Unknown.

The library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) online

. (page 46 of 75)
Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 46 of 75)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


along with other things, swept away the last
vestiges of poor Jack's resolutions, and over-
powered the last faint efforts of his vacillating
will. Add to this the stories of exploits per-
formed by others, the disgust at seeing the
noble sport spoiled by burglars, the absorbing
and irresistible passion that only a hunter can
comprehend, and it is easy to understand how
Jack could hold out no longer.

It was a great grief to FtMise. To tell the
truth, she did not love Jack a bit the less, and
her heart was entirely his, but she instinctively
perceived that this return to his unsettled life
would compromise the whole edifice of her
happiness, already fragile enough. She felt
perfectly that it would be impossible to get her
father to accept such a son-in-law; and if be-
fore marriage, and in the first transports of
love, she had only obtained a temporary vic-
tory, surely there was room for misgivings as
to the future, when assured possession would
have dulled the edge of passion.

On the other hand, old Martin, who had not
been too highly flattered by Jack's preference,
was enchanted at the pretext the latter had so
conveniently furnished against himself, and
only waited for a good opportunity to dismiss
him.

"I have not crossed you in your inclina-
tions," he said to his daughter, "and if Jack
had really become an altered man, I should
certainly not have refused my consent; but I



leave you to judge for yourself where he would
lead you by the road he is taking. Leave him
to his sport, and forget him. A good-looking
girl like you, and one that has something of
her own, runs no risk of not finding lovers."

Felise felt the full force of this reasoning,
and could make no reply. She passed part of
every night in weeping, praying, and calling
on all the saints of her acquaintance to take
her out of her troubles; but she could not
make up her mind to renounce all hope by
breaking entirely with Jack."

"Well, well," said Father Martin one even-
ing, "since Lise is so long in deciding, I must
interfere myself; this affair has gone on too
long already."



The next time that Jack went to Tinet's
farm he did not find Fe"lise sitting as usual in
the chimney-corner: old Martin was attending
to the boiling of the pig's-pot by himself.

"Where is Lise?" asked Jack, not without
a vague presentiment of evil, and with a slight
quaver in his voice.

"She is not very well," replied her father;
"but though she had been quite well it would
have been all the same she would not be here."

"What do you mean?"

"That Lise does not wish to talk with you,
and that you are wasting your time in coming
here. "

At these cruel words, uttered in the most
indifferent tone, Jack's heart was torn with
such bitter grief that he could hardly keep from
crying out. He restrained himself, however,
and, biting his lip till the blood came, replied,
"And did Lise give you this message for me?"

"Alas! yes, my boy; only a short time ago,
on this very spot, she said to me, ' If Jack
comes, tell him to go away again I do not wish
him to speak to me any more.' By my share
of paradise, these are the very words she said."

"Well," said Jack, whose eyes were blazing,
"tell her that he is going away again. And
you suppose that that is enough to settle the
whole affair?"

"Oh, it's hard, it is hard; I admit that;
but Lise is perfectly free you are aware of
that. Will you take a glass to cheer you up?"

"No, thank you; I shall soon be all right
without anything. I am going away, but I
shall not bid you good-bye, Father Martin;
and I think you will likely hear from me be-
fore long."

He left the room with a threatening air, very
pale and trembling with anger; but the change



238



VAGABOND JACK.



in his voice and appearance did not appear to
trouble the old farmer in the slightest.

"There's a piece of business well over,"
muttered the old man, rubbing his hands,
" and not one of the easiest either. The rascal
will not give in yet, I am afraid. It's so far
good that he should give up coming here; but
I must have the country rid of him altogether.
Let me think over the matter."

Martin's thoughts were not long in trans-
lating themselves into actions. Pretending
that he wanted to sell an old she-goat, he set
out next morning for Mormoiron, accompanied
by his shepherd lad, a boy of fourteen or fifteen,
who had come from the workhouse of Carpen-
tras, and had been brought up by his late wife
and made to work about the farm ' ' for his
bread." The boy's name was Simon; but he
had been so long thin and sickly that he had
been nicknamed " Fifteen Ounces," and the
name had stuck to him, though he had become
strong and healthy at last. Fifteen Ounces
was no great scholar, but he was already a good
shepherd. His knowledge of the mountain
was wonderful, and he always drove his sheep
to the best places. The poor child had never
been farther than the village, and the idea of
going to Mormoiron with his master filled him
at once with joy and anxiety. " If we get a
good price for the goat, there will be something
handsome for you," Father Martin had said;
and Fifteen Ounces, who had never in his life
had a penny he could call his own, could think
of nothing but this present all the way, and
indulged in the wildest flights of imagination.

The goat was sold; Father Martin entered
into a conspiracy with the corporal of the gen-
darmes for the capture of Jack; and poor
Fifteen Ounces, cunningly tempted by his
master with the gift of a fine horn-handled
knife, agreed to play the traitor.

Chance arranged matters as well even as
Martin could have wished. Jack, who had not
been at the farm for some time, came to throw
himself, as the saying is, into the wolf's mouth
of his own accord. Old Martin received him
as usual, and did not appear to retain the least
ill-feeling towards him on account of his vio-
lence at their last meeting.

"How is Lise?" said Jack, seating himself
in his accustomed place.

"Lise is very well ; thank you, Jack."

"May I talk with her to-day?"

"Certainly, if she is here, and is agreeable,
but I don't know whether she is in the house
or not, for I have just come in, and have not
seen anybody yet.

"Don't trouble yourself; I shall see if she



is in myself." Jack rose, and opening the door
at the foot of the stair leading to the first story
cried in a loud and mildly imperious tone,
"Lise, I am here! Come down and let us
have a little talk together."

This appeal and the well known tones of the
voice so dear to her put all F61ise's fine resolu-
tions to flight, as if by enchantment. She ran
down-stairs like a lark to a mirror, drawn by an
irresistible attraction, and made her appear-
ance instantly. " What do you want with
me, Jack?" she asked blushing and delighted,

" This is what I have got to say to you, Lise.
We have talked together for a long time, and
I am now certain that I have a love for you
that nothing can overcome or weaken ; will
you be my wife, and will you allow me to ask
you in marriage?"

Felise became as pale as death, and remained
speechless for a moment, looking now at her
father now at her lover, troubled to the depths
of her soul, and not knowing what to say.
Old Martin, without seeming the least sur-
prised at the unexpected boldness of the
request, tranquilly filled himself a glass of
wine, and drank it off.

"There is my hand, Jack," said Felise at
last, in a scarcely audible tone of voice; " do as
you please."

Jack took the little hand, which trembled
excessively in his, pressed it gently and gravely
twice or thrice, and standing before the old
man, who had never lost a bite while this
scene was going on, said, "Sir, I ask List
from you in marriage, and I promise to be a
good and faithful husband to her."

"Lise is free," replied the old man, "and I
do not doubt that you will make her a faithful
husband; but do you really think of taking
her to the mountain with you to live in a cave?"

"Certainly not," replied Jack; "it has be-
come quite clear to me that I must either
give up Lise or the life I have hitherto led ;
but no sacrifice will be too much for me. I
am ready for any trial, for I know also that
my word is not sufficient, and that I must
give proofs. Listen then to what 1 propose . if
I remain for a year steadily working on the
farm without firing a gun once even on a
Sunday will you believe that I am a husband
worthy of her?"

"I shall; I ask nothing more; and Heaven
strengthen you in your good resolution."

Jack took the old man's hand and clasped
it cordially; Felise, radiant with happiness,
handed them a glass of wine; and all three
drank to the happy issue of the betrothal.

"Well," said old Martin, as he put down his



VAGABOND JACK.



239



empty glass, what is said is said, but you are
giving up an excellent chance for a shot, my
poor Jack."

"How is that?"

" It seems that a magnificent covey of par-
tridges are lying on the Lauziere, and eating
Jean de Christol s buckwheat. Fifteen Ounces
has flushed them every day for several days,
and has counted as many as fourteen of them.''

"Indeed?"

"So he says, and it is likely enough to be
true. The young ones are so large, he says
too, that he could not tell them from the old
ones. That will be a fine chance for Dominique,
since you have renounced the devil."

"Minique will take that shot when I can
say mass; you will only have bungled work
with him, you may be sure of that."

"Oh, yes, I know he is not good for much,
my boy; Minique will kill two or three of them
and wound as many, and the wounded ones
will flutter away and die, without profit to
anybody. He has only an old flint-lock gun
and no dog at all very diiferent from you!"

" I don't mean to brag," said Jack; "but it
would not be the first covey that I have bagged
with two shots Bah. don't let us think any
more about it; word given, word kept."

"That is speaking like a man, Jack, and I
see that, of course; but what if you were allowed
to take back your word just for once? At the
last market in town partridges were at a ran-
som ; and I think it a great pity to lose a good
louis d'or when one has only to bend down and
pick it up."

"Well, so it is," said Jack, who in the depth
of his soul was only too much of this opinion;
"but why tempt me? Are you trying me?
or are you only joking?"

"On my soul, I speak exactly as I think. I
sha'n't carea bit, now, although your conversion
dates from to-morrow, for instance."

"And you, Lise?" said Jack, who still hesi-
tated.

"Me!" said Lise, "I wish what you wish,
you know that very well, Jack. And since
my father has nothing to say against it

"Very well; that's settled. I'll go and fire
this last shot; and Heaven grant that none of
us may have cause to regret it! "

"Amen ! " said Father Martin, by way of finish
to the matters. "And now take off a good
stiff glass and away with you."

Jack set off a vague feeling of uneasiness
weighing on his heart. He went on this last
expedition without relish, without ardour, with
something like regret. As he marched silently
on a presentiment that would not be shaken



off seemed to pull him back. When passing
Christol's farmhouse, he stopped and shut up
Maripan, who would only be a hindrance to
him in the espero. As if the brave animal
had scented the danger of his master, Jack
had all the difficulty in the world in getting
him to obey, and it is certain that Maripan
had neyer before shown such anxiety to be al-
lowed to remain by his master's side. Jack,
full of his own thoughts, did not understand
the significant growls, the mournful and melan-
choly howls, of his dog; he paid no attention
to his looks so full of meaning, but strode on
his way to the Lauziere.

The solitude of the large plateau was com
plete. As far as the eye could reach no human
being was visible; only the sheep of Fifteen
Ounces grazing at the foot of the Black Rocks
disturbed the silence with the sharp tinkle of
their bells. Satisfied with this preliminary in-
spection, Jack approached a large cairn situated
at a kind of ill-marked crossing where several
scarcely distinguishable paths met; and raising
a large stone, carefully noted the position of
three small pebbles evidently arranged in a
manner agreed upon. "All right, I see," said
he, replacing the stone; "Fifteen Ounces is a
good boy, and I must give him something nice
next St. Anthony's day." Perfectly reassured
with regard to the blues by what he had seen,
Jack walked rapidly to the field of buckwheat
and began to examine the soil with the greatest
care. "Now," said he, "let me try and make
my last shot a brilliant one." He plucked up
several handfuls of buckwheat and arranged
the stalks in a line just outside the field. If
the partridges came down from the high
grounds, as they no doubt would, they would
fall in with these bundles first and would be
almost sure to halt, so that nearly all of them
would be within gunshot.

Having made these arrangements and thrown
a last rapid glance round about him, Jack
loaded his gun and entered the espero. The
espero was an erection of the utmost simplicity,
formed of large stones arranged in a circle, just
large enough to shelter one person, and having
a kind of rude carefully disguised loophole
opening to the field. At first sight it was
difficult to distinguish Jack's espero from the
other heaps of stones scattered over the Lauziere,
The sun was gradually sinking: the propitious
moment was drawing near; nothing was heard
in the distance but Fifteen Ounces singing an
old carol of the country, at the top of his voice.

Jack had waited for about an hour, with the
characteristic patience of a sportsman, at his
post, silent and motionless, scarcely venturing



240



VAGABOND JACK.



to breathe, his eye perpetually on the watch,
and nothing indicated as yet that his waiting
for this day was not to be in vain. It takes
BO little indeed to drive away these wary birds,
whose life is passed in continual watchfulness.
The yelp of a fox, a prowling dog, a shepherd
practising the sling any one of these is often
enough to cause the startled covey to immedi-
ately abandon its haunts for a certain time.

The sun was setting in fiery purple, and the
shades were already beginning to fall. Jack
still waited, but with less and less hope every
moment; when all at once the loud whirr of
wings was heard behind him coming from the
higher grounds, and immediately the male and
female, perching on rocks elevated above the
rest, began to call the covey together. Cot,
cot, cot! cot, cot! cot, cot, cot! cot, cot!
In the twinkling of an eye the scattered covey
had all met together again, and ran swiftly to
the feeding ground. As Jack had thought,
the stalks lying on the ground were at once
greedily attacked, and the unfortunate birds
were soon in an excellent position for the
sportsman. The shot was fired; ten victims
strewed the ground ; not more than three or
four escaped the disaster, and flew off as fast as
their wings could carry them. Jack fired his
Becond barrel at a wounded bird that appeared
likely to get off, and rose with the intention of
running to pick up the game, when a cry of
rage escaped his lips, and consternation nailed
him to his place: the corporal from Mormoiron
and his men surrounded the espero and cut off
all escape. Jack was caught in his own trap.

"Give yourself up, Jack, "said the corporal,
"and don't make matters worse for you by
useless resistance. I told you, you know, that
I should steal a march upon you at last. Come,
down with your arms and no more about it."

But Jack was almost mad; fury, shame, and
helplessness made his poor brain boil. He
taken! he disarmed! he treated as a conscript!
Was it possible? Could any one believe it?

" Out of the way," he cried, with a voice of
thunder, whirling his gun round his head,
"or it will be the worse for the first man that
lays a finger on me!"

"Stand your ground," cried the corporal,
boldly darting forward. "Stand your ground,
men. In the name of the law !" The sen-
tence was never finished, for the butt end of
Jack's gun met his head, and he fell half
stunned.

" Come on, you blackguards! " shouted Jack,
whirling his terrible gun like a club.

The gendarmes, though somewhat disheart-
ened by the fall of their chief, returned to the



charge with that blind sentiment of duty which
has so much influence on brave men, and the
desperate struggle went on, though the issue
could not long remain doubtful. If Jack had
been at liberty and in the open fields, he would
certainly have got offscotfree notwithstanding
the odds though it had only been by speed of
foot; but there, tracked like a wolf to his lair,
what could he do? Nothing but give death or
accept it. It was all over with him this time,
and he fought on in desperation. A fierce blow
aimed at one of the men was deftly parried,
the stock of Jack's gun snapped in two, and
he was left weaponless. Maddened with rage
he sprang upon his adversary like a tiger,
seized him by the throat, and rolled with him
on the ground. That was the end of it, and
five minutes after, Jack, tightly bound, lay
foaming by the side of the brave corporal, who
was beginning to collect his scattered senses.
" Upon my word," said he, as he wiped his
swollen forehead, "that was a rough knock
any way, and I owe our Lady of Health a good
big taper. But let us take the road, my lads,
and not lose our time here in whining and
lamenting like so many women."

He rose with some difficulty, adjusted his
belt, took a sip of brandy, and in a firm voice
gave the word of command, " Quick march!"

At this order the little company began to
move; and Jack, with his hands tied behind
his back, sturdy arms supporting him on the
right and left, was obliged to yield to force.
He strode along in silence. He was quite
cooled down now, comprehending at last that
he had nothing to expect from violence, and
that his only hope was henceforth in artifice.
When they arrived at the cross-roads they were
met by Fifteen Ounces, who was returning with
his sheep. At the sight of the little shepherd
Jack felt his heart swell with anger, and his
eyes flashed fire on the traitor. The latter ap-
peared much affected at seeing poor Jack in
such a plight, and did not venture to raise his
eyes.

" Confound it! " said the corporal all at once,
as he struck his forehead. " We have left the
birds lying on the ground. Eun to the buck-
wheat field as fast as you can, my little fellow;
pick up the partridges, and present them from
me to Father Martin."

The latter words opened Jack's eyes at once;
everything that he had been puzzling himself
to make out was now quite clear. Fifteen
Ounces, Father Martin, and the corporal were
accomplices, and each had played his part in
the conspiracy against him. " Very good,"
he murmured between his clenched teeth,



VAGABOND JACK.



241



"I'll be even with you yet, my friends," and
as if his newly-acquired certainty on this point
had lifted a great weight from his breast, he
started forward with a firm step, to the great
relief of his attendants.

It was late in the evening when they arrived
at Mormoiron ; and both the corporal and his
men being fatigued, it was agreed that the
prisoner should not be transferred to the pub-
lic prison till next morning. Jack was locked
up in a room of the town-hall, and the gen-
darmes went off to get some supper and to take
a little rest after such a rough journey.

The honest corporal was not at all a bad
fellow. His forehead was exceedingly painful;
but after he had had a good supper he began
to think of Jack without any ill feeling. "The
poor fellow must ba famishing, I am sure,"
said he; "bring him a good plateful of soup
and a glassful of wine, wife. Deuce take it!
duty must not stand in the way of humanity."

He lighted a lantern and went out, followed
by his wife, who, it must be said, carried the
prisoner's soup with the greatest readiness.
Jack was sleeping soundly, stretched at all his
length on the floor; the smell of the soup woke
him up almost as soon as the light of the
lantern. He made an instinctive movement,
but his pinioned arms at once recalled him to
the sad reality.

" I know that you are a man of honour,
Jack," said the corporal, "give me your word
that you will not attempt to escape, and I shall
untie your hands immediately."

" I can't give you my word for that," said
Jack; " but untie my arms so that I may take
the soup, and after that you can bind me as
tightly as you please."

" Very well," said the corporal.

Jack ate and drank with an excellent appe-
tite, and having finished his supper, honour-
ably held out his hands to be pinioned again.

" I would gladly spare you that, my poor
fellow, but you know I am responsible for your
safe- keeping."

"Doyour duty, corporal; however, I should be
glad if you would not tie my hands behind, as
it quite prevents me from sleeping on my back. "

The corporal was about to refuse this favour
when his eye met a beseeching look from his
wife. Jack, the rascal, had always the women
on his side, and his luck did not desert him
this time either.

"No doubt," said the corporal sententiously,
"that must be a great hindrance to sleeping.
I consent; but for greater security Berard will
pass the night here. Go and bring Berard, wife. "

Honest B<5rard would have preferred, as may



be supposed, to sleep in his own good gen-
darme's bed; but duty before all! He seated
himself without a murmur on a chair beside
the prisoner, and the corporal, turning the key
upon the pair of them, retired with his mind
at ease.

Two full hours passed without the gloomy
silence of the night being broken by any sound.
Jack had again fallen into a sound sleep, and
honest Berard was struggling as well as he
could against the harassing fatigues of the day
and his gradually increasing inclination to
drowsiness. The smoky lamp now shed only a
reddish light, and his blinking eyes ceased from,
time to time to perceive objects distinctly. Twice;
or thrice he had caught himself going off in a
doze, and he was positive that he had awoke:
with a start several times. On a sudden, and.
just as he was dreaming that the corporal had;
come to relieve him of his charge, poor BeVard
felt himself seized, thrown on his back, gagged,
and pinioned, in less time than it takes to write
it. His assailant was Jack, who had slowly
gnawed through his fastenings with his sharp
teeth, and had used the pieces against his at-
tendant. Once master of his movements, Jack
ran to the door with the light, and dashing,
all his weight against it made it spring from
its hinges like Samson with the gates of Gaza.
He then opened the first window he came to,
leaped lightly into the street, then with his handi
raised, his lip trembling with a proud smile,
he snapped his fingers at the Blues, and dis-
appeared immediately in the darkness.



m.



The reader may imagine the effect produced
by Fifteen Ounces when he returned to Tinet's
with the game, and described the terrible battle
he had witnessed. In spite of his habits of
dissimulation, and his self-command, Father
Martin found it very difficult to conceal his in-
ternal satisfaction, and drank off two or three
bumpers in succession, to enable him to keep
his countenance.

"Unlucky Jack," said he at last; "you say
that he knocked down two of them! It's a
frightful business then, and the least that he
runs the risk of is the galleys!"

At these words FSlise burst into sobs and
wrung her hands in despair. Jack a prisoner!
Jack condemned! Jack in the galleys at Toulon
coupled to a robber! was it possible? Could
it be believed? To think that he was there
not an hour ago, sitting on that chair, radiant
with happiness, whispering sweet words to her,
speaking of the future, of love, of an early
89



242



VAGABOND JACK.



marriage, and to think that he would have been
there still but for that cursed covey of partridges,
and that it was herself who had urged him
with a smile to go and fire a last shot! Oh
misery! Oh tortures! Would her poor eyes
ever have tears enough for such grief as hers!

Father Martin did nothing to console her,
preferring, as he said, to "let the water run."
When he thought she was somewhat calmer,
however, he set himself to reason with her after
his fashion.

"You cannot do better than have a good
cry, my poor girl; crying relieves the feelings;
but what can one do against fate? Sooner or
later Jack was bound to come to a bad end,



Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 46 of 75)