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Title: L'Abbe Constantin — Complete
Author: Halévy, Ludovic
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.

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THE ABBE CONSTANTIN

By LUDOVIC HALEVY


With a Preface by E. LEGOUVE, of the French Academy



LUDOVIC HALEVY

Ludovic Halevy was born in Paris, January 1, 1834. His father was Leon
Halevy, the celebrated author; his grandfather, Fromenthal, the eminent
composer. Ludovic was destined for the civil service, and, after
finishing his studies, entered successively the Department of State
(1852); the Algerian Department (1858), and later on became editorial
secretary of the Corps Legislatif (1860). When his patron, the Duc de
Morny, died in 1865, Halevy resigned, giving up a lucrative position
for the uncertain profession of a playwright: At this period he devoted
himself exclusively to the theatre.

He had already written plays as early as 1856, and had also tried his
hand at fiction, but did not meet with very great success. Toward 1860,
however, he became acquainted with Henri Meilhac, and with him formed
a kind of literary union, lasting for almost twenty years, when Halevy
rather abruptly abandoned the theatre and became a writer of fiction.

We have seen such kinds of co-partnerships, for instance, in
Beaumont and Fletcher; more recently in the beautiful French tales of
Erckmann-Chatrian, and still later in the English novels of Besant and
Rice.

Some say it was a fortunate event for Meilhac; others assert that Halevy
reaped a great profit by the union. Be this as it may, a great number
of plays-drama, comedy, farce, opera, operetta and ballet--were jointly
produced, as is shown by the title-pages of two score or more of their
pieces. When Ludovic Halevy was a candidate for L’Academie--he entered
that glorious body in 1884--the question was ventilated by Pailleron:
“What was the author’s literary relation in his union with Meilhac?” It
was answered by M. Sarcey, who criticised the character and quality of
the work achieved. Public opinion has a long time since brought in quite
another verdict in the case.

Halevy’s cooperation endowed the plays of Meilhac with a fuller ethical
richness--tempered them, so to speak, and made them real, for it can not
be denied that Meilhac was inclined to extravagance.

Halevy’s novels are remarkable for the elegance of literary style,
tenderness of spirit and keenness of observation. He excels in ironical
sketches. He has often been compared to Eugene Sue, but his touch is
lighter than Sue’s, and his humor less unctuous. Most of his little
sketches, originally written for La Vie Parisienne, were collected in
his ‘Monsieur et Madame Cardinal’ (1873); and ‘Les Petites Cardinal’,
(1880). They are not intended ‘virginibus puerisque’, and the author’s
attitude is that of a half-pitying, half-contemptuous moralist, yet the
virility of his criticism has brought him immortality.

Personal recollections of the great war are to be found in ‘L’Invasion’
(1872); and ‘Notes et Souvenirs’, 1871-1872 (1889). Most extraordinary,
however, was the success of ‘L’Abbe Constantin’ (1882), crowned by
the Academy, which has gone through no less than one hundred and fifty
editions up to 1904, and ranks as one of the greatest successes of
contemporaneous literature. It is, indeed, his ‘chef-d’oeuvre’, very
delicate, earnest, and at the same time ironical, a most entrancing
family story. It was then that the doors of the French Academy opened
wide before Halevy. ‘L’Abbe Constantin’ was adapted for the stage by
Cremieux and Decourcelle (Le Gymnase, 1882). Further notable novels are:
‘Criquette, Deux Mariages, Un Grand Mariage, Un Mariage d’Amour’, all in
1883; ‘Princesse, Les Trois Coups de Foudre, Mon Camarade Moussard’, all
in 1884; and the romances, ‘Karikari (1892), and Mariette (1893)’. Since
that time, I think, Halevy has not published anything of importance.

                    E. LEGOUVE
                  de l’Academie Francaise.



THE ABBE CONSTANTIN



BOOK 1.



CHAPTER I. THE SALE OF LONGUEVAL

With a step still valiant and firm, an old priest walked along the dusty
road in the full rays of a brilliant sun. For more than thirty years the
Abbe Constantin had been Cure of the little village which slept there in
the plain, on the banks of a slender stream called La Lizotte. The Abbe
Constantin was walking by the wall which surrounded the park of the
castle of Longueval; at last he reached the entrance-gate, which rested
high and massive on two ancient pillars of stone, embrowned and gnawed
by time. The Cure stopped, and mournfully regarded two immense blue
posters fixed on the pillars.

The posters announced that on Wednesday, May 18, 1881, at one o’clock
P.M., would take place, before the Civil Tribunal of Souvigny, the sale
of the domain of Longueval, divided into four lots:

1. The castle of Longueval, its dependencies, fine pieces of water,
extensive offices, park of 150 hectares in extent, completely surrounded
by a wall, and traversed by the little river Lizotte. Valued at 600,000
francs.

2. The farm of Blanche-Couronne, 300 hectares, valued at 500,000 francs.

3. The farm of La Rozeraie, 250 hectares, valued at 400,000 francs.

4. The woods and forests of La Mionne, containing 450 hectares, valued
at 550,000 francs.

And these four amounts, added together at the foot of the bill, gave the
respectable sum of 2,050,000 francs.

Then they were really going to dismember this magnificent domain, which,
escaping all mutilation, had for more than two centuries always been
transmitted intact from father to son in the family of Longueval. The
placards also announced that after the temporary division into four
lots, it would be possible to unite them again, and offer for sale the
entire domain; but it was a very large morsel, and, to all appearance,
no purchaser would present himself.

The Marquise de Longueval had died six months before; in 1873 she
had lost her only son, Robert de Longueval; the three heirs were the
grandchildren of the Marquise: Pierre, Helene, and Camille. It had been
found necessary to offer the domain for sale, as Helene and Camille were
minors. Pierre, a young man of three-and-twenty, had lived rather fast,
was already half-ruined, and could not hope to redeem Longueval.

It was mid-day. In an hour it would have a new master, this old castle
of Longueval; and this master, who would he be? What woman would take
the place of the old Marquise in the chimney-corner of the grand salon,
all adorned with ancient tapestry?--the old Marquise, the friend of the
old priest. It was she who had restored the church; it was she who had
established and furnished a complete dispensary at the vicarage under
the care of Pauline, the Cure’s servant; it was she who, twice a week,
in her great barouche, all crowded with little children’s clothes and
thick woolen petticoats, came to fetch the Abbe Constantin to make with
him what she called ‘la chasse aux pauvres’.

The old priest continued his walk, musing over all this; then he
thought, too--the greatest saints have their little weaknesses--he
thought, too, of the beloved habits of thirty years thus rudely
interrupted. Every Thursday and every Sunday he had dined at the castle.
How he had been petted, coaxed, indulged! Little Camille--she was eight
years old--would come and sit on his knee and say to him:

“You know, Monsieur le Cure, it is in your church that I mean to be
married, and grandmamma will send such heaps of flowers to fill, quite
fill the church--more than for the month of Mary. It will be like a
large garden--all white, all white, all white!”

The month of Mary! It was then the month of Mary. Formerly, at this
season, the altar disappeared under the flowers brought from the
conservatories of Longueval. None this year were on the altar, except
a few bouquets of lily-of-the-valley and white lilac in gilded china
vases. Formerly, every Sunday at high mass, and every evening during the
month of Mary, Mademoiselle Hebert, the reader to Madame de Longueval,
played the little harmonium given by the Marquise. Now the poor
harmonium, reduced to silence, no longer accompanied the voices of the
choir or the children’s hymns. Mademoiselle Marbeau, the postmistress,
would, with all her heart, have taken the place of Mademoiselle Hebert,
but she dared not, though she was a little musical! She was afraid of
being remarked as of the clerical party, and denounced by the Mayor, who
was a Freethinker. That might have been injurious to her interests, and
prevented her promotion.

He had nearly reached the end of the wall of the park--that park of
which every corner was known to the old priest. The road now followed
the banks of the Lizotte, and on the other side of the little stream
stretched the fields belonging to the two farms; then, still farther
off, rose the dark woods of La Mionne.

Divided! The domain was going to be divided! The heart of the poor
priest was rent by this bitter thought. All that for thirty years had
been inseparable, indivisible to him. It was a little his own, his very
own, his estate, this great property. He felt at home on the lands
of Longueval. It had happened more than once that he had stopped
complacently before an immense cornfield, plucked an ear, removed the
husk, and said to himself:

“Come! the grain is fine, firm, and sound. This year we shall have a
good harvest!”

And with a joyous heart he would continue his way through his fields,
his meadows, his pastures; in short, by every chord of his heart, by
every tie of his life, by all his habits, his memories, he clung to this
domain whose last hour had come.

The Abbe perceived in the distance the farm of Blanche-Couronne; its
red-tiled roofs showed distinctly against the verdure of the forest.
There, again, the Cure was at home. Bernard, the farmer of the Marquise,
was his friend; and when the old priest was delayed in his visits to the
poor and sick, when the sun was sinking below the horizon, and the
Abbe began to feel a little fatigued in his limbs, and a sensation of
exhaustion in his stomach, he stopped and supped with Bernard, regaled
himself with a savory stew and potatoes, and emptied his pitcher of
cider; then, after supper, the farmer harnessed his old black mare to
his cart, and took the vicar back to Longueval. The whole distance they
chatted and quarrelled. The Abbe reproached the farmer with not going to
mass, and the latter replied:

“The wife and the girls go for me. You know very well, Monsieur le Cure,
that is how it is with us. The women have enough religion for the men.
They will open the gates of paradise for us.”

And he added maliciously, while giving a touch of the whip to his old
black mare:

“If there is one!”

The Cure sprang from his seat.

“What! if there is one! Of a certainty there is one.”

“Then you will be there, Monsieur le Cure. You say that is not certain,
and I say it is. You will be there, you will be there, at the gate,
on the watch for your parishioners, and still busy with their little
affairs; and you will say to St. Peter--for it is St. Peter, isn’t it,
who keeps the keys of paradise?”

“Yes, it is St. Peter.”

“Well, you will say to him, to St. Peter, if he wants to shut the door
in my face under the pretense that I did not go to mass--you will say to
him: ‘Bah! let him in all the same. It is Bernard, one of the farmers
of Madame la Marquise, an honest man. He was common councilman, and
he voted for the maintenance of the sisters when they were going to be
expelled from the village school.’ That will touch St. Peter, who will
answer: ‘Well, well, you may pass, Bernard, but it is only to please
Monsieur le Cure.’ For you will be Monsieur le Cure up there, and Cure
of Longueval, too, for paradise itself would be dull for you if you must
give up being Cure of Longueval.”

Cure of Longueval! Yes, all his life he had been nothing but Cure of
Longueval, had never dreamed of anything else, had never wished to be
anything else. Three or four times excellent livings, with one or two
curates, had been offered to him, but he had always refused them. He
loved his little church, his little village, his little vicarage. There
he had it all to himself, saw to everything himself; calm, tranquil, he
went and came, summer and winter, in sunshine or storm, in wind or rain.
His frame became hardened by fatigue and exposure, but his soul remained
gentle, tender, and pure.

He lived in his vicarage, which was only a larger laborer’s cottage,
separated from the church by the churchyard. When the Cure mounted the
ladder to train his pear and peach trees, over the top of the wall he
perceived the graves over which he had said the last prayer, and cast
the first spadeful of earth. Then, while continuing his work, he said in
his heart a little prayer for the repose of those among his dead whose
fate disturbed him, and who might be still detained in purgatory. He had
a tranquil and childlike faith.

But among these graves there was one which, oftener than all the others,
received his visits and his prayers. It was the tomb of his old
friend Dr. Reynaud, who had died in his arms in 1871, and under what
circumstances! The doctor had been like Bernard; he never went to mass
or to confession; but he was so good, so charitable, so compassionate
to the suffering. This was the cause of the Cure’s great anxiety, of his
great solicitude. His friend Reynaud, where was he? Where was he? Then
he called to mind the noble life of the country doctor, all made up of
courage and self-denial; he recalled his death, above all his death, and
said to himself:

“In paradise; he can be nowhere but in paradise. The good God may have
sent him to purgatory just for form’s sake--but he must have delivered
him after five minutes.”

All this passed through the mind of the old man, as he continued his
walk toward Souvigny. He was going to the town, to the solicitor of the
Marquise, to inquire the result of the sale; to learn who were to be the
new masters of the castle of Longueval. The Abbe had still about a mile
to walk before reaching the first houses of Souvigny, and was passing
the park of Lavardens when he heard, above his head, voices calling to
him:

“Monsieur le Cure, Monsieur le Cure.”

At this spot adjoining the wall, a long alley of limetrees bordered the
terrace, and the Abbe, raising his head, perceived Madame de Lavardens,
and her son Paul.

“Where are you going, Monsieur le Cure?” asked the Countess.

“To Souvigny, to the Tribunal, to learn--”

“Stay here--Monsieur de Larnac is coming after the sale to tell me the
result.”

The Abbe Constantin joined them on the terrace.

Gertrude de Lannilis, Countess de Lavardens, had been very unfortunate.
At eighteen she had been guilty of a folly, the only one of her life,
but that one--irreparable. She had married for love, in a burst of
enthusiasm and exaltation, M. de Lavardens, one of the most fascinating
and brilliant men of his time. He did not love her, and only married her
from necessity; he had devoured his patrimonial fortune to the very last
farthing, and for two or three years had supported himself by various
expedients. Mademoiselle de Lannilis knew all that, and had no illusions
on these points, but she said to herself:

“I will love him so much, that he will end by loving me.”

Hence all her misfortunes. Her existence might have been tolerable, if
she had not loved her husband so much; but she loved him too much. She
had only succeeded in wearying him by her importunities and tenderness.
He returned to his former life, which had been most irregular. Fifteen
years had passed thus, in a long martyrdom, supported by Madame de
Lavardens with all the appearance of passive resignation. Nothing ever
could distract her from, or cure her of, the love which was destroying
her.

M. de Lavardens died in 1869; he left a son fourteen years of age, in
whom were already visible all the defects and all the good qualities of
his father. Without being seriously affected, the fortune of Madame
de Lavardens was slightly compromised, slightly diminished. Madame de
Lavardens sold her mansion in Paris, retired to the country, where she
lived with strict economy, and devoted herself to the education of her
son.

But here again grief and disappointment awaited her. Paul de Lavardens
was intelligent, amiable, and affectionate, but thoroughly rebellious
against any constraint, and any species of work. He drove to despair
three or four tutors who vainly endeavored to force something serious
into his head, went up to the military college of Saint-Cyr, failed at
the examination, and began to devour in Paris, with all the haste and
folly possible, 200,000 or 300,000 francs.

That done, he enlisted in the first regiment of the Chasseurs d’Afrique,
had in the very beginning of his military career the good fortune to
make one of an expeditionary column sent into the Sahara, distinguished
himself, soon became quartermaster, and at the end of three years was
about to be appointed sub-lieutenant, when he was captivated by a
young person who played the ‘Fille de Madame Angot’, at the theatre in
Algiers.

Paul had finished his time, he quitted the service, and went to Paris
with his charmer.... then it was a dancer.... then it was an actress....
then a circus-rider. He tried life in every form. He led the brilliant
and miserable existence of the unoccupied.

But it was only three or four months that he passed in Paris each year.
His mother made him an allowance Of 30,000 francs, and had declared to
him that never, while she lived, should he have another penny before
his marriage. He knew his mother, he knew he must consider her words as
serious. Thus, wishing to make a good figure in Paris, and lead a merry
life, he spent his 30,000 francs in three months, and then docilely
returned to Lavardens, where he was “out at grass.” He spent his time
hunting, fishing, and riding with the officers of the artillery regiment
quartered at Souvigny. The little provincial milliners and grisettes
replaced, without rendering him obvious of, the little singers and
actresses of Paris. By searching for them, one may still find grisettes
in country towns, and Paul de Lavardens sought assiduously.

As soon as the Cure had reached Madame de Lavardens, she said: “Without
waiting for Monsieur de Larnac, I can tell you the names of the
purchasers of the domain of Longueval. I am quite easy on the subject,
and have no doubt of the success of our plan. In order to avoid any
foolish disputes, we have agreed among ourselves, that is, among our
neighbors, Monsieur de Larnac, Monsieur Gallard, a great Parisian
banker, and myself. Monsieur de Larnac will have La Mionne, Monsieur
Gallard the castle and Blanche-Couronne, and La Rozeraie. I know you,
Monsieur le Cure, you will be anxious about your poor, but comfort
yourself. These Gallards are rich and will give you plenty of money.”

At this moment a cloud of dust appeared on the road, from it emerged a
carriage.

“Here comes Monsieur de Larnac!” cried Paul, “I know his ponies!”

All three hurriedly descended from the terrace and returned to the
castle. They arrived there just as M. de Larnac’s carriage drove up to
the entrance.

“Well?” asked Madame de Lavardens.

“Well!” replied M. de Larnac, “we have nothing.”

“What? Nothing?” cried Madame de Lavardens, very pale and agitated.

“Nothing, nothing; absolutely nothing--the one or the other of us.”

And M. de Larnac springing from his carriage, related what had taken
place at the sale before the Tribunal of Souvigny.

“At first,” he said, “everything went upon wheels. The castle went to
Monsieur Gallard for 650,000 francs. No competitor--a raise of fifty
francs had been sufficient. On the other hand, there was a little battle
for Blanche-Couronne. The bids rose from 500,000 francs to 520,000
francs, and again Monsieur Gallard was victorious. Another and more
animated battle for La Rozeraie; at last it was knocked down to you,
Madame, for 455,000 francs.... I got the forest of La Mionne without
opposition at a rise of 100 francs. All seemed over, those present had
risen, our solicitors were surrounded with persons asking the names of
the purchasers.”

“Monsieur Brazier, the judge intrusted with the sale, desired silence,
and the bailiff of the court offered the four lots together for
2,150,000 or 2,160,000 francs, I don’t remember which. A murmur passed
through the assembly. ‘No one will bid’ was heard on all sides. But
little Gibert, the solicitor, who was seated in the first row, and
till then had given no sign of life, rose and said calmly, ‘I have a
purchaser for the four lots together at 2,200,000 francs.’ This was like
a thunderbolt. A tremendous clamor arose, followed by a dead silence.
The hall was filled with farmers and laborers from the neighborhood.
Two million francs! So much money for the land threw them into a sort of
respectful stupor. However, Monsieur Gallard, bending toward Sandrier,
the solicitor who had bid for him, whispered something in his ear. The
struggle began between Gibert and Sandrier. The bids rose to 2,500,000
francs. Monsieur Gallard hesitated for a moment--decided--continued up
to 3,000,000. Then he stopped and the whole went to Gibert. Every one
rushed on him, they surrounded--they crushed him: ‘The name, the name of
the purchaser?’ ‘It is an American,’ replied Gibert, ‘Mrs. Scott.’”

“Mrs. Scott!” cried Paul de Lavardens.

“You know her?” asked Madame de Lavardens.

“Do I know her?--do I--not at all. But I was at a ball at her house six
weeks ago.”

“At a ball at her house! and you don’t know her! What sort of woman is
she, then?”

“Charming, delightful, ideal, a miracle!”

“And is there a Mr. Scott?”

“Certainly, a tall, fair man. He was at his ball. They pointed him out
to me. He bowed at random right and left. He was not much amused, I
will answer for it. He looked at us as if he were thinking, ‘Who are
all these people? What are they doing at my house?’ We went to see Mrs.
Scott and Miss Percival, her sister. And certainly it was well worth the
trouble.”

“These Scotts,” said Madame de Lavardens, addressing M. de Larnac, “do
you know who they are?”

“Yes, Madame, I know. Mr. Scott is an American, possessing a colossal
fortune, who settled himself in Paris last year. As soon as their name
was mentioned, I understood that the victory had never been doubtful.
Gallard was beaten beforehand. The Scotts began by buying a house in
Paris for 2,000,000 francs, it is near the Parc Monceau.”

“Yes, Rue Murillo,” said Paul; “I tell you I went to a ball there. It
was--”

“Let Monsieur de Larnac speak. You can tell us presently about the ball
at Mrs. Scott’s.”

“Well, now, imagine my Americans established in Paris,” continued M. de
Larnac, “and the showers of gold begun. In the orthodox parvenu style
they amuse themselves with throwing handfuls of gold out of window.
Their great wealth is quite recent, they say; ten years ago Mrs. Scott
begged in the streets of New York.”

“Begged!”

“They say so. Then she married this Scott, the son of a New York banker,
and all at once a successful lawsuit put into their hands not millions,
but tens of millions. Somewhere in America they have a silver mine, but
a genuine mine, a real mine--a mine with silver in it. Ah! we shall
see what luxury will reign at Longueval! We shall all look like paupers
beside them! It is said that they have 100,000 francs a day to spend.”

“Such are our neighbors!” cried Madame de Lavardens. “An adventuress!
and that is the least of it--a heretic, Monsieur l’Abbe, a Protestant!”

A heretic! a Protestant! Poor Cure; it was indeed that of which he had
immediately thought on hearing the words, “An American, Mrs. Scott.” The
new chatelaine of Longueval would not go to mass. What did it matter
to him that she had been a beggar? What did it matter to him if she
possessed tens and tens of millions? She was not a Catholic. He would
never again baptize children born at Longueval, and the chapel in the
castle, where he had so often said mass, would be transformed into a
Protestant oratory, which would echo only the frigid utterances of a
Calvinistic or Lutheran pastor.

Every one was distressed, disappointed, overwhelmed; but in the midst of
the general depression Paul stood radiant.

“A charming heretic at all events,” said he, “or rather two charming
heretics. You should see the two sisters on horseback in the Bois, with
two little grooms behind them not higher than that.”

“Come, Paul, tell us all you know. Describe the ball of which you speak.
How did you happen to go to a ball at these Americans?”

“By the greatest chance. My Aunt Valentine was at home that night; I
looked in about ten o’clock. Well, Aunt Valentine’s Wednesdays are not
exactly scenes of wild enjoyment, I give you my word! I had been there
about twenty minutes when I caught sight of Roger de Puymartin escaping
furtively. I caught him in the hall and said:

“‘We will go home together.’

“‘Oh! I am not going home.’

“‘Where are you going?’

“‘To the ball.’

“‘Where?’

“‘At Mrs. Scott’s. Will you come?’

“‘But I have not been invited.’

“‘Neither have I’

“‘What! not invited?’

“‘No. I am going with one of my friends.’

“‘And does your friend know them?’

“‘Scarcely; but enough to introduce us. Come along; you will see Mrs.
Scott.’

“‘Oh! I have seen her on horseback in the Bois.’

“‘But she does not wear a low gown on horseback; you have not seen
her shoulders, and they are shoulders which ought to be seen. There is
nothing better in Paris at this moment.’

“And I went to the ball, and I saw Mrs. Scott’s red hair, and I saw Mrs.
Scott’s white shoulders, and I hope to see them again when there are
balls at Longueval.”

“Paul!” said Madame de Lavardens, pointing to the Abbe.

“Oh! Monsieur l’Abbe, I beg a thousand pardons. Have I said anything? It
seems to me--”

The poor old priest had heard nothing; his thoughts were elsewhere.
Already he saw, in the village streets, the Protestant pastor from the
castle stopping before each house, and slipping under the doors little
evangelical pamphlets.

Continuing his account, Paul launched into an enthusiastic description
of the mansion, which was a marvel--

“Of bad taste and ostentation,” interrupted Madame de Lavardens.

“Not at all, mother, not at all; nothing startling, nothing loud. It is
admirably furnished, everything done with elegance and originality. An
incomparable conservatory, flooded with electric light; the buffet was
placed in the conservatory under a vine laden with grapes, which one
could gather by handfuls, and in the month of April! The accessories
of the cotillon cost, it appears, more than 400,000 francs. Ornaments,
‘bon-bonnieres’, delicious trifles, and we were begged to accept them.
For my part I took nothing, but there were many who made no scruple.
That evening Puymartin told me Mrs. Scott’s history, but it was not at
all like Monsieur de Larnac’s story. Roger said that, when quite little,
Mrs. Scott had been stolen from her family by some acrobats, and that
her father had found her in a travelling circus, riding on barebacked
horses and jumping through paper hoops.”

