Part 2 out of 5
Far above, amid chestnut trees and some giant pines, De Vasselot could
see the roof and the chimneys of a house--it was the Casa Perucca.
Presently he was so immediately below it that he could see it no longer
as he followed the path, winding as the river wound through the narrow
Suddenly he came out of the defile into a vast open country, spread out
like a fan upon a gentle slope rising to the height of the Col St.
Stefano, where the Bastia road comes through the Lancone defile--the road
by which Colonel Gilbert had ridden to the Casa Perucca not so very long
before. At the base of the fan runs the Aliso, without haste, bordered on
either bank by oleanders growing like rushes. Halfway down the slope is a
lump of land which looks like, and probably is, a piece of the mountain
cast off by some subterranean disturbance, and gently rolled down into
the valley. It stands alone, and on its summit, three hundred feet above
the plain, are the square-built walls of what was once a castle.
Lory stood for a moment and looked at this prospect, now pink and hazy in
the reflected light of the western sky. He knew that he was looking at
the Chateau de Vasselot.
Within the crumbling walls, built on the sheer edge of the rock, stood,
amid a disorderly thicket of bamboo and feathery pepper and deep copper
beech, a square stone house with smokeless chimneys, and, so far as was
visible, every shutter shut. The owner of it and all these lands, the
bearer of the name that was written here upon the map, walked slowly out
into the open country. He turned once and looked back at the towering
cliff behind him, the rocky peninsula where the Casa Perucca stood amidst
its great trees, and hid the village of Olmeta, perched on the mountain
side behind it.
The short winter twilight was almost gone before de Vasselot reached the
base of the mound of half-shattered rock upon which the chateau had been
built. The wall that had once been the outer battlement of the old
stronghold was so fallen into disrepair that he anticipated no difficulty
in finding a gap through which to pass within the enclosure where the
house was hidden; but he walked right round and found no such breach.
Where the wall of rock proved vulnerable, the masonry, by some curious
chance, was invariably sound.
It had not been de Vasselot's intention to disturb the old gardener, who,
he understood, was left in charge of the crumbling house, but to return
the next day with the Abbe Susini. But he was tired, and having failed to
gain an entrance, was put out and angry, when at length he found himself
near the great door built in the solid wall on the north-west side of the
ruin. A rusty bell-chain was slowly swinging in the wind, which was
freshening again at sunset, as the mistral nearly always does when it is
dying. With some difficulty he succeeded in swinging the heavy bell
suspended inside the door, so that it gave two curt clangs as of a rusty
tongue against moss-grown metal.
After some time the door was opened by a grey-haired man in his
shirt-sleeves. He wore a huge black felt hat, and the baggy corduroy
trousers of a deep brown, which are almost universal in this country. He
held the door half open and peered out. Then he slowly opened it and
"Good God!" he whispered. "Good God!"
De Vasselot stepped over the threshold with one quick glance at the
single-barrelled gun in the man's hand.
"I am--" he began.
"Yes," interrupted the other, breathlessly. "Straight on; the door is
Half puzzled, Lory de Vasselot advanced towards the house alone; for the
peasant was long in closing the door and readjusting chain and bolts. The
shutters of the house were all closed, but the door, as he had said, was
open. The place was neatly enough kept, and the house stood on a lawn of
that brilliant green turf which is only seen in parts of England, in
Ireland, and in Corsica.
De Vasselot went into the house, which was all dark by reason of the
closed shutters. There was a large room, opposite to the front door,
dimly indicated by the daylight behind him. He went into it, and was
going straight to one of the windows to throw back the shutters, when a
sharp click brought him round on his heels as if he had been shot. In a
far corner of the room, in a dark doorway, stood a shadow. The click was
that of a trigger.
Quick as thought de Vasselot ran to the window, snatched at the opening,
opened it, threw back the shutter, and was round again with bright and
flashing eyes facing the doorway. A man stood there watching him--a man
of his own build, slight and quick, with close upright hair like his own,
but it was white; with a neat upturned moustache like his own, but it was
white; with a small quick face like his own, but it was bleached. The
eyes that flashed back were dark like his own.
"You are a de Vasselot," said this man, quickly.
"Are you Lory de Vasselot?"
"Then I am your father."
"Yes," said Lory, slowly; "there is no mistaking it."
"The life unlived, the deed undone, the tear unshed ... not judging
those, who judges right?"
It was the father who spoke first.
"Shut that shutter, my friend," he said. "It has not been opened for
He had an odd habit of jerking his head upwards and sideways with raised
eyebrows. It would appear that a trick of thus deploring some unavoidable
misfortune had crystallized itself, as it were, into a habit by long use.
And the old man rarely spoke now without this upward jerk.
Lory closed the shutter and followed his father into an adjoining room--a
small, round apartment lighted by a skylight and impregnated with
tobacco-smoke. The carpet was worn into holes in several places, and the
boards beneath were polished by the passage of smooth soles. Lory glanced
at his father's feet, which were encased in carpet slippers several sizes
too large for him, bought at a guess in the village shop.
Here again the two men stood and looked at each other. And again it was
the father who broke the silence.
"My son," he said, half to himself; "and a soldier. Your mother was a bad
woman, mon ami. And I have lived thirty years in this room," he concluded
"Name of God!" exclaimed Lory. "And what have you done all this time?"
"Carnations," replied the old man, gravely. "There is still daylight.
Come; I will show you. Yes; carnations."
As he spoke he turned and opened the door behind him. It led out to a
small terrace no larger than a verandah, and every inch of earth was
occupied by the pale green of carnation-spikes. Some were budding, some
in bloom. But there was not a flower among them at which a modern
gardener would not have laughed aloud. And there were tears in Lory de
Vasselot's eyes as he looked at them.
The father stood, jerking his head and looking at his son, waiting his
"Yes," was the son's reply at last; "yes--very pretty."
"But to-night you cannot see them," said the old man, earnestly.
"To-morrow morning--we shall get up early, eh?"
"Yes," said Lory, slowly; and they went back into the little windowless
"We will get up early," said the count, "to see the pinks. This cursed
mistral beats them to pieces, but I have no other place to grow them. It
is the only spot that is not overlooked by Perucca."
He spoke slowly and indifferently, as if his spirit had been bleached,
like his face, by long confinement. He had lost his grip of the world and
of human interests. As he looked at his son, his black eyes had a sort of
irresponsible vagueness in their glance.
"Tell me," said Lory, gently, at length, as if he were speaking to a
child; "why have you done this?"
"Then you did not know that I was alive?" inquired his father in return,
with an uncanny, quiet laugh, as he sat down.
"No; no one knows that--no one but the Abbe Susini and Jean there. You
saw Jean as you came in. He recognized you or he would not have let you
in; for he is quick with his gun. He shot a man seven years ago--one of
Perucca's men, of course, who was creeping up through the tamarisk trees.
I do not know what he came seeking, but he got more from Jean than he
looked for. Jean was a boy when your mother went to France, and he was
left in charge of the chateau. For they all thought that I had gone to
France with your mother, and perhaps the police searched France for me; I
do not know. There is a warrant out against me still, though the paper it
is written on must be yellow enough after thirty years."
As he spoke he carefully drew up his trousers, which were of corduroy,
like Jean's; indeed, the Count de Vasselot was dressed like a
peasant--but no rustic dress could conceal the tale told by the small
energetic head, the clean-cut features. It was obvious that his thoughts
were more concerned in his immediate environments--in the care, for
instance, to preserve his trousers from bagging at the knee--than he was
in the past. He had the curious, slow touch and contemplative manner of
"Yes; Jean was a boy when he first came here, and now he is a grey-haired
man, as you see. He picks the olives and earns a little by selling them.
Besides, I provided myself with money long ago, before--before I died. I
thought I might live long, and I have, for thirty years, like a tree."
Which was nearly true, for his life must have been somewhere midway
between the human and the vegetable.
"But why, my God!" cried Lory, impatiently, "why have you done it?"
"Why?" echoed the count, in his calm and suppressed way. "Why? Because I
am a Corsican, and am not to be frightened into leaving the country by a
parcel of Peruccas. They are no better than the Luccans you see working
in the road, and the miserable Pisans who come in the winter to build the
terraces. They are no Corsicans, but come from Pisa."
"But if they thought you were dead, what satisfaction could there be in
living on here?"
But the count only looked at his son in silence. He did not seem to
follow the hasty argument. He had the placid air of a child or a very old
man, who will not argue.
"Besides, Mattei Perucca is dead."
"So they say. So Jean tells me. I have not seen the abbe lately. He does
not dare to come more often than once in three months--four times a year.
Mattei Perucca dead!" He shook his head with the odd, upward jerk and the
weary smile. "I should like to see his carcass," he said.
Then, after a pause, he went back to his original train of thought.
"We are different," he said. "We are Corsicans. It was only when the
Bonapartes changed their name to a French one that your great-grandfather
Gallicized ours. We are not to be frightened away by the Peruccas."
"But since he is dead--" said Lory, with an effort to be patient.
He was beginning to realize now that it was all real and not a dream,
that this was the Chateau de Vasselot, and this was his father--this
little, vague, quiet man, who seemed to exist and speak as if he were
only half alive.
"He may be," was the answer; "but that will make no difference, since for
one adherent that we have the Peruccas have twenty. There are a thousand
men between Cap Corse and Balagna who, if I went outside this door and
was recognized, would shoot me like a rat."
"Because they are of Perucca's clan, my friend," replied the count, with
a shrug of the shoulder.
"But still I ask why?" persisted Lory.
And the count spread out his thin white hands with a gesture of patient
"Well, of course I shot Andrei Perucca--the brother--thirty years ago. We
all know that. That is ancient history."
