In the Village of Viger

by Duncan Campbell Scott


 

No. 68 RUE ALFRED DE MUSSET


IT WAS an evening early in May.  The maples were covered with their little seed-pods, like the crescents of the Moslem hosts they hung redly in the evening air.  The new leaf-tips of the poplars shone out like silver blooms.  The mountain-ash-trees stood with their virginal branches outlined against the filmy rose and grey of the evening sky, their slender leaves half open.  Everything swam in the hazy light; the air was full of gold motes; in the sky lay a few strands of cloud, touched with almost imperceptible rose.  At the upper window of a house in De Musset Street, Maurice Ruelle looked down upon the trees covered with the misty light.  His window was high above everything, and the house itself stood alone on the brow of a little cliff that commanded miles of broken country.  Maurice was propped up at the window, and had a shawl thrown about his shoulders.  The room was close; a little wood-fire was dying away in the open stove. [Page 49]
    "Maurice, Maurice, I'm sick of life.  I will be an adventuress."
    Maurice turned his head to look at the speaker.  She was seated on the floor, leaning on her slanted arm, which was thrown behind her to support her weight. 
    "Well, my dear sister, you are ambitious—"
    "Don't be bitter, Maurice."
    "I'm not bitter; I know you are ambitious; I am proud of you, you know.  I don't see why you have to nurse me; fate is cruel to you."
    "Oh, but I don't nurse you, you know that; what's my nursing good for?  I only wish we had money enough to send you away for these terrible winters, or give you a room in some fine hospital."
    Maurice watched the birds dropping through the glow.  A little maid brought in candles.  Eloise began to walk up and down the room restlessly.
    "Ah, well, we haven't the money," Maurice sighed.
    "Money—money—it's not altogether a matter of money; to me it's a matter of life."
    "Well, to me it's hardly a matter of money or of life."
    "Maurice, you must not think of that; I forbid it.  I must do something.  I feel that I can succeed.  Look at me, Maurice—tell me now—"
    She stood with her head thrown back, and poised lightly, and with a little frown on her face.
    "Superb!" said her brother.
    "I know I'll do something desperate," she said.  "I must live; I was made to." [Page 50]
    "Yes, my dear, that is the difference between us."
    "Maurice, how dare you; I forbid it; I have decided.  You will go south, and I will begin to live.  I am going to stop wishing."
    "Well, I have long ago ceased to wish; wishing was the only passion I ever had; I have given it up.  But I have not wished for money; sometimes I have wished for health—"
    He did not finish his sentence; he only thought of what he had longed for more than anything else, the love of his beautiful, impulsive sister.  Eloise was dusting her geranium leaves.  Maurice looked from his window into the tree on which the leaves were not yet thick enough to hide the old nests.
    A short time after this a rather curious advertisement appeared in one of the city papers.  It read: "Very handsome old oak furniture.  Secretaire with small drawers.  A dower chest and a little table.  Each article richly carved.  For particulars call at No. 68 Rue Alfred de Musset, Viger."
    Eloise read this advertisement to her brother.
    "What does this mean?" he asked.  "We have no such furniture, but it is our number true enough.  Is this the commencement?"
    "Yes, my dear, that is what it is."
    The next day callers in response to this advertisement began to arrive.  Eloise answered the bell herself.  The first was a rather shabby old man who wore a tall hat and green glasses.  He produced a crumpled clipping [Page 51] from the paper, and, smoothing it out, handed it to Eloise.
    "I have come to buy this second-hand furniture," he explained, holding his hat by the brim.  Eloise looked at the advertisement as if she had never seen it before. 
    "There must be some mistake," she said.  "I have no such furniture.:
    "I have not mistaken the number—No. 68 Rue Alfred de Musset."
    "Yes, but the printer must have made a mistake; this is not the place."
