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A Woodland Queen, entire by Andre Theuriet

Part 4 out of 4

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in and rest a moment?"

"Thanks, Reine," said he, "I will not hinder you in your work. But I
wanted to say, I am sorry I got angry the other day; you were right, we
must not leave each other with ill-feeling, and, as I am going away for a
long time, I desire first to take your hand in friendship."

"You are going away?"

"Yes; I am going now to Langres to enroll myself as a soldier. And true
it is, one knows when one goes away, but it is hard to know when one will
come back. That is why I wanted to say good-by to you, and make peace,
so as not to go away with too great a load on my heart."

All Reine's coldness melted away. This young fellow, who was leaving his
country on her account, was the companion of her infancy, more than that,
her nearest relative. Her throat swelled, her eyes filled with tears.
She turned away her head, that he might not perceive her emotion, and
opened the kitchen-door.

"Come in, Claudet," said she, "we shall be more comfortable in the
dining-room. We can talk there, and you will have some refreshment
before you go, will you not?"

He obeyed, and followed her into the house. She went herself into the
cellar, to seek a bottle of old wine, brought two glasses, and filled
them with a trembling hand.

"Shall you remain long in the service?" asked she.

"I shall engage for seven years."

"It is a hard life that you are choosing."

"What am I to do?" replied he, "I could not stay here doing nothing."

Reine went in and out of the room in a bewildered fashion. Claudet, too
much excited to perceive that the young girl's impassiveness was only on
the surface, said to himself: "It is all over; she accepts my departure
as an event perfectly natural; she treats me as she would Theotime, the
coal-dealer, or the tax-collector Boucheseiche. A glass of wine, two or
three unimportant questions, and then, good-by-a pleasant journey, and
take care of yourself!"

Then he made a show of taking an airy, insouciant tone.

"Oh, well!" he exclaimed, "I've always been drawn toward that kind of
life. A musket will be a little heavier than a gun, that's all; then I
shall see different countries, and that will change my ideas." He tried
to appear facetious, poking around the kitchen, and teasing the magpie,
which was following his footsteps with inquisitive anxiety. Finally, he
went up to the old man Vincart, who was lying stretched out in his
picture-lined niche. He took the flabby hand of the paralytic old man,
pressed it gently and endeavored to get up a little conversation with
him, but he had it all to himself, the invalid staring at him all the
time with uneasy, wide-open eyes. Returning to Reine, he lifted his
glass.

"To your health, Reine!" said he, with forced gayety, "next time we
clink glasses together, I shall be an experienced soldier--you'll see!"

But, when he put the glass to his lips, several big tears fell in, and he
had to swallow them with his wine.

"Well!" he sighed, turning away while he passed the back of his hand
across his eyes, "it must be time to go."

She accompanied him to the threshold.

"Adieu, Reine!"

"Adieu!" she murmured, faintly.

She stretched out both hands, overcome with pity and remorse. He
perceived her emotion, and thinking that she perhaps still loved him a
little, and repented having rejected him, threw his arms impetuously
around her. He pressed her against his bosom, and imprinted kisses, wet
with tears, upon her cheek. He could not leave her, and redoubled his
caresses with passionate ardor, with the ecstasy of a lover who suddenly
meets with a burst of tenderness on the part of the woman he has tenderly
loved, and whom he expects never to fold again in his arms. He
completely lost his self-control. His embrace became so ardent that
Reine, alarmed at the sudden outburst, was overcome with shame and
terror, notwithstanding the thought that the man, who was clasping her in
his arms with such passion, was her own brother.

She tore herself away from him and pushed him violently back.

"Adieu!" she cried, retreating to the kitchen, of which she hastily shut
the door.

Claudet stood one moment, dumfounded, before the door so pitilessly shut
in his face, then, falling suddenly from his happy state of illusion to
the dead level of reality, departed precipitately down the road.

When he turned to give a parting glance, the farm buildings were no
longer visible, and the waste lands of the forest border, gray, stony,
and barren, stretched their mute expanse before him.

"No!" exclaimed he, between his set teeth, "she never loved me. She
thinks only of the other man! I have nothing more to do but go away and
never return!"

