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   Chapter 2 THE HEIR TO VIVEY

A Woodland Queen ('Reine des Bois') — Complete By André Theuriet Characters: 40167

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


While these events were happening at Vivey, the person whose name excited the curiosity and the conversational powers of the villagers-Marie-Julien de Buxieres-ensconced in his unpretentious apartment in the Rue Stanislaus, Nancy, still pondered over the astonishing news contained in the Auberive notary's first letter. The announcement of his inheritance, dropping from the skies, as it were, had found him quite unprepared, and, at first, somewhat sceptical. He remembered, it is true, hearing his father once speak of a cousin who had remained a bachelor and who owned a fine piece of property in some corner of the Haute Marne; but, as all intercourse had long been broken off between the two families, M. de Buxieres the elder had mentioned the subject only in relation to barely possible hopes which had very little chance of being realized. Julien had never placed any reliance on this chimerical inheritance, and he received almost with indifference the official announcement of the death of Claude Odouart de Buxieres.

By direct line from his late father, he became in fact the only legitimate heir of the chateau and lands of Vivey; still, there was a strong probability that Claude de Buxieres had made a will in favor of some one more within his own circle. The second missive from Arbillot the notary, announcing that the deceased had died intestate, and requesting the legal heir to come to Vivey as soon as possible, put a sudden end to the young man's doubts, which merged into a complex feeling, less of joy than of stupefaction.

Up to the present time, Julien de Buxieres had not been spoiled by Fortune's gifts. His parents, who had died prematurely, had left him nothing. He lived in a very mediocre style on his slender salary as comptroller of direct contributions, and, although twenty-seven years old, was housed like a supernumerary in a small furnished room on the second floor above the ground. At this time his physique was that of a young man of medium height, slight, pale, and nervous, sensitive in disposition, reserved and introspective in habit. His delicate features, his intelligent forehead surmounted by soft chestnut hair, his pathetic blue eyes, his curved, dissatisfied mouth, shaded by a slight, dark moustache, indicated a melancholy, unquiet temperament and precocious moral fatigue.

There are some men who never have had any childhood, or rather, whose childhood never has had its happy time of laughter. Julien was one of these. That which imparts to childhood its charm and enjoyment is the warm and tender atmosphere of the home; the constant and continued caressing of a mother; the gentle and intimate creations of one's native country where, by degrees, the senses awaken to the marvellous sights of the outer world; where the alternating seasons in their course first arouse the student's ambition and cause the heart of the adolescent youth to thrill with emotion; where every street corner, every tree, every turn of the soil, has some history to relate. Julien had had no experiences of this peaceful family life, during which are stored up such treasures of childhood's recollections. He was the son of a government official, who had been trotted over all France at the caprice of the administration, and he had never known, so to speak, any associations of the land in which he was born, or the hearth on which he was raised. Chance had located his birth in a small town among the Pyrenees, and when he was two years old he had been transplanted to one of the industrial cities of Artois. At the end of two years more came another removal to one of the midland towns, and thus his tender childhood had been buffeted about, from east to west, from north to south, taking root nowhere. All he could remember of these early years was an unpleasant impression of hasty packing and removal, of long journeys by diligence, and of uncomfortable resettling. His mother had died just as he was entering upon his eighth year; his father, absorbed in official work, and not caring to leave the child to the management of servants, had placed him at that early age in a college directed by priests. Julien thus passed his second term of childhood, and his boyhood was spent behind these stern, gloomy walls, bending resignedly under a discipline which, though gentle, was narrow and suspicious, and allowed little scope for personal development. He obtained only occasional glimpses of nature during the monotonous daily walks across a flat, meaningless country. At very rare intervals, one of his father's colleagues would take him visiting; but these stiff and ceremonious calls only left a wearisome sensation of restraint and dull fatigue. During the long vacation he used to rejoin his father, whom he almost always found in a new residence. The poor man had alighted there for a time, like a bird on a tree; and among these continually shifting scenes, the lad had felt himself more than ever a stranger among strangers; so that he experienced always a secret though joyless satisfaction in returning to the cloisters of the St. Hilaire college and submitting himself to the yoke of the paternal but inflexible discipline of the Church.

