Part 1 out of 4
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
A WOODLAND QUEEN
('Reine des Bois')
By ANDRE THEURIET
With a Preface by MELCHIOR DE VOGUE, of the French academy
CLAUDE-ADHEMAR-ANDRE THEURIET was born at Marly-le-Roi (Seine et Oise),
October 8,1833. His ancestors came from Lorraine. He was educated at
Bar-le-Duc and went to Paris in 1854 to study jurisprudence. After
finishing his courses he entered the Department of the Treasury, and
after an honorable career there, resigned as chef-de-bureau. He is a
poet, a dramatist, but, above all, a writer of great fiction.
As early as 1857 the poems of Theuriet were printed in the 'Revue de
Paris' and the 'Revue des Deux Mondes'. His greatest novel, 'Reine des
Bois' (Woodland Queen), was crowned by the Academie Francaise in 1890.
To the public in general he became first known in 1870 by his 'Nouvelles
Intimes'. Since that time he has published a great many volumes of
poems, drama, and fiction. A great writer, he perhaps meets the wishes
of that large class of readers who seek in literature agreeable rest and
distraction, rather than excitement or aesthetic gratification. He is
one of the greatest spirits that survived the bankruptcy of Romanticism.
He excels in the description of country nooks and corners; of that polite
rusticity which knows nothing of the delving laborers of 'La Terre', but
only of graceful and learned leisure, of solitude nursed in revery, and
of passion that seems the springtide of germinating nature. He possesses
great originality and the passionate spirit of a 'paysagiste': pictures
of provincial life and family-interiors seem to appeal to his most
pronounced sympathies. His taste is delicate, his style healthy and
frank, and at the same time limpid and animated.
After receiving, in 1890, the Prix Vitet for the ensemble of his literary
productions, he was elected to the Academy in 1896. To the stage
Theuriet has given 'Jean-Marie', drama in verses (Odeon, February 11,
1871). It is yet kept on the repertoire together with his 'Maison de
deux Barbeaux (1865), Raymonde (1887), and Les Maugars (1901).'
His novels, tales, and poems comprise a long list. 'Le Bleu et le Noir'
(1873) was also crowned by the Academy. Then followed, at short
intervals: 'Mademoiselle Guignon (1874.); Le Mariage de Gerard (1875); La
Fortune d'Angele (1876); Raymonde (1877),' a romance of modern life,
vastly esteemed by the reading public; 'Le Don Juan de Vireloup (1877);
Sous Bois, Impressions d'un Forestier (1878); Le Filleul d'un Marquis
(1878); Les Nids (1879); Le fils Maugars (1879); La Maison de deux
Barbeaux (1879); Toute seule (1880); Sauvageonne (1880), his most
realistic work; Les Enchantements de la Foret (1881); Le Livre de la
Payse (poetry, 1882); Madame Heurteloup (1882); Peche de Jeunesse (1883);
Le Journal de Tristan, mostly autobiographical; Bigarreau (1885); Eusebe
Lombard (1885); Les OEillets de Kerlatz (1885); Helene (1886); Nos
Oiseaux (beautiful verses, 1886); La Vie Rustique (1887); Amour d'Automne
(1888); Josette (1888); Deux Soeurs (1889); Contes pour les Soirs d'Hiver
(1890); Charme Dangereux (1891); La Ronde des Saisons et des Mois (1889);
La Charmeresse (1891); Fleur de Nice (1896); Bois Fleury (1897); Refuge
(1898); Villa Tranquille (1899); Claudette (1900); La Petite Derniere
(1901); Le Manuscrit du Chanoine (1902), etc.
Besides this abundant production Andre Theuriet has also contributed to
various journals and magazines: 'Le Moniteur, Le Musee Universal,
L'Illustration, Le Figaro, Le Gaulois, La Republique Francaise, etc.; he
has lectured in Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland, and has even found
leisure to fill the post as Mayor of Bourg-la-Reine (Seine et Oise),
perhaps no onerous office (1882-1900). He has also been an 'Officier de
la Legion d'Honneur' since 1895.
MELCHIOR DE VOGUE
de l'Academie Francaise.
A WOODLAND QUEEN
THE UNFINISHED WILL
Toward the middle of October, about the time of the beechnut harvest,
M. Eustache Destourbet, justice of the Peace of Auberive, accompanied by
his clerk, Etienne Seurrot, left his home at Abbatiale, in order to
repair to the Chateau of Vivey, where he was to take part in removing the
seals on some property whose owner had deceased.
At that period, 1857, the canton of Auberive, which stretches its massive
forests like a thick wall between the level plain of Langres and the
ancient Chatillonais, had but one main road of communication: that from
Langres to Bar-sur-Aube. The almost parallel adjacent route, from
Auberive to Vivey, was not then in existence; and in order to reach this
last commune, or hamlet, the traveller had to follow a narrow grass-
bordered path, leading through the forest up the hill of Charboniere,
from the summit of which was seen that intermingling of narrow gorges and
wooded heights which is so characteristic of this mountainous region. On
all sides were indented horizons of trees, among which a few, of more
dominant height, projected their sharp outlines against the sky; in the
distance were rocky steeps, with here and there a clump of brambles, down
which trickled slender rivulets; still farther, like little islands, half
submerged in a sea of foliage, were pastures of tender green dotted with
juniper bushes, almost black in their density, and fields of rye
struggling painfully through the stony soil--the entire scene presenting
a picture of mingled wildness and cultivation, aridity and luxuriant
Justice Destourbet, having strong, wiry limbs, ascended cheerily the
steep mountain-path. His tall, spare figure, always in advance of his
companion, was visible through the tender green of the young oaks,
clothed in a brown coat, a black cravat, and a very high hat, which the
justice, who loved correctness in details, thought it his duty to don
whenever called upon to perform his judicial functions. The clerk,
Seurrot, more obese, and of maturer age, protuberant in front, and
somewhat curved in the back, dragged heavily behind, perspiring and out
of breath, trying to keep up with his patron, who, now and then seized
with compassion, would come to a halt and wait for his subordinate.
"I trust," said Destourbet, after one of these intervals which enabled
the clerk to walk by his side, "I trust we shall find Maitre Arbillot
down there; we shall have need of his services in looking over and filing
the papers of the deceased."
"Yes, Monsieur," answered Seurrot, "the notary will meet us at the
chateau; he went to Praslay to find out from his associates whether
Monsieur de Buxieres had not left a will in his keeping. In my humble
opinion, that is hardly likely; for the deceased had great confidence in
Maitre Arbillot, and it seems strange that he should choose to confide
his testamentary intentions to a rival notary."
"Well," observed the justice, "perhaps when the seals are raised, we may
discover an autograph will in some corner of a drawer."
"It is to be hoped so, Monsieur," replied Seurrot; "I wish it with all my
heart, for the sake of Claudet Sejournant, for he is a good fellow,
although on the sinister bar of the escutcheon, and a right jolly
"Yes; and a marvellous good shot," interrupted the justice. "I recognize
all that; but even if he had a hundred other good qualities, the grand
chasserot, as they call him here, will be on the wrong side of the hedge
if Monsieur de Buxieres has unfortunately died intestate. In the eye of
the law, as you are doubtless aware, a natural child, who has not been
acknowledged, is looked upon as a stranger."
"Monsieur de Buxieres always treated Claudet as his own son, and every
one knew that he so considered him."
"Possibly, but if the law were to keep count of all such cases, there
would be no end to their labors; especially in all questions of the
'cujus'. Odouart de Buxieres was a terribly wild fellow, and they say
that these old beech-trees of Vivey forest could tell many a tale of his
"He, he!" assented the clerk, laughing slyly, and showing his toothless
gums, "there is some truth in that. The deceased had the devil in his
boots. He could see neither a deer nor a pretty girl without flying in
pursuit. Ah, yes! Many a trick has he played them--talk of your
miracles, forsooth!--well, Claudet was his favorite, and Monsieur de
Buxieres has told me, over and over again, that he would make him his
heir, and I shall be very much astonished if we do not find a will."
"Seurrot, my friend," replied the justice, calmly, "you are too
experienced not to know that our country folks dread nothing so much as
testifying to their last wishes--to make a will, to them, is to put one
foot into the grave. They will not call in the priest or the notary
until the very last moment, and very often they delay until it is too
late. Now, as the deceased was at heart a rustic, I fear greatly that he
did not carry his intentions into execution."
"That would be a pity--for the chateau, the lands, and the entire fortune
would go to an heir of whom Monsieur Odouart never had taken account--
to one of the younger branch of Buxieres, whom he had never seen, having
quarrelled with the family."
"A cousin, I believe," said the justice.
"Yes, a Monsieur Julien de Buxieres, who is employed by the Government at
"In fact, then, and until we receive more ample information, he is, for
us, the sole legitimate heir. Has he been notified?"
"Yes, Monsieur. He has even sent his power of attorney to Monsieur
"So much the better," said M. Destourbet, "in that case, we can proceed
regularly without delay."
While thus conversing, they had traversed the forest, and emerged on the
hill overlooking Vivey. From the border line where they stood, they
could discover, between the half-denuded branches of the line of aspens,
the sinuous, deepset gorge, in which the Aubette wound its tortuous way,
at the extremity of which the village lay embanked against an almost
upright wall of thicket and pointed rocks. On the west this narrow
defile was closed by a mill, standing like a sentinel on guard, in its
uniform of solid gray; on each side of the river a verdant line of meadow
led the eye gradually toward the clump of ancient and lofty ash-trees,
behind which rose the. Buxieres domicile. This magnificent grove of
trees, and a monumental fence of cast-iron, were the only excuse for
giving the title of chateau to a very commonplace structure, of which the
main body presented bare, whitewashed walls, flanked by two small towers
on turrets shaped like extinguishers, and otherwise resembling very
This chateau, or rather country squire's residence, had belonged to the
Odouart de Buxieres for more than two centuries. Before the Revolution,
Christophe de Buxieres, grandfather of the last proprietor, had owned a
large portion of Vivey, besides several forges in operation on the Aube
and Aubette rivers. He had had three children: one daughter, who had
embraced religion as a vocation; Claude Antoine, the elder son, to whom
he left his entire fortune, and Julien Abdon, the younger, officer in the
regiment of Rohan Soubise, with whom he was not on good terms. After
emigrating and serving in Conde's army, the younger Buxieres had returned
to France during the Restoration, had married, and been appointed special
receiver in a small town in southern France. But since his return, he
had not resumed relations with his elder brother, whom he accused of
having defrauded him of his rights. The older one had married also, one
of the Rochetaillee family; he had had but one son, Claude Odouart de
Buxieres, whose recent decease had brought about the visit of the Justice
of Auberive and his clerk.
