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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhen Valmond Came To Pontiac - Chapter 14
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When Valmond Came To Pontiac - Chapter 14 Post by :fastlane Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :2055

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When Valmond Came To Pontiac - Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

"Lights Out!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"So very much?"

"Very much indeed."

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

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

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

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

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

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

His tone nettled her. He talked as if he had some distant claim on her.

"Something came between?" she repeated slowly, mockingly. "That sounds melodramatic indeed. What was it came between--a coach-and-four, or a grand army?"

"Nothing so stately," he answered, piqued by her tone: "a filibuster and his ragamuffins."

"Ragamufins would be appreciated by Monsieur Valmond's followers, spoken at the four corners," she answered.

"Then I'll change it," he said: "a ragamuffin and his filibusters."

"The 'ragamuffin' always speaks of his enemies with courtesy, and the filibusters love their leader," was her pointed rejoinder.

"At half a dollar a day," he answered sharply.

"They get that much from His Excellency, do they?" she asked in real surprise. "That doesn't look like filibustering, does it?"

"'His Excellency!'" he retorted. "Why won't you look this matter straight in the face? Napoleon or no Napoleon, the end of this thing is ruin."

"Take care that you don't get lost in the debris," she said bitingly.

"I can take care of myself. I am sorry to have you mixed up in it."

"You are sorry? How good of you! How paternal!"

"If your husband were here--"

"If my husband were here, you would probably be his best friend," she rejoined, with acid sweetness; "and I should still have to take care of myself."

Had he no sense of what was possible to leave unsaid to a woman? She was very angry, though she was also a little sorry for him; for perhaps in the long run he would be in the right. But he must pay for his present stupidity.

"You wrong me," he answered, with a quick burst of feeling. "You are most unfair. You punish me because I do my public duty; and because I would do anything in the world for you, you punish me the more. Have you forgotten two years ago? Is it so easy to your hand, a true and constant admiration, a sincere homage, that you throw it aside like--"

"Monsieur De la Riviere," she said, with exasperating deliberation, her eyes having a dangerous light, "your ten minutes is more than up. And it has been quite ten minutes too long."

"If I were a filibuster"--he answered bitterly and suggestively.

She interrupted him, saying, with a purring softness: "If you had only courage enough--"

He waved his hand angrily. "If I had, I should hope you would prove a better friend to me than you are to this man."

"Ah, in what way do I fail towards 'this man'?"

"By encouraging his downfall. See--I know I am taking my life in my hands, as it were, but I tell you this thing will do you harm when it goes abroad."

She felt the honesty of his words, though they angered her. He seemed to impute some personal interest in Valmond. She would not have it from any man in the world.

"If you will pick up my handkerchief--ah, thank you! We must travel different roads in this matter. You have warned; let me prophesy. His Highness Valmond Napoleon will come out of this with more honour than yourself."

"Thanks to you, then," he said gallantly, for he admired her very stubbornness.

"Thanks to himself. I honestly believe that you will be ashamed of your part in this, one day."

"In any case, I will force the matter to a conclusion," he answered firmly. "The fantastic thing must end."

"When?"

"Within a few days."

"When all is over, perhaps you will have the honesty to come and tell me which was right--you or I. Goodbye."

Elise was busy at her kitchen fire. She looked up, startled, as her visitor entered. Her heavy brow grew heavier, her eyes gleamed sulkily, as she dragged herself forward with weariness, and stood silent and resentful. Why had this lady of the Manor come to her? Madame Chalice scarcely knew how to begin, for, in truth, she wanted to be the girl's friend, and she feared making her do or say some wild thing.

She looked round the quiet room. Some fruit was boiling on a stove, giving out a fragrant savour, and Elise's eye was on it mechanically. A bit of sewing lay across a chair, and on the wall hung a military suit of the old sergeant, beside it a short sabre. An old Tricolor was draped from a beam, and one or two maps of France were pinned on the wall. She fastened her look on the maps. They seemed to be her cue.

"Have you any influence with your uncle?" she asked.

Elise remained gloomily silent.

"Because," Madame Chalice went on smoothly, ignoring her silence, "I think it would be better for him to go back to Ville Bambord--I am sure of it."

The girl's lip curled angrily. What right had this great lady to interfere with her or hers? What did she mean?

"My uncle is a general and a brave man; he can take care of himself," she answered defiantly. Madame Chalice did not smile at the title. She admired the girl's courage. She persisted however. "He is one man, and--"

"He has plenty of men, madame, and His Excellency--"

"His Excellency and hundreds of men cannot stand, if the Government send soldiers against them."

"Why should the Gover'ment do that? They're only going to France; they mean no trouble here."

"They have no right to drill and conspire here, my girl."

"Well, my uncle and his men will fight; we'll all fight," Elise retorted, her hands grasping the arms of the rocking-chair she sat in.

"But why shouldn't we avoid fighting? What is there to fight for? You are all very happy here. You were very happy here before Monsieur Valmond came. Are you happy now?"

Madame Chalice's eyes searched the flushed face anxiously. She was growing more eager every moment to serve, if she could, this splendid creature.

"We would die for him!" answered the girl quickly.

"You would die for him," came the reply, slowly, meaningly.

"And what's it to you, if I would?" came the sharp retort. "Why do you fine folk meddle yourselves with poor folk's affairs?"

