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A Woodland Queen, entire by Andre Theuriet

Part 3 out of 4

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Although de Buxieres knew what he had to expect, he was not the less
affected by so open an avowal thrust at him, as it were. He stood for a
moment, silent; then, with a fresh burst of rage:

"You love her, do you? Why did you not tell me before? Why were you not
more frank with me?"

As he spoke, gesticulating furiously, in front of the open window, the
deep red glow of the setting sun, piercing through the boughs of the ash-
trees, threw its bright reflections on his blazing eyeballs and convulsed
features. His interlocutor, leaning against the opposite corner of the
window-frame, noticed, with some anxiety, the extreme agitation of his
behavior, and wondered what could be the cause of such emotion.

"I? Not frank with you! Ah, that is a good joke, Monsieur de Buxieres!
Naturally, I should not go proclaiming on the housetops that I have a
tender feeling for Mademoiselle Vincart, but, all the same, I should have
told you had you asked me sooner. I am not reserved; but, you must
excuse my saying it, you are walled in like a subterranean passage. One
can not get at the color of your thoughts. I never for a moment imagined
that you were interested in Reine, and you never have made me
sufficiently at home to entertain the idea of confiding in you on that
subject."

Julien remained silent. He had reseated himself at the table, where,
leaning his head in his hands, he pondered over what Claudet had said.
He placed his hand so as to screen his eyes, and bit his lips as if a
painful struggle was going on within him. The splendors of the setting
sun had merged into the dusky twilight, and the last piping notes of the
birds sounded faintly among the sombre trees. A fresh breeze had sprung
up, and filled the darkening room with the odor of honeysuckle.

Under the soothing influence of the falling night, Julien slowly raised
his head, and addressing Claudet in a low and measured voice like a
father confessor interrogating a penitent, said:

"Does Reine know that you love her?"

"I think she must suspect it," replied Claudet, "although I never have
ventured to declare myself squarely. But girls are very quick, Reine
especially. They soon begin to suspect there is some love at bottom,
when a young man begins to hang around them too frequently."

"You see her often, then?"

"Not as often as I should like. But, you know, when one lives in the
same district, one has opportunities of meeting--at the beech harvest,
in the woods, at the church door. And when you meet, you talk but
little, making the most of your time. Still, you must not suppose,
as I think you did, that we have rendezvous in the evening. Reine
respects herself too much to go about at night with a young man as
escort, and besides, she has other fish to fry. She has a great deal to
do at the farm, since her father has become an invalid."

"Well, do you think she loves you?" said Julien, with a movement of
nervous irritation.

"I can not tell," replied Claudet shrugging his shoulders, "she has
confidence in me, and shows me some marks of friendship, but I never have
ventured to ask her whether she feels anything more than friendship for
me. Look here, now. I have good reasons for keeping back; she is rich
and I am poor. You can understand that I would not, for any
consideration, allow her to think that I am courting her for her money--"

"Still, you desire to marry her, and you hope that she will not say no--
you acknowledge that!" cried Julien, vociferously.

Claudet, struck with the violence and bitterness of tone of his
companion, came up to him.

"How angrily you say that, Monsieur de Buxieres!" exclaimed he in his
turn; "upon my word, one might suppose the affair is very displeasing to
you. Will you let me tell you frankly an idea that has already entered
my head several times these last two or three days, and which has come
again now, while I have been listening to you? It is that perhaps you,
yourself, are also in love with Reine?"

"I!" protested Julien. He felt humiliated at Claudet's perspicacity;
but he had too much pride and selfrespect to let his preferred rival know
of his unfortunate passion. He waited a moment to swallow something in
his throat that seemed to be choking him, and then, trying in vain to
steady his voice, he added:

"You know that I have an aversion for women; and for that matter, I think
they return it with interest. But, at all events, I am not foolish
enough to expose myself to their rebuffs. Rest assured, I shall not
follow at your heels!"

Claudet shook his head incredulously.

"You doubt it," continued de Buxieres; "well, I will prove it to you.
You can not declare your wishes because Reine is rich and you are poor?
I will take charge of the whole matter."

"I--I do not understand you," faltered Claudet, bewildered at the strange
turn the conversation was taking.

"You will understand-soon," asserted Julien, with a gesture of both
decision and resignation.

The truth was, he had made one of those resolutions which seem illogical
and foolish at first sight, but are natural to minds at once timid and
exalted. The suffering caused by Claudet's revelations had become so
acute that he was alarmed. He recognized with dismay the disastrous
effects of this hopeless love, and determined to employ a heroic remedy
to arrest its further ravages. This was nothing less than killing his
love, by immediately getting Claudet married to Reine Vincart.
Sacrifices like this are easier to souls that have been subjected since
their infancy to Christian discipline, and accustomed to consider the
renunciation of mundane joys as a means of securing eternal salvation.
As soon as this idea had developed in Julien's brain, he seized upon it
with the precipitation of a drowning man, who distractedly lays hold of
the first object that seems to offer him a means of safety, whether it be
a dead branch or a reed.

"Listen," he resumed; "at the very first explanation that we had
together, I told you I did not intend to deprive you of your right to a
portion of your natural father's inheritance. Until now, you have taken
my word for it, and we have lived at the chateau like two brothers.
But now that a miserable question of money alone prevents you from
marrying the woman you love, it is important that you should be legally
provided for. We will go to-morrow to Monsieur Arbillot, and ask him to
draw up the deed, making over to you from me one half of the fortune of
Claude de Buxieres. You will then be, by law, and in the eyes of all,
one of the desirable matches of the canton, and you can demand the hand
of Mademoiselle Vincart, without any fear of being thought presumptuous
or mercenary."

Claudet, to whom this conclusion was wholly unexpected, was
thunderstruck. His emotion was so great that it prevented him from
speaking. In the obscurity of the room his deep-set eyes seemed larger,
and shone with the tears he could not repress.

"Monsieur Julien," said he, falteringly, "I can not find words to thank
you. I am like an idiot. And to think that only a little while ago I
suspected you of being tired of me, and regretting your benefits toward
me! What an animal I am! I measure others by myself. Well! can you
forgive me? If I do not express myself well, I feel deeply, and all I
can say is that you have made me very happy!" He sighed heavily.
"The question is now," continued he, "whether Reine will have me! You
may not believe me, Monsieur de Buxieres, but though I may seem very bold
and resolute, I feel like a wet hen when I get near her. I have a
dreadful panic that she will send me away as I came. I don't know
whether I can ever find courage to ask her."

"Why should she refuse you?" said Julien, sadly, "she knows that you
love her. Do you suppose she loves any one else?"

"That I don't know. Although Reine is very frank, she does not let every
one know what is passing in her mind, and with these young girls, I tell
you, one is never sure of anything. That is just what I fear may be
possible."

"If you fear the ordeal," said de Buxieres, with a visible effort, "would
you like me to present the matter for you?"

"I should be very glad. It would be doing me a great service. It would
be adding one more kindness to those I have already received, and some
day I hope to make it all up to you."

The next morning, according to agreement, Julien accompanied Claudet to
Auberive, where Maitre Arbillot drew up the deed of gift, and had it at
once signed and recorded. Afterward the young men adjourned to breakfast
at the inn. The meal was brief and silent. Neither seemed to have any
appetite. As soon as they had drunk their coffee, they turned back on
the Vivey road; but, when they had got as far as the great limetree,
standing at the entrance to the forest, Julien touched Claudet lightly on
the shoulder.

"Here," said he, "we must part company. You will return to Vivey, and I
shall go across the fields to La Thuiliere. I shall return as soon as I
have had an interview with Mademoiselle Vincart. Wait for me at the
chateau."

"The time will seem dreadfully long to me," sighed Claudet; "I shall not
know how to dispose of my body until you return."

"Your affair will be all settled within two or three hours from now.
Stay near the window of my room, and you will catch first sight of me
coming along in the distance. If I wave my hat, it will be a sign that I
bring a favorable answer."

Claudet pressed his hand; they separated, and Julien descended the newly
mown meadow, along which he walked under the shade of trees scattered
along the border line of the forest.

The heat of the midday sun was tempered by a breeze from the east, which
threw across the fields and woods the shadows of the white fleecy clouds.
The young man, pale and agitated, strode with feverish haste over the
short-cropped grass, while the little brooklet at his side seemed to
murmur a flute-like, soothing accompaniment to the tumultuous beatings of
his heart. He was both elated and depressed at the prospect of
submitting his already torn and lacerated feelings to so severe a trial.
The thought of beholding Reine again, and of sounding her feelings, gave
him a certain amount of cruel enjoyment. He would speak to her of love--
love for another, certainly--but he would throw into the declaration he
was making, in behalf of another, some of his own tenderness; he would
have the supreme and torturing satisfaction of watching her countenance,
of anticipating her blushes, of gathering the faltering avowal from her
lips. He would once more drink of the intoxication of her beauty, and
then he would go and shut himself up at Vivey, after burying at La
Thuiliere all his dreams and profane desires. But, even while the
courage of this immolation of his youthful love was strong within him,
he could not prevent a dim feeling of hope from crossing his mind.
Claudet was not certain that he was beloved; and possibly Reine's answer
would be a refusal. Then he should have a free field.

By a very human, but very illogical impulse, Julien de Buxieres had
hardly concluded the arrangement with Claudet which was to strike the
fatal blow to his own happiness when he began to forestall the
possibilities which the future might have in store for him. The odor of
the wild mint and meadow-sweet, dotting the banks of the stream, again
awoke vague, happy anticipations. Longing to reach Reine Vincart's
presence, he hastened his steps, then stopped suddenly, seized with an
overpowering panic. He had not seen her since the painful episode in the
hut, and it must have left with her a very sorry impression. What could
he do, if she refused to receive him or listen to him?

While revolting these conflicting thoughts in his mind, he came to the
fields leading directly to La Thuiliere, and just beyond, across a waving
mass of oats and rye, the shining tops of the farm-buildings came in
sight. A few minutes later, he pushed aside a gate and entered the yard.

The shutters were closed, the outer gate was closed inside, and the house
seemed deserted. Julien began to think that the young girl he was
seeking had gone into the fields with the farm-hands, and stood uncertain
and disappointed in the middle of the courtyard. At this sudden
intrusion into their domain, a brood of chickens, who had been clucking
sedately around, and picking up nourishment at the same time, scattered
screaming in every direction, heads down, feet sprawling, until by
unanimous consent they made a beeline for a half-open door, leading to
the orchard. Through this manoeuvre, the young man's attention was
brought to the fact that through this opening he could reach the rear
facade of the building. He therefore entered a grassy lane, winding
round a group of stones draped with ivy; and leaving the orchard on his
left, he pushed on toward the garden itself--a real country garden with
square beds bordered by mossy clumps alternating with currant-bushes,
rows of raspberry-trees, lettuce and cabbage beds, beans and runners
climbing up their slender supports, and, here and there, bunches of red
carnations and peasant roses.