Claude de Buxieres had lived all his life at Vivey. Inheriting from his
father and grandfather flourishing health and a robust constitution, he
had also from them strong love for his native territory, a passion for
the chase, and a horror of the constraint and decorum exacted by worldly
obligations. He was a spoiled child, brought up by a weak-minded mother
and a preceptor without authority, who had succeeded in imparting to him
only the most elementary amount of instruction, and he had, from a very
early age, taken his own pleasure as his sole rule of life. He lived
side by side with peasants and poachers, and had himself become a regular
country yeoman, wearing a blouse, dining at the wine-shop, and taking
more pleasure in speaking the mountain patois than his own native French.
The untimely death of his father, killed by an awkward huntsman while
following the hounds, had emancipated him at the age of twenty years.
From this period he lived his life freely, as he understood it; always in
the open air, without hindrance of any sort, and entirely unrestrained.
Nothing was exaggerated in the stories told concerning him. He was a
handsome fellow, jovial and dashing in his ways, and lavish with his
money, so he met with few rebuffs. Married women, maids, widows, any
peasant girl of attractive form or feature, all had had to resist his
advances, and with more than one the resistance had been very slight.
It was no false report which affirmed that he had peopled the district
with his illegitimate progeny. He was not hard to please, either;
strawberry-pickers, shepherd-girls, wood-pilers, day-workers, all were
equally charming in his sight; he sought only youth, health, and a kindly
Marriage would have been the only safeguard for him; but aside from the
fact that his reputation of reckless huntsman and general scapegrace
naturally kept aloof the daughters of the nobles, and even the Langarian
middle classes, he dreaded more than anything else in the world the
monotonous regularity of conjugal life. He did not care to be restricted
always to the same dishes--preferring, as he said, his meat sometimes
roast, sometimes boiled, or even fried, according to his humor and his
Nevertheless, about the time that Claude de Buxieres attained his thirty-
sixth year, it was noticed that he had a more settled air, and that his
habits were becoming more sedentary. The chase was still his favorite
pastime, but he frequented less places of questionable repute, seldom
slept away from home, and seemed to take greater pleasure in remaining
under his own roof. The cause of this change was ascribed by some to the
advance of years creeping over him; others, more perspicacious, verified
a curious coincidence between the entrance of a new servant in the
chateau and the sudden good behavior of Claude.
This girl, a native of Aprey, named Manette Sejournant, was not, strictly
speaking, a beauty, but she had magnificent blonde hair, gray, caressing
eyes, and a silvery, musical voice. Well built, supple as an adder,
modest and prudish in mien, she knew how to wait upon and cosset her
master, accustoming him by imperceptible degrees to prefer the cuisine of
the chateau to that of the wine-shops. After a while, by dint of making
her merits appreciated, and her presence continually desired, she became
the mistress of Odouart de Buxieres, whom she managed to retain by
proving herself immeasurably superior, both in culinary skill and in
sentiment, to the class of females from whom he had hitherto been seeking
his creature comforts.
Matters went on in this fashion for a year or so, until Manette went on a
three months' vacation. When she reappeared at the chateau, she brought
with her an infant, six weeks old, which she declared was the child of a
sister, lately deceased, but which bore a strange likeness to Claude.
However, nobody made remarks, especially as M. de Buxieres, after he had
been drinking a little, took no pains to hide his paternity. He himself
held the little fellow at the baptismal font, and later, consigned him to
the care of the Abbe Pernot, the curate of Vivey, who prepared the little
Claudet for his first communion, at the same time that he instructed him
in reading, writing, and the first four rules of arithmetic. As soon as
the lad reached his fifteenth year, Claude put a gun into his hands, and
took him hunting with him. Under the teaching of M. de Buxieres, Claudet
did honor to his master, and soon became such an expert that he could
give points to all the huntsmen of the canton. None could equal him in
tracing a dog; he knew all the passes, by-paths, and enclosures of the
forest; swooped down upon the game with the keen scent and the velocity
of a bird of prey, and never was known to miss his mark. Thus it was
that the country people surnamed him the 'grand chasserot', the term
which we here apply to the sparrow-hawk. Besides all these advantages,
he was handsome, alert, straight, and well made, dark-haired and olive-
skinned, like all the Buxieres; he had his mother's caressing glance, but
also the overhanging eyelids and somewhat stern expression of his father,
from whom he inherited also a passionate temperament, and a spirit averse
to all kinds of restraint. They were fond of him throughout the country,
and M. de Buxieres, who felt his youth renewed in him, was very proud of
his adroitness and his good looks. He would invite him to his pleasure
parties, and make him sit at his own table, and confided unhesitatingly
all his secrets to him. In short, Claudet, finding himself quite at home
at the chateau, naturally considered himself as one of the family. There
was but one formality wanting to that end: recognizance according to law.
At certain favorable times, Manette Sejournant would gently urge M. de
Buxieres to have the situation legally authorized, to which he would
invariably reply, from a natural dislike to taking legal advisers into
"Don't worry about anything; I have no direct heir, and Claudet will have
all my fortune; my will and testament will be worth more to him than a
He would refer so often and so decidedly to his settled intention of
making Claudet his sole heir, that Manette, who knew very little about
what was required in such cases, considered the matter already secure.
She continued in unsuspecting serenity until Claude de Buxieres, in his
sixty-second year, died suddenly from a stroke of apoplexy.
The will, which was to insure Claudet's future prospects, and to which
the deceased had so often alluded, did it really exist? Neither Manette
nor the grand chasserot had been able to obtain any certain knowledge in
the matter, the hasty search for it after the decease having been
suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the mayor of Vivey; and by the
proceedings of the justice of the peace. The seals being once imposed,
there was no means, in the absence of a verified will, of ascertaining on
whom the inheritance devolved, until the opening of the inventory; and
thus the Sejournants awaited with feverish anxiety the return of the
justice of the peace and his bailiff.
M. Destourbet and Stephen Seurrot pushed open a small door to the right
of the main gateway, passed rapidly under the arched canopy of beeches,
the leaves of which, just touched by the first frost, were already
falling from the branches, and, stamping their muddy feet on the outer
steps, advanced into the vestibule. The wide corridor, flagged with
black-and-white pavement, presented a cheerless aspect of bare walls
discolored by damp, and adorned alternately by stags' heads and family
portraits in a crumbling state of decay. The floor was thus divided: on
the right, the dining-room and the kitchen; on the left, drawing-room and
a billiard-hall. A stone staircase, built in one of the turrets, led to
the upper floors. Only one of these rooms, the kitchen, which the
justice and his bailiff entered, was occupied by the household. A cold
light, equally diffused in all directions, and falling from a large
window, facing north across the gardens, allowed every detail of the
apartment to be seen clearly; opposite the door of entrance, the tall
chimney-place, with its deep embrasure, gave ample shelter to the notary,
who installed himself upon a stool and lighted his pipe at one of the
embers, while his principal clerk sat at the long table, itemizing the
objects contained in the inventory.
In the opposite angle of the chimney-place, a lad of twenty-four years,
no other than Claudet, called by the friendly nickname of the grand
chasserot, kept company with the notary, while he toyed, in an absent
fashion, with the silky ears of a spaniel, whose fluffy little head lay
in his lap. Behind him, Manette Sejournant stood putting away her shawl
and prayerbook in a closet. A mass had been said in the morning at the
church, for the repose of the soul of the late Claude de Buxieres, and
mother and son had donned their Sunday garments to assist at the
Claudet appeared ill at ease in his black, tightly buttoned suit, and
kept his eyes with their heavy lids steadily bent upon the head of the
animal. To all the notary's questions, he replied only by monosyllables,
passing his fingers every now and then through his bushy brown locks, and
twining them in his forked beard, a sure indication with him of
preoccupation and bad humor.
Manette had acquired with years an amount of embonpoint which detracted
materially from the supple and undulating beauty which had so captivated
Claude de Buxieres. The imprisonment of a tight corset caused undue
development of the bust at the expense of her neck and throat, which
seemed disproportionately short and thick. Her cheeks had lost their
gracious curves and her double chin was more pronounced. All that
remained of her former attractions were the caressing glance of her eye,
tresses still golden and abundant, especially as seen under the close cap
of black net, white teeth, and a voice that had lost nothing of its
As the justice and his bailiff entered, Maitre Arbillot, and a petulant
little man with squirrel-like eyes and a small moustache, arose quickly.
"Good-morning, gentlemen," he cried. "I was anxiously expecting you--if
you are willing, we will begin our work at once, for at this season night
comes on quickly."
"At your orders, Maitre Arbillot," replied the justice, laying his hat
down carefully on the window-sill; "we shall draw out the formula for
raising the seals. By the way, has no will yet been found?"
"None to my knowledge. It is quite clear to me that the deceased made no
testament, none at least before a notary."
"But," objected M. Destourbet, "he may have executed a holograph
"It is certain, gentlemen," interrupted Manette, with her soft, plaintive
voice, "that our dear gentleman did not go without putting his affairs in
order. 'Manette,' said he, not more than two weeks ago; 'I do not intend
you shall be worried, neither you nor Claudet, when I am no longer here.
All shall be arranged to your satisfaction.' Oh! he certainly must have
put down his last wishes on paper. Look well around, gentlemen; you will
find a will in some drawer or other."
While she applied her handkerchief ostentatiously to her nose and wiped
her eyes, the justice exchanged glances with the notary.
"Maitre Arbillot, you think doubtless with me, that we ought to begin
operations by examining the furniture of the bedroom?"
The notary inclined his head, and notified his chief clerk to remove his
papers to the first floor.
"Show us the way, Madame," said the justice to the housekeeper; and the
quartet of men of the law followed Manette, carrying with them a huge
bunch of keys.
Claudet had risen from his seat when the justice arrived. As the party
moved onward, he followed hesitatingly, and then halted, uncertain how to
decide between the desire to assist in the search and the fear of
intruding. The notary, noticing his hesitation; called to him:
"Come, you also, Claudet, are not you one of the guardians of the seals?"
And they wended their silent way, up the winding staircase of the turret.
The high, dark silhouette of Manette headed the procession; then followed
the justice, carefully choosing his foothold on the well-worn stairs, the
asthmatic old bailiff, breathing short and hard, the notary, beating his
foot impatiently every time that Seurrot stopped to take breath, and
finally the principal clerk and Claudet.
Manette, opening noiselessly the door of the deceased's room, entered, as
if it were a church, the somewhat stifling apartment. Then she threw
open the shutters, and the afternoon sun revealed an interior decorated
and furnished in the style of the close of the eighteenth century. An
inlaid secretary, with white marble top and copper fittings, stood near
the bed, of which the coverings had been removed, showing the mattresses
piled up under a down bed covered with blue-and-white check.
As soon as the door was closed, the clerk settled himself at the table
with his packet of stamped paper, and began to run over, in a low, rapid
voice, the preliminaries of the inventory. In this confused murmuring
some fragments of phrases would occasionally strike the ear: "Chateau of
Vivey--deceased the eighth of October last--at the requisition of Marie-
Julien de Buxieres, comptroller of direct contributions at Nancy--styling
himself heir to Claude Odouart de Buxieres, his cousin-german by blood--"
This last phrase elicited from Claudet a sudden movement of surprise.
