And she read in the face before her, from its sympathy and sadness, the answer she dreaded.
Elinor, before replying, came nearer to the table. "Do you speak English?"
The Princess nodded, and seated herself in the chair of the miniature, and with clasped hands and a pale face, whispered:
Elinor took the opposite chair. "May I tell you about it in English? I can do it more easily and better than in French."
"Certainly, certainly. And tell me all—everything."
Bravely the Princess listened. The tears flowed as she heard the story, pressing her handkerchief to her eyes, and even trying to smile at times in grateful sympathy for the narrator's efforts at consolation.
"Tell me how he looked the day you found him. Did he seem to have been—ill—to have suffered?"
"We thought him asleep. There was no trace of suffering. The color of his face surprised us."
When the story of his burial was finished, the Princess rose from her seat, came around and stood by Elinor, and took her hand. "I owe you so much. You were very good and considerate. I am grateful, very grateful. He was unfortunate in his life. It is a consolation to know his death was happy, and that he was reverently buried."
Then Elinor, after hesitating, decided to ask a question.
"If it is no secret, and if you care to do it, would you mind telling me why he came across the water, out here in the forest, and lived in such a way?"
"Assuredly! And even if it were a secret I should tell you. In the first place, he was the Duc de Fontrevault, a very good name in France, as perhaps you know. He fell in love—oh, so fiercely in love!—with a lady who was to marry—well, who was betrothed to a king. It sounds like a fairy tale, n'est-ce pas?"
"It does, indeed!"
The Princess was now sitting on the arm of Elinor's chair, looking down into her face, in a motherly, or elder sisterly, sort of way.
"Well, you would know all about the king if I told you. He died only the other day, so you will soon guess him. C'etait un vaurien, un imbecile. My father not only loved this—"
She stopped, abruptly, leaning forward with one hand upon the table. "Mais, Mon Dieu! there is my portrait! My old miniature of twenty years ago! How came it there?" And she pointed to the opposite chair.
"We found it hanging there when we came, and have never disturbed it."
"You found it hanging there, on the back of that chair?"
"My own chair—where I used to sit! So, then, I was always before him!"
Elinor nodded. In the eyes of the Princess came fresh tears. She undertook to say more, but failed; and getting up, she walked around the table and dropped into Pats's chair, gurgling something in French about the petit pere. Then she broke down completely, buried her face in her hands, and made no effort to control her grief.
When she recovered composure, her self-reproaches were bitter for allowing so many years to go by without a visit to this devoted parent. Smiling as she dried her eyes,—the eyes with the drooping corners, old friends to Elinor,—she said: "You, also, had me for a guest all this time."
"No, for a hostess. It is your house."
"And where do you sit?"
"Here, where I am."
"Then I have been your vis-a-vis?"
The Princess smiled. "Well, my face must be terribly familiar to you. Perhaps you recognized me at first?"
"Yes; I supposed you must be his daughter. But we believed the portrait to be your mother."
"How amusing! But poor mamma! there is no portrait of her here. She came away in too much of a hurry to stop for trifles."
She studied the miniature in silence, then, leaning back in her chair:
"Mais, voyons! I was telling something."
"About your father—why he came here."
"Ah, yes! Well, for a man to marry, or try to marry—or to dream of marrying—a princess formally betrothed to a king was quelque chose d'inouie. But he was badly brought up, this little father of mine: always having his own way,—un enfant gate,—you know, a child made worse—a child damaged—hurt—what am I trying to say?"
"A spoiled child."
"Of course! But the King also was a spoiled child, which is to be expected in a king. However, that did not smooth things for my little father, as the King was beside himself with rage—furious, wild!"
"He was jealous?"
The Princess laughed—more of a triumphant chuckle than a laugh. "And well he had reason!"
"Then the lady preferred your father to the King?"
"Mon Dieu! She had eyes." Then, with a slight motion of a hand: "And she had sense."
Elinor smiled. "But a king is a great catch."