CHAPTER IX

LOVE HEALS THE BROKEN HEART

In arriving at Langres, Claudet enrolled in the seventeenth battalion of
light infantry. Five days later, paying no attention to the lamentations
of Manette, he left Vivey, going, by way of Lyon, to the camp at
Lathonay, where his battalion was stationed. Julien was thus left alone
at the chateau to recover as best he might from the dazed feeling caused
by the startling events of the last few weeks. After Claudet's
departure, he felt an uneasy sensation of discomfort, and as if he
himself had lessened in value. He had never before realized how little
space he occupied in his own dwelling, and how much living heat Claudet
had infused into the house which was now so cold and empty. He felt poor
and diminished in spirit, and was ashamed of being so useless to himself
and to others. He had before him a prospect of new duties, which
frightened him. The management of the district, which Claudet had
undertaken for him, would now fall entirely on his shoulders, and just at
the time of the timber sales and the renewal of the fences. Besides all
this, he had Manette on his conscience, thinking he ought to try to
soften her grief at her son's unexpected departure. The ancient
housekeeper was like Rachel, she refused to be comforted, and her temper
was not improved by her recent trials. She filled the air with
lamentations, and seemed to consider Julien responsible for her troubles.
The latter treated her with wonderful patience and indulgence, and
exhausted his ingenuity to make her time pass more pleasantly. This was
the first real effort he had made to subdue his dislikes and his passive
tendencies, and it had the good effect of preparing him, by degrees, to
face more serious trials, and to take the initiative in matters of
greater importance. He discovered that the energy he expended in
conquering a first difficulty gave him more ability to conquer the
second, and from that result he decided that the will is like a muscle,
which shrivels in inaction and is developed by exercise; and he made up
his mind to attack courageously the work before him, although it had
formerly appeared beyond his capabilities.

He now rose always at daybreak. Gaitered like a huntsman, and escorted
by Montagnard, who had taken a great liking to him, he would proceed to
the forest, visit the cuttings, hire fresh workmen, familiarize himself
with the woodsmen, interest himself in their labors, their joys and their
sorrows; then, when evening came, he was quite astonished to find himself
less weary, less isolated, and eating with considerable appetite the
supper prepared for him by Manette. Since he had been traversing the
forest, not as a stranger or a person of leisure, but with the
predetermination to accomplish some useful work, he had learned to
appreciate its beauties. The charms of nature and the living creatures
around no longer inspired him with the defiant scorn which he had imbibed
from his early solitary life and his priestly education; he now viewed
them with pleasure and interest. In proportion, as his sympathies
expanded and his mind became more virile, the exterior world presented a
more attractive appearance to him.

While this work of transformation was going on within him, he was aided
and sustained by the ever dear and ever present image of Reine Vincart.
The trenches, filled with dead leaves, the rows of beech-trees, stripped
of their foliage by the rude breath of winter, the odor peculiar to
underwood during the dead season, all recalled to his mind the
impressions he had received while in company with the woodland queen.
Now that, he could better understand the young girl's adoration of the
marvellous forest world, he sought out, with loving interest, the sites
where she had gone into ecstasy, the details of the landscape which she
had pointed out to him the year before, and had made him admire.
The beauty of the scene was associated in his thoughts with Reine's love,
and he could not think of either separately. But, notwithstanding the
steadfastness and force of his love, he had not yet made any effort to
see Mademoiselle Vincart. At first, the increase of occupation caused by
Claudet's departure, the new duties devolving upon him, together with his
inexperience, had prevented Julien from entertaining the possibility of
renewing relations that had been so violently sundered. Little by
little, however; as he reviewed the situation of affairs, which his
cousin's generous sacrifice had engendered, he began to consider how
he could benefit thereby. Claudet's departure had left the field free,
but Julien felt no more confidence in himself than before. The fact that
Reine had so unaccountably refused to marry the grand chasserot did not
seem to him sufficient encouragement. Her motive was a secret, and
therefore, of doubtful interpretation. Besides, even if she were
entirely heart-whole, was that a reason why she should give Julien a
favorable reception? Could she forget the cruel insult to which he had
subjected her? And immediately after that outrageous behavior of his,
he had had the stupidity to make a proposal for Claudet. That was the
kind of affront, thought he, that a woman does not easily forgive,
and the very idea of presenting himself before her made his heart sink.
He had seen her only at a distance, at the Sunday mass, and every time
he had endeavored to catch her eye she had turned away her head. She
also avoided, in every way, any intercourse with the chateau. Whenever a
question arose, such as the apportionment of lands, or the allotment of
cuttings, which would necessitate her having recourse to M. de Buxieres,
she would abstain from writing herself, and correspond only through the
notary, Arbillot. Claudet's heroic departure, therefore, had really
accomplished nothing; everything was exactly at the same point as the day
after Julien's unlucky visit to La Thuiliere, and the same futile doubts
and fears agitated him now as then. It also occurred to him, that while
he was thus debating and keeping silence, days, weeks, and months were
slipping away; that Reine would soon reach her twenty-third year, and
that she would be thinking of marriage. It was well known that she had
some fortune, and suitors were not lacking. Even allowing that she had
no afterthought in renouncing Claudet, she could not always live alone at
the farm, and some day she would be compelled to accept a marriage of
convenience, if not of love.

