapped his hands and struggled.  But
the mother held him fast.

"Raoul will not run away again?"

"It was all that dolt Jean's fault," Leon put in once more.  "Jean,
hasn't madame fifty times told you not to lose sight of Monsieur Raoul?
Answer!  Come, yes, or no?  But she has, for I have heard her myself,
and you are abominably careless."

"Ah, but--monsieur knows," stammered Jean, "that--that Madame de
Beaudrillart--"

"My mother?  Well?"

"Monsieur knows she said that if I let him cry I should be punished, and
Mademoiselle Claire said I was never to leave the pony, and--"

The young man burst into a laugh.

"Conflicting orders, eh, Nathalie?  Well, you should have managed
somehow.  And look here, understand from me that it is Madame Leon who
is your mistress, and that you are always to do what she tells you.  You
comprehend?"

"Yes, monsieur," said Jean, in a doubtful tone.

"Good! then now take Monsieur Raoul to the house, and find his bonne or
somebody.  We have had quite enough of this.  My fishing spoiled and
all!  Not that I was doing much good.  Come, Nathalie, the least you can
do to make up is to come back with me after my rod.  Let that baby go;
he is not the person to scold."

"Dear Leon, he is quite old enough; he must be made to understand."

He caught her arm, and pulled her playfully away.

"Understand?  Bah! you are over-precise, cherie.  Wait a year or two,
and you shall preach at him as long as you will.  Besides, I want you,
and that is enough, or ought to be.  Now, Raoul, run; I've begged you
off this time."

She looked at her husband and hesitated; then, without another word, let
go the child and went with Leon.  Jean, looking back, saw them walking
by the side of the river, and monsieur had his hand on madame's
shoulder.

"For all that!" muttered Jean, thinking uncomfortably of Mlle.  Claire.

CHAPTER TWO.

HOW POISSY WAS SAVED.

It was true, as Jean had murmured to himself, that Mme.  Leon was by
birth bourgeoise.  As for the De Beaudrillarts, all France knew that
they belonged, not only to the noblesse, but to the oldest of the
noblesse.  Their name was ancient.  The church at Nonceaux, which at one
time stood on the estate, was full of monuments of armed and curled
Barons de Beaudrillart, lying stiffly under fretted canopies; old
documents in the library of Tours carried their names centuries back,
and their beautiful chateau was an object of interest to all the
strangers who come into the neighbourhood.

It is true that, six years ago, before Baron Leon was married, and when
he was about three-and-twenty, these same strangers remarked upon the
bad state of repair into which the chateau had fallen, pointing out that
in many of the rooms, now disused and shut up, the plaster was peeling
from the ceilings and exquisite cornices, and that other parts had
reached a state of absolute ruin; but, whatever pain this decay may have
caused to the owners, it only added to the tranquil picturesque charm
which seemed to cling to the old place.  There was a lovely pitch of
roof, and the slate, worn out as it was, had gained a rich depth as
beautiful as that of a rain-cloud, making a perfect setting for the
delicate and fantastic chimneys which sprang lightly into the air.  The
chateau was of no great size, nor could it in any way compare with those
grand historic houses of which Touraine is justly proud; but whatever
architect imagined it had been imbued with the same spirit, and had
indulged in the same grace of detail.  There was no stiffness,
apparently scarcely an attempt at symmetry; yet it would have been
difficult to detect a flaw in the harmony of form and colour.  A light
lantern turret clung to one angle, a wilful little outer staircase ran
up, quite unexpectedly, to a balcony, small ferns pierced the crevices
of the grey stone, where lizards darted in and out, here and there in
spring a rosy cyclamen appeared.  The place was never without delight,
whether seen under the warm radiance of the sun, which brought out the
lizards and intensified into sharpness the rich shadow of each bit of
carving, and every golden patch of lichen on the mellow stone, or
clothed with a more restful and sympathetic charm under the soft cloudy
half-lights of a grey day.  Behind the chateau rose a low wooded hill,
in front ran a long terrace, which separated it from the flower-beds and
a broad stretch of turf.  The kitchen-garden and the pond, where frogs
kept up a turbulent croaking, were on one side.

But the decay which may add a charm to architecture becomes dreary and
unlovely in a garden.  Six years ago the turf was uncared for, the
flowers grew untrimmed; it was evident that the fortunes of the family
were at a low ebb.  So with the interior.  The greater number of rooms
were closed, and only two or three servants remained of the many who had
been there during the lifetime of the Baron Bernard.  The Baron Bernard
had been a man of sense and integrity, highly respected in the
neighbourhood--unfortunately, he was drowned in the river at a
comparatively early age, leaving a widow; one son, Leon; two daughters,
Felicie and Claire; and a well-ordered estate.

For a few years this continued, but with Leon grown up came change.  He
was a young man with the easiest of tempers, a genuine charm of face and
manner, and the most extravagant tastes.  His mother and sisters adored,
and did their best to spoil him.  They succeeded admirably.  He began to
spend money at the earliest possible age at which a man masters that
easiest of accomplishments, and he denied himself nothing.  There had
been savings daring his boyhood; he fancied the sum inexhaustible, and
looked upon it as loose cash intended to be flung away.  It was not, it
need hardly he remarked, at Poissy that the money was spent; Paris--
Paris became the one place in the world where he cared to pass his days,
with an occasional flying visit to Poissy, where his intendant was
installed with the impossible task before him of meeting increased
expenditure upon diminishing receipts.  M.  Georges seldom saw his
employer, and then was put off by good-humoured banter.  If he carried
his tale to Mme. de Beaudrillart, she invariably treated him as the one
to blame, and would only repeat that it was natural for a young man to
enjoy himself during the early years of his life.  Money must be raised
somehow.

"In that case, madame," said little M.  Georges, as firmly as he could,
"portions of the property will have to be sold.  Monsieur le baron will
consent?"

She paused, struck with dismay.

"You mean that it is absolutely necessary?"

"I mean that no other course whatever remains--except to borrow."

"Oh, no borrowing!" returned Mme. de Beaudrillart, hastily, and M.
Georges smiled covertly, aware of M.  Leon's debts in Paris.  She walked
to the window, and came back.  "If it must be," she said, reluctantly,
"you had better dispose of some of the outlying property.  But permit me
to remark, Monsieur Georges, that it appears to me that perhaps greater
experience might have prevented such a sacrifice."

Experience had, at any rate, taught poor M.  Georges the undesirability
of entering upon an argument with Mme. de Beaudrillart.  He bowed low,
and retired to write to M.  Leon, who sent him an airy letter to the
effect that in years to come it would be easy enough to buy back
whatever their misfortunes required them to part with at the present
moment.  Mme. de Beaudrillart, whenever she encountered M.  Georges,
looked at him with displeasure; the only person from whom he received
any sympathy was Mlle.  Claire, and hers scarcely reached the point of
blaming Leon.

The first piece of property sold soon carried another with it.  Rich
vineyards and mills found immediate purchasers, and changed hands
easily.  The worst of it was that Poissy was left with land which was
not so profitable, and that the rentals became quickly reduced, while M.
Leon's expend it are did not diminish in the same proportion, for if by
fits and starts he practised a little economy, it was followed by a
reaction, as if he imagined that what he had saved gave him something
more to spend.  Debts and mortgages, like venomous spiders, crept over
poor Poissy, and, once having got it in their clutches, held it tight.
They reached this point at last, that nothing remained with which to
satisfy his creditors except the chateau itself; and when the fact
forced itself upon his mind, the shock was sufficiently great to stun
even M.  Leon.

He hurried back, and sent for M.  Georges.  In the crash of disaster he
felt as if he had been purposely kept in ignorance, forgetting the
letters which had seemed to him only the tiresome forebodings of a timid
man.  His mother, who refused to blame her son, offered up the intendant
as a scapegoat.  If he were not in fault, how could matters have arrived
at their present disastrous condition?  For what was he placed there, if
not to preserve the estates!  M.  Leon winced.

"What I complain of is that the state of affairs should not have been
forced upon me," he said, running his hands through his hair.  "Good
heavens! if I had once understood, should I have been such a fool?"

Mlle.  Claire, who was very pale, looked up.

"Did not Monsieur Georges entreat you to return, or to appoint to see
him in Paris!"

"Entreat!  He should have insisted," cried Mme. de Beaudrillart.  "If
Leon had but understood the gravity of the case, or if I had but known!
But Monsieur Georges is a man who lays infinite stress on minute points,
and fails altogether to impress you with what is important."

M.  Georges was dismissed; and this was perhaps the only deliberate
harshness Leon ever committed in his life.  Then the young baron set
himself to look into his debts, and get together the total sum; it
amounted to more than two hundred thousand francs.

"There is but one thing," said Mme. de Beaudrillart; "you must marry."

But to this Leon, who had not shown himself very scrupulous, objected.
He had no inclination, he said, to marry, and he disliked the idea of
being indebted for Poissy itself to a wife.  He would go to Paris, where
it would be hard if he could not, among quick-witted advisers, find some
means of redeeming his fortunes.  He went, and, for the first time in
his life, really worked, and with feverish energy.  He ran here and
there among his old companions, who were prodigal of sympathy, but
offered little more substantial.  It seemed impossible that he should be
unable to raise money when, throughout his prosperous days, it had been
pressed upon him.  But his eyes were sufficiently opened to perceive
that the only terms by which he could free himself from present disaster
were ruinous, and would merely serve to postpone the evil day.  As the
value of his securities decreased, a more extortionate rate of interest
was demanded.  He cursed his own folly, but could see no way out of the
quagmire into which it had plunged him.  His friends reiterated Mme. de
Beaudrillart's advice.  For the sake of rank, many a girl with a large
fortune would be ready to raise his fallen fortunes; one or two were
even pointed out to him, and their dowries dangled before his eyes.  But
he remained obstinate.

When he came to Paris there had been an idea of his seeking some
appointment, by means of which, and the strictest economy at Poissy, the
interest on his debts might be scraped together.  Unfortunately, Leon's
ideas of money were large--so large that a little seemed to him as
useless as none.  If by one great coup he might gain a considerable
sum--good!  But to add franc to franc, and painfully lessen his
obligations by scarcely perceptible payments, was economy from which his
soul revolted, and which, therefore, he contrived to persuade himself
was worthless.  It might suit the sordid little nature of a bourgeois
bonhomme, but not that of the owner of Poissy.  Something larger must be
attempted, and quickly.

Before Leon's eyes there had floated for some time the possibility of
applying to an old cousin of the family, a certain M. de Cadanet.  For
various reasons, it appeared as if he were the very person to assist
him.  Rumour credited him with an immense fortune; and, at any rate,
there could be no doubt that he had made more than one successful
speculation, among them that of marrying a rich wife, who died
childless.  Rich and solitary, what better person could be found to come
to the rescue of the De Beaudrillarts?  And there was an even stronger
reason for counting upon his good-will.  In the days when he had not
found prosperity, and was struggling to stand up against more than one
hard buffet dealt by Fortune, Leon's father had given him a helping
hand.  Perhaps without him he would have been unable to keep his
footing; certainly the support was of material service, and Leon had
some excuse for thinking that now was the moment for him to return it.

But, unfortunately, the relations between the young man and the old were
already strained.  It was not only that Leon's frivolities, Leon's
extravagances, were hateful to the cautions and clear-headed speculator,
who had made his way to wealth by dint of industry and prudence, and set
those virtues beyond all others--there was a third person whose
influence was extremely damaging to the young baron, a certain Charles
Lemaire, who had married a niece of M. de Cadanet's wife.  His uncle
credited him with the qualities he loved, and there could be no doubt
that he was cautious, and, when it suited his interests, frugal.  He
had, however, as Leon knew very well to his own cost, a passion for
gambling, and at the same time extraordinary luck.  When first the two
found themselves at the same table, they were unknown to each other, and
Charles had never got over the disagreeable shock with which he realised
that the handsome young man who lost his money so easily was cousin to
the uncle to whose solitary habits he trusted for non-detection.  From
that moment he detested him, and worked to damage his character in the
eyes of M. de Cadanet.  His follies--and Heaven knows they were many--
were repeated and exaggerated.  Each idle rumour, whether well or ill
founded, reached the old man's ears.  Rash and youthful political
utterances were spoken of with sorrowful gravity.  One or two laughing
comments upon M. de Cadanet's habits became cruel ridicule.  And with
all this M.  Charles lost no opportunity of ingratiating himself.  He
understood the subtile flattery of asking advice, and of outwardly
following it.  He deferred to his uncle in every point.  And he
contrived, at last, to make himself so necessary to M. de Cadanet that
if he stayed away he was missed and blamed.

Leon made no attempt to act as a rival.  Kind-heartedness and general
good-will inclined him to look in upon the solitary old man, and he went
once or twice to his house.  But he was received with coldness and
marked displeasure, and had pleased himself too long to endure what he
disliked.  His visits ceased.  M. de Cadanet, who claimed attention,
became more incensed.  Once or twice he asked Charles where the young
fool kept himself.

"My dear uncle, how should I know?  You do not expect me to frequent his
haunts.  And it would pain me too much to repeat to you all that I hear.
It is more charitable to shut one's ears, and to hope that the world is
mistaken."

And he pressed his hand on his pocket, where reposed the notes he had
won the night before.

On his part, Leon suspected him of enmity, but would have scorned to
retaliate; and Charles based his own assurance upon knowledge of his
character, and upon the insidious manner in which he had poisoned his
uncle's mind.

Now, however, when the waters were closing over the De Beaudrillarts,
Leon felt that the moment had come for an appeal.  Surely gratitude to
the dead man who had helped him would induce M. de Cadanet to step
forward and save his son from ruin.  Leon, whose nature was buoyantly
sanguine, made up his mind to a scolding, but saw himself coming away
with the estates saved.  As he walked along the streets, sparkling with
crisp sunshine and gaiety, his spirits rose, and the fears and torments
he had been going through fell away.  He almost laughed when he thought
of a despairing letter to his mother which he had written the night
before and had with him, and he assured himself that the postscript
which must undoubtedly be added would bring joy to Poissy.

In this hopeful frame of mind he reached M. de Cadanet's house in the
Rue du Bac, a house quiet and somewhat gloomy in appearance.  Leon
entered the porte-cochere, and passed the small office of the concierge.
He went quickly up to the first-floor, and, passing through an
austerely furnished suite of rooms, was finally ushered into one smaller
than the others, where, surrounded by books and a few indifferent
pictures, M. de Cadanet sat writing, an old man, short, bent, and with a
skin like yellow ivory.

Leon came in smiling, almost radiant.  He had succeeded in persuading
his sanguine self that he had reached the end of his difficulties, and
he had profound faith in the imperturbable good-humour which seldom
failed to charm.  He advanced with outstretched hand, coldly received by
his cousin.

"I am ashamed, count, to recall how long it is since I have been to call
on you.  Do you forgive me?"

The old man drew himself up.

"I am not aware of having expected the honour of a visit from Monsieur
de Beaudrillart."

"I accept the rebuke," said Leon, smiling frankly.  "To tell the truth,
you might have seen me oftener if I had been sure of a welcome.  But I
am afraid I have deserved my disgrace."

"Of that no one, monsieur, can judge better than yourself."

"Why monsieur?" said the young man, still smiling.  "In old days you
spoke to me as Leon; and you do not forget that we are cousins."

"One does not so easily forget one's misfortunes."

"Misfortunes!" repeated Leon, colouring.  The next moment he recovered
himself sufficiently to say good-humouredly, "Pardon me, but was it
always a misfortune, count!"

The old man glanced at him with the first touch of wavering in his face.

"You need not remind me," he said.  "I should not now be listening to
you were it not for the remembrance of your father.  But you did not
come here merely to pay a visit of ceremony to a cantankerous old
mummy?"

He emphasised the words bitterly, for, according to M.  Charles, this
title had been attached to him by Leon.  Leon stared and shrugged his
shoulders, unconscious of offence, and only anxious to propitiate his
terrible relative.

"You are right," he said, looking down and speaking more hurriedly.  "I
am here because I am in great difficulties, and because I hoped that--
that the remembrance of my father would dispose you to come to the help
of his son."

"And may I ask what has plunged you into difficulties?"

"Oh, my own folly; I don't attempt to deny it--my own folly, helped on
by a dolt of an intendant.  If I had had any idea--However, I do not
excuse myself.  I have been confoundedly extravagant, and I mean to pull
up short, I assure you.  But, after all, other young men have been in
the same position, and, with a helping hand, have managed to scramble
out of it again.  I have been up here for a week seeing what I could
do--"

"At the gaming-tables!"

"No, no, I give you my word that is over.  I have been trying to
raise--"

"How much!"

"Two hundred thousand francs," said the young man, in a low voice.

"There are money-lenders enough in Paris," remarked M. de Cadanet,
dryly.

"But with the securities I can offer, their terms are ruinous.  If I
were to accept them, Poissy would have to go.  Judge for yourself
whether this would not break my mother's heart."

"I have not the honour of the acquaintance of Madame de Beaudrillart."

Leon did not answer at once.  He was framing a more direct appeal.

"The estate must right itself in time," he said, hopefully, "and if I
could induce you to take the matter into consideration, and to advance
me the money--"

He paused.  M. de Cadanet turned towards his writing-table, unlocked a
drawer, and drew out a cheque-book.

"You said, I think, two hundred thousand!" he asked, beginning to fill
it in.

"Two hundred thousand," repeated the young man, joyfully, without an
attempt to conceal the exultation with which he watched the proceeding.
All had gone more easily than his most sanguine expectations had
ventured to suggest, and he was amazed at his own folly in having
hesitated to apply to his rich cousin, whose bark, after all, was worse
than his bite.  M. de Cadanet's movements were deliberate in the
extreme.  He wrote a cheque, folded it, and sought for an envelope of
the right size.  This found, he proceeded to direct it.  Leon smiled to
himself.  "An unnecessary formality," he thought; "but I had better hold
my tongue, and let him please himself as to his way of doing."  It
seemed to him, however, that the moment had come when he might express
his gratitude, and he was beginning to stammer a few words, when M. de
Cadanet put up his hand.

"One moment, monsieur.  Allow me to explain.  Neither the honour of this
visit nor the particulars with which you have favoured me have taken me
by surprise.  I have already given the affairs of Poissy my best
consideration."

Leon nodded cheerfully.  This explained.

"And I have arrived at the conclusion that since the Beaudrillart family
has reached the point indicated by you, it must be decreed that it
should pass the remainder of its existence without a chateau.  Heaven
forbid that I should attempt to fight against fate!"

The scorn of his words stung like a lash.  Leon, bewildered and
astonished, turned white.  He murmured something which the old count
interrupted with a sudden outburst of passion.

"What, monsieur!  You squander your birthright on miserable follies, you
drag the name you profess to honour into the lowest depths, and then
come to beg--yes, monsieur, I repeat it, to beg--from those whose advice
you have scorned, and whose character you have calumniated!  No.  I give
you my word--a word which, however strange it may appear to you, has
never yet been broken--that, in whatever straits you find yourself, I
will not so much as lift my little finger to help you, nor fling a penny
to keep you from starving.  Understand that, if you had become poor by
honest misfortunes, I would have set you again on your legs.  You have
had your chance.  I would not trust mere report, though to those who
were acquainted with your habits it appeared only too probable.  Close
and searching inquiries have been made, and it is possible that I know
more of your affairs than you know yourself--certainly more than you
have permitted me to hear from you to-day."

Leon sprang to his feet.

"Enough, monsieur!" he cried.  "You have a right to refuse assistance,
but none to insult me.  If you have employed spies to search into my
private affairs, you have taken an unwarrantable liberty, upon which you
would not have ventured had you been of an age for me to retaliate.
Much of what you say is incomprehensible to me; a little more might
cause me to forget the respect due to your years."

"Spare me theatrical language, monsieur; and, as you have forced
yourself upon me, be good enough to listen to what I have to tell you.
This letter contains an order for two hundred thousand francs."

Against his will, the young man's eyes turned greedily towards it.

"Are you not inclined to add to your accomplishments by robbery and
murder?" sneered M. de Cadanet.

"If I had the chance, I should be glad to get hold of the money," said
the young man, lightly.  His anger burned out as quickly as dry straw,
and the other, who had not expected this frank answer, stared and went
on:

"When I gave myself the annoyance of looking into your affairs, I
resolved that, if you came out of the ordeal acquitted, I would apply
the earn to their settlement; if you failed, it should go to--another
person."

Leon laughed.  The count, who had not the young man's command of temper,
became furious.

"You laugh, monsieur!  Let those laugh who win."

"Exactly," said M. de Beaudrillart, coolly.  "And who wins?  The
admirable Charles?"

"Yes, monsieur!" thundered the count.  "He whom you are pleased to sneer
at as the admirable Charles, and who, if not a Beaudrillart, has shown
himself to be what is better--an honourable man.  You follow me?"

"Perfectly.  You express yourself with unmistakable clearness.  So
Monsieur Charles is to have the money!"

"And will make a worthy use of it.  He may find more follow."

"I comprehend," said Leon, still smiling.  "Under the circumstances, you
are doubtless anxious to despatch your letter to Monsieur Charles.  Can
I post it for you?"

It was M. de Cadanet's turn to laugh--gratingly.

"Permit me to prefer a safer messenger.  My cheque is payable to
bearer."

"Then I have the honour to wish you good-day."

"Go.  And understand, once for all, that should you apply to me again,
you will not be admitted."

"Do not fear, monsieur.  The impression I take with me is not so
agreeable that I should wish to renew it."

And with this last word M. de Beaudrillart found himself outside the
room.

He went slowly down-stairs, the smile still lingering mechanically on
his lips, but something like despair in his heart.  So far as he could
see, but one way presented itself out of his troubles, and this would
only affect himself, and leave his mother, whom he loved, with added
misery in her heart.  No misfortune would touch her, he knew, so nearly
as his death, and if he had the cowardice to be ready to slip out of his
troubles by self-murder, he had not the cruelty to inflict such anguish
upon her.  Besides, another reflection, not so amiable, restrained him.
M. de Cadanet had hinted at coming gifts for M.  Charles, and the
thought had flashed upon him with the force of intuition that it was not
improbable, should the mortgages be foreclosed, for the count to get
hold of Poissy and present it to M.  Charles.  Now, without knowing all
the mischief that he had worked, Leon hated M.  Charles.  His hate was
not virulent, but it was impulsive; and although he had no proof, he
strongly suspected who had brought an exaggerated report of his follies
to M. de Cadanet's ears.  He might have retaliated, but that he would
never stoop to such a course, and he reflected with a laugh that, if
Charles was convicted of gambling, he would be ready with the excuse
that he had gone there to watch himself.  But Charles at Poissy!
Charles a successor of the De Beaudrillarts!  Leon ground his teeth, and
felt that he must remain alive while a hope of baffling such a disaster
was left.

Again he passed the little room of the concierge.  Andre, who was
something of a gourmand, was within at work upon cooking a fish, and
looked up to salute M.  Leon.  In another moment the high green gates
had closed behind the young baron, and he was walking along the street.

The sun was shining.  Paris--the Paris he loved, the Paris which had
proved herself so fatal a rival to Poissy--had never looked more
smiling; there was neither fog nor chill in the air; but everywhere
bright keen colours, people chatting, shops brightly dressed, women in
their white caps, carriages rolling along.  Gay, yet with a touch of
hardness.  For the first time in his life Leon became conscious of the
hardness.

He knew himself now to be absolutely without resource; turn which way he
would, rack ready wits as he might, no road suggested itself except,
perhaps, marriage.  And, strangely enough, as has been said, this man,
who, young as he was, had few ideals left, had this, that he shrank from
mending his broken fortunes by a marriage for money.  True, it was
common, almost universal.  True, in matters relating to his own ease and
comfort, selfishness generally became paramount.  True, this fancy
contradicted other characteristics.  The fact remained that he hated the
idea, and refused to entertain it, even in this moment of despair, when
he had entertained others which seemed worse, when he acknowledged that
M. de Cadanet had been rash in letting him see the cheque, and that if
it had been M.  Charles who had stood there between it and him--

He took an open letter from his pocket, and groaned as he closed it, so
that a woman who was passing looked round; but seeing only a handsome
young man with a cheek as round as a child's, she smiled and went on.
The letter was addressed to Mme. de Beaudrillart, at Poissy, and had
been brought with him with the hope that an added postscript might have
told of some happy turn of Fortune's wheel.  Now it must go as it stood,
messenger of ill-tidings.

"Monsieur le baron has not got far."

Leon looked hastily round; Andre the concierge was by his side.  His
first wild thought was that M. de Cadanet had relented and sent after
him, the next moment his eye fell upon a packet of letters which the man
carried, and he was seized with longing to know whether the letter
addressed to M.  Charles was among them.  His genial manner made him a
favourite with servants.

"Ah, Andre," he said; "you have there monsieur le comte's letters?"

"As monsieur le baron sees."

"Permit me to glance at them.  I wish to see whether one of which he
spoke is there."

They were in his hand even before he had finished speaking--four.  Yes;
the address to M.  Charles Lemaire stared him in the face.  The next
moment the concierge had four letters again, but one of the four was
addressed to Mme. de Beaudrillart, at Poissy.

"Thanks, Andre."  M.  Leon burst into a laugh, and tossed the man a
piece of twenty sous.  "Tell monsieur le comte--No; tell him nothing; I
will write."

That evening M. de Cadanet received a letter:

"My Cousin,--I have taken the liberty of borrowing the sum which you had
so thoughtfully prepared for Monsieur Charles.  It would have been
better for him if you had accepted my offer to post your letter; as you
declined to trust me, I had no scruple in exchanging it for another
which found itself in my hand at the exact moment.  Do not blame your
messenger, who is quite unaware of the transaction.  By my writing to
you, you will perceive that I have no intention of denying what I have
done.  It is in your power to have me arrested.  You know where to find
me, and I will remain in Paris for two days, so as to avoid the pain to
my family of a scandal at Poissy.  Permit me, however, to point out that
I have only taken the money as a loan, that it will be returned to you
by instalments, and with interest, though, I fear, slowly, and that you
may find it more advantageous to allow the matter to rest than to ruin
one who, however unworthy, is the son of the man to whom you were
certainly indebted for your prosperity."

It must be owned that this was a strange letter to write and to receive.
The answer that came back was brief:

  "Monsieur,--You have confirmed me in my judgment.  I preserve your
  letter.  For the present I hold my hand; when the time arrives I shall
  know how to act.

  "Martin de Cadanet."

CHAPTER THREE.

THE HOUSEHOLD AT POISSY.

The letter which arrived at Poissy came with all the force of a shock to
Mme. de Beaudrillart and her daughters.  It was true that they were well
aware that an evil menaced, but it appeared inconceivable that it should
have arrived.  Leon had assured them that something would turn up; he
was confident that Paris must offer a means of evading the worst, and,
indeed, in all that he had said had temporised, excused himself, and
hinted at unforeseen misfortune.  M.  Georges, indeed, had spoken more
plainly to Mlle.  Claire, but his words had been indignantly scouted by
Mme. de Beaudrillart.  Even now, when Leon had taken refuge in a letter
which might break the worst in his absence, and spare him the pain of
seeing, not reproachful looks, but tears, they refused to face the crash
as inevitable.  That the De Beaudrillart home should pass from the De
Beaudrillarts was absolutely out of the question.  That Leon's
extravagance had brought about even threat of such disaster immediately
required extenuating words, and a laying of blame on any shoulders
except his.  Of the three, Claire was the only one who permitted a tinge
of bitterness to creep, now and then, into her words.

"My poor boy!" cried Mme. de Beaudrillart, with tears in her eyes; "if
this is hard for us, what must he not have suffered?  Of course the
affair will arrange itself somehow--Heaven forbid that I should be so
faithless as to doubt it!--but the annoyance, the anxiety!  Well, it is
only another proof, if proof were wanted, of the incompetency of that
Monsieur Georges.  If Leon had not been so tender-hearted he would have
sent him away long ago."

"I wonder if it would have really made any difference?" remarked
Felicie, her eldest daughter, looking up from the altar-linen she was
embroidering.  She was near-sighted, and had to stoop very much to bring
her work within range of her eyes, but she would not be persuaded to
wear spectacles.

"We should remember, however, that Monsieur Georges constantly implored
Leon to pay a closer attention to his affairs.  I must say, I think it
is unjust to blame the poor man," said Claire, sharply.

"Then you must blame your brother, which would be far more unjust," said
her mother, with decision.  "For what is an intendant engaged?  Until
this moment, I have always been under the impression it was that he
might look after the estates, and avert the possibility of such a
humiliating position as that in which our poor Leon now finds himself."

"It is certain that Leon must have been terribly extravagant," persisted
Mlle.  Claire.

"Oh, extravagant, extravagant!--I dare say.  How can you, a woman, with
every want provided for, and with absolutely no temptation to spend
money--how can you possibly judge of the difficulties of a young man in
Paris?  A young man, too, such as Leon, impulsive, generous,
attractive."  Claire agreed.  "Yes, he is very attractive."

"And very generous," added Felicie, looking up again, and holding her
needle in the air.  "When I spoke to him the other day about the
pilgrimage, he told me we might count on him for fifty francs.  Now
Madame de Montbreuil assured me with tears that her husband would give
no more than twenty."

"Ah, and it is that generosity of his of which people take advantage,"
said his mother.  "If we knew all the truth, which you may be sure he
will never permit us to learn, I am certain we should find some
kind-hearted action at the bottom of this trouble.  He has come to the
rescue of a friend, or helped a poor struggling creature, and been
dragged in himself, poor fellow!  As for the old count, I shall never
forgive him.  He must have guessed how disagreeable it was to Leon to be
forced to apply to him for assistance; and after his indebtedness to
your father, the least, the very least he could do, was to have helped
him liberally, and to have rejoiced at the opportunity."

Mme. de Beaudrillart had a white face, an aquiline nose, and pinched
lips--the features of a shrewd woman who would hold her own.  She had
little compassion for shortcomings, and never failed to point them out--
perhaps to compensate for her blind adulation of her son.  A large
photograph of him stood on the table; she took it up, and carried it to
the window, gazing at it fondly.

"I suppose it is difficult for such a boy as Leon to avoid spending
money in a place with so many temptations as Paris," Claire remarked, in
a low tone.  She was like her mother, but her face was more sallow and
sharper.

"I don't like you to speak as if this trouble were poor Leon's fault,"
said Felicie, in her thin, gentle voice.

Claire began to laugh.

"Whose, then?  Yours or mine?  I have not spent a penny for a month, so
I cannot feel that I am responsible; and though you are disposed to be
extravagant for the Church--"

"That is only one's duty."

"As you like, ma chere.  I was going to add that you had no money to
give, so that we can hardly lay our ruin at your door.  Who is there but
Leon?"

"Our mother thinks he has met with some misfortune."

"Bah!" said Claire, under her breath.  "It is no misfortune.  I love
Leon as well as you love him, but I can see his faults.  He is no saint.
This is his doing, and his only.  He has squandered his money, and in
bad ways."

"What bad ways?" asked her sister, with wide-open eyes.  "If I were to
tell you, you would be shocked."

"You can't know!"

"Do I not?  Leon is horribly careless, and if you were to see some of
the photographs and letters he leaves scattered about his room, you
would acknowledge that I know what I am talking about."

Felicie thrust her fingers into her ears, and a flush rose in her thin
cheek.

"Hush, hush, Claire!" she cried.  "It is a sin to speak of such things!
It is a sin even to listen to you!"

"Oh, I mean to be vielle fille, and privileged," said Claire, with a
laugh.  "I could not go about the world with my eyes shut, as you do.
Do you really believe it to be rose-coloured?"

Mme. de Beaudrillart crossed the room from the window, where she had
been standing.

"What are you talking about, children?" she demanded.

"Claire says such things," murmured Felicie, resuming her work.  "It is
shocking!"

"Felicie is a baby," remarked the younger sister, contemptuously.

"Hush, hush!  I have often desired you, Claire, to be more careful in
what you repeat before your sister.  And I am surprised you can think of
anything but this anxiety of poor Leon's.  I have been turning the
matter over and over."

"Have you decided on anything?"

"I will tell you.  Of course, what he appears to dread cannot happen.
It is impossible to conceive the idea of Poissy passing from the
family."

"Impossible!"  Claire repeated the word with emphasis.

"But it is our duty to make all the sacrifices we can.  We must
economise more strictly."

"Oh, certainly, mamma," said Felicie, cheerfully.  "If you remember, in
the last address which we had from the abbe, he counselled us to cast
away superfluous luxuries.  And here is our opportunity.  It seems quite
a coincidence."

Mme. de Beaudrillart nodded, waiting for her other daughter to speak.
Claire lifted her head and glanced round the room.

"I wish the coincidence had not arrived," she said.  "I am ready to do
anything that is suggested; but I own I hardly see what we have which
can be called superfluous."  Her mother folded her thin white hands in
her lap.

"We must do with fewer servants," she said.

"I suppose so," Claire assented, doubtfully.  "Which will you dismiss?
Francois is the least necessary."

"To us, but not to Leon.  No; I have been reflecting, and I believe we
can dispense with Rose-Marie.  You are both active, and I, I thank
Heaven, not yet infirm, so that between us, with old Nanon and Jacques
Charpentier to help, we shall very well be able to manage the
house-work."

"Mamma," gasped Felicie, with anguish in her voice, "I have just
remembered the most terrible thing!"

"What, then?"

"I told you just now that Leon promised me fifty francs for our
pilgrimage."

"Well, he cannot give it," said Claire, hastily.

"But consider!  The money is already consecrated--"

"How!"

"Oh, in his own mind; and they have even told his Grandeur.  If he
withdraws the offer, will it not be sacrilege?"

"Whatever it may be," her sister declared, "I am certain you will not
see your fifty francs."

"Oh, Claire, don't say so!  It is the most terrible position!  A promise
to the Church is as sacred as a vow--it must be kept, at whatever cost;
and if Leon withdraws it, I shall never again have a moment's peace!  I
am ready to make any sacrifices, but this is too unendurable!"

It was quite true that she was shaken by the mere possibility--far more
shaken than she had been by the news the post had brought.  She began
her lament again, almost in tears: "It would be a sin."

"If Leon has not the money, how can he give it?" demanded her sister,
looking at her with pitying scorn.  She accepted the fact that Felicie,
being devote, must be allowed to go certain lengths; but she thought her
eagerness childish, and turned to her mother.  "What else can we think
of?  It is so difficult to economise when already we have cut down our
expenses to their very lowest."

"Not quite to their lowest.  We must counter-order my winter cloak and
your dresses.  Write to Tours at once, Claire."

"Your cloak!" repeated her daughter, depreciatingly.  "Is that
necessary?  You suffer so much from the cold, and the old one is so
thin!"

"It cannot be helped."  Mme. de Beaudrillart spoke with sharp
impatience.  "I am quite aware of what you say; but if Monsieur Georges
and the other men have ruined Leon, we must take our share in his
suffering."

"Poor Monsieur Georges!  I really believe he did his utmost for the
property."

"Do not talk of what you do not understand," said her mother, coldly.
"What do you know about business matters?  You might judge from the
results."

Claire, however, persisted.

"I am certain he was not dishonest."

"If he was not dishonest, he was a fool, which is as dangerous."

"Shall you write to our poor Leon to-day, mamma?" asked Felicie, turning
tear-laden eyes towards her.

"Certainly.  He will expect it.  Dear fellow, I shall tell him that we
are ready to make every possible effort, every sacrifice, and implore
him not to afflict himself, because there can be no doubt that something
will be arranged."

"But you will not say anything against the pilgrimage?"

"Felicie, you are too foolish with your pilgrimages!"  Claire was
beginning, impatiently, when Mme. de Beaudrillart stopped her.

"Do not vex your sister.  It is very certain that we want all the
prayers and the help we can have, and perhaps--" Suddenly she flung up
her hands and clasped her head.  "Oh, Leon, my poor Leon!  To lose
Poissy!"

This little action in one hitherto so confident gave her daughters a
shock; they seemed for the first time to realise the full force of the
disaster hanging over their family, and to comprehend that it was close
at hand.  Claire stood up right, her face hard and set; Felicie pushed
away her embroidery-frame, and broke into sobs.  But the next moment
Mme. de Beaudrillart's strong will reasserted itself, and she lifted her
head rigidly.

"This is weak," she said.  "Felicie, go on with your work.  Claire, send
Rose-Marie to my room, and see whether Pierre has called for the
letters.  Do not on any account allow him to leave without mine."

All that day the sisters talked together; if without much sympathy, yet
with that certain amount which a close tie of relationship must bring in
such a crisis.  Their mother remained absolutely silent.  She took up
one thing after another, and laid each down with restless unquiet; more
than once walked without apparent purpose to the window, and stood
mutely looking out.  Poissy had never been fuller of charm.  Young
spring was at work beautifying the old chateau; a sweet, clear sunlight
fell upon the delicate turret, and flung light shadows along the open
stone-work with which it was fretted.  Over a doorway was carved the
Beaudrillart escutcheon, and a slender tuft of grass waved audaciously
from a crevice above.  If, as she looked, there was agony in Mme. de
Beaudrillart's heart, she made no sign.  Only Claire noticed how tightly
her hands were locked together and her lips compressed; but even Claire,
whose feelings most resembled hers, dared not touch again upon the
subject near all their hearts, although there was more than one question
which she longed to have answered.  Visitors came, and she received them
as usual--even talking undauntedly of certain improvements which her son
contemplated making about the chateau.

"Monsieur de Beaudrillart does not, however, spend much time here?"
asked one lady, curiously.  Like others in the neighbourhood, she had
heard rumours, and her visit was in a great measure due to a desire to
know how much was true.  "Apparently he finds it dull?"

"I hope we may see more of him in the future," returned the mother,
looking at her without shrinking.

"I am glad of it; he is always so pleasant!  What can we do to keep him?
I said to my husband that his family should persuade him to marry, for
nowadays there are always plenty of girls going about with really fine
fortunes; and he need not be particular as to family," she added, with a
laugh.  "He, if any one, could afford a roturier for his father-in-law."

"I agree with you," said Mme. de Beaudrillart, calmly; "but I am afraid
that a fortune has no attraction for Leon.  He is unlike other young
men, for he was born with romantic ideas, and I, for one, cannot wish it
to be otherwise."

"She could hardly have been so cool if all we have heard is true," said
Mme. de la Ferraye to her husband, as they drove away.  "She talked of
his return, and even of improvements to the estate.  I cannot believe
the rumour.  It is incredible!"

"She is a strong woman; but it is true, for all that."

"Then what _can_ he do?  He is not the man to be chosen for any public
appointment."

"No.  He is clever enough, but his education has taught him nothing
beyond the classics, and he has no habits of industry."

Mme. de la Ferraye shrugged her pretty shoulders.

"As I told his mother, he must marry--there is nothing else for it.  Let
us find him a wife, Gaspard, though, Heaven knows, I pity the poor girl
who has that will of iron for a mother-in-law!"

"Or Leon de Beaudrillart for a husband."

"No, no; now you are too hard, and you will never get me to agree with
you.  There is something so fascinating and charming about him, that I
am convinced he would make his wife very happy."

"If she were content to keep her eyes shut."

"Well, she would be.  Trust me, Gaspard, Leon's wife, whoever she was,
would believe nothing against him."

"In that case--"

While the La Ferrayes were taking leave, Mme. de Beaudrillart stood
rigidly unbending; but as soon as they were gone she hurriedly left the
room.

"Poor mamma!" cried Felicie, her eyes filling with ready tears.

"That woman came from curiosity," Claire said, pacing up and down
indignantly; "she has heard something, and meant to worm it out of us.
It is too horrible that Leon's affairs should be the common gossip of
the country!"

"Claire," faltered her sister.

"Well?"

"Do you--do you think it even possible that we might have to--to leave
Poissy?"

"Monsieur Georges feared it long ago.  But I cannot believe it," said
Claire, clinching her hands.  "Poissy without a Beaudrillart!  No--it
will not be permitted!"

"Heaven will not interfere if Leon fails in his promises to the Church,"
sobbed Felicie.  With her the family will, not so openly apparent, took
refuge in a gentle obstinacy, which was perhaps more irritating.  "I
believe these misfortunes are sent as a chastisement for my having
listened to you, and not left the world when Pere Roget spoke to me
about it.  I am certain that I had a vocation, and then what might I not
have gained for Leon!  I wonder where we shall live?  In Tours?  Imagine
losing the Abbe Nisard as one's director!"

"Oh, be quiet, Felicie, or you will drive me mad!  How can you think,
how can you talk, of these horrible possibilities?  Something must be
done.  If only I were a man!"

"Why?" asked her sister, opening her eyes.

"Because I would work, fight, starve!"

She walked swiftly up and down the room like some caged creature.

"Leon is a man, and it doesn't seem that he can do anything."

"No, but _I_ would!" cried Claire, flinging back her head.  "If I could
only be out in the world, you would see that I should not allow myself
to be beaten!"

Felicie shuddered.

"That terrible world.  I give constant thanks that I am not forced into
it.  It is wicked of you, Claire, even to wish to be there; for what
would become of you in all its temptations?"

"I should get through them somehow, like other people, I suppose," said
the younger sister, recklessly.  "You and I are different, Felicie.  I
do not profess to be devote.  All your good little fripperies would
weary me--oh, weary me to death!  I could not ask permission from the
abbe as to every book I read, almost as to every word I spoke, nor,
though there is time enough on one's hands, Heaven knows, spend it in
collecting money from the peasants, or in working banners.  I should
hate a convent, unless--perhaps--I were Mother Superior."

"Yes, we are different," Felicie placidly agreed.  "I am happy to be
directed."

Claire looked at her with a short laugh.

"And yet, my dear, you like your own way, and generally get it."

Felicie took no notice of the criticism, merely remarking, with a sigh:

"Without Rose-Marie we shall have a great deal to do, and I only hope my
other duties will not suffer.  I shall draw up a little paper and
arrange my time.  Poor Rose-Marie!  What a grief for her!"

"For her!  A servant!  Do you understand what lies before us--us
Beaudrillarts?"

Claire's tone was tense and sharp.  Felicie sighed again and cried a
little, taking care not to drop a tear upon her work.  She had charge of
the ecclesiastical vestments of the parish, and was almost as proud of
them as of the Beaudrillart blood.

The next day all was joy at Poissy.  Leon wrote briefly, merely saying
that he had managed to raise the full sum of money by a loan.  He would
thus be able to consolidate his debts, and have one creditor in place of
many.

"It is true,"--this was what he wrote--"that the loan must be repaid,
but for this purpose look forward, dear mother, to a change in all my
habits.  I am going to renounce wandering, and to spend my time at
Poissy, cease to play the fool, farm, economise, reform--Heaven knows
what admirable paths do not stretch themselves before me!  You will make
them so charming that I shall not regret Paris, and I shall be so
changed that you will forget your troublesome son, and fall in love with
a new, a whitewashed, Leon, at whom, if only the past is merciful, no
one will dare fling a stone."

"Ah, my dear one!" cried Mme. de Beaudrillart, passionately kissing the
letter.

"Tell Felicie I mean to redeem my promise, and she shall have a hundred
francs instead of fifty for her do--" If he had been going to write
dolls, he scratched out the irreverent word and substituted
"decorations.  I return to-morrow, or so I hope; but, come what may,
rejoice, dear mother, that Poissy is spared to us."

If there were one or two slightly enigmatical expressions in his letter,
the mother did not notice them; nor even to her daughters did she show
outward signs of exultation.  She announced the change to them by
saying, calmly:

"It is as I expected: Leon has arranged matters; but we must still
economise strictly."

Felicie went about with clasped hands and a radiant face, enchanted with
her hundred francs.  Claire's features seemed to have grown a little
sharper, and her voice more haughty, that was all; and so the cloud
rolled off.

Leon came home.  He looked ill; but, then, as Mme. de Beaudrillart said,
he had been sadly harassed.  She was a little disappointed that he did
not communicate more particulars of the interview with M. de Cadanet,
for on this point, although he generally talked very freely, he was
reticent.

After all, as she told herself, what did it matter?

CHAPTER FOUR.

NATHALIE.

Young M. de Beaudrillart was as good as his word.  In her wildest dreams
even his mother--whose hopes had undergone many deaths and many
resurrections--had not ventured to picture him so content to remain in
the quiet of the provinces as he proved himself.  Whatever distaste he
felt, very few outward signs betrayed it.  An easy temper came to his
help, and carried him lightly over rough places.  He applied himself to
looking into his affairs, a work which the unlucky M.  Georges had long
and vainly urged, and he showed a somewhat unexpected aptitude for
business matters.  He made no protests--beyond an occasionally wry
face--against the strict economies of the household, and, to Felicie's
unbounded delight, not only refrained from mocking her pious works, but
more than once gave her unexpected assistance.  To the women it appeared
as if golden days had begun, only Claire felt that here was the fruit of
M.  Georges' prudent counsels, and thought it hard that M.  Georges
himself should remain under undeserved obloquy.  Perhaps these few
months were the happiest Mme. de Beaudrillart had ever known.  Her
belief in her son was justified--more than justified--and she looked the
world proudly in the face.

Then Leon made another step in the path of surprises, and fell in love.
As has been already remarked, a rich marriage had seemed the easiest way
out of his difficulties, and again and again had been suggested to him,
not only by his mother, but by his boon companions.  Fortunes were
dangled temptingly before his eyes, and he would none of them.  Some
strange scruple--strange, at least, in the man--some mastering
sentiment, had rooted itself so deeply in his heart that it was not to
be disposed of.  It was the noblest thing there, and it was sighed over
and laughed at, as first one, then another, tried their hand at
eradication.  Leon would not give it up.  He declined to marry for
anything short of love, and he had persuaded himself that he should
never know what that meant, when he accidentally caught sight of a tall,
fair, innocent-faced girl, with red-brown hair, and, once seen, would
not rest until he had contrived to hear her speak and to learn her name.
Then he went home and implored his mother to make the necessary
advances.

Mme. de Beaudrillart yielded with scarcely a word, and yet the pang to
her was great.  She had been prepared for, had even urged upon her son,
a sacrifice to mammon in the shape of a wife of inferior birth and large
wealth.  If such a one had been chosen in Paris she would hardly have
sighed; but it was a different matter to be asked to accept a roturiere
at their very doors.  The wrong to the De Beaudrillarts became
infinitely more insulting, and though, as has been said, strong
common-sense led her immediately to grasp the advantage and to yield, it
was tolerably certain that she would never forgive the offender.

She spoke of it, however, to her daughters calmly one morning as they
were walking home from mass.--Felicie anxiously inquired for her
brother, who occasionally, though rarely, accompanied them, and was told
that he had driven that morning into Tours.

"To Tours?  And so early!"

"He finds himself very often in Tours of late," remarked Claire,
significantly.

"He will have been at mass at the cathedral."

"There is some one, then, whom he wishes to see?"  Claire continued.
"Does he think of marrying?"

Felicie cried out: "Claire, how you talk!"

"Your brother has different notions from other young men," said Mme. de
Beaudrillart, speaking, as her younger daughter detected, with an
effort.  "You are correct in supposing that he has an idea of marriage,
and I am sure he is right.  Good-morning, Martine.  I did not see your
eldest son at mass."

"No, madame," said the old woman, sadly; "he has come back from his
soldiering saying things which would have made his father's hair stand
on end; and though I tell him that, even if matters are as his clever
friends tell him, there's always a chance that he will find Monsieur
Abbe right after all, and then he will wish he had taken the precaution
of going to mass, he won't listen."

"That is very bad," said Mme. de Beaudrillart, gravely.  "You should not
have him at home with the others, Martine."

"Ah, madame, he is my son, and the good God gave him to me!"

"That is true; but I am afraid you are weak with him.  Well, I will
speak to Monsieur Nisard, and he will talk to Jacques."

She moved on, and Claire cried, eagerly: "Mamma, I am dying of
impatience!  Of whom is Leon thinking?"

"The young lady is Mademoiselle Bourget."

"Mademoiselle Bourget!" exclaimed Claire, stupefied.  "But--you do not
mean the daughter of Monsieur Bourget, at Tours?"

"Precisely."

"Leon!  A Beaudrillart marry a Tours bourgeoise!"

"Is the idea so new to you?" demanded her mother, coldly.  "For myself,
I am satisfied.  Poor Leon's misfortunes have brought him many trials.
With this marriage he will be able to pay off debts which otherwise
would have hung round his neck for years, and be relieved from some of
the privations which he has borne so nobly.  Reflect whether it is not
so."  Mlle.  Claire marched towards the bridge, upright and frowning.
It was Felicie who broke into gasping protestations.

"But you do not mean that terrible radical of a man who opposes all that
is good and holy in the neighbourhood!  Mamma, impossible!  Say that it
is impossible!"

"I believe that he is a radical."

"An enemy of the Church."

"That is not inconceivable.  Hush, Felicie, and submit yourself to the
inevitable.  If Leon has resolved to marry the girl, he will do it."

"Oh," moaned her daughter, "why was any one so cruel as to mention her
to him?"

Mme. de Beaudrillart was silent.  To have told Felicie that Nathalie was
Leon's own choice would have shocked her further; and while detesting
the proposed marriage more than either of her daughters, the task of
reconciling them to it caused her sharp impatience.  Nor were her
prejudices without excuse.

M.  Bourget was a retired builder, who, by dint of extreme sagacity and
small economies, had contrived to amass a large fortune.  It should be
said at once that no suspicion of dishonesty had touched his name.  It
was popularly believed that he had never been known to forego an
advantage or to condone a debt; but this reputation did him no harm in
the eyes of those who had not felt his grasp, and the town was inclined
to be proud of its shrewd citizen, the more so as he was never so happy
as when he was in the thick of battle, where it is but doing him bare
justice to allow that he seldom permitted himself to be beaten.  He
fought municipal authorities, he fought the arrondissement, he fought
deputies and bishops, with equal delight and success, until his name had
become in certain quarters a thing of terror.  Radical and republican,
it was considered extremely probable that he would put himself forward
as a candidate for the Conseil-General, and if he did, it was owned with
a shudder that he would certainly carry his election.  Perhaps, had Leon
known from the first that the girl he one day noticed on her way from
the cathedral was the daughter of old Bourget, he would have shut his
heart to her image; but by the time he made the discovery it was
installed.

The incident of their meeting was of the slightest.  A little child had
fallen down, and Nathalie, walking swiftly and firmly across the open
space in front of the great church, an old woman for her companion, ran
to pick him up.  Struck by something frank and noble in her bearing,
Leon pleased himself by stopping to assist her.  At first Nathalie,
whose thoughts were concentrated upon the child, scarcely glanced at
him, but when the small victim was found to be practically unhurt, she
looked full in his face with a smile and a frank directness which
delighted him.  He was not a bad judge of expression, and in hers he
read certain qualities which he might not have been expected to
appreciate, but which attracted him as much as if he had been a better
man.  He did not rest until he had found out all about her, and
contriving more than once to get sight of her, commissioned a friend to
make the necessary advances.

His suit was not so certain to be successful as he and Mme. de
Beaudrillart supposed.  But for one point in the old builder's
character, it might even have been violently rejected.  The point was
one which he shared with a large number of mercantile Frenchmen,
republican or not, and it consisted in an inordinate craving to see his
family become noble.  He would not follow the example of many of his
neighbours: adopt the _de_, and trust to time and custom riveting the
distinction; but he desired it for his child with an intensity which
became all the stronger because he was ashamed to admit it openly.  When
overtures reached him from Leon de Beaudrillart, he hesitated, knowing
that rumour had been unpleasantly busy with his name.  But--a De
Beaudrillart!  The temptation was irresistible.  His affection for his
daughter had woven itself into the strongest resolution of his life--a
determination that she should be received into an aristocracy which he
ran down in word and worshipped in heart.  It was the strongest and the
most difficult; the more reason for his stubborn will to carry it.

For many years it had been a bitter disappointment to him that he had no
son, but by the time his wife died all his affections and all his
ambitions had become centred in Nathalie, and he felt that if he could
but see her married as he desired, the struggles and privations of his
life would be amply repaid.  For this end, as for his other ends, he
worked shrewdly.  From the first, and while still pinching himself in
many ways, he had given her an excellent education at a convent.
Nothing so much irritated him as extravagance, but he was almost
displeased with Nathalie when she showed a shrinking from expenditure.
He himself marched about Tours in the rustiest of coats, yet the girl's
dress must be as dainty as the best milliner could produce.  His
neighbours were amazed at such inconsistencies; they did not understand
that they were part of a carefully-thought-out, well-organised
intention.  In his treatment of his daughter he was influenced not so
much, perhaps not at all, by the impulse to indulge her with which they
credited him--for her tastes were, in truth, provokingly simple--as by a
clearly-formed design to fit her for another class than that in which
she was born.

Perhaps, however, his ambitions and his methods would have been equally
in vain had it not been for the fact that Nathalie was charmingly
pretty.  She was tall, slender, with hazel eyes, and as unlike as
possible to M.  Bourget himself.  Moreover, she had the grace of
simplicity, and appeared to be indifferent to her own beauty.  This
simplicity it was which, joined to a certain sweet dignity, first
attracted Leon.

And then began M.  Bourget's struggle.  He required no enlightenment.
M. de Beaudrillart's extravagances, M. de Beaudrillart's follies, were
well known in Tours and its neighbourhood.  Over against them in the
scale had to be placed Poissy and M.  Bourget's ambition.  He knew very
well that he would have to give, not only his daughter, but a great deal
of money, and, to do him justice, he thought more of his daughter than
of his money.  But Poissy, Poissy!  Poissy for years had been the
safety-valve of his imagination, a quality the stronger for being
unsuspected.  It appeared to him that nothing which could befall
Nathalie could quench the glory of becoming merged in that ancient
family.  When, therefore, the question arose of her being mistress, it
will be perceived what a strong advocate was presented for Leon.

Moreover, sops for his better judgment were not wanting.  If Leon's
conduct had exposed him to criticism, there always remained the strange
change in his life, in his disposition, apparently in his fortunes.  At
a time when rumour had been most busy, and when misfortune appeared to
hang most threateningly over the heads of the De Beaudrillarts, rumour
had been checkmated.  Money had been forthcoming, debts had been paid,
and Leon, wrenching himself from life in Paris, had come back to work in
a way which M.  Bourget could appreciate and respect, and had saved
Poissy.  It is true that, during the time when talk had declared its
fate to be imminent, M.  Bourget had a hundred times turned over the
possibility of stepping in himself and buying up the mortgages, but it
is doubtful whether he would ever have been able to make up his mind to
such an act; for while to his little world he delighted in breathing out
all manner of ferociously republican sentiments, in heart he was an
abject adorer of the ancien regime--at all events, so far as Poissy was
concerned.  It would have given him no real pleasure to become its
owner; it is doubtful whether he would not have been the first to
consider himself a sacrilegious dispossessor of the old family.  It was
not the bare possession which he coveted; for the De Beaudrillarts to go
out and the Bourgets to come in was as unsuitable, as horrible in his
eyes, as it could have been in their own.  But for his family to become
merged in theirs, his child to be actually one of them, that--that was
indeed to satisfy the deeper subtleties of his ambition.

As he marched with short, determined steps through the streets of Tours,
M.  Bourget flung back his head, advanced an aggressive chest, swelled,
and assumed what he felt to be the grand air.  Passing in front of a
photographer's shop, it seemed like a response to behold Poissy in all
its delicate beauty looking serenely at him from out of a collection of
Touraine chateaux.

"Aha, see there!" he cried, rubbing his hands in delighted apostrophe.
"And to think that the day is come when Nathalie may, if I but say the
word, step into its walls, and hold up her head with the proudest of
them.  She shall be painted, too, and by the best painter in France, so
as to hang with the others in the picture-gallery--Nathalie de
Beaudrillart, nee Bourget, _my_ child."

The man's whole figure was transformed, his round red face, garnished
with thick iron-grey eyebrows, gleamed with pride and exultation, and at
this moment, although it pleased him to profess that the overture he had
received was still under consideration, worse sins than any which he had
heard laid to the charge of Leon de Beaudrillart would assuredly have
been condoned.

The matter, therefore, went on apace.  To the elder people the
preliminaries were the most important part, and Mme. de Beaudrillart,
although she found it a bitter draught to swallow, had long desired that
her son's romantic notions should give way to what she called reason.
Here was reason, plain, bourgeois, moneyed reason, and there was no
excuse for falling foul of it.  Such a dowry as Nathalie would bring was
sufficient to wipe off the debt to M. de Cadanet, and to replace the
owner of Poissy in his old position.  And, after all, when a man marries
a woman, Mme. de Beaudrillart argued, it is she who is raised, not he
who is dragged down.  King Cophetua's beggar-girl became a queen, and
the Bourget would be merged in the De Beaudrillarts.

She said this to her son, and he smiled.

"With all my heart, though you may find it difficult to efface my future
father-in-law."

Mme. de Beaudrillart shuddered.

"I imagine that he can be made to understand the situation."

"He would tell you that he understood it perfectly.  If you could look
into his ledger, I am convinced that you would find on one page an entry
of value received, title, position, what you like, and on the opposite
the purchase-money, so many hundred thousand francs.  But he will see
that he gets what he pays for."

"You mean he will expect to come here!"

"Is that unreasonable?"

Mme. de Beaudrillart flung back her head.

"I think so.  If he regards the matter in the light of a bargain, I do
not see where he comes in."

"I imagine his daughter will think otherwise," said Leon, caressing a
kitten which had sprung on his knee.

Mme. de Beaudrillart replied, with perhaps unintentional bitterness:

"She, at any rate, may be satisfied with what she has got."

"As to that," returned her son, a little less lazily than he had
hitherto spoken, "she has not yet consented."

His mother folded her hands on the table before her, and looked steadily
at him.

"Do me the favour, Leon, to explain."

"It is perfectly simple.  I do not think that I am repugnant to her; but
she says that she must know me better, and judge for herself before
deciding."

Mme. de Beaudrillart shut her thin lips and remained silent.  When she
spoke at last, it was to say, in a hushed voice:

"Do not repeat this to your sisters, Leon, unless you wish to degrade
your future wife in their eyes.  It is all unspeakably bourgeoise."

"It is charming, whatever it is," he replied, good-humouredly.  "The
world goes on, mother, even at Poissy.  My great-great-grandfather
stormed a castle and killed half a dozen gentlemen to gain a bride; I,
his descendant, am--"

"Bidden to a builder's back parlour to see whether you are approved of!
The first was infinitely the more respectable.  The world goes fast, as
you say, because it is easy enough to go downhill.  Even the crimes of
the present day are petty and sordid.  In old times men smote and slew;
now they cheat and steal."

With a sudden movement Leon turned on his chair and dislodged the
kitten, which sprang to the ground and mewed protestingly.  The change
which every now and then altered his face, and robbed it of its youth,
was there now, and it startled his mother.

"My Leon, what is it?  You are ill!" she exclaimed, anxiously.

"It is past," he said, with an effort.

"But what was it!"

"A spasm."

"My poor boy!  I know how it is.  You work too hard, and fret yourself
over that debt.  As if Monsieur de Cadanet would not be happy enough to
wait your convenience!  Well, there is this to be said for Mademoiselle
Bourget: although I know you are indifferent to her dowry, it will free
you from worry on that score."  While she spoke she went to a small
cupboard, unlocked it, took out a glass and bottle, each of rare design
and workmanship, and came back.  "There," she said, pouring a few drops
into a glass, and putting it to his lips, "drink.  It is an old cordial,
which agrees with the Beaudrillart blood.  You are better!"

"Well," said Leon, smiling again.  "I know that stuff of old.  It is
magical."

