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CHAPTER III.

VICTOR TO EUGENE.

I was walking in my meadow yesterday, chewing the cud of many fancies, you may be sure, when the old broken-down gate opened a little, then shut to again, then opened, then partly shut. As I looked steadily at it, I perceived a small wizened face peeping between the bars, and it was not long before I recognised my little friend, in the black flowered gown and quilted petticoat, peeping through. So I went very civilly up to the gate, and asked if there was anything that I could do for her.

“No,” she said, looking a little confused; and then, after it would seem, a moment's reflection, said, “Mademoiselle had lost her bracelet, and she was come to look for it."

I opened the gate, and in stepped my friend ; and making the best of her way to the trees, under which I had the evening before first seen her standing, she began to look about in the grass very busily for some time. Of course I assisted in the search ; no bracelet, however, appeared, and, after a few minutes, the little goody seemed to tire of stooping ; so taking a long breath or two, as if quite weary, she sat down upon a little bench under the tree, and instead of looking for the bracelet, fixed her eyes upon me, as I continued the fruitless search in her place.

At last she said, suddenly " Monsieur n'est pas de ce pays-ci."

“ And how do you know that I am not of this country, ma petite bonne?said I.

“ It is so, however,” said she.
“ That is more than you can possibly tell,” said I.

• But it is so,” repeated she with a positive nod of her head; “and, moreover, you are from Paris."

I asked her again how she knew that. La tournure,said she, carelessly.

I was pleased with the little hag for her discernment; indubitably there is a certain tournure that is not to be mistaken.

“ But yet," said she, as if considering, “it is a very strange thing to me, why he should be staying in this wild place ? What can a handsome young gentleman from Paris, possibly find to do here? He will not tell me-and if he did, I should not believe him.”

“ No, I dare swear you would not,” said 1.

“ Nevertheless, I should like to know what fable you would invent, at least," continued she.

"Perhaps, 'I should say, that I was a lover of beautiful scenery, of tranquillity, of solitude, of reflection, and what not,” said I.

Pas vrai—too good to be true. Perhaps a lover of some thing, or of some one else.”

“Perhaps so ; but that did not bring me here."
“ Then why leave Paris ?"
“ I hate Paris.”

Pas possible !" with a little screamlike joy : then after a pause, “Young gentlemen sometimes hate Paris, for very disgraceful reasons."

6 Upon my honour, I have none such.”

" True, that's true,” said she, as if in this she believed me; then after a little consideration, “ that's the face of an ancient family,” resumed she; “ those roturiers never get a certain cast of features : that's the air of true noblesse."

“ It is, I believe," said I.
“ But he is very poor-they all are."
6. They all are not."

But you are.”
“ Perhaps so-perhaps not."

She looked hard at me. “I don't think you are poor; I am sure you are not; your circumstances are easy ; they are affluent; you are rich. But why did you come here?”

“I told you why."

“ Those were no reasons : people don't bury themselves in places like these for such silly weak reasons as those : I am not such a little fool, as to credit that stuff. You are under a cloud, I am sure you are : people that are as they should be don't run away from their kind. It is a very shocking thing, young man, to run away from, and hate one's kind; it is what no one ought to do, no one ever does do, without good reasons. You have done something very wicked, I know you have ; you have been betrayed into it, your face tells me so; but I am sure you have done some very wicked thing, and that's the reason you are here. Or you are in love, as you call it, with some poor country girl, which would be a monstrously wicked thing for one like you; and you are come here to be her destruction; and if that be your design, I hate you, and may everything good renounce you, and the foulest of fiends take you." She looked like a little fury.

of Upon my honour, and by the honour of my ancestors, madam, you do me great injustice," said I, as seriously as I could; for you can conceive nothing more laughable than her passion, her little figure rocking about, and her sharp features, nose like a needle, and mouth like a thread, all alive. “ I think I never did anything very bad ; and I don't care for any country girl in the world. I am really here only to indulge an idle humour, for I do love a pretty valley and a quiet village, strange as it may seem to you; and I do think Paris and its pleasures, as they are called, sadly want variety; at least, I for one am tired of the same eternal round; but," and I went up, and sat down by her, “ I tell you everything, and you tell me nothing; who are you?"

She made no reply whatsoever to this, but kept looking at me.

« Oh, if I could but read your heart !" ... Another long pause. “ Well, well,” at last with a deep-drawn breath, almost a sigh, " I did not think the heights of Montalembert were to be seen from hence.”

" What do you know of Montalembert ?" asked I eagerly.

Know of it !” said she, with a toss of the head. “ Well, we shall never find mademoiselle's bracelet,” getting up in a sort of hurry; Bon jour, monsieur."

What a stupid dolt I was. There was she departing, and not a single atom of intelligence gained. But she looked so odd, and was so odd, ihat, to tell you the truth, I was put a little out of conceit even with her principal. I thought the whole thing so strange ; and I could not but suspect that she had been sent. My dream was over; I was awakened, and took mademoiselle for a very ordinary, or, extra-ordinary being; but not for one to my taste.