"And to think," he would say to himself, "that she is there, only a few
steps away, that I am consumed with longing, that I have only to traverse
those pastures, to throw myself at her feet, and that I positively dare
not! Miserable wretch that I am, it was last spring, while we were in
that but together, that I should have spoken of my love, instead of
terrifying her with my brutal caresses! Now it is too late! I have
wounded and humiliated her; I have driven away Claudet, who would at any
rate have made her a stalwart lover, and I have made two beings unhappy,
without counting myself. So much for my miserable shufflings and
evasion! Ah! if one could only begin life over again!"

While thus lamenting his fate, the march of time went steadily on, with
its pitiless dropping out of seconds, minutes, and hours. The worst part
of winter was over; the March gales had dried up the forests; April was
tingeing the woods with its tender green; the song of the cuckoo was
already heard in the tufted bowers, and the festival of St. George had
passed.

Taking advantage of an unusually clear day, Julien went to visit a farm,
belonging to him, in the plain of Anjeures, on the border of the forest
of Maigrefontaine. After breakfasting with the farmer, he took the way
home through the woods, so that he might enjoy the first varied effects
of the season.

The forest of Maigrefontaine, situated on the slope of a hill, was full
of rocky, broken ground, interspersed with deep ravines, along which
narrow but rapid streams ran to swell the fishpond of La Thuiliere.
Julien had wandered away from the road, into the thick of the forest
where the budding vegetation was at its height, where the lilies multiply
and the early spring flowers disclose their umbelshaped clusters, full of
tiny, white stars. The sight of these blossoms, which had such a tender
meaning for him, since he had identified the name with that of Reine,
brought vividly before him the beloved image of the young girl.
He walked slowly and languidly on, heated by his feverish recollections
and desires, tormented by useless self-reproach, and physically
intoxicated by the balmy atmosphere and the odor of the flowering shrubs
at his feet. Arriving at the edge of a somewhat deep pit, he tried to
leap across with a single bound, but, whether he made a false start, or
that he was weakened and dizzy with the conflicting emotions with which
he had been battling, he missed his footing and fell, twisting his ankle,
on the side of the embankment. He rose with an effort and put his foot
to the ground, but a sharp pain obliged him to lean against the trunk of
a neighboring ash-tree. His foot felt as heavy as lead, and every time
he tried to straighten it his sufferings were intolerable. All he could
do was to drag himself along from one tree to another until he reached
the path.

Exhausted by this effort; he sat down on the grass, unbuttoned his
gaiter, and carefully unlaced his boot. His foot had swollen
considerably. He began to fear he had sprained it badly, and wondered
how he could get back to Vivey. Should he have to wait on this lonely
road until some woodcutter passed, who would take him home? Montagnard,
his faithful companion, had seated himself in front of him, and
contemplated him with moist, troubled eyes, at the same time emitting
short, sharp whines, which seemed to say:

"What is the matter?" and, "How are we going to get out of this?"

Suddenly he heard footsteps approaching. He perceived a flutter of white
skirts behind the copse, and just at the moment he was blessing the lucky
chance that had sent some one in that direction, his eyes were gladdened
with a sight of the fair visage of Reine.

She was accompanied by a little girl of the village, carrying a basket
full of primroses and freshly gathered ground ivy. Reine was quite
familiar with all the medicinal herbs of the country, and gathered them
in their season, in order to administer them as required to the people of
the farm. When she was within a few feet of Julien, she recognized him,
and her brow clouded over; but almost immediately she noticed his altered
features and that one of his feet was shoeless, and divined that
something unusual had happened. Going straight up to him, she said:

"You seem to be suffering, Monsieur de Buxieres. What is the matter?"

"A--a foolish accident," replied he, putting on a careless manner. "I
fell and sprained my ankle."

The young girl knit her brows with an anxious expression; then, after a
moment's hesitation; she said:

"Will you let me see your foot? My mother understood about bone-setting,
and I have been told that I inherit her gift of curing sprains."

She drew from the basket an empty bottle and a handkerchief.

"Zelie," said she to the little damsel, who was standing astonished at
the colloquy, "go quickly down to the stream, and fill this bottle."

While she was speaking, Julien, greatly embarrassed, obeyed her
suggestions, and uncovered his foot. Reine, without any prudery or
nonsense, raised the wounded limb, and felt around cautiously.

"I think," said she at last, "that the muscles are somewhat injured."

Without another word, she tore the handkerchief into narrow strips, and
poured the contents of the bottle, which Zelie had filled, slowly over
the injure member, holding her hand high for that purpose. Then, with a
soft yet firm touch, she pressed the injured muscles into their places,
while Julien bit his lips and did his very utmost to prevent her seeing
how much he was suffering. After this massage treatment, the young girl
bandaged the ankle tightly with the linen bands, and fastened them
securely with pins.

