Part 5 out of 5
Lory de Vasselot entered the room he had known that he had inevitably
failed. From that instant the only question in his mind had been that of
how much his enemies knew. It could not be chance that brought de
Vasselot, and the Abbe Susini, and Mademoiselle Brun together to meet him
at that time. He had been out-manoeuvred by some one of the three, and he
shrewdly suspected by whom. There was nothing to do but face it--and he
faced it with a calm audacity. He simply ignored mademoiselle's blinking
glance. He met de Vasselot's quick eyes without fear, and smiled coolly
in the abbe's fiery face. But when Denise turned and looked at him with
direct and honest eyes, his own wavered, and for a brief instant he saw
himself as Denise saw him--the bitterest moment of his life. The esteem
of the many is nothing compared to the esteem of one.
In a moment he recovered himself and turned towards Lory with his lazy
"Even to a romance there must be some motive," he said. "One naturally
wonders why your father should allow his enemy to keep possession of a
house and estate which were not his, and why he himself should remain
concealed in the Chateau de Vasselot."
"That is the affair of my father. There was that between him and Mattei
Perucca, which neither you nor I, monsieur, have any business to
investigate. There are the title-deeds. You have a certain right to look
at them. You are therefore at liberty to satisfy yourself that you cannot
buy the Perucca estate from Mademoiselle Lange, because it does not
belong to Mademoiselle Lange, and never has belonged to her! A fact of
which you may have been aware."
"You seem to know much."
"I know more than you suspect," answered de Vasselot. "I know, for
instance, your reason for desiring to buy land on the western slope of
By way of reply, de Vasselot laid upon the table in front of Colonel
Gilbert, the nugget no larger than a pigeon's egg, that Mademoiselle Brun
had found in the _debris_ of the landslip. The colonel looked at it, and
gave a short laugh. He was too indolent a man to feel an acute curiosity.
But there were many questions he would have liked to ask at that moment.
He knew that de Vasselot was only the spokesman of another who
deliberately remained in the background. Lory had not found the gold, he
had not pieced together with the patience of a clocksmith the wheels
within wheels that Colonel Gilbert had constructed through the careful
years. The whole story had been handed to him whom it most concerned,
complete in itself like a barrister's brief, and de Vasselot was not
setting it forth with much skill, but bluntly, simply and generously like
"Surely I have said enough," were his next words, and it is possible that
the colonel and Mademoiselle Brun alone understood the full meaning of
"Yes, monsieur," said Gilbert at length, "I think you have."
And he moved towards the door in an odd, sidelong way. He had taken only
three steps, when he swung round on his heel with a sharp exclamation.
The Abbe Susini, with blazing eyes--half mad with rage--had flown at him
like a terrier.
"Ah!" said the colonel, catching him by the two wrists, and holding him
at arm's length with steady northern nerve and muscle. "I know you
Corsicans too well to turn my back to one."
He threw the abbe back, so that the little man fell heavily against the
table; Susini recovered himself with the litheness of a wild animal, but
when he flew at the closed door again it was Denise who stood in front of
"I do believe yourself against yourself,
And will henceforward rather die than doubt."
All eyes were now turned on the notary, who was hurriedly looking through
the papers thrown down before him by Lory.
"They have passed through my hands before, when I was a youth, in
connection with a boundary dispute," he said, as if to explain his
apparent hastiness. "They are all here--they are correct, monsieur."
He was a very quick man, and folding the papers as he spoke, he tied them
together with the faded pink tape which had been fingered by three
generations of Vasselots. He laid the packet on the table close to Lory's
hand. Then he glanced at Denise and fell into thought, arranging in his
mind that which he had to say to her.
"It is one of those cases, mademoiselle," he said at length, "common
enough in Corsica, where a verbal agreement has never been confirmed in
writing. Men who have been friends, become enemies so easily in this
country. I cannot tell you upon what terms Mattei Perucca lived in the
Casa. No one can tell you that. All that we know is that we have no
title-deeds--and that monsieur has them. The Casa may be yours, but you
cannot prove it. Such a case tried in a law court in Corsica would go in
favour of the litigant who possessed the greater number of friends in the
locality. It would go in your favour if it could be tried here. But it
would need to go to France. And there we could only look for justice, and
justice is on the side of monsieur."