“A circus-rider!” cried Madame de Lavardens, “I should have preferred
the beggar.”

“And while Roger was telling me this Family Herald romance, I saw
approaching from the end of a gallery a wonderful cloud of lace and
satin; it surrounded this rider from a wandering circus, and I admired
those shoulders, those dazzling shoulders, on which undulated a necklace
of diamonds as big as the stopper of a decanter. They say that the
Minister of Finance had sold secretly to Mrs. Scott half the crown
diamonds, and that was how, the month before, he had been able to show a
surplus of 1,500,000 francs in the budget. Add to all this that the lady
had a remarkably good air, and that the little acrobat seemed perfectly
at home in the midst of all this splendor.”

Paul was going so far that his mother was obliged to stop him. Before M.
de Larnac, who was excessively annoyed and disappointed, he showed too
plainly his delight at the prospect of having this marvellous American
for a near neighbor.

The Abbe Constantin was preparing to return to Longueval, but Paul,
seeing him ready to start, said:

“No! no! Monsieur le Cure, you must not think of walking back to
Longueval in the heat of the day. Allow me to drive you home. I am
really grieved to see you so cast down, and will try my best to amuse
you. Oh! if you were ten times a saint I would make you laugh at my
stories.”

And half an hour after, the two--the Cure and Paul--drove side by side
in the direction of the village. Paul talked, talked, talked. His mother
was not there to check or moderate his transports, and his joy was
overflowing.

“Now, look here, Monsieur l’Abbe, you are wrong to take things in this
tragic manner. Stay, look at my little mare, how well she trots! what
good action she has! You have not seen her before? What do you think
I paid for her? Four hundred francs. I discovered her a fortnight ago,
between the shafts of a market gardener’s cart. She is a treasure. I
assure you she can do sixteen miles an hour, and keep one’s hands full
all the time. Just see how she pulls. Come, tot-tot-tot! You are not in
a hurry, Monsieur l’Abbe, I hope. Let us return through the wood; the
fresh air will do you good. Oh! Monsieur l’Abbe, if you only knew what
a regard I have for you, and respect, too. I did not talk too much
nonsense before you just now, did I? I should be so sorry--”

“No, my child, I heard nothing.”

“Well, we will take the longest way round.”

After having turned to the left in the wood, Paul resumed his
communications.

“I was saying, Monsieur l’Abbe,” he went on, “that you are wrong to
take things so seriously. Shall I tell you what I think? This is a very
fortunate affair.”

“Very fortunate?”

“Yes, very fortunate. I would rather see the Scotts at Longueval
than the Gallards. Did you not hear Monsieur de Larnac reproach these
Americans with spending their money foolishly. It is never foolish to
spend money. The folly lies in keeping it. Your poor for I am perfectly
sure that it is your poor of whom you are thinking--your poor have made
a good thing of it to-day. That is my opinion. The religion? Well,
they will not go to mass, and that will be a grief to you, that is only
natural; but they will send you money, plenty of money, and you will
take it, and you will be quite right in doing so. You will see that
you will not say no. There will be gold raining over the whole place;
a movement, a bustle, carriages with four horses, postilions, powdered
footmen, paper chases, hunting parties, balls, fireworks, and here in
this very spot I shall perhaps find Paris again before long. I shall
see once more the two riders, and the two little grooms of whom I was
speaking just now. If you only knew how well those two sisters look on
horseback! One morning I went right round the Bois de Boulogne behind
them; I fancy I can see them still. They had high hats, and little black
veils drawn very tightly over their faces, and long riding-habits made
in the princess form, with a single seam right down the back; and
a woman must be awfully well made to wear a riding-habit like that,
because you see, Monsieur l’Abbe, with a habit of that cut no deception
is possible.”

For some moments the Cure had not been listening to Paul’s discourse.
They had entered a long, perfectly straight avenue, and at the end of
this avenue the Cure saw a horseman galloping along.

“Look,” said the Cure to Paul, “your eyes are better than mine. Is not
that Jean?”

“Yes, it is jean. I know his gray mare.”

Paul loved horses, and before looking at the rider looked at the horse.
It was indeed Jean, who, when he saw in the distance the Cure and Paul
de Lavardens, waved in the air his kepi adorned with two golden stripes.
Jean was lieutenant in the regiment of artillery quartered at Souvigny.

Some moments after he stopped by the little carriage, and, addressing
the Cure, said:

“I have just been to your house, ‘mon parrain’. Pauline told me that you
had gone to Souvigny about the sale. Well, who has bought the castle?”

“An American, Mrs. Scott.”

“And Blanche-Couronne?”

“The same, Mrs. Scott.”

“And La Rozeraie?”

“Mrs. Scott again.”

“And the forest? Mrs. Scott again?”

“You have said it,” replied Paul, “and I know Mrs. Scott, and I can
promise you that there will be something going on at Longueval. I will
introduce you. Only it is distressing to Monsieur l’Abbe because she is
an American--a Protestant.”

“Ah! that is true,” said Jean, sympathizingly. “However, we will talk
about it to-morrow. I am going to dine with you, godfather; I have
warned Pauline of my visit; no time to stop to-day. I am on duty, and
must be in quarters at three o’clock.”

“Stables?” asked Paul.

“Yes. Good-by, Paul. To-morrow, godfather.”

The lieutenant galloped away. Paul de Lavardens gave his little horse
her head.

“What a capital fellow Jean is!” said Paul.

“Oh, yes, indeed!”

“There is no one on earth better than Jean.”

“No, no one.”

The Cure turned round to take another look at Jean, who was almost lost
in the depths of the forest.

“Oh, yes, there is you, Monsieur le Cure.”

“No, not me! not me!”

“Well, Monsieur l’Abbe, shall I tell you what I think? I think there is
no one better than you two--you and Jean. That is the truth, if I must
tell you. Oh! what a splendid place for a trot! I shall let Niniche go;
I call her Niniche.”

With the point of his whip Paul caressed the flank of Niniche, who
started off at full speed, and Paul, delighted, cried:

“Just look at her action, Monsieur l’Abbe! just look at her action! So
regular--just like clockwork. Lean over and look.”

To please Paul de Lavardens the Abbe Constantin did lean over and look
at Niniche’s action, but the old priest’s thoughts were far away.



CHAPTER II. THE NEW CHATELAINE

This sub-lieutenant of artillery was called Jean Reynaud. He was the son
of a country doctor who slept in the churchyard of Longueval.

In 1846, when the Abbe’ Constantin took possession of his little living,
the grandfather of Jean was residing in a pleasant cottage on the
road to Souvigny, between the picturesque old castles of Longueval and
Lavardens.

Marcel, the son of that Dr. Reynaud, was finishing his medical studies
in Paris. He possessed great industry, and an elevation of sentiment and
mind extremely rare. He passed his examinations with great distinction,
and had decided to fix his abode in Paris and tempt fortune there,
and everything seemed to promise him the most prosperous and brilliant
career, when, in 1852, he received the news of his father’s death--he
had been struck down by a fit of apoplexy. Marcel hurried to Longueval,
overwhelmed with grief, for he adored his father. He spent a month with
his mother, and then spoke of the necessity of returning to Paris.

“That is true,” said his mother; “you must go.”

“What! I must go! We must go, you mean. Do you think that I would leave
you here alone? I shall take you with me.”

“To live in Paris; to leave the place where I was born, where your
father lived, where he died? I could never do it, my child, never! Go
alone; your life, your future, are there. I know you; I know that you
will never forget me, that you will come and see me often, very often.”

“No, mother,” he answered; “I shall stay here.”

And he stayed.

His hopes, his ambitions, all in one moment vanished. He saw only one
thing--duty--the duty of not abandoning his aged mother. In duty, simply
accepted and simply discharged, he found happiness. After all, it is
only thus that one does find happiness.

Marcel bowed with courage and good grace to his new existence. He
continued his father’s life, entering the groove at the very spot where
he had left it. He devoted himself without regret to the obscure career
of a country doctor. His father had left him a little land and a little
money; he lived in the most simple manner possible, and one half of his
life belonged to the poor, from whom he would never receive a penny.

This was his only luxury.

He found in his way a young girl, charming, penniless, and alone in the
world. He married her. This was in 1855, and the following year brought
to Dr. Reynaud a great sorrow and a great joy--the death of his old
mother and the birth of his son Jean.

At an interval of six weeks, the Abby Constantin recited the prayers
for the dead over the grave of the grandmother, and was present in the
position of godfather at the baptism of the grandson.

In consequence of constantly meeting at the bedside of the suffering
and dying, the priest and the doctor had been strongly attracted to each
other. They instinctively felt that they belonged to the same family,
the same race--the race of the tender, the just, and the benevolent.

Year followed year--calm, peaceful, fully occupied in labor and duty.
Jean was no longer an infant. His father gave him his first lessons in
reading and writing, the priest his first lessons in Latin. Jean was
intelligent and industrious. He made so much progress that the two
professors--particularly the Cure--found themselves at the end of a few
years rather cast into the shade by their pupil. It was at this moment
that the Countess, after the death of her husband, came to settle at
Lavardens. She brought with her a tutor for her son Paul, a very nice,
but very lazy little fellow. The two children were of the same age; they
had known each other from their earliest years.

Madame de Lavardens had a great regard for Dr. Reynaud, and one day she
made him the following proposal:

“Send Jean to me every morning,” said she, “I will send him home in
the evening. Paul’s tutor is a very accomplished man; he will make the
children work together. It will be rendering me a real service. Jean
will set Paul a good example.”

Things were thus arranged, and the little bourgeois set the little
nobleman a most excellent example of industry and application, but this
excellent example was not followed.

The war broke out. On November 14th, at seven o’clock in the morning,
the mobiles of Souvigny assembled in the great square of the town; their
chaplain was the Abbe Constantin, their surgeon-major, Dr. Reynaud. The
same idea had come at the same moment to both; the priest was sixty-two,
the doctor fifty.

When they started, the battalion followed the road which led through
Longueval, and which passed before the doctor’s house. Madame Reynaud
and Jean were waiting by the roadside. The child threw himself into his
father’s arms.

“Take me, too, papa! take me, too!”

Madame Reynaud wept. The doctor held them both in a long embrace, then
he continued his way.

A hundred steps farther the road made a sharp curve. The doctor turned,
cast one long look at his wife and child-the last; he was never to see
them again.

On January 8, 1871, the mobiles of Souvigny attacked the village of
Villersexel, occupied by the Prussians, who had barricaded themselves.
The firing began. A mobile who marched in the front rank received a
ball in the chest and fell. There was a short moment of trouble and
hesitation.

“Forward! forward!” shouted the officers.

The men passed over the body of their comrade, and under a hail of
bullets entered the town.

Dr. Reynaud and the Abbe Constantin marched with the troops; they
stopped by the wounded man; the blood was rushing in floods from his
mouth.

“There is nothing to be done,” said the doctor. “He is dying; he belongs
to you.”

The priest knelt down by the dying man, and the doctor rose to go toward
the village. He had not taken ten steps when he stopped, beat the air
with both hands, and fell all at once to the ground. The priest ran to
him; he was dead-killed on the spot by a bullet through the temples.
That evening the village was ours, and the next day they placed in the
cemetery of Villersexel the body of Dr. Reynaud.

Two months later the Abbe Constantin took back to Longueval the coffin
of his friend, and behind the coffin, when it was carried from the
church, walked an orphan. Jean had also lost his mother. At the news of
her husband’s death, Madame Reynaud had remained for twenty-four hours
petrified, crushed, without a word or a tear; then fever had seized her,
then delirium, and after a fortnight, death.

Jean was alone in the world; he was fourteen years old. Of that family,
where for more than a century all had been good and honest, there
remained only a child kneeling beside a grave; but he, too, promised
to be what his father and grandfather before him had been--good, and
honest, and true.

There are families like that in France, and many of them, more than one
ventures to say. Our poor country is in many respects calumniated by
certain novelists, who draw exaggerated and distorted pictures of it. It
is true the history of good people is often monotonous or painful. This
story is a proof of it.

The grief of Jean was the grief of a man. He remained long sad and
silent. The evening of his father’s funeral the Abbe Constantin took him
home to the vicarage. The day had been rainy and cold. Jean was sitting
by the fireside; the priest was reading his breviary opposite him. Old
Pauline came and went, arranging her affairs.

An hour passed without a word, when Jean, raising his head, said:

“Godfather, did my father leave me any money?”

This question was so extraordinary that the old priest, stupefied, could
scarcely believe that he heard aright.

“You ask if your father--”

“I asked if my father left me some money?”

“Yes; he must have left you some.”

“A good deal, don’t you think? I have often heard people say that my
father was rich. Tell me about how much he has left me!”

“But I don’t know. You ask--”

The poor old man felt his heart rent in twain. Such a question at such a
moment! Yet he thought he knew the boy’s heart, and in that heart there
should not be room for such thoughts.

“Pray, dear godfather, tell me,” continued Jean, gently. “I will explain
to you afterward why I ask that.”

“Well, they say your father had 200,000 or 300,000 francs.”

“And is that much?”

“Yes, it is a great deal.”

“And it is all mine?”

“Yes, it is all yours.”

“Oh! I am glad, because, you know, the day that my father was killed in
the war, the Prussians killed, at the same time, the son of a poor woman
in Longueval--old Clemence, you know; and they killed, too, the brother
of Rosalie, with whom I used to play when I was quite little. Well,
since I am rich and they are poor, I will divide with Clemence and
Rosalie the money my father has left me.”

On hearing these words the Cure rose, took Jean by both hands, and drew
him into his arms. The white head rested on the fair one. Two large
tears escaped from the eyes of the old priest, rolled slowly down his
cheeks, and were lost in the furrows of his face.

However, the Cure was obliged to explain to Jean that, though he was his
father’s heir, he had not the right of disposing of his heritage as
he would. There would be a family council, and a guardian would be
appointed.

“You, no doubt, godfather?”

“No, not I, my child; a priest has not the right of exercising the
functions of a guardian. They will, I think, choose Monsieur Lenient,
the lawyer in Souvigny, who was one of your father’s best friends. You
can speak to him and tell him what you wish.”

M. Lenient was eventually appointed guardian, and Jean urged his wishes
so eagerly and touchingly that the lawyer consented to deduct from the
income a sum of 2,400 francs, which, every year till Jean came of age,
was divided between old Clemence and little Rosalie.

Under these circumstances, Madame de Lavardens was perfect. She went to
the Abbe and said:

“Give Jean to me, give him to me entirely till he has finished his
studies. I will bring him back to you every year during the holidays. It
is not I who am rendering you a service; it is a service which I ask of
you. I cannot imagine any greater good fortune for my son than to have
Jean for a companion. I must resign myself to leaving Lavardens for a
time. Paul is bent upon being a soldier and going up to Saint-Cyr. It is
only in Paris that I can obtain the necessary masters. I will take the
two children there; they will study together under my own eyes like
brothers, and I will make no difference between them; of that you may be
sure.”

It was difficult to refuse such an offer. The old Cure would have dearly
liked to keep Jean with him, and his heart was torn at the thought of
this separation, but what was for the child’s real interest? That was
the only question to be considered; the rest was nothing. They summoned
Jean.

“My child,” said Madame de Lavardens to him, “will you come and live
with Paul and me for some years? I will take you both to Paris.”

“You are very kind, Madame, but I should have liked so much to stay
here.”

He looked at the Cure, who turned away his eyes.

“Why must we go?” he continued. “Why must you take Paul and me away?”

“Because it is only in Paris that you can have all the advantages
necessary to complete your studies. Paul will prepare for his
examination at Saint-Cyr. You know he wishes to be a soldier.”

“So do I, Madame. I wish to be one, too.”

“You a soldier!” exclaimed the Cure; “but you know that was not at all
your father’s idea. In my presence, he has often spoken of your
future, your career. You were to be a doctor, and, like him, doctor at
Longueval, and, like him, devote yourself to the sick and poor. Jean, my
child, do you remember?”

“I remember, I remember.”

“Well, then, Jean, you must do as your father wished; it is your duty,
Jean; it is your duty. You must go to Paris. You would like to stay
here, I understand that well, and I should like it, too; but it can not
be. You must go to Paris, and work, work hard. Not that I am anxious
about that; you are your father’s true son. You will be an honest and
laborious man. One can not well be the one without the other. And some
day, in your father’s house, in the place where he has done so much
good, the poor people of the country round will find another Doctor
Reynaud, to whom they may look for help. And I--if by chance I am still
in this world--when that day comes, I shall be so happy! But I am wrong
to speak of myself; I ought not, I do not count. It is of your father
that you must think. I repeat it, Jean, it was his dearest wish. You can
not have forgotten it.”

“No, I have not forgotten; but if my father sees me, and hears me, I am
certain that he understands and forgives me, for it is on his account.”

“On his account?”

“Yes. When I heard that he was dead, and when I heard how he died, all
at once, without any need of reflection, I said to myself that I would
be a soldier, and I will be a soldier! Godfather, and you, Madame, I beg
you not to prevent me.”

The child burst into tears--a perfect flood of passionate tears. The
Countess and the Abbe soothed him with gentle words.

“Yes--yes--it is settled,” they said; “anything that you wish, all that
you wish.”

Both had the same thought--leave it to time; Jean is only a child; he
will change his mind.

In this, both were mistaken; Jean did not change his mind. In the month
of September, 1876, Paul de Lavardens was rejected at Saint-Cyr, and
Jean Reynaud passed eleventh at the Ecole Polytechnique. The day when
the list of the candidates who had passed was published, he wrote to the
Abbe Constantin:

“I have passed, and passed too well, for I wish to go into the army, and
not the civil service; however, if I keep my place in the school, that
will be the business of one of my comrades; he will have my chance.”

It happened so in the end. Jean Reynaud did better than keep his place;
the pass-list showed his name seventh, but instead of entering
‘l’Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees’, he entered the military college at
Fontainebleau in 1878.

He was then just twenty-one; he was of age, master of his fortune, and
the first act of the new administration was a great, a very great piece
of extravagance.

He bought for old Clemence and little Rosalie two shares in Government
stock of 1,500 francs each. That cost him 70,000 francs, almost the sum
that Paul de Lavardens, in his first year of liberty in Paris, spent for
Mademoiselle Lise Bruyere, of the Palais Royal Theatre.

Two years later Jean passed first at the examination, and left
Fontainebleau with the right of choosing among the vacant places. There
was one in the regiment quartered at Souvigny, and Souvigny was three
miles from Longueval. Jean asked for this, and obtained it.

Thus Jean Reynaud, lieutenant in the ninth regiment of artillery, came
in the month of October, 1880, to take possession of the house that had
been his father’s; thus he found himself once more in the place where
his childhood had passed, and where every one had kept green the memory
of the life and death of his father; thus the Abbe Constantin was not
denied the happiness of once again having near him the son of his old
friend, and, if the truth must be told, he no longer wished that Jean
had become a doctor.

When the old Cure left his church after saying mass, when he saw coming
along the road a great cloud of dust, when he felt the earth tremble
under the rumbling cannon, he would stop, and, like a child, amuse
himself with seeing the regiment pass, but to him the regiment
was--Jean. It was this robust and manly cavalier, in whose face, as in
an open book, one read uprightness, courage, and goodness.

The moment Jean perceived the Cure, he would put his horse to a gallop,
and go to have a little chat with his godfather. The horse would turn
his head toward the Cure, for he knew very well there was always a piece
of sugar for him in the pocket of that old black soutane--rusty and
worn--the morning soutane. The Abbe Constantin had a beautiful new
one, of which he took great care, to wear in society--when he went into
society.

The trumpets of the regiment sounded as they passed through the village,
and all eyes sought Jean--“little Jean"-for to the old people of
Longueval he was still little Jean. Certain wrinkled, broken-down,
old peasants had never been able to break themselves of the habit of
saluting him when he passed with, “Bonjour, gamin, ca va bien?”

He was six feet high, this gamin, and Jean never crossed the village
without perceiving at one window the old furrowed parchment skin of
Clemence, and at another the smiling countenance of Rosalie. The latter
had married during the previous year; Jean had given her away, and
joyously on the wedding-night had he danced with the girls of Longueval.

Such was the lieutenant of artillery, who, on Saturday, May 28, 1881, at
half-past four in the afternoon, sprang from his horse before the door
of the vicarage of Longueval. He entered the gate, the horse obediently
followed, and went by himself into a little shed in the yard. Pauline
was at the kitchen window; Jean approached and kissed her heartily on
both cheeks.

“Good-evening, Pauline. Is all well?”

“Very well. I am busy preparing your dinner; would you like to know what
you are going to have? potato soup, a leg of mutton, and a custard.”

“That is excellent; I shall enjoy everything, for I am dying of hunger.”

“And a salad; I had forgotten it; you can help me cut it directly.
Dinner will be at half-past six exactly, for at half-past seven Monsieur
le Cure has his service for the month of Mary.”

“Where is my godfather?”

“You will find him in the garden. He is very sad on account of this sale
of yesterday.”

“Yes, I know, I know.”

“It will cheer him a little to see you; he is always so happy when you
are here. Take care; Loulou is going to eat the climbing roses. How hot
he is!”

“I came the long way by the wood, and rode very fast.”

Jean captured Loulou, who was directing his steps toward the climbing
roses. He unsaddled him, fastened him in the little shed, rubbed him
down with a great handful of straw, after which he entered the house,
relieved himself of his sword and kepi, replaced the latter by an old
straw hat, value sixpence, and then went to look for his godfather in
the garden.

The poor Abbe was indeed sad; he had scarcely closed an eye all
night--he who generally slept so easily, so quietly, the sound sleep of
a child. His soul was wrung. Longueval in the hands of a foreigner, of a
heretic, of an adventuress!

Jean repeated what Paul had said the evening before.

“You will have money, plenty of money, for your poor.”

“Money! money! Yes, my poor will not lose, perhaps they will even gain
by it; but I must go and ask for this money, and in the salon, instead
of my old and dear friend, I shall find this red-haired American. It
seems that she has red hair! I will certainly go for the sake of my
poor--I will go--and she will give me the money, but she will give me
nothing but money; the Marquise gave me something else--her life and her
heart. Every week we went together to visit the sick and the poor; she
knew all the sufferings and the miseries of the country round, and when
the gout nailed me to my easy-chair she made the rounds alone, and as
well, or better than I.”

Pauline interrupted this conversation. She carried an immense
earthenware salad-dish, on which bloomed, violent and startling,
enormous red flowers.

“Here I am,” said Pauline, “I am going to cut the salad. Jean, would you
like lettuce or endive?”

“Endive,” said Jean, gayly. “It is a long time since I have had any
endive.”

“Well, you shall have some to-night. Stay, take the dish.”

Pauline began to cut the endive, and Jean bent down to receive the
leaves in the great salad dish. The Cure looked on.

At this moment a sound of little bells was heard. A carriage was
approaching; one heard the jangling and creaking of its wheels. The
Cure’s little garden was only separated from the road by a low hedge, in
the middle of which was a little trellised gate.

All three looked out, and saw driving down the road a hired carriage of
most primitive construction, drawn by two great white horses, and driven
by an old coachman in a blouse. Beside this old coachman was seated a
tall footman in livery, of the most severe and correct demeanor. In the
carriage were two young women, dressed both alike in very elegant, but
very simple, travelling costumes.

When the carriage was opposite the gate the coachman stopped his horses,
and addressing the Abbe:

“Monsieur le Cure,” said he, “these ladies wish to speak to you.”

Then, turning toward the ladies:

“This is Monsieur le Cure of Longueval.”

