MoboReader> Romance > A Woodland Queen ('Reine des Bois') — Complete

   Chapter 6 LOVE BY PROXY

A Woodland Queen ('Reine des Bois') — Complete By André Theuriet Characters: 37658

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Jealousy is a maleficent deity of the harpy tribe; she embitters everything she touches.

Ever since the evening that Julien had witnessed the crossing of the brook by Reine and Claudet, a secret poison had run through his veins, and embittered every moment of his life. Neither the glowing sun of June, nor the glorious development of the woods had any charm for him. In vain did the fields display their golden treasures of ripening corn; in vain did the pale barley and the silvery oats wave their luxuriant growth against the dark background of the woods; all these fairylike effects of summer suggested only prosaic and misanthropic reflections in Julien's mind. He thought of the tricks, the envy and hatred that the possession of these little squares of ground brought forth among their rapacious owners. The prolific exuberance of forest vegetation was an exemplification of the fierce and destructive activity of the blind forces of Nature. All the earth was a hateful theatre for the continual enactment of bloody and monotonous dramas; the worm consuming the plant; the bird mangling the insect, the deer fighting among themselves, and man, in his turn, pursuing all kinds of game. He identified nature with woman, both possessing in his eyes an equally deceiving appearance, the same beguiling beauty, and the same spirit of ambuscade and perfidy. The people around him inspired him only with mistrust and suspicion. In every peasant he met he recognized an enemy, prepared to cheat him with wheedling words and hypocritical lamentations. Although during the few months he had experienced the delightful influence of Reine Vincart, he had been drawn out of his former prejudices, and had imagined he was rising above the littleness of every-day worries; he now fell back into hard reality; his feet were again embedded in the muddy ground of village politics, and consequently village life was a burden to him.

He never went out, fearing to meet Reine Vincart. He fancied that the sight of her might aggravate the malady from which he suffered and for which he eagerly sought a remedy.

But, notwithstanding the cloistered retirement to which he had condemned himself, his wound remained open. Instead of solitude having a healing effect, it seemed to make his sufferings greater. When, in the evening, as he sat moodily at his window, he would hear Claudet whistle to his dog, and hurry off in the direction of La Thuiliere, he would say to himself: "He is going to keep an appointment with Reine." Then a feeling of blind rage would overpower him; he felt tempted to leave his room and follow his rival secretly-a moment afterward he would be ashamed of his meanness. Was it not enough that he had once, although involuntarily, played the degrading part of a spy! What satisfaction could he derive from such a course? Would he be much benefited when he returned home with rage in his heart and senses, after watching a love-scene between the young pair? This consideration kept him in his seat, but his imagination ran riot instead; it went galloping at the heels of Claudet, and accompanied him down the winding paths, moistened by the evening dew. As the moon rose above the trees, illuminating the foliage with her mild bluish rays, he pictured to himself the meeting of the two lovers on the flowery turf bathed in the silvery light. His brain seemed on fire. He saw Reine in white advancing like a moonbeam, and Claudet passing his arm around the yielding waist of the maiden. He tried to substitute himself in idea, and to imagine the delight of the first words of welcome, and the ecstasy of the prolonged embrace. A shiver ran through his whole body; a sharp pain transfixed his heart; his throat closed convulsively; half fainting, he leaned against the window-frame, his eyes closed, his ears stopped, to shut out all sights or sounds, longing only for oblivion and complete torpor of body and mind.

He did not realize his longing. The enchanting image of the woodland queen, as he had beheld her in the dusky light of the charcoal-man's hut, was ever before him. He put his hands over his eyes. She was there still, with her deep, dark eyes and her enticing cherry lips. Even the odor of the honeysuckle arising from the garden assisted the reality of the vision, by recalling the sprig of the same flower which Reine was twisting round her fingers at their last interview. This sweet breath of flowers in the night seemed like an emanation from the young girl herself, and was as fleeting and intangible as the remembrance of vanished happiness. Again and again did his morbid nature return to past events, and make his present position more unbearable.

"Why," thought he, "did I ever entertain so wild a hope? This wood-nymph, with her robust yet graceful figure, her clear-headedness, her energy and will-power, could she ever have loved a being so weak and unstable as myself? No, indeed; she needs a lover full of life and vigor; a huntsman, with a strong arm, able to protect her. What figure should I cut by the side of so hearty and well-balanced a fellow?"

