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A Woodland Queen, entire by Andre Theuriet

Part 2 out of 4

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enjoined him to silence, he had it on the tip of his tongue to inform
Julien of the facts concerning the parentage of Claudet de Buxieres; but,
however much he wished to render Claudet a service, he was still more
desirous of respecting the feelings of his client; so, between the
hostility of one party and the backwardness of the other, he chose the
wise part of inaction.

"That is sufficient, Monsieur de Buxieres," replied he, "I will not press
the matter."

Thereupon he saluted his client, and went to rejoin the justice and the
clerk, and the three comrades wended their way to Auberive through the
woods, discussing the incidents of the breakfast, and the peculiarities
of the new proprietor.

"This de Buxieres," said M. Destourbet, "does not at all resemble his
deceased cousin Claude!"

"I can quite understand why the two families kept apart from each other,"
observed the notary, jocosely.

"Poor 'chasserot'!" whined Seurrot the clerk, whom the wine had rendered
tender-hearted; "he will not have a penny. I pity him with all my
heart!"

As soon as the notary had departed, Julien came to the determination of
transforming into a study the hall where he had been conferring with
Maitre Arbillot, which was dignified with the title of "library,"
although it contained at the most but a few hundred odd volumes. The
hall was spacious, and lighted by two large windows opening on the
garden; the floor was of oak, and there was a great fireplace where the
largest logs used in a country in which the wood costs nothing could find
ample room to blaze and crackle. It took the young man several days to
make the necessary changes, and during that time he enjoyed a respite
from the petty annoyances worked by the steady hostility of Manette
Sejournant and her son. To the great indignation of the inhabitants of
the chateau, he packed off the massive billiard-table, on which Claude de
Buxieres had so often played in company with his chosen friends, to the
garret; after which the village carpenter was instructed to make the
bookshelves ready for the reception of Julien's own books, which were
soon to arrive by express. When he had got through with these labors,
he turned his attention to the documents placed in his hands by the
notary, endeavoring to find out by himself the nature of his revenues.
He thought this would be a very easy matter, but he soon found that it
was encumbered with inextricable difficulties.

A large part of the products of the domain consisted of lumber ready for
sale. Claude de Buxieres had been in the habit of superintending, either
personally or through his intermediate agents, one half of the annual
amount of lumber felled for market, the sale of which was arranged with
the neighboring forge owners by mutual agreement; the other half was
disposed of by notarial act. This latter arrangement was clear and
comprehensible; the price of sale and the amounts falling due were both
clearly indicated in the deed. But it was quite different with the
bargains made by the owner himself, which were often credited by notes
payable at sight, mostly worded in confused terms, unintelligible to any
but the original writer. Julien became completely bewildered among these
various documents, the explanations in which were harder to understand
than conundrums. Although greatly averse to following the notary's
advice as to seeking Claudet's assistance, he found himself compelled to
do so, but was met by such laconic and surly answers that he concluded it
would be more dignified on his part to dispense with the services of one
who was so badly disposed toward him. He therefore resolved to have
recourse to the debtors themselves, whose names he found, after much
difficulty, in the books. These consisted mostly of peasants of the
neighborhood, who came to the chateau at his summons; but as soon as they
came into Julien's presence, they discovered, with that cautious
perception which is an instinct with rustic minds, that before them stood
a man completely ignorant of the customs of the country, and very poorly
informed on Claude de Buxieres's affairs. They made no scruple of
mystifying this "city gentleman," by means of ambiguous statements and
cunning reticence. The young man could get no enlightenment from them;
all he clearly understood was, that they were making fun of him, and that
he was not able to cope with these country bumpkins, whose shrewdness
would have done honor to the most experienced lawyer.

After a few days he became discouraged and disgusted. He could see
nothing but trouble ahead; he seemed surrounded by either open enemies or
people inclined to take advantage of him. It was plain that all the
population of the village looked upon him as an intruder, a troublesome
master, a stranger whom they would like to intimidate and send about his
business. Manette Sejournant, who was always talking about going, still
remained in the chateau, and was evidently exerting her influence to keep
her son also with her. The fawning duplicity of this woman was
unbearable to Julien; he had not the energy necessary either to subdue
her, or to send her away, and she appeared every morning before him with
a string of hypocritical grievances, and opposing his orders with steady,
irritating inertia. It seemed as if she were endeavoring to render his
life at Vivey hateful to him, so that he would be compelled finally to
beat a retreat.

One morning in November he had reached such a state of moral fatigue and
depression that, as he sat listlessly before the library fire, the
question arose in his mind whether it would not be better to rent the
chateau, place the property in the hands of a manager, and take himself
and his belongings back to Nancy, to his little room in the Rue
Stanislaus, where, at any rate, he could read, meditate, or make plans
for the future without being every moment tormented by miserable, petty
annoyances. His temper was becoming soured, his nerves were unstrung,
and his mind was so disturbed that he fancied he had none but enemies
around him. A cloudy melancholy seemed to invade his brain; he was
seized with a sudden fear that he was about to have an attack of
persecution-phobia, and began to feel his pulse and interrogate his
sensations to see whether he could detect any of the premonitory
symptoms.

While he was immersing himself in this unwholesome atmosphere of
hypochondria, the sound of a door opening and shutting made him start;
he turned quickly around, saw a young woman approaching and smiling at
him, and at last recognized Reine Vincart.

She wore the crimped linen cap and the monk's hood in use among the
peasants of the richer class. Her wavy, brown hair, simply parted in
front, fell in rebellious curls from under the border of her cap, of
which the only decoration was a bow of black ribbon; the end floating
gracefully over her shoulders. The sharp November air had imparted a
delicate rose tint to her pale complexion, and additional vivacity to her
luminous, dark eyes.

"Good-morning, Monsieur de Buxieres," said she, in her clear, pleasantly
modulated voice; "I think you may remember me? It is not so long since
we saw each other at the farm."

"Mademoiselle Vincart!" exclaimed Julien. "Why, certainly I remember
you!"

He drew a chair toward the fire, and offered it to her. This charming
apparition of his cordial hostess at La Thuiliere evoked the one pleasant
remembrance in his mind since his arrival in Vivey. It shot, like a ray
of sunlight, across the heavy fog of despair which had enveloped the new
master of the chateau. It was, therefore, with real sincerity that he
repeated:

"I both know you and am delighted to see you. I ought to have called
upon you before now, to thank you for your kind hospitality, but I have
had so much to do, and," his face clouding over, "so many annoyances!"

"Really?" said she, softly, gazing pityingly at him; "you must not take
offence, but, it is easy to see you have been worried! Your features are
drawn and you have an anxious look. Is it that the air of Vivey does not
agree with you?"

"It is not the air," replied Julien, in an irritated tone, "it is the
people who do not agree with me. And, indeed," sighed he, "I do not
think I agree any better with them. But I need not annoy other persons
merely because I am annoyed myself! Mademoiselle Vincart, what can I do
to be of service to you? Have you anything to ask me?"

"Not at all!" exclaimed Reine, with a frank smile; "I not only have
nothing to ask from you, but I have brought something for you--six
hundred francs for wood we had bought from the late Monsieur de Buxieres,
during the sale of the Ronces forest." She drew from under her cloak a
little bag of gray linen, containing gold, five-franc pieces and bank-
notes. "Will you be good enough to verify the amount?" continued she,
emptying the bag upon the table; "I think it is correct. You must have
somewhere a memorandum of the transaction in writing."

Julien began to look through the papers, but he got bewildered with the
number of rough notes jotted down on various slips of paper, until at
last, in an impatient fit of vexation, he flung the whole bundle away,
scattering the loose sheets all over the floor.

"Who can find anything in such a chaos?" he exclaimed. "I can't see my
way through it, and when I try to get information from the people here,
they seem to have an understanding among themselves to leave me under a
wrong impression, or even to make my uncertainties still greater! Ah!
Mademoiselle Reine, you were right! I do not understand the ways of your
country folk. Every now and then I am tempted to leave everything just
as it stands, and get away from this village, where the people mistrust
me and treat me like an enemy!"

Reine gazed at him with a look of compassionate surprise. Stooping
quietly down, she picked up the scattered papers, and while putting them
in order on the table, she happened to see the one relating to her own
business.

"Here, Monsieur de Buxieres," said she, "here is the very note you were
looking for. You seem to be somewhat impatient. Our country folk are
not so bad as you think; only they do not yield easily to new influences.
The beginning is always difficult for them. I know something about it
myself. When I returned from Dijon to take charge of the affairs at La
Thuiliere, I had no more experience than you, Monsieur, and I had great
difficulty in accomplishing anything. Where should we be now, if I had
suffered myself to be discouraged, like you, at the very outset?"

Julien raised his eyes toward the speaker, coloring with embarrassment to
hear himself lectured by this young peasant girl, whose ideas, however,
had much more virility than his own.

"You reason like a man, Mademoiselle Vincart," remarked he, admiringly,
"pray, how old are you?"

"Twenty-two years; and you, Monsieur de Buxieres?"

"I shall soon be twenty-eight."

"There is not much difference between us; still, you are the older, and
what I have done, you can do also."

"Oh!" sighed he, "you have a love of action. I have a love of repose--
I do not like to act."

"So much the worse!" replied Reine, very decidedly. "A man ought to
show more energy. Come now, Monsieur de Buxieres, will you allow me to
speak frankly to you? If you wish people to come to you, you must first
get out of yourself and go to seek them; if you expect your neighbor to
show confidence and good-will toward you, you must be open and good-
natured toward him."

"That plan has not yet succeeded with two persons around here," replied
Julien, shaking his head.

"Which persons?"

"The Sejournants, mother and son. I tried to be pleasant with Claudet,
and received from both only rebuffs and insolence."

"Oh! as to Claudet," resumed she, impulsively, "he is excusable. You
can not expect he will be very gracious in his reception of the person
who has supplanted him--"

"Supplanted?--I do not understand."

"What!" exclaimed Reine, "have they not told you anything, then?
That is wrong. Well, at the risk of meddling in what does not concern
me, I think it is better to put you in possession of the facts: Your
deceased cousin never was married, but he had a child all the same--
Claudet is his son, and he intended that he should be his heir also.
Every one around the country knows that, for Monsieur de Buxieres made no
secret of it "

"Claudet, the son of Claude de Buxieres?" ejaculated Julien, with
amazement.

"Yes; and if the deceased had had the time to make his will, you would
not be here now. But," added the young girl, coloring, "don't tell
Claudet I have spoken to you about it. I have been talking here too
long. Monsieur de Buxieres, will you have the goodness to reckon up your
money and give me a receipt?"

She had risen, and Julien gazed wonderingly at the pretty country girl
who had shown herself so sensible, so resolute, and so sincere. He bent
his head, collected the money on the table, scribbled hastily a receipt
and handed it to Reine.

"Thank you, Mademoiselle," said he, "you are the first person who has
been frank with me, and I am grateful to you for it."

"Au revoir, Monsieur de Buxieres."

She had already gained the door while he made an awkward attempt to
follow her. She turned toward him with a smile on her lips and in her
eyes.