The little lady shrugged her shoulders. "That made nothing to her. She was as good as the King. She was a grande princess. Not an every-day princess, like me."
"Are you a princess?" Elinor asked in surprise.
"Yes, an ordinary princess—the common, every-day kind. But she was a princesse royale. And so he did this." With a comprehensive gesture of both her hands she indicated the tapestries, paintings, busts, furniture, and the entire contents of the house.
"You mean he brought his own possessions off here, across the water?"
"And did he bring the Princess with him?"
"What a question! It is evident, Mademoiselle, that you were not acquainted with my father, the Duc de Fontrevault."
"Then this princess was your mother?"
"And that is her grave out there, beneath the pines, next to his?"
The Princess nodded, and blinked, but smiled: "Poor mamma! She only lived a few years after that; I was nine when she died."
"Were you born here?"
"In there." And she glanced toward Elinor's chamber.
"You must have had a lonely childhood."
"No. In those days we had a servant—and a cow."
"But why should your father and mother escape to this wilderness? Surely a woman may marry whom she pleases in these days."
"Certainly. But an agent was sent to arrest my father—on a legal pretext—and in the quarrel this agent—also a gentleman of high rank—was killed. So that was murder. Just what his Majesty wished, perhaps. And my father, in haste, packed a few things on a ship and disappeared."
"A few things!"
"The King never knew where he went. Nor did any one else. But enough of myself and family. Tell me of your coming here. And of your friend. Is she still here?"
"My friend was a man."
The Princess raised her eyebrows, involuntarily. "Pardon me if I am indiscreet, but you are not married?"
Now this Parisian, with other Europeans, had heard startling tales about American girls; of their independence and of their amazing freedom. She leaned forward, a lively curiosity in her face. To her shame be it said that she was always entertained by a sprightly scandal, and seldom shocked.
"How interesting! And this gentleman, was he young?"
But the American girl did not reply at once. She had divined her companion's thoughts and was distressed, and provoked. This feeling of resentment, however, she repressed as she could not, in justice, blame the Princess—nor anybody else—for being reasonably surprised. So, she began at the beginning and told the tale: of the stupid error by which she was left with a man she hardly knew on this point of land; of their desperate effort to escape in September, by taking to a raft and floating down the river; how they failed to land and were carried out to sea, nearly perishing from exposure. She described their reaching shore at last, several miles to the east. And when she spoke of the early snow, in October, of the violent storms and the long winter, the Princess nodded.
"Yes, I remember those winters well. But we were happy, my father and I."
"And so were we," said Elinor.
"Then this stranger turned out well? A gentleman, a man of honor?"
"Yes, oh, yes! And more than that. He gave his life for mine."
From the look which came into Elinor's face, and from a quiver in the voice, the sympathetic visitor knew there was a deeper feeling than had been expressed. She said, gently:
"You are tired now. Tell me the rest of the story later."
"No, no. I will tell you now. One morning, about a month ago, the first pleasant day after a week of rain, we started off along the bank of the river to see if the flood had carried away our raft—the new one. Just out there, in the woods, not far from here, I stepped to the edge of the bank and looked down at the water. The river was higher than we had ever seen it,—fuller, swifter, with logs and bushes in it. Even big trees came along, all rushing to the sea at an awful speed."
"Yes, I know that river in spring. The water is yellow, and with a frightful current,—fascinating to watch, but it terrifies."
Elinor nodded. "Fascinating to watch, yes. But Pats told me—"
"My friend. His name was Patrick."
"And Pats is the little name—the familiar—for Patrick?"
"Ah, I never knew that! But pardon me. Please go on."
"He told me to come back—that the bank was undermined by the river and might give way. He said: 'Whoever enters that river to-day leaves hope behind.' At the very instant I started back the earth under me gave way, and—and, well, I went down to the river and under the water—an awful distance. I thought I should never come up again. But I did come up at last, gasping, half dead, several yards from the shore. The current was carrying me down the river, but I saw Pats on the bank above, watching me. His face was pale and he was hurrying along to keep near. Oh, how I envied him, up there, alive and safe!"
