He was


many foreign words. He was not a born Frenchman, but a Walloon from South Brabant. His name was originally Egidius Walcourt, but, on reaching the rank of officer, he had, according to the new imperial tendency, changed it of his own accord, and without any objection being made, into Egide de Walcourt. His early acquaintance with the Flemish tongue had made it easy for him to gain some knowledge of the German language. His disposition was, however, thoroughly French, only he lacked the Frenchman's ease of manner, and he hid the defect beneath a stiff, brief, formal address. The antagonism of race in his own land had led him from a child to look with contempt on the Flemings, as well as on all others of Teutonic descent, and towards Protestants this contempt was heightened by his own zeal for the Catholic faith. well shaped, both in form and features ; the latter were even attractive, but at the same time they bore a look not easy to be defined. His bearing, and the way in which he wore his becoming uniform, gave him an air of careless elegance.

Until this day no Frenchman had ever landed on the isle, and probably no one at all like this officer had ever before been seen there.

With scanty ceremony, he presented his credentials to Pastor Remmert, adding, more in a tone of command than of a request, that the sea-air had made him hungry, and that he required something to eat. He was in a department inhabited by the humblest class of subjects of the new French dominion. At the same time he was addressing a Lutheran pastor, and he therefore assumed a very commanding air. Pastor Remmert conducted him into the parlour, where he told Deena to have some food prepared. De Walcourt inquired sharply about the number of islanders who were capable of bearing arms. He seemed to expect to find very few, and he was evidently anxious to make as short a stay as possible. His somewhat vexed and bored look only brightened up suddenly when he perceived the engraving of the Madonna which hung upon the wall. He made with his finger a hasty sign of the cross, as he would have done before a sacred image, and then he expressed his pleasure at finding in the parsonage of a Huguenot such a symbol of the true religion. Pastor Remmert replied that the true religion knew nothing of difference of creeds, but that everyone had a part in it who kept the commandments of God as he found them revealed in his own conscience.


Deena had transferred her commission to Teda, and the latter now brought in such eatables as were in the house. On her entrance Egide de Walcourt exclaimed in surprise : 'Your daughter? Vraiment! You look like a Madonna

? yourself, mademoiselle !

She did not know what to say to this foreign-sounding speech, and was about to withdraw in silence, but her father bade her entertain the officer while he went to extract from the church register the list of the young men of the village.

He went away, and Teda sat down silently near the window. The young lieutenant gazed at her from time to time as he lounged at the table. The unpalatable food was evidently little to his taste, but he did not utter a word of discontent. At last he pointed to the picture with his hand, saying:

'I am a true believer and worship the Madonna.'

Teda answered that in their house, too, they held the true faith. But he waved his hand in denial, and replied, partly in French :

• Not the house. The house is hérétique. But one in this house—the patronne-is no hérétique ; she is a Madonna, worthy of all homage.'

It was the first time in her life that Teda had ever been addressed in words of flattery, and such, too, as she did not quite understand. She did not know what answer to make, and, feeling somewhat embarrassed, only responded by a faint smile. The Walloon now tried to express himself more plainly :

'Why are the pretty lips of Madonna so mute? She is quite right, though, for she is still more charming when she smiles.'

The pastor now came back and invited De Walcourt to take a turn with him through the village. Teda stood gazing after them as they walked away. She was not at all vain of her personal attractions-she never had been—and she had not felt in the least flattered by the officer's words. But in the looks he had cast upon her she had perceived something that filled her with uneasiness. She was inwardly conscious of a secret significance in the strange gleam of his eyes; it made the blood course fitfully through her veins, now with a cold shudder, now at fever-heat, and she recognised the necessity of being on her guard so long as the officer was in the house. Never before had she met with such an experience, but her own nature håd at once revealed to her an impending danger.

[ocr errors]


Outside an unusual excitement prevailed among the inhabitants of the island. Rumours had, indeed, reached them that recruiting was going on on the mainland, but no one had dreamed of its extending to this isolated spot. They were so accustomed to be passed over by all the public authorities, that they calmly expected similar forgetfulness on the part of the French military officials. But they were now suddenly undeceived. The young fishermen must at last give up their daily calling to serve the Emperor as soldiers in foreign lands. They stood anxious and confused. The women wept, the men puffed away at their clay pipes, not knowing what to say or what course to take.

Then Pastor Remmert spoke.

"This officer,' he said, 'is empowered to carry out the commands of our Emperor, so call your sons, that they may present themselves for inspection.'

There were scarcely half a dozen of an age suitable for the conscription, so that the work might have been very quickly accomplished. But De Walcourt now considered the day too far advanced for a fuller examination. He accordingly put it off until the morrow, when the young men were to present themselves at the parsonage, where he intended to spend the night. Evidently a sense of the importance of his commission prevented him from carrying out the wish he had expressed on his arrival—to quit the island as speedily as possible. On their way back he chatted pleasantly with the pastor, expressing regret at having to trouble him for night quarters. Pastor Remmert replied that whatever his house contained was at the service of the Government. The young Walloon responded with a laugh:

A soldier is easily satisfied and well pleased with any couch, where he can sleep under the protection of the Madonna.'

As they approached the parsonage they met Uwen who, according to his custom during the last few months, had been spending the afternoon alone upon the downs and had not yet heard of the landing of the recruiting officer. He looked with surprise at the uniform, while its wearer stared at him with equal surprise, as he exclaimed, more eagerly than before :

Ah, superbe! Here is indeed a fine recruit! A splendid fugleman for the Emperor! Who is he?'

The pastor explained his mistake. This was his own adopted son—a student whom he was preparing for the pastoral office.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Ah, quel dommage !' returned the lieutenant, with a courteous salute. Monsieur would have made a first-rate leader of the file, but les gens d'Eglise are hors de la conscription.'

He had assumed both in words and look an engaging expression that became him well, and effaced the remembrance of his stiff, abrupt manner on his arrival.

The parsonage had no special guest-chamber, and there was some little difficulty in arranging for the required accommodation. Deena took no further part in the matter than to say that anybody that chose could give up his bed; she, for her part, intended to keep hers, and she begged to be troubled no further.

The pastor was willing to pass the night upon a bench, but Uwen interrupted him.

'Of course,' he said, “I will give up my room.'

“Where will you sleep then ?? asked Teda, who had said nothing about hers.

He shrugged his shoulders with indifference.

‘ Oh, anywhere. On the floor, or on the downs; the air is still warm enough.'

He left the house again. He had a strong dislike to remain under the same roof with a French officer, and he retraced his steps in the gathering dusk towards the beach. A group of fishermen sat there, discussing the extraordinary event of the afternoon. He joined them, and they asked him what he thought they had better do.

* As fur Paärson Remmert, it be very weel fur 'im to talk; but we be Frisians, an’ d’ya reckun we're goin' to gev' oor sons to thim Frinchmin ?'

Uwen could see no way out of the difficulty. One said this, another that ; still, they came to the same conclusion :

; 'We doan't loike it, but we canna help oursens.' At last the thought occurred to Uwen: 'Let us go and ask Walmot what she thinks of it.'

He was himself glad of the walk, as it would keep him longer away from the house.




If anybody was to prepare a bed for the stranger, Teda must do it; her mother would not be bothered. She accordingly took fresh sheets into Uwen's room, and made the needful preparations. While thus engaged she presently heard from the dark passage behind her a voice saying :

'Is the Madonna also the waiting-maid ?' It was the voice of the Walloon. He continued : 'I never yet saw such a maid, Madonna. I shall sleep soundly in the bed her hand has made for me.

Teda hastily finished what she was doing, but as she was about to go away, he put his arm round her waist. The words flew from her lips :

“What do you want?' He replied:

* Je veux faire mes dévotions. I wish to worship at the shrine of the Madonna.'

And he tried to snatch from her a kiss.
With a violent effort the girl freed herself from his arm.

'I want no worship paid to rne,' she said, as she hastened to the door.

The young officer laughingly replied :

'I see; the Madonna will not be worshipped by daylight; she will be worshipped only at night.'

Teda rushed into the sitting-room. Her fears had been quickly realized, and the bold behaviour of the stranger had made her tremble all over with excitement. But she managed to subdue all signs of agitation, and took her seat at suppertime with apparent indifference.

Uwen had not yet returned. Few words were exchanged, and these chiefly between the pastor and his guest; but now and then the latter cast a fleeting glance of suppressed passion on the daughter of the house.

Soon after the conclusion of the meal, the Frenchman expressed his wish to retire, as he felt fatigued from the unaccustomed sail. Pastor Remmert told his daughter to light the way. She went out for a candle, but did not come back.

« ForrigeFortsett »