Part 3 out of 5
"Mademoiselle," he wrote, "to quarrel is, I suppose, in the air of
Corsica, and when we parted at your gate some time ago, I am afraid I
left you harbouring a feeling of resentment against me. At this time, and
in the adverse days that I foresee must inevitably be in store for
France, none can afford to part with friends who by any means can
preserve them. In our respective positions, you and I must rise above
small differences of opinion; and I place myself unreservedly at your
service. I write to tell you that I have this morning good news from
France. We have won a small victory at Saarbrueck. So far, so good. But,
in case of a reverse, there is only too much reason to fear that internal
disturbances will arise in France, and consequently in this unfortunate
island. It is, therefore, my duty to urge upon you the necessity of
quitting Perucca without delay. If you will not consent to leave the
island, come at all events into Bastia, where, at a few minutes' notice,
I shall be able to place you in a position of safety. I trust I am not
one who is given to exaggerating danger. Ask Mademoiselle Brun, who has
known me since, as a young man, I had the privilege of serving under your
father, a general who had the gift of drawing out from those about him
such few soldierly qualities as they might possess."
Denise received this letter by post the next morning, and, after reading
it twice, handed it to Mademoiselle Brun, who was much too wise a woman
to ask for an explanation of those parts of it which she did not
comprehend. Indeed, she was manlike enough to pass on with an unimpaired
understanding to the second part of the letter, whereas most women would
have been so consumed by curiosity as to be unable to give more than half
their mind to the colonel's further news.
"And--?" inquired mademoiselle--a Frenchwoman's way of asking a thousand
questions in one. Mademoiselle Brun knew all the conversational tricks
that serve to economize words.
"It is all based upon supposition," said the erstwhile mathematical
instructress of the school in the Rue du Cherche-Midi. "It will be time
enough to arrive at a decision when the reverse comes. The Count de
Vasselot or the Abbe Susini will, no doubt, warn us in time."
"Ah!" said Mademoiselle Brun.
"But, if you like, I will write to the Count de Vasselot," said Denise,
in the voice of one making a concession.
Mademoiselle Brun thought deeply before replying. It is so easy to take a
wrong turning at the cross-roads of life, and assuredly Denise stood at a
"Yes," said mademoiselle at length; "it would be well to do that."
And Denise went away to write the letter that Lory had asked for in case
she wanted him. She did not show it to Mademoiselle Brun, but went out
and posted it herself in the little square box, painted white, affixed to
the white wall on the high-road, and just within sight of Olmeta. When
she returned she went into the garden again, where she spent so great a
part of these hot days that her face was burnt to a healthy brown, which
was in keeping with her fearless eyes and carriage. Mademoiselle Brun, on
the other hand, spent most of her days indoors, divining perhaps that
Denise had of late fallen into an unconscious love of solitude.
Denise returned to the house at luncheon-time, entered by the window, and
caught Mademoiselle Brun hastily shutting an atlas.
"I was wondering," she said, "where Saarbrueck might be, and whether any
one we know had time to get there before the battle."
"But Colonel Gilbert will tell us."
"Colonel Gilbert?" inquired Denise, turning rather sharply.
"Yes. I think he will come to-day or to-morrow."
And Mademoiselle Brun was right. In the full heat of the afternoon the
great bell at the gate gave forth a single summons; for the colonel was
always gentle in his ways.
"I made an opportunity," he said, "to escape from the barracks this hot
But he looked cool enough, and greeted Denise with his usual leisurely,
friendly bow. His manner conveyed, better than any words, that she need
feel no uneasiness on his account, and could treat him literally at his
word, as a friend.
"In order to tell you, with all reserve, the good news," he continued.
"With all reserve!" echoed Mademoiselle Brun.
"Good news in a French newspaper, Mademoiselle--" And he finished with a
gesture eloquent of the deepest distrust.
"I was wondering," said Mademoiselle Brun, speaking slowly, and in a
manner that demanded for the time the colonel's undivided attention,
"whether our friend the Count de Vasselot could have been at Saarbrueck."
"The Count de Vasselot," said Colonel Gilbert, with an air of friendly
surprise. "Has he quitted his beloved chateau? He is so attached to that
old house, you know."
"He has joined his regiment," replied Mademoiselle Brun, upon whom the
burden of the conversation fell; for Denise had gone to the open window,
and was closing the shutters against the sun.
"Ah! Then I can tell you that he was not at Saarbrueck. The count's
regiment is not in that part of the country. I was forgetting that he was
a soldier. He is, by the way, your nearest neighbour."
The colonel rose as he spoke, and went to the window--not to that where
Denise was standing, but to the other, of which the sun-blinds were only
"You can, of course, see the chateau from here?" he said musingly.
"Yes," answered Mademoiselle Brun, with an uneasy glance.
What was Colonel Gilbert going to say?
He stood for a moment looking down into the valley, while Denise and
Mademoiselle Brun waited.
"And you have perceived nothing that would seem to confirm the gossip
current regarding your--enemy?" he asked, with a good-natured,
"What gossip?" asked mademoiselle, bluntly.
The colonel shrugged his shoulders without looking round.
"Oh," he answered, "one does not believe all one hears. Besides, there
are many who think that in such a remote spot as Corsica, it is not
necessary to observe the ordinary--what shall I say?--etiquette of
He laughed uneasily, and spread out his hands as if, for his part, he
would rather dismiss the subject. But Mademoiselle Brun could be frankly
feminine at times.
"What is the gossip to which you refer?" she asked again.
"Oh, I do not believe a word of it--though I, myself, have seen. Well,
mademoiselle--you will excuse my frankness?--they say there is some one
in the chateau--some one whom the count wishes to conceal, you
"Ah!" said mademoiselle, indifferently.
Denise said nothing. She was looking out of the window with a face as
hard as the face of Mademoiselle Brun. She looked at her watch, seemed to
make a quick mental calculation, and then turned and spoke to Colonel
Gilbert with steady, smiling eyes.
"You have not told us your war news yet," she said.
So he told them what he knew, which, as a matter of fact, did not amount
to much. Then he took his leave, and rode home in the cool of the
evening--a solitary, brooding man, who had missed his way somehow early
on the road of life, and lacked perhaps the strength of mind to go back
and try again.
Denise said good-bye to him in the same friendly spirit which he had
inaugurated. She was standing with her back to the window from which she
had looked down on to the chateau of Vasselot while Colonel Gilbert
related his idle gossip respecting that house. And Mademoiselle Brun, who
remembered such trifles, noted that she never looked out of that window
again, but avoided it as one would avoid a cupboard where there is a
Denise, who consulted her watch again so soon as the colonel had left,
wrote another letter, which she addressed in an open envelope to the
postmaster at Marseilles, and enclosed a number of stamps. She went out
on to the high-road, and waited there in the shade of the trees for the
diligence, which would pass at four o'clock on its way to Bastia.
The driver of the diligence, like many who are on the road and have but a
passing glimpse of many men and many things, was a good-natured man, and
willingly charged himself with Denise's commission. For that which she
had enclosed was not a letter, but a telegram to be despatched from
Marseilles on the arrival of the mail steamer there. It was addressed to
Lory de Vasselot at the Cercle Militaire in Paris, and contained the
"Please return unopened the letter posted to-day."
"When half-gods go,
The gods arrive."
"Then," said the Baroness de Melide, "I shall go down to St. Germain en
Pre, and say my prayers." And she rang the bell for her carriage.
On all great occasions in life, the Baroness de Melide had taken her
overburdened heart in a carriage and pair to St. Germain en Pre. For she
had always had a carriage and pair for the mere ringing of a bell ever
since her girlhood, when the Baron de Melide had, with much assistance
from her, laid his name and fortune at her feet. When she had helped him
to ask her to be his wife, she had ordered the carriage thus, as she was
ordering it now in the month of August, 1870, on being told by her
husband that the battle of Woerth had been fought and lost, and that Lory
de Vasselot was safe.
"The Madeleine is nearer," suggested the baron, a large man, with a
vacant face which concealed a very mine of common sense, "and you could
give me a lift as far as the club."
"The Madeleine is all very well for a wedding or a funeral or a great
public festivity of any sort," said the baroness, with a harmless, light
manner of talking of grave subjects which is a closed book to the
ordinary stolid British mind; "but when one has a prayer, there is
nowhere like St. Germain en Pre, which is old and simple and dirty, so
that one feels like a poor woman. I shall put on an old dress."
She looked at her husband with a capable nod, as if to convey the
comforting assurance that he could leave this matter entirely to her.
"Yes," said the baron; "do as you will."
Which permission the world was pleased to consider superfluous in the
present marital case.
"It is," he said, "the occasion for a prayer; and say a word for France.
And Lory is safe--one of very, very few survivors. Remember that in your
prayers, ma mie, and remember me."
"I will see about it," answered the baroness. "If I have time, I will
perhaps put in a word for one who is assuredly a great stupid--no name
mentioned, you understand."
So the Baroness de Melide went to the gloomy old church of her choice,
and sent up an incoherent prayer, such as were arising from all over
France at this time. On returning by the Boulevard St. Germain, she met a
friend, a woman whose husband had fallen at Weissembourg, who gave her
more news from the front. The streets were crowded and yet idle. The men
stood apart in groups, talking in a low voice: the women stood apart and
watched them--for it is only in times of peace that the women manage
The baroness went home, nervous, ill at ease. She hardly noticed that
the door was held open by a maid-servant. The men had all gone out for
news--some to enroll themselves in the National Guard. She went up to the
drawing-room, and there, seated at her writing-table with his back turned
towards her, was Lory de Vasselot. All the brightness had gone from his
uniform. He turned as she entered the room.