"There," said she, "now try to put on your shoe and stocking; they will
give support to the muscles. Now you, Zelie, run, fit to break your
neck, to the farm, make them harness the wagon, and tell them to bring it
here, as close to the path as possible."

The girl picked up her basket and started on a trot.

"Monsieur de Buxieres;" said Reine, "do you think you can walk as far as
the carriage road, by leaning on my arm?"

"Yes;" he replied, with a grateful glance which greatly embarrassed
Mademoiselle Vincart, "you have relieved me as if by a miracle. I feel
much better and as if I could go anywhere you might lead, while leaning
on your arm!"

She helped him to rise, and he took a few steps with her aid.

"Why, it feels really better," sighed he.

He was so happy in feeling himself thus tenderly supported by Reine, that
he altogether forgot his pain.

"Let us walk slowly," continued she, "and do not be afraid to lean on me.
All you have to think of is reaching the carriage."

"How good you are," stammered he, "and how ashamed I am!"

"Ashamed of what?" returned Reine, hastily. "I have done nothing
extraordinary; anyone else would have acted in the same manner."

"I entreat you," replied he, earnestly, "not to spoil my happiness.
I know very well that the first person who happened to pass would have
rendered me some charitable assistance; but the thought that it is you--
you alone--who have helped me, fills me with delight, at: the same time
that it increases my remorse. I so little deserve that you should
interest yourself in my behalf!"

He waited, hoping perhaps that she would ask for an explanation, but,
seeing that she did not appear to understand, he added:

"I have offended you. I have misunderstood you, and I have been cruelly
punished for my mistake. But what avails my tardy regret in healing the
injuries I have inflicted! Ah! if one could only go backward, and
efface, with a single stroke, the hours in which one has been blind
and headstrong!"

"Let us not speak of that!" replied she, shortly, but in a singularly
softened tone.

In spite of herself, she was touched by this expression of repentance,
so naively acknowledged in broken, disconnected sentences, vibrating with
the ring of true sincerity. In proportion as he abased himself, her
anger diminished, and she recognized that she loved him just the same,
notwithstanding his defects, his weakness, and his want of tact and
polish. She was also profoundly touched by his revealing to her, for the
first time, a portion of his hidden feelings.

They had become silent again, but they felt nearer to each other than
ever before; their secret thoughts seemed to be transmitted to each
other; a mute understanding was established between them. She lent him
the support of her arm with more freedom, and the young man seemed to
experience fresh delight in her firm and sympathetic assistance.

Progressing slowly, although more quickly than they would have chosen
themselves, they reached the foot of the path, and perceived the wagon
waiting on the beaten road. Julien mounted therein with the aid of Reine
and the driver. When he was stretched on the straw, which had been
spread for him on the bottom of the wagon, he leaned forward on the side,
and his eyes met those of Reine. For a few moments their gaze seemed
riveted upon each other, and their mutual understanding was complete.
These few, brief moments contained a whole confession of love; avowals
mingled with repentance, promises of pardon, tender reconciliation!

"Thanks!" he sighed at last, "will you give me your hand?"

She gave it, and while he held it in his own, Reine turned toward the
driver on the seat.

"Felix," said she, warningly, "drive slowly and avoid the ruts. Good-
night, Monsieur de Buxieres, send for the doctor as soon as you get in,
and all will be well. I will send to inquire how you are getting along."

She turned and went pensively down the road to La Thuiliere, while the
carriage followed slowly the direction to Vivey.

The doctor, being sent for immediately on Julien's arrival, pronounced it
a simple sprain, and declared that the preliminary treatment had been
very skilfully applied, that the patient had now only to keep perfectly
still. Two days later came La Guite from Reine, to inquire after M. de
Buxieres's health. She brought a large bunch of lilies which
Mademoiselle Vincart had sent to the patient, to console him for not
being able to go in the woods, which Julien kept for several days close
by his side.

This accident, happening at Maigrefontaine, and providentially attended
to by Reine Vincart, the return to the chateau in the vehicle belonging
to La Thuiliere, the sending of the lilies, were all a source of great
mystification to Manette. She suspected some amorous mystery in all
these events, commented somewhat uncharitably on every minor detail, and
took care to carry her comments all over the village. Very soon the
entire parish, from the most insignificant woodchopper to the Abbe Pernot
himself, were made aware that there was something going on between M. de
Buxieres and the daughter of old M. Vincart.

In the mean time, Julien, quite unconscious that his love for Reine was
providing conversation for all the gossips of the country, was cursing
the untoward event that kept him stretched in his invalid-chair. At
last, one day, he discovered he could put his foot down and walk a little
with the assistance of his cane; a few days after, the doctor gave him
permission to go out of doors. His first visit was to La Thuiliere.

