“Barely three-quarters of an hour,” said the Duke, as the train started on its way.
THE VOW REDEEMED
The third road, constructed between the two lines which met at Creil, passing, the one by way of Chantilly, the other, by Pontoise, was not in existence in 1871, when, after the war, Jeanne and Henri de Prerolles went to visit the spot, already unrecognizable, where they had passed their childhood. L’Ile-d’Adam was at that time the nearest station; to day it is Presles, on the intermediate line, which they now took.
“This is our station,” said Madame de Montgeron, when the train stopped at Montsoult. They descended from the carriage, and found on the platform two footmen, who conducted them to a large char-a-banc, to which were harnessed four dark bay Percherons, whose bridles were held by postilions in Zibeline’s livery, as correct in their appearance as those belonging to the imperial stables, when the sojourn of the court was at Compiegne or at Fontainebleau.
“Where are we going now, Jeanne?” asked Henri, whose heart seemed to him to contract at the sight of Maffliers, which he knew so well.
“A short distance from here,” his sister replied.
The horses set off, and, amid the sound of bells and the cracking of whips, the carriage reached the national road from Paris to Beauvais, which, from Montsoult, passes around the railway by a rapid descent, from the summit of which is visible, on the right, the Chateau of Franconville; on the left, the village of Nerville perched on its crest.
One of the footmen on the rear seat held the reins, and a quarter of an hour later the carriage stopped just before arriving at the foot of Valpendant.
Valpendant had formerly been a feudal manor within the confines of Ile-de-France, built midway upon a hill, as its name indicated. On the side toward the plain was a moat, and the castle itself commanded the view of a valley, through which ran the little stream called Le Roi, which flows into the river Oise near the hamlet of Mours. Acquired in the fifteenth century by the lords of Prerolles, it had become an agricultural territory worked for their profit, first by forced labor, and later by farmers.
Even recently, the courtyard, filled with squawking fowls and domestic animals of all kinds, and the sheds crowded with agricultural implements piled up in disorder, presented a scene of confusion frequent among cultivators, and significant of the alienation of old domains from their former owners.
“We have arrived!” said the Duchess, alighting first.
“What, is it here?” Henri exclaimed, his heart beating more quickly.
“Your old farm was for sale just at the time that Mademoiselle de Vermont was seeking an appropriate site for the Orphan Asylum. This spot appeared to her to combine all the desirable conditions, and she has wrought the transformation you are about to behold. It might as well be this place as another,” the Duchess added. “In my opinion, it is a sort of consolation offered to us by fate.”