In these fits of jealousy, he was not so angry with Claudet for being loved by Reine as for having so carefully concealed his feelings. And yet, while inwardly blaming him for this want of frankness, he did not realize that he himself was open to a similar accusation, by hiding from Claudet what was troubling him so grievously.

Since the evening of the inauguration festival, he had become sullen and taciturn. Like all timid persons, he took refuge in a moody silence, which could not but irritate his cousin. They met every day at the same table; to all appearance their intimacy was as great as ever, but, in reality, there was no mutual exchange of feeling. Julien's continued ill-humor was a source of anxiety to Claudet, who turned his brain almost inside out in endeavoring to discover its cause. He knew he had done nothing to provoke any coolness; on the contrary, he had set his wits to work to show his gratitude by all sorts of kindly offices.

By dint of thinking the matter over, Claudet came to the conclusion that perhaps Julien was beginning to repent of his generosity, and that possibly this coolness was a roundabout way of manifesting his change of feeling. This seemed to be the only plausible solution of his cousin's behavior. "He is probably tired," thought he, "of keeping us here at the chateau, my mother and myself."

Claudet's pride and self-respect revolted at this idea. He did not intend to be an incumbrance on any one, and became offended in his turn at the mute reproach which he imagined he could read in his cousin's troubled countenance. This misconception, confirmed by the obstinate silence of both parties, and aggravated by its own continuance, at last produced a crisis.

It happened one night, after they had taken supper together, and Julien's ill-humor had been more evident than usual. Provoked at his persistent taciturnity, and more than ever convinced that it was his presence that young de Buxieres objected to, Claudet resolved to force an explanation. Instead, therefore, of quitting the dining-room after dessert, and whistling to his dog to accompany him in his habitual promenade, the 'grand chasserot' remained seated, poured out a small glass of brandy, and slowly filled his pipe. Surprised to see that he was remaining at home, Julien rose and began to pace the floor, wondering what could be the reason of this unexpected change. As suspicious people are usually prone to attribute complicated motives for the most simple actions, he imagined that Claudet, becoming aware of the jealous feeling he had excited, had given up his promenade solely to mislead and avert suspicion. This idea irritated him still more, and halting suddenly in his walk, he went up to Claudet and said, brusquely:

"You are not going out, then?"

"No;" replied Claudet, "if you will permit me, I will stay and keep you company. Shall I annoy you?"

"Not in the least; only, as you are accustomed to walk every evening, I should not wish you to inconvenience yourself on my account. I am not afraid of being alone, and I am not selfish enough to deprive you of society more agreeable than mine."

"What do you mean by that?" cried Claudet, pricking up his ears.

"Nothing," muttered Julien, between his set teeth, "except that your fancied obligation of keeping me company ought not to prevent you missing a pleasant engagement, or keeping a rendezvous."

"A rendezvous," replied his interlocutor, with a forced laugh, "so you think, when I go out after supper, I go to seek amusement. A rendezvous! And with whom, if you please?"

"With your mistress, of course," replied Julien, sarcastically, "from what you said to me, there is no scarcity here of girls inclined to be good-natured, and you have only the trouble of choosing among them. I supposed you were courting some woodman's young daughter, or some pretty farmer girl, like-like Reine Vincart."

"Refine Vincart!" repeated Claudet, sternly, "what business have you to mix up her name with those creatures to whom you refer? Mademoiselle Vincart," added he, "has nothing in common with that class, and you have no right, Monsieur de Buxieres, to use her name so lightly!"

The allusion to Reine Vincart had agitated Claudet to such a degree that he did not notice that Julien, as he pronounced her name, was as much moved as himself.

The vehemence with which Claudet resented the insinuation increased young de Buxieres's irritation.

"Ha, ha!" said he, laughing scornfully, "Reine Vincart is an exceedingly pretty girl!"

"She is not only pretty, she is good and virtuous, and deserves to be respected."

"How you uphold her! One can see that you are interested in her."

"I uphold her because you are unjust toward her. But I wish you to understand that she has no need of any one standing up for her-her good name is sufficient to protect her. Ask any one in the village-there is but one voice on that question."

"Come," said Julien, huskily, "confess that you are in love with her."

"Well! suppose I am," said Claudet, angrily, "yes, I love her! There, are you satisfied now?"

Although de Buxieres knew what he had to expect, he was not the less affected by so open an avowal thrust at him, as it were. He stood for a moment, silent; then, with a fresh burst of rage:

"You love her, do you? Why did you not tell me before? Why were you not more frank with me?"