"Come, take courage!" she added, and then vanished.

Julien went back dreamily, and sat down again before the hearth. The
revelation made by Reine Vincart had completely astounded him. Such was
his happy inexperience of life, that he had not for a moment suspected
the real position of Manette and her son at the chateau. And it was this
young girl who had opened his eyes to the fact! He experienced a certain
degree of humiliation in having had so little perception. Now that
Reine's explanation enabled him to view the matter from a different
standpoint, he found Claudet's attitude toward him both intelligible and
excusable. In fact, the lad was acting in accordance with a very
legitimate feeling of mingled pride and anger. After all, he really was
Claude de Buxieres's son--a natural son, certainly, but one who had been
implicitly acknowledged both in private and in public by his father. If
the latter had had time to draw up the incomplete will which had been
found, he would, to all appearances, have made Claudet his heir.
Therefore, the fortune of which Julien had become possessed, he owed to
some unexpected occurrence, a mere chance. Public opinion throughout the
entire village tacitly recognized and accepted the 'grand chasserot' as
son of the deceased, and if this recognition had been made legally, he
would have been rightful owner of half the property.

"Now that I have been made acquainted with this position of affairs,
what is my duty?" asked Julien of himself. Devout in feeling and in
practice, he was also very scrupulous in all matters of conscience, and
the reply was not long in coming: that both religion and uprightness
commanded him to indemnify Claudet for the wrong caused to him by the
carelessness of Claude de Buxieres. Reine had simply told him the facts
without attempting to give him any advice, but it was evident that,
according to her loyal and energetic way of thinking, there was injustice
to be repaired. Julien was conscious that by acting to that effect he
would certainly gain the esteem and approbation of his amiable hostess of
La Thuiliere, and he felt a secret satisfaction in the idea. He rose
suddenly, and, leaving the library, went to the kitchen, where Manette
Sejournant was busy preparing the breakfast.

"Where is your son?" said he. "I wish to speak with him."

Manette looked inquiringly at him.

"My son," she replied, "is in the garden, fixing up a box to take away
his little belongings in--he doesn't want to stay any longer at other
peoples' expense. And, by the way, Monsieur de Buxieres, have the
goodness to provide yourself with a servant to take my place; we shall
not finish the week here."

Without making any reply, Julien went out by the door, leading to the
garden, and discovered Claudet really occupied in putting together the
sides of a packing-case. Although the latter saw the heir of the de
Buxieres family approaching, he continued driving in the nails without
appearing to notice his presence.

"Monsieur Claudet," said Julien, "can you spare me a few minutes? I
should like to talk to you."

Claudet raised his head, hesitated for a moment, then, throwing away his
hammer and putting on his loose jacket, muttered:

"I am at your service."

They left the outhouse together, and entered an avenue of leafy lime-
trees, which skirted the banks of the stream.

"Monsieur," said Julien, stopping in the middle of the walk, "excuse me
if I venture on a delicate subject--but I must do so--now that I know
all."

"Beg pardon--what do you know?" demanded Claudet, reddening.

"I know that you are the son of my cousin de Buxieres," replied the young
man with considerable emotion.

The 'grand chasserot' knitted his brows.

"Ah!" said he, bitterly, "my mother's tongue has been too long, or else
that blind magpie of a notary has been gossiping, notwithstanding my
instructions."

"No; neither your mother nor Maitre Arbillot has been speaking to me.
What I know I have learned from a stranger, and I know also that you
would be master here if Claude de Buxieres had taken the precaution to
write out his will. His negligence on that point has been a wrong to
you, which it is my duty to repair."

"What's that!" exclaimed Claudet. Then he muttered between his teeth:
"You owe me nothing. The law is on your side."

"I am not in the habit of consulting the law when it is a question of
duty. Besides, Monsieur de Buxieres treated you openly as his son; if he
had done what he ought, made a legal acknowledgment, you would have the
right, even in default of a will, to one half of his patrimony. This
half I come to offer to you, and beg of you to accept it."

Claudet was astonished, and opened his great, fierce brown eyes with
amazement. The proposal seemed so incredible that he thought he must be
dreaming, and mistrusted what he heard.

"What! You offer me half the inheritance?" faltered he.

"Yes; and I am ready to give you a certified deed of relinquishment as
soon as you wish--"

Claudet interrupted him with a violent shrug of the shoulders.

"I make but one condition," pursued Julien.

"What is it?" asked Claudet, still on the defensive.

"That you will continue to live here, with me, as in your father's time."

Claudet was nearly overcome by this last suggestion, but a lingering
feeling of doubt and a kind of innate pride prevented him from giving
way, and arrested the expression of gratitude upon his lips.

"What you propose is very generous, Monsieur," said he, "but you have not
thought much about it, and later you might regret it. If I were to stay
here, I should be a restraint upon you--"

"On the contrary, you would be rendering me a service, for I feel myself
incapable of managing the property," replied Julien, earnestly. Then,
becoming more confidential as his conscience was relieved of its burden,
he continued, pleasantly: "You see I am not vain about admitting the
fact. Come, cousin, don't be more proud than I am. Accept freely what I
offer with hearty goodwill!"

As he concluded these words, he felt his hand seized, and affectionately
pressed in a strong, robust grip.

"You are a true de Buxieres!" exclaimed Claudet, choking with emotion.
"I accept--thanks--but, what have I to give you in exchange?--nothing but
my friendship; but that will be as firm as my grip, and will last all my
life."

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Amusements they offered were either wearisome or repugnant
Dreaded the monotonous regularity of conjugal life
Fawning duplicity
Had not been spoiled by Fortune's gifts
Hypocritical grievances
I am not in the habit of consulting the law
It does not mend matters to give way like that
Opposing his orders with steady, irritating inertia
There are some men who never have had any childhood
To make a will is to put one foot into the grave
Toast and white wine (for breakfast)
Vague hope came over him that all would come right

A WOODLAND QUEEN
('Reine des Bois')

By ANDRE THEURIET

BOOK 2.

CHAPTER IV

THE DAWN OF LOVE

Winter had come, and with it all the inclement accompaniments usual in
this bleak and bitter mountainous country: icy rains, which, mingled with
sleet, washed away whirlpools of withered leaves that the swollen streams
tossed noisily into the ravines; sharp, cutting winds from the north,
bleak frosts hardening the earth and vitrifying the cascades; abundant
falls of snow, lasting sometimes an entire week. The roads had become
impassable. A thick, white crust covered alike the pasture-lands, the
stony levels, and the wooded slopes, where the branches creaked under the
weight of their snowy burdens. A profound silence encircled the village,
which seemed buried under the successive layers of snowdrifts. Only here
and there, occasionally, did a thin line of blue smoke, rising from one
of the white roofs, give evidence of any latent life among the
inhabitants. The Chateau de Buxieres stood in the midst of a vast carpet
of snow on which the sabots of the villagers had outlined a narrow path,
leading from the outer steps to the iron gate. Inside, fires blazed on
all the hearths, which, however, did not modify the frigid atmosphere of
the rudely-built upper rooms.

Julien de Buxieres was freezing, both physically and morally, in his
abode. His generous conduct toward Claudet had, in truth, gained him the
affection of the 'grand chasserot', made Manette as gentle as a lamb,
and caused a revulsion of feeling in his favor throughout the village;
but, although his material surroundings had become more congenial, he
still felt around him the chill of intellectual solitude. The days also
seemed longer since Claudet had taken upon himself the management of all
details. Julien found that re-reading his favorite books was not
sufficient occupation for the weary hours that dragged slowly along
between the rising and the setting of the sun. The gossipings of
Manette, the hunting stories of Claudet had no interest for young
de Buxieres, and the acquaintances he endeavored to make outside left
only a depressing feeling of ennui and disenchantment.

His first visit had been made to the cure of Vivey, where he hoped to
meet with some intellectual resources, and a tone of conversation more in
harmony with his tastes. In this expectation, also, he had been
disappointed. The Abbe Pernot was an amiable quinquagenarian, and a
'bon vivant', whose mind inclined more naturally toward the duties of
daily life than toward meditation or contemplative studies. The ideal
did not worry him in the least; and when he had said his mass, read his
breviary, confessed the devout sinners and visited the sick, he gave the
rest of his time to profane but respectable amusements. He was of robust
temperament, with a tendency to corpulency, which he fought against by
taking considerable exercise; his face was round and good-natured, his
calm gray eyes reflected the tranquillity and uprightness of his soul,
and his genial nature was shown in his full smiling mouth, his thick,
wavy, gray hair, and his quick and cordial gestures.

When Julien was ushered into the presbytery, he found the cure installed
in a small room, which he used for working in, and which was littered up
with articles bearing a very distant connection to his pious calling:
nets for catching larks, hoops and other nets for fishing, stuffed birds,
and a collection of coleopterx. At the other end of the room stood a
dusty bookcase, containing about a hundred volumes, which seemed to have
been seldom consulted. The Abbe, sitting on a low chair in the chimney-
corner, his cassock raised to his knees, was busy melting glue in an old
earthen pot.

"Aha, good-day! Monsieur de Buxieres," said he in his rich, jovial
voice, "you have caught me in an occupation not very canonical; but what
of it? As Saint James says: 'The bow can not be always bent.' I am
preparing some lime-twigs, which I shall place in the Bois des Ronces as
soon as the snow is melted. I am not only a fisher of souls, but I
endeavor also to catch birds in my net, not so much for the purpose of
varying my diet, as of enriching my collection!"

"You have a great deal of spare time on your hands, then?" inquired
Julien, with some surprise.

"Well, yes--yes--quite a good deal. The parish is not very extensive, as
you have doubtless noticed; my parishioners are in the best possible
health, thank God! and they live to be very old. I have barely two or
three marriages in a year, and as many burials, so that, you see, one
must fill up one's time somehow to escape the sin of idleness. Every man
must have a hobby. Mine is ornithology; and yours, Monsieur
de Buxieres?"

Julien was tempted to reply: "Mine, for the moment, is ennui." He was
just in the mood to unburden himself to the cure as to the mental thirst
that was drying up his faculties, but a certain instinct warned him that
the Abbe was not a man to comprehend the subtle complexities of his
psychological condition, so he contented himself with replying, briefly:

"I read a great deal. I have, over there in the chateau, a pretty fair
collection of historical and religious works, and they are at your
service, Monsieur le Cure!"

"A thousand thanks," replied the Abbe Pernot, making a slight grimace;
"I am not much of a reader, and my little stock is sufficient for my
needs. You remember what is said in the Imitation: 'Si scires totam
Bibliam exterius et omnium philosophorum dicta, quid totum prodesset sine
caritate Dei et gratia?' Besides, it gives me a headache to read too
steadily. I require exercise in the open air. Do you hunt or fish,
Monsieur de Buxieres?"

"Neither the one nor the other."

"So much the worse for you. You will find the time hang very heavily on
your hands in this country, where there are so few sources of amusement.
But never fear! You can not be always reading, and when the fine weather
comes you will yield to the temptation; all the more likely because you
have Claudet Sejournant with you. A jolly fellow he is; there is not one
like him for killing a snipe or sticking a trout! Our trout here on the
Aubette, Monsieur de Buxieres, are excellent--of the salmon kind, and
very meaty."

