The heart resumed its normal state. Frank tried to satisfy himself that it was only a partial indisposition. A week passed. The disease had increased rapidly. He was very anxious now. Sometimes, he would stop his work and listen. He felt his heart distinctly beating against the walls of his chest. He placed his hand over the region of the heart. How this organ thumped and heaved. His nervousness was intense. He quickly unbuttoned his garments and looked at his chest. His heart seemed to be trying to burst through its prison walls.
He gazed on it for a time, then buttoned his clothes and walked to and fro trying to pacify the agitated organ. In the midst of his walk, he stopped; mechanically, his hand was placed over his heart, and he listened, anxious, agitated, and holding his breath.
That same evening, when he was falling asleep, he suddenly jumped up in bed. His heart had given a heavy abnormal beat, and was now quietly working, as if ignorant and innocent of everything.
After a while, he fell asleep. Next day, he was worse than ever.
"Am I going to die?" he said to himself. "Life is sweet, it is hard to die so young, when before me lies the future which I would fain penetrate. I should like to accomplish some task before I depart from this world."
Frank! where art thou come to? Didst not thou say, only a few weeks back: "I will smile when the hour of death comes," and now thou art craving for life, and thou art shrinking from death.
Frank Mathers thought that his complaint was Angina Pectoris. He consulted a book on Pathology. He learnt that even with this terrible disease a person might, by careful living, attain a certain age.
This did not satisfy him. He consulted a doctor. When he was seated in the medical man's waiting-room, it seemed to him that the doctor was going to pronounce his doom. He fancied he could already hear him: "You may, by taking care of yourself, live another year or two."
The door of the room in which he was, opened. His heart gave a great leap. "I wish you to auscultate me," he said, addressing the doctor who entered the room.
Dr. Buisson looked at him with a scrutinizing glance as he replied: "Very well, sir; step in the next room."
Frank followed the doctor into the room adjoining.
The medical man proceeded to auscultate his patient. After he had completed his examination, Frank looked at him inquiringly. "Angina Pectoris?" he questioned anxiously.
A sigh of relief escaped him.
Quoth Dr. Buisson: "You have already sighed a great deal too much. You have overtaxed your strength. You must not live on passion, but you ought to take life more easily, young man. Rest and cheerfulness, with a few bottles of physic, will put you on your legs again. Stimulants would benefit you."
"I do not wish to drink any alcohol," interrupted Frank.
"Who talks about alcohol? Do without stimulants. You do not need them."
"I thought——" began Frank.
The grave voice of the doctor interrupted him. "Young man, you must be careful about your diet; eat slowly—masticate well. Pass into the dispensing room."
"What an odd man," thought Frank, as he wended towards his home.
He passed the next few weeks resting nearly all the time, taking very little exercise and a great deal of physic. He gradually grew better, his nervousness ceased, his heart resumed its normal condition, it palpitated no more.
He tried to be cheerful, but he still had great faith in pessimism.
THE EFFECTS OF A SERMON.
One Sunday, contrary to his habit, Frank betook himself to one of the country churches. He had several reasons for doing so. He wanted to hear a French sermon; he wanted to be quiet, away from the world, etcetera.
As he went on his way, he dropped into a none too pleasant reverie.
"What a queer animal man is," he thought; "what a study. It is true that 'the proper study of mankind is man.'
"But, the more one meditates on humanity, the more one becomes disgusted with its artificialness and bad taste. People flock after trifles, they are devoid of refinement, a conjuror will have an immense number of admirers, a third-rate music-hall will fill, even to suffocation, while the man of genius, unless he be rich, often remains unnoticed. He who produces most exquisite poetry, soaring high above his fellow countrymen, carrying them out of life's dusty ways into a pure atmosphere, dies of starvation in a garret."
He arrived at the church of St. ——. He entered the sanctuary and seated himself in a place from which he would be able to see the minister.
"This is a very comfortable position," he said to himself.
He began to examine the people as they took their seats. Very different from one another were those who entered. The men took their seats with a deal of looking round and lifting of coat-tails. They finally settled down, drawing a deep breath as they did so, as if the act of sitting was a prodigious effort.
Frank was, with his accustomed curiosity, examining an old woman who trudged in, wrapped up in an enormous shawl, when a lady touched him lightly on the shoulder. He turned round.
"Sir, this is my pew," she said, "you may go in any of those," pointing to the left.
"I beg your pardon," said Frank, and he hastily left his seat and went in one of the pews which the lady had pointed out to him. Then he remembered that in his haste, he had forgotten to take his hat with him. He proceeded to fetch it. The lady who was occupying the pew with her husband and daughter handed him his hat, smiling as she did so.
"She might have allowed me to remain where I was," thought the young man. He went on thinking: "Perhaps, they have some superstition about worshipping in their own pew."
He fancied everyone of the countryfolks was superstitious. He wondered if Adele believed in these things. A sudden pang passed through him, as he thought of her. His brow clouded as he recollected Jacques' words: "The young Miss's engaged to a young fellow."
The minister entered the church. No one rose. No formalities of any kind. He took his place quietly. The service began.
When the sermon came, instead of the old minister who had read the prayers, Frank was astonished to see a young man, who, directly he stepped into the pulpit, impressed him most favourably. He had a very intelligent face and a cheerful countenance.
He took for his text the words of St. Paul: "Rejoice evermore."
He began: "There is a class of people, the followers of Schopenhauer, who declare that life is not worth living.
"They say this world is almost the worst possible place we could live in, and that, if it were a shade worse, it would be impossible to live in it, and people would willingly end their existence. This doctrine is called 'pessimism.'"
Frank felt very interested. Every word which the preacher said, seemed directly addressed to him.
The young minister continued: "There is another class of pessimists who have never thought of following this Schopenhauer, but who, nevertheless, find life a burden and this world almost an inferno."
* * * * *
"This class of people (the pessimists) pull long faces and go about their work sighing. They see everything turned upside down but it is they who are cross. 'Life is not worth living,' they say, 'this world is a miserable dwelling place;' but it is they who cause their lives to be not worth living, who make themselves miserable."
* * * * *
"Some of them who profess to be good, do a great deal of harm to Christianity; more than is perhaps generally imagined. People examine them and nod their heads. 'Christianity is a failure,' they say."
* * * * *
"Help to put down Schopenhauer's wretched doctrines. Look at the bright side of life."
"You will meet with difficulties, but do not despond; to every cloud, there is a silver lining."
He declared he was an optimist. He invited his hearers, one and all to adopt the optimistic view of life, and help to bring the kingdom of God upon earth. He pointed out the causes which should help to make us cheerful, beautiful nature, healthy mental and physical occupations and distractions....
He told them to remember that time would be followed by eternity; to hopefully prepare for the life to come, and to help others to do the same.
Once out of the church, Frank felt very much puzzled. Both the discourse and the manner in which it had been delivered, had impressed him. What would he do? It certainly was a matter for consideration. Was there a silver lining to the cloud that was floating around him? Would he hope? Would he, in spite of everything, try and be cheerful?
When he came home, he had formed a decision. He would try. He would answer the invitation of this young clergyman, who seemed so full of hope and joy.
The preacher had said: If you feel—as you will feel—that you are unable to fight unaided; pray. Frank prayed. It was not a request in which the lips took a very active part, but he poured forth his whole soul through his heart, to Him who could and would help those who were unable to help themselves.
When he had finished, he felt quite equipped for the fight. For he would have to battle.
"I must try to be cheerful, I must set aside all my gloomy thoughts," he said to himself. "I must endeavour to change my whole former view of the world. I feel strong. Welcome optimism. Three cheers for optimism."
Young man, thou art a new convert, and, like every new convert, thou art enthusiastic.
SUCCESS AFTER SUCCESS.
Having adopted the optimistic view of life, Frank found that it was not easy to eradicate his dismal turn of mind.
He fought bravely. It was not his first fight. He had been, when younger, passionate and a trifle ill-tempered, but he had, while still in his teens, successfully overcome these defects.
He often thought of Adele. He dared not go near "Les Marches." He knew full well that the sight of the house in which he had first known love, would arouse in him sentiments of jealousy and grief; so he satisfied himself with continuing to work at the reformation of his character. Each victory which he achieved made him feel stronger and wiser, and every day added to his success.
Let us return to Adele Rougeant. Six out of the twelve months' truce had now elapsed.
Tom's visits at Les Marches were few and far between.
Adele had chanced to overhear a part of the conversation which took place between her father and cousin, after she had asked the former for a year's peaceful solitude.
Quoth Mr. Rougeant: "You will have to wait another year."
"Indeed!" said his nephew.
"Adele says she wishes to think the matter over."
"Oh!" said Tom, biting his nails; with which operation he was very familiar—"a year will soon pass away."
"Yes," answered the uncle.
Adele's business took her to another room, and she had too much good-breeding to stay and listen. Eavesdropping was not in her line. She laughed all to herself. Liberty was so sweet.