"For your family, yes."

"You think it would not cure Monsieur Bourget!"

"It will not have the chance," said Mme. de Beaudrillart, quietly.  She
was replacing the glass and bottle in the cupboard when a thought struck
her.  "By-the-way, Leon--"

"Yes."

"You have never given me Monsieur de Cadanet's acknowledgment of the
five hundred francs you forwarded; and as I keep all the receipts
together, I should be glad to have it."  There was a short silence.
Then Leon stretched himself, got up, and went to the window, the kitten
in his arms.

"Ah," he said, "he has not sent any."

"Not sent any!  But why?"

"Who can tell?  Monsieur de Cadanet appeared to me to be an eccentric.
Perhaps he thinks the sum too trifling.  Perhaps he is conveniently
forgetful--perhaps--oh, we need not worry.  He has received it, without
doubt."

"I do not like it," said Mme. de Beaudrillart, frowning.

"No, it is unbusinesslike, is it not?  Console yourself, mother.  When
you pay anything to Monsieur Bourget, you will have your acknowledgment
executed with every formality and the most scrupulous exactitude."

If he hoped by this counter-irritation to turn her thoughts, he
apparently succeeded.  The idea of M.  Bourget's tradesmanlike qualities
produced its desired effect as a foil to M. de Cadanet's carelessness.
But that she was not absolutely satisfied was evident from her calling
after Leon, as he left the room:

"All the same, would it not be well for me to write and ascertain
whether the money has reached him safely?  The post is not absolutely
safe, and it would be extremely annoying to find there had been any
failure in delivery."

Leon came back hurriedly.

"Mother, I must entreat you, leave the matter with me.  Do not on any
account, now or at a future time, interfere between me and Monsieur de
Cadanet.  You might do me incalculable harm."

He spoke with sharp excitement, altogether unlike himself, and Mme. de
Beaudrillart stared amazedly.  If either of her other children had
addressed her in such a tone, the offence would have been grievous; as
it was, it was Leon, and Leon, as she immediately reflected, not quite
himself, so that she contented herself with saying, stiffly:

"Calm yourself, Leon; you should be well aware that I am not likely to
act in a manner to endanger either your interests or your honour with
Monsieur de Cadanet or any other person."

He turned from her, came back, and kissed her impulsively.  But what he
said had apparently nothing to do with what had passed.

"Poor mother!  You are glad that we kept Poissy?"

"If we had lost it, I think it would have killed me."

She had never admitted so much.

"Come, courage, then!" he exclaimed; "it appears now as if it would be
tolerably safe; and with you and Nathalie--if I can win her--by my side,
one may defy even--"

"Who!" demanded his mother, anxiously.

"Oh, Monsieur Bourget, to be sure!" he cried, with a laugh, as he shut
the door.

It was true, although Mme. de Beaudrillart would not believe it, and
although M. de Bourget growled at the girl's whims, that Nathalie
hesitated whether or not she should accept M. de Beaudrillart.  For her
neither Poissy nor alliance with an ancient family offered attractions;
on the contrary, she thought of both with dread and shrinking,
foreseeing trials which might prove almost unendurable.  If the course
of wooing had been such as Mme. de Beaudrillart's etiquette exacted, and
all the advances had been made by deputy, it is very certain that
Nathalie would have rejected her honours, in spite of her terrible
father's displeasure.  But a nameless something had attracted her to
Leon on the day when they first met before the cathedral, and each of
the two interviews which followed deepened the attraction.  There was an
open, easy charm about the young man difficult to resist.  She knew that
he had been extravagant, and the knowledge caused her some disquiet, but
would not have shaken her determination; indeed, disgraceful as it would
have seemed to Mme. de Beaudrillart, when they had seen each other but
three times, she was hopelessly and irretrievably in love.

Then, one day, in an old carriage, as old as the hills, drawn by two
borrowed horses, and driven by Jean Charpentier's brother, Mme. de
Beaudrillart rolled into Tours, and solemnly demanded the hand of Mlle.
Nathalie Bourget for her son, M.  Leon de Beaudrillart.

To her son, even, his mother never related the details of that
interview.  M.  Bourget, not so reticent, repeated over and over again
with glee the speeches he had made, the answers he had received.  While
he took care to preserve to himself the honours of the encounter, he
delighted in accentuating Mme. de Beaudrillart's pride, that those who
listened to him might not fail to understand what sort of family this
was into which Nathalie was about to marry.  It was true that some of
her fine sarcasms, her scarcely-veiled contempt, were as little felt by
him as the sting of a gnat upon the hide of a rhinoceros; but he was
acute enough to understand that she wished to humiliate him as a revenge
for the humiliation she was enduring herself, and appreciated the desire
as fitting on the part of the owners of Poissy.  She had said to him:

"I cannot attempt to conceal from you, Monsieur Bourget, that my son's
choice has caused me profound astonishment.  With his person and his
position, he might have married into any of the great families of
France, and I am certain you are too sensible a man to take offence when
I say that such a marriage would have appeared to me far more
appropriate."

"Perhaps Monsieur de Beaudrillart reflects that when one marries one
must live," remarked M.  Bourget, dryly.

But so far was he from taking offence that he repeated the speech with
real enjoyment to a small lawyer of his acquaintance, a red republican
like himself.

"And you endured such insolence!" cried M.  Leroux, bounding on his
chair.

"Endured?  I can tell you that I admired it.  I did not let her see it,
it is true, for one must keep such people in their places; but, after
all, she is right, for a De Beaudrillart may marry where he pleases."
And M.  Bourget, radiant with delight, brought his hand heavily down on
the table, and leaned forward to give his words more effect: "He marries
my daughter."

It was the crowning point of his life.  No other moment in his career--
and he had had his triumphs--had caused him such unmitigated
satisfaction.  Tours rang with the news, the very walls seemed to
whisper it in his ears as he walked along the narrow streets, and he
never failed to pass by the photographer's, and to fling a glance of
recognition at Poissy--Poissy, with its delicate grace, its exquisite
lines--as who should say, "Tiens, ma belle, thou and I are no longer
strangers; we belong to each other."

With M.  Bourget in this amiable mood, all went smoothly.

Leon, who was well aware of the accepted opinion of his father-in-law
and his rigid economies, was amazed by the liberality of his proposals.
He had expected carpings, opposition, cutting down, and he found, to his
astonishment, that M.  Bourget's principal care was that the estate
should pass unencumbered to Nathalie's children.  One day he said,
frankly:

"See here, Monsieur de Beaudrillart,"--he never called his future
son-in-law by any other name--"I am perfectly aware that you have
committed innumerable follies, and that it has even been touch and go
whether you could keep Poissy.  At one time, unless rumour lies even
more than is usual with her, I might have got possession of it myself.
But that, I at once admit, would not have suited me.  Poissy without the
De Beaudrillarts would be like a body without a soul; you two have to
keep together, if you are to hold your position in the world; and now
that Nathalie is to become one of you, it is my business to see that you
_do_ keep together.  You comprehend!  For what is past I care nothing; I
put no inquiries, it is over.  It is what is to come which is my affair.
There must be no more follies, no more extravagances.  My part of the
bargain is to see that when you start you stand on your legs.  Well and
good.  I accept it.  I will give my daughter a sum which should be
sufficient to set you free from every entanglement--for hampered you
must be, and heavily--and enable you with care to regain your proper
position; and I tell you, without hesitation, that I do this because I
have always resolved that Nathalie should marry above her station.  What
will you?  It is perhaps a folly, a weakness, but--it pleases me.  I
wish to see her where I have no inclination to be myself, and, like
other things in this world, what we want we must pay for.  There,
Monsieur de Beaudrillart, you have the situation, and my motive."

Leon had listened to this harangue with an inscrutable face.  When M.
Bourget paused--rather scant of breath--he looked up and said,
pleasantly:

"Mine is simpler.  I love Nathalie."

CHAPTER FIVE.

A WHIM.

Romance, which gives itself the airs of unfettered liberty, has
nevertheless its laws, and it was contrary to these laws that Leon
should have been in love with the girl who brought him such a fortune as
put him at once beyond the reach of embarrassment.  No one, not even his
mother, believed it; if she had, it is doubtful whether she could have
put up with Nathalie at all.  She assured herself that the marriage
belonged to the new developments of prudence in Leon, a praiseworthy
continuation of his efforts to redeem the estate; and while she
appreciated the sacrifice he had made, she never ceased to pity him for
having been obliged to make it.  Nothing which he could say or do
succeeded in convincing her or his sisters as to what had been his real
motive--perhaps no one in the world credited it except Nathalie herself.

It was true, however, that he really loved her, and with the easy
carelessness of his nature managed to turn his back upon the past, to
stop his ears when he heard it calling after him, and to forget that it
has hands as well as voices.  He had acknowledged to his father-in-law
that there was a debt on the estate of two hundred thousand francs.  M.
Bourget closed his eyes and pursed his mouth.

"And this you propose to pay--how?"

"By instalments.  My creditor does not press me."

"He must be a fool or a relation, then," announced the ex-builder, with
a loud laugh.  "Perhaps both.  Well, Monsieur de Beaudrillart, pressed
or not, we must get that stone off your neck, I suppose you have not
sent much by way of repayment."

"Five hundred francs."  Leon spoke in a low voice.

"Ta ta!  It will take a good many five hundred francs to repay two
hundred thousand," mocked M.  Bourget.

The young man was silent.

"Well, I have said that it should be done, and I will be as good as my
word.  No one has ever been able to say that I was worse.  This sum
absolutely clears Poissy!"

"Absolutely."

"And there is but one debtor?"

"But one."

"Excuse me, Monsieur de Beaudrillart, but I am a man of business.  Some
sort of bond, I imagine, exists?  I should be glad to have a sight of
it."

To M.  Bourget's stupefaction, Leon sprang to his feet in a rage.

"Monsieur, you doubt my word!  You insult me!  Do you suppose that I
will submit to dictation from any man, least of all from you!  I have
told you the position of affairs, and if you do not choose to believe
me, let there be an end of everything."

"Softly, softly," said M.  Bourget--to tell the truth, as much alarmed
as amazed--"it appears to me that if I am going to pay, the suggestion
was not unreasonable.  Since, however, it offends you so mortally,
Monsieur de Beaudrillart, we will say no more about it."  He added, with
a great sigh, "I suppose you fine gentlemen do not carry out your
affairs so methodically as we.  The wonder to me is not that you so
often come to grief as that you ever escape shipwreck.  To object to the
existence of a bond!  However, as you will, as you will!"

Leon did not at once recover his usual good temper.  He looked pale and
sat staring moodily at the ground.  But, strange to say, what in one of
his own class would have excited M.  Bourget's anger and suspicion, here
rather afforded him satisfaction than otherwise.  The De Beaudrillarts
were of another race, these outbursts of pride belonged to their
history, their traditions, and, though he would have died sooner than
betray it, M.  Bourget's feeling towards them comprised something of the
abject loyalty with which the working bee regards his queen.  He
promised himself that Nathalie's money should be as safely secured as
the law permitted, but he, to whom the outgoing of a piece of ten sous
was a matter of consideration, by some curious contradiction gloried in
the carelessness which would disperse a fortune with as little heed as
if money were to be had for the picking up.  Glancing at Leon he said,
tentatively:

"One may not even ask the name of the creditor?"

"I cannot give it," Leon answered, shortly.

"At any rate, when the money is paid you will show me the receipt?"

"Impossible."

M.  Bourget judged it necessary to make a show of displeasure.  He
frowned heavily.

"Allow me to say, Monsieur le baron, that you demand more confidence
than you display."

"Yes, that is true," said Leon, lightly, once more.  "But if I give you
my word of honour that the money will be sent to the creditor, you will
be satisfied, will you not?"

M.  Bourget was satisfied, whether he suffered himself to appear so or
not.  The word of a De Beaudrillart had gained an enormous value in his
eyes.  Yet Leon's next remark was sufficiently startling.

"If you are so good as to clear Poissy of debt when Nathalie enters it
as my wife, may I ask you to pay the sum into my banker's, so that I may
take it out in the form most convenient."

"A cheque would tell tales," muttered M.  Bourget to himself.
"Decidedly, there is a mystery somewhere.  However, when one is drawn
into an old family such as the De Beaudrillarts, one must accept
mysteries.  The money will be paid.  He gave me his word.  For the rest,
I shall see that Nathalie is safe."

It will be perceived that anxiety for the marriage had brought M.
Bourget to the point of swallowing a great deal, but as regarded the
payment of the debt, Mme. de Beaudrillart also had her anxieties.  As
soon as Leon and his wife were settled at Poissy, she sounded her son on
the subject, one day, immediately after the late breakfast, when
Nathalie had left the room to fetch her hat, and Felicie and Claire
obeyed a hint from their mother and followed.

"Until now," said Mme. de Beaudrillart, "I have not spoken of the
necessary business, but there is one point which should be settled at
once."

He laughed, and kissed her on each cheek.

"Only one!  What luck!"

"Well, only one that presses: your debt to Monsieur de Cadanet."

"Ah!"  He made a step towards the window, but came back.  "That is
paid."

"Already!"

"The day after our wedding."

She looked at him admiringly.  "Ah, you are a man of honour!  Monsieur
de Cadanet cannot say that you have lost so much as a day.  He must have
congratulated you?"

"He is not a man of words."

"Perhaps not; but a few on such an occasion would have done him no harm.
Do you mean to say that no felicitations came with his acknowledgment?"

"Not one."

"The bear!  I really think from what you have told me he must have
changed very much--"

"Don't blame him, mother.  His money saved Poissy," said Leon, quickly.

"Certainly.  You need not tell me that.  But what harm has it done him!
Principal and interest have both been repaid in full, and I do not
forget his indebtedness to your father.  Say what you will, he has been
very boorish.  And, Leon, though you did not give me his former
acknowledgment, it is quite necessary that this last should be placed in
safe keeping."

He was silent, and she looked at him uneasily.  His short, abrupt
sentences, so different from his usual gay chatter, some change in his
face, disturbed her.  She felt it her duty to press the point.

"It should be put into the iron safe with the other deeds.  Come, Leon,
do not delay; let us see to it at once."

"I am going out with Nathalie."

Mme. de Beaudrillart frowned.  "Nathalie!  Surely Nathalie can wait!
You jest."

"No, mother, but you don't understand that I am indisposed for
business."

"If you have no better excuse, I must ask you to fetch the paper at
once."  His allusion to his wife had angered her.

"I have my own boxes."

"They are not sufficiently secure for the acknowledgment of such a sum.
Consider.  One day you may have to reckon with Monsieur de Cadanet's
heirs, who may not be so obliging as Monsieur de Cadanet."

Consider!  As if this knowledge had not weighed upon him ever since that
autumn day.  Not once had he ventured to Paris.  Now at last he was
safe, and why not satisfy his mother?  He turned to her gaily.

"Study a woman if you want to learn persistence.  Well, mother, wait for
me, and if Nathalie comes, ask her to stroll towards the river, while
you and I make a pilgrimage to the strong-box."

If Mme. de Beaudrillart hoped to have feasted her eyes upon the paper,
she was mistaken.  What her son brought and deposited in the safe was a
long blank envelope, securely scaled.  She suggested in vain that
something on the cover should mark its contents.

"Unnecessary.  You and I are both likely to remember."

"As to remembering, yes.  But it seems foolish.  What possible objection
can you have?"

"A whim."

Mme. de Beaudrillart remarked that a whim was unmethodical.

"Oh, I admit it.  But as Monsieur Bourget is not likely ever to rummage
among these papers--"

"Heaven forbid!"

"Let us be unmethodical in peace.  Besides, I have my reasons, and--
Nathalie is waiting.  Don't you find her enchanting?"

"I think she has good sense."

"And Claire and Felicie?  She is so anxious, poor child, to love you
all."

"In good time," said Mme. de Beaudrillart, coldly.  "She has a great
deal to learn, and we must expect some mistakes, but perhaps by-and-by
she may take her position, and forget her little bourgeoise ways and
small economics."

He flushed.  "We have had to adopt small economies ourselves, for that
matter, mother."

"Yes.  Because they were necessary.  With her it is because they are
natural.  Still, as I said, she has good sense, and I do not despair."

"She is charming," murmured the young man, under his breath.  He was
fully aware that prejudices against his wife existed in the house, but
troubled himself very little about them.  In time, no doubt, they would
all shake in together.  Meanwhile, he was quite able to shut his eyes to
disagreeables which did not actually affect him.  Winter was over, and
heaven and earth had leaped into the radiance of spring.  Poissy, with
its delicate colours, its fretted carvings, smiled at its owners through
a veil of fairy-like green.  The debt was paid, husband and wife
wandered together by the river which ran full after heavy rains, care
had vanished, and the sun shone out again.

Nathalie, too, was happy, in spite of having many things to endure for
Leon's sake.  It cannot be said that they came upon her unexpectedly,
for she had always dreaded Poissy, and all the De Beaudrillarts, except
Leon, as deeply as her father desired them.  Weighed against Leon, she
decided that they were as nothing, but this was before she had tried
them, and with Love sitting heavily in one balance, it is next to
impossible fairly to adjust the opposite weights.

She had a noble character, and this meant a strong will, but Mme. de
Beaudrillart and her daughters--Claire, at any rate--had wills of iron.
How much and how little to yield became a perpetually fretting problem.
At first she carried her doubts to her husband, until she found that he
could give her nothing more satisfying than a laugh and a shrug.

"Dear, I know it, I know it, but what will you!  My mother has always
been accustomed to rule.  I often tell her she should have lived a
century or two earlier than these degenerate days; and as for Claire and
Felicie, they are exactly the same, only she has never allowed them the
opportunity to develop, so they are obliged to try their hands on other
people.  Take my advice, and let them have their way.  It will not hurt
us, and it will teach you to bless Heaven for having bestowed upon you a
husband whom you can twist round your little finger."

She shook her head.

"You know I don't want to twist you round my finger."

"But I am quite willing.  Why not spend your energies that way, if my
mother will not consent to leave you any other department in which to
exercise them."

They were standing together in one of the deep windows of the chateau,
looking out upon a stately terrace, and a garden brilliant, as the
Poissy garden had not been for many years, with the rich colouring of
summer flowers.  Her hand was in his, and she was silent while he
talked.  But presently she gave a deep sigh, of which he demanded an
explanation.  She smiled, and said:

"It is only wonder."

"Wonder at what!"

"At myself, at you, that we should be here together, and that I should
be your wife.  I did not think so much about it at the time, but now it
seems as if I should never understand how either your mother or my
father consented.  She has a horror of parvenues, and he--he--"

"Of the idle rich.  But you are not so cruel as to call me idle!"

"No."  She looked at him reflectively.  "He said that once you were, but
that you had changed.  What changed you, Leon?"

"Years and necessity," he replied, after a momentary pause.  "So my
father told me.  And I am sure that was what made him approve, for he
thought it showed great strength of character.  He did indeed, and it
made me so proud."  Leon winced.  Naturally it was galling to M. de
Beaudrillart to hear of the approval of M.  Bourget.  She went on, her
head with its wealth of red-brown hair resting against his shoulder, her
eyes fixed on the big scarlet pomegranate which flamed on the terrace.

"But--there is one thing I want to say."

"And while you stay like this I am perfectly content to listen all day
long."

"Ah, but you must be serious."

"I am.  Look at me."

She looked, and he kissed her.  "Now, go on.  That is only the
preamble."

"It is rather distracting when one wants to collect one's ideas," said
Nathalie, smiling, but shaking her head.  "However, what I want to say
is that I hope you will let me help you in what you have to do."

"You are helping me now--to perfection."

"You know that is not what I mean.  For one thing, I am really an
excellent house-keeper, for my father was very strict in his accounts,
and never permitted waste."

"Poor little economist!" said the young man, lightly smoothing her head.
"My Nathalie, are you aware that the colour of your hair is simply
adorable?"

"Now you are not attending."

"I am, indeed I am.  Let me see; where were wet.  Your father never
permitted waste.  No.  I can imagine Monsieur Bourget rather a severe
taskmaster."

"But it was exceedingly useful, and I was glad of it when I knew we were
to marry, for I said to myself that if I were not a grand lady, at least
I should know how to help you.  No, no, Leon, listen!  I can keep
accounts--only try me, you will not find me ten sous out by the end of
the month.  And,"--she hesitated slightly--"if she would allow it, I am
certain I could spare Madame de Beaudrillart a great deal of trouble.
May I ask her?"

"Ask what you like and who you like, so long as you remember that you
belong first of all to me," he said, gaily.

"I hope that they will grow to endure me in time," she went on.  "Of
course, I mustn't be unreasonable and expect everything to come all at
once, but--by-and-by.  Do you know that it is your sister, Mademoiselle
Felicie--"

"Good heavens, Nathalie, don't call her mademoiselle, as if you were her
maid!"

She corrected herself shyly.  "Felicie, then.  It is Felicie whom I
dread the most."

"I should have fancied that Claire might have been especially alarming."

"Yes, only I understand her.  It is what I expected.  But Mad--Felicie
is so good and so devout, no nun could be more so, always working for
the Church, and she seemed so shocked when I said my father thought
ladies--religious ladies, you know--often made the poor pay towards
things which they did not understand."

"Did you actually tell Felicie that!"

"Yes, I did.  Was I wrong?" she asked, anxiously.  "But, Leon, it is
true, it is indeed!  I can recollect a number of cases in which the poor
peasants fancied the most terrible things would happen unless they paid
money to avert them.  You see, they are so ignorant, there is nothing
they will not believe if only you can frighten them.  Of course, Felicie
does not know this, and perhaps I should not have told her!"

"Oh, as to that, it doesn't matter; it may do her good," he said,
amused.  "Only of all things to say to Felicie!  Did you also inform her
you thought they should be educated!  She will put you down as a
heretic.  I must tell Claire."  Nathalie looked distressed.

"If you say that in such a tone, I am afraid that it was an
impertinence.  Leon, indeed I did not dream of such a thing, only when
she asked me whether I had ever collected money for banners, and whether
I did not think it a great privilege to help the Church, I could not
answer in any other way, and yet tell the truth.  Could I?  No, don't
smile, because it is serious, and there is no one here of whom I can
venture to ask anything but you."

"Ah, don't make me your conscience, cherie!  Or only do so when you
think your own means to be hard upon you.  Why trouble your pretty head
in the matter!  But if you must, I will let you into a very important
secret: simply that if you fret yourself whenever you say something to
displease my mother or my two sisters, you may just say good-bye at once
to your peace of mind forever.  It is impossible to avoid it, even for
you, angel as you are!  They and you will always regard things from a
totally different point of view."

Her eyes turned gravely on his.

"For a time--don't say always, Leon.  I am prepared for that at first,
but certainly I can learn what they like if--"

"If?"

"If you will help me."

"Then you will be different, and I don't want you to be different.  Let
them go their way; you and I can be all in all to each other, if you
remain your own dear self--the Nathalie I adore.  I wish for nothing
more."

How could she resist the sweet charm of such words!  While he spoke life
seemed easy, and happiness eternal.  Full of good-will to all men, she
never doubted that time would win her the hearts of the women who loved
Leon.  She had a strong and noble quality of justice in her character,
which gave her the power of judging calmly, and even enabled her to look
at herself from the unsympathetic point of view of another person.  With
a fine intellect and a courageous nature, she did not fear difficulties
although she realised them.  Before she had been a week at Poissy she
had gathered enough to know that a hard task lay before her, and as time
went on acknowledged that she must face them alone, except for the
almost passionate prayers she sent up.  She did not lose heart.  But she
was impulsive, and, worse, impatient of all that seemed to her small and
petty.  Bourgeoise though she might be, her education had been
excellent, and had given her a far broader outlook than was possessed by
either the Poissy demoiselles or their mother.  She read English and
German books, sometimes even thought she might find in them a safe
subject for discussion.  In spite of herself, Claire was not unwilling
to listen, but Felicie was shocked out of measure.

"Why do you wish to read those unsafe writings?" she would ask.  "Do you
know, Nathalie, that if people hear of it they will imagine you to be a
Protestant or an unbeliever."

"But I am neither.  I read because it interests one to know what is
thought in other countries."

"That cannot be right," said Felicie, decidedly.  "It is flinging away
safeguards."

"How?"

"Because here you can ask your priest whether a book is allowable."

Nathalie looked at her bending short-sightedly over her frame, wistful
wonder in her own eyes.

"Do you mean that you always ask the priest before you read!"

"Always, always!" exclaimed Felicie.  "If not, it is very certain that
one might be led into a sin.  Do not you?"

"I have never been accustomed to such restrictions," said Mme.  Leon in
a low voice.  "Perhaps your priest is a great reader?"

"He reads his breviary," her sister-in-law answered, reproachfully.

Claire, who felt with anger that Felicie was making herself ridiculous,
struck in sharply:

"I do not agree with Felicie, but I think there should be limits, and I
cannot say I see the use of staffing your head with all that foreign
literature.  It has never been our custom."

"But do you not like to know what others think?"

"That is of small consequence," said Claire, superbly.

"It is far better to do something useful," announced her sister,
threading her needle.

"One may do more useful work than embroider vestments, however," Claire
returned.  She despised Felicie's narrow interests, and if Nathalie had
been one of her own rank, Claire would have warmly taken her side in the
matter of books.  As it was, Nathalie was too shy to fight the battle of
the uses of self-improvement, but a life without new books or
newspapers, which appeared to rest under the same ban, looked so empty
to her that she consulted her husband.

His advice, as usual, was to please herself.  "Order what you want, and
ask no one."

"But if it displeases your mother!" said Nathalie, timidly.  "Then keep
them in your own room.  There they cannot be suspected of imperilling
Felicie's soul."

She followed this counsel, though to her frank disposition even an
appearance of concealment was hateful.  And as it was known that
newspapers and periodicals came to the house, she was constantly subject
to remarks showing the disapproval in which such reading was held.
Claire, it is true, looked at the parcels with envy, and would have
given much to borrow them.  It was not horror of them which withheld
her, but dislike to be indebted even for so much to her sister-in-law,
and invincible distrust of any one connected with M.  Bourget of Tours.

CHAPTER SIX.

THE BLISS OF MONSIEUR BOURGET.

M.  Bourget of Tours, meanwhile, should have been a happy man, for he
had all but reached the very summit of his desires.  His daughter was
installed at Poissy, and twenty times a day he turned in the direction
of the chateau, as a fire-worshipper turns towards the sun, to offer a
silent and rapturous homage, partly to past generations of
Beaudrillarts, and partly to his own sagacious industry which had
achieved this triumph.  To his acquaintances he made no effort to
conceal his elation.  Conversation could not be carried on for five
minutes without a dexterous twist bringing it round to Poissy.  The very
name in his mouth became larger and more substantial.  To his cronies,
those especially who had daughters, he grew insupportable, or only to be
endured from fear of offending a man who was a powerful enemy, and had
obtained great influence in town matters.  His short, square, vigorous
figure, attired in a light-coloured alpaca coat, and surmounted by a
round grizzled head, red-faced and bull-necked, might be seen advancing
towards the cafe where he daily took his coffee--just flavoured with
absinthe--with an indescribable air of majesty, which excited the
mockery of those who dared to laugh, but was not without its
awe-inspiring influence upon others.  Always his walk led him in the
direction of the photographer's, and always he stood for a few moments
to gaze upon Poissy, but by some singular hesitation, out of keeping, as
it seemed, with the pride which he made no attempt to conceal, he had
never allowed himself to buy a copy of the object of his worship.

Outside the cafe, woe betide the acquaintance whom M.  Bourget signalled
to sit with him at one of the small tables where he took his usual
refreshment!  It was necessary that he should hear everything connected
with the past, present, or future history of Poissy; its rooms had to be
described in detail, the great question of who was to be trusted with
the necessary repairs must be discussed, and the point whether they
should begin with the hall or the chapel.  He invited opinions, but if
the opinions differed from his own he grew heated, brought down his fist
upon the little table, and declared that only a fool could hold such
ridiculous theories.  One of his first victims was the little lawyer, M.
Leroux, who, being miserably poor, endured like a peppery martyr, with
the hope that for the sake of a good listener M.  Bourget would be moved
to the unusual generosity of paying for both portions of coffee.  For
this end he promised himself that, let his temper incite him as it
might, nothing should induce him to contradict the formidable new
aristocrat.  He manfully endured a double-dose of Poissy, and choked
down certain strong expressions which rose to the tip of his tongue when
he heard M.  Bourget excusing his son-in-law's political opinions.

"After all, it is natural that if a man is born to such ideas, they
should stick to him," he said, paternally.  "You and I, Leroux, are shot
into the world, and left to pick up what we can; we have no traditions
to offend, and no rights to relinquish.  With my son-in-law it is
different.  He arrives.  Behind him stretch a long line of
Beaudrillarts, crying out, `Thou art of the race, thou; and the race
must continue.  We give thee Poissy for thy life; guard it, and pass it
on.'  That puts him in another position from us, hein?"

"Altogether," agreed the lawyer, sourly.  He would have liked to have
darted Leon's extravagances at M.  Bourget, and inquired where then had
been his duty to his ancestors; but he feared.

"Besides, one must remember," said the ex-builder, pouring an exactly
measured spoonful of absinthe into his cup, and replacing the bottle
before him, without apparently noticing M.  Leroux's clink of his own
spoon, "one must remember that the De Beaudrillarts have earned their
repose.  In their day, and when you and I did not exist, they gave and
received a pretty number of hard knocks."

"Pray, did Monsieur de Beaudrillart then exist!" demanded the lawyer,
with an irrepressible sneer; for he was stung by the distance of the
absinthe bottle, and objected to such distinctions.

"His representatives.  His former representatives," repeated M.
Bourget, imperturbably, with a grand air which embraced the ancient
family.  "No, I do not blame the young man for thinking differently from
you and me.  If he had an inclination to stand for the Chamber, I should
even give him my vote."

"Yes," said Leroux, eyeing his cup, and reflecting whether he could
venture on a second with the hope that M.  Bourget would pay.  As the
waiter passed at this moment he decided to risk the outlay, and to
humour his neighbour.  "Well, and I have no doubt you would be right."

"If I did it, certainly it would be right," M.  Bourget returned,
superbly; "for you know very well that I do not act without reason."

"No, no.  Never to change one's opinions would be to pass through life
like a machine."

"What!" cried M.  Bourget, with a snort resembling that of an angry
bull.

"I remarked merely that, from time to time, one must accommodate one's
ideas," the lawyer hastened to explain.  "I should do so myself."

"Accommodate one's ideas!  Pray, monsieur, to what do you allude!"

"Peste!" cried M.  Leroux, losing patience, "have you not just remarked
that were Monsieur de Beaudrillart to stand for the Chamber you would
vote for him!  I presume that means a change of opinion."

"Then you are an imbecile!" thundered M.  Bourget.  "I have never
changed my opinions by a jot, and I should despise myself if I did so.
Because I consider that Monsieur de Beaudrillart, the owner of Poissy,
and the descendant of a long line of ancestors, has a right to be heard
in the councils of his country, no one who had not the most mediocre
intelligence would conclude that I had embraced his politics.  Go,
monsieur," he continued, standing up, and leaning on the table with the
points of his fingers.  "You are ridiculous!"

If M.  Leroux had dared, it would have given him extreme pleasure to
have committed M.  Bourget, his son-in-law, and Poissy, which by this
time he detested, to the hottest place that could have been provided for
them.  But, although the coffee represented only a lost hope, M.
Bourget was now and then able to throw him a few minor law cases which
he could not afford to imperil, and he hastened to attempt to pacify his
irritated sensibilities.

"Pardon, monsieur; certainly I should have understood you better.  Now
that you have explained, I see exactly what you meant to express, and
what I might have known.  Certainly that is a very different thing from
changing your opinions."

("Devil take me if it is!" he muttered, under his breath.)

M.  Bourget still glared at him.

"I am glad you have come to your senses," he said, surlily.

"Poissy is, of coarse, an ornament of our neighbourhood."  The lawyer
managed to get out the words without grimacing.

"_The_ ornament, _the_ ornament, monsieur."

"_The_ ornament, I should say."

"And the De Beaudrillarts among our most ancient families."

"Oh, con--Certainly, Monsieur Bourget, certainly.  The most ancient."

"Precisely.  Are you aware that you have not paid for your coffee?"

The lawyer rummaged his pockets.  "I am not certain that I have enough
change with me."

"Ah, that is inconvenient," remarked M.  Bourget, carelessly.  "Never
mind.  Antoine will trust you.  And I will give you a word of advice.
Always take a little, a very little, absinthe with your coffee.  It is
more wholesome.  What were we talking about?  Oh, it was Poissy, was it
not?"

But M.  Leroux could endure no more.

"Excuse me, Monsieur Bourget, I am already late for an appointment.  I
must not lose time any longer, even over such an interesting subject."

"Well, look in, and I will show you my suggestions for the north wing,"
the ex-builder called after him.  "Ah, ha, there is Flechier; he might
have an idea.  Flechier!"

The individual addressed, on the other side of the street, only
quickened his steps, with a wave of his hand.

"Ah, my friend, it is you!  Grieved that I can't stop.  Business.
Another day.  Au revoir."

"What has come to the world, then, that every one is so confoundedly
busy to-day?" grumbled M.  Bourget.  "I should have said I knew most of
the affairs that are going on in Tours.  I must go and inquire.  The
house is not so agreeable, now there is no one but old Fanchon to give
one a word of welcome.  However, Nathalie is a good girl, and deserves
the good-fortune I have found for her.  Madame Leon de Beaudrillart--or
should it be Madame la baronne?  No, certainly.  There are baronesses in
plenty, but not so many Beaudrillarts.  Madame Leon de Beaudrillart, nee
Bourget.  Ah, it is magnificent!"

So far--it was a month after the marriage--M.  Bourget had abstained
from going to Poissy.  What withheld him is difficult to conjecture.
Was it a certain shyness, strangely at variance with his brusque,
sometimes brutal, bearing?  This man, who had fought down opposition,
and made himself terrible to his foes--this man, who cared little what
he said himself, and laughed his great laugh when he heard what was said
of him--was it possible that the bare idea of finding himself received
on an equality at Poissy, which after all he had so largely benefited,
made him tremble like any young girl presented to royalty?  Whatever it
was, and he gave no hint of his sensations to a living soul, the fact
remained that while Mme. de Beaudrillart shivered at the idea of an
invasion in which he would march round Poissy as if he were its
purchaser, he had not yet so much as set foot within its walls.  His
daughter and Leon had come in two or three times to see him, and it had
given him exquisite pleasure to perceive them driving along the street
in the charming carriage which had been his wedding present to Nathalie.
The first time that he saw them he happened to be standing at his own
door, and the blood rushed to his face so violently that, all unused to
the sensation, he imagined himself ill, and put his hand out to support
himself.  His greeting, however, was as brusque as ever, and neither
Nathalie nor Leon had the smallest suspicion of his emotion.  The second
time he found fault with Leon for putting up the ponies at a small inn
instead of at the principal hotel.

"Not suitable," he grumbled.

"Decidedly, Nathalie, your father means you to spend your money," said
her husband, laughingly, as they drove home again, "yet he does not
afford himself too much luxury."

"He has never begrudged me anything," she said, with compunction, "and
it made me feel more than ever ashamed to-day to see him in his bare,
uncomfortable room, lonely and cold-looking, and to feel that I--I--"

She did not finish, for Leon put his head near hers and whispered:

"He should be satisfied to be your father."

She smiled, and let him murmur caressing nothings, but said, presently:

"Leon, I think my father would like to come to Poissy."

"Well, why not?  Of course.  Why didn't you ask him?  Now that I think
of it, I believe he has never been there since our engagement.  Why, it
is disgraceful!  Certainly he must come.  You should have fixed a day."

She laughed a little shyly.  "Perhaps I should, but, to tell you the
truth, I was afraid, until you had spoken to Madame de Beaudrillart and
your sisters.  Are you sure they would not object?"

He turned away his head with a momentary hesitation.  Then, "My sisters
have nothing to say to it," he said, impatiently.  "As for my mother,
certainly she will not object."

"But will she make it pleasant for him?  You understand, Leon, that she
thinks we--my father and I--are different--not of her class.  With you
near, it matters very little to me, but for my father I should feel it
another matter, and I could not endure slights for him.  That was why I
said nothing to-day, though I am sure he expected it."

"We will drive in to-morrow, and carry him off."

To this she did not answer, perhaps aware that her husband had said a
little more than he meant.  She only remarked:

"Will you ask your mother?"

"Certainly, or--why not you?"

"I think you might explain rather more fully--what I have just said,"
she added, with difficulty.  "Unless it is to be what he would like, I
would rather he did not come--rather, even, that he thought me
ungrateful."

"Oh, you will see!  My mother has a good heart; all will go well," said
Leon, confidently.  He took an opportunity of saying to Mme. de
Beaudrillart, "Mother, don't you think that Monsieur Bourget should be
asked here one day?"

"Certainly, Leon, if you desire it.  It is what I expected."

"Nathalie had a sort of notion that you might not like it, and that it
would not be very agreeable for him?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"The reverse, I imagine!  But what would you have me do?  I cannot
transform Poissy into Monsieur Bourget's back parlour, or provide him
with the sort of companions with whom he would feel at ease."

"All that I ask," said Leon, a little hotly, "is that he should be
treated here as my wife's father."

"My dear Leon, you need not insist on the relationship.  We are all
aware of it, and, indeed, I think myself that it is only proper he
should come."

"My sisters can show him the place.  He is immensely proud of Poissy,
and anxious that anything in the way of repair should be done at once."

Mme. de Beaudrillart bit her lip.

"I hope you do not attend to his suggestions."

"Oh, indeed I do," said Leon, with a laugh.  "I think them extremely
valuable."

"Ah, he was a builder, was he not?"

"Certainly," her son said, imperturbably, "and, luckily for us, a most
successful builder.  Why, mother, you must be aware of the name he has
in Tours for shrewdness and good sense?"

"Yes, I know too well," said Mme. de Beaudrillart, impatiently, "and I
am sorry to displease you, Leon, for I am certain you acted for the
best; but I would rather, far rather, you had Monsieur de Cadanet for
your creditor than this Monsieur Bourget for your father-in-law."

"Ah, mother, but I could not part with my Nathalie.  However, it is
settled, is it not?  Monsieur Bourget will come, and you will be
charming to him for my sake?"

And he departed, whistling, to assure his wife that everything was
satisfactorily arranged, and that she might take the first opportunity
of inviting her father.

Nathalie drove in for him one morning, in order to bring him out for the
second breakfast, and though she was glad, it must be owned she rather
dreaded the time they would spend together, lest he should ask questions
which she might have difficulty in parrying.  She need not have feared.
M.  Bourget rode on the crest of exultation.  He sat upright in the
carriage, looking round him, at Nathalie, at the pretty pair of grey
ponies, at the rug laid across his knees, with pride like that of a
child's.  Every now and then he broke off what he was saying to remark
in a tone of profound satisfaction, "Ah, ha, this goes well!  This is
something like!"  To please him she called at one or two of the
principal shops, and, drawn up there, when his acquaintances passed, he
saluted them with the air of an emperor.  All the way out to the chateau
he plied her with questions about Poissy, more than once mentioning
facts in its history which it displeased him to find she did not know.

"I thought you had had a proper education--certainly it cost me enough,"
he grumbled; "and here you don't even know what has happened in your own
family."

"No, it is disgraceful!" she agreed, laughing.  "I must set to work at
once.  There are sure to be books about it in the library.  But, I
assure you, father, I try to keep up a habit of reading."

"Ah, well, that's all very well, that's as your husband pleases; but
certainly you're no business to be ignorant about what so nearly
concerns you.  I tell you what, Nathalie, it's the way of all others to
vex madame.  A fine woman, that!  She looks a De Beaudrillart to her
fingers' ends."

The meeting and the breakfast passed off fairly.  Leon was there, and
his good-humoured charm of manner succeeded in warding off one or two
dangerous subjects.  Claire studied M.  Bourget as if he were a specimen
of some strange species, with scarcely-veiled impertinences, which set
his daughter's cheeks burning.  Felicie, on the other hand, sat mute,
her eyes on her plate.  M.  Bourget, who had for some time regarded her
in silence, at last touched Mme. de Beaudrillart's arm.

"The poor young lady!" he said, sympathetically.  "How long has it been
so with her?"

"How?" demanded Mme. de Beaudrillart, amazed.

"That she has lost her hearing?  I see she has cotton-wool in her ears.
I once tried it myself, but I don't like it; it heats the ear.  Can she
talk on her fingers?"

"Felicie!" cried her mother, sharply.  Claire interposed.

"It's a curious kind of intermittent deafness, monsieur, which only
seizes her at times.  By-and-by, probably, it will have departed as
quickly as it came, but I am afraid you must resign yourself to her
being stone-deaf while you are here."

"When you know us better, Monsieur Bourget, you will find that we have
many peculiarities," said Leon, pleasantly.

"Do you like this wine?  It has been brought out especially in your
honour."

"Ah," said his father-in-law, eagerly; "it is old?"

"Very old."

M.  Bourget looked at his glass with admiration.  To tell the truth, he
preferred the sourer vintage to which he was accustomed, but it gave him
deep delight to be drinking ancient wine from the cellars of Poissy.

"Nathalie," said Leon again, "we must show your father your room--"

"And the north wing.  That should be the first to be repaired,"
announced M.  Bourget, loudly.  Claire lifted her eyebrows.

"Is Poissy, then, to be taken in hand at once?"

"Certainly.  I hope so," said the ex-builder, in the same strong voice.
"As it is, I am afraid there will be difficulties; but if it had been
left another winter--well, certainly, it would have been very bad.  And
the plaster-work in this room, how it has suffered!  Still, there is a
man I know very clever at such jobs, and if the baron will put it into
his hands I can answer that he will make a good job of it, and not be
unreasonable."

Mme. de Beaudrillart rose, abruptly.

"Monsieur Bourget will, I am sure, excuse me, if I leave him to the care
of my son and Madame Leon.  There will be coffee later in the
drawing-room.  Come, Claire!"

"No, mamma, I remain."  She added in a slightly lowered tone, "Some one
must protect our poor Poissy."

Felicie, with downcast eyes, rose to follow her mother, when a shout in
her ear made her start violently.

"Try syringing, mademoiselle.  That did me a great deal of good."  He
added, to Nathalie, "You should look after your sister.  I can see she
wants rousing and fresh air, and eats no more than a fly.  Now, Monsieur
de Beaudrillart, I am at your service."

He was completely in his element when going over the chateau, with the
eye of a lynx for whatever was wanting, and an absolute horror for the
tiny plants which, thrusting their rootlets between the stones, added so
much grace to the walls.  Where they were within reach he dragged them
ruthlessly out, in spite of Claire's remonstrances.

"Oh yes, mademoiselle, very pretty, and all the rest of it, no doubt;
but do you know what they effect, these little mischief-makers?  It is
they that loosen the stones, and bring the walls of Poissy rattling
about the ears of those that come after you.  And it is those others of
whom we have to think," he announced loudly, proceeding to demolish a
small tuft of harts-tongue, by prodding it with the point of his stick.
"For myself, I have no doubt that the whole building should be scraped.
However, at any rate, Monsieur de Beaudrillart, you will set about what
is necessary at once."

Leon, catching sight of his sister's face, felt his own momentary
irritation subside.  Besides, were not Nathalie's eyes imploring him?

"Certainly," he said, quietly.  "You have, no doubt, the right, Monsieur
Bourget, to speak."

"Ah, and I know what I am talking about, too.  See here, monsieur,
Poissy is as dear to me as to you."

"Really?  You do us too much honour."

"Not at all.  But I think of the future, which you young people are too
apt to forget, and I want to see matters put straight.  Now that you can
afford it, that must be your business.  Show me the land that was sold
last year."

Somewhat to his dismay, Leon found that his father-in-law was perfectly
acquainted with all his enforced sales, and the value of the property
parted with.  His remarks were shrewd.  "You had no reason to blame
Monsieur Georges, who was an honest man;" and at another time, "You set
store on your wine.  In your place I should have preferred to keep the
vineyard," or "Ah, Paris ate up this farm.  She swallows without
difficulty, our fine Paris!"  Leon, who was not easily abashed, felt as
if there were something terrible in the square ungainly figure, marching
from point to point, and seeing everything.  Had Claire not been there,
Nathalie would have attempted a diversion; as it was she remained
silent, hoping, for her husband's sake, that the ordeal once over would
not be repeated.  At last M.  Bourget stood still.

"Now for the chateau," he said.

Here, except where his sharp eyes espied falling plaster or a stain of
wet, the awe of Poissy was upon him, and placed him at a disadvantage.
It was soon evident, however, that the simplicity of the furniture
shocked his sense of what was fitting, and in Nathalie's own room he
gave this feeling a voice.

"Hum, ha, oh, very nice, very nice; but couldn't you have had a little
more gold about?"

"You know I was never very fond of gold," she said, with a smile.

"If you didn't like it in our house, you couldn't have any objection
here.  It seems to me that you want cheering up a bit.  Your curtains,
now.  Wouldn't tapestry be richer than chintz?"

"Oh, my curtains are charming!" she said, brightly.  "Admit that nothing
could be prettier than the whole effect!  But you must come into the
salon; that room will delight you."

In the salon sat Mme. de Beaudrillart, very upright, and with more state
than was ordinary.  The coffee was brought in an antique silver service.
M.  Bourget looked at his cup with admiration, and choked down his
desire to ask for a teaspoonful of absinthe.  Leon had vanished to avoid
hearing possible sharp speeches, and nothing could have been more frigid
and uncomfortable than the conversation when the guest again descanted
upon the work of repair which should be speedily undertaken at Poissy.

"My son must do what he thinks best, monsieur," announced Mme. de
Beaudrillart, with her grandest air; "at any rate, he is more likely to
know what is needed than a stranger.  For myself, I think the less done
the better."

M.  Bourget stared at her, set down his cup, jumped up, and marched to
the window.  There he stood, the delicate lines about him contrasting
strangely with the sturdy squareness of his figure.

"Then, madame, permit me to say that you must be ignorant of the
principles of building.  You see that wall!"  He waved a thick hand in
its direction.

"Well, monsieur?" returned Mme. de Beaudrillart, glancing languidly.

"It already bulges, and in another twenty years it will be down, unless
something is done.  Perhaps you do not believe me."

"Oh, monsieur, on the contrary," put in Claire.  "We know that you are
an undisputed authority in such matters."

If he perceived the taunt, he disregarded it.  He had made his point,
and it appeared to him impossible that it should be ignored.  "Well,
then?" he said, inquiringly.

"All this takes money."

"True enough."  He rubbed his hands.  "But now that you have money?"

There was a sort of rustle in the room; no one answered.  Nathalie
flushed crimson.  To her relief a servant entered with a message from
Leon.

"Monsieur le baron regrets exceedingly that he has been called away on
business, and cannot himself have the pleasure of driving Monsieur
Bourget back to Tours, but the coachman awaits orders."

"I will drive my father myself," said Nathalie, quickly.  "Shall we
start at once, father?"  It was too much for her strength; but pride,
different from the pride of the Beaudrillarts, though quite as intense,
insisted upon clinging to him at this juncture.  When they were in the
carriage, he looked at his hand.

"Damme!" he said; "so that is how great folks shake hands, is it?"

"How?" asked his daughter, trying to smile.

"With two fingers, to be sure.  You must learn that trick, my girl."

CHAPTER SEVEN.

VINE-SNAILS.

Nathalie trusted, and her husband took for granted, that friendlier
relations would spring up between her and her mother and sisters in law;
but as the months rolled on, there was little apparent change.  As much
as possible she was ignored, at the best was treated with the ceremony
due to a stranger.  The hope with which she had begun her married life
faded, and she gave up some illusions, but kept the sweetest of all,
faith in her husband, although she had dropped the idea that he could
help her in her other relationships, and perhaps at last realised this
weakness in him: that he hated to face or to share disagreeables.
Gradually her life took a threefold character: that with the family,
that with her husband, and that in which she was alone.  What she had to
bear she endured grandly and silently, never complaining to Leon, or
even asking his advice.  She loved him passionately, and--which was
stranger--he still loved her.

M.  Bourget's visit to Poissy had not been repeated.  Fear lest his
shrewd intelligence, once roused, should see too much, kept his daughter
from suggesting his coming, although she felt with a pang that he
expected an invitation.  She often, however, drove to Tours, for she
perceived that it gave him extreme pleasure to see the carriage appear,
and sometimes to seat himself by her side while she invented errands
which took them through the streets.  On some pretext or another Leon
always excused himself from accompanying her.  If he were obliged to
meet M.  Bourget he showed perfect kindness and cordiality, but the
common little figure and self-satisfied arrogance of the ex-builder was
as distasteful to him as to the rest of his family, and he easily
contented himself with the reflection that Nathalie would do all that
was right and proper.  M.  Bourget never failed to ask for him, or to
show a little disappointment that he had not accompanied his wife.

"Well, and Monsieur de Beaudrillart!" he would say.

"There were some trees which had to be marked for cutting, and he has
gone off to see about it," Nathalie answered, in a low tone.  Once her
father scrutinised her sharply and unexpectedly.

"He does not tire of you, this fine gentleman, eh?"

"Father!"  The blood rushed into her face; she turned upon him in blank
amazement, which completely reassured him.

"Ah, all goes well, I see," he said--"with you, at any rate.  And the
north wing?"

"That, too," she answered eagerly.  "Leon has done exactly what you told
him, and they have put props where you thought it necessary."

"Ah, your little Monsieur de Beaudrillart, he has good sense, say what
they will," said M.  Bourget, gratified.  "But I should like to see
Fauvel's work.  He can do well enough when he takes pains, and if he
knows that I am at his heels; but you can't trust him altogether, and it
would not in the least surprise me if he tried to take in Monsieur de
Beaudrillart--not in the least.  I shall show him that he has me to
reckon with.  I tell you what, Nathalie, you're on the upper shelf now,
and I don't wish to push myself where I'm not wanted--"

She laid her hand on his reproachfully.  "Leon and I were not sure you'd
like to come out, but if only you would!"

"Ah, you've talked about it, have you?  Well, I should; because, you
see, I can't bear the notion that what is being done at Poissy shouldn't
be the best.  Peste, if you only knew how I lie awake at night and think
of that wall!  And Fauvel is very well, but they're all alike, for if
you don't keep both eyes open, and have a third at the back of your
head, they'll scamp their work, and that won't do for Poissy."

He went on, autocratically: "I'm not sure that anybody there thinks
enough of the place."

The wonder what they would have said had they heard him made Nathalie
laugh and answer, gayly:

"If you lived there you would be quite sure!"

He shook his head in doubt.  "Now, I'll tell you what I'll do.  I'll
walk out some day just when Fauvel isn't expecting me, and have a good
look round.  If he's put any bad work in, it will have to come out, I
can tell him.  Then if those fat ponies of yours have nothing else to
do--" He broke off and looked scrutinisingly at her again.  "They take
you with them when they go and pay visits or that sort of thing, don't
they!"  She coloured.

"Oh, I can go wherever I like.  I think most often it is Felicie who
comes with me, because she so often has to arrange with other ladies or
to call at farm-houses."

"Felicie?  That's the poor deaf young lady, isn't it?"

"She is not always deaf," she said in a low voice, looking down.

"Well, it's an affliction, anyway.  Why, what does she do at the
houses?"

"She collects."

"Collects, eh?"

"For the Church."

M.  Bourget gave a contemptuous grunt.  "Oh, that nonsense!  Better stay
at home and look after the maids.  Well, as I was saying, I'll walk out
some day, and if they can spare you, you shall drive me back.  Fauvel
will learn that I am there."

"It will be very kind of you, dear father, and most useful to Leon."

"Useful, yes; I rather flatter myself I am useful if I ain't
ornamental," said the ex-builder, standing up and sticking his thumbs
into his waistcoat, and swelling.  "Poissy without money and tumbling to
pieces was a sorry sight, but Poissy with a good stock of francs at her
back--ah, ha, there's a Poissy for you!  That's hotter than the
ornamental.  Besides, you can do all that.  And that reminds me that
I've a little something to say to Madame de Beaudrillart about you."

"About me?"  She looked at him nervously.

"Yes, yes, never mind.  I know what I'm talking of.  You leave me alone,
and do what you're told.  That's all.  Whatever happens, nobody now can
make you anything but a De Beaudrillart.  Of Poissy."  And by his action
he added, unmistakably, the words, "_My_ daughter."

Told of M.  Bourget's intentions, Leon laughed.

"Oh, he'll do well enough!" he exclaimed, "and you can smooth over
anything that wants smoothing.  I'll tell Felicie that if she carries on
that absurd farce of stuffing her ears with wool, I'll refuse to
subscribe to her next pilgrimage.  That'll frighten her.  I dare say
Fauvel will be the better for not having everything his own way."

"And, Leon--"

"Well?"

"You'll be here yourself, won't you?"

"Oh, of course!"  But though he spoke confidently, it was remarkable how
frequently he was obliged during the next mornings to go off to some
distant point.  It was on one of these mornings that M.  Bourget
arrived.

The second breakfast was over, and he sturdily refused the offers of
hospitality which Mme. de Beaudrillart pressed upon him with ceremonious
care.

"No, no, madame," he said.  "I'm here on business, and, with your leave,
I'll go and see about it at once."

"But, unfortunately, monsieur, my son is not here to conduct you."

M.  Bourget stared, the awe of his first visit having considerably
lessened.

"Much obliged, madame, but I require no conducting.  Fauvel and I have
done a good deal of work together before now, and I don't think he'll
try to palm off anything discreditable upon me.  I mean to see, though,
and perhaps one of the young ladies would like to come, too.
Mademoiselle Felicie looks as if she wanted fresh air, poor thing!  I
dare say it's a trial to her to be so hard of hearing."

"Sometimes it's more a trial to hear at all, Monsieur Bourget," said
Claire, gazing at the ceiling.  She burst out when they were alone:
"Heavens! are we to have that odious man inflicted upon us whenever he
chooses to think that Poissy requires his superintendence?  And Leon has
no doubt gone away on purpose?  If he presents us with a father-in-law
in the shape of a builder--or a mason?  Which was it?"--"Oh, a builder.
Fauvel is the mason."

"--He might at least share the labours of entertaining him."

"One could endure the builder," said Felicie, creeping with her small
steps towards the window, "if he were not such a terrible freethinker.
Abbe Nisard says you can never be certain what he will not say."

"If he says anything to you it will be shouted," laughed Claire.  "To
have brought that great voice on your head is serious."

"The whole affair, the whole connection, is serious," said Mme. de
Beaudrillart gravely.  "Nathalie is not without good points, but such a
father!  What can one expect!"

"He talks as if Poissy belonged to him.  By-and-by, you will see he will
suggest something preposterous."

Mme. de Beaudrillart smiled.

"He may suggest," she said, calmly.

And, unfortunately, one of M.  Bourget's chief objects in coming to
Poissy was to make a suggestion.

His interview with Fauvel was less satisfactory than he would have
desired.  Both were men of vigorous ideas, and, although M.  Bourget was
the stronger, and usually had his way, there were times when Fauvel took
refuge in argument, in which he developed an annoying aptitude.  He was
in favour of one way of securing the wall, and M.  Bourget of another;
each hammered at the other's reasons for a good half-hour, and what
chiefly irritated M.  Bourget was Fauvel's habit of referring to work
which he had executed for a certain retired chemist at Tours.  That any
comparison should be made between this petty undertaking and that of
restoring the stability of Poissy exasperated him almost beyond bounds,
and would have driven him to condemn a better plan.  He carried his
point at last by dint of sheer browbeating; but it had heated his blood,
and he marched away mopping his forehead, and inveighing against
Fauvel's pigheadedness, until Nathalie had some difficulty in soothing
him.

"I think I understand what you mean, father, and I will ask Leon to see
that it is carried out."  He faced round upon her angrily.

"You will do nothing of the sort.  What!  Aren't these women turning up
their noses at you because you are a builder's daughter?  You will
forget that, if you please, and become a fine lady as quickly as
possible: Now that I have made you a De Beaudrillart, I expect you to
hold up your head with the best of them."

She was thunderstruck, the more so because she had not imagined that he
had taken in her position in the house, or the petty thrusts with which
Claire had attempted to wound both him and her.  But she answered with
spirit:

"You are mistaken.  They will not respect me the more for pretending to
be what I am not."

M.  Bourget did not hear her; he had caught sight of a young girl with a
merry face who was crossing the court-yard, singing, a dish covered with
vine-leaves in her hand.  The sun struck down on her bright hair
escaping under her cap; she had a pretty blue skirt and a large apron.

"What has she got?" asked the ex-builder, quickening his steps.  "Here,
Toinette, Jeanne, what you will, I want you!"

"Stop, Rose-Marie," Nathalie called, wonderingly.  The girl came towards
them, smiling more broadly, and showing her white teeth.

"What have you got there?" demanded M.  Bourget.  "But I'll wager I
know."  He lifted a leaf.  "Ah, ha, as I thought!  Vine-snails, and fine
ones, too; I never saw finer."

"Freshly picked, monsieur."

"Yes, yes, plain enough.  Freshly picked, and beauties!  There, there,
that will do, my girl," he said with a sigh and a wave of dismissal.

"Would you not like some to take back with you?" asked his daughter,
innocently.

"Ah, but it wouldn't do, it wouldn't do," M.  Bourget declared, shaking
his head.  "As if every soul in the chateau would not know that Madame
Leon's father had bought vine-snails!"

"And then!"  Her voice was scornful.  Her father looked at her.

"I begin to understand," he remarked, frowning.  "It appears to me that
you have already forgotten what, Heaven knows, I preached enough about
before your marriage: that Madame Leon de Beaudrillart is not the same
person as Mademoiselle Bourget, and that to effect the necessary change
you must forget a great deal.  For instance, you should forget that I
ever ate vine-snails."

She sighed, and tears gathered in her eyes.

"It is unlucky, father, for I do not think I forget easily enough.  And
why should I?  Leon is kinder than to ask it.  Listen.  I love him
dearly, but I cannot live a life of pretence, for everything in me cries
out against it, and they must take me as I am."

"And it was not a bad bargain," said M.  Bourget, rubbing his hands with
complacency.  "You may be certain there was a very fair equivalent on
either side.  Monsieur de Beaudrillart does not complain?"

The young wife began to smile in spite of herself.

"No, no!"

"Good.  But, see here, my girl, it is I you have to think of.  I mean
you to be a Beaudrillart, and a Beaudrillart you must become.  Keep your
eyes open.  You are sharp enough to pick up what is what, and to take
your position with the best of them.  I've heard nonsense enough from
Fauvel to-day, so don't vex me by talking any more."

"But--"

"No buts," said M.  Bourget, peremptorily.  "The subject is finished--
arranged; and I shall expect all to go as I desire.  Now let me see the
picture-gallery."

The picture-gallery at Poissy is short, though beautifully proportioned
to the rest of the house; it is rather a long room consecrated to the
past than a gallery at all.  It has an exquisite ceiling, and delightful
deep windows from which you look over the trees--of no great height--to
the rich and smiling country beyond.  The room is by no means crowded
with portraits, and, except for the interest to their descendants, the
pictures are of little value.  The last is dated about eighty years ago,
and is chiefly noticeable as the likeness of a Baron de Beaudrillart who
escaped the horrors of the revolution.