Then came an interval of silence. The Abbe began to suspect that this
conversation was not one of profound interest to his visitor, and he
resumed:

"Speaking of Claudet, Monsieur, allow me to offer you my congratulations.
You have acted in a most Christian-like and equitable manner, in making
amends for the inconceivable negligence of the deceased Claude de
Buxieres. Then, on the other hand, Claudet deserves what you have done
for him. He is a good fellow, a little too quick-tempered and violent
perhaps, but he has a heart of gold. Ah! it would have been no use for
the deceased to deny it--the blood of de Buxieres runs in his veins!"

"If public rumor is to be believed," said Julien timidly, rising to go,
"my deceased cousin Claude was very much addicted to profane pleasures."

"Yes, yes, indeed!" sighed the Abbe, "he was a devil incarnate--but what
a magnificent man! What a wonderful huntsman! Notwithstanding his
backslidings, there was a great deal of good in him, and I am fain to
believe that God has taken him under His protecting mercy."

Julien took his leave, and returned to the chateau, very much
discouraged. "This priest," thought he to himself, "is a man of
expediency. He allows himself certain indulgences which are to be
regretted, and his mind is becoming clogged by continual association with
carnal-minded men. His thoughts are too much given to earthly things,
and I have no more faith in him than in the rest of them."

So he shut himself up again in his solitude, with one more illusion
destroyed. He asked himself, and his heart became heavy at the thought,
whether, in course of time, he also would undergo this stultification,
this moral depression, which ends by lowering us to the level of the low-
minded people among whom we live.

Among all the persons he had met since his arrival at Vivey, only one had
impressed him as being sympathetic and attractive: Reine Vincart--and
even her energy was directed toward matters that Julien looked upon as
secondary. And besides, Reine was a woman, and he was afraid of women.
He believed with Ecclesiastes the preacher, that "they are more bitter
than death . . . and whoso pleaseth God shall escape from them."
He had therefore no other refuge but in his books or his own sullen
reflections, and, consequently, his old enemy, hypochondria, again made
him its prey.

Toward the beginning of January, the snow in the valley had somewhat
melted, and a light frost made access to the woods possible. As the
hunting season seldom extended beyond the first days of February, the
huntsmen were all eager to take advantage of the few remaining weeks to
enjoy their favorite pastime. Every day the forest resounded with the
shouts of beaters-up and the barking of the hounds. From Auberive,
Praslay and Grancey, rendezvous were made in the woods of Charbonniere or
Maigrefontaine; nothing was thought of but the exploits of certain
marksmen, the number of pieces bagged, and the joyous outdoor breakfasts
which preceded each occasion. One evening, as Julien, more moody than
usual, stood yawning wearily and leaning on the corner of the stove,
Claudet noticed him, and was touched with pity for this young fellow,
who had so little idea how to employ his time, his youth, or his money.
He felt impelled, as a conscientious duty, to draw him out of his
unwholesome state of mind, and initiate him into the pleasures of country
life.

"You do not enjoy yourself with us, Monsieur Julien," said he, kindly;
"I can't bear to see you so downhearted. You are ruining yourself with
poring all day long over your books, and the worst of it is, they do not
take the frowns out of your face. Take my word for it, you must change
your way of living, or you will be ill. Come, now, if you will trust in
me, I will undertake to cure your ennui before a week is over."

"And what is your remedy, Claudet?" demanded Julien, with a forced
smile.

"A very simple one: just let your books go, since they do not succeed in
interesting you, and live the life that every one else leads. The
de Buxieres, your ancestors, followed the same plan, and had no fault
to find with it. You are in a wolf country--well, you must howl with
the wolves!"

"My dear fellow," replied Julien, shaking his head, "one can not remake
one's self. The wolves themselves would discover that I howled out of
tune, and would send me back to my books."

"Nonsense! try, at any rate. You can not imagine what pleasure there is
in coursing through the woods, and suddenly, at a sharp turn, catching
sight of a deer in the distance, then galloping to the spot where he must
pass, and holding him with the end of your gun! You have no idea what an
appetite one gets with such exercise, nor how jolly it is to breakfast
afterward, all together, seated round some favorite old beech-tree.
Enjoy your youth while you have it. Time enough to stay in your chimney-
corner and spit in the ashes when rheumatism has got hold of you.
Perhaps you will say you never have followed the hounds, and do not know
how to handle a gun?"

"That is the exact truth."

"Possibly, but appetite comes with eating, and when once you have tasted
of the pleasures of the chase, you will want to imitate your companions.
Now, see here: we have organized a party at Charbonniere to-morrow,
for the gentlemen of Auberive; there will be some people you know--
Destourbet, justice of the Peace, the clerk Seurrot, Maitre Arbillot and
the tax-collector, Boucheseiche. Hutinet went over the ground yesterday,
and has appointed the meeting for ten o'clock at the Belle-Etoile. Come
with us; there will be good eating and merriment, and also some fine
shooting, I pledge you my word!"

Julien refused at first, but Claudet insisted, and showed him the
necessity of getting more intimately acquainted with the notables of
Auberive--people with whom he would be continually coming in contact as
representing the administration of justice and various affairs in the
canton. He urged so well that young de Buxieres ended by giving his
consent. Manette received immediate instructions to prepare eatables for
Hutinet, the keeper, to take at early dawn to the Belle-Etoile, and it
was decided that the company should start at precisely eight o'clock.

The next morning, at the hour indicated, the 'grand chasserot' was
already in the courtyard with his two hounds, Charbonneau and Montagnard,
who were leaping and barking sonorously around him. Julien, reminded of
his promise by the unusual early uproar, dressed himself with a bad
grace, and went down to join Claudet, who was bristling with impatience.
They started. There had been a sharp frost during the night; some hail
had fallen, and the roads were thinly coated with a white dust, called by
the country people, in their picturesque language, "a sugarfrost" of
snow. A thick fog hung over the forest, so that they had to guess their
way; but Claudet knew every turn and every sidepath, and thus he and his
companion arrived by the most direct line at the rendezvous. They soon
began to hear the barking of the dogs, to which Montagnard and
Charbonneau replied with emulative alacrity, and finally, through the
mist, they distinguished the group of huntsmen from Auberive.

The Belle-Etoile was a circular spot, surrounded by ancient ash-trees,
and formed the central point for six diverging alleys which stretched out
indefinitely into the forest. The monks of Auberive, at the epoch when
they were the lords and owners of the land, had made this place a
rendezvous for huntsmen, and had provided a table and some stone benches,
which, thirty years ago, were still in existence. The enclosure,
which had been chosen for the breakfast on the present occasion, was
irradiated by a huge log-fire; a very respectable display of bottles,
bread, and various eatables covered the stone table, and the dogs,
attached by couples to posts, pulled at their leashes and barked in
chorus, while their masters, grouped around the fire, warmed their
benumbed fingers over the flames, and tapped their heels while waiting
for the last-comers.

At sight of Julien and Claudet, there was a joyous hurrah of welcome.
Justice Destourbet exchanged a ceremonious hand-shake with the new
proprietor of the chateau. The scant costume and tight gaiters of the
huntsman's attire, displayed more than ever the height and slimness of
the country magistrate. By his side, the registrar Seurrot, his legs
encased in blue linen spatterdashes, his back bent, his hands crossed
comfortably over his "corporation," sat roasting himself at the flame,
while grumbling when the wind blew the smoke in his eyes. Arbillot, the
notary, as agile and restless as a lizard, kept going from one to the
other with an air of mysterious importance. He came up to Claudet, drew
him aside, and showed him a little figure in a case.

"Look here!" whispered he, "we shall have some fun; as I passed by the
Abbe Pernot's this morning, I stole one of his stuffed squirrels."

He stooped down, and with an air of great mystery poured into his ear the
rest of the communication, at the close of which his small black eyes
twinkled maliciously, and he passed the end of his tongue over his frozen
moustache.

"Come with me," continued he; "it will be a good joke on the collector."

He drew Claudet and Hutinet toward one of the trenches, where the fog hid
them from sight.

During this colloquy, Boucheseiche the collector, against whom they were
thus plotting, had seized upon Julien de Buxieres, and was putting him
through a course of hunting lore. Justin Boucheseiche was a man of
remarkable ugliness; big, bony, freckled, with red hair, hairy hands, and
a loud, rough voice.

He wore a perfectly new hunting costume, cap and gaiters of leather, a
havana-colored waistcoat, and had a complete assortment of pockets of all
sizes for the cartridges. He pretended to be a great authority on all
matters relating to the chase, although he was, in fact, the worst shot
in the whole canton; and when he had the good luck to meet with a
newcomer, he launched forth on the recital of his imaginary prowess,
without any pity for the hearer. So that, having once got hold of
Julien, he kept by his side when they sat down to breakfast.

All these country huntsmen were blessed with healthy appetites. They ate
heartily, and drank in the same fashion, especially the collector
Boucheseiche, who justified his name by pouring out numerous bumpers of
white wine. During the first quarter of an hour nothing could be heard
but the noise of jaws masticating, glasses and forks clinking; but when
the savory pastries, the cold game and the hams had disappeared, and had
been replaced by goblets of hot Burgundy and boiling coffee, then tongues
became loosened. Julien, to his infinite disgust, was forced again to be
present at a conversation similar to the one at the time of the raising
of the seals, the coarseness of which had so astonished and shocked him.
After the anecdotes of the chase were exhausted, the guests began to
relate their experiences among the fair sex, losing nothing of the point
from the effect of the numerous empty bottles around. All the scandalous
cases in the courts of justice, all the coarse jokes and adventures of
the district, were related over again. Each tried to surpass his
neighbor. To hear these men of position boast of their gallantries with
all classes, one would have thought that the entire canton underwent
periodical changes and became one vast Saturnalia, where rustic satyrs
courted their favorite nymphs. But nothing came of it, after all; once
the feast was digested, and they had returned to the conjugal abode, all
these terrible gay Lotharios became once more chaste and worthy fathers
of families. Nevertheless, Julien, who was unaccustomed to such bibulous
festivals and such unbridled license of language, took it all literally,
and reproached himself more than ever with having yielded to Claudet's
entreaties.

At last the table was deserted, and the marking of the limits of the hunt
began.

As they were following the course of the trenches, the notary stopped
suddenly at the foot of an ash-tree, and took the arm of the collector,
who was gently humming out of tune.

"Hush! Collector," he whispered, "do you see that fellow up there, on
the fork of the tree? He seems to be jeering at us."

At the same time he pointed out a squirrel, sitting perched upon a
branch, about halfway up the tree. The animal's tail stood up behind
like a plume, his ears were upright, and he had his front paws in his
mouth, as if cracking a nut.

"A squirrel!" cried the impetuous Boucheseiche, immediately falling into
the snare; "let no one touch him, gentlemen--I will settle his account
for him."

The rest of the hunters had drawn back in a circle, and were exchanging
sly glances. The collector loaded his gun, shouldered it, covered the
squirrel, and then let go.