When she went out, she could listen with more than ordinary delight to the songs of the birds. Some were singing with everchanging variety, others were somewhat more laboriously endeavouring to imitate the whistle of the farmer-boys.
Adele Rougeant sympathized with birds; she felt attracted towards them, for she too was a bird. She had been, for a time, caged; but now she was perfectly free, for six more months at least. She trusted to be out of the difficulty by then. Why; she did not know; something within her seemed to assure her that it would be so.
When, a week afterwards, Tom Soher was taken ill, she thought of that strange certainty which she had had. Was he going to die? Something within her said: "If he could, I then should be saved." Adele grew angry with herself for wishing such an abominable thing. She dispersed the wicked thought which had formed into a wish, with all the energy which she was capable of displaying.
To think that she had had such a desire. She was ashamed of herself.
Next day, when she heard that Tom's condition was worse than ever, involuntarily her heart leapt with joy. How sinful is the heart of man!
Adele's better nature rose against these feelings. Finally she overcame them. She tried to pity her cousin and partly succeeded in doing so. When she fancied herself freed from him, she felt relieved; when she pictured herself dying in his place, she immediately pitied him. And she put this question to herself: "Is sympathy a virtue?" No. Most often, when people sympathize with others they say: "Just imagine if we were in their place; they really think for themselves."
This was now her view of the matter. Perhaps it was not quite correct, but there was a great deal of truth in it.
Tom Soher was not to die this time. The crisis passed. He rallied almost as rapidly as he had lost strength.
Mr. Rougeant visited him daily. His daughter listened to the news of Tom's recovery, with attention. The farmer was pleased. "She takes more interest in him than she cares to show;" he said to himself.
One fine afternoon, in summer, Adele, whose spirits were as bright as the weather, was sitting in a chair—thinking. Her thoughts flew hither and thither. They were full of bright hope. She sat where she was for nearly one hour, her head full of vague thoughts, aspirations after perfect womanhood.
As her thoughts rambled, she recalled to mind a flower and fruit show that was to take place that afternoon in the Vegetable Markets.
"I think I shall go," she said to herself.
She spoke to her father about it. He answered her not unkindly: "I believe you would travel twenty miles to see a flower; if you wish to go, you may."
She dressed herself in a dainty costume, set out, and arrived in St. Peter-Port just as the clock of the Town Church struck five. Going to the market, she paid the entrance fee, and proceeded leisurely to examine the flowers.
While she was doing so, Frank Mathers entered the exhibition, utterly unconscious of her being there. He was walking about in the crowd, which, as evening approached, was getting thicker and thicker, when he perceived Adele intently bent upon examining the cut flowers.
He was quite upset. When he had recovered sufficiently to think; "She is alone, why is not her lover with her," he mused. He could not unravel this mystery.
Hope sprang within him; he shook it off. "He will be back presently," he said to himself; "she is waiting for him while pretending to examine the flowers."
He gazed upon her with admiration, unheeding the throng that continually jostled him.
Suddenly, he was startled by a burst of laughter behind him. He turned round to ascertain its cause.
Two burly fellows who were watching him, were having a merry time of it at his expense.
He moved from his place and walked away, passing quite close to Adele, who did not notice him. He stopped a few paces from her, watching her narrowly all the time.
She looked up, saw him, recognised him, and nodded. He raised his hat; then, a strange delicacy of feeling overcoming him, he walked away.
Adele saw him go and felt stung. Why had he not spoken to her? he might have done so. She had been on the point of advancing towards him, and he seemed to have deliberately avoided her.
"I was not mistaken when I fancied he loved another one," she said to herself. In spite of that, she walked in a contrary direction to him, hoping to meet him, a thing which she could not fail to do if they both kept advancing in contrary directions. She did not stop to think that he would perhaps pass haughtily by her. Love is blind.
Like the two gentlemen who circumnavigated the globe, the two young people met. Frank inquired after Mr. Rougeant's health, and made a few remarks about the exhibition. He always expected to see her intended appear on the scene. Finally, he ventured to ask: "Are you quite alone?" "Yes, quite," she answered.
They walked together for fully one hour, examining the flowers and fruit. "Is not this a beautiful specimen of the Dahlia?" Adele asked, pointing to a flower of that name.
"I am afraid I do not possess the necessary qualifications to form an opinion," he said; "I have not studied botany."
"I think you would find the study very captivating," she said; "our little island contains quite a number of beautiful specimens. There are a great many hard names to learn, but I feel certain that you would soon overcome that difficulty."
"You have a rather high opinion of my intellectual powers," he said; "I feel quite flattered. For the present, I will abide by your decisions. The flowers that you will praise, I shall call beautiful; those that you will condemn, I shall call ugly."
"I shall not condemn any," said she, "all flowers are beautiful to my eyes, only some are more perfect than others."
"You love flowers?" he questioned.
"Immensely, they are almost my constant companions; I should like to possess the whole of this collection," said Adele.
"All to yourself. Is it not a trifle selfish?" he said, looking at her with a pair of laughing blue eyes.
"Perhaps it is. Look at this beautiful collection of ferns." She began to name them. "This one on the left is Adiantum Capillus Veneris, or Maiden Hair, a rare European species; this one is Adiantum Pedantum, of American origin, and that one behind there, which is partly hidden, is Adiantum Cuneatum."
"I will not learn botany," he said; "you have quite frightened me with all those Latin names; when I wish to know the name of some plant, I shall come and ask you."
"I shall be delighted if I can be of any service to you," she said ingenuously. Frank thought these words were significant, but they were not.
Adele was anxious to get home early. Frank saw "Les Marches" that evening with hopeful eyes.
Afterwards, they often met. One day, Tom Soher, who was now completely cured, came face to face with his cousin Adele, who was accompanied by Frank. He stopped short, looked hard at his cousin, then resumed his walk.
When Tom was a little way off, Frank said to Adele: "What a queer fellow, one would think he was insane." "He is a cousin of mine," she said.
"Ah! doubtless he was surprised at seeing you in such company."
"Why?" she questioned.
"Perhaps he is afraid of losing caste," said Frank, anxious to know the cause of Tom's sullen countenance.
Adele laughed; "Losing caste!" she said, "the idea is preposterous."
"Miss Rougeant," said Frank, suddenly becoming grave, "do you want to oblige me?"
She looked up. "Of course I do," she replied.
"And will you answer my question?" he continued.
She looked down. "What can he mean?" she said inly. The twilight partly hid the deep blush that suffused her cheek.
He noticed her embarrassment and hastily spoke: "I was going to say this. Some time ago, I heard that you were engaged to a young man named Tom Soher. Would you be kind enough to explain me the riddle. But, you need not do so, if you do not feel inclined to."
Her manner suddenly changed. She had imagined that he had something of far greater importance to ask her. She replied: "I have never been engaged to him; you must have heard false news."
"Probably," he said, "it was Old Jacques who told me so."
"Ah, I see," said she, "he saw my cousin coming home to visit us rather often, and he invented that little piece of news. It was he—Tom Soher—whom we met just now, and who scrutinized us so." Then Adele told him all about her father's intentions. She tried to look bright, but Frank saw what she endeavoured to conceal: a painful contraction of the forehead at times. When she had finished, she asked smilingly: "What do you think of my father's mode of procedure?"
Frank looked at her anxiously. "I hope it will never be," he said.
"Because," he continued, "I should be extremely grieved to see you forced into an union without love."
"How do you know that it would be such an one?" she asked.
"Because," responded he, "when you told me about your father's plans, I saw your face. If there is any truth in physiognomy, you recoil with horror at the prospect of one day marrying Tom Soher."
She changed the subject of the conversation and nothing more was said about it that evening.
Going home; Frank thought of the difficulties that were rising before him. He soliloquized: "It is always the same old story; a greedy, avaricious, grasping father, sacrificing his daughter's happiness for the sake of his pride. But it must not be. I can and will save her from such a terrible fate."
He was full of indignant wrath against her father. "To think that she shudders at the thought of it," he muttered.
Meanwhile, Tom Soher was pondering heavily. He was in a terrible passion. When he entered his father's house, he wore an angry look. He walked straight upstairs without even partaking of supper. His mother and sister who were downstairs laughed. The young man was not much of a favourite at home.
Tom sat for a long time on his bed, his face covered with perspiration, his limbs agitated. He was not yet very strong after his illness, and the shock which he had received had completely upset him.
He meditated a plan of revenge. A dozen ideas struck him, but none seemed good enough. Finally, he thought of one, which, if carried out, would completely crush his detestable rival.
TOM'S INTERVIEW WITH MRS. VIDOUX.
Five minutes' walk from the "Prenoms," there might once be seen a small, badly built, one-storeyed cottage, the walls of which were built of stone, with clay serving instead of mortar. In the walls, were three small windows, opening like French windows. They were of different sizes, contained numerous small rectangular panes of glass, and were situated irregularly; two in front of, and one behind the house.