Suddenly, at the end of a long avenue, he discovered Reine Vincart,
seated on the steps before an arched door, communicating with the
kitchen. A plum-tree, loaded with its violet fruit, spread its light
shadow over the young girl's head, as she sat shelling fresh-gathered
peas and piling the faint green heaps of color around her. The sound of
approaching steps on the grassy soil caused her to raise her head, but
she did not stir. In his intense emotion, Julien thought the alley never
would come to an end. He would fain have cleared it with a single bound,
so as to be at once in the presence of Mademoiselle Vincart, whose
immovable attitude rendered his approach still more difficult.
Nevertheless, he had to get over the ground somehow at a reasonable pace,
under penalty of making himself ridiculous, and he therefore found plenty
of time to examine Reine, who continued her work with imperturbable
gravity, throwing the peas as she shelled them into an ash-wood pail at
her feet.

She was bareheaded, and wore a striped skirt and a white jacket fitted to
her waist. The checkered shadows cast by the tree made spots of light
and darkness over her face and her uncovered neck, the top button of her
camisole being unfastened on account of the heat. De Buxieres had been
perfectly well recognized by her, but an emotion, at least equal to that
experienced by the young man, had transfixed her to the spot, and a
subtle feminine instinct had urged her to continue her employment, in
order to hide the sudden trembling of her fingers. During the last
month, ever since the adventure in the hut, she had thought often of
Julien; and the remembrance of the audacious kiss which the young de
Buxieres had so impetuously stolen from her neck, invariably brought the
flush of shame to her brow. But, although she was very indignant at the
fiery nature of his caress, as implying a want of respect little in
harmony with Julien's habitual reserve, she was astonished at herself for
not being still more angry. At first, the affront put upon her had
roused a feeling of indignation, but now, when she thought of it,
she felt only a gentle embarrassment, and a soft beating of the heart.
She began to reflect that to have thus broken loose from all restraint
before her, this timid youth must have been carried away by an
irresistible burst of passion, and any woman, however high-minded she may
be, will forgive such violent homage rendered to the sovereign power of
her beauty. Besides his feeding of her vanity, another independent and
more powerful motive predisposed her to indulgence: she felt a tender and
secret attraction toward Monsieur de Buxieres. This healthy and
energetic girl had been fascinated by the delicate charm of a nature so
unlike her own in its sensitiveness and disposition to self-blame.
Julien's melancholy blue eyes had, unknown to himself, exerted a magnetic
influence on Reine's dark, liquid orbs, and, without endeavoring to
analyze the sympathy that drew her toward a nature refined and tender
even to weakness, without asking herself where this unreflecting instinct
might lead her, she was conscious of a growing sentiment toward him,
which was not very much unlike love itself.

Julien de Buxieres's mood was not sufficiently calm to observe anything,
or he would immediately have perceived the impression that his sudden
appearance had produced upon Reine Vincart. As soon as he found himself
within a few steps of the young girl, he saluted her awkwardly, and she
returned his bow with marked coldness. Extremely disconcerted at this
reception, he endeavored to excuse himself for having invaded her
dwelling in so unceremonious a manner.

"I am all the more troubled," added he, humbly, "that after what has
happened, my visit must appear to you indiscreet, if not improper."

Reine, who had more quickly recovered her self-possession, pretended not
to understand the unwise allusion that had escaped the lips of her
visitor. She rose, pushed away with her foot the stalks and pods, which
encumbered the passage, and replied, very shortly:

"You are excused, Monsieur. There is no need of an introduction to enter
La Thuiliere. Besides, I suppose that the motive which has brought you
here can only be a proper one."

While thus speaking, she shook her skirt down, and without any
affectation buttoned up her camisole.

"Certainly, Mademoiselle," faltered Julien, "it is a most serious and
respectable motive that causes me to wish for an interview, and--if--I do
not disturb you--"

"Not in the least, Monsieur; but, if you wish to speak with me, it is
unnecessary for you to remain standing. Allow me to fetch you a chair."

She went into the house, leaving the young man overwhelmed with the
coolness of his reception; a few minutes later she reappeared, bringing a
chair, which she placed under the tree. "Sit here, you will be in the
shade."

She seated herself on the same step as before, leaning her back against
the wall, and her head on her hand.

"I am ready to listen to you," she said.

Julien, much less under his own control than she, discovered that his
mission was more difficult than he had imagined it would be; he
experienced a singular amount of embarrassment in unfolding his subject;
and was obliged to have recourse to prolonged inquiries concerning the
health of Monsieur Vincart.

"He is still in the same condition," said Reine, "neither better nor
worse, and, with the illness which afflicts him, the best I can hope for
is that he may remain in that condition. But," continued she, with a
slight inflection of irony; "doubtless it is not for the purpose of
inquiring after my father's health that you have come all the way from
Vivey?"

"That is true, Mademoiselle," replied he, coloring. "What I have to
speak to you about is a very delicate matter. You will excuse me,
therefore, if I am somewhat embarrassed. I beg of you, Mademoiselle, to
listen to me with indulgence."

"What can he be coming to?" thought Reine, wondering why he made so many
preambles before beginning. And, at the same time, her heart began to
beat violently.

Julien took the course taken by all timid people after meditating for a
long while on the best way to prepare the young girl for the
communication he had taken upon himself to make--he lost his head and
inquired abruptly:

"Mademoiselle Reine, do you not intend to marry?"

Reine started, and gazed at him with a frightened air.

"I!" exclaimed she, "Oh, I have time enough and I am not in a hurry."
Then, dropping her eyes: "Why do you ask that?"

"Because I know of some one who loves you and who would be glad to marry
you."

She became very pale, took up one of the empty pods, twisted it nervously
around her finger without speaking.

"Some one belonging to our neighborhood?" she faltered, after a few
moments' silence.

"Yes; some one whom you know, and who is not a recent arrival here.
Some one who possesses, I believe, sterling qualities sufficient to make
a good husband, and means enough to do credit to the woman who will wed
him. Doubtless you have already guessed to whom I refer?"

She sat motionless, her lips tightly closed, her features rigid, but the
nervous twitching of her fingers as she bent the green stem back and
forth, betrayed her inward agitation.

"No; I can not tell," she replied at last, in an almost inaudible voice.

"Truly?" he exclaimed, with an expression of astonishment, in which was
a certain amount of secret satisfaction; "you can not tell whom I mean?
You have never thought of the person of whom I am speaking in that
light?"

"No; who is that person?"

She had raised her eyes toward his, and they shone with a deep,
mysterious light.

"It is Claudet Sejournant," replied Julien, very gently; and in an
altered tone.

The glow that had illumined the dark orbs of the young girl faded away,
her eyelids dropped, and her countenance became as rigid as before; but
Julien did not notice anything. The words he had just uttered had cost
him too much agony, and he dared not look at his companion, lest he
should behold her joyful surprise, and thereby aggravate his suffering.

"Ah!" said Reine, coldly, "in that case, why did not Claudet come
himself and state his own case?"

"His courage failed him at the last moment--and so--"

"And so," continued she, with sarcastic bitterness of tone, "you took
upon yourself to speak for him?"

"Yes; I promised him I would plead his cause. I was sure, moreover, that
I should not have much difficulty in gaining the suit. Claudet has loved
you for a long time. He is good-hearted, and a fine fellow to look at.
And as to worldly advantages, his position is now equal to your own.
I have made over to him, by legal contract, the half of his father's
estate. What answer am I to take back?"

He spoke with difficulty in broken sentences, without turning his eyes
toward Mademoiselle Vincart. The silence that followed his last question
seemed to him unbearable, and the contrasting chirping of the noisy
grasshoppers, and the buzzing of the flies in the quiet sunny garden,
resounded unpleasantly in his ears.

Reine remained speechless. She was disconcerted and well-nigh
overpowered by the unexpected announcement, and her brain seemed unable
to bear the crowd of tumultuous and conflicting emotions which presented
themselves. Certainly, she had already suspected that Claudet had a
secret liking for her, but she never had thought of encouraging the
feeling. The avowal of his hopes neither surprised nor hurt her; that
which pained her was the intervention of Julien, who had taken in hand
the cause of his relative. Was it possible that this same M. de
Buxieres, who had made so audacious a display of his tender feeling in
the hut, could now come forward as Claudet's advocate, as if it were the
most natural thing in the world for him to do? In that case, his
astonishing behavior at the fete, which had caused her so much pain,
and which she had endeavored to excuse in her own mind as the untutored
outbreak of his pentup love, that fiery caress, was only the insulting
manifestation of a brutal caprice? The transgressor thought so little of
her, she was of such small importance in his eyes, that he had no
hesitation in proposing that she marry Claudet? She beheld herself
scorned, humiliated, insulted by the only man in whom she ever had felt
interested. In the excess of her indignation she felt herself becoming
hardhearted and violent; a profound discouragement, a stony indifference
to all things, impelled her to extreme measures, and, not being able at
the moment to find any one on whom she could put them in operation, she
was almost tempted to lay violent hands on herself.

"What shall I say to Claudet?" repeated Julien, endeavoring to conceal
the suffering which was devouring his heart by an assumption of outward
frigidity.

She turned slowly round, fixed her searching eyes, which had become as
dark as waters reflecting a stormy sky, upon his face, and demanded, in
icy tones:

"What do you advise me to say?"

Now, if Julien had been less of a novice, he would have understood that a
girl who loves never addresses such a question; but the feminine heart
was a book in which he was a very poor speller. He imagined that Reine
was only asking him as a matter of form, and that it was from a feeling
of maidenly reserve that she adopted this passive method of escaping from
openly declaring her wishes. She no doubt desired his friendly aid in
the matter, and he felt as if he ought to grant her that satisfaction.

"I have the conviction," stammered he, "that Claudet will make a good
husband, and you will do well to accept him."

Reine bit her lip, and her paleness increased so as to set off still more
the fervid lustre of her eyes. The two little brown moles stood out more
visibly on her white neck, and added to her attractions.

"So be it!" exclaimed she, "tell Claudet that I consent, and that he
will be welcome at La Thuiliere."

"I will tell him immediately." He bent gravely and sadly before Reine,
who remained standing and motionless against the door. "Adieu,
Mademoiselle!"

He turned away abruptly; plunged into the first avenue he came to, lost
his way twice and finally reached the courtyard, and thence escaped at
breakneck speed across the fields.

Reine maintained her statue-like pose as long as the young man's
footsteps resounded on the stony paths; but when they died gradually away
in the distance, when nothing could be heard save the monotonous trill of
the grasshoppers basking in the sun, she threw herself down on the green
heap of rubbish; she covered her face with her hands and gave way to a
passionate outburst of tears and sobs.