"Hit!" exclaimed he, triumphantly, as soon as the smoke had dispersed.

In fact, the animal had slid down the branch, head first, but, somehow,
he did not fall to the ground.

"He has caught hold of something," said the notary, facetiously.

"Ah! you will hold on, you rascal, will you?" shouted Boucheseiche,
beside himself with excitement, and the next moment he sent a second
shot, which sent the hair flying in all directions.

The creature remained in the same position. Then there was a general
roar.

"He is quite obstinate!" remarked the clerk, slyly.

Boucheseiche, astonished, looked attentively at the tree, then at the
laughing crowd, and could not understand the situation.

"If I were in your place, Collector," said Claudet, in an insinuating
manner, "I should climb up there, to see--"

But Justin Boucheseiche was not a climber. He called a youngster, who
followed the hunt as beater-up.

"I will give you ten sous," said he; "to mount that tree and bring me my
squirrel!"

The young imp did not need to be told twice. In the twinkling of an eye
he threw his arms around the tree, and reached the fork. When there, he
uttered an exclamation.

"Well?" cried the collector; impatiently, "throw him down!"

"I can't, Monsieur," replied the boy, "the squirrel is fastened by a
wire." Then the laughter burst forth more boisterously than before.

"A wire, you young rascal! Are you making fun of me?" shouted
Boucheseiche, "come down this moment!"

"Here he is, Monsieur," replied the lad, throwing himself down with the
squirrel which he tossed at the collector's feet.

When Boucheseiche verified the fact that the squirrel was a stuffed
specimen, he gave a resounding oath.

"In the name of ---! who is the miscreant that has perpetrated this
joke?"

No one could reply for laughing. Then ironical cheers burst forth from
all sides.

"Brave Boucheseiche! That's a kind of game one doesn't often get
hold of !"

"We never shall see any more of that kind!"

"Let us carry Boucheseiche in triumph!"

And so they went on, marching around the tree. Arbillot seized a slip of
ivy and crowned Boucheseiche, while all the others clapped their hands
and capered in front of the collector, who, at last, being a good fellow
at heart, joined in the laugh at his own expense.

Julien de Buxieres alone could not share the general hilarity. The
uproar caused by this simple joke did not even chase the frown from his
brow. He was provoked at not being able to bring himself within the
diapason of this somewhat vulgar gayety: he was aware that his melancholy
countenance, his black clothes, his want of sympathy jarred unpleasantly
on the other jovial guests. He did not intend any longer to play the
part of a killjoy. Without saying anything to Claudet, therefore, he
waited until the huntsmen had scattered in the brushwood, and then,
diving into a trench, in an opposite direction, he gave them all the
slip, and turned in the direction of Planche-au-Vacher.

As he walked slowly, treading under foot the dry frosty leaves, he
reflected how the monotonous crackling of this foliage, once so full of
life, now withered and rendered brittle by the frost, seemed to represent
his own deterioration of feeling. It was a sad and suitable
accompaniment of his own gloomy thoughts.

He was deeply mortified at the sorry figure he had presented at the
breakfast-table. He acknowledged sorrowfully to himself that, at twenty-
eight years of age, he was less young and less really alive than all
these country squires, although all, except Claudet, had passed their
fortieth year. Having missed his season of childhood, was he also doomed
to have no youth? Others found delight in the most ordinary amusements,
why, to him, did life seem so insipid and colorless?

Why was he so unfortunately constituted that all human joys lost their
sweetness as soon as he opened his heart to them? Nothing made any
powerful impression on him; everything that happened seemed to be a
perpetual reiteration, a song sung for the hundredth time, a story a
hundred times related.

He was like a new vase, cracked before it had served its use, and he felt
thoroughly ashamed of the weakness and infirmity of his inner self. Thus
pondering, he traversed much ground, hardly knowing where he was going.
The fog, which now filled the air and which almost hid the trenches with
its thin bluish veil, made it impossible to discover his bearings. At
last he reached the border of some pastureland, which he crossed, and
then he perceived, not many steps away, some buildings with tiled roofs,
which had something familiar to him in their aspect. After he had gone a
few feet farther he recognized the court and facade of La Thuiliere; and,
as he looked over the outer wall, a sight altogether novel and unexpected
presented itself.

Standing in the centre of the courtyard, her outline showing in dark
relief against the light "sugar-frosting," stood Reine Vincart, her back
turned to Julien. She held up a corner of her apron with one hand, and
with the other took out handfuls of grain, which she scattered among the
birds fluttering around her. At each moment the little band was
augmented by a new arrival. All these little creatures were of species
which do not emigrate, but pass the winter in the shelter of the wooded
dells. There were blackbirds with yellow bills, who advanced boldly over
the snow up to the very feet of the distributing fairy; robin redbreasts,
nearly as tame, hopping gayly over the stones, bobbing their heads and
puffing out their red breasts; and tomtits, prudently watching awhile
from the tops of neighboring trees, then suddenly taking flight, and with
quick, sharp cries, seizing the grain on the wing. It was charming to
see all these little hungry creatures career around Reine's head, with a
joyous fluttering of wings. When the supply was exhausted, the young
girl shook her apron, turned around, and recognized Julien.

"Were you there, Monsieur de Buxieres?" she exclaimed; "come inside the
courtyard! Don't be afraid; they have finished their meal. Those are my
boarders," she added, pointing to the birds, which, one by one, were
taking their flight across the fields. "Ever since the first fall of
snow, I have been distributing grain to them once a day. I think they
must tell one another under the trees there, for every day their number
increases. But I don't complain of that. Just think, these are not
birds of passage; they do not leave us at the first cold blast, to find a
warmer climate; the least we can do is to recompense them by feeding them
when the weather is too severe! Several know me already, and are very
tame. There is a blackbird in particular, and a blue tomtit, that are
both extremely saucy!"

These remarks were of a nature to please Julien. They went straight to
the heart of the young mystic; they recalled to his mind St. Francis of
Assisi, preaching to the fish and conversing with the birds, and he felt
an increase of sympathy for this singular young girl. He would have
liked to find a pretext for remaining longer with her, but his natural
timidity in the presence of women paralyzed his tongue, and, already,
fearing he should be thought intruding, he had raised his hat to take
leave, when Reine addressed him:

"I do not ask you to come into the house, because I am obliged to go to
the sale of the Ronces woods, in order to speak to the men who are
cultivating the little lot that we have bought. I wager, Monsieur de
Buxieres, that you are not yet acquainted with our woods?"

"That is true," he replied, smiling.

"Very well, if you will accompany me, I will show you the canton they are
about to develop. It will not be time lost, for it will be a good thing
for the people who are working for you to know that you are interested in
their labors."

Julien replied that he should be happy to be under her guidance.

"In that case," said Reine, "wait for me here. I shall be back in a
moment."

She reappeared a few minutes later, wearing a white hood with a cape, and
a knitted woolen shawl over her shoulders.

"This way!" said she, showing a path that led across the pasture-lands.

They walked along silently at first. The sky was clear, the wind had
freshened. Suddenly, as if by enchantment, the fog, which had hung over
the forest, became converted into needles of ice. Each tree was powdered
over with frozen snow, and on the hillsides overshadowing the valley the
massive tufts of forest were veiled in a bluish-white vapor.

Never had Julien de Buxieres been so long in tete-a-tete with a young
woman. The extreme solitude, the surrounding silence, rendered this dual
promenade more intimate and also more embarrassing to a young man who was
alarmed at the very thought of a female countenance. His ecclesiastical
education had imbued Julien with very rigorous ideas as to the careful
and reserved behavior which should be maintained between the sexes, and
his intercourse with the world had been too infrequent for the idea to
have been modified in any appreciable degree. It was natural, therefore,
that this walk across the fields in the company of Reine should assume an
exaggerated importance in his eyes. He felt himself troubled and yet
happy in the chance afforded him to become more closely acquainted with
this young girl, toward whom a secret sympathy drew him more and more.
But he did not know how to begin conversation, and the more he cudgelled
his brains to find a way of opening the attack, the more he found himself
at sea. Once more Reine came to his assistance.

"Well, Monsieur de Buxieres," said she, "do matters go more to your
liking now? You have acted most generously toward Claudet, and he ought
to be pleased."

"Has he spoken to you, then?"

"No; not himself, but good news, like bad, flies fast, and all the
villagers are singing your praises."

"I only did a very simple and just thing," replied Julien.

"Precisely, but those are the very things that are the hardest to do.
And according as they are done well or ill, so is the person that does
them judged by others."

"You have thought favorably of me then, Mademoiselle Vincart," he
ventured, with a timid smile.

"Yes; but my opinion is of little importance. You must be pleased with
yourself--that is more essential. I am sure that it must be pleasanter
now for you to live at Vivey?"

"Hm!--more bearable, certainly."

The conversation languished again. As they approached the confines of
the farm they heard distant barking, and then the voices of human beings.
Finally two gunshots broke on the air.

"Ha, ha!" exclaimed Reine, listening, "the Auberive Society is following
the hounds, and Claudet must be one of the party. How is it you were not
with them?"

"Claudet took me there, and I was at the breakfast--but, Mademoiselle,
I confess that that kind of amusement is not very tempting to me. At the
first opportunity I made my escape, and left the party to themselves."

"Well, now, to be frank with you, you were wrong. Those gentlemen will
feel aggrieved, for they are very sensitive. You see, when one has to
live with people, one must yield to their customs, and not pooh-pooh
their amusements."

"You are saying exactly what Claudet said last night."

"Claudet was right."

"What am I to do? The chase has no meaning for me. I can not feel any
interest in the butchery of miserable animals that are afterward sent
back to their quarters."

"I can understand that you do not care for the chase for its own sake;
but the ride in the open air, in the open forest? Our forests are so
beautiful--look there, now! does not that sight appeal to you?"

From the height they had now gained, they could see all over the valley,
illuminated at intervals by the pale rays of the winter sun. Wherever
its light touched the brushwood, the frosty leaves quivered like
diamonds, while a milky cloud enveloped the parts left in shadow. Now
and then, a slight breeze stirred the branches, causing a shower of
sparkling atoms to rise in the air, like miniature rainbows. The entire
forest seemed clothed in the pure, fairy-like robes of a virgin bride.

"Yes, that is beautiful," admitted Julien, hesitatingly; "I do not think
I ever saw anything similar: at any rate, it is you who have caused me to
notice it for the first time. But," continued he, "as the sun rises
higher, all this phantasmagoria will melt and vanish. The beauty of
created things lasts only a moment, and serves as a warning for us not to
set our hearts on things that perish."

Reine gazed at him with astonishment.

"Do you really think so?" exclaimed she: "that is very sad, and I do not
know enough to give an opinion. All I know is, that if God has created
such beautiful things it is in order that we may enjoy them. And that is
the reason why I worship these woods with all my heart. Ah! if you could
only see them in the month of June, when the foliage is at its fulness.
Flowers everywhere--yellow, blue, crimson! Music also everywhere--the
song of birds, the murmuring of waters, and the balmy scents in the air.
Then there are the lime-trees, the wild cherry, and the hedges red with
strawberries--it is intoxicating. And, whatever you may say, Monsieur de
Buxieres, I assure you that the beauty of the forest is not a thing to be
despised. Every season it is renewed: in autumn, when the wild fruits
and tinted leaves contribute their wealth of color; in winter, with its
vast carpets of snow, from which the tall ash springs to such a stately
height-look, now! up there!"