"Poor child! I can well believe it!"
"He cried out, 'Try and swim toward the shore! Try hard!' And I tried, but was carried along so fast that I seemed to make no headway. Then I saw him run on ahead, pull off his shoes and outer clothes, slide down the bank and shoot out into the water toward me."
"Bravo!" exclaimed the listener. "Bravo! That was splendid!" And in her enthusiasm she rose, and sat down again.
Elinor sank back in her chair. But the Princess was leaning forward with wide open eyes and parted lips.
"Then what happened?"
"He reached me, caught me with one hand by my dress between the shoulders, and told me again to swim hard for the shore. It seemed hopeless, at first, for the current was frightful—oh, frightful! It washed us under and tried to carry us out again. But Pats pushed hard, and after an awful struggle—it seemed a lifetime—we we reached the shore."
But in the speaker's face there came no enthusiasm. She closed her eyes, leaning back in her chair as if from physical weakness. The Princess got up, and once more came and stood by the girl's chair, and gently patted a shoulder.
"Tell me the rest later. There is no haste."
"I shall feel better for telling it now. I started to climb up the bank. It was steep, all stones and gravel, and a few little bushes. The stones gave way and kept letting me down—slipping backward. He was still in the water. I heard him tell me to go slow and not hurry. He was very calm, and his voice came up from beneath me, for—" and here she laughed, a little hysterical laugh—more of a sob than a laugh, as if from over-taxed nerves—"for I seemed to be sitting on his head."
The Princess also laughed, responsively.
"I shall never know just how it happened, but in one of my struggles the whole bank seemed to slide from under me into the river. I clung to a bush and called to him, and tried to look down, but—he was gone."
A silence followed. The Princess rested her cheek against Elinor's hair, and murmured words of comfort. "How long ago did this happen?"
"A month ago."
More from sympathy than from conviction the Princess said:
"He may return. Stranger things have happened. Perhaps he was carried out to sea—and rescued."
Elinor shook her head. "He was buried beneath the rocks and gravel. If he had risen to the surface, I should have seen him, for the day was clear. No, I know where he is. I see him, all night long, in my sleep, lying at the bottom of the river, his face looking up."
"My child," said the Princess, "listen. With your sorrow you have precious memories. From what you have not told me of your Pats, I know him well. He loved you. That is clear. You loved him. That is also clear. Alone with him in this cottage through an endless winter, and perfectly happy! Voyons, you confessed all when you said 'we were happy!' He was the man of a woman's heart! With no hesitation, he gave his life for yours: to save you or die with you. Tell me, what can Heaven offer that is better than a love like that?"
She closed her eyes and drew a long breath. "Ah, these Americans! These extraordinary husbands! I have done nothing but hear of them!"
"He was not my husband."
"But he was to be?"
The Princess rose, walked around the table and stood beside the chair that held her portrait.
"My child, I respect your grief. My heart bleeds for you, but you are to be envied." With uplifted eyebrows, and her head slightly to one side, she went on: "My husband, the Prince de Champvalliers is good. We adore one another. As a husband he is satisfactory,—better than most. But if, by chance, I should fall into a river, with death in its current, and he were safe and dry upon the bank—"
Sadly she smiled, and with a shrug of the shoulders turned about and moved away.
Erect, and with a jaunty step, she walked about the room, renewing acquaintance with old friends of her youth: with the little tapestried fables on the chairs and sofa; with certain portraits and smaller articles. But it was evident that the story she had heard still occupied her mind, for presently she came back to the table and stood in front of Elinor. With a slight movement of the head, as if to emphasize her words, she said, impressively, yet with the suggestion of a smile in her half-closed eyes:
"Were I in your place, my child, I should grieve and weep. Yes, I should grieve and weep; but I should enjoy my sorrow. You are still young. You take too much for granted. You are too young to realize the number of women in the world who would gladly exchange their living husbands for such a memory." She raised her eyebrows, closed her eyes, and murmured, with a long, luxurious sigh: "The heroism! the splendid sacrifice! I tell you, Mademoiselle, no woman lives in vain who inspires in an earthly lover a devotion such as that!"