He was naturally inclined, by the tenderness of his nature, toward a devotional life, and accepted with blind confidence the religious and moral teaching of the reverend fathers. A doctrine which preached separation from profane things; the attractions of a meditative and pious life, and mistrust of the world and its perilous pleasures, harmonized with the shy and melancholy timidity of his nature. Human beings, especially women, inspired him with secret aversion, which was increased by consciousness of his awkwardness and remissness whenever he found himself in the society of women or young girls.

The beauties of nature did not affect him; the flowers in the springtime, the glories of the summer sun, the rich coloring of autumn skies, having no connection in his mind with any joyous recollection, left him cold and unmoved; he even professed an almost hostile indifference to such purely material sights as disturbing and dangerous to the inner life. He lived within himself and could not see beyond.

His mind, imbued with a mystic idealism, delighted itself in solitary reading or in meditations in the house of prayer. The only emotion he ever betrayed was caused by the organ music accompanying the hymnal plain-song, and by the pomp of religious ceremony.

At the age of eighteen, he left the St. Hilaire college in order to prepare his baccalaureate, and his father, becoming alarmed at his increasing moodiness and mysticism, endeavored to infuse into him the tastes and habits of a man of the world by introducing him into the society of his equals in the town where he lived; but the twig was already bent, and the young man yielded with bad grace to the change of regime; the amusements they offered were either wearisome or repugnant to him. He would wander aimlessly through the salons where they were playing whist, where the ladies played show pieces at the piano, and where they spoke a language he did not understand. He was quite aware of his worldly inaptitude, and that he was considered awkward, dull, and ill-tempered, and the knowledge of this fact paralyzed and frightened him still more. He could not disguise his feeling of ennui sufficiently to prevent the provincial circles from being greatly offended; they declared unanimously that young de Buxieres was a bear, and decided to leave him alone. The death of his father, which happened just as the youth was beginning his official cares, put a sudden end to all this constraint. He took advantage of his season of mourning to resume his old ways; and returned with a sigh of relief to his solitude, his books, and his meditations. According to the promise of the Imitation, he found unspeakable joys in his retirement; he rose at break of day, assisted at early mass, fulfilled, conscientiously, his administrative duties, took his hurried meals in a boardinghouse, where he exchanged a few polite remarks with his fellow inmates, then shut himself up in his room to read Pascal or Bossuet until eleven o'clock.

He thus attained his twenty-seventh year, and it was into the calm of this serious, cloister-like life, that the news fell of the death of Claude de Buxieres and of the unexpected inheritance that had accrued to him.

After entering into correspondence with the notary, M. Arbillot, and becoming assured of the reality of his rights and of the necessity of his presence at Vivey, he had obtained leave of absence from his official duties, and set out for Haute Marne. On the way, he could not help marvelling at the providential interposition which would enable him to leave a career for which he felt he had no vocation, and to pursue his independent life, according to his own tastes, and secured from any fear of outside cares. According to the account given by the notary, Claude de Buxieres's fortune might be valued at two hundred thousand francs, in furniture and other movables, without reckoning the chateau and the adjacent woods. This was a much larger sum than had ever been dreamed of by Julien de Buxieres, whose belongings did not amount in all to three thousand francs. He made up his mind, therefore, that, as soon as he was installed at Vivey, he would change his leave of absence to an unlimited furlough of freedom. He contemplated with serene satisfaction this perspective view of calm and solitary retirement in a chateau lost to view in the depths of the forest, where he could in perfect security give himself up to the studious contemplative life which he loved so much, far from all worldly frivolities and restraint. He already imagined himself at Vivey, shut up in his carefully selected library; he delighted in the thought of having in future to deal only with the country people, whose uncivilized ways would be like his own, and among whom his timidity would not be remarked.

He arrived at Langres in the afternoon of a foggy October day, and inquired immediately at the hotel how he could procure a carriage to take him that evening to Vivey. They found him a driver, but, to his surprise, the man refused to take the journey until the following morning, on account of the dangerous state of the crossroads, where vehicles might stick fast in the mire if they ventured there after nightfall. Julien vainly endeavored to effect an arrangement with him, and the discussion was prolonged in the courtyard of the hotel. Just as the man was turning away, another, who had overheard the end of the colloquy, came up to young de Buxieres, and offered to undertake the journey for twenty francs.