They were in the depths of the forest. Before them were colonnades of
slim, graceful trees, rising in one unbroken line toward the skies, their
slender branches forming a dark network overhead, and their lofty
proportions lessening in the distance, until lost in the solemn gloom
beyond. A religious silence prevailed, broken only by the occasional
chirp of the wren, or the soft pattering of some smaller fourfooted race.

"How beautiful!" exclaimed Reine, with animation; "one might imagine
one's self in a cathedral! Oh! how I love the forest; a feeling of awe
and devotion comes over me, and makes me want to kneel down and pray!"

Julien looked at her with an uneasy kind of admiration. She was walking
slowly now, grave and thoughtful, as if in church. Her white hood had
fallen on her shoulders, and her hair, slightly stirred by the wind,
floated like a dark aureole around her pale face. Her luminous eyes
gleamed between the double fringes of her eyelids, and her mobile
nostrils quivered with suppressed emotion. As she passed along, the
brambles from the wayside, intermixed with ivy, and other hardy plants,
caught on the hem of her dress and formed a verdant train, giving her the
appearance of the high-priestess of some mysterious temple of Nature.
At this moment, she identified herself so perfectly with her nickname,
"queen of the woods," that Julien, already powerfully affected by her
peculiar and striking style of beauty, began to experience a
superstitious dread of her influence. His Catholic scruples, or the
remembrance of certain pious lectures administered in his childhood,
rendered him distrustful, and he reproached himself for the interest he
took in the conversation of this seductive creature. He recalled the
legends of temptations to which the Evil One used to subject the
anchorites of old, by causing to appear before them the attractive but
illusive forms of the heathen deities. He wondered whether he were not
becoming the sport of the same baleful influence; if, like the Lamias and
Dryads of antiquity, this queen of the woods were not some spirit of the
elements, incarnated in human form and sent to him for the purpose of
dragging his soul down to perdition.

In this frame of mind he followed in her footsteps, cautiously, and at a
distance, when she suddenly turned, as if waiting for him to rejoin her.
He then perceived that they had reached the end of the copse, and before
them lay an open space, on which the cut lumber lay in cords, forming
dark heaps on the frosty ground. Here and there were allotments of
chosen trees and poles, among which a thin spiral of smoke indicated the
encampment of the cutters. Reine made straight for them, and immediately
presented the new owner of the chateau to the workmen. They made their
awkward obeisances, scrutinizing him in the mistrustful manner customary
with the peasants of mountainous regions when they meet strangers. The
master workman then turned to Reine, replying to her remarks in a
respectful but familiar tone:

"Make yourself easy, mamselle, we shall do our best and rush things in
order to get through with the work. Besides, if you will come this way
with me, you will see that there is no idling; we are just now going to
fell an oak, and before a quarter of an hour is over it will be lying on
the ground, cut off as neatly as if with a razor."

They drew near the spot where the first strokes of the axe were already
resounding. The giant tree did not seem affected by them, but remained
haughty and immovable. Then the blows redoubled until the trunk began to
tremble from the base to the summit, like a living thing. The steel had
made the bark, the sapwood, and even the core of the tree, fly in
shivers; but the oak had resumed its impassive attitude, and bore
stoically the assaults of the workmen. Looking upward, as it reared its
proud and stately head, one would have affirmed that it never could fall.
Suddenly the woodsmen fell back; there was a moment of solemn and
terrible suspense; then the enormous trunk heaved and plunged down among
the brushwood with an alarming crash of breaking branches. A sound as of
lamentation rumbled through the icy forest, and then all was still.

The men, with unconscious emotion, stood contemplating the monarch oak
lying prostrate on the ground. Reine had turned pale; her dark eyes
glistened with tears.

"Let us go," murmured she to Julien; "this death of a tree affects me as
if it were that of a Christian."

They took leave of the woodsmen, and reentered the forest. Reine kept
silence and her companion was at a loss to resume the conversation; so
they journeyed along together quietly until they reached a border line,
whence they could perceive the smoke from the roofs of Vivey.

"You have only to go straight down the hill to reach your home," said
she, briefly; "au revoir, Monsieur de Buxieres."

Thus they quitted each other, and, looking back, he saw that she
slackened her speed and went dreamily on in the direction of Planche-au-
Vacher.

CHAPTER V

LOVE'S INDISCRETION

In the mountainous region of Langres, spring can hardly be said to appear
before the end of May. Until that time the cold weather holds its own;
the white frosts, and the sharp, sleety April showers, as well as the
sudden windstorms due to the malign influence of the ice-gods, arrest
vegetation, and only a few of the more hardy plants venture to put forth
their trembling shoots until later. But, as June approaches and the
earth becomes warmed through by the sun, a sudden metamorphosis is
effected. Sometimes a single night is sufficient for the floral spring
to burst forth in all its plenitude. The hedges are alive with lilies
and woodruffs; the blue columbines shake their foolscap-like blossoms
along the green side-paths; the milky spikes of the Virgin plant rise
slender and tall among the bizarre and many-colored orchids. Mile after
mile, the forest unwinds its fairy show of changing scenes. Sometimes
one comes upon a spot of perfect verdure; at other times one wanders in
almost complete darkness under the thick interlacing boughs of the
ashtrees, through which occasional gleams of light fall on the dark soil
or on the spreading ferns. Now the wanderer emerges upon an open space
so full of sunshine that the strawberries are already ripening; near them
are stacked the tender young trees, ready for spacing, and the billets of
wood piled up and half covered with thistle and burdock leaves; and a
little farther away, half hidden by tall weeds, teeming with insects,
rises the peaked top of the woodsman's hut. Here one walks beside deep,
grassy trenches, which appear to continue without end, along the forest
level; farther, the wild mint and the centaurea perfume the shady nooks,
the oaks and lime-trees arch their spreading branches, and the
honeysuckle twines itself round the knotty shoots of the hornbeam, whence
the thrush gives forth her joyous, sonorous notes.

Not only in the forest, but also in the park belonging to the chateau,
and in the village orchards, spring had donned a holiday costume.
Through the open windows, between the massive bunches of lilacs,
hawthorn, and laburnum blossoms, Julien de Buxieres caught glimpses of
rolling meadows and softly tinted vistas. The gentle twittering of the
birds and the mysterious call of the cuckoo, mingled with the perfume of
flowers, stole into his study, and produced a sense of enjoyment as novel
to him as it was delightful. Having until the present time lived a
sedentary life in cities, he had had no opportunity of experiencing this
impression of nature in her awakening and luxuriant aspect; never had he
felt so completely under the seductive influence of the goddess Maia than
at this season when the abundant sap exudes in a white foam from the
trunk of the willow; when between the plant world and ourselves a
magnetic current seems to exist, which seeks to wed their fraternizing
emanations with our own personality. He was oppressed by the vividness
of the verdure, intoxicated with the odor of vegetation, agitated by the
confused music of the birds, and in this May fever of excitement, his
thoughts wandered with secret delight to Reine Vincart, to this queen of
the woods, who was the personification of all the witchery of the forest.
Since their January promenade in the glades of Charbonniere, he had seen
her at a distance, sometimes on Sundays in the little church at Vivey,
sometimes like a fugitive apparition at the turn of a road. They had
also exchanged formal salutations, but had not spoken to each other.
More than once, after the night had fallen, Julien had stopped in front
of the courtyard of La Thuiliere, and watched the lamps being lighted
inside. But he had not ventured to knock at the door of the house; a
foolish timidity had prevented him; so he had returned to the chateau,
dissatisfied and reproaching himself for allowing his awkward shyness to
interpose, as it were, a wall of ice between himself and the only person
whose acquaintance seemed to him desirable.

At other times he would become alarmed at the large place a woman
occupied in his thoughts, and he congratulated himself on having resisted
the dangerous temptation of seeing Mademoiselle Vincart again. He
acknowledged that this singular girl had for him an attraction against
which he ought to be on his guard. Reine might be said to live alone at
La Thuiliere, for her father could hardly be regarded seriously as a
protector. Julien's visits might have compromised her, and the young
man's severe principles of rectitude forbade him to cause scandal which
he could not repair. He was not thinking of marriage, and even had his
thoughts inclined that way, the proprieties and usages of society which
he had always in some degree respected, would not allow him to wed a
peasant girl. It was evident, therefore, that both prudence and
uprightness would enjoin him to carry on any future relations with
Mademoiselle Vincart with the greatest possible reserve.

Nevertheless, and in spite of these sage reflections, the enchanting
image of Reine haunted him more than was at all reasonable. Often,
during his hours of watchfulness, he would see her threading the avenues
of the forest, her dark hair half floating in the breeze, and wearing her
white hood and her skirt bordered with ivy. Since the spring had
returned, she had become associated in his mind with all the magical
effects of nature's renewal. He discovered the liquid light of her dark
eyes in the rippling darkness of the streams; the lilies recalled the
faintly tinted paleness of her cheeks; the silene roses, scattered
throughout the hedges, called forth the remembrance of the young maiden's
rosy lips, and the vernal odor of the leaves appeared to him like an
emanation of her graceful and wholesome nature.

This state of feeling began to act like an obsession, a sort of
witchcraft, which alarmed him. What was she really, this strange
creature? A peasant indeed, apparently; but there was also something
more refined and cultivated about her, due, doubtless, to her having
received her education in a city school. She both felt and expressed
herself differently from ordinary country girls, although retaining the
frankness and untutored charm of rustic natures. She exercised an uneasy
fascination over Julien, and at times he returned to the superstitious
impression made upon him by Reine's behavior and discourse in the forest.
He again questioned with himself whether this female form, in its untamed
beauty, did not enfold some spirit of temptation, some insidious fairy,
similar to the Melusine, who appeared to Count Raymond in the forest of
Poitiers.

Most of the time he would himself laugh at this extravagant supposition,
but, while endeavoring to make light of his own cowardice, the idea still
haunted and tormented him. Sometimes, in the effort to rid himself of
the persistence of his own imagination, he would try to exorcise the
demon who had got hold of him, and this exorcism consisted in despoiling
the image of his temptress of the veil of virginal purity with which his
admiration had first invested her. Who could assure him, after all, that
this girl, with her independent ways, living alone at her farm, running
through the woods at all hours, was as irreproachable as he had imagined?
In the village, certainly, she was respected by all; but people were very
tolerant--very easy, in fact--on the question of morals in this district,
where the gallantries of Claude de Buxieres were thought quite natural,
where the illegitimacy of Claudet offended no one's sense of the
proprieties, and where the after-dinner conversations, among the class
considered respectable, were such as Julien had listened to with
repugnance. Nevertheless, even in his most suspicious moods, Julien had
never dared broach the subject to Claudet.