Round this room M.  Bourget marched, regarding each painting as
thoughtfully as if he were studying for the reputation of a critic.
Nathalie did not accompany him.  She threw open one of the windows, and
leaned out, amusing herself with dropping little pellets of moss upon
the turf beneath, where a few pigeons had collected, and were sunning
themselves with an air of great enjoyment.  Every now and then her
father called to her with a question as to the history of one of the
portraits, and it displeased him when she was not able to give a full
account of the personage's life and death.  It mattered little if she
assured him that no more was known in the family; he was always of
opinion that such ignorance showed a blamable want of interest.  He
looked long at the last pictured baron.  What he said was:

"If they had guillotined him, it might have been no such great matter;
but imagine if those rascals had touched Poissy!  Now I have finished.
Are you going to drive me back to Tours?"

"At any time you like; but you will have some coffee first?"

"Yes, since one may as well save one's pocket," said M.  Bourget with a
sigh, thinking of the absinthe.  "Besides, I have to see madame."

Nathalie wondered anxiously why this was said.  She had not long to
wait, for when he had gulped down the portion of black coffee, served in
a tiny Sevres cup of finest quality, and set it with an unsatisfied air
upon the table to his left, he opened his subject.

"You may tell Monsieur de Beaudrillart, madame, that I have put Fauvel
upon the right tack at last."

"I imagine, monsieur, that Fauvel will not venture to change any plan of
which my son has already approved?"

"Ah, Monsieur de Beaudrillart knows nothing about it--how should he?  I
do," added M.  Bourget, simply.  "As for Fauvel, he understands a few
things, but not all.  However, that is settled, and I shall sleep better
to-night for knowing that it has been seen to.  There was something
else, madame, I wished to speak about.  I asked my daughter to take me
to the picture-gallery."

"Are you thinking of insisting also upon the portraits being cleaned,
monsieur!" asked Claire, with a laugh.

"Not my business," said M.  Bourget imperturbably.  "But it's a pity
they should stop short as they do.  Eighty years ago the last!  One
would not have it said that the De Beaudrillarts had come to an end."

"Of late years, monsieur, their fortunes have diminished."

"Precisely, madame, precisely.  But now that matters have improved--in
fact, madame, the long and short of the business is that I should wish
to have Madame Leon painted, and placed in the gallery with the other De
Beaudrillarts."

There was a pause such as follows a crash, an earthquake, or any other
horrible and unexpected convulsion.  Nathalie cried out, "Oh no!" but
her father turned his back upon her, and hands on knees gazed squarely
at Mme. de Beaudrillart.  She stared back at him as if she had failed to
comprehend his proposal.

"Madame Leon!  In the picture-gallery!"

"Precisely, madame.  Painted by the best artist in France."

"Monsieur, I do not think you understand what you suggest.  Those are
our ancestors, the old De Beaudrillarts."

"Exactly why I wish to see her among them."

He leaned back, and faced her, the image of dogged resolution.

"But--monsieur, it is impossible!"

"And why, madame!"

"Because--because it is altogether unsuitable."  She would have liked to
have said "preposterous."

M.  Bourget frowned.

"Madame, when Fauvel objected to what I desired to see done, he had his
reasons for objecting.  They weren't worth much, it is true, but--they
existed.  Perhaps you would also favour me with your reasons?"

Mme. de Beaudrillart folded her hands and looked at the floor.  How was
it possible to say to this man, "You yourself are the reason?"  But he
forestalled her.

"I understand, madame.  You wish to express to me that Madame Leon
cannot boast of Ancient birth, and that I made my money by trade.  All
that is perfectly true.  At the same time, I wish to point out that,
however it was made, the money has not been unacceptable.  Moreover,
whatever my daughter was born, she is now a Beaudrillart."

Mme. de Beaudrillart remained absolutely silent.  It was Nathalie who
spoke with an attempt at gaiety.

"It appears to me that I might be allowed a word, and I don't think
anything would be so irksome to me as having my portrait painted.
Besides--eighty years!  The gap is too great.  It is very kind of you,
father, but do not think more about it."

M.  Bourget rose.

"On the contrary, it will be carried out."

Mme. de Beaudrillart also rose.

"Not for the gallery, monsieur."

"For the gallery, and the gallery alone, madame."

He tried to speak quietly, but his face was very red, and he drew his
breath in short gasps.  His opponent, with her air of superb calm, and
her dignified manner, impressed him in spite of himself.  When poor
Nathalie had got him away, and they were together in the carriage, he
muttered:

"Was there ever such a ridiculous woman!  For all that, there is what
you must aim at.  There's an air for you, a presence!  You don't catch
me here again in a hurry; but if I were you, my girl, I'd practise that
way she has of looking as if you were the dust under her feet.  It was
just as much as I could do to hold my own against it, I can tell you.
All looking.  She hadn't a word to say.  And she'll have to give in."

"As a particular favour, don't press it, dear father.  You can see how
disagreeable it would be for me."

"Aha, but you must learn to look, too, now you are one of them.  No.  I
am resolved, and I shall write to Monsieur de Beaudrillart."

Nathalie promised herself to be first in the field with her husband, but
how to keep the peace between these clashing wills?  Leon only laughed
when he heard of the dilemma.

"Oh, we will find a way out of it!  Your father is absolutely right, my
Nathalie; that face of yours is worthy of the best painter and the best
place.  But my mother, dear woman, has her little prejudices about the
gallery."

"And I would not be there for worlds!" she cried, shuddering.  "Without
you, and to be left to the mercy of those old Beaudrillarts?  No, Leon,
do not ask it!"

"Leave it to me.  It would be so charming to have your portrait, and you
would endure a little to please me, oh!"

"Ah, much!" she said, frankly, putting her hand on his.  "But your
mother is right, for if any one is to be there, it should be you--you
who belong to them, and whom they would have nothing against."

He caught away his hand with a sharp movement, unlike himself.

"Against!  What do you mean?"

"They would scout me as an interloper; that is all that I mean," she
said, surprised.  "Dear, I was not suggesting that I had committed a
crime, or done anything to make them utterly ashamed of me."

"No," he returned, with an uneasy laugh.  "And if we could know their
histories, I dare say we should find that it was you who might be
ashamed of their company."

"And it's well my father doesn't hear you!"  Nathalie cried, merrily.
"He would not put up with a word against the Beaudrillarts."

He did not, as usual, retort with a jest, and, indeed, for the rest of
the day was silent and almost moody.  His mother, always on the lookout
for such signs, decided that his marriage began to bore him; and though
the mood wore off, preserved the impression in her mind, and
strengthened it, as soon as she could, with another of the same
tendency.  Nathalie, who had hoped that time would bring kinder feeling
towards her, found that it only seemed to push them further apart; as
much as possible her presence was ignored, the servants were tacitly
shown that her wishes might be disregarded, and so far as any real
authority in the house was concerned, she was a mere cipher.  Yet she
was not unhappy.  She had come from a home where she had been thrown
chiefly on her own resources, and this, if a harsh, is often a wholesome
training.  The hours she spent alone passed contentedly enough,
sweetened, too, by those others when she and Leon were together, walking
over the estate, seeing to planting, thinning, cutting down, settling
which bits of the property he would buy back, watching the vintage,
strolling by the side of the river.  She never loved the river.  An
unconquerable dread had seized her ever since she heard the story of the
death by drowning of Leon's father, the Baron Bernard; but as Leon had a
fancy for fishing, she kept her repugnance out of his sight.  Neither
Mme. de Beaudrillart nor her youngest daughter would consent to take
advantage of the carriage.  Felicie, however, was glad to be spared the
long tramps which were formerly necessary before she could reach the
outlying districts where her charitable errands carried her, and more
than once had been driven in to some function in the cathedral at Tours,
with the express understanding that she should not be called upon to
encounter M.  Bourget.

"Your father and I think so differently on all subjects!" she explained.

For the picture a compromise had been arrived at, owing to the fortunate
circumstance that--to M.  Bourget's untold wrath--the painter whom Leon
had chosen was too fully occupied to come to Poissy.  M.  Bourget, while
storming at the artist's stupidity, had suggested that her husband
should take his wife to Paris, so that she might be painted there.  Leon
turned it off.  He said he had a fancy that the picture should be done
at Poissy, and the sentiment was too completely after M.  Bourget's own
heart for him to resist.  He only grumbled at the delay as a personal
wrong done to him by the painter.

"Isn't my money as good as another man's, and better!" he demanded,
wrathfully.  "I'd like to know what the fellow means by declining to
come?"

"Perhaps there are other Poissys in the world," remarked Leroux, with
malice, "and other families as important as the Beaudrillarts."

M.  Bourget stared at him.

"Now you are an ass, Leroux.  Damme, if you don't talk better sense when
you have a case, it's no wonder if you are unlucky.  But you don't
understand."

He put a bold face on it with his companions, and his nature was not
sufficiently sensitive for him to suffer under slight; still, he was not
pleased with Nathalie's position.  When she drove into the town, it was
simply, and without a vestige of parade, when M.  Bourget considered
that a greater ceremony might have been observed.  He would have liked
rattle and cracking of whips, with every one looking round, and asking,
"Who is that?"  He questioned her closely, and found that she spent her
time in her own room, or with her husband, and he got no hint of her
sitting with her mother-in-law, or being admitted into pleasant
companionship.  He could not comprehend it.  That the De Beaudrillarts
should have no dealings with M.  Bourget might be, and there was
something really pathetic in the way in which he effaced himself, and
kept away from Poissy when he was longing to be satisfied as to Fauvel's
work; but Nathalie was now a De Beaudrillart herself, and to humiliate
her was, in his eyes, to humiliate the family.  He still talked bigly,
to be sure, to Leroux and his other companions, but in his heart there
was a vexed dissatisfaction which poisoned his triumph until the late
winter came.  Then it broke out again, irrepressible and unbounded.  For
on a cold February day, when snow lay thick in the Place de
l'Archeveche, and crumpled itself into the niches round the western
porches, where no statues have replaced those broken effigies which once
gazed down, M.  Bourget was making his way sombrely back to his house,
when he became aware of a messenger from Poissy standing at the door.
The messenger brought good news--news which made M.  Bourget come out
again radiant, and present him with a whole piece of twenty sous.

"That," he announced magnificently, so that the passers-by might
hear--"that is for you to drink the health of the young Baron de
Beaudrillart."

CHAPTER EIGHT.

IN THE RUE DU BAC.

The years that came and went at Poissy after the birth of this baby son
were slowly drawing away the life of M. de Cadanet in that little Paris
hotel, which yet to his shrunk interests seemed large and hollow.  Even
when Leon saw him he was small and bent, with his skin colourless; by
this time he had grown absolutely dwarfish, wizened, elfish-looking, the
extraordinary brightness of his eyes, shining out of their hollow caves,
giving him a strange and weird appearance.  His body had become
extremely frail, but his will showed no symptoms of weakening, and one
or two valets who had presumed on his apparent feebleness found
themselves speedily undeceived and dismissed.  Old friends had dropped
off, smitten by death or illness; newspapers and politics absorbed his
chief attention, but the absorption was gloomy, for to the old--
recalling what seem better days--hope is difficult, and pessimism
natural.

M.  Charles had succeeded in his determination to make himself necessary
to the old count, and it must be admitted that the task was difficult.
It required to be carried out with the greatest care and circumspection,
since M. de Cadanet was suspicious of the smallest premonitory shadow of
coercion.  More than once, more than half a dozen times, Charles's fate
had trembled in the balance, and given him some bad half-hours of
disquiet.  If he could have made a confidante of his wife, things might
have been easier for him; as it was, he cursed his stars that even with
her it was necessary to play a part, for she was an honest dull woman,
who would have blurted out to M. de Cadanet what her husband most wished
to conceal.

It has been said that the furniture and surroundings were austere.  They
did not become less so when their owner grew older and weaker.  He had
always despised luxuries rather than begrudged them; he despised them
still.  Had he ever derived personal pleasure from them, he might have
been more merciful towards Leon, and the fabulous sums M.  Charles
reported him to have paid for his cigars; but such expenditure,
especially personal expenditure, appeared to him a miserable weakness.

Of Leon he never spoke, though M.  Charles would have given a good deal
to have known what had happened.  Without being aware of the exact state
of affairs, he was aware of this much: The Poissy estates were--if not
hopelessly--deeply embarrassed.  Probably in order to make a desperate
appeal to his cousin, M. de Beaudrillart had presented himself one day
at the hotel, and had an interview.  This much he had gathered from the
servant.  Since that day Leon had, to his knowledge, never reappeared in
Paris; but from inquiries he had made, it seemed, was living quietly at
Poissy, engaged in the ordinary life of a country gentleman.  This,
moreover, was five or six years ago.

There might, of course, be one simple explanation.  M. de Cadanet might
have relented under the pressure of a personal interview, and advanced
the large necessary sum of money, extorting at the same time a promise
from the young man to give up his Paris extravagances and betake himself
to the provinces and economy.  But Charles was tolerably certain that
this had not happened.  To begin with, he thought that his uncle, as he
chose to call him, would have told him what he had done, for he was in
the habit of speaking pretty frankly to him about Leon.  And in the next
place there was another point which might almost be taken as proof
against the possibility of such an advance.  Charles himself had
received a gift of one hundred thousand francs, and some six months
later another gift of the same sum, with the intimation that they
represented an abandoned idea.  What this idea might have been he never
ventured to ask, but he made many shrewd, guesses, and the guess which
seemed the most probable pointed to Leon de Beaudrillart.  Why there was
that space of months between the gifts he could not think; putting that
aside, he felt convinced that M. de Cadanet's generosity would not have
carried him to the length of providing for two relatives in so lavish a
fashion.

In spite of his conviction that he had benefited by Leon's disgrace,
Charles did not hate him the less.  Possibly it was because he knew that
Leon was aware of his true character; and although he had not accused
him to M. de Cadanet, there was an unpleasant feeling of insecurity in
the knowledge.  But that was not all, because as M. de Cadanet grew
weaker, and the chances of M. de Beaudrillart ever seeing him again
became infinitesimal, he lost nothing of his distrust and dislike.
Perhaps from something the old count had once let drop, he had not been
without hope of becoming master of Poissy--a hope which had ended in
disappointment.  Perhaps there still lurked in his mind a fear that when
the will was read, Leon might be remembered.  Whatever it was, one thing
was certain--that his hate had not diminished.

It need not be said that he had grown extremely tired of dancing
attendance at the house in the Rue du Bac.  The hours spent in the
severely-furnished room, reading to or writing for M. de Cadanet, who
exacted all his attention, and never fell asleep, were irksome to the
last degree.  He received few thanks, but often a gift accompanied by a
dozen cynical words.  The cynicism did not affect him, the gift it was
which enabled him to endure the attendance.  As often as possible he
sent his wife.  She was a kindly unimaginative woman; luckily for her
own happiness, of very slow perception; and attaching herself readily by
little surface roots to those who came in her way.  She had liked her
aunt and she liked M. de Cadanet, although he treated her with scant
civility; as he grew weaker, she was at the house a great deal, and
applied herself diligently to feeding him with beef tea, which he
detested, and with such small pieces of news as she considered
sufficiently unexciting.

M. de Cadanet sat in a straight-backed chair, wrapped in a wadded
dressing-gown, for, although the weather was hot, he was now always
cold, and young Mme.  Lemaire had for the last twenty minutes been
engaged in presenting him with such scraps of news from _Le Temps_ as
she thought suitable.  In the midst he said, with a sudden yawn which
would have disconcerted a more sensitive person:

"Amelie, is one permitted to ask how old you are!"

Mme.  Lemaire laid the newspaper calmly in her lap, and considered,
before answering honestly:

"I was seven-and-twenty last April."

"Heavens!  Only that I sometimes when I listen to you I think I hear my
grandmother."

"Yes?  I never saw her, of course, but I dare say she was an excellent
woman," said Amelie, taking up her work, since her uncle now seemed
disposed for a little conversation.

"Oh, excellent!" he muttered, with a little laugh.  "She killed the
count, my grandfather."

"Killed him! oh, impossible!  You don't really mean it!"

"She bored him to death," returned M. de Cadanet, letting his chin sink
feebly on his chest.

"Poor man!  Now, do you know, I am afraid you are tired.  If you were to
let me ring for an egg beaten up with a little sherry?  No?  Then shall
I go on reading?"

"No.  Unless--"

"What, mon oncle?"

"Is there anything about--about Poissy in the paper?"

"Oh, let me see."  She immediately busied herself.  "Poissy--Poissy--"

"Do you know the name?"

"No, I think not.  I cannot remember it."

"Your husband has not mentioned it?"

"Never.  Has anything happened there?  Perhaps you would like us to make
inquiries?"

"No.  Be quiet.  Nothing has happened since--since--a child was born."

"Ah, there is a child."  Her voice had changed; she looked down, and a
sigh escaped her.

"Certainly.  And a boy."

Silence followed.  She said presently, wistfully, "I suppose, then, they
are very happy?"

"Perhaps.  I do not know, and I do not care, but--in old days I knew
Poissy."

He spoke slowly and with difficulty, his voice dropping until it was
scarcely audible, and after these last words he relapsed into silence.
Amelie again laid down the paper, and took up her work--a little blouse
for an orphan in whom she was interested; she was extremely charitable,
and as Charles did not give her much money, and always talked of his
poverty, she consoled herself by working for her poor.  Her nature was
singularly placid, and she was fairly happy; indeed, she would have
declared she wanted nothing, except perhaps a little more money for her
orphans.  A really kind heart gave her an interest in the sick man, and
she did not suffer from his sharp speeches because she did not discover
their edge.  Now she sat and thought tranquilly of fat little Marie, how
fast she outgrew her frocks, and what was to be done for another when
this was worn out.  A thin white streak of sunshine, penetrating through
the outer blinds, just struck her pale brown hair, wreathed in a large
coil at the back of her head, and stole across the table to M. de
Cadanet's hand, which lay upon a book.  The hand was very thin and
parchment-like; every now and then it twitched slightly, and his head
sank lower.  Amelie, who had more than once glanced in his direction,
became at last uneasy at the profound stillness; she laid down her work,
and half rose, resting her fingers on the table.  It was possible that
he might be asleep, but sleep was unusual with him, and the least
movement generally enough to disturb him.  As he did not stir she moved
towards him noiselessly, until she was close, but his face was so sunk
that she was obliged to drop on her knees to gain a sight of it.  Then
she uttered a cry, for it was drawn and distorted.

It did not require the verdict of the doctor, hurriedly sent for, to
tell them that M. de Cadanet had had a stroke.  He was carried to the
adjoining bedroom, helpless and speechless.  Mme.  Lemaire despatched a
messenger to her husband, and made her own arrangements to remain in the
house and to obtain a nurse.  Charles did not arrive until late, and
fully approved her purpose.  He had no affection for his wife, but was
never wanting in civility.

"Certainly, my dear Amelie; and permit me to say you have shown your
usual excellent sense.  It would never do to leave the poor old man
alone.  What does the doctor say?"

"He says that it is impossible as yet to form an opinion, but he hopes
that he will recover in a measure.  Oh, I do trust so!  It was so
startlingly sudden."

"He does not suffer," said her husband, carelessly, "and if he revives,
what sort of a life will it be?  I am sure that if I were he I should
prefer to die."

"I am not so sure," Amelie said, walking about the room and placing the
chairs in order.  "But certainly he is terribly lonely with no one but
us.  Is there really no one?"

"No one."

"Who lives at Poissy?"

Charles turned quickly upon her.

"Poissy!  What do you know of Poissy?"

"Oh, nothing.  Only, our uncle spoke of it just before his attack.  I
really think it was the last thing he said."

"Now, remember, Amelie, this may be of great importance, and I should be
glad to know exactly what were his words."  It enraged him that she
still went on with her arranging, but he was afraid of displaying the
anxiety he felt.

"Let me see.  I think he began with asking whether there was anything
about Poissy in the paper."

"In the paper!"  The young man caught up _Le Temps_ and devoured the
columns.  "But there is not, of course.  Go on, Amelie.  What next?"

"I believe he wanted to know if I knew the name--if you had ever
mentioned it to me.  You never have, my friend, and so I told him."

"Yes?"

"Then he remarked--I don't know why--that a boy had been born there.
And that must have been all he said, except that he had known Poissy in
old days."

"Confound it! what did he mean?" muttered her husband, standing chin in
hand.

"Oh, I suppose it is some place where he was when he was young, and that
it just came across his mind at that moment.  Unless you think there is
some one there whom he wishes to see?  What a pity he did not say more!"

"If he does come to his senses, let me advise you not to make any
suggestions of that sort," said Charles, controlling himself with
difficulty.  "The owner of Poissy is an extravagant good-for-nothing,
who has mortally offended your uncle, and the probable result of
mentioning his name would be to bring on a most dangerous excitement."

"Then I will not, of course, because nothing could be so bad for him.
But I am very sorry.  It would be so much happier for him, poor dear! if
there were some one besides ourselves in whom he could take an interest,
especially if there was a child."

To this her husband made no answer.  His wife's personal opinions were
profoundly indifferent to him, and so long as she was impressed with the
danger of exciting M. de Cadanet, she might utter as many futile
aspirations as she pleased.  But what she had told him gave him
uneasiness--more from a vague dread of Leon de Beaudrillart than from a
well-grounded fear.  He had a fancy that M. de Cadanet's thoughts turned
sometimes with yearning in that direction, and he had with great care
avoided ever mentioning the birth of a son at Poissy.  How the old man
had discovered this event he could not conceive.  Most alarming of all
was the fact that he had not only known but had kept silence, since it
pointed to possible other reticences; and Charles had all the schemer's
distrust for the unknown.  He believed, however, that if M. de Cadanet
died in his present condition, he was certain to come into so much of
his property as he could will away; if he recovered, and his brain still
worked with painful ideas of this child at Poissy--grandson of the man
who had befriended him--it was impossible to be sure that some foolish
sentiment, some insane impulse of gratitude, might not prove strong
enough to upset his former dispositions.  The lust of gambling had
increased upon the young man, debts had swollen, creditors pressed.
Between him and things he loved best in the world a brazen gate was
slowly shutting, and he knew that it wanted but the clink of M. de
Cadanet's money for the barrier to roll swiftly back, and fling open a
garden of delight.  Now, that, added to his other anxieties, there came
this new doubt as to the disposition of the wealth which he had been,
counting on as his own, he cursed fate freely, and went about the house
with an injured air.

To watch life and death fighting is not a pretty sight.  With M. de
Cadanet, life slowly got the better; but its wounds and its weaknesses
were many, and the old count, rent with the strife, and agonised with
the pricks of returning circulation, was a sorry spectacle.  He was well
nursed, for Amelie was in her element, and gave him her whole attention,
always more delightful to a patient than the intelligence which he may
wish for in health.  She made no demands upon his brain, and his
medicine and food were ready at exactly the right hour.  Moreover, she
was really quick in understanding his imperfect speech.  Every day she
brought her husband a pleased report that there was a growing
improvement.  Charles had not the face to frown except behind her back.
He said once, sharply:

"All this is very fine; say what you like, but he will never be himself
again."

"Oh, why not?" exclaimed his wife, appealingly.  He controlled himself
to answer.

"They never are after such an attack, which, of course, weakens the
brain."

"Well, he knows everything, I am sure," she persisted.  Charles was
going out of the room, and returned, anxiety in his face.

"What does he talk about?"

"He likes to hear what the doctor has said."

"He has never alluded to--to Poissy?"

She exclaimed at the idea.

"Oh, he has not come to thinking about things of that sort."

"All the better," said her husband, drawing a long breath.  "Mind you
turn him off from it if he begins; but let me hear what he says.  You're
the only person that can understand the gibberish."

("That is one bit of luck," he added, under his breath.)

"Oh, he is getting on," she called after him, consolingly.  Charles
inquired daily, but M. de Cadanet never made allusion to Poissy.  To lie
and watch the flies on the ceiling, the sunshine travelling round from
shadow to shadow; to frown with pain or impatience; to listen to the
ticking of the gilt clock on the mantel-piece, or the muffled rattle of
a carriage; stung by these new prickings to try to move the leg and arm
to which force was slowly, slowly creeping back--this was M. de
Cadanet's daily life.  No one could understand him except Mme.  Lemaire;
they pretended to sometimes, in order not to annoy him; but the pretence
only irritated him the more.  By little and little, however, words
shaped themselves more rightly.

By--and--by he was lifted into a great chair, and wheeled from one part
of the room to the other; and this move accomplished, Mme.  Lemaire
thought that she might return home.  Charles had agreed to her remaining
in the Rue du Bac with an amiability which she considered remarkable.
He did not care for her enough to miss her, and preferred having some
one on the spot to report upon anything out of the usual course.  He
would therefore willingly have consented to her absence, but the
Orphanage had an outbreak of measles, and her placid good sense told her
that she was no longer absolutely necessary to M. de Cadanet.  The
nurse, therefore, had full charge by night, and Mme.  Lemaire and the
concierge Andre, a quiet man, whom the count said he preferred to women
about him, shared the day between them.

Unperceptive as she was, Amelie could not but allow that her husband was
in a very bad temper.  He showed it chiefly by silence, which she had
the discretion not to break, and by absence from the house, which, he
said, was owing to business.  He had not the audacity to tell her, and
she was the last woman to whom it would have occurred--simply, perhaps,
because ideas did not seem ever to spring spontaneously in her
unimaginative mind, but required to be planted there--that it was M. de
Cadanet's recovery, to which undoubtedly her excellent nursing had
contributed, which had brought about the gloom.  He took care to inform
the world that the recovery was very partial, and that the seizure had
seriously affected the old count's mind; but, in point of fact, M. de
Cadanet's intellect was as keen as ever--painfully so, indeed, because
it kept him perfectly conscious of his sad condition, and caused
miserable fits of depression.

These fits of depression were treated indifferently by the nurse, but
they always distressed Mme.  Lemaire, who would not have realised a
silent trouble, but felt great compassion for one of which she saw the
outward signs.  She did her best to produce a cheerful atmosphere, and
when he complained of the desolation of old age, cast about for
something comforting.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Is there not any one, now, dear uncle, that you would like to come and
see you?"

"My friends are where I ought to be--in the grave."

"Oh, don't say that.  Your time isn't come.  Why, you're getting better
every day.  Next week we shall move into the other room--think of that
for an event!"

The old man groaned, and Amelie, at her wits' end, ventured on the
subject against which her husband had warned her.

"You want some one young and lively to cheer you up, that is what I
think.  The Poissy you were talking about--is there no one there?"

M. de Cadanet uttered a short "No!" but she persisted.

"If they were to bring the child?  A little boy, is it not?  A house
always seems to grow happier when there is a child in it.  You have
never seen him!"

"Never.  And never shall."

"What a pity!"

"His father," said M. de Cadanet, presently, "behaved abominably."

"Dear, dear, what a pity!" repeated Amelie, holding up her work that she
might judge of the effect.  "Perhaps he has grown better now that there
is a child."

"One must see to believe that."

"That is what I thought."

"Monsieur de Beaudrillart will never come here!" exclaimed the old
count, with all his usual sharpness.  Something called her out of the
room, and when she came back he had evidently been pondering on the
subject, for he said, "You are right as to one thing; for the child is
Baron Bernard's grandson."

"Oh!" said Amelie, opening her eyes.  "And who is the Baron Bernard?"

M. de Cadanet uttered an impatient exclamation.

"Oh, you--you know nothing!  Can you give your husband a message?"

"To be sure I can."

"Then tell him that next week--when I shall be stronger--I wish to speak
to him about Leon de Beaudrillart.  Do not forget."

CHAPTER NINE.

A BURNED PAPER.

Mme.  Lemaire stood in the window of M. de Cadanet's sitting-room,
looking out.  The day before he had been wheeled into it, and with the
fretfulness of an invalid had declared it was very strange that those
who could walk about and see so much had nothing entertaining to tell
him.  Amelie had accepted the reproach cheerfully, and betaken herself
to one of the long windows, with its lace and ugly red moreen curtains,
hoping to find materials for his distraction.

But the materials were few, or she did not know how to make the best of
them.  He did not in the least care to hear of a grey sister, with snowy
collar and flapping cap, walking with her school; nor, though it made a
pretty picture, of the balcony opposite, on which a girl in a black
dress stood with her arm on a railing looking down at the busy street
below.  At last he desired her, irritably, to say no more, and was
silent.

The room in which they were was not M. de Cadanet's study, for that
looked into the court-yard, and this into the street.  It had been
chosen because it was sunnier and more cheerful.  But the cheerfulness
being a failure, he presently insisted upon being wheeled into the
study.  There, with the stove lit, though it was very warm, he seemed to
revive, and Mme.  Lemaire left him in charge of Andre, with many
instructions as to food and rest.  Charles was burning with impatience
as to the conversation which lay before him, and of which the subject
was to be Leon de Beaudrillart, but the doctor had forbidden any talk
that threatened excitement, until a few more days had passed, and the
count was stronger.

When Amelie arrived at the house the next morning, she found her uncle
in bed and very much weaker.  It seemed that he had insisted upon Andre
fetching a tin box from the library, which, when it was unlocked, turned
out to contain a bundle of papers.  These M. de Cadanet had studied for
a long time, afterwards replacing them with marked agitation.  He had
evidently felt extreme fatigue in consequence, and the doctor spoke with
gravity to Mme.  Lemaire, declaring that the access of weakness was a
very discouraging sign.  The old count himself said very little, but
towards evening remarked:

"Tell your husband I wish to speak to him to-morrow afternoon."  And
when Amelie attempted a remonstrance, he added, peremptorily: "I wish
it;" and the doctor, to whom she appealed the next morning, only
replied:

"It may, of course, be injurious--all emotion is likely to be
injurious--but I cannot take it upon me to prevent Monsieur de Cadanet
from giving what are, possibly, important directions.  His condition is
too critical."

Charles himself, who had been on thorns, disliked the prospect.  If M.
de Cadanet was at last dying, he was of opinion that matters had better
remain as they were, without further allusions to Leon.  Andre, closely
cross-questioned, revealed nothing.  His master had read the papers and
replaced them, that was all.  Certainly no notary had been sent for, and
he himself had never once left the room.  Charles, always suspicious,
had an idea that the man was keeping back something, but as his
questions could not find ground for the opinion, there was nothing to
say or do.  Nor, however much he might have preferred to avoid the
coming interview, could he venture to do so, for, weak as he was, M. de
Cadanet might no more be safely contradicted now than at any former
time.  He came accordingly at the hour appointed, and Amelie was waiting
in the anteroom.

"He is terribly changed," she whispered.  "The doctor thinks there must
be another attack shortly."

"Does he know what he is about?" her husband asked, eagerly.

"Oh, perfectly.  He is asking for you; and you can go in at once, only
do be careful."

He went, though unwillingly.  Sickness and death were repulsive to him,
and he had a dread of some inconvenient request being made, with which
he would rather not comply.  Still, as he reflected, better he should be
sent for than any other man, and he put on a cheerful air as he advanced
to the bed in the alcove.

"Sorry to find you here again, dear uncle.  I'm afraid you have been
attempting a little too much.  However, in a day or two--"

M. de Cadanet interrupted him.

"I have something for you to do, Charles."

"With all my heart."

"You know the low book-shelf in my study?"

"Perfectly."

"There is a small tin box by its side.  Fetch it."

His voice was feeble and broken as well as indistinct.  It took him some
time to utter a sentence.  Charles left the room with a feeling of
congratulation that whatever had to be done, he would not have the
inconvenience of another witness.  If Amelie had been still in the
anteroom he would have sent even her, on some excuse, out of the house.
But she had vanished, and after all, as he reflected, the precaution
would have been absurd.  The tin box was where M. de Cadanet had said,
where Charles himself had seen it a hundred times.  He looked at it now
curiously.  Something of importance must be in it to cause it to lie so
heavy on the mind of the dying man, and he would have given a good deal
to have had a peep into its contents before he carried it back.  All
that he could judge was that it was light, and not closely filled, for
he could feel papers slipping loosely inside.  Perhaps, after all, the
great affair meant no more than that there were letters to be destroyed,
perhaps old love-letters--he laughed.  If Mme. de Cadanet, Amelie's
aunt, had resembled Amelie, it was not impossible.  Another thought made
him reflect that the joke might turn out to be awkward, and instead of
laughing, he looked angrily at the box which might contain dangerous
witnesses.  M. de Cadanet received it without a sign, except one which
notified that it should be placed on a chair by his bedside.  Then he
said to Charles:

"Sit down."

"Now for the confession," reflected the young man, drawing a chair near
the dying man.

"I have a story to tell, and little breath with which to speak," said M.
de Cadanet.  "In that bottle is brandy; give me a spoonful."

Charles obeyed.  He was silent, because he did not know what to say.

"And here are my keys.  Unlock the box."

His hand trembling with anxiety, the young man did as he was told.  A
small packet of letters lay at the bottom, confirming his suspicions.
But when he would have lifted it out, M. de Cadanet stopped him.

"Not yet.  First hear my story.  These letters relate to Monsieur Leon
de Beaudrillart."

"I was a fool.  I might have seen that they were not so old," thought
the other.

Relief and curiosity began to struggle with him.

"You have not met him for some years."

"No.  It has surprised me.  Is it six years?"

"Between six and seven.  He has been afraid to come."

"Yes?"  Charles leaned eagerly forward.

"The day he was here he committed a crime, and I could have had him
arrested."

"Ah!"

M. de Cadanet's voice had grown yet feebler, and Charles, on fire with
mad desire to hear, was in terror lest it should fail altogether.  He
poured out more brandy, but the other pushed it away with an impatient
gesture.

"When I ask.  Not before.  And don't interrupt me.  Where was I?"

"You said you could have had him arrested."

"So I could.  It was this way.  You know what straits he was in; you had
been clever enough to find out.  Well, he had the effrontery to come to
me--me, whom he had laughed at--and to invite me to pay his debts; I
should say, rather, to lend him money enough to pay them himself."

"The same thing."

"Precisely.  Then I had my opportunity.  I told my gentleman that I had
made inquiries and knew all about his affairs.  That if he had come well
out of them, I would, for his father's sake, have made over to him two
hundred thousand francs; I even showed him the cheque."

M.  Charles whistled.

"You think it was imprudent?" said M. de Cadanet, turning his dark eyes
towards him.

"I think he was a desperate man."

"Well, I still looked upon him as his father's son.  However, in his
presence, I directed it to you--" His voice died away, and the next
words were undistinguishable.  Charles jumped up and poured out brandy.

"Drink this, sir, I implore you!"

"I must rest.  Perhaps in ten minutes a little strength will have come
back, but I am very ill--very, very ill."

He was; but his hearer was so burningly anxious to hear more that he
almost forgot the sympathy it was incumbent upon him to show.  He
commanded himself, however, in time, and begged M. de Cadanet for their
sakes not to over-excite himself.  There was a long, almost
interminable, silence.  The room was hot, flies buzzed on the
window-panes, and the clock ticked loudly, even triumphantly, as if it
knew it were measuring out M. de Cadanet's moments, and that its work
was nearly over.  When the old man spoke again, Charles clinched his
hands with disappointment.

"Your wife is a good woman."

"Oh, she is!"  He added, "Apparently she takes after her aunt."

M. de Cadanet's answer was rather a grunt than an assent, but after
another pause he remarked:

"Nevertheless, neither she nor any one must ever hear what I am telling
you."

"Rest assured they will not.  You know me, I think, my dear uncle, and
that I am not a tattler.  But I am deeply interested.  You had, if I
understood rightly, enclosed that sum of money most generously intended
for me, and Monsieur de Beaudrillart was aware of it?  What followed?"

"A quarrel."

"Did he attempt to wrest it from you?"

"I believe he thought of it, but gave up his idea for another."

"Ah, now I have it!" cried Lemaire, triumphantly.  "He forged your
name."

M. de Cadanet flung him a glance of contempt.  "Apparently, monsieur,
you are very little acquainted with the De Beaudrillarts."

The young man saw his mistake, and caught it back.

"Of course not, of course not!  I spoke without thought, and forgetting
the family.  Pray excuse me, and tell me what really happened."

"We quarrelled, as I said, and I told him never to return.  He never has
come back.  But on his way along the street he was overtaken by Andre,
who, as you know, is an honest dolt, and who was taking my letters to
the post Baron Leon, it appears, asked to look at them, and in that
moment contrived to substitute a letter of his own for the one which
contained the money.  You follow me?"

"Perfectly, perfectly."  Charles was leaning forward, and keeping his
eyes fixed on the ground to conceal their exultation.  "It is terribly
sad."

"He must indeed have been desperate," said the old count, sadly.

"Quite desperate.  You know I told you I was afraid that he had got his
affairs into a hopeless mess.  But how did you discover what had
happened?  Through Andre, I imagine?"  There was another silence of
exhaustion, and this lasted so long that, however unwillingly, Charles
felt he must call in one of the women.  For some reason or other he
distrusted the nurse, and was not sure that his wife was still in the
house.  He found her, however, in the anteroom, and hurried her back,
whispering that she must give a strong restorative, as it was of the
greatest consequence that M. de Cadanet should finish what they were
about.  Her slow methodical movements enraged him, and as quickly as
possible he got her out of the room, though she went reluctantly.

"Is it quite necessary, my friend?"

"Quite.  He will never rest until it is told."

"If there is something on his mind, I would gladly fetch a priest."

"No, no, my dear Amelie; it is business--business, I assure you, which
only I can arrange.  Now, go."  He went back to the bedside, and sat
there impatiently before he ventured to remark: "Andre, of course, told
you?"

"No," returned the old count, feebly.  "You are quite wrong.  It was
Leon himself who told me."

"Ah!  Repented," said Lemaire, with a sneer.

"Not at all."  A weak smile flitted across the sick man's face.  "If you
will be good enough to extract the top letter from that bundle, you may
read it.  Read it.  Read it aloud."  Charles had it in his hand.  He
glanced at the bed.  "Aloud?"

"Aloud.  Though I know every word."

  "My Cousin,--I have taken the liberty of borrowing the sum which you
  had so thoughtfully prepared for Monsieur Charles.  It would have been
  better for him if you had accepted my offer to post your letter; as
  you declined to trust me, I had no scruple in exchanging it for
  another which found itself in my hand at the exact moment.  Do not
  blame your messenger, who is quite unaware of the transaction.  By my
  writing to you, you will perceive that I have no intention of denying
  what I have done.  It is in your power to have me arrested.  You know
  where to find me, and I will remain in Paris for two days, so as to
  avoid the pain to my family of a scandal at Poissy.  Permit me,
  however, to point out that I have only taken the money as a loan, that
  it will be returned to you by instalments and with interest, though, I
  fear, slowly, and that you may find it more advantageous to allow the
  matter to rest than to ruin one who, however unworthy, is the son of
  the man to whom you are certainly indebted for your prosperity."

M.  Charles silently refolded the letter, and the count lay watching
him.  "Well?" he asked, at last.

"The money has, of course, never been repaid?"

"Every penny."

This answer came upon the hearer as an extraordinary surprise.  He
stared amazedly at the old man.

"I received, first, an instalment of five hundred francs, afterwards all
that remained of the debt.  You are astonished!"

"I should not have expected it of--of the Baron Leon."

"Ah, I told you you did not understand the De Beaudrillarts.  But now
listen.  I have never forgiven him.  I have never sent him a line of
acknowledgment.  I have kept his confession and Andre's statement--"

"Oh," said Charles, pricking his ears.

"--Because I chose to feel that at any time I might crush him.  Since
then he has married, and has a boy.  It seems to me that makes a
difference.  A boy--innocent, and the old baron's grandchild.  Besides,
I am dying.  Anger becomes as useless as one's clothes.  What do you
feel, Charles?"

If at that moment M. de Cadanet had known what the younger man was
really feeling, it might have startled him.  But Lemaire's mind sprang
quickly from point to point--weighing that, considering this.  He saw
that the old man was relenting, but that he had done nothing as yet.  If
he said what was in his heart, it might irritate him--would certainly
raise his suspicions; it would be far wiser to appear to go with him,
and, if possible, get matters--and proofs--into his own hands.

"I feel that you are generous, sir, and your generosity has converted
me.  Trust to me to help you in anything you wish done."

"Good."  The word was rather sighed than spoken, but, by the relaxation
of tense fingers, it was evident that Lemaire's speech had come as a
relief.  The young man spoke again:

"Do you wish me, perhaps, to write!"

"Write!  No.  Why should I write?  I've nothing to say, and he would not
thank me for saying it.  No.  The best thing I can do for him is to burn
this letter."

Lemaire's fingers closed round it, and he asked, with an affectation of
not understanding: "Burn it?  But why!"

"Because, when I am gone, that letter will prove the very devil of a
witness against him."

"Surely you don't suppose that any one would wish to rake up such a
story?"

"I suspect he would give a good deal to sees it destroyed.  No receipts
for the money paid, and this letting out everything, besides Andre's
testimony, which I took down myself.  The next paper.  Yes.  That.  Give
it me.  Give them both to me."

Charles looked and decided.

"You are quite right, sir; it should be done at once.  Will you trust
them to me?"

"No," said M. de Cadanet, sharply, "to no one.  Do it here by my bed.  I
would burn them myself, but that I am too--O God, this weakness!"

"You shall see your wishes carried out close to you," Charles promised,
consolingly.  "I am only going into the next room to get a candle,
because those silver ones are so heavy."  He dashed through the anteroom
where his wife sat working, and into the study.  When he came back he
carried a short candle, and up his sleeve, which Amelie did not see, a
couple of folded letters.  He was pale, for he was not a brave man, and
he was playing a dangerous game.

M. de Cadanet lay, a shrunk and ghastly figure, with all about him,
except his will, exhausted.  That still looked out of his eyes, and
clutched the papers.

"Here it is," Charles said, cheerfully; "and now you shall see your
letters burn.  It is a pity the Baron Leon is not here to assist.  May I
have them?"

To his dismay, the old count made a sign of refusal, at the same time
that he beckoned to him to bring the light close; and the feeble hand,
by an almost superhuman effort, held a corner of the letter to the
candle.  But the strength was insufficient; and hardly had the flame
caught the paper than it wavered and dropped.  Charles hurriedly
snatched it up, and cried out:

"Good Heaven, my dear uncle, what risks you run!  Suppose the bed had
been set on fire!"

"Is anything wrong?" asked Amelie's voice, anxiously, at the door.

Her husband turned round with scarcely subdued wrath.  "No, no, nothing!
Leave us for another five minutes.  Now, sir, you shall see it burn,
without danger to yourself."

And standing with light in one hand, and letters in the other, he
allowed M. de Cadanet to watch them slowly consume.  As the last scrap
vanished, the old man uttered a low "Ah!"

"There!" said Lemaire.  "This has been a good day's work for Monsieur de
Beaudrillart."

"You will remember,"--M. de Cadanet's voice sounded strangely
strong--"that Monsieur de Beaudrillart has paid everything, and that I
have nothing against him."

"Hush, hush!" cried the other, glancing round uneasily; "you will
fatigue yourself too much.  You may be sure I shall always remember."

"And if ever you meet him, you may say it was for the sake of the
child--the boy--Now, go, and send your wife."

Amelie, who was again at her post in the anteroom, hurried in, and
called the nurse.  The two women did what they could to restore the
fast-ebbing strength, murmuring reproaches at the obstinacy of man.  The
doctor came and said that it could not be long.  Nevertheless, for some
days M. de Cadanet lay, and watched the flies on the ceiling, and the
sunshine creep from shadow to shadow, and gradually ceased to watch, and
lost all consciousness, until, when M.  Lemaire came one rooming, he
heard that he was gone.

It must be owned that his only feeling was one of relief.  The necessary
visits to the old man had become a wearisome burden, endured for the
sake of gifts, which were generous, and for the prospect of a
substantial legacy.  A certain part of the property would go to cousins
of the count's, but the sum left to himself was too large to be trifled
with; he was in considerable difficulties, and here lay the only road
out of it.  At the same time, the part of hypocrite, though he could
play it with success, was irksome to him, and he raged at the fetters it
imposed.  He had a capacity for open rebellion, or thought he had, and
believed that he would have enjoyed flinging his glove in the face of
the world, and defying opinion.  Hinderance lay in the fact that the
moment never arrived for this more daring attitude, self-interest always
clinging to his arm just when he might have hurled the challenge.

But with M. de Cadanet out of the way, he was free from his chief
difficulty, and in the first frenzy of his dreams he felt himself
sailing on a sea of liberty, restraining cords loosened, golden castles
on the horizon before him.  He thought of his wife as a humdrum
nonentity, easy to shake off.  He would give up his house, place her in
lodgings, and spend his time as he chose.  In the midst of these
delightful imaginings he remembered Leon de Beaudrillart.

Those who talk most of liberty are generally the first to find
themselves in bonds of their own making; and it did not take long to
oblige Lemaire to own, with an oath, that if he affronted
respectability, he would be placed at an immediate disadvantage with
regard to what he had in his mind.  It might have been supposed that as
there was now no fear of M. de Cadanet's money finding its way to
Poissy, his rancour would have taken flight--evil does not so readily
spread its wings, and he felt that before he could unrestrainedly take
his pleasure, he must ruin the man he hated.  To do this he must bring
into court a specious semblance: remain outwardly respectable, point to
an excellent wife, and the trust proved by M. de Cadanet's legacy--in
fact, impress the world with all the solid weight of character added to
substantial proof.

He often read the letters, and always with increased assurance.  The one
point which gave him uneasiness was the absence of the mention of any
particular sum.  Suppose that Leon chose to say that it was a matter
only of some four or five thousand francs, how could the contrary be
proved!  Here lay the fret; here was the point for a clever counsel to
extract an admission; here, unfortunately for Charles, who felt himself
injured in consequence, was the necessity to have a _very_ clever
counsel, who would be proportionately more expensive, but might be
trusted to make his points.

He questioned Andre, the concierge, without arriving at fresh
discoveries.  The man only repeated what we already know; he might not
even have remembered that, if it had not been taken down by a notary in
the presence of M. de Cadanet, and therefore indelibly fixed on his
memory.  He remarked that he had never seen M. de Beaudrillart since,
and was sorry for it.

"Ah, you got a good pourboire with no more trouble than letting him look
at your master's letters, eh?" said Charles, spitefully.

"As to that, the young baron often gave me a piece of twenty sous, when
he could not afford it so well as other people," returned the concierge,
imperturbably.

"Twenty sous?  No more!  If you had been sharp, that look should have
been worth more than twenty sous."

"Ah, well, monsieur knows better than I.  And as I asked for nothing, he
might have given me nothing, and that's all about it," said Andre,
retreating.

The cousins who hurried to the Rue du Bac knew nothing of the old
count's acquaintances, or to whom should be sent notice of his death.
They were very glad of Amelie's assistance, and the arrangement suited
her methodical habits.  She spent an afternoon with them, suggesting
names, and directing envelopes.  Charles hated anything which had to do
with death, and pleaded the acuteness of his feelings to excuse his
absence.  When his wife came back he asked if it was finished.

"Yes, quite.  The poor man, alas, had not many to mourn for him."

"Who has?" asked Charles, cynically.  "People please their friends
better by dying than by living."

"Oh, Charles!"

"Well, we need not discuss it.  I, for one, should find it very
inconvenient if Monsieur de Cadanet were to come to life again."

"I miss him dreadfully," said Amelie, simply.  "And Charles--"

"Well?"

"I sent a notice of his death to Poissy."

"To Poissy!  What the--" he checked himself.  "What possessed you?"

"I think he would have liked it, for I am sure he thought of that
child."

"What folly!"

"It can do no harm," said his wife, calmly.

On reflection, M.  Lemaire thought the same--was even glad that she had
suggested it.  His great desire was to act suddenly, to give no hint to
M. de Beaudrillart of the shock that was in store for him until with the
thunder came the bolt.  This letter would disarm suspicion, and probably
relieve Leon's mind of a great fear.  Charles desired, above all, to act
prudently.  He was racked by doubts of whether in spite of no
acknowledgment having been sent, the young baron might not have provided
himself with proof of its repayment.  If he had grown really careful, he
would have done so, and then, although it might be easy to deny that M.
de Cadanet had received it, the case would bear, criminally, a very
different complexion, and have a very different issue.  As it was, all
going well, if he could manage to prove that M. de Beaudrillart had
stolen money which had been sent to him, he might extract compensation,
if by no other way, as hush-money.  He sometimes thought it would be the
safest plan to work on the young baron's fears, and after having reduced
him to abject misery, sell the compromising papers for something larger
than the original sum.  By such means his pocket would be very much the
better, although his revenge would not have the joy of publicity.  A
degree of this, even, might be gained, for it is never difficult to let
a little evil rumour sift out: a word here, and a word there, and M. de
Beaudrillart would be a marked man.

Finally, he resolved to move quickly but cautiously at first.  If he
were imprudent he might find matters taken out of his keeping, and his
hand forced.  Leon should feel the net closing round him before he was
prepared, but the net should be held by Charles Lemaire, and Charles
Lemaire only, and the next step would depend upon what that gentleman
judged to be of the most advantage to himself.  That, and that only,
should guide the course of events.

CHAPTER TEN.

RESTRAINT.

And Poissy?

After the child's birth the years slipped swiftly, though not always
smoothly, by.  Leon, who easily forgot, had very nearly succeeded in
forgetting that desperate act of his, and the old count's threat of the
future.  There were still, however, moments when it flashed upon him,
and brought with it a sudden cloud of depression which he attributed to
physical ailments.  His wife, sure he was not ill, laughed at these
fancies, but his mother, perhaps out of opposition, treated them
seriously until they generally ended in his laughing at himself.  He
spent a great deal of time out of doors, rising early, and going all
over the estate, which, bit by bit, was being brought together again;
coming in to the eleven o'clock breakfast, and then out again, shooting
or fishing or loitering about with Nathalie.  If a new idea, a new
invention, a new arrangement, attracted him, he was possessed by it, and
could think and speak of nothing else.  His neighbours smiled at his
enthusiasms, but liked and excused him; those who had blamed him in old
days were vanquished by the sweetness of temper with which he had
accepted his new life, and by the unsuspected strength he had shown in
renouncing the extravagances of Paris.

His mother was almost content Leon was all she had believed him, Poissy
stood in its old position in the neighbourhood, and there was little
Raoul, as dear, or dearer, than his father.  As for Nathalie, as much as
possible she contrived to ignore her, and though M.  Bourget was a
terrible man, he had the grace seldom to inflict himself upon them.

It was Nathalie herself who was the most changed by the years of her
married life, or who gave that impression, for her character had not
really changed, although it had developed.  She had lost, early, a
certain frank open-heartedness; she was reserved--with her mother and
sisters in law extremely reserved.  She never battled for her rights,
and the household had almost ceased to remember that she possessed any.
But, in avoiding retorts, she had fallen into a habit of grave silence
which did not belong to her years, and of which Leon sometimes
laughingly complained.

"It doesn't matter when we are alone," he would say, "but with others--I
saw Madame de la Ferraye looking at you this afternoon and expecting you
to take your part in the discussion."

She made a laughing excuse.

"Dear, how should I?  It was better not to expose my ignorance."

"You cram that little head of yours with all kinds of learned stuff, and
then talk of ignorance?  What makes you read so much?"

"Because I will not have Raoul ashamed of me."

Every now and then--not often, and always suddenly--a gust of passion
seemed to sweep through the mask under which she relentlessly hid her
more spontaneous self.  Such a gust had come now.  Leon looked at her,
amazed at the tone in which the words were spoken, concentrated will
passionately pushing them forward, as if they carried a standard of
rebellion.  She never now complained to him, never invited a suggestion
which should shape her conduct towards his mother and sisters, and
though he was quite shrewd enough, if he had chosen, to perceive the
slights which she had daily to endure, he preferred to shut his eyes,
and tell himself that with him and the child she was so happy as to be
indifferent.  Such a passionate outcry as this shook his easy-going
reflections, and annoyed him.  But he marched on silently, aware that
she would soon curb her rebel tongue with shame at its weakness.

They were walking towards Poissy; a fine rain had browned the road, and,
falling on a sun-baked soil, sent up a pleasant smell of growing things.
The sky was stormy, a sweet insistence of blue above changing in the
west to pale, mysterious green.  Low down lay a horizontal
flame-coloured line of clouds, broken by nearer drifts of dark grey,
tattered and vaporish at the edges and flecked with red.  One small
portion, rent from the rest, had drifted lightly across the blue above.
Nathalie, fronting the sunset, with its level light on her face, looked
a very noble woman.  The lines had grown a little harder, but not one
was mean or weak.  It was a face to which poor sinners would look for
help, and never look in vain.  Leon, glancing at it, felt its force and
began to speak, although he had resolved on silence.

"You can't say, I'm sure, that I've ever been ashamed of you."

She turned, and her gravity melted into a lovely smile.

"Ah, but Raoul is going to be much cleverer than you.  If you doubt it,
listen to my father.  Besides, my friend, I spoke hastily; I did not
really mean that he would ever be ashamed of his mother, but that it
would be useful for him if I could help him in his work.  For, wonderful
as it seems, the monkey will have to work one day."

He had quickly forgotten the reproach he had made against her silence,
for he was always more taken up with his own thoughts or actions than
with those of others, and went on:

"They want me to go over to dine with them to-morrow.  And sleep."

"The La Ferrayes?"

"Yes; the prefet is due there, and two or three others.  Madame de la
Ferraye made a hundred apologies for not asking you.  I forget why it
was--no room, I think."

"I hope you accepted, Leon.  It is my turn now to scold you, for I don't
think you are so sociable with your neighbours as you might be.  Here
you have nothing but women, women!  It will do you good to be away from
us for a little; indeed, I often wish you would run up to Paris for a
few days.  You must have many friends there."

"None, now.  And I hate Paris," said Leon, sharply.

"You puzzle me when you say that," she returned, looking at him with a
smile.  "And as for friends, at any rate there must be that old Monsieur
de Cadanet, whose name your mother suggested as Raoul's second.  Would
it not please him if you were to pay him a visit!"

"Hardly."

"Well, go to the La Ferrayes, then, and Raoul and I, we will do
something to amuse ourselves, perhaps drive to Tours and see my father.
Happily, those two love each other."

To say that M.  Bourget loved his grandson was not enough--he adored
him.  From the first moment when he had gazed, awe-struck, at a small
red contorted face, lying in the capacious arms of the nurse, his joy,
his pride, his self-satisfaction had been almost beyond control.  If his
acquaintances had avoided him before, they fled from him now.  To know
that this true, actual Beaudrillart--not Beaudrillart by grace of
marriage, but by birth and actual right, was also his--Bourget's--
grandson, proved sufficient to turn his head, and lead him into
extravagant follies.  He looked at his daughter with reverence; was she
not the mother of this phoenix, this wonder?  She was obliged to
interfere to prevent him--he, M.  Bourget, who called himself to account
for every penny he spent--from making perpetual gifts to the nurse, and
since she objected to the practice, he indulged himself by presenting
his gifts by stealth, so delightful was it to him to sit down before his
ledger and make an entry of moneys expended "on behalf of my grandson,
the Baron Raoul de Beaudrillart."  As for the photograph of Poissy,
words cannot describe the look with which he regarded it.  Planted
squarely on the pavement, his coarse broad hands clasped behind him, his
legs a little apart, his solid head advanced as far as a short neck
would allow, he would stand in rapt contemplation, knowing already every
line of the windows, every fret of the tracery, but devouring them with
his eyes, and utterly indifferent to the smiles and nudges of the
passers-by.  This worship satisfied him as well as a visit to the actual
Poissy.  Nathalie, in spite of objections raised at the chateau against
the baby being so constantly taken to the town, was absolutely firm in
driving him at least once a week to see his grandfather.  Once persuaded
of the right of an action, she was tenacious of purpose, and weekly the
grey ponies rattled merrily along the narrow street to M.  Bourget's
door.  This quite contented him, and though, by Leon's desire, she now
and then asked her father whether he would not drive back with her, she
was always relieved when he declined.  The little slights or sharp
speeches to which he was subject there stung her almost beyond
endurance, even when he appeared absolutely impervious.  Nothing that
could be said to herself hurt like these vicarious stings.

Oddly enough, he had grown either more indifferent or less suspicious of
neglect on her behalf since the birth of the boy.  Before this he had
evidently resented the attitude of Mme. de Beaudrillart and her
daughters, and at intervals shot out a question at Nathalie which she
found it difficult to parry.  But now, either he believed her position
to be assured, or had concentrated his thoughts upon his grandson, for
he asked nothing awkward, and seemed profoundly careless of what was
done at Poissy by its older inhabitants.  They were, after all, only
women, and of little importance compared to Nathalie's child.  It would
have surprised them amazingly if they had realised the small account in
which their bete noir held them.

The pitched battle of the portrait had, through Leon's skilful
management, ended in a compromise.  He became extremely full of the
idea, and did not rest until the painter on whom he had fixed his mind
came down to Poissy.  M.  Bourget had his way so far, though it
displeased him that his daughter absolutely refused to be painted as he
would have had her, resplendent in white satin.  She insisted upon an
every-day dress, the dress in which she generally walked with Leon, and
she had her way, with the result that nothing could have been more
charming.  Compromise also effected her entrance into the gallery, for,
although Mme. de Beaudrillart was as stubborn as M.  Bourget, Leon
suggested that, in place of hanging, the portrait might lean against the
wall, a position less assured, and--his mother satisfied herself--more
humble.

But, strangely enough, the boy's birth, which had reconciled his
grandfather to anything anomalous in his daughter's position, produced a
contrary effect upon Nathalie.  Before the child arrived she had
accepted the contemptuous treatment she received with philosophy, almost
with indifference; Leon's love appeared sufficient to satisfy her, and
she treated disagreeables lightly, as something of which she had already
counted the cost.  Now there was a change.  The trivial galled.  Mme. de
Beaudrillart was jealous of any influence which the young wife might
have upon her son, and hitherto she had drawn aside with a smile, and
been content to efface herself; but she no longer did this with ease.
She resented the necessity.  It seemed that she had fallen into the
position of a mere plaything; that her husband liked her to walk with
him, to laugh with him; that he found her pleasant to look at; but that
when a cloud came between him and the sun--such a cloud as flung a
shadow on his face now and then without visible reason--it was to his
mother that he turned.  His wife was strong enough to face facts and to
meet them without repining or fretfulness.  She never complained to her
husband or her father.  But she suffered.

And she had lost illusions about Leon.  She saw that he was weak, that
his very sweetness of temper was often mere selfishness, and clinging to
what was pleasant.  She loved him as passionately as ever, but she
wanted to keep her boy from the same faults, and it did not seem as if
she would succeed.  For she was sure that if ever man had been injured
by his bringing up, Leon was that man, and here were all the same
influences, and more, at work.  Mme. de Beaudrillart spoiled her
grandchild outrageously.  His father laughed at his naughtiness, and
even M.  Bourget could see in them nothing but an added charm.  All the
thwarting, all the reasoning, was left to the mother, forced often into
strictness by the indulgence of others.  The boy had a fine nature,
brave and true; but in him, too, the Beaudrillart will was already
asserting itself, and Nathalie, looking at him, trembled and prayed.

On the morning after the young baron's departure for the La Ferrayes,
there was a not infrequent scene in the breakfast-room.  Raoul had been
rude to his aunt Felicie, and his mother required him to say he was
sorry.  Mme. de Beaudrillart at once remonstrated.

"It is absurd to expect repentance from a baby.  You weaken your
authority by making sins out of such trifling matters.  Come here,
Raoul, and I will give you some melon."

"No," said Nathalie, with a firm grasp of the delinquent, "you must
pardon me, madame, but Raoul knows that he must do what I have told
him."

"Ne veux pas," said the small rebel, standing stiff and resolute.

