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A Sister to Evangeline
Being the Story of Yvonne de Lamourie, and how she went into exile with the villagers of Grand Pré
Charles G. D. Roberts
“Revenant à la Belle Acadie”—the words sang themselves over and over in my brain, but I could get no further than that one line, try as I might. I felt that it was the beginning of a song which, if only I could imprison it in my rhyme, would stick in the hearts of our men of Acadie, and live upon their lips, and be sung at every camp and hearth fire, as “À la Claire Fontaine” is sung by the voyageurs of the St. Lawrence. At last I perceived, however, that the poem was living itself out at that moment in my heart, and did not then need the half-futile expression that words at best can give. But I did put it into words at a later day, when at last I found myself able to set it apart and view it with clear eyes; and you shall judge, maybe, when I come to put my verses into print, whether I succeeded in making the words rhyme fairly and the volatile syllables march at measured pace. The art of verse has never been much practised among us Acadians, and it is a matter of some pride to me that I, a busy soldier, now here at Grand Pré and anon at Mackinaw or Natchez, taking in my hand my life more often than a pen, should have mastered even the rudiments of an art so lofty and exacting.
So, for awhile, “Home again to Acadie the Fair” was all that I could say.
It was surely enough. I had come over from Piziquid afoot, by the upper trail, and now, having crossed the Gaspereau where it narrows just above tide-water, I had come out upon the spacious brow of the hill that overlooks Grand Pré village.
Not all my wanderings had shown me another scene so wonderful as that wide prospect. The vale of the Five Rivers lay spread out before me, with Grand Pré, the quiet metropolis of the Acadian people, nestling in her apple-bloom at my feet. There was the one long street, thick-set with its wide-eaved gables, and there its narrow subsidiary lane descending from the slopes upon my left. Near the angle rose the spire of the village church, glittering like gold in the clear flood of the sunset. And everywhere the dear apple-blossoms. For it was spring in Acadie when I came home.
Beyond the village and its one black wharf my eyes ranged the green, wind-ruffled marshes, safe behind the sodded circumvallations of their dykes. Past the dykes, on either side of “the island’s” wooded rampart, stretched the glowing miles of the flats; for the tides of Minas were at ebb. How red in the sunset, molten copper threaded with fire, those naked reaches gleamed that night! Their color was like a blare of trumpets challenging the peace of the Five Rivers.
Past the flats, smooth and dazzling to the eye at such a distance, lay the waters of Minas. Well I knew how their unsleeping eddies boiled and seethed about the grim base of Blomidon. Such tricks does memory serve one that even across that wide tranquillity I seemed to hear the depredating clamour of those tides upon the shingle.
Though it was now two years since I had seen the gables and apple-trees of Grand Pré, I was in no haste to descend into the village. There came a sudden sinking at my heart, as my heart inquired, with unseasonable pertinence, by what right I continued to call Grand Pré “home”? The thought was new to me; and that I might fairly consider it I seated myself upon the broad stump of a birch-tree, felled the preceding winter.
By far the smaller portion of my life had been spent in the Acadian village—only my early boyhood, before the years of schooling at Quebec; and afterwards the fleeting sweetness of some too brief visits, that lay in my memory like pools of enchanted leisure in a desert of emulous contentions. My father, tenderest and bravest of all men that I have known, rested in an unmarked grave beside the northern wash of the Peribonca. My uncle, Jean de Mer, Sieur de Briart, was on the Ohio, fighting the endless battle of France in the western wildernesses. His one son, my one cousin, the taciturn but true-hearted Marc, was with his father, spending himself in the same quarrel. I thought with a longing tenderness of these two—the father full of high faith in the triumph of New France, the son fighting obstinately in what he held a lost cause, caring mainly that his father still had faith in it. I wished mightily that their brave hands could clasp mine in welcome back to Grand Pré. I thought of their two fair New England wives, left behind at Quebec to shame by their gay innocence the corruption of Bigot’s court. Kindred I had none in Grand Pré, unless one green grave in the churchyard could be called my kin—the grave wherein my mother’s girlish form and laughing eyes had been laid to sleep while I was yet a child.