Every time that the name of Reine Vincart had come to his lips, a feeling
of bashfulness, in addition to his ordinary timidity, had prevented him
from interrogating Claudet concerning the character of this mysterious
queen of the woods. Like all novices in love-affairs Julien dreaded that
his feelings should be divined, at the mere mention of the young girl's
name. He preferred to remain isolated, concentrating in himself his
desires, his trouble and his doubts.

Yet, whatever efforts he made, and however firmly he adhered to his
resolution of silence, the hypochondria from which he suffered could not
escape the notice of the 'grand chasserot'. He was not clear-sighted
enough to discern the causes, but he could observe the effects. It
provoked him to find that all his efforts to enliven his cousin had
proved futile. He had cudgelled his brains to comprehend whence came
these fits of terrible melancholy, and, judging Julien by himself, came
to the conclusion that his ennui proceeded from an excess of strictness
and good behavior.

"Monsieur de Buxieres," said he, one evening when they were walking
silently, side by side, in the avenues of the park, which resounded with
the song of the nightingales, "there is one thing that troubles me, and
that is that you do not confide in me."

"What makes you think so, Claudet?" demanded Julien, with surprise.

"Paybleu! the way you act. You are, if I may say so, too secretive.
When you wanted to make amends for Claude de Buxieres's negligence, and
proposed that I should live here with you, I accepted without any
ceremony. I hoped that in giving me a place at your fire and your table,
you would also give me one in your affections, and that you would allow
me to share your sorrows, like a true brother comrade--"

"I assure you, my dear fellow, that you are mistaken. If I had any
serious trouble on my mind, you should be the first to know it."

"Oh! that's all very well to say; but you are unhappy all the same--one
can see it in your mien, and shall I tell you the reason? It is that you
are too sedate, Monsieur de Buxieres; you have need of a sweetheart to
brighten up your days."

"Ho, ho!" replied Julien, coloring, "do you wish to have me married,
Claudet?"

"Ah! that's another affair. No; but still I should like to see you take
some interest in a woman--some gay young person who would rouse you up
and make you have a good time. There is no lack of such in the district,
and you would only have the trouble of choosing."

M. de Buxieres's color deepened, and he was visibly annoyed.

"That is a singular proposition," exclaimed he, after awhile; "do you
take me for a libertine?"

"Don't get on your high horse, Monsieur de Buxieres! There would be no
one hurt. The girls I allude to are not so difficult to approach."

"That has nothing to do with it, Claudet; I do not enjoy that kind of
amusement."

"It is the kind that young men of our age indulge in, all the same.
Perhaps you think there would be difficulties in the way. They would not
be insurmountable, I can assure you; those matters go smoothly enough
here. You slip your arm round her waist, give her a good, sounding
salute, and the acquaintance is begun. You have only to improve it!"

"Enough of this," interrupted Julien, harshly, "we never can agree on
such topics!"

"As you please, Monsieur de Buxieres; since you do not like the subject,
we will not bring it up again. If I mentioned it at all, it was that I
saw you were not interested in either hunting or fishing, and thought you
might prefer some other kind of game. I do wish I knew what to propose
that would give you a little pleasure," continued Claudet, who was
profoundly mortified at the ill-success of his overtures. "Now! I have
it. Will you come with me to-morrow, to the Ronces woods? The charcoal-
dealers who are constructing their furnaces for the sale, will complete
their dwellings this evening and expect to celebrate in the morning.
They call it watering the bouquet, and it is the occasion of a little
festival, to which we, as well at the presiding officials of the cutting,
are invited. Naturally, the guests pay their share in bottles of wine.
You can hardly be excused from showing yourself among these good people.
It is one of the customs of the country. I have promised to be there,
and it is certain that Reine Vincart, who has bought the Ronces property,
will not fail to be present at the ceremony."

Julien had already the words on his lips for declining Claudet's offer,
when the name of Reine Vincart produced an immediate change in his
resolution. It just crossed his mind that perhaps Claudet had thrown out
her name as a bait and an argument in favor of his theories on the
facility of love-affairs in the country. However that might be, the
allusion to the probable presence of Mademoiselle Vincart at the coming
fete, rendered young Buxieres more tractable, and he made no further
difficulties about accompanying his cousin.

The next morning, after partaking hastily of breakfast, they started on
their way toward the cutting. The charcoal-dealers had located
themselves on the border of the forest, not far from the spot where,
in the month of January, Reine and Julien had visited the wood cutters.
Under the sheltering branches of a great ash tree, the newly erected but
raised its peaked roof covered with clods of turf, and two furnaces, just
completed, occupied the ground lately prepared. One of them, ready for
use, was covered with the black earth called 'frazil', which is extracted
from the site of old charcoal works; the other, in course of
construction, showed the successive layers of logs ranged in circles
inside, ready for the fire. The workmen moved around, going and coming;
first, the head-man or patron, a man of middle age, of hairy chest,
embrowned visage, and small beady eyes under bushy eyebrows; his wife, a
little, shrivelled, elderly woman; their daughter, a thin awkward girl of
seventeen, with fluffy hair and a cunning, hard expression; and finally,
their three boys, robust young fellows, serving their apprenticeship at
the trade. This party was reenforced by one or two more single men, and
some of the daughters of the woodchoppers, attracted by the prospect of a
day of dancing and joyous feasting.

These persons were sauntering in and out under the trees, waiting for the
dinner, which was to be furnished mainly by the guests, the contribution
of the charcoal-men being limited to a huge pot of potatoes which the
patroness was cooking over the fire, kindled in front of the hut.

The arrival of Julien and Claudet, attended by the small cowboy, puffing
and blowing under a load of provisions, was hailed with exclamations of
gladness and welcome. While one of the assistants was carefully
unrolling the big loaves of white bread, the enormous meat pastry, and
the bottles encased in straw, Reine Vincart appeared suddenly on the
scene, accompanied by one of the farm-hands, who was also tottering under
the weight of a huge basket, from the corners of which peeped the ends of
bottles, and the brown knuckle of a smoked ham. At sight of the young
proprietress of La Thuiliere, the hurrahs burst forth again, with
redoubled and more sustained energy. As she stood there smiling, under
the greenish shadow cast by the ashtrees, Reine appeared to Julien even
more seductive than among the frosty surroundings of the previous
occasion. Her simple and rustic spring costume was marvellously
becoming: a short blue-and-yellow striped skirt, a tight jacket of light-
colored material, fitted closely to the waist, a flat linen collar tied
with a narrow blue ribbon, and a bouquet of woodruff at her bosom. She
wore stout leather boots, and a large straw hat, which she threw
carelessly down on entering the hut. Among so many faces of a different
type, all somewhat disfigured by hardships of exposure, this lovely face
with its olive complexion, lustrous black eyes, and smiling red lips,
framed in dark, soft, wavy hair resting on her plump shoulders, seemed to
spread a sunshiny glow over the scene. It was a veritable portrayal of
the "queen of the woods," appearing triumphant among her rustic subjects.
As an emblem of her royal prerogative, she held in her hand an enormous
bouquet of flowers she had gathered on her way: honeysuckles, columbine,
all sorts of grasses with shivering spikelets, black alder blossoms with
their white centres, and a profusion of scarlet poppies. Each of these
exhaled its own salubrious springlike perfume, and a light cloud of
pollen, which covered the eyelashes and hair of the young girl with a
delicate white powder.

"Here, Pere Theotime," said she, handing her collection over to the
master charcoal-dealer, "I gathered these for you to ornament the roof of
your dwelling."

She then drew near to Claudet; gave him her hand in comrade fashion, and
saluted Julien:

"Good-morning, Monsieur de Buxieres, I am very glad to see you here.
Was it Claudet who brought you, or did you come of your own accord?"

While Julien, dazed and bewildered, was seeking a reply, she passed
quickly to the next group, going from one to another, and watching with
interest the placing of the bouquet on the summit of the hut. One of the
men brought a ladder and fastened the flowers to a spike. When they were
securely attached and began to nod in the air, he waved his hat and
shouted: "Hou, houp!" This was the signal for going to table.

The food had been spread on the tablecloth under the shade of the ash-
trees, and all the guests sat around on sacks of charcoal; for Reine and
Julien alone they had reserved two stools, made by the master, and thus
they found themselves seated side by side. Soon a profound, almost
religious, silence indicated that the attack was about to begin; after
which, and when the first fury of their appetites had been appeased, the
tongues began to be loosened: jokes and anecdotes, seasoned with loud
bursts of laughter, were bandied to and fro under the spreading branches,
and presently the wine lent its aid to raise the spirits of the company
to an exuberant pitch. But there was a certain degree of restraint
observed by these country folk. Was it owing to Reine's presence?
Julien noticed that the remarks of the working-people were in a very much
better tone than those of the Auberive gentry, with whom he had
breakfasted; the gayety of these children of the woods, although of a
common kind, was always kept within decent limits, and he never once had
occasion to feel ashamed. He felt more at ease among them than among the
notables of the borough, and he did not regret having accepted Claudet's
invitation.

"I am glad I came," murmured he in Reine's ear, "and I never have eaten
with so much enjoyment!"

"Ah! I am glad of it," replied the young girl, gayly, "perhaps now you
will begin to like our woods."

When nothing was left on the table but bones and empty bottles, Pere
Theotime took a bottle of sealed wine, drew the cork, and filled the
glasses.

"Now," said he, "before christening our bouquet, we will drink to
Monsieur de Buxieres, who has brought us his good wine, and to our sweet
lady, Mademoiselle Vincart."

The glasses clinked, and the toasts were drunk with fervor.

"Mamselle Reine," resumed Pere Theotime, with a certain amount of
solemnity, "you can see, the hut is built; it will be occupied to-night,
and I trust good work will be done. You can perceive from here our first
furnace, all decorated and ready to be set alight. But, in order that
good luck shall attend us, you yourself must set light to the fire. I
ask you, therefore, to ascend to the top of the chimney and throw in the
first embers; may I ask this of your good-nature?"

"Why, certainly!" replied Reine, "come, Monsieur de Buxieres, you must
see how we light a charcoal furnace."

All the guests jumped from their seats; one of the men took the ladder
and leaned it against the sloping side of the furnace. Meanwhile, Pere
Theotime was bringing an earthen vase full of burning embers. Reine
skipped lightly up the steps, and when she reached the top, stood erect
near the orifice of the furnace.

Her graceful outline came out in strong relief against the clear sky; one
by one, she took the embers handed her by the charcoal-dealer, and threw
them into the opening in the middle of the furnace. Soon there was a
crackling inside, followed by a dull rumbling; the chips and rubbish
collected at the bottom had caught fire, and the air-holes left at the
base of the structure facilitated the passage of the current, and
hastened the kindling of the wood.

"Bravo; we've got it!" exclaimed Pere Theotime.

"Bravo!" repeated the young people, as much exhilarated with the open
air as with the two or three glasses of white wine they had drunk. Lads
and lasses joined hands and leaped impetuously around the furnace.

"A song, Reine! Sing us a song!" cried the young girls.

She stood at the foot of the ladder, and, without further solicitation,
intoned, in her clear and sympathetic voice, a popular song, with a
rhythmical refrain:

My father bid me
Go sell my wheat.
To the market we drove
"Good-morrow, my sweet!
How much, can you say,
Will its value prove?"