The Abbe Constantin approached and opened the little gate. The
travellers alighted. Their looks rested, not without astonishment, on
the young officer, who stood there, a little embarrassed, with his straw
hat in one hand, and his salad dish, all overflowing with endive, in the
other.

The visitors entered the garden, and the elder--she seemed about
twenty-five--addressing the Abbe Constantin, said to him, with a little
foreign accent, very original and very peculiar:

“I am obliged to introduce myself---Mrs. Scott; I am Mrs. Scott! It
was I who bought the castle and farms and all the rest here at the sale
yesterday. I hope that I do not disturb you, and that you can spare me
five minutes.” Then, pointing to her travelling companion, “Miss Bettina
Percival, my sister; you guessed it, I am sure. We are very much alike,
are we not? Ah! Bettina, we have left our bags in the carriage, and we
shall want them directly.”

“I will get them.”

And as Miss Percival prepared to go for the two little bags, Jean said
to her:

“Pray allow me.”

“I am really very sorry to give you so much trouble. The servant will
give them to you; they are on the front seat.”

She had the same accent as her sister, the same large eyes--black,
laughing, and gay-and the same hair, not red, but fair, with golden
shades, where daintily danced the light of the sun. She bowed to Jean
with a pretty little smile, and he, having returned to Pauline the
salad dish full of endive, went to look for the two little bags.
Meanwhile-much agitated, sorely disturbed--the Abbe Constantin
introduced into his vicarage the new Chatelaine of Longueval.



CHAPTER III. DELIGHTFUL SURPRISES

This vicarage of Longueval was far from being a palace. The same
apartment on the ground floor served for dining and drawing-room,
communicating directly with the kitchen by a door, which stood always
wide open. This room was furnished in the most scanty manner; two old
arm chairs, six straw chairs, a sideboard, a round table. Pauline had
already laid the cloth for the dinner of the Abbe and Jean.

Mrs. Scott and Miss Percival went and came, examining the domestic
arrangements of the Cure with a sort of childish wonder.

“But the garden, the house, everything is charming,” said Mrs. Scott.

They both boldly penetrated into the kitchen; the Abbe Constantin
followed them, scared, bewildered, stupefied at the suddenness and
resolution of this American invasion.

Old Pauline, with an anxious and gloomy air, examined the two
foreigners.

“There they are, then,” she said to herself, “these Protestants, these
accursed heretics!”

“I must compliment you,” said Bettina; “it is so beautifully kept. Look,
Susie, is not the vicarage altogether exactly what you wished?”

“And so is the Cure,” rejoined Mrs. Scott. “Yes, Monsieur le Cure, if
you will permit me to say so, you do not know how happy it makes me to
find you just what you are. In the railway carriage what did I say to
you, Bettina? And again just now, when we were driving here?”

“My sister said to me, Monsieur le Cure, that what she desired above
everything was a priest, not young, or melancholy, or severe; but one
with white hair and a kind and gentle manner. And that is exactly what
you are, Monsieur le Cure, exactly. No, we could not have been more
fortunate. Excuse me for speaking to you in this manner; the Parisians
know how to make pretty phrases, but I do not, and in speaking French I
should often be quite at a loss if I did not say everything in a simple
and childish way, as it comes into my head. In a word, I am satisfied,
quite satisfied, and I hope that you, too, Monsieur le Cure, will be as
satisfied with your new parishioners.”

“My parishioners!” exclaimed the Cure, all at once recovering speech,
movement, life, everything which for some moments had completely
abandoned him. “My parishioners! Pardon me, Madame, Mademoiselle, I am
so agitated. You will be--you are Catholics?”

“Certainly we are Catholics.”

“Catholics! Catholics!” repeated the Cure.

“Catholics! Catholics!” echoed old Pauline.

Mrs. Scott looked from the Cure to Pauline, from Pauline to the Cure,
much surprised that a single word should produce such an effect, and, to
complete the tableau, Jean appeared carrying the two little travelling
bags.

The Cure and Pauline saluted him with the same words:

“Catholics! Catholics!”

“Ah! I begin to understand,” said Mrs. Scott, laughing. “It is our name,
our country; you must have thought that we were Protestants. Not at all.
Our mother was a Canadian, French and Catholic by descent; that is why
my sister and I both speak French, with an accent, it is true, and
with certain American idioms, but yet in such a manner as to be able to
express nearly all we want to say. My husband is a Protestant, but he
allows me complete liberty, and my two children are Catholics. That is
why, Monsieur l’Abbe, we wished to come and see you the very first day.”

“That is one reason,” continued Bettina, “but there is also another; but
for that reason we shall want our little bags.”

“Here they are,” said Jean.

While the two little bags passed from the hands of the officer to
those of Mrs. Scott and Bettina, the Cure introduced Jean to the two
Americans, but his agitation was so great that the introduction was not
made strictly according to rule. The Cure only forgot one thing, it is
true, but that was a thing tolerably essential in an introduction--the
family name of Jean.

“It is Jean,” said he, “my godson, lieutenant of artillery, now
quartered at Souvigny. He is one of the family.”

Jean made two deep bows, the Americans two little ones, after which they
foraged in their bags, from which each drew a ‘rouleau’ of 1,000 francs,
daintily inclosed in green sheaths of serpent-skin, clasped with gold.

“I have brought you this for your poor,” said Mrs. Scott.

“And I have brought this,” said Bettina.

“And besides that, Monsieur le Cure, I am going to give you five hundred
francs a month,” said Mrs. Scott.

“And I will do like my sister.”

Delicately they slipped their offerings into the right and left hands of
the Cure, who, looking at each hand alternately, said:

“What are these little things? They are very heavy; there must be money
in them. Yes, but how much, how much?”

The Abbe Constantin was seventy-two, and much money had passed through
his hands, but this money had come to him in small sums, and the idea
of such an offering as this had never entered his head. Two thousand
francs! Never had he had so much in his possession--no, not even one
thousand. He stammered:

“I am very grateful to you, Madame; you are very good, Mademoiselle--”

But after all he could not thank them enough, and Jean thought it
necessary to come to his assistance.

“They have given you two thousand francs!”

And then, full of warmest gratitude; the Cure cried:

“Two thousand francs! Two thousand francs for my poor!”

Pauline suddenly reappeared.

“Here, Pauline,” said the Cure, “put away this money, and take care--”

Old Pauline filled many positions in this simple household: cook,
maid-of-all-work, treasurer, dispenser. Her hands received with a
respectful tremble these two little ‘rouleaux’ which represented so much
misery alleviated, so much suffering relieved.

“One thousand francs a month! But there will be no poor left in the
country.”

“That is just what I wish. I am rich, very rich, and so is my sister;
she is even richer than I am, because a young girl has not so many
expenses, while I--Ah! well, I spend all that I can--all that I can.
When one has a great deal of money, too much, more than one feels to
be just, tell me, Monsieur le Cure, is there any other way of obtaining
pardon than to keep one’s hands open, and give, give, give, all one
can, and as usefully as one can? Besides, you can give me something in
return;” and, turning to Pauline, “Will you be so kind as to give me a
glass of water? No, nothing else; a glass of cold water; I am dying of
thirst.”

“And I,” said Bettina, laughing, while Pauline ran to fetch the water,
“I am dying of something else-of hunger, to tell the truth. Monsieur
le Cure--I know that I am going to be dreadfully intrusive; I see your
cloth is laid--could you not invite us to dinner?”

“Bettina!” said Mrs. Scott.

“Let me alone, Susie, let me alone. Won’t you, Monsieur le Cure? I am
sure you will.”

But he could find no reply. The old Cure hardly knew where he was. They
had taken his vicarage by storm; they were Catholics; they had promised
him one thousand francs a month, and now they wanted to dine with him.
Ah! that was the last stroke. Terror seized him at the thought of having
to do the honors of his leg of mutton and his custard to these two
absurdly rich Americans. He murmured:

“Dine!-you would like to dine here?”

Jean thought he must interpose again. “It would be a great pleasure
to my godfather,” said he, “if you would kindly stay. But I know what
disturbs him. We were going to dine together, just the two of us, and
you must not expect a feast. You will be very indulgent?”

“Yes, yes, very indulgent,” replied Bettina; then, addressing her
sister, “Come, Susie, you must not be cross, because I have been a
little--you know it is my way to be a little--Let us stay, will you? It
will do us good to pass a quiet hour here, after such a day as we have
had! On the railway, in the carriage, in the heat, in the dust; we had
such a horrid luncheon, in such a horrid hotel. We were to have returned
to the same hotel at seven o’clock to dine, and then take the train back
to Paris, but dinner here will be really much nicer. You won’t say no?
Ah! how good you are, Susie!”

She embraced her sister fondly; then turning toward the Cure:

“If you only knew, Monsieur le Cure, how good she is!”

“Bettina! Bettina!”

“Come,” said Jean, “quick, Pauline, two more plates; I will help you.”

“And so will I,” said Bettina, “I will help, too. Oh! do let me; it will
be so amusing. Monsieur le Cure, you will let me do a little as if I
were at home?”

In a moment she had taken off her mantle, and Jean could admire, in all
its exquisite perfection, a figure marvellous for suppleness and grace.
Miss Percival then removed her hat, but with a little too much haste,
for this was the signal for a charming catastrophe. A whole avalanche
descended in torrents, in long cascades, over Bettina’s shoulders. She
was standing before a window flooded by the rays of the sun, and this
golden light, falling full on this golden hair, formed a delicious
frame for the sparkling beauty of the young girl. Confused and blushing,
Bettina was obliged to call her sister to her aid, and Mrs. Scott had
much trouble in introducing order into this disorder.

When this disaster was at length repaired, nothing could prevent Bettina
from rushing on plates, knives, and forks.

“Oh, indeed,” said she to Jean, “I know very well how to lay the cloth.
Ask my sister. Tell him, Susie, when I was a little girl in New York, I
used to lay the cloth very well, didn’t I?”

“Very well, indeed,” said Mrs. Scott.

And then, while begging the Cure to excuse Bettina’s want of thought,
she, too, took off her hat and mantle, so that Jean had again the very
agreeable spectacle of a charming figure and beautiful hair; but, to
Jean’s great regret, the catastrophe had not a second representation.

In a few minutes Mrs. Scott, Miss Percival, the Cure, and Jean were
seated round the little vicarage table; then, thanks partly to the
impromptu and original nature of the entertainment, partly to the
good-humor and perhaps slightly audacious gayety of Bettina, the
conversation took a turn of the frankest and most cordial familiarity.

“Now, Monsieur le Cure,” said Bettina, “you shall see if I did not speak
the truth when I said I was dying of hunger. I never was so glad to sit
down to dinner. This is such a delightful finish to our day. Both my
sister and I are perfectly happy now we have this castle, and these
farms, and the forest.”

“And then,” said Mrs. Scott, “to have all that in such an extraordinary
and unexpected manner. We were so taken by surprise.”

“You may indeed say so, Susie. You must know, Monsieur l’Abbe,
that yesterday was my sister’s birthday. But first, pardon me,
Monsieur--Jean, is it not?”

“Yes, Miss Percival, Monsieur Jean.”

“Well, Monsieur Jean, a little more of that excellent soup, if you
please.”

The Abbe was beginning to recover a little, but he was still too
agitated to perform the duties of a host. It was Jean who had undertaken
the management of his godfather’s little dinner. He filled the plate of
the charming American, who fixed upon him the glance of two large eyes,
in which sparkled frankness, daring, and gayety. The eyes of Jean,
meanwhile, repaid Miss Percival in the same coin. It was scarcely three
quarters of an hour since the young American and the young officer had
made acquaintance in the Cure’s garden, yet both felt already perfectly
at ease with each other, full of confidence, almost like old friends.

“I told you, Monsieur l’Abbe,” continued Bettina, “that yesterday was my
sister’s birthday. A week ago my brother-in-law was obliged to return to
America, but at starting he said to my sister, ‘I shall not be with you
on your birthday, but you will hear from me.’ So, yesterday, presents
and bouquets arrived from all quarters, but from my brother-in-law, up
to five o’clock, nothing--nothing. We were just starting for a ride in
the Bois, and ‘a propos’ of riding”--she stopped, and looking curiously
at Jean’s great dusty boots--“Monsieur Jean, you have spurs on.”

“Yes, Miss Percival.”

“Then you are in the cavalry?”

“I am in the artillery, and that, you know, is cavalry.”

“And your regiment is quartered?”---

“Quite near here.”

“Then you will be able to ride with us?”

“With the greatest pleasure.”

“That is settled. Let me see; where was I?”

“You do not know at all where you are, Bettina, and you are telling
these gentlemen things which can not interest them.”

“Oh! I beg your pardon,” said the Cure. “The sale of this estate is
the only subject of conversation in the neighborhood just now, and Miss
Percival’s account interests me very much.”

“You see, Susie, my account interests Monsieur le Cure very much; then
I shall continue. We went for our ride, we returned at seven
o’clock--nothing. We dined, and just when we were leaving the table a
telegram from America arrived. It contained only a few lines:

“‘I have ordered the purchase to-day, for you and in your name, of the
castle and lands of Longueval, near Souvigny, on the Northern Railway
line.’

“Then we both burst into a fit of wild laughter at the thought.”

“No, no, Bettina; you calumniate us both. Our first thought was one of
very sincere gratitude, for both my sister and I are very fond of
the country. My husband knows that we had longed to have an estate in
France. For six months he had been looking out, and found nothing. At
last he discovered this one, and, without telling us, ordered it to be
bought for my birthday. It was a delicate attention.”

“Yes, Susie, you are right, but after the little fit of gratitude, we
had a great one of gayety.”

“Yes, I confess it. When we realized that we had suddenly become
possessed of a castle, without knowing in the least where it was, what
it was like, or how much it had cost, it seemed so like a fairy-tale.
Well, for five good minutes we laughed with all our hearts, then we
seized the map of France, and succeeded in discovering Souvigny. When he
had finished with the map it was the turn of the railway guide, and this
morning, by the ten o’clock express, we arrived at Souvigny.

“We have passed the whole day in visiting the castle, the farms, the
woods, the stables. We are delighted with what we have seen. Only,
Monsieur le Cure, there is one thing about which I feel curious. I know
that the place was sold yesterday; but I have not dared to ask either
agent or farmer who accompanied me in my walk--for my ignorance would
have seemed too absurd--I have not dared to ask how much it cost. In the
telegram my husband does not mention the sum. Since I am so delighted
with the place, the price is only a detail, but still I should like to
know it. Tell me, Monsieur le Cure, do you know what it cost?”

“An enormous price,” replied the Cure, “for many hopes and many
ambitions were excited about Longueval.”

“An enormous price! You frighten me. How much exactly?”

“Three millions!”

“Is that all? Is that all?” cried Mrs. Scott. “The castle, the farms,
the forest, all for three millions?”

“But that is nothing,” said Bettina. “That delicious little stream which
wanders through the park is alone worth three millions.”

“And you said just now, Monsieur le Cure, that there were several
persons who disputed the purchase with us?”

“Yes, Mrs. Scott.”

“And, after the sale, was my name mentioned among these persons?”

“Certainly it was.”

“And when my name was mentioned was there no one there who spoke of me?
Yes, yes, your silence is a sufficient answer; they did speak of me.
Well, Monsieur le Cure, I am now serious, very serious. I beg you as a
favor to tell me what was said.”

“But,” replied the poor Cure, who felt himself upon burning coals, “they
spoke of your large fortune.”

“Yes, of course, they would be obliged to speak of that, and no doubt
they said that I was very rich, but had not been rich long--that I was
a parvenu. Very well, but that is not all; they must have said something
else.”

“No, indeed; I have heard nothing else.”

“Oh, Monsieur le Cure, that is what you may call a white lie, and it is
making you very unhappy, because naturally you are the soul of truth;
but if I torment you thus it is because I have the greatest interest in
knowing what was said.”

“You are right,” interrupted Jean, “you are right. They said you were
one of the most elegant, the most brilliant, and the--”

“And one of the prettiest women in Paris. With a little indulgence they
might say that; but that is not all yet--there is something else.”

“Oh! I assure you--”

“Yes, there is something else, and I should like to hear it this very
moment, and I should like the information to be very frank and very
exact. It seems to me that I am in a lucky vein to-day, and I feel as if
you were both a little inclined to be my friends, and that you will
be so entirely some day. Well, tell me if I am right in supposing that
should false and absurd stories be told about me you will help me to
contradict them.”

“Yes!” replied Jean, “you are right in believing that.”

“Well, then, it is to you that I address myself. You are a soldier, and
courage is part of your profession. Promise me to be brave. Will you
promise me?”

“What do you understand by being brave?”

“Promise, promise--without explanations, without conditions.”

“Well, I promise.”

“You will then reply frankly, ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ to questions?”

“I will.”

“Did they say that I had begged in the streets of New York?”

“Yes, they said so.”

“Did they say I had been a rider in a travelling circus?”

“Yes; they said that, too.”

“Very well; that is plain speaking. Now remark first that in all this
there is nothing that one might not acknowledge if it were true; but it
is not true, and have I not the right of denying it? My history--I will
tell it you in a few words. I am going to pass a part of my life in this
place, and I desire that all should know who I am and whence I come. To
begin, then. Poor! Yes, I have been, and very poor. Eight years ago my
father died, and was soon followed by my mother. I was then eighteen,
and Bettina nine. We were alone in the world, encumbered with heavy
debts and a great lawsuit. My father’s last words had been, ‘Susie,
never, never compromise. Millions, my children, you will have millions.’
He embraced us both; soon delirium seized him, and he died repeating,
‘Millions; millions!’ The next morning a lawyer appeared, who offered
to pay all our debts, and to give us besides ten thousand dollars, if
we would give up all our claims. I refused. It was then that for several
months we were very poor.”

“And it was then,” said Bettina, “that I used to lay the cloth.”

“I spent my life among the solicitors of New York, but no one would take
up my case; everywhere I received the same reply: ‘Your cause is very
doubtful; you have rich and formidable adversaries; you need money,
large sums of money, to bring such a case to a conclusion, and you have
nothing. They offer to pay your debts, and to give you ten thousand
dollars besides. Accept it, and sell your case.’ But my father’s last
words rang in my ears, and I would not. Poverty, however, might soon
have forced me to, when one day I made another attempt on one of my
father’s old friends, a banker in New York, Mr. William Scott. He was
not alone; a young man was sitting in his office.

“‘You may speak freely,’ said Mr. Scott; ‘it is my son Richard.’

“I looked at the young man, he looked at me, and we recognized each
other.

“‘Susie!’

“‘Richard!”

“Formerly, as children, we had often played together and were great
friends. Seven or eight years before this meeting he had been sent to
Europe to finish his education. We shook hands; his father made me
sit down, and asked what had brought me. He listened to my tale; and
replied:

“‘You would require twenty or thirty thousand dollars. No one would lend
you such a sum upon the uncertain chances of a very complicated lawsuit.
If you are in difficulties; if you need assistance--’

“‘It is not that, father. That is not what Miss Percival asks.’

“‘I know that very well, but what she asks is impossible.’

“He rose to let me out. Then the sense of my helplessness overpowered me
for the first time since my father’s death. I burst into a violent flood
of tears. An hour later Richard Scott was with me.

“‘Susie,’ he said, ‘promise to accept what I am going to offer.’

“I promised him.

“‘Well,’ said he, ‘on the single condition that my father shall know
nothing about it, I place at your disposal the necessary sum.’

“‘But then you ought to know what the lawsuit is--what it is worth.’

“‘I do not know a single word about it, and I do not wish to. Besides,
you have promised to accept it; you can not withdraw now.’

“I accepted. Three months after the case was ours. All this vast
property became beyond dispute the property of Bettina and me. The
other side offered to buy it of us for five million dollars. I consulted
Richard.

“‘Refuse it and wait,’ said he; ‘if they offer you such a sum it is
because the property is worth double.’

“‘However, I must return you your money; I owe you a great deal.’

“‘Oh! as for that there is no hurry; I am very easy about it; my money
is quite safe now.’

“‘But I should like to pay you at once. I have a horror of debt! Perhaps
there is another way without selling the property. Richard, will you be
my husband?’

“Yes, Monsieur le Cure, yes,” said Mrs. Scott, laughing, “it is thus
that I threw myself at my husband’s head. It is I who asked his hand.
But really I was obliged to act thus. Never, never, would he have
spoken; I had become too rich, and as it was me he loved, and not my
money, he was becoming terribly afraid of me. That is the history of
my marriage. As to the history of my fortune, it can be told in a few
words. There were indeed millions in those wide lands of Colorado; they
discovered there abundant mines of silver, and from those mines we draw
every year an income which is beyond reason, but we have agreed--my
husband, my sister, and myself--to give a very large share of this
income to the poor. You see, Monsieur le Cure, it is because we have
known very hard times that you will always find us ready to help those
who are, as we have been ourselves, involved in the difficulties and
sorrows of life. And now, Monsieur Jean, will you forgive me this long
discourse, and offer me a little of that cream, which looks so very
good?”

This cream was Pauline’s custard, and while Jean was serving Mrs. Scott:

“I have not yet finished,” she continued. “You ought to know what gave
rise to these extravagant stories. A year ago, when we settled in Paris,
we considered it our duty on our arrival to give a certain sum to the
poor. Who was it spoke of that? None of us, certainly, but the thing was
told in a newspaper, with the amount. Immediately two young reporters
hastened to subject Mr. Scott to a little examination on his past
history; they wished to give a sketch of our career in the--what do you
call them?--society papers. Mr. Scott is sometimes a little hasty; he
was so on this occasion, and dismissed these gentlemen rather brusquely,
without telling them anything. So, as they did not know our real
history, they invented one, and certainly displayed a very lively
imagination. First they related how I had begged in the snow in New
York; the next day appeared a still more sensational article, which made
me a rider in a circus in Philadelphia. You have some very funny papers
in France; so have we in America, for the matter of that.”

During the last five minutes, Pauline had been making desperate signs to
the Cure, who persisted in not understanding them, till at last the poor
woman, calling up all her courage, said:

“Monsieur le Cure, it is a quarter past seven.”

“A quarter past seven! Ladies, I must beg you to excuse me. This evening
I have the special service for the month of Mary.”

“The month of Mary? And will the service begin directly?”

“Yes, directly.”

“And when does our train start for Paris?”

“At half past nine,” replied Jean.

“Susie, can we not go to church first?”

“Yes, we will go,” replied Mrs. Scott; “but before we separate, Monsieur
le Cure, I have one favor to ask you. I should like very much, the first
time I dine at Longueval, that you would dine with me, and you, too,
Monsieur Jean, just us four alone like to-day. Oh! do not refuse my
invitation; it is given with all my heart.”

“And accepted as heartily,” replied Jean.

“I will write and tell you the day, and it shall be as soon as possible.
You call that having a housewarming, don’t you? Well, we shall have the
house-warming all to ourselves.”

Meanwhile, Pauline had drawn Miss Percival into a corner of the room,
and was talking to her with great animation. The conversation ended with
these words:

“You will be there?” said Bettina, “and you will tell me the exact
moment?”

“I will tell you, but take care. Here is Monsieur le Cure; he must not
suspect anything.”

The two sisters, the Cure, and Jean left the house. To go to the church
they were obliged to cross the churchyard. The evening was delicious.
Slowly, silently, under the rays of the setting sun, the four walked
down a long avenue.

On their way was the monument to Dr. Reynaud, very simple, but which, by
its fine proportions, showed distinctly among the other tombs.

Mrs. Scott and Bettina stopped, struck with this inscription carved on
the stone:

“Here lies Dr. Marcel Reynaud, Surgeon-Major of the Souvigny Mobiles;
killed January 8, 1871, at the Battle of Villersexel. Pray for him.”

When they had read it, the Cure, pointing to Jean, said:

“It was his father!”

The two sisters drew near the tomb, and with bent heads remained there
for some minutes, pensive, touched, contemplative. Then both turned, and
at the same moment, by the same impulse, offered their hands to Jean;
then continued their walk to the church. Their first prayer at Longueval
had been for the father of Jean.