As he spoke, gesticulating furiously, in front of the open window, the deep red glow of the setting sun, piercing through the boughs of the ash-trees, threw its bright reflections on his blazing eyeballs and convulsed features. His interlocutor, leaning against the opposite corner of the window-frame, noticed, with some anxiety, the extreme agitation of his behavior, and wondered what could be the cause of such emotion.

"I? Not frank with you! Ah, that is a good joke, Monsieur de Buxieres! Naturally, I should not go proclaiming on the housetops that I have a tender feeling for Mademoiselle Vincart, but, all the same, I should have told you had you asked me sooner. I am not reserved; but, you must excuse my saying it, you are walled in like a subterranean passage. One can not get at the color of your thoughts. I never for a moment imagined that you were interested in Reine, and you never have made me sufficiently at home to entertain the idea of confiding in you on that subject."

Julien remained silent. He had reseated himself at the table, where, leaning his head in his hands, he pondered over what Claudet had said. He placed his hand so as to screen his eyes, and bit his lips as if a painful struggle was going on within him. The splendors of the setting sun had merged into the dusky twilight, and the last piping notes of the birds sounded faintly among the sombre trees. A fresh breeze had sprung up, and filled the darkening room with the odor of honeysuckle.

Under the soothing influence of the falling night, Julien slowly raised his head, and addressing Claudet in a low and measured voice like a father confessor interrogating a penitent, said:

"Does Reine know that you love her?"

"I think she must suspect it," replied Claudet, "although I never have ventured to declare myself squarely. But girls are very quick, Reine especially. They soon begin to suspect there is some love at bottom, when a young man begins to hang around them too frequently."

"You see her often, then?"

"Not as often as I should like. But, you know, when one lives in the same district, one has opportunities of meeting-at the beech harvest, in the woods, at the church door. And when you meet, you talk but little, making the most of your time. Still, you must not suppose, as I think you did, that we have rendezvous in the evening. Reine respects herself too much to go about at night with a young man as escort, and besides, she has other fish to fry. She has a great deal to do at the farm, since her father has become an invalid."

"Well, do you think she loves you?" said Julien, with a movement of nervous irritation.

"I can not tell," replied Claudet shrugging his shoulders, "she has confidence in me, and shows me some marks of friendship, but I never have ventured to ask her whether she feels anything more than friendship for me. Look here, now. I have good reasons for keeping back; she is rich and I am poor. You can understand that I would not, for any consideration, allow her to think that I am courting her for her money-"

"Still, you desire to marry her, and you hope that she will not say no-you acknowledge that!" cried Julien, vociferously.

Claudet, struck with the violence and bitterness of tone of his companion, came up to him.

"How angrily you say that, Monsieur de Buxieres!" exclaimed he in his turn; "upon my word, one might suppose the affair is very displeasing to you. Will you let me tell you frankly an idea that has already entered my head several times these last two or three days, and which has come again now, while I have been listening to you? It is that perhaps you, yourself, are also in love with Reine?"

"I!" protested Julien. He felt humiliated at Claudet's perspicacity; but he had too much pride and selfrespect to let his preferred rival know of his unfortunate passion. He waited a moment to swallow something in his throat that seemed to be choking him, and then, trying in vain to steady his voice, he added:

"You know that I have an aversion for women; and for that matter, I think they return it with interest. But, at all events, I am not foolish enough to expose myself to their rebuffs. Rest assured, I shall not follow at your heels!"

Claudet shook his head incredulously.

"You doubt it," continued de Buxieres; "well, I will prove it to you. You can not declare your wishes because Reine is rich and you are poor? I will take charge of the whole matter."

"I-I do not understand you," faltered Claudet, bewildered at the strange turn the conversation was taking.

"You will understand-soon," asserted Julien, with a gesture of both decision and resignation.

The truth was, he had made one of those resolutions which seem illogical and foolish at first sight, but are natural to minds at once timid and exalted. The suffering caused by Claudet's revelations had become so acute that he was alarmed. He recognized with dismay the disastrous effects of this hopeless love, and determined to employ a heroic remedy to arrest its further ravages. This was nothing less than killing his love, by immediately getting Claudet married to Reine Vincart. Sacrifices like this are easier to souls that have been subjected since their infancy to Christian discipline, and accustomed to consider the renunciation of mundane joys as a means of securing eternal salvation. As soon as this idea had developed in Julien's brain, he seized upon it with the precipitation of a drowning man, who distractedly lays hold of the first object that seems to offer him a means of safety, whether it be a dead branch or a reed.