Yes, I had no kinsfolk to greet me back to Grand Pré; no roof of mine that I should call it home. But friends, loyal friends, would welcome me, I knew. There was Father Fafard, the firm and gentle old priest, to whom, of course, I should go just as if I were of his flesh and blood. Then there were the De Lamouries—
Yes, to be sure, the De Lamouries. And here I took myself by the chin and laughed. I know that, for all my verses, I am in the main a soldier, yet I am so far a poet as to suffer myself to befool myself at times, and get a passing satisfaction out of it. But I always face the fact before I express it in act. I acknowledged to myself that I had been thinking of the De Lamouries’ pleasant farmhouse, and of somewhat that it contained, when I sang “Home again to Acadie the Fair.”
I remembered with a pleasant warmth the tall, bent figure, fierce eyes, and courtly air of Giles de Lamourie, the broken gentleman, who through much misfortune and some fault had fallen from a high place at Versailles and been fain to hide himself on an Acadian farm. I thought also of Madame, his wife, a wizened little woman with nothing left, said the villagers, to remind one of the loveliness which had once dazzled Louis himself. To me she seemed an amazingly interesting woman, whose former beauty could still be guessed from its ruins.
Both of these good people I remembered with a depth of concern far beyond the deserts of such casual friendlinesses as they had shown me. As I looked down toward their spacious apple-orchard, on the furthest outskirts of the village, it was borne in upon me that they had one claim to distinction beyond all others.
They had achieved Yvonne.
Many a time had I wondered how my cousin Marc could have had eyes for his ruddy-haired Puritan lily when there was Yvonne de Lamourie in the world. On my last two visits to Grand Pré I had seen her; not many times, indeed, nor much alone; and never word of love had passed between us. In truth, I had not known that I loved her in those days. I had taken a wondering delight in her beauty and her wit, but of the pretty trifles of compliment and the careless gallantries that so often simulate love I had offered her none at all. This surprised me the more afterward, as women had ever found me somewhat lavish in such light coin. I think I was withheld by the great love unrealized in my heart, which found expression then only in such white reverence as the devotee proffers to his saint. I think, too, I was restrained by the consciousness of a certain girl at Trois Pistoles on the St. Lawrence, who, if I might believe my vanity, loved me, and to whom, if I might believe my conscience, I had given some sort of claim upon my honor. I cared naught for the girl. I had never intended anything but a light and passing affair; but somehow it had not seemed to me light when Yvonne de Lamourie’s eyes were upon me. A little afterward, revisiting Trois Pistoles on my way to the western lakes, I had found the maiden married to a prosperous trader of Quebec. In the leaping joy that seized my heart at the news I perceived how my fetters had galled; and I knew then, though at first but dimly, that if anywhere in the world there awaited me such a love as I had dreamed of sleeping, but ever doubted waking,—the love that should be not a pastime, but a prayer, not an episode, but an eternity,—it awaited me in Grand Pré village.
In my heart these two years I had carried two clear visions of my mistress. Strange to tell, they were not bedimmed by the much handling which they had endured. They but seemed to grow the brighter and fresher from being continually pressed to the kisses of my soul.
In one of these I saw her as she stood a certain morning in the orchard, prying with insistent little finger-tips into the heart of a young apple-flower, while I watched and said nothing. I know not to this day whether she were thinking of the apple-flower or wondering at the dumbness of her cavalier; but she feigned, at least, to concern herself with only the blossom’s heart. Her wide white lids downcast over her great eyes, her long lashes almost sweeping the rondure of her cheek, she looked a Madonna. The broad, low forehead; the finely chiselled nose, not too small for strength of purpose; the full, firm chin—all added to this sweet dignity, which was of a kind to compel a lover’s worship. There was enough breadth to the gracious curve below the ear to make me feel that this girl would be a strong man’s mate. But the mouth, a bow of tenderness, with a wilful dimple at either delectable corner always lurking, spoke her all woman, too laughing and loving to spend her days in sainthood. Her hair—very thick and of a purply-bronze, near to black—lay in a careless fulness over her little ears. On her head, though in all else she affected the dress of the Grand Pré maids, she wore not the Acadian linen cap, but a fine shawl of black Spanish lace, which became her mightily. Her bodice was of linen homespun, coarse, but bleached to a creamy whiteness; and her skirt, of the same simple stuff, was short after the Acadian fashion, so that I could see her slim ankles, and feet of that exceeding smallness and daintiness which may somehow tread right heavily upon a man’s heart.