"Pray don't let us have a scene," said Felicie, nervously.  "I assure
you, Nathalie, that I am not in the least vexed with him."

"But I am," said her sister-in-law, trying to smile.  "Raoul, your aunt
Felicie is very kind; will you go and kiss her, and say you are sorry!"

He hesitated, made a step towards her, and caught sight of his
grandmother, smiling and signing to him with her head to come for the
melon.  With a laugh of gleeful mischief he broke from his mother,
rushed to Mme. de Beaudrillart, cried out again, "Ne veux pas," and
buried his round black head in her lap.

"Let him alone, Nathalie," said his grandmother, delightedly.  "He has
found sanctuary."

From her!  With a pang at her heart, Mme.  Leon showed no trace of
ill-temper.  She followed, however, and lifted him, now kicking and
crimson, in her strong young arms.  Mme. de Beaudrillart looked much
displeased.

"A storm about absolutely nothing!" she exclaimed.  "The child would
have been perfectly good if he had been let alone."

"When he is good, he shall come back," said his mother, calmly, carrying
him out of the room.

"Ridiculous!" cried Mme. de Beaudrillart, as they vanished.

"It is just the way to spoil his temper," Claire remarked, adding
seltzer-water to her white wine.  "But Nathalie delights in a scene, and
in insisting upon her own authority."

"Poor darling!  And he will think I was the cause of it all," cried
Felicie.  "I must find something for him, to make up."

"A medal," suggested Claire.  "I am sure you have a drawer full."

"Not for playthings," Felicie said, reproachfully.  "If he might wear
one always, now, it would make me really happy; but Nathalie is so
unsympathetic in those matters that I could not trust to her seeing that
it was firmly secured.  And as likely as not that dreadful Monsieur
Bourget might say something irreverent if he discovered that it hung
round the dear child's neck."

"He will never believe that you are not deaf," her sister remarked, with
a laugh.

"Thank Heaven, he does not come here often," acknowledged Mme. de
Beaudrillart.  "I must say, I feel grateful to him for his forbearance.
By-the-way, I have received a letter this morning, and I see there is
another for Leon, announcing the death of old Monsieur de Cadanet."

"Really?  A cousin, is he not?"

"A distant cousin, and Leon once was under a certain obligation to him."

"Ah," said Claire, "at that time when there was such a panic as to
Leon's affairs?  I begin to understand.  So it was Monsieur de Cadanet
who came to the rescue?  Felicie, will you kindly pass the fruit?"

"He had good reason for doing so," returned her mother.  "You know, or
perhaps you don't know, that he was under great obligations to your
father, so that he could not very well have refused.  And I do not fancy
that he behaved very graciously, for Leon does not speak of him with
warmth.  However--he did his duty, and he is dead."

Felicie bent her head, and murmured a little prayer for the repose of
the soul of M. de Cadanet.  When she had finished, Claire said, as she
peeled a pear:

"His death is not likely to make much difference to us--ah, here is
Raoul!  Come to me, treasure!"

"One moment," interposed Nathalie, firmly.  She led the little boy to
Felicie.  "Now, dear Raoul."

"Ne veux pas," whispered Claire in his ear, with a laugh.  He looked at
her, and glanced at his mother.

"I'm sorry, but I'm not _very_ sorry, Aunt Felie."  Then he threw his
arms round Nathalie's neck.  "Will that do?  Shall we go to Tours, and
may I have the reins?"

Mme. de Beaudrillart said, hastily:

"Not Tours again, I hope.  It really is not at all good for the child to
pass so much of his time in the close streets of a town.  Pray, for once
leave him with us.  I know, too, that they have fever there."

"His grandfather expects to see him every week," replied Nathalie, in a
quiet tone.

Mme. de Beaudrillart hated to hear M.  Bourget called "his grandfather."

"That may be," she said, "but I think my wishes might also be respected.
Raoul, would you not rather remain here and let Jean drive you?"

"No," said Raoul, sturdily.  "And I shall go to Tours, because mother
promised."

"Ah, it is a pity your mother spoils you," said Mme. de Beaudrillart,
rising, and looking displeased.  "May I ask when you start!"

"At once," Nathalie answered, "so as to be at home when Leon arrives."

"I shall want him to walk with me."

"Certainly, madame."  As her mother-in-law left the room, Mme.  Leon
took up her husband's letters, which lay on the table.  "Such a black
border!" she remarked, looking at one of them.  "These letters of
announcement always give one a shiver."

"That need not, at any rate, for it does not concern you," said Claire,
carelessly.  "I suppose you have scarcely heard of old Monsieur de
Cadanet, in Paris?"

"Leon and I were speaking of him only yesterday.  Is he dead?"

"So it seems.  By-the-way, if Leon had been at home, perhaps he would
have run up for the funeral."

"It appears as if it would require a great deal to drag Leon to Paris,"
Nathalie remarked, smiling.

"Perhaps, my dear, he has never informed you of the reasons he has to
avoid it."

Her sister-in-law coloured.

"No," she said, "he never speaks of his life there."

"And such a good wife asks no questions!  Well, I have often wished to
go there myself."

"Oh, you are quite extraordinary, Claire," said Felicie, shuddering.
"When Paris is such a wicked place!"

"I believe I should like to see a little of the wickedness and judge for
myself," Claire announced, as she followed her mother out of the room.

When Nathalie and her boy reached M.  Bourget's house, he had already
been more than once to the door to see if they were coming, although he
would not have acknowledged it for worlds.  He professed great surprise
at their appearing, for, by an established fiction, they were never
expected on the days when they arrived, and by another fiction it was
supposed to be an extraordinary fact that Raoul should have been allowed
to drive in with his mother.

M.  Bourget would stand, thumbs in button-holes, and look him up and
down with a pride which cannot be described.

"Ta, ta, ta, and this is our baby?" he would say, pursing his lips.
"Only the other day he was tied into his chair, and here, if you please,
he is driving with his mamma like a gentleman!  The times march, upon my
word!"

By this time Raoul would have plunged his hands into his grandfather's
pocket.

"Softly, softly, what now!"  And, aside to his daughter, "He grows more
of a Beaudrillart every day.  What he will have, he will, one can see it
in everything.  Now then, little robber, little brigand, what are you
stealing from your poor grandfather!"

And with a shout of delight, his dark eyes sparkling with mischief,
Raoul would extract a whip, or a top, or a packet of chocolates, and run
round the room chased by M.  Bourget with terrific show of indignation.
Later on, another ceremony was observed, which Nathalie herself always
suggested, having discovered the pleasure it afforded to her father.
All three would set forth for a walk through the streets of Tours, M.
Bourget with his grandson by his side.  The ostensible reason for the
promenade was that Raoul should see the shops, and to this end they
walked up and down the streets for half an hour.  M.  Bourget did not,
at these times, stop to converse with any of his friends, but he took
care that they should see him, passed and repassed the cafe and his
other most usual haunts, and would have been greatly disappointed had he
not met Leroux, Docteur Mathurin, and at least one of the principal
officials.  If they went into the cathedral, where Raoul liked to look
at the tomb of the little boy and girl princess with their watching
angels, he would even make the concession of lifting him up to dip his
small fingers into the stoup for holy-water.  Then, while Nathalie knelt
and prayed--little knowing, poor soul, how much at that very moment her
prayers were needed!--the two would wander off into quiet corners, Raoul
putting questions which his grandfather treasured jealously, to be
repeated with shaking shoulders to the impatient Leroux.

"He must have an answer for everything," M.  Bourget would declare, and
Leroux, who, as a father, suffered under the not unusual infliction
himself, was expected to express amazement.

After this, it was necessary to stand in front of the cathedral, and
scatter crumbs, brought for the purpose, to the pigeons; returning by
way of the Rue Royale, that M.  Bourget might be certain Raoul had not
forgotten how Balzac was born in Number 39.  Raoul knew it as well as
his grandfather, by this time, but he would sometimes pretend
forgetfulness in order to have his memory jogged by chocolates.

On this day the round was shorter, as Mme.  Leon wished to be at home
early to meet her husband.

"He will hear of the death of an old cousin," she said, knowing her
father's interest in all Beaudrillart affairs--"Monsieur de Cadanet.  I
believe he was very old, but I do not think there had been any news sent
of his illness, so that I do not suppose it was expected."

"Ah," said M.  Bourget, "Cadanet.  Yes.  A branch.  His grandmother was
a Beaudrillart.  Have they said much about it at Poissy?"

"Not to me," she replied, briefly.  "Leon, you know, is absent."

"It is too far off, probably, for Raoul to benefit," remarked his
grandfather, gazing at him.  "If he could have seen him now!  Monsieur
de Beaudrillart should have taken him there on a visit."

"It might have been only another to spoil him," she said, with a laugh,
capturing her son as he was thumping upon the table with both lists.

"Pooh, you are a fidget!  He gets no spoiling here.  I dare say those
women at Poissy don't know how a boy should be treated.  Let him hammer.
The table is solid.  You lose your authority by always scolding.  Come
here, Raoul, and tell me how the pony goes.  And Jean?  Does he do what
you tell him?"

Driving back that afternoon, Nathalie reflected, as she reflected often,
on the difficulties which lay about the bringing up of her little son.
Indulged on all sides, with the strong family will quite ready to
develop itself, it seemed as if his path was to be strewn with
rose-leaves.  She had absolutely no one to help her, except Jacques
Charpentier, Jean's father, an honest, sensible man, devoted to the
family, and no less so to Mme.  Leon.  When Raoul was with him, his
mother was at ease.  With his grandmother and aunts, she was sure that
they often indulged the boy out of opposition to her.  His father hated
disturbance of any sort, and found it easier to laugh than to rebuke.
All the training was left to her.  Her own father, usually sensible,
here was weak, and, in fact, it was who should gain his love by
yielding.  Happily, as yet, Raoul adored his mother, and as she thought
of this she blamed herself for her misgivings.

She told herself, with a sigh, that she was a very happy woman.  And
afterwards she stared back at that sigh with amazement at her ignorant
discontent.

Leon received the news of M. de Cadanet's death in silence, which was
unusual.  He answered Claire's question whether he would have gone to
the funeral briefly in the negative, and was leaving the room, when his
mother detained him to say in a low voice:

"It will make no difference to you!"

"No.  But it might have."

"Who will have his money?"

"I imagine he will leave all he can to one Monsieur Charles Lemaire, his
wife's nephew."

"Ah, well!  I am glad things were settled before there could be any
complications."

Leon, who was pale, went out of the room without answering her.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

THE FIRST BLOW.

It was two days after this that Mme.  Leon came in from the garden by
the outer stone staircase which led to her own room.  Although it was
only autumn, a chilly wind was blowing, and there was a threat of rain
in the air.  At the foot of the staircase she met Felicie, coming so
much more quickly than usual round a corner that she was breathless.

"Ah, Nathalie," she cried, with a sudden access of cordiality, "at last!
I have been searching everywhere for you."

"They sent up in a hurry because old Antoine has cut his hand.  You
wanted me?"

"Yes, indeed.  I want you to talk to Leon, and to make him hear reason.
Such an opportunity has not offered itself for years, and I am terribly
anxious lest--unless we can persuade him that it is not only right and
proper, but of the very greatest importance--he should suffer it to
slip.  If Madame Lemballe steps in before us--and I know she talks of
it--it will be disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful!  I hope that you
will go to him at once, and, above all, impress upon him that it is not
a matter to laugh about, and that he must take the precaution of acting
without hesitation.  Claire has said something to him, but not enough."

Such an appeal did not altogether surprise Nathalie, for when Felicie
could not reach her brother by means of her mother or sister, she turned
to his wife.  And she guessed that the excitement in her manner was
connected with some project for the parish, or perhaps a new biretta for
the cure.  She asked, smiling:

"What is it?"

"Why, of course, that he should come here; it is quite astonishing that
Leon should not see the necessity of it for himself!" continued Felicie,
too eager to offer explanation.  "Every one in the neighbourhood knows
that Poissy is the proper place, and if an invitation is not sent, no
one will believe it possible that we can have shown such neglect; they
will only suppose that for some reason or other we were not thought
worthy of the honour.  Figure to yourself whether such an idea will be
agreeable for us!  And with the boy and all, and the importance to him,
I should certainly have expected you to be the first to urge Leon to
take a serious view of the matter."

"But you have not told me what the matter is!"

Felicie stared.

"Do you mean to say you don't know!"

"I have not even an idea."

"Astonishing!  Why didn't you ask!  I should have told you the first
thing, if I had not gathered from your manner that you knew all about it
already.  I thought, of course, that every one had heard; only
sometimes--excuse me, Nathalie--you do not seem to take in what we all
talk about.  Exactly what I want you to do is to see that Leon sends an
invitation, and it would be better for me to write it, because then I
should take care that it was worded properly.  You understand!"

"I understand that you wish to write an invitation in Leon's name; but
to whom, to whom!  Is it, for example, to the President of the
republic?"

Felicie exclaimed, indignantly:

"The President!  As if I should ever consent to Leon's inviting him!  We
have had a queen at Poissy--"

"Not a very respectable one, was she!" inquired Nathalie, wickedly.

"Nathalie!  I believe in your heart you are a radical.  It all comes
from your reading those dreadful books.  And I am sure you will just
speak to Leon as if it were a matter of no consequence, instead of
pointing out to him seriously how much depends on it."

She was almost crying, and Mme.  Leon hastened to reassure her.

"Well, then," she said, only half mollified, "there is to be a Home
opened in about six weeks' time at Douay, and our bishop has promised to
attend.  They will gather from all parts.  It will be a magnificent
function, and beyond a doubt his Grandeur should be invited to come here
for it."

"Ah," said Nathalie, thoughtfully, "he is a good man, is he not?"

"A good man!"  Felicie repeated, in amazement; "what extraordinary
questions you ask!  The very fact that he is monseigneur might tell you
so much, I should think!"

"But it does not," said Mme.  Leon, in a quiet voice.

"My father did not like the Bishop of N, or the Bishop of X.  But this
one, our bishop, he said, had always tried to do his duty.  I hope Leon
may invite him.  I should think he ought.  Shall I go now and ask him?"

Dearly would Felicie have loved to have expatiated upon the sin of
venturing to criticise a bishop, even perhaps of praising him in such
measured terms, but her burning desire at the present moment was to
insure an invitation being sent in time, and to obtain this she choked
down her resentment.

"If you will be so good," she said, stiffly, and Nathalie, glad of an
opportunity of pleasing her sister-in-law, ran lightly up the stone
staircase to the balcony which clung to an angle of the house.  She
pushed open the window, meaning to go in search of her husband, but to
her surprise saw him standing in the room with his back towards her, his
head bent, and his hand on the table.  He did not even turn round as she
came in, and she rallied him upon his preoccupation.

"Come back from your thoughts, for I am the bearer of a very important
request from Felicie."

He turned, with an attempt at a laugh, but the laugh was so forced that
it frightened her.

"Leon!  What is it?  Has anything happened Raoul?"

"Happened!  Foolish child, what should happen?  Raoul is with his
grandmother.  I came here because--because it was the shortest way to
the terrace, and then--well, then, I imagine I fell into a dream."

She was standing in front of him, her hands on his shoulders, her
steadfast eyes fastened upon his face.  She was no longer frightened,
but she was uneasy, though she smiled.

"No, my friend.  You came here because it was the shortest way to your
wife, and because you have something on your mind which you desire to
share with her."

A change swept over his face, and for an instant, written there, she saw
misery, longing, and hunted fear.  The next moment they had vanished,
and he answered, with his usual lightness:

"Now it is you who dream.  Do you not know that I avoid bringing worries
to you, who represent my sunshine?"

"If there is any use in sunshine it is to disperse clouds," she
answered, gravely.  He looked down, and said, impatiently:

"It is nothing.  Merely an impertinent letter which arrived this
morning, and annoyed me a good deal; but I have talked it over with my
mother, and have written the necessary answer.  So now, little fidget,
you know everything."

She hesitated before she answered.

"Do you mean that the annoyance is at an end?"

"How can I tell?  I hope so--certainly I hope so," he said, still
hurriedly.

She dropped her hands and turned away, then came back with a heightened
colour in her cheeks.

"Leon, I do not think I can bear it any longer."

"Bear it?  Bear what?"  There was genuine amazement in his tone.

"Being shut out of so much of your life.  Oh, you are good to me, I am
not denying that; there is nothing I asked for which I believe you would
not try to give me, except this--the one thing for which I hunger.  Do
you not understand that I am not a child?  I am your wife, the mother of
your son.  You tell me that you love me, yet only treat me as a
plaything; when sorrow or anxiety comes you turn to your mother, and I--
I, who should be the nearest and the dearest, am not so much as allowed
to know what is troubling you.  Dear, this should not be.  Do you know
that when you do this, out of your love--oh yes, out of your love, and
wish to spare me--you are putting me to cruel dishonour?  Are we not man
and wife--one?  Your sorrow is my sorrow, your lot is my lot; if there
is anything you must suffer, I have the right to claim to suffer with
you.  Leon, up to this time I have been but half your wife, and what I
say is true.  I cannot bear it any longer.  I claim my right."

She stood before him, her earnest eyes fixed upon his face, and her
voice trembling a little as she spoke.  He tried to look at her, but his
eyes fell before the frank honesty which he found in hers, and he turned
pale.  When he spoke, his voice even sounded slightly sullen.

"Nathalie--I give you my word--you don't know what you are talking
about."

"I know what I am asking for.  Let me see the letter which has vexed
you."

"Oh, woman, woman!  And after having always assured my mother that you
were free from the vice of curiosity!" he said, trying to recover his
lightness.

"This is not curiosity," she replied, quietly.

He broke away, and came back.

"See, here, Nathalie, be reasonable!  Remember that all these years we
have been very happy--"

And then she interrupted him with her hand raised, with a strange,
almost fierce, ring in her voice which he had never heard before.

"I have not."

He stared at her blankly.

"You have not!  Great heavens, what are you saying?"

"I am saying the truth at last--the truth which you have never consented
to hear!" she cried, passionately.  "Has it been happiness to live here,
do you suppose, looked down upon and scorned by your mother and sisters?
Because I have held my tongue that you might not have your life marred,
too, because I have gone my way silently, do you believe, do you know me
so little as to believe, that I have not felt!  What sort of position do
I hold in this house, this great chateau of Poissy, of which my father
thinks so much!  They treat me as an inferior, you as if I were a
child."  Her voice changed, trembled again.  "I could have borne it
all--yes, all, if it had not been for _that_; but that--that has been
almost insupportable.  To have no part in your graver life; to be left,
when anything fretting came to you, for your mother!  I have tried to be
just, I have indeed!  I think of myself and Raoul.  I do not begrudge
her her rights, nor wish to shut her out from sharing whatever comes to
you; but I--I, too, ought to be admitted, and until you take me as God
meant you to take me, your wife for sorrow as well as for joy, your
wife, and not only your playfellow, do not talk of me as happy, nor
imagine that you can make me so."

Poor Nathalie!  It was the outpouring of her heart.  The words rushed
swiftly with a force which told how long they had been held back, yet
were quite free from any sting of bitterness.  There lay, indeed, in the
appeal a depth of sad tenderness, to which Leon's affectionate temper
could not be insensible.  His easy, shallow nature was as much moved as
was possible, and he felt remorse, although he shrank from frank
explanation of the reasons which had stood in the way of admitting her
to his confidence, for they did not belong to a wish to spare his wife,
but to a desire to remain in the position where she had placed him.  He
had no inclination to step down from his throne.  He kissed her, and
said, uneasily:

"I believe you are right.  Well, where shall I begin!  How far am I to
go back!"

She made a sweeping movement with her hands.  "The past is past.  Begin
to-day.  The letter.  I can see that you are really troubled about it,
though you only called it impertinent."

"Well, it is true that it is more--it is threatening."

"Threatening!" slipping her hand into his arm.

"There is a certain Charles Lemaire, a very disagreeable fellow, whom I
detest.  Have I ever spoken of him!"

"Never."

"It appears that he has inherited a good deal of Monsieur de Cadanet's
wealth, to which, as far as I am concerned, he is very welcome, if
only--However, the letter is from him."

She was so anxious to understand, to avoid annoying him by questions,
and, as it were, to take advantage of the confidence for which she had
pleaded, that, breathing quickly, she only nodded in answer.  But she
kept her eyes fixed on his face, and he looked away.

"I suppose his head is turned by his good-fortune, or he has got bold of
some mare's-nest or other, for he declares that a letter which was going
to him from the old count--years ago--somehow miscarried, and--and he
does me the honour to accuse me of having made away with it.  Pleasant,
isn't it!"

Her face changed.  Its lines unstiffened, and she laughed gayly.

"And this has been troubling you?  Oh, Leon!"  Something in her absolute
faith affected M. de Beaudrillart strangely.  His voice shook as he
answered:

"In spite of the hard things you have been saying, you would not then
credit it of your poor Leon?"

"Take care, monsieur!  It shows me that my hard things are well
justified, for if you had told me at once, I should have made you see
the absurdity of suffering yourself to be annoyed by such an
insignificant matter.  This Monsieur Charles Lemaire--has he, then,
taken leave of his senses?"

"He hates me."

"Well, he must be at his wits' end for a way of venting his spite.  My
friend, you are not seriously vexed?  I can only laugh.  Pray, does he
inform you what was in this fabulous letter?"

Leon hesitated.

"A large cheque."

"Better and better!" she cried, still laughing.  "Robber!  Ought I not
to be terribly alarmed?  How little I have known of your true character!
Seriously, Leon, how have you answered this impertinent?  Now that you
have made me happy by admitting me to your confidence, I am never going
to be shut out again.  You will find that I must know all."

His fingers drummed on the table with an uneasiness which in her new
contentment she did not realise.

"You don't show much sympathy with my annoyance."

"Oh!" she cried, suddenly grave.  "But, dear Leon, no one who knew you
could treat it as anything but a silly joke.  You don't really expect us
to take it seriously!"

Silent at first, he said at last:

"It was not intended for a joke, and I think any man who had such an
accusation sprung upon him would naturally be a good deal disgusted."

"Oh yes," she said, readily, "disgusted at the folly.  I can quite
understand your anger at its insolence, but you can't really fret
yourself over what is so obviously absurd."

He looked at her, and his face lightened.  "You are right, you are
right, cherie.  I need not worry myself over a foolish piece of spite
which no one in their senses would believe."

"Now you are reasonable," cried his wife, gayly.

"And you," he retorted, putting his arm round her, and drawing her to
the window--"you are yourself again?  What did all that talk mean about
your not being happy?  I assure you I did not know you, you looked so
fierce!"

"It meant the truth," she acknowledged, in a low voice, "but it is going
to be different, for from this day I am to share your troubles, and that
is all I want I bore it at first, because--well, because I felt you did
not know me very well; you might have loved me, yet thought I was
foolish and untrustworthy.  But, by-and-by, as years rolled on, and you
treated me in the same manner, I became miserable, for I thought, `If he
does not know now, perhaps he will never know,' and it was a dreadful
thing for me to reflect that you did not trust me.  I felt it was very
hard, and more so because it was so different with me.  I trusted you
entirely--" He made a sudden start from her side.  "Oh, my God!" he
exclaimed, sharply.

"What is it?" she said, distressed.  "Do you dislike my telling you all
this?  But I want you to understand what made me so unhappy, and I
assure you it was only the absence of confidence.  Now all is going to
be so different that I feel as if I should never be unhappy again.  As
for your sisters--oh, and that reminds me that I came the bearer of a
very important message from Felicie."  She made a solemn face.

"Does she want money?  Let her have it," said Leon, very quickly.  "I
have never begrudged money for the Church or the poor, have I?"

"Never," returned his wife with surprise.  "But this is an invitation to
be given.  The bishop is coming to open the new Home at Douay, and
Felicie longs that you should ask him here.  I think she is right, don't
you?"

"Yes, yes, certainly ask him."  He spoke with the same almost feverish
haste.  "When is it?  I will write."

"Make Felicie happy by letting her write in your name.  She is
dreadfully afraid that you may omit some formality."  She had expected
more difficulty, for the young baron was averse to giving ceremonious
invitations.  The presence of strangers bored him, and he had sometimes
almost vexed his mother by his dislike to exercising the hospitality
which she considered due to his position.  But it was quite true that he
never refused and seldom laughed at Felicie's appeals for money,
although Nathalie fancied they must often have seemed to him, as to her,
to be rather fanciful than necessary.  Now he was so desirous to carry
out his sister's wishes that he begged her to go at once to set her mind
at rest.

Felicie was sitting on a projecting step watching a lizard; she jumped
up and came towards Nathalie, all her little features astir with
anxiety.

"Well?" she called out.

"Leon is quite ready," said Mme.  Leon, happily.  "Write your letter,
and he will copy it, or do anything you like."

"Thanks!" cried Felicie, clasping her hands rapturously.  "You were so
long that I trembled."

"Oh, he did not even hesitate, but there was something else which had to
be discussed first."

"Yes, mamma said he was annoyed about a letter, but I forgot to tell
you.  Do you know you are a strange person?  You look quite happy over
monseigneur's coming."

"I am happy, very happy," said Nathalie, smiling at her, "though it has
nothing to do with monseigneur.  Felicie, I am afraid that poor Henri
Leblanc is in a bad way.  He looks terribly ill."

Her sister-in-law's face stiffened.

"I have a very poor opinion of Henri.  The abbe says he can make nothing
of him, and his politics are a disgrace to the village."

"But if he is ill?"

"It may bring him to a better mind."

"Whatever he is," cried Nathalie, warmly, "the poor man might certainly
have something to help him back to health.  Might I not ask for some
soup?"

"It would displease my mother very much.  You had better not interfere
about the people, for naturally you don't know them as we do, and it is
the most worthless who appeal to you.  That old Antoine!"

Happily, Felicie's little narrownesses always ended by amusing her
sister-in-law.  The idea that a man's opinions should stand in the way
of having his hurts dressed was so comical that she began to laugh; and
as for Henri, she made up her mind that her father should get him into
the hospital at Tours.  She had always money enough, too, for anything
on which she had set her heart, for she never spent on herself the
allowance that was hers.  It was part of the bourgeoise nature, as Mme.
de Beaudrillart often remarked, to find it almost impossible to spend
money without fear of waste, and without regarding waste as sin.  Mme.
de Beaudrillart and her daughters had been economical from the good
sense which adapts itself to circumstances, never from actual
inclination.  Nathalie really had the inclination, and was thrifty by
nature.  Even her father, personally so as much as any Frenchman of his
class, was annoyed with her for not, as he said, adopting notions better
suited to the Beaudrillarts, and finding pleasure in spending.

Besides, she was so happy this morning that small vexations could not
touch her.  There had been a sore struggle in her heart these last
years, and aching sadness at which no one had ever guessed.  It looked
out of her honest eyes sometimes, but there was no one to read it, for
even the man who loved her best had not given her the love which is
unselfish enough to decipher signs, and it was the blank, hopeless wall
which her heart had found in his which had caused her trouble.  Now it
was surely down.  She had planted her first step on its ruins, she saw
herself safely intrenched in the citadel within, which the greatness of
her own love made her yet think of as a place infinitely more sacred and
satisfying than it was.

She went away into the garden to dream of her new bliss by herself.  The
day was gloomy but quiet, and as she walked the rush of the river over
its pebbly shoals came up to her ears.  Down below, in the level, the
vines hung, all but ready for the vintage, and women in great sabots and
white caps clattered across the bridge.  Behind, Poissy stood, grey and
grave, in its nest of thick foliaged trees.  But on Nathalie's face the
light of love was shining, the light of faithful, tender love.  There
was not a hard line left round her mouth, though, before this, it had
seemed as if suffering had begun to grave them.  The sweet nobility of
her eyes was undisturbed, the youth of her face had reappeared.  She
cared little enough about the women at the chateau, strong-willed yet
petty, less for the slights which came from them through the household;
the kingdom she wanted was her husband's love, that divine gift which,
in spite of imperfection, in spite, alas, often, of the worthlessness of
the giver, is the crown of a woman's life.

Yet, as she walked along in her new happiness, she gauged Leon very
fairly.  She did not expect him to rise to heroic heights.  She knew as
well as any one that he was self-pleasing, often morally weak, shirking
what was unpleasing to the extent of often shutting his eyes and ears.
But she loved him.  She had credited him at first with finer qualities;
these had dropped from his figure, but she had not loved him less for
loss of them.  His carelessness had often hurt her, his reserve had
nearly broken her heart, and through all her own love had never wavered;
it held him, held him up perforce.

She said no more to him about the letter, fearful of frightening away
his new-born confidence, and Leon himself seemed to have forgotten it.
He displeased his mother by his smiles, his looks, at Nathalie.  And
when night came, and restless Raoul had been disposed of, husband and
wife strolled out together.  They went down to the bridge, and stood
facing the western sky.  The river ran dark under their feet, overhead
spread black night, with here and there a faint gleam of stars, and the
slender crescent of a new moon.  A wind rustled through the low trees, a
red light flung itself from a cottage door, and somebody stumbled out
and across the bridge.

"Old Antoine," said Leon, when he had passed.

"Impossible!  He had really a bad accident to-day--lost a good deal of
blood, and was feverish."

"And now he has been drinking in honour of the occasion.  He it was, I
assure you."

"Oh!" exclaimed Nathalie.  She added, with a laugh, "Don't tell
Felicie!"

CHAPTER TWELVE.

BLANK!

Only Leon's power of letting trouble slip from him as readily as water
trickles from a duck's back enabled him to go about the estate as if
to-day were the same as yesterday.  He had, however, bad moments when he
was alone, or when the thought which dogged his footsteps caught him by
the throat.

The letter, it need scarcely be said, had come from Charles Lemaire.  It
was not long, but every word fell like the lash of an avenging fate.
During the last illness of M. de Cadanet, he said, it had come to his
knowledge that a letter directed to and designed for him had been
stopped on its way by M.  Leon de Beaudrillart, and the contents--a
large sum--abstracted.  Reluctance to bring disgrace upon a family with
whom he was connected had no doubt caused M. de Cadanet to abstain from
taking proceedings; but the writer, not being bound by such
considerations, did not consider himself at liberty to condone a felony,
added to which he was the person who had been the direct loser.  M. de
Cadanet was aware of his intentions to commence proceedings.  He had,
however, implored him to give the Baron Leon one chance of restitution
of the two hundred thousand francs, hence this letter.  He awaited an
answer before taking further steps, and had the honour to remain, etc,
etc.

When it reached him, Leon was sitting smoking in a room leading out of
the hall, where he was in the habit of transacting business with his
tenants, for he had never either reinstated M.  Georges or engaged
another intendant.  He had good business capabilities, and it rather
pleased him to exercise them, to M.  Bourget's great satisfaction.  He
was in particularly good spirits, for with the death of M. de Cadanet
the uneasiness which every now and then haunted him had passed away.  He
had not feared legal proceedings, he had never feared them after the
first two or three days, and, if he had, his repayment would have
relieved him of all dread.  But he had had a fear lest some imprudent
word of the old count might have betrayed him, and it was a great relief
to him to be no more haunted with this anxiety.  He opened his letters
with a laughing remark to Jacques Charpentier, who brought them.

The man had put them down, and gone to the window to draw back the
muslin curtains.  When he returned he started at the grey pallor of his
young master's face.  The baron was sitting where he had left him, his
elbows on the table, and his eyes fixed with a look which could be only
described as that of horror on the letter which he held with shaking
hands.  Jacques was an old servant, devoted to the Beaudrillarts, and
absolutely trustworthy.  He said at once:

"Monsieur has had bad news?  Shall I call Madame Leon?"

He made a shuddering sign of refusal.

"Can I do anything?  Monsieur knows he may depend on me."

Leon stretched out his hand--even at this moment the little action was
full of kindly grace.

"You are a good fellow, Jacques.  Say nothing.  I have had a blow."

He sent him away, and sat thinking, trying to collect his senses, and to
decide how to meet the attack, so unexpectedly terrible and beyond
everything that he could have feared.  It had never entered his head
that his payment could be disputed; what did it mean?  Even if the
stroke had come from the old count it would not have been so menacing;
but that Charles Lemaire, always, he was certain, his enemy, should be
on the track, and should, apparently, be wielding such a terrible
weapon, was at first sight overwhelming.  Then he had to reflect how
much he should tell his mother.  The letter itself was too precise, too
exact in its revelations for him to venture to show it, he must destroy
it; and let it be supposed that in his first indignant rage he had torn
it up.  He suited the action to the thought, and as he raged at the
morsels, wondered he had kept his fingers off them so long.  It was
almost as if by such action he had succeeded in strangling the monstrous
accusation; he flung the last atoms from him with a groan of relief.
Here the buoyancy of his nature came to his aid.  Such a stroke could
not fall; it would not be permitted, it would be a crime against the
eternal justice.  Its impossibility pacified him, its sinfulness made
his own deed look innocent; he stood, the mark, the victim, of calumny,
and the dignity of martyrdom soothed him into assurance.

In this more endurable mood he flung away his cigar and went to find his
mother.  She kept the reins of the house firmly in her own grasp, and
had just been looking into the great presses with old Nanon to make sure
that no moth was fretting the linen.

"Ah, Leon," she said, "I wanted to see you.  The wood is getting low.
And Nanon thinks it would not be a bad plan to get a few Cochins for the
poultry-yard.  What do you say?"

Her son stood reflecting.

"I don't believe that you much like Cochins?  Still, they are useful,
and we need not have too many."

"Clumsy creatures.  But if Nanon has set her old heart on them--Just as
you think best, mother; I can't give my mind to it to-day; other things
are too worrying."

"Has Pichot been making difficulties about his rent!  Sometimes I think
that if you could get a good intendant, and not an incapable like
Monsieur Georges, you might be spared many annoyances."

Leon flung himself into a chair with a groan, and stretched his legs.

"I can do with them, but this--this is shameful!  What do you say to a
rascally relation of Monsieur de Cadanet writing to blackmail me about a
letter of his which he avows I took?"

He spoke chokingly.  It was difficult to put it into words.  Mme. de
Beaudrillart smiled.

"A little startling, certainly!  But in these days it appears one must
be prepared for anything.  Does he pretend that the letter was worth
anything to you?"

"Oh yes, money; a big sum, which he suggests I should hand over."

"Of course there would be that demand--there always is.  I should like
to see how he puts it."

"Ah," Leon exclaimed, hurriedly, "I tore the letter up.  Its insolence
enraged me so much!"

"Naturally.  Well, I imagine you will not give him the satisfaction of
taking any notice of his attempt.  It is always better to say nothing
about such a matter and simply to ignore it.  I believe there are
wretches who make a profession of trying to extort money by getting hold
of some forgotten trifle, and magnifying it until they manage to
frighten weak-spirited persons.  Probably your correspondent is one of
the tribe."

Mme. de Beaudrillart had a heap of linen before her; she lifted one
piece after another, and laid it on one side, mechanically counting.

"I know the man," muttered Leon, his eyes on the heap.

"Yes?"

"And I shall answer him."

"Unwise."

"I must.  The fellow passes for a gentleman.  Why, he has inherited a
great part of old De Cadanet's money."

His mother paused in her task.

"Then he must be under some strange delusion," she said, gravely, "and I
begin to wish you had not destroyed the letter."

He assured her that he remembered what was in it, and repeated
particulars, avoiding mention of the sum.

"It is scarcely credible that any one should have brought such a mad
accusation," she remarked.

Leon allowed the strangeness of the fact.

"But I must answer the scoundrel, and what shall I say?"

"Refer him to your lawyer if he means to go further.  There is nothing
else to be done.  Make him understand that, by persisting, he lays
himself open to an action for libel."

Leon looked at her reflectively.  Then he sprang to his feet.

"I believe you are right.  It is best to advance a bold front with such
fellows, and show them you don't mean to knock under."

"Knock under?  But that would be impossible!" exclaimed Mme. de.
Beaudrillart, astonished.

"Oh, well, I can quite conceive a man so much worried and bothered by
the mere threat that he would pay just for peace and quietness."

Mme. de Beaudrillart flung up her head.

"I cannot," she said, proudly.

"You are going to have your way, at all events," said Leon.  He had
rapidly reviewed the possibilities of choking off Charles with something
approaching the price he demanded, and, if he could not have found
security thus, would have done it.  But he read the man's malice, and
was sure that he would not be satisfied without accomplishing his social
ruin as well as obtaining a large sum.  His mother's suggestion was the
best.  Even though the fact had reached Charles Lemaire's ears, the
burden of proof was quite another matter, and left him many loop-holes.
"Yes," he declared, "I will write."

"Write here," advised his mother.  She preferred her room to be used,
since by that means his wife was effectually excluded.  She pushed the
materials towards him, and he sat down and wrote hurriedly, she leaning
over his shoulder.  "Good.  But you have scarcely expressed your
amazement at his insolence sufficiently."

"Oh, I'll put anything you like," cried Leon, recklessly.  He added a
few strong words of her dictating: "There!  Will that do?"

"It is better."  She waited while he folded and addressed his letter.
"Monsieur Charles Lemaire.  So that is his name!  Now, my son, not a
word of this to any one.  The smallest hint, creeping out, might do
incalculable harm, in spite of its folly."

He listened in silence; there was no need for her to utter warnings as
to the seriousness of the affair.  Going back to his own room, he walked
furiously up and down, anathematising Lemaire with all the abuse he
could think of.  Then, as he was one of those who imperatively require
sympathy, he betook himself to his wife, meaning to do no more than let
her know he was in trouble.  What happened there in spite of Mme. de
Beaudrillart's warnings gave him very considerable comfort.  Nathalie
displayed the absolute disbelief which he hoped would be the effect upon
the world should this story ever be suffered to ooze out.  More than
that, he felt that he had made her happy, and he liked other people to
be happy, although he might not be disposed to put himself out in order
to attain that result.  When the next morning came his spirits rose, by
fits and starts, however, and depending upon nothing more tangible than
the distraction of the moment.  Nathalie wondered that such an absurd
attack as he had confided to her should have power seriously to vex him,
and, happy herself, tried her best to turn his thoughts.  Mme. de
Beaudrillart thought she showed unfeeling want of comprehension by her
unusual gaiety; Claire saw that something was wrong, and snubbed
Nathalie; and Felicie was too much taken up with delight at the prospect
of the bishop's visit, and with satisfaction at having certainly stepped
in before Mme.  Lemballe, to have thought for anything else.  Already
she had begun to plan extensive decoration by means of paper flowers for
the church, and was bent upon driving to Tours to seek materials; in her
small set voice one idea pattered after the other, the last being so
much like what had gone before as to be scarcely distinguishable.

"I am sure that the nicest effect would be to have real bushes in pots
covered with tinsel, and pink roses tied thickly on the twigs, unless--
yes, certainly one might have pink for the pots, and tinsel flowers
interspersed with streamers; perhaps that would be the best, after all.
Nathalie, you never suggest anything; do tell me what you think.  At any
rate, garlands will be charming.  I must begin upon them to-day.  And
then there are all the banners to be looked over, and the new cope to be
finished.  I really think that Raoul is big enough to walk in the
procession, don't you, mamma? and that would make it perfectly
charming!"

The day, outwardly the same as hundreds which had gone before, had, to
Nathalie's mind, a curious restlessness running through its hours, Leon
dreading his own society so much that he would scarcely suffer her to
leave his side.  She was obliged to commit Raoul altogether to the care
of his grandmother, with the result that by the evening he was wildly
unmanageable.  Once or twice miserable depression seized Leon, which his
wife could not understand; for to her it appeared absolutely
unreasonable, even while she exerted all her powers to cheer him.  Over
and over again she repeated the same consolation: who would treat such a
letter seriously?  But the gladness in her heart that he should seek his
consolation from her was so great that she felt no impatience.  He said
at last:

"After all, I have a great mind to go to Paris myself."

"Why not?" she returned, cheerfully.  "Then you could put an end at once
to this absurd folly.  A few words would certainly bring him to reason,
and you cannot say all you want in a letter."

"I believe I will!"  Leon ejaculated.  "But I can't be left alone.  You
must come."

Her heart leaped.  To have him to herself!

"Only ask me!" she exclaimed, joyously.

"It mayn't be so pleasant!"

"The more reason that I should be with you."

He looked at her irresolutely.  Should he tell her?  Let free the horrid
fear which gripped his heart?  No, he could not.  To have her think of
him as he really was required too great a sacrifice.

"Well, then, you and I will go together."

She pressed his arm.  "When?"

"To-morrow."

"And Raoul?"

"Oh, Raoul must stay behind.  It would displease my mother very much if
we took him.  As it is--" He broke off and looked at her, and they both
laughed.  "We will make some excuse.  You need not tell her that you
know anything about that letter."

The excuse he made was that his wife had a great desire to go to Paris.
"And," he said, privately to his mother, "I may as well take the
opportunity of settling with this Lemaire.  The fellow thinks he can
bully me."

"You could do it better alone, in my opinion," replied Mme. de
Beaudrillart, determinedly.  "Nathalie ought to be very well content to
stay here.  At any rate, take my advice, and keep the matter to
yourself.  Your wife cannot be expected to look at the matter as we do;
she would naturally think that money might set matters right--perhaps
would want you to appeal to that terrible father.  Imagine Monsieur
Bourget as your adviser!"

Leon cleared his throat.  "She need know nothing," he said.

Mme. de Beaudrillart was more uneasy than she allowed.  Faith in her son
could not obliterate the remembrance of past folly.  She feared that
something, some handle, existed to account for this vile accusation, and
she dared not examine too closely into the when and where, lest fear
should be confirmed.  She came down the next morning with dark rings
round heavy eyes to find Leon his old self--gay, careless.  No letter
had come, and he was able to think with exhilaration of Paris, its
stifled charm reasserting itself, and old pleasures beckoning.  The
picture shone with a brilliancy which swept away clouds, and his wife's
delight at having gained her rightful position helped his cheerfulness.
Claire looked at her with indignation, believing the happiness in her
eyes to belong only to joy at getting what apparently had been her
secret longing, a visit to Paris, and letting sharp words fly to show
that she understood this depravity.

"And we are to be trusted with Raoul!" she said.

Nathalie's face changed a little.

"If you will be so good," she said.  "I hope he will not be naughty."

"I don't see why he should be more so than usual; but of course since
you persuaded Leon to overlook Jean Charpentier's untrustworthiness,
there is no knowing what he may not do."

"Raoul has promised that he will not go to the river by himself."

"Promised!  That baby!"

"He will not break his word," said Nathalie, quietly, and for once Mme.
de Beaudrillart nodded approval.

"No.  He is a true Beaudrillart," she said, and Claire stopped sparring,
content with this thrust.

When the two had gone, she reflected for some time as to what mystery
had carried them off.  Her life was emptier than that of Felicie--who,
indeed, had a conviction that she was a most busy person--for Claire
hated fancy-work, and despised the small fripperies which more than
satisfied her sister.  She had the appetite of intellect, with nothing
to feed it on, and a love of power in a very contracted realm.  Her
single life left her harder than her mother, and she was more irritable,
though this was perhaps owing to a penetrating knowledge of herself.  A
Frenchwoman in the provinces, with her tastes, and no means of
satisfying them, may have a very dull time of it indeed.  She meets with
little sympathy from her friends, and it is still a reproach to speak of
a woman as taking an independent line of her own, though that line may
really be absolutely harmless.  If Claire could have brought herself to
make a companion of her sister-in-law, to borrow her books, or to
discuss them with her, life would have had real interests for her; as it
was, pride checked her, and she grew more rigid from bringing her will
to bear upon petty and indifferent objects--such, for instance, as the
thwarting of Nathalie.  She detested M.  Bourget, in whom she read
possibilities of insolent opposition.  She could not bring herself to
drive in Nathalie's pony-carriage, although she would have gladly hailed
the variety of an hour or two in Tours, and for this reason Felicie went
there alone, Mme. de Beaudrillart refusing to allow Raoul to accompany
her.

She came back in high spirits, with rolls of pink paper for the roses,
and several small pieces of news which she was an adept in picking up,
and which were very welcome at the chateau.

"Monsieur Darville is to be the new magistrate, and he is already
engaged to Mademoiselle Silvestre.  Imagine, that little creature!  And
who do you think I saw at the door of Lafon's shop?  Monsieur Georges.
He came up to me, and inquired for Leon and for all."

"He might have contented himself with a bow, I think," said her mother,
displeased.

"Oh, I assure you, mamma, he was quite respectful in his manner.  I
think he would very much like to see Poissy again."

"Not improbably.  He would find matters in a different train than when
he left it."

Claire put in, "But, after all, Leon has only done what Monsieur
George's always wished him to do.  Leon is so changed!"

"And what has changed him!  Realising what Monsieur Georges never had
the energy to impress upon him.  No.  He is an incapable, as I have said
from the first."

"And did you see Monsieur Bourget!"

Felicie pursed her lips.

"Yes, there he was, the dreadful man, planted on the pavement and
staring!  I suppose he was surprised not to see Nathalie, for his eyes
opened like round saucers.  I told Francis to drive very quickly."

It was true, as she divined, that M.  Bourget was astonished to see the
carriage without his daughter.  But as the day for her weekly visit had
not come round, he was not uneasy until this arrived and passed without
tidings of her.  Then, indeed, there was a wrangling match between
indignation and anxiety.  He vowed that she was neglecting him, as a
means of keeping off the fretting fear that something had happened to
Raoul.  The photograph of Poissy, interrogated, looked gloomily
suggestive; for the first time in his life he turned away from it
angrily.  At the cafe he browbeat the waiters, and sat so silent and
sullen that his acquaintances did not venture to approach him, chafing
him the more by holding aloof.

The slight cause he had for anxiety made him ashamed to admit it.

At last, one morning a letter from Nathalie gave an added fright, until
he caught sight of the postmark Paris, and stared at it in grumbling
bewilderment.  What on earth had carried them there all of a sudden, and
if the boy was gone, how came it that he had not been told?  But opening
the letter, its first sentences caught his breath away, and left him
staring, a pallid image of himself.  A rush of blood to the head
followed.  "What is the girl dreaming about?"  Finally a laugh broke
out, a hoarse foolish laugh, the sound of which amazed him.  Was he mad?
It was a more likely explanation than that the letter spoke truth.

But if he were mad, he was sane enough to perceive that he must come
back to his senses, and that quickly.  He took the letter and read it
through, frowning.  The same words stared at him.  They were not the
delusion of madness.

He stood up, uttering a sound like a choked roar.  The passion which had
rushed uppermost was rage.  That such an accusation should be possible,
that a man should dare to utter such--such blasphemy against the honour
of the De Beaudrillarts was monstrous, a disgrace to the civilised
world!  It was the insult which inflamed him.  M. de Beaudrillart could
of course clear himself and punish the slanderer.  But what could wipe
out insult?

His first impulse was to fling himself into the train and go to Paris,
with some unformed notion of shaking the truth out of the infamous
accuser.  Then he felt as if it were to Poissy that he must hasten.
Vague thoughts, vague fears, floated in his brain, kept down by his
resolve not to allow them to take shape.  His breath came quickly, his
chest heaved, he looked vainly round for something or some one on whom
he could vent the storm which oppressed him; if Leroux had presented
himself, he might have half-killed him, by way of relief.  No one was in
the house with him except old Fanchon, who was deaf, and occupied in
preparing an omelette for his breakfast.  Deaf as she was, she heard the
door bang, for it shook the house, and running to look out, saw M.
Bourget descending the street like a whirlwind.

On another occasion, if anything had taken him to Poissy, his legs would
have carried him; but impatience drove him so fiercely that he hailed
the first carriage he saw, to the amazement of the driven, who knew M.
Bourget well enough to comprehend that such an event was unprecedented.

"To Poissy, monsieur!" he repeated, open-eyed.

"To Poissy, imbecile!" thundered his fare.  "Have you, by chance, ever
heard of Poissy?  Does it perhaps not exist in the neighbourhood, or
have I fallen upon a horse with three legs that cannot go beyond the
street?"

"The horse can go well enough," muttered the man, climbing up on his
seat.  "But heard ever any one of the miserly old bourgeois taking a
carriage for his pleasure!"

If he hoped that the rarity of the proceeding would induce M.  Bourget
to take his drive leisurely he was mistaken.  He was stormed at, urged
on, and arrived at Poissy almost as hot as his horse, not daring to
grumble at the smallness of the pourboire, lest this terrible M.
Bourget should have his licence revoked.

The ex-builder flung himself from the carriage, and pushed by Rose-Marie
into the hall.  Raoul, at work there, rushed at his grandfather with a
welcoming shout.  For the first time that day M.  Bourget spoke gently.

"There, there, my boy, by-and-by, by-and-by.  Now I am going to speak to
madame your grandmother."

Already he breathed more freely.  The sight of Poissy, standing as
solidly and as fair as ever, reassured him.  The hideous thing of which
he had heard was whipped by scorn into the regions of the impossible.
Raoul, fresh, mischievous, enchanting, Raoul alone, flung denial after
it.  Everything stood as he had seen it last.  He went up the staircase
half ashamed of the impulse which had brought him.  But when Rose-Marie
had opened the door, and he saw Mme. de Beaudrillart standing in the
centre of the room, upright, rigid, a figure stiffened into stone, the
panic seized him again.  The door closed behind him, the two stood
facing each other.  It was she who spoke first.

"From your presence here, monsieur, I gather that you have heard from
Madame Leon of the--the extraordinary attack which has been made upon my
son."

Even at this moment M.  Bourget was impressed by the haughty coolness of
her bearing.  Not a movement, not a look, showed fear.  He said,
briefly:

"She wrote to me this morning."

"Ah, so I imagined.  It was natural, though I could have wished the
affair had not been mentioned out of our own family."

M.  Bourget's square figure seemed to gain unusual dignity.  He said,
respectfully:

"Pardon, madame.  You forget that although I have no desire to force the
fact upon you, we both belong to the same family.  What concerns the
husband of my daughter, concerns me.  But it appears to me there are
more important matters to discuss.  I am not sure that I know all the
facts.  Would it displease you if I repeated what seems clear!"

She motioned him to a seat, and sat down herself abruptly.

"What I make out, then," said M.  Bourget, leaning forward, and fixing
his eyes on his own broad hands, "is that some Monsieur Lemaire, of whom
I know nothing--" he paused, questioningly, but as she remained silent,
went on--"the principal inheritor of the wealth of the defunct count,
Monsieur de Cadanet, brings an accusation against Baron Leon of having
opened a letter intended for him, Lemaire, by Monsieur de Cadanet, and
of having extracted the sum of two hundred thousand francs.  That is all
I know, madame, and, on the face of it, it appears a most egregious
accusation."

Her lips formed the word, "Disgraceful."

"But you can, perhaps, madame, give me further information.  On what
ground does he base his charge?  Were there any money dealings between
this Lemaire and Monsieur Leon?"

"I am certain there were none."

In spite of herself she was thankful to have this man, with his shrewd
business habits, his straightforward common-sense, by her side.  She
felt his strength a support.

"And between Monsieur de Cadanet and the baron?"

"Ah, that is different."  She hesitated, keeping her eyes fixed on M.
Bourget; then went on: "You had better know all.  You are probably aware
that, owing to the incompetence of his intendant, Poissy became very
seriously involved?"

"People said, madame, that Monsieur Leon had squandered his estates,"
replied M.  Bourget, speaking brusquely for the first time; "but that is
neither here nor there.  I am aware that at one time the mortgages were
very heavy--very heavy indeed; and that Monsieur Leon contrived by
degrees to pay them off.  To do so required money."

"Certainly," said Mme. de Beaudrillart, coldly, "he could not work
miracles.  The money came from Monsieur de Cadanet, who was under a debt
of gratitude to my husband."

M.  Bourget hardly heard these last words.  "How much?" he said,
quickly.

"Two hundred thousand francs."

He stared at her, and brought his hand down heavily on the table.

"The same sum!"

"A coincidence."

"More than improbable," said M.  Bourget, shaking his head obstinately.
"Depend upon it, this has to do with that loan of Monsieur de Cadanet's.
It was a loan?"

"Of course."

"And repaid by my money," was on M.  Bourget's lips.  Something,
however, withheld him, although he would have said it in all simplicity,
and without thought of anything offensive.  "Repaid on his marriage," he
substituted.  "I knew there was something of the sort.  Depend upon it
this rascal has got hold of the transaction, and is bent upon making
capital out of it.  I wish I had Monsieur Leon here, to put one or two
question."

"I believe, monsieur, I am perfectly acquainted with his affairs."

M.  Bourget darted an ironical look at her, but refrained from
expression of incredulity.

"Do you, at any rate, know, madame, whether Baron Leon was in Paris or
at Poissy when he received this assistance from the defunct Monsieur de
Cadanet?"

"In Paris."

"And had he, at that time, any communication with Monsieur Lemaire!"

"I am aware of none."

"No quarrel?  Were they on friendly terms!"

"No.  For my son thought ill of him, and once said that if Monsieur de
Cadanet knew his real character it would be a bad day for Monsieur
Lemaire; but that was all."

"You do not think he tried to open Monsieur de Cadanet's eyes."

"Never," said Mme. de Beaudrillart, drawing herself up.  "Do you imagine
he would have stooped to the position of tale-bearer?"

"I should have," said M.  Bourget, frankly.  "And it would have been
decidedly advantageous.  However, depend upon it, madame, this
accusation has something to do with Monsieur de Cadanet's loan.  As for
the theft from the letter, that is absurd.  My theory is that Lemaire is
perhaps executor--at all events, that by some means or other he has
become possessed of papers which have suggested the attempt to coerce
the baron.  I hope Monsieur Leon will beware of yielding.  Fortunately,
Nathalie is there, and has a clear head for business."

"My son is not likely to require support," said his mother, still
haughtily.  M.  Bourget did not hear her; he was considering, chin on
chest.

"He has learned, somehow, that the money was lent to Monsieur Leon, and
perhaps he means to deny that it was ever repaid.  You will pardon me,
madame, if I remark that in your class there are apparently strange
reticences and scruples in business matters.  I once offended Monsieur
Leon, in what probably had to do with this very loan, by asking whether
he held any note or agreement which I could look at.  Two hundred
thousand francs is a large sum to have been paid without so much as a
receipt!"

Mme. de Beaudrillart stood up with a smile.

"We are not so foolish as you suppose us, Monsieur Bourget.  My son had
a receipt, and I can show it to you."

"In that case--" M.  Bourget rubbed his hands exultantly--"I am
convinced this will be of the greatest importance.  Can you put your
hand on it easily, madame?"

She answered by unlocking a cupboard.  His face fell.  A cupboard for
papers of value!  But when he saw an iron safe fitting into the recess,
his wounded instincts recovered themselves.  He could hardly restrain
himself from looking over her shoulder.

"You know the paper, madame?" he cried, eagerly.

"I placed it here myself."

She extracted an envelope from a bundle of receipts, tore it open, and
unfolded a paper.

It was a blank sheet.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

"HERE MUST BE SOME MISTAKE."

The two stood staring at the paper, which told so little and so much.

When M.  Bourget glanced at last at Mme. de Beaudrillart, he pushed a
chair towards her.

"Sit down, for Heaven's sake, madame," he said in a hoarse voice.  "Here
must be some mistake.  Who gave you this?"

Insensibly and unintentionally his voice had become that of the accuser.
She answered, mechanically:

"My son."

"Do you think--" he glanced at her again and was silent.  Both were
silent.  They could hear the cooing of the pigeons in the yard;
presently a child's shout of laughter rang out, and their eyes met.  M.
Bourget said, quickly: "There must be some explanation.  Could it have
been an accident?  Monsieur Leon perhaps carelessly handed you the wrong
paper!"

She shook her head; he pushed his question.

"Consider, madame.  Such a mistake is not impossible.  It was at a time
when his thoughts were, perhaps, elsewhere.  A young man just married
hasn't got his head so clear for business as on ordinary occasions.  Or
are you certain this is the envelope he gave you?  If you were to search
a little further?"

"That is the envelope," said Mme. de Beaudrillart, firmly.  "At the same
time--"

"Yes, yes!" cried M.  Bourget, leaning forward, impatiently.--"I think
it not impossible that it was a--a little farce on his part, because I
pressed him so much for the receipt.  I believe," she went on, her voice
and figure regaining strength, "that Monsieur de Cadanet sent him no
receipt, and that he gave this to quiet me."

"Oh!" groaned M.  Bourget.  He stood gloomily regarding the safe.  "How
would it be possible that such a sum could be received without so much
as an acknowledgment?"

She was silent.  He put another question.

"Other letters must have passed; have you seen any of them?"

"No."

"Nothing, madame, from Monsieur de Cadanet?"

"Since my husband's death, nothing."

"Was anything paid before Monsieur Leon's marriage?"

"Five hundred francs."

M.  Bourget had a perfect recollection of this sum having been mentioned
by Leon; he only put the question to see how the accounts agreed.

"Is there, perhaps, a receipt for this?"

"No," returned Mme. de Beaudrillart.  "I was vexed that Leon did not
demand it, but he assured me it was impossible."

"Impossible or not, it is a great misfortune," murmured the ex-builder,
in a gloomy tone.

She looked up with sudden fire in her eyes.

"You say so, monsieur, but you have no reason to link the two points
together.  This disgraceful attempt by Monsieur Lemaire may have nothing
whatever to do with the repayment of Monsieur de Cadanet's loan."

M.  Bourget rubbed his face with his hand, and glanced at her
doubtfully.

"No, madame," he said, at last; "but with its non-payment."

Mme. de Beaudrillart rose with all the pride she could summon to the
support of a trembling heart.

"No one, monsieur, shall insult Monsieur de Beaudrillart in his own
house."

"Do you think I would?" he returned, hurriedly.  "You forget, madame,
that we are all in one boat.  But something there is which has to be
unravelled before things can be set right, and if I work I must have
materials to go upon.  If this money was the repayment of a loan from
Monsieur de Cadanet, some sort of acknowledgment must exist.  That,"--he
pointed to the envelope--"you see what that is."

"It was my fault," she said, firmly.

"Perhaps.  That is neither here nor there.  It is not what you thought
it.  That makes it the more likely that Monsieur Lemaire's action has to
do with it.  But how?  I've half a mind to go after them to Paris."

"No," said Mme. de Beaudrillart, shivering.  "Do not.  You mean well, I
know, but you might make matters worse by interfering.  The fewer who
are mixed up in it the better."

"Maybe, madame; though that would not hinder me if only I had a lawyer's
brains to ferret out things.  But that's not my way.  Give me a straight
bit of work that requires no talking, and I'm your man; but as for
hunting up and down in by-ways and back-stairs--well, if I attempted it,
there would be blunders.  There must be lots of the sort in Paris,
though."

"If it comes to that!"

M.  Bourget stood regarding her.

"What does Monsieur Leon say?" he demanded, abruptly.

"He has tried to see this Lemaire, but he refuses to communicate except
through a lawyer.  It looks as if he could not face him."

"Impossible to trust to that, madame," said M.  Bourget, with gloom.
"The worst liars I ever met looked me straight in the face when they
lied.  Is Baron Leon going to take action himself!"

"He speaks of having a case for libel.  Apparently, Monsieur Lemaire
merely reiterates his demand without offering proof."

"He is keeping his proof," interjected the ex-builder.

"And Leon thinks that when he finds the money is not forthcoming, he
will revenge himself by talking, unless he is threatened with an
action."

"Perhaps it is not a bad plan to see whether it is possible to shut his
mouth.  Monsieur Leon is the best judge."

M.  Bourget said this reflectively.  Mme. de Beaudrillart, looking here
and there with the instinct of an animal whose young are attacked,
quivered.

"Are you supposing, monsieur, that my son would stoop to bribe?"

