Abbildungen der Seite

not my husband then : my husband had come safe to shore : the men of St. Laurent had saved him. But my petiot; he was holding on to his father in the water, and the cravate gave way. Ah, I have had misfortuno in my time." . .. And old Nanon went on spinning.

It was just then that the door opened, and the curé of the village came in. Catherine started up, holding the baby to her, and gave a little cry. She seemed to guess instinctively that sorrosy was at hand. The curs advanced to meet her with a face full of compassion.

“My poor child,” he said, “come home. I have come to fetch you home. There has been an accident.”.

Catherine said nothing; she put the child quickly down and pulled her shawl over her head as they hurried through the wet street in the storm of sleet and wind. It seemed to Madame Fontaine that one or two people came to their doors and looked at them, but she was not sure ; she did not dare to ask what had happened; she knew without being told, somehow. The curé was holding her hand and hurrying her along through the rain. As they came out upon the ascent leading to the châlet, Catherine saw a crowd of people down below upon the shingle, and some people standing in the little garden in front. “They have got him homo," the curé said. “Let us hurry, my poor child ; there is no time to lose.”

Catherine gave a cry and put her hand to her head and began running through the rain. The people at her door made way for her ; but no haste she could have made would have been of any avail.

The two young men had come upon the beach just as the other boats had been hauled up safe and dry; the men were waiting to give a helping hand to the poor Lefebvres, whose boat - La Belle Marion — had just appeared through the mist. It was endeavouring to round a little promontory which jutted out into the sea beyond the terrace of the chalet, and which, with the rocks at the other extremity of the village, helped to form a small harbour for the fishing-boats. The name of the place came from this little natural port. There were some sunk rocks round the promontory against which the water dashed fiercely at all times. To-day the whole horizon was upheaving and tossing in the twilight. There was one faint gleam in the west where the black waves were tumbling and where clouds seemed to be shifting and tearing behind the mist, while below the terrible flushing sea was sobbing in passionate fury. Each time the boat attempted to weather the point round which it had to pass before making for the shore, the shrieking wind and the great throbbing flood-tide drove it back again and again; once a great ware came rolling from afar, gathering strength as it approached, and completely covered the poor little labouring bark.

There was a cry of terror from the poor women looking on, but the water rolled away, and the three sailors were still there, fighting for their lives upon this terrible battle-field. Two or three of the people upon the beach hurried to the little promontory of which mention has been made.

There was only standing-place for two or three. Dick and Fontaine were among the number. Fontaine was very much excited; he gesticulated vehemently, and with the others shouted to the men ; but the wind carried their voices away. The storm was at its height. The white horses were dashing against the embankment at the extremity of the maire's little garden, and the spray came washing over the promontory. The wind shrieked like a human voice. The poor little boat seemed doomed ; in its efforts to get under shelter it came too near the wind, and once again entirely disappeared. It was like a miracle to the lookers on, standing Lelpless on the beach, to see that when it emerged a second time, bottom upwards, from the water, the three men were clinging to it still ; but it only rose to be drifted rapidly past into the mist by the furious tide from the shore. It passed only some twenty yards from the sand-bank upon which they were standing-Fontaine and Dick, and the two other men.

** Good heavens! one of them is gone,” said Dick, beginning, by a sort of instinct, to fasten a rope round his waist.

Fontaino pointed to an object floating upon a wave. "Look," said he, “what is that ?" and as he spoke, in his excitement, he seized a rope, and dashed into the water before any one could prevent him. Poor fellow, it was only a barrel ; and as he caught at it it slipped from his grasp. There came a shriek from the wind, and a sudden squall of rain, and the rope came slack into the hand of the man who held it.

6. He has let go the rope,” said one of the men, horrified, and then, somehow, it was Dick, in his turn, who was struggling in the sea.

It was a strange and awful moment as he rose upon the great roaring wave which caught him off his feet. The sky seemed to fall to meet him, his heart stood still, chill mountains were rising and falling. At first he was quite conscious; he could even notice a long string of black seaweed pass before his face. Suddenly, sooner than he had expected, he seemed flung with a dash against some floating substance, which he clutched; the water closed over his head ; and then they began to pull the rope in from the shore. He scarcely knew what he was grasping; his senses seemed to fuil ; stunned and bewildered, he struggled through the terrible valley of the shadow of death. When he came to himself he was lying on the sbingle, some one was pouring brandy down his throat, and some one else was rubbing his hands.