NEWS FROM THE WORLD
Jacqes soon appeared. As his knowledge of English was scant, the Princess gave him the story she herself had heard. Great was his horror on learning that when last he came—in September—and left the usual provisions, the Duc de Fontrevault had been in his grave since the previous June.
He asked many questions. Elinor told him everything that could be of interest, and the Princess listened eagerly to these replies. The old servant seemed pleased when Elinor turned to him with a smile and said, in his own language: "So you are the French Fairy. That is what we always called you after finding your letter. Our lives were saved by that unexpected supply of food."
Then they talked of other matters,—of what things should be carried back to France. And as the strength and energy of the American girl seemed to have gone—owing, perhaps, to a too meagre diet—the Princess insisted upon having her own maid sent up to pack the trunks. Jacques departed on this errand, and to get one or two men. He soon returned with them, and accompanied by the Archbishop. With a half-suspicious interest His Grace studied this young woman, still seated in her usual place by the table, her eyes, with a listless gaze, following the daughter of the house as she opened drawers and cabinets.
His Grace was standing by the big tapestry, between the two busts, his hands behind him.
"Pardon me, my child," he said with a deep-toned benevolence, calculated to impress the guiltless and to awe the guilty, "but what I find it difficult to understand is why your friends did not look for you. They certainly must have guessed the situation."
Elinor shook her head gently, as if she also recognized the mystery.
"To what do you attribute this singular indifference to your fate on the part of your family and friends?"
"I cannot guess. I have no idea."
"It was purely accidental your—your arrival here?"
In this reply there was something that smote the Archbishop's dignity. It seemed verging upon impertinence. Again he scrutinized the faded garments, the sunburned face, the hands somewhat roughened by toil, now folded on the table before her. His perceptions in feminine matters were less acute than those of the Princess. He remembered a young man had been a companion to this girl in this cottage, and during a whole year. It was only natural that the Princess, in treating this person with so much consideration, should be misled by a very tender, romantic heart, and by a Parisian standard of morality too elastic and too easy-going for more orthodox Christians. Into his manner came a suggestion of these thoughts,—his tone was less gracious, a trifle more patronizing. But as the victim supposed this to be his usual bearing, she felt no resentment.
"It was certainly a most unprecedented—one might almost say, incredible—blunder. And in daylight, too."
"Do I understand that you came here in a steamboat?"
"And the steamboat, after leaving you and the young man, kept on her course toward Quebec?"
"Do you remember the name of the boat?"
"The Maid of the North."
"The Maid of the North!"
Elinor took no notice of this exclamation of surprise. In a purely amiable manner she was becoming tired.
"The Maid of the North, did you say?"
"But, my child, when was that? When were you left here?"
With a sigh of weariness, she replied: "A year ago this month, on the ninth of June."
"The ninth of June," he repeated, in a lower tone, more to himself than to her. "Why—then, she was lost between this point and Quebec."
And Elinor looked up at him with startled eyes.
"Yes." Then he added: "But I see that you could not have known it."
"Do you mean the Maid of the North never reached Quebec?"
"Nothing has been heard of her since the eighth of last June. On that day she was spoken by another steamer near the Magdalen Islands."
Elinor had risen from her chair, and stood leaning against the table. "That is horrible! horrible! It does not seem possible! What do they think became of her?"
"Nobody knows. There are several theories, but nothing is certain. You are probably the only survivor."
"But were there no traces of her,—no wreckage, nothing to give a clew?"
With drooping head and a hand across her eyes, she murmured: "Poor Louise! And my uncle—and Father Burke!" And she sank back into her chair.
The Archbishop took a step nearer. "Did you know Father Burke?"
"He was a dear friend."
At this reply the eyebrows of the holy man were elevated. A light broke in upon him. With a manner more sympathetic than heretofore—and less patronizing—he said gently:
"Father Burke was a dear friend of mine, also,—an irreparable loss to the Church and to all who knew him. Is it possible you are the young lady whom he held in such high esteem and affection, and of whom he wrote to me? Were you in his spiritual charge, with thoughts of a convent?"