"I have a good horse," said he to Julien; "I know the roads, and will guarantee that we reach Vivey before nightfall."

The bargain was quickly made; and in half an hour, Julien de Buxieres was rolling over the plain above Langres, in a shaky old cabriolet, the muddy hood of which bobbed over at every turn of the wheel, while the horse kept up a lively trot over the stones.

The clouds were low, and the road lay across bare and stony prairies, the gray expanse of which became lost in the distant mist. This depressing landscape would have made a disagreeable impression on a less unobserving traveller, but, as we have said, Julien looked only inward, and the phenomena of the exterior world influenced him only unconsciously. Half closing his eyes, and mechanically affected by the rhythmical tintinnabulation of the little bells, hanging around the horse's neck, he had resumed his meditations, and considered how he should arrange his life in this, to him, unknown country, which would probably be his own for some time to come. Nevertheless, when, at the end of the level plain, the road turned off into the wooded region, the unusual aspect of the forest aroused his curiosity. The tufted woods and lofty trees, in endless succession under the fading light, impressed him by their profound solitude and their religious silence. His loneliness was in sympathy with the forest, which seemed contemporary with the Sleeping Beauty of the wood, the verdant walls of which were to separate him forever from the world of cities. Henceforth, he could be himself, could move freely, dress as he wished, or give way to his dreaming, without fearing to encounter the ironical looks of idle and wondering neighbors. For the first time since his departure from his former home, he experienced a feeling of joy and serenity; the influence of the surroundings, so much in harmony with his wishes, unlocked his tongue, and made him communicative.

He made up his mind to speak to the guide, who was smoking at his side and whipping his horse.

"Are we far from Vivey now?"

"That depends, Monsieur-as the crow flies, the distance is not very great, and if we could go by the roads, we should be there in one short hour. Unfortunately, on turning by the Allofroy farm, we shall have to leave the highroad and take the cross path; and then-my gracious! we shall plunge into the ditch down there, and into perdition."

"You told me that you were well acquainted with the roads!"

"I know them, and I do not know them. When it comes to these crossroads, one is sure of nothing. They change every year, and each new superintendent cuts a way out through the woods according to his fancy. The devil himself could not find his way."

"Yet you have been to Vivey before?"

"Oh, yes; five or six years ago; I used often to take parties of hunters to the chateau. Ah! Monsieur, what a beautiful country it is for hunting; you can not take twenty steps along a trench without seeing a stag or a deer."

"You have doubtless had the opportunity of meeting Monsieur Odouart de Buxieres?"

"Yes, indeed, Monsieur, more than once-ah! he is a jolly fellow and a fine man-"

"He was," interrupted Julien, gravely, "for he is dead."

"Ah! excuse me-I did not know it. What! is he really dead? So fine a man! What we must all come to. Careful, now!" added he, pulling in the reins, "we are leaving the highroad, and must keep our eyes open."

The twilight was already deepening, the driver lighted his lantern, and the vehicle turned into a narrow lane, half mud, half stone, and hedged in on both sides with wet brushwood, which flapped noisily against the leathern hood. After fifteen minutes' riding, the paths opened upon a pasture, dotted here and there with juniper bushes, and thence divided into three lines, along which ran the deep track of wagons, cutting the pasturage into small hillocks. After long hesitation, the man cracked his whip and took the right-hand path.

Julien began to fear that the fellow had boasted too much when he declared that he knew the best way. The ruts became deeper and deeper; the road was descending into a hole; suddenly, the wheels became embedded up to the hub in thick, sticky mire, and the horse refused to move. The driver jumped to the ground, swearing furiously; then he called Julien to help him to lift out the wheel. But the young man, slender and frail as he was, and not accustomed to using his muscles, was not able to render much assistance.

"Thunder and lightning!" cried the driver, "it is impossible to get out of this-let go the wheel, Monsieur, you have no more strength than a chicken, and, besides, you don't know how to go about it. What a devil of a road! But we can't spend the night here!"