Richard sat up, bewildered. They had carried him far away to a sheltered place, where they were less exposed to the storm; the sea was roaring still, but the fury of the wind had abated. As he looked, he saw that some people were carrying away the lifeless form of a man upon their shoulders ; & woman with fluttering garments, and a child, sobbing in piteous tones, were trudging alongside.

Thank God," said Madame de Tracy, flinging her arms round Dick's neck; while Jean nodded, and put up his brandy-flask.

** You must take him home in the carriage, mamma," said Tracy; " and now I will go and see how it fares with my poor Fontaine."

some one.

How it fared! He lay quite still upon his bed, with Toto still sobbing and holding his hand, and the old Mérards coming and going with scared white faces and with remedies that were not wanted now, for he would suffer no more. Some terrible blow in the water had stunned him to death. It was no living man that poor Dick had brought to shore. Poor Fontaine had been dashed by the storm against the barrel or some sunken rock.

Dear simple heart. So foolish, so absurd, so confident, so tender and thoughtful for others. “ He could swim like a fish," he had said to

“ It was not for him to remain behind when others were going to their deaths.” Ridicule is hushed, the humble are crowned with good things when the solemn wave which cast Fontaine upon the unknown shore comes for each in turn. Some of those who had laughed at his odd kindly ways were waiting outside in the rain with eyes full of tears,some who had prayed more fervently, felt more deeply, perhaps realized the solemn mysteries of life and death more vividly, than this simple soul, were awe-stricken and silent as they thought of him now, for he was wiser than they. Love thy neighbour as thyself is the divine law of life, and if ever man fulfilled it cheerfully, unpretendingly, it was Fontaine. He had done his task gaily, kindly, ungrudgingly; he had gone his way,

and died in harness.

Madame de Tracy awoke from troubled sleep in great agitation and depression on the morning after the storm. She could not rest : her nerves had been greatly shaken by the terrible calamity of the day before, by the sight of the poor little widow's terror and anguish. The gocd châtelaine longed to be of use to her, but Catherine had begged her to go, to leave her alone.

Poor lady! all night long she had wondered, reproached herself, sorrowed for her friend, trembled and reproached herself again. Madame de Tracy rose at last from her uneasy bed, where the little sharp points of conscience were piercing the down and the elastic mattresses; she went to one of the windows, and opened it, and looked out. From this window she could see the chålet far away, and a bit of the sea and of the beach, upon which a light was burning, and she saw that the shingle was quite black with the seaweed which the night's storm had cast up. The châlet looked very still ; no one seemed moving, but presently from one of its upper windows there came a light.

Madame de Tracy looked at it with a pain aching and tugging at I er kind old heart; she waited for a while, and then rang for Barbe, who appeared presently, bright and smiling, with white cap-strings flying, as if it had been five o'clock in the afternoon instead of in the morning. “ Barbe, go to Mr. Richard's door and ask him how he feels."

Madame, he is asleep,” said Barbe ; “his door was open as I passed."

" Asleep! ah, perhaps it is the best thing for him. Tell me, is any one stirring in the house ?”

[ocr errors]

"I think, madame, that M. le Comte is rising."

" Barbe! go and knock gently at his door. Ah, no; prepare my dressing things and a small cup of coffee, and one also for yourself. I want you to come with me to the châlet. I must go and see after that poor child. Ah, what a terrible scene! I little thought when they sent

for me


[ocr errors]

When Barbe and her mistress reached the village it was all alive with early voices. The morning after the storm had broken with brilliant sunshine, although great mountains of clouds still hung mid-air. The doors were open, the people busily coming and going, children half-dressed were peeping, the early plants in the gardens were bathed in brightness. Even Madame Potier was at her unopened shop. She stared at Madame de Tracy, who, for the first time for many years, appeared in public without her frizzy curls.

