Part 4 out of 5
"If it is one of my people," she said, "I should like to see him before
The man who followed the servant to the verandah a minute later had a
dark, clean-shaven face, all drawn into fine lines and innumerable
minute wrinkles. Such lines mean starvation; but in this case they told a
tale of the past, for the dark eyes had no hungry look. They looked
hunted--that was all. The glitter of starvation had left them. He glanced
uneasily around, took off his hat and bowed curtly to Lory. The hat and
the clothes were new. Then he turned and looked at the servant, who
lingered, with a haughty stare which must have been particularly
offensive to that respectable Parisian menial. For the Corsicans are bad
servants, and despise good servitude in others. When the footman had
gone, the new-comer turned to Lory, and said, in a low voice--
I saw you at Toulon. I have not seen many faces in my life--for I have
spent most of it in the macquis--so I remember those I have once met. I
knew the Count de Vasselot when he was a young man, and he was what you
are now. You are a de Vasselot."
"Yes," answered Lory.
"I thought so. That is why I followed you from Toulon--spending my last
sou to do so."
He stopped. His two hands were in the pockets of his dark corduroy
trousers, and he jerked them out with a sudden movement, bringing the
empty pockets to view.
"Voila!" he said, "and I want to go to the war. So I came to you."
"Good," said Lory, looking him up and down. "You look tough, mon ami."
"I am," answered the Corsican. "Ten years of macquis, winter and
summer--for one thing or another--do not make a man soft. I was told--the
Abbe Susini told me--that France wants every man she can get, so I
thought I would try a little fighting."
"Good," said Lory again. "You will find it very good fun."
The man gave a twisted grin. He had forgotten how to laugh. He drew
forward the chair that Denise had just quitted, and sat down close to
Lory in quite a friendly way, for there is a bond that draws fighting men
and roaming men together despite accidental differences of station.
"One sees," he said, "that you are a de Vasselot. And I belong to the de
Vasselots--! Whenever I have got into trouble it has been on that side."
He looked round to make sure that none could overhear.
"It was I who shot that Italian dog, Pietro Andrei," he mentioned in
confidence, "on the road below Olmeta--but that was a personal matter."
"Ah!" said Lory, who had heard the story of Andrei's death on the
market-place at Olmeta, and the stern determination of his widow to
"Yes--I was starving, and Andrei had money on him. In the old days it was
easy enough to get food in the macquis. One could come down into the
villages at night. But now it is different. It is a hard life there now,
and one may easily die of starvation. There are many who, like Pietro
Andrei, are friendly with the gendarmes."
He finished with a gesture of supreme disgust, as if friendship with a
gendarme were the basest of crimes.
"When did you see the Abbe Susini?" asked Lory. "and where--if you can
tell me that?"
"I saw him in the macquis. He often goes up into the mountains alone,
dressed like one of us. He is a queer man, that abbe. He says that he
sometimes thinks it well to care for the wanderers from his flock--a
jest, you see."
And the man gave his crooked grin again.
"It was above Asco, in the high mountains near Cinto," he continued, "and
about a week ago. It was he who gave me money, and told me to come and
fight for France. He was arranging for others to do the same."
"The abbe is a practical man," said Lory.
"Yes--and he told me news of Olmeta," said the man, glancing sideways at
"You have no doubt heard it--of Vasselot."
"I have heard nothing, my friend, but cannon. I am from Sedan to-day."
The man seemed to hesitate. He turned uneasily in his chair, glanced this
way and that among the trees--a habit acquired in the macquis, no doubt.
He took off his hat and passed his hand pensively over his hair. Then he
turned to Lory.
"There is no longer a Chateau de Vasselot--it is gone--burnt to the
ground, mon brave monsieur."
"Who burnt it?" asked de Vasselot.
"Who knows?" replied the man. "The Peruccas, no doubt. They have a woman
to lead them now!"
The man finished with a short laugh, which was unpleasant to the ear.
Lory thought of the woman who was leading the Peruccas now, who had
quitted the chair in which her accuser now sat, a few minutes earlier,
"Have you a cigarette?" asked the Corsican, bluntly.
"Yes--but I cannot offer it to you. It is in my right-hand pocket, and my
right arm is disabled."
"An arm and a leg, eh?" said the man, seeking in the pocket indicated by
Lory, for the neat silver cigarette-case, which he handled with a sort of
grand air--this gentleman of the mountain side. "You will smoke also?"
And with his own brown fingers he was kind enough to place a cigarette
between de Vasselot's lips. The tobacco-smoke seemed to make him feel
still more at home with the head of his clan. For he sat down again and
began the conversation in quite a familiar way.
"Who is this Colonel Gilbert of Bastia, who mixes himself up in affairs?"
"What affairs, my friend?"
"Well, the affairs of others, it would appear. We hear strange stories in
the macquis--and things that one would never expect to reach the
mountains. They say that Colonel Gilbert busies himself in stirring up
the Peruccas and the de Vasselots against each other--an affair that has
slept these thirty years."
"Yes, and you should know it, you who are the chief of the de Vasselots,
and have this woman to deal with; the women are always the worst. The
chateau, they say, was burnt down, and the women disappeared from the
Casa Perucca in the same week. The Casa Perucca is empty now, and the
Chateau de Vasselot is gone--at Olmeta they are bored enough, I can tell
"They have nothing to quarrel about," suggested Lory.
"Nothing," replied the Corsican, quite gravely.
"And the chateau was empty when they burnt it?" inquired Lory.
"Yes; it has been empty since I was a boy. I remember it when I went to
St. Florent to school, and it was then that I used to see your father,
the count. He was powerful in those days--before the Peruccas began to
get strong. But they overrun that country now, which is no doubt the
reason why you have never been there."
"Pardon me--I was there when the war broke out two months ago."
"Ah! We never heard that in the macquis, though the Abbe Susini must have
known it. He knows so much that he does not tell--that abbe."
"Which makes him the strong man he is, mon ami."
"You are right--you are right," said the Corsican, rising energetically.
"But I am wasting your time with my talk, and tiring you as well, no
"Wait a minute," replied Lory, touching the bell that stood on a table by
his side. "I will give you a letter to a friend of mine, commanding a
regiment in Paris."
The servant brought the necessary materials, and Lory prepared awkwardly
to write. His arm was still weak, but he could use his hand without pain.
While he was writing, the man sat watching him, and at last muttered an
exclamation of wonderment.
"It is a marvel how you resemble the count," he said, "as I remember him
thirty years ago, when I was a boy. And do you know, monsieur, I saw an
old man the other day for a moment, in passing on the road, above Asco,
who brought my heart into my throat. If he had not been dead this score
of years it might have been your father--not as I remember him, but as
the years would have made him. I was hidden in the trees at the side of
the road, and he passed by on foot. He had the air of going into the
macquis. But I do not know who he was."
"When was that?" asked de Vasselot, pausing with his pen on the paper.
"That must have been a month ago."
"And you never saw or heard of him again?"
"No," answered the man.
Lory continued to write, his arm moving laboriously on the paper.
"I must have a name--of some sort," he said, "to give my friend, the
"Ah! I cannot give you my own. Jean Florent--since I came from St.
Florent--that will do."
De Vasselot wrote the name, folded and addressed the letter.
"There", he said, "and I wish you good luck. Good luck in war-time may
mean gold lace on your sleeve in a few months. I shall join you as soon
as I can throw my leg across a horse. Will two hundred francs serve you
to reach Paris?"
"Give me one hundred. I am no beggar."
He took the letter and the bank note, shook hands, and went away as
abruptly as he came. The man was a murderer, with probably more than one
life to account for; and yet he carried his crimes with a certain
dignity, and had, at all events, that grand manner which comes from the
habit of facing life fearlessly with the odds against.
Lory sat up and watched him. He rang the bell.
"See that man off the premises," he said to the servant, "and then beg
Mademoiselle Lange to be good enough to return here."
Denise kept him waiting a long time, and then came with reluctant steps.
The mention of Corsica seemed to have changed her humour. She sat down,
nevertheless, in the chair, placed there by Fate.
"You sent for me," she said, rather curtly.
"Because I could not come myself," he answered. "I did not want you to
see that man. Or rather, I did not want him to see you. He is not one of
your people--quite the contrary."
And de Vasselot laughed with significance.
"One of yours?" she suggested.
"So it appears, though I was not aware of the honour. He described you as
Denise laughed lightly, and threw back her head.
"He may describe me as he likes. Did he bring you news?"
And Denise turned away as she spoke, with that air of indifference which
so often covers a keen desire for information, if it is a woman who seeks
"Yes," answered Lory, turning, as she turned, to look at her. He looked
at her whenever opportunity offered. The cheek half turned from him was a
little sunburnt, the colour of a peach that has ripened in the open under
a Southern sun, for Denise loved the air. Perhaps he had only spoken the
truth when he said that her absence made him tired. There are many in the
world who have to fight against that weariness all their lives. At last,
as if with an effort, Denise turned, and met his glance for a moment.
"Bad news," she said; "I can see that."
"Yes. It is bad enough."
"Of your estates?" inquired Denise.
"No. I never cared for the estate; I do not care for it now."
"Then it is of ... some one?"
Lory did not answer at once.
"I shall have to go back to Corsica," he said at length, "as soon as I
can move--in a few days."
Denise glanced at him with angry eyes.
"I was told that story," she said, "but did not believe it."
De Vasselot turned and looked at her, but could not see her averted face.
His eyes were suddenly fierce. He was a fighter--of a fighting stock--and
he instantly perceived that he was called upon at this moment to fight
for the happiness of his whole life. He put out his hand and deliberately
took hold of the skirt of her dress. She should not run away at all
events. He twisted the soft material round his half-disabled fingers.
"What story?" he asked quietly.
Denise's eyes flashed, and then suddenly grew gentle. She did not quite
know whether she was furious or afraid.