He apologized, as it were, for justice, of which he made himself the
representative in that room. Then he turned towards de Vasselot.
"Monsieur is well within his rights--" he said, significantly, "--if he
insist on them."
"I insist on them," replied Lory, who was proud of Denise's pride.
And Denise laughed.
The notary turned and looked curiously at her.
"Mademoiselle is able to be amused."
"I was thinking of the Rue du Cherche-Midi in Paris," she said, and the
explanation left the lawyer more puzzled than before. She took up her
gloves and drew them on.
"Then I am rendered penniless, monsieur?" she asked the notary.
"By me," answered Lory. And even the notary was silent. It is hard to
silence a man who lives by his tongue. But there were here, it seemed,
understandings and misunderstandings which the lawyer failed to
The Abbe Susini had crossed the room and was whispering something
hurriedly to Mademoiselle Brun, who acquiesced curtly and rather angrily.
She had the air of the man at the wheel, to whom one must not speak. For
she was endeavouring rather nervously to steer two high-sailed vessels
through those shoals and quicksands that must be passed by all who set
out in quest of love.
Then the abbe turned impulsively to Lory.
"Mademoiselle must be told about the gold--she must be told," he said.
"I had forgotten the gold," answered Lory, quite truthfully.
"You have forgotten everything, except the eyes of mademoiselle," the
abbe muttered to himself as he went back to his place near the window. De
Vasselot took up the packet of papers and began to untie the tape
awkwardly with his one able hand. He was so slow that Mademoiselle Brun
leant forward and assisted him. Denise bit her lip and pushed a chair
towards him with her foot. He sat down and unfolded a map coloured and
drawn in queer angles. This he laid upon the table, and, by a gesture,
called Mademoiselle Brun and Denise to look at it. The abbe took a pencil
from the notary's table, and after studying the map for a moment he drew
a careful circle in the centre of it, embracing portions of the various
colours and of the two estates described respectively as Perucca and
"That," he said to Lory, "is the probable radius of it so far as the
expert could tell me on his examination of the ground yesterday."
Lory turned to Denise.
"You must think us all mad--at our games of cross-purposes," he said. "It
appears that there is gold in the two estates--and gold has accounted for
most human madnesses. Where the abbe has drawn this line there lies the
gold--beyond the dreams of avarice, mademoiselle. And Colonel Gilbert was
the only man who knew it. So you understand Gilbert, at all events."
"You did not know it when I asked your advice in Paris?"
"I learnt it two hours ago from the Abbe Susini; so I hastened here to
claim the whole of it," answered Lory, with a laugh.
But Denise was grave.
"But you knew that Perucca was never mine," she persisted.
"Yes, I knew that, but then Perucca was valueless. So soon as I knew its
value, I reclaimed it."
"I warn Monsieur de Vasselot that such frankness is imprudent; he may
regret it," put in the notary with a solemn face. And Denise gave him a
glance of withering pity. The poor man, it seemed, was quite at sea.
"Thank you," laughed de Vasselot. "I only judge myself as the world will
judge me. You were very rich, mademoiselle, and I have made you very
Denise glanced at him, and said nothing. And de Vasselot's breath came
"But the Casa Perucca is at your disposal so long as you may choose
to live there," he continued. "My father is to be buried at Olmeta
to-morrow, but I cannot even remain to attend the funeral. So I need not
assure you that I do not want the Casa Perucca for myself."
"Where are you going?" asked Denise, bluntly.
"Back to France. I have heard news that makes it necessary for me to
return. Gambetta has escaped from Paris in a balloon, and is organizing
affairs at Tours. We may yet make a defence."
"You?" said Mademoiselle Brun. Into the one word she threw, or attempted
to throw, a world of contempt, as she looked him up and down, with his
arm in a sling, and his wounded leg bent awkwardly to one side; but her
eyes glittered. This was a man after her own heart.
"One has one's head left, mademoiselle," answered Lory. Then he turned to
the window, and held up one hand. "Listen!" he added.
It was the music of a second regiment marching down the Boulevard du
Palais, towards the port, and, as it approached, it was rendered almost
inaudible by the shouts of the men themselves, and of the crowd that
cheered them. De Vasselot went to the window and opened it, his face
twitching, and his eyes shining with excitement.