Then, remembering she was a hostess, with the instinctive courtesy of her race, she said: "Ah, pardon, madame; you meant nothing, I'm sure."

"Why should fine folk make poor folk unhappy?" said Madame Chalice, quietly and sorrowfully, for she saw that Elise was suffering, and all the woman in her came to her heart and lips. She laid her hand on the girl's arm. "Indeed yes, why should fine folk make poor folk unhappy? It is not I alone who makes you unhappy, Elise."

The girl angrily shook off the hand, for she read the true significance of the words.

"What are you trying to find out?" she asked fiercely. "What do you want to do? Did I ever come in your way? Why do you come into mine? What's my life to you? Nothing, nothing at all. You're here to-day and away to-morrow. You're English; you're not of us. Can't you see that I want to be left alone?

"If I were unhappy, I could look after myself. But I'm not, I'm not--I tell you I'm not! I'm happy. I never knew what happiness was till now. I'm so happy that I can stand here and not insult you, though you've insulted me."

"I meant no insult, Elise. I want to help you; that is all. I know how hard it is to confide in one's kinsfolk, and I wish with all my heart I might be your friend, if you ever need me."

Elise met her sympathetic look clearly and steadily. "Speak plain to me, madame," she said.

"Elise, I saw some one climb out of your bedroom window," was the slow reply.

"Oh, my God!" said the girl; "oh, my God!" and she stared blankly for a moment at Madame Chalice. Then, trembling greatly, she reached to the table for a cup of water.

Madame Chalice was at once by her side. "You are ill, poor girl," she said anxiously, and put her arm around her.

Elise drew away.

"I will tell you all, madame, all; and you must believe it, for, as God is my judge, it is the truth." Then she told the whole story, exactly as it happened, save mention of the kisses that Valmond had given her. Her eyes now and again filled with tears, and she tried, in her poor untutored way, to set him right. She spoke for him altogether, not for herself; and her listener saw that the bond which held the girl to the man might be proclaimed in the streets, with no dishonour.

"That's the story, and that's the truth," said Elise at last. "He's a gentleman, a great man, and I'm a poor girl, and there can be nothing between us; but I'd die for him."

She no longer resented Madame Chalice's solicitude: she was passive, and showed that she wished to be alone.

"You think there's going to be great trouble?" she asked, as Madame Chalice made ready to go.

"I fear so, but we will do all we can to prevent it." Elise watched her go on towards the Manor in the declining sunlight, then turned heavily to her work again.

There came to her ears the sound of a dog-churn in the yard outside, and the dull roll and beat seemed to keep time to the aching pulses in her head, in all her body. One thought kept going through her brain: there was, as she had felt, trouble coming for Valmond. She had the conviction, too, that it was very near. Her one definite idea was, that she should be able to go to him when that trouble came; that she should not fail him at his great need. Yet these pains in her body, this alternate exaltation and depression, this pitiful weakness! She must conquer it. She remembered the hours spent at his bedside; the moments when he was all hers--by virtue of his danger and her own unwavering care of him. She recalled the dark moment when Death, intrusive, imminent, lurked at the tent door, and in its shadow she emptied out her soul in that one kiss of fealty and farewell.

That kiss--there came to her again, suddenly, Madame Degardy's cry of warning: "Don't get his breath--it's death, idiot!"

That was it: the black fever was in her veins! That one kiss had sealed her own doom. She knew it now.

He had given her life by giving her love. Well, he should give her death too--her lord of fife and death. She was of the chosen few who could drink the cup of light and the cup of darkness with equally regnant soul.

But it might lay her low in the very hour of Valmond's trouble. She must conquer it--how? To whom could she turn for succour? There was but one,--yet she could not seek Madame Degardy, for the old woman would drive her to her bed, and keep her there. There was only this to do: to possess herself of those wonderful herbs which had been given her Napoleon in his hour of peril.

Dragging herself wearily to the little but by the river, she knocked, and waited. All was still, and, opening the door, she entered. Striking a match, she found a candle, lighted it, and then began her search. Under an old pan on a shelf she found both herbs and powder. She snatched up a handful of the herbs, and kissed them with joyful heart. Saved--she was saved! Ah, thank the Blessed Virgin! She would thank her for ever!

A horrible sinking sensation seized her. Turning in dismay, she saw the face of Parpon at the window. With a blind instinct for protection, she staggered towards the door, and fell, her fingers still clasping the precious herbs.

As Parpon hastily entered, Madame Degardy hobbled out of the shadow of the trees, and furtively watched the hut. When a light appeared, she crept to the door, opened it stealthily upon the intruders of her home, and stepped inside.

Parpon was kneeling by Elise, lifting up her head, and looking at her in horrified distress.

With a shrill cry the old woman came forward and dropped on her knees at the other side of Elise. Her hand, fumbling anxiously over the girl's breast, met the hard and warty palm of the dwarf. She stopped suddenly, raised the sputtering candle, and peered into his eyes with a vague, wavering intensity. For minutes they knelt there, the silence clothing them about, the body of the unconscious girl between them. A lost memory was feeling blindly its way home again. By and by, out of an infinite past, something struggled to the old woman's eyes, and Parpon's heart almost burst in his anxiety. At length her look steadied. Memory, recognition, showed in her face.

With a wild cry her gaunt arms stretched across, and caught the great head to her breast.

"Where have you been so long, Parpon--my son?" she said.

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