The Cure went to put on his surplice and stole. Jean conducted Mrs.
Scott to the seat which belonged to the masters of Longueval.

Pauline had gone on before. She was waiting for Miss Percival in the
shadow behind one of the pillars. By a steep and narrow staircase, she
led Bettina to the gallery, and placed her before the harmonium.

Preceded by two little chorister boys, the old Cure left the vestry, and
at the moment when he knelt on the steps of the alter:

“Now! Mademoiselle,” said Pauline, whose heart beat with impatience.
“Poor, dear man, how pleased he will be.”

When he heard the sound of the music rise, soft as a murmur, and spread
through the little church, the Abbe Constantin was filled with such
emotion, such joy, that the tears came to his eyes. He could not
remember having wept since the day when Jean had said that he wished to
share all that he possessed with the mother and sister of those who had
fallen by his father’s side under the Prussian bullets.

To bring tears to the eyes of the old priest, a little American had been
brought across the seas to play a reverie of Chopin in the little church
of Longueval.



BOOK 2.



CHAPTER IV. A RIOT OF CHARITY

The next day, at half-past five in the morning, the bugle-call rang
through the barrack-yard at Souvigny. Jean mounted his horse, and took
his place with his division. By the end of May all the recruits in the
army are sufficiently instructed to be capable of sharing in the general
evolutions. Almost every day manoeuvres of the mounted artillery are
executed on the parade-ground. Jean loved his profession; he was in the
habit of inspecting carefully the grooming and harness of the horses,
the equipment and carriage of his men. This morning, however, he
bestowed but scant attention on all the little details of his duty.

One problem agitated, tormented him, and left him always undecided, and
this problem was one of those the solution of which is not given at
the Ecole Polytechnique. Jean could find no convincing reply to this
question: Which of the two sisters is the prettier?

At the butts, during the first part of the manoeuvre, each battery
worked on its own account, under the orders of the captain; but he often
relinquished the place to one of his lieutenants, in order to accustom
them to the management of six field-pieces. It happened on this day that
the command was intrusted to the hands of Jean. To the great surprise of
the Captain, in whose estimation his Lieutenant held the first rank as
a well-trained, smart, and capable officer, everything went wrong. The
Captain was obliged to interfere; he addressed a little reprimand to
Jean, which terminated in these words:

“I can not understand it at all. What is the matter with you this
morning? It is the first time such a thing has happened with you.”

It was also the first time that Jean had seen anything at the butts at
Souvigny but cannon, ammunition wagons, horses, or gunners.

In the clouds of dust raised by the wheels of the wagons and the hoofs
of the horses Jean beheld, not the second mounted battery of the 9th
Regiment of artillery, but the distinct images of two Americans
with black eyes and golden hair; and, at the moment when he listened
respectfully to the well-merited lecture from his Captain, he was in the
act of saying to himself:

“The prettier is Mrs. Scott!”

Every morning the exercise is divided into two parts by a little
interval of ten minutes. The officers gathered together and talked; Jean
remained apart, alone with his recollections of the previous evening.
His thoughts obstinately gathered round the vicarage of Longueval.

“Yes! the more charming of the two sisters is Mrs. Scott; Miss Percival
is only a child.”

He saw again Mrs. Scott at the Cure’s little table. He heard her
story told with such frankness, such freedom. The harmony of that very
peculiar, very fascinating voice, still enchanted his ear. He was again
in the church; she was there before him, bending over her prie-Dieu, her
pretty head resting in her two little hands; then the music arose, and
far off, in the dusk, Jean perceived the fine and delicate profile of
Bettina.

“A child--is she only a child?”

The trumpets sounded, the practice was resumed; this time, fortunately,
no command, no responsibility. The four batteries executed their
evolutions together; this immense mass of men, horses, and carriages,
deployed in every direction, now drawn out in a long line, again
collected into a compact group. All stopped at the same instant along
the whole extent of the ground; the gunners sprang from their horses,
ran to their pieces, detached each from its team, which went off at
a trot and prepared to fire with amazing rapidity. Then the horses
returned, the men re-attached their pieces; sprang quickly to saddle,
and the regiment started at full gallop across the field.

Very gently in the thoughts of Jean Bettina regained her advantage over
Mrs. Scott. She appeared to him smiling and blushing amid the sunlit
clouds of her floating hair. Monsieur Jean, she had called him, Monsieur
Jean, and never had his name sounded so sweet. And that last pressure
of the hand on taking leave, before entering the carriage. Had not Miss
Percival given him a more cordial clasp than Mrs. Scott had done? Yes,
positively a little more.

“I was mistaken,” thought Jean; “the prettier is Miss Percival.”

The day’s work was finished; the pieces were ranged regularly in line
one behind the other; they defiled rapidly, with a horrible clatter, and
in a cloud of dust. When Jean, sword in hand, passed before his Colonel,
the images of the two sisters were so confused and intermingled in his
recollection that they melted the one in the other, and became in
some measure the image of one and the same person. Any parallel became
impossible between them, thanks to this singular confusion of the
two points of comparison. Mrs. Scott and Miss Percival remained thus
inseparable in the thoughts of Jean until the day when it was granted to
him to see them again. The impression of that meeting was not effaced;
it was always there, persistent, and very sweet, till Jean began to feel
disturbed.

“Is it possible”--so ran his meditations--“is it possible that I have
been guilty of the folly of falling in love madly at first sight? No;
one might fall in love with a woman, but not with two women at once.”

That thought reassured him. He was very young, this great fellow of
four-and-twenty; never had love entered fully into his heart. Love! He
knew very little about it, except from books, and he had read but few
of them. But he was no angel; he could find plenty of attractions in the
grisettes of Souvigny, and when they would allow him to tell them
that they were charming, he was quite ready to do so, but it had never
entered his head to regard as love those passing fancies, which only
caused the slightest and most superficial disturbance in his heart.

Paul de Lavardens had marvellous powers of enthusiasm and idealization.
His heart sheltered always two or three grandes passions, which lived
there in perfect harmony. Paul had been so clever as to discover, in
this little town of 15,000 souls, numbers of pretty girls, all made to
be adored. He always believed himself the discoverer of America,
when, in fact, he had done nothing but follow in the track of other
navigators.

The world-Jean had scarcely encountered it. He had allowed himself to
be dragged by Paul, a dozen times, perhaps, to soirees or balls at the
great houses of the neighborhood. He had invariably returned thoroughly
bored, and had concluded that these pleasures were not made for him. His
tastes were simple, serious. He loved solitude, work, long walks, open
space, horses, and books. He was rather savage--a son of the soil. He
loved his village, and all the old friends of his childhood. A quadrille
in a drawing-room caused him unspeakable terror; but every year, at
the festival of the patron saint of Longueval, he danced gayly with the
young girls and farmers’ daughters of the neighborhood.

If he had seen Mrs. Scott and Miss Percival at home in Paris, in all
the splendor of their luxury, in all the perfection of their costly
surroundings, he would have looked at them from afar, with curiosity, as
exquisite works of art. Then he would have returned home, and would have
slept, as usual, the most peaceful slumber in the world.

Yes, but it was not thus that the thing had come to pass, and hence his
excitement, hence his disturbance. These two women had shown themselves
before him in the midst of a circle with which he was familiar, and
which had been, if only for this reason, singularly favorable to them.
Simple, good, frank, cordial, such they had shown themselves the very
first day, and delightfully pretty into the bargain--a fact which is
never insignificant. Jean fell at once under the charm; he was there
still!

At the moment when he dismounted in the barrack-yard, at nine o’clock,
the old priest began his campaign joyously. Since the previous evening
the Abbe’s head had been on fire; Jean had not slept much, but he had
not slept at all. He had risen very early, and with closed doors, alone
with Pauline, he had counted and recounted his money, spreading out
his one hundred Louis-d’or, gloating over them like a miser, and like
a miser finding exquisite pleasure in handling his hoard. All that was
his! for him! that is to say, for the poor.

“Do not be too lavish, Monsieur le Cure,” said Pauline; “be economical.
I think that if you distribute to-day one hundred francs--”

“That is not enough, Pauline. I shall only have one such day in my life,
but one I will have. How much do you think I shall give to-day?”

“How much, Monsieur le Cure?”

“One thousand francs!”

“One thousand francs!”

“Yes. We are millionaires now; we possess all the treasures of America,
and you talk about economy? Not to-day, at all events; indeed, I have no
right to think of it.”

After saying mass at nine o’clock he set out and showered gold along his
way. All had a share--the poor who acknowledged their poverty and
those who concealed it. Each alms was accompanied by the same little
discourse:

“This comes from the new owners of the Longueval--two American ladies,
Mrs. Scott and Miss Percival. Remember their names, and pray for them.”

Then he made off without waiting for thanks, across the fields, through
the woods, from hamlet to hamlet, from cottage to cottage--on, on, on. A
sort of intoxication mounted to his brain. Everywhere were cries of joy
and astonishment. All these louis-d’or fell, as if by a miracle, into
the poor hands accustomed to receive little pieces of silver. The Curb
was guilty of follies, actual follies. He was out of bounds; he did not
recognize himself; he had lost all control over himself; he even gave to
those who did not expect anything.

He met Claude Rigal, the old sergeant, who had left one of his arms at
Sebastopol. He was growing gray--nay, white; for time passes, and the
soldiers of the Crimea will soon be old men.

“Here!” said the Cure, “I have twenty francs for you.”

“Twenty francs? But I never asked for anything; I don’t want anything; I
have my pension.”

His pension! Seven hundred francs!

“But listen; it will be something to buy you cigars. It comes from
America.”

And then followed the Abbe’s little speech about the masters of
Longueval.

He went to a poor woman whose son had gone to Tunis.

“Well, how is your son getting on?”

“Not so bad, Monsieur le Cure; I had a letter from him yesterday. He
does not complain; he is very well; only he says there are no Kroomirs.
Poor boy! I have been saving for a month, and I think I shall soon be
able to send him ten francs.”

“You shall send him thirty francs. Take this.”

“Thirty francs! Monsieur le Cure, you give me thirty francs?”

“Yes, that is for you.”

“For my boy?”

“For your boy. But listen; you must know from whom it comes, and you
must take care to tell your son when you write to him.”

Again the little speech about the new owners of Longueval, and again the
adjuration to remember them in their prayers. At six o’clock he returned
home, exhausted with fatigue, but with his soul filled with joy.

“I have given away all,” he cried, as soon as he saw Pauline, “all! all!
all!”

He dined, and then went in the evening to perform the usual service
for the month of Mary. But this time, the harmonium was silent; Miss
Percival was no longer there.

The little organist of the evening before was at that moment much
perplexed. On two couches in her dressing-room were spread two frocks--a
white and a blue. Bettina was meditating which of these two frocks she
would wear to the opera that evening. After long hesitation she fixed on
the blue. At half-past nine the two sisters ascended the grand staircase
at the opera-house. Just as they entered their box the curtain rose on
the second scene of the second act of Aida, that containing the ballet
and march.

Two young men, Roger de Puymartin and Louis de Martillet, were seated
in the front of a stage-box. The young ladies of the corps de ballet
had not yet appeared, and these gentlemen, having no occupation, were
amusing themselves with looking about the house. The appearance of Miss
Percival made a strong impression upon both.

“Ah! ah!” said Puymartin, “there she is, the little golden nugget!”

“She is perfectly dazzling this evening, this little golden nugget,”
 continued Martillet. “Look at her, at the line of her neck, the fall of
her shoulders--still a young girl, and already a woman.”

“Yes, she is charming, and tolerably well off into the bargain.”

“Fifteen millions of her own, and the silver mine is still productive.”

“Berulle told me twenty-five millions, and he is very well up in
American affairs.”

“Twenty-five millions! A pretty haul for Romanelli!”

“What? Romanelli!”

“Report says that that will be a match; that it is already settled.”

“A match may be arranged, but with Montessan, not with Romanelli. Ah! at
last! Here is the ballet.”

They ceased to talk. The ballet in Aida lasts only five minutes, and
for those five minutes they had come. Consequently they must be enjoyed
respectfully, religiously, for there is that peculiarity among a number
of the habitues of the opera, that they chatter like magpies when they
ought to be silent, to listen, and that they observe the most absolute
silence when they might be allowed to speak, while looking on.

The trumpets of Aida had given their last heroic ‘fanfare’ in honor
of Rhadames before the great sphinxes under the green foliage of the
palm-trees, the dancers advanced, the light trembling on their spangled
robes, and took possession of the stage.

With much attention and pleasure Mrs. Scott followed the evolutions of
the ballet, but Bettina had suddenly become thoughtful, on perceiving
in a box, on the other side of the house, a tall, dark young man. Miss
Percival talked to herself, and said:

“What shall I do? What shall I decide on? Must I marry him, that
handsome, tall fellow over there, who is watching me, for it is I that
he is looking at? He will come into our box directly this act is over,
and then I have only to say, ‘I have decided; there is my hand; I will
be your wife,’ and then all would be settled! I should be Princess!
Princess Romanelli! Princess Bettina! Bettina Romanelli! The names
go well together; they sound very pretty. Would it amuse me to be a
princess? Yes--and no! Among all the young men in Paris, who, during the
last year, have run after my money, this Prince Romanelli is the one who
pleases me best. One of these days I must make up my mind to marry. I
think he loves me. Yes, but the question is, do I love him? No, I don’t
think I do, and I should so much like to love--so much, so much!”

At the precise moment when these reflections were passing through
Bettina’s pretty head, Jean, alone in his study, seated before his desk
with a great book under the shade of his lamp, looked through, and
took notes of, the campaigns of Turenne. He had been directed to give a
course of instruction to the non-commissioned officers of the regiment,
and was prudently preparing his lesson for the next day.

But in the midst of his notes--Nordlingen, 1645; les Dunes, 1658;
Mulhausen and Turckheim, 1674-1675--he suddenly perceived (Jean did
not draw very badly) a sketch, a woman’s portrait, which all at once
appeared under his pen. What was she doing there, in the middle
of Turenne’s victories, this pretty little woman? And then who was
she--Mrs. Scott or Miss Percival? How could he tell? They resembled each
other so much; and, laboriously, Jean returned to the history of the
campaigns of Turenne.

And at the same moment, the Abbe Constantin, on his knees before his
little wooden bedstead, called down, with all the strength of his soul,
the blessings of Heaven on the two women through whose bounty he had
passed such a sweet and happy day. He prayed God to bless Mrs. Scott
in her children, and to give to Miss Percival a husband after her own
heart.



CHAPTER V. THE FAIR AMERICANS

Formerly Paris belonged to the Parisians, and that at no very remote
period-thirty or forty years ago. At that epoch the French were
the masters of Paris, as the English are the masters of London, the
Spaniards of Madrid, and the Russians of St. Petersburg. Those times are
no more. Other countries still have their frontiers; there are now
none to France. Paris has become an immense Babel, a universal and
international city. Foreigners do not only come to visit Paris; they
come there to live. At the present day we have in Paris a Russian
colony, a Spanish colony, a Levantine colony, an American colony.
The foreigners have already conquered from us the greater part of the
Champs-Elysees and the Boulevard Malesherbes; they advance, they extend
their outworks; we retreat, pressed back by the invaders; we are obliged
to expatriate ourselves. We have begun to found Parisian colonies in
the plains of Passy, in the plain of Monceau, in quarters which formerly
were not Paris at all, and which are not quite even now. Among the
foreign colonies, the richest, the most populous, the most brilliant,
is the American colony. There is a moment when an American feels himself
rich enough, a Frenchman never. The American then stops, draws breath,
and while still husbanding the capital, no longer spares the income. He
knows how to spend, the Frenchman knows only how to save.

The Frenchman has only one real luxury--his revolutions. Prudently and
wisely he reserves himself for them, knowing well that they will
cost France dear, but that, at the same time, they will furnish the
opportunity for advantageous investments. The Frenchman says to himself:

“Let us hoard! let us hoard! let us hoard! Some of these mornings there
will be a revolution, which will make the 5 per cents. fall 50 or 60
francs. I will buy then. Since revolutions are inevitable, let us try at
least to make them profitable.”

They are always talking about the people who are ruined by revolutions,
but perhaps the number of those enriched by revolutions is still
greater.

The Americans experience the attraction of Paris very strongly. There
is no town in the world where it is easier or more agreeable to spend
a great dial of money. For many reasons, both of race and origin, this
attraction exercised over Mrs. Scott and Miss Percival a very remarkable
power.

The most French of our colonies is Canada, which is no longer ours.
The recollection of their first home has been preserved faithfully and
tenderly in the hearts of the emigrants to Montreal and Quebec. Susie
Percival had received from her mother an entirely French education, and
she had brought up her sister in the same love of our country. The two
sisters felt themselves Frenchwomen; still better, Parisians. As soon as
the avalanche of dollars had descended upon them, the same desire seized
them both--to come and live in Paris. They demanded France as if it had
been their fatherland. Mr. Scott made some opposition.

“If I go away from here,” he said, “your incomes will suffer.”

“What does that matter?” replied Susie. “We are rich--too rich. Do let
us go. We shall be so happy, so delighted!”

Mr. Scott allowed himself to be persuaded, and, at the beginning of
January, 1880, Susie wrote the following letter to her friend, Katie
Norton, who had lived in Paris for some years:

“Victory! It is decided! Richard has consented. I shall arrive in
April, and become a Frenchwoman again. You offered to undertake all the
preparations for our settlement in Paris. I am horribly presuming--I
accept! When I arrive in Paris, I should like to be able to enjoy Paris,
and not be obliged to lose my first month in running after upholsterers,
coach-builders, horse-dealers. I should like, on arriving at the railway
station, to find awaiting me my carriage, my coachman, my horses. That
very day I should like you to dine with me at my home. Hire or buy a
mansion, engage the servants, choose the horses, the carriages, the
liveries. I depend entirely upon you. As long as the liveries are blue,
that is the only point. This line is added at the request of Bettina.

“We shall bring only seven persons with us. Richard will have his valet,
Bettina and I two ladies’ maids; then there are the two governesses for
the children, and, besides these, two boys, Toby and Bobby, who ride to
perfection. We should never find in Paris such a perfect pair.

“Everything else, people and things, we shall leave in New York. No, not
quite everything; I had for gotten four little ponies, four little gems,
black as ink. We have not the heart to leave them; we shall drive them
in a phaeton; it is delightful. Both Bettina and I drive four-in-hand
very well. Ladies can drive four-in-hand in the Bois very early in
the morning; can’t they? Here it is quite possible. Above all, my dear
Katie, do not consider money. Be as extravagant as you like, that is all
I ask.” The same day that Mrs. Norton received this letter witnessed the
failure of a certain Garneville. He was a great speculator who had been
on a false scent. Stocks had fallen just when he had expected a rise.
This Garneville had, six weeks before, installed himself in a brand-new
house, which had no other fault than a too startling magnificence. Mrs.
Norton signed an agreement--100,000 francs a year, with the option
of buying house and furniture for 2,000,000 during the first year of
possession. A famous upholsterer undertook to correct and subdue the
exaggerated splendor of a loud and gorgeous luxury. That done, Mrs.
Scott’s friend had the good fortune to lay her hand on two of those
eminent artists without whom the routine of a great house can neither be
established nor carried on. The first, a chef of the first rank, who had
just left an ancient mansion of the Faubourg St. Germain, to his great
regret, for he had aristocratic inclinations.

“Never,” said he to Mrs. Norton, “never would I have left the service
of Madame la Duchesse if she had kept up her establishment on the same
footing as formerly; but Madame la Duchesse has four children--two sons
who have run through a good deal, and two daughters who will soon be
of an age to marry; they must have their dowries. Therefore, Madame
la Duchesse is obliged to draw in a little, and the house is no longer
important enough for me.”

This distinguished character, of course, made his conditions. Though
excessive, they did not alarm Mrs. Norton, who knew that he was a man
of the most serious merit; but he, before deciding, asked permission to
telegraph to New York. He wished to make certain inquiries. The reply
was favorable; he accepted.

The second great artist was a stud-groom of the rarest and highest
capacity, who was just about to retire after having made his fortune.
He consented, however, to organize the stables for Mrs. Scott. It was
thoroughly understood that he should have every liberty in purchasing
the horses, that he should wear no livery, that he should choose the
coachmen, the grooms, and everyone connected with the stables; that
he should never have less than fifteen horses in the stables, that no
bargain should be made with the coach-builder or saddler without his
intervention, and that he should never mount the box, except early in
the morning, in plain clothes, to give lessons in driving to the ladies
and children, if necessary.

The cook took possession of his stores, and the stud-groom of his
stables. Everything else was only a question of money, and with regard
to this Mrs. Norton made full use of her extensive powers. She acted in
conformity with the instructions she had received. In the short space of
two months she performed prodigies, and that is how, when, on the 15th
of April, 1880, Mr. Scott, Susie, and Bettina alighted from the mail
train from Havre, at half-past four in the afternoon, they found Mrs.
Norton at the station of St. Lazare, who said:

“Your caleche is there in the yard; behind it is a landau for the
children; and behind the landau is an omnibus for the servants. The
three carriages bear your monogram, are driven by your coachman, and
drawn by your horses. Your address is 24 Rue Murillo, and here is the
menu of your dinner to-night. You invited me two months ago; I accept,
and will even take the liberty of bringing a dozen friends with me. I
shall furnish everything, even the guests. But do not be alarmed; you
know them all; they are mutual friends, and this evening we shall be
able to judge of the merits of your cook.”

The first Parisian who had the honor and pleasure of paying homage to
the beauty of Mrs. Scott and Miss Percival was a little Marmiton fifteen
years old, who stood there in his white clothes, his wicker basket on
his head, at the moment when Mrs. Scott’s carriage, entangled in the
multitude of vehicles, slowly worked its way out of the station. The
little cook stopped short on the pavement, opened wide his eyes, looked
at the two sisters with amazement, and boldly cast full in their faces
the single word:

“Mazette!”

When Madame Recamier saw her first wrinkles, and first gray hairs, she
said to a friend:

“Ah! my dear, there are no more illusions left for me! From the day
when I saw that the little chimney-sweeps no longer turned round in the
street to look at me, I understood that all was over.”

The opinion of the confectioners’ boys is, in similar cases, of equal
value with the opinion of the little chimney-sweeps. All was not over
for Susie and Bettina; on the contrary, all was only beginning.

Five minutes later, Mrs. Scott’s carriage was ascending the Boulevard
Haussmann to the slow and measured trot of a pair of admirable horses.
Paris counted two Parisians the more.

The success of Mrs. Scott and Miss Percival was immediate, decisive,
like a flash of lightning. The beauties of Paris are not classed and
catalogued like the beauties of London; they do not publish their
portraits in the illustrated papers, or allow their photographs to
be sold at the stationers. However, there is always a little staff,
consisting of a score of women, who represent the grace, and charm, and
beauty of Paris, which women, after ten or twelve years’ service,
pass into the reserve, just like the old generals. Susie and Bettina
immediately became part of this little staff. It was an affair of
four-and-twenty hours--of less than four-and-twenty hours, for all
passed between eight in the morning and midnight, the day after their
arrival in Paris.

Imagine a sort of little ‘feerie’, in three acts, of which the success
increases from tableau to tableau:

1st. A ride at ten in the morning in the Bois, with the two marvellous
grooms imported from America.

2d. A walk at six o’clock in the Allee des Acacias.

3d. An appearance at the opera at ten in the evening in Mrs. Norton’s
box.

The two novelties were immediately remarked, and appreciated as they
deserved to be, by the thirty or forty persons who constitute a sort of
mysterious tribunal, and who, in the name of all Paris, pass sentence
beyond appeal. These thirty or forty persons have, from time to time,
the fancy to declare “delicious” some woman who is manifestly ugly. That
is enough; she is “delicious” from that moment.