Inside, the walls were white-washed, the floor was of clay, the ceiling was black with smoke. One of the two rooms served as a bedroom, while the other one was badly fitted up to resemble a kitchen.
A wretchedly thatched roof, surmounted by a single stone chimney, covered the whole.
Situated behind this hovel, was a small piece of land called a garden. In it grew cabbages, potatoes, fruits and weeds; the latter predominating.
In this cottage, there lived an old woman, whose age none seemed to know. The fact that she never attended divine service, coupled with the tales of her being in the habit of attending the witches' sabbath, was enough to make her pass amongst her superstitious neighbours as a being possessed of supernatural powers.
She was aware of this, and consequently avoided, as far as it was practicable, having anything to do with her species.
At first she had felt very angry at her countrymen's insinuations, and almost wished she did possess supernatural powers; but gradually she had cooled down, and now she was indifferent.
Mrs. Vidoux—such was the appellation of this woman—was not attractive. Her face was of a colour much resembling Vandyke Brown. It was a woman's face, yet it resembled a man's, not excepting the whiskers, which seemed to grow vigourously, as it fertilized by the dirt which her uncleanly habits allowed to accumulate on her face.
She had but two companions; they were cats. She very often ate limpets (Patella Vulgata). When she descended to the beach to collect the shell fish she took exactly one hundred.
A proof that she could reckon up to one hundred.
Arrived home, she cooked her limpets, gave twenty to each of her cats, and reserved sixty for herself.
A proof that she had gastronomic tendencies.
There was but one young man to whom she spoke freely.
One evening, this man tumbled near her doorstep. He was intoxicated. She took him inside, laid him on her own bed, and when he had slept and sobered, she gave him a cup of tea and escorted him to his home. Ever since, they had been friends.
This man's name was Tom Soher.
We have seen that an idea had struck him which he intended to carry out. He, too, believed in Mrs. Vidoux's power of bewitching.
So the day following his unpleasant discovery, Tom Soher directed his steps towards the old woman's cottage.
He knocked at the door. No one answered. "She must be in the garden," he said to himself. He accordingly went round the back of the house and espied her, laboriously occupied in trying to dig a few parsnips.
"Good morning, Mrs. Vidoux," he said; then perceiving her useless efforts, he took the spade from her bony hands, and dug up a few of the esculent roots.
"Thank you very much," said the old woman, leaning heavily on her walking-stick.
"I wonder, why she, who possesses such magic powers, does not make those parsnips fly out of the ground without even touching them," thought Tom.
Then a conversation followed between them.
"It's fine weather," said Tom, feeling embarrassed about the introduction of his subject.
"You have a great deal of trouble to work as you do, cultivating your own vegetables?"
"Yes, but I cannot afford to buy some."
"Don't you feel lonely at times?"
"No, I am accustomed to solitude."
"You did me a good turn once."
"I am glad of it."
"Yes, I shall always remember it."
"I am happy to see that you don't forget, you are the only sensible man in this parish."
"That's praising me rather too much, I'm sure I don't deserve it, but what I think I deserve less is the nasty fix in which I now am."
"You are in a fix?"
"You know my cousin, Adele Rougeant?"
"Miss Rougeant, let me see—oh—yes, I knew her once, but I am afraid I should not recognise her now, she must be a fine lady by this time."
"Fine; she's simply charming."
"I should think so; I don't doubt you at all, Mr. Soher."
"There is a young man who is paying his attentions to her."
"He is very fortunate."
"That does not suit me. I intended to marry her."
"You! her cousin."
"I don't know, only it seemed improbable."
"This fellow stands in my way."
"Of course, you shall have to try and supplant him."
"That's impossible, she's too fond of him."
"Well, I suppose you must give her up then."
"I don't mean to."
"What do you intend doing?"
"Can't you guess? Thrust him out of my way forcibly. Either he or I must sink."
"You look strong enough to fight a giant."
"I do not mean to fight him."
"Are you afraid of him? Is he stronger than you?"
"He looks rather too much of an athlete for me; I thought that perhaps you would help me."
"I! help you."
Tom looked anxiously round, then said in a low tone: "I must get rid of him, I must."
"And you can help me a great deal."
"I will do anything for you."
"Well, will you settle him?"
"What do you mean?"
"Make him jump, of course."
"Make him jump!"
"Yes; you know, bewitch him."
Mrs. Vidoux suddenly became erect, her eyes were fixed on Tom with an expression that made him recoil, but before he had time to get out of her way, she had raised her walking-stick high above her head with both her hands and brought it to bear with all her strength on Tom's head.
The blow was by no means a slight one. Tom staggered and fell. Without even pretending to notice him the old woman walked towards her dwelling. He soon rallied, and in less time than it had probably ever been done before, he cleared the fence and vaulted in the road. He went home, swearing that he would avenge himself, not of Mrs. Vidoux, but of his cousin.
Next morning, he decided to tell his uncle all that he knew. He had not dared to do it before for fear of offending his cousin; but now, he acted in a blind fury.
He had a great deal of confidence in his uncle. He knew the enormous influence which he exercised over his daughter. Mr. Rougeant had once told him that with a single look he could make her tremble, and that she would as soon think of refusing him as of refusing to grow older.
Tom Soher smiled when he thought of his uncle's demeanour upon hearing the news which he had to impart.
How he was to incite him. He must make his wrath rise to the highest pitch. If he could go at "Les Marches" when his cousin was gone and set his uncle to watch for their return, what a scene, what a spectacle to laugh at; even as he thought of it now he could not help laughing.
TOM'S VISIT TO HIS UNCLE.
Tom Soher was now constantly on the watch to see if he might catch his uncle alone. He was soon satisfied on that account.
One evening, he saw Adele come out of the farm-house. He hid himself and let her go by, then he went towards "Les Marches."
He walked straight in, and was not surprised to see his uncle busily engaged cleaning carrot seed.
Tom was in such a state of excitement and rage, that he hardly knew what he was saying.
"Good evening, uncle," he said, "busy?"
"Good evening, Tom," was the reply, with the addition: "Yes, you know the French proverb: 'Do not lose a single hour, since you are not certain of a minute.'"
"Quite right uncle; shall I help you?"
"No, thank you, now that you are here, we shall talk, and I'll do that job to-morrow."
The farmer fetched a mug of cider and placed it on the table between them. Tom was delighted.
"I am glad that you are here," quoth Mr. Rougeant. "It is not that I generally care for visitors, but you are always welcome. Besides, Adele is gone and we shall pass the evening agreeably."
"That's what I thought, uncle."
Mr. Rougeant looked, at his nephew and wondered what ailed him.
"Did you know she was gone?" he asked, and added: "Perhaps you met her down the road."
"No; is she gone?" asked Tom.
Said the farmer inly: "Is the fellow mad?" aloud; "Yes; she is gone to a concert."
"Where?" questioned the nephew.
"I don't know, I did not ask her."
"You let her go all alone when it is dark!"
"Yes; she's not particularly timid. She is so fond of music, poor girl, I did not care to refuse her, and, as she has fallen in with my views, or very nearly so, I must allow her a little freedom."
"Perhaps she has a companion," said Tom.
"No; she says she prefers going alone; it will not be for long, however; in another month she will, I hope, be your betrothed."
Tom felt a pang of vexation run through him. He was ready to explode, but succeeded in showing a good exterior and said jokingly: "Suppose she came accompanied by some young fellow."
"She never would dare to do so."
"I would not say so if I were you, uncle; it's not a good sign when a young girl is always out like that. Haven't you noticed that she very often goes out in the evening lately?"
The old man's suspicions were beginning to be aroused. "I had not even thought of it," he said "but, indeed, it's as you say; she has been going out often lately."
"I hope there is no one supplanting me," said his nephew.
"You need not fear, Tom—pass me the mug."
They both drank out of the same coarse vessel, and Tom, who was warming up, continued: "I have strange presentiments, uncle; when I went to school, I remember having read in an English book about, 'Coming events casting their shadows before.' Now, just as I met Miss Rougeant this evening, I saw a cat cross the road. Now, you know as well as I do, that it means discord betwixt her and me."
"This sounds very strange," said the farmer, "but I thought you told me you had not seen her."
"Did I? really, I hardly knew what I was doing." And, desirous of finding an excuse for his singular behaviour, he added in the most dejected tone imaginable: "I have a rival."
"What do you mean?" fairly howled the farmer.
"I mean," replied Tom, in the most wretched tone he could assume; "I mean that my cousin loves another fellow, an Englishman, who has not a single penny which he can call his own, a wretched cur, a beggarly fortune-hunter. I fancy I can see him. He is one of those fellows who walk bearing all their fortunes on their backs. He was dressed in faultless evening dress; light kid gloves, patent leather boots, and a tall silk hat." (This was all false.) "If I am not mistaken, this fellow has not a particularly bright character."