"Mon Dieu!" she said, "what is it?"
"What is what?" he answered gravely.
"Why, your face," said the baroness. "Look--look at it!" She took him by
the arm, and turned him towards a mirror, half hidden in hot-house
flowers. "Look!" she cried again. "Mon Dieu! it is a tragedy, your face.
What is it?"
Lory shrugged his shoulders.
"I was at Woerth," he explained, "two days ago. I suppose Woerth will be
written for life in the face of every Frenchman who was there. They were
three to one. They are three to one wherever we turn."
He sat down again at the writing-table, and the baroness stood behind
"And this is war," she said, tapping slowly on the carpet with her foot.
She laid her hand on his shoulder, and, noting a quick movement of
withdrawal, glanced down.
"Ach!" she exclaimed, in a whisper, as she drew back.
The shoulder and sleeve of his tunic were stained a deep brown. The gold
lace was green in places and sticky. In an odd silence she unbuttoned her
glove, and laid it quietly aside.
"It seems, mon ami, that we have only been playing at life up to now,"
she said, after a pause.
And Lory did not answer her. He had several letters lying before him, and
had taken up his pen again.
"What brings you to Paris?" asked the baroness, suddenly.
"The emperor," he answered. "It is a queer story, and I can tell you part
of it. After Woerth, I was given a staff appointment--and why? Because my
occupation was gone; I had no men left." With a quick gesture he
described the utter annihilation of his troop. "And I was sent into Metz
with despatches. While I was still there--judge of my surprise!--the
emperor sent for me. You know him. He was sitting at a table, and looked
a big man. Afterwards, when he stood up, I saw he was small. He bowed as
I entered the room--for he is polite even to the meanest private of a
line regiment--and as he bowed he winced. Even that movement gave him
pain. And then he smiled, with an effort. 'Monsieur de Vasselot,' he
said; and I bowed. 'A Corsican,' he went on. 'Yes, sire.' Then he took up
a pen, and examined it. He wanted something to look at, though he might
safely have looked at me. He could look any man in the face at any time,
for his eyes tell no tales. They are dull and veiled; you know them, for
you have spoken to him often."
"Yes; and I have seen the great snake at the Jardin d'Acclimatation,"
answered the Baroness de Melide, quietly.
"Then," continued Lory, "still looking at the pen, he spoke slowly as if
he had thought it all out before I entered the room. 'When my uncle fell
upon evil times he naturally turned to his fellow-countrymen.' 'Yes,
sire.' 'I do not know you, Monsieur de Vasselot, but I know your name. I
am going to trust you entirely. I want you to go to Paris for me.'"
"And that is all you are going to tell me?" said the baroness.
"That is all I can tell you. Whatever he may be, he is more than a brave
man--he is a stoic. I arrived an hour ago, and went to the club for my
letters, but I did not dare to go in, because it is evident that I am
from the front. Look at my clothes. That is why I come here and present
myself before you as I am. I must beg your hospitality for a few hours
and the run of your writing-table."
The baroness nodded her head repeatedly as she looked at him. It was not
only from his gold-laced uniform that the brightness had gone, but from
himself. His manner was abrupt. He was almost stern. This, again, was
"You know that now, as always, our house is yours," she said quietly; for
it is not all light hearts that have nothing in them.
Then, being a practical Frenchwoman--and there is no more practical being
in the world--she rang for luncheon.
"One sees," she said, "that you are hungry. One must eat though empires
"Ah!" said Lory, turning sharply to look at her. "You talk like that in
Paris, do you?"
"In the streets, my cousin, they speak plainer language than that. But
Henri will tell you what they are saying on the pavement. I have sent for
him to the club to come home to luncheon. He forgives me much, that poor
man, but he would never forgive me if I did not tell him that you were in
"Thank you," answered Lory. "I shall be glad to see him. There are things
which he ought to know, which I cannot tell you."
"You think I am not discreet," said the baroness, slowly drawing the pins
from her smart hat.
Lory looked up at her with a laugh, which was perhaps what she wanted,
for there is no cunning like the cunning of a woman who seeks to charm a
man from one humour to another. And when the baroness had first seen
Lory, she thought that his heart was broken--by Woerth.
"You are beautiful, but not discreet," he answered.
"That is the worst of men," she said reflectively, as she laid her hat
aside--"they always want an impossible combination."
She looked back at him over her shoulder and laughed, for she saw that
she was gaining her point. The quiet of this luxurious house, her own
personality, the subtle domesticity of her action in taking off her hat
in his presence--all these were soothing a mind rasped and torn by battle
and defeat. But there was something yet which she had not grasped, and
she knew it. She glanced at the letters on the table before him. As if
the thought were transmitted across the room to him, Lory took up an open
telegram, and read it with a puzzled face. He half turned towards her as
if about to speak, but closed his lips again.
"Yes," said the baroness, lightly. "What is it?"
"It is," he explained, after a pause, "that I have had so little to do
"Except me, mon cousin," said the baroness, coming nearer to the
"Except you, ma cousine," he answered, turning in his chair and taking
He glanced up at her with eyes that would appear to the ordinary British
mind to express a passionate devotion, eminently French and thrilling and
terrible, but which really reflected only a very honest and brotherly
affection. For a Frenchman never hates or loves as much as he thinks he
"Well," said the baroness, practically, "what is it?"
"At the club," explained Lory, "I found a letter and a telegram from
"Both from Denise?" asked the baroness, rather bluntly.
"Both from Mademoiselle Lange. See how things hinge upon a trifling
chance--how much, we cannot tell! I happened to open the telegram first,
and it told me to return the letter unopened."
As he spoke he handed her the grey sheet upon which were pasted the
narrow blue paper ribbons bearing the text. The baroness read the message
slowly and carefully. She glanced over the paper, down at his head, with
a little wise smile full of contempt for his limited male understanding.
"And the letter?" she inquired.
He showed her a sealed envelope addressed by himself to Denise at
Perucca. She took it up and turned it over slowly. It was stamped and
ready for the post. She then threw it down with a short laugh.
"I was thinking," she explained, "of the difference between men and
women. A woman would have filled a cup with boiling water and laid that
letter upon it. It is quite easy. Why, we were taught it at the convent
school! You could have opened the letter and read it, and then closed it
again and returned it. By that simple subterfuge you would have known the
contents, and would still have had the credit for doing as you were told.
And I think three women out of five would have done it, and the whole
five would have wanted to do it. Ah! you may laugh. You do not know what
wretches we are compared to men--compared especially to some few of them;
to a Baron Henri de Melide or a Count de Vasselot--who are honourable
men, my cousin."
She touched him lightly on the shoulder with one finger, and then turned
away to look with thoughtful eyes out of the window.
"I wonder what is in that letter," said Lory, returning to his pen.
The baroness turned on her heel and looked at him with her contemptuous
"Oh," she said carelessly, "she was probably in a difficulty, which
solved itself after the letter was posted. Or she was afraid of
something, and found that her fears were unnecessary. That is all, no
There is, it appears, an _esprit de sexe_ which prevents women from
giving each other away.
"So you merely placed the letter in an envelope and are returning it,
thus, without comment?" inquired the baroness.
"Yes," answered Lory, who was writing a letter now.
And his cousin stood looking at him with an amused and yet tender smile
in her gay eyes. She remained silent until he had finished.
"There," he said, taking an envelope and addressing it hurriedly, "that
is done. It is to the Abbe Susini at Olmeta; and it contains some of
those things, my cousin, that I cannot tell you."
"Do you think I care," said the baroness, "for your stupid politics? Do
you think any woman cares for politics who has found some stupid man to
care for her? There is _my_ stupid in the street--on his new horse."
In a moment Lory was at the window.
"A new horse," he said earnestly. "I did not know that. Why did you not
"We were talking of empires," replied the baroness. "By the way," she
added, in after-thought, "is our good friend Colonel Gilbert in Corsica?"
"Yes--he is at Bastia."
"Ah," said the baroness, looking reflectively at Denise's telegram, which
she still held in her hand, "I thought he was."
Then that placid man, the Baron Henri de Melide, came into the room, and
shook hands in the then novel English fashion, looking at his lifelong
friend with a dull and apathetic eye.
"From the frontier?" he inquired.
Lory laughed curtly. He had returned from that Last Frontier, where each
one of us shall inevitably be asked "Si monsieur a quelque chose a
"I shall give you ten minutes for your secrets, and then luncheon will be
ready," said the baroness, quitting the room.
And Lory told his friend those things which were not for a woman's
At luncheon both men were suspiciously cheerful; and, doubtless, their
companion read them like open books. Immediately after coffee Lory took
"I leave Paris to-night," he said, with his old cheerfulness. "This war
is not over yet. We have not the shadow of a chance of winning, but we
shall perhaps be able to show the world that France can still fight."
Which prophecy assuredly came true.
A MASTERFUL MAN.
"Tous les raisonnements des hommes ne valent pas un sentiment d'une
It would seem that Lory de Vasselot had played the part of a stormy
petrel when he visited Paris, for that calm Frenchman, the Baron de
Melide, packed his wife off to Provence the same night, and the letter
that Lory wrote to the Abbe Susini, reaching Olmeta three days later,
aroused its recipient from a contemplative perusal of the _Petit
Bastiais_ as if it had been a bomb-shell.
