Infomotions, Inc.— Volume 1 / Halevy, Ludovic, 1834-1908

Author: Halevy, Ludovic, 1834-1908
Title: — Volume 1
Date: 2001-09-26
Contributor(s): Bell, Clara, 1834-1927 [Translator]
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Identifier: etext3954
Language: en
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Title: L'Abbe Constantin, v1

Author: Ludovic Halevy

Release Date: April, 2003  [Etext #3954]
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[The actual date this file first posted = 09/16/01]

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THE ABBE CONSTANTIN

By LUDOVIC HALEVY


With a Preface by E. LEGOUVE, of the French Academy




LUDOVIC HALEVY

Ludovic Halevy was born in Paris, January 1, 1834.  His father was Leon
Halevy, the celebrated author; his grandfather, Fromenthal, the eminent
composer.  Ludovic was destined for the civil service, and, after
finishing his studies, entered successively the Department of State
(1852); the Algerian Department (1858), and later on became editorial
secretary of the Corps Legislatif (1860).  When his patron, the Duc de
Morny, died in 1865, Halevy resigned, giving up a lucrative position for
the uncertain profession of a playwright: At this period he devoted
himself exclusively to the theatre.

He had already written plays as early as 1856, and had also tried his
hand at fiction, but did not meet with very great success.  Toward 1860,
however, he became acquainted with Henri Meilhac, and with him formed a
kind of literary union, lasting for almost twenty years, when Halevy
rather abruptly abandoned the theatre and became a writer of fiction.

We have seen such kinds of co-partnerships, for instance, in Beaumont and
Fletcher; more recently in the beautiful French tales of Erckmann-
Chatrian, and still later in the English novels of Besant and Rice.

Some say it was a fortunate event for Meilhac; others assert that Halevy
reaped a great profit by the union.  Be this as it may, a great number of
plays-drama, comedy, farce, opera, operetta and ballet--were jointly
produced, as is shown by the title-pages of two score or more of their
pieces.  When Ludovic Halevy was a candidate for L'Academie--he entered
that glorious body in 1884--the question was ventilated by Pailleron:
"What was the author's literary relation in his union with Meilhac?"  It
was answered by M. Sarcey, who criticised the character and quality of
the work achieved.  Public opinion has a long time since brought in quite
another verdict in the case.

Halevy's cooperation endowed the plays of Meilhac with a fuller ethical
richness--tempered them, so to speak, and made them real, for it can not
be denied that Meilhac was inclined to extravagance.

Halevy's novels are remarkable for the elegance of literary style,
tenderness of spirit and keenness of observation.  He excels in ironical
sketches.  He has often been compared to Eugene Sue, but his touch is
lighter than Sue's, and his humor less unctuous.  Most of his little
sketches, originally written for La Vie Parisienne, were collected in his
'Monsieur et Madame Cardinal' (1873); and 'Les Petites Cardinal', (1880).
They are not intended 'virginibus puerisque', and the author's attitude
is that of a half-pitying, half-contemptuous moralist, yet the virility
of his criticism has brought him immortality.

Personal recollections of the great war are to be found in 'L'Invasion'
(1872); and 'Notes et Souvenirs', 1871-1872 (1889).  Most extraordinary,
however, was the success of 'L'Abbe Constantin' (1882), crowned by the
Academy, which has gone through no less than one hundred and fifty
editions up to 1904, and ranks as one of the greatest successes of
contemporaneous literature.  It is, indeed, his 'chef-d'oeuvre', very
delicate, earnest, and at the same time ironical, a most entrancing
family story.  It was then that the doors of the French Academy opened
wide before Halevy.  'L'Abbe Constantin' was adapted for the stage by
Cremieux and Decourcelle (Le Gymnase, 1882).  Further notable novels are:
'Criquette, Deux Mariages, Un Grand Mariage, Un Mariage d'Amour', all in
1883; 'Princesse, Les Trois Coups de Foudre, Mon Camarade Moussard', all
in 1884; and the romances, 'Karikari (1892), and Mariette (1893)'.  Since
that time, I think, Halevy has not published anything of importance.

                                        E. LEGOUVE
                                   de l'Academie Francaise.




THE ABBE CONSTANTIN


BOOK 1.


CHAPTER I

THE SALE OF LONGUEVAL

With a step still valiant and firm, an old priest walked along the dusty
road in the full rays of a brilliant sun.  For more than thirty years the
Abbe Constantin had been Cure of the little village which slept there in
the plain, on the banks of a slender stream called La Lizotte.  The Abbe
Constantin was walking by the wall which surrounded the park of the
castle of Longueval; at last he reached the entrance-gate, which rested
high and massive on two ancient pillars of stone, embrowned and gnawed by
time.  The Cure stopped, and mournfully regarded two immense blue posters
fixed on the pillars.

The posters announced that on Wednesday, May 18, 1881, at one o'clock
P.M., would take place, before the Civil Tribunal of Souvigny, the sale
of the domain of Longueval, divided into four lots:

1.  The castle of Longueval, its dependencies, fine pieces of water,
extensive offices, park of 150 hectares in extent, completely surrounded
by a wall, and traversed by the little river Lizotte.  Valued at 600,000
francs.

2.  The farm of Blanche-Couronne, 300 hectares, valued at 500,000 francs.

3.  The farm of La Rozeraie, 250 hectares, valued at 400,000 francs.

4.  The woods and forests of La Mionne, containing 450 hectares, valued
at 550,000 francs.

And these four amounts, added together at the foot of the bill, gave the
respectable sum of 2,050,000 francs.

Then they were really going to dismember this magnificent domain, which,
escaping all mutilation, had for more than two centuries always been
transmitted intact from father to son in the family of Longueval.  The
placards also announced that after the temporary division into four lots,
it would be possible to unite them again, and offer for sale the entire
domain; but it was a very large morsel, and, to all appearance, no
purchaser would present himself.

The Marquise de Longueval had died six months before; in 1873 she had
lost her only son, Robert de Longueval; the three heirs were the
grandchildren of the Marquise: Pierre, Helene, and Camille.  It had been
found necessary to offer the domain for sale, as Helene and Camille were
minors.  Pierre, a young man of three-and-twenty, had lived rather fast,
was already half-ruined, and could not hope to redeem Longueval.

It was mid-day.  In an hour it would have a new master, this old castle
of Longueval; and this master, who would he be?  What woman would take
the place of the old Marquise in the chimney-corner of the grand salon,
all adorned with ancient tapestry?--the old Marquise, the friend of the
old priest.  It was she who had restored the church; it was she who had
established and furnished a complete dispensary at the vicarage under the
care of Pauline, the Cure's servant; it was she who, twice a week, in her
great barouche, all crowded with little children's clothes and thick
woolen petticoats, came to fetch the Abbe Constantin to make with him
what she called 'la chasse aux pauvres'.

The old priest continued his walk, musing over all this; then he thought,
too--the greatest saints have their little weaknesses--he thought, too,
of the beloved habits of thirty years thus rudely interrupted.  Every
Thursday and every Sunday he had dined at the castle.  How he had been
petted, coaxed, indulged!  Little Camille--she was eight years old--would
come and sit on his knee and say to him:

"You know, Monsieur le Cure, it is in your church that I mean to be
married, and grandmamma will send such heaps of flowers to fill, quite
fill the church--more than for the month of Mary.  It will be like a
large garden--all white, all white, all white!"

The month of Mary!  It was then the month of Mary.  Formerly, at this
season, the altar disappeared under the flowers brought from the
conservatories of Longueval.  None this year were on the altar, except a
few bouquets of lily-of-the-valley and white lilac in gilded china vases.
Formerly, every Sunday at high mass, and every evening during the month
of Mary, Mademoiselle Hebert, the reader to Madame de Longueval, played
the little harmonium given by the Marquise.  Now the poor harmonium,
reduced to silence, no longer accompanied the voices of the choir or the
children's hymns.  Mademoiselle Marbeau, the postmistress, would, with
all her heart, have taken the place of Mademoiselle Hebert, but she dared
not, though she was a little musical!  She was afraid of being remarked
as of the clerical party, and denounced by the Mayor, who was a
Freethinker.  That might have been injurious to her interests, and
prevented her promotion.

He had nearly reached the end of the wall of the park--that park of which
every corner was known to the old priest.  The road now followed the
banks of the Lizotte, and on the other side of the little stream
stretched the fields belonging to the two farms; then, still farther off,
rose the dark woods of La Mionne.

Divided!  The domain was going to be divided!  The heart of the poor
priest was rent by this bitter thought.  All that for thirty years had
been inseparable, indivisible to him.  It was a little his own, his very
own, his estate, this great property.  He felt at home on the lands of
Longueval.  It had happened more than once that he had stopped
complacently before an immense cornfield, plucked an ear, removed the
husk, and said to himself:

"Come! the grain is fine, firm, and sound.  This year we shall have a
good harvest!"

And with a joyous heart he would continue his way through his fields, his
meadows, his pastures; in short, by every chord of his heart, by every
tie of his life, by all his habits, his memories, he clung to this domain
whose last hour had come.