In the meanwhile, Julien de Buxieres, angry with himself, irritated by
the speedy success of his mission, was losing his way among the
pasturages, and getting entangled in the thickets. All the details of
the interview presented themselves before his mind with remorseless
clearness. He seemed more lonely, more unfortunate, more disgusted with
himself and with all else than he ever had been before. Ashamed of the
wretched part he had just been enacting, he felt almost childish
repugnance to returning to Vivey, and tried to pick out the paths that
would take him there by the longest way. But he was not sufficiently
accustomed to laying out a route for himself, and when he thought he had
a league farther to go, and had just leaped over an intervening hedge,
the pointed roofs of the chateau appeared before him at a distance of not
more than a hundred feet, and at one of the windows on the first floor he
could distinguish Claudet, leaning for ward, as if to interrogate him.

He remembered then the promise he had made the young huntsman; and
faithful to his word, although with rage and bitterness in his heart,
he raised his hat, and with effort, waved it three times above his head.
At this signal, the forerunner of good news, Claudet replied by a
triumphant shout, and disappeared from the window. A moment later,
Julien heard the noise of furious galloping down the enclosures of the
park. It was the lover, hastening to learn the particulars of the
interview.

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

I measure others by myself
Like all timid persons, he took refuge in a moody silence
Others found delight in the most ordinary amusements
Sensitiveness and disposition to self-blame
Women: they are more bitter than death
Yield to their customs, and not pooh-pooh their amusements
You must be pleased with yourself--that is more essential

A WOODLAND QUEEN
('Reine des Bois')

By ANDRE THEURIET

BOOK 3.

CHAPTER VII

THE STRANGE, DARK SECRET

Julien had once entertained the hope that Claudet's marriage with Reine
would act as a kind of heroic remedy for the cure of his unfortunate
passion, he very soon perceived that he had been wofully mistaken. As
soon as he had informed the grand chasserot of the success of his
undertaking, he became aware that his own burden was considerably
heavier. Certainly it had been easier for him to bear uncertainty than
the boisterous rapture evinced by his fortunate rival. His jealousy rose
against it, and that was all. Now that he had torn from Reine the avowal
of her love for Claudet, he was more than ever oppressed by his hopeless
passion, and plunged into a condition of complete moral and physical
disintegration. It mingled with his blood, his nerves, his thoughts, and
possessed him altogether, dwelling within him like an adored and
tyrannical mistress. Reine appeared constantly before him as he had
contemplated her on the outside steps of the farmhouse, in her never-to-
be-forgotten negligee of the short skirt and the half-open bodice. He
again beheld the silken treasure of her tresses, gliding playfully around
her shoulders, the clear, honest look of her limpid eyes, the expressive
smile of her enchanting lips, and with a sudden revulsion of feeling he
reflected that perhaps before a month was over, all these charms would
belong to Claudct. Then, almost at the same moment, like a swallow,
which, with one rapid turn of its wing, changes its course, his thoughts
went in the opposite direction, and he began to imagine what would have
happened if, instead of replying in the affirmative, Reine had objected
to marrying Claudet. He could picture himself kneeling before her as
before the Madonna, and in a low voice confessing his love. He would
have taken her hands so respectfully, and pleaded so eloquently, that she
would have allowed herself to be convinced. The little, hands would have
remained prisoners in his own; he would have lifted her tenderly,
devotedly, in his arms, and under the influence of this feverish dream,
he fancied he could feel the beating heart of the young girl against his
own bosom. Suddenly he would wake up out of his illusions, and bite his
lips with rage on finding himself in the dull reality of his own
dwelling.

One day he heard footsteps on the gravel; a sonorous and jovial voice met
his ear. It was Claudet, starting for La Thuiliere. Julien bent forward
to see him, and ground his teeth as he watched his joyous departure. The
sharp sting of jealousy entered his soul, and he rebelled against the
evident injustice of Fate. How had he deserved that life should present
so dismal and forbidding an aspect to him? He had had none of the joys
of infancy; his youth had been spent wearily under the peevish discipline
of a cloister; he had entered on his young manhood with all the
awkwardness and timidity of a night-bird that is made to fly in the day.
Up to the age of twenty-seven years, he had known neither love nor
friendship; his time had been given entirely to earning his daily bread,
and to the cultivation of religious exercises, which consoled him in some
measure for his apparently useless way of living. Latterly, it is true,
Fortune had seemed to smile upon him, by giving him a little more money
and liberty, but this smile was a mere mockery, and a snare more hurtful
than the pettinesses and privations of his past life. The fickle
goddess, continuing her part of mystifier, had opened to his enraptured
sight a magic window through which she had shown him a charming vision of
possible happiness; but while he was still gazing, she had closed it
abruptly in his face, laughing scornfully at his discomfiture. What
sense was there in this perversion of justice, this perpetual mockery of
Fate? At times the influence of his early education would resume its
sway, and he would ask himself whether all this apparent contradiction
were not a secret admonition from on high, warning him that he had not
been created to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of this world, and ought,
therefore, to turn his attention toward things eternal, and renounce the
perishable delights of the flesh?

"If so," thought he, irreverently, "the warning comes rather late, and it
would have answered the purpose better had I been allowed to continue in
the narrow way of obscure poverty!" Now that the enervating influence of
a more prosperous atmosphere had weakened his courage, and cooled the
ardor of his piety, his faith began to totter like an old wall. His
religious beliefs seemed to have been wrecked by the same storm which had
destroyed his passionate hopes of love, and left him stranded and forlorn
without either haven or pilot, blown hither and thither solely by the
violence of his passion.

By degrees he took an aversion to his home, and would spend entire days
in the woods. Their secluded haunts, already colored by the breath of
autumn, became more attractive to him as other refuge failed him. They
were his consolation; his doubts, weakness, and amorous regrets, found
sympathy and indulgence under their silent shelter. He felt less lonely,
less humiliated, less prosaic among these great forest depths, these
lofty ash-trees, raising their verdant branches to heaven. He found he
could more easily evoke the seductive image of Reine Vincart in these
calm solitudes, where the recollections of the previous springtime
mingled with the phantoms of his heated imagination and clothed
themselves with almost living forms. He seemed to see the young girl
rising from the mists of the distant valleys. The least fluttering of
the leaves heralded her fancied approach. At times the hallucination was
so complete that he could see, in the interlacing of the branches, the
undulations of her supple form, and the graceful outlines of her profile.
Then he would be seized by an insane desire to reach the fugitive and
speak to her once more, and would go tearing along the brushwood for that
purpose. Now and then, in the half light formed by the hanging boughs,
he would see rays of golden light, coming straight down to the ground,
and resting there lightly like diaphanous apparitions. Sometimes the
rustling of birds taking flight, would sound in his ears like the timid
frou-frou of a skirt, and Julien, fascinated by the mysterious charm of
these indefinite objects, and following the impulse of their mystical
suggestions, would fling himself impetuously into the jungle, repeating
to him self the words of the "Canticle of Canticles": "I hear the voice
of my beloved; behold! she cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping
upon the hills." He would continue to press forward in pursuit of the
intangible apparition, until he sank with exhaustion near some stream or
fountain. Under the influence of the fever, which was consuming his
brain, he would imagine the trickling water to be the song of a feminine
voice. He would wind his arms around the young saplings, he would tear
the berries from the bushes, pressing them against his thirsty lips, and
imagining their odoriferous sweetness to be a fond caress from the loved
one.

He would return from these expeditions exhausted but not appeased.
Sometimes he would come across Claudet, also returning home from paying
his court to Reine Vincart; and the unhappy Julien would scrutinize his
rival's countenance, seeking eagerly for some trace of the impressions he
had received during the loving interview. His curiosity was nearly
always baffled; for Claudet seemed to have left all his gayety and
conversational powers at La Thuiliere. During their tete-a-tete meals,
he hardly spoke at all, maintaining a reserved attitude and a taciturn
countenance. Julien, provoked at this unexpected sobriety, privately
accused his cousin of dissimulation, and of trying to conceal his
happiness. His jealousy so blinded him that he considered the silence of
Claudet as pure hypocrisy not recognizing that it was assumed for the
purpose of concealing some unpleasantness rather than satisfaction.

The fact was that Claudet, although rejoicing at the turn matters had
taken, was verifying the poet's saying: "Never is perfect happiness our
lot." When Julien brought him the good news, and he had flown so
joyfully to La Thuiliere, he had certainly been cordially received by
Reine, but, nevertheless, he had noticed with surprise an absent and
dreamy look in her eyes, which did not agree with his idea of a first
interview of lovers. When he wished to express his affection in the
vivacious and significant manner ordinarily employed among the peasantry,
that is to say, by vigorous embracing and resounding kisses, he met with
unexpected resistance.

"Keep quiet!" was the order, "and let us talk rationally!"

He obeyed, although not agreeing in her view of the reserve to be
maintained between lovers; but, he made up his mind to return to the
charge and triumph over her bashful scruples. In fact, he began again
the very next day, and his impetuous ardor encountered the same refusal
in the same firm, though affectionate manner. He ventured to complain,
telling Reine that she did not love him as she ought.

"If I did not feel friendly toward you," replied the young girl,
laconically, "should I have allowed you to talk to me of marriage?"

Then, seeing that he looked vexed and worried, and realizing that she was
perhaps treating him too roughly, she continued, more gently:

"Remember, Claudet, that I am living all alone at the farm. That obliges
me to have more reserve than a girl whose mother is with her. So you
must not be offended if I do not behave exactly as others might, and rest
assured that it will not prevent me from being a good wife to you, when
we are married."

"Well, now," thought Claudet, as he was returning despondently to Vivey:
"I can't help thinking that a little caress now and then wouldn't hurt
any one!"

Under these conditions it is not to be supposed he was in a mood to
relate any of the details of such meagre lovemaking. His self-love was
wounded by Reine's coldness. Having always been "cock-of-the-walk," he
could not understand why he had such poor success with the only one about
whom he was in earnest. He kept quiet, therefore, hiding his anxiety
under the mask of careless indifference. Moreover, a certain primitive
instinct of prudence made him circumspect. In his innermost soul, he
still entertained doubts of Julien's sincerity. Sometimes he doubted
whether his cousin's conduct had not been dictated by the bitterness of
rejected love, rather than a generous impulse of affection, and he did
not care to reveal Reine's repulse to one whom he vaguely suspected of
being a former lover. His simple, ardent nature could not put up with
opposition, and he thought only of hastening the day when Reine would
belong to him altogether. But, when he broached this subject, he had the
mortification to find that she was less impatient than himself.

"There is no hurry," she replied, "our affairs are not in order, our
harvests are not housed, and it would be better to wait till the dull
season."