The abbe threw aside his newspaper and cigarette. He was essentially a
man of action. He had been on his feet all day, hurrying hither and
thither over his widespread parish, interfering in this man's business
and that woman's quarrels with that hastiness which usually characterizes
the doings of such as pride themselves upon their capability for action
and contempt for mere passive thought. It was now evening, and a blessed
cool air was stealing down from the mountains. Successive days of
unbroken sunshine had burnt all the western side of the island, had
almost dried up the Aliso, which crept, a mere rivulet in its stormy bed,
towards St. Florent and the sea.
Susini went to-the window of his little room and opened the wooden
shutters. His house is next to the church at Olmeta and faces north-west;
so that in the summer the evening sun glares across the valley into its
windows. He was no great scholar, and had but a poor record in the
archives of the college at Corte. Lory de Vasselot had written in a
hurry, and the letter was a long one. Susini read it once, and was
turning it to read again, when, glancing out of the window, he saw Denise
cross the Place, and go into the church.
"Ah!" he said aloud, "that will save me a long walk."
Then he read the letter again, with curt nods of the head from time to
time, as if Lory were making points or giving minute instructions. He
folded the letter, placed it in the pocket of his cassock, and gave
himself a smart tap on the chest, as if to indicate that this was the
moment and himself the man. He was brisk and full of self-confidence,
managing, interfering, commanding, as all true Corsicans are. He took his
hat, hardly paused to blow the dust off it, and hurried out into the
sunlit Place. He went rather slowly up the church steps, however, for he
was afraid of Denise. Her youth, and something spring-like and mystic in
her being, disturbed him, made him uneasy and shy; which was perhaps his
reason for drawing aside the heavy leather curtain and going into the
church, instead of waiting for her outside. He preferred to meet her on
his own ground--in the chill air, heavy with the odour of stale incense,
and in the dim light of that place where he laid down, in blunt language,
his own dim reading of God's law.
He stood just within the curtain, looking at Denise, who was praying on
one of the low chairs a few yards away from him; and he was betrayed into
a characteristic impatience when she remained longer on her knees than he
(as a man) deemed necessary at that moment. He showed his impatience by
shuffling with his feet, and still Denise took no notice.
The abbe, by chance or instinct, slipped his hand within his cassock, and
drew out the letter which he had just received. The rustle of the thin
paper brought Denise to her feet in a moment, facing him.
"The French mail has arrived," said the priest.
"Yes," replied Denise, quickly, looking down at his hands.
They were alone in the church which, as a matter of fact, was never very
well attended; and the abbe, who had not that respect for God or man
which finds expression in a lowered voice, spoke in his natural tones.
"And I have news which affects you, mademoiselle."
"I suppose that any news of France must do that," replied Denise, with
"Of course--of course," said the abbe, rubbing his chin with his
forefinger, and making a rasping sound on that shaven surface.
He reflected in silence for a moment, and Denise made, in her turn, a
hasty movement of impatience. She had only met the abbe once or twice;
and all that she knew of him was the fact that he had an imperious way
with him which aroused a spirit of opposition in herself.
"Well, Monsieur l'Abbe," she said, "what is it?"
"It is that Mademoiselle Brun and yourself will have but two hours to
prepare for your departure from the Casa Perucca," he answered. And he
drew out a large silver watch, which he consulted with the quiet air of a
Denise glanced at him with some surprise, and then smiled.
"By whose orders, Monsieur l'Abbe?" she inquired with a dangerous
Then the priest realized that she meant fight, and all his combativeness
leapt, as it were, to meet hers. His eyes flashed in the gloom of the
"I, mademoiselle," he said, with that humility which is nought but an
aggravated form of pride. He tapped himself on the chest with such
emphasis that a cloud of dust flew out of his cassock, and he blew
defiance at her through it. "I--who speak, take the liberty of making
this suggestion. I, the Abbe Susini--and your humble servant."
Which was not true: for he was no man's servant, and only offered to
heaven a half-defiant allegiance. Denise wanted to know the contents of
the letter he held crushed within his fingers; so she restrained an
impulse to answer him hastily, and merely laughed. The priest thought
that he had gained his point.
"I can give you two hours," he said, "in which to make your preparations.
At seven o'clock I shall arrive at the Casa Perucca with a carriage, in
which to conduct Mademoiselle Brun and yourself to St. Florent, where a
yacht is awaiting you."
Denise bit her lip impatiently, and watched the thin brown fingers that
were clenched round the letter.
"Then what is your news from France?" she asked. "From whence is your
letter--from the front?"
"It is from Paris," answered the abbe, unfolding the paper carelessly;
and Denise would not have been human had she resisted the temptation to
try and decipher it.
"And," continued the abbe, shrugging his shoulders, "I have nothing to
add, mademoiselle. You must quit Perucca before the morning. The news is
bad, I tell you frankly. The empire is tottering to its fall, and the
news that I have in secret will be known all over Corsica to-morrow. Who
knows? the island may flare up like a heap of bracken, and no one bearing
a French name, or known to have French sympathies, will be safe. You know
how you yourself are regarded in Olmeta. It is foolhardy to venture here
Denise shrugged her shoulders. She had plenty of spirit, and, at all
events, that courage which refuses to admit the existence of danger.
Perhaps she was not thinking of danger, or of herself, at all.
"Then the Count Lory de Vasselot has ordered us out of Corsica?" she
"Mademoiselle, we are wasting time," answered the priest, folding the
letter and replacing it in his pocket. "A yacht is awaiting you off St.
Florent. All is organized--"
"By the Count Lory de Vasselot?"
The abbe stamped his foot impatiently.
"Bon Dieu, mademoiselle!" he cried, "you will make me lose my temper. The
yacht, I tell you, is at the entrance of the bay, and by to-morrow
morning it will be halfway to France. You cannot stay here. You must make
your choice between returning to France and going into the Watrin
barracks at Bastia. Colonel Gilbert will, I fancy, know how to make you
obey him. And all Corsica is in the hands of Colonel Gilbert--though no
one but Colonel Gilbert knows that."
He spoke rapidly, thrusting forward his dark, eager face, forgetting all
his shyness, glaring defiance into her quiet eyes.
"There, mademoiselle--and now your answer?"
"Would it not be well if the Count Lory de Vasselot attended to his own
affairs at the Chateau de Vasselot, and the interests he has there?"
replied Denise, turning away from his persistent eyes.
And the abbe's face dropped as if she had shot him.
"Good!" he said, after a moment's hesitation. "I wash my hands of you.
You refuse to go?"
"Yes," answered Denise, going towards the door with a high head, and, it
is possible, an aching heart. For the two often go together.
And the abbe, a man little given to the concealment of his feelings,
shook his fist at the leather curtain as it fell into place behind her.
"Ah--these women!" he said aloud. "A secret that is thirty years old!"
Denise hurried down the steps and away from the village. She knew that
the postman, having passed through Olmeta, must now be on the high-road
on his way to Perucca, and she felt sure that he must have in his bag the
letter of which she had followed, in imagination, the progress during the
last three days.
"Now it is in the train from Paris to Marseilles; now it is on board the
Perseverance, steaming across the Gulf of Lyons," had been her thought
night and morning. "Now it is at Bastia," she had imagined on waking at
dawn that day. And at length she had it now, in thought, close to her on
the Olmeta road in front of her.
At a turn of the road she caught sight of the postman, trudging along
beneath the heavy chestnut trees. Then at length she overtook him, and he
stopped to open the bag slung across his shoulder. He was a silent man,
who saluted her awkwardly, and handed her several letters and a
newspaper. With another salutation he walked on, leaving Denise standing
by the low wall of the road alone. There was only one letter for her. She
turned it over and examined the seal: a bare sword with a gay French
motto beneath it--the device of the Vasselots.
She opened the envelope after a long pause. It contained nothing but her
own travel-stained letter, of which the seal had not been broken. And, as
she thoughtfully examined both envelopes, there glistened in her eyes
that light which it is vouchsafed to a few men to see, and which is the
nearest approach to the light of heaven that ever illumines this poor
earth. For love has, among others, this peculiarity: that it may live in
the same heart with a great anger, and seems to gain only strength from
Denise replaced the two letters in her pocket and walked on. A carriage
passed her, and she received a curt bow and salutation from the Abbe
Susini who was in it. The carriage turned to the right at the crossroads,
and rattled down the hill in the direction of Vasselot. Denise's head
went an inch higher at the sight of it.
"I met the Abbe Susini at Olmeta," she said to Mademoiselle Brun, a few
minutes later in the great bare drawing-room of the Casa Perucca. "And he
transmitted the Count de Vasselot's command that we should leave the Casa
Perucca to-night for France. I suggested that the order should be given
to the Chateau de Vasselot instead of the Casa Perucca, and the abbe took
me at my word. He has gone to the Chateau de Vasselot now in a carriage."
Mademoiselle Brun, who was busy with her work near the window, laid aside
her needle and looked at Denise. She had a faculty of instantly going, as
it were, to the essential part of a question and tearing the heart out of
it: which faculty is, with all respect, more a masculine than a feminine
quality. She ignored the side-issues and pounced, as it were, upon the
central thread--the reason that Lory de Vasselot had had for sending such
an order. She rose and tore open the newspaper, glanced at the war-news,
and laid it aside. Then she opened a letter addressed to herself. It was
on superlatively thick paper and bore a coronet in one corner.