The Abbe perceived in the distance the farm of Blanche-Couronne; its red-
tiled roofs showed distinctly against the verdure of the forest.  There,
again, the Cure was at home.  Bernard, the farmer of the Marquise, was
his friend; and when the old priest was delayed in his visits to the poor
and sick, when the sun was sinking below the horizon, and the Abbe began
to feel a little fatigued in his limbs, and a sensation of exhaustion in
his stomach, he stopped and supped with Bernard, regaled himself with a
savory stew and potatoes, and emptied his pitcher of cider; then, after
supper, the farmer harnessed his old black mare to his cart, and took the
vicar back to Longueval.  The whole distance they chatted and quarrelled.
The Abbe reproached the farmer with not going to mass, and the latter
replied:

"The wife and the girls go for me.  You know very well, Monsieur le Cure,
that is how it is with us.  The women have enough religion for the men.
They will open the gates of paradise for us."

And he added maliciously, while giving a touch of the whip to his old
black mare:

"If there is one!"

The Cure sprang from his seat.

"What! if there is one! Of a certainty there is one."

"Then you will be there, Monsieur le Cure.  You say that is not certain,
and I say it is.  You will be there, you will be there, at the gate, on
the watch for your parishioners, and still busy with their little
affairs; and you will say to St. Peter--for it is St. Peter, isn't it,
who keeps the keys of paradise?"

"Yes, it is St. Peter."

"Well, you will say to him, to St. Peter, if he wants to shut the door in
my face under the pretense that I did not go to mass--you will say to
him: 'Bah!  let him in all the same.  It is Bernard, one of the farmers
of Madame la Marquise, an honest man.  He was common councilman, and he
voted for the maintenance of the sisters when they were going to be
expelled from the village school.'  That will touch St. Peter, who will
answer: 'Well, well, you may pass, Bernard, but it is only to please
Monsieur le Cure.'  For you will be Monsieur le Cure up there, and Cure
of Longueval, too, for paradise itself would be dull for you if you must
give up being Cure of Longueval."

Cure of Longueval!  Yes, all his life he had been nothing but Cure of
Longueval, had never dreamed of anything else, had never wished to be
anything else.  Three or four times excellent livings, with one or two
curates, had been offered to him, but he had always refused them.  He
loved his little church, his little village, his little vicarage.  There
he had it all to himself, saw to everything himself; calm, tranquil, he
went and came, summer and winter, in sunshine or storm, in wind or rain.
His frame became hardened by fatigue and exposure, but his soul remained
gentle, tender, and pure.

He lived in his vicarage, which was only a larger laborer's cottage,
separated from the church by the churchyard.  When the Cure mounted the
ladder to train his pear and peach trees, over the top of the wall he
perceived the graves over which he had said the last prayer, and cast the
first spadeful of earth.  Then, while continuing his work, he said in his
heart a little prayer for the repose of those among his dead whose fate
disturbed him, and who might be still detained in purgatory.  He had a
tranquil and childlike faith.

But among these graves there was one which, oftener than all the others,
received his visits and his prayers.  It was the tomb of his old friend
Dr. Reynaud, who had died in his arms in 1871, and under what
circumstances!  The doctor had been like Bernard; he never went to mass
or to confession; but he was so good, so charitable, so compassionate to
the suffering.  This was the cause of the Cure's great anxiety, of his
great solicitude.  His friend Reynaud, where was he?  Where was he?  Then
he called to mind the noble life of the country doctor, all made up of
courage and self-denial; he recalled his death, above all his death, and
said to himself:

"In paradise; he can be nowhere but in paradise.  The good God may have
sent him to purgatory just for form's sake--but he must have delivered
him after five minutes."

All this passed through the mind of the old man, as he continued his walk
toward Souvigny.  He was going to the town, to the solicitor of the
Marquise, to inquire the result of the sale; to learn who were to be the
new masters of the castle of Longueval.  The Abbe had still about a mile
to walk before reaching the first houses of Souvigny, and was passing the
park of Lavardens when he heard, above his head, voices calling to him:

"Monsieur le Cure, Monsieur le Cure."

At this spot adjoining the wall, a long alley of limetrees bordered the
terrace, and the Abbe, raising his head, perceived Madame de Lavardens,
and her son Paul.

"Where are you going, Monsieur le Cure?"  asked the Countess.

"To Souvigny, to the Tribunal, to learn--"

"Stay here--Monsieur de Larnac is coming after the sale to tell me the
result."

The Abbe Constantin joined them on the terrace.

Gertrude de Lannilis, Countess de Lavardens, had been very unfortunate.
At eighteen she had been guilty of a folly, the only one of her life, but
that one--irreparable.  She had married for love, in a burst of
enthusiasm and exaltation, M. de Lavardens, one of the most fascinating
and brilliant men of his time.  He did not love her, and only married her
from necessity; he had devoured his patrimonial fortune to the very last
farthing, and for two or three years had supported himself by various
expedients.  Mademoiselle de Lannilis knew all that, and had no illusions
on these points, but she said to herself:

"I will love him so much, that he will end by loving me."

Hence all her misfortunes.  Her existence might have been tolerable, if
she had not loved her husband so much; but she loved him too much.  She
had only succeeded in wearying him by her importunities and tenderness.
He returned to his former life, which had been most irregular.  Fifteen
years had passed thus, in a long martyrdom, supported by Madame de
Lavardens with all the appearance of passive resignation.  Nothing ever
could distract her from, or cure her of, the love which was destroying
her.

M. de Lavardens died in 1869; he left a son fourteen years of age, in
whom were already visible all the defects and all the good qualities of
his father.  Without being seriously affected, the fortune of Madame de
Lavardens was slightly compromised, slightly diminished.  Madame de
Lavardens sold her mansion in Paris, retired to the country, where she
lived with strict economy, and devoted herself to the education of her
son.

But here again grief and disappointment awaited her.  Paul de Lavardens
was intelligent, amiable, and affectionate, but thoroughly rebellious
against any constraint, and any species of work.  He drove to despair
three or four tutors who vainly endeavored to force something serious
into his head, went up to the military college of Saint-Cyr, failed at
the examination, and began to devour in Paris, with all the haste and
folly possible, 200,000 or 300,000 francs.

That done, he enlisted in the first regiment of the Chasseurs d'Afrique,
had in the very beginning of his military career the good fortune to make
one of an expeditionary column sent into the Sahara, distinguished
himself, soon became quartermaster, and at the end of three years was
about to be appointed sub-lieutenant, when he was captivated by a young
person who played the 'Fille de Madame Angot', at the theatre in Algiers.

Paul had finished his time, he quitted the service, and went to Paris
with his charmer .  .  .  .  then it was a dancer .  .  .  .  then it was
an actress .  .  .  .  then a circus-rider.  He tried life in every form.
He led the brilliant and miserable existence of the unoccupied.

But it was only three or four months that he passed in Paris each year.
His mother made him an allowance Of 30,000 francs, and had declared to
him that never, while she lived, should he have another penny before his
marriage.  He knew his mother, he knew he must consider her words as
serious.  Thus, wishing to make a good figure in Paris, and lead a merry
life, he spent his 30,000 francs in three months, and then docilely
returned to Lavardens, where he was "out at grass."  He spent his time
hunting, fishing, and riding with the officers of the artillery regiment
quartered at Souvigny.  The little provincial milliners and grisettes
replaced, without rendering him obvious of, the little singers and
actresses of Paris.  By searching for them, one may still find grisettes
in country towns, and Paul de Lavardens sought assiduously.

As soon as the Cure had reached Madame de Lavardens, she said: "Without
waiting for Monsieur de Larnac, I can tell you the names of the
purchasers of the domain of Longueval.  I am quite easy on the subject,
and have no doubt of the success of our plan.  In order to avoid any
foolish disputes, we have agreed among ourselves, that is, among our
neighbors, Monsieur de Larnac, Monsieur Gallard, a great Parisian banker,
and myself.  Monsieur de Larnac will have La Mionne, Monsieur Gallard the
castle and Blanche-Couronne, and La Rozeraie.  I know you, Monsieur le
Cure, you will be anxious about your poor, but comfort yourself.  These
Gallards are rich and will give you plenty of money."

At this moment a cloud of dust appeared on the road, from it emerged a
carriage.

"Here comes Monsieur de Larnac!"  cried Paul, "I know his ponies!"

All three hurriedly descended from the terrace and returned to the
castle.  They arrived there just as M. de Larnac's carriage drove up to
the entrance.

"Well?"  asked Madame de Lavardens.

"Well!"  replied M. de Larnac, "we have nothing."

"What?  Nothing?"  cried Madame de Lavardens, very pale and agitated.

"Nothing, nothing; absolutely nothing--the one or the other of us."

And M. de Larnac springing from his carriage, related what had taken
place at the sale before the Tribunal of Souvigny.

"At first," he said, "everything went upon wheels.  The castle went to
Monsieur Gallard for 650,000 francs.  No competitor--a raise of fifty
francs had been sufficient.  On the other hand, there was a little battle
for Blanche-Couronne.  The bids rose from 500,000 francs to 520,000
francs, and again Monsieur Gallard was victorious.  Another and more
animated battle for La Rozeraie; at last it was knocked down to you,
Madame, for 455,000 francs .  .  .  .  I got the forest of La Mionne
without opposition at a rise of 100 francs.  All seemed over, those
present had risen, our solicitors were surrounded with persons asking the
names of the purchasers."