"That there was some one in the Chateau de Vasselot to whom--whom you
"It is you that I love, mademoiselle," he answered sharply, with a ring
in his voice, which came as a surprise to both of them, and which she
never forgot all her life. "No. Do not go. You are pulling on my injured
arm and I shall not let go."
Denise sat still, silent and at bay.
"Then who was in the chateau?" she asked at last.
"I cannot tell you."
"If it is as you say--about me--and--I ask you not to go to Corsica?"
"I must go."
"Why?" asked Denise, with a dangerous quiet in her voice.
"I cannot tell you."
"Then you expect a great deal."
De Vasselot slowly untwined his fingers and drew in his arm.
"True," he said reflectively. "I must ask nothing or too much. I asked
more than you can give, mademoiselle."
A faint smile flickered across Denise's eyes. Who was he, to say how much
a woman can give? She was free to go now, but did not move.
"With Corsica and--" she paused and glanced at his helpless attitude in
the long chair,--"and the war, your life is surely sufficiently occupied
as it is," she said coldly.
"But these evil times will pass. The war will cease, and then one
may think of being happy. So long as there is war, I must of course
fight--fight--fight, while there is a France to fight for."
"That is your scheme of life?" she asked bitterly.
She rose and turned angrily away.
"Then it is France you care for--if it is no one in Corsica.
France--nothing and nobody--but France."
And she left him.
IN THE MACQUIS
"Before man made us citizens, great Nature made us men."
The Abbe Susini had no money, but he was a charitable man in a hasty
and impulsive way. Even the very poor may be charitable: they can think
kindly of the rich. It was not the rich of whom the abbe had a friendly
thought, but the foolish and the stubborn. For this fiery little
priest knew more of the unwritten history of the macquis than any in
Corsica--infinitely more than those whose business it was.
It is the custom at Ajaccio, and in a smaller way at Bastia, to ignore
the darker side of Corsican politics, and the French officials are
content with the endeavour to get through their term of office with a
whole skin. It is not, as in other islands of the Mediterranean, the
gospel of "manana" which holds good here, but rather the gospel of "So I
found it--it will last my time." So, from the prefet to the humblest
gendarme, they come, they serve, and they go back rejoicing to France.
They strike when absolutely forced to do so, but they commit the most
fatal of all administrative errors--they strike gently.
The faults are not all on one side; for the islanders are at once
turbulent and sullen. There are many who "keep the country," as the local
saying is, and wander year after year in the mountain fastnesses, far
above road or pathway, beyond the feeble reach of the law, rather than
pay a trifling fine or bend their pride to face a week's imprisonment.
In the macquis, as in better society, there are grades of evil. Some
are hiding from their own pride, others are evading a lifelong sentence,
while many know that if the gendarme sees them he will shoot at
sight--running, standing, sleeping, as a keeper kills vermin. Only a few
months ago, on a road over which many tourists must have travelled, a
young man of twenty-three was "destroyed" (the official term) by the
gendarmes who wanted him for eleven murders. It is commonly asserted that
these bandits are not dangerous, that they have no grievance against
travellers. A starving man has a grievance against the whole world, and a
condemned fratricide is not likely to pick and choose his next victim if
tempted by a little money and the chance of escape therewith from the
It is, moreover, usual for a man to take to the macquis the moment that
he finds himself involved in some trouble, or, it may be, merely under
suspicion. From his retreat in the mountains he enters into negotiations
with his lawyer, with the local magistrate, with his witnesses, even with
the police. He distrusts justice itself, and only gives himself up or
faces the tribunal when he has made sure of acquittal or such a sentence
as his pride may swallow. Which details of justice as understood in a
province of France at the beginning of the century may be read at the
Assize terms in those great newspapers, _Le Petit Bastiais_ or _Le Paoli
Pascal_, by any who have a halfpenny to spend on literature.
It would appear easy enough to exterminate the bandits as one would
exterminate wolves or other large game; but in such a country as Corsica,
almost devoid of roads, thinly populated, heavily wooded, the expense
would be greater than the administration is prepared to incur. It would
mean putting an army into the field, prepared and equipped for a long
campaign which might ultimately reach the dignity of a civil war. The
bandits are not worth it. The whole country is not worth exploiting.
Corsica is a small open wound on the great back of France, carefully
concealed and only tended spasmodically from time to time at such periods
as the health of the whole frame is sufficiently good to permit of
serious attention being given to so small a sore. And such times, as the
wondering world knows, are few and far between in the history of France.
The law-abiding natives, or such natives as the law has not found out,
regard the denizens of the macquis with a tender pity not unmixed with
respect. As often as not the bandit is a man with a real grievance, and
the poor have a soft place in their hearts for a man with a grievance.
And all Corsicans are poor. So all are for the bandits, and every man's
hand is secretly or openly against the gendarme. Even in enmity, there is
a certain sense of honour among these naive people. A man will shoot his
foe in the back, but he will not betray him to the gendarme. Among a
primitive people a man commands respect who has had the courage to take
the law into his own hands. Amidst a subject population, he who rebels is
not without honour.
It was among these and such as these that the Abbe Susini sought from
time to time his lost sheep. He took a certain pleasure in donning the
peasant clothes that his father had worn, and in going to the mountains
as his forefathers had doubtless done before him. For every man worthy of
the name has lurking in his being a remnant of the barbarian which makes
him revolt occasionally against the life of the city and the crowded
struggle of the streets, which sends him out to the waste places of the
world where God's air is at all events untainted, where he may return to
the primitive way of living, to kill and gather with his own hands that
which must satisfy his own hunger.
The abbe had never known a very highly refined state of civilization. The
barbarian was not buried very deep. To him the voice of the wind through
the trees, the roar of the river, the fine, free air of the mountains had
a charm which he could not put into words. He hungered for them as the
exile hungers for the sight of his own home. The air of houses choked
him, as sooner or later it seems to choke sailors and wanderers who have
known what it is to be in the open all night, sleeping or waking beneath
the stars, not by accident as an adventure, but by habit. Then the abbe
would disappear for days together from Olmeta, and vanish into that
mystic, silent, prowling world of the macquis. The sights he saw there,
the men he met there, were among those things which the villagers said
the abbe knew, but of which he never spoke.
During the stirring events of August and September the priest at Olmeta,
and Colonel Gilbert at Bastia, watched each, in his individual way, the
effect of the news upon a very sensitive populace. The abbe stood on the
high-road one night within a stone's throw of Perucca, and, looking down
into the great valley, watched the flickering flames consume all that
remained of the old Chateau de Vasselot. Colonel Gilbert, in his little
rooms in the bastion at Bastia, knew almost as soon that the chateau was
burning, and only evinced his usual easy-going surprise. The colonel
always seemed to be wondering that any should have the energy to do
active wrong; for virtue is more often passive, and therefore less
The abbe was puzzled.
"An empty house," he muttered, "does not set itself on fire. Who has done
this? and why?"
For he knew every drift and current of feeling amid his turbulent flock,
and the burning of the chateau of Vasselot seemed to serve no purpose,
and to satisfy no revenge. There was some influence at work which the
Abbe Susini did not understand.
He understood well enough that a hundred grievances--a hundred
unsatisfied vengeances--had suddenly been awakened by the events of the
last months. The grip of France was for a moment relaxed, and all Corsica
arose from its sullen sleep, not in organized revolt, but in the desire
to satisfy personal quarrels--to break in one way or another the law
which had made itself so dreaded. The burning of the Chateau de Vasselot
might be the result of some such feeling; but the abbe thought otherwise.
He went to Perucca, where all seemed quiet, though he did not actually
ring the great bell and speak to the widow Andrei.
A few hours later, after nightfall, he set off on foot by the road that
leads to the Lancone Defile. But he did not turn to the left at the
cross-roads. He went straight on instead, by the track which ultimately
leads to Corte, in the middle of the island, and amidst the high
mountains. This is one of the loneliest spots in all the lonely island,
where men may wander for days and never see a human being. The macquis is
thin here, and not considered a desirable residence. In fact, the mildest
malefactor may have a whole mountain to himself without any demonstration
of violence whatever.
This was not the abbe's destination. He was going farther, where the
ordinary traveller would fare worse, and hurried along without looking to
the left or right. A half-moon was peeping through an occasional rift in
those heavy clouds which precede the autumn rains in these latitudes, and
gather with such astonishing slowness and deliberation. It was not a dark
night, and the air was still. The abbe had mounted considerably since
leaving the cross-roads. His path now entered a valley between two
mountains. On either side rose a sharp slope, broken, and rendered
somewhat inaccessible by boulders, which had at one time been spilled
down the mountain-side by some great upheaval, and now seemed poised in
patient expectance of the next disturbance.
Suddenly the priest stopped, and stood rooted. A faint sound, inaudible
to a townsman's ear, made him turn sharply to the right, and face the
broken ground. A stone no bigger than a hazel nut had been dislodged
somewhere above him, and now rolled down to his feet. The dead silence of
the mountains closed over him again. There was, of course, no one in
"It is Susini of Olmeta," he said, speaking quietly, as if he were in a
There was a moment's pause, and then a man rose from behind a rock, and
came silently on bare feet down to the pathway. His approach was heralded
by a scent which would have roused any sporting dog to frenzy. This man
was within measurable distance of the beasts of the forests. As he came
into the moonlight it was perceivable that he was hatless, and that his
tangled hair and beard were streaked with white. His face was apparently
black, and so were his hands. He had obviously not washed himself for
"You here," said the abbe, recognizing one who had for years and years
been spoken of as a sort of phantom, living in the summits--the life of
The other nodded.
"Then you have heard that the gendarmes are being drafted into the army,
and sent to France?"
The man nodded again. He had done so long without speech that he had no
doubt come to recognize its uselessness in the majority of human
happenings. The abbe felt in his pocket, and gave the man a packet of
tobacco. The Corsicans, unlike nearly all other races of the
Mediterranean, are smokers of wooden pipes.