"My Dear" (it ran),
"This much I have learnt from two men who will tell me nothing--France is
lost. The Holy Virgin help us!
"Jane De Melide."
Mademoiselle Brun turned away to the window, and stood there with her
back to Denise for some moments. At length she came back, and the girl
saw something in the grey and wizened face which stirred her heart, she
knew not why; for all great thoughts and high qualities have power to
illumine the humblest countenance.
"You may stay here if you like," said Mademoiselle Brun, "but I am going
back to France to-night."
"What do you mean?"
For reply Mademoiselle Brun handed her the Baroness do Melide's letter.
"Yes," said Denise, when she had read the note. "But I do not
"No. Because you never knew your father--the bravest man God ever
created. But some other man will teach you some day."
"Teach me what?" asked Denise, looking with wonder at the little woman.
"Of what are you thinking?"
"Of that of which Lory de Vasselot, and Henri de Melide, and Jane, and
all good Frenchmen and Frenchwomen are thinking at this moment--of
France, and only France," said Mademoiselle Brun; and out of her
mouse-like eyes there shone, at that moment, the soul of a man--and of a
Her lips quivered for a moment, before she shut them with a snap. Perhaps
Denise wanted to be persuaded to return to France. Perhaps the blood that
ran in her veins was stirred by the spirit of Mademoiselle Brun, whose
arguments were short and sharp, as became a woman much given to economy
in words. At all events, the girl listened in silence while mademoiselle
explained that even two women might, in some minute degree, help France
at this moment. For patriotism, like courage, is infectious; and it is a
poor heart that hurries to abandon a sinking ship.
It thus came about that, soon after sunset, Mademoiselle Brun and Denise
hurried down to the cross-roads to intercept the carriage, of which they
could perceive the lights slowly approaching across the dark valley of
WITHOUT DRUM OR TRUMPET.
"We do squint each through his loophole,
And then dream broad heaven
Is but the patch we see."
It was almost dark when the abbe's carriage reached the valley, and the
driver paused to light the two stable-lanterns tied with string to the
dilapidated lamp-brackets. The abbe was impatient, and fidgeted in his
seat. He was at heart an autocrat, and hated to be defied even by one
over whom he could not pretend to have control. He snapped his finger and
thumb as he thought of Denise.
"She puzzles me," he muttered. "What does she want? Bon Dieu, what does
Then he spoke angrily to the driver, whose movements were slow and
"At all events my task is easier here," he consoled himself by saying as
the carriage approached the chateau, "now that I am rid of these women."
At last they reached the foot of the slope leading up to the half-ruined
house, which loomed against the evening sky immediately above them; and
the driver pulled up his restive horses with an air significant of
"Right up to the chateau," cried the Abbe from beneath the hood.
But the man made no movement, and sat on the box muttering to himself.
"What!" cried the abbe, who had caught some words. "Jean has the evil
eye! What of Jean's evil eye? Here, I will give you my rosary to put
round your coward's neck. No! Then down you get, my friend. You can wait
here till we come back."
As he spoke he leapt out, and, climbing into the box, pushed the driver
unceremoniously from his seat, snatching the reins and whip from his
"He!" he cried. "Allons, my little ones!"
And with whip and voice he urged the horses up the slope at a canter,
while the carriage swayed across from one great tree to another. They
reached the summit in safety, and the priest pulled the horses up at the
great door--the first carriage to disturb the quiet of that spot for
nearly a generation. He twisted the reins round the whip-socket, and
clambering down rang the great bell. It answered to his imperious summons
by the hollow clang that betrays an empty house. No one came. He stood
without, drumming with his fist on the doorpost. Then he turned to
listen. Some one was approaching from the darkness of the trees. But it
was only the driver following sullenly on foot.
"Here!" said the priest, recognizing him. "Go to your horses!"
As he spoke he was already untying one of the stable-lanterns that swung
at the lamp-bracket. His eyes gleamed beneath the brim of his broad hat.
He was quick and anxious.
"Wait here till I come back," he said; and, keeping close to the wall, he
disappeared among the low bushes.
There was another way in by a door half hidden among the ivy, which Jean
used for his mysterious comings and goings, and of which the abbe had a
key. He had brought it with him to-night by a lucky chance. He had to
push aside the ivy which hung from the walls in great ropes, and only
found the keyhole after a hurried search. But the lock was in good order.
Jean, it appeared, was a careful man.
Susini hurried through a long passage to the little round room where the
Count de Vasselot had lived so long. He stopped with his nose in the air,
and sniffed aloud. The atmosphere was heavy with the smell of stale
tobacco, and yet there could be detected the sweeter odour of smoke
scarcely cold. The room must have been inhabited only a few hours ago.
The abbe opened the window, and the smell of carnations swept in like the
breath of another world. He returned to the room, and, opening his
lantern, lighted a candle that stood on the mantelpiece. He looked round.
Sundry small articles in daily use--the count's pipe, his old brass
tobacco-box: a few such things that a man lives with, and puts in his
pocket when he goes away--were missing.
"Buon Diou! Buon Diou! Buon Diou--gone!" muttered the priest, lapsing
into his native dialect. He looked around him with keen eyes--at the
blackened walls, at the carpet worn into holes. "That Jean must have
known something that I do not know. All the same, I shall look through
He blew out the candle, and taking the lantern quitted the room. He
searched the whole house--passing from empty room to empty room. The
reception-rooms were huge and sparingly furnished with those thin-legged
chairs and ancient card-tables which recall the days of Letitia Ramolino
and that easy-going Charles Buonaparte, who brought into the world the
greatest captain that armies have ever seen. The bedrooms were small: all
alike smelt of mouldering age. In one room the abbe stopped and raised
his inquiring nose; the room had been inhabited by a woman--years and
He searched the house from top to bottom, and there was no one in it. The
abbe had failed in the two missions confided to him by Lory, and he was
one to whom failure was peculiarly bitter. With respect to the two women,
he had perhaps scarcely expected to succeed, for he had lived fifty years
in the world, and his calling had brought him into daily contact with
that salutary chastening of the spirit which must assuredly be the lot of
a man who seeks to enforce his will upon women. But his failure to find
the old Count de Vasselot was a more serious matter.
He returned slowly to the carriage, and told the driver to return to
"I have changed my plans," he said, still mindful of the secret he had
received with other pastoral charges from his predecessor. "Jean is not
in the chateau, so I shall not go to St. Florent to-night."
He leant forward, and looked up at the old castle outlined against the
sky. A breeze was springing up with the suddenness of all atmospheric
changes in these latitudes, and the old trees creaked and groaned, while
the leaves had already that rustling brittleness of sound that betokens
the approach of autumn.
As they crossed the broad valley the wind increased, sweeping up the
course of the Aliso in wild gusts. It was blowing a gale before the
horses fell to a quick walk up the hill; and Mademoiselle Brun's small
figure, planted in the middle of the road, was the first indication that
the driver had of the presence of the two women, though the widow Andrei,
who accompanied them and carried their travelling-bags, had already
called out more than once.
"The Abbe Susini?" cried Mademoiselle Brun, in curt interrogation.
In reply, the driver pointed to the inside of the carriage with the
handle of his whip.
"You are alone?" said mademoiselle, in surprise.
The light of the lantern shone brightly on her, and on the dimmer form of
Denise, silent and angry in the background; for Denise had allowed her
inclination to triumph over her pride, which conquest usually leaves a
sore heart behind it.
"But, yes!" answered the abbe; alighting quickly enough.
He guessed instantly that Denise had changed her mind, and was indiscreet
enough to put his thoughts into words.
"So mademoiselle has thought better of it?" he said; and got no answer
for his pains.
Both Mademoiselle Brun and Denise were looking curiously at the interior
of the carriage from which the priest emerged, leaving it, as they noted,
"There is yet time to go to St. Florent?" inquired the elder woman.
The priest grabbed at his hat as a squall swept up the road, whirling the
dust high above their heads.
"Whether we shall get on board is another matter," he muttered by way of
answer. "Come, get into the carriage; we have no time to lose. It will be
a bad night at sea."
"Then, for my sins I shall be sea-sick," said Mademoiselle Brun,
She took her bag from the hand of the widow Andrei, and would have it
nowhere but on her lap, where she held it during the rapid drive, sitting
bolt upright, staring straight in front of her into the face of the abbe.
No one spoke, for each had thoughts sufficient to occupy the moment.
Susini perhaps had the narrowest vein of reflection upon which to draw,
and therefore fidgeted in his seat and muttered to himself, for his
mental range was limited to Olmeta and the Chateau de Vasselot.
Mademoiselle Brun was thinking of France--of her great past and her dim,
uncertain future. While Denise sat stiller and more silent than either,
for her thoughts were at once as wide as the whole world, and as narrow
as the human heart.
At a turn in the road she looked up, and saw the sharp outline of the
Casa Perucca, black and sombre against a sky now lighted by a rising
moon, necked and broken by heavy clouds, with deep lurking shadows and
mountains of snowy whiteness. In the Casa Perucca she had learnt what
life means, and no man or woman ever forgets the place where that lesson
has been acquired.
"I shall come back," she whispered, looking up at the great rock with its
giant pines and the two square chimneys half hidden in the foliage.
And the Abbe Susini, seeing a movement of her lips, glanced curiously at
her. He was still wondering what she wanted. "Mon Dieu," he was
reflecting a second time, "what _does_ she want?"
He stopped the carriage outside the town of St. Florent at the end of the
long causeway built across the marsh, where the wind swept now from the
open bay with a salt flavour to it. He alighted, and took Denise's bag,
rightly concluding that Mademoiselle Brun would prefer to carry her own.