In his first moments of joy and effervescence, Claudet had evinced the
desire to announce immediately the betrothal throughout the village.
This Reine had opposed; she thought they should avoid awakening public
curiosity so long beforehand, and she extracted from Claudet a promise to
say nothing until the date of the marriage should be settled. He had
unwillingly consented, and thus, during the last month, the matter had
been dragging on indefinitely:

With Julien de Buxieres, this interminable delay, these incessant comings
and goings from the chateau to the farm, as well as the mysterious
conduct of the bridegroom-elect, became a subject of serious irritation,
amounting almost to obsession. He would have wished the affair hurried
up, and the sacrifice consummated without hindrance. He believed that
when once the newly-married pair had taken up their quarters at La
Thuiliere, the very certainty that Reine belonged in future to another
would suffice to effect a radical cure in him, and chase away the
deceptive phantoms by which he was pursued.

One evening, as Claudet was returning home, more out of humor and silent
than usual, Julien asked him, abruptly:

"Well! how are you getting along? When is the wedding?"

"Nothing is decided yet," replied Claudet, "we have time enough!"

"You think so?" exclaimed de Buxieres, sarcastically; "you have
considerable patience for a lover!"

The remark and the tone provoked Claudet.

"The delay is not of my making," returned he.

"Ah!" replied the other, quickly, "then it comes from Mademoiselle
Vincart?" And a sudden gleam came into his eyes, as if Claudet's
assertion had kindled a spark of hope in his breast. The latter noticed
the momentary brightness in his cousin's usually stormy countenance, and
hastened to reply:

"Nay, nay; we both think it better to postpone the wedding until the
harvest is in."

"You are wrong. A wedding should not be postponed. Besides, this
prolonged love-making, these daily visits to the farm--all that is not
very proper. It is compromising for Mademoiselle Vincart!"

Julien shot out these remarks with a degree of fierceness and violence
that astonished Claudet.

"You think, then," said he, "that we ought to rush matters, and have the
wedding before winter?"

"Undoubtedly!"

The next day, at La Thuiliere, the grand chasserot, as he stood in the
orchard, watching Reine spread linen on the grass, entered bravely on the
subject.

"Reine," said he, coaxingly, "I think we shall have to decide upon a day
for our wedding."

She set down the watering-pot with which she was wetting the linen, and
looked anxiously at her betrothed.

"I thought we had agreed to wait until the later season. Why do you wish
to change that arrangement?"

"That is true; I promised not to hurry you, Reine, but it is beyond me to
wait--you must not be vexed with me if I find the time long. Besides,
they know nothing, around the village, of our intentions, and my coming
here every day might cause gossip and make it unpleasant for you. At any
rate, that is the opinion of Monsieur de Buxieres, with whom I was
conferring only yesterday evening."

At the name of Julien, Reine frowned and bit her lip.

"Aha!" said she, "it is he who has been advising you?"

"Yes; he says the sooner we are married, the better it will be."

"Why does he interfere in what does not concern him?" said she, angrily,
turning her head away. She stood a moment in thought, absently pushing
forward the roll of linen with her foot. Then, shrugging her shoulders
and raising her head, she said slowly, while still avoiding Claudet's
eyes:

"Perhaps you are right--both of you. Well, let it be so! I authorize
you to go to Monsieur le Cure and arrange the day with him."

"Oh, thanks, Reine!" exclaimed Claudet, rapturously; "you make me very
happy!"

He pressed her hands in his, but though absorbed in his own joyful
feelings, he could not help remarking that the young girl was trembling
in his grasp. He even fancied that there was a suspicious, tearful
glitter in her brilliant eyes.

He left her, however, and repaired at once to the cure's house, which
stood near the chateau, a little behind the church.

The servant showed him into a small garden separated by a low wall from
the cemetery. He found the Abbe Pernot seated on a stone bench,
sheltered by a trellised vine. He was occupied in cutting up pieces of
hazel-nuts to make traps for small birds.

"Good-evening, Claudet!" said the cure, without moving from his work;
"you find me busy preparing my nets; if you will permit me, I will
continue, for I should like to have my two hundred traps finished by this
evening. The season is advancing, you know! The birds will begin their
migrations, and I should be greatly provoked if I were not equipped in
time for the opportune moment. And how is Monsieur de Buxieres? I trust
he will not be less good-natured than his deceased cousin, and that he
will allow me to spread my snares on the border hedge of his woods.
But," added he, as he noticed the flurried, impatient countenance of his
visitor, "I forgot to ask you, my dear young fellow, to what happy chance
I owe your visit? Excuse my neglect!"

"Don't mention it, Monsieur le Cure. You have guessed rightly. It is a
very happy circumstance which brings me. I am about to marry."

"Aha!" laughed the Abbe, "I congratulate you, my dear young friend.
This is really delightful news. It is not good for man to be alone, and
I am glad to know you must give up the perilous life of a bachelor.
Well, tell me quickly the name of your betrothed. Do I know her?"

"Of course you do, Monsieur le Cure; there are few you know so well. It
is Mademoiselle Vincart."

"Reine?"

The Abbe flung away the pruning-knife and branch that he was cutting, and
gazed at Claudet with a stupefied air. At the same time, his jovial face
became shadowed, and his mouth assumed an expression of consternation.

"Yes, indeed, Reine Vincart," repeated Claudet, somewhat vexed at the
startled manner of his reverence; "are you surprised at my choice?"

"Excuse me-and-is it all settled?" stammered the Abbe, with
bewilderment, "and--and do you really love each other?"

"Certainly; we agree on that point; and I have come here to arrange with
you about having the banns published."

"What! already?" murmured the cure, buttoning and unbuttoning the top
of his coat in his agitation, "you seem to be in a great hurry to go to
work. The union of the man and the woman--ahem--is a serious matter,
which ought not to be undertaken without due consideration. That is the
reason why the Church has instituted the sacrament of marriage. Hast
thou well considered, my son?"

"Why, certainly, I have reflected," exclaimed Claudet with some
irritation, "and my mind is quite made up. Once more, I ask you,
Monsieur le Cure, are you displeased with my choice, or have you anything
to say against Mademoiselle Vincart?"

"I? no, absolutely nothing. Reine is an exceedingly good girl."

"Well, then?"

"Well, my friend, I will go over to-morrow and see your fiancee, and we
will talk matters over. I shall act for the best, in the interests of
both of you, be assured of that. In the meantime, you will both be
united this evening in my prayers; but, for to-day, we shall have to stop
where we are. Good-evening, Claudet! I will see you again."

With these enigmatic words, he dismissed the young lover, who returned to
the chateau, vexed and disturbed by his strange reception.

The moment the door of the presbytery had closed behind Claudet, the Abbe
Pernot, flinging to one side all his preparations, began to pace
nervously up and down the principal garden-walk. He appeared completely
unhinged. His features were drawn, through an unusual tension of ideas
forced upon him. He had hurriedly caught his skullcap from his head, as
if he feared the heat of his meditation might cause a rush of blood to
the head. He quickened his steps, then stopped suddenly, folded his arms
with great energy, then opened them again abruptly to thrust his hands
into the pockets of his gown, searching through them with feverish
anxiety, as if he expected to find something which might solve obscure
and embarrassing questions.

"Good Lord! Good Lord! What a dreadful piece of business; and right in
the bird season, too! But I can say nothing to Claudet. It is a secret
that does not belong to me. How can I get out of it? Tutt! tutt! tutt!"

These monosyllabic ejaculations broke forth like the vexed clucking of a
frightened blackbird; after which relief, the Abbe resumed his fitful
striding up and down the box-bordered alley. This lasted until the hour
of twilight, when Augustine, the servant, as soon as the Angelus had
sounded, went to inform her master that they were waiting prayers for him
in the church. He obeyed the summons, although in a somewhat absent
mood, and hurried over the services in a manner which did not contribute
to the edification of the assistants. As soon as he got home, he ate his
Supper without appetite, mumbled his prayers, and shut himself up in the
room he used as a study and workshop. He remained there until the night
was far advanced, searching through his scanty library to find two dusty
volumes treating of "cases of conscience," which he looked eagerly over
by the feeble light of his study lamp. During this laborious search he
emitted frequent sighs, and only left off reading occasionally in order
to dose himself plentifully with snuff. At last, as he felt that his
eyes were becoming inflamed, his ideas conflicting in his brain, and as
his lamp was getting low, he decided to go to bed. But he slept badly,
turned over at least twenty times, and was up with the first streak of
day to say his mass in the chapel. He officiated with more dignity and
piety than was his wont; and after reading the second gospel he remained
for a long while kneeling on one of the steps of the altar. After he had
returned to the sacristy, he divested himself quickly of his sacerdotal
robes, reached his room by a passage of communication, breakfasted
hurriedly, and putting on his three-cornered hat, and seizing his knotty,
cherry-wood cane, he shot out of doors as if he had been summoned to a
fire.

Augustine, amazed at his precipitate departure, went up to the attic,
and, from behind the shelter of the skylight, perceived her master
striding rapidly along the road to Planche-au-Vacher. There she lost
sight of him--the underwood was too thick. But, after a few minutes, the
gaze of the inquisitive woman was rewarded by the appearance of a dark
object emerging from the copse, and defining itself on the bright pasture
land beyond. "Monsieur le Cure is going to La Thuiliere," thought she,
and with this half-satisfaction she descended to her daily occupations.

It was true, the Abbe Pernot was walking, as fast as he could, to the
Vincart farm, as unmindful of the dew that tarnished his shoe-buckles as
of the thorns which attacked his calves. He had that within him which
spurred him on, and rendered him unconscious of the accidents on his
path. Never, during his twenty-five years of priestly office, had a more
difficult question embarrassed his conscience. The case was a grave one,
and moreover, so urgent that the Abbe was quite at a loss how to proceed.
How was it that he never had foreseen that such a combination of
circumstances might occur? A priest of a more fervent spirit, who had
the salvation of his flock more at heart, could not have been taken so
unprepared. Yes; that was surely the cause! The profane occupations in
which he had allowed himself to take so much enjoyment, had distracted
his watchfulness and obscured his perspicacity. Providence was now
punishing him for his lukewarmness, by interposing across his path this
stumbling-block, which was probably sent to him as a salutary warning,
but which he saw no way of getting over.

While he was thus meditating and reproaching himself, the thrushes were
calling to one another from the branches of their favorite trees; whole
flights of yellowhammers burst forth from the hedges red with haws; but
he took no heed of them and did not even give a single thought to his
neglected nests and snares.

He went straight on, stumbling over the juniper bushes, and wondering
what he should say when he reached the farm, and how he should begin.
Sometimes he addressed himself, thus: "Have I the right to speak? What a
revelation! And to a young girl! Oh, Lord, lead me in the straight way
of thy truth, and instruct me in the right path!"

