Printer Friendly

Chapter V: Elegies (Page 2)


"But to return to my 'love affairs.' I must tell you that the innkeeper's spaniel had a dear little puppy, just as sensible as a human being; he was quite white, with black spots on his paws, a cherub of a puppy! I can see him yet. Poor little fellow, he was the only creature who ever gave me a friendly look in those days; I kept all my tidbits for him. He knew me, and came to look for me every evening. How he used to spring up at me! And he would bite my feet, he was not ashamed of my poverty; there was something so grateful and so kind in his eyes that it brought tears into mine to see it. 'That is the one living creature that really cares for me!' I used to say. He slept at my feet that winter. It hurt me so much to see him beaten, that I broke him of the habit of going into houses, to steal bones, and he was quite contented with my crusts. When I was unhappy, he used to come and stand in front of me, and look into my eyes; it was just as if he said, 'So you are sad, my poor Fosseuse?'

"If a traveler threw me some halfpence, he would pick them up out of the dust and bring them to me, clever little spaniel that he was! I was less miserable so long as I had that friend. Every day I put away a few halfpence, for I wanted to get fifteen francs together, so that I might buy him of Pere Manseau. One day his wife saw that the dog was fond of me, so she herself took a sudden violent fancy to him. The dog, mind you, could not bear her. Oh, animals know people by instinct! If you really care for them, they find it out in a moment. I had a gold coin, a twenty-franc piece, sewed into the band of my skirt; so I spoke to M. Manseau: 'Dear sir, I meant to offer you my year's savings for your dog; but now your wife has a mind to keep him, although she cares very little about him, and rather than that, will you sell him to me for twenty francs? Look, I have the money here.'

" 'No, no, little woman,' he said; 'put up your twenty francs. Heaven forbid that I should take their money from the poor! Keep the dog; and if my wife makes a fuss about it, you must go away.'

"His wife made a terrible to-do about the dog. Ah! mon Dieu! any one might have thought the house was on fire! You never would guess the notion that next came into her head. She saw that the little fellow looked on me as his mistress, and that she could only have him against his will, so she had him poisoned; and my poor spaniel died in my arms. . . . I cried over him as if he had been my child, and buried him under a pine-tree. You do not know all that I laid in that grave. As I sat there beside it, I told myself that henceforward I should always be alone in the world; that I had nothing left to hope for; that I should be again as I had been before, a poor lonely girl; that I should never more see a friendly light in any eyes. I stayed out there all through the night, praying God to have pity on me. When I went back to the highroad I saw a poor little child, about ten years old, who had no hands.

" 'God has heard me,' I thought. I had prayed that night as I had never prayed before. 'I will take care of the poor little one; we will beg together, and I will be a mother to him. Two of us ought to do better than one; perhaps I should have more courage for him than I have for myself.'

"At first the little boy seemed to be quite happy, and, indeed, he would have been hard to please if he had not been content. I did everything that he wanted, and gave him the best of all that I had; I was his slave in fact, and he tyrannized over me, but that was nicer than being alone, I used to think! Pshaw! no sooner did the little good-for-nothing know that I carried a twenty-franc piece sewed into my skirtband than he cut the stitches, and stole my gold coin, the price of my poor spaniel! I had meant to have masses said with it. . . . A child without hands, too! Oh, it makes one shudder! Somehow that theft took all the heart out of me. It seemed as if I was to love nothing but it should come to some wretched end.

"One day at Echelles, I watched a fine carriage coming slowly up the hillside. There was a young lady, as beautiful as the Virgin Mary, in the carriage, and a young man, who looked like the young lady. 'Just look,' he said; 'there is a pretty girl!' and he flung a silver coin to me.