"Follow me," he said, taking a delight in being as curt as Mademoiselle
Brun herself, and in denying them the explanations they were too proud to
They walked abreast through the narrow street dimly lighted by a single
lamp swinging on a gibbet at the corner, turned sharp to the left, and
found themselves suddenly at the water's edge. A few boats bumped lazily
at some steps where the water lapped. It was blowing hard out in the bay,
but this corner was protected by a half-ruined house built on a
The priest looked round.
"He! la-bas!" he called out, in a guarded voice. But he received no
"Wait here," he said to the two women. "I will fetch him from the cafe."
And he disappeared.
Denise and mademoiselle stood in silence listening to the lapping of the
water and the slow, muffled bumping of the boats until the abbe returned,
followed by a man who slouched along on bare feet.
"Yes," he was saying, "the yacht was there at sunset. I saw her myself
lying just outside the point. But it is folly to try and reach her
to-night; wait till the morning, Monsieur l'Abbe."
"And find her gone," answered the priest. "No, no; we embark to-night, my
friend. If these ladies are willing, surely a St. Florent man will not
"But you have not told these ladies of the danger. The wind is blowing
right into the bay; we cannot tack out against it. It will take me two
hours to row out single-handed with some one baling out the whole time."
"But I will pull an oar with you," answered Susini. "Come, show us which
is your boat. Mademoiselle Brun will bale out, and the young lady will
steer. We shall be quite a family party."
There was no denying a man who took matters into his own hands so
"You can pull an oar?" inquired the boatman, doubtfully.
"I was born at Bonifacio, my friend. Come, I will take the bow oar if you
will find me an oilskin coat. It will not be too dry up in the bows
And, like most masterful people--right or wrong--the abbe had his way,
even to the humble office assigned to Mademoiselle Brun.
"You will need to remove your glove and bare your arm," explained the
boatman, handing her an old tin mug. "But you will not find the water
cold. It is always warmer at night. Thus the good God remembers poor
fishermen. The seas will come over the bows when we round this corner;
they will rise up and hit the abbe in the back, which is his affair; then
they will wash aft into this well, and from that you must bale it out all
the time. When the seas come in, you need not be alarmed, nor will it be
necessary to cry out."
"Such instructions, my friend," said the priest, scrambling into his
oilskin coat, "are unnecessary to mademoiselle, who is a woman of
"But I try not to be," snapped Mademoiselle Brun. She knew which women
are most popular with men.
"As for you, mademoiselle," said the boatman to Denise, "keep the boat
pointed at the waves, and as each one comes to you, cut it as you would
cut a cream cheese. She will jerk and pull at you, but you must not be
afraid of her; and remember that the highest wave may be cut."
"That young lady is not afraid of much," muttered the abbe, settling to
They pulled slowly out to the end of the rocky promontory, upon which a
ruined house still stands, and shot suddenly out into a howling wind. The
first wave climbed leisurely over the weather-bow, and slopped aft to the
ladies' feet; the second rose up, and smote the abbe in the back.
"Cut them, mademoiselle; cut them!" shouted the boatman.
And at intervals during that wild journey he repeated the words,
unceremoniously spitting the salt water from his lips. The abbe, bending
his back to the work and the waves, gave a short laugh from time to
time, that had a ring in it to make Mademoiselle Brun suddenly like the
man--the fighting ring of exaltation which adapts itself to any voice and
any tongue. For nearly an hour they rowed in silence, while mademoiselle
baled the water out, and Denise steered with steady eyes piercing the
"We are quite close to it," she said at length; for she had long been
steering towards a light that flickered feebly across the broken water.
In a few moments they were alongside, and, amidst confused shouting of
orders, the two ladies were half lifted, half dragged on board. The abbe
"A word with you," he said, taking Mademoiselle Brun unceremoniously by
the arm, and leading her apart. "You will be met by friends on your
arrival at St. Raphael to-morrow. And when you are free to do so, will
you do me a favour?"
"Find Lory de Vasselot, wherever he may be."
"Yes," answered Mademoiselle Brun.
"And tell him that I went to the Chateau de Vasselot and found it empty."
Mademoiselle reflected for some moments.
"Yes; I will do that," she said at length.
The abbe stared hard at her beneath his dripping hat for a moment, and
then, turning abruptly, moved towards the gangway, where his boat lay in
comparatively smooth water at the lee-side of the yacht. Denise was
speaking to a man who seemed to be the captain.
Mademoiselle Brun followed the abbe.
"By the way--" she said.
Susini stopped, and looked into her face, dimly lighted by the moon,
which peeped at times through riven clouds.
"Whom should you have found in the chateau?" she asked.
"Ah! that I will not tell you."
Mademoiselle Brun gave a short laugh.
"Then I shall find out. Trust a woman to find out a secret."
The abbe was already over the bulwark, so that only his dark face
appeared above, with the water running off it. His eyes gleamed in the
"And a priest to keep one," he answered. And he leapt down into the boat.
A WOMAN OF ACTION.
"Love ... gives to every power a double power
Above their functions and their offices."
"Ah!" said Mademoiselle Brun, as she stepped on deck the next morning.
And the contrast between the gloomy departure from Corsica and the sunny
return to France was strong enough, without further comment from this
woman of few words.
The yacht was approaching the little harbour of St. Raphael at half speed
on a sea as blue and still as the Mediterranean of any poet's dream. The
freshness of morning was in the air--the freshness of Provence, where the
days are hot and the nights cool, and there are no mists between the one
and the other. Almost straight ahead, the little town of Frejus (where
another Corsican landed to set men by the ears) stood up in sharp outline
against the dark pinewoods of Valescure, with the thin wood-smoke curling
up from a hundred chimneys. To the left, the flat lands of Les Arcs half
hid the distant heights of Toulon; and, to the right, headland after
headland led the eye almost to the frontier of Italy along the finest
coast-line in the world. Every shade of blue was on sky or sea or
mountain, while the deep morning shadows were transparent and almost
luminous. From the pinewoods a scent of resin swept seaward, mingled with
the subtle odour of the tropic foliage near the shore. The sky was
cloudless. This was indeed the smiling land of France.
Denise, who had followed mademoiselle on deck, stood still and drank it
all in; for such sights and scents have a deep eloquence for the young,
which older hearts can only touch from the outside, vaguely and
intangibly, like the memory of a perfume.
Denise had slept well, and Mademoiselle Brun said she had slept enough
for an old woman. A cheery little stewardess had brought them coffee soon
after daylight, and had answered a few curt questions put to her by
"Yes; the yacht was the yacht of the Baron de Melide, and the
_bete-noire_, by the same token, of madame, who hated the sea."
And madame was at the chateau near Frejus, where Monsieur le Baron had
installed her on the outbreak of the war, and would assuredly be on the
pier at St. Raphael to meet them. And God only knew where Monsieur le
Baron was. He had gone, it was said, to the war in some civil capacity.
As they stood on deck, Denise soon perceived the little pier where there
were, even at this early hour, a few of those indefatigable Mediterranean
Waltons who fish and fish and catch nothing, all through the sunny day.
Presently Mademoiselle Brun caught sight of a small dot of colour which
seemed to move spasmodically up and down.
"I see the parasol," she said, "of Jane de Melide. What good friends we
And presently they were near enough to wave a handkerchief in answer to
the Baroness de Melide's vigorous salutations. The yacht crept round the
pier-head, and was soon made fast to a small white buoy. While a boat was
being lowered, the baroness, in a gay Parisian dress, walked impatiently
backwards and forwards, waved her parasol, and called out incoherent
remarks, which Mademoiselle Brun answered by a curt gesture of the hand.
"My poor friend!" exclaimed the baroness, as she embraced Mademoiselle
Brun. "My dear Denise, you are a brave woman. I have heard all about
And her quick, dancing eyes took in at a glance that Denise had come
against her will, and Mademoiselle Brun had brought her. Of which Denise
was ignorant, for the sunshine and brightness of the scene affected her
and made her happy.
"Surely," she said, as they walked the length of the pier together, "the
bad news has been exaggerated. The war will soon be over and we shall be
"Do not talk of it," cried the baroness. "It is a horror. I saw Lory,
after Woerth, and that was enough war for me. And, figure to yourself!--I
am all alone in this great house. It is a charity to come and stay with
me. Lory has gone to the front. My husband, who said he loved me--where
is he? Bonjour, and he is gone. He leaves me without a regret. And I, who
cry my eyes out; or would cry them out if I were a fool--such as
mademoiselle thinks me. Ah! I do not know what has come to all the men."
"But I do," said mademoiselle, who had seen war before.
And the baroness, looking at that still face, laughed her gay little
A carriage was waiting for them in the shade of the trees on the
market-place, its smart horses and men forming a strong contrast to the
untidy town and slip-shod idlers. As usual, a game of bowls was in
progress, and absorbed all the attention of the local intelligence.
"We have half an hour through the pine trees," said the baroness,
settling herself energetically on the cushions. "And, do you know, I am
thankful to see you. I thought you would be prevented coming."
She glanced at Denise as she spoke, and with a suddenly grave face, leant
forward, and whispered--
"The news is bad--the news is bad. All this has been organized by Lory
and my husband, who told me, in so many words, that they must have us
where they can find us at a moment's notice. In case--ah, mon Dieu! I do
not know what is going to happen to us all."