As he continued piously repeating this verse of the Psalmist, in order to
gain spiritual strength, the gray roofs of La Thuiliere rose before him;
he could hear the crowing of the cocks and the lowing of the cows in the
stable. Five minutes after, he had pushed open the door of the kitchen
where La Guite was arranging the bowls for breakfast.

"Good-morning, Guitiote," said he, in a choking voice; "is Mademoiselle
Vincart up?"

"Holy Virgin! Monsieur le Cure! Why, certainly Mademoiselle is up.
She was on foot before any of us, and now she is trotting around the
orchard. I will go fetch her."

"No, do not stir. I know the way, and I will go and find her myself."

She was in the orchard, was she? The Abbe preferred it should be so; he
thought the interview would be less painful, and that the surrounding
trees would give him ideas. He walked across the kitchen, descended the
steps leading from the ground floor to the garden, and ascended the slope
in search of Reine, whom he soon perceived in the midst of a bower formed
by clustering filbert-trees.

At sight of the cure, Reine turned pale; he had doubtless come to tell
her the result of his interview with Claudet, and what day had been
definitely chosen for the nuptial celebration. She had been troubled all
night by the reflection that her fate would soon be irrevocably scaled;
she had wept, and her eyes betrayed it. Only the day before, she had
looked upon this project of marriage, which she had entertained in a
moment of anger and injured feeling, as a vague thing, a vaporous
eventuality of which the realization was doubtful; now, all was arranged,
settled, cruelly certain; there was no way of escaping from a promise
which Claudet, alas! was bound to consider a serious one. These
thoughts traversed her mind, while the cure was slowly approaching the
filbert-trees; she felt her heart throb, and her eyes again filled with
tears. Yet her pride would not allow that the Abbe should witness her
irresolution and weeping; she made an effort, overcame the momentary
weakness, and addressed the priest in an almost cheerful voice:

"Monsieur le Cure, I am sorry that they have made you come up this hill
to find me. Let us go back to the farm, and I will offer you a cup of
coffee."

"No, my child," replied the Abbe, motioning with his hand that she should
stay where she was, "no, thank you! I will not take anything. Remain
where you are.

"I wish to talk to you, and we shall be less liable to be disturbed here."

There were two rustic seats under the nut-trees; the cure took one and
asked Reine to take the other, opposite to him. There they were, under
the thick, verdant branches, hidden from indiscreet passers-by,
surrounded by silence, installed as in a confessional.

The morning quiet, the solitude, the half light, all invited meditation
and confidence; nevertheless the young girl and the priest sat
motionless; both agitated and embarrassed and watching each other without
uttering a sound. It was Reine who first broke the silence.

"You have seen Claudet, Monsieur le Cure?"

"Yes, yes!" replied the Abbe, sighing deeply.

"He--spoke to you of our-plans," continued the young girl, in a quavering
voice, "and you fixed the day?"

"No, my child, we settled nothing. I wanted to see you first, and
converse with you about something very important."

The Abbe hesitated, rubbed a spot of mud off his soutane, raised his
shoulders like a man lifting a heavy burden, then gave a deep cough.

"My dear child," continued he at length, prudently dropping his voice a
tone lower, "I will begin by repeating to you what I said yesterday to
Claudet Sejournant: the marriage, that is to say, the indissoluble union,
of man and woman before God, is one of the most solemn and serious acts
of life. The Church has constituted it a sacrament, which she
administers only on certain formal conditions. Before entering into this
bond, one ought, as we are taught by Holy Writ, to sound the heart,
subject the very inmost of the soul to searching examinations. I beg of
you, therefore, answer my questions freely, without false shame, just as
if you were at the tribunal of repentance. Do you love Claudet?"

Reine trembled. This appeal to her sincerity renewed all her
perplexities and scruples. She raised her full, glistening eyes to the
cure, and replied, after a slight hesitation:

"I have a sincere affection for Claudet-and-much esteem."

"I understand that," replied the priest, compressing his lips, "but--
excuse me if I press the matter--has the engagement you have made with
him been determined simply by considerations of affection and
suitableness, or by more interior and deeper feelings?"

"Pardon, Monsieur le Cure," returned Reine, coloring, "it seems to me
that a sentiment of friendship, joined to a firm determination to prove a
faithful and devoted wife, should be, in your eyes as they are in mine, a
sufficient assurance that--"

"Certainly, certainly, my dear child; and many husbands would be
contented with less. However, it is not only a question of Claudet's
happiness, but of yours also. Come now! let me ask you: is your
affection for young Sejournant so powerful that in the event of any
unforeseen circumstance happening, to break off the marriage, you would
be forever unhappy?"

"Ah!" replied Reine, more embarrassed than ever, "you ask too grave a
question, Monsieur le Cure! If it were broken off without my having to
reproach myself for it, it is probable that I should find consolation in
time."

"Very good! Consequently, you do not love Claudet, if I may take the
word love in the sense understood by people of the world. You only like,
you do not love him? Tell me. Answer frankly."

"Frankly, Monsieur le Cure, no!"

"Thanks be to God! We are saved!" exclaimed the Abbe, drawing a long
breath, while Reine, amazed, gazed at him with wondering eves.

"I do not understand you," faltered she; "what is it?"

"It is this: the marriage can not take place."

"Can not? why?"

"It is impossible, both in the eyes of the Church and in those of the
world."

The young girl looked at him with increasing amazement.

"You alarm me!" cried she. "What has happened? What reasons hinder me
from marrying Claudet?"

"Very powerful reasons, my dear child. I do not feel at liberty to
reveal them to you, but you must know that I am not speaking without
authority, and that you may rely on the statement I have made."

Reine remained thoughtful, her brows knit, her countenance troubled.

"I have every confidence in you, Monsieur le Cure, but--"

"But you hesitate about believing me," interrupted the Abbe, piqued at
not finding in one of his flock the blind obedience on which he had
reckoned. "You must know, nevertheless, that your pastor has no interest
in deceiving you, and that when he seeks to influence you, he has in view
only your well-being in this world and in the next."

"I do not doubt your good intentions," replied Reine, with firmness, "but
a promise can not be annulled without sufficient cause. I have given my
word to Claudet, and I am too loyal at heart to break faith with him
without letting him know the reason."

"You will find some pretext."

"And supposing that Claudet would be content with such a pretext, my own
conscience would not be," objected the young girl, raising her clear,
honest glance toward the priest; "your words have entered my soul, they
are troubling me now, and it will be worse when I begin to think this
matter over again. I can not bear uncertainty. I must see my way
clearly before me. I entreat you then, Monsieur le Cure, not to do
things by halves. You have thought it your duty to tell me I can not wed
with Claudet; now tell me why not?"

"Why not? why not?" repeated the Abbe, angrily. "I distress myself in
telling you that I am not authorized to satisfy your unwise curiosity!
You must humble your intelligence and believe without arguing."

"In matters of faith, that may be possible," urged Reine, obstinately,
"but my marriage has nothing to do with discussing the truths of our holy
religion. I therefore respectfully ask to be enlightened, Monsieur le
Cure; otherwise--"

"Otherwise?" repeated the Abby Pernot, inquiringly, rolling his eyes
uneasily.

"Otherwise, I shall keep my word respectably, and I shall marry Claudet."

"You will not do that?" said he, imploringly, joining his hands as if in
supplication; "after being openly warned by me, you dare not burden your
soul with such a terrible responsibility. Come, my child, does not the
possibility of committing a mortal sin alarm your conscience as a
Christian?"

"I can not sin if I am in ignorance, and as to my conscience, Monsieur le
Cure, do you think it is acting like a Christian to alarm without
enlightening?"

"Is that your last word?" inquired the Abbe, completely aghast.

"It is my last word," she replied, vehemently, moved both by a feeling of
self-respect, and a desire to force the hand of her interlocutor.

"You are a proud, obstinate girl!" exclaimed the Abbe, rising abruptly,
"you wish to compel me to reveal this secret! Well, have your way!
I will tell you. May the harm which may result from it fall lightly upon
you, and do not hereafter reproach me for the pain I am about to inflict
upon you."

He checked himself for a moment, again joined his hands, and raising his
eyes toward heaven ejaculated fervently, as if repeating his devotions in
the oratory: "O Lord, thou knowest I would have spared her this bitter
cup, but, between two evils, I have avoided the greater. If I forfeit my
solemn promise, consider, O Lord, I pray thee, that I do it to avoid
disgrace and exposure for her, and deign to forgive thy servant!"

He seated himself again, placed one of his hands before his eyes, and
began, in a hollow voice, Reine, all the while gazing nervously at him:

"My child, you are forcing me to violate a secret which has been solemnly
confided to me. It concerns a matter not usually talked about before
young girls, but you are, I believe, already a woman in heart and
understanding, and you will hear resignedly what I have to tell you,
however much the recital may trouble you. I have already informed you
that your marriage with Claudet is impossible. I now declare that it
would be criminal, for the reason that incest is an abomination."

"Incest!" repeated Reine, pale and trembling, "what do you mean?"

"I mean," sighed the cure, "that you are Claudet's sister, not having the
same mother, but the same father: Claude-Odouart de Buxieres."

"Oh! you are mistaken! that cannot be!"

"I am stating facts. It grieves me to the heart, my dear child, that in
speaking of your deceased mother, I should have to reveal an error over
which she lamented, like David, with tears of blood. She confessed her
sin, not to the priest, but to a friend, a few days before her death.
In justice to her memory, I ought to add that, like most of the
unfortunates seduced by this untamable de Buxieres, she succumbed to his
wily misrepresentations. She was a victim rather than an accomplice.
The man himself acknowledged as much in a note entrusted to my care,
which I have here."

And the Abbe' drew from his pocket an old, worn letter, the writing
yellow with age, and placed it before Reine. In this letter, written in
Claude de Buxieres's coarse, sprawling hand, doubtless in reply to a
reproachful appeal from his mistress, he endeavored to offer some kind of
honorable amends for the violence he had used, and to calm Madame
Vincart's remorse by promising, as was his custom, to watch over the
future of the child which should be born to her.

"That child was yourself, my poor girl," continued the Abbe, picking up
the letter which Reine had thrown down, after reading it, with a gesture
of sickened disgust.

She appeared not to hear him. She had buried her face in her hands, to
hide the flushing of her cheeks, and sat motionless, altogether crushed
beneath the shameful revelation; convulsive sobs and tremblings
occasionally agitating her frame.

"You can now understand," continued the priest, "how the announcement of
this projected marriage stunned and terrified me. I could not confide to
Claudet the reason for my stupefaction, and I should have been thankful
if you could have understood so that I could have spared you this cruel
mortification, but you would not take any intimation from me. And now,
forgive me for inflicting this cross upon you, and bear it with courage,
with Christian fortitude."

"You have acted as was your duty," murmured Reine, sadly, "and I thank
you, Monsieur le Cure!"

"And will you promise me to dismiss Claudet at once--today?"