"Thanks," said the man, in an odd, soft voice, speaking for the first
"I am going up into the mountains," said the abbe, slowly, knowing no
doubt that men who have lived long with Nature are slow to understand
words, "to seek an old man who has recently gone there. He is travelling
with a man called Jean, who has the evil eye."
"The Count de Vasselot," said the outlaw, quietly. He touched his
forehead with one finger and made a vague wandering gesture of the hand.
"I have seen him. You go the wrong way. He is down there, near the
entrance to the Lancone Defile with others."
He paused and looked round him with the slow and distant glance which any
may perceive in the eyes of a caged wild beast.
"They are all down from the mountains," he said.
Even the Abbe Susini glanced uneasily over his shoulder. These still,
stony valleys were peopled by the noiseless, predatory Ishmaels of the
macquis. They were, it is true, not numerous at this time, but those who
had escaped the clutch of the imperial law were necessarily the most
cunning and desperate.
"Buon," he said, turning to retrace his steps. "I shall go down to the
Lancone Defile. God be with you, my friend."
The man gave a queer laugh. He evidently thought that the abbe expected
The abbe walked until midnight, and then being tired he found a quiet
spot between two great rocks, and lying down slept there until morning.
In the leather saddle-bag which formed his pillow he had bread and some
meat, which he ate as he walked on towards the Lancone Defile. Once, soon
after daylight, he paused to listen, and the sound that had faintly
reached him was repeated. It was the warning whistle of the steamer, the
old _Perseverance_, entering Bastia harbour ten miles away. He was still
in the shade of the great heights that lay between him and the Eastern
coast, and hurried while the day was cool. Then the sun leapt up behind
the hazy summits above Biguglia. The abbe looked at his huge silver
watch. It was nearly eight o'clock. When he was near to the entrance of
the defile he stood in the middle of the road and gave, in his high clear
voice, the cry of the goat-herd calling his flock. He gave it twice, and
then repeated it. If there were any in the macquis within a mile of him
they could not fail to see him as he stood on the dusty road in the
He was not disappointed. In a few minutes the closely-set arbutus bushes
above the road were pushed aside and a boy came out--an evil-faced youth
with a loose mouth.
"It is Jean of the Evil Eye who has sent me," he said glibly, with an eye
on the abbe's hands in case there should be a knife. "He is up there with
a broken leg. He has with him the old man."
"The old man?" repeated the abbe, interrogatively.
"Yes, he who is foolish."
"Show me the way," said Susini. "You need not look at my hands; I have
nothing in them."
They climbed the steep slope that overhung the road, forcing their way
through the thick brushwood, stumbling over the chaos of stones. Quite
suddenly they came upon a group of men sitting round a smouldering fire
where a tin coffee-pot stood amid the ashes. One man had his leg roughly
tied up in sticks. It was Jean of the Evil Eye, who looked hard at the
Abbe Susini, and then turning, indicated with a nod the Count de Vasselot
who sat leaning against a tree. The count recognized Susini and nodded
vaguely. His face, once bleached by long confinement, was burnt to a deep
red; his eyes were quite irresponsible.
"He is worse," said Jean, without lowering his voice. "Sometimes I can
only keep him here by force. He thinks the whole island is looking for
him--he never sleeps."
Jean was interrupted by the evil-faced boy, who had risen, and was
peering down towards the gates of the defile.
"There is a carriage on the road," he said.
They all listened. There were three other men whom the abbe knew by sight
and reputation. One by one they rose to their feet and slowly cocked
their old-fashioned single-barrelled guns.
"It is the carriage from Olmeta--must be going to Perucca," reported the
And at the word Perucca, the count scrambled to his feet, only to be
dragged back by Jean. The old man's eyes were alight with fear and
hatred. He was grasping Jean's gun. The abbe rose and peered down through
the bushes. Then he turned sharply and wrenched Jean's firearm from the
"They are friends of mine," he said. "The man who shoots will be shot by
All turned and looked at him. They knew the abbe and the gun. And while
they looked, Denise and Mademoiselle Brun drove past in safety.
"Keep cool, and you command everybody."
When France realized that Napoleon III had fallen, she turned and rent
his memory. No dog, it appears, may have his day, but some cur must needs
yelp at his heels. Indeed (and this applies to literary fame as to
emperors), it is a sure sign that a man is climbing high if the little
dogs bark below.
And the little dogs and the curs remembered now the many slights cast
upon them. France had been betrayed--was ruined. The twenty most
prosperous years of her history were forgotten. There was a rush of
patriots to Paris, and another rush of the chicken-hearted to the coast
and the frontier.
The Baron de Melide telegraphed to the baroness to quit Frejus and go to
Italy. And the baroness telegraphed a refusal to do so.
Lory de Vasselot fretted as much as one of his buoyant nature could fret
under this forced inactivity. The sunshine, the beautiful surroundings,
and the presence of friends, made him forget France at times, and think
only of the present. And Denise absorbed his thoughts of the present and
the future. She was a constant puzzle to him. There seemed to be two
Denise Langes: one who was gay with that deep note of wisdom in her
gaiety, which only French women compass, with odd touches of tenderness
and little traits of almost maternal solicitude, which betrayed
themselves at such moments as the wounded man attempted to do something
which his crippled condition or his weakness prevented him from
accomplishing. The other Denise was clear-eyed, logical, almost cold, who
resented any mention of Corsica or of the war. Indeed, de Vasselot had
seen her face harden at some laughing reference made by him to his
approaching recovery. He was quick enough to perceive that she was
endeavouring to shut out of her life all but the present, which was
unusual; for most pin their faith on the future until they are quite old,
and their future must necessarily be a phantom.
"I do not understand you, mademoiselle," he said, one day, on one of the
rare occasions when she had allowed herself to be left alone with him.
"You are brave, and yet you are a coward!"
And the resentment in her eyes took him by surprise. He did not know,
perhaps, that the wisest men never see more than they are intended to
"Pray do not try," she answered. "The effort might delay your recovery
and your return to the army."
She laughed, and presently left him. It is one thing to face the future,
and another to sit quietly awaiting its approach. The majority of people
spoil their lives by going out to meet the future, deliberately
converting into a reality that which was only a dread. They call it
knowing the worst.
The next morning Mademoiselle Brun, with a composed face and blinking
eyes, mentioned casually to Lory that she and Denise were going back to
"But why?" cried Lory; "but why, my dear demoiselle?"
"I do not know," answered Mademoiselle Brun, smoothing her gloves. "It
will, at all events, show the world that we are not afraid."
De Vasselot looked at her non-committing face and held his peace. There
was more in this than a man's philosophy might dream of.
"When do you go?" he asked after a pause.
"To-night, from Nice," was the answer.
And, as has been noted, Denise and mademoiselle arrived at Bastia in the
early morning, and drove to the Casa Perucca, in the face of more than
one rifle-barrel. Mademoiselle Brun never asked questions, and, if she
knew why Denise had returned to Perucca so suddenly, she had not acquired
the knowledge from the girl herself, but had, behind her beady eyes, put
two and two together with that accuracy of which women have the monopoly.
She meekly set to work to make the Casa Perucca comfortable, and took up
her horticultural labours where she had dropped them.
"One misses the Chateau de Vasselot," she said one morning, standing by
the open window that gave so wide a view of the valley.
"Yes," answered Denise; and that was all.
Mademoiselle went into the garden with her leather gloves and a small
basket. The odd thing about her gardening was, that it was on such a
minute scale that the result was never visible to the ordinary eye.
Denise had, it appeared, given up gardening. Mademoiselle Brun did not
know how she occupied herself at this time. She seemed to do nothing, and
preferred to do it alone. Returning to the house at midday, mademoiselle
went into the drawing-room, and there found Denise and Colonel Gilbert
seated at the table with some papers, and a map spread out before them.
Both looked up with a guilty air, and Denise flushed suddenly, while the
colonel bit his lip. Immediately he recovered himself, and rising, shook
hands with the new-comer.
"I heard that you had returned," he said, "and hastened to pay my
"We were looking at the plans," added Denise, hurriedly. "I have agreed
to sell Perucca to Colonel Gilbert--as you have always wished me to do."
"Yes; I have always wished you do it," returned Mademoiselle Brun,
slowly. She was very cool and collected, and in that had the advantage
over her companions. "Has the colonel the money in his pocket?" she asked
with a dry smile. "Is it to be settled this afternoon?"
She glanced from one to the other. If love is blind, he certainly tampers
with the sight of those who have had dealings with him. Denise was only
thinking of Perucca. She had not perceived that Colonel Gilbert was
honestly in love with her. But Mademoiselle Brun saw it. She was
wondering--if this thing had come to Gilbert twenty years earlier--what
manner of man it might have made of him. It was a good love. Mademoiselle
saw that quite clearly. For a dishonest man may at any moment be tripped
up by an honest passion. Which is one of those practical jokes of Fate
that break men's hearts.
"You know as well as I do," said Colonel Gilbert, with more earnestness
than he had ever shown, "that the sooner you and mademoiselle are out of
the island the better."
"Bah!" laughed mademoiselle. "With you at Bastia to watch over us, mon
colonel! Besides, we Peruccas are invincible just now. Have we not burnt
down the Chateau de Vasselot?"
Gilbert winced. Mademoiselle wondered why.
"I want it settled as soon as possible," put in Denise, turning to the
papers. "There is no need of delay."
"None," acquiesced mademoiselle. She wanted to sell Perucca and be done
with it, and with the island. She was a woman of iron nerve, but the
gloom and loneliness of Corsica had not left her at ease. There was a
haunting air of disaster that seemed to brood over the whole land, with
its miles and miles of untenanted mountains, its malarial plains, and
deserted sea-board. "None," she repeated. "But such transactions are not
to be carried through, in a woman's drawing-room, by two women and a
She looked from one to the other. She did not know why one wanted to buy
and the other to sell. She only knew that her own inclination was to give
them every assistance, and to give it even against her better judgment.