"No one but you, M. Benassis, could understand how pleased I was with the compliment, the first that I had ever had: but, indeed, the gentleman ought not to have thrown the money to me. I was in a flutter; I knew of a short cut, a footpath among the rocks, and started at once to run, so that I reached the summit of the Echelles long before the carriage, which was coming up very slowly. I saw the young man again; he was quite surprised to find me there; and as for me, I was so pleased that my heart seemed to be throbbing in my throat. Some kind of instinct drew me towards him. After he had recognized me, I went on my way again; I felt quite sure that he and the young lady with him would leave the carriage to see the waterfall at Couz, and so they did. When they alighted, they saw me once more, under the walnut-trees by the wayside. They asked me many questions, and seemed to take an interest in what I told them about myself. In all my life I had never heard such pleasant voices as they had, that handsome young man and his sister, for she was his sister, I am sure. I thought about them for a whole year afterwards, and kept on hoping that they would come back. I would have given two years of my life only to see that traveler again, he looked so nice. Until I knew M. Benassis these were the greatest events of my life. Although my mistress turned me away for trying on that horrid ball-dress of hers, I was sorry for her, and I have forgiven her, for candidly, if you will give me leave to say so, I thought myself the better woman of the two, countess though she was."

"Well," said Genestas, after a moment's pause, "you see that Providence has kept a friendly eye on you, you are in clover here."

At these words La Fosseuse looked at Benassis with eyes full of gratitude.

"Would that I was rich!" came from Genestas. The officer's exclamation was followed by profound silence.

"You owe me a story," said La Fosseuse at last, in coaxing tones.

"I will tell it at once," answered Genestas. "On the evening before the battle of Friedland," he went on, after a moment, "I had been sent with a despatch to General Davoust's quarters, and I was on the way back to my own, when at a turn in the road I found myself face to face with the Emperor. Napoleon gave me a look.

" 'You are Captain Genestas, are you not?' he said.

" 'Yes, your Majesty.'

" 'You were out in Egypt?'

" 'Yes, your Majesty.'

" 'You had better not keep to the road you are on,' he said; 'turn to the left, you will reach your division sooner that way.'

"That was what the Emperor said, but you would never imagine how kindly he said it; and he had so many irons in the fire just then, for he was riding about surveying the position of the field. I am telling you this story to show you what a memory he had, and so that you may know that he knew my face. I took the oath in 1815. But for that mistake, perhaps I might have been a colonel to-day; I never meant to betray the Bourbons, France must be defended, and that was all I thought about. I was a Major in the Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard; and although my wound still gave me trouble, I swung a sabre in the battle of Waterloo. When it was all over, and Napoleon returned to Paris, I went too; then when he reached Rochefort, I followed him against his orders; it was some sort of comfort to watch over him and to see that no mishap befell him on the way. So when he was walking along the beach he turned and saw me on duty ten paces from him.

" 'Well, Genestas,' he said, as he came towards me, 'so we are not yet dead, either of us?'

"It cut me to the heart to hear him say that. If you had heard him, you would have shuddered from head to foot, as I did. He pointed to the villainous English vessel that was keeping the entrance to the Harbor. 'When I see THAT,' he said, 'and think of my Guard, I wish that I had perished in that torrent of blood.'

"Yes," said Genestas, looking at the doctor and at La Fosseuse, "those were his very words.

" 'The generals who counseled you not to charge with the Guard, and who hurried you into your traveling carriage, were not true friends of yours,' I said.

" 'Come with me,' he cried eagerly, 'the game is not ended yet.'

" 'I would gladly go with your Majesty, but I am not free; I have a motherless child on my hands just now.'

"And so it happened that Adrien over there prevented me from going to St. Helena.

" 'Stay,' he said, 'I have never given you anything. You are not one of those who fill one hand and then hold out the other. Here is the snuff-box that I have used though this last campaign. And stay on in France; after all, brave men are wanted there! Remain in the service, and keep me in remembrance. Of all my army in Egypt, you are the last that I have seen still on his legs in France.' And he gave me a little snuff-box.

" 'Have "Honneur et patrie" engraved on it,' he said; 'the history of our last two campaigns is summed up in those three words.'

"Then those who were going out with him came up, and I spent the rest of the morning with them. The Emperor walked to and fro along the beach; there was not a sign of agitation about him, though he frowned from time to time. At noon, it was considered hopeless for him to attempt to escape by sea. The English had found out that he was at Rochefort; he must either give himself up to them, or cross the breadth of France again. We were wretchedly anxious; the minutes seemed like hours! On the one hand there were the Bourbons, who would have shot Napoleon if he had fallen into their clutches; and on the other, the English, a dishonored race: they covered themselves with shame by flinging a foe who asked for hospitality away on a desert rock, that is a stain which they will never wash away. Whilst they were anxiously debating, some one or other among his suite presented a sailor to him, a Lieutenant Doret, who had a scheme for reaching America to lay before him. As a matter of fact, a brig from the States and a merchant vessel were lying in the harbor.