The beauty of the two sisters was unquestionable. In the morning, it was
their grace, their elegance, their distinction that attracted universal
admiration; in the afternoon, it was declared that their walk had the
freedom and ease of two young goddesses; in the evening, there was but
one cry of rapture at the ideal perfection of their shoulders. From
that moment, all Paris had for the two sisters the eyes of the little
pastry-cook of the Rue d’Amsterdam; all Paris repeated his ‘Mazette’,
though naturally with the variations and developments imposed by the
usages of the world.

Mrs. Scott’s drawing-room immediately became the fashion. The habitues
of three or four great American houses transferred themselves to the
Scotts, who had three hundred persons at their first Wednesday. Their
circle increased; there was a little of everything to be found in their
set--Americans, Spaniards, Italians, Hungarians, Russians, and even
Parisians.

When she had related her history to the Abbe Constantin, Mrs. Scott had
not told all--one never does tell all. In a word, she was a coquette.
Mr. Scott had the most perfect confidence in his wife, and left her
entire liberty. He appeared very little; he was an honorable man, who
felt a vague embarrassment at having made such a marriage, at having
married so much money.

Having a taste for business, he had great pleasure in devoting himself
entirely to the administering of the two immense fortunes which were in
his hands, in continually increasing them, and in saying every year to
his wife and sister in-law:

“You are still richer than you were last year!”

Not content with watching with much prudence and ability over the
interests which he had left in America, he launched in France into large
speculations, and was as successful in Paris as he had been in New York.
In order to make money, the first thing is to have no need of it.

They made love to Mrs. Scott to an enormous extent; they made love to
her in French, in Italian, in English, in Spanish; for she knew those
four languages, and there is one advantage that foreigners have over our
poor Parisians, who usually know only their mother tongue, and have not
the resource of international passions.

Naturally, Mrs. Scott did not drive her adorers from her presence. She
had ten, twenty, thirty at a time.

No one could boast of any preference; to all she opposed the same
amiable, laughing, joyous resistance. It was clear to all that the game
amused her, and that she did not for a moment take it seriously. Mr.
Scott never felt a moment’s anxiety, and he was perfectly right. More,
he enjoyed his wife’s successes; he was happy in seeing her happy. He
loved her dearly--a little more than she loved him. She loved him very
much, and that was all. There is a great difference between dearly and
very much when these two adverbs are placed after the verb to love.

As to Bettina, around her was a maddening whirl, an orgy of adulation.
Such fortune! Such beauty! Miss Percival arrived in Paris on the 15th of
April; a fortnight had not passed before the offers of marriage began
to pour upon her. In the course of that first year, she might, had she
wished it, have been married thirty-four times, and to what a variety of
suitors!

They asked her hand for a young exile, who, under certain circumstances,
might be called to ascend a throne--a very small one, it is true, but a
throne nevertheless.

They asked her hand for a young duke, who would make a great figure at
Court when France--as was inevitable--should recognize her errors, and
bow down before her legitimate masters.

They asked her hand for a young prince, who would have a place on the
steps of the throne when France--as was inevitable--should again knit
together the chain of the Napoleonic traditions.

They asked her hand for a young Republican deputy, who had just made a
most brilliant debut in the Chamber, and for whom the future reserved
the most splendid destiny, for the Republic was now established in
France on the most indestructible basis.

They asked her hand for a young Spaniard of the purest lineage, and she
was given to understand that the ‘contrat’ would be signed in the palace
of a queen, who does not live far from the Arc de Triomphe. Besides, one
can find her address in the ‘Almanach Bottin’, for at the present day,
there are queens who have their address in Bottin between an attorney
and a druggist; it is only the kings of France who no longer live in
France.

They asked her hand for the son of a peer of England, and for the son of
a member of the highest Viennese aristocracy; for the son of a Parisian
banker, and for the son of a Russian ambassador; for a Hungarian count,
and for an Italian prince; and also for various excellent young men who
were nothing and had nothing--neither name nor fortune; but Bettina had
granted them a waltz, and, believing themselves irresistible, they hoped
that they had caused a flutter of that little heart.

But up to the present moment nothing had touched that little heart, and
the reply had been the same to all “No! no!” again “No!” always “No!”

Some days after that performance of Aida, the two sisters had a rather
long conversation on this great, this eternal question of marriage. A
certain name had been pronounced by Mrs. Scott which had provoked on the
part of Miss Percival the most decided and most energetic refusal, and
Susie had laughingly said to her sister:

“But, Bettina, you will be obliged to end by marrying.”

“Yes, certainly, but I should be so sorry to marry without love. It
seems to me that before I could resolve to do such a thing I must be in
danger of dying an old maid, and I am not yet that.”

“No, not yet.”

“Let us wait, let us wait.”

“Let us wait. But among all these lovers whom you have been dragging
after you for the last year, there have been some very nice, very
amiable, and it is really a little strange if none of them--”

“None, my Susie, none, absolutely none. Why should I not tell you the
truth? Is it their fault? Have they gone unskilfully to work? Could
they, in managing better, have found the way to my heart? or is the
fault in me? Is it perhaps, that the way to my heart is a steep, rocky,
inaccessible way, by which no one will ever pass? Am I a horrid little
creature, and, cold, and condemned never to love?”

“I do not think so.”

“Neither do I, but up to the present time that is my history. No, I have
never felt anything which resembled love. You are laughing, and I
can guess why. You are saying to yourself, ‘A little girl like that
pretending to know what love is!’ You are right; I do not know, but
I have a pretty good idea. To love--is it not to prefer to all in the
world one certain person?”

“Yes; it is really that.”

“Is it not never to weary of seeing that person, or of hearing him? Is
it not to cease to live when he is not there, and to immediately begin
to revive when he reappears?”

“Oh, but this is romantic love.”

“Well, that is the love of which I dream, and that is the love which
does not come--not at all till now; and yet that person preferred by me
to all and everything does exist. Do you know who it is?”

“No, I do not know; I do not know, but I have a little suspicion.”

“Yes, it is you, my dearest, and it is perhaps you, naughty sister, who
makes me so insensible and cruel on this point. I love you too much; you
fill my heart; you have occupied it entirely; there is no room for any
one else. Prefer any one to you! Love any one more than you! That will
never, never be!”

“Oh, yes, it will.”

“Oh, no. Love differently, perhaps, but more--no. He must not count upon
that, this gentleman whom I expect, and who does not arrive.”

“Do not be afraid, my Betty, there is room in your heart for all whom
you should love--for your husband, for your children, and that without
your old sister losing anything. The heart is very little, but it is
also very large.”

Bettina tenderly embraced her sister; then, resting her head coaxingly
on Susie’s shoulder, she said:

“If, however, you are tired of keeping me with you, if you are in a
hurry to get rid of me, do you know what I will do? I will put the names
of two of these gentlemen in a basket, and draw lots. There are two who
at the last extremity would not be absolutely disagreeable.”

“Which two?”

“Guess.”

“Prince Romanelli.”

“For one! And the other?”

“Monsieur de Montessan.”

“Those are the two! It is just that. Those two would be acceptable, but
only acceptable, and that is not enough.”

This is why Bettina awaited with extreme impatience the day when she
should leave Paris, and take up their abode in Longueval. She was a
little tired of so much pleasure, so much success, so many offers
of marriage. The whirlpool of Parisian gayety had seized her on her
arrival, and would not let her go, not for one hour of halt or rest. She
felt the need of being given up to herself for a few days, to herself
alone, to consult and question herself at her leisure, in the complete
solitude of the country-in a word, to belong to herself again.

Was not Bettina all sprightly and joyous when, on the 14th of June, they
took the train for Longueval? As soon as she was alone in a coupe with
her sister:

“Ah!” she cried, “how happy I am! Let us breathe a little, quite alone,
you and me, for a few days. The Nortons and Turners do not come till the
25th, do they?”

“No, not till the 25th.”

“We will pass our lives riding or driving in the woods, in the fields.
Ten days of liberty! And during those ten days no more lovers, no more
lovers! And all those lovers, with what are they in love, with me or my
money? That is the mystery, the unfathomable mystery.”

The engine whistled; the train put itself slowly into motion. A wild
idea entered Bettina’s head. She leaned out of the window and cried,
accompanying her words with a little wave of the hand:

“Good-by, my lovers, good-by.”

Then she threw herself suddenly into a corner of the coupe with a hearty
burst of laughter.

“Oh, Susie, Susie!”

“What is the matter?”

“A man with a red flag in his hand; he saw me, and he looked so
astonished.”

“You are so irrational!”

“Yes, it is true, to have called out of the window like that, but not to
be happy at thinking that we are going to live alone, ‘en garcons’.”

“Alone! alone! Not exactly that. To begin with, we shall have two people
to dinner to-night.”

“Ah! that is true. But those two people, I shall not be at all sorry to
see them again. Yes, I shall be well pleased to see the old Cure again,
but especially the young officer.”

“What! especially?”

“Certainly; because what the lawyer from Souvigny told us the other day
is so touching, and what that great artilleryman did when he was quite
little was so good, so good, that this evening I shall seek for an
opportunity of telling him what I think of it, and I shall find one.”

Then Bettina, abruptly changing the course of the conversation,
continued:

“Did they send the telegram yesterday to Edwards about the ponies?”

“Yes, yesterday before dinner.”

“Oh, you will let me drive them up to the house. It will be such fun
to go through the town, and to drive up at full speed into the court in
front of the entrance. Tell me, will you?”

“Yes, certainly, you shall drive the ponies.”

“Oh, how nice of you, Susie!”

Edwards was the stud-groom. He had arrived at Longueval three days
before. He deigned to come himself--to meet Mrs. Scott and Miss
Percival. He brought the phaeton drawn by the four black ponies. He was
waiting at the station. The passage of the ponies through the principal
street of the town had made a sensation. The population rushed out of
their houses, and asked eagerly:

“What is it? What can it be?”

Some ventured the opinion:

“It is, perhaps, a travelling circus.”

But exclamations arose on all sides:

“You did not notice the style of it--the carriage and the harness
shining like gold, and the little horses with their white rosettes on
each side of the head.”

The crowd collected around the station, and those who were curious
learned that they were going to witness the arrival of the new owners
of Longueval. They were slightly disenchanted when the two sisters
appeared, very pretty, but in very simple travelling costumes.

These good people had almost expected the apparition of two princesses
out of fairy tales, clad in silk and brocade, sparkling with rubies and
diamonds. But they opened wide their eyes when they saw Bettina walk
slowly round the four ponies, caressing one after another lightly with
her hand, and examining all the details of the team with the air of a
connoisseur.

Having made her inspection, Bettina, without the least hurry, drew off
her long Swedish gloves, and replaced them by a pair of dog-skin which
she took from the pocket of the carriage apron. Then she slipped on to
the box in the place of Edwards, receiving from him the reins and whip
with extreme dexterity, without allowing the already excited horses to
perceive that they had changed hands.

Mrs. Scott seated herself beside her sister. The ponies pranced,
curveted, and threatened to rear.

“Be very careful, miss,” said Edwards; “the ponies are very fresh
to-day.”

“Do not be afraid,” replied Bettina. “I know them.”

Miss Percival had a hand at once very firm, very light, and very just.
She held in the ponies for a few moments, forcing them to keep their own
places; then, waving the long thong of her whip round the leaders, she
started her little team at once, with incomparable skill, and left
the station with an air of triumph, in the midst of a long murmur of
astonishment and admiration.

The trot of the black ponies rang on the little oval paving-stones of
Souvigny. Bettina held them well together until she had left the
town, but as soon as she saw before her a clear mile and a half of
highroad-almost on a dead level-she let them gradually increase their
speed, till they went like the wind.

“Oh! how happy I am, Susie!” cried she; “and we shall trot and gallop
all alone on these roads. Susie, would you like to drive? It is such a
delight when one can let them go at full speed. They are so spirited and
so gentle. Come, take the reins.”

“No; keep them. It is a greater pleasure to me to see you happy.”

“Oh, as to that, I am perfectly happy. I do like so much to drive
four-in-hand with plenty of space before me. At Paris, even in the
morning, I did not dare to any longer. They looked at me so, it annoyed
me. But here--no one! no one! no one!”

At the moment when Bettina, already a little intoxicated with
the bracing air and liberty, gave forth triumphantly these three
exclamations, “No one! no one! no one!” a rider appeared, walking his
horse in the direction of the carriage. It was Paul de Lavardens. He
had been watching for more than an hour for the pleasure of seeing the
Americans pass.

“You are mistaken,” said Susie to Bettina; “there is some one.”

“A peasant; they don’t count; they won’t ask me to marry them.”

“It is not a peasant at all. Look!”

Paul de Lavardens, while passing the carriage, made the two sisters a
highly correct bow, from which one at once scented the Parisian.

The ponies were going at such a rate that the meeting was over like a
flash of lightning.

Bettina cried:

“Who is that gentleman who has just bowed to us?”

“I had scarcely time to see, but I seemed to recognize him.”

“You recognized him?”

“Yes, and I would wager that I have seen him at our house this winter.”

“Heavens! if it should be one of the thirty-four! Is all that going to
begin again?”



CHAPTER VI. A LITTLE DINNER FOR FOUR

That same day, at half-past seven, Jean went to fetch the Cure, and the
two walked together up to the house. During the last month a perfect
army of workmen had taken possession of Longueval; all the inns in the
village were making their fortunes.

Enormous furniture wagons brought cargoes of furniture and decorations
from Paris. Forty-eight hours before the arrival of Mrs. Scott,
Mademoiselle Marbeau, the postmistress, and Madame Lormier, the
mayoress, had wormed themselves into the castle, and the account they
gave of the interior turned every one’s head. The old furniture
had disappeared, banished to the attics; one moved among a perfect
accumulation of wonders. And the stables! and the coach-houses! A
special train had brought from Paris, under the high superintendence of
Edwards, a dozen carriages--and such carriages! Twenty horses--and such
horses!

The Abbe Constantin thought that he knew what luxury was. Once a year he
dined with his bishop, Monseigneur Faubert, a rich and amiable prelate,
who entertained rather largely. The Cure, till now, had, thought that
there was nothing in the world more sumptuous than the Episcopal palace
of Souvigny, or the castles of Lavardens and Longueval.

He began to understand, from what he was told of the new splendors of
Longueval, that the luxury of the great houses of the present day must
surpass to a singular degree the sober and severe luxury of the great
houses of former times.

As soon as the Cure and Jean had entered the avenue in the park, which
led to the house:

“Look! Jean,” said the Cure; “what a change! All this part of the park
used to be quite neglected, and now all the paths are gravelled and
raked. I shall not be able to feel myself at home as I used to do:
it will be too grand. I shall not find again my old brown velvet
easy-chair, in which I so often fell asleep after dinner, and if I fall
asleep this evening what will become of me? You will think of it, Jean,
and if you see that I begin to forget myself, you will come behind me
and pinch my arm gently, won’t you? You promise me?”

“Certainly, certainly, I promise you.”

Jean paid but slight attention to the conversation of the Cure. He felt
extremely impatient to see Mrs. Scott and Miss Percival again, but this
impatience was mingled with very keen anxiety. Would he find them in
the great salon at Longueval the same as he had seen them in the little
dining-room at the vicarage? Perhaps, instead of those two women, so
perfectly simple and familiar, amusing themselves with this little
improvised dinner, and who, the very first day, had treated him with
so much grace and cordiality, would he find two pretty dolls-worldly,
elegant, cold, and correct? Would his first impression be effaced? Would
it disappear? or, on the contrary, would the impression in his heart
become still sweeter and deeper?

They ascended the six steps at the entrance, and were received in the
hall by two tall footmen with the most dignified and imposing air. This
hall had formerly been a vast, frigid apartment, with bare stone walls.
These walls were now covered with admirable tapestry, representing
mythological subjects. The Cure dared scarcely glance at this tapestry;
it was enough for him to perceive that the goddesses who wandered
through these shades wore costumes of antique simplicity.

One of the footmen opened wide the folding-doors of the salon. It was
there that one had generally found the old Marquise, on the right of
the high chimney-piece, and on the left had stood the brown velvet
easy-chair.

No brown easy-chair now! That old relic of the Empire, which was the
basis of the arrangement of the salon, had been replaced by a marvellous
specimen of tapestry of the end of the last century. Then a crowd of
little easy-chairs, and ottomans of all forms and all colors, were
scattered here and there with an appearance of disorder which was the
perfection of art.

As soon as Mrs. Scott saw the Cure and Jean enter, she rose, and going
to meet them, said:

“How kind of you to come, Monsieur le Cure, and you, too, Monsieur Jean.
How pleased I am to see you, my first, my only friends down here!”

Jean breathed again. It was the same woman.

“Will you allow me,” added Mrs. Scott, “to introduce my children to you?
Harry and Bella, come here.”

Harry was a very pretty little boy of six, and Bella a very charming
little girl, five years old. They had their mother’s large, dark eyes,
and her golden hair.

After the Cure had kissed the two children, Harry, who was looking with
admiration at Jean’s uniform, said to his mother:

“And the soldier, mamma, must we kiss him, too?”

“If you like,” replied Mrs. Scott, “and if he will allow it.”

A moment after, the two children were installed upon Jean’s knees, and
overwhelming him with questions.

“Are you an officer?”

“Yes, I am an officer.”

“What in?”

“In the artillery.”

“The artillery! Oh, you are one of the men who fire the cannon. Oh, how
I should like to be quite near when they fire the cannon!”

“Will you take us some day when they fire the cannon? Tell me, will
you?”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Scott chatted with the Cure, and Jean, while replying to
the children’s questions, looked at Mrs. Scott. She wore a white muslin
frock, but the muslin disappeared under a complete avalanche of little
flounces of Valenciennes. The dress was cut out in front in a large
square, her arms were bare to the elbow, a large bouquet of red roses at
the opening of her dress, a red rose fixed in her hair, with a diamond
‘agraffe’--nothing more.

Mrs. Scott suddenly perceived that the children had taken entire
possession of Jean, and exclaimed:

“Oh, I beg your pardon. Harry, Bella!”

“Oh, pray let them stay with me.”

“I am so sorry to keep you waiting for dinner; my sister is not down
yet. Oh! here she is!”

Bettina entered. The same frock of white muslin, the same delicate mass
of lace, the same red roses, the same grace, the same beauty, and the
same smiling, amiable, candid manner.

“How do you do, Monsieur le Cure? I am delighted to see you. Have you
pardoned my dreadful intrusion of the other day?”

Then, turning toward Jean and offering him her hand:

“How do you do, Monsieur--Monsieur--Oh! I can not remember your name,
and yet we seem to be already old friends, Monsieur--”

“Jean Reynaud.”

“Jean Reynaud, that is it. How do you do, Monsieur Reynaud? I warn you
faithfully that when we really are old friends--that is to say, in about
a week--I shall call you Monsieur Jean. It is a pretty name, Jean.”

Up to the moment when Bettina appeared Jean had said to himself:

“Mrs. Scott is the prettier!”

When he felt Bettina’s little hand slip into his arm, and when she
turned toward him her delicious face, he said:

“Miss Percival is the prettier!”

But his perplexities gathered round him again when he was seated between
the two sisters. If he looked to the right, love threatened him from
that direction, and if he looked to the left, the danger removed
immediately, and passed to the left.

Conversation began, easy, animated, confidential. The two sisters were
charmed; they had already walked in the park; they promised themselves
a long ride in the forest tomorrow. Riding was their passion, their
madness. It was also Jean’s passion, so that after a quarter of an hour
they begged him to join them the next day. There was no one who knew the
country round better than he did; it was his native place. He should be
so happy to do the honors of it, and to show them numbers of delightful
little spots which, without him, they would never discover.

“Do you ride every day?” asked Bettina.

“Every day and sometimes twice. In the morning on duty, and in the
evening I am ride for my own pleasure.”

“Early in the morning?”

“At half-past five.”

“At half-past five every morning?”

“Yes, except Sunday.”

“Then you get up--”

“At half-past four.”

“And is it light?”

“Oh, just now, broad daylight.”

“To get up at half-past four is admirable; we often finish our day just
when yours is beginning. And are you fond of your profession?”

“Very. It is an excellent thing to have one’s life plain before one,
with exact and definite duties.”

“And yet,” said Mrs. Scott, “not to be one’s own master--to be always
obliged to obey.”

“That is perhaps what suits me best; there is nothing easier than to
obey, and then to learn to obey is the only way of learning to command.”

“Ah! since you say so, it must be true.”

“Yes, no doubt,” added the Cure; “but he does not tell you that he is
the most distinguished officer in his regiment, that--”

“Oh! pray do not.”

The Cure, in spite of the resistance of Jean, was about to launch into a
panegyric on his godson, when Bettina, interposing, said:

“It is unnecessary, Monsieur le Cure, do not say anything, we know
already all that you would tell us, we have been so indiscreet as to
make inquiries about Monsieur--oh, I was just going to say Monsieur
Jean--about Monsieur Reynaud. Well, the information we received was
excellent!”

“I am curious to know,” said Jean.

“Nothing! nothing! you shall know nothing. I do not wish to make you
blush, and you would be obliged to blush.”

Then turning toward the Cure, “And about you, too, Monsieur l’Abbe, we
have had some information. It appears that you are a saint.”

“Oh! as to that, it is perfectly true,” cried Jean.

It was the Cure this time who cut short the eloquence of Jean. Dinner
was almost over. The old priest had not got through this dinner without
experiencing many emotions. They had repeatedly presented to him
complicated and scientific constructions upon which he had only ventured
with a trembling hand. He was afraid of seeing the whole crumble beneath
his touch; the trembling castles of jelly, the pyramids of truffles, the
fortresses of cream, the bastions of pastry, the rocks of ice. Otherwise
the Abbe Constantin dined with an excellent appetite, and did not recoil
before two or three glasses of champagne. He was no foe to good cheer;
perfection is not of this world; and if gormandizing were, as they say,
a cardinal sin, how many good priests would be damned!

Coffee was served on the terrace in front of the house; in the distance
was heard the harsh voice of the old village clock striking nine. Woods
and fields were slumbering; the avenues in the park showed only as long,
undulating, and undecided lines. The moon slowly rose over the tops of
the great trees.

Bettina took a box of cigars from the table. “Do you smoke?” said she.

“Yes, Miss Percival.”

“Take one, Monsieur Jean. It can’t be helped. I have said it. Take
one--but no, listen to me first.”

And speaking in a low voice, while offering him the box of cigars:

“It is getting dark, now you may blush at your ease. I will tell you
what I did not say at dinner. An old lawyer in Souvigny, who was your
guardian, came to see my sister in Paris, about the payment for the
place; he told us what you did after your father’s death, when you were
only a child, what you did for that poor mother, and for that poor young
girl. Both my sister and I were much touched by it.”

“Yes,” continued Mrs. Scott, “and that is why we have received you
to-day with so much pleasure. We should not have given such a reception
to every one, of that you may be sure. Well, now take your cigar, my
sister is waiting.”

Jean could not find a word in reply. Bettina stood there with the box
of cigars in her two hands, her eyes fixed frankly on the countenance
of Jean. At the moment, she tasted a true and keen pleasure which may be
expressed by this phrase:

“It seems to me that I see before me a man of honor.”

“And now,” said Mrs. Scott, “let us sit here and enjoy this delicious
night; take your coffee, smoke--”

“And do not let us talk, Susie, do not let us talk. This great
silence of the country, after the great noise and bustle of Paris, is
delightful! Let us sit here without speaking; let us look at the sky,
the moon, and the stars.”

All four, with much pleasure, carried out this little programme. Susie
and Bettina, calm, reposeful, absolutely separated from their existence
of yesterday, already felt a tenderness for the place which had just
received them, and was going to keep them. Jean was less tranquil; the
words of Miss Percival had caused him profound emotion, his heart had
not yet quite regained its regular throb.

But the happiest of all was the Abbe Constantin.