"If we were to call out," suggested Julien, somewhat mortified at the inefficiency of his assistance, "some one would perhaps come to our aid."

They accordingly shouted with desperation; and after five or six minutes, a voice hailed back. A woodcutter, from one of the neighboring clearings, had heard the call, and was running toward them.

"This way!" cried the guide, "we are stuck fast in the mud. Give us a lift."

The man came up and walked round the vehicle, shaking his head.

"You've got on to a blind road," said he, "and you'll have trouble in getting out of it, seeing as how there's not light to go by. You had better unharness the horse, and wait for daylight, if you want to get your carriage out."

"And where shall we go for a bed?" growled the driver; "there isn't even a house near in this accursed wild country of yours!"

"Excuse me-you are not far from La Thuiliere; the farm people will not refuse you a bed, and to-morrow morning they will help you to get your carriage out of the mud. Unharness, comrade; I will lead you as far as the Plancheau-Vacher; and from there you will see the windows of the farmhouse."

The driver, still grumbling, decided to take his advice. They unharnessed the horse; took one of the lanterns of the carriage as a beacon, and followed slowly the line of pasture-land, under the woodchopper's guidance. At the end of about ten minutes, the forester pointed out a light, twinkling at the extremity of a rustic path, bordered with moss.

"You have only to go straight ahead," said he, "besides, the barking of the dogs will guide you. Ask for Mamselle Vincart. Good-night, gentlemen."

He turned on his heel, while Julien, bewildered, began to reproach himself for not having thanked him enough. The conductor went along with his lantern; young de Buxieres followed him with eyes downcast. Thus they continued silently until they reached the termination of the mossy path, where a furious barking saluted their ears.

"Here we are," growled the driver, "fortunately the dogs are not yet let loose, or we should pass a bad quarter of an hour!"

They pushed open a side-wicket and, standing in the courtyard, could see the house. With the exception of the luminous spot that reddened one of the windows of the ground floor, the long, low facade was dark, and, as it were, asleep. On the right, standing alone, outlined against the sky, was the main building of the ancient forge, now used for granaries and stables; inside, the frantic barking of the watch-dogs mingled with the bleating of the frightened sheep, the neighing of horses, and the clanking of wooden shoes worn by the farm hands. At the same moment, the door of the house opened, and a servant, attracted by the uproar, appeared on the threshold, a lantern in her hand.

"Hallo! you people," she exclaimed sharply to the newcomers, who were advancing toward her, "what do you want?"

The driver related, in a few words, the affair of the cabriolet, and asked whether they would house him at the farm until the next day-himself and the gentleman he was conducting to Vivey.

The girl raised the lantern above her head in order to scrutinize the two strangers; doubtless their appearance and air of respectability reassured her, for she replied, in a milder voice:

"Well, that does not depend on me-I am not the mistress here, but come in, all the same-Mamselle Reine can not be long now, and she will answer for herself."

As soon as the driver had fastened his horse to one of the outside posts of the wicket-gate, the servant brought them into a large, square hall, in which a lamp, covered with a shade, gave a moderate light. She placed two chairs before the fire, which she drew together with the poker.

"Warm yourselves while you are waiting," continued she, "it will not be long, and you must excuse me-I must go and milk the cows-that is work which will not wait."

She reached the courtyard, and shut the gate after her, while Julien turned to examine the room into which they had been shown, and felt a certain serenity creep over him at the clean and cheerful aspect of this homely but comfortable interior. The room served as both kitchen and dining-room. On the right of the flaring chimney, one of the cast-iron arrangements called a cooking-stove was gently humming; the saucepans, resting on the bars, exhaled various appetizing odors. In the centre, the long, massive table of solid beech was already spread with its coarse linen cloth, and the service was laid. White muslin curtains fell in front of the

large windows, on the sills of which potted chrysanthemums spread their white, brown, and red blossoms.