Lory looked at the little white-haired, placid man, and said no word. It
was perhaps the wisest thing to do. When you have nothing to say, say
"But he has had his revenge--that Mattel Perucca," said the count at
length, in a tone of careless reminiscence--"by living in that house all
these years, and, so they tell me, by making a small fortune out of the
vines. The house is not his, the land is not his. They are mine. Only he
and I knew it, and to prove it I should have to come to life. Besides,
what is land in this country, unless you till it with a spade in one hand
and a gun in the other?"
Lory de Vasselot leant forward in his chair.
"But now is the time to act," he said. "I can act if you will not.
I can make use of the law." "The law," answered his father, calmly. "Do
you think that you could get a jury in Bastia to give you a verdict? Do
you think you could find a witness who would dare to appear in your
favour? No, my friend. There is no law in this country, except that;"
and he pointed to a gun in the corner of the room, an old-fashioned
muzzle-loader, with which he had had the law of Andrei Perucca thirty
"But now that there is no Perucca left the clan will cease to exist,"
"Not at all," replied the father. "The inheritor of the estate, whoever
it is, will become the head of the clan, and things will be as they were
before. They tell me it is a woman named Denise Lange."
Lory gave a start. He had forgotten Denise Lange, and all that world of
Paris fad and fashion.
"And the women are always the worst," concluded his father.
They sat in silence for some moments. And then the count spoke again in
his odd, detached way, as if he were contemplating his environments from
"There was a man in Sartene who had an enemy. He was a shoemaker, and
could therefore work at his trade indoors. He never crossed his threshold
for sixteen years. One day they told him his enemy was dead, that the
funeral was for the same afternoon. It passed his door, and when it had
gone by, he stepped out, after sixteen, years, to watch it, and--Paff! He
twisted himself round as he writhed on the ground, and there was his
enemy, laughing, with the smoke still at the muzzle. The funeral was a
trick. No; I shall not believe that Mattei Perucca is dead until the Abbe
Susini tells me that he has seen the body. Not that it would make any
difference. I should not go outside the door. I am accustomed to this
He sat with his hands idly crossed on his knee, and looked at nothing in
particular. Nothing could arouse him now from his apathy, except perhaps
the culture of carnations--certainly not the arrival of the son whom he
had never seen. He had that air of waiting without expectancy which is
assuredly the dungeon mark, and a moral mourning worn for dead Hope.
Lory contemplated him as a strange old man who interested him despite
himself. There was pity, but nothing filial in his feelings. For filial
love only grows out of propinquity and a firm respect which must keep
pace with the growing demands of a daily increasing comprehension.
"Why did you come?" asked the count, suddenly.
It seemed as if his mind lay hidden under the accumulated _debris_ of the
years, as the old chateau perhaps lay hidden beneath that smooth turf
which only grows over ruins.
"I do not know," answered Lory, thoughtfully. Then he turned in his quick
way, and looked at his father with a smile. "Perhaps it was the good God
who put the idea into my head, for it came quite suddenly. We shall grow
accustomed to each other, and then we may find perhaps that it was a good
thing that I came."
The count looked at him with rather a puzzled air, as if he did not quite
"Yes," he said at length--"yes; perhaps so. I thought it likely that you
would come. Do you mean to stay?"
"I do not know. I have not thought yet. I have had no time to think. I
only know I am hungry. Perhaps Jean will get me something to eat."
"I have not dined yet," said the count, simply. "Yes; we will dine."
He rose, and, going to the door, called Jean, who came, and a whispered
consultation ensued. From out of the _debris_ of his mind the count
seemed to have unearthed the fact that he was a gentleman, and as such
was called upon to exercise an unsparing hospitality. He rather impeded
than helped the taciturn man, who seemed to be gardener and servant all
in one, and who now prepared the table, setting thereon linen and glass
and silver of some value. There was excellent wine, and over the simple
meal the father and son, in a jerky, explosive way, made merry. For Lory
was at heart a Frenchman, and the French know, better than any, how near
together tears and laughter must ever be, and have less difficulty in
snatching a smile from sad environments than other men.
It was only as he finally cleared the table that Joan broke his habitual
"The moon is up," he said to the count, and that was all.
The old man rose at once, and went to a window, which had hitherto been
shuttered and barred.
"I sometimes look out," he said, "when there is a moon."
With odd, slow movements he opened the shutter and window, and, turning,
invited Lory by a jerk of the head to come and look. The moon, which must
have been at the full, was behind the chateau, and therefore invisible.
Before them, in a framework of giant pines that have no match in Europe,
lay a panorama of rolling plain and gleaming river. Far away towards
Calvi and the south, range after range of rugged mountain melted into a
distance, where the snow-clad summits of Cinto and Grosso stood
majestically against the sky. The clouds had vanished. It was almost
twilight under the southern moon. To the right the sea lay shimmering.
"I did not know that there was anything like it in Europe," said Lory,
after a long pause.
"There is nothing like it," answered his father, gravely, "in the world."
Father and son were still standing at the open window, when Jean came
hurriedly into the room.
"It is the abbe," he said, and went out again. The count stepped down
from the raised window recess, and turned up the lamp, which he had
lowered. Lory paused to close the shutter, and as he did so the Abbe
Susini came into the room without looking towards the window, which was
near the door by which he entered, without, therefore, seeing Lory. He
hurried into the room, and stopped dead, facing the count. He threw out
one finger, and pointed at his interlocutor as he spoke, in his quick
"I have just seen a man from Calvi. One landed there this morning whom he
recognized. It could only have been your son. If one recognizes him,
another may. Is the boy mad to return thus--"
He broke off, and made a step nearer, peering into the count's face.
"You know something. I see it in your face. You know where he is."
"He is there," said the count, pointing over the priest's shoulder.
"Then God bless him," said the Abbe Susini, turning on his heel.
THE PROMISED LAND.
"I do not ask that flowers should always spring beneath my feet."
Colonel Gilbert was not one of those visionaries who think that the lot
of the individual man is to be bettered by a change from, say, an empire
to a republic. Indeed, the late transformation from a republic to an
empire had made no difference to him, for he was neither a friend nor a
foe of the emperor. He had nothing in common with those soldiers of the
Second Empire who had won their spurs in the Tuileries, and owed
promotion to a woman's favouritism. He was, in a word, too good a soldier
to be a good courtier; and politics represented for him, as they do for
most wise men, an after-breakfast interest, and an edifying study of the
careers of a certain number of persons who mean to make themselves a name
in the easiest arena that is open to ambition.
The colonel read the newspapers because there was little else to do in
Bastia, and the local gossip "on tap," as it were, at the cafes and the
"Reunion des Officiers," had but a limited interest for him. He was,
however, at heart a gossip, and rode or walked through the streets of
Bastia with that leisurely air which seems to invite the passer-by to
stop and exchange something more than a formal salutation.
The days, indeed, were long enough; for his service often got the colonel
out of bed at dawn, and his work was frequently done before civilians
were awake. It thus happened that Colonel Gilbert was riding along the
coast-road from Brando to Bastia one morning before the sun had risen
very high above the heights of Elba. The day was so clear that not only
were the rocky islands of Gorgona and Capraja and Monte Cristo visible,
but also the mysterious flat Pianosa, so rarely seen, so capricious and
singular in its comings and goings that it fades from sight before the
very eyes, and in clear weather seems to lie like a raft on the still
The colonel was contemplating the scene with a leisurely, artistic eye,
when some instinct made him turn his head and look over his shoulder
towards the north.
"Ah!" he muttered, with a nod of satisfaction.
A steamer was slowly pounding down towards Bastia. It was the Marseilles
boat--the old _Perseverance._ And for Colonel Gilbert she was sure to
bring news from France, possibly some one with whom to while away an hour
or so in talk. He rode more leisurely now, and the steamer passed him. By
the time he reached the dried-fruit factory on the northern outskirt of
the town, the _Perseverance_ had rounded the pier-head, and was gently
edging alongside the quay. By the time he reached the harbour she was
moored, and her captain enjoying a morning cigar on the wharf.
Of course Colonel Gilbert knew the captain of the _Perseverance._ Was he
not friendly with the driver of the St. Florent diligence? All who
brought news from the outside world were the friends of this idle
"Good morning, captain," he cried. "What news of France?"
The captain was a jovial man, with unkempt hair and a smoke-grimed face.
"News, colonel," he answered. "It is not quite ready yet. The emperor is
always brewing it in the Tuileries, but it is not ripe for the public
"And in the mean time," said the captain, testing with his foot the
tautness of the hawser that moored the _Perseverance_ to the quay--"in
the mean time they are busy at Cherbourg and Toulon. As to the army, you
probably know that better than I, mon colonel."
And he finished with his jovial laugh. Then he jerked his thumb in the
direction of the steamer.
"Your newspapers are, no doubt, in the mail-bags," he said. "We had a
good passage, and are a full ship. Of passengers I have two--and ladies.
One, by the way, is the heiress of Mattei Perucca over at Olmeta, whom
you doubtless knew."
The colonel turned, and looked towards the steamer with some interest.
"Is that so?" he said reflectively.
"Yes; a pinched old maid in a black dress. None will marry her for her
acres. It will be a _pre sale_ with a vengeance. I caught a glimpse of
her as we came out of harbour. I did not see the other, who is young--her
niece, I understand. There she is, coming on deck now--the heiress, I
mean. She will not look her best after a night at sea."