The other vision cherished in my memory was different from this, and even more enchanting. It was a vision of one look cast upon me as I left the door of her father’s house. In the radiance of her great eyes, turned full upon me, all else became indistinct, her other features blurred, as it were, with the sudden light of that look, which meant—I knew not what. Indeed, it was ever difficult to observe minutely the other beauties of her face as long as the eyes were turned upon one, so clear an illumination from her spirit shone within their lucid deeps. Hence it was, I suppose, that few could agree as to the colour of those eyes—the many calling them black, others declaring with confidence that they were brown, while some even, who must have angered her, averred them to be of a very cold dark grey. I, for my part, knew that they were of a greenish hazel of indescribable depth, with sometimes amber lights in them, and sometimes purple shadows very mysterious and unfathomable.
As I sat now looking down into the village I wondered if Yvonne would have a welcome for me. As I remembered, she had ever shown goodwill toward me, so far as consisted with maidenly reserve. She had seemed ever ready for tales of my adventure, and even for my verses. As I thought of it there dawned now upon my heart a glimmering hope that there had been in that last unforgotten look of hers more warmth of meaning than maid Yvonne had been willing to confess.
This thought went to my heart and I sprang up in a kind of sudden intoxication, to go straightway down into the village. As I did so I caught the flutter of a white frock among the trees of the De Lamourie orchard. Thereupon my breath came with a quickness that was troublesome, and to quiet it I paused, looking out across the marshes and the tide toward Blomidon. Then for the first time I observed a great bank of cloud that had arisen behind the Cape. It was black and menacing, ragged and fiery along its advancing crest. Its shadow lay already upon the marshes and the tide. It crept smoothly upon the village. And at this moment, from the skirts of a maple grove on the summit of the hill behind me, came a great and bell-like voice, crying:
“Woe, woe to Acadie the Fair, for the hour of her desolation cometh!”
“These ten years,” I exclaimed to myself angrily (for I love not to have a dream rudely broken), “has Grûl been prophesying woe; and I see not that aught comes of it save greater strength to his lungs.”
I turned my back upon the valley and watched the singular figure that drew near. It was a shrewd and mysterious madman whom all Acadie had known for the past ten years as “Grûl.” Whether that was his real name or a pseudonym of his own adoption no one knew. Whence he had come no one knew. Wherefore he stayed in Acadie, and so faithfully prophesied evil to our fair land, no one knew. The reason of his madness—and the method which sometimes seemed to lurk beneath it—no one could confidently guess. At least, such ignorance in regard to this fantastic fool seemed general throughout the country. But there lay here and there a suspicion that the Black Abbé, the indomitable La Garne, Bigot’s tool and the people’s dread, knew more of Grûl’s madness than other folk might dream. It was whispered that La Garne, who seemingly feared no man else, feared Grûl. It was certain that whenever any scheme of the Black Abbé’s came to naught Grûl’s hand would appear somewhere in the wreck of it.
Now, as he came down from the maple grove, he looked and was dressed just as I had seen him years before. The vicissitudes of time and of the weather seemed to have as little effect upon the staring black and yellow of his woollen cloak as upon his iron frame, his piercing light-blue eyes, the snowy tangle of his hair and beard. Only his pointed cap betrayed that its wearer dwelt not altogether beyond the pale of mutability. Its adornments seemed to recognize the seasons. I had seen it stuck with cornflowers in the summer, with golden-rod and asters in the autumn, with feathers and strange wisps of straw in winter; and now it bore a spray of apple-blossom, with some dandelions, those northern sun-worshippers, whose closing petals now declared that even in death they took note of the passing of their lord.