This little episode which had caused Jean’s modesty such a rude, yet
sweet trial, had brought him exquisite joy, the Abbe bore his godson
such affection. The most tender father never loved more warmly the
dearest of his children. When the old Cure looked at the young officer,
he often said to himself:

“Heaven has been too kind; I am a priest, and I have a son!”

The Abbe sank into a very agreeable reverie; he felt himself at home,
he felt himself too much at home; by degrees his ideas became hazy and
confused, reverie became drowsiness, drowsiness became slumber, the
disaster was soon complete, irreparable; the Cure slept, and slept
profoundly. This marvellous dinner, and the two or three glasses of
champagne may have had something to do with the catastrophe.

Jean perceived nothing; he had forgotten the promise made to his
godfather. And why had he forgotten it? Because Mrs. Scott and Miss
Percival had thought proper to put their feet on the footstools, placed
in front of their great wicker garden-chairs filled with cushions; then
they had thrown themselves lazily back in their chairs, and their muslin
skirts had become raised a little, a very little, but yet enough to
display four little feet, the lines of which showed very distinctly and
clearly beneath two pretty clouds of white lace. Jean looked at these
little feet, and asked himself this question:

“Which are the smaller?”

While he was trying to solve this problem, Bettina, all at once, said to
him in a low voice:

“Monsieur Jean! Monsieur Jean!”

“Miss Percival?”

“Look at the Cure, he is asleep.”

“Oh! it is my fault.”

“How your fault?” asked Mrs. Scott, also in a low voice.

“Yes; my godfather rises at daybreak, and goes to bed very early;
he told me to be sure and prevent his falling asleep; when Madame de
Longueval was here he very often had a nap after dinner. You have shown
him so much kindness that he has fallen back into his old habits.”

“And he is perfectly right,” said Bettina, “do not make a noise, do not
wake him.”

“You are too good, Miss Percival, but the air is getting a little
fresh.”

“Ah! that is true, he might catch cold. Stay, I will go and fetch a wrap
for him.”

“I think, Miss Percival, it would be better to try and wake him
skilfully, so that he should not suspect that you had seen him asleep.”

“Let me do it,” said Bettina. “Susie, let us sing together, very softly
at first, then we will raise our voices little by little, let us sing.”

“Willingly, but what shall we sing?”

“Let us sing, ‘Quelque chose d’enfantin,’ the words are suitable.”

Susie and Bettina began to sing:

          If I had but two little wings,
          And were a little feathery bird,

Their sweet and penetrating voices had an exquisite sonority in that
profound silence. The Abbe heard nothing, did not move. Charmed with
this little concert, Jean said to himself:

“Heaven grant that my godfather may not wake too soon!”

The voices became clearer and louder:

          But in my sleep to you I fly,
          I’m always with you in my sleep.

Yet the Abbe did not stir.

“How he sleeps,” said Susie, “it is a crime to wake him.”

“But we must; louder, Susie, louder.”

Susie and Bettina both gave free scope to the power of their voices.

          Sleep stays not, though a monarch bids,
          So I love to wake ere break of day.

The Cure woke with a start. After a short moment of anxiety he breathed
again. Evidently no one had noticed that he had been asleep. He
collected himself, stretched himself prudently, slowly, he was saved!

A quarter of an hour later the two sisters accompanied the Cure and
Jean to the little gate of the park, which opened into the village a few
yards from the vicarage; they had nearly reached the gate when Bettina
said all at once to Jean:

“Ah! all this time I have had a question to ask you. This morning when
we arrived, we met on the way a slight young man, with a fair mustache,
he was riding a black horse, and bowed to us as we passed.”

“It was Paul de Lavardens, one of my friends; he has already had the
honor of being introduced to you, but rather vaguely, and his ambition
is to be presented again.”

“Well, you shall bring him one of these days,” said Mrs. Scott.

“After the 25th!” cried Bettina. “Not before! not before! No one till
then; till then we will see no one but you, Monsieur Jean. But you, it
is very extraordinary, and I don’t quite know how it has happened,
you don’t seem anybody to us. The compliment is perhaps not very well
turned, but do not make a mistake, it is a compliment. I intended to be
excessively amiable in speaking to you thus.”

“And so you are, Miss Percival.”

“So much the better if I have been so fortunate as to make myself
understood. Good-by, Monsieur Jean--till tomorrow!”

Mrs. Scott and Miss Percival returned slowly toward the castle.

“And now, Susie,” said Bettina, “scold me well, I expect it, I have
deserved it.”

“Scold you! Why?”

“You are going to say, I am sure, that I have been too familiar with
that young man.”

“No, I shall not say that. From the first day that young man has made
the most favorable impression upon me; he inspires me with perfect
confidence.”

“And so he does me.”

“I am persuaded that it would be well for us both to try to make a
friend of him.”

“With all my heart, as far as I am concerned, so much the more as I
have seen many young men since we have lived in France. Oh! yes, I have,
indeed! Well! this is the first, positively the first, in whose eyes I
have not clearly read, ‘Oh, how glad I should be to marry the millions
of that little person!’ That was written in the eyes of all the others,
but not in his eyes. Now, here we are at home again. Good-night,
Susie--to-morrow.”

Mrs. Scott went to see and kiss her sleeping children.

Bettina remained long, leaning on the balustrade of her balcony.

“It seems to me,” said she, “that I am going to be very fond of this
place.”



BOOK 3.



CHAPTER VII. CONFIDENCES

The next morning, on returning from drill, Jean found Paul de Lavardens
waiting for him at the barracks; he scarcely allowed him time to
dismount, and the moment he had him alone:

“Quick,” said he, “describe your dinner-party of yesterday. I saw them
myself in the morning; the little one was driving four ponies, and with
an amount of audacity! I bowed to them; did they mention me? Did they
recognize me? When will you take me to Longueval? Answer me.”

“Answer? Yes. But which question first?”

“The last.”

“When shall I take you to Longueval?”

“Yes.”

“Well, in ten days; they don’t want to see any one just now.”

“Then you are not going back to Longueval for ten days?”

“Oh, I shall go back to-day at four o’clock. But I don’t count, you
know. Jean Reynaud, the Cure’s godson. That is why I have penetrated so
easily into the confidence of these two charming women. I have presented
myself under the patronage and with the guarantee of the Church. And
then they have discovered that I could render them little services. I
know the country very well, and they will make use of me as a guide.
In a word, I am nobody; while you, Count Paul de Lavardens, you are
somebody; so fear nothing, your turn will come with the fetes and balls.
Then you will be resplendent in all your glory, and I shall return very
humbly into my obscurity.”

“You may laugh at me as much as you like; it is none the less true that
during those ten days you will steal a march upon me--upon me!”

“How upon you?”

“Now, Jean, do you want to make me believe that you are not already in
love with one of these two women? Is it possible? So much beauty, so
much luxury. Luxury to that degree upsets me. Those black ponies
with their white rosettes! I dreamed of them last night, and that
little-Bettina, is it not?”

“Yes, Bettina.”

“Bettina--Countess Bettina de Lavardens! Doesn’t that sound well enough!
and what a perfect husband she would have in me! To be the husband of a
woman possessing boundless wealth, that is my destiny. It is not so easy
as one may suppose. I have already run through something, and--if my
mother had not stopped me! but I am quite ready to begin again. Oh,
how happy that girl would be with me! I would create around her the
existence of a fairy queen. In all her luxury she would feel the taste,
the art, and the skill of her husband. I would pass my life in adoring
her, in displaying her beauty, in petting her, in bearing her triumphant
through the world. I would study her beauty in order to give it the
frame that best suited it. ‘If he were not there,’ she would say, ‘I
should not be so beautiful, so dazzling.’ I should know not only how to
love her, but how to amuse her. She would have something for her money,
she would have love and pleasure. Come, Jean, do a good action, take me
to Mrs. Scott’s to-day.”

“I cannot, I assure you.”

“Well, then, in ten days; but I give you fair notice, I shall install
myself at Longueval, and shall not move. In the first place it
would please my mother; she is still a little prejudiced against the
Americans. She says that she shall arrange not to see them, but I know
my mother. Some day, when I shall go home in the evening and tell
her: ‘Mother, I have won the-heart of a charming little person who is
burdened with a capital of twenty millions--they exaggerate when they
talk of hundreds of millions. You know these are the correct figures,
and they are enough for me. That evening, then, my mother will be
delighted, because, in her heart, what is it she desires for me? What
all good mothers desire for their sons--a good marriage, or a discreet
liaison with some one in society. At Longueval I find these two
essentials, and I will accommodate myself very willingly to either.
You will have the kindness to warn me in ten days--you will let me know
which of the two you abandon to me, Mrs. Scott or Miss Percival?”

“You are mad, you are quite mad! I do not, I never shall think--”

“Listen, Jean. You are wisdom personified; you may say and do as you
like, but remember what I say to you, Jean, you will fall in love in
that house.”

“I do not believe it,” replied Jean, laughing.

“But I am absolutely sure of it. Good-by. I leave you to your duties.”

That morning Jean was perfectly sincere. He had slept very well the
previous night; the second interview with the two sisters had, as if by
enchantment, dissipated the slight trouble which had agitated his
soul after the first meeting. He prepared to meet them again with much
pleasure, but also with much tranquillity; there was too much money in
that house to permit the love of a poor devil like Jean to find place
honestly there.

Friendship was another affair; with all his heart he wished, and with
all his strength he sought, to establish himself peacefully in the
esteem and regard of the sisters. He would try not to remark too much
the beauty of Susie and Bettina; he would try not to forget himself
as he had done the previous evening, in the contemplation of the four
little feet resting on their footstools. They had said, very frankly,
very cordially, to him: “You shall be our friend.” That was all he
desired--to be their friend--and that he would be.

During the ten days that followed, all conduced to the success of this
enterprise. Susie, Bettina, the Cure, and Jean led the same life in the
closest and most cordial intimacy.

Jean did not seek to analyze his feelings. He felt for these two women
an equal affection; he was perfectly happy, perfectly tranquil. Then he
was not in love, for love and tranquillity seldom dwell at peace in the
same heart.

Jean, however, saw approach, with a little anxiety and sadness, the day
which would bring to Longueval the Turners, and the Nortons, and the
whole force of the American colony. The day came too soon.

On Friday, the 24th of June, at four o’clock, Jean arrived at the
castle. Bettina received him alone, looking quite vexed.

“How annoying it is,” said she, “my sister is not well; a little
headache, nothing of consequence, it will be gone by tomorrow; but I
dare not ride with you alone. In America I might; but here, it would not
do, would it?”

“Certainly not,” replied Jean.

“I must send you back, and I am so sorry.”

“And so am I--I am very sorry to be obliged to go, and to lose this last
day, which I had hoped to pass with you. However, since it must be, I
will come tomorrow to inquire after your sister.”

“She will see you herself, to-morrow; I repeat it is nothing serious.
But do not run away in such a hurry, pray; will you not spare me a
little quarter of an hour’s conversation? I want to speak to you; sit
down there, and now listen to me well. My sister and I had intended
this evening, after dinner, to blockade you into a little corner of the
drawing-room, and then she meant to tell you what I am going to try to
say for us both.”

“But I am a little nervous. Do not laugh; it is a very serious matter.
We wish to thank you for having been, ever since our arrival here, so
good to us both.”

“Oh, Miss Percival, pray, it is I who--”

“Oh, do not interrupt me, you will quite confuse me. I do not know how
to get through with it. I maintain, besides, that the thanks are due
from us, not from you. We arrived here two strangers. We have been
fortunate enough immediately to find friends. Yes, friends. You have
taken us by the hand, you have led us to our farmers, to our keepers;
while your godfather took us to his poor--and everywhere you were so
much beloved that from their confidence in you, they began, on your
recommendation, to like us a little. You are adored about here; do you
know that?”

“I was born here--all these good people have known me from my infancy,
and are grateful to me for what my grandfather and father did for
them; and then I am of their race, the race of the peasants; my
great-grandfather was a laborer at Bargecourt, a village two miles from
here.”

“Oh! oh! you appear very proud of that!”

“Neither proud nor ashamed.”

“I beg your pardon, you made a little movement of pride. Well, I can
tell you that my mother’s great-grandfather was a farmer in Brittany.
He went to Canada at the end of the last century, when Canada was still
French. And you love very much this place where you were born?”

“Very much. Perhaps I shall soon be obliged to leave it.”

“Why?”

“When I get promotion, I shall have to exchange into another regiment,
and I shall wander from garrison to garrison; but certainly, when I am
an old commandant or old colonel, on half-pay, I shall come back, and
live and die here, in the little house that was my father’s.”

“Always quite alone?”

“Why quite alone? I certainly hope not.”

“You intend to marry?”

“Yes, certainly.”

“You are trying to marry?”

“No; one may think of marrying, but one ought not to try to marry.”

“And yet there are people who do try. Come, I can answer for that, and
you even; people have wished to marry you.”

“How do you know that?”

“Oh! I know all your little affairs so well; you are what they call a
good match, and I repeat it, they have wished to marry you.”

“Who told you that?”

“Monsieur le Cure.”

“Then he was very wrong,” said Jean, with a certain sharpness.

“No, no, he was not wrong. If any one has been to blame it is I. I
soon discovered that your godfather was never so happy as when he was
speaking of you. So when I was alone with him during our walks, to
please him I talked of you, and he related your history to me. You are
well off; you are very well off; from Government you receive every month
two hundred and thirteen francs and some centimes; am I correct?”

“Yes,” said Jean, deciding to bear with a good grace his share in the
Cure’s indiscretions.

“You have eight thousand francs’ income?”

“Nearly, not quite.”

“Add to that your house, which is worth thirty thousand francs. You are
in an excellent position, and people have asked your hand.”

“Asked my hand! No, no.”

“They have, they have, twice, and you have refused two very good
marriages, two very good fortunes, if you prefer it--it is the same
thing for so many people. Two hundred thousand francs in the one, three
hundred thousand in the other case. It appears that these fortunes are
enormous for the country! Yet you have refused! Tell me why.”

“Well, it concerned two charming young girls.”

“That is understood. One always says that.”

“But whom I scarcely knew. They forced me--for I did resist--they forced
me to spend two or three evenings with them last winter.”

“And then?”

“Then--I don’t quite know how to explain it to you. I did not feel the
slightest touch of embarrassment, emotion, anxiety, or disturbance--”

“In fact,” said Bettina, resolutely, “not the least suspicion of love.”

“No, not the least, and I returned quite calmly to my bachelor den, for
I think it is better not to marry than to marry without love.”

“And I think so, too.”

She looked at him, he looked at her, and suddenly, to the great surprise
of both, they found nothing more to say, nothing at all.

At this moment Harry and Bella rushed into the room, with cries of joy.

“Monsieur Jean! Are you there? Come and see our ponies!”

“Ah!” said Bettina, her voice a little uncertain, “Edwards has just
come back from Paris, and has brought two microscopic ponies for the
children. Let us go to see them, shall we?”

They went to see the ponies, which were indeed worthy to figure in the
stables of the King of Lilliput.



CHAPTER VIII. ANOTHER MARTYR TO MILLIONS

Three weeks have glided by; another day and Jean will be obliged to
leave with his regiment for the artillery practice. He will lead the
life of a soldier. Ten days’ march on the highroad going and returning,
and ten days in the camp at Cercottes in the forest of Orleans. The
regiment will return to Souvigny on the 10th of August.

Jean is no longer tranquil; Jean is no longer happy. He sees approach
with impatience, and at the same time with terror, the moment of his
departure. With impatience--for he suffers an absolute martyrdom, he
longs to escape from it; with terror--for to pass twenty days without
seeing her, without speaking to her, without her in a word--what will
become of him? Her! It is Bettina; he adores her!

Since when? Since the first day, since that meeting in the month of May
in the Cure’s garden. That is the truth; but Jean struggles against and
resists that truth. He believes that he has only loved Bettina since the
day when the two chatted gayly, amicably, in the little drawing-room.
She was sitting on the blue couch near the widow, and, while talking,
amused herself with repairing the disorder of the dress of a Japanese
princess, one of Bella’s dolls, which she had left on a chair, and which
Bettina had mechanically taken up.

Why had the fancy come to Miss Percival to talk to him of those two
young girls whom he might have married? The question of itself was not
at all embarrassing to him. He had replied that, if he had not then felt
any taste for marriage, it was because his interviews with these two
girls had not caused him any emotion or any agitation. He had smiled in
speaking thus, but a few minutes after he smiled no more. This emotion,
this agitation, he had suddenly learned to know them. Jean did not
deceive himself; he acknowledged the depth of the wound; it had
penetrated to his very heart’s core.

Jean, however, did not abandon himself to this emotion. He said to
himself:

“Yes, it is serious, very serious, but I shall recover from it.”

He sought an excuse for his madness; he laid the blame on circumstances.
For ten days this delightful girl had been too much with him, too
much with him alone! How could he resist such a temptation? He was
intoxicated with her charm, with her grace and beauty. But the next day
a troop of visitors would arrive at Longueval, and there would be an end
of this dangerous intimacy. He would have courage; he would keep at a
distance; he would lose himself in the crowd, would see Bettina less
often and less familiarly. To see her no more was a thought he could not
support! He wished to remain Bettina’s friend, since he could be nothing
but her friend; for there was another thought which scarcely entered
the mind of Jean. This thought did not appear extravagant to him; it
appeared monstrous. In the whole world there was not a more honorable
man than Jean, and he felt for Bettina’s money horror, positively
horror.

From the 25th of June the crowd had been in possession of Longueval.
Mrs. Norton arrived with her son, Daniel Norton; and Mrs. Turner with
her son, Philip Turner. Both of them, the young Philip and the young
Daniel, formed a part of the famous brotherhood of the thirty-four. They
were old friends, Bettina had treated them as such, and had declared to
them, with perfect frankness, that they were losing their time. However,
they were not discouraged, and formed the centre of a little court which
was always very eager and assiduous around Bettina.

Paul de Lavardens had made his appearance on this scene, and had very
rapidly become everybody’s friend. He had received the brilliant and
complicated education of a young man destined for pleasure. As soon as
it was a question only of amusement, riding, croquet, lawn-tennis, polo,
dancing, charades, and theatricals, he was ready for everything. He
excelled in everything. His superiority was evident, unquestionable.
Paul became, in a short time, by general consent, the director and
organizer of the fetes at Longueval.

Bettina had not a moment of hesitation. Jean introduced Paul de
Lavardens, and the latter had scarcely concluded the customary little
compliment when Miss Percival, leaning toward her sister, whispered in
her ear:

“The thirty-fifth!”

However, she received Paul very kindly, so kindly that for several days
he had the weakness to misunderstand her. He believed that it was his
personal graces which had obtained for him this very flattering and
cordial reception. It was a great mistake. Paul de Lavardens had been
introduced by Jean; he was the friend of Jean. In Bettina’s eyes,
therein lay all his merit.

Mrs. Scott’s castle was open house; people were not invited for one
evening only, but for every evening, and Paul, with enthusiasm, came
every evening! His dream was at last realized; he had, found Paris at
Longueval.

But Paul was neither blind nor a fool. No doubt he was, on Miss
Percival’s part, the object of very particular attention and favor. It
pleased her to talk long, very long, alone with him. But what was the
eternal, the inexhaustible subject of their conversations? Jean, again
Jean, and always Jean!

Paul was thoughtless, dissipated, frivolous, but he became in earnest
when Jean was in question; he knew how to appreciate him, he knew how to
love him. Nothing to him was sweeter, nothing was easier, than to say of
the friend of his childhood all the good that he thought of him, and as
he saw that Bettina listened with great pleasure, Paul gave free rein to
his eloquence.

Only--and he was quite right--Paul wished one evening to reap the
benefit of his chivalrous conduct. He had just been talking for a
quarter of an hour with Bettina. The conversation finished, he went to
look for Jean at the other end of the drawing-room, and said to him:

“You left the field open to me, and I have made a bold stroke for Miss
Percival.”

“Well, you have no reason to be discontented with the result of the
enterprise. You are the best friends in the world.”

“Yes, certainly, pretty well, but not quite satisfactory. There is
nothing more amiable or more charming than Miss Percival, and really it
is very good of me to acknowledge it; for, between ourselves, she
makes me play an ungrateful and ridiculous role, a role which is quite
unsuited to my age. I am, you will admit, of the lover’s age, and not of
that of the confidant.”

“Of the confidant!”

“Yes, my dear fellow, of the confidant! That is my occupation in this
house. You were looking at us just now. Oh, I have very good eyes; you
were looking at us. Well, do you know what we were talking about? Of
you, my dear fellow, of you, of you again, of nothing but you. And it is
the same thing every evening; there is no end to the questions:

“‘You were brought up together? You took lessons together from the Abbe
Constantin?’

“‘Will he soon be Captain? And then?’

“‘Commandant.’

“‘And then?’

“‘Colonel, etc., etc., etc.’

“Ah! I can tell you, my friend Jean, if you liked, you might dream a
very delicious dream.”

Jean was annoyed, almost angry. Paul was much astonished at this sudden
attack of irritability.

“What is the matter? Have I said anything--”

“I beg your pardon; I was wrong. But how could you take such an absurd
idea into your head?”

“Absurd! I don’t see it. I have entertained the absurd idea on my own
account.”

“Ah! you--”

“Why ‘Ah! you?’ If I have had it you may have it; you are better worth
it than I am.”

“Paul, I entreat you!”

Jean’s discomfort was evident.

“We will not speak of it again; we will not speak of it again. What
I wanted to say, in short, is that Miss Percival perhaps thinks I am
agreeable; but as to considering me seriously, that little person will
never commit such a folly. I must fall back upon Mrs. Scott, but without
much confidence. You see, Jean, I shall amuse myself in this house, but
I shall make nothing out of it.”

Paul de Lavardens did fall back upon Mrs. Scott, but the next day was
surprised to stumble upon Jean, who had taken to placing himself very
regularly in Mrs. Scott’s particular circle, for like Bettina she had
also her little court. But what Jean sought there was a protection, a
shelter, a refuge.

The day of that memorable conversation on marriage without love, Bettina
had also, for the first time, felt suddenly awake in her that necessity
of loving which sleeps, but not very profoundly, in the hearts of all
young girls. The sensation had been the same, at the same moment, in
the soul of Bettina and the soul of Jean. He, terrified, had cast
it violently from him. She, on the contrary, had yielded, in all the
simplicity of her perfect innocence, to this flood of emotion and of
tenderness.

She had waited for love. Could this be love? The man who was to be her
thought, her life, her soul--could this be he--this Jean? Why not? She
knew him better than she knew all those who, during the past year,
had haunted her for her fortune, and in what she knew of him there was
nothing to discourage the love of a good girl. Far from it!

Both of them did well; both of them were in the way of duty and of
truth--she, in yielding; he, in resisting; she, in not thinking for a
moment of the obscurity of Jean; he, in recoiling before her mountain of
wealth as he would have recoiled before a crime; she, in thinking that
she had no right to parley with love; he, in thinking he had no right to
parley with honor.

This is why, in proportion as Bettina showed herself more tender, and
abandoned herself with more frankness to the first call of love--this is
why Jean became, day by day, more gloomy and more restless. He was not
only afraid of loving; he was afraid of being loved.

He ought to have remained away; he should not have come near her. He had
tried; he could not; the temptation was too strong; it carried him away;
so he came. She would come to him, her hands extended, a smile on her
lips, and her heart in her eyes. Everything in her said:

“Let us try to love each other, and if we can love, we will!”

Fear seized him. Those two hands which offered themselves to the
pressure of his hands, he hardly dared touch them. He tried to escape
those eyes which, tender and smiling, anxious and curious, tried to
meet his eyes. He trembled before the necessity of speaking to Bettina,
before the necessity of listening to her.

It was then that Jean took refuge with Mrs. Scott, and it was then that
Mrs. Scott gathered those uncertain, agitated, troubled words which were
not addressed to her, and which she took for herself, nevertheless. It
would have been difficult not to be mistaken.