Into his face came a look of joy. Then, in a voice brimming over with tenderness and paternal sympathy:
"I cannot express my pleasure, my heartfelt gratitude, that you have been spared us. Of your exalted character and of your holy aspirations our dear friend spoke repeatedly. And now, in your hour of affliction, it will be not only the duty, but the joy and privilege of our Holy Church to serve you as counsellor and guide."
As the girl made no reply, he went on, in a subdued and gently modulated voice:
"At this time more than ever before, you must need the consolation of Religion. Am I not right in believing that you feel a deeper yearning for the closer love and protection of our Heavenly Father, for that security and peace which the outer world can never offer? And too well we know that the outer world is uncharitable and cruel. It might look askance upon this strange adventure. But the arms of Our Mother are ever open. You are always her daughter, and with her there is nothing to forgive. All is love, and faith, and peace."
To this deeply religious girl, now stricken and weary, whose heart was numbed with grief, whose hope was crushed, these words came as a voice from Heaven. She held forth a hand which the prelate held in both his own.
"God bless you, my child."
VOICES OF THE WOOD
When the Princess realized the somewhat famished condition of her new acquaintance she ordered a tempting lunch from the yacht, and had it served in the cottage: fresh meat, with fruit, vegetables, and cream and butter—new dishes among the Pines of Lory! Of this repast the Archbishop partook with spirit.
"Truly an invigorating air. What an appetite it gives!" And he devoured the viands with a priestly relish, but always with arch-episcopal dignity. The person, however, for whom the meal was served leaned back wearily in her chair, barely tasting the different dishes.
"You will starve, my child," said the Princess, gently. "Really, you must eat something to keep alive."
The effort was made, but with little success. And in Elinor's face her friend divined an over-mastering grief.
The two women, after lunch, strolled out among the pines, toward the bench by the river. It became evident to the Princess, from the manner in which her companion leaned upon her arm, that days of fasting—and of sorrow—had diminished her strength. Upon the rustic bench Elinor sank with a sigh of relief. But into her face came a smile of gratitude as her eyes met those of the little lady who stood before her, and who was looking down with tender sympathy.
To Elinor's description of how she and Pats found the old gentleman reclining upon this same bench, the Princess gave the closest attention. Every detail was made clear by the narrator, who took the same position at the end of the seat, crossing her knees and leaning a cheek upon one hand, as if asleep. Then the Princess, after asking many questions, took the vacant place beside her and they sat in silence, looking across the river, to the woods beyond. To both women came mournful thoughts, yet with pleasant memories. And soothing to the spirit of each was the murmur of the woods. To Elinor this plaint of the pines was always a consoling friend: a sad but soothing lullaby which now had become a part of her existence. It recalled a year of priceless memories. But these memories of late had become an unbearable pain,—yet a pain to which she clung.
For the Princess, also, there were memories, stirred by these voices overhead, but softened by time. Hers was not the anguish of a recent sorrow.
From these day-dreams, however, she was brusquely awakened. With no word of warning, the girl at her side had sprung to her feet and faced about. Into her face had come a look of unspeakable joy. Her lips were parted in excitement, and a sudden color was in her cheeks.
This transformation from deepest grief to an overpowering ecstasy alarmed her companion. And in Elinor's eyes there was a feverish eagerness, intense, almost delirious, as she exclaimed:
"You heard it?"
"That sound! The notes of a quail!"
The Princess shook her head.
"Oh, yes, you heard it! Don't say you did not hear it!"
Then, when the Princess, still looking up in vague alarm, gently shook her head a second time, Elinor reached forth a hand imploringly, as it were, and whispered:
"You must have heard it. The whistle of a quail, back there in the woods?"
