Poor Cousin Louis

Poor Cousin Louis

By

Ella D'Arcy

THERE stands in the Islands a house known as " Les Calais."
It has stood there already some three hundred years, and
do judge from its stout walls and weather-tight appearance,
promises to stand some three hundred more. Built of brown
home-quarried stone, with solid stone chimney-stacks and roof
of red tiles, its door is set in the centre beneath a semi-circular
arch of dressed granite, on the keystone of which is deeply cut
the date of construction :

J V N I
1603

Above the date straggle the letters, L G M M, initials of the
forgotten names of the builder of the house and of the woman
he married. In the summer weather of 1603 that inscription
was cut, and the man and woman doubtless read it with pride and
pleasure as they stood looking up at their fine new homestead.
They believed it would carry their names down to posterity
when they themselves should be gone ; yet there stand the
initials to-day, while the personalities they represent are as lost to
memory as are the builders graves.

At the moment when this little sketch opens, Les Calais had

belonged

35 By Ella D'Arcy

belonged for three generations to the family of Renouf (pro-
nounced Rennuf), and it is with the closing days of Mr. Louis
Renouf that it purposes to deal. But first to complete the
description of the house, which is typical of the Islands : hundreds
of such homesteads placed singly, or in groups —then sharing in
one common name— may be found there in a day' s walk,
although it must be added that a day's walk almost suffices to
explore any one of the Islands from end to end.

Les Calais shares its name with none. It stands alone, com-
pletely hidden, save at one point only, by its ancient elms. On
either side of the doorway are two windows, each of twelve small
panes, and there is a row of five similar windows above. Around
the back and sides of the house cluster all sorts of outbuildings,
necessary dependencies of a time when men made their own
cider and candles, baked their own bread, cut and stacked their
own wood, and dried the dung of their herds for extra winter fuel.
Beyond these lie its vegetable and fruit gardens, which again are
surrounded on every side by its many rich verg^es of pasture
land.

Would you find Les Calais, take the high road from Jacques-
le-Port to the village of St. Gilles, then keep to the left of the
schools along a narrow lane cut between high hedges. It is a
cart track only, as the deep sun-baked ruts testify, leading direct
from St. Gilles to Vauvert, and, likely enough, during the whole of
that distance you will not meet with a solitary person. You will
see nothing but the green running hedgerows on either hand, the
blue-domed sky above, from whence the lark, a black pin-point in
the blue, flings down a gush of song ; while the thrush you have
disturbed lunching off that succulent snail, takes short ground
flights before you, at every pause turning back an ireful eye to
judge how much farther you intend to pursue him. He is happy

The Yellow Book Vol. II. C

if


36 Poor Cousin Louis

if you branch off midway to the left down the lane leading
straight to Les Calais.

A gable end of the house faces this lane, and its one window in
the days of Louis Renouf looked down upon a dilapidated farm-
and stable-yard, the gate of which, turned back upon its hinges,
stood wide open to the world. Within might be seen granaries
empty of grain, stables where no horses fed, a long cow-house
crumbling into ruin, and the broken stone sections of a cider
trough dismantled more than half a century back. Cushions of
emerald moss studded the thatches, and liliputian forests of grass-
blades sprang thick between the cobble stones. The place might
have been mistaken for some deserted grange, but for the con-
tradiction conveyed in a bright pewter full-bellied water-can stand-
ing near the well, in a pile of firewood, with chopper still stuck
in the topmost billet, and in a tatterdemalion troop of barn-door
fowl lagging meditatively across the yard.

On a certain day, when summer warmth and unbroken silence
brooded over all, and the broad sunshine blent the yellows, reds,
and greys of tile and stone, the greens of grass and foliage, into
one harmonious whole, a visitor entered the open gate. This was
a tall, large young woman, with a fair, smooth, thirty-year-old
face. Dressed in what was obviously her Sunday best, although it
was neither Sunday nor even market-day, she wore a bonnet
diademed with gas-green lilies of the valley, a netted black
mantilla, and a velvet-trimmed violet silk gown, which she
carefully lifted out of dust's way, thus displaying a stiffly starched
petticoat and kid spring-side boots.

Such attire, unbeautiful in itself and incongruous with its sur-
roundings, jarred harshly with the picturesque note of the scene.
From being a subject to perpetuate on canvas, it shrunk, as it were,
to the background of a cheap photograph, or the stage adjuncts

to

By Ella D'Arcy 37

to the heroine of a farce. The silence too was shattered as the
new comer's foot fell upon the stones. An unseen dog began
to mouth a joyous welcome, and the fowls, lifting their thin,
apprehensive faces towards her, flopped into a clumsy run as
though their last hour were visible.

The visitor meanwhile turned familiar steps to a door in the
wall on the left, and raising the latch, entered the flower garden of
Les Calais. This garden, lying to the south, consisted then, and
perhaps does still, of two square grass-plots with a broad gravel
path running round them and up to the centre of the house.

In marked contrast with the neglect of the farmyard was this
exquisitely kept garden, brilliant and fragrant with flowers. From
a raised bed in the centre of each plot standard rose-trees shed out
gorgeous perfume from chalices of every shade of loveliness, and
thousands of white pinks justled shoulder to shoulder in narrow
bands cut within the borders of the grass.