"It would not answer.  It never does," he answered, disregarding her
indignation; "otherwise, get the fellow to accept a sum, and you have
him.  He could not move afterwards, because he would have put himself
within reach of the law.  He could not even blab, because he calls
himself a gentleman."  He glanced at Mme. de Beaudrillart, and stopped
suddenly.  She had drawn a step nearer to him; all her features were
sharpened, her voice harsh.

"Do you know what you are saying?" she cried.  "To do this would be to
acknowledge himself guilty!  And you suggest it to me--his mother!"

"Come come, madame," said M.  Bourget, reasonably, "you forget that I
also am his father-in-law, and anything which would put an extinguisher
on the business without setting the world's tongues wagging is worth
discussion.  However, Monsieur Leon, who knows the ins and outs of it
all, as you and I don't, may have some better plan in his head, and I
suppose there are honest lawyers to be met with, even in Paris.  As I
said, too, he has Nathalie at his elbow.  Who is his lawyer?  Monsieur
Rodoin?"

"Yes.  Oh, if only I were there!" exclaimed Mme. de Beaudrillart,
beginning to walk up and down the room.

M.  Bourget conceived it prudent to take no notice of this desire; for
privately he thought it as well that her rigid notions of honour, which
he admired immensely but considered unpractical, should be replaced by
Nathalie's excellent sense.  The discovery of the blank envelope had
affected him very disagreeably.  If there had been nothing in the shape
of a receipt he would have put down the want to carelessness, or some
overstrained idea which was pardonable in a Beaudrillart.  But the empty
enclosure pointed to deceit.  For some reason or other Leon had
hoodwinked his mother, and M.  Bourget was convinced not only that the
money had never been repaid, but that this movement on the part of
Lemaire was but the sequel to a dark story.  Rumours of the Baron Leon's
proceedings in Paris, which he had chosen to ignore when he gave him his
daughter, came back to him now with terrible insistence.  If the present
overhanging disgrace reached the ears of those intimates at Tours whom
he had pelted with boasts, could he ever hold up his head again?  He
shuddered.  Wrong or right, honour or dishonour, if a bribe could have
stopped the accuser's mouth, M.  Bourget would have urged its payment.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

As for Mme. de Beaudrillart, she, too, was shaken.  Passionately to
proclaim her belief in her son was only the weapon caught up by a
wounded heart with which to defend itself.  She had covered them with
tenderest excuses, but she knew, in that deeper consciousness where she
dared not penetrate, that Leon had committed a thousand follies in those
old days which she had hoped were buried.  Alas, sin is an unquiet
ghost.  It walks.

In her heart she cried out against God's justice.  What!  Could not
those changed years atone?  Could not her prayers, Felicie's devotions,
gain grace!  Were the faults of his youth to meet him now--now when he
was living a blameless life; now when he was the father of an innocent
boy?  Nathalie she passed over.  To her it might be a grief, but she
would not feel the pang of a dishonoured name, that, worse than death
itself, would hang round Raoul's neck all his life long.  She hated M.
Bourget, blaming her own triumphant assurance which allowed him to
assist in her search for the papers.  If she had gone alone, if that
incident of the empty envelope had not come to his knowledge, she could
have braved it out by taking the blame on herself.  She even distrusted
him, not understanding that though differing in form, in degree her
pride in Poissy was equalled by his.  And yet, she was so terribly
alone, and this man knew!  Before she realised what she was about, she
had faltered an entreaty to him for silence, and was met by an
uncomprehending stare.  She bowed her head.

"What I mean, monsieur, is that it may do mischief to speak of this
affair before my son has stopped it."

"_I_ speak of it!" cried M.  Bourget, irritably.  "You don't seem to
understand that I would give ten years of my life to be certain that it
would never set tongues wagging!  _I_, madame!  What do you take me for?
_I_!  Shall you gossip yourself?"

Fear had shaken her.  She murmured that he was not one of the family.
His wave of the hand had a dignity she had never seen in him before.

"Do I claim to be?  But my daughter, madame, is as much a Beaudrillart
as yourself, and my grandson more than either.  Our interests are
identical."

Under the shock of these words Mme. de Beaudrillart revived.

"Be it so, monsieur," she said.  "It appears to me that for the present
we must wait until we know more.  If we move, we may only cause
mischief, and I would beg of you to give up any idea of going to Paris.
I believe that matters will arrange themselves.  You have of course
breakfasted?"

He had left his house at a moment's notice, and began to feel the need
of food.  Mme. de Beaudrillart rang, and gave orders for it to be spread
in the dining-room at once, requesting further that Mlle.  Claire might
be sent for.  She felt the need of support, and yet dreaded lest
Claire's sharp tongue might exasperate this man, who already began to
represent h power.  She need not have feared.  M.  Bourget felt little
of, and cared for less, the prickly darts which Mlle.  Claire let fly.
He enraged her by his indifference, but in the middle of his hearty meal
on red-legged partridges, he demanded Raoul, and though she would have
made some excuse, her mother gave a peremptory order that he should be
found.  When he arrived, Mme. de Beaudrillart wondered that she had not
thought before of taking refuge in his chatter.

Still, it had its awkwardnesses.  He was bent upon showing his
grandfather everything.  Had he seen this, had he seen that!  Why was it
that he did not come oftener to Poissy?  Would he come to the river
directly?  Mamma had made him promise not to go there by himself; but
she would not mind if bon pere took him.

"Do not be tiresome, Raoul!" said his aunt, sharply.  M.  Bourget opened
his eyes at the idea.

"Pardon, mademoiselle; you do not know, then, that we are very good
friends, my grandson and I.  With your permission, since he wishes it, I
will go with him to the river--"

"And catch fish.  Can you catch fish, bon pere?" interrupted Raoul.

"Here and there, my prince.  But as I was saying, madame, if you will
allow Jean to go to bring this young gentleman home, I will return to
Tours by the river."

"You will not walk, monsieur?" said Mme. de Beaudrillart.  "There is
Nathalie's carriage doing nothing; pray allow me to order it."

"No, no, madame.  I thank Heaven I am yet strong on my legs, and can
walk as well as any of them.  The mayor himself would be sorry to engage
me in a match, although he prides himself on his powers.  Raoul takes
after me, as I have told his mother more than once."

Claire, who had expected her mother to make objections, especially after
this insolent assumption that in any point Raoul could resemble the
ex-builder, was amazed to find that his wishes were to be carried out.
She said so when he had gone.

"Really, mamma, considering how much Raoul is allowed to be with him
when Nathalie is at home, we might have kept the child out of his
influence in the few days he is left to us!"

"Hush, Claire, you do not know!" exclaimed her mother, feverishly.  "The
man is terrible, but so far he means well, and it would never do to
affront him at this moment."

Claire shrugged her thin shoulders.

"Leon has had difficulties before now, and has got through them," she
remarked.  "The whole affair seems to me so inconceivable that I am
inclined to believe Nathalie is persuading Leon to exaggerate it, in
order that she may gain a longer time in Paris.  I should be capable of
doing the same myself, I own."

She laughed, and an hour or two ago Mme. de Beaudrillart might have
admitted the likelihood of such a motive.  But M.  Bourget's visit, and
the dreadful possibilities suggested by the blank envelope, had left her
ten times as uneasy as before.  She shook her head and sighed.

"It is serious.  More serious than I thought."

"You have been listening to that man.  I shall never forgive Nathalie
for inflicting him upon us.  And to hear him talking to Raoul as if the
child was his!  Of course he has made the most of this affair, if only
because it would be such delight to him to humble us."

"No," said her mother, firmly, "there you are wrong.  He identifies
himself with us."

Claire laughed again, this time contemptuously.

"How could you endure it?  It seems to me that no misfortune could be so
terrible.  Really, Felicie's idea of the cotton-wool was brilliant, only
I imagine it will not do for us all to be seized with deafness.  Do you
suppose that he employs his time with Raoul in teaching the boy how to
economise with his pence?  Rose-Marie says his driver was forced to come
here like a whirlwind, and got six _sous_ for his pains."  But Mme. de
Beaudrillart, to whom, great lady as she was, such details were
intensely interesting, scarcely heard the words.  Fear of something
unknown, something overwhelming, because it had to do with Leon, and
Leon's honour, was shaking her.  Personal danger would have found her
calm, and the crash of misfortune; this was different.  Little fears,
little uneasinesses, forgotten as soon as their light touch was removed,
trooped forth again, and dared her to ignore them now.  Haunting dread
lay in the thought that truth might, after all, lie in this accusation,
at first scouted with scorn.  Leon had never confided in her as to the
process by which he was disentangled from his difficulties six years
ago, had never said much about M. de Cadanet; had suddenly buried
himself at Poissy; had shunned Paris, had evaded her desire to assist in
the repayment of the debt; had finally, when pressed, deceived her by
passing off an empty envelope as the receipt which he wished her to
believe he held in his possession.  Each fact might be trifling in
itself, but heralding, as they had done, the storm which had burst, they
became terribly significant.  It was the collapse of faith in her son,
the sudden admittance of a frightful doubt, before which her proud
spirit quailed.  If Leon had done this thing!  If the net closing round
him were, after all, the strong net of justice, implacable and
unpitying--before such a dread she became helpless.  Then she recalled
his evident uneasiness at the charge--nay, further behind, the fits of
depression--so opposed to his light spirit, which had now and then
seized him without apparent cause during past years.  As she looked
back, accusing fingers seemed to start and point, phantom voices cried,
"He did it! he did it!"  She even believed she heard his father's voice
demanding an account from her of the honour of his son, more--the honour
of Poissy, bound up as it was in this De Beaudrillart.  It was only by a
supreme effort that she forced herself into quietude.  The horrible
intuition in her heart might, after all, be false.  Leon might be able
to clear himself, the next letter might bring news to shame her for her
want of confidence.

Rigid and white, Mme. de Beaudrillart went about the house through the
day, and with steady fingers fashioned some of Felicie's staring pink
roses.  But any one who had looked into her room that night would have
seen a heaped-up figure lying, still dressed, outside the bed, and heard
the stifled cry of a sorely smitten woman, "Leon, Leon!"

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

WHAT IS KNOWN!

The incident of the empty envelope had sent dreariest conviction home to
M.  Bourget.  That he should have read black proof in it was not perhaps
astonishing; yet he had so strong a sense of the code of honour which
governed an ancient family like that of Beaudrillart, and so obstinate a
belief in his own opinion, that the shock was staggering.  Besides, it
dealt a direct blow at his vanity.  He felt with a shiver that his
intimates at Tours would by their jeers revenge themselves for his
boasting speeches which they had been forced to endure in silence.
Already he saw the smiles, heard the gibes, and a cold sweat broke out
as he pictured the secret glee with which Leroux, for instance, under
pretence of sympathy, would hand him the local newspaper giving the
fullest particulars of this extraordinary affair.  Already the letters
glared at him: "The Affair Beaudrillart--the Poissy Scandal."  The
humiliation sent him hurrying along the straight, flat road as if he
felt Fate at his heels, shouting mockery.

Now and then he broke out into a rage of denial.  A man working in a
way-side field was so amazed at the hoarse sound that he ran to the
hedge to behold, as he thought, a short, stout, red-faced mad bourgeois,
hastening along with violent gestures and clinched fists.  The man
stared after him, scratching his head and reflecting.  He was a madman,
no doubt; but if he were to attempt to secure him, he might very well
get some injuries for his pains.  Besides, he would have to run to
overtake him, and if he stayed where he was, the keepers, who would
probably soon come along, might give him a few sous for his information.
So M.  Bourget went on his excited way unmolested.

He did not think of Nathalie so much as of Raoul.  Nathalie was a woman;
her father, moreover, had often been annoyed at her failing to show
sufficient interest in the great family in which he flattered himself he
had placed her.  The toppling down of that edifice would not break her
heart.  But Raoul--the boy whose inheritance should have come to him as
his father received it, and who now ran the risk of being branded for a
thief's son--it was when he dwelt upon Raoul that the cry of rage
escaped.  The child's unconsciousness made the sin against him the
worse.  Such a child, such a boy!  Manly, daring, wilful, truthful--that
he should be weighted with a burden of dishonour!

"When he gets to understand it, if it doesn't kill him, it will ruin his
life," muttered his grandfather with a groan.

There was a further trial to his practical mind in being forced to
remain quiet.  If he could have run about from office to office, set
lawyers at work, felt himself to be moving events, things would have
been more endurable.  But Mme. de Beaudrillart's warning remained in his
mind.  She had said that by going to Paris he might very likely cause
mischief, and he was sufficiently ignorant of the ways of the great city
and the great world in it to accept her opinion as probable.  At Tours,
where he was known, he might browbeat his fellow-townsmen on any point
wherein he and they differed; but in Paris, what was he?  A unit in a
position where his vanity did not care to picture himself.

He reached Tours weary and dusty, and felt the need for his usual cup of
coffee at the cafe--perhaps greater need for the exercise of his usual
self-assertion.  On his way through the streets he met the doctor, who
held up his hands.

"Are you off a journey, my good Monsieur Bourget?  You have the air of a
man who has been travelling all night."

"And why should I not, if it pleases me?" demanded M.  Bourget, with his
most combative air.

"Why not?  Why not indeed?  Heaven forbid that I should be the one to
prevent you!" returned the doctor, laughing.  "I merely venture to
remark that your journey, wherever it was, has apparently had the effect
of causing you fatigue."

"And you are quite wrong, monsieur, in both your suppositions.  I have
not had any journey at all, and I am not a bit more fatigued than
ordinarily.  I suppose I am not so infirm that a walk home from Poissy
is likely to prove fatal?"

"Oh, Poissy, is it!" exclaimed the doctor, preparing to escape.  "No,
no, my good friend; on the contrary, you are quite right to keep up the
habit of exercise.  But I must not stay gossiping when I have a pressing
case in the Rue Royale.  Adieu, adieu!"

"Now what takes him off as if the devil himself were at his heels?"
muttered M.  Bourget, looking after him discontentedly.  "A pressing
case indeed!  If anything serious were the matter in the Rue Royale, it
is quite certain that I should have heard of it by this time.  The man
was fooling me.  He didn't wish to talk about Poissy.  And why?"

He marched on, his eyes on the ground, his under-lip thrust out.  For
the first time for six years he turned into another street to avoid
passing the photographer's window.  He reached the cafe in a bad humour,
tired, moreover, in spite of his disclaimer to the doctor, and dropped
into a solitary chair, where he sat frowning and facing the street.  As
he anticipated, before he had been there five minutes M.  Leroux
approached.  M.  Bourget thumped the table to draw his attention.

"If you are going to order this poisonous stuff," he said, "one table
will do for us both.  Sit there."

But Leroux, sharp enough to see that he was wanted, was also sharp
enough to improve the opportunity.  He shook his head.

"I can't afford to swallow coffee at a cafe, with all those mouths at
home, and that's the truth," he said.

"You can sit, I suppose," growled M.  Bourget.

"Oh, I can sit, certainly.  But I find it makes me thirsty to look at
others drinking, and, by your leave, I'll not stop to-day."

For answer M.  Bourget rapped his cup with his spoon, and extracted two
sous from his pocket.

"There!"  He shot the word at the waiter.  "If you call this stuff
coffee, bring another cup.  Now I suppose you're satisfied," he
continued to Leroux.

"And I shall pay for it," ejaculated the lawyer to himself.  "Poissy,
Poissy, Poissy, he is only waiting to be set off.  Confound Poissy!"
Aloud he said, "You were not at the meeting about the creche, Monsieur
Bourget."

"Creche?  Absurdity!  Why can't the women mind their own babies?"
grumbled the ex-builder.  "No, monsieur.  If I had been in the town and
had attended, it would only have been for the purpose of seeing my
fellow-townsmen make fools of themselves.  As it was, I went early to
Poissy."

"Now it comes!"  Leroux groaned, inwardly.  "And what was going on at
Poissy?"

"What should go on!" demanded M.  Bourget, jealously.  "What should go
on?"

"Peste! how should I know?  I suppose things happen there, as in other
places?"

"No foolishness about creches, at all events."

His retort pleased him so much that he chuckled, and Leroux, not to be
behindhand in civility, chuckled in company.  But M.  Bourget was too
anxious to know whether anything had leaked out to be put off even by
his own jests.  He flung an elaborate veil of carelessness over his next
question, crossing his legs and leaning back in his chair.

"You know most of the talk of the place, Leroux, and I have often
thought of asking you--merely out of curiosity, you will understand--
what is said of my son-in-law, Monsieur de Beaudrillart, in Tours?
People don't like to repeat anything to me, and naturally; but there
must be opinions expressed, and it would amuse me to hear them."

"Something is up," reflected the little lawyer, rapidly.  "He is uneasy.
Has our fine son-in-law, perhaps, broken out again?  What is said,
Monsieur Bourget?  Well, not so much now."

"But what, what?" persisted the other.

"Well, for one thing, they say he is wiser than was supposed, and knows
which side his bread is buttered."

"And what may that mean?"

"That he has a solid father-in-law, whom it is just as well not to
offend."

Leroux said this with some malice, and expected an explosion.  It
surprised him that M.  Bourget showed no sign of wrath.  He jerked his
head sideways, and flung open his hands.

"No more?"

------------------------------------------------------------------------

"As to that," said Leroux, spitefully, "there were enough disagreeables
said about the Baron Leon about the time he married Mademoiselle
Nathalie to serve for an ordinary lifetime."

"Perhaps," returned M.  Bourget, tranquilly, "more has also been said
about others in past years than they would care to have brought up
against them."

The lawyer darted an uneasy look, and his manner changed.

"Do not suppose that I am offering my own opinion.  You wished to know
what was said in the town, and I am trying to remember."

"I understand perfectly.  I should like to know what were some of these
disagreeables to which you allude?"

But Leroux was alarmed.

"Ah, for that you must ask some one else.  There is plenty of gossip
running about the town, but I have not the time or the inclination to
listen to it.  Besides, what does it matter now!  It is no longer a
question of marrying Mademoiselle Nathalie.  There she is, safe at
Poissy, and there are you, father-in-law to a baron.  What would you
have more?"

M.  Bourget brought his hand down so heavily on the little marble table
that the cups jumped.

"What have I to do with it?" he asked, angrily.  "Did I pay for your
coffee that you might inform me what I want or what I don't want?  I ask
a plain question, and you wander off to give an opinion on my concerns.
Keep to your point.  I suppose all you wiseacres had at least the sense
to see that Monsieur de Beaudrillart had began to economise before I
gave him my daughter?  But perhaps they could give him no credit even
for that?"

"Oh, they saw he had raised money somehow," said Leroux, longing to
thump the table himself, "and his credit was so low that they said he
must have stolen it."

M.  Bourget's face turned to a dull purple, his voice felt strangled, he
leaned forward, and said, with difficulty:

"They are rascals, and you are a fool!"

Leroux jumped up, with a smile on his sharp face.  He had merely spoken
spitefully, and thought that his companion's anger was due to the fact
that any one should have dared to utter anything disrespectful of the
master of Poissy.

"Ah, I dare say, I dare say, my dear Monsieur Bourget; I only tell you
what is said, and you know best how much it is worth.  A thousand thanks
for the coffee, and let me advise you to go home and rest, for you don't
look yourself."

"He knows more than he will say," groaned M.  Bourget, leaning forward
with his elbows on the table, "otherwise he would never have ventured to
repeat what he did.  There is a report abroad; I know it, I feel it!  It
was evident enough that Dr Mathurin had heard something, for the very
moment I mentioned Poissy, he looked embarrassed, and started away.
Yes, yes, it has leaked out, it is in the air; and what wonder!  A poor
devil whom no one knows or cares anything about has twice the chance.
But directly anything disgraceful happens to one of the noblesse, then
every stone in the wall has a voice to cry it out.  And to a
Beaudrillart!  No doubt all Paris has got hold of it I should not be
surprised if it were in the papers already."

A _Figaro_ was lying on the table near him; M.  Bourget, with a gleam of
satisfaction that he had not to pay for it, took it up and hastily
scanned its columns.  He had just satisfied himself that the thing he
dreaded was not there when he caught sight of an advancing figure.

"Monsieur Georges!"

"At your service, Monsieur Bourget."

"You are the very man I want.  I am going in your direction."

"A la bonne heure.  Permit me to venture to remark that you look a
little upset--fatigued, Monsieur Bourget."

"That is what every one finds it agreeable to say to me.  Why should I
be fatigued?  I have only walked from Poissy."

"Ah!"  Across M.  Georges's small anxious face flitted a tremulous
smile.  Even he, politest of men, was aware of M.  Bourget's weakness.
"They are all well there, I trust!"

His companion made no answer to the question.  He said, abruptly:

"The baron is in Paris."

"So I heard."

"So he heard?  Of course!  Everything is known," reflected M.  Bourget,
mopping his face with a red bandanna.  "Have you heard anything else,
monsieur?"

"No.  Why should I!" returned the other, with surprise.  "But to tell
you the truth I have been a great deal taken up with my own affairs, for
I have had the misfortune to lose my old grandfather at Nantes,
monsieur; an excellent man, and an irreparable loss.  As his only
descendant I inherit a small estate, and I have had to come here on
business connected with it.  You will understand that this has occupied
me."

"A small estate!" repeated M.  Bourget, gazing at him with a new
respect.  "Things are then looking up for you, Monsieur Georges!  That
is better than being intendant, even at Poissy.  And I never thought the
Baron Leon behaved well in that matter."

M.  Georges waved his hand gently.

"The baron was young, and his mother, if I might say so, a little
masterful, although I admire her, I admire them all, immensely.  People
cannot be expected to feel very kindly towards those who are always
prognosticating evil, still less when it comes true."

"But Monsieur de Beaudrillart has managed to pull himself together, and
to set the estate upon its legs again.  How did he raise the money to do
it?"

M.  Georges looked at his companion and smiled.

"People would say you could best answer that question, Monsieur
Bourget."

"Not at all," said the ex-builder, impatiently.  "When my money went
into the concern, everything was already in train, as you know very
well.  The crisis was past, and the estate saved.  How, how!  That is
what I ask."

"I believe," said M.  Georges, with a little surprise, "that the baron
received a loan from Monsieur de Cadanet--at least that is what
Mademoiselle de Beaudrillart gave me to understand."

"Ah!  Yes!  Precisely."  M.  Bourget hesitated.  "You know nothing,
then, yourself!  Had Monsieur de Cadanet shown any interest in the
family before coming to the rescue at that moment!"

"To my knowledge, no.  But Mademoiselle de Beaudrillart, who is an
exceedingly capable person, spoke of his having been indebted to the
defunct baron, her father.  That, I imagine, explains it."

M.  Bourget walked on without answering.  His next remark appeared
extremely irrelevant.

"Monsieur de Beaudrillart and my daughter are in Paris."

"Indeed?  Your daughter, too?"

"You had not heard it?"  He turned to him with unmistakable relief.

"No, I have heard very little."

"And yet of all the gossiping places--However, it is quite true there is
nothing remarkable in a visit to Paris.  Here we part, I imagine,
Monsieur Georges.  I begin to believe that what you have all insisted
upon is correct, and that I am a little fatigued.  You must go out to
Poissy yourself.  You have never seen the little baron?  No?  Then
decidedly you must go."

This conversation to a certain degree comforted M.  Bourget, since it
proved to him that M.  Georges, at any rate, had no suspicions, and had
accepted the De Cadanet loan as a matter of history.  He felt very
tired, owing no doubt to the unusual emotions which had been at work
ever since he received his daughter's letter, and he thought it
advisable to report himself to Fanchon, who was naturally in a state of
uneasiness at his sudden departure.  He stopped her reproaches, however,
abruptly, with an air of ill-temper which reduced her to silence, and
sat down in his own room, desiring that he might be left in peace and
not pestered with questions.  Fanchon retired grumbling; but when M.
Bourget was in this humour it was not safe to cross him, and she was
obliged to satisfy her curiosity with such poor fare as could be
supplied by her own imagination.

But, although M.  Bourget lingered a little while with satisfaction on
the thought that he had perhaps been mistaken in imagining that Tours
was already greedily discussing the crime of M. de Beaudrillart, he soon
came back to the conviction that M. de Beaudrillart was guilty.  What M.
Georges had said threw no fresh light upon the transaction.  He
believed what he had been told, and what no doubt the whole family at
Poissy had believed.  Only the young baron knew if any dark secret was
connected with the money which had been procured so fortunately at the
time of his greatest need.  If it were so, circumstances had no doubt
thrown the knowledge into the hands of a man--perhaps already an enemy--
who had no scruple in using it for his own ends.

But what had Leon done with the money which he had ostensibly applied to
the payment of the debt?  M.  Bourget groaned again over his own
conviction, and wiped his forehead.

"It has gone as hush-money.  This Lemaire has not waited six years
without putting on the screw.  No doubt Baron Leon kept it to hand over
in instalments when matters grew desperate.  Lemaire has had the last of
it, and now advances more boldly.  Yes, that is it.  I understand
perfectly.  But what is to be done?"

CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

IN PARIS.

Meanwhile, with father and mother torn by a hundred miserable fears at
home, it may be supposed that, in Paris, the wife's trouble was greater.
Nothing of the sort.  Nathalie was worried, because Leon was so
evidently uneasy; but not a shadow of doubt had touched her mind, and
she was not really unhappy.  Never before had she lived alone with her
husband, or found herself in an atmosphere free from chilly slights.
All that she saw and heard about her interested her.  Her intellect,
freed from vexing cramps, leaped to its kingdom.  Leon looked, listened
in wonder.  If only Raoul had been there!

And in Leon's nature there was nothing of the moroseness which is angry
because its own wretchedness is not shared.  Sometimes, often even, he
was miserably depressed, but at such times he really preferred that
Nathalie should refuse to see reason for his low spirits, should indeed
persist in ignoring them.  She treated the whole affair as a malicious
attempt to extort money, to which her husband should not yield for a
moment.

"Dear Leon, the thing is so ludicrous, so impossible!  Tell the man that
he may do his worst; or, rather, threaten him with an action for
defamation of character.  I am sure that would be by far your best plan,
and the only means by which you can protect yourself in future.  Of
course he will not venture even now to take further steps; but the point
is that he will always be threatening and pretending to have proof, and
by-and-by the thing may really get abroad.  If you take no steps to
punish him, people will begin to imagine you were afraid, and that there
was something in it.  I am quite certain that my father, who has
excellent common-sense, would advise you to put a summary end to
Monsieur Lemaire's attempts."

They were driving together up the Champs-Elysees.  Leon waited for a few
moments before answering.

"That is all very well, but you do not understand."

It was the argument he used most frequently, and it was not one which
offered points for discussion.  Nathalie accepted it, as usual, as to
detail.

"I dare say I don't.  But I understand the absurdity, and so will every
one who hears.  The man must really be quite foolish!  While he was
about it, why did he not design something more probable.  A common
theft!"  She laughed gayly.

He bathed deliciously in her disbelief.  It reanimated him.

"I do not really think any one will be found to credit it."

She exclaimed at the bare notion.  Impossible!

He gazed at her admiringly; the noble lines of her face made other women
appear insignificant.

"I believe your own taste is right, if a little severe," he said, at
last.  "Frills and furbelows would not suit your style."

"Converted!  A triumph!" she cried, merrily.  "There is a charming
toilette in that carriage, but if I were to wear it I should have the
effect of a dancing monkey.  But how brilliant it all is!  How
delightful!"  She paused a moment.  "The real enchantment is that you
and I should be together and alone, and do you know that if it were not
that you allow yourself to be vexed, I should be almost grateful to this
Monsieur Lemaire for giving me such delightful days."

He turned his head away, and the grip of his hand on the carriage door
tightened.

"Don't let us talk of the rascal any more!" he cried.  "Look, there is
the President's carriage.  What a pity Felicie is not here to turn her
back!  And there is the Marquise de Saurigny, in white and green.  She
sees you, and you are sure to have a card for her reception.  Directly
it is known we are in Paris, there will be invitations, although all the
world is by the sea.  Will you go?"

"If you like."

"You are not frightened?"

"Why should I be?"

He smiled.  The answer pleased him.  Against his mother he had always
maintained that Nathalie would take her place in the great world without
awkwardness or mauvaise honte.  For the moment he forgot the sword which
hung over him; he enjoyed the exhilaration, the gaiety, the lightness of
the air, and his wife smiled to herself to see his spirits rise.

"To think that you should have known none of this, little bourgeoise!"
he said, jestingly.  "I must take you somewhere to-night.  Where shall
we go?  To the theatre?"

"Charming!"

Then, looking at him, she saw his face suddenly change, whiten.  She
turned quickly; a victoria had just passed, but she was too late to
catch a glimpse of its occupant.

"What is it, Leon?" she cried.  "Are you ill?  Have you seen any one?"

Evidently it cost him a great effort to recover himself--so great that
he could not at first answer.  Nathalie had got hold of the hand nearest
herself, and held it firmly, as if to give him strength.  He drew his
breath deeply; she pressed no more questions upon him, but waited.  When
at last he spoke, it was in as low a tone as if he feared being
overheard.  "You saw?"

"A carriage--no more."

"Not the man in it?"

"No.  Who was it?"  She checked herself.  "Don't tell me if you would
rather not."  For the paleness of his face startled her.

"It was Lemaire.  He saw us."

She smiled.  "And you let the sight of him disturb you?  Dear Leon, I
shall begin to think you are ill indeed!  He might very well be
shocked--not you.  Let us turn and drive after him, for you know he
persistently refuses an interview, and here is our opportunity."

She leaned forward to give the order, but her husband caught her arm.

"No, on no account; you might see for yourself, I think, that I am in no
condition to meet him on such a subject, and that he would have me at a
disadvantage."

"I believe if you got hold of him you would put an end to all this
annoyance; but I suppose, even if you desired it, we should hardly have
overtaken the carriage.  Was he alone?"

Leon made a sign in the affirmative.

"I wish I had seen him," mused his wife.  "If you see a person you can
judge so much better what he is like.  And his face, when he caught
sight of you, must have been a study."

"He is a villain!" muttered the young baron, still pale.

"But so foolish a villain!  Does he really suppose that any one will
believe his story?  Dear Leon, I do think you ought to put a stop to it
at once, and as the man himself will not see you, send for Monsieur
Rodoin, and desire him to take the necessary steps for bringing an
action for libel, or for writing threatening letters to extort money, or
whatever it is he has made himself subject to.  You must feel that he
deserves punishment, and you will be worried to death if this sort of
annoyance goes on.  Come, dear.  You know that is Monsieur Rodoin's own
opinion.  Be firm, and the silly plot will collapse."

What burst from Leon was: "All that he says is a lie!"

"Who doubts it!  But lies can't be left to grow unmolested."

"What proof can he have?"

"None, of course.  I suppose he hopes some foolish trumped-up story will
do instead; but you can't pass it by.  M.  Rodoin said it had gone too
far.  The man has dared to speak of it."  Her voice dropped.

There was silence.  Nathalie looked at him uneasily.  She read weakness
in the hesitation, and that dislike to facing what was painful which she
knew to be part of his character.  He said at last:

"It may cost a lot."

"Let it.  We will economise."  She pressed her eyes on his with a force
under which he moved fretfully, and added: "For the sake of your
family--most of all, for Raoul's sake--it is impossible to ignore the
slander."

"Very well, very well!" he spoke with petulance; "you don't understand,
but you shall have your way.  Only don't blame me if things go wrong."

"Do I ever blame you?" she said, tenderly.  "And they will not go wrong;
how should they?  Show a firm front, and you will see how the absurd
attempt at extortion will melt away.  I wrote to my father this morning,
as you advised, in case rumours reached Tours, and I am sure we shall
have a letter advising you to be very determined.  How angry he will be!
I believe he thinks more of the De Beaudrillarts and Poissy than you
do."

Leon began to laugh.

"Perhaps he will go off to Poissy."

"And we not there to keep the peace!  Oh, Leon!"--her face was
tragic--"I ought to have thought of that, and to have warned him."

Leon's good-humour had come back; he teased his wife, compared her with
the other women they met, and told her ridiculous tales.  They laughed
and chatted so gayly that, more than once, people with sad stories in
their lives looked at them enviously, and wished for a little of the
same happiness.  Then they drove to a restaurant, dined, and afterwards
went to the play.  Seemingly, the young baron's anxieties had slipped
from his shoulders.  Even the next morning, when he sent off a special
messenger to request Monsieur Rodoin to come to the hotel, it was done
with a jest, and Nathalie looked at him with delight.  To her the whole
affair had seemed so trivial and impossible that only its strange effect
on her husband had given her uneasiness.  Now that had passed, and she
made no doubt that threat of strong action would oblige M.  Lemaire to
offer ample reparation.

M.  Rodoin arrived with speed--a grave, hatchet-faced man, with hair
already slightly grizzled, although his fortieth birthday had only
lately been passed.  He bowed formally to Mme.  Leon, whom he had not
yet seen, and whose appearance, after what he had heard of her family,
surprised him, and to the baron.  Without waiting for him to speak, Leon
said, abruptly:

"Well, Monsieur Rodoin, you find me decided.  Threaten this Lemaire with
as many penalties as you will."

The lawyer repeated the word--"Threaten."

"Take steps.  Do what is necessary.  Let him know that I refuse to pay
anything, and that I consider him a scoundrel."  A one-sided smile
passed across M.  Rodoin's thin face.  "Well, well, monsieur le baron, I
don't wonder at your anger, but--at any rate, he shall be met with an
action."

"And let him hear something strong, since the rascal won't give me an
opportunity of saying it to his own face," said Leon, lashing himself
into rage.

"We will leave the law to do that with better effect," returned the
lawyer, calmly.  "Meanwhile, with your permission, I have to ask you a
few questions."

Leon rested his elbows on the table, and, sitting with his back to the
light, buried his face in his hands.  He might have been trying to
recall the past.

"Go on, monsieur," he said.  "But remember that these events took place
six years ago, and more."

"You were in difficulties, monsieur, at the time!"

"As you know very well.  Suppose we even allow that I had been
abominably extravagant.  Worse than you can imagine, Nathalie; but as
you insisted upon assisting at this interview, you must prepare for
revelations.  Poissy was heavily mortgaged, and I was threatened with
foreclosure.  Wherever I looked, I saw nothing but disaster; and I vow
it came upon me all at once, in spite of what Monsieur Georges may say
of having tried to tell me.  He had a way of telling which would not
have affected a fly.  Where was I to turn!  Naturally to Monsieur de
Cadanet."

The lawyer had been noting these facts in his note-book.  He looked up
here.

"This was in August, 188-, I think, monsieur?"

"Precisely."

"And Monsieur de Cadanet?"

"After a long argument, I succeeded in obtaining from him the sum of two
hundred thousand francs, as a loan."

"In what form, monsieur le baron?"

"In a cheque."

"Drawn in your favour?"

"To bearer, I think," said Leon, slowly.  "I believe he expected my
visit, and I may add further that I do not think he had made up his mind
whether it should go to me or to Charles Lemaire."

M.  Rodoin looked up quickly.

"That is new to me.  And the doubt was decided in your favour?"

"Certainly I had the money.  Only, you understand, as a loan.  And the
whole sum, with interest, was repaid within eight months of the date."

"Have you any acknowledgment?"

"None," said Leon briefly, "Monsieur de Cadanet was peculiar in his
dealings, and perhaps disliked considering it in the light of a business
transaction.  What is certain is that it was repaid in two sums, one of
five hundred, the other of two hundred and three thousand francs."

"You might have insisted upon having a receipt of some sort, monsieur,"
said the lawyer, testily.  "There can be no doubt, I imagine, that
Monsieur Lemaire's claim relates to the same sum, and to have proved
that it was a loan on Monsieur de Cadanet's part would have been a
sufficient answer.  From what I have gathered, he asserts that you
waylaid a messenger on his way to the post, and took from him a letter
containing this sum, sent to him by Monsieur de Cadanet."

"In fact, a highway-robbery," interposed Nathalie, laughing.

"Yes, it proves Monsieur Lemaire to be the possessor of a lively
imagination," remarked M.  Rodoin; "but it is an encouragement to fraud
when people persist in depriving themselves of their legal safeguards.
However, I had better communicate with his lawyer, and it is not
impossible that when he finds we are in earnest, and mean to push the
matter home, he will grow alarmed and offer to publish an apology."

"Well, take it, take it!" said the young man, hastily.  His wife leaned
forward and put her hand on his arm.

"Ought he not to have a lesson, Leon?  I am harder than you, I don't
like him to get off so easily."

"We have not reached it yet," said M.  Rodoin, dryly.  "When it comes,
we will see.  But I think you do well, monsieur le baron, to take the
initiative and forestall them.  Depend upon it, I will lose no time.
Shall you remain in Paris?"

"No," said Leon, still speaking quickly.  "Nathalie, we shall go home
to-morrow.  You can let me know what has to be done there, Monsieur
Rodoin."

"Certainly, certainly, monsieur.  At the same time, there are certain
instructions to be given to your counsel--I will try to secure Maitre
Barraud--and it would be more convenient if you were on the spot."

"Impossible," said the young baron, with the smile which disarmed
opposition.  "I give you to-morrow morning, and if I am wanted I will
run up; but what more can I do or say than I have already told you?  I
know no more.  There are the facts, and the law must worry them into
shape as it best can."

"We must find some witnesses."

"Where?  Not a soul knew of the affair, except my mother."

"That receipt!" said M.  Rodoin, mournfully, as he rose.  "However, it
is they, fortunately, who have to prove their assertions.  They will
have to bring forward the man from whom they assert you took the letter,
monsieur le baron."

"Oh, I can forewarn you what will be their line on that point," returned
Leon, easily, "and I shall have to confess to an impulse of curiosity.
The man was Andre, Monsieur de Cadanet's concierge.  He overtook me as I
left the house, carrying Monsieur de Cadanet's letters.  Here comes the
curiosity.  Monsieur de Cadanet had talked of a letter which he meant to
despatch to Monsieur Lemaire, and of which he told me the contents.  I
had an absurd desire to know whether it had gone, and asked Andre to let
me look at the letters.  I had them in my hand for moment, and returned
them."

"Was the letter there?" asked M.  Rodoin, startled.

"Certainly, and three others."

"And you gave them back?"

"Ask Andre.  He will, I think, acquit me of having retained any," said
Leon, with no change of manner.  "But there lies their point."

"It was unfortunate," said M.  Rodoin, thoughtfully.

"But hardly criminal," put in Nathalie.

He smiled.

"No, madame.  One does not expect to find anything criminal.  Well,
monsieur le baron, permit me to take my leave.  I will see Maitre
Barraud to-day, and he will probably request an interview with you
before you go down to Poissy."

"Let me wish you good success, and prognosticate victory," said
Nathalie, giving him her hand with a smile.

"I shall work for it, madame, were it only to justify your prophecy,"
returned M.  Rodoin, bowing low.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

FATHER AND DAUGHTER.

The country round Poissy, mellow with ripening grapes, sunned itself in
broad luxuriance, and the river threaded it lazily, its silver length
curving snake-like between green edges.  Nathalie and her little son
were by its side, she bareheaded, with only a white umbrella between her
and the sun, which now and then caught the rich red-brown of hair and
brightened it.  Raoul, with his little closely-cropped head and dark
dancing eyes, was engaged in plying a primitive fishing-line, formed of
whip-cord fastened at one end to a long stick, and adorned at the other
with a crooked pin and a small piece of meat.  Every now and then a bit
of weed caught the bait, and gave all the excitement of a bite, and this
and the joy of getting his feet wet kept him perfectly content and
happy.  Occasionally a peasant passed them, always with the same remark,
"Fine weather, madame, for the grapes;" but otherwise the sleepy silence
of the place was undisturbed, and Nathalie liked it better than she had
ever liked it before.

She was happier, for one thing, though she blamed herself for the
selfishness of her happiness, since evidently a cloud of uneasiness
rested on Poissy.  Mme. de Beaudrillart did not confide in her
daughter-in-law; but a change had come over her since their departure
for Paris; age seemed to have suddenly laid a grasping hand upon her;
she was silent, grave, rigid.  Leon's moods varied from gloom to gaiety.
Claire indulged in taunts as to the delights of Paris.  Only Felicie's
small interests kept her busily occupied.  Her own father's advice had
amazed Nathalie.  From him she expected fighting counsels, whereas he
wrote with a hesitation new to him, and talked temporisingly, with
suggestions of possible arrangements.  Moreover, they had been at home
three days, and he had not come out, as she had expected, to see Leon on
the matter, while she disliked leaving her husband for as many hours as
would be required for driving into Tours.

Yet she was happy.  The bare shadow of doubt had not once fluttered
across her mind.  She could conceive that there were difficulties in the
case, and that certain unfortunate circumstances might be difficult to
get over; she had realised that M.  Rodoin was not so sanguine at the
end of his interview as at the beginning, and that Maitre Barraud was
taciturn; but her own conviction stood like a rock, and wanted no
support, was troubled by no inconsistencies.  And it was bliss to feel
herself no longer shut out.  Before, when Leon was in perplexity or
trouble, he turned to his mother; now he turned to her.  Perhaps he felt
the influence of her implicit faith, a sun in which he might still plume
himself.  Presently he joined her.

"I saw your white flag from the bank.  Many fish caught!"  Raoul was too
much absorbed to answer, and his father watched him with amusement.
"Upon my word, the monkey has such a good idea of throwing his line that
I must get him a proper rod.  I have just been talking to Jacques, and
he tells me they begin the vintage to-morrow."

"And the weather so superb!  It will be a good year for us all," said
Nathalie.

"Oh, excellent!  If only I had not this confounded business hanging over
my head!"

"Let us hope it will soon be ended."  She slipped her hand into his.  "I
think Monsieur Rodoin quite understood that there should be no delay,
but perhaps you will have to go up again soon and hurry them."

"Not without you," he said, quickly.  Her heart bounded, and she sent
him a smile for an answer.  "The nuisance is, having to give evidence
one's self."

"Oh, you will be glad to do that," she said, comfortingly.  "No one can
explain it all so well."

"That's very fine!"--he spoke with irritation.  "Who can explain, when
those fellows are at one all round with their questions!"

"What can they bring out but the truth!" said Nathalie.  "And the more
of that the better."

"It might go against me," he hazarded.

"You mean you may not establish the libel!  I don't see how it is
possible; because they don't deny having made the claim, and as they
can't support it, it must surely upset them."

"I wish you'd find out what your father thinks about it.  Drive in
to-morrow."

One of his fits of uneasiness was on him, as she perceived, and, to
soothe him, she made the promise.

"And get the boy a rod.  Here, Raoul, tell your mother to go to Tours
and buy you a proper fishing-rod."

Raoul came with a rush, and fell on his father.  "As big as yours?"

"Big enough for a black-eyed imp like you."

A pommelling match followed, ending by Raoul snatching off his father's
straw hat and flinging it into the river, where it sailed slowly down,
Raoul shrieking with delight, and Leon running along the edge to rescue
it at last with difficulty from a clump of flags.  He came back
threatening his son, who by this time was worked into wild unruliness,
so that Nathalie was obliged to hold him fast in spite of his struggles.
He grew quiet in time, and they went across the bridge to one or two of
the nearest vineyards, where preparations had already begun, and where
the finest bunch was gathered and offered to the master.  The cloud had
lifted again, and Leon was at his kindliest, with a smile and a cheery
word for everybody.  Who could wonder that Nathalie was happy?

At the door of her father's house she met Fanchon, who immediately fell
to making mysterious signs with hand and head, implying cautious
communications of importance.  Nathalie, vaguely uneasy, inquired
whether her father was ill.

"Mademoiselle ought to know that he is not himself," whispered Fanchon.
"He sits there,"--signalling with her thumb over her right
shoulder--"thinking, thinking, though the saints only know what he has
got to think about!  Don't I make him his bouillon, and his salad, and
his coffee, just as he likes them, and leave him to find fault as much
as it pleases him, since that gives him an appetite?  But there! ever
since that morning when he left me in the midst of an omelette, and
dashed off to Poissy, hiring a carriage and all--he that I never thought
to see in a hired carriage, unless it was to be taken to his grave--he's
never been the same man.  And not once has he been out to the door to
look for mademoiselle--for madame, I should say--and Monsieur Raoul,
though on the days he expected them he was always popping in and out.
Well, I dare say it will do him good to see mademoiselle, and I shall be
back in five minutes to hear what she thinks, for I am only going to run
round to Madame Boucher, and show her what sort of an egg she sold me
this morning."

M.  Bourget, indeed, was unlike his usual turbulent self.  He greeted
his daughter without effusion, and did not even ask for Raoul, or show
any disappointment at not seeing him.  He was sitting near the window, a
newspaper in his hand, but she fancied he had only just unfolded it to
avoid the charge of idleness.  He did not look ill, or she might have
felt less uneasy; if it were possible to apply such a word to M.
Bourget's square personality, he looked crushed.  Mme.  Leon went
quickly up to him and kissed him.

"Have you been expecting us, dear father?  I should have come at once on
our return, but that Leon wanted some one to talk matters over with.  I
am afraid you have been anxious, and I wish now that I had written."

"Have you anything good to tell?" inquired M.  Bourget, brusquely.

He had fastened his eyes upon her determinedly, and bent forward.

"I think so.  Leon has agreed to bring an action against this man."

"What for?  What for!"

"For slander," said Nathalie, surprised that he should put the question.

"Then he's got evidence to disprove it?"

"His own word," replied the wife, proudly.

"Ah-h--!"  M.  Bourget's ah-h--! was like a snarl; he fell into his
original position, and fixed his eyes on the ground.  She drew back a
step, in her turn holding him with her eyes.  "Father!  You doubt him!"

He sat silent, gloomy, slowly nodding.

"Oh!"  In the word was anger, scorn, incredulity.  She had difficulty in
commanding herself from uttering more; but the one exclamation was
eloquent.  Her father looked up at her.

"Hum!  I see you don't.  Well, prove it; prove that he's innocent.  That
can't be such a hard matter.  Do you think I want it the other way?
Why, I can't even go for my coffee but that little imbecile Leroux
flings a taunt in my face.  I tell you that I--I!--after all these
years--walk about the town in dread of what I shall hear."

He began almost inaudibly, ended loudly.  There was no softening in her
glance.

"Oh!" she reiterated.  "The shame of hearing you say this!  You, who
know him!"

"Ask his mother," he muttered.  "She can't deny it.  She thinks the
same.  Do you know what he did!  Gave her the receipt, as she supposed,
to keep, and it was a blank sheet of paper."

She burst in: "What of that?  She fretted him into it.  She can fret, I
tell you!  He had no receipt; he has said so throughout Oh!"--she
laughed--"and this is what has persuaded you!"

"Well, I hope you are right."  But she could see he was not shaken.

"Leon sent me to know what you thought about it all."

"Sit down, then, and let's hear," he said, gloomily.  "There's a chair."

She drew it back, sat down, and said, coldly: "What do you wish to
hear!"

"What line he takes--what he has to go upon."

She looked at him unflinchingly.

"There is no line, as you call it, but the straight one of what
happened.  Monsieur de Cadanet lent the money to Leon, not very
willingly, but after some persuasion.  Leon thinks that perhaps when it
got to this Lemaire's ears, it enraged him, because he was so jealous;
and that he caught hold of the trifling circumstance--that when Leon was
in the street, he met Monsieur de Cadanet's messenger, and glanced at
the letters he carried--to make up his absurd story."

He raised bloodshot eyes and stared restlessly at her, meeting her own
untroubled by a shadow of doubt.  Then he bent his head again--

"What does the lawyer say!"

He did not believe one word of the story.  Now that his faith was gone,
it had sunk utterly, crumbled into dry dust, and he was only possessed
with a dull rage against the man who had shattered the dream and delight
of his life, and left him a laughing-stock to Leroux and his fellows.
She tightened the lock of her hands, recognising his antagonism.

"He urged Leon to take the initiative."

"Yes, yes; they will get something out of it!" he cried, wrathfully, and
then muttered to himself, "Collapse, collapse!"  She started to her
feet.

"Father, I cannot stay and listen to you!  May God forgive you!  Oh, my
dear Leon, that it should be any one belonging to me that does you this
dishonour!  Father, one day you will be sorry--bitterly sorry.  I think
you must be mad--ill!  Are you ill?  Has anything happened to you!  You
have been sitting here alone, and letting yourself get confused.  Look
at me.  I am his wife.  Do you suppose I could stand and smile if I were
not as sure--as sure of him as of my own life!"

Her words fell on his heart as if it had been made of flint, rolling off
the surface.  He did not feel them.  He did not even pity her.  He said,
brutally:

"You had better ask what he was before you married him."

She did not shrink, as he expected.  Her breath came quickly, but
unshaken confidence was in her face.

"I know my husband."

"Then, go!"  He waved his hand.  "Go!"

"I am going, and I shall try not to be angry, because you are not
yourself."

He looked up gloomily.

"No; I am not myself.  I don't expect ever to be myself again.  Before
this, I have always held up my head; but now--" He drooped again into
depression; and her heart smote her.

"Father, fling away this horrible, unjust suspicion!" she cried, coming
close, and laying her hands on his shoulders.  "It does Leon such cruel
harm!  Only reflect what it means.  One would suppose you were his
enemy."  Then she knelt down by his side.  "Father!"

"Let him disprove it."

"So he will."

"Not with that cock-and-bull story.  There, there, you'd better go.
What's the good of talking?  I cannot pardon."  He was implacable.
Self-love refused to waste pity on others when he suffered so much
himself.  Her steadfastness merely incensed him.  He was granite.  But
at his words she rose up quickly.

"Do not do him the wrong of supposing I am asking you to pardon him.
May God forgive you!"

"You've said that twice.  Now, go."

She went out of the room, looking back.  A sign of compunction would
have taken her again to his side, but none came.  Fanchon marched out of
the kitchen, wiping the flour from her hands with a cloth.

"But, Mademoiselle Nathalie, you are not going to leave monsieur so
soon!  As soon as ever I saw you, I said to myself, `There, now, here
comes the best medicine for monsieur,' and I made up my mind you'd stop
a good bit, and that would cheer him up.  Why, you've been here next to
no time!  And monsieur not even coming out to see you off!  Well, that's
droll!  I never knew him not come out."

"I do not think he is quite himself to-day," said his daughter, catching
at straws.  "Has any one been here--any one to vex him?"

"Holy Virgin! no, who should come?  And as for vexing, there's no one
would dare.  Something he's eaten or drunk, but not of my getting, has
just set the world upside-down with him.  Oh, he'll be better to-morrow,
you'll see!  And Monsieur Raoul, the treasure, how is it with him?"

Nathalie drove home, unshaken but thoughtful.  The slander, then, was
more serious in its effects than she had imagined, since her father,
with all his pride in Poissy and the De Beaudrillarts, was affected by
it.  To her it had seemed only ludicrous; but she began to perceive that
other people would expect absolute proof that the thing was not.  By her
own feelings she was sure this would be agony to Leon.  She blamed
herself for having treated his fits of depression too lightly, and
promised herself to be more sympathetic.  She would ask him, too, to
explain the incident of the envelope.

As for Mme. de Beaudrillart, that she could really have any doubt, was
impossible, and she smiled again at the bare idea.  She could imagine
how it had been struck into her father's mind by her mother-in-law's
impassive manner.  Secure, as she would have been, she probably did not
attempt to express her security, and, especially with M.  Bourget in the
room, would have been so coldly indifferent that he had misjudged her.
Nathalie understood that her father would have expected indignation and
protestations, and not meeting them, thrust their absence upon
conviction of guilt.  She tried to think calmly, justly of him.  "Some
chance word has stung him," she thought, wondering that the clang of
rumour had so soon reached the quiet town, and not understanding that it
was M.  Bourget's own fear which had given chance words their imaginary
force.  She was only thankful that Leon had not accompanied her.  If he
had read distrust in M.  Bourget's manner, she could scarcely have borne
it.  They must be kept apart until the time when the force of the law
obliged her father to admit the shamefulness of his distrust.

Reaching Poissy, she heard that all, even Mme. de Beaudrillart, had gone
down to one of the nearest vineyards.  She knew that her husband would
not have expected her to return so soon, and impulse made her long to be
by his side.  She lost no time in hurrying after them, crossing the
river by the bridge, and finding them without difficulty, guided, as she
was, by the vibration of voices in the clear air.  From out of her
anxious thoughts she came into the gayest of scenes.  The grapes were
being picked into great baskets; from a sky of clearest blue, the sun,
now a little low, shone ripeningly upon the mellow clusters, the women's
white head-gear and bright dresses flitting here and there between the
green vines; light, warmth, colour, and gaiety were everywhere.  Raoul
was the masterful head of the troop of children whom he had constituted
his regiment, Leon in his grey suit was chatting familiarly with one of
the oldest of his tenants, Mme. de Beaudrillart and Claire stood
graciously regarding the busy scene, and eating from the beautiful bunch
of grapes which had just been presented to them, while Felicie, with her
small steps, moved about from group to group.  Almost every one from the
chateau, down to Jean Charpentier, was there, and in all fair France it
would have been difficult to have lit upon a spot more peaceful, more
sunny, and more secure.

Nathalie drew a long breath as she stood for an instant watching it.
This was her home, her peace, her security.  Her husband caught sight of
her, and came towards her with his easy smile upon his face.

"Back already, cherie?  A thousand welcomes!  They say the vintage is
splendid--better than it had been for years.  No phyloxera, and
magnificently ripened.  Look how the light shoots through those bunches.
Old Felix is delighted."

Surely, her security.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

"I LOVE YOU!"

Leon's mood changed like a weathercock on a gusty English day.  Extreme
wrath with Charles Lemaire alternated with the fancy that it was a
foolish charge which no one in their senses would believe.  Nathalie, by
her sturdy faith, helped to keep him in this fools' paradise; and in his
indignation at the accusation that the money had not been repaid, he
quite lost sight of what he had really done.  He groaned with disgust at
Lemaire's falsity, and feeling himself a martyr to a false charge,
looked at the matter from heights of virtuous probity.

His mother's fears were in a measure quieted by the laughing explanation
he gave of the envelope incident.  There was no temptation to say
anything but the truth, so that its probability impressed her, and only
a latent uneasiness remained.  M. de Cadanet had given no
acknowledgment, and he was not the sort of man to worry on the subject.
He did not want to press for it or to offend the old man.  Mme. de
Beaudrillart shook her head; but it was at the rashness, not its
impossibility.  Besides--and that there was a change in her was proved
by this besides--if he had not felt secure he could not possibly have
ventured himself on this action; nor would M.  Rodoin have permitted it.
She had a woman's confidence in a lawyer's far-sightedness.

M.  Bourget remained sternly apart, making no sign.  His daughter
thought of him with trouble, but could not bring herself to face him
again.  His attitude cut her to the heart, for she felt as if, through
her father's distrust, she herself had done her husband wrong.  As for
changing his opinion, once it had gripped him, she knew she was
powerless, and she remained undutifully pitiless, even when reflecting
upon that changed desolate figure by the window, thinking only of him as
one who had failed Leon at a time when he wanted support.

No one else had a thought to spare for anything except the vintage.
There had been a threat of the fine weather breaking up, but the fear
had passed, and the vines with their gnarled and twisted stems and
transparent leaves, through which the sun struck golden, were gradually
stripped, and the grapes carried off to the presses.  There was a great
deal of jollity and some drunkenness.  All the talk was of the yield and
condition of the vines.  Bacchus reigned supreme.

Felicie, meanwhile, was in a bubble of small excitement, preparing for
the bishop's visit.  Bushels of pink roses were stored in one of the
deep cupboards in the old walls; ribbons were knotted, banners arranged
for the procession, little framed coloured prints prepared; the cottas
of the boys trimmed with fresh lace, the vestments all carefully shaken
out and looked over for moth, the bishop's room provided with a
prie-dieu and crucifix.  Nothing was wanting except the last stitches to
the abbe's new cope, at which Felicie was toiling from morning till
night.  Claire mocked at the abundance of detail, but was half envious
of her preoccupation.  Mme. de Beaudrillart encouraged it, perhaps with
a feverish hope that so much piety might avert threatened disaster, and
Nathalie was impatient that Felicie had no thought for any other
subject.  She was growing uneasy because no letter came from M.  Rodoin.
The tone of his last communication had not seemed to her satisfactory.
He had said that, so far, the other side had made no sign, and he was
evidently uneasy that their confidence appeared unshaken.  If it was an
attempt to extort money, a bold front and a threat set in action would
have probably been enough to make them retreat.  The lawyer begged M. de
Beaudrillart to search his papers yet more carefully, on the chance of
finding some mention of the loan in a letter from M. de Cadanet.

"But I have no letters from Monsieur de Cadanet!" cried Leon, pettishly
tossing the letter to his wife.

He had got into the habit now of turning to her in perplexity, and more
than once it had even crossed his mind whether it would not be the
better plan to tell her exactly what had happened, and let her clear
wits help him if difficulties thickened.  But, as yet, the satisfaction
of her entire belief in him being greater than his need, he clung to it
and to silence.

She suggested that he should go to Paris, and see M.  Rodoin.

"There is nothing more to say, and it is delightful here just now.  No.
Let them arrange it among themselves."

Her strong convictions in the matter acquiesced in this, and then one
morning he came to her, ghastly, an open letter in his hand, despair in
his face.

"Rodoin throws it up!" he cried, flinging the letter on the table, and
dropping into a chair.

"Leon!"

"Read for yourself.  Don't ask me to explain.  Read, read!"  He thrust
his hands through his hair, and stared haggardly at the floor.

She took the letter.  M.  Rodoin wrote that he and Maitre Barraud had
been in daily consultation over M. de Beaudrillart's case.  He regretted
exceedingly to inform him that they had arrived at the conclusion that
it would be dishonest on their part to attempt to carry it on without
more materials for the prosecution than were at their disposal.  They
had no evidence of any sort beyond the word of monsieur le baron, and
satisfying as that would be to those who knew him, the courts would
require further confirmation.  The other side would plead that the libel
was justified, and deeply as he lamented being obliged to point it out,
if their plea could not be disproved the dismissal of the case would be
followed by the immediate arrest of monsieur le baron, who would be
placed in a worse position by the failure of his own case.  M.  Rodoin
ventured to suggest that it might, under these circumstances, be
advisable to attempt an amicable settlement with M.  Lemaire, who
undoubtedly had contrived to secure a strong position.

Read, Nathalie's strong fingers closed vice-like round the letter, a
slow fire mounting to her eyes threatened scorching.  She raised her
look with difficulty, letting it rest upon the crouching figure of her
husband, and made an impatient step towards him.

"If one man has failed, we must find another.  Let us go to Paris at
once."

He murmured an inarticulate sound.

"Do you hear, Leon?  There is no time to lose.  That Monsieur Rodoin has
been half-hearted throughout; I saw it from the first.  There are plenty
of others--come."

His murmur resolved itself into muttered despair.  They would all be the
same; he should give it up.  She did not understand.

Curbing her impatience, she knelt down by his side, and brought her head
on a level with his own.

"Dear, you are doing just what this Lemaire wishes you to do, when the
only fatal thing would be to yield to him.  Do not be disheartened.  I
am quite certain that we can easily find a more able lawyer.  Look at
me; I am smiling, I am not in the least alarmed, for I am quite certain
that truth must be stronger than slander, and that we shall come out all
right."

He lifted a miserable face.

"How dare he say that it was not repaid?"

"Does he?  I did not know that he said anything about the loan."

"Oh, it is all mixed up," said Leon, impatiently; "only there is no use
in telling you, because you do not understand."