"I promise you."

The Abbe Pernot advanced to take her hand, and administer some words of
consolation; but she evaded, with a stern gesture, the good man's pious
sympathy, and escaped toward the dwelling.

The spacious kitchen was empty when she entered. The shutters had been
closed against the sun, and it had become cool and pleasant. Here and
there, among the copper utensils, and wherever a chance ray made a gleam
of light, the magpie was hopping about, uttering short, piercing cries.
In the recess of the niche containing the colored prints, sat the old man
Vincart, dozing, in his usual supine attitude, his hands spread out, his
eyelids drooping, his mouth half open. At the sound of the door, his
eyes opened wide. He rather guessed at, than saw, the entrance of the
young girl, and his pallid lips began their accustomed refrain: "Reine!
Rei-eine!"

Reine flew impetuously toward the paralytic old man, threw herself on her
knees before him, sobbing bitterly, and covered his hands with kisses.
Her caresses were given in a more respectful, humble, contrite manner
than ever before.

"Oh! father--father!" faltered she; "I loved you always, I shall love
you now with all my heart and soul!"

CHAPTER VIII

LOVE'S SAD ENDING

The kitchen was bright with sunshine, and the industrious bees were
buzzing around the flowers on the window-sills, while Reine was
listlessly attending to culinary duties, and preparing her father's meal.
The humiliating disclosures made by the Abbe Pernot weighed heavily upon
her mind. She foresaw that Claudet would shortly be at La Thuiliere in
order to hear the result of the cure's visit; but she did not feel
sufficiently mistress of herself to have a decisive interview with him at
such short notice, and resolved to gain at least one day by absenting
herself from the farm. It seemed to her necessary that she should have
that length of time to arrange her ideas, and evolve some way of
separating Claudet and herself without his suspecting the real motive of
rupture. So, telling La Guite to say that unexpected business had called
her away, she set out for the woods of Maigrefontaine.

Whenever she had felt the need of taking counsel with herself before
deciding on any important matter, the forest had been her refuge and her
inspiration. The refreshing solitude of the valleys, watered by living
streams, acted as a strengthening balm to her irresolute will; her soul
inhaled the profound peace of these leafy retreats. By the time she had
reached the inmost shade of the forest her mind had become calmer, and
better able to unravel the confusion of thoughts that surged like
troubled waters through her brain. The dominant idea was, that her self-
respect had been wounded; the shock to her maidenly modesty, and the
shame attendant upon the fact, affected her physically, as if she had
been belittled and degraded by a personal stain; and this downfall caused
her deep humiliation. By slow degrees, however, and notwithstanding this
state of abject despair, she felt, cropping up somewhere in her heart, a
faint germ of gladness, and, by close examination, discovered its origin:
she was now loosed from her obligations toward Claudet, and the prospect
of being once more free afforded her immediate consolation.

She had so much regretted, during the last few weeks, the feeling of
outraged pride which had incited her to consent to this marriage; her
loyal, sincere nature had revolted at the constraint she had imposed upon
herself; her nerves had been so severely taxed by having to receive her
fiance with sufficient warmth to satisfy his expectations, and yet not
afford any encouragement to his demonstrative tendencies, that the
certainty of her newly acquired freedom created a sensation of relief and
well-being. But, hardly had she analyzed and acknowledged this sensation
when she reproached herself for harboring it when she was about to cause
Claudet such affliction.

Poor Claudet! what a cruel blow was in store for him! He was so
guilelessly in love, and had such unbounded confidence in the success of
his projects! Reine was overcome by tender reminiscences. She had
always experienced, as if divining by instinct the natural bonds which
united them, a sisterly affection for Claudet. Since their earliest
infancy, at the age when they learned their catechism under the church
porch, they had been united in a bond of friendly fellowship. With
Reine, this tender feeling had always remained one of friendship, but,
with Claudet, it had ripened into love; and now, after allowing the poor
young fellow to believe that his love was reciprocated, she was forced to
disabuse him. It was useless for her to try to find some way of
softening the blow; there was none. Claudet was too much in love to
remain satisfied with empty words; he would require solid reasons; and
the only conclusive one which would convince him, without wounding his
self-love, was exactly the one which the young girl could not give him.
She was, therefore, doomed to send Claudet away with the impression that
he had been jilted by a heartless and unprincipled coquette. And yet
something must be done. The grand chasserot had been too long already in
the toils; there was something barbarously cruel in not freeing him from
his illusions.

In this troubled state of mind, Reine gazed appealingly at the silent
witnesses of her distress. She heard a voice within her saying to the
tall, vaulted ash, "Inspire me!" to the little rose-colored centaurea of
the wayside, "Teach me a charm to cure the harm I have done!" But the
woods, which in former days had been her advisers and instructors,
remained deaf to her invocation. For the first time, she felt herself
isolated and abandoned to her own resources, even in the midst of her
beloved forest.

It is when we experience these violent mental crises, that we become
suddenly conscious of Nature's cold indifference to our sufferings. She
really is nothing more than the reflex of our own sensations, and can
only give us back what we lend her. Beautiful but selfish, she allows
herself to be courted by novices, but presents a freezing, emotionless
aspect to those who have outlived their illusions.

Reine did not reach home until the day had begun to wane. La Guite
informed her that Claudet had waited for her during part of the
afternoon, and that he would come again the next day at nine o'clock.
Notwithstanding her bodily fatigue, she slept uneasily, and her sleep was
troubled by feverish dreams. Every time she closed her eyes, she fancied
herself conversing with Claudet, and woke with a start at the sound of
his angry voice.

She arose at dawn, descended at once to the lower floor, to get through
her morning tasks, and as soon as the big kitchen clock struck nine, she
left the house and took the path by which Claudet would come. A feeling
of delicate consideration toward her lover had impelled her to choose for
her explanation any other place than the one where she had first received
his declaration of love, and consented to the marriage. Very soon he
came in sight, his stalwart figure outlined against the gray landscape.
He was walking rapidly; her heart smote her, her hands became like ice,
but she summoned all her fortitude, and went bravely forward to meet him.

When he came within forty or fifty feet, he recognized Reine, and took a
short cut across the stubble studded with cobwebs glistening with dew.

"Aha! my Reine, my queen, good-morning!" cried he, joyously, "it is
sweet of you to come to meet me!"

"Good-morning, Claudet. I came to meet you because I wish to speak with
you on matters of importance, and I preferred not to have the
conversation take place in our house. Shall we walk as far as the
Planche-au-Vacher?"

He stopped short, astonished at the proposal and also at the sad and
resolute attitude of his betrothed. He examined her more closely,
noticed her deep-set eyes, her cheeks, whiter than usual.

"Why, what is the matter, Reine?" he inquired; "you are not yourself; do
you not feel well?"

"Yes, and no. I have passed a bad night, thinking over matters that are
troubling me, and I think that has produced some fever."

"What matters? Any that concern us?"

"Yes;" replied she, laconically.

Claudet opened his eyes. The young girl's continued gravity began to
alarm him; but, seeing that she walked quickly forward, with an absent
air, her face lowered, her brows bent, her mouth compressed, he lost
courage and refrained from asking her any questions. They walked on thus
in silence, until they came to the open level covered with juniper-
bushes, from which solitary place, surrounded by hawthorn hedges, they
could trace the narrow defile leading to Vivey, and the faint mist
beyond.

"Let us stop here," said Reine, seating herself on a flat, mossy stone,
"we can talk here without fear of being disturbed."

"No fear of that," remarked Claudet, with a forced smile, "with the
exception of the shepherd of Vivey, who comes here sometimes with his
cattle, we shall not see many passers-by. It must be a secret that you
have to tell me, Reine?" he added.

"No;" she returned, "but I foresee that my words will give you pain, my
poor Claudet, and I prefer you should hear them without being annoyed by
the farm-people passing to and fro."

"Explain yourself!" he exclaimed, impetuously. "For heaven's sake,
don't keep me in suspense!"

"Listen, Claudet. When you asked my hand in marriage, I answered yes,
without taking time to reflect. But, since I have been thinking over our
plans, I have had scruples. My father is becoming every day more of an
invalid, and in his present state I really have no right to live for any
one but him. One would think he was aware of our intentions, for since
you have been visiting at the farm, he is more agitated and suffers more.
I think that any change in his way of living would bring on a stroke, and
I never should forgive myself if I thought I had shortened his life.
That is the reason why, as long as I have him with me, I do not see that
it will be possible for me to dispose of myself. On the other hand, I do
not wish to abuse your patience. I therefore ask you to take back your
liberty and give me back my promise."

"That is to say, you won't have me!" he exclaimed.

"No; my poor friend, it means only that I shall not marry so long as my
father is living, and that I can not ask you to wait until I am perfectly
free. Forgive me for having entered into the engagement too carelessly,
and do not on that account take your friendship from me."

"Reine," interrupted Claudet, angrily, "don't turn your brain inside out
to make me believe that night is broad day. I am not a child, and I see
very well that your father's health is only a pretext. You don't want
me, that's all, and, with all due respect, you have changed your mind
very quickly! Only the day before yesterday you authorized me to arrange
about the day for the ceremony with the Abbe Pernot. Now that you have
had a visit from the cure, you want to put the affair off until the week
when two Sundays come together! I am a little curious to know what that
confounded old abbe has been babbling about me, to turn you inside out
like a glove in such a short time."

Claudet's conscience reminded him of several rare frolics, chance love-
affairs, meetings in the woods, and so on, and he feared the priest might
have told Reine some unfavorable stories about him. "Ah!" he continued,
clenching his fists, "if this old poacher in a cassock has done me an ill
turn with you, he will not have much of a chance for paradise!"

"Undeceive yourself," said Reine, quickly, "Monsieur le Cure is your
friend, like myself; he esteems you highly, and never has said anything
but good of you."

"Oh, indeed!" sneered the young man, "as you are both so fond of me, how
does it happen that you have given me my dismissal the very day after
your interview with the cure?"

Reine, knowing Claudet's violent disposition, and wishing to avoid
trouble for the cure, thought it advisable to have recourse to evasion.

"Monsieur le Cure," said she, "has had no part in my decision. He has
not spoken against you, and deserves no reproaches from you."

"In that case, why do you send me away?"

"I repeat again, the comfort and peace of my father are paramount with
me, and I do not intend to marry so long as he may have need of me."

"Well," said Claudet, persistently, "I love you, and I will wait."

"It can not be."

"Why?"

"Because," replied she, sharply, "because it would be kind neither to
you, nor to my father, nor to me. Because marriages that drag along in
that way are never good for anything!"

"Those are bad reasons!" he muttered, gloomily.

"Good or bad," replied the young girl, "they appear valid to me, and I
hold to them."

"Reine," said he, drawing near to her and looking straight into her eyes,
"can you swear, by the head of your father, that you have given me the
true reason for your rejecting me?"