"Listen to them," he said. "Listen to them. Ah! but it is good to hear
Instinctively the others followed him, and stood grouped in the open
window, looking down into the street. The band was now passing, clanging
out the Marseillaise, and the fickle people cheered the new tricolour, as
it fluttered in the wind. Some one looked up, and perceived de Vasselot's
"Come, mon capitaine," he cried; "you are coming with us?"
Lory laughed, and shouted back--Yes--I am coming."
"See," cried a sergeant, who was gathering recruits as he went--"see!
there is one who has fought, and is going to fight again! Vive la France,
mes enfants! Who comes? Who comes?"
And the soldiers, looking up, gave a cheer for the wounded man who was to
lead them. They passed on, followed by a troup of young men and boys,
half of whom ultimately stepped on board the steamer at the last moment,
and went across the sea to fight for France.
De Vasselot turned away from the window, and went towards the table,
where the papers lay in confusion. The abbe took them up, and began to
arrange them in order.
"And the estate and the gold?" he said; "who manages that, since you are
going to fight?"
"You," replied de Vasselot, "since you cannot fight. There is no one but
you in Corsica who can manage it. There is none but you to understand
"All the world knows who manages half of Corsica," put in Mademoiselle
Brun, looking fiercely at the abbe. But the abbe only stamped his foot
"Woman's gossip," he muttered, as he shook the papers together. "Yes; I
will manage your estate if you like. And if there is gold in the land, I
will tear it out. And there is gold. The amiable colonel is not the man
to have made a mistake on that point. I shall like the work. It will be
an occupation. It will serve to fill one's life."
"Your life is not empty," said mademoiselle.
The abbe turned and looked at her, his glittering eyes meeting her
"It is a priest's life," he said. "Come," he added, turning to the
lawyer--"come, Mr. the Notary, into your other room, and write me out a
form of authority for the Count de Vasselot to sign. We have had enough
of verbal agreements on this estate."
And, taking the notary by the arm, he went to the door. On the threshold
he turned, and looked at Mademoiselle Brun.
"A priest's life," he said, "or an old woman's. It is the same thing."
And Lory was left alone with mademoiselle and Denise. The window was
still open, and from the port the sound of the military music reached
their ears faintly. Mademoiselle rose, and went to the window, where
she stood looking out. Her eyes were dim as she looked across the
sordid street, but her lips were firm, and the hands that rested on the
window-sill quite steady. She had played consistently a strong and
careful game. Was she going to win or lose? She held that, next to being
a soldier, it is good to be a soldier's wife and the mother of fighting
men. And when she thought of the Rue du Cherche-Midi, she was not able to
be amused, as the notary had said of Denise.
There was a short silence in the notary's office. De Vasselot was
fingering the hilt of his long cavalry sword reflectively. After a moment
he glanced across at Denise. He was placed as it were between her and the
sword. And it was to the sword that he gave his allegiance.
"You see," he said, in a low voice, "I must go."
"Yes, you must go," she answered. She held her lip for a moment between
her teeth. Then she looked steadily at him. "Go!" she said.
He rose from his chair and looked towards Mademoiselle Bran's back. At
the rattle of his scabbard against the chair, mademoiselle turned.
"There is a horse waiting in the street below," she said--"the great
horse that Colonel Gilbert rides. It is waiting for you, I suppose."
"I suppose so," said Lory, who went to the window and looked curiously
down. Gilbert was certainly an odd man. He had left in anger, and had
left his horse for Lory to ride. He waited a moment, and then held out
his hand to Mademoiselle Brun. All three seemed to move and speak under a
sort of oppression. It was one of those moments that impress themselves
indelibly on the memory--a moment when words are suddenly useless--when
the memory of an attitude and of a silence remains all through life.
"Good-bye, mademoiselle," said Lory, with a sudden cheerfulness; "we
shall meet in France next time."
Mademoiselle Brun held out her shrinking little hand.
"Yes, in France," she answered.
To Denise, Lory said nothing. He merely shook hands with her. Then he
walked towards the door, haltingly. He used his sword like a walking
stick, with his one able hand. Denise had to open the door for him. He
was on the threshold, when Mademoiselle Brun stopped him.
"Monsieur de Vasselot," she said, "when the soldiers went past, you and
Colonel Gilbert spoke together hurriedly; I saw you. You are not going to
"Yes, mademoiselle, we are going to fight--the Prussians. We are friends
while we have a common enemy. When there is no enemy--who knows? He has
received a great appointment in France, and has offered me a post under
him. And I have accepted it."