To the little woman upon the bench these words had no significance, but her sympathy was aroused. That sensitive nerves and an aching heart should succumb, at last, to despair and loneliness and fasting she could readily understand, and she answered, kindly:
"I heard no bird, dear child, but it may be there. Perhaps your hearing is better than mine."
At this reply all the joy went out of Elinor's face, leaving a look so spiritless and despairing that her friend, who could only guess at her companion's thoughts, added:
"Or it may be nothing. You merely dreamed it, perhaps."
Elinor straightened up. She drew a long breath, and murmured, in a low voice from which all hope had fled:
"Of course! I dreamed it," and sank wearily into her place upon the bench.
Furtively, but with pity in her face, the Princess regarded the drooping head and closed eyes; then she stood up and placed a hand affectionately upon Elinor's shoulder.
"I understand your feelings. Rest here until the boat goes."
Indicating, with a wave of her hand, the big trees towering high above, she added:
"Your last moments with these old friends shall be respected. I am going to the two graves over there, and will return before it is time to start."
She walked away, into the grove.
Again, among the shadows of these pines, came memories of her childhood, with the feeling of being alone in a vast cathedral. And the fragrance, how she loved it! And she loved this obscurity, always impressive and always solemn, yet filling her soul with a dreamy joy.
In her passage between the columns of this shadowy temple she stopped and turned about for a parting glance at her friend. In the same position, her head upon her hand, Elinor still sat motionless, a picture of patient suffering. For a moment the Princess watched her in silence, then slowly turned about and started once again upon her way. Only a step, however, had she taken when the color fled from her cheeks and she halted with a gasp of terror. Gladly would she have concealed herself behind the nearest tree, but she dared not move.
In the gloom of the forest, scarcely a dozen yards away, a figure was moving silently across her path in the direction of the cottage. Such a figure she had seen in pictures, but never in the flesh. The North American savage she always dreaded as a child; and once, at a French fair, she had seen a wild man. This creature recalled them both. He was brown of color, with disorderly hair and stubby beard, and no covering to his body except strips of cloth, faded and in rags, suspended from one shoulder, held at the waist by a cord, and dangling in tatters about his legs. Bending slightly forward as he walked—or rather glided—among the pines, he was peering eagerly in the direction of the house. Had his gaze been less intent, he would have seen this other figure, the woman watching him in silent terror. Furtively she glanced about the grove to see if other creatures were stealing from tree to tree. But she failed to discover them.
Now the Princess, while fashionable and frivolous, and reprehensible in many ways, was not devoid of courage. And her conscience told her to give warning to her friends. This heroic decision was swiftly made. In making it, however, her cheeks grew paler.
But she was spared the sacrifice. As she drew in her breath for the perilous attempt, she saw the man himself stand still and straighten up. Then, before she could utter the warning,—before her own little mouth was ready,—the shadowy silence of the wood was broken, not by the dreaded warwhoop, but by an imitation, startlingly perfect, of the notes of a quail.
That this was a signal to his followers she had no doubt. But suddenly, while these clear notes were yet in the air, the stillness of the pines was again disturbed by a cry—a cry of joy, intense and uncontrolled—from behind her, toward the river. She turned about. In astonishment she saw the grief-stricken maiden—a moment ago too weak to walk alone—already lifted from the rustic bench as by a heavenly hand, now flying in this direction over the brown carpet of the pines, swift and light of foot, with wings, it seemed. The savage, too, had heard the cry and already he was running toward the approaching figure. And he passed so near the Princess that he would have seen her had he wished.
They met, the wild man and the girl. And the mystified spectator—mystified for a moment only—saw the maiden fling herself upon this denizen of the wood and twine her arms about his neck. And he, with a passionate eagerness, embraced her, then held her at arms' length, that again he might draw her to him, kissing her hair, mouth, forehead.
From the rapturous confusion of exclamations, of questions interrupted and unanswered, the Princess understood. For a moment she looked on in wonder, fascinated by this astounding miracle. But she soon recovered. With a lump in her throat she began backing away, to escape unobserved. Elinor, through her tears, happened to see the movement and came forward, leading the savage by the hand. With a new light in her eyes, and her voice all a-quiver, she exclaimed:
"This is my Pats!"