"Then are we to be moved about, like ornaments, from one safe place to
another?" asked Denise, with a laugh which was not wholly spontaneous.
"I have never been treated as an ornament yet," put in Mademoiselle Brun,
"and it is perhaps rather late to begin now."
Denise looked at her inquiringly.
"Yes," said the little woman, quietly. "I am going to the war--if Jane
will take care of you while I am away."
"And why should not I go too?" asked Denise.
"Because you are too young and too pretty, my dear--since you ask a plain
question," replied the baroness, impulsively. Then she turned towards
mademoiselle. "You know," she said, "that my precious stupid is
organizing a field hospital."
"I thought he would find something to do," answered mademoiselle, curtly.
"Yes," said the baroness, slowly, "yes--because when he was a boy he had
for governess a certain little woman whose teaching was deeds, not words.
And he is paying for it himself. And we shall all be ruined."
She spread out her rich dress, lay back in her luxurious carriage, and
smiled on Mademoiselle Brun with something that was not mirth at the back
of her brown eyes.
"I shall go to him," said mademoiselle. And the baroness made no reply
for some moments.
"Do you know what he said?" she asked. "He said we shall want women--old
ones. I know one old woman who will come!"
Mademoiselle was buttoning her cotton gloves and did not seem to hear.
"It was, of course, Lory," went on the baroness, "who encouraged him and
told him how to go about it. And then he went back to the front to fight.
Mon Dieu! he can fight--that Lory!"
"Where is he?" asked mademoiselle. And the baroness spread out her gloved
"At the front--I cannot tell you more."
And mademoiselle did not speak again. She was essentially a woman of her
word. She had undertaken to find Lory and give him that odd, inexplicable
message from the abbe. She had not undertaken much in her narrow life;
but she had usually accomplished, in a quiet, mouse-like way, that to
which she set her hand. And now, as she drove through the smiling
country, with which it was almost impossible to associate the idea of
war, she was planning how she could get to the front and work there under
the Baron de Melide, and find Lory de Vasselot.
"They are somewhere near a little place called Sedan," said the baroness.
And Mademoiselle Brun set out that same day for the little place called
Sedan; then known vaguely as a fortress on the Belgian frontier, and now
for ever written in every Frenchman's heart as the scene of one of those
stupendous catastrophes to which France seems liable, and from which she
alone has the power of recovery. For, whatever the history of the French
may be, it has never been dull reading, and she has shown the whole world
that one may carry a brave and a light heart out of the deepest tragedy.
By day and night Mademoiselle Brun, sitting upright in a dark corner of a
second-class carriage, made her way northward across France. No one
questioned her, and she asked no one's help. A silent little old woman
assuredly attracts less attention to her comings and goings than any
other human being. And on the third day mademoiselle actually reached
Chalons, which many a more important traveller might at this time have
failed to do. She found the town in confusion, the civilians bewildered,
the soldiers sullen. No one knew what an hour might bring forth. It was
not even known who was in command. The emperor was somewhere near, but no
one knew where. General officers were seeking their army-corps. Private
soldiers were wandering in the streets seeking food and quarters. The
railway station was blocked with stores which had been hastily discharged
from trucks wanted elsewhere. And it was no one's business to distribute
Mademoiselle Brun wandered from shop to shop, gathering a hundred rumours
but no information. "The emperor is dying--Macmahon is wounded," a
butcher told her, as he mechanically sharpened his knife at her approach,
though he had not as much as a bone in his shop to sell her.
She stopped a cuirassier riding a lame horse, his own leg hastily
bandaged with a piece of coloured calico.
"What regiment?" she asked.
"I have no regiment. There is nothing left. You see in me the colonel,
and the majors, and the captains. I am the regiment," he answered with a
laugh that made mademoiselle bite her steady lip.
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know. Can you give me a little money?"
"I can give you a franc. I have not too much myself. Where have you come
"I don't know. None of us knew where we were."
He thanked her, observed that he was very hungry, and rode on. She found
a night's lodging at a seed-chandler's who had no seeds to sell.
"They will not need them this year," he said. "The Prussians are riding
over the corn."
The next morning the indomitable little woman went on her way towards
Sedan in a forage-cart which was going to the front. She told the
corporal in charge that she was attached to the Baron de Melide's field
hospital and must get to her work.
"You will not like it when you get there, my brave lady," said the man,
good-humouredly, making room for her.
"I shall like it better than doing nothing here," she replied.
And so they set forth through the country heavy with harvest. It was the
second of September. The corn was ripe, the leaves were already turning;
for it had been a dry summer, and since April hardly any rain had fallen.
It was getting late in the afternoon when they met a man in a dog-cart
driving at a great pace. He pulled up when he saw them. His face was the
colour of lead, his eyes were startlingly bloodshot.
"This parishioner has been badly scared," muttered the soldier who was
driving Mademoiselle Brun.
"Where are you going?" asked the stranger in a high, thin voice.
"Then turn back," he cried; "Sedan is no place for a woman. It is a hell
on earth. I saw it all, mon Dieu. I saw it all. I was at Bazeilles. I saw
the children thrown into the windows of the burning houses. I saw the
Bavarians shoot our women in the streets. I saw the troops rush into
Sedan like rabbits into their holes, and then the Prussians bombarded
the town. They had six hundred guns all round the town, and they fired
upon that little place which was packed full like a sheep-pen. It is not
war--it is butchery. What is the good God doing? What is He thinking of?"
And the man, who had the pasty face of a clerk or a commercial traveller,
raised his whip to heaven in a gesture of fierce anger. Mademoiselle Brun
looked at him with measuring eyes. He was almost a man at that moment.
But perhaps her standard of manhood was too high.
"And is Sedan taken?" she asked quietly.
"Sedan is taken. Macmahon is wounded. The emperor is prisoner, and the
whole French army has surrendered. Ninety thousand men. The Prussians had
two hundred and forty thousand men. Ah! That emperor--that scoundrel!"
Mademoiselle Brun looked at him coldly, but without surprise. She had
dealt with Frenchmen all her life, and probably expected that the fallen
should be reviled--an unfortunate characteristic in an otherwise great
"And the cavalry?" she asked.
"Ah!" cried the man, and again his dull eye flashed. "The cavalry were
splendid. They tried to cut their way out. They passed through the
Prussian cavalry and actually faced the infantry, but the fire was
terrible. No man ever saw or heard anything like it. The cuirassiers were
mown down like corn. The cavalry exists no longer, madame, but its name
There was nothing poetic about Mademoiselle Brun, who listened rather
"And you," she asked, "what are you? you are assuredly a Frenchman?"
"Yes--I am a Frenchman."
"And yet your back is turned," said Mademoiselle Brun, "towards the
"I am a writer," explained the man--"a journalist. It is my duty to go to
some safe place and write of all that I have seen."
"Ah!" said Mademoiselle Brun. "Let us, my friend," she said, turning to
her companion on the forage-cart, "proceed towards Sedan. We are
fortunately not in the position of monsieur."
"Wisdom is ofttimes nearer when we stoop
Than when we soar."
There were many who thought the war was over that rainy morning after the
fall of Sedan. For events were made to follow each other quickly by those
three sleepless men who moved kings and emperors and armies at their
will. Bismarck, Moltke, and Roon must have slept but little--if they
closed their eyes at all--between the evening of the first and the
morning of the third day of September. For human foresight must have its
limits, and the German leaders could hardly have dreamt, in their most
optimistic moments, of the triumph that awaited them. Bismarck could
hardly have foreseen that he should have to provide for an imperial
prisoner. Moltke's marvellous plans of campaign could scarcely have
embraced the details necessary to the immediate disposal of ninety
thousand prisoners of war, with many guns and horses and much ammunition.
It was but twenty-four hours after he had left Sedan to seek, and seek in
vain, the King of Prussia, that the third Napoleon--the modern man of
destiny who had climbed so high and fallen so very low--set out on his
journey to the Palace of Wilhelmshoehe, never to set foot on French soil
again. For he was to seek a home, and finally a grave, in England, where
his bones will lie till that day when France shall think fit to deposit
them by those of the founder of the adventurous dynasty.
Among those who stood in the muddy street of Donchery that morning, and
watched in silence the departure of the simple carriage, was Mademoiselle
Brun, whose stern eyes rested for a moment on the sphinx-like face, met
for an instant the dull and extinct gaze of the man who had twisted all
France round his little finger.
When the cavalcade had passed by, she turned away and walked towards
Sedan. The road was crowded with troops, coming and going almost in
silence. Long strings of baggage-carts splashed past. Here and there an
ambulance waggon of lighter build was allowed a quicker passage.
Messengers rode, or hurried on foot, one way and the other; but few
spoke, and a hush seemed to hang over all. There was no cheering this
morning--even that was done. The rain splashed pitilessly down on these
men who had won a great victory, who now hurried hither and thither,
afraid of they knew not what, cowering beneath the silence of Heaven.
Mademoiselle was stopped outside the gates of Sedan.
"You can go no further!" said an under-officer of a Bavarian regiment in
passable French, the first to question the coming or going of this
insignificant and self-possessed woman.
"But I can stay here?" returned mademoiselle in German. In teaching, she
had learnt--which is more than many teachers do.
"Yes, you can stay here," laughed the German.
And she stayed there patiently for hours in the rain and mud. It was
afternoon before her reward came. No one heeded her, as, standing on an
overturned gun-carriage, beneath her shabby umbrella, she watched the
first detachment of nearly ten thousand Frenchmen march out of the
fortress to their captivity in Germany.