It could only be, after all, the question of a little more or a little
less profit, and she, who had never had any money, knew that the
possession of it never makes a woman one whit the happier.
"Then," said the colonel with his easy laugh--for he was inimitable in
the graceful art of yielding--"Then, let us appoint a day to sign the
necessary agreements in the office of the notary at Bastia. I tell you
frankly I want to get you out of the island."
The colonel stayed to lunch, and, whether by accident or intention, made
a better impression than he had ever made before. He was intelligent,
easy, full of information and _o rara avis!_ proved himself to be a man
without conceit. He never complained of his ill-fortune in life, but his
individuality thrust the fact into every mind, that this was a man
destined for distinction who had missed it. He seemed to be riding
through life for a fall, and rode with his chin up, gay and _debonnaire_.
Mademoiselle Brun felt relieved by the thought that the end of Corsica,
and this impossible Casa Perucca, was in sight. She was gay as a little
grey mouse may be gay at some domestic festival. She sent the widow to
the cellar, and the occasion was duly celebrated in a bottle of Mattei
Perucca's old wine.
With coffee came the question of fixing a date for the signature of the
deed of sale at the notary's office at Bastia. And instantly the mouse
skipped, as it were, into a retired corner of the conversation and
crouched silent, watching with bright eyes.
"I should like it to be done soon," said the colonel, who, at the
suggestion of his hostess, had lighted a cigarette. He seemed more
himself with a cigarette between his fingers to contemplate with a dreamy
eye, to turn and twist in reflective idleness. "You will understand that
my future movements are uncertain if, as now seems possible, the war is
"But surely it is over," put in Denise, quickly.
The colonel shrugged his shoulders.
"Who can tell? We are in the hands of a few journalists and lawyers,
mademoiselle. If the men of words say 'Resist,' we others are ready. I
have applied to be relieved of my command here, since they are going to
fortify Paris. Shall we say next week?"
"To-day is Thursday--shall we say Monday?" replied Denise.
"Make it Wednesday," suggested Mademoiselle Brun from her silent corner.
And after some discussion Wednesday was finally selected. Mademoiselle
Brun had no particular reason why it should be Wednesday, in preference
to Monday, and, unlike most people in such circumstances, advanced none.
"We shall require witnesses," she said as the colonel took his leave. "I
shall be able to find two to testify to the signature of Denise."
The colonel had apparently forgotten this necessity. He thanked her and
"And on Wednesday," he said, "I shall in reality have the money in my
During the afternoon mademoiselle announced her intention of walking to
Olmeta. It would be advisable to secure the Abbe Susini as a witness, she
said. He was a busy man, and a journey to Bastia would of necessity take
up his whole day. Denise did not offer to accompany her, so she set out
alone at a quick pace, learnt, no doubt, in the Rue des Saints Peres.
"They will not shoot at an old woman," she said, and never looked aside.
The priest's housekeeper received her coldly. Yes the abbe was at home,
she said, holding the door ajar with scant hospitality. Mademoiselle
pushed it open and went into the narrow passage. She had not too much
respect for a priest, and none whatever for a priest's housekeeper, who
kept a house so badly. She looked at the dirty floor, and with a subtle
feminine irony, sought the mat which was lying in the road outside the
house. She folded her hands at her waist, and still grasping her cheap
cotton umbrella, waited to be announced.
The Abbe Susini received her in his little bare study, where a few
newspapers, half a dozen ancient volumes of theology and a life of
Napoleon the Great, represented literature. He bowed silently and drew
forward his own horsehair armchair. Mademoiselle Brun sat down, and
crossed her hands upon the hilt of her umbrella like a soldier at rest
under arms. She waited until the housekeeper had closed the door and
shuffled away to her own quarters. Then she looked the resolute little
abbe straight in the eyes.
"Let us understand each other," she said.
"Bon Dieu! upon what point, mademoiselle?"
Mademoiselle was still looking at him. She perceived that there were some
points upon which the priest did not desire to be understood. She held up
one finger in its neutral-coloured cotton glove, and shook it slowly from
side to side.
"None of your theology," she said; "I come to you as a man--the only man
I think in this island at present."
"Yes, the other is in France, recovering from his wounds."
"Ah!" said the abbe, glancing shrewdly into her face. "You also have
perceived that he is a man--that. But there is our good Colonel Gilbert.
You forget him."
"He would have made a good priest," said mademoiselle, bluntly, and the
abbe laughed aloud.
"Ah! but you amuse me, mademoiselle. You amuse me enormously." And he
leant back to laugh at his ease.
"Yes, I came on purpose to amuse you. I came to tell you that Denise
Lange has sold Perucca to Colonel Gilbert."
"Sacred name of--thunder," he muttered, the mirth wiped away from his
face as if with a cloth. He sat bolt upright, glaring at her, his
restless foot tapping on the floor.
"Ah, you women!" he ejaculated after a pause.
"Ah, you priests!" returned Mademoiselle Brun, composedly.
"And you did not stop it," he said, looking at her with undisguised
"I have no control. I used to have a little; now I have none."
She finished with a gesture, describing the action of a leaf blown before
"But I have put off the signing of the papers until Wednesday," she
continued. "I have undertaken to provide two witnesses, yourself if you
will consent, the other--I thought we might get the other from Frejus
between now and Wednesday. A boat from St. Florent to-night could surely,
with this wind, reach St. Raphael to-morrow."
The abbe was looking at her with manifest approval.
"Clever," he said--"clever."
Mademoiselle Brun rose to go as abruptly as she had come.
"Personally," she said, "I shall be glad to be rid of Perucca for
ever--but I fancied there are reasons."
"Yes," said the priest, slowly, "there are reasons."
"Oh! I ask no questions," she snapped out at him with her hand on the
door. On the threshold she paused. "All the same," she said, "I do ask a
question. Why does Colonel Gilbert want to buy?"
The priest threw up his hands in angry bewilderment.
"That is it!" he cried. "I wish I knew."
"Then find out," said mademoiselle, "between now and Wednesday."
And with a curt nod she left him.
CE QUE FEMME VEUT.
"All nature is but art, unknown to thee!
All chance, direction which thou canst not see."
It rained all night with a semi-tropical enthusiasm. The autumn rains are
looked for in these latitudes at certain dates, and if by chance they
fail, the whole winter will be disturbed and broken. With sunrise,
however, the clouds broke on the western side of the island, and from the
summit of the great Perucca rock the blue and distant sea was visible
through the grey confusion of mist and cloud. The autumn had been a dry
one, so the whole mountain-side was clothed in shades of red and brown,
rising from the scarlet of the blackberry leaves to the deep amber of the
bare rock, where all vegetation ceased. The distant peeps of the valley
of Vasselot glowed blue and purple, the sea was a bright cobalt, and
through the broken clouds the sun cast shafts of yellow gold and
shimmering silver. The whole effect was dazzling, and such as dim
Northern eyes can scarce imagine.
Mademoiselle Brun, who had just risen from the table where she and Denise
had had their early breakfast of coffee and bread, was standing by the
window that opened upon the verandah where old Mattel Perucca had passed
so many hours of his life.
"One should build on this spot," she began, "a convalescent home for
She broke off, and staggered back. The room, the verandah, the whole
world it seemed, was shaking and vibrating like a rickety steam-engine.
For a moment the human senses were paralyzed by a deafening roar and
rattle. Mademoiselle Brun turned to Denise, and for a time they clung to
each other; and then Denise, whose strong young arms half lifted her
companion from the ground, gained the open window. She held there for a
moment, and then staggered across the verandah and down the steps,
dragging mademoiselle with her.
There was no question of speech, of thought, of understanding. They
merely stood, holding to each other, and watching the house. Then a
sudden silence closed over the world, and all was still. Denise turned
and looked down into the valley, smiling beneath them in its brilliant
colouring. Her hand was at her throat as if she were choking.
Mademoiselle, shaking in every limb, turned and sat down on a garden
seat. Denise would not sit, but stood shaking and swaying like a reed in
a mistral. And yet each in her way was as brave a woman as could be found
even in their own country.
Mademoiselle Brun leant forward, and held her head between her two hands,
while she stared at the ground between her feet. At last speech caine to
her, but not her natural voice.
"I suppose," she said, passing her little shrivelled hand across her
eyes, "that it was an earthquake."
"No," said Denise. "Look!" And she pointed with a shaking finger down
towards the river.
A great piece of the mountain-side, comprising half a dozen vine
terraces, a few olive terraces, and a patch of pinewood, had fallen
bodily down into the river-bed, leaving the slope a bare and scarified
mass of rock and red soil. The little Guadelle river, a tributary of the
Aliso, was completely dammed. Perucca was the poorer by the complete
disappearance of one of its sunniest slopes, but the house stood unhurt.
"No more will fall," said Denise presently. "See; there is the bare
Mademoiselle rose, and came slowly towards Denise. They were recovering
from their terror now. For at all events, the cause of it lay before
them, and lacked the dread uncertainty of an earthquake. Mademoiselle
gave an odd laugh.
"It is the boundary-line between Perucca and Vasselot," she said, "that
has fallen into the valley."
Denise was thinking the same thought, and made no answer. The footpath
from the chateau up to the Casa by which Gilbert had come on the day of
Mattei Perucca's death, by which he had also ridden to the chateau one
day, was completely obliterated. Where it had crept along the face of the
slope, there now rose a bare red rock. There was no longer a short cut
from the one house to the other. It made Perucca all the more
"Curious," whispered Mademoiselle Brun to herself, as she turned towards
the house. She went indoors to get a hat, for the autumn sun was now
glaring down upon them.
When she came out again, Denise was sitting looking thoughtfully down
into the valley where had once stood the old chateau, now gone, to which
had led this pathway, now wiped off the face of the earth.
