The kindly old cure, Abbe Constantin, stopped before the chateau of Longueval to look at posters which proclaimed that the chateau and its surroundings were to be sold at auction either in four pieces, or as a unit. The abbe, like the rest of the neighborhood, smiled at the idea that anyone might be able to buy the entire estate; more than two million francs was too large a sum for anyone to have. As he walked along by the old estate, he thought of all the delightful days he had spent with the old marchioness and her family. He dreaded the thought of a new owner who might not ask him to dinner twice a week, who might not contribute generously to the poor, who might not attend all the services of his little church. The abbe was too old to desire a change.
He walked on to the little house where Madame de Lavardens lived with her son Paul. Paul had not turned out well. His mother gave him a generous allowance to spend every year. After spending his money within three months in Paris, he stayed the rest of the year with his mother in the country. At the de Lavardens home, the abbe learned that Madame de Lavardens was hoping that her agent had secured at least one part of the estate for her. She was awaiting news of the auction, and she invited the abbe to wait with her and her son to hear what had happened.
When the agent arrived, he informed them that Mrs. Scott, a wealthy American, had bought the whole estate. The abbe’s heart sank. An American! She would be a Protestant—no doubt a heretic. His hopes for his little church grew weak. No longer would the hothouses of the estate keep his altar full of flowers; no longer would the poor be relieved by the charity of the chateau. With a gloomy heart, he went home to supper.
Jean Reynaud, the abbe’s godson, was his guest at supper that night. Jean’s father had been an officer in the same regiment in which the abbe had been chaplain, and the two had been the best of friends. When Jean’s father had been killed, the abbe had taken care of Jean as if he were his own son. The boy had insisted on following his father in a military career. Jean’s kindness was well-known in the area. He gave a yearly income to the destitute families of two men who had been killed on the same day as his father, and he was always performing charitable deeds for the abbe’s poor.
On his arrival, Jean set about cutting garden greens for the salad. He was startled when he looked up and saw two beautifully but simply dressed young women who asked to see the abbe. They introduced themselves as Mrs. Scott and Miss Percival, her sister. In a flurry of excitement, the old abbe came out to meet his unexpected guests, and to his great pleasure, they announced that they were Catholics of French-Canadian blood. When each of the...
(The entire section is 1140 words.)