"The inventory," explained Maitre Arbillot, "is drawn up at the
requisition of the only heir named, to whom we must make application, if
necessary, for the property left by the deceased."
There was a moment of silence, interrupted by a plaintive sigh from
Manette Sejournant and afterward by the tearing sound of the sealed bands
across the bureau, the drawers and pigeonholes of which were promptly
ransacked by the justice and his assistant.
Odouart de Buxieres had not been much of a scribe. A double Liege
almanac, a memorandum-book, in which he had entered the money received
from the sale of his wood and the dates of the payments made by his
farmers; a daybook, in which he had made careful note of the number of
head of game killed each day--that was all the bureau contained.
"Let us examine another piece of furniture," murmured the justice.
Manette and Claudet remained unmoved. They apparently knew the reason
why none but insignificant papers had been found in the drawers, for
their features expressed neither surprise nor disappointment.
Another search through a high chest of drawers with large copper handles
was equally unprofitable. Then they attacked the secretary, and after
the key had been turned twice in the noisy lock, the lid went slowly
down. The countenances of both mother and son, hitherto so unconcerned,
underwent a slight but anxious change. The bailiff continued his
scrupulous search of each drawer under the watchful eye of the justice,
finding nothing but documents of mediocre importance; old titles to
property, bundles of letters, tradesmen's bills, etc. Suddenly, at the
opening of the last drawer, a significant "Ah!" from Stephen Seurrot
drew round him the heads of the justice and the notary, and made Manette
and Claudet, standing at the foot of the bed, start with expectation.
On the dark ground of a rosewood box lay a sheet of white paper, on which
"This is my testament."
With the compression of lip and significant shake of the head of a
physician about to take in hand a hopeless case of illness, the justice
made known to his two neighbors the text of the sheet of paper, on which
Claude Odouart de Buxieres had written, in his coarse, ill-regulated
hand, the following lines:
"Not knowing my collateral heirs, and caring nothing about them, I give
and bequeath all my goods and chattels--"
The testator had stopped there, either because he thought it better,
before going any further, to consult some legal authority more
experienced than himself, or because he had been interrupted in his labor
and had deferred completing this testifying of his last will until some
M. Destourbet, after once more reading aloud this unfinished sentence,
"Monsieur de Buxieres did not finish--it is much to be regretted!"
"My God! is it possible?" interrupted the housekeeper; "you think,
then, Monsieur justice, that Claudet does not inherit anything?"
"According to my idea," replied he, "we have here only a scrap of
unimportant paper; the name of the legatee is not indicated, and even
were it indicated, the testament would still be without force, being
neither dated nor signed."
"But perhaps Monsieur de Buxieres made another?"
"I think not; I am more inclined to suppose that he did not have time to
complete the arrangements that he wished to make, and the proof lies in
the very existence of this incomplete document in the only piece of
furniture in which he kept his papers." Then, turning toward the notary
and the bailiff: "You are doubtless, gentlemen, of the same opinion as
myself; it will be wise, therefore, to defer raising the remainder of the
seals until the arrival of the legal heir. Maitre Arbillot, Monsieur
Julien de Buxieres must be notified, and asked to be here in Vivey as
soon as possible."
"I will write this evening," said the notary; "in the meanwhile, the
keeping of the seals will be continued by Claudet Sejournant."
The justice inclined his head to Manette, who was standing, pale and
motionless, at the foot of the bed; stunned by the unexpected
announcement; the bailiff and the chief clerk, after gathering up their
papers, shook hands sympathizingly with Claudet.
"I am grieved to the heart, my dear fellow," said the notary, in his
turn, "at what has happened! It is hard to swallow, but you will always
keep a courageous heart, and be able to rise to the top; besides, even
if, legally, you own nothing here, this unfinished testament of Monsieur
de Buxieres will constitute a moral title in your favor, and I trust that
the heir will have enough justice and right feeling to treat you
"I want nothing from him!" muttered Claudet, between his teeth; then,
leaving his mother to attend to the rest of the legal fraternity, he went
hastily to his room, next that of the deceased, tore off his dress-coat,
slipped on a hunting-coat, put on his gaiters, donned his old felt hat,
and descended to the kitchen, where Manette was sitting, huddled up in
front of the embers, weeping and bewailing her fate.
Since she had become housekeeper and mistress of the Buxieres household,
she had adopted a more polished speech and a more purely French mode of
expression, but in this moment of discouragement and despair the rude
dialect of her native country rose to her lips, and in her own patois she
inveighed against the deceased:
"Ah! the bad man, the mean man! Didn't I tell him, time and again, that
he would leave us in trouble! Where can we seek our bread this late in
the day? We shall have to beg in the streets!"
"Hush! hush! mother," interrupted Claudet, sternly, placing his hand on
her shoulder, "it does not mend matters to give way like that. Calm
thyself--so long as I have hands on the ends of my arms, we never shall
be beggars. But I must go out--I need air."
And crossing the gardens rapidly, he soon reached the outskirts of the
This landscape, both rugged and smiling in its wildness, hardly conveyed
the idea of silence, but rather of profound meditation, absolute calm;
the calmness of solitude, the religious meditation induced by spacious
forest depths. The woods seemed asleep, and the low murmurings, which
from time to time escaped from their recesses, seemed like the
unconscious sighs exhaled by a dreamer. The very odor peculiar to trees
in autumn, the penetrating and spicy odor of the dying leaves, had a
delicate and subtle aroma harmonizing with this quietude of fairyland.
Now and then, through the vaporous golden atmosphere of the late autumn
sunset, through the pensive stillness of the hushed woods, the distant
sound of feminine voices, calling to one another, echoed from the hills,
and beyond the hedges was heard the crackling of branches, snapped by
invisible hands, and the rattle of nuts dropping on the earth. It was
the noise made by the gatherers of beechnuts, for in the years when the
beech produces abundantly, this harvest, under the sanction of the
guardians of the forest, draws together the whole population of women and
children, who collect these triangular nuts, from which an excellent
species of oil is procured.
Wending his way along the copse, Claudet suddenly perceived, through an
opening in the trees, several large white sheets spread under the
beeches, and covered with brown heaps of the fallen fruit. One or two
familiar voices hailed him as he passed, but he was not disposed to
gossip, for the moment, and turned abruptly into the bushwood, so as to
avoid any encounter. The unexpected event which had just taken place,
and which was to change his present mode of life, as well as his plans
for the future, was of too recent occurrence for him to view it with any
degree of calmness.
He was like a man who has received a violent blow on the head, and is for
the moment stunned by it. He suffered vaguely, without seeking to know
from what cause; he had not been able as yet to realize the extent of his
misfortune; and every now and then a vague hope came over him that all
would come right.
So on he went, straight ahead, his eyes on the ground, and his hands in
his pockets, until he emerged upon one of the old forest roads where the
grass had begun to burst through the stony interstices; and there, in the
distance, under the light tracery of weaving branches, a delicate female
silhouette was outlined on the dark background. A young woman, dressed
in a petticoat of gray woolen material, and a jacket of the same, close-
fitting at the waist, her arms bare to the elbows and supporting on her
head a bag of nuts enveloped in a white sheet, advanced toward him with a
quick and rhythmical step. The manner in which she carried her burden
showed the elegance of her form, the perfect grace of her chest and
throat. She was not very tall, but finely proportioned. As she
approached, the slanting rays of the setting sun shone on her heavy brown
hair, twisted into a thick coil at the back of her head, and revealed the
amber paleness of her clear skin, the long oval of her eyes, the firm
outline of her chin and somewhat full lips; and Claudet, roused from his
lethargic reverie by the sound of her rapid footsteps, raised his eyes,
and recognized the daughter of Pere Vincart, the proprietor of La
At the same moment, the young girl, doubtless fatigued with the weight of
her bundle, had laid it down by the roadside while she recovered her
breath. In a few seconds Claudet was by her side.
"Good-evening, Reine," said he, in a voice singularly softened in tone,
"shall I give you a lift with that?"
"Good-evening, Claudet," replied she; "truly, now, that is not an offer
to be refused. The weight is greater than I thought."
"Have you come far thus laden?"
"No; our people are nutting in the Bois des Ronces; I came on before,
because I don't like to leave father alone for long at a time and, as I
was coming, I wished to bring my share with me."
"No one can reproach you with shirking work, Reine, nor of being afraid
to take hold of things. To see you all day trotting about the farm, no
one would think you had been to school in the city, like a young lady."
And Claudet's countenance became irradiated with a glow of innocent and
tender admiration. It was evident that his eyes looked with delight into
the dark limpid orbs of Reine, on her pure and rosy lips, and on her
partly uncovered neck, the whiteness of which two little brown moles only
served to enhance.
"How can it be helped?" replied she, smiling, "it must be done; when
there is no man in the house to give orders, the women must take a hand
themselves. My father was not very strong when my mother died, and since
he had that attack he has become quite helpless, and I have had to take
While she spoke, Claudet took hold of the bundle, and, lifting it as if
it had been a feather, threw it over his shoulder. They walked on, side
by side, in the direction of La Thuliere; the sun had set, and a
penetrating moisture, arising from the damp soil of the adjacent pasture
lands, encircled them in a bluish fog.
"So he is worse, your father, is he?" said Claudet, after a moment's
"He can not move from his armchair, his mental faculties are weakening,
and I am obliged to amuse him like a child. But how is it with yourself,
Claudet?" she asked, turning her frank, cordial gaze upon him. "You
have had your share of trouble since we last met, and great events have
happened. Poor Monsieur de Buxieres was taken away very suddenly!"
The close relationship that united Claudet with the deceased was a secret
to no one; Reine, as well as all the country people, knew and admitted
the fact, however irregular, as one sanctioned by time and continuity.
Therefore, in speaking to the young man, her voice had that tone of
affectionate interest usual in conversing with a bereaved friend on a
death that concerns him.
The countenance of the 'grand chasserot', which had cleared for a time
under her influence, became again clouded.
"Yes;" sighed he, "he was taken too soon!"
"And now, Claudet, you are sole master at the chateau?"
"Neither--master--nor even valet!" he returned, with such bitterness
that the young girl stood still with surprise.
"What do you mean?" she exclaimed, "was it not agreed with Monsieur de
Buxieres that you should inherit all his property?"
"Such was his intention, but he did not have time to put it in execution;
he died without leaving any will, and, as I am nothing in the eye of the
law, the patrimony will go to a distant relative, a de Buxieres whom
Monsieur Odouart did not even know."
Reine's dark eyes filled with tears.
"What a misfortune!" she exclaimed, "and who could have expected such a
thing? Oh! my poor Claudet!"
She was so moved, and spoke with such sincere compassion, that Claudet
was perhaps misled, and thought he read in her glistening eyes a tenderer
sentiment than pity; he trembled, took her hand, and held it long in his.
"Thank you, Reine! Yes," he added, after a pause, "it is a rude shock to
wake up one morning without hearth or home, when one has been in the
habit of living on one's income."
"What do you intend to do?" inquired Reine, gravely.
