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reached them as it were from below, travelling around the rising ground to the
left in the form of a dull thud followed by a sighing sound that seemed to
seek an issue amongst the stony ridges and rocks near by.
``That's the English corvette which has been dodging in and out of Hyeres
Roads for the last week,'' said the young officer, picking up his sword
hastily. He stood up and buckled the belt on, while Peyrol rose more
deliberately from the bench, and said:
``She can't be where we saw her at anchor last night. That gun was near. She
must have crossed over. There has been enough wind for that at various times
during the night. But what could she be firing at down there in the Petite
Passe? We had better go and see.''
He strode off, followed by Peyrol. There was not a human being in sight about
the farm and not a sound of life except for the lowing of a cow coming faintly
from behind a wall. Peyrol kept close behind the quickly moving officer who
followed the footpath marked faintly on the stony slope of the hill.
``That gun was not shotted,'' he observed suddenly in a deep steady voice.
The officer glanced over his shoulder.
``You may be right. You haven't been a gunner for nothing. Not shotted, eh?
Then a signal gun. But who to?
We have been observing that corvette now for days and we know she has no
companion.''
He moved on, Peyrol following him on the awkward path without losing his wind
and arguing in a steady voice: ``She has no companion but she may have seen a
friend at daylight this morning.''
``Bah!'' retorted the officer without checking his pace. ``You talk now like a
child or else you take me for one. How far could she have seen? What view
could she have had at daylight if she was making her way to the Petite Passe
where she is now? Why, the islands would have masked for her twothirds of the
sea and just in the direction too where the English inshore squadron is
hovering below the horizon. Funny blockade that!
You can't see a single English sail for days and days together, and then when
you least expect them they come down all in a crowd as if ready to eat us
alive. No, no! There was no wind to bring her up a companion.
But tell me, gunner, you who boast of knowing the bark of every English piece,
what sort of gun was it?''
Peyrol growled in answer:
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CHAPTER IV
20
``Why, a twelve. The heaviest she carries. She is only a corvette.''
``Well, then, it was fired as a recall for one of her boats somewhere out of
sight along the shore. With a coast like this, all points and bights, there
would be nothing very extraordinary in that, would there?''
``No,'' said Peyrol, stepping out steadily. ``What is extraordinary is that
she should have had a boat away at all.''
``You are right there.'' The officer stopped suddenly. ``Yes, it is really
remarkable, that she should have sent a boat away. And there is no other way
to explain that gun.''
Peyrol's face expressed no emotion of any sort.
``There is something there worth investigating,'' continued the officer with
animation.
``If it is a matter of a boat,'' Peyrol said without the slightest excitement,
``there can be nothing very deep in it. What could there be? As likely as not
they sent her inshore early in the morning with lines to try to catch some
fish for the captain's breakfast. Why do you open your eyes like this? Don't
you know the English?
They have enough cheek for anything.''
After uttering those words with a deliberation made venerable by his white
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hair, Peyrol made the gesture of wiping his brow, which was barely moist.
``Let us push on,'' said the lieutenant abruptly.
``Why hurry like this?'' argued Peyrol without moving. ``Those heavy clogs of
mine are not adapted for scrambling on loose stones.''
``Aren't they?'' burst out the officer. ``Well, then, if you are tired you can
sit down and fan yourself with your hat. Goodbye.'' And he strode away before
Peyrol could utter a word.
The path following the contour of the hill took a turn towards its seaface and
very soon the lieutenant passed out of sight with startling suddenness. Then
his head reappeared for a moment, only his head, and that too vanished
suddenly. Peyrol remained perplexed. After gazing in the direction in which
the officer had disappeared, he looked down at the farm buildings, now below
him but not at a very great distance. He could see distinctly the pigeons
walking on the roof ridges. Somebody was drawing water from the well in the
middle of the yard. The patron, no doubt; but that man, who at one time had
the power to send so many luckless persons to their death, did not count for
old Peyrol. He had even ceased to be an offence to his sight and a disturber
of his feelings. By himself he was nothing. He had never been anything but a
creature of the universal bloodlust of the time. The very doubts about him had
died out by now in old Peyrol's breast. The fellow was so insignificant that
had Peyrol in a moment of particular attention discovered that he cast no
shadow, he would not have been surprised. Below there he was reduced to the
shape of a dwarf lugging a bucket away from the well. But where was she?
Peyrol asked himself, shading his eyes with his hand. He knew that the
patronne could not be very far away, because he had a sight of her during the
morning; but that was before he had learned she had taken to roaming at night.
His growing uneasiness came suddenly to an end when, turning his eyes away
from the farm buildings, where obviously she was not, he saw her appear, with
nothing but the sky full of light at her back, coming down round the very turn
of the path which had taken the lieutenant out of sight.
Peyrol moved briskly towards her. He wasn't a man to lose time in idle wonder,
and his sabots did not seem to weigh heavy on his feet. The fermiere, whom the
villagers down there spoke of as Arlette as though she
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CHAPTER IV
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had been a little girl, but in a strange tone of shocked awe, walked with her
head drooping and her feet (as
Peyrol used to say) touching the ground as lightly as falling leaves. The
clatter of the clogs made her raise her black, clear eyes that had been
smitten on the very verge of womanhood by such sights of bloodshed and terror,
as to leave in her a fear of looking steadily in any direction for long, lest
she should see coming through the empty air some mutilated vision of the dead.
Peyrol called it trying not to see something that was not there; and this
evasive yet frank mobility was so much a part of her being that the steadiness
with which she met his inquisitive glance surprised old Peyrol for a moment.
He asked without beating about the bush:
``Did he speak to you?''
She answered with something airy and provoking in her voice, which also struck
Peyrol as a novelty: ``He never stopped. He passed by as though he had not
seen me''and then they both looked away from each other.
``Now, what is it you took into your head to watch for at night?''
She did not expect that question. She hung her head and took a pleat of her
skirt between her fingers, embarrassed like a child.
``Why should I not,'' she murmured in a low shy note, as if she had two voices [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]