For of these still vague and confused sentiments which agitated her,
Bettina had as yet said nothing. She guarded and caressed the secret of
her budding love, as a miser guards and caresses the first coins of his
treasure. The day when she should see clearly into her own heart; the
day that she should be sure that she loved--ah! she would speak that
day, and how happy she should be to tell all to Susie!

Mrs. Scott had ended by attributing to herself this melancholy of Jean,
which, day by day, took a more marked character. She was flattered by
it--a woman is never displeased at thinking herself beloved--and vexed
at the same time. She held Jean in great esteem, in great affection;
but she was greatly distressed at the thought that if he were sad and
unhappy, it was because of her.

Susie was, besides, conscious of her own innocence. With others she had
sometimes been coquettish, very coquettish. To torment them a little,
was that such a great crime? They had nothing to do, they were
good-for-nothing, it occupied them while it amused her. It helped
them to pass their time, and it helped her, too. But Susie had not to
reproach herself for having flirted with Jean. She recognized his merit
and his superiority; he was worth more than the others, he was a man to
suffer seriously, and that was what Mrs. Scott did not wish. Already,
two or three times, she had been on the point of speaking to him very
seriously, very affectionately, but she had reflected Jean was going
away for three weeks; on his return, if it were still necessary, she
would read him a lecture, and would act in such a manner that love
should not come and foolishly interfere in their friendship.

So Jean was to go the next day. Bettina had insisted that he should
spend this last day at Longueval, and dine at the house. Jean had
refused, alleging that he had much to do the night before his departure.

He arrived in the evening, about half-past ten; he came on foot. Several
times on the way he had been inclined to return.

“If I had courage enough,” he said to himself, “I would not see her
again. I shall leave to-morrow, and return no more to Souvigny while she
is there. My resolution is taken, and taken forever.”

But he continued his way, he would see her again--for the last time.

As soon as he entered the drawing-room, Bettina hastened to him.

“It is you at last! How late you are!”

“I have been very busy.”

“And you are going to-morrow?”

“Yes, to-morrow.”

“Early?”

“At five in the morning.”

“You will go by the road which runs by the wall of the park, and goes
through the village?”

“Yes, that is the way we shall go.”

“Why so early in the morning? I would have gone out on the terrace to
see you pass, and to wish you good-by.”

Bettina detained for a moment Jean’s burning hand in hers. He drew it
mournfully away, with an effort.

“I must go and speak to your sister,” said he.

“Directly, she has not seen you, there are a dozen persons round her.
Come and sit here a little while, near me.”

He was obliged to seat himself beside her.

“We are going away, too,” said she.

“You!”

“Yes. An hour ago, we received a telegram from my brother-in-law, which
has caused us great joy. We did not expect him for a month, but he is
coming back in a fortnight. He will embark the day after to-morrow at
New York, on board the Labrador. We are going to meet him at Havre.
We shall also start the day after to-morrow; we are going to take the
children, it will do them a great deal of good to spend a few days at
the seaside. How pleased my brother-in-law will be to know you--he knows
you already, we have spoken of you in all our letters. I am sure you and
Mr. Scott will get on extremely well together, he is so good. How long
shall you stay away?”

“Three weeks.”

“Three weeks in a camp?”

“Yes, Miss Percival, in the camp of Cercottes.”

“In the middle of the forest of Orleans. I made your godfather explain
all about it to me this morning. Of course I am delighted to go to meet
my brother-in-law; but at the same time, I am a little sorry to leave
here, for I should have gone every morning to pay a little visit to
Monsieur l’Abbe. He would have given me news of you. Perhaps, in about
ten days, you will write to my sister--a little note of three or four
lines--it will not take much of your time--just to tell her how you are,
and that you do not forget us.”

“Oh, as to forgetting you, as to losing the remembrance of your extreme
kindness, your goodness, never, Miss Percival, never!”

His voice trembled, he was afraid of his own emotion, he rose.

“I assure you, Miss Percival, I must go and speak to your sister. She is
looking at me. She must be astonished.”

He crossed the room, Bettina followed him with her eyes.

Mrs. Norton had just placed herself at the piano to play a waltz for the
young people.

Paul de Lavardens approached Miss Percival.

“Will you do me the honor, Miss Percival?”

“I believe I have just promised this dance to Monsieur Jean,” she
replied.

“Well, if not to him, will you give it to me?”

“That is understood.”

Bettina walked toward Jean, who had seated himself near Mrs. Scott.

“I have just told a dreadful story,” said she. “Monsieur de Lavardens
has asked me for this dance, and I replied that I had promised it to
you. You would like it, wouldn’t you?”

To hold her in his arms, to breathe the perfume of her hair--Jean felt
his courage could not support this ordeal, he dared not accept.

“I regret extremely I can not, I am not well tonight; I persisted in
coming because I would not leave without wishing you good-by, but dance,
no, it is impossible!”

Mrs. Norton began the prelude of the waltz.

“Well,” said Paul, coming up quite joyful, “who is it to be, he or I?”

“You,” she said, sadly, without removing her eyes from Jean.

She was much disturbed, and replied without knowing well what she said.
She immediately regretted having accepted, she would have liked to stay
there, near him. But it was too late, Paul took her hand and led her
away.

Jean rose; he looked at the two, Bettina and Paul, a haze floated before
his eyes, he suffered cruelly.

“There is only one thing I can do,” thought he, “profit by this waltz,
and go. To-morrow I will write a few lines to Mrs. Scott to excuse
myself.”

He gained the door, he looked no more at Bettina; had he looked, he
would have stayed.

But Bettina looked at him; and all at once she said to Paul:

“Thank you very much, but I am a little tired, let us stop, please. You
will excuse me, will you not?”

Paul offered his arm.

“No, thank you,” said she.

The door was just closing, Jean was no longer there. Bettina ran across
the room. Paul remained alone, much surprised, understanding nothing of
what had passed.

Jean was already at the hall-door, when he heard some one
call--“Monsieur Jean! Monsieur Jean!”

He stopped and turned. She was near him.

“You are going without wishing me good-by?”

“I beg your pardon, I am very tired.”

“Then you must not walk home, the weather is threatening,” she extended
her hand out-of-doors, “it is raining already.”

“Come and have a cup of tea in the little drawing-room, and I will tell
them to drive you home,” and turning toward one of the footmen, “tell
them to send a carriage round directly.”

“No, Miss Percival, pray, the open air will revive me. I must walk, let
me go.”

“Go, then, but you have no greatcoat, take something to wrap yourself
in.”

“I shall not be cold--while you with that open dress--I shall go to
oblige you to go in.” And without even offering his hand, he ran quickly
down the steps.

“If I touch her hand,” he thought, “I am lost, my secret will escape
me.”

His secret! He did not know that Bettina read his heart like an open
book.

When Jean had descended the steps, he hesitated one short moment, these
words were upon his lips:

“I love you, I adore you, and that is why I will see you no more!”

But he did not utter these words, he fled away and was soon lost in the
darkness.

Bettina remained there against the brilliant background made by the
light from the hall. Great drops of rain, driven by the wind, swept
across her bare shoulders and made her shiver; she took no notice, she
distinctly heard her heart beat.

“I knew very well that he loved me,” she thought, “but now I am very
sure, that I, too--oh! yes! I, too!--”

All at once, in one of the great mirrors in the hall door, she saw the
reflection of the two footmen who stood there motionless, near the oak
table in the hall. Bettina heard bursts of laughter and the strains of
the waltz; she stopped. She wished to be alone, completely alone, and
addressing one of the servants, she said:

“Go and tell your mistress that I am very tired, and have gone to my own
room.”

Annie, her maid, had fallen asleep, in an easy-chair. She sent her away.
She would undress herself. She let herself sink on a couch, she was
oppressed with delicious emotion.

The door of her room opened, it was Mrs. Scott.

“You are not well, Bettina?”

“Oh, Susie, is it you, my Susie? how nice of you to come. Sit here,
close to me, quite close to me.”

She hid herself like a child in the arms of her sister, caressing with
her burning brow Susie’s fresh shoulders. Then she suddenly burst into
sobs, great sobs, which stifled, suffocated her.

“Bettina, my darling, what is the matter?”

“Nothing, nothing! it is nothing, it is joy--joy!”

“Joy?”

“Yes, yes, wait--let me cry a little, it will do me so much good. But do
not be frightened, do not be frightened.”

Beneath her sister’s caress, Bettina grew calm, soothed.

“It is over, I am better now, and I can talk to you. It is about Jean.”

“Jean! You call him Jean?”

“Yes, I call him Jean. Have you not noticed for some time that he was
dull and looked quite melancholy?”

“Yes, I have.”

“When he came, he went and posted himself near you, and stayed there,
silent, absorbed to such a degree, that for several days I asked
myself--pardon me for speaking to you with such frankness, it is my way,
you know--I asked myself if it were not you whom he loved, Susie; you
are so charming, it would have been so natural! But no, it was not you,
it was I!”

“You?”

“Yes, I. Listen, he scarcely dared to look at me, he avoided me, he fled
from me, he was afraid of me, evidently afraid. Now, in justice, am I a
person to inspire fear? I am sure I am not!”

“Certainly not!”

“Ah! it was not I of whom he was afraid, it was my money, my horrid
money! This money which attracts all the others and tempts them so much,
this money terrifies him, drives him desperate, because he is not like
the others, because he--”

“My child, take care, perhaps you are mistaken.”

“Oh, no, I am not mistaken! Just now, at the door, when he was going
away, he said some words to me. These words were nothing. But if you had
seen his distress in spite of all his efforts to control it! Susie, dear
Susie, by the affection which I bear you, and God knows how great is
that affection, this is my conviction, my absolute conviction--if,
instead of being Miss Percival, I had been a poor little girl without a
penny Jean would then have taken my hand, and have told me that he loved
me, and if he had spoken to me thus, do you know what I should have
replied?”

“That you loved him, too?”

“Yes; and that is why I am so happy. With me it is a fixed idea that
I must adore the man who will be my husband. Well! I don’t say that I
adore Jean, no, not yet; but still it is beginning, Susie, and it is
beginning so sweetly.”

“Bettina, it really makes me uneasy to see you in this state of
excitement. I do not deny that Monsieur Reynaud is much attached to
you--”

“Oh, more than that, more than that!”

“Loves you, if you like; yes, you are right, you are quite right. He
loves you; and are you not worthy, my darling, of all the love that one
can bear you? As to Jean--it is progressing decidedly, here am I also
calling him Jean--well! you know what I think of him. I rank him very,
very high. But in spite of that, is he really a suitable husband for
you?”

“Yes, if I love him.”

“I am trying to talk sensibly to you, and you, on the
contrary--Understand me, Bettina; I have an experience of the world
which you can not have. Since our arrival in Paris, we have been
launched into a very brilliant, very animated, very aristocratic
society. You might have been already, if you had liked, marchioness or
princess.”

“Yes, but I did not like.”

“It would not matter to you to be called Madame Reynaud?”

“Not in the least, if I love him.”

“Ah! you return always to--”

“Because that is the true question. There is no other. Now I will be
sensible in my turn. This question--I grant that this is not quite
settled, and that I have, perhaps, allowed myself to be too easily
persuaded. You see how sensible I am. Jean is going away to-morrow,
I shall not see him again for three weeks. During these three weeks I
shall have ample time to question myself, to examine myself, in a word,
to know my own mind. Under my giddy manner, I am serious and thoughtful,
you know that?”

“Oh, yes, I know it.”

“Well, I will make this petition to you, as I would have addressed it to
our mother had she been here. If, in three weeks, I say to you, ‘Susie,
I am certain that I love him,’ will you allow me to go to him, myself,
quite alone, and ask him if he will have me for his wife? That is what
you did with Richard. Tell me, Susie, will you allow me?”

“Yes, I will allow you.”

Bettina embraced her sister, and murmured these words in her ear:

“Thank you, mamma.”

“Mamma, mamma! It was thus that you used to call me when you were a
child, when we were alone in the world together, when I used to undress
you in our poor room in New York, when I held you in my arms, when I
laid you in your little bed, when I sang you to sleep. And since then,
Bettina, I have had only one desire in the world, your happiness. That
is why I beg you to reflect well. Do not answer me, do not let us talk
any more of that. I wish to leave you very calm, very tranquil. You
have sent away Annie, would you like me to be your little mamma again
tonight, to undress you, and put you to bed as I used to do?”

“Yes, I should like it very much.”

“And when you are in bed, you promise me to be very good?”

“As good as an angel.”

“You will do your best to go to sleep?”

“My very best.”

“Very quietly, without thinking of anything?”

“Very quietly, without thinking of anything.”

“Very well, then.”

Ten minutes after, Bettina’s pretty head rested gently amid embroideries
and lace. Susie said to her sister:

“I am going down to those people who bore me dreadfully this evening.
Before going to my own room, I shall come back and see if you are
asleep. Do not speak. Go to sleep.”

She went away. Bettina remained alone; she tried to keep her word; she
endeavored to go to sleep, but only half-succeeded. She fell into a
half-slumber which left her floating between dream and reality. She had
promised to think of nothing, and yet she thought of him, always of him,
of nothing but him, vaguely, confusedly.

How long a time passed thus she could not tell.

All at once it seemed to her that some one was walking in her room; she
half-opened her eyes, and thought she recognized her sister. In a very
sleepy voice she said to her:

“You know I love him.”

“Hush! go to sleep.”

“I am asleep! I am asleep!”

At last she did fall sound asleep, less profoundly, however, than usual,
for about four o’clock in the morning she was suddenly awakened by a
noise, which, the night before, would not have disturbed her slumber.
The rain fell in torrents, and beat against her window.

“Oh, it is raining!” she thought. “He will get wet.”

That was her first thought. She rose, crossed the room barefooted,
half-opened the shutters. The day had broke, gray and lowering; the
clouds were heavy with rain, the wind blew tempestuously, and drove the
rain in gusts before it.

Bettina did not go back to bed, she felt it would be quite impossible to
sleep again. She put on a dressing-gown, and remained at the window; she
watched the falling rain. Since he positively must go, she would have
liked the weather to be fine; she would have liked bright sunshine to
have cheered his first day’s march.

When she came to Longueval a month ago, Bettina did not know what this
meant. But she knew it now. A day’s march for the artillery is twenty
or thirty miles, with an hour’s halt for luncheon. It was the Abbe
Constantin who had taught her that; when going their rounds in the
morning among the poor, Bettina overwhelmed the Cure with questions on
military affairs, and particularly on the artillery.

Twenty or thirty miles under this pouring rain! Poor Jean! Bettina
thought of young Turner, young Norton, of Paul de Lavardens, who would
sleep calmly till ten in the morning, while Jean was exposed to this
deluge.

Paul de Lavardens!

This name awoke in her a painful memory, the memory of that waltz the
evening before. To have danced like that, while Jean was so obviously in
trouble! That waltz took the proportions of a crime in her eyes; it was
a horrible thing that she had done.

And then, had she not been wanting in courage and frankness in that last
interview with Jean? He neither could nor dared say anything; but she
might have shown more tenderness, more expansiveness. Sad and suffering
as he was, she should never have allowed him to go back on foot. She
ought to have detained him at any price. Her imagination tormented and
excited her; Jean must have carried away with him the impression
that she was a bad little creature, heartless and pitiless. And in
half-an-hour he was going away, away for three weeks. Ah! if she could
by any means--but there is a way! The regiment must pass along the wall
of the park, under the terrace.

Bettina was seized with a wild desire to see Jean pass; he would
understand well, if he saw her at such an hour, that she had come to beg
his pardon for her cruelty of the previous evening. Yes, she would go!
But she had promised to Susie to be as good as an angel, and to do what
she was going to do, was that being as good as an angel? She would make
up for it by acknowledging all to Susie when she came in again, and
Susie would forgive her.

She would go! She had made up her mind. Only how should she dress
herself? She had nothing at hand but a muslin dressing-gown, little
high-heeled slippers, and blue satin shoes. She might wake her maid. Oh,
never would she dare to do that, and time pressed; a quarter to five!
the regiment would start at five o’clock.

She might, perhaps, manage with the muslin dressing-gown, and the satin
shoes; in the hall, she might find her hat, her little sabots which
she wore in the garden, and the large tartan cloak for driving in wet
weather. She half-opened her door with infinite precautions. Everything
slept in the house; she crept along the corridor, she descended the
staircase.

If only the little sabots are there in their place; that is her great
anxiety. There they are! She slips them on over her satin shoes, she
wraps herself in her great mantle.

She hears that the rain has redoubled in violence. She notices one of
those large umbrellas which the footmen use on the box in wet weather;
she seizes it; she is ready; but when she is ready to go, she sees that
the hall-door is fastened by a great iron bar. She tries to raise it;
but the bolt holds fast, resists all her efforts, and the great clock in
the hall slowly strikes five. He is starting at that moment.

She will see him! she will see him! Her will is excited by these
obstacles. She makes a great effort; the bar yields, slips back in the
groove. But Bettina has made a long scratch on her hand, from which
issues a slender stream of blood. Bettina twists her handkerchief round
her hand, takes her great umbrella, turns the key in the lock; and opens
the door.

At last she is out of the house!

The weather is frightful. The wind and the rain rage together. It takes
five or six minutes to reach the terrace which looks over the road.
Bettina darts forward courageously; her head bent, hidden under her
immense umbrella, she has taken a few steps. All at once, furious, mad,
blinding, a sudden squall bursts upon Bettina, buries her in her mantle,
drives her along, lifts her almost from the ground, turns the umbrella
violently inside out; that is nothing, the disaster is not yet complete.

Bettina has lost one of her little sabots; they were not practical
sabots; they were only pretty little things for fine weather, and at
this moment, when Bettina struggles against the tempest with her blue
satin shoe half buried in the wet gravel, at this moment the wind bears
to her the distant echo of a blast of trumpets. It is the regiment
starting!

Bettina makes a desperate effort, abandons her umbrella, finds her
little sabot, fastens it on as well as she can, and starts off running,
with a deluge descending on her head.

At last, she is in the wood, the trees protect her a little. Another
blast, nearer this time. Bettina fancies she hears the rolling of the
gun-carriages. She makes a last effort, there is the terrace, she is
there just in time.

Twenty yards off she perceived the white horses of the trumpeters, and
along the road caught glimpses, vaguely appearing through the fog, of
the long line of guns and wagons.

She sheltered herself under one of the old limes which bordered the
terrace. She watched, she waited. He is there among that confused mass
of riders. Will she be able to recognize him? And he, will he see her?
Will any chance make him turn his head that way?

Bettina knows that he is Lieutenant in the second battery of his
regiment; she knows that a battery is composed of six guns, and six
ammunition wagons. Of course it is the Abbe Constantin who has taught
her that. Thus she must allow the first battery to pass, that is to say,
count six guns, six wagons, and then--he will be there.

There he is at last, wrapped in his great cloak, and it is he who sees,
who recognizes her first. A few moments before, he had recalled to his
mind a long walk which he had taken with her one evening, when night was
falling, on that terrace. He raised his eyes, and the very spot where
he remembered having seen her, was the spot where he found her again. He
bowed, and, bareheaded in the rain, turning round in his saddle, as long
as he could see her, he looked at her. He said again to himself what he
had said the previous evening:

“It is for the last time.”

With a charming gesture of both hands, she returned his farewell, and
this gesture, repeated many times, brought her hands so near, so near
her lips, that one might have fancied--

“Ah!” she thought, “if, after that, he does not understand that I love
him, and does not forgive me my money!”



CHAPTER IX. THE REWARD OF TENDER COURAGE

It was the 20th of August, the day which should bring Jean back to
Longueval.

Bettina awoke very early, rose, and ran immediately to the window.
The evening before, the sky had looked threatening, heavy with clouds.
Bettina slept but little, and all night prayed that it might not rain
the next day.

In the early morning a dense fog enveloped the park of Longueval, the
trees of which were hidden from view, as by a curtain. But gradually
the rays of the sun dissipated the mist, the trees became vaguely
discernible through the vapor; then, suddenly, the sun shone
brilliantly, flooding with light the park, and the fields beyond;
and the lake, where the black swans were disporting themselves in the
radiant light, appeared as bright as a sheet of polished metal.

The weather was going to be beautiful. Bettina was a little
superstitious. The sunshine gives her good hope and good courage. “The
day begins well, so it will finish well.”

Mr. Scott had come home several days before. Susie, Betting, and the
children waited on the quay at Havre for the arrival of his steamer.

They exchanged many tender embraces; then, Richard, addressing his
sister-in-law, said, laughingly:

“Well, when is the wedding to be?”

“What wedding?”

“Yours.”

“My wedding?”

“Yes, certainly.”

“And to whom am I about to be married?”

“To Monsieur Jean Reynaud.”

“Ah! Susie has written to you?”

“Susie? Not at all. Susie has not said a word. It is you, Bettina, who
have written to me. For the last two months, all your letters have been
occupied with this young officer.”

“All my letters?”

“Yes, and you have written to me oftener and more at length than usual.
I do not complain of that, but I do ask when you are going to present me
with a brother-in-law?”

He spoke jestingly, but Bettina replied:

“Soon, I hope.”

Mr. Scott perceived that the affair was serious. When returning in the
carriage, Bettina asked Mr. Scott if he had kept her letters.

“Certainly,” he replied.

She read them again. It was indeed only with “Jean” that all these
letters have been filled. She found therein related, down to the most
trifling details, their first meeting. There was the portrait of Jean
in the vicarage garden, with his straw hat and his earthenware
salad-dish--and then it was again Monsieur Jean, always Monsieur
Jean. She discovered that she had loved him much longer than she had
suspected. At last it was the 10th of August. Luncheon was just over,
and Harry and Bella were impatient. They knew that between one and
two o’clock the regiment must pass through the village. They had been
promised that they should be taken to see the soldiers pass, and for
them, as well as for Bettina, the return of the 9th Artillery was a
great event.

“Aunt Betty,” said Bella, “Aunt Betty, come with us.”

“Yes, do come,” said Harry, “do come, we shall see our friend Jean, on
his big gray horse.”

Bettina resisted, refused--and yet how great was the temptation. But no,
she would not go, she would not see Jean again till the evening, when
she would give him that decisive explanation for which she had been
preparing herself for the last three weeks. The children went away with
their governesses. Bettina, Susie, and Richard went to sit in the park,
quite close to the castle, and as soon as they were established there:

“Susie,” said Bettina, “I am going to remind you today of your promise;
you remember what passed between us the night of his departure; we
settled that if, on the day of his return, I could say to you, ‘Susie,
I am sure that I love him,’ we settled that you would allow me to speak
frankly to him, and ask him if he would have me for his wife.”

“Yes, I did promise you. But are you very sure?”

“Absolutely--and now the time has come to redeem your promise. I warn
you that I intend to bring him to this very place,” she added, smiling,
“to this seat; and to use almost the same language to him that you
formerly used to Richard. You were successful, Susie, you are perfectly
happy, and I--that is what I wish to be.”

“Richard, Susie has told you about Monsieur Reynaud.”

“Yes, and she has told me that there is no man of whom she has a higher
opinion, but--”

“But she has told you that for me it would be a rather quiet, rather
commonplace marriage. Oh, naughty sister! Will you believe it, Richard,
that I can not get this fear out of her head? She does not understand
that, before everything, I wish to love and be loved; will you believe
it, Richard, that only last week she laid a horrible trap for me? You
know that there exists a certain Prince Romanelli.”

“Yes, I know you might have been a princess.”

“That would not have been immensely difficult, I believe. Well, one day
I was so foolish as to say to Susie, that, in extremity, I might accept
the Prince Romanelli. Now, just imagine what she did. The Turners were
at Trouville, Susie had arranged a little plot. We lunched with the
Prince, but the result was disastrous. Accept him! The two hours that I
passed with him, I passed in asking myself how I could have said such
a thing. No, Richard; no, Susie; I will be neither princess, nor
marchioness, nor countess. My wish is to be Madame Jean Reynaud; if,
however, Monsieur Jean Reynaud will agree to it, and that is by no means
certain.”