" 'But how could you set about it, captain?' the Emperor asked him.

" 'You will be on board the merchant vessel, Sire,' the man answered.

'I will run up the white flag and man the brig with a few devoted followers. We will tackle the English vessel, set fire to her, and board her, and you will get clear away.'

" 'We will go with you!' I cried to the captain. But Napoleon looked at us and said, 'Captain Doret, keep yourself for France.'

"It was the only time I ever saw Napoleon show any emotion. With a wave of his hand to us he went in again. I watched him go on board the English vessel, and then I went away. It was all over with him, and he knew it. There was a traitor in the harbor, who by means of signals gave warning to the Emperor's enemies of his presence. Then Napoleon fell back on a last resource; he did as he had been wont to do on the battlefield: he went to his foes instead of letting them come to him. Talk of troubles! No words could ever make you understand the misery of those who loved him for his own sake."

"But where is his snuff-box?" asked La Fosseuse.

"It is in a box at Grenoble," the commandant replied.

"I will go over to see it, if you will let me. To think that you have something in your possession that his fingers have touched! . . . Had he a well-shaped hand?"

"Very."

"Can it be true that he is dead? Come, tell me the real truth?"

"Yes, my dear child, he is dead; there is no doubt about it."

"I was such a little girl in 1815. I was not tall enough to see anything but his hat, and even so I was nearly crushed to death in the crowd at Grenoble."

"Your coffee and cream is very nice indeed," said Genestas. "Well, Adrien, how do you like this country? Will you come here to see mademoiselle?"

The boy made no answer; he seemed afraid to look at La Fosseuse. Benassis never took his eyes off Adrien; he appeared to be reading the lad's very soul.

"Of course he will come to see her," said Benassis. "But let us go home again, I have a pretty long round to make, and I shall want a horse. I daresay you and Jacquotte will manage to get on together whilst I am away."

"Will you not come with us?" said Genestas to La Fosseuse.

"Willingly," she answered; "I have a lot of things to take over for Mme. Jacquotte.

They started out for the doctor's house. Her visitors had raised La Fosseuse's spirits; she led the way along narrow tracks, through the loneliest parts of the hills.

"You have told us nothing about yourself, Monsieur l'Officier," she said. "I should have liked to hear you tell us about some adventure in the wars. I liked what you told us about Napoleon very much, but it made me feel sad. . . . If you would be so very kind----"

"Quite right!" Benassis exclaimed. "You ought to tell us about some thrilling adventure during our walk. Come, now, something really interesting like that business of the beam in Beresina!"

"So few of my recollections are worth telling," said Genestas. "Some people come in for all kinds of adventures, but I have never managed to be the hero of any story. Oh! stop a bit though, a funny thing did once happen to me. I was with the Grand Army in 1805, and so, of course, I was at Austerlitz. There was a great deal of skirmishing just before Ulm surrendered, which kept the cavalry pretty fully occupied. Moreover, we were under the command of Murat, who never let the grass grow under his feet.

"I was still only a sub-lieutenant in those days. It was just at the opening of the campaign, and after one of these affairs, that we took possession of a district in which there were a good many fine estates; so it fell out that one evening my regiment bivouacked in a park belonging to a handsome chateau where a countess lived, a young and pretty woman she was. Of course, I meant to lodge in the house, and I hurried there to put a stop to pillage of any sort. I came into the salon just as my quartermaster was pointing his carbine at the countess, his brutal way of asking for what she certainly could not give the ugly scoundrel. I struck up his carbine with my sword, the bullet went through a looking-glass on the wall, then I dealt my gentleman a back-handed blow that stretched him on the floor. The sound of the shot and the cries of the countess fetched all her people on the scene, and it was my turn to be in danger.

" 'Stop!' she cried in German (for they were going to run me through the body), 'this officer has saved my life!'

