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and yet - He ought to be a good fellow. He has every qualification, and yet-
Lory did not finish the sentence, but stood reflectively looking at his father.
'He has more than once offered to buy Vasselot,' he said, watching for the effect.
“You must never sell Vasselot,' replied the old man. He did not seem to conceive it possible that there should be any temptation to do so.
'I do not quite understand Colonel Gilbert,' continued Lory. • He has also offered to buy Perucca; but there I think he has to deal with a clever woman.'
• C'est ce qu'on ne dit pas qui explique ce qu'on dit.'
From the Rue du Cherche-Midi in Paris to the Casa Perucca in Corsica is as complete a change as even the heart of woman may desire. For the Rue du Cherche-Midi is probably the noisiest corner of that noisy Paris that lies south of the Seine ; and the Casa Perucca is one of the few quiet corners of Europe where the madding crowd is non-existent, and that crowning effort of philanthropic folly, the statute holiday, has yet to penetrate.
'Yes,' said Mademoiselle Brun, one morning, after she and Denise had passed two months in what she was pleased to term exile; 'yes, it is peaceful. Give me war,' she added grimly, after a pause.
They were standing on the terrace that looked down over the great valley of Vasselot. There was not a house in sight except the crumbling château. The month was June, and the river, which could be heard in winter, was now little more than a trickling stream. A faint breeze stirred the young leaves of the copper beech, which is a silent tree by nature, and did not so much as whisper now. There are few birds in Corsica, for the natives are great sportsmen, and will shoot, sitting, anything from a man to a sparrow in season and out.
Listen,' said Mademoiselle Brun, holding up one steady yellow finger; but the silence was such as will make itself felt. "And the neighbours do not call much,' added mademoiselle, in completion of her own thoughts.
Denise laughed. She had been up early, for they were almost alone in the Casa Perucca now. The servants who had obeyed Mattei Perucca in fear and trembling had refused to obey Denise, who, with much spirit, had dismissed them one and all. An old man remained, who was generally considered to be half-witted ; and Maria Andrei, the widow of Pietro, who was shot at Olmeta. Denise superintended the small farm.
*That cheery Maria,' said Mademoiselle Brun, she is our only resource, and reminds me of a cheap funeral.' "There is the colonel,' said Denise ; 'you forget him.'
Yes; there is the colonel, who is so kind to us.'
And Mademoiselle Brun slowly contemplated the whole landscape, taking in Denise, as it were, in passing.
* And there is our little friend,' she added, down in the valley there who does not call.'
Why do you call him little?' asked Denise, looking down at the Château de Vasselot. He is not little.'
'He is not so large as the colonel,' explained mademoiselle.
'I wonder why he does not call,' said Denise presently, looking down into the valley, as if she could perhaps see the explanation there.
'It has something to do with the social geography of the district,' said mademoiselle, 'which we do not understand. The Cheap Funeral alone knows it. Half of the country she colours red, the other half black. Theoretically, we hate a number of persons who reciprocate the feeling heartily. Practically we do not know of their existence. I imagine the Count de Vasselot hates us on the same principle.'
• But we are not going to be dictated to by a number of ignorant peasants,' cried Denise angrily.
'I rather fancy we are.'
Denise was standing by the low wall, with her head thrown back. She was naturally energetic, and had the carriage that usually goes with that quality.
"Are you sure he is there ?' she asked, still looking down at the château.
No, I am not. I have only Maria's word for it.'
And mademoiselle followed her to the house without comment. Indeed, she seemed willing enough to do that which they had been warned not to do.
On the road that skirts the hill and turns amid groves of chestnut-trees, they met two men, loitering along with no business in hand, who scowled at them and made no salutation.
"They may scowl beneath their great hats,' said Denise; 'I am not afraid of them. And she walked on with her chin well up.
Below them, on the left, the terraces of vine and olive were weed-grown and neglected; for Denise had found no one to work on her land, and the soil here is damp and warm, favouring a rapid growth.
Colonel Gilbert had been unable to help them in this matter. His official position necessarily prevented his taking an active part in any local differences. There were Luccans, he said, to be hired at Bastia, hard-working men and skilled vine-dressers, but they would not come to a commune where such active hostility existed, and to induce them to do so would inevitably lead to bloodshed.
The Abbé Susini had called, and told a similar tale in more guarded language. Finding the ladies good Catholics, he pleaded for and abused his poor in one breath, and then returned half the money that Denise gave him.
* As likely as not you will be given credit for the whole in heaven, mademoiselle, but I will only take part of it,' he said.
"A masterful man,' commented Mademoiselle Brun, when he was gone.
But the abbé had suggested no solution to Denise's difficulties. The estate seemed to be drifting naturally into the hands of the only man who wanted it, and, after all, had offered a good price for it.
“I will find out from the Abbé Susini or the mayor whether the Count de Vasselot is really here,' Denise said, as they approached the village. 'And if he is, we will go and see him. We cannot go on like this. He says do not sell, and then he does not come near us. He must give his reasons. Why should I take his advice?'
Why, indeed ?' said Mademoiselle Brun, to whom the question was not quite a new one.
She knew that, though Denise would rebel against de Vasselot's advice, she would continue to follow it.
* It seems to be luncheon-time,' said Denise, when they reached the village. The place is deserted. It must be their déjeuner.'
'It may be,' responded mademoiselle, with her man-like curtness of speech.
They went into the church, which was empty, and stayed but a few minutes there, for Mademoiselle Brun was as short in her speech with God as with men. When they came out to the market-place, that also was deserted, which was singular, because the villagers in Corsica spend nearly the whole day on the marketplace, talking politics and whispering a hundred intrigues of parochial policy; for here a municipal councillor is a great man, and usually a great scoundrel, selling his favour and his vote, trafficking for power, and misappropriating the public funds. Not only was the market-place empty, but some of the house-doors were closed. The door of a small shop was even shut from within as they approached, and surreptitiously barred. Mademoiselle Brun noticed it, and Denise did not pretend to ignore it.
One would say that we had an infectious complaint,' she said, with a short laugh.
They went to the house of the Abbé Susini. Even this door was shut.
• The abbé is out,' said the old woman who came in answer to their summons, and she closed the door again with more speed than politeness.
Denise did not need to ask which was the mayor's house, for a board, with the word “Mairie' painted upon it (appropriately enough a movable board), was affixed to a house nearly opposite to the church. As they walked towards it, a stone, thrown from the far corner of the Place, under the trees, narrowly missed Denise, and rolled at her feet. Mademoiselle Brun walked on, but Denise swung round on her heel. There was no one to be seen, so she had to follow Mademoiselle Brun, after all, in silence. She was rather pale, but it was anger that lighted her eyes, and not fear.
Almost immediately a volley of stones followed, and a laugh rang out from beneath the trees. And, strange to say, it was the laugh that at last frightened Denise, and not the stones; for it was a cruel laugh-the laugh of a brutal fool, such as one may
still hear in a few European countries when boys are torturing dumb animals.
Let us hurry,' said Denise hastily. 'Let us get to the Mairie.'
• Where we shall find the biggest scoundrel of them all, no doubt,' added mademoiselle, who was alert and cool.
But before they reached the Mairie the stones had ceased, and they both turned at the sound of a horse's feet. It was Colonel Gilbert riding hastily into the Place. He saw the stones lying there and the two women standing alone in the sunlight. He looked towards the trees, and then round at the closed houses. With a sbrug of the shoulders, he rode towards Denise and dismounted.
Mademoiselle,' he said, “they have been frightening you.' ‘Yes,' she answered. They are not men, but brutes.'
The colonel, who was always gentle in manner, made a deprecatory gesture with the great riding-whip that he invariably carried.
You must remember,' he said, 'that they are but half civilised. You know their history—they have been conquered by all the greedy nations in succession, and they have never known peace from the time that history began until a hundred years ago. They are barbarians, mademoiselle, and barbarians always distrust a new-comer.'
* But why do they hate me?'
‘Because they do not know you, mademoiselle,' replied the colonel, with perhaps a second meaning in his blue eyes.
And, after a pause, he explained further.
Because they do not understand you. They belong to one of the strongest clans in Corsica, and it is the ambition of every one to belong to a strong clan. But the Peruccas are in danger of falling into dissension and disorder, for they have no head. You are the head, mademoiselle. And the work they expect of you is not work for such hands as yours.'
And again Colonel Gilbert looked at Denise slowly and thoughtfully. She did not perceive the glance, for she was standing with her head half turned towards the trees.
"Ah!' he said, noting the direction of her glance, 'they will throw no more stones, mademoiselle. You need have no anxiety. They fear a uniform as much as they hate it'
• And if you had not come at that moment ?'