    Many times that day she had to give unpromising looking people the same answer.  Every one of them accepted the situation cheerfully; certainly it must have been a mistake.  Three letters came also with inquiries about the furniture.  One of these Eloise was tempted to answer; but she resolved to wait a day or two.  The next day no one came at all; but on the next, about four o'clock in the afternoon, a young man drove up in a dog-cart.  He left his horse, and walked rapidly through the little garden to the house.  He was a handsome vigorous-looking youth.  He rang somewhat violently; and Eloise answered the summons.  She opened the door a foot, and the caller could only see a bit of her white dress.
    "I have called to see the furniture you have advertised," he said.
    The door opened slowly, and, taking this as an invitation to enter, he stepped into the hall.  He could not tell [Page 52] why, but he expected to see an old woman behind the door; instead he saw a very graceful girl holding the door-knob between her fingers.  Without a word she preceded him with an air of shyness, and led the way into the front room.  He glanced about for the furniture; it was evidently not there.  She asked him to be seated.
    "My father wanted me to come out and look at the things you advertised," he said.
    "You are very good, Monsieur."
    "Not at all; my father picks up these things for the house, when they are really valuable."
    "These are very valuable."
    She still wore an air of shyness, and looked abstractedly from the window into a lilac-bush; she seemed nervous and apprehensive.
    "Could you let me see them?"
    There was a noise upstairs.  Eloise half started from her chair.
    "I beg of you not to speak so loudly."
    He relapsed into a whisper.
    "I beg pardon, I was not conscious of speaking too loudly."
    "It is not that, but—I cannot explain."  She ended abruptly.  "You see," she said, hesitatingly, "I wish you had come yesterday."
    "Have you promised them to someone else?"
    "No, not at all; but yesterday it might have been possible, today it is impossible to show it to you." [Page 53]
    "When can I see it?"
    "I am unfortunate—I cannot say when.  It is my brother's—but it must be sold."
    An expression of slight distress crossed her face.
    "Does he not want it sold?"
    "Monsieur, I beg of you not to question me; I am in great perplexity."  She continued, after a moment's pause, "You have rarely seen things so exquisite; the secretaire has a secret cabinet, the chest is carved with a scene of nymphs in a wood; the table is a beautiful little table."  She figured these articles in the air with an imaginative wave of her hand.  The young man began to regard her with some interest; he remarked to himself that she was a lovely girl. 
    "I'm sorry my call is inopportune, I will come again."  He left his card on the table.
    "Perhaps when you come again it will be more convenient," she said, following him at some distance to the door.  He opened it himself, and went down the steps; as he looked back it was slowly shutting, and he caught a glimpse of her delicate white dress as it closed.  Eloise took up the card.  The name was Pierre Pechito.  She knew the name; it was borne by one of the richest of the city merchants.  She took the card up to Maurice.  He held it in his emaciated fingers.
    "Is this the end of Chapter One?" he asked.  "Well, he may never come back; and what will you do with him if he does come back?" [Page 54]
    "Oh, he will come; as for the rest, we must succeed.  But there is one thing, Maurice, you must be the invisible ogre; you must rage about here as wildly as you can, while I am working out our destiny downstairs."
    "My destiny?" he asked, with a falling touch of sadness in his accent.
    A few days after this Pierre returned.  "May I come in?" he asked, as Eloise held the door open hesitatingly.
    "If you wish, Monsieur."  They sat a moment silently in the parlour.
    "Monsieur," said Eloise, commencing hurriedly but determinedly, "in this life everything is uncertain; so much depends upon mere circumstances, which are too obscure for us to control.  I am willing to show you the furniture, but how much depends upon that!"  She rose with the air of a heroine, and led the way to the foot of the stairs.  Pierre followed.  She had ascended three steps, and he had his hand on the newel post, when there was a crash in the room above.  Eloise turned suddenly and leaned against the banister, glancing up the stairs, and extending her hand to keep Pierre back.  "Monsieur, for the love of heaven do not come on, go back—go back into the room, I beg of you."
    "I am leaving you in danger, Mademoiselle."
    "I am accustomed to it.  I beg of you."  She accompanied these words with an imploring gesture.  Pierre went into the room, where he paced up and down.  The noise increased in violence, and then ceased altogether. [Page 55] Eloise returned to the room; she leaned from the window, breathing convulsively; she plucked one of the half-grown lilac leaves and bit it through and through.
    "Yet the furniture must be sold," she said aloud.  Pierre took a step toward her.
    "Mademoiselle, you are in distress.  May I not help you?  I am able to.  You can command me."
    "Alas, Monsieur, you mean I can command your wealth."  Pierre was profoundly moved at the sorrow in her girlish voice.
    "I mean I would help you; I want to do what I can for you."
    "Let us go no farther," she said, with her eyes fixed on the floor.  "I must not come into your happy life."  There was a trace of bitterness in her tone.
    "I have undertaken to buy the furniture," he said, with a smile.  "I will not give up so soon."
    "Maurice, Maurice, you are a splendid ogre!" said Eloise, throwing open the door.
    "It is terrible exhausting," he said, with a faint smile.
    When Pierre came next it was raining quietly through a silver haze; the little maid opened the door a moment later Eloise came into the room.  When she spoke her voice sounded restrained; and to Pierre she seemed completely different.
    "I have deceived you," she commenced, without prelude, "there is no furniture to sell."  To all his questions or remonstrances she gave him this answer, as if she were afraid to trust herself to other words, standing with [Page 56] her eyes cast to the floor, and an expressionless face.  But when she seemed the most distant, as if she could not recede further, she burst into tears.  Pierre hurried toward her—"Mademoiselle, I cannot address you by name; you cannot deceive me; you are in great distress.  I beg you not to think of the furniture; it is not necessary that these things of wood should trouble you further; today I did not come to see it, I came to see you."
    "Oh, Monsieur," she sobbed, "you must never come here again, never—never!"
    "Make no mistake, I will come, at least until I can help you, until I know your story."  He gained her hand.
    "Monsieur, I cannot accept your assistance; but your kindness demands my story."
    She told it.  She was a lovely girl caught in a net of circumstances.  She was an orphan.  Her parents had left her and her brother a little money—too little to live on—they existed.  Her brother was a cripple—how often had she wished she was dead—he was wicked.  She hinted at unkindness, at tyranny.  It was necessary to sell these heirlooms.  (Here Pierre pressed her hand, "You could not deceive me," he said.)  But he would not hear of it.  Her life was intolerable—but she must live it to the end—to the end.  "If I could have deceived you, Monsieur, I would have done so."  A smile shimmered through her tears.  Pierre pressed her hand; she softly drew it away.  Suddenly there was a crash in the room above; a light shower of dry whitewash was thrown down around them; the sound of an inhuman voice came feebly down the [Page 57] stairs.  "I must go, do not detain me," she cried, as Pierre tried to intercept her.  He endeavoured to hold her at the foot of the stairs.  "Do not go, I beg of you."  She turned sweetly toward him.  "I must go; it is my duty; you do yours."  The tears were not yet dry on her eyelids.  Pierre watched her flutter upstairs like a dove flying into a hawk's nest.  His pulses were pounding at his wrists.  "I wish I knew what my duty was," he said to himself.  As he left the house he glanced up at the window, a handkerchief dropped down; he pressed it to his lips and thrust it into his bosom.  When he was out of sight he examined it.  It was a dainty thing of the most delicate fabric; in one corner were the words, "Eloise Ruelle."
    Eloise found Maurice almost fainting with his exertion.  When he recovered, he said—
    "Is the game worth the candle?"
    "Well, we will see."
    "Eloise, you have been crying."
    "I cry easily, I do everything easily."
    Maurice turned away and gazed from the window.  The rain was so fine it seemed to be a rising mist; the trees were hidden, like plants in the bottom of the sea; somewhere the sun was shining, for there was a silver bar in the mist.
    Pierre was not slow in coming again; but, instead of seeing Eloise, he had a note thrust into his hand by the little serving-maid.  It ran: "I cannot see you.  He forbids it.  Who could have told that our last word was 'good-bye.'  If I could have spoken again I would have [Page 58] thanked you.  How can I ever do so now?  Adieu."  Reading this on the step, he scrawled hurriedly on a leaf of his note-book: "I would not have you thank me, but I must see you again.  Your risk is great, but I will be here tomorrow night; we will have the darkness, and all I ask is ten minutes.  Is it too much?"
    He gave the note to the maid, who shut the door.  The house looked absolutely sphinx-like as he walked away from it.
    The next night was moist with a touch of frost.  A little smoke from burning leaves hung in the air with a pungent odour.  The scent of the lilacs fell with the wind when it moved.  Eloise was muffled picturesquely in a cloak.  Pierre was holding her hand, which she had not reclaimed.  "I have dared everything to come," she said softly.
    "You are brave, braver than I was to ask you."
    "You know my story.  You are the only one."
    "That binds us."
    "How can I thank you?"
    "You must not try, I have done nothing."
    Just then a burning brand was hurled from the window; it fell into the lilac-tree where it devoured a cone of blossom and withered the leaves around it.  It threw up a little springing flame which danced a light on Eloise, who had cowered into a corner by the steps, with her hand over her eyes.  Pierre went to her.  "Tell me," he said, "what does this mean?"
    "Oh," she moaned, "he suspects we are here; he [Page 59] always has a fire on the hottest nights, and he is throwing the sticks out."  This led Pierre to expect another one.  He caught her by the arm.
    "You must come out of danger," he said, "one might fall on your dress."  The brand was glowing in spots.  He tore it out of the bush and trampled on it.  They went to the other side of the steps.  It was the season of quick growth.  In one day thousands of violets had lit their little tips of yellow fire in the tangle of the underwood; in one day the tulips were moulded into fragile cups of flame burning steadily in the sunlight; in one day the lilacs had burst their little clove-like blooms, and were crowding in the dark-green leaves.
    Pierre was saying excitedly: "Listen to me.  This thing cannot go further.  I love you, I am yours.  I must protect you.  You cannot deny me."  Eloise tried to stop him with an imploring gesture.  "No," he cried, "you must hear me! you must be mine!  I will take you away from here."
    "Oh, do not tempt me!" cried Eloise.  "I must stay here.  I cannot leave him."
    "You must leave him.  What hold has he upon you?  I will never let you go back to this torment—never.  Eloise," he continued seriously, "sometimes we have to decide in a moment the things of a life-time.  This is such a moment.  Before I pluck this blossom," he said, leaning down to a dwarf lilac-bush bearing one bloom, "I want you to promise to be my wife."  A moment later he had plucked the flower, but had dropped it, and had caught [Page 60] Eloise in his arms.  She stifled a cry, and gave herself to him.
    "Maurice, Maurice," cried Eloise, "look at me, I am triumphant!"  He hardly looked at her; he was cowering over the fire, which had smouldered away, and in which the ashes were fluttering about like moths. 
    "I have done what you asked, that is all," he said, with an effort.
    "But is everything to me; I will never forget you, Maurice, no matter how powerful I may become."
    "Alas! you need not remember me for long.  Perhaps I will have what I wanted here, in some other star."

    A few evenings later Eloise drew the door after her: "Hush!" she said, "the least noise will disturb him."  She hesitated, and left the door ajar.
    "Do you regret?" whispered Pierre.
    "No, but I am leaving everything."
    "Yes, even the old furniture; if it had not been for that I would never have known you," he said.
    "Everything—everything," murmured Eloise.
    She listened for a moment, and then shut the door softly on the empty house: Maurice had gone to the hospital that afternoon; the little maid had been discharged.
    "But," she said, holding Pierre's arm and leaning away from him with her sweet smile, "I have also gained all—everything."
    The next moment they had gone cautiously away.
    This was the beginning of her career. [Page 61]