"But, dear Leon, do you not think I could understand?" asked his wife,
gently.  "If I really do not, I think you would make me more useful by
explaining it to me, and I would try very hard.  Is there any point
which might be more fully explained!"

He writhed uneasily in the chair, but the impulse to tell her was strong
upon him, now that the lawyer's letter had reduced him to helpless pulp.
She waited, expectant of some detail, perhaps legal, which had been
withheld from her.

"Well, you see," he explained, running his hands again and again through
his hair, "what was I to have done?  Monsieur de Cadanet showed me the
cheque done up, and then before my eyes directed it to that confounded
villain.  It was enough to make a man desperate--"

He stopped.  Nathalie, all the blood out of her face, but fire in her
eyes, had risen, and was staring down upon him.

"How can I explain to you if you look at me like that?" he said,
pettishly.  "You might guess what happened, and what ninety-nine men out
of a hundred would have done, if they had had the chance.  I had no
thought of it till the thing was over, and I did not make any mystery
about it, for I wrote and told the old count that I had taken the money
as a loan.  He had it all back again, with interest, and as for telling
me that this scoundrel lost a penny by it--"

If she could have taken in these last words, the awful numbness in her
heart might have yielded, but the first blow had stunned her, and she
stood like a dead woman--blind, dumb, deaf.  Once having broken the
barrier, Leon found relief in rambling on, accusing Lemaire, excusing
himself.  A sigh broke from her at last, the sigh of returning
consciousness, her heart sending it forth as a cry.  Then she shivered
violently, and became aware that her husband was speaking.

"Don't, don't!" she cried, thrusting out her hands.

"Don't what?" he said, irritably.  "Do you think it is agreeable for me
to talk about it?  I haven't even told my mother, but you spoke as if
you could help one out of the scrape, and now can only stand and stare."

The blood surged violently into her face; she tottered, and mechanically
caught at the table for support.

"Good heavens, say something or other!  Where am I to turn?  What am I
to do?  Why, if nothing is done, I may be arrested as a thief!" he
cried, with gathering excitement, springing up and pacing the room.
"Nathalie, do you hear!  Speak!  I--Leon de Beaudrillart--arrested!  Do
you hear!"  And with a sudden change he flung himself into a seat, arms
and head on the table, and wept like a child.

Nathalie shuddered.  Then he began to moan:

"Why did I tell her!  She cares nothing for me; just because I am in
trouble she has not a word to fling.  And this is my wife, who talks of
loving me--"

"Oh, Leon, Leon, I love you!"

It came like a cry from a distance, from death itself.  She knelt down
and flung her arm around him, and strained him passionately to her--"I
love you, I love you, do you hear!"  He clung to her as if he had been a
child.

"Help me, then, cherie, help me!"

"Yes, yes," she murmured, "courage.  We will bear it together."

He went on, recovering himself as he spoke, and as buoyant as a bubble.
"You are so clever, my Nathalie, your wits will certainly be able to
think of some way out of it, and you cannot tell what a comfort it is to
me that you should know all at last.  A hundred times I have been on the
very point of telling you, but there is something so disagreeable in
explanations that my heart failed.  Now you see the difficulty of the
position, do you not!  What do you think!  Is there any use in applying
to another lawyer!"

She shook her head.

"Still, one must do something.  It is impossible to sit still and let
that rascal come down on one.  Something must be done.  What, what?"

He waited, wanting the suggestion to come from her.  As she was silent,
knowing that what she had to say would wound him to the quick, he rushed
his words.

"Money is all he is after, and I suppose we had better pay!"

She repressed her inclination to cry out, and said, softly: "But it is a
fact, is it not, that you repaid the sum!"

"Every penny."

"To pay would be to acknowledge that you had not done so."

"That is true," he said, gloomily.

"A bribe would tell fearfully against you, you may be sure, for even if
it stopped him from taking proceedings, he would contrive that it should
all leak out."

He gazed at her bewilderingly.  "But what else!--what remains?  You are
a poor comforter, Nathalie!"

"If only I could bear it for you!" she cried, passionately, her hands
closing on his with strong support.

"Bear what?  Bear what?  What do you want me to do!"

"To tell them the truth."  She flung her head back and fastened
imploring eyes on his.  "Let them know that you took it.  Oh, Leon, it
is true."

"Tell them!"  He started back as if he had touched hot iron.  Then he
laughed.  "Certainly this affair has turned your head."

She pressed her words.

"It is the only noble, straightforward way, and all that you can do to
atone.  Shelter yourself behind the truth; it will not fail you.  Then
you can face the worst."

Muttering, "She is mad!"  Leon pushed her from him.  "Do you in the
least understand what you are suggesting?  It means that I should have
to plead guilty.  How could I ever prove that the money was repaid?  You
want to ruin me."

"You will be clear to your own soul, dearest--to your own soul, and to
God."

"What, you mean it?  You see where it leads, and yet mean it!  You must
suppose you are talking to some little bourgeois instead of to a De
Beaudrillart!" he cried, scornfully.  "We are not used to bear disgrace
tamely.  There are other ways of avoiding it."

She clasped him in her arms, terror clutching her heart.  "Leon, Leon,
not that!  Promise me!"

His moods, always variable, now ran up and down the scale of emotion.

"Poor child," he said, touching her cheek softly, "you mean well; but
you don't know the world.  Perhaps my mother will be able to suggest
something."

"Yes, go," she said, releasing him, and letting her arms drop by her
side.

There was a clatter of small steps outside, an impatient rattle of the
handle, and Raoul rushed in.

"Father, there's a monkey--a real monkey--in the court!  I've given him
a piece of melon, and he's eaten that, and a bunch of nuts, and he's
cracked them; and now I want a sou, and his master says he'll make a bow
for it.  Oh, I do wish I might have a monkey!"

Leon, on his way to the door, pointed to the boy.  "You propose that I
should ruin him," he said, and was gone.

Poor mother!  She caught her child in her arms, while he struggled
impatiently.

"Two sous, two sous, please, quick!  Oh, it is the dearest little
monkey!  Don't you think we _could_ buy it?  Jean could take care of it,
and it could sleep in my bed."

He went off with his two sous, and Nathalie dropped into a chair, the
anguish of the moment in her eyes.  What future lay before the boy?  A
tarnished name, a dishonoured father?  Her thoughts travelled wildly
round; she was like a wounded creature, seeking escape from the hunters.
How confident she had been, how blind!  Now the flitting distrust she
had refused to see in the lawyer's eyes stood before her alive and
menacing.  Was there any other way but that terrible one to which she
had been forced to point?  Could Leon ever endure it?  What was it?
What was it?  She pressed her fingers on her quivering eyelids; trial,
confession, perhaps a prison--the words printed themselves on her brain,
and hung there like leaden weights.  And she--oh, cruel, cruel!--she was
the one to urge them upon him.  God, must it be so?  She slipped off the
chair on her knees, her lips forming no petitions, because her whole
being became a living prayer.

How long she lay she never knew, but there Claire found her at last.
Claire was white, rigid, fiercely wroth.  She had been with her mother
when Leon rushed in, so taken up with the burden of his misery that he
poured it all out without hesitation.  His first cry had been: "I am
lost!  Rodoin says he can do nothing, and that villain Lemaire is
determined to ruin me.  I ask you whether, after all my father did for
Monsieur de Cadanet, I had not a right to the loan?  He flourished it in
my face.  I believe he meant me to take it.  And if I had not repaid it,
then they might have the right to say something; but every farthing went
back.  What am I to do?  Mother, unless you can suggest something, I
shall go mad!"

He might have rambled on, striking out blindly, if Claire had not
angrily stopped him.

"Do you wish to kill your mother?"  For Mme. de Beaudrillart's usual
pallor had changed to a dull grey, and her eyes were vacant.  The sight
instantly recalled him; he put his arm round her neck and kissed her.

"Don't, mother!  Don't look like that!"

She did not utter one word of disbelief, conviction had battered at her
heart from the moment when she saw it written in M.  Bourget's eyes, and
she did not reproach him; only sobs of helpless misery broke from her as
she clung.  Claire was different.  Her eyes were dry and fierce, her
voice bitter.

"Do you mean that you have really done this shameful thing and brought
all this disgrace upon us?"

"Hush, Claire, hush!" moaned her mother.

"No, mother, I shall speak; I have a right to speak.  He has ruined us
all.  We can never face the world again.  Oh, where can we hide
ourselves?  What will come next?"

Anger, misery, choked her.  She rushed from the room, and paced up and
down the picture-gallery, darting lightning reproaches at Leon, at his
wife, at herself.  Her brain was in a whirl.  Felicie, who was on her
way down-stairs, trailing pink wreaths behind her, stopped and peeped in
at the door, hearing sounds.  She would have retired, but that Claire
seized her.

"Oh, Claire, gently, gently!" she cried, trying to shelter her precious
roses.  And then, to her horror, her sister snatched the wreath, tore it
into fragments, and stamped on them.

"You will drive me mad, I believe!" she said, in a terrible voice.  "Do
you care for nothing but this frippery?  Will it disturb you at all to
hear that it is likely Leon will be arrested--arrested, do you hear?--
and tried for stealing two hundred thousand francs?  Yes, I am not mad,
I am telling you the truth."

"Leon!  But what do you mean?  I do not understand," stammered poor
Felicie, pale with dismay.

"How should you?  All this goes on while you make your paper wreaths,
and think of nothing else."

"Oh, Claire, how cruel you are!" sobbed her sister.  "You know I care
for dear Leon as much as you--"

"Then you hate him!" interjected Claire.  "I have never before heard of
a seigneur of Poissy who was a thief.  Every one will point at us--at
us!"

"I do not think it can be possible," said Felicie, drying her eyes, and
mechanically trying to smooth out her damaged roses.  Claire stood and
stared at her; then flung herself away, and betook herself again to her
passionate pacing.  "No, I do not believe it, because you are always so
violent when anything puts you out.  What does mamma say?  There is sure
to be a mistake, for Leon has been so kind about the bishop that I am
certain he could not have done the dreadful things you talk about.  I
dare say if he consults his Grandeur that he will give him some--"

She stopped.  Claire had caught her wrists.

"If you speak about it to a soul, I shall kill you, Felicie.  Do you
hear!"

"Pray, be quiet, Claire!" whimpered the other; "it is very wrong to be
so violent, and whether we tell him or not, I am sure the bishop will
bring us a blessing.  You will see that things will come right."

"Oh, go away, go away!" cried her sister, pushing her.  "Leave me in
peace!"

"Perhaps it will be a lesson to Nathalie.  I always felt afraid that
some punishment would come to her for reading those books," said
Felicie, gathering up the last remains of her wreath and departing.

As her paroxysm of anger burned out into duller ashes of misery, Claire,
at war with her sister, turned shudderingly towards Nathalie.  She found
herself wondering how the dreadful story affected her--what her
intellect counselled.  Suddenly she admitted her strength, and thought
it possible that by her help means of extrication might be contrived.
It might be he had not told her, from some weak notion of sparing her;
Claire set her face like a rock against such mercy.  From her she should
know everything.  Like an indomitable fate she walked towards her
sister-in-law's room, and there, as has been seen, found her unconscious
on the floor.  Nature forced her to go to her help, but as she knelt
down she was full of contempt; for her own constitution was iron, and
she held a collapse such as this a proof of miserable weakness.  She
read in it that Nathalie would never rise to the occasion, would suffer
and make others suffer, and her own thoughts flew to plans for shielding
Leon, or, at worst, of helping him to avoid the scandal.

Meanwhile, when Nathalie opened her eyes she saw no one at first, for
Claire was kneeling behind.  She had one minute of wondering reprieve
before intolerable pain, rushed into possession.  Words, looks,
confronted her again; she moaned once, and then called upon her ebbing
strength to meet its foes gallantly.  Raising herself on an elbow, and
pushing the hair back from her forehead with her other hand, a sound
made her glance round, and she met Claire's gaze.  The two women eyed
each other silently.  Claire was the first to say, briefly:

"You know?"

"Yes, I know."

They were mute again, each reflecting.

"And you fainted?"  Mlle. de Beaudrillart uttered the words like a
judge.  Nathalie simply answered:

"I shall not do it again."

Their words were few, like the first feints of fencers.  Both rose and
stood upright, and Claire felt a momentary vexation that Nathalie was
the taller.  She said, presently:

"There is no use in our talking.  I shall never forgive Leon; but
perhaps something can be arranged to hush it up, and prevent the
disgrace becoming public.  Whatever that costs, it must be done.  I
suppose money is always a strong weapon, and I imagine, under these
circumstances, you cannot object to its being paid?"

To the tone Nathalie was indifferent to the point of unconsciousness.
But to the suggestion she replied: "I should object with all my might.
Forgive me if I oppose you."

Claire flung out the taunt: "The sacrifice is too great?"

"What sacrifice?  What I feel is that to sin, and then to bribe to
escape its consequences, is to sin twice."

The other stared at her.

"What will you do, then?"

Nathalie's voice carried anguish.  "I shall urge him to meet it."

Claire made a step towards her.  "Meet it?  Do you mean own that he has
done it?"

Nathalie encountered her eye, her voice, without quailing.  She was
vaguely sorry for these others who were suffering; but all her emotions
fastened themselves upon her husband, and remembering some words he had
let drop, she started.  "Where is Leon?" she cried.

"With his mother.  You need not be afraid for him," said Claire,
scornfully; "he has always taken care of himself, and he will do so to
his dying day.  I don't know why I was such a fool as to be alarmed at
hearing the advice you are going to bestow upon him, for Leon will never
face a disagreeable so long as he can find a means of slipping round it.
You may do your worst.  Of course, you can't be expected to feel what
we feel: the disgrace--the horrible shame--the--" She stopped, choked.
Nathalie looked at her, neither assenting nor denying, and, after a
moment's pause, the other began again:

"It must be crushed down, even if Poissy has to go.  The name comes
first.  This man--it is true, is it not, that he will accept money!"

"Do you know what you are saying!" said her sister-in-law, speaking in a
low, even voice.  "If Leon did what you demand, he would be owning
himself the thief they call him.  He took the money, but it was not to
keep; he wrote to Monsieur de Cadanet and told him what he had done, and
promised to pay it back, and did it.  He owes nothing."

"You believe this!"

"Yes.  He has told me all, now," she answered, in the same tone.  There
was something in it which for the moment impressed Claire; but she
presently returned to her conviction.

"If it is true, it is only a matter of degree," she said, her eyes
dilating.

"It is everything," rejoined Nathalie, firmly.

"Take what comfort you can from it, then.  What I think is that, true or
not, unless Leon can prove it, it will be of no use in warding off the
blow.  That is the only thing which remains to us.  It must not fall.
Do you hear!  It must not fall."

"God knows!"  She turned away with a sigh, but there was no irresolution
in her face.  The sun still shone outside; above the grey stone the
clear blue was beginning to whiten; so high as to be mere specks, the
swallows circled.  Suddenly Claire broke into a laugh--a high-pitched
laugh, not good to hear.

"A De Beaudrillart tried for theft!" she exclaimed.  "In a common dock,
I imagine!  What a fine event for the world!  Tours, too.  Why, Tours
would have something to talk about for quite a year."  Her voice changed
again to something harsh, fierce.  "You are not to tell your father, do
you hear!  Do you mean to say that you have done so already?"

Nathalie looked at her gravely.

"Hush!" she said.  "There is no use in saying these things.  My father
has guessed it, and I think it is breaking his heart."

"Oh," cried Claire, wildly, "it only wanted this!  Monsieur Bourget
knows, and it is breaking Monsieur Bourget's heart!  We Beaudrillarts
can bear it, but Monsieur Bourget's heart is breaking!  Do you suppose
that we are going to endure this degrading pity?  I tell you that
anything--death itself--would be better!"

Her white face was distorted, changed; yet if any one had been there to
make the comparison, they might have detected a deeper suffering behind
Mme.  Leon's silence.  She stood mute, her sad young eyes looking into
the unknown, her delicate lips compressed.  Claire suddenly felt the
unconquerable power of calmness.  Her taunts were useless.  She turned
and rushed from the room.  Outside on the stairs were two men, and her
first impression was that perhaps they were officers of justice come to
seize Leon, until she saw that one was her brother himself and the other
M.  Georges.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

A DIFFERENT STANDPOINT.

In his present mood Leon would have avoided any visitor, and M.  Georges
perhaps most of all; for to go over the estates, point out improvements
and changes, and listen to the cautious encouraging admiration of his
guest was almost unendurable.  He had fallen upon him by chance, running
down the stairs from his mother's room just as a parley with M.  Georges
was being held at the door, and the kindliness of his nature prevented
him from shaking him off, as he longed to do.  But he hailed his sister
as a means of escape, and though it was contrary to all etiquette to
leave her to entertain him unassisted, this was an hour of anguish, in
which everything not immediately connected with the matter in hand sank
to insignificance.  To Claire, too, under the exhaustion of her passion
and her fears, the sight of M.  Georges's quiet, every-day respectful
face gave an immediate and pleasurable sense of repose; and she was not
sorry to second her brother when he explained that Mme. de Beaudrillart
was ailing, that he himself had a pressing engagement, and that
therefore he would ask his sister to go over the place, and show M.
Georges anything that he would like to see.

"Mademoiselle will indeed do me too much honour," murmured M.  Georges,
blushing, and clasping his straw hat and bowing to the ground.  "If it
is an inconvenience, permit me to choose some other time."

"No, no!" cried Leon, hastily but kindly, for his heart had always
reproached him with his treatment of his intendant, "you have had a long
walk, and must certainly see what you came to see.  Claire, be sure to
show Monsieur Georges the new presses and the rick-yard."

He waved his hand and went away.  M.  Georges, who was gazing after him,
ventured to remark that monsieur le baron did not look so well as he had
hoped to find him.

"No," said Claire, abruptly; "he has his troubles.  Who has not?"

"Ah, mademoiselle," said M.  Georges, simply, "I hoped that the troubles
of Poissy were over."

Mlle. de Beaudrillart, too, was altered.  To him, she had been less
dignified than to others, finding some sort of expansion in speaking to
a man who, with all his indecision, was intelligent and had ideas.
To-day she struck him as sharper and more angular; but he had always
nursed a respectful admiration for Mlle. de Beaudrillart, who had often
protected him from her mother's criticisms.  In the course of their walk
round the estate he more than once suggested that he feared he was
taking her from other occupations, to which she merely shook her head.
Once he made an unfortunate allusion.

"Ah, here is the wall which has been strengthened, of which Monsieur
Bourget was telling me the other day.  He is a marvellous man, Monsieur
Bourget!"

"Oh, do not talk of him!" said Claire, impatiently.

"No?"  Little M.  Georges glanced at her with nervousness.  "Possibly
one may admit that occasionally he expresses himself with too much
force; but he is solid, and knows what he is speaking about."  He added,
conscience demanding the tribute: "And he is devoted to his family."
They were advancing towards the chateau when he stopped, and said,
supplicatingly, "Would mademoiselle permit me to beg for one favour?  I
have never had the honour of seeing Monsieur Raoul."

The homage in his tone soothed poor Claire's wounded spirit.  She
exclaimed, impulsively:

"Ah, Monsieur Georges, you served my brother very faithfully!  I wish he
still had such a good friend by his side!"

"You do me too much honour, mademoiselle," he said, much touched; "the
more so, because I have always been painfully aware of my own
deficiencies at a critical time, and I have seen for myself to-day that
Monsieur de Beaudrillart has done better without me.  And I do not doubt
that he has an excellent adviser in his wife."

"In his wife?  Oh no; she does not understand the exigencies of the
family, and how should she?  She looks at everything from a totally
different standpoint to ours.  But there she is, and Raoul with her."

They were standing on the small stone balcony which clung to the wall
outside Nathalie's room, feeding the pigeons in the court, and, at
Claire's call, came down the steps and across the sun-smitten court.  M.
Georges, who had never seen her since her marriage, stared amazedly at
this pale, noble-looking woman, with dark circles round her eyes, and
the shadow of a great trouble resting upon her.  He swept the ground
with his hat, as Raoul marched up, put his hand into that of the
visitor, and said, with sturdy precision: "How do you do, Monsieur
Georges?"  Mme.  Leon also put out her hand.

"Leon desired me to tell you," she said, turning to her sister-in-law,
"that Felicie has coffee ready, and he hopes that Monsieur Georges will
have that or anything else he may prefer."

"Of course," said Claire, shortly.  "Are you coming?"

"No, Leon wants me.  Good-bye, Monsieur Georges.  If you see my father,
will you beg him to come and see us?"  She moved away, and he stared,
open-mouthed, after her.  There was a tender dignity in her face, a
composure in her manner, which, after all he had heard, left him amazed.
And, though his perceptions were slow, he read in her eyes that she was
a very sorrowful woman.  What could threaten Poissy?  What had humbled
Mlle.  Claire?  Even Felicie, whom they found with the coffee, had red
and swollen eyes, although she brightened and became enthusiastic in her
descriptions of the preparations for monseigneur, and of all that she
and the Abbe Nisard had to organise.  She even ran to fetch some of her
cherished decorations, and when it appeared that a yard or two of
coloured calico was wanting, and M.  Georges offered to procure it in
Tours, her little inexpressive face became radiant.

"Would you really be so kind?  We should be most grateful, for I did not
know where to turn, and to have failed in the effect just on account of
two or three yards of stuff would have been too dreadful!  Is it
possible that you have never heard monseigneur preach!  How much you
would be edified!  Instead of going to those terrible clubs where the
Church is shut out, and the most dreadful doctrines are taught, you must
come here and listen to him.  You must indeed!"

M.  Georges, whose talk at clubs had been always most innocent, was
highly gratified.

"Mademoiselle is only too good," he reiterated.  "If I might be
permitted--"

"But certainly," cried Felicie, enchanted at a possible convert.
"Monseigneur arrives on Monday--the day after to-morrow--and the
function will be on Tuesday."

"Felicie," said her sister, warningly, "it is possible that we may not
be able to receive monseigneur."

Felicie nodded her head in full confidence.

"Ah, but I have spoken to Leon, and he wishes no change to be made; but
everything to go on as was settled."

"Perhaps--" hesitated M.  Georges, "if Madame Leon wishes to see her
father, Monsieur Bourget and I might come out together?"

"Monsieur Bourget!"  Felicie was aghast.  "Oh, for pity's sake, do not
bring him here!  I am convinced that he is both a republican and a
freethinker.  He is really too dreadful!  I believe he would be capable
of shocking the bishop, and saying something insulting to the Church.
Pray, pray, Monsieur Georges!"

"For all our sakes, I think you may forget that message," said Claire,
significantly.

But M.  Georges could not so soon put aside his recollection of Mme.
Leon's earnest face and the sad sorrow in her eyes.  After he got back
to Tours, he was going in pursuit of M.  Bourget, when he met him in the
street, and uttered some little jest about the reversal of their
positions.

"It is I who have now returned from Poissy," he said, smiling.

"Well?"

The word shot out so sharply that it startled the hearer.

"The visit was exceedingly gratifying to me," he returned, "although
Monsieur de Beaudrillart was unfortunately a good deal occupied.  But
his sister kindly showed me the improvements, and it afforded me immense
pleasure to see your grandson--and Madame Leon," he added.

M.  Bourget's face softened.

"Did--did she say anything?" he demanded.

"She desired me to beg you to come out."

"She wants me--eh?"  Her father's chin drooped on his chest, but he
straightened himself by an effort, and inquired if she were well.  M.
Georges hesitated.

"To tell you the truth, I am afraid some bad news had reached the
family.  Nothing was said, but you know how an impression fixes itself
upon the mind.  Still, I may be mistaken.  Mademoiselle Felicie, who is
very amiable, appeared much interested in a visit which the bishop is to
pay them on Monday.  It is astonishing how much she contrives to do for
the Church!"

M.  Bourget paid no attention to his words, and when they had parted, M.
Georges reflected that there had been a good deal of exaggeration in
what Leroux and others had told him about the ex-builder's mania on the
subject of Poissy.  Instead of descanting on the theme by the hour, as
his victims represented, he had been as curt and silent as if the very
name of the place were repugnant, and M.  Georges, whose honest fealty
had all come back that afternoon, made up his mind that jealousy
probably lay at the bottom of the reports which had come to his ears.
He walked away extremely well satisfied with himself, recalling Mlle. de
Beaudrillart's unusual condescension, and giving himself immense pains
to match the coloured calico and despatch it.

On Sunday afternoon M.  Bourget, in his Sunday clothes, with a stick.
And very conspicuous watch-chain festooned with seals in front,
presented himself at the chateau and demanded his daughter.  He was
shown to her room, and there had to wait for some time, as Mme.  Leon
was in the grounds with her husband.  When she came at last, she
advanced quickly to meet him, but stopped, checked by the gloom in his
face.

"You see," he said, briefly.

She moved forward then; her eyes softened with a divine pity.

"Yes," she said, quietly.

"And what is he going to do, this rascal of a husband of yours?"

Her face flushed swiftly.  "You must not speak of him like that."

"Why, what else is he?  Didn't he take the money?"

"Yes, he took it.  There he sinned.  But he wrote to Monsieur de Cadanet
by that day's post, and told him what he had done, and promised to repay
it--as he did."

M.  Bourget groaned.  "And you believe this story!  I've been thinking,
Nathalie, as I came along, and there's nothing for it but money, money.
The amount must be raised, the saints know how! but somehow, and the
black business hushed up.  It's the only thing to be done for the boy--
for all of us; and the quicker the better.  Look here, I must see your
husband.  I'll keep my hands off him, if I can, but that letter will
have to be written to-day."  He groaned again.  "It will leave me a
beggar.  Oh, the villain, to have brought his good name to this!"

Nathalie's face was white; but her eyes shone, and she confronted her
father bravely.

"And you would drag it in the dust!  You would make him own to what he
never did!  Raoul's father!  Oh, shame, father, shame!  I sent for you
because I knew you were an honest man, and I believed you would counsel
my poor Leon honestly.  This is not honesty, and you shall not see him--
you shall not disgrace yourself and me."

He flung angry glances at her.

"Mighty fine!" he said, ironically.  "Pray, what better plan have you
for keeping him out of prison?"

The light faded from her eyes, she locked her hands tightly one in the
other, and was silent.  He repeated, tauntingly,--

"Come, now, what?"

Thus cruelly pressed, her lips parted, she gasped rather than spoke the
one word: "None."

M.  Bourget was too angry for pity.  "Perhaps you would like to put him
there?"

Silence.

"Don't deceive yourself, my girl.  If you don't pay, that is where he
goes."

Her voice had come back to her.

"I cannot help it.  He must tell the truth."

He started to his feet with a violent exclamation of rage.

"So you have no consideration for me?  How can I ever show my face again
in Tours?  And Raoul!  You mean him to grow up to be pointed at as the
son of a man who has been in prison, all for the sake of a story which
is only another lie!  Yes, a lie!  Do you tell me you believe it?"

"I know it."

"Then you are a fool!" he cried, fiercely.  "You will be telling me next
that you still care for him."

"Ah, do I not!" she cried, her steadfast eyes shining.

"Will you let me see him?" he exclaimed, imperiously.

"No; I will not.  He wants help, and you will not help him."

He marched to the door in a rage, but came back again, and stood with
his great hands resting on the table, palms downward.

"You are a woman, a foolish woman, and talk of things you don't
understand.  You suppose that no one will have the heart to hurt your
dear Leon; and that when they hear that fine story of his, judge and
jury will be so much impressed that it will require no more to make them
acquit him.  A baron, the Baron de Beaudrillart, the master of Poissy,
one of the oldest names in the country--you flatter yourself, no doubt,
that all this will prepossess them in his favour, to say nothing of a
weeping wife, clasping her hands and crying, `Gentlemen, gentlemen, for
the love of Heaven!'  You know nothing at all, my girl.  Baron, and
Beaudrillart, and Poissy, and descent--all this grandeur--is exactly
what will tell against him.  In these days it is a fine thing for a
miserable little tallow-chandler, or a creature like Leroux, to sit in
the jury-box, and feel, `Now it is my turn.  Down with these seigneurs
and their accursed pride!'  If he were an upstart of a washer-woman's
son, picked out of the gutter, he would have a chance, but as it is,"--
he stopped and blew out a whiff of air--"there!  That is what his is
worth!  And as for the love of Heaven--peste! few of them will think
twice of that."

Till these last words, Nathalie had bent her head before the pitiless
storm.  Now she raised it confidently.

"Yet it will not fail us," she said.  "If Leon does what is right, I do
not fear."

His anger was on the point of overpowering him, but he mastered it by a
great effort so far as to mutter:

"Perhaps it is as well I should not see your husband, lest I should lose
patience.  But you had better let him hear my opinion.  He can send in
and let me know, if it isn't too late."

"Will you not have the carriage?"

He refused curtly, and, without listening to the words with which she
tried to thank him, took himself out of the room, down the stairs, and
out into the broad sweep.  Poissy had never looked more beautiful.  It
was one of those grey, languorous days in which thunder threatens, and
the dark, rich tones of a cloudy sky threw the mellow stone-work and its
delicate ornamentation into high relief.  The court side was the more
picturesque and broken, but the noble simplicity of the lines of the
front had always powerfully affected M.  Bourget, and he was ready to
vow that nothing could exceed the grace of the chimneys or the fine
proportion of the windows.  And now, as he looked, the pride with which
he had dwelt upon it broke forth in an angry snort, which was really a
groan.  Unfortunately for himself, Jean Charpentier was on his way round
the house.  It was very well known in the household how the father of
Mme.  Leon was regarded by Mme. de Beaudrillart and her daughters, and
Jean held, if possible, yet stouter aristocratic opinions.  The sight,
therefore, of M.  Bourget's square and sturdy figure, planted on the
drive, and tragically gesticulating, stretched his face into a broad
grin, which he took no pains to hide.  In a moment he found himself in
the clutch of the avenger.  M.  Bourget, gripping his collar, rained
down blows upon him with his cane until he roared for mercy, and the
ex-builder, wrathfully sending him staggering, expressed a hope that the
castigation would have a good and much-needed effect upon his manners.

At any rate, this little incident had a soothing influence upon M.
Bourget.  It made him hot, but it restored his sense of power, and he
went on his way home with a feeling that his visit had not been all in
vain.  Jean ran into the house, smarting for revenge, but it was an
unlucky day for him, as the first person he fell upon was his father.
Jacques listened to the tale, spluttered out between threats of
vengeance, and when it was ended took his son by the ear.

"I'll wager you've had no more than you earned; and see here, if you
talk about it, you'll come in for another dose.  Ay, you'd best look
out.  Let me catch you venturing to be insolent to Madame Leon or her
father!"  And as Jean went off in wholesome dread of threats which he
knew his father too well to doubt would be carried out, Jacques remained
looking doubtfully at the ground and scratching his head.  "There's
trouble in the air, and I'm fearful it has to do with Monsieur Leon," he
reflected.  "Madame has eaten next to nothing these two days, and as for
Madame Leon, she is a ghost.  It must be serious, for I've seen nothing
like it since Monsieur Leon married; and if it's an old story wakening
up, why, all the worse!  Monsieur Bourget, too; he will have been put
out about something to give Jean a thrashing, and to go without so much
as seeing Monsieur Raoul.  A bad sign--a very bad sign."

And Jacques went off mournfully to the gardens.

CHAPTER NINETEEN.

THE BISHOP'S VISIT.

Felicie's untiring energy had really provided a very pretty welcome for
the bishop.  She had collected all the children far and near, given them
flags and garlands of vine to carry, and grouped them at the entrance of
the chateau.  Raoul was there, kept quiet by the fond belief that he was
acting as colonel, and, much to his aunt's distress, steadily persistent
in refusing to carry anything except his sword.  The sight, with the old
grey chateau behind, and the gayly coloured swarm of little creatures in
front, was charming, and so the bishop said to his chaplain as he drove
up, and set all the aprons and hats waving.  Then Leon with the abbe and
two neighbouring vicaires advanced to the door of the carriage to
welcome him, and, smiling and blessing his little flock with uplifted
hand, monseigneur passed into the house to be received by the ladies of
the family.

To Nathalie the prospect of a guest, in a time of such perplexity and
trouble, had seemed a terrible ordeal, but Mme. de Beaudrillart thought
that to put off the bishop's visit would be at once to excite surprise
in the neighbourhood, and Leon had taken the same view.  They had
curtailed their intended hospitalities, however, and only some half a
dozen of the principal people of the neighbourhood, with the clergy
already at the chateau, were invited to dinner.

Nathalie had once beheld the bishop in the cathedral at Tours,
immediately after he was installed, but it was at a distance, and she
had only been aware of a large man, who wore his gorgeous vestments with
a magnificent air.  Now that she saw him close at hand, she was
immediately attracted by the strength and charm of his expression, and
by a breadth of kindliness which she had not anticipated.  He, on his
part, was a sympathetic reader of faces, and he had not been five
minutes in the house before he had convinced himself that the shadow of
sorrow rested upon the family.  Mme. de Beaudrillart's usual rigid
dignity was shaken by an emotion which looked like that of fear, and the
sadness of sleepless nights hung heavy on Nathalie's eyes, while Leon
was white and nervous, talking hastily and restlessly, and unable to
keep still for many consecutive minutes.  Felicie was the only one who
had forgotten their troubles in delight at the achievement of her
purpose, and it must be owned that her respectful colourless chatter
bored the bishop frightfully, the more so because he took himself to
task for his impatience.  He was much more interested in the others with
their evident impending trouble, even in Mlle.  Claire's sharp, bitter
speeches.  Raoul attracted his notice at once, and he praised him warmly
to his grandmother, but Mme. de Beaudrillart's face did not lighten; he
even fancied that he had unconsciously touched the wound, whatever it
was.  With the young wife he had no opportunity of speaking, and,
indeed, she had learned silence when strangers were present; he noticed,
however, that her eyes rested constantly on her husband, and that when
he left the room she immediately slipped out after him.  The evening was
not gay, though Mme.  Lemballe vied with Felicie in devoted homage, and
M. and Mme. de la Ferraye did their best in a languishing conversation.

That night a tremendous thunder-storm broke over the province, and
torrents of rain fell to the north of Poissy.  That only the fringe of
the storm reached Poissy, Felicie always ascribed to a miraculous
interposition on behalf of her cherished decorations, but the proof of
its violence elsewhere was to be found in the swift rising of the river.
It ran with wintry force, and from its darkened colour, and the
vegetation it brought down, had evidently overflowed its banks higher
up, and caused considerable damage.  This, however, was the only grave
result of the storm at Poissy.  There the rain had merely been
sufficient to freshen everything, and to give an indescribable
brilliancy to the foliage.  The great walnut-tree to the left of the
chateau glistened in the morning sun, a fresh little breeze fluttered
the poplars, and the lizards stole out again, and darted here and there
in the crannies of the old stones.

All Felicie's dreams were carried out.  The bishop officiated at
high-mass, the white church was crowded with worshippers--M.  Georges
among the number--and the procession which conducted him afterwards to
the little hospital which was to be opened for the very old people of
the neighbourhood was thick with banners, and did credit to her
training.  Only one terrible disappointment came to her--the bishop,
although he did not say much, managing to express his dislike to her
paper flowers, and the gewgaws which decked the altar.  She could
scarcely keep back her tears, for there was no mistaking the few words
he uttered, and to her own thinking the effect had been unequalled.

Setting this aside, however, all had gone admirably; there was nothing,
she felt sure, in which even Mme.  Lemballe could pick a hole.  And when
they were all back at the chateau again, she was feverishly anxious for
her reward in the shape of a private interview with, and a special
blessing from, the bishop, together with instructions as to how the
money for the next pilgrimage should be raised.  But Claire, who was
moodily wandering from room to room, gave her unwelcome intelligence.

"Monseigneur is in the grounds talking to Nathalie, and his carriage is
ordered in half an hour."

"To Nathalie!  How has Nathalie got hold of him?  What has she to do
with him!"

"As much as any of us, I suppose.  And it is he who has got hold of her,
for he asked to speak to her."

"Oh!" cried Felicie discomfited.  The next moment she exclaimed: "I
should not wonder in the least if he has heard of the books she reads.
I shall be obliged to see him about the pilgrimage, and I dare say he
will tell me."

Her sister looked at her in displeasure.

"For pity's sake, do not talk any more about those trifles!  Do you
never think of what is hanging over us?"

Felicie took refuge in tears.

"How unkind you are, Claire!  Of course I think of it a great deal in my
prayers.  But I believe his Grandeur's visit will bring a blessing, and
this morning Leon seems quite himself again."

Claire flung back her head.  "Sometimes I think," she said, "that Leon
has no soul, though of course you do not understand what I mean."

"No soul!"  Felicie stared amazedly.  Claire turned and hurried away.

It was quite true, as Mlle. de Beaudrillart said, that the bishop had
asked for young Mme.  Leon, and that they were at that moment walking
together in the kitchen-garden, between strawberry beds, of which the
leaves were turning brown and bronze.  More than ever, in the church,
had her face, with its strength and sadness, interested him.  He felt as
if he could not leave that face behind without trying to bring a little
comfort; and if there was a pinch of curiosity mixed with his
never-failing sympathy, who will blame him?  With womanlike tact he went
straight to his point.

"My daughter," he said, "you are in trouble."

She answered him as directly.  "Yes, monseigneur, in great trouble."

"Can you tell it to me!"

This time she hesitated.  "I do not know.  It is not my own."

"No.  It is your husband's.  Does it belong to his past or present!"

"Oh, his past, poor Leon!"

"One other question.  Are you in doubt?"

"Yes, monseigneur.  For I urge him one way and all the others another--
even my own father," she sighed.

"Whatever it is, I am certain she is in the right," reflected the
bishop.  Aloud, he said, quietly: "If you like to tell me, you may
safely do so."

She made a swift resolution, and she told him.  He listened in amazement
to the end.

"Before I speak, will you let me hear what is your own counsel!"

"I want him to meet the charge with the truth," she said, "and to hide
nothing."

"That is a difficult task for a man in your husband's position," said
the bishop, walking along the path with his head bent and his hands
clasped behind him, wondering.

She sighed.  "Very.  And they are all against it.  They think this
Monsieur Lemaire may find it impossible to bring proofs, and they think
also that from my birth I am no judge of the terrible indignity there
would be if--if--"

She paused and covered her face.  The bishop said, very gently--"Yet you
are ready to face this ordeal!"

"Oh, I--I!  I am no judge.  If he were a beggar, it seems to me I should
feel the same.  But, oh, monseigneur, no wonder he shrinks.  For him it
is terrible!"

They walked silently.  The bishop, who had expected to have to give
advice, noticed that she had not asked for it.  "My daughter," he said,
"when I invited your confidence, it was because you said you were in
doubt.  But you do not speak doubtfully."

She turned to him quickly.  "Whenever I put it into words, all doubt
flies."

"So that if I were to say I thought you wrong, you would not change your
opinion!"

She was silent.  He pressed her.  "Tell me."

"No, monseigneur, I could not," she said, scarcely audibly.

"Well, then, let me tell you that you are right, splendidly right," he
said, his face brightened by his appreciation.  "Do not let any one
persuade you to the contrary.  For your husband's soul as well as for
his honour, yours is the only saving course, and at whatever cost of
suffering--for you will both suffer--hold fast to it.  If ever, in any
way, I can help you, send for me.  I shall remember you in my prayers,
and thank God that He has made you braver than most women--yet I ought
not to say that, for you women put us to shame."

If Nathalie were womanlike in courage, she was womanlike in this also:
that the moment she had got his approval, she began to doubt.

"There is our boy," she said.  "When I remember him, I am ready to
shrink."

"Will it do him good to have a father who sheltered himself behind a
lie?  Think only of that.  My daughter, I do not fear for you.  I
believe that God will give you strength to prevail, but I wish I were
permitted to help you."

"Monseigneur, you have helped me.  Until now I have been alone, and to
know that you are on my side--But I have kept you too long, and here
comes Felicie."

"Ah," said the bishop, smiling, "and she will have a great deal to say."

As the carriage with the bishop and his chaplain rolled out of the white
gates, a man on horseback passed it, who had the appearance of having
ridden hard.  Leon, his wife, and his sisters were still standing by the
entrance as he clattered up.

"The Baron de Beaudrillart?" he said taking off his hat.

"Here."  Leon stepped forward with a white face.

"Monsieur Rodoin sent me down with this for monsieur," he said, handing
a letter.

He tore it open.

"I think it well to inform you that Monsieur Lemaire intends proceeding
to extremes; that he has instructed the Procureur de la Republique, and
that in all probability you will be arrested to-morrow or the next day.
I have learned this from a sure source."

CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE RIVER.

There was a minute of dumb horror; then Felicie would have broken into
lamentation before the messenger if Claire had not hastily signed to him
to go round to the offices.  Leon stood, ghastly white; his wife clasped
his arm with both hands, and Felicie's sobs, the only sound, came to her
ears as distant as the rush of the river.  Leon did not hear them at
all.  For the moment he was turned into stone, and his heart stood
still.  He had talked of it, dreaded it, but until this instant the
horror of the thing had never really touched him.  Arrested!  He, Leon
de Beaudrillart!

He looked round at his wife, and her eyes met his with brave tenderness.
But he wanted words, and he held the letter to her with piteously
trembling hands.  Every word had already burned itself into her brain.
His lips faltered the words: "What does it mean?"

If she could only have told him that it was a dreadful nightmare from
which they would presently wake!  The clasp on his arm tightened.  She
whispered:

"Dear, we will meet it together."

Claire, who in spite of her anger against him, was listening
breathlessly for some suggestion, turned away with a groan and rushed
up-stairs to her mother's room.  She panted out:

"We must think of a way of saving Leon.  Nathalie is helpless, and if
something is not done he will be arrested."  In the immediate face of
danger Mme. de Beaudrillart's iron will exerted itself.  She was deadly
pale, and she clutched the back of a chair; but her voice was unshaken
as she put the quick question: "When?  To-day?"

"To-morrow."

"Then we must act.  Bring them here."

They were already on the stairs.  Leon came in first, his round face
absolutely colourless, his limbs dragging.  He tried to smile, but the
effort only seemed to contort his features, and, stumbling forward, he
sank into a chair, and stretched out the hand which held the letter to
his mother.  She read it with staring eyes, and when she spoke her voice
sounded as if one metal struck another.

"This is no time for crying out, or for tears," she said.  "Monsieur
Rodoin has done very well in giving us warning, and he no doubt
understands that you must not be arrested.  What remains is to decide
how to act, and then to act quickly.  There has been too much delay
already.  I suppose the time for money is past--"

"Owing to Nathalie," murmured Claire.

"--And only flight remains."

Leon lifted his head and looked at her with feverish eyes.

"You must fly, my son.  Apparently there are countries where you will be
safe; I do not know which they are, but that can be ascertained.  You
must start at once, telling no one and going alone, until your wife can
safely join you.  This is the only way of escaping the worst
degradation.  Claire, you have a good head; do you not think with me?"

"It is the one thing he can do for us," said Claire, rigidly.

"Felicie?"

Felicie nodded, but was weeping too much to speak.  Leon had buried his
head in his hands, and his wife knelt by him, her eyes fixed on Mme. de
Beaudrillart's face.

"You see we are all agreed, Leon," his mother went on, vanquishing a
catch in her voice.  "My son, remember what you owe to your name, and
act.  Where will you go? to Bordeaux or Marseilles?  If you could reach
America--" Her voice failed, she stood trembling, while her lips formed
the words she had not strength to utter.  As for Leon, with a mute
gesture of despair he turned and hid his face against his wife's arm.
The little dependent action gave her words.  She started to her feet,
her tall figure swaying, her whole frame one passionate protest.

"You forget me, madame!  I am not agreed.  I say that he did not do this
shameful thing, and that he shall not fly from it as if he were a
coward.  A De Beaudrillart a coward!  Because there is one act of which
he is ashamed, you want him to own to what is a hundred times worse!
Leon, do not listen to them!  For Raoul's sake, do not listen to them!
Dear love, be brave, live it down!"  She dropped again by his side,
gathering him to her heart, and with quivering lips kissing his hair,
his hands.  Claire would have answered angrily, but her mother stopped
her.

"You have a right to be heard," she said to the young wife, "and we
have, perhaps, all too much forgotten that you suffer too.  But let us
clearly understand each other.  What is it that you suggest?  That--that
he submits to arrest?"  Her voice dropped miserably.

Nathalie made a mute sign of assent.

"Then you think," Mme. de Beaudrillart went on, in the same dry and
mechanical tones, "that it will be found they have not sufficient
evidence to prove what they--have to prove!"

"I do not know," said the wife, breathing hard.  "I do not know.  I only
know that he must tell the truth."

His mother's hands gripped her chair.

"Acknowledge that--that he took the money?"

"Yes.  Because it is true."

A groan burst from Claire's lips.

"Impossible!" cried Mme. de Beaudrillart, with an agitation she had not
yet shown.  "Plead guilty!"

Nathalie drove back anguish, recognising that all her strength was
needed.

"What would flight plead, madame?  That would mean that he was guilty of
everything."

"Yes," the mother moaned.  "His honour is lost.  But he would escape the
dreadful disgrace of punishment."

"All his life would be one miserable punishment--too heavy, because
unjust.  If he comes forward now, and tells the troth when it goes
against him, has he not a much better chance of being believed when it
is in his favour?  There is the letter he wrote to Monsieur de Cadanet.
May that not still be found among his papers?"

Her heart was throbbing, and, holding him in her clasp, it was almost
beyond her powers to speak calmly.  Mme. de Beaudrillart's self-control
began to forsake her, and all unconsciously the sight of her son
clinging to his wife impelled her into opposition.  She cried out:

"But suppose they will not believe!  Suppose he is--" She choked at the
word "convicted."

Nathalie felt her husband shiver, and pressed her lips on his hair.

"He will bear it," she breathed.

"No, no," cried his mother, starting up, "this is asking too much!  You
are no judge.  You cannot tell what he, what we all, would suffer.
Leon, speak!  Flight is your only hope.  Do not listen to your wife."

At this appeal he raised himself, and stared vacantly round the room.
His eyes lit on Felicie, and a haggard smile crossed his face.

"You had better not weep so much, Felicie; you will have no eyes left
for your embroideries."

She broke into more poignant sobs, and cried out:

"Mamma, must he go?  Could we not hide him here somewhere?"

"In perpetuity," he muttered.  "Nathalie is right, mother, in one thing,
for flight would only condemn me, and I could not bear it.  I should not
be spared a single humiliation.  Besides, in these days one must be
unknown to hide successfully, and all that I should gain would be the
being dragged back in ignominy."

Nathalie's eyes were fixed anxiously upon him, her lips trembled, her
shoulders contracted; it was as if she were trying to send strength from
her soul to his, in his weak striving against fate.

"I believe I know what I shall do," he went on, in a mechanically dull
voice; then suddenly starting up, clasped his hands across his burning
eyes, his face ghastly pale.  His words came out slowly, shortly.  "Yes,
do not fear, mother.  I know what to do.  Have a little patience.  I
shall think of our honour, believe me."  Then he reeled, and his wife
caught his arm.  She was as white as he, but all her trembling had gone.

"Hush, Leon," she said, firmly; "the shock has unnerved you so much that
you do not know what you think or say.  Whatever is done, even if you do
go away as your mother wishes you, it could not be yet, for you could
not reach the railway until dark; and you must have food.  And if you
stay, there is no use acting as though all were lost.  Let him go to our
room, madame, and come again to you later on.  Come, dear love."

Mme. de Beaudrillart made no opposition, for her strength had failed
her.  With a face of anguish she watched them out of the door, and fell
back in her chair, scarcely conscious.  Felicie, still sobbing, busied
herself about her mother, and ran to fetch a handful of leaves from her
stores, with which to make a tisane.  Claire, dry-eyed and tense, stood
with her eyes fixed on the photograph of her father, which always rested
on a small easel near her mother's chair.

"How unhappy we were when he died!" she said in a low voice, "and how
much better it would have been if we had all died with him!  I can never
forgive Leon!"

Mme. de Beaudrillart did not speak--she could not.  With her not only
pride but love was smitten low--so low that her usual emotions had lost
their leaders, and wandered objectless.  Despair seized her whichever
way she looked, and, like Claire, she, too, wished for death.

Leon submitted without resistance to his wife's leading, clinging to
her, indeed, as they passed along the passages to her room.  The window
leading into the stone balcony was open, and the whole air seemed to
vibrate with the hoarse croaking of frogs from the pond beyond the
kitchen-garden.  Nathalie quietly closed it, and rang the bell.  She
stood at the door, and gave the astonished Rose-Marie directions to
bring coffee at once, and, when it came, took it from her without
allowing the girl to enter.  Then she knelt by her husband, and coaxed
him as if he were a child.  He shuddered: "I cannot!"

"Dear, only to please me.  It will do your head so much good."

"There is a millwheel in my head.  You see they are all falling away
from me, so that even my mother will never be able to forgive."

"Do you know," she said, trying to speak cheerfully, "I believe we are
all making too much of it.  What will you say if it comes to nothing,
and the jury are clever enough to take the sensible view of the case?
Why should this man make the charge when Monsieur de Cadanet is dead?
You will see that will tell against him."

He groaned.

"And if worst comes to the worst, your friends will know that you have
told the truth, dear; they will not think evil of you.  And you will
have us--your mother and sisters, and Raoul, and me.  Do not we count
for anything?  Do not--"

He lifted his face and looked at her, and all her loving words stopped
midway in her throat, and made a lump there.  If she could have thought
of herself she would have cried out to him to take away his eyes and
their anguish, for if Leon's soul had been wanting before, it had come
to him now, and gazed at her; and it needs an angel or a devil to bear
the sight of a human soul wrung with misery.  Curiously enough, she felt
all the time that if she had known about the world and its ways, her
husband would have listened to her more readily.  What she said to
comfort him he set down to ignorance.  One of his old companions with a
jest and a laugh might have had a stronger influence than she with a
bleeding heart.  But this only made her try the more.  She knew enough
of Leon to be assured that silence would not soothe; she must talk,
argue, entreat, go over the same ground again and again, appeal to his
sentiment for them all, and this with a horrid fear deep within her to
which she dared not allude, and scarcely dared to think of.  He was not
going to attempt to fly; so much she gathered.  But that there was some
rising purpose in his mind which was colouring his broken words and
looks at her she was certain, and the certainty drove her almost mad
with hidden fear.  She made him drink a little coffee, which was
something, and she wanted to bring Raoul to the rescue.  But Raoul had
gone off with the pony and Jacques Charpentier to see the last of the
vintage at a distant farm, and would not be home until late--perhaps not
till after dark.

By this time all the household was aware that there was something wrong,
though they had different opinions as to the what, but, with a feeble
sort of pretence, dinner was gone through as usual.  Mme. de
Beaudrillart, however, went away before it was ended, and Nathalie
detained Claire, to ask her if she would come to her room as soon as
Raoul returned.  She grew more and more uneasy.

The lamp had been brought in before Claire appeared with the news that
she had heard the pony pass the window a few minutes before.  His wife
glanced at Leon, but he sat, as he had sat for the last hour, his head
buried on his arm, and she hoped that, worn out, he might be sleeping.
She signed to Claire to speak to her outside the door.

"Please don't leave him, even for a minute," she whispered, and flew
down the stairs.

Rain was falling at last, and though Jacques had sheltered Raoul with
his own coat, the boy was wet.  His mother hurried him up the stairs,
his laugh ringing out so strangely in the sorrow-stilled house that she
almost hushed it.  But she did not, because she thought within herself
that a child's laugh is a healthy thing, and that the sound might drive
away other things not so healthy.  She left the door of his room open,
however, and kept her ears on the alert, while she hustled him into dry
clothes, and then, holding his hand, ran along the passages to the room
where she had left her husband and Claire.  Claire met her at the door.

"He is gone," she said, in a frightened whisper.

"You left him?"

"Only for a minute.  He asked me to get him a newspaper from
down-stairs, and when I came back the window was open--"

Nathalie rocked as she stood, caught at the wall, and said, with a gasp:
"Take the boy to your mother, and don't frighten her."  Then she ran--
how she ran!--though to this hour she thinks her feet were tied
together.

In three minutes she had found Jacques in the stable.  He thought a
ghost was upon him till she spoke.

"Your master is out somewhere, and I think he is going to kill himself.
You and I must find him."

Jacques understood at once.  He had known that some calamity was at
hand.  He snatched up the stable-lantern, went outside, locked the door,
and put his question:

"Had he his pistols, madame?"

"No."

"Then I believe he will have gone to the river."

"I know it, I know it!" she cried, wildly.  "But where!"  Jacques
muttered to himself, "He would go to the bridge, because it is at its
deepest, but there is no use in following him there; one must strike it
lower down."  He caught up a long rake which stood against the wall.
"Come, madame."  The rain had been swept off by a strong breeze, and the
moon made the leaves glisten like diamonds, and flung deep shadows under
the trees.  The two hurried round in front of the chateau, and plunged
into the heavy wet gloom which brooded round the garden.  Nathalie's
cry, "Leon, Leon!" at first timid, rose sharper as they left the house
behind them; then she remembered the whistle which she used as a call
for her husband, and blew shrilly.

"That is better," said the gardener, encouragingly.  He had kicked off
his shoes and stockings before Mme.  Leon came out, and ran all the
easier, his steps falling with a soft thud.  That, the croaking of
frogs, the soft hoot of owls, and the rush of the river were the only
sounds, and to the wife's strained ears the silence seemed full of
strange significance.

Suddenly Jacques stopped.

"Go round by the bridge, madame.  I shall take the bank."

"I am coming with you," she said, determinedly.

He raised no further objection, and they went where she and Jean had
followed Raoul not so long ago, down a dark abyss of underwood which
snatched at them as they pushed through it, slipping and sliding on the
wet ground, her dress torn by briars and sharp twigs.  Here and there,
as they parted the branches, they caught a gleam of the river running,
fiercely swollen, below, the moon striking the swift current, and
leaving the darkness on either side more impenetrable.  Several times
Nathalie fell, but she repelled her companion's help almost angrily,
catching at the branches, and trying to add her feeble voice to the
gardener's shouts.  When they reached the river it was like coming out
into the day, the freakish moonlight falling in a flood of light on the
grass, and bringing into clear distinctness the broad burdocks and
mulleins which spread themselves near the water, while it left a fringe
of poplars lower down on the other side in misty shadow.  Jacques knew
the river well, and had hastily made up his mind.  Close to the spot
where they were was a shallow into which he could wade, a spot where,
when the river was in flood, things brought down by the current were
often recoverable, caught as they were by a few stakes driven in at that
point.  It might be--But how the river ran, how it ran!  What a slender
hope was here!  Their thoughts, though they had sprung together to this
point, might be all unfounded; they might already be too late, or Leon
might be lying, stiff and ghastly, in some gloomy shadow close to which
they had passed unknowing.  Jacques stood for a moment considering, and
with the foolish inconsequence of misery Nathalie found herself noticing
how white his bare feet looked in the moonlight, sunk as they were in
the wet grass.

"I will stay here with the pole, madame," he said.  "Will you go up
towards the bridge, and whistle for me if there is need?"

She was gone before he had finished, stumbling along, her staring eyes
devouring the waters as they rushed by her; and she had not gone twenty
yards before Jacques heard a scream, a splash, and, running to the spot,
found her up to her knees in the water among the flags, clutching
something which rose and fell, and, when it rose, turned a white face to
the moonlight.

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

OUT OF THE DEPTHS.

There was no sign of life as with difficulty they dragged him out of the
water.  His hands were tied together by a handkerchief, drawn to a knot,
as Jacques guessed, by his teeth.  His saturated clothes were pulling
him down, and it was the catch of his sleeve in a protruding stake which
had held him for a few minutes, and shown him to his wife's searching
eyes.  In the river she had fancied he moved, mistaking the movements
with which it mocked its plaything for life, but on the grass he lay
motionless.  Still she kept her presence of mind, and gave directions,
telling the gardener to run to the nearest house across the bridge for
help.  It was nearer than the chateau.

"I know what to do," she said, kneeling down.  "I have done it before."

"But alone, madame?"

"Go, go, and bring blankets with you."

He went reluctantly, running along the bank without any hope in his
heart.  "First his father, and now Monsieur Leon," he reflected.  "Poor
madame, it will be the death of her!  And what lies behind?  I must make
it out to have been an accident, if it comes to breaking down a rail of
the bridge."  Help was not at first to be found, and it was old Antoine
who at last started at a run for the spot, while Jacques got blankets at
another cottage.  When he reached the spot again, Mme.  Leon was so
stiff and numbed that she could scarcely move her husband's arms up and
down, and she made him a sign to watch her and take her place.

"Ah, madame!" said the gardener, sorrowfully.

She did not hear him.  She was bending over the motionless body, laying
her hand on his chest, listening.  Old Antoine was reflecting that she
had certainly gone mad, and that if monsieur le baron was not drowned
beyond hope of recovery, there would be more sense in rubbing him with
blankets, and pouring brandy down his throat, when suddenly Nathalie
lifted her head.  "Keep on, keep on!" she cried to the gardener, "I am
sure that he breathes!"

Twenty minutes later Claire, wretchedly flitting across the terrace,
cried out with terror at seeing a figure swathed in blankets carried
towards the house.  A woman ran in front, drenched, ghastly, who cried
out as she came near:

"He is alive!  Get his bed and hot things ready!"

Yes, he lived; and when the first moment of relief was over, Claire felt
as if it might have been better had Nathalie not been there to call him
back to dishonour.  She did as she was told, but with no eagerness of
love, feeling, indeed, as if all love for her brother had been killed in
her heart.  It was not so, for, thank God, love does not die so easily,
but it gave her a fierce sense of satisfaction to believe it.

They did not tell Mme. de Beaudrillart that night how near he had been
to death; though perhaps, poor woman, when she heard that monsieur le
baron, in going to look at the river in its turbulence, had leaned upon
a rotten rail, and had slipped into the stream, she guessed.  Jacques
went back at once that night, under pretence of its being unsafe for
chance passers-by, and managed to break down and roughly mend again a
piece of the railing.  Old Antoine came by as he was at his work, and
chuckled.

"So you are acting up to your name, Monsieur Charpentier, he, he, he!
Strange that I should never have seen the hole as I passed, he, he, he!"

"Your eyes are not so good as they were, Antoine," said the gardener,
coolly.

"No, that's true; and it's natural the glass of good beer I got up there
should have improved their sight.  Well, I'm not a talker."

"I'd keep to that if I were you," said Jacques, whistling, "for we all
know you're a good deal besides.  If you don't see all you might, the
saints know whether monsieur le baron has not looked at you with his
eyes shut!  There, that will do till the morning.  Good-night, Antoine.
You can tell your neighbours that monsieur le baron was leaning over to
see if it was all right, when the rail gave way, and gave him a bad
wetting.  And when the next storm blows down a few branches up by the
chateau you may have them for your store in the winter.  I'll see about
it.  Old fox!" he muttered, as he turned away.  "But I think that will
muzzle him.  If all else could be as easily put right!  Or if one only
knew what Monsieur Leon did it for!  But perhaps now he will take it
quieter, whatever it was."

Through the night Nathalie watched her husband, sore misery in her
heart, and her young limbs aching.  The latter part of it he slept well,
and when he woke in the morning he was himself again--something more
than himself, she thought, indeed, after he had called to her.

"Nathalie!"

"Dear."

"Is it true?  Did you save me?"

"Jacques and I."

He said no more, but lay watching her.  Presently he exclaimed: "How you
have suffered!"

She shuddered.  She knew that the hours had written on her face with
lines which, come what would, would never be erased.  She took his hand
in both hers.  "Leon, I want you to promise me something."