And, with a jerk of the head, he indicated a black-clad form on the deck
of the _Perseverance._ It happened to be Mademoiselle Brun, who, as a
matter of fact, looked no different after a night at sea to what she had
looked in the drawing-room of the Baroness de Melide. She was too old or
too tough to take her colour from her environments. She was standing with
her back towards the quay, talking to the steward, and did not,
therefore, see the colonel until the clank of his spurred heel on the
deck made her turn sharply.
"You, mademoiselle!" exclaimed the colonel, on seeing her face as he
stood, _kepi_ in hand, staring at her in astonishment.
"Yes; I am the ogre chosen by Fate to watch over Denise Lange," she
answered, holding out her withered hand.
"But this is indeed a pleasure," said the colonel, with his ready smile.
"I came by a mere accident to offer my services, as any Frenchman would,
to ladies arriving at such a place as Bastia, as a friend, moreover, of
Mattel Perucca, and never expected to see a face I knew. It is years,
mademoiselle, since we met--since before the war--before Solferino."
"Yes," said Mademoiselle Brun; "since before Solferino."
And she glanced suspiciously at him, as if she had something to hide. A
chance word often is the "open sesame" to that cupboard where we keep our
cherished skeleton. Colonel Gilbert saw the quick glance, and
"I wrote a letter some time ago," he said, "to Mademoiselle Lange, making
her an offer for her property, little dreaming that I had so old a friend
as yourself at hand, as one may say, to introduce us to each other."
"No," said Mademoiselle Brun.
"And I was surprised to receive a refusal."
"Yes," said Mademoiselle Brun, looking across the harbour towards the old
"There are not many buyers of land in Corsica," he explained, half
indifferently, "and there are plenty of other plots which would serve my
purpose. However, I will not buy elsewhere until you and Mademoiselle
Lange have had an opportunity of seeing Perucca--that is certain. No; it
is only friendly to keep my offer open."
He was standing with his face turned towards the deck-house and the
saloon stairway, and tapped his boot idly with his whip. There was
something expectant and almost anxious in his demeanour. Mademoiselle
Brun was looking at his face, and he was perhaps not aware that it
changed at this moment.
"Yes," she said, without looking round; "that is my niece. You find her
"Present me," answered the colonel, turning to hook his sword to his
Denise came hurriedly across the deck, her eyes bright with anticipation
and happiness. This was a better life than that of the Rue du
Cherche-Midi, and the stir and bustle of the sailors, already at work on
the cargo, were contagious. She noticed that Mademoiselle Brun was
speaking to an officer, but was more interested in the carriage, which,
in accordance with an order sent by the captain, was at this moment
rattling across the stones towards the steamer.
"This," said Mademoiselle Brun, "is Colonel Gilbert, whose letter you
answered a few weeks ago."
"Ah, yes," said Denise, returning his bow, and looking at him with frank
eyes. "Thank you very much, monsieur, but we are going to live at Perucca
"By all means," laughed the colonel, "try it, mademoiselle; try it. It is
an impossibility, I tell you frankly. And Corsica is not a country in
which to attempt impossibilities. See here! I perceive you have your
carriage ready, and the sailors are now carrying your baggage ashore. You
are going to drive to Perucca. Good! Now, as you pass along the road, you
will perceive on either side quite a number of small crosses, simply
planted at the roadside--some of iron, some of wood, some with a name,
some with initials. They are to be found all over Corsica, at the side of
every road. Those are people, mademoiselle, who have attempted
impossibilities in this country and have failed--at the very spot where
the cross is planted. You understand? I speak as a soldier to a soldier's
He looked at her, and nodded slowly and gravely with compressed lips.
"Rest assured that we shall not attempt impossibilities," replied Denise,
gaily. "We only ask to be left alone to feed our poultry and attend to
our garden. I am told that the house and servants are as my father's
cousin left them, and we are expected to-day."
"And you, colonel, shall be our protector," added Mademoiselle Brun, with
one of her straight looks.
The colonel laughed, shrugged his shoulders, and accompanied them to the
carriage which awaited them.
"If one only knew whether you approve or disapprove of these hair-brained
proceedings," he took an opportunity of saying to Mademoiselle Brun, when
Denise was out of earshot.
"If I only knew myself," she replied coldly.
They climbed into the high, old-fashioned carriage, and drove through the
new Boulevard du Palais, upward to the hills above the town. And if they
observed the small crosses on either side of the road, marking the spot
where some poor wight had come to what is here called an accidental
death, they took care to make no mention of it. For Denise persisted in
seeing everything in that rose light which illumines the world when we
are young. She had even a good word to say for the _Perseverance_, which
vessel had assuredly need of such, and said that the captain was a good
French sailor, despite his grimy face.
"This," she cried, "is better than your stuffy schoolroom!"
And she stood up in the carriage to inhale the breeze that hummed through
the macquis from the cool mountain-tops. There is no air like that which
comes as through a filter made of a hundred scented trees--a subtle
mingling of their clean woody odours.
"Look!" she added, pointing down to the sea, which looked calm from this
great height. "Look at that queer flat island there. That is Pianosa. And
there is Elba. Elba! Cannot the magic of that word rouse you? But no, you
have no Corsican blood in you; and you sit there with your uncompromising
old face and your black bonnet a little bit on one side, if I may mention
it"--and she proceeded to put Mademoiselle Brun's bonnet straight--"you,
who are always in mourning for something--I don't know what," she added
half reflectively, as she sat down again.
The road to St. Florent mounts in a semi-circle behind Bastia through
orange-groves and vineyards, and the tiny private burial-grounds so dear
to Corsican families of position. These, indeed, are a proud people, for
they are too good to await the last day in the company of their humbler
brethren, but must needs have a small garden and a hideous little
mausoleum of their own, with a fine view and easy access to the highroad.
With many turns the great road climbs round the face of the mountain, and
soon leaving Bastia behind, takes a southern trend, and suddenly commands
from a height a matchless view of the Lake of Biguglia and the little
hillside village where a Corsican parliament once sat, which was once,
indeed, the capital of this war-torn island. For every village can boast
of a battle, and the rocky earth has run with the blood of almost every
European nation, as well as that of Turk and Moor. Beyond the lake, and
stretching away into a blue haze where sea and land melt into one, lies
the great salt marsh where the first Greek colony was located, where the
ruins of Mariana remain to this day.
Soon the road mounts above the level of the semi-tropical vegetation, and
passes along the face of bare and stony heights, where the pines are
small and the macquis no higher than a man's head.
Denise, tired with so long a drive at a snail's pace, jumped from the
"I will walk up this hill," she cried to the driver, who had never turned
in his seat or spoken a word to them.
"Then keep close to the carriage," he answered.
But he only indicated the macquis with his whip, and made no further
answer. Mademoiselle Brun said nothing, but presently, when the driver
paused to rest the horses, she descended from the carriage and walked
It was nearly midday when they at last reached the summit of the pass.
The heavy clouds, which had been long hanging over the mountains that
border the great plain of Biguglia, had rolled northward before a hot and
oppressive breeze, and the sun was now hidden. The carriage descended at
a rapid trot, and once the man got down and silently examined his brakes.
The road was a sort of cornice cut on the bare mountain side, and a
stumble or the slipping of a brake-block would inevitably send the
carriage rolling into the valley below.
Denise sat upright, and looked quickly, with eager movements of the head,
from side to side. Soon they reached the region of the upper pines, which
are small, and presently passed a piece of virgin forest--of those great
pines which have no like in Europe.
"Look!" said Denise, gazing up at the great trees with a sort of gasp of
But mademoiselle had only eyes for the road in front. Before long they
passed into the region of chestnuts, and soon saw the first habitation
they had seen for two hours. For this is one of the most thinly peopled
lands of Europe, and four great nations of the Continent have at one time
or other done their best to exterminate this untameable race. Then a few
more houses and a smaller road branching off to the left from the
highway. The carriage swung round into this, which led straight to a wall
built right across it. The driver pulled up, and, turning, brought the
horses to a standstill at a door built in the solid wall. With his whip
he indicated a bell-chain, rusty and worn, that swung in the breeze.
There was nobody to be seen. The clouds had closed down over the
mountains. Even the tops of the great pines were hidden in a thin mist.
Denise got down and rang the bell. After a long pause the door was opened
by a woman in black, with a black silk handkerchief over her head, who
looked gravely at them.
"I am Denise Lange," said the girl.
"And I," said the woman, stepping back to admit them, "am the widow of
Pietro Andrei, who was shot at Olmeta."
And Denise Lange entered her own door followed by Mademoiselle Brun.
"There are some occasions on which a man must sell half his secret
in order to conceal the rest."
"There is some one moving among the oleanders down by the river," said
the count, coming quickly into the room where Lory de Vasselot was
sitting, one morning some days after his unexpected arrival at the
The old man was cool enough, but he closed the window that led to the
small terrace where he cultivated his carnations, with that haste which
indicates a recognition of undeniable danger, coupled with no feeling of
"I know every branch in the valley," he said, "every twig, every leaf,
every shadow. There is some one there."
Lory rose, and laid aside the pen with which he was writing for an
extended leave of absence. In four days these two had, as one of them had
predicted, grown accustomed to each other. And the line between custom
and necessity is a fine drawn one.
"Show me," he said, going towards the window.
"Ah!" murmured the count, jerking his head. "You will hardly perceive it
unless you are a hunter--or the hunted."
Lory glanced at his father. Assuredly the sleeping mind was beginning to
"It is nothing but the stirring of a leaf here, the movement of a branch
there, which are unusual and unnatural."
As he spoke, he opened the window with that slow caution which had become
habitual to his every thought and action.
"There," he said, pointing with a steady hand; "to the left of that
almond tree which is still in bloom. Watch those willows which have come
there since the wall fell away, and the terrace slipped into the flooded
river twenty-one years this spring. You will see the branches move.