"There is assuredly," she said, without looking round, "a curse upon this
Which Seneca had thought eighteen hundred years before, and which the
history of the islands steadily confirms.
Mademoiselle was drawing on her gloves, and carried her umbrella.
"I am going down the pathway to look at it all," she said.
There was nothing to be done. When Nature takes things into her own
hands, men can only stand by and look. Denise was perhaps more shaken
than the smaller, tougher woman. She made no attempt to accompany
mademoiselle, but sat in the shade of a mimosa tree, and watched her
descend into the valley, now appearing, now hidden, in the brushwood.
Mademoiselle Brun made her way to the spot where the pathway was suddenly
cut short by the avalanche of rock and rubble and soil. It happened to be
the exact spot where Colonel Gilbert's heavy horse had stumbled months
before, where the footpath crossed the bed of a small mountain torrent. A
few loosened stones had come bowling down the slope, set free by the
landslip. These had fallen on to the pathway, and there shattered
themselves into a thousand pieces. Mademoiselle stood among the _debris_.
She looked down in order to make sure of her foothold, and something
caught her eye. She knelt down eagerly, and then, looking up, glanced
round surreptitiously like a thief. She could not see the Casa Perucca.
She was alone on this solitary mountain-side. Slowly she collected the
_debris_ of the broken rock, which was mixed with a red powdery soil.
"Ciel!" she whispered, "Ciel! what fools we have all been!"
She rose from her knees with one clasped handful of rubble. Slowly and
thoughtfully she climbed the hill again. On the terrace, where she
arrived hot and tired, the widow Andrei met her. The woman had been to
the village on an errand, and had returned during mademoiselle's absence.
"The Abbe Susini awaits you in the library," she said. "He asked for you
and not for mademoiselle, who has gone to her own garden."
Mademoiselle hurried into the library. The arrival of the abbe at this
moment seemed providential, though the explanation of it was simple
"I came," he said, looking at her keenly, "on a fool's errand. I came to
ask whether the ladies were afraid."
Mademoiselle gave a chilly smile.
"The ladies were not afraid, Monsieur l'Abbe," she said. "They were
terrified--since you ask."
She went to a side-table and brought a newspaper; for even in her
excitement she was scrupulously tidy. She laid it on the table in front
of the abbe, rather awkwardly with her left hand, and then, holding her
right over the newspaper, she suddenly opened it, and let fall a little
heap of stones and soil. Some of the stones had a singular rounded
The abbe treated her movements with the kindly interest offered at the
shrine of childhood or imbecility. It was evident that he supposed that
the landslip had unhinged Mademoiselle Brun's reason.
"What is that?" he asked soothingly, contemplating the mineral trophy.
"I think," answered mademoiselle, "that it is the explanation."
"The explanation of what, if one may inquire?"
"Of your precious colonel," said mademoiselle. "That is gold, Monsieur
L'Abbe. I have seen similar dirt in a museum in Paris." She took up one
of the pebbles. "Scrape it with your knife," she said, handing it to him.
The abbe obeyed her, and volunteered on his own account to bite it. He
handed it back to her with the marks of his teeth on it, and one side of
it scraped clean showing pure gold. Then he walked pensively to the
window, where he stood with his back turned to her in deep thought for
some minutes. At length he turned on his heel and looked at her.
"It began," he said, holding up one finger and shaking it slowly from
side to side, which seemed to indicate that his hearer must be silent for
a while, "long ago. I see it now."
"Part of it," corrected mademoiselle, inexorably.
"He must have discovered it two years ago when he first surveyed this
country for the proposed railway. I see now why that man from St. Florent
shot Pietro Andrei on the high-road. Pietro Andrei was in the way, and a
little subtle revival of a forgotten vendetta secured his removal. I see
now whence came the anonymous letter intended to frighten Mattei Perucca
away from here. It frightened him into the next world."
"And I see now," interrupted the refractory listener, "why Denise
received an offer for the estate before she had become possessed of it,
and an offer of marriage before we had been here a month. But he tripped
and fell then," she concluded grimly.
"And all for money," said the abbe, contemptuously.
"Wait," said mademoiselle--"wait till you have yourself been tempted. So
many fall. It must be greater than we think, that temptation. You and I
perhaps have never had it."
"No," replied the abbe, simply. "There has never been more than a
sou in my poor-box at the church. I see now," continued Susini, "who
has been stirring up this old strife between the Peruccas and the
Vasselots--offering, as he was, to buy from one and the other
alternately. This _dirt_, mademoiselle, must lie on both estates."
"It lies between the two."
The priest was deep in thought, rubbing his stubbly chin with two
"I see so much now," he said at length, "which I never understood
He turned towards the window, and looked down at the rocky slope with a
"There must be a great quantity of it," he said reflectively. "He has
walked over so many obstacles to get to it, with his pleasant laugh."
"He has walked over his own heart," said mademoiselle, persistently
contemplating the question from the woman's point of view.
The priest moved impatiently.
"I was thinking of men's lives," he said. Then he turned and faced her
with a sudden gleam in his eye. "There is one thing yet unexplained--the
burning of the Chateau de Vasselot. An empty house does not ignite
itself. Explain me that."
Mademoiselle shrugged her shoulders.
"That still remains to be explained," she said. "In the mean time we must
"I know that--I know that," he cried. "I have acted! I am acting! De
Vasselot arrives in Corsica to-morrow night. A letter from him crossed
the message I sent to him by a special boat from St. Florent last night."
"What brings him here?"
The abbe turned and looked at her with scorn.
"Bah!" he cried. "You know as well as I. It is the eyes of Mademoiselle
He took his hat and went towards the door.
"On Wednesday morning, if you do not see me before, at the office of the
notary, in the Boulevard du Palais at Bastia," he said. "Where there will
be a pretty salad for Mister the Colonel, prepared for him by a woman and
a priest--eh! Both your witnesses shall be there, mademoiselle--both."
He broke off with a laugh and an upward jerk of the head.
"Ah! but he is a pretty scoundrel, your colonel."
"He is not my colonel," returned Mademoiselle Brun. "Besides, even he has
his good points. He is brave, and he is capable of an honest affection."
The priest gave a scornful laugh.
"Ah! you women," he cried. "You think that excuses everything. You do not
know that if it is worth anything it should make a man better instead of
worse. Otherwise it is not worth a snap of my finger--your honest
And he came back into the room on purpose to snap his finger, in his rude
way, quite close to Mademoiselle Brun's parchment face.
ON THE GEEAT ROAD.
"Look in my face; my name is Might-Have-Been.
I am also called No More, Too Late, Farewell,"
"This," said the captain of the Jane, the Baron de Melide's yacht, "is
the bay of St. Florent. We anchor a little further in."
"Yes," answered Lory, who stood on the bridge beside the sailor, "I know
it. I am glad to see it again--to smell the smell of Corsica again."
"Monsieur le Comte is attached to his native country?" suggested the
captain, consulting the chart which he held folded in his hand.
De Vasselot was looking through a pair of marine glasses across the hills
to where the Perucca rock jutted out of the mountain side.
"No; I hate it. But I am glad to come back," he said.
"Monsieur will be welcomed by his people. It is a great power, the voice
of the people." For the captain was a Republican.
"It is the bleating of sheep, mon capitaine," returned de Vasselot, with
They stood side by side in silence while the steamer crept steadily
forward into the shallow bay. Already a boat had left the town wall, and
was sailing out leisurely on the evening breeze towards them. It came
alongside. De Vasselot gave some last instructions to the captain, said
farewell, and left the ship. It was a soldier's breeze, and the boat ran
free. In a few minutes de Vasselot stepped ashore. The abbe was waiting
for him at the steps. It was almost dark, but de Vasselot could see the
priest's black eyes flashing with some new excitement. De Vasselot held
out his hand, but Susini made a movement, of which the new-comer
recognized the significance in his quick way. He took a step forward, and
they embraced after the manner of the French.
"Voila!" said the abbe, "we are friends at last."
"I have always known that you were mine," answered Lory.
"Good. And now I have bad news for you. A friend's privilege, Monsieur le
"Ah," said Lory, looking sharply at him.
"Your father. I have found him and lost him again. I found him where I
knew he would be, in the macquis, living the life that they live there,
with perfect tranquillity. Jean was with him. By some means or other Jean
got wind of a proposed investigation of the chateau. The Peruccas people
have been stirred up lately; but that is a long story which I cannot tell
you now. At all events, they quitted the chateau a few hours before the
house was mysteriously burnt down. To-day I received a message from Jean.
Your father left their camp before daybreak to-day. All night he had been
restless. He was in a panic that the Peruccas are seeking him. He is no
longer responsible, mon ami; his mind is gone. From his muttered talk of
the last few days, they conclude that he is making his way south to
Bonifacio, in order to cross the straits from there to Sardinia. He is on
foot, alone, and deranged. There is my news."
"And Jean?" asked de Vasselot, curtly; for he was quick in decision and
"Jean has but half recovered from an accident. The small bone of his leg
was broken by a fall. He is following on the back of an old horse which
cannot trot, the only one he could procure. I have ready for you a good
horse. You have but to follow the track over the mountains due south--you
know the stars, you, who are a cavalry officer--until you join the Corte
road at Ponte Alle Leccia, then there is but the one road to Bocognano.
If you overtake your poor father, you have but to detain him until Jean
comes up. You may trust Jean to bring him safely back to the yacht here
as arranged. But you must be at Bastia at the Hotel Clement at ten
o'clock on Wednesday morning. That is absolutely necessary. You
understand--life or death, you must be there. I and a woman, who is
clever enough, are mixing a salad for some one at Bastia on Wednesday
morning, and it is you who are the vinegar."
"Where is the horse?" asked Lory.
"It is a few paces away. Come, I will show you."