"That I won't do it again?  Well, I promise.  I did not think any one
could care so much.  It seemed the best way for myself; but when I was
in the water--" He stopped, and went on in a minute: "It struck me as
rather a sneaky way of getting out of it."

She sank down by his side, and buried her face in her arms.  "It was
cruel, cruel to those who love you!"

He put out his hand and touched her gently.

"You really love me so much!  Still!"

"Still?  Oh, Leon, more than ever!"

She heard him murmuring to himself as if wondering.  "More than ever!
Well," he went on, raising himself on his elbow, "I owe you something
for sticking to me.  You shall have your way."

With a sudden cry of tenderness and pity, Nathalie flung her arms round
him and sobbed.  At that moment what a way it seemed!  Was she right?
Could she give him up?  She was speechless, thankful, miserable, all at
once, and, seeing it, he tried to jest a little.

"Suggest what I shall put on for the occasion--my best or my oldest
coat!  One has no precedent to go by--"

She interrupted him, eagerly: "Leon, let us go to Paris."

"Thrust my head into the lion's mouth?"

"Whatever--whatever happens, it will not be so terrible for you there as
here--at Poissy.  Telegraph to Monsieur Rodoin, and he will let them
know that you are coming up by the morning express--if you are strong
enough to travel."

"Yes, yes!" he cried, with sudden energy, "you are right.  Then my
mother--Poissy--will be spared something of humiliation.  Send off a
messenger at once with the telegram, and order the carriage in an hour.
And--and, Nathalie, let them know, keep them away; I cannot bear my
mother's reproaches."

They fell on her; Claire's with stinging sharpness, but the conflict in
her own heart had this effect that words did not succeed in wounding.
Mme. de Beaudrillart was more passive; it struck Nathalie that the blow
had stunned her, and that physically her stately height had shrunk.  She
kept in her own room, sending only a message to her son that she could
not wish him good-bye.  Felicie wandered miserably about, suggesting
impossible plans, though unable to realise that anything so terrible as
Claire suggested could fall on Poissy.  "If only Monsieur Georges were
here, I am sure he would think of something, or if only I might go and
ask the abbe!  If Nathalie had attended more to his advice, and less to
those dreadful books of hers, this would never have been permitted to
come upon us.  There they are in her room still, in spite of all that
monseigneur said."

Claire stared.  "How do you know he said anything!"

"What else can he have had to say?  He asked me whether it was not a
great pleasure to have my sister-in-law with us, and I said I was afraid
she held very strange opinions, so of course he spoke."

"Oh, I wish you wouldn't talk!" cried Claire, irritably.  "Have they
gone?"

"They would not go so unceremoniously,"--Felicie was strong in
etiquette.  "Besides,"--she broke again into sobs--"dear, dear Leon
could not leave us without a single word!"

It was a strange farewell when the carriage drove round: Leon kissing
his sisters; Felicie clinging to him; Claire white, cold, and impassive
as she presented her cheek.  At the gates stood Jacques, hat off,
sadness on his face.  When they had gone a short distance, Leon turned
impulsively and looked back.  The gardener was in the road, gazing after
them; behind him rose a frowning Poissy, for the day was sunless, the
stone had lost its mellow tint, and the roof was dark and unbeautiful.
Leon shivered.

"Are you cold?" asked Nathalie, anxiously.  She was afraid that the
night might have left a chill, and wrapped the rug round him.

"I do not think that will warm me," he said, with a smile which she felt
to be piteous.

They had driven a mile before he asked whether she would like to leave
word at her father's.  "We have time."

But Nathalie refused.  She did not tell him that she did not dare face
the possibility of an outburst from M.  Bourget, but she owned that she
knew he would disapprove of the course they had taken.

"It seems to me that every one disapproves," he muttered, restlessly.

Then Nathalie took a resolution.

"I am afraid you will be angry with me," she said, timidly, "but when
the bishop was at Poissy he saw that something was wrong, and spoke to
me.  I was sure he was to be trusted, and I told him."

"Ah, you are a woman," said Leon, who told everything.  But he said it
with a smile.

"He was very kind, and helped me," she went on, more freely.  "And he--
he did not disapprove.  I believe he thought it was the most noble act
that you could do."

Leon turned his face to her, pleased as a child at praise, though he
only said, "Ah?"

His spirits rose almost to their old level when they were in the train.
He had a power which she envied, of letting himself be distracted by the
events of the moment; and while, as the train neared Paris, a painful
tension held her limbs in a vice, he might have been on an errand
differing in no degree from one of every-day importance.

The train ran smoothly into the station as he laid down a newspaper with
a remark on a scene in the Chambers.  Standing on the platform, Nathalie
recognised M.  Rodoin.  He came hastily towards them, and at the same
moment she saw two men approach.  M.  Rodoin said, in a low tone: "There
will be no open scandal.  They know that you have come voluntarily, and
we can all go together as far as the carriage.  You have acted
courageously, Monsieur de Beaudrillart, and I honour you.  Trust to me
to see to madame."

Nathalie's throat was parched, her head swam; but now, more than ever,
she must call her fortitude to her aid.  At the door of the carriage she
kissed her husband, even smiled at him, though with quivering lips.

"God bless you, Leon; I shall be near."

White, mute, confused, he stepped into the carriage; one man followed
him, the other clambered to the box, and they rolled away.

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

BEFORE THE TRIAL.

When Nathalie, by a strong effort of will, succeeded in calling back her
thoughts from following her husband, her eyes fell upon M.  Rodoin, who
sat respectfully opposite to her in his own carriage.  The change in the
lawyer's manner was indeed remarkable.  When Leon had consulted him
before, in spite of his outward politeness her keen intuition had
detected a certain veiled distrust which had annoyed her, while it was
too impalpable to be openly noticed.  She had been convinced that he
disbelieved his client's story; and twenty times had wished that her
husband's case had been in other hands.  She had looked at him with
disfavour, taking exception to the coldness of his expression and the
eccentricity of his nose, which, starting on a straight line, suddenly
towards the end developed an upward turned knob, on which the eye
fastened itself to the exclusion of his other features, and which seemed
to accentuate the air of incredulity which displeased her.  The knob, it
need hardly be said, remained, but it had acquired so different an
expression that although she read anxiety in the look with which he
regarded her, its general tenor was that of unmistakable pity and
good-will.

When he saw that she was giving him her attention, he leaned forward and
said, abruptly:

"Yes, my dear lady, I congratulate you.  Your husband is acting with
extreme courage, but you should not be alone."

"Servants talk," she said, quietly.

"There are his sisters?"

"Ah, but they were strongly opposed to his coming.  So was my father,
and you yourself, Monsieur Rodoin, permit me to say, did not suggest
it."

He put up his hand.  "Your reproach is quite justified.  Honestly, I did
not believe that Monsieur de Beaudrillart would ever run so counter to
the traditions of his family as to take so sensible a course.  No,
madame, do not suppose I am speaking offensively.  No Beaudrillart would
be deficient in courage; but this required another form of courage--one
which they would be slow to recognise as such; it surprised me beyond
words when your telegram was put into my hands.  If it was your doing,
madame--"

He bowed respectfully, his knowledge of men recognising in the new lines
in Nathalie's beautiful face what the struggle had cost her; but she
scarcely heard his words.  She put her head out of the window as they
rattled over the stones, trying to catch a last glimpse of the carriage
which contained her husband.  It was but of sight, and her next question
was almost a sob:

"Where do they take him, monsieur?"

"To the Palais de Justice."  And as she shuddered, he added: "You will
have ample opportunities of seeing him.  Do not fear."

"To-night?"

"To-morrow, I hope."

"Meanwhile we must think, we must act for him," she said, driving back
her own anguish.  "Who do you suggest for his counsel!"

"Madame, there can be no better than Maitre Barraud, and I went to him
on receipt of your telegram.  He was so touched by the baron's action
that he at last consented.  The Procureur de la Republique is Maitre
Miron."

"He is terribly formidable!" cried Nathalie.

"It is impossible to deny it; both are of the first rank, and I own
frankly that I do not think there is a sou to choose between them.  But
I am quite content to have secured my man.  One thing is necessary, and
I should like you to impress it strongly upon monsieur le baron: that he
must be absolutely frank with Maitre Barraud, place the matter clearly
in his hands, and permit himself no reservations."

She smiled faintly.

"Reservations are at an end, Monsieur Rodoin."

"All the better.  Our one chance lies in perfect openness.  We tell our
story as it happened; it is for the jury to judge of the probabilities.
Unfortunately, we must bear in mind that it is not always truth which
carries the most innocent face.  This Lemaire has a lie tucked away
somewhere, and he will naturally take more pains with it than with any
other part of his case.  But if once Maitre Barraud gets his finger on
it he will have it out."

"The lie," said Nathalie, calmly, "says that my husband never repaid the
money."

M.  Rodoin waited for the rattle of passing cabs to subside before he
replied.

"I do not know."

She started, flushing crimson.  "Monsieur! you do not know!"

"Ah, madame, hear me patiently!  I am sure that Monsieur de Beaudrillart
repaid it--though I wish to Heaven he had insisted upon proper forms and
claimed a receipt--but we must allow that it is quite possible that
Monsieur Lemaire never heard of the repayment.  He says he was told of
the affair by the count; that I take leave to doubt, for it seems to me
an extraordinary revengeful act for a dying man, after he had kept
silence for six years, to put the reputation of his cousin at the mercy
of another.  I prefer to believe that Monsieur Lemaire contrived to
ferret out some of the facts, and to jump at other conclusions.  And I
base my opinion a good deal upon what I have found out of the man's
life."

"Yes!  Pray go on," said Nathalie, leaning forward, her eyes fixed upon
him.

"He is a gambler, extravagant, worthless.  His debts amount to a sum
which his inheritance from Monsieur de Cadanet will hardly liquidate,
and here you have a motive for the action.  He is a neglectful husband--
said by some to be absolutely unkind.  Certainly his wife does not
present the appearance of a very happy woman."

"Might there not be something among Monsieur de Cadanet's papers?"

"Monsieur Lemaire is executor," returned the lawyer, significantly.
"However, we shall not neglect any possibility."  She fell into a long
silence, which he did not attempt to break.  Among all the De
Beaudrillarts, past and present, who had ever consulted him, he had met
with none in whom he felt so deep an interest as in this young baroness.
He had liked the honesty of her hazel eyes before, but the divine
sympathy he read in them as she looked after her husband appealed more
directly to his heart.  Not for years had he felt sentiment so near
gaining the upper hand.

"Madame," he exclaimed at last, "surely your father would be an
excellent person to have with you!  Permit me to telegraph for him."

She made a sign in the negative.

"It would not do, monsieur.  My poor father is bitterly disappointed.
He was so proud of my position, of the future of his little grandson,
that he cannot forgive us for failing him.  It is difficult to explain,
and it may seem only laughable to you, but I think he was more
Beaudrillart than the De Beaudrillarts.  He would reproach my husband,
he would think of nothing but the disgrace--no, he must not come."

"I am wondering--"

"What?"

"You must have had a heavy task among so many opposing forces, madame--I
am wondering what you had on your side!"

"My husband's better self," she said, turning her eyes on his.  "But you
may conceive that it was difficult for him to fly in the face of a
hundred prejudices."

"Difficult for you, too," reflected the lawyer.  Aloud he said: "Well,
madame, courage.  Whatever happens we are on the right road, and it is
evident that you know best how to guard the honour of the De
Beaudrillarts.  But I wish I could persuade you to make my house your
home.  Madame Rodoin would be only too much gratified."  He uttered his
last sentence with a gulp, truth presenting itself in forcible
contradiction, and it must be owned that Nathalie's immediate negative
relieved him.

"I pass many hours alone, monsieur," she said, with a flitting smile,
"so do not waste your thoughts on me when there is so much besides to
arrange.  If you can find me some task I cannot tell you how grateful I
should be.  Is there any possible point on which I could be of
assistance?"

"We shall find something," declared M.  Rodoin, mendaciously.

"And I shall see Maitre Barraud?"

They were in the Avenue de l'Opera; Paris, brilliant, indifferent Paris,
spread its gay attractions on either side.

"Oddly enough, there he goes," said the lawyer.  She bent forward
eagerly.

"That man?  With the face of a boy?"

"Ah, madame, never mind his face.  It makes a good mask.  But you will
certainly see him.  He will have an interview with your husband
to-morrow, and I will arrange for your own as soon as possible.  Here we
are in the Rue Neuve Saint Augustin, and here is your hotel.  Will you
make me one promise?"

"Let me hear."

"To eat and to sleep."

"That is two," she said, trying to smile, "but I will try."

"Ill, you will only be an added anxiety to Monsieur de Beaudrillart."

"Yes.  I shall not be ill.  I am stronger than you can conceive.  It
frightens me, sometimes, to find how much I can bear."

M.  Rodoin saw her ensconced in her rooms at the hotel, and gave his
address to the landlord, in case madame wanted anything.  He bade her
farewell with the words, "We shall triumph!" but his solitary
reflections, as he drove towards his own house, were far from cheerful.
"Unless some miracle happens, it is a lost case already," he muttered,
"and so Barraud thinks, and chafes.  Yet there's roguery somewhere, I'll
stake my head.  If one only knew what proof Lemaire means to bring
forward, or what one has to fight against!  It matters nothing; we must
fight somehow.  After she has achieved the miracle of endowing my young
baron with a backbone, what other miracles may not follow!  And
meanwhile--" He plunged his head in his hands and sat revolving,
considering, rejecting.  He hurried in the evening to Maitre Barraud,
and brought upon himself the imprecations of his friend, who was just
issuing from his door, cigar in hand, on his way to the Opera.

"Plague me more about this confounded Beaudrillart case, and I swear
I'll fling the whole thing up.  Man, there's a time for all things."

"But, my dear Albert--"

The other waved his cigar.

"Not a word.  If you had not unfortunately known me from my cradle, and
basely traded upon that privilege, I should never have been saddled with
a preposterously hopeless muddle, out of which there is nothing to be
got but discomfiture."

"When you have seen Madame Leon--"

"Madame Leon!"  The young man uttered a smothered roar.  "Out upon you!
It is a few well-applied tears, is it, which has set you to pester your
friends?"

"No, mocker!  Madame Leon is a woman who acts, and does not weep.  But
you must see her, if only to give her confidence; for, unluckily, I
pointed you out to her as she drove to the hotel to-day, and she took
you for a boy."

Maitre Barraud was an excellent fellow, but his weakness was vanity.

"A boy!" he repeated, in a nettled voice.  "A boy!  I should like her to
know--Well, what is all this about?  Of course I must see the woman in
order to scrape together a few materials upon which to string as many
words as there are onions on the stick a Breton carries over his
shoulder.  And I know what I shall get out of the interview:
protestations, and exclamations, and maunderings about false
accusations, and an ill-used angel of a husband, and all the lot of it.
Peste! a woman at the back of a case is the very devil!"

"Some day, my dear friend, Madame Barraud will have her revenge."

"Heaven forbid!  At any rate, her charming figure has not yet presented
itself upon the horizon.  Here is the Opera, and now I presume I shall
be left in peace.  Take with you my assurance that your client will be
condemned to a fine and a year's imprisonment.  He will get off with
that because it was six years ago, and our juries, bless them! have a
sneaking sympathy for the follies of youth."

He waved his hand, and ran lightly up the steps, while M.  Rodoin
proceeded thoughtfully on his way, resisting the impulse to turn into
the Rue Neuve Saint Augustin, and learn whether Mme.  Leon had obeyed
his injunction to dine.

She had forced herself to this, but the sleeping was a different matter.
Exhausted as she was by the emotions of the previous night, she flung
herself on her bed, hoping to lose the too vivid consciousness with
which her mind busied itself round her husband's cruel position.  For an
hour she slept.  But in that time a storm of wind and rain had risen,
and the rattling of the window and the lashing torrent which beat
against the outer shutters aroused her with the startled fancy that the
fierce gurgle of the river was again in her ears.  Alas! the remembrance
of where her husband was spending this night was scarcely less painful.
She slipped out of bed, and fell on her knees by its side.  The tears at
which Maitre Barraud had mocked, and which she had so long restrained,
now broke from her with a violence almost suffocating.  She pictured his
forlorn misery, the horror of mind which would seize him afresh whenever
he realised where and what he was; she imagined she even heard him
cursing her for having forced this fate upon him.  Other wives of whom
she had read had risked everything to save their husbands from prison;
she had made it her task to persuade him to yield himself deliberately
to its disgrace.  A profound pity moved her.  She knew that she was
stronger than he with his light, butterfly nature.  If only she could
have sinned and suffered for him!  She could think of herself in a cell
without shrinking, while to picture him there was agony; and her sobs
and prayers redoubled at the sad figure which rose before her eyes.

The tears which exhausted relieved her, but she slept no more.  She lay
turning in her heart what she could do for Leon, and conscious of her
own weakness.  She had not yet forgotten her former discontent with M.
Rodoin--although she was forced to allow that this time he had presented
himself as a different man--and the sight of Maitre Barraud had caused
her extreme dismay.  In his round, chubby face she had seen nothing to
inspire confidence; she distrusted the lawyer's assurances, and the idea
of Leon's fate having been committed to a mere boy added intolerably to
her anxiety, and flung more responsibility upon her own shoulders.  If,
as M.  Rodoin appeared to think, the trial would be brought on very
shortly, there could scarcely be time to change counsel, but she
promised herself to consult the lawyer as to the possibility of engaging
another of more experience.

She had not the opportunity for this, however, as soon as she desired;
for after waiting in extreme impatience for M.  Rodoin's appearance, and
for the permission to see her husband, which she trusted he might bring,
he came at about twelve o'clock, and Maitre Barraud with him.

The young counsel had, it must be owned, the air of a dog dragged with
extreme unwillingness by his chain, or, as it rather appeared to
Nathalie, that of a school-boy in the sulks.  Although she could never
lose the nobility of her expression, the sorrow and sleeplessness
through which she had passed had robbed the young wife of much of her
beauty, and left her pale, with dark rings round her eyes, and he was
obstinately determined not to behold the charm of which M.  Rodoin
raved.  He was enraged with her, too, for her allusion to a sore
subject--his boyish appearance--while as this forced itself upon her
again, she found it difficult to conceal her dismay.  But her first
question was as to the interview.

"There is no difficulty," M.  Rodoin assured her.  "You can see your
husband between two and three.  Maitre Barraud has just come from him."

"Oh, monsieur!"  She turned to him eagerly.  "You have seen him!  How is
he?  How does he look?  Has he slept?"

The young man flung a glance at his friend, which said, "Did I not tell
you?  See what you have brought upon me!" and answered aloud, with a
certain brusqueness, "Apparently, madame, monsieur le baron is in his
usual health, but my inquiries did not take that direction."

She coloured.

"Pardon, monsieur; I should have remembered that the situation is not so
novel to you as to us.  Did--did your other inquiries give you the
information you require?"

Deaf to the tremor in her voice, Maitre Barraud shrugged his shoulders,
and looked more like a naughty boy than ever.

"No, madame," he said, "I cannot say that I have got much, and I shall
be obliged if you will give me your own account of the case--as shortly
as possible," he added, in alarm.

Nathalie felt no temptation to discursiveness; there was too much pain
in the recital.  When she had finished, he hastily got up.

"You do not want anything more, I imagine, madame?" he asked, looking at
his watch.

"One word, monsieur.  If--if you find yourself in want of any
assistance--I scarcely know how to express it--you will, I trust, not
spare expense--we should wish my husband to have the best, the very best
advice and experience--"

"Oh, thanks, madame," returned M.  Barraud carelessly.  "I shall have
the usual juniors; M.  Rodoin will take care of that.  You are coming?"
he added, severely to his friend.

"I will return, madame, and drive you to the Palais de Justice," said
the lawyer, bowing respectfully over her hand.  The next moment she was
alone.

"His juniors!"  The words sounded like a mockery, and Nathalie gazed
despairingly at the door out of which this mannerless boy had betaken
himself.  The idea that Leon's interests should be in his hands was so
terrible that when M.  Rodoin appeared, punctual to his hour, she met
him with reproaches.

"But, madame, madame," cried the amazed lawyer, "you are under some
extraordinary misapprehension!  Maitre Barraud's reputation is
world-wide; France has no greater pleader; we are only too fortunate--
owing, I may say, to my friendship with his father--to have secured
him!"

"At his age!" exclaimed Nathalie, incredulously.  "Monsieur, it is
impossible!  And he does not give one the idea of a man of power."

"Oh, if that is all, I assure you, madame, that you may console
yourself.  He has his eccentricities, and one is a dislike to being
taken seriously in private.  As to his youth, certainly he is young for
his position, though older than he looks.  But that is only a proof of
his amazing talents.  No, no, madame, you may be perfectly at your ease
as to Maitre Barraud.  If any one can right this unhappy business, he is
the man.  Shall we start?"

The poor wife scarcely knew how the interval between leaving the hotel
and arriving at the Palais de Justice was passed.  She had a confused
impression of streets, of walls, of eyes which she felt to be full of
curiosity, however much reason assured her that there was nothing in the
carriage to attract attention.  Like a sleep-walker, she got out of the
carriage when it stopped, and followed M.  Rodoin along passages and up
stairs which to him were long familiar.  She noticed nothing; when he
stopped, she stopped; when he went on, she followed.  Details were lost
upon her, and the first thing which seemed to bring back her benumbed
senses was the finding herself in her husband's arms.

That roused her, and she had a momentary rapture before she flung back
her head to let her eyes devour his face.  It was white, and, in spite
of its roundness, haggard, but not more so than when she left him.  She
had lost the proportion of the past days, and her feeling was that they
had been parted for weeks.

"How do they treat you?" she whispered, glancing round.  "Not so badly."
He tried to speak cheerfully.  "Beyond having to put up with a lot of
questions intended to make me own myself a rascal, I have not much to
complain of.  Have you written home!"

"This morning."

"And so have I; but with the conviction that one's letters are read, it
is not possible to be very effusive."

"And, oh, Leon, Maitre Barraud!"

"What of him?"  He spoke quickly, and M.  Rodoin, who had kept
discreetly in the background, advanced, smiling.

"Madame would be more happy if she could have your assurances, monsieur
le baron, that he is really an eminent man.  His appearance affronts
her."

"He is so ridiculously young!" persisted Nathalie.

"Oh, he is all right.  But I do not think he is hopeful.  Who can be?"
muttered Leon, running his hands through his hair, and losing his
momentary elation.  "Now that you have made me give myself away, what is
there to say?"

Her only answer was a mute caress, and a cautious cough from M.  Rodoin
was intended to point out that in prisons, at any rate, walls may have
ears.  The lawyer remarked, in an undertone:

"If any one can turn this Lemaire inside out and destroy his credit, it
will be Albert Barraud."

"Oh, the scoundrel will have got his story pat."

"We shall demand to examine Monsieur de Cadanet's banking accounts,"
went on the other.  "If there is an entry of two hundred thousand francs
about the date of your repayment, it will be to a certain extent a
corroboration.  Had the count absolutely no confidential servant in the
house?"

Leon shook his head.  "To my knowledge, none."

"Madame Lemaire was married at the time?"

Nathalie raised her head from her husband's shoulder.

"Has he a wife?"

"Poor woman, yes.  At any rate, monsieur le baron has drawn the teeth of
their principal witness, the concierge who was carrying the letters.  If
it were only as a matter of expediency," he went on, addressing Leon,
"your admission has, beyond a doubt, weakened their case.  Somehow or
other they had proof up to a certain point; Maitre Barraud was convinced
of it.  Beyond this they can have none, and the rope lies slack in their
hands."

"Ah, yes, listen, my friend!" cried Nathalie, joyfully.

Leon had made an effort, strange to his nature, to control himself and
spare his wife in their interview.  He had been inexpressibly touched by
the swiftness of rescue she had brought to his aid on that terrible
night.  He knew that at this moment she was wearing gloves, lest his
eyes should be offended by the cuts and scratches on her hands.  He had
strung himself heroically to the point of concealing his misery, and of
letting her suppose that the worst was past.  But, as is often the case,
he resented a cheerful view on her part, and could not allow her, even
for an instant, to lighten the weight of the situation.  In a moment he
was plunged into black gloom, and assuring her that whatever happened he
could never survive the humiliation of the trial.  M.  Rodoin discreetly
withdrew to the farthest limits, and stood regarding a black spot on the
wall.  He turned a deaf ear as well as a back, but he could not help
hearing a confused murmur of pleading words, sighs, groans, and muttered
exclamations of misery.  The lawyer fidgeted, looked at his watch, and
took a sudden resolution.  He turned round sharply.

"Monsieur le baron," he said, brusquely, "permit me to point out that if
you kill madame before the trial, there, will be one good head the less
on our side.  That is all."

"Monsieur!" cried Nathalie, reproachfully.

"Yes, yes, madame, I am perfectly aware that most women's hearts are as
tough as leather, and yours may be among them, but there are exceptions.
It will be awkward if yours should turn out an exception.  Monsieur
Leon would do well to recollect this, and, also, that the complication
is one of his own making."

The young man straightened himself.

"You hit--hard, Monsieur Rodoin," he said, breathing heavily.

"Because I never in my life esteemed you half so much as I do now,
monsieur," said the lawyer, in a low voice, "or pitied you less.  You
committed a wrong act, so have many of us.  You have the courage to
expiate it, as many of us have not.  You will gain the respect of honest
men, and you have your wife's devoted love.  Allons, monsieur, whatever
happens, you are not so much to be pitied.  The time is up; here comes
the warder.  Madame will never forgive me for what I have had the
presumption to say; nevertheless, she and I will go and cogitate over
the best line of defence."

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

M.  GEORGES TO THE RESCUE.

Nathalie had written a hasty line to her father before leaving Poissy.
He received it with an outbreak of temper, such as of late had become
frequent with him.  He had almost given up going to the cafe, or
frequenting the streets; mostly he sat in his own room, gloomy,
unapproachable.  His appetite was unaffected, but to Fanchon's
mortification he was indifferent what he ate, and his favourite dish of
cold beef en vinaigrette, however carefully prepared, failed to elicit
so much as a grunt of satisfaction.  His fellow-townsmen found his
conduct inexplicable, not a word of Poissy crossing his lips; and as for
the photographer's window, he would have walked a mile to avoid passing
it.  One or two of his intimates declared that they breathed more
freely; but, on the whole, Tours had been proud of his indomitable
energy, his weaknesses, his blunt manners, and his great fortune, and
regarded his depression with uneasiness.

"For at his age, when a man suddenly loses interest in what he most
cares about, it is a bad sign," said Dr Mathorin, taking off his hat,
and rubbing his bald head with a large coloured handkerchief.  He was
walking across the long bridge with M.  Georges.  "Poor old fellow!"

"He has not called you in!"

"Not he.  But if this talk of making him mayor comes to anything, I'll
go and sound him on the matter, and perhaps get a chance of a word, and
of having my head snapped off."

"Quite between ourselves," remarked M.  Georges, cautiously, "I
understand that the opposition is led by Leroux."

"Little wasp!  Though with such a liver, one ought not to be hard on
him, and by all that is yellow, here he comes!  Good-day, Monsieur
Leroux.  Where are you off to?"

"Have you seen the paper?  Have you heard the news?"

"Not we."

"Ah, this explains it all!  Now we know why old Bourget has sulked like
a bear with a sore head!  A fine end for Poissy and its grandeur indeed!
Shameful!  Absolutely disgraceful!"

"Monsieur Leroux," interrupted M.  Georges, gravely, "be good enough to
explain yourself."

For the little lawyer was positively dancing with excitement.

"Not a son-in-law to be so proud of, and to fling at all our heads,
after all!" he cried.  "And to have kept it so secret!  When I opened
the paper, I thought I must be dreaming.  Monsieur de Beaudrillart is in
prison for stealing."

The doctor ejaculated an amazed oath.  M.  Georges turned crimson and
then white, and made a threatening step towards Leroux.  He had never
fought with any one in his peaceable life, but at this moment he felt as
if he must kill the miserable little slanderer.  Leroux hastily stepped
back, and with triumphant fingers unfolded the newspaper and pointed to
a paragraph.

"See for yourselves, then, if you do not believe; it is no invention of
mine.  There.  Read the sentence aloud, Monsieur Georges.  `Yesterday
the Baron de Beaudrillart was arrested in Paris on a charge of stealing
the sum of two hundred thousand francs, the property of Monsieur
Lemaire, nephew by marriage to the defunct Comte de Cadanet.'  Oh, I
know it by heart already.  Read, read, doctor.  This explains, eh?  Was
there ever anything so disgraceful?  This comes of your barons, your old
families, your blue blood!  A thief--the owner of Poissy a thief!  Why,
it disgraces us all, the whole arrondissement!"  And M.  Leroux spat on
the ground to express his sense of personal pollution.

Meanwhile, with a heart wrung with distress, M.  Georges read the
terrible words, and the doctor, spectacles on the point of his nose,
devoured them over his shoulder.  When he had gone twice through them,
M.  Georges dropped his hand and the newspaper by his side, and stared
at the ground, speechless.

"Well, what do you say now?" said Leroux, sidling up.  "A pretty black
business, isn't it?  A common thief!"

"The poor women!" muttered the doctor.

"Oh, come, they've had their day, and it's our turn now.  This will
bring down their starch a bit.  And as for old Bourget, with his eternal
Poissy this and Poissy that, as if the whole world had been made on
purpose to carry Poissy, we sha'n't be choked with his talk any more.
This puts an end to a good deal, for I should like to know why he should
be picked out to be mayor, except because he was father-in-law to this
fine gentleman at Poissy?  Not such a desirable connection now, not one
to--Sacree! help! murder!"

For, to his infinite amazement, the little lawyer found himself swung
off the pavement by the collar of his coat, and, after a shake which
seemed to loosen all the teeth in his head, left staggering in the
middle of the road, his newspaper flying after him.  So unexpected and
so prompt had been the action of M.  Georges that the doctor had not had
time to interfere, nor, indeed, had he much desire to do so.  No one
else was very near at the time, and Leroux pulled himself together,
vowing vengeance and actions as he sullenly edged away.

"Be off," said M.  Georges, calmly, "for if I hear any more of this vile
talk you may find yourself with something worse than a shake.  Doctor,
this news has completely upset me."

"So it appears," said Dr Mathurin, chuckling.  "I should rather say it
had led to the upsetting of other people.  Monsieur Georges, you are a
man of force, but I am afraid you have laid yourself open to an action
for assault."

The other waved his hand indifferently.

"Let him bring it.  My little patrimony can defray the expense, and his
malice is a matter of no consequence.  But this sad, this terrible
affair!  My friend, I must go at once to Poissy.  If there is anything
in which I can serve them, it will be my greatest privilege to be
allowed to be useful.  I shudder to think of the effect of such a blow
upon madame and the poor young ladies.  I imagine--but it is not
possible for you to imagine--what it must be for those so bound up in
Poissy, and in monsieur le baron, when it shocks even us!  It is
horrible, impossible, villainous!  He must be the victim of some cursed
plot.  I could almost believe that miserable little Leroux had invented
and inserted it for the mere purpose of giving pain, had such a thing
been possible; but I presume--"

"No, no, my friend," said the doctor, wringing his hand, "the thing did
not grow in his brain, and, indeed, there was a whisper yesterday,
although I did not repeat it.  This explains Monsieur Bourget's
attitude, poor man!  A crushing humiliation for him, a very heavy blow
for all.  And the poor wife!  Yes, I think you are right to go there,
though it will be a terribly trying visit.  Pray present them with my
most respectful sympathy."

M.  Georges was informed that Mme. de Beaudrillart was receiving no one,
but that the young ladies would see him presently, if he would kindly go
into the salon.  He fancied that the servant admitting him had a
frightened air, and glanced at him as if in hopes of his speaking; but
he dared not trust himself on so delicate a subject.  He waited for some
time before the sisters, both dressed in black, came in together.

The alteration in Mlle.  Claire shocked him.  She had aged ten years;
her face, bloodless and sallow, had grown sharper, her eyes were
tearless, and she carried herself more stiffly upright than ever.
Felicie's grief, on the contrary, was less restrained; her eyes were
scarlet, her face swollen with crying, and as she came in at the door
she stretched out her hand, and exclaimed in a voice of despair:

"Oh, Monsieur Georges, then you at least do not desert us!"  He was so
touched by this appeal that he hurried forward and bowed low over her
hand.

"Desert you, mademoiselle, because Monsieur Leon is the victim of a
shameful accusation!  No one would be capable of such baseness, least of
all an old servant of your family.  I have hurried here to assure you of
my profound sympathy, and to say that no one who knew monsieur le baron
could for a moment believe him capable of such an act.  It is a
miserable calumny which will easily be disproved."

"Ah, that is exactly what I say to my sister," said Felicie, cheering
up.  "I assure her that if she only will have faith, things _must_ come
right, and our dear Leon be cleared.  Claire, do you hear what Monsieur
Georges thinks?"

"Monsieur Georges is very good," said Claire, with quivering voice.  "I
am sure he has always wished us well.  But whether he is cleared or not,
the disgrace, the dreadful blot on our family remains, for nothing can
remove the fact that a Baron de Beaudrillart has been arrested for--for
stealing."  Her voice grew hoarse, and the last words almost choked her.
M.  Georges, simple soul as he was, knew enough of the world to be
startled by such an assertion.

"Oh, mademoiselle," he exclaimed, sitting on the edge of his chair, his
hat clasped in front of him, "you are not serious!  The best and noblest
person who ever lived might meet with such a misfortune as has overtaken
monsieur le baron, and far from being a blot, it would be no more than
an added reason for our respect.  If I might--might presume to say so, I
think you exaggerate the misfortune."

Felicie expected her sister's anger to be raised by this unusual
plain-speaking, but she only sighed.

"Unfortunately, you do not know all; but we are, I assure you, very
grateful for your kindness.  I believe you are aware that I have always
been convinced that you were my brother's best adviser."

Monsieur Georges felt his face glow.  He had suffered a good deal of
humiliation from Mme. de Beaudrillart, and had never expected to have
his services acknowledged with gratitude by any member of the family.
He hesitated, stammered, and broke into an almost incoherent reply,
staring hard at his hat.

"Oh, mademoiselle--if I could think so! such kindness--impossible to
forget!"  Then recovering himself, he added, with more self-composure,
"You will at least permit me to ask whether there is no way in which I
could have the privilege of being of use!  Through the kindness of a
grandparent I have succeeded to a small inheritance, which places me in
an independent position.  I only venture to trouble you with this
information because it--it might remove any generous scruples from your
mind.  Nothing, mesdemoiselles,"--he bowed first to one and then to the
other--"would gratify me so much as to be permitted to serve you and
monsieur le baron.  Shall I fly to Paris!  Can I take anything off your
hands here?  Command me.  I am absolutely at your disposal."

On Mlle.  Claire's heart, hot and sore, this respectful homage,
unchanged by the circumstances which to her had changed the world, fell
like the very dew of heaven.  If her sister had not been there, she
would have offered him her hand to kiss; but as it was, she spoke with a
strangely softened voice.

"Do not think us ungrateful.  Believe me, your kindness will be always
remembered.  There is nothing to be done at present.  Monsieur
Rodoin,"--M.  Georges bowed--"and Maitre Barraud,"--he bowed still
lower--"are in charge of the case.  I trust they may be successful, but
as I have already said, such a blow cannot be wiped out even by an
acquittal.  It has shattered my mother, so that her state causes us the
greatest uneasiness.  Will you allow me to offer you some refreshment!"

He stood up, held his hat to his chest, and bowed profoundly.

"On no account, mademoiselle.  I am deeply sensible of your goodness,
and with your permission shall venture to walk out another day from
Tours, unless--unless, mademoiselle, you would allow me the great
happiness of once more occupying my old room--for a few days, I should
explain, merely until this unfortunate affair is arranged, and monsieur
le baron returns.  Under your directions it is possible I could be of
some trifling use, and leave you more free to console Madame de
Beaudrillart.  At all events, I might serve as a companion for Monsieur
Raoul."

Claire was looking at him uncertainly, when, to her amazement, before
she could speak, Felicie interposed with dignity.

"You are very good, monsieur, and we accept your offer gratefully.  Yes,
Claire, I am Mademoiselle de Beaudrillart, and I take it upon myself in
Leon's absence.  Raoul is terribly in the way; only this morning he has
cut a whole skein of silk into little bits, and if Monsieur Georges can
come to-morrow we will send in for him at twelve o'clock."

M.  Georges was frightened, amazed, delighted.  Never before had he seen
Mlle.  Felicie so assert herself, and he could hardly believe that her
younger sister would admit the intrusion.  But whatever Claire felt, she
said nothing in opposition; she even smiled at him for the first time in
the interview.  "We have no right to ask it," she said, "but if you
will--" If he would!  He walked home on air.  Such urbanity!  Such
graciousness!  Such appreciation!  Without proof, the interview had more
than ever convinced him of M. de Beaudrillart's innocence, and of the
fact of a conspiracy against him.  So enthusiastic were his feelings
that he felt himself capable of rushing upon anything, even death
itself, in defence of the honour of Poissy; and when the remembrance of
his assault upon Leroux came to him he laughed aloud, and was conscious
of a ferocious desire that he had gone to the extreme length of kicking
him, or even of dropping him into the river.  He wished with all his
heart that he might meet M.  Bourget, and pour some of his feelings into
his ear; but, if he had known it, there was small chance of this
encounter, since the ex-builder avoided the road to Poissy as if it were
infected with the plague.

His gloom had in no degree lightened, and, although he had returned to
the cafe and to his usual routine of action, he remained unsociable and
morose.  Far from fastening upon unwilling listeners, and obliging them
to give ear to his laying down the law upon whatever subject happened to
be uppermost in his mind, he offered no sign of acquaintanceship, beyond
a surly nod.  At the cafe he sat with his broad back turned to its other
frequenters, and on one or two minor points of municipal government,
when he was expected to have thundered against the opposition, he had
remained mute and apparently uninterested.  This change of nature had
caused much perplexity among his friends--for, in spite of his feelings
and irascibility, M.  Bourget had friends--until the riddle was solved
by the extraordinary news respecting M. de Beaudrillart.  That, it was
felt, explained everything, and a very kindly feeling of pity shot up on
every side.  Nathalie had been universally liked, although such an
advancement as hers could not but create jealousy; now that downfall had
followed, her charms were frankly acknowledged, and if M.  Bourget would
have accepted them, condolences would have reached him from every side.

But he was not the man to whom condolences were acceptable.  On the
afternoon of the day in which the startling intelligence had been read
in the _Tours Independent_, he marched along the streets, head erect,
chain and seals dangling, and stick grasped with a vigour which boded
ill for impertinent comments.  The account of M.  Leroux's punishment on
the bridge had reached him through Fanchon, who rushed into his room to
announce that M.  Georges had sprung upon the lawyer, thrashed him black
and blue, and left him for dead in the middle of the road.  M.  Bourget
had no difficulty in guessing what had been the little lawyer's offence.
He broke into a hoarse laugh, the first he had been heard to utter
since his memorable visit to Poissy, and scandalised Fanchon by rubbing
his hands, and declaring that it served the little reptile right.  He
added an ardent wish that he had been there to kick him.

"The saints forbid!" cried Fanchon, piously.  "You have always quarrels
enough of your own on your shoulders without taking up other people's.
And a pretty fanfara Monsieur Leroux will make about this business!"

"Hold your tongue, imbecile!" growled her master, still chuckling.
"That little Georges is an honest fellow after all!"

It is possible that this event it was which took M.  Bourget to the
cafe.  It was not likely that Leroux would venture to show himself, with
the fear of encountering M.  Georges before his eyes.  Besides, one
excitement would balance another; tongues would not wag so persistently
on the Poissy topic; at any rate, the ex-builder was resolved that they
should not wag in his hearing, and when he sat down at his solitary
table, with his stick reposing on a chair by his side, his figure did
not present an inviting object of attack.  Nevertheless, to the
astonishment of the lookers-on, one individual walked deliberately up to
the table, drawing a chair after him, and sat down opposite M.  Bourget
as soon as he had effected an elaborate sweep of his hat.  This was M.
Georges himself, and certain it is that M.  Bourget would have tolerated
no other companion.  As it was, at the sight of him he broke out again
into the grim chuckle which had amazed Fanchon, and which now amazed M.
Georges.

"While you were about it, you should have given him a ducking," he
grunted.  "He would have been the better for it, and it would not have
cost you more."

M.  Georges opened his eyes.

"Oh, it is Leroux you speak of?  Yes, I confess I lost my temper, and
when that is the case I become terrible.  Bah, he is nothing; let him do
his worst.  But, Monsieur Bourget, what is of consequence is this
frightful affair at Poissy--all, of course, either a mistake or a vile
conspiracy.  The idea that Monsieur de Beaudrillart--Monsieur de
Beaudrillart!--should be accused of such an act is simply impossible!  I
could not credit it until I had been out there."

M.  Bourget made no response to this outburst.  He frowned, drew in his
lips, and stared stolidly at the ground.

"Your daughter, too, poor young lady, what she must be enduring!  And as
for the baron, it is enough to have led him to kill himself."

Still gloomy silence.

"Monsieur Bourget, is there nothing you can suggest?  You are a man of
resource.  If there was anything I could assist in carrying out, I
cannot tell you what infinite gratification it would be to me."  He
stopped, for M.  Bourget had risen, struck his stick on the ground, and
broken out in a thunderous undertone:

"Nothing, monsieur, nothing.  I renounce Poissy, the baron, and my
daughter.  If by lifting my little finger I could save Monsieur de
Beaudrillart from prison, I would not lift it, and I request you to be
good enough not to mention their names to me again."

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

THE GROWTH OF AN IDEA.

In spite of M.  Bourget's assumption of indifference, he was secretly
tormented by anxiety as to what was going on in Paris.  Nathalie wrote
to him every day, though seldom more than a few lines.  He never
answered her letters, but he devoured every word, and hungered for more.
It was the same with, the newspapers.  He would not have missed a line,
notwithstanding the pang their comments, especially those of the radical
press, caused him.  If his self-consciousness could have permitted it he
would have gone to Paris, not to have joined his daughter, but, unknown
and in secret, to have haunted the courts, especially after the trial
had begun; his restlessness longing to hear the evidence with his own
ears, and to listen to the remarks with which he did not doubt all Paris
rang.  If France had been at this moment in the throes of a revolution,
M.  Bourget would have expected to find its interest second to that
excited by seeing Baron Leon de Beaudrillart, of Poissy, on his trial
for theft.  But if all France were occupied in watching M. de
Beaudrillart, Tours, he was equally persuaded, watched M.  Bourget.  For
him to show himself at the railway station would be immediately to
excite curiosity, for before an hour was over it would be known that his
indifference had been only simulated, and that he was in his heart as
anxious as Leroux represented him.

M.  Georges, meanwhile, whose faithfulness was only strengthened by what
he heard and saw, had gone to Poissy, and, established there, was
bravely engaged in fighting the dreary hopelessness which weighed upon
the chateau.  His disbelief in anything which could touch the young
baron's honour was so sincere and enthusiastic that, had it been
possible, it might have persuaded Claire.  As it was, it soothed her.
With M.  Georges she was less sharp, less angular, more forgiving.  He
was the only person, except her mother and sister, to whom she would
speak, for, strangely enough, the trouble produced the same effect of
gloomy reticence in her and in the man with whom she would have vowed
she had least in common--M.  Bourget.  Like him, she shrank from a touch
on the wound; like him, she read pitying contempt in the faces she
looked at; like him, she exaggerated trifles.  But it was impossible to
misjudge M.  Georges.  He was so confident that M.  Leon was the victim
of some monstrous fraud, so undoubting in his belief that it must,
somehow, be cleared up, so unchanged in his respect, so unfailing in his
hopefulness, that his talk was incapable of inflicting the smallest
wound.  Mme. de Beaudrillart he saw but seldom.  Once or twice he
fancied that she must have had some sort of seizure to account for the
great alteration in her person and manner.  She was thinner than ever,
but no longer upright.  Her speech was hesitating, and she looked at
Claire before uttering an opinion.  From the redness of her eyes it was
evident that she wept a good deal, yet at times he fancied that she
imagined her son to be in the house or out in the grounds, and that she
listened anxiously.

As for Felicie, there was no doubt that his confidence had given her
courage.  Unlike her sister, she was always anxious to talk about her
brother, and the prospects of his trial; and M.  Georges's fixed opinion
ended in implanting in her the idea that Leon, suffering unjustly, might
be regarded as a martyr, and therefore as a credit to the house.  If the
Abbe Nisard did not share her idea, he took care not to contradict what
proved a fervent source of consolation.  Felicie returned to her daily
tasks, to her embroideries and reparations, and though she cried, her
tears were not bitter, and perhaps were caused as often by her sister's
impatience as by Leon's imprisonment.

Raoul attached himself, tyrannically, to M.  Georges.  The boy felt,
without understanding, the cloud on the family; he missed his father,
his mother, his lessons, his drives.  M.  Georges at once undertook his
education, to the great relief of the others, for whom Raoul had
succeeded in making it almost unendurable.  But here, in his new tutor,
he found a patience which it was so impossible to tire out that he gave
up the task, and, in order to gain a fishing expedition, learned his
lessons to perfection.

There came a day, however, when all M.  Georges's cheerfulness could not
lighten the gloom.  Nathalie's letters had been intended to prepare
them; but until the newspaper arrived, full of details, and commenting
upon the attitude of the accused, they had tacitly refused to realise
that the trial was to begin that very week.  As it happened, Felicie had
been the first to see it, or it would never have met her eyes, for when
Claire came she seized the paper, carried it to her room, and when she
had devoured every word, tore it into shreds.  M.  Georges, to his
despair, had not a glimpse of it; but that afternoon, as he was going
off with Raoul to the river, he met Mlle.  Felicie on her way back from
the church, armed with a feather brush, with which she had been dusting
the altar ornaments.  She greeted him with eagerness.

"Oh, Monsieur Georges, you did not see that dreadful newspaper?"

"No, mademoiselle, to my great regret, for I gathered that there was
something fresh.  But no doubt Mademoiselle Claire exercised a wise
discretion in not allowing it to lie about.  Perhaps--"

He lifted his eyebrows interrogatively, and she nodded.

"Yes, I can tell you every word, and I long for your opinion."

"Raoul, my friend," said M.  Georges, diplomatically, "old Antoine says
there is a superb trout which lies always close under the bridge.  Shall
we try to ensnare him?"

The temptation was irresistible to a born fisherman, although the boy
had a feeling that he would like to hear what was to be talked about.
He kept M.  Georges by his side as long as he could, but at last became
absorbed, and Felicie and her companion, standing on the bridge, talked
in low tones.  He murmured:

"Now, permit me to hear."

"They say," she began, tremulously, "that Leon does not deny it.  Oh,
monsieur, that cannot be possible, can it?"

"I, for one, should not believe it, whatever he said," announced M.
Georges, stoutly.

"You would not?  You would think there was a mistake?"

"Beyond a doubt."

"Ah, what a comfort it is to speak to you!"

"Mademoiselle, you are goodness itself," answered the delighted M.
Georges.  "But can you recall more particulars?"

"Oh, there was a whole column!" cried Felicie, with a shudder.  "So far
as I could make out, what they said was that they understood that
Monsieur de Beaudrillart admitted having taken the money, but said that
he immediately informed Monsieur de Cadanet of what he had done, and
that he looked upon it as a loan."

"Exactly, exactly!" exclaimed M.  Georges, triumphantly.  "That is what
I thought."

"That he took it!"

"As a jest, no doubt, and as a loan.  The difference is immense.
Immense!" he repeated, opening his arms.  "And how noble of Monsieur
Leon to admit it!"

"Ah," said Felicie, relieved.

M.  Georges was here called off by Raoul to superintend an imaginary
bite.  He returned eagerly to Felicie, whose shortsighted eyes appeared
to him quite charming in their pathos.

"What you have said has given me the greatest satisfaction," he said,
"because it explains everything so admirably.  That there must be an
explanation I knew, but one puzzled one's head with thinking what it
could be."

Felicie smiled delightedly.  To hear that her explanation was admirable
seemed to give her the credit of having offered it, and the many snubs
she had received of late from Claire made this appreciation the more
valuable.

"And no doubt," pursued her companion, "Monsieur de Beaudrillart either
has repaid or was intending to repay all?"

"Yes, the paper said that would be his defence--you must excuse me if I
do not use the right terms, for I had scarcely time to glance at it."

"Mademoiselle, you are clearness itself."

Her small features took an expression of beatitude, but of beatitude
that suffers unjustly.  She said:

"I do not often complain, but indeed, Monsieur Georges, you cannot fail
to see that Claire is so--so determined that one does not dare to oppose
her.  If I say anything of which she does not approve, there is really
such a storm that I prefer to be silent."

"Mademoiselle Claire is suffering acutely, I am sure," he returned, with
a loyal impulse of defence.

"We all suffer," said Felicie, uttering a sound between a gasp and a
sob; "but I have always learned that our own sufferings should not
either absorb us or render us harsh to others.  No one can have felt
this affliction more than I, but I try to rouse myself and to draw good
out of a terrible dispensation, as the abbe advised.  I assure you,
monsieur, that I have much, very much, to endure from Claire."

He murmured sympathy.

"If it were not for the relief of having you here to talk things over
with, I do not think I could bear it at all.  Figure to yourself,
monsieur, that she prophesies all manner of terrible humiliations for us
in the future!  She says we can never again hold up our heads, and she
has quite made up her mind that no visitors shall be ever admitted.  I
do not know myself that I could bear to see Mme.  Lemballe; she has a
small mind, and it is quite possible that she might permit herself to
say something disagreeable.  And just at present, of course, I am ready
to sacrifice myself for our poor dear Leon.  But--never!  Never!
Conceive how terribly doll to be cut off from all society, and to be
unable to go to the houses of our friends when I have any church
collection on hand.  Oh, monsieur, the thought is unendurable.  I would
rather die!"

Into the quiet current of M.  Georges's thoughts at this instant there
dashed an idea so wild and unwarrantable that he blushed violently, and
was seized with a sudden tremor lest it might be read in his face.
Could such a thing be possible?  Oh, never, never!  He chased it out,
and to hide his embarrassment murmured something to the effect that
Raoul's line was caught in the weeds, and hurried to the boy.

"Go away," said Raoul immovably, his whole being concentrated upon the
trout as to which M.  Georges had so basely deceived him.

"I think now it must have been higher up that Antoine meant," said that
gentleman, meekly.  Raoul was on his feet in a moment.

"Then why did you say he was here?" he demanded, dragging at his tutor's
hand.  "Come along.  Aunt Felie, you mustn't come; you keep Monsieur
Georges from attending."

On the whole, M.  Georges escaped thankfully, his brain in a whirl.  Fly
from such dangerous fascinations he might, but the presumptuous idea
having once found entrance was already battering again at the doors.
Refused admittance, it demanded a parley, and set itself at once to
prove that it was not preposterous.

M.  Georges owned with simple vanity that his position had changed for
the better since the days when he had been intendant at Poissy.  Now he
was the owner of a small house, of grounds which to him at least looked
spacious, and of a certain solid little sum in rentes.  Modest ambition
pointed to becoming mayor, and if he even dreamed of being
conseiller-general, the thing was not beyond the bounds of possibility.
But--Mlle. de Beaudrillart!  That, indeed, was preposterous, incredible!
He heaved a sigh of renunciation, and flung it from him, only
permitting a meek hope to remain that when the real Mme.  Georges made
her appearance she might have eyes resembling those of Mlle.  Felicie.
But it was astonishing how persistent this ludicrous idea became!  Even
when the landing of a small fish had been accomplished, Raoul pale and
serious with excitement, his first exclamation, after drawing a deep
breath of relief, was: "How I wish you lived here always, Monsieur
Georges!"  M.  Georges became crimson.  And somehow or other, at this
time, Felicie seemed always to be kept before his consciousness.  The
flutter of a dress was sure to belong to her, he heard her voice where
he had never heard it before, he met her in the grounds, he listened to
her praises from the abbe; presently it might be said that, in spite of
heroic resistance, her image was enshrined in his heart, although the
hope of gaining her had not yet ventured to intrude.

What further weakened his powers of resistance was Claire's kindness.
Sometimes he really fancied that she was encouraging his folly.  With
him her sharpness was softened, and she deferred quite strangely to his
advice about the farm, with which Felicie never meddled.  She was really
capable of managing everything without consultation, and M.  Georges was
so well aware of this that he would have been more than man not to have
been flattered by her evident desire to gain his help and to yield to
his opinion.  He reflected, however, humbly, that it was probably owing
to the absorption of her thoughts as to the trial, and this seemed the
more likely since on the morning when the trial was to begin Claire shut
herself in her room, and refused to see a soul.

Had it not been for M.  Georges, the whole household would have been
disorganised.  Despair had seized it, and if the walls of Poissy had
crumbled into ruin, the dismay could hardly have been greater.  The
maids darted across the court like frightened birds.  Jacques, tearful
and miserable, came to M.  Georges to implore him to let him hear the
latest news, and M.  Georges thumped his own chest with the effort to
impose self-control on his emotions, and begged him to be calm.

"What I fear," he added, "is Monsieur Raoul's gaining any idea of what
is happening.  He has just asked me why every one was crying, and why
Rose-Marie called his father `poor monsieur le baron'?  Jacques, my
friend, we men must show these kind souls an example of courage.  If I
could trust you not to break down I would carry out an idea, and take
Monsieur Raoul into Tours to see his grandfather."

"Do, monsieur."

"But, to tell you the truth," said M.  Georges, fidgeting, "I cannot
take the coachman, for he will be wanted to support you here, and I--I
am not in the habit of driving."

"We will put the quietest of the ponies in the little cart.  I feel
certain he will take monsieur safely, and Monsieur Bourget--he is so
shrewd!--he may have something comforting to send back."

With many perturbations M.  Georges carried out his idea.  There was no
one to ask, for Claire was barricaded in her own room, and Felicie had
flown to the church.  To tell the truth, the sight of M.  Bourget's
bitter misery had so painfully impressed M.  Georges that he had dwelt
upon it ever since, and longed to break it down; and it was for this
that he faced the terrors of the pony.  They had many narrow escapes,
for when they met anything in the road M.  Georges persistently tugged
at the left-hand rein; but fortunately the road was wide, and the pony
knew much better than his driver.  Thanks to his sagacity, they avoided
any serious damage, and pulled up at M.  Bourget's door.  The door was
open, Raoul tumbled anyhow out of the cart, scrambled up the steps, and
rushed in upon his grandfather before M.  Bourget had time to rouse
himself from the gloomy reverie which had seized him after reading his
newspaper for at least the tenth time.

"Grandpapa, I have caught a fish my very own self!  Monsieur Georges
didn't touch it--he didn't, truly!--and I have brought it in for Fanchon
to cook for your dinner!"

M.  Bourget stood up, grew purple, half turned away, came back, and
opened his arms.  It was a happy inspiration of M.  Georges to remain in
the street, although he took advantage of the stoppage to get out of the
cart, and stand at the pony's head.  Fanchon bustled forth, beaming.

"Well, I declare, if it isn't Monsieur Georges!  Drive round to the
hotel, monsieur, and put up the pony, and make haste back."

M.  Georges assented, but remarking that it was hardly worth while to
get in for such a short distance, proceeded to lead the pony through two
streets and a half, to the astonishment of such of his acquaintances as
he met.  When he got back, he found Raoul, by the aid of some impromptu
reins, driving his grandfather round the room and in and out of the
chairs, with shouts of delight.  He took care to make no remark, and
presently M.  Bourget sat down by him, wiping his forehead.

"As to that other," he said, significantly, "I haven't changed, but it
is no fault of the boy's.  Leroux intends to summon you."

"Let him!" exclaimed M.  Georges, valiantly.

"Ay, let him!" chuckled the ex-builder.  "And when it comes to the
point, it would not surprise me if he thought better of it.  You have
seen the paper?  It is all up with that miserable.  The defence is a
sham.  Run out to Fanchon, my brave, and tell her to cook your fish for
my dinner, and see what jam she can find in her cupboard for you.  Yes.
Monsieur Georges, what do you think now of your fine monsieur!"

"That I respect him with all my heart!" cried the other.

"Respect?  So, ho!  And for what?"

"For having the courage to speak out, monsieur.  Which of us might not
have been tempted to deny it altogether?"

"And you still believe him when he says he repaid it?"

"Implicitly.  If you believe him when he acknowledges what tells against
him, the least you can do is to take his word for the rest.  You doubt
the father of your grandson?  Fie, Monsieur Bourget, fie!"

M.  Georges swelled with enthusiasm for his cause.  M.  Bourget got up
and paced up and down the room.  He muttered at last:

"Whether he did or not, the result is the same.  The Poissy honour is
gone.  Not a scoundrel in Tours but will have his say against it."

"The Poissy honour has weathered worse storms," said M.  Georges,
quietly.  "What does it matter if a few curs bark?  And I believe you
are wrong.  I believe honest men will respect him for his avowal."

M.  Bourget grumbled "Absurd!" under his breath, but said no more.  He
called Raoul and marched him out to the toy-shop, and when they were
just starting for Poissy shook M.  Georges's hand with a warmth which
surprised him.  Raoul, in the intervals of opening all the parcels with
which he was charged, remarked that grandpapa was going to see mamma,
perhaps, "and I asked him if he couldn't take me, but he couldn't, he
said," he added, extracting a magnificent whip, which he proceeded to
smack, to the great disquiet of M.  Georges and the pony.

M.  Georges pulled the wrong rein more than ever, and their escapes were
hair-breadth.  They ran in and out of ditches, they shaved carts;
finally they dashed wildly through the gates of Poissy, and pulled up at
the entrance so suddenly that M.  Georges was shot forward, and only
just saved himself from landing on the pony's back.  But, on the whole,
he was satisfied with the result of his expedition, and so was Raoul,
who announced that he liked M.  Georges's driving better than anybody's.

The little clatter of arrival sounded unfeeling to poor Claire, who sat
nursing her misery in the room adjoining that of Mme. de Beaudrillart.
How could any one move, think, speak, at such a time!  And yet it was a
comfort to feel that M.  Georges was again in the house.  He was
unaltered, though her conviction of the disgrace which hung over them
all was so strong that she read change in the look and manner of all the
servants.  As for friends, she had resolved never again to face them.
It seemed to her that the only possible alleviation of her wretchedness
would be a change of name, and a flight to some far-away place where no
one would recognise her as a Beaudrillart.  But to gain this object she
was helpless, and the thought of living on at Poissy, pointed at as the
sister of a man in prison, was absolutely terrible.  More than once that
day Felicie, whose room was on the other side, and whose troubles were
always comforted by talking about them, had knocked at the door and
begged to be admitted, only to hear a sharp "Go away!" in answer.  She
went to her mother, but Mme. de Beaudrillart's state bordered on apathy.
How much or how little she understood, it was impossible to say.  To
Felicie, at any rate, it was a real relief to hear M.  Georges's cheery
voice.  She ran down the stairs to welcome him with a pleasure which in
a moment brought back all those wild dreams which he had been trying to
forget.  In the whirl of his brain he even went so far as to murmur
"Dear mademoiselle!" and Felicie merely blushed a little, and cast down
her eyes.  They saw each other constantly that day and the next, for
Claire, silent and rigid, only came down for meals, and retreated
immediately to her own room.  M.  Georges was very good, and most
delicately respectful to her; but it was impossible to say much in her
presence, and both felt secretly relieved when she had gone.  All the
customs of the house seemed to be in abeyance.  Felicie would never at
other times have allowed herself the long conversations which now had
the most natural air in the world.  She babbled to M.  Georges in her
small, precise voice of all the little interests which filled her life,
while she imagined that her talk was only of Leon; and he listened with
the most profound admiration.  What could be more estimable than the
good works which occupied her morning, noon, and night!  What more
beautiful than her devotion!  She showed him with pride the embroideries
and vestments which were under her charge, and he helped her to refold
them, as she said, with far more neatness than Rose-Marie.  By the time
this labour was ended, M.  Georges's presumptuous little idea which at
first sight had so alarmed him was enthroned triumphantly in his heart.