There--there! You see. It is a man, and he comes too slowly to have an
"I see," said Lory. "Is that land ours?"
The count gave an odd little laugh.
"You can see nothing from this window that is not ours," he answered.
"As much as any other man's," he added, after a pause. For the conviction
still holds good in some Corsican minds that the mountains are common
"He is coming slowly, but not very cautiously," said Lory. "Not like a
man who thinks that he may be watched from here. He probably is taking no
heed of these windows, for he thinks the place is deserted."
"It is more probable," replied the count, "that he is coming here to
ascertain that fact. What the abbe has heard, another may hear, though he
would not learn it from the abbe. If you want a secret kept, tell it to a
priest, and of all priests, the Abbe Susini. Some one has heard that you
are here in Corsica, and is creeping up to the castle to find out."
"And I will go and find him out. Two can play at that game in the
bushes," said Lory, with a laugh.
"If you go, take a gun; one can never tell how a game may turn."
"Yes; I will take a gun if you wish it." And Lory went towards the door.
"No," he said, pausing in answer to a gesture made by his father, "not
that one. It is of too old a make."
And he went out of the room, leaving his father holding in his hand the
gun with which he had shot Andrei Perucca thirty years before. He stood
looking at the closed door with dim, reflective eyes. Then he looked at
the gun, which he set slowly back in its corner.
"It seems," he said to himself, "that I am of too old a make also."
He went to the window, and, opening it cautiously, stood looking down
into the valley. There he perceived that, though two may play at the same
game, it is usually given to one to play it better than the other. For he
who was climbing up the hill might be followed by a careful eye, by the
chance displacement of a twig, the bending of a bough; while Lory,
creeping down into the valley, remained quite invisible, even to his
father, upon whose memory every shadow was imprinted.
"Aha!" laughed the old man, under his breath. "One sees that the boy is a
Corsican. And," he added, after a pause, "one would almost say that the
other is not."
In which the count's trained eye--trained as only is the vision of the
hunted--was by no means deceived. For Lory, who was far down in the
valley, had already caught sight of a braided sleeve, and, a moment
later, recognized Colonel Gilbert. The colonel not only failed to
perceive him, but was in nowise looking for him. He appeared to be
entirely absorbed, first in the examination of the ground beneath his
feet, and then in the contemplation of the rising land. In his hand he
seemed to be carrying a note-book, and, so far as the watcher could see,
consulted from time to time a compass.
"He is only engaged in his trade," said Lory to himself, with a laugh;
and, going out into the open, he sat down on a rock with the gun across
his knee and waited.
Thus it happened that Colonel Gilbert, working his way up through the
bushes, note-book in hand, looked up and saw, within a few yards of him,
the owner of the land upon which they stood, whom he had every reason to
believe to be in Paris.
His ruddy face was of a deeper red as he slipped his note-book within his
tunic and came forward, holding out his hand. But his smile was as ready
and good-natured as ever.
"Well met!" he said. "You find me, count, taking a professional and
business-like survey of the laud that you promised to sell me."
"You are welcome to take the survey," answered Lory, taking the
outstretched, cordial hand, "but I must ask you to let me keep the land.
I did not take your offer seriously."
"It was intended seriously, I assure you."
"Then it was my mistake," answered Lory, quite pleasantly.
He tapped himself vigorously on the chest, and made a gesture indicating
that at a word from the colonel he was ready to lay violent hands upon
himself for having been so foolish. The colonel laughed, and shrugged his
shoulders as if the matter were but a small one. The pitiless
Mediterranean, almost African, sun poured down on them, and one of those
short spells of absolute calm, which are characteristic of these
latitudes, made it unbearably hot. The colonel took off his cap, and,
sitting down in quite a friendly way near de Vasselot on a rock,
proceeded to mop his high forehead, pressing back the thin smooth hair
which was touched here and there with grey.
"You have come here at the wrong time," he said. "The heats have begun.
One longs for the cool breezes of Paris or of Normandy."
And he paused, giving Lory an opportunity of explaining why he had come
at this time, which opportunity was promptly neglected.
"At all events, count," said the colonel, replacing his cap and lighting
a cigarette, "I did not deceive you as to the nature of the land which I
wished to buy. It is a desert, as you see. And yet I cannot help thinking
that something might be made of this land."
He sat and gazed lazily in front of him. Presently, leaving his cigarette
to smoulder, he began to buzz through his teeth, in the bucolic manner,
an air of Offenbach. He was, in a word, entirely agricultural, and
consequently slow of speech.
"Yes, count," he said, with conviction, after a long pause; "there is
only one drawback to Corsica."
"The Corsicans," said the colonel, gravely. "You do not know them as I
do; for I suppose you have only been here a few days?"
De Vasselot's quick eyes glanced for a moment at the colonel's face, but
no reply was made to the supposition. Then the colonel fell to his
guileless Offenbach again. There is nothing so innocent as the meditative
rendering of a well-known tune. A popular air is that which echoes in
Colonel Gilbert glanced sideways at his companion. He had not thought
that this was a silent man. Nature was singularly at fault in her
mouldings if this slightly made, dark-eyed Frenchman was habitually
taciturn. And the colonel was vaguely uneasy.
"My horse," he said, "is up at Olmeta. I took a walk round by the river.
It is my business to answer innumerable questions from the Ministry of
the Interior. Railway projects are still in the air, you understand. I
must know my Corsica. Besides, as I tell you, I thought I was on my own
"I am sorry that I cannot hold to my joke, for it was nothing else, as
"Yes, yes, of course," acquiesced the colonel. "And in the mean time, it
is a great pleasure to see you here, as well as a surprise. I need hardly
tell you that your presence here is quite unknown to your neighbours. We
have little to talk about at this end of the island now that the
Administration is centred more than ever at Ajaccio; and were it known in
the district that you are at Vasselot, you may be sure I should have
heard of it at the cafe or at the hotel where I dine."
"Yes. I came without drum or trumpet."
"You are wise."
The remark was made so significantly that Lory could not ignore it even
if such a course had recommended itself to one of his quick and impulsive
"What do you mean, colonel?"
Gilbert made a little gesture of the hand that held the half-burnt
cigarette. He deprecated, it would appear, having been drawn to talk on
so serious a topic.
"Well, I speak as one Frenchman to another, as one soldier to another. If
the emperor does not die, he will declare war against Germany. There is
the situation in a nutshell, is it not? And do you think the army can
afford to lose one man at the present time, especially a man who has made
good use of such small opportunities of distinction as the fates have
offered him? And, so far as I have been able to follow the intricacies of
the parochial politics, your life is not worth two sous in this country,
my dear count. There, I have spoken. A word to the wise, is it not?"
He rose, and threw away his cigarette with a nod and a smile.
"And now I must be returning. You will allow me to pass up that small
pathway that leads past the chateau. Some day I should, above all things,
like to see the chateau. I am interested in old houses, I tell you
"I will walk part of the way with you," answered Lory, with a stiffness
which was entirely due to a sense of self-reproach. For it was his
instinct to be hospitable and open-handed and friendly. And Lory would
have liked to ask the colonel then and there to come to the chateau.
"By the way," said the colonel, as they climbed the hill together, "I did
not, of course, mean to suggest that you should sell me the old house
which bears your name--only a piece of land, a few hectares on this
south-west slope, that I may amuse myself with agriculture, as I told
you. Perhaps some day you may reconsider your decision?"
He waited for a reply to this suggestion, or an invitation in response to
the hint that he was interested in the old house. But neither came.
"I am much obliged to you for your warning as to the unpopularity of my
name in this district," said Lory, rather laboriously changing the
subject. "I had, of course, heard something of the same sort before; but
I do not attach much importance to local tradition, do you?"
The colonel paused for a few minutes. He had the leisurely conversational
manner of an old man.
"These people have undergone a change," he said at length, "since their
final subjugation by ourselves--exactly a hundred years ago, by the way.
They were a turbulent, fighting, obstinate people. Those qualities--good
enough in times of war--go bad in times of peace. They are a lawless,
idle, dishonest people now. Their grand fighting qualities have run to
seed in municipal disagreements and electioneering squabbles. And, worst
of all, we have grafted on them our French thrift, which has run to
greed. There is not a man in the district who would shoot you, count,
from any idea of the vendetta, but there are a hundred who would do it
for a thousand-franc note, or in order to prevent you taking back the
property which he has stolen from you. That is how it stands. And that is
why Pietro Andrei came to grief at Olmeta."
"And Mattei Perucca?" asked Lory, thereby causing the colonel to trip
suddenly over a stone.
"Oh, Perucca," he answered, "that was different. He died a more or less
natural death. He was a very stout man, and on receiving a letter, gave
way to such ungovernable rage that he fell in a fit. True, it was a
threatening letter; but such are common enough in this country. It may
have been a joke or may have had some comparatively harmless object. None
could have foreseen such a result."
They were now near the chateau, and the colonel rather suddenly shook
hands and went away.
"I am always to be found at Bastia, and am always at your service," he
said, waving a farewell with his whip.
Lory found the door of the chateau ajar, and Jean watching behind it. His
father, however, seemed to have forgotten upon what mission he had gone
forth, and was sitting placidly in the little room, lighted by a
skylight, where they always lived. The sight of Lory reminded him,
"Who was it?" he asked, without showing a very keen interest.
"It was a man called Gilbert," answered Lory, "whom I have met in Paris.
An engineer. He is stationed at Bastia, and is connected with the railway
scheme. A man I should like to like, and yet--He ought to be a good
fellow. He has every qualification, and yet--"
Lory did not finish the sentence, but stood reflectively looking at his
"He has more than once offered to buy Vasselot," he said, watching for
"You must never sell Vasselot," replied the old man. He did not seem to
conceive it possible that there should be any temptation to do so.