Claudet shrugged his shoulders.
"To work for my bread--or, if I can find no suitable trade, enlist in a
regiment. I think I should not make a bad soldier. Everything is going
round and round in my head like a millwheel. The first thing to do is to
see about my mother, who is lamenting down there at the house--I must
find her a comfortable place to live."
The young girl had become very thoughtful.
"Claudet," replied she, "I know you are very proud, very sensitive, and
could not wish to hurt your feelings. Therefore, I pray you not to take
in ill part that which I am going to say-in short, if you should get into
any trouble, you will, I hope, remember that you have friends at La
Thuiliere, and that you will come to seek us."
The 'grand chasserot' reddened.
"I shall never take amiss what you may say to me, Reine!" faltered he;
"for I can not doubt your good heart--I have known it since the time when
we played together in the cure's garden, while waiting for the time to
repeat the catechism. But there is no hurry as yet; the heir will not
arrive for several weeks, and by that time, I trust, we shall have had a
chance to turn round."
They had reached the boundary of the forest where the fields of La
By the last fading light of day they could distinguish the black outline
of the ancient forge, now become a grange, and a light was twinkling in
one of the low windows of the farm.
"Here you are at home," continued Claudet, laying the bundle of nuts on
the flat stone wall which surrounded the farm buildings; "I wish you
"Will you not come in and get warm?"
"No; I must go back," replied he.
"Good-night, then, Claudet; au revoir and good courage!"
He gazed at her for a moment in the deepening twilight, then, abruptly
pressing her hands:
"Thank you, Reine," murmured he in a choking voice, "you are a good girl,
and I love you very much!"
He left the young mistress of the farm precipitately, and plunged again
into the woods.
THE HEIR TO VIVEY
While these events were happening at Vivey, the person whose name excited
the curiosity and the conversational powers of the villagers--Marie-
Julien de Buxieres--ensconced in his unpretentious apartment in the Rue
Stanislaus, Nancy, still pondered over the astonishing news contained in
the Auberive notary's first letter. The announcement of his inheritance,
dropping from the skies, as it were, had found him quite unprepared, and,
at first, somewhat sceptical. He remembered, it is true, hearing his
father once speak of a cousin who had remained a bachelor and who owned a
fine piece of property in some corner of the Haute Marne; but, as all
intercourse had long been broken off between the two families, M. de
Buxieres the elder had mentioned the subject only in relation to barely
possible hopes which had very little chance of being realized. Julien
had never placed any reliance on this chimerical inheritance, and he
received almost with indifference the official announcement of the death
of Claude Odouart de Buxieres.
By direct line from his late father, he became in fact the only
legitimate heir of the chateau and lands of Vivey; still, there was a
strong probability that Claude de Buxieres had made a will in favor of
some one more within his own circle. The second missive from Arbillot
the notary, announcing that the deceased had died intestate, and
requesting the legal heir to come to Vivey as soon as possible, put a
sudden end to the young man's doubts, which merged into a complex
feeling, less of joy than of stupefaction.
Up to the present time, Julien de Buxieres had not been spoiled by
Fortune's gifts. His parents, who had died prematurely, had left him
nothing. He lived in a very mediocre style on his slender salary as
comptroller of direct contributions, and, although twenty-seven years
old, was housed like a supernumerary in a small furnished room on the
second floor above the ground. At this time his physique was that of a
young man of medium height, slight, pale, and nervous, sensitive in
disposition, reserved and introspective in habit. His delicate features,
his intelligent forehead surmounted by soft chestnut hair, his pathetic
blue eyes, his curved, dissatisfied mouth, shaded by a slight, dark
moustache, indicated a melancholy, unquiet temperament and precocious
There are some men who never have had any childhood, or rather, whose
childhood never has had its happy time of laughter. Julien was one of
these. That which imparts to childhood its charm and enjoyment is the
warm and tender atmosphere of the home; the constant and continued
caressing of a mother; the gentle and intimate creations of one's native
country where, by degrees, the senses awaken to the marvellous sights of
the outer world; where the alternating seasons in their course first
arouse the student's ambition and cause the heart of the adolescent youth
to thrill with emotion; where every street corner, every tree, every turn
of the soil, has some history to relate. Julien had had no experiences
of this peaceful family life, during which are stored up such treasures
of childhood's recollections. He was the son of a government official,
who had been trotted over all France at the caprice of the
administration, and he had never known, so to speak, any associations of
the land in which he was born, or the hearth on which he was raised.
Chance had located his birth in a small town among the Pyrenees, and when
he was two years old he had been transplanted to one of the industrial
cities of Artois. At the end of two years more came another removal to
one of the midland towns, and thus his tender childhood had been buffeted
about, from east to west, from north to south, taking root nowhere.
All he could remember of these early years was an unpleasant impression
of hasty packing and removal, of long journeys by diligence, and of
uncomfortable resettling. His mother had died just as he was entering
upon his eighth year; his father, absorbed in official work, and not
caring to leave the child to the management of servants, had placed him
at that early age in a college directed by priests. Julien thus passed
his second term of childhood, and his boyhood was spent behind these
stern, gloomy walls, bending resignedly under a discipline which, though
gentle, was narrow and suspicious, and allowed little scope for personal
development. He obtained only occasional glimpses of nature during the
monotonous daily walks across a flat, meaningless country. At very rare
intervals, one of his father's colleagues would take him visiting; but
these stiff and ceremonious calls only left a wearisome sensation of
restraint and dull fatigue. During the long vacation he used to rejoin
his father, whom he almost always found in a new residence. The poor man
had alighted there for a time, like a bird on a tree; and among these
continually shifting scenes, the lad had felt himself more than ever a
stranger among strangers; so that he experienced always a secret though
joyless satisfaction in returning to the cloisters of the St. Hilaire
college and submitting himself to the yoke of the paternal but inflexible
discipline of the Church.
He was naturally inclined, by the tenderness of his nature, toward a
devotional life, and accepted with blind confidence the religious and
moral teaching of the reverend fathers. A doctrine which preached
separation from profane things; the attractions of a meditative and pious
life, and mistrust of the world and its perilous pleasures, harmonized
with the shy and melancholy timidity of his nature. Human beings,
especially women, inspired him with secret aversion, which was increased
by consciousness of his awkwardness and remissness whenever he found
himself in the society of women or young girls.
The beauties of nature did not affect him; the flowers in the springtime,
the glories of the summer sun, the rich coloring of autumn skies, having
no connection in his mind with any joyous recollection, left him cold and
unmoved; he even professed an almost hostile indifference to such purely
material sights as disturbing and dangerous to the inner life. He lived
within himself and could not see beyond.
His mind, imbued with a mystic idealism, delighted itself in solitary
reading or in meditations in the house of prayer. The only emotion he
ever betrayed was caused by the organ music accompanying the hymnal
plain-song, and by the pomp of religious ceremony.
At the age of eighteen, he left the St. Hilaire college in order to
prepare his baccalaureate, and his father, becoming alarmed at his
increasing moodiness and mysticism, endeavored to infuse into him the
tastes and habits of a man of the world by introducing him into the
society of his equals in the town where he lived; but the twig was
already bent, and the young man yielded with bad grace to the change of
regime; the amusements they offered were either wearisome or repugnant to
him. He would wander aimlessly through the salons where they were
playing whist, where the ladies played show pieces at the piano, and
where they spoke a language he did not understand. He was quite aware of
his worldly inaptitude, and that he was considered awkward, dull, and
ill-tempered, and the knowledge of this fact paralyzed and frightened him
still more. He could not disguise his feeling of ennui sufficiently to
prevent the provincial circles from being greatly offended; they declared
unanimously that young de Buxieres was a bear, and decided to leave him
alone. The death of his father, which happened just as the youth was
beginning his official cares, put a sudden end to all this constraint.
He took advantage of his season of mourning to resume his old ways; and
returned with a sigh of relief to his solitude, his books, and his
meditations. According to the promise of the Imitation, he found
unspeakable joys in his retirement; he rose at break of day, assisted at
early mass, fulfilled, conscientiously, his administrative duties, took
his hurried meals in a boardinghouse, where he exchanged a few polite
remarks with his fellow inmates, then shut himself up in his room to read
Pascal or Bossuet until eleven o'clock.
He thus attained his twenty-seventh year, and it was into the calm of
this serious, cloister-like life, that the news fell of the death of
Claude de Buxieres and of the unexpected inheritance that had accrued to
After entering into correspondence with the notary, M. Arbillot, and
becoming assured of the reality of his rights and of the necessity of
his presence at Vivey, he had obtained leave of absence from his official
duties, and set out for Haute Marne. On the way, he could not help
marvelling at the providential interposition which would enable him to
leave a career for which he felt he had no vocation, and to pursue his
independent life, according to his own tastes, and secured from any fear
of outside cares. According to the account given by the notary, Claude
de Buxieres's fortune might be valued at two hundred thousand francs, in
furniture and other movables, without reckoning the chateau and the
adjacent woods. This was a much larger sum than had ever been dreamed of
by Julien de Buxieres, whose belongings did not amount in all to three
thousand francs. He made up his mind, therefore, that, as soon as he was
installed at Vivey, he would change his leave of absence to an unlimited
furlough of freedom. He contemplated with serene satisfaction this
perspective view of calm and solitary retirement in a chateau lost to
view in the depths of the forest, where he could in perfect security give
himself up to the studious contemplative life which he loved so much,
far from all worldly frivolities and restraint. He already imagined
himself at Vivey, shut up in his carefully selected library; he delighted
in the thought of having in future to deal only with the country people,
whose uncivilized ways would be like his own, and among whom his timidity
would not be remarked.
He arrived at Langres in the afternoon of a foggy October day, and
inquired immediately at the hotel how he could procure a carriage to
take him that evening to Vivey. They found him a driver, but, to his
surprise, the man refused to take the journey until the following
morning, on account of the dangerous state of the crossroads, where
vehicles might stick fast in the mire if they ventured there after
nightfall. Julien vainly endeavored to effect an arrangement with him,
and the discussion was prolonged in the courtyard of the hotel. Just as
the man was turning away, another, who had overheard the end of the
colloquy, came up to young de Buxieres, and offered to undertake the
journey for twenty francs.
"I have a good horse," said he to Julien; "I know the roads, and will
guarantee that we reach Vivey before nightfall."
The bargain was quickly made; and in half an hour, Julien de Buxieres was
rolling over the plain above Langres, in a shaky old cabriolet, the muddy
hood of which bobbed over at every turn of the wheel, while the horse
kept up a lively trot over the stones.
The clouds were low, and the road lay across bare and stony prairies, the
gray expanse of which became lost in the distant mist. This depressing
landscape would have made a disagreeable impression on a less unobserving
traveller, but, as we have said, Julien looked only inward, and the
phenomena of the exterior world influenced him only unconsciously.