"Monsieur Brazier, the judge intrusted with the sale, desired silence,
and the bailiff of the court offered the four lots together for 2,150,000
or 2,160,000 francs, I don't remember which.  A murmur passed through the
assembly.  'No one will bid' was heard on all sides.  But little Gibert,
the solicitor, who was seated in the first row, and till then had given
no sign of life, rose and said calmly, 'I have a purchaser for the four
lots together at 2,200,000 francs.'  This was like a thunderbolt.
A tremendous clamor arose, followed by a dead silence.  The hall was
filled with farmers and laborers from the neighborhood.  Two million
francs!  So much money for the land threw them into a sort of respectful
stupor.  However, Monsieur Gallard, bending toward Sandrier, the
solicitor who had bid for him, whispered something in his ear.  The
struggle began between Gibert and Sandrier.  The bids rose to 2,500,000
francs.  Monsieur Gallard hesitated for a moment--decided--continued up
to 3,000,000.  Then he stopped and the whole went to Gibert.  Every one
rushed on him, they surrounded--they crushed him: 'The name, the name of
the purchaser?'  'It is an American,' replied Gibert, 'Mrs. Scott.'"

"Mrs. Scott!"  cried Paul de Lavardens.

"You know her?"  asked Madame de Lavardens.

"Do I know her?--do I--not at all.  But I was at a ball at her house six
weeks ago."

"At a ball at her house! and you don't know her!  What sort of woman is
she, then?"

"Charming, delightful, ideal, a miracle!"

"And is there a Mr. Scott?"

"Certainly, a tall, fair man.  He was at his ball.  They pointed him out
to me.  He bowed at random right and left.  He was not much amused, I
will answer for it.  He looked at us as if he were thinking, 'Who are all
these people?  What are they doing at my house?'  We went to see Mrs.
Scott and Miss Percival, her sister.  And certainly it was well worth the
trouble."

"These Scotts," said Madame de Lavardens, addressing M. de Larnac, "do
you know who they are?"

"Yes, Madame, I know.  Mr. Scott is an American, possessing a colossal
fortune, who settled himself in Paris last year.  As soon as their name
was mentioned, I understood that the victory had never been doubtful.
Gallard was beaten beforehand.  The Scotts began by buying a house in
Paris for 2,000,000 francs, it is near the Parc Monceau."

"Yes, Rue Murillo," said Paul; "I tell you I went to a ball there.  It
was--"

"Let Monsieur de Larnac speak.  You can tell us presently about the ball
at Mrs. Scott's."

"Well, now, imagine my Americans established in Paris," continued M. de
Larnac, "and the showers of gold begun.  In the orthodox parvenu style
they amuse themselves with throwing handfuls of gold out of window.
Their great wealth is quite recent, they say; ten years ago Mrs. Scott
begged in the streets of New York."

"Begged!"

"They say so.  Then she married this Scott, the son of a New York banker,
and all at once a successful lawsuit put into their hands not millions,
but tens of millions.  Somewhere in America they have a silver mine, but
a genuine mine, a real mine--a mine with silver in it.  Ah!  we shall see
what luxury will reign at Longueval!  We shall all look like paupers
beside them!  It is said that they have 100,000 francs a day to spend."

"Such are our neighbors!" cried Madame de Lavardens.  "An adventuress!
and that is the least of it--a heretic, Monsieur l'Abbe, a Protestant!"

A heretic! a Protestant!  Poor Cure; it was indeed that of which he had
immediately thought on hearing the words, "An American, Mrs. Scott."  The
new chatelaine of Longueval would not go to mass.  What did it matter to
him that she had been a beggar?  What did it matter to him if she
possessed tens and tens of millions?  She was not a Catholic.  He would
never again baptize children born at Longueval, and the chapel in the
castle, where he had so often said mass, would be transformed into a
Protestant oratory, which would echo only the frigid utterances of a
Calvinistic or Lutheran pastor.

Every one was distressed, disappointed, overwhelmed; but in the midst of
the general depression Paul stood radiant.

"A charming heretic at all events," said he, "or rather two charming
heretics.  You should see the two sisters on horseback in the Bois, with
two little grooms behind them not higher than that."

"Come, Paul, tell us all you know.  Describe the ball of which you speak.
How did you happen to go to a ball at these Americans?"

"By the greatest chance.  My Aunt Valentine was at home that night; I
looked in about ten o'clock.  Well, Aunt Valentine's Wednesdays are not
exactly scenes of wild enjoyment, I give you my word!  I had been there
about twenty minutes when I caught sight of Roger de Puymartin escaping
furtively.  I caught him in the hall and said:

"'We will go home together.'

"'Oh! I am not going home.'

"'Where are you going?'

"'To the ball.'

"'Where?'

"'At Mrs. Scott's.  Will you come?'

"'But I have not been invited.'

"'Neither have I'

"'What! not invited?'

"'No.  I am going with one of my friends.'

"'And does your friend know them?'

"'Scarcely; but enough to introduce us.  Come along; you will see Mrs.
Scott.'

"'Oh!  I have seen her on horseback in the Bois.'

"'But she does not wear a low gown on horseback; you have not seen her
shoulders, and they are shoulders which ought to be seen.  There is
nothing better in Paris at this moment.'

"And I went to the ball, and I saw Mrs. Scott's red hair, and I saw Mrs.
Scott's white shoulders, and I hope to see them again when there are
balls at Longueval."

"Paul!"  said Madame de Lavardens, pointing to the Abbe.

"Oh!  Monsieur l'Abbe, I beg a thousand pardons.  Have I said anything?
It seems to me--"

The poor old priest had heard nothing; his thoughts were elsewhere.
Already he saw, in the village streets, the Protestant pastor from the
castle stopping before each house, and slipping under the doors little
evangelical pamphlets.

Continuing his account, Paul launched into an enthusiastic description of
the mansion, which was a marvel--

"Of bad taste and ostentation," interrupted Madame de Lavardens.

"Not at all, mother, not at all; nothing startling, nothing loud.  It is
admirably furnished, everything done with elegance and originality.  An
incomparable conservatory, flooded with electric light; the buffet was
placed in the conservatory under a vine laden with grapes, which one
could gather by handfuls, and in the month of April!  The accessories of
the cotillon cost, it appears, more than 400,000 francs.  Ornaments,
'bon-bonnieres', delicious trifles, and we were begged to accept them.
For my part I took nothing, but there were many who made no scruple.
That evening Puymartin told me Mrs. Scott's history, but it was not at
all like Monsieur de Larnac's story.  Roger said that, when quite little,
Mrs. Scott had been stolen from her family by some acrobats, and that her
father had found her in a travelling circus, riding on barebacked horses
and jumping through paper hoops."

"A circus-rider!"  cried Madame de Lavardens, "I should have preferred
the beggar."

"And while Roger was telling me this Family Herald romance, I saw
approaching from the end of a gallery a wonderful cloud of lace and
satin; it surrounded this rider from a wandering circus, and I admired
those shoulders, those dazzling shoulders, on which undulated a necklace
of diamonds as big as the stopper of a decanter.  They say that the
Minister of Finance had sold secretly to Mrs. Scott half the crown
diamonds, and that was how, the month before, he had been able to show a
surplus of 1,500,000 francs in the budget.  Add to all this that the lady
had a remarkably good air, and that the little acrobat seemed perfectly
at home in the midst of all this splendor."

Paul was going so far that his mother was obliged to stop him.  Before M.
de Larnac, who was excessively annoyed and disappointed, he showed too
plainly his delight at the prospect of having this marvellous American
for a near neighbor.

The Abbe Constantin was preparing to return to Longueval, but Paul,
seeing him ready to start, said:

"No!  no!  Monsieur le Cure, you must not think of walking back to
Longueval in the heat of the day.  Allow me to drive you home.  I am
really grieved to see you so cast down, and will try my best to amuse
you.  Oh! if you were ten times a saint I would make you laugh at my
stories."

And half an hour after, the two--the Cure and Paul--drove side by side in
the direction of the village.  Paul talked, talked, talked.  His mother
was not there to check or moderate his transports, and his joy was
overflowing.

"Now, look here, Monsieur l'Abbe, you are wrong to take things in this
tragic manner.  Stay, look at my little mare, how well she trots!  what
good action she has!  You have not seen her before?  What do you think
I paid for her?  Four hundred francs.  I discovered her a fortnight ago,
between the shafts of a market gardener's cart.  She is a treasure.
I assure you she can do sixteen miles an hour, and keep one's hands full
all the time.  Just see how she pulls.  Come, tot-tot-tot!  You are not
in a hurry, Monsieur l'Abbe, I hope.  Let us return through the wood; the
fresh air will do you good.  Oh! Monsieur l'Abbe, if you only knew what a
regard I have for you, and respect, too.  I did not talk too much
nonsense before you just now, did I?  I should be so sorry--"

"No, my child, I heard nothing."

"Well, we will take the longest way round."

After having turned to the left in the wood, Paul resumed his
communications.

"I was saying, Monsieur l'Abbe," he went on, "that you are wrong to take
things so seriously.  Shall I tell you what I think?  This is a very
fortunate affair."

"Very fortunate?"

"Yes, very fortunate.  I would rather see the Scotts at Longueval than
the Gallards.  Did you not hear Monsieur de Larnac reproach these
Americans with spending their money foolishly.  It is never foolish to
spend money.  The folly lies in keeping it.  Your poor for I am perfectly
sure that it is your poor of whom you are thinking--your poor have made a
good thing of it to-day.  That is my opinion.  The religion?  Well, they
will not go to mass, and that will be a grief to you, that is only
natural; but they will send you money, plenty of money, and you will take
it, and you will be quite right in doing so.  You will see that you will
not say no.  There will be gold raining over the whole place; a movement,
a bustle, carriages with four horses, postilions, powdered footmen, paper
chases, hunting parties, balls, fireworks, and here in this very spot I
shall perhaps find Paris again before long.  I shall see once more the
two riders, and the two little grooms of whom I was speaking just now.
If you only knew how well those two sisters look on horseback!  One
morning I went right round the Bois de Boulogne behind them; I fancy I
can see them still.  They had high hats, and little black veils drawn
very tightly over their faces, and long riding-habits made in the
princess form, with a single seam right down the back; and a woman must
be awfully well made to wear a riding-habit like that, because you see,
Monsieur l'Abbe, with a habit of that cut no deception is possible."

