XXX. "Where All the Lovers Can Hide"
 

It was in the saffron light of early morning that I saw it, the Tall Calvary of the Valdoche Hills.

The night before I had come up through a long valley, overhung with pines on one side and crimsoning maples on the other, and, travelling till nearly midnight, had lain down in the hollow of a bank, and listened to a little river leap over cascades, and, far below, go prattling on to the greater river in the south. My eyes closed, but for long I did not sleep. I heard a night-hawk go by on a lonely mission, a beaver slide from a log into the water, and the delicate humming of the pine needles was a drowsy music, through which broke by-and-bye the strange crying of a loon from the water below. I was neither asleep nor awake, but steeped in this wide awe of night, the sweet smell of earth and running water in my nostrils. Once, too, in a slight breeze, the scent of some wild animal's nest near by came past, and I found it good. I lifted up a handful of loose earth and powdered leaves, and held it to my nose--a good, brave smell--all in a sort of drowsing.

While I mused, Doltaire's face passed before me as it was in life, and I heard him say again of the peasants, "These shall save the earth some day, for they are of it, and live close to it, and are kin to it."

Suddenly there rushed before me that scene in the convent, when all the devil in him broke loose upon the woman I loved. But, turning on my homely bed, I looked up and saw the deep quiet of the skies, the stable peace of the stars, and I was a son of the good Earth again, a sojourner in the tents of Home. I did not doubt that Alixe was alive or that I should find her. There was assurance in this benignant night. In that thought, dreaming that her cheek lay close to mine, her arm around my neck, I fell asleep. I waked to bear the squirrels stirring in the trees, the whir of the partridge, and the first unvarying note of the oriole. Turning on my dry, leafy bed, I looked down, and saw in the dark haze of dawn the beavers at their house-building.

I was at the beginning of a deep gorge or valley, on one side of which was a steep sloping hill of grass and trees, and on the other a huge escarpment of mossed and jagged rocks. Then, farther up, the valley seemed to end in a huge promontory. On this great wedge grim shapes loomed in the mist, uncouth and shadowy and unnatural--a lonely, mysterious Brocken, impossible to human tenantry. Yet as I watched the mist slowly rise, there grew in me the feeling that there lay the end of my quest. I came down to the brook, bathed my face and hands, ate my frugal breakfast of bread, with berries picked from the hillside, and, as the yellow light of the rising sun broke over the promontory, I saw the Tall Calvary upon a knoll, strange comrade to the huge rocks and monoliths--as it were vast playthings of the Mighty Men, the fabled ancestors of the Indian races of the land.

I started up the valley, and presently all the earth grew blithe, and the birds filled the woods and valleys with jocund noise.

It was near noon before I knew that my pilgrimage was over.

Coming round a point of rock, I saw the Gray Monk, of whom strange legends had lately travelled to the city. I took off my hat to him reverently; but all at once he threw back his cowl, and I saw--no monk, but, much altered, the good chaplain who had married me to Alixe in the Chateau St. Louis. He had been hurt when he was fired upon in the water; had escaped, however, got to shore, and made his way into the woods. There he had met Mathilde, who led him to her lonely home in this hill. Seeing the Tall Calvary, he had conceived the idea of this disguise, and Mathilde had brought him the robe for the purpose.

In a secluded cave I found Alixe with her father, caring for him, for he was not yet wholly recovered from his injuries. There was no waiting now. The ban of Church did not hold my dear girl back, nor did her father do aught but smile when she came laughing and weeping into my arms.

"Robert, O Robert, Robert!" she cried, and at first that was all she could say.

The good Seigneur put out his hand to me beseechingly. I took it, clasped it.

"The city?" he asked.

"Is ours," I answered.

"And my son--my son?"

I told him how, the night that the city was taken, the Chevalier de la Darante and I had gone a sad journey in a boat to the Isle of Orleans, and there, in the chapel yard, near to his father's chateau, we had laid a brave and honest gentleman who died fighting for his country.

By-and-bye, when their grief had a little abated, I took them out into the sunshine. A pleasant green valley lay to the north, and to the south, far off, was the wall of rosy hills that hid the captured town. Peace was upon it all, and upon us.

As we stood there, a scarlet figure came winding in and out among the giant stones, crosses hanging at her girdle. She approached us, and, seeing me, she said: "Hush! I know a place where all the lovers can hide."

And she put a little wooden cross into my hands.