The farmer was looking at Tom. His lips were apart, his teeth closed, his eyes shone with an ominous light. He did not say a word. Tom continued: "Ah! your fortune will soon be gone to the dogs, all the money that you have honestly earned, that you have had so much trouble to scrape together, will disappear in the twinkling of an eye, and your ruined daughter will have to end her days in the hospital at the Castel."
"Never, never;" shouted the farmer.
"And I, who meant to attend to your business," said Tom; "I, who was going to work your farm; I, who meant to save our family from ruin and you from the shame that will necessarily fall partly on you as a member of that family; I, who am her cousin and who would have done anything and everything for her, I am put aside as worthless stuff."
"Oh!" groaned the farmer; "Do you know him?" he asked.
"I have seen him but once, I do not know where he lives."
"Do you think he will accompany her this evening?"
"Certainly, that's why she has gone out."
"Oh! the dog—pass me the mug."
Tom gave him the mug. The farmer took a long pull and handed it to his nephew who drank so well that he completely emptied it, and afterwards said: "We ought to lie in wait for their arrival and attack the ninny."
"That's what I'll do, and—" clenching his fists—"he'll be lucky if he escapes."
"You ought to give him a lesson which he won't forget soon."
"I ought to, still, when one comes to think of it, he might have me flung in prison for assault."
"You wait till he is alone, then you can settle him."
"If I were sentenced to a term of imprisonment, my reputation would be ruined. However, I'm master of my daughter, I will give this young fellow a good shaking, and, as for her; I shall see."
"I shall be hiding behind the hedge; if you require any help, I will give it you."
"I think I can frighten him alone—my daughter marry one of those white-faced spendthrifts, why my throat dries up at the thought of it;—pass me the mug."
Tom did as he was requested, feeling very uneasy. The farmer was about to drink, but he exclaimed: "Why, its empty."
"Indeed," said Tom, "let me see; so it is, I was in such a state of mind that I did not know I had drunk all."
"Never mind," said his uncle, "I will fetch some more." And he proceeded towards the cellar.
Tom chuckled all to himself, "What a splendid piece of fun; I knew him, he's the man to act."
Mr. Rougeant came back with the mug brimming. The conversation continued to flow, so did the cider. The men were getting excited.
"It's time for us to go out and choose a hiding-place," said Tom.
"Yes, let us go," said his uncle.
They went out. The farmer hid himself behind a hedge, Tom went opposite him on the other side of the road also taking advantage of the cover which a hedge afforded him. They waited. Not a breath of wind disturbed the grass or brambles, not a word was exchanged between the men on the watch. The air was stiff, but they felt it not. The cider which they had drunk kept them warm.
Not one of them knew exactly how they were to operate. Tom counted on his uncle and Mr. Rougeant thought he would act according to circumstances.
"They will never come," said Tom to himself. He stretched himself at full length on the grass. In less than five minutes he was sleeping soundly.
The two young people were returning from the concert that had been given in St. Julian's Hall. They were walking. It was a beautiful evening. Not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky. Both nature and humanity slumbered. A deep silence prevailed along the lane in which the young couple were walking.
'Twas a charming spot, these lanes, bordered on either side by high hedges of stone and earth, on which grew furze and grass, while here and there, a solitary primrose—it was the month of March,—was bending its slender stalk, loaded as it was with dew.
Conversation is an art. So is silence. The latter is even less known than the former.
Both the young people were now silent as they proceeded towards "Les Marches," but it was a silence which spoke. They knew each other's thoughts, one heart spoke to the other; they were both impressed with the supreme beauty of nature and filled with love, for that same evening they had plighted their troth.
It was Frank who first broke the silence: "How beautifully serene the sky is, Adele; almost as clear as your forehead."
"What an immense number of stars," she said, "astronomy must be a beautiful pursuit."
"It must be," he replied. "To soar far above this earth, to contemplate those worlds, to feel oneself lifted into space, to visit the moon with its mountains and rivers, plateaux and lakes; to accompany Venus and Mars and all the other planets in their course; to float, as it were, amongst these gigantic masterpieces of the Creator, to calculate their dimensions, to measure their course, to weigh those monsters; to bring to light the treasures of metal which they contain, by the aid of Spectrum. Analysis, all this and a great deal more which is associated with the science must be indeed full of wonderful exhiliration."
"To hear you talk, one would imagine that you yearn to be amongst all those stars and planets," said Adele.
"It is not the case," he answered, "because—I'll tell you why—I am content to have Venus so near to me."
"I am afraid you will have to be Mars," she said somewhat anxiously.
"Not a bit of it," he replied cheerfully, "Mars is generally represented with a long beard, and look, I have but a slight moustache; have you ever noticed," he continued, "that all these planets move in circles. I think the circle is the ideal figure of the Creator. Man cannot measure a circle or sphere."
"I thought the heavenly bodies moved in ellipses," she interrupted.
"Yes, but ellipses are but a form of circles."
"Of course, I had never thought about it before, one has so much to learn in life. Nature's wonders are numerous and full of instruction for the thoughtful student. It seems to me sometimes that my soul converses with nature. A cloud obscures the sky, and I feel that cloud passing over my heart; a ray of sunshine illumines the earth, and causes my flowers to open their petals and the dew-drops on the grass to shine like millions of diamonds, and I smile."
"You have the soul of a poetess," he said.
She laughed a rippling laugh. "I do not know, but I think the study of nature, the proper study of man."
"Others,—with a less poetic soul, doubtless—seem to differ from you. I think Pope did. But you love nature, and do not care for man."
Her pearly teeth saw the light.
When Adele bade good-night to Frank that evening, a strange presentiment of coming evil overcame her.
She walked inside her father's house. When she entered the kitchen she was surprised at finding it empty. The lamp was on the table. It was lighted. Beside it was an empty mug. She lighted a candle, went into the parlour, and divested herself of her hat and jacket, thinking her father would soon return.
She did not feel at ease, however. Every other minute she turned round nervously, half afraid of finding someone in the room. Where could her father be? She grew anxious. Going at the foot of the stairs, she called out: "Father, father."
Not a sound, save that of her voice which sounded funereally.
She went to the door, opened it, and looked outside. Everything was still. All at once she heard something. It was not a shout, it was a scream, a shriek, an entreaty; it came again, much louder this time, she could distinctly hear the word: "Help."
She distinguished that voice; there was no mistaking it, she would have discerned its sound amongst ten thousand. This voice was Frank's. He had cried, he had implored, there was but one thing for her to do—to run to his aid.
Without even taking the trouble to fetch her hat, she hastily ran in the direction from whence the sound came.
Breathless, she arrived upon the scene. There, on the ground, lay the prostrate figure of a man, his head supported on the knee of another one.
The prostrate figure was her father's, the other man was Frank.
When he saw her with her hair dishevelled and her frantic look, Frank looked astonished. He then beckoned to her and said: "It is only a faint, and I hope only a slight bleeding of the nose. I think he will soon regain consciousness. Is there any water about here?"
"Not that I know of," she said, "but I will hasten home and bring some."
While she was gone, Mr. Rougeant opened his eyes. "Where am I?" he said, after in vain trying to recollect his thoughts.
"With a friend," answered Frank, bending over him.
The farmer closed his eyes, then opened them again and fixed them on Frank. He quickly shut them again, however. He had recognized the young man and a pang of remorse shot through his hard heart.
Adele soon came with a small can full of water; and a basin. Her father kept his eyes closed. He had not the courage to open them. She poured the water in a basin and began to wash his face.
When she had finished, he opened his eyes resolutely and said: "Now that I am washed and the bleeding has ceased, I had better go home." Without having the courage to look at Frank he said: "I think I can do with my daughter."
He tried to rise, but uttered a cry of pain. "My foot hurts me fearfully," he said, "I cannot move without your aid."
Thereupon they both helped him to his feet, while he kept a frowning look and a silent tongue.
"Do you think you can walk leaning on my shoulder?" said Frank.
"Perhaps," he replied, and, placing his hand on the preferred shoulder, he began to hobble along; stopping often and speaking seldom.
When the farmer was comfortably installed near the fire, his leg carefully placed on a footstool, Frank, knowing he was not wanted, took his leave, expressing a hope that the injured limb would soon be all right again.
The farmer shook his head sadly, and gave a look at Frank that was very significant.
Then he shrank for some time into a state of complete silence, but his face was clouded and his bushy eyebrows were more prominently drawn over his eyes than they had been for a long time.
He hardly spoke a word to Adele that evening, barely answering her questions.
How had the tables thus been turned? When Mr. Rougeant heard Frank pass by alone, he hastily vaulted over the hedge, intending to attack him, if not with his fists, at least with his tongue. But Providence directed otherwise. He miscalculated the height of the hedge on the side of the road,—for the field was higher than the road—and fell flat on his nose and face, one of his feet twisting under him and getting sprained.