The Princess courtesied.
"And, Pats, this is the Princess—the Princess de Champvalliers: our girl of the miniature."
Pats nodded—for he recognized the eyes with the drooping corners—and he smiled and bowed. And the Princess, as she looked into his face and forgot the wild hair and scrubby beard, the stains, the rags, and the nakedness, met a pair of unusually cheerful, honest eyes, and impulsively held out her hand.
In very few words Pats told his story.
As Elinor had believed, he was forced beneath the water by the sliding earth and stones; but instead of lying at the bottom he had been carried by the under-current far out toward the middle of the river. On coming to the surface, more dead than alive, he found himself among the branches of an uprooted pine, also speeding toward the sea, at the mercy of the torrent.
Numb with cold from the icy water, he clung to this friend all one day and night, ever drifting toward the Gulf. At last, when rescued, he was barely conscious. And on recovering his wits he found himself aboard a Government coaster just starting on a two months' cruise.
"I insisted on being landed. They refused at first, but when I told them the situation—of the solitary girl I was leaving alone in the wilderness,—they not only put me ashore, but gave me all the provisions I could carry."
"Bravo! A boat-load of lovers!" exclaimed the Princess. "And they did well!"
"Indeed they did!" said Pats, "for they were pressed for time, and it cost them several hours. So, in high spirits, I started westward along the coast, expecting to get here in three or four days."
Then, turning to Elinor: "Do you remember the wide marsh we noticed from the top of that farthest hill to the east, at the end of our journey last autumn?"
"Yes, I remember. We thought it the mouth of a river."
"Well, it was the mouth of a river, with a vengeance. That marsh extends for miles on both sides of a river as impassable as ours. Ten days I tramped northward up the farther bank. And then, in swimming across, I lost nearly all my provisions, and most of my clothes."
With a slight bow to the Princess, he added, "I hope madam will pardon these intimate details: also certain deficiencies in my present toilet."
"Make no apologies, and tell everything," she answered, "I am one of the family."
Pats continued: "During nine days I travelled south, retracing my steps, but on this side of the river. The woods are different up there, with a maddening undergrowth, and it soon made an end of what clothes I had left. Yesterday morning I saw the sea again."
To every word of this narrative Elinor had listened, absorbed and self-forgetful. As for the Princess, she loved the unexpected, and here she found it. The more she studied Pats, the better she liked him and his cheerfulness,—a cheerfulness which seemed to rise triumphant above all human hardship. She took an interest in his unkempt hair and barbaric, four weeks' beard, in his scratched and sunburnt chest and arms. Even in the tattered remnants of his clothes she found a certain entertainment. And she noticed that while he stood talking in the presence of two ladies he appeared unembarrassed by his semi-nakedness, perhaps from the habit of it. And, after all, what cause for embarrassment? How many times, on the beach at Trouville, had she conversed with gentlemen who wore even less upon their persons?
Another surprise was given her when a brown setter, from somewhere in the forest, came flying toward them, and threw himself upon the long lost Pats. And the dog's delight at the meeting was similar to Elinor's. He, in turn, was presented to the Princess, who patted his head.
"Bon jour, Monsieur Solomon. I am happy to meet you: and for your enthusiasm I have the profoundest regard."
Then, as they all started toward the cottage, Pats still answering Elinor's questions, there appeared among the pines a black figure which recalled pictures of Dante in the forest of Ravenna. This figure halted in surprise at sight of the half-naked savage approaching with an easy self-possession, a lady on either side. And evidently the savage was a welcome object—a thing of interest—of affection even, if outward signs were trustworthy. And his Grace, when presented to this uncouth object, made no effort at assuming joy. Whether from an unfamiliarity with wild men, or from some other reason, this creature proved offensive to him. The lately lamented lover appeared politely indifferent to the priest's opinion,—good or bad,—and this so augmented his Grace's irritation that his words of welcome displayed more dignity than warmth. After proper congratulations on the return of her friend, he said to Elinor, in impressive tones, with a fatherly benevolence:
"We always rejoice when a human life is saved, but it would prove a sad misfortune, indeed, should it cause you to falter in your high resolve and return to worldly affairs."