He went there in the afternoon and found Reine in the kitchen, seated by
the side of her paralytic father, who was asleep. She was reading a
newspaper, which she retained in her hand, while rising to receive her
visitor. After she had congratulated him on his recovery, and he had
expressed his cordial thanks for her timely aid, she showed him the
paper.

"You find me in a state of disturbance," said she, with a slight degree
of embarrassment, "it seems that we are going to have war and that our
troops have entered Italy. Have you any news of Claudet?"

Julien started. This was the last remark he could have expected.
Claudet's name had not been once mentioned in their interview at
Maigrefontaine, and he had nursed the hope that Reine thought no longer
about him.

All his mistrust returned in a moment on hearing this name come from the
young girl's lips the moment he entered the house, and seeing the emotion
which the news in the paper had caused her.

"He wrote me a few days ago," replied he.

"Where is he?"

"In Italy, with his battalion, which is a part of the first army corps.
His last letter is dated from Alexandria."

Reine's eyes suddenly filled with tears, and she gazed absently at the
distant wooded horizon.

"Poor Claudet!" murmured she, sighing, "what is he doing just now, I
wonder?"

"Ah!" thought Julien, his visage darkening, "perhaps she loves him
still!"

Poor Claudet! At the very time they are thus talking about him at the
farm, he is camping with his battalion near Voghera, on the banks of one
of the obscure tributaries of the river Po, in a country rich in waving
corn, interspersed with bounteous orchards and hardy vines climbing up to
the very tops of the mulberry-trees. His battalion forms the extreme end
of the advance guard, and at the approach of night, Claudet is on duty on
the banks of the stream. It is a lovely May night, irradiated by
millions of stars, which, under the limpid Italian sky, appear larger and
nearer to the watcher than they appeared in the vaporous atmosphere of
the Haute-Marne.

Nightingales are calling to one another among the trees of the orchard,
and the entire landscape seems imbued with their amorous music. What
ecstasy to listen to them! What serenity their liquid harmonies spread
over the smiling landscape, faintly revealing its beauties in the mild
starlight.

Who would think that preparations for deadly combat were going on through
the serenity of such a night? Occasionally a sharp exchange of musketry
with the advanced post of the enemy bursts upon the ear, and all the
nightingales keep silence. Then, when quiet is restored in the upper
air, the chorus of spring songsters begins again. Claudet leans on his
gun, and remembers that at this same hour the nightingales in the park at
Vivey, and in the garden of La Thuiliere, are pouring forth the same
melodies. He recalls the bright vision of Reine: he sees her leaning at
her window, listening to the same amorous song issuing from the coppice
woods of Maigrefontaine. His heart swells within him, and an over-
powering homesickness takes possession of him. But the next moment he is
ashamed of his weakness, he remembers his responsibility, primes his ear,
and begins investigating the dark hollows and rising hillocks where an
enemy might hide.

The next morning, May 20th, he is awakened by a general hubbub and noise
of fighting. The battalion to which he belongs has made an attack upon
Montebello, and is sending its sharpshooters among the cornfields and
vineyards. Some of the regiments invade the rice-fields, climb the walls
of the vineyards, and charge the enemy's column-ranks. The sullen roar
of the cannon alternates with the sharp report of guns, and whole showers
of grape-shot beat the air with their piercing whistle. All through the
uproar of guns and thunder of the artillery, you can distinguish the
guttural hurrahs of the Austrians, and the broken oaths of the French
troopers. The trenches are piled with dead bodies, the trumpets sound
the attack, the survivors, obeying an irresistible impulse, spring to the
front. The ridges are crested with human masses swaying to and fro, and
the first red uniform is seen in the streets of Montebello, in relief
against the chalky facades bristling with Austrian guns, pouring forth
their ammunition on the enemy below. The soldiers burst into the houses,
the courtyards, the enclosures; every instant you hear the breaking open
of doors, the crashing of windows, and the scuffling of the terrified
inmates. The white uniforms retire in disorder. The village belongs to
the French! Not just yet, though. From the last houses on the street,
to the entrance of the cemetery, is rising ground, and just behind stands
a small hillock. The enemy has retrenched itself there, and, from its
cannons ranged in battery, is raining a terrible shower on the village
just evacuated.

The assailants hesitate, and draw back before this hailstorm of iron;
suddenly a general appears from under the walls of a building already
crumbling under the continuous fire, spurs his horse forward, and shouts:
"Come, boys, let us carry the fort!"