For some moments the Cure had not been listening to Paul's discourse.
They had entered a long, perfectly straight avenue, and at the end of
this avenue the Cure saw a horseman galloping along.

"Look," said the Cure to Paul, "your eyes are better than mine.  Is not
that Jean?"

"Yes, it is jean.  I know his gray mare."

Paul loved horses, and before looking at the rider looked at the horse.
It was indeed Jean, who, when he saw in the distance the Cure and Paul
de Lavardens, waved in the air his kepi adorned with two golden stripes.
Jean was lieutenant in the regiment of artillery quartered at Souvigny.

Some moments after he stopped by the little carriage, and, addressing the
Cure, said:

"I have just been to your house, 'mon parrain'.  Pauline told me that you
had gone to Souvigny about the sale.  Well, who has bought the castle?"

"An American, Mrs. Scott."

"And Blanche-Couronne?"

"The same, Mrs. Scott."

"And La Rozeraie?"

"Mrs. Scott again."

"And the forest?  Mrs. Scott again?"

"You have said it," replied Paul, "and I know Mrs. Scott, and I can
promise you that there will be something going on at Longueval.  I will
introduce you.  Only it is distressing to Monsieur l'Abbe because she is
an American--a Protestant."

"Ah!  that is true," said Jean, sympathizingly.  "However, we will talk
about it to-morrow.  I am going to dine with you, godfather; I have
warned Pauline of my visit; no time to stop to-day.  I am on duty, and
must be in quarters at three o'clock."

"Stables?"  asked Paul.

"Yes.  Good-by, Paul.  To-morrow, godfather."

The lieutenant galloped away.  Paul de Lavardens gave his little horse
her head.

"What a capital fellow Jean is!"  said Paul.

"Oh, yes, indeed!"

"There is no one on earth better than Jean."

"No, no one."

The Cure turned round to take another look at Jean, who was almost lost
in the depths of the forest.

"Oh, yes, there is you, Monsieur le Cure."

"No, not me! not me!"

"Well, Monsieur 1'Abbe, shall I tell you what I think?  I think there is
no one better than you two--you and Jean.  That is the truth, if I must
tell you.  Oh!  what a splendid place for a trot!  I shall let Niniche
go; I call her Niniche."

With the point of his whip Paul caressed the flank of Niniche, who
started off at full speed, and Paul, delighted, cried:

"Just look at her action, Monsieur l'Abbe!  just look at her action!  So
regular--just like clockwork.  Lean over and look."

To please Paul de Lavardens the Abbe Constantin did lean over and look at
Niniche's action, but the old priest's thoughts were far away.




CHAPTER II

THE NEW CHATELAINE

This sub-lieutenant of artillery was called Jean Reynaud.  He was the son
of a country doctor who slept in the churchyard of Longueval.

In 1846, when the Abbe' Constantin took possession of his little living,
the grandfather of Jean was residing in a pleasant cottage on the road to
Souvigny, between the picturesque old castles of Longueval and Lavardens.

Marcel, the son of that Dr. Reynaud, was finishing his medical studies in
Paris.  He possessed great industry, and an elevation of sentiment and
mind extremely rare.  He passed his examinations with great distinction,
and had decided to fix his abode in Paris and tempt fortune there, and
everything seemed to promise him the most prosperous and brilliant
career, when, in 1852, he received the news of his father's death--he had
been struck down by a fit of apoplexy.  Marcel hurried to Longueval,
overwhelmed with grief, for he adored his father.  He spent a month with
his mother, and then spoke of the necessity of returning to Paris.

"That is true," said his mother; "you must go."

"What!  I must go!  We must go, you mean.  Do you think that I would
leave you here alone?  I shall take you with me."

"To live in Paris; to leave the place where I was born, where your father
lived, where he died?  I could never do it, my child, never!  Go alone;
your life, your future, are there.  I know you; I know that you will
never forget me, that you will come and see me often, very often."

"No, mother," he answered; "I shall stay here."

And he stayed.

His hopes, his ambitions, all in one moment vanished.  He saw only one
thing--duty--the duty of not abandoning his aged mother.  In duty, simply
accepted and simply discharged, he found happiness.  After all, it is
only thus that one does find happiness.

Marcel bowed with courage and good grace to his new existence.  He
continued his father's life, entering the groove at the very spot where
he had left it.  He devoted himself without regret to the obscure career
of a country doctor.  His father had left him a little land and a little
money; he lived in the most simple manner possible, and one half of his
life belonged to the poor, from whom he would never receive a penny.

This was his only luxury.

He found in his way a young girl, charming, penniless, and alone in the
world.  He married her.  This was in 1855, and the following year brought
to Dr. Reynaud a great sorrow and a great joy--the death of his old
mother and the birth of his son Jean.

At an interval of six weeks, the Abby Constantin recited the prayers for
the dead over the grave of the grandmother, and was present in the
position of godfather at the baptism of the grandson.

In consequence of constantly meeting at the bedside of the suffering and
dying, the priest and the doctor had been strongly attracted to each
other.  They instinctively felt that they belonged to the same family,
the same race--the race of the tender, the just, and the benevolent.

Year followed year--calm, peaceful, fully occupied in labor and duty.
Jean was no longer an infant.  His father gave him his first lessons in
reading and writing, the priest his first lessons in Latin.  Jean was
intelligent and industrious.  He made so much progress that the two
professors--particularly the Cure--found themselves at the end of a few
years rather cast into the shade by their pupil.  It was at this moment
that the Countess, after the death of her husband, came to settle at
Lavardens.  She brought with her a tutor for her son Paul, a very nice,
but very lazy little fellow.  The two children were of the same age; they
had known each other from their earliest years.

Madame de Lavardens had a great regard for Dr. Reynaud, and one day she
made him the following proposal:

"Send Jean to me every morning," said she, "I will send him home in the
evening.  Paul's tutor is a very accomplished man; he will make the
children work together.  It will be rendering me a real service.  Jean
will set Paul a good example."

Things were thus arranged, and the little bourgeois set the little
nobleman a most excellent example of industry and application, but this
excellent example was not followed.

The war broke out.  On November 14th, at seven o'clock in the morning,
the mobiles of Souvigny assembled in the great square of the town; their
chaplain was the Abbe Constantin, their surgeon-major, Dr. Reynaud.  The
same idea had come at the same moment to both; the priest was sixty-two,
the doctor fifty.

When they started, the battalion followed the road which led through
Longueval, and which passed before the doctor's house.  Madame Reynaud
and Jean were waiting by the roadside.  The child threw himself into his
father's arms.

"Take me, too, papa! take me, too!"

Madame Reynaud wept.  The doctor held them both in a long embrace, then
he continued his way.

A hundred steps farther the road made a sharp curve.  The doctor turned,
cast one long look at his wife and child-the last; he was never to see
them again.

On January 8, 1871, the mobiles of Souvigny attacked the village of
Villersexel, occupied by the Prussians, who had barricaded themselves.
The firing began.  A mobile who marched in the front rank received a ball
in the chest and fell.  There was a short moment of trouble and
hesitation.

"Forward!  forward!"  shouted the officers.

The men passed over the body of their comrade, and under a hail of
bullets entered the town.

Dr. Reynaud and the Abbe Constantin marched with the troops; they stopped
by the wounded man; the blood was rushing in floods from his mouth.

"There is nothing to be done," said the doctor.  "He is dying; he belongs
to you."

The priest knelt down by the dying man, and the doctor rose to go toward
the village.  He had not taken ten steps when he stopped, beat the air
with both hands, and fell all at once to the ground.  The priest ran to
him; he was dead-killed on the spot by a bullet through the temples.
That evening the village was ours, and the next day they placed in the
cemetery of Villersexel the body of Dr. Reynaud.

Two months later the Abbe Constantin took back to Longueval the coffin of
his friend, and behind the coffin, when it was carried from the church,
walked an orphan.  Jean had also lost his mother.  At the news of her
husband's death, Madame Reynaud had remained for twenty-four hours
petrified, crushed, without a word or a tear; then fever had seized her,
then delirium, and after a fortnight, death.

Jean was alone in the world; he was fourteen years old.  Of that family,
where for more than a century all had been good and honest, there
remained only a child kneeling beside a grave; but he, too, promised to
be what his father and grandfather before him had been--good, and honest,
and true.

There are families like that in France, and many of them, more than one
ventures to say.  Our poor country is in many respects calumniated by
certain novelists, who draw exaggerated and distorted pictures of it.
It is true the history of good people is often monotonous or painful.
This story is a proof of it.

The grief of Jean was the grief of a man.  He remained long sad and
silent.  The evening of his father's funeral the Abbe Constantin took him
home to the vicarage.  The day had been rainy and cold.  Jean was sitting
by the fireside; the priest was reading his breviary opposite him.  Old
Pauline came and went, arranging her affairs.

An hour passed without a word, when Jean, raising his head, said:

"Godfather, did my father leave me any money?"