Elinor instinctively edged a little closer to Pats and slid a hand in one of his,—a movement observed by the Princess.
His Grace, with yet greater impressiveness in tone and manner, added:
"Yours is not a nature to forget or lightly ignore a pledge once given. And please understand, my dear child, it is for your spiritual future that I remind you of your solemn words to our dear friend—to him who is no longer here to recall them to you, and whose beneficent influence is forever gone."
Into Elinor's face had come a look of pain, for these words to a conscience such as hers were as so many stabs. Pats frowned. Still clasping the fingers that had slid among his own, and with a slight upward movement of the chin, he took one step forward toward the prelate. But before he could speak the Princess acted quickly, to avert a scene. In a vivacious, off-hand manner, yet with a certain easy authority, she said, smiling pleasantly in turn upon her three listeners:
"You speak of a convent? Ah, your Grace forgets something! Religion is a mighty thing. We all know that. But there is one thing mightier—and here are two of its victims. 'T is the thing that makes the world go round. You know what it is. Oh, yes, you know! And it has made archbishops go round, too; even Popes—and many times! And when once it gets you—well! il s'en moque de la religion et de touts les Saints—for it has a heaven of its own. Moreover, we must not forget, your Grace and I, that this unconventional gentleman—"
Here she turned a mirthful glance upon Pats and his rags, and he smiled as his eyes met hers:
"That our unconventional gentleman has already tried to give his life for this girl. Moreover, he will do it again, whenever necessary, and she is not likely to forget it."
Indeed not, if truth were in the look that came to Elinor's eyes.
"Princess," said the Archbishop, "this is not a matter for argument. It is a question to be decided by the lady's own conscience."
"But I have made no promise," said Elinor. "I told Father Burke it was my intention to enter a convent. It was merely the expression of a wish—not in the nature of a binding promise."
"But to me," said Pats, smiling pleasantly upon the Archbishop, "she did make a binding promise—a very definite promise of a matrimonial nature. If she enters a convent—I go too."
Thereupon the Princess laughed,—a gentle, merry laugh, spontaneous and involuntary. "A nunnery with a bridal chamber! Fi, l'horreur! Imagine the effect on the other sisters!"
At this utterance the Archbishop closed his eyes in reprobation. Then, with a paternal air he regarded Elinor. "Dear lady, I have no desire to argue, or to persuade you against your wishes—or against the wishes of your friends. Pardon me if I have appeared insistent. I only ask that you will not forget that our Church is your Church—that in sorrow and in trouble, and at all times, her arms are open to you."
Then addressing the Princess: "I am the bearer of a message from Jacques Lafenestre. The baggage is aboard, and the yacht can sail whenever your Highness is ready."
With a ceremonious bow—ceremoniously returned by the group before him—his Grace strode slowly away toward the little path that led to the beach. The Princess also—after handing to Pats the key of the house—moved away in the direction of the two graves, promising the lovers another half hour for their parting visit to the cottage. She had gone but a few steps, however, when she stopped and wheeled about as if moved by a sudden thought.
"You know well the tapestry that screens the chamber. The scene in the Garden of Eden?"
Both nodded; and Pats exclaimed: "The most entertaining work of art I have ever seen!"
"I give it for my wedding present, so that Madame Pats may have a portrait of her husband as he appeared when first I met him."
With a smile and a nod she turned away and the jaunty figure was soon lost among the trees.
Once more alone, Pats and Elinor turned and looked into each other's eyes; and both discovered an overflowing happiness that choked all words—and all attempt at words.
Pats opened his arms. As of old, she entered, and the familiar rite was observed.
The surrounding silence remained unbroken. But in the murmuring of the pines, in that floating music now dear to both, there came to the reunited lovers a subdued but universal rejoicing—felicitations from above.