Round the walls a shining battery of boilers, kettles, basins, and copper plates were hung in symmetrical order. On the dresser, near the clock, was a complete service of old Aprey china, in bright and varied colors, and not far from the chimney, which was ornamented with a crucifix of yellow copper, was a set of shelves, attached to the wall, containing three rows of books, in gray linen binding. Julien, approaching, read, not without surprise, some of the titles: Paul and Virginia, La Fontaine's Fables, Gessner's Idylls, Don Quixote, and noticed several odd volumes of the Picturesque Magazine.

Hanging from the whitened ceiling were clusters of nuts, twisted hemp, strings of yellow maize, and chaplets of golden pippins tied with straw, all harmonizing in the dim light, and adding increased fulness to the picture of thrift and abundance.

"It's jolly here!" said the driver, smacking his lips, "and the smell which comes from that oven makes one hungry. I wish Mamselle Reine would arrive!"

Just as he said this, a mysterious falsetto voice, which seemed to come from behind the copper basins, repeated, in an acrid voice: "Reine! Reine!"

"What in the world is that?" exclaimed the driver, puzzled.

Both looked toward the beams; at the same moment there was a rustling of wings, a light hop, and a black-and-white object flitted by, resting, finally, on one of the shelves hanging from the joists.

"Ha, ha!" said the driver, laughing, "it is only a magpie!"

He had hardly said it, when, like a plaintive echo, another voice, a human voice this time, childish and wavering, proceeding from a dark corner, faltered: "Rei-eine-Rei-eine!"

"Hark!" murmured Julien, "some one answered."

His companion seized the lamp, and advanced toward the portion of the room left in shadow. Suddenly he stopped short, and stammered some vague excuse.

Julien, who followed him, then perceived, with alarm, in a sort of niche formed by two screens, entirely covered with illustrations from Epinal, a strange-looking being stretched in an easy-chair, which was covered with pillows and almost hidden under various woolen draperies. He was dressed in a long coat of coarse, pale-blue cloth. He was bareheaded, and his long, white hair formed a weird frame for a face of bloodless hue and meagre proportions, from which two vacant eyes stared fixedly. He sat immovable and his arms hung limply over his knees.

"Monsieur," said Julien, bowing ceremoniously, "we are quite ashamed at having disturbed you. Your servant forgot to inform us of your presence, and we were waiting for Mademoiselle Reine, without thinking that-"

The old man continued immovable, not seeming to understand; he kept repeating, in the same voice, like a frightened child:

"Rei-eine! Rei-eine!"

The two bewildered travellers gazed at this sepulchral-looking personage, then at each other interrogatively, and began to feel very uncomfortable. The magpie, perched upon the hanging shelf, suddenly flapped his wings, and repeated, in his turn, in falsetto:

"Reine, queen of the woods!"

"Here I am, papa, don't get uneasy!" said a clear, musical voice behind them.

The door had been suddenly opened, and Reine Vincart had entered. She wore on her head a white cape or hood, and held in front of her an enormous bouquet of glistening leaves, which seemed to have been gathered as specimens of all the wild fruit-trees of the forest: the brown beam-berries, the laburnums, and wild cherry, with their red, transparent fruit, the bluish mulberry, the orange-clustered mountain-ash. All this forest vegetation, mingling its black or purple tints with the dark, moist leaves, brought out the whiteness of the young girl's complexion, her limpid eyes, and her brown curls escaping from her hood.

Julien de Buxieres and his companion had turned at the sound of Reine's voice. As soon as she perceived them, she went briskly toward them, exclaiming:

"What are you doing here? Don't you see that you are frightening him?"

Julien, humbled and mortified, murmured an excuse, and got confused in trying to relate the incident of the carriage. She interrupted him hurriedly:

"The carriage, oh, yes-La Guitiote spoke to me about it. Well, your carriage will be attended to! Go and sit down by the fire, gentlemen; we will talk about it presently."

She had taken the light from the driver, and placed it on an adjacent table with her plants. In the twinkling of an eye, she removed her hood, unfastened her shawl, and then knelt down in front of the sick man, after kissing him tenderly on the forehead. From the corner where Julien had seated himself, he could hear her soothing voice. Its caressing tones contrasted pleasantly with the harsh accent of a few minutes before.