"Listen," he resumed; "at the very first explanation that we had together, I told you I did not intend to deprive you of your right to a portion of your natural father's inheritance. Until now, you have taken my word for it, and we have lived at the chateau like two brothers. But now that a miserable question of money alone prevents you from marrying the woman you love, it is important that you should be legally provided for. We will go to-morrow to Monsieur Arbillot, and ask him to draw up the deed, making over to you from me one half of the fortune of Claude de Buxieres. You will then be, by law, and in the eyes of all, one of the desirable matches of the canton, and you can demand the hand of Mademoiselle Vincart, without any fear of being thought presumptuous or mercenary."

Claudet, to whom this conclusion was wholly unexpected, was thunderstruck. His emotion was so great that it prevented him from speaking. In the obscurity of the room his deep-set eyes seemed larger, and shone with the tears he could not repress.

"Monsieur Julien," said he, falteringly, "I can not find words to thank you. I am like an idiot. And to think that only a little while ago I suspected you of being tired of me, and regretting your benefits toward me! What an animal I am! I measure others by myself. Well! can you forgive me? If I do not express myself well, I feel deeply, and all I can say is that you have made me very happy!" He sighed heavily. "The question is now," continued he, "whether Reine will have me! You may not believe me, Monsieur de Buxieres, but though I may seem very bold and resolute, I feel like a wet hen when I get near her. I have a dreadful panic that she will send me away as I came. I don't know whether I can ever find courage to ask her."

"Why should she refuse you?" said Julien, sadly, "she knows that you love her. Do you suppose she loves any one else?"

"That I don't know. Although Reine is very frank, she does not let every one know what is passing in her mind, and with these young girls, I tell you, one is never sure of anything. That is just what I fear may be possible."

"If you fear the ordeal," said de Buxieres, with a visible effort, "would you like me to present the matter for you?"

"I should be very glad. It would be doing me a great service. It would be adding one more kindness to those I have already received, and some day I hope to make it all up to you."

The next morning, according to agreement, Julien accompanied Claudet to Auberive, where Maitre Arbillot drew up the deed of gift, and had it at once signed and recorded. Afterward the young men adjourned to breakfast at the inn. The meal was brief a

nd silent. Neither seemed to have any appetite. As soon as they had drunk their coffee, they turned back on the Vivey road; but, when they had got as far as the great limetree, standing at the entrance to the forest, Julien touched Claudet lightly on the shoulder.

"Here," said he, "we must part company. You will return to Vivey, and I shall go across the fields to La Thuiliere. I shall return as soon as I have had an interview with Mademoiselle Vincart. Wait for me at the chateau."

"The time will seem dreadfully long to me," sighed Claudet; "I shall not know how to dispose of my body until you return."

"Your affair will be all settled within two or three hours from now. Stay near the window of my room, and you will catch first sight of me coming along in the distance. If I wave my hat, it will be a sign that I bring a favorable answer."

Claudet pressed his hand; they separated, and Julien descended the newly mown meadow, along which he walked under the shade of trees scattered along the border line of the forest.

The heat of the midday sun was tempered by a breeze from the east, which threw across the fields and woods the shadows of the white fleecy clouds. The young man, pale and agitated, strode with feverish haste over the short-cropped grass, while the little brooklet at his side seemed to murmur a flute-like, soothing accompaniment to the tumultuous beatings of his heart. He was both elated and depressed at the prospect of submitting his already torn and lacerated feelings to so severe a trial. The thought of beholding Reine again, and of sounding her feelings, gave him a certain amount of cruel enjoyment. He would speak to her of love-love for another, certainly-but he would throw into the declaration he was making, in behalf of another, some of his own tenderness; he would have the supreme and torturing satisfaction of watching her countenance, of anticipating her blushes, of gathering the faltering avowal from her lips. He would once more drink of the intoxication of her beauty, and then he would go and shut himself up at Vivey, after burying at La Thuiliere all his dreams and profane desires. But, even while the courage of this immolation of his youthful love was strong within him, he could not prevent a dim feeling of hope from crossing his mind. Claudet was not certain that he was beloved; and possibly Reine's answer would be a refusal. Then he should have a free field.