"No cavalry?" she said to a bystander when the last detachment had gone.
"There is no cavalry left, ma bonne dame," replied the old man to whom
she had spoken.
"No cavalry left! And Lory de Vasselot was a cuirassier. And Denise loved
Lory." Mademoiselle Brun knew that, though perhaps Denise herself was
scarcely aware of it. In these three thoughts mademoiselle told the whole
history of Sedan as it affected her. Solferino had, for her, narrowed
down to one man, fat and old at that, riding at the head of his troops on
a great horse specially chosen to carry bulk. The victory that was to mar
one empire and make another, years after Solferino, was summed up in
three thoughts by the woman who had the courage to live frankly in her
own small woman's world, who was ready to fight--as resolutely as any
fought at Sedan--for Denise. She turned and went down that historic road,
showing now, as ever, a steady and courageous face to the world, though
all who spoke to her stabbed her with the words, "There is no cavalry
left--no cavalry left, ma bonne dame."
She hovered about Donchery and Sedan, and the ruins of Bazeilles, for
some days, and made sure that Lory de Vasselot had not gone, a prisoner,
to Germany. The confusion in the French camp was greater than any had
anticipated, and no reliable records of any sort were obtainable.
Mademoiselle could not even ascertain whether Lory had fought at Sedan;
but she shrewdly guessed that the mad attempt to cut a way through the
German lines was such as would recommend itself to his heart. She
haunted, therefore, the heights of Bazeilles, seeking among the dead one
who wore the cuirassier uniform. She found, God knows, enough, but not
Lory de Vasselot.
All this while she never wrote to Frejus, judging, with a deadly common
sense, that no news is better than bad news. Day by day she continued her
self-imposed task, on the slippery hill-sides and in the muddy valleys,
until at last she passed for a peasant-woman, so bedraggled was her
dress, so lined and weather-beaten her face. Her hair grew white in those
days, her face greyer. She had not even enough to eat. She lay down and
slept whenever she could find a roof to cover her. And always, night and
day, she carried with her the burthen of that bad news of which she would
not seek to relieve herself by the usual human method of telling it to
And one day she wandered into a church ten miles on the French side of
Sedan, intending perhaps to tell her bad news to One who will always
listen. But she found that this was no longer a house of prayer, for
the dead and dying were lying in rows on the floor. As she entered, a
tall man, coming quickly out, almost knocked her down. His arms were
full of cooking utensils. He was in his shirt-sleeves: blood-stained,
smoke-grimed, unshaven and unwashed. He turned to apologize, and began
explaining that this was no place for a woman; but he stopped short. It
was the millionaire Baron de Melide.
Mademoiselle Brun sat suddenly down on a bench near the door. She did not
look at him. Indeed, she purposely looked away and bit her lip with her
little fierce teeth because it would quiver. In a moment she had
"I have come to help you," she said.
"God knows, we want you," replied the baron--a phlegmatic man, who,
nevertheless, saw the quivering lip, and turned away hastily. For he knew
that mademoiselle would never forgive herself, or him, if she broke down
"Here," he said, with a clumsy gaiety, "will you wash these plates and
dishes? You will find the pump in the cure's garden. We have nurses and
doctors, but we have no one to wash up. And it is I who do it. This is my
hospital. I have borrowed the building from the good God."
Mademoiselle was naturally a secretive woman. She could even be silent
about her neighbours' affairs. Susini had been guided by a quick
intuition, characteristic of his race, when he had confided in this
Frenchwoman. She had been some hours in the baron's hospital before she
even mentioned Lory's name.
"And the Count de Vasselot?" she inquired, in her usual curt form of
interrogation, as they were taking a hurried and unceremonious meal in
the vestry by the light of an altar candle.
The baron shook his head and gulped down his food.
"No news?" inquired Mademoiselle Brun.
They continued to eat for some minutes in silence.
"Was he at Sedan?" asked mademoiselle, at length.
"Yes," replied the baron, gravely. And then they continued their meal in
silence by the light of the flickering candle.
"Have you any one looking for him?" asked mademoiselle, as she rose from
the table and began to clear it.
"I have sent two of my men to do so," replied the baron, who was by
nature no more expansive than his old governess. And for some days there
was no mention of de Vasselot between them.
Mademoiselle found plenty of work to do besides the menial labours of
which she had relieved the man who deemed himself fit for nothing more
complicated than washing dishes and providing funds. She wrote letters
for the wounded, and also for the dead. She had a way of looking at those
who groaned unnecessarily and out of idle self-pity, which was conducive
to silence, and therefore to the comfort of others. She smoothed no
pillows and proffered no soft words of sympathy. But it was she who found
out that the cure had a piano. She it was who took two hospital
attendants to the priest's humble house and brought the instrument away.
She had it placed inside the altar rails, and fought the cure afterwards
in the vestry as to the heinousness of the proceeding.
"You will not play secular airs?" pleaded the old man.
"All that there is of the most secular," replied she, inexorably. "And
the recording angels will, no doubt, enter it to my account--and not
yours, monsieur le cure".
So Mademoiselle Brun played to the wounded all through the long
afternoons until her fingers grew stiff. And the doctors said that she
saved more than one fretting life. She was not a great musician, but she
had a soothing, old-fashioned touch. She only played such ancient airs as
she could remember. And the more she played the more she remembered. It
seemed to come back to her--each day a little more. Which was odd, for
the music was, as she had promised the cure, secular enough, and could
not, therefore, have been inspired by her sacred surroundings within the
altar rails. Though, after all, it may have been that those who recorded
this sacrilege against Mademoiselle Brun, not only made a cross-entry on
the credit side, but helped her memory to recall that forgotten music.
Thus the days slipped by, and little news filtered through to the quiet
Ardennes village. The tide of war had rolled on. The Germans, it was
said, were already halfway to Paris. And from Paris itself the tidings
were well-nigh incredible. One thing alone was certain; the Bonaparte
dynasty was at an end and the mighty schemes of an ambitious woman had
crumbled like ashes within her hands. All the plotting of the Regency had
fallen to pieces with the fall of the greatest schemer of them all, whom
the Paris government fatuously attempted to hookwink. Napoleon the Third
was indeed a clever man, since his own wife never knew how clever he was.
So France was now a howling Republic--a Republic being a community
wherein every man is not only equal to, but better than his neighbour,
and may therefore shout his loudest.
No great battles followed Sedan. France had but one army left, and that
was shut up in Metz, under the command of another of the Paris plotters
who was a bad general and not even a good conspirator.
Poor France had again fallen into bad hands. It seemed the end of all
things. And yet for Mademoiselle Brun, who loved France as well as any,
all these troubles were one day dispersed by a single note of a man's
voice. She was at the piano, it being afternoon, and was so used to the
shuffling of the bearer's feet that she no longer turned to look when one
was carried in and another, a dead one perhaps, was carried out.
She heard a laugh, however, that made her music suddenly mute. It was
Lory de Vasselot who was laughing, as they carried him into the little
church. He was explaining to the baron that he had heard of his hospital,
and had caused himself to be carried thither as soon as he could be moved
from the cottage, where he had been cared for by some peasants.
The laugh was silenced, however, at the sight of Mademoiselle Brun.
"You here, mademoiselle?" he said. "Alone, I hope," he added, wincing as
the bearers set him down.
"Yes, I am alone. Denise is safe at Frejus with Jane de Melide."
"And your wounds?" said Mademoiselle Brun.
"A sabre-cut on the right shoulder, a bullet through the left leg--voila
tout. I was in Sedan, and we tried to get out. That is all I know,
Mademoiselle stood over him with her hands crossed at her waist, looking
down at him with compressed lips.
"Not dangerous?" she inquired, glancing at his bandages, which indeed
were numerous enough.
"I shall be in the saddle again in three weeks, they tell me. If the war
only lasts--" He gave an odd, eager laugh. "If the war only lasts--"
Then he suddenly turned white and lost consciousness.
"Le temps fortifle ce qu'il n'ebranle pas."
That night mademoiselle wrote to Denise at Frejus, breaking at last her
long silence. That she gave the barest facts, may be safely concluded.
Neither did she volunteer a thought or a conclusion. She was as discreet
as she was secretive. There are some secrets which are infinitely safer
in a woman's custody than in a man's. You may tell a man in confidence
the amount of your income, and it will go no further; but in affairs of
the heart, and not of the pocket, a woman is safer. Indeed, you may
tell a woman your heart's secret, provided she keeps it where she keeps
her own. And Mademoiselle Brun had only one thought night and day:
the happiness of Denise. That, and a single memory--the secret,
perhaps, which was such a standing joke at the school in the Rue du
Cherche-Midi--made up the whole life of this obscure woman.
Two days later she gave Lory Susini's message; and de Vasselot sent for
"I am going," he said. "Patch me up for a journey."
The surgeon had dealt so freely with life and death that he only shrugged
"You cannot go alone," he said--"a man with one arm and one leg."
Mademoiselle looked from one to the other. She was willing enough that
Lory should undertake this journey, for he must needs pass through
Provence to get to Corsica. She did not attempt to lead events, but was
content to follow and steer them from time to time.
"I am going to the south of France," she said. "The baron needs me no
longer since the hospital is to be moved to Paris. I can conduct Monsieur
de Vasselot--a part of the way, at all events."
And the rest arranged itself. Five days later Lory de Vasselot was lifted
from the railway carriage to the Baroness de Melide's victoria at Frejus
"Madame's son is, no doubt, from Sedan?" said the courteous
station-master, who personally attended to the wounded man.