This question was so extraordinary that the old priest, stupefied, could
scarcely believe that he heard aright.

"You ask if your father--"

"I asked if my father left me some money?"

"Yes; he must have left you some."

"A good deal, don't you think?  I have often heard people say that my
father was rich.  Tell me about how much he has left me!"

"But I don't know.  You ask--"

The poor old man felt his heart rent in twain.  Such a question at such a
moment!  Yet he thought he knew the boy's heart, and in that heart there
should not be room for such thoughts.

"Pray, dear godfather, tell me," continued Jean, gently.  "I will explain
to you afterward why I ask that."

"Well, they say your father had 200,000 or 300,000 francs."

"And is that much?"

"Yes, it is a great deal."

"And it is all mine?"

"Yes, it is all yours."

"Oh!  I am glad, because, you know, the day that my father was killed in
the war, the Prussians killed, at the same time, the son of a poor woman
in Longueval--old Clemence, you know; and they killed, too, the brother
of Rosalie, with whom I used to play when I was quite little.  Well,
since I am rich and they are poor, I will divide with Clemence and
Rosalie the money my father has left me."

On hearing these words the Cure rose, took Jean by both hands, and drew
him into his arms.  The white head rested on the fair one.  Two large
tears escaped from the eyes of the old priest, rolled slowly down his
cheeks, and were lost in the furrows of his face.

However, the Cure was obliged to explain to Jean that, though he was his
father's heir, he had not the right of disposing of his heritage as he
would.  There would be a family council, and a guardian would be
appointed.

"You, no doubt, godfather?"

"No, not I, my child; a priest has not the right of exercising the
functions of a guardian.  They will, I think, choose Monsieur Lenient,
the lawyer in Souvigny, who was one of your father's best friends.  You
can speak to him and tell him what you wish."

M. Lenient was eventually appointed guardian, and Jean urged his wishes
so eagerly and touchingly that the lawyer consented to deduct from the
income a sum of 2,400 francs, which, every year till Jean came of age,
was divided between old Clemence and little Rosalie.

Under these circumstances, Madame de Lavardens was perfect.  She went to
the Abbe and said:

"Give Jean to me, give him to me entirely till he has finished his
studies.  I will bring him back to you every year during the holidays.
It is not I who am rendering you a service; it is a service which I ask
of you.  I cannot imagine any greater good fortune for my son than to
have Jean for a companion.  I must resign myself to leaving Lavardens
for a time.  Paul is bent upon being a soldier and going up to Saint-Cyr.
It is only in Paris that I can obtain the necessary masters.  I will take
the two children there; they will study together under my own eyes like
brothers, and I will make no difference between them; of that you may be
sure."

It was difficult to refuse such an offer.  The old Cure would have dearly
liked to keep Jean with him, and his heart was torn at the thought of
this separation, but what was for the child's real interest?  That was
the only question to be considered; the rest was nothing.  They summoned
Jean.

"My child," said Madame de Lavardens to him, "will you come and live with
Paul and me for some years?  I will take you both to Paris."

"You are very kind, Madame, but I should have liked so much to stay
here."

He looked at the Cure, who turned away his eyes.

"Why must we go?"  he continued.  "Why must you take Paul and me away?"

"Because it is only in Paris that you can have all the advantages
necessary to complete your studies.  Paul will prepare for his
examination at Saint-Cyr.  You know he wishes to be a soldier."

"So do I, Madame.  I wish to be one, too."

"You a soldier!"  exclaimed the Cure; "but you know that was not at all
your father's idea.  In my presence, he has often spoken of your future,
your career.  You were to be a doctor, and, like him, doctor at
Longueval, and, like him, devote yourself to the sick and poor.  Jean,
my child, do you remember?"

"I remember, I remember."

"Well, then, Jean, you must do as your father wished; it is your duty,
Jean; it is your duty.  You must go to Paris.  You would like to stay
here, I understand that well, and I should like it, too; but it can not
be.  You must go to Paris, and work, work hard.  Not that I am anxious
about that; you are your father's true son.  You will be an honest and
laborious man.  One can not well be the one without the other.  And some
day, in your father's house, in the place where he has done so much good,
the poor people of the country round will find another Doctor Reynaud, to
whom they may look for help.  And I--if by chance I am still in this
world--when that day comes, I shall be so happy!  But I am wrong to speak
of myself; I ought not, I do not count.  It is of your father that you
must think.  I repeat it, Jean, it was his dearest wish.  You can not
have forgotten it."

"No, I have not forgotten; but if my father sees me, and hears me, I am
certain that he understands and forgives me, for it is on his account."

"On his account?"

"Yes.  When I heard that he was dead, and when I heard how he died, all
at once, without any need of reflection, I said to myself that I would be
a soldier, and I will be a soldier!  Godfather, and you, Madame, I beg
you not to prevent me."

The child burst into tears--a perfect flood of passionate tears.  The
Countess and the Abbe soothed him with gentle words.

"Yes--yes--it is settled," they said; "anything that you wish, all that
you wish."

Both had the same thought--leave it to time; Jean is only a child; he
will change his mind.

In this, both were mistaken; Jean did not change his mind.  In the month
of September, 1876, Paul de Lavardens was rejected at Saint-Cyr, and Jean
Reynaud passed eleventh at the Ecole Polytechnique.  The day when the
list of the candidates who had passed was published, he wrote to the Abbe
Constantin:

"I have passed, and passed too well, for I wish to go into the army, and
not the civil service; however, if I keep my place in the school, that
will be the business of one of my comrades; he will have my chance."

It happened so in the end.  Jean Reynaud did better than keep his place;
the pass-list showed his name seventh, but instead of entering 'l'Ecole
des Ponts et Chaussees', he entered the military college at Fontainebleau
in 1878.

He was then just twenty-one; he was of age, master of his fortune, and
the first act of the new administration was a great, a very great piece
of extravagance.

He bought for old Clemence and little Rosalie two shares in Government
stock of 1,500 francs each.  That cost him 70,000 francs, almost the sum
that Paul de Lavardens, in his first year of liberty in Paris, spent for
Mademoiselle Lise Bruyere, of the Palais Royal Theatre.

Two years later Jean passed first at the examination, and left
Fontainebleau with the right of choosing among the vacant places.  There
was one in the regiment quartered at Souvigny, and Souvigny was three
miles from Longueval.  Jean asked for this, and obtained it.

Thus Jean Reynaud, lieutenant in the ninth regiment of artillery, came in
the month of October, 1880, to take possession of the house that had been
his father's; thus he found himself once more in the place where his
childhood had passed, and where every one had kept green the memory of
the life and death of his father; thus the Abbe Constantin was not denied
the happiness of once again having near him the son of his old friend,
and, if the truth must be told, he no longer wished that Jean had become
a doctor.

When the old Cure left his church after saying mass, when he saw coming
along the road a great cloud of dust, when he felt the earth tremble
under the rumbling cannon, he would stop, and, like a child, amuse
himself with seeing the regiment pass, but to him the regiment was--Jean.
It was this robust and manly cavalier, in whose face, as in an open book,
one read uprightness, courage, and goodness.

The moment Jean perceived the Cure, he would put his horse to a gallop,
and go to have a little chat with his godfather.  The horse would turn
his head toward the Cure, for he knew very well there was always a piece
of sugar for him in the pocket of that old black soutane--rusty and worn-
-the morning soutane.  The Abbe Constantin had a beautiful new one, of
which he took great care, to wear in society--when he went into society.

The trumpets of the regiment sounded as they passed through the village,
and all eyes sought Jean--"little Jean"-for to the old people of
Longueval he was still little Jean.  Certain wrinkled, broken-down, old
peasants had never been able to break themselves of the habit of saluting
him when he passed with, "Bonjour, gamin, ca va bien?"

He was six feet high, this gamin, and Jean never crossed the village
without perceiving at one window the old furrowed parchment skin of
Clemence, and at another the smiling countenance of Rosalie.  The latter
had married during the previous year; Jean had given her away, and
joyously on the wedding-night had he danced with the girls of Longueval.

Such was the lieutenant of artillery, who, on Saturday, May 28, 1881, at
half-past four in the afternoon, sprang from his horse before the door of
the vicarage of Longueval.  He entered the gate, the horse obediently
followed, and went by himself into a little shed in the yard.  Pauline
was at the kitchen window; Jean approached and kissed her heartily on
both cheeks.

"Good-evening, Pauline.  Is all well?"

"Very well.  I am busy preparing your dinner; would you like to know what
you are going to have?  potato soup, a leg of mutton, and a custard."

"That is excellent; I shall enjoy everything, for I am dying of hunger."

"And a salad; I had forgotten it; you can help me cut it directly.
Dinner will be at half-past six exactly, for at half-past seven Monsieur
le Cure has his service for the month of Mary."

"Where is my godfather?"

"You will find him in the garden.  He is very sad on account of this sale
of yesterday."

"Yes, I know, I know."

"It will cheer him a little to see you; he is always so happy when you
are here.  Take care; Loulou is going to eat the climbing roses.  How hot
he is!"

"I came the long way by the wood, and rode very fast."

Jean captured Loulou, who was directing his steps toward the climbing
roses.  He unsaddled him, fastened him in the little shed, rubbed him
down with a great handful of straw, after which he entered the house,
relieved himself of his sword and kepi, replaced the latter by an old
straw hat, value sixpence, and then went to look for his godfather in the
garden.