By a very human, but very illogical impulse, Julien de Buxieres had hardly concluded the arrangement with Claudet which was to strike the fatal blow to his own happiness when he began to forestall the possibilities which the future might have in store for him. The odor of the wild mint and meadow-sweet, dotting the banks of the stream, again awoke vague, happy anticipations. Longing to reach Reine Vincart's presence, he hastened his steps, then stopped suddenly, seized with an overpowering panic. He had not seen her since the painful episode in the hut, and it must have left with her a very sorry impression. What could he do, if she refused to receive him or listen to him?

While revolting these conflicting thoughts in his mind, he came to the fields leading directly to La Thuiliere, and just beyond, across a waving mass of oats and rye, the shining tops of the farm-buildings came in sight. A few minutes later, he pushed aside a gate and entered the yard.

The shutters were closed, the outer gate was closed inside, and the house seemed deserted. Julien began to think that the young girl he was seeking had gone into the fields with the farm-hands, and stood uncertain and disappointed in the middle of the courtyard. At this sudden intrusion into their domain, a brood of chickens, who had been clucking sedately around, and picking up nourishment at the same time, scattered screaming in every direction, heads down, feet sprawling, until by unanimous consent they made a beeline for a half-open door, leading to the orchard. Through this manoeuvre, the young man's attention was brought to the fact that through this opening he could reach the rear facade of the building. He therefore entered a grassy lane, winding round a group of stones draped with ivy; and leaving the orchard on his left, he pushed on toward the garden itself-a real country garden with square beds bordered by mossy clumps alternating with currant-bushes, rows of raspberry-trees, lettuce and cabbage beds, beans and runners climbing up their slender supports, and, here and there, bunches of red carnations and peasant roses.

Suddenly, at the end of a long avenue, he discovered Reine Vincart, seated on the steps before an arched door, communicating with the kitchen. A plum-tree, loaded with its violet fruit, spread its light shadow over the young girl's head, as she sat shelling fresh-gathered peas and piling the faint green heaps of color around her. The sound of approaching steps on the grassy soil caused her to raise her head, but she did not stir. In his intense emotion, Julien thought the alley never would come to an end. He would fain have cleared it with a single bound, so as to be at once in the presence of Mademoiselle Vincart, whose immovable attitude rendered his approach still more difficult. Nevertheless, he had to get over the ground somehow at a reasonable pace, under penalty of making himself ridiculous, and he therefore found plenty of time to examine Reine, who continued her work with imperturbable gravity, throwing the peas as she shelled them into an ash-wood pail at her feet.

She was bareheaded, and wore a striped skirt and a white jacket fitted to her waist. The checkered shadows cast by the tree made spots of light and darkness over her face and her uncovered neck, the top button of her camisole being unfastened on account of the heat. De Buxieres had been perfectly well recognized by her, but an emotion, at least equal to that experienced by the young man, had transfixed her to the spot, and a subtle feminine instinct had urged her to continue her employment, in order to hide the sudden trembling of her fingers. During the last month, ever since the adventure in the hut, she had thought often of Julien; and the remembrance of the audacious kiss which the young de Buxieres had so impetuously stolen from her neck, invariably brought the flush of shame to her brow. But, although she was very indignant at the fiery nature of his caress, as implying a want of respect little in harmony with Julien's habitual reserve, she was astonished at herself for not being still more angry. At first, the affront put upon her had roused a feeling of indignation, but now, when she thought of it, she felt only a gentle embarrassment, and a soft beating of the heart. She began to reflect that to have thus broken loose from all restraint before her, this timid youth must have been carried away by an irresistible burst of passion, and any woman, however high-minded she may be, will forgive such violent homage rendered to the sovereign power of her beauty. Besides his feeding of her vanity, another independent and more powerful motive predisposed her to indulgence: she felt a tender and secret attraction toward Monsieur de Buxieres. This healthy and energetic girl had been fascinated by the delicate charm of a nature so unlike her own in its sensitiveness and disposition to self-blame. Julien's melancholy blue eyes had, unknown to himself, exerted a magnetic influence on Reine's dark, liquid orbs, and, without endeavoring to analyze the sympathy that drew her toward a nature refined and tender even to weakness, without asking herself where this unreflecting instinct might lead her, she was conscious of a growing sentiment toward him, which was not very much unlike love itself.

