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.”
“Be it so!” said Henri, in a tone of less conviction.
He followed his sister along the footpath of a bluff, which as children they had often climbed; while the carriage made a long detour in order to reach the main entrance to the grounds.
The footpath, winding along near the railway embankment, ended at a bridge, where Zibeline awaited the three visitors. A significant pressure of her hand showed Henri how little cause he had had for his apprehensions.
They entered. Seen from the main entrance, the metamorphosis of the place was complete.
The old tower that had served as a barn alone remained the same; it was somewhat isolated from the other building, and had been repaired in the style of its period, making a comfortable dwelling for the future director of the Asylum. Mademoiselle de Vermont occupied it temporarily.
On each side of the grounds, standing parallel, rose two fine buildings: on the ground floor of each were all the customary rooms and accessories found on model farms; on the upper floors were dormitories arranged to receive a large number of children of both sexes. There were schoolrooms, sewing-rooms, a chapel-in short, nothing was lacking to assist in the children’s intellectual and manual education.
“You have done things royally,” said the Duke to the happy donor, when, having finished the inspection of the premises, they returned to the directors’ room, indicated by a plate upon its door.
As for Henri, silent and absorbed, he hesitated between the dread of facing a new emotion and the desire to go once more to gaze upon the tower of Prerolles, hardly more than two kilometres distant.
“What is the matter with you, General?” Zibeline asked, observing that he did not appear to take pleasure in the surprise she had prepared.
“I lived here many years a long time ago,” he replied. “I am thinking of all that it recalls to me; and, if you would not consider it discourteous on my part, I should like to leave you for a little time to make a pilgrimage on foot around the neighborhood.”