Among the first to rally to this call, one rifleman in particular, a
fine, broad-shouldered active fellow, with a brown moustache and olive
complexion, darts forward to the point indicated. It is Claudet.
Others are behind him, and soon more than a hundred men, with their
bayonets, are hurling themselves along the cemetery road; the grand
chasserot leaps across the fields, as he used formerly in pursuit of the
game in the Charbonniere forest. The soldiers are falling right and left
of him, but he hardly sees them; he continues pressing forward,
breathless, excited, scarcely stopping to think. As he is crossing one
of the meadows, however, he notices the profusion of scarlet gladiolus
and also observes that the rye and barley grow somewhat sturdier here
than in his country; these are the only definite ideas that detach
themselves clearly from his seething brain. The wall of the cemetery is
scaled; they are fighting now in the ditches, killing one another on the
side of the hill; at last, the fort is taken and they begin routing the
enemy. But, at this moment, Claudet stoops to pick up a cartridge, a
ball strikes him in the forehead, and, without a sound, he drops to the
ground, among the noisome fennels which flourish in graveyards--he drops,
thinking of the clock of his native village.

......................

"I have sad news for you," said Julien to Reine, as he entered the garden
of La Thuiliere, one June afternoon.

He had received official notice the evening before, through the mayor, of
the decease of "Germain-Claudet Sejournant, volunteer in the seventeenth
battalion of light infantry, killed in an engagement with the enemy, May
20, 1859."

Reine was standing between two hedges of large peasant-roses. At the
first words that fell from M. de Buxieres's lips, she felt a presentiment
of misfortune.

"Claudet?" murmured she.

"He is dead," replied Julien, almost inaudibly, "he fought bravely and
was killed at Montebello."

The young girl remained motionless, and for a moment de Buxieres thought
she would be able to bear, with some degree of composure, this
announcement of the death in a foreign country of a man whom she had
refused as a husband. Suddenly she turned aside, took two or three
steps, then leaning her head and folded arms on the trunk of an adjacent
tree, she burst into a passion of tears. The convulsive movement of her
shoulders and stifled sobs denoted the violence of her emotion. M. de
Buxieres, alarmed at this outbreak, which he thought exaggerated, felt a
return of his old misgivings. He was jealous now of the dead man whom
she was so openly lamenting. Her continued weeping annoyed him; he tried
to arrest her tears by addressing some consolatory remarks to her; but,
at the very first word, she turned away, mounted precipitately the
kitchen-stairs, and disappeared, closing the door behind her. Some
minutes after, La Guite brought a message to de Buxieres that Reine
wished to be alone, and begged him to excuse her.

He took his departure, disconcerted, downhearted, and ready to weep
himself, over the crumbling of his hopes. As he was nearing the first
outlying houses of the village, he came across the Abbe Pernot, who was
striding along at a great rate, toward the chateau.

"Ah!" exclaimed the priest, "how are you, Monsieur de Buxieres, I was
just going over to see you. Is it true that you have received bad news?"

Julien nodded his head affirmatively, and informed the cure of the sad
notice he had received. The Abbe's countenance lengthened, his mouth
took on a saddened expression, and during the next few minutes he
maintained an attitude of condolence.

"Poor fellow!" he sighed, with a slight nasal intonation, "he did not
have a fair chance! To have to leave us at twenty-six years of age, and
in full health, it is very hard. And such a jolly companion; such a
clever shot!"

Finally, not being naturally of a melancholy turn of mind, nor able to
remain long in a mournful mood, he consoled himself with one of the pious
commonplaces which he was in the habit of using for the benefit of
others: "The Lord is just in all His dealings, and holy in all His works;
He reckons the hairs of our heads, and our destinies are in His hands.
We shall celebrate a fine high mass for the repose of Claudet's soul."

He coughed, and raised his eyes toward Julien.

"I wished," continued he, "to see you for two reasons, Monsieur de
Buxieres: first of all, to hear about Claudet, and secondly, to speak to
you on a matter--a very delicate matter--which concerns you, but which
also affects the safety of another person and the dignity of the parish."

Julien was gazing at him with a bewildered air. The cure pushed open the
little park gate, and passing through, added:

"Let us go into your place; we shall be better able to talk over the
matter."

When they were underneath the trees, the Abbe resumed:

"Monsieur de Buxieres, do you know that you are at this present time
giving occasion for the tongues of my parishioners to wag more than is at
all reasonable? Oh!" continued he, replying to a remonstrating gesture
of his companion, "it is unpremeditated on your part, I am sure, but, all
the same, they talk about you--and about Reine."

"About Mademoiselle Vincart?" exclaimed Julien, indignantly, "what can
they say about her?"

"A great many things which are displeasing to me. They speak of your
having sprained your ankle while in the company of Reine Vincart; of your
return home in her wagon; of your frequent visits to La Thuiliere, and I
don't know what besides. And as mankind, especially the female portion,
is more disposed to discover evil than good, they say you are
compromising this young person. Now, Reine is living, as one may say,
alone and unprotected. It behooves me, therefore, as her pastor,
to defend her against her own weakness. That is the reason why I have
taken upon myself to beg you to be more circumspect, and not trifle with
her reputation."

