From Tales of Humour, Anonymous, London: Burns and Oates; New York: Benzigers; undated (c. 1890); pp. 1-26.
RICHARD DE ST. JULIEN
TALES OF HUMOUR.
HE rising sun gilded with its beams the old walls of the little chateau of Laramière, situated in Poitou, in a country well wooded, and abounding in game. Laramière, of which at this day there remains only a mass of shapeless ruins, was even in the time of Louis XIII., the period of our tale, a dreary habitation, having been half destroyed during the religious wars. It consisted of a huge square tower, or donjon, all rent and crumbling; while some ruinous buildings grouped about it formed a sort of court.
On the morning to which we allude, this court resounded with a deafening tumult; the trampling of horses, the baying of dogs, and above all the blasts of the hunting horn, which were enough to overturn the already tottering walls of the old country seat. He who sounded this trumpet was a fine young man, habited in the garb of a hunter of the time. He had a noble carriage, and the frank and joyous look of a real sportsman. Mounted on horseback before the principal entrance of the tower, a whip in his hand, and the horn crosswise, he seemed to exert himself to utter the most noisy reveil that ever was heard since that which issued from the horn of Astolfo, of fabulous memory. At last, fairly out of breath, he turned towards a kind of peasant, who was coupling the dogs at the entrance of the kennel, and said to him, —
“By St. Hubert, Master Jerome, I wonder what my worthy uncle, the Knight of Laramière, is thinking about, to be up so late on the morning of a boar hunt? He told me yesterday, that he ah seen in the woods of La Glandée, the old solitary boar who sometimes pays us a visit, and invited me to join him this morning, with my dogs, in order that we might give the venerable traveller a proper reception. Here, then, I set out before day-break, from my residence at Veyrac, three leagues from hence; my two huntsmen, Panteleon and La Jeunesse, will presently arrive, with my pack of hounds; and I find everybody asleep at Laramière. Have I then undertaken a useless journey? has not the solitary thought proper to wait for us?”
“I know not, Monsieur St. Julien,” answered the peasant. “I can only tell you that Father George is gone to beat the woods with his bloodhound; so we shall soon have some news.”
“So much the better! But either my uncle has 5 got a fit of the gout, or he will lose his reputation as the most intrepid sportsman in the province, by having his head upon his pillow when he ought to be in his saddle!”
“Ahem! Sir!” said the man, “with all due respect to the knight your uncle, I may tell you that he went to bed rather late, for he sat up talking after supper with the young stranger who arrived yesterday evening.”
“A stranger at Laramière!” cried the young gentleman; “What are you telling me, stupid? It is some hunter of the neigbourhood, I suppose, whom my uncle has invited to share in to-day’s sport.”
“A hunter! he a hunter!” said the groom with a disdainful air, while he coupled two magnificent bloodhounds. “That gentleman is no hunter; that is as certain as that I have two fine pupils here before me, Sir.”
St Julien regarded, with an indifferent glance, the pupils of whom Jerome seemed so proud, while a voice, soft and flute-like, called him at a little distance. He turned his horse hastily; upon the threshold of the door of the tower stood a pretty blooming girl in her morning dress, that is to say, in a cap and short petticoat, over which was negligently thrown a sort of mantle as a defence from the sharp air. She beckoned to St. Julien, who eagerly threw himself from his horse and approached her.
“Good day, Cousin Manette!” he said, as he embraced her, a liberty which was allowed him by the manners of the times. “By our Lady! it was not your gracious face that I expected to see first this morning at Laramière. Has my uncle deputed you to run down the boar in his stead? Upon my word, there was never a prettier hunting Diana to follow in the track of an old boar.”
“You are gay and very gallant, cousin 6 Julien,” replied Manette, with a little grimace of mock sorrow. “Ah, if you knew! —”
“Well, what is it?” returned Julien. “Nothing can surprise me so much as finding the knight of Laramière asleep when the reveil is sounded under his windows, and when a wild boar has taken up his quarters within a league of him.”
“What matters the chase?” said the young girl. “Ah, St. Julien! I have had a very bad night, and before day I was watching for you at my window. I have to tell you that all our plans have failed. You must not hope to obtain my hand, for my father has promised it to another. Well, is not this enough? and you do not weep as I do?” And in fact, with these words, Manette burst into a torrent of tears.
“I would willingly weep, cousin Manette,” said the hunger, with a tragi-comic air, “if that were possible with me, only I should like to know what for.”
“You do not comprehend, then,” said Manette. “M. de Chavigny, the son of my father’s old friend, arrived at the chateau yesterday evening; and he comes to marry me. My father and he sat up the best part of the night talking over the project, and everything is settled between them. Now, then, Sir, are you satisfied? We shall never see each other again, — never! They will take me away to Poitiers, — to Paris for aught I know. I shall be so miserable: I shall die of grief.”
Here there was a fresh burst of tears and sobs. St. Julien meanwhile approaching Mademoiselle de Laramière, took her by the hand.
“Come, my fair cousin!” he said, “we need not despair; this marriage is not concluded, and there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. As soon as this cursed wild boar has been despatched, I will speak to my uncle, and represent to him —”
“But I tell you,” interrupted the young girl, “that 7 all is settled between this gentleman and my father; his word is given. Chavigny is rich, and he has promised to repair our poor manor-house, which is certainly in want of repairs; for my father spends all his revenue, and more than that, in dogs and horses for the chase. Thus, then, M. de Laramière has engaged himself irrevocably, without consulting me; and he yesterday evening vowed that the boar you are going to hunt should be roasted for my wedding banquet.”
“That shall never be!” cried St. Julien, in a tone of real indignation; then he continued, in a calmer voice, “well, Manette, since things have gone so far between my uncle and this new-comer, tell me directly what kind of man this Chavigny is, and if there is no means —”
“Oh!” interrupted Mademoiselle de Laramière quickly, “he is a frightful man, though he is dressed in the court fashion; he is ugly, proud, a monster, a wretch, a —”
“No doubt he must be full of defects, Manette, since you do not love him,” said her cousin. “But tell me one thing; is M. de Chavigny a sportsman?”
“No,” answered Manette; “for he has lived almost all his life in Paris; he seems to me to be perfectly ignorant of country amusements, and even to have a contempt for them.”
“Then all is not lost,” answered St. Julien. “Depend upon it that the Chevalier de Laramière, the old hunter of King Henry the Fourth, will not endure to have for his son-in-law a man who knows nothing about the craft of St. Hubert.”
“God grant you may be right!” said the young girl. “Ah! if you were but rich! But my father says that two poor people must not marry, and that we can never be husband and wife; and, in conclusion, he will make me marry that odious Chavigny.”8
“Maugre bleu!” said the young man; “there is no hurry about it. But you will see, cousin, I shall provoke this spark, and shall fight with him, and —”
“No, no,” interrupted the young girl, “I forbid you to fight. Holy Virgin, if he should kill you, my poor cousin! Do you know that I should at once die of grief! Besides, such a quarrel would offend my father, and he would never see you again as long as he lived.”
“What are we to do, then?” said St. Julien. “However,” he added, “I suppose M. de Chavigny will join us in the chase to-day.”
“Certainly,” returned Manette.
“Well!” replied her cousin, “he will be sure to commit some blunder which will disgust the Chevalier, who sets so high a value upon all the ancient traditions of the chase.”
“But he is only going as a spectator,” said Manette, “not to join in the chase.”
“Well, then,” answered St. Julien, “we must lead him into some ravine, where his horse will break his neck.”
“Do you think a beast like that would be capable of taking the bit in his teeth?” said the young girl maliciously, as she pointed to a huge, heavy horse which a servant just then led into the court — an enormous beast of burthen, fitter to drag a cart than to follow the hounds.
St. Julien shrugged his shoulders with contempt. “Well,” said he, “the horse and his master may find themselves, by chance, upon the track of our hermit the boar; two blows only of his snout will suffice to bring both the cavalier and his steed to reason.”
“That would be very well if it were possible to inform the boar in confidence of my father’s projects 9 relative to the feast at my wedding,” said the young girl, smiling through her tears.
“Then,” returned her lover, “how are we to get rid of this husband of your father’s proposing?”
At this moment a loud cheerful voice was heard within the tower, and the clank of spurs and sound of heavy boots on the stone staircase.
“Here is my father,” said young girl hastily; “he is coming this way. Remember the peril is immediate, and that if you do not find some means of breaking off this odious marriage to-day, all will be at an end between us.”
“Stay yet an instant, Manette,” replied the youth. “Indeed I know not what to think of to release us from this difficulty. Stop! are you afraid of your father?”
“No, but M. de Chavigny is with him, a gentleman of the court; to see me in a cap, and with my eyes red, he would certainly think me a fright.”
And then Mademoiselle de Laramière ran away, for fear she should be thought ugly by a man whom she hated, and whom she called a monster, a brute, and a wretch!
St. Julien, however, had no time to moralize on feminine inconsistencies, for his uncle and Manette’s new suitor stood before him.
The Chevalier de Laramière, an obscure Poitevin squire, but a valorous and experienced hunter, had passed his sixtieth year, but still retained that vigour which a life of activity bestows. He wore an old hunting dress with faded embroidery; his horn was slung about his neck; his knife, with an ivory handle, was stuck in his belt; his whole person had an air of boldness and gaiety; he spoke loudly, and had a boisterous laugh.
Chavigny, on the other hand, was little, thin, with a dry, haughty, and starched manner, while he was 10 dressed with an elegance that, under the circumstances, was ridiculous. He wore a large ruff, then called a rotonde, funnel-topped boots, with a sheaf of ribbons, a pourpoint of taffeta, and a hat surmounted by an enormous plume of feathers. In this costume he proposed to traverse mountains and valleys on horseback, in pursuit of a wild boar!
“Ventre de loup! nephew St. Julien,” cried the knight, in a tone of good humour. “I know you have been thinking ill of poor old Laramière, because he is behind hand on such a day as this. Confess, is it not so? The fact is, we drank an extra glass or two of old medoc last night. Luckily the fault is not a very great one. George has not yet come back from the wood; and if he has the good luck to find the brute’s lair, the ‘solitary’ will have lost nothing by waiting. By-the-bye,” he continued, turning bluntly towards his guest, “I must introduce you to M. Chavigny, the son of one of my old friends at court, a young cavalier whom I greatly esteem. M. de Chavigny, my nephew, Richard de St. Julien, of whom the best that I can say is, that he is of a cheerful temper, and that, myself excepted, none in the country knows so well how to manage a hunt either of the wild deer or the wild boar.”
The two young men saluted each other with those exaggerated demonstrations of politeness in use at that period. Meantime a certain sort of stiffness pervaded the compliments of Chavigny, while those of St. Julien bore all the appearance of irony.
“I am enchanted, Sir,” said the stranger, “to find in this rude country a gentleman of my own age with him I can associate without derogation. The Chavignys do not condescend willingly, Sir, and they never give their friendship except in good earnest.”
“As for me, Sir,” said St. Julien, bowing, “I trust 11 you will believe that I appreciate at its full value the honour which you do me. I shall be happy to find an opportunity of proving my friendship for you, and I hope that such an opportunity will soon present itself.”
“Come, come, a truce to compliments,” interrupted the old knight. “Fine words butter no parsnips; now that you understand each other, let us think of our ‘hermit;’ for here comes George to make his report, and here, too, comes that jolly fellow Panteleon, with my nephew’s hounds.”
At that moment an old servant in a hunting dress, torn and wet with dew, entered the court, holding a beautiful bloodhound panting in a leash; while on the other side appeared a horse-boy, very ugly, but with the most cunning look imaginable, leading a score of hounds of remarkably fine appearance.
“Well, George,” cried the Chevalier, have you found the thicket empty? has this cursed boar quitted the district?”
“Not that I know, Sir Knight,” answered the huntsman, putting his hand to his hat. The rogue has passed the night in the wood of Marette, and we can set on his track as soon as you like. If I do not deceive myself, the sulky old brute will give us a good run.”
“Victory!” cried the Chevalier with enthusiasm; “if the rascal is disposed to wait for us, we shall have fine sport. In the wood of Marette, do you say? I can pretty well tell what course he will take. After being beaten on the plain of La Vacherie, he will take a great round, and come out by the Hazel-wood, in order to reach the forest of Ver, from which I do not doubt he has come. It is then to the wood of Noisetiers that the little pack must be taken. Holla! Panteleon, you rogue,” he continued, addressing his nephew’s page, “you will keep the 12 relays with twelve dogs; Philip and Lafleur will go with you, and the three will make as villanous an assemblage of profligates as ever danced attendance under the greenwood!”
“Am I to keep the relays?” answered Panteleon, with a discontented air; “it is not a very pleasant office!” “Luckily,” he muttered to himself, “I have in my pocket a flask of wine which I stole from the butler, and moreover I shall amuse myself with Lafleur!”
“What are you grumbling about, rascal?” said M. de Laramière; then he added, addressing his guest, “It is time for us to mount, and set out. You will excuse me, M. de Chavigny, if I do not keep close in your company to-day, but I have a habit of following up the dogs, a course which would not suit you, I think; but, in amends, my nephew will do the honours of the chase, and give you every useful explanation as to that noble diversion!”
“Nay but, uncle!” said St. Julien, in a discontented tone, “I do not myself like to be an idle spectator in this kind of affair!”
“I do not wish to inconvenience any one,” said Chavigny quietly; “I shall follow the chase at a distance, and without fatiguing myself!”
“Consult your pleasure;” said the Chevalier. “Among our country people, every one acts in is own way without ceremony. Now, gentlemen, to horse!”
The horns sounded, the dogs bayed, the horses neighed and pranced. In the midst of the tumult, Mademoiselle de Laramière appeared; we know now how she had accomplished it, but in the quarter of an hour which had elapsed since her conversation with St. Julien, she had found time for a splendid toilette. She held in one hand an old silver flagon, and in the other a goblet of the same metal, and she 13 came, according to custom, to present the stirrup-cup to the hungers.
St. Julien remained a little in the background, while Manette presented the cup of honour to her father and the stranger; the young hunter then made a sign to his page Panteleon to come near, and spoke a few words to him in a low voice. The wicked rogue made a grimace and smiled.
“You understand me!” continued St. Julien, making an almost imperceptible sign towards Chavigny. “If you execute my orders, there will be a double pistole for you, and as much for your two companions!”
“It is very tempting too!” said the page, scratching his ear; “but are you sure that the Chevalier will not be angry about the sport?”
“Leave that to me,” answered St. Julien; “I will arrange so as to bring you the sheep, so that there shall be no mistake. My uncle loves to keep up all the old customs of the chase; besides, he likes a joke, and will forgive us.”
“Well, then, I promise you, Sir, that we will not take your double pistoles for nothing — trust to me!” As the page spoke thus, he went tittering back to his comrades; then, taking them apart, he seemed to be confiding to them some merry plot, which was received with suppressed laughter.
St. Julien now advanced in his turn to receive the stirrup-cup from the hands of his cousin.
“I drink to our happiness, Manette!” he said, “and to the approaching departure of this impertinent pretender to your hand. I have thought of a plan to make him take himself off this very day.”
“Can that be possible?” cried Manette. “O cousin, what a beautiful candle I will offer to the blessed Virgin!”14
“You must offer one also,” said St. Julien, “to Saint Hubert, the patron of hunters. In my absence, my pretty Manette, pray to that great saint to protect us.”
“But,” said Manette, “are you quite sure?”
“To the chase, to the chase!” cried the old knight, her father. “Come nephew,” he added, “what are you about, listening to the babble of that little fool? If she keeps us thus, she will have a poor chance of seeing a roast boar upon the table the day of her nuptials.”
These last words made St. Julien lower his brow; meanwhile he drained the goblet at a draught, gave a look and sign of encouragement to his pretty cupbearer, then joined his uncle, and the whole company rode forth amid a great clamour. They were about a quarter of an hour’s ride from the chateau, when the old knight, glancing over the cavalcade, perceived Panteleon and his companions following with the pack of relays.”
“What is this, knave?” he angrily inquired of the page; “you ought to have been already at your post in the Hazel-tree Wood, with your people and your dogs.”
“We do not care for hazel-nuts, Sir Knight,” said Panteleon with his usual effrontery; “but we are going to take the road beside the rivulet, and in a quarter of an hour we shall be at the proper place. Depend upon it, the ‘solitary’ will give you some work before he breaks cover, and all the time we shall have no better amusement than to dance the jig of Poitou. We have but one bottle of wine, and a game of dice, to give patience to the three of us.”
“Why, you rascals!” said the knight, in a tone of good humour, “will you not have the amusement of giving the relays to the passers-by, if any fool should present himself?”
St. Julien and his page exchanged a look.15
“Doubtless, Sir Knight,” replied Panteleon, “if you will allow it, we shall tray and pass the time agreeably.”
“How? if I will allow it!” said the knight. “Is it not the ancient privilege of the chase? Go, you villains, amuse yourselves if you find an opportunity; but above all laugh quietly, and hold yourselves ready, so that we may not have to say this evening that the hounds were thrown off the scent through your negligence.”
Panteleon then rejoined his companions, and the three, quitting the main body of the huntsmen, took a by-road to their destination. A few minutes afterwards the knight and the hunters under his command struck the track of the wild boar; the hounds of attack were uncoupled; and presently the baying of the hounds, and winding of the horns, told that the beast had broken cover. It does not belong to our present purpose to enter into a description of a boar hunt. We shall therefore confine ourselves to what relates to the main part of our story.
At the moment when the chase actually commenced, the old knight did not think about Chavigny; his favourite passion was aroused, and all his thoughts were absorbed by it. St. Julien, on the contrary, redoubled his attentions to the guest of Laramière, as if he were resolved to be in his good graces. Chavigny at first received these advances very coldly, for they seemed to come a little too late; but he was at last flattered by them, and a friendly understanding seemed to be established between him and St. Julien.
Eitehr by chance, or the calculation of St. Julien, they soon found themselves in a narrow valley, with a copse on either side. The boar, before breaking cover, made head against the dogs in an impenetrable thicket, and the knight accompanied 16 by his huntsmen and prickers, urged on the hounds both with horn and voice.
The rapid movement of the dogs and sportsmen, the strange uproar rising from the depths of the forest, very much astonished the Parisian, who had never before witnessed a hunting party, and his surprise was not unmingled with fear. St. Julien watched him from the corners of his eyes. Suddenly he appeared to examine Chavigny’s horse with so much attention that the latter noticed it.
“What is there the matter with my horse?’ said he, “that you look at him so intently?”
“Nothing, nothing, Sir,” answered the huntsman, with an exaggerated politeness. “I would not for the world give any offence either to you or your horse; I only noticed ——”
“What then did you notice?”
“That your horse is such a decided sorrel colour, that it might serve for the sign of the hostelrie at Veyrac, which is called the Red Horse.”
“Well, and what of that?” inquired Chavigy.
“Oh, nothing,” said the other; “only in case we come across the boar, he will attack you in preference to any one else.”
“You are jesting,” said the Parisian. “What reason would there be for that?”
“I know it by the science of the chase, Sir,” answered St. Julien. “The wild boar, like the turkey and the ox, has an aversion to red, or any colour approaching it. If the game runs this way, your horse will unquestionably be the first embowelled; so much the more certainly that he does not appear to me as if he were accustomed to a hard run through woods and over heaths.”
In spite of his endeavours, Chavigny could not altogether conceal the fear that he felt.
“Oh, then,” he said; “it appears that in your 17 opinion it is dangerous to assist at a boar hunt, even as a simple spectator like myself? Nevertheless, M. de Laramière told me ——”
“Oh,” cried St. Julien, interrupting him; “there is no danger for practised huntsmen, such as he or I, who pass our lives in the woods; my uncle will tell you that, no doubt. But a gentleman from the capital, such as you are, would do well to be careful.”
“Is a wild boar, then, very terrible?” said Chavigny.
“It is a ferocious animal,” answered St. Julien, “especially when it is such an old ‘solitary’ as we are rousing to-day; he runs direct at whatever he sees; and his tusks are often mortal to men, dogs, and horses. Hark! do you hear?”
Chavigny listened attentively.
“I hear some plaintive cries,” he said. “Doubtless it is the pricker correcting his dogs.”
“It is some poor beast who has been ripped open, through having pressed too closely upon the old brute. Now do you hear?” said St. Julien.
“I hear the strokes of an axe against the trees,” answered Chavigny.
“They are the blows of the boar’s tusks, as he tries to tear a passage through the bushes.”
Mechanically Chavigny cast an uneasy glance around him, in search of some place where he could find refuge in case of an attack. Meanwhile the noise approached.
“I think it is time to see if the rogue has resolved upon showing himself,” said St. Julien, calmly. “Ah, my friend,” he continued, “I see that you have neither a coteau de chasse,2 nor a carbine; at any rate, you have a pair of pistols?”
“No,” returned Chavigny, “I have not any weapons; the Chevalier did not tell me that it was necessary to bring any.”18
“On my honour as a gentleman,” cried St. Julien, “you are a brave man, Monsieur, to come to a boar hunt upon a great red horse, and put yourself just in the way of the beast; it is more than I should dare to do.”
“And I have not done it willingly,” stammered the citizen, listening more anxiously to the noise of the chase, which was now really coming nearer. “I am ignorant on the subject; nobody instructed me. Surely the Chevalier ought to have forewarned me.”
“I should advise you,” replied St. Julien, with great kindness of manner, “to return to the chateau, and at least procure a horse of another colour, and some weapons. But as my uncle might take some offence if you are not in his company, it would be better, perhaps, if we could find some other means.
“What a pity that I did not sooner notice the fatal colour of your horse! I could have given you a superb white one, on which my page Panteleon is now mounted. White is a colour of which the wild boar has no fear. Unfortunately Panteleon and the horse are with the relays at the back of the copse, which you can see from here by following the course of the rivulet.”
“But, Sir!” said Chavigny, eagerly, “could I not go and ask for it?”
“I should offer you my own horse,” interrupted St. Julien, courteously, “but Pollux will not let any one mount him but myself. As to my coteau de chasse, the want of practice would make it, in your hands, a very useless weapon, and I shall probably want it myself as a defence against the beast.”
“I can procure some pistols;” said Chavigny; but at that moment he was interrupted by an infernal clamour; and an enormous wild boar, with his bristles erect, and grinding his tusks, burst from the wood; the dogs and the hunters following him in disorder. 19 Though the animal did not direct his course towards the spot that he occupied, Chavigny trembled and turned pale.
“I knew that he would break cover just by here,” said St. Julien, in a tone of satisfaction. “What a fine animal! but for Heaven’s sake, Sir, take care; keep out of the brute’s way; if he sees your red horse, he’s sure to run at it.”
“Mercy upon us!” cried the gentleman, turning his bridle; “I will not stay here. Curse upon the chase and the hunters!”
“Stop! stop! Do not go that way,” cried St. Julien, seeing that his rival directed his course towards the thicket where Panteleon was stationed. “Do not go there; do not ask anything of those rogues!”
“Why not?” inquired Chavigny.
“It is an ancient custom,” said St. Julien; “they will give you the relays, and ———”
At this moment a suspicious movement of the boar renewed all the terrors of Chavigny, and, without waiting to hear St. Julien, he put spurs to his horse, and galloped off in the direction of the relays. St. Julien looked after him with a malicious air. “I have forewarned him!” he said to himself, “and he cannot reproach me. Everything succeeds to a marvel; there must be a special providence for lovers and huntsmen. The boar himself has manœuvred as though he were in our confidence. There goes my fine coxcomb Chavigny, to reckon up jests with Panteleon; he will get no more than he deserves. Well, my vengeance is certain; now for the boar.”
Then he took his horn, and sounding a joyous à vue, he joined the old knight, who was close on the track of the boar, who seemed, on his part, disposed to give them a good gallop over the country.
Chavigny meanwhile did not check the speed of his horse, till the sounds of the chase were lost in 20 the distance; then he wiped the perspiration from his brow, and muttered, “The rustics! the clowns! and they call this amusement! If I had known what it was beforehand, they would not have caught me at such an entertainment. — I should like to go back at once to the chateau; but, bah! the old countryman will make fun of me. I had better go and ask them down there for the white horse and the pistols. That M. de St. Julien tried to dissuade me, but he is jealous of me! — what could he mean by saying that they would give me the relays? — I hope they will give me these relays; if the miserable wretches draw back, I will take them by force.”
With these words he directed his course towards the copse, from which issued shouts of laughter of a most sinister meaning.
Night had already fallen, when the huntsmen returned to the Chateau de Laramière. The old boar had made a brave resistance, and the death-note was not sounded till after sunset. At the noise of the horns, the dogs and the horses, Manette, followed by the servants bearing torches, ran out into the courtyard to receive the huntsmen. The young girl seemed in high spirits; a bewitching smile animated her blooming countenance. She bounded towards the old Laramière, as he dismounted wearily from his horse.
“Good evening, father,” she said, throwing herself on the old man’s neck. “You are late home from the chase; I began to feel uneasy.”
“You had good reason, my child, if you had but known it,” said the old knight, kissing her warmly on the forehead, “for I thought I should never see you again.”
“What do you mean, father?” inquired Manette.
“If it had not been for that brave boy,” continued the old man, pointing to St. Julien, who had 21 just dismounted, “I should not have had now the happiness of embracing you.”
“How was it, father? St. Julien, tell me; you alarm me.”
“My uncle,” said the young forester modestly, “sets too high a value on a trifling service; one of those which huntsmen so often render each other, without thinking of it afterwards.”
“I say that, but for you, my boy, I should have been killed,” repeated the old hunter; then he continued, addressing his daughter, “you shall judge, Manette; we followed the chase for seven consecutive hours; after having worn out all our relays, and covered six leagues of ground, the boar was brought to bay. He had betaken himself to a rock, and faced the dogs. I came up at the very moment that he ripped up poor Miraut with his tusks; in a great rage I dismounted, and with my coteau de chasse struck the brute under the shoulder. A hundred times I have struck a boar at bay in this manner, and the beast has immediately fallen dead. Upon this occasion, whether my hand was less sure, or my eye less keen, I cannot tell, but I missed my aim. Feeling himself wounded, the boar faced about, overthrew me, and would have torn me in a dangerous manner, had not a knife, held by a firmer hand than mine, pierced his heart. The hand was that of your cousin.”
“Uncle,” cried St. Julien, “you forget a very important circumstance, which is, that the moment when you struck the boar, your foot slipped in the blood of that poor Miraut: if it had not been for that, your blow would not have failed. Never was there a hunter who managed a coteau de chasse better than the knight of Laramière.”
“You can soothe the wounded vanity of an old man, it seems, my fair nephew,” said the knight, 22 “but I know what I know. However, come in now; I shall resign myself henceforth to shooting larks, for I am certainly getting old.”
“How shall I thank you, cousin?” said the young girl, as, withdrawing herself from the embrace of her father, she tendered her hand to St. Julien. “Believe me, too, there is no one in the world to whom I would so soon owe a debt of gratitude as to yourself.”
Favoured by the darkness, the young huntsman could convey that hand to his lips, and retain it afterwards in his clasp. Just then four robust men entered the courtyard bearing a litter of boughs, on which was extended the boar, the hero of the day.
“Look, my child,” said the old knight, seizing a torch, and holding it over the monster, which, all covered with dust and gore, was laid at his feet. “Look, this is the brigand who was on the point of making thee an orphan. Look at his great snout, his rough bristles, and his enormous tusks as sharp as a razor, and judge what fellow of this kind would have done for me in a few minutes. Well, instead of that, the malefactor shall figure on the table on your wedding-day; and I reckon upon saluting him with a beautiful flourish when he is dressed upon a dish, in a bed of laurels and thyme!”
The mention of the wedding reminded the knight of the betrothed. “By-the-bye,” he added, “what has become of M. de Chavigny? I did not once see him during the chase. Cursed passion! which made me forget even the common duties of politeness. Holla! some of you,” he said, speaking to the huntsmen, “have any of you seen M. de Chavigny?”
Nobody answered; but some smothered laughter was heard among the servants.
“Well, St. Julien,” said the knight, “I left you 23 in charge of my guest, and therefore you owe me an account of him.”
“Excuse me, uncle,” replied the young man, coolly; “but if your love for the chase made you completely forget your future son-in-law, it is hardly to be expected that I should remember a person in whom I could not feel interested. I have not seen M. de Chavigny since the moment of the attack.”
“Then he will lose his way in the woods,” said the old man, apprehensively; “and some of our people who are the least fatigued must mount immediately, and go in search of him.”
“Father,” said Manette, very composedly, “do not disturb any one about M. de Chavigny; he set out some hours ago, and must be far from the chateau by this time.”
“What! is he gone?” exclaimed the knight, perfectly astounded.
“Yes, certainly,” answered Manette; “he came back to the chateau, as I tell you, some hours since; he appeared discomposed; and, without saying a word to anybody, he called the servant who accompanied him hither, and desired him to saddle his horse, and pack up the luggage. They then went away, and I saw them take the road to Poitiers.”
“But he should have been called back,” said the knight; “he should have been invited to remain.”
“Called back!” exclaimed Manette. “Oh, I was very likely to call him back!”
“Such conduct is incomprehensible,” resumed the Chevalier, with a thoughtful look. “What can have induced the young man to run away in so extraordinary a manner?”
The page Panteleon now stepped forward with an assumption of clownishness, shuffling his feet, and twisting his cap in his hands.
“Nay, Sir Knight,” said he, in a deprecating 24 tone; “perhaps the gentleman has taken ill — a little harmless jest that we put upon him in the Hazel copse.”
“A jest!” cried the knight. “What do you mean, villain? you have not dared ——”
“Do but hear me, Sir Knight,” cried Panteleon. “This gentleman came to us talking about a red horse and a white horse, of a coteau de chasse, and I know not what — of all kind of nonsense, in fact. We thought he was making game of us; and, by my faith, I and my comrades availed ourselves of our right, by treating him as people are always treated who break their jests on huntsmen holding the relays. We have given him the relays* to some purpose!”
“How, you rascal?” cried Laramière furiously, as he lifted up his whip; “did you dare? ——” but St. Julien hastened to interpose. “Uncle,” said he, “these poor people have only obeyed you: do you not remember that you gave them permission this morning to administer the relays to any passerby, according to the ancient custom? M. de Chavigny told you himself that he was not to be reckoned among the hungers. I therefore beg that you will pardon Panteleon and his accomplices.”
The knight reflected for a moment, and the page availed himself of the opportunity to steal away.
“I can refuse you nothing, nephew, on the day that you have saved my life,” said the old forester. “But I have lost a match for my daughter, such as I shall not find in the province. Chavigny was going to repair my poor old chateau. — Oh, I can see it all 25 now; that young man, who is so proud and overbearing, would not remain a minute after receiving such an affront. Perhaps he will return, and require us to punish our people for their insolence.”
“I believe him too much of a coward for anything of the kind, uncle,” said St. Julien; “but if he ventures so far, I shall claim again the honour of receiving him. Panteleon, the principal offender, is in my service, and I ought to answer for him; besides ——”
“Besides!” interrupted the knight, in a tone of mingled raillery and good humour; “besides, you may not be quite so innocent in the affair as you pretend to be.”
“Well, uncle,” returned the young man, “supposing such were the case, would it not have been an excellent sportsman’s trick?”
Laramière looked steadily at his nephew, and then at his daughter, who stood humbly before him, with their eyes cast down; then he burst into a roar of laughter, and exclaimed, joyously, “Bah! away with ambition, say I. — My manor-house may tumble to ruins, if it likes, but I will have a true forester for a son-in-law. I have for some time been aware of your affection for my daughter, fair nephew, and I think the jade does not hate you. You have deserved her doubly to-day by your wit and your courage. Make her your wife, rascal — at least if Manette has not any objection.”
“I cannot object to obey you, father!” said the young girl, with the prettiest possible air of pretended modesty.
“It is all right, then,” ejaculated the knight. “St. Hubert’s blessing be upon you; and, as it happens, I have told no lie, for the boar will serve for the wedding-feast, after all!”
We leave it to the imagination of the reader the 26 thanks of the young people, and the triumphal flourish which celebrated the general rejoicing.
What a pity that the old-fashioned custom of relays has fallen into disuse! — it would be so convenient a mode of getting rid of a troublesome rival!
* It may be necessary to state, in explanation of the point of the preceding story, that in the ancient language of the chase, the giving of the “relays” meant the whipping, till the blood came, any idlers or foolish fellows who molested, with impertinent questions, the hunters stationed with relays of dogs on the presumed track of the game.
1 Anonymous translation from the French story, Le relais, ancienne coutume de chasse, in La roche-tremblante, Volumes 1-2, by Elie Berthet, Bruxelles: Meline, Cans et Compagnie, 1851; pp. 179-223.
2 coteau de chasse = hunting knife.