"Ah!" cried Lory, whose voice had a ring of excitement in it that always
came when action was imminent. "But I cannot go at that pace. It is not
only Jean who has but one leg. Your arm--thank you. Now we can go."
And he limped by the side of Susini through the dark alleys of St.
Florent. The horse was waiting for them beneath an archway which de
Vasselot remembered. It was the entry to the stable where he had left his
horse on the occasion of his first arrival in Corsica.
"Aha!" he said, with a sort of glee as he settled himself in the saddle.
"It is good to be across a horse again. Pity you are a priest; you might
come with me. It will be a fine night for a ride. What a pity you are a
priest! You were not meant for one, you know."
"I am as the good God made me, and a little worse," returned Susini.
"That is your road."
And so they parted. Lory rode on, happy in that he was called upon to
act without too much thought. For those who think most, laugh least. De
Vasselot's life had been empty enough until the outbreak of the war,
and now it was full to overflowing. And though France had fallen, and he
himself, it would appear, must be a pauper; though his father must
inevitably be a living sorrow, which one who tasted it has told us is
worse than a dead one; though Denise would have nothing to say to
him,--yet he was happier than he had ever been. He was wise enough not to
sift his happiness. He had never spoken of it to others. It is wise not
to confide one's happiness to another; he may pull it to pieces in his
endeavour to find out how it is made.
The onlooker may only guess at the inner parts of another's life; but at
times one may catch a glimpse of the light that another sees. And it is,
therefore, to be safely presumed that Lory de Vasselot found a certain
happiness in the unswerving execution of his duty. Not only as a soldier,
but as a man, he rejoiced in a strict sense of duty, which, in sober
earnest, is one of the best gifts that a man may possess. He had not
inherited it from father or mother. He had not acquired it at St. Cyr.
He had merely received it at second-hand from Mademoiselle Brun, at
third-hand from that fat old General Lange who fell at Solferino. For the
schoolgirl in the Rue du Cherche-Midi was quite right when she had
pounced upon Mademoiselle Brun's secret, which, however, lay safely dead
and buried on that battlefield. And Mademoiselle Brun had taught, had
shaped Henri de Melide; and Henri de Melide had always been Lory de
Vasselot's best friend. So the thin silver thread of good had been woven
through the web of more lives than the little woman ever dreamt. Who
shall say what good or what evil the meanest of us may thus accomplish?
De Vasselot never thought of these things. He was content to go straight
ahead without looking down those side paths into which so many immature
thinkers stray. He had fought at Sedan, had thrown his life with no
niggard hand into the balance. When wounded he had cunningly escaped the
attentions of the official field hospitals. He might easily have sent in
his name to Prussian head-quarters as that of a wounded officer begging
to be released on _parole_. But he cherished the idea of living to fight
another day. Denise, with word and glance, and, more potent still, with
silence, had tempted him a hundred times to abandon the idea of further
service to France. "She does not understand," he concluded; and he threw
Denise into the balance. She made it clear to him that he must choose
between her and France. Without hesitation he threw his happiness into
the balance. For this Corsican--this dapper sportsman of the Bois de
Boulogne and Longchamps--was, after all, that creation of which the world
has need to be most proud--a man.
Duty had been his guiding light, though he himself would have laughed the
gayest denial to such an accusation. Duty had brought him to Corsica.
And--for there is no human happiness that is not spiced by duty--he had
the hope of seeing Denise.
He rode up the valley of the Guadelle blithely enough, despite the fact
that his leg pained him and his left arm ached abominably. Of course, he
would find his father--he knew that; and the peace and quiet of some
rural home in France would restore the wandering reason. And all was for
the best in the best possible world! For Lory was a Frenchman, and into
the French nature there has assuredly filtered some of the light of that
At more than one turn of the road he looked up towards Perucca. Once he
saw a light in one of the windows of the old house. Slowly he climbed to
the level of the tableland; and Denise, sitting at the open window, heard
the sound of his horse's feet, and wondered who might be abroad at that
hour. He glanced at the ruined chapel that towers above the Chateau de
Vasselot on its rocky promontory, and peered curiously down into the
black valley, where the charred remains of his ancestral home are to be
found to this day. Murato was asleep--a silent group of stone-roofed
houses, one of which, however, had seen the birth of a man notorious
enough in his day--Fieschi, the would-be assassin of Louis Philippe.
Every village in this island has, it would seem, the odour of blood.
The road now mounted steadily, and presently led through the rocky defile
where Susini had turned back on a similar errand scarce a week earlier.
The rider now emerged into the open, and made his careful way along the
face of a mountain. The chill air bespoke a great altitude, which was
confirmed by that waiting, throbbing silence which is of the summits.
Far down on the right, across rolling ranges of lower hills, a steady
pin-point of light twinkled like a star. It was the lighthouse of
Punta-Revellata, by Calvi, twenty miles away.
The night was clear and dark. A few clouds lay on the horizon to the
south, and all the dome of heaven was a glittering field of stars. De
Vasselot's horse was small and wiry--part Arab, part mountain pony--and
attended to his own affairs with the careful and surprising intelligence
possessed by horses, mules, and donkeys that are born and bred to
mountain roads. After Murato the track had descended sharply, only to
mount again to the heights dividing the watersheds of the Bevinco and the
Golo. And now de Vasselot could hear the Golo roaring in its rocky bed in
the valley below. He knew that he was safe now, for he had merely to
follow the river till it led him to the high-road at Ponte Alle Leccia.
The country here was more fertile, and the track led through the thickest
macquis. The subtle scent of flowering bushes filled the air with a cool,
soft flavour, almost to be tasted on the lips, of arbutus, myrtle,
cistus, oleander, tamarisk, and a score of flowering heaths. The silence
here was broken incessantly by the stirring of the birds, which swarm in
these berry-bearing coppices.
The track crossed the narrow, flat valley, where, a hundred years
earlier, had been fought the last great fight that finally subjugated
Corsica to France. Here de Vasselot passed through some patches of
cultivated ground--rare enough in this fertile land--noted the shadowy
shape of a couple of houses, and suddenly found himself on the high-road.
He had spared his horse hitherto, but now urged the willing beast to a
better pace. This took the form of an uneven, fatiguing trot, which,
however, made good account of the kilometres, and de Vasselot noted
mechanically the recurrence of the little square stones every five or six
It was during that darkest hour which precedes the dawn that he skirted
the old capital, Corte, straggling up the hillside to the towering
citadel standing out grey and solemn against its background of great
mountains. The rider could now see dimly a snow-clad height here and
there. Halfway between Corte and Vivario, where the road climbs through
bare heights, he paused, and then hurried on again. He had heard in this
desert stillness the beat of a horse's feet on the road in front of him.
He was not mistaken, for when he drew up to listen a second time there
was no sound. The rider had stopped, and was waiting for him. The outline
of his form could be seen against the starry sky at a turn in the road
further up the mountain-side.
"Is that you, Jean?" cried Lory.
"Yes," answered the voice of the man who rarely spoke.
The two horses exchanged a low, gurgled greeting.
"Are we on the right road? What is the next village?" asked Lory.
"The next is a town--Vivario. We are on the right road. At Vivario turn
to the right, where the road divides. He is going that way, through
Bocognano and Bastelica to Sartene and Bonifacio. I have heard of him
many times, from one and the other."
From one and the other! De Vasselot half turned in his saddle to glance
back at the road over which he had travelled. He had seen and heard no
one all through the night.
"He procured a horse at Corte last evening," continued Jean. "It seems a
good one. What is yours?"
"I have not seen mine," answered de Vasselot; "I can only feel him. But I
think there are thirty kilometres in him yet." As he spoke he had his
hand in his pocket. "Here," he said. "Take some money. Get a better horse
at Vivario and follow me. It will be daylight in an hour. Tell me again
the names of the places on the road."
"Vivario, Bocognano, Bastelica, Cauro, Sartene, Bonifacio," repeated
Jean, like a lesson.
"Vivario, Bocognano, Bastelica, Cauro, Sartene," muttered de Vasselot, as
he rode on.
He was in the great forest of Vizzavona when the day broke, and he saw
through the giant pines the rosy tints of sunrise on the summit of Monte
D'Oro, from whence at dawn may be seen the coast-line of Italy and France
and, like dots upon a map, all the islets of the sea. Still he met no
one--had seen no living being but Jean since quitting St. Florent at the
other extremity of the island.
It was freezingly cold at the summit of the pass where the road traverses
a cleft in the mountain-range, and de Vasselot felt that weariness which
comes to men, however strong, just before the dawn ends a sleepless
night. The horse, as he had told Jean, was still fresh enough, and gained
new energy as the air grew lighter. The mountain town of Bocognano lies
below the road, and the scent of burning pinewood told that the peasants
were astir. Here de Vasselot quitted the highway, and took a side-road to
Bastelica. As he came round the slope of Monte Mezzo, the sun climbed up
into the open sky, and flooded the broad valley of the Prunelli with
light. De Vasselot had been crossing watersheds all night, climbing out
of one valley only to descend into another, crossing river after river
with a monotony only varied by the various dangers of the bridges. The
valley of the Prunelli seemed no different from others until he looked
across it, and perceived his road mounting on the opposite slope. A
single horseman was riding southward at a good pace. It was his father at
THE END OF THE JOURNEY.
"La journee sera dure,
Mais elle se passera."
At the sight of the horseman on the road in front of him, those instincts
of the chase which must inevitably be found in all manly hearts, were
suddenly aroused, and Lory surprised his willing horse by using the
spurs, of which the animal had hitherto been happily ignorant.
At the same time he made a mistake. He gave an eager shout, quite
forgetting that the count had never seen him in uniform, and would
inevitably perceive the glint of his accoutrements in the sunlight. The
instinct of the macquis was doubtless strong upon the fugitive, There are
certain habits of thought acquired in a brief period of outlawry, which
years of respectability can never efface. The count, who had lived in
secrecy more than half his life, took fright at the sight of a sword, and
down the quiet valley of the Prunelli father and son galloped one after
the other--a wild and uncanny chase.