"I do not quite understand Colonel Gilbert," continued Lory. "He has also
offered to buy Perucca; but there I think he has to deal with a clever
"C'est ce qu'on ne dit pas qui explique ce qu'on dit."
From the Rue du Cherche-Midi in Paris to the Casa Perucca in Corsica is
as complete a change as even the heart of woman may desire. For the Rue
du Cherche-Midi is probably the noisiest corner of that noisy Paris that
lies south of the Seine; and the Casa Perucca is one of the few quiet
corners of Europe where the madding crowd is non-existent, and that
crowning effort of philanthropic folly, the statute holiday, has yet to
"Yes," said Mademoiselle Brun, one morning, after she and Denise had
passed two months in what she was pleased to term exile--"yes; it is
peaceful. Give me war," she added grimly, after a pause.
They were standing on the terrace that looked down over the great valley
of Vasselot. There was not a house in sight except the crumbling chateau.
The month was June, and the river, which could be heard in winter, was
now little more than a trickling stream. A faint breeze stirred the young
leaves of the copper-beech, which is a silent tree by nature, and did not
so much as whisper now. There are few birds in Corsica, for the natives
are great sportsmen, and will shoot, sitting, anything from a man to a
sparrow in season and out.
"Listen," said Mademoiselle Brun, holding up one steady, yellow finger;
but the silence was such as will make itself felt. "And the neighbours do
not call much," added mademoiselle, in completion of her own thoughts.
Denise laughed. She had been up early, for they were almost alone in the
Casa Perucca now. The servants who had obeyed Mattei Perucca in fear and
trembling, had refused to obey Denise, who, with much spirit, had
dismissed them one and all. An old man remained, who was generally
considered to be half-witted; and Maria Andrei, the widow of Pietro, who
was shot at Olmeta. Denise superintended the small farm.
"That cheery Maria," said Mademoiselle Brun, "she is our only resource,
and reminds me of a cheap funeral."
"There is the colonel," said Denise. "You forget him."
"Yes; there is the colonel, who is so kind to us."
And Mademoiselle Brun slowly contemplated the whole landscape, taking in
Denise, as it were, in passing.
"And there is our little friend," she added, "down in the valley there
who does not call."
"Why do you call him little?" asked Denise, looking down at the Chateau
de Vasselot. "He is not little."
"He is not so large as the colonel," explained mademoiselle.
"I wonder why he does not call?" said Denise, presently, looking down
into the valley, as if she could perhaps see the explanation there.
"It has something to do with the social geography of the district," said
mademoiselle, "which we do not understand. The Cheap Funeral alone knows
it. Half of the country she colours red, the other half black.
Theoretically, we hate a number of persons who reciprocate the feeling
heartily. Practically, we do not know of their existence. I imagine the
Count de Vasselot hates us on the same principle."
"But we are not going to be dictated to by a number of ignorant
peasants," cried Denise, angrily.
"I rather fancy we are."
Denise was standing by the low wall, with her head thrown back. She was
naturally energetic, and had the carriage that usually goes with that
"Are you sure he is there?" she asked, still looking down at the chateau.
"No, I am not. I have only Maria's word for it."
"Then I am going to the village of Olmeta to find out," said Denise.
And mademoiselle followed her to the house without comment. Indeed, she
seemed willing enough to do that which they had been warned not to do.
On the road that skirts the hill and turns amid groves of chestnut trees,
they met two men, loitering along with no business in hand, who scowled
at them and made no salutation.
"They may scowl beneath their great hats," said Denise; "I am not afraid
of them." And she walked on with her chin well up.
Below them, on the left, the terraces of vine and olive were weed-grown
and neglected; for Denise had found no one to work on her land, and the
soil here is damp and warm, favouring a rapid growth.
Colonel Gilbert had been unable to help them in this matter. His
official position necessarily prevented his taking an active part in any
local differences. There were Luccans, he said, to be hired at Bastia,
hard-working men and skilled vine-dressers, but they would not come to a
commune where such active hostility existed, and to induce them to do so
would inevitably lead to bloodshed.
The Abbe Susini had called, and told a similar tale in more guarded
language. Finding the ladies good Catholics, he pleaded for and abused
his poor in one breath, and then returned half the money that Denise gave
"As likely as not you will be given credit for the whole in heaven,
mademoiselle, but I will only take part of it," he said.
"A masterful man," commented Mademoiselle Brun, when he was gone.
But the abbe had suggested no solution to Denise's difficulties. The
estate seemed to be drifting naturally into the hands of the only man who
wanted it, and, after all, had offered a good price for it.
"I will find out from the Abbe Susini or the mayor whether the Count de
Vasselot is really here," Denise said, as they approached the village.
"And if he is, we will go and see him. We cannot go on like this. He says
do not sell, and then he does not come near us. He must give his reasons.
Why should I take his advice?"
"Why, indeed?" said Mademoiselle Brun, to whom the question was not quite
a new one.
She knew that though Denise would rebel against de Vasselot's advice, she
would continue to follow it.
"It seems to be luncheon-time," said Denise, when they reached the
village. "The place is deserted. It must be their _dejeuner_."
"It may be," responded mademoiselle, with her manlike curtness of speech.
They went into the church, which was empty, and stayed but a few minutes
there, for Mademoiselle Brun was as short in her speech with God as with
men. When they came out to the market-place, that also was deserted,
which was singular, because the villagers in Corsica spend nearly the
whole day on the market-place, talking politics and whispering a hundred
intrigues of parochial policy; for here a municipal councillor is a great
man, and usually a great scoundrel, selling his favour and his vote,
trafficking for power, and misappropriating the public funds. Not only
was the market-place empty, but some of the house-doors were closed. The
door of a small shop was even shut from within as they approached, and
surreptitiously barred. Mademoiselle Brun noticed it, and Denise did not
pretend to ignore it.
"One would say that we had an infectious complaint," she said, with a
They went to the house of the Abbe Susini. Even this door was shut.
"The abbe is out," said the old woman, who came in answer to their
summons, and she closed the door again with more speed than politeness.
Denise did not need to ask which was the mayor's house, for a board, with
the word "Mairie" painted upon it (appropriately enough a movable board),
was affixed to a house nearly opposite to the church. As they walked
towards it, a stone, thrown from the far corner of the Place, under the
trees, narrowly missed Denise, and rolled at her feet. Mademoiselle Brun
walked on, but Denise swung round on her heel. There was no one to be
seen, so she had to follow Mademoiselle Brun, after all, in silence. She
was rather pale, but it was anger that lighted her eyes, and not fear.
Almost immediately a volley of stones followed, and a laugh rang out from
beneath the trees. And, strange to say, it was the laugh that at last
frightened Denise, and not the stones; for it was a cruel laugh--the
laugh of a brutal fool, such as one may still hear in a few European
countries when boys are torturing dumb animals.
"Let us hurry," said Denise, hastily. "Let us get to the Mairie."
"Where we shall find the biggest scoundrel of them all, no doubt," added
mademoiselle, who was alert and cool.
But before they reached the Mairie the stones had ceased, and they both
turned at the sound of a horse's feet. It was Colonel Gilbert riding
hastily into the Place. He saw the stones lying there and the two women
standing alone in the sunlight. He looked towards the trees, and then
round at the closed houses. With a shrug of the shoulders, he rode
towards Denise and dismounted.
"Mademoiselle", he said, "they have been frightening you."
"Yes", she answered. "They are not men, but brutes."
The colonel, who was always gentle in manner, made a deprecatory gesture
with the great riding-whip that he invariably carried.
"You must remember", he said, "that they are but half civilized. You know
their history--they have been conquered by all the greedy nations in
succession, and they have never known peace from the time that history
began until a hundred years ago. They are barbarians, mademoiselle, and
barbarians always distrust a new-comer."
"But why do they hate me?"
"Because they do not know you, mademoiselle," replied the colonel, with
perhaps a second meaning in his blue eyes.
And, after a pause, he explained further.
"Because they do not understand you. They belong to one of the strongest
clans in Corsica, and it is the ambition of every one to belong to a
strong clan. But the Peruccas are in danger of falling into dissension
and disorder, for they have no head. You are the head, mademoiselle. And
the work they expect of you is not work for such hands as yours."
And again Colonel Gilbert looked at Denise slowly and thoughtfully. She
did not perceive the glance, for she was standing with her head half
turned towards the trees.
"Ah!" he said, noting the direction of her glance, "they will throw no
more stones, mademoiselle. You need have no anxiety. They fear a uniform
as much as they hate it."
"And if you had not come at that moment?"
"Ah!" said the colonel, gravely; and that was all. "At any rate, I am
glad I came," he added, in a lighter tone, after a pause. "You were going
to the Mairie, mesdemoiselles, when I arrived. Take my advice, and do not
go there. Go to the abbe if you like--as a man, not as a priest--and come
to me whenever you desire a service, but to no one else in Corsica."
Denise turned as if she were going to make an exception to this sweeping
restriction, but she checked herself and said nothing. And all the while
Mademoiselle Brun stood by in silence, a little, patient, bent woman,
with compressed lips, and those steady hazel eyes that see so much and
betray so little.
"The abbe is not at home," continued the colonel. "I saw him many miles
from here not long ago; and although he is quick on his legs--none
quicker--He cannot be here yet. If you are going towards the Casa
Perucca, you will perhaps allow me to accompany you".
He led the way as he spoke, leading loosely by the bridle the horse which
followed him, and nuzzled thoughtfully at his shoulder. The colonel was,
it appeared, one whose gentle ways endeared him to animals.