Busy over these, his back towards her, was an elderly man,
braces hanging, in coloured cotton shirt. " Good afternoon,
Tourtel," cried the lady, advancing. Thus addressed, he straight-
ened himself slowly and turned round. Leaning on his hoe, he
shaded his eyes with his hand. "Eh den! it's you, Missis
Pedvinn," said he ; " but we didn't expec' you till to-morrow ? "

" No, it's true," said Mrs. Poidevin, " that I wrote I would
come Saturday, but Pedvinn expects some friends by the English
boat, and wants me to receive them. Yet as they may be stay-
ing the week, I did not like to put poor Cousin Louis off so long
without a visit, so thought I had better come up to-day."

Almost unconsciously, her phrases assumed apologetic form.
She had an uneasy feeling Tourtel's wife might resent her un-
expected advent ; although why Mrs. Tourtel should object, or
why she herself should stand in any awe of the Tourtels, she

could

38 Poor Cousin Louis

could not have explained. Tourtel was but gardener, the wife
housekeeper and nurse, to her cousin Louis Renouf, master of Les
Calais. " I sha'n't inconvenience Mrs. Tourtel, I hope ? Of
course I shouldn't think of staying tea if she is busy ; I'll just sit
an hour with Cousin Louis, and catch the six'o'clock omnibus
home from Vauvert."

Tourtel stood looking at her with wooden countenance, in
which two small shifting eyes alone gave signs of life. "Eh,
but you won't be no inconvenience to de ole woman, ma'am,"
said he suddenly, in so loud a voice that Mrs. Poidevin jumped ;
" only de apple-gôche, dat she was goin' to bake agen' your visit,
won't be ready, dat's all."

He turned, and stared up at the front of the house ; Mrs.
Poidevin, for no reason at all, did so too. Door and windows
were open wide. In the upper storey, the white roller-blinds were
let down against the sun, and on the broad sills of the parlour
windows were nosegays placed in blue china jars. A white
trellis-work criss-crossed over the façade, for the support of
climbing, rose and purple clematis which hung out a curtain of
blossom almost concealing the masonry behind. The whole
place breathed of peace and beauty, and Louisa Poidevin was
lapped round with that pleasant sense of well-being which it
was her chief desire in life never to lose. Though poor Cousin
Louis —feeble, childish, solitary— was so much to be pitied, at
least in his comfortable home and his worthy Tourtels he found
compensation.

An instant after Tourtel had spoken, a woman passed across
the wide hall. She had on a blue linen skirt, white stockings, and
shoes of grey list. The strings of a large, bibbed, lilac apron
drew the folds of a flowered bed-jacket about her ample waist ;
and her thick yellow-grey hair, worn without a cap, was arranged

smoothly

By Ella D'Arcy 39

smoothly on either side of a narrow head. She just glanced out,
and Mrs. Poidevin was on the point of calling to her, when
Tourtel fell into a torrent of words about his flowers. He had so
much to say on the subject of horticulture ; was so anxious for
her to examine the freesia bulbs lying in the tool-house, just
separated from the spring plants ; he denounced so fiercely the
grinding policy of Brehault the middleman, who purchased his
garden stuff to resell it at Covent Garden —"my good! on dem
freesias I didn't make not two doubles a bunch !— " that for a long
quarter of an hour all memory of her cousin was driven from
Mrs. Poidevin's brain. Then a voice said at her elbow, "Mr.
Rennuf is quite ready to see you, ma'am," and there stood Tourtel's
wife, with pale composed face, square shoulders and hips, and feet
that moved noiselessly in her list slippers.

"Ah, Mrs. Tourtel, how do you do?" said the visitor; a
question which in the Islands is no mere formula, but demands
and obtains a detailed answer, after which the questioner's own
health is politely inquired into. Not until this ceremony had
been scrupulously accomplished, and the two women were on
their way to the house, did Mrs. Poidevin beg to know how
things were going with her " poor cousin."

There lay something at variance between the ruthless, calculat-
ing spirit which looked forth from the housekeeper's cold eye, and
the extreme suavity of her manner of speech.

"Eh, my good ! but much de same, ma'am, in his health,
an' more fancies dan ever in his head. First one ting an'
den anudder, an' always tinking dat everybody is robbin' him.
You rem-ember de larse time you was here, an Mister Rennuf
was abed ? Well, den, after you was gone, if he didn't deck-
clare you had taken some of de fedders of his bed away wid
you. Yes, my good ! he tought you had cut a hole in de

tick

40 Poor Cousin Louis

tick, as you sat dere beside him an' emptied de fedders away
into your pocket."

Mrs. Poidevin was much interested. " Dear me, is it possible ?
.... But it's quite a mania with him. I remember now, on
that very day he complained to me Tourtel was wearing his shirts,
and wanted me to go in with him to Lepage's to order some new
ones."

"Eh! but what would Tourtel want wid fine white shirts
like dem ?" said the wife placidly. "But Mr. Louis have such
dozens an' dozens of em dat dey gets hidden away in de presses,
an' he tinks dem' stolen."