The poor Abbe was indeed sad; he had scarcely closed an eye all night--
he who generally slept so easily, so quietly, the sound sleep of a child.
His soul was wrung.  Longueval in the hands of a foreigner, of a heretic,
of an adventuress!

Jean repeated what Paul had said the evening before.

"You will have money, plenty of money, for your poor."

"Money!  money!  Yes, my poor will not lose, perhaps they will even gain
by it; but I must go and ask for this money, and in the salon, instead of
my old and dear friend, I shall find this red-haired American.  It seems
that she has red hair!  I will certainly go for the sake of my poor--I
will go--and she will give me the money, but she will give me nothing but
money; the Marquise gave me something else--her life and her heart.
Every week we went together to visit the sick and the poor; she knew all
the sufferings and the miseries of the country round, and when the gout
nailed me to my easy-chair she made the rounds alone, and as well, or
better than I."

Pauline interrupted this conversation.  She carried an immense
earthenware salad-dish, on which bloomed, violent and startling, enormous
red flowers.

"Here I am," said Pauline, "I am going to cut the salad.  Jean, would you
like lettuce or endive?"

"Endive," said Jean, gayly.  "It is a long time since I have had any
endive."

"Well, you shall have some to-night.  Stay, take the dish."

Pauline began to cut the endive, and Jean bent down to receive the leaves
in the great salad dish.  The Cure looked on.

At this moment a sound of little bells was heard.  A carriage was
approaching; one heard the jangling and creaking of its wheels.  The
Cure's little garden was only separated from the road by a low hedge, in
the middle of which was a little trellised gate.

All three looked out, and saw driving down the road a hired carriage of
most primitive construction, drawn by two great white horses, and driven
by an old coachman in a blouse.  Beside this old coachman was seated a
tall footman in livery, of the most severe and correct demeanor.  In the
carriage were two young women, dressed both alike in very elegant, but
very simple, travelling costumes.

When the carriage was opposite the gate the coachman stopped his horses,
and addressing the Abbe:

"Monsieur le Cure," said he, "these ladies wish to speak to you."

Then, turning toward the ladies:

"This is Monsieur le Cure of Longueval."

The Abbe Constantin approached and opened the little gate.  The
travellers alighted.  Their looks rested, not without astonishment, on
the young officer, who stood there, a little embarrassed, with his straw
hat in one hand, and his salad dish, all overflowing with endive, in the
other.

The visitors entered the garden, and the elder--she seemed about twenty-
five--addressing the Abbe Constantin, said to him, with a little foreign
accent, very original and very peculiar:

"I am obliged to introduce myself---Mrs. Scott; I am Mrs. Scott!  It was
I who bought the castle and farms and all the rest here at the sale
yesterday.  I hope that I do not disturb you, and that you can spare me
five minutes."  Then, pointing to her travelling companion, "Miss Bettina
Percival, my sister; you guessed it, I am sure.  We are very much alike,
are we not?  Ah!  Bettina, we have left our bags in the carriage, and we
shall want them directly."

"I will get them."

And as Miss Percival prepared to go for the two little bags, Jean said to
her:

"Pray allow me."

"I am really very sorry to give you so much trouble.  The servant will
give them to you; they are on the front seat."

She had the same accent as her sister, the same large eyes--black,
laughing, and gay-and the same hair, not red, but fair, with golden
shades, where daintily danced the light of the sun.  She bowed to Jean
with a pretty little smile, and he, having returned to Pauline the salad
dish full of endive, went to look for the two little bags.  Meanwhile-
much agitated, sorely disturbed--the Abbe Constantin introduced into his
vicarage the new Chatelaine of Longueval.




CHAPTER III

DELIGHTFUL SURPRISES

This vicarage of Longueval was far from being a palace.  The same
apartment on the ground floor served for dining and drawing-room,
communicating directly with the kitchen by a door, which stood always
wide open.  This room was furnished in the most scanty manner; two old
arm chairs, six straw chairs, a sideboard, a round table.  Pauline had
already laid the cloth for the dinner of the Abbe and Jean.

Mrs. Scott and Miss Percival went and came, examining the domestic
arrangements of the Cure with a sort of childish wonder.

"But the garden, the house, everything is charming," said Mrs. Scott.

They both boldly penetrated into the kitchen; the Abbe Constantin
followed them, scared, bewildered, stupefied at the suddenness and
resolution of this American invasion.

Old Pauline, with an anxious and gloomy air, examined the two foreigners.

"There they are, then," she said to herself, "these Protestants, these
accursed heretics!"

"I must compliment you," said Bettina; "it is so beautifully kept.  Look,
Susie, is not the vicarage altogether exactly what you wished?"

"And so is the Cure," rejoined Mrs. Scott.  "Yes, Monsieur le Cure,
if you will permit me to say so, you do not know how happy it makes me
to find you just what you are.  In the railway carriage what did I say
to you, Bettina?  And again just now, when we were driving here?"

"My sister said to me, Monsieur le Cure, that what she desired above
everything was a priest, not young, or melancholy, or severe; but one
with white hair and a kind and gentle manner.  And that is exactly what
you are, Monsieur le Cure, exactly.  No, we could not have been more
fortunate.  Excuse me for speaking to you in this manner; the Parisians
know how to make pretty phrases, but I do not, and in speaking French I
should often be quite at a loss if I did not say everything in a simple
and childish way, as it comes into my head.  In a word, I am satisfied,
quite satisfied, and I hope that you, too, Monsieur le Cure, will be as
satisfied with your new parishioners."

"My parishioners!"  exclaimed the Cure, all at once recovering speech,
movement, life, everything which for some moments had completely
abandoned him.  "My parishioners!  Pardon me, Madame, Mademoiselle, I am
so agitated.  You will be--you are Catholics?"

"Certainly we are Catholics."

"Catholics!  Catholics!"  repeated the Cure.

"Catholics!  Catholics!"  echoed old Pauline.

Mrs. Scott looked from the Cure to Pauline, from Pauline to the Cure,
much surprised that a single word should produce such an effect, and, to
complete the tableau, Jean appeared carrying the two little travelling
bags.

The Cure and Pauline saluted him with the same words:

"Catholics!  Catholics!"

"Ah!  I begin to understand," said Mrs. Scott, laughing.  "It is our
name, our country; you must have thought that we were Protestants.
Not at all.  Our mother was a Canadian, French and Catholic by descent;
that is why my sister and I both speak French, with an accent, it is
true, and with certain American idioms, but yet in such a manner as to be
able to express nearly all we want to say.  My husband is a Protestant,
but he allows me complete liberty, and my two children are Catholics.
That is why, Monsieur l'Abbe, we wished to come and see you the very
first day."

"That is one reason," continued Bettina, "but there is also another; but
for that reason we shall want our little bags."

"Here they are," said Jean.

While the two little bags passed from the hands of the officer to those
of Mrs. Scott and Bettina, the Cure introduced Jean to the two Americans,
but his agitation was so great that the introduction was not made
strictly according to rule.  The Cure only forgot one thing, it is true,
but that was a thing tolerably essential in an introduction--the family
name of Jean.

"It is Jean," said he, "my godson, lieutenant of artillery, now quartered
at Souvigny.  He is one of the family."

Jean made two deep bows, the Americans two little ones, after which they
foraged in their bags, from which each drew a 'rouleau' of 1,000 francs,
daintily inclosed in green sheaths of serpent-skin, clasped with gold.

"I have brought you this for your poor," said Mrs. Scott.

"And I have brought this," said Bettina.

"And besides that, Monsieur le Cure, I am going to give you five hundred
francs a month," said Mrs. Scott.

"And I will do like my sister."

Delicately they slipped their offerings into the right and left hands of
the Cure, who, looking at each hand alternately, said:

"What are these little things?  They are very heavy; there must be money
in them.  Yes, but how much, how much?"

The Abbe Constantin was seventy-two, and much money had passed through
his hands, but this money had come to him in small sums, and the idea of
such an offering as this had never entered his head.  Two thousand
francs!  Never had he had so much in his possession--no, not even one
thousand.  He stammered:

"I am very grateful to you, Madame; you are very good, Mademoiselle--"

But after all he could not thank them enough, and Jean thought it
necessary to come to his assistance.

"They have given you two thousand francs!"

And then, full of warmest gratitude; the Cure cried:

"Two thousand francs!  Two thousand francs for my poor!"

Pauline suddenly reappeared.

"Here, Pauline," said the Cure, "put away this money, and take care--"

Old Pauline filled many positions in this simple household: cook, maid-
of-all-work, treasurer, dispenser.  Her hands received with a respectful
tremble these two little 'rouleaux' which represented so much misery
alleviated, so much suffering relieved.

"One thousand francs a month!  But there will be no poor left in the
country."

"That is just what I wish.  I am rich, very rich, and so is my sister;
she is even richer than I am, because a young girl has not so many
expenses, while I--Ah!  well, I spend all that I can--all that I can.
When one has a great deal of money, too much, more than one feels to be
just, tell me, Monsieur le Cure, is there any other way of obtaining
pardon than to keep one's hands open, and give, give, give, all one can,
and as usefully as one can?  Besides, you can give me something in
return;" and, turning to Pauline, "Will you be so kind as to give me a
glass of water?  No, nothing else; a glass of cold water; I am dying of
thirst."

"And I," said Bettina, laughing, while Pauline ran to fetch the water,
"I am dying of something else-of hunger, to tell the truth.  Monsieur le
Cure--I know that I am going to be dreadfully intrusive; I see your cloth
is laid--could you not invite us to dinner?"