"You have heard the news, madame ? " she cried. "They came back in the night. They managed to get on shore at St. Laurent! It is a miracle." From the steep ascent to the châlet Madame de Tracy could see the figures crowding down below like ants, to clear away the great piles of black seaweed, and gather the harvest which the storm had cast up upon the shore. Nanon had her hotte full of the long hanging fringes : carts heaped with the fluttering ribbons slowly rolled away. Poor Catherine, too, saw the sight, looking out at early dawn, and languidly wondering what the bright lights moving here and there upon the beach

Were they watching as she was ? It seemed to her like a great pall cast up out of the sea, and she turned away with a sickening pang and a groan. She was afraid she had awakened Toto, who was lying asleep in a great chair, but the poor child only stirred uneasily, and breathed gently to sleep again.

About mid-day the storm came on again with so much fury that they were obliged to close the shutters of the chålet, and burn candles all day long.

On the third day it abated, and poor Fontaine was laid in his grave.

Once after the funeral Catherine saw the little feather brush which had vexed her so often lying on a table. She caught it up, the poor little widow, in her long black dress, and covered it with kisses and tears. Tears of such tender love and longing and remorse; no hero of romance, no knight dying in tournament, could have inspired truer and more tender

could mean.


On the third day after the storm Reine came walking quietly across the fields from the station, wrapping her cloak round about her, for the evening was chill. Everything looked dusky, silent; low pale lights were shining through the broken heaps of cloud that were, at last, dispersing in the west. The salt pool under the dark bushes at the end of the road was gleaming with these pale lights. The horses in the fields were moving here and there, scarcely distinguishable in the darkness. Just over the farm, where the clouds had not yet risen, a little bit of red moon


was hanging. The lights were pale chilly gold; but some deep shadows were heaping against the faint background. The windows of the farm were lighted up warmly, and looked home-like and welcoming to the young mistress of the house as she reached the great arch and went in.

She thought her own home had never looked so home-like, with its friendly seamed face, and quaint yet familiar aspect. She had a feeling as of a living friend or spirit of the hearth welcoming her, and enclosing her within open arms. She was glad to come back to liberty, to daily work, glad to meet her grandfather,-glad to meet Dick once more. But something—a presentiment, perhaps, growing out of the feelings of the last few days-seemed to mix with the happiness which she felt. It was like a little bitter taste, a little passing fear,-- like a small cloud no bigger than a man's hand rising out of the horizon.

We all know how strangely, as we travel on in life, we suddenly reach new countries, states of mind, and of being, undreamt of, or at least unrealized by us. Those terrible phantoms of our youth-the selves to be of the future-come silently upon us before we are aware. They come vigorously at first, impatiently, with quick blood flowing. Then mora indifferent. Then middle-aged, careworn, lean and slippered figures, advancing quietly out of the unknown, whispering secrets to us which we have not suspected, telling us truths that wo sometimes hate to hear, sometimes thank heaven with unspeakable relief for knowing at last. There had been a strange revelation to Reine in that sudden withdrawing of the curtain of the chapel. She had seen, as it were, the thought-, the unexpressed anxieties of her secret heart, in flesh and blood, there actually represented before her. The sight might have meant nothing if it bad not been for the feelings which had preceded it: Dick at his ease among those rustling silks and furs; Catherine there, and, as it were, one of them. What had Reine in common with it all? Nothing, ah, nothing but her great love. So great it was that she sometimes felt alone in it : her love, which was as a pain and a burden to her, for she could not express it. It was scarcely a part of herself, she thought sometimes. It seemed to her like something from without, bearing down upon her from a great distance. She could only offer it up with terror and awe, in solemn sacrifice to an unknown God. Alas! poor woman, these great silent emotions are not the offerings which are accepted most willingly in this good-humoured world. Thousands of little affectionate fires are burning on our neatly-blackened hearths, in our kitchens, in our hospitals and refuges. We deal out our fuel in scuttlefuls, and prt in a few sticks of sentiment if the flame is very low; but I think Reine would have lighted a great pile, if she could have heaped upon it all the most worthy and valuable things ; flung into it all the ricii flowers, sweet fruit, and a few bitter herbs and incense, set fire to it all, and walked herself into the flames had she seen the occasion, Reine, with all her defects and her tenderness, her jealousy, her fidelity, her passionate emotions, her angry, rough words, could speak of the

« ZurückWeiter »