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   Chapter 21 FROM ACROSS THE SEA

A Little Girl in Old St. Louis By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 13340

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


In the second year after Renée's return two signal events happened. A new little boy was born. She had coveted a girl for Papa Gaspard to love as he had loved her, but one had to be content with what God sent, and the boy was bright and strong.

"No," Papa Gaspard said when they were talking it over one day, "there will be plenty of time for girls. I am not sorry. But I shall ask a gift of you and André, now that little Gaspard's place is filled. Give him to me. Let him take my name. It would be a grief to me to have it die out. Let there be a new Gaspard Denys growing up into a brave boy, a good, upright man, we hope. You have your fortune and André will make another. There will be enough to keep a dozen children from starving," with a bright, amused laugh. "I will make a new will and give the boy what I have left. The lead interest is increasing and will be a fortune by itself. So if you and André consent. It is not as if I wanted to take him away; it is simply that he shall be Gaspard Denys. In the old time they put a St. to it, but that was in France. We are going to be a new people."

"Oh, Uncle Gaspard!" and she hid her face on his breast, while her arms went around his neck. "The best out of my life is hardly good enough for you. I give you my boy with my whole heart."

André Valbonais said the same thing. So the Governor and the priest settled all the legal points, and this, with the certificate of his birth and baptism and the will of his godfather, Gaspard Denys, were locked up in a strong box for any time that they might be needed.

A bright, sturdy little fellow was Gaspard, extravagantly fond of his grandfather and his constant companion. He had his mother's soft brown eyes and her curly hair.

One afternoon when the sun had lain warm and golden all about, Renée Valbonais sat sewing on the wide porch that had been pushed out large enough for a room. Overhead and at the sides it was a cluster of vines and blossoming things that shook out fragrance with every waft of wind. The baby was tumbling about and chattering in both French and Spanish, for he picked up words easily. Sheba, the nurse, and Chloe were just outside in the garden. Mère Lunde was napping in her easy-chair. It was a pretty picture of comfort.

Renée merely glanced up as a young man entered the gate and looked about him with a touch of uncertainty. Some message from her husband, doubtless. It was so tranquil they might go out in the canoe. He came up slowly and then paused, glanced hesitatingly at her, taking off his cap and bowing. His attire was well worn, but different from the common habiliments. His figure and air was that of the cities-she had seen such young men in New Orleans.

"Is it-Madame Valbonais?" he asked.

The voice was cultured and with a peculiar richness. The hand that held the cap was slim and white as a girl's. His complexion was clear, with the faintest suggestion of olive, but rather pale, though the warmth had given a tint of color to the cheeks.

"I am Madame Valbonais," gently inclining her head with a charming graciousness.

"And a De Longueville by birth?"

The accent was such a pure musical French that this time she smiled as she nodded.

"You do not know-at least you may not remember, but a long while ago, it seems, you came to Paris and were being sent to the New World, America. You were at the H?tel de Longueville, and there were two little boys--"

"Oh!" she exclaimed, her eyes dilating as a sudden suspicion-knowledge, indeed-seemed to electrify her. "Oh, you are-" and her voice failed.

"I am one of the little boys, the eldest, Robert de Longueville. And my father was your father also. Mine is a sad story, madame, though it began fair enough. I have come to the New World, where I have not a friend. All I knew was that you had a grandfather in St. Louis and were sent thither. You must pardon me, madame--"

His voice broke a little and his eyes were downcast.

The good and tender God had sent some one to her in her hour of need. She, too, had come a stranger to this new land. But she was not old enough to realize all the desolation.

Renée rose with gracious courtesy and put out her hand, moved by her own remembrances as well as his loneliness. He took it and glanced up. She saw his eyes were brimming with tears. His face and manner appealed to the tenderest side of her nature, and her affection went out at once.

"There are no words to thank you for this kindliness, madame. I am such a stranger to you, although the same blood runs in our veins. And I speak the truth. Ah, you cannot know--"

"Come and be seated. You look weary. Chloe," she called, "bring a glass of wine and some cake."

Then she pushed a chair up to the small table and put her work in the pretty Indian basket. His eyes followed the graceful form and took in the serene, lovely face. Something stirred within him that he had never known before. He had a French admiration and regard for his mother, but he could have knelt and kissed the hands of his sister.

Renée noticed now that his shoes were worn to the ground. He must have walked far.

"You came from New Orleans?" she ventured.

"Yes. The vessel brought me there. Then a boat was coming up to Fort Chartres. From there I have walked mostly. I am a poor emigré, madame. I will not invade your home under false colors. I spent my last sou to be rowed across the river. But in these troublous times you must have heard many sad stories."

"We are largely out of the way. Yes, there have been sad enough times in France. And your brother--"

"He decided to stay in the monastery, though heaven only knows how long that will stand. All is terror and wildness, and no one's life is safe. My father was-executed--"

"Oh, how terrible!" The tears overflowed her eyes.

The cake and wine came, and, after many thanks, he sipped the wine, but the cakes he ate like a hungry man. When she would have sent for more a gesture of his hand retained her.

"I thank you heartily," he said, with a grave inclination of the head. "I am such a stranger that I ought to prove my identity. I have papers--"

"You may show them to my husband. I believe you. Why, I am your half sister, but with a whole heart, rest assured. Robert de Longueville. Yes, I remember you both. You were very shy, and I think I was very much afraid," smiling as she recalled the old impressions that seemed like a dream.