In his hand Grûl carried the same quaint wand of white wood, with its grotesque carven head dyed scarlet, which had caught my eye with an uneasy fascination the first time I met its possessor. That little stick, which Grûl wielded with authority as if it were a sceptre, still caused me some superstitious qualms. I remembered how at my first sight of it I had looked to see a living spark leap from that scarlet head.
“It has been a long time coming,” said I, as Grûl paused before me, searching my face curiously with his gleaming eyes. “And meanwhile I have come. I think, monsieur, I should esteem a welcome somewhat more cordial than your words of dolorous omen.”
Whether he were displeased or not at my forwardness in addressing him I cannot tell. He was without doubt accustomed to choose his own time for speech. His eyes danced with a shifting, sharp light, and after thrusting his little wand at me till, in spite of myself, I felt the easy smile upon my lips grow something mechanical, he said with withering slowness:
“To the boy and the fool how small a handful of years may seem a lifetime! You think it is long coming? It is even now come. The shadow of the smoke of her burning even now lies upon Acadie. The ships of her exile are near.”
He stopped; and I had no word of mocking wherewith to answer him. Then his eyes and his voice softened a little, and he continued:
“And you have come back—poor boy, poor fool!—with joy in your heart; and your joy even now is crumbling to ashes in your mouth.”
He turned away, leaving me still speechless; but in an instant he was back and his wand thrust at me with a suddenness that made me recoil in childish apprehension. In a voice indescribably dry and biting he cried swiftly:
“But look you, boy. Whether she be yours or another’s, there is an evil hand uplifted against her this night. See you to it!”
“What do you mean?” I cried, my heart sinking with a sudden fear. “Nay, you shall tell me!” I went on fiercely, making as if to restrain him by force as he turned away. But he bent upon me one look of such scorn that I felt at once convicted of folly; and striding off, with something of a dignity in his carriage which all his grotesquerie of garb could not conceal, he left me to chew upon his words. As for the warning, that was surely plain enough. I was to go to Yvonne, and be by her in case of any need. The business thus laid upon me was altogether to my liking. But that pitying word—of joy that should turn to ashes in my mouth! It filled me with black foreboding. As I stepped down briskly toward Grand Pré my joy was already dead, withered at a madman’s whisper. And that great-growing cloud from over Blomidon had swallowed up all the village in a chill shadow.
Never may I forget that walking down from the Gaspereau Ridge to Grand Pré village. The very air seemed charged with mystery. Every sight and every sound bore the significance of an omen, to which I lacked interpreter. The roofs of the village itself, and the marshes, the sea, and the far-off bulk of Blomidon, appeared like the tissue of a dream, ready to vanish upon a turn of thought, and leave behind I knew not what of terrible reality.
I am not by nature superstitious at all beyond the point of convenience. Such superstitions as please me I have ever been wont to cherish for the interest to be had out of them. I have often been strengthened in a doubtful intention by omens that looked my way, and auspicious signs have many a time cheered me astonishingly when affairs have seemed to be going ill. But the most menacing of omens have ever had small weight when opposing themselves to my set purpose. When a superstition is on my side I show it much civility: when it is against me it seems of small account.
But that night I was more superstitious than usual. Of the new moon, a pallid bow just sinking, I caught first sight over my left shoulder, and I felt vaguely troubled thereat. One crow, croaking from a willow stump upon my right hand, got up heavily and flew across my path. I misliked the omen, and felt straightway well assured of some approaching rebuff. When, a few moments later, two crows upon my left hand flew over to my right I was not greatly comforted, for they were far ahead and I was forced to conclude that the felicity which they prophesied was remote.
Thus it came that presently I was in a waking and walking dream, not knowing well the substance from the shadow. Yet my senses did so continue to serve me that I went not down into the village, where I knew I should find many a handclasp, but followed discreetly along the back of the orchards, that I might reach the De Lamourie place as swiftly as possible.
By this hour a sweet-smelling mist, such as, I think, falls nowhere else as it does in the Acadian fields, lay heavy on the grasses. I bethought me that it was the dew of the new moon, and therefore endowed with many virtues; and I persuaded myself to believe that my feet, which were by now well drenched with it, must needs be set upon a fortunate errand.