They reached the house. The interior is quite as characteristic
of the Islands as is the outside. Two steps take you down
into the hall, crossing the further end of which is the staircase
with its balustrade of carved black oak. Instead of the mean
painted sticks, known technically as " raisers," and connected
together at the top by a vulgar mahogany hand-rail —a funda-
mental article of faith with the modern builder— these old
Island balustrades are formed of wooden panels, fretted out
into scrolls, representing flower, or leaf, or curious beaked and
winged creatures, which go curving, creeping, and ramping along
in the direction of the stairs. In every house you will find the
detail different, while each resembles all as a whole. For in the
old days the workman, were he never so humble, recognised the
possession of an individual mind, as well as of two eyes and two
hands, and he translated fearlessly this individuality of his into
his work. Every house built in those days and existing down
to these, is not only a confession, in some sort, of the tastes, the
habits, the character, of the man who planned it, but preserves
a record likewise of every one of the subordinate minds employed
in the various parts.

Off

By Ella D'Arcy 41

Off the hall of Les Calais are two rooms on the left and one on
the right. The solidity of early seventeenth-century walls is shown
in the embrasure depth (measuring fully three feet) of windows and
doors. Up to fifty years ago all the windows had leaded casements,
as had every similar Island dwelling-house. To-day, to the
artist's regret, you will hardly find one. The showy taste of the
Second Empire spread from Paris even to these remote parts,
and plate-glass, or at least oblong panes, everywhere replaced the
mediaeval style. In 1854, Louis Renouf, just three and thirty,
was about to bring his bride, Miss Marie Mauger, home to the
old house. In her honour it was done up throughout, and the
diamonded casements were replaced by guillotine windows, six
panes to each sash.

The best parlour then became a " drawing-room " ; its raftered
ceiling was whitewashed, and its great centre-beam of oak in-
famously papered to match the walls. The newly married couple
were not in a position to refurnish in approved Second Empire
fashion. The gilt and marble, the console tables and mirrors, the
impossibly curved sofas and chairs, were for the moment beyond
them ; the wife promised herself to acquire these later on. But
later on came a brood of sickly children (only one of whom
reached manhood) ; to the consequent expenses Les Calais owed
the preservation of its inlaid wardrobes, its four-post bedsteads
with slender fluted columns, and its Chippendale parlour chairs, the
backs of which simulate a delicious intricacy of twisted ribbons.
As a little girl, Louisa Poidevin had often amused herself studying
these convolutions, and seeking to puzzle out among the rippling
ribbons some beginning or some end ; but as she grew up, even
the simplest problem lost interest for her, and the sight of the old
Chippendale chairs standing along the walls of the large parlour
scarcely stirred her bovine mind now to so much as reminiscence.

It

42 Poor Cousin Louis

It was the door of this large parlour that the housekeeper
opened as she announced, " Here is Mrs. Pedvinn come to see
you, sir," and followed the visitor in.

Sitting in a capacious " berceuse," stuffed and chintz-covered,
was the shrunken figure of a more than seventy-year-old man.
He was wrapped in a worn grey dressing-gown, with a black
velvet skull-cap, napless at the seams, covering his spiritless hair,
and he looked out upon his narrow world from dim eyes set in
cavernous orbits. In their expression was something of the
questioning timidity of a child, contrasting curiously with the
querulousness of old age, shown in the thin sucked-in lips, now
and again twitched by a movement in unison with the twitching
of the withered hands spread out upon his knees.

The sunshine, slanting through the low windows, bathed hands
and knees, lean shanks and slippered feet, in mote-flecked streams
of gold. It bathed anew rafters and ceiling-beam, as it had done
at the same hour and season these last three hundred years ; it
played over the worm-eaten furniture, and lent transitory colour
to the faded samplers on the walls, bringing into prominence one
particular sampler, which depicted in silks Adam and Eve seated
beneath the fatal tree, and recorded the fact that Marie Hoched
was seventeen in 1808 and put her "trust in God" ; and the
same ray kissed the cheek of that very Marie's son, who at the
time her girlish fingers pricked the canvas belonged to the envi-
able myriads of the unthought-of and the unborn.

"Why, how cold you are, Cousin Louis," said Mrs. Poidevin,
taking his passive hand between her two warm ones, and feeling
a chill strike from it through the violet kid gloves ; "and in
spite of all this sunshine too ! "

" Ah, I'm not always in the sunshine," said the old man ;
"not always, not always in the sunshine." She was not sure

that

By Ella D'Arcy 43

that he recognised her, yet he kept hold of her hand and would
not let it go.

"No ; you are not always in de sunshine, because de sunshine
is not always here," observed Mrs. Tourtel in a reasonable voice,
and with a side glance for the visitor.

"And I am not always here either," he murmured, half to him-
self. He took a firmer hold of his cousin's hand, and seemed to
gain courage from the comfortable touch, for his thin voice
changed from complaint to command. " You can go, Mrs.
Tourtel," he said ; " we don't require you here. We want to
talk. You can go and set the tea-things in the next room. My
cousin will stay and drink tea with me."

"Why, my cert'nly ! of course Mrs. Pedvinn will stay tea.
P'r'aps you'd like to put your bonnet off in the bedroom, first,
ma'am ? "

"No, no," he interposed testily, "she can lay it off here. No
need for you to take her upstairs."

Servant and master exchanged a mute look ; for the moment
his old eyes were lighted up with the unforeseeing, unveiled triumph
of a child; then they fell before hers. She turned, leaving the
room with noiseless tread ; although a large-built, ponderous
woman, she walked with the softness of a cat.