With the cunning of the hunted, the count left the road by the first
opening he saw--a path leading into a pine-wood; but over this rough
ground the trained soldier was equal to the native-born. The track only
led to the open road again at a higher level, and de Vasselot had gained
on his father when they emerged from the wood.
Lory had called to his father once or twice, reassuring him, but without
effect. The old count sat low in his saddle and urged his horse with a
mechanical jerk of the heels. Thus they passed through the village of
Bastelica--a place with an evil name. It was early still, and but few
were astir, for the peasants of the South are idle. In Corsica, moreover,
the sight of a flying man always sends others into hiding. No man wishes
to see him, though all sympathies are with him, and the pursuer is
avoided as if he bore the plague.
In Bastelica there were none but closed doors and windows. A few children
playing in the road instinctively ran to their homes, where their mothers
drew them hurriedly indoors. The Bastelicans would have nought to do with
the law or the law-breaker. It was the sullen indifference of the
crushed, but the unconquered.
Down into the valley, across another river--the southern branch of the
Prunelli--and up again. Cauro was above them--a straggling village with
one large square house and a little church--Cauro, the stepping-stone
between civilization and those wild districts about Sartene where the law
has never yet penetrated. Lory de Vasselot had gained a little on the
downward incline. He could now see that his father's clothes were
mud-stained and torn, that his long white hair was ill-kempt. But the
pursuer's horse was tired; for de Vasselot had been unable to relieve him
of his burden all through the night. Lame and disabled, he could not
mount or dismount without assistance. On the upward slope, where the road
climbs through a rocky gorge, the fugitive gained ground. Out on the open
road again, within sight of Cauro, the count's horse showed signs of
distress, but gained visibly. The count was unsteady in the saddle,
riding heedlessly. In an instant de Vasselot saw the danger. His father
was dropping with fatigue, and might at any moment fall from the saddle.
"Stop," he cried, "or I will shoot your horse!"
The count took no notice. Perhaps he did not hear. The road now mounted
in a zigzag. The fugitive was already at the angle. In a few moments he
would be back again at a higher level. Lory knew he could never overtake
the fresher horse. There was but one chance--the chance perhaps of two
shots as his father passed along the road above him. Should the gendarmes
of Cauro, where there is a strong station, see this fugitive, so
evidently from the macquis, with all the signs of outlawry upon him, they
would fire upon him without hesitation. Also he might at any moment fall
from the saddle and be dragged by the stirrup.
De Vasselot drew across the road to the outer edge of it, from whence he
could command a better view of the upper slope. The count came on at a
steady trot. He looked down with eyes that had no reason in them and yet
no fear. He saw the barrel of the revolver, polished by long use in an
inner pocket, and looked fearlessly into it. Lory fired and missed. His
father threw back his head and laughed. His white hair fluttered in the
wind. There was time for another shot. Lory took a longer aim,
remembering to fire low, and horse and rider suddenly dropped behind the
low wall of the upper road. De Vasselot rode on.
"It was the horse--it must have been the horse," he said to himself, with
misgiving in his heart. He turned the corner at a gallop. On the road in
front, the horse was struggling to rise, but the count lay quite still in
the dust. Lory dismounted as well as he could. Mechanically he tied the
two horses together, then turned towards his father. With his uninjured
hand he took the old man by the shoulder and raised him. The dishevelled
white head fell to one side with a jerk that was unmistakable. The count
was dead. And Lory de Vasselot found himself face to face with that
question which so many have with them all through life: the question
whether at a certain point in the crooked road of life he took the wrong
or right turning.
Death itself had no particular terror for de Vasselot. It was his trade,
and it is easier to become familiar with death than with suffering. He
dragged his father to the side of the road where a great chestnut tree
cast a shadow still, though its leaves were falling. Then he looked round
him. There was no one in sight. He knew, moreover, that he was in a
country where the report of firearms repels rather than attracts
attention. It occurred to him at that moment that his father's horse had
risen to its feet--a fact which had suggested nothing to his mind when he
had tied the two bridles together. He examined the animal carefully.
There was no blood upon it; no wound. The dust was rubbed away from the
knees. The horse had crossed its legs and fallen as it started at the
second report of his pistol.
Lory turned and stooped over his father. Here again, was no blood--only
the evidence of a broken neck. Still, though indirectly, Lory de Vasselot
had killed his father. It was well for him that he was a soldier--taught
by experience to give their true value to the strange chances of life and
death. Moreover, he was a, Frenchman--gay in life and reckless of its
He sat down by the side of the road and remembered the Abbe Susini's
words: "Life or death, you must be at Bastia on Wednesday morning."
Mechanically, he drew his watch from within his tunic, which was white
with dust. The watch had run down. And when Jean arrived a few minutes
later, he found Lory de Vasselot sitting in the shade of the great
chestnut tree, by the side of his dead father, sleepily winding up his
"I fired at the horse to lame it--it crossed its legs and fell, throwing
him against the wall," he said, shortly.
Jean lifted his master, noted the swinging head, and laid him gently down
"Heaven soon takes those who are useless," he said.
Then he slipped his hand within the old man's jacket. The inner pockets
were stuffed full of papers, which Jean carefully withdrew. Some were
tied together with pink tape, long since faded to a dull grey. He made
one packet of them all and handed it to Lory.
"It was for those that they burnt the chateau," he said; "but we have
De Vasselot turned the clumsy parcel in his hand.
"What is it?" he asked.
"It is the papers of Vasselot and Perucca--your title-deeds."
Lory laid the papers on the bank beside him.
"In your pocket," corrected Jean, gruffly. "That is the place for them."
And while Lory was securing the packet inside his tunic, the unusually
silent man spoke again.
"It is Fate who has handed them to you," he said.
"Then you think that Fate has time to think of the affairs of the
"I believe it, monsieur le comte."
They fell to talking of the past, and of the count. Then de Vasselot told
his companion that he must be in Bastia in less than twenty-four hours,
and Jean, whose gloomy face was drawn and pinched by past hardships, and
a present desire for sleep, was alert in a moment.
"When the abbe says it, it is important," he said.
"But it is easily done," protested de Vasselot, who like many men of
action had a certain contempt for those crises in life which are but
matters of words. Which is a mistake; for as the world progresses it
grows more verbose, and for one moment of action, there are in men's
lives to-day a million words.
"It is to be done," answered Jean, "but not easily. You must ride to
Porto Vecchio and there find a man called Casabianda. You will find him
on the quay or in the Cafe Amis. Tell him your name, and that you must be
at Bastia by daybreak. He has a good boat."
Lory rose to his feet. There was a light in his tired eyes, and he sighed
as he passed his hand across them, for the thought of further action was
like wine to him.
"But I must sleep, Jean, I must sleep," he said, lightly.
"You can do that in Casablanda's boat." Answered Jean, who was already
changing de Vasselot's good saddle to the back of his own fresher horse.
Jean had to lift his master into the saddle, which office the wiry Susini
had performed for him at St. Florent fourteen hours earlier. There is a
good inn at Cauro where de Vasselot procured a cup of coffee and some
bread without dismounting. Jean had given him a list of names, and the
route to Porto Vecchio was not a difficult one, though it led through a
deserted country. By midday, de Vasselot caught sight of the Eastern sea;
by three o'clock he saw the great gulf of Porto Vecchio, and before
sunset he rode, half-asleep, into the ancient town with its crumbling
walls and ill-paved streets. He had ridden in safety through one of the
waste places of this province of France--a canton wherein a few years ago
a well-known bandit had forbidden the postal service, and that postal
service was not--and he knew enough to be aware that the mysterious
messengers of the macquis had cleared the way before him. But de Vasselot
only fully realized the magic of his own name when he at length found the
man, Casabianda--a scoundrel whose personal appearance must assuredly
have condemned him without further evidence in any court of justice
except a Corsican court--who bowed before him as before a king, and laid
violent hands upon his wife and daughter a few minutes later because the
domestic linen chest failed to rise to the height of a clean table cloth.
The hospitality of Casabianda outlasted the sun. He had the virtues of
his primitive race, and that appreciation of a guest which urges the
entertainer to give not only the best that he has, but the best that he
can borrow or steal.
"There is no breeze," said this Porto Vecchian, jovially; "it will come
with the night. In waiting, this is wine of Balagna."
And he drank perdition to the Peruccas.
With nightfall they set sail; the great lateen swinging lazily under the
pressure of those light airs that flit to and fro over the islands at
evening and sunrise. All the arts of civilization have as yet failed to
approach the easiest of all modes of progression and conveyance--sailing
on a light breeze. For here is speed without friction, passage through
the air without opposition, for it is the air that urges. Afloat,
Casabianda was a silent man. His seafaring was of a surreptitious nature,
perhaps. For companion, he had one with no roof to his mouth, whose
speech was incomprehensible--an excellent thing in law-breakers.
De Vasselot was soon asleep, and slept all through that quiet night. He
awoke to find the dawn spreading its pearly light over the sea. The great
plain of Biguglia lay to the left under a soft blanket of mist, as deadly
they say, as any African miasma, above which the distant mountains raised
summits already tinged with rose. Ahead and close at hand, the old town
of Bastia jutted out into the sea, the bluff Genoese bastion concealing
the harbour from view. De Vasselot had never been to Bastia, which
Casabianda described as a great and bewildering city, where the unwary
might soon lose himself. The man of incomprehensible speech was,
therefore, sent ashore to conduct Lory to the Hotel Clement. Casabianda,
himself, would not land. The place reeked, he said, of the gendarmerie,
and was offensive to his nostrils.