It was glaringly hot, and when they reached the Casa Perucca, Denise
asked the colonel to come in and rest. It was, moreover, luncheon-time,
and in a thinly populated country the great distances between neighbours
are conducive to an easier hospitality than that which exists in closer
quarters. The colonel naturally stayed to luncheon.
He was kind and affable, and had a hundred little scraps of gossip such
as exiles love. He made no mention of his offer to buy Perucca,
remembered only the fact that he was a gentleman accepting frankly a
lady's frank hospitality, and if the conversation turned to local
matters, he gracefully guided it elsewhere.
Immediately after luncheon he rose from the table, refusing even to wait
"I have my duties," he explained. "The War Office is, for reasons known
to itself, moving troops, and I have gradually crept up the ladder at
Bastia, till I am nearly at the top there."
Denise went with him to the stable to see that his horse had been cared
"They have only left me the decrepit and the half-witted," she said, "but
I am not beaten yet."
Colonel Gilbert fetched the horse himself and tightened the girths. They
walked together towards the great gate of solid wood which fitted into
the high wall so closely that none could peep through so much as a crack.
At the door the colonel lingered, leaning against his great horse and
stroking its shoulder thoughtfully with a gloved finger.
"Mademoiselle," he said at length.
"Yes," answered Denise, looking at him so honestly in the face that he
had to turn away.
"I want to ask you," he said slowly, "to marry me."
Denise looked at him in utter astonishment, her face suddenly red, her
eyes half afraid.
"I do not understand you," she said.
"And yet it is simple enough," answered the colonel, who himself was
embarrassed and ill at ease. "I ask you to marry me. You think I am too
old--" He paused, seeking his words. "I am not forty yet, and, at all
events, I am not making the mistake usually made by very young men. I do
not imagine that I love you--I know it."
They stood for a minute in silence; then the colonel spoke again.
"Of what are you thinking, mademoiselle?"
"That it is hard to lose the only friend we have in Corsica."
"You need not do that," replied the colonel. "I do not even ask you to
"Oh, I can answer at once."
Colonel Gilbert bit his lip, and looked at the ground in silence.
"Then I am too old?" he said at length.
"I do not know whether it is that or not," answered Denise; and neither
spoke while the colonel mounted and rode slowly away. Denise closed the
door quite softly behind him.
"One stern tyrannic thought that made
All other thoughts its slave."
All round the Mediterranean Sea there dwell people who understand the art
of doing nothing. They do it unblushingly, peaceably, and of a set
purpose. Moreover, their forefathers must have been addicted to a similar
philosophy; for there is no Mediterranean town or village without its
promenade or lounging-place, where the trees have grown quite large, and
the shade is quite deep, and the wooden or stone seats are shiny with
use. Here those whom the French call "worth-nothings" congregate
peacefully and happily, to look at the sea and contemplate life from that
reflective and calm standpoint which is only to be enjoyed by the man who
has nothing to lose. To begin at Valentia, one will find these human
weeds almost Oriental in their apathy. Farther north, at Barcelona, they
are given to fitful lapses into activity before the heat of the day. At
Marseilles they are almost energetic, and are even known to take the
trouble of asking the passer for alms. But eastward, beyond Toulon, they
understand their business better, and do not even trouble to talk among
themselves. The French worth-nothing is, in a word, worth less than any
of his brothers--much less than the Italian, who is quite easily roused
to a display of temper and a rusty knife--and more nearly approaches the
supreme calm of the Moor, who, across the Mediterranean, will sit all day
and stare at nothing with any man in the world. And between these dreamy
coasts there lie half a dozen islands which, strange to say, are islands
of unrest. In Majorca every man works from morn till eve. In Minorca they
do the same, and quarrel after nightfall. In Iviza they quarrel all day.
In Corsica they do nothing, restlessly; while Sardinia, as all the world
knows, is a hotbed of active discontent.
At Ajaccio there are half a dozen idlers on the Place Bonaparte, who sit
under the trees against the wall; but they never sit there long, and do
not know their business. At St. Florent, in the north of the island,
which has a western aspect--the best for idling--there are but two real,
unadulterated knights of industry, who sit on the low wall of that which
is called the New Quay, and conscientiously do nothing from morning till
"Of course I know him," one was saying to the other. "Do I not remember
his father, and are not all the de Vasselots cut with the same knife? I
tell you there was a moon, and I saw him get off his horse, just here at
the very door of Rutali's stable, and unstrap his sack, which he carried
himself, and set off towards Olmeta."
The speaker lapsed into silence, and Colonel Gilbert, who had lunched,
and was now sitting at the open window of the little inn, which has
neither sign nor license, leant farther forward. For the word "Olmeta"
never failed to bring a light of energy and enterprise into his quiet
The inn has its entrance in the main street of St. Florent, and only the
back windows look out upon the quay and across the bay. It was at one of
these windows that Colonel Gilbert was enjoying a cigarette and a cup of
coffee, and the loafers on the quay were unaware of his presence there.
And for the sixth time at least, the story of Lory de Vasselot's arrival
at St. Florent and departure for Olmeta was told and patiently heard. Has
not one of the great students of human nature said that the _canaille_ of
all nations are much alike? And the dull or idle of intellect assuredly
resemble each other in the patience with which they will listen to or
tell the same story over and over again.
The colonel heard the tale, listlessly gazing across the bay with dreamy
eyes, and only gave the talker his full attention when more ancient
history was touched upon.
"Yes," said the idler; "and I remember his father when he was just at
that age--as like this one as one sheep is like another. Nor have I
forgotten the story which few remember now."
He pressed down the tobacco into his wooden pipe--for they are
pipe-smokers in a cigarette latitude--and waited cunningly for curiosity
to grow. His companion showed no sign, though the colonel set his empty
coffee-cup noiselessly aside and leant his elbow on the window-sill.
The speaker jerked his thumb in the direction of Olmeta over his left
shoulder far up on the mountainside.
"That story was buried with Perucca," he said, after a long pause.
"Perhaps the Abbe Susini knows it. Who can tell what a priest knows?
There were two Peruccas once--fine, big men--and neither married. The
other--Andrei Perucca--who has been in hell these thirty years, made
sheep's eyes, they told me, at de Vasselot's young wife. She was French,
and willing enough, no doubt. She was dull, down there in that great
chateau; and when a woman is dull she must either go to church or to the
devil. She cannot content herself with tobacco or the drink, like a man.
De Vasselot heard of it. He was a quiet man, and he waited. One day he
began to carry a gun, like you and me--a bad example, eh? Then Andrei
Perucca was seen to carry a gun also. And, of course, in time they
met--up there on the road from Pruneta to Murato. The clouds were down,
and the gregale was blowing cold and showery. It is when the gregale
blows that the clouds seem to whisper as they crowd through the narrow
places up among the peaks, and there was no other sound while these two
men crept round each other among the rocks, like two cats upon a roof. De
Vasselot was quicker and smaller, and as agile as a goat, and Andrei
Perucca lost him altogether. He was a fool. He went to look for him. As
if any one in his senses would go to look for a Corsican in the rocks!
That is how the gendarmes get killed. At length Andrei Perucca raised his
head over a big stone, and looked right into the muzzle of de Vasselot's
gun. The next minute there was no head upon Perucca's shoulders."
The narrator paused, and relighted his pipe with a foul-smelling sulphur
"Yes," he said reflectively; "they are fine men, the de Vasselots."
He tapped himself on the chest with the stem of his pipe, and made a
gesture towards the mountains and the sky, as if calling upon the gods to
"I am all for the de Vasselots--I," he said.
Colonel Gilbert leant out of the window, and quietly took stock of this
"At that time," continued the speaker, "we had at Bastia a young prefect
who took himself seriously. He was going to reform the world. They
decided to arrest the Count de Vasselot, though they had not a scrap of
evidence, and the clan was strong in those days, stronger than the
Peruccas are to-day. But they never caught him. They disappeared bag and
baggage--went to Paris, I understand; and they say the count died there,
or was perhaps killed by the Peruccas, who grew strong under Mattei, so
that in a few years it would have been impossible for a de Vasselot to
show his face in this country. Then Mattei Perucca died, and was hardly
in his grave before this man came. I tell you, I saw him myself, a de
Vasselot, with his father's quick way of turning his head, of sitting in
the saddle lightly like a Spaniard or a Corsican. That was in the spring,
and it is now July--three months ago. And he has never been seen or heard
of since. But he is here, I tell you; he is here in the island. As likely
as not he is in the old chateau down there in the valley. No honest man
has set his foot across the threshold since the de Vasselots left it
thirty years ago--only Jean is there, who has the evil eye. But there are
plenty of Perucca's people up at Olmeta who would risk Jean's eye, and
break down the doors of the chateau at a word from the Casa Perucca. But
the girl there who is the head of the clan will not say the word. She
does not understand that she is powerful if she would only go to work in
the right way, and help her people. Instead of that, she quarrels with
them over such small matters as the right of grazing or of cutting wood.
She will make the place too hot for her--" He broke off suddenly. "What
is that?" he said, turning on the wall, which was polished smooth by
He turned to the north and listened, looking in the direction of Cap
Corse, from whence the Bastia road comes winding down the mountain
"I hear nothing," said his companion.