Half closing his eyes, and mechanically affected by the rhythmical
tintinnabulation of the little bells, hanging around the horse's neck,
he had resumed his meditations, and considered how he should arrange his
life in this, to him, unknown country, which would probably be his own
for some time to come. Nevertheless, when, at the end of the level
plain, the road turned off into the wooded region, the unusual aspect of
the forest aroused his curiosity. The tufted woods and lofty trees, in
endless succession under the fading light, impressed him by their
profound solitude and their religious silence. His loneliness was in
sympathy with the forest, which seemed contemporary with the Sleeping
Beauty of the wood, the verdant walls of which were to separate him
forever from the world of cities. Henceforth, he could be himself, could
move freely, dress as he wished, or give way to his dreaming, without
fearing to encounter the ironical looks of idle and wondering neighbors.
For the first time since his departure from his former home,
he experienced a feeling of joy and serenity; the influence of the
surroundings, so much in harmony with his wishes, unlocked his tongue,
and made him communicative.
He made up his mind to speak to the guide, who was smoking at his side
and whipping his horse.
"Are we far from Vivey now?"
"That depends, Monsieur--as the crow flies, the distance is not very
great, and if we could go by the roads, we should be there in one short
hour. Unfortunately, on turning by the Allofroy farm, we shall have to
leave the highroad and take the cross path; and then--my gracious! we
shall plunge into the ditch down there, and into perdition."
"You told me that you were well acquainted with the roads!"
"I know them, and I do not know them. When it comes to these crossroads,
one is sure of nothing. They change every year, and each new
superintendent cuts a way out through the woods according to his fancy.
The devil himself could not find his way."
"Yet you have been to Vivey before?"
"Oh, yes; five or six years ago; I used often to take parties of hunters
to the chateau. Ah! Monsieur, what a beautiful country it is for
hunting; you can not take twenty steps along a trench without seeing a
stag or a deer."
"You have doubtless had the opportunity of meeting Monsieur Odouart de
"Yes, indeed, Monsieur, more than once-ah! he is a jolly fellow and a
"He was," interrupted Julien, gravely, "for he is dead."
"Ah! excuse me--I did not know it. What! is he really dead? So fine a
man! What we must all come to. Careful, now!" added he, pulling in the
reins, "we are leaving the highroad, and must keep our eyes open."
The twilight was already deepening, the driver lighted his lantern, and
the vehicle turned into a narrow lane, half mud, half stone, and hedged
in on both sides with wet brushwood, which flapped noisily against the
leathern hood. After fifteen minutes' riding, the paths opened upon a
pasture, dotted here and there with juniper bushes, and thence divided
into three lines, along which ran the deep track of wagons, cutting the
pasturage into small hillocks. After long hesitation, the man cracked
his whip and took the right-hand path.
Julien began to fear that the fellow had boasted too much when he
declared that he knew the best way. The ruts became deeper and deeper;
the road was descending into a hole; suddenly, the wheels became embedded
up to the hub in thick, sticky mire, and the horse refused to move. The
driver jumped to the ground, swearing furiously; then he called Julien to
help him to lift out the wheel. But the young man, slender and frail as
he was, and not accustomed to using his muscles, was not able to render
"Thunder and lightning!" cried the driver, "it is impossible to get out
of this--let go the wheel, Monsieur, you have no more strength than a
chicken, and, besides, you don't know how to go about it. What a devil
of a road! But we can't spend the night here!"
"If we were to call out," suggested Julien, somewhat mortified at the
inefficiency of his assistance, "some one would perhaps come to our aid."
They accordingly shouted with desperation; and after five or six minutes,
a voice hailed back. A woodcutter, from one of the neighboring
clearings, had heard the call, and was running toward them.
"This way!" cried the guide, "we are stuck fast in the mud. Give us a
The man came up and walked round the vehicle, shaking his head.
"You've got on to a blind road," said he, "and you'll have trouble in
getting out of it, seeing as how there's not light to go by. You had
better unharness the horse, and wait for daylight, if you want to get
your carriage out."
"And where shall we go for a bed?" growled the driver; "there isn't even
a house near in this accursed wild country of yours!"
"Excuse me-you are not far from La Thuiliere; the farm people will not
refuse you a bed, and to-morrow morning they will help you to get your
carriage out of the mud. Unharness, comrade; I will lead you as far as
the Plancheau-Vacher; and from there you will see the windows of the
The driver, still grumbling, decided to take his advice. They
unharnessed the horse; took one of the lanterns of the carriage as a
beacon, and followed slowly the line of pasture-land, under the
woodchopper's guidance. At the end of about ten minutes, the forester
pointed out a light, twinkling at the extremity of a rustic path,
bordered with moss.
"You have only to go straight ahead," said he, "besides, the barking of
the dogs will guide you. Ask for Mamselle Vincart. Good-night,
He turned on his heel, while Julien, bewildered, began to reproach
himself for not having thanked him enough. The conductor went along with
his lantern; young de Buxieres followed him with eyes downcast. Thus
they continued silently until they reached the termination of the mossy
path, where a furious barking saluted their ears.
"Here we are," growled the driver, "fortunately the dogs are not yet let
loose, or we should pass a bad quarter of an hour!"
They pushed open a side-wicket and, standing in the courtyard, could see
the house. With the exception of the luminous spot that reddened one of
the windows of the ground floor, the long, low facade was dark, and, as
it were, asleep. On the right, standing alone, outlined against the sky,
was the main building of the ancient forge, now used for granaries and
stables; inside, the frantic barking of the watch-dogs mingled with the
bleating of the frightened sheep, the neighing of horses, and the
clanking of wooden shoes worn by the farm hands. At the same moment, the
door of the house opened, and a servant, attracted by the uproar,
appeared on the threshold, a lantern in her hand.
"Hallo! you people," she exclaimed sharply to the newcomers, who were
advancing toward her, "what do you want?"
The driver related, in a few words, the affair of the cabriolet, and
asked whether they would house him at the farm until the next day--
himself and the gentleman he was conducting to Vivey.
The girl raised the lantern above her head in order to scrutinize the two
strangers; doubtless their appearance and air of respectability reassured
her, for she replied, in a milder voice:
"Well, that does not depend on me--I am not the mistress here, but come
in, all the same--Mamselle Reine can not be long now, and she will answer
As soon as the driver had fastened his horse to one of the outside posts
of the wicket-gate, the servant brought them into a large, square hall,
in which a lamp, covered with a shade, gave a moderate light. She placed
two chairs before the fire, which she drew together with the poker.
"Warm yourselves while you are waiting," continued she, "it will not be
long, and you must excuse me--I must go and milk the cows--that is work
which will not wait."
She reached the courtyard, and shut the gate after her, while Julien
turned to examine the room into which they had been shown, and felt a
certain serenity creep over him at the clean and cheerful aspect of this
homely but comfortable interior. The room served as both kitchen and
dining-room. On the right of the flaring chimney, one of the cast-iron
arrangements called a cooking-stove was gently humming; the saucepans,
resting on the bars, exhaled various appetizing odors. In the centre,
the long, massive table of solid beech was already spread with its coarse
linen cloth, and the service was laid. White muslin curtains fell in
front of the large windows, on the sills of which potted chrysanthemums
spread their white, brown, and red blossoms.
Round the walls a shining battery of boilers, kettles, basins, and copper
plates were hung in symmetrical order. On the dresser, near the clock,
was a complete service of old Aprey china, in bright and varied colors,
and not far from the chimney, which was ornamented with a crucifix of
yellow copper, was a set of shelves, attached to the wall, containing
three rows of books, in gray linen binding. Julien, approaching, read,
not without surprise, some of the titles: Paul and Virginia, La
Fontaine's Fables, Gessner's Idylls, Don Quixote, and noticed several odd
volumes of the Picturesque Magazine.
Hanging from the whitened ceiling were clusters of nuts, twisted hemp,
strings of yellow maize, and chaplets of golden pippins tied with straw,
all harmonizing in the dim light, and adding increased fulness to the
picture of thrift and abundance.
"It's jolly here!" said the driver, smacking his lips, "and the smell
which comes from that oven makes one hungry. I wish Mamselle Reine would
Just as he said this, a mysterious falsetto voice, which seemed to come
from behind the copper basins, repeated, in an acrid voice: "Reine!
"What in the world is that?" exclaimed the driver, puzzled.
Both looked toward the beams; at the same moment there was a rustling of
wings, a light hop, and a black-and-white object flitted by, resting,
finally, on one of the shelves hanging from the joists.
"Ha, ha!" said the driver, laughing, "it is only a magpie!"
He had hardly said it, when, like a plaintive echo, another voice, a
human voice this time, childish and wavering, proceeding from a dark
corner, faltered: "Rei-eine--Rei-eine!"
"Hark!" murmured Julien," some one answered."
His companion seized the lamp, and advanced toward the portion of the
room left in shadow. Suddenly he stopped short, and stammered some vague
Julien, who followed him, then perceived, with alarm, in a sort of niche
formed by two screens, entirely covered with illustrations from Epinal,
a strange-looking being stretched in an easy-chair, which was covered
with pillows and almost hidden under various woolen draperies. He was
dressed in a long coat of coarse, pale-blue cloth. He was bareheaded,
and his long, white hair formed a weird frame for a face of bloodless hue
and meagre proportions, from which two vacant eyes stared fixedly. He
sat immovable and his arms hung limply over his knees.
"Monsieur," said Julien, bowing ceremoniously, "we are quite ashamed at
having disturbed you. Your servant forgot to inform us of your presence,
and we were waiting for Mademoiselle Reine, without thinking that--"
The old man continued immovable, not seeming to understand; he kept
repeating, in the same voice, like a frightened child:
The two bewildered travellers gazed at this sepulchral-looking personage,
then at each other interrogatively, and began to feel very uncomfortable.
The magpie, perched upon the hanging shelf, suddenly flapped his wings,
and repeated, in his turn, in falsetto:
"Reine, queen of the woods!"
"Here I am, papa, don't get uneasy!" said a clear, musical voice behind
The door had been suddenly opened, and Reine Vincart had entered. She
wore on her head a white cape or hood, and held in front of her an
enormous bouquet of glistening leaves, which seemed to have been gathered
as specimens of all the wild fruit-trees of the forest: the brown beam-
berries, the laburnums, and wild cherry, with their red, transparent
fruit, the bluish mulberry, the orange-clustered mountain-ash. All this
forest vegetation, mingling its black or purple tints with the dark,
moist leaves, brought out the whiteness of the young girl's complexion,
her limpid eyes, and her brown curls escaping from her hood.
Julien de Buxieres and his companion had turned at the sound of Reine's
voice. As soon as she perceived them, she went briskly toward them,
"What are you doing here? Don't you see that you are frightening him?"
Julien, humbled and mortified, murmured an excuse, and got confused in
trying to relate the incident of the carriage. She interrupted him
"The carriage, oh, yes--La Guitiote spoke to me about it. Well, your
carriage will be attended to! Go and sit down by the fire, gentlemen;
we will talk about it presently."
