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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhen Valmond Came To Pontiac - Chapter 15
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When Valmond Came To Pontiac - Chapter 15 Post by :mjbren Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :2341

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When Valmond Came To Pontiac - Chapter 15

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 carriage 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.

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