"Then you are deaf. It is the diligence half an hour before its time, and
the driver of it is shouting as he comes--shouting to the people on the
road. It seems that there is news--"
But Colonel Gilbert heard no more, for he had seized his sword, and was
already halfway down the stone stairs. It appeared that he expected news,
and when the diligence drew up in the narrow street, he was there
awaiting it, amid a buzzing crowd, which had inexplicably assembled in
the twinkling of an eye. Yes; there was assuredly news, for the diligence
came in at a gallop though there was no one on it but the driver. He
shouted incoherently, and waved his whip above his head. Then, quite
suddenly, perceiving Colonel Gilbert, he snapped his lips together, threw
aside the reins, and leapt to the ground.
"Mon colonel," he said, "a word with you."
And they went apart into a doorway. Three words sufficed to tell all that
the diligence driver knew, and a minute later the colonel hurried towards
the stable of the inn, where his horse stood ready. He rode away at a
sharp trot, not towards Bastia, but down the valley of Vasselot. Although
it was evident that he was pressed for time, the colonel did not hurry
his horse, but rather relieved it when he could by dismounting, at every
sharp ascent, and riding where possible in the deep shade of the chestnut
trees. He turned aside from the main road that climbs laboriously to
Oletta and Olmeta, and followed the river-path. In order to gain time he
presently left the path, and made a short cut across the open land,
glancing up at the Casa Perucca as he did so. For he was trespassing.
He was riding leisurely enough when his horse stumbled, and, in
recovering itself, clumsily kicked a great stone with such force that he
shattered it to a hundred pieces, and then stood on three legs, awkwardly
swinging his hoof in a way that horses have when the bone has been
jarred. In a moment the colonel dismounted, and felt the injured leg
"My friend," he said kindly, "you are a fool. What are you doing? Name of
a dog"--he paused, and collecting the pieces of broken quartz, threw them
away into the brush--"name of a dog, what are you doing?"
With an odd laugh Colonel Gilbert climbed into the saddle again, and
although he looked carefully up at the Casa Perucca, he failed to see
Mademoiselle Brun's grey face amid the grey shadows of an olive tree. The
horse limped at first, but presently forgot his grievance against the big
stone that had lain in his path. The colonel laughed to himself in a
singular way more than once at the seemingly trivial accident, and on
regaining the path, turned in his saddle to look again at the spot where
it had occurred.
On nearing the chateau he urged his horse to a better pace, and reached
the great door at a sharp trot. He rang the bell without dismounting, and
leisurely quitted the saddle. But the summons was not immediately
answered. He jerked at the chain again, and rattled on the door with the
handle of his riding whip. At length the bolts were withdrawn, and the
heavy door opened sufficiently to admit a glance of that evil eye which
the peasants did not care to face.
Before speaking the colonel made a step forward, so that his foot must
necessarily prevent the closing of the door.
"The Count de Vasselot," said he.
"Take away your foot," replied Jean.
The colonel noted with a good-natured surprise the position of his stout
riding-boot, and withdrew it.
"The Count de Vasselot," he repeated. "You need not trouble, my friend,
to tell any lies or to look at me with your evil eye. I know the count is
here, for I saw him in Paris just before he came, and I spoke to him at
this very door a few weeks ago. He knows me, and I think you know me too,
my friend. Tell your master I have news from France. He will see me."
Jean unceremoniously closed the door, and the colonel, who was moving
away towards his horse, turned sharply on his heel when he heard the
bolts being surreptitiously pushed back again.
"Ah!" he said, and he stood outside the door with his hand at his
moustache, reflectively following Jean's movements, "they are singularly
careful to keep me out, these people."
He had not long to wait, however, for presently Lory came, stepping
quickly over the high threshold and closing the door behind him. But
Gilbert was taller than de Vasselot, and could see over his head. He
looked right through the house into the little garden on the terrace, and
saw someone there who was not Jean. And the light of surprise was still
in his eyes as he shook hands with Lory de Vasselot.
"You have news for me?" inquired de Vasselot.
"News for every Frenchman."
"Yes. The emperor has declared war against Germany."
"War!" echoed Lory, with a sudden laugh.
"Yes; and your regiment is the first on the list."
"I know, I know!" cried de Vasselot, his eyes alight with excitement.
"But this is good news that you tell me. How can I thank you for coming?
I must get home--I mean to France--at once. But this is great news!" He
seized the colonel's hand and shook it. "Great news, mon colonel--great
"Good news for you, for you are going. But I shall be left behind as
usual. Yes; it is good news for you."
"And for France," cried Lory, with both hands outspread, as if to
indicate the glory that was awaiting them.
"For France," said the colonel, gravely, "it cannot fail to be bad. But
we must not think of that now."
"We shall never think of it," answered Lory. "This is Monday; there is a
boat for Marseilles to-night. I leave Bastia to-night, colonel."
"And I must get back there," said the colonel, holding out his hand.
He rode thoughtfully back by the shortest route through the Lancone
Defile, and, as he approached Bastia, from the heights behind the town he
saw the steamer that would convey Lory to France coming northward from
"Yes," he said; "he will leave Bastia to-night; and assuredly the good
God, or the devil, helps me at every turn of this affair."
"Since all that I can ever do for thee
Is to do nothing, may'st thou never see,
Never divine, the all that nothing costeth me!"
It is for kings to declare war, for nations to fight and pay. Napoleon
III declared war against Russia, and France fought side by side with
England in the Crimea, not because the gayest and most tragic of nations
had aught to gain, but to ensure an upstart emperor a place among the
monarchs of Europe. And that strange alliance was merely one move in a
long game played by a consummate intriguer--a game which began
disastrously at Boulogne and ended disastrously at Sedan, and yet was the
most daring and brilliant feat of European statesmanship that has been
carried out since the adventurer's great uncle went to St. Helena.
But no one knows why in July, 1870, Napoleon III declared war against
Germany. The secret of the greatest war of modern times lies buried in
the Imperial mausoleum at Frognal.
There is a sort of surprise which is caused by the sudden arrival of the
long expected, and Germany experienced it in that hot midsummer, for
there seemed to be no reason why war should break out at the moment.
Shortly before, the Spanish Government had offered the crown to the
hereditary Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern, and France, ever ready to see
a grievance, found herself suited. But the hereditary prince declined
that throne, and the incident seemed about to close. Then quite suddenly
France made a demand, with reference to any possible recurrence of the
same question, which Germany could not be expected to grant. It was an
odd demand to make, and in a flash of thought the great German chancellor
saw that this meant war. Perhaps he had been waiting for it. At all
events, he was prepared for it, as were the silent soldier, von Roon, and
the gentle tactician, von Moltke. These gentlemen were away for a
holiday, but they returned, and, as history tells, had merely to fill in
a few dates on already prepared documents.
If France was not ready she thought herself so, and was at all events
willing. Nay, she was so eager that she shouted when she should have held
her tongue. And who shall say what the schemer of the Tuileries thought
of it all behind that pleasant smile, those dull and sphinx-like eyes? He
had always believed in his star, had always known that he was destined to
be great; and now perhaps he knew that his star was waning--that the
greatness was past. He made his preparations quietly. He was never a
flustered man, this nephew of the greatest genius the world has seen. Did
he not sit three months later in front of a cottage at Donchery and
impassively smoke cigarette after cigarette while waiting for Otto von
Bismarck? He was a fatalist.
"The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on."
And it must be remembered to his credit that he asked no man's pity--a
request as foolish to make for a fallen emperor as for the ordinary man
who has, for instance, married in haste, and is given the leisure of a
whole lifetime in which to repent. For the human heart is incapable of
bestowing unadulterated pity: there must be some contempt in it. If the
fall of Napoleon III was great, let it be remembered that few place
themselves by their own exertions in a position to fall at all.
The declaration of war was, on the whole, acclaimed in France; for
Frenchmen are, above all men, soldiers. Does not the whole world use
French terms in the technicalities of warfare? The majority received the
news as Lory de Vasselot received it. For a time he could only think that
this was a great and glorious moment in his life. He hurried in to tell
his father, but the count failed to rise to the occasion.
"War!" he said. "Yes; there have been many in my time. They have not
affected me--or my carnations."
"And I go to it to-night," announced Lory, watching his father with eyes
suddenly grave and anxious.
"Ah!" said the count, and made no farther comment.
Then, without pausing to consider his own motives, Lory hurried up to the
Casa Perucca to tell the ladies there his great news. He must, it seemed,
tell somebody, and he knew no one else within reach, except perhaps the
Abbe Susini, who did not pretend to be a Frenchman.
"Is it peace?" asked Mademoiselle Brun, who, having seen him climbing the
steep slope in the glaring sunshine, was waiting for him by the open
side-door when he arrived there.
He took her withered hand, and bowed over it as gallantly as if it had
been soft and young.
"What do you mean?" he asked, looking at her curiously.
"Well, it seems that the Casa Perucca and the Chateau de Vasselot are not
on visiting terms. We only call on each other with a gun."
"It is odd that you should have asked me that," said Lory, "for it is not
peace, but war."
And as he looked at her, her face hardened, her steady eyes wavered for
"Ah!" she said, her hands dropping sharply against her dingy black dress
in a gesture of despair. "Again!"
"Yes, mademoiselle," answered Lory, gently; for he had a quick intuition,
and knew at a glance that war must have hurt this woman at one time of
She stood for a moment tapping the ground with her foot, looking
reflectively across the valley.
"Assuredly," she said, "Frenchwomen must be the bravest women in the
world, or else there would never be a light heart in the whole country.
Come, let us go in and tell Denise. It is Germany, I suppose?"
"Yes, mademoiselle. They have long wanted it, and we are obliging them at
last. You look grave. It is not bad news I bring you, but good."
"Women like soldiers, but they hate war," said mademoiselle, and walked
on slowly in silence.
After a pause, she turned and looked at him as if she were going to ask
him a question, but checked herself.
"I almost did a foolish thing," she explained, seeing his glance of
surprise. "I was going to ask you if you were going?"