She had taken the light from the driver, and placed it on an adjacent
table with her plants. In the twinkling of an eye, she removed her hood,
unfastened her shawl, and then knelt down in front of the sick man, after
kissing him tenderly on the forehead. From the corner where Julien had
seated himself, he could hear her soothing voice. Its caressing tones
contrasted pleasantly with the harsh accent of a few minutes before.
"You were longing for me, papa," said she, "but you see, I could not
leave before all the sacks of potatoes had been laid in the wagon.
Now everything has been brought in, and we can sleep in peace. I thought
of you on the way, and I have brought you a fine bouquet of wild fruits.
We shall enjoy looking them over tomorrow, by daylight. Now, this is the
time that you are to drink your bouillon like a good papa, and then as
soon as we have had our supper Guite and I will put you to bed nice and
warm, and I will sing you a song to send you to sleep."
She rose, took from the sideboard a bowl which she filled from a saucepan
simmering on the stove, and then, without taking any notice of her
visitors, she returned to the invalid. Slowly and with delicate care she
made him swallow the soup by spoonfuls. Julien, notwithstanding the
feeling of ill-humor caused by the untoward happenings of the evening,
could not help admiring the almost maternal tenderness with which the
young girl proceeded in this slow and difficult operation. When the bowl
was empty she returned to the stove, and at last bethought herself of her
"Excuse me, Monsieur, but I had to attend to my father first. If I
understood quite aright, you were going to Vivey."
"Yes, Mademoiselle, I had hoped to sleep there tonight."
"You have probably come," continued she, "on business connected with the
chateau. Is not the heir of Monsieur Odouart expected very shortly?"
"I am that heir," replied Julien, coloring.
"You are Monsieur de Buxieres?" exclaimed Reine, in astonishment. Then,
embarrassed at having shown her surprise too openly, she checked herself,
colored in her turn, and finally gave a rapid glance at her interlocutor.
She never should have imagined this slender young man, so melancholy in
aspect, to be the new proprietor--he was so unlike the late Odouart de
"Pardon me, Monsieur," continued she, "you must have thought my first
welcome somewhat unceremonious, but my first thought was for my father.
He is a great invalid, as you may have noticed, and for the first moment
I feared that he had been startled by strange faces."
"It is I, Mademoiselle," replied Julien, with embarrassment, "it is I who
ought to ask pardon for having caused all this disturbance. But I do not
intend to trouble you any longer. If you will kindly furnish us with a
guide who will direct us to the road to Vivey, we will depart to-night
and sleep at the chateau."
"No, indeed," protested Reine, very cordially. "You are my guests, and I
shall not allow you to leave us in that manner. Besides, you would
probably find the gates closed down there, for I do not think they
expected you so soon."
During this interview, the servant who had received the travellers had
returned with her milk-pail; behind her, the other farm-hands, men and
women, arranged themselves silently round the table.
"Guitiote," said Reine, "lay two more places at the table. The horse
belonging to these gentlemen has been taken care of, has he not?"
"Yes, Mamselle, he is in the stable," replied one of the grooms.
"Good! Bernard, to-morrow you will take Fleuriot with you, and go in
search of their carriage which has been swamped in the Planche-au-Vacher.
That is settled. Now, Monsieur de Buxieres, will you proceed to table--
and your coachman also? Upon my word, I do not know whether our supper
will be to your liking. I can only offer you a plate of soup, a chine of
pork, and cheese made in the country; but you must be hungry, and when
one has a good appetite, one is not hard to please."
Every one had been seated at the table; the servants at the lower end,
and Reine Vincart, near the fireplace, between M. de Buxieres and the
driver. La Guite helped the cabbage-soup all around; soon nothing was
heard but the clinking of spoons and smacking of lips. Julien, scarcely
recovered from his bewilderment, watched furtively the pretty, robust
young girl presiding at the supper, and keeping, at the same time, a
watchful eye over all the details of service. He thought her strange;
she upset all his ideas. His own imagination and his theories pictured a
woman, and more especially a young girl, as a submissive, modest, shadowy
creature, with downcast look, only raising her eyes to consult her
husband or her mother as to what is allowable and what is forbidden.
Now, Reine did not fulfil any of the requirements of this ideal. She
seemed to be hardly twenty-two years old, and she acted with the
initiative genius, the frankness and the decision of a man, retaining all
the while the tenderness and easy grace of a woman. Although it was
evident that she was accustomed to govern and command, there was nothing
in her look, gesture, or voice which betrayed any assumption of
masculinity. She remained a young girl while in the very act of playing
the virile part of head of the house. But what astonished Julien quite
as much was that she seemed to have received a degree of education
superior to that of people of her condition, and he wondered at the
amount of will-power by which a nature highly cultivated, relatively
speaking, could conform to the unrefined, rough surroundings in which she
While Julien was immersed in these reflections, and continued eating with
an abstracted air, Reine Vincart was rapidly examining the reserved,
almost ungainly, young man, who did not dare address any conversation to
her, and who was equally stiff and constrained with those sitting near
him. She made a mental comparison of him with Claudet, the bold
huntsman, alert, resolute, full of dash and spirit, and a feeling of
charitable compassion arose in her heart at the thought of the reception
which the Sejournant family would give to this new master, so timid and
so little acquainted with the ways and dispositions of country folk.
Julien did not impress her as being able to defend himself against the
ill-will of persons who would consider him an intruder, and would
certainly endeavor to make him pay dearly for the inheritance of which
he had deprived them.
"You do not take your wine, Monsieur de Buxieres!" said she, noticing
that her guest's glass was still full.
"I am not much of a wine-drinker," replied he, "and besides, I never take
wine by itself--I should be obliged if you would have some water
Reine smiled, and passed him the water-bottle.
"Indeed?" she said, "in that case, you have not fallen among congenial
spirits, for in these mountains they like good dinners, and have a
special weakness for Burgundy. You follow the chase, at any rate?"
"No, Mademoiselle, I do not know how to handle a gun!"
"I suppose it is not your intention to settle in Vivey?"
"Why not?" replied he; "on the contrary, I intend to inhabit the
chateau, and establish myself there definitely."
"What!" exclaimed Reine, laughing, "you neither drink nor hunt, and you
intend to live in our woods! Why, my poor Monsieur, you will die of
"I shall have my books for companions; besides, solitude never has had
any terrors for me."
The young girl shook her head incredulously.
"I shouldn't wonder," she continued, "if you do not even play at cards."
"Never; games of chance are repugnant to me."
"Take notice that I do not blame you," she replied, gayly, "but I must
give you one piece of advice: don't speak in these neighborhoods of your
dislike of hunting, cards, or good wine; our country folk would feel pity
for you, and that would destroy your prestige."
Julien gazed at her with astonishment. She turned away to give
directions to La Guite about the beds for her guests--then the supper
went on silently. As soon as they had swallowed their last mouthful,
the menservants repaired to their dormitory, situated in the buildings of
the ancient forge. Reine Vincart rose also.
"This is the time when I put my father to bed--I am obliged to take leave
of you, Monsieur de Buxieres. Guitiote will conduct you to your room.
For you, driver, I have had a bed made in a small room next to the
furnace; you will be nice and warm. Good-night, gentlemen, sleep well!"
She turned away, and went to rejoin the paralytic sufferer, who, as she
approached, manifested his joy by a succession of inarticulate sounds.
The room to which Guitiote conducted Julien was on the first floor, and
had a cheerful, hospitable appearance. The walls were whitewashed; the
chairs, table, and bed were of polished oak; a good fire of logs crackled
in the fireplace, and between the opening of the white window-curtains
could be seen a slender silver crescent of moon gliding among the
flitting clouds. The young man went at once to his bed; but
notwithstanding the fatigues of the day, sleep did not come to him.
Through the partition he could hear the clear, sonorous voice of Reine
singing her father to sleep with one of the popular ballads of the
country, and while turning and twisting in the homespun linen sheets,
scented with orrisroot, he could not help thinking of this young girl, so
original in her ways, whose grace, energy, and frankness fascinated and
shocked him at the same time. At last he dozed off; and when the morning
stir awoke him, the sun was up and struggling through the foggy
The sky had cleared during the night; there had been a frost, and the
meadows were powdered white. The leaves, just nipped with the frost,
were dropping softly to the ground, and formed little green heaps at the
base of the trees. Julien dressed himself hurriedly, and descended to
the courtyard, where the first thing he saw was the cabriolet, which had
been brought in the early morning and which one of the farm-boys was in
the act of sousing with water in the hope of freeing the hood and wheels
from the thick mud which covered them. When he entered the diningroom,
brightened by the rosy rays of the morning sun, he found Reine Vincart
there before him. She was dressed in a yellow striped woolen skirt, and
a jacket of white flannel carelessly belted at the waist. Her dark
chestnut hair, parted down the middle and twisted into a loose knot
behind, lay in ripples round her smooth, open forehead.
"Good-morning, Monsieur de Buxieres," said she, in her cordial tone,
"did you sleep well? Yes? I am glad. You find me busy attending to
household matters. My father is still in bed, and I am taking advantage
of the fact to arrange his little corner. The doctor said he must not be
put near the fire, so I have made a place for him here; he enjoys it
immensely, and I arranged this nook to protect him from draughts."
And she showed him how she had put the big easy chair, padded with
cushions, in the bright sunlight which streamed through the window, and
shielded by the screens, one on each side. She noticed that Julien was
examining, with some curiosity, the uncouth pictures from Epinal, with
which the screens were covered.
"This," she explained, "is my own invention. My father is a little weak
in the head, but he understands a good many things, although he can not
talk about them. He used to get weary of sitting still all day in his
chair, so I lined the screens with these pictures in order that he might
have something to amuse him. He is as pleased as a child with the bright
colors, and I explain the subjects to him. I don't tell him much at a
time, for fear of fatiguing him. We have got now to Pyramus and Thisbe,
so that we shall have plenty to occupy us before we reach the end."
She caught a pitying look from her guest which seemed to say: "The poor
man may not last long enough to reach the end." Doubtless she had the
same fear, for her dark eyes suddenly glistened, she sighed, and remained
for some moments without speaking.
In the mean time the magpie, which Julien had seen the day before, was
hopping around its mistress, like a familiar spirit; it even had the
audacity to peck at her hair and then fly away, repeating, in its cracked
"Reine, queen of the woods!"
"Why 'queen of the woods?"' asked Julien, coloring.
"Ah!" replied the young girl, "it is a nickname which the people around
here give me, because I am so fond of the trees. I spend all the time I
can in our woods, as much as I can spare from the work of the farm.
"Margot has often heard my father call me by that name; she remembers it,
and is always repeating it."
"Do you like living in this wild country?"
"Very much. I was born here, and I like it."
"But you have not always lived here?"
"No; my mother, who had lived in the city, placed me at school in her own
country, in Dijon. I received there the education of a young lady,
though there is not much to show for it now. I stayed there six years;
then my mother died, my father fell ill, and I came home."
"And did you not suffer from so sudden a change?"