The blow which he sustained in falling and the pain caused by his sprained ankle caused him to faint. Frank ran to his aid, lifted him carefully, and placed his head on his own knee.
It was in this position, as we have already seen, that Adele discovered them.
When Frank saw the farmer's nose bleeding so profusely, and the deathly paleness on his face, he cried for help. It was this cry which the young lady heard. The same cry aroused Tom, who was sleeping soundly, doubtless dreaming of his fair cousin. He looked carefully over the hedge, and when he saw how matters stood and how his uncle lay, he took to his heels and fled. Cowardice lent him wings.
FATHER AND DAUGHTER.
The morning after the accident, Mr. Rougeant, whose wrath was terrible, began to abuse his daughter.
"You are the cause of all this," he said, as he surveyed the injured limb.
"Very indirectly, I should think," she replied.
"What do you mean? How dare you disobey me as you have done lately; you have made me suffer; you have, under my very eyes, been making a fool of me—your father." He paused, as if unable to frame his next sentence.
"I beg your pardon, father," said the young lady respectfully; "but I have not been trying to 'make a fool' of you, as you say. I conscientiously think that I am right in encouraging the attentions of such an upright——"
"Stop your nonsense," he cried imperatively, his face assuming a terrible aspect, "you are an idiotic girl, you are trying to ruin me by listening to this pasteboard fellow, this scoundrel, this flippant rascal."
Adele was stung with her father's bitter sarcasm against one whom she loved. She looked straight at her father; she knew he was unable to move from his place, and this made her bolder than she would otherwise have been. She answered with a firm and steady voice: "He saved your life once."
"Saved my life, how? Only for his presence yesterday, I should not now be lying idle."
"I am not talking about yesterday," she replied; "I mean, when he saved you from drowning in the quarry at the risk of being himself dragged in."
"What has that to do with it?"
"It means that he is not a 'pasteboard fellow,' as you say; it means that you ought to acknowledge his kindness; it means that you should be thankful for the great service which he rendered you."
"If I owe him anything, let him say so and I will pay him," he replied. He had not the slightest intention of doing so.
"You owe him a debt of gratitude, and you should bless him; instead of that you curse him," she said, her lips quivering and the tears rushing to her eyes. The idea of her beloved being cursed.
"Yes, I hate him," said the farmer, "I cordially distaste that dirty rat; he is the worm that eats my bones; but, you never shall marry him; do you hear? never."
"I will never marry anyone else," she said, her face assuming a desperate calmness.
"Yes you will."
"Father," she said, her face almost as white as the cloth which she was spreading on the table, "it is useless to speak any more about it, it pains me to have to speak thus to you, but I will never marry Tom Soher."
She heard the grinding of her father's teeth.
"If I did so," she continued; "I feel that I should commit a great sin; I never could love him, therefore his life with me would be miserable; he would feel lonely, and, I am afraid, would soon return to his former habits of intemperance. Then I should be breaking my word, for I have promised——"
"You have!" howled the father.
She did not go on; her father's eyes were riveted on her with a terrible look. She feared he was going mad. She could not proceed, mesmerized as she seemed to be under that awful gaze.
At last she turned her attention to her work.
Not another word was spoken on the subject that day.
Neither of them ate much that evening. It was almost impossible for Adele to swallow anything. What she attempted to eat, stuck in her throat. Her father, who was seated near the fire in his accustomed place, seemed also to have lost his appetite.
At last, he thrust his food away from him with a gesture of impatience, and began moodily to contemplate the embers that were glowing in the grate. When nine o'clock—his usual hour for retiring—struck, Adele helped him into the parlour.
It was there on a sofa that he insisted on sleeping while his foot hurt him as it now did.
While the conversation was going on between father and daughter, Frank was crossing the fields near "Les Marches," and soon found himself beneath Adele's window. It was open. He took out his pocket book, and hastily writing a few lines on a leaf, tore off the piece of paper, rolled it into a ball, and threw it straight through the window.
Then he cautiously glided away.
When Adele retired for the night, she did not perceive the ball of paper that lay on the floor of her room. Her brain was so occupied with her thoughts that it failed to fulfil its functions towards the eyes.
She fixed her optics for a moment on the crumpled piece of paper, but she saw it not. She was undressing, but she knew it not; she did it mechanically, as if by instinct. Her thoughts were with her father and the unhappy home she was condemned to share with him. Home! alas! it was more like a hell. She shuddered at the thought. She was of a naturally quiet temperament, and she abhorred these awful scenes.
She earnestly hoped that the time would soon come when she would once more sail in smooth waters.
As she was moving about, her foot trod upon some object. "What is this?" she said to herself, as she stooped to pick it up. By whom that piece of paper had been placed there, she could not imagine.
By the light of the candle, she managed to read the missive. How her heart gladdened. She read it over and over again. It contained a message from Frank telling her that he hoped to hear from her at her earliest convenience. "So you will," she said half aloud as she carefully folded the small piece of paper.
She slept peacefully that night.
A SECRET CORRESPONDENCE.
On the following day she wrote to Frank and gave the letter to Jacques, asking him to carry it in the evening at the Rohais. The old man smiled at her, and carefully pocketing the piece of silver which she thrust into his hand, he remarked: "I s'pose you don't care for the guv'nor to know anything about this 'ere business."
"How dare you call my father so?" she said, pretending to be offended; "no; don't let him have any knowledge of this or any other message I may entrust you with in the future."
"He won't; look 'ere Miss, I'll do anything for you, you're a good 'un; and as for your father gettin' anything out of me; I'd as well have the last bone in my body pulled out afore I'd say anything against you or your young man. You're the very picture of your mother, that you are, she was a good woman——."
"Jacques, if you cannot express yourself in English, talk in Guernsey French, as you used to do," she said, for Jacques was showing forth his knowledge.
"What have I said?" he questioned in his native tongue, then he added: "I thought I was speaking well, I beg your pardon if I have offended you, Miss."
"You have not displeased me," she said. "I must go now, or my father will be fretting about my absence. I can trust you?"
"Yes, I will do anything for you. Good-night, Miss."
"Good-night, Mait Jacques."
And, with a light step and a cheerful countenance, she entered the room in which her father was. He was seated in an armchair before the fire-place, his attention centred on a halter which he was endeavouring to manufacture. He did not fail to notice the laughing eyes and the radiant expression of his daughter.
"What has she been about?" he mused, "has she been speaking to that smooth-tongued, stuck-up son of a ragamuffin."
His face assumed a sour expression as the suspicion crossed his mind. After a few moments of silence, he raised his small and constantly flickering eyes, and asked in a sour tone: "Where have you been all this time?"
"I have been speaking to Mait Jacques," she replied.
"The whole time."
"Yes, all the time."
"Only to him?"
"Yes, to him alone."
Mr. Rougeant was satisfied. The idea of disbelieving his daughter never entered his head. He knew she would never debase herself by uttering a falsehood, and he quietly resumed his work. Then, after a few minutes of silence, he turned again to her: "Is Jacques gone?" he enquired.
"I do not know," she replied.
"Well run and see, and, if he is not, tell him to come and speak to me."
An anxious look passed over Adele's face. Fortunately, she was able to slip out of the room before her father noticed it.
"He wants to question him," she said to herself; "I shall have to warn him. My father is almost sure to find him out. Oh! I do hope that he is gone." She approached the stable, where Jacques usually spent his last half-hour. She went towards the door, opened it and called out: "Jacques."
She joyously tripped towards the house. After a few steps she stopped. "I have not called out very loudly," she thought, "if Jacques were still here and my father were to see him, his suspicions would be aroused."
She retraced her steps, and in a half-frightened tone, wishing with all her heart that her cry might not be answered, she called out again in a louder voice: "Mait Jacques; are you about there?"
She listened eagerly. Her summons were not answered. She went towards the house and entered it, saying: "He's gone, I have not seen him."
"It does not matter much," said her father, "I will tell him what I have to say to-morrow."
Her anxiety recommenced. She looked at her father and tried to read his thoughts. In this she failed. He had one of those hard set faces the owners of which seem devoid of soul or sentiment.
When she awoke the following morning, Adele's first thoughts were about her father and his workman. What was he going to question him about? Ah! he had perhaps seen her through the window, giving a letter to the old man and cautioning him.
When they had finished breakfasting, Adele, who began to hope her father had completely forgotten all about his workman, was very much annoyed when Mr. Rougeant told her to tell Jacques to come and speak to him.
She searched out the old man, and, having found him, she said to him: "Did you see Mr. Mathers yesterday evening?"
"Yes, Miss," he answered, taking care to speak in his native tongue this time; "I saw him. He thanked me and asked a few questions about your health and Mr. Rougeant's foot."
"I am very much obliged to you," said Adele, "and now, you must come and talk to my father. I think he means to question you, but you will be on your guard; will you not?"