"You were longing for me, papa," said she, "but you see, I could not leave before all the sacks of potatoes had been laid in the wagon. Now everything has been brought in, and we can sleep in peace. I thought of you on the way, and I have brought you a fine bouquet of wild fruits. We shall enjoy looking them over tomorrow, by daylight. Now, this is the time that you are to drink your bouillon like a good papa, and then as soon as we have had our supper Guite and I will put you to bed nice and warm, and I will sing you a song to send you to sleep."

She rose, took from the sideboard a bowl which she filled from a saucepan simmering on the stove, and then, without taking any notice of her visitors, she returned to the invalid. Slowly and with delicate care she made him swallow the soup by spoonfuls. Julien, notwithstanding the feeling of ill-humor caused by the untoward happenings of the evening, could not help admiring the almost maternal tenderness with which the young girl proceeded in this slow and difficult operation. When the bowl was empty she returned to the stove, and at last bethought herself of her guests.

"Excuse me, Monsieur, but I had to attend to my father first. If I understood quite aright, you were going to Vivey."

"Yes, Mademoiselle, I had hoped to sleep there tonight."

"You have probably come," continued she, "on business connected with the chateau. Is not the heir of Monsieur Odouart expected very shortly?"

"I am that heir," replied Julien, coloring.

"You are Monsieur de Buxieres?" exclaimed Reine, in astonishment. Then, embarrassed at having shown her surprise too openly, she checked herself, colored in her turn, and finally gave a rapid glance at her interlocutor. She never should have imagined this slender young man, so melancholy in aspect, to be the new proprietor-he was so unlike the late Odouart de Buxieres!

"Pardon me, Monsieur," continued she, "you must have thought my first welcome somewhat unceremonious, but my first thought was for my father. He is a great invalid, as you may have noticed, and for the first moment I feared that he had been startled by strange faces."

"It is I, Mademoiselle," replied Julien, with embarrassment, "it is I who ought to ask pardon for having caused all this disturbance. But I do not intend to trouble you any longer. If you will kindly furnish us with a guide who will direct us to the road to Vivey, we will depart to-night and sleep at the chateau."

"No, indeed," protested Reine, very cordially. "You are my guests, and I shall not allow you to leave us in that manner. Besides, you would probably find the gates closed down there, for I do not think they expected you so soon."

During this interview, the servant who had received the travellers had returned with her milk-pail; behind her, the other farm-hands, men and women, arranged themselves silently round the table.

"Guitiote," said Reine, "lay two more places at the table. The horse belonging to these gentlemen has been taken care of, has he not?"

"Yes, Mamselle, he is in the stable," replied one of the grooms.

"Good! Bernard, to-morrow you will take Fleuriot with you, and go in search of their carriage which has been swamped in the Planche-au-Vacher. That is settled. Now, Monsieur de Buxieres, will you proceed to table-and your coachman also? Upon my word, I do not know whether our supper will be to your liking. I can only offer you a plate of soup, a chine of pork, and cheese made in the country; but you must be hungry, and when one has a good appetite, one is not hard to please."

Every one had been seated at the table; the servants at the lower end, and Reine Vincart, near the fireplace, between M. de Buxieres and the driver. La Guite helped the cabbage-soup all around; soon nothing was heard but the clinking of spoons and smacking of lips. Julien, scarcely recovered from his bewilderment, watched furtively the pretty, robust young girl presiding at the supper, and keeping, at the same time, a watchful eye over all the details of service. He thought her strange; she upset all his ideas. His own imagination and his theories pictured a woman, and more especially a young girl, as a submissive, modest, shadowy creature, with downcast look, only raising her eyes to consult her husband or her mother as to what is allowable and what is forbidden. Now, Reine did not fulfil any of the requirements of this ideal. She seemed to be hardly twenty-two years old, and she acted with the initiative genius, the frankness and the decision of a man, retaining all the while the tenderness and easy grace of a woman. Although it was evident that she was accustomed to govern and command, there was nothing in her look, gesture, or voice which betrayed any assumption of masculinity. She remained a young girl while in the very act of playing the virile part of head of the house. But what astonished Julien quite as much was that she seemed to have received a degree of education superior to that of people of her condition, and he wondered at the amount of will-power by which a nature highly cultivated, relatively speaking, could conform to the unrefined, rough surroundings in which she was placed.