So I let the old crone bustle to the gate, and down the road; and then just as she was out of sight, between the overarching branches of a deep lane which plunges to the bottom of that valley, on the opposite side of which rise the heights of Montalembert, I bethought myself that I would follow. So I started away, and when I had recovered her, for, in making the detour, I had lost her among the turns and falls of the little lane with its high banks of turf, sand, and underwood; when, therefore, I recovered her, I slackened my pace, and, keeping at a distance and concealing myself as well as I could, yet without losing sight of her altogether I followed her.

She went at a pretty quick, hobbling pace down the steep, then crossed a shallow river in the depths of the valley, by a wooden bridge, and began, with many interruptions for breath, to climb the steep path, that leads through a little copse clothing the other side.

The copse terminates in the moorlands of the hills; and the path being open on every side, I feared she would see me, so I waited till she disappeared behind the first ascentfor as usual, the hill, or rather mountain, rose by degrees steep after steep-and then with a rapid pace I cleared that, and lying down at the top of it, saw, unseen myself, my little friend working up the opposite bank : and thus followed her, till I beheld her safely travelling down the last steep, forming the valley in which the Chateau de Montalembert lies buried : and then I lost her.

I suspected as much, certainly, and was not surprised to find that mademoiselle belonged to this chateau-and that she was probably the daughter of the old misanthrope within.

So far, so good.

Being arrived, I of course determined to make a reconnoissance of the place where these strange beings resided. I found a large chateau, of that date when the immense castellated fortresses of the barbarous ages, which one meets with now and then in the provinces, reminding one of days of giant power and giant oppression, had given way to what we properly call a chateana sort of fortified country house, or rather palace. This had the usual complement of turrets, pinnacles, and high-pointed roofs--the grand facade, the gloomy, heavy entrance, the numberless windows, &c., &v.

It stood upon a scarped bank, surrounded by a wide ditch, now neglected, and filled with reeds and brushwood; and was only to be approached by the front, which gave upon the court, enclosed, as usual, by the stables and other offices, and surmounted by the seigneurial pigeonhouse. On one side stood a small chapel, adorned with a cross, and by it an iron gate. This gate led into a large, formal garden, encircled and shaded by a thick shrubbery, which separated it from the brushwood of the hills.

The whole place bore rather the appearance of long neglect, than of real decay: the walls were discoloured though not dilapidated—the large windows and the Persian blinds out of order—the garden here and there cultivated, in other places all wild and overgrown. Not a creature appeared, either about the courtyard or the stables; all was silent and forlorn-save that, in one corner of the garden, a little old man, half doubled with age, might be seen at work with his hoe : this was the only living creature I could discern.

I descended the hill; and then going round the shrubbery, at last found a place from whence I could look into the garden, and presently I saw my little old woman enter it, as if she were looking for some one. She peeped and searched about, and I followed her with my eyes; at last she entered a small green arbour, made of lilac trees closely pleached; and I crept round to the back of it.

And you think you are going to hear what I heard—but you are mistaken: so good-night to you once more.

“ Therese, Therese, where can you have been all this time ?"

"Oh, mademoiselle! I have been to Beaucourt to buy eggs; and Madeleine has had another attack, and is very low and poorly; and so I staid to chatter her up a little and to make her a glass of something good and la! how tired I am, · with this nasty hill !"

“ Indeed, Therese, that was very good of you,-and tomorrow I will go and see poor Madeleine myself. Heighho !"

“ Well, mademoiselle, that will be very good of you, too, and very good for you for walk you must and shall. What signifies sitting in this moping old place, and saying heighho! all the day long ?-I am sure I wish you had something better to say heighho! for, than a foolish old woman ?".

Another sigh.

The old woman. “Well--he certainly was a very proper man-what I call a very handsome, young man. Don't you think so, mademoiselle ?"

He was very well."

“Very well ! is that all ? But no matter-some vulgar, shuffling fellow."

“ That I'll be sworn he was not,” warnily.

“Oh, pshaw !-some of these country gentlefolks-these provincials-not good enough to figure in the great worldthey do very well at a little wedding like that; but you should see them at Paris—then you would learn something."

“See him where I will,” passionately, “he is no vulgar provincial-see him where I will !"

“Pooh, pooh! you know nothing; whom have you to compare him with ?”

“I don't want to compare him. I don't mean to compare hini. But you said he was vulgar, and ugly, and ignorant, and I don't know what besides. Oh, Therese! where were your eyes ?-where were your eyes?

“ Well, for my part, I don't know what there was about him, more than another.”

“ On fy, Therese !-how can you say so?

“ That look-—I don't know whether he was, as you say, exactly handsome; he may be very ugly for what I care-but that look !-oh, heavens !--that sweet, feeling, penetrating look ? He a provincial ! he an ignorant-! Ah, Therese, Therese! you do not show your usual good taste or discernnient here."

“Well, I don't know-he danced so ill, and looked so awkward-so shy, as I thought.”

“Danced so ill why, how gracefully he moved! dance, I own, perhaps he did not and what then so shy !-yes, he did look shy-so feelingly shy !--so proudly shy !-ah, Therese!" “Well, I am glad you liked him so much.”

Liked him so much! Did I say I liked him ? Indeed that's a very unjust speech. I never said I liked him-I never thought of liking him-only when you began to abuse him so. ...."

“Well, for my part, I wonder where he comes from, and who he is.”

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