"Not at all. You see I am really by nature a country girl. I wish you
might not have more trouble than I had, in getting accustomed to your new
way of living, in the chateau at Vivey. But," she added, going toward
the fire, "I think they are harnessing the horse, and you must be hungry.
Your driver has already primed himself with some toast and white wine.
I will not offer you the same kind of breakfast. I will get you some
coffee and cream."
He bent his head in acquiescence, and she brought him the coffee herself,
helping him to milk and toasted bread. He drank rapidly the contents of
the cup, nibbled at a slice of toast, and then, turning to his hostess,
said, with a certain degree of embarrassment:
"There is nothing left for me to do, Mademoiselle, but to express my most
heartfelt thanks for your kind hospitality. It is a good omen for me to
meet with such cordiality on my arrival in an unknown part of the
country. May I ask you one more question?" he continued, looking
anxiously at her; "why do you think it will be so difficult for me to get
accustomed to the life they lead here?"
"Why?" replied she, shaking her head, "because, to speak frankly,
Monsieur, you do not give me the idea of having much feeling for the
country. You are not familiar with our ways; you will not be able to
speak to the people in their language, and they will not understand
yours--you will be, in their eyes, 'the city Monsieur,' whom they will
mistrust and will try to circumvent. I should like to find that I am
mistaken, but, at present, I have the idea that you will encounter
difficulties down there of which you do not seem to have any
She was intercepted by the entrance of the driver, who was becoming
impatient. The horse was in harness, and they were only waiting for M.
de Buxieres. Julien rose, and after awkwardly placing a piece of silver
in the hand of La Guite, took leave of Reine Vincart, who accompanied him
to the threshold.
"Thanks, once more, Mademoiselle," murmured he, "and au revoir, since we
shall be neighbors."
He held out his hand timidly and she took it with frank cordiality.
Julien got into the cabriolet beside the driver, who began at once to
belabor vigorously his mulish animal.
"Good journey and good luck, Monsieur," cried Reine after him, and the
vehicle sped joltingly away.
CONSCIENCE HIGHER THAN THE LAW
On leaving La Thuiliere, the driver took the straight line toward the
pasturelands of the Planche-au-Vacher.
According to the directions they had received from the people of the
farm, they then followed a rocky road, which entailed considerable
jolting for the travellers, but which led them without other difficulty
to the bottom of a woody dell, where they were able to ford the stream.
As soon as they had, with difficulty, ascended the opposite hill, the
silvery fog that had surrounded them began to dissipate, and they
distinguished a road close by, which led a winding course through the
"Ah! now I see my way!" said the driver, "we have only to go straight
on, and in twenty minutes we shall be at Vivey. This devil of a fog cuts
into one's skin like a bunch of needles. With your permission, Monsieur
de Buxieres, and if it will not annoy you, I will light my pipe to warm
Now that he knew he was conducting the proprietor of the chateau, he
repented having treated him so cavalierly the day before; he became
obsequious, and endeavored to gain the good-will of his fare by showing
himself as loquacious as he had before been cross and sulky. But Julien
de Buxieres, too much occupied in observing the details of the country,
or in ruminating over the impressions he had received during the morning,
made but little response to his advances, and soon allowed the
conversation to drop.
The sun's rays had by this time penetrated the misty atmosphere, and the
white frost had changed to diamond drops, which hung tremblingly on the
leafless branches. A gleam of sunshine showed the red tints of the
beech-trees, and the bright golden hue of the poplars, and the forest
burst upon Julien in all the splendor of its autumnal trappings. The
pleasant remembrance of Reine Vincart's hospitality doubtless predisposed
him to enjoy the charm of this sunshiny morning, for he became, perhaps
for the first time in his life, suddenly alive to the beauty of this
woodland scenery. By degrees, toward the left, the brushwood became less
dense, and several gray buildings appeared scattered over the glistening
prairie. Soon after appeared a park, surrounded by low, crumbling walls,
then a group of smoky roofs, and finally, surmounting a massive clump of
ash-trees, two round towers with tops shaped like extinguishers. The
coachman pointed them out to the young man with the end of his whip.
"There is Vivey," said he, "and here is your property, Monsieur de
Julien started, and, notwithstanding his alienation from worldly things,
he could not repress a feeling of satisfaction when he reflected that, by
legal right, he was about to become master of the woods, the fields, and
the old homestead of which the many-pointed slate roofs gleamed in the
distance. This satisfaction was mingled with intense curiosity, but it
was also somewhat shadowed by a dim perspective of the technical details
incumbent on his taking possession. No doubt he should be obliged, in
the beginning, to make himself personally recognized, to show the workmen
and servants of the chateau that the new owner was equal to the
situation. Now, Julien was not, by nature, a man of action, and the
delicately expressed fears of Reine Vincart made him uneasy in his mind.
When the carriage, suddenly turning a corner, stopped in front of the
gate of entrance, and he beheld, through the cast-iron railing, the long
avenue of ash-trees, the grass-grown courtyard, the silent facade, his
heart began to beat more rapidly, and his natural timidity again took
possession of him.
"The gate is closed, and they don't seem to be expecting you," remarked
They dismounted. Noticing that the side door was half open, the coachman
gave a vigorous pull on the chain attached to the bell. At the sound of
the rusty clamor, a furious barking was heard from an adjoining outhouse,
but no one inside the house seemed to take notice of the ringing.
"Come, let us get in all the same," said the coachman, giving another
pull, and stealing a furtive look at his companion's disconcerted
He fastened his horse to the iron fence, and both passed through the side
gate to the avenue, the dogs all the while continuing their uproar. Just
as they reached the courtyard, the door opened and Manette Sejournant
appeared on the doorstep.
"Good-morning, gentlemen," said she, in a slow, drawling voice, "is it
you who are making all this noise?"
The sight of this tall, burly woman, whose glance betokened both audacity
and cunning, increased still more Julien's embarrassment. He advanced
awkwardly, raised his hat and replied, almost as if to excuse himself:
"I beg pardon, Madame--I am the cousin and heir of the late Claude de
Buxieres. I have come to install myself in the chateau, and I had sent
word of my intention to Monsieur Arbillot, the notary--I am surprised he
did not notify you."
"Ah! it is you, Monsieur Julien de Buxieres!" exclaimed Madame
Sejournant, scrutinizing the newcomer with a mingling of curiosity
and scornful surprise which completed the young man's discomfiture.
"Monsieur Arbillot was here yesterday--he waited for you all day,
and as you did not come, he went away at nightfall."
"I presume you were in my cousin's service?" said Julien, amiably, being
desirous from the beginning to evince charitable consideration with
regard to his relative's domestic affairs.
"Yes, Monsieur," replied Manette, with dignified sadness; "I attended
poor Monsieur de Buxieres twenty-six years, and can truly say I served
him with devotion! But now I am only staying here in charge of the
seals--I and my son Claudet. We have decided to leave as soon as the
notary does not want us any more."
"I regret to hear it, Madame," replied Julien, who was beginning to feel
uncomfortable. "There must be other servants around--I should be obliged
if you would have our carriage brought into the yard. And then, if you
will kindly show us the way, we will go into the house, for I am desirous
to feel myself at home--and my driver would not object to some
"I will send the cowboy to open the gate," replied the housekeeper. "If
you will walk this way, gentlemen, I will take you into the only room
that can be used just now, on account of the seals on the property."
Passing in front of them, she directed her steps toward the kitchen, and
made way for them to pass into the smoky room, where a small servant was
making coffee over a clear charcoal fire. As the travellers entered, the
manly form of Claudet Sejournant was outlined against the bright light of
the window at his back.
"My son," said Manette, with a meaning side look, especially for his
benefit, "here is Monsieur de Buxieres, come to take possession of his
The grand chasserot attempted a silent salutation, and then the young men
took a rapid survey of each other.
Julien de Buxieres was startled by the unexpected presence of so handsome
a young fellow, robust, intelligent, and full of energy, whose large
brown eyes gazed at him with a kind of surprised and pitying compassion
which was very hard for Julien to bear. He turned uneasily away, making
a lame excuse of ordering some wine for his coachman; and while Manette,
with an air of martyrdom, brought a glass and a half-empty bottle,
Claudet continued his surprised and inquiring examination of the legal
heir of Claude de Buxieres.
The pale, slight youth, buttoned up in a close-fitting, long frock-coat,
which gave him the look of a priest, looked so unlike any of the Buxieres
of the elder branch that it seemed quite excusable to hesitate about the
relationship. Claudet maliciously took advantage of the fact, and began
to interrogate his would-be deposer by pretending to doubt his identity.
"Are you certainly Monsieur Julien de Buxieres?" asked he, surveying him
suspiciously from head to foot.
"Do you take me for an impostor?" exclaimed the young man.
"I do not say that," returned Claudet, crossly, "but after all, you do
not carry your name written on your face, and, by Jove! as guardian of
the seals, I have some responsibility--I want information, that is all!"
Angry at having to submit to these inquiries in the presence of the
coachman who had brought him from Langres, Julien completely lost control
of his temper.
"Do you require me to show my papers?" he inquired, in a haughty,
ironical tone of voice.
Manette, foreseeing a disturbance, hastened to interpose, in her
hypocritical, honeyed voice:
"Leave off, Claudet, let Monsieur alone. He would not be here, would he,
if he hadn't a right? As to asking him to prove his right, that is not
our business--it belongs to the justice and the notary. You had better,
my son, go over to Auberive, and ask the gentlemen to come to-morrow to
raise the seals."
At this moment, the cowboy, who had been sent to open the gate, entered
"The carriage is in the courtyard," said he, "and Monsieur's boxes are in
the hall. Where shall I put them, Madame Sejoumant?"
Julien's eyes wandered from Manette to the young boy, with an expression
of intense annoyance and fatigue.
"Why, truly," said Manette, "as a matter of fact, there is only the room
of our deceased master, where the seals have been released. Would
Monsieur object to taking up his quarters there?"
"I am willing," muttered Julien; "have my luggage carried up there, and
give orders for it to be made ready immediately."
The housekeeper gave a sign, and the boy and the servant disappeared.
"Madame," resumed Julien, turning toward Manette, "if I understand you
right, I can no longer reckon upon your services to take care of my
household. Could you send me some one to supply your place?"
"Oh! as to that matter," replied the housekeeper, still in her wheedling
voice, "a day or two more or less! I am not so very particular, and I
don't mind attending to the house as long as I remain. At what hour
would you wish to dine, Monsieur?"
"At the hour most convenient for you," responded Julien, quickly, anxious
to conciliate her; "you will serve my meals in my room."
As the driver had now finished his bottle, they left the room together.
As soon as the door was closed, Manette and her son exchanged sarcastic
"He a Buxieres!" growled Claudet. "He looks like a student priest in
"He is an 'ecrigneule'," returned Manette, shrugging her shoulders.
'Ecrigneule' is a word of the Langrois dialect, signifying a puny,
sickly, effeminate being. In the mouth of Madame Sejournant, this
picturesque expression acquired a significant amount of scornful energy.