" Sit down here close beside me," said Louis Renouf to
his cousin, " I've something to tell you, something very impor-
tant to tell you." He lowered his voice mysteriously, and glanced
with apprehension at window and door, squeezing tight her hand.
" I m being robbed, my dear, robbed of everything I possess."

Mrs. Poidevin, already prepared for such a statement, answered
complacently, " Oh, it must be your fancy, Cousin Louis.
Mrs. Tourtel takes too good care of you for that."

" My dear," he whispered, "silver, linen, everything is going ;

even

44 Poor Cousin Louis

even my fine white shirts from the shelves of the wardrobe.
Yet everything belongs to poor John, who is in Australia, and
who never writes to his father now. His last letter is ten years
old —ten years old, my dear, and I don t need to read it over,
for I know it by heart."

Tears of weakness gathered in his eyes, and began to trickle
over on to his cheek.

"Oh, Cousin John will write soon, I'm sure," said Mrs.
Poidevin, with easy optimism; "I shouldn't wonder if he has
made a fortune, and is on his way home to you at this moment."

" Ah, he will never make a fortune, my dear, he was always
too fond of change. He had excellent capabilities, Louisa, but he
was too fond of change..... And yet I often sit and pretend
to myself he has made money, and is as proud to be with his poor
old father as he used to be when quite a little lad. I plan out
all we should do, and all he would say, and just how he would
look .... but that's only my make-believe ; John will never
make money, never. But I'd be glad if he would come back to
the old home, though it were without a penny. For if he don't
come soon, he'll find no home, and no welcome..... I raised
all the money I could when he went away, and now, as you know,
my dear, the house and land go to you and Pedvinn..... But
I'd like my poor boy to have the silver and linen, and his mother's
furniture and needlework to remember us by."

" Yes, cousin, and he will have them some day, but not for a
great while yet, I hope."

Louis Renouf shook his head, with the immovable obstinacy of
the very old or the very young. "

Louisa, mark my words, he will get nothing, nothing.
Everything is going. They'll make away with the chairs and
the tables next, with the very bed I lie on."

"Oh,

By Ella D'Arcy 45

"Oh, Cousin Louis, you mustn't think such things," said
Mrs. Poidevin serenely ; had not the poor old man accused her
to the Tourtels of filching his mattress feathers ?

" Ah, you don't believe me, my dear," said he, with a resig-
nation which was pathetic: "but you'll remember my words
when I am gone. Six dozen rat-tailed silver forks, with silver
candlesticks, and tray, and snuffers. Besides odd pieces, and piles
and piles of linen. Your cousin Marie was a notable housekeeper,
and everything she bought was of the very best. The large
table-cloths were five guineas apiece, my dear, British money—
five guineas apiece."

Louisa listened with perfect calmness and scant attention.
Circumstances too comfortable, and a too abundant diet, had
gradually undermined with her all perceptive and reflective
powers. Though, of course, had the household effects been
coming to her as well as the land, she would have felt more
interest in them ; but it is only human nature to contemplate the
possible losses of others with equanimity.

" They must be handsome cloths, cousin," she said pleasantly ;
" I'm sure Pedvinn would never allow me half so much for mine."

At this moment there appeared, framed in the open window,
the hideous vision of an animated gargoyle, with elf-locks of
flaming red, and an intense malignancy of expression. With a
finger dragging down the under eyelid of either eye, so that the
eyeball seemed to bulge out with a finger pulling back either
corner of the wide mouth, so that it seemed to touch the ear-
this repulsive apparition leered at the old man in blood-curdling
fashion. Then catching sight of Mrs. Poidevin, who sat dum-
founded, and with her "heart in her mouth," as she afterwards
expressed it, the fingers dropped from the face, the features sprang
back into position, and the gargoyle resolved itself into a buxom

red-haired

46 Poor Cousin Louis

red-haired girl, who, bursting into a laugh, impudently stuck her
tongue out at them before skipping away.

The old man had cowered down in his chair with his hands
over his eyes ; now he looked up. " I thought it was the old
Judy," he said, " the old Judy she is always telling me about.
But it's only Margot."

" And who is Margot, cousin ? " inquired Louisa, still shaken
from the surprise. "

"She helps in the kitchen. But I don't like her. She pulls
faces at me, and jumps out upon me from behind doors. And
when the wind blows and the windows rattle she tells me about
the old Judy from Jethou, who is sailing over the sea on a broom-
stick, to come and beat me to death. Do you know, my dear,"
he said piteously, "you'll think I'm very silly, but I'm afraid up
here by myself all alone ? Do not leave me, Louisa ; stay with
me, or take me back to town with you. Pedvinn would let me
have a room in your house, I'm sure ? And you wouldn't find me
much trouble, and of course I would bring my own bed linen, you
know."

" You had best take your tea first, sir," said Mrs. Tourtel
from outside the window ; she held scissors in her hand, and
was busy trimming the roses. She offered no excuse for eaves-
dropping.

The meal was set out, Island fashion, with abundant cakes
and sweets. Louisa saw in the silver tea-set another proof, if
need be, of her cousin's unfounded suspicions. Mrs. Tourtel
stood in the background, waiting. Renouf desired her to pack
his things ; he was going into town. " To be sure, sir," she said
civilly, and remained where she stood. He brought a clenched
hand down upon the table, so that the china rattled. " Are you
master here, or am I ? " he cried ; "I am going down to my cousin

Pedvinn's

By Ella D'Arcy 47

Pedvinn's. To-morrow I shall send my notary to put seals on
everything, and to take an inventory. For the future I shall live in town."