The regiment entered the village, and suddenly military music burst
martial and joyous across the space. All three remained silent, it was
the regiment, it was Jean who passed; the sound became fainter, died
away, and Bettina continued:

“No, that is not certain. He loves me, however, and much, but without
knowing well what I am; I think that I deserve to be loved differently;
I think that I should not cause him so much terror, so much fear, if he
knew me better, and that is why I ask you to permit me to speak to him
this evening freely, from my heart.”

“We will allow you,” replied Richard, “you shall speak to him freely,
for we know, both of us, Bettina, that you will never do anything that
is not noble and generous.”

“At least, I shall try.”

The children ran up to them; they had seen Jean, he was quite white with
dust, he said good-morning to them.

“Only,” added Bella, “he is not very nice, he did not stop to talk to
us; usually he stops, but this time he wouldn’t.”

“Yes, he would,” replied Harry, “for at first he seemed as if he were
going to--and then he would not, he went away.”

“Well, he didn’t stop, and it is so nice to talk to a soldier,
especially when he is on horseback.”

“It is not that only, it is that we are very fond of Monsieur Jean; if
you knew, papa, how kind he is, and how nicely he plays with us.”

“And what beautiful drawings he makes. Harry, you remember that great
Punch who was so funny, with his stick, you know?”

“And the dog, there was the little dog, too, as in the show.”

The two children went away talking of their friend Jean.

“Decidedly,” said Mr. Scott, “every one likes him in this house.”

“And you will be like every one else when you know him,” replied
Bettina.

The regiment broke into a trot along the highroad, after leaving the
village. There was the terrace where Bettina had been the other morning.
Jean said to himself:

“Supposing she should be there.”

He dreaded and hoped it at the same time. He raised his head, he looked,
she was not there.

He had not seen her again, he would not see her again, for a long-time
at least. He would start that very evening at six o’clock for Paris; one
of the personages in the War Office was interested in him; he would try
to get exchanged into another regiment.

Alone at Cercottes, Jean had had time to reflect deeply, and that was
the result of his reflections. He could not, he must not, be Bettina
Percival’s husband.

The men dismounted at the barracks, Jean took leave of his Colonel, his
comrades; all was over. He was free, he could go.

But he did not go; he looked around him. How happy he was three months
ago, when he rode out of that great yard amid the noise of the cannon
rolling over the pavement of Souvigny; but how sadly he should ride away
to-day! Formerly his life was there; where would it be hereafter?

He returned, went to his own room, and wrote to Mrs. Scott; he told her
that his duties obliged him to leave immediately, he could not dine
at the castle, and begged Mrs. Scott to remember him to Miss Bettina.
Bettina, ah! what trouble it cost him to write that name. He closed his
letter; he would send it directly.

He made his preparations for departure; then he went to wish his
godfather farewell. That is what cost him most; he must speak to him
only of a short absence.

He opened one of the drawers of his bureau to take out some money. The
first thing that met his eyes was a little note on bluish paper; it was
the only note which he had ever received from her.

“Will you have the kindness to give to the servant the book of which you
spoke yesterday evening. Perhaps it will be a little serious for me, but
yet I should like to try to read it. We shall see you to-night; come as
early as possible.” It was signed “Bettina.”

Jean read and re-read these few lines, but soon he could read them no
longer, his eyes were dim.

“It is all that is left me of her,” he thought.

At the same moment the Abbe Constantin was tete-a-tete with old
Pauline, they were making up their accounts. The financial situation was
admirable; more than 2,000 francs in hand! And the wishes of Susie and
Bettina were accomplished, there were no more poor in the neighborhood.
His old servant, Pauline, had even occasional scruples of conscience.

“You see, Monsieur le Cure,” said she, “perhaps we give them a little
too much. Then it will be spread about in other parishes that here they
can always find charity. And do you know what will happen then, one of
these days? Poor people will come and settle in Longueval.”

The Cure gave fifty francs to Pauline. She went to take them to a poor
man who had broken his arm a few days before, by falling from the top of
a hay-cart.

The Abbe Constantin remained alone in the vicarage. He was rather
anxious. He had watched for the passing of the regiment; but Jean only
stopped for a moment, he looked sad. For some time, the Abbe had noticed
that Jean had no longer the flow of good-humor and gayety he once
possessed.

The Cure did not disturb himself too much about it, believing it to be
one of those little youthful troubles which did not concern a poor old
priest. But, on this occasion, Jean’s disturbance was very perceptible.

“I will come back directly,” he said to the Cure, “I want to speak to
you.”

He turned abruptly away. The Abbe Constantin had not even had time to
give Loulou his piece of sugar, or rather his pieces of sugar, for he
had put five or six in his pocket, considering that Loulou had well
deserved this feast by ten long days’ march, and a score of nights
passed under the open sky.

Besides, since Mrs. Scott had lived at Longueval, Loulou had very often
had several pieces of sugar; the Abbe Constantin had become extravagant,
prodigal; he felt himself a millionaire, the sugar for Loulou was one
of his follies. One day, even, he had been on the point of addressing to
Loulou his everlasting little speech:

“This comes from the new mistresses of Longueval; pray for them
to-night.”

It was three o’clock when Jean arrived at the vicarage, and the Cure
said, immediately:

“You told me that you wanted to speak to me; what is it about?”

“About something, my dear godfather, which will surprise you, will
grieve you--”

“Grieve me!”

“Yes, and which grieves me, too--I have come to bid you farewell.”

“Farewell! you are going away?”

“Yes, I am going away.”

“When?”

“To-day, in two hours.”

“In two hours? But, my dear boy, you were going to dine at the castle
to-night.”

“I have just written to Mrs. Scott to excuse me. I am positively obliged
to go.”

“Directly?”

“Directly.”

“And where are you going?”

“To Paris.”

“To Paris! Why this sudden determination?”

“Not so very sudden! I have thought about it for a long time.”

“And you have said nothing about it to me! Jean, something has happened.
You are a man, and I have no longer the right to treat you as a child;
but you know how much I love you; if you have vexations, troubles, why
not tell them to me? I could perhaps advise you. Jean, why go to Paris?”

“I did not wish to tell you, it will give you pain; but you have the
right to know. I am going to Paris to ask to be exchanged into another
regiment.”

“Into another regiment! To leave Souvigny!”

“Yes, that is just it; I must leave Souvigny for a short time, for a
little while only; but to leave Souvigny is necessary, it is what I wish
above all things.”

“And what about me, Jean, do you not think of me? A little while! A
little while! But that is all that remains to me of life, a little
while. And during these last days, that I owe to the grace of God, it
was my happiness, yes, Jean, my happiness, to feel you here, near me,
and now you are going away! Jean, wait a little patiently, it can not be
for very long now for. Wait until the good God has called me to himself,
wait till I shall be gone, to meet there, at his side, your father and
your mother. Do not go, Jean, do not go.”

“If you love me, I love you, too, and you know it well.”

“Yes, I know it.”

“I have just the same affection for you now that I had when I was quite
little, when you took me to yourself, when you brought me up. My heart
has not changed, will never change. But if duty--if honor--oblige me to
go?”

“Ah, if it is duty, if it is honor, I say nothing more, Jean, that
stands before all!--all!--all! I have always known you a good judge of
your duty, your honor. Go, my boy, go, I ask you nothing more, I wish to
know no more.”

“But I wish to tell you all,” cried Jean, vanquished by his emotion,
“and it is better that you should know all. You will stay here, you will
return to the castle, you will see her again--her!”

“See her! Who?”

“Bettina!”

“Bettina?”

“I adore her, I adore her!”

“Oh, my poor boy!”

“Pardon me for speaking to you of these things; but I tell you as I
would have told my father.”

“And then, I have not been able to speak of it to any one, and it
stifled me; yes, it is a madness which has seized me, which has grown
upon me, little by little, against my will, for you know very-well--My
God! It was here that I began to love her. You know, when she came here
with her sister--with the little ‘rouleaux’ of francs--her hair fell
down--and then the evening, the month of Mary! Then I was permitted to
see her freely, familiarly, and you, yourself, spoke to me constantly of
her. You praised her sweetness, her goodness. How often have you told me
that there was no one in the world better than she is!”

“And I thought it, and I think it still. And no one here knows her
better than I do, for it is I alone who have seen her with the poor. If
you only knew how tender, and how good she is! Neither wretchedness
nor suffering repulse her. But, my dear boy, I am wrong to tell you all
this.”

“No, no, I will see her no more, I promise you; but I like to hear you
speak of her.”

“In your whole life, Jean, you will never meet a better woman, nor one
who has more elevated sentiments. To such a point, that one day--she
had taken me with her in an open carriage, full of toys--she was taking
these toys to a poor sick little girl, and when she gave them to her, to
make the poor little thing laugh, to amuse her, she talked so prettily
to her that I thought of you, and I said to myself, I remember it now,
‘Ah, if she were poor!’”

“Ah! if she were poor, but she is not.”

“Oh, no! But what can you do, my poor child! If it gives you pain to see
her, to live near her; above all, if it will prevent you suffering--go,
go--and yet, and yet--”

The old priest became thoughtful, let his head fall between his hands,
and remained silent for some moments; then he continued:

“And yet, Jean, do you know what I think? I have seen a great deal
of Mademoiselle Bettina since she came to Longueval. Well--when I
reflect--it did not astonish me that any one should be interested in
you, for it seemed so natural--but she talked always, yes, always of
you.”

“Of me?”

“Yes, of you, and of your father and mother; she was curious to know how
you lived. She begged me to explain to her what a soldier’s life was,
the life of a true soldier, who loved his profession, and performed his
duties conscientiously.”

“It is extraordinary, since you have told me this, recollections crowd
upon me, a thousand little things collect and group themselves together.
They returned from Havre yesterday at three o’clock. Well! an hour
after their arrival she was here. And it was of you of whom she spoke
directly. She asked if you had written to me, if you had not been ill,
when you would arrive, at what hour, if the regiment would pass through
the village?”

“It is useless at this moment, my dear godfather,” said Jean, “to recall
all these memories.”

“No, it is not useless. She seemed so pleased, so happy even, that she
should see you again! She would make quite a fete of the dinner this
evening. She would introduce you to her brother-in-law, who has come
back. There is no one else in the house at this moment, not a single
visitor. She insisted strongly on this point, and I remember her last
words--she was there, on the threshold of the door:

“‘There will be only five of us,’ she said, ‘you and Monsieur Jean, my
sister, my brother-in-law, and myself.’

“And then she added, laughing, ‘Quite a family party.’

“With these words she went, she almost ran away. Quite a family party!
Do you know what I think, Jean? Do you know?”

“You must not think that, you must not.”

“Jean, I believe that she loves you.”

“And I believe it, too.”

“You, too!”

“When I left her, three weeks ago, she was so agitated, so moved! She
saw me sad and unhappy, she would not let me go. It was at the door of
the castle. I was obliged to tear myself, yes, literally tear myself
away. I should have spoken, burst out, told her all. After I had gone a
few steps, I stopped and turned. She could no longer see me, I was lost
in the darkness; but I could see her. She stood there motionless, her
shoulders and arms bare, in the rain, her eyes fixed on the way by
which I had gone. Perhaps I am mad to think that. Perhaps it was only
a feeling of pity. But no, it was something more than pity, for do you
know what she did the next morning? She came at five o’clock, in the
most frightful weather, to see me pass with the regiment--and then--the
way she bade me adieu--oh, my friend, my dear old friend!”

“But then,” said the poor Cure, completely bewildered, completely at a
loss, “but then, I do not understand you at all. If you love her, Jean,
and if she loves you?”

“But that is, above all, the reason why I must go. If it were only I, if
I were certain that she has not perceived my love, certain that she has
not been touched by it, I would stay, I would stay--for nothing but for
the sweet joy of seeing her, and I would love her from afar, without
any hope, for nothing but the happiness of loving her. But no, she has
understood too well, and far from discouraging me--that is what forces
me to go.”

“No, I do not understand it! I know well, my poor boy, we are speaking
of things in which I am no great scholar, but you are both good, young,
and charming; you love her, she would love you, and you will not!”

“And her money! her money!”

“What matters her money? If it is only that, is it because of her
money that you have loved her? It is rather in spite of her money. Your
conscience, my son, would be quite at peace with regard to that, and
that would suffice.”

“No, that would not suffice. To have a good opinion of one’s self is not
enough; that opinion must be shared by others.”

“Oh, Jean! Among all who know you, who can doubt you?”

“Who knows? And then there is another thing besides this question of
money, another thing more serious and more grave. I am not the husband
suited to her.”

“And who could be more worthy than you?”

“The question to be considered is not my worth; we have to consider what
she is and what I am, to ask what ought to be her life, and what ought
to be my life.”

“One day, Paul--you know he has rather a blunt way of saying things, but
that very bluntness often places thoughts much more distinctly before
us--Paul was speaking of her; he did not suspect anything; if he had, he
is good-natured, he would not have spoken thus--well, he said to me:

“‘What she needs is a husband who would be entirely devoted to her,
to her alone, a husband who would have no other care than to make her
existence a perpetual holiday, a husband who would give himself, his
whole life, in return for her money.’

“You know me; such a husband I can not, I must not be. I am a soldier,
and shall remain one. If the chances of my career sent me some day to a
garrison in the depths of the Alps, or in some almost unknown village in
Algeria, could I ask her to follow me? Could I condemn her to the life
of a soldier’s wife, which is in some degree the life of a soldier
himself? Think of the life which she leads now, of all that luxury, of
all those pleasures!”

“Yes,” said the Abbe, “that is more serious than the question of money.”

“So serious that there is no hesitation possible. During the three weeks
that I passed alone in the camp, I have well considered all that; I have
thought of nothing else, and loving her as I do love, the reason must
indeed be strong which shows me clearly my duty. I must go, I must go
far, very far away, as far as possible. I shall suffer much, but I must
not see her again! I must not see her again!”

Jean sank on a chair near the fireplace. He remained there quite
overpowered with his emotion. The old priest looked at him.

“To see you suffer, my poor boy! That such suffering should fall upon
you! It is too cruel, too unjust!”

At that moment some one knocked gently at the door.

“Ah!” said the Cure, “do not be afraid, Jean. I will send them away.”

The Abbe went to the door, opened it, and recoiled as if before an
unexpected apparition.

It was Bettina. In a moment she had seen Jean, and going direct to him:

“You!” cried she. “Oh, how glad I am!”

He rose. She took his hands, and addressing the Cure, she said:

“I beg your pardon, Monsieur le Cure, for going to him first. You, I
saw yesterday, and him, not for three whole weeks, not since a certain
night, when he left our house, sad and suffering.”

She still held Jean’s hands. He had neither power to make a movement nor
to utter a sound.

“And now,” continued Betting, “are you better? No, not yet, I can see,
still sad. Ah, I have done well to come! It was an inspiration! However,
it embarrasses me a little, it embarrasses me a great deal, to find you
here. You will understand why when you know what I have come to ask of
your godfather.”

She relinquished his hands, and turning toward the Abbe, said:

“I have come to beg you to listen to my confession--yes, my confession.
But do not go away, Monsieur Jean; I will make my confession publicly. I
am quite willing to speak before you, and now I think of it, it will be
better thus. Let us sit down, shall we?”

She felt herself full of confidence and daring. She burned with fever,
but with that fever which, on the field of battle, gives to a soldier
ardor, heroism, and disdain of danger. The emotion which made Bettina’s
heart beat quicker than usual was a high and generous emotion. She said
to herself:

“I will be loved! I will love! I will be happy! I will make him happy!
And since he has not sufficient courage to do it, I must have it for
both. I must march alone, my head high, and my heart at ease, to the
conquest of our love, to the conquest of our happiness!”

From her first words Bettina had gained over the Abbe and Jean a
complete ascendancy. They let her say what she liked, they let her do
as she liked, they felt that the hour was supreme; they understood that
what was happening would be decisive, irrevocable, but neither was in a
position to foresee.

They sat down obediently, almost automatically; they waited, they
listened. Alone, of the three, Bettina retained her composure. It was in
a calm and even voice that she began.

“I must tell you first, Monsieur le Cure, to set your conscience quite
at rest, I must tell you that I am here with the consent of my sister
and my brother-in-law. They know why I have come; they know what I am
about to do. They not only know, but they approve. That is settled, is
it not? Well, what brings me here is your letter, Monsieur Jean, that
letter in which you tell my sister that you can not dine with us this
evening, and that you are positively obliged to leave here. This letter
has unsettled all my plans. I had intended, this evening--of course with
the permission of my sister and brother-in-law--I had intended, after
dinner, to take you into the park, to seat myself with you on a bench; I
was childish enough to choose the place beforehand.”

“There I should have delivered a little speech, well prepared, well
studied, almost learned by heart, for since your departure I have
scarcely thought of anything else; I repeat it to myself from morning to
night. That is what I had proposed to do, and you understand that your
letter caused me much embarrassment. I reflected a little, and thought
that if I addressed my little speech to your godfather it would be
almost the same as if I addressed it to you. So I have come, Monsieur le
Cure, to beg you to listen to me.”

“I will listen to you, Miss Percival,” stammered the Abbe.

“I am rich, Monsieur le Cure, I am very rich, and to speak frankly I
love my wealth very much-yes, very much. To it I owe the luxury which
surrounds me, luxury which, I acknowledge--it is a confession--is by no
means disagreeable to me. My excuse is that I am still very young; it
will perhaps pass as I grow older, but of that I am not very sure.
I have another excuse; it is, that if I love money a little for the
pleasure that it procures me, I love it still more for the good which
it allows me to do. I love it--selfishly, if you like--for the joy
of giving, but I think that my fortune is not very badly placed in my
hands. Well, Monsieur le Cure, in the same way that you have the care of
souls, it seems that I have the care of money. I have always thought, ‘I
wish, above all things, that my husband should be worthy of sharing this
great fortune. I wish to be very sure that he will make a good use of
it with me while I am here, and after me, if I must leave this world
first.’ I thought of another thing; I thought, ‘He who will be my
husband must be some one I can love!’ And now, Monsieur le Cure, this is
where my confession really begins. There is a man, who for the last two
months, has done all he can to conceal from me that he loves me; but I
do not doubt that this man loves me. You do love me, Jean?”

“Yes,” said Jean, in a low voice, his eyes cast down, looking like a
criminal, “I do love you!”

“I knew it very well, but I wanted to hear you say it, and now I entreat
you, do not utter a single word. Any words of yours would be useless,
would disturb me, would prevent me from going straight to my aim, and
telling you what I positively intend to say. Promise me to stay there,
sitting still, without moving, without speaking. You promise me?”

“I promise you.”

Bettina, as she went on speaking, began to lose a little of her
confidence, her voice trembled slightly. She continued, however, with a
gayety that was a little forced:

“Monsieur le Cure, I do not blame you for what has happened, yet all
this is a little your fault.”

“My fault!”

“Ah! do not speak, not even you. Yes, I repeat it, your fault. I am
certain that you have spoken well of me to Jean, much too well. Perhaps,
without that, he would not have thought--And at the same time you have
spoken very well of him to me. Not too well--no, no--but yet very well!
Then, I had so much confidence in you, that I began to look at him, and
examine, him with a little more attention. I began to compare him with
those who, during the last year, had asked my hand. It seemed to me that
he was in every respect superior to them.

“At last, it happened, on a certain day, or rather on a certain
evening-three weeks ago, the evening before you left here, Jean--I
discovered that I loved you. Yes, Jean, I love you! I entreat you, do
not speak; stay where you are; do not come near me.

“Before I came here, I thought I had supplied myself with a good stock
of courage, but you see I have no longer my fine composure of a minute
ago. But I have still something to tell you, and the most important of
all. Jean, listen to me well; I do not wish for a reply torn from your
emotion; I know that you love me. If you marry me, I do not wish it to
be only for love; I wish it to be also for reason. During the fortnight
before you left here, you took so much pains to avoid me, to escape any
conversation, that I have not been able to show myself to you as I am.
Perhaps there are in me certain qualities which you do not suspect.

“Jean, I know what you are, I know to what I should bind myself in
marrying you, and I should be for you not only the loving and tender
woman, but the courageous and constant wife. I know your entire life;
your godfather has related it to me. I know why you became a soldier; I
know what duties, what sacrifices, the future may demand from you. Jean,
do not suppose that I shall turn you from any of these duties, from any
of these sacrifices. If I could be disappointed with you for anything,
it would be, perhaps, for this thought--oh, you must have had it!--that
I should wish you free, and quite my own, that I should ask you to
abandon your career. Never! never! Understand well, I shall never ask
such a thing of you.

“A young girl whom I know did that when she married, and she did wrong.
I love you, and I wish you to be just what you are. It is because you
live differently from, and better than, those who have before desired
me for a wife, that I desire you for a husband. I should love you
less--perhaps I should not love you at all, though that would be very
difficult--if you were to begin to live as all those live whom I would
not have. When I can follow you, I will follow you; wherever you are
will be my duty, wherever you are will be my happiness. And if the day
comes when you can not take me, the day when you must go alone, well!
Jean, on that day, I promise you to be brave, and not take your courage
from you.

“And now, Monsieur le Cure, it is not to him, it is to you that I am
speaking; I want you to answer me, not him. Tell me, if he loves me,
and feels me worthy of his love, would it be just to make me expiate so
severely the fortune that I possess? Tell me, should he not agree to be
my husband?”

“Jean,” said the old priest, gravely, “marry her. It is your duty, and
it will be your happiness!”

Jean approached Bettina, took her in his arms, and pressed upon her brow
the first kiss.

Bettina gently freed herself, and addressing the Abbe, said:

“And now, Monsieur l’Abbe, I have still one thing to ask you. I wish--I
wish--”

“You wish?”

“Pray, Monsieur le Cure, embrace me, too.”

The old priest kissed her paternally on both cheeks, and then Bettina
continued:

“You have often told me, Monsieur le Cure, that Jean was almost like
your own son, and I shall be almost like your own daughter, shall I not?
So you will have two children, that is all.”

        ...........................

A month after, on the 12th of September, at mid-day, Bettina, in the
simplest of wedding-gowns, entered the church of Longueval, while,
placed behind the altar, the trumpets of the 9th Artillery rang joyously
through the arches of the old church.

Nancy Turner had begged for the honor of playing the organ on this
solemn occasion, for the poor little harmonium had disappeared; an
organ, with resplendent pipes, rose in the gallery of the church--it was
Miss Percival’s wedding present to the Abbe Constantin.

The old Cure said mass, Jean and Bettina knelt before him, he pronounced
the benediction, and then remained for some moments in prayer, his arms
extended, calling down, with his whole soul, the blessings of Heaven on
his two children.

Then floated from the organ the same reverie of Chopin’s which Bettina
had played the first time that she had entered that little village
church, where was to be consecrated the happiness of her life.

And this time it was Bettina who wept.


     ETEXT EDITOR’S BOOKMARKS:

     Ancient pillars of stone, embrowned and gnawed by time
     And they are shoulders which ought to be seen
     Believing themselves irresistible
     But she will give me nothing but money
     Duty, simply accepted and simply discharged
     Frenchman has only one real luxury--his revolutions
     God may have sent him to purgatory just for form’s sake
     Great difference between dearly and very much
     Had not told all--one never does tell all
     He led the brilliant and miserable existence of the unoccupied
     If there is one! (a paradise)
     In order to make money, the first thing is to have no need of it
     Love and tranquillity seldom dwell at peace in the same heart
     Never foolish to spend money. The folly lies in keeping it
     Often been compared to Eugene Sue, but his touch is lighter
     One half of his life belonged to the poor
     One may think of marrying, but one ought not to try to marry
     Succeeded in wearying him by her importunities and tenderness
     The women have enough religion for the men
     The history of good people is often monotonous or painful
     To learn to obey is the only way of learning to command





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