While Julien was immersed in these reflections, and continued eating with an abstracted air, Reine Vincart was rapidly examining the reserved, almost ungainly, young man, who did not dare address any conversation to her, and who was equally stiff and constrained with those sitting near him. She made a mental comparison of him with Claudet, the bold huntsman, alert, resolute, full of dash and spirit, and a feeling of charitable compassion arose in her heart at the thought of the reception which the Sejournant family would give to this new master, so timid and so little acquainted with the ways and dispositions of country folk. Julien did not impress her as being able to defend himself against the ill-will of persons who would consider him an intruder, and would certainly endeavor to make him pay dearly for the inheritance of which he had deprived them.

"You do not take your wine, Monsieur de Buxieres!" said she, noticing that her guest's glass was still full.

"I am not much of a wine-drinker," replied he, "and besides, I never take wine by itself-I should be obliged if you would have some water brought."

Reine smiled, and passed him the water-bottle.

"Indeed?" she said, "in that case, you have not fallen among congenial spirits, for in these mountains they like good dinners, and have a special weakness for Burgundy. You follow the chase, at any rate?"

"No, Mademoiselle, I do not know how to handle a gun!"

"I suppose it is not your intention to settle in Vivey?"

"Why not?" replied he; "on the contrary, I intend to inhabit the chateau, and establish myself there definitely."

"What!" exclaimed Reine, laughing, "you neither drink nor hunt, and you intend to live in our woods! Why, my poor Monsieur, you will die of ennui."

"I shall have my books for companions; besides, solitude never has had any terrors for me."

The young girl shook her head incredulously.

"I shouldn't wonder," she continued, "if you do not even play at cards."

"Never; games of chance are repugnant to me."

"Take notice that I do not blame you," she replied, gayly, "but I must give you one piece of advice: don't speak in these neighborhoods of your dislike of hunting, cards, or good wine; our country folk would feel pity for you, and that would destroy your prestige."

Julien gazed at her with astonishment. She turned away to give directions to La Guite about the beds for her guests-then the supper went on silently. As soon as they had swallowed their last mouthful, the menservants repaired to their dormitory, situated in the buildings of the ancient forge. Reine Vincart rose also.

"This is the time when I put my father to bed-I am obliged to take leave of you, Monsieur de Buxieres. Guitiote will conduct you to your room. For you, driver, I have had a bed made in a small room next to the furnace; you will be nice and warm. Good-night, gentlemen, sleep well!"

She turned away, and went to rejoin the paralytic sufferer, who, as she approached, manifested his joy by a succession of inarticulate sounds.

The room to which Guitiote conducted Julien was on the first floor, and had a cheerful, hospitable appearance. The walls were whitewashed; the chairs, table, and bed were of polished oak; a good fire of logs crackled in the fireplace, and between the opening of the white window-curtains could be seen a slender silver crescent of moon gliding among the flitting clouds. The young man went at once to his bed; but notwithstanding the fatigues of the day, sleep did not come to him. Through the partition he could hear the clear, sonorous voice of Reine singing her father to sleep with one of the popular ballads of the country, and while turning and twisting in the homespun linen sheets, scented with orrisroot, he could not help thinking of this young girl, so original in her ways, whose grace, energy, and frankness fascinated and shocked him at the same time. At last he dozed off; and when the morning stir awoke him, the sun was up and struggling through the foggy atmosphere.

The sky had cleared during the night; there had been a frost, and the meadows were powdered white. The leaves, just nipped with the frost, were dropping softly to the ground, and formed little green heaps at the base of the trees. Julien dressed himself hurriedly, and descended to the courtyard, where the first thing he saw was the cabriolet, which had been brought in the early morning and which one of the farm-boys was in the act of sousing with water in the hope of freeing the hood and wheels from the thick mud which covered them. When he entered the diningroom, brightened by the rosy rays of the morning sun, he found Reine Vincart there before him. She was dressed in a yellow striped woolen skirt, and a jacket of white flannel carelessly belted at the waist. Her dark chestnut hair, parted down the middle and twisted into a loose knot behind, lay in ripples round her smooth, open forehead.