As I came to this comforting conclusion I reached a little thicket at an orchard corner, where grew a deep tangle of early flowering herbs. There, gathering the wet and perfumed blooms, stooped an old woman with a red shawl wrapped over her head and shoulders. She straightened herself briskly as I came beside her, and I saw the haggard, high-boned, hawk-nosed face of old Mother Pêche, whose tales of wizardry I had often listened to in the years long gone by. She turned upon me her strange eyes, black points of piercing intelligence encircled by a startling glitter of wide white, and at once she stretched out to me a crooked hand of greeting.
“It is good for these old eyes, Master Paul, to see thee back in the village!” she exclaimed.
Now, any one will tell you that it is not well to be crossed in one’s path by an old woman, when on an errand of moment. I hurried past, therefore; and it shames me to say it. But then, remembering that one had better defy any omen than leave a kindness undone, I stopped, turned back, and hastily grasped the old dame’s wizened hand, slipping into it a silver piece as I did so.
It was a broad piece, and full as much as I could wisely spare; but an old woman or a small boy is ever welcome to share my last penny. Her strange eyes gleamed for a moment, but as she looked up to bless me her face changed. After gazing earnestly into my eyes she muttered something which I could not catch, and to my huge amazement flung the silver behind her with a violence which left no doubt of her intentions. She flung it toward a little swampy pool; but as luck would have it the coin struck a willow sapling by the pool’s edge, bounded back, and fell with a clink upon a flat stone, where I marked it as it lay whitely glittering.
I was too amazed to protest for a moment, but the old woman hastened to appease me.
“There was sorrow on it, dearie,—thy sorrow,” she exclaimed coaxingly; “and I wouldn’t have it. The devil take all thy bad luck, and Mary give thee new fortune!”
To me it seemed that throwing away the silver piece was taking superstition quite too seriously. I laughed and said:
“But, mother, if there be bad luck ahead of me, so much the more do I want your blessing, and truly I cannot spare you another silver crown. Faith, this one’s not gone yet, after all!” And picking it up I handed it back to her. “Let the devil fly away with my ill luck, if he may, but don’t let him fly away with your little savings,” I added.
The old dame shook her head doubtfully, and then with a sigh of resignation, as who should say, “The gifts of destiny are not to be thrust aside,” slipped the silver into some deep-hidden pocket. But her loving concern for my prosperity was not to be balked. After a little fumbling she brought out a small pebble, which she gave me with an air that showed it to be, in her eyes, some very great thing.
I took it with an answering concern, looked at it very closely, and turned it over in my hand, waiting for some clue to its significance before I should begin to thank her for the gift, if gift it were. The stone was assuredly beautiful, about the size of a hazel-nut, and of a clouded, watery green in color, but the curious quality of it was that as you held it up a moving loop of light seemed to gather at its heart, taking somewhat the semblance of a palely luminous eye. My interest deepened at once, and I bethought me of a stone of rarity and price which was sometimes to be found under Blomidon. It went by the name of “Le Veilleur,” or “The Watcher,” among our Acadian peasants; but the Indians called it “The Eye of Manitou,” and many mystic virtues were ascribed to it.
“Why, mother,” I said presently, “this is a thing of great price! I cannot take it. ‘Tis a ‘Watcher,’ is it not?” And I gazed intently into its elusive loop of light.
“I have another,” she answered eagerly, thrusting her hands under her red cloak as if to prevent me giving back the stone. “That is for thee, and thou’lt need it, chéri Master Paul.”
“Well,” said I, staring at the beautiful jewel with a growing affection, “I will take it with much thanks, mother, but I must pay you what it is worth; and that I will find out in Quebec, from one who knows the worth of jewels.”
“Thou shalt not pay me, Master Paul,” said the old dame, with a distinct note of resentment in her voice. “It is my gift to thee, because I have loved thee since thou wert a little lad; and because thou’lt need the stone. Promise me thou’lt wear it always about thee;” and plucking it from my hand with a swift insinuation of her long fingers she slipped it into a tiny pouch of dressed deerskin and proceeded to affix a leathern thong whereby I might, as I inferred, hang the talisman about my neck.