"He is from Sedan--but he is not my son. I never had one," replied
mademoiselle with composure.
She was tired, for she had hardly slept since Lory came under her care.
She sat open-eyed, with that knowledge which is given to so few--the
knowledge of the gradual completion of a set purpose.
They had travelled all night, and it was not yet midday when mademoiselle
first saw, and pointed out to Lory, the white turret of the chateau among
The baroness was on the steps to greet them. Like many persons of a gay
exterior, she had a kind heart and a quick sympathy. She often did, and
said, the right thing, when cleverer people found themselves at fault.
She laughed when she saw Lory lying full length across her smart
carriage--laughed, despite his white cheeks and the grey weariness of
mademoiselle's face. She seemed part of the sunshine and the brisk
"Ah, my cousin," she cried, "it does the eyes good to see you! I should
like to carry you up these steps."
"In three weeks," answered de Vasselot, "I will carry you down."
"His room is on the ground floor," said the baroness to mademoiselle, in
an aside. "You are tired, my dear--I see it. Your room is the same as
before; you must lie down this afternoon. I will take care of Lory, and
Denise will--but, where is Denise? I thought she was behind me."
She paused to guide the men who were carrying de Vasselot through the
"Denise!" she cried without looking round, "Denise! where are you?"
Then turning, she saw Denise coming slowly down the stairs. Her face was
whiter than Mademoiselle Brun's. Her eyes, clear and clever, were fixed
on Lory's face as if seeking something there. There was an odd silence
for a moment--such as the superstitious say, is caused by the passage of
an angel among human beings--even the men carrying Lory seemed to tread
softly. It was he who broke the spell.
"Ah, mademoiselle!" he said gaily, "the fortune of war, you see!"
"But it might have been so much worse," said the baroness in a whisper to
Mademoiselle Brun. "Bon Dieu, it might have been so much worse!"
And at luncheon they were gay enough. For a national calamity is, after
all, secondary to a family calamity. Only de Vasselot and Mademoiselle
Brun had been close to war, and it was no new thing to them. Theirs was,
moreover, that sudden gaiety which comes from re-action. The contrast of
their present surroundings to that little hospital in a church within
cannon-sound of Sedan--the quiet of this country house, the baroness,
Denise herself young and grave--were sufficient to chase away the horror
of the past weeks.
It was the baroness who kept the conversation alert, asking a hundred
questions, and, as often as not, disbelieving the answers.
"And you assure me," she said for the hundredth time, "that my poor
husband is well. That he does not miss me, I cannot of course believe
with the best will in the world, though Mademoiselle Brun assert it with
her gravest air. Now, tell me, how does he spend his day?"
"Mostly in washing up dishes," replied mademoiselle, looking severely at
the baron's butler, whose hand happened to shake at that moment as he
offered a plate. "But he is not good at it. He was ignorant of the
properties of soda until I informed him."
"But there is no glory in that," protested the baroness. "It was only
because he assured me that he would not run into danger, and would
inevitably be made a grand commander of the Legion of Honour, that he was
allowed to go. I do not see the glory in washing up dishes, my friends, I
tell you frankly."
"No; but it is there," said mademoiselle.
After luncheon Lory, using his crutches, made his way laboriously to the
verandah that ran the length of the southern face of the house. It was
all hung with creepers, and shaded from the sun by a dense curtain of
foliage. Here heliotrope grew like a vine on a trellis against the wall,
and semi-tropical flowers bloomed in a bewildering confusion. A little
fountain trickled sleepily near at hand, in the mossy basin of which a
talkative family of frogs had their habitation.
Half asleep in a long chair, de Vasselot was already coming under the
influence of this most healing air in the world, when the rustle of a
skirt made him turn.
"It is only I, my poor Lory," said the baroness, looking down at
him with an odd smile. "You turned so quickly. Is there anything you
want--anything in my power to give you, I mean?"
"I am afraid you have parted with that already."
"To that--scullery-man, you mean. Yes, perhaps you are too late. It is so
wise to ask too late, mon cousin."
She laughed gaily, and turned away towards the house. Then she stopped
suddenly and came back to him.
"Seriously," she said, looking down at him with a grave
face--"seriously. My prayers should always be for any woman who became
your wife--you, and your soldiering. Ciel! it would kill any woman who
She broke off and contemplated him as he lay at full length.
"And she might care--a little--that poor woman."
"She would have to care for France as well," said de Vasselot,
momentarily grave at the thought of his country.
"I know," said the baroness, with a wise shake of the head. "Mon ami, I
know all about that."
"I have some new newspapers from Paris," she added, going towards the
house. "I will send them to you."
And it was Denise who brought the newspapers. She handed them to him in
silence. Their eyes met for an instant, and both alike had that
questioning look which had shone in Denise's eyes as she came downstairs.
They seemed to know each other now better than they had done when they
last parted at the Casa Perucca.
There was a chair near to his, and Denise sat down there as if it had
been placed on purpose--as perhaps it had--by Fate. They were silent for
a few moments, gathering perhaps the threads that connected one with the
other. For absence does not always break such threads, and sometimes
strengthens them. Then Lory spoke without looking at her.
"You received the letter?" he said.
"Which letter?" she asked hurriedly; and then closed her lips and slowly
There was only one letter, of course. There could be no other. For it had
never been suggested that Lory should write to her.
"Yes; I received it," she answered. "Thank you."
"Will you answer one question?" asked Lory.
"If it is a fair one," she answered with a laugh.
"And who is to decide whether it is a fair one or not?"
"Oh! I will do that," replied Denise with decision.
She knew the weakness of her position, and was prepared to defend it. Her
eyes were shining, and the colour had not faded from her cheeks yet. Lory
held his lip between his teeth as he looked at her. She waited for the
question, without meeting his eyes, with a baffling little smile tilting
the corners of her lips.
"Well," she said, after a pause, "I suppose you have decided not to ask
"I have decided to draw conclusions instead, mademoiselle."
"What does 'Ah!' mean?"
"It means that you will draw them wrong," she answered; and yet the tone
of her voice seemed to suggest that she would rather like to hear the
"One may conclude then, simply, that you changed your mind after you
wrote, and claimed a woman's privilege."
"That you were good enough to trust me to send the letter back unopened;
and yet you would not trust me with the contents. One may conclude that
it is, therefore, also a woman's privilege to be of two minds at the
"If she likes," answered Denise. To which wise men know that there is no
De Vasselot made a tragic gesture with his one available hand, and cast
his eyes upwards in a mute appeal to the gods. He sighed heavily, and the
expression of his face seemed to indicate a hopeless despair.
"What is the matter?" she asked, with a solicitude which was perhaps
"What is one to understand? I ask you that?" said Lory, turning towards
her almost fiercely.
"What do you want to understand, monsieur?" asked Denise, quietly.
"Yes. I cannot understand you at all. You ask my advice, and then you act
contrary to it. You write me a letter, and you forbid me to open it. Ah!
I was a fool to send that letter back. I have often thought so since--"
Denise was looking gravely at him with an expression in her eyes which
made him stop, and laugh, and contradict himself suddenly.
"You are quite right, mademoiselle, I was not a fool to send it back. It
was the only thing I could do; and yet I almost thought, just now, that
you were not glad that I had done so."
"Then you thought quite wrong," said Denise, sharply, with a gleam of
anger in her eyes. "You think that it is only I who am difficult to
understand. You are no easier. They say in Balagna that, if you liked,
you could be a sort of king in Northern Corsica, and I am quite sure you
have the manners of one."
"Thank you, mademoiselle," he said with a laugh.
"Oh--I do not mean the agreeable side of the character. I meant that you
are rather given to ordering people about. You send an incompetent and
stupid little priest to take us by the hand, and lead us out of the Casa
Perucca like two school-children, without so much as a word of
"But I had not your permission to write to you."
Denise laughed gaily.
"So far as that goes you had not my permission to order me out of my own
house; to send a steamer to St. Florent to fetch me; to treat me as if I
were a regiment, in a word--and yet you did it, monsieur."
Lory sat up in his desire to defend himself, winced and lay down again.
"I fancy it is your Corsican blood," said Denise, reflectively. She rose
and re-arranged a very sporting dustcloth which the baroness had laid
across the wounded man's legs, and which his movement had cast to one
side. "However, it remains for me to thank you," she said, and did not
sit down again.
"It may have been badly done, mademoiselle," he said earnestly, "but I
still think that it was the wisest thing to do."
"And still you give me no reasons," she said without turning to look at
him. She was standing at the edge of the verandah, looking thoughtfully
out at the matchless view. For the house stood above the pines which lay
like a dusky green carpet between it and the Mediterranean. "And I am not
going to ask you for them," she added with an odd little smile, not
devoid of that deep wisdom with which it is to be presumed women are
born; for they have it when it is most useful to them, and at an age when
their masculine contemporaries are singularly ignorant of human nature.
"I am going," she said after a pause. "Jane told me that I must not tire
"Then stay," he said. "It is only when you are not there that I find it
She did not answer, and did not move until a servant came noiselessly
from the house and approached Lory.
"It is a man," he said, "who will not be denied, and says he must speak
to Monsieur le Comte. He is from Corsica."
Denise turned, and her face was quite changed. She had until that moment
"Lov'd I not honour more."
The servant retired to bring the new arrival to the verandah. Denise
followed him, and, after a few paces, returned to Lory.