A BALANCED ACCOUNT.
"Let the end try the man."
Bad news, it is said, travels fast. But in France good news travels
faster, and it is the evil tidings that lag behind. It is part of a
Frenchman's happy nature to believe that which he wishes to be true. And
although the news travelled rapidly, that Gambetta--that spirit of an
unquenchable hope--had escaped from Paris with full power to conduct the
war from Tours, the notification that the army of de la Motterouge had
melted away before the advance of von der Tann, did not reach Lory de
Vasselot until he passed to the north of Marseilles with his handful of
That a general, so stricken in years as de la Motterouge, should have
been chosen for the command of the first army of the Loire, spoke
eloquently enough of the straits in which France found herself at this
time. For this was the only army of the Government of National Defence,
the _debris_ of Sedan, the hope of France. General de la Motterouge had
fought in the Crimea: "Peu de feu et beaucoup de bayonette" had been his
maxim then. But the Crimea was fifteen years earlier, and de la
Motterouge was now an old man. Before the superior numbers and the
perfectly drilled and equipped army of von der Tann, what could he do but
Thus, on their arrival in France, Colonel Gilbert and Lory de Vasselot
were greeted with the news that Orleans had fallen into the hands of the
enemy. It was the same story of incompetence pitted against perfect
organization--order and discipline meeting and vanquishing ill-considered
bravery. All the world knows now that France should have capitulated
after Sedan. But the world knows also that Paris need never have fallen,
could France only have produced one mediocre military genius in this her
moment of need. The capital was indeed surrounded, cut off from all the
world; but the surrounding line was so thin that good generalship from
within could have pierced it, and there was an eager army of brave men
waiting to join issue from the Loire.
It was to this army of the Loire that Colonel Gilbert and de Vasselot
were accredited. And it was an amateur army. It came from every part of
France, and in its dress it ran to the picturesque. Franctireurs de
Cannes rubbed shoulders with Mobiles from the far northern departments.
Spahis and Zouaves from Africa bivouacked with fair-haired men whose
native tongue was German. There were soldiers who had followed the drum
all their lives, and there were soldiers who did not know how to load
their chassepots. There were veteran non-commissioned officers hurriedly
drilling embryo priests; and young gentlemen from St. Cyr trying to form
in line grey-headed peasants who wore sabots. There were fancy soldiers
and picturesque fighters, who joined a regiment because its costume
appealed to their conception of patriotism. And if a man prefers to fight
for his country in the sombrero and cloak of a comic-opera brigand, what
boots it so long as he fights well? It must be remembered, moreover, that
it is quite as painful to die under a sombrero as under a plainer
covering. A man who wears such clothes sees the picturesque side of life,
and may therefore hold existence as dear as more practical persons who
take little heed of their appearance. For when the time came these
gentlemen fought well enough, and ruined their picturesque get-up with
their own blood. And if they shouted very loud in the cafe, they shouted,
Heaven knows, as loud on the battle-field, when they faced those hated,
deadly, steady Bavarians, and died shouting.
Of such material was the army of the Loire; and when Chanzy came to them
from North Africa--that Punjaub of this stricken India from whence the
strong men came when they were wanted--when Chanzy came to lead them,
they commanded the respect of all the world. For these were men fighting
a losing fight, without hope of victory, for the honour of France. They
fought with a deadly valour against superior numbers behind
entrenchments; they endeavoured to turn the Germans out of insignificant
villages after allowing them time to fortify the position. They fought in
the open against an invisible enemy superior in numbers, superior in
artillery, and here and there they gained a pitiful little hard-earned
De Vasselot, still unable to go to the front, was put to train these men
in a little quiet town on the Loire, where he lodged with a shoemaker,
and worked harder than any man in that sunny place had ever worked
before. It was his business to gather together such men as could sit a
horse, and teach them to be cavalry soldiers. But first of all he taught
them that the horse was an animal possessing possibilities far beyond
their most optimistic conception of that sagacious but foolish quadruped.