“While this you wear,” she went on in a low, singing voice, “what most you fear will never come to pass.”
“But I am not greatly given to fear, mother,” said I, with a little vainglorious laugh.
“Then thou hast not known love,” she retorted sharply.
At these words the fear of which she had spoken came about me—vague, formless, terrible, and I trembled.
“Give it to me!” I cried in haste. “Give it to me! I will repay you, mother, with”—and here I laughed again—“with love, which you say I have never known.”
“That kind of love, Master Paul, thou hast known since thou wert a very little lad. Thou’st given it freely, out of a kind heart. But, dearie, thou hast but played at the great love—or more would’st thou know of fear.” And the old woman looked at me with shrewd question in her startling eyes.
But I did know fear—and I knew that I knew love. My face turned anxiously toward De Lamourie’s, and I grudged every instant of further delay.
“Good-by, mother, and the saints keep you!” I cried hastily, swinging off through the wet grass. But the old dame called after me gently:
“Stop a minute, Master Paul. She will be at her supper by now; an’ in a little she’ll be walking in the garden path.”
I stopped, filled with wonder, and my veins leaping in wild confusion at the sound of that little word “she.” It was as if the old woman had shouted “Yvonne” at the top of her voice.
“What is it?” I stammered.
“I want to look at thy hand, dearie,” she said, grasping it and turning it so as to catch the last of the fading light.
“Your heart’s desire is nigh your death of hope,” said she presently, speaking like an oracle. Then she dropped my hand with a little dry chuckle, and turned away to her gathering of herbs as if I were of no further account.
“What do you mean?” I asked eagerly.
But she would not answer me. I scorned to appear too deeply concerned in such old woman’s foolery; so I asked no more, but went my way, carrying the word in my heart with a strange comfort—which, had I but known it, was right soon to turn into despair.
I came upon the De Lamourie farmhouse by the rear of the orchard; and down through the low, blossoming arches, now humming with night moths and honey beetles, I hastened toward the front door. Before I reached it there arose an angry barking from the yard, and a huge black dog, objecting to the manner of my approach, came charging upon me with appearance of malign intent.
I was vexed at the notion of a possible encounter, for I would not use my sword or my pistols on the guardian of my friend’s domain; yet I had small desire that the brute should tear my clothes. I cursed my folly in not carrying a stick wherewith to beat off such commonplace assailants. But there was nothing for it save indifference, so I paid no attention to the dog until he was almost upon me. Then I turned my head and said sharply, “Down, sir, down!”
To all domestic animals the voice of authority is the voice of right. I had forgotten that for the moment. The dog stopped, and stood growling doubtfully. He could not muster up resolution to attack one who spoke with such an assurance of privilege. Yet what could justify my highly irregular approach? He would await developments. In a casual, friendly manner, as I walked on, I stretched out the back of my hand to him, as if to signify that he might lick it if he would; but this he was by no means ready for, so he kept his distance obstinately.
In another moment there appeared at the head of the path a white, slight figure, with something black about the head and shoulders. It was Yvonne, come out to see the cause of the loud disturbance.
“It is I, mademoiselle,” I exclaimed in an eager voice, hastening to meet her,—“Paul Grande, back from the West.”
A slight gasping cry escaped her, and she paused irresolutely. It was but for the least part of an instant; yet my memory took note of it afterward, though it passed me unobserved at the time. Then she came to meet me with outstretched hands of welcome. Both little hands I crushed together passionately in my grasp, and would have dropped on my knees to kiss them but for two hindrances: Firstly, her father appeared at the moment close behind her—and things which are but natural in privacy are like to seem theatrical when critically observed. Further, finding perhaps a too frank eloquence in my demeanour, Yvonne had swiftly but firmly extricated her hands from their captivity. She had said nothing but “I am glad to see you again, after so long a time, monsieur;” and this so quietly that I knew not whether it was indifference spoke, or emotion.