She became embarrassed, and remained silent.

"See!" he exclaimed, "you dare not take the oath!"

"My word should suffice," she faltered.

"No; it does not suffice. But your silence says a great deal, I tell
you! You are too frank, Reine, and you don't know how to lie. I read it
in your eyes, I do. The true reason is that you do not love me."

She shrugged her shoulders and turned away her head.

"No, you do not love me. If you had any love for me, instead of
discouraging me, you would hold out some hope to me, and advise me to
have patience. You never have loved me, confess now!"

By dint of this persistence, Reine by degrees lost her self-confidence.
She could realize how much Claudet was suffering, and she reproached
herself for the torture she was inflicting upon him. Driven into a
corner, and recognizing that the avowal he was asking for was the only
one that would drive him away, she hesitated no longer.

"Alas!" she murmured, lowering her eyes, "since you force me to tell you
some truths that I would rather have kept from you, I confess you have
guessed. I have a sincere friendship for you, but that is all. I have
concluded that to marry a person one ought to love him differently, more
than everything else in the world, and I feel that my heart is not turned
altogether toward you."

"No," said Claudet, bitterly, "it is turned elsewhere."

"What do you mean? I do not understand you."

"I mean that you love some one else."

"That is not true," she protested.

"You are blushing--a proof that I have hit the nail!"

"Enough of this!" cried she, imperiously.

"You are right. Now that you have said you don't want me any longer, I
have no right to ask anything further. Adieu!"

He turned quickly on his heel. Reine was conscious of having been too
hard with him, and not wishing him to go away with such a grief in his
heart, she sought to retain him by placing her hand upon his arm.

"Come, Claudet," said she, entreatingly, "do not let us part in anger.
It pains me to see you suffer, and I am sorry if I have said anything
unkind to you. Give me your hand in good fellowship, will you?"

But Claudet drew back with a fierce gesture, and glancing angrily at
Reine, he replied, rudely:

"Thanks for your regrets and your pity; I have no use for them." She
understood that he was deeply hurt; gave up entreating, and turned away
with eyes full of tears.

He remained motionless, his arms crossed, in the middle of the road.
After some minutes, he turned his head. Reine was already nothing more
than a dark speck against the gray of the increasing fog. Then he went
off, haphazard, across the pasture-lands. The fog was rising slowly, and
the sun, shorn of its beams, showed its pale face faintly through it. To
the right and the left, the woods were half hidden by moving white
billows, and Claudet walked between fluid walls of vapor. This hidden
sky, these veiled surroundings, harmonized with his mental condition. It
was easier for him to hide his chagrin. "Some one else! Yes; that's it.
She loves some other fellow! how was it I did not find that out the very
first day?" Then he recalled how Reine shrank from him when he solicited
a caress; how she insisted on their betrothal being kept secret, and how
many times she had postponed the date of the wedding. It was evident
that she had received him only in self-defence, and on the pleading of
Julien de Buxieres. Julien! the name threw a gleam of light across his
brain, hitherto as foggy as the country around him. Might not Julien be
the fortunate rival on whom Reine's affections were so obstinately set?
Still, if she had always loved Monsieur de Buxieres, in what spirit of
perversity or thoughtlessness had she suffered the advances of another
suitor?

Reine was no coquette, and such a course of action would be repugnant to
her frank, open nature. It was a profound enigma, which Claudet, who had
plenty of good common sense, but not much insight, was unable to solve.
But grief has, among its other advantages, the power of rendering our
perceptions more acute; and by dint of revolving the question in his
mind, Claudet at last became enlightened. Had not Reine simply followed
the impulse of her wounded feelings? She was very proud, and when the
man whom she secretly loved had come coolly forward to plead the cause of
one who was indifferent to her, would not her self-respect be lowered,
and would she not, in a spirit of bravado, accept the proposition, in
order that he might never guess the sufferings of her spurned affections?
There was no doubt, that, later, recognizing that the task was beyond her
strength, she had felt ashamed of deceiving Claudet any longer, and,
acting on the advice of the Abbe Pernot, had made up her mind to break
off a union that was repugnant to her.

"Yes;" he repeated, mournfully to himself, "that must have been the way
it happened." And with this kind of explanation of Reine's actions, his
irritation seemed to lessen. Not that his grief was less poignant, but
the first burst of rage had spent itself like a great wind-storm, which
becomes lulled after a heavy fall of rain; the bitterness was toned down,
and he was enabled to reason more clearly.

Julien--well, what was the part of Julien in all this disturbance? "If
what I imagine is true," thought he, "Monsieur de Buxieres knows that
Reine loves him, but has he any reciprocal feeling for her? With a man
as mysterious as my cousin, it is not easy to find out what is going on
in his heart. Anyhow, I have no right to complain of him; as soon as he
discovered my love for Reine, did he not, besides ignoring his own claim,
offer spontaneously to take my message? Still, there is something queer
at the bottom of it all, and whatever it costs me, I am going to find it
out."

At this moment, through the misty air, he heard faintly the village clock
strike eleven. "Already so late! how the time flies, even when one is
suffering!" He bent his course toward the chateau, and, breathless and
excited, without replying to Manette's inquiries, he burst into the hall
where his cousin was pacing up and down, waiting for breakfast. At this
sudden intrusion Julien started, and noted Claudet's quick breathing and
disordered state.

"Ho, ho!" exclaimed he, in his usual, sarcastic tone, "what a hurry you
are in! I suppose you have come to say the wedding-day is fixed at
last?"

"No!" replied Claudet, briefly, "there will be no wedding."

Julien tottered, and turned to face his cousin.

"What's that? Are you joking?"

"I am in no mood for joking. Reine will not have me; she has taken back
her promise."

While pronouncing these words, he scrutinized attentively his cousin's
countenance, full in the light from the opposite window. He saw his
features relax, and his eyes glow with the same expression which he had
noticed a few days previous, when he had referred to the fact that Reine
had again postponed the marriage.

"Whence comes this singular change?" stammered de Buxieres, visibly
agitated; "what reasons does Mademoiselle Vincart give in explanation?"

"Idle words: her father's health, disinclination to leave him. You may
suppose I take such excuses for what they are worth. The real cause of
her refusal is more serious and more mortifying."

"You know it, then?" exclaimed Julien, eagerly.

"I know it, because I forced Reine to confess it."

"And the reason is?"

"That she does not love me."

"Reine--does not love you!"

Again a gleam of light irradiated the young man's large, blue eyes.
Claudet was leaning against the table, in front of his cousin; he
continued slowly, looking him steadily in the face:

"That is not all. Not only does Reine not love me, but she loves some
one else."

Julien changed color; the blood coursed over his cheeks, his forehead,
his ears; he drooped his head.

"Did she tell you so?" he murmured, at last, feebly.

"She did not, but I guessed it. Her heart is won, and I think I know by
whom."

Claudet had uttered these last words slowly and with a painful effort, at
the same time studying Julien's countenance with renewed inquiry. The
latter became more and more troubled, and his physiognomy expressed both
anxiety and embarrassment.

"Whom do you suspect?" he stammered.

"Oh!" replied Claudet, employing a simple artifice to sound the obscure
depth of his cousin's heart, "it is useless to name the person; you do
not know him."

"A stranger?"

Julien's countenance had again changed. His hands were twitching
nervously, his lips compressed, and his dilated pupils were blazing with
anger, instead of triumph, as before.

"Yes; a stranger, a clerk in the iron-works at Grancey, I think."

"You think!--you think!" cried Julien, fiercely, "why don't you have
more definite information before you accuse Mademoiselle Vincart of such
treachery?"

He resumed pacing the hall, while his interlocutor, motionless, remained
silent, and kept his eyes steadily upon him.

"It is not possible," resumed Julien, "Reine can not have played us such
a trick! When I spoke to her for you, it was so easy to say she was
already betrothed!"

"Perhaps," objected Claudet, shaking his head, "she had reasons for not
letting you know all that was in her mind."

"What reasons?"

"She doubtless believed at that time that the man she preferred did not
care for her. There are some people who, when they are vexed, act in
direct contradiction to their own wishes. I have the idea that Reine
accepted me only for want of some one better, and afterward, being too
openhearted to dissimulate for any length of time, she thought better of
it, and sent me about my business."

"And you," interrupted Julien, sarcastically, "you, who had been accepted
as her betrothed, did not know better how to defend your rights than to
suffer yourself to be ejected by a rival, whose intentions, even, you
have not clearly ascertained!"

"By Jove! how could I help it? A fellow that takes an unwilling bride
is playing for too high stakes. The moment I found there was another she
preferred, I had but one course before me--to take myself off."

"And you call that loving!" shouted de Buxieres, "you call that losing
your heart! God in heaven! if I had been in your place, how differently
I should have acted! Instead of leaving, with piteous protestations,
I should have stayed near Reine, I should have surrounded her with
tenderness. I should have expressed my passion with so much force that
its flame should pass from my burning soul to hers, and she would have
been forced to love me! Ah! If I had only thought! if I had dared!
how different it would have been!"

He jerked out his sentences with unrestrained frenzy. He seemed hardly
to know what he was saying, or that he had a listener. Claudet stood
contemplating him in sullen silence: "Aha!" thought he, with bitter
resignation; "I have sounded you at last. I know what is in the bottom
of your heart."

Manette, bringing in the breakfast, interrupted their colloquy, and both
assumed an air of indifference, according to a tacit understanding that a
prudent amount of caution should be observed in her presence. They ate
hurriedly, and as soon as the cloth was removed, and they were again
alone, Julien, glancing with an indefinable expression at Claudet,
muttered savagely:

"Well! what do you decide?"

"I will tell you later," responded the other, briefly.