The third day of the trial had been reached.  Nathalie, all day in
court, could only scribble disjointed letters, noting as far as possible
the principal points, and infinitely pathetic in their anguish and their
trust.  The newspapers gave minute reports, up to this point occupied by
the opening speech for the prosecution and the interrogation of the
prisoner.  The third day would produce Charles Lemaire's evidence, and
on the morning of that day Felicie, pale and agitated, rushed down the
stairs to the small study where M.  Georges transacted his business in
old days, and which he now again occupied.

"Oh, Monsieur Georges, come, I beg of you, come at once!  Claire has
said something to my mother, and she is most terribly upset.  We cannot
soothe her."

Poor Mme. de Beaudrillart was, indeed, in a distressing state.  The
tidings which for some days she had not seemed to realise had suddenly
reached her comprehension and produced a painful anguish.  She was
sitting at the table, her hands clinched and her eyes wide-open, Claire
kneeling by her side in terror.  The instant she saw M.  Georges she
cried, in a hoarse voice:

"It is not true, monsieur, say it is not true!  Oh, Leon, my son, my
son!"

"Madame," cried M.  Georges, hastening to her side, "it is not true that
Monsieur Leon is what they say!  There has been a terrible mistake, but
it will come right--it must."

She leaned forward, and said in a whisper which he never forgot:

"But he took it."

"And repaid it, madame.  I would stake my life on it."  Mme. de
Beaudrillart pointed out Claire by a gesture:

"She says we are disgraced forever--we!" she shuddered.  "That we may
hide our heads, for no respectable person will have anything to do with
us.  She would like to go away."

"Oh, mademoiselle!" cried M.  Georges, turning on her a look of
reproach.  "Madame," he said, standing upright, and stiffening with
resolution, "permit me to convince you that it is not so.  Mademoiselle
Felicie, Mademoiselle Claire, will you allow me a few minutes alone with
madame?"

Felicie went out demurely, Claire rose up and flung him a questioning
glance.  He murmured:

"Mademoiselle, I venture to think you have perhaps divined.  Have I the
inestimable encouragement of your approval?"

Poor Claire!  She pressed her hands upon her eyes, and said, brokenly,
"Yes, monsieur, yes!"

When they were gone, M.  Georges still stood respectfully before Mme. de
Beaudrillart.

"Madame," he said, solemnly, "I am aware that what I have to say will
sound presumptuous, and I could not have ventured upon it but for your
daughter's fancy that you would all suffer from this misfortune of
Monsieur Leon's.  My position has improved; I have a small estate, a
yearly income, and perhaps a reasonable hope of advancement.  Such as it
is, madame, may I dare to lay it at Mademoiselle de Beaudrillart's
feet?"

Mme. de Beaudrillart turned her dull eyes upon him.  She had lost her
sense of wonder.

"You wish to marry Claire?"

"Oh, no, madame!" cried M.  Georges, in alarm.  "I speak of Mademoiselle
Felicie.  At least I would promise her a life's devotion, and a most
earnest endeavour to make up to her for what she would renounce."

"Felicie!" exclaimed her mother.  "But she has consecrated her life to
good works."

"Believe me, madame, I should rejoice in aiding her."

"I do not know--it is all like a mist in my brain.  Claire--what does
Claire say?"

"She gave me her approval, madame," returned M.  Georges in eager good
faith.

Mme. de Beaudrillart sighed, and passed her hand across her forehead.

"She vowed we were all disgraced.  As you say, it may be better for one
of them to go away.  Felicie and you--it seems strange, but--I think--
everything is strange.  If Claire agreed, I cannot oppose her, only--oh,
monsieur, my poor Leon!"

She broke into a fit of incontrollable weeping.  M.  Georges hurried out
to seek for Felicie, but he had only time for a whisper as he seized and
kissed her hand.

"Grant me an interview presently, mademoiselle.  Your mother permits it,
and I am the happiest of men!"

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

THE TRIAL.

[The author has given the cross-examination in the shape best known to
English readers, since it is a mere question of form.  French counsel
_do_ examine, though they may not directly address the accused, and have
to ask the judge to ask, etc, a formality which becomes tedious in
report, and which has therefore been omitted.--_Code d'Instruction
Criminelle_, art. 310.]

The trial, which was creating so much excitement, not only in Paris, but
throughout the length and breadth of France, had reached its third day.
The indictment against the prisoner had been powerfully presented; it
alluded to distinct evidence of the theft, and to the astonishment of
the public who were not already in the secret Maitre Barraud had
remarked, with an air of indifference, that his side admitted all the
facts which had been brought forward.  This acknowledgment still further
stimulated curiosity, the public imagining that the famous advocate had
some counter-evidence in his pocket, since he so readily allowed what
appeared damaging to pass unquestioned.  As M.  Rodoin had foreseen,
however, the move was disliked by the prosecution, because they had
counted upon the prisoner's denial, and upon at once proving his
falsehood and creating a prejudice against him.

Maitre Barraud, while still vowing vengeance against M.  Rodoin for
having dragged him into the affair, was allowing his professional
instincts to get the upper hand.  The fact of Maitre Miron being opposed
to him and having a strong case was enough to excite his fighting
powers.  Moreover, he had become convinced that Leon's story was true.
It was unfortunately weak and unsupported, but he was certain that no
attempt was made to deceive him.  Added to this he read in Mme.  Leon's
eyes that she distrusted his age and his energy, in spite of all M.
Rodoin's assurances, and her want of confidence piqued him.  She thought
him indifferent, while in reality he was bringing all his wits and his
resources to bear upon the case, without, it must be conceded, much hope
of success.  He had directed the prisoner to be perfectly frank and
straightforward in his own replies both to the juge d'instruction and in
court.

"There lies your one chance."

"And you think that if I had not admitted the fact of exchange, it would
have been proved against me?"

"Certainly, baron.  Since you recalled writing a letter to Monsieur de
Cadanet, I can see how Lemaire got upon your track.  If you had denied,
the letter would have been produced.  Now they will keep it back
because, as you admit the fact, it would tell in your favour.  I shall
call for it."

"It was my wife who urged speaking out."

"And she showed her sense.  Women's intuitions are generally to be
trusted when they don't go too far," said Maitre Barraud, carelessly.

In spite of his opinion, he expressed extreme impatience when M.
Rodoin, on the morning of the third day, asked whether he could give a
few minutes to Mme. de Beaudrillart.

"Certainly not.  I know exactly the sort, of questions I should have to
answer: Is the trial going for or against?  Have the jury made up their
minds?  Might she not stand up and bear witness to the perfect probity
of her beloved husband?  Console Madame de Beaudrillart yourself; the
task of defending monsieur is quite as much as I desire to undertake."

"Please yourself, my dear Albert," said M.  Rodoin, quietly.  "You know
very well that Madame Leon is not the silly woman you pretend.  If you
will not listen to her, you must listen to me; but the idea was her own.
She wondered whether it would be possible for her to make a personal
appeal to Madame Lemaire?"

"On what ground?"  Maitre Barraud shot out the words after a moment's
consideration.

"All our investigations point to the fact that it is an unhappy
marriage, and that Lemaire neglects, if he does not ill-use, his wife."

"Bah!  That will only make her stick to him the closer."

"Possibly.  But she is, by every account, a woman of strong religious
principle.  If she knew of a wrong being committed her conscience might
lead her--"

"To denounce it?"  Maitre Barraud pushed out his lips, and passed his
hand over his chin.  "She will not know.  That sort of woman, if she has
to live with that sort of man, shuts her eyes, and refuses to open them.
It is her only chance."

"Possibly, again, if you or I went to her.  But another woman?"

"If we could hit on her line of sentiment--she is sure to have a
sentiment," murmured the other, reflectively.  "But no, no, no.  It
can't be done.  It would be a confession of weakness.  Miron would get
hold of it, and we should have a triumphant peroration of the straits to
which the other side are driven.  I can only reach that scoundrel
through the court, but I will make him feel."

"If the wife is in court?"

"She will not be.  Either she will know nothing, or will keep out of
it."

M.  Rodoin had to carry back this refusal to Nathalie, for whom his
admiration daily strengthened.  She was so courageous and so cheerful,
so sensible, and so full of resource that instead of hindering the
lawyers, her suggestions had more than once proved valuable; and as for
poor Leon, the sight of her brave and earnest face, and the smile with
which she never failed to meet his eye, gave him his best support in the
terrible hours which he spent in the court.  It created also, as Maitre
Barraud was swift to note, an unexpressed and subtle feeling of sympathy
with the accused.  The fine and noble lines of her face, the breathless
interest with which she followed every point as it was mooted, offered
evidence as powerful as it was unconscious in his favour.  He dared not
count upon its being strong enough to weigh against the testimony of
facts, but he knew that any point he could succeed in making would be
strengthened by its presence.

Leon, too, bore himself well.  Those who knew him before remarked how
greatly he had aged, and his face was colourless.  His manner, however,
was what it should have been--simple and unexaggerated.  Evidently he
felt his position profoundly, but he answered the questions addressed to
him by the Court with a dignity which to M.  Rodoin was unexpected and
quite frankly.  On the whole, the impression he gave was favourable.
But this, again, however desirable, was not worth one grain of actual
proof.

And for proof M.  Rodoin had ransacked Paris in vain.  The notes had
been sent in a registered packet, but it was too long ago to obtain a
record from the post-office.  An examination of M. de Cadanet's papers
had been made, naturally without success.  One point and one only had
been established in Leon's favour.  The banker's book showed that about
the time he claimed to have repaid the debt a sum of one hundred
thousand francs had been entered in M. de Cadanet's account, and the
clerk believed remembering that they were mostly notes issued by the
provincial bank of Tours.  But there had been a change of clerks since;
the one who had that impression was then a junior, and could not swear
to it.  Two had died of influenza.

The prisoner himself was first interrogated.  He was very white, and his
hand grasped the nearest wood-work convulsively; but he answered well,
and without hesitation.  He acknowledged that M. de Cadanet showed great
displeasure towards him, and reproached him even violently for the
extravagances with which he showed himself well acquainted.  The judge
inquired how he considered they had reached his ears, to which he
replied that he never doubted they were conveyed by M.  Lemaire, as he
was, he understood, the only person who constantly saw M. de Cadanet--
excepting his lawyer, who had told them in his evidence that he only
received instructions from the count, and was never permitted so much as
to offer advice.  Asked whether he himself had not done his utmost to
vilify M.  Lemaire to M. de Cadanet, he replied indignantly that he had
avoided mentioning him or the places in which he had met him--an answer
which was received with a show of incredulity.

He had to give a close account of the interview, and the replies were
pumped from him; for by this time he was angry, and stood upright,
touching nothing.  He admitted having gone to ask for help in his
difficulties.

"You had, in fact, squandered your fortune, and Poissy must inevitably
have been sold if money was not forthcoming?"

"I have never denied it."

"Had Monsieur de Cadanet given you reason to expect assistance from
him?"

"None, except that he was under obligations to my father."

"He may not have considered that affording you the means of running into
further extravagances was the best means of showing gratitude to the
late baron?"

The prisoner remained silent.

Asked what drew his attention to the cheque, he replied that M. de
Cadanet enclosed it before his eyes, and that he believed it to be
coming to him until the count informed him that the reports he had
received of his conduct had made him resolve against assisting him, and
that the money he had prepared would be given to another.

"Did he mention the name of this other!"

"I remarked that I presumed the other was Monsieur Charles Lemaire."

"Why did you arrive at this conclusion?"

"Because I was certain that Monsieur Lemaire was the person through whom
the reports had reached him."

"They were, however, correct?"

M. de Beaudrillart was again silent.

Further questions extracted what had passed in the remainder of the
interview and in the street.  He was asked if he had ever mentioned the
circumstance to any one?

"Until this action was threatened, never."

"And then?"

"To my wife."

"You must speak louder.  How did you account for the change in your
circumstances?"

"My family believed I had received a loan from Monsieur de Cadanet."

He declared that he had sent, first, an instalment of five hundred
francs, and, on his marriage, a further sum of two hundred and three
thousand, part of his wife's dowry.  On this point he was closely
interrogated by the judge, who professed utter incredulity.

"You drew and sent a cheque?"

"No.  I returned the sum in notes by a registered letter."

"And your wife's father consented to paying so large a sum in notes
without making inquiries as to its destination?  That is a most
improbable story!"

Leon replied that he had explained to his father-in-law that it was in
order to pay a debt of honour of which he could give no account.  Then
came the crucial question.

"And you wish the Court to believe that you returned the money without
receiving the smallest acknowledgment from Monsieur de Cadanet."

"That is the case."

"You persist in such a ridiculous assertion?"

"Yes."

"And mentioned it to no one?"

"To my mother."

"She also was content to have no receipt?"

"No.  She was very uneasy."

"How did you quiet her?"

"I am afraid I allowed her to believe I had received one."  The prisoner
gave this answer in evident distress, and Maitre Barraud clasped his
chin with his hand.  The fact evidently told against the accused.

"You never heard again from Monsieur de Cadanet?"

"I heard no more of him until I received the announcement of his death."

As the examination ended there was a movement round Nathalie.  The
Assize Court of the Seine was densely crowded, and the pushing and
squeezing caused by the new arrival would have roused any one less
deeply interested.  Nathalie, however, had eyes only for her husband,
and it was not until a square, thick-set figure had forced himself into
a seat by her side that she recognised her father.  No greeting but a
nod passed between them, each being too anxious to hear the next
evidence.  It was, however, of no great importance, the principal
witnesses being Andre, the concierge, and the doctor, who testified to
M. de Cadanet's clearness of mind throughout his illness.

M.  Charles Lemaire was next duly called, sworn, and interrogated by the
Procureur.  People noticed that on his appearance M. de Beaudrillart
lifted his head, looked coolly at him, and allowed a smile of
contemptuous scorn to pass across his face.  On the other hand, Lemaire
had the appearance of being quite at his ease.  He glanced round the
court, bowed to the judge, and turned to the Procureur with an air of
extreme readiness.  In answer to the interrogations, he replied with
perfect smoothness.  His evidence, in fact, might be considered
irreproachable, saying neither too much nor too little.  The six years
which had passed had not improved his appearance--for he had grown much
stouter, and his face was puffy--but they had taught him to conceal his
feelings.  He was careful to speak with perfect moderation of the
prisoner.  Asked whether at the time of the theft he and M. de
Beaudrillart were on good terms, he said they had little to say to each
other.  Further pressed, he allowed that he had seen him lose very
considerable sums at play, and it was the common talk in Paris that he
had so greatly impoverished himself that Poissy might have to be sold.
M. de Cadanet put a great many questions to him on the matter.  He had
no wish to prejudice him against the young man, and evaded his questions
when he could; on the other hand, he did not profess any regard for him,
and did not conceal the fact of his extravagance.  Asked whether M. de
Cadanet had ever expressed his intention of assisting the accused, he
replied most emphatically no.  He had, on the contrary, spoken of him
with great indignation.  But of course he could not profess to judge of
M. de Cadanet's private intentions.

Did M. de Cadanet inform him of the abstraction of the notes?

Never, until just before his death.

Desired to relate the circumstances of M. de Cadanet's disclosure, he
gave an account of his illness.  It was not until he was apparently in
extremis that the count informed him of what had taken place, and
advised him to recover his money from M. de Beaudrillart.

Here the examination in chief was interrupted by Maitre Barraud
inquiring through the judge why M. de Cadanet had not brought the action
himself.  M.  Lemaire could not say with certainty, but thought he had
abstained owing to a sentiment of affection towards the defunct baron,
M. de Beaudrillart's father.  The question was then put why in a matter
of so much importance he had not caused M. de Cadanet's deposition to be
formally taken before witnesses.  For the first time Lemaire very
slightly hesitated.  He then said that it had not seemed absolutely
necessary, as M. de Cadanet showed him a letter from de Beaudrillart
admitting the theft.

The Procureur remarked that the theft was admitted by the defence, and
at once Maitre Barraud demanded the production of the letter.

The judge agreed, and meanwhile the examination proceeded.

M. de Cadanet, speaking with great difficulty, had informed the witness
that he had answered this insolent letter by another, in which he told
M. de Beaudrillart that he would hear more of the transaction at a later
date.

Here the judge again interposed, but it was to ask the prisoner whether
he had received this letter.

Leon replied that he had, and that the contents were such as had been
described, but that he had destroyed it at the time--an answer which
created a decidedly unfavourable impression.

Lemaire, proceeding, said that M. de Cadanet was a man of few friends,
who had lived altogether alone the last years of his life.  During his
last illness he had no one to care for and nurse him except he Lemaire
himself, and his wife, M. de Cadanet's niece by marriage.

In answer to an inquiry whether his wife had heard M. de Cadanet's
statement, he said she had not; the count had wished to speak to him
alone.

"And this wish you scrupulously carried out?"

"Certainly.  Monsieur de Cadanet was a man who would be obeyed."

"You are, I think, the principal legatee under the will?"

"I am."

"Will you state why you decided upon asking for this prosecution."

"In compliance with Monsieur de Cadanet's express desire, he said he had
often reproached himself with having taken no steps himself, but that
age and illness had weakened his energy.  It was in order that I might
undertake the task that he confided the papers to me."

The examination continued for some time longer on these lines.  The
effect it produced was decidedly adverse to the accused.  It had nearly
concluded when the called-for letter arrived, and was read:

  "Mr Cousin,--I have taken the liberty of borrowing the sum which you
  had so thoughtfully prepared for Monsieur Charles.  It would have been
  better for him if you had accepted my offer to post your letter; as
  you declined to trust me, I had no scruple in exchanging it for
  another, which found itself in my hand at the exact moment.  Do not
  blame your messenger, who is quite unaware of the transaction.  By my
  writing to you, you will perceive that I have no intention of denying
  what I have done.  It is in your power to have me arrested.  You know
  where to find me, and I will remain in Paris for two days, so as to
  avoid the pain to my family of a scandal at Poissy.  Permit me,
  however, to point out that I have only taken the money as a loan, that
  it will be returned to you by instalments and with interest, though, I
  fear, slowly, and that you may find it more advantageous to allow the
  matter to rest than to ruin one who, however unworthy, is the son of
  the man to whom you are certainly indebted for your prosperity, and
  who begs to subscribe himself.

  "Yours faithfully,--

  "Leon de Beaudrillart."

As the last word of the letter died away, a movement passed through the
court.  The judge addressed himself to Leon.

"That is your letter?"

"It is."

Maitre Miron put another question to M.  Lemaire.

"When Monsieur de Cadanet presented you with this letter, did he make
any allusion to its concluding sentence?"

"Certainly," replied the witness, coolly.  "He said that Monsieur de
Beaudrillart had very much exaggerated the services rendered to him by
the defunct baron."

The prisoner burst out with the word "Liar!" and was sharply rebuked for
the interruption.

Further examined as to whether he was certain that the money had never
been repaid, the witness said that his only knowledge was derived from
M. de Cadanet himself, who assured him that he had not received a sou.
"If it were otherwise," he remarked, "receipts would certainly exist,
the count being a man of excellent business habits."

After a few more unimportant questions, it was felt that Lemaire had
given his evidence clearly, and, except in two answers, had been very
careful in both tone and wording to preserve an appearance of perfect
fairness towards the prisoner.  The two exceptions were those in which
he alluded to the absence of a receipt, and to M. de Cadanet having
disclaimed receiving any considerable help from M. de Beaudrillart's
father.

Nathalie looked at Maitre Barraud with a yet more sinking heart.  The
Procureur de la Republique had appeared to her an ideal counsel--
shrewd-faced, energetic, keen.  His opponent, with his round, boyish
face, his almost indifferent manner, and a certain air of hesitation,
which she had not noticed so much before, did not give the impression of
being in any way his equal.  The questions he suggested appeared to her
to be little to the point, and though she carefully kept discouragement
from her face, so that Leon, when he glanced at her, might take comfort,
she had never felt more discouraged.

With an air of extreme innocence, as of one only seeking for
enlightenment, Maitre Barraud pursued through the court his inquiries as
to Lemaire's first acquaintance with M. de Beaudrillart.  He had seen
him play.  "You played yourself, of course?"

Charles shrugged his shoulders.  "Occasionally.  Why else should I have
been there?"

"Oh, precisely!  Why else!" repeated his questioner, deprecatingly.
"And doubtless, Monsieur de Cadanet, as a man of the world, took an
interest in your fortune at the tables!"  Lemaire, suspecting a trap,
replied that they were not in the habit of talking over it.

"Ah!  Only of Monsieur de Beaudrillart's!"

"Nor of Monsieur de Beaudrillart's."

"No!  I gathered that the fact of his large gambling losses displeased
Monsieur de Cadanet!"

"Possibly."

"But they were not learned from you!"

"Not in the first place.  When he asked questions I could only tell the
truth."

"Unquestionably.  Truth is an inestimable virtue.  You were not the
first to speak of them.  Who, then?  The concierge has given evidence
that the count received no visitors."

"It is impossible to say.  Rumour filters everywhere.  Possibly the
servants talked."

"We will hear that from them by-and-by.  You were naturally anxious to
keep on good terms with Monsieur de Cadanet, and that you did so has
been amply proved.  The only other person in whom he seems to have shown
an interest was Monsieur de Beaudrillart!"

"I do not know that he took much interest."

"You said he asked many questions on the subject.  That looks like it."

"I cannot say.  It may have been so."

"It looks like it," repeated Maitre Barraud, equably.  "The situation,
then, appears to have been that you and the accused both played, and
that Monsieur de Cadanet was displeased with him only.  Was it owing to
the fact that he lost and you won?"

Up to this point the questions had dropped out in an almost sleepily
courteous tone.  The last had the effect of a sharp, sudden, and
unexpected thrust.  M.  Bourget muttered, "That drew blood."  Nathalie
listened, breathless.  Lemaire answered, sulkily, "I do not know," and
Maitre Barraud, after a momentary pause by which he succeeded in
emphasising his inquiry, dropped the subject.

Lemaire held himself very determinedly on guard after this episode,
which he was conscious had told against him, and little was elicited.
The counsel passed on to the account of what took place at the time of
the count's death.  He made particular inquiries as to who was in the
house, and then put another question through the judge.

"You were married, I think, at the time of the alleged theft?"

"I was."

"But your wife was not much at the house?"

"No.  Monsieur de Cadanet saw her at intervals, but it was not until his
health failed that he liked to have her about him."

"Did she undertake all the nursing?"

"When he was seriously ill there was a nurse as well."

"And at the time when he made this--this extraordinary revelation,
Madame Lemaire was not in the room?"

"Certainly not!" said Lemaire, hastily.

"You have told the judge that you thought it unnecessary to have his
words taken down as a formal deposition; did it not occur to you it
would have been very desirable to have called in witnesses to hear what
now rests upon your own unsupported word?"

"Monsieur de Beaudrillart's own letter gave the necessary evidence."

"As to his borrowing the sum--"

The judge here interpolated, "It was stealing.  It cannot be called
borrowing."

"Unauthorised borrowing, monsieur le president, I acknowledge.  But if
repaid, as we maintain, the jury will not consider it a theft.  And the
witness, who is the person most interested, can bring no evidence to
prove that it was not repaid beyond his own report of what I will
venture to call an imaginary conversation!"

The Procureur remarked:

"The absence of a receipt."

"Well, we will say no more at present on this subject.  Monsieur de
Cadanet, having kept silence for many years, at a time when most men are
anxious to be in charity with their fellow-sinners, carried out, we will
suppose, a determined act of revenge against this unfortunate young man.
Did he advise or enjoin you to bring this action!  Can you repeat what
passed?"

"Not in exact words.  He gave me to understand that he had warned
Monsieur de Beaudrillart in the letter which was destroyed that
proceedings would be taken."

"And your wife heard nothing!"

"Nothing."

"Although she was in constant attendance?"

"He only spoke once on the subject."

"Did not even allude to her about this family, which must have been much
in his mind?"

"No."

"That was a lie," reflected Maitre Barraud, quickly.  "When he tells a
lie his eyebrows twitch slightly."  At this point the court adjourned
for an hour, and he hastily scrawled something on a piece of paper, and
had it passed to M.  Rodoin.  The words were, "Madame Lemaire is not in
court; let Madame de Beaudrillart go to her at once and alone."

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

AMELIE.

M.  Bourget would have been indignant at hearing that he might not
accompany his daughter if the mandate had come from a less person than
Maitre Barraud.  But he had a profound respect for any advocate with
whose name he was acquainted, as well as for all the machinery of a
great trial, and M.  Rodoin took him in hand, and carried him off for
the interval, as soon as Nathalie had been placed in M.  Rodoin's
carriage and despatched to Passy.  She had intended to employ her time
during the drive in arranging how best to open the subject with Mme.
Lemaire, but, to her dismay, found it impossible to concentrate her
thoughts.  Whatever effort she made to fasten them upon the coming
interview, they flitted back to the crowded court.  She saw always her
husband's pale face, the look towards her in which she read so piteous
an appeal; she heard the jesting remarks whispered around, the questions
and answers to which she listened breathlessly, feeling that they held
Leon's doom; she saw the president, who was slightly deaf, hold his hand
to his ear, the clerks taking down the evidence, Charles Lemaire's broad
figure, and the white flower in his button-hole; she heard Maitre
Barraud's voice, now listless, then suddenly rising to the tone of a
trumpet, a voice of which she was beginning to understand the power.
One after another figures surged before her eyes, sounds rang in her
ears, and before she had collected her thoughts for her errand she found
herself driving to the door of a substantially built house, which stood
a little back from the road.

Madame was at home, but did not receive.  Nathalie had got hastily out
of the carriage, and, afraid to send in her name lest it might bring a
refusal, she merely desired the man to say that her business was of the
greatest consequence, and was almost immediately admitted to an ugly
room, all gilt and brocade, where stood Amelie ready to go out.

At sight of this tall and beautiful woman advancing hastily towards her,
Mme.  Lemaire showed a little astonishment.  She thought it was some one
interested in an orphan, for whom she had come to plead the cause; but
the visitors who had this end in view generally belonged to a different
class.  She moved awkwardly forward.

"You desire, madame, to speak to me!"

"To appeal to your goodness," faltered Nathalie.

"Ah, madame," said Amelie, with a smile which made her plain face at
once attractive, "I am so grieved!  It is for some poor little one, is
it not, whom you wish to place in our Home!  And, alas, we are more than
full!"

"No, no!" cried Mme.  Leon, "it is much more serious.  It is on account
of this trial that I come.  I am the unhappy wife of Monsieur de
Beaudrillart."

The other stared at her without comprehending.  "A trial?" she repeated,
pushing forward a chair.  Nathalie sank into it, and leaned forward
earnestly:

"Your husband--you know that your husband has made a terrible charge
against my husband!"

"No.  I do not know--I do not understand--" returned Mme.  Lemaire,
speaking with difficulty.  "Stop, madame, let me explain.  My husband
and I do not interest ourselves in the same pursuits.  We each follow
that which we prefer, leaving the other free.  My interest is my
Orphanage, and consequently I do not hear much of what goes on in the
outside world."

"And you do not know that all Paris rings with this trial?"

"No," returned Amelie, flushing.  "I do not read the newspapers, and--
and I presume the servants have not liked to speak of it."

Nathalie buried her face in her hands.  How could this woman, in
everything but name cut off from the world, help her!  But the sight of
suffering touched Amelie at once.

"I am so sorry for your grief!" she said, simply; "pray tell me if there
is anything in which I can assist you."

Hard task!  But Nathalie began: "It has to do with Monsieur de Cadanet,"
she faltered.  "Some money which he designed for your husband, my
husband took--stay, do not judge him too harshly.  He was in great
straits at the time; he took it, but he told Monsieur de Cadanet at
once--the letter exists--and he only took it as a loan.  Every penny was
repaid, and Monsieur de Cadanet made no sign; but now, now that he is
dead, your husband says that the money was never returned, and that your
uncle left it to him to prosecute.  He is being tried now--my Leon!"

Amelie had turned very white, and drawn involuntarily back.  She said,
in a suffocated voice:

"Why do you come to me?"

Nathalie lifted her heavy eyes.

"People say you are a good woman," she said.  "If you know anything, you
cannot let an innocent man suffer."

"And your name is De Beaudrillart, and you live at--"

"At Poissy."

"Ah!"  The exclamation ended sharply, like a cry of anguish.  In a
moment all came back to her--M. de Cadanet's veiled interest in Poissy;
the evident relenting of his heart; most of all those dying words,
accidentally heard, but never really forgotten: "You will remember that
Monsieur de Beaudrillart has paid everything, and that I have nothing
against him."  And now--She rose up with a shudder.  "Madame, you are
mistaken.  I am incapable of helping you."

Nathalie rose, too, and stood looking at her.  Then she clasped her
hands, feeling her last chance slipping.

"Ah, madame, think!" she cried, impulsively.  "You nursed Monsieur de
Cadanet, you were with him continually--think, I implore you, whether
you never heard him speak of my husband, and if you did, whether he did
not speak of him indulgently?  So much might depend on that!  If you do
not pity me, pity our little child, our little Raoul!"

"Is that his name?"  Mme.  Lemaire asked quickly, a sudden yearning in
her face.

"Yes.  Imagine what it will be for him to grow up under a cloud of
disgrace!  You have no children madame; you do not know what that seems
to a mother."

Nathalie was wrong.  This woman, no mother, but to whom God had given a
mother's heart, could realise it, and much more, with an aching
strength, which some mothers cannot feel.  She had thought so often and
strangely of the little boy at Poissy, of whose existence she was barely
aware, that now she could hardly prevent herself from crying out that
she would save him.  But--there was her husband.  In spite of his
neglect, his unkindness, his scarcely-veiled contempt, she still loved
him.  Ignorance of his movements, shutting of eyes and ears to what went
on in the world, was her defensive armour.  She did not wish to hear or
see.  She had at one time lived in terror lest something might come to
her knowledge which would thrust him out of her heart, and it was dread
of this which had turned her virtually into a recluse.  And here it was
at her doors!  She beat against it with all her force.  Her look
hardened, her voice chilled.  She said, coldly:

"I am sorry for you, madame, but I cannot help you.  Monsieur de Cadanet
gave my husband his last directions."  Nathalie stood mute, then turned
from her with a look of reproach.

"They were not these, and you know it.  A dying man does not wreak such
a terrible revenge.  You are thrusting a sin upon him which he never
committed.  I dare not stay longer, but ah, madame, take care, for some
day it will come back again, more terrible for you than my poor Leon's
has been for him!"

Mme.  Lemaire stood long where she was left, staring at the empty
doorway.  Once she made a few staggering steps, as if she would follow
her visitor, but caught herself back, and again remained motionless.
Her conscience was tender, and Nathalie's words fell on it like the
sting of a lash.  It had been the scarcely acknowledged effort of her
life to prevent it and her love from meeting in opposition, but the day
had come, and she could no longer remain blind and deaf.  Still, she
resisted.  This man had sinned--by his own wife's confession had sinned.
Probably he deserved what had come to him.  And she had not absolutely
understood all that was happening.  She resolved to go to the Orphanage,
and think no more about Mme. de Beaudrillart.  There she had hitherto
found peace, and there she might now find forgetfulness.

She was always warmly greeted, this childless woman with the mother's
heart, the children running to her with cries of delight which were the
music of her life, one showing a doll, another a cut finger; the sisters
came smiling, kind souls with homely faces, who looked on her as their
chief benefactress, and poured out their daily chat of all the events
which touched their peaceful lives and the lives of these little ones,
snatched, some of them, from terrible experiences.  One sister walked up
and down the babies' nursery, hushing a wan little fellow to unwilling
sleep.

"He has been so fretful all night!" she said, smiling.

"You look quite worn out, sister," said Mme.  Lemaire.

"Ah, madame, but when one remembers that his father died in prison,
one's heart bleeds for the poor little mite," said the kind nurse,
recommencing her hushing.  Amelie turned abruptly away.

But in every child that day the little boy at Poissy seemed to appeal to
her.  Far from forgetting, she found him looking at her, clinging,
kissing her.  A new orphan had been admitted that morning.  She dared
not ask his name, so convinced was she that the answer would be Raoul.
He haunted her; do what she would, she could not shake him off.  She
left the Orphanage at last, flying, as she had never flown before, from
the innocent children.  On her way home she bought a newspaper, and
there read a fuller account of the trial than she had gathered from
Nathalie.

She had not seen her husband for several days, but this was not unusual,
for he had his rooms in Paris, and only came out to Passy at intervals.
She accepted her loveless lot, clinging to the Orphanage, and finding in
that consolation for almost all trials.  Happily for her her nature was
the reverse of sensitive, so that she was able to love him without
fretting hopelessly over the poor returns her affection brought back.
She felt at this moment a turmoil such as she had never yet experienced,
a conflict between conscience and love.  Could it be her terrible duty
to say the words which must denounce her husband?  Impossible.  She
thrust the thought from her.

Then she determined on a medium course.  She would see him, appeal to
him.  Alas, what influence had she ever had that she could fall back
upon it now?  Recall past years as she might, not once could she
remember anything she had said moving her husband when he had made a
resolution, or even making him swerve in a contrary direction.  She
could imagine his anger becoming deadly.  She did not think he would
shrink from locking her up, or from almost any violence by which he
could prevent her from speaking; but she could not imagine his yielding
to what must be his ruin.  She cried out with the pain of these
gathering thoughts, which seemed to press upon her, stop her breathing,
hurt her almost to death.  She reproached herself for giving them room,
but all the while knew with fear that it was her conscience which held
the open door and let them in.  When she got home she stumbled up-stairs
like a fainting woman, and fell down on the floor, crying out piteously
for help for her soul, although she knew that every moment of delay was
a sin.

Nathalie drove back to the court, sick with failure.  Her strength and
will upheld her when there was anything to be done; but when not even
that remained, her very limbs seemed paralysed, and she wondered to find
other senses still at her command.  M.  Rodoin's clerk was looking out
for her, and went hastily to fetch his master, who came into a small
room which had been set apart for them, and where she tottered towards
him with outspread hands and a haggard face.

"I could not move her."

"She refused?"

"Utterly.  But she knew nothing."

"Well, well, dear madame, do not take it so much to heart.  If any one
can save your husband it will be Maitre Barraud.  You will go home now?"

She flung him a look of reproach.

"I am counting the moments until I can be where he will see me," she
said, resolutely.

M.  Rodoin moved to the door, and she followed him, impelling herself by
sheer determination.  Once he looked round and said, half to himself:
"Whatever happens, there are many who might envy Monsieur de
Beaudrillart!" but she took no notice, and did not even hear him, any
more than she saw the curious looks turned towards her as she stood at
the door of the court.  Her eyes were waiting for her husband's, and the
moment that his glance fell upon her a sudden light irradiated them.
Now that she had to strengthen him, she was strong again.

The court, however, was near adjournment, and there was no doubt that M.
de Beaudrillart's prospects were bad.  If his wife could only have gone
to him, it seemed to her that half the anguish would have been
lightened; but to think of him desolate and despairing was agony.  Her
father's presence gave her a certain comfort, although at first she had
been seized with the dread that she might have to listen to reproaches
of her husband, which she would have found unendurable.  But M.  Bourget
was stolidly silent.  By slow degrees he was coming round to believe in
Leon's innocence of the greater charge, and he was extraordinarily
impressed with the powers of Maitre Barraud.  He was kind to Nathalie,
telling her of M.  Georges's persistent confidence, and of his bringing
Raoul to Tours; and to the poor mother, parted from her child by what
seemed years, even a lifetime, it was comfort to have every word
repeated, and to know that he was well and happy.  She feasted upon it,
then was smitten with remorse for letting her thoughts leave Leon, even
for a minute.  Was there nothing for her to do?  They said that Maitre
Barraud wished to speak to her, and she breathlessly pushed her father
out of the room, and waited, holding the door.  She tried to speak, but
her voice sounded strangely far away, and her eyes dumbly questioned the
young advocate.  To her surprise he looked as usual, and his voice was
as indifferent as ever.

"I need only detain you one moment, madame.  You saw the wife, and she
refused to speak.  Do you imagine she had anything to say!"

"Once I thought she had."

"What were you speaking of at that moment?"

"Of our child."

He nodded.  "I knew she had a sentiment.  Her husband neglects her, and
she spends her days at the Orphanage.  I do not despair.  The child and
her conscience will work upon her."

"She knew nothing of the trial."

"Good!  She will think the more.  A thousand thanks, madame!"  He was
gone.

Unconscious tact had stifled the question of how he thought the trial
was going, and, although she did not know it, she had her reward.  He
joined M.  Rodoin in the court-yard of the hotel, and said:

"Crow, man of discernment!  Your hazel-eyed Madame de Beaudrillart is a
phoenix.  She answered my questions, and did not pester me with one of
her own.  I should like to win the case, partly on that account, and
partly because Miron is so confoundedly cocksure."

"Win it, then."

"Any good in the father?"

"A typical bourgeois, accustomed to hector his neighbours, and not
altogether convinced in his own mind."

Maitre Barraud swept his hat to a charming lady who drove by in a
victoria.

"The Marquise de Pontharmin," he explained.  "I dine with her to-night."

"While poor Madame de Beaudrillart imagines you preparing your defence
with a wet towel round your head?"

"The world's remarks are worth a dozen wet towels.  Do you know, the
world is sometimes extraordinarily shrewd, and you can go and tell your
phoenix so.  Here we part--till to-morrow!"

CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

THE LAST WITNESS.

Maitre Barraud had, by little and little, built up a theory for his
defence which, thanks to his keen observation and brilliant intuition,
was not far from the truth.  He was satisfied that the young baron had
repaid the money, and that M. de Cadanet, though he punished him with
silence, had no intention of making the matter public.  What the
advocate thought probable was, however, that by one of those unlucky
forgetfulnesses to which all men are liable, the old count had never
destroyed the letter of confession, and that Charles Lemaire had found
it among his other papers after his death.  He believed that it was
highly probable M. de Cadanet had given some hint beforehand which was
sufficient to enable a sharp and unscrupulous man to put two and two
together, and arrive at his accusation.  The world with whom he dined
was of no more use to him than the wet towel might have been.  Mme. de
Pontharmin, it is true, said: "Do not disappoint us.  I do not know
whether he is guilty, but I shall break my heart if you do not prove him
innocent,"--but this was a command and not a suggestion, which would
have been a hundred times more valuable.  When the time arrived for his
speech he wore so confident an air that the Procureur rubbed his hands.

"We are safe," he said.  "Barraud is hopeless."

One thing was certain--he had never taken more pains.  Eloquence and
masterly appeals to sentiment held the court breathless.  Lemaire dug
his nails into his palms and turned livid as he heard his own life
presented in the most ignoble colours, his gambling, his follies, and
side by side with them the mask he wore before M. de Cadanet.  He was
scourged with scorn as Maitre Barraud's magnificent voice described
him--not content with winning M. de Beaudrillart's money, also
calumniating his victim to the old man who, bound to the Poissy family
by ties of gratitude to the father, might have come to the rescue of the
son had his mind not been poisoned against him.  Lemaire, listening,
felt that his cause was lost, but Maitre Miron's face wore its most
contented air.

It was an unusually long speech, going into very minute details.  He
insisted upon the absolute probability of the young man's story, and the
readiness with which he had admitted the points which told against
himself.  He touched pathetically on the life at Poissy--the happy
family life, mother and sisters, child, and wife--the heroic wife who
was present, suffering the pangs of suspense, and refusing to desert her
husband.  At another time Nathalie would have crimsoned under the
curious looks turned in her direction by those who knew where she eat;
but now she was absolutely unconscious of them, her eyes being fixed
upon Leon, and her one thought to meet his with hopefulness.  He entered
fully into the particulars of Leon's interview with M. de Cadanet.  What
could be more probable than the description given by the accused; what
more tantalising than to have the means of extrication from his
difficulties dangled before his eyes, and to hear that though they might
have been his, they were now to go to the man who had slandered him?  He
was not defending the action of the prisoner in the street, but he left
it to the jury to say whether the sudden temptation was not almost
irresistible!  And what could have been more straightforward than his
action immediately afterwards?  They had heard his letter, avowing
everything, placing himself at the disposal of M. de Cadanet.  Surely,
if ever the count thought of taking action, he would have taken it then.
Was it probable that a man--a man, especially, who was under so great
obligations to the De Beaudrillart family as M. de Cadanet--would have
nursed such a terrible, such a savage revenge, as to keep silence for
years in order that the bolt might fall when it was least expected, and
when his own death might have relieved them from the last vestige of
uneasiness?  Supposing, even, that the debt had remained unpaid, he
refused to think so meanly of human nature.

Charles Lemaire moistened his dry lips, the Procureur's face expressed
nothing but contented indifference.

After a momentary pause, Maitre Barraud proceeded.  But, he said, what
made it actually impossible was that the debt had been wholly repaid,
first by an instalment of five hundred francs, a small sum certainly,
but one which in the then condition of the estate, represented the most
honourable economies, and, directly his marriage gave him the means of
discharging it in full, by the entire sum of principal and interest.  M.
Bourget, the father-in-law of M. de Beaudrillart, had proved that at
the time of the marriage, he, being desirous to clear off all debts on
the estate, was told by M. de Beaudrillart that the sum of two hundred
thousand francs was necessary for this object, and agreed to its being
thus used.  What suggestion, even, had been offered by the prosecution
as to any other destination for this large sum?  Had they brought
forward a single creditor who could account for so much as a part of it?
The explanation given by the accused was perfectly simple and
straightforward.  He had redeemed the promise in his letter and had
despatched it at once to M. de Cadanet, who, owing to a natural
indignation at what, no doubt, had been a forced loan, took no notice of
the repayment and left M. de Beaudrillart to draw his own conclusions.

Here he paused for an instant again, and glanced at the spot where sat
Charles Lemaire, from whose face he drew what small encouragement he
felt.  To his astonishment it was empty.  Maitre Miron, however, had not
moved, so that it did not seem as if he were connected with the
disappearance.  Maitre Barraud went on, his voice more slow and
impressive as he reached the point of M. de Cadanet's last illness, his
mind busily engaged in revolving why Lemaire had gone.  He spoke of the
influence which, by his own showing, Lemaire must have exercised upon
the old count, who saw no one except the prosecutor and his wife.  Only
connected with him by marriage, he said, he had become his chief heir,
his executor, apparently the receiver of his secrets.  You were asked to
believe that this dying old man, grasping revenge with palsied hands,
had put into his possession an instrument powerful enough to ruin a
noble family, and bidden him use it.  Was it likely?  The heart of every
man and woman in that building he believed would cry out against such a
shameful possibility.  What really happened it was not difficult to
conceive--

At this point a piece of paper with a few lines scrawled upon it was
handed up to the counsel.  He read it mechanically without pausing in
his speech, and the only thing the closest observer could have noticed
was a slight change of manner.  His voice became slower, almost
drawling, and it might have been thought that at this moment he had
yielded to the hopelessness of the case, and given up his efforts.  The
change surprised the listeners, and one person was affected by it, for
all the Procureur's keen attention revived, his eyelids contracting, and
his mouth tightening.  Maitre Barraud went so languidly on that
Nathalie, for a moment, covered her eyes with her hand in despair.  He
touched upon the old man's death-bed, but with an entire absence of
emotion.  He could imagine, he said, that M.  Lemaire would receive
instructions for the future, perhaps be called upon to destroy certain
documents, which M. de Cadanet never intended should survive him.

"And in this softened moment," he proceeded, "the first thing to be put
out of the way would be Monsieur de Beaudrillart's frank confession.
You ask me what really happened.  I am now in a position to tell you.
The document was given to Monsieur Lemaire to destroy on the spot.  For
it he substituted another paper, kept back this, and allowed Monsieur de
Cadanet to die in the belief that Monsieur de Beaudrillart's safety was
assured."

With one of those sudden changes of tone which he knew how to use so
effectively, he allowed his last sentences to ring out like a trumpet.
The next moment the Procureur was on his feet, protesting against such a
charge being made; the crowd, stirred to its depths, broke into an
inarticulate murmur, promptly hushed; Nathalie, the tears raining down
her cheeks, kissed her hand impulsively to her husband; Maitre Barraud,
remarking quietly that an important though late witness had arrived who
would prove what was said, merely appealed to the Court to hear her, and
sat down without troubling himself to carry his speech any further;
presently, and before the agitation had subsided, and after a
consultation with the judges, it was seen that a plain woman, dressed in
black, her eyes fixed on the ground, was in the witness-box, and a
whisper went round the court that this was M.  Lemaire's wife.

Her answers were at first mechanical, and throughout scarcely audible.
As she was sworn, those who were near saw a tremor pass over her, and
compassion made the judge cease to request her to speak more plainly, as
soon as he discovered that to do so was beyond her powers.  Maitre
Barraud, in place of his junior, examined her himself, and very briefly.
After the necessary particulars as to who she was, he went direct to M.
de Cadanet's last illness, and inquired whether the name of De
Beaudrillart had been mentioned to her by him.

She replied that it had, more than once.

In what manner?

He gave her the impression of having a yearning towards them;
particularly, here her voice shook, towards the boy.

Did she suggest his sending for them?

Yes.

He refused?

Yes.

Did he speak of the prisoner?  She looked uncomprehending, and he added,
"Of Monsieur de Beaudrillart?"

"He said he had behaved very ill."

"And you tried to soften your uncle?"

"I thought he was very desolate, and that it was a pity some one should
not come."

"Did your husband approve of this attempt of yours?"

She hesitated, and then said that her husband feared it might excite M.
de Cadanet.

"Do you remember the 12th of August, 188-?"

"Yes."

"Give an account of what happened."

She lifted her face, and looked imploringly round the court.  Meeting
only the gaze of countless eyes riveted upon hers, she looked on the
floor again quickly, locking her hands together.  Her voice trembled so
exceedingly that the writers taking down the evidence could scarcely
hear, and more than once she stopped altogether, and Maitre Barraud had
to ask a question or two to induce her to go on.  But the gist of the
evidence was to the effect that M. de Cadanet was very ill, and she
watched anxiously for an opportunity to send for a priest.  He was
desirous to speak alone to her husband; she hoped when that interview
was over to succeed in persuading him.

"Where were you during the interview?"

"In the anteroom.  It was necessary that some one should be at hand in
case of need."

"Were you needed?"

"Not actually--I heard my husband's voice raised once as if in alarm."

"Not anger?"

"Oh, no, no!  I ran to the door and found I was not wanted."

"Was all as usual?"

"A candle was lighted."

"Did you go away!"

"Not instantly.  I wish now I had!" she cried, involuntarily.

"Repeat what you heard," said the judge, gently, "and saw."

"Something was burnt.  I had half closed the door, and could not hear
what my husband said, but Monsieur de Cadanet--"

"Yes?"

"He said: `You will remember that Monsieur de Beaudrillart has paid
everything, and that I have nothing against him.'"

The words died away.  The silence in the court had become profound.
Poor Mme.  Lemaire buried her face in her hands.

"Have you," said the judge at last, "ever mentioned what you overheard
to your husband!"

"No.  I was afraid it would vex him."

"But when you heard that he was bringing this trial!"

"I never heard it.  I live very much out of the world--too much,
perhaps."

"And what induced you to come forward to-day!"

"Madame de Beaudrillart came and implored me.  They have a child who
would have been disgraced.  I--am more fortunate," she murmured.

Maitre Barraud had meanwhile been examining the letter written by Leon,
of which one corner had been torn off--no doubt where the old man's
attempt to burn it had left a blackened edge.  He had relapsed into his
most tranquil and uninterested air, and sat down.

The Procureur attempted to cross-examine Mme.  Lemaire, but it was
useless.  He asked how it was that she could hear so clearly the words
of a dying and feeble old man, when by her own account the door was half
closed, and she had failed to catch her husband's words.

She replied simply that she could not tell.

Was it not possible that she had been mistaken.

"I heard what I have repeated."

"And you have come here to give evidence against your husband without so
much as telling him what you were going to do!"

"I--I tried--I sent--" She looked wildly round, and, before any one
could reach her, dropped unconscious on the floor.

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

THE AWAKENING OF A SOUL.

The famous trial was at an end, and talk rapidly subsiding.  After Mme.
Lemaire's evidence it was felt that the prosecution fell to the ground,
and the jury brought in an acquittal at once.  When Leon and Nathalie
met they could not speak.  The woman in both was uppermost but voiceless
until they found themselves alone.  He was aged, and there were lines in
his face which would never leave it, for although his nature was not
deep enough to suffer deeply, its easy lightness had offered no sort of
resistance when shaken by despair.  Yet it seemed as if something had
come to him--perhaps the soul, which was wanting before, or lay
undeveloped, waiting for the touch of a great love.  Love and suffering.
Their union is divine, and divine their mission and their strength.

A warrant was issued for the arrest of Charles Lemaire on the charge of
perjury, but he had taken advantage of the warning which at last reached
him from his wife to escape--it is believed--to America.  For a long
time after that testimony to which her conscience forced her she was
very ill.  She recovered at last, and found consolation in her
Orphanage.  She would never see Nathalie again, but once Raoul was taken
to the Home, and stared amazedly at rows of little white beds, and at a
lady in black who looked at him and cried.

Perhaps of the actors in the little drama, M.  Bourget, who seemed the
most square and solid figure of all, showed the roost change, or shared
that feature beyond the others with Mme. de Beaudrillart.  He had gone
through a collapse.  Hopes, opinions, ambitions, affections had tumbled
down together in one vast ruin, and although he managed to build some of
them up again, the feeling of insecurity which follows an earthquake
could not be easily got rid of.  Until then he had scarcely believed
that there was any possible contingency in which money would not carry
the day.  Certain it is that he bullies less, and on more than one
occasion has been known to abstain from laying down the law.  Leroux has
never been forgiven, but the person for whom he displays the most
sincere respect, and to whose opinions he attaches a quite
disproportionate value is M.  Georges.  Meanwhile, although he has once
declined the honour, it is pretty certain that he will be chosen for the
next mayor.

As for M.  Georges himself, it is the incredible which comes to pass,
and his wife--to his own utter amazement--is no other than a Demoiselle
De Beaudrillart.  Had Mme. de Beaudrillart been herself, it could never
have happened, but the poor woman was struck down and shattered by the
storm which had shaken the very foundations of Poissy, and all her old
landmarks were swept away.  And M.  Georges had been such a stay, such a
support in the hour of trouble!  Everybody turned to him.  His unfailing
helpfulness, his good sense, his courageous loyalty attracted them to
the little man.  Poor Claire!  She had been attracted first of all, and
it was hard that having stood up for him when others blamed, she should
be obliged to look on and see Felicie chosen.  As for Leon, what could
he say?  It shocked him; but had he not been the cause of what might
have proved a really overwhelming disgrace?  After all was said and
done, the fact remained that he had taken the notes, and there were
people who would throw it up at him when they heard his name all his
life long.  And Nathalie was on M.  Georges's side.

"Dear, if you married me, why should not Felicie marry Monsieur
Georges?"

It was one of those differences which seem infinite to the person who
has to decide, but which cannot be explained to the world.  As for
Felicie herself, bliss smiled in her face.  M.  Georges had behaved
admirably.  After welcoming M. and Mme.  Leon, he had sought an
interview with Leon, laid himself and his small prospects most humbly at
Mlle.  Felicie's feet, and taken himself off at once to Tours.  Leon had
gone so far as to argue with his sister, and to ask her whether she had
fully considered what the change in position meant.

"Oh, it will be delightful!" exclaimed Felicie.  "We shall be within
reach of Nantes, and every summer we shall take sea-baths, and see
something of the world."

"Of the world!" repeated Leon, petrified.  "I thought you dreaded it!"

"As a girl, yes; but with my husband what should I dread?" said Felicie,
calmly.  "Here it is certainly not gay, and lately, I can assure you,
Leon, with poor mamma so crushed, and Claire walking about with a face
of stone, and you in prison, if it had not been for Michel I don't know
what one would have done!  Is it not delightful that he should have such
a beautiful name?  Saint Michel's has always been a special day for me,
and I had all the new embroideries ready for it."

How could Leon answer this speech?  Felicie's obstinacy was well known
in the family.  He persisted so far as to ask whether she was prepared
to live in a very small way, and probably have no money for
pilgrimages--

"Michel has not quite made up his mind that pilgrimages do all the good
we suppose," interrupted Felicie, with the air of a discoverer.

"--And find yourself Madame Georges, instead of Mademoiselle de
Beaudrillart?"

"Claire said that no one would recognise us again," she remarked, in
answer; "and though it has all turned out so much better than we
expected, I do think that Michel was the only person who really believed
in you.  Even the abbe was doubtful.  I am sure you must be very
grateful to Michel always, dear Leon."

She carried the day.  Claire would say nothing.  Claire's misery seemed
scarcely lessened.  It was as if the very possibility of such a disaster
as had threatened had turned her to marble, and that she could not come
to life again.  She spent her time either with her mother, who was now
always in her own room, or wandering about the grounds by herself,
especially avoiding Felicie.  All that Nathalie could do was to leave
books about in the salon, books such as she knew would interest her
sister-in-law, and to avoid comment when they disappeared.  She hoped by
this means to offer a little food to her active mind without giving her
the annoyance of feeling herself under an obligation.

Two others who were perfectly happy at the chateau were Jacques
Charpentier and Raoul, and perhaps it was Raoul's talk which most
reconciled his father to Felicie's marriage.  He was never tired of
vaunting M.  Georges, or of bringing forward the small surprises which
had been prepared for this happy moment.  Spurred by their motive, he
had submitted to learn to read, to print his own name, and to sing a
funny little song about a drummer in a shrill childish voice.  He was
not content until he had dragged his father and mother down to the
river, that he might show them how he could throw his line like a
grown-up man.

It was a day in late autumn, one of those days which come laden with the
sweetness of the past.  A ripe golden glow was abroad, shining on the
yellow leaves of the poplars, and reaching the hearts of husband and
wife as they stood by the river and watched it flowing by strong and
swift.  There was enough wind to stir the long grasses by its side,
always moist and green; to drive a few white clouds softly across the
sky, and to give a delicious exhilaration to the light air.  Gnats
danced in the sun, a distant sound of children's voices reached the ear,
and old Antoine, in his sabots, clattered across the bridge.  On this
bridge there was a patch of new wood, still out of tone with the old
railing and its soft, rich grey, and a few bits of useless stuff which
the river had flung on one side on a certain wild night not so very long
ago had been turned over by the thrifty villagers, and left as of no
value.  Antoine was looking forward to a good storm when he would go up
to the chateau and come back unmolested with a fine supply of fuel.  He
glanced at the two figures as they stood by the water-side, and
chuckled.  "It's as easy to hold one's tongue as to talk," he muttered,
"and pays better."

For a time the two were silent.  Now first had they seen the river since
that terrible night, and their hearts were too full for speech.
Suddenly Nathalie was in her husband's arms, strained there
passionately.  "My dear one!" he whispered, again and again; nothing
more, and perhaps it was a good sign that his old flow of words was
wanting.

She had closed her eyes in the dizziness of her bliss, and when she
opened them again he rained kisses on them, those eyes which held in the
brown clearness the fresh healthiness of a mountain stream.

After a time they could speak, both trembling.

"You saved me," he said, "three times over.  Here--"

"Don't talk of that," she shuddered.

"--Then by making me tell the truth, then by going to that poor woman.
Body and soul, three times over."

He had let her go, and they walked, step by step, through the long green
grass.  She sighed softly: "I am so happy that I am afraid."

She felt as if she had reached heaven, and, as she had said, it
frightened her until she had breathed a prayer.  That calmed her
swelling heart, and she could bear to hear him whisper again:

"Three times over."

"Dear," she said, "what of that?  When one loves--"

"They all loved me.  But only your love was strong enough to stand by
me."

She gave a quick, happy laugh.

"We have gained friends," she said.  "Monsieur Rodoin."

"And Maitre Barraud."

"Not he.  He only thought of his case, and of triumphing over Maitre
Miron.  When they were all congratulating you afterwards, do you know
what I saw?"

"What?"

Her voice sank.  "He yawned."

Leon's vanity felt a momentary mortification.  Then he laughed.

"Forgive him," he said.  "The situation was not so novel to him as to
us."

They were sitting together by this time, within easy reach of Raoul, on
a small, thick bough of a tree which jutted out from the bank.  The
river ran by, swift and silvery, though Nathalie kept her eyes
persistently turned from it; the poplars rustled, above them were
fathomless depths of white and blue.  The chateau itself lay behind and
out of sight, yet at this moment both were thinking of it; of its grey
stones, which somehow seemed to be built into the very lives of the De
Beaudrillarts; of those who had fought for it, sinned for it.  Not one
of them had shielded it to more purpose from dishonour than the young
wife who had met so much contempt within its walls, whose picture had
been refused a place among the old ancestors.

Nathalie broke the silence.

"Have you read the bishop's letter!"

"To you?"

"Yes."

"Oh, poor Felicie!"  Nathalie laughed.

"She does not care.  All the vestments are going off to Madame Lemballe
to-morrow morning, and she intends to embroider herself an evening
dress.  But the letter is delightful.  So hearty!  And he means to come
again."

"He will be more welcome than he was before.  Nathalie, dearest," his
voice sank, "Monsieur Georges wants us to have rejoicings--something to
mark my home-coming.  How can one have a merrymaking over what grew out
of misery and weakness?  If it had not been for you the weakness would
have cost me my life; and as it is, my poor mother is left a wreck.
There is nothing to be proud of, though I hope I am thankful.  What do
you say?"

She clung to him.  "Dear love, no!  Not merrymaking.  One can show one's
thankfulness in some other way."

"Raoul will be a better man than I have been."

"Never dearer to those who love him."

"Even after all you heard in Paris?"

"Always, and forever."  There was not a shadow of hesitation in her
voice, and when he put her from him and looked into her eyes, they met
his without shrinking.  She repeated the word "Always."

"I believe you," he said, letting his head fall; "but you are different
from most women--and most men.  I could not have done for you all that
you have done for me, or half of it."

She was looking at him with an infinite love, though she knew the truth
of what he said.  The roots of love did not run deep enough with him; he
could not have done it--perhaps never would have force enough to do it.
What of that?  It is better to give than to receive.  When life has gone
so far, characters do not change suddenly, even when an earthquake has
shaken them.  They grow a little stronger, a little weaker; they fall
and rise, or, alas, sometimes slip farther down the hill.  We see the
slips and hear the clatter of falling stones more quickly than we notice
the gradual gain, inch by inch, which to clearer eyes than ours means
all the difference.

And so, though some of her dreams had flown forever, and there were
lines written on her face which no coming springs or summers could
efface, Nathalie was happy.  When Claire had talked of Leon having no
soul, she was not far out, for something which he had not shown before
had been born in him by the strength of his wife's love.  Life looked
different to him; the rose-leaves with which he tried to cover it up had
been swept away by the storm, scars were left, ugly chasms, rough
stones.  But, side by side, hand in hand, walked his wife.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The End.





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