"Oh, he is not the man to take me in. If he asks me if you gave me a letter yesterday, or anything else concerning you, I know what to answer him."
"You will speak the truth?"
"Speak the truth and be taken in, not I; there's no harm in fibbing when it's for doing good, Miss."
"If you are prepared to utter falsehoods, Jacques, for the sake of shielding me, you will lose my approbation. I shall be very angry with you if you do so. You understand; you must not swerve from the path of truth."
"Well, I never," said Jacques, "and it was all for your sake. We shall see. I'm not going to let your father learn anything from me. Jerusalem, I would rather pull the hair off my head."
"The plain truth," said Adele, shaking her forefinger at him and looking very severe.
"I know my work, Miss," he replied as he followed her into the house.
The farmer was seated near the fire. He did not even turn round when Jacques entered. The latter went straight up to his employer and said: "You wanted me to come and speak to you."
Adele tried to look composed, but her nerves were unsteady. She could not bear to leave the room, while the men were talking about her. No, she must hear her doom; at any rate, she must be there to try and defend herself.
"Yes," said the farmer after a while, "what was it about now? oh! this evening——."
"Yesterday evening;" thought Adele, "he is making a mistake."
"This evening," the farmer went on, "you will carry my boots to the shoemaker's."
"All right, Sir," answered Jacques.
The young lady could not restrain a sigh of relief.
Jacques looked at her and winked—a most rude thing to do—but then Jacques did not know better.
Quoth Mr. Rougeant, his eyes fixed on the grate: "You will tell him to be as quick as he can about mending them; I mean to walk in a few days."
"All right, Sir."
"I don't want anything expensive; in fact, I want him to mend them as cheaply as he possibly can. But, you understand, I want him to repair them well."
"A good job costs money," Jacques ventured to interpose.
"I told you I don't want anything expensive," retorted the farmer angrily.
"Oh, that's all right, Sir; I'll tell him so, Sir," said the workman, frightened at Mr. Rougeant's sour tone.
"Well, you will fetch them this evening and be careful to tell him what I require; a good and inexpensive job, or I won't pay him."
"All right, Sir," said Jacques, and he left the room muttering: "He's growing from bad to worse; he is a stingy old niggard."
What was Tom Soher doing all this time? He was drinking.
He had never loved Adele Rougeant, and when he saw that there was not much chance of winning her, he took to drink. In reality, he preferred his bottle to his cousin. Of course, he put all the blame on the misfortunes which he had encountered.
Once, and only once, his father tried timidly to rebuke him. "No," he said, "there is nothing for me to do but to drown my sorrow. Welcome ruin."
"Why not turn a new leaf?" pleaded Mr. Soher.
"Bah!" he replied as he walked away, "what's the use!—no; good-bye to everything."
Spoilt child; he little knew the terrible death that awaited him.
MR. ROUGEANT GOES TO CHURCH.
The first Sunday after Mr. Rougeant's recovery, Adele said she intended to go to church. The farmer's eyes flickered more than usual. "I think I shall accompany you," he said.
His daughter started. What could he mean? He had not been to church these last three years or more; besides, he had not a decent suit of clothes to put on. Oh! it was disgusting.
"He is afraid of my meeting Frank on the road," she said to herself; "he need not fear, I am green, but not quite so much as he seems to think." "You have not even a suit of clothes that is fit to wear," she said aloud.
"They will do well enough."
"Your coat is as green as grass, and your trousers quite yellow. If it was in the evening, I should perhaps go with you, but in the morning—no."
"If you don't come with me, I suppose I shall have to come with you."
"You shall not come with me this morning, Sir."
"How dare you——"
"I will not go."
"Do as you like."
"I shall go this evening," she said, "the lamps will be lighted. I hope that stock of bad oil which they have is not used up, because I do not want the church to be well-lighted."
"How is that?"
"How is that?" she said in a grieved tone. "People might take you for a rag picker."
Her father was not a bit angry at her for saying this. She knew it, hence her boldness.
He almost smiled, a very—very rare thing for him to do; he was proud to think that people would say to each other: "Look, there is Mr. Rougeant, he is not a proud man."
On the evening in question, the clergyman almost lost his speech and his senses when he saw Mr. Rougeant sitting beside his daughter.
The worshippers thought not of the prayers as they were being read, or the audience of the sermon, as it was being delivered; they thought of Mr. Rougeant.
And, when the people came out of the church, instead of the usual remarks about the weather, folks said to one another: "Have you seen Mr. Rougeant." "Yes," answered the more composed, "it is not often one sees him about here."
"Oh!" answered the others, "how shocking."
A party of elderly ladies were assembling just outside the churchyard gates.
"Have you seen Mr. Rougeant?" they asked unanimously, as they approached one another.
"Oh, yes," replied Mrs. Martin, "I was quite astounded when I saw him enter."
"Yes, but you see," remarked another, "he has been ill, and maybe he has felt the need of worshipping in the house of God."
"What a shabby coat," said a third. "His trousers were worn out and threadbare," put in Miss Le Grove, who was not able to approach very near the group on account of her immense corpulence.
"His daughter seemed rather ill at ease," said No. Three.
"I think there is some of her fault," said Mrs. Martin, "she encourages a young man of bad reputation."
The whole group held up their hands and assumed an horror-stricken attitude.
"Impossible!", exclaimed No. Two.
"Shocking!" declared Miss Le Grove.
"We must be very careful about what we advance'" remarked No. Two, who generally passed for being a very Christian lady; then she added after a pause: "Miss Rougeant is, as everyone of us knows, good, well-bred and of refined taste."
"I only recited what I had heard, of course I don't believe it," said Mrs. Martin, a little disconcerted.
"If she marries and goes away from home, there will only be one thing for her father to do, and that will be to marry again," remarked Miss Le Grove, who found the state of forced celibacy unendurable.
The others looked at each other. Some could not force back the smile that rushed to their lips. Miss Le Grove noticed the suppressed mirth and blushed. Then losing her presence of mind, and wishing to explain the why and wherefore of her face being so red, she said, slightly retiring: "Isn't the weather warm."
There was a hoar-frost.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, an accident occurred, while Miss Le Grove was backing her voluminous self, which sufficed to disperse the assemblage.
A little boy was standing with his back to the obese woman. He was busily engaged, endeavouring to count the stars, when that most worthy spinster backed against him and sent him sprawling. She did not even feel the rencontre; it was like an iron-clad coming in collision with a fishing-smack.
The little parish school-boy was none the less irritated. He planted himself before Miss Le Grove, to make sure she would see him, made a frightful grimace and shouted: "You're an old half-a-ton." Then he decamped.
The other ladies giggled.
The company dispersed.
A group of youths who were standing near shouted "Well said, gamin."
Going home, the topic of the conversation was Miss Le Grove, garnished with a sprinkling of Mr. Rougeant.
As for the lady whom the little rogue had styled "half-a-ton" she walked alone muttering execrations against this "little wretch," and telling herself that there were no Christians, that these women laughed at her, because she chose to remain what Providence had directed she should be, and that Mr. Rougeant was perfectly right in keeping away from people, who had nothing to do when they came out of church but to backbite their neighbours.
In future, she too would shun these sophisticated people.
And—puffing and blowing; gesticulating and perspiring; soliloquizing and threatening, she retook possession of her home, sweet home.
"Good-morning, Mr. Rougeant," said Jacques on the Monday morning, as he perceived his employer walking about the farmyard.
"Good-morning, Jacques," responded the farmer.
"Your foot is better then?" said the workman, eager to commence the conversation, for Mr. Rougeant was already moving in a contrary direction.
"Yes, it's quite better now," replied the farmer, arresting his steps.
"Where's Miss Rougeant?" questioned Jacques.
"Rummaging the house; do you want to speak to her?"
"My wife told me that there was a long time she had not seen her. She says she is lonely and would very much like to see Miss Rougeant. She says your daughter is so kind and so much like her mother, that she would be very thankful if Miss Rougeant would condescend to visit her once or twice while she is laid up."
At the mention of his wife, Mr. Rougeant felt sorrow in his heart. He had loved once, but now, his nature was changed; he used to be happy and full of contentment then, although a struggling young farmer, for he had a bright, lovable and loving wife to cheer him up.
Now he was worth ten thousand pounds, and he felt the most miserable of men.
He stood still, the very picture of abject misery, not uttering a single word.
"Perhaps you will not mind telling her," said Jacques, breaking the silence.
The farmer looked up; "I shall tell her," he said, and walked away.
"Our little affair is coming off splendidly," said Adele as she tripped into the garden to speak to Jacques. "Yes, Miss, you are so clever, you deserve to succeed."
"We must not rejoice too soon; did you see Frank last night?"
"And he told you that he would come?"
"Yes, Miss; he gave me a letter for you but I must not give it to you now, I fancy Mr. Rougeant is watching us."
"You are quite right, leave it in the stable when you go there and I will fetch it. Has my father asked any questions?"