His senility had suddenly left him ; he spoke with firmness ;
it was a flash-up of almost extinct fires. Louisa was astounded.
Mrs. Tourtel looked at him steadily. Through the partition
wall, Tourtel in the kitchen heard the raised voice, and followed his
curiosity into the parlour. Margot followed him. Seen near,
and with her features at rest, she appeared a plump touzle-headed
girl, in whose low forehead and loose-lipped mouth, crassness,
cruelty, and sensuality were unmistakably expressed. Yet freckled
cheek, rounded chin, and bare red mottled arms, presented the
beautiful curves of youth, and there was a certain sort of attractive-
ness about her not to be gainsaid.

"Since my servants refuse to pack what I require," said Renouf
with dignity, "I will do it myself. Come with me, Louisa."

At a sign from the housekeeper, Tourtel and Margot made
way. Mrs. Poidevin would have followed her cousin, as the easiest
thing to do— although she was confused by the old man's outbreak,
and incapable of deciding what course she should take— when the
deep vindictive baying of the dog ushered a new personage upon
the scene.

This was an individual who made his appearance from the
kitchen regions —a tall thin man of about thirty years of age,
with a pallid skin, a dark eye and a heavy moustache. His shabby
black coat and tie, with the cords and gaiters that clothed his legs,
suggested a combination of sportsman and family practitioner.
He wore a bowler hat, and was pulling off tan driving gloves as he
advanced.

" Ah my good ! Doctor Owen, but dat's you ? " said Mrs.
Tourtel. " But we wants you here badly. Your patient is in one

of

48 Poor Cousin Louis

of his tantrums, and no one can't do nuddin wid him. He says
he shall go right away into town. Wants to make up again wid
Doctor Lelever for sure."

The new comer and Mrs. Poidevin were examining each other
with the curiosity one feels on first meeting a person long known
by reputation or by sight. But now she turned to the house-
keeper in surprise.

" Has my cousin quarrelled with his old friend Doctor
Lelever ? " she asked. "I've heard nothing of that."

" Ah, dis long time. He tought Doctor Lelever made too
little of his megrims. He won't have nobody but Dr. Owen
now. P'r'aps you know Doctor Owen, ma'am ? Mrs. Pedvinn,
Doctor ; de master's cousin, come up to visit him."

Renouf was heard moving about overhead ; opening presses,
dragging boxes.

Owen hung up his hat, putting his gloves inside it. He
rubbed his lean discoloured hands lightly together, as a fly cleans
its forelegs.

" Shall I just step up to him ?" he said. "It may calm him,
and distract his thoughts."

With soft nimbleness, in a moment he was upstairs. "So
that's Doctor Owen?" observed Mrs. Poidevin with interest.
" A splendid-looking gentleman ! He must be very clever, I'm
sure. Is he beginning to get a good practice yet ? "

" Ah, bah, our people, as you know, ma'am, dey don't like no
strangers, specially no Englishmen. He was very glad when
Mr. Rennuf sent for him Twas through Margot there.
She got took bad one Saturday coming back from market from de
heat or de squidge " (crowd), " and Doctor Owen he overtook
her on the road in his gig, and druv her home. Den de master,
he must have a talk with him, and so de next time he fancy

hisself

By Ella D'Arcy 49

hisself ill, he send for Doctor Owen, and since den he don't care
for Dr. Lelever no more at all."

"I ought to be getting off," emarlced Mrs. Poidevin, remem-
bering the hour at which the omnibus left Vauvert ; "had I
better go up and bid cousin Louis good-bye ? "

Mrs. Tourtel thought Margot should go and ask the Doctor's
opinion first, but as Margot had already vanished, she went her-
self.

There was a longish pause, during which Mrs. Poidevin looked
uneasily at Tourtel ; he with restless furtive eyes at her. Then
the housekeeper reappeared, noiseless, cool, determined as ever.

"Mr. Rennuf is quiet now," she said ; " de Doctor have given
him a soothing draught, and will stay to see how it acts. He
tinks you'd better slip quietly away."

On this, Louisa Poidevin left Les Calais ; but in spite of her
easy superficiality, her unreasoning optimism, she took with her
a sense of oppression. Cousin Louis's appeal rang in her ears :
Do not leave me; stay with me, or take me back with you.
I am afraid up here, quite alone." And after all, though his fears
were but the folly of old age, why, she asked herself, should he
not come and stay with them in town if he wished to do so ? She
resolved to talk it over with Pedvinn ; she thought she would
arrange for him the little west room, being the furthest from the
nurseries ; and in planning out such vastly important trifles as to
which easy-chair and which bedroom candlestick she would devote
to his use, she forgot the old man himself and recovered her usual
stolid jocundity.