"We used to talk of you. We never had any sister of our own. We were sent to school, and once a year came back to Paris. Papa was at court. I was a page for awhile, then I went to a military school. Honoré prefe

rred books and a religious life. He was very sweet and gentle, while I liked life and stir and adventures. I do not think mamma quite approved Honoré, but she was proud that I was to be a soldier. And then the dreadful times began with the mob which first deprived the King of authority, and then cast him into prison with hundreds of others. Oh, it was indeed a reign of terror!"

"And your father?" in a low tone.

"They were both cast into prison," and his voice fell a little. "My mother died there. It would have been better if my father had died with her. The Commune hated every vestige of royalty, abolished titles, confiscated estates. And then poor papa was one of its victims. Our school was broken up and we were driven into Paris. I don't know what our fate would have been, impressed in the army of the rabble; but I would not have fought for the men who had murdered my father. I would have died first."

Renée wiped the tears from her eyes. Until now it seemed as if she had never cared for her father. Surely he had expiated all mistakes and sins by his death.

"Then I ran away. I found my way to the monastery and Honoré and told them the sad tale. They were very kind and would have kept me, but there was no knowing how long they would be allowed their refuge. I resolved to escape to England, as every week or two refugees were flying thither. I found my opportunity. And there I heard many things about these new United Colonies. The English are not over-cordial to them, but the thought of a people who had fought seven years for liberty and conquered in the face of such odds fired my heart. I resolved to come to America. We had never forgotten you, madame, and Honoré wrote that if I found you I was to give you his love. He is a sweet, gentle fellow and will make an excellent priest, if there is any France left," he added mournfully, drawing a long, pained breath.

She was glad they had remembered her and talked of her. She raised her sweet, sympathetic eyes.

"Then I came to New Orleans, as I learned from there I could reach St. Louis. It is queer, but all of you on this side of the river are under Spanish domination, and it is well for you, perhaps, even if you are French."

"I know so little about it," she replied gravely, "only that we are proud of being French. But the poor King and Queen, and-papa!"

"Honoré and I were thankful mamma died in prison, though we do not know what she suffered. And that is the whole of the sad story, madame. I am young and can work for my bread, surely, and it will not be so lonely since I have found you."

Her tender heart went out to him. "Monsieur Robert," she said, "I hope we shall be good friends. I am glad you came to me--"

"But I do not mean to be a burden on you," he subjoined quickly. "I still think I should like to be a soldier, yet I have a fair education and I can make my living at something."

In the light of the luxury of Paris all through his childhood, so differently aspected from this, he gathered that his sister was far from rich; but even if she had been, he had not meant to ask help from her. There was a good deal of pride in the De Longueville blood. He had not come as a suppliant for anything but love. She liked him none the worse for it. Then glancing up, she saw Uncle Gaspard and her child in the street.

"Excuse my absence a few moments and go on with your rest, for you look weary enough. Chloe, bring some more wine and cake."

Then she glided down the path and met them at the gateway. Her face was flushed, her eyes deep and full of emotion.

"Come here in the little arbor," she cried. "A strange thing has happened to me. I feel as if I had been reading it in a book, but it is all true. I hardly know where to begin. And, Uncle Gaspard, you must be kind and merciful, and forgive my father for his neglect. He is dead. He was one of the victims of that awful revolution because he was faithful to his King."

"Renée, child, do not give way to such excitement. The grave covers all. We do not carry our grudges beyond it. And if he had loved you, you would never have come to me and I should have lost much, much!" And, picking up little Gaspard, he kissed him fondly and lifted him to his shoulder.

"Yes, I knew you would forgive, you are so generous. And"-she caught his free hand-"my brother, who has fled from those horrible scenes, who has lost both parents, has emigrated and is here-found me after some searching. Life has gone hardly with him."

"Count de Longueville's son!" The lines of Gaspard Denys's face hardened, his eyes grew stern.

"Think of him as my brother only," she pleaded. "We are to be kindly disposed to our enemies even. And, as you say, if he had been a fond father to me you would never have had me or little Gaspard. I think Robert will soon go away again. He has been partly bred for a soldier. And we ought not visit on him any sin of his father. That is left for God."

"True." It was gravely said, but not cordially. "Let us see what the young man is like. Renée, he never shall be any trouble to you."

"Oh, you will feel so sorry for him presently."

They walked to the porch-gallery, as every one called it. The young fellow had finished his food and wine again. He had eaten nothing since morning. He looked a little rested, but his eyes had a questioning glance.

He was not quite what Gaspard had looked for in a De Longueville. Barely medium size, though he was not yet twenty, refined and with a quiet dignity, he rather disarmed the critical eyes, and Gaspard experienced a touch of sympathy for him. Renée made him tell his pathetic story over again, which he did modestly enough. And when he would have gone, though whither he knew not, Denys bade him stay. There were no inns in the town.

He won André as well before the evening was over. And when they found he had no plans, only a vague desire to offer his services to the new government that in other days had aroused such an interest in France, they bade him remain with them. He had both seen and heard the Marquis de Lafayette after his return to France, when he had been full of enthusiasm for the new people.

"But, Monsieur Robert, you are French," said André. "And in the turns of fate we may some day have a French country here. Anyhow, a man may earn his bread; and from what I hear, the colonies are not overstocked with prosperity. Better wait awhile and cast in your lot with us."

Robert de Longueville was very glad to. He thought of the Reign of Terror with a shudder, and often wondered about Honoré, hearing at last that he was safe in an outlying district of northern France.

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