Julien de Buxieres's mood was not sufficiently calm to observe anything, or he would immediately have perceived the impression that his sudden appearance had produced upon Reine Vincart. As soon as he found himself within a few steps of the young girl, he saluted her awkwardly, and she returned his bow with marked coldness. Extremely disconcerted at this reception, he endeavored to excuse himself for having invaded her dwelling in so unceremonious a manner.

"I am all the more troubled," added he, humbly, "that after what has happened, my visit must appear to you indiscreet, if not improper."

Reine, who had more quickly recovered her self-possession, pretended not to understand the unwise allusion that had escaped the lips of her visitor. She rose, pushed away with her foot the stalks and pods, which encumbered the passage, and replied, very shortly:

"You are excused, Monsieur. There is no need of an introduction to enter La Thuiliere. Besides, I suppose that the motive which has brought you here can only be a proper one."

While thus speaking, she shook her skirt down, and without any affectation buttoned up her camisole.

"Certainly, Mademoiselle," faltered Julien, "it is a most serious and respectable motive that causes me to wish for an interview, and-if-I do not disturb you-"

"Not in the least, Monsieur; but, if you wish to speak with me, it is unnecessary for you to remain standing. Allow me to fetch you a chair."

She went into the house, leaving the young man overwhelmed with the coolness of his reception; a few minutes later she reappeared, bringing a chair, which she placed under the tree. "Sit here, you will be in the shade."

She seated herself on the same step as before, leaning her back against the wall, and her head on her hand.

"I am ready to listen to you," she said.

Julien, much less under his own control than she, discovered that his mission was more difficult than he had imagined it would be; he experienced a singular amount of embarrassment in unfolding his subject; and was obliged to have recourse to prolonged inquiries concerning the health of Monsieur Vincart.

"He is still in the same condition," said Reine, "neither better nor worse, and, with the illness which afflicts him, the best I can hope for is that he may remain in that condition. But," continued she, with a slight inflection of irony; "doubtless it is not for the purpose of inquiring after my father's health that you have come all the way from Vivey?"

"That is true, Mademoiselle," replied he, coloring. "What I have to speak to you about is a very delicate matter. You will excuse me, therefore, if I am somewhat embarrassed. I beg of you, Mademoiselle, to listen to me with indulgence."

"What can he be coming to?" thought Reine, wondering why he made so many preambles before beginning. And, at the same time, her heart began to beat violently.

Julien took the course taken by all timid people after meditating for a long while on the best way to prepare the young girl for the communication he had taken upon himself to make-he lost his head and inquired abruptly:

"Mademoiselle Reine, do you not intend to marry?"

Reine started, and gazed at him with a frightened air.

"I!" exclaimed she, "Oh, I have time enough and I am not in a hurry." Then, dropping her eyes: "Why do you ask that?"

"Because I know of some one who loves you and who would be glad to marry you."

She became very pale, took up one of the empty pods, twisted it nervously around her finger without speaking.

"Some one belonging to our neighborhood?" she faltered, after a few moments' silence.

"Yes; some one whom you know, and who is not a recent arrival here. Some one who possesses, I believe, sterling qualities sufficient to make a good husband, and means enough to do credit to the woman who will wed him. Doubtless you have already guessed to whom I refer?"

She sat motionless, her lips tightly closed, her features rigid, but the nervous twitching of her fingers as she bent the green stem back and forth, betrayed her inward agitation.

"No; I can not tell," she replied at last, in an almost inaudible voice.

"Truly?" he exclaimed, with an expression of astonishment, in which was a certain amount of secret satisfaction; "you can not tell whom I mean? You have never thought of the person of whom I am speaking in that light?"

"No; who is that person?"

She had raised her eyes toward his, and they shone with a deep, mysterious light.

"It is Claudet Sejournant," replied Julien, very gently; and in an altered tone.

The glow that had illumined the dark orbs of the young girl faded away, her eyelids dropped, and her countenance became as rigid as before; but Julien did not notice anything. The words he had just uttered had cost him too much agony, and he dared not look at his companion, lest he should behold her joyful surprise, and thereby aggravate his suffering.

"Ah!" said Reine, coldly, "in that case, why did not Claudet come himself and state his own case?"

"His courage failed him at the last moment-and so-"

"And so," continued she, with sarcastic bitterness of tone, "you took upon yourself to speak for him?"

"Yes; I promised him I would plead his cause. I was sure, moreover, that I should not have much difficulty in gaining the suit. Claudet has loved you for a long time. He is good-hearted, and a fine fellow to look at. And as to worldly advantages, his position is now equal to your own. I have made over to him, by legal contract, the half of his father's estate. What answer am I to take back?"