When Owen had entered the bedroom, he had found Renouf
standing over an open portmanteau, into which he was placing
hurriedly whatever caught his eye or took his fancy, from the
surrounding tables. His hand trembled from eagerness, his pale

old

50 Poor Cousin Louis

old face was flushed with excitement and hope. Owen, going
straight up to him, put his two hands on his shoulders, and
without uttering a word, gently forced him backwards into a
chair. Then he sat down in front of him, so close that their
knees touched, and fixing his strong eyes on Renouf's wavering
ones, and stroking with his finger-tips the muscles behind the ears,
he threw him immediately into an hypnotic trance.

"You want to stay here, don't you ? " said Owen emphatically.
" I want to stay here," repeated the old man through grey lips.
His face was become the colour of ashes, his hands were cold to
the sight. "You want your cousin to go away and not disturb
you any more ? Answer— answer me." " I want my cousin to
go away," Renouf murmured, but in his staring, fading eye were
traces of the struggle tearing him within.

Owen pressed down the eyelids, made another pass before the
face, and rose on his long legs with a sardonic grin. Margot,
leaning across a corner of the bed, had watched him with breath-
less interest.

" I'b'lieve you're de Evil One himself," she said admiringly.

Owen pinched her smooth chin between his tobacco-stained
thumb and fingers.

" Pooh ! nothing but a trick I learned in Paris," said he ;
" it's very convenient to be able to put a person to sleep now and
again."

" Could you put any one to sleep ? "

" Any one I wanted to."

"Do it to me then," she begged him.

" What use, my girl ? Don't you do all I wish without ? "

She grimaced, and picked at the bed-quilt laughing, then rose
and stood in front of him, her round red arms clasped behind her
head. But he only glanced at her with professional interest.

"You

By Ella D'Arcy 51

"You should get married, my dear, without delay. Pierre
would be ready enough, no doubt ? " —" Bah ! Pierre or annuder
— if I brought a weddin portion. You don't tink to provide
me wid one, I s'pose ?" —" You know that I can't. But why
don't you get it from the Tourtels ? You've earned it before
this, I dare swear."

It was now that the housekeeper came up, and took down to
Louisa Poidevin the message given above. But first she was
detained by Owen, to assist him in getting his patient into bed.

The old man woke up during the process, very peevish, very
determined to get to town. "Well, you can't go till to-morrow
den," said Mrs. Tourtel ; " your cousin has gone home, an now
you've got to go to sleep, so be quiet." She dropped all semblance
of respect in her tones. " Come, lie down ! " she said sharply,
" or I'll send Margot to tickle your feet." He shivered and
whimpered into silence beneath the clothes.

"Margot tells him 'bout witches, an ogres, an' scrapels her
fingures long de wall, till he tinks dere goin' to fly 'way wid
him," she explained to Owen in an aside. " Oh, I know Margot,"
he answered laconically, and thought, " May I never lie helpless
within reach of such fingers as hers."

He took a step and stumbled over a portmanteau lying open at
his feet. " Put your mischievous paws to some use," he told the
girl, " and clear these things away from the floor ; " then remem-
bering his rival Le Lievre ; " if the old fool had really got away
to town, it would have been a nice day's work for us all," he
added.

Downstairs he joined the Tourtels in the kitchen, a room
situated behind the living-room on the left, with low green glass
windows, rafters and woodwork smoke-browned with the fires of
a dozen generations. In the wooden racks over by the chimney

The Yellow Book Vol. II. D

hung

52 Poor Cousin Louis

hung flitches of home-cured bacon, and the kettle was suspended
by three chains over the centre of the wide hearth, where glowed
and crackled an armful of sticks. So dark was the room, in spite
of the daylight outside, that two candles were set in the centre of
the table, enclosing in their circles of yellow light the pale face
and silver hair of the housekeeper, and Tourtel's rugged head and
weather-beaten countenance.

He had glasses ready, and a bottle of the cheap brandy for
which the Island is famous. "You'll take a drop of something,
eh, Doctor ? " he said as Owen seated himself on the jonciere,
a padded settle —green baize covered, to replace the primitive
rushes— fitted on one side of the hearth. He stretched his long
legs into the light, and for a moment considered moodily the old
gaiters and cobbled boots. " You've seen to the horse ? " he
asked Tourtel.

" My cert'nly ; he's in de stable dis hour back, an' I've
given him a feed. I tought maybe you'd make a night of
it ? "

" I may as well for all the work I have to do," said Owen
with sourness ; " a damned little Island this for doctors. No-
thing ever the matter with any one except the creeps, and
those who have it spend their last penny in making it worse."

"Dere's as much illness here as anywhere," said Tourtel,
defending the reputation of his native soil, " if once you gets
among de right class, among de people as has de time an de
money to make dereselves ill. But if you go foolin' roun' wid de
paysans, what can you expec' ? We workin' folks can't afford to
lay up an buy ourselves doctors stuff."

" And how am I to get among the right class ? " retorted Owen,
sucking the ends of his moustache into his mouth and chewing
them savagely. " A more confounded set of stuck-up, beggarly

aristocrats

By Ella D'Arcy 53

aristocrats I never met than your people here." His discon-
tented eye rested on Mrs. Tourtel. " That Mrs. Pedvinn is the
wife of Pedvinn the Jurat, I suppose?"— "Yes, de Pedvinns
of Rohais." "Good people," said Owen thoughtfully ; in with
the de Caterelles, and the Dadderney (d'Aldenois) set. Are
there children ? "— " Tree."

He took a drink of the spirit and water ; his bad temper passed.
Margot came in from upstairs.