"Ah, yes, I am going," he answered, with a laugh and a keen glance of
excitement. "War is a necessary evil, mademoiselle, and assists
promotion. Why should you hate it?"
"Because we cannot interfere in it," replied Mademoiselle Brun, with a
snap of the lips. "We shall find Denise in the garden to the north of the
house, picking green beans, Monsieur le Comte," continued Mademoiselle
Brun, with a glance in his direction.
"Then I shall have time to help with the beans before I go to the war,"
answered Lory; and they walked on in silence.
The garden was but half cultivated--a luxuriant thicket of fruit and
weed, of trailing vine and wild clematis. The air of it was heavy with a
hundred scents, and, in the shade, was cool, and of a mossy odour rarely
found in Southern seas.
They did not see Denise at first, and then suddenly she emerged at the
other end of the weed-grown path where they stood. Lory hurried forward,
hat in hand, and perceived that Denise made a movement, as if to go back
into the shadow, which was immediately restrained.
Mademoiselle Brun did not follow Lory, but turned back towards the house.
"If they must quarrel," she said to herself, "they may do it without my
And Denise seemed, indeed, ready to fall out with her neighbour, for she
came towards him with heightened colour and a flash of annoyance in her
"I am sorry they put you to the trouble of coming out here," she said.
"Why, mademoiselle? Because I find you picking green beans?"
"No; not that. But one has one's pride. This is my garden. I keep it!
Look at it!" And she waved her hand with a gesture of contempt.
De Vasselot looked gravely round him. Then, after a pause, he made a
movement of the deepest despair.
"Yes, mademoiselle," he said, with a great sigh, "it is a wilderness."
"And now you are laughing at me."
"I, mademoiselle?" And he faced her tragic eyes.
"You think I am a woman."
De Vasselot spread out his hands in deprecation, as if, this time, she
had hit the mark.
"Yes," he said slowly.
"I mean you think we are only capable of wearing pretty clothes and
listening to pretty speeches, and that anything else is beyond our grasp
"Nothing in the world, mademoiselle, is beyond your grasp, except"--he
paused, and looked round him--"except a spade, perhaps, and that is what
this garden wants."
They were very grave about it, and sat down on a rough seat built by
Mattei Perucca, who had come there in the hot weather.
"Then what is to be done?" said Denise, simply.
For the French--the most intellectually subtle people of the world--have
a certain odd simplicity which seems to have survived all the changes and
chances of monarchy, republic, and empire.
"I do not quite know. Have you not a man?"
"I have nobody, except a decrepit old man, who is half an imbecile," said
Denise, with a short laugh. "I get my provisions surreptitiously by the
hand of Madame Andrei. No one else comes near the Casa. We are in a state
of siege. I dare not go into Olmeta; but I am holding on because you
advised me not to sell."
"Yes; in Paris. Have you forgotten?"
"No," answered Lory, slowly--"no; I have not forgotten. But no one takes
my advice--indeed, no one asks it--except about a horse. They think I
know about a horse." And Lory smiled to himself at the thought of his
"But you surely meant what you said?" asked Denise.
"Oh yes. But you honour me too much by taking my opinion thus seriously
without question, mademoiselle."
Denise was looking at him with her clear, searching eyes, rather veiled
by a suggestion of disappointment.
"I thought--I thought you seemed so decided, so sure of your own
opinion," she said doubtfully.
De Vasselot was silent for a moment, then he turned to her quickly,
"Listen," he said. "I will tell you the truth. I said 'Don't sell.' I say
'Don't sell' still. And I have not a shred of reason for doing so.
Denise was not a person who was easily led. She laughed at the stern,
strong Mademoiselle Brun to her face, and treated her opinion with a gay
contempt. She had never yet been led.
"No," she said, and seemed ready to dispense with reasons. "You will not
sell, yourself?" she said, after a pause.
"No; I cannot sell," he said quickly; and she remembered his answer long
After a pause he explained farther.
"I tell you frankly," he said earnestly, for he was always either very
earnest or very gay--"I tell you frankly, when we both received an offer
to buy, I thought there must be some reason why the places are worth
buying, but I have found none."
He paused, and, looking round, remembered that this also was his, and did
not belong to Denise at all, who claimed it, and held it with such a high
"As Corsica at present stands, Perucca and Vasselot are valueless,
mademoiselle, I claim the honour of being in the same boat with you. And
if the empire falls--_bonjour la paix!_"
And he sketched a grand upheaval with a wave of his two hands in the air.
"But why should the empire fall?" asked Denise, sharply.
"Ah, but I have the head of a sparrow!" cried Lory, and he smote himself
grievously on the forehead. "I forgot to tell you the very thing that I
came to tell you. Which is odd, for until I came into this garden I could
think of nothing else. I was ready to shout it to the trees. War has been
"War!" said Denise; and she drew in one whistling breath through her
teeth, as one may who has been burnt by contact with heated metal, and
sat looking straight in front of her. "When do you go, Monsieur le
Comte?" she asked, in a steady voice, after a moment.
He rose, and stood before her, looking at the tangled garden with a
"Ah!" he said, with a sudden laugh, "if the emperor had only consulted
me, he would not have done it just yet. I want to go, of course, for I am
a soldier. But I do not want to go now. I should have liked to see things
more settled, here in Olmeta. If the empire falls, mademoiselle, you must
return to France; remember that. I should have liked to have offered you
my poor assistance; but I cannot--I must go. There are others, however.
There is Mademoiselle Brun, with a man's heart in that little body. And
there is the Abbe Susini. Yes; you can trust him as you can trust a
little English fighting terrier. Tell him----No; I will tell him. He is a
Vasselot, mademoiselle, but I shall make him a Perucca."
He held out his hand gaily to say good-bye.
"And--stay! Will you write to me if you want me, mademoiselle? I may be
able to get to you."
Denise did not answer for a moment. Then she looked him straight in the
eyes, as was her wont with men and women alike.
"Yes," she said.
A few minutes later, Mademoiselle Brun came into the garden. She looked
round but saw no one. Approaching the spot where she had left Denise, she
found the basket with a few beans in it, and Denise's gloves lying there.
She knew that Lory had gone, but still she could see Denise nowhere.
There were a hundred places in the garden where any who did not wish to
be discovered could find concealment.
Mademoiselle Brun took up the basket and continued to pick the French
"My poor child! my poor child!" she muttered twice, with a hard face.
"Cupid is a casuist,
A mystic, and a cabalist.
Can your lurking thought surprise,
And interpret your device?"
That which has been taken by the sword must be held by the sword. In
Corsica the blade is sheathed, but it has never yet been laid aside. The
quick events of July thrust this sheathed weapon into the hand of Colonel
Gilbert, who, as he himself had predicted, was left behind in the general
"If you are placed in command at Bastia, how many, or how few men will
suffice?" asked the civil authority, who was laid on the shelf by the
outbreak of war.
And Colonel Gilbert named what appeared to be an absurd minimum.
"We must think of every event; things may go badly, the fortune of war
may turn against us."
"Still I can do it," answered the colonel.
"The empire may fall, and then Corsica will blaze up like tow."
"Still I can do it," repeated the colonel.
It is the natural instinct of man to strike while his blood is up, and
the national spirit on either side of the Rhine was all for immediate
action. The leaders themselves were anxious to begin, so that they might
finish before the winter. So the preparations were pushed forward in
Germany with a methodical haste, a sane and deliberate foresight. In
France it was more a question of sentiment--the invincibility of French
arms, the heroism of French soldiers, the Napoleonic legend. But while
these abstract aids to warfare may make a good individual soldier of that
untidy little man in the red trousers, who has, in his time, overrun all
Europe, it will not move great armies or organize a successful campaign.
For the French soldier must have some one to fight for--some one towering
man in whom he trusts, who can turn to good account some of the best
fighting material the human race has yet produced. And Napoleon III was
not such a man.
It is almost certain that he counted on receiving assistance from Austria
or Italy, and when this was withheld, the disease-stricken, suffering man
must assuredly have realized that his star was sinking. He had made the
mistake of putting off this great war too long. He should have fought it
years earlier, before the Prussians had made sure of those steady,
grumbling Bavarians, who bore the brunt of all the fighting, before his
own hand was faltering at the helm, and the face of God was turned away
from the Napoleonic dynasty.
The emperor was no tactician, but he knew the human heart. He knew that
at any cost France must lead off with a victory, not only for the sake of
the little man in the red trousers, but to impress watching Europe, and
perhaps snatch an ally from among the hesitating powers. And the result
was Saarbrueck. The news of it filtered through to Colonel Gilbert, who
was now quartered in the grey, picturesque Watrin barracks at Bastia,
which jut out between the old harbour and the plain of Biguglia. The
colonel did not believe half of it. It is always safe to subtract from
good news. But he sat down at once and wrote to Denise Lange. He had not
seen her, had not communicated with her, since he had asked her to marry
him, and she had refused. He was old enough to be her father. He had
asked her to marry him because she would not sell Perucca, and he wanted
that estate; which was not the right motive, but it is the usual one with
men who are past the foolishness of youth--that foolishness which is
better than all the wisdom of the ages.
From having had nothing to do, Colonel Gilbert found himself thrown into
a whirl of work, or what would have been a whirl with a man less calm and
placid. Very much at ease, in white linen clothes, he sat in his room in
the bastion, and transacted the affairs of his command with a leisurely
good nature which showed his complete grasp of the situation.
With regard to Denise, this middle-aged, cynical Frenchman grasped the
situation also. He was slowly and surely falling in love with her. And
she herself had given him the first push down that facile descent when
she had refused to be his wife.