He taught them a hundred tricks of heel and wrist, by which a man may
convey to a horse that which he wishes him to do. He made the horse and
the man understand each other, and when they did this he sent them to the
In the meantime France fed herself upon false news and magnified small
successes into great victories. Gambetta made many eloquent speeches, and
issued fiery manifestoes to the soldiers; but speeches and manifestoes do
not win battles. Paris hoped all things of the army of the Loire, and the
army of the Loire expected a successful sortie from Paris. And those men
of iron, Bismarck, Moltke, and the emperor, sat at Versailles and waited.
While they waited the winter came.
De Vasselot, who had daily attempted to use his wounded limbs, at length
found himself fit for active service, and got permission to join the
army. Gilbert was no longer a colonel. He was a general now, and
commanded a division which had already made its mark upon that man of
misfortune--von der Tann, a great soldier with no luck.
One frosty morning de Vasselot rode out of the little town upon the Loire
at the head of a handful of his newly trained men. He was going to take
up his appointment: for he held the command of the whole of the cavalry
of General Gilbert's division. These were days of quick promotion, of
comet-like reputations and of great careers cut short. De Vasselot had
written to Jane de Melide the previous night, telling her of his
movements in the immediate future, of his promotion, of his hopes. One
hope which he did not mention was that Denise might be at Frejus, and
would see the letter. Indeed, it was written to Denise, though it was
addressed to the Baronne de Melide.
Then he went blithely enough out to fight. For he was quite a simple
person, as many soldiers and many horse-lovers are. He was also that
which is vaguely called a sportsman, and was ready to take a legitimate
risk not only cheerfully, but with joy.
"It is my only chance of making her care for me," he said to himself. He
may have been right or wrong. There is a wisdom which is the exclusive
possession of the simple. And Lory may have known that it is wiser to
store up in a woman's mind memories that will bear honour and respect in
the future, than to make appeal to her vanity in the present. For the
love that is won by vanity is itself vanity.
He said he was fighting for France, but it was also for Denise that he
fought. France and Denise had got inextricably mixed in his mind, and
both spelt honour. His only method of making Denise love him was to make
himself worthy of her--an odd, old-fashioned theory of action, and the
only one that enables two people to love each other all their lives.
In this spirit he joined the army of the Loire before his wounds had
healed. He did not know that Denise loved him already, that she had with
a woman's instinct divined in him the spirit, quite apart from the
opportunity, to do great things. And most men have to content themselves
with being loved for this spirit and not for the performance which,
somehow, is so seldom accomplished.
And that which kept them apart was for their further happiness; it was
even for the happiness of Denise in case Lory never came back to her. For
the majority of people get what they want before they have learnt to
desire. It is only the lives of the few which are taken in hand and so
fashioned that there is a waiting and an attainment at last.
Lory and Denise were exploring roads which few are called upon to
tread--dark roads with mud and stones and many turnings, and each has a
separate road to tread and must find the way alone. But if Fate is kind
they may meet at the end without having gone astray, or, which is rarer,
without being spattered by the mud. For those mud-stains will never rub
off and never be forgotten. Which is a hard saying, but a true one.
Lory had left Denise without any explanation of these things. He had
never thought of sparing her by the simple method of neglecting his
obvious duty. In his mind she was the best of God's creations--a woman
strong to endure. That was sufficient for him; and he turned his
attention to his horses and his men. He never saw the background to his
own life. It is usually the onlooker who sees that, just as a critic sees
more in a picture than the painter ever put there.
Lory hardly knew of these questions himself. He only half thought of
them, and Denise, far away in Provence, thought the other half. Which is
Lory took part in the fighting after Orleans and risked his life freely,
as he ever did when opportunity offered. He was more than an officer, he
was a leader. And it is better to show the way than to point it out.
Although his orders came from General Gilbert, he had never met his
commanding officer since quitting the little sunny town on the Loire
where he had recovered from his wounds. It was only after Chateaudun and
after the Coulmiers that they met, and it was only in a small affair
after all, the attempted recapture of a village taken and hurriedly
fortified by the Germans. It was a night-attack. The army of the Loire
was rather fond of night-fighting; for the night equalizes matters
between discipline and mere bravery. Also, if your troops are bad, they
may as well be beaten in the dark as in the daylight. The survivors come
away with a better heart. Also, discipline is robbed of half its strength
by the absence of daylight.