"Good-morning, Monsieur de Buxieres," said she, in her cordial tone, "did you sleep well? Yes? I am glad. You find me busy attending to household matters. My father is still in bed, and I am taking advantage of the fact to arrange his little corner. The doctor said he must not be put near the fire, so I have made a place for him here; he enjoys it immensely, and I arranged this nook to protect him from draughts."

And she showed him how she had put the big easy chair, padded with cushions, in the bright sunlight which streamed through the window, and shielded by the screens, one on each side. She noticed that Julien was examining, with some curiosity, the uncouth pictures from Epinal, with which the screens were covered.

"This," she explained, "is my own invention. My father is a little weak in the head, but he understands a good many things, although he can not talk about them. He used to get weary of sitting still all day in his chair, so I lined the screens with these pictures in order that he might have something to amuse him. He is as pleased as a child with the bright colors, and I explain the subjects to him. I don't tell him much at a time, for fear of fatiguing him. We have got now to Pyramus and Thisbe, so that we shall have plenty to occupy us before we reach the end."

She caught a pitying look from her guest which seemed to say: "The poor man may not last long enough to reach the end." Doubtless she had the same fear, for her dark eyes suddenly glistened, she sighed, and remained for some moments without speaking.

In the mean time the magpie, which Julien had seen the day before, was hopping around its mistress, like a familiar spirit; it even had the audacity to peck at her hair and then fly away, repeating, in its cracked voice:

"Reine, queen of the woods!"

"Why 'queen of the woods?"' asked Julien, coloring.

"Ah!" replied the young girl, "it is a nickname which the people around here give me, because I am so fond of the trees. I spend all the time I can in our woods, as much as I can spare from the work of the farm.

"Margot has often heard my father call me by that name; she remembers it, and is always repeating it."

"Do you like living in this wild country?"

"Very much. I was born here, and I like it."

"But you have not always lived here?"

"No; my mother, who had lived in the city, placed me at school in her own country, in Dijon. I received there the education of a young lady, though there is not much to show for it now. I stayed there six years; then my mother died, my father fell ill, and I came home."

"And did you not suffer from so sudden a change?"

"Not at all. You see I am really by nature a country girl. I wish you might not have more trouble than I had, in getting accustomed to your new way of living, in the chateau at Vivey. But," she added, going toward the fire, "I think they are harnessing the horse, and you must be hungry. Your driver has already primed himself with some toast and white wine. I will not offer you the same kind of breakfast. I will get you some coffee and cream."

He bent his head in acquiescence, and she brought him the coffee herself, helping him to milk and toasted bread. He drank rapidly the contents of the cup, nibbled at a slice of toast, and then, turning to his hostess, said, with a certain degree of embarrassment:

"There is nothing left for me to do, Mademoiselle, but to express my most heartfelt thanks for your kind hospitality. It is a good omen for me to meet with such cordiality on my arrival in an unknown part of the country. May I ask you one more question?" he continued, looking anxiously at her; "why do you think it will be so difficult for me to get accustomed to the life they lead here?"

"Why?" replied she, shaking her head, "because, to speak frankly, Monsieur, you do not give me the idea of having much feeling for the country. You are not familiar with our ways; you will not be able to speak to the people in their language, and they will not understand yours-you will be, in their eyes, 'the city Monsieur,' whom they will mistrust and will try to circumvent. I should like to find that I am mistaken, but, at present, I have the idea that you will encounter difficulties down there of which you do not seem to have any anticipation-"

She was intercepted by the entrance of the driver, who was becoming impatient. The horse was in harness, and they were only waiting for M. de Buxieres. Julien rose, and after awkwardly placing a piece of silver in the hand of La Guite, took leave of Reine Vincart, who accompanied him to the threshold.

"Thanks, once more, Mademoiselle," murmured he, "and au revoir, since we shall be neighbors."

He held out his hand timidly and she took it with frank cordiality. Julien got into the cabriolet beside the driver, who began at once to belabor vigorously his mulish animal.

"Good journey and good luck, Monsieur," cried Reine after him, and the vehicle sped joltingly away.

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