"They drew back at that. The lady gave me her handkerchief (a fine embroidered handkerchief, which I have yet), telling me that her house would always be open to me, and that I should always find a sister and a devoted friend in her, if at any time I should be in any sort of trouble. In short, she did not know how to make enough of me. She was as fair as a wedding morning and as charming as a kitten. We had dinner together. Next day, I was distractedly in love, but next day I had to be at my place at Guntzburg, or wherever it was. There was no help for it, I had to turn out, and started off with my handkerchief.

"Well, we gave them battle, and all the time I kept on saying to myself, 'I wish a bullet would come my way! Mon Dieu! they are flying thick enough!'

"I had no wish for a ball in the thigh, for I should have had to stop where I was in that case, and there would have been no going back to the chateau, but I was not particular; a nice wound in the arm I should have liked best, so that I might be nursed and made much of by the princess. I flung myself on the enemy, like mad; but I had no sort of luck, and came out of the action quite safe and sound. We must march, and there was an end of it; I never saw the countess again, and there is the whole story."

By this time they had reached Benassis' house; the doctor mounted his horse at once and disappeared. Genestas recommended his son to Jacquotte's care, so the doctor on his return found that she had taken Adrien completely under her wing, and had installed him in M. Gravier's celebrated room. With no small astonishment, she heard her master's order to put up a simple camp-bed in his own room, for that the lad was to sleep there, and this in such an authoritative tone, that for once in her life Jacquotte found not a single word to say.

After dinner the commandant went back to Grenoble. Benassis' reiterated assurances that the lad would soon be restored to health had taken a weight off his mind.

Eight months later, in the earliest days of the following December, Genestas was appointed to be lieutenant-colonel of a regiment stationed at Poitiers. He was just thinking of writing to Benassis to tell him of the journey he was about to take, when a letter came from the doctor. His friend told him that Adrien was once more in sound health.

"The boy has grown strong and tall," he said; "and he is wonderfully well. He has profited by Butifer's instruction since you saw him last, and is now as good a shot as our smuggler himself. He has grown brisk and active too; he is a good walker, and rides well; he is not in the least like the lad of sixteen who looked like a boy of twelve eight months ago; any one might think that he was twenty years old. There is an air of self-reliance and independence about him. In fact he is a man now, and you must begin to think about his future at once."

"I shall go over to Benassis to-morrow, of course," said Genestas to himself, "and I will see what he says before I make up my mind what to do with that fellow," and with that he went to a farewell dinner given to him by his brother officers. He would be leaving Grenoble now in a very few days.

As the lieutenant-colonel returned after the dinner, his servant handed him a letter. It had been brought by a messenger, he said, who had waited a long while for an answer.

Genestas recognized Adrien's handwriting, although his head was swimming after the toasts that had been drunk in his honor; probably, he thought, the letter merely contained a request to gratify some boyish whim, so he left it unopened on the table. The next morning, when the fumes of champagne had passed off, he took it up and began to read.

  "My dear father----"

"Oh! you young rogue," was his comment, "you know how to coax whenever you want something."

  "Our dear M. Benassis is dead----"

The letter dropped from Genestas' hands; it was some time before he could read any more.

  "Every one is in consternation. The trouble is all the greater
  because it came as a sudden shock. It was so unexpected. M.
  Benassis seemed perfectly well the day before; there was not a
  sign of ill-health about him. Only the day before yesterday he
  went to see all his patients, even those who lived farthest away;
  it was as if he had known what was going to happen; and he spoke
  to every one whom he met, saying, 'Good-bye, my friends,' each
  time. Towards five o'clock he came back just as usual to have
  dinner with me. He was tired; Jacquotte noticed the purplish flush
  on his face, but the weather was so very cold that she would not
  get ready a warm foot-bath for him, as she usually did when she
  saw that the blood had gone to his head. So she has been wailing,
  poor thing, through her tears for these two days past, 'If I had
  ONLY given him a foot-bath, he would be living now!'

  "M Benassis was hungry; he made a good dinner. I thought that he
  was in higher spirits than usual; we both of us laughed a great
  deal, I had never seen him laugh so much before. After dinner,
  towards seven o'clock, a man came with a message from Saint
  Laurent du Pont; it was a serious case, and M. Benassis was
  urgently needed. He said to me, 'I shall have to go, though I
  never care to set out on horseback when I have hardly digested my
  dinner, more especially when it is as cold as this. It is enough
  to kill a man!'