Cavalry, it is known, are no good at night; for horses are nervous and
will whinny to friend or foe when silence is imperative. And yet Lory
received orders to take part in this night-attack. Stranger things than
that were ordered and carried out in the campaign on the Loire. All the
rules of warfare were outraged, and those warriors who win and lose
battles on paper cannot explain many battles that were lost and won
during that winter.
There was a moon, and the ground was thinly covered with snow. It was
horribly cold when the men turned out and silently rode to the spot
indicated in the orders. These were quite clear, and they meant death. De
Vasselot had practically to lead a forlorn hope. A fellow-officer laughed
when the instructions were read to him.
"The general must be an enemy of yours," he said. And the thought had not
occurred to Lory before.
"No," he replied, "he is a sportsman."
"It is poor sport for us," muttered the officer, riding away.
But Lory was right. For when the moment came and he was waiting with his
troopers behind a farm building, a scout rode in to say that
reinforcements were coming. As these rode across the open in the
moonlight, it was apparent that they were not numerous; for cavalry was
scarce since Eeichshofen. They were led by a man on a big horse, who was
comfortably muffled up in a great fur-coat.
"De Vasselot," he said in a pleasant voice, as Lory went forward to meet
him. "De Vasselot, I have brought a few more to help you. We must make a
great splash on this side, while the real attack is on the other. We must
show them the way--you and I." And Gilbert laughed quietly.
It was not the moment for greetings. Lory gave a few hurried orders in a
low voice, and the new-comers fell into line. They were scarcely in place
when the signal was given. A moment later they were galloping across the
open towards the village--a sight to lift any heart above the thought of
Then the fire opened--a flash of flame like fork-lightning running along
the ground--a crashing volley which mowed the assailants like a scythe.
Lory and Gilbert were both down, side by side. Lory, active as a cat, was
on his legs in a moment and leapt away from the flying heels of his
wounded horse. A second volley blazed into the night, and Lory dropped a
second time. He moved a little, and cursed his luck. With difficulty he
raised himself on his elbow.
"Gilbert," he said, "Gilbert."
He dragged himself towards the general, who was lying on his back.
"Gilbert," he said, with his mouth close to the other's ear, "we should
have been friends, you know, all the same, but the luck was against us.
It is not for one to judge the other. Do you hear? Do you hear?"
Gilbert lay quite still, staring at the moon with his easy, contemplative
smile. His right arm was raised and his great sabre held aloft to show
the way, as he had promised, now pointed silently to heaven.
Lory raised himself again, the blood running down his sleeve over his
"Gilbert," he repeated, "do you understand?" Then he fell unconscious
across the general's breast.
THE BEGINNING AND THE END.
"I gave--no matter what I gave--I win."
The careful student will find in the back numbers of the _Deutsche
Rundschau_, that excellent family magazine, the experiences of a German
military doctor with the army of General von der Tann. The story is one
touched by that deep and occasionally maudlin spirit of sentimentality
which finds a home in hearts that beat for the Fatherland. Its most
thrilling page is the description of the finding, by the narrator, of the
body of a general officer during a sharp night engagement, across which
body was lying a wounded cavalry colonel, who had evidently devoted
himself to the defence of his comrade in arms.
The reminiscent doctor makes good use of such compound words as
"brother-love" and "though-superior-in-rank-yet-comrade-in-arms-and-
companions-in-death-affectionate," which linguistic facility enables the
German writer to build up as he progresses in his narration words of a
phenomenal calibre, and bowl the reader over, so to speak, at a long
range. He finishes by mentioning that the general was named Gilbert, a
man of colossal engineering skill, while the wounded officer was the
Count Lory de Vasselot, grandson of one of Napoleon's most dashing
cavalry leaders. The doctor finishes right there, as the Americans say,
and quite forgets to note the fact that he himself picked up de Vasselot
under a spitting cross-fire, carried him into his own field hospital and
there tended him. Which omission proves that to find a brave and kind
heart it is not necessary to consider what outer uniform may cover, or
guttural tongue distinguish, the inner man.
Lory was shot in two places again, and the doctors who attended him
laughed when they saw the old wounds hardly yet healed. He would be lame
for years, they said, perhaps for life. He had a bullet in his right
shoulder and another had shattered his ankle. Neither was dangerous, but
his fighting days were done, at all events for this campaign.
"You will not fight against us again," said the doctor, with a smile on
his broad Saxon features, and in execrable French, which was not improved
by the scissors that he held between his lips.