"Bettina!"  said Mrs. Scott.

"Let me alone, Susie, let me alone.  Won't you, Monsieur le Cure?  I am
sure you will."

But he could find no reply.  The old Cure hardly knew where he was.  They
had taken his vicarage by storm; they were Catholics; they had promised
him one thousand francs a month, and now they wanted to dine with him.
Ah!  that was the last stroke.  Terror seized him at the thought of
having to do the honors of his leg of mutton and his custard to these two
absurdly rich Americans.  He murmured:

"Dine!-you would like to dine here?"

Jean thought he must interpose again.  "It would be a great pleasure to
my godfather," said he, "if you would kindly stay.  But I know what
disturbs him.  We were going to dine together, just the two of us, and
you must not expect a feast.  You will be very indulgent?"

"Yes, yes, very indulgent," replied Bettina; then, addressing her sister,
"Come, Susie, you must not be cross, because I have been a little--you
know it is my way to be a little--  Let us stay, will you?  It will do us
good to pass a quiet hour here, after such a day as we have had!  On the
railway, in the carriage, in the heat, in the dust; we had such a horrid
luncheon, in such a horrid hotel.  We were to have returned to the same
hotel at seven o'clock to dine, and then take the train back to Paris,
but dinner here will be really much nicer.  You won't say no?  Ah! how
good you are, Susie!  "

She embraced her sister fondly; then turning toward the Cure:

"If you only knew, Monsieur le Cure, how good she is!"

"Bettina!  Bettina!"

"Come," said Jean, "quick, Pauline, two more plates; I will help you."

"And so will I," said Bettina, "I will help, too.  Oh! do let me; it will
be so amusing.  Monsieur le Cure, you will let me do a little as if I
were at home?"

In a moment she had taken off her mantle, and Jean could admire, in all
its exquisite perfection, a figure marvellous for suppleness and grace.
Miss Percival then removed her hat, but with a little too much haste, for
this was the signal for a charming catastrophe.  A whole avalanche
descended in torrents, in long cascades, over Bettina's shoulders.  She
was standing before a window flooded by the rays of the sun, and this
golden light, falling full on this golden hair, formed a delicious frame
for the sparkling beauty of the young girl.  Confused and blushing,
Bettina was obliged to call her sister to her aid, and Mrs. Scott had
much trouble in introducing order into this disorder.

When this disaster was at length repaired, nothing could prevent Bettina
from rushing on plates, knives, and forks.

"Oh, indeed," said she to Jean, "I know very well how to lay the cloth.
Ask my sister.  Tell him, Susie, when I was a little girl in New York, I
used to lay the cloth very well, didn't I?"

"Very well, indeed," said Mrs. Scott.

And then, while begging the Cure to excuse Bettina's want of thought,
she, too, took off her hat and mantle, so that Jean had again the very
agreeable spectacle of a charming figure and beautiful hair; but, to
Jean's great regret, the catastrophe had not a second representation.

In a few minutes Mrs. Scott, Miss Percival, the Cure, and Jean were
seated round the little vicarage table; then, thanks partly to the
impromptu and original nature of the entertainment, partly to the good-
humor and perhaps slightly audacious gayety of Bettina, the conversation
took a turn of the frankest and most cordial familiarity.

"Now, Monsieur le Cure," said Bettina, "you shall see if I did not speak
the truth when I said I was dying of hunger.  I never was so glad to sit
down to dinner.  This is such a delightful finish to our day.  Both my
sister and I are perfectly happy now we have this castle, and these
farms, and the forest."

"And then," said Mrs. Scott, "to have all that in such an extraordinary
and unexpected manner.  We were so taken by surprise."

"You may indeed say so, Susie.  You must know, Monsieur l'Abbe, that
yesterday was my sister's birthday.  But first, pardon me, Monsieur--
Jean, is it not?"

"Yes, Miss Percival, Monsieur Jean."

"Well, Monsieur Jean, a little more of that excellent soup, if you
please."

The Abbe was beginning to recover a little, but he was still too agitated
to perform the duties of a host.  It was Jean who had undertaken the
management of his godfather's little dinner.  He filled the plate of the
charming American, who fixed upon him the glance of two large eyes,
in which sparkled frankness, daring, and gayety.  The eyes of Jean,
meanwhile, repaid Miss Percival in the same coin.  It was scarcely three
quarters of an hour since the young American and the young officer had
made acquaintance in the Cure's garden, yet both felt already perfectly
at ease with each other, full of confidence, almost like old friends.

"I told you, Monsieur l'Abbe," continued Bettina, "that yesterday was my
sister's birthday.  A week ago my brother-in-law was obliged to return to
America, but at starting he said to my sister, 'I shall not be with you
on your birthday, but you will hear from me.'  So, yesterday, presents
and bouquets arrived from all quarters, but from my brother-in-law, up to
five o'clock, nothing--nothing.  We were just starting for a ride in the
Bois, and 'a propos' of riding"--she stopped, and looking curiously at
Jean's great dusty boots--" Monsieur Jean, you have spurs on."

"Yes, Miss Percival."

"Then you are in the cavalry?"

"I am in the artillery, and that, you know, is cavalry."

"And your regiment is quartered?"---

"Quite near here."

"Then you will be able to ride with us?"

"With the greatest pleasure."

"That is settled.  Let me see; where was I?"

"You do not know at all where you are, Bettina, and you are telling these
gentlemen things which can not interest them."

"Oh!  I beg your pardon," said the Cure.  "The sale of this estate is the
only subject of conversation in the neighborhood just now, and Miss
Percival's account interests me very much."

"You see, Susie, my account interests Monsieur le Cure very much; then I
shall continue.  We went for our ride, we returned at seven o'clock--
nothing.  We dined, and just when we were leaving the table a telegram
from America arrived.  It contained only a few lines:

"'I have ordered the purchase to-day, for you and in your name, of the
castle and lands of Longueval, near Souvigny, on the Northern Railway
line.'

"Then we both burst into a fit of wild laughter at the thought."

"No, no, Bettina; you calumniate us both.  Our first thought was one of
very sincere gratitude, for both my sister and I are very fond of the
country.  My husband knows that we had longed to have an estate in
France.  For six months he had been looking out, and found nothing.  At
last he discovered this one, and, without telling us, ordered it to be
bought for my birthday.  It was a delicate attention."

"Yes, Susie, you are right, but after the little fit of gratitude, we had
a great one of gayety."

"Yes, I confess it.  When we realized that we had suddenly become
possessed of a castle, without knowing in the least where it was, what it
was like, or how much it had cost, it seemed so like a fairy-tale.  Well,
for five good minutes we laughed with all our hearts, then we seized the
map of France, and succeeded in discovering Souvigny.  When he had
finished with the map it was the turn of the railway guide, and this
morning, by the ten o'clock express, we arrived at Souvigny.

"We have passed the whole day in visiting the castle, the farms, the
woods, the stables.  We are delighted with what we have seen.  Only,
Monsieur le Cure, there is one thing about which I feel curious.  I know
that the place was sold yesterday; but I have not dared to ask either
agent or farmer who accompanied me in my walk--for my ignorance would
have seemed too absurd--I have not dared to ask how much it cost.  In the
telegram my husband does not mention the sum.  Since I am so delighted
with the place, the price is only a detail, but still I should like to
know it.  Tell me, Monsieur le Cure, do you know what it cost?"

"An enormous price," replied the Cure, "for many hopes and many ambitions
were excited about Longueval."

"An enormous price!  You frighten me.  How much exactly?"

"Three millions!"

"Is that all?  Is that all?"  cried Mrs. Scott.  "The castle, the farms,
the forest, all for three millions?"

"But that is nothing," said Bettina.  "That delicious little stream which
wanders through the park is alone worth three millions."

"And you said just now, Monsieur le Cure, that there were several persons
who disputed the purchase with us?"

"Yes, Mrs. Scott."

"And, after the sale, was my name mentioned among these persons?"

"Certainly it was."

"And when my name was mentioned was there no one there who spoke of me?
Yes, yes, your silence is a sufficient answer; they did speak of me.
Well, Monsieur le Cure, I am now serious, very serious.  I beg you as a
favor to tell me what was said."

"But," replied the poor Cure, who felt himself upon burning coals, "they
spoke of your large fortune."

"Yes, of course, they would be obliged to speak of that, and no doubt
they said that I was very rich, but had not been rich long--that I was a
parvenu.  Very well, but that is not all; they must have said something
else."

"No, indeed; I have heard nothing else."

"Oh, Monsieur le Cure, that is what you may call a white lie, and it is
making you very unhappy, because naturally you are the soul of truth;
but if I torment you thus it is because I have the greatest interest in
knowing what was said."

"You are right," interrupted Jean, "you are right.  They said you were
one of the most elegant, the most brilliant, and the--"

"And one of the prettiest women in Paris.  With a little indulgence they
might say that; but that is not all yet--there is something else."

"Oh!  I assure you--"

"Yes, there is something else, and I should like to hear it this very
moment, and I should like the information to be very frank and very
exact.  It seems to me that I am in a lucky vein to-day, and I feel as if
you were both a little inclined to be my friends, and that you will be so
entirely some day.  Well, tell me if I am right in supposing that should
false and absurd stories be told about me you will help me to contradict
them."

"Yes!"  replied Jean, "you are right in believing that."