"Her reputation?" repeated Julien, with irritation. "I do not
understand you, Monsieur le Cure!"

"You don't, hey! Why, I explain my meaning pretty clearly. Human beings
are weak; it is easy to injure a girl's reputation, when you try to make
yourself agreeable, knowing you can not marry her."

"And why could I not marry her?" inquired Julien, coloring deeply.

"Because she is not in your own class, and you would not love her enough
to overlook the disparity, if marriage became necessary."

"What do you know about it?" returned Julien, with violence. "I have no
such foolish prejudices, and the obstacles would not come from my side.
But, rest easy, Monsieur," continued he, bitterly, "the danger exists
only in the imagination of your parishioners. Reine has never cared for
me! It was Claudet she loved!"

"Hm, hm!" interjected the cure, dubiously.

"You would not doubt it," insisted de Buxieres, provoked at the Abbe's
incredulous movements of his head, "if you had seen her, as I saw her,
melt into tears when I told her of Sejournant's death. She did not even
wait until I had turned my back before she broke out in her lamentations.
My presence was of very small account. Ah! she has but too cruelly made
me feel how little she cares for me!"

"You love her very much, then?" demanded the Abbe, slyly, an almost
imperceptible smile curving his lips.

"Oh, yes! I love her," exclaimed he, impetuously; then coloring and
drooping his head. "But it is very foolish of me to betray myself,
since Reine cares nothing at all for me!"

There was a moment of silence, during which the curb took a pinch of
snuff from a tiny box of cherry wood.

"Monsieur de Buxieres;" said he, With a particularly oracular air,
"Claudet is dead, and the dead, like the absent, are always in the wrong.
But who is to say whether you are not mistaken concerning the nature of
Reine's unhappiness? I will have that cleared up this very day. Good-
night; keep quiet and behave properly."

Thereupon he took his departure, but, instead of returning to the
parsonage, he directed his steps hurriedly toward La Thuiliere.
Notwithstanding a vigorous opposition from La Guite, he made use of his
pastoral authority to penetrate into Reine's apartment, where he shut
himself up with her. What he said to her never was divulged outside the
small chamber where the interview took place. He must, however, have
found words sufficiently eloquent to soften her grief, for when he had
gone away the young girl descended to the garden with a soothed although
still melancholy mien. She remained a long time in meditation in the
thicket of roses, but her meditations had evidently no bitterness in
them, and a miraculous serenity seemed to have spread itself over her
heart like a beneficent balm.

A few days afterward, during the unpleasant coolness of one of those
mornings, white with dew, which are the peculiar privilege of the
mountain-gorges in Langres, the bells of Vivey tolled for the dead,
announcing the celebration of a mass in memory of Claudet. The grand
chasserot having been a universal favorite with every one in the
neighborhood, the church was crowded. The steep descent from the high
plain overlooked the village. They came thronging in through the wooded
glens of Praslay; by the Auberive road and the forests of Charbonniere;
companions in hunting and social amusements, foresters and wearers of
sabots, campers in the woods, inmates of the farms embedded in the
forests--none failed to answer the call. The rustic, white-walled nave
was too narrow to contain them all, and the surplus flowed into the
street. Arbeltier, the village carpenter, had erected a rudimentary
catafalque, which was draped in black and bordered with wax tapers, and
placed in front of the altar steps. On the pall, embroidered with silver
tears, were arranged large bunches of wild flowers, sent from La
Thuiliere, and spreading an aromatic odor of fresh verdure around. The
Abbe Pernot, wearing his insignia of mourning, officiated. Through the
side windows were seen portions of the blue sky; the barking of the dogs
and singing of birds were heard in the distance; and even while listening
to the 'Dies irae', the curb could not help thinking of the robust and
bright young fellow who, only the year previous, had been so joyously
traversing the woods, escorted by Charbonneau and Montagnard, and who was
now lying in a foreign land, in the common pit of the little cemetery of
Montebello.

As each verse of the funeral service was intoned, Manette Sejournant,
prostrate on her prie-dieu, interrupted the monotonous chant with
tumultuous sobs. Her grief was noisy and unrestrained, but those present
sympathized more with the quiet though profound sorrow of Reine Vincart.
The black dress of the young girl contrasted painfully with the dead
pallor of her complexion. She emitted no sighs, but, now and then, a
contraction of the lips, a trembling of the hands testified to the inward
struggle, and a single tear rolled slowly down her cheek.

From the corner where he had chosen to stand alone, Julien de Buxieres
observed, with pain, the mute eloquence of her profound grief, and became
once more a prey to the fiercest jealousy. He could not help envying the
fate of this deceased, who was mourned in so tender a fashion. Again the
mystery of an attachment so evident and so tenacious, followed by so
strange a rupture, tormented his uneasy soul. "She must have loved
Claudet, since she is in mourning for him," he kept repeating to himself,
"and if she loved him, why this rupture, which she herself provoked, and
which drove the unhappy man to despair?"