The embroidered rose
Lies on my glove.

"A hundred francs
Will its value prove."
"When you sell your wheat,
Do you sell your love?"

The embroidered rose
Lies on my glove!

"My heart, Monsieur,
Will never rove,
I have promised it
To my own true love."

The embroidered rose
Lies on my glove.

"For me he braves
The wind and the rain;
For me he weaves
A silver chain."

On my 'broidered glove.
Lies the rose again.

Repeating the refrain in chorus, boys and girls danced and leaped in the
sunlight. Julien leaned against the trunk of a tree, listening to the
sonorous voice of Reine, and could not take his eyes off the singer.
When she had ended her song, Reine turned in another direction; but the
dancers had got into the spirit of it and could not stand still; one of
the men came forward, and started another popular air, which all the rest
repeated in unison:

Up in the woods
Sleeps the fairy to-day:
The king, her lover,
Has strolled that way!
Will those who are young
Be married or nay?
Yea, yea!

Carried away by the rhythm, and the pleasure of treading the soft grass
under their feet, the dancers quickened their pace. The chain of young
folks disconnected for a moment, was reformed, and twisted in and out
among the trees; sometimes in light, sometimes in shadow, until they
disappeared, singing, into the very heart of the forest. With the
exception of Pere Theotime and his wife, who had gone to superintend the
furnace, all the guests, including Claudet, had joined the gay throng.
Reine and Julien, the only ones remaining behind, stood in the shade near
the borderline of the forest. It was high noon, and the sun's rays,
shooting perpendicularly down, made the shade desirable. Reine proposed
to her companion to enter the hut and rest, while waiting for the return
of the dancers. Julien accepted readily; but not without being surprised
that the young girl should be the first to suggest a tete-a-tete in the
obscurity of a remote hut. Although more than ever fascinated by the
unusual beauty of Mademoiselle Vincart, he was astonished, and
occasionally shocked, by the audacity and openness of her action toward
him. Once more the spirit of doubt took possession of him, and he
questioned whether this freedom of manners was to be attributed to
innocence or effrontery. After the pleasant friendliness of the midday
repast, and the enlivening effect of the dance round the furnace, he was
both glad and troubled to find himself alone with Reine. He longed to
let her know what tender admiration she excited in his mind; but he did
not know how to set about it, nor in what style to address a girl of so
strange and unusual a disposition. So he contented himself with fixing
an enamored gaze upon her, while she stood leaning against one of the
inner posts, and twisted mechanically between her fingers a branch of
wild honeysuckle. Annoyed at his taciturnity, she at last broke the
silence:

"You are not saying anything, Monsieur de Buxieres; do you regret having
come to this fete?"

"Regret it, Mademoiselle?" returned he; "it is a long time since I have
had so pleasant a day, and I thank you, for it is to you I owe it."

"To me? You are joking. It is the good-humor of the people, the spring
sunshine, and the pure air of the forest that you must thank. I have no
part in it."

"You are everything in it, on the contrary," said he, tenderly. "Before
I knew you, I had met with country people, seen the sun and trees, and so
on, and nothing made any impression on me. But, just now, when you were
singing over there, I felt gladdened and inspired; I felt the beauty of
the woods, I sympathized with these good people, and these grand trees,
all these things among which you live so happily. It is you who have
worked this miracle. Ah! you are well named. You are truly the fairy of
the feast, the queen of the woods!"

Astonished at the enthusiasm of her companion, Reine looked at him
sidewise, half closing her eyes, and perceived that he was altogether
transformed. He appeared to have suddenly thawed. He was no longer the
awkward, sickly youth, whose every movement was paralyzed by timidity,
and whose words froze on his tongue; his slender frame had become supple,
his blue eyes enlarged and illuminated; his delicate features expressed
refinement, tenderness, and passion. The young girl was moved and won by
so much emotion, the first that Julien had ever manifested toward her.
Far from being offended at this species of declaration, she replied,
gayly:

"As to the queen of the woods working miracles, I know none so powerful
as these flowers."

She unfastened the bouquet of white starry woodruff from her corsage, and
handed them over to him in their envelope of green leaves.

"Do you know them?" said she; "see how sweet they smell! And the odor
increases as they wither."

Julien had carried the bouquet to his lips, and was inhaling slowly the
delicate perfume.

"Our woodsmen," she continued, "make with this plant a broth which cures
from ill effects of either cold or heat as if by enchantment; they also
infuse it into white wine, and convert it into a beverage which they call
May wine, and which is very intoxicating."

Julien was no longer listening to these details. He kept his eyes
steadily fixed on Mademoiselle Vincart, and continued to inhale
rapturously the bouquet, and to experience a kind of intoxication.

"Let me keep these flowers," he implored, in a choking voice.

"Certainly," replied she, gayly; "keep them, if it will give you
pleasure."

"Thank you," he murmured, hiding them in his bosom.

Reine was surprised at his attaching such exaggerated importance to so
slight a favor, and a sudden flush overspread her cheeks. She almost
repented having given him the flowers when she saw what a tender
reception he had given them, so she replied, suggestively:

"Do not thank me; the gift is not significant. Thousands of similar
flowers grow in the forest, and one has only to stoop and gather them."

He dared not reply that this bouquet, having been worn by her, was worth
much more to him than any other, but he thought it, and the thought
aroused in his mind a series of new ideas. As Reine had so readily
granted this first favor, was she not tacitly encouraging him to ask for
others? Was he dealing with a simple, innocent girl, or a village
coquette, accustomed to be courted? And on this last supposition should
he not pass for a simpleton in the eyes of this experienced girl, if he
kept himself at too great a distance. He remembered the advice of
Claudet concerning the method of conducting love-affairs smoothly with
certain women of the country. Whether she was a coquette or not, Reine
had bewitched him. The charm had worked more powerfully still since he
had been alone with her in this obscure hut, where the cooing of the wild
pigeons faintly reached their ears, and the penetrating odors of the
forest pervaded their nostrils. Julien's gaze rested lovingly on Reine's
wavy locks, falling heavily over her neck, on her half-covered eyes with
their luminous pupils full of golden specks of light, on her red lips,
on the two little brown moles spotting her somewhat decollete neck.
He thought her adorable, and was dying to tell her so; but when he
endeavored to formulate his declaration, the words stuck fast in his
throat, his veins swelled, his throat became dry, his head swam. In this
disorder of his faculties he brought to mind the recommendation of
Claudet: "One arm round the waist, two sounding kisses, and the thing is
done." He rose abruptly, and went up to the young girl:

"Since you have given me these flowers," he began, in a husky voice,
"will you also, in sign of friendship, give me your hand, as you gave it
to Claudet?"

After a moment's hesitation, she held out her hand; but, hardly had he
touched it when he completely lost control of himself, and slipping the
arm which remained free around Reine's waist, he drew her toward him and
lightly touched with his lips her neck, the beauty of which had so
magnetized him.

The young girl was stronger than he; in the twinkling of an eye she tore
herself from his audacious clasp, threw him violently backward, and with
one bound reached the door of the hut. She stood there a moment, pale,
indignant, her eyes blazing, and then exclaimed, in a hollow voice:

"If you come a step nearer, I will call the charcoalmen!"

But Julien had no desire to renew the attack; already sobered, cowed, and
repentant, he had retreated to the most obscure corner of the dwelling.

"Are you mad?" she continued, with vehemence, "or has the wine got into
your head? It is rather early for you to be adopting the ways of your
deceased cousin! I give you notice that they will not succeed with me!
"And, at the same moment, tears of humiliation filled her eyes. "I did
not expect this of you, Monsieur de Buxieres!"

"Forgive me!" faltered Julien, whose heart smote him at the sight of her
tears; "I have behaved like a miserable sinner and a brute! It was a
moment of madness--forget it and forgive me!"

"Nobody ever treated me with disrespect before," returned the young girl,
in a suffocated voice; "I was wrong to allow you any familiarity, that is
all. It shall not happen to me again!"

Julien remained mute, overpowered with shame and remorse. Suddenly, in
the stillness around, rose the voices of the dancers returning and
singing the refrain of the rondelay:

I had a rose--
On my heart it lay
Will those who are young
Be married, or nay?
Yea, yea!

"There are our people," said Reine, softly, "I am going to them; adieu--
do not follow me!" She left the but and hastened toward the furnace,
while Julien, stunned with the rapidity with which this unfortunate scene
had been enacted, sat down on one of the benches, a prey to confused
feelings of shame and angry mortification. No, certainly, he did not
intend to follow her! He had no desire to show himself in public with
this young girl whom he had so stupidly insulted, and in whose face he
never should be able to look again. Decidedly, he did not understand
women, since he could not even tell a virtuous girl from a frivolous
coquette! Why had he not been able to see that the good-natured, simple
familiarity of Reine Vincart had nothing in common with the enticing
allurements of those who, to use Claudet's words, had "thrown their caps
over the wall." How was it that he had not read, in those eyes, pure as
the fountain's source, the candor and uprightness of a maiden heart which
had nothing to conceal. This cruel evidence of his inability to conduct
himself properly in the affairs of life exasperated and humiliated him,
and at the same time that he felt his self-love most deeply wounded,
he was conscious of being more hopelessly enamored of Reine Vincart.
Never had she appeared so beautiful as during the indignant movement
which had separated her from him. Her look of mingled anger and sadness,
the expression of her firm, set lips, the quivering nostrils, the heaving
of her bosom, he recalled it all, and the image of her proud beauty
redoubled his grief and despair.

He remained a long time concealed in the shadow of the hut. Finally,
when he heard the voices dying away in different directions, and was
satisfied that the charcoal-men were attending to their furnace work,
he made up his mind to come out. But, as he did not wish to meet any
one, instead of crossing through the cutting he plunged into the wood,
taking no heed in what direction he went, and being desirous of walking
alone as long as possible, without meeting a single human visage.

As he wandered aimlessly through the deepening shadows of the forest,
crossed here and there by golden bars of light from the slanting rays of
the setting sun, he pondered over the probable results of his unfortunate
behavior. Reine would certainly keep silence on the affront she had
received, but would she be indulgent enough to forget or forgive the
insult? The most evident result of the affair would be that henceforth
all friendly relations between them must cease. She certainly would
maintain a severe attitude toward the person who had so grossly insulted
her, but would she be altogether pitiless in her anger? All through his
dismal feelings of self-reproach, a faint hope of reconciliation kept him
from utter despair. As he reviewed the details of the shameful
occurrence, he remembered that the expression of her countenance had been
one more of sorrow than of anger. The tone of melancholy reproach in
which she had uttered the words: "I did not expect this from you,
Monsieur de Buxieres!" seemed to convey the hope that he might, one day,
be forgiven. At the same time, the poignancy of his regret showed him
how much hold the young girl had taken upon his affections, and how
cheerless and insipid his life would be if he were obliged to continue on
unfriendly terms with the woodland queen.

He had come to this conclusion in his melancholy reflections, when he
reached the outskirts of the forest.