Clement had not opened his hospitable door. The street door, of course,
always stood open, and the donkey that lived in the entrance-hall was
astir. Lory dismissed his guide, and after ringing a bell which tinkled
rather disappointingly just within the door, sat down patiently on the
stairs to wait. At length the ancient chambermaid (who is no servant, but
just a woman, in the strictly domestic sense of that fashionable word)
reluctantly opened the door. French and Italian were alike
incomprehensible to this lady, and de Vasselot was still explaining with
much volubility, and a wealth of gesture, that the man he sought wore a
tonsure, when Clement himself, affable and supremely indifferent to the
scantiness of his own attire, appeared.
"Take the gentleman to number eleven," he commanded; "the Abbe Susini
The last statement appeared to be made with that breadth of veracity
which is the special privilege of hotel-keepers all the world over; for
the abbe was asleep when Lory entered his apartment. He awoke, however,
with a characteristic haste, and his first conscious movement was
suggestive of a readiness to defend himself against attack.
"Ah!" he cried, with a laugh, "it is you. You see me asleep."
"Asleep, but ready," answered de Vasselot, with a laugh. He liked a quick
Without speaking, he unbuttoned his tunic and threw his bundle of papers
on the abbe's counterpane.
"Voila!" he said. "I suppose that is what you want for your salad."
"It is what Jean and I have been trying to get these three months,"
answered the priest.
He sat up in bed, and from that difficult position, did the honours of
his apartment with an unassailable dignity.
"Sit down," he said, "and I will tell you a very long story. Not that
chair--those are my clothes, my best soutane for this occasion--the
other. That is well."
THE ABBE'S SALAD.
"He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
That dares not put it to the touch
To gain or lose it all."
"And mademoiselle's witnesses?" inquired the notary, when he had
accommodated the ladies with chairs.
"Will arrive at ten o'clock," answered Mademoiselle Brun, with a glance
at the notary's clock.
It was three minutes to ten. The notary was a young man, with smooth hair
brushed straight back from a high forehead. He was one of those men who
look clever, which, in some respects, is better than being clever. For a
man who really has brains usually perceives his own limitations, while he
who looks clever, and is not, has that boundless faith in himself which
serves to carry men very far in a world which is too lazy to get up and
kick impertinence as it passes.
The room had that atmosphere of mixed stuffiness and cigarette smoke
which the traveller may sample in any French post-office. It is also the
official air of a court of justice or a public bureau of any sort in
France. There was a blank space on the wall, where a portrait of the
emperor had lately hung. The notary would fill it by-and-by with a
president or a king, or any face of any man who was for the moment in
authority. Behind him, on the wall, was suspended a photograph of an
elderly lady--his mother. It established confidence in the hearts of
female clients, and reminded persons with daughters that this rising
lawyer had as yet no wife.
The notary's bow to Mademoiselle Brun when she was seated was
condescending, which betrayed the small fact that he was not so clever as
he looked. To Denise he endeavoured to convey in one graceful inclination
from the waist the deep regard of a legal adviser, struggling nobly to
keep in bounds the overwhelming admiration of a man of heart and (out of
office hours) of spirit. Gilbert, who had already exchanged greetings
with the ladies, was leaning against the window, playing idly with the
blind-cord. The notary's office was on the third floor. The colonel could
not, therefore, see the pavement without leaning out, and the window was
shut. Mademoiselle Brun noted this as she sat with crossed hands. She
also remembered that the Hotel Clement was on the same side of the
Boulevard du Palais as the house in which she found herself.
The notary had intended to be affable, but he dimly perceived that Denise
was what he tersely called in his own mind _grande dame_, and was wise
enough to busy himself with his papers in silence. He also suspected that
Colonel Gilbert was a friend of these ladies, but he did not care to take
advantage of his privilege in the presence of a fourth person, which left
an unpleasant flavour on the palate of the smooth-haired lawyer. He
glanced involuntarily at the blank space on the wall, and thought of the
"I have prepared a deed of sale," he said, in a formal voice, "which is
as binding on both sides as if the full purchase-money had been exchanged
for the title-deeds. All that will remain to be done after the present
signature will be the usual legal formalities between notaries.
Mademoiselle has but to sign here." And he indicated a blank space on the
Mademoiselle Brun was looking at the timepiece on the notary's wall. The
town clocks were striking the hour. A knock at the door made the notary
turn, with his quill pen still indicating the space for Denise's
signature. It was the dingy clerk who sat in a sort of cage in the outer
office. After opening the door he stood aside, and Susini came in with
glittering eyes and a defiant chin. There was a pause, and Lory de
Vasselot limped into the room after him. He was smiling and pleasant as
he always was; even, his friends said, on the battlefield.
He looked at Denise, met her eyes for a moment and turned to bow with
grave politeness to Gilbert. It was, oddly enough, the colonel who
brought forward a chair for the wounded man.
"Sit down," he said curtly.
"These are my witnesses, Monsieur le Notaire," said Mademoiselle Brun.
The abbe was rubbing his thin, brown hands together, and contemplating
the notary's table as a greedy man might contemplate a laden board. The
notary himself was looking from one to the other. There was something in
the atmosphere which he did not understand. It was, perhaps, the presence
in the room of a cleverer head than his own, and he did not know upon
whose shoulders to locate it. Denise, whose nature was frank and
straightforward, was looking at Lory--looking him reflectively up and
down--as a mother might look at a son of whose health she refrains from
asking. Mademoiselle was gazing at the blank space on the wall, and the
colonel was looking at mademoiselle with an odd smile.
He was standing in the embrasure of the window, and at this moment
glanced at his watch. The notary looked at him inquiringly; for his
attitude seemed to indicate that he expected some one else. And at this
moment the music of a military band burst upon their ears. The colonel
looked over his shoulder down into the street. He had his watch in his
hand. De Vasselot rose instantly and went to the window. He stood beside
the colonel, and those in the notary's office could see that they were
talking quickly and gravely together, though the music drowned their
voices. Behind them, on the notary's table, lay their differences; in
front lay that which bound them together with the strongest ties between
man and man--their honour and the honour of France. The music died away,
followed by the diminishing sound of steady feet. All in the room were
silent for a few moments, until the two soldiers turned from the window
and came towards the table.
Then the notary spoke:--
"Mademoiselle has but to sign here," he repeated.
He indicated the exact spot, dipped the pen in the ink, and handed it to
Denise. She took the pen and half turned towards Lory, as if she knew
that he would be the next to speak and wished him to understand once and
for all that he would speak in vain.
"Mademoiselle cannot sign there," he said.
Denise dipped the pen into the ink again, but she did not sign.
"Why not?" she asked without looking round, her hand still resting on the
"Because," answered Lory, addressing her directly, "Perucca is not yours
to sell. It is mine."
Denise turned and looked straight at Colonel Gilbert. She had never been
quite sure of him. He had never appeared to her to be quite in earnest.
His face showed no surprise now. He had known this all along, and did not
even take the trouble to feign astonishment. The notary gave a polite,
incredulous, legal laugh.
"That is an old story, Monsieur le Comte."
At which point Susini so far forgot himself as to make use of a rude
local method of showing contempt in pretending to spit upon the notary's
"It is as old as you please," answered Lory, half turning towards
Gilbert, who in his turn made a gesture in the direction of the notary,
as if to say that the lawyer had received his instructions and knew how
"Of course," said the notary in a judicial voice, "we are aware that the
conveyance of the Perucca estate by the late Count de Vasselot to the
late Mattei Perucca lacked formality; many conveyances in Corsica lacked
formality in the beginning of the century. In many cases possession is
the only title-deed. We can point to a possession lasting over many
years, which carries the more weight from the fact that the late count
and his neighbour Monsieur Perucca were notoriously on bad terms. If the
count had been able, he would no doubt have evicted from Perucca a
neighbour so unsympathetic."
"You seem," said de Vasselot, quickly, "to be prepared for my objection."
The notary spread out his hands in a gesture that conveyed assent.
"And if I had not come?"
"I regret to say, Monsieur le Comte, that your presence here bears little
upon the transaction in hand. You are only a witness. Mademoiselle will
no doubt complete the document now."
And the notary again handed Denise a pen.
"Hardly upon a title-deed which consists of possession only."
"Pardon me, but you have even less," said the notary. "If I may remind
you of it, you have probably no title-deeds to Vasselot itself since the
burning of the chateau."
"There you are wrong," answered Lory, quietly. And the abbe snapped both
fingers and thumbs in a double-barrelled _feu de joie_.
"The count may have possessed title-deeds before his death, thirty years
ago," said the notary, with that polite patience in argument which the
certain winner alone can compass.
Then the colonel's quiet voice broke into the conversation. His manner
was politely indifferent, and seemed to plead for peace at any cost.
"I should much like to be done with these formalities," he said--"if I
may be allowed to suggest a little promptitude. The troops are moving, as
you have heard. In an hour's time I sail for Marseilles with these men.
Let us finish with the signatures."
"Let us, on the contrary, delay signing until the war is over," suggested
"You cannot bring your father to life again, monsieur, and you cannot
manufacture title-deeds. Your father, the notary tells us, has been dead
thirty years, and the Chateau de Vasselot has been burnt with all the
papers in it. You have no case at all."
Lory was unbuttoning his tunic, awkwardly with one hand.
"But the notary is wrong," he said. "The Chateau de Vasselot was burnt,
it is true, but here are the title-deeds. My father did not die thirty
years ago, but yesterday morning, in my arms."
Gilbert smiled gently. His innate politeness obviously forbade him to
laugh at this absurd story.
"Then where has he been all these years?" he inquired with a
"In the Chateau de Vasselot."
There was a dead silence for a moment, broken at length by a movement on
the part of Mademoiselle Brun. In her abrupt way she struck herself on
the forehead as a fool.
"Yes," testified Susini, brusquely, "that is where he has been."
Denise remembered ever afterwards, that Lory did not look at her at this
moment of his complete justification. It was now, and only for a moment,
that Colonel Gilbert lost his steady imperturbability. From the time that