At the close of the absolution, all the assistants defiled close beside
Julien, who was now standing in front of the catafalque. When it came to
Reine Vincart's turn, she reached out her hand to M. de Buxieres; at the
same time, she gazed at him with such friendly sadness, and infused into
the clasp of her hand something so cordial and intimate that the young
man's ideas were again completely upset. He seemed to feel as if it were
an encouragement to speak. When the men and women had dispersed, and a
surging of the crowd brought him nearer to Reine, he resolved to follow
her, without regard to the question of what people would say, or the
curious eyes that might be watching him.

A happy chance came in his way. Reine Vincart had gone home by the path
along the outskirts of the wood and the park enclosure. Julien went
hastily back to the chateau, crossed the gardens, and followed an
interior avenue, parallel to the exterior one, from which he was
separated only by a curtain of linden and nut trees. He could just
distinguish, between the leafy branches, Reine's black gown, as she
walked rapidly along under the ashtrees. At the end of the enclosure,
he pushed open a little gate, and came abruptly out on the forest path.

On beholding him standing in advance of her, the young girl appeared more
surprised than displeased. After a momentary hesitation, she walked
quietly toward him.

"Mademoiselle Reine," said he then, gently, "will you allow me to
accompany you as far as La Thuiliere?"

"Certainly," she replied, briefly.

She felt a presentiment that something decisive was about to take place
between her and Julien, and her voice trembled as she replied. Profiting
by the tacit permission, de Buxieres walked beside Reine; the path was so
narrow that their garments rustled against each other, yet he did not
seem in haste to speak, and the silence was interrupted only by the
occasional flight of a bird, or the crackling of some falling branches.

"Reine," said Julien, suddenly, "you have so often and so kindly extended
to me the hand of friendship, that I have decided to speak frankly,
and open my heart to you. I love you, Reine, and have loved you for a
long time. But I have been so accustomed to hide what I think, I know so
little how to conduct myself in the varying circumstances of life, and I
have so much mistrust of myself, that I never have dared to tell you
before now. This will explain to you my stupid behavior. I am suffering
the penalty to-day, for while I was hesitating, another took my place;
although he is dead, his shadow stands between us, and I know that you
love him still."

She listened to him with bent head and half-closed eyes, and her heart
began to beat violently.

"I never have loved him in the way you suppose," she replied, simply.

A gleam of light shot through Julien's melancholy blue eyes. Both
remained silent. The green pasture-lands, bathed in the full noonday
sun, were lying before them. The grasshoppers were chirping in the
bushes, and the skylarks were soaring aloft with their joyous songs.
Julien was endeavoring to extract the exact meaning from the reply he had
just heard. He was partly reassured, but some points had still to be
cleared up.

"But still," said he, "you are lamenting his loss."

A melancholy smile flitted for an instant over Reine's pure, rosy lips.

"Are you jealous of my tears?" said she, softly.

"Oh, yes!" he exclaimed, with sudden exultation, "I love you so entirely
that I can not help envying Claudet his share in your affections! If his
death causes you such poignant regret, he must have been nearer and
dearer to you than those that survive."

"You might reasonably suppose otherwise," replied she, almost in a
whisper, "since I refused to marry him."

He shook his head, seemingly unable to accept that positive statement.

Then Reine began to reflect that a man of his distrustful and despondent
temperament would, unless the whole truth were revealed to him,
be forevermore tormented by morbid and injurious misgivings. She knew he
loved her, and she wished him to love her in entire faith and security.
She recalled the last injunctions she had received from the Abbe Pernot,
and, leaning toward Julien, with tearful eyes and cheeks burning with
shame, she whispered in his ear the secret of her close relationship to
Claudet.

This painful and agitating confidence was made in so low a voice as to be
scarcely distinguished from the soft humming of the insects, or the
gentle twittering of the birds.

The sun was shining everywhere; the woods were as full of verdure and
blossoms as on the day when the young man had manifested his passion with
such savage violence. Hardly had the last words of her avowal expired on
Reine's lips, when Julien de Buxieres threw his arms around her and
fondly kissed away the tears from her eyes.

This time he was not repelled.

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Accustomed to hide what I think
Consoled himself with one of the pious commonplaces
How small a space man occupies on the earth
More disposed to discover evil than good
Nature's cold indifference to our sufferings
Never is perfect happiness our lot
Plead the lie to get at the truth
The ease with which he is forgotten
Those who have outlived their illusions
Timidity of a night-bird that is made to fly in the day
Vexed, act in direct contradiction to their own wishes
You have considerable patience for a lover

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