He stood above the calm, narrow valley of Vivey; on the right, over the
tall ash-trees, peeped the pointed turrets of the chateau; on the left,
and a little farther behind, was visible a whitish line, contrasting with
the surrounding verdure, the winding path to La Thuiliere, through the
meadow-land of Planche-au-Vacher. Suddenly, the sound of voices reached
his ears, and, looking more closely, he perceived Reine and Claudet
walking side by side down the narrow path. The evening air softened the
resonance of the voices, so that the words themselves were not audible,
but the intonation of the alternate speakers, and their confidential and
friendly gestures, evinced a very animated, if not tender, exchange of
sentiments. At times the conversation was enlivened by Claudet's bursts
of laughter, or an amicable gesture from Reine. At one moment, Julien
saw the young girl lay her hand familiarly on the shoulder of the 'grand
chssserot', and immediately a pang of intense jealousy shot through his
heart. At last the young pair arrived at the banks of a stream, which
traversed the path and had become swollen by the recent heavy rains.
Claudet took Reine by the waist and lifted her in his vigorous arms,
while he picked his way across the stream; then they resumed their way
toward the bottom of the pass, and the tall brushwood hid their
retreating forms from Julien's eager gaze, although it was long before
the vibrations of their sonorous voices ceased echoing in his ears.

"Ah!" thought he, quite overcome by this new development, "she stands
less on ceremony with him than with me! How close they kept to each
other in that lonely path! With what animation they conversed! with
what abandon she allowed herself to be carried in his arms! All that
indicates an intimacy of long standing, and explains a good many things!"

He recalled Reine's visit to the chateau, and how cleverly she had
managed to inform him of the parentage existing between Claudet and the
deceased Claude de Buxieres; how she had by her conversation raised a
feeling of pity in his mind for Claudet; and a desire to repair the
negligence of the deceased.

"How could I be so blind!" thought Julien, with secret scorn of himself;
"I did not see anything, I comprehended none of their artifices! They
love each other, that is sure, and I have been playing throughout the
part of a dupe. I do not blame him. He was in love, and allowed himself
to be persuaded. But she! whom I thought so open, so true, so loyal!
Ah! she is no better than others of her class, and she was coquetting
with me in order to insure her lover a position! Well! one more
illusion is destroyed. Ecclesiastes was right. 'Inveni amarivrem morte
mulierem', 'woman is more bitter than death'!"

Twilight had come, and it was already dark in the forest. Slowly and
reluctantly, Julien descended the slope leading to the chateau, and the
gloom of the woods entered his heart.

CHAPTER VI

LOVE BY PROXY

Jealousy is a maleficent deity of the harpy tribe; she embitters
everything she touches.

Ever since the evening that Julien had witnessed the crossing of the
brook by Reine and Claudet, a secret poison had run through his veins,
and embittered every moment of his life. Neither the glowing sun of
June, nor the glorious development of the woods had any charm for him.
In vain did the fields display their golden treasures of ripening corn;
in vain did the pale barley and the silvery oats wave their luxuriant
growth against the dark background of the woods; all these fairylike
effects of summer suggested only prosaic and misanthropic reflections in
Julien's mind. He thought of the tricks, the envy and hatred that the
possession of these little squares of ground brought forth among their
rapacious owners. The prolific exuberance of forest vegetation was an
exemplification of the fierce and destructive activity of the blind
forces of Nature. All the earth was a hateful theatre for the continual
enactment of bloody and monotonous dramas; the worm consuming the plant;
the bird mangling the insect, the deer fighting among themselves,
and man, in his turn, pursuing all kinds of game. He identified nature
with woman, both possessing in his eyes an equally deceiving appearance,
the same beguiling beauty, and the same spirit of ambuscade and perfidy.
The people around him inspired him only with mistrust and suspicion.
In every peasant he met he recognized an enemy, prepared to cheat him
with wheedling words and hypocritical lamentations. Although during the
few months he had experienced the delightful influence of Reine Vincart,
he had been drawn out of his former prejudices, and had imagined he was
rising above the littleness of every-day worries; he now fell back into
hard reality; his feet were again embedded in the muddy ground of village
politics, and consequently village life was a burden to him.

He never went out, fearing to meet Reine Vincart. He fancied that the
sight of her might aggravate the malady from which he suffered and for
which he eagerly sought a remedy.

But, notwithstanding the cloistered retirement to which he had condemned
himself, his wound remained open. Instead of solitude having a healing
effect, it seemed to make his sufferings greater. When, in the evening,
as he sat moodily at his window, he would hear Claudet whistle to his
dog, and hurry off in the direction of La Thuiliere, he would say to
himself: "He is going to keep an appointment with Reine." Then a feeling
of blind rage would overpower him; he felt tempted to leave his room and
follow his rival secretly--a moment afterward he would be ashamed of his
meanness. Was it not enough that he had once, although involuntarily,
played the degrading part of a spy! What satisfaction could he derive
from such a course? Would he be much benefited when he returned home
with rage in his heart and senses, after watching a love-scene between
the young pair? This consideration kept him in his seat, but his
imagination ran riot instead; it went galloping at the heels of Claudet,
and accompanied him down the winding paths, moistened by the evening dew.
As the moon rose above the trees, illuminating the foliage with her mild
bluish rays, he pictured to himself the meeting of the two lovers on the
flowery turf bathed in the silvery light. His brain seemed on fire.
He saw Reine in white advancing like a moonbeam, and Claudet passing his
arm around the yielding waist of the maiden. He tried to substitute
himself in idea, and to imagine the delight of the first words of
welcome, and the ecstasy of the prolonged embrace. A shiver ran through
his whole body; a sharp pain transfixed his heart; his throat closed
convulsively; half fainting, he leaned against the window-frame, his eyes
closed, his ears stopped, to shut out all sights or sounds, longing only
for oblivion and complete torpor of body and mind.

He did not realize his longing. The enchanting image of the woodland
queen, as he had beheld her in the dusky light of the charcoal-man's hut,
was ever before him. He put his hands over his eyes. She was there
still, with her deep, dark eyes and her enticing cherry lips. Even the
odor of the honeysuckle arising from the garden assisted the reality of
the vision, by recalling the sprig of the same flower which Reine was
twisting round her fingers at their last interview. This sweet breath
of flowers in the night seemed like an emanation from the young girl
herself, and was as fleeting and intangible as the remembrance of
vanished happiness. Again and again did his morbid nature return to past
events, and make his present position more unbearable.

"Why," thought he, "did I ever entertain so wild a hope? This wood-
nymph, with her robust yet graceful figure, her clear-headedness, her
energy and will-power, could she ever have loved a being so weak and
unstable as myself? No, indeed; she needs a lover full of life and
vigor; a huntsman, with a strong arm, able to protect her. What figure
should I cut by the side of so hearty and well-balanced a fellow?"

In these fits of jealousy, he was not so angry with Claudet for being
loved by Reine as for having so carefully concealed his feelings. And
yet, while inwardly blaming him for this want of frankness, he did not
realize that he himself was open to a similar accusation, by hiding from
Claudet what was troubling him so grievously.

Since the evening of the inauguration festival, he had become sullen and
taciturn. Like all timid persons, he took refuge in a moody silence,
which could not but irritate his cousin. They met every day at the same
table; to all appearance their intimacy was as great as ever, but, in
reality, there was no mutual exchange of feeling. Julien's continued
ill-humor was a source of anxiety to Claudet, who turned his brain almost
inside out in endeavoring to discover its cause. He knew he had done
nothing to provoke any coolness; on the contrary, he had set his wits to
work to show his gratitude by all sorts of kindly offices.

By dint of thinking the matter over, Claudet came to the conclusion that
perhaps Julien was beginning to repent of his generosity, and that
possibly this coolness was a roundabout way of manifesting his change of
feeling. This seemed to be the only plausible solution of his cousin's
behavior. "He is probably tired," thought he, "of keeping us here at the
chateau, my mother and myself."

Claudet's pride and self-respect revolted at this idea. He did not
intend to be an incumbrance on any one, and became offended in his turn
at the mute reproach which he imagined he could read in his cousin's
troubled countenance. This misconception, confirmed by the obstinate
silence of both parties, and aggravated by its own continuance, at last
produced a crisis.

It happened one night, after they had taken supper together, and Julien's
ill-humor had been more evident than usual. Provoked at his persistent
taciturnity, and more than ever convinced that it was his presence that
young de Buxieres objected to, Claudet resolved to force an explanation.
Instead, therefore, of quitting the dining-room after dessert, and
whistling to his dog to accompany him in his habitual promenade, the
'grand chasserot' remained seated, poured out a small glass of brandy,
and slowly filled his pipe. Surprised to see that he was remaining at
home, Julien rose and began to pace the floor, wondering what could be
the reason of this unexpected change. As suspicious people are usually
prone to attribute complicated motives for the most simple actions,
he imagined that Claudet, becoming aware of the jealous feeling he had
excited, had given up his promenade solely to mislead and avert
suspicion. This idea irritated him still more, and halting suddenly in
his walk, he went up to Claudet and said, brusquely:

"You are not going out, then?"

"No;" replied Claudet, "if you will permit me, I will stay and keep you
company. Shall I annoy you?"

"Not in the least; only, as you are accustomed to walk every evening, I
should not wish you to inconvenience yourself on my account. I am not
afraid of being alone, and I am not selfish enough to deprive you of
society more agreeable than mine."

"What do you mean by that?" cried Claudet, pricking up his ears.

"Nothing," muttered Julien, between his set teeth, "except that your
fancied obligation of keeping me company ought not to prevent you missing
a pleasant engagement, or keeping a rendezvous."

"A rendezvous," replied his interlocutor, with a forced laugh, "so you
think, when I go out after supper, I go to seek amusement. A rendezvous!
And with whom, if you please?"

"With your mistress, of course," replied Julien, sarcastically, "from
what you said to me, there is no scarcity here of girls inclined to be
good-natured, and you have only the trouble of choosing among them.
I supposed you were courting some woodman's young daughter, or some
pretty farmer girl, like--like Reine Vincart."

"Refine Vincart!" repeated Claudet, sternly, "what business have you to
mix up her name with those creatures to whom you refer? Mademoiselle
Vincart," added he, "has nothing in common with that class, and you have
no right, Monsieur de Buxieres, to use her name so lightly!"

The allusion to Reine Vincart had agitated Claudet to such a degree that
he did not notice that Julien, as he pronounced her name, was as much
moved as himself.

The vehemence with which Claudet resented the insinuation increased young
de Buxieres's irritation.

"Ha, ha!" said he, laughing scornfully, "Reine Vincart is an exceedingly
pretty girl!"

"She is not only pretty, she is good and virtuous, and deserves to be
respected."

"How you uphold her! One can see that you are interested in her."

"I uphold her because you are unjust toward her. But I wish you to
understand that she has no need of any one standing up for her--her good
name is sufficient to protect her. Ask any one in the village--there is
but one voice on that question."

"Come," said Julien, huskily, "confess that you are in love with her."

"Well! suppose I am," said Claudet, angrily, "yes, I love her! There,
are you satisfied now?"

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