" De marster sleeps as dough he'd never wake again," she
announced, flinging herself into the chair nearest Owen.

"It's 'bout time he did," Tourtel growled.

" I should have thought it more to your interest to keep him
alive ? " Owen inquired. " A good place, surely ? "

"A good place if you like to call it so," the wife answered him ;
" but what, if he go to town, as he say to-night ? and what, if he
send de notary, to put de scelles here ?— den he take up again wid
Dr. Lelever, dat's certain." And Tourtel added in his surly key,
" Anyway, I've been workin here dese tirty years now, an dat's
bout enough."

" In fact, when the orange is sucked, you throw away the peel ?
But are you quite sure it is sucked dry ? "

"De house an' de lan' go to de Pedvinns, an all de money die
too, for de little he had left when young John went 'crost de seas,
he sunk in a 'nuity. Dere's nuddin' but de lining, an' plate, an'
such like, as goes to de son."

" And what he finds of that, I expect, will scarcely add to his
impedimenta ? " said Owen grinning. He thought, " The old man
is well known in the island, the name of his medical attendant
would get mentioned in the papers at least ; just as well Le
Lièvre should not have the advertisement." Besides, there were
the Poidevins.

"You

54 Poor Cousin Louis

" You might say a good word for me to Mrs. Pedvinn," he
said aloud, " I live nearer to Rohais than Lelever does, and
with young children she might be glad to have some one at
hand."

" You may be sure you won't never find me ungrateful, sir,"
answered the housekeeper ; and Owen, shading his eyes with his
hand, sat pondering over the use of this word " ungrateful," with
its faint yet perceptible emphasis.

Margot, meanwhile, laid the supper ; the remains of a rabbit-
pie, a big "pinclos" or spider crab, with thin, red knotted legs,
spreading far over the edges of the dish, the apple-goche, hot from
the oven, cider, and the now half-empty bottle of brandy. The
lour sat down and fell to. Margot was in boisterous spirits ;
everything she said or did was meant to attract Owen's attention.
Her cheeks flamed with excitement ; she wanted his eyes to be
perpetually upon her. But Owen's interest in her had long
ceased. To-night, while eating heartily, he was absorbed in his
ruling passion : to get on in the world, to make money, to be
admitted into Island society. Behind the pallid, impenetrable
mask, which always enraged yet intimidated Margot, he plotted
incessantly, schemed, combined, weighed this and that, studied his
prospects from every point of view.

Supper over, he lighted his meerschaum ; Tourtel produced a
short clay, and the bottle was passed between them. The women
left them together, and for ten, twenty minutes, there was com-
plete silence in the room. Tourtel let his pipe go out, and rapped
it down brusquely upon the table.

"It must come to an end," he said, with suppressed ferocity ;
" are we eider to spen' de whole of our lives here, or else be turned
off at de eleventh hour after sufferin' all de heat an burden of de
day ? Its onreasonable. An' dere's de cottage at Cottu standin'

empty,

By Ella D'Arcy 55

empty, an' me havin' to pay a man to look after de tomato
houses, when I could get fifty per cent, more by lookin' after dem
myself. .... An what profit is such a sickly, shiftless life as dat ?
My good ! dere's not a man, woman, or chile in de Islan's as will
shed a tear when he goes, an dere's some, I tells you, as have
suffered from his whimsies dese tirty years, as will rejoice. Why,
his wife was dead already when we come here, an' his on'y son, a
dirty, drunken, lazy vaurien too, has never been near him for
fifteen years, nor written neider. Dead most likely, in foreign
parts .....An' what's he want to stay for, contraryin' an' thwartin'
dem as have sweated an' laboured, an' now, please de good God,
wan's to sit neath de shadow of dere own fig-tree for de short
time dat remains to dem ? . . . . An what do we get for stayin' ?
Forty pound, Island money, between de two of us, an' de little I
makes from de flowers, an' poultry, an' such like. An' what do
we do for it ? Bake, an' wash, an' clean, an' cook, an' keep de
garden in order, an' nuss him in all his tantrums..... If we
was even on his testament, I'd say nuddin. But everything
goes to Pedvinns, an' de son John, and de little bit of income
dies wid him. I tell you tis bout time dis came to an end.

Owen recognised that Destiny asked no sin more heinous from
him than silence, perhaps concealment ; the chestnuts would
reach him without risk of burning his hand. "It's time," said he,
" I thought of going home. Get your lantern, and I'll help you
with the trap. But first, I'll just run up and have another look
at Mr. Rennuf."

For the last time the five personages of this obscure little tragedy
found themselves together in the bedroom, now lighted by a small
lamp which stood on the wash-hand-stand. Owen, who had
to stoop to enter the door, could have touched the low-pitched
ceiling with his hand. The bed, with its slender pillars, support-

ing

56 Poor Cousin Louis

ing a canopy of faded damask, took up the greater part of the
room. There was a fluted headpiece of the damask, and long
curtains of the same material, looped up, on either side of the
pillows. Sunken in these lay the head of the old man, crowned
with a cotton nightcap, the eyes closed, the skin drawn tight over
the skull, the outline of the attenuated form indistinguishable
beneath the clothes. The arms lay outside the counterpane,
straight down on either side ; and the mechanical playing move-
ment of the fingers showed he was not asleep. Margot and Mrs.
Tourtcl watched him from the bed's foot. Their gigantic
shadows thrown forward by the lamp, stretched up the opposite
wall, and covered half the ceiling. The old-fashioned mahogany
furniture, with its fillets of paler wood, drawn in ovals, upon the
doors of the presses, their centrepieces of fruit and flowers,
shone out here and there with reflected light ; and the looking-
glass, swung on corkscrew mahogany pillars between the damask
window curtains, gleamed lake-like amidst the gloom.