He quitted the room abruptly, told Manette that he would not be home
until late, and strode out across the fields, his dog following. He had
taken his gun as a blind, but it was useless for Montagnard to raise his
bark; Claudet allowed the hares to scamper away with out sending a single
shot after them. He was busy inwardly recalling the details of the
conversation he had had with his cousin. The situation now was
simplified Julien was in love with Reine, and was vainly combating his
overpowering passion. What reason had he for concealing his love? What
motive or reasoning had induced him, when he was already secretly
enamored of the girl, to push Claudet in front and interfere to procure
her acceptance of him as a fiance? This point alone remained obscure.
Was Julien carrying out certain theories of the respect due his position
in society, and did he fear to contract a misalliance by marrying a mere
farmer's daughter? Or did he, with his usual timidity and distrust of
himself, dread being refused by Reine, and, half through pride, half
through backward ness, keep away for fear of a humiliating rejection?
With de Buxieres's proud and suspicious nature, each of these
suppositions was equally likely. The conclusion most undeniable was,
that notwithstanding his set ideas and his moral cowardice, Julien had an
ardent and over powering love for Mademoiselle Vincart. As to Reine
herself, Claudet was more than ever convinced that she had a secret
inclination toward somebody, although she had denied the charge. But for
whom was her preference? Claudet knew the neighborhood too well to
believe the existence of any rival worth talking about, other than his
cousin de Buxieres. None of the boys of the village or the surrounding
towns had ever come courting old Father Vincart's daughter, and de
Buxieres himself possessed sufficient qualities to attract Reine.
Certainly, if he were a girl, he never should fix upon Julien for a
lover; but women often have tastes that men can not comprehend, and
Julien's refinement of nature, his bashfulness, and even his reserve,
might easily have fascinated a girl of such strong will and somewhat
peculiar notions. It was probable, therefore, that she liked him,
and perhaps had done so for a long time; but, being clear-sighted and
impartial, she could see that he never would marry her, because her
condition in life was not equal to his own. Afterward, when the man she
loved had flaunted his indifference so far as to plead the cause of
another, her pride had revolted, and in the blind agony of her wounded
feelings, she had thrown herself into the arms of the first comer, as if
to punish herself for entertaining loving thoughts of a man who could so
disdain her affection.

So, by means of that lucid intuition which the heart alone can furnish,
Claudet at last succeeded in evolving the naked truth. But the fatiguing
labor of so much thinking, to which his brain was little accustomed,
and the sadness which continued to oppress him, overcame him to such an
extent that he was obliged to sit down and rest on a clump of brushwood.
He gazed over the woods and the clearings, which he had so often
traversed light of heart and of foot, and felt mortally unhappy. These
sheltering lanes and growing thickets, where he had so frequently
encountered Reine, the beautiful hunting-grounds in which he had taken
such delight, only awakened painful sensations, and he felt as if he
should grow to hate them all if he were obliged to pass the rest of his
days in their midst. As the day waned, the sinuosities of the forest
became more blended; the depth of the valleys was lost in thick vapors.
The wind had risen. The first falling leaves of the season rose and fell
like wounded birds; heavy clouds gathered in the sky, and the night was
coming on apace. Claudet was grateful for the sudden darkness, which
would blot out a view now so distasteful to him. Shortly, on the
Auberive side, along the winding Aubette, feeble lights became visible,
as if inviting the young man to profit by their guidance. He arose,
took the path indicated, and went to supper, or rather, to a pretence of
supper, in the same inn where he had breakfasted with Julien, whence the
latter had gone on his mission to Reine. This remembrance alone would
have sufficed to destroy his appetite.

He did not remain long at table; he could not, in fact, stay many minutes
in one place, and so, notwithstanding the urgent insistence of the
hostess, he started on the way back to Vivey, feeling his way through the
profound darkness. When he reached the chateau, every one was in bed.
Noiselessly, his dog creeping after him, he slipped into his room, and,
overcome with fatigue, fell into a heavy slumber.

The next morning his first visit was to Julien. He found him in a
nervous and feverish condition, having passed a sleepless night.
Claudet's revelations had entirely upset his intentions, and planted
fresh thorns of jealousy in his heart. On first hearing that the
marriage was broken off, his heart had leaped for joy, and hope had
revived within him; but the subsequent information that Mademoiselle
Vincart was probably interested in some lover, as yet unknown, had
grievously sobered him. He was indignant at Reine's duplicity, and
Claudet's cowardly resignation. The agony caused by Claudet's betrothal
was a matter of course, but this love-for-a-stranger episode was an
unexpected and mortal wound. He was seized with violent fits of rage; he
was sometimes tempted to go and reproach the young girl with what he
called her breach of faith, and then go and throw himself at her feet and
avow his own passion.

But the mistrust he had of himself, and his incurable bashfulness,
invariably prevented these heroic resolutions from being carried out.
He had so long cultivated a habit of minute, fatiguing criticism upon
every inward emotion that he had almost incapacitated himself for
vigorous action.

He was in this condition when Claudet came in upon him. At the noise of
the opening door, Julien raised his head, and looked dolefully at his
cousin.

"Well?" said he, languidly.

"Well!" retorted Claudet, bravely, "on thinking over what has been
happening during the last month, I have made sure of one thing of which I
was doubtful."

"Of what were you doubtful?" returned de Buxieres, quite ready to take
offence at the answer.

"I am about to tell you. Do you remember the first conversation we had
together concerning Reine? You spoke of her with so much earnestness
that I then suspected you of being in love with her."

"I--I--hardly remember," faltered Julien, coloring.

"In that case, my memory is better than yours, Monsieur de Buxieres.
To-day, my suspicions have become certainties. You are in love with
Reine Vincart!"

"I?" faintly protested his cousin.

"Don't deny it, but rather, give me your confidence; you will not be
sorry for it. You love Reine, and have loved her for a long while.
You have succeeded in hiding it from me because it is hard for you to
unbosom yourself; but, yesterday, I saw it quite plainly. You dare not
affirm the contrary!"

Julien, greatly agitated, had hidden his face in his hands. After a
moment's silence, he replied, defiantly: "Well, and supposing it is so?
What is the use of talking about it, since Reine's affections are placed
elsewhere?"

"Oh! that's another matter. Reine has declined to have me, and I really
think she has some other affair in her head. Yet, to confess the truth,
the clerk at the iron-works was a lover of my own imagining; she never
thought of him."

"Then why did you tell such a lie?" cried Julien, impetuously.

"Because I thought I would plead the lie to get at the truth. Forgive
me for having made use of this old trick to put you on the right track.
It wasn't such a bad idea, for I succeeded in finding out what you took
so much pains to hide from me."

"To hide from you? Yes, I did wish to hide it from you. Wasn't that
right, since I was convinced that Reine loved you?" exclaimed Julien, in
an almost stifled voice, as if the avowal were choking him. "I have
always thought it idle to parade one's feelings before those who do not
care about them."

"You were wrong," returned poor Claudet, sighing deeply, "if you had
spoken for yourself, I have an idea you would have been better received,
and you would have spared me a terrible heart-breaking."

He said it with such profound sadness that Julien, notwithstanding the
absorbing nature of his own thoughts, was quite overcome, and almost on
the point of confessing, openly, the intensity of his feeling toward
Reine Vincart. But, accustomed as he was, by long habit, to concentrate
every emotion within himself, he found it impossible to become, all at
once, communicative; he felt an invincible and almost maidenly
bashfulness at the idea of revealing the secret sentiments of his soul,
and contented himself with saying, in a low voice:

"Do you not love her any more, then?"

"I? oh, yes, indeed! But to be refused by the only girl I ever wished to
marry takes all the spirit out of me. I am so discouraged, I feel like
leaving the country. If I were to go, it would perhaps be doing you a
service, and that would comfort me a little. You have treated me as a
friend, and that is a thing one doesn't forget. I have not the means to
pay you back for your kindness, but I think I should be less sorry to go
if my departure would leave the way more free for you to return to La
Thuiliere."

"You surely would not leave on my account?" exclaimed Julien, in alarm.

"Not solely on your account, rest assured. If Reine had loved me, it
never would have entered my head to make such a sacrifice for you, but
she will not have me. I am good for nothing here. I am only in your
way."

"But that is a wild idea! Where would you go?"

"Oh! there would be no difficulty about that. One plan would be to go
as a soldier. Why not? I am hardy, a good walker, a good shot, can
stand fatigue; I have everything needed for military life. It is an
occupation that I should like, and I could earn my epaulets as well as my
neighbor. So that perhaps, Monsieur de Buxieres, matters might in that
way be arranged to suit everybody."

"Claudet!" stammered Julien, his voice thick with sobs, "you are a better
man than I! Yes; you are a better man than I!"

And, for the first time, yielding to an imperious longing for expansion,
he sprang toward the grand chasserot, clasped him in his arms, and
embraced him fraternally.

"I will not let you expatriate yourself on my account," he continued;
"do not act rashly, I entreat!"

"Don't worry," replied Claudet, laconically, "if I so decide, it will not
be without deliberation."

In fact, during the whole of the ensuing week, he debated in his mind
this question of going away. Each day his position at Vivey seemed more
unbearable. Without informing any one, he had been to Langres and
consulted an officer of his acquaintance on the subject of the
formalities required previous to enrolment.

At last, one morning he resolved to go over to the military division and
sign his engagement. But he was not willing to consummate this sacrifice
without seeing Reine Vincart for the last time. He was nursing, down in
the bottom of his heart, a vague hope, which, frail and slender as the
filament of a plant, was yet strong enough to keep him on his native
soil. Instead of taking the path to Vivey, he made a turn in the
direction of La Thuiliere, and soon reached the open elevation whence the
roofs of the farm-buildings and the turrets of the chateau could both
alike be seen. There he faltered, with a piteous sinking of the heart.
Only a few steps between himself and the house, yet he hesitated about
entering; not that he feared a want of welcome, but because he dreaded
lest the reawakening of his tenderness should cause him to lose a portion
of the courage he should need to enable him to leave. He leaned against
the trunk of an old pear-tree and surveyed the forest site on which the
farm was built.

The landscape retained its usual placidity. In the distance, over the
waste lands, the shepherd Tringuesse was following his flock of sheep,
which occasionally scattered over the fields, and then, under the dog's
harassing watchfulness, reformed in a compact group, previous to
descending the narrow hill-slope. One thing struck Claudet: the pastures
and the woods bore exactly the same aspect, presented the same play of
light and shade as on that afternoon of the preceding year, when he had
met Reine in the Ronces woods, a few days before the arrival of Julien.
The same bright yet tender tint reddened the crab-apple and the wild-
cherry; the tomtits and the robins chirped as before, among the bushes,
and, as in the previous year, one heard the sound of the beechnuts and
acorns dropping on the rocky paths. Autumn went through her tranquil
rites and familiar operations, always with the same punctual regularity;
and all this would go on just the same when Claudet was no longer there.
There would only be one lad the less in the village streets, one hunter
failing to answer the call when they were surrounding the woods of
Charbonniere. This dim perception of how small a space man occupies on
the earth, and of the ease with which he is forgotten, aided Claudet
unconsciously in his effort to be resigned, and he determined to enter
the house. As he opened the gate of the courtyard, he found himself face
to face with Reine, who was coming out.

The young girl immediately supposed he had come to make a last assault,
in the hope of inducing her to yield to his wishes. She feared a renewal
of the painful scene which had closed their last interview, and her first
impulse was to put herself on her guard. Her countenance darkened, and
she fixed a cold, questioning gaze upon Claudet, as if to keep him at a
distance. But, when she noted the sadness of her young relative's
expression, she was seized with pity. Making an effort, however, to
disguise her emotion, she pretended to accost him with the calm and
cordial friendship of former times.

"Why, good-morning, Claudet," said she, "you come just in time.
A quarter of an hour later you would not have found me. Will you come

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