"And to think," sighed Claudet, twisting his hands angrily in his bushy
hair, "that such a slip of a fellow is going to be master here!"
"Master?" repeated Manette, shaking her head, "we'll see about that!
He does not know anything at all, and has not what is necessary for
ordering about. In spite of his fighting-cock airs, he hasn't two
farthings' worth of spunk--it would be easy enough to lead him by the
nose. Do you see, Claudet, if we were to manage properly, instead of
throwing the handle after the blade, we should be able before two weeks
are, over to have rain or sunshine here, just as we pleased. We must
only have a little more policy."
"What do you mean by policy, mother?"
"I mean--letting things drag quietly on--not breaking all the windows at
the first stroke. The lad is as dazed as a young bird that has fallen
from its nest. What we have to do is to help him to get control of
himself, and accustom him not to do without us. As soon as we have made
ourselves necessary to him, he will be at our feet."
"Would you wish me to become the servant of the man who has cheated me
out of my inheritance?" protested Claudet, indignantly.
"His servant--no, indeed! but his companion--why not? And it would be
so easy if you would only make up your mind to it, Claude. I tell you
again, he is not ill-natured-he looks like a man who is up to his neck in
devotion. When he once feels we are necessary to his comfort, and that
some reliable person, like the curate, for example, were to whisper to
him that you are the son of Claudet de Buxieres, he would have scruples,
and at last, half on his own account, and half for the sake of religion,
he would begin to treat you like a relative."
"No;" said Claudet, firmly, "these tricky ways do not suit me. Monsieur
Arbillot proposed yesterday that I should do what you advise. He even
offered to inform this gentleman of my relationship to Claude de
Buxieres. I refused, and forbade the notary to open his mouth on the
subject. What! should I play the part of a craven hound before this
younger son whom my father detested, and beg for a portion of the
inheritance? Thank you! I prefer to take myself out of the way at
"You prefer to have your mother beg her bread at strangers' doors!"
replied Manette, bitterly, shedding tears of rage.
"I have already told you, mother, that when one has a good pair of arms,
and the inclination to use them, one has no need to beg one's bread.
Enough said! I am going to Auberive to notify the justice and the
While Claudet was striding across the woods, the boy carried the luggage
of the newly arrived traveller into the chamber on the first floor, and
Zelie, the small servant, put the sheets on the bed, dusted the room, and
lighted the fire. In a few minutes, Julien was alone in his new
domicile, and began to open his boxes and valises. The chimney, which
had not been used since the preceding winter, smoked unpleasantly, and
the damp logs only blackened instead of burning. The boxes lay wide
open, and the room of the deceased Claude de Buxieres had the
uncomfortable aspect of a place long uninhabited. Julien had seated
himself in one of the large armchairs, covered in Utrecht velvet, and
endeavored to rekindle the dying fire. He felt at loose ends and
discouraged, and had no longer the courage to arrange his clothes in the
open wardrobes, which stood open, emitting a strong odor of decaying
The slight breath of joyous and renewed life which had animated him on
leaving the Vincart farm, had suddenly evaporated. His anticipations
collapsed in the face of these bristling realities, among which he felt
his isolation more deeply than ever before. He recalled the cordiality
of Reine's reception, and how she had spoken of the difficulties he
should have to encounter. How little he had thought that her forebodings
would come true the very same day! The recollection of the cheerful and
hospitable interior of La Thuiliere contrasted painfully with his cold,
bare Vivey mansion, tenanted solely by hostile domestics. Who were these
people--this Manette Sejournant with her treacherous smile, and this
fellow Claudet, who had, at the very first, subjected him to such
offensive questioning? Why did they seem so ill-disposed toward him? He
felt as if he were completely enveloped in an atmosphere of contradiction
and ill-will. He foresaw what an amount of quiet but steady opposition
he should have to encounter from these subordinates, and he became
alarmed at the prospect of having to display so much energy in order to
establish his authority in the chateau. He, who had pictured to himself
a calm and delightful solitude, wherein he could give himself up entirely
to his studious and contemplative tastes. What a contrast to the
Rousing himself at last, he proceeded mechanically to arrange his
belongings in the room, formerly inhabited by his cousin de Buxieres.
He had hardly finished when Zelie made her appearance with some plates
and a tablecloth, and began to lay the covers. Seeing the fire had gone
out, the little servant uttered an exclamation of dismay.
"Oh!" cried she, "so the wood didn't flare!"
He gazed at her as if she were talking Hebrew, and it was at least a
minute before he understood that by "flare" she meant kindle.
"Well, well!" she continued, "I'll go and fetch some splinters."
She returned in a few moments, with a basket filled with the large
splinters thrown off by the woodchoppers in straightening the logs: she
piled these up on the andirons, and then, applying her mouth vigorously
to a long hollow tin tube, open at both ends, which she carried with her,
soon succeeded in starting a steady flame.
"Look there!" said she, in a tone implying a certain degree of contempt
for the "city Monsieur" who did not even know how to keep up a fire,
"isn't that clever? Now I must lay the cloth."
While she went about her task, arranging the plates, the water-bottle,
and glasses symmetrically around the table, Julien tried to engage her in
conversation. But the little maiden, either because she had been
cautioned beforehand, or because she did not very well comprehend M. de
Buxieres's somewhat literary style of French, would answer only in
monosyllables, or else speak only in patois, so that Julien had to give
up the idea of getting any information out of her. Certainly,
Mademoiselle Vincart was right in saying that he did not know the
language of these people.
He ate without appetite the breakfast on which Manette had employed all
her culinary art, barely tasted the roast partridge, and to Zelie's great
astonishment, mingled the old Burgundy wine with a large quantity of
"You will inform Madame Sejournant," said he to the girl, as he folded
his napkin, "that I am not a great eater, and that one dish will suffice
me in future."
He left her to clear away, and went out to look at the domain which he
was to call his own. It did not take him very long. The twenty or
thirty white houses, which constituted the village and lay sleeping in
the wooded hollow like eggs in a nest, formed a curious circular line
around the chateau. In a few minutes he had gone the whole length of it,
and the few people he met gave him only a passing glance, in which
curiosity seemed to have more share than any hospitable feeling.
He entered the narrow church under the patronage of Our Lady; the gray
light which entered through the moldy shutters showed a few scattered
benches of oak, and the painted wooden altar. He knelt down and
endeavored to collect his thoughts, but the rude surroundings of this
rustic sanctuary did not tend to comfort his troubled spirit, and he
became conscious of a sudden withering of all religious fervor.
He turned and left the place, taking a path that led through the forest.
It did not interest him more than the village; the woods spoke no
language which his heart could understand; he could not distinguish an
ash from an oak, and all the different plants were included by him under
one general term of "weeds"; but he needed bodily fatigue and violent
physical agitation to dissipate the overpowering feeling of
discouragement that weighed down his spirits. He walked for several
hours without seeing anything, nearly got lost, and did not reach home
till after dark. Once more the little servant appeared with his meal,
which he ate in an abstracted manner, without even asking whether he were
eating veal or mutton; then he went immediately to bed, and fell into an
uneasy sleep. And thus ended his first day.
The next morning, about nine o'clock, he was informed that the justice of
the peace, the notary, and the clerk, were waiting for him below. He
hastened down and found the three functionaries busy conferring in a low
voice with Manette and Claudet. The conversation ceased suddenly upon
his arrival, and during the embarrassing silence that followed, all eyes
were directed toward Julien, who saluted the company and delivered to the
justice the documents proving his identity, begging him to proceed
without delay to the legal breaking of the seals. They accordingly began
operations, and went through all the house without interruption,
accompanied by Claudet, who stood stiff and sullen behind the justice,
taking advantage of every little opportunity to testify his dislike and
ill-feeling toward the legal heir of Claude de Buxieres. Toward eleven
o'clock, the proceedings came to an end, the papers were signed, and
Julien was regularly invested with his rights. But the tiresome
formalities were not yet over: he had to invite the three officials to
breakfast. This event, however, had been foreseen by Manette. Since
early morning she had been busy preparing a bountiful repast, and had
even called Julien de Buxieres aside in order to instruct him in the
hospitable duties which his position and the customs of society imposed
As they entered the dining-room, young de Buxieres noticed that covers
were laid for five people; he began to wonder who the fifth guest could
be, when an accidental remark of the clerk showed him that the unknown
was no other than Claudet. The fact was that Manette could not bear the
idea that her son, who had always sat at table with the late Claude de
Buxieres, should be consigned to the kitchen in presence of these
distinguished visitors from Auberive, and had deliberately laid a place
for him at the master's table, hoping that the latter would not dare put
any public affront upon Claudet. She was not mistaken in her idea.
Julien, anxious to show a conciliatory spirit, and making an effort to
quell his own repugnance, approached the 'grand chasserot', who was
standing at one side by himself, and invited him to take his seat at the
"Thank you," replied Claudet, coldly, "I have breakfasted." So saying,
he turned his back on M. de Buxieres, who returned to the hall, vexed
The repast was abundant, and seemed of interminable length to Julien.
The three guests, whose appetites had been sharpened by their morning
exercise, did honor to Madame Sejournant's cooking; they took their wine
without water, and began gradually to thaw under the influence of their
host's good Burgundy; evincing their increased liveliness by the exchange
of heavy country witticisms, or relating noisy and interminable stories
of their hunting adventures. Their conversation was very trying to
Julien's nerves. Nevertheless, he endeavored to fulfil his duties as
master of the house, throwing in a word now and then, so as to appear
interested in their gossip, but he ate hardly a mouthful. His features
had a pinched expression, and every now and then he caught himself trying
to smother a yawn. His companions at the table could not understand a
young man of twenty-eight years who drank nothing but water, scorned all
enjoyment in eating, and only laughed forcedly under compulsion. At
last, disturbed by the continued taciturnity of their host, they rose
from the table sooner than their wont, and prepared to take leave.
Before their departure, Arbillot the notary, passed his arm familiarly
through that of Julien and led him into an adjoining room, which served
as billiard-hall and library.
"Monsieur de Buxieres," said he, pointing to a pile of law papers heaped
upon the green cloth of the table; "see what I have prepared for you; you
will find there all the titles and papers relating to the real estate,
pictures, current notes, and various matters of your inheritance. You
had better keep them under lock and key, and study them at your leisure.
You will find them very interesting. I need hardly say," he added, "that
I am at your service for any necessary advice or explanation. But, in
respect to any minor details, you can apply to Claudet Sejournant, who is
very intelligent in such matters, and a good man of business. And, by
the way, Monsieur de Buxieres, will you allow me to commend the young man
especially to your kindly consideration."
But Julien interrupted him with an imperious gesture, and replied,
"If you please, Maitre Arbillot, we will not enter upon that subject.
I have already tried my best to show a kindly feeling toward Monsieur
Claudet, but I have been only here twenty-four hours, and he has already
found opportunities for affronting me twice. I beg you not to speak of
The notary, who was just lighting his pipe, stopped suddenly. Moved by a
feeling of good-fellowship for the 'grand chasserot', who had, however,