"Well, then, it is to you that I address myself.  You are a soldier, and
courage is part of your profession.  Promise me to be brave.  Will you
promise me?"

"What do you understand by being brave?"

"Promise, promise--without explanations, without conditions."

"Well, I promise."

"You will then reply frankly, 'Yes' or 'No,' to questions?"

"I will."

"Did they say that I had begged in the streets of New York?"

"Yes, they said so."

"Did they say I had been a rider in a travelling circus?"

"Yes; they said that, too."

"Very well; that is plain speaking.  Now remark first that in all this
there is nothing that one might not acknowledge if it were true; but it
is not true, and have I not the right of denying it?  My history--I will
tell it you in a few words.  I am going to pass a part of my life in this
place, and I desire that all should know who I am and whence I come.
To begin, then.  Poor!  Yes, I have been, and very poor.  Eight years ago
my father died, and was soon followed by my mother.  I was then eighteen,
and Bettina nine.  We were alone in the world, encumbered with heavy
debts and a great lawsuit.  My father's last words had been, 'Susie,
never, never compromise.  Millions, my children, you will have millions.'
He embraced us both; soon delirium seized him, and he died repeating,
'Millions; millions!'  The next morning a lawyer appeared, who offered to
pay all our debts, and to give us besides ten thousand dollars, if we
would give up all our claims.  I refused.  It was then that for several
months we were very poor."

"And it was then," said Bettina, "that I used to lay the cloth."

"I spent my life among the solicitors of New York, but no one would take
up my case; everywhere I received the same reply: 'Your cause is very
doubtful; you have rich and formidable adversaries; you need money, large
sums of money, to bring such a case to a conclusion, and you have
nothing.  They offer to pay your debts, and to give you ten thousand
dollars besides.  Accept it, and sell your case.'  But my father's last
words rang in my ears, and I would not.  Poverty, however, might soon
have forced me to, when one day I made another attempt on one of my
father's old friends, a banker in New York, Mr. William Scott.  He was
not alone; a young man was sitting in his office.

"'You may speak freely,' said Mr. Scott; 'it is my son Richard.'

"I looked at the young man, he looked at me, and we recognized each
other.

"'Susie!'

"'Richard!"

"Formerly, as children, we had often played together and were great
friends.  Seven or eight years before this meeting he had been sent to
Europe to finish his education.  We shook hands; his father made me sit
down, and asked what had brought me.  He listened to my tale; and
replied:

"'You would require twenty or thirty thousand dollars.  No one would lend
you such a sum upon the uncertain chances of a very complicated lawsuit.
If you are in difficulties; if you need assistance--'

"'It is not that, father.  That is not what Miss Percival asks.'

"'I know that very well, but what she asks is impossible.'

"He rose to let me out.  Then the sense of my helplessness overpowered me
for the first time since my father's death.  I burst into a violent flood
of tears.  An hour later Richard Scott was with me.

"'Susie,' he said, 'promise to accept what I am going to offer.'

"I promised him.

"'Well,' said he, 'on the single condition that my father shall know
nothing about it, I place at your disposal the necessary sum.'

"'But then you ought to know what the lawsuit is--what it is worth.'

"'I do not know a single word about it, and I do not wish to.  Besides,
you have promised to accept it; you can not withdraw now.'

"I accepted.  Three months after the case was ours.  All this vast
property became beyond dispute the property of Bettina and me.  The other
side offered to buy it of us for five million dollars.  I consulted
Richard.

"'Refuse it and wait,' said he; 'if they offer you such a sum it is
because the property is worth double.'

"'However, I must return you your money; I owe you a great deal.'

"'Oh!  as for that there is no hurry; I am very easy about it; my money
is quite safe now.'

"'But I should like to pay you at once.  I have a horror of debt!
Perhaps there is another way without selling the property.  Richard, will
you be my husband?'

"Yes, Monsieur le Cure, yes," said Mrs. Scott, laughing, "it is thus that
I threw myself at my husband's head.  It is I who asked his hand.  But
really I was obliged to act thus.  Never, never, would he have spoken; I
had become too rich, and as it was me he loved, and not my money, he was
becoming terribly afraid of me.  That is the history of my marriage.  As
to the history of my fortune, it can be told in a few words.  There were
indeed millions in those wide lands of Colorado; they discovered there
abundant mines of silver, and from those mines we draw every year an
income which is beyond reason, but we have agreed--my husband, my sister,
and myself--to give a very large share of this income to the poor.  You
see, Monsieur le Cure, it is because we have known very hard times that
you will always find us ready to help those who are, as we have been
ourselves, involved in the difficulties and sorrows of life.  And now,
Monsieur Jean, will you forgive me this long discourse, and offer me a
little of that cream, which looks so very good?"

This cream was Pauline's custard, and while Jean was serving Mrs. Scott:

"I have not yet finished," she continued.  "You ought to know what gave
rise to these extravagant stories.  A year ago, when we settled in Paris,
we considered it our duty on our arrival to give a certain sum to the
poor.  Who was it spoke of that?  None of us, certainly, but the thing
was told in a newspaper, with the amount.  Immediately two young
reporters hastened to subject Mr. Scott to a little examination on his
past history; they wished to give a sketch of our career in the--what do
you call them?--society papers.  Mr. Scott is sometimes a little hasty;
he was so on this occasion, and dismissed these gentlemen rather
brusquely, without telling them anything.  So, as they did not know our
real history, they invented one, and certainly displayed a very lively
imagination.  First they related how I had begged in the snow in New
York; the next day appeared a still more sensational article, which made
me a rider in a circus in Philadelphia.  You have some very funny papers
in France; so have we in America, for the matter of that."

During the last five minutes, Pauline had been making desperate signs to
the Cure, who persisted in not understanding them, till at last the poor
woman, calling up all her courage, said:

"Monsieur le Cure, it is a quarter past seven."

"A quarter past seven!  Ladies, I must beg you to excuse me.  This
evening I have the special service for the month of Mary."

"The month of Mary?  And will the service begin directly?"

"Yes, directly."

"And when does our train start for Paris?"

"At half past nine," replied Jean.

"Susie, can we not go to church first?"

"Yes, we will go," replied Mrs. Scott; "but before we separate, Monsieur
le Cure, I have one favor to ask you.  I should like very much, the first
time I dine at Longueval, that you would dine with me, and you, too,
Monsieur Jean, just us four alone like to-day.  Oh! do not refuse my
invitation; it is given with all my heart."

"And accepted as heartily," replied Jean.

"I will write and tell you the day, and it shall be as soon as possible.
You call that having a housewarming, don't you?  Well, we shall have the
house-warming all to ourselves."

Meanwhile, Pauline had drawn Miss Percival into a corner of the room, and
was talking to her with great animation.  The conversation ended with
these words:

"You will be there?"  said Bettina, "and you will tell me the exact
moment?"

"I will tell you, but take care.  Here is Monsieur le Cure; he must not
suspect anything."

The two sisters, the Cure, and Jean left the house.  To go to the church
they were obliged to cross the churchyard.  The evening was delicious.
Slowly, silently, under the rays of the setting sun, the four walked down
a long avenue.

On their way was the monument to Dr. Reynaud, very simple, but which, by
its fine proportions, showed distinctly among the other tombs.

Mrs. Scott and Bettina stopped, struck with this inscription carved on
the stone:

"Here lies Dr. Marcel Reynaud, Surgeon-Major of the Souvigny Mobiles;
killed January 8, 1871, at the Battle of Villersexel.  Pray for him."

When they had read it, the Cure, pointing to Jean, said:.

"It was his father!"

The two sisters drew near the tomb, and with bent heads remained there
for some minutes, pensive, touched, contemplative.  Then both turned, and
at the same moment, by the same impulse, offered their hands to Jean;
then continued their walk to the church.  Their first prayer at Longueval
had been for the father of Jean.

The Cure went to put on his surplice and stole.  Jean conducted Mrs.
Scott to the seat which belonged to the masters of Longueval.

Pauline had gone on before.  She was waiting for Miss Percival in the
shadow behind one of the pillars.  By a steep and narrow staircase, she
led Bettina to the gallery, and placed her before the harmonium.

Preceded by two little chorister boys, the old Cure left the vestry, and
at the moment when he knelt on the steps of the alter:

"Now!  Mademoiselle," said Pauline, whose heart beat with impatience.
"Poor, dear man, how pleased he will be."

When he heard the sound of the music rise, soft as a murmur, and spread
through the little church, the Abbe Constantin was filled with such
emotion, such joy, that the tears came to his eyes.  He could not
remember having wept since the day when Jean had said that he wished to
share all that he possessed with the mother and sister of those who had
fallen by his father's side under the Prussian bullets.

To bring tears to the eyes of the old priest, a little American had been
brought across the seas to play a reverie of Chopin in the little church
of Longueval.




ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Ancient pillars of stone, embrowned and gnawed by time
And they are shoulders which ought to be seen
But she will give me nothing but money
Duty, simply accepted and simply discharged
God may have sent him to purgatory just for form's sake
He led the brilliant and miserable existence of the unoccupied
If there is one! (a paradise)
Never foolish to spend money.  The folly lies in keeping it
Often been compared to Eugene Sue, but his touch is lighter
One half of his life belonged to the poor
Succeeded in wearying him by her importunities and tenderness
The history of good people is often monotonous or painful
The women have enough religion for the men




End of this Project Gutenberg Etext of The Abbe Constantin, v1
by Ludovic Halevy


Colophon

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