But the welcome of Giles de Lamourie was right ardent for one of his courteous reserve. There was an affection in his voice that warmed my spirit strangely, the more that I had never suspected it; and he kissed me on both cheeks as if I had been his own son—“as,” said the up-leaping heart within me, “I do most resolutely set myself to be!”
“And to what good chance do we owe it, Paul, that we see you here at Grand Pré, at a time when the swords of New France are everywhere busy?” he asked.
“To a brief season of idleness in two years of ceaseless action,” I replied, “and to a desire that would not be denied.” I sought furtively to catch Yvonne’s eyes; but she was picking an apple-flower to pieces. This little dainty depredation of her fingers pierced me with remembrance.
“You have earned your idleness, Paul,” said De Lamourie, “if the stories we hear of your exploits be the half of them true. But we had thought down here that Quebec”—“or Trois Pistoles,” murmured Yvonne over the remnants of the apple-flower—“would have offered metal more attractive for the enrichment of your holiday.”
I flushed hotly. But in the deepening dusk my confusion passed unseen. What gossip had come this way? What magnifying and distortion of a very little affair, so soon gone by and so lightly forgotten?
“The swords of New France are just now sheathed for a little,” said I, with some reserve in my voice. “They are biding the call to new and hotter work, or I should not be free for even this breathing-spell. As for Quebec,”—for I would not seem to have heard mademoiselle’s interruption,—“for years there has been but one place where I desired to be, and that is here; so I have come, but it is not for long. Great schemes are afoot.”
“For long or for little, my boy,” said he, dropping his tone of banter, “your home here must be under our roof.”
Having intended staying, as of old, with Father Fafard, I knew not for a moment what to say. I would—and yet a voice within said I would not. I noted that Yvonne spoke no word in support of her father’s invitation. While I hesitated we had entered the house, and I found myself bending over the wizened little hand of Madame de Lamourie. My decision was postponed. Had I guessed how my silence would by and by be misinterpreted I would assuredly have decided on the spot, whichever way.
“It is not only for the breath of gayety from Chateau St. Louis which you bring with you, my dear Paul, that you are welcome,” said Madame, with that fine air of affectionate coquetry, reminiscent of Versailles, which so delightfully became her.
I kissed her hand again. We had always been the best of friends.
“But let me present to you,” she went on, “our good friend, who must also be yours: Mr. George Anderson;” and observing for the first time a tall, broad-shouldered, ruddy man, who stood a little to one side of the fireplace, I bowed to him very courteously. Our eyes met. I felt for him a prompt friendliness, and as if moved by one impulse we clasped hands.
“With all my heart,” said I, being then in cordial mood, and eager to love one loved of these my friends.
“And mine,” he said, in a quiet, grave voice, “if it please you, monsieur.”
“Yet,” I laughed, “if you are English, Monsieur Anderson, we must officially be enemies. I trust our difference may be in all love.”
“Yes,” said Madame, with a dry little biting accent which she much affected, “yes, indeed, in all love, my dear Paul. Monsieur Anderson is English—and he is the betrothed husband of our Yvonne,” she added, watching me keenly.
It seemed to me as if there had been a sudden roaring noise and then these last dreadful words coming coldly upon a great silence. At that moment everything stamped itself ineffaceably on my brain. I see myself grasp the back of a chair, that I may stand with the more irreproachable steadiness. I see Madame’s curious scrutiny. I see Yvonne’s eyes, which had swiftly sought my face as the words were spoken, change and warm to mine for the least fraction of a second. I see all this now, and her slim form unspeakably graceful against the dark wainscoting of the chimney side. Then it all seemed to swim, and I knew that it was with great effort of will I steadied myself; and at last I perceived that Yvonne was holding both Anderson and her father in rapt attention by a sort of radiance of light speech and dainty gesture. I dimly came to understand that Yvonne had seen in my face something which she had not looked to see there, and, moved to compassion, had come to my aid and covered up my hurt. In a moment more I was master of myself, but I knew that Madame’s eyes had never left me. She liked me more than a little; but a certain mirthful malice, which she had retained from the old gay days in France, made her cruel whensoever one afforded her the spectacle of a tragedy.