Owen and Tourtel joined the women at the bedfoot ; though
each was absorbed entirely in his own egotisms, all were animated
by the same secret desire. Yet, to the feeling heart, there was
something unspeakably pleading in the sight of the old man
lying there, in his helplessness, in the very room, on the very bed,
which had seen his wedding-night fifty years before ; where as
a much-wished-for and welcomed infant, he had opened his eyes
to the light more than seventy years since. He had been helpless
then as now, but then the child had been held to loving hearts,
loving fingers had tended him, a young and loving mother lay
beside him, the circumference of all his tiny world, as he was the
core and centre of all of hers. And from being that exquisite,
well-beloved little child, he had passed thoughtlessly, hopefully,
despairfully, wearily, through all the stages of life, until he had

come

By Ella D'Arcy 57

come to this— a poor, old, feeble, helpless, worn-out man, lying
there where he had been born, but with all those who had loved
him carried long ago to the grave : with the few who might
have protected him still, his son, his cousin, his old friend Le
Lièvre, as powerless to save him as the silent dead.

Renouf opened his eyes, looked in turn at the four faces before
him, and read as much pity in them as in masks of stone. He
turned himself to the pillow again and to his miserable thoughts.

Owen took out his watch, went round to count the pulse, and
in the hush the tick of the big silver timepiece could be heard.

" There is extreme weakness," came his quiet verdict.

"Sinking?" whispered Tourtel loudly.

" No ; care and constant nourishment are all that are required ;
strong beef-tea, port wine jelly, cream beaten up with a little
brandy at short intervals, every hour say. And of course no
excitement ; nothing to irritate, or alarm him " (Owen's eye
met Margot's) ; " absolute quiet and rest." He came back to the
foot of the bed and spoke in a lower tone. " It's just one of
the usual cases of senile decay," said he, " which I observe every
one comes to here in the Islands (unless he has previously killed
himself by drink), the results of breeding in. But Mr. Rennuf
may last months, years longer. In fact, if you follow out my
directions there is every probability that he will.

"Tourtel and his wife shifted their gaze from Owen to look into
each other's eyes ; Margot's loose mouth lapsed into a smile.
Owen felt cold water running down his back. The atmosphere
of the room seemed to stifle him ; reminiscences of his student
days crowded on him : the horror of an unperverted mind, at its
first spectacle of cruelty, again seized hold of him, as though no
twelve callous years were wedged in between. At all costs he
must get out into the open air.

He

58 Poor Cousin Louis

He turned to go. Louis Renouf opened his eyes, followed the
form making its way to the door, and understood. " You won't
leave me, doctor ? surely you won't leave me ? " came the last
words of piercing entreaty.

The man felt his nerve going all to pieces.

"Come, come, my good sir, do you think I am going to stay
here all night ? " he answered brutally. Outside the door,
Tourtel touched his sleeve. " And suppose your directions are
not carried out ? " said he in his thick whisper.

Owen gave no spoken answer, but Tourtel was satisfied.
" I'll come an' put the horse in," he said, leading the way through
the kitchen to the stables. Owen drove off with a parting curse
and cut with the whip because the horse slipped upon the stones.
A long ray of light from Tourtel's lantern followed him down
the lane. When he turned out on to the high road to St. Gilles,
he reined in a moment, to look back at Les Calais. This is the
one point from which a portion of the house is visible, and he
could see the lighted window of the old man's bedroom plainly
through the trees.

What was happening there ? he asked himself; and the Tour-
tel 's cupidity and callousness, Margot's coarse cruel tricks, rose
before him with appalling distinctness. Yet the price was in his
hand, the first step of the ladder gained ; he saw himself to-morrow,
perhaps in the drawing-room of Rohais, paying the necessary visit
of intimation and condolence. He felt he had already won
Mrs. Poidevin's favour. Among women, always poor physiogno-
mists, he knew he passed for a handsome man ; among the
Islanders, the assurance of his address would pass for good
breeding ; all he had lacked hitherto was the opportunity to
shine. This his acquaintance with Mrs. Poidevin would secure
him. And he had trampled on his conscience so often before, it

had

By Ella D'Arcy 59

had now little elasticity left. Just an extra glass of brandy to-
morrow, and to-day would be as securely laid as those other epi-
sodes of his past.

While he watched, some one shifted the lamp .... a woman's
shadow was thrown upon the white blind .... it wavered,
grew monstrous, and spread, until the whole window was shrouded
in gloom Owen put the horse into a gallop .... and
from up at Les Calais, the long-drawn melancholy howling of
the dog filled with forebodings the silent night.





MLA citation: D'Arcy, Ella. "Poor Cousin Louis." The Yellow Book 2 (July 1894): 34-59. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. [Date of access]. http://www.1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YBV2_darcy_poorcousin.html