"Not in this war, perhaps," answered the patient, hopefully.
Again the tide of war moved on; and, daily, the cold increased. But its
chill was nothing to that cold, slow death of hope that numbed all
France. For it became momentarily more apparent that those at the head of
affairs were incompetent--that the man upon whom hope had been placed was
nothing but a talker, a man of words, an orator, a wind-bag. France, who
has usually led the way in the world's progress, had entered upon that
period of words--that Age of Talk--in which she still labours, and which
must inevitably be the ruin of all her greatness.
For two weeks Lory lay in the improvised German field hospital in that
remote village, and made the astounding progress towards recovery which
is the happy privilege of the light-hearted. It is said among soldiers
that a foe is no longer a foe when he is down, and de Vasselot found
himself among friends.
The German doctor wrote a letter for him.
"It will be good practice for my French," said the artless Teuton, quite
frankly. And the letter was sent, but never reached its destination. Lory
could learn no news, however. In war there are, not two, but three sides
to a question. Each combatant has one, and Truth has the third, which she
often locks up for ever in her quiet breast.
At last, one morning quite early, a horseman dismounted at the door of
the house in the village street, where the hospital flag hung lazily in
the still, frosty air "It is a civilian," said an attendant, in
astonishment, so rare was the sight of a plain coat at this time. There
followed a conversation in muffled voices in the entrance hall; not a
French conversation in many tones of voice--but a quiet Teutonic talk as
between Germans and Englishmen. Then the door opened, and a man came into
the room, removing a fur coat as he came. He was a tall, impassive man,
well dressed, wearing a tweed suit and a single eye-glass. He might have
been an Englishman. He was, however, the Baron de Melide, and his manner
had that repose which belongs to the new aristocracy of France and to the
shreds that remain, here and there, of the old.
"Left my ambulance to subordinates," he explained as he shook Lory's
hand. "Humanity is an excellent quality, but one's friends come first. It
has taken me some time to find you. Have procured your parole for you.
You are quite useless, they say,"--the baron eyed Lory with a calm and
experienced glance as he spoke--"so they release you on parole. They are
not generous, but they have an enormous common sense."
The doctor, who understood French, laughed good-naturedly, and the baron
twisted his waxed moustache and looked slightly uncomfortable. He was
conscious of having said the wrong thing as usual.
And all the while de Vasselot was talking and laughing, and commenting on
his friend's appearance and clothes, and goodness of heart--all in a
breath, as was his manner. Also he found time to ask a hundred questions
which the stupid would take at least a week to answer, but his answer to
each would be the right one.
It was during the great cold of the early days of January, that the
baron and Lory turned their backs on that bitter valley of the Loire.
They had a cross-journey to Lyons, and there joined a main line train, in
which they fell asleep to awake in the brilliant sunshine, amid the cool
grey-greens, the bare rocks and dark cypresses of the south. After
Marseilles the journey became tedious again.
"Heavens!" cried Lory, impatiently, "what a delay! Why need they stop at
this little station at all?"
The baron made no reply just then. The train travelled five miles while
he stared thoughtfully at the grey hills. It was six months since he had
seen the vivacious lady who was supposed by this one-eyed world to rule
"After all," he said at length, "Frejus is a little station."
For the baron was a philosopher.
When at last they reached the quiet tree-grown station, where even to
this day so few trains stop, and so insignificant a business is
transacted, they found the Baroness de Melide on the platform awaiting
them. She was in black, as were all Frenchwomen at this time. She gave an
odd little laugh at the sight of her husband, and immediately held her
lip between her teeth, as if she were afraid that her laugh might change
to something else.
"Ah!" she said, "how hungry you both look--and yet you must have lunched
She looked curiously from one drawn face to the other as the baron helped
Lory to descend.
"Hungry," she repeated with a reflective nod. "Perhaps your precious
France does not satisfy."
And as she led the way to the carriage there was a gleam, almost fierce,
of triumph in her eyes.
The arrival at the chateau was uneventful. Mademoiselle Brun said no word
at all; but stood a little aside with folded hands and watched. Denise,
young and slim in her black dress, shook hands and said that she was
afraid the travellers must be tired after their long journey.
"Why should Denise think that I was tired?" the baron inquired later, as
he was opening his letters in the study.