"Not one; he looks very sad."
"He is. It surprises me that he never questions you; he has such confidence in you; he would never think of suspecting you."
"If he asks me any questions, I'll know how to answer them. But," added the workman, laughing, "I must go and see how the horse is getting on. You will find the letter under the old saddle."
"Thank you very much for all your trouble," said Adele as she disappeared through the doorway.
After having read the letter which she had fetched from the stable, Adele smiled. "He will meet me near Jacques' cottage at six o'clock this evening," she said to herself. "I must try and hide my joy as much as I can, for my father will grow suspicious if he reads my happiness."
She had to keep a continual vigilance to prevent herself from smiling during the day. When evening approached, she dressed herself and proceeded towards the cottage.
The sun was setting beautifully in the west. When she reached the top of the hill, she could see him, gently sinking, as it were, into the sea, illuminating the horizon and the ocean in a flood of splendour. As it disappeared, the Hanois Lighthouse displayed its beacon light.
The visit to Mrs. Dorant was of short duration.
At half-past six, a young couple might be seen wending their way slowly through the beautiful country lanes. They talked in soft accents. Now and then Adele's low, silvery laugh sounded on the tranquil evening air.
They wandered thus for two hours. "I thought we had been out only about one hour," said Adele as Frank returned his watch to his fob.
"Love takes no account of time," he said. "Now, let us talk business. I profess to be a business man you know."
They talked about the obstacles to be vanquished, of Mr. Rougeant's wrath, of Tom Soher's jealousy.
"Be of good cheer. Amor vincit omnia," were Frank's last words to her that evening.
When she opened the wicket gate, Adele gave a horror-stricken start. She perceived the form of a man, stretched at full length before the front door. She could not restrain a cry of alarm. Frank, who had followed her, hastily advanced to see what was the matter. He had not gone far, before he saw the front-door open, and Mr. Rougeant come out, holding a lighted candle in his hand.
He hastily retreated farther away and watched the trio. He could easily see them without being seen. The light that came from inside the house, and that from the candle, shone full on the group.
He saw Mr. Rougeant pick up the prostrate figure, set the man on his feet, and, after having shut the gate after him, return inside.
This man, who walked with such an unsteady gait, was Tom Soher. Frank took the trouble to follow him home. He feared for his safety, accidents are so common with people in his state. He set his conscience at ease by seeing the tottering figure enter the house of the "Prenoms."
He pitied this slave to intemperance. He shuddered at the immense per cent. of his countrymen who were like this man.
How had Tom Soher happened to be lying before the threshold of "Les Marches?" We shall see.
That same evening, he was with a few of his sort, drinking at the "Forest Arms." He was more than half-intoxicated, when, without a word, he left the bar-room.
"Where are you going?" shouted his comrades.
"Bring him back," said some.
"Let him go," said the others.
Tom did not heed their talk, but directed his steps towards uncle Rougeant's farm-house.
He opened the door, walked straight in, and seated himself in a chair near the long bare table, without saying a word to his uncle.
The latter was in a dreadful state of mental excitement. He was walking up and down the room with his hands thrust deeply into his trousers' pockets, uttering execrations, blaming everyone and everything. He was so occupied with his ravings that he only cast a glance at his nephew, who stood, or rather sat, wondering what the dickens his uncle was about.
"Ah, this generation," said the farmer, "this generation is a mass of spoilt and pampered dolls"—he was thinking of his daughter—"they only think about running here and there; paying visits to friends, taking tea with cousins, or walks with dressed-up mashers.
"They do not care if they leave a poor old devil"—the appellation was appropriate enough—"all alone, with not even a dog to keep him company or a cat which he could kick; off they go, dressed in the garments for which you have paid out of your own pockets; ay, and for which you have toiled and perspired——"
"You're quite right, uncle," came from Tom.
The farmer gave a sudden start. He had altogether forgotten his nephew's presence. He went on:—"People are as proud as if they were all of blood royal. Even the poorest women, one sees pass in the afternoon with perambulators in which sleeps some little urchin who, mayhap, is brought up nearly all on the charity of saving people like me.
"It's a curse to have to pay taxes for this vermin. I say it's a downright injustice to make us, who attach ten times more value to a penny than they do, pay for the education of their brats.
"Ah! in my time, in the good old time, which is alas, gone for ever, we, the respectable people, were rolled about in clumsy little wooden carts, and the children of the labourers were carried in their mother's arms and placed between two bundles of ferns, while their mother went about her work. For, poor women went to work in those days. Ay! they had to do it or starve. But now, what do we see? These labourers' wives with servants."
He stamped, his foot impatiently. "And when they are destitute and homeless from sheer want of foresight, they are kept and fed out of the taxes which come out of our pockets. So-called civilisation and education are ruining the present generation."
"That's where you're right, uncle," interposed his nephew.
Mr. Rougeant went on: "Farmers' sons do not want to work now. Every one rails at manual labour. If this state of things goes on, the island will soon be a mass of ruined and dissipated human beings. The honourable people who have a pedigree they can boast of, are mixing with foreigners, whom no one knows whence they have sprung from. If you drink a glass of cider now a days, you are termed a drunkard by a lot of tea-drinkers, teetotalers and——."
"A glass of cider would do good, one is thirsty this weather," interrupted Tom, who, although half asleep, had caught the word cider.
Without even casting a glance at his nephew, so absorbed was he, the farmer continued: "One hears nothing but bicycle-bells. These bicycles are the greatest nuisance yet invented. I am surprised that people rack their brains in order to invent such worthless rubbish. Every one must have a bicycle. There may not be any bread in the house, the children may not be able to go to school or the wife to church for want of a decent pair of boots, but, 'I will have a bicycle.' And then, it is so very easy to have one, there's the hire system. Another curse of civilisation that is ruining the poor man. If our peasantry knew how to put by for a rainy day, like the French country-folk do, we should not have so many applications for relief, our hospitals would well nigh be empty."
"Vere dia, uncle."
"Poor people now are not half so polite as they used to be when I was young. They call each other Mess. instead of Mait., and they style their superiors Mait. when they ought to say Mess.
"The insolent rogues, they only have a smooth tongue when they come to beg. People may say what they like, foolish men may talk about the State establishing scholarships, for the talented poor; let them work. I have worked all my life, and hard too, and here I am, better than any of them."
"Educate them with the States' revenue. Indeed! Bring them up like gentlemen, for them to laugh at you later on, to look down upon you as if you were so much stubble."
"That's what they like. Give young people a few pence to rattle in their trousers' pockets, a collar, cuffs, a sixpenny signet ring on the little finger, a nickel-silver mounted cane and a pair of gloves, and there they go, not caring a fillip whether their parents have toiled and struggled to rise to their present position, ignoring the necessity of thrift, a happy-go-lucky generation. And then, at the end of it all, a deep chasm, into which they will all fall headlong; an immense pyre that will consume all their vanities and profligacies."
"They deserve to be burnt, indeed they do, uncle."
"Someone was even talking of establishing a public library here. Well let them complete the ruin. It is as well. I hope to be dead by that time though. Life, then, will be intolerable. I hope to sleep with those worthy champions of labour—my ancestors—in the churchyard yonder.
"Books!—what do they want books for? I never yet knew a man who read books that was worth a farthing.
"I knew one once who was versed in book-lore, but, worse luck to him, he could not bind a wheat-sheaf or weed a perch of parsnips, and the result—bankruptcy; failure. That's what it comes to.
"Books!—do they want to make schoolmasters of us all, or do they wish us to be always reading our eyes out instead of attending to our business?
"Books!—they are only good for idle loafers; they offer an excuse for shunning one's duty. 'I want to read a bit,' they say when told to do something. 'Oh, let me just finish this page, it is so interesting,' they plead, when asked to quickly fetch some article. This is what Adele used to do, but I nipped this slothful tendency in the bud. I would have none of it."
He stopped his discourse and his walk, gazed at his nephew who had fallen across the table and was now sleeping soundly; then recommenced his peregrinations.
"I am disgusted with the world; I don't know what it will all come to. Some of these modern farmers are even discarding the grande charrue. Oh! shades of our ancestors. The great plough—the only feast of the year that is worth anything, mutton and roast beef, ham and veal, cider by the gallon and a jovial company of good old sons of the soil.
"It is horrible thus to see our old routine trampled underfoot, our ancestors' customs sneered at."
Mr. Rougeant was extremely animated. Like nearly every other country Guernseyman, he was opposed to change.
He walked about with distorted features, his eyes shining with a strange light.
He thought of his family dwindling away; of his daughter disregarding his commands and disobeying him. In his innermost soul he felt convinced that she would never marry his nephew. He cast his eyes in the direction of the latter. What! he was sleeping while he was enduring all the agony of a king who is being dethroned; of a general, whose army is in open mutiny against him; of a millionaire who sees his whole fortune disappear through some awful catastrophe! It was unendurable.