He spoke with difficulty in broken sentences, without turning his eyes toward Mademoiselle Vincart. The silence that followed his last question seemed to him unbearable, and the contrasting chirping of the noisy grasshoppers, and the buzzing of the flies in the quiet sunny garden, resounded unpleasantly in his ears.

Reine remained speechless. She was disconcerted and well-nigh overpowered by the unexpected announcement, and her brain seemed unable to bear the crowd of tumultuous and conflicting emotions which presented themselves. Certainly, she had already suspected that Claudet had a secret liking for her, but she never had thought of encouraging the feeling. The avowal of his hopes neither surprised nor hurt her; that which pained her was the intervention of Julien, who had taken in hand the cause of his relative. Was it possible that this same M. de Buxieres, who had made so audacious a display of his tender feeling in the hut, could now come forward as Claudet's advocate, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to do? In that case, his astonishing behavior at the fete, which had caused her so much pain, and which she had endeavored to excuse in her own mind as the untutored outbreak of his pentup love, that fiery caress, was only the insulting manifestation of a brutal caprice? The transgressor thought so little of her, she was of such small importance in his eyes, that he had no hesitation in proposing that she marry Claudet? She beheld herself scorned, humiliated, insulted by the only man in whom she ever had felt interested. In the excess of her indignation she felt herself becoming hardhearted and violent; a profound discouragement, a stony indifference to all things, impelled her to extreme measures, and, not being able at the moment to find any one on whom she could put them in operation, she was almost tempted to lay violent hands on herself.

"What shall I say to Claudet?" repeated Julien, endeavoring to conceal the suffering which was devouring his heart by an assumption of outward frigidity.

She turned slowly round, fixed her searching eyes, which had become as dark as waters reflecting a stormy sky, upon his face, and demanded, in icy tones:

"What do you advise me to say?"

Now, if Julien had been less of a novice, he would have understood that a girl who loves never addresses such a question; but the feminine heart was a book in which he was a very poor speller. He imagined that Reine was only asking him as a matter of form, and that it was from a feeling of maidenly reserve that she adopted this passive method of escaping from openly declaring her wishes. She no doubt desired his friendly aid in the matter, and he felt as if he ought to grant her that satisfaction.

"I have the conviction," stammered he, "that Claudet will make a good husband, and you will do well to accept him."

Reine bit her lip, and her paleness increased so as to set off still more the fervid lustre of her eyes. The two little brown moles stood out more visibly on her white neck, and added to her attractions.

"So be it!" exclaimed she, "tell Claudet that I consent, and that he will be welcome at La Thuiliere."

"I will tell him immediately." He bent gravely and sadly before Reine, who remained standing and motionless against the door. "Adieu, Mademoiselle!"

He turned away abruptly; plunged into the first avenue he came to, lost his way twice and finally reached the courtyard, and thence escaped at breakneck speed across the fields.

Reine maintained her statue-like pose as long as the young man's footsteps resounded on the stony paths; but when they died gradually away in the distance, when nothing could be heard save the monotonous trill of the grasshoppers basking in the sun, she threw herself down on the green heap of rubbish; she covered her face with her hands and gave way to a passionate outburst of tears and sobs.

In the meanwhile, Julien de Buxieres, angry with himself, irritated by the speedy success of his mission, was losing his way among the pasturages, and getting entangled in the thickets. All the details of the interview presented themselves before his mind with remorseless clearness. He seemed more lonely, more unfortunate, more disgusted with himself and with all else than he ever had been before. Ashamed of the wretched part he had just been enacting, he felt almost childish repugnance to returning to Vivey, and tried to pick out the paths that would take him there by the longest way. But he was not sufficiently accustomed to laying out a route for himself, and when he thought he had a league farther to go, and had just leaped over an intervening hedge, the pointed roofs of the chateau appeared before him at a distance of not more than a hundred feet, and at one of the windows on the first floor he could distinguish Claudet, leaning for ward, as if to interrogate him.

He remembered then the promise he had made the young huntsman; and faithful to his word, although with rage and bitterness in his heart, he raised his hat, and with effort, waved it three times above his head. At this signal, the forerunner of good news, Claudet replied by a triumphant shout, and disappeared from the window. A moment later, Julien heard the noise of furious galloping down the enclosures of the park. It was the lover, hastening to learn the particulars of the interview.

BOOK 3.

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