"Mon ami," replied the baroness, "she did not think you were tired, and
did not care whether you were or not."
Lory had the same room assigned to him that opened on to the verandah
where heliotrope and roses and Bougainvilliers contended for the mastery.
Outside his windows were placed the same table and long chair, and beside
the last the other chair where Denise had sat--which had been placed
there by Fate. The butler was, it appeared, a man of few ideas. He had
arranged everything as before.
After his early coffee Lory went to the verandah and lay down by that
empty chair. It was a brilliant morning, with a light keen air which has
not its equal all the world over. The sun was powerful enough to draw the
scent from the pinewoods, and the sea-breeze swept it up towards the
mountains. Lory waited alone in the verandah all the morning. After
luncheon the baron assisted him back to his long chair, and all the party
came there and drank coffee. Coffee was one of Mademoiselle Brun's
solaces in life. "It makes existence bearable," she said--"if it is hot
enough." But she finished her cup quickly and went away. The baron was
full of business. He received a score of letters during the day. At any
moment the preliminaries of peace might now be signed. He had not even
time for a cigarette. The baroness sat for some minutes looking at Lory,
endeavouring to make him meet her shrewd eyes; but he was looking out
over the plain of Les Arcs. Denise had not sat down, but was standing
rather restlessly at the edge of the verandah near the heliotrope which
clambered up the supports. She had picked a piece of the delicate flower
and was idly smelling it.
At last the baroness rose and walked away without any explanation at all.
After a few minutes, which passed slowly in silence, Denise turned and
came slowly towards Lory. The chair had never been occupied. She sat down
and looked away from him. Her face, still delicately sunburnt, was
flushed. Then she turned, and her eyes as they met his were stricken with
"I did not understand," she said. And she must have been referring to
their conversation in that same spot months before. She was either
profoundly ignorant of the world or profoundly indifferent to it. She
ought, of course, to have made some safe remark about the weather. She
ought to have distrusted Lory. But he seemed to know her meaning without
"I think a great many people never understand, mademoiselle."
"It has taken me a long time--nearly four months," said Denise,
reflectively. "But I understood quite suddenly at Bastia--when the
soldiers passed the notary's office. I understood then what life is and
what it is meant to be."
Lory looked up at her for a moment,
"That is because you are nearer heaven than I am," he said.
"But it was you who taught me, not heaven," said Denise. "You said--well,
you remember what you said, perhaps--and then immediately after you
denied me the first thing I asked you. You knew what was right, and I did
not. You have always known what was right, and have always done it. I see
that now as I look back. So I have learnt my lesson, you see." She
concluded with a grave smile. Life is full of gravity, but love is the
gravest part of it.
"Not from me," persisted Lory.
"Yes, from you. Suppose you had done what I asked you. Suppose you had
not gone to the war again, what would have become of our lives?"
"Perhaps," suggested Lory, "we have both to learn from each other.
Perhaps it is a long lesson and will take all our lives. I think we are
only beginning it. And perhaps I opened the book when I told you that I
loved you, here in the verandah!"
Denise turned and looked at him with a smile full of pity, and touched
with that contempt which women sometimes bestow upon men for
understanding so little of life.
"Mon Dieu!" she said, "I loved you long before that."
The sun was setting behind the distant Esterelles--those low and lonesome
mountains clad from foot to summit in pine--when Mademoiselle Brun came
out into the garden. She had to pass across the verandah, and
instinctively turned to look towards that end of it where de Vasselot had
come a second time to lie in the sun and heal his wounds--a man who had
fought a good fight.
Denise was holding out a spray of heliotrope towards Lory and he had
taken, not the flower, but her hand: and thus without a word and
unconsciously they told their whole story to mademoiselle.
The little old woman walked on without showing that she had seen and
understood. She was not an expansive person.
She sat down at the corner of the lowest terrace and with blinking eyes
stared across the great plain of Les Arcs, where north and south meet,
where the palm tree and the pine grow side by side, towards the
Esterelles and the setting sun. The sky was clear, but for a few little
puffs of cloud low down towards the west, like a flock of sheep ready to
go home, waiting for the gate to open.
Mademoiselle's thin lips were moving as if she were whispering to the God
whom she served with such a remarkable paucity of words. It may have been
that she was muttering a sort of grim _Nunc Dimittis_--she who had seen
so many wars. "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace."