Infomotions, Inc.When Valmond Came to Pontiac, Complete / Parker, Gilbert, 1860-1932



Author: Parker, Gilbert, 1860-1932
Title: When Valmond Came to Pontiac, Complete
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): valmond; parpon; lagroin; elise; madame chalice; pontiac; monsieur; napoleon; monsieur garon; dalgrothe mountain; monsieur valmond; young seigneur; madame; louis quinze; madame degardy; elise malboir; cure; valmond came; vive napoleon
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Title: When Valmond Came to Pontiac, Complete

Author: Gilbert Parker

Release Date: October 18, 2006 [EBook #6205]

Language: English

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK VALMOND TO PONTIAC ***




Produced by David Widger





WHEN VALMOND CAME TO PONTIAC, Complete

The Story of a Lost Napoleon

By Gilbert Parker


INTRODUCTION

In one sense this book stands by itself. It is like nothing else I have
written, and if one should seek to give it the name of a class, it might
be called an historical fantasy.

It followed The Trail of the Sword and preceded The Seats of the Mighty,
and appeared in the summer of 1895. The critics gave it a reception which
was extremely gratifying, because, as it seemed to me, they realised what
I was trying to do; and that is a great deal. One great journal said it
read as though it had been written at a sitting; another called it a tour
de force, and the grave Athenaeum lauded it in a key which was likely to
make me nervous, since it seemed to set a standard which I should find it
hard to preserve in the future. But in truth the newspaper was right
which said that the book read as though it was written at a sitting, and
that it was a tour de force. The facts are that the book was written,
printed, revised, and ready for press in five weeks.

The manuscript of the book was complete within four weeks. It possessed
me. I wrote night and day. There were times when I went to bed and,
unable to sleep, I would get up at two o'clock or three o'clock in the
morning and write till breakfast time. A couple of hours' walk after
breakfast, and I would write again until nearly two o'clock. Then
luncheon; afterwards a couple of hours in the open air, and I would again
write till eight o'clock in the evening. The world was shut out. I moved
in a dream. The book was begun at Hot Springs, in Virginia, in the annex
to the old Hot Springs Hotel. I could not write in the hotel itself, so I
went to the annex, and in the big building--in the early spring-time--I
worked night and day. There was no one else in the place except the old
negro caretaker and his wife. Four-fifths of the book was written in
three weeks there. Then I went to New York, and at the Lotus Club, where
I had a room, I finished it--but not quite. There were a few pages of the
book to do when I went for my walk in Fifth Avenue one afternoon. I could
not shake the thing off, the last pages demanded to be written. The
sermon which the old Cure was preaching on Valmond's death was running in
my head. I could not continue my walk. Then and there I stepped into the
Windsor Hotel, which I was passing, and asked if there was a stenographer
at liberty. There was. In the stenographer's office of the Windsor Hotel,
with the life of a caravanserai buzzing around me, I dictated the last
few pages of When Valmond Came to Pontiac. It was practically my only
experience of dictation of fiction. I had never been able to do it, and
have not been able to do it since, and I am glad that it is so, for I
should have a fear of being led into mere rhetoric. It did not, however,
seem to matter with this book. It wrote itself anywhere. The proofs of
the first quarter of the book were in my hands before I had finished
writing the last quarter.

It took me a long time to recover from the great effort of that five
weeks, but I never regretted those consuming fires which burned up sleep
and energy and ravaged the vitality of my imagination. The story was
founded on the incident described in the first pages of the book, which
was practically as I experienced it when I was a little child. The
picture there drawn of Valmond was the memory of just such a man as stood
at the four corners in front of the little hotel and scattered his hot
pennies to the children of the village. Also, my father used to tell me
as a child a story of Napoleon, whose history he knew as well as any man
living, and something of that story may be found in the fifth chapter of
the book where Valmond promotes Sergeant Lagroin from non-commissioned
rank, first to be captain, then to be colonel, and then to be general,
all in a moment, as it were.

I cannot tell the original story as my father told it to me here, but it
was the tale of how a sergeant in the Old Guard, having shared his
bivouac supper of roasted potatoes with the Emperor, was told by Napoleon
that he should sup with his Emperor when they returned to Versailles. The
old sergeant appeared at Versailles in course of time and demanded
admittance to the Emperor, saying that he had been asked to supper. When
Napoleon was informed, he had the veteran shown in and, recognising his
comrade of the baked potatoes, said at once that the sergeant should sup
with him. The sergeant's reply was: "Sire, how can a non-commissioned
officer dine with a general?" It was then, Napoleon, delighted with the
humour and the boldness of his grenadier, summoned the Old Guard, and had
the sergeant promoted to the rank of captain on the spot.

It was these apparently incongruous things, together with legends that I
had heard and read of Napoleon, which gave me the idea of Valmond. First,
a sketch of about five thousand words was written, and it looked as
though I were going to publish it as a short story; but one day, sitting
in a drawing-room in front of a grand piano, on the back of which were a
series of miniatures of the noted women who had played their part in
Napoleon's life, the incident of the Countess of Carnstadt (I do not use
the real name) at St. Helena associated itself with the picture in my
memory of the philanthropist of the street corner. Thereupon the whole
story of a son of Napoleon, ignorant of his own birth, but knowing that a
son had been born to Napoleon at St. Helena, flitted through my
imagination; and the story spread out before me all in an hour, like an
army with banners.

The next night--for this happened in New York--I went down to Hot
Springs, Virginia, and began a piece of work which enthralled me as I had
never before been enthralled, and as I have never been enthralled in the
same way since; for it was perilous to health and mental peace.

Fantasy as it is, the book has pictures of French-Canadian life which are
as true as though the story itself was all true. Characters are in it
like Medallion, the little chemist, the avocat, Lajeunesse the
blacksmith, and Madeleinette, his daughter, which were in some of the
first sketches I ever wrote of French Canada, and subsequently appearing
in the novelette entitled The Lane That Had No Turning. Indeed, 'When
Valmond Came to Pontiac', historical fantasy as it is, has elements both
of romance and realism.

Of all the books which I have written, perhaps because it cost me so
much, because it demanded so much of me at the time of its writing, I
care for it the most. It was as good work as I could do. This much may at
least be said: that no one has done anything quite in the same way or
used the same subject, or given it the same treatment. Also it may be
said, as the Saturday Review remarked, that it contained one whole, new
idea, and that was the pathetic--unutterably pathetic--incident of a man
driven by the truth in his blood to impersonate himself.

       "Oh, withered is the garland of the war,
        The Soldier's pole is fallen."




WHEN VALMOND CAME TO PONTIAC




CHAPTER I

On one corner stood the house of Monsieur Garon the avocat; on another,
the shop of the Little Chemist; on another, the office of Medallion the
auctioneer; and on the last, the Hotel Louis Quinze. The chief
characteristics of Monsieur Garon's house were its brass door-knobs, and
the verdant vines that climbed its sides; of the Little Chemist's shop,
the perfect whiteness of the building, the rolls of sober wall-paper, and
the bottles of coloured water in the shop windows; of Medallion's, the
stoop that surrounded three sides of the building, and the notices of
sales tacked up, pasted up, on the front; of the Hotel Louis Quinze, the
deep dormer windows, the solid timbers, and the veranda that gave its
front distinction--for this veranda had been the pride of several
generations of landlords, and its heavy carving and bulky grace were
worth even more admiration than Pontiac gave to it.

The square which the two roads and the four corners made was, on
week-days, the rendezvous of Pontiac, and the whole parish; on Sunday
mornings the rendezvous was shifted to the large church on the hill,
beside which was the house of the Cure, Monsieur Fabre. Travelling
towards the south, out of the silken haze of a mid-summer day, you would
come in time to the hills of Maine; north, to the city of Quebec and the
river St. Lawrence; east, to the ocean; and west, to the Great Lakes and
the land of the English. Over this bright province Britain raised her
flag, but only Medallion and a few others loved it for its own sake, or
saluted it in the English tongue.

In the drab velvety dust of these four corners, were gathered, one night
of July a generation ago, the children of the village and many of their
elders. All the events of that epoch were dated from the evening of this
particular day. Another day of note the parish cherished, but it was
merely a grave fulfilment of the first.

Upon the veranda-stoop of the Louis Quinze stood a man of apparently
about twenty-eight years of age. When you came to study him closely, some
sense of time and experience in his look told you that he might be
thirty-eight, though his few grey hairs seemed but to emphasise a certain
youthfulness in him. His eye was full, singularly clear, almost benign,
and yet at one moment it gave the impression of resolution, at another it
suggested the wayward abstraction of the dreamer. He was well-figured,
with a hand of peculiar whiteness, suggesting in its breadth more the man
of action than of meditation. But it was a contradiction; for, as you saw
it rise and fall, you were struck by its dramatic delicacy; as it rested
on the railing of the veranda, by its latent power. You faced incongruity
everywhere. His dress was bizarre, his face almost classical, the brow
clear and strong, the profile good to the mouth, where there showed a
combination of sensuousness and adventure. Yet in the face there was an
illusive sadness, strangely out of keeping with the long linen coat,
frilled shirt, flowered waistcoat, lavender trousers, boots of enamelled
leather, and straw hat with white linen streamers. It was a whimsical
picture.

At the moment that the Cure and Medallion the auctioneer came down the
street together towards the Louis Quinze, talking amiably, this singular
gentleman was throwing out hot pennies, with a large spoon, from a tray
in his hand, calling on the children to gather them, in French which was
not the French of Pontiac--or Quebec; and this refined accent the Cure
was quick to detect, as Monsieur Garon the avocat, standing on the
outskirts of the crowd, had done, some moments before. The stranger
seemed only conscious of his act of liberality and the children before
him. There was a naturalness in his enjoyment which was almost boylike; a
naive sort of exultation possessed him.

He laughed softly to see the children toss the pennies from hand to hand,
blowing to cool them; the riotous yet half-timorous scramble for them,
and burnt fingers thrust into hot, blithe mouths. And when he saw a fat
little lad of five crowded out of the way by his elders, he stepped down
with a quick word of sympathy, put a half-dozen pennies in the child's
pocket, snatched him up and kissed him, and then returned to the stoop,
where were gathered the landlord, the miller, and Monsieur De la Riviere,
the young Seigneur. But the most intent spectator of the scene was Parpon
the dwarf, who was grotesquely crouched upon the wide ledge of a window.

Tray after tray of pennies was brought out and emptied, till at last the
stranger paused, handed the spoon to the landlord, drew out a fine white
handkerchief and dusted his fingers, standing silent for a moment and
smiling upon the crowd.

It was at this point that some young villager called, in profuse
compliment: "Three cheers for the Prince!" The stranger threw an accent
of pose into his manner, his eye lighted, his chin came up, he dropped
one hand negligently on his hip, and waved the other in acknowledgment.
Presently he beckoned, and from the hotel were brought out four great
pitchers of wine and a dozen tin cups, and, sending the garcon around
with one, the landlord with another, he motioned Parpon the dwarf to bear
a hand. Parpon shot out a quick, half-resentful look at him, but meeting
a warm, friendly eye, he took the pitcher and went round among the
elders, while the stranger himself courteously drank with the young men
of the village, who, like many wiser folk, thus yielded to the charm of
mystery. To every one he said a hearty thing, and sometimes touched his
greeting off with a bit of poetry or a rhetorical phrase. These dramatic
extravagances served him well, for he was among a race of story-tellers
and crude poets.

Parpon, uncouth and furtive, moved through the crowd, dispensing as much
irony as wine:

       "Three bucks we come to a pretty inn,
        'Hostess,' say we, 'have you red wine?'
             Brave! Brave!
        'Hostess,' say we, 'have you red wine?'
             Bravement!
        Our feet are sore and our crops are dry,
             Bravement!"

This he hummed to the avocat in a tone all silver, for he had that one
gift of Heaven as recompense for his deformity, his long arms, big head,
and short stature, a voice which gave you a shiver of delight and pain
all at once. It had in it mystery and the incomprehensible. This
drinking-song, hummed just above his breath, touched some antique memory
in Monsieur Garen the avocat, and he nodded kindly at the dwarf, though
he refused the wine.

"Ah, M'sieu' le Cure," said Parpon, ducking his head to avoid the hand
that Medallion would have laid on it, "we're going to be somebody now in
Pontiac, bless the Lord! We're simple folk, but we're not neglected. He
wears a ribbon on his breast, M'sieu' le Cure!"

This was true. Fastened by a gold bar to the stranger's breast was the
ribbon of an order.

The Cure smiled at Parpon's words, and looked curiously and gravely at
the stranger. Tall Medallion the auctioneer took a glass of the wine,
and, lifting it, said: "Who shall I drink to, Parpon, my dear? What is
he?"

"Ten to one, a dauphin or a fool," answered Parpon, with a laugh like the
note of an organ. "Drink to both, Long-legs." Then he trotted away to the
Little Chemist.

"Hush, my friend!" said he, and he drew the other's ear down to his
mouth. "Now there'll be plenty of work for you. We're going to be gay in
Pontiac. We'll come to you with our spoiled stomachs." He edged round the
circle, and back to where the miller his master and the young Seigneur
stood.

"Make more fine flour, old man," said he to the miller; "pates are the
thing now." Then, to Monsieur De la Riviere: "There's nothing like hot
pennies and wine to make the world love you. But it's too late, too late
for my young Seigneur!" he added in mockery, and again he began to hum in
a sort of amiable derision:

          "My little tender heart,
          O gai, vive le roi!
          My little tender heart,
          O gai, vive le roi!

          'Tis for a grand baron,
          Vive le roi, la reine!
          'Tis for a grand baron,
          Vive Napoleon!"

The words of the last two lines swelled out far louder than the dwarf
meant, for few save Medallion and Monsieur De la Riviere had ever heard
him sing. His concert-house was the Rock of Red Pigeons, his favourite
haunt, his other home, where, it was said, he met the Little Good Folk of
the Scarlet Hills, and had gay hours with them. And this was a matter of
awe to the timid habitants.

At the words, "Vive Napoleon!" a hand touched him on the shoulder. He
turned and saw the stranger looking at him intently, his eyes alight.

"Sing it," he said softly, yet with an air of command. Parpon hesitated,
shrank back.

"Sing it," he insisted, and the request was taken up by others, till
Parpon's face flushed with a sort of pleasurable defiance. The stranger
stooped and whispered something in his ear. There was a moment's pause,
in which the dwarf looked into the other's eyes with an intense
curiosity--or incredulity--and then Medallion lifted the little man on to
the railing of the veranda, and over the heads and into the hearts of the
people there passed, in a divine voice, a song known to many, yet coming
as a new revelation to them all:

          "My mother promised it,
          O gai, rive le roi!
          My mother promised it,
          O gai, vive le roi!

          To a gentleman of the king,
          Vive le roi, la reine!
          To a gentleman of the king,
          Vive Napoleon!"

This was chanted lightly, airily, with a sweetness almost absurd, coming
as it did from so uncouth a musician. The last verses had a touch of
pathos, droll yet searching:

          "Oh, say, where goes your love?
          O gai, rive le roi!
          Oh, say, where goes your love?
          O gai, vive le roi!
          He rides on a white horse,
          Vive le roi, la reine!
          He wears a silver sword,
          Vive Napoleon!

          "Oh, grand to the war he goes,
          O gai, vive le roi!
          Oh, grand to the war he goes,
          O gai, vive le roi!
          Gold and silver he will bring,
          Vive le roi, la reine;
          And eke the daughter of a king
          Vive Napoleon!"
The crowd--women and men, youths and maidens--enthusiastically repeated
again and again the last lines and the refrain, "Vive le roi, la reine!
Vive Napoleon!"

Meanwhile the stranger stood, now looking at the singer with eager eyes,
now searching the faces of the people, keen to see the effect upon them.
His glance found the faces of the Cure, the avocat, and the auctioneer;
and his eyes steadied to Medallion's humorous look, to the Cure's puzzled
questioning, to the avocat's bird-like curiosity. It was plain they were
not antagonistic (why should they be?); and he--was there any reason why
he should care whether or no they were for him or against him?

True, he had entered the village in the dead of night, with many packages
and much luggage, had roused the people at the Louis Quinze, the driver
who had brought him departing before daybreak gaily, because of the gifts
of gold given him above his wage. True, this singular gentleman had taken
three rooms in the Louis Quinze, had paid the landlord in advance, and
had then gone to bed, leaving word that he was not to be waked till three
o'clock the next afternoon. True, the landlord could not by any hint or
indirection discover from whence his midnight visitor came. But if a
gentleman paid his way, and was generous and polite, and minded his own
business, wherefore should people busy themselves about him? When he
appeared on the veranda of the inn with the hot pennies, not a half-dozen
people in the village had known aught of his presence in Pontiac. The
children came first, to scorch their fingers and fill their pockets, and
after them the idle young men, and the habitants in general.

The stranger having warmly shaken Parpon by the hand and again whispered
in his ear, stepped forward. The last light of the setting sun was
reflected from the red roof of the Little Chemist's shop upon the quaint
figure and eloquent face, which had in it something of the gentleman,
something of the comedian. The alert Medallion himself did not realise
the touch of the comedian in him, till the white hand was waved
grandiloquently over the heads of the crowd. Then something in the
gesture corresponded with something in the face, and the auctioneer had a
nut which he could not crack for many a day. The voice was musical,--as
fine in speaking almost as the dwarf's in singing,--and the attention of
the children was caught by the rich, vibrating tones. He addressed
himself to them.

"My children," he said, "my name is--Valmond! We have begun well; let us
be better friends. I have come from far off to be one of you, to stay
with you for awhile--who knows how long--how long?" He placed a finger
meditatively on his lips, sending a sort of mystery into his look and
bearing. "You are French, and so am I. You are playing on the shores of
life, and so am I. You are beginning to think and dream, and so am I. We
are only children till we begin to make our dreams our life. So I am one
with you, for only now do I step from dream to action. My children, you
shall be my brothers, and together we will sow the seed of action and
reap the grain; we will make a happy garden of flowers, and violets shall
bloom everywhere out of our dream--everywhere. Violets, my children,
pluck the wild violets, and bring them to me, and I will give you silver
for them, and I will love you. Never forget," he added, with a swelling
voice, "that you owe your first duty to your mothers, and afterwards to
your country, and to the spirit of France. I see afar"--he looked towards
the setting sun, and stretched out his arm dramatically, yet such was the
eloquence of his voice and person that not even the young Seigneur or
Medallion smiled--"I see afar," he repeated, "the glory of our dreams
fulfilled; after toil and struggle and loss: and I call upon you now to
unfurl the white banner of justice and liberty and the restoration."

The women who listened guessed little of what he meant by the fantastic
sermon; but they wiped their eyes in sympathy, and gathered their
children to them, and said, "Poor gentleman, poor gentleman!" and took
him instantly to their hearts. The men were mystified, but wine and
rhetoric had fired them, and they cheered him--no one knew why. The Cure,
as he turned to leave, with Monsieur Garon, shook his head in
bewilderment; but even he did not smile, for the man's eloquence had
impressed him; and more than once he looked back at the dispersing crowd
and the quaint figure posing on the veranda. The avocat was thinking
deeply, and as, in the dusk, he left the Cure at his own door, all that
he ventured was: "Singular--a most singular person!"

"We shall see, we shall see," said the Cure abstractedly, and they said
good-night.

Medallion joined the Little Chemist in his shop door and watched the
habitants scatter, till only Parpon and the stranger were left, and these
two faced each other, and, without a word, passed into the hotel
together.

"H'm, h'm!" said Medallion into space, drumming the door-jamb with his
fingers; "which is it, my Parpon--a dauphin, or a fool?"

He and the Little Chemist talked long, their eyes upon the window
opposite, inside which Monsieur Valmond and Parpon were in conference. Up
the dusty street wandered fitfully the refrain:

          "To a gentleman of the king,
          Vive Napoleon!"

And once they dimly saw Monsieur Valmond come to the open window and
stretch out his hand, as if in greeting to the song and the singer.




CHAPTER II

This all happened on a Tuesday, and on Wednesday, and for several days,
Valmond went about making friends. His pockets were always full of
pennies and silver pieces, and he gave them liberally to the children and
to the poor, though, indeed, there were few suffering poor in Pontiac.
All had food enough to keep them from misery, though often it got no
further than sour milk and bread, with a dash of sugar in it of Sundays,
and now and then a little pork and molasses. As for homes, every man and
woman had a house of a kind, with its low, projecting roof and dormer
windows, according to the ability and prosperity of the owner. These
houses were whitewashed, or painted white and red, and had double glass
in winter, after the same measure. There was no question of warmth, for
in snow-time every house was banked up with earth above the foundations,
the cracks and intersections of windows and doors filled with cloth from
the village looms; and wood was for the chopping far and near. Within
these air-tight cubes these simple folk baked and were happy, content if
now and then the housewife opened the one pane of glass which hung on a
hinge, or the slit in the sash, to let in the cold air. As a rule, the
occasional opening of the outer door to admit some one sufficed, for out
rushed the hot blast, and in came the dry, frosty air to brace to their
tasks the cheerful story-teller and singer.

In summer the little fields were broken with wooden ploughs, followed by
the limb of a tree for harrow, and the sickle, the scythe, and the flail
to do their office in due course; and if the man were well-to-do, he
swung the cradle in his rye and wheat, rejoicing in the sweep of the
knife and the fulness of the swathe. Then, too, there was the driving of
the rivers, when the young men ran the logs from the backwoods to the
great mills near and far: red-shirted, sashed, knee-booted, with rings in
their ears, and wide hats on their heads, and a song in their mouths,
breaking a jamb, or steering a crib, or raft, down the rapids. And the
voyageur also, who brought furs out of the North down the great lakes,
came home again to Pontiac, singing in his patois:

          "Nous avons passe le bois,
          Nous somm's a la rive!"

Or, as he went forth:

          "Le dieu du jour s'avance;
          Amis, les vents sont doux;
          Berces par l'esperance,
          Partons, embarquons-noun.
          A-a-a-a-a-a-a-a!"

And, as we know, it was summer when Valmond came to Pontiac. The
river-drivers were just beginning to return, and by and by the flax
swingeing would begin in the little secluded valley by the river; and one
would see, near and far, the bright sickle flashing across the gold and
green area; and all the pleasant furniture of summer set forth in pride,
by the Mother of the House whom we call Nature.

Valmond was alive to it all, almost too alive, for at first the
flamboyancy of his spirit touched him off with melodrama. Yet, on the
whole, he seemed at first more natural than involved or obscure. His love
for children was real, his politeness to women spontaneous. He was seen
to carry the load of old Madame Degardy up the hill, and place it at her
own door. He also had offered her a pinch of snuff, which she
acknowledged by gravely offering a pinch of her own from a dirty twist of
brown paper.

One day he sprang over a fence, took from the hands of coquettish Elise
Malboir an axe, and split the knot which she in vain had tried to break.
Not satisfied with this, he piled full of wood the stone oven outside the
house, and carried water for her from the spring. This came from natural
kindness, for he did not see the tempting look she gave him, nor the
invitation in her eye, as he turned to leave her. He merely asked her
name. But after he had gone, as though he had forgotten, or remembered,
something, he leaped the fence again, came up to her with an air of
half-abstraction, half-courtesy, took both her hands in his, and, before
she could recover herself, kissed her on the cheeks in a paternal sort of
way, saying, "Adieu, adieu, my child!" and left her.

The act had condescension in it; yet, too, something unconsciously simple
and primitive. Parpon the dwarf, who that moment perched himself on the
fence, could not decide which Valmond was just then--dauphin or fool.
Valmond did not see the little man, but swung away down the dusty road,
reciting to himself couplets from 'Le Vieux Drapeau':

       "Oh, come, my flag, come, hope of mine,
        And thou shalt dry these fruitless tears;"

and apparently, without any connection, he passed complacently to an
entirely different song:

       "She loved to laugh, she loved to drink,
        I bought her jewels fine."

Then he added, with a suddenness which seemed to astound himself,--for
afterwards he looked round quickly, as if to see if he had been
heard,--"Elise Malboir--h'm! a pretty name, Elise; but Malboir--tush! it
should be Malbarre; the difference between Lombardy cider and wine of the
Empire."

Parpon, left behind, sat on the fence with his legs drawn up to his chin,
looking at Elise, till she turned and caught the provoking light of his
eye. She flushed, then was cool again, for she was put upon her mettle by
the suggestion of his glance.

"Come, lazy-bones," she said; "come fetch me currants from the garden."

"Come, mocking-bird," answered he; "come peck me on the cheek."

She tossed her head and struck straight home. "It isn't a game of pass it
on from gentleman to beetle."

"You think he's a gentleman?" he asked.

"As sure as I think you're a beetle."

He laughed, took off his cap, and patted himself on the head. "Parpon,
Parpon!" said he, "if Jean Malboir could see you now, he'd put his foot
on you and crush you--dirty beetle!"

At the mention of her father's name a change passed over Elise; for this
same Parpon, when all men else were afraid, had saved Jean Malboir's life
at a log chute in the hills. When he died, Parpon was nearer to him than
the priest, and he loved to hear the dwarf chant his wild rhythms of the
Little Good Folk of the Scarlet Hills, more than to listen to holy
prayers. Elise, who had a warm, impulsive nature, in keeping with her
black eyes and tossing hair, who was all fire and sun and heart and
temper, ran over and caught the dwarf round the neck, and kissed him on
the cheek, dashing the tears out of her eyes, as she said:

"I'm a cat, I'm a bad-tempered thing, Parpon; I hate myself."

He laughed, shook his shaggy head, and pushed her away the length of his
long, strong arms. "Bosh!" said he; "you're a puss and no cat, and I like
you better for the claws. If you hate yourself, you'll get a big penance.
Hate the ugly like Parpon, not the pretty like you. The one's no sin, the
other is."

She was beside the open door of the oven; and it would be hard to tell
whether her face was suffering from heat or from blushes. However that
might chance, her mouth was soft and sweet, and her eyes were still wet.

"Who is he, Parpon?" she asked, not looking at him.

"Is he like Duclosse the mealman, or Lajeunesse the blacksmith, or
Garotte the lime-burner-and the rest?"

"Of course not," she answered.

"Is he like the Cure, or Monsieur De la Riviere, or Monsieur Garon, or
Monsieur Medallion?"

"He's different," she said hesitatingly.

"Better or worse?"

"More--more"--she did not know what to say--"more interesting."

"Is he like the Judge Honourable that comes from Montreal, or the grand
Governor, or the General that travels with the Governor?"

"Yes, but different--more--more like us in some things, like them in
others, and more--splendid. He speaks such fine things! You mind the
other night at the Louis Quinze. He is like--"

She paused. "What is he like?" Parpon asked slyly, enjoying her
difficulty.

"Ah, I know," she answered; "he is a little like Madame the American who
came two years ago. There is something--something!"

Parpon laughed again. "Like Madame Chalice from New York--fudge!" Yet he
eyed her as if he admired her penetration. "How?" he urged.

"I don't know--quite," she answered, a little pettishly. "But I used to
see Madame go off in the woods, and she would sit hour by hour, and
listen to the waterfall, and talk to the birds, and at herself too; and
more than once I saw her shut her hands--like that! You remember what
tiny hands she had?" (She glanced at her own brown ones unconsciously.)
"And she spoke out, her eyes running with tears--and she all in pretty
silks, and a colour like a rose. She spoke out like this: 'Oh, if I could
only do something, something, some big thing! What is all this silly
coming and going to me, when I know, I know I might do it, if I had the
chance! O Harry, Harry, can't you see!'"

"Harry was her husband. Ah, what a fisherman was he!" said Parpon,
nodding. "What did she mean by doing 'big things'?" he added.

"How do I know?" she asked fretfully. "But Monsieur Valmond seems to me
like her, just the same."

"Monsieur Valmond is a great man," said Parpon slowly.

"You know!" she cried; "you know! Oh, tell me, what is he? Who is he?
Where does he come from? Why is he here? How long will he stay? Tell me,
how long will he stay?" She caught flutteringly at Parpon's shoulder.
"You remember what I sang the other night?" he asked.

"Yes, yes," she answered quickly. "Oh, how beautiful it was! Ah, Parpon,
why don't you sing for us oftener, and all the world would love you,
and--"

"I don't love the world," he retorted gruffly; "and I'll sing for the
devil" (she crossed herself) "as soon as for silly gossips in Pontiac."

"Well, well!" she asked; "what had your song to do with him, with
Monsieur Valmond?"

"Think hard, my dear," he said, with mystery in his look. Then, breaking
off: "Madame Chalice is coming back to-day; the Manor House is open, and
you should see how they fly round up there." He nodded towards the hill
beyond.

"Pontiac'll be a fine place by and by," she said, for she had village
patriotism deep in her veins. Had not her people lived there long before
the conquest by the English?

"But tell me, tell me what your song had to do with Monsieur," she urged
again. "It's a pretty song, but--"

"Think about it," he answered provokingly. "Adieu, my child!" he went on
mockingly, using Valmond's words, and catching both her hands as he had
done; then, springing upon a bench by the oven, he kissed her on both
cheeks. "Adieu, my child!" he said again, and, jumping down, trotted away
out into the road. Back to her, from the dust he made as he shuffled
away, there came the words:

          "Gold and silver he will bring,
          Vive le roi, la reine!
          And eke the daughter of a king
          Vive Napoleon!"

She went about her work, the song in her ears, and the words of the
refrain beat in and out, out and in:

"Vive Napoleon." Her brow was troubled, and she perched her head on this
side and on that, as she tried to guess what the dwarf had meant. At last
she sat down on a bench at the door of her home, and the summer afternoon
spent its glories on her; for the sunflowers and the hollyhocks were
round her, and the warmth gave her face a shining health and joyousness.
There she brooded till she heard the voice of her mother calling across
the meadow; then she got up with a sigh, and softly repeated Parpon's
words: "He is a great man!"

In the middle of that night she started up from a sound sleep, and, with
a little cry, whispered into the silence: "Napoleon--Napoleon!"

She was thinking of Valmond. A revelation had come to her out of her
dreams. But she laughed at it, and buried her face in her pillow and went
to sleep, hoping to dream again.




CHAPTER III

In less than one week Valmond was as outstanding from Pontiac as
Dalgrothe Mountain, just beyond it in the south. His liberality, his
jocundity, his occasional abstraction, his meditative pose, were all his
own; his humour that of the people. He was too quick in repartee and
drollery for a bourgeois, too "near to the bone" in point for an
aristocrat, with his touch of the comedian and the peasant also. Besides,
he was mysterious and picturesque, and this is alluring to women and to
the humble, if not to all the world. It might be his was the comedian's
fascination, but the flashes of grotesqueness rather pleased the eye than
hurt the taste of Pontiac.

Only in one quarter was there hesitation, added to an anxiety almost
painful; for to doubt Monsieur Valmond would have shocked the sense of
courtesy so dear to Monsieur the Cure, Monsieur Garon, the Little
Chemist, and even Medallion the auctioneer, who had taken into his bluff,
odd nature something of the spirit of those old-fashioned gentlemen.
Monsieur De la Riviere, the young Seigneur, had to be reckoned with
independently.

It was their custom to meet once a week, at the house of one or another,
for a "causerie," as the avocat called it. On the Friday evening of this
particular week, all were seated in the front garden of the Cure's house,
as Valmond came over the hill, going towards the Louis Quinze. His step
was light, his head laid slightly to one side, as if in pleased and
inquiring reverie, and there was a lifting of one corner of the mouth,
suggesting an amused disdain. Was it that disdain which comes from
conquest not important enough to satisfy ambition? The social conquest of
a village--to be conspicuous and attract the groundlings in this tiny
theatre of life, that seemed little!

Valmond appeared not to see the little coterie, but presently turned,
when just opposite the gate, and, raising his hat, half paused. Then,
without more ado, he opened the gate and advanced to the outstretched
hand of the Cure, who greeted him with a courtly affability. He shook
hands with, and nodded good-humouredly at, Medallion and the Little
Chemist, bowed to the avocat, and touched off his greeting to Monsieur De
la Riviere with deliberation, not offering his hand--this very reserve a
sign of equality not lost on the young Seigneur. He had not this stranger
at any particular advantage, as he had wished, he knew scarcely why.
Valmond took the seat offered him beside the Cure, who remarked
presently:

"My dear friend, Monsieur Garon, was saying just now that the spirit of
France has ever been the Captain of Freedom among the nations."

Valmond glanced quickly from the Cure to the others, a swift, inquisitive
look, then settled back in his chair, and turned, bowing, towards
Monsieur Garon. The avocat's pale face flushed, his long, thin fingers
twined round each other and untwined, and presently he said, in his
little chirping voice, so quaint as to be almost unreal:

"I was saying that the spirit of France lived always ahead of the time,
was ever first to conceive the feeling of the coming century, and by its
own struggles and sufferings--sometimes too abrupt and perilous--made
easy the way for the rest of the world."

During these words a change passed over Valmond. His restless body became
still, his mobile face steady and almost set--all the life of him seemed
to have burnt into his eyes; but he answered nothing, and the Cure, in
the pause, was constrained to say:

"Our dear Monsieur Garon knows perfectly the history of France, and is
devoted to the study of the Napoleonic times and of the Great
Revolution--alas for our people and the saints of Holy Church who
perished then!"

The avocat lifted a hand in mute disacknowledgment. Again there was a
silence, and out of the pause Monsieur De la Riviere's voice was heard.

"Monsieur Valmond, how fares this spirit of France now--you come from
France?"

There was a shadow of condescension and ulterior meaning in De la
Riviere's voice, for he had caught the tricks of the poseur in this
singular gentleman.

Valmond did not stir, but looked steadily at De la Riviere, and said
slowly, dramatically, yet with a strange genuineness also:

"The spirit of France, monsieur, the spirit of France looks not forward
only, but backward, for her inspiration. It is as ready for action now as
when the old order was dragged from Versailles to Paris, and in Paris to
the guillotine, when France got a principle and waited, waited--"

He did not finish his sentence, but threw back his head with a sort of
reflective laugh.

"Waited for what?" asked the young Seigneur, trying to conquer his
dislike.

"For the Man!" came the quick reply.

The avocat rubbed his hands in pleasure. He instantly divined one who
knew his subject, though he talked this melodramatically: a thing not
uncommon among the habitants and the professional story-tellers, but
scarcely the way of the coterie.

"Ah, yes, yes," he said, "for--? monsieur, for--?" He paused, as if to
give himself the delight of hearing their visitor speak.

"For Napoleon," was the abrupt reply.

"Ah, yes, dear Lord, yes--a Napoleon--of--of the Empire. France can only
cherish an idea when a man is behind it, when a man lives it, embodies
it. She must have heroes. She is a poet, a poet--and an actress."

"So said the Man, Napoleon," cried Valmond, getting to his feet. "He said
that to Barras, to Remusat, to Josephine, to Lucien, to--to another, when
France had for the moment lost her idea--and her man."

The avocat trembled to his feet to meet Valmond, who stood up as he
spoke, his face shining with enthusiasm, a hand raised in broad dramatic
gesture, a dignity come upon him, in contrast to the figure which had
disported itself through the village during the past week. The avocat had
found a man after his own heart. He knew that Valmond understood whereof
he spoke. It was as if an artist saw a young genius use a brush on canvas
for a moment; a swordsman watch an unknown master of the sword. It was
not so much the immediate act, as the divination, the rapport, the spirit
behind the act, which could only come from the soul of the real thing.

"I thank you, monsieur; I thank you with all my heart," the avocat said.
"It is the true word you have spoken."

Here a lad came running to fetch the Little Chemist, and Medallion and he
departed, but not without the auctioneer having pressed Valmond's hand
warmly, for he was quick of emotion, and, like the avocat, he recognised,
as he thought, the true word behind the dramatic trappings.

Monsieur Garon and Valmond talked on, eager, responsive, Valmond lost in
the discussion of Napoleon, Garon in the man before him. By pregnant
allusions, by a map drawn hastily on the ground here, and an explosion of
secret history there, did Valmond win to a sort of worship this fine
little Napoleonic scholar, who had devoured every book on his hero which
had come in his way since boyhood. Student as he was, he had met a man
whose knowledge of the Napoleonic life was vastly more intricate,
searching and vital than his own. He, Monsieur Garon, spoke as from a
book or out of a library, but this man as from the Invalides, or, since
that is anachronistic, from the lonely rock of St. Helena. A private
saying of Napoleon's, a word from his letters and biography, a phrase out
of his speeches to his soldiers, sent tears to the avocat's eyes, and for
a moment transformed Valmond.

While they talked, the Cure and the young Seigneur listened, and there
passed into their minds the same wonder that had perplexed Elise Malboir;
so that they were troubled, as was she, each after his own manner and
temperament. Their reasoning, their feelings were different, but they
were coming to the point the girl had reached when she cried into the
darkness of the night, "Napoleon--Napoleon!"

They sat forgetful of the passing of time, the Cure preening with
pleasure because of Valmond's remarks upon the Church when quoting the
First Napoleon's praise of religion.

Suddenly a carriage came dashing up the hill, with four horses and a
postilion. The avocat was in the house searching for a book. De la
Riviere, seeing the carriage first, got to his feet with instant
excitement, and the others turned to look. As it neared the house, the
Cure took off his baretta, and smiled expectantly, a little red spot
burning on both cheeks. These deepened as the carriage stopped, and a
lady, a little lady like a golden flower, with sunny eyes and face--how
did she keep so fresh in their dusty roads?--stood up impulsively, and
before any one could reach the gate was entering herself, her blue eyes
swimming with the warmth of a kind heart--or a warm temperament, which
may exist without a kind heart.

Was it the heart, or the temperament, or both, that sent her forward with
hands outstretched, saying: "Ah, my dear, dear Cure, how glad I am to see
you once again! It is two years too long, dear Cure."

She held his hand in both of hers, and looked up into his eyes with a
smile at once child-like and naive--and masterful; for behind the
simplicity and the girlish manner there was a power, a mind, with which
this sweet golden hair and cheeks like a rose-garden had nothing to do.
The Cure, beaming, touched by her warmth, and by her tiny caressing
fingers, stooped and kissed them both like an old courtier. He had come
of a good family in France long ago, very long ago,--and even in this
French-Canadian village; where he had taught and served and lingered
forty years, he had kept the graces of his youth, and this beautiful
woman drew them all out. Since his arrival in Pontiac, he had never
kissed a woman's hand--women had kissed his; and this woman was a
Protestant, like Medallion!

Turning from the Cure, she held out a hand to the young Seigneur with a
little casual air, as if she had but seen him yesterday, and said:
"Monsieur De la Riviere--what, still buried?--and the world waiting for
the great touch! But we in Pontiac gain what the world loses."

She turned to the Cure again, and said, placing a hand upon his arm:

"I could not pass without stepping in upon my dear old friend, even
though soiled and unpresentable. But you forgive that, don't you?"

"Madame is always welcome, and always unspotted of the dusty world," he
answered gallantly.

She caught his fingers in hers as might a child, turned full upon
Valmond, and waited. The Cure instantly presented Valmond to her. She
looked at him brightly, alluringly, apparently so simply; yet her first
act showed the perception behind that rosy and golden face, and the
demure eyes whose lids languished now and then--to the unknowing with an
air of coquetry, to the knowing--did any know her?--as one would shade
one's eyes to see a landscape clearly, or make out a distant figure. As
Valmond bowed, a thought seemed to fetch down the pink eyelids, and she
stretched out her hand, which he took and kissed, while she said in
English, though they had been talking in French:

"A traveller too, like myself, Monsieur Valmond? But Pontiac--why
Pontiac?"

A furtive, inquiring look shot from the eyes of the young Seigneur, a
puzzled glance from the Cure's, as they watched Valmond; for they did not
know that he had knowledge of English; he had not spoken it to Medallion,
who had sent into his talk several English words. How did this woman
divine it?

A strange suspicion flashed into Valmond's face, but it was gone on the
instant, and he replied quickly:

"Yes, madame, a traveller; and for Pontiac--there is as much earth and
sky about Pontiac as about Paris or London or New York."

"But people count, Monsieur-Valmond."

She hesitated before the name, as if trying to remember, though she
recalled perfectly. It was her tiny fashion to pique, to appear
unknowing.

"Truly, Madame Chalice," he answered instantly, for he did not yield to
the temptation to pause before her name; "but sometimes the few are as
important to us as the many--eh?"

She almost started at the eh, for it broke in grimly upon the gentlemanly
flavour of his speech.

"If my reasons for coming were only as good as madame's--" he added.

"Who knows!" she said, with her eyes resting idly on his flowered
waistcoat, and dropping to the incongruous enamelled knee-boots with
their red tassels. She turned to the Cure again, but not till Valmond had
added:

"Or the same--who knows?"

Again she looked at him with drooping eyelids and a slight smile so full
of acid possibilities that De la Riviere drew in a sibilant breath of
delight. Her movement had been as towards an impertinence; but as she
caught Valmond's eye, something in it, so really boylike, earnest, and
free from insolence, met hers, that, with a little way she had, she laid
back her head slowly, her lips parted in a sweet, ambiguous smile, her
eyes dwelt on him with a humorous interest, or flash of purpose, and she
said softly:

"Nobody knows--eh?"

She could not resist the delicate malice of the exclamation, she imitated
the gaucherie so delightfully.

Valmond did not fail to see her meaning, but he was too wise to show it.

He hardly knew how it was he had answered her unhesitatingly in English,
for it had been his purpose to avoid speaking English in Pontiac.

Presently Madame Chalice caught sight of Monsieur Garon coming from the
house. When he saw her, he stopped short in delighted surprise. Gathering
up her skirts, she ran to him, put both hands on his shoulders, kissed
him on the cheek, and said:

"Monsieur Garon, Monsieur Garon, my good avocat, my Solon! are the
coffee, and the history, and the blest madeira still chez-toi?"

There was no jealousy in the Cure; he smiled at the scene with great
benevolence, for he was as a brother to Monsieur Garon. If he had any
good thing, it was his first wish to share it with him; even to taking
him miles away to some simple home where a happy thing had come to poor
folk--the return of a prodigal son, a daughter's fortunate marriage, or
the birth of a child to childless people; and there together they
exchanged pinches of snuff over the event, and made compliments from the
same mould, nor desired difference of pattern. To the pretty lady's
words, Monsieur Garon blushed, and his thin hand fluttered to his lips.
As if in sympathy, the Cure's fingers trembled to his cassock cord.
"Madame, dear madame,"--the Cure approved by a caressing nod, "we are all
the same here in our hearts and in our homes, and if anything seem good
in them to us, it is because you are pleased. You bring sunshine and
relish to our lives, dear madame."

The Cure beamed. This was after his own heart and he had ever said that
his dear avocat would have been a brilliant orator, were it not for his
retiring spirit.

For himself, he was no speaker at all; he could only do his duty and love
his people. So he had declared over and over again, and the look in his
eyes said the same now.

Madame's eyes were shining with tears. This admiration of her was too
real to be doubted.

"And yet--and yet"--she said, with a hand in the Cure's and the avocat's,
drawing them near her--"a heretic, a heretic, my dear friends! How should
I stand in your hearts if I were only of your faith? Or is it so that you
yearn over the lost sheep, more than over the ninety and nine of the
fold?"

There was a real moisture in her eyes, and in her own heart she wondered,
this fresh and venturing spirit, if she cared for them as they seemed to
care for her--for she felt she had an inherent strain of the actress
temperament, while these honest provincials were wholly real.

But if she made them happy by her gaiety, what matter! The tears dried,
and she flashed a malicious look at the young Seigneur, as though to say:
"You had your chance, and you made nothing of it, and these simple
gentlemen have done the gracious thing."

Perhaps it was a liberal interpretation of his creed which prompted the
Cure to add with a quaint smile:

"'Thou art not far from the Kingdom,' my daughter."

The avocat, who had no vanity, hastened to add to his former remarks, as
if he had been guilty of an oversight:

"Dear madame, you have flattered my poor gleanings in history; I am happy
to tell you that there is here another and a better pilot in that sea. It
is Monsieur Valmond," he added, his voice chirruping in his pleasure.
"For Napoleon--"

"Ah, Napoleon--yes, Napoleon?" she said, turning to Valmond, with a look
half of interest, half of incredulity.

"--For Napoleon is, through him, a revelation," the avocat went on. "He
fills in the vague spaces, clears up mysteries of incident, and gives,
instead, mystery of character."

"Indeed," she added, still incredulous, but interested in this bizarre
figure who had so worked upon her old friend, interested because she had
a keen scent for mystery, and instinctively felt it here before her. Like
De la Riviere, she perceived a strange combination of the gentleman
and--something else; but, unlike him, she saw also a light in the face
and eyes that might be genius, poetry, adventure. For the incongruities,
what did they matter to her? She wished to probe life, to live it, to
race the whole gamut of inquiry, experiences, follies, loves, and
sacrifices, to squeeze the orange dry, and then to die while yet young,
having gone the full compass, the needle pointing home. She was as broad
as sumptuous in her nature; so what did a gaucherie matter? or a dash of
the Oriental in a citizen of the Occident?

"Then we must set the centuries right, and so on--if you will come to see
me when I am settled at the Manor," she added, with soft raillery, to
Valmond. He bowed, expressed his pleasure a little oracularly, and was
about to say something else, but she turned deftly to De la Riviere, with
a sweetness which made up for her previous irony to him, and said:

"You, my kind Seigneur, will come to breakfast with me one day? My
husband will be here soon. When you see our flag flying, you will find
the table always laid for four."

Then to the Cure and the avocat: "You shall visit me whenever you will,
and you are to wait for nothing, or I shall come to fetch you. Voila! I
am so glad to see you. And now, dear Cure, will you take me to my
carriage?"

Soon there was a surf of dust rising behind the carriage, hiding her; but
four men, left behind in the little garden, stood watching, as if they
expected to see a vision in rose and gold rise from it; and each was
smiling unconsciously.




CHAPTER IV

Since Friday night the good Cure, in his calm, philosophical way, had
brooded much over the talk in the garden upon France, the Revolution, and
Napoleon. As a rule, his sermons were commonplace almost to a classical
simplicity, but there were times when, moved by some new theme, he talked
to the villagers as if they, like himself, were learned and wise. He
thought of his old life in France, of two Napoleons that he had seen, and
of the time when, at Neuilly, a famous general burst into his father's
house, and, with streaming tears, cried:

"He is dead--he is dead--at St. Helena--Napoleon! Oh, Napoleon!"

A chapter from Isaiah came to the Cure's mind. He brought out his Bible
from the house, and, walking up and down, read aloud certain passages.
They kept singing in his ears all day

   He will surely violently turn and toss thee like a ball into a large
   country: there shalt thou die, and there the chariots of thy glory
   shall be the shame of thy lord's house. . . .

   And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant
   Eliakim the son of Hilkiah

   And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy
   girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand. . . .
   And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for
   a glorious throne to his father's house.

   And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house,
   the offspring and the issue. . . .

He looked very benign as he quoted these verses in the pulpit on Sunday
morning, with a half smile, as of pleased meditation. He was lost to the
people before him, and when he began to speak, it was as in soliloquy. He
was talking to a vague audience, into that space where a man's eyes look
when he is searching his own mind, discovering it to himself. The
instability of earthly power, the putting down of the great, their exile
and chastening, and their restoration in their own persons, or in the
persons of their descendants--this was his subject. He brought the
application down to their own rude, simple life, then returned with it to
a higher plane.

At last, as if the memories of France, "beloved and incomparable,"
overcame him, he dwelt upon the bitter glory of the Revolution. Then,
with a sudden flush, he spoke of Napoleon. At that name the church became
still, and the dullest habitant listened intently. Napoleon was in the
air--a curious sequence to the song that was sung on the night of
Valmond's arrival, when a phrase was put in the mouths of the parish,
which gave birth to a personal reality. "Vive Napoleon!" had been on
every lip this week, and it was an easy step from a phrase to a man.

The Cure spoke with pensive dignity of Napoleon's past career, his work
for France, his too proud ambition, behind which was his great love of
country; and how, for chastening, God turned upon him violently and
tossed him like a ball into the wide land of exile, from which he came
out no more.

"But," continued the calm voice, "his spirit, stripped of the rubbish of
this quarrelsome world, and freed from the spite of foes, comes out from
exile and lives in our France to-day--for she is still ours, though we
find peace and bread to eat, under another flag. And in these troubled
times, when France needs a man, even as a barren woman a child to be the
token of her womanhood, it may be that one sprung from the loins of the
Great Napoleon may again give life to the principle which some have
sought to make into a legend. Even as the deliverer came out of obscure
Corsica, so from some outpost of France, where the old watchwords still
are called, may rise another Napoleon, whose mission will be civic glory
and peace alone, the champion of the spirit of France, defending it
against the unjust. He shall be fastened as a nail in a sure place, as a
glorious throne to his father's house."

He leaned over the pulpit, and, pausing, looked down at his congregation.
Then, all at once, he was aware that he had created a profound
impression. Just in front of him, his eyes burning with a strange fire,
sat Monsieur Valmond. Parpon, beside him, hung over the back of a seat,
his long arms stretched out, his hands applauding in a soundless way.
Beneath the sword of Louis the Martyr, the great treasure of the parish,
presented to this church by Marie Antoinette, sat Monsieur Garon, his
thin fingers pressed to his mouth as if to stop a sound. Presently, out
of pure spontaneity, there ran through the church like a soft chorus:

          "O, say, where goes your love?
          O gai, vive le roi!
          He wears a silver sword,
          Vive Napoleon!"

The thing was unprecedented. Who had started it? Afterwards some said it
was Parpon, the now chosen comrade--or servant--of Valmond, who, people
said, had given himself up to the stranger, body and soul; but no one
could swear to that. Shocked, and taken out of his dream, the Cure raised
his hand against the song. "Hush, hush, my children!" he said. "Hush, I
command you!"

It was the sight of the upraised hands, more than the Cure's voice, which
stilled the outburst. Those same hands had sprinkled the holy water in
the sacrament of baptism, had blessed man and maid at the altar, had
quieted the angry arm lifted to strike, had anointed the brow of the
dying, and laid a crucifix on breasts which had ceased to harbour breath
and care and love, and all things else.

Silence fell. In another moment the Cure finished his sermon, but not
till his eyes had again met those of Valmond, and there had passed into
his mind a sudden, startling thought.

Unconsciously the Cure had declared himself the patron of all that made
Pontiac for ever a notable spot in the eyes of three nations: and if he
repented of it, no man ever knew.

During mass and the sermon Valmond had sat very still, once or twice
smiling curiously at thought of how, inactive himself, the gate of
destiny was being opened up for him. Yet he had not been all inactive. He
had paid much attention to his toilet, selecting, with purpose, the white
waistcoat, the long, blue-grey coat cut in a fashion anterior to this
time by thirty years or more, and particularly to the arrangement of his
hair. He resembled Napoleon--not the later Napoleon, but the Bonaparte,
lean, shy, laconic, who fought at Marengo; and this had startled the Cure
in his pulpit, and the rest of the little coterie.

But Madame Chalice, sitting not far from Elise Malboir, had seen the
resemblance in the Cure's garden on Friday evening; and though she had
laughed at it, for, indeed, the matter seemed ludicrous enough at
first,--the impression had remained. She was no Catholic, she did not as
a rule care for religious services; but there was interest in the air,
she was restless, the morning was inviting, she was reverent of all true
expression of life and feeling, though a sad mocker in much; and so she
had come to the little church.

Following Elise's intent look, she read with amusement the girl's budding
romance, and was then suddenly arrested by the head of Valmond, now half
turned towards her. It had, indeed, a look of the First Napoleon. Was it
the hair? Yes, it must be; but the head was not so square, so firm set;
and what a world of difference in the grand effect! The one had been
distant, splendid, brooding (so she glorified him); the other was an
impressionist imitation, with dash, form, poetry, and colour. But where
was the great strength? It was lacking. The close association of Parpon
and Valmond--that was droll; yet, too, it had a sort of fitness, she knew
scarcely why. However, Monsieur was not a fool, in the vulgar sense, for
he had made a friend of a little creature who could be a wasp or a
humming-bird, as he pleased. Then, too, this stranger had conquered her
dear avocat; had won the hearts of the mothers and daughters--her own
servants talked of no one else; had captured this pretty Elise Malboir;
had caused the young men to imitate his walk and retail his sayings; had
won from herself an invitation to visit her; and now had made an
unconscious herald and champion of an innocent old Cure, and set a whole
congregation singing "Vive Napoleon" after mass.

Napoleon? She threw back her pretty head, laughed softly, and fanned
herself. Napoleon? Why, of course there could be no real connection; the
man was an impostor, a base impostor, playing upon the credulities of a
secluded village. Absurd--and interesting! So interesting, she did not
resent the attention given to Valmond, to the exclusion of herself;
though to speak truly, her vanity desired not admiration more than is
inherent in the race of women.

Yet she was very dainty this morning, good to look at, and refreshing,
with everything in flower-like accord; simple in general effect, yet with
touches of the dramatic here and there--in the little black patch on the
delicate health of her cheek, in the seductive arrangements of her laces.
She loved dress, all the vanities, but she had something above it all--an
imaginative mind, certain of whose faculties had been sharpened to a fine
edge of cleverness and wit. For she was but twenty-three; with the logic
of a woman of fifty, without its setness and lack of elasticity. She went
straight for the hearts of things, while yet she glittered upon the
surface. This was why Valmond interested her--not as a man, a physical
personality, but as a mystery to be probed, discovered. Sentiment?
Coquetry? Not with him. That for less interesting men, she said to
herself. Why should a point or two of dress and manners affect her
unpleasantly? She ought to be just, to remember that there was a touch of
the fantastic, of the barbaric, in all genius.

Was he a genius? For an instant she almost thought he was, when she saw
the people make way for him to pass out of the church, as though he were
a great personage, Parpon trotting behind him. He carried himself with
true appreciation of the incident, acknowledging more by look than by
sign this courtesy.

"Upon my word," she said, "he has them in his pocket." Then,
unconsciously plagiarising Parpon: "Prince or barber--a toss-up!"

Outside, many had gathered round Medallion. The auctioneer, who liked the
unique thing and was not without tact, having the gift of humour, took on
himself the office of inquisitor, even as there rose again little
snatches of "Vive Napoleon" from the crowd. He approached Valmond, who
was moving on towards the Louis Quinze, with appreciation of a time for
disappearing.

"We know you, sir," said Medallion, "as Monsieur Valmond; but there are
those who think you would let us address you by a name better
known--indeed, the name dear to all Frenchmen. If it be so, will you not
let us call you Napoleon" (he took off his hat, and Valmond did the
same), "and will you tell us what we may do for you?"

Madame Chalice, a little way off, watched Valmond closely. He stood a
moment in a quandary, yet he was not outwardly nervous, and he answered
presently, with an air of empressement:

"Monsieur, my friends, I am in the hands of fate. I am dumb. Fate speaks
for me. But we shall know each other better; and I trust you, who, as
Frenchmen, descended from a better day in France, will not betray me. Let
us be patient till Destiny strikes the hour." Now for the first time
to-day Valmond saw Madame Chalice.

She could have done no better thing to serve him than to hold out her
hand, and say in her clear tones, which had, too, a fascinating sort of
monotony:

"Monsieur, if you are idle Friday afternoon, perhaps you will bestow on
me a half-hour at the Manor; and I will try to make half mine no bad
one."

He was keen enough to feel the delicacy of the point through the deftness
of the phrase; and what he said and what he did now had no pose, but
sheer gratitude. With a few gracious words to Medallion, she bowed and
drove away, leaving Valmond in the midst of an admiring crowd.

He was launched on an adventure as whimsical as tragical, if he was an
impostor; and if he was not, as pathetic as droll. He was scarcely
conscious that Parpon walked beside him, till the dwarf said:

"Hold on, my dauphin, you walk too fast for your poor fool."




CHAPTER V

From this hour Valmond was carried on by a wave of fortune. Before
vespers on that Sunday night, it was common talk that he was a true son
of the Great Napoleon, born at St. Helena.

Why did he come to Pontiac? He wished to be in retirement till his
friends, acting for him in France, gave him the signal, and then with a
small army of French-Canadians he would land in France. Thousands would
gather round his standard, and so marching on to Paris, the Napoleonic
faith would be revived, and he would come into his own. It is possible
that these stories might have been traced to Parpon, but he had covered
up his trail so well that no one followed him.

On that Sunday night, young men and old flocked into Valmond's chambers
at the Louis Quinze, shook hands with him, addressing him as "Your
Excellency" or "Your Highness." He maintained towards them a mysterious
yet kindly reserve, singularly effective. They inspected the martial
furnishing of the room: the drum, the pair of rifles, the pistols, in the
corner, the sabres crossed on the wall, the gold-handled sword that lay
upon the table, and the picture of Napoleon on a white horse against the
wall. Tobacco and wine were set upon a side table, and every man as he
passed out took a glass of wine and enough tobacco for his pipe, and
said: "Of grace, your health, monseigneur!"

There were those who scoffed, who from natural habit disbelieved, and
nodded knowingly, and whispered in each other's ears; but these were in
the minority; and all the women and children declared for this new "Man
of Destiny." And when some foolish body asked him for a lock of his hair,
and old Madame Degardy (crazy Joan, as she was called) followed, offering
him a pinch of snuff, and a lad appeared with a bunch of violets from
Madame Chalice, the dissentients were cast in shadow, and had no longer
courage to doubt.

Madame Chalice had been merely whimsical in sending these violets, which
her gardener had brought her that very morning.

"It will help along the pretty farce," she had said to herself; and then
she sat her down to read Napoleon's letters to Josephine, and to wonder
that a woman could have been faithless and vile with such a man. Her
blood raced indignantly in her veins as she thought of it. She admired
intellect, supremacy, the gifts of temperament, deeds of war and
adventure beyond all. As yet her brain was stronger than her feelings;
there had been no breakers of emotion in her life. A wife, she had no
child; the mother in her was spent upon her husband, whose devotion,
honour, name, and goodness were dear to her. Yet--yet she had a world of
her own; and reading Napoleon's impassioned letters to his wife, written
with how great homage! in the flow of the tide washing to famous
battle-fields, an exultation of ambition inspired her, and the genius of
her distinguished ancestors set her heart beating hard. Presently, her
face alive with feeling, a furnace in her eyes, she repeated a paragraph
from Napoleon's letters to Josephine:

   The enemy have lost, my dearest, eighteen thousand men, prisoners,
   killed, and wounded. Wurmzer has nothing left but to throw himself
   into Mantua. I hope soon to be in your arms. I love you to
   distraction. All is well. Nothing is wanting to your husband's
   happiness, save the love of Josephine.

She sprang to her feet. "And she, wife of a hero, was in common intrigue
with Hippolyte Charles at the time! She had a conqueror, a splendid
adventurer, and coming emperor, for a husband, and she loved him not.
I--I could have knelt to him--worshipped him. I"--With a little
hysterical, disdainful laugh, as of the soul at itself, she leaned upon
the window, looking into the village below, alternately smiling and
frowning at the thought of this adventurer down at the Louis Quinze.
"Yet, who can tell? Disraeli was half mountebank at the start," she said.
"Napoleon dressed infamously, too, before he was successful." But again
she laughed, as at an absurdity.

During the next few days Valmond was everywhere--kind, liberal, quaint,
tireless, at times melancholy; "in the distant perspective of the stage,"
as Monsieur De la Riviere remarked mockingly. But a passing member of the
legislature met and was conquered by Valmond, and carried on to
neighbouring parishes the wondrous tale.

He carried it through Ville Bambord, fifty miles away; and the story of
how a Napoleon had come to Pontiac reached the ears of old Sergeant
Eustache Lagroin of the Old Guard, who had fought with the Great Emperor
at Waterloo, and in his army on twenty other battle-fields. He had been
at Fontainebleau when Napoleon bade farewell to the Old Guard, saying:
"For twenty years I have ever found you in the path of honour and glory.
Adieu, my children! I would I were able to press you all to my heart--but
I will at least press your eagle. I go to record the great deeds we have
done together."

When the gossip came to Lagroin, as he sat in his doorway, babbling of
Grouchy and Lannes and Davoust, the Little Corporal outflanking them all
in his praise, his dim blue eyes flared out from the distant sky of youth
and memory, his lips pursed in anger, and he got to his feet, his stick
fiercely pounding the ground.

"Tut! tut!" said he. "A lie! a pretty lie! I knew all the
Napoleons--Joseph, Lucien, Louis, Jerome, Caroline, Eliza, Pauline--all!
I have seen them every one. And their children--pah! Who can deceive me?
I will go to Pontiac, I will see to this tomfoolery. I'll bring the
rascal to the drumhead. Does he think there is no one? Pish! I will spit
him at the first stroke. Here, here, Manette," he cried to his
grand-daughter; "fetch out my uniform, give it an airing, and see to the
buttons. I will show this brag how one of the Old Guard looked at Saint
Jean. Quick, Manette, my sabre polish; I'll clean my musket, and
to-morrow I will go to Pontiac. I'll put the scamp through his
facings--but yes! I am eighty, but I have an arm of thirty." True to his
word, the next morning at daybreak he started to walk to Pontiac,
accompanied for a mile or so by Manette and a few of the villagers.

"See you, my child," he said, "I will stay with my niece, Desire Malboir,
and her daughter Elise, there in Pontiac. You shall hear how I fetch that
vagabond to his potage!"

Valmond had purchased a tolerable white horse through Medallion. After a
day's grooming the beast showed off very well; and he was now seen riding
about the parish, dressed after the manner of the First Napoleon, with a
cocked hat and a short sword at his side. He rode well, and the silver
and pennies he scattered were most fruitful of effect from the martial
elevation. He happened to be riding into the village at one end as
Sergeant Lagroin entered it at the other, each going towards the Louis
Quinze. Valmond knew nothing of Sergeant Lagroin, so that what followed
was of the inspiration of the moment. It sprang from his wit, and from
his knowledge of Napoleon and the Napoleonic history, a knowledge which
had sent Monsieur Garon into tears of joy in his own home, and afterwards
off to the Manor House and also to the Seigneury, full of praise of him.

Catching sight of the sergeant, the significance of the thing flashed to
his brain, and his course was mapped out on the instant. Sitting very
straight, Valmond rode steadily down towards the old soldier. The
sergeant had drawn notice as he came up the street, and people came to
their doors, and children followed the grey, dust-covered veteran, in his
last-century uniform. He came as far as the Louis Quinze, and then,
looking on up the road, he saw the white horse, the cocked hat, the white
waistcoat, and the long grey coat. He brought his stick down smartly on
the ground, drew himself up, squared his shoulders, and said: "Courage,
Eustache Lagroin. It is not forty Prussians, but one rogue! Crush him!
Down with the pretender!"

So, with a defiant light in his eye, he came on, the old uniform sagging
loosely on the shrunken body, which yet was soldier-like from head to
foot. Years of camp and discipline and battle and endurance were in the
whole bearing of the man. He was no more of Pontiac and this simple life
than was Valmond himself.

So they neared each other, the challenger and the challenged, the
champion and the invader, and quickly the village emptied itself out to
see.

When Valmond came so close that he could observe every detail of the old
man's uniform, he suddenly reined in his horse, drew him back on his
haunches with his left hand, and with his right saluted--not the old
sergeant, but the coat of the Old Guard, to which his eyes were directed.
Mechanically the hand of the sergeant went to his cap, then, starting
forward with an angry movement, he seemed as though he would attack
Valmond.

Valmond sat very still, his right hand thrust in his bosom, his forehead
bent, his eyes calmly, resolutely, yet distantly, looking at the
sergeant, who grew suddenly still also, while the people watched and
wondered.

As Valmond looked, a soft light passed across his face, relieving its
theatrical firmness, the half-contemptuous curl of his lip. He knew well
enough that this event would make or unmake him in Pontiac. He became
also aware that a carriage had driven up among the villagers, and had
stopped; and though he did not look directly, he felt that it was Madame
Chalice. This soft look on his face was not all assumed; for the ancient
uniform of the sergeant touched something in him, the true comedian, or
the true Napoleon, and it seemed as if he might dismount and take the old
soldier in his arms.

He set his horse on a little, and paused again, with not more than
fifteen feet between them. The sergeant's brain was going round like a
top. It was not he that challenged after all.

"Soldier of the Old Guard," cried Valmond, in a clear, ringing voice,
"how far is it to Friedland?"

Like a machine the veteran's hand again went up to his cap, and he
answered:

"To Friedland--the width of a ditch!"

His voice shook as he said it, and the world to him was all a muddle
then; for Napoleon the Great had asked a private this question after that
battle on the Alle, when Berningsen, the Russian, threw away an army to
the master strategist.

The private had answered the question in the words of Sergeant Lagroin.
It was a saying long afterwards among the Old Guard, though it may not be
found in the usual histories of that time, where every battalion, almost
every company, had a watchword, which passed to make room for others, as
victory followed victory.

"Soldier of the Old Guard," said Valmond again, "how came you by those
scars upon your forehead?"

"I was a drummer at Auerstadt, a corporal at Austerlitz, a sergeant at
Waterloo," rolled back the reply, in a high, quavering voice, as memories
of great events blew in upon the ancient fires of his spirit.

"Ah!" answered Valmond, nodding eagerly; "with Davoust at
Auerstadt--thirty against sixty thousand men. At eight o'clock, all fog
and mist, as you marched up the defile towards the Sonnenberg hills, the
brave Gudin and his division feeling their way to Blucher. Comrade, how
still you stepped, your bayonet thrust out before you, clearing the
mists, your eyes straining, your teeth set, ready to thrust. All at once
a quick-moving mass sprang out of the haze, and upon you, with hardly a
sound of warning; and an army of hussars launched themselves at your
bayonets! You bent that wall back like a piece of steel, and broke it.
Comrade, that was the beginning, in the mist of morning. Tell me how you
fared in the light of evening, at the end of that bloody day."

The old soldier was trembling. There was no sign, no movement, from the
crowd. Across the fields came the sharpening of a scythe, the cry of the
grasshoppers, and the sound of a mill-wheel arose near by. In the mill
itself, far up in a deep dormer window, sat Parpon with his black cat,
looking down upon the scene with a grim smiling.

The sergeant saw that mist fronting Sonnenberg rise up, and show ten
thousand splendid cavalry and fifty thousand infantry, with a king and a
prince to lead them down upon those malleable but unmoving squares of
French infantry. He saw himself drumming the Prussians back and his
Frenchmen on.

"Beautiful God!" he cried proudly, "that was a day! And every man of the
Third Corps that time lift up the lid of hell and drop a Prussian in. I
stand beside Davoust once, and ping! come a bullet, and take off his
chapeau. It fell upon my drum. I stoop and pick it up and hand it to him,
but I keep drumming with one hand all the time. 'Comrade,' say I, 'the
army thanks you for your courtesy.' 'Brother,' he say, 'twas to your
drum,' and his eye flash out where Gudin carved his way through those
pigs of Prussians. 'I'd take my head off to keep your saddle filled,
comrade,' say I. Ping! come a bullet and catch me in the calf. 'You hold
your head too high, brother,' the general say, and he smile. 'I'll hold
it higher,' answer I, and I snatch at a soldier. 'Up with me on your
shoulder, big comrade,' I say, and he lift me up. I make my sticks sing
on the leather. 'You shall take off your hat to the Little Corporal
to-morrow, if you've still your head, brother'--speak Davoust like that,
and then he ride away like the devil to Morand's guns. Ha, ha, ha!" The
sergeant's face was blazing with a white glare, for he was very pale, and
seemed unconscious of all save the scene in his mind's eye. "Ha, ha, ha!"
he laughed again. "Beautiful God, how did Davoust bring us on up to
Sonnenberg! And next day I saw the Little Corporal. 'Drummer,' say he,
'no head's too high for my Guard. Come you, comrade, your general gives
you to me. Come, Corporal Lagroin,' he call; and I come. 'But, first,' he
say, 'up on the shoulder of your big soldier again, and play.' 'What
shall I play, sire?' I ask. 'Play ten thousand heroes to Walhalla,' he
answer. I play, and I think of my brother Jacques, who went fighting to
heaven the day before. Beautiful God! that was a day at Auerstadt."

"Soldier," said Valmond, waving his hand, "step on. There is a drum at
Louis Quinze. Let us go together, comrade."

The old sergeant was in a dream. He wheeled, the crowd made way for him,
and at the neck of the white horse he came on with Valmond. As they
passed the carriage of Madame Chalice, Valmond made no sign. They stopped
in front of the hotel, and Valmond, motioning to the garcon, gave him an
order. The old sergeant stood silent, his eyes full fixed upon Valmond.
In a moment the boy came out with the drum. Valmond took it, and, holding
it in his hands, said softly: "Soldier of the Old Guard, here is a drum
of France." Without a word the old man took the drum, his fingers
trembling as he fastened it to his belt. When the sticks were in his
hand, all trembling ceased, and his hands became steady. He was living in
the past entirely.

"Soldier," said Valmond in a loud voice, "remember Austerlitz. The
Heights of Pratzen are before you. Play up the feet of the army."

For an instant the old man did not move, and then a sullen sort of look
came over his face. He was not a drummer at Austerlitz, and for the
instant he did not remember the tune the drummers played.

"Soldier," said Valmond softly, "with 'the Little Sword that Danced' play
up the feet of the army."

A light broke over the old man's face. The swift look he cast on Valmond
had no distrust now. Instantly his hand went to his cap.

"My General!" he said, and stepped in front of the white horse. There was
a moment's pause, and then the sergeant's arms were raised, and down came
the sticks with a rolling rattle on the leather. They sent a shiver of
feeling through the village, and turned the meek white horse into a
charger of war. No man laughed at the drama performed in Pontiac that
day, not even the little coterie who were present, not even Monsieur De
la Riviere, whose brow was black with hatred, for he had watched 'the
eyes of Madame Chalice fill with tears at the old sergeant's tale of
Auerstadt, had noticed her admiring glance, "at this damned comedian," as
he now called Valmond. When he came to her carriage, she said, with
oblique suggestion:

"What do you think of it?"

"Impostor! fakir!" was his sulky reply. "Nothing more."

"If fakirs and impostors are so convincing, dear monsieur, why be
yourself longer? Listen!" she added. Valmond had spoken down at the aged
drummer, whose arms were young again, as once more he marched on Pratzen.
Suddenly from the sergeant's lips there broke, in a high, shaking voice,
to the rattle of the drum:

          "Conscrits, au pas;
          Ne pleurez pas;
          Ne pleurez pas;
          Marchez au pas,
          Au pas, au pas, au pas, au pas!"

They had not gone twenty yards before fifty men and boys, caught in the
inflammable moment, sprang out from the crowd, fell involuntarily into
rough marching order, and joined in the inspiring refrain:

          "Marchez au pas,
          Au pas, au pas, au pas, au pas!"

The old man in front was charged anew. All at once, at a word from
Valmond, he broke into the Marseillaise, with his voice and with his
drum. To these Frenchmen of an age before the Revolution, the
Marseillaise had only been a song. Now in their ignorant breasts there
waked the spirit of France, and from their throats there burst out, with
a half-delirious ecstasy:

          "Allons, enfants de la patrie,
          Le jour de gloire est arrive."

As they neared the Louis Quinze, a dozen men, just arrived in the
village, returned from river-driving, carried away by the chant,
tumultuously joined in the procession, and so came on in a fever of vague
patriotism. A false note in the proceedings, a mismove on the part of
Valmond, would easily have made the thing ridiculous; but even to Madame
Chalice, with her keen artistic sense, it had a pathetic sort of dignity,
by virtue of its rude earnestness, its raw sincerity. She involuntarily
thought of the great Napoleon and his toy kingdom of Elba, of Garibaldi
and his handful of patriots. There were depths here, and she knew it.

"Even the pantaloon may have a soul," she said; "or a king may have a
heart."

In front of the Louis Quinze, Valmond waved his hand for a halt, and the
ancient drummer wheeled and faced him, fronting the crowd. Valmond was
pale, and his eyes burned like restless ghosts. Surely the Cupid bow of
the thin Napoleonic lips was there, the distant yet piercing look. He
waved his hand again, and the crowd were silent.

"My children," said he, "we have begun well. Once more among you the
antique spirit lives. From you may come the quickening of our beloved
country; for she is yours, though here under the flag of our ancient and
amiable enemy you wait the hour of your return to her. In you there is
nothing mean or dull; you are true Frenchmen. My love is with you. And
you and I, true to each other, may come into our own again--over there!"

He pointed to the East.

"Through you and me may France be born again; and in the villages and
fields and houses of Normandy and Brittany you may, as did your
ancestors, live in peace, and bring your bones to rest in that blessed
and honourable ground. My children, my heart is full. Let us move on
together. Napoleon from St. Helena calls to you, Napoleon in Pontiac
calls to you! Will you come?"

Reckless cheering followed; many were carried away into foolish tears,
and Valmond sat still and let them kiss his hand, while pitchers of wine
went round.

"Where is our fakir now, dear monsieur?" said Madame Chalice to De la
Riviere once again.

Valmond got silence with a gesture. He opened his waistcoat, took from
his bosom an order fastened to a little bar of gold, and held it in his
hand.

"Drummer," he said, in a clear, full tone, "call the army to attention."

The old man set their blood tingling with the impish sticks.

"I advance Sergeant Lagroin, of the Old Guard of glorious memory, to the
rank of Captain in my Household Troops, and I command you to obey him as
such."

His look bent upon the crowd, as Napoleon's might have done on the Third
Corps.

"Drummer, call the army to attention," fell the words.

And again like a small whirlwind of hailstones the sticks shook on the
drum.

"I advance Captain Lagroin to the rank of Colonel in my Household Troops,
and I command you to obey him as such."

And once more: "Drummer, call the army to attention."

The sticks swung down, but somehow they faltered, for the drummer was
shaking now.

"I advance Colonel Lagroin to the rank of General in my Household Troops,
and I command you to obey him as such."

Then he beckoned, and the old man drew near. Stooping, he pinned the
order upon his breast. When the sergeant saw what it was, he turned pale,
trembled, and the drumsticks fell from his hand. His eyes shone like sun
on wet glass, then tears sprang from them upon his face. He caught
Valmond's hand and kissed it, and cried, oblivious of them all:

"Ah, sire, sire! It is true. It is true. I know that ribbon, and I know
you are a Napoleon. Sire, I love you, and I will die for you!"

For the first time that day a touch of the fantastic came into Valmond's
manner.

"General," he said, "the centuries look down on us as they looked down on
him, your sire--and mine!"

He doffed his hat, and the hats of all likewise came off in a strange
quiet. A cheer followed, and Valmond motioned for wine to go round
freely. Then he got off his horse, and, taking the weeping old man by the
arm, himself loosening the drum from his belt, they passed into the
hotel.

"A cheerful bit of foolery and treason," said Monsieur De la Riviere to
Madame Chalice.

"My dear Seigneur, if you only had more humour and less patriotism!" she
answered. "Treason may have its virtues. It certainly is interesting,
which, in your present gloomy state, you are not."

"I wonder, madame, that you can countenance this imposture," he broke
out.

"Excellent and superior monsieur, I wonder sometimes that I can
countenance you. Breakfast with me on Sunday, and perhaps I will tell you
why--at twelve o'clock."

She drove on, but, meeting the Cure, stopped her carriage.

"Why so grave, my dear Cure?" she asked, holding out her hand.

He fingered the gold cross upon his breast--she had given it to him two
years before.

"I am going to counsel him--Monsieur Valmond," he said. Then, with a
sigh: "He sent me two hundred dollars for the altar to-day, and fifty
dollars to buy new cassocks for myself."

"Come in the morning and tell me what he says," she answered; "and bring
our dear avocat."

As she looked from her window an hour later, she saw bonfires burning,
and up from the village came the old song, that had prefaced a drama in
Pontiac.

But Elise Malboir had a keener interest that night, for Valmond and
Parpon brought her uncle "General Lagroin," in honour to her mother's
cottage; and she sat and listened dreamily, as Valmond and the old man
talked of great things to be done.

     ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

     Conquest not important enough to satisfy ambition
     Face flushed with a sort of pleasurable defiance
     Touch of the fantastic, of the barbaric, in all genius
     We are only children till we begin to make our dreams our life




WHEN VALMOND CAME TO PONTIAC

The Story of a Lost Napoleon

By Gilbert Parker

Volume 2.




CHAPTER VI

Prince or plebeian, Valmond played his part with equal aplomb at the
simple home of Elise Malboir and at the Manoir Hilaire, where Madame
Chalice received him. His dress had nothing of the bizarre on this
occasion. He was in black-long coat, silk stockings, the collar of his
waistcoat faced with white, his neckerchief white and full, his enamelled
shoes adorned with silver buckles. His present repose and decorum
contrasted strangely with the fanciful display at his first introduction.
Madame Chalice approved instantly, for though the costume was, in itself,
an affectation, previous to the time by a generation, it was in the
picture, was sedately refined. She welcomed him in the salon where many
another distinguished man had been entertained--from Frontenac, and
Vaudreuil, down to Sir Guy Carleton. The Manor had belonged to her
husband's people seventy-five years before, and though, as a banker in
New York, Monsieur Chalice had become an American of the Americans, at
her request he had bought back from a kinsman the old place, unchanged,
furniture and all. Bringing the antique plate, china, and bric-a-brac,
made in France when Henri Quatre was king, she fared away to Quebec, set
the rude mansion in order, and was happy for a whole summer, as was her
husband, the best of fishermen and sportsmen. The Manor House stood on a
knoll, behind which, steppe on steppe, climbed the hills, till they ended
in Dalgrothe Mountain. Beyond the mountain were unexplored regions, hill
and valley floating into hill and valley, lost in a miasmic haze, ruddy,
silent, untenanted, save, mayhap, by the strange people known as the
Little Good Folk of the Scarlet Hills.

The house had been built in the seventeenth century, and the walls were
very thick, to keep out both cold and attack. Beneath the high-pointed
roof were big dormer windows, and huge chimneys flanked each side of the
house. The great roof gave a sense of crouching or hovering, for warmth
or in menace. As Valmond entered the garden, Madame Chalice was leaning
over the lower half of the entrance door, which opened latitudinally, and
was hung on large iron hinges of quaint design, made by some
seventeenth-century forgeron. Behind her deepened hospitably the spacious
hall, studded and heavy beamed, with its unpainted pine ceiling toned to
a good brown by smoke and time. Caribou and moose antlers hung along the
wall, with arquebuses, powder-horns, big shot-bags, swords, and even
pieces of armour, such as Cartier brought with him from St. Malo.

Madame Chalice looked out of this ancient avenue, a contrast, yet a
harmony; for, though her dress was modern, her person had a rare touch of
the archaic, and fitted into the picture like a piece of beautiful
porcelain, coloured long before the art of making fadeless colours was
lost.

There was an amused, meditative smiling at her lips, a kind of wonder,
the tender flush of a new experience. She turned, and, stepping softly
into the salon, seated herself near the immense chimney, in a heavily
carved chair, her feet lost in rich furs on the polished floor. A quaint
table at her hand was dotted with rare old books and miniatures, and
behind her ticked an ancient clock in a tall mahogany case.

Valmond came forward, hat in hand, and raised to his lips the fingers she
gave him. He did it with the vagueness of one in a dream, she thought,
and she neither understood nor relished his uncomplimentary abstraction;
so she straightway determined to give him some troublesome moments.

"I have waited to drink my coffee with you," she said, motioning him to a
seat; "and you may smoke a cigarette, if you wish."

Her eyes wandered over his costume with critical satisfaction.

He waved his hand slightly, declining the permission, and looked at her
with an intent seriousness, which took no account of the immediate charm
of her presence.

"I'd like to ask you a question," he said, without preamble. She was
amused, interested. Here was an unusual man, who ignored the conventional
preliminary nothings, beating down the grass before the play, as it were.

"I was never good at catechism," she answered. "But I will be as
hospitable as I can."

"I've felt," he said, "that you can--can see through things; that you can
balance them, that you get at all sides, and--"

She had been reading Napoleon's letters this very afternoon.

"Full squared?" she interrupted quizzically.

"As the Great Emperor said," he answered. "A woman sees farther than a
man, and if she has judgment as well, she is the best prophet in the
world."

"It sounds distinctly like a compliment," she answered. "You are trying
to break that square!"

She was mystified; he was different from any man she had ever
entertained. She was not half sure she liked it. Yet, if he were in very
truth a prince--she thought of his debut in flowered waistcoat, panama
hat, and enamelled boots!--she should take this confidence as a
compliment; if he were a barber, she could not resent it; she could not
waste wit or time; she could not even, in extremity, call the servant to
show the barber out; and in any case she was too comfortably interested
to worry herself with speculation.

He was very much in earnest. "I want to ask you," he said, "what is the
thing most needed to make a great idea succeed."

"I have never had a great idea," she replied.

He looked at her eagerly, with youthful, questioning eyes.

"How simple, and yet how astute he is!" she thought, remembering the
event of yesterday.

"I thought you had--I was sure you had," he said in a troubled sort of
way. He did not see that she was eluding him.

"I mean, I never had a fixed and definite idea that I proceeded to apply,
as you have done," she explained tentatively. "But--well, I suppose that
the first requisite for success is absolute belief in the idea; that it
be part of one's life; to suffer for, to fight for, to die for, if need
be--though that sounds like a handbook of moral mottoes, doesn't it?"

"That's it, that's it," he said. "The thing must be in your bones--hein?"

"Also in--your blood--hein?" she rejoined slowly and meaningly, looking
over the top of her coffee-cup at him. Somehow again the plebeian quality
in that hein grated on her, and she could not resist the retort.

"What!" said he confusedly, plunging into another pitfall. She had
challenged him, and he knew it. "Nothing what-ever," she answered, with
an urbanity that defied the suggestion of malice. Yet, now that she
remembered, she had sweetly challenged one of a royal house for the like
lapse into the vulgar tongue. A man should not be beheaded because of a
what. So she continued more seriously: "The idea must be himself, all of
him, born with him, the rightful output of his own nature, the thing he
must inevitably do, or waste his life."

She looked him honestly in the eyes. She had spoken with the soft irony
of truth, the blind tyranny of the just. She had meant to test him here
and there by throwing little darts of satire, and yet he made her serious
and candid in spite of herself. He was of kin to her in some part of his
nature. He did not concern her as a man of personal or social
possibilities--merely as an active originality. Leaning back languidly,
she was eyeing him closely from under drooping lids, smiling, too, in an
unimportant sort of way, as if what she had said was a trifle.

Consummate liar and comedian, or true man and no pretender, his eyes did
not falter. They were absorbed, as if in eager study of a theme.

"Yes, yes, that's it; and if he has it, what next?" said he meaningly.

"Well, then, opportunity, joined to coolness, knowledge of men, power of
combination, strategy, and"--she paused, and a purely feminine curiosity
impelled her to add suggestively--"and a woman."

He nodded. "And a woman," he repeated after her musingly, and not turning
it to account cavalierly, as he might have done. He was taking himself
with a simple seriousness that appealed to her.

"You may put strategy out of the definition, leaving in the woman," she
continued ironically.

He felt the point, and her demure dart struck home. But he saw what an
ally she might make. Tremendous possibilities moved before him. His heart
beat faster than it did yesterday when the old sergeant faced him. Here
was beauty--he admired that; power--he wished for that. What might he not
accomplish, no matter how wild his move, with this wonderful creature as
his friend, his ally, his----He paused, for this house had a master as
well as a mistress.

"We will leave in the woman," he said quietly, yet with a sort of trouble
in his face.

"In your idea?" was the negligent question.

"Yes."

"Where is the woman?" insinuated the soft, bewildering voice.

"Here!" he answered emotionally, and he believed it was the truth. She
stood looking meditatively out of the window, not at him.

"In Pontiac?" she asked presently, turning with a child-like surprise.
"Ah, yes, yes! I know--one of the people; suitable for Pontiac; but is it
wise? She is pretty--but is it wise?"

She was adroitly suggesting Elise Malboir, whose little romance she had
discovered.

"She is the prettiest and wisest lady I ever knew, or ever hoped to
know," he said earnestly, laying his hand upon his heart.

"How far will your idea take you?" she asked evasively, her small fingers
tightening a gold hair-pin. "To Paris--to the Tuileries!" he answered,
rising to his feet.

"And you start--from Pontiac?"

"What difference, Pontiac or Cannes, like the Great Master after Elba,"
he said. "The principle is the same."

"The money?"

"It will come," he answered. "I have friends--and hopes."

She almost laughed. She was suddenly struck by the grotesqueness of the
situation. But she saw how she had hurt him, and she said instantly:

"Of course, with those one may go far. Sit down and tell me all your
plans."

He was about to comply, when, glancing out of the window, she saw the old
sergeant, now "General Lagroin," and Parpon hastening up the walk. Parpon
ambled comfortably beside the old man, who seemed ten years younger than
he had done the day before.

"Your army and cabinet, monseigneur!" she said with a pretty, mocking
gesture of salutation.

He glanced at her reprovingly. "My General and my Minister; as brave a
soldier and as able a counsellor as ever prince had. Madame," he added,
"they only are farceurs who do not dare, and have not wisdom. My General
has scars from Auerstadt, Austerlitz, and Waterloo; my Minister is
feared--in Pontiac. Was he not the trusted friend of the Grand Seigneur,
as he was called here, the father of your Monseiur De la Riviere? Has he
yet erred in advising me? Have we yet failed? Madame," he added, a little
rhetorically, "as we have begun, so will we end, true to our principles,
and--"

"And gentlemen of the king," she said provokingly, urging him on.

"Pardon, gentlemen of the Empire, madame, as time and our lives will
prove. . . . Madame, I thank you for your violets of Sunday last."

She admired the acumen that had seized the perfect opportunity to thank
her for the violets, the badge of the Great Emperor.

"My hives shall not be empty of bees--or honey," she said, alluding to
the imperial bees, and she touched his arm in a pretty, gracious fashion.

"Madame--ah, madame!" he replied, and his eyes grew moist.

She bade the servant admit Lagroin and Parpon. They bowed profoundly,
first to Valmond, and afterwards to Madame Chalice. She saw the point,
and it amused her. She read in the old man's eye the soldier's contempt
for women, together with his new-born reverence and love for Valmond.
Lagroin was still dressed in the uniform of the Old Guard, and wore on
his breast the sacred ribbon which Valmond had given him the day before.

"Well, General?" said Valmond.

"Sire," said the old man, "they mock us in the streets. Come to the
window, sire."

The "sire," fell on the ears of Madame Chalice like a mot in a play; but
Valmond, living up to his part, was grave and solicitous. He walked to
the window, and the old man said:

"Sire, do you not hear a drum?"

A faint rat-tat came up the road. Valmond bowed. "Sire," the old man
continued, "I would not act till I had your orders."

"Whence comes the mockery?" Valmond asked quietly.

The other shook his head. "Sire, I do not know. But I remember of such a
thing happening to the Emperor. It was in the garden of the Tuileries,
and twenty-four battalions of the Old Guard filed past our great chief.
Some fool sent out a gamin dressed in regimentals in front of one of the
bands, and then--"

"Enough, General," said Valmond; "I understand. I will go down into the
village--eh, monsieur?" he added, turning to Parpon with impressive
consideration.

"Sire, there is one behind these mockers," answered the little man in a
low voice.

Valmond turned towards Madame Chalice. "I know my enemy, madame," he
said.

"Your enemy is not here," she rejoined kindly.

He stooped over her hand, and bowed Lagroin and Parpon to the door.

"Madame," he said, "I thank you. Will you accept a souvenir of him whom
we both love, martyr and friend of France?"

He drew from his breast a small painting of Napoleon, on ivory, and
handed it to her.

"It was the work of David," he continued. "You will find it well
authenticated. Look upon the back of it."

She looked, and her heart beat a little faster. "This was done when he
was alive?" she said.

"For the King of Rome," he answered. "Adieu, madame. Again I thank you,
for our cause as for myself."

He turned away. She let him get as far as the door. "Wait, wait!" she
said suddenly, a warm light in her face, for her imagination had been
touched. "Tell me, tell me the truth. Who are you? Are you really a
Napoleon? I can be a constant ally, but, I charge you, speak the truth to
me. Are you--" She stopped abruptly. "No, no; do not tell me," she added
quickly. "If you are not, you will be your own executioner. I will ask
for no further proof than did Sergeant Lagroin. It is in a small way yet,
but you are playing a terrible game. Do you realise what may happen?"

"In the hour that you ask a last proof I will give it," he said almost
fiercely. "I go now to meet an enemy."

"If I should change that enemy into a friend--" she hinted.

"Then I should have no need of stratagem or force."

"Force?" she asked suggestively. The drollery of it set her smiling.

"In a week I shall have five hundred men."

"Dreamer!" she thought, and shook her head dubiously; but, glancing again
at the ivory portrait, her mood changed.

"Au revoir," she said. "Come and tell me about the mockers. Success go
with you--sire."

Yet she did not know whether she thought him sire or sinner, gentleman or
comedian, as she watched him go down the hill with Lagroin and Parpon.
But she had the portrait. How did he get it? No matter, it was hers now.

Curious to know more of the episode in the village below, she ordered her
carriage, and came driving slowly past the Louis Quinze at an exciting
moment. A crowd had gathered, and boys, and even women, were laughing and
singing in ridicule snatches of, "Vive Napoleon!" For, in derision of
yesterday's event, a small boy, tricked out with a paper cocked-hat and
incongruous regimentals, with a hobby-horse between his legs, was
marching up and down, preceded by another lad, who played a toy drum in
derision of Lagroin. The children had been well rehearsed, for even as
Valmond arrived upon the scene, Lagroin and Parpon on either side of him,
the mock Valmond was bidding the drummer: "Play up the feet of the army!"

The crowd parted on either side, silenced and awed by the look of
potential purpose in the face of this yesterday's hero. The old
sergeant's glance was full of fury, Parpon's of a devilish sort of glee.

Valmond approached the lads.

"My children," he said kindly, "you have not learned your lesson well
enough. You shall be taught." He took the paper caps from their heads. "I
will give you better caps than these." He took the hobby-horse, the drum,
and the tin swords. "I will give you better things than these." He put
the caps on the ground, added the toys to the heap, and Parpon, stooping,
lighted the paper. Scattering money among the crowd, and giving some
silver to the lads, Valmond stood looking at the bonfire for a moment,
and then, pointing to it dramatically, said:

"My friends, my brothers, Frenchmen, we will light larger fires than
these. Your young Seigneur sought to do me honour this afternoon. I thank
him, and he shall have proof of my affection in due time. And now our
good landlord's wine is free to you, for one goblet each. My children,"
he added, turning to the little mockers, "come to me to-morrow and I will
show you how to be soldiers. My General shall teach you what to do, and I
will teach you what to say."

Almost instantly there arose the old admiring cries of, "Vive Napoleon!"
and he knew that he had regained his ground. Amid the pleasant tumult the
three entered the hotel together, like people in a play.

As they were going up the stairs, Parpon whispered to the old soldier,
who laid his hand fiercely upon the fine sword at his side, given him
that morning by Valmond; for, looking down, Lagroin saw the young
Seigneur maliciously laughing at them, as if in delight at the mischief
he had caused.

That night, at nine o'clock, the old sergeant went to the Seigneury,
knocked, and was admitted to a room where were seated the young Seigneur,
Medallion, and the avocat.

"Well, General," said De la Riviere, rising with great formality, "what
may I do to serve you? Will you join our party?" He motioned to a chair.

The old man's lips were set and stern, and he vouchsafed no reply to the
hospitable request.

"Monsieur," he said, "to-day you threw dirt at my great master. He is of
royal blood, and he may not fight you. But I, monsieur, his General,
demand satisfaction--swords or pistols!"

De la Riviere sat down, leaned back in his chair, and laughed. Without a
word the old man stepped forward, and struck him across the mouth with
his red cotton handkerchief.

"Then take that, monsieur," said he, "from one who fought for the First
Napoleon, and will fight for this Napoleon against the tongue of slander
and the acts of fools. I killed two Prussians once for saying that the
Great Emperor's shirt stuck out below his waistcoat. You'll find me at
the Louis Quinze," he added, before De la Riviere, choking with wrath,
could do more than get to his feet; and, wheeling, he left the room.

The young Seigneur would have followed him, but the avocat laid a
restraining hand upon his arm, and Medallion said: "Dear Seigneur, see,
you can't fight him. The parish would only laugh."

De la Riviere took the advice, and on Sunday, over the coffee, unburdened
the tale to Madame Chalice.

Contrary to his expectations, she laughed a great deal, then soothed his
wounded feelings and advised him as Medallion had done. And because
Valmond commanded the old sergeant to silence, the matter ended for the
moment. But it would have its hour yet, and Valmond knew this as well as
did the young Seigneur.




CHAPTER VII

It was no jest of Valmond's that he would, or could, have five hundred
followers in two weeks. Lagroin and Parpon were busy, each in his own
way--Lagroin, open, bluff, imperative; Parpon, silent, acute, shrewd. Two
days before the feast of St. John the Baptist, the two made a special
tour through the parish for certain recruits. If these could be enlisted,
a great many men of this and other parishes would follow. They were, by
name, Muroc the charcoalman, Duclosse the mealman, Lajeunesse the
blacksmith, and Garotte the limeburner, all men of note, after their
kind, with influence and individuality.

Lagroin chafed that he must play recruiting-sergeant and general also.
But it gave him comfort to remember that the Great Emperor had not at
times disdained to be his own recruiting-sergeant; that, after Friedland,
he himself had been taken into the Old Guard by the Emperor; that Davoust
had called him brother; that Ney had shared his supper and slept with him
under the same blanket. Parpon would gladly have done this work alone,
but he knew that Lagroin in his regimentals would be useful.

The sought-for comrades were often to be found together about the noon
hour in the shop of Jose Lajeunesse. They formed the coterie of the
humble, even as the Cure's coterie represented the aristocracy of
Pontiac--with Medallion as a connecting link.

Arches and poles were being put up, to be decorated against the
feast-day, and piles of wood for bonfires were arranged at points on the
hills round the village. Cheer and goodwill were everywhere, for a fine
harvest was in view, and this feast-day always brought gladness and
simple revelling. Parish interchanged with parish; but, because it was so
remote, Pontiac was its own goal of pleasure, and few fared forth, though
others came from Ville Bambord and elsewhere to join the fete. As Lagroin
and the dwarf came to the door of the smithy, they heard the loud laugh
of Lajeunesse.

"Good!" said Parpon. "Hear how he tears his throat!"

"If he has sense, I'll make a captain of him," remarked Lagroin
consequentially.

"You shall beat him into a captain on his own anvil," rejoined the little
man.

They entered the shop. Lajeunesse was leaning on his bellows, laughing,
and holding an iron in the spitting fire; Muroc was seated on the edge of
the cooling tub; and Duclosse was resting on a bag of his excellent meal.
Garotte was the only missing member of the quartette.

Muroc was a wag, a grim sort of fellow, black from his trade, with big
rollicking eyes. At times he was not easy to please, but if he took a
liking, he was for joking at once. He approved of Parpon, and never lost
a chance of sharpening his humour on the dwarf's impish whetstone of a
tongue.

"Lord! Lord!" he cried, with feigned awe, getting to his feet at sight of
the two. Then, to his comrades, "Children, children, off with your hats!
Here is Monsieur Talleyrand, if I'm not mistaken. On to your feet,
mealman, and dust your stomach. Lajeunesse, wipe your face with your
leather. Duck your heads, stupids!"

With mock solemnity the three greeted Parpon and Lagroin. The old
sergeant's face flushed, and his hand dropped to his sword; but he had
promised Parpon to say nothing till he got his cue, and he would keep his
word. So he disposed himself in an attitude of martial attention. The
dwarf bowed to the others with a face of as great gravity as the
charcoalman's, and waving his hand, said:

"Keep your seats, my children, and God be with you. You are right,
smutty-face; I am Monsieur Talleyrand, Minister of the Crown."

"The devil, you say!" cried the mealman.

"Tut, tut!" said Lajeunesse, chaffing; "haven't you heard the news? The
devil is dead!"

The dwarf's hand went into his pocket. "My poor orphan," said he,
trotting over and thrusting some silver into the blacksmith's pocket, "I
see he hasn't left you well off. Accept my humble gift."

"The devil dead?" cried Muroc; "then I'll go marry his daughter."

Parpon climbed up on a pile of untired wheels, and with an elfish grin
began singing. Instantly the three humorists became silent and listened,
the blacksmith pumping his bellows mechanically the while.

       "O mealman white, give me your daughter,
        Oh, give her to me, your sweet Suzon!
        O mealman dear, you can do no better
        For I have a chateau at Malmaison.

        Black charcoalman, you shall not have her
        She shall not marry you, my Suzon--
        A bag of meal--and a sack of carbon!
        Non, non, non, non, non, non, non, non!

        Go look at your face, my fanfaron,
        For my daughter and you would be night and day,
        Non, non, non, non, non, non, non, non,
        Not for your chateau at Malmaison,
        Non, non, non, non, non, non, non, non,
        You shall not marry her, my Suzon."

A better weapon than his waspish tongue was Parpon's voice, for it,
before all, was persuasive. A few years before, none of them had ever
heard him sing. An accident discovered it to them, and afterwards he sang
for them but little, and never when it was expected of him. He might be
the minister of a dauphin or a fool, but he was now only the mysterious
Parpon who thrilled them. All the soul cramped in the small body was
showing in his eyes, as on that day when he had sung before the Louis
Quinze.

A face suddenly appeared at a little door just opposite him. No one but
Parpon saw it. It belonged to Madelinette, the daughter of Lajeunesse,
who had a voice of merit. More than once the dwarf had stopped to hear
her singing as he passed the smithy. She sang only the old chansons and
the songs of the voyageurs, with a far greater sweetness and richness,
however, than any in the parish; and the Cure could detect her among all
others at mass. She had been taught her notes, but that had only opened
up possibilities, and fretted her till she was unhappy. What she felt she
could not put into her singing, for the machinery, unknown and
tyrannical, was not hers. Twice before she had heard Parpon sing--at mass
when the miller's wife was buried, and he, forgetting the world, had
poured forth all his beautiful voice; and on that notable night before
the Louis Quinze. If he would but teach her those songs of his, give her
that sound of an organ in her throat! Parpon guessed what she thought.
Well, he would see what could be done, if the blacksmith joined Valmond's
standard.

He stopped singing.

"That's as good as dear Caron, the vivandiere of the Third Corps. Blood
o' my body, I believe it's better--almost!" said Lagroin, nodding his
head patronisingly. "She dragged me from under the mare of a damned
Russian that cut me down, before he got my bayonet in his liver. Caron!
Caron! ah yes, brave Caron! my dear Caron!" said the old man, smiling
through the alluring light that the song had made for him, as he looked
behind the curtain of the years.

Parpon's pleasant ridicule was not lost on the charcoalman and the
mealman; but neither was the singing wasted; and their faces were touched
with admiration, while the blacksmith, with a sigh, turned to his fire
and blew the bellows softly.

"Blacksmith," said Parpon, "you have a bird that sings."

"I've no bird that sings like that, though she has pretty notes, my
bird." He sighed again. "'Come, blacksmith,' said the Count Lassone, when
he came here a-fishing, 'that's a voice for a palace,' said he. 'Take it
out of the woods and teach it,' said he, 'and it will have all Paris
following it.' That to me, a poor blacksmith, with only my bread and sour
milk, and a hundred dollars a year or so, and a sup of brandy when I can
get it."

The charcoalman spoke up. "You'll not forget the indulgences folks give
you more than the pay for setting the dropped shoe--true gifts of God,
bought with good butter and eggs at the holy auction, blacksmith. I gave
you two myself. You have your blessings, Lajeunesse."

"So; and no one to use the indulgences but you and Madelinette, giant,"
said the fat mealman.

"Ay, thank the Lord, we've done well that way!" said the blacksmith,
drawing himself up--for he loved nothing better than to be called the
giant, though he was known to many as petit enfant, in irony of his size.

Lagroin was now impatient. He could not see the drift of this, and he was
about to whisper to Parpon, when the little man sent him a look,
commanding silence, and he fretted on dumbly.

"See, my blacksmith," said Parpon, "your bird shall be taught to sing,
and to Paris she shall go by and by."

"Such foolery!" said Duclosse.

"What's in your noddle, Parpon?" cried the charcoalman.

The blacksmith looked at Parpon, his face all puzzled eagerness. But
another face at the door grew pale with suspense. Parpon quickly turned
towards it. "See here, Madelinette," he said, in a low voice. The girl
stepped inside and came to her father. Lajeunesse's arm ran round her
shoulder. There was no corner of his heart into which she had not crept.
"Out with it, Parpon!" called the blacksmith hoarsely, for the daughter's
voice had followed herself into those farthest corners of his rugged
nature.

"I will teach her to sing first; then she shall go to Quebec, and
afterwards to Paris, my friend," he answered.

The girl's eyes were dilating with a great joy. "Ah, Parpon--good
Parpon!" she whispered.

"But Paris! Paris! There's gossip for you, thick as mortar," cried the
charcoalman, and the mealman's fingers beat a tattoo on his stomach.

Parpon waved his hand. "'Look to the weevil in your meal, Duclosse; and
you, smutty-face, leave true things to your betters. See, blacksmith," he
added, "she shall go to Quebec, and after that to Paris."

Here he got off the wheels, and stepped out into the centre of the shop.
"Our master will do that for you. I swear for him, and who can say that
Parpon was ever a liar?"

The blacksmith's hand tightened on his daughter's shoulder. He was
trembling with excitement.

"Is it true? is it true?" he asked, and the sweat stood out on his
forehead.

"He sends this for Madelinette," answered the dwarf, handing over a
little bag of gold to the girl, who drew back. But Parpon went close to
her, and gently forced it into her hands.

"Open it," he said. She did so, and the blacksmith's eyes gloated on the
gold. Muroc and Duclosse drew near, and peered in also. And so they stood
there for a little while, all looking and exclaiming.

Presently Lajeunesse scratched his head. "Nobody does nothing for
nothing," said he. "What horse do I shoe for this?"

"La, la!" said the charcoalman, sticking a thumb in the blacksmith's
side; "you only give him the happy hand--like that!"

Duclosse was more serious. "It is the will of God that you become a
marshal or a duke," he said wheezingly to the blacksmith. "You can't say
no; it is the will of God, and you must bear it like a man."

The child saw further; perhaps the artistic strain in her gave her keener
reasoning.

"Father," she said, "Monsieur Valmond wants you for a soldier."

"Wants me?" he roared in astonishment. "Who's to shoe the horses a week
days, and throw the weight o' Sundays after mass? Who's to handle a stick
for the Cure when there's fighting among the river-men?

"But there, la, la! many a time my wife, my good Florienne, said to me,
'Jose--Jose Lajeunesse, with a chest like yours, you ought to be a
corporal at least.'"

Parpon beckoned to Lagroin, and nodded. "Corporal! corporal!" cried
Lagroin; "in a week you shall be a lieutenant and a month shall make you
a captain, and maybe better than that!"

"Better than that--bagosh!" cried the charcoalman in surprise, proudly
using the innocuous English oath. "Better than that--sutler, maybe?" said
the mealman, smacking his lips.

"Better than that," replied Lagroin, swelling with importance. "Ay, ay,
my dears, great things are for you. I command the army, and I have free
hand from my master. Ah, what joy to serve a Napoleon once again! What
joy! Lord, how I remember--"

"Better than that-eh?" persisted Duclosse, perspiring, the meal on his
face making a sort of paste.

"A general or a governor, my children," said Lagroin. "First in, first
served. Best men, best pickings. But every man must love his chief, and
serve him with blood and bayonet; and march o' nights if need, and limber
up the guns if need, and shoe a horse if need, and draw a cork if need,
and cook a potato if need; and be a hussar, or a tirailleur, or a
trencher, or a general, if need. But yes, that's it; no pride but the
love of France and the cause, and--"

"And Monsieur Valmond," said the charcoalman slyly.

"And Monsieur the Emperor!" cried Lagroin almost savagely.

He caught Parpon's eye, and instantly his hand went to his pocket.

"Ah, he is a comrade, that! Nothing is too good for his friends, for his
soldiers. See!" he added.

He took from his pocket ten gold pieces. "'These are bagatelles,' said
His Excellency to me; 'but tell my friends, Monsieur Muroc and Monsieur
Duclosse and Monsieur Garotte, that they are buttons for the coats of my
sergeants, and that my captains' coats have ten times as many buttons.
Tell them,' said he, 'that my friends shall share my fortunes; that
France needs us; that Pontiac shall be called the nest of heroes. Tell
them that I will come to them at nine o'clock tonight, and we will swear
fidelity.'"

"And a damned good speech too--bagosh!" cried the mealman, his fingers
hungering for the gold pieces. "We're to be captains pretty soon--eh?"
asked Muroc.

"As quick as I've taught you to handle a company," answered Lagroin, with
importance.

"I was a patriot in '37," said Muroc. "I went against the English; I held
abridge for two hours. I have my musket yet."

"I am a patriot now," urged Duclosse. "Why the devil not the English
first, then go to France, and lick the Orleans!"

"They're a skittish lot, the Orleans; they might take it in their heads
to fight," suggested Muroc, with a little grin.

"What the devil do you expect?" roared the blacksmith, blowing the
bellows hard in his excitement, one arm still round his daughter's
shoulder. "D'you think we're going to play leap-frog into the Tuileries?
There's blood to let, and we're to let it!"

"Good, my leeches!" said Parpon; "you shall have blood to suck. But we'll
leave the English be. France first, then our dogs will take a snap at the
flag on the citadel yonder." He nodded in the direction of Quebec.

Lagroin then put five gold pieces each into the hands of Muroc and
Duclosse, and said:

"I take you into the service of Prince Valmond Napoleon, and you do
hereby swear to serve him loyally, even to the shedding of your blood,
for his honour and the honour of France; and you do also vow to require a
like loyalty and obedience of all men under your command. Swear."

There was a slight pause, for the old man's voice had the ring of a fatal
earnestness. It was no farce, but a real thing.

"Swear," he said again. "Raise your right hand."

"Done!" said Muroc. "To the devil with the charcoal! I'll go wash my
face."

"There's my hand on it," added Duclosse; "but that rascal Petrie will get
my trade, and I'd rather be strung by the Orleans than that."

"Till I've no more wind in my bellows!" responded Lajeunesse, raising his
hand, "if he keeps faith with my Madelinette."

"On the honour of a soldier," said Lagroin, and he crossed himself.

"God save us all!" said Parpon. Obeying a motion of the dwarf's hand,
Lagroin drew from his pocket a flask of cognac, with four little tin cups
fitting into each other. Handing one to each, he poured them brimming
full. Then, filling his own, he spilled a little in the steely dust of
the smithy floor. All did the same, though they knew not why.

"What's that for?" asked the mealman.

"To show the Little Corporal, dear Corporal Violet, and my comrades of
the Old Guard, that we don't forget them," cried Lagroin.

He drank slowly, holding his head far back, and as he brought it straight
again, he swung on his heel, for two tears were racing down his cheeks.

The mealman wiped his eyes in sympathy; the charcoalman shook his head at
the blacksmith, as though to say, "Poor devil!" and Parpon straightway
filled their glasses again. Madelinette took the flask to the old
sergeant. He looked at her kindly, and patted her shoulder. Then he
raised his glass.

"Ah, the brave Caron, the dear Lucette Caron! Ah, the time she dragged me
from under the Russian's mare!" He smiled into the distance. "Who can
tell? Perhaps, perhaps--again!" he added.

Then, all at once, as if conscious of the pitiful humour of his
meditations, he came to his feet, straightened his shoulders, and cried:

"To her we love best!"

The charcoalman drank, and smacked his lips. "Yes, yes," he said, looking
into the cup admiringly; "like mother's milk that. White of my eye, but I
do love her!"

The mealman cocked his glance towards the open door. "Elise!" he said
sentimentally, and drank. The blacksmith kissed his daughter, and his
hand rested on her head as he lifted the cup, but he said never a word.

Parpon took one sip, then poured his liquor upon the ground, as though
down there was what he loved best; but his eyes were turned to Dalgrothe
Mountain, which he could see through the open door.

"France!" cried the old soldier stoutly, and tossed off the liquor.




CHAPTER VIII

That night Valmond and his three new recruits, to whom Garotte the
limeburner had been added, met in the smithy and swore fealty to the
great cause. Lajeunesse, by virtue of his position in the parish, and his
former military experience, was made a captain, and the others sergeants
of companies yet unnamed and unformed. The limeburner was a dry, thin man
of no particular stature, who coughed a little between his sentences, and
had a habit, when not talking, of humming to himself, as if in apology
for his silence. This humming had no sort of tune or purpose, and was but
a vague musical sputtering. He almost perilled the gravity of the oath
they all took to Valmond by this idiosyncrasy. His occupation gave him a
lean, arid look; his hair was crisp and straight, shooting out at all
points, and it flew to meet his cap as if it were alive. He was a genius
after a fashion, too, and at all the feasts and on national holidays he
invented some new feature in the entertainments. With an eye for the
grotesque, he had formed a company of jovial blades, called
Kalathumpians, after the manner of the mimes of old times in his beloved
Dauphiny.

"All right, all right," he said, when Lagroin, in the half-lighted
blacksmith shop, asked him to swear allegiance and service. "'Brigadier,
vous avez raison,'" he added, quoting a well-known song. Then he hummed a
little and coughed. "We must have a show"--he hummed again--"we must
tickle 'em up a bit--touch 'em where they're silly with a fiddle and
fife-raddy dee dee, ra dee, ra dee, ra dee!" Then, to Valmond: "We gave
the fools who fought the Little Corporal sour apples in Dauphiny, my
dear!"

He followed this extraordinary speech with a plan for making an ingenious
coup for Valmond, when his Kalathumpians should parade the streets on the
evening of St. John the Baptist's Day.

With hands clasped the new recruits sang:

          "When from the war we come,
          Allons gai!
          Oh, when we ride back home,
          If we be spared that day,
          Ma luronne lurette,
          We'll laugh our scars away,
          Ma luronne lure,
          We'll lift the latch and stay,
          Ma luronne lure."

The huge frame of the blacksmith, his love for his daughter, his simple
faith in this new creed of patriotism, his tenderness of heart, joined to
his irascible disposition, spasmodic humour, and strong arm, roused in
Valmond an immediate liking, as keen, after its kind, as that he had for
the Cure; and the avocat. With both of these he had had long talks of
late, on everything but purely personal matters. They would have thought
it a gross breach of etiquette to question him on that which he avoided.
His admiration of them was complete, although he sometimes laughed half
sadly, half whimsically, as he thought of their simple faith in him.

At dusk on the eve of St. John the Baptist's Day, after a long conference
with Lagroin and Parpon, Valmond went through the village, and came to
the smithy to talk with Lajeunesse. Those who recognised him in passing
took off their bonnets rouges, some saying, "Good-night, your Highness;"
some, "How are you, monseigneur?" some, "God bless your Excellency;" and
a batch of bacchanalian river-men, who had been drinking, called him
"General," and insisted on embracing him, offering him cognac from their
tin flasks.

The appearance among them of old Madame Degardy shifted the good-natured
attack. For many a year, winter and summer, she had come and gone in the
parish, all rags and tatters, wearing men's kneeboots and cap, her grey
hair hanging down in straggling curls, her lower lip thrust out fiercely,
her quick eyes wandering to and fro, and her sharp tongue, like Parpon's,
clearing a path before her whichever way she turned. On her arm she
carried a little basket of cakes and confitures, and these she dreamed
she sold, for they were few who bought of Crazy Joan. The stout stick she
carried was as compelling as her tongue, so that when the river-men
surrounded her in amiable derision, it was used freely and with a heart
all kindness: "For the good of their souls," she said, "since the Cure
was too mild, Mary in heaven bless him high and low!"

She was the Cure's champion everywhere, and he in turn was tender towards
the homeless body, whose history even to him was obscure, save in the few
particulars that he had given to Valmond the last time they had met.

In her youth Madame Degardy was pretty and much admired. Her lover had
deserted her, and in a fit of mad indignation and despair she had fled
from the village, and vanished no one knew where, though it had been
declared by a wandering hunter that she had been seen in the far-off
hills that march into the south, and that she lived there with a
barbarous mountaineer, who had himself long been an outlaw from his kind.

But this had been mere gossip, and after twenty-five years she came back
to Pontiac, a half-mad creature, and took up the thread of her life
alone; and Parpon and the Cure saw that she suffered nothing in the hard
winters.

Valmond left the river-men to the tyranny of her tongue and stick, and
came on to where the red light of the forge showed through the smithy
window. As he neared the door, he heard a voice singularly sweet, and
another of commoner calibre was joining in the refrain of a song:

    "'Oh, traveller, see where the red sparks rise,'
     (Fly away, my heart, fly away!)
     But dark is the mist in the traveller's eyes.
     (Fly away, my heart, fly away!)
     'Oh, traveller, see far down the gorge,
     The crimson light from my father's forge.
     (Fly away, my heart, fly away!)

    "'Oh, traveller, hear how the anvils ring.'
     (Fly away, my heart, fly away!)
     But the traveller heard, ah, never a thing.
     (Fly away, my heart, fly away!)
     'Oh, traveller, loud do the bellows roar,
     And my father waits by the smithy door.
     (Fly away, my heart, fly away!)

    "'Oh, traveller, see you thy true love's grace.'
     (Fly away, my heart, fly away!)
     And now there is joy in the traveller's face.
     (Fly away, my heart, fly away!)
     Oh, wild does he ride through the rain and mire,
     To greet his love by the smithy fire.
     (Fly away, my heart, fly away!)"

In accompaniment, some one was beating softly on the anvil, and the
bellows were blowing rhythmically.

He lingered for a moment, loath to interrupt the song, and then softly
opened the upper half of the door, for it was divided horizontally, and
leaned over the lower part.

Beside the bellows, her sleeves rolled up, her glowing face cowled in her
black hair, comely and strong, stood Elise Malboir, pushing a rod of
steel into the sputtering coals. Over the anvil, with a small bar caught
in a pair of tongs, hovered Madelinette Lajeunesse, beating, almost
tenderly, the red-hot point of the steel. The sound of the iron hammer on
the malleable metal was like muffled silver, and the sparks flew out like
jocund fireflies. She was making two hooks for her kitchen wall, for she
was clever at the forge, and could shoe a horse if she were let to do so.
She was but half-turned to Valmond, but he caught the pure outlines of
her face and neck, her extreme delicacy of expression, which had a
pathetic, subtle refinement, in acute contrast to the quick, abundant
health, the warm energy, the half defiant look of Elise. It was a picture
of labour and life.

A dozen thoughts ran through Valmond's mind. He was responsible, to an
extent, for the happiness of these two young creatures. He had promised
to make a songstress of the one, to send her to Paris; had roused in her
wild, ambitious hopes of fame and fortune--dreams that, in any case,
could be little like the real thing: fanciful visions of conquest and
golden living, where never the breath of her hawthorn and wild violets
entered; only sickly perfumes, as from an odalisque's fan, amid the
enervating splendour of voluptuous boudoirs--for she had read of these
things.

Valmond had, in a vague, graceless sort of way, worked upon the quick
emotions of Elise. Every little touch of courtesy had been returned to
him in half-shy, half-ardent glances; in flushes, which the kiss he had
given her the first day of their meeting had made the signs of an
intermittent fever; in modest yet alluring waylayings; in restless
nights, in half-tuneful, half-silent days; in a sweet sort of petulance.
She had kept in mind everything he had said to her; the playfully
emotional pressure of her hand, his eloquent talks with her uncle, the
old sergeant's rhapsodies on his greatness; and there was no place in the
room where he had sat or stood, which she had not made sacred--she, the
mad cap, who had lovers by the dozen. Importuned by the Cure and her
mother to marry, she had threatened, if they worried her further, to wed
fat Duclosse, the mealman, who had courted her in a ponderous way for at
least three years. The fire that corrodes, when it does not make glorious
without and within, was in her veins, and when Valmond should call she
was ready to come. She could not, at first, see that if he were, in
truth, a Napoleon, she was not for him. Seized of that wilful, daring
spirit called Love, her sight was bounded by the little field where she
strayed.

Elise's arm paused upon the lever of the bellows, when she saw Valmond
watching them from the door. He took off his hat to them, as Madelinette
turned towards him, the hammer pausing in the stroke.

"Ah, monseigneur!" she said impulsively, and then paused, confused. Elise
did not move, but stood looking at him, her eyes all flame, her cheeks
going a little pale, and flushing again. With a quick motion she pushed
her hair back, and as he stepped inside and closed the door behind him,
she blew the bellows, as if to give a brighter light to the place. The
fire flared up, but there were corners in deep shadow. Valmond doffed his
hat again and said ceremoniously: "Mademoiselle Madelinette, Mademoiselle
Elise, pray do not stop your work. Let me sit here and watch you."

Taking from his pocket a cigarette, he came over to the forge and was
about to light it with the red steel from the fire, when Elise, snatching
up a tiny piece of wood, thrust it in the coals, and, drawing it out,
held it towards the cigarette, saying:

"Ah, no, your Excellency--this!"

As Valmond reached to take it from her, he heard a sound, as of a hoarse
breathing, and turned quickly; but his outstretched hand touched Elise's
fingers, and it involuntarily closed on them, all her impulsive
temperament and warm life thrilling through him. The shock of feeling
brought his eyes to hers with a sudden burning mastery. For an instant
their looks fused and were lost in a passionate affiance. Then, as if
pulling himself out of a dream, he released her fingers with a
"Pardon--my child!"

As he did so, a cry ran through the smithy. Madelinette was standing,
tense and set with terror, her eyes riveted on something that crouched
beside a pile of cart-wheels a few feet away; something with shaggy head,
flaring eyes, and a devilish face. The thing raised itself and sprang
towards hers with a devouring cry. With desperate swiftness leaping
forward, Valmond caught the half man, half beast--it seemed that--by the
throat. Madelinette fell fainting against the anvil, and, dazed and
trembling, Elise hurried to her.

Valmond was in the grasp of a giant, and, struggle as he might, he could
not withstand the powerful arms of his assailant. They came to their
knees on the ground, where they clutched and strained for a wild minute,
Valmond desperately fighting to keep the huge bony fingers from his neck.
Suddenly the giant's knee touched the red-hot steel that Madelinette had
dropped, and with a snarl he flung Valmond back against the anvil, his
head striking the iron with a sickening thud. Then, seizing the steel, he
raised it to plunge the still glowing point into Valmond's eyes.

Centuries of doom seemed crowded into that instant of time. Valmond
caught the giant's wrist with both hands, and with a mighty effort
wrenched himself aside. His heart seemed to strain and burst, and just as
he felt the end was come, he heard something crash on the murderer's
skull, and the great creature fell with a gurgling sound, and lay like a
parcel of loose bones across his knees. Valmond raised himself, a
strange, dull wonder on him, for as the weapon smote this lifeless
creature, he had seen another hurl by and strike the opposite wall. A
moment afterwards the dead man was pulled away by Parpon. Trying to rise
he felt blood trickling down his neck, and he turned sick and blind. As
the world slipped away from him, a soft shoulder caught his head, and out
of a vast distance there came to him the wailing cry: "He is dying! my
love! my love!"

Peril and horror had brought to Elise's breast the one being in the world
for her, the face which was etched like a picture upon her eyes and
heart.

Parpon groaned with a strange horror as he dragged the body from Valmond.
For a moment he knelt gasping beside the shapeless being, his great hands
spasmodically feeling the pulseless breast.

Soon afterwards in the blacksmith's house the two girls nestled in each
other's arms, and Valmond, shaken and weak, returned to the smithy.

In the dull glare of the forge fire knelt Parpon, rocking back and forth
beside the body. Hearing Valmond, he got to his feet.

"You have killed him," he said, pointing.

"No, no, not I," answered Valmond. "Some one threw a hammer."

"There were two hammers."

"It was Elise?" asked Valmond, with a shudder. "No, not Elise; it was
you," said the dwarf, with a strange insistence.

"I tell you no," said Valmond. "It was you, Parpon."

"By God, it is a lie!" cried the dwarf, with a groan. Then he came close
to Valmond. "He was--my brother! Do you not see?" he demanded fiercely,
his eyes full of misery. "Do you not see that it was you? Yes, yes, it
was you."

Stooping, Valmond caught the little man in an embrace. "It was I that
killed him, Parpon. It was I, comrade. You saved my life," he added
significantly. "The girl threw, but missed," said Parpon. "She does not
know but that she struck him."

"She must be told."

"I will tell her that you killed him. Leave it to me--all to me, my grand
seigneur."

A half-hour afterwards the avocat, the Cure, and the Little Chemist, had
heard the story as the dwarf told it, and Valmond returned to the Louis
Quinze a hero. For hours the habitants gathered under his window and
cheered him.

Parpon sat long in gloomy silence by his side, but, raising his voice, he
began to sing softly a lament for the gross-figured body, lying alone in
a shed near the deserted smithy:

       "Children, the house is empty,
        The house behind the tall hill;
        Lonely and still is the empty house.
        There is no face in the doorway,
        There is no fire in the chimney.
        Come and gather beside the gate,
        Little Good Folk of the Scarlet Hills.

       "Where has the wild dog vanished?
        Where has the swift foot gone?
        Where is the hand that found the good fruit,
        That made a garret of wholesome herbs?
        Where is the voice that awoke the morn,
        The tongue that defied the terrible beasts?
        Come and listen beside the door,
        Little Good Folk of the Scarlet Hills."

The pathos of the chant almost made his listener shrink, so immediate and
searching was it. When the lament ceased, there was a long silence,
broken by Valmond.

"He was your brother, Parpon--how? Tell me about it."

The dwarf's eyes looked into the distance.

"It was in the far-off country," he said, "in the hills where the Little
Good Folk come. My mother married an outlaw. Ah, he was cruel, and an
animal! My brother Gabriel was born--he was a giant, his brain all
fumbling and wild. Then I was born, so small, a head as a tub, and long
arms like a gorilla. We burrowed in the hills, Gabriel and I. One day my
mother, because my father struck her, went mad, left us and came to--" He
broke off, pausing an instant. "Then Gabriel struck the man, and he died,
and we buried him, and my brother also left me, and I was alone. By and
by I travelled to Pontiac. Once Gabriel came down from the hills, and
Lajeunesse burnt him with a hot iron, for cutting his bellows in the
night, to make himself a bed inside them. To-day he came again to do some
terrible thing to the blacksmith or the girl, and you have seen--ah, the
poor Gabriel, and I killed him!"

"I killed him," said Valmond--"I, Parpon, my friend."

"My poor fool, my wild dog!" wailed the dwarf mournfully.

"Parpon," asked Valmond suddenly, "where is your mother?"

"It is no matter. She has forgotten--she is safe."

"If she should see him!" said Valmond tentatively, for a sudden thought
had come to him that the mother of these misfits of God was Madame
Degardy.

Parpon sprang to his-feet. "She shall not see him. Ah, you know! You have
guessed?" he cried. "She is all safe with me."

"She shall not see him. She shall not know," repeated the dwarf, his eyes
huddling back in his head with anguish.

"Does she not remember you?"

"She does not remember the living, but she would remember the dead. She
shall not know," he said again.

Then, seizing Valmond's hand, he kissed it, and, without a word, trotted
from the room--a ludicrously pathetic figure.




CHAPTER IX

Now and again the moon showed through the cloudy night, and the air was
soft and kind. Parpon left behind him the village street, and, after a
half mile or more of travel, came to a spot where a crimson light showed
beyond a little hill. He halted a moment, as if to think and listen, then
crawled up the bank and looked down. Beside a still smoking lime-kiln an
abandoned fire was burning down into red coals. The little hut of the
lime-burner was beyond in a hollow, and behind that again was a lean-to,
like a small shed or stable. Hither stole the dwarf, first pausing to
listen a moment at the door of the hut.

Leaning into the darkness of the shed, he gave a soft, crooning call. Low
growls of dogs came in quick reply. He stepped inside, and spoke to them:

"Good dogs! good dogs! good Musket, Coffee, Filthy, Jo-Jo--steady,
steady, idiots!" for the huge brutes were nosing him, throwing themselves
against: him, and whining gratefully. Feeling the wall, he took down some
harness, and, in the dark, put a set on each dog--mere straps for the
shoulders, halters, and traces; called to them sharply to be quiet, and,
keeping hold of their collars, led them out into the night. He paused to
listen again. Presently he drove the dogs across the road, and attached
them to a flat vehicle, without wheels or runners, used by Garotte for
the drawing of lime and stones. It was not so heavy as many machines of
the kind, and at a quick word from the dwarf the dogs darted away.
Unseen, a mysterious figure hurried on after them, keeping well in the
shadow of the trees fringing the side of the road.

The dwarf drove the dogs down a lonely side lane to the village, and came
to the shed where lay the uncomely thing he had called brother. He felt
for a spot where there was a loose board, forced it and another with his
strong fingers, and crawled in. Reappearing with the dead body, he bore
it in his huge arms to the stoneboat: a midget carrying a giant. He
covered up the face, and, returning to the shed, placed his coat against
the boards to deaden the sound, and hammered them tight again with a
stone, after having straightened the grass about. Returning, he found the
dogs cowering with fear, for one of them had pushed the cloth off the
dead man's face with his nose, and death exercised its weird dominion
over them. They crouched together, whining and tugging at the traces.
With a persuasive word he started them away.

The pursuing, watchful figure followed at a distance, on up the road, on
over the little hills, on into the high hills, the dogs carrying along
steadily the grisly load. And once their driver halted them, and sat in
the grey gloom and dust beside the dead body.

"Where do you go, dwarf?" he said.

"I go to the Ancient House," he made answer to himself.

"What do you get?"

"I do not go to get; I go to give."

"What do you go to give?"

"I go to leave an empty basket at the door, and the lantern that the
Shopkeeper set in the hand of the pedlar."

"Who is the pedlar, hunchback?"

"The pedlar is he that carries the pack on his back."

"What carries he in the pack?"

"He carries what the Shopkeeper gave him--for he had no money and no
choice."

"Who is the Shopkeeper, dwarf?"

"The Shopkeeper--the Shopkeeper is the father of dwarfs and angels and
children--and fools."

"What does he sell, poor man?"

"He sells harness for men and cattle, and you give your lives for the
harness."

"What is this you carry, dwarf?"

"I carry home the harness of a soul."

"Is it worth carrying home?"

"The eyes grow sick at sight of the old harness in the way."

The watching figure, hearing, pitied.

It was Valmond. Excited by Parpon's last words at the hotel, he had
followed, and was keen to chase this strange journeying to the end,
though suffering from the wound in his head, and shaken by the awful
accident of the evening. But, as he said to himself; some things were to
be seen but once in the great game, and it was worth while seeing them,
even if life were the shorter for it.

On up the heights filed the strange procession until at last it came to
Dalgrothe Mountain. On one of the foot-hills stood the Rock of Red
Pigeons. This was the dwarf's secret resort, where no one ever disturbed
him; for the Little Good Folk of the Scarlet Hills (of whom it was
rumoured, he had come) held revel there, and people did not venture
rashly. The land about it, and a hut farther down the hill, belonged to
Parpon; a legacy from the father of the young Seigneur.

It was all hills, gorges, rivers, and idle, murmuring pines. Of a
morning, mist floated into mist as far as eye could see, blue and grey
and amethyst, a glamour of tints and velvety radiance. The great hills
waved into each other like a vast violet sea, and, in turn, the tiny
earth-waves on each separate hill swelled into the larger harmony. At the
foot of a steep precipice was the whirlpool from which Parpon, at great
risk, had rescued the father of De la Riviere, and had received this
lonely region as his reward. To the dwarf it was his other world, his
real home; for here he lived his own life, and it was here he had brought
his ungainly dead, to give it housing.

The dogs drew up the grim cargo to a plateau near the Rock of Red
Pigeons, and, gathering sticks, Parpon lit a sweet-smelling fire of
cedar. Then he went to the hut, and came back with a spade and a shovel.
At the foot of a great pine he began to dig. As the work went on, he
broke into a sort of dirge, painfully sweet. Leaning against a rock not
far away, Valmond watched the tiny man with the long arms throw up the
soft, good-smelling earth, enriched by centuries of dead leaves and
flowers. The trees waved and bent and murmured, as though they gossiped
with each other over this odd gravedigger. The light of the fire showed
across the gorge, touching off the far wall of pines with burnished
crimson, and huge flickering shadows looked like elusive spirits,
attendant on the lonely obsequies. Now and then a bird, aroused by the
flame or the snap of a burning stick, rose from its nest and flew away;
and wild-fowl flitted darkly down the pass, like the souls of heroes
faring to Walhalla. When an owl hooted, a wolf howled far off, or a loon
cried from the water below; the solemn fantasy took on the aspect of the
unreal.

Valmond watched like one in a dream, and twice or thrice he turned faint,
and drew his cloak about him as if he were cold; for a sickly air,
passing by, seemed to fill his lungs with poison.

At last the grave was dug, and, sprinkling its depth with leaves and soft
branches of spruce, the dwarf drew the body over, and lowered it slowly,
awkwardly, into the grave. Then he covered all but the huge, unlovely
face, and, kneeling, peered down at it pitifully.

"Gabriel, Gabriel," he cried, "surely thy soul is better without its
harness! I killed thee, and thou didst kill, and those we love die by our
own hands. But no, I lie; I did not love thee, thou wert so ugly and wild
and cruel. Poor boy! Thou wast a fool, and thou wast a murderer. Thou
wouldst have slain my prince, and so I slew thee--I slew thee."

He rocked to and fro in abject sorrow, and cried again: "Hast thou no one
in all the world to mourn thee, save him who killed thee? Is there no one
to wish thee speed to the Ancient House? Art thou tossed away like an old
shoe, and no one to say, The Shoemaker that made thee must see to it if
thou wast ill-shapen, and walked crookedly, and did evil things? Ah, is
there no one to mourn thee, save him that killed thee?"

He leaned back, and cried out into the high hills like a remorseful,
tortured soul.

Valmond, no longer able to watch this grief in silence, stepped quickly
forward. The dogs, seeing him, barked, and then were still; and the dwarf
looked up as he heard footsteps.

"Another has come to mourn him, Parpon," said Valmond.

A look of bewilderment and joy swam into Parpon's eyes. Then he gave a
laugh of singular wildness, his face twitched, tears rushed down his
cheeks, and he threw himself at Valmond's feet, and clasped his knees,
crying:

"Ah-ah, my prince, great brother, thou hast come also! Ah, thou didst
know the way up the long hill Thou hast come to the burial of a fool. But
he had a mother--yes, yes, a mother! All fools have mothers, and they
should be buried well. Come, ah, come, and speak softly the Act of
Contrition, and I will cover him up."

He went to throw in the earth, but Valmond pushed him aside gently.

"No, no," he said, "this is for me." And he began filling the grave.

When they left the place of burial, the fire was burning low, for they
had talked long. At the foot of the hills they looked back. Day was
beginning to break over Dalgrothe Mountain.




CHAPTER X

When, next day, in the bright sunlight, the Little Chemist, the Cure, and
others, opened the door of the shed, taking off their hats in the
presence of the Master Workman, they saw that his seat was empty. The
dead Caliban was gone--who should say how, or where? The lock was still
on the doors, the walls were intact, there was no window for entrance or
escape. He had vanished as weirdly as he came.

All day the people sought the place, viewing with awe and superstition
the shed of death, and the spot in the smithy where, it was said, Valmond
had killed the giant.

The day following was the feast of St. John the Baptist. Mass was said in
the church, all the parish attending; and Valmond was present, with
Lagroin in full regimentals.

Plates of blessed bread were passed round at the close of mass, as was
the custom on this feast-day; and with a curious feeling that came to him
often afterwards, Valmond listened to his General saying solemnly:

          "Holy bread, I take thee;
          If I die suddenly,
          Serve me as a sacrament."

With many eyes watching him curiously, he also ate the bread, repeating
the holy words.

All day there were sports and processions, the habitants gay in rosettes
and ribbons, flowers and maple leaves, as they idled or filed along the
streets, under arches of evergreens, where the Tricolor and Union Jack
mingled and fluttered amiably together. Anvils, with powder placed
between, were touched off with a bar of red-hot iron, making a vast noise
and drawing applausive crowds to the smithy. On the hill beside the
Cure's house was a little old cannon brought from the battle-field of
Ticonderoga, and its boisterous salutations were replied to from the
Seigneury, by a still more ancient piece of ordnance. Sixty of Valmond's
recruits, under Lajeunesse the blacksmith, marched up and down the
streets, firing salutes with a happy, casual intrepidity, and setting
themselves off before the crowds with a good many airs and nods and
simple vanities.

In the early evening the good Cure blessed and lighted the great bonfire
before the church; and immediately, at this signal, an answering fire
sprang up on a hill at the other side of the village. Then fire on fire
glittered and multiplied, till all the village was in a glow. This was a
custom set in memory of the old days when fires flashed intelligence,
after a fixed code, across the great rivers and lakes, and from hill to
hill.

Far up against Dalgrothe Mountain appeared a sumptuous star, mystical and
red. Valmond saw it from his window, and knew it to be Parpon's
watchfire, by the grave of his brother Gabriel. The chief procession
started with the lighting of the bonfires: Singing softly, choristers and
acolytes in robes preceded the devout Cure, and pious believers and
youths on horseback, with ribbons flying, carried banners and shrines.
Marshals kept the lines steady, and four were in constant attendance on a
gorgeous carriage, all gilt and carving (the heirloom of the parish), in
which reclined the figure of a handsome lad, impersonating John the
Baptist, with long golden hair, dressed in rich robes and skins--a
sceptre in his hand, a snowy lamb at his feet. The rude symbolism was
softened and toned to an almost poetical refinement, and gave to the
harmless revels a touch of Arcady.

After this semi-religious procession, evening brought the march of
Garotte's Kalathumpians. They were carried on three long drays, each
drawn by four horses, half of them white, half black. They were an
outlandish crew of comedians, dressed after no pattern, save the
absurd-clowns, satyrs, kings, soldiers, imps, barbarians. Many had
hideous false-faces, and a few horribly tall skeletons had heads of
pumpkins containing lighted candles. The marshals were pierrots and
clowns on long stilts, who towered in a ghostly way above the crowd. They
were cheerful, fantastic revellers, singing the maddest and silliest of
songs, with singular refrains and repetitions. The last line of one verse
was the beginning of another:

          "A Saint Malo, beau port de mer,
          Trois gros navir' sont arrives.

          Trois gros navir' sont arrives
          Charges d'avoin', charges de ble."

For an hour and more their fantastic songs delighted the simple folk.
They stopped at last in front of the Louis Quinze. The windows of
Valmond's chambers were alight, and to one a staff was fastened. Suddenly
the Kalathumpians quieted where they stood, for the voice of their
leader, a sort of fat King of Yvetot, cried out:

"See there, my noisy children!" It was the inventive lime-burner who
spoke. "What come you here for, my rollicking blades?"

"We are a long way from home; we are looking for our brother, your
Majesty," they cried in chorus.

"Ha, ha! What is your brother like, jolly dogs?"

"He has a face of ivory, and eyes like torches, and he carries a silver
sword."

"But what the devil is his face like ivory for, my fanfarons?"

"So that he shall not blush for us. He is a grand seigneur," they shouted
back.

"Why are his eyes like torches, my ragamuffins?"

"To show us the way home."

Valmond appeared upon the balcony.

"What is it you wish, my children?" he asked. "Brother," said the
fantastic leader, "we've lost our way. Will you lead us home again?"

"It is a long travel," he answered, after the fashion of their own
symbols. "There are high hills to climb; there may be wild beasts in the
way; and storms come down the mountains."

"We have strong hearts, and you have a silver sword, brother."

"I cannot see your faces, to know if you are true, my children," he
answered.

Instantly the clothes flew off, masks fell, pumpkins came crashing to the
ground, the stilts of the marshals dropped, and thirty men stood upon the
drays in crude military order, with muskets in their hands and cockades
in their caps. At that moment also, a flag--the Tricolor--fluttered upon
the staff at Valmond's window. The roll of a drum came out of the street
somewhere, and presently the people fell back before sixty armed men,
marching in columns, under Lagroin, while from the opposite direction
came Lajeunesse with sixty others, silent all, till they reached the
drays and formed round them slowly.

Valmond stood watching intently, and the people were very still, for this
seemed like real life, and no burlesque. Some of the soldiery had
military clothes, old militia uniforms, or the rebel trappings of '37;
others, less fortunate, wore their trousers in long boots, their coats
buttoned lightly over their chests, and belted in; and the Napoleonic
cockade was in every cap.

"My children," said Valmond at last, "I see that your hearts are strong,
and that you have the bodies of true men. We have sworn fealty to each
other, and the badge of our love is in your caps. Let us begin our
journey home. I will come down among you: I will come down among you, and
I will lead you from Pontiac to the sea, gathering comrades as we go;
then across the sea, to France; then to Paris and the Tuileries, where an
Orleans usurps the place of a Napoleon."

He descended and mounted his waiting horse. At that moment De la Riviere
appeared on the balcony, and, stepping forward, said:

"My friends, do you know what you are doing? This is folly. This man--"

He got no further, for Valmond raised his hand to Lagroin, and the drums
began to beat. Then he rode down in front of Lajeunesse's men, the others
sprang from the drays and fell into place, and soon the little army was
marching, four deep, through the village.

This was the official beginning of Valmond's fanciful quest for empire.
The people had a phrase, and they had a man; and they saw no further than
the hour.

As they filed past the house of Elise Malboir, the girl stood in the glow
of a bonfire, beside the oven where Valmond had first seen her. All
around her was the wide awe of night, enriched by the sweet perfume of a
coming harvest. He doffed his hat to her, then to the Tricolor, which
Lagroin had fastened on a tall staff before the house. Elise did not
stir, did not courtesy or bow, but stood silent--entranced. She was in a
dream. This man, riding at the head of the simple villagers, was part of
her vision; and, at the moment, she did not rouse from the ecstasy of
reverie where her new-born love had led her.

For Valmond the scene had a moving power. He heard again her voice crying
in the smithy: "He is dying! Oh, my love! my love!"

He was now in the heart of a fantastical adventure. Filled with its
spirit, he would carry it bravely to the end, enjoying every step in it,
comedy or tragedy. Yet all day, since he had eaten the sacred bread,
there had been ringing in his ears the words:

            "Holy bread, I take thee;
             If I die suddenly,
             Serve me as a sacrament."

It came home to him, at the instant, what a toss-up it all was. What was
he doing? No matter: it was a game, in which nothing was sure--nothing
save this girl. She would, he knew, with the abandon of an absorbing
passion, throw all things away for him.

Such as Madame Chalice--ah, she was a part of this brave fantasy, this
dream of empire, this inspiring play! But Elise Malboir was life itself,
absolute, true, abiding. His nature swam gloriously in his daring
exploit; he believed in it, he sank himself in it with a joyous
recklessness; it was his victory or his doom. But it was a shake of the
dice--had Fate loaded them against him?

He looked up the hill towards the Manor. Life was there in its essence;
beauty, talent, the genius of the dreamer, like his own. But it was not
for him; dauphin or fool, it was not for him! Madame Chalice was his
friendly inquisitor, not his enemy; she endured him for some talent he
had shown, for the apparent sincerity of his love for the cause; but that
was all. Yet she was ever in this dream of his, and he felt that she
would always be; the unattainable, the undeserved, more splendid than his
cause itself--the cause for which he would give--what would he give? Time
would show.

But Elise Malboir, abundant, true, fine, in the healthy vigour of her
nature, with no dream in her heart but love fulfilled--she was no part of
his adventure, but of that vital spirit which can bring to the humblest
as to the highest the good reality of life.




CHAPTER XI

It was the poignancy of these feelings which, later, drew Valmond to the
ashes of the fire in whose glow Elise had stood. The village was quieting
down, the excited habitants had scattered to their homes. But in one or
two houses there was dancing, and, as he passed, Valmond heard the
chansons of the humble games they played--primitive games, primitive
chansons:

       "In my right hand I hold a rose-bush,
        Which will bloom, Manon lon la!
        Which will bloom in the month of May.
        Come into our dance, pretty rose-bush,
        Come and kiss, Manon Ion la!
        Come and kiss whom you love best!"

The ardour, the delight, the careless joy of youth, were in the song and
in the dance. These simple folk would marry, beget children, labour hard,
obey Mother Church, and yield up the ghost peacefully in the end, after
their kind; but now and then there was born among them one not after
their kind: even such as Madelinette, with the stirring of talent in her
veins, and the visions of the artistic temperament--delight and curse all
at once--lifting her out of the life, lonely, and yet sorrowfully happy.

Valmond looked around. How still it was, the home of Elise standing apart
in the quiet fields! But involuntarily his eyes were drawn to the hill
beyond, where showed a light in a window of the Manor. To-morrow he would
go there: he had much to say to Madame Chalice. The moon was lying off
above the edge of hills, looking out on the world complacently, like an
indulgent janitor scanning the sleepy street from his doorway.

He was abruptly drawn from his reverie by the entrance of Lagroin into
the little garden; and he followed the old man through the open doorway.
All was dark, but as they stepped within they heard some one move.
Presently a match was struck, and Elise came forward with a candle raised
level with her dusky head. Lagroin looked at her in indignant
astonishment.

"Do you not see who is here, girl?" he demanded. "Your Excellency!" she
said confusedly to Valmond, and, bowing, offered him a chair.

"You must pardon her, sire," said the old sergeant. "She has never been
taught, and she's a wayward wench."

Valmond waved his hand. "Nonsense, we are friends. You are my General;
she is your niece." His eyes followed Elise as she set out for them some
cider, a small flask of cognac, and some seed-cakes; luxuries which were
served but once a year in this house, as in most homes of Pontiac.

For a long time Valmond and his General talked, devised, planned,
schemed, till the old man grew husky and pale. The sight of his senile
weariness flashed the irony of the whole wild dream into Valmond's mind.
He rose, and, giving his arm, led Lagroin to his bedroom, and bade him
good-night. When he returned to the room, it was empty.

He looked around, and, seeing an open door, moved to it quickly. It led
into a little stairway.

He remembered then that there was a room which had been, apparently,
tacked on, like an after-thought, to the end of the house. Seeing the
glimmer of a light beyond, he went up a few steps, and came face to face
with Elise, who, candle in hand, was about to descend the stairs again.

For a moment she stood quite still, then placed the candle on the rude
little dressing-table, built of drygoods boxes, and draped with fresh
muslin. Valmond took in every detail of the chamber at a single glance.
It was very simple and neat, with the small wooden bedstead corded with
rope, the poor hickory rocking-chair, the flaunting chromo of the Holy
Family, the sprig of blessed palm, the shrine of the Virgin, the print
skirts hanging on the wall, the stockings lying across a chair, the bits
of ribbon on the bed. The quietness, the alluring simplicity, the whole
room filled with the rich presence of the girl, sent a flood of colour to
Valmond's face, and his heart beat hard. Curiosity only had led him into
the room, something more radical held him there.

Elise seemed to read his thoughts, and, taking up her candle, she came on
to the doorway. Neither had spoken. As she was about to pass him, he
suddenly took her arm. But, glancing towards the window, he noticed that
the blind was not down. He turned and blew out the candle in her hand.

"Ah, your Excellency!" she cried in tremulous affright.

"We could have been seen from outside," he explained. She turned and saw
the moonlight streaming in at the window, and lying like a silver
coverlet upon the floor. As if with a blind, involuntary instinct for
protection, she stepped forward into the moonlight, and stood there
motionless. The sight thrilled him, and he moved towards her. The mind of
the girl reasserted itself, and she hastened to the door. Again, as she
was about to pass him, he put his hand upon her shoulder.

"Elise--Elise!" he said. The voice was persuasive, eloquent, going to
every far retreat of emotion in her. There was a sudden riot in his
veins, and he took her passionately in his arms, and kissed her on the
lips, on the eyes, on the hair, on the neck. At that moment the outer
door opened below, and the murmur of voices came to them.

"Oh, monsieur--oh, your Excellency, let me go!" she whispered fearfully.
"It is my mother and Duclosse the mealman."

Valmond recognised the fat, wheezy tones of Duclosse--Sergeant Duclosse.
He released her, and she caught up the candle.

"What can you do?" she whispered.

"I will wait here. I must not go down," he replied. "It would mean ruin."

Ruin! ruin! Was she face to face with ruin already, she who, two minutes
ago, was as safe and happy as a young bird in its nest? He felt instantly
that he had made a mistake, had been cruel, though he had not intended
it.

"Ruin to me," he said at once. "Duclosse is a stupid fellow: he would not
understand; he would desert me; and that would be disastrous at this
moment. Go down," he said. "I will wait here, Elise."

Her brows knitted painfully. "Oh, monsieur, I'd rather face death, I
believe, than that you should remain here."

But he pushed her gently towards the door, and a moment afterwards he
heard her talking to Duclosse and her mother.

He sat down on the couch and listened for a moment. His veins were still
glowing from the wild moment just passed. Elise would come back--and
then--what? She would be alone with him again in this room, loving
him--fearing him. He remembered that once, when a child, he had seen a
peasant strike his wife, felling her to the ground; and how afterwards
she had clasped him round the neck and kissed him, as he bent over her in
merely vulgar fright lest he had killed her. That scene flashed before
him.

There came an opposing thought. As Madame Chalice had said, either as
prince or barber, he was playing a terrible game. Why shouldn't he get
all he could out of it while it lasted--let the world break over him when
it must? Why should he stand in an orchard of ripe fruit, and refuse to
pick what lay luscious to his hand, what this stupid mealman below would
pick, and eat, and yawn over? There was the point. Wouldn't the girl
rather have him, Valmond, at any price, than the priest-blessed love of
Duclosse and his kind?

The thought possessed, devoured him for a moment. Then suddenly there
again rang in his ears the words which had haunted him all day:

          "Holy bread, I take thee;
          If I die suddenly,
          Serve me as a sacrament."

They passed backwards and forwards in his mind for a little time with no
significance. Then they gave birth to another thought. Suppose he stayed;
suppose he took advantage of the love of this girl? He looked around the
little room, showing so peacefully in the moonlight--the religious
symbols, the purity, the cleanliness, the calm poverty. He had known the
inside of the boudoirs and the bed-chambers of women of fashion--he had
seen them, at least. In them the voluptuous, the indulgent, seemed part
of the picture. But he was not a beast, that he could fail to see what
this tiny bedroom would be, if he followed his wild will. Some terrible
fate might overtake his gay pilgrimage to empire, and leave him lost,
abandoned, in a desert of ruin.

Why not give up the adventure, and come to this quiet, and this good
peace, so shutting out the stir and violence of the world?

All at once Madame Chalice came into his thoughts, swam in his sight, and
he knew that what he felt for this peasant girl was of one side of his
nature only. All of him worth the having--was any worth the having?
responded to that diffusing charm which brought so many men to the feet
of that lady of the Manor, who had lovers by the score: from such as the
Cure and the avocat, gentle and noble, and requited, to the young
Seigneur, selfish and ulterior, and unrequited.

He got to his feet quietly. No, he would make a decent exit, in triumph
or defeat, to honour the woman who was standing his friend. Let them, the
British Government at Quebec, proceed against him; he would have only one
trouble to meet, one to leave behind. He would not load this girl with
shame as well as sorrow. Her love itself was affliction enough to her.
This adventure was serious; a bullet might drop him; the law might remove
him: so he would leave here at once.

He was about to open the window, when he heard a door shut below, and the
thud of heavy steps outside the house. Drawing back, he waited until he
heard the foot of Elise upon the stair. She came in without a light, and
at first did not see him. He heard her gasp. Stepping forward a little,
he said:

"I am here, Elise. Come."

She trembled as she came. "Oh, monsieur--your Excellency!" she whispered;
"oh, you cannot go down, for my mother sits ill by the fire. You cannot
go out that way."

He took both her hands. "No matter. Poor child, you are trembling! Come."

He drew her towards the couch. She shrank back. "Oh no, monsieur, oh--I
die of shame!"

"There is no need, Elise," he answered gently, and he sat on the edge of
the couch, and drew her to his side. "Let us say good-night."

She grew very still, and he felt her move towards him, as she divined his
purpose, and knew that this room of hers would have no shadow in it
to-morrow, and her soul no unpardonable sin. A warm peace passed through
her veins, and she drew nearer still. She did not know that this new
ardent confidence came near to wrecking her. For Valmond had an instant's
madness, and only saved himself from the tumult in his blood by getting
to his feet, with strenuous resolution. Taking both her hands, he kissed
her on the cheeks, and said:

"Adieu, Elise. May your sorrow never be more, and my happiness never
less. I am going now."

He felt her hand grasp his arm, as if with a desire that he should not
leave her. Then she rose quickly, and came with him to the window.
Raising the sash, she held it, and he looked out. There seemed to be no
one in the road, no one in the yard. So, half turning, he swung himself
down by his hands, and dropped to the ground. From the window above a sob
came to him, and Elise's face, all tears, showed for an instant in the
moonlight.

He did not seek the road directly, but, climbing a fence near by, crossed
a hay-field, going unseen, as he thought, to the village.

But a lady, walking in the road with an old gentleman, had seen and
recognised him. Her fingers clinched with anger at the sight, and her
spirit filled with disgust.

"What are you looking at?" said her companion, who was short-sighted.

"At the tricks moonlight plays. Shadows frighten me sometimes, my dear
avocat." She shuddered. "My dear madame!" he said in warm sympathy.




CHAPTER XII

The sun was going down behind the hills, like a drowsy boy to his bed,
radiant and weary from his day's sport. The villagers were up at
Dalgrothe Mountain, soldiering for Valmond. Every evening, when the
haymakers put up their scythes, the mill-wheel stopped turning, and the
Angelus ceased, the men marched away into the hills, where the ardent
soldier of fortune had pitched his camp.

Tents, muskets, ammunition came out of dark places, as they are ever sure
to come when the war-trumpet sounds. All seems peace, but suddenly, at
the wild call, the latent barbarian in human nature springs up and is
ready; and the cruder the arms, the fiercer the temper that wields.

Recruits now arrived from other parishes, and besides those who came
every night to drill, there were others who stayed always in camp. The
lime-burner left his kiln, and sojourned with his dogs at Dalgrothe
Mountain; the mealman neglected his trade; and Lajeunesse was no longer
at his blacksmith shop, save after dark, when the red glow of his forge
could be seen till midnight. He was captain of a company in the daytime,
forgeron at night.

Valmond, no longer fantastic in dress, speech, or manner, was happy,
busy, buoyed up and cast down by turn, troubled, exhilarated. He could
not understand these variations of health and mood. He had not felt
equably well since the night of Gabriel's burial in the miasmic air of
the mountain. At times he felt a wonderful lightness of head and heart,
with entrancing hopes; again a heaviness and an aching, accompanied by a
feeling of doom. He fought the depression, and appeared before his men
cheerful and alert always. He was neither looking back nor looking
forward, but living in his dramatic theme from day to day, and wondering
if, after all, this movement, by some joyful, extravagant chance, might
not carry him on even to the chambers of the Tuileries.

From the first day that he had gathered these peasants about him, had
convinced, almost against their will, the wise men of the village, this
fanciful exploit had been growing a deep reality to him. He had convinced
himself; he felt that he could, in a larger sphere, gather thousands
about him where he now gathered scores--with a good cause. Well, was his
cause not good, he asked himself?

There were others to whom this growing reality was painful. The young
Seigneur was serious enough about it, and more than once, irritated and
perturbed, he sought Madame Chalice; but she gave him no encouragement,
remarking coldly that Monsieur Valmond probably knew very well what he
was doing, and was weighing all consequences.

She had become interested in a passing drama, and De la Riviere's
attentions produced no impression on her, and gave her no pleasure. They
were, however, not obtrusive. She had seen much of him two years before;
he had been a good friend of her husband. She was amused at his
attentions then; she had little to occupy her, and she felt herself
superior to any man's emotions: not such as this young Seigneur could win
her away from her passive but certain fealty. She had played with fire,
from the very spirit of adventure in her, but she had not been burnt.

"You say he is an impostor, dear monsieur," she said languidly: "do pray
exert yourself, and prove him one. What is your evidence?"

She leaned back in the very chair where she had sat looking at Valmond a
few weeks before, her fingers idly smoothing out the folds of her dress.

"Oh, the thing is impossible," he answered, blowing the smoke of a
cigarette; "we've had no real proof of his birth, and life--and so on."

"But there are relics--and so on!" she said suggestively, and she picked
up the miniature of the Emperor.

"Owning a skeleton doesn't make it your ancestor," he replied.

He laughed, for he was pleased at his own cleverness, and he also wished
to remain good-tempered.

"I am so glad to see you at last take the true attitude towards this,"
she responded brightly. "If it's a comedy, enjoy it. If it's a
tragedy"--she drew herself up with a little shudder, for she was thinking
of that figure dropping from Elise's window--"you cannot stop it. Tragedy
is inevitable; but comedy is within the gift and governance of mortals."

For a moment again she was lost in the thought of Elise, of Valmond's
vulgarity and commonness; and he had dared to speak words of love almost
to her! She flushed to the hair, as she had done fifty times since she
had seen him that moonlit night. Ah, she had thought him the dreamer, the
enthusiast--maybe, in kind, credulous moments, the great man he claimed
to be; and he had only been the sensualist after all! That he did not
love Elise, she knew well enough: he had been coldblooded; in this, at
least, he was Napoleonic.

She had not spoken with him since that night; but she had had two long
letters superscribed: "In Camp, Headquarters, Dalgrothe Mountain," and
these had breathed only patriotism, the love of a cause, the warmth of a
strong, virile temperament, almost a poetical abandon of unnamed
ambitions and achievements. She had read the letters again and again, for
she had found it hard to reconcile them with her later knowledge of this
man. He wrote to her as to an ally, frankly, warmly. She felt the genuine
thing in him somewhere; and, in spite of all, she felt a sort of kinship
for him. Yet that scene--that scene! She flushed with anger again, and,
in spite of her smiling lips, the young Seigneur saw the flush, and
wondered.

"The thing must end soon," he said, as he rose to go, for a messenger had
come for him. "He is injuring the peace, the trade, and the life of the
parishes; he is gathering men and arms, drilling, exploiting military
designs in one country, to proceed against another. England is at peace
with France!"

"An international matter, this?" she asked sarcastically.

"Yes. The Government at Quebec is English; we are French and he is
French; and, I repeat, this thing is serious."

She smiled. "I am an American. I have no responsibility."

"They might arrest you for aiding and abetting if--"

"If what, dear and cheerful friend?"

"If I did not make it right for you." He smiled, approving his own
kindness.

She touched his arm, and said with ironical sweetness: "How you relieve
my mind!" Then with delicate insinuation: "I have a lot of old muskets
here, at least two hundred pounds of powder, and plenty of provisions,
and I will send them to--Valmond Napoleon."

He instantly became grave. "I warn you--"

She interrupted him. "Nonsense! You warn me!" She laughed mockingly. "I
warn you, dear Seigneur, that you will be more sorry than satisfied, if
you meddle in this matter."

"You are going to send those things to him?" he asked anxiously.

"Certainly--and food every day." And she kept her word.

De la Riviere, as he went down the hill, thought with irritation of how
ill things were going with him and Madame Chalice--so different from two
years ago, when their friendship had first begun. He had remembered her
with a singular persistency; he had looked forward to her coming back;
and when she came, his heart had fluttered like a schoolboy's. But things
had changed. Clearly she was interested in this impostor. Was it the man
himself or the adventure? He did not know. But the adventure was the
man--and who could tell? Once he thought he had detected some warmth for
himself in her eye, in the clasp of her hand; there was nothing of that
sort now. A black, ungentlemanly spirit seized him.

It possessed him most strongly at the moment he was passing the home of
Elise Malboir. The girl was standing by the gate, looking down towards
the village. Her brow was a little heavy, so that it gave her eyes at all
times a deep look, but now De la Riviere saw that they were brooding as
well. There was sadness in the poise of the head. He did not take off his
hat to her.

          "'Oh, grand to the war he goes,
             O gai, rive le roi!'"

he said teasingly. He thought she might have a lover among the recruits
at Dalgrothe Mountain.

She turned to him, startled, for she thought he meant Valmond. She did
not speak, but became very still and pale.

"Better tie him up with a garter, Elise, and get the old uncle back to
Ville Bambord. Trouble's coming. The game'll soon be up."

"What trouble?" she asked.

"Battle, murder, and sudden death," he answered, and passed on with a
sour laugh.

She slowly repeated his words, looked towards the Manor House, with a
strange expression, then went up to her little bedroom and sat on the
edge of the bed for a long time, where she had sat with Valmond. Every
word, every incident, of that night came back to her; and her heart
filled up with worship. It flowed over into her eyes and fell upon her
clasped hands. If trouble did come to him?--He had given her a new world,
he should have her life and all else.

A half-hour later, De la Riviere came rapping at the Cure's door. The sun
was almost gone, the smell of the hay-fields floated over the village,
and all was quiet in the streets. Women gossiped in their doorways, but
there was no stir anywhere. With the young Seigneur was the member of the
Legislature for the county. His mood was different from that of his
previous visit to Pontiac; for he had been told that whether the cavalier
adventurer was or was not a Napoleon, this campaign was illegal. He had
made no move. Being a member of the Legislature, he naturally shirked
responsibility, and he had come to see the young Seigneur, who was
justice of the peace, and practically mayor of the county. They found the
Cure, the avocat, and Medallion, talking together amiably.

The three were greatly distressed by the representations of the member
and De la Riviere. The Cure turned to Monsieur Garon, the avocat,
inquiringly.

"The law--the law of the case is clear," said the avocat helplessly. "If
the peace is disturbed, if there is conspiracy to injure a country not at
war with our own, if arms are borne with menace, if His Excellency--"

"His Excellency--my faith!--You're an ass, Garon!" cried the young
Seigneur, with an angry sneer.

For once in his life the avocat bridled up. He got to his feet, and stood
silent an instant, raising himself up and down on his tiptoes, his lips
compressed, his small body suddenly contracting to a firmness, and grown
to a height, his eyelids working quickly. To the end of his life the Cure
remembered and talked of the moment when the avocat gave battle. To him
it was superb--he never could have done it himself.

"I repeat, His Excellency, Monsieur De la Riviere. My information is
greater than yours, both by accident and through knowledge. I accept him
as a Napoleon, and as a Frenchman I have no cause to blush for my homage
or my faith, or for His Excellency. He is a man of loving disposition, of
great knowledge, of power to win men, of deep ideas, of large courage.
Monsieur, I cannot forget the tragedy he stayed at the smithy, with risk
of his own life. I cannot forget--"

The Cure, anticipating, nodded at him encouragingly. Probably the avocat
intended to say something quite different, but the look in the Cure's
eyes prompted him, and he continued:

"I cannot forget that he has given to the poor, and liberally to the
Church, and has promised benefits to the deserving--ah, no, no, my dear
Seigneur!"

He had delivered his speech in a quaint, quick way, as though addressing
a jury, and when he had finished, he sat down again, and nodded his head,
and tapped a foot on the floor; and the Cure did the same, looking
inquiringly at De la Riviere.

This was the first time there had been trouble in the little coterie.
They had never differed painfully before. Tall Medallion longed to say
something, but he waited for the Cure to speak.

"What is your mind, Monsieur le Cure?" asked De la Riviere testily.

"My dear friend, Monsieur Garon, has answered for us both," replied the
Cure quietly.

"Do you mean to say that you will not act with me to stop this thing," he
urged--"not even for the safety of the people?"

The reply was calm and resolute:

"My people shall have my prayers and my life, when needed, but I do not
feel called upon to act for the State. I have the honour to be a friend
of His Excellency."

"By Heaven, the State shall act!" cried De la Riviere, fierce with
rancour. "I shall go to this Valmond to-night, with my friend the member
here. I shall warn him, and call upon the people to disperse. If he
doesn't listen, let him beware! I seem to stand alone in the care of
Pontiac!"

The avocat turned to his desk. "No, no; I will write you a legal
opinion," he said, with professional honesty. "You shall have my legal
help; but for the rest, I am at one with my dear Cure."

"Well, Medallion, you too?" asked De la Riviere. "I'll go with you to the
camp," answered the auctioneer. "Fair play is all I care for. Pontiac
will come out of this all right. Come along."

But the avocat kept them till he had written his legal opinion and had
handed it courteously to the young Seigneur. They were all silent. There
had been a discourtesy, and it lay like a cloud on the coterie. De la
Riviere opened the door to go out, after bowing to the Cure and the
avocat, who stood up with mannered politeness; but presently he turned,
came back, was about to speak, when, catching sight of a miniature of
Valmond on the avocat's desk, before which was set a bunch of violets, he
wheeled and left the room without a word.

The moon had not yet risen, but stars were shining, when the young
Seigneur and the member came to Dalgrothe Mountain. On one side of the
Rock of Red Pigeons was a precipice and wild water; on the other was a
deep valley like a cup, and in the centre of this was a sort of plateau
or gentle slope. Dalgrothe Mountain towered above. Upon this plateau
Valmond had pitched his tents. There was water, there was good air, and
for purposes of drill--or defence--it was excellent. The approaches were
patrolled, so that no outside stragglers could reach either the Rock of
Red Pigeons or the valley, or see what was going on below, without
permission. Lagroin was everywhere, drilling, commanding, browbeating his
recruits one minute, and praising them the next. Lajeunesse, Garotte, and
Muroc were invaluable, each after his kind. Duclosse the mealman was
sutler.

The young Seigneur and his companions were not challenged, and they
passed on up to the Rock of Red Pigeons. Looking down, they had a perfect
view of the encampment. The tents had come from lumber-camps, from
river-driving gangs, and from private stores; there was some regular
uniform, flags were flying everywhere, many fires were burning, the voice
of Lagroin in command came up the valley loudly, and Valmond watched the
drill and a march past. The fires lit up the sides of the valley and
glorified the mountains beyond. In this inspiring air it was impossible
to feel an accent of disaster or to hear the stealthy footfall of ruin.

The three journeyed down into the valley, then up onto the plateau, where
they were challenged, allowed to pass, and came to where Valmond sat upon
his horse. At sight of them, with a suspicion of the truth, he ordered
Lagroin to march the men down the long plateau. They made a good figure
filing past the three visitors, as the young Seigneur admitted.

Valmond got from his horse, and waited for them. He looked weary, and
there were dark circles round his eyes, as though he had had an illness;
but he stood erect and quiet. His uniform was that of a general of the
Empire. It was rather dingy, yet it was of rich material, and he wore the
ribbon of the Legion of Honour on his breast. His paleness was not of
fear, for when his eyes met Monsieur De la Riviere's, there was in them
waiting, inquiry--nothing more. He greeted them all politely, and
Medallion warmly, shaking his hand twice; for he knew well that the gaunt
auctioneer had only kindness in his heart; and they had exchanged
humorous stories more than once--a friendly bond.

He motioned towards his tent near by, but the young Seigneur declined.
Valmond looked round, and ordered away a listening soldier.

"It is business and imperative," said De la Riviere. Valmond bowed.
"Isn't it time this burlesque was ended?" continued the challenger,
waving a hand towards the encampment.

"My presence here is my reply," answered Valmond. "But how does it
concern monsieur?"

"All that concerns Pontiac concerns me."

"And me; I am as good a citizen as you."

"You are troubling our people. This is illegal--this bearing arms, these
purposes of yours. It is mere filibustering, and you are an--"

Valmond waved his hand, as if to stop the word. "I am Valmond Napoleon,
monsieur."

"If you do not promise to forego this, I will arrest you," said De la
Riviere sharply.

"You?" Valmond smiled ironically.

"I am a justice of the peace. I have the power."

"I have the power to prevent arrest, and I will prevent it, monsieur. You
alone of all this parish, I believe of all this province, turn a sour
face, a sour heart, to me. I regret it, but I do not fear it."

"I will have you in custody, or there is no law in Quebec," was the acrid
set-out.

Valmond's face was a feverish red now, and he made an impatient gesture.
Both men had bitter hearts, for both knew well that the touchstone of
this malice was Madame Chalice. Hatred looked out of their eyes. It was,
each knew, a fight to the dark end.

"There is not law enough to justify you, monsieur," answered Valmond
quickly.

"Be persuaded, monsieur," urged the member to Valmond, with a persuasive,
smirking gesture.

"All this country could not persuade me; only France can do that; and
first I shall persuade France," he answered, speaking to his old cue
stoutly.

"Mummer!" broke out De la Riviere. "By God, I will arrest you now!"

He stepped forward, putting his hand in his breast, as if to draw a
weapon, though, in truth, it was a summons.

Like lightning the dwarf shot in between, and a sword flashed up at De la
Riviere's breast.

"I saved your father's life, but I will take yours, if you step farther,
dear Seigneur," he said coolly.

Valmond had not stirred, but his face was pale again.

"That will do, Parpon," he said quietly. "Monsieur had better go," he
added to De la Riviere, "or even his beloved law may not save him!"

"I will put an end to this," cried the other, bursting with anger. "Come,
gentlemen," he said to his companions, and turned away.

Medallion paused, then came to Valmond and said: "Your Excellency, if
ever you need me, let me know. I'd do much to prove myself no enemy."

Valmond gave him his hand courteously, bowed, and, beckoning a soldier to
take his horse, walked towards his tent. He swayed slightly as he went,
then a trembling seized him. He staggered as he entered the door of the
tent, and Parpon, seeing, ran forward and caught him in his arms. The
little man laid him down, felt his pulse, his heart, saw a little black
stain on his lips, and cried out in a great fear:

"My God! The black fever! Ah, my Napoleon!"

Valmond lay in a burning stupor; and word went abroad that he might die;
but Parpon insisted that he would be well presently, and at first would
let no one but the Little Chemist and the Cure come in or near the tent.

     ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

     Her sight was bounded by the little field where she strayed
     I was never good at catechism
     The blind tyranny of the just
     Visions of the artistic temperament--delight and curse




WHEN VALMOND CAME TO PONTIAC

The Story of a Lost Napoleon

By Gilbert Parker

Volume 3.




CHAPTER XIII

The sickness had come like a whirlwind: when it passed, what would be
left? The fight went on in the quiet hills--a man of no great stature or
strength, against a monster who racked him in a fierce embrace. A
thousand scenes flashed through Valmond's brain, before his eyes, while
the great wheel of torture went round, and he was broken, broken-mended
and broken again, upon it. Spinning--he was for ever spinning, like a
tireless moth through a fiery air; and the world went roaring past. In
vain he cried to the wheelman to stop the wheel: there was no answer.
Would those stars never cease blinking in and out, or the wind stop
whipping the swift clouds past? So he went on, endless years, driving
through space, some terrible intangible weight dragging at his heart, and
all his body panting as it spun.

Grotesque faces came and went, and bright-eyed women floated by, laughing
at him, beckoning to him; but he could not come, because of this endless
going. He heard them singing, he felt the divine notes in his battered
soul; he tried to weep for the hopeless joy of it; but the tears came no
higher than his throat. Why did they mock him so? At last, all the
figures merged into one, and she had the face--ah, he had seen it
centuries ago!--of Madame Chalice. Strange that she was so young still,
and that was so long past--when he stood on a mountain, and, clambering a
high wall of rock, looked over into a happy No-man's Land.

Why did the face elude him so, flashing in and out of the vapours? Why
was its look sorrowful and distant? And yet there was that perfect smile,
that adorable aspect of the brow, that light in the deep eyes. He tried
to stop the eternal spinning, but it went remorselessly on; and presently
the face was gone; but not till it had given him ease of his pain.

Then came fighting, fighting, nothing but fighting--endless charges of
cavalry, continuous wheelings and advancings and retreatings, and the mad
din of drums; afterwards, in a swift quiet, the deep, even thud of the
horses' hoofs striking the ground. Flags and banners flaunted gaily by.
How the helmets flashed, and the foam flew from the bits! But those
flocks of blackbirds flying over the heads of the misty horsemen--they
made him shiver. Battle, battle, battle, and death, and being born--he
felt it all.

All at once there came a wide peace and clearing, and the everlasting jar
and movement ceased. Then a great pause, and light streamed round him,
comforting him.

It seemed to him that he was lying helpless and still by falling water in
a valley. The water soothed him, and he fell asleep. After a long time he
waked, and dimly knew that a face, good to look at, was bending over him.
In a vague, far-off way he saw that it was Elise Malboir; but even as he
saw, his eyes closed, the world dropped away, and he sank to sleep again.

It was no vision or delirium; for Elise had come. She had knelt beside
his bed, and given him drink, and smoothed his pillow; and once, when no
one was in the tent, she stooped and kissed his hot dark lips, and
whispered words that were not for his ears to hear, nor to be heard by
any one of this world. The good Cure found her there. He had not heart to
bid her go home, and he made it clear to the villagers that he approved
of her great kindness. But he bade her mother also come, and she stayed
in a tent near by.

Lagroin and two hundred men held the encampment, and every night the
recruits arrived from the village, drilled as before, and waited for the
fell disease to pass. No one knew its exact nature, but now and again, in
long years, some one going to Dalgrothe Mountain was seized by it, and
died, or was left stricken with a great loss of the senses, or the limbs.
Yet once or twice, they said, men had come up from it no worse at all.
There was no known cure, and the Little Chemist could only watch the
swift progress of the fever, and use simple remedies to allay the
suffering. Parpon knew that the disease had seized upon Valmond the night
of the burial of Gabriel. He remembered now the sickly, pungent air that
floated past, and how Valmond, weak from the loss of blood in the fight
at the smithy, shuddered, and drew his cloak about him. A few days would
end it, for good or ill.

Madame Chalice heard the news with consternation, and pity would have
sent her to Valmond's bedside, but that she found Elise was his faithful
nurse and servitor. This fixed in her mind the belief that if Valmond
died, he would leave both misery and shame behind; if he lived, she
should, in any case, see him no more. But she sent him wines and
delicacies, and she also despatched a messenger to a city sixty miles
away, for the best physician. Then she sought the avocat, to discover
whether he had any exact information as to Valmond's friends in Quebec,
or in France. She had promised not to be his enemy, and she remembered
with a sort of sorrow that she had told him she meant to be his friend;
but, having promised, she would help him in his sore strait.

She had heard of De la Riviere's visit to Valmond, and she intended
sending for him, but delayed it. The avocat told her nothing: matters
were in abeyance, and she abided the issue; meanwhile getting news of the
sick man twice a day. More, she used all her influence to keep up the
feeling for him in the country, to prevent flagging of enthusiasm. This
she did out of a large heart, and a kind of loyalty to her temperament
and to his own ardour for his cause. Until he was proved the comedian (in
spite of the young Seigneur) she would stand by him, so far as his public
career was concerned. Misfortune could not make her turn from a man; it
was then she gave him a helping hand. What was between him and Elise was
for their own souls and consciences.

As she passed the little cottage in the field the third morning of
Valmond's illness, she saw the girl entering. Elise had come to get some
necessaries for Valmond and for her mother. She was pale; her face had
gained a spirituality, a refinement, new and touching. Madame Chalice was
tempted to go and speak to her, and started to do so, but turned back.

"No, no, not until we know the worst of this illness--then!" she said to
herself.

But ten minutes later De la Riviere was not so kind. He had guessed a
little at Elise's secret, and as he passed the house on the way to visit
Madame Chalice, seeing the girl, he came to the door and said:

"How goes it with the distinguished gentleman, Elise? I hear you are his
slave."

The girl turned a little pale. She was passing a hot iron over some
coarse sheets, and, pausing, she looked steadily at him and replied:

"It is not far to Dalgrothe Mountain, monsieur."

"The journey's too long for me; I haven't your hot young blood," he said
suggestively.

"It was not so long a dozen years ago, monsieur." De la Riviere flushed
to his hair. That memory was a hateful chapter in his life--a boyish
folly, which involved the miller's wife. He had buried it, the village
had forgotten it,--such of it as knew,--and the remembrance of it stung
him. He had, however, brought it on himself, and he must eat the bitter
fruit.

The girl's eyes were cold and hard. She knew him to be Valmond's enemy,
and she had no idea of sparing him. She knew also that he had been
courteous enough to send a man each day to inquire after Valmond, but
that was not to the point; he was torturing her, he had prophesied the
downfall of her "spurious Napoleon."

"It will be too long a journey for you, and for all, presently," he said.

"You mean that His Excellency will die?" she asked, her heart beating so
hard that it hurt her. Yet the flat-iron moved backwards and forwards
upon the sheets mechanically.

"Or fight a Government," he answered. "He has had a good time, and good
times can't last for ever, can they, Elise? Have you ever thought of
that?"

She turned pale and swayed over the table. In an instant he was beside
her; for though he had been irritable and ungenerous, he had at bottom a
kind heart. Catching up a glass of water, he ran an arm round her waist
and held the cup to her lips.

"What's the matter, my girl?" he asked. "There, pull yourself together."

She drew away from him, though grateful for his new attitude. She could
not bear everything. She felt nervous and strangely weak.

"Won't you go, monsieur?" she said, and turned to her ironing again.

He looked at her closely, and not unkindly. For a moment the thought
possessed him that evil and ill had come to her. But he put it away from
him, for there was that in her eyes which gave his quick suspicions the
lie. He guessed now that the girl loved Valmond, and he left her with
that thought. Going up the hill, deep in thought, he called at the Manor,
to find that Madame Chalice was absent, and would not be back till
evening.

When Elise was left alone, a weakness seized her again, as it had done
when De la Riviere was present. She had had no sleep in four days, and it
was wearing on her, she said to herself, refusing to believe that a
sickness was coming. Leaving the kitchen, she went up to her bedroom.
Opening the window, she sat down on the side of the bed and looked round.
She figured Valmond in her mind as he stood in this place and that, his
voice, his words to her, the look in his face, the clasp of his hand.

All at once she sprang up, fell on her knees before the little shrine of
the Virgin, and burst into tears. Her rich hair, breaking loose, flowed
round her-the picture of a Magdalen; but it was, in truth, a pure girl
with a true heart. At last she calmed herself and began to pray:

"Ah, dear Mother of God, thou who dost speak for the sorrowful before thy
Son and the Father, be merciful to me and hear me. I am but a poor girl,
and my life is no matter. But he is a great man, and he has work to do,
and he is true and kind. Oh, pray for him, divine Mother, sweet Mary,
that he may be saved from death! If the cup must be emptied, may it be
given to me to drink! Oh, see how all the people come to him and love
him! For the saving of Madelinette, oh, may his own life be given him! He
cannot pray for himself, but I pray for him. Dear Mother of God, I love
him, and I would lose my life for his sake. Sweet Mary, comfort thy
child, and out of thy own sorrow be good to my sorrow. Hear me and pray
for me, divine Mary. Amen."

Her whole nature had been emptied out, and there came upon her a calm, a
strange clearness of brain, exhausted in body as she was. For an instant
she stood thinking.

"Madame Degardy! Madame Degardy!" she cried, with sudden inspiration.
"Ah, I will find her; she may save him with her herbs!"

She hurried out of the house and down through the village to the little
hut by the river, where the old woman lived.

Elise had been to Madame Degardy as good a friend as a half-mad creature,
with no memory, would permit her. Parpon had lived for years in the same
village, but, though he was her own son, she had never given him a look
of recognition, had used him as she used all others. In turn, the dwarf
had never told any one but Valmond of the relationship; and so the two
lived their strange lives in their own singular way. But the Cure knew
who it was that kept the old woman's house supplied with wood and other
necessaries. Parpon himself had tried to summon her to Valmond's bedside,
for he knew well her skill with herbs, but the little hut was empty, and
he could get no trace of her. She had disappeared the night Valmond was
seized of the fever, and she came back to her little home in the very
hour that Elise visited her. The girl found her boiling herbs before a
big fire. She was stirring the pot diligently, now and then sprinkling in
what looked like a brown dust, and watching the brew intently.

She nodded, but did not look at Elise, and said crossly:

"Come in, come in, and shut the door, silly."

"Madame," said the girl, "His Excellency has the black fever."

"What of that?" she returned irritably.

"I thought maybe your herbs could cure him. You've cured others, and this
is an awful sickness. Ah, won't you save him, if you can?"

"What are you to him, pale-face?" she said, her eyes peering into the
pot.

"Nothing more to him than you are, madame," the girl answered wearily.

"I'll cure because I want, not because you ask me, pretty brat."

Elise's heart gave a leap: these very herbs were for Valmond! The old
woman had travelled far to get the medicaments immediately she had heard
of Valmond's illness. Night and day she had trudged, and she was more
brown and weather-beaten than ever.

"The black fever! the black fever!" cried the old woman. "I know it well.
It's most like a plague. I know it. But I know the cure-ha, ha! Come
along now, feather-legs, what are you staring there for? Hold that jug
while I pour the darling liquor in. Ha, ha! Crazy Joan hasn't lived for
nothing. They have to come to her; the great folks have to come to her!"

So she meandered on, filling the jug. Later, in the warm dusk, they
travelled up to Dalgrothe Mountain, and came to Valmond's tent. By the
couch knelt Parpon, watching the laboured breathing of the sick man. When
he saw Madame Degardy, he gave a growl of joy, and made way for her. She
pushed him back with her stick contemptuously, looked Valmond over, ran
her fingers down his cheek, felt his throat, and at last held his
restless hand. Elise, with the quick intelligence of love, stood ready.
The old woman caught the jug from her, swung it into the hollow of her
arm, poured the cup half full, and motioned the girl to lift up Valmond's
head. Elise raised it to her bosom, leaning her face down close to his.
Madame Degardy instantly pushed back her head.

"Don't get his breath--that's death, idiot!" she said, and began to pour
the liquid into Valmond's mouth very slowly. It was a tedious process at
first, but at length he began to swallow naturally, and finished the cup.

There was no change for an hour, and then he became less restless. After
another cupful, his eyes half opened. Within an hour a perspiration came,
and he was very quiet, and sleeping easily. Parpon crouched near the
door, watching it all with deep, piercing eyes. Madame Degardy never
moved from her place, but stood shaking her head and muttering. At last
Lagroin came, and whisperingly asked after his chief; then, seeing him in
a healthy and peaceful sleep, he stooped and kissed the hand lying upon
the blanket.

"Beloved sire! Thank the good God!" he said. Soon after he had gone,
there was a noise of tramping about the tent, and then a suppressed
cheer, which was fiercely stopped by Parpon, and the soldiers of the
Household Troops scattered to their tents.

"What's that?" asked Valmond, opening his eyes bewilderedly.

"Your soldiers, sire," answered the dwarf.

Valmond smiled languidly. Then he saw Madame Degardy and Elise.

"I am very sleepy, dear friends," he said, with a courteous, apologetic
gesture, and closed his eyes. Presently they opened again. "My
snuff-box--in my pocket," he said to the old woman, waving a hand to
where his uniform hung from the tent-pole; "it is for you, madame."

She understood, smiled grimly, felt in a waistcoat pocket, found the
snuff-box, and, squatting on the ground like a tailor, she took two
pinches, and sat holding the antique silver box in her hand.

"Crazy Joan's no fool, dear lad," she said at last, and took another
pinch, and knowingly nodded her head again and again, while he slept
soundly.




CHAPTER XIV

"Lights Out!"

The bugle-call rang softly down the valley, echoed away tenderly in the
hills, and was lost in the distance. Roused by the clear call, Elise rose
from watching beside Valmond's couch, and turned towards the door of the
tent. The spring of a perfect joy at his safety had been followed by an
aching in all her body and a trouble at her heart. Her feet were like
lead, her spirit quivered and shrank by turn. The light of the campfires
sent a glow through the open doorway upon the face of the sleeper.

She leaned over him. The look she gave him seemed to her anxious spirit
like a farewell. This man had given her a new life, and out of it had
come a new sight. Valmond had escaped death, but in her poor confused way
she felt another storm gathering about him. A hundred feelings possessed
her; but one thought was master of them all: when trouble drew round him,
she must be near him, must be strong to help him, protect him, if need
be. Yet a terrible physical weakness was on her. Her limbs trembled, her
head ached, her heart throbbed in a sickening way.

He stirred in his sleep; a smile passed over his face. She wondered what
gave it birth. She knew well it was not for her, that smile. It belonged
to his dream of success--when a thousand banners should flaunt in the
gardens of the Tuileries. Overcome by a sudden rush of emotion, she fell
on her knees at his side, bursting into noiseless sobs, which shook her
from head to foot.

Every nerve in her body responded to the shock of feeling; she was having
her dark hour alone.

At last she staggered to her feet and turned to the open door. The tents
lay silent in the moonshine, but wayward lights flickered in the
sumptuous dusk, and the quiet of the hills hung like a canopy over the
bivouac of the little army. No token of misfortune came out of this
peaceful encampment, no omen of disaster crossed the long lane of drowsy
fires and huge amorous shadows. The sense of doom was in the girl's own
heart, not in this deep cradle of the hills.

Now and again a sentinel crossed the misty line of vision, silent, and
majestically tall, in the soft haze, which came down from Dalgrothe
Mountain and fell like a delicate silver veil before the face of the
valley.

As she looked, lost in a kind of dream, there floated up from the distant
tent the refrain she knew so well:

          "Oh, say, where goes your love?
             O gai, vine le roi!"

Her hand caught her bosom as if to stifle a sudden pain. That song had
been the keynote to her new life, and it seemed now as if it were also to
be the final benediction. All her spirit gathered itself up for a great
resolution: she would not yield to this invading weakness, this misery of
body and mind.

Some one drew out of the shadows and came towards her. It was Madame
Degardy. She had seen the sobbing figure inside the tent, but, with the
occasional wisdom of the foolish of this world, she had not been less
considerate than the children of light.

With brusque, kindly taps of her stick, she drove the girl to her own
tent, and bade her sleep: but sleep was not for Elise that night; and in
the grey dawn, while yet no one was stirring in the camp, she passed
slowly down the valley to her home.

Madame Chalice was greatly troubled also. Valmond's life was saved. In
three days he was on his feet, eager and ardent again, and preparing to
go to the village; but what would the end of it all be? She knew of De la
Riviere's intentions, and she foresaw a crisis. If Valmond were in very
truth a Napoleon, all might be well, though this crusade must close here.
If he were an impostor, things would go cruelly hard with him. Impostor?
Strange how, in spite of all evidence against him, she still felt a vital
sureness in him somewhere; a radical reality, a convincing quality of
presence. At times he seemed like an actor playing his own character. She
could never quite get rid of that feeling.

In her anxiety--for she was in the affair for good or ill--she went again
to Monsieur Garon.

"You believe in Monsieur Valmond, dear avocat?" she asked.

The little man looked at her admiringly, though his admiration was a
quaint, Arcadian thing; and, perching his head on one side abstractedly,
he answered:

"Ah, yes, ah, yes! Such candour! He is the son of Napoleon and a certain
princess, born after Napoleon's fall, not long before his death."

"Then, of course, Monsieur Valmond is really nameless?" she asked.

"Ah, there is the point--the only point; but His Excellency can clear up
all that, and will do so in good time, he says. He maintains that France
will accept him."

"But the Government here, will they put him down? proceed against him?
Can they?"

"Ah, yes, I fear they can proceed against him. He may recruit men, but he
may not drill and conspire, you see. Yet"--the old man smiled, as though
at some distant and pleasing prospect "the cause is a great one; it is
great. Ah, madame, dear madame"--he got to his feet and stepped into the
middle of the floor--"he has the true Napoleonic spirit. He loves it all.
At the very first, it seemed as if he were going to be a little
ridiculous; now it is as if there was but one thing for him--love of
France and loyalty to the cause. Ah, think of the glories of the Empire!
of France as the light of Europe, of Napoleon making her rich and proud
and dominant! And think of her now, sinking into the wallow of bourgeois
vulgarity! If--if, as His Excellency said, the light were to come from
here, even from this far corner of the world, from this old France, to be
the torch of freedom once again--from our little parish here!"

His face was glowing, his thin hands made a quick gesture of charmed
anticipation.

Madame Chalice looked at him in a sort of wonder and delight. Dreamers
all! And this visionary Napoleon had come into the little man's quiet,
cultured, passive life, and had transformed him, filled him with
adventure and patriotism. There must be something behind Valmond, some
real, even some great thing, or this were not possible. It was not
surprising that she, with the spirit of dreams and romance deep in her,
should be sympathetic, even carried away for the moment.

"How is the feeling in the country since his illness?" she asked.

"Never so strong as now. Many new recruits come to him. Organisation goes
on, and His Excellency has issued a proclamation. I have advised him
against that--it is not necessary, it is illegal. He should not tempt our
Government too far. But he is a gentleman of as great simplicity as
courage, of directness and virtue--a wholesome soldier--"

She thought again of that moonlit night, and Elise's window, and a kind
of hatred of the man came up in her. No, no, she was wrong; he was not
the true thing.

"Dear avocat," she said suddenly, "you are a good friend. May I have
always as good! But have you ever thought that this thing may end in sore
disaster? Are we doing right? Is the man worthy our friendship and our
adherence?"

"Ah, dear madame, convictions, principles, truth, they lead to good
ends--somewhere. I have a letter here from Monsieur Valmond. It breathes
noble things; it has humour, too--ah, yes, so quaint! I am to see him
this afternoon--he returns to the Louis Quinze to-day. The Cure and I--"

She laid her hand on his arm, interrupting him. "Will you take me this
evening to Monsieur Valmond, dear friend?" she asked.

She saw now how useless it was to attempt anything through these admirers
of Valmond; she must do it herself. He must be firmly and finally warned
and dissuaded. The conviction had suddenly come to her with great force,
that the end was near--come to her as it came to Elise. Her wise mind had
seen the sure end; Elise's heart had felt it.

The avocat readily promised. She was to call for him at a little before
eight o'clock. But she decided that she would first seek Elise; before
she accused the man, she would question the woman. Above and beyond all
anger she felt at this miserable episode, there was pity in her heart for
the lonely girl. She was capable of fierce tempers, of great caprices, of
even wild injustice, when her emotions had their way with her; but her
heart was large, her nature deep and broad, and her instincts kind. The
little touch of barbarism in her gave her, too, a sense of primitive
justice. She was self-analytical, critical of life and conduct, yet her
mind and her heart, when put to the great test, were above mere
anatomising. Her rich nature, alive with these momentous events, feeling
the prescience of coming crisis, sent a fine glow into her face, into her
eyes. Excitement gave a fresh elasticity to her step.

In spite of her serious thoughts, she looked very young, almost
irresponsible. No ordinary observer could guess the mind that lay behind
the eloquent, glowing eyes. Even the tongue at first deceived, till it
began to probe, to challenge, to drop sharp, incisive truths in little
gold-leaped pellets, which brought conviction when the gold-leaf wore
off.

The sunlight made her part of the brilliant landscape, and she floated
into it, neither too dainty nor too luxurious. The greatest heat of the
day was past, and she was walking slowly under the maples, on the way to
Elise's home, when she was arrested by a voice near her. Then a tall
figure leaped the fence, and came to her with outstretched hand and an
unmistakable smile of pleasure.

"I've called at the Manor twice, and found you out; so I took to the
highway," said the voice gaily.

"My dear Seigneur," she answered, with mock gravity, "ancestors' habits
show in time."

"Come, that's severe, isn't it?"

"You have waylaid me in a lonely place, master highwayman!" she said,
with a torturing sweetness.

He had never seen her so radiantly debonnaire; yet her heart was full of
annoying anxiety.

"There's so much I want to say to you," he answered more seriously.

"So very much?"

"Very much indeed."

She looked up the road. "I can give you ten minutes," she said. "Suppose
we walk up and down under these trees. It is shady and quiet here. Now
proceed, monsieur. Is it my money or my life?"

"You are in a charming mood to-day."

"Which is more than I could say for you the last time we met. You
threatened, stormed, were childish, impossible to a degree."

His face became grave. "We were such good friends once!"

"Once--once?" she asked maliciously. "Once Cain and Abel were a happy
family. When was that once?"

"Two years ago. What talks we had then! I had so looked forward to your
coming again. It was the alluring thing in my life, your arrival," he
went on; "but something came between."

His tone nettled her. He talked as if he had some distant claim on her.

"Something came between?" she repeated slowly, mockingly. "That sounds
melodramatic indeed. What was it came between--a coach-and-four, or a
grand army?"

"Nothing so stately," he answered, piqued by her tone: "a filibuster and
his ragamuffins."

"Ragamufins would be appreciated by Monsieur Valmond's followers, spoken
at the four corners," she answered.

"Then I'll change it," he said: "a ragamuffin and his filibusters."

"The 'ragamuffin' always speaks of his enemies with courtesy, and the
filibusters love their leader," was her pointed rejoinder.

"At half a dollar a day," he answered sharply.

"They get that much from His Excellency, do they?" she asked in real
surprise. "That doesn't look like filibustering, does it?"

"'His Excellency!'" he retorted. "Why won't you look this matter straight
in the face? Napoleon or no Napoleon, the end of this thing is ruin."

"Take care that you don't get lost in the debris," she said bitingly.

"I can take care of myself. I am sorry to have you mixed up in it."

"You are sorry? How good of you! How paternal!"

"If your husband were here--"

"If my husband were here, you would probably be his best friend," she
rejoined, with acid sweetness; "and I should still have to take care of
myself."

Had he no sense of what was possible to leave unsaid to a woman? She was
very angry, though she was also a little sorry for him; for perhaps in
the long run he would be in the right. But he must pay for his present
stupidity.

"You wrong me," he answered, with a quick burst of feeling. "You are most
unfair. You punish me because I do my public duty; and because I would do
anything in the world for you, you punish me the more. Have you forgotten
two years ago? Is it so easy to your hand, a true and constant
admiration, a sincere homage, that you throw it aside like--"

"Monsieur De la Riviere," she said, with exasperating deliberation, her
eyes having a dangerous light, "your ten minutes is more than up. And it
has been quite ten minutes too long."

"If I were a filibuster"--he answered bitterly and suggestively.

She interrupted him, saying, with a purring softness: "If you had only
courage enough--"

He waved his hand angrily. "If I had, I should hope you would prove a
better friend to me than you are to this man."

"Ah, in what way do I fail towards 'this man'?"

"By encouraging his downfall. See--I know I am taking my life in my
hands, as it were, but I tell you this thing will do you harm when it
goes abroad."

She felt the honesty of his words, though they angered her. He seemed to
impute some personal interest in Valmond. She would not have it from any
man in the world.

"If you will pick up my handkerchief--ah, thank you! We must travel
different roads in this matter. You have warned; let me prophesy. His
Highness Valmond Napoleon will come out of this with more honour than
yourself."

"Thanks to you, then," he said gallantly, for he admired her very
stubbornness.

"Thanks to himself. I honestly believe that you will be ashamed of your
part in this, one day."

"In any case, I will force the matter to a conclusion," he answered
firmly. "The fantastic thing must end."

"When?"

"Within a few days."

"When all is over, perhaps you will have the honesty to come and tell me
which was right--you or I. Goodbye."

Elise was busy at her kitchen fire. She looked up, startled, as her
visitor entered. Her heavy brow grew heavier, her eyes gleamed sulkily,
as she dragged herself forward with weariness, and stood silent and
resentful. Why had this lady of the Manor come to her? Madame Chalice
scarcely knew how to begin, for, in truth, she wanted to be the girl's
friend, and she feared making her do or say some wild thing.

She looked round the quiet room. Some fruit was boiling on a stove,
giving out a fragrant savour, and Elise's eye was on it mechanically. A
bit of sewing lay across a chair, and on the wall hung a military suit of
the old sergeant, beside it a short sabre. An old Tricolor was draped
from a beam, and one or two maps of France were pinned on the wall. She
fastened her look on the maps. They seemed to be her cue.

"Have you any influence with your uncle?" she asked.

Elise remained gloomily silent.

"Because," Madame Chalice went on smoothly, ignoring her silence, "I
think it would be better for him to go back to Ville Bambord--I am sure
of it."

The girl's lip curled angrily. What right had this great lady to
interfere with her or hers? What did she mean?

"My uncle is a general and a brave man; he can take care of himself," she
answered defiantly. Madame Chalice did not smile at the title. She
admired the girl's courage. She persisted however. "He is one man, and--"

"He has plenty of men, madame, and His Excellency--"

"His Excellency and hundreds of men cannot stand, if the Government send
soldiers against them."

"Why should the Gover'ment do that? They're only going to France; they
mean no trouble here."

"They have no right to drill and conspire here, my girl."

"Well, my uncle and his men will fight; we'll all fight," Elise retorted,
her hands grasping the arms of the rocking-chair she sat in.

"But why shouldn't we avoid fighting? What is there to fight for? You are
all very happy here. You were very happy here before Monsieur Valmond
came. Are you happy now?"

Madame Chalice's eyes searched the flushed face anxiously. She was
growing more eager every moment to serve, if she could, this splendid
creature.

"We would die for him!" answered the girl quickly.

"You would die for him," came the reply, slowly, meaningly.

"And what's it to you, if I would?" came the sharp retort. "Why do you
fine folk meddle yourselves with poor folk's affairs?"

Then, remembering she was a hostess, with the instinctive courtesy of her
race, she said: "Ah, pardon, madame; you meant nothing, I'm sure."

"Why should fine folk make poor folk unhappy?" said Madame Chalice,
quietly and sorrowfully, for she saw that Elise was suffering, and all
the woman in her came to her heart and lips. She laid her hand on the
girl's arm. "Indeed yes, why should fine folk make poor folk unhappy? It
is not I alone who makes you unhappy, Elise."

The girl angrily shook off the hand, for she read the true significance
of the words.

"What are you trying to find out?" she asked fiercely. "What do you want
to do? Did I ever come in your way? Why do you come into mine? What's my
life to you? Nothing, nothing at all. You're here to-day and away
to-morrow. You're English; you're not of us. Can't you see that I want to
be left alone?

"If I were unhappy, I could look after myself. But I'm not, I'm not--I
tell you I'm not! I'm happy. I never knew what happiness was till now.
I'm so happy that I can stand here and not insult you, though you've
insulted me."

"I meant no insult, Elise. I want to help you; that is all. I know how
hard it is to confide in one's kinsfolk, and I wish with all my heart I
might be your friend, if you ever need me."

Elise met her sympathetic look clearly and steadily. "Speak plain to me,
madame," she said.

"Elise, I saw some one climb out of your bedroom window," was the slow
reply.

"Oh, my God!" said the girl; "oh, my God!" and she stared blankly for a
moment at Madame Chalice. Then, trembling greatly, she reached to the
table for a cup of water.

Madame Chalice was at once by her side. "You are ill, poor girl," she
said anxiously, and put her arm around her.

Elise drew away.

"I will tell you all, madame, all; and you must believe it, for, as God
is my judge, it is the truth." Then she told the whole story, exactly as
it happened, save mention of the kisses that Valmond had given her. Her
eyes now and again filled with tears, and she tried, in her poor
untutored way, to set him right. She spoke for him altogether, not for
herself; and her listener saw that the bond which held the girl to the
man might be proclaimed in the streets, with no dishonour.

"That's the story, and that's the truth," said Elise at last. "He's a
gentleman, a great man, and I'm a poor girl, and there can be nothing
between us; but I'd die for him."

She no longer resented Madame Chalice's solicitude: she was passive, and
showed that she wished to be alone.

"You think there's going to be great trouble?" she asked, as Madame
Chalice made ready to go.

"I fear so, but we will do all we can to prevent it." Elise watched her
go on towards the Manor in the declining sunlight, then turned heavily to
her work again.

There came to her ears the sound of a dog-churn in the yard outside, and
the dull roll and beat seemed to keep time to the aching pulses in her
head, in all her body. One thought kept going through her brain: there
was, as she had felt, trouble coming for Valmond. She had the conviction,
too, that it was very near. Her one definite idea was, that she should be
able to go to him when that trouble came; that she should not fail him at
his great need. Yet these pains in her body, this alternate exaltation
and depression, this pitiful weakness! She must conquer it. She
remembered the hours spent at his bedside; the moments when he was all
hers--by virtue of his danger and her own unwavering care of him. She
recalled the dark moment when Death, intrusive, imminent, lurked at the
tent door, and in its shadow she emptied out her soul in that one kiss of
fealty and farewell.

That kiss--there came to her again, suddenly, Madame Degardy's cry of
warning: "Don't get his breath--it's death, idiot!"

That was it: the black fever was in her veins! That one kiss had sealed
her own doom. She knew it now.

He had given her life by giving her love. Well, he should give her death
too--her lord of fife and death. She was of the chosen few who could
drink the cup of light and the cup of darkness with equally regnant soul.

But it might lay her low in the very hour of Valmond's trouble. She must
conquer it--how? To whom could she turn for succour? There was but
one,--yet she could not seek Madame Degardy, for the old woman would
drive her to her bed, and keep her there. There was only this to do: to
possess herself of those wonderful herbs which had been given her
Napoleon in his hour of peril.

Dragging herself wearily to the little but by the river, she knocked, and
waited. All was still, and, opening the door, she entered. Striking a
match, she found a candle, lighted it, and then began her search. Under
an old pan on a shelf she found both herbs and powder. She snatched up a
handful of the herbs, and kissed them with joyful heart. Saved--she was
saved! Ah, thank the Blessed Virgin! She would thank her for ever!

A horrible sinking sensation seized her. Turning in dismay, she saw the
face of Parpon at the window. With a blind instinct for protection, she
staggered towards the door, and fell, her fingers still clasping the
precious herbs.

As Parpon hastily entered, Madame Degardy hobbled out of the shadow of
the trees, and furtively watched the hut. When a light appeared, she
crept to the door, opened it stealthily upon the intruders of her home,
and stepped inside.

Parpon was kneeling by Elise, lifting up her head, and looking at her in
horrified distress.

With a shrill cry the old woman came forward and dropped on her knees at
the other side of Elise. Her hand, fumbling anxiously over the girl's
breast, met the hard and warty palm of the dwarf. She stopped suddenly,
raised the sputtering candle, and peered into his eyes with a vague,
wavering intensity. For minutes they knelt there, the silence clothing
them about, the body of the unconscious girl between them. A lost memory
was feeling blindly its way home again. By and by, out of an infinite
past, something struggled to the old woman's eyes, and Parpon's heart
almost burst in his anxiety. At length her look steadied. Memory,
recognition, showed in her face.

With a wild cry her gaunt arms stretched across, and caught the great
head to her breast.

"Where have you been so long, Parpon--my son?" she said.




CHAPTER XV

Valmond's strength came back quickly, but something had given his mind a
new colour. He felt, by a strange telegraphy of fate, that he had been
spared death by fever to meet an end more in keeping with the strange
exploit which now was coming to a crisis. The next day he was going back
to Dalgrothe Mountain, the day after that there should be final review,
and the succeeding day the march to the sea would begin. A move must be
made. There could be no more delay. He had so lost himself in the dream,
that it had become real, and he himself was the splendid adventurer, the
maker of empires. True, he had only a small band of ill-armed men, but
better arms could be got, and by the time they reached the sea--who could
tell!

As he sat alone in the quiet dusk of his room at the Louis Quinze waiting
for Parpon, there came a tap at his door. It opened, the garcon mumbled
something, and Madame Chalice entered slowly.

Her look had no particular sympathy, but there was a sort of friendliness
in the rich colour of her face, in the brightness of her eyes.

"The avocat was to have accompanied me," she said; "but at the last I
thought it better to come without him, because--"

She paused. "Yes, madame--because?" he asked, offering her a chair. He
was dressed in simple black, as on that first day when he called at the
Manor, and it set off the ivory paleness of his complexion, making his
face delicate yet strong.

She looked round the room, almost casually, before she went on

"Because what I have to say were better said to you alone--much better."

"I am sure you are right," he answered, as though he trusted her judgment
utterly; and truly there was always something boy-like in his attitude
towards her. The compliment was unstudied and pleasant, but she steeled
herself for her task. She knew instinctively that she had influence with
him, and she meant to use it to its utmost limit.

"I am glad, we are all glad, you are better," she said cordially; then
added, "how do your affairs come on? What are your plans?"

Valmond forgot that she was his inquisitor; he only saw her as his ally,
his friend. So he spoke to her, as he had done at the Manor, with a sort
of eloquence, of his great theme. He had changed greatly. The rhetorical,
the bizarre, had left his speech. There was no more grandiloquence than
might be expected of a soldier who saw things in the bright flashes of
the battle-field--sharp pinges of colour, the dyes well soaked in. He had
the gift of telling a story: some peculiar timbre in the voice, some
direct dramatic touch. She listened quietly, impressed and curious. The
impossibilities seemed for a moment to vanish in the big dream, and she
herself was a dreamer, a born adventurer among the wonders of life. Were
she a man, she would have been an explorer or a soldier.

But good judgment returned, and she gathered herself together for the
unpleasant task that lay before her.

She looked him steadily in the eyes. "I have come to tell you that you
must give up this dream," she said slowly. "It can come to nothing but
ill; and in the mishap you may be hurt past repair."

"I shall never give up--this dream," he said, surprised, but firm, almost
dominant.

"Think of these poor folk who surround you, who follow you. Would you see
harm come to them?"

"As soldiers, they will fight for a cause."

"What is--the cause?" she asked meaningly.

"France," was the quiet reply; and there was a strong ring in the tone.

"Not so--you, monsieur!"

"You called me 'sire' once," he said tentatively.

"I called my maid a fool yesterday, under some fleeting influence; one
has moods," she answered.

"If you would call me puppet to-morrow, we might strike a balance and
find--what should we find?"

"An adventurer, I fear," she remarked.

He was not taken aback. "An adventurer truly," he said. "It is a far
travel to France, and there is much to overcome!"

She could scarcely reconcile this acute, self-contained man with the
enthusiast and comedian she had seen in the Cure's garden.

"Monsieur Valmond," she said, "I neither suspect nor accuse; I only feel.
There is something terribly uncertain in this cause of yours, in your
claims. You have no right to waste lives."

"To waste lives?" he asked mechanically.

"Yes; the Government is to proceed against you."

"Ah, yes," he answered. "Monsieur De la Riviere has seen to that; but he
must pay for his interference."

"That is beside the point. If a force comes against you--what then?"

"Then I will act as becomes a Napoleon," he answered, rather grandly.

So there was a touch of the bombastic in his manner even yet! She laughed
a little ironically. Then all at once her thoughts reverted to Elise, and
some latent cruelty in her awoke. Though she believed the girl, she would
accuse the man, the more so, because she suddenly became aware that his
eyes were fixed on herself in ardent admiration.

"You might not have a convenient window," she said, with deliberate,
consuming suggestion.

His glance never wavered, though he understood instantly what she meant.
Well, she had discovered that! He flushed.

"Madame," he said, "I hope that I am a gentleman at heart."

The whole scene came back on him, and a moisture sprang to his eyes.

"She is innocent," he continued--"upon my sacred honour! Yes, yes, I know
that the evidence is all against me, but I speak the absolute truth. You
saw--that night, did you?"

She nodded.

"Ah, it is a pity--a pity. But, madame, as you are a true woman, believe
what I say; for, I repeat, it is the truth."

Then, with admirable reticence, even great delicacy, he told the story as
Elise had told it, and as convincingly.

"I believe you, monsieur," she said frankly, when he had done, and
stretched out her hand to him with a sudden impulse of regard. "Now,
follow up that unselfishness by another."

He looked inquiringly at her.

"Give up this mad chase," she added eagerly.

"Never!" was his instant reply. "Never!"

"I beg of you, I appeal to you-my friend," she urged, with that ardour of
the counsel who pleads a bad cause.

"I do not impeach you or your claims, but I ask that you leave this
village as you found it, these happy people undisturbed in their homes.
Ah, go! Go now, and you will be a name to them, remembered always with
admiration. You have been courageous, you have been loved, you have been
inspiring--ah, yes, I admit it, even to me!--inspiring! The spirit of
adventure in you, your hopes, your plans to do great things, roused me.
It was that made me your ally more than aught else. Truly and frankly, I
do not think that I am convinced of anything save that you are no coward,
and that you love a cause. Let it go at that--you must, you must. You
came in the night, privately and mysteriously; go in the night, this
night, mysteriously--an inscrutable, romantic figure. If you are all you
say, and I should be glad to think so,--go where your talents will have
greater play, your claims larger recognition. This is a small game here.
Leave us as you found us. We shall be the better for it; our poor folk
here will be the better. Proceed with this, and who can tell what may
happen? I was wrong, wrong--I see that now-to have encouraged you at all.
I repent of it. Here, as I talk to you, I feel, with no doubt whatever,
that the end of your bold exploit is near. Can you not see that? Ah yes,
you must, you must! Take my horses to-night, leave here, and come back no
more; and so none of us shall feel sorrow in thinking of the time when
Valmond came to Pontiac."

Variable, accusing, she had suddenly shown him something beyond caprice,
beyond accident of mood or temper. The true woman had spoken; all outer
modish garments had dropped away from her real nature, and showed its
abundant depth and sincerity. All that was roused in him this moment was
never known; he never could tell it; there were eternal spaces between
them. She had been speaking to him just now with no personal sentiment.
She was only the lover of honest things, the friend, the good ally,
obliged to flee a cause for its terrible unsoundness, yet trying to
prevent wreck and ruin.

He arose and turned his head away for an instant, her eloquence had been
so moving. His glance caught the picture of the Great Napoleon, and his
eyes met hers again with new resolution.

"I must stay," he answered; "I will not turn back, whatever comes. This
is but child's play, but a speck beside what I mean to do. True, I came
in the dark, but I will go in the light. I shall not leave them behind,
these poor folk; they shall come with me. I have money, France is
waiting, the people are sick of the Orleans, and I--"

"But you must, you must listen to me, monsieur!" she said desperately.

She came close to him, and, out of the frank eagerness of her nature,
laid her hand upon his arm, and looked him in the eyes with an almost
tender appealing.

At that moment the door opened, and Monsieur De la Riviere was announced.

"Ah, madame!" said the young Seigneur in a tone more than a little
carbolic; "secrets of State, no doubt?"

"Statesmen need not commit themselves to newsmongers, monsieur," she
answered, still standing very near Valmond, as though she would continue
a familiar talk when the disagreeable interruption had passed.

She was thoroughly fearless, clear of heart, above all littlenesses.

"I had come to warn Monsieur Valmond once again, but I find him with his
ally, counsellor--and comforter," he retorted, with perilous suggestion.

Time would move on, and Madame Chalice might forget that wild remark, but
she never would forgive it, and she never wished to do so. The insolent,
petty, provincial Seigneur!

"Monsieur De la Riviere," she returned, with cold dignity, "you cannot
live long enough to atone for that impertinence."

"I beg your pardon, madame," he returned earnestly, awed by the look in
her face; for she was thoroughly aroused. "I came to stop a filibustering
expedition, to save the credit of the place where I was born, where my
people have lived for generations."

She made a quick, deprecatory gesture. "You saw me enter here," she said,
"and you thought to discover treason of some kind--Heaven knows what a
mind like yours may imagine! You find me giving better counsel to His
Highness than you could ever hope to give--out of a better heart and from
a better understanding. You have been worse than intrusive; you have been
rash and stupid. You call His Highness filibuster and impostor. I assure
you it is my fondest hope that Prince Valmond Napoleon will ever count me
among his friends, in spite of all his enemies."

She turned her shoulder on him, and took Valmond's hand with a pronounced
obeisance, saying, "Adieu, sire" (she was never sorry she had said it),
and passed from the room. Valmond was about to follow her.

"Thank you, no; I will go to my carrriage alone," she said, and he did
not insist.

When she had gone he stood holding the door open, and looking at De la
Riviere. He was very pale; there was a menacing fire in his eyes. The
young Seigneur was ready for battle also.

"I am occupied, monsieur," said Valmond meaningly.

"I have come to warn you--"

"The old song; I am occupied, monsieur."

"Charlatan!" said De la Riviere, and took a step angrily towards him, for
he was losing command of himself.

At that moment Parpon, who had been outside in the hall for a half-hour
or more, stepped into the room, edged between the two, and looked up with
a wicked, mocking leer at the young Seigneur.

"You have twenty-four hours to leave Pontiac," cried De la Riviere, as he
left the room.

"My watch keeps different time, monsieur," said Valmond coolly, and
closed the door.




CHAPTER XVI

From the depths where Elise was cast, it was not for her to see that her
disaster had brought light to others; that out of the pitiful confusion
of her life had come order and joy. A half-mad woman, without memory,
knew again whence she came and whither she was going; and bewildered and
happy, with a hungering tenderness, moved her hand over the head of her
poor dwarf, as though she would know if he were truly her own son. A new
spirit also had come into Parpon's eyes, gentler, less weird, less
distant. With the advent of their joy a great yearning came to save
Elise. They hung watchful, solicitous, over her bed.

It must go hard with her, and twenty-four hours would see the end or a
fresh beginning. She had fought back the fever too long, her brain and
emotions had been strung to a fatal pitch, and the disease, like a
hurricane, carried her on for hours, tearing at her being.

Her own mother sat in a corner, stricken and numb. At last she fell
asleep in her chair, but Parpon and his mother slept not at all. Now and
again the dwarf went to the door and looked out at the night, so still,
and full of the wonder of growth and rest.

Far up on Dalgrothe Mountain a soft brazen light lay like a shield
against the sky, a strange, hovering thing. Parpon knew it to be the
reflection of the campfires in the valley, where Lagroin and his men were
sleeping. There came, too, out of the general stillness, a long, low
murmur, as though nature were crooning: the untiring rustle of the river,
the water that rolled on and never came back again. Where did they all
go--those thousands of rivers for ever pouring on, lazily or wildly? What
motive? What purpose? Just to empty themselves into the greater waters,
there to be lost? Was it enough to travel on so inevitably to the end,
and be swallowed up?

And these millions of lives hurrying along? Was it worth while living,
only to grow older and older, and, coming, heavy with sleep, to the
Homestead of the Ages, enter a door that only opened inwards, and be
swallowed up in the twilight? Why arrest the travelling, however swift it
be? Sooner or later it must come--with dusk the end of it.

The dwarf heard the moaning of the stricken girl, her cry, "Valmond!
Valmond!" the sobs that followed, the woe of her self-abnegation, even in
delirium.

For one's self it mattered little, maybe, the attitude of the mind,
whether it would arrest or be glad of the terrific travel; but for
another human being, who might judge? Who might guess what was best for
the other; what was most merciful, most good? Destiny meant us to prove
our case against it, as well as we might; to establish our right to be
here as long as we could, so discovering the world day by day, and
ourselves to the world, and ourselves to ourselves. To live it out,
resisting the power that destroys so long as might be--that was the
divine secret.

"Valmond! Valmond! O Valmond!"

The voice moaned out the words again and again. Through the sounds there
came another inner voice, that resolved all the crude, primitive thoughts
here defined; vague, elusive, in Parpon's own brain.

The girl's life should be saved at any cost, even if to save it meant the
awful and certain doom his mother had whispered to him over the bed an
hour before.

He turned and went into the house. The old woman bent above Elise,
watching intently, her eyes straining, her lips anxiously compressed.

"My son," she said, "she will die in an hour if I don't give her more. If
I do, she may die at once. If she gets well, she will be--" She made a
motion to her eyes.

"Blind, mother, blind!" he whispered, and he looked round the room. How
good was the sight of the eyes! "Perhaps she'd rather die," said the old
woman. "She is unhappy." She was thinking of her own far, bitter past,
remembered now after so many years. "Misery and blindness too--ah! What
right have I to make her blind? It's a great risk, Parpon, my dear son."

"I must, I must, for your sake. Valmond! Valmond! O Valmond!" cried Elise
again out of her delirium.

The stricken girl had answered for Parpon. She had decided for herself.
Life! that was all she prayed for: for another's sake, not her own.

Her own mother slept on, in the corner of the room, unconscious of the
terrible verdict hanging in the balance.

Madame Degardy quickly emptied into a cup of liquor the strange brown
powder, mixed it, and held it to the girl's lips, pouring it slowly down.

Once, twice, during the next hour, a low, anguished voice filled the
room; but just as dawn came, Parpon stooped and tenderly wiped a soft
moisture from the face, lying so quiet and peaceful now against the
pillow.

"She breathes easy, poor pretty bird!" said the old woman gently.

"She'll never see again?" asked Parpon mournfully. "Never a thing while
she lives," was the whispered reply.

"But she has her life," said the dwarf; "she wished it so."

"What's the good!" The old woman had divined why Elise had wanted to
live.

The dwarf did not answer. His eyes wandered about abstractedly, and fell
again upon Elise's mother sleeping, unconscious of the awful peril
passed, and the painful salvation come to her daughter.

The blue-grey light of morning showed under the edge of the closed
window-blind. In the room day was mingling incongruously with night, for
the candle looked sickly, and the aged crone's face was of a leaden
colour, lighted by the piercing eyes that brooded hungrily on her
son--her only son: the dwarf had told her of Gabriel's death.

Parpon opened the door and went out. Day was spreading over the drowsy
landscape. There was no life as yet in all the horizon, no fires, no
animals stirring, no early workmen, no anxious harvesters. But the birds
were out, and presently here and there cattle rose up in the fields.

Then, over the foot-hills, he saw a white horse and its rider show up
against the grey dust of the road. Elise's sorrowful words came to him:
"Valmond! Valmond! O Valmond!"

His duty to the girl was done; she was safe; now he must follow that
figure to where the smoke of the campfires came curling up by Dalgrothe
Mountain. There were rumours of trouble; he must again be minister,
counsellor, friend, to his master.

A half hour later he was climbing the hill where he had seen the white
horse and its rider. He heard the sound of a drum in the distance. The
gloom and suspense of the night just passed went from him, and into the
sunshine he sang:

          "Oh, grand to the war he goes,
             O gai, vive le roi!"

Not long afterwards he entered the encampment. Around one fire, cooking
their breakfasts, were Muroc the charcoalman, Duclosse the mealman, and
Garotte the lime-burner. They all were in good spirits.

"For my part," Muroc was saying, as Parpon nodded at them, and passed by,
"I'm not satisfied."

"Don't you get enough to eat?" asked the mealman, whose idea of happiness
was based upon the appreciation of a good dinner.

"But yes, and enough to drink, thanks to His Excellency, and the buttons
he puts on my coat." Muroc jingled some gold coins in his pocket. "It's
this being clean that's the devil! When I sold charcoal, I was black and
beautiful, and no dirt showed; I polished like a pan. Now if I touch a
potato, I'm filthy. Pipe-clay is hell's stuff to show you up as the Lord
made you." Garotte laughed. "Wait till you get to fighting. Powder sticks
better than charcoal. For my part, I'm always clean as a whistle."

"But you're like a bit of wool, lime-burner, you never sweat. Dirt don't
stick to you as to me and the meal man. Duclosse there used to look like
a pie when the meal and sweat dried on him. When we reach Paris, and His
Excellency gets his own, I'll take to charcoal again; I'll fill the
palace cellars. That suits me better than chalk and washing every day."

"Do you think we'll ever get to Paris?" asked the mealman, cocking his
head seriously.

"That's the will of God, and the weather at sea, and what the Orleans
do," answered Muroc grinning.

It was hard to tell how deep this adventure lay in Muroc's mind. He had a
prodigious sense of humour, the best critic in the world.

"For me," said the lime-burner, "I think there'll be fighting before we
get to the Orleans. There's talk that the Gover'ment's coming against
us."

"Done!" said the charcoalman. "We'll see the way our great man puts their
noses out of joint."

"Here's Lajeunesse," broke in the mealman, as the blacksmith came near to
their fire. He was dressed in complete regimentals, made by the parish
tailor.

"Is that so, monsieur le capitaine?" said Muroc to Lajeunesse. "Is the
Gover'ment to be fighting us? Why should it? We're only for licking the
Orleans, and who cares a sou for them, hein?"

"Not a go-dam," said Duclosse, airing his one English oath. "The English
hate the Orleans too." Lajeunesse looked from one to the other, then
burst into a laugh. "There's two gills of rum for every man at twelve
o'clock to-day, so says His Excellency; and two yellow buttons for the
coat of every sergeant, and five for every captain. The English up there
in Quebec can't do better than that, can they? And will they? No. Does a
man spend money on a hell's foe, unless he means to give it work to do?
Pish! Is His Excellency like to hang back because Monsieur De la Riviere
says he'll fetch the Government? Bah! The bully soldiers would come with
us as they went with the Great Napoleon at Grenoble. Ah, that! His
Excellency told me about that just now. Here stood the soldiers,"--he
mapped out the ground with his sword, "here stood the Great Napoleon, all
alone. He looks straight before him. What does he see? Nothing less than
a hundred muskets pointing at him. What does he do? He walks up to the
soldiers, opens his coat, and says, 'Soldiers, comrades, is there one of
you will kill your Emperor?' Damned if there was one! They dropped their
muskets, and took to kissing his hands. There, my dears, that was the
Great Emperor's way, our Emperor's father's little way."

"But suppose they fired at us 'stead of at His Excellency?" asked the
mealman.

"Then, mealman, you'd settle your account for lightweights sooner than
you want."

Duclosse twisted his mouth dubiously. He was not sure how far his
enthusiasm would carry him. Muroc shook his shaggy head in mirth.

"Well, 'tis true we're getting off to France," said the lime-burner. "We
can drill as we travel, and there's plenty of us for a start."

"Morrow we go," said Lajeunesse. "The proclamation's to be out in an
hour, and you're all to be ready by ten o'clock in the morning. His
Excellency is to make a speech to us to-night; then the General--ah, what
a fine soldier, and eighty years old!--he's to give orders, and make a
speech also; and I'm to be colonel,"--he paused dramatically,--"and you
three are for captains; and you're to have five new yellow buttons to
your coats, like these." He drew out gold coins and jingled them. Every
man got to his feet, and Muroc let the coffee-tin fall. "There's to be a
grand review in the village this afternoon. There's breakfast for you, my
dears!"

Their exclamations were interrupted by Lajeunesse, who added: "And so my
Madelinette is to go to Paris, after all, and Monsieur Parpon is to see
that she starts right."

"Monsieur" Parpon was a new title for the dwarf. But the great comedy, so
well played, had justified it. "Oh, His Excellency 'll keep his oath,"
said the mealman. "I'd take Elise Malboir's word about a man for a
million francs, was he prince or ditcher; and she says he's the greatest
man in the world. She knows."

"That reminds me," said Lajeunesse gloomily, "Elise has the black fever."

The mealman's face seemed to petrify, his eyes stood out, the bread he
had in his teeth dropped, and he stared wildly at Lajeunesse. All were
occupied in watching the mealman, and they did not see the figure of a
girl approaching.

Muroc, dumfounded, spoke first. "Elise--the black fever!" he gasped,
thoroughly awed.

"She is better, she will live," said a voice behind Lajeunesse. It was
Madelinette, who had come to the camp early to cook her father's
breakfast.

Without a word, the mealman turned, pulled his clothes about him with a
jerk, and, pale and bewildered, started away at a run down the plateau.

"He's going to the village," said the charcoalman. "He hasn't leave.
That's court-martial!"

Lajeunesse shook his head knowingly. "He's never had but two ideas in his
nut-meal and Elise; let him go."

The mealman was soon lost to view, unheeding the challenge that rang
after him.

Lagroin had seen the fugitive from a distance, and came down, inquiring.
When he was told he swore that Duclosse should suffer divers punishments.

"A pretty kind of officer!" he cried in a fury. "Damn it, is there
another man in my army would do it?"

No one answered; and because Lagroin was not a wise man, he failed to see
that in time his army might be entirely dissipated by such awkward
incidents. When Valmond was told, he listened with a better
understanding.

All that Lajeunesse had announced came to pass. The review and march and
show were goodly, after their kind; and, by dint of money and wine, the
enthusiasm was greater than ever it had been; for it was joined to the
pathos of the expected departure. The Cure and the avocat kept within
doors; for they had talked together, and now that the day of fate was at
hand, and sons, brothers, fathers, were to go off on this far crusade, a
new spirit suddenly thrust itself in, and made them sad and anxious.
Monsieur De la Riviere was gloomy. Medallion was the one comfortable,
cool person in the parish. It had been his conviction that something
would occur to stop the whole business at the critical moment. He was a
man of impressions, and he lived in the light of them continuously.
Wisdom might have been expected of Parpon, but he had been won by Valmond
from the start; and now, in the great hour, he was deep in another
theme--the restoration of his mother to himself, and to herself.

At seven o'clock in the evening, Valmond and Lagroin were in the streets,
after they had marched their men back to camp. A crowd had gathered near
the church, for His Excellency was on his way to visit the Cure.

As he passed, they cheered him. He stopped to speak to them. Before he
had ended, some one came crying wildly that the soldiers, the red-coats
were come. The sound of a drum rolled up the street, and presently, round
a corner, came the well-ordered troops of the Government.

Instantly Lagroin wheeled to summon any stray men of his little army, but
Valmond laid a hand on his arm, stopping him. It would have been the same
in any case, for the people had scattered like sheep, and stood apart.

They were close by the church steps. Valmond mechanically saw the
mealman, open-mouthed and dazed, start forward from the crowd; but,
hesitating, he drew back again almost instantly, and was swallowed up in
the safety of distance. He smiled at the mealman's hesitation, even while
he said to himself: "This ends it--ends it!"

He said it with no great sinking of heart, with no fear. It was the
solution of all; it was his only way to honour.

The soldiers were halted a little distance from the two; and the officer
commanding, after a dull mechanical preamble, in the name of the
Government, formally called upon Valmond and Lagroin to surrender
themselves, or suffer the perils of resistance.

"Never!" broke out Lagroin, and, drawing his sword, he shouted: "Vive
Napoleon! The Old Guard never surrenders!"

Then he made as if to rush forward on the troops. "Fire!" called the
officer.

Twenty rifles blazed out. Lagroin tottered back, and fell at the feet of
his master.

Raising himself, he clasped Valmond's knee, and, looking up, said
gaspingly:

"Adieu, sire! I love you; I die for you." His head fell at his Emperor's
feet, though the hands still clutched the knee.

Valmond stood over his body, one leg on either side, and drew a pistol.

"Surrender, monsieur," said the officer, "or we fire!"

"Never! A Napoleon knows how to die!" was the reply, and he raised his
pistol at the officer.

"Fire!" came the sharp command.

"Vive Napoleon!" cried the doomed man, and fell, mortally wounded.

At that instant the Cure, with Medallion, came hurrying round the corner
of the church.

"Fools! Murderers!" he said to the soldiers. "Ah, these poor children!"

Stooping, he lifted up Valmond's head, and Medallion felt Lagroin's
pulseless heart.

The officer picked up Valmond's pistol. A moment afterwards he looked at
the dying man in wonder; for he found that the weapon was not loaded!




CHAPTER XVII

"How long, Chemist?"

"Two hours, perhaps."

"So long?"

After a moment he said dreamily: "It is but a step."

The Little Chemist nodded, though he did not understand. The Cure stooped
over him.

"A step, my son?" he asked, thinking he spoke of the voyage the soul
takes.

"To the Tuileries," answered Valmond, and he smiled. The Cure's brow
clouded; he wished to direct the dying man's thoughts elsewhere. "It is
but a step--anywhere," he continued; and looked towards the Little
Chemist. "Thank you, dear monsieur, thank you. There is a silver
night-lamp in my room; I wish it to be yours. Adieu, my friend."

The Little Chemist tried to speak, but could not. He stooped and kissed
Valmond's hand, as though he thought him still a prince, and not the
impostor which the British rifles had declared him. To the end, the
coterie would act according to the light of their own eyes.

"It is now but a step--to anything," repeated Valmond.

The Cure understood him at last. "The longest journey is short by the
light of the grave," he responded gently.

Presently the door opened, admitting the avocat. Valmond calmly met
Monsieur Garon's pained look, and courteously whispered his name.

"Your Excellency has been basely treated," said the avocat, his lip
trembling.

"On the contrary, well, dear monsieur," answered the ruined adventurer.
"Destiny plays us all. Think: I die the death of a soldier, and my
crusade was a soldier's vision of conquest. I have paid the price. I
have--"

He did not finish the sentence, but lay lost in thought. At last he spoke
in a low tone to the avocat, who quickly began writing at his dictation.

The chief clause of the record was a legacy of ten thousand francs to "my
faithful Minister and constant friend, Monsieur Parpon;" another of ten
thousand to Madame Joan Degardy, "whose skill and care of me merits more
than I can requite;" twenty thousand to "the Church of St. Nazaire of the
parish of Pontiac," five thousand to "the beloved Monsieur Fabre, cure of
the same parish, to whose good and charitable heart I come for my last
comforts;" twenty thousand to "Mademoiselle Madelinette Lajeunesse, that
she may learn singing under the best masters in Paris." To Madame Chalice
he left all his personal effects, ornaments, and relics, save a certain
decoration given the old sergeant, and a ring once worn by the Emperor
Napoleon. These were for a gift to "dear Monsieur Garon, who has honoured
me with his distinguished friendship; and I pray that our mutual love for
the same cause may give me some title to his remembrance."

Here the avocat stopped him with a quick, protesting gesture.

"Your Excellency! your Excellency!" he said in a shaking voice, "my heart
has been with the man as with the cause."

Other legacies were given to Medallion, to the family of Lagroin, of whom
he still spoke as "my beloved General who died for me;" and ten francs to
each recruit who had come to his standard.

After a long pause, he said lingeringly: "To Mademoiselle Elise Malboir,
the memory of whose devotion and solicitude gives me joy in my last hour,
I bequeath fifty thousand francs. In the event of her death, this money
shall revert to the parish of Pontiac, in whose graveyard I wish my body
to lie. The balance of my estate, whatever it may now be, or may prove to
be hereafter, I leave to Pierre Napoleon, third son of Lucien Bonaparte,
Prince of Canino, of whom I cherish a reverent remembrance."

A few words more ended the will, and the name of a bank in New York was
given as agent. Then there was silence in the room, and Valmond appeared
to sleep.

Presently the avocat, thinking that he might wish to be alone with the
Cure, stepped quietly to the door and opened it upon Madame Chalice. She
pressed his hand, her eyes full of tears, passed inside the room, going
softly to a shadowed corner, and sat watching the passive figure on the
bed.

What were the thoughts of this man, now that his adventure was over and
his end near? If he were in very truth a prince, how pitiable, how
paltry! What cheap martyrdom! If an impostor, had the game been worth the
candle?--Death seemed a coin of high value for this short, vanished
comedy. The man alone could answer, for the truth might not be known,
save by the knowledge that comes with the end of all.

She looked at the Cure, where he knelt praying, and wondered how much of
this tragedy the anxious priest would lay at his own door.

"It is no tragedy, dear Cure" Valmond said suddenly, as if following her
thoughts.

"My son, it is all tragedy until you have shown me your heart, that I may
send you forth in peace."

He had forgotten Madame Chalice's presence, and she sat very still.

"Even for our dear Lagroin," Valmond continued, "it was no tragedy. He
was fighting for the cause, not for a poor fellow like me. As a soldier
loves to die, he died--in the dream of his youth, sword in hand."

"You loved the cause, my son?" was the troubled question. "You were all
honest?"

Valmond made as if he would rise on his elbow, in excitement, but the
Cure put him gently back. "From a child I loved it, dear Cure," was the
quick reply. "Listen, and I will tell you all my story."

He composed himself, and his face took on a warm light, giving it a look
of happiness almost.

"The very first thing I remember was sitting on the sands of the
sea-shore, near some woman who put her arms round me and drew me to her
heart. I seem even to recall her face now, though I never could
before--do we see things clearer when we come to die, I wonder? I never
saw her again. I was brought up by my parents, who were humble peasants,
on an estate near Viterbo, in Italy. I was taught in the schools, and I
made friends among my school-fellows; but that was all the happiness I
had; for my parents were strict and hard with me, and showed me no love.
At twelve years of age I was taken to Rome, and there I entered the house
of Prince Lucien Bonaparte, as page. I was always near the person of His
Highness."

He paused, at sight of a sudden pain in the Cure's face. Sighing, he
continued:

"I travelled with him to France, to Austria, to England, where I learned
to speak the language, and read what the English wrote about the Great
Napoleon. Their hatred angered me, and I began to study what French and
Italian books said of him. I treasured up every scrap of knowledge I
could get. I listened to all that was said in the Prince's palace, and I
was glad when His Highness let me read aloud private papers to him. From
these I learned the secrets of the great family. The Prince was seldom
gentle with me--sometimes almost brutal, yet he would scarcely let me out
of his sight. I had little intercourse then with the other servants, and
less still when I was old enough to become a valet; and a valet I was to
the Prince for twelve years."

The Cure's hand clasped the arm of his chair nervously. His lips moved,
but he said nothing aloud, and he glanced quickly towards Madame Chalice,
who sat moveless, her face flushed, her look fixed on Valmond. So, he was
the mere impostor after all--a valet! Fate had won the toss-up; not
faith, or friendship, or any good thing.

"All these years," Valmond continued presently, his voice growing weaker,
"I fed on such food as is not often within the reach of valets. I knew as
much of the Bonapartes, of Napoleonic history, as the Prince himself, so
much so, that he often asked me of some date or fact of which he was not
sure. In time, I became almost like a private secretary to him. I lived
in a dream for years; for I had poetry, novels, paintings, music, at my
hand all the time, and the Prince, at the end, changed greatly, was
affectionate indeed, and said he would do good things for me. I became
familiar with all the intrigues, the designs of the Bonapartes; and what
I did not know was told me by Prince Pierre, who was near my own age, and
who used me always more like a friend than a servant.

"One day the Prince was visited by Count Bertrand, who was with the
Emperor in his exile, and I heard him speak of a thing unknown to
history: that Napoleon had a son, born at St. Helena, by a countess well
known in Europe. She had landed, disguised as a sailor, from a
merchant-ship, and had lived in retirement at Longwood for near a year.
After the Emperor died, the thing was discovered, but the governor of the
island made no report of it to the British Government, for the event
would have reflected on himself; and the returned exiles kept the matter
a secret. It was said that the child died at St. Helena. The story
remained in my mind, and I brooded on it.

"Two years ago Prince Lucien died in my arms. When he was gone, I found
that I had been left five hundred thousand francs, a chateau, and several
relics of the Bonapartes, as reward for my services to the Prince, and,
as the will said, in token of the love he had come to bear me. To these
Prince Pierre added a number of mementoes. I went to visit my parents,
whom I had not seen for many years. I found that my mother was dead, that
my father was a drunkard. I left money for my father with the mayor, and
sailed for England. From London I came to New York; from New York to
Quebec. All the time I was restless, unhappy. I had had to work all my
life, now I had nothing to do. I had lived close to great traditions, now
there was no habit of life to keep them alive in me. I spent money
freely, but it gave me no pleasure. I once was a valet to a great man,
now I had the income of a gentleman, and was no gentleman. Ah, do you not
shrink from me, Monsieur le Cure?"

The Cure did not reply, but made a kindly gesture, and Valmond continued:

"Sick of everything, one day I left Quebec hurriedly. Why I came here I
do not know, save that I had heard it was near the mountains, was quiet,
and I could be at peace. There was something in me which could not be
content in the foolishness of idle life. All the time I kept
thinking--thinking. If I were only a Napoleon, how I would try to do
great things! Ah, my God! I loved the Great Napoleon. What had the
Bonapartes done? Nothing--nothing. Everything had slipped away from them.
Not one of them was like the Emperor. His own legitimate son was dead.
None of the others had the Master's blood, fire, daring in his veins. The
thought grew on me, and I used to imagine myself his son. I loved his
memory, all he did, all he was, better than any son could do. It had been
my whole life, thinking of him and the Empire, while I brushed the
Prince's clothes or combed his hair. Why should such tastes be given to a
valet? Some one somewhere was to blame, dear Cure. I really did not
conceive or plan imposture. I was only playing a comedian's part in front
of the Louis Quinze, till I heard Parpon sing a verse of 'Vive Napoleon!'
Then it all rushed on me, captured me--and the rest you know."

The Cure could not trust himself to speak yet.

"I had not thought to go so far when I began. It was mostly a whim. But
the idea gradually possessed me, and at last it seemed to me that I was a
real Napoleon. I used to wake from the dream for a moment, and I tried to
stop, but something in my blood drove me on--inevitably. You were all
good to me; you nearly all believed in me. Lagroin came--and so it has
gone on till now, till now. I had a feeling what the end would be. But I
should have had my dream. I should have died for the cause as no Napoleon
or Bonaparte ever died. Like a man, I would pay the penalty Fate should
set. What more could I do? If a man gives all he has, is not that enough?
. . . There is my whole story. Now, I shall ask your pardon, dear Cure."

"You must ask pardon of God, my son," said the priest, his looks showing
the anguish he felt.

"The Little Chemist said two hours, but I feel"--his voice got very faint
"I feel that he is mistaken." He murmured a prayer, and crossed himself
thrice.

The Cure made ready to read the office for the dying. "My son," he said,
"do you truly and earnestly repent you of your sins?"

Valmond's eyes suddenly grew misty, his breathing heavier. He scarcely
seemed to comprehend.

"I have paid the price--I have loved you all. Parpon--where are
you?--Elise!"

A moment of silence, and then his voice rang out with a sort of sob. "Ah,
madame," he cried chokingly, "dear madame, for you I--"

Madame Chalice arose with a little cry, for she knew whom he meant, and
her heart ached for him. She forgot his imposture--everything.

"Ah, dear, dear monsieur!" she said brokenly.

He knew her voice, he heard her coming; his eyes opened wide, and he
raised himself on the couch with a start. The effort loosened the bandage
at his neck, and blood gushed out on his bosom.

With a convulsive motion he drew up the coverlet to his chin, to hide the
red stream, and said gaspingly:

"Pardon, madame."

Then a shudder passed through him, and with a last effort to spare her
the sight of his ensanguined body,' he fell face downward, voiceless--for
ever.

The very earth seemed breathing. Long waves of heat palpitated over the
harvest-fields, and the din of the locust drove lazily through. The far
cry of the king-fisher, and idly clacking wheels of carts rolling down
from Dalgrothe Mountain, accented the drowsy melody of the afternoon. The
wild mustard glowed so like a golden carpet, that the destroying hand of
the anxious farmer seemed of the blundering tyranny of labour. Whole
fields were flaunting with poppies, too gay for sorrow to pass that way;
but a blind girl, led by a little child, made a lane through the red
luxuriance, hurrying to the place where vanity and valour, and the
remnant of an unfulfilled manhood, lay beaten to death.

Destiny, which is stronger than human love, or the soul's fidelity, had
overmastered self-sacrifice and the heart of a woman. This woman had
opened her eyes upon the world again, only to find it all night, all
strange; she was captive of a great darkness.

As she broke through the hedge of lilacs by the Cure's house, the crowd
of awe-stricken people fell back, opening a path for her to the door. She
moved as one unconscious of the troubled life and the vibrating world
about her.

The hand of the child admitted her to the chamber of death; the door
closed, and she stood motionless.

The Cure made as if to rise and go towards her, but Madame Chalice,
sitting sorrowful and dismayed at the foot of the couch, by a motion of
her hand stopped him.

The girl paused a moment, listening. "Your Excellency," she whispered. It
was as if a soul leaned out of the casement of life, calling into the
dark and the quiet which may not be comprehended by mortal man.
"Monsieur--Valmond!"

Her trembling hands were stretched out before her yearningly. The Cure
moved. She turned towards the sound with a pitiful vagueness.

"Valmond, O Valmond!" again she cried beseechingly, her clouded eyes
straining into the silence.

The cloak dropped from her shoulders, and the loose robe enveloping her
fell away from a bosom that throbbed with the passion of a great despair.
Nothing but silence.

She moved to the wall like a little child feeling its way, ran her hand
vaguely along it, and touched a crucifix. With a moan she pressed her
lips to the nailed feet, and came on gropingly to the couch. She reached
down towards it, but drew back as if in affright; for a dumb, desolating
fear was upon her.

But with that direful courage which is the last gift to the hopeless, she
stooped down again, and her fingers touched Valmond's cold hands.

They ran up his breast, to his neck, to his face, and fondled it, as only
life can fondle death, out of that pitiful hunger which never can be
satisfied in this world; then they moved with an infinite tenderness to
his eyes, now blind like hers, and lingered there in the kinship of
eternal loss.

A low, anguished cry broke from her: "Valmond--my love!" and she fell
forward upon the breast of her lost Napoleon.

When the people gathered again in the little church upon the hill,
Valmond and his adventure had become almost a legend, so soon are men and
events lost in the distance of death and ruin.

The Cure preached, as he had always done, with a simple, practical
solicitude; but towards the end of his brief sermon he paused, and, with
a serious tenderness of voice, said:

"My children, vanity is the bane of mankind; it destroys as many souls as
self-sacrifice saves. It is the constant temptation of the human heart. I
have ever warned you against it, as I myself have prayed to be kept from
its devices--alas! how futilely at times. Vanity leads to imposture, and
imposture to the wronging of others. But if a man repent, and yield all
he has, to pay the high price of his bitter mistake, he may thereby
redeem himself even in this world. If he give his life repenting, and if
the giving stays the evil he might have wrought, shall we be less
merciful than God?

"My children" (he did not mention Valmond's name), "his last act was
manly; his death was pious; his sin was forgiven. Those rifle bullets
that brought him down let out all the evil in his blood.

"We, my people, have been delivered from a grave error. Forgetting--save
for our souls' welfare--the misery of this vanity which led us astray,
let us remember with gladness all of him that was commendable in our
eyes: his kindness, eloquence, generous heart, courage, and love of
Mother Church. He lies in our graveyard; he is ours; and, being ours, let
us protect his memory, as though he had not sought us a stranger, but was
of us: of our homes, as of our love, and of our sorrow.

"And so atoning for our sins, as did he, may we at last come to the
perfect pardon, and to peace everlasting."




EPILOGUE

I

(EXTRACT FROM A LETTER WRITTEN BY MADAME CHALICE TO MONSIEUR PADRE, CURE
OF THE PARISH OF PONTIAC, THREE MONTHS AFTER VALMOND'S DEATH.)

" . . . And here, dear Cure, you shall have my justification for writing
you two letters in one week, though I should make the accident a habit if
I were sure it would more please you than perplex you.

"Prince Pierre, son of Prince Lucien Bonaparte, arrived in New York two
days ago, and yesterday morning he came to the Atlantic Bank, and asked
for my husband. When he made known his business, Harry sent for me, that
I might speak with him.

"Dear Cure, hearts and instincts were right in Pontiac: our unhappy
friend Valmond was that child of Napoleon, born at St. Helena, of whom he
himself spoke at his death in your home. His mother was the Countess of
Carnstadt. At the beginning of an illness which followed Napoleon's
death, the child was taken from her by Prince Lucien Bonaparte, and was
brought up and educated as the son of poor peasants in Italy. No one knew
of his birth save the companions in exile of the Great Emperor. All of
them, with the exception of Count Bertrand, believed, as Valmond said,
that the child had died in infancy at St. Helena.

"Prince Lucien had sworn to the mother that he would care personally for
the child, and he fulfilled his promise by making him a page in his
household, and afterwards a valet--base redemption of a vow.

"But even as Valmond drew our hearts to him, so at last he won Prince
Lucien's, as he had from the first won Prince Pierre's.

"It was not until after Valmond's death, when receiving the residue of
our poor friend's estate, that Prince Pierre learned the whole truth from
Count Bertrand. He immediately set sail for New York, and next week he
will secretly visit you, for love of the dead man, and to thank you and
our dear avocat, together with all others who believed in and befriended
his unfortunate kinsman.

"Ah, dear Cure, think of the irony of it all--that a man be driven, by
the very truth in his blood, to that strangest of all impostures--to
impersonate himself--He did it too well to be the mere comedian; I felt
that all the time. I shall show his relics now with more pride than
sorrow. Prince Pierre dines with us to-night. He looks as if he had the
Napoleonic daring,--or rashness,--but I am sure he has not the good heart
of our Valmond Napoleon. . . ."



II

The haymakers paused and leaned upon their forks, children left the
strawberry vines and climbed upon the fences, as the coach from the
distant city dashed down the street towards the four corners, and the
welcoming hotel, with its big dormer windows and well-carved veranda. As
it whirled by, the driver shouted something at a stalwart forgeron,
standing at the doorway of his smithy, and he passed it on to a loitering
mealman and a lime-burner.

A girl came slowly over the crest of a hill. Feeling her way with a
stick, she paused now and then to draw in long breaths of sweet air from
the meadows, as if in the joy of Nature she found a balm for the
cruelties of Destiny.

Presently a puff of smoke shot out from the hillside where she stood, and
the sound of an old cannon followed. From the Seigneury, far over, came
an answering report; and Tricolors ran fluttering up on flagstaffs, at
the four corners, and in the Cure's garden.

The girl stood wondering, her fine, calm face expressing the quick
thoughts which had belonged to eyes once so full of hope and blithe
desire. The serenity of her life--its charity, its truth, its cheerful
care for others, the confidence of the young which it invited, showed in
all the aspect of her. She heard the flapping of the flag in the Cure's
garden, and turned her darkened eyes towards it. A look of pain crossed
her face, and a hand trembled to her bosom, as if to ease a great
throbbing of her heart. These cannon shots and this shivering pennant
brought back a scene at the four corners, years before.

Footsteps came over the hill: she knew them, and turned.

"Parpon!" she said, with a glad gesture.

Without a word he placed in her hand a bunch of violets that he carried.
She lifted them to her lips. "What is it all?" she asked, turning again
to the Tricolor.

"Louis Napoleon enters the Tuileries," he answered. "But ours was the son
of the Great Emperor!" she said. "Let us be going, Parpon: we will plats
these on his grave." She pressed the violets to her heart.

"France would have loved him, as we did," said the dwarf, as they moved
on.

"As we do," the blind girl answered softly.

Their figures against the setting sun took on a strange burnished
radiance, so that they seemed as mystical pilgrims journeying into that
golden haze, which veiled them in beyond the hill, as the Angelus sounded
from the tower of the ancient church.

     ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

     Vanity is the bane of mankind
     You cannot live long enough to atone for that impertinence

     ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS FOR THE ENTIRE "VALMOND TO PONTIAC":

     Conquest not important enough to satisfy ambition
     Face flushed with a sort of pleasurable defiance
     Her sight was bounded by the little field where she strayed
     I was never good at catechism
     The blind tyranny of the just
     Touch of the fantastic, of the barbaric, in all genius
     Vanity is the bane of mankind
     Visions of the artistic temperament--delight and curse
     We are only children till we begin to make our dreams our life
     You cannot live long enough to atone for that impertinence





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