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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhen Valmond Came To Pontiac - Chapter 4
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When Valmond Came To Pontiac - Chapter 4 Post by :fastlane Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :1897

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When Valmond Came To Pontiac - Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CHAPTER VFrom this hour Valmond was carried on by a wave of fortune. Before vespers on that Sunday night, it was common talk that he was a true son of the Great Napoleon, born at St. Helena. Why did he come to Pontiac? He wished to be in retirement till his friends, acting for him in France, gave him the signal, and then with a small army of French-Canadians he would land in France. Thousands would gather round his standard, and so marching on to Paris, the Napoleonic faith would be revived, and he would come into his own. It is
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CHAPTER IIIIn less than one week Valmond was as outstanding from Pontiac as Dalgrothe Mountain, just beyond it in the south. His liberality, his jocundity, his occasional abstraction, his meditative pose, were all his own; his humour that of the people. He was too quick in repartee and drollery for a bourgeois, too "near to the bone" in point for an aristocrat, with his touch of the comedian and the peasant also. Besides, he was mysterious and picturesque, and this is alluring to women and to the humble, if not to all the world. It might be his was the comedian's
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