He again began to pace the room. Having finally arrived at a decision as to his future conduct, and thinking just then of his daughter's disregard for his tastes, he shouted in a voice of thunder, bringing down his fist upon the table with an awful crash.
"Palfrancordi! let her act according to her own stubborn will, but she'll not inherit a penny of mine, not one double."
He was now quite close to his nephew and the latter, aroused by the noise which his uncle had made, raised his head and yawningly drawled out: "You're quite right, uncle."
The farmer stood straight in front of Tom Soher, his arms folded, his penetrating eye fixed scrutinizingly on his nephew. He perceived the latter's state; his wrath increased. "What!" he ejaculated; "you are drunk!"
Tom was in such a plight that he understood not his uncle, neither did he perceive his anger. He muttered: "You're quite right, uncle."
"Then begone, you wretched inebriate. I'll not have intoxicated brutes about my house."
So saying, he seized bewildered Tom, dragged him through the vestibule and hurled him outside, slamming the door after his nephew without even waiting to see what became of him.
Then, wearied and tired out by his exertions, he sank into a chair and began to ponder about this new discovery. He mentally resolved that he would never have a drunkard for his son-in-law.
Then he gradually grew calmer. The reaction was setting in.
He was still engaged in his reflections when he heard a cry. 'Twas his daughter's. He lightened a candle and hastened to open the door, wondering what could have happened. The sight of his nephew lying there, chilled him with terror. Was he dead? Had he killed him? If so, it was the crowning point of all his woes.
How he raised him and sent him home we have already seen.
When Mr. Rougeant was again with his daughter, he kept a dogged silence. She gathered from his demeanour that he had had a frightful shock, but took great care not to question him. Hardly a word was exchanged between them that evening.
Adele was glad of it, for she had her thoughts occupied with her wedding which was to come off in three weeks.
After all the commotion, the wedding was a very quiet one.
Adele left the house early one bright summer morning.
The sun was rising, illuminating the sky with all its various colours; the lark was soaring towards heaven's gates; the mowers could already be heard sharpening their scythes in the hay fields, and Mary and Louisa, the tenant's daughters, were busily engaged milking their father's cows.
A carriage, drawn by two grey horses, carried the heiress of "Les Marches" to be married to Frank Mathers.
The beautifying properties of love shone on the bride's and bridegroom's countenances as they stepped out of the church of St. ——.
In both their souls was a paradise.
From time to time, Mrs. Mathers assumed a thoughtful expression.
"I cannot help thinking of my father," she said, as the carriage-wheels rattled over the road near "Les Gravees."
"Let not this mar your happiness," he answered joyfully, "perhaps he will relent when he sees that it is of no use grumbling."
Adele smiled, for, in spite of everything, she would be happy. "I am joyful," she said, "but as for his pardoning me, well—you do not know him as well as I do."
The next day while Mr. and Mrs. Mathers were enjoying a snug little tete-a-tete, the postman brought them a letter. It was from Mr. Rougeant.
"I told you he would be glad to renew his acquaintance," said Frank, as soon as he saw the signature.
"What's this?" he said. "A cheque, Adele; a cheque for one hundred pounds! It's our wedding present, I suppose; let me read the letter:"
"To my Daughter,—I have heard that you have been married. You think that I will bend. You are mistaken. Moreover, as I warned you before you took that rash step that I would take care you would not inherit a single penny of mine; I send you this cheque. It is the last money which you will ever receive from me.
Frank's face was a blank. "Fancy to come and tell you that you took a rash step," he said.
"Did not I tell you that he was stubborn?" said his wife.
"He says that he will not bend," continued Frank, perusing the letter for a second time. "My father-in-law, you will probably break, then. Those one hundred pounds are welcome all the same."
"I was thinking of sending them back," said Mrs. Mathers, "but, perhaps, we had better keep them; father would only be too glad to have them back. I cannot conceive how he mustered sufficient resolution to part with his god. He must have made a supreme effort."
Said Frank: "To pocket both our pride and the cheque, is, I think, the best course which we can pursue. We must, however, acknowledge his kind remittance and thank him for it. What do you think of inviting him to tea some afternoon?"
"You are joking."
"As far as regards the invitation, yes; but as for acknowledging receipt of the cheque, no. I leave you to decide whether you shall do so. Of course, I am not supposed to have anything to do in the matter."
"Since you leave it to me, go and open the lights of your greenhouses, the sun is getting warm. While you are absent, I shall write an answer. I cannot do it while you are here; I want to be very serious."
Frank went out of the room. He came back after a few minutes' absence.
"Sit you down and listen," said his wife. The letter which she had written ran thus;—
"My Dear Father,—I have received the cheque which you were kind enough to send me. I thank you for it."
"Your letter, however, pained me. You seem to think that I have wantonly disobeyed you. I have not; I have only acted honourably and conscientiously."
"I cannot but feel sorry for you when I think of the useless and self-inflicted sufferings which you endure."
"As for your property, I am happy to state that we have enough, and to spare.
"Father; if ever you require our aid; if ever you feel that you would like to speak to us or to see us, do not hesitate; a daughter's and a son-in-law's love will you always find in us."
"Your affectionate daughter,
Frank was smiling. "I think that will do very nicely," he said.
When Mr. Rougeant read his daughter's missive, he uttered a cry of contempt. "Require your aid,—well, I shall have to sink low. You love me."—He banished the thought from him, for his heart was already softening under the influence of those words.
Although he and his daughter had lived a life of mutual misunderstanding during the last years of her stay at "Les Marches," he felt her absence much more keenly than he had anticipated.
The days that followed were for him days of inexpressible ennui. He would saunter up and down the kitchen for half-an-hour at a time. He conversed with Jacques; he tried to take interest in something; he counted his money, his gold, his god.
Formerly, he found great pleasure in doing so; but now, the sound of the precious metal awoke no feeling of satisfaction within his heart as it used to do, but rung in his ears with a funereal sound. He thought it foretold his doom.
He continued thus for weeks, a miserable, ill-humoured, irritated and troubled man.
The month of August came, warm almost to suffocation. Mr. Rougeant often felt cold. He would sit for hours before the fire, his feet stretched at full length, his hands buried in his pockets, and his drooping chin resting on his bosom. His eyes were closed.
As he sat thus one afternoon, a flood of anger roused him up; he rose, waxed warm, his tottering steps feverishly paced the room for a time, then sunk back into his chair, a passion-beaten, exhausted and perspiring man.
He had strange thoughts sometimes. Willingly would he "have shuffled off his mortal coil; but that the dread of something after death, that undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveller returns, puzzled his will, and made him rather bear the ills he had, than fly to others that he knew not of."
One day, Mrs. Dorant, whom he had engaged to look after the house, found him meditatively examining a piece of rope, which he held in his hand. She was alarmed and beckoned to her husband, who was near.
He went up to his employer, who, directly he saw that he was being observed, threw the rope away from him excitedly.
"You look ill, Mr. Rougeant," said Jacques, as he scrutinized the pale face and haggard look of the farmer.
"So I am," was the answer.
"Shall I fetch a doctor, or——."
"Go about your work," angrily commanded Mr. Rougeant.
Jacques did as he was bid. He, however, watched the farmer. Every morning, he expected to find him hanging from a beam. But as time passed on, Mr. Rougeant seemed to improve.
He had, in fact, abandoned the horrible thought of putting an end to his existence.
He continued thus to live for more than four years; when his health once more gave way.
At the thought of death, he shuddered. To die alone, with no friend to close his eyelids, to die like a dog, ay worse, to leave behind him the reward of his labours and thrift to persons who had defied him, was intolerable.
For they had had the impudence to tell him at the solicitor's office that he could not make a will giving his property to others; he could not disinherit his daughter.
All this vexed him. He sank on the jonquiere exclaiming "Alas!"
Mr. Rougeant's condition continued to aggravate. The thought of death struck his heart with terror. Behind him, he left a life of selfishness and bigotry. No good deed, no act of self-denial to soften the pangs of a stricken conscience.
Before him, everything seemed dark, mysterious, awe-inspiring, despairing; for aught he knew, a just chastisement awaited him.
He had toiled for gold; he had obtained it. What a man soweth that shall he also reap.
In spite of his avarice and the knowledge that a consultation to the doctor would cost him something, Mr. Rougeant's terror overcoming all these; he resolved to see a physician.
He did not send Jacques to fetch one, the visit of the medical man would have cost him too much; he drove thither in his phaeton.
The doctor who was consulted said the disease was of long standing.
He gave Mr. Rougeant a bottle of medicine for which the latter grudgingly paid three francs, and told the farmer to come and see him again in a few days.
As Mr. Rougeant was descending the Rohais, his old horse trotting slowly and joggedly, an unwelcome thought flashed across his mind. "I must be in the vicinity of their house," he said to himself, then he made a gesture with his right hand. "Bah! what have I to do with them."