  "For all that, he went. At nine o'clock the postman Goguelat,
  brought a letter for M. Benassis. Jacquotte was tired out, for it
  was her washing-day. She gave me the letter and went off to bed.
  She begged me to keep a good fire in our bedroom, and to have some
  tea ready for M. Benassis when he came in, for I am still sleeping
  in the little cot- bed in his room. I raked out the fire in the
  salon, and went upstairs to wait for my good friend. I looked at
  the letter, out of curiosity, before I laid it on the chimney-
  piece, and noticed the handwriting and the postmark. It came from
  Paris, and I think it was a lady's hand. I am telling you about it
  because of things that happened afterwards.

  "About ten o'clock, I heard the horse returning, and M. Benassis'
  voice. He said to Nicolle, 'It is cold enough to-night to bring
  the wolves out. I do not feel at all well.' Nicolle said, 'Shall I
  go and wake Jacquotte?' And M. Benassis answered, 'Oh! no, no,'
  and came upstairs.

  "I said, 'I have your tea here, all ready for you,' and he smiled
  at me in the way that you know, and said, 'Thank you, Adrien.'
  That was his last smile. In a moment he began to take off his
  cravat, as though he could not breathe. 'How hot it is in here!'
  he said and flung himself down in an armchair. 'A letter has come
  for you, my good friend,' I said; 'here it is;' and I gave him the
  letter. He took it up and glanced at the handwriting. 'Ah! mon
  Dieu!' he exclaimed, 'perhaps she is free at last!' Then his head
  sank back, and his hands shook. After a little while he set the
  lamp on the table and opened the letter. There was something so
  alarming in the cry he had given that I watched him while he read,
  and saw that his face was flushed, and there were tears in his
  eyes. Then quite suddenly he fell, head forwards. I tried to raise
  him, and saw how purple his face was.

  " 'It is all over with me,' he said, stammering; it was terrible
  to see how he struggled to rise. 'I must be bled; bleed me!' he
  cried, clutching my hand. . . . 'Adrien,' he said again, 'burn
  this letter!' He gave it to me, and I threw it on the fire. I
  called for Jacquotte and Nicolle. Jacquotte did not hear me, but
  Nicolle did, and came hurrying upstairs; he helped me to lay M.
  Benassis on my little bed. Our dear friend could not hear us any
  longer when we spoke to him, and although his eyes were open, he
  did not see anything. Nicolle galloped off at once to fetch the
  surgeon, M. Bordier, and in this way spread the alarm through the
  town. It was all astir in a moment. M. Janvier, M. Dufau, and all
  the rest of your acquaintance were the first to come to us. But
  all hope was at an end, M. Benassis was dying fast. He gave no
  sign of consciousness, not even when M. Bordier cauterized the
  soles of his feet. It was an attack of gout, combined with an
  apoplectic stroke.

  "I am giving you all these details, dear father, because I know
  how much you cared for him. As for me, I am very sad and full of
  grief, for I can say to you that I cared more for him than for any
  one else except you. I learned more from M. Benassis' talk in the
  evenings than ever I could have learned at school.

  "You cannot imagine the scene next morning when the news of his
  death was known in the place. The garden and the yard here were
  filled with people. How they sobbed and wailed! Nobody did any
  work that day. Every one recalled the last time that they had seen
  M. Benassis, and what he had said, or they talked of all that he
  had done for them; and those who were least overcome with grief
  spoke for the others. Every one wanted to see him once more, and
  the crowd grew larger every moment. The sad news traveled so fast
  that men and women and children came from ten leagues round; all
  the people in the district, and even beyond it, had that one
  thought in their minds.

  "It was arranged that four of the oldest men of the commune should
  carry the coffin. It was a very difficult task for them, for the
  crowd was so dense between the church and M. Benassis' house.
  There must have been nearly five thousand people there, and almost
  every one knelt as if the Host were passing. There was not nearly
  room for them in the church. In spite of their grief, the crowd
  was so silent that you could hear the sound of the bell during
  mass and the chanting as far as the end of the High Street; but
  when the procession started again for the new cemetery, which M.
  Benassis had given to the town, little thinking, poor man, that he
  himself would be the first to be buried there, a great cry went
  up. M. Janvier wept as he said the prayers; there were no dry eyes
  among the crowd. And so we buried him.

  "As night came on the people dispersed, carrying sorrow and
  mourning everywhere with them. The next day Gondrin and Goguelat,
  and Butifer, with others, set to work to raise a sort of pyramid
  of earth, twenty feet high, above the spot where M. Benassis lies;
  it is being covered now with green sods, and every one is helping
  them. These things, dear father, have all happened in three days.

  "M. Dufau found M. Benassis' will lying open on the table where he
  used to write. When it was known how his property had been left,
  affection and regret for his loss became even deeper if possible.
  And now, dear father, I am writing for Butifer (who is taking this
  letter to you) to come back with your answer. You must tell me
  what I am to do. Will you come to fetch me, or shall I go to you
  at Grenoble? Tell me what you wish me to do, and be sure that I
  shall obey you in everything.

  "Farewell, dear father, I send my love, and I am your affectionate
  son,

ADRIEN GENESTAS."

"Ah! well, I must go over," the soldier exclaimed.

He ordered his horse and started out. It was one of those still December mornings when the sky is covered with gray clouds. The wind was too light to disperse the thick fog, through which the bare trees and damp house fronts seemed strangely unfamiliar. The very silence was gloomy. There is such a thing as a silence full of light and gladness; on a bright day there is a certain joyousness about the slightest sound, but in such dreary weather nature is not silent, she is dumb. All sounds seemed to die away, stifled by the heavy air.

There was something in the gloom without him that harmonized with Colonel Genestas' mood; his heart was oppressed with grief, and thoughts of death filled his mind. Involuntarily he began to think of the cloudless sky on that lovely spring morning, and remembered how bright the valley had looked when he passed through it for the first time; and now, in strong contrast with that day, the heavy sky above him was a leaden gray, there was no greenness about the hills, which were still waiting for the cloak of winter snow that invests them with a certain beauty of its own. There was something painful in all this bleak and bare desolation for a man who was traveling to find a grave at his journey's end; the thought of that grave haunted him. The lines of dark pine-trees here and there along the mountain ridges against the sky seized on his imagination; they were in keeping with the officer's mournful musings. Every time that he looked over the valley that lay before him, he could not help thinking of the trouble that had befallen the canton, of the man who had died so lately, and of the blank left by his death.

Before long, Genestas reached the cottage where he had asked for a cup of milk on his first journey. The sight of the smoke rising above the hovel where the charity-children were being brought up recalled vivid memories of Benassis and of his kindness of heart. The officer made up his mind to call there. He would give some alms to the poor woman for his dead friend's sake. He tied his horse to a tree, and opened the door of the hut without knocking.

"Good-day, mother," he said, addressing the old woman, who was sitting by the fire with the little ones crouching at her side. "Do you remember me?"

"Oh! quite well, sir! You came here one fine morning last spring and gave us two crowns."

"There, mother! that is for you and the children"

"Thank you kindly, sir. May Heaven bless you!"

"You must not thank me, mother," said the officer; "it is all through M. Benassis that the money had come to you."

The old woman raised her eyes and gazed at Genestas.

"Ah! sir," she said, "he has left his property to our poor countryside, and made all of us his heirs; but we have lost him who was worth more than all, for it was he who made everything turn out well for us."

"Good-bye, mother! Pray for him," said Genestas, making a few playful cuts at the children with his riding-whip.

The old woman and her little charges went out with him; they watched him mount his horse and ride away.

He followed the road along the valley until he reached the bridle-path that led to La Fosseuse's cottage. From the slope above the house he saw that the door was fastened and the shutters closed. In some anxiety he returned to the highway, and rode on under the poplars, now bare and leafless. Before long he overtook the old laborer, who was dressed in his Sunday best, and creeping slowly along the road. There was no bag of tools on his shoulder.

"Good-day, old Moreau!"

"Ah! good-day, sir. . . . I mind who you are now!" the old fellow exclaimed after a moment. "You are a friend of monsieur, our late mayor! Ah! sir, would it not have been far better if God had only taken a poor rheumatic old creature like me instead? It would not have mattered if He had taken me, but HE was the light of our eyes."

"Do you know how it is that there is no one at home up there at La Fosseuse's cottage?"

The old man gave a look at the sky.

"What time is it, sir? The sun has not shone all day," he said.

"It is ten o'clock."

"Oh! well, then, she will have gone to mass or else to the cemetery. She goes there every day. He has left her five hundred livres a year and her house for as long as she lives, but his death has fairly turned her brain, as you may say----"

"And where are you going, old Moreau?"

"Little Jacques is to be buried to-day, and I am going to the funeral. He was my nephew, poor little chap; he had been ailing for a long while, and he died yesterday morning. It really looked as though it was M. Benassis who kept him alive. That is the way! All these younger ones die!" Moreau added, half-jestingly, half-sadly.

Genestas reined in his horse as he entered the town, for he met Gondrin and Goguelat, each carrying a pickaxe and shovel. He called to them, "Well, old comrades, we have had the misfortune to lose him----"

"There, there, that is enough, sir!" interrupted Goguelat, "we know that well enough. We have just been cutting turf to cover his grave."

"His life will make a grand story to tell, eh?"

"Yes," answered Goguelat, "he was the Napoleon of our valley, barring the battles."

As they reached the parsonage, Genestas saw a little group about the door; Butifer and Adrien were talking with M. Janvier, who, no doubt, had just returned from saying mass. Seeing that the officer made as though he were about to dismount, Butifer promptly went to hold the horse, while Adrien sprang forward and flung his arms about his father's neck. Genestas was deeply touched by the boy's affection, though no sign of this appeared in the soldier's words or manner.

"Why, Adrien," he said, "you certainly are set up again. My goodness! Thanks to our poor friend, you have almost grown into a man. I shall not forget your tutor here, Master Butifer."

"Oh! colonel," entreated Butifer, "take me away from here and put me into your regiment. I cannot trust myself now that M. le Maire is gone. HE wanted me to go for a soldier, didn't he? Well, then, I will do what he wished. He told you all about me, and you will not be hard on me, will you, M. Genestas?"

"Right, my fine fellow," said Genestas, as he struck his hand in the other's. "I will find something to suit you, set your mind at rest---- And how is it with you, M. le Cure?"

"Well, like every one else in the canton, colonel, I feel sorrow for his loss, but no one knows as I do how irreparable it is. He was like an angel of God among us. Fortunately, he did not suffer at all; it was a painless death. The hand of God gently loosed the bonds of a life that was one continual blessing to us all."

"Will it be intrusive if I ask you to accompany me to the cemetery? I should like to bid him farewell, as it were."

Genestas and the cure, still in conversation, walked on together. Butifer and Adrien followed them at a few paces distance. They went in the direction of the little lake, and as soon as they were clear of the town, the lieutenant-colonel saw on the mountain-side a large piece of waste land enclosed by walls.

"That is the cemetery," the cure told him. "He is the first to be buried in it. Only three months before he was brought here, it struck him that it was a very bad arrangement to have the churchyard round the church; so, in order to carry out the law, which prescribes that burial grounds should be removed a stated distance from human dwellings, he himself gave this piece of land to the commune. We are burying a child, poor little thing, in the new cemetery to-day, so we shall have begun by laying innocence and virtue there. Can it be that death is after all a reward? Did God mean it as a lesson for us when He took these two perfect natures to Himself? When we have been tried and disciplined in youth by pain, in later life by mental suffering, are we so much nearer to Him? Look! there is the rustic monument which has been erected to his memory."

Genestas saw a mound of earth about twenty feet high. It was bare as yet, but dwellers in the district were already busily covering the sloping sides with green turf. La Fosseuse, her face buried in her hands, was sobbing bitterly; she was sitting on the pile of stones in which they had planted a great wooden cross, made from the trunk of a pine-tree, from which the bark had not been removed. The officer read the inscription; the letters were large, and had been deeply cut in the wood.

D. O. M.

HERE LIES

THE GOOD MONSIEUR BENASSIS

THE FATHER OF US ALL

PRAY FOR HIM.

"Was it you, sir," asked Genestas, "who----?"

"No," answered the cure; it is simply what is said everywhere, from the heights up there above us down to Grenoble, so the words have been carved here."

Genestas remained silent for a few moments. Then he moved from where he stood and came nearer to La Fosseuse, who did not hear him, and spoke again to the cure.

"As soon as I have my pension," he said, "I will come to finish my days here among you."

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters