Chapter 160105240

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberIX
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160105240
Full Date1884-12-27
Page Number6
Corrections29
Word Count2497
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-03-12
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleSowing the Wind
article text

CHAPTER IX.

"And where has Mademoiselle found' Miladi?"

The scarcely concealed contempt with which the men received her story almost

drove her to despair. Deliberately standing still, as if about to turn back, they said—

"You are sadly deceived. These sounds are familiar to us who have lived so long, in this part. Mademoiselle is a stranger here."

"Go on! go on! I implore you!" cried Helen. "What if you find my words true when too late. Neither Monsieur nor I will

be ungrateful for your exertions, even if they

be fruitless."

And so, rather in complaisance to her than for any credence they gave her story, they

went on.

"No living being," said one to the other as. they walked, "could get in there since the

stones have fallen."

"They have only fallen in the last day or two," replied the other, "although I noticed a week ago that they were very loose."

They reached the cave at last, and with pickaxes and shovels soon cleared a sufficient entrance. Helen seized a lantern and went forward. For a long distance in she could see nothing. The wails only echoed to her call. On she went for more than a quarter of a mile. The light from her lantern as it streamed from side to side rendered the darkness of this dismal place almost appalling; but she thought of nothing but the object of her search, and at last came to a sudden halt, almost falling across the prostrate form of poor Madame Dubois.

Helen knelt down beside her, wiped the cold damp from her face, which looked so livid in that light that Helen feared she was indeed too late. She moistened her lips with water, wrapped the warm rug around her, calling her gently by name again and again, until Madame opened her eyes.

Repeating her efforts, feeding her carefully with moistened bread, Madame seemed to revive and recognise Helen, but to be quite unable to speak.

By this time the servants so tardily following arrived on the spot; they stood aghast and horrified, but raised her tenderly and gently and carried her out into the open air into the moonlight. Then Helen bade them rest again, renewing her efforts to re- vive her with the bread and water, and thus they carried her by short stages home to the

castle.

Helen stayed by her all that night, and with the help of a kind old woman nursed her most attentively—the useless Annette could only weep and wring her hands.

She heard the servants wondering how and why Madame had gone in there at all, and this one question was continually presenting itself to Helen's own mind.

Monsieur had not returned; the roads were

too impracticable, and his whereabouts too uncertain for any message to be sent him.

Indeed it was unnecessary to do so when he

was expected home every day, and Madame was last recovering.

No very satisfactory account could be obtained concerning this affair. Whenever the subject was mentioned it threw Madame into such a state of nervous tremor that it was carefully avoided. She, however, said this much, that she had felt frightened in the twilight, and flying into the cavern, supposed she had given the loosened stones their final shake, as they fell a few minutes afterwards, but the cause of the fright seemed to be

vague.

Although Madame quickly regained her usual health, she still seemed unwilling to talk, but clung to Helen's companionship with neat tenacity, watching her as she moved about with an expression of much affection.

The wing of the castle {in which was Madame's suite of rooms had been moder-

nized for the comfort and convenience of its

late possessors, and the room where Madame loved to sit commanded a beautiful view of the grounds and garden, cultivated accord-

ing to modern art and taste. She liked to sit by the window while Helen read to her. It was not quite a week since the rescue; Helen and Madame had been quietly em- ployed in this manner through a long morn-

ing when suddenly Madame started, seizing Helen by the arm, while one of those fits of trembling, which had of late so much sub- sided, shook her from head to foot, her face

turning white even to her lips, Helen tried her utmost to soothe her.

"Ah, look," she said, "Monsieur has re- turned, that is pleasant news for you. I see his carriage driving up the avenue."

Monsieur, however, did not present him self immediately; but, after a time, a

message came from him to the effect that he had been much grieved to hear of Madame's misadventure, and was greatly indebted to Mademoiselle Montaine. Madame, who had gradually become calm again, seemed perfectly satisfied with this

message.

The next day Helen was passing from Madame's room down the long corridor, when she was surprised by Monsieur sud- denly emerging as if from some unseen door and standing before her.

"Mademoiselle," he said, "you have dis- played most wonderful courage on Madame's behalf—how can I ever repay you—but it is marvellous that she should have been dis- covered at all when the stones had fallen."

"It was purely an accident which led to her discovery Monsieur, and a most happy one; but something must have alarmed her very much to drive her to such a refuge."

"She was frightened there—eh ? Is that what she says?" he asked eagerly.

"Has she not told you herself, Monsieur?" —there was a slight reproach in Helen's tone. ''Madame might better confide in you, but the occurrence has so unnerved her that as yet the subject cannot be mentioned without distressing her too much."

"She has said nothing then but that she was frightened, and what is to account for the fright?"

"Simply nothing that I have heard, Mon-

sieur and Helen moved on.

"Do not run away, ma chère demoiselle; I have seen so little of you of late—tell me— what do you think? How do you account for this affair?"

"I cannot account for it at all Monsieur,

especially as Madame is not usually alarmed by trifles."

"Madame must have been afraid of her own shadow in this instance. C'est vraiment, it is most marvellous that she should have

escaped; but what caused the stones to fall, eh?"

"Madame accounts for that very simply— that being already very loose they must have fallen through her inadvertently brushing against them in passing."

"Ah, certainement, it must have been so; that is a simple explanation."

In a few days after this they left the castle, as Madame seemed anxious to quit a place of

such horrible associations.

Berne was the next place at which they rested, the birthplace of Madame, where familiar scenes awoke in her mind reminis- cences of her girlhood as she revisited the old

haunts, and looked upon the pretty villa where the first eighteen years of her life had glided by without a ruffle, with the old nurse who had closed her mother's eyes when Madame was yet an infant. The villa was now in the hands of strangers to whom it had

been sold by her guardians for the better management of her portion upon her marriage with Monsieur Dubois.

The nurse, after her foster-child had departed, had married the man to whom she had been long engaged, but was left a widow five years after with one child whom she had called Marguerite, after Madame Dubois, between whom and herself correspondence had gradually ceased after the first few years.

In education and manners much above the class of peasants surrounding her Madame Ninon had endeavoured to keep herself respectably, educating the little Marguerite to the best of her ability, but poverty and ill health had fallen upon her of late years, and a rapid decline was now carrying her to the

grave.

Madame Dubois, after many enquiries and some trouble, was at length directed to the cottage of Madame Ninon—a most pictu- resque dwelling, situated by the side of a clear stream, which tumbled over rugged rocks and stones; the cottage itself covered with the most beautiful flowers, but inside it was bare indeed, though clean and tidy.

Madame Dubois, prepared though she

was to find her old friend ill, was sadly shocked to see her lying evidently in the last stage of illness. Sitting beside the dying woman was a pale, sweet girl, attending upon and watching her most tenderly. Madame entered noiselessly, and kneeling beside Madame Ninon took the attenuated hand, kissing it, and gently pronouncing the old loved name by which she had been wont to call her when a child. Such a light broke over the livid face, then the eyes sought and found the speaker, while new life for awhile seemed to animate her; for although she had not spoken for hours, she now called her, however feebly, by every endearing epithet of childhood. It was an affecting meeting, which Madame Dubois feared to prolong, and hastened away, promising to return at night, which vigil Helen insisted upon sharing; and as they alternately ministered to the dying woman, allowed the poor worn-out and grief-stricken Marguerite a little rest. But poor Madame Ninon had become rapidly worse in the meanwhile, for when Madame Dubois returned with

Helen she found her very much weaker. Madame comforted her by promising to take

Marguerite under her care, for this had been the burden winch had oppressed the poor mother much. After this she seemed to resign herself to death, and before morning dawned Madame Ninon had breathed her last.

Madame Dubois made all necessary arrange- ments for the burial of her old friend, and then took Marguerite home, whose modest and quiet manners prepossessed her new friends very much in her favour; Helen especially formed almost a sympathetic

affection for the orphan girl, and waa glad

that she should replace the silly and selfish

Annette.

They continued their journey after this,

and in a little time were crossing the Alps— over circuitous and narrow passes, by fearful ravines and rushing torrents; now from the heights beholding the sun rise in all its glory, painting the clouds and the mountain-tops, or sinking at evening in dazzling splendour.

Their path at one time taking a sharp turn

led them unexpectedly in sight of an object

of very great interest. On a distant height

there stood out clearly defined in the evening sky a large but simple cross. So suddenly it

seemed to rise before them that the travellers stopped with one accord.

Monsieur and the guide bowed their heads, crossing themselves rapidly many times. Madame and Marguerite clasped their hands, and fell upon their knees. With clasped hands also Helen stood, gazing fixedly with an expression of deep awe and reverence upon her face. How often before had she looked upon this sign; yet its meaning had never so penetrated her heart, appealing to her with such mute eloquence.

The old familiar story of the Cross now seemed to be told to her afresh in a language

that was irresistible in its force and strength,

conveying to her a message which would never again be slighted, whose softest whispers would never again fall unheeded on her heart, but would as years went by deepen in signi- ficance and strengthen the influence of that message upon her life.

They had a few more miles of these moun- tainous passes ere they took the direct route to Milan, and they set out early from the auberge the next morning, that they might

complete that day the remainder of this Alpine route, always taking a guide for this steep and hazardous journey, which they chose for its grand beauty. With the carriage meeting them at certain points, even Madame enjoyed a little toilsome climbing, for her native air seemed to have an invigorating effect upon her health and spirits.

One part of these rocky passes was un- usually narrow, so as to admit of their going only in single file. From the side of the path the rock was very precipitous; on the opposite side was a noisy cataract rushing over hang- ing rocks into the ravine beneath; thence emerging from between the mountains, and flowing peacefully on through fertile fields and vineyards. Helen took in the beauty of the scene at a glance, yet scarcely dared to look, for one false step would have plunged her headlong. She was glad to set her foot in a few minutes more on a broader and safer path. Then she turned to admire and draw a long breath of relief. She had been the first following the guide, Marguerite next behind her; Monsieur and Madame were still at a little distance. Monsieur was trying to hasten forward.

Helen had thought that Madame had pre- ceded him.

"Madame must be far behind," she re-

marked to Marguerite. In another minute Monsieur was by their side, frantically

throwing his arms about, tearing his hair, exclaiming incoherently. But it was not necessary to hear his words. They under- stood the dreadful truth but too easily. Poor Madame was lost; she had missed her footing and had been precipitated over the fearful rocks into the ravine below.

Could nothing be done? The thought of leaving her poor body unburied and uncared for was too shocking.

Helen tried to calm Monsieur that she might consult with him, but, quite unable to control his grief, he appeared to hear nothing that was said; so turning to the guide and putting money into his hand she bade him seek assistance from the cottages in the valley and recover if possible her poor friend for Christian burial. Then, leaving the scene of such a sad tragedy, they slowly

walked onwards, and soon after reached the hotel to which they were bound.

Seeking the little room appointed her, Helen was glad to be alone that she might give way to her grief, heartfelt and sincere, for the dear gentle friend and companion of so many months, the manner of whose death, so sudden and so violent, was fearful to con- template.

Other thoughts would also obtrude into her mind.

What was she to do now? Instinctively she felt the impossibility of remaining with Monsieur in the same position as before; again, then she was thrown friendless upon

the world.

At this moment a tap at her door aroused her. Opening it she was surprised to see Marguerite, who, so lately in tears, now appeared with radiant face.

"Ma'amselle